Friday, October 31, 2008

Bears' Williams Broke A Teen Lions Fan's Heart In 1980

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions' upcoming opponents)

There are those things in life that give you that sinking feeling.

Seeing that your keys are in the car as you are slamming the (locked) door. Going to the fridge at work and realizing that your carefully-packed, yummy lunch that you made for yourself is sitting right there -- on the kitchen counter, where you left it this morning. That kind of stuff.

For me, as a 17-year-old, still-passionate Lions fan, that sinking feeling was seeing Dave Williams race up the sideline. With the football. With no Lion near him. With the football game on his person, stolen for his Chicago Bears.

Overtime was instituted in the NFL for regular season games in 1974. And in the hundreds of OT games played since, only once has a team lost the game by surrendering a TD return on the kickoff.

Yes, that would be your Detroit Lions.

Of course, the Lions picked a glorious occasion for such nonsense: the annual Thanksgiving Day game, against the Bears in 1980. It was the "Another One Bites the Dust" year, except that the Lions' brilliant 4-0 start had faded into a desperation Turkey Day game because the record was suddenly 7-5 when the Bears invaded.

But all looked good for three quarters.

The Lions led all game, and were up by 14 heading into the fourth. Then the Bears scored a touchdown to pull within seven. The Lions couldn't handle RB Walter Payton, nor the Bears running QB, Vince Evans. The Bears got the ball back with under two minutes to play, needing a touchdown to tie.

The game came down, literally, to the last play. Inside the Lions' ten, Evans dropped back to pass, only I'm not sure if that was his intention. After a cursory look for a receiver, Evans's feet started dancing again. And the Lions, again, couldn't get him into their grasp. Evans lunged over the goal line as the clock read 0:00. I cursed and raved. The Lions needed the game badly; 8-5 was tons better than 7-6 during the playoff push.

There was a coin flip, and the Lions lost. Rookie kicker Eddie Murray booted the ball and it was taken by Williams at his five yard line. Williams briefly tried going up the middle, but quickly found that there was no daylight. So he bounced outside, to the near sideline, and it was quite evident that the Lions had over-pursued the middle of the field. Only Murray had a chance, and Williams wasn't even to midfield yet. But Murray was slow, had no angle, and Williams basically ran the final 50 yards without a Lion in sight. Nor a penalty flag anywhere to be found.

Those final 50 yards broke my teenage heart. The Lions had blown the game by giving up two touchdowns in a matter of 30 seconds or so -- Evans's to tie the game, and Williams's to win it.

A quick check of Williams's stats at shows that the kick return for a TD was his third and final one in his four-year career. But it remains the only one in NFL history to occur in overtime.

The Lions finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Had they held on against the Bears on Thanksgiving, they would have made the post-season.

Just another cautionary tale in a franchise's history that is wallpapered with them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday = Knee Jerks: Webisode #5

You've landed on Thursday at OOB -- which means yet another delightful webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al", my weekly tete-a-tete with that rabble rouser at The Wayne Fontes Experience, Big Al himself.

This week, we dive into: the big (?) MSU win over U-M last Saturday; why in the world the Lions should consider signing Daunte Culpepper; the World Serious; the possibility of a Tigers blockbuster trade; and a preview of the Pistons season.

So, without further ado......


Eno: Uh-oh – it’s Thursday. That means you've come across another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Al, aka A Pissed Off Wolverine Fan. Is that an accurate assessment, Big Al?

Big Al: Pissed? I've passed that stage of grief in regard to the Wolverines. I think I’m at acceptance at this point. I just keep chanting, "Serenity now!" whenever I see winged helmets.

Eno: OK, seriously. I know we addressed this a few weeks back, but did you think it was going to be this bad? And how in the HELL did U-M manage to be ranked in the pre-season Top 25?

Big Al: Not in my wildest dreams did I think Michigan would be cellar dwellers. I figured .500 was a worst-case scenario, but this? No one saw this coming, not even The Amazing Kreskin! "SERENITY NOW!" Then again I don't know if The Amazing Kreskin is still alive, so it might have been hard for him to predict anything, let alone the collapse of the Wolverines, of all things.

Eno: Wow – a Kreskin reference! Wonder what percentage of our readers will get THAT one! And yes, I believe he's still alive, somewhere. I must say, though, that you can tell who's the "little brother" in this state, because MSU's t-shirts featuring the scoreboard and their other displays of rubbing it in smacks of losers who don't know how to handle winning. I like State, but don't they know what the series has been like in the past, oh, 40 YEARS?

Big Al: I understand their glee, but Sparty's memories are awfully short-term. But in their minds, Spartan Bob ran the clock perfectly and Desmond Howard wasn't interfered with. I wouldn't expect anything less from the Sparty faithful.

Eno: Besides, it wasn't like they beat the best Michigan team ever assembled. They're joyful over knocking off someone that Toledo beat, after all. OK, so what does your gut tell you? Is RichRod going to get this thing going as soon as next year? Or are we looking at a two-to-three year fix?

Big Al: It'll be 2010 at the earliest before RichRod turns the Wolverines around. Mostly because he'll still have QB issues next season. I'll bet you dollars to donuts there's a true freshman under center in 2009. That alone will guarantee another long season in Ann Arbor. Michigan fans best get used to seeing some ugly football for quite some time to come.

Eno: Well, thanks for the warning, I suppose. But wasn't it nice to see the Ohio State University get whipped by Penn State? Didn't that ease the pain a bit?

Big Al: It's always nice to see CheatyPants McSweaterVest get his comeuppance, especially being taken down by the 150-year-old Joe Paterno.

Eno: Al, why don't you REALLY tell us what you think of Jim Tressel? Gosh, you're so wishy-washy!

Big Al: Hey, I'm not called a "knee jerk" for nothing! I'll be honest though: the Sweater Vest has Michigan's number, and I don't see his dominance changing anytime soon.

Eno: Probably not. A U-M win this year, at Columbus, might eclipse Bo's job over Woody in 1969. OK, so that's Michigan. How did you handle the Lions' blackout?

Big Al: Unlike most Lions fans, who took the week off from the team, I watched a cruddy, YouTube quality stream over the web. I just had to get my hate on, and I wasn't going to let a silly, archaic, NFL mandated blackout stop me!

Eno: Talk about resourceful! I'm impressed – or petrified, I'm not sure which. Instead of re-hashing another loss, I was interested in your post at TWFE about Daunte Culpepper. I think I want the Lions to sign him. Am I a whack job? Careful, now!

Big Al: No, I won't go there, even if you did serve up a beach ball right down the middle. As for Culpepper, you're correct. This was more than your typical Tuesday free agent workout. I would not be surprised to see the former Viking/Fish/Raider in a Lions' uniform next week. This Sunday is likely Dan Orlovsky's last hurrah. The Lions lose to the Bears, which is almost a given, Stanton is under center the next week, and Culpepper could be the backup.

Eno: Well, like I commented on your blog, everyone thought Jim Plunkett was done when the Raiders signed him. Two Super Bowl wins later.... Now, I'm not saying Daunte is leading the Lions to the Big One, but at 32 he might have some football left in him. I'm just wondering what it is about the Lions that intrigues him. The winning culture?

Big Al: More like the Lions’ QB situation is awful, and Culpepper sees a possible starting opportunity. There may be some football left in Culpepper, but the question I have to ask is: Is there any football left in his destroyed knee?

Eno: Well, that's the thing. It just shows that a football player's desire to play sometimes supersedes winning. Plus, there's always that green stuff called money.

Big Al: Which may be what's stopping the Lions from signing him, post haste. Before his short-lived retirement, there was talk Culpepper had wanted a multi-year deal in the $5 million-a-season range. That's an awful amount of jack for a QB who hasn't been the same player since he stopped throwing to Randy Moss. If Culpepper wants to play, it's going to have to be at a much reduced rate. At least I hope that's what the Lions are telling him.

Eno: Probably will be one of those incentive-laced things. Culpepper told the Chiefs to take a hike, so apparently that means he feels he's close to signing with the Lions. Daunte wore #11 in Minny; we haven't had a running QB wear that number since Greg Landry! That is, if Daunte can still run!

Big Al: The last Lion to wear #11 was a diva wide receiver. Maybe the Lions want Culpepper to play wideout? Josh McCown did!

Eno: You're right! Too funny! OK, I mustered up the first two topics today. What's on your agenda?

Big Al: OK, what's your take on how MLB handled the World Series weather issues in Philadelphia? Starting Saturday's game at 10 p.m. was bad enough. But Monday night was a bad joke! Bud Selig has to be thanking the baseball Gods BJ Upton and Carlos Pena bailed out baseball by tying the game while playing in a monsoon.

Eno: Well, Bud said he never would have let the Series end on a rain-shortened Phillies win, which is commendable. I don't know about this. Seems whatever you do, you're wrong. I'm no Selig fan, but I don't find much fault with him here. It's a tough deal. But it also illustrates why the season should be shorter and the WS shouldn't be knocking on November's door!

Big Al: Exactly. Let's not forget the playoffs have been expanded as well. Today, Reggie Jackson would be known as Mr. November! Unfortunately, baseball is allowing TV to dictate scheduling. Monday's game never should have been played, period.

Eno: I opined a week or so ago that baseball playoffs were more fun when you had to sneak out to watch them, i.e. DAY GAMES! Wouldn't it be nice, Al, for MLB to toss us old-timers a bone and play, say Game 1 on a Wednesday afternoon or something?

Big Al: There's a certain cache' to daytime playoff baseball that is sorely missed. I vaguely remember being allowed to follow the 1968 Series between the Tigers and Cardinals in class. (I would have been six at the time. Yes, I'm old) The Tigers, as a matter of fact, played in the last daytime World Series game back in 1984. Ah, the good old days. Speaking of the Tigers, they are known for making moves immediately after the Series ends. Two years ago, it was trading for Gary Sheffield. Last year, Edgar Renteria. Do you get the feeling we'll see the Tigers make an aggressive move once the Phillies win?

Eno: You know, I do. I don't know why I say that, but something tells me that, since [Tigers GM] Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are on the hot seats, aggressiveness might be warranted here. It backfired last year, but standing pat seems riskier. I'd like to see them go after [pitcher] Derek Lowe. But yes, I think we're in for another blockbuster; just maybe not this soon.

Big Al: From what I'm reading, Lowe might be out of the Tigers' price range. But they do need to move quickly, as they need to fill holes in the rotation, the bullpen and at shortstop. It all depends on what Mike Ilitch decides to do with his payroll. If the Pizza Man decrees a lower salary burden, Dombrowski really has his work cut out for him. The pressure is truly on his shoulders to fix his mistakes, but it may take more than a year to do so.

Eno: This is going to be interesting. Leyland had magic in Year One, half a good year in Year Two, and a crappy year in Year Three – when the expectations were the highest, ironically. This thing could go either way. What are your odds that Jim's in Detroit in 2010?

Big Al: No better than 50/50, possibly worse. Ilitch went all in before the '08 season. He's an old man, and desperately wants to win a World Series. If the Tigers don't measurably improve early on in '09, Leyland may not finish the season on the Detroit bench. Considering the money spent, I'd imagine the Pizza Man's patience has to be running thin. Lelyand will be on a very short leash.

Eno: Wow...OK. There haven't been too many managerial changes in Detroit in mid-season. We'll see how it goes. Your thoughts on how the Milwaukee Brewers handled the Ned Yost/Dale Sveum situation?

Big Al: I thought it was Mickey Mouse. The manager can only do so much, and play the hand he was dealt by the front office. A playoff contender making a coaching change a few weeks before the end of the season is something that happens in the NHL, not MLB.

Eno: Right. Then they extend the GM's contract and don't even mention Sveum's effort in getting them into the playoffs. Bush league! What else is on your mind?

Big Al: The Pistons begin their season tonight, but it really feels like they are flying under the radar. I'm interested to see how [new coach] Michael Curry handles such a headstrong bunch. Curry is saying all the right things, but it's a long season. Sooner or later he's going to have to butt heads with players like Rasheed Wallace. It's going to be interesting to see Curry's development as the head man

Eno: Well, he's a recent player, so that should help. These Pistons haven't really been coached by someone like Curry before. His task is simple for a rookie coach: win 50-55 games, navigate through the Eastern Conference mine field, and then make it to the Finals. Piece of cake!

Big Al: Indeed. And doing so while following Joe Dumars's mandate of making sure young players like Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson, Kwame Brown and Jason Maxiell get plenty of time in the rotation. Curry has his work cut out for him.

Eno: I often wonder how much micro-managing Dumars does. But then again, I've never really read any of his former coaches (and that list is beginning to rival that of Liz Taylor's ex-husbands) critique him about that, or anything. So he must be a fair guy. Still, Flip Saunders used to defer lots of seemingly coaching questions to Dumars, so that makes me wonder. You? Or am I making something out of nothing?

Big Al: I think there's something to what you say. Without question, the Pistons are Joe Dumars's team, and in many ways, I think the players are more loyal to Joe D than their coaches. Let alone the fact Dumars is also a favorite son of the owner, Bill Davidson. It has to be an intimidating atmosphere for a coach. Even more so for an inexperienced one.

Eno: Right, but Curry was hand-picked by Dumars (of course, so were the others) and has his boss's highest regard right now. Plus, Joe D is kinda ticked at the players right now, which makes it easier for Curry, too. But it's a player's league, and always will be. That’s why you see so many recent players as coaches. Gone are the days of guys like Jack Ramsay and Frank Layden!

Big Al: That's DOCTOR Jack Ramsay! You're correct in saying Dumars has issues with the "core." The trade deadline might be quite interesting, with 'Sheed in the last season of his contract. I get the feeling Dumars won't hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade if the Pistons struggle...or even if they don't.

Eno: Oh no, not at all. He's a Jack McCloskey disciple, don’t forget, and Trader Jack made the boldest trade in Detroit history when he swapped Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre at the deadline in 1989. Of course, to hear Jack tell it, it wasn't bold, just necessary. So yes, Joe D is in a trading mood. If he can do something McCloskey-like, he'll do it. For sure.

Big Al: Joe D definitely learned a few things from Trader Jack. But Dumars finds himself in a very tough situation. The Pistons are in a sort of limbo. They are too good to break up, and should win 50+ games. But they aren't good enough to win the NBA title. What do you do? Blow it up, or continue tweaking? It's getting to the point of diminishing returns in regard to the core. I'm thinking this is their last ride as group.

Eno: Ha! Haven’t people been saying this is "the last ride" since 2006? But you're right about being a tweener. This is a unique situation, in any sport. The Pistons are, indeed, good enough to be a contender, but maybe not more than that. It is strange in a way. So, as we finish our little ride for this week, my vote for strangest item of the week was the Isiah Thomas, “did he or didn't he?” overdose story. Yours?

Big Al: It's sad all the way around. Thomas claims it was his kid who OD'd, while the authorities say it was Isiah himself? The police have no reason to lie. What kind of father throws his own child under the bus? Isiah Thomas is a sad, sad man.

Eno: Yeah, his life has careened out of control. Thank God the Pistons didn't make him their Joe Dumars, after all. Everything Isiah touches turns to dust. BTW, I was wrong about Warren Mott losing to Sterling Heights Stevenson by 10 – they lost by 28. And on a cold, damp night. What we parents won't do to support our band-playing daughters, huh? But Mott's going to the playoffs. Wish them luck at Cass Tech this weekend!

Big Al: Same for my high school alma mater, Carleton-Airport (I hate that they are always referred to by that name; it's just "Airport!"), who host Trenton in the playoffs. Go Jets! And go Mott! I'll see you next week, Mr. Journalist!

Eno: In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Tough Guy" Curry Just What The Pistons Need

So, we're about to find out if the young, African-American man has what it takes to be in charge, despite a rather thin resume and some naysayers. We'll see if he can jump into a potentially explosive situation and provide calm and leadership. He certainly isn't short on confidence, nor is he lacking a plan on how to be successful. Expectations, and the stakes, are high.

Shame on you if you thought I was talking about Barack Obama. This is a sports blog, after all. Politics isn't just a four-letter word here -- it's twice as bad: it's an eight-letter one.

The man in question is new Pistons coach Michael Curry. And we've gotten plenty used to placing the word "new" before "Pistons coach" around these parts. Certainly since Joe Dumars was handed the keys to the executive washroom some eight years ago.

George Irvine was new once, even though he really wasn't. Rick Carlisle was new, for the most part. Larry Brown was old-as-the-hills/new, but new nonetheless. Flip Saunders was oldish/new, but also bottom-line new. Michael Curry is just plain new. And the youngest of the lot upon assuming the reins.

Curry, just a baby at age 40, for gosh sakes, makes his debut as Pistons coach tonight. No more summer league foolishness or exhibition season boredom. Tonight's the real deal. Curry is coach #5 in the Dumars Era, which is just eight years old. Joe D. has an itchy ziggy finger, as we all know.

It's tempting to say that Dumars is going retro here, returning the Pistons to their slapstick days of the 1960s and '70s when the Pistons coach's office could be entered through a revolving door. There are still rumors that we may have missed a couple of them, due to ill-timed blinking.

But there really is no comparison to Dumars's Pistons and those of yore. Back then, coaches were fodder because the talent wasn't there. Today, Pistons coaches are fodder because Dumars's expectations are as high as they've ever been with this franchise.

This summer, that itchy ziggy finger was supposed to extend to the players themselves.

In a press conference that should be nominated for the Most Annoyed Speaker category, Dumars ranted, just days after the Pistons were eliminated in the Final Four (again) by the Boston Celtics, that no player was safe.

"You lose sacred cow status when you keep losing like this," Dumars said, still bristling about the Celtics loss.

The doors were open at PistonsLand, Dumars said. I'm open for business, he told the rest of the NBA at that presser. Former sacred cows to be had, if the price was right.

But the market for Dumars's wares proved shockingly dry. So instead, Dumars canned the coach (again) and signed one free agent of note: former no. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown.

The NBA is as cyclical a league as you'll ever find when it comes to coaching. All the coaches in the NBA can pretty much be divided into two categories: nice guy and tough guy. That's it. Which one you prefer is determined by what you just had.

The confident Curry has one thing on his mind: a return trip to the Finals

The Pistons are coming off having had a nice guy (read: not enough player accountability) in Saunders, so now they turn to "no-nonsense" Curry (read: tough guy), who ran a spirited, if not grueling, training camp. Before Saunders the Pistons had tough guy Brown, which they needed to get to the Finals because the man before him, nice guy Carlisle (the term "nice guy" here in reference to Carlisle is clearly relative), couldn't get past the Final Four. The man before Carlisle, the curmudgeonly Irvine, never really wanted the job but was promoted anyway, and by all accounts certainly wasn't a nice guy.

The Pistons feel they need a tough guy, and Curry, they think, fits the bill, despite his lack of coaching experience. But, as with others who get a gig like this with questionable credentials, it's pointed out that Curry was "like a coach on the floor" as a player. It's what they say about bench warmers who were never stars. Kind of like praising the ugly girl at school for having a great personality.

But I'm actually a Curry guy, despite my smarminess. It's a player's league, this NBA, and a quick look around it reflects that. Nowhere else do young (i.e. under 45 years old) men rise to the level of head coach as fast as they do in the NBA. They're almost always former NBA players. And often they're practically ripped from their warmups, or their TV analyst headsets, and thrust into the coach's chair. Curry did a one-season internship as one of Saunders's assistants, and was himself a player just a couple seasons ago. But, strangely, that may be all it takes for him to be successful. New coaches have taken over teams with far less talent, you know.

It's all there, really, for Michael Curry to win. He's got the players, clearly -- both old and young. He has the support of his boss, no matter how fleeting that's proven to be in the past. He has the advantage of a sort of back-door hunger, the result of four straight seasons sans a championship, and three without an appearance in the Final Two. And he's a recent player who appears to have the respect of his charges. Not to mention, he's that all-important tough guy.

Now, all Curry has to do is go out there, win the expected 50-55 games, navigate through the Eastern Conference's minefield during the playoffs, and reach the Finals. All in his first season.

It says here that he has the chops to do it. Bald-headed guys named Michael have done OK in the NBA in the past.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lions, Bengals Should Decide #1 Overall Draft Pick The Manly Way

It used to be a hackneyed line, found in the B-movies of the day, when color was still reserved for the big budget "pictures". Typically, it was uttered by men in fedoras who all sounded like Jimmy Cagney.

The line was: "That's just crazy enough to work!"

Oh, you can still see it pop up from time to time. Sometimes I even like saying it; I've had a pretty good success rate of getting laughs when it spills off my lips.

As I was sitting here, trying to figure out what to write about another Lions loss -- this time without the, ahem, benefit of having actually seen the game -- the idea came to me out of the blue.

The Lions are 0-7. The Cincinnati Bengals are 0-8. They would appear to be on a crash course to see who will get the #1 overall pick in next year's draft, especially since they don't play each other. It's still highly likely that they will end up with identical records, be it 0-16, 1-15 or something.

So here's the idea. Instead of using some silly little coin flip or sucking ping pong balls through a vacuum and into a rotating cylinder -- or any other supposedly "random" little trick that you can come up with -- in order to determine overall pick #1, why not hold the first annual Toilet Bowl?

You heard me.

As part punishment, part fairness, part grotesque sadism, make the Lions and Bengals suit up the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, pitting them against each other in the Toilet Bowl. At stake? The 2009 #1 Draft Pick. The winner of the game gets the #1 pick. And, to make things interesting (for what is the real difference between #1 and #2, anyway?), the loser of the Toilet Bowl gets bumped all the way down to the 32nd pick. I know, tough cookies for the loser, but maybe, just maybe, you might get a decent football game if you frame it this way.

I'm only partly kidding, by the way. What scares me is that I wonder if I'm really kidding at all.

I haven't seen much of the Bengals this season, even with my NFL Sunday Ticket package. Just because you CAN watch the Bengals doesn't mean that you DO. I'm sure they're saying the same thing about the Lions in Cincinnati. But a look at the standings shows the Bengals with 104 points scored and 217 points allowed; the Lions are at 114-212. Verrrry similar.

Now, it may not be what Lions RB Rudi Johnson had in mind when he signed with the Lions after several years with the Bengals, but there you have it.

Here's this week's incredible Lions statistic: Washington QB Jason Campbell, Sunday, became the sixth quarterback out of the seven the Lions have played this season to register a career high in QB rating. SIX OUT OF SEVEN! The exception? Minnesota's Gus Frerotte, who surely would contemplate retirement immediately if you were to show him this nugget of info.

But it's true. Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, J.T. O'Sullivan, Kyle Orton, Matt Schaub, and Campbell have all had career days, literally, against the Lions this season. Even for a winless team, even for a team with the Lions pedigree, that's mind-boggling.

But it's not funny. It's not cute, even if we pretend it to be. It's shameful, is what it is. It's embarrassing and humiliating and disgusting, is what it is. It's being the league's punching bag, its fire hydrant for all the dogs.

Ahh, but would the Lions be the punching bag and fire hydrant for the Bengals, too?

Let's strap it on the last week of January and find out.

It's just crazy enough to work!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spartans Have Golden Opportunity To Put “Arrogant Asses” In Their Place

I’m telling you, I don’t know what’s happened to football coaches names anymore. They’ve gone and gotten themselves called things like Mike and John and Pat and Mark and Rich.


Don’t they know that properly-named football coaches answer to Knute and Bo and Woody and Bear? Or Biggie and Duffy?

Certainly not Darryl.

Thirty years ago, there was a Darryl in our midst; twenty years ago, he faded away, and mercifully so.

But Darryl Rogers made a mark around these parts. Better put that more often than not, he left a mark.

Duffy was gone in 1978 – Duffy Daugherty, that is, the head football coach at Michigan State University. He retired in 1972 and gave way to the kind but bland Denny Stolz. The lineage went Munn to Daugherty to Stolz: Biggie to Duffy to Denny. Not a Mike or John or Pat in the group.

After Denny proved mostly ineffective – including managing to get the football program placed on probation – he was swept out the door and this dude from small California schools like Fresno and San Jose State came eastward to coach the Spartans: Darryl Rogers.

No one knew much about Darryl. Quickly, though, it was evident that a physical quirk forced him to talk out of one side of his mouth, literally. Eventually, we’d discover that a character flaw meant that he talked out of both sides, figuratively. But I digress.

Rogers came to East Lansing in 1976 and coached two mostly bland years. Then the Spartans came alive in 1978. One of their stars was a bombastic, caustic receiver who also was pretty good at baseball: Kirk Gibson.

Yet the Spartans were still losing football games again when the 1978 season began. Ready or not, they were on a collision course with their in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, for a tilt in mid-October. The game would be played in Ann Arbor. The usual posturing began as the game drew nearer. Then Darryl opened the good side of his mouth and called the folks from U-M “arrogant asses.” Not that he was lying or anything.

The comment caused a low boil on Michigan’s campus, which grew to a rolling one as Saturday approached. The Wolverine faithful – the folks that Rogers had called, in so many words, over-confident posteriors – couldn’t wait to see what their team would do to MSU. The Spartans were annual victims to the Wolverines. They were beaten down by U-M in Rogers’s first two seasons. And MSU was 1-3 in ‘78 when Rogers made the remark. The series had taken on an almost Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals persona.

Rogers led his Generals/Spartans into Michigan Stadium, fresh off losses to big-time football programs USC and Notre Dame. Over 101,000 over-confidents sat on their posteriors, waiting for the slaughter.

Except that when the day was done, the Spartans/Generals had whipped Bo Schembechler’s boys, 24-15. In Ann Arbor.

Rogers: Hard to tell if he's packing or unpacking

Rogers’s team kept right on winning. They wouldn’t lose another game all season, in fact, speeding to the finish line with an 8-3 record, including 7-1 in the Big Ten – co-champions of the conference with ... Michigan! But because of Denny Stolz’s little probation, the Spartans were banned from appearing in the national polls or any bowl game. Despite knowing there wasn’t any carrot at the end of the stick, MSU still kicked everyone’s ass in the Big Ten – including the arrogant ones from Michigan.

The Spartans faltered in 1979, and that’s when Darryl Rogers revealed that he could, indeed, talk out of both sides of his mouth after all. Rumors started to swirl that Rogers, after a few seasons in the Midwest, was itching to get back to the Pacific time zone. Arizona State University was courting him. It was reported.

Rogers said no. He kept saying no. Right up to the moment, almost, that he hopped a plane for Arizona and was introduced as ASU’s new coach. It was behavior that would be repeated five years later, when he would deny to the ASU folks that he was about to bolt to the NFL to coach the Detroit Lions. He pulled the same stunt – managing to work both sides of his crooked mouth before ending up in Pontiac, hours after denying that he would coach the Lions.

Michigan State has a great opportunity this Saturday to kick some over-confident posterior, when said rear ends are down and out. The 6-2 Spartans will invade Ann Arbor to play around with the 2-5 and almost-1-6 Wolverines. This time, MSU is Harlem and U-M is Washington. Or so you would think.

Two things are certain in October in this state: the leaves fall, and so do the Spartans. It’s becoming an annual tradition: MSU starts fast, then fades. They raise hopes, then crush them. This year, a 6-1 start turned sour when the Ohio State University barged into Spartan Stadium and manhandled the Spartans, 45-7. That loss had a familiar odor to it: that of impending doom.

Michigan’s program is down. They haven’t even been able to handle the likes of a mediocre MAC school, Toledo, in their own Big House. Penn State toyed with them before racing away like a gazelle. This is, by far, the worst Michigan team that MSU has played in decades.

Yet it won’t surprise too many people if the Spartans lose Saturday – not true football historians, anyway. MSU has perfected the art of spoiling promising seasons for themselves.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is a nice man, by all appearances. Definitely not one to create bulletin board fodder with accusations of being arrogant or posteriors. Or both. He’s smarter than to think his team has this one in the bag, even if they do.

Besides, his name is Mark and his counterpart is named Rich. That’s not a rivalry, that’s a business lunch.

Let’s see if the Spartans belch it back up, once again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Before Parcells, Lombardi Was The NFL's Makeover Artist

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions' upcoming opponents)

Several weeks ago, as the Lions were preparing to face the Green Bay Packers, I wrote in the Friday nostalgic preview here that there was a coach named Phil Bengston. He was the answer to a trivia question: Who coached the Green Bay Packers after Vince Lombardi retired?

Well, here's another trivia question for you: when Lombardi came out of retirement in 1969, what team did he coach?

Answer: the Washington Redskins.

Lombardi was so many things, and one of them was Bill Parcells way before there was a Bill Parcells -- a coaching Parcells, at least. Today, we laud Parcells as a resuscitator of football franchises -- a man who has gone into many a sticky situation and come out smelling like a rose. His latest reclamation project is the Miami Dolphins, though he's doing it from the executive offices this time.

Lombardi resurrected the Packers, turning them from perennial losers in the 1950s to the Team of the Decade in the 1960s. And funny, but the Pack went right back to losing when Lombardi left them.

And here's something else that's funny: when Lombardi couldn't stand being a GM and bolted that job after just one year to coach the 'Skins, the team from the capital shed their losing ways, and instantly.

No Redskins team had finished with more wins than losses since 1955 when Lombardi took over. Usually, they weren't close to .500 in that time frame. Football folks wondered if Lombardi was about to tarnish his legacy, simply to fulfill the desire to coach once again.

Well, before you knew it, the 'Skins were 4-1-1 and on their way. They stumbled a bit and finished 7-5-2, but it was easily their best record in quite some time. No one wondered, anymore, about Vince Lombardi's legacy. It was safe and sound.

Lombardi as Redskins coach with retired RB Bobby Mitchell, who donned the uniform once more to pose for this photo

The veteran Redskins players marveled at Lombardi's tenacity and fire, still raging after so many years on the sidelines. His presence even convinced legendary linebacker Sam Huff to come out of retirement and play one more season, and a very effective one.

Finally, the Redskins were on their way to being a winner again.

Then Lombardi got sick.

In the spring of 1970, after experiencing some stomach discomfort, Lombardi saw the doctor. It was revealed that he had cancer, and at an advanced stage.

The Redskins, and all of pro football, were devastated. There was still hope that Lombardi could recover, though. He went to training camp. There were reports that he was feeling better.

Unfortunately, it was all talk and hope. Lombardi got sicker and sicker, and passed away in September, 1970.

And after that blip on the screen in 1969, the 'Skins went back to losing, finishing 6-8. George Allen took over in 1971 and restored the pride in Washington.

Some say that had Lombardi lived, he would have eventually led the Redskins into the Super Bowl, which had been his domain in Green Bay. Allen did it in 1972, so it's conceivable that if Allen could do it, Lombardi certainly could, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al (Episode 4)

You've stumbled onto Thursday at OOB, which can only mean one thing: The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al, my weekly chat with Mr. Wayne Fontes Experience himself, Big Al.

In this episode, we talk some Tigers pitching; a little World Series; a certain talent-less NFL team (take a wild guess) and whether a Hall of Fame QB tried to help them; and where we place Mike Babcock among NHL coaches (hint: it's at least above Joel Quenneville). There's even -- GASP! -- some boxing in there. It's a full plate, and you don't have much time, so here we go....

Eno: Well, the calendar says it's Thursday, and that means you're about to be subjected to another episode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al". I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka The Patient. Al, good to hear that you bounced back from your Tuesday trip to the docs, and that the rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated!

Big Al: I'm a survivor, what can I say? If I can survive what the Lions throw at me, I can survive anything! Though I am contemplating suing the Lions, William Clay Ford, Rod Marinelli, and the NFL for the cost of my medical bills and a little extra for pain and suffering. I think I have a case!

Eno: You know, you might! OK, I usually start, but I'll defer and defend the south goal. What do you got?

Big Al: Throwing me a change up! Even better than Fernando Rodney's! Speaking of which, the Tigers hired a new pitching coach since we last talked. They hired Rick Knapp, who was a long-time minor league pitching coach/instructor for the Twins. Thoughts?

Eno: Well, I like the pedigree; the Twins always seem to hang around every year because of their pitching. I like the hire. I think it's interesting that Knapp has been doing the same gig for some 12 years and is only now getting a call to The Show. Not sure if that's good or bad, but I give my stamp of approval – as if Jim Leyland cares!

Big Al: I'm sure the Marlboro Man cares about your opinion! What I liked about the hire, other than what you mentioned about the Twins pedigree – which is a good thing as the Twinkies always seem to have a endless supply of major league ready arms – is Knapp's mantra, "Make the first pitch a strike." The Tigers hurlers, both starters and relievers, had the awful habit of nibbling around the corners, instead of attacking batters with their best stuff. If Knapp can straighten out Justin Verlander, who was often hitting the 100 pitch count in the 5th inning, Knapp joining the Tigers will have been a genius move.

Eno: Yeah, the bases on balls were horrifically high last season. They say the best pitch in baseball is "strike one", so we'll see. We'll also see what Knapp can do with Dontrelle Willis. Do you think Dontrelle's another Steve Blass, or, closer to home, Kevin Saucier? Or is there hope for Willis after all?

Big Al: I think there's still hope, but the "Steve Blass Syndrome" is always going to hovering over the D-Train till he proves otherwise. Hopefully his hearing a new voice will go a long way towards fixing Willis's control issues. I don't think we'll ever see the same dominant Willis who won 22 games and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting [a few years ago]. My fingers are crossed, hoping Willis can be a solid number four or five starter. That would go a long way toward shoring up a staff with more than a few holes. Other than Verlander's pitch counts, getting into Willis's head will be Knapp's no. 1 priority.

Eno: Yeah, especially with Kenny Rogers probably done, and God knows what to expect from Nate Robertson, if anything. Speaking of baseball, don't trash Tampa-St. Pete and their Johnny-come-lately fans – unless you want to be under siege. I trashed them – twice – lately on Johnny Grubb and those folks are in a tizzy! Basically, I crabbed that the Rays being 26th in attendance was shameful. Then on Monday I took a swipe at them and Philly as cities. But they know Eno down there now – for better or for worse!

Big Al: Keep holding their feet to the fire, Eno! Tampa had trouble selling out GAME 7 in the ALCS! But they had no problem selling out the Bucs game, as it was Mike Alstott Night. Screwy priorities, if you ask me. Let alone that Alstott was one of the most overrated fullbacks in NFL history. But I digress... Tampa is an awful baseball town, and you called them out on it. The truth hurts. Personally, I'll be rooting for Philly; as nasty as their fans can be, you can’t deny it's a great sports town, much like Detroit.

Eno: Yeah – Philly is Detroit, plus corrosives. The late, great sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote, "When a plane lands in Philadelphia, everyone gets on -- nobody gets off." Anyway, I agree – I’m rooting for the Phils, too. What's your take on another Cubs collapse? Were they even IN the playoffs?

Big Al: I have a soft spot for any city that can boo Santa Claus. As for the Cubbies? Short playoff series are practically a toss up. We saw it with the Tigers in '06; they got hot at the perfect time. The Cubs are unquestionably a better team than the Dodgers, but LA got hot, and also got some very good pitching, at the right time.

Eno: Well, whatever – but the Cubs have now officially started a second century of waiting for a championship. Unbelievable that you can go ONE HUNDRED YEARS and not win. Makes the Lions' drought look like a two-week vacation. After THAT segue, what do you make of this allegation that Brett Favre somehow gave the Lions an hour of his time to work on a game plan for the Packers? I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or roll my eyes at this – or all three!

Big Al: I think Rod Marinelli's "No comment" on the situation speaks volumes. Of course Favre is going to deny it, but considering his acrimonious departure from Green Bay, his trying to get back at the Packers doesn't surprise me. But really, it's a non-story. Giving the Lions, of all teams, inside info would be like giving me step-by-step instructions in ballroom dancing. Even if I know what to do, I don't have enough talent to do anything with the knowledge! The Lions could have listened in on the Packers' huddle, and it wouldn't have done them a lick of good.

Eno: Too funny! That's what I meant about the laughing and eye rolling! Here's the white elephant in the room that all the MSM types seem to want to ignore about the Lions: THEY DON'T HAVE ANY TALENT! Honest to God – these guys write and write and the coaches talk and talk and the Lions' lack of NFL talent is rarely talked about. The MSM and the coaches seem to think that it can be corrected. NO IT CAN'T – not now, anyway. But did you notice that when the veteran players are asked what's wrong, like Dom Raiola, he says, "I don't know." That's because he's afraid to publicly say the team isn't any good.

Big Al: I totally agree. For all of Marinelli's bluster about playing hard every snap, giving 100%, if the talent isn't there, giving 1000% isn't going to make any difference. You win in the NFL on talent, period. I also found it fascinating the Lions named Rudi Johnson as captain, replacing the "injured" Jon Kitna. Whatever it says about a player being made captain who was picked up days before the season started, it can't be very good. There must be a HUGE leadership vacuum in the Detroit locker room.

Eno: I know – I thought the same thing about the Rudi Johnson thing. OK, on to that "other" Johnson – Calvin. Before I say anything, what's your impression of #81?

Big Al: That he should be touching the ball more than five times a game. The fact that (offensive coordinator) Jim Colletto can't get the Lions' only playmaker the ball is an indictment of his badly designed offense. But my biggest fear about Megatron is his becoming "Lionized” – a talented athlete playing down to the talent surrounding him.

Eno: Well, we may slightly disagree – but about his "playmaker" status. Maybe it's the Lionizing that you referred to, but Johnson, to me, seems unable to make the routine plays with any reliability. Seems that he drops at least one pass per game, if not more. Mike O'Hara (of the Detroit News) crabbed about CJ's two catches on Sunday, but he failed to mention Johnson's drop on that drive near the end of the first half – the drive where Marinelli once again showed the clock management skills of a five year-old. Typical that Johnson caught the meaningless Hail Mary with time expired. I just don't think Johnson makes enough plays, period. Now, should the Lions throw to him more? Of course, because he's still the best they've got. What I'D like to see are more of those plays where he comes off the line of scrimmage and catches the ball in the flat, like a pseudo running play. Nobody seems to be able to tackle him when they do that.

Big Al: You make a good point, as Roy Williams had the many of the same issues. It would also help if the Lions had a legitimate NFL-quality QB throwing to Johnson. Dan Orlovsky is not exactly a top tier QB. Save for a couple of Scott Mitchell seasons in the mid-1990s, when was the last time the Lions had a QB you knew could get the ball to the right receiver in the proper spots? Since Bobby Layne left for the Steelers, they've been few and far between.

Eno: Yeah, speaking of the Cubs' 100 years, how can you go 51 and only have ONE Pro Bowl QB? And if you look at Greg Landry's stats from that year (1972), they weren't eye-popping. Must have been a thin year for NFC QBs. I don't know, Johnson frustrates me. What's funny, Al, is when you look at what the Lions' opponents do the week AFTER they play Detroit. Look at what Matt Schaub and Steve Slaton do next week. It's funny, it really is. Hell, the 49ers just fired Mike Nolan becuase he's 0-4 since playing ... the Lions!

Big Al: Yet Rod Marinelli remains employed. No one ever said the NFL was fair. It's not as if the Lions have been getting pounded by elite teams. Hell, the tough part of the schedule is just beginning. Which is why the 0-16 talk isn't just so much hot air. The Lions are playing several playoff contenders in the second half of the season. It's going to get real ugly, real quick at Ford Field.

Eno: I recommend that no one under 18 years of age be allowed to watch what Peyton Manning does to them. It's gonna look like no contact drills. Switching gears yet again, the Scotty Bowman-infiltrated Chicago Blackhawks just fired Denny Savard just four games into the season and replaced him with Joel Quenneville. Thoughts?

Big Al: I'm thinking it's Scotty Bowman making his presence felt. He wants his own people in there. But still, 4 games into the season? If you have that itchy of a trigger finger, why did they even bring Savard back in the first place? It's similar to the Tigers giving Phil Garner the ziggy a week into the season (in 2002). They were looking for any excuse. Plus Quenneville is no slouch behind the bench.

Eno: Hey, Garner had to go. I called for that one. After the Tigers went 0-3, I was saying, "Get rid of Garner!" Axing Randy Smith at the same time was a bonus! Well, I must say about Quenneville: Mike Babcock is twice the coach Quenneville is. Babcock showed balls of steel when he replaced Dom Hasek in the first round against Nashville. Not too many coaches would have the guts to make that move, because most of what could happen is bad. Then you got Quenneville who REFUSED to yank Jose Theodore and insert the backup against Detroit in the second round. Joel should have benched Theodore when the series shifted to Colorado; what harm could it have done? But he stuck with Theodore and the Red Wings kept scoring. The Avs wouldn't have won that series, probably, but if they ever could have used a spark, it was before Game 3 in Denver. Yet Quenneville didn't give them that chance.

Big Al: Quenneville definitely made some strange decisions in that series, especially in reagard to Theodore. But comparing any coach to Babcock is a losing proposition. The man (Babcock) is practically a class by himself in NHL coaching circles. He's done an amazing job in forming the Red Wings into his vision.

Eno: Hey, did you realize that I managed to work in both Detroit athletes named Dominic/Dominik into this chat? Pretty clever, eh? Well, Al, anything else that's eating you?

Big Al: Other than the ulcer in my gut? I know this is out of my comfort space, so to speak, but I find the sudden collapse of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion Elite XC fascinating. Not two weeks after their street fighting, Internet sensation Kimbo Slice was taken in 15 seconds by a much smaller, run of the mill tomato can, the promotion dissolved, losing immense amounts of money in the process. It just goes to show MMA in many ways is no different than boxing. It's run by a bunch of shysters taking advantage of fighters getting their heads beat in for a small slice of the money pie.

Eno: Yeah, I think you just described boxing, didn't you? Or the MMA? I can't tell the difference! Oh, where have you gone, Gerry Cooney and Ken Norton? Where have the closed-circuit TV bouts gone? The fights down in Manila?

Big Al: The glory days of boxing. I was a big fan in the ‘80s, when Detroit's Kronk Gym was dominating the lower weight classes. To me, watching Tommy Hearns in his prime was a sight to behold. I remember watching him DESTROY Pipino Cuevas for the welterweight title on Wide World of Sports. And watching Hilmer Kenty win the first title for Kronk back in the day. I think being old enough to have seen the likes of Marvin Hagler, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard – I could go on and on – in their primes, in many ways the golden age of the sport, soured me on today's boxing and MMA. It just isn't the same.

Eno: The hardest punch I ever saw, bar none, was the one Tommy laid on Roberto Duran. Wow. I saw Hearns-Leonard II on closed circuit, and I'm telling you, Tommy won. Well, Big Guy, time to say farewell, I fear. Got anything going this weekend?

Big Al: I'll be trying to find ways in that crazy thing called the Internets to watch the Lions game, as I think we'll be guaranteed a blackout. And let's not forget the little in-state tussle going on in Ann Arbor Saturday. I expect we'll both have something to say next week about the Wolverines and Spartans.

Eno: Oh yes, we will. I'll be at Warren Mott's game against SH Stevenson on Friday, since my daughter's in the band. Mott is 6-2, Stevenson 7-1. But I'm picking Stevenson by 10. So much for me being a homer! Well, have fun LISTENING to the Lions lose to Washington. See ya next Thoisday.

Big Al: See you next week on TKJWTFWEAA!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sculptor Amrany Has One More Red Wing (At Least) To Capture

How wonderful it is that Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio are still in our midst.

I can't say with 100% certainty, but I'm pretty confident that no other Original Six team still has an entire forward line of the magnitude of those guys alive and kicking, and with their faculties. We're talking 50 years ago when nos. 7, 9, and 10 were doing their thing.

The Red Wings, as an organization, has done its part in recognizing this treasure trove of old school talent. Numbers have been retired and lifted to the rafters. Special nights have been held throughout the past 20 years or so. And Howe (age 80), Lindsay (83) and Delvecchio (76) are always included when the Red Wings celebrate a team banner-raising ceremony. It's great that that trio has received all the accolades and honors while they were still alive to see it.

The two most recent instances have occurred over the past couple of weeks, with the unveiling of statues bearing the likenesses of Lindsay and Delvecchio, similar to the one honoring Howe, which was dedicated in April 2007. All three statues were created by Chicago-based artist Omri Amrany. And, all three are scattered in the Joe Louis Arena concourse.

"One thing I love about my statue, it's indoors," Lindsay said. "The pigeons are not going to get a chance to get at it."

Well, that's ONE way to look at it, Terrible Ted.

I hope Amrany won't mind if I commission him for one more statue. Maybe he needs the money. You know, starving artists and all.

Sadly, it won't be one attended by the subject, but I don't know how you can get into statue-unveiling mode and not have one of Terry Sawchuk greeting JLA visitors. Even the kiddie Red Wings fans who've only known success by this franchise are aware of the exploits of Howe, Lindsay, and Delvecchio -- largely because they're semi-regulars at JLA and around the team in general. I wonder how many of them, though, have any idea what goalie Sawchuk did for their team, back in the day.

Terry Sawchuk, whose career record of 103 shutouts is only now being threatened (New Jersey's Martin Brodeur has 96), and he played his last game 38 years ago. Terry Sawchuck, who put on a display of goaltending in the Stanley Cup playoffs of 1952 so dominating it almost doesn't seem true (8-0, four shutouts, 0.63 GAA). Terry Sawchuk, who barely lived to see the end of his career, let alone any post-retirement honors that would have come his way.

Ask just about any Red Wing from those glory days of the 1950s, and Sawchuk will be one of the first teammates they talk about in terms of contributing to the success the Wings enjoyed. The Red Wings were a marvelous team, no doubt, but it was still left to Sawchuk to stone the opposition and steal two points on many a night. It's not a fit of homerism to declare him the best goaltender of all time.

He didn't just play for the Red Wings, though he did play for them on three different occasions. Sawchuk was, at various times, a Boston Bruin, a New York Ranger, a Toronto Maple Leaf, and a Los Angeles King. But he played most of his 971 games with the Red Wings, by far.

His no. 1 jersey is hanging alongside 7, 9, 10, 12, and 19 near the girders at JLA, and that's very nice. But now that we're erecting statues of the forwards, may as well include one for the goalie, too.

I think it's appropriate that fans get hit between the eyes with a larger-than-life, 3-D display of Sawchuk making a save as they enter the Joe -- and the new arena, whenever that may be. And make it of him maskless, as he spent most of his career.

We've had some fine netminders in Detroit: Glenn Hall; Roger Crozier; Roy Edwards; Dominik Hasek; Chris Osgood. But none, with the exception of maybe Hasek in his prime, can touch Sawchuk. And they'd all agree.

So sorry, Mr. Amrany -- but I don't think your work is done. Let me work on the Ilitches for you. Meanwhile, keep your chisel handy. And don't forget Steve Yzerman, who's going to be due for a statue, too -- but I think that one can wait till the Red Wings christen their new arena.

Sawchuck, who died tragically at age 40 in 1970 after some horseplay with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart led to internal bleeding and infection, won't be able to see it, but his family can. It's great that the Red Wings honor the living legends among us, but let them not forget about the goalie who died young who backstopped them to glory. Just because he's not around doesn't mean he should be left out of the statue party.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Detroit Lions: Compiling Quite A List Of Super Bowl Contenders And Pro Bowl QBs

I hope the NFL doesn't plan on soliciting the Detroit Lions' opinion when it comes to favorites for the post-season hardware.

Pro Bowl Quarterback?

Lions Defender: Matt Ryan. No, Aaron Rodgers. Check that -- J.T. O'Sullivan. My bad -- Kyle Orton. Wait, change my vote to Gus Frerotte. Shoot, I'm sorry -- I meant to say Matt Schaub.

Umm, OK ... how about your Super Bowl favorite?

Lions Player: Well, you've got Atlanta, with their awesome running backs and lethal passer in Matt Ryan, that wily college veteran. But then I also like Green Bay; they're loaded. But you can't have this discussion and leave out San Francisco, who's got that Frank Gore guy and, of course, the Pro Bowler O'Sullivan. Yet what about Chicago, with that Orton guy and their best-I've-ever-seen linebackers and pass rush? But gosh darn it, Minnesota makes quarterbacks run right out of the end zone -- that's how intimidating their defense is. But you saw how powerful the Houston Texans are, didn't you? So maybe it's Houston. I don't know.

Seven days from now, those same Lions players will add Jason Campbell to the Pro Bowl roster, along with placing Campbell's Redskins at the top of the Power Rankings. Then it's back to Chicago to face the elite Bears led by the maybe-Pro Bowler Orton, then home to entertain the Jacksonville Jaguars, Super Bowl contenders for sure -- how can they not be, with the league's premier signal caller, David Garrard, on their roster?

The schedule doesn't get any easier. You've got Super Bowl-bound Carolina, followed by Super Bowl-bound Tampa Bay, Super Bowl-bound Tennessee, those awesome Vikings, the elite Indy Colts, the Super Bowl-bound New Orleans Saints, and the class of the NFC, the Green Bay Packers.

The Lions made another mediocre quarterback look like the second coming of Dan Marino. They turned some running back named Steve Slaton into Jim Brown. And, of course, the legitimately good WR Andre Johnson had his expected field day, turning the Lions' secondary into his own personal tulip field. Where's Tiny Tim and his ukelele?

Actually, Tim, who passed away over a decade ago, is no more lifeless than the Lions, who dozed while the Houston Texans raced to a 21-0 lead, then teased with a moderate attempt at a comeback after being nudged awake. The final score was a somehow respectable 28-21. At least the Lions beat the point spread, which was an unseemly 9-1/2.

It's truly amazing how the Lions make every team they play look like the best team in the NFL and that team's QB look like Johnny Unitas. Every single week. It's a phenomenon, really. I enjoy seeing what those teams and those QBs and RBs and WRs do the week after they play the Lions. It's comical, really -- how they have to return to struggling and scuffling along after their break in the schedule against the Lions.

Check out Schaub's numbers next week. Same with Slaton's. I don't care that Houston is hosting that other winless NFL team, Cincinnati, next Sunday. I guarantee you that the Texans won't play the hot knife to the Bengals' butter, and cut through Cincy's defense effortlessly. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Bengals won the game.

In this day and age of supposed parity in the NFL -- when teams can go from 4-12 to 9-7 and back to 3-13 like an EKG printout, the Lions have flatlined. It's a team that hasn't had a pass rush or a secondary in 15 years, a running game in 10, and a quarterback in 51. No offensive line since the early-1990s. No playmakers on either side of the ball in this century.

This is 0-16 in the making, no question. There's not a win on the schedule, which, all joking aside, really does get tougher from this point on. Bye bye, Rod Marinelli.

Speaking of Marinelli, where's his fire and brimstone? He likes to tell us that we have no idea how he talks to his players behind closed doors. Fair enough. But a team is often a reflection of its coach. You mean to tell me that Marinelli is Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells, and Knute Rockne behind those closed doors, when he's Perry Como on the sideline? I'd feel a little better about Coach Rod (with apologies to that guy in Ann Arbor) if I saw him throw a headset on the ground or yell, or do just about anything other than fix his face into that confused, bewildered visage that he always seems to have when the cameras catch him on the sideline.

The Lions' suspect clock management was at play again yesterday, near the end of the first half. Apparently still holding out that the league will allow unused timeouts carry over from one half to the next, the Lions kept a couple of them in their pocket after a Dan Orlovsky pass to Mike Furrey put the Lions near midfield. Maybe 10, 12 seconds ran off the clock while they lined up, sans huddle before Calvin Johnson dropped a pass. Then another completion -- THEN a timeout, with just a few seconds remaining. Then, in typical Lions fashion, Orlovsky and Johnson hooked up for a Hail Mary several yards from the end zone as time expired. Those 10-12 seconds would have come in handy, eh?

Now, about Johnson -- who the Fox commentators kept referring to as the Lions' "superstar" receiver. You're nowhere NEAR the general vicinity of superstar -- not even in the same time zone -- when it's such a challenge to consistently catch the most catchable of passes. Don't talk to me about Johnson's 96-yard bomb from Orlovsky -- a ball that any receiver in the league could have caught. I'm talking about genuine big plays, which Johnson doesn't make. He doesn't even make the little plays with any degree of reliability. Chris Rose and JC Pearson kept begging the Lions to throw the ball to Johnson, who finished with the strange stat line of two catches for 154 yards -- numbers that will at least pad his yards per catch average. But why go out of your way to throw to Johnson, when it's about 50/50 that he'll catch it? Maybe he's best served as a decoy. Other teams seem to give him respect -- for now.

And, as usual, the Lions ended up without their full complement of timeouts in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. How DO they do that every week, anyway? Well, they always lose one on a lost second half challenge. That's a weekly given. Then they'll burn one out of stupidity and disorganization sometime late in the third quarter or early in the fourth. So they're always left with just one, when those TOs are desperately needed to stop the clock. Yesterday, the Lions got the ball back with ten seconds remaining -- at their own 2-yard line. Not even John Elway can work like that.

So there it is: no offense. No defense. No game breakers on either side of the ball. No dazzling kick returners (Brandon Middleton is the worst return man I've ever seen in Detroit). No game management skills. No talent, really, to speak of.

Once again, kicker Jason Hanson was the Lions' MVP, booting two 54-yard field goals to make the game's outcome close. It's a sad commentary when the kicker's combined field goal yardage eclipses that of the running game. And it usually does with the Lions.

Even though I really don't care much about the Lions anymore -- not until I see what they do in the off-season with their front office -- I must admit that their not being remotely competitive against even the worst teams in the league is annoying. I mean, go 0-16, but go 0-16 with some degree of fight and dignity.

We laughed at Bobby Ross when he angrily spewed, "I don't coach that stuff!" after a Lions loss in Arizona. But at least he showed some emotion and some fight. Marinelli's confused looks on the sidelines and his robotic-like words at his weekly pressers just add to the annoyance. The most spirit he showed was when a reporter asked him if he would ever resign. But he doesn't seem to get nearly that hyper when it comes to talking about his football team. One of the national pundits had an interesting take last week. He said that Rod Marinelli loves his players too much. Treats them too much like it's college, where you protect them at all costs and assume that bunker mentality.

I may as well stop now. No sense complaining about a guy who's on the way out the door.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brewers A Playoff Team, But Still A Podunk Organization

There was a time when Milwaukee was one of the finest baseball cities in all of America. They made beer there, and they made baseball fans.

There was also a time when there were two big league baseball teams in Boston, until it was decided that Boston wasn’t a city big enough to handle two, after all. So the Braves, the National League entry, packed up its bats and balls and tomahawks and moved west, to Brew Town, in 1953.

And Milwaukee welcomed the Braves with open arms. Little Milwaukee, one of the original American League towns, way back in 1901. Big league baseball didn’t last long in Milwaukee, though; minor league ball took over after just one season. But professional baseball, in various forms, was played in Milwaukee for the next five decades, and so the loyal fan base was thrilled to be a big league city once again in ’53.

This was no pretend, expansion team. These were the Braves, established and talented. Filling out the uniforms were the likes of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette. They won pennants in 1957 and ’58 and when they didn’t, they were usually finishing second in the years after moving to Milwaukee.

Beer and baseball always was a good combination – Milwaukee just laid it bare, was all.

Yet the Braves were eventually absconded, ripped from the city of Milwaukee and transplanted in the bourgeoning metropolis of Atlanta in 1966. The venerable Mathews went with them, just as he did when the team left Boston for Milwaukee, making him the only Brave to play for the organization in all three cities. An answer to one of the classic trivia questions.

Baseball righted itself after a few years of lunacy, and awarded another MLB franchise to Milwaukee in 1970, when the Seattle Pilots couldn’t answer the bell for their second season. The Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers – which just happened to be the name of that original AL team of 1901.

The Brewers became a power in the early-1980s, going to the World Series in ’82, where they lost to another beer-and-baseball franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals, who call Busch Stadium home. As in Anheuser-Busch.

Milwaukee has stayed a big league baseball town ever since 1970, even when the product on the field was minor league, which it was for most of the years between 1984-2006.

Then, a renaissance in 2007. The Brewers’ first winning season since 1992. Young talent that was maturing, including lefty slugger Prince Fielder, whose dad cranked baseballs out of Tiger Stadium back in the day.

More winning in 2008, the Brewers threatening to claim their division. When that chance started to fade, there was always that trusty Wild Card – the Champions of Second Place Teams. The Brewers set their sights on finishing in second place, the Cubs clearly about to win the Central Division. But the Brewers’ second place would have to be better than the second place of the East Division, and that of the West Division, if post-season baseball was to return to Milwaukee for the first time since 1982.

This is where the Brewers started to show why they are a Podunk organization playing in a big league town.

With only 12 games left to play in the season, the Second Place Championship slipping away thanks to a frosty September, the Brewers fired their manager, Ned Yost. No team in big league history, Podunk or not, had ever fired a manager that close to the finish line with the playoffs still a distinct possibility. The Brewers made history, but it was bone-headed history.

They promoted coach Dale Sveum (pronounced Swaym) to manage the team through the final 12 games, and, it was hoped, the playoffs. Sveum was a Brewers player, dating back to the final, pseudo-glory years of 1987-88, when the team briefly rose to above-.500 ball. He was a loyal soldier, a Brewer through and through. It was with admittedly mixed emotions that Sveum took over for his fired friend, Ned Yost.

Neither Yost (top) nor Sveum deserved the treatment they received from the Brewers

I wrote at the time that the Brewers, by firing Yost with such little time left in the season, were blatantly exhibiting the panic often displayed by losing organizations that have no clue about winning. It wouldn’t matter, I argued, if the Brewers made the playoffs under Sveum. It was still a dumb move. The team would be making the playoffs despite the firing, not because of it – if they made it at all.

The Brewers made the playoffs despite the move. I wasn’t impressed. Yost should never have been canned that late in the season, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

So Sveum did his part, navigating his team through the rough waters and claiming the Second Place Championship with only 12 games with which to work. The Brewers were back in the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

They didn’t last long. The Philadelphia Phillies bounced them out of the first round, three games to one. But Dale Sveum jumped in during a ridiculous situation and did what he was charged with doing. No doubt he was looking forward to stating his case for remaining the Brewers’ manager, in the form of an off-season job interview.

Not gonna happen.

The Brewers, almost surreptitiously, announced Friday that when the team goes looking for a permanent – HA!! – manager, Dale Sveum won’t be among those considered. They did so, with the playoffs still in full swing – the news, they hoped, swamped by the baseball still going on.

But I noticed.

The Brewers are still Podunk. They used Dale Sveum, plain and simple – one of their own. A Brewer at heart. They put him into a bad situation, he made the best of it, and now they won’t even sit down with him to discuss the job. They just set themselves back 106 years, when they were a minor league team in 1902.

Yet general manager Doug Melvin, who fired Yost, is receiving a three-year contract extension. Go figure.

The Brewers not only kicked Sveum to the curb, they apparently refuse to even acknowledge what he did. Here’s owner Mark Attanasio: “The team reached a significant milestone by getting to the postseason,” he said, “and this could not have been accomplished without the efforts of Doug Melvin and his staff.”

Oh, REALLY now?

It gets worse. The Brewers coldly added that ruling out Sveum “allows us to widen our search to experienced managerial candidates,” according to the rewarded Melvin.

Sveum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was shocked when Melvin told him the team decided to look for someone with more experience.

“Basically, my heart was ripped out of my chest," he said.

The Milwaukee Brewers ought to be ashamed of themselves. First they canned a fine manager in Ned Yost in panic, then threw a dedicated Brewer, Sveum, into the fire they created. Then, after Sveum delivered under stupid circumstances, the team thanks him by not even giving him the courtesy of a job interview, and by not mentioning his name after reaching their “significant milestone.”

It’s bush. It’s crappy. It’s a shocking display of disloyalty. Milwaukee is still a good baseball city, but their team is still Podunk, and apparently always will be, under this clownish ownership.

Way to go, you misguided, ungrateful boobs.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Texans, In Seventh Year, Still Haven't Graduated From School Of Hard Knocks

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions' upcoming opponents)

It took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers four seasons to get respectable. The Seattle Seahawks, just three. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were in their respective conference championship games in their second season of existence. The new Cleveland Browns finished over .500 in their fourth year in the league.

We're still waiting on the Houston Texans.

The Texans joined the NFL in 2002. They beat the established and in-state rival Dallas Cowboys in their first-ever game. But it wasn't until last year, their sixth, that they were able to manage even a .500 record (8-8 in '07).

The Texans whiffed on QB David Carr, who was drafted the same year as Pal Joey Harrington. Part of the reason for Carr's stunted growth was because he was pile-driven into the turf constantly. Carr set an NFL record for most times being sacked in a season in his rookie year, and it never really got any better. There were times when Carr showed more promise than Harrington, but the team results were the same as in Detroit: double-digit losses were an annual tradition in Houston.

The 1979 Bucs caught lightning in a bottle, making it to the NFC Championship under the leadership of QB Doug Williams and the wit of coach John McKay. The Seahawks of 1978 used a lethal passing combo of Jim Zorn-to-Steve Largent, plus a tough defense, to become an AFC power for the next several years. The Jags used experience on offense and the Panthers did the same on defense to rise to the Final Four in such short order.

The NFL changed, too. In 1976, the way the expansion teams were stocked seems almost cruel compared to today's method. No extra draft picks. No generous availability of other teams' players. Just the unwanted dudes -- nothing more, nothing less. Old, washed up veterans or under-talented rookie free agents; which would you prefer? That was the choice for the Bucs and Seahawks. So it's not too surprising that Tampa Bay went 0-26 before winning their first game, but it's also amazing that they quickly went from that to the NFC Championship just 34 games later.

So what's with the Texans, whom the Lions visit this Sunday?

Houston isn't operating under the sadistic 1976 expansion rules. They've been able to look at recent history to see how their counterparts in Jacksonville, Carolina, and to an extent, Cleveland have done it.

But as with most expansion teams in their infancy, the Texans' offense hasn't been able to catch up with their sieve-like defense. Carr and WR Andre Johnson were never given an adequate offensive line or much of a running back to work with. And their defense, meanwhile, was routinely surrendering 30+ points per game. That may have been understandable at first, but this is year seven and it's not getting much better. The Texans are 1-4, and have given up 158 points in the process.

Yet they're minus 8 against the Lions this Sunday. The same Detroit Lions who pre-exist the Texans by 68 years in the NFL. I guess you can't really blame the Texans for being slow learners in their seventh year of existence when the Lions are in year no. 51 in trying to re-learn how to be a championship team.

Do the Texans have a Curse of David Carr that we don't know about?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's Thursday! So It's The Knee Jerks! (Episode 3)

Welcome to Episode 3 of The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al. It's time for my weekly indulgence with my compatriot Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience, which is going all high-brow on us as he joins the MVN. But he's graced me with his presence anyway.

In this week's episode, Big Al decries U-M football, both of us weigh in on the Lions' big trade and the IR'ing of QB Jon Kitna, and we even manage to sneak in a little Red Wings and post-season baseball (just a little, which is good because I clearly got the Dodgers wrong, as you'll see).

And away we go......


Eno: It's Thursday, and that means it's another rock 'em sock 'em episode of The Knee Jerks. I'm Eno, also known as The Historian. He's Big Al, also known as The Potential Heart Attack Victim. How are you, Big Al?

Big Al: Better than expected, actually. Even though the past weekend definitely wasn't one of the more pleasant ones for football fans in the state of Michigan.

Eno: What? You mean Michigan State? They won, didn't they?

Big Al: Sparty? Come on, Eno. You know I'm a Michigan fan! Yes, one of those fans who MSU fans despise, who didn't go to the school. But come on, lose to TOLEDO? 1-4 TOLEDO? No, I'm not going to lose it. I value my health too much.

Eno: What's frightening is that Toledo isn't even one of the MAC's top teams. Is that loss worse than losing to Appy State last year?

Big Al: It is, in that Appy St. could have beaten more than a few Division I (or whatever the NCAA is calling the BCS conference schools) teams. Toledo is a BAD team. Turns out, the Wolverines are a WORSE team. I knew it was going to be a year of transition, but this?

Eno: OK, what about that? How did the Wolves fall so far, so fast? And how in the HELL did that program end up without a quarterback?

Big Al: I'm not sure who to blame more: Rich Rodriguez for putting all his eggs in the Terrelle Pryor basket, or...I blame RichRod. Not that Pryor did him any favors by stringing him along well past signing day. Rodriguez absolutely has to recruit a freshman QB in 2009 who is capable of running the spread offense to its fullest capabilities. Even then, it's looking like 2010 before we have a chance to see the Michigan we know.

Eno: OK, I see that there's already a "Fire R-Rod" web site out there. But at the risk of disturbing the dead, er, the retired – isn’t Rodriguez playing with the deck that Lloyd Carr left for him? How much of this is Carr's bad recruiting?

Big Al: Some of it is Lloyd Carr's fault, of course. But we're talking the powerful Michigan Wolverines, who recruit four and five-star players. You can't blame Carr for losing QB Ryan Mallett., for example. There is talent there (at Michigan). For whatever reason, that talent isn't being used to its potential, or it’s not buying into the RichRod program.

Eno: I was thinking about this: the Wolverines are 7-6 in their last 13 at the Big House. So that mystique seems to be gone. How does Rodriguez stand up in front of his players and say, "OK, we're 2-4 -- almost 1-5 -- and just lost to Toledo at home. BUT WE'RE STILL MICHIGAN, men!" I mean, does that resonate?

Big Al: Not anymore. Which is why RichRod has his work cut out for him – getting Michigan's, well, hubris back. But it's not as if the Big House is one of the more intimidating places to play. I've always considered it overrated, and (home to) the quietest 110,000 people you'll ever hear.

Eno: Well, "transition" is a kind word. But at least Rod has some pedigree. He's not Gerry Faust, plucked from HIGH SCHOOL to coach Notre Dame. You're an old geezer like me – remember that? Remember "Oust Faust"? So Rodriguez can probably rebuild this thing; just not right away, or fast enough for the fans or alums.

Big Al: Gerry Faust? The man in so far over his head, he makes Rod Marinelli look competent? I totally agree with you though. I'm not worried about RichRod's turning the program around. His track record says he will. But you'll never please Michigan fans, who think 10 wins and a BCS Bowl game appearance is a birthright. There isn't a fan base in college football who needed a bigger humbling. Forty years of never having a losing season tends to do that to a fan base.

Eno: Here's a sobering number: Penn State minus 23 against U-M. MINUS 23!!

Big Al: Never thought I'd see the day. With Steven Threet banged up, and RichRod playing a walk on, Nick Sheridan, minus 23 might be on the low side! (Penn State coach) Joe Paterno has to be licking his chops in anticipation of repaying U-of-M for almost a decade of painful losses.

Eno: Well, other coaches said, before the season, "Better get Michigan now, because once Rodriguez starts recruiting, look out." So others obviously feel he's up to the task. So, is it safe to say that you won't be visiting the "Fire R-Rod" web site?

Big Al: Hell, no! I'm not happy, and RichRod deserves to be held accountable to what's likely to be the worst Wolverines season since Bump Elliott was coach. [Good Lord, there are several generations of Michigan fans who are thinking, “Who in the Hell is Bump Elliott?”] But he also deserves the opportunity to fully implement his program, and that's going to take time. Down seasons have happened to EVERY national power. It's just the Wolverines' turn.

Eno: So, big news, Big Al: The Lions listened to you – imagine that – and traded your man Roy Williams. And, even more, they robbed the Cowboys blind. What gives here?

Big Al: The Lions make a well-thought out, sensible, thinking-about-the-future move? It's one of the seven signs! The apocalypse is upon us! Up is down, in is out! That's what gives! Seriously, Martin Mayhew robbed the 'Boys blind. And then some.

Eno: As I wrote in OOB, Mayhew is still interim, but not as interim as before the trade. Does this make him a player when the Lions go searching for a new front office leader? Or is this just beginner's luck? Your gut.

Big Al: Even though getting most of the Cowboys’ 2009 draft for a player who wasn't going to return next season has been universally lauded, you can't ever forget Mayhew said "I'm a 100% Millen man." He still needs to go. But knowing the Fords, I'm starting to get the feeling he may stay, along with (coach Rod) Marinelli. When it comes to the Fords, you just never know.

Eno: OMG, you REALLY think so? I'm talking about Marinelli now. You really think Mr. Pound the Rock has a chance of being here in '09? Say it ain't so, Al!! And I mostly agree about Mayhew; I don't know what on Earth the man was thinking when he made that "I'm a Millen man" remark. Kind of like saying, "I'm a Bush man," if you're a Republican!

Big Al: If Mayhew stays, and this is a big “if”, he may feel loyalty to Marinelli. Mainly because trading Williams and IR'ing a vocally-unhappy-about-it Jon Kitna, means the Lions are waving the white flag on the '08 season, when Marinelli really has to win games. It's, in a way, if Marinelli had input on the moves, a selfless act by a head coach on a VERY hot seat. I wouldn't approve, but knowing how the Lions think (Change = Bad), it's a possible scenario.

Eno: Well, I must admit that Mayhew (another MM initial guy, btw) showed me something here. He might have some potential as a GM. But if the Lions can get a high-profile, veteran front office type, they need to do that. I'd love to see Mike Holmgren get fed up with coaching in Seattle and be ready to move upstairs – with the Lions, if possible. As for Coach Rod, I think he ought to prepare himself to be d-line coach at Cal or Stanford or something.

Big Al: I agree with you totally. A Holmgren, a Bill Cowher, someone with a name and a winning pedigree is essential to the Lions’ winning back the faith of a wary fan base. I could live with Mayhew staying in the organization (but NOT as GM), as he seems to have a very good reputation in NFL circles, but Marinelli has to go. He just has to. But who in the Hell knows what William Clay Ford is thinking? That's the wild card in this mess.

Eno: But back to the trade real quick. I think of Roy-Roy as a guy who can excel in a better environment. He was never going to get any better in Detroit; he topped off here. I just hope the Cowboys know that they got themselves a fumbler and a dropper of easy passes, to go along with those occasional spectacular grabs. Guess we'll never see that Drew Stanton-Roy Williams rapport here. *SIGH*

Big Al: I believe I said in an earlier edition of TKJWTFWEAA that Williams would "blow up" on a good team. With the Cowboys, Roy will have Terrell Owens on the other side of the field, drawing double teams. He'll make hay, so to speak. But Williams also has issues with focus (re: dropping catchable balls) and diva tendencies (showing up QBs and celebrating 1st downs while three scores behind). The Cowboy fan base, considering what Jerry Jones gave up to get Roy, won't be very forgiving if Williams pulls some of the stunts in Dallas that he did here in the D.

Eno: Well, it's a deal good for all parties, really: Williams, the Lions, and the Cowboys – because Jerry Jones says so! As for the other biggish news, QB Jon Kitna is “no longer” as far as 2008 goes, having been placed on IR. Your thoughts? He's done as a Lion, right? Even though he's under contract for 2009.

Big Al: Kitna's done. He's already burning bridges, having gone to the press, claiming he could play. There must be more to it. If Kitna wasn't hurt badly enough to miss the rest of the season, why not just demote him to 2nd or 3rd string? Obviously the Lions thought Kitna would become a locker room cancer (if he wasn't already) if he was no longer starting. We'll probably never know the entire truth.

Eno: Ahh, so you think they IR'd him as a way of performing cancer surgery? Interesting take. So who's the QB for 2009, oh sage one?

Big Al: Well, it's like taking a cleaver when you should have used a scalpel, but a good analogy. As for next season? I want to say Drew Stanton, but his unnecessarily missing a season on IR (in 2007) is still biting the Lions in the proverbial ass. No one knows if he can play. There's also the fact that if a new GM is brought on board, he may want his own guy under center. The '09 starter isn't on the roster. In other words, it'll be some veteran free agent.

Eno: Ahh, another Dave Krieg in our future! So, speaking of the Lions, how about those officials in Minnesota on Sunday, eh?

Big Al: You mean the guys wearing stripes who were on the Vikings’ payroll? It was one of the worst officiated Lions games in recent memory. The Lions "wuz robbed!" But bad calls have been abound in the NFL this season. It's become an epidemic. Maybe it's time the NFL went to full-time referees, instead of using insurance agents who have the weekend off!

Eno: I felt bad for (CB) Leigh Bodden. He actually played pretty well, then was victimized at the end there. I don't even know if that ball was catchable. The zebras obviously thought Calvin Johnson didn't have a chance at his pass near the end zone earlier in the game when Megatron was mugged. Johnson was jobbed, too (later in the game on a fumble call). I thought that Court of Appeals known as the Replay System was supposed to correct the wrongs done on the field.

Big Al: Yeah, right. And the NFL also says reviews are only supposed to take one minute. But as I said on TWFE, bad teams don't get calls. The Lions have rarely been given the benefit of the doubt by the refs. It's the same in all sports: good teams and good players get calls. The Lions aren't good, and their good players are few and far between.

Eno: True that. So what do you make of an NFL QB (Orlovsky) who runs out of the end zone like an electric football player? If Gus Frerotte would have done that, at least he would have run right toward the nearest wall and banged his head against it! Orlovsky didn't even give a reaction. He just kept running, right to the sideline. Didn't toss his hands up, didn't slap himself on the helmet, nothing. It was weird.

Big Al: Maybe Dan-O wanted a hot dog and a beer? I've never seen that happen before. Orlovsky just plain didn't realize where he was on the field. I've NEVER seen such a lack of field awareness from an NFL QB – and I use that term loosely.

Eno: At least when Jim Marshall ran the wrong way (for Minnesota in 1964), he was just a dumb old defensive lineman! He can't hear me, can he?

Big Al: You best hope not! At this point, nothing the Lions do on or off the field will surprise me. Even pulling a “Marshall”.

Eno: Hey, did you see Ty Conklin the other night? If the Red Wings get goaltending like THAT from their "backup", then there's no stopping them.

Big Al: Getting Conklin for essentially pocket change may be the best free agent pickup the Red Wings made this past off-season, even bigger than signing Marian Hossa. Just more proof that Ken Holland is the best GM in sports.

Eno: (The Red Wings) are just so much fun to watch, because of their puck possession style. At least once per game they get a goal as a result of tic-tac-toe passing. They're the anti-Lions. Plop-plop, fizz-fizz. So I've been dominating the discussion. Anything else on your mind?

Big Al: I've got nothing.

Eno: Well, other than you're going all hoity-toity on us and moving your act to MVN. I'm glad you're at least stooping to chat with a serf like me!

Big Al: Well, I'll always have time for the little people. Just talk to my people, first. You're no serf, Eno. You're more like a peasant. Seriously, I'm looking forward to moving to a big network like MVN. It should be fun. I'll be able to reach out to a bigger audience, and even better, I won't have to worry about design or the back end stuff. But nothing will change, content-wise. I'll still hold up my part in being a knee-jerk, profane blogger!

Eno: The thought of you having "people" is terrifying! But good luck with MVN and just don't forget the people you stepped on, on the way up! One more quickie: who's winning the World Series this year?

Big Al: Thanks for the kind words! As for the World Series, I'm picking the Phillies. If there is a city that needs a champion, it's Philly. The (Tampa Bay) Rays fans don't deserve a title, and don't get me going on Boston and their elitist, “It's all about us” fan base. Who's your MLB pick to click?

Eno: Well, if you wander over to Johnny Grubb and/or OOB (I posted it both places), I roasted the Rays fans. They averaged 22,000 per game – less than 50% capacity and 26th in MLB. That's pathetic for a first-place team. Take their team away!! I like the Red Sox. They're battle-tested. The Phillies are the Cubs, plus one. In my mind, 1980 (when the Phillies won the World Series) is the only thing that separates the Phillies from being even WORSE than the Cubbies, who at least have won more than one title in their history. So Bosox in six over....LA. Yep – the Dodgers will rally. Any team (the Red Sox) that has Stephen King rooting for them in the stands is OK in my book – no pun intended. So see you next week, Big Time, I mean Big Al!

Big Al: I'll be here, Mr. Journalist! See you next week!

Eno: Ah, touche!