Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Knee Jerks: The "Sorry we're late" Edition

Oh ye of little faith! Did you REALLY think we'd deny you your weekly serving of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al"?

Due to Al's bad Internet connection and my real life, we weren't able to chat until THIS MORNING. But here we are, and I'll dispense with the lengthy intro. Suffice it to say that every Thursday I talk sports with Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience.

That's it. We talk sports. That's all you need to know. The topics will become evident as you read -- I promise.

Now let's get ON with it!!


Eno: My, how time flies! Is it REALLY Thursday, already? Time for another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Al, before we begin, why don't you make another plug for your podcasty idea for TKJ.....

Big Al: We're thinking about extending The Knee Jerk "brand", if we can call it that, to audio. We'd like to move into the broadcast realm, via a podcast. We're thinking of going to Blog Talk Radio. For one reason, its ease of use, and two, its ease of use, and three, it's easier to get up and running than finding the time to edit a podcast. As for BTR, You just go to the page, and click “play” to hear our live broadcast, and it's archived for download. If you've ever heard me do a podcast or a radio bit, you know I like to talk...and talk and talk. Eno? well, he'll just have to keep up. Anyway, we'd love to get your feedback. We'll keep you all in the loop. Anything you'd like to add before we move on to the news of the day?

Eno: No, that all sounds fun and exciting, except what do I do when I have to walk the dog?

Big Al: Depending on the news, we can keep the podcast short, say half and hour. Otherwise, I'll talk and talk and talk while you do the deed. Plus, on Blog Talk Radio, we can take callers. So there's a few options there. The podcast could be an option, but we'll have to learn the technical end of it. Either way, I think our readership would enjoy it. They're a smart bunch...

Eno: Smarter than the average listener! Probably smarter than us, too. Anyhow, I can't wait to see the feedback. It'd be fun to take our Jerkosity to the next level. OK, let's kick things off with some post-NFL Draft talk. I whined on OOB on Wednesday that it's too early to "grade" the draft. But now I'll do an about face and ask you, "How 'bout that draft, Al?"

Big Al: Some people may be surprised, but I really liked the Lions’ draft. They picked the top player at four different positions: QB, TE, S, and KR. No other team can say so. I can't say this enough: when you’re 0-16, and have lost 22 of 23 games over two seasons, talent trumps need. And every position is a position of need. So all of those fans and "experts" (the experts being mostly hack columnists) who are upset over not addressing every defensive need, did they really expect the Lions to solve ALL of their problems in one draft? It's an impossible task. So taking the best available player, regardless of position, was the right thing to do!

Eno: Well, if the Lions can somehow snatch Steeler-for-now LB Larry Foote, then their corps won't be too bad: Foote, Ernie Sims, and Julian Peterson—with Deandre Levy around to learn. Obviously, there was something about Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis that scared them off. I like a safety in Round Two. I hope Matthew Stafford's baseball cap doesn't come off once this season—for that will either mean "panic in Detroit" (right, David Bowie?) or an injury to Daunte Culpepper. I think I'd feel better if Stafford was No. 3 and they grabbed a veteran backup. Sorry, Mr. Stanton!

Big Al: You have to think the Lions' brain trust saw the Foote move coming, though he hasn't yet been cut. (That should happen early next week) But signing the former Wolverine would go a long way toward filling what I like to call the gaping maw at MLB. No way in Hell could the Lions go another year with Paris Lenon, a special teams player masquerading as a starting MLB. As for QB, I think Stanton is living on borrowed time as well. As I put it on TWFE, he's the QB no one wanted...other than Matt Millen. I don't know who the veteran QB will be at this point, as we're going to see more situations like Foote's in Pittsburgh throughout the NFL. There will be serviceable backups on the market soon. The Lions will wait it out till it gets closer to camp, and see what veteran QBs are looking for work. Someone better than Stanton is bound to be available, and available at a cheap rate.

Eno: You NEED a veteran around. It's too important of a position, and too fraught with injuries, to hand the reins to a rookie. Having an experienced vet can save your season. The Lions aren't likely to be playoff contenders in 2009, but you never know. Remember what Dave Krieg did for the Lions in 1994? OK, so one more query about the draft and then we'll move on: were you surprised by Mark Sanchez-to-the-Jets?

Big Al: What? Didn't Drew Henson qualify as a veteran backup? Indeed, Krieg was the best QB on the Lions' roster in ‘94, as Scott Mitchell, Wayne Fontes' savior at QB, didn't play all that well, and then went down with an injury. Krieg saved the season, and quite likely, Fontes' job. We've seen it time and again in Detroit. Remember 1979, when the Lions lost both starter Gary Danielson and his veteran backup, Joe Reed, before the season even started? That led to the short lived, and much reviled, Jeff Komlo Era. I'm NOT saying Stafford = Komlo. I AM saying rookie QBs, no matter how talented, are rarely ready to step in as the starter in their first season. As for the Jets, their “man crush” on Sanchez was something to behold. They essentially gave up five players in return for the USC rookie who has started only 16 games in college. Then again, there were some "experts" who liked Sanchez more than Stafford, so it's not surprising he went so high. But to give up so much? Sanchez best be the next coming of Joe Willie Namath for the Jets. Speaking of drunk QBs (OK, bad segue, but I had to get the Namath - Kolber thing in) do you see Stafford starting at all this season? The cries will be heard for him if the Lions, as they are bound to do, get off to a bad start.

Eno: I PRAY he doesn't play one down, unless it's in a "kneel down" situation. Let him sit the year out, learn, and compete for the starting job in 2010. I would MUCH rather have a veteran on the sidelines, ready to step in. OK, your turn to pick a topic. I should mention to our readers that this is as close to doing TKJ "live" as we've ever done. It's pushing 11am and we'll have this posted this afternoon!

Big Al: Damn straight. Thanks to lousy internet connections (now fixed) and life in general (it happens), we've been trying to get this done since noon Wednesday. That's dedication, folks! I know we touched on this some last week, but it's worth quickly bringing up. Pistons grand Pooh Bah Joe Dumars spoke to the media Wednesday, and confirmed (to most fans’ regret) that head coach Michael Curry would return next year. Dumars pretty much confirmed what we've been saying: he put Curry in a very bad spot with the failed (on the court, anyway) Allen Iverson trade. I think Curry was God awful this season, Iverson be damned (I HATED small ball) and didn't deserve to return. What's your final take on the Curry situation?

Eno: My take is that it's too bad...all the way around: too bad for Curry to be in that situation; too bad for the players who had the carpet yanked out from beneath them after the Iverson trade; too bad for the fans, who want to see a new coach next season. I think Curry keeps his job so Dumars can save face, frankly. This might be one of the most interesting off-seasons in recent Pistons history, no?

Big Al: Yes? (I'm never sure how to answer "no?") Joe Dumars' reputation is on the line with the next couple of off-seasons. I really think there are only a few safe bets to return: Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and...and...well, that's about it. Everyone else is either already out the door ('Sheed, McDyess, Iverson, Herrmann) or trade bait (Prince and Hamilton, Afflalo, Brown, Maxiell) The Pistons literally rolled over and quit against the superior Cavs, and only Antonio McDyess played like he actually gave a sh*t. I'm ready to blow it up. Blow it up good... But which free agents want to come to Detroit? I think a trade for a big name or two is more likely, as some Pistons do have value (Even if some of them rolled over and played dead in the playoffs. I’m looking at YOU, Prince!).

Eno: Well, the Pistons aren't the "slam dunk" that everyone thinks they are in terms of attracting free agents. Dumars must make his team look attractive to potential FAs. You can't just throw the Pistons name out there and expect everyone to flock, like before.

Big Al: Not that they ever did. The free agents Dumars' made hay with in the past were either role players who blossomed with the Pistons (Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups), or injury risks (McDyess). He’s never been able to attract a true "star". But he did make some very good trades, stealing Hamilton and 'Sheed for peanuts. I actually have more faith in Joe D finding a roster fix via trade, than in the draft or free agency. There's going to be several teams looking to dump salary in order to avoid the NBA luxury tax. Someone like Amare Stoudamire could be available, and the Pistons are one of the few teams with the cap room to take him. Whatever tack he takes, Dumars has his work cut out for him.

Eno: Indeed he does. This is his second reclamation project with the team. He did pretty well in the post-Grant Hill Era. Let's see what he does this time. OK, change of topics. The Tigers just got spanked twice out of three games to the Yankees. Big innings killed them. Was the bullpen, and Rick Porcello, simply due, or is there cause for concern? The AL Central, as expected, is a logjam and no one is off to a blazing start.

Big Al: I'm not all that worried about the relief pitching, unless Nate Robertson or Brandon Lyon answer Jim Leyland's call in the bullpen. They have been lit up, especially Robertson. It's been a hard fall for him, as he was a solid end of the rotation guy till last season, when he just plain lost "it", whatever "it" may be. He's the highest paid mop-up man in baseball history. I don't trust him in ANY high leverage situation. I'm getting the same feeling with Lyon, who was supposed to be the closer, and who is now pitching himself out of a set-up role. But Joel Zumaya is back, and is pitching well late in games, Fernando Rodney is holding his own as the closer, and Ryan Perry is just wild enough to scare hitters from digging in on him. I'm willing to live with his growing pains, considering his 100 MPH fastball. The pen will be fine. As for the rotation, it's been very good. Edwin Jackson has been a revelation, Armando Galarraga is the real deal, Justin Verlander threw like his old self on Monday, dominating the Yankees. Jeremy Bonderman is close to returning. So I'm not all that worried about the pitching, save for the usual suspects. What's your take, Eno?

Eno: I'm pleased with the starters, I really am. Nick Swisher of the Yanks was duly impressed with Verlander and others on the staff. As for Zumaya, he and Leyland agree that it's time to start "pitching" now, instead of chucking it up there. Leyland says 98, 99 MPH doesn't cut it anymore; you have to have movement, and a breaking ball—which Zoom Zoom needs to get under his command. I'll take 11-10 and first place. I don't see anyone in the Central winning much more than 90 games, frankly. But you'd better win it; the Wild Card will be coming from elsewhere.

Big Al: Before the season started, I said the Tigers would hover around .500 all year, which would be enough to contend in the Central. Nothing I've seen so far has changed my opinion, and their 11-10 record bears it out. Hey, first place is first place, right? But there are some worries. The left side of the infield has been less than stellar defensively. Sure, Brandon Inge is getting to far more ground balls, but thanks to that athleticism, he seems to think he can make insane throws, when holding on to the ball would be the prudent move. Adam Everett has been outplayed, both in the field and at the plate, by Ramon Santiago. Why was Everett signed again?

Eno: I love Santiago, but we'll apparently never know what he can do with 500 at-bats.

Big Al: The top of the order has yet to really start hitting as well. The Tigers can't depend on Inge to lead the team in power stats. The top five in the order needs to get going. And I have to mention catcher Gerald Laird. He was stolen from the Rangers; he's a big upgrade from Pudge Rodriguez.

Eno: OK, it's time for some WordArse!! Ready?


Big Al: Sure, let's play some Word Association. I'm ready, willing and somewhat able. Fire away, my journalist friend...

Eno: OK, I say "Red Wings-Ducks" and you say....

Big Al: Wings in six. I hate the Mighty Ducks, I hate insanely late west coast starts and I HATE Chris Pronger. Did I say I HATE Pronger? Cuz I HATE Pronger! HATE!!!

Eno: I think I get the idea. OK, next: Pavel Datsyuk, Hart/Selke/Lady Byng finalist.

Big Al: HATE!!!

Eno: Am I gonna have to get you some limburger cheese, Curly?

Big Al: MOE! LARRY! CHEESE! It's either that or playing "Pop Goes the Weasel!" Even if Pavel’s the best two-way player in the NHL, Dats will win the Selke and Bing as consolation for losing the Hart.

Big Al: HATE!!! PRONGER!!!

Eno: Ah, OK. Two more: Brett Favre, who says (get this) that he wants to "retire as a Packer"

Big Al: Don't go away mad, but just go away, Favre. I read Favre asked for his release from the Jets. He can't actually be thinking of playing another season, can he? It would be fitting that he leaves the NFL the same season John Madden, who LIVED for Favre, left as well. Good riddance to both of 'em. They are both shadows of themselves...


Eno: I love it! OK, last one: Chris Pronger.

Big Al: Cute. Real cute... I HATE THAT TALL GOON!!! Ready, Eno-sabi?

Eno: I'm open!

Big Al: I know, hit you! Let's start with a player you might be familiar with, a point guard who chewed up and spit out the Hornets, Chauncey Billups!

Eno: Oh, what might have been in Detroit this season! Good for him. He taught that young whippersnapper Chris Paul a thing or two about point guarding in the playoffs!

Big Al: Yes, he's quite good at the basketballing. Next, one of the most pleasant surprises of the Tigers' season, catcher Gerald Laird.

Eno: I liked Laird with Texas, and I was “pleased as punch”, as they say, when the Tigers acquired him. I don't expect him to keep this up offensively, but I liked him for his defense anyway.

Big Al: I say Matthew Stafford is making more money than Tom Brady, and you say...

Eno: That's the way of the world. And it should change, but how? Any crabbing about that appears to be doing you-know-what into the wind.

Big Al: Spitting? I would have used another word, but I know you run a family friendly blog, unlike the profane one I run! One more for you...who wins that most entertaining first round NBA series, the Celtics or the Bulls?

Eno: Oh, the Celts, but what a tough time they're having with those pesky Bulls. And Ben Gordon isn't 100% healthy. Remember, the Celts had fits with the Hawks last spring in Round One.

Big Al: And they are missing Kevin Garnett. Not that it makes a difference who wins, as no one is beating LeBron James, who is apparently on a mission to finally win the city of Cleveland a title. Before we wrap things up, is there anything else on the buttoned down mind of Eno?

Eno: No, I think we'd better move right into Jerk of the Week. And guess what? Tag, you're it!! By the way, nice old Bob Newhart reference with the “buttoned down mind” thing!!


Big Al: I figured you'd get it, but anyone younger than 40, not so much. I suggest they dig up some old Newhart standup, and be prepared to be entertained. But I digress... My jerk of the Week is...WDIV, channel 4 in Detroit, who has hired...NO, I can't bring myself to write this...suck it up, dude! Crap. I'll just blurt it out. WDIV hired the worst columnist in America, my mortal enemy, disgraced former Detroit News columnist Rob Parker, to write commentary for their website. Just when you think he's gone... The Detroit sports community just got that much dumber with the functionally retarded one's return. *facepalm* OK, your turn!

Eno: Hard to follow THAT JOTW, but I'll give it a try. Mine is Peter Gammons, who tried to give traction to a ridiculous "Tigers might trade Cabrera" rumor!!

Big Al: Oh, good Lord, that was ridiculous. I was so glad [Tigers GM] Dave Dombrowski stopped that silly rumor in its tracks. Well, it took us 24 hours, but we did it! We've reached the end of another Knee Jerks!

Eno: FINALLY! Now, just have to edit the darn thing and get it on the Net before our readers show up to our blogs with pitchforks and torches!

Big Al: No, they would never do that. They like us. I think. Till next week, same jerk time, same jerk channel, same jerk attitude, same Jerk...Well, you get my drift...

Eno: You bet. I'll be Jack Lord this week: "Be there. Aloha."

Big Al: HATE!!! PRONGER!!!!

Eno: Um, yeah. I got that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Too Early To "Grade" NFL Draft, But That Doesn't Stop Folks From Trying

All the rancor about the NFL Draft reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, uttered back in the day, long before the Internets, by a frustrated NFL coach.

Fed up with the supposed expertise of the blabbermouths in the broadcast booth and on talk radio, the coach had himself an idea.

"I'm going to Radio Shack to buy me one of those headset things," the coach said.

Why's that, coach?

"Because as soon as you put them on, you instantly know everything," the coach said.


I'd like to modify that a tad--bring it up to date.

In addition to a headset, the NFL coach of today should also discover the miraculous healing power of tapping onto a keyboard.

That's all you need--a broadcast headset and a laptop by your side.

The blabbermouths on TV and radio and the bottom feeders on the Net know it all.

That's the shortcut; the substitute for months of research and looking at film and conducting interviews and doing due diligence.

Ah, why bother with all that when you can just slip on some cans and pound away viciously on the keyboard?

I must laugh at all the letter grades that are doled out, sometimes within 24 hours of the completion of the draft. I chuckle at the disgusted tones I hear on sports talk radio -- from the hosts and John on his cell phone tooling down I-696.

How can you properly "grade" a draft mere hours and days after it occurs?

You can't.

How can you be 0-16, have as many holes as the Lions have on their roster, and say that you don't "need" certain things, like a quarterback?

You can't.

The Lions need pretty much everything, and last I checked, they were only able to select one player No. 1 overall. It would have been nice if the league had given the Lions an exemption and allowed them to grab as many players as they could in, say, thirty seconds -- like one of those game show shopping sprees. Or the money tank that you step into as the dollar bills swirl all around you.

Snatch as many players as you can!

Doesn't work that way.

The Lions picked QB Matthew Stafford No. 1. Then they selected TE Brandon Pettigrew with their other first round pick. Safety Louis Delmas was the second rounder.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, the headset wearers and keyboard mashers said.

"I'm really disappointed with this draft," one of the WXYT loudmouths said the other day as I tuned in within my car. He said it with the proper tone of morose typically reserved for being told you've been laid off or something of true relevance.

Aww, poor baby. He's disappointed.


These are the players who, after the months of interrogation and watching film until eyes glazed over, are your new Detroit Lions.

But what about the past??

Gone. Water under the bridge. Milk, spilled. Done like dinner.

Look, we won't truly know whether Draft '09 was good or not till a few years down the road.

As usual, it will likely come down to the players picked on Day Two, anyway.

Those are where the gems are found, the so-called diamonds in the rough. The players whose contributions provide depth and football accumen on the cheap. The ones who round out your roster nicely.

All the championship teams have such players. The Day Two guys are often the ones that save your bacon as a GM or personnel guy.

Lions' second round pick, S Louis Delmas from Western Michigan; we won't know if this was a smart pick for several years

The Lions should have picked LB Aaron Curry No. 1 overall. What were they doing drafting a tight end in the first round? Why not grab Rey Maualuga in round two? He was sitting right there! Same with Ohio State's James Laurinitis.

What the hell?

We'll see soon enough.

Charlie Rogers, in his first game as a Lion in 2003, made two spectacular catches for touchdowns against the Cardinals at Ford Field. Matt Millen looked good in drafting Charlie as high as he did. You wouldn't have had any arguments from any of the 60,000+ fans in the stands that September Sunday afternoon.

Great draft pick!

It wasn't until 2006, when Rogers showed his true colors as a football talent, following some injuries and brushes with the rules.

Wasted draft pick!

One of the cell phone dudes called in to WXYT on Sunday.

"Stafford's not going to make it. He'll be a bust!"

Oh, really?

The Lions should have hired that guy. Would have saved them a ton of time on research and interviews and film watching.

He's not going to make it. He'll be a bust.

So says Cell Phone Guy.

No draft can be properly gauged before they pump up one football for the upcoming season. You can't do it when the uniforms these players are wearing are Armani suits.

But Cell Phone Guy and Headset Dude and Keyboard Masher have it all figured out, already.

I wonder how much they'd work for, if hired? Probably could save a bundle of cash.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ripping Apart These Pistons Can't Happen Soon Enough

So how do you eulogize a team that's been on life support for most of the season?

What can you say about the Detroit Pistons and their feeble effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs?

I had the Pistons six feet under two months ago, so I've already said my piece about their demise. Though I had no idea it would come with the resistance of balsa wood.

Right now, the Pistons' death as Eastern Conference elitists should be treated like the death of a despised relative: with courtesy but not much else.

President Joe Dumars' bunch annoyed me all season, and I confess that I didn't watch but a few minutes of the four games. I refuse to call it a series anymore because it really wasn't. That gives the term "playoff series" a bad name.

No, I didn't watch the Cavs' dismantling of their once rivals, but that doesn't mean I don't know how gruesome it was.

I wasn't a witness to the Manson Murders, but I have a pretty good idea how that went down, too.

So the end of the Pistons' "era", as we like to put it, came with nary a whimper. Rasheed Wallace didn't get kicked out of the game. The fans were too apathetic to boo or even jeer.

The kings are dead; long live the King

This was about as much of a non-playoff set of games as you'll ever see in the NBA.

Even the dregs of the league usually win at least one game in these No. 1 vs. No. 8 seed set-ups.

But a series never broke out. The teams played 192 minutes, and I'm guessing--by the scores and by the reports from those who drew the short straws and had to cover the games--that the Pistons were competitive for maybe 25 percent of those minutes.

LeBron James needn't have had his jersey laundered after any of the matches. Why waste the water and the soap, when he didn't even break a sweat?

The Pistons' last "big" playoff effort came in last year's Game 2 of the Final Four, when they put forth a gutsy performance in beating the Celtics in Boston. The series looked like it might go their way; the Celtics, remember, were 0-6 on the road in the playoffs.

But instead of taking control and keeping that seed of doubt firmly planted in the Celtics' heads--the one that said, "You'll never win on the road...NEVER!""--the Pistons let them off the hook with a curiously uninspired day's work in Game 3 in Detroit.

It's only gotten worse since then.

Dumars was disgusted with the way his team capitulated in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Celtics series. He vowed changes. He spoke of how there were no sacred cows.

I can't even imagine what he thinks today.

Dumars's "Bad Boys" of 1991 showed some fire--albeit in a very unsportsmanlike way--when their reign of terror ended in the East. They sauntered off the floor, before time expired, walking right past the Chicago Bulls on their way to the locker room.

Dumars stayed behind, uncomfortable in participating in such a display.

Let's see how uncomfortable he is in tearing Bad Boys Lite apart. He ought to feel very comfy and cozy about it, if you ask me.

The sooner you crack this nucleus and give it a makeover, the better.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lions Right To Not Let Past Paralyze Them

If you had a couple pieces of bad fish—once in 1990 and again in 2002—would that make you swear off fish forever? Even if those pieces of fish were purported to be some of the finest fish in the land?

The Lions will make Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Another piece of fish that’s supposed to be delectable.

Well, dig in, I say!

My colleague and sometimes mentor Jerry Green, semi-retired from the Detroit News, likes to call the draft the NFL version of pin the tail on the donkey. I’ve always liked that analogy.

It’s also appropriate, because the folks who blab into microphones and type furiously onto keyboards about which team should pick which player at what time, often become the donkey personified. Or, to be more accurate, the rear end of said donkey.

Some of these donkey posteriors showed up in Madison Heights on Monday as the Lions unveiled their new logo and uniforms.

As team president Tom Lewand began to address the throng, chants of “Curry! Curry!” filled Dunham’s sporting goods store, where we all had gathered. It didn’t sound spontaneous.

The chant was for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the fierce defender who’ll certainly be a pro football star.

A few moments later, Lewand made mention of the draft, foolishly—opening himself up to another verbal assault.

The “Curry! Curry!” chants started up again. Sounded like they came from the same group of donkey posteriors.

Lewand made a joke, laughing off the anti-Stafford sentiment that filled the building.
They kept at it, throughout the unveiling.

This is as good as time as any to play some truth or dare.

Truth? I was a supporter of Curry. Still am, in a way. The Lions had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL last season. If you’re drafting for need, you could do a whole lot worse than Curry, who’s going to have some NFL city in the palm of his hand, someday.

Go with defense, I wrote. You can pick up a quarterback later on. Some of the greatest of them were drafted in rounds that would make your head spin. I like to use Tom Brady as an example. Brady was so disregarded by everyone, including the Lions—who should have known better because Brady played in their backyard at Michigan—that he slipped all the way to the sixth round in 2000.

Joe Montana was snubbed for 81 picks before the San Francisco 49ers took a flyer on him in the third round in 1979.

Johnny Unitas, no less, was waived out of the league and was playing semi-pro ball when the Baltimore Colts found him and suited him up.

I could go on and on. But I won’t.

I was one of those who wanted to play it “safe” and draft Curry, rather than roll the dice on a quote-unquote franchise quarterback.

True confession time, like I said.

I wanted the Lions to roll over—all because they had a couple pieces of bad fish. I wanted them to swear off fish, until they could find some cheaper catches in the later rounds.

I’m changing my tune.

The Lions are drafting Stafford, and good for them. They’re doing so in the face of an inglorious history of drafting quarterbacks. Especially in the first round.

But the Lions, for a change, aren’t letting history paralyze them. They’re not playing this draft “not to lose.” They’re playing to win it.

They see a potential great one in Stafford. And they’re going to draft him.

Stafford's No. 1 in the Lions' eyes; then they ought to draft him

By the size of the reported contract, looks like they’re going to spring for some malt vinegar and extra tartar sauce for their new prized fish.

The bad pieces of fish were Andre Ware, the gunslinger from the University of Houston (1990), and Joey Harrington, the piano-playing, optimistic kid from Oregon (2002).

Ware looked like a great fit for the Lions. He operated the frenetic run-and-shoot offense in Houston, racking up touchdown passes and yards like a video game QB.

The Lions had just switched to the NFL version of the run-and-shoot. They had Barry Sanders to run the ball. They had a cache of receivers; some of them were even mediocre. The others were ... well, let’s just say that their hearts were beating.

So why not draft Ware to be the gunslinger?

But Ware held out of training camp, dickering over the dollars and cents required to be the team’s new gunslinger.

He missed precious, invaluable training camp time as his agents and the Lions played chicken with each other.

By the time Ware finally signed a contract and reported to the team, his rookie year was shot, for all intents and purposes. He’d end up spending the rest of it trying to catch up.

Remember the scene from The Shining when Shelly Duvall realizes that Jack Nicholson has been typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again?

One of the most frightening moments in film history, says me.

Well, Duvall’s horror is what the Lions felt when they learned that Ware lacked a key component to being a legitimate NFL quarterback: the ability to throw a ball anywhere near an intended receiver.

All that typing Nicholson was doing, and he wasn’t writing a book, as promised.

All that book learning Ware was doing, and when it was his turn to whip the football around on the field ... the Lions became Shelly Duvall.

The other piece of bad fish, Harrington, lacked the mental toughness to even live in Detroit, much less be its quarterback.

You could add Chuck Long, from the 1986 draft, as another bad piece of fish.

OK, so three pieces of bad fish.

But the Lions aren’t swearing off fish. They’re gonna reel Stafford in with the No. 1 pick Saturday afternoon in New York.

It’s not a “safe” pick. Not at all. In fact, it’s fraught with danger.

But if you feel, in your gut, that Stafford is the quarterback of your dreams—the one that could wash away the stench from Chuck Long and Andre Ware and Joey Harrington—then pick him and do so with confidence and maybe even a little defiance.

Play the draft to win, not to “not lose.”

I’m proud of the Lions. For a change.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Red Wings Show Their Composure, Experience In Game Four

The Red Wings have moved on. With only a little bit of hand-wringing. Not bad for a first round, eh?

A series didn't break out until late in the second period of last night's Game Four in Columbus. Rick Nash finally shed his Rip Van Winkle impersonation, awoke from his slumber, and netted a goal.

Chris Osgood, apparently struggling physically with something, was obliging the Blue Jackets with some borderline soft goals and unprotected rebounds.

The Red Wings were in a very un-playoff-like 5-5 tie. Those Detroit fans holding tickets for home playoff game "C" weren't sure if they were going to need to use them this weekend or sometime next week.

Their weekend is now free and clear.

So is the Red Wings' -- along with the Blue Jackets' spring. Tee times are probably being arranged even as you read this.

The Red Wings used some mental flatulence by the Jackets to finagle themselves a series-winning power play goal with 46.6 seconds left. Johan Franzen, The Mule, played the playoff hero once again.

A penalty for too many men on the playing surface is one of sports' delightfully derisive infractions.

We snicker at it, whether it happens in football or hockey. Unless it happens to your team, of course.

Too many men? Who on the team can't count?

At least with football, you have to count all the way up to eleven.

What's the excuse in hockey?

The Red Wings cleared the puck to center ice, trying to quell the pressure that the Jackets were sustaining for several antsy minutes late in the third period. It appeared that the Detroiters were just trying to hang on and get into the locker room to regroup for overtime.

Which they were.

Until a sixth Blue Jacket entered the fray, quite illegally.

If you're the sixth skater on the ice in a situation that only allows five, it's best to keep a low profile. Maybe you'll get away with it.

But the sixth Jacket took it upon himself to play the puck, which meant the entire building was looking at him. Not the least of which were the linesmen.


The Red Wings played the ensuing power play with typical cool and under control. They knew that they had about 90 seconds. Some teams would act as if their goalie was pulled and start flailing away and making plays that were desperate. Sometimes that works, but what works better is, when you're as talented as Detroit, you play within yourselves and do what you've done all year.

The Red Wings have the league's top-rated power play for a reason. They score a lot on it.

And they score a lot on it because they're loaded with players who have a nose for the puck and can finish.

The Mule Franzen is one of those players. Especially at this time of the year.

Franzen has 13 goals and 20 points in his last 14 playoff games.

Reggie Jackson was Mr. October. But Franzen The Scoring Mule isn't just Mr. April. He's not just Mr. May. He can also be Mr. June, too.

Heck, let's just call him Mr. Spring.

As in, the season that is now wide open for golfing for the soon-to-be-very good Blue Jackets.

Here's how playoff-tested the Red Wings are.

Goalie Osgood said that, in the second intermission, the Red Wings mentally changed the scoreboard.

"To us, it wasn't 5-5. It was 0-0," Ozzie said. "That's the way we looked at it."

In other words, disregard the white elephant in the room. This isn't a scoring fest. Isn't a shootout.

It's a tight, 0-0 playoff game. So let's play the third period like it.

The Red Wings clamped down once more, and waited for an opportunity. It came in the form of Mr. Sixth Man On the Ice.

Oh, those silly, young Blue Jackets!

Don't forget to tip your caddies and the soda pop girl at the turn.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weekly Jerkosity: A Fiercer Lion; A Scary Lyon; Meek Pistons; Smarmy NHL Commishes, And More!

Brace yourselves! It's Thursday, time for your weekly dose of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al."

Every Thursday I get my sports chat on with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we weigh in on the Lions' new logo; play our hunches on the No. 1 draft pick; crab about the Pistons' lack of heart and laud the Red Wings' ability to stomp on the Jackets' tickers; cheer and jeer the Tigers; and the usuals show up: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

As you will......

Eno: It's another Thursday, another week to suffer us Knee Jerks! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Happy Thursday, your Al-ness!

Big Al: Yo, Eno! Hey, that rhymes! I'm a poet and didn't know it! Hey, that rhymes too! But this isn't a poetry slam, it's a chat about Detroit sports. Anyway, it's a sorta happy Thursday. Detroit had two playoff games Tuesday night, but only one team came through with flying colors, the Red Wings. The Pistons, on the other hand... Let’s just say the starting five is playing like they have tee times the day after Game 4.

Eno: Ha! Exactly what I wrote about the Pistons at OOB on Wednesday. But before we get to the playoffs, let's start with something REALLY important, like the Lions' new logo and unis!! Your thoughts?

Big Al: I like them. I really do. As I said on TWFE, they are an evolution, rather than a revolution. There's something to be said for keeping the Honolulu blue and silver, despite what some media hacks may say. *cough*doofs on 97.1*cough* In the end, as nice as the new logo looks (especially the updated typeface, as I HATED their former circus-like font), in the end it's just a money grab; an attempt to boost merchandising sales. All teams do it, so why not the Lions? I was more perturbed by the fan base uprising at the uniform introduction. [Aaron] Curry, [Matthew] Stafford, either one would look good in the new uni.

Eno: Yeah, I was there, and the first time the "Curry! Curry!" chants came, it was kind of funny and cute. But then it kept going, and there even was a "DON'T DRAFT STAFFORD!" chant. I guess I was also taken aback by the degree of pro-Curry, anti-Stafford sentiment out there among the fan base. And the folks showing up at a uniform unveiling are, to me, pretty representative. Because that's going above and beyond, to traipse out there on a Monday afternoon.

Big Al: I'll give them credit for showing up. The Lions, despite a near decade of trying to kill off interest, still have a dedicated fan base. That being said, the chanting for Curry was out of line. There's a time and place; this wasn't it. And speaking of Curry. many fans want the Lions to draft the MLB out of Wake Forest, but it's for ALL THE WRONG REASONS! They are scared of another skill player failure. But any Number One overall pick is a crapshoot! There is NO guarantee Curry will be worth the huge contract the top pick gets. I'm leery of playing $30 million-plus for a two-down defensive player who is not a pass rushing threat. The money would be better spent on a QB, Stafford, or an OT, Jason Smith. From all accounts, the Lions feel the same way, and are using Curry as leverage toward a more reasonable contract.

Eno: I totally agree. I think the chants happened because the unveiling was held the week of the draft. Anyhow, the new Lions logo is indeed fiercer and I like it. Not as crazy about the "Lions" font, which is a little too feminine for me, but whatever. As for Curry/Stafford, you're right that picking Curry would be like "trying not to lose." As you know, I was anti-Stafford for the same reason: the Lions' history of drafting QBs is rather inglorious. But I've been converted. Bring on Stafford! What the hell? Sadly, if there wasn't a $30 million bonus involved, I might still stick with Curry. But it's hard to justify that kind of jack for, like you said, a two-down guy.

Big Al: That's the thing, when given a choice between someone who handles the ball every snap, and another who will likely leave the field on passing downs, who's giving you more for the money? The last thing the Lions should do is draft scared. As you say, going with Curry is drafting "not to lose." He'll be good, but will he be GREAT? The jury is out, and will be for a long time. But if you are going to roll the dice, and the draft is nothing but a big gamble at every selection, I'm going for a home run with the first roll. The Lions still have two more picks in the first 33 choices to get a MLB. Would either Rey Malaluga or James Laurenaitis be that big of a drop in talent over Curry? I seriously doubt it.

Eno: I think Stafford's their guy, I really do. I think we may even find that out by Friday; it might be leaked. Speaking of QBs, I know you had a burr up your rear end about Daunte Culpepper, but I looked at some video of the mini-camp, and the guy really does look good. He's excited and re-invigorated. His teammates notice, too. I know it's just mini-camp, but at least DC's coming into the new season with the right attitude and he appears to be ready to be a leader.

Big Al: We can only hope. But it's awfully easy for Culpepper to look good when no one is wearing pads, and there's no pass rush. Meaning there's no pressure. Sure he lost weight, but it was because the Lions inserted a weight clause in his deal. You’re asking to suspend my belief in thinking a QB who hasn't had a good season in five years will suddenly recapture his youth. [New offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan may help, but only if he can lay hands upon Culpepper and miraculously make him 25 years old again. Attitude is great, but I like talent even more. That's where Culpepper is now lacking.

Eno: We'll see! OK, what's on your Big Al kind of brain today?

Big Al: I read your Twitter tweet (I'm Big_Al_TWFE and Eno is thegregger63. FOLLOW US!) stating you haven't watched a single minute of the Pistons-Cavs series. I was surprised, but then again, maybe not so much. We all knew going into this series the Pistons had two chances in this series, slim and none. After sleepwalking through two games, they now have one chance: none. The Pistons’ starting five was awful Tuesday night. I never want to say anything about a team's or player's heart, but in this case, I might be willing to make an exception. It's always sad to watch a once great team decline, but this is embarrassing. The Pistons, as we once knew them, are long gone. I'm ready for the off-season to begin. Apparently, so are the Pistons.

Eno: Yeah, I said as much at OOB. No pride. No self-respect. I expected a little piss and vinegar, but nothing. This can’t possibly help Michael Curry's status as an NBA coach. He may never get another crack at it after this. Do they STILL bring him back? This is awful, unless they turn things around in Deeeetroit in Games 3 and 4.

Big Al: If this team is Joe Dumars's vision, I think he needs glasses. Dumars made his bed with Curry, now he has to sleep in it. There's a lack of chemistry on the roster, and with the coaches. Obviously, the roster is going to change, big time. That's the only thing saving Curry—the hope that he can click with a new core. Plus, the Pistons are still paying Larry Brown and Flip Saunders. I doubt Pistons' ownership wants a third ex-coach on the payroll.

Eno: Wow. What a web Dumars has weaved, eh? How does he get himself out of it? The national scribes are beginning to look at Joe D cross-eyed, as if he's now one of the worst NBA execs, instead of one of the best. Is he making this up as he goes along, or is there a grand plan in there somewhere?

Big Al: I hope Joe D has a plan. What that is, other than signing a couple of high-priced free agents with all the cap room, I don't know. He best strike gold in free agency, be it with a big name or how he did by finding players ready to break out (as he did with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups), or his team will sink DEEP into the lottery next season. I'm souring just a little on Dumars myself. He signed Amir Johnson to an extension, and he can't stay in the rotation. Jason Maxiell, another from whom Dumars expected big improvement, has hit his plateau. Rodney Stuckey, after setting the NBA on fire after Billups left, has regressed. He is looking more and more like a shooting guard, not a point guard. And of course, the Allen Iverson deal destroyed what chemistry the Pistons may have had left. What I'm saying is Dumars has been in a slump, and he needs to step up his game after the season.

Eno: Another interesting thing, before we move on: the death of Bill Davidson and its impact. Apparently his widow will run things, but with Mr. D gone, how does that impact Dumars's job security, if at all?

Big Al: I think he's safe for the time being. I really doubt the Davidson family wants to shake up anything at the Palace, in basketball operations or on the business side. They have a well oiled machine, run by men (Dumars and Tom Wilson) who have, for the most part, sterling track records. But time, as always, will tell.

Eno: OK, some Tigers talk! Tough loss in L.A. Tuesday night (ed. note: but a big WIN Wednesday night), but Curtis Granderson got off the schneide and hit two homers. They're 7-6 as we do this chat. For the most part, the bullpen has been good. What bothers you, and what makes you happy about the Bengals, 2009?

Big Al: What bothers me is Jim Leyland's use of Brandon Lyon. He's Todd Jones redux. A one inning pitcher. Yet whenever Leyland has let Lyon go more than one inning, Tuesday night being the latest instance, bad things happen, man. Bad things. What's making me happy are a couple of things. Overall, the pitching staff, from the starters on down to the mop up men, looks much improved. All the Tigers need is league average pitching, and they'll contend in the Central deep into September. Also, Miguel Cabrera is the next coming, period. I'm thrilled Dave Dombrowski came out this week to nip in the bud (Channeling Barney Fife: NIP IT!) the asinine "Tigers will trade Cabrera” rumors. You NEVER trade a young talent like him. NEVER. It'll take a complete and utter economic collapse of unheard of impact for the Tigers to even consider a trade. Mike Ilitch has more money than, well, God. The Tigers will be fine, and keep Miggy. What makes you sad and happy, huh? Talk! Tell me! NOW!

Eno: Where the HELL did that rumor come from, anyway? Sheesh! I'm surprised DD even acknowledged it with a reply. Whatever. As for me, I'm with you on Lyon (Jones redux). Seems to me that managers are yanking their starters too early, consistently. I guess I come from the school of, "Let the starter get into some trouble before you pull him between innings." Are they SO wrapped up in pitch counts that they manage for that instead of the game situation? Texas's Ron Washington lifted Kevin Millwood against the Tigers when he was humming along. Why do your opponents a favor like that? When a guy is going good like that, your opponents will take their chances with ANYONE. In no other sport does this happen. It'd be like a hockey coach changing goalies in the third period while the guy is standing on his head. Why take your opponents off the hook??

Big Al: Hey, you didn't tell me what makes you happy! You holding out on me?

Eno: Ah....OK. Brandon Inge not striking out once every three at-bats. Ramon Santiago driving in runs. Cabrera, of course. Armando Galarraga. Rick Porcello. Fernando Rodney. Not a bad list, eh?

Big Al: Considering how many of those on the list were question marks going into the season, not bad at all. Though I continue to wonder what the Tigers have against Santiago. He's outplaying Adam Everett, who's been underwhelming in the field and THE SUCKAGE at the plate. Everett couldn't even get a bunt down against the Angels on Tuesday, helping to nip in the bud (NIP IT! NIP IT!) a possible ninth inning rally. Which does lead me to another concern—that Leyland will go overboard on the “small ball”. It's overrated, though some fans eat it up like so much candy. I HATE giving away outs, I HATE sacrifice bunts and I HATE going for only one run!

Eno: Conventional wisdom says get the runner into scoring position, but Josh Anderson also screwed things up by getting picked off. And he's the fastest guy on the team. But I see what you're saying. Keep the outs and see if you can get a bigger inning going. How about some WordAss?

Big Al: Fire away, dude!


Eno: The Red Wings in the playoffs, first round version.

Big Al: Curb stomping. That's what they've done to the Blue Jackets, crushed their hopes, dreams and souls. It's been a slaughter. A laugher. Sheer domination. I'm running out of words....

Eno: Then we'll move on! Goalie Chris Osgood.

Big Al: He was right, everyone else was wrong! Ozzie can flip the proverbial switch! He's been a brick wall against the BJs; the Red Wings’ MVP in the three wins.

Eno: Two more. First, John Madden, newly-retired broadcaster.

Big Al: Great broadcaster...till he got bored about 10 years ago, more or less. He's been going through the motions for quite some time. He set the bar, then lowered it as he aged. Great career as both a football coach and color man, but his time has passed.

Eno: Finally, I say the Red Wings will either play Vancouver or Anaheim in Round Two and you hope for......

Big Al: I'll say...The Canucks. The Ducks, for whatever reason, always scare me! Mallard, Daffy, Donald, Mighty, Howard the, Anaheim...

Big Al: OK, ready for a few?

Eno: Hit me, I’m open!

Big Al: Let’s start with the man the Pistons cannot stop, LeBron James.

Eno: The King, and he's making the Pistons look silly. A man among the boys. But this series shouldn't judge him, for the Pistons are no competition.

Big Al: No kidding. It's laughable how easy the Pistons are making it for him. Next, this is just being reported as we are chatting Wednesday afternoon, Lions are close to a deal with Stafford. First thing that comes to your mind is?

Eno: My suspicions confirmed. Good choice. I hope the kid does well. He wants to be here. Rock on.

Big Al: Hey, he did say he'd trade in his Chevy for a Ford! I think that closed the deal! Back to the Wings-BJs. [Columbus coach] Ken Hitchcock pulled a Michele Therion, claiming the Red Wings "cheat” on face-offs. You say?

Eno: Hitchcock is Scotty Bowman Lite! Whatever. And some Columbus writer wrote that Osgood looked "shaky" in Games 1 and 2. Again, whatever.

Big Al: Well said. The BJs are grasping at straws. Desperation city. One more, in honor of the draft this weekend. The king of the draft-niks, Mel Kiper.

Eno: Mel Kiper?? You mean the dude who comes out every year, like a groundhog? He means nothing to me. He's been as wrong as all the others in the past—maybe wronger.

Big Al: Agreed; Kiper is better at self-promotion than predicting the draft. But he does have an amazing head of hair! Anything else on your mind before we talk about our Jerks of the Week?

Eno: Well, just that with MLB recently honoring Jackie Robinson by having every player wear No. 42 on the same day, there are the usual calls for other numbers to be retired. I read at Bleacher Report where someone wants MLB to retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21, universally. I was afraid this would happen once the can of worms was opened. I agree with the Robinson retirement, but are there indeed other numbers that should be retired? Seems you can now make compelling cases for several players, now that we've done Jackie. Thoughts?

Big Al: Clemente died selflessly, as he was on a mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He deserves all the accolades he received posthumously. But to do the same thing MLB does for Robinson devalues it. Why not do the same for Hank Aaron, the true home run king, who battled racism in his struggle to top Babe Ruth? Why not honor Willie Horton, who was a peacekeeper in the Detroit riots? Why not Ted Williams, who served heroically in not one, but TWO wars? Isn't being honored by your own team enough? It should be.

Eno: That's what I mean. The can of worms has been opened. When does it end? You can make compelling cases for all those guys you mentioned. I think individual teams retiring numbers is a hell of an honor. The bottom line is, only one man could do what Robinson did (break a color barrier). Sometimes, though, I wish MLB had honored him differently, so we wouldn't have to contend with all these numbers that everyone wants retired.

Big Al: Let alone it gets confusing as all Hell when there are 50+ players running around a stadium, all wearing 42! The fact Robinson's number was retired throughout MLB is honor enough. As for retiring numbers, it's great, it should be the end all honor for an athlete, but it can be run into the ground if over done. See Pistons, Detroit.

Eno: Yeah! Vinnie Johnson? Hmmmm.....not so sure about that one! OK, who's your Jerk of the Week, sire?


Big Al: Time for the Jerk of...Uh, that came out wrong... My Jerk is a group of jerks. The Lions "fans" who felt the need to make a mockery of the new logo introduction by acting like a bunch of drunks in week 12 of the NFL season. Chanting for Curry, and against Stafford, is so shortsighted, so immature, so Lions-esque. If it wasn't so damn sad, it'd have been funny. I’m no fan of the mob mentality, and those chanting were nothing but blinded-by-fear sheep. SHEEP. You disagree with the draft? Great! Just being more than “Stafford sucks.” I hate to be put in the position to defend the Lions, but they do deserve at least a little benefit of the doubt.

Eno: Well said. My Jerk is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who told the Fox Sports Detroit folks Tuesday night that he doesn't think fans disagree with how NHL games are called. Puh-leeeze!!

Big Al: As I said on Twitter Tuesday night, I wished Mickey Redmond would have given the smarmy SOB that is Bettman a BC two-hander across the chops after their interview. The Mick can still bring it, gang! Bettman is EVIL. End of story. Speaking of the end...

Eno: Yes...we must part ways for the week. Have a great one, my friend, and I'll see you next Thursday for another webisode!

Big Al: Same Jerk time, same Jerk channel, same Jerk attitude! Till next Thursday, and as Jack Lord always said, ALOHA!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Playoffs Drone On In Detroit, Anxiety-Free

Another day of playoffs in Detroit, another day with no drama.

As I wrote on Monday, it doesn't feel like the post-season around here.

The Red Wings continue to toy with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Cleveland Cavaliers are doing the same with the Pistons.


In Columbus, the joint was jumping. The Nationwide Arena crowd was ready to bust loose, as their Jackets were hosting their first playoff game in team history.

Then, 67 seconds into the affair, Tomas Holmstrom shoved a giant, sweaty hockey sock into their mouths.

1-0 Detroit.

Dan Cleary scored with less than a minute to go in the first period for a 2-0 lead.

Hockey people will tell you that the only thing worse than giving up a goal in the opening minute of a game is to give one up in the closing minute of a period.

The Blue Jackets did both.

The final scores of the three games the Red Wings and Jackets have played have their own beat.

4-1. 4-0. 4-1.

If this was middle school algebra, I'd ask you to name me the score of Game 4, based on the given pattern.

And you'd get a gold star on your paper if you answered 4-0.

Which will also be the final outcome of this first round series, no matter what score they play to in Game 4.

For extra credit, you could also put it this way: Red Wings 12, R.J. Umberger 2.

The Jackets are coming off soon. To be dry cleaned and stowed away for the summer, not to return again until training camp this September.

It's hard to see the Red Wings fumbling and losing Game 4.

These aren't the Dallas Stars in the Final Four.

Last spring, the Red Wings couldn't put the Stars away in Game 4 in Dallas, then came home to Detroit and got stunned once more, before finishing matters in Game 6 on the road.

This series doesn't have that feel. At all.

It's impressive how the Red Wings have started these playoffs. Totally business-like, without remorse.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock told me so, before the playoffs started.

Last week in a conference call, I asked Hitch if defending Cup champs are more vulnerable to upset in the first round.

Nuh-uh, Hitch said.

"I believe Cup champions are just as excited as all the other teams in the first round," he told me. "If they lose, it's usually later on, after all the wear and tear."

I bet he wishes he wasn't so damn prophetic.

Meanwhile, the Pistons are playing the Cavs as if they all have vacation plans and flights scheduled to leave Detroit next week immediately after Game 4.

No fight. No resistance.

No pride.

I didn't think it would go down this way, with the Pistons this meek in their capitulation from the heights of being an Eastern Conference elitist. I figured there'd be a little piss and vinegar out of them.

Instead, all the Pistons are doing is hemorraghing self-respect and their reputation as playoff toughies.

It's hard to see that series going longer than four games as well.

It all adds up to a two-week bye from angst and nailbiting.

Ah, but Frank Sinatra sang it in "That's Life."

You're riding high in April,
shot down in May

So beware, Red Wings and Cavs fans.

Monday, April 20, 2009

2009 NHL, NBA Playoffs In Detroit: When Does The Drama Arrive?

You call these "the playoffs"?

In the NHL, the Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are engaging in a first round series with all the drama of an episode of The Brady Bunch.

In the NBA, the Pistons appear to be content with playing the part of the Washington Generals to the Cleveland Cavaliers' Harlem Globetrotters.

Where's the grit? Where's the suspense? Where are the storylines?

To paraphrase Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee, "That's not the playoffs...(withdraws a Red Wings-Predators or Pistons-Sixers video) that's the playoffs!"

Winning without drama is OK on occasion. In the Red Wings' case, I'm sure there'll be plenty of anxious moments in the later rounds to satisfy.

Losing without drama is OK, if you choose not to care about the losers. I'm rather fed up with the Pistons' old guard and their overmatched head coach anyway. Can't wait till the Cavs get done with them, frankly. I just hope no one gets hurt.

Ah, but look around the NHL. For if you do, you will see some playoff drama.

How about in San Jose, where the top-seeded Sharks fell into an 0-2 hole against Anaheim?

Or in New Jersey, where the Carolina Hurricanes split the first two games?

Or in Washington, where the New York Rangers skated out to a 2-0 series lead?

The Flyers closed their series with the Penguins to 1-2 after their win yesterday in Philly.

The Blue Jackets will play their first home playoff game in franchise history tomorrow. No doubt that the joint will be jumping. Maybe the crowd will even be loud enough to wake Rick Nash from his slumber.

Sorry, Rick. I couldn't resist.

The Red Wings may still need five games to dispense with the Jackets, after all. But so far, this series feels like merely a tune-up for the Red Wings; something they have to do, because the league requires it.

Again, OK. We've had our share of first round angst in this town. I'm not complaining.

The Red Wings have outscored Columbus 8-1, appear unstoppable on the power play, and goalie Chris Osgood is up to his old Cup-winning tricks.

And Nash has slept through it all.

Sorry again, Rick. That time I was just being mean, I admit.

The Pistons, once they're finished off by the Cavs, should apply at the County Road Commission. I hear that with all the construction going on, there's a big time need for pylons.

I'm NOT sorry about that one. The Pistons annoy me.

Wake me when the playoffs really get going, OK?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Day "The Bad Boys" Walked Out

One by one they filed past the Chicago Bulls’ bench, with nary a glance at the opponents who had vanquished them. A couple of them were even sneering as they strode by the Bulls, who looked at them with a mix of amazement and incredulity.

The Pistons were losing without honor, without dignity.

But they were losing with disdain, and that was just fine with them, apparently.

It was 1991, just past Memorial Day. And the Pistons’ reign was ending.

Five straight years in the Eastern Conference Finals. Three victories in four appearances in the NBA’s Final Four. Could have been four straight, had it not been for a tragic pass in Boston in 1987.

The Bulls had been swatted out of the playoffs by the Pistons in 1988, 1989, and 1990. Each year, though, Michael Jordan’s boys from the Windy City inched closer to their nemesis.

In ’88, the Bulls were flicked off the Pistons’ shoulders in the conference semi-finals. In ’89, the conference finals in six games. In ’90, the conference finals in seven games.

And now, in ’91’s conference finals, the Bulls had catapulted themselves over the “Bad Boys.”
They ran the Pistons out of the building in Games 1 and 2, in Chicago. They ran them out of the building in Auburn Hills, too, in Game 3.

Game 4 was nearing its end. The Pistons were being run out of the building once more. This time literally.

It was reported, then later confirmed, that Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer concocted the idea of walking off the court before the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Two of the Baddest Boys were, frankly, pissed off.

For three years they listened to the Bulls whine and complain about the roughhouse tactics the Pistons used on the basketball floor. The Bulls, and other teams, went to the papers and eventually the league with their concerns.

The Pistons were accused of being thugs. Bullies. Purveyors of a type of basketball that was deemed unseemly by the complainers.

It was mostly true. And the Pistons knew it.

But that’s how they won—with rugged defense and a “take no prisoners” style that doled out not just fouls, but often times sheer punishment.

The Pistons knew, deep down, that they were thugs. They just didn’t care to be called out on it—especially by the Bulls and Jordan, who the Pistons looked at with disdain as he was being anointed as the next prince of the NBA.

So the plan was discussed. If the Pistons looked to be losers in Game 4, they would stride off the court before time expired, with nary a handshake or a nod at the new champs of the East.

A bold, unmitigated show of disrespect. The Pistons may as well have spit at the Bulls’ feet as they walked by.

The TV cameras, of course, captured the display. The NBC announcers didn’t even really know what to say. No team had ever walked out in that fashion, leaving only the five players on the floor to remain as representatives.

Coach Chuck Daly maintained he knew nothing of the planned walkout. I believe him.

GM Jack McCloskey, who built the Bad Boys from scratch, taking most of the 1980s to do it, intercepted Thomas, Laimbeer, John Salley, Dennis Rodman, and the others as they made their way to the tunnel.

McCloskey, weeping openly, embraced each player tightly. He, too, knew that the Bad Boys Era of domination had ended.

A couple years ago, I asked McCloskey what he said to his players as they staged their dramatic early exit.

“I just thanked them,” he told me. “I thanked them for all that they did. We had a great run.”

One Pistons player didn’t join the walkout.

Joe Dumars stayed on the bench.

He would explain later that he didn’t quite know what to make of the display, and that he didn’t feel right participating in it.

T-shirts like this captured a league-wide view of "Bad Boy" Laimbeer

This weekend, the Pistons will stage the beginning of the end of their run as conference finalists.

Six straight seasons the Pistons have made it to the NBA’s Final Four. Twice they’ve survived and qualified for the Finals.

That all comes to an end this spring.

The 39-43 Pistons figure to be nothing more than gnats in the face of LeBron James and his 66-16 Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. The Pistons, the experts say, will be lucky to win even one game, much less the entire series.

I have them bowing out in five games, as well.

But unlike 1991, when the Pistons still appeared to be competitive, until the series with the Bulls began, this year’s squad has been sprouting red flags all season.

Even when they had a winning record around the turn of the year, everything seemed so much harder for them. The teams they should have been blowing out were giving the Pistons fits. There would be an occasional win over an elite team, but then one of the bottom feeders would come to The Palace and slap the Pistons around.

In the season’s second half, the Pistons played well below .500. At times, they appeared to be mailing in their efforts.

Now, of course, they talk bravely about having playoff experience and that it’s a new season and everyone is 0-0 again.

It’s all talk.

The Pistons are over with at being an elite conference team. You can see it coming this time, a mile away.

Dumars is the GM now. Like McCloskey, he’ll be near the court when the final horn sounds on the Pistons for the season, likely after either Game 4 or 5. When the final horn sounds on a fine run as a conference elitist.

Joe D. didn’t walk out on the Bulls, or his teammates on the floor, in the waning moments in 1991. It wasn’t in his nature.

But I’ll bet he privately congratulates the old guard—Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess—after the elimination. It’s fitting and proper to do so.

They thrilled us, that’s for sure.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mason Gets His Playoff Baptism By Fire On Ice

Welcome to playoff hockey, Steve Mason.

Welcome to a world of pucks bouncing off thighs and arms and where your own teammate goes brain dead and flails at a shot with his glove in an ill-designed move.

Mason, the 20-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets goalie, made his playoff debut last night, and in twenty minutes in the middle frame, the kid found out what hockey in the post-season is all about--especially when your opponents are the Detroit Red Wings.

He found out that Tomas Holmstrom is such a force in front of the net that he causes pre-emptive efforts by the opposition to keep the puck from reaching the netminder.

I don't know what else to say about Manny Malhotra's feeble wave at Jonathan Ericsson's shot from the point in the second period, which resulted in the puck being deflected just enough to flutter over Mason's shoulder for a 2-1 Red Wings lead. It was Ericsson's first career playoff goal.

Oh, I know what to say: that's playoff hockey, Steve-o!

But it's also what happens when you throw pucks at the net relentlessly and with little regard for the end result--as long as it hits the net somehow, some way.

Because before it hits the net, the puck is liable to hit something else, and that's how Niklas Kronwall got his first career playoff goal.

Kronwall, after some pitch-and-catch following yet another Red Wings face off win, teed up from the point and fired. The waist-high shot brushed off a Blue Jacket's elbow and again it was enough to redirect the puck past a beleaguered Mason. 3-1 Detroit.

But it wasn't all ugly.

Jiri Hudler finished off a brilliant two-on-one with Valtteri Filppula to open the scoring, neatly zipping the puck along the ice before Mason could slide over.

Mason also learned that bloated regular season numbers, when listed beside a 36-year-old veteran netminder of three Stanley Cups (two as starting goalie), mean diddly squat.

Chris Osgood made good on his word--once again. How long before we start listening to the guy?

For much of the season's second half, Osgood told us that he felt better mentally, felt better physically, and that it would all add up to him playing better.

"One thing I know how to do, is I know how to win playoff games," Osgood told anyone who would listen back in February.

Not too many folks did, though. And they rarely have, in the past, when Osgood has shrugged off poor playoff performances and soft goals and vowed to be better the next time out.

Luckily, Osgood doesn't much care if we listen to him or not. He just goes out there and makes us look silly for worrying to begin with.

You won't find too many hand wringers today, in the wake of Osgood's strong-as-garlic, 20-save performance, thirteen of which were made in the first period, when the proverbial tone was set.

Even Osgood's evil twin, who was in Detroit for most of the regular season, couldn't have harmed the Red Wings in the third period, when the Blue Jackets mustered all of two shots on goal.


The Red Wings keep up that kind of a force field around their own goal, then you could bring back Eddie Mio, circa 1986, and the Jackets will still be first round fodder.

OK, maybe I'm getting a little carried away. Eddie Mio? Forgive me.

But you get the idea.

We'll see how the kid goalie handles things in Game 2. Doubtless, his teammates and coaches will remind him that three of the Red Wings' four goals, he could do nothing about.

But here's the thing. It doesn't really matter if you can do anything about it or not, as a goalie. Pucks have a funny way of finding the twine in the playoffs. You just have to put it behind you and get ready for the next game. Osgood knows that better than almost anyone minding the net in this post-season.

Sometimes what goes on between a goalie's ears is just as important as what takes place between the pipes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Knee Jerks: The Bird Flies Home; The Tigers' Bullpen dazzles??; The Red Wings' Playoff Beards Are On!

Come on in, the water's fine!

Thanks for joining us for another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al."

For the newbies, every Thursday I get all sports chatty with Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we mourn Mark "The Bird" Fidrych (and right after we mourned George Kell; damn); talk Red Wings playoffs (Pistons, too); marvel at the Tigers, especially Miggy, the Brandons, and the bullpen; and the usual suspects, Word Association and Jerk of the Week, show up.



Eno: Welcome to Thoisday and another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Al, thanks to my crazy life, we are once again doing this under the pale moonlight of midnight. How are you, my fellow Night Owl?

Big Al: ZZZZZ...Who? Wha? Huh? Almost midnight, and it's Eno...AGAIN. I'm fine, and I can't complain. Playoff hockey is on the TV, I'm almost over my sinus and cold issues and the Tigers are in first place. What's not to like right now? Well, save for the endless NFL draft talk, of course. And the Pistons having to face the Cavs in the playoffs.

Eno: Seems we've been starting with sad news lately. But we'd be remiss without some words about the Bird. Mark Fidrych isn't dead, is he? Say it ain't so, Al!!

Big Al: I wish. At this point of my life, I'm pretty damn jaded when it comes to athletes and pro sports. But the news of Fidrych's passing moved me to the verge of tears. Unlike most of our blogging brethren, we're old enough to have witnessed Bird-mania, in one way or another. 1976 was a different, simpler, and to be honest, better era. Mark Fidrych was a great pitcher whose career was far too short. But he was an even better person, which is why Fidrych's death hurt so damn much.

Eno: He was only a couple years away from medicine helping him, but it was too late. I think what hurt so much about his death was that he never truly grew up since '76, and I don't mean that in a bad way. He was still very much that 21-year-old we adored in 1976, so when he died, it's like that curly-haired kid died. Hard to explain, but are you with me?

Big Al: I think so. We may have changed, baseball may have changed, the media may have changed, but the Bird never did. He was still the same guy who appreciated what time in the sun he did have, rather than live in regret over what didn't happen. From all accounts, Fidrych was as happy now, as a 50-something truck driver, as he was as the most famous athlete in America. It really did feel as if one of the last links to my youth died with The Bird. I know the younger readers won't understand, but you really had to have been there in '76 to understand.

Eno: You absolutely had to live through it to believe it. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, before or since. Like Rusty Staub once said, "I saw Tom Seaver mow them down in Shea Stadium, but I've never seen anything like The Bird." So sad. And the Phillies lost their longtime announcer, Harry Kalas, just a couple hours prior. Not to mention the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart. The baseball season has been unkind, and it's only nine days old.

Big Al: That's the thing about Fidrych. He became a phenomenon in a way that would never happen today. The media would have been all over Fidrych after his first win over the Tribe in mid-May ‘76. Back then, The Bird's fame was allowed to build natively and naturally. It helped that one of his most iconic games, the win over the Yankees in June of ‘76, was nationally televised in an era where you were lucky to see one or two games a week. Hell, I STILL get goose bumps and misty eyed watching Fidrych get the curtain call after the Yankees win. Damn, I miss those days....It's been an awful week for baseball, as fans all around the country were saddened in one way or another.

Eno: No doubt. So, let's lighten the mood. How 'bout those hockey playoffs? As we do this, the Rangers have already won on the road, in Washington. Did you catch my chat with Rick Nash and Ken Hitchcock at OOB? Lie to me and say yes.

Big Al: What? Oh, yeah...sure I did. Of course I did, OOB is in my RSS feeds! (Kids, make sure to subscribe to both OOB and TWFE. Thanks, and try the veal!) Anyway... I'm not at all concerned about the BJs. (How could you name a team knowing it would be shortened to reference a sexual act? Anyone?) The Red Wings are a better coached, more talented, vastly more experienced team. There will NOT be a first round upset. *knock on wood*

Eno: Well, not if the Wings can contain Nash. Ah, but if that kid goalie Steve Mason outplays Christopher Osgood, then the Js (I refuse to use the other initial, too) might have something, don't you think? Nash says his team isn't there just to show up for four or five games, you know.

Big Al: Lip service till the BJs (snicker) prove otherwise. Give me a team with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Hossa, Franzen and Lidstrom (and I'm just scratching the surface, talent-wise) over any team in Gary Bettman's little playground called the NHL. Will there be a scare or two? Sure, it's the Cup playoffs. But in the end, the Wings will win Round One in five over the blow...uh, Blue Jackets.

Eno: OK, then I won't worry! Big Al is on the case! Speaking of which, who do you think comes up big in Round One for Deetroit?

Big Al: I could say Marion Hossa begins his quest for one of those 11-12 year deals Ken Holland has so creatively come up with to run wide around the salary cap (By the way, fans in other NHL cities are pissed, not because the Wings are doing it, but because their own GMs were too dumb/chicken/uncreative to do so themselves) but I'll say Chris Osgood plays well, and eases all our worries. *again, knock on wood* Because goaltending is what it all comes down to, right? Who's your "Big man on ice" for the winged wheelers?

Eno: I like Hossa. I think he's gonna pick up where he left off in the regular season. In fact, I like Hossa for the Conn Smythe, should the Wings go all the way. Speaking of Ken Holland, what are your thoughts on Johan Franzen's 11-year deal?

Big Al: It's another feather in Holland's overloaded-with-feathers cap. It's brilliant! Make the contract long enough where the cap hit becomes less an issue, on players whom I'm willing to bet will be extremely productive for the vast majority of the deal. It's not as if Holland is handing out these deals to just anyone. Zetterberg, Franzen, and I'm guessing Hossa will get one as well, are IMPACT players. Z is one of the best, if not THE best, two-way players in the NFL. Franzen is an elite power forward. Hossa is an offensive force. Expect to see this "average salary" loophole in the CBA closed when it comes up for negotiation, but till then, go for it. The Red Wings may be the best run franchise in sports; this is just another reason why.

Eno: Agreed. So, I've been dominating the paint here. Care to take the ball and do a "turn and gun", as George Blaha would say?

Big Al: Let's talk Tigers. They are 5-4, in first place in the Central, and for the most part (save Verlander's Opening Day start and Lyon's blown save the next day) they have played well. At the very least, it's a relief to see the Tigers not end their season before it really gets started...unlike the staggering Tribe. Any specific Tiger stand out to you so far, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Well, Miguel Cabrera, obviously, but how about Brandon Inge? He's gotten some clutch hits, already has four homers, and is channeling Brooks Robinson at third base. Actually, he's channeling Brandon Inge, because No. 15 is one hell of a third sacker. I smell a Gold Glove in his VERY near future. You?

Big Al: Possibly, but only if he hits respectably. Ever notice you have to be a decent hitter to win a Gold Glove? (which are highly subjective and likely overrated) Odd for a defensive award, but I digress. I have to say Cabrera, because one, he's MASHING the HELL out of the ball, and two, unlike Inge, Cabrera is going to continue to hit a ton. I'm telling you, he'll make a run at the Triple Crown this season...and for many more. It's going to be a pleasure watching Cabrera destroy pitching for the nest several years!

Eno: Oh, the kid's a beast, and I say kid because he's only going to be 26 when his birthday arrives in a few days. He's scary good. Like Jim Leyland said, "He's awfully good. He's better than awfully good." I agree that Inge isn't likely to keep this up with the bat, but he's played great baseball out of the gate. It's almost as fun watching him rob the opposing team of runs as it is to see Cabrera do his thing with the stick. And how about that bullpen? They retired 24 straight batters at one point. Zach Miner got his butt kicked on Monday and returns to the 'pen till further notice. The Tigers won't need a fifth starter for a while. And Marcus Thames still doesn't play! Though he might now, if Carlos Guillen's Achilles keeps acting up. Why is Carlos always hurt?

Big Al: Because it’s Carlos just being Carlos. Just as it's impossible for Inge to hit over the Mendoza Line, it’s impossible for Guillen to remain healthy. It's too bad, as his bat is needed for the long haul. It's also why the Tigers picked up Josh Anderson, who's proven to be a pretty decent pickup as a fourth outfielder. As for the pen, I HOPE HOPE HOPE HOPE they can keep it up. Even Lyon has pitched well since his awful first outing. Surprisingly, Fernando Rodney is throwing filthy stuff as the closer. Then again, being in a contract year, maybe it isn't surprising. Bullpens are mercurial things; good one season, awful the next...often with the same arms. Let’s hope this is the long overdue (since '06) good season for the pen.

Eno: Same with the division. Seems like each year, another team takes its turn being the rummy. So far this year, that's Cleveland. But it's still very early. Let's change the tune to the Pistons. Do they win even one game against King James and his Court?

Big Al: No. I just don't see it. This is the swan song for the Pistons as we have known them. They'll go out much like the Bad Boys Pistons went out, with not even a whimper against the NBA's Star of the Next Decade. Let's hope they shake hands this time...

Eno: Ha! Good one! OK, so if they're swept away, what does that bode for coach Michael Curry? Is he the coach next season, no matter what, or does he need a strong playoff showing (i.e. winning two games) to save his hide?

Big Al: Joe Dumars normally is quick to fix mistakes, but he has had a long relationship with Curry, and Curry was handpicked by Joe D to run the team. Dumars will also take the Allen Iverson fiasco into consideration, as asking a rookie coach to ride herd over an uncooperative Iverson was too much to ask. Unfortunately, I think Curry's safe for one more make-or-break season. From what we've seen this season, he doesn't deserve it.

Eno: No, I think he was way in over his head. I applaud Joe D. for giving a guy like that a chance, but it just didn't work. Ironically, Dumars may NOT make a change, when that's all he's done is change coaches. I think he evaluates who he thinks he can attract in free agency, who might not return, then decide which coach is best for that group of personnel. Whether that be Curry or someone else, like an Avery Johnson.

Big Al: I hope you're right, but how many more coaches can Dumars give the ziggy to before the Pistons become known as coach killers? (They may be at that point now) The only thing in Dumars's favor is that the players known as being head cases and coach killers, such as Rasheed Wallace, will be gone next year. In many ways, the team may be a clean slate, as I wouldn't be surprised to see Rip Hamilton be sent packing. Let’s not forget that he wasn't exactly an angel in the "who's the 6th man" imbroglio with Iverson. We may see a backcourt of Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey next season. And that doesn't sound all that bad, after the bad taste left in my mouth by all the player BS this year.

Eno: Yeah, I think we're at the point now where I really don't care who's gone and who stays. I've had my fill of the "old guard", frankly. I'm eager to see what happens this off-season, and next, when the free agent class of 2010 hits the open market. OK, it's late. How about some WordAss?

Big Al: Sounds kinky, but OK, I do it!


Eno: Leading off: Speedy Darren Helm is back with the Wings for another Cup run. Your WordAss when I say his name?

Big Al: Should have been up all season. Just shows you how deep the Wings roster is overall, when Helm had to spend most of the year in Grand Rapids. Won't happen again...

Eno: Next, will the Washington Nationals ever be any good?

Big Al: They'll turn the corner when the Washington Generals do. (For you kids out there, it's a Harlem Globetrotters joke. But is it a joke when you have to explain it to most of your audience?)

Eno: Or how about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Same question.

Big Al: Judge Smails once said, "The world needs ditch diggers too." When it comes to the Pirates, MLB needs bottom feeders too.

Eno: So true! OK, I ask you how many dingers Miggy Cabrera hits this year and you say....

Big Al: When I was on the Detroit Tigers Podcast, I said Cabrera was capable of 45 round trippers. I know it was on the high side, but I was making a point; he's capable of big numbers. I'll say...40. Ready for of few, journalist dude?

Eno: Hit me, I'm open!

Big Al: Since we're talking Tigers and numbers, who leads the Tigers in saves, and how many will he get?

Eno: Hmmm....good one. I guess I'll relent and say Fernando Rodney, but with 22 or 23. I think he and Brandon Lyon will still share duties. Not sold yet on Rodney. He can go sideways in a hurry.

Big Al: Which is why he scares us all! Next, I say the Wings playoff run ends...and you say?

Eno: ...with them hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in early-June!

Big Al: Works for me, and I also agree. They have to be the favorite to win it all. Let’s take a left-hand turn, and talk about fisticuffs. MMA or boxing?

Eno: Oh boxing, for sure. Though the sweet science hasn't thrilled me since Tommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard, 1989. Tommy won that "draw", by the way. Even Sugar agrees!

Big Al: Agreed, I also loved boxing in the glory days of the 1980s. I guess I'm just not hip enough for mixed martial arts. One more, back to the Tigers, and their de facto ace of the pitching staff (yes, I said it, ace), Armando Galarraga!

Eno: For all the bad that GM Dave Dombrowski has wrought over the past couple years, you have to give him his props when it comes to A-Gal. BTW, I just broke my own rule of NOT making cutesy nicknames out of a guy's first initial and first syllable of his last name. But Galarraga is gonna be something. Mark him down for 15, 16 wins.

Big Al: Well, it's creeping up on 2 a.m. here in the wilds of Southeast Michigan, so I'm thinking you throwing around cutesy nicknames is a sign we should wrap up this episode of The Knee Jerks. A-Gal? Lord....

Eno: I know!! Hey, no Jerk of the Week, real quick?


Big Al: Gosh damn, how could I forget?! Proceed with your Jerk, my Jerkiness.

Eno: Will do. Mine are the Angels and the Red Sox, who emptied their benches the day after showing brotherhood in a pre-game tribute to Nick Adenhart. Jerks, all of 'em!

Big Al: My jerk is White Sox color man Hawk Harrelson. I was stuck watching the WGN feed of Wednesday's Tigers-Sox game, and Harrelson gives being a homer a bad name. A VERY bad name. He lost it when Ryan Perry was legitimately wild in the 8th inning. Quote the Hawk: "He's doing it on PURPOSE!" Sure, an obviously nervous rookie reliever is advancing a runner all the way to third base on wild pitches, some mistakenly in tight, and he's doing so ON PURPOSE? I was ready to jam an ice pick in my ear. Hawk Harrelson is a frigging loon. A LOON.

Eno: Hawk has been a loon since he was a player. He "retired" in his prime so he could join the pro golfer's tour. That never panned out. Then he was once miscast as the Chisox GM. He's always been a free spirit. Save the ice pick, and your ear; he's not worth it, Al!

Big Al: If you insist. Nope, I can't do it. HAWK MUST GO! HE'S EVIL E.V.I.L. EVIL! Hell, I think that's another sign we should call this meeting of the Jerks adjourned!

Eno: OK, OK!! Till next week, my fine feathered friend (because of the Night Owl thing). Have a great week, and I look forward to talking Red Wings and Pistons playoffs with you next time!

Big Al: Hopefully the Pistons will still be playing. Oh yeah, it takes the NBA three damn weeks to play a series! But that's a discussion for another time. Same Jerk channel...yadda, yadda, yadda?

Eno: Indeed! Nitey-nite!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nash, Jackets Not Showing Up Just To Be First Round Fodder

Not that the Red Wings and their admirers needed any reminders, but Rick Nash is nonetheless happy to reaffirm it.

The Columbus Blue Jackets aren't happy to just be in the playoffs.

"We have the same goal as the other fifteen teams," the Jackets' star told us ink-stained wretches during an NHL conference call on Monday. "We're not happy to just be here (in the playoffs). Now that we're in, we want to go far."

Nash has beaten the Red Wings like a drum over the past couple of regular seasons. He's been, by far, the biggest reason (physically and otherwise) why the Jackets haven't been a pushover for the Red Wings.

Now the Red Wings will have to deal with Nash and his teammates over the next week or so, as they begin their Stanley Cup defense against Columbus in Round One.

Nash acknowledged that he's scored some goals against the Red Wings lately. He had six against them in six games this season.

"I've had some success against them in the past, but those [regular season games] don't matter anymore."

The Wings had better hope not!

If Nash continues to mesmerize the fellows wearing the Winged Wheel, especially goalie Chris Osgood, this series might have "upset" written all over it.

It's not like Red Wings fans aren't used to those kinds of ghoulish thoughts heading into the first round.

But if it makes them feel any better, I'll let you in on something.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock has no idea what to expect, because he's never been in this position before.

"This is all new to me," Hitchcock said when I asked him what it's like coaching an underdog in the playoffs. "I'm not really sure what to expect. Seems like forever I've been coaching teams with all the pressure on them. Now, to have no pressure...maybe it works to our advantage. But this is new to me."

Hitchcock, don't forget, coached the Dallas Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup.

Speaking of first round upsets, Hitchcock said something else that might make Wings fans breathe a little easier.

I asked him if he subscribes to the theory that defending Stanley Cup champs are more vulnerable to being upset in the first round as opposed to in later rounds.

"No, I don't subscribe to that theory at all," Hitchcock told me. "I think the defending team is just as excited in the first round as they are in the later rounds. I think that if they lose, it's because of the accumulation of all the wear and tear from the regular season and the playoffs, being the target."

Both Nash and his coach talked about excitement. As in, the kind felt by the Jackets and their city, which Nash said is "very excited."

"I think we have a lot of players who are awfully excited to be playing hockey at this time of year," Hitchcock said.

"The fans are going to be crazy," Nash added.

Nash: More than just a scorer under Hitchcock

Prior to Hitchcock arriving in Columbus in November 2006, Nash was a good player who was considered strictly an offensive threat and not much else.

"I was a 12, 13 minute guy," Nash said of life pre-"Hitch". "I didn't kill any penalties. If we were up by a goal late in the game, I knew I wasn't going to see any ice."

But Hitchcock looked at Nash and saw something else: a complete hockey player--one who could, and should, be a team leader. And the only way to do that, Hitchcock told Nash, is to do it all.

"He wanted me to be one of the best players in the league, on both ends of the ice," Nash said of his coach.

Mission accomplished. The Jackets now use Nash's size (6'4", 218) defensively as well as in the attacking zone.

The Red Wings won the Cup last year largely because, in each round, they were able to bottle up the opposing team's big guns. Their job on Sydney Crosby in the Finals was as close to a masterpiece as you're going to see.

I put it to Nash: How might you handle it, if the goals don't come as easily against the Red Wings in the playoffs as they have in the regular season?

"I try not to get too high or too low. I've been on streaks where I don't score for eight, nine games," he said. "But if that happens, maybe I can make some nice passes, kill some penalties, make some good defensive plays.

"This the playoffs. Everyone needs to chip in."

So true. But if Nash finds himself in an eight, nine game goal-scoring slump during a seven-game series...well, it doesn't take a mathematician to see why that's a bad thing for Columbus.

Like so many Red Wings opponents in the playoffs--especially in the first round--the Jackets will try to rely on defense to win.

“We’re gonna have our hands full. They’re a great team," Nash says of the Red Wings. "We can't fall into their style. They’re the most skilled team in the league. We need to play our style—defensive. That’s the only way we’re going to have a chance in this series.”

Defense, shmefense. Nash has to score a little bit, or the Jackets will be removed.

The playoff rookie Nash, and the newly-underdog coach Hitchcock will realize that soon enough.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Four More Years, Four More Years??

I'm taking my birthday off.

Well, actually, it's not my birthday, per se, but this blog's.

Four years ago yesterday, "Out of Bounds" debuted, with this post about Tiger Woods.

1,211 posts later, here we are, at birthday number four.

I'll save you a piece of cake, I promise.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and thanks for linking to me.

Now, whether you approve or not, I'm re-electing myself.

Four more years!

God willing.