Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Walsh May Have Died, But Yet He Still Lives

Bill Walsh is dead. But yet he keeps coaching.

He's the head coach in Seattle, the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. He's several position coaches around the NFL. He's still coaching at the college and university level. He may never stop coaching, at this rate.

Walsh, the Hall of Fame football coach, died Monday morning after a long battle with leukemia, with which he was diagnosed in 2004. He was 75.

Walsh died but he didn't vanish from the earth. Not as long as guys like Mike Holmgren is in Seattle, Marty Mornhinweg is in Philadelphia, and others too numerous to mention are teaching the Bill Walsh offense on sandlot fields, at small colleges, and on the campuses of big-time universities across the country.

They call it the West Coast offense, and it's sort of like another California commodity, tofu; it can either taste really good or really BAD, depending on who the cook is, and what other ingredients he's using.

Steve Mariucci tried his version in Detroit, but the ingredients were ill-suited for it, and the whole thing was warmed over. Joey Harrington didn't work well with tofu.

But Holmgren -- first in Green Bay and now with the Seahawks -- found the right mix. So has Mornhinweg, believe it or not, in his role as the Eagles' play caller. His boss, Andy Reid, is another leaf on the tree whose branch leads back to the trunk that is Walsh.

Bill Walsh first started concocting his innovative offense -- which emphasized YAC (yards after catch) for the receivers -- back in the 1970s, as an assistant to Paul Brown in Cincinnati. One of his colleagues in Cincy was Sam Wyche, who went on to a fairly successful head coaching career himself. When Wyche's Bengals faced Walsh's 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII, it was a battle between mirrored images. No coincidence that that game wasn't decided until the closing minutes, when Joe Montana led one of his famous game-ending drives.

Walsh (with Joe Montana during Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac) was "an extraordinary teacher," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said; "He taught all of us not only about football but also about life..."

Ahh, Montana. Walsh took him as a decent college QB out of Notre Dame in 1979, but not too many folks were sold on Montana as an NFL quarterback. He acquired Steve Young, who had been a scuffling QB in Tampa Bay. Both became known as among the best of their day. And both were big benificiaries of Walsh's offense, which put a premium on short drops and quick releases, and decent QB mobility. Neither, you could argue, would have become what they became under any other system or coach.

Walsh was also one of the first great cerebral coaches -- men who weren't so much Lombardi and Halas as they were bookworms and professors who broke down enemy defenses with convoluted schemes and blocking techniques.

He had humor, too. I still remember the image of Walsh, dressed as a bellhop, greeting his 49er players at a metro Detroit hotel as they arrived for Super Bowl XVI. Many of them walked right past him, nodding a greeting, as he took their bags and welcomed them to Detroit. It was his way, he said, of keeping the team loose.

"If I can show them that I can be loose and have fun," he once said in an NFL Films special, "then they can feel the same way about themselves."

The 49ers rallied in the second half to beat the Bengals at the Silverdome in 1982.

Walsh was 102-63-1 with the 49ers, plus 10-4 in the playoffs. He retired after the 1988 season and showed up a few years later at Stanford. That run wasn't all that successful, but it didn't matter; he was already by then a coaching legend.

Bill Walsh, the physical person, was the coach for the team of the 1980s. But Bill Walsh, the legacy, is still coaching teams in the 2000s. His was a "West Coast" offense, but it became universal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fontes Was A Likable Clown Under Ford's Big Top

To this day, I can’t look at a golf cart in the same way.

It’s not because they seem to be used nowadays for just about everything other than golf – on a used car lot, in airports, in shopping malls. I was once transported in one to a golf course from my car while covering the Buick Open – does that count as a golf cart being used for golf?

Despite all that, whenever I see a golf cart I can’t help but picture the bowl of jelly sitting on it that was former Lions coach Wayne Fontes.

It’s not only golf carts that Wayne-o has infiltrated. Parkas, ski masks, and cigars make me think of him, too. Oh, and multiple quarterbacks and silly grins and awkward moments and daft comments, too.

I bring up Fontes, the Lions head coach from 1989-1996, because NFL training camps are underway, and with them brings some of my favorite Fontes imagery.

It was 1994, and we’re watching the end of practice on a warm July afternoon. We’re gathered in a small circle, waiting for Fontes to arrive and give us his daily dose of “What’s up?” in regard to his football team’s status. I should have heard it, but you know how stealth those golf carts can be.

“Whoa, behind you!,” I hear, moments before Fontes, driving his cart, nearly puts me out for the season with a leg injury. And he has that silly, Fontesian grin on his large, kewpie doll-on-steroids face.

The post-practice presser is on, Fontes in his cart, sweat on his brow, as he talks about why the Lions will be good that season. Fontes always talked about why the Lions will be good. His football paradise was always just around the bend. He was like Pistons coach Dickie Vitale that way, only ratcheted down about four notches. But still definitively caffeinated.

“We’re getting better,” Wayne liked to say. He’d say it after wins, he’d say it after losses, and he probably said it at that golf cart gathering in ’94, though his words I didn’t save for infamy.

It seemed, with Wayne Fontes leading the Lions, that Bill Ford’s football franchise was turned into a three ring circus. And, like circuses, you may not like everything under the big top, but it was rarely boring.

Fontes and his parka; no Lions coach wore one as well -- or wore one at all

Take the quarterback situation. Please. Under Fontes, the Lions tried Rodney Peete; Bob Gagliano; Peete again; Erik Kramer; Peete again; Andre Ware; Kramer again; Peete again; Scott Mitchell; Dave Krieg; Mitchell again; Don Majkowski; and Mitchell again. Fontes seemed to get some sort of twisted pleasure, especially before the team signed Mitchell as a free agent in January 1994, in putting his quarterbacks on a carousel and spinning it until everyone was dizzy – players, media, and even his owner.

It was a classic Lions moment. Fontes had named, after the typical spin on the carousel, Andre Ware to start that particular week. It was going to be the first start in the draft bust’s career. A congratulatory phone call was placed by Ford.

“Just want to wish you good luck in your start this week, Andre,” the message went, recorded for posterity on the quarterback’s answering machine.

The quarterback whose machine it was, was Erik Kramer.

And, to add another wrinkle, Kramer hadn’t yet been notified that he wasn’t starting. He found out courtesy of Bill Ford’s misplaced telephone call.

Peanuts! Popcorn! Elephant ears!

It was circa 1995, and the drum was beating again for Fontes’s dismissal. The Lions were off to a horrible start and the piranhas in the media and the frustrated callers to talk radio were nailing the coach to the cross. It was not an atypical thing during Fontes’s tenure.

“That’s OK,” Fontes said on radio, or TV, or maybe both. “I’m the Big Buck. Everyone is aiming for me. Everyone wants to take down the Big Buck.”

So Fontes was known as the “Big Buck” for awhile – derisively, of course.

At a Halloween party, Mitchell was caught on videotape by one of the news crews in town, dressed as his coach. He stuffed a pillow under his Lions sweatshirt, put on a fake, bulbous nose, and puffed on a cigar. And with a microphone stuck into his made up face, Mitchell spewed some Fontes-like clich├ęs in an embellished, loud voice.

In other NFL cities, such blatant mocking and disrespect wouldn’t be tolerated. I shudder to think of what would happen to the quarterback who’d be so bold as to mimic Mike Ditka or Bill Parcells in such a public, brazen manner.

But not Wayne Fontes. The coach laughed and welcomed the jab – even going so far as to wrap his beef shank arms around his QB and crow for the media – in a sort of “That’s my boy!” way.

They said Fontes was a player’s coach. That can also be a nice way of saying, “He lets the inmates run the asylum.” I hit former safety Ron Rice with that notion a couple years ago.

Which was it, I asked Rice: Was Fontes a “player’s coach” because he was a buffoon who let them do what they wanted, or … something else?

“Oh I loved Wayne. But he was a player’s coach because he respected you and knew when to push you and when to pull back,” Rice told me.

There’s actually some validation to Fontes’ handling of his players. His teams’ records in the month of December weren’t that bad. In some years, they were very good. His teams came to be known as fast finishers down the stretch.

After making the playoffs with a hard charge in 1995, the Lions went into Philadelphia for a Wild Card game and got their rear ends handed to them in a 58-37 loss. At one point, the score was 51-7.

No way could Fontes survive this, we all said. He did.

But the next season, after finishing 6-10, the Wayne Fontes Era was over with. Ah, but not before one last moment of goofiness.

At the press conference announcing his firing, and after Fontes had already spoken his part, Ford was at the podium. Suddenly, the seriousness of Ford’s comments was shattered by an interloper to the room. Wayne Fontes.

“Fired?! What do you mean I’m fired?,” Fontes bellowed, laughing and hugging Ford. The look on the owner’s face was, to quote MasterCard, priceless.

Fontes, long retired – the Lions were his last employer – lives in Florida now, his back and legs not moving along thru the calendar with the rest of his body. He had some surgery in the spring.
Who knew that we’d look fondly back at his time as some of the grandest in Lions football? Maybe Wayne-o did, after all.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Again, Ford Wonders What All The Fuss Is About

If only we could all not worry, like Bill Ford Sr. doesn't worry. If only we could all exhibit the patience of Job, and refrain from hand-wringing. If only we could emerge every so often, unruffled, tanned and relaxed, and ask what all the fuss is about.

Ford, the Lions owner and centurion, did it to us again yesterday. The 82-year-old showed his face at Lions HQ in Allen Park, ostensibly to talk about franchise giant Charlie Sanders and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a week from Saturday. And, as he's done so often in the past, Ford either sounded like: a) the voice of reason; or b) Nero.

To wit, according to Nicholas Cotsonika of the Free Press:

"I'm usually optimistic anyway going in. But I think this year will be a little bit special."

"I could see right off the bat that they (president Matt Millen and coach Rod Marinelli) were compatible ... I got to know Rod much better and I could see where they would mesh. You don't want to break up a combination like that."

On reports of Millen's impending firing last season:

"I don't know where those originated. I sure never said anything even approaching that -- or if I did I didn't mean to." (laughs)

"I didn't say, 'You're safe, don't worry about it,' in so many words (about Millen's job security). But by the same token, I never intimated to him that he wasn't safe. It was business as usual."

Boy, he's got THAT right, at least.

On whether his judgment of Millen is clouded because of his personal like of him:

"It's possible. But I think if you like somebody and you believe in the same things that they believe in, I don't know what other yardstick to put against it."

On the 2007 season:

"I'm always an optimist before the season starts ... When the team doesn't live up to it, you're very disappointed."

"Thank goodness I can put that behind me and look forward. If I dwelled on the past, I'd shoot myself. Really, I've never felt that way. But if I were a fan, I could understand it."

Talk amongst yourselves.

During the 1995 season, the Lions sitting at 3-6, Ford told the media that coach Wayne Fontes had to make the playoffs to keep his job. They did that, thanks to a 7-0 streak to finish the year. Then in the playoffs, the Lions got whalloped by the Eagles, 58-37 -- a game in which they trailed at one point, 51-7.

Surely, the scribes and blabbermouths on the radio said, Fontes cannot possibly survive this debacle. For several days, speculation ran rampant that Fontes would be fired. That nobody could lay an egg like that and keep his already-tenuous job.

Ford emerged a couple weeks later, and he said, basically, that Fontes had achieved the mandate, and made the playoffs. His job was safe. And again, Ford wondered what all the fuss was about. He suspected, apparently, that we would think that simply making the playoffs, then getting torched on national TV, would be acceptable.

Sometimes I wish I had his countenance. Better on my health.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Hearts Of Officiating Men? Tim Donaghy, Perhaps?

Notice how you never see Tim Donaghy and Don Denkinger in the same place at the same time? Or Donaghy and the crew who worked the USA-USSR 1972 Olympic basketball game? Or Donaghy and the officials for the "Immaculate Reception" play in Pittsburgh? Or Donaghy and the ref who gave Tom Brady the benefit in the famous "tuck" game in the playoffs against Oakland? Or Donaghy and the ref during the famous "long count" boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney?

Have we bothered to check more into Donaghy, the disgraced NBA ref who's under investigation for betting on games and possible affecting their outcomes? Do we know how old he REALLY is, for example? Is it possible that his physical body is just a contemporary vessel for the crooked officating spirits that have lurked in professional and college sports for over a century? How can we be sure that Donaghy isn't some sort of refereeing demon who cannot and will not be killed?

Hey, for that matter, has there been a sighting of Donaghy and Simon Cowell together?

I'm starting to wonder if there's now an explanation for some of sport's most suspicious calls and actions ever made by game officials in the past.

1. Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Royals trailing the Cardinals 1-0, and 3-2 in the Series, Jorge Orta tapped a ball to first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell, who caught it and stabbed his foot at the bag. Denkinger (wrongly) ruled that Worrell's foot missed the base. The Royals, thanks to that leadoff "hit," were able to score two runs and win the game. They won the Series the next night. I doubt anyone was hoping for a Cardinals win in Game 7 more than Don Denkinger/Tim Donaghy, after replays of his blunder were shown around the world for 24 hrs. He's SAFE! (Please disregard the photographic evidence to the contrary)

2. The USA was robbed several times at the tail end of the gold medal basketball game in the 1972 Summer Olympics against the USSR. After Doug Collins (yes, the same one) hit two free throws to put USA up by one point, there were three seconds remaining. The Soviets inbounded the ball and failed to score. USA wins!! But the refs -- none of whom spoke English -- ruled that the Soviets called time out before the ball was inbounded. On the second try, the Soviets again failed to score. USA wins!! But the refs again intervened, trying to explain to USA coach Hank Iba that the clock hadn't been properly reset. On the third try, the ball was heaved all the way down the court, where a Soviet player blatantly fouled two USA players, muscled the ball away from them, and layed it in. USSR wins!! And it counts! The USA team was so disgusted with the actions of the officials/Donaghy that they refused their silver medal, which I always thought was cool as hell.

3. In a 1972 divisional playoff game, the Steelers were losing, 7-6, with 22 seconds remaining. Terry Bradshaw scrambled and chucked the ball downfield. Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua and Raiders safety Jack Tatum convened at the same time as the pigskin arrived. There was a collision. The ball floated toward the turf. Franco Harris appeared out of nowhere and snagged it with his fingertips, inches from the ground. He galloped in for the winning touchdown. The officials conferred for what seemed like an eternity (in those days, two consecutive offensive players couldn't touch a forward pass, so the issue was, did Tatum touch the ball last, or did Fuqua?). According to Al LoCasale, a Raiders exec, the officials asked how much police protection they could get if they made the proper call, which was no touchdown? When told of the skimpy number of cops, the officials/Donaghy ruled TD, Pittsburgh. According to LoCasale -- who's hardly an unbiased informant.

Franco, Franco, the Steelers man -- took the football (and the game) and away he ran (thanks to Donaghy?)

4. On January 20, 2002, the Raiders were leading the Patriots by three points with under two minutes remaining in a snowstorm in Foxboro, Mass. Pats QB Tom Brady faded back to pass and just was he was hit by Chuck Woodson, he brought his arm forward, as if to tuck the ball in. But the ball slipped loose. The Raiders recovered it. But referee Walter Coleman/Tim Donaghy rules, after viewing the replay, that Brady's arm coming forward -- even though it was for a tuck -- categorizes the move as an attempted pass. No fumble -- incomplete pass instead. Given second life, Brady leads the Pats to a game-tying FG and a game-winning kick in OT. And, eventually, a Super Bowl victory over the Rams.

5. On September 22, 1927, heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney fought Jack Dempsey in a title match. In the seventh round, Dempsey caught Tunney good with a left to the chin. The champion fell. But before starting the count, referee Dave Barry/Donaghy spent precious seconds telling Dempsey to go to a neutral corner. By the time he started the count, witnesses estimate that Tunney had an extra 8-10 seconds to recover, which he did. Later, of course, Tunney won by unanimous decision and defended his belt.

Barry/Donaghy spends too much time getting Dempsey (left) to a neutral corner

It may not make any sense to you, but who's to say that Tim Donaghy hasn't been existing in the souls of officials and referees, past and present, for years??

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Congrats, Arena League! I Don't Know How You Do It

I'll come clean, right off the bat, so that you know where I'm coming from.

I'm not sure if I should be filed under "F" or "O" for being an Old Fogie. It's a label that I find it difficult to argue against.

Yet another example reared its head this morning.

The AFL is 21 years old. And this O.F., whenever he reads "AFL", thinks immediately to the American Football League of 1960-1969.

But no -- it's the Arena Football League.

William Bendetson of ESPN.com writes about the league's triumphs and challenges, and two more things entered my mind, after I got my arms around the whole what the AFL really stands for thing.

#1 -- has it been 21 years?
#2 -- 21 years of what?

Actually, a third thing: is the AFL football at all, really? More about that later.

So by now you understand that if it's "fair and balanced" you're looking for in reference to treatment of the Arena League (I'm sorry, but the football historian in me just can't bring myself to call it the AFL without fearing that I'm trampling over the gridiron graves of Jack Kemp, John Hadl, and Cookie Gilchrist), then look elsewhere. I'm not going to bury the Arena dudes, I'm just sort of scratching my head here.

First, something in my defense. I'm a Detroiter, and in the early days of Arena ball, the Detroit Drive was dominant. They won something like four or five championships in a row. (The fact that I don't know how many it was for certain is another tip-off). So I'm not coming at this from a never-had-Arena ball-in my life perspective.

I just don't get what the Arena League is trying to do, but yet they've done it since 1987. They're not really a feeder system to the NFL. Very few NFLers have come from Arena ball. They're an indoor, summer thing -- and I never thought those two things went well together.

It must be the high scoring games. Many Arena games' finals look like high school basketball scores. It certainly can't be the ease of rules. To me, knowing what is and isn't allowed in an Arena match is like trying to figure out what is and isn't kosher to say to an old friend you've run into who's put on 150 pounds.

"Heyyy there...you have more chins than a Beijing telephone book." (wrong)

"I see you're enjoying God's bounty!" (better, but still not great)

"I'm sorry, I don't remember you" (when in doubt, DENY)

I do kind of like the super narrow space between the uprights. And the fact that you kick off with your back touching your own goal line.

But is it football, really?

The elements of football are there. And I'm defining elements here as: a football; and pads. But are there actual plays? An NFL quarterback wears a wristband with hundreds of plays on it in agate type. An Arena QB's menu, it seems to me, could be written ON his wrist.

Actually, I think there are four plays in Arena Ball:

1. "Go long"
2. "Go short"
3. "Go medium"
4. "Handoff to YOU"

And how do you know when a team is doing a Hail Mary? The field is only as long as a legal pad.

Can you imagine if Cal tried to replicate its miracle play against Stanford on an Arena field? They would have needed about six fewer laterals and one less band. In fact, they may not have needed any trickery at all. How long does it take to traverse a legal pad, anyway?

But seriously, folks. The Arena League has been around for 21 campaigns. They must be doing something right. They've made most people forget the REAL AFL, for starters.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

With Precedent, Lions Look To D-Line For Help

The photograph is signature, perhaps the most famous of all snapshots taken of a franchise that hasn't sniffed a championship in 50 years. You'll find it in the team offices, in the media lounge at Ford Field, and probably in Bill Ford Sr.'s bedroom, for all I know.

Packers quarterback Bart Starr IS in there, believe it or not. He's the one being swarmed and turned into a wrap for some hungry Lions defenders.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1962, and the Lions were hosting the Pack -- the putrid smell of their last-second loss to the Packers a month or so earlier still lining their nostrils. It was a loss so great that no less than Alex Karras theorized that it may have been the single most destructive force behind the Lions never again returning to championship caliber. The Lions, with the ball, a 7-6 lead and the clock showing under two minutes remaining, needed only to punt and pin the Packers deep and seal the victory. But on third down, QB Milt Plum tried a pass, the Lions receiver slipped, Herb Adderly intercepted, and moments later, Paul Hornung kicked the game-winning FG.

Karras was so violently angry that he hurled his helmet at Plum's head in the locker room after the game.

Karras let Plum know what he thought of the QB's play calling in the '62 debacle in Green Bay

The entire defense, in fact, was violently angry. The Lions were a very good team in 1962, the only real competition for the Packers in the Western Division. Had they beaten the Packers in Green Bay that October afternoon, it would most likely be the Lions, not the Packers, in the NFL Championship game that December.

So after stewing about the loss for weeks, and as the Lions matched the Packers victory-for-victory, the defense was absolutely ready to take on Green Bay in the Turkey Day rematch.

The front seven destroyed the Packers and their vaunted and Hall of Fame-filled offensive line that day. They sacked Starr all afternoon, tossing him around like a rag doll. But one play encapsulated the day, and became the signature shot.

I know you've seen the photo. It's of Karras, linebacker Joe Schmidt, and defensive linemen Darris McCord and Sam Williams, all with their arms wrapped around Starr. There's not a Packer o-lineman in sight.

It's a grand picture for another reason. The Lions, through the years, have actually fielded some pretty darn good defensive lines and front sevens. It's been an area, truthfully, that normally hasn't been much of a concern, even in the more woeful-than-normal seasons. So it's natural that the image of the Lions engulfing Bart Starr would be of note. Even if, in your mind, the signature photo should be of a Lions QB fumbling a snap. Or of a bad snap for an extra point. Or of an offensive tackle springing up, drawing a flag for movement.

The Lions open training camp this week, and again one of the team's strong points is deemed to be the front four -- the defensive linemen with the fat contracts and huge potential.

Cory Redding and Shaun Rogers inside. Kalimba Edwards and DeWayne White on the outside. These four, we are told, might make Lions fans forget names like Karris, McCord, Williams, English, Pureifory, Cofer, and Baker. We'll see. They'll certainly make people forget those players' salaries.

Redding was given the richest contract of any DT in the NFL. Rogers, when he cares to be, can make offensive linemen curl into the fetal position. Edwards is still trying to become dominant. White is just thrilled to be back with Rod Marinelli again (he was in Tampa Bay when Marinelli coached the d-line), and vows to wow.

Again, we'll see.

They may not convene at an opposing quarterback for a photo opportunity as rich as the 1962 pummeling of Bart Starr. But they'd better put some pressure on, because from what I understand, the secondary isn't much to write home about.

Lem Barney has been retired for 30 years, you know.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No Matter How Small A Man He Is, Donaghy Casts A Very Large And Dark Shadow

I don't know much about Tim Donaghy. I don't know how tall he is, for example. So therefore, I have no idea how big of a shadow he casts -- physically. But I do know this: the shadow he casts, figuratively, is greater than one of those gargantuan space ships that were in Independence Day.

Donaghy, the ex-NBA referee in the middle of a firestorm caused by news that he's under investigation by the Feds for betting on games and affecting their outcomes, may be just one man, but the "Lone Nut" theory doesn't apply here.

You see, it really doesn't matter if it turns out that Donaghy is just a poor sap who got himself involved in some gambling debts that he couldn't take care of on his referee's salary, thereby forcing him into a desperate route of game-fixing. It's irrelevant if only Donaghy was crooked, and none of his officiating brothers so much as blew one inadvertent whistle. It is totally meaningless if he's alone in this mess, because once the news broke and was confirmed, Tim Donaghy wasn't alone. Not even close.

It's not all that complicated. For if mobsters, no matter how "low level" they might be, can compromise an NBA referee once, then who's to say they can't do it again, or haven't done it again? And, even bigger, who's to say that any of the other professional team sports are immune to it? Donaghy isn't a "Lone Nut," after all. This bombshell has forever changed the way fans, media, and players look at game officials. How can it NOT?

Not that the NBA, or the other leagues, shouldn't do all they can to ensure that this never happens again, of course. It's not a losing battle from that perspective. Time heals, they say. If nothing like this is even sniffed about for the next several years, then maybe Tim Donaghy can indeed acquire the label of "Lone Nut" with minimal damage to the integrity of pro (and dare I say, college) sports.

The NBA, clearly, has no choice but to overreact -- and I hope they do. I hope they go overboard in dealing with this, once the legalities play out and more information is gathered and authenticated. I hope Commissioner David Stern treats this as the albatross that it is -- an ugly one around the necks of his league that he's spent so much time building.

But now is not the time for overreaction -- at least not by Stern and his deputies. Now is the time for patience, waiting for everything to kind of sort itself out. A league investigation is obviously in order, concurrent with the federal one of Donaghy. Rumors, of course, are swirling that Donaghy is poised to sing to the Feds like a canary, and that in that tune will be the names of other referees -- and even some players. That thought is too chilling to digest right now, if ever. All the more reason to overreact when the time is right.

Now, you must understand something. The FBI doesn't investigate things for fun. This isn't some team building exercise for their employees. They're nosing around because there is very credible evidence that something stinks with at least one man in the grey, blue and red shirts. And they want to know if there are others.

So it's likely that where there's smoke, there's fire in the case of Tim Donaghy. And if it's just him -- if he's just one dude who succumbed to the weight of a gambling debt owed to some unsavory folks, it may be considered good news by most. Thank goodness there was no one else involved, they'll say.

But you kinda gotta ask yourself: How long has this been going on? And, worse, where else?

Doesn't seem like such good news anymore, does it?

"Out Of Bounds" Named Featured Blog Of The Week

Was checking my Site Meter yesterday and I noticed these repeat visits from the Abel to Yzerman site, so naturally I wondered what was up and ....

Out of Bounds, it seems, was named their featured blog of the week!

Click here to read all the too-kind things Ken said about me and this site. I will be sure to contact him personally and thank him, too. It's always nice to get a little love from your colleagues.

Thanks again, Ken!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

No Baseball Romance On Radio, TV Without Ernie And George

If anyone can find me an egg timer in the broadcast booth at Comerica Park, or any Major League Baseball playground, for that matter, I’ll buy you a pop. I’ll even spring for Towne Club – if we can find it.

I’m not worried, though. I doubt you’ll find such a gizmo in the quarters where the radio and TV guys hang out. Oh, but so many of them need one!

The speaker was Ernie Harwell, and I stood enraptured as he told me how he knew when to give the score of the ballgame he was broadcasting.

“Red Barber taught me,” Harwell said in that lilt in the “green room” of our cable TV studio in Taylor. It was circa the late 1980s, early 1990s – when I cobbled together an income producing and directing television programs Downriver. “You keep an egg timer in the booth, and every time you flip it over, you give the score.”

The score of a ballgame in three-minute intervals. Imagine that. It’s obvious some of the hacks who blab into microphones nowadays clearly haven’t grasped the concept.

The Tigers are relevant again, which means more and more folks are becoming glued to their TV sets and tuning in the game on the radio. In recent years past, you tried like the dickens to avoid watching or listening to them whenever possible. What was the point, really – when the losses outnumbered the wins by an almost 2-to-1 ratio most of the time? In 2003, the ratio was nearly 3-to-1, for goodness sakes.

I’m swamping the radio dial and stealing the remote quite a bit myself lately. I’ve subjected my wife and daughter to the old, “I just want to check the score” bit – and then end up doing more than that, for as long as I’m allowed.

But as smooth as Mario Impemba and Rod Allen are on Fox Sports Detroit – and Allen is actually one of the game’s best analysts, if you want to know – they’re not George Kell and Al Kaline. And radio’s Dan Dickerson and Jim Price are not Harwell and Paul Carey.

No crime there – and I haven’t told you anything that you (or they) don’t already know.

I’ve been listening to Harwell a lot lately – courtesy of an old tape a former co-worker made for me. It’s an audio cassette recording from the album “Year of the Tiger,” which was put out shortly after the Tigers clinched the 1968 pennant – but before the World Series was played, for whatever reason. The album is a stirring journey through that wonderful, exciting season – told mainly thru the actual game calls of Harwell and Ray Lane, along with their in-studio narration.

“Here’s the set – and the pitch – swing and a base hit to right! And it’s allll over! Kaline scores, Don Wert singles … the Tigers mob Don … and the Tigers have won their first pennant since nineteen-hundred and forty-five. Let’s listen to the bedlam, at Tiger Stadium!”

That’s how the album begins – with Harwell’s call of Wert’s hit in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees and clinch the league championship. Back then, there were no tiers of intraleague playoffs. No divisions. You clinched the pennant in the regular season, and prepped for the World Series in September.

I was too young to recall the drama of the ’68 season, in which the Tigers constantly came from behind to pull games out of the fire. But thanks to the cassette that I have in my car stereo, ready to be popped in at any moment, I can re-live it. And then I realize how much I miss Harwell behind the mike.

It wasn’t just the constant giving of the score, though that was much appreciated – especially by a working kid in college who jumped into his car at night after his shift and wondered how the Tigers were doing. It was comforting to know that you wouldn’t have to sit through two or three batters before the announcer indulged you.

There was just something about Harwell’s voice, lightly coated with Georgia, that screamed baseball. And the more I think about it, the more I remember that voice popping up in various places.

Outside, in the backyard. My father working on something or another, or washing the car in the driveway. And the ballgame on, the sounds accompanying his chores. Maybe Norm Cash would hit one out, and he and I would stop and listen to Harwell call it, before going back to work.

Stuck in traffic on a Sunday afternoon, and we’re not the only ones with the game on – car windows opened as you could hear Ernie from the next vehicle. John Hiller would get a big strikeout, and you’d look over to your neighbor on the road and grin and nod as everyone inched forward.

Grabbing a few things at the party store and Ernie’s there, too – his voice emanating from the store’s back room. You can barely make it out, so you ask what the score is.

Kell (left) and Harwell: The two greatest voices in Tigers history

Or maybe it was Carey in his rich baritone. Paul did the middle three innings with Ernie in my day.

There wasn’t a better baseball play-by-play man on TV than Kell.

His voice was drenched with Arkansas. Lou Whitaker would poke a single to right and his teammate would try to score from second base.

“They’re WAYYYVING him in!,” Kell would go, and there just wasn’t anything as exciting. “There’s gonna be a play at the plate!”

My favorite Kell story happened in the heat of the 1987 divisional race. The Tigers were at Milwaukee, and pitcher Walt Terrell had just made a whale of a play, bare-handing a tapper, off balance, and gunning the batter out by a fraction of a step as Terrell fell to the ground. Naturally, the play was shown many times via replay, from different angles.

Enter Kell. “I’m afraid if they show that play one more time, he’s gonna be safe!”

I still grin.

So, I’m sorry, Mario and Rod. You too, Dan and Jim. Never again will baseball romance me so on the airwaves. But you should still invest in an egg timer.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nolan's Gesture Much Needed By NHL

The NHL could use more news like this.

I remember Teddy Nolan when he was a struggling Red Wings farmhand, in the 1980s. Then I remember him when he was coaching Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League. I used to direct TV coverage of Detroit Jr. Red Wings OHL games, and so I got to know some of the league's players and coaches a little bit. Nolan, even back then (early-1990s) had a reputation of being a tough yet fair coach -- and one who could relate well to his players.

Then, of course, I followed Nolan as he ascended to the NHL, coaching the Buffalo Sabres. He was the league's Coach of the Year in 1997 -- then got fired. And he didn't return to the NHL until last season, coaching the New York Islanders. It was a nine-year wait.

Yesterday, Nolan made a gesture that is awash with class and dignity, yet is also bittersweet, for with the publicity woes of the NHL during the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone during July, I fear it's going to get lost in the summertime shuffle.

Al Arbour holds the NHL record for most regular season games coached with one team -- 1,499. He compiled them all with the Islanders, starting in 1973. Of course, Arbour was at the helm when the Isles won four straight Cups (1980-83), and nearly a fifth in 1984. His last game coached for them was at the end of the 1993-94 season.

Arbour celebrates one of his four Cups as Isles coach

Enter Nolan.

There's a large plastic board near the Islanders' dressing room that lists team and individual accomplishments.

"Every day it would kill me when I'd see Coach Arbour made it to 1,499 games," Nolan said in a statement.

So what did Nolan, today's Islanders coach, do for Arbour, yesterday's Islanders coach and among the greatest coaches in NHL history?

He pitched an idea to the club, and with league approval, it's going to come to fruition.

On November 3, a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Arbour -- after signing a one-day contract -- will coach the Islanders for the 1,500th time.

"This is an incredible gesture by Ted and the Islanders," the Hall of Famer Arbour said in the same statement released by the team that included Nolan's remarks. "I am flattered that Ted thought of me and I wouldn't miss this night for the world."

It's not going to be a record breaking night. Arbour already holds the mark. But 1,500 is such a nice, round number. So thirteen years after hitting 1,499, Arbour will gain his roundness.

Nolan: "Every day it would kill me when I'd see Coach Arbour made it to 1,499 games"

Cynics and sticks in the mud will say that this is a paper move, like the White Sox activating Minnie Minoso in 1976 and 1980 just so he could say he played in decades four and five. Or when the Detroit Vipers let Gordie Howe skate a shift in 1996, making him a six-decade man.

Fine. Let them harrumph and frown. But Arbour will coach the entire game, fair and square -- not make a token appearance behind the bench then vanish two minutes into the contest. But besides that, who cares what the naysayers say? The NHL needs all the positive publicity it can get.

I see where Nolan is coming from. It always bothered the heck out of me that Al Kaline ended his brilliant MLB career with 3,007 hits, but 399 home runs. He was one homer shy of becoming the first player with 3,000 hits and 400 roundtrippers. That honor later went to Carl Yastrzemski.

But it would have been totally out of character for Kaline to continue his career long enough to hit no. 400. Not his style. And I doubt the Tigers, or anyone else, could have convinced him to do so.

Arbour, we presume, was very aware that his record stood at 1,499 games coached. Perhaps he was at peace with it, as Kaline was with 399 home runs. Or maybe he would have jumped at the chance to coach no. 1,500, if asked.

Thirteen years and some change after his last game coached, Al Arbour will be behind the bench for the 1,500th time with the New York Islanders. It will come two days after his 75th birthday. And he's right -- it IS an incredible gesture by Ted Nolan and the team.

The NHL could use a lot more of this kind of stuff, you know.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fire Gehringer?? That May Have Been The Catcall, Back In The Day

I doubt any marches were staged. I can't imagine the fans showing up and dressing in the team colors of the opponents. Certainly no sports talk radio back then, so no rabble-rousing would have been going on in that manner. No websites to get the blood boiling. No fans in other cities holding up placards screaming a similar two-word chant.

"Fire Millen!"

But were there "Fire Gehringer" signs in the 1950s in Detroit? Did anyone stop stuffing telephone booths or sitting on flagpoles or put their burger, fries, and malt dinner on hold long enough to get their cardigan in a knot over the abysmal performance of Charlie Gehringer as Tigers GM?

Even a generation later -- when I was actually around to see it -- I don't recall much of a movement to kick Dickie Vitale out of town when he was ruining the Pistons. I think that was because it all happened so fast, though -- leaving us too stunned to react. Besides, the owner gave him the ziggy with a quick trigger, though not quick enough to stop the hemorrhaging of one franchise and the dynasty-rebuilding of another.

Great players, or loudmouthed college coaches, don't a good general manager make, necessarily. Obviously. Nor do hotshot sons of GMs, or radio announcers, or PR guys. We've had 'em all in Detroit.

Gehringer, as the MUCH more successful player

Maybe no GM has been allowed to hang around long enough to compile the mind-numbing 24-72 record that Matt Millen has forged with the Lions. It's all relative. Ninety-six NFL games are like 972 MLB games, or 492 NBA/NHL contests. And none of the above -- with the exception of the Boy Wonder Randy Smith (the son of Tal Smith) were in Detroit anywhere near as long as Millen. Even Elgin Baylor, mostly unsuccesful during his interminable run with the Los Angeles Clippers, has tasted the playoffs on occasion.

But Gehringer, the marvelous, Hall of Fame second baseman for the Tigers, was the first in Detroit to display his decidedly non-knack for being an executive when the team hired him on August 10, 1951. But unlike Millen, who was plugged into the NFL as a longtime TV analyst, Gehringer had been out of baseball for about ten years.

"I hated the job," he recalled years later. "I had been out (of baseball) for ten years. I didn't know who was and who wasn't."

Not that it stopped him from trying trades. Gehringer, like Vitale a quarter-century or so later, ran amok, like a kid with a cache of bubble gum cards in front of a drugstore with his pals.

In '52, Gehringer shuffled his deck of bubble gum cards fevrishly. He traded George Kell. He picked up Johnny Pesky from the Red Sox. He got Walt Dropo. He sent Dizzy Trout packing, along with Kell. Hoot Evers, too, was dealt. So was Vic Wertz. He fired his manager and gave the job to one of his pitchers, Fred Hutchinson. When the dust settled, the Tigers finished 50-104 and dead last in the league, 14 games out of 7th place.

In 1953, the Tigers won ten more games but that was still only good enough for sixth place, 16 games out of fifth. And again Gehringer tried trading his way out of quicksand. Among those Gehringer picked up that season was Ralph Branca, famous for giving up Bobby Thomson's home run in the 1951 NL playoff.

After '53, Gehringer was out -- his record in two seasons 110-198. A winning percentage of .357 -- awful but still 100 points higher than Millen's .250 with the Lions.

Fifty years after the Tigers hired Gehringer, the Lions inked Millen.

Matt Millen, it appeared, had all the right stuff to make good decisions about football. He was an outstanding middle linebacker who played in nothing but winning programs: Penn State, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Redskins. He was connected to the league by virtue of his work with Fox Sports. He knew good football people.

Sadly, Millen never surrounded himself with those good people. He never created a football posse and delegated to them key areas of expertise. He could have, from the beginning, hired some of the most brilliant minds in the game -- folks who would have leapt at the chance to work for him and Bill Ford Sr. But he tried to do it all himself, and now, Matt Millen is damaged goods. He can't hope to attract those kinds of people now.

"Fire Gehringer!"

Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Old Pal Joey Might Benefit From Vick's Troubles

Lord help Michael Vick.

Lord help him if the charges that are brought against him are true -- that he presided over and encouraged the mutilation and killing of dogs trained to fight on the grounds of his mansion. Lord help him if he's innocent -- that despite all the evidence to the contrary, he is either a clueless pawn or a framed sap.

I don't think I can ever look at Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, the same way again, even if he's somehow proven innocent. He had SOMETHING to do with the dog fights on his property; I think only an eternal optimist -- or a damned fool -- could believe his hands have no canine blood on them.

But guess who's waiting in the wings if Vick's NFL career is unable to continue this season?

Pal Joey Harrington, the erstwhile Lion and latter day Dolphin.

Harrington signed with the Falcons last winter after being let go by Miami, who had Daunte Culpepper. But then the Dolphins signed Trent Green, and the unhappy Culpepper was let go yesterday.

Who would have figured that, a week before training camp, Harrington would be employed and Culpepper wouldn't? You gotta love the NFL.

It's still unclear how the feds will proceed against Vick and the others indicted along with him. It's unknown how it will affect his being the Falcons' starting quarterback when the curtain rises on the 2007 season. If convicted, Vick could receive up to six years in prison. He can't throw any footballs to his receivers from the pen.

So conventional wisdom says that Joey Harrington will be the Atlanta Falcons' signal caller in their season opener in September. It might be the big break that he's needed in his six-year NFL career. And it would be appropriate -- the squeaky-clean Harrington, piano player extraordinaire, taking over for the decidedly less clean Vick.

What's more up in the air, though, is how the Falcons' offense will handle switching from the nimble-footed, elusive Vick to the happy, nervous feet of Harrington. Michael Vick makes things happen with his cleated feet; Joey Harrington makes other stuff happen with his -- stuff that usually attracts flies.

But what's certain is this: Vick is probably not the answer for the Falcons in 2007. Even if he plays, the distraction of his mere presence on a football field while federal charges and court dates swirl around him might prove to be his team's undoing.

The NFL might step in, too -- and declare Vick ineligible, pending his legal drama playing out. There's not much precedence for this situation.

Training camp starts next week and Joey Harrington SHOULD start it as the #1 QB on the Atlanta Falcons' depth chart. He started there once, in Detroit -- when the weight of 45 years of no NFL championships weighed him down.

The Falcons, in their 42-year history, have never won the big one.

The more things change....

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Power Of Ten

Of the 10,000 losses suffered by the Philadelphia Phillies -- and their fans -- over the years (making them the first professional sports franchise to lose 10K games), 9,990 of them, combined, probably aren't as painful as 10 that were endured in 1964.

On September 20, 1964, the Phillies were 90-60. They had a 6-1/2 game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. There were 12 games to play. World Series tickets, no doubt, were at the printer (no NLCS in those days). The Phils were about to win their first pennant since the "Whiz Kids" did it in 1950.

The Reds came into Philly on Monday, the 21st, for a three-game set. The Reds swept. The Milwaukee Braves followed the Reds into Philadelphia for a four-game series. The Braves swept. Reeling, the Phillies ventured into St. Louis for a three-game series. The Cardinals swept.

Ten losses in a row. The Phillies were now 90-70, 2-1/2 games out of the lead. They were mathematically eliminated.

Mauch: Why is this man smiling?

Those ten losses will live forever in infamy in Philadelphia -- and throughout MLB. They pigeon-holed manager Gene Mauch into being a skipper with the reputation of not being able to win the "big one." And indeed, Mauch was at the helm when the 1986 Angels blew the pennant on a David Henderson home run off Donnie Moore. Years later, Moore turned a gun on himself and blew his brains out, still hurting from giving up Henderson's homer. Mauch didn't resort to such drastic measures. But he still couldn't shake the rep.

The truth is, Mauch panicked in 1964 -- and by his own admission when discussing those horrible ten days in a memoir. He pitched his best hurlers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, on short rest -- sometimes only two days' worth. He didn't trust his bullpen, or any other starter. In the ten games, Bunning lost three times, Short twice. They accounted for half the losses -- and they were starters. Bunning lost on the 24th, 27th, and 30th of September.

Then, in cruel fashion, the Phillies won their last two meaningless games to finish 92-70.

The Cardinals won the pennant, and nipped the Yankees in the World Series in seven games.

The 1964 Phillies are still known as baseball's all-time chokers. Even the 1978 Red Sox, who let the Yankees make up a 13-game deficit between July and October, weren't as bad. Nor were the 1995 Angels, who lost 10 of 11 games late in the season to blow the division to the Mariners. Nor was any other team, in any other year, in any other league. The Phillies had a 6-1/2 game lead with twelve games to play. Their magic number was seven -- and there it stayed.

Not until 1980 did the Phillies finally win a world championship. It's still their only World Series title.

So when is 10 > 9,990? Just ask Phillies fans.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

After His Nightmare, Aaron Owes No One Anything

I wonder when Henry Aaron came to the realization that he would trade all of his God-given baseball talent for a life of anonymity.

Was it when the death threats occurred – mailed in, called in, delivered to the Atlanta Braves clubhouse? Was it when the hate mail poured in like a stuck-open spigot? Was it when he heard the chilling shouts during batting practice from “fans” – including words strung together that would make even Archie Bunker blush? Or was it when his daughter had to have Secret Service-like protection at college, due to the kidnapping threats made against her?

Surely one of these had to have put Aaron over the edge while he had the nerve to chase Babe Ruth’s all-time career home run record, in late 1973 and early 1974. Ruth had been retired for nearly 40 years, and Aaron was the first player who was seriously challenging the Bambino. And Hammerin’ Hank’s being black made the lowest form of human life in this country squirm and gnash their teeth.

It was bad enough that Aaron played his 23-year career under the shadows of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, and others – players who were constantly revered as being the best in the game, while Aaron, for whatever reason, was overlooked as being a power hitter and not much more. I’ve always been amazed, the same way I am over the fascination with Paris Hilton, that Aaron hasn’t really gotten his due as one of the top five players in baseball history – which he is.

Aaron played the outfield with the same grace and consistency as Mays and Mantle – and Roberto Clemente (another who gets more word play than Aaron), albeit with less flash and panache. And without the good fortune of plying his trade in the Valhalla of baseball affection – New York, as Mays did for the first seven years of his career, and as Mantle did. And Duke Snider. And Gil Hodges.

But the underrated thing is nothing compared to what Aaron had to go through in pursuit of Ruth. I’ve written it before – that the treatment Hank Aaron received in the months and days leading up to his surpassing Ruth should forever be remembered as the days when our country should be most ashamed of itself.

Aaron had no fun chasing Babe Ruth. You could see it in his eyes, even after he hit home run no. 715 on April 8, 1974. The look was mostly of weary relief – not joy or elation. As he rounded second base and headed for third, a couple of fans who had spilled out of the stands at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium joined him for the home run trot. They gave him congratulatory pats on the back – obviously less driven by their appreciation of history and more so by their desire to be immortalized on film, no doubt. But it provided a symbolic moment: happy, giddy America and a stoic, reserved Aaron.

After 715 was in the books, Aaron was relieved, not elated

He was also a victim of bad timing. Aaron finished the 1973 season with 713 home runs, one shy of Ruth. So it gave the haters six more months to load up and rain their fusillade on Aaron while the chase was put on pause. Aaron’s home run hitting was stilled by the off-season, but the vitriol continued.

After his playing days, Aaron railed against Major League Baseball’s old boy system of franchise running – namely, wondering where all the black executives were. He hinted that he would like to be commissioner someday. Or a general manager of a team. Or a president. And he wanted others of color to be afforded the same opportunities. Once again the haters came out of the woodwork. It was bad enough, in their eyes, that a black man had knocked the white Ruth off the home run pedestal. Now Aaron wanted more?

Aaron eventually did become a member of the Braves’ front office, in 1989. He’s been a member of it ever since. Few other minorities, though, have followed him. The old boy system is still alive and well.

Now, as Barry Bonds chases Aaron – Bonds has 751 homers to Aaron’s 755 – Hank is in the spotlight again, but not for simply being the chasee. Aaron has publicly announced that he doesn’t plan on being in attendance when Bonds breaks the record. He said it months ago. He established his position – firmly and without wavering – early on, and today, with Bonds knocking on the door, Commissioner Bud Selig has still yet to reveal his intentions on whether he’ll have his fanny in the stadium when Bonds swats no. 756.

Hank Aaron wanted to be commissioner once – and baseball all but laughed at him.

Aaron’s stance has been construed to mean that he doesn’t approve of Bonds’s assault on 755, due to the shroud of mystery surrounding Bonds and the stuff he has rubbed on his body and ingested over the years. Steroids. Performance-enhancing drugs. Banned substances. Pick your poison.

For his part, Aaron says simply that he doesn’t have the time, frankly, to travel all over the country, not knowing when 756 will occur, or where. He says records are meant to be broken, but that he just doesn’t choose to add to the circus atmosphere. It’s a nod, he says, to how he wishes no. 715 had been treated by so many others, back in the day. No animosity toward Bonds. No snubbing.

I don’t care if Aaron is telling the truth when he says those things, or is merely sugar-coating personal beliefs he holds. I wouldn’t even care if he said, “I’m not going to be there because Barry Bonds’s record is paper, and mine is gold.”

He chooses not to be in attendance. Maybe wouldn’t even walk across the street to see his record tumble. Fine.

In addition to the home run record, Aaron holds the MLB records for the the most career runs batted in (2,297), the most career extra base hits (1,477); and the most career total bases (6,856). He is also in the top five for career hits and runs.

For all that, Hank Aaron got death threats, hate mail, his daughter in suspected peril, and the feeling after the ’73 season that he wouldn’t live to see 1974.

The man can do what he wants.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Is Federer-Nadal The Greatest Rivalry Now? Of All-Time?

I watched Roger Federer play tennis in the Wimbledon Final, and I'm genuinely embarrassed to say that it was the first time I watched him play for any significant amount of time. Shame on me. But it's my loss, of course. Federer locked horns with his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, and for four sets the no. 2-ranked Nadal gave Federer everything he could handle.

It was wonderful, gripping action on Wimbledon's grass. And shame on me again, for only getting around to writing about it now. But it should never be old news when Federer and Nadal get it on.

Both men returned volleys that nobody had any business sniffing, let alone getting a racket on them. And let alone depositing them for winners -- which both Federer and Nadal did with fascinating regularity.

It wasn't until the fifth set -- Federer usually doesn't do five-setters -- that Nadal wore down, mainly due to a knee injury. And despite making far more unforced errors than his opponent, Federer collapsed onto the court a victor, winner of his fifth straight Wimbledon title. The emotions of the match got the best of him, and he sobbed openly, weeping in gratitude to the tennis gods that he was able to survive Nadal, who still holds an 8-5 advantage over Federer in head-to-head matchups.

Oh, and one more thing: John McEnroe is OK in my book. Mac is an excellent TV analyst -- subtle yet efficient in his breakdowns. I got almost as much of a kick listening to him tell me what just happened, and why, and what might happen next, as I did watching the two on-court combatants.

But there was no replacement for what I witnessed Sunday. I tuned in by accident, looking for "Meet the Press." Then I got sucked in by the quality of tennis I was seeing. And I didn't need Johnny Mac to know that what was happening was special -- top drawer stuff.

Folks raved about the prospects of Federer-Nadal matches in the near future. It had them recalling the theater that was Bjorn Borg (who Federer tied with his 5th straight Wimbledon) against Jimmy Connors (or McEnroe himself), and Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi.

Which got me to thinking: is Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal the best one-on-one rivalry going on in sports today? Is it among the best ever?

Don't let the smiles fool you (Federer, left; Nadal, right)

Those questions I'll let YOU answer. Meanwhile, here are some other personal rivalries that should be considered (in no particular order):

Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell. The mano-a-mano matches between these two great NBA centers are legendary. Russell generally gets the nod over The Stilt because of his lopsided advantage in championships. But Chamberlain, don't forget, led his Sixers in 1967, breaking the Celtics' streak at nine in a row. And, most likely, only a Chamberlain-led team would have been able to extricate the NBA from Boston's stranglehold.

Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson. Laugh if you must, but if Woods has any rival, it certainly must be the lefty Mickelson, who's been the only other winner on the tour with any sort of consistency. But maybe a better rivalry is...

Tiger Woods-Tiger Woods. Now that "real" life is squarely in the picture (read: wife and baby), maybe Woods's toughest challenger is Woods himself. Stay tuned.

Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio. These two had too much admiration for each other to call themselves rivals, but all indicators are that they were. First, there was the Yankees-Red Sox thing, for starters. Then there was their dueling season of 1941, when Williams hit .406 and DiMaggio had his 56-game hitting streak -- and snagged the AL MVP Award over Williams, which rankled Teddy Ballgame a bit. One was righthanded, the other lefty swinging. It was said that if they had swapped home ballparks, both their numbers would have been off the charts -- if Joe D. could have hit in Fenway Park with the oh-so-close Green Monster, and Williams had the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium as his home field.

LeBron James-Dwyane Wade. It's not a stretch to say that these two will be swapping appearances in the NBA Finals for as long as they both play in the Eastern Conference.

Johan Santana-Justin Verlander (or Jeremy Bonderman). Sit back and enjoy these pitchers carving up the American League for years to come -- and in the same division, to boot.

Johnny Unitas-Bart Starr. This wasn't much of a match statistically-speaking (Unitas was by far the better passer), but in terms of dominating the NFL in the 1960s as team leaders, these two were untouched. Starr's Packers won five championships, Unitas's Colts one, in the decade. But the Colts were always contenders.

Gil Thorp-Tank McNamara. Two comic greats: the square-jawed, straight-laced Thorp, and the bumbling, played-for-laughs McNamara. Usually you either like one or the other.

Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson. Some rivalries are actually feuds.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

WNBA Could Use Some Dunks And Winter Ball

Tell me, would the WNBA be more exciting to you if Swin Cash could streak down the lane on a fastbreak, fake a pass to Deanna Nolan, and then take the ball to the hole herself -- and DUNK?

Would you find the games more compelling if each team had a low post threat who could be fed the ball, back in, and ... DUNK?

Would there be more "oohs and ahhs" if Plenette Pierson grabbed an offensive rebound and, while in mid-air ... DUNKED?

At the risk of alienating some readers, I will say this: there's no question the ladies' hoop game will never surpass the NBA in popularity, but I can't help but think that a couple things might help it along. Those things are dunks, and games in the wintertime.

Squawk if you will, but some of the most memorable plays in NBA history -- the ones that stand out because of their athleticism, grace, and "wow" factor -- include some sort of wild, maniacal slam. The dunk is a punctuation mark that few sports have. It can be both a source of triumph and humiliation, of retribution and pride. And the WNBA simply doesn't have it.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Perhaps a smaller ball -- even smaller than the one that's used now, which is slightly less of a sphere than the NBA version. Maybe baskets that are 6-12 inches shorter than the ones used now. Maybe an abolishment of the 3-second rule, or at least a change to a 5-second rule, in the lane.

Regardless, I just think that if fans could see the current WNBA stars -- and reserves -- throwing down every so often, it might make the games more palatable to watch. More like "guy" basketball, which is simply more exciting than the women's game -- and sorry to be so blunt.

Playing games in the wintertime is not an easy proposition, I realize that. Many WNBA teams use NBA arenas, so the scheduling might be a nightmare, if their seasons were to run side-by-side in the cold weather months. But I just have a hard time seeing where the WNBA benefits from playing their games in the summertime, with many more extracurricular activities to compete with than in winter. Swimming, baseball, cookouts, picnics, camps, and even movies seem to be all jockeying for people's attention between May and September, when the WNBA plays its games. Who wants to drive to an arena and sit inside in the summertime?

Besides, maybe the WNBA, if it played concurrently with the NBA, could get some "overflow" fan interest. People would already be in a basketball frame of mind. And hey -- don't discount the notion of WNBA/NBA doubleheaders in the same arena. The NBA used to do it, back in the day. Madison Square Garden, in the 1950s and 1960s, would showcase, say, the Philly 76ers and the St. Louis Hawks, followed by the Knicks and the Celtics. Many NBA arenas did it, when the league was still trying to gain a foothold.

So why not have the Detroit Shock go at it with the Houston Comets at 5:30 at the Palace, followed by the Pistons game? I'm not joking. It could help the WNBA immensely, in terms of fan interest, exposure, and money.

Dunks and doubleheaders. I'm either a raving sexist, or a shrewd businessman. Then again, you can probably be both -- though I'll plead innocent to being the former.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, Out of Bounds features "The Straightaway," NASCAR commentary from Brazil-based Siddy Hall; this may be Siddy's last update till August, however, due to his impending marriage and honeymoon. Congrats, Siddy!)

by Siddy Hall


Daytona has provided NASCAR fans with the two finest races of the 2007 season. The recent summer version was the formula for a perfect race:

Big-Time, Big-Name Drama, as teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin took each other out while running up front followed by The Blame Game. Stewart got into a similar skirmish with Kurt Busch at the season opener while battling for the lead. That’s two reasons why Stewart is winless this year.

Seven cautions resulting from wrecks or spins, yet the drivers’ amazing skill and courage were on full display as a messy “Big One” was somehow avoided.

An unexpected race winner, Jamie McMurray, came from the rear to provide the major upset for Roush Racing and a rare 2007 victory for Ford.

An absence of wrecks in the final laps allowed for the exhilarating eight lap shootout that included the photo-finish ending between McMurray and Kyle Busch.

The race has provided fans with a big shot of adrenaline. Message boards are filled with opinions concerning Tony Stewart’s outburst against Denny Hamlin (consensus: Tony’s a jerk) along with Kyle Busch’s remarks about his soon-to-be future teammates at Hendrick not providing him draft-help, particularly Jeff Gordon (consensus: Kyle and Tony should be forced to share the same bathroom and for good measure, Kyle’s brother, Kurt, can use it too).
Can this happy guy be a JERK? Message board folks say YES

Hamlin's car blowin "Smoke" over Stewart's finger-pointing?

And then of course, there was also the great finish. So race fans are still buzzing.

What’s easy to overlook and rarely discussed was the great middle part of the race. Between laps 25-115, or for about 90 laps which made up over one-half of the event, the race was wreck-free. It was straight Green save for a “debris” caution at lap 58. The field got strung out about as much as a restrictor-plate race can be.

Kyle Busch crabbed about lack of support at Hendrick, particularly calling out Jeff Gordon

When the dust had cleared the “breakaway” group held two surprises. Running alongside the Busch Brothers and Jimmie Johnson were J.J. Yeley and David Stremme. For numerous circuits we were allowed to watch the choreography of these cars as they entered and exited the turns. Some were sliding high, others staying low. It was beautiful to watch (Thanks TNT!).

The biggest surprise of course was Stremme. Here’s a guy with two top-10s on his resume in 56 starts (10th at Texas, 8th at Talladega). Not only did he reach the front group but he was showing staying power. This was no fluke. David Stremme was a serious threat to win the race.

Then disaster struck the Coors Light machine. Following a cycle of green flag pit stops, Sterling Marlin got loose and tagged Ricky Rudd lightly, bringing out a Yellow. Despite having fresh tires, Stremme’s team decided to pit while some of the race leaders stayed out. They quickly re-discovered that there’s a risk to gaining that fresh rubber and extra fuel.

Stremme: If it wasn't for bad luck ...

While trying to exit a crowded pit road, Stremme’s departure turned out to be ill-timed. Paul Menard’s machine met Stremme’s – and poof! - the Coor’s team great hopes were dashed. At the time, TV viewers had a long view of pit road. Off in the distance we could see a car turned sideways; something was wrong. A closer view provided a view of Stremme throwing his car in reverse as he returned to his pitbox to fix the damage. Only a Lucky Dog pass helped provide the team with a now meager 22nd place finish.

That in a nutshell is the essence of NASCAR. Things come out of nowhere. It could be Dale Earnhardt running over debris while nearing the finish line at Daytona. It can be a flat tire causing a wreck. It can be a hot dog wrapper stuck to your grill causing the car to overheat. It can be a little tap on pit road.

What made David Stremme’s tough luck hard to watch was that he hasn’t tasted any success at this level. And in this game, if you don’t taste success, if you don’t get lucky, it’s possible that you never will.

Folks, I’ll probably be taking the next month off from this column. I’ve got a marriage and a honeymoon to attend to. The first test of our young marriage will be Honeymoon versus Blog. Right now I’m saying honeymoon, but you never know.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Grant Hill Owes Nothing To Boobs Like Mike Bianchi

With ungrateful idiots like Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel populating the area, no wonder Grant Hill wanted out of town.

Bianchi broiled Hill under his high wattage bulb of revisionist history in a recent column, whining about Hill's fleeing the Orlando Magic for the Phoenix Suns. Seems Bianchi can't understand why Hill, 34, won't stay with the Magic for one more season instead of going to a franchise where he can at least win the first playoff series of his career before his fragile body gives out completely.

To wit:

"I thought Grant Hill was different. I thought he would do the classy thing. The noble thing. The right thing. Silly me. Somehow, I thought Grant was above being a mercenary. I thought he would make the difficult and decent choice, not the easy selfish one."

Where was Bianchi when Hill was playing thru pain and putting himself thru hell to play for the Magic, a bad team made worse with poor personnel moves and the allowing of Tracy McGrady to be lost? It was the promise of McGrady being around for a while that helped entice Hill to the Magic to begin with. Then while Hill went thru loads of rehab and Lord knows what else to keep wearing a Magic uniform, McGrady and the Magic parted ways. When lesser men would have hung up their sneakers and said forget it, Grant Hill did his best to honor his part of the deal, agreed upon in a sign-and-trade with the Pistons in the summer of 2000.

Bianchi kept Hill on his bitter spit:

"See, "Grant Hill" isn't just a name; it's an ideal. He's supposed to be altruistic, not egotistic. He's supposed to stand tall for what's right, not cut and run and coattail his way to a ring. After the Magic stuck by him for all these years, didn't you think he'd at least stick by them for one more season? The Magic paid him $93 million for seven years of misery and medical maladies and never once publicly complained. Couldn't he have given them just one more season at the bargain-basement salary of $1.8 million, which reportedly is what the Suns will pay him next season?"

What a load of crap! "After the Magic stuck by him"? I'd say it was the other way around. Hill could have quit at any time, saying goodbye to a boatload of money. He could have decided that the pain was too great, the wretched talent surrounding him not worth the effort.

But Bianchi can't stop himself:

"This further cements Hill's Orlando legacy as the worst free-agent signing in the history of sports. Not only does he leave after playing only 200 regular-season games (out of a possible 574) in seven years, but he's leaving on his own two feet. After five ankle surgeries, he finally finished the season healthy last year -- and now he can't get out of town fast enough. He showed up in Orlando with a broken ankle; he leaves Orlando with broken dreams."

The worst free-agent signing in the history of sports? Hardly. If Bianchi would have done ANY research, he could have found many worse. And besides, it was Hill's health -- exacerbated by giving the Pistons 110% and playing on a bum ankle in the 2000 playoffs -- that prevented him from reaching or exceeding expectations, not any poor play.

"He leaves Orlando with broken dreams." Yeah, Mike -- his OWN. Don't you dare blame Hill for the Magic's lack of success or disappointment. He has more class in his little finger than you have in your whole myopic, never-been-a-player body.

"Hill said Thursday it was just time to move on. No, Grant, it was time to step up. Step up and say, 'Hey, Orlando, you stood by me. Now I'm going to stand by you.'"

Hill DID stand by the Magic, and they didn't deliver. They didn't deliver the coach, or the talent, until was too late.

Bianchi himself admits that Hill's decision was fairly easy to make from the point of view of a pro basketball player in his mid-30s. He just wishes Hill hadn't made it, because: "The Magic would have been an infinitely better team next year with Hill on the roster."

So there's the rub: Mike Bianchi would begrudge Hill his opportunity for some REAL basketball success, simply because the Magic would be a better team with him.

Of course the Magic would be better with Grant Hill. He's still a very good basketball player. And, clearly, Hill will be better without the "What have you done for me lately?" vitriol of boobs like Mike Bianchi. Hill put himself thru hell to please asses like that?

DEFINITELY a no-brainer to move on, Grant.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sheffield Always A Masher, Even at Age 13

I’m assuming the team photo still is on display, somewhere in the nifty press box overlooking the manicured ball field in Taylor, in the heart of Downriver. It’s where they play the Junior League World Series every August.

The JLWS is the version for 13-year-olds that isn’t nearly as popular, or as famous, as the Little League version, for 12-year-olds, played at Williamsport, Pa. The LLWS gets plenty of face time on ESPN and in the newspapers and on the Internet. Of course, it’s been around a lot longer than the JLWS has been.

I’m no expert, but I have some history with the JLWS tournament, run spectacularly well by Greg Bzura and his crack staff. From 1986 to 1993, I directed TV coverage of selected games that week for Maclean Hunter cable television, which became Comcast – as did just about every cable system in this country, it seems. For eight years, I saw wonderful baseball and dramatic championship games played by kids representing different geographical regions of the country, plus Canada, Asia, Central America, and Europe.

Hard to imagine them today, as men in their mid-20s to early-30s. Or women. That’s right – there was at least one girl, that I know of, who was allowed to play. For years, the tournament allowed one team from Michigan, being the host state. And in 1987, the Michigan team had a girl – first name Jennifer (last name forgotten, sadly). I remember she got into a game and played right field. I’d be tickled to find out what she’s doing today, as a 33-year-old.

The tournament pre-dated me by about five years or so. And in the press box (the new one; the old one burned down just weeks before the tourney in the early-1990s, but that’s a whole other story) were displayed the team photos of the past champions. One team photo had always struck me, and I was sure to look at it every year when we were setting up our cameras, lights, and microphones.

It was the 1982 championship photo, of the team from Tampa, Fla., representing the South Region. The photo intrigued me because it included a genuine success story. No need to wonder what happened to one certain first-time teenager.

Gary Sheffield was in the back row, smiling broadly. He was undoubtedly a key cog on that Tampa team. I wonder if he waggled his bat menacingly in the batter’s box back then, too.

When I was first aware of the significance of Sheffield’s participation in the JLWS, he was still a young major leaguer, maybe all of 25 years old. I was nearing the end of my run as a TV director, and Sheff was just getting rolling at becoming a future Hall of Famer at the highest level of professional baseball.

I always sought out the Tampa team photo with Gary Sheffield, because I thought it was very cool that he performed on the quaint diamond in Taylor, complete with its berms and grandstands.

Little did I know that he would still be in the big leagues, some 14 years later. And still mashing those unsuspecting baseballs.

Sheffield swings and connects with a ferocity that I’ve never seen by any other dude of his ilk. He deposits homeruns with such rapidity and efficiency that they are as if shot out of a cannon from home plate. No high, majestic fly balls – at least hardly ever. Instead, a Gary Sheffield homerun is off the bat and over the fence so fast, the poor outfielder reacts like a deer caught in the headlights – spooked, but unable to react. Let’s put it this way: a mortal ballplayer’s homeruns are like the line at the Secretary of State’s office at lunchtime. Sheffield’s are like the self-serve checkout when you have one item – and no one in front of you.

It’s not just homeruns, either. Everything Sheffield hits – and I mean everything – is swatted as hard as advanced trigonometry. Even the outs. He doesn’t just swing the bat; he uses it as a weapon of mass destruction.

When the Tigers acquired Sheffield last November from the Yankees in a trade involving a pitching prospect, I knew his history, certainly. I knew of the menacing bat-waggling. I knew of the vicious swing. I knew of the episodes of petulance and insolence with other employers. I just had no idea how much of a positive effect he would have on the Tigers lineup.

Magglio Ordonez is flirting with a batting title. Nowadays he hits in the stratosphere of .360, .365, .370. Numbers of Tony Gwynn, or Wade Boggs. Or Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Or Teddy Ballgame himself, Ted Williams. Never has Ordonez, a fine hitter, come anywhere near the average he messes with today as a Tiger All-Star starter. But never before has he had someone of Gary Sheffield’s brilliance hitting in front of him, either. Coincidence? I’ll have to give you a big, fat NOOOO on that one.

Sheffield, quite simply, makes the entire batting order, from one thru nine, better. That’s it. Nothing fancy. No more eloquent prose than that. He makes every batter better. Maybe that should be his slogan. “Gary Sheffield: Making Every Batter Better Since 1988.”

It was in ’88, as a skinny 19-year-old, that Sheffield debuted in the big leagues, with the Milwaukee Brewers. The game was played at Tiger Stadium. A few days later, he smacked his first homerun. The date was September 9, 1988. Ronald Reagan was still in office, for crying out loud. His most recent dinger – number 475 – came Thursday afternoon off Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia. In between the Brewers and the Tigers, there have been stops in San Diego, Florida, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York.

Part of the reason for his vagabond-like resume has been the lasers that come out of his mouth, instead of his bat. It’s been his unfiltered honesty that’s gotten him into hot water in other baseball cities.

But you won’t find Gary Sheffield ducking anyone, or anything. When he was struggling to hit his weight in April, he answered every question about the slump patiently and completely – and with some charm.

I was one of the questioners in the season’s young weeks, and we spent ten minutes together, chatting about a variety of baseball items. Then he went out and took another 0-for-5 collar.

I saw him again, on Thursday, before the Tigers stomped all over the Indians. He is in a slump no more. He is Gary Sheffield again. And I had meant to ask him about the Tampa JLWS team from 1982, but I forgot. I’ll hit him with it next time. Mainly I want to know when and why he started waggling his bat.

It’ll be like asking John Hancock why he started signing his name that way, I’ll bet.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Harding, Porter, and Walker: Three Troubled, Dead Ex-Pistons

They all died in a certain shroud of mystery to varying degrees. And they all, once, might have had the world at their fingertips, at least from a basketball sense. And all were once Detroit Pistons, when being one wasn't the glamor item that it is today.

Reggie Harding. Howard Porter. Jimmy Walker. Pistons in the late-1960s to mid-1970s, otherwise known as the Stone Age of Detroit basketball. They were times when home games were played to only a few thousand of the most curious, or most opportunistic. They were the days of free coupons and vouchers, picked up at the local fast fry chicken joints and turned in at the Cobo Arena box office, perhaps on a whim or a dare.

Walker was the latest to go. The 63-year-old succumbed to cancer in a medical center in Kansas City on Monday. He was a guard who teamed with Dave Bing for a few years to give the Pistons an Isiah Thomas/Joe Dumars and Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton-like backcourt before there were those combos. In 1971-72, playing on a wretched (which was typical) Pistons team, Walker averaged 21.3 PPG. He made a couple of All-Star teams.

But what wasn't well-known about Walker was maybe more interesting than what we knew from experience, or history, or basketball reference websites. There was the fact, for example, that he was the biological father of former U-M standout and current NBA player Jalen Rose (Rose grew up never having met his father). There was the fact that whenever former Pistons gathered to talk about the old days, according to Bing, "Nobody seemed to know where Jimmy was." And there was even the reporting of his death -- a story picked up first by the Kansas City Star, and not the papers in Detroit.

Walker once led the college nation in scoring, averaging over 30 PPG at Providence. He was the Pistons' #1 draft pick in 1967, one year after they selected Bing, out of Syracuse -- a fellow east coast school. No doubt that Bing and Walker had some campus battles.

Walker (left) was Jalen Rose's father; there IS some resemblance, I think

It all looked great for Walker, but after being traded by Detroit in 1972, he became just another NBA vagabond, drifting from Houston to Kansas City before retiring in 1976. His career PPG was 16.7 -- solid, but not as spectacular as it was once thought to be.

Porter died in late May, not long after a violent beating on May 18. He was another big college scorer, out of Villanova. He led Nova to an NCAA runner-up placement, in 1971. But after a relatively meager NBA career -- another that fell far short of expectations -- that included a few years with the Pistons in the 1970s, Porter's life went awry. Drugs were involved. He became wayward.

But Porter had turned his life around, and shortly after hearing of his death, I called one of his former coaches in Detroit, Ray Scott.

"Very saddened," Scott told me upon learning of the death of "The Geezer," Porter's nickname. "I know things were getting better for him."

Harding was a seven-foot wrecking machine from Detroit, who attended Detroit's old Eastern High School. The Pistons selected him in 1962 and again in 1963, he never having attended college. For a few seasons he was the team's starting center, and on a good night Reggie would score maybe 12 points and grab a dozen or so rebounds. But he was grossly overmatched when the opposing center was someone like Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain -- even more so than other NBA pivot men. He was fine for the Pistons, Harding was, but not for an elite NBA team. And back then, the two things were definitely mutually exclusive.

His NBA career done by the time he was 26, Harding returned to the streets of his youth and fell into the wrong crowd. The story is legendary of him putting on a ski mask and robbing his neighborhood liquor store at gunpoint.

"What are you doing, Reggie?," the proprietor asked of the seven-foot-tall robber.

"It ain't me, man," Reggie replied. No college, remember.

In September, 1972, 30 years of age, Harding was on the streets, chatting up some friends. A car drove by, shouted his name, and some words were exchanged. Someone in the car opened fire with a gun. Harding was dead, a bullet through his skull and brain.

The Pistons were a troubled team on the court in the '60s and '70s. And three of the players from that era are dead -- their lives far more discombobulated after the curtain closed on their playing careers than anything that was witnessed at Cobo.

So it's not always the big money that kick starts the problems.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Being An EMU Alum Not Prideful Today

It's a "kapow" right between the eyes. A clean shot in the kisser.

Perspective, I gained, when I read of the shame my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, has brought upon every student who's ever attended that school in Ypsilanti. I used to think embarrassment from a bad football team was all it took to make one ashamed of his institution of higher learning.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

REAL shame and embarrassment is being from a school that is now facing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, a possible loss of federal funding, and a forever tarnished reputation.

In case you haven't been following it, EMU's higher ups allegedly involved themselves in a conspiracy of secrecy revolving around the murder of one of their female students last December. Reader's Digest version: the death was intentionally misreported as mysterious and one that didn't involve foul play, when school officials knew better. Weeks later, a fellow student was arrested and charged with the murder, which occurred in an on-campus dorm.

An independent investigation revealed that EMU's president, John Fallon (who should resign yesterday, if not sooner) knew details of the crime that he intentionally (or at the very least with incompetency) withheld from the student body. Other officials were accused of even resorting to shredding of police documents, ostensibly to keep the fact that a student was MURDERED hush-hush.

If that's not bad enough, a federal investigation is saying that on many occasions since 2003, EMU has under-reported such things as sexual assault and other violent crimes. There seems to be, the investigation suggests, a disturbing trend at EMU -- a trend of putting its students into false senses of security. Doubtless school officials will, if backed into a corner, plead that they didn't want to unnecessarily panic their student population. It's a defense that should be dismissed forthright and dealt with harshly.

The university has been found to be in multiple violations of the Clery Act, which was set up nationally to provide some sort of checks and balances for colleges and universities to report and act on crimes occuring on their campuses. The violations are putting such things as Pell Grants and other federal subsidies in jeopardy. Plus, the fines. Each violation of the Clery Act, it's been reported, is a $27,500 fine.

I know this isn't about sports today, per se, except to reiterate that no harm that came from a seemingly endless football losing streak from 1979-1982, or from almost being kicked out of the MAC in 1983, can compare with the smudge that's been indelibly made on EMU's face this week.

President Fallon must go -- his reputation, too, permanently tarnished for allowing such ridiculous goings-on to occur on his watch. I would hope that his leaving turns out to be a no-brainer.

They obviously are pretty good at those, it seems, at EMU.

I'm not proud.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Easy To Mock Kitna's Prediction, But Why?

The easiest thing to do is laugh. To mock. To roll your eyes. To go searching for Kool-Aid mustaches on their lips.

In recent fits of boosterism and bravado, undaunted by the pearls of history's wisdom, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna and receiver Mike Furrey have put quantitative labels on their expectations for their football team this autumn.

"I think we can win 10 games, at least," Kitna has said on more than one occasion about the 2007 season. One of the first people he told that to was me. I was interviewing him wayyy back in March for my former employer, when he laid it on me. The question was, "If you could say one thing to Lions fans about 2007, what would it be?"

That's when Kitna, fearlessly, made the 10-win prediction. I reminded him that his words would be printed. "That doesn't scare me one bit," he told me.

Not long after, Kitna repeated the assertion at Lions HQ in Allen Park, during one of those mini-camps. Then it started to get legs. And soon afterward, of course, it got derided.

Furrey, perhaps intoxicated by the success of his first ever golf outing that was a fundraiser for his foundation, last week told the Free Press that he concurred with his quarterback.

"If you look at us on paper, we should absolutely win at least 10 games," he said. "All of us (teammates), if you ask us, feel we can win at least 10 games."

The grandiose numbers didn't stop there, at least not with Kitna.

How many touchdown passes, Jon, will you throw in 2007?

Everyone knows that the QB campaigned for the selection of WR Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech with the #2 overall draft pick. He said as much to me, back in March.

"Boy, if he's available, I don't know how you pass him up," Kitna said over the telephone from Washington state. "He's the best receiver prospect to come along in 10 years."

So with Johnson nestled as a Lion, Kitna talked about TD passes recently to some media.

"In the huddles during mini-camp we were kind of tossing around the number 50," he said.

Excuse me?

"Fifty touchdown passes."

The NFL record is 49, set by Peyton Manning in 2005.

OK, laugh if you must. That's fine. Squawk that Jon Kitna lives in a dreamland, some sort of football Shangri-La. Maybe even order a drug test immediately.

So Kitna and Furrey believe in their team. You got a problem with that?

But here's the deal: I don't recall any other Lions quarterback, or receiver, or anyone else for that matter, who attached hard numbers to their formulaic words of optimism.

Greg Landry didn't say such things. Nor did Gary Danielson, or Eric Hipple. Or Erik Kramer or Rodney Peete. Certainly not Scott Mitchell, and definitely not even Joey "Blue Skies" Harrington.

No Lions quarterback has had the footballs to lay a win total or a TD pass figure out there, to be consumed and regurgitated by the media and the blood-sniffing bloggers. No one has dared to talk so boldly.

So what if it all seems like a delusional fantasy?

At least the quarterback believes in the team, and so do, apparently, many others.

"Coach Marinelli has the people around here now who believe in him and what we're doing here," Furrey said. The inference was that that wasn't the case last season, which is probably very accurate.

I'll take Jon Kitna and Mike Furrey's brave predictions, with big numbers attached, than the usual, generic (read: boring) words that come out of the offseason. So what if it causes eye rolling and snickering? So what if it's very likely that those predictions won't come to fruition -- and maybe not even close?

They laid it out there: 10 wins. 50 touchdown passes.

Do I believe them? Doesn't matter. It only matters if they believe in themselves. They clearly do, so who are we to scoff at that?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, Out of Bounds features "The Straightaway," NASCAR commentary from Brazil-based Siddy Hall)

by Siddy Hall


20. FRONT TIRE CHANGERS: Everybody in the pit crew is cool. The Jackman is the King galloping around the car with his mechanical baby. The Gasman and Catch Can look like they arrived from outer space. But nothing is cooler than the pitstop ending and the front tire changer pointing the way back to the track.
Ohhhh.....#$!%! For THIS I'm only #20??

19. THE BLAME GAME: Robby Gordon has put a wrinkle in someone’s machine. Soon, the cameras await an explanation from the participants. Will someone apologize or will there be more future fireworks? Better yet, The Intimidator shrugs after knocking someone out, “Awww, that was just one of them racin’ deals.”

18. BARNEY HALL: Name a big event in the history of NASCAR and the voice of NASCAR radio was probably there. He’s like your favorite uncle entering your home each Sunday afternoon.
The Ernie Harwell of NASCAR -- Barney Hall

17. THE BUMP ‘N RUN: When performed to perfection it’s the prettiest move in racing. When done wrong, a fist-fight can break out. The high-speed tap takes nerves and finesse. See Jeff Gordon on Rusty Wallace at Martinsville or Jeremy Mayfield on Dale Earnhardt at Pocono for examples.

16. FLAG POLES: When camping at the track don’t forget your flagpole. The person with the tallest flagpole is the King Daddy for the weekend. Four stories tall with an American flag, a #3 flag plus a #8 is pretty standard.

15. WARM-UP LAPS: You’ve been waiting a long time for the race to finally arrive. And now they are driving by in slow motion, warming up the tires, all those glorious colors and the deafening noise. There’s nothing like it.

14. SOUTHERN ACCENTS: Hey, what’s wrong with Jimmie Johnson anyways? It’s the way that he talks. That ain’t southern. You gotta have the right drawl. In the dictionary, next to “southern accent” is a picture of Sterling Marlin. Or, make that Sturlin’. I wanna talk like him.
Johnson doesn't got no drawl at all ... at least not like Marlin (above)

13. DIE-CASTS: Put ‘em everywhere, all over your house. Build a massive glass enclosed cabinet that reaches the ceiling, so friends can see them and they don’t collect any dust. And most importantly, don’t let your kids play with them.
"Honey, you can keep the house; this one is MINE"

12. BARRELL ROLLS: O.K. so the Roof Flap was a great invention. Amazingly, those two little pieces of metal keeps the car from flying to the moon. But you must admit, you’ll always watch a good barrel roll. It’s a special bonus when the driver walks away. Here’s a good one with Davey Allison at Pocono.

11. ELI GOLD and ALAN BESTWICK: What!! Eli Gold is broadcasting Trucks? No way. And where did Alan Bestwick go? How did these guys fade from the scene.? It’s not right.

10. TIRE RUB MARKS: It’s been a long afternoon at the short track. Just look at all those beautiful rub marks. The fenders, the doors, the quarter-panels. Just covered in sheet-metal kisses. We need more of this.

9. RE-PAINTED SCHOOL BUSES: Forget your fancy RV. The re-modeled 25 year-old school bus is the way to attend a NASCAR event. Just rip out the seats and add a platform to the roof for watching the race and let the Good Times Roll.

8. DRIVER NAMES: Dick Trickle, Banjo Matthews, Lake Speed, Fireball Roberts, Swirvin’ Irvan, Kasey Kahne, Shorty Rollins, Junior Johnson, Little E, Cale Yarborough, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Buck Baker, Speedy Thompson, Coo-Coo Marlin, Elmo Langley, Fonty Flock and Cotton Owens.
Where are all the Fireball Robertses nowadays?

7. NASCAR JUNK: Think of an object. Now place a driver name and number on it. Now go buy it!! Blankets, key chains, teddy bears, beer coolers, mud flaps, baby clothes, panties, guitars, guns, lunch boxes, tools. Turn your home into a NASCAR museum.
Look closely; this ain't no run-of-the-mill, ugly lamp; it's a NASCAR ugly lamp!

6. HOODLESS CARS: Hey, check out the lap traffic. It’s a car with no hood!!! Awesome!! Somebody had problems.

5. THE BUSCH BROTHERS: Sure, go ahead and complain you boo-birds. The coolest guys in NASCAR are right under your nose. It’s the Bratty Busch Brothers!! Trouble-makers are cool! They stir up the action. They’re from Las Vegas!!! They are the Busch Brothers and you’re not!!

4. BRISTOL NIGHT RACE: Thunder Valley, baby!! Those poor critters in the woods probably just hide all night. It sounds like the world will explode. Nope, it’s just the pre-race party. Just wait until the show begins. Don’t forget your earplugs!!

3. GEOFF BODINE DAYTONA TRUCK WRECK: He lived to tell about it!! That’s the beauty of it. It’s why the drivers are our heroes. Don’t remember this wreck? Sure, you do. It’s right here from YouTube.

2. PAINT JOBS: We should all paint our cars this way. Dale Earnhardt’s Wrangler car. Mountain Dew. Tide. Bud. Miller Lite. M & M’s. Cingular. Target. They are all cool. Heck, you could have a Joe’s Root Canal car and even that would be cool.
The Skoal car: "Just a pinch between the axle and fender"

1. DAYTONA: Twice a year and they are both grand. The long awaited season opener, plus the old Firecracker 400, now under the lights. Happy 4th of July!!

(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at yahoo.com)