Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Return Of "The Knee Jerks"!! Mourning Kell, Making Over Bubbles, Thinkin' Stafford No. 1

Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto the Web on Thursdays -- "The Knee Jerks" are back after a one-week hiatus!

As you must know by now, every Thursday I get my chat on with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we mourn the passing of George Kell; start to concede that the Lions will select Matthew Stafford first overall; ruminate about "Bubbles" the Lion getting a makeover; talk a little NCAA hoops; and deal with the usual suspects: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Carry on....


Eno: It's Thursday, and we're baaaack! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al," and we're returning after a one-week hiatus. I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Al, good to see you; I've missed you!

Big Al: Awwww, that's so sweet, I miss...No, I'm not getting all sappy. We're a couple of manly men talking about manly men things! Such as Detroit sports! With us Jerks taking a week off to charge our batteries, there should be plenty to talk about. What's on Eno's mind today?

Eno: Well, may as well get the sad stuff out of the way first. The legendary George Kell passed on Tuesday. It's so hard to say things that haven't already been said, but what are some of the things that spring to the top of your mind when you reflect on Kell and his career?

Big Al: Well, George, along with Ernie Harwell, was THE voice of the Tigers for several generations of fans. Especially those of us who came of age in the pre-cable days of TV. I'm sure most of us spent untold Saturday afternoons with George and Al Kaline calling the games on (what was then WWJ-TV, now WDIV) channel 4. When you were lucky to get one game a week televised, you made a point to watch. It helped that George was a GREAT broadcaster, with a voice most of us (of a certain age) imitated. "Hell-O Everah-body!" It takes me back to a time when I wasn't quite so jaded by big-time sports.

Eno: I used to pretend I was a ballplayer on the driveway, and I'd also pretend to be Kell, announcing my heroics. I started watching the Tigers when he was teamed with Larry Osterman. I loved the "Thanks, Larry, and good afternoon everyone" that began every broadcast. Remember Kell's pre-game show? It would come on at 2:00 on Saturdays, when the games started at 2:15. It's funny; Kell hasn't been on the air since 1995, but it's like he died during a baseball season in progress. That's how much he was in our consciousness.

Big Al: Kell was just as important to us fans as the players were, if not more. The players would change from season to season, but George Kell was always there, decade after decade, calling the games. It feels like we lost more than a play-by-play man; we lost a friend. He also deserves kudos for allowing Kaline to grow into the job as color man. Kaline was, to be blunt, lousy when he first joined Kell. But the longer they worked together, the better Al got. How many fan bases can say they had a pair of legit Hall of Famers calling their team’s games? It feels like we lost a friend, and I dread the day we have to eulogize Ernie Harwell.

Eno: Oh, I know re: Harwell. And you're right – Kaline wasn't very good in his first couple of seasons, at all. I'm just struck by how Kell stayed in the same town, and the same HOUSE, in Arkansas, all his life. Remember when it burned down a few years ago and they had to save him? Suddenly an old home movie of our daughter, from 1993, is even more precious now because while I shot it, the Tigers were on in the background. Not like when you and I were kids, when the movies were FILM and had no sound. This is videotape, and Kell and Kaline are on in the background. Awesome stuff.

Big Al: Indeed. They are of a different era, one that will never be replicated. So what else on your mind, Eno-sabi? Anything grinding your gears, get your goat?

Eno: Sure. I'm kinda annoyed, for whatever reason, about the Lions' coyness when it comes to their new logo, etc. It's getting tiresome to hear management REFUSE to confirm or deny the rumor. Why does that bother me?

Big Al: Losing your patience in your old age? I think the Lions are being forced to coy by the No Fun League. I'm sure the Lions are sick and tired of the hide-and-seek games as you. It quite possible the Lions will reveal everything during the draft, and introduce their number one pick in the new uni, next to the new, improved Bubbles the Lion. (I LOVE that name!) What do you think of the new Bubbles? I know it's no big deal, and only a merchandising grab, but I actually like the new Bubbles and logo font. As long as they don't f*** with the colors. The Lions ARE Honolulu blue and silver!

Eno: Yeah, it was alright. A subtle change, but sometimes subtle is all that's needed. Amen to keeping the color scheme! But why doesn't the team just SAY, "We'll have an announcement during the draft"? That would quiet just about all of the speculation. And yes, I AM getting crotchety. Been headed down that path for years!

Big Al: I'm waiting for you to yell, "Git of my lawn, you ne’er do well, you whippersnapper you!" I bet you walked uphill to school, in blizzard conditions while carrying 100 pounds of books, and battling the Nazis!

Eno: Not the Nazis – the Viet Cong. I was a Vietnam War-era kid! Don't make me older than I already am! Anyhow, what you got?

Big Al: I was just trying to Godwin our chat! I bring up the Nazis first, I win! We are trying to win, right? Oh, never mind. What's rolling around in the empty spaces of my mind? Well, speaking of the Lions, there are lead stories in the papers this week saying the Lions are entertaining offers for their second 1st round pick (number 20 overall), and would like to hear offers for the 1st overall. Personally, anyone who believes the Lions can trade the 1st overall selection has multiple screws loose. The contract is a cap killer, which is why I don't believe the Lions can do anything with the pick, other than draft the best player on the board, whoever it may be. As for number 20, they best receive multiple picks in return, including someone's number one, to make it worthwhile. In the end, I doubt the Lions make any draft day trades. Thoughts?

Eno: You know, you're probably right, although if they do anything, I think it'll be the No. 20 pick. I would be shocked if they trade the No. 1 overall. Speaking of that pick, there's some heavy chatter that Georgia QB Matthew Stafford is the guy. "Sources" are starting to indicate that the Lions have pretty much made up their mind. And they do appear to be spending more 1-on-1 time with Stafford than any other candidate. Does your gut tell you that it's Stafford, or no?

Big Al: If only for one reason, the money. Very few positions on the field can justify the sort of contract a 1st overall selection gets, which is likely to be in $35 million-plus range. QB is one of the few. It comes down to this...if the Lions think Stafford is the best player on the board, then DRAFT HIM. If they believe it's one of the left tackles (another position where you might be able to justify big dollars), say Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe, then DRAFT HIM. That the Lions are supposedly negotiating with multiple parties tells you they have 2-3 interchangeable players, talent-wise, at the top of their board. The first to agree to terms, is the first selected. I still think it'll be Stafford in the end, though.

Eno: Yeah, me too. I guess I've also kind of accepted the fact, too. As you know, I've not been crazy about the Lions going QB with the No. 1, but I guess that's simply being gun shy due to past mistakes. If it's Stafford, then that's cool. Whomever they pick is gonna feel the pressure, of course. If they DO go Stafford, how do you see it playing out? Daunte Culpepper is the starter, obviously. Does Stafford challenge this season, or not?

Big Al: If the Lions are smart, no. I repeat, NONONONONONONONO! It's not as if the Lions are playoff contenders. Culpepper is under contract for one more season, so let him play it out as the starter. Let Stafford hold the clipboard on game days, and watch and learn for a season. There are very few rookies, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan being big time exceptions to the rule, who can step in under center, and win games. The Lions messed up badly by forcing Joey Harrington into the starting role before he was ready. I'd hope they would have learned their lesson, right? RIGHT?

Eno: Wellll.....yeah, know. OK, so if not in 2009, when? At what point do you bring the kid in? It's not like a pitcher who you can shove into the fifth starter spot in the rotation. Stafford's either in or he's out at some point, right?

Big Al: That some point being 2010. At the very least, let him get his feet wet by slowly going into the pool, so to speak. Don’t shove the kid into the lineup because the Lions lose their first four games. Again, they aren't a playoff caliber team by any means. [Coach] Jim Schwartz has to think somewhat long-term, as he's essentially rebuilding the team from scratch. You have a stopgap for a reason, to play him till an understudy is ready. Culpepper is that one season stopgap, so use him as such, and plan on Stafford taking the reins in 2010. Seems simple, but for whatever reason (pressure from fans, the owner, the media, or in order to save their job) head coaches don't do the logical thing, which is sitting rookie QBs for a year. It was once common practice, but with today's "win now, or else" philosophy, it's common no longer. Schwartz is in an odd position, where he's not expected to "win now." He should use it to his advantage, and work a rookie QB in slowly. We can only hope...

Eno: True. Unlike with Harrington, the Lions have a coach who has, we presume, some honeymoon time in the bank. I agree that Culpepper is, for sure, the starter in 2009. But I worry about Daunte's health. Before we move on, how does Drew Stanton or a veteran backup play into the Culpepper/health thing?

Big Al: From what we hear out of Allen Park, it sure sounds like Stanton is not long for the team. Martin Mayhew is on record saying he would like to sign a veteran QB. We've seen two different coaching regimes shuffle Stanton to irrelevancy, which says volumes. There's no reason why the latest regime would see anything different in Stanton. It seems the only person on the Lions who liked Stanton was Matt Millen. That and 50 cents will get you a phone call telling the folks you've been cut. At this point, I can't see the Lions salvaging Stanton's career, do you?
Eno: Well, I can still see him as a practice squad guy, vying for a spot as a backup. You have Culpepper, a veteran, and if Stanton's the backup and Stafford is no. 3, then yes, you've got two kids, but do you really think you're going to the playoffs one year after 0-16? So, if Daunte goes down, you got a couple kids to take a look at. It might be similar to when the Cowboys teetered between Steve Beuerlein and Troy Aikman in the early-1990s.

Big Al: Unfortunately, sending Stanton to do battle with Stafford (if that's what happens), it would be the equivalent of sending him to a gunfight armed with only a knife. Stanton is the wrong guy on the wrong team at the wrong time. It might be best for all involved to cut bait. The Lions need to completely move on from the Millen Era, and to Stanton's dismay, he'll always be associated with the biggest GM failure in recorded history. If it weren't for bad luck, Stanton would have no luck at all.

Eno: Well, there's that. Good point. I'm not pushing for Stanton; if the Lions cut him, so be it. I just thought it would be nice for the MSU kid to make it as a Lion, but the team hasn't had too much luck with former Spartans (see Rogers, Charlie). Let's hope that changes with Julian Peterson. OK, I believe I hear the low spark of High Heeled WordAss!!


Big Al: OK, Mr. Winwood, feel free to get your yah-yahs...uh, I mean, WORDASS out!

Eno: Let's go back to Mr. Peterson. Your knee jerk reaction/word association for the Lions' new Pro Bowl LB?

Big Al: A good trade! Anyone who thought Cory Redding was a young, effective player, (like a certain NFL rumor website that'll remain nameless...*cough* PFT *cough*) hasn't watched the Lions' defense over the past two seasons. The Lions needed a playmaker on defense, and Julian Peterson has been one his entire career. The question is, at 31 years of age, can he remain one? I think it was worth the risk.

Eno: I wrote at OOB that I hope he's not another Pat Swilling, but I really don't think so. OK, next: Allen Iverson.

Big Al: Aww, the GF just gave me some flowers! Lucky me! She likes me, she really likes me! But I digress. Um, The Answer? He'll never play for the Pistons again. A failed experiment for Joe Dumars. We can only hope he makes very good use with the cap space over the next two seasons, or the Iverson deal will truly go down in infamy.

Eno: Never again? Wow. OK, next: Tom Izzo's boys in East Lansing. AND, Suzy Merchant's girls from the same school.

Big Al: Izzo has a Final Four-caliber team. The odds are he'll never have another opportunity to actually have the home court advantage in a Final Four. He realizes it, and will coach accordingly. I wouldn't bet against him, I'll say that. As for the Sparty women, it sure had to feel good to beat the coach who essentially left MSU standing at the altar. That it was Dook made it even sweeter. Turns out Merchant can coach with anyone, even Joanne P. McCallie.

Eno: Indeed. One more: I say Tigers' fifth starter and you say....

Big Al: Nate Robertson, who has pitched well as of late in spring training. Uber-prospect Rick Porcello heads to Erie, and is in the rotation mid-season, while Dontrelle Willis starts in Toledo. At this point, he's a lost cause, a $22+ million mistake, you think?

Eno: Wow – I think you and I are 100% on this! That's exactly the way I see it going down, too. Can't wait to see Porcello, though. OK, your turn, Alness!

Big Al: Let's start with your take on the Tigers' bullpen, as you asked me about the fifth starter. I say Tigers' closer at the end of the season, and you say...

Eno: Oh, Brandon Lyon. No doubt. Forget the four straight dingers the other day. He's the closer; that's why the Tigers called him, and that's why he came.

Big Al: Even at the end of the season? OK. What about the young spring training phenom, the assumed Tigers closer in waiting, Ryan Perry?

Eno: Hmmm....2010.

Big Al: Close enough, though I think we may see him sooner, especially if the Tigers contend. *knock on wood* Next, knee jerk thoughts on the latest newspaper to go under in the U.S., one known for their in-depth coverage of the Michigan Wolverines, the Ann Arbor News.

Eno: Yeah, I read that the other day. As Fletch said, "It's ALL ball bearings now!" But seriously, I'm afraid this is the wave of the future. Just as long as the "papers" don't disappear entirely. At least the A-squared News is remaining online.

Big Al: The world is always going to need beat writers, right? It's the columnists who should be worried. I think the big local dailies are going to look quite different five years from now. We're the guys on the front lines of change. One more for you, Eno-san. I say this past season of Michigan Wolverines basketball, and you say...

Eno: A step in the right direction. I think the Wolves finally found their basketball coach. It's about damn time!

Big Al: Agreed. John Beilien went one game deep into the NCAAs with two walk-ons getting big minutes. If that doesn't prove Beilein isn't one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the nation, nothing will. Before we get to the Jerk of the Week, anything else you want to bring to the fore?

Eno: about the Red Wings? We're getting VERY close to playoff time. Guys are still banged up, but that's to be expected now. What's the biggest concern that doesn't have the word "goaltending" in it?

Big Al: Defense, with a capital D. Sure, the goaltending is an issue, and we couldn't consider ourselves Wings fans in good standing if we didn't worry about who's between the pipes. It's what we do. But it can't all fall on Ozzie [Chris Osgood] and Conk-Block [Ty Conklin]. When you give up five, six, seven goals, the defensemen have to answer for it as well. It's funny, the Wings have an All-World D-man in Nick Lidstrom, and Brad Stuart is having the best season of his career, and may get some Norris Trophy votes, but the D is still an issue. Maybe Mike Babcock should be playing Chris Chelios? I kid, I kid! Then again...

Eno: Niklas Kronwall has been off all season, and that's been a concern. Call me nuts, but I think that the defense will tighten up, maybe magically, in the playoffs. OK, your Jerk of the Week, fine sir?


Big Al: I'm going with UConn head basketball coach Jim Calhoun. A few weeks ago, he went ballistic defending his salary, as the highest paid Connecticut public servant, in a time when most people worry about having a paycheck from week to week. He came off as a condescending prick. Wednesday, Yahoo Sports broke the news that UConn violated several NCAA recruiting rules regarding a player Calhoun ended up dismissing from the team. Not exactly how you want to go into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAAs, eh? I hope Purdue cleans Calhoun's self-righteous clock. Who you got, Eno my man?

Eno: I've never been a Calhoun fan, and this doesn't do anything to change that! My Jerk – or in this case, Jerkette – is Duke womens basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie – if only because she had to feel like one as the MSU faithful booed her unmercifully while the Spartans woman-handled her team in the NCAAs. How's that "dream job" looking now, Joanne?

Big Al: I'm sure they are quite happy with her comeuppance in EL today, and deservedly so. I think that wraps up another webisode of the Knee Jerks. I think we did quite well after taking a week off. It's just like riding a bicycle, but I don't need a helmet...though some readers may think otherwise...

Eno: Some readers may think that you were one of those kids who wore a helmet to school, and rode the "little bus". Ahh, I kid you, my fine, Jerky Friend!

Big Al: Jerks to the end, sir! Till next time, then. I'll see you at the same Jerk time, same Jerk channel!

Eno: Adieu!

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