Friday, February 29, 2008

Lions Need Super Bowl-Winning Management People, Not Players

They've come through town, their fingers ringed, and smiled the smile of the champion.

Damien Woody. Az Hakim. Eric Davis. Dre Bly. Desmond Howard. John Jett. An offensive lineman; a receiver; a couple defensive backs; a kick returner; even a punter, for goodness sake. And there've been more, as you go deeper into history -- players who've won Super Bowls for other organizations, in other years, for other coaches -- who've come to the Lions after having captured The Prize.

They've been looked at with awe in the locker room, for having owned what no other Lions player has come close to sniffing: that elusive World Championship ring.

It's even been a reason, in some instances, why some of those players have been signed to wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver. The old claptrap about how having players on your roster who've won championships somehow services you well. It was mentioned again yesterday, after the Lions signed safety Dwight Smith, proud alumnus of the 2002 Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Bucs.


It's not PLAYERS who've won championships that the Lions have been lacking. Or, to fittingly borrow from an old campaign line in this, an election year: It's the management, stupid.

The Lions have woefully lacked Super Bowl-winning front office types, and that -- way more than a lack of Super Bowl-winning players -- is the biggest reason why they have been ring-less since the Eisenhower administration.

I remember back in the mid-to-late-1990s. Bill Ford Jr. was dispatched by his father to openly spy on the San Francisco 49ers. The objective was to find out how a championship-type organization goes about its business. So the younger Ford hung around the 49ers braintrust for a while, in training camp, taking notes, before reporting back to the brass in Pontiac.

That was over a hundred losses and a half dozen coaches ago.

It's nice to pick the brains of champions, but it's far more effective to go one step further and raid their organizations for their brightest talent.

How many Super Bowl winners do you think the New England Patriots had on their roster before they began their 21st century supremacy? Were the Indy Colts dotted with champions before the current management team took over and built a mini-empire?

As insult to injury, the Super Bowl "winners" that the Lions have signed have often proved to be far from key contributors to their old team's cause, anyhow. Starters? Yeah. Decent players? In some cases. But it's not like the Lions have brought Tom Brady, Marshall Faulk, or Warren Sapp over here, fresh off a championship.

But that's secondary. What's primary is that you cannot model yourself after an elite organization until you are ready to stop admiring from afar and start plundering from within.

The closest the Lions came to doing such a noble thing was in the mid-1980s, when they stole Bears executive Jerry Vainisi. But then they fouled the whole thing up by making him beholden to then-GM Russ Thomas, which completely defeated the purpose. They bought a Rolls Royce and fitted it with an Edsel engine.

So be ready to hear all about Smith and his 2002 experience. About his two returned INTs for touchdowns in the Super Bowl against the Raiders. It's nice. But it was for another team, at another time. You don't win Super Bowls with players resumes. You win with competent front offices and scouts.

The most important Super Bowl-winning talent a team can employ are those who wear suits and ties to work everyday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thursday's Things

(on most Thursdays at OOB, I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things You Could Hear, If You Listened Hard Enough, As Nick Lidstrom Crumpled To The Ice In Denver On Monday)

Things In Sports I'll Never Understand

1. The two-minute warning.
Really, why do we need to stop the clock in pro football with two minutes remaining in either half? It's particularly grating when the game is a blowout. I say if not eliminate it entirely, then make it obsolete if the score differential is more than 16 points. I know -- it'll never happen, mainly because it would eliminate precious advertising time on the tube.

2. Guys proposing marriage at the stadium. Why do men feel that something as private and tender as a marriage proposal should be done in full view of millions -- or at the very least, tens of thousands? Do ladies feel that it's romantic to be strong-armed into an engagement?

3. The NHL shootout. Tell me, ever since the league introduced the shootout after the lockout, is a penalty shot -- once one of the most exciting plays in sports -- as thrilling as it once was? Gotta give that a big, fat NO.

4. "Icing" the field goal kicker. Many placekickers say they actually enjoy the extra time they get, when the opponents call timeout before a big kick. Gives them a chance to gather their thoughts, talk to their holder and snapper, and basically kick under as controlled a situation as possible, rather than in hurry-up mode.

5. The possession arrow in college and high school basketball. This rule stemmed largely from the referees' inability to toss the ball fairly in a jump ball situation. This is one of the most moronic rules in all of sports. What if hockey decided to do such a thing? Forget face-offs; we're just going to alternate who gets the puck after every stoppage. Ridiculous!

6. Wearing jerseys with pro athletes' names on them. Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a 300-pound, beer-guzzling doofus at the game wearing a "LIDSTROM" jersey that is stretched to its limit. It'd be like your Aunt Millie wearing a bathing suit with "ALBA" stitched on it. Blecch! And to prove that I practice what I preach, I own two hockey jerseys -- Penguins and Red Wings, and they have "ENO" on the back. Why? Well, that IS my name. (Exception: it CAN BE cute when women do it at the game; it's that whole wearing-mens-clothing-thing that I find endearing).

7. The media's mock NCAA basketball tourney selection earlier this month. They gathered a bunch of writers together recently and had them put together some mock brackets. My goodness, who CARES? It's about as useful as soliciting sixth-graders to vote for president in a "mock" election.

8. The Pro Bowl. Enough said.

9. Starting the MLB season in March -- and in northern cities, like Detroit. Can you say "makeup dates"?

10. Why it's so hard to win on the road in the Big Ten in basketball. Cripes, the percentages are more skewed than the NBA's. You don't think it has anything to do with officiating, do you? Hmmm.

That's all for this week. Care to share?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shame On Red Wings If The Future Blinded Them

I'm loathe to agree with Free Press columnist and sometimes radio blowhard Drew Sharp, but I fear that I fall on his side of the fence when it comes to the Red Wings and the much-ballyhooed NHL trading deadline, which came and went yesterday like the month of March: in like a lion and out like a lamb. Sharp argued, rather competently, in this morning's Freep that GM Kenny Holland -- assuming we know all the facts, which we never do, so bear that in mind -- played things a might too conservatively, completing only one deal: acquiring D Brad Stuart from Los Angeles for a couple of draft picks.

As the clock ticked closer and closer to 3 p.m. yesterday, and as I refreshed the trades page once every 2-3 minutes, failing to see the Red Wings logo, I kept muttering to myself, over and over: "I can't believe the Wings aren't going to make a move. I can't believe they're going to stand pat." It was almost 3:30 when even the late deals were being posted and announced, and I was beside myself. No deals? For a team depleted by injuries and 1-7-1 in their last nine games?

Well, then the Stuart deal came down the pike, and that soothed my nerves a little bit. Stuart's name had been mentioned a while back -- actually, when the Kings were in town on February 7. Incidentally, that game, a 5-3 come-from-ahead loss, started the Red Wings' current slide. Oh, and the man who scored the game-winning goal that night? None other than Brad Stuart.

But after the relief from the Stuart deal wore off -- which was about ten minutes, tops -- I went back to gnashing my teeth. I merely changed my whine to "ONE deal? For a team depleted by injuries and 1-7-1 in their last nine games?"

Now, as I eluded to in the first paragraph, we don't know what went on behind the scenes at Red Wings HQ. No doubt Holland and his crew were racking up the cell phone minutes, and no doubt that the club could have gotten into the Marian Hossa bidding, but the asking price was likely a bit steep. Certainly Holland was TRYING to look for something that made sense, without giving up too many draft picks and/or young players.

But here's my thing: when you have 90 points and lead the league, but things are dicey because of the injuries and the improvement of your main competitors, you kind of have to forget about the future a little bit. Let's face it: pro sports is about NOW. My feeling is that the fans who worry so much about giving up prospects are being a little disingenuous. Those same people want it both ways; they want to win now, AND have something under the mattress for a rainy day. That's not always possible, folks.

The Red Wings have been Cup contenders for 16 years straight. They're likely to be Cup contenders for several more years to come. How badly could they truly deplete their stockpile of youth? And isn't it worth a shot at some more championships?

I'm not saying the mythical "window" is closing on the Red Wings. Far from it. But whenever you're coming off a conference finals loss and following it up with a big year that has the general hockey community buzzing about your chances, then I say err on the side of recklessness.

I guess what it boils down to is this: I just hope the Red Wings didn't keep their guns in their holsters because they were afraid of dipping too much into future assets. I think pro sports teams' futures are bad bets anyway, if you want to know. The percentage of "prospects" who actually make a splash isn't as high as you think. And even if they do, and you're adding to your trophy case, who cares?

The fascination over "can't miss" guys who are "untouchable" as trade bait amuses me. If the Red Wings fretted too much over the future to the extent that they missed out on some deadline-available talent, then I'm in disagreement with that philosophy. Because, all things considered, the average fan doesn't give a hoot about the future. Everyone wants to win NOW.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Trade Deadline Rescued Murphy From Toronto In 1997

They booed him, unmercifully, every time he touched the puck. They made signs deriding him. Games at Maple Leaf Gardens became nasty. The fans were bidding him good riddance.

And he was one of theirs.

Larry Murphy, at the trade deadline in 1997, was held up as the punching bag for Toronto Maple Leafs fans frustrated with the team's Stanley Cup drought -- which continues today and is now 41 years old. It was obvious that he had to go; the differences between Murphy and the fans were irreconcilable.

To the rescue came the Red Wings.

Murphy came to the Red Wings at the deadline in '97 and added two Cups to his resume

They traded for Larry Murphy at the deadline in 1997, and free from the slings and arrows in Toronto, he helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups the next two springs.

I bumped into Murphy the night Steve Yzerman's jersey went up to the rafters. We spent some time together in the alumni suite, watching the game below. I asked him about the final days in Toronto. He shrugged it off. Didn't seem to bother him all that much.

"It's all about winning," he said. "When you don't win, people get frustrated."

Mats Sundin, it was reported, has told Leafs management that he doesn't care to waive his no-trade clause. He would like, in other words, to stay in Toronto.

"To me, it means more to be part of the journey from October to June," Sundin said to the press, explaining his decision. "I've never cared for the idea of the rental player."

Tell that to Raymond Bourque, who finally won a Cup in 2001 with Colorado, after over 20 years with the Bruins and some failed Finals appearances. He didn't seem to mind the idea. But I can certainly understand Sundin's sentiment, and find it rather refreshing.

Of course, Sundin isn't being hung in virtual effigy in Toronto, the way Larry Murphy was. And it's perhaps easier for Murphy to shrug off that poor treatment, since he was a four-time Cup winner (two in Pittsburgh, two in Detroit). Plus, Murphy ended up being revered in Detroit, and stays close to the team as a TV analyst. Those miserable Toronto days are long gone.

By the way, if you're lucky enough to get the NHL Network (I do, with DirecTV), you might want to take a sick day. The network is providing non-stop coverage of Deadline Day tomorrow, from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. They'll be all over it. I work from home, so I can bask in it; Deadline Day in the NHL is one of my favorite days of the year.

In 1997, I'm sure it was Larry Murphy's favorite day as well -- even if he could shrug it off some 10 years later.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Millen’s Cowardice Has Only One Cure: Winning

The short, dumpy, bespectacled man with the un-combed hair and ill-fitting suit stood before the throng of reporters at his introductory press conference and if you thought he was funny-looking, you were in for a treat once he began speaking.

In a squeaky, nerdy voice singed with Canada, he said, “As long as Jimmy Devellano is the general manager of the Detroy-et Red Wings, we will NOT trade a draft choice.”

It was the summer of 1982, and this little pipsqueak of a man was the one entrusted with the future of a hockey franchise teetering on the brink of self-destruction.

Jimmy Devellano. Jimmy D. The first man hired by new Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, taking over after the Norris family era had fizzled out with one playoff appearance in 12 years. Years damaged by “Darkness With Harkness” and curious coaching hires and absurd draft choices. Grotesque re-naming of the team the “Dead Things” by an increasingly fed up media and fan base. A new hockey palace, Joe Louis Arena, that was hemorrhaging ticket-buying peasants.

Devellano’s addition, for my money, was the best bang-for-your-buck executive hire in Detroit sports history. He still works for the Red Wings as an Executive Vice President, and has been a key cog for six Stanley Cup winners: three in Detroit, to go along with the three he helped win with the New York Islanders, when he was a scouting genius. Twenty-six years of faithful service in Detroit ensued when Mike Ilitch, in one fell swoop, put an end to the front office nonsense that had been going on with the Red Wings for over a decade.

After he bought the Tigers in 1992, Ilitch monkeyed around with different GMs and scouting directors and player development people before he finally found his gem in David Dombrowski, hired in 2001. This time, Ilitch righted his own wrongs, instead of cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Bill Davidson, who would work out of offices in Detroit, then Pontiac, then Auburn Hills with the Pistons, was trying like mad to get his arms around a highly-dysfunctional front office after he bought out a syndicate of owners in 1974. He made some bad decisions before a league insider tipped him off to a little-known man sitting on the bench of the Indiana Pacers as an assistant coach.

When Davidson hired Jack McCloskey in December 1979, the Pistons had been reduced to expansion team status. McCloskey’s words. Once, Trader Jack offered his entire roster to the Lakers for Earvin “Magic” Johnson. When I reminded him of this youthful indiscretion a couple summers ago, McCloskey laughed, recalling it fondly and with total recollection.

McCloskey, though, was no fool. He built a championship team from the dregs he was handed when he signed on with the Pistons. And he did it rather rapidly, all things considered. Hiring a coach named Chuck Daly accelerated things a bit.

Davidson would learn more lessons after McCloskey departed, all of them the hard way. Until he handed the Palace keys over to Joe Dumars in 2000.

The Red Wings, Tigers, and Pistons have all graduated from the school of hard knocks. The Lions are still in detention hall.

Matt Millen was no coward on the football field. There really aren’t any of those in the NFL, if you want to know. One does not play professional football if one has any propensity toward fear. Millen was a middle linebacker, the kamikaze of the defense. He learned linebacking from the LB factory of college, otherwise known as Penn State University. Some schools make good doctors, or lawyers, or scientists. Penn State made linebackers. And Millen was one of the best – college and pro. He won pro championships – almost being able to fill all of his fingers on one hand with rings.

Millen does not run the Lions, anymore, with the zeal or reckless abandon that he once used to crush enemy ball carriers. There may not be any cowards on the football field, but there sure are some of them walking around in the management offices of professional sports teams across the country.

Millen is now one such coward.

He held an absurd, brief Q&A session with some Detroit sportswriters at the NFL combines in Indianapolis the other day. The newspapers printed portions of it, and the websites ran it in its entirety. But it had all the substance of a rice cake.

The questioners wanted to know why Millen is increasingly less visible and quiet the deeper he gets into his reign, which is now 112 games old – 81 of those losses.

“I can’t do anything about the perception,” he said. “You can perceive it any way you want. The facts are these: I have 100% confidence in Rod Marinelli. I trust him. I think he’s doing it the right way. I trust his words. So I don’t have to say anything. I think he does a great job with it, and I think it’s good. There’s one voice. Go ahead and speak. I’m very comfortable with him. …”

In other words, I’m going to prop my coach out there to take all the heat, even though he’s working with the chicken feathers I’ve given him, his charge being to make chicken salad out of it.

Millen says we can perceive it any way we want. That’s a fastball down the middle.

Millen is in seclusion most days because he has nothing good to talk about. Simple as that. And losing breeds cowardice among executive types.

When the Tigers were losing 119 games in 2003, Dombrowski didn’t vanish. Dumars of the Pistons and Kenny Holland of the Red Wings have put themselves in the line of fire, answering all the “what happened?” questions in the wake of playoff disappointments. No cowards, they. Winning has made them visible, and by extension, brave. And I can assure you that none of them would go into hiding if things were to ever go south again. They’re not those types of dudes.

Because they’re hard-knock school graduates, you see. They have diplomas, where Matt Millen has been too yellow to earn his.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cavs' Trade Much Ado About Not Much

Add the Cleveland Cavaliers to the list of delusional teams -- the ones that think Ben Wallace is the final piece to a championship puzzle.

The Cavs are puffing out their chests, wrongly thinking that they've rocked the basketball world with their 11-player, 3-team trade made yesterday with Seattle and Chicago. In it, the Cavs acquired Wallace, along with Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West. Leaving Cleveland are Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Cedric Simmons, Ira Newble, and Shannon Brown.

Lots of player movement. But what hasn't moved much are the Cavs' chances to escape the Eastern Conference this spring.

It's sensational on the surface, if only for the number of players involved, but I don't think the Cavs improved themselves enough to get past Detroit or Boston. But that's OK; let 'em think they did.

When the Bulls threw outrageous money at Wallace in the summer of '06, I wrote at that time that the Bulls were fooling themselves; that such dollars are only warranted for those players who can put you over the hump. And for all of Ben Wallace's positives, I just didn't think he was that kind of difference maker -- at least not for a team as flimsy as the Bulls.

Nor do I think he's that kind of player for Cleveland.

Almost simultaneous with the trade, the Cavs lost guard Daniel "Booby" Gibson for 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain.

The Cavaliers, though, are a lot closer to contention than the Bulls were when they signed Wallace from the Pistons. Yet they are not a team, because of this trade, that can beat out the Pistons or the Celtics. They're also a tad older now, across the board. Wallace, Szczerbiak, and Smith are all on the back ends of their careers. And do you really see where they are a significant improvement over Hughes, Gooden, Marshall, and company?

The fascination with Wallace's interior defense amazes me. The teams that win NBA titles nowadays are those whose overall team defense, including that in the paint, works together -- teammates helping each other out and being active. There can be a tendency for other players to get lazy when Wallace is on the court. He's not the force he once was, but he's still better than average. Trouble is, everyone seems to think he's better than he really is in this department.

Except, maybe, Joe Dumars.

Szczerbiak's addition is basically canceled out by Gibson's injury. Smith is a fading scorer.

Cleveland GM Danny Ferry, who made the blockbuster move just before the 3 P.M. deadline, said, "I didn't think we were good enough to win a championship." No argument there. But for all his maneuverings yesterday, I think those words will still ring true at the end of the season.

Bottom line: Pistons fans shouldn't lose any sleep over this trade.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday's Things

(on most Thursdays at OOB I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things Roger Clemens Also Said At His Congressional Hearing)

Things You Could Hear, If You Listened Hard Enough, As Nick Lidstrom Crumpled To The Ice In Denver On Monday


2. My

3. God

4. You

5. Have

6. GOT

7. To

8. Be

9. F***ing

10. Kidding

11. Me

12. This


14. Be

15. Happening

16. The sound of Mike Babcock's underwear soiling

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Darko Needs To Stop Playing The Pistons Card, And Right Now

If you have seven feet and some change available on a wall somewhere, vertically, clear out about 24 inches from left to right. Then you'll have room for a poster of Darko Milicic. For Milicic is certainly the Poster Boy for why drafting teenagers in the NBA is a risky proposition. He's the 21st century's cautionary tale in this department.

Milicic was selected 2nd overall in the 2003 draft, and you pretty much know all the rest. His NBA career has been fraught with benchings, trades, public humiliation, and derision. And he's still only 22; he'll turn 23 in June. He wasn't even 18 when the Pistons plucked him off the board, right after LeBron James, and right before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade.

No, it wasn't one of Joe Dumars's better picks. It wasn't one of the better ones in league history, either. In fact, it might have been among the very worst. It has a lot of Sam Bowie-before-Michael Jordan about it.

But I bring up Milicic because James Jahnke in today's Freep reports that, according to an interview Darko did with Reuters news service recently, his confidence is waning and he seems to blame it on his sordid past.

Milicic, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, his third NBA team, is averaging 6.8 points in 24.8 minutes. And he's running out of things to blame his career on.

"I have to get better, play better, do better. I'm trying and I'm going to keep trying ... They (the Grizzlies) gave me a chance. They gave me everything. They gave me time to play, they tell me to just shoot the ball and play your game. Now it is all on me."

But despite all that confidence the Grizzlies have tried to instill in Milicic -- the lack of which he kept insisting contributed greatly to his flops in Detroit and Orlando -- things are again regressing.

"Now I'm losing my confidence, I don't know why," he told Reuters. "There is a lot of stuff going on in my head. All the stuff that happened to me before has left some scars."

Ahh -- there it is, in that last sentence.

Milicic clearly still wants to play the "Detroit hurt me" card, even today, some five years after the Pistons drafted him. That's no crime; 18 year-olds handle things differently. I'm not going to begrudge Milicic's feelings, though I think he needs to move on with his life. But his "scarring" defense is symptomatic of what can happen when you thrust kids into pro sports, especially the NBA. And especially with the second overall pick, for goodness sakes.

It could be, of course, that Darko will continue to forever blame his bust status on the Pistons ruining him by not playing him while he was here. He'll always hold that card, I suppose. And it won't do him one bit of good to keep looking backward. He's only 22; what in the world is he passing up by boo-hooing about his formative years with the Pistons? Maybe he should look no further than Chauncey Billups, his old teammate, who was rejected several times before finding gold with the Pistons. Would Billups have risen to perennial All-Star status, leader of a championship-caliber team, if he'd worn a sour puss about his time in Boston, or Denver, or Minnesota? But see, Billups wasn't drafted in his teen years.

There's a great deal to be said about maturity. A 21-year-old doesn't necessarily possess it, either, but he still has a much better chance of weathering the storm than an 18-year-old. Darko Milicic seems to still want to blame his Detroit years for his current struggles.

It's all in his head, and you can make a case that it was never truly screwed on properly, from the moment he entered the league. Lots of times it isn't, when you're talking about teenagers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Better To Lose Big BEFORE Trade Deadline, Than After

The Red Wings' current six-game losing slide couldn't have come at a better time, really. Better to find out now where your warts are, than later -- i.e., after the upcoming trading deadline of February 26.

Better to know now where you need to apply some blemish cream, because how else will you know where to seek out such an ointment, and what kind to buy?

It's been a combination of things that has the Red Wings on this skid, as it always is; rarely does just one aspect of a team's game cause such a long winless string. It's kind of like a baseball losing streak. One day you get great pitching and defense and lose, 1-0. Then the next, you hit the stuffing out of the ball but lose, 12-10. With the Wings, the goaltending has been suspect at times recently -- the biggest offender being Chris Osgood, who hasn't been the same since signing his contract extension and being named to the All-Star game. I trust this is just a coincidence. Other times, the team defense has looked like orange pylons. The forwards can't score consistently. And, finally, the puck hasn't bounced their way with any regularity.

It all started with that third period meltdown at home against Los Angeles a week ago Thursday. In that game, the Red Wings held a 3-1 lead against the Kings, whose goalie was shaky. The game seemed well in hand -- the kind the Red Wings grind out and put to bed routinely. But the Kings erupted for four goals in the third -- Osgood was smelly on most of them -- and thus started this 0-5-1 streak. An OT loss in Toronto, then a controversial loss at home to Anaheim followed. There wasn't any concern yet. But convincing losses to Nashville and Columbus preceded yesterday's 1-0 loss in Dallas, and suddenly the Red Wings are talking like they'll take any positives they can out of games. In other words, this mighty team speaks of moral victories, in essence.

It's probably all temporary, I'm sure. A 41-10-4 team doesn't suddenly lose it at once. But this streak gives GM Ken Holland some more food for thought as next week's deadline approaches. The danger, for him, is to not overreact and do something he'll regret later. Save that kind of stuff for the fans and the restless bloggers. No telling what cockamamy deals some of these talk radio folks would unleash if given the GM title for even one day. Heck, for one hour.

Funny thing, though: the last time the Red Wings had a seven-game winless streak, it was at the tail end of the 2001-02 season, when they finished 0-5-2. Then they lost the first two games of their first round playoff series against Vancouver, at home.

No sweat; they went on to win the Stanley Cup that June. Just like they planned all along.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Time Stopped At UDM After Vitale Left

There was no Mercy at the University of Detroit when Dickie Vitale coached there – and there also was no mercy.

Vitale is one of the finalists for induction into the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year in Springfield, Ma. He’s eligible because of his work blabbing into a microphone – certainly not for his prowess on the sidelines.

Not that he was lacking in that area. Vitale coached at U-D – long before the school merged with Mercy College and grew a third initial: UDM. It was a grand time at McNichols and Livernois in those days, from 1973-78. Players running thru papered hoops with the lights out and faux pyrotechnics going off as they were being introduced. Making the NCAA tournament a couple times. Upsetting powerhouse schools like Marquette on the road – and with Vitale dancing a jig at center court afterward, captured by the TV cameras that beamed the images back home.

I have mixed emotions as I mull over Dickie V’s candidacy – because I’m not sure if being a loudmouthed basketball analyst on TV and radio qualifies one for Hall status, and because it made me pause and think about what’s happening now at UDM, which isn’t all that good.

Vitale came to Detroit from out east, where all the basketball coaches seemed to come from in those days. He started at a New Jersey high school. And he talked his way onto the campus at U-D, promising the fathers there that he could put the university’s basketball program back onto the map. There had been some success at U-D prior to Vitale’s arrival, but not for several years. We ARE talking about the school of Dave DeBusschere and Spencer Haywood, after all.

So Vitale invaded living rooms in the southeastern Michigan area and convinced some of the top high school players to come play at his university. Talking was never Dickie’s weak suit.

And it worked. Vitale built a powerhouse – a basketball program that began to give Michigan and Michigan State a run for their money. Terry Tyler. John Long. Terry Duerod. Earl Cureton. All were recruited by Dickie V, and all spent various lengths of time in the NBA – and all for the Pistons. But more on that later.

U-D was an independent in those days, and it opened up the schedule for top hoops schools from conferences across the Midwest. DePaul would come to town, sometimes Marquette. And there were road games against Michigan, Notre Dame, and other big boys. And U-D acquitted itself well; sometimes the Titans would pull off the upset – only it wasn’t an embarrassment to lose to U-D, because Vitale’s teams were pretty damn good. Calihan Hall, smack in the heart of campus, was bedlam in those days. The big boys stopped wanting to play there, because it was such a hornet’s nest.

I find myself in Calihan several times a year now, working for the fine folks at Catholic Television Network of Detroit, helping them with their high school basketball coverage. And not much has changed at Calihan, which is part of the problem.

Oh, it’s still intimate. And cozy. But now, those words are just polite substitutes for antiquated and outdated.

There’s not much excitement around the Titan program nowadays, and the ancient Calihan Hall does nothing to help that.

The Titans are gamely coached now by Perry Watson, who gained his chops by steamrolling over his opponents in the Detroit Public School League, at Southwestern High. Then Perry was an assistant at Michigan for a few years, before taking the UDM gig. Watson, though, is now out – taking an extended leave of absence for an undisclosed personal issue. The team is lucky to win once every five games or so. They scrape the bottom of the Horizon League.

But Watson has done some good things at UDM. He’s led the team to some NIT appearances, and even won a few games during March Madness. But his strong ties to the inner city coaches hasn’t done what Vitale was able to do in the 1970s, as an outsider from New Jersey.

The entire campus at UDM looks like time forgot it. It’s terribly devoid of any new construction, and Calihan is now, to me, nothing more than a glorified high school gymnasium – which may have been fine 30+ years ago, but now it must be a recruiting nightmare for Watson and his staff. How can you get any top high school kid excited about playing in a 50+ year-old dungeon like Calihan Hall? And for a school that rarely gets any TV or media exposure?

Vitale’s been gone for about 30 years now from campus. He quit, sobbing at a press conference, because of stomach problems. He was kicked upstairs, as the school’s athletic director. Then he started lobbying for the Pistons’ coaching job.

The man he convinced to make such a bad hire was owner Bill Davidson, who in wonderful irony is up for induction into the Hall along with Vitale this year. It would be enough to make me choke on my pancakes if they both went into the Hall together. My belly would hurt, I’d be laughing so hard.

Yet it might happen, and that’s OK, I suppose. Vitale was a disaster as Pistons coach, demonstrating almost immediately that he had no clue what he was doing. He had a fetish for local players, drafting Long, Tyler, Duerod, Phil Hubbard from Michigan, and Greg Kelser from Michigan State. You almost wanted to show Dickie V a map, and let him know that there were other states in the Union that he could draft his players from.

Davidson is a no-brainer for induction, as far as I’m concerned. He’s been a pillar of an owner with the Pistons, and he’s helped the NBA immensely. He committed a personal foul when he hired Vitale, but it wasn’t the only bad hire he made. However, his good choices have far outweighed his poor ones – which is one reason why he’s a Hall candidate.

We laugh at Dick Vitale today, for his buffoonery on the air – though he’s mellowed some. And we laughed at him as Pistons coach, mainly because the only alternative was to cry. We even laughed at him at U-D, even while he was winning basketball games and creating a frenzy on campus.

Wish we could laugh at something at UDM today, other than at its old, dilapidated gym. Even a smile would be nice.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fedorov's Return To Red Wings Should Be Hailed, Not Jeered

The ovation would be thunderous, let there be no question about that. Forget all the warnings of a mixed reaction; these things have a way of fooling you.

If no. 91 stepped onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena, again a Red Wing, then you can plan on the face-off being about a minute or two delayed.

You know that's the way it would be. If Columbus's Sergei Fedorov, rumored to be a potential target for the Red Wings at the trading deadline, returned in the winged wheel after a nearly five-year absence, the greeting would be with open arms. Why not? Fedorov is one of those three-time Stanley Cup winners the Red Wings produced in 1997, '98, and 2002. He angered some by leaving for Anaheim via free agency, and his early returns to Detroit were met with venom, which was expected and probably justified, to a degree. We're a self-conscious bunch in the Motor City. There's still a complex we have here, and part of that means we want to have nothing to do with you if you choose to leave here voluntarily. Good riddance, we usually say.

But that was back in the summer of 2003. The Red Wings have gone Cup-less minus Fedorov, and something tells me that's not necessarily 100% a coincidence. And Fedorov, for his part, hasn't played a playoff game since '03, with the Wings.

Maybe both parties could end their droughts together.

Would the Blue Jackets trade Fedorov within their own division? If they're willing to, then the Red Wings would be smart to listen

He's 38 now, Sergei Fedorov is, and isn't the player he once was. But he's played on some very mediocre clubs since leaving for "greener" pastures. Sometimes your environs hasten some skill erosion -- while at the same time, the cliched "change of scenery" sometimes retards some of the erosion process. In other words, returning to a winner, and in a role in which he wouldn't have to be the main man, might be the tonic.

I was among those who castigated Fedorov when he left, and I wrote with an evil sneer that he should have expected the rude homecoming, a game in which he was booed loudly whenever he touched the puck -- back in fall 2003 as a Duck. But I'm over it now, as we all should be -- and probably mostly are. Hence the safe and sound prediction of JLA rumbling with applause and cheers upon Fedorov's return in a Red Wings sweater.

But this isn't just about how loud we will cheer for him. Fedorov, for all his age and erosion, is still a serviceable NHL player. He'd make a nice addition to a team built around puck possession that needs a little offensive jolt due to injury and suspect production from some of its forwards. A team like Detroit, for instance.

It's funny; usually the talk around trade deadline is about the Red Wings getting grittier and seeking blue line help. This time around, it's the offense that appears to need a little boost. Dan Cleary is out till the playoffs with a broken jaw. Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson are scuffling along. The second power play unit, which features those guys, is struggling by extension. No Todd Bertuzzis needed this time. Instead, good old-fashioned scorers are wanted.

Then there's Darren McCarty, who I still can't see making the NHL's best team, unless it's strictly for another body during the playoffs. I don't know if Mac has enough left to finagle his way onto a roster as deep as the Red Wings'. Especially if they add to the mix at the deadline, which is an almost certainty.

I hope those still bitter over Fedorov's defection -- and I mean from Detroit to Anaheim -- can get over it and realize how much the Red Wings could use a player like him right about now. I think most folks understand. And they'll totally drown out the few boobirds. Especially when he scores a goal in his first game back -- another prediction.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thursday's Things

(on most Thursdays at OOB, I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things I'd Like To Add To My "Bucket List")

Things That Roger Clemens Also Said Under Oath At His Recent Congressional Hearing

"I thought it was a rabies vaccine"

2. "I'm 'The Rocket', so I need alternative fuels"

3. "If you played in New York, you'd inject yourself with some stuff, too!"

4. "Steroids? Are you kidding me? Steroids? You wanna talk about steroids? STEROIDS? I just hope I can live another day!"

5. "No -- YOU'RE out of order! YOU'RE out of order! This whole HEARING is out of order!"

6. "Andy Pettitte double-dog-dared me"

7. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for my new job as Barry Bonds's stunt double"

8. "I know it sounds crazy, but I swear I saw Brian McNamee's nose growing a few minutes ago"

9. "STEROIDS?? I could have sworn he asked me if I wanted ALTOIDS"

10. "If you drop this right now, you're all invited to my Hall of Fame Induction party at the house"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

16 Years Of Cup-Worthiness Makes Us Take Red Wings For Granted

It's going to be asked around the water cooler at work, over the airwaves on sports talk radio, and in some of the area's finer establishments -- and even the not-so-finer. And it will go something like this:

"Do the Red Wings have a shot at the Stanley Cup this spring?"

Brief pause.

"You know, I think so. They look tough enough, and deep enough."


"The regular season doesn't mean squat. And Dan Cleary's hurt, and so too Dominik Hasek. Chris Osgood is showing signs of fading. The Anaheim Ducks got Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer back."

Well? DO they have a shot?

"I don't know ... I'm cautiously optimistic."

It'll go like this, off-and-on, the closer we get to the end of the regular season. Perhaps some doubting Thomases were won over by the team's advancing to the conference finals last May. Who knows.

But one thing is certain, and it simply cannot be overstated -- though I'm going to give it a shot here, you can rest assured -- the fact that we've been able to ask that question of the Red Wings, with complete legitimacy, for 16 springs in a row now, is stunning in its amazement. And I really hope you appreciate that.

Think about it for a moment. Is there any team, in any of the four major pro sports, that can honestly say that it has been a serious contender for its sport's championship for 16 years running?

Let's take a look around, shall we?

In football, have the New England Patriots been football gods for 16 years in a row? Uh-uh. In fact, 16 years ago, the Pats were trying the ill-fated Dick MacPherson coaching experiment (he came from Syracuse), and were bottoming out before Bill Parcells rescued them. The Packers have been very good, but not Super Bowl-like during the past 16 years, which perfectly coincides with Brett Favre's time there. They've certainly had their ups and downs. The Cowboys have been downright wretched in between Super Bowl-contending years. Don't ask about the 49ers, Bills, or Redskins, either.

Not even in baseball, where the Yankees have had outstanding years under Joe Torre, is there a team that's been October-worthy for 16 years straight.

Basketball's cupboard is dry in this department, too.

That leaves the Red Wings, who ever since the 1991-92 season have been not only playoff qualifiers, but a good bet to go all the way. The Wings have never, since '92, simply snuck into the playoffs as a fraudulent team. They have endured some rotten playoff losses and disappointments, for sure. There've been some strange first round encounters. But that doesn't alter the fact that even in those years where the end has come too soon, the Wings went into the post-season as a team many talked about as hoisting the Stanley Cup when all was said and done.

I'm sorry, but I find that fascinating -- that we've been talking about the Red Wings winning the Cup ever since the end of the FIRST Bush Administration.

Not sure why I bring this up now, except that I had been thinking about it for awhile but never splashed it on this blog. And I guess it became a little more topical this season, with all the whining about how Joe Louis Arena's red seat cushions have been showing in their upright positions with alarming frequency for the TV cameras.

It could be that Hockeytown's denizens are taking their team for granted.

But I also want to serve as a reminder this point: as gut-wrenching as 1996, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2006 were in terms of how the Red Wings bowed out of the playoffs, know two things. Number one, on several of those occasions the team that drummed the Wings out of the playoffs went on to the Cup Finals themselves. Second, at least the team was good enough to even BE disappointed with their playoff exodus. How many teams in sports are lauded for simply playing beyond the regular season?

You can't win the ring every gosh darn year, you know. Though some have tried, like the 1960s Celtics and the 1950s Yankees. But even they failed here and there.

The Wings have lost four in a row, in an NHL sort of way. They're actually 0-3-1, but it's still considered 0-4. Go figure. Those silly overtime/shootout rules! Anyhow, despite that little lull, the team is running away with things in their division, and all of hockey for that matter. They'll go into the playoffs as -- guess what? -- prime-time Cup contenders.


Shame on us -- and that includes you and me -- for not talking about this streak more, and with the appropriate awe.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Zednik's Lucky, But Malarchuk Even Luckier

I read about Richard Zednik this morning, and I knew that unless his head had been lopped off, I wouldn't be shocked by the ensuing video.

Zednik, a Florida Panthers forward, had his neck slashed by a teammate's skate in a freak accident during yesterday's game against Buffalo. He's now in stable condition in a local hospital. Apparently it was pretty scary for a moment, and I can imagine. Only it will never trump another skate incident I saw, also involving Buffalo.

Most of you know where I'm going with this.

Clint Malarchuk, a Sabres goalie, was involved in a collision on March 22, 1989 against the St. Louis Blues. What happened as a result was Malarchuk having his jugular vein severed by a skate. The injury remains, easily, the most gruesome I've seen in sports, mainly for the amount of blood that poured out of his neck. You'd have thought he was going to be drained dry, right there on the ice. And I had the fortune of knowing, ahead of seeing the video on the news that night, that: a) he didn't die; and b) it was going to be gory -- very gory. The poor folks who had to see it happen, live, I feel sorry for.

So when I watched Zednik clutch a towel to his neck as he skated toward the Panthers bench, I was hardly shocked. Which is a good thing -- for me AND for him.

Malarchuk credits swift on-ice attention from the Sabres medical staff for literally saving his life. It's the same type of ready-at-the-drop-of-a-hat mentality that team doctors have to occasionally tap into -- the kind that was credited for saving Lions LB Reggie Brown at the Silverdome, and Red Wings D Jiri Fischer at Joe Louis Arena a couple years ago. It couldn't, unfortunately, do anything for Lions WR Chuck Hughes in 1971, when he dropped dead of a heart attack.

Most of the time, we think of trainers and doctors as the folks who tape the ankles, inject the cortisone shots, and apply minor first aid during a game. But these are medical professionals, first and foremost. And they have to be ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. After watching Malarchuk's horrifying injury, I can absolutely see where anything less than the swiftest, best response would have likely resulted in his death.

Thank goodness that Zednik wasn't more seriously hurt. Hockey skates are frightening things when their blades are anywhere other than on the ice. I also recall Toronto's Borje Salming having his face turned into a Frankenstein mask, stitches running from his eyes to his jaw in a crooked road fashion, after a scramble in front of the net ended up with a skate blade slicing his face like a jigsaw.

I'm posting Malarchuk's injury here, and don't say I didn't warn you. He doesn't just bleed here, folks -- he empties.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Inge Should Be Careful About What He Wishes For

I’m not going to get to him in time to say this in person, because I won’t be in Lakeland, Fla. for spring training, so I’ll blare it here, in black and white.

Brandon Inge, my friend, let me tell you a tale of two Detroit Tigers: Mickey Stanley and Lance Parrish. Then maybe, just maybe, you might be a tad happier with your current situation in Detroit.

First, I’ll get the reader up to speed, for sake of completion.

Inge, who’s been with the Tigers since being drafted by them in 1998, is now a man without a position. At least, that’s how HE looks at it. I say he’s a man of many positions, and that he should embrace that; it’s liable to keep him in the big leagues for a very long time.

Inge was the Tigers’ starting catcher during the lean years, a.k.a. B.P. – Before Pudge (Rodriguez). He was a barely-.200 hitter for a 43-119 team when the Tigers signed Rodriguez for the 2004 season. Inge hadn’t hit a lick in the majors. One could make the argument that had he not been playing for such a wretched team, Brandon Inge would be scrambling to absorb himself into society with the rest of us working stiffs. He wasn’t much of a player, his decent defense notwithstanding.

Yet Inge had the nerve to squawk when the Tigers signed Rodriguez – who’s only a Hall of Famer – going public with his contention that the team already had a catcher: him. So why did they need to go out and get another one?

“My defense, I believe, can be on par with Pudge’s,” is my paraphrasing of what Inge was feeding us four Februarys ago. He made no mention of the 180-degrees difference in offense between Rodriguez and him. He was exhibiting, I thought, a rather reticent reaction for someone whose career batting average, at the time, was under .200, and who should have been kissing the turf that he was under the employ of a big league team. But there you have it.

I didn’t think much of Brandon Inge at that point, and couldn’t have cared less if he was an ex-Tiger, or an ex-big leaguer.

My opinion has changed, so hence I offer this friendly advice to him.

The advice comes because Inge is again chafing, though this time he has the resume to chafe.

In December, the Tigers acquired All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera from Florida. This displaced Inge, who after Rodriguez’s signing became a third sacker himself – and a darned good one. Defensively. He still has occasional issues with the stick, which Cabrera does not have. Cabrera can be counted on for 30+ homers, 100+ RBI, and .300+ BA. And he’s only 24 (he’ll be 25 in April; Inge is 30). It’s frightening how good he – Cabrera – can be

Rodriguez is still around, so the question was obvious: Where will Brandon Inge play, if he plays at all, for the Tigers?

Inge wants to play – can’t blame him there. He still sees himself as a starting third baseman. Again, I can see that. He loves Detroit, but was wondering – again, publicly – if that love would trump his desire to be a full-time player. The Tigers view him as a sort of “super sub” – someone who could play multiple positions (including catcher) and find his way into the lineup that way, because of his great athletic ability. Inge bristled at the notion of being a glorified utility player.

Brandon, meet Mickey Stanley.

Stanley was the Tigers’ starting centerfielder from 1965 till around 1974. After that, when the team groomed Ron LeFlore and other youngsters, Stanley stuck around, playing all over the field. It was warmly remembered that Stanley switched to shortstop in the 1968 World Series to make room for Al Kaline in the Tigers’ lineup. His ability to be the chameleon baseball player was not lost on Tigers brass. One day he was at first base; the next, maybe left field. After that, perhaps third base. He did it all, except catch and pitch. And maybe only because they never asked him.

Stanley filled this role, gallantly and without brooding, until his retirement after the 1978 season. He, like Inge, loved Detroit, its fans, and the way he was treated. He also realized that baseball’s grass isn’t always greener in other cities. His acceptance of the “super sub” designation no doubt added years to his career – and money to his bank account.

Now, Brandon, say hello to Lance Parrish.

Parrish, the stalwart catcher of the 1980s, played out his option after the 1986 season. For whatever reason, he and the Tigers couldn’t come to terms. He, like Inge and Stanley, was a homegrown Tiger – drafted and nurtured by the club. It didn’t hurt that his personal tutor every spring was a guy named Bill Freehan. Parrish had become a fixture in Detroit. He wore the Old English D on his massive chest fiercely. But, just like that, he was gone – fleeing to Philadelphia for more dough.

From the moment I saw Parrish walk onto the field at spring training with the Phillies in 1987 (they had cameras taping his debut), I knew that this was going to end badly. He never looked comfy in the Phillies pinstripes. Then there was the issue of the fans – which was the first thing I thought of when Parrish’s exodus to Philly was announced.

“My goodness, they’re going to eat him alive there,” I thought. Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but it’s a brotherly love full of noogies and Melvins and cat poop in your chocolate bar wrapper.

Not surprisingly, Parrish struggled. And the more he struggled, the more the fans rode him. And the more they rode him, the more he struggled. Those Phillies pinstripes were wrapping themselves around him like tentacles, squeezing the baseball life out of him.

Parrish was never the same. He became a journeyman, ending his career on a carousel. He asked the Tigers for a tryout at the end, but they politely told him no.

So, Brandon, I would suck it up, put on a smile, and be ready when needed. I know you’ve agreed to do it, and I know you’ve said you’re not happy about it. That’s understandable. But look no further than Stanley and Parrish for what can be – both good and bad.

Do with this what you will.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Let's Stop The Charade: Start NBA East Playoffs ASAP

Instead of saying, "If the playoffs started today...", in talking about the NBA -- specifically the Eastern Conference -- let's go ahead and do it.

Better yet, let's start the conference semi-finals right now and dispense with the rest of the regular season and the annoyance of a first round.

I'm serious. Let's seed the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Cleveland Cavaliers one thru four, and let them go at it. The Celtics can play the Cavs; the Pistons can battle the Magic. Some might even think THAT'S one round too many, and that we should let the NBA have its All-Star Weekend, then move right into conference finals play -- Pistons and Celtics.

OK by me; that LeBron character scares me.

But I suppose we should let the Cavs into our little four-team playoff; they ARE defending conference champs, after all.

The thing is, my tongue is only partly in my cheek as I bang this out. Not a day goes by that I look at the standings and am not disgusted with the non-competitiveness of the East. Celtics: .800 winning pct. Pistons: .729. Magic: .627. Cavs: .563. Everyone else: well, they'd give Ted Williams's batting average a battle, but that's about it.

It's ridiculous, really, how much the league is tilted to the left. I look at the West and I see 10 teams above .500 -- wayyyy above .500 in most cases -- and another at .468. This isn't a league; it's a teeter-totter, with Shaun Rogers on one side and Hannah Montana on the other.

These things go in cycles, I know. Maybe someday, in the distant future, the teeter-totter will sway, and the West will be puny and the East will be mighty. But how did it get this way? How did the East -- which not too long ago had contenders like Indiana, Chicago, New Jersey, Miami, and Philadelphia -- sink so low, so fast? Speaking of the Heat, how can any team with Dwyane Wade (and for part of the time, Shaquille O'Neal) and coached by Pat Riley lose 15 in a row? You'd think Wade, O'Neal, and three midgets could win a couple -- especially playing in the East!!

It shouldn't bother me, but it does. I hate to see such imbalance. Maybe I'm like OCD Detective Monk that way. If the NBA goes through with its plan to hold the playoffs in their entirety -- damn them to Hell -- then the Celtics will batter the Nets (a team whose winning pct. the Celts nearly DOUBLE), and the Pistons will toy with the Atlanta Hawks.


Forget it all, I say. Hold the All-Star Game as planned, then give everyone the rest of the season off. They need the time to regroup and be ready for 2008-09. Then let the Pistons, Celts, Magic, and Cavs go at it for East supremacy -- which is kind of like being mayor of Podunkville, I know -- but there you have it.

That way, the East champ will have some extra time to get ready for the winner of the West.

What do you think, Mr. Stern? Do we REALLY need to see the Celtics kick the Nets around for four games? Or the Pistons play Harlem Globetrotters to the Hawks' Washington Generals? Does the league need scratch THAT badly? They'd be the first two best-of-sevens in sports history to be swept in one game each. You can put "If Necessary" after Game 2's listing.

Get rid of Hannah, and put Refrigerator Perry on the totter opposite Big Baby. Come to think of it, that sounds more interesting than Celtics-Nets.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thursday's Things

(every Thursday at OOB -- well, MOST Thursdays -- I rant in list fashion)

Things I'd Like To Place On My "Bucket List"

(in reference to the movie, "The Bucket List", in which two old codgers make up a list of things they'd like to do before they "kick the bucket")

1. See a game at Fenway Park. I've been to Wrigley Field, Shea Stadium, the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, and even the awful Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. But to see a game at Fenway would be delightful. I wonder if I'd even watch the game, or if I'd just stare at the Green Monster all day.

2. Make a throw from third base to first base. If you've never been on a major league field, you'd be amazed at how far it is from corner bag to corner bag. It looks like a mile away, and whenever I see a third baseman or shortstop make a throw from deep in the hole with accuracy and velocity, I just shake my head. We take it for granted, but that's a long ways away! I'd like to try that throw myself, and see if I can get it anywhere near the first baseman's mitt.

3. Kick a field goal. Whenever I find myself around a football field, even if it's sandlot, or at a high school, I like to stand three yards behind the 50 yard-line and look at how long Tom Dempsey kicked his NFL-record FG against the Lions in 1970. I'd also like to try a FG myself; not 63 yards, but even a 30-yarder would be cool. I'd even try a few old school, straight-on style.

4. Play Oakland Hills golf course. I'm not a big golfer by any means, but how cool would it be to play 18 on the same course as the game's all-time greats? Even if I would shoot about 120.

5. Interview Matt Millen. The entire interview would begin and end with one three-word question, and its initials contain the letters T,F, and W. I'll let you arrange them.

6. Give a pre-game prep talk. I don't know where and to whom, but I have fantasies of roaming a lockerroom before a game, getting players fired up with some gems off my lips. Maybe my alma mater, EMU, would have me? I'll ask football coach Jeff Genyk.

7. Write something, anything, Jim Murray-like. Murray, the late, great LA sportswriter, had some beauties. Two of my favorites: "When a plane lands in Philadelphia, everyone gets on, no one gets off." And "The last time Willie Mays dropped a fly ball, he was wearing a bonnet and shaking a rattle."

8. Re-read "Ball Four." An American classic, if you ask me. Jim Bouton's insider's tale of baseball is maybe the best sports book I've ever read, bar none. And I've read it three or four times already, but would love to do it again. It's got the all-time greatest closing line: "You spend all your life gripping a baseball, then you realize it was the other way around the whole time."

9. Talk to Gordie Howe (or Ted Lindsay, or Johnny Wilson) about Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk. I always found Sawchuk fascinating -- maybe because he died so young (age 40), or maybe because you just don't know much about him outside of what he did on the ice. I know there's a biography published, but I'd love to hear about him right out of the mouths of his teammates.

10. Receive a court-length bounce pass from Magic Johnson. And hope I don't blow the lay-up.

Care to share?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Knight Produced Winners Off The Court, So All Is Forgiven

I don't know if I ever stopped to think of how I thought Bobby Knight would quit coaching, but I must say, the way he did so doesn't surprise me in the least.

No farewell tours. No big announcement at center court at Texas Tech. No "win one for Bobby" mentality in any post-season tourneys.

Just ... done.

Knight's announcement Monday, that he's done with Texas Tech, and probably done with coaching, just like that, was stunning when I first saw the blurb on the bottom of the ESPN News screen. But then I took a step back after it soaked in and realized that that was probably the way it was going to be all along. Whenever Knight felt like it was time, he'd quit -- regardless of when it was.

Why do it now? Why walk out in February, the push to March Madness only beginning?

Well, why not?

Knight's son and heir apparent at TT, Patrick Knight, suspects that his father is tired and ready to give up the coaching lifestyle, at age 67. And he's tired and ready now, so why be fraudulent thru the end of the season? The younger Knight said Bobby spoke at length with his wife about quitting on Sunday, then walked into the president's office at TT Monday afternoon and dropped his bombshell.


So with Knight cut out of our consciousness like a severed power cord, quickly and painlessly, where does that leave his legacy?

I likely have no deeper perspective than any of the other 500 folks you've probably already read and heard talk about Knight and his career. I never met him. But you've read this far, why not indulge me for another paragraph or two?

I classify Knight in the same category as Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, Scotty Bowman, and Billy Martin -- coaches that were often times not particularly well-liked by their players, but who won. Guys who only wanted the respect of their charges -- not to be on their Christmas card list. So when someone of this ilk calls it quits, you're going to need a protractor to itemize the recollections -- because they're going to be 360 degrees apart.

Though it might be slightly different when it comes to a college coach like Knight. Most of his former players will laud him. It's going to be the writers, TV people, and fans who are going to be on one extreme or the other.

Was Knight a baboon? A horse's ass? A jerk? At times maybe even a misogynist? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Did he disgrace his profession at times? Yes. These are all accusations that even the Knight defenders must admit to as being true. So these charges aren't up for debate. It's how you place these in context of his career that you're going to get the 360 degrees thing.

I, frankly, have no problem with Bob Knight. He can throw chairs, act the fool with officials, yank on a player's jersey, drop "F" bombs during a post-game presser, and tell his critics to kiss his ass. All good -- as long as you can look back on what he did with college kids and say, "Yeah -- no thugs present."

As long as Knight didn't crank out chair throwers, fools, abusers, or potty-mouthed players while at Army, Indiana, and Texas Tech, then all is forgiven, in my book. If the young men who were absorbed into "real life" after college were, for the most part, fine and upstanding citizens, then all I can offer to the kooky behavior is a shrug and a dismissive wave. He must have been doing something right, to separate the Knight we saw in public from the mentor and teacher his players and associates saw in private.

They came up with things like "Do as I say and not as I do" for people like Bob Knight. And it seems to have worked.

Oh yeah -- there's also the matter of 902 victories and three NCAA championships, though the last of the latter was 21 years ago. All that winning is why Knight is relevant to begin with.

It's not that "all is OK as long as you win." No -- it's that all is OK as long as you mold and groom winners for life after basketball.

Then there's this -- another thing that the Knight lovers and haters can agree to: college basketball just got a whole lot more boring.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Giants' Win Big, But Not Bigger Than Namath's Jets' Upset

Yesterday's Super Bowl was truly super. That makes the Big Game 20-for-42, by my count, in being super as opposed to being a dud. And, frankly, this one might have been in the top three or four in terms of excitement and history and with the upset factor thrown into the mix.

The gushing and overstatements and forgetting of history has begun, however.

This is the biggest upset in Super Bowl history!

That's what some would have you believe.

Even usually sane, right-thinking media folks are getting sucked into the New York Giants' 17-14 win over the New England Patriots yesterday. They'd have you forget the biggest upset of all-time, in order to force-feed this game into that spot.

For purposes of an objective argument, "upset" should be classified as any game in which the underdog comes out victorious -- based on the pre-game point spread.

Using that as a barometer, the Giants -- 14-point 'dogs in most books -- have indeed pulled off one of the biggest upsets. The 2001-02 Pats, when they beat the St. Louis Rams, and the 1997-78 Denver Broncos -- upsetters of the Green Bay Packers, are being mentioned along with the 2007-08 Giants in that regard, mainly based on point spreads.

Oh, and the New York Jets are mentioned, too -- the 1968-69 team of Joe Namath -- almost as an afterthought.


Don't even go there with me. Don't tell me that what Eli Manning and Company did to the 18-0 Pats, while impressive, trumps what Namath's AFL Jets did to the mighty NFL Baltimore Colts in Miami in January 1969 (Super Bowl III).

There's the point spread, for one -- though that's hardly the only reason. The 13-1 Colts were 18-19 point favorites over the Jets. But the NFL was 2-0 in Super Bowls, with the Packers easily handling the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in I and II. Both games cemented, in many people's minds, the NFL's dominance over the AFL. There was little reason to believe otherwise, frankly.

Yet Namath, and the Jets defense, rather easily handled the Colts. It was stunning, really, how easily the Jets beat the Colts. The final score was 16-7. The Colts contributed to the cause with turnovers, but the Jets probably would have won anyway. The AFL proved it could play with the NFL. And, for good measure, the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings the next year to even the NFL-AFL Super Bowl record at 2-2 before the 1970 merger.

But the Jets' win was landmark, and was not only the biggest upset in Super Bowl history, but one of the greatest upsets in sports history. It wasn't the 1980 US Hockey Team beating the Russians, but it was pretty damn close.

So don't let the gushers and forgetters of history con you. Yesterday's win by the Giants was amazing, but not the most amazing. The '68 Jets will probably always hold that title.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Trivia Answers

Thanks to those who played my little Super Bowl trivia game this weekend. Here are the answers. The winner will be notified tomorrow. And he (or she) will walk away with a cool $25. Not bad for a little blog contest, eh?

1. Super Bowl V was the only time the Cowboys wore their blue jerseys in the big game

2. Craig Morton was the other losing no. 7 for Denver (Super Bowl XII)

3. Don McCafferty of the Colts coached the Lions in 1973, and died in July 1974

4. Desmond Howard was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI

5. Both CBS and NBC televised Super Bowl I

6. Preston Pearson played for champs in both Dallas and Pittsburgh

7. Doug Williams was the first African-American starting QB, and he won the MVP in Super Bowl XXII

8. John Taylor caught the game-winning pass from Montana in Super Bowl XXIII

9. Hank Stram (KC) and Weeb Ewbank (NYJ) were the two AFL-winning Super Bowl coaches. Ewbank coached the Colts to the NFL Title in 1958

10. Bill Walsh of the 49ers dressed like a bellhop in Detroit in 1982

11. Mike Bass was the interceptor of Yepremian's "pass" in Super Bowl VII

12. The six current NFL teams that have never appeared in a Super Bowl are: Detroit, Cleveland (the new version), Jacksonville, Arizona, Houston, and New Orleans

13. Namath made his guarantee at a dinner the Thursday night before the game. The famous poolside photo of Namath was taken on a separate occasion that week.

14. Houston (twice) is the only Texas city to host a Super Bowl

15. Two answers are accepted: Buffalo, and Minnesota each have lost four Super Bowls, in addition to Denver

Out Of XLI Games, Only XIX Have Been Super

I love super balls. To this day, I can’t resist the urge to slam one down on the ground, and watch it bounce into the air as if it was shot out of a cannon. And they’re reliable. I’ve yet to bounce a dud super ball. Maybe if you left one out in the freezing cold, you might have problems. Otherwise, they’ve always got a (big) bounce in their step.

I’m not even sure if you’re supposed to capitalize “Super” when it comes to those wonderful childhood little balls. Probably not. Maybe that gives them too much respect.

But then again, we capitalize the “Super” in Super Bowl, and those games have been about as reliable as a soggy book of matches over the years.

There’s another of those football games with the funny Roman Numerals coming up this Sunday. It’s the XLIInd version. After two weeks of hype, and a day-long preview on television, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots will battle it out for NFL supremacy. The key question, as it always is, is how long folks will keep watching the game before the food spreads and beverages win over their attention.

If you’re playing the odds, the smart money says that sometime in the second quarter, the game will fade into the background while the nachos, sub sandwiches, and Norm’s homemade salsa take center stage. You might even want to put some dough on not being awake when the final gun goes off.

I’m not being cynical; I’m being factual. Of the XLI Super Bowls played to date, I figure that less than half of them have been truly “super.” Often, the only super things about them have been the margin of victory, or the absurdity of some of the action on the field.

A trip down memory lane...

I. The first game, played in Los Angeles’s Coliseum, is an object of curiosity. NBC and CBS can’t agree on who should televise the contest (NBC did the AFL games, CBS the NFL’s), so they come up with the brilliant idea of BOTH covering the game, simultaneously. It’s the only Super Bowl where the TV crew members almost outnumber the living, breathing, paying spectators.

Super? Naah. The Green Bay Packers pull away from the plucky Kansas City Chiefs in the second half, though tales of Packers receiver Max McGee, who scored two TDs, playing with a hangover become legendary.

II. The Packers again have their way, this time with the Oakland Raiders. Giant robots – one depicting each team – nearly barrel out of control before the game during a show on the field. It’s just about the most excitement all afternoon.

Super? Not even close.

III. The AFL scores its first victory – the improbable upset by the New York Jets over the mighty Baltimore Colts. It’s the Joe Namath Guarantee Game. Colts players still brood about the loss, and even a win in Super Bowl V two years later isn’t a salve for their wounds.

Super? Most definitely, if only because of the upset factor, and Namath’s growing charm and blossoming into a superstar.

IV. The Chiefs upset the Minnesota Vikings, and the AFL goes 2-2 against the NFL before the 1970 merger.

Super? Yes, because the AFL proved that the Jets weren’t a fluke.

V. Rookie kicker Jim O’Brien wins it for the Colts at the gun with a field goal, beating the Dallas Cowboys.

Super? Nope, because even though there was drama at the end, the game itself was a turnover-plagued, poorly-played affair.

VI. The Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins, 24-3.

Super? Read that sentence again, and you tell me.

VII. The Dolphins finish their perfect season by beating the Washington Redskins, 14-7.

Super? No. The final score was not indicative of how much the Dolphins dominated the game. The only fun was watching Miami kicker Garo Yepremian try to throw a pass after a blocked FG attempt.

VIII. The Dolphins repeat, beating the Vikings in Houston.

Super? According to those who covered the game, nothing could have been super about the game being in Houston.

IX. The Pittsburgh Steelers win their first-ever championship, beating the hapless Vikings.

Super? Yes, mainly for seeing longtime Steelers owner Art Rooney, who also played and coached for the team, finally get his brass ring.

X. The Steelers win again, beating the Cowboys in Miami.

Super? I’m going to say yes, mainly because of Lynn Swann’s acrobatic performance – making two brilliant, now-famous catches.

XI. The Raiders beat the – yep, you guessed it – Vikings, 32-14.

Two things stand out in my mind: Vikes receiver Sammy White getting his helmet knocked off after a brutal hit, and Raiders veteran DB Willie Brown racing into the end zone with an interception.

Super? No way.

XII. The Cowboys handle the Broncos in the Superdome in New Orleans, 27-10.


XIII. The Cowboys get their comeuppance, getting beaten by the Steelers.

Super? Not really, although veteran tight end Jackie Smith’s drop in the end zone didn’t help matters for Dallas.

XIV. The Steelers cap a run in which they win four Super Bowls in six years, rallying in the fourth quarter to beat the Los Angeles Rams.

Super? Yes – this one was a keeper.

XV. The Raiders win their second championship, downing the Philadelphia Eagles in New Orleans.

Super? I’d say so, because the Raiders were quarterbacked by veteran journeyman Jim Plunkett, whose triumph was a feel-good story.

XVI. In the Silverdome, the San Francisco 49ers usher in their era of dominance by slipping past the Cincinnati Bengals.

Super? Yes. This game had a great goal line stand by San Fran, and it completed Joe Montana’s coming out party, which began a couple weeks earlier in the NFC Championship game when he hit Dwight Clark in the final minute for the winning score.

XVII. The Redskins beat the Dolphins.

Super? Yeah, because it gave us ‘Skins’ RB John Riggins and his back-breaking off tackle run for 40+ yards for a dagger of a touchdown.

XVIII. The Raiders, now in Los Angeles, top the Redskins.

Super? No. The game wasn’t close, although it was Plunkett’s second ring, at age 34.

XIX. The 49ers whip the Dolphins at Stanford University.

Super? Well, since the above sentence reads like a recap of an exhibition game, you can probably figure out the answer.

XX. The Chicago Bears destroy the New England Patriots, 46-10.

Super? Are you serious?

XXI. The New York Giants take care of the Denver Broncos.

Super? Not really. This had minor drama, but the Giants eased away in the second half.

XXII. The Redskins blitz the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos took a 10-0 lead, then watched the Skins score 35 points – in the second quarter alone.

Super? Actually, yes – because this was the first NFL championship game that featured an African-American starting QB, Washington’s Doug Williams, who became the game’s MVP. Also super because Williams was the recipient of this banal question on Media Day: “How long have you been a black quarterback?” Swear to God.

XXIII. The 49ers edge the Bengals on a last-minute TD pass from Montana to John Taylor.

Super? Absolutely. This was Montana at his best: under two minutes left, almost 90 yards to cover, field goal not good enough. Classic stuff. I watched this one with chicken pox and a 101-degree fever. Another super thing.

XXIV. The 49ers demolish the Broncos, 55-10.

Super? HA!

XXV. The Giants beat the Buffalo Bills when Buffalo’s Scott Norwood misses a XLI-yard field goal at the final gun.

Super? Gotta say yes, if only because the miss gave Norwood Bill Buckner-like status in the country’s consciousness.

XXVI. The Redskins handle the Bills.

Super? Nope – although it was the second Super Bowl played in a northern climate (Minneapolis). And the Lions actually made it to the NFC title game this year.

XXVII and XXVIII. The Cowboys handle the Bills each year.

Super? That would be a big, fat NO on both, and the Bills join the Vikings and Broncos as four-time Super losers.

XXIX. The 49ers paste the San Diego Chargers.

Super? This one was over with about halfway thru the first quarter, as 49ers QB Steve Young began raining TD passes over the Chargers’ woeful secondary. So, no.

XXX. The Cowboys beat the Steelers.

Super? Yes. This one was competitive, and it caused old-timers like me to recall the Steelers-
Cowboys Super tilts of the 1970s.

XXXI. The Packers beat the Patriots.

Super? I’d say so. This vaulted the Packers back into championship status after a nearly 30-year drought, and U-M’s Desmond Howard won the MVP award by being electric on kick returns.

XXXII. The Broncos – finally – become champs, beating the favored Packers.

Super? For sure, and we’re on a roll now. John Elway clutches his first Vince Lombardi Trophy after three failures. Good stuff.

XXXIII. Elway has the hang of this thing now – just as he’s about to retire. Broncos win again, beating the Atlanta Falcons.

Super? Naah. Now it’s old news when Elway wins!

XXXIV. The St. Louis Rams win the franchise’s first championship, nipping the Tennessee Titans.

Super? Well, not exactly a glamorous match up, city-wise, but the Rams have an explosive offense and the game comes down to the final moments, when the Titans are denied near the goal line. So, yes – barely.

XXXV. The Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Football Giants.

Super? Blecch. Great defense wins championships, but the Ravens are so offensively challenged, and play such ugly football, that it’s hard to appreciate their superior “D”. So, sorry – nope.

XXXVI. The Patriots upset the heavily-favored Rams on an Adam Vinatieri field goal at the end.

Super? Sure, why not? Despite V’s exception, game-winning FGs are always good drama.

XXXVII. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are first-time champs, beating the Oakland Raiders.

Super? Well, there was a nifty little subplot, with Bucs coach Jon Gruden going against the Raiders, who fired him a year earlier. But the game itself isn’t all that much.

XXXVIII. The Patriots return to the mountain top, dispatching the Carolina Panthers, 32-29.

Super? Well, the numbers sure are getting longer, if nothing else. But this wasn’t much of a game, despite the close score. Thumbs down.

XXXIX. The Patriots win again – taking care of the Philadelphia Eagles by a nose.

Super? There was some drama here – with Eagles QB Donovan McNabb playing ill, and WR Terrell Owens coming back from a serious leg injury suffered late in the season, to play. Yes – barely.

XL. In Detroit, all the talk was about Steelers RB and native son Jerome Bettis, who was going to retire after the season, win or lose.

Super? Well, the officiating was bad, but Bettis DID go out a winner, and in his hometown. Thumbs up.

XLI. The Indianapolis Colts edge the Bears.

Super? Yeah – the Bears’ Devin Hester ran the opening kick back for a TD, and Peyton Manning wins his first championship, thanks to some big fourth quarter defense.

Final tally: XIX of XLI games were Super, in my book, for a percentage of just over XLVI percent. Like I said, if you play the odds, chances are you won’t be missing much if you gorge yourself and fill your belly with liquid fire.

See you Tuesday.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Trivial Pursuit

It's two days before the Big Game. The work week is about done, and you're ready to put your game face on -- at least when it comes to the food and drink. With all the parties going on this Sunday, "spread offense" might as well mean your strategy as you attack the buffet table.

So before your brain turns to mush thanks to the imminent onslaught of carbs and sugars, how about a little Super Bowl trivia?

Answers will be revealed Sunday. As an added twist, e-mail me your answers at, and the poor sap who gets the most right (a drawing from a hat will break any ties) will get a little somethin-somethin from yours truly.

Here we go....

1. The Cowboys have appeared in eight Super Bowls, but only in one of them did they wear their blue jerseys. In which game did they do this?

2. Prior to the Broncos' win in XXXII, they'd lost four Super Bowls, all with a QB who wore no. 7. Three of those losses came under John Elway's leadership. Who was the other loser who wore no. 7 for Denver?

3. This Super Bowl-winning coach eventually did a one-year stint as Lions head coach before tragically dying of a heart attack during training camp of 1974. Who is he, AND what team did he win a championship with?

4. What former U-M player was the MVP of XXXI, thanks to his kick-returning abilities?

5. What was unusual about the televising of Super Bowl I?

6. This running back won Super Bowls with both the Steelers and the Cowboys. Who is he?

7. This was the first African-American QB to start a Super Bowl. Who is he?

8. Who caught the game-winning pass in the final minute from Joe Montana to win XXIII for the 49ers over the Bengals?

9. These coaches are the only two men to win both an AFL title game and a Super Bowl. Who are they? (Hint: one of them won an NFL title as coach of the '58 Colts)

10. This coach dressed as a bellhop to loosen up his team as it arrived at its hotel. Who is he?

11. This U-M DB caught Garo Yepremian's feeble pass in VII after a blocked FG attempt and returned it for his team's only score. Who is he?

12. These are the only teams that have yet to play in a Super Bowl. Name them.

13. Multiple choice. When Joe Namath made his famous victory guarantee a few days prior to III, he did it where?

a. Poolside
b. At a dinner
c. After practice
d. At a press conference

14. This Texas city hosted the state's only Super Bowl. Name it.

15. This team is another four-time loser of the Super Bowl. Name it.

Good luck-- both with this and at the buffet table!