Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year! "The Knee Jerks" Will Help You Ring It In

It's another year, and the change of the calendar isn't stopping The Knee Jerks from spewing our rants.

Every Thursday, holiday or not, I engage in a sports gabfest with Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience. Before we began dipping into the beverages of choice to celebrate the coming of 2009, we took on some subjects. Namely, the 0-16 and bereft of common sense Lions; the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks; the Pistons' continuing search for consistency (and Al hates "small ball"); my concern with .500 Bowl teams; and, of course, WordAss and Jerk of the Week.

As you will......

Eno: Happy New Year everyone and welcome to yet another stirring rendition of “The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al”. I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Happy 2009, Al!

Big Al: Same to you, Eno. I have to say your new OOB site looks great, by the way! Nice way to ring in the new year. But I digress. Compared to the disappointments and controversy in Detroit during 2008, 2009 couldn't be much worse, right?

Eno: Thanks for the compliment, and I'll take time out to plug it: basically just combining posts from OOB and Grubber into one place, for anyone who should prefer "one stop shopping". OK, will there EVER be a webisode where we DON'T open with the Lions? Sheesh! OK, so dish, Al, about the Lions' moves and non-moves.

Big Al: My feelings on the latest news out of Lions-land are mixed. Hate mixed with revulsion!

Eno: Do go on, pray tell....

Big Al: OK, that may be overstating things a bit. But you can't be excited by William Clay Ford promoting from within. I have no idea whether Martin Mayhew will be a good GM or Tom Lewand a good president. But to not even have a rudimentary search for a proven, capable football man is moronic. Utterly and totally moronic. Christ, Bill Parcells looks to be on the open market! The TUNA! Yet, Ford, as is his wont, sticks with a pair of “yes men” who have been with the team during the worst time of the Lions’ rather inglorious history. I have no faith in the Lions finding an excellent head coach. None. God, I HATE this team...

Eno: Well, I am a little encouraged by the names of the coaching candidates; at least they come from winning organizations, and they're coordinators, for the most part. But you're right; the lack of getting the broom out and clearing out the executive offices is a big middle finger given to the fan base, and I don't understand that. I mean, don't the fans make Ford his $$? What does he want, 30K in the stands next season?

Big Al: As Ford never shows his face anymore (he was nowhere to be seen during either Marinelli's firing or the presser with Lewand and Mayhew), no one really knows what the old man is thinking. Sure, the assistants rumored to be interviewing are impressive, especially [Giants d-coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo and [Titans d-coordinator] Jim Schwartz. But interviewing, and acutally hiring, are two different things. I fully expect the worst case scenario, as I've experienced nothing but the worst case in my lifetime of Lions fandom. I hope they find the right guy. I expect they won't. For all we know, Al Groh is going to be the next coach of the Lions. I wouldn't put ANYTHING past them.

Eno: The best coaching hire Ford made was Joe Schmidt, and poor Joe couldn't stand Russ Thomas, so there you have it. Schmidt could have coached here for as long as he wanted -- he just didn't want to anymore. I think there might be cruel irony here: a decent coaching hire, but Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in the front office to cancel it out!

Big Al: Dumb and dumber! The blind leading the blind! The Lions get no benefit of the doubt anymore. None whatsoever. The only good move they made in recent memory was their announcing a price freeze on tickets. But even that is after they RAISED ticket prices after last season. The Lions just compound mistake after mistake after mistake. I honestly think the promotions of Lewand and Mayhew is another mistake. One good trade [Roy Williams] does not a good GM make.

Eno: True that. Life isn't fair, and neither is guilt by association. But that's what's happening here with Mayhew. Lewand, I have no real problem with. But if Mayhew is so sharp, someone else will hire him. So Ford shouldn't feel bad about casting this other incarnation of MM out the window. Guilt by association, though, sometimes proves to be prophetic. Plus, like I said, isn't the idea to sell tickets? And you don't get that component here – not even with a new coach from a winning org, like the Giants, Cowboys, or Patriots.

Big Al: Does Ford have any idea what the fans and media think? The man lives in damn near seclusion. It's obvious he doesn't care one iota what anyone, be it the media, the fans, the rest of the NFL, thinks. Ford makes decisions based on his gut feelings. Unfortunately, he's never realized his gut is telling him he has gas, not who should be running his team!

Eno: What does he do, anyway? I mean, what's going on in his life that's so gosh darn important that he can't show his face every once in a while? I mean, really. I'm tired of hearing of how nice Ford is, and how great he is to work for, and how he's so loyal. How about this, for a change: how about being loyal to his fans?? Where's the loyalty there? Where's the reward there? Everyone else gets theirs, except for the paying customers. Unbelievable.

Big Al: EXACTLY! It's not like we're asking for Ford to become Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones. But occasionally talking to the press to explain his thought processes could only help change the public's current perception for the better. Because, at the moment, the public believes Ford is an imbecile.

Eno: Ford has had trouble with the bottle in the past. Sorry to get so personal, but it's true. And sources have told me that, in the past, that battle has clouded his judgment. I'm not saying that's what's going on now, but it just goes to show that silence and disconnect can invite all sorts of speculation, which I admit is often untrue. Red Wings owner Bruce Norris was another heavy drinker. Bill Gadsby told me that when he was fired in 1969 after a 2-0 start, Norris had an amber-colored drink on the desk before him. See what not talking to folks does to bottom-feeding bloggers and ink-stained wretches like me?

Big Al: Hey, we can only go with what we see. And it isn't pretty. All you have to do to see how quickly the direction of a sports franchise can change is to look at the recent success of the Chicago Blackhawks. They were nothing more than the laughingstock of the NHL for decades. But once owner Bill Wirtz passed away, it was like a cloud was lifted from the organization. In a little more than a couple of years, the 'Hawks are a growing power in the NHL's Western Conference. I’m not wishing for anyone's death, but... Anyway, Ford Sr. HAS to step aside, give the reins to Bill Jr. Not going to happen, but we can dream...

Eno: The folks who wish Ford's death are another lot, but I see where that comes from. People do and say irrational things when they get pushed to the emotional brink. As has been said, a fine football team would have given these besieged folks in Michigan three hours every Sunday to take them away from the ills of this depressed economy. So it's not "just a football team", or "just a game". I know non-sports fans may snicker, but these teams we have in Detroit are part of the people's fabric.

Big Al: I know it's a cliche, but the fans are the true owners of the Lions franchise; Ford is just a caretaker. But yes, the frustration of being a Lions fan causes people to lash out in all kinds of ways, some of them not very pleasant. For all the grief this area has gone thru economically, is it too much to ask that our sports teams help us feel just a little better about things, even if it's only a little? Sometimes it feels like the Lions are just piling on! We're broke, jobless, the manufacturing lifeblood of the area is on the brink. So I can see how the Lions can push normally reasonable people over the brink of sanity. I'm a fairly mild mannered guy, but get me talking about the Lions, and MY BLOOD BEGINS TO BOIL!

Eno: OK, let's change subjects!! You looking forward to the NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field?

Big Al: NO! I'M NOT DONE RIPPING FORD TO SHREDS! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! OK, if we must... To be honest, not really. It's a nice event for the NHL, but why do it on New Years Day? I'll likely be watching college football, like the rest of the nation. I'll catch parts of the Winter Classic, but [MSU] Spartans/[Georgia] Bulldogs will have my attention, not Red Wings/Blackhawks.

Eno: I guess that's what they made DVRs for, but I agree with you. Why New Year's Day? Still, I'm eager to see the Red Wings skating against the Blackhawks with breath steam billowing from their mouths and Ty Conklin wearing a knit cap, etc. Pond hockey lives!!

Big Al: Indeed. We can only hope they play in God awful weather, to add to the atmosphere. Actually, I'd be more likely to watch if it were held at night, when I'm footballed out. It would be more of a spectacle, like the Wolverines/Spartans outdoor game a few years ago. But we'd never see a regular season NHL game on NBC primetime.

Eno: A nighttime outdoors match would be very cool. Do you know that Conklin will have dressed for all three of these things? Kinda weird, huh? But beyond just playing outdoors, this is a great rivalry heating up again. You mentioned the Blackhawks, post-Old Man Wirtz. Folks in Detroit should know that Chicago fans couldn't watch home games on TV until THIS YEAR. These 'Hawks are the real deal, no?

Big Al: I'm beginning to believe, as they are rapidly gaining on the Red Wings in the Central Division. I didn't know the NHL had a rule requiring Conklin to play in every outdoors game.
Big Al: But getting back to the Blackhawks. They've become a very smart franchise, looking to the Wings for inspiration. The day they hired Scotty Bowman away from Detroit, I knew they were going to be back on track. But this quickly?

Eno: Good, young talent; I snickered when they fired coach Denis Savard so early in the season, but look at them now. I think it's great, actually. No other team in the Central Division gets me excited. But the Blackhawks being good again? Bring it on!

Big Al: Having another Original Six team competitive again in one of the USA's biggest media markets is all good for the NHL .No thanks to Gary Bettman, but I'm sure he'll find a way to take credit for it somehow. I hate Bettman almost as much as Ford, and that's saying something!

Eno: Indeed! OK, what's going on in that Big Al kind of brain of yours?

Big Al: Bad things, man. Bad things. Well, one thing on my mind is the Pistons. It looks like Michael Curry's fascination with “small ball” and playing four players out of position may be coming to an end. If the Pistons are to do anything this season, they need to play a true power forward at the four spot, move Tayshaun Prince back to the three, and bring either Rip Hamilton or Allen Iverson off the bench as the sixth man. Small ball should be used sparingly, as a change up, not your main offensive strategy.

Eno: Hey, don't forget what "small ball" has done for Rodney Stuckey's maturity! Seems to me that Stuckey didn't start thriving and gaining confidence until small ball arrived. And the Pistons are winning again. You want to fix what ain't broke? Al, say it ain't so!

Big Al: Yep. I just don't see the Pistons going very far with a small lineup. The Bad Boys Pistons (I know, we always seem to being them up) managed to play quite well with a three-man guard rotation, with a starting quality guard in Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench and providing instant offense. Why can't Hamilton or Iverson fill the same role? They'll be getting starter's minutes either way.

Eno: OK, YOU be the guy to tell A.I. that he's coming off the bench, then! In a perfect world, you might be right. But I don't see either of those dudes (Rip or Iverson) relinquishing the starter's role, unless they could somehow be assured that they'll be on the court in crunch time, when a potential game-winning shot may be needed. Do you?

Big Al: Which tells me more about Iverson or Rip than anything else. That they are unable to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. It seems to me that one of the guards coming off the bench, along with Antoinio McDyess, could make for a lethal second unit. But you're right; it's hard to see either guard giving up a starter's role. It's bull, but that's the NBA for you. Selfishness rules.

Eno: Well, it would certainly put to the test Iverson's insistence that it's all about winning a title at this point in his career, wouldn't it? Seriously, what about Stuckey? I wrote that he's the next great Pistons point guard. He's got a lot of Isiah and Bing and Chauncey in him, I believe. Of course, all three of those guys were cast out of the Pistons family, in one way or another – and all by Bill Davidson.

Big Al: Stuckey began to blossom during last season's playoff run, and hasn't stopped improving. I agree he's the next great Pistons guard. As for Davidson, that's one man I'd NEVER want to cross. Say one bad thing about him, or his organization, and expect to be shunned. The man expects loyalty from his employees. Who knew he had the balls to wash his hands of Isiah Thomas? Even more, who knew it was actually the right thing to do?

Eno: Exactly! If Zeke hadn't landed in Mr. D's doghouse, Joe Dumars might be back home in Louisiana, with no one ever knowing how slick of an executive he turned out to be. Stuckey amazes me. He has ice water in his veins. It's scary to think of how good this kid can be. I can see him in the NBA Finals someday, leading the Pistons as Isiah and Chauncey once did. Can you? Or am I overdoing it here?

Big Al: I can see Stuckey leading a team to the Finals, as long as they give up on the small ball! You have to give Dumars credit. He essentially turned what was a bust of a draft pick in Darko Milicic into Rodney Stuckey. Say what you will about Joe Dumars; at least he knows when he's made a mistake, and he corrects it, not compounds it. I'm sure many GMs would have never traded the second overall pick of the draft. Dumars didn't think twice.

Eno: This is true. He's not infallible; he's had his draft misses and not every acquisition has turned out (Tony Delk!) but he's over .500, and that's not bad. Ready for some WordAss?

Big Al: What the Hell, why not? Let's do it!


Eno: OK, I'll start. New England Patriots.

Big Al: Screwed. Totally screwed. It's amazing to finish 11-5 without your MVP QB, and STILL miss the playoffs.

Eno: Aaron Rodgers.

Big Al: [Former Packers coach after Vince Lombardi] Phil Bengston. Never be the man to replace a legend. You can't win.

Eno: Steve Spagnuolo

Big Al: Hire him. NOW! If the Lions are going to go the coordinator/assistant route, he's likely the best man for the job.

Eno: One more: Bill Cowher to the Jets?

Big Al: Insanity. Cowher has a sweet gig with CBS, and all the money he needs. Who needs the grief of the New Your media? OK, here's a few for you, good sir. As we're talking head coaches, let's start with one I can't believe still has a job, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips.

Eno: Phillips? The guy who gets you to here -- when you really want to get HERE. If you know what I mean.

Big Al: Yes, I do, much like Marty Schottenheimer. Let’s try someone who's likely sitting back home in Pennsylvania, cashing LARGE checks and laughing his ass off. Matt Millen.

Eno: Off the hook now. When a dog pees in the supermarket, you don't blame the dog. You blame the dog's owner for taking him to the market to begin with.

Big Al: Or take the dog for walkies! How about Millen's successor, the man who today said one reason he's qualified to run the Lions is "he reads the newspaper clips every day of the other 31 teams to see if he can glean any information, hoping to get a competitive edge," Martin Mayhew.

Eno: A poor man's Millen: an inexperienced former player now entrusted to be a quality GM.

Big Al: You know, if reading the paper means you're prepared to run an NFL franchise, then you'd think WE'D both be capable GMs. I'll vouch for you, as you did come up with the Eno Plan, after all!

Eno: I did! Got any more, or are you done?

Big Al: Let's go with one more. I'll stick with the football theme: The 2008 NFL MVP.

Eno: Wow. Hmmm....I'll go with.....Peyton Manning. I like him, no. 1, and he did lead the Colts from 3-4 to 12-4 when it looked like they were yesterday's news. You?

Big Al: The man has been on a tear in the second half of the season. I have to agree, Peyton Manning. Though you could make an argument that the best player in football was whatever QB was facing the Lions' defense. Opposing QBs had a 110 passer rating when playing the Lions. That's better than even Manning! Before we get to our "Jerk of the Week," is there anything else on the mind of Mr. Journalist? Any stones need turning ?

Eno: Well, I guess I would like to talk a little about Bowl games. I'm seeing 6-6 teams in there. I think that's a travesty. In a 12-game schedule, you should have to win seven games to qualify; .500 shouldn 't cut it. You lose the Bowl game, and you end up below .500. That cheapens it, as far as I'm concerned.

Big Al: You make too much sense! Any chance you can talk sense into the college presidents and conference commissioners, so we can finally get a playoff system? As much as I enjoy watching football every day of the week between Christmas Eve till after New Year’s Day, there are too many Bowl games, and not enough good teams to fill them. This gives you matchups like Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. I'm as big of a Detroit booster as there is, but do we really need a bowl game in the D?

Eno: Probably not; a trip to Detroit in December doesn't sound too thrilling if I'm a college football player. But then again, a Bowl game is a Bowl game, I suppose. There's pride involved. What do you think of MSU's chances against Georgia? Remember, the Bulldogs were a pre-season #1 pick by some "experts".

Big Al: I want to believe Sparty can bring it against Georgia, I really do. Then I look back to the blowouts against the two teams that were the class of the Big Ten — Penn State and tOSU. Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are building a program, but they aren't there yet. Bulldogs win big, giving the Big Ten another black eye. One of many, as they are already 0-2 in this Bowl season. What's your take?

Eno: I think MSU stays close but loses a heartbreaker. But I like them locking up coach Mark Dantonio. The guy's a little nuts, but you almost need to be anymore. He'll give RichRod a run for his money.

Big Al: As will the Michigan alumni and fan base if RichRod doesn't get the Wolverines winning again...soon! I think it's that time, Eno. You ready for "the Jerk of the Week?"


Eno: I am. I'm going with Lions CB Leigh Bodden, for calling himself "one of the best in the league." What league is he referring to? Because it ain't the NFL!

Big Al: Let alone that he was more than happy to throw the previous coaching staff, as they say, under the bus. My jerk is Lions' RB Kevin Smith for his moronic brain cramp in the final minutes of the Green Bay game, taking a silly personal foul for throwing the ball into the face of a Packer after being tackled. Whatever chance, however slight, the Lions had in beating the Packers ended the moment Smith was penalized. It was a fitting cap to the worst season in NFL history.

Eno: Pretty much. That is the Lions in a nutshell; always shooting themselves in the cleats. Well, my friend, Happy New Year again and let's hope TKJ thrives and prospers in 2009, and that someone picks us up for a national podcast!

Big Al: Your mouth to...well, someone's ears! Here's to a much better 2009 to all of us in Detroit! See you next year, Mr. Journalist!

Eno: Adieu!

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