Friday, February 27, 2009

Osgood Ready To Go -- i.e., Ready To Bounce Back (Again)

It's not like Chris Osgood hasn't been down this path before.

There was 1994, when as a 21-year-old rookie, playing in the playoffs only because of the incompetence of veteran Bob Essensa, Osgood sat in front of his locker and weeped, after his blunder cost the Red Wings Game 7 of their series against the heavily-underdogged San Jose Sharks. He bounced back.

There was the debacle of the 1996 playoffs, when the league-leading, record-setting Red Wings struggled in every series and eventually lost in the Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche, with Osgood and Mike Vernon both unable to stop pucks consistently. Osgood bounced back.

There was the tragic-comedy of the 1998 Stanley Cup run, when Osgood had the propensity for letting in shots from the blue line and beyond. After each occurrence, Osgood bounced back. The Wings won the Cup.

There was the stripping of his Wings when the team went and acquired Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek in 2001. Osgood was banished to the New York Islanders, of all places, and ended up with the St. Louis Blues, wallowing with mediocre teams and playing almost with the same level of mediocrity. Osgood bounced back.

There was the return to the Red Wings in 2005, only to have to sit and watch helplessly as Manny Legace gagged terribly in the 2006 playoffs. Osgood bounced back.

There was the relegation to backup goalie to Hasek in 2008, who was in his third tour of duty with the Red Wings. Then Osgood was called upon to jump in, cold, after Hasek stumbled through the first four games of the first round. Osgood responded, big time, and the Red Wings advanced to the Cup Finals.

There was the huge disappointment of allowing a game-tying goal with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the Finals, the Stanley Cup polished and waiting in a nearby hallway. Osgood bounced back and played brilliantly in the clinching Game 6.

Now there's this -- battling regular season demons to the tune of being among the worst goalies, statistically, in the entire NHL. The playoffs fast approaching. A very public and potentially humiliating ten-day "break" having been served. Questions, again, surrounding the Red Wings' goalie situation. The ever-popular backup goalie -- this time it's Ty Conklin -- waiting in the wings, just in case. The familiar cry to "put HIM in, instead!"

Osgood, it says here, will respond. Again. Just like he always has.

"I just needed some time to figure things out," Ozzie told the papers this morning as he prepared to return to game action. "I feel real good now. I feel like I'm ready to go."

Probably is.

A couple weeks ago, Osgood shrugged off his struggles. He pointed to his resume.

"The thing is," he said firmly, "is that I know how to win playoff games."

That he does.

Osgood, I believe, will be named the starting goalie when the playoff drama begins in April. And, I think he will once again bounce back and keep that job, for as long as the Red Wings survive. It's been his trademark -- to rise like a Phoenix. They've been writing Chris Osgood off for years. Let 'em keep writing.

Osgood is coming back to the Red Wings after his "break". He says he feels fine. He reminds us that he knows how to win playoff games.

I think we should probably believe him. He's earned that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Knee Jerks: Curry's A Dead Man Walking? Sharks Are Toothless? The End Of Talk Radio As We Knew It?

OK, time to strap on your seatbelts and place your trays in the upright position. It's Thursday, and that means Jerkosity reigns!

It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al", my weekly gabfest with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week's episode contains more hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about the Pistons; bouquets for the Red Wings (although Al squirms re: the goaltending); some Lions chit-chat; the mourning of the loss of WDFN; and the usual suspects: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Remember, the oxygen masks will drop down if this chat gets too turbulent....


Eno: Welcome to Thursday and another Jerk Adventure! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. I should note that we are chatting around the witching hour (we usually do this chat during the lunch hour). How are you under this pale moonlight, Big Al?

Big Al: Recovering from my misadventures at U-M Hospital today, avoiding vampires and wondering what in the _____ has happened to our Detroit Pistons! The Pistons are a good place for us to start, as their death spiral into NBA irrelevance has accelerated. They are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, quite likely to be an 11-game streak thanks to their brutal schedule. What happened?!

Eno: Allen Iverson happened. Yes, I pretty much blamed everything on A.I. over at OOB, just a few weeks after I blamed everything on Joe Dumars. But the gist of my rant was this: you can't win with Iverson; it's proven. He'll never win a 'ship, as Rasheed Wallace calls them. There are many culpable folks, but Iverson takes the cake, in my opinion. Oh, that and this Swiss cheese defense that has NEVER been attached to the Pistons during the Dumars Era. Your take, Mr. Big Shot?

Big Al: You're right; it turns out Iverson blended with the Pistons like oil does with water: not at all. In the long run, trading for Iverson will turn out to be the right thing for Dumars to do, as he can turn his Pistons around quickly with the cap space he'll have available. But when you also factor in an inexperienced head coach who is in over his head, a rapidly aging Rasheed Wallace (who was T'd up twice more Wednesday night, leaving him suspended for Friday's game), and the growing pains of Rodney Stuckey, who has hit the proverbial wall, you’re left as a lottery team. But it all hinges on Iverson, who can't get out of Detroit soon enough...for his sake, and for that matter, the Pistons’.

Eno: Geez, we talk about these guys every week, Al, and every week the talk gets more and more depressing. They gave it a good shot in New Orleans Wednesday night, but you just KNEW they'd lose. It used to be that you just KNEW they'd pull it out and win. And every night, in "crunch time", Iverson's cheeks are on the bench. I mean, come on!

Big Al: Well, Iverson supposedly had "back spasms" in New Orleans, but it's obvious to anyone the Pistons are a better team with The Answer on the bench. Obvious to everyone except [coach] Michael Curry. Since we're slinging around blame, let's sling some toward Curry. He's been awful as a head coach. He actually played only seven men the other night...another loss, by the way. Why in the Hell is Curry shortening the bench in FEBRUARY? I know Dumars is giving Curry an extra long leash as Curry was hand-picked to run the Pistons, and it doesn't make much sense to fire Curry at this point. But geez, the man doesn't have a clue!

Eno: Joe D missed with this dart, big time. He didn't even hit the dart board. This might be placed next to the pick of Darko Milicic in Dumars's Hall of Shame. I liked the fact that Curry was a no-name player when he played, but I also expressed reservations. I didn't think a rookie coach was good for this bunch. I think the Pistons players like him, but don't really have confidence in him. Rip Hamilton made some cryptic comments the other night about all the changes. He says he went to the bench to help the team, but was quick to point out that since he's done so, the Pistons have kept losing. Dumars isn't shy, typically, to admit when he's blundered. Let's see if he admits he was wrong with the Curry hire.

Big Al: That's been Dumars's saving grace; he realizes when he has made a mistake, and quickly corrects it, not compounding it by refusing to admit his mistake in judgment. He's done it with players, but will he do it with a coach? It seems to me Dumars has fired coaches mostly because owner Bill Davidson didn't like them. Mr. D thought Rick Carlisle wasn't personable enough; Larry Brown wasn’t respectful enough toward the franchise thanks to his constantly wandering eye; and Flip Saunders just plain didn't win a title with a talented, yet headstrong and filled-with-head cases roster. So you have to wonder what Davidson is thinking about with Curry leading his prized team into the lottery. Who ultimately makes the call, Joe D or Davidson?

Eno: Wow. Good question. You're right that Mr. Davidson had no respect for Larry Brown at the end, and didn't have all that much good to say about Flip Saunders, either. You don't get a second chance, it seems, to impress Davidson. I think that Dumars clearly has the owner's ear, though, and unless Curry does something heinous, I'd say that Davidson would let Dumars make that call. Regardless, looks like the Pistons' coaching carousel will soon be spinning again. I've said it before – just last week at OOB – and I'll ask you: what do you think of COACH Joe Dumars? And I'm not joking around here.

Big Al: I know you've been calling for Dumars’s leaving the owner's suite and heading down to the sidelines for quite some time now. It does make sense, as who better to run the team than the man who built it? But as good as a GM that Dumars has been (even with the occasional mistake in drafting, Dumars has been one the best GMs in the NBA), he's never been a coach at any level. Dumars took the time to learn the general manager's job before taking over the Pistons. He wouldn't have that luxury if he took over the reins of the Pistons. Coaching from afar is much easier than being in the locker room day in, day out, and riding herd over twelve millionaires on a nightly basis. Let's also not forget coaches are hired to be fired. If Joe D did take over the team, I'd have to believe it'd be an interim thing, not long-term. But stranger things have happened, right?

Eno: Indeed. OK, now that I'm totally depressed, let's lift my spirits some and talk Red Wings. They slapped the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night. What, if anything, can you cull from that game, as it's still only February?

Big Al: That the Red Wings are still the team to beat in the Western Conference. Period. No, exclamation point! I think the Sharks know it too. They should after Wednesday night.

Eno: If those two teams meet in the playoffs – probably in the Conference Finals – it will be a potentially legendary series. One of those series where home ice might not mean much, but oh, don't you want Game 7 in your own building? Henrik Zetterberg has seemed to up his play since signing that 12-year contract. What do you make of Z's play this season, and who do you think is the best candidate, right now, to be the guy who puts the team on his back, a la Johan Franzen last spring?

Big Al: I'd love to see a Wings-Sharks series as well. It'd be EPIC. As for who'll be THE GUY? If I were a betting man (well, if I were STILL a betting man, that is) I'd say Pavel Datsyuk. He's become a stellar playoff performer over the past few seasons, and it could be argued that he's been the Wings' best overall player this season. He's definitely their best two-way player. In a Game 7, with everything on the line, I want Datsyuk on the ice as much as humanly possible. What say the Eno-meister?

Eno: I think Marian Hossa, I really do. The man has what they like to call "puck luck"; everything he touches seems to go into the net. OK, [defenseman] Brad Stuart returned, which is a big boon. Do the overall defense and the penalty killing worry you, or no?

Big Al: Some, but not enough to lose sleep over. Could the overall team D and the PK be better? Sure. But their track record says it shouldn't be an issue when the Stanley Cup playoffs come 'round. One of these days, Nick Lidstrom is going to lose a step, and his smarts won't be able to make up for it. But that day isn't here, and I'm not going to get too worked up over a somewhat looser defense, and an inconsistent kill. I'm much more worried about the goaltending. Yes, I'm aware that worrying about goaltending is in every Red Wings fan’s blood, but Mike Babcock sitting Chris Osgood for several days to get his head together has to be a concern, no? It's not as if Jimmy Howard stood out as a replacement.

Eno: Well, yes, but this could be one of those things we look back at in June and say, "Why were we so worried? Silly bloggers, we!" But I still think Ozzie will turn it up in the post-season. He, as he says, "Knows how to win playoff games." And he does. The guy has been like a Phoenix; he's risen so many times. It says here that he'll do so again, and in the nick of time. Then again, he could be finished. Just kidding!

Big Al: Are you really kidding? It's beginning to look as if this may be Ty Conklin's team. He's 9-3 in his last 12 starts, and has won his last five [including his last twelve at home]. It's definitely not Howard's team, as he is no longer the heir apparent in goal if this past week's audition is any indication. Osgood is one bad playoff game away from being pulled (I agree the Wings start with Osgood in goal, unless he totally goes in the tank over the final weeks of the regular season). I'm going to pound this like you pound Dumars coaching the Pistons. Conklin is the man to take the Wings deep into the playoffs.

Eno: Hey, you might be right, Mr. Big Shot! OK, what's on that Teflon brain of yours?

Big Al: This week [quarterback] Dan Orlovsky announced he would not return to the Lions next season, even though the team wanted him back. Dan-O mentioned one of the reasons he was leaving was that the coaching staff has already determined Daunte Culpepper will be the starter in 2009. Mike Furrey also said as much when he was released: Culpepper is the Number One. The Lions deny any such thing, claiming training camp will be an open competition. But all signs point to Culpepper. The reworked contract; the near certainty that Jon Kitna will be cut; the lack of a true standout QB in the upcoming draft. Is Culpepper the solution under center, or a Band-Aid on a gaping wound?

Eno: The latter. Orlovsky is not – repeat, NOT – going to be a star in the NFL, so good riddance, I say. Culpepper is a good stopgap until the next QB is groomed. I think with an entire off-season and a training camp and with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on board, you'll see improvement in Cully's play. Now, having said that, Daunte's lost a lot of mobility so you gotta block for the guy. The O-line must be repaired. Where is that on the shopping list? Right behind milk and eggs, or down further, near the M&Ms and Fritos?

Big Al: So it sounds as if you are on the "draft a left tackle" bandwagon. In the end, I have a feeling that's the direction the Lions go. There's no clear-cut Number One, and taking a highly rated tackle is the safest play for [coach] Jim Schwartz and [GM] Martin Mayhew. Though Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, in his latest mock draft (which I'm already sick to death of; everyone and their sister does a mock draft anymore) has the Lions drafting a LB, Aaron Curry of Wake Forrest, with the first overall pick. As bad as the Detroit defense was in '08, I can't argue with going defense early and often in the draft. As for Culpepper, I think he's going to start...because there is no one else. Sad to say, but true. Drew Stanton becomes more marginalized by the day.


Eno: Poor Drew. OK, how about some WordAss?

Big Al: Works for me. Time, and WORDASS, waits for no man. Let's start with the pitcher the Tigers are pinning many of their hopes for contending upon, who also got the win in Wednesday's spring training opener, Justin Verlander.

Eno: You know my take: the Tigers' super ball. BIG bounce back season in '09. Come on, that was a fat pitch! Give me some of your breaking stuff.

Big Al: Hey, I was just warming up! OK, let's go with the man who won the primary round in the special mayoral election in Detroit, who thinks he can save city from itself, who also saved the Pistons (again with the Pistons!) from total irrelevancy in the 1960s and ‘70s in his Hall of Fame career, Dave Bing.

Eno: If Bing had run eight years ago he'd have been a lock. His armor has been a little tarnished since then, but I think he'll be the new Detroit mayor.

Big Al: I agree, and the city couldn't ask for a more upstanding citizen. After the latest city council debacle, turning down the state's proposal to expand and renovate Cobo Hall, Detroit needs someone with common sense running the city. Bing may be just the man to do it...or he may be just G** damn crazy! But I digress. Next, let's try a current Piston, someone who must be kicking himself for returning to a sinking ship, Antonio McDyess.

Eno: The NBA's Tragic Figure. You could pen his biography and folks would say it was a work of fiction. Talk about a tortured, tormented career. He also has this fetish for coming off the bench, which just adds to his legend.

Big Al: Some of the NBA's elite teams badly wanted Dice, but he had what turned out to be a misplaced sense of loyalty to Detroit. The man deserves to win a title before his career ends. Dice is going to have to leave Detroit in order to do so. One more. The looney guard who can't get back on the floor with the New York Knicks, but may end up on, of all teams, the Celtics – the ever mercurial Stephon Marbury.

Eno: The Walking Soap Opera. OK, here's one for you to start: Tiger Woods.

Big Al: No kidding about Marbury: he needs his own reality show. Tiger Woods? The PGA, and televised golf, is relevant again! Tiger Woods can even make match play interesting.

Eno: Hear, hear! OK, next: I say Joel Zumaya and YOU say...

Big Al: Look out for falling boxes! No...Let's play Guitar Hero! Seriously, I say...a difference maker, when healthy, of course.

Eno: Of course. One more: Free agent DT Albert Haynesworth.

Big Al: He's a pipe dream. Not even The Schwartz can convince one of the NFL's top defenders to come to Detroit as a free agent. He's going to want the sun, moon and Hubble Telescope to sign anyway, Haynesworth is going to be far too rich for the Lions' blood.

Eno: You're right, oh sage one. What else do you have in the hopper before we do Jerk of the Week?

Big Al: A couple of things, but something's really been bothering me, big time. I used to listen to Detroit sports talk radio most of the day, switching between WDFN and WXYT, depending on the topic du jour. If XYT's Mike Valenti said something moronic (which happens all too frequently), I used to be able to hit the radio dial, and tune into Stoney and Wojo on DFN. But with the demise of DFN, we fans are left with no choice but to listen to XYT. And the staff there realizes it, if you go by the total lack of sports content on their shows as of late. I’m finding myself turning off the radio altogether, and find something far more stimulating streaming online. I HATE what's happened to sports talk in the D. It's a damn shame.

Eno: Bring back Ron Cameron!! Yeah, I know what you mean; competition is always good for the consumer. Have WE hurt that? I mean, us bloggers? Did we cut into that pie at all?

Big Al: I'd much rather read the blogs and listen to the podcasts of passionate sports bloggers than what's become rote, by the numbers, local radio. Big media is changing, maybe even dying, thanks to folks like us. And that's a good thing. Are you ready to name your Jerk of the Week?


Eno: I am. It's a guy named Wayne Burdick, a Chicago Bears fan who got hit with a $28,000 wireless bill after watching the Bears beat the Lions, 27-23, from his cruise ship. He used Slingbox and then the fun began. Turns out he was overcharged, but to put yourself at risk – watching Bears/Lions?

Big Al: I think he should play the temporarily insane card! My JotW is the head coach of the Michigan Basketball Wolverines, John Beilein. Yes, I have often sung his praises, but he may have shot himself in the foot, and cost his team an NCAA tournament berth, by benching Manny Harris for the entire OT in a bad loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Harris was having an off game, but to keep your best player off the floor in OT, saying he "didn't look fresh", was not a smart move. Harris could have been the difference in the game, if given the chance. I have a bad feeling the Iowa loss may end up being what keeps Michigan out of the NCAA tourney.

Eno: It's a fine line, at the college level, between coaching and teaching, if you know what I mean. Hey, even the greats have appeared on JOTW – haven’t they? OK, my friend, it was great fun. I can tell by the wee hour of the morning that it's time to shut it down. Thanks to this unusual hour of chat, this week's TKJ will arrive later in the day than usual. Think there'll be a revolt?

Big Al: Our readers are already revolting... Sorry, I couldn't resist. Thanks for staying up late into the night with me, Eno, and I'll see you at a much earlier Jerk time, but same Jerk channel, next week!

Eno: Nice zinger! You bet!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's True: Iverson Not Championship-Worthy

They've said it about some of the greatest players in team sports. Sometimes it's been whispered, other times it's been blared, in bullhorn fashion. The accusation, fair or not, has dogged some of the biggest names in sporting history.

(Insert name here) cannot win.

It was used against Wilt Chamberlain in his head-to-head battles with Bill Russell. Though Wilt did win a championship. But not nearly enough of them to silence the critics. So Chamberlain, forever, was banished to being less of a player than Russell.

They said it about John Elway, until Elway filled their mouths with dirt and turf in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. They said it about Danny Marino.

Locally, it was even said about Steve Yzerman -- if you can imagine such a thing now.

The Pistons are finding out now, in the only way possible -- that being the hard way -- that what they've long said about Allen Iverson is, unfortunately, true.

Allen Iverson cannot win. Thus, you cannot win with Allen Iverson.

I'm afraid to report that it's true. It really is. I was a proponent of the Chauncey Billups-for-Iverson trade, when it happened in November. I thought that it was about damn time that the Pistons have a ball-hogging, take-the-big-shot guy on their roster. I wrote that the old way of doing things in Pistons-land -- the way that says there is no true superstar -- was proven to be the wrong and futile way. So I pumped the Iverson trade as not only coming around to the reality of the NBA, but doing so in one of the grandest ways possible -- with Iverson, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who was hungry for his first ring.

I was wrong. And all those folks who warned against acquiring a famously selfish player -- and selfish isn't always a bad thing in the NBA, by the way -- like Iverson, who said that you cannot win with AI, were absolutely, spot-on correct.

You really cannot win with Allen Iverson, after all.

Actually, AI, it's been "thumbs down" on your Pistons Era

There are many culpable folks whose hands are bloody during this God-awful Pistons season -- one that appears to careening out of control at the speed of sound. But I'm sorry -- it comes down to the moment Iverson arrived in Detroit.

The Pistons were 4-0, don't forget, when Iverson joined the Pistons. They are 23-28 since.

Instead of Iverson being the spark plug, being the missing ingredient, being, ahem, "The Answer", he instead was the first domino whose fall knocked down a bunch of other dominoes. Which led to the Pistons' freefall.

Iverson's arrival changed the way the Pistons played, but that was hardly a surprise. But in addition, it changed the way rookie coach Michael Curry substituted, strategized, and ultimately, his starting lineup and his bench people. And none of it for the good, really.

You cannot win with Allen Iverson. It's official.

Iverson came to Detroit beaming, telling everyone that this was the most talented roster he's ever played with, and that a championship was all that was left to, in his mind, validate his career. He couldn't wait to get started.

Oh, he got started alright. Iverson slowly, methodically, soiled the Pistons with the very things that I had exulted about him: his ball-hogging, his out-of-control way of providing offense, and, to my chagrin, his failing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to sacrificing in order to win a title. That was a good one, a real knee slapper.

You cannot win with Allen Iverson. Spread the word. It's true.

The only way I can see Iverson hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy over his head is if he does so as an aging, journeyman benchwarmer whose playing time was incidental, his contribution minimal and in spurts. The announcers will say, "Well, AI finally got his ring," but it will be in an almost charitable way.

The Pistons have a decision to make on Iverson. He's in the last year of his fat contract -- a nice, juicy, fat contract that will come off the Pistons' books this summer, should they choose to part ways with him. I have a feeling that that decision has already been made.

You cannot win with Allen Iverson. Pass it on.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tiger's Almost Back -- And So Is The PGA

Do they still hold pro golf tournaments? Is the PGA still in business, or did it take a hiatus?

Answers: They're about to again, and, yes -- it's on hiatus.

You remember the PGA, don't you? The Professional Golfers Association? In case you were wondering, the PGA hasn't dissolved. It hasn't held a massive auction on eBay to get rid of all of its tees and flags and "Shhhh" signs.

But there haven't been any tournaments lately. Not for quite some time. If the PGA was a retail outlet, it would have a sign out front that reads, "Closed for remodeling."

Yet there is hope, for the golf fan. The PGA is about to re-open -- but there might not be all that much new to see.

Tiger Woods, they say, is getting closer and closer to returning, following knee surgery and the birth of another child, for which he showed his fatherly support.

The PGA is back in business.

Think I'm being facetious and smarmy?

Quick -- name me some PGA tour winners over the past six months or so.

Woods is just about back, and so is golf.

I'm sorry, but Tiger Woods IS the PGA. There -- it's about time someone said it. The PGA, minus Woods, is like one of those inflatable characters you see on front lawns during the Christmas season, but deflated. You've seen how pathetic and sad those things look when there is no air being pumped into them? Face first on the grass; splayed out. But now here comes Tiger Woods. The inflatable PGA is about to be plugged in again. The air is about to be flowing through it again.

Why argue this? Why bother trying to purport that there is actually genuine interest in any golfer other than Woods? Why should there be, anyway?

Tiger Woods is pro golf. Has been for years. Will be for many more. And there's no shame in that.

Sorry, Phil Mickelsen fans. Hate to break it to you, Vijay Singh enthusiasts. All you Davis Love the Third zealots and Corey Pavin rooters from the old school, give it up.

Tiger is the man, and that's just the way it is.

I've long said that it's OK for golf, or tennis, or any individual sport, to have a dominant figure. The proof is in the excising of that individual.

Was golf on your radar while Woods convalesced?

All you die-hard fans -- the ones who'll golf no matter what -- all you folks take a step backward. I'm speaking now to the casual-to-moderate fan. The ones who wonder what golf would be like without Woods to preside over it.

Well, wonder no longer.

Woods was holding the PGA hostage while he recovered from his injuries, but he didn't do it with any malice. It was just the way it was.

So soon we can all get back to watching Woods dominate and wonder if any of the other poor saps can give him a run for his money for any length of time. There's also the curiosity factor re: Woods's repaired leg and whether it will allow him to continue to keep all the Lilliputian golfers at arm's length from him. But I'd bet that the answer to that question will be a resounding YES, and will be proven in short order. Like maybe with the first major in which Woods appears.

Tiger Woods is just about back. Golf has been re-inflated.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leyland Anything But Lame, No Matter What You Read

The next person to call Walter Alston a lame duck will be the first. And the last, for Walt’s ghost won’t have any of that nonsense.

Alston was the longtime manager of the first Brooklyn, then Los Angeles Dodgers, from 1954 to 1976. For twenty-three seasons, Alston ruled the roost, wearing Dodger Blue. He won 2,040 games filling out lineup cards and signaling for the hit-and-run and summoning that guy from the bullpen. But it’s the calling card of the length of the baseball season that Alston also managed to lose 1,613 games – proof that the lineup and the hit-and-run and that guy in the bullpen didn’t always work the way Walt thought.

But he was no lame duck.

Here’s how Alston’s arrangement with the Dodgers went. He’d manage the season. Sometimes the Dodgers went to the World Series, sometimes they didn’t. Regardless, Alston put in his year’s work and then waited for his contract for the next season to arrive in his mailbox, sometime that winter. He’d sign it and mail it back, then presumably head back for the golf course, or the nearest billiards hall.

That was it. For twenty-three straight years.

But he was no lame duck.

You’re going to hear that terribly misplaced and overused term, “lame duck”, in reference to Tigers manager Jim Leyland. A lot. Some of the ink-stained wretches in town just can’t seem to use it enough to suit them.

Jim Leyland, lame duck. Get used to it.

It’s also a bunch of baloney.

Apparently, you can’t have a coach or a manager who’s not signed beyond the current season without also having a lame duck coach or manager. That’s what those miscreant ink-stained wretches would have you believe.

They’ll tell you – over and over, trust me – that Leyland is the dreaded lame duck because the Tigers have the audacity to send him off to battle without a contract beyond the 2009 season.

Lame duck!!

Their “reasoning” goes like this. Since the Tigers players know that the manager has no pact for 2010 and beyond, then he is, in a baseball sort of way, a eunuch. Emasculated, because his arrangement to manage potentially ends with the final pitch of the ’09 campaign. In other words, why should the players listen to and respect and obey a man who isn’t signed long-term?

My goodness, are the Tigers that fragile?

If they lose a few, are they really going to look at Leyland, twirl their mustaches, and “Muwah-ha-ha” in some sort of group effort to undermine him?

Funny, but no one did that to Alston – he of the twenty-three straight one-year contracts.

It should be added here that it was Alston, not the Dodgers, who insisted on the year-by-year thing. His logic? If I don’t do a good job, then I shouldn’t be asked back. If I do a good job, there’ll be another contract for me in my mailbox this winter.

And you would argue with that?

The ink-stained wretches screaming “lame duck!” sure would seem to find issue with such impenetrable reasoning.

Leyland, within the past month, summoned Alston’s words.

“If I do a good job, I’ll keep my job,” he said. “If I don’t, I won’t. Simple as that.”


But it was Leyland himself who needed to come around before channeling Alston.

Shortly after the dreadful 2008 season had mercifully ended – the Tigers a hugely disappointing 74-88 – it was revealed that the front office wasn’t going to extend Leyland’s contract beyond its current length, which was through 2009.

The manager whined and pouted about it.

Leyland went to the papers and told the ink-stained wretches all they needed in order to place the “lame duck” tag on him. He publicly, and foolishly, I believed, called out owner Mike Ilitch, complaining that he – Leyland – had done enough since becoming Tigers manager to warrant some faith and trust. Jim Leyland wanted to be signed past 2009 – but putting his owner on the spot in the newspapers was a funny way of showing it, I thought.

Leyland, it says here, will be ranting on the Tigers’ behalf next year and beyond

Besides, Leyland didn’t earn a look past 2009. Other managers have found themselves in the unemployment line after presiding over the unexpected diarrhea that was the Tigers’ 2008 season. I wrote that Jimmy Leyland should, instead, have thanked his lucky stars that he still had a job, much less crab that his contract was too short.

The ink-stained wretches took another tack.

They endorsed an extension for Leyland – sort of. They went for the “pee or get off the pot” approach: if you want Leyland, sign him past 2009. If you don’t, fire him – forthwith.


I went on the Internet and told anyone who cared to know, all about Walter Alston and his twenty-three consecutive one-year contracts. I pointed to the Dodgers’ record from 1954 to 1976 and safely argued, I thought, that the franchise had enjoyed a pretty darn good run with Alston receiving contracts in his mailbox each winter.

If it was good enough for a Hall of Fame manager like Walt Alston, then it should be good enough for Jim Leyland. Right? Wrong, according to the Chicken Little sportswriters in town.

Lame duck!!

I was disappointed in Leyland, when he fed into this horsepucky with his public boo-hoo act last fall. I thought he was better than that.

But he seems to have gotten it out of his system.

Leyland won’t talk about his contract anymore, except to say that he’s confident that it will all work out in the end. And he’s absolutely right.

The Tigers, I say, will prove that 2008 was nothing more than a bad dream. With players dotting the roster who are destined to have better years, whether because of good health or otherwise, it’s hard for me to believe that the team won’t be vastly improved.

Which means Jim Leyland will get his precious extension, after all. Probably before the season is much more than halfway old. And no more lame duck talk.

Not that he was one to begin with.

Right, Walt?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dumars: The Pistons' Landlord Who Should Live In His Own Mess For A While

In the movie "The Super", Joe Pesci played an unscrupulous slumlord named Louie Kritski who was, by the courts, sentenced to live in the squalor that he had overseen with such arrogance and callousness.

Joe Dumars is not arrogant. He's not callous, that I know of. But right now he's a bad landlord.

It's tempting to call for the ziggying of rookie coach Michael Curry, with the Pistons 27-26 and an unsightly 14-15 at home, including 2-10 in their last twelve at The Palace. It makes sense, in a way, to look at the arrival of Curry and the onset of the Pistons' decline and figure that it's more than just a coincidence. And it might be. This was never an easy bunch to coach to begin with, and when you place "rookie" in front of the title "coach", it's that much tougher.

But it's Dumars who placed Curry in this position. And it's Dumars who has given him this roster and said, "Have at it."

It says here that Dumars should, indeed, can Curry, but with one caveat: that Dumars himself take over as coach. He should be the Pistons' Louie Kritski.

It would be both a sentence of judgement levied against Dumars, as well as the satisfying of a curiosity that I have: whether Joe Dumars is the only coach out there who can truly coach the Pistons for longer than the usual two-to-three seasons.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is considered one of the best in the game, and with good reason. In fact, he's so good and has accomplished so much as a coach that it's easy to forget that during the 1996-97 season, Popovich was a President/GM like Dumars, before he decided to fire his coach, Bob Hill, and take over on the sidelines himself. Popovich continues to hold the dual title of coach/President of Basketball Operations. He's won four NBA titles as coach.

Dumars should give that tactic a try in Detroit.

Dumars might be the best coach out there; only one way to find out

Since taking over in 2000, Dumars has hired and fired four coaches. Curry is number five. That's an unusually high number of coaches, considering the Pistons' current (and soon to end) streak of appearing in six straight conference finals. So it can be argued that Joe D's fetish for changing coaches has worked, to a degree. This is the first real dropoff in performance the Pistons have encountered since the 2000-01 season.

It doesn't appear that Curry, with just one year as an assistant under his belt, has the acumen to be a successful NBA head coach. Perhaps that's an inaccurate assessment, but we don't have much to go on, do we?

Dumars should give it a whirl. Coaching, I mean.

Frankly, I'd love to see it, but more out of eagerness than out of a desire to punish. Everyone knows that Dumars might lean toward the micro-managing style of GM-ing. There's been a sneaking suspicion for several years (at least with Flip Saunders) that Dumars has more influence than most GMs over who plays and who doesn't. So why not give Dumars the coach's seat, too, and see how he fares?

Dumars might be the only one to possess the ingredients that he never seems to find in his coaches. There's always something missing with somebody. Usually, it's been accountability --whether for the coach (Larry Brown Era), or the players (Saunders Era). Sometimes it's toughness (Saunders) or compassion (Rick Carlisle).

I just have this gut feeling that if Dumars were to take over, the Pistons would be a better basketball team. It's not like he hasn't given the other way a fair shot. You might disagree with all the coaching changes, as it doesn't provide for consistency, but you can't say that if Dumars were to make himself coach, that he'd be doing so impetuously. He's been the top dog in the front office for nine years now.

Of course, the only person who can truly do that, aside from owner Bill Davidson, is Dumars himself. And if he hasn't done it by now, then maybe he doesn't have such a move in him.

But it sure would be fun to see.

The Pistons are coming upon a crossroad in their journey back to the NBA Finals. That elite free agent class of 2010 is sure to send shockwaves throughout the league. Dumars is sure to be a big player at that table.

It's another unsolicited opinion from another bottom feeding blogger and ink-stained wretch, but here it is: let Curry finish this season, give him maybe half of next, and if there's still no improvement, Dumars should ask the coach to step aside and say, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, I guess."

Joe Dumars -- the next Gregg Popovich?

I'd love to see it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Knee Jerks: Who'll Replace Bobby Layne? And Can't We Just Let 23-Year-Olds Be 23-Year-Olds? (Among other topics!)

Happy Thursday! Sorry to spoil it for you with another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." This is where I engage the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience, in a weekly sports gabfest that tends to get very wordy and insufferable if you don't have patience for us!

This week, Al and I riff on the Lions' never-ending search for Bobby Layne's replacement; our early bird examples of why you should be optimistic about the Tigers; A-Roid; Michael Phelps's indiscretion; and, of course, the usual suspects: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

So without further ado......


Eno: It's Thursday, and it's time to do that Jerk kind of thing! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al". I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. How are you on this fine February afternoon, Al?

Big Al: I'm no longer exiled in girlfriend-land, as I'm back home. Home with a DVR, digital cable, uber-fast cable Internet and all the sports channels on my TV. (I kid, I kid. She's a total keeper). So I can overdose on all things sports again. What's on your mind this week, Eno? Come on, let 'er rip!

Eno: Welcome back from exile! Clearly, she never reads TKJ, or else you'd be in the pooch parlor! OK, this week: I wrote at OOB that this talk of Georgia QB Matthew Stafford having attended Bobby Layne's Dallas HS is a bunch of rubbish. Whether Stafford succeeds will be because of coaching, blocking, and a running game, no?

Big Al: Actually, she does read TKJ, and TWFE for that matter. But luckily for me, my lovely GF has a great sense of humor...I hope. But I digress. As for Stafford, of course he'd need legitimate NFL players and coaches surrounding him – something the Lions have lacked for this entire decade. But you also forgot he needs to have the ball in his hands, and a defense to get him the pigskin. The offense, though not great, would be much better with a QB who could actually make the occasional play and not turn the ball over every other series. But overall, the offense isn't horrible. The defense, on the other hand, is beyond horrible. No matter if the Lions take Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, or sign Mike Vick or Paul Crewe out of prison. The defense should be the focus of the draft and free agency. Yes, the Lions need a QB, but they need defense even more.

Eno: Ahh, so do I detect that you hope the Lions DON'T draft Stafford?

Big Al: No; if the Lions decide he's the best player on the board, then they should take him. But I'd have no problem with their drafting the defensive side of the ball for the majority of their picks. The defense was HISTORICALLY bad in 2008. The Schwartz can take Stafford first overall, or nab Sanchez at no. 20. But they have to concentrate on fixing the defense. Your young stud QB can't do a thing standing on the sidelines, watching the D get pushed all over the field.

Eno: True that. And no QB has thrown TD passes lying flat on his back, so you need to block for him, too. What do you make of the Lions bringing back Daunte Culpepper? My feeling is that before you write him off, I'd like to see him have a training camp and pre-season first. Thoughts?

Big Al: Well, Culpepper will be reunited with [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan, who was the Vikings' offensive coordinator during [Culpepper’s] best seasons. And Culpepper will have a full off season and training camp to get into a semblance of shape. When the Lions signed him, Culpepper weighed as much as his offensive linemen. But, you can't deny that Culpepper was God awful in 2008. But so was Jon Kitna, and the Lions had to sign a veteran QB, no matter what. Considering that the free agent QB class, to put it bluntly, blows, I think I understand why he Lions kept [Culpepper]. But I’m lukewarm to it.

Eno: The Lions need so much help, as you said, that I guess you almost can't go wrong, no matter who you pick. I think the key will be what they do with the 20th pick, not the No. 1. That 20th overall had better be an impact player, too. And, of course, the Lions MUST find some gems in the lower rounds. That's been their Achilles. I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy, though, because the scouting department wasn't purged. Your take on James Harris's addition to the front office?

Big Al: Really, the Lions should get three impact players, as they have the first pick of the second round. Having three of the top 33 picks means the Lions should nab three immediate starters in the '09 draft. But you are correct; where the Lions really hurt themselves during the Matt Millen Era was their inability to find any diamonds in the rough during the lower rounds. Good teams find contributing players in the second day of the draft. The Lions had trouble finding contributors in the draft, period. As for Harris? He has a solid track record, but like any NFL executive, he had his share of hits and misses. Just look at his free agent signings from last off season. Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence were given BIG money on Harris's recommendation. They were both recently cut by the Carolina Panthers, as they were huge disappointments. Still, Harris has had some success building a team in the style Mayhew and Schwartz want: physical, tough, and run first.

Eno: I'm eager and frightened, at the same time, to see how the Lions' front office org chart works out. It doesn't appear to be terribly orthodox, but we'll see. One thing's for certain: if the Lions draft Stafford, the kid can forget about wearing his college No. 7 with the Lions. That number was Dutch Clark's, and it's retired!

Big Al: I'm with you there, Eno, my man. God forbid the Lions do what they did when they traded for an over-the-hill Pat Swilling in 1993, giving him Joe Schmidt's retired number 56. There are some things that you just don't do.

Eno: Well, the Tigers let Gary Sheffield wear no. 3, Alan Trammell's old number. Which makes for a nice segue. Spring training just opened. Your early bird "feel good" sign? Mine is the health of Sheffield. Sheff is fine and dandy, and that could be huge for the Tigers.

Big Al: Mine is the news of Joel Zumaya throwing well. That would be more huge (more huge? My syntax sucks today!), as the Tigers will go only as far as their pitching will take them. We are also seeing the first of the silly power rankings. Fox Sports had the Tigers 25th overall. I know the Tigers had an off year in '08, but 25th? They aren't that bad, are they?

Eno: I just read that, and [the Detroit News’] Lynn Henning's take, which I agree with. Lynn has the Tigers 10-12 overall. I think that's about right. No, the Tigers aren't 25th-bad. Not even close. But that's OK. Let them be, as Jim Leyland said the other day, "under the radar." Frankly, I love the low expectations nationally. Anyone with any baseball IQ, though, should see that the Tigers could absolutely win the AL Central, which is just about the craziest division to predict, year-after-year, as any in baseball. I agree about Zumaya; that would be, as you said, "more huge." Or huger – whichever you prefer! Bottom line: everyone is optimistic on February 19th. But after what happened to the Tigers last season, I think they're all eager to wash away 2008 ASAP.

Big Al: Personally, I had to plunge a rusty spoon into my cerebral cortex in vain hope of purging the Tigers' 2008 season from my memory. That also explains my grammar and misspellings during today's chat. Me fail English? That's unpossible! Last year the Tigers had everything go wrong that could go wrong. They are due to get a few breaks in '09, but will it be enough to contend? I'm seeing 88 wins getting tossed around the Detroit blogosphere, and it sounds about right to me. The Tigers will be better in '09. How much better is yet to be determined. The bottom half of the rotation, the bottom 1/3 of the batting order and the bullpen still have me concerned.

Eno: I think the Tigers have a big year in them for '09. I think 88 wins is low. This could be the year that others in the AL pay for what they did to the Tigers last season. I think 90+ wins is likely, but Leyland MUST end this nonsense of his teams collapsing in August. His streak in that department is three years in a row and counting. Second half slips aren't cute anymore – not that they ever were!

Big Al: Leyland had as bad of a season as his team last year. The constant position changes still have my head it does Carlos Guillen. I agree the Tigers have to play well down the stretch, something that has been the Tigers’, and Leyland's, Achille's Heel. I do think Leyland will have a better year, if only to earn a contract extension. He didn't deserve to get an extension after last season's performance. As for his being a lame duck? Deal with it.

Eno: Don't get me started on "lame duck". Sheesh! OK, I've been dominating this conversation like Shaq in the paint against Lilliputians. What's on your Al-kind-of-mind today?

Big Al: What's on my mind? Grinds my gears? Let's start with the Alex Rodriguez steroid circus. First off, he slanders the Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story, Selena Roberts, making up allegations that proved to be untrue. Then during his televised presser he had the gall to claim his "cousin" led him astray? Does he honestly believe baseball fans are so moronically gullible? I was never an A-Rod fan, as he always came off as insincere. Now I despise him. What's your take on A-Fraud?

Eno: The only Yankee I have any use for is Derek Jeter. That's pretty much all I'll say. Oh, and this: A-Rod, sadly, simply becomes just one more player whose numbers you now have to look at cross-eyed. Can you imagine the asterisk that the late Commissioner Ford Frick would place on the numbers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire et al? The size of a small planet!

Big Al: How about Kenesaw Mountain Landis? He would have used the band hammer to get them out of the game...and that would have just been the START of their misery. Now there was a baseball commissioner with POWER. He was judge, jury and executioner. Kenesaw Mountain Landis makes Bud Selig look like the owners’ lackey. Well, Bud-lite is nothing more than the owners' lackey, and he’s getting paid $18 million a season? FOR WHAT EXACTLY?

Eno: That's a very good question. An $18 million question, actually. Sure makes one long for the days of even Bowie Kuhn, whose tendency to step in "for the best interests of the game" may have seemed annoying, but at least he DID something! OK, enough about ‘roids, already. What else ya got?

Big Al: Ah, yes. Bowie Kuhn. The man who kept the Tigers from obtaining Vida Blue...for the “good of the game”. What else is churning through my damaged cerebral cortex? I forgot to touch on the Michael Phelps chronic/weed/pot/doobage non-controversy last week. On Tuesday, it was announced that Phelps was not going to be charged by a South Carolina sheriff for being caught with a a PHOTO. What a crock. Phelps is a 23-year-old kid; let him be one.

Eno: Wow, talk about laissez-faire! The truth is, he's not just ANY 23-year-old kid, as much as you'd like to argue otherwise. Like it or not, he DOES have a higher standard for which he must strive. That said, as always, things got overblown. He made a mistake and admitted it, with a refreshing sense of "I'm to blame, no one else." I like that Phelps didn't try to blame outside forces. Now, if he screws up AGAIN, doing something similar (don't forget his earlier DUI), then it's OK to vilify him.

Big Al: Thing is, doesn't the sheriff have better things to do than investigate pot smoking at a fraternity party? He may just as well bust anyone who's ever attended a frat party in the state of South Carolina. Christ, when I think back to the boneheaded things I did in my late teens and early-twenties, I just shake my head. Personally, I feel for Phelps. He's never really had a chance to be a kid. First he spends his entire life in the pool, then he becomes a corporate spokesman and role model. Phelps is human, and he's going to make mistakes. The endless demands for apologies and mea culpas is over the top. IT'S JUST WEED. He who has never taken a mind-altering substance, of any kind, cast the first stone. Sometimes I really think this nation has a stick up its uptight ass.

Eno: I was another who must have had a Guardian Angel looking over me while I stumbled around the EMU campus from 1981-85. I feel ya. But again, standards are higher, fair or not, agreed to or not. Hey, wanna play some WordAss, speaking of tight asses?

Big Al: Do we gotta? I want to continue to rip on uptight, morally corrupt, Puritanical Americans! No? OK, if you insist. Let's play WORDASS!


Eno: First, some sad news. Your take on the sudden death, from a heart attack, of former MSU/NFL linebacker Brad Van Pelt.

Big Al: A sad day for Sparties everywhere. Van Pelt was one of the best athletes to ever come out of the state of Michigan. A dominant safety with the Spartans, and an All-Pro linebacker with the Giants. Makes you wonder about the risks athletes take to play in the NFL. Far too many NFL alums die young, in their 50s and 60s. My condolences go out to the Van Pelt family, and Spartans everywhere.

Eno: Indeed. OK, next: the aforementioned Gary Sheffield.

Big Al: Sheff? Hide his glove! If the Tigers get 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI, they'll be happy. They'll be just as happy to clear his salary off the books.

Eno: The Tigers will FINALLY have a player hit his 500th HR while wearing the Old English D, which is kinda cool. OK, next: Chris Osgood.

Big Al: Floundering. He's played a little better recently, but Ozzie's still not playing at the level the Red Wings need.

Eno: Two more: first, Jason Hanson and his brand spanking new four-year deal.

Big Al: Retire his jersey! When the best kicker in Lions' history actually retires, of course. If Hanson played for another franchise, he'd be mentioned with the all-time kicking greats.

Eno: Only two kickers since 1980: Hanson and Eddie Murray. That's amazing. OK, finally – the NBA trade deadline. By the time this appears on the Net, will the Pistons have made a trade?

Big Al: *flips a coin* No. I think Joe Dumars stands pat, even if it means the Pistons fall into the lottery, which is looking more possible by the day. Are you ready for some ass whip...I mean wordass?

Eno: Hit me! (well, not LITERALLY)

Big Al: Let's start with the Lion whom it's rumored has been asked to move to guard this week (according to Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press), Jeff Backus.

Eno: In other words, they want to try to hide him, right? Just as amazing as the kicking situation is the fact that Backus has started every game (I think) since 2001 and hasn't sniffed a Pro Bowl.

Big Al: If true, it seems the Lions will be taking an OT early in the draft. Next, let's go with the Texas Tech (now possibly former) head coach whose strong-armed negotiating tactics may have negotiated himself right out of a coaching job (turning down a $2 million-plus per season deal), Mike Leach.

Eno: Leach is no different than anyone else trying to ensure he gets the most out of his services. Trouble is, it gets murkier when you're talking about the leader of young men. I think coaches should be able to market themselves, too, but it's a fine line between that and audaciousness. How's THAT for a $20 word?

Big Al: Triple word score for Eno! Next, something that scares all fans due to the possibility of injury, MLB's World Baseball Classic.

Eno: Meh. It doesn't excite me – not one bit. No interest. Does that make me a bad person?

Big Al: No, as I think the majority of American baseball fans feel exactly as you do. I don’t want to see Justin Verlander pitch for Team USA. He's too important to the Tigers' chances. One more. Will the Pistons make a trade before the deadline?

Eno: Ah, giving me a taste of my own WordAss, huh? Joe D, as you said, stands pat. This season is shot. OK, last chance to rant before we do Jerk of the Week. Anything still in your hopper?

Big Al: The NBA had its All-Star festivities last weekend. As you all know, I was in exile at the GF's, so I was unable to see any of the weekend's activities. And you know what? I don't feel like I missed a damn thing. I heard H-O-R-S-E was a total flop. The dunk contest is soooo played out. The game itself is a snoozer. Did you bother to catch any of the NBA's big weekend?

Eno: NO!! God, that stuff bores me to tears. I'm getting to the point where I hold all "all-star games" in disdain, save the MLB version. And even that – the HR Derby is getting old. They need to freshen things up, but I'm not sure how. I think a 3-on-3 would be kinda cool re: the NBA. I don't know. All-Star games....another "meh."

Big Al: Meh. Couldn't have said it better myself. All-Star games have run their course. There's no need in an era where we can see teams play every night of the week. And the fuss over Kevin Durant's 46 points in the rookie/sophomore game? It was in an EXHIBITION game where defense is considered a four-letter word. Get a grip, folks.


Eno: Exactly. OK, who's your JOTW?

Big Al: My JOTW is South Carolina sheriff Leon Lott, who felt the need to waste taxpayer money on attempting to arrest and prosecute Michael Phelps and many others who were in attendance at the fraternity party where pot was smoked. All that effort for what was essentially a misdemeanor offense? I'll take "Attention Whores" for $100, Alex.

Eno: Wow. I think your HIS JOTW!! Mine isn't terribly creative or surprising: Alex Rodriguez. Sorry. I know it's not a thrilling choice, but he can't NOT be a JOTW between the two of us!

Big Al: Indeed. A-Roid deserves it too. I'm not one to defend the MSM, but his attacking Selena Roberts with outright lies was the move of a Jerk of the Century, let alone of the week. I hope she sues. Any final thoughts, Eno?

Eno: Umm, only that isn't it great to see those photos of the Tigers in their creamy white unis down in Lakeland? I've been going to and to check out the daily photo galleries. Can't get enough of it!

Big Al: Mmmm, creamy whites.... I'm suddenly hungry for cream of potato soup! Seriously, I LOVE the Tigers' home unis. One of the best in all of sports. I think it's that time, Eno!

Eno: It is. Have a great week, my friend!

Big Al: Same Jerk time, same Jerk channel, same Jerks! Later, Eno-sabi!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stafford's High School Irrelevant, But Don't Tell That To Lions Fans

It's come down, now, to a reliance on some sort of spiritual hope of fait accomplit.

That's what Lions' fans are reduced to, when it comes to their team's quarterback situation.

But since they appear to want to believe in curses, then fair is fair: let them believe in a reason why such a curse has a way of being broken, right?

You now have about two months left to keep hearing about the Bobby Layne Curse, and the young man who just might be able to break it -- like some sort of football Messiah.

Matthew Stafford is the kid QB from the University of Georgia who figures to be the likely draft choice of the Lions, No. 1 off the board, in the 2009 NFL Draft this April. Just being a young, talented quarterback with the goods to be a franchise savior isn't enough in Detroit, though. You have to be a curse breaker, too.

The Curse in question is the one that the legendary Bobby Layne supposedly placed on the Lions franchise shortly after being traded in 1958. The trade was, granted, rather odd. The Lions were coming off a championship, and while Layne wasn't the one under center (he was hurt and Tobin Rote took over late in the season), he was back to starting status when the '58 season began.

Shortly after the season began, though, Layne was traded, to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and not only was the move surprising, it was abrupt. Just like that, the greatest QB in Lions history was gone. And there is no shortage of theories as to why.

Layne was involved with gamblers. He owed money. He had crossed the line off the field with his playboy-like behavior. His drinking, also legendary, had finally pushed to envelope too far. Whatever. Bottom line was, he wasn't a Lion anymore. On his way out of town, Layne allegedly uttered these words, or something similar: "The Lions won't win for at least fifty years."

That was 50 years and five months ago.

So now there's this: Stafford, as fate would have it, happened to attend the same Dallas high school that Layne and another Lions legend, Doak Walker, attended.

Cue the proponents of karma.

Bobby Layne, the pride of Highland Park High in Dallas (as if that matters)

The drafting of Stafford will be, to the point of ad nauseam, portrayed as the move to make because, how can you go wrong by drafting a kid who went to the same high school as Layne and Walker?

Forget that the Lions have probably, throughout their history, drafted countless players who attended the same high schools as other, more famous (and better) players.

But this is an understandable crutch the Lions fan is almost sure to use to keep himself propped up, mentally if nothing else, as the Draft approaches.

50 years. A nice, round number. The length of the supposed Curse. And now Stafford happens on the scene, right on cue.

It's all hogwash, of course. But don't tell the Lions fan; let him (and her) play with this bone for a couple months. Or longer, if the Lions actually do draft Stafford.

Fantastic -- as if the kid needs anymore pressure; now they'd heap this Curse Breaker status on him? Just because of the high school he attended?

For now, at least, Stafford sounds confident and eager to take on the challenge. For sure.

"I don't know if it's destiny, but I'd love to have the opportunity to be a Lion, for sure," Stafford said. "I think it's a great opportunity for me. It could work out in the end, for sure."

Sure it could.

You should know, before you give Stafford too many points for being upbeat, that all kids entering the draft utter such confident words. It's cute, really, how naive and non-cynical they are at this age. Give him a few years and check back.

I remember how bright and confident Joey Harrington was when he breezed into town in 2002. His upbeat 'tude even earned him the derisive nickname of "Joey Blue Skies." How DARE he look at the Lions' glass and find it half full!

I remember Andre Ware raising his fists -- both of them -- in triumph as the ESPN cameras caught him at home, moments after being drafted by the Lions in 1990.

"Run-n-shoot, baby!," Ware yelled, referring to coach Wayne Fontes's new offensive scheme, one that Ware himself ran at the University of Houston.

So Stafford is wearing his Honolulu Blue-colored glasses as he talks bravely of wanting to be the one to break whatever it is that has been dogging the Lions.

You want to know what's been cursing the Lions?

Bad drafts. Bad trades. Bad coaches. Bad management decisions. Bad ownership, of course.

Not bad luck. Not some sort of make believe curse, levied on a team by a bitter, emotionally wounded quarterback on his way out of town.

So this talk of Stafford and his connection to Dallas' Highland Park High? Silly, plain and simple.

But it makes for something that weary Lions fans can hang their helmets on. As Stafford would say, for sure.

Whether Matthew Stafford can save the Lions won't have a lick to do with what high school he attended. Won't have anything to do with Bobby Layne or Doak Walker or some make believe curse. If the kid is good enough, and he gets enough good coaching and blocking and support around him, then he has a shot. If not, then he'll be another bust -- another huge disappointment.

For sure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Therrien Gets The Ziggy, And An Old Axiom Is Re-proved

Fire the coach!

When all else fails -- or even when just a little bit fails.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the latest NHL team to render the ziggy. Michel Therrien got it Sunday, barely eight months after leading his team to the Stanley Cup Gosh Darn Finals, no less.

If that's what happens to a Cup Finalist less than a year later...

It's easier, they say, to can the coach than change all the players. Even though, ironically, it's probably the players who are the cause for the coaching change to begin with.

Therrien was too tough on his players, it's been theorized. Too strict with the discipline. Too rigid in his insistence that everyone -- EVERYONE -- play defense. Well, the nerve.

Time to change the messenger.

Former football coach Bum Phillips said it best.

"If they want to fire you, they'll think of a reason. You're too nice. You're too mean."

And this: "There's two kinds of coaches: them's that have BEEN fired, and them's that are GOING to be fired. And I've been both."

Therrien's dismissal was accompanied by the usual excuse: his players were beginning to tune him out. Now, Therrien has only been on the job in Pittsburgh since midway through the 2005-06 season, when he took over for Eddie Olczyk, who now gabs into a microphone (and quite nicely, I might add) for network TV hockey coverage. So this was Therrien's third full season -- and the last one of those, as I said, featured a berth in the Cup Finals. Yet three years is like dog years: it might as well be 21, if you're talking about the patience GMs and owners exhibit with their coaches.

Fire the coach!

So that's what you can look forward to, if you're a coach in the NHL. You can look forward to making it to first runner-up, and still end up getting canned less than a year later anyway.

The league has been especially brutal on its coaches this season. We should have seen it coming, when Chicago fired Denis Savard about a week into the campaign. It started then, and hasn't really let up. Tampa Bay gave Barry Melrose about a month. And that after luring him from his broadcast lair, making a big show of it.

Therrien will be replaced by someone named Dan Bylsma, who was minding his own business, coaching the Pens' top minor league affiliate, when Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero called him up to The Show. The replacement of Therrien with the minor leaguer Bylsma is a repeat of how Therrien himself came to be the Penguins' coach; he was coaching in the minors when Olczyk was ziggied. Bylsma, 38, is a former NHL player and assistant coach, and a little research revealed that he was born in Grand Haven, Michigan. Fancy that.

Bylsma immediately started saying things that sounded just like a new coach who's trying to make an immediate imprint, which he is, of course.

"With the strengths we have, we should be able to go into buildings and make teams deal with the quality of players we have at every position," Bylsma was quoted on "I look at a group that can win games right now, and we need to do that. We can do this, but the players have to believe we can do this."

Yadda, yadda, yadda -- right?

And, as scripted, Shero played the role of anguished executioner thusly: "I didn't like the way, the direction, the team was headed. I've watched for a number of weeks and, at the end of the day, the direction is not that I wanted to have here. I wasn't comfortable, and that's why the change was made."

"I can't quit, you fired me!"

For sure, the Penguins have struggled, especially lately. The straw that broke Therrien's back was a grisly 6-2 loss in Toronto on Saturday -- a game in which the Penguins led, 2-1, going into the third period. Last week I wrote of how feeble the Penguins' effort was when the Red Wings manhandled them in Pittsburgh on national television. So it's not like the Penguins don't have their troubles, because they do. No question. They're having an awful time of it this season, trying to regain that mojo, and the playoffs are beginning to edge further and further from their grasp. Therrien, I'm sure, can't be judged an innocent, either. The buck has to stop somewhere.

It all just serves to re-prove a time-worn axiom -- one succinctly stated by former Pistons coach Earl Lloyd, shortly after becoming coach following Butch van Breda Kolff's self-ziggy way back in 1971.

"It's funny," Earl said. "But when you sign on to become coach, you're also signing your own termination papers.'"

Fire the coach!

It can't hurt...right?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Yzerman At Peace; Skates Don't Beckon Him

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Red Wings legend retires, gets kicked upstairs to the front office. Becomes a team vice president, but has no real job description.

It’s still happening in Detroit, but this time all’s well.

The Red Wings – most notably owner Bruce Norris and GM Ned Harkness – levied such obscene behavior on Gordie Howe, once upon a time. Actually, I have years for you: 1971 and ’72. That’s when Gordie hung up the skates, started wearing a suit and tie, and went to his office inside Olympia Stadium to watch the paint dry.

“They gave me the mushroom treatment,” Howe said in an oft-repeated line. “They kept me in the dark and every once in a while they opened the door and dumped (manure) on me.”

Only, Gordie didn’t say manure.

The Red Wings, on the surface, seem to be doing it again, this time to Steve Yzerman.

“I still have no specific job description with the Red Wings,” Yzerman was telling us media types via phone the other day. He’s an Executive Vice President now, Steve Yzerman is, and that’s been his title ever since he announced his retirement as a player back in July 2006. And though his words indicate that the Red Wings don’t have anything for him to do, a la Mr. Hockey, rest easy.

“I hang around the team a lot,” Yzerman said, clarifying his previous statement. “I’m trying to learn both the business side and the personnel side. I travel with the team sometimes. I spend a lot of time watching hockey.

“Between the Internet and TV, you hear a lot. I get forwarded a lot of e-mails.”

What Yzerman is hearing “a lot” about these days, from the Net and TV, is the Olympics. And with good reason. For Yzerman, you see, is the Executive Director of Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Games. That means he’s in charge, basically, of putting together the team, from top to bottom, that will compete in Vancouver for his native country. He was named to the post last October.

So that’s taking up the bulk of his time – but not as a distraction from any sort of “mushroom treatment” that the Red Wings are heaping on him. Yzerman is content to be the learning VP – functioning as a sponge among the team’s vaunted brain trust of GM Ken Holland, Senior VP Jimmy Devellano, and assistant GM Jim Nill. It’s a tact that Yzerman says he’s using with Team Canada’s management team, which includes current and former GMs like Holland, Doug Armstrong, and Kevin Lowe. Oh, and there’s one more hockey person that Yzerman leans on for advice.

“Wayne Gretzky told me that he’s always available,” Yzerman said of The Great One, who is functioning as a senior adviser for Team Canada, having once performed the job that Yzerman currently has. “Wayne was one of the first people I talked to [after getting the Team Canada job]. Having Kenny (Holland) around is invaluable.”

Is there a danger, I asked, of getting too much advice?

“Yeah, I think so,” Yzerman said. “But at the end of the day, I have to make the decisions. I like talking to people, listening to people. But I’m the one who makes the decisions.”

Howe made no real decisions with the Red Wings. The shameful treatment he received was a big reason why No. 9 retired from retirement and joined his sons in the fledgling World Hockey Association in 1973.

But if you’re wondering, as I had been, if Yzerman is tempted to put the skates back on and slap the puck around, wonder no longer. I hit him cold with the question.

Does this Olympic process, being so close to players and pursuing Gold, give you the itch to compete at the ultimate level – that of player?

“I don’t miss playing at all,” Yzerman told me. “The only time I thought about playing was when I was watching the World Junior Championships [in Moscow]. I was watching those kids play and I got kind of envious. But the more I’m exposed to the management side, the less I miss playing.”

So there you have it. The skates don’t beckon him, not one bit, save that moment of weakness in Russia. The suit and tie fit him nicely, thank you.

Yzerman: He's gotten used to this look

It’s all about trying to win Gold for Team Canada, and the more you hear Yzerman talk about that, the more he sounds like an executive, and not just someone who plays one on TV.

“I want a well-balanced team,” he said of his vision for Team Canada. “One that’s solid defensively. Balanced teams win, whether it’s the Stanley Cup or in the Olympics,” Yzerman, who should know, added. “We want to attack and defend. We want to play with the puck. Because once you lose it at this level, it’s so hard to get it back.”

So, a team like the Red Wings, basically?

“Well, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last year,” Yzerman said, as if we needed reminding.

For the record, Yzerman says he and his team of suits will name a coaching staff shortly after the Stanley Cup Finals in June. He talked of wanting to know strengths and weaknesses and personalities of coaching candidates before rendering a decision.

“Just like how we’re watching players, we’re also watching coaches,” Yzerman said, sounding very executive-ish.

The playing days are three years in the rearview mirror now, and fading fast. Steve Yzerman is at peace, very much so.

“It’s been a great transition,” he said, “from being a player to being in management.”

So that’s one thing The Captain has on Mr. Hockey. By far.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Probably Stafford, But Lions Need Pass Rush Help Badly

I did some heavy research -- I'm telling you, I slaved over this -- with my focus being the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. After exhaustive work, I came up with this common denominator: No quarterback in the eighty-plus years that the NFL has operated has thrown a single touchdown pass while standing on the sidelines.

I told you it was exhaustive.

It won't mean a gosh darn thing (this is a family website) if the Lions draft Matthew Stafford, or resurrect Daunte Culpepper, or reanimate Jon Kitna, or transform Dan Orlovsky, or develop Drew Stanton. Won't matter how freakish Calvin Johnson continues to be. Won't matter how brilliant of a runner Kevin Smith turns out to be. Won't even matter how much they improve their Swiss cheese offensive line. None of it will mean a lick if the Lions cannot do one simple thing: get their defense off the freaking (again, family website) field on third down.

Third down is a pro football bellwether. Succeed on it offensively, and you keep drives alive and wear down the defense. Succeed on it defensively, and you severely limit damage against you. And, you keep those dangerous offensive weapons the opponents have on the sidelines, where, as I proved through my research, they can't harm you.

The Lions, as you can imagine for a team that whiffed on all sixteen of their games last season, were horrible on third down. None of their QBs threw a TD pass from the sidelines, which not only kept the league streak alive, but took away the Lions' passers best chance. For it was only on the sidelines where the Lions QBs could guarantee themselves tranquility and non-harrassment. On offense, their conversion percentage on third down was among the worst in the league. On defense? Teams made first downs on the Lions while in third down situations as if they were performing non-contact drills in training camp.

The worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) example of this heinous aspect was when the New Orleans Saints marched into Ford Field in December. The Saints went 11-for-11 -- yes, you read that correctly -- on third down. The official stats show 11-for-12, but that was only because of a kneel-down at the end of the game. A mercy non-conversion.

I'm too tired from the other research, or else I might try this: has any team -- and I'll be willing to include pee-wee teams -- EVER gone 11-for-11 on third down? That just seems almost impossible to fathom, had it not actually happened to the Lions. Heck, has anyone ever done that in electric football?

In my opinion, that stat -- 0-for-11 on third down stops -- was the most damning of all the ghoulish numbers posted by the Lions in 2008. And it was the premier indictment of why the team's defense needs serious overhaul.

It's also why I hope the Lions don't draft Stafford, or Mark Sanchez, with the no. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft.

The Lions need to get off the field on third down. Being unable to do so is demoralizing, bad for conditioning, and a key ingredient to any losing recipe.

There are many reasons for this inability. In fact, where do you want to start? You barely have enough fingers to use as pointers.

There's the secondary, made up of possibly the worst collection of pass defenders ever assembled. There's the linebacking corps, which is Ernie Sims and a bunch of bozos. There's the defensive line, which is incapable of putting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Sometimes, just one of these three aspects is enough to cook you on third down, defensively. The Lions possess all three. Hence the Saints' 11-for-11 that Sunday afternoon in December. And the Lions NFL-last ranking in third down defense.

Oh, how I wish the Lions resist temptation and bypass Stafford, Sanchez, or any QB in the first round and use their early picks to shore up their God-awful defense. Specifically, the pass rush.

Quick, name the Lions' last big-time pass rusher. OK, not so quick. I'll wait.

I'm still waiting.

OK, I'll help you out. You remember a marvelous LB/DE named Michael Cofer? Cofer was a beast; almost unblockable. Had he played for a winning team for any length of time, he would have been mentioned among the Lawrence Taylors of the world.

Michael Cofer, the Lions' last true pass rushing specialist

The last time I saw Cofer, I was at the Silverdome and he was being carted off the field after a win over the Miami Dolphins. That was in September 1991. He had suffered a severe knee injury that wound up being career-ending. He had 62.5 sacks as a Lion, but just two after that injury.

In his prime, at his best, there wasn't a better pass rusher in Lions history, save for perhaps Bubba Baker, than Michael Cofer. And the Lions haven't been able to get to the other team's passer since.

It would be nice if they started doing it again. Of all the above-mentioned aspects of third down defense, I think you wouldn't be wrong if you placed "pressure the quarterback" No. 1 on the priority list.

A solid pass rush is the first domino. Once knocked over, it affects the rest of the defense, in a positive way. Not the least of which is to hide, as much as possible, a weak secondary. Even the best DBs can only cover receivers for so long. Bad DBs need as much help as they can get.

Aaron Curry, a hybrid LB/DE type from Wake Forest, could fit the bill. But, there aren't too many others who would be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. The Lions could trade and drop down in the pecking order, of course.

Yet it looks like the Lions are going to draft Stafford after all. I wouldn't go looking for razor blades and cyanide if they do so, because Stafford is, indeed, a heck of a prospect. But I would worry that he'd become another Lions draft bust at that position. And, there's this: not WHERE would Stafford play, but WHEN?

The Lions never have the football.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Knee Jerks: "It Gets Me In The 'Roids" Edition (But We Don't Stop There)

Get your jerks on!

It's Thursday, and for you newbies out there, that means it's time for my weekly spirited discussion with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we dump on A-Roid, er A-Rod; lament (AGAIN) the passing of the Pistons as we once knew them; laud the Red Wings' courting of Marian Hossa vis-a-vis a contract extension; wonder about the team's goalie situation; and the usuals are in the house: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

WELL? What are you WAITING for? Get in there!


Eno: It's with condolences that I welcome you to Thursday, and another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al". As usual, it's a gabfest featuring me – Eno, aka The Journalist, and Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Welcome, Albert/Alfred/Allan/Alan/Aldo.....

Big Al: Call me anything but late for the Knee Jerks! (that's an inside joke, folks!) I'm currently stationed at the northern most TWFE outpost, aka my girlfriend's house (yes, even geeks can get the women), so I'm feeling a little out of the sporting loop. So you may have to carry this chat on your extremely broad shoulders, Mr. Journalist. So what's on your mind on this wet, soggy, foggy, and warm Michigan day?

Eno: Geeks?? So what does that make me, a Geek-commiserater? Well, I think we ought to talk, as much as I hate to, about A-Roid, I mean A-Rod. Your take on Alex Rodriguez's steroid-injecting?

Big Al: We're elite sports geeks, that's what! As for Mr. Rodriguez, A-Rod/Roid/Fraud is as phony as one of Creed Bratton’s $3 bills. I never understood “I didn’t know what I was taking” excuse athletes give. Hell, I take several meds and supplements (one is an injection I give myself), and I know what they are, why I need them and what side effects to expect. For a pro athlete to supposedly ingest/inject whatever is given to them willy nilly, and do so without question, when their body is their main source of income, requires a level of belief I just don’t have. He knew EXACTLY what he was taking, and why he was taking it. Rodriguez is a BS artist of the highest magnitude.

Eno: I have heard a lot of things about A-Rod, behind-the-scenes, way prior to this, and none if it flattering. I also think of that sorry moment when he yelled at an infielder who was waiting for a pop-up to come down. It's too bad that this maybe-next-HR champ is a man of this character. Where have you gone, Hank Aaron?

Big Al: The rumors you mention hearing about A-Rod don't really surprise me. I doubt there is a sincere bone in his 'roid riddled body. He comes across as smarmy and narcissistic. Even during his ESPN mea culpa (which I could only see bits of on-line, as I have no ESPN here in Girlfriend-land...weep for me...She's a sweetheart, so I can deal with it) he didn’t come off as very convincing. He said he was "naive?" Don't BS me; no MLB ballplayer is THAT naive.

Eno: Yeah, his "apology" was BS. Then again, they almost always are from those types. What, if any, fallout do you see? Does this create problems for the Yankees, or no?

Big Al: If the Yankees can deal with the Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi steroid "scandals", and Joe Torre's new "view from the inside" book, they can deal with this latest controversy. Hell, this is just another normal day in the New York sports world. The fans in NYC won't care either, as long as A-Roid hits. The Yankees will be fine. But anytime the Yankees and the East Coast Axis of Evil are knocked down a few pegs, it's fine by me.

Eno: Well, I'm not one to think of these kinds of things with a man at the plate and runners on second and third with one out in any game I'm watching. I'm still able to separate this crap from the game itself, but it gets harder and harder to do so. I think we should all just accept that tons of players were juicing and as far as how that impacts the game's numbers and records, well, that's for each of us to reconcile, I guess.

Big Al: I agree. The business of baseball often overwhelms the greatness happening on the field. I LOVE baseball, it's the first game I ever took seriously, and the game I played the longest (in one form or another). So to see the players themselves sully what should be a respite from real life is, well, disappointing. As for the records, I'm to the point where any stats/records put up between...say 1994 and 2004...are to be taken with a huge grain of salt. As Bob Wojnowski would say on the now-dead-to-me WDFN, "Tsk, tsk, tsk, asterisk!"

Eno: OK, your turn. What does the self-described sports geek want to talk about?

Big Al: Let's move on to, as we always do, the Pistoooooo...(sorry, Oreo, the GF's cat, just hopped in my lap!) Pistons. They blew another very winnable game to the Bulls Tuesday night, blowing a late 15-point lead in the process. The team is only three games over .500, Michael Curry doesn't know what buttons to push, the team is in turmoil as no one really knows their status, and the trade deadline is coming up fast. There's even a on the Internets, so the fans are running out of patience. The Pistons are in a downward spiral. Can they pull out?

Eno: No. They're done like dinner. I wrote an obituary at OOB Wednesday. The Pistons are dead. They can't even win the games that have already been won. They had a 10-point lead with 3:30 to play. Even the bad teams can hold on to those leads. They're out of sorts and I wouldn't be surprised if they are meek first-round roadkill for someone. This is the step backward we have been bracing ourselves for. Will it be followed by a giant leap forward? We can only hope. But [team president] Joe Dumars is having a bad year. This is his mulligan year, too. He was due. It started with hiring a rookie coach, extended to trading for Allen Iverson, and I'm afraid of what's next. Joe D's image has taken a big hit here. He's most culpable. Followed closely by the players. I know some may say that it's vice-versa, but does it really matter?

Big Al: At this point? No, it doesn't. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the normally Teflon-coated Dumars will end up taking some hits from the media, the bloggers, and fans. Personally, I honestly don't see how Curry can come back for another season. Dumars has canned some top-flight coaches in the past, and Curry has proven to be anything but. Dumars is also not one to keep a player or coach who is not pulling their weight, no matter what the situation may be. So even though Curry was hand picked by Joe D, I have to think he's hanging on to his job by a thread.

Eno: I, frankly, wouldn't be surprised to see Curry get the ziggy before the season is out. I'm telling you, Dumars should pull a Gregg Popovich and move to the sidelines himself. It's worked before. I have long suspected we might see that one day. Maybe the only coach Joe Dumars can abide is Joe Dumars. Plus, it would be like a landlord being forced to live in his own squalor.

Big Al: No kidding. Give Dumars a taste of the head cases and mismatched parts he's saddled his coaches with. Do you think a trade is in the works, or do the Pistons stay the course, let the expiring contracts of Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson walk, and set themselves up for 2010?

Eno: Stay the course. It's too late to save this mess of a season. This is the proverbial one step back, as I said. As bad as it is, it's no time for total panic. Dumars is allowed this mulligan. He was long overdue, as I said. Sometimes the worst part of a bad situation is over-compensating for it. I think Joe D has a Grand Plan, and while this might not have been part of it, I don't think 2008-09 should send him careening off course. How about you, Ali?

Big Al: The only trade I would think of making would be for the Suns' Amare Stoudemire. But if it takes Rodney Stuckey to get him, then I'm with you, stay the course. As nice as a trade for an offensive force as Stoudemire sounds, I don't think the Pistons have the ammo to get him, unless the Suns are happy with 'Sheed's expiring contract. It's going to be an interesting second half of the season, to say the very least.

Eno: What can you really do at this point? Make it into the second round before becoming roadkill for the Cavs or the Celtics? Who needs that?! I, too, am interested to see what goes down from here on out. We usually don't have such drama this time of year, do we, Al?

Big Al: It's been a long time since either of the winter franchises have had to struggle to make the playoffs. At least the Red Wings are still elite. and speaking of such, word is that Marian Hossa and the Wings are trying hard to agree to a long term deal. I'm geeked to see Hossa extend what was supposed to be a one year marriage. He fits the Red Wings like a glove. Even if he gives the team the hometown discount, Hossa returning would make for a very different looking team in 2009-10. some familiar names may have to move on. Hossa, yay or nay, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Oh, yay, big time! My goodness, this guy's one of the best players in the universe. I'm thrilled that the Red Wings and he are talking long-term. It's true that someone is going to have to be let go due to the salary cap, but at least it won't be Hossa, apparently. GM Ken Holland (who is a future HOFer in my book) looks to be on the verge of doing it again. Amazing.

Big Al: The Wings' GM can apparently do no for finding a goaltender. The controversy between the pipes continues, with Mike Babcock taking some not-so-veiled shots at Chris Osgood, Ozzie deflecting blame, and Ty Conklin playing well and obviously having the confidence of Babs. Do you think Osgood is starting for the Red Wings in Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Eno: Gosh....that's a toughie. Yes, I do. I think Babs goes with Cup experience over NOT Cup experience. But that hook will be conspicuously present behind the bench with the coach, and he won't be afraid to use it. But there's this, from Osgood: "I know how to win playoff games." I love that kind of swagger. Ozzie, as you know, has never been short on confidence, even when common sense dictated otherwise.

Big Al: No kidding there; Ozzie still believes he's the man for the Wings. But he better start playing like it, or he'll find himself in the same position Dominik Hasek found himself in last season: getting pulled in the first round, and riding the pine. My confidence in Osgood is damn near at an all-time low. He has to do more than talk the talk from here on out. He can start by stopping a few pucks.

Eno: Yes, but he HAS stopped pucks in the past, and I don't see why he can't do it again. He's only 36, which around here qualifies you for being a spring chicken. The regular season in the NHL, Al, is to the playoffs what sunset is to sunrise. They're polar opposites. You've been around long enough (Lord knows!) to know that!

Big Al: Huh? I'm only dog years. Are you ready to try a little WORDASS?

Eno: Fire away!


Big Al: Here goes... Let's start with the man who (supposedly) retired on Tuesday for what seems like the 20th time, Brett Favre.

Eno: Favre has retired almost as many times as a professional boxer. Bottom line: I don't care anymore. Whatever.

Big Al: Well said, Eno-meister. Just go away. Your legacy is set; don't degrade it by hanging on and bouncing around the league. Next, another QB, one who was given the franchise tag by the Patriots, and is rumored to be of interest to the QB-starved Detroit Lions, Matt Cassel.

Eno: Cassel is either a modern day Scott Mitchell (who thrived briefly after an injury to Dan Marino) or a modern day...Matt Cassel. I think he's the latter. He'd look good in Honolulu Blue and Silver.

Big Al: I get the Mitchell vibe as well. Though he did have a couple of great statistical seasons at the Silverdome. But if the Lions do sign Cassel, at least the QB controversy goes away. One more for you – the Lions' long-time logo, rumored to be on his last legs, "Bubbles" the Lion.

Eno: It might go? Say it ain't so! The Lions, if nothing else, have one of the coolest color schemes in the NFL, and that includes the helmet and logo. Then again, the last time the Lions won a championship, Bubbles didn't even exist! Still, I vote to keep him. You ready, Ali Baba?

Big Al: Yep, Bubbles may go, as there are rumors afoot the Lions may be making uni changes for 2010. They best keep the colors; I really like the Detroit unis. At least the black abominations are no more (much to the distress of some TWFE readers.) I'm ready, Eno-san.

Eno: OK, let's start with the currently out-of-work, 37-year-old catcher, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.

Big Al: Will work for steroids, unlike Gerald Laird. Pudge will hook on somewhere, he's still a decent talent, and as you know, catching is becoming a rare skill set.

Eno: Ya think so? I think he might be done. OK, next up: MSU hoops beats U-M hoops in Ann Arbor Tuesday night.

Big Al: NCAA vs. NIT. Sparty is stepping up, the Wolverines have hit their plateau. Michigan is still short a couple of players, but they are FINALLY headed in the right direction. Tom Izzo's Spartans look to be capable of one of their patented long tournament runs.

Eno: I agree re: Izzo's bunch. Sticking with this theme, Indiana Hoosiers basketball.

Big Al: Notre Dame football. Once elite, now struggling to win and find an identity. Izzo's protégé, Tom Crean, has his work cut out for him in Bloomington.

Eno: Two more: first, when I say Jim Leyland you say....??

Big Al: Marlboro reds. Seriously, win or else.

Eno: And when I say Michael Curry you say... ??

Big Al: Dead coach walking.

Eno: Nice! Anything else before we talk Jerks of the Week?

Big Al: Thoughts on the Lions' retaining the services of Stan Kwan, who ran the worst special teams squads we've seen in the D in decades? You know my feelings, and they aren't fit for polite company.

Eno: OK, I'm warning everyone: SEND THE KIDS OUT OF THE ROOM!! Are they gone? OK, here are my thoughts: #$@!&$ Oh well, the censors got me after all. But at least Jim Colletto is gone. But Keeping Kwan is downright...bizarre. Maybe The Schwartz knows something we don't?

Big Al: Or he feels Rod Marinelli was more to blame for the Lions' special teams failings than Kwan. Or Kwan gives great interview. Either way, The Schwartz made a misstep with this hire. I've had no issues with the other coaches brought to Detroit, but keeping Kwan was a step in the wrong direction. But only time will tell if The Schwartz made the right call. But for now...FIRE KWAN!!!

Eno: I agree. If you're Kwan, how do you even plead your case for another shot? Well, Kwan is officially the luckiest assistant coach in the NFL; let's see if he parlays his second chance into something good. Of course, he'll look a lot better if you get him a bona fide return man. OK, ready for Jerk of the Week?

Big Al: Jerk away, my good man.

Eno: EXCUSE me? That sounds awfully dirty!


Big Al: Ahem...Uh...Well...Get your mind out of the gutter! So who's your Jerk, Eno-sabi?

Eno: If my mind's in the gutter, it's sharing space with yours, my friend! OK, my Jerk is Chicago Tribune sports columnist Rick Morrissey, who absolutely lambasted U-M football coach Rich Rodriguez for being a money-hungry “villain” and, basically, an all-around bad guy. I don't know what RichRod did to this dude. He's not even from Ohio, this guy!

Big Al: The ignorance of the MSM amazes me sometimes. RichRod is no different than any other football coach who leaves a position to take a better job. Where's the hate for Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino? My Jerk is, for the first and what I hope is the final time, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. I just had to give him JotW for retaining Stan @#^&$&+@@%& Kwan on his staff. My disgust for Kwan, who ruined what was once an excellent special teams squad, knows no bounds. The Lions have a long history of good to great special teams. The only special Kwan brings is of the “rides the short bus” kind! Final thoughts, oh gutter bound one?

Eno: My, it didn't take long for The Schwartz to appear here as a JOTW, did it? Have a great week, Ali Baba!

Big Al: You too, sir! From Girlfriend-land, this is Big Al signing off. FIRE KWAN!!!

Eno: Hear, hear!!!