Friday, January 30, 2009

Cards' Magical Season Will End With A Thud In Tampa

The Arizona Cardinals are a marvelous story. They won an unimpressive division in unimpressive fashion, stumbling terribly down the stretch and getting their brains beat in whenever they dared to venture east of their time zone. They were supposed to get their butts kicked by first the Atlanta Falcons (remember THEM?), then the Carolina Panthers, then the Philadelphia Eagles. You couldn't have gotten an Andrew Jackson for their Super Bowl chances when the playoffs began.

Yet here they are, in Super Bowl XLIII (aka 43), and once again they're supposed to lose, this time to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cards have proven everyone wrong three times, so why can't they do it a fourth time?

Alas, they won't.

I don't do predictions, mainly because I'm lousy at it. In fact, you might as well click away from this blog right now because to show you my football genius, I had the Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens playing this Sunday. I'm the last person you want to listen to if you have some extra dough and plan on calling a bookie.

But something tells me that I just might be right about this one: Steelers win, to take their sixth (SIXTH!) Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh.

Not exactly an unsafe bet, I know. Most of the oddsmakers agree with me, and by picking Pitt I hardly have dared to be bold.

But it's not as much of a slam dunk as you think. Once Cinderella hitches up her coach, it can be awfully hard to derail her. The Cardinals, championship-barren since their 1947 title (no, Kurt Warner wasn't in the NFL back then -- that I know of), are 3-0 this post-season. It's not like they backed into the Super Bowl, as they mostly backed into their West Division title. When teams get on a roll like this, at this time of the year, they often aren't denied.

So it's not like the Steelers will roll over these Cinderella Cards. You really shouldn't bet against any team that has Warner under center. Could be hazardous to the health of your wallet.

But the Steelers aren't some Podunk, out-of-the-blue team. This is a franchise that tends to reach up and snatch a Super Bowl victory from time to time, and they did it again just three years ago. The Pittsburgh roster reeks of big game players. It's highly unlikely that they'll expect to simply flash their colors and expect the Cards to curl up into the fetal position. Bruising, blue collar teams from bruising, blue collar cities don't do the entitlement thing. Nothing is taken for granted.

So I base my thesis on this: Cinderella doesn't get derailed all the time, but she DOES, sometimes. And when she does, it can be difficult to watch. The teams that are capable of such a derailment -- the ones who scoff at talk of destiny and fate and magic dust -- are ones like the Steelers, who are smash mouth and big on defense and disdainful of the media darlings standing across the sidelines from them.

It could very well be that the Cardinals will line up for the opening kickoff and then it will hit them, all at once.

"My goodness, what did we go and get ourselves into?"

This is the Super Bowl, folks. Aside from Warner (and I know that's like asking Mary Lincoln how she liked the play otherwise, but work with me here), the Cardinals have a bunch of first-timers on their team. Super Bowl rookies. Heck, playoff rookies until just a few weeks ago. The Steelers came to Tampa as if it was their birthright. They're probably still steaming that it took them THIS long to make it back to another Big Game.

Me thinks this one is going to be ugly at times -- sort of like the Ravens' win over the New York Giants eight years ago. Only, the Steelers don't have the handicap of Trent Dilfer as their quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger isn't chopped liver, you know. He has as many Super Bowl wins as Warner does.

I don't do predictions. But if you kidnap my family and force me to make one, here it is: Pittsburgh 17, Arizona 13.

If anyone asks, you didn't hear it here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday's New Legacy: The New "Knee Jerks" Is Here! The New "Knee Jerks" Is Here!

It's finally here! After a morning delay, another webisode of "The Knee Jerks" is assailing your senses. For the newbies, every Thursday I chat up the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience. This is where we bitch and moan and (occasionally) praise folks in the world of sports.

This week, we talk about the Tigers' new closer; grade the team's off-season; wonder why exhibition games in the NHL affect regular season ones; handicap the Red Wings' chances of making a trade deadline move; and, as always, the lovable regulars, aka WordAss and Jerk of the Week.

OK, OK -- you've waited long enough today. On with the show!


Eno: I'm afraid that you've come upon 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. Bonjour, Al!

Big Al: Hey, we speak American in these parts, Mr. Journalist dude! Don't get all high flalutin' on me! So what's on the mind of Detroit's most prolific blogger this week?

Eno: "Most prolific", wow! Well, I'd like to chat you up about the Tigers' new closer, Brandon Lyon. I know you were among the hand-wringers who feared Fernando Rodney was gonna be "the guy." What's your knee jerk?

Big Al: First off, don't believe the Tigers' spin, saying Lyon will "compete" for the closer's gig. He IS the closer, at least to start the season. He's done it fairly effectively in the past (even if it was in the Junior Varsity league, aka the National League), and he's being paid close to $5 million for the season. I doubt the Tigers would shell out that much cash for a set-up man. I like that it's only a one year deal, as the Tigers have some solid bullpen options gaining experience in the minors. Lyons is essentially a younger Todd Jones. That's not a bad thing, as Jones was pretty damn effective as Tiger.

Eno: You basically just said what I wrote at Johnny Grubb Monday. NO competition, you're right. Fans better realize, though, that Lyon isn't a "blow them away" type of closer. So he's like Jones in that respect. But he throws strikes, and has several pitches. All that, and he's only 29. I put this in the AGREE column. [Tigers GM] Dave Dombrowski pretty much crossed everything off his off-season "to do" list, wouldn't you say?

Big Al: Pretty much, oh wise Eno-san. Improve defense on the left side of the infield? Check. Find a starting catcher? Check. Sign a closer? Check. Add depth to the rotation? Check. Overall, considering he was hamstrung by not being allowed to add to payroll, Dombrowski had a fairly successful off-season. The players he obtained (Lyons, catcher Gerald Laird, shortstop Adam Everett, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson) aren't All-Stars. But they are legit major league role players. Something the Tigers sorely lacked in 2008, when Domrowski went for the "All-Stars at every position" strategy. Sure, the players I just named have issues (especially Jackson, who thinks the strike zone is only a suggestion), but I'd have to give the Tigers a "B" for their off-season. What thinks you, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Well, I think you judge an off-season AFTER the season, don't you? After all, last year we thought DD had himself a helluva one, and look what happened! But since I have no crystal ball, I have to agree that it APPEARS that DD has acquitted himself well. He's signed thru 2011, but another debacle could have rendered that status moot as far as him staying on. Although, Mike Ilitch has shown patience with his Red Wings management staff in the past.

Big Al: Well, he did get Miguel Cabrera last year, which would make any off-season a success. But I digress... Sure, as in any trade or signing, you can't make a fair judgment till the results are in. But considering what we have to go with before the season even starts, I think we can at least say the Tigers should be a better team in 2009...if they stay healthy and the older players don't start to decline. Which are big question marks, considering some of the players the Tigers are depending upon are aging (left fielder Carlos Guillen, second baseman Placido Polanco), coming off of injury (starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman), or both (DH Gary Sheffield).

Eno: Speaking of Polanco, what do you make of the Tigers appearing to drag their heels in extending his contract? What are they afraid of? I believe he's still only 32.

Big Al: He’s 33, actually. I'm all for re-signing the Placidome, but it has to be for a reasonable amount of money and not very long-term. Slap-hitting middle infielders who don't walk much and depend upon a high batting average to be valuable at the plate tend to decline fast as they age. I’d be cautious, as Polanco's stats took a turn for the worse in 2008. I think the Tigers are going to take a wait-and-see stance on their large domed second baseman, seeing how he plays in the first half of the season before making any determination in regard to extending Polanco's deal.

Eno: Well, he ended up over .300 after a rough start, and still is one of the toughest dudes in the game to K. I guess "wait and see" isn't a bad strategy. I just thought it was odd when it comes to Placidome, as you call him. (I know, I know – it’s because of his big noggin!). Before we move on, why must a manager be signed beyond the current season? If I hear Drew Sharp cry "lame duck" one more time I'm gonna toss me cookies!

Big Al: No kidding. Sharp's a HACK. As for the Tigers' supposed "lame duck" manager, Jim Leyland, he'll get an extension if the Tigers play well. If not, he won't. Pretty simple, actually. Leyland is an old hand, experienced in running a team and already has the respect of his team. The fact he doesn't have a contract beyond this season doesn't change a thing. Anyway, the "lame duck" crap is overrated. Didn't Walter Alston manage the Dodgers for over two decades on a series of one-year deals? He did pretty damn well as a lame duck.

Eno: Yes, I've been invoking Alston for a while now, including here. I wish someone other than me would call Leyland out on this damning point: every year he's managed the Tigers (including the pixie dust 2006 season), the Tigers have had awful – AWFUL – second halves. Of particular concern has been August. A quick lookup on will prove it to you. Leyland's teams fade in August, and it damn near killed them in 2006, too. I don't mean to nitpick the guy, but that's a huge concern for me.

Big Al: The Tigers have been an awful second half team for years, before the Marlboro Man was even in the picture. Of course, for many of those seasons the Tigers were a God awful first half team too. But it is a concern for a team supposedly built to compete for a playoff spot. I'm sure this is another reason why Dombrowski is holding off on handing Leyland a contract extension. Maybe this trend is why the Tigers have decided to vastly improve their defense. Offenses can slump, but defense rarely goes away. In the end, it's going to be all about the pitching. If the Tigers pitch well, they'll contend all year. If the staff implodes, like it did in '08, they won't. The second half record won't make a difference if they don't get bounce back seasons from their members of the starting rotation.

Eno: Moving right along....I'm lobbing the ball into your court. Which will it be: overhand slam or cross court put away?

Big Al: Neither. It's a B.C. two-hander, instead! Let's delve into the moronic mind of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who saw it fit to suspend (for one regular season game) two of the league's best citizens, Red Wings Nick Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, for missing the activities for the NHL's All-Star weekend. Bettman lowered the boom despite the fact they were both injured and the so-called rule saying they had to come is not in any rulebook. Wings fans, as you would think, are up in arms, calling for Bettman's head on a stick. What's your take on this brouhaha?

Eno: Idiotic. Moronic. Someone had a good point: if you're so worried about the true stars making the team, then clean up your voting procedures, so that ballot box stuffing is at least curtailed a bit. Thank God it's only a game against Columbus but that's hardly the point. But I have just one word, really: WHATEVER.

Big Al: The big issue I have is punishing the Wings in the REGULAR SEASON for something involving an EXHIBITION GAME. This is just another clueless move by a clueless league. For example, what happens if the Blue Jackets beat a short handed Wings team, and those two points end up deciding a playoff berth? The proverbial shit will hit the fan. Any All-Star game should not affect the regular season in any way. Bettman just doesn't get it. Then again, he never has. One good thing may come from this, though. The Wings may take this slight from the league, and run with it as a rallying cry. We can only hope.

Eno: I know, it makes no sense whatsoever. Speaking of the Red Wings, do you see any trade deadline moves coming up? Or is everything pretty much set?

Big Al: I doubt they do much of anything. The Red Wings are up against the cap, and have several NHL-ready players in Grand Rapids if needed. They are about as set as set can be going into the second half of the season. Of course, an injury to one of their stars could change my outlook, but as things stand now, I'm fine with the Wings keeping a pat hand. What's your take, Eno-sabi?

Eno: I tend to agree, but rarely does [GM Ken] Holland not do ANYTHING. But you're right about the cap. Any move would have to involve shipping someone out, too, So I suppose the odds are against a move. Not that they need any. I honestly don't see anything wrong with this team, do you?

Big Al: I'm a tad leery about the goaltending, but I've been a tad leery of the goaltending for years. The Red Wings need to do 3 things. Stay healthy, watch the minutes of Nick Lidstrom and determine if Ty Conklin or Chris Osgood is your playoff starter. The Wings will go into the playoffs as the Stanley Cup favorite, and rightly so.

Eno: Ah yes, the goaltending situation. It's almost like that's our "default" concern, even if it REALLY ISN'T a concern. I still think the move of the playoffs was Mike Babcock's gutsy switch from Dominik Hasek to Osgood for Game 5 against Nashville. Not too many coaches in the NHL have the brass pucks to make that move.

Big Al: Not too many coaches are as secure in their job as Mike Babcock, either. The Wings know they have one of the best, if not the best, coach in the NHL. In any playoff series the Wings play, the Wings will always have the advantage behind the bench. I'm sure he'll have a free hand in determining which goalie is between the pipes in Game One of the playoffs. If I had to venture a guess, it'll be Conklin. He's just plain outplayed Ozzie this season. But having a multi-Stanley Cup-winning goalie in your hip pocket as a fall back option isn't too shabby. Honestly, as long as the blue liners play up to their capabilities, the Wings could put YOU in goal, and they'd still be favored to win.

Eno: Hey, I could stone some of the best street hockey guys in my day! Well, NOT starting with Osgood worked last year; why not try it again? you hear that? Do my ears deceive me?

Big Al: Yes, they do deceive..wait, I hear it too! It'''s WORDASS!


Big Al: Fire away, when ready, Eno-sabi.

Eno: Indeed! OK, how about Allen Iverson?

Big Al: A.I.? No longer the Answer, now a Question Mark. Keep ‘em coming; let 'er rip, Eno-sabi.

Eno: Next up: A.I.'s beleaguered coach, Michael Curry (another big noggin guy)

Big Al: I have to agree with the Chris McCosky article in the Detroit News. Over coaching! Curry has an experienced team, let 'em play. And no more of the small ball. NO MORE!

Eno: The Lions' new o-coordinator, Scott Linehan.

Big Al: The anti-Jim Colletto. Linehan has been successful as an OC in the past, unlike any of the coordinators Rod Marinelli had working under him this past season.

Eno: OK, one more: Joe Torre's book

Big Al: Tempest in a teapot. Pure sensationalism. The only rubberneckers who care about the BS in the Yankees' locker room are NY fans and the MSM. Ready for a few, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Hit me, I'm open!

Big Al: You are always open when you run the post pattern...Oh, you're ready for more WORDASS? OK, let's go with the Lions' attempt at spin, Monday's "Town Hall Meeting."
Eno: I never, NEVER, want to see any NFL team and "Town Hall Meeting" in the same sentence. And from what I know, the results were largely useless. Do the Patriots and Colts and Steelers hold such meetings? NO!!

Big Al: Good call, oh wise Eno-san. The only "news" from the Lions' attempt at spin is the likelihood we've seen the last of Bubbles the Lion on the side of Detroit's helmets after this coming season. Big whoop. Next, give me your best WORDASS in regard to the Super Bowl!

Eno: In honor of former MLB pitcher Joaquin Andujar, one word: Youneverknow.

Big Al: The Cards have nothing to lose, and big underdogs have done well in the past. Hell, as you just said, youneverknow... Let's go back to the NBA, and the Pistons' mercurial center who’s having the worst season of his career at age 34, Rasheed Wallace.

Eno: Let me now honor Dandy Don Meredith: "Turn out the lights, the parrrty's ohhhverrr...."

Big Al: If there was any question the Pistons would try to bring back ‘Sheed, they have been answered. He is aging badly right before our eyes. Thanks for the memories ‘Sheed, but it's time to go. Last one, Eno-sabi. Back to football, the Cardinals' wunderkind head coach, and miracle worker, Ken Whisenhunt.

Eno: Amazing what you can do when you learn in a football factory like Pittsburgh, eh?

Big Al: We can only hope the Lions, and The Schwartz, come close to the success the first time head coaches in Arizona and Pittsburgh have had. Yeah, right... Before we name our Jerks of the Week, anything else on your mind, Mr. Journalist?

Eno: Well, I'm a little saddened by the news that The Mayor, Sean Casey, won't be seeking another term. A great guy in a sport that needs as many as it can get. I wish him well.

Big Al: I think The Mayor also realized there's not much of a MLB market for aging first basemen with no power. But he had a fairly good MLB career for someone with limited talent. Casey was a credit to the Tigers while he was here, and one of the few to actually play well in the '06 World Series. Adios, Mayor!


Big Al: So who's your Jerk of the Week, Eno?

Eno: Well, this one is kinda rough, maybe – perhaps I'm being too mean – but I'd like to nominate Kenny Rogers, for STILL not officially notifying the Tigers of his intentions: retire, or keep playing? I think players who do that are, frankly, rude. The Tigers have been very good to him. It's time for him to reciprocate and let them know WTF he plans on doing.

Big Al: I agree The Gambler owes the Tigers an explanation of some sort, at the very least. Thankfully, Detroit has moved on, but Rogers will be always be remembered fondly in the D for his heroics in 2006. My Jerks are the thugs masquerading as MSU hockey players, Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp, who assaulted the Wolverines' Steve Kampfer. I've never seen a player swing his stick at the head of a defenseless player laid out on the ice before. It was a disgusting display, and MSU did the right thing by kicking them off the team.

Eno: What the Hell happened to MSU hockey, btw? How did they fall so hard so fast? I admit I don't follow college hockey all that closely, but geez – did they sink overnight or something?

Big Al: The actions of Saturday night were the capper for what's been the worst season in memory for MSU hockey. Spartans' head hockey coach Rick Comley’s job has to be in peril. Where have you gone, Ron Mason?!

Eno: Kicked upstairs and on his way to Retirement Land. OK, my friend, it was fun as usual. What's your Super pick this Sunday? Tell me no lies, now.

Big Al: Why not ride the hot hand? Cardinals win in a squeaker. Let's say, 24-21. Who's your pick?

Eno: Hmmmm...I just CAN'T bring myself to pick the Cards; I don't know why. Steelers win Super Bowl number six for them... 17-13.

Big Al: Well, I think that wraps up another session of the Knee Jerks. Will I see you next week, Eno-sabi?

Eno: God, and technology, willing! Tootles!

Big Al: Tootles? Same Jerk time, same get my drift... Seriously, tootles?

Eno: Don't worry; I won't be wearing any pink shirts soon. I'll see ya!

Big Al: Later, oh wise one! Tootles?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WDFN: The End, As Always, Was Quick And Unyielding To The Listeners

The death of a radio station, as we know it, is always swift and final. It doesn't sneak up and infect the body, withering it away in slow and painful fashion. It's always, "Here today, gone tomorrow." That's just the way radio works.

The suits don't let the on-air talent make any final goodbyes or pontificate on why they're being let go. Usually, they do their shift and are then notified: see ya -- wouldn't want to be ya. We're switching to country music, or all-news, or, whatever. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

WDFN died last week. Suddenly, swiftly, without much warning. The usual path to extinction.

The bosses at Clear Channel took a wide broom and swept out just about all of the local voices, including even the venerable Mike Stone and Bob Wojnowski -- Stoney and Wojo to their listeners. Their replacements are syndicated names who wouldn't know Madison Heights from Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe from Eastpointe.

Sometimes, when I listened to The Fan, I wondered if certain of their folks knew the difference between something a little more private and anatomical on their own bodies. Same thing with the bozos who phoned in to put their ignorance on display in car radios all over town.

I scowled when the talk often turned from sports -- instead drifting over to locker room talk about flatulence, pretty girls, and drinking.

There were times when I wished WDFN off the air, because if they weren't going to talk about sports, then why bother?

Well, now they're gone, and as mad as I could get at them at times, I'm still very sad and sorry to see them go. They may have been maddening, but they were mine to browbeat; nobody else had better do it.

From a business standpoint, WDFN has probably been teetering on the brink of this plug-pulling for quite some time. Their ratings were never any good, and it's like recruiting in college sports: if you don't have the ratings/recruits, you don't make it. Simple as that. You can't charge a lot of bucks for advertising, if your numbers are scraping the bottom of the barrel. And if you can't charge a lot of dough for advertising....

The Fan was regularly getting its ass kicked by WXYT, with its combination sports/news/pop culture format. For whatever reason, Program Director Rona Danziger and her staff couldn't quite find the answer for XYT's dominance. They did the usual juggling of staff and shifts and such, leaving afternoon drive time to Stoney and Wojo, and hoped for the best. But nothing really worked. And the radio business doesn't listen to the loud minority; it only is concerned with the bottom line, which screams.

So it doesn't matter how many people are left without their Sean Baligian in the morning or their Stoney and Wojo on the way home. Doesn't matter if there are protests or angry e-mails or general whining about the matter. The decision is done, is final, and if you don't like it, tough.

In the summer of 1994, I was at Lions training camp, with a videographer, waiting to get some post-practice comments from coach Wayne Fontes and his players. It was back in my days in local cable TV. Training camp was held at the Silverdome back then.

Suddenly, this attractive blonde who'd been sitting by herself on a small hill, some 25-30 feet away, approached us. She was cheerful and curious.

"Whatchya guys doing?," she asked, attracted to the video camera and microphone.

And Jennifer Hammond started talking. She was gushing over her new gig -- the one that caused her to move from Chicago -- and how excited she was to be in a major sports market, doing radio. She was high energy and I liked her right away. I wished her success at her new job, working for that new station in town, WDFN radio.

Hammond, "The Hammer", is still in town, of course, plying her trade for channel 2 and nationally for Fox Sports during the NFL season as a sideline reporter. She's done quite well for herself, by all appearances.

I wonder what she's thinking about the demise of WDFN. Many, many characters -- Hammond's early colleagues -- have long come and gone. The early on-air personalities were mostly not from Detroit, and it was painfully obvious at times. But then The Fan got it together and began doling out jobs to those who actually grew up around here. Baligian was one of those, and the passion he has for Detroit sports was made loud and clear every morning. I rather liked him, and told him so when I would see him from time to time.

So WDFN is no more. Cut out of our consciousness by the emotionless radio management scalpel. The surgeons have no real idea what it is they excised. Nor do they really care, I suppose.

That's radio for you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Curry's Rookieness Not Helping, But Blame Dumars For Pistons' Mess

This is all Joe Dumars's fault, you know.

The Pistons are 24-19. If you take a look at the NBA standings today, you'll see that such a record is a dime a dozen. The league is filled with teams bobbing over .500 in unspectacular fashion.

So it's not overdoing it to say that the Pistons, under a rookie head coach, are just another team in the NBA at this moment. I wouldn't give you more than a few bucks for their chances to last even two rounds in the playoffs this spring.

Of course, that's just me. In January. Last I checked, the Larry O'Brien Trophy is handed out in June, not in the dead of winter.

But despite the time remaining in the season -- almost 40 games -- nothing that's happened in the first 43 has really hinted at the Pistons being anything more than a pretender come playoff time.

Again, blame Dumars, the Pistons president.

It was Dumars, after all, who brought in Michael Curry, with just one year of coaching under his belt (as an assistant), to coach this odd and sometimes maddening bunch. And it was Dumars who upset Curry's apple cart by trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, barely a week into the season. And it was Dumars who let ball-hawking defender Lindsey Hunter walk away, when on-ball defense has been a problem at times.

But mainly it was Dumars's decision to cast a rookie coach into the drama that might prove to be the fatalistic move of the season.

Now, before I get accused of talking out of both sides of my mouth -- it wouldn't be the first time I've been judged in that manner -- let me admit that I thought Curry's lack of being a big-name player and being relatively fresh on the coaching scene would be a positive.

That was back in July. Now I'd like two minutes for rebuttal.

Curry is falling into the same trap that doomed Flip Saunders (a veteran coach, so there you go): a lack of a consistent rotation. Not to mention the sometimes-we're small-sometimes-we're not shuffling of the starting lineup.

Dumars has put Curry in a tough situation, made even tougher by the seemingly endless period of getting used to Iverson, and the emergence of Rodney Stuckey as a bonafide starting point guard.

This might be that season that befells a lot of consistent contenders: the proverbial step back to take that giant leap forward.

Except that, in most of those instances, those teams' rosters aren't in flux.

The Pistons could look drastically different within the next 12-18 months. So could a lot of teams. The free agent classes of 2009 and 2010 are game changers. Hell, they're league changers. Dumars has his eyes on these basketball magicians, some of whom could become Pistons and then ALL bets are off.

Hey, there's not even any assurances that Iverson, whose contract expires this summer, will be a Piston next season. And after all this getting acclimated time, to boot. Some cynics think that Iverson may not even survive next month's trading deadline. I wouldn't bet against them at this point.

This isn't a throwaway season for the Pistons, even though it looks that way. But it's almost certain that they will go into the playoffs in a way that they haven't since 2002: as nothing more than a middle seed that doesn't figure to make any noise. And maybe that's not a bad thing; there's sometimes something to be said for being off everyone's radar.

The Pistons are a fair-to-middling basketball team grinding it out in the dead of winter, often with so-so results. They are a whopping 10-1/2 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division. If the playoffs began today, the Pistons would play Game 1 in Atlanta. With a second round date with the Celtics, should they somehow survive the Hawks. It's not a terribly confidence-inspiring road map back to the Conference Finals.

But like I said, blame Joe Dumars. He can take it. He's taken an awful lot of credit, after all. He can handle a little dead-of-winter haterade.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Unknown Coach: Don't Fear Him, Necessarily

Let’s take a little poll.

By a show of hands, how many of you heard of new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz prior to, say, Christmas Day?

I don’t see too many digits wagging. Let’s try by round of applause.

Hmm…awfully quiet in here, isn’t it?

Schwartz is the poor sap Lions management has tapped to transform its wretched football team into something that you can, at the very least, watch with both eyes open. That few people had ever heard of him prior to his name being bandied about in rumors after the season is inconsequential. He’s The Guy. So deal with it.

For the record, Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Been that for the past eight seasons. By the numbers, Schwartz has coordinated some of the finest defenses in the NFL. Still, he did so largely in anonymity. Only the most diehard fans keep track of who the coordinators are for every team in the league.

Soon after the 2008 season ended – the Lions sans even one victory throughout the 16-game schedule – coach Rod Marinelli was canned. No surprise there. Then the names started being bandied about.

Schwartz’s kept rolling off the tongues of the so-called NFL “insiders”. The cape of anonymity was beginning to be ripped away from his back.

Defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans. Even casual fans knew that the Titans have been known lately for having shutdown defenses.

2008 turned into 2009. Shaking off the fuzz of the New Year’s frivolities, more and more Lions fans became acutely aware of Jim Schwartz. He was going to be interviewed, in cloak and dagger fashion, somewhere in these United States.

Other names were mentioned as possible Lions coaches. But none more than Schwartz’s.

Then, on Monday the 12th, the Lions made Schwartz available for the media. He was in town for interview no. 2. This one was going to be with owner Bill Ford Sr. It was becoming more and more evident that this previously unknown assistant coach and little-known defensive coordinator was the Lions’ man. At the press gathering, Schwartz made a joke.

“I think,” he said of the Lions’ quarterback situation, “that it’s time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne.”

Schwartz displayed a key quality needed to coach the Lions: a wonderful sense of gallows humor.

Schwartz, prowling the sidelines as the Titans' Coordinator of Defense

Then, on Friday the 16th...

“I’m not here to exorcise ghosts of the past,” Schwartz, newly-hired as Lions head coach, said to the throng gathered at Ford Field. It was a nice sentiment, but someone should have broken the news to him: that’s exactly what he’s been brought to Detroit to do. Or else, why bother hiring a new coach at all?

Jim Schwartz has some credentials. He’s worked for a winning NFL program, in the upper level of coaching management. A coordinator position, if it was a beer, would be known as Head Coach Lite.

Don’t always fear the unknown.

In 1983, a well-coiffed gentleman stood before the Detroit media and posed with a basketball. He was dressed to the nines. We’d soon find out that, to Chuck Daly, “casual day” meant you left the hanky out of the pocket.

Chuck Daly: from unknown to Hall of Fame

Daly was unknown, largely. He had been a basketball coach out east, at the college level. He was an anonymous NBA assistant in Philadelphia. In between he gabbed into a radio microphone for a time, analyzing the Sixers games. Then, due to some unfortunate luck, Daly became interim coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a time when the team was derisively known as the Cadavers.

His record as an interim was 9-32.

And that was his career NBA coaching record when Pistons GM Jack McCloskey tried to sell Chuck Daly to the denizens in town as the answer to the team’s ongoing troubles. It was soon learned that Daly became the Pistons’ coach because a few bigger-named guys turned McCloskey down flat.

I can assure you that hardly anyone knew who the hell Chuck Daly was before he was unveiled to the media in May 1983. Then his resume was printed in the paper, and many of us wished we never met him at all. He appeared to be, at the time, just another sad sack coach breezing through town.

Today, when you walk into The Palace of Auburn Hills and look up, way up, you’ll see a banner with Chuck Daly’s name and symbolic “number” – 2 (for two NBA championships) – emblazoned on it.

The unknown coach hasn’t always worked out. To that, I must admit. And the Lions have had themselves plenty of those types.

Rick Forzano. Tommy Hudspeth. Marty Mornhinweg. Rod Marinelli. They were, after all was said and done, guys who were indeed just breezing through town.

So it’s forgivable and understandable for you to be wary of yet another low profile, no-name guy who’s been brought in to resuscitate pro football in Detroit. I don’t expect handstands and confetti because the Lions hired Jim Schwartz.

But Schwartz can coordinate himself some defense, and if there’s anything that was most slapstick about the Lions’ 0-16 season, it was the Swiss cheese defense they put on the field every Sunday. It was a defense bereft of playmakers, with pass defenders who played as if they were allergic to the football. It was, frankly, a joke.

Still, you’re given a free pass if you snicker and sneer at the hiring of the previously unknown Jim Schwartz. You do, after all, have history mostly on your side.

But what if Schwartz can coach a little bit, and sticks around for nine years or so, like Chuck Daly did with the Pistons?

It’s not like the Lions aren’t due or anything.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cunningham and Schwartz: Mutual Admiration & Lions History Buffs, To Boot

Hey, any Lions coach who can invoke Jack Christiansen is OK in my book.

So is any named Gunther.

The Lions' new defensive coordinator is both. Gunther Cunningham is thrilled to be in Detroit, working with old sidekick Jim Schwartz. He gushed over having the same philosophy as Schwartz (getting to the quarterback, being aggressive, playing limited zone defense) and talked about how the Lions roster, while holey, isn't a total loss.

Then he spoke to this old curmudgeon when he referenced Christiansen.

Seems Cunningham cut his coaching teeth in the 1970s, working for Christiansen at Stanford. Christiansen is a Hall of Fame defensive back, among the greatest Lions players of all time. And the reunion of Cunningham with Schwartz in Detroit (they worked together for three seasons in Tennessee) appears to have touched the 62-year-old's heart.

"Now you figure this one out," Cunningham told the Free Press. "I'm going to the Detroit Lions. Jack Christiansen is in the Hall of Fame and one of the greatest players the Lions ever had. Sometimes you really don't know what's in front of you.

"When my wife brought that up the other day, I had some tears in my eyes. Jack gave me an opportunity at Stanford when he was coaching, and I followed the Lions as a young man aspiring to play football. Now to go back to the place he played along with Jim Schwartz is really an emotional thing for me. Maybe this is the way it's all supposed to be."

Wow. Talk about playing the karma card.

That's OK -- you don't see too many coaches come through here and start waxing philosophical about great Lions players from the Golden Age of pro football. Now already two have -- Schwartz and Cunningham. Schwartz made his "We need to find a replacement for Bobby Layne" crack when he met the media during the interview process.

So there's appreciation for the glorious history that used to be associated with the Lions, from the new head coach and the new coordinator of defense. That's a start.

But what's truly exciting about Cunningham, aside from the Christiansen mention, is the ferocity that's associated with him. An unnamed fellow NFL coach said Cunningham is "half crazy." Schwartz said that, in Cunningham's world, "It's always fourth and one." And Cunningham himself said, "Whether a player likes me doesn't really matter to me. As long as I have his respect."

All of that should be music to a Lions fan's ears.

Words are just that, I know. But when was the last time you heard an incoming Lions coach -- head coach, position coach, coordinator -- described as "half crazy", in a GOOD way?

I liked Cunningham's remark about not caring whether his players like him or not. There's a lot of Scotty Bowman in there, and that's not a bad thing.

The Lions have tried the mad man before. He was Mike Martz, the high-maintenance offensive coordinator. But Martz wasn't half crazy, he was simply crazy. And totally unwilling to bend. Cunningham spoke of how he played zone defense in Kansas City, because that's what head coach Herman Edwards wanted -- even though zone flies in the face of what Cunningham's all about. You think Martz would defer like that to his head coach?

I have no clue how much better the Lions defense will be next season under the Mutual Admiration Society members Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham. But both of them seem to appreciate where this franchise has been -- lo those many years ago -- and where it deserves to be, once more. And I'm not so sure that their predecessors have always "gotten" that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WARNING!! This Is Thursday, And You Know What THAT Means....

Hey! Welcome to Thursday, which means another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al." For you newbies, this is my weekly gabfest with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience. It's where we whine, sulk, complain, and on occasion, toss a few bouquets. But only on occasion!

This week, we chat up the Lions' new D-coordinator; wonder what the Hell is going on in Pistons coach Michael Curry's bald head; mourn the passing of WDFN as we once knew it; welcome the return of The Turtle; and, as usual, play some WordAss and name our Jerks of the Week.

Without further ado......

Eno: Sorry to break the news to you, but you've stumbled across 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 – or, as I like to call him, The MVP of the MVN. Greetings, Almeister!

Big Al: Almeister, Bugermeister, Meistermeister, call me whatever you'd like. Hey, Almeister Meistermiester! Anyway... So what's on your mind this week, Enomeister? There's been quite a bit of news in the Detroit sports world over the past week.

Eno: Well, the freshest news (as we do this chat) is the hiring of Gunther Cunningham as the Lions' new defensive coordinator. Your, umm, "knee jerk" response, sir?

Big Al: As I wrote on TWFE, it's not a home run sort of hire. Cunningham is a football lifer, and I do have concerns the NFL is beginning to pass the 60+ year-old coordinator by. The Chiefs were 31st in overall defense in 2008. But he also has an extensive track record, and has been in charge of some very good Ds in the past. You cannot deny he's a HUGE upgrade over Rod Marinelli's son-in-law. That alone is reason enough to consider this hire...not bad.

Eno: Right. He has the experience, for sure. And he has history with new head coach Jim Schwartz; he apparently was Schwartz's no. 1 choice. Cunningham is, by all accounts, a very intense guy. Plus, you gotta like any football coach named...GUNTHER....right?

Big Al: If you say so, Enomeister. In the end, Gunther will be implementing Schwartz's schemes anyway. The Schwartz made his name in NFL circles as a defensive coordinator, so the Lions' defense is going to have his fingerprints all over it. I'm not going to go off half-cocked in either direction over this news. Cunningham is only one piece of the puzzle, and the Lions' success will depend more on the players on the field executing the defense, instead of the men scheming it.

Eno: True that. Which leads me to my next query: WTF is going to happen in the Lions' front office? This third wheel they're gonna hire, to work with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum – what sort of individual will this be? A lackey, or someone with some personnel chops? I'm still trying to get my arms around this whole three-headed monster scheme the Lions plan to employ in Allen Park.

Big Al: Maybe it will end up being The Schwartz. He does have scouting experience. I'm sure he'll have some say in the upcoming draft. If not him, I have a feeling the third head of the monster won't join the Lions till after this coming draft. No NFL team in its right mind is going to allow one of its personnel gurus to leave, and take his research with him. Not going to happen. As the Lions already have their "brain trust" (term used loosely) in place, finding someone isn't going to be easy. If you are still under contract, you aren't allowed to make a lateral move to another team anyway. So the Lions, as usual, are between a rock, and a rock.

Eno: Typical. Well, I certainly hope they let Schwartz have some say-so, regardless of who the third head is. Any head coach worth his salt, or with any pride, wants input on who gets drafted. But I suppose we're looking at addition by subtraction here. Meaning, no Matt Millen = addition!! Oh, btw, I just read where Gunther Cunningham has been described by another NFL coach as being "half-crazy." Some call him the d-version of Mike Martz: high intensity, Type A personality guy. But what I like is that he doesn't take you-know-what from his players. There's been a lack of a lot of things with the Lions, but one of the biggest lacks is that of accountability.

Big Al: The Lions could use a little crazy, in a good way. Rod Marinelli was just crazy (he believes in invisibility, you know), period. Cunningham may be a nice yang to The Schwartz's yin. Schwartz seems more analytical, as going by his saber-like take on football, while Cunningham is your stereotypical screamer/madman on the sidelines. It could be a good mix.

Eno: Exactly. So how surprised were you that Jon Gruden got the ziggy in Tampa?

Big Al: Not totally surprised, as he had pretty much used up whatever goodwill he generated in winning a Super Bowl. Their late season collapse, combined with Chucky's inability to develop any continuity at QB, sealed his fate. More than anything else, the timing of the firing was odd. Most any coach getting the ziggy is zigged immediately after the end of the season. The Bucs waited almost three weeks before lowering the boom. For those Lions' fans out there upset the Lions missed out on Chucky, don't be. Gruden is who you want if you have a veteran team trying to get over the final hump. He's not who you want if you are rebuilding. It's not his nature.

Eno: I agree about the rebuilding thing. Gruden would have a coronary trying to do that! OK, what's on YOUR mind, Meister? Hey, remember Meister Brau beer?

Big Al: Of course! Though I never had the guts to make the Homer Simpson-approved Skittlebrau! Eww. The other breaking news of late is the end of “small ball” at The Palace! Pistons head coach Michael Curry has FINALLY given up on his three guard starting lineup, and will now bring Rip Hamilton off the bench. Personally, I can't believe Curry waited this long. But better late than never. What's your take, Eno-brau?

Eno: Well, I wrote at OOB that Hamilton kind of surprised me by taking the news so well. But the decision had to be made. No surprise he chose Hamilton to come off the bench, rather than Allen Iverson. Personally, I think Hamilton off the bench could cause other teams fits, in addition to making the Pistons stronger defensively, particularly at the start of games. But here's the rub: does this mean Rip has his back pockets on the bench in the closing minutes of games? I mean, usually the guys who start are the guys who finish. What will happen at the ends of games? Won't the Pistons need Hamilton's dead-eye shooting in crunch time?

Big Al: Questions like that is why Curry is being paid the big bucks. It’s also why he likely demurred so long in making the decision to begin with. Chuck Daly was able to keep three talented guards happy, and at the end of games Daddy Rich would have on the floor whomever he thought gave the Pistons the best chance to win that particular night. Which is why, for example, Vinnie Johnson was the man who hit the winning shot to beat the Trailblazers in the 1990 NBA Finals. So I would imagine some nights we'll see Allen Iverson closing games, on other nights, Rip. And I'm sure we'll see plenty of the small lineup, as it's not going fully away. Still, this was a decision Curry put off for far too long, allowing goofballs like us, and those in the MSM, to second guess his capabilities as a head coach. I hope Curry has learned something from this.

Eno: I think all goofballs should speak for themselves! I'm not a goofball, I'm a bottom-feeding blogger/ink-stained wretch. Let's get it straight! We seem to be worried about Curry every week at TKJ. I guess only time will tell (read: the post-season) whether a rookie coach was a mistake for these guys. What happened to Walter Herrmann? Suddenly he's milk carton material, when earlier in the season I thought he had the potential to be a great X factor; kind of like a Mehmet Okur-type dude.

Big Al: Again, it's Curry not settling on a rotation. Herrmann was in, then out. Amir Johnson was starting, then not playing at all. Jason Maxiell recently had four consecutive DNP-Coaches Decisions, then got big minutes. The players have no idea when/if they are playing. If I were one of these guys, I'd be wondering what the Hell is going on in Curry's head? He needs to set a rotation, have respective starting and bench units, and go with it. Is it that hard to figure out?

Eno: Yeah, I think that was part of Flip Saunders's downfall, too – the strangeness of the rotation. It's like everyone is part of a baseball bullpen: not REALLY knowing whether you'll be used that night, nor where and when. But at least, being in the bullpen, you kind of expect that. Not so much when you're on an NBA roster. But maybe this is part of the Pistons' Grand Plan: to be lying in the weeds, instead of being favs to make it back to the conference finals. Are they crazy like foxes in Auburn Hills?

Big Al: I think you are giving Curry and the Pistons too much credit. It's not lying in the weeds, it's a clueless, inexperienced, first time head coach learning on the job. Currently, Curry's well on his way to coaching the Pistons out of having the first round home court in the playoffs.

Eno: I was HOPING you wouldn't say that! But alas, you're probably right. Does Curry last through the next season?

Big Al: As long as the Pistons keep their playoff positioning, I believe so. [Joe] Dumars has to take some of the blame for hiring Curry in the first place, and saddling him with a pair of somewhat petulant shooting guards. So I think Dumars rides the rapids with Curry this season, and recalculates everything and everyone at the end of the season.

Eno: Again. OK, what about some other big MSM news: the ziggying of a lot of WDFN on-air staff, including even (gasp!) the popular Stoney and Wojo?

Big Al: I was saddened by the demise of The Fan. I had been a listener since day one. Not anymore. Yes, DFN wasn't as fresh as it once was, especially back in the late-1990s thru the early-2000s. The format had become somewhat stale. But I did listen to Stoney and Wojo everyday. Same for Sean Baligian. It's a damn shame Cheap Channel is going to let DFN wither and die, all so their shareholders can make a few more bucks. It's just another sign of radio's rapid decline overall.

Eno: Well, they HAD been getting their butts kicked by WXYT for a while. Radio is a very unstable thing, even for the supposed stars. Here one day, gone the next. Maybe talk radio is passe? Could it be that it gets lost in the shuffle? With podcasts, etc. out there....maybe what's happening to sports talk radio is what's happening to daily newspapers.

Big Al: The situation hasn't been helped by Cheap Channel's penny pinching ways. If CC had taken the opportunity to move The Fan to FM (106.7 isn't exactly burning up the rating books as a country station), DFN would still be a viable entity today. I honestly think CC would be happy if they could run syndicated programming on every station they own, and hire board ops at minimum wage to press buttons, instead of paying decent wages to hosts and DJs. They have destroyed local radio, thanks to their chasing profits at the expense of everything else. DFN's talent should turn up elsewhere. We can only hope, as they are good people. They always had good things to say about TWFE, and bloggers in general

Eno: Yeah, they did do that – me and OOB/Johnny Grubb included. Wait – did you hear that? Could it be.....WordASS?????


Big Al: I thought it was screams of pain coming from Tigers fans worried about the bullpen, but it could be WORDASS I hear. I'll start!

Eno: Fire away, mon ami!

Big Al: Let's begin with the new defensive coordinator of the Michigan Wolverines, a head coach who flamed out spectacularly at Syracuse, Greg Robinson.

Eno: Failed head coaches sometimes make the best coordinators.

Big Al: That they do; let's hope it holds true for Gunther Cunningham as well! OK, the Lions' first 2009 draft pick.

Eno: A snarling, mean middle linebacker. Someone Gunther can slobber over and make an example of!

Big Al: Works for me. Hell, it wouldn't bother me if the Lions went whole hog, so to speak, and drafted all defense. Next, let's try the man who is in, then out, then in the Pistons' starting lineup, Amir Johnson.

Eno: They used to say that cigarette smoking will stunt your growth. So will playing for Michael Curry! (unless you're Rodney Stuckey) . Gimme one more, Alness.

Big Al: One more? OK, let's go with the Red Wing rumored to be on the verge of signing a very long, and likely very expensive contract extension, Henrik Zetterberg.

Eno: They say 10 years is a possibility. Good for him. Best Red Wings forward to come down the pike in years, Pavel Datsyuk included. Don't sweat the "poor' first half. You MUST lock this guy up. OK, your turn....

Big Al: Let 'er rip, Eno-meister!

Eno: Let's start with those crazy Arizona Cardinals!

Big Al: Shows what a franchise QB, even a 37 year-old one, can do for a team. Were the Lions watching?

Eno: Probably too busy at the Senior Bowl! OK, how about Jim Rice, Hall of Famer?

Big Al: If he's a HoF'er, then so is Dave Parker. And don't get me going on Alan Trammell. It gets this blogger VERY pissy.

Eno: Oh, I know it does! Two more. First, MSU basketball.

Big Al: Where have you guys been? You've been missed!

Eno: And, finally, Todd McLellan's San Jose Sharks.

Big Al: Going to be one Hell of a Western Conference final with the Red Wings! Plus, to make them even more evil, they signed Satan himself, Claude Lemieux. GAK!

Eno: Let's talk about Lemieux, before we get to JOTW. Your impressions? He's making a comeback after 5 1/2 years out of the game. That's pretty impressive, no matter what you think of him, right?

Big Al: It is, but how effective can he be? At this point, all he could be is an agitator – an older, MUCH older, Kirk Maltby. Supposedly, Claude the Clod will show the Sharks "how to win". I think he'll also show them how to cheap shot, skate away from fights, and turtle. Honestly, I'd be surprised if he has anything left.

Eno: Reminds me of defenseman Carl Brewer. Do you, by chance, remember when he came back to the Leafs in 1980 at age forty-something?

Big Al: Vaguely. In 1980 I was more interested in drinking beer, meeting chicks, spending all my paychecks on beer and women, and not flunking out of college.

Eno: Oh, so THAT'S why you're such a good sports blogger! I get it now!

Big Al: I fit the profile! I liked the beer back then. Still do, just not in Conehead style mass quantities! What's your excuse?

Eno: Now? Acute beer deprivation. Takes me a month to get through a six-pack, whereas it used to take me an evening.

Big Al: No kidding, I still have beer in the fridge I picked up for Christmas! Never would have lasted a week in 1980! So, are you ready for our "Jerk of the Week"?


Eno: Let's give it a shot. You first!

Big Al: My Jerk of the Week is an easy one. Clear Channel. Say what you will about WDFN, but the station was ingrained into the local sports consciousness. Back in the mid-1990s, when you could only hear sports talk sporadically, WDFN was like an oasis in a media desert. They will be missed. Cheap Channel is the worst thing to happen to local radio since...since, well, ever. Thank God for the Internet...and bloggers, of course! Who you got, Eno-meister?

Eno: Yeah, that was too bad what happened at DFN. My JOTW is....ME, for so brutally picking the NFL conference championship games. Even my mother razzed me about it! I had Eagles-Ravens. That's not who's in, is it?

Big Al: Well, one bird did make it. Hell, I only picked the Cards to win because I was so pissed at the Lions! Between you and me, I never expected Arizona to beat the Eagles. Which is why (cliche alert!) they play the games.

Eno: I suppose so! OK, my friend. Let's reconvene next week, Alness?

Big Al: Same Jerk time, same Jerk channel, same Jerk attitude!

Eno: You bet!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New "Sixth Man" Hamilton Says All The Right Things -- For Now

Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Richard "Rip" Hamilton has taken his benching with some aplomb. I must admit, I'm a little taken aback.

Hamilton, the Pistons' All-Star guard and second-leading scorer, that tireless whippet on the basketball floor, will now join the ranks of the Sixth Men.

He got the news yesterday, as coach Michael Curry finally pulled the trigger -- asking Hamilton to come off the bench so that the Pistons may actually start some guys who are bigger than a junior college outfit. The new/old starting lineup consists of Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson in the backcourt, with Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Amir Johnson up front. It supplants the "small ball" version, with Hamilton playing the third wheel, er, guard, and with Johnson on the bench.

A recent five-game losing streak greased the skids to this decision. That, combined with the seven-game win streak that was attained with Hamilton injured, caused Curry to use some math -- otherwise known as "putting two and two together."

The solution? Get bigger -- necessitating one of the three guards to sit out the opening tap and maybe even most of the first quarters of games. Curry had his pick of Stuckey, Iverson, and Hamilton. Last week, I wrote that the coach had chickened out when Hamilton returned from his injury, opting to keep the little guys together at the start, rather than break some bad news to someone -- likely either Iverson or Hamilton. Curry didn't have that discussion, and the Pistons lost a couple more games to inferior opponents. That's when he decided to add two and two together, and bite the bullet.

Curry picked Hamilton for the benching.

The coach used some basketball speak to explain his decision, but it was hard not to think that league seniority had something to do with it. That, and the fact that Hamilton is more of a known entity to Curry.

Can Hamilton provide the Pistons with Microwave-like instant heat off the bench?

And, as I mentioned at the top, Hamilton seems to be taking the news in stride -- not looking at it as a demotion.

“That’s how I look at it: Just a sacrifice sometimes you got to make in order to win games,” he told the Free Press this morning. “Bottom line, I want to try to get back to the promise land.”

Then he added this crack: “I got to get my heat packs and I got to tell (strength coach) Arnie (Kander) to bring a bike out there to try to stay warm. It ain’t no more easing into games. By the time I get out there, guys are already going to be warmed up.”

Now, the Pistons can move forward. It is hoped.

The hard part is supposedly done: the part where Curry had to tell a starting All-Star that he would now be a Sixth Man All-Star. The part where said starter might have gone sideways and sulked.

Of course, there's still plenty of time for that. It's only January 21. But I give Hamilton high marks for putting his money where his mouth is. You know, that whole "I'm all about winning" thing. But I'm still awfully curious as to how Iverson would have handled such news. We'll probably never know. Just as well, maybe.

The Pistons have about a month to get their act together. Then, the trading deadline will be upon us. It will be team president Joe Dumars's last chance to tweak the current roster for the playoff run. The Pistons are on pace to win 48 games or so. Around here, that's like being a lottery team.

But really, it's the fifth seed -- which means you're on the road to start the first round. Again, with the Pistons, starting the playoffs on the road is so 1986.

So for now, the deed is done. Hamilton has been told of his new role. The Pistons have 42 games remaining. They'd better be an improvement over the first 40, or else we won't see very much May basketball around these parts, let alone June hoops.

Curry mentioned great Sixth Men of the past in explaining his move. One of those he invoked was The Microwave -- the Pistons' Vinnie Johnson. VJ won a couple of rings bringing his canned heat off the bench. The inference was impossible to ignore -- at least to the media types, and bottom feeding bloggers.

We'll just have to wait and see if Rip Hamilton got the hint too.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Once-Blind Cardinals Finally Find Their Nut

My, my -- look who they're letting into the Super Bowl nowadays. Have they lowered their standards in the NFL?

Another one of the league's ugly ducklings finally made its transformation to swan. It only took them six decades, but they did it.

The Lions, by that measure, have ten years still to go. But there IS hope.

The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. In uniform and everything; I don't mean as guests of the league in a private suite. They're one of the last anomalies of nature: somehow, their metabolism slowed and came to a halt.

There is now one less member of the Never Been To The Super Bowl Club.

Sitting at the table now are the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans. Oh, and the Lions. In fact, the Lions are at the head of the table. They're the chairmen of this board.

The Lions supplant the Cardinals now at the head -- of the table, that is.

The Cardinals captured the NFC Championship yesterday, their first title of any kind since 1947. They did it with their third straight playoff win, all achieved against conventional thinking. The surprising Atlanta Falcons were supposed to run around, over, and through them. The Carolina Panthers, at home, were supposed to make mincemeat of the desert team who weren't supposed to be able to win games played in the Eastern time zone. And the Philadelphia Eagles, battle-tested and used to these sort of situations, were supposed to put an end to this Cardinal Mania, for goodness sake.

None of that happened. The Lions are now, officially, by fact, numbers and irrefutable evidence, the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.

The Cardinals used to be that team. Their drought since 1947 was liberally sprinkled with slapstick and foolishness. The owners are the Bidwill family, and that was once as knee-slapping as the Ford ownership in Detroit. The Cardinals tried Chicago, then St. Louis, then Arizona. They tried calling themselves the Phoenix Cardinals for a while, before deciding to indict the entire state.

Their players used to race to the bank, to cash their paychecks, before they bounced. This was the 1950s days of the Chicago Cardinals. They once hired Bud Wilkinson as coach, some 15 years after he coached his last game -- in college. Their once-promising quarterback, Neil Lomax, broke his leg and was never the same. They had a player die in training camp of heat exhaustion (JV Cain). They would wear white jerseys at home against the Dallas Cowboys, forcing the 'Boys to wear blue -- thinking that the dark tops would function as the Cowboys' Kryptonite. Their leading pass receiver was regularly a running back (Larry Centers). They tried Buddy Ryan as coach. Now THERE was some Kryptonite. They lined up against Barry Sanders, who was playing his first game in nine months, without any practice, and gave up a 17-yard run on his first carry.

They have been the league's vagabonds, nudged out of two cities and a few time zones along the way.

But, the Bidwills have been a constant -- the common denominator. Just like the Fords in Detroit.

So what did the Cardinals do right?

Well, they caught lightning in a bottle, which happens from time to time in the NFL. But beyond that, they made some shrewd personnel moves, and had some draft success.

I know, I know -- that's like saying Charlie Brown has a chance, too, if only he'd pick a different holder for his placekicks. And Bill Ford is the Lions' Lucy Van Pelt.

But that's what happened: acquisitions of Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James. The drafting of Larry Fitzgerald. And others. And that all-important intangible: getting hot at the right time.

The Cardinals, to be fair and square, were not a great football team all season long. In fact, they were downright awful at times. They might even have had trouble beating the Lions on some weeks. They went into the playoffs as arguably the least attractive girl at the dance.

Now they'll be boogeying with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There was a time when the Steelers were ragtag and the Keystone Kops of the NFL. Many of the youngens can't fathom that; to them, the Steelers have always been good -- strong championship contenders. But throughout much of their existence -- from the late-1920s to the early-1970s -- the Steelers were almost as comical as the Cardinals. Owner Art Rooney, thank goodness, lived long enough to see his team finally win the Big One in 1975.

The Cardinals and the Steelers, for the whole enchilada. Likely not a popular choice in Las Vegas back in September.

Then again, despite as bad as the Lions have been, how many thought they'd pull off the imperfection of 0-16?

It's tempting and maybe even comforting to say that, if the Bidwills can make it to the Super Bowl, just about anyone can.

That's pretty much what we're down to in Detroit: living vicariously through other franchises.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

John Smoltz, A Red Sock? Tigers Asleep At The Switch

The Chicago Cubs never had the chance to get Lou Brock back. The New York Mets let Nolan Ryan slip through their fingers, and could never right that wrong.

Now the Tigers, our Detroit Tigers, have been revealed as being as fast asleep as Little Boy Blue when it came time to bring closure to their own Brock and Ryan debacle.

John Smoltz is going to pitch for the Boston Red Sox this summer – and maybe this fall – and I have just one question: Where were the Tigers?!

Well, they sport the right colors, the Tigers do: blue.

Blue as in the fictitious Little Boy, who was found dozing instead of looking after his sheep.

A brief history lesson, first. Pay attention, because I’m only going to go over this once. It’s all I can stomach.

The Cubs, in June 1964, traded a young, speedy outfielder to the St. Louis Cardinals, including him in a package for a starting pitcher named Ernie Broglio. The speedy kid was Lou Brock. And as soon as that year’s World Series, he began showing how duped the Cubs had been in the swap.

Brock would play the next 15 years in St. Louis, setting stolen base records, garnering over 3,000 hits, and terrorizing the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers (though in a losing effort) in separate World Series – 1964, ’67, and ’68, respectively.

And Ernie Broglio? That’s an easy one – he’s the guy the Cubs got for Lou Brock. And that’s all he ever was. After the trade, Broglio went 7-19 for the Cubs before retiring after the 1966 season.

In December 1971, the Mets packaged some players and shipped them to the California Angels, in order that they could get an infielder named Jim Fregosi. The Mets were sweet on Fregosi, believing he could solve their ongoing dilemma at third base. It didn’t look like a travesty at first blush. Fregosi was an 11-year veteran who played solidly, if not spectacularly, for the Angels. He was a proven big leaguer. And he was still only 29 at the time of the trade.

Nolan Ryan was part of the package cross-countried to the Angels. It’s hard to imagine a time when Ryan was ever young, but he was at the time – just 24 and with only four big league seasons under his big Texan belt.

Ryan blossomed into a superstar with the Angels, throwing no-hitters and racking up strikeouts like Carter’s does pills. And he wouldn’t stop pitching until he was 46 years old, after stops in Houston and the Texas Rangers.

Fregosi scuffled along until 1978, his best years behind him. That’s when he retired and got into managing – 15 years before Ryan threw his last pitch in the majors.

Lou Brock. Nolan Ryan. Two Hall of Famers traded in two of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.

The Tigers didn’t make a trade that bad, but they had a chance to correct themselves belatedly, yet were nowhere to be found.

Smoltz, 41, has pitched for only the Atlanta Braves. Been doing so since 1988. Last week, in a stunning development, Smoltz up and signed with the Red Sox as a free agent. After 21 seasons, Smoltz is switching sides.

That loud snoring you hear is coming from Comerica Park.

The Tigers drafted Smoltz, who was born in Warren, in 1985 and were nurturing him for entry into the big leagues, for his hometown team, when they found themselves in a dogfight for the divisional title in 1987.

A dour, grouchy veteran pitcher named Doyle Alexander was pitching for the Atlanta Braves, and not truly happy about it. The Braves, in those days, scraped the bottom of the standings frequently.

So the Tigers, needing another arm in their tussle with the Toronto Blue Jays for divisional supremacy, were interested when the Braves called about taking Alexander off their hands. All the Braves wanted for Doyle Alexander’s sour puss was that young Smoltz kid. The local boy. The 21-year-old who was destined for the bigs.

The Tigers made the trade.

Alexander did what he was brought to Detroit to do. He went 9-0 down the stretch, with a sparkling 1.53 ERA, and a few weeks after his 37th birthday, the Tigers zoomed past the Blue Jays in the season’s final week.

John Smoltz made his major league debut the following spring, with the wretched Atlanta Braves.

Alexander fizzled out and was out of baseball before 1990.

Smoltz is still pitching.

He made his big splash as a starter, then turned into a closer early in the 21st century because, well, the Braves needed a closer. And Smoltz was willing to help them out in that regard. After a few seasons of saving games – and saving them quite competently – Smoltz went back to being a starter because, well, the Braves needed a starter.

Not too many pitchers can pull off the starter-closer-starter routine in their careers. Smoltz did, with flying colors.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that Smoltz, a free agent, would be open to returning to the Tigers, where it all began for him. The reports said that Smoltz’s sore right shoulder, which caused him to miss the 2008 season after early-June, was healed. Whether the Braves re-signed him or not, the reports said, Smoltz was determined to pitch somewhere in 2009, even though he would turn 42 early in the season.

The Tigers were specifically mentioned – by Smoltz himself. He floated the idea out there for public consumption.

Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski didn’t have much to declare about that revelation, even though Smoltz said he’d be willing to go back to the bullpen if necessary. Dombrowski currently presides over one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Yet he was strangely silent about the possibility of bringing Smoltz back to the Tigers organization.

Then, last week, the bombshell: Smoltz would be leaving the Braves, after all, after two-plus decades. And the Red Sox, of all teams, would be signing his paychecks.

Those Little Boys Blue in Detroit barely stirred as Smoltz was inking his signature on a nice, shiny new Red Sox contract.

Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio was never brought full circle. Same with Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. But the Tigers had their chance. They could have gotten off their duffs and brought John Smoltz back home, some 21+ years after coughing him up for Doyle Alexander.

It could have been one of those better-late-than-never sort of things.

Instead, it’s just never.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Schwartz Has More To Offer Than Just A Non-M Last Name

They put another coach in front of the firing squad today in Allen Park.

Jim Schwartz is the latest one to sign his own walking papers. That's what you do, you know, when you sign on to be a head coach in pro sports. The clock starts ticking toward your eventual ziggy before the ink dries on your signature.

But that's just so cynical of me, isn't it?

First impressions of Schwartz, introduced today as the Lions' new head coach: not bad. He sounded confident and relaxed. Like this wasn't his first head coaching job. Like he wasn't stepping into the doo-doo of 0-16 and a dysfunctional front office. Like he's done this sort of thing before.

I didn't get that impression with Schwartz's predecessor, the beleaguered Rod Marinelli. From the get go, although I liked Marinelli's military-like persona, Marinelli spoke like he was, well, doing this for the first time. His speech seemed too contrived, too prepared. I didn't draw the comparison until I heard Schwartz talk, and he was very relaxed and "oh, by the way."

Of course, Schwartz has been a defensive coordinator for some eight years. You'd expect him to be more polished, frankly. And he sure seems to be.

He even got off a crack.

"If I had known it was going to be this cold here, I would have asked for more money," he said as the media types laughed.

Hey, if he knew what he was getting himself into, truly knew, he'd ask for a Brinks Truck.

The Lions must have listened to me, for a change.

I implored them to find someone who comes from a winning pedigree, and at the very least from a coordinator's role. Well, Schwartz would seem to qualify; he learned from Bill Belichick early on, and Jeff Fisher later. He coordinated the Tennessee Titans defense, and did alright. The Titans' defense was consistently among the best in the NFL. So that's good.

It remains to be seen, of course, how Schwartz will react once it sinks in: that he doesn't appear to have as much say-so in personnel matters as many NFL head coaches possess. Also, once it sinks in that tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, aka Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, are really the ones in charge. Hopefully, Schwartz won't become mystified. Check back come draft time.

The Lions' new head coach, Jim Schwartz, in happier days

But for now, it's all about Schwartz hiring a staff and beginning to evaluate what he has in Detroit. It's not much, and he said as much on Monday, when he was propped up before the media as part of his interviewing process. He politely said there were "some holes" in the roster, but was quick to add that many teams have such holes. That wasn't an easy thing to buy.

When the Lions hired Steve Mariucci, some six years ago already, they created a humongous stage on Ford Field's turf and Mooch made the long walk from the tunnel, flanked by Matt Millen and Bill Ford Jr. Even Mariucci himself, once he saw what the Lions had created, spectacle-wise, said simply, "Wow."

Too bad Mooch never lived up to that stage.

This time, Jim Schwartz held a simple, rather brief gathering -- in the same spot where Lions coaches speak to the media every week. His demeanor was casual, belying the gravity of the moment. He talked of his growing up as one of nine kids in Baltimore. Not exactly a hard-scrabble life, but certainly not with a silver spoon in his mouth, either. He said his dad would have been disappointed in him if he didn't take this challenge, because the Schwartzes never shrink from challenges. He talked a little about making his defense all-purpose: able to quell the run and the pass, if need be, based on the opponent. He spoke of becoming big and strong on the football field.

Then, just like that, he was pulled away, after a few innocent questions.

But that's OK. All intro press conferences of coaches are alike, mostly. But I was still taken by Schwartz's casualness, and his lack of awe. He expected to be a head coach someday, and now it's here. 0-16 doesn't faze him. We see a gooey, hideous mess. He simply sees a challenge.

The grass on the Lions' side of the fence never looks as brown and as full of manure as we see it from the inside.

So good luck to Mr. Schwartz. For the record, I'm OK with this.

His last name doesn't begin with M, for one.

It's a start.

Post On Jim Schwartz To Come This Afternoon

I shall ruminate about the Lions' new head coach, Jim Schwartz, after today's noon press conference.

Bet you can't wait, eh?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's Thursday ALREADY? Yes, And Time For "The Knee Jerks"!!

So what do Rip Hamilton, Allen Iverson, Dave Dombrowski, the Baseball Writers Association of America, the Detroit Lions, and Tim Tebow all have in common? They're all skewered, in various forms, in this week's webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al", my weekly gabfest with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

Enough of this silly intro.....


Eno: Ruh-roh, Rastro! It's Thursday and that means you're about to be subjected to 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, I know 2009 is but a couple weeks old, but how are you enjoying your year so far?

Big Al: Not so much. I have a new girlfriend who's crazy about me, a roof over my head and enough income to keep it, I'm relatively healthy, family is OK, but (there's always a but).I have major issues with Detroit sports! So the New Year BLOWS! The Tigers have no closer, the Lions are running a dog and pony show with coaches, the Pistons head coach hasn't the balls to bring either Rip [Hamilton] or [Allen Iverson] off the bench. The New Year has blown goats, my friend!

Eno: Well, the good news is that there are fifty weeks left in it. Or is that the BAD news? Regardless, let's start with that dog and pony show to which you refer. What's your take on parading the [Lions coaching] candidates in front of the media? I'm guessing this is part of the interview process, to see how they handle the media?

Big Al: It seems pretty silly to me. No other team in the NFL has felt the need to trot out coaching candidates to the media. It gives the impression that the Moron Twins, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, are trying to prove they are doing more than spinning their wheels in the coaching search. Sure, it's good to see these guys work the media, but really....WHO CARES? I'm more concerned about their coaching ability, not if they are photogenic and media friendly.

Eno: Yeah, I find it odd, unless it was just one guy and you could pretty much figure that he's the one. So does that mean if we don't see anyone else holding a presser, then these two – Jim Schwartz and Todd Bowles – are the frontrunners? It's a little strange, but I guess the bottom line will be in the wins and losses. What does your gut tell you? Is it Schwartz? Bowles? Someone else?

Big Al: Like you, I thought once the Lions ran Schwartz out to the media, that meant he was all but assured the gig. Then they did the same thing with Bowles, throwing a monkey wrench into the scenario. Then we hear Mayhew is planning on interviewing San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera (who, admittedly, wouldn't be a bad choice either), and supposedly have second interviews scheduled with the Vikes' Leslie Frazier and the Giants' Steve Spagnuolo, so I have absolutely no idea who could be considered the front runner. But if I go with my gut, I think the odds lean towards Schwartz being the next sacrificial lam...uh, I mean, head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Eno: Yeah, I tend to agree; maybe because he was the first one who got to sit down with Mr. Ford. BTW, I liked your version of how that interview may have gone! It pleases me that they seem to be going with someone defensive-minded. But I'm still scared the Lions will pick a "franchise quarterback" with the no. 1 overall pick. But back to the coach. Are the Lions going to be getting a legitimate rising star, or just someone who's thankful to finally be a head coach somewhere? Bowles told the Detroit media, "This is the only job I really want." A strange thing to say when you have an interview lined up in St. Louis later this week. Why should the Rams even interview him after something like that?

Big Al: That was a very odd thing for Bowles to say. Though I really like how he called the Lions "mentally damaged." That is spot damn on. But so was Schwartz saying it was time to "replace Bobby Layne." That was on the money too. I'm with you on taking a "franchise QB" first overall. The best case scenario would be that one of the top QBs (Bradford or Stafford) slide down in the draft, where the Lions could take them with the 20th pick. As for the coaches, I think they realize a couple of things. One, even if it's the Lions, being an NFL head coach is the pinnacle of the coaching profession. Two, the Lions' gig does have its plusses. First class facilities; an owner so hands off, you can't be even sure he knows he actually owns a team; a fan base so desperate for a winner, any coach who could turn around this franchise would be considered like a God. So there's that going for them, so to speak.

Eno: Oh, for sure. I've been saying that for a long time. This job could be very attractive, if only the Lions would allow it to be. But it's still a roster short on talent with a new coach who figures to have limited say in personnel. Not ideal, but you're right – it IS an NFL head coaching job, barely. Switching gears, I wrote basically what you alluded to earlier – albeit in decidedly PG-13 fashion – regarding Pistons coach Michael Curry. Looks like he's taking the easy way out for now, and sticking with small ball. I guess it's easier to bench Amir Johnson than Rip Hamilton or Allen Iverson, huh?

Big Al: Sure, it's easier. But taking the easy way out is no way to do anything, from a blog to a twelve-man NBA roster. Less than a week ago, Curry claimed there would be changes, specifically bringing one of the guards off the bench. He wanted to have his best five-man defensive team on the floor. And you don't have your best defense when you have three guards on the floor with three Pistons playing out of position. So what did we see Tuesday night against Charlotte? The same small ball we saw before Rip Hamilton got hurt, and a bad loss against a likely lottery team. It's time for Curry to grow a pair, and tell either Rip or Allen Iverson they are the sixth man. End of story. Don't like it? Lump it. Period.

Eno: Yeah, sooner or later it's got to come down to that. Unless he's just trying to bide time till the trading deadline; maybe [Pistons President] Joe Dumars has a trade in mind involving someone key. But still, you'd think that this small ball deal is only temporary. Like I wrote at OOB, how Curry handles this will go a long way toward determining whether he's got the "right stuff" to be an NBA head coach.

Big Al: Curry was badly out coached by Larry Brown Tuesday night. (That would be true for most of the NBA, actually). Curry needs to step up, and take more control over his team, starting with no longer letting the players dictate rotations. Not that Curry is getting much help. By bitching about coming off the bench, Rip and AI are trying to dictate the rotation. For a pair of players who claimed they are "team first," and would do whatever it takes to win a title, their actions say otherwise. Their statements are just lip service.

Eno: Right. This puts those comments A.I. made upon arriving here (just want to win a ring, etc) to the ultimate test. Like Chuck Daly used to say, you're coaching corporations, not players. And he said that 20 years ago! I'd be interested to find out what Dumars thinks of all this. Surely he knew this might happen when you hire a rookie coach, and even more so when you trade for someone like Iverson. I wonder how hard it might be for Joe D. to just watch this play out without getting involved somehow.

Big Al: Dumars can't be very happy. His Pistons are still a playoff team, but not a serious title contender. If things don't improve, we may see Joe D stepping in at the trade deadline in order to solve the guard dilemma. But much of this is his fault. He hired a head coach who had little experience as a coach of any kind. He traded for Iverson, sending away his locker room glue in Chauncey Billups in the process. Not that I'm saying the trade wasn't for the best in the long run, but it is hurting the team this season. This is going to go one of two ways. Either Dumars rides this out in order to keep the 2 massive contract slots in Rasheed Wallace and Iverson available. Or two, he decides the Pistons still have a title chance with the right roster addition, and trades Iverson, or someone else, giving up future cap flexibility for a playoff run this season.

Eno: Well, let's move on. You got anything today, Alness?

Big Al: I'm going to open up a can of worms. I have Tim Tebow exhaustion! Personally, the LAST thing I wanted to hear about God's gift was his returning for another season at Florida. After the constant genuflecting by FOX in regard to Saint Tim during the BCS title game broadcast, I'm not sure if I'm ready for another season of "TEBOW MANIA!" Please, I'm up to HERE when it comes to deifying athletes! HERE, I tell you! Thoughts?

Eno: I swear to God that Kentucky basketball player Kyle Macy (remember him?) went to school for six years. I get that same feeling with Tebow. I guess you can't make me happy. I don't like it when players leave too early, and I don't like it when some players stay until the end. My suggestion? Either avoid Florida games on TV, or watch with the sound muted.

Big Al: Well, you know my thoughts when it comes to religion. I've gone off on Jon Kitna before, which is why the Tebow praise got to me. At least the FOX situation won't be an issue, with ESPN taking over the BCS broadcasts. So I won't have to hear the God awful Thom Brennaman and Charles White ever do a college game again.

Eno: Oh, don't pick on Marty's kid like that! OK, Al, what else ya got?

Big Al: What else I got? I gots lots! The Tigers seem to be done with their off season maneuvering. Tuesday, Dave Dombrowski again said Fernando Rodney is the Tigers' closer. So as things stand, the American League’s third worst bullpen has not improved one bit. All I can guess is the Tigers are going to hope for bounce back seasons from Rodney and Joel Zumaya, that a few minor leaguers step up in the spring, and/or pick over what's left of the free agent crop when pitchers and catchers report. For a team with a $120 million+ payroll, to do NOTHING with the pen seems suicidal.

Eno: I'm shocked. Just last week I told you that DD and Jim Leyland weren't going to place the ninth inning – and their fates – in Rodney's hands. I still won't believe it till the team heads north and Rodney is still the closer. Hey, where were the Tigers when John Smoltz said he wanted to play here? Next thing I know, he signs with Boston!

Big Al: I have no idea where the Tigers were. I'm guessing they were returning bottles and cans in order to have enough money to make payroll. It's become obvious the Tigers' payroll is maxed out, and the organization will not spend one penny more. Any improvement will have to come from within the organization. Unfortunately for the Tigers' ticket office, asking the fans to accept the status quo is not the way to sell tickets in a bottoming out economy.

Eno: Well, Wednesday's Freep said that the Tigers have $5 million to spend on a closer. I'm confused. But you're right about ticket sales. The same story said that ticket buyers are being put off by the bullpen situation. Mike Ilitch didn't spend a gajillion dollars last year to finish behind the freaking Kansas City Royals. Tell me they're gonna find a closer, somewhere!

Big Al: About all that's left on the market are injury reclamations like Chad Cordero. When healthy, the likes of Cordero aren't exactly confidence inspiring. I have a bad feeling it's Rodney to start the season as closer, and he blows up, the Tigers will hope someone in the minors will be ready to go, like Casey Fein. But when you have no money to spend, I guess you are stuck taking risky chances.

Eno: The Tigers' bullpen better rise to the occasion, because the starting rotation just might right itself. It'd be a shame to see the starters' work wasted by those bums in the pen.

Big Al: Indeed...if the starters can bounce back themselves. I'm looking at you, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander! Good God damn Lord, with the Tigers it's not just the pen. They need several starting pitchers to show last season was an aberration. Maybe I'll feel better once spring training starts, but as of now, what I see is a team finishing third in the Central.

Eno: Well, let's look at a half-full glass here. Bondy is certain to be healthier. Verlander had two good years before 2008. Robertson can still be a fourth or fifth starter. Willis, who knows? Point being, just as so many things went wrong last year, maybe the Tigers are due for some GOOD luck in 2009.

Big Al: That's how we are, Eno. You're a glass is half full kind of guy, while I'm an OMG THE GLASS IS NOT ONLY EMPTY, IT'S DESTROYED kind of dude. Do you think it's about that time?

Eno: For WordAss?

Big Al: You are AMAZING! You read me like a comic book! A pamphlet, even!

Eno: Hey, it's what I do. Do you wanna go first, or me?


Big Al: His Al-ness will start, Mr. Journalist. Let's begin with the Lions' first head coaching candidate, who's been called the Billy Beane of football, Jim Schwartz.

Eno: Solid, if unspectacular. I could live with it. I like the eight years as a coordinator for a team known for defense.

Big Al: Well, he's considered one of the smartest minds in the game. Something the Lions have lacked seemingly forever. How about the Red Wing who may be the odd man out if the Wings sign both Marion Hossa and Hank Z next season, Johan Franzen.

Eno: Wow. The Mule. Well, he would certainly be the most expendable, but only when you put him up against those two guys. Might be sayonara for Johan.

Big Al: Unfortunately, I agree. But if it means keeping Hossa, Franzen moving on is something I can live with. Next is an odd one. The latest Tigers signing, a Taiwanese pitcher who brings up thoughts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Fu-Te Ni.

Eno: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about him. Umm, how soon can he get here?

Big Al: Not soon enough. But from looking at his stats, I wouldn't expect too much. He's a southpaw who let lefties hit him at a .317 clip last season...wherever the Hell he was playing. Anyone on your mind for WordAss, good sir?

Eno: Absolutely. Let's start with...the Arizona Cardinals.

Big Al: Flabbergasted! The Cards hosting the NFC Championship game? Never saw it coming. Maybe there's hope yet for the Lions! On second thought, nah...

Eno: Tony Dungy retiring.

Big Al: Smart. I think he knows NFL head coaches have a limited shelf-life, and he's about reached it. Plus, he's another with a religious agenda, and I think he wants to preach the gospel, so to speak. He's done with football.

Eno: So you don't see him coming back?

Big Al: Not really. He has other interests. I honestly think he may be burned out. Dungy has nothing left to prove. Plus, he's a devout Christian, and he's going to make his voice heard in other areas. I won't go on any more about his preaching as I'll just go off half cocked, pissing people off. I LOVE our readers!

Eno: I can tell you do!! OK, couple more....Richard "Rip" Hamilton

Big Al: ZIP IT! Some team player, huh? Seriously, the Pistons are beginning to piss me off! Play the damn game, and leave the bitching about playing time behind closed doors!

Eno: Indeed! OK, last one: Boston Celtics

Big Al: One and done. It's now LeBron James' world, and even the Celtics are just living in it.

Eno: Wow. OK then. Before JOTW, anything else going on, cranially-speaking?

Big Al: With the best Sunday of the year coming up, with the AFC and NFC title games nearly upon us, who's making the Super Bowl? Tell me, so I can place a couple of bets...

Eno: OK, well this is unofficial, but go with the Eagles and the Ravens. With three teams named after birds still remaining, I figure two of 'em ought to make it to the Big Game. You?

Big Al: I agree with the Ravens, their defense is dominant. Hell, beyond dominant. They knock off the Steelers. As for the NFC, I'm going to go with...the Arizona Cardinals, just to make the Lions look that much worse. We'll see a Cards/Ravens Super Bowl, something no one could have predicted four months ago. Ready for "Jerk of the Week?"


Eno: I am. How about Dave Dombrowski, for trying to sell the denizens on Rodney as his closer? We're not buying!

Big Al: I don't even think Dombrowski himself buys what he's selling! For my jerks, I have to go with a split ballot. It's Allen Iverson and Rip Hamilton, for all the reasons stated above. You want to win? Then quit saying so, and do something about it! Sacrifice a few minutes of playing time to come off the DAMN bench!

Eno: Hear, hear!! Oh, and don't forget the baseball Hall of Fame voters for again dissing Alan Trammell so badly!

Big Al: I'm glad you remembered! The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) is full of MORONS! We'll make them Jerks emeritus! Jackasses, the lot of 'em! I think that wraps up another Knee Jerks! Any parting shots, Mr. Blogger Extraordinaire?

Eno: When's YOUR Lions interview?

Big Al: It'll be a cold day in Hell, MI when that happens! Same jerk time, same jerk channel next week, Caped Internet Crusader?

Eno: You got it!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Curry Can't Play The Chicken Forever

All eyes were on Michael Curry.

How would the Pistons' first-year coach handle his first genuine playing time/ego massaging crisis? It was written that Curry's "small ball" lineup wasn't going to fly much longer, now that the whirling dervish shooting guard Rip Hamilton was healthy and ready to return to the lineup, the Pistons having played very well with Rodney Stuckey, Allen Iverson, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Amir Johnson as the starters. Someone would have to come off the bench, it was duly reported, so that the big man Johnson could continue to start. Would that benchwarmer be Hamilton or Iverson? Three-time Pistons All-Star and NBA champion, or future Hall of Famer?

Oh, such a decision for a veteran coach to make, let alone a rookie one.

So Curry did what a lot of us who aren't paid millions of dollars to coach might have done: he benched Johnson, and kept both Hamilton and Iverson as starters.

Curry was staring down a tempest in a teapot, and he blinked.

The small lineup started the game yesterday at home versus Charlotte -- an 80-78 Bobcats win. But Hamilton was asked to the bench with barely half the first quarter in the books. Perhaps a sign of things to come.

But it may not be enough, to simply start the small lineup and request either Hamilton or Iverson to sit down a few minutes into the game. Probably not very smart, either. You're either a starter or you're not, right?

You can blame Rodney Stuckey for all this, by the way.

The second-year point guard is threatening to turn Chauncey Billups' last name into "Who?". Stuckey is blossoming as fast as those flowers do in time lapse photography. One moment there's nothing there; a few seconds later, you have a fully-bloomed rose. And it happens before your very eyes, even if you can't quite believe what you just saw.

Curry chickened out, it says here, when confronted with his first real challenge as an NBA head coach. But he can't keep chickening out. Sooner or later he's going to realize that it's probably not best that the Pistons keep this lineup throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. I, personally, have no problem with small ball. But I admit that it might make even me uneasy to attempt to use it through the rigors of playoff basketball.

How Curry handles this situation will go a long way toward determining whether he's got the goods to be an NBA head coach

Curry explained himself yesterday.

"When we looked at everything with the team, we really liked the way we start the first and third quarter, 'cause in the past it had been a problem with this small lineup," Curry said. "What we have to do is try to find a way for about 32 minutes of the game to have two bigs out on the court. ... Regardless of what group starts and plays throughout the game, we've got to continue to get better defensively. And I think everyone understands that."


But Curry still chickened out. Doesn't mean that he's a chicken by nature, because he's not -- at least he wasn't as a player. He's not a player anymore. He's also not an assistant coach anymore, which is the next best thing to being a player. He's the head man now, and these are the decisions that head coaches have to make sometimes in the NBA: decide which minutes-gobbling guard to come off the bench. Curry's no fool; he knows that whatever route he takes, that won't be the most pleasant of conversations.

NBA players aren't fools, either -- even if they sometimes play ones on TV. They see everything, especially when it comes to playing time and how the coach treats everyone. If they, also, eventually believe that Curry is playing chicken with this Hamilton/Iverson decision, they'll lose respect for him very quickly. We're not the only ones watching to see how this plays out.

Curry came to a fork in the road and instead of picking one way or the other, he chose to turn around and head back down the straight path from which he came. You can only do that for so long.