Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday's Things

(on most Thursday's at OOB, I rant in list fashion)

Things I Remember Most From The Previous XLI Super Bowls
(in no particular order)

1. Garo Yepremian "passing" the ball in VII after a blocked FG, and it being intercepted by U-M's Mike Bass, who took it to the house. And my memories aren't from NFL Films; I remember watching it live.

2. John Riggins going off tackle for some 45 yards for a TD to seal the deal against the Dolphins in XVII

3. Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction

4. Some dude named Timmy Smith going off for over 200 yards rushing for the Skins in XXII

5. All the 55-10 type games that seemed to occur with ridiculous frequency

6. Lynn Swann laying out on a bomb from Terry Bradshaw and making a diving catch at midfield in X, AFTER the ball was tipped and bobbled

7. Watching old Lions kicker Errol Mann winning a championship with the Raiders in XI, and thinking, "This is as bad as it gets." (It wasn't, of course).

8. Watching old Lions kicker Eddie Murray winning a championship with the Cowboys in XXVII, and thinking, "Well, the Lions are a good feeder organization for Super Bowl kickers, apparently."

9. Realizing, just now, that both those kickers have the initials "EM"

10. Watching Alice Cooper, a Detroiter, being interviewed in a pre-game show sometime in the mid-1970s, and when he was asked who he liked in the game, he said, "Detroit by seven."

11. Winning my first and only Super Bowl bet: $20 on XVI -- thanks to a 49ers' goal-line stand against the Bengals in the Silverdome

12. Going to downtown Pontiac the week of XVI, and walking down "Bourbon Street North", and it was so cold that the saliva on my beer bottle kept freezing after every sip

13. Watching Jim O'Brien -- later a Lion -- win V for the Colts with a FG at the gun, but the game will never be considered a classic because it was so poorly played, and the Cowboys' LB Chuck Howley was the MVP in a losing cause

14. Seeing William "Refrigerator" Perry score a TD in XX, while everyone guffawed as Walter Payton went scoreless, shamefully

15. Watching Scott Norwood being seated at the same table that Bill Buckner, Steven Bartman, Edmonton Oiler Steve Smith, and Chris Webber now occupy

16. Smiling when John Elway finally won the Big One in XXXII

17. Not even being able to IMAGINE the Lions playing in this game

18. The awful officiating here in Detroit in XL, which jobbed the Seahawks

19. The Rams taking a 19-17 lead into the 4th quarter over the Steelers in XIV, then collapsing into defeat

20. Steve Young, on the sidelines as XXIX wound down, pitching forward and imploring his teammates to "Take this gorilla off my back!" after he won the first 49ers Super Bowl sans Joe Montana

Care to share?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

30 Years Ago, Hull Pulled A Selanne For Red Wings

It worked OK for Chris Webber last year; we'll see about this winter. It didn't work so well for Rudy Giuliani in the political world. Only time will tell if it will work for Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. Chris Chelios doesn't think he's earned the right, at age 46, to give it a whirl.

What "it" is, is the new vogue trend in team sports for the elders: sit out a good portion of a season, maybe even half or more, and join a club for the stretch run.

Giuliani skipped, in the words of one pundit I saw on the tube yesterday, the playoffs -- i.e. other state primaries -- in order to show up at the Super Bowl (Florida) to try to steal a big win. Didn't work out -- not even close. Webber has foregone the NBA's first half in order to be a latecomer to the Golden State Warriors. Last season, Webber joined the Pistons in mid-January a few weeks after being cut by the 76ers.

And Niedermayer and Selanne have joined the Anaheim Ducks in progress, ostensibly to help them defend their Stanley Cup.

"Certain players have earned that right," the Red Wings' Chelios told the Free Press yesterday. "I'm not sure that I have," he added when asked if he, too, would like to try a half season on for size. He may want to think about it, though -- if his goal is to play in the NHL at age 50, which is only four Januarys away.

All this got me to thinking of Dennis Hull.

The Red Wings were a disaster in 1976-77. They won 16 games, and finished the season without a victory in their final 19 games (0-18-1).* Late in the season, the team hired Ted Lindsay to replace Alex Delvecchio as GM. Lindsay barged in with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, quickly adopting the slogan of "Aggressive Hockey Is Back In Town," and signing goons such as Steve Durbano and Dave Hanson.

In '77-'78, the Red Wings were a comeback story. The team managed to hover slightly above .500 early on, which was amazing considering where they'd been. But Lindsay was as aggressive a GM as his slogan promised. He kept trying to tweak the roster. Eventually he would trade Dan Maloney to Toronto for Errol Thompson.

But around Thanksgiving, Lindsay started chatting with former Chicago Blackhawks star Dennis Hull, Bobby's brother.

Hull was 33, and not playing after being let go by the Blackhawks over the summer of '77. He had scored 298 goals on the left wing -- many of those while playing in the shadow of his famous brother. His resume included a 40-goal season, a 39-goal year, and several 20+-goal seasons. Lindsay wanted to know if Hull had anything left in the tank. So he asked him.

"Give me a few weeks to get into shape," Hull told Lindsay.

Dennis Hull as a member of Team Canada in 1972

So Hull worked himself into game-playing condition, and became a needed veteran presence on the Red Wings. He didn't contribute much offensively -- just five goals in 55 games -- but he played an important role as the Red Wings rose back to respectability. He played in all seven of the team's playoff games. When the season was done, Hull retired -- this time for good.

Lindsay perhaps was influenced to sign Hull by his own personal experience. Terrible Ted rejoined the Red Wings in 1964, at age 39, after four years out of the game.

By the way, the Red Wings have offered former employee Darren McCarty a 25-game tryout with their Grand Rapids affiliate. If successful, that would put McCarty on schedule to join the Red Wings just in time for the playoffs.

Hey -- it's in style nowadays to arrive fashionably late to the roster.

*this stat was culled from the very cool website, Shrpsports, which is chock full of game results in all sports for tons of seasons.

(confidential to a faithful reader from Columbus, Ohio)

Thanks for your frequent visits. If you'd like to identify yourself, shoot me an e-mail at

Monday, January 28, 2008

January Football Now Means Something Else For NFL’s One-Time Great Teams

It was just a question, asked glibly, but the words cut to the bone of the die-hards of Da Bums in Brooklyn.

“The Dodgers...are they still in the league?”

It’s a quote I’ve known about for years and years, but only now, as I verify its source on the Internet, do I learn that it was uttered 74 years ago this week, on January 24, 1934. The questioner was New York Giants manager Bill Terry, and he was curious as to the existence of the rival Dodgers. The remark didn’t play well among Dodgers fans.

Terry was talking about possible contenders for the pennant in the upcoming ’34 season. When the matter of the Dodgers was brought up, Terry delivered his zinger.

74 years ago this week, Terry zinged the Dodgers

I’d like to propose a new question, this one for followers of the NFL.

“The Oakland Raiders...are they still in the league?”

I’d also like to ask it of the San Francisco 49ers, and of the Miami Dolphins.

Their fans may get mad at me all they want – still I’d like to ask it.

The truth is that those teams are, indeed, still in the NFL – but they’re not in it the way they used to be. Not even close. They’re all making news this January, but it’s the equivalent of the police blotter in comparison to their long ago days in the society pages.

January used to be glory time for the Raiders, 49ers, and Dolphins. It was the month when they were either crowned NFL champs, or at least played for the opportunity. They owned the first month of the year, often lending it to one another, the same way the Yankees and Dodgers used to swap October back and forth in baseball.

January meant Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett and Bob Griese and Dan Marino. It meant Jerry Rice and Cliff Branch and Paul Warfield and Mark “Super” Duper. And it usually meant that one of these three franchises would be clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a parade a couple days after a Super Bowl.

But here’s what January is giving us in 2008.

The 49ers, five years removed from their last playoff game, fired their offensive coordinator and hired Mad Mike Martz, erstwhile Lions coordinator and certified genius. It wasn’t long before Martz’s hiring was adjudged to be a desperate move by a desperate organization, and one that it will regret in relatively short order.

The Dolphins, winners of one game in 2007, cleaned house. They hired Bill Parcells to run the show, and it didn’t take long for the firings to begin. The GM and the coach have been replaced, for starters. Some reports indicate that Parcells, about as qualified as anyone on this planet to resurrect moribund NFL franchises, placed a couple of phone calls to the Lions, who didn’t show any interest. The 1-15 Dolphins were amenable. Which means that Miami will soon leap frog the Lions, once again. Just a matter of time.

Then there’s the Raiders.

Al Davis is still the patriarch/Don of this very dysfunctional franchise. Then again, the Raiders have always been dysfunctional, even when they were winning. One of their favorite ploys was to take the league’s ne’er-do-wells and resurrect their careers, thru the magic elixir of wearing silver and black and conforming to a “Commitment to Excellence”. Many of the players on the champion Raider teams were deemed too old or too naughty by other squads. But then they signed to play for Davis’s team and while they may have indeed been too old or too naughty, they nonetheless found a way to win at remarkably high clips.

Davis: Losing more than football games in recent years?

The Raiders, somehow, made it to the Super Bowl as recently as five years ago. They lost – their first championship loss since Super Bowl II – and things have gone haywire ever since. The Super Bowl coach was fired a year later, and Davis is now going thru coaches at a rate that would make George Steinbrenner blush.

The latest victim is a bright young man named Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin is the son of longtime Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. And dad is having a much better year, already, than the kid. Monte Kiffin just inked a contract extension with the Bucs; Lane is being asked to turn in his playbook by Davis.

Lane Kiffin, in his first year as a head coach, went 4-12 with the 2007 Raiders. Now it’s being reported that Davis wants Kiffin to quit. Why? One reason is that if Kiffin resigns, Davis doesn’t have to pay the remainder of his contract – which Davis would have to do if he fires him.

Welcome to the life of an NFL head coach, kid.

The Raiders were bad in 2007, though they weren’t quite as bad as they were in 2006, in which their badness qualified them for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. They were bad in 2005, and pretty bad in 2004. And they look to be bad again in 2008. In another generation, it meant something completely different to be “bad” when it came to the Raiders. In those days, the Raiders were bad – which meant that they were very good, in a Mae West sort of way.

January doesn’t belong to the Raiders, or the 49ers, or the Dolphins – not anymore. At least, not on the football field. Theirs is now the news of losers and desperados.

To which we say in Detroit, “Welcome to our world.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lidstrom The Best Ever -- Even An Oldtimer Must Cede That

Once, there was Doug Harvey -- my dad's favorite, by the way -- who was a shot blocking maniac and so much of a stay-at-home defenseman that I wouldn't be surprised if he received his mail in front of the Red Wings' (and Canadiens') goal crease. There was also Bob Goldham, a pillar of the Red Wings' Cup-winning teams of the 1950s. Goldham would later become a Hockey Night In Canada analyst, talking about the current blueliners who were so inferior to him in his heyday.

Then along came Bobby Orr, and everything anyone knew about defensing in hockey went out the window, for Orr was a dazzling combination of skating, scoring, and playmaking -- from the "D" -- for the great Boston teams of the late-1960s, early-1970s. It's an overused term, but Orr truly revolutionized the way the position was played, and the way it was scouted.

Orr spawned the likes of Paul Coffey, Raymond Bourque, Al Iafrate, and others who would use speed and offense to, at times frankly, mask some of their defensive deficiencies.

Then there were the combos, like Al MacInnis, Chris Chelios, and Scott Stevens, who could do a little of both, but who had mostly a thick thread of nastiness in them.

Another defenseman exists today who is not revolutionizing the game. He's merely perfecting it.

I've written it before, and I'll write it again. You can have all of them -- Harvey, Goldham, Orr, Bourque, and the rest -- and I'll take Nick Lidstrom and trump you every time.

Sunday, Lidstrom will play in another All-Star game, and it's ironic, because though he is an annual participant, the game has never been about defense. But that's OK; his booming shot and precise passes go just fine there, too.

I'm usually an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to comparing players of different eras, which is always a futile endeavor anyway. But when it crops up, I'm likely to shove Oscar Robertson in front of you for every Michael Jordan reference, and Jimmy Brown for every Barry Sanders mentioning.

But I'm changing my tune with Lidstrom, who I'm convinced is playing defense better than anyone ever has in the National Hockey League. That's right -- EVER.

Here's Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle -- defending Cup champ coach and possessor of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on his team.

"What he's been able to accomplish and how he plays the game, he is (on) a different level," Carlyle was quoted in today's Free Press. "You can see it when he's out there, you can see the composure. You can see the things that he does. Nobody gives him enough credit for his defensive game."

Nobody except me, who is unashamedly putting Lidstrom at the top of the list as the best ever.

Carlyle spoke after the Red Wings' 2-1 win over the Ducks Wednesday night.

"He's playing against the best players in the league, and he's performing at the highest level. He defends extremely well with his stick."

That last sentence might be a candidate for biggest understatement in league history, too.

If a photo exists of Lidstrom being caught out of position, surely it's a fake -- a PhotoShop manipulation

Carlyle, who obviously couldn't help himself, went on.

"He's not a big guy, but his positional play is -- I don't know if there's a player that plays better in that position. (author's note: There isn't, Randy.) This guy is always up there and is always doing things that never seem to amaze people because, when you see him every day or you watch a lot of him, you kind of take it for granted. And that's what those elite players can do: They can make the most difficult task look easy."

When I wrote a similar heap of praise upon Lidstrom last season, I compared him to the Tigers' old second baseman, Charlie Gehringer, whose nickname was The Mechanical Man for his seemingly effortless way he would hit over .300 and play stellar defense. I suggested that Lidstrom was hockey's Mechanical Man, and Carlyle's comments are in line with that way of thinking.

But enough coachspeak. Listen to Lidstrom's contemporary, Pronger.

"If there's a lack of physical play [in Lidstrom's game], I certainly think he makes up for it by being in the right place at the right time. The way he can pass the puck and the way he sees the ice certainly makes him a special player and a guy who can control the tempo of a game. It takes a special player to be able to do that."

The Red Wings have had not only two of the game's greatest players, but also two of the most humble. In Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman, I don't know if you could drag a brilliant word about their own play out of them. The new captain is just as gracious and eloquent as his predecessor, conducting himself with the quiet grace that just adds more to his aura. They're both like Gordie Howe in that way.

Howe, the greatest right winger of all time -- and maybe the best player, too -- and Yzerman, one of the top five centermen ever, are now joined by Lidstrom, who I'd say became the best defenseman ever about a year or so ago.

This fuddy-duddy, whose memory of watching athletes perform dates back to 1970, is willing to concede that a modern day player is the best, all-time, at what he does. I don't do that very often. Usually, it kills me to even consider it.

But, as with everything else he does, Nick Lidstrom makes it easy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Leyland, Babcock, Saunders On Hot Seat? Chances Are, Yes -- Eventually

Mike Babcock is going to get fired, odds are. So will Flip Saunders. I'd even say that Jim Leyland's seat will get hot one of these days.

Put Bill Belichick on that list, too. And Mike Holmgren. Don't be surprised if Terry Francona gets canned by the Red Sox. Or if the Celtics fire Doc Rivers.

Looney? Not at all. A wise old man, also known as former NFL coach Bum Phillips, once astutely observed, "There's two kinds of coaches: them's that have been fired, and them's that are gonna get fired. And I've been both."

Or as a long ago Pistons coach, Earl Lloyd, said upon getting the ziggy, "It's funny. When you sign on as a head coach in this business, you're basically signing your termination papers."

So it's not all that wacky to suggest, as I have, that each of the above named gentlemen will lose their jobs, soooner or later. A look at the roster of men who've been fired in sports history will also look like a Who's Who of coaching.

Of course, there are exceptions.

One of them is Tony Dungy, and he's the rarest of rares. Not only will he not be fired by the Indianapolis Colts, he will get the opportunity to choose his successor.

Dungy announced the other day that he will, indeed, return to lead the Colts in 2008, and when he decides to step down, there won't be any need for applicant interviews, because assistant Jim Caldwell will take over.

And you want even more rarity? Both men are African-American.

This is not to say that we've now reached the apex of race relations in professional sports, and that we can place a "check" mark next to that on the to-do list. Far from it. Especially in the NFL, which hasn't exactly been a haven for blacks in coaching or management positions over the years. But it's still remarkable, to me, what's happening in Indy. And fitting that the announcements came on MLK Day.

But the reality is also that Caldwell himself will probably be fired, some day in the distant future. It goes with the territory. The Florida Marlins fired Joe Girardi as he was being voted Manager of the Year in the NL. And the Cincinnati Reds fired Sparky Anderson, in 1978. Sparky said in his book that he remembers the room number of the hotel in which his ziggy was rendered.

Scotty Bowman was fired, by the Buffalo Sabres. Joe Torre was, in essence, fired by the Yankees last fall. They just went about it in a very broken arrow sort of way.

So there really are two kinds of coaches, as Bum Phillips said. Those that have been fired, and those that will be.

Tony Dungy is amazingly neither, but Jim Caldwell is probably the latter. Odds are.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Archie Manning Showed He's A Dad Like Any Other

Archie Manning is the epitome of the phrase, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again -- and if that doesn't work, then make kids who can do it instead."

OK, so I placed an addendum in there. Yet it's true, even if it's an axiom that, this morning, only seems to apply to the elder Manning and no one else.

I think just about every father in this country could relate to Manning as the Fox Sports cameras showed him squirming and agonizing in his suite while he watched son Eli try to lead the New York Giants into the Super Bowl. What parent (moms, too, of course) hasn't reacted the same way as Archie Manning while their Timmy or Suzy plays their first clarinet solo, or is at bat in a Little League game, or utters a speech during the school play?

I'm not usually one for Fox's sometimes incessant use of "cut away" shots during games, often times designed to manufacture suspense or drama that we can certainly create for ourselves. But in the case of the cut aways to Manning -- the father -- while yesterday's NFC Championship game went on, all is forgiven, and even encouraged.

Patriarch Manning had a stilted career as an NFL quarterback, gamely fighting with some very bad New Orleans teams. He finished with Houston and Minnesota, and those squads weren't any better. From 1971 to 1983, Manning was pummeled and his teams overmatched. He didn't come close to the Super Bowl. His teams never even made the playoffs. Often they were mathematically eliminated around, say, Labor Day.

So imagine how gratified Archie Manning must feel now, seeing his two NFL-playing sons make the Big One in the last two seasons.

When Archie entered the NFL from Ole Miss, there weren't any grand illusions. He was a good college QB that would be going to a bad NFL team. The Saints were in only their fifth season of existence, and were still in the throes of bad management and bad luck. Manning's bosses did him a great disservice, never surrounding him with enough good players to be competitive in the NFL.

With son Peyton, there was more hope. The NFL had changed, and someone of Peyton's size and skill was a perfect fit for the offenses in vogue. And the Colts weren't the chopped liver that the 1970s and '80s Saints were. Sure enough, after some near misses, Peyton and the Colts reached the mountain top.

With Eli, there was considerably more doubt, but again -- not the hopelessness that went with his dad in New Orleans. There was the awkwardness after his selection by the Chargers -- a team he openly said he wouldn't play for. Then he was traded to the Giants, and many (like me) thought he was simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire, with New York's propensity to gobble kids up and spit them out.

With Eli pointing the way, the Giants are again in a Super Bowl -- their fourth

By the way, wouldn't it have been something if Eli's opponents in the Super Bowl were those same Chargers? That's a media wet dream.

But despite those uncertainties, Eli showed enough -- especially this season with all the road victories (perhaps lending more credence to the New York monolithic factor) -- to indicate that he could soon follow older brother Peyton to the game with the Roman numerals. And now he's done it, earlier than planned, I would say.

So back to dad.

Archie Manning was acting as any father would, watching his son perform. The stakes were high, and as the wise people say, you never know when you might get this chance again. So it was nice, actually, that Fox Sports gave us those reaction shots. I especially liked it when Archie would drop his head down to the table, as if he couldn't bear to watch. He probably couldn't.

The elder Manning had no opportunity in pro football to come anywhere near where his sons have already gone. And, being a dad, I'm sure he'd rather have it no other way.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Leyland A Dying Breed: The Quotable Manager

It was very early into a baseball season that would turn magical, when the very mention of the manager’s name would spread the lips of millions of Tigers fans into relieved smirks, then eventually into elated grins.

The crusty Jim Leyland regaled us with a story of a broken down car, an Ohio mechanic, some free tickets, and at the time I had no idea that it would serve as a sign of how things would fall into place for the Tigers in 2006.

A few hours before game time, Leyland accepts, sometimes begrudgingly, the intrusion of journalists into his modest office. Occasionally, there’s even something new to talk about. On this April afternoon nearly two years ago, Leyland, just a few games into his first season back managing in seven years, had something new to talk about.

“I was driving back thru Ohio,” he told us, talking about returning from an Easter-related family gathering in Pennsylvania. Next were details of a flat tire, a car he had to suddenly control at high speed, and a fortuitously located tire store.

The manager had gotten a lift, from a tow truck driver, to the tire store. But not before the driver saw the large duffel bag with the Tigers logo on it. This was squarely in Cleveland Indians country, too.

“Hey, Tigers!” the driver said, according to Leyland, when the tow truck guy started helping the stranded, gray-haired motorist. “I love the Tigers!”

Leyland had us set up for one of several funny lines.

“Yeah? You like the Tigers?” Leyland told us of his response to the young man. “Well, I’m the ***damned manager!”

The first round of laughter erupted in the office.

Later, after Leyland told of getting the royal treatment with his crippled car, he then related his telephone call back to Detroit. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it back in town in time to manage the next day’s game.

“(Third base coach Gene) Lamont says, ‘Jim’s stranded on the road? He’s not OK, is he?”
More laughter, uproarious this time. Lamont would have managed the game if Leyland wasn’t

And two lucky tire store employees were left free tickets to the next Tigers-Indians game in Cleveland, thanks to a grateful Jim Leyland, about to embark on his magical season in Detroit.

I have just done a very poor job in relating this story, because if ever the term “you had to be there” was appropriate, it’s when Leyland holds court and starts in.

Leyland, then only a few games into what would be a hallmark season in Detroit, is now so firmly ensconced in the manager’s chair with the Tigers that he could probably give Kwame Kilpatrick a run for his money for the mayor’s chair at City Hall.

He’s a dying breed, Jim Leyland is – and I’m very sad to say it. He’s the quotable baseball manager, the kind who gets your juices flowing when you see the punctuation “ “ appear in newspaper stories with his name attached to the “ ‘s.

Sometimes, Leyland is even quotable with the umpires -- just not for family papers

I’m not talking Casey Stengel or Yogi Berra quotable, necessarily. Those were baseball geniuses who occasionally played the fool for good newspaper copy. Leyland is a straight shooter, and he uses wit and plain, brown paper-wrapped wisdom to illustrate his philosophy. But he’s also good for a crack-up.

Think of how many times you read something, to yourself, and break out into laughter. Not too often, for if someone sees you laughing with no one around, they’re liable to place a phone call to the men in white suits.

I cracked up, loud and long, when I read a simple Leyland description the other day. He was talking about the convenience of having Toledo as the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate.

“Yeah, you can get a guy to Detroit in an hour,” Leyland told a lucky reporter last week. “In my first year managing in Pittsburgh, our minor league team was in Hawaii. You’d call a guy up, and ten days later he’d arrive.”

Like I said, you had to be there – in my brain, as I read the copy. I’m sorry – I thought it was hilarious.

Point being, look around the major leagues and tell me which managers make you look forward to the “ ‘s attached to their names. All I see are cookie cutter, generic, vanilla dudes.

We’ve been blessed in Detroit. We had Charlie Dressen, full of spit and vinegar, who unfortunately got himself so worked up as Tigers manager that he had not one, but two heart attacks during his run in the 1960s. The first one, in spring training 1965, he covered up by explaining that he had to tend to his wife in California. He checked himself into a hospital as soon as his plane touched down. But Dressen was quotable.

So, too, Billy Martin – who was also just plain wacky enough with his managerial moves and gamesmanship to make his verbal output just the cherry on top of a delicious baseball sundae.

Before long, Sparky Anderson blew into town. I needn’t say more.

Leyland doesn’t always enjoy his little media sessions, but you couldn’t tell by the generosity with which he scoops out the sundaes.

That first spring training, in 2006, Leyland was explaining why he lifted a young outfielder prospect from a game.

“Because of the way he was circling around out there looking for a fly ball,” Leyland said. “He took so many twists and turns, I almost smoked a whole Marlboro before he finally caught it.”

Come on – curl your lips into a grin. That’s good stuff.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Coaches Not So Smart When They Try It In Detroit

The way I see it, the true genius of Mike Martz was in getting everyone to think of him as a genius in the first place.

Funny how a coach's IQ is directly tied to the quality of players that he has at his disposal.

Martz, canned by the Lions as their offensive coordinator (he latched onto the unsuspecting 49ers a few days later), was a genius when he led the "Greatest Show On Turf" in St. Louis. He wants to be sure you remember his work with the former grocery store employee and current NFL QB, Kurt Warner.

But in St. Louis, with the Rams, the genius Martz had Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, and a dynamite offensive line. No wonder he was so smart.

In Detroit, there weren't those weapons, to that degree. Jon Kitna was no Warner, circa 1999, and Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey were no Holt and Bruce. Rookie Johnson wasn't even Calvin Johnson at times. And Kevin Jones? Bless his injury-plagued heart, but he certainly wasn't any Faulk, that I know of. The offensive lines defy comparison.

So the genius Mike Martz appeared to either be too smart for his pupils, or his IQ diminished once he came to Detroit, and he realized what he had to work with. Either way. Regardless, he's the 49ers' problem now, with his pass-happy ways and mesmerizing lexicon.

Now the Lions have Jim Colletto as offensive coordinator, a promotion from within. And we'll soon realize how little he knows about football, when he tries to work with these slugs. The Lions not only kill coaches, but they make them look dumb first.

For his part, ex-offensive line coach Colletto -- in a not-so-subtle dig at Martz -- says the Lions will, essentially, dumb-down their playbook and run a skeleton version of Martz's offense. "It's about the players, not the coach," Colletto said at yesterday's presser. Zing.

I'm not all that jazzed about Colletto, mainly because I thought the Lions might try to raid one of their more successful brethren for a keen, young offensive mind. Then again, what would that prove, other than no one can win with the talent as it is right now.

Nothing will truly bring dramatic, positive change until the Lions are imploded and begun again, but that has as much chance of happening as, well, the Lions being imploded and begun again -- which is none.

So the application of doomed Band-Aids will continue at Ford Field.

The Lions do not win, not because of the coach, or the system, or the size of the playbook. They do not win because they do not have the players to do so. It's quite simple, really.

You don't have to be a genius to figure that out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday's Things

(every Thursday at OOB -- just about -- I rant in list fashion)

Things George Blaha Says That I Love (And You Should, Too)

Some gems from the Pistons' play-by-play man, now in his 32nd year with the team:

1. "Feels it, fires it, FILLS it!"

2. "Oh! That one was halfway down!"

3. "In-and-out, and back in again!"

4. "Rip with a turn-and-gun -- he hits it!"

5. "Chauncey, for three ... it's through! Another big time shot, by Mr. BIG Shot!"

6. "Score it -- AND a foul!"

7. "Five-and-fifteen remaining..."

8. "We've got a good one going on at the Palace .. you're watching the PISTONS television network!"

9. "We've got a whistle and a Dick Bavetta foul..."

10. "Dice splits the pair..."

11. "Chauncey, between the circles...tosses it into Sheed down low... Rasheed kicks it out to Tayshaun ... shot clock winding down ... has to throw up a prayer ... HE HITS IT! Count that baby!"

12. "This is a great basketball game, folks..."

13. "Loose ball foul, and we'll keep it right here..."

14. "George Blaha here, along with SPECIAL K, Gregory Kelser...."

Thing Tigers Radio Announcer Jim Price Says That I Love

1. "For the sixth inning, here's Dan Dickerson."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If Rodriguez Allegations Are True, Michigan Must Respond

IF Rich Rodriguez did what they say he did, then all I can say is, there's nothing "Michigan" about that.

I hope that the allegations are either false or at the very least, embellished -- the ones that say that new U-M football coach Rodriguez destroyed file upon file at West Virginia regarding his football program. Sources report that Rodriguez was seen shredding documents in the football facility on December 18, one day after being introduced as Michigan's coach.

Lots of things have to be sorted out before we overreact (HA! As IF....). Like, for instance, the squarely biased feelings at WVA about Rodriguez's flight to Michigan in the first place. This has been one of the more rocky (to put it mildly) partings of a coach from a major university, and the university and its faithful are hardly blameless for that. Thus, credibility is at issue here over these reports. Also, if files were indeed destroyed, then to what extent? Maybe it was nothing more than a former employee getting rid of what he believed to be personal information.

WVA supporters, in a recent photo

What else needs to be dealt with is why Rodriguez would do such a thing to begin with. Why? What would be a motive? Clearly, it would seem that there's maybe something to hide, but what? Or was it an act of spite, of malice, in response to the highly personal means by which Mountaineer supporters reacted to "Coach Rod" leaving the mines?

Here's what's NOT an issue, though it will be portrayed as such: that the school should have backup files. Irrelevant. Yes, it would seem preposterous that WVA would only have single copies of everything that Rodriguez purportedly destroyed. But, that's kinda not the point here -- if he did it. That's a separate, internal issue that the university must contend with. It does not absolve Rodriguez of wrongdoing.

But I must say, that if there is some shred (no pun intended) of truth to these reports, and it turns out that this was done in some sort of clandestine manner, then it's extremely troubling. Michigan doesn't do things this way. No matter what you think of the program, or where your allegiance is, you have to allow for that. I'm hardly a U-M booster -- at times I've been very anti-Michigan, in fact -- but even in my most punitive moods, I could never agree that Michigan is an underhanded football program. And ask this question: can you even imagine outgoing coach Lloyd Carr being accused of something similar?

This might not be a George O'Leary or Wally Backman moment for Michigan, but it should at least be addressed if it turns out to have happened. (O'Leary of Notre Dame and Backman of the Arizona Diamondbacks were fired shortly after they were hired -- both for trumping up their resumes) This is big doings -- again, if it's true -- and to ignore it would make Michigan look worse than it already does for POSSIBLY hiring someone who doesn't do things above board. So far, nobody at U-M is talking. That's fine for now, as this story is still in its infancy. It won't be fine forever.

A "Michigan man" doesn't do the things that Rich Rodriguez is accused of doing. Then again, Michigan didn't hire a Michigan man; they hired a man they hope will function like a Michigan man.

Clearly, there can be a big distinction between the two types of folks. It's the risk you take when you hire from without.

Monday, January 14, 2008

NHL’s “Original Four” Carry On Without Two Of Their Brethren

There was familiarity, and it bred contempt – just as some wise soul once proclaimed.

Fourteen times they would meet during the regular season, at a time when a “trip west” meant your train stopped in Detroit, then Chicago. The watches and clocks would only have to go back one hour, at the most.

The frequency of seeing every opponent so often meant that there was time for patience. Few bided their time better than Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.

The young Chicago center, Stan Mikita, had gotten Gordie good – a taste of Number 9’s own medicine with a sharply applied elbow to the mug. Proud of himself, Mikita skated to the bench, only to be met with glowering teammates’ faces.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” one of them told the eager youngster.

“What?” Mikita said, trying to justify his deed. “It’s part of the game.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” it was repeated.

Several Red Wings-Black Hawk matches went by the board. No revenge was exacted by Howe. Mikita himself soon forgot about his ill-advised elbow. Got away with it after all, he perhaps thought.


“I had just made a pass, and was admiring it,” Mikita said years later. “The next thing I know, I’m lying on the trainer’s table in the dressing room. ‘Who did it?’ I asked. ‘Number nine,’ they told me.

“That damn Howe!”

Gordie kept score, and nothing went unpunished. Then again, it was easier to keep track of things, when the NHL’s 70-game schedule meant 14 matches with each of the other five teams.
The Original Six.

There’s no faction like it in any other sport. Baseball, with all its history and splendor, has old, established franchises, yes. But there’s no Original Six, no Original Eight, no Original Four – no Original anything. Football has the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, two of the original franchises from 1920. But the “original” here isn’t capitalized. Most of pro basketball’s original teams have been buried, or have moved so many times that you need an expert in genealogy to keep track of their heritage.

But hockey has its Original Six: Chicago. Detroit. New York. Boston. Montreal. Toronto. That’s it. And that’s how it was, until 1967, when the league doubled in size in one year – the Original Six turning into the Dirty Dozen. Suddenly, west REALLY meant west – Los Angeles and Oakland were in the league. So was Minnesota, and Philadelphia. And Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

Few things in sports bug me more than the NHL’s ridiculous scheduling, which has essentially turned the Original Six into the Original Four. Boston, New York, Montreal, and Toronto get it on several times a season, they all being in the blessed Eastern Conference. Detroit and Chicago, once part of the club, are now strangers to their other four contemporaries. The Red Wings and Blackhawks toil in the Western Conference. Oh, they still play each other, but the unbalanced schedule means infrequent, if not rare, games with the Original Four.

Bettman's screwy schedule has practically robbed Detroit and Chicago fans of the other Original Six teams

My bile for Commissioner Gary Bettman and his aptly named “unbalanced schedule”, as in describing the person who thought it up (that would be him), rose to the surface once again when I considered Chris Chelios, and what he accomplished last week.

Red Wings defenseman Chelios, who will be 46 years old in a couple weeks, officially became the second-oldest man to lace up NHL skates. The oldest, of course, is Howe, who was a week past 52 when he played his last game in 1980 for the Hartford Whalers. (Incidentally, Howe played in all 80 games in his final season, and scored 15 goals. That’s like 20 goals without the senior discount).

What’s also remarkable about Chelios’s achievement is that he has done it for three of the Original Six teams: Montreal, Chicago, and Detroit. You can’t get any more appropriate than that.

Chelios gets his fill of the Blackhawks every season, since they share the same division as the Red Wings, and thus play each other eight times. But Montreal? Only a rumor. Same with the other Original Four teams, who breeze into Detroit once every three years or so, same as how often the Red Wings return the favor, thanks to Bettman’s screwy schedule.

In the interest of fairness, I will now present the logic behind Bettman’s madness.

Wouldn’t it be great, he thought, if the NHL could rekindle the splendor of rivalries and some of that contempt that familiarity breeds, by force-feeding teams down each other’s throats – based on divisional and conference alignment. It’s why the Red Wings see the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues in their sleep. And the Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, and the rest of the conference are threatening to disrupt their REM time, too.

Bettman’s screwy schedule has actually defeated its own purpose. The force-feeding is making these divisional games so ho-hum, that people are starting to pass on them here in Detroit. A game against the Blues is like a subway train: if you miss this one, there’ll be another one around soon enough. How long before fans eschew the subway altogether?

But thank goodness for some sane minds around the league, in the form of the NHL Board of Governors. They voted late last year to change Bettman’s screwy schedule next season. Instead of eight divisional games and four conference games per opponent, there will now be six divisional games and four conference games per opponent. This means instead of 72 of the 82 games played within your conference, there will now be 64, leaving 18 games for the other conference – an average of 1.2 interconference games per team. It’s a start, anyway.

Now we’re back up to The Original Four-and-a-Half

Friday, January 11, 2008

Privacy Reigns, But Speculation Breeds As Watson Leaves Titans

I used to root for Detroit Southwestern High School in basketball. It seemed like they were getting to the Michigan state hoops finals every year, and every year they'd lose. This is back in the 1980s. The Prospectors, in their familiar (to me) gold and blue unis, were always at Crisler Arena every March, trying to win the Big One. Sometimes the scores were close, sometimes they weren't. But the end result was always the same: "We're Number Two!"

The coach was Perry Watson, and he was the Susan Lucci of high school sports -- always getting to the final cut, but never taking home the hardware. Yet Lucci finally ended her Daytime Emmy drought. And so did Watson quench his thirst when Southwestern broke the door down and started winning state titles after years of frustration and tears.

I'm rooting for Watson again, only this time the stakes seem to be higher, although I hope they're not. I don't know, because he isn't saying.

Watson, now the coach at University of Detroit-Mercy, is taking an indefinite leave of absence due to what is only being described as "medical reasons." No one -- not Watson, nor anyone at the university -- is saying more than that.

It's a slippery slope to be so secretive -- kind of a two-edged sword, if you will. On the one hand, privacy is respected, but speculation gets ushered in. And with speculation usually comes worse-case scenarios.

But Watson, it was reported, has been attending Titans practices this week, and was even present at the team's shootaround yesterday, prior to the loss to Cleveland State at Calihan Hall.
I've seen Watson conduct practice and interact with his players, and there's still a lot of high school coach in him, and I mean that as a compliment. UDM, while a Division I school, still has that small town feel to it. Calihan itself is very intimate, and when Watson shows up to run practice, he's helping turn on the lights and the clocks and walking around in sweats and carrying a whistle, just like he did at Southwestern, I can imagine. An early-season loss of star forward Brandon Cotton from the team got things off to a rough start in 2007-08. It's still not clear why Cotton left the team, especially since he had just attended a sit-down with Watson and Athletic Director Keri Gaither the day before, and both coach and AD assumed Cotton was on board.

Regardless, Perry Watson is sitting out the games, and we can only wonder why. I'll eschew the drama of doomsday speculation and assume that all will be well in the long run, and that Watson will be back on the sidelines next season, if not later in this one.

Get well, coach.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We'll See If McCarty Is Cut From Same Cloth As Chelios, Or From Redmond

Darren McCarty is making news, sort of, in attempting a hockey playing comeback, with Flint of the IHL. He hasn't played in an NHL game since April 2006, with the Calgary Flames -- who signed him after the Red Wings let him go following the 2004-05 lockout. He's had some off-ice trouble, and one wonders how much that contributed, in the long run, to his current career derailment. Regardless, he says he's going to give it another try. Maybe another NHL team will give him a call.

McCarty is 35 years old.

Chris Chelios has never had to comeback from anything to continue his NHL career. He's managed to keep gainful employment, first with Montreal, then with Chicago, and now in Detroit. It's fitting that he should only have played for Original Six teams in his 22-year (so far) NHL career. Very, very fitting.

Chelios will soon be 46 years old.

It's possible, though far from a slam dunk, that Chelios will challenge Gordie Howe's record for being the oldest man to lace up NHL skates. Howe was 52 years and six days old when he played his last regular season game for the Hartford Whalers in 1980. Howe then extended his career by about a week while the Whalers were getting ousted by Montreal in the playoffs.

But just the fact that we can even entertain the idea of someone approaching Howe in terms of longevity is amazing enough. And I wouldn't put it past Chelios to think about it, if he's still playing his irascible style of hockey a few years from now.

I just thought it was interesting that Darren McCarty is in the same sentence as the word "comeback", when he's 11 years Chelios's junior.

Chelios has not only played a long time, but he's done so without any major injuries

Today, the Red Wings announced that goalie Chris Osgood has been signed to a three-year extension, keeping him in Detroit thru the 2010-11 season, in which he'll turn 38 years old. His partner in net, Dominik Hasek, will soon be 43. All-World defenseman Nick Lidstrom, who along with Chelios helps keep the heat off Osgood and Hasek, will be 38 this year. So the Red Wings' two goalies and two of their best blueliners will be, by the end of the month, a combined 161 years old. I'll do the math for you: that's an average age of 40.25 years.

Mickey Redmond, reliable broadcaster, wasn't blessed with the same genes as the aforementioned quad of players. Redmond was plagued by back problems and didn't play a game past January 1976, when he was but 28. He tried it one last time in training camp of 1979, but he only lasted a few days before he was forced to quit. Also in camp that September was Frank Mahovlich, 42 and a couple years removed from his last game in the WHA. The Big M got into some exhibition games, but couldn't make the final cut.

The 40+ year-old NHL player is becoming more and more frequent. Better training regimens, nutrition, and technology have contributed to this. It should also be noted that flying around the country in a private team jet doesn't hurt, either. When Mahovlich broke into the NHL, for example, air travel in the league was still in its infancy. Many clubs still used the train to get from city to city.

Back in the day: McCarty taking care of business with Claude Lemieux

I wish McCarty well as he climbs his way back into the NHL, which is his ultimate goal. At 35, he's far from washed up, if he commits himself physically and mentally. Someone asked him at last night's Red Wings game if he'd consider playing for the Colorado Avalanche, a longtime rival, if they called.

"Beggars can't be choosy," he said. "I just want to play hockey somewhere, anywhere."

So did Redmond, and so did Mahovlich. But their bodies wouldn't allow it. Fortunately for Chelios, Lidstrom, Hasek, and Osgood -- and for us -- they've been blessed with strong, durable stock.

Almost as strong as, say, a certain man from Floral, Saskatchewan, who wore number 9.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

This Version Of "Scrubs" You Can Cancel, As Far As I'm Concerned

Watching the Pistons-Celtics game Sunday evening, a carrot-topped player caught my eye, and I had some ghoulish memories. Then, moments later, history repeated itself. But more on that in a second.

One of the reasons why I had no significant problem with LeBron James's explosion and single-handed dismantling of the Pistons in Game 5 of last year's conference final was because he's ... LeBron James. Yes, the Pistons could have defended him better. Yes, it was still inexcusable at times, the way they seemed to let James score on them at will. But he's still LeBron James, and sometimes the great ones do that. I remember watching second-year pro Michael Jordan drop some 63 points on the vaunted Celtics in a playoff game in 1986. Of course, the Celtics won the game, but they were still helpless against young MJ.

No, getting beat by the other team's stars I can stomach. It's all part of the game. When Ray Allen hit a clutch triple off the dribble against the Pistons in Boston last month, tying the game, I just shook my head in admiration. Great shot, under pressure. But it was made by Ray Allen. That's what he does.

It's getting your rear end handed to you by a scrub or an unheralded rookie that I can't abide.

Add Celtics rookie Glen Davis, who looks like a Cro-magnum man with those slightly crossed eyes, to the list of nobodies who've splattered diarrhea all over a Detroit sports team.

Davis laid in 16 points in the fourth quarter of the Celtics' win Sunday, and just about every bucket seemed to be accompanied by a free throw as the too-late Pistons defense tried unsuccessfully to hack "Big Baby", Davis's apparent nickname -- which possesses cruel irony, since our own Big Baby, the Lions' Shaun Rogers, was as unproductive in the second half of the season as Davis was productive in Sunday's fourth quarter.

So back to the carrot top on the Celtics bench -- which is where he belongs, and has been ensconced ever since he ripped out the Pistons' hearts in 2004.

Remember Brian Scalabrine? He torched the Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern semis, when he played for New Jersey. Unlike Davis, though, Scalabrine's poison was the three-point shot. Oh, how many triples he rained on the Pistons that night! Nobody had heard of him before his outburst, and not many have heard of him since. But there he was, in the familiar sweats of the bench player, as my TV tube flickered the images to me Sunday night.

Scalabrine as a Net: don't remind me

Hey, how about Luke Walton? Remember his ridiculous display of shooting, passing, rebounding, and general annoyance that he provided for the Lakers in Game 2 of the Finals in '04? Yes, the Lakers won that game on Kobe Bryant's shooting at the end, but it was Walton and his 15 minutes of fame -- almost literally -- that set the stage. I attended Game 3 in Detroit, and Walton was a complete non-factor, having returned to normalcy. I haven't heard much from the kid since.

Again, I can tolerate getting beat by Bryant, or Allen, or Jason Kidd, or any other star from any other team in any other sport. But it's unacceptable to let the Glen Davises and Brian Scalabrines and Luke Waltons do you in. Thank goodness the Scalabrine and Walton games came in series in which the Pistons won, or else I may have been suicidal.

It doesn't stop with basketball. Set your time machine back to 2006, when Vikings running back Artose Pinner, a former Lion and a certified non-star, ran wild at Ford Field. Of course, the Lions are good at making every back look like Jim Brown and backup QBs look like Joe Montana. Or you can take just about any Indians-Tigers game last season and set your sights on Casey Blake. Blecch. I still can't say (or type) the name Fernando Pisani without getting a nervous tick. SSEe WhAt I MeAn? Edmonton's Pisani actually led the NHL playoffs in goal scoring for much of the 2006 post-season, including his way-above-his-head performance against the Red Wings in Round One. Fernando Pis -- forget it, I can't bring myself to mention him again in his entirety. Besides, it's not even CLOSE to being a hockey name. No one named Fernando should be on skates in the NHL, I'm sorry.

I firmly believe that the pain of Red Sox fans over their 1978 playoff loss to the Yankees would be significantly reduced if the home run that beat them at Fenway Park was hit by, say, Reggie Jackson. Or Thurman Munson. Or Lou Piniella. But it was hit by Bucky Dent (or as Red Sox fans know him, Bucky F***ing Dent), and I think that's just not something Red Sox faithful can stomach, and I can't blame them. If Reggie had beaten them, then you just tip your hat and say, "Well, he IS Mr. October, after all." But Bucky Dent? I'm a little annoyed with that, too -- and I am by no means a Red Sox man.

The Pirates lost the 1992 pennant to the Braves thanks to a ninth-inning single by little-used Francisco Cabrera, who had 10 -- TEN -- at-bats in the regular season. How'd ya think that would play with your tummy?

One of my favorite coaches of all-time, in any sport, was the NBA's Doug Moe. He was one of the last to wear open-collared shirts and pace up and down the sidelines with his hands on his hips, like the 1970s coaches. And he was great copy. Once, after some nobody beat his team with an unexpected great performance, Moe said of the dude, "He completely ate our lunch. It was embarrassing. He'll never make another basket the rest of his life."

The Celtics' Glen Davis certainly will make more baskets, but I hope they won't be as frequent or as lethal as the ones he made Sunday in Auburn Hills. Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce are free to go crazy all they want. But not Glen F***ing Davis.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Too Early To Hate These Celtics

(note: this column was written Saturday morning, prior to last night's game)

OK, so just who ARE these Boston Celtics, anyway? Who are these guys who are 28-3 and running amok in the NBA?

One of those "3" in the right-hand column came courtesy of the Pistons, a couple weeks or so ago, in Boston. And the Celts come to town Saturday evening, to take on our streaking hoop heroes, who are 26-7 and on an 11-game winning spiel.

This is supposed to be a rivalry in the making. I say it’s only by default. And it’s far too early for that rivalry stuff, anyway.

Why default? Look at the Eastern Conference standings. Pretty pathetic, ain’t it? Only a handful of teams north of .500. A whole bunch of them far south of it. The Pistons and Celtics, along with the suspicious Orlando Magic, are the only ballclubs with some cushion above the break-even mark. So if there’s a "rivalry" brewing between the Pistons and Celtics, it’s from process of elimination.

The Pistons have outlived all their chief competitors for conference dominance. Remember the Indiana Pacers? The Pistons out muscled them in the Eastern finals back in 2004, on their way to the championship. Then the two teams engaged in a brawl the following November, Reggie Miller retired after that season, and the Pacers haven’t been heard from since. Or how about the New Jersey Nets? The Pistons were swept out of the conference finals by Jersey in 2003, handled them in 2004, and the Nets, too, have been milk carton candidates ever since. The Miami Heat? From 2006 champs to 2008 chumps, with barely a stop in between. The Cleveland Cavaliers? Last spring’s upset of Detroit notwithstanding, the Cavs remain a one-man band, pretty much. When LeBron James missed significant time this season, his teammates struggled to win once every three games.

And don’t EVEN talk to me about the Chicago Bulls.

So now we have the Boston Celtics, who’ve risen dramatically due to the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, to join forces with holdover Paul Pierce to form what is being called "The Big Three." And so far, it’s working well enough. The Big Three are like their automobile counterparts of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Yes, 28-3 isn’t anything to sniff about, I must admit. You play .900 ball for 31 games, you’re on to something, I would say.

But this is no rivalry, this Pistons-Celtics thing of today. Prior to this season’s resurgence, the Celtics were more off the radar than a Dennis Kucinich presidential candidacy. So forgive me for not buying into the hype.
Are these big games, these Detroit-Boston tilts in December and January? Sure, if only because there are so few games of their ilk at this point in the 82-game NBA marathon. Big, because the Pistons and Celtics are two of the three competent teams in their conference. Big, because the Celtics have been horse manure for so long; it’s nice to pair the Pistons up with someone new.

Yet a rivalry isn’t Rip Hamilton versus Ray Allen, nor Rasheed Wallace versus Kevin Garnett. Not now. They’ve only played each other once, for crying out loud -- the perennially competitive Pistons and the new-to-the-party Celtics. Let’s let it fester and brew for awhile. Would you eat the chili just after pouring in the tomato sauce and spices? And doesn’t it taste better after it’s sat in the fridge for a day or two?

Let me tell you something. A rivalry is Bill Laimbeer taking Larry Bird down with a body slam in the lane. And Robert Parish slugging Laimbeer to the floor. And Danny Ainge draining another backbreaking long bomb and giving us that combination determined/whiny puss. And Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most screaming into his microphone about the Pistons’ style of play, "Oh, the way they do things here! This is a disgrace!"

A rivalry is breaking a several-year drought in the Boston Garden to capture a crucial Game 5 win in the conference final, a year after losing in the most heartbreaking of ways in the same situation ("Bird steals the ball! Gives it to DJ, who lays it in!"). A rivalry is talk of leprechauns hiding in the Garden and Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley butting heads, knocking themselves out so the Celtics can win another Game 7 on their home floor. A rivalry is Laimbeer carrying a sickle into the Silverdome (true story) in a satchel and declaring that it’s to represent how you must cut the head off the snake (read: Celtics) when its head is twitching.

A rivalry is Vinnie getting hot in the 1985 playoffs, forcing the Celtics to take the Pistons seriously -- so much so that Ainge took to calling Johnson "The Microwave."

"If that guy (William Perry of the Bears) in Chicago is The Fridge, then Johnson is The Microwave," Ainge said after VJ torched the Celtics at Joe Louis Arena one playoff Sunday afternoon. And a new nickname, a beloved nickname in Detroit, was born. I wonder how many people know that a hated Celtic coined it. Now you do, too.

A rivalry is a thrilling seven-game conference final in 1987, followed by a nearly-as-thrilling one in 1988, which vaulted the Pistons to their first-ever NBA Finals. It’s Chuck Daly taking two suits to Boston in 1989, after the Pistons took a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five first round series, explaining that "I don’t trust the Celtics. I’m taking enough clothes in case we have to play two there." The Pistons swept, negating the need for the second suit. But it was on hand, because you never know when the leprechauns will strike.

A rivalry is Dennis Rodman suggesting that Bird gets all the praise he does because he’s a white player. And it’s Celtics fans hanging Laimbeer in effigy in the Garden while Big Bill absolutely loved it.

The name on the front of today’s Boston team jerseys might say CELTICS. But the names on the back are still too fresh to have created any animosity and ill-will.

Let ‘em bash each other in the playoffs a few times, then come talk to me.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Thursday's Things

(every Thursday at OOB I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things The Chicago Bulls Can Do To Improve Besides Firing Scott Skiles)

Things Mike Martz Can Do If He Doesn't Get Another Coaching Job

1. Work for the Wayne County Road Commission -- helping them build more passing lanes

2. Scout the Arena League for the next Kurt Warner

3. Become a spokesperson for Immodium: "No runs!"

4. Apply for early entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; isn't that where geniuses belong?

5. Sue the Lions' offensive line for non-support

6. Auction running plays from his playbook on eBay ("Rare!")

7. Put more of his effort into running for president, under his alter ego of Christopher Dodd

8. Put the brakes on the planned buzzword nickname next year, combining Martz with QB Jon Kitna: "K-Martz"

9. I hear there are a few countries around the globe looking for dictators ...

10. Buy the rights to the game show "1 vs. 100" and create a new reality show detailing Kitna's efforts behind his porous o-line; or, detail Martz's steadfastness against the entire Lions organization

11. Become a financial adviser: "Umm, please don't buy stock in M&M's -- at least not if you live in Detroit"

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Red Wings Unlikely To Repeat 1996 Disappointment

They blitzed thru the NHL schedule, winning 62 games, losing just 13, and amassing 131 points. They lost only two home games all season. In doing all this, they also set the league record for most regular season wins in one season. Their coach was the same as the team whose record they beat -- Scotty Bowman.

Yet there was always something about the 1995-96 Red Wings that I didn't trust. Couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it was the netminding. Maybe too much finesse, too much pizazz to be a playoff-ready team. Something.

Sure enough, the playoffs exposed the Red Wings, as they went 10-9 in the postseason and lost in the conference finals to Colorado. Much of the reason why was, actually, goaltending and too much finesse.

This year's team is on pace to threaten 60 wins. They have 29 in 40 games. Win tonight, and they'll be right smack on that 60-win pace. Yet I don't feel that this club will disappoint in the playoffs.

Perhaps it's the fact that the Wings went to the Final Four last season with a team that I believe isn't as strong as this one -- when it's healthy. Regardless, this year's squad has some makings. It looks like it's a Cup favorite. And I'm not even Barry Melrose, who picks them every year.

The Red Wings are fueled for hockey in June. There are hardly any weaknesses. Their backup goalie should make the All-Star team.

No 1996 disappointment here, me thinks.