Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Not out of the Woods Yet with Website Statement

Tiger Woods is finally being brought to his knees.

Augusta couldn't do it. Pebble Beach, neither. Nor could any of the vaunted courses across the pond.

A four-stroke deficit on a Sunday doesn't faze Woods, either. Having to get up and down from 45 yards away, his ball in a pile of thatch? Piece of cake.

But this isn't the golf course, it's the fish bowl of celebrity.

Woods, who was involved in a single-car crash just outside his home over the weekend, is playing this one like Greg Norman trying to hold on to a lead in a major on the final day.

Tiger is shanking them and his approach shots are plopping into water hazards.

Woods is hoping that the statement he released on his website will satiate those among us who are a tad curious---and that number is no doubt in the tens of millions, at least--- about what went down, and why at 2:25 a.m. Saturday, when Woods smashed into a fire hydrant and then a tree with his Cadillac.

The statement takes responsibility for the crash---duh, it was a single car mishap right out of the driveway; who ELSE'S fault would it be?---and praises the actions of wife Elin Nordegren, who according to reports used a golf club (I imagine there are a few of those lying around the Woods house, huh?) to smash the windshield so she could help extricate her husband from the vehicle.

The statement also apologized for the embarrassment the incident has caused, and it vowed that it will never happen again.

Bounding out of your driveway, ramming into a fire hydrant and then careening off a tree? I would hope not!

Sorry, Tiger---not enough. Your statement was a 75-yard chip shot when you're 90 yards away from the green.

Tiger left this one short, alright. Now he needs to blast out of some serious rough, just to save bogey.

What was conspicuous by its absence was any REAL explanation of what happened late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Woods chided rumors and the irresponsibility of some of the sensationalistic reporting of the incident, yet did nothing to stop either---unless he fancies himself living in some fantasy land where folks take everything celebrities say at face value.

Was he popping out to the store for a late night Haagen Dazs run for his wife? Did he run out of Doritos?

The number of viable, explicable reasons why one leaves his/her home at 2:30 in the morning doesn't create a very large cache. Unless Tiger took a graveyard shift to earn some extra dough, then we know he wasn't on his way to work, either.

Why not come clean? Woods has, at press time, canceled three separate interview requests made by state troopers who want to ask, basically, "Hey, what happened?"

And the troopers are giving Tiger a wide berth here. Next time you or me or Joe Shmoe try to put off cops trying to investigate an incident at our home, see what happens.

Tiger Woods is the Muhammad Ali of his time, in that he's recognizable worldwide. He's iconic, and his mere being transcends golf, and even the entire world of sport. So when he crashes his car at 2:30 in the morning when no one else is around, it'd be nice to know what the hell went down.

The rumors, meanwhile, continue to swirl like the wind at Candlestick Park.

Tiger and Elin had a fight. Tiger stormed out. If that's true, then good thing she used the golf club to smash the windshield and not his skull.

Tiger's having an affair and was setting out for a late night tryst. If that's true, see above re: Elin and the golf club.

The rumors that Woods derides, however, are like any vegetation: they need fertile ground in which to germinate. And it doesn't get much more fertile than silence and cryptic "statements" that say everything yet answer nothing.

You'd think Tiger would know this. His whole life has been spent in the fish bowl, just about. You'd think he'd know how to handle an incident like this as if it was a par-4 at the Buick Open.

But Tiger is stumbling and bumbling. He's making a mess of this hole.

Meanwhile, the vegetation of rumor and innuendo is climbing, like a vine, around his life. And that stuff grows fast.

He ought to know that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hey NFL! Leave Lions' Thanksgiving Day Game Alone

I’m going to make a preemptive strike here. An end-around, if you will, to head them off at the pass.

I’m getting my own iron hot. Not enough time to wait for others to reach the proper temp.

This is for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and those who would petition him on their behalf.

Keep your stinking paws off our Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.

Maybe the rumblings have already started. Maybe I’m not the early bird that I think I am.

The Lions lost, 34-12, on Thursday to the Green Bay Packers. That’s what the Lions do anymore on Thanksgiving—they lose by scores like 34-12. It’s been so bad lately that 34-12 is actually one of the better ones, truth be told.

That’s six straight losses on Turkey Day. And those outside of our fair city are crying fowl.

It began a few years ago, when the Lions were starting a new tradition of getting the stuffing beat out of them on Thanksgiving.

“Take the Thanksgiving Day away from the Lions and give it to a team more deserving—or at least one that’s easier on the stomach.”

One of the biggest instigators was the late Lamar Hunt, the erstwhile owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who whined yearly about the Lions and their Thanksgiving tradition.

Rotate the game, Lamar said. Let other teams get in on the fun. Other teams like his, for example.

The movement gained momentum. Hunt garnered more and more support, until it was forgotten by many that it was Hunt’s idea in the first place. You could almost see the pitchforks and torches gathering in front of the league office.

Hunt, among other things, thought that the quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday benefited the Lions, who were used to doing it, so therefore they must have some sort of an advantage.


The Lions, after their latest Thanksgiving Day turkey, are now 33-35-2 on the holiday. Yeah—that’s some advantage, alright. They really clean up on Thanksgiving, don’t they?

The NFL went out and started scheduling its own Thanksgiving Night game on its own network, but that still hasn’t stopped the moaning about the 12:30 kickoff in Detroit.

At issue is the Lions as a team, not a franchise. It’s nothing personal, the pitchforkers and torchers say. They’d just rather see a better brand of football at 12:30.

Well join the club!

So here’s my scientific, heavily-researched, highly analytical response to that argument.

Tough cookies!

We have precious few football traditions in Detroit. If we didn’t host a couple of Super Bowls, the Vince Lombardi Trophy wouldn’t have even crossed the state line.

Hell, we don’t even have Matt Millen to rip anymore, so there goes one of our pastimes, right there.

Yeah, the Lions are bad—been bad for this entire century, so far. The Lions wear bad like rice wears white. No argument there.

So you don’t like them soiling your television set from 12:30-4:00 p.m. eastern time every Thanksgiving Day? Then turn the channel, or turn the TV off and talk with your family—until the Cowboys come on. Or plan the meal for that time slot. I’m sure you can manage.

There’s this, too: WE have to watch them, so why should YOU be any different? Who died and made you Kings of Football?

You don’t seem to understand. This is all we have here in Detroit when it comes to the Lions. Every year, when the new NFL schedule is released, the first thing we do is ask, “Who’s the Thanksgiving opponent this year?” The second thing we do is get our magnifying glasses out and look for possible wins for the Lions on the team’s agenda—and squint realllllly hard.

That’s pretty much it—for now.

I don’t care that the Lions stink. I don’t care that they’ve been the Washington Generals to the other team’s Harlem Globetrotters for the past six years. I don’t care that the game starts at 12:30 and the outcome is usually decided by 1:00.

The game is ours. Period. The ritual started in 1934, so that means we’re now in our second great economic depression of providing pro football on Thanksgiving Day.

Besides, you have your precious rotating game on the NFL Network during prime time, so shutty.

You think the Green Bay Packers want to take the game away from the Lions? Thursday’s stinker makes two shellackings they’ve laid on the Lions in the past three years. I’m surprised they haven’t called dibs on it by now.

Thanksgiving Day is special in Detroit. It’s enjoying the parade in the morning, then traipsing to Ford Field to watch the Lions get whacked in the afternoon. Then it’s back home to have dinner in the evening and bitch about how the Lions got whacked in the afternoon.

And you’d take that away from us?

Look, all I know is that I don’t recall any blubbering about this game until Millen took over the Lions and turned them into a punch line. Talk about kicking a team’s fan base while it’s down.

Finally, as much as I hate to invoke Bill Ford Sr. as a heroic figure, the truth is that the NFL owes a whole lot to the Ford family. They pumped big time advertising dollars, via Ford Motor Company, into the league in the 1960s and ‘70s, when it was sorely needed.

So quit your moaning and get your grubby hands away from our Thanksgiving Day game.

We wouldn’t even know what to do with ourselves at 12:30. If you met some of our families, you’d see how attractive the Lions look, too.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stafford's Legendary Tale Gets Re-written by Packers

Cinderella's coach really did turn back into a pumpkin. Hansel and Gretel got caught, after all. None of the pigs got around to building a joint out of brick.

John Elway's legend is safe once again. Whoever sculpts those busts for Canton needn't rush out to procure a head shot of Matthew Stafford at his earliest convenience.

Cloud Nine just touched down. The bandwagon came to a screeching halt. After one game.

If rookie quarterbacks were stock on the New York Exchange, their chart would look like an EKG readout.

On Sunday, Stafford won a game for the Lions. Damaged wing and all. Real storybook stuff. Someone dared to disturb Bobby Layne's ghost over it.

Four days later, the re-set button got hit, taking his progression back to the hot July days of training camp.

On Sunday, the kid threw five touchdown passes. It usually takes a Lions QB half a season to do that. On Thursday, he had a fetish of throwing to the wrong guys. Four interceptions, and it could have been more. Each one of them was a killer.

The rookie quarterback gives and he takeths away. Within four days, sometimes.

Stafford tried to pen another chapter in the tiny legend he's trying to author as a first-year signal caller in the NFL.

His tender left shoulder was so bad after Sunday's game that the idea of him playing on Thanksgiving Day seemed folly.

The days of the short week passed and after each one, the diagnosis was the same: doubtful. Highly.

Backup Daunte Culpepper arrived at Ford Field Thursday morning thinking he was the starter. He had taken all the reps with the first team. Stafford's left wing was still limp.

But a funny thing happened, though the humor was lost on Culpepper.

Stafford threw some footballs Thursday during warmups, and suddenly things weren't so bad. The doctors, abiding to the script, agreed that Stafford playing wouldn't cause any further damage. It was deemed to be a "pain management issue."

So Stafford is announced as the starter not long before game time, and Culpepper was probably the only person in the stadium who was disappointed with that determination.

But someone forgot to send the script over to the Green Bay Packers for their approval.

After an early hiccup---a fumbled opening kickoff that led to a Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson TD toss---the Packers regained control and jammed Stafford's next chapter into the paper shredder.

If you played a drinking game where you had to take a shot of booze whenever Troy Aikman said something like, "That's part of the development of a rookie quarterback," you'd be reading this with a hangover. But Troy's right, and he ought to know. Aikman suffered through a 1-15 season with the 1989 Cowboys, in which he went 0-11 as a starter.

I tried my hand at playing soothsayer on Monday's episode of "The Knee Jerks," the Blog Talk Radio gabfest I co-host with Big Al Beaton.

Stafford could very well, I said, go back to being the goat as soon as on Thanksgiving Day, because that's what happens with these young whippersnappers. They waddle then they fall down sometimes.

I'm not right all that often, but I picked a helluva time to be spot on.

The loss on Thursday wasn't all on the kid, though.

Once again, the Lions' pass rushers treated the opposing quarterback as if he'd had a garlic sandwich before the game, topped with limburger.

I think I saw Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, prior to rocketing a 68-yard bomb to Donald Driver in the first quarter, have a shave and brush his teeth. Or maybe the rules were that the Lions' pass rushers had to count to 20-Mississippi, and they got stuck on 11 or 12.

Once again, the Lions were the antidote to what ailed the other team. The Packers have had trouble all season protecting Rodgers, who came into the game being sacked once for every 8.9 pass attempts. That rate was one for every 39 passing attempts on Thursday.

It wasn't just that the Lions didn't sack Rodgers; they didn't even get within shouting distance of him. They made him more comfortable in the pocket than a set of car keys.

The Lions' secondary needs all the help it can get, and it's not getting it from the front four. The pass coverage is softer than Charmin, and it's being made to look even worse because of the complete lack of pressure from the pass rushers.

So it's not all on Stafford, but there will still be afternoons where he's no help, as on Thursday, and at Seattle, and against the Rams.

All part of the development of a rookie quarterback, right?

Ha! Now you have to take a shot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Time to give thanks. I suppose I can muster up the will to do that. It's only once a year, after all.

So, here goes...

I'm thankful for Army-Navy, even though I never watch it.

I'm thankful for Brandon Inge.

I'm thankful that a football is shaped the way it is, because you never know how it's going to bounce. Other balls are so predictable that way.

I'm thankful for outdoor stadiums.

I'm thankful for the mute button.

I'm thankful for the Original Six.

I'm thankful for left-handed golfers because they look so cool.

I'm thankful for a well-timed 6-4-3.

I'm thankful for Nick Lidstrom.

I'm thankful for fake kicks, because they're so rare.

I'm thankful for NFL Films.

I'm thankful for tabletop baseball games, so I can play a summer's game on a cold winter's night.

I'm thankful for anyone named Igor, or last names that start with Z.

I'm thankful for players who have the courage to wear number 13.

I'm thankful for Vyacheslav being shortened to Slava.

I'm thankful for the quick slant on a key third down.

I'm thankful for no timeouts remaining for either team in an NBA game.

I'm thankful for sudden death overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even if my heart isn't.

I'm thankful for Tony Dungy.

I'm thankful for having seen every one of Barry Sanders' ten seasons.

I'm thankful for my photo with Ernie Harwell, our arms over each other's shoulder, and showing it to Ernie sometime later and him saying, "Well, who are THOSE two handsome fellas?"

I'm thankful for George Kell and "They're waaaaaaaving him in!!"

I'm thankful for whoever first thought of pulling the goalie.

I'm thankful for kick returners who run it out from five yards deep in the end zone.

I'm thankful for doglegs right because that's how I hit them anyway.

I'm thankful for the flag they run up at Wrigley Field after every Cubs' game: W or L, depending on the result. So quaint, so simple.

I'm thankful for the squeak of sneakers on the basketball floor.

I'm thankful for scoreboard watching in September.

I'm thankful for Canton, Ohio. And Cooperstown, New York.

I'm thankful for

I'm thankful for stand-up triples.

I'm thankful for Dr. J.

I'm thankful for TV showing us the play clock winding down.

I'm thankful for Don Criqui.

I'm thankful for football in the snow and baseball in a light rain.

I'm thankful that the Yankees have the arrogance to omit the names from their jerseys.

I'm thankful that the Red Wings and Tigers have pretty much the same uniforms as they did during the Truman Administration.

I'm thankful for Bruce Martyn and "He shoots, he SCORES!"

I'm thankful for "Hockey Night in Canada," even though I can't get it on my dish.

I'm thankful for the Canadian National Anthem.

I'm thankful for seeing-eye singles.

I'm thankful for a basketball block from behind.

I'm thankful for "the ground can't cause a fumble."

I'm thankful for tape-to-tape passes.

I'm thankful for Bo and Woody.

I'm thankful for knuckleballers.

I'm thankful for Madison Square Garden, because it's still one of our finest sports palaces.

I'm thankful for boxing in Yankee Stadium, the Beatles in Olympia, and hockey at Wrigley Field.

I'm thankful for the Red Wings' New Year's Eve games. Did you know that Christmas Day at Olympia was a tradition, too, until the players squawked too much?

I'm thankful for a backhand stab at third base and a gun to nip the runner at first.

I'm thankful for good free throw shooters---and bad ones, if they're on the other team.

I'm thankful for Canadian football, because linebackers wear no. 71 and wide receivers wear no. 37 and quarterbacks wear no. 23.

I'm thankful for the two-point conversion.

I'm thankful for medium deep fly balls with a runner on third base, because you know there's going to be a whale of a play at home plate.

I'm thankful for Ann Arbor on a crisp fall Saturday, Joe Louis Arena on a warm June evening, and Comerica Park on a chilly April afternoon.

I'm thankful for Mike Babcock.

I'm thankful for the hip check, because no one throws them anymore.

I'm thankful for a well-executed screen pass.

I'm thankful for the circus catch.

I'm thankful for Mays, Mantle, and Snider all in New York at the same time.

I'm thankful for whoever invented slow motion replays.

I'm thankful for a fastball down the middle on 3-and-0.

I'm thankful for the trap play.

I'm thankful for pinstripes.

I'm thankful for basketball coaches who coach sitting down.

I'm thankful for spaghetti. I know it's not sports but I like it so much.

I'm thankful for a wife who has put up with me, and my games, for 17 years.

I'm thankful that you've read this far.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": A Football Extravaganza!!

First, a semi-major announcement: “The Knee Jerks” will be moving up a couple of hours!

Beginning December 14, you’ll be able to get your jerkosity two hours earlier. The show will debut its new 9:00-11:00 ET time slot, so everyone can get some sleep on Monday nights!

The Michigan Wolverines and MSU Spartans just finished their football seasons, so it was the perfect time to do a post-mortem. Our guests were Andy Reid, sports editor of the Michigan Daily (U’M’s student newspaper) and Bleacher Report’s Nick Mordowanec, who writes about MSU frequently.

Andy and Nick provided us with solid analysis of U-M and MSU, respectively, along with taking a look ahead at both programs’ futures. Big Al almost totally stopped Andy in his tracks when he asked him whether he thought Rich Rodriguez was the right man for Michigan. I guess you’ll just have to listen to find out what Andy finally said in response!

After talking college football, Al and I turned our attention to the pro game—specifically, the Lions’ improbable 38-37 win over Cleveland, a.k.a. the Coming Out of Matthew Stafford.

Thirty minutes later, we drifted over to the Red Wings and the latest injury—to defenseman Niklas Kronwall, thanks to a dirty, knee-on-knee hit by Montreal’s George Laraque.

The Pistons then made a rare appearance on “The Jerks,” for about five minutes of garbage time!

But that’s OK—the Pistons will be the focus of our show next week!

As always, we closed with a flurry, in the form of our “Jerks of the Week.”

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests/topics:

Nov. 30: Guest(s) TBD (Pistons-related)
Dec. 7: NHL Central roundtable with Bleacher Report writers from Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis
Dec. 14: Gregory Shamus, one of the best sports photographers you’ll ever know (Getty Images, Pittsburgh Penguins, Red Wings, Cleveland Cavaliers, and others); don’t forget—this will be our first 9:00 show!

Some highlights from Monday’s show:

Big Al

On Matthew Stafford: “This was like a Disney film! Like a script! At least it looks like the Lions have found their answer at quarterback and now they can turn their attention to other things.”

On the NHL suspension of Laraque for five games: “You almost want to go to an ‘eye for an eye’ way of punishment. Five games was ridiculous.”

On the Pistons: “(Coach) John Kuester is really hamstrung because he doesn’t have Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. But there’s no way they’re going to win anywhere close to 50 games.”


On the Lions: “I don’t think they’ll lay an egg on Thanksgiving. Maybe they can build on Sunday’s win, but they’ve never come off a win like that before.”

On the NHL: “Once again they’ve put themselves in a trick box. The five-game suspension is too low. It should have been 15, 20 games. They’ve set a bad precedent.”

On the Pistons: “I like this rookie Jonas Jerebko. He’s not a true starter, but he’s getting invaluable experience against other teams’ No. 1 units.”

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tonight on "The Knee Jerks": A Football Frenzy, College AND Pro Style!


It’ll be a cornucopia of football tonight on “The Knee Jerks,” the weekly Blog Talk Radio gabfest I co-host with Big Al Beaton of The Wayne Fontes Experience .

Tonight we’ll give post-mortems on the recently completed U-M and MSU football regular seasons, with help from Andy Reid, sports editor of the Michigan Daily (U’M’s student newspaper) and B/R’s own Nick Mordowanec, who writes about MSU frequently.

Al and I will also give our takes on the Lions’ thrilling, improbable win yesterday against the Browns.

It all starts at 11 PM ET LIVE. The chat room will be open!

Go to and register. It only takes a minute and then you can join us in the chat room.

Let Me Tell You a Story....(Lions Win in Very Un-Lions-Like Fashion)

Someday, they'll have Ford Field's capacity up to a quarter million, for as many people who will claim to have been there. The Cleveland Browns will be defending league champions. Matthew Stafford will have been carried onto the field on a stretcher. Brandon Pettigrew will have one-handed the football, his body parallel to the turf.

That will pretty much be the gist of the re-telling of what went on Sunday, several years hence.

The Lions beat the Browns, 38-37 in what was deemed to be their last "winnable" game of the season. And we have six weeks of this stuff to go yet.

Yes, this was a "winnable" game, alright. Just like how your Lotto ticket is winnable. Or Tom DeLay's chances on "Dancing with the Stars."

The Lions had 106 seconds and 88 yards to cover, with no timeouts, or else they'd have lost to a Browns team that scored, in one game, nearly half of the total points they'd scored for the entire season to this point.

The Lions don't win games like that. They don't even get first downs in situations like that. Remember the final "drive" against the Rams a few weeks ago? Someone forgot to take the transmission out of reverse in that one.

The Lions don't drive down the field and score game-winning touchdowns. They never have. They've been the anti-Elway in that regard.

Someone ought to take this kid Stafford and knock some sense into him. How dare he think that he can pull off such miracles while wearing Honolulu Blue and Silver?

Maybe there IS something to this whole went-to-the-same-high-school-as-Bobby-Layne thing, after all.

Ole Bobby would have been proud. So would Fran Tarkenton.

It wasn't enough that Stafford zipped and zapped the Lions down the field, gobbling up first downs like Pac-Man. It wasn't enough that he got the Lions into a manageable situation---the Browns' 32-yard line---with one shot left in his holster.

It was impossible not to think of Tarkenton when Stafford ran around the Lions' backfield, faking one throw after the other, as the clock flipped to 0:00. This isn't the NBA, thank the Lord, where you have to have the sphere in the air before time runs out. The NFL allows play to continue until it's over with, which in this case took almost as long as Magic Johnson's talk show run.

Stafford stopped more than once, planted his feet, and made like he was going to throw, but then he would change his mind and dart in the other direction, like the Lions were paying him by the hour.

Then, he could avoid the Browns no longer and heaved the pigskin, just before being firmly planted into the Ford Field turf, his shoulder used as a battering ram against the playing surface.

You know the rest. Hell, the whole state knows it. They know it in Peoria and Butte and Spokane and Amarillo, too. Even the tripe masters in Bristol, CT got the word.

Pass interference. In the end zone. Another lovely NFL thing: the game can't end on a defensive foul like that.

Here's where it turns legendary.

Stafford was lying on his back, his left shoulder wrecked, while the Lions celebrated their officiating luck. Center Dom Raiola delivered the news.

"We got PI in the end zone!," Dom screamed to his prone quarterback.

"He was talking funny," Raiola said afterward.

Yeah, you tend to do that when you're lying mortally wounded.

See? There I go, embellishing the legend already.

Somewhere---not sure if up above or down below, knowing Bobby---Layne was smiling as Stafford, aided by a Browns timeout, bolted to his feet, like Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Jerry Maguire," and ran back onto the field from the sidelines, where he was again lying prone moments earlier.

Stafford waved backup Daunte Culpepper---who had lined up under center before the Brownies took leave of their senses and called timeout---back to the bench. I can only think of a line uttered by Layne as he huddled the Lions prior to the game-winning drive in the waning minutes of the 1953 NFL Championship Game.

"Alright fellas," Layne told his players, and it's been confirmed. "Y'all block and Bobby'll pass ya raght to the champeenship."

Which is exactly what Bobby did.

So here's this kid Stafford, with four TD passes already in his hip pocket---if he throws four of anything it's usually interceptions, but don't all rookie QBs?---and his shoulder is on fire and there's one play to go, from the one-yard line.

It's 1-8 vs. 1-8, for cripe's sakes. But it's a football game in the NFL and those things are lousy to lose when victory is so close.

Stafford throws the TD pass, his fifth, to fellow rook Brandon Pettigrew and the kid QB immediately looks to the bench and motions to his lame left shoulder, the arm hanging limp from it. He's shaking his head. He wasn't the only one shaking his noggin.

Lions win, 38-37.

That didn't happen yesterday. It couldn't have. Next thing you'll tell me is that Lucy let Charlie Brown kick the football. Jack and Jill made it down the hill OK after all. Dewey really did defeat Truman.

The Lions won a football game in dramatic, race-against-the-clock fashion. With no timeouts. On a break from the officials. With a rookie quarterback. After falling behind by 21 points in the first quarter.

Oh, stop! Enough telling tall tales!

Rudyard Kipling is dead. Aesop is long gone, too. You take that script to Hollywood and they'll laugh, telling you that it wouldn't play.

Rookie QB lies on the ground, uttering his dying words, and the sage veteran has to finish the job? Stafford might as well have been crumpled in a bunker, bombs and gunfire erupting all around him.

Then the kid hears "timeout Browns" on the "loudspeaker"---Stafford's version in the post-game presser---and scrambles to his feet, puts his helmet on, and returns to battle.

They could make it into a war flick, if you get Hollywood to stop laughing at you long enough.

Lions 38, Browns 37.

Layne's comeback in '53 was against the Browns, too, you know.

Just saying.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Michigan-Ohio State Not All That Anymore

They’re putting a Michigan-Ohio State football game on this Saturday, right on schedule. The third Saturday in November, usually. You used to circle the date. Now you happen upon it, by accident.

“Oh, is THAT still playing?”

Michigan-Ohio State creeps up on you now, like your wedding anniversary, or a dentist appointment. It used to be a must see. Now it’s a “MUST we see?”

Michigan vs. Ohio State. Time used to stand still for this one. Woody Hayes would bring his brood up from Columbus and he’d start to get a nervous twitch somewhere around Monroe.

There weren’t any namby-pamby Bowl games back then—the 1970s in case you were wondering. It was Rose Bowl or bust. One of those teams would play their hearts out for 11 games and only one of them was going to Pasadena. The other went home—with a 10-1 or 9-2 record.

Now, they hand out Bowl berths like numbers at the deli on a Sunday. Just wait till it’s your turn and find out whether you’re going to Mobile or Tampa or (gulp) Detroit. With a 6-6 record.

Michigan is 5-6, and we should stop right there. They shouldn’t allow them into Michigan Stadium with such a record, to play Ohio State and still pass it off as a “big game.” Unless they make the Buckeyes play with one hand tied behind their backs.

Where has this game gone, anyway?

When Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were prowling the sidelines—and that’s as good a verb as any—the game was a tug of war. No one went on a basketball-like run of victories.

Michigan and Ohio State. You felt like it was the only game being played that Saturday. At least the only one worth a hill of beans. Like Monday Night Football.

It made the Hatfields and the McCoys look like an episode of “Family Feud.”

Always the Big Ten title was on the line. The season was a 10-game tune up. They used to call it the Big Two and Little Eight in those days. Occasionally Iowa or Purdue or Minnesota would give one of the Big Two a scare but sure enough, come the third Saturday in November, there the conference championship belt dangled, waiting to be claimed.

It started in Ann Arbor in 1969, when Bo was a rookie at Michigan and the year before, Woody’s team blew the Wolverines out of Columbus and halfway to Toledo.

1968 was the year Woody had the penultimate U-M/OSU line. The Buckeyes won, 50-14, and late in the game Woody went for a two-point conversion. Afterward, they asked him why.

“Because I couldn’t go for THREE,” Woody snarled.

But the next year Billy Taylor ran wild and Michigan upset Ohio State and it was, as they say nowadays, ON.

This was genuine hatred. Nothing contrived or forced. The schools would rather lose their accreditation than lose to each other. Woody refused to even buy gas in Michigan, or so he said. I believe him.

Kids from Michigan’s campus drove their jalopies around with bumper stickers that read “WOODY IS A PECKER.”

Then Woody got fired and OSU started hiring coaches who, if Michigan was a wet paper bag, couldn’t fight their way out of it.

Someone named Earle Bruce was brought in and it was like going to the theatre expecting to see Olivier and getting his understudy.

Bruce did last nine years, though, then John Cooper came in and even the names of these guys were getting worse. John Cooper? What was this, a Disney movie?

Bo beat Cooper’s brains in until he grew bored and retired. Then Gary Moeller took over and immediately got Cooper into a headlock, too.

Cooper was a good football coach—until the third Saturday in November. Then he turned into someone Matt Millen would have hired for the Lions.

Bruce and Cooper were the ones who threatened to euthanize this rivalry. Now Jim Tressel looks to be the one to finally pull the plug.

They did it in different ways, of course—Bruce and Cooper by losing all the time, and Tressel by turning the tables.

Tressel stormed into Columbus when he was hired, led a pep rally in the basketball arena, counted the number of days until the Michigan game, and guaranteed victory. Woody and Bo wouldn’t have dreamed of doing such a thing. They had hate but some decorum.

But Tressel’s kids backed up their coach’s words and decided that this beating Michigan thing was pretty cool. So they kept doing it. And doing it, until they’ve damned near killed the game entirely.

There’s no reason to think it’s going to be any different this time around. Michigan has a defense that’s offensive. They jog onto the field and if the wind is blowing wrong you can smell the stench.

The Wolverines don’t have anyone on their roster who knows what it’s like to beat Ohio State. Literally. The last Michigan victory was in 2003. In college football rivalries, that’s a generation. It also gets coaches fired.

Cooper couldn’t beat Michigan—he went 2-10-1 against them—and that became his legacy at Ohio State. Bruce, before him, did alright (5-4). But that’s a combined 7-14-1 after Woody and before Tressel. And so the rivalry teetered, and now it’s about to fall entirely.

Today, Michigan’s biggest rival seems to be itself. The program is so busy with the in-fighting that you half expect the team to forget to show up to play the Buckeyes. Of course, it wouldn’t be much different than the past five years, so who could tell?

Everything was better back in the day, wasn’t it?

Gas prices. McDonald’s. The “Tonight” show. And Michigan-Ohio State.

It wasn’t a game, it was High Noon. It was the fight with the kid after school. Be there or else. They didn’t finish it, they reconvened. The winner went to the Rose Bowl and the loser’s intestines got gnarled for 364 days.

MichiganOhioState. It was a two school rivalry said in one word. You could empty a crowded theatre in Ann Arbor or Columbus by saying it, more so than if you yelled “Fire!”

Now it’s been reduced, like a sauce that’s been sitting on the stove for too long. Its stock has fallen faster than General Motors. Ohio State so outclasses Michigan anymore that it’s not a rivalry, it’s a chore—something that has to be done before you can close up the cottage for the winter.

This pairing has all the drama and suspense of a “Brady Bunch” episode. They should put it on “Nick at Nite,” not ABC.

Michigan-Ohio State. I have one question for you.

That show’s still on?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brendan Shanahan: The Atypical Hockey Player

Brendan Shanahan shouldn't have been a hockey player. He should have been tasting wine, or taking in the theater. Or maybe he should have been in the aisle behind you at the bookstore, helping some pretty young thing pick out a title for her dad on Father's Day.

Instead, he elbowed, bulled, and plowed his way into goalies' nightmares. He put his movie star good looks on the line every night, until slowly his face got that Etch-a-Sketch look that befalls all hockey players, if they play long enough.

Shanahan played long enough. He said so, retiring yesterday at age 40, which in the NHL is the new 30 anymore.

Before Shanahan, power forward was a basketball designation. "Cerebral" and "hockey player" were antonyms. Someone named Brendan was probably a Pistons assistant coach.

Shanahan started and ended a Devil, and it's only fitting that he bookended his career, because he was a library on skates.

He knew his movies, for one. Shanahan didn't only play on lines, he could recite them. From many a flick. That's another thing he could have been: a movie reviewer. He wouldn't have looked out of place in a camel jacket, a sweater vest, and glasses.

Brendan Shanahan brought the word "refined" to hockey, both in terms of his demeanor off the ice and his goal-scoring skills on it. He was, at his best, perhaps the most complete player in hockey. He might have led the league many a season in the Gordie Howe Hat Trick: a goal, an assist, a fight.

Yeah, he could fight. Can't all Irish men? In his career, he scored 656 goals and was whistled for over 40 hours worth of penalties. Often, that was the only way to keep Shanahan off the scoresheet---by hoping he'd end up in the penalty box.

The Red Wings grabbed him in his prime, hoodwinking the Hartford Whalers into coughing him up for an aging Paul Coffey and a meh Keith Primeau early in the 1996-97 season. Shanny was 27 at the time and coveted by every team in the league---at least those interested in winning hockey games.

Forget all the Detroit jokes. Shanahan couldn't wait to get here. He was traded the afternoon of the Red Wings' home opener, and made like those poor folks on "The Amazing Race" just so he get to Joe Louis Arena in time for pre-game introductions.

So he makes it and it's his turn to have his name called, and the roar is deafening. They stood and cheered and hollered and the guy hadn't even taken a shift yet as a Red Wing.

But the people of Detroit, so knowledgeable about their hockey, knew their team had fleeced the Whalers and had brought to town a player the likes of whom hadn't been spotted wearing the Winged Wheel since Bobby Probert turned people on with his own kind of hat trick: a goal, a fight, and another fight.

Shanahan was more talented than Probert, though. That, too, was no secret.

Shanny looked like a matinee idol and played like an action hero. The ladies who showed up at Joe Louis Arena wearing oversized Red Wings sweaters were smitten. He might have seemed like just another sniper on a team that was full of them, but then you'd look up and some poor sap was in a headlock and Shanahan---Brendan---was using the guy's noggin as a punching bag.

He scored 309 goals as a Red Wing, nearly half his career total, and his best years were spent in Detroit, both in terms of individual accomplishments and those of the team. Three Stanley Cups he won playing with Yzerman and Draper and Lidstrom and Maltby and the rest.

Oh, and there was the time when he saved hockey.

Exaggeration? Sure---like calling water that's at 210 degrees boiling.

It was after the horrific canceled season of 2004-05 that Shanahan went to work, making like Jimmy Carter and bringing the Players Association and ownership together. Others helped him but Shanny took the lead, putting his big brain to use and being instrumental in chiseling out an agreement that took the game out of conference rooms and put it back onto the ice.

Without Shanahan, the NHL might still be in hibernation. Another "exaggeration."

It ended for him in Detroit shortly after Steve Yzerman retired in July 2006. Shanahan didn't care to be part of the good old days. He thought his continued presence in the Red Wings locker room would stunt the growth of some of the kids, so he made like Sinatra and wanted to be a part of it---New York, New York.

But Shanny was getting closer to 38 and he could no longer score his age in goals. He popped in 29 pucks his first season as a Ranger, 23 the second. It used to be that he could score that without breaking a sweat. Now it was all he could muster without needing an oxygen mask.

Then a swan song last season with the Devils, the team he broke into the NHL with as an 18-year-old in 1987. In New Jersey he couldn't play his age---at age 40 he skated in 34 matches. He scored six goals. The action hero was now just an extra.

So now it's done---21 years in the books as an NHLer, 1,354 points scored, and all those penalty minutes. And three Stanley Cups. And still a face for movies.

He shouldn't have been a hockey player, much less one helluva one.

Yet he was both. Go figure.

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Icing the Puck with's Ansar Khan

First, a semi-major announcement: "The Knee Jerks" will be moving up a couple of hours!

Beginning December 14, you'll be able to get your jerkosity two hours earlier. The show will debut its new 9:00-11:00 ET time slot, so everyone can get some sleep on Monday nights!

The first quarter of the Red Wings' season is almost done with, so on "The Knee Jerks", my weekly gabfest with Big Al Beaton, we figured it was time to get a perspective on the team from someone who covers it, day in, day out.

Our guest was Ansar Khan, the team's beat writer for Ansar has been on the Red Wings' beat for about a dozen years, starting with his days at the Oakland Press.

Ansar gave us some good ice time, going up and down his wing and not committing any costly turnovers, as he gave us an insider's look at the Red Wings. It was worthy of two points.

After talking Red Wings, including Ansar's experience of being at Steve Yzerman's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Al and I got down to Detroit sports talk business.

Al wanted to riff on the Tigers' off-season plans, particularly as they relate to the rumors swirling about the team possibly shopping Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. So we plunged into that, along with chiding some of the so-called "experts" who have been reporting some pretty zany things that GM Dave Dombrowski is supposedly considering. Al's voice went up a couple of octaves upon the mentioning of pitcher George Sherrill, and I went off on all the people in town who look at Granderson through rose-colored glasses.

After that, it was on to the Lions.

Al likes QB Matthew Stafford's toughness, and feels that the kid won over some teammates after enduring the brutality that was Sunday's game in Minnesota. I crabbed about the less-than-accurate throws and the drops of the accurate ones. We both agreed that if the Lions lose to Cleveland this Sunday, they may be looking at having the No. 1 overall pick two years in a row.

We took a few minutes to grind Patriots coach Bill Belichick into the turf for his boneheaded decision to go for it on fourth down late in the game against Indianapolis. I called Belichick unlikable, and Al said the decision smacked of hubris. I know--a $20 word, eh?

Then, as Al said, we had to "hustle" and go to our "Jerks of the Week."

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests/topics:

Nov. 23 U-M/MSU football post-mortem
Nov. 30 TBD (likely Pistons-related)
Dec. 7: NHL Central roundtable with Bleacher Report writers from Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis
Dec. 14: Gregory Shamus, one of the best sports photographers you'll ever know (Getty Images, Pittsburgh Penguins, Red Wings, Cleveland Cavaliers, and others); don't forget---this will be our first 9:00 show!

Some highlights from Monday's show:

Big Al

On the Tigers:
"I can't believe they're going to dump payroll now. They could have up to $60 million come off the books before the 2011 season. And some of the rumors coming from out-of-towners are ludicrous!"

On the Lions: "How many different ways can we say that they suck?"

On Matthew Stafford: "He didn't have happy feet. He showed a lot of toughness against the Vikings. Way more so than Joey Harrington or Scott Mitchell."


On talks of trading Granderson:
"There are a few bloggers in Detroit who I respect, who went on as if the Tigers had announced they were going to start drowning puppies!"

On the Lions-Browns game: "Maybe the NFL can black it out in Cleveland, too."

On the No. 1 overall pick in 2010: "If they lose to the Browns, I think the Lions WILL get the No. 1 overall pick. They'll have lost to the Browns AND the Rams."

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, November 16, 2009

TONIGHT on "The Knee Jerks": Red Wings Crazy, with KHAAAAN!

It's a hockey-centric episode tonight (Monday) on "The Knee Jerks," my weekly gabfest on Blog Talk Radio with my co-host, Al Beaton, as we talk all things Detroit Red Wings and NHL with Kahn. Ansar Kahn, that is.

Khan has been the Red Wings beat writer for and Booth Newspapers since the 2000-01 season, and for several years prior to that for the Oakland Press. You can get the latest Red Wings insight from Kahn online at Mlive. After getting the scoop on the Wings and NHL, the Knee Jerks will spew all sort of thoughts on the past week of Detroit sports.

Tigers: We'll give our thoughts on all the trade rumors surrounding the supposed availability of Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Brandon Inge and even Miguel Cabrera. There's nothing wrong with listening to offers, but what do I think of some of the proposals being thrown around by the MSM? I'll give you a hint. Starts with "ludi", ends in "crous".

Lions: Another Sunday, another loss. Same old, same old, right? Not exactly, as Matthew Stafford showed a toughness in getting beat up by an aggressive Vikings defense we never saw from such luminaries as Joey Harrington and Scott Mitchell.Coming up for the Lions is a huge game with the Browns. Why "huge" when they are playing the 1-7 Browns? The 1st overall pick in 2010 may be at stake.

Wolverines: Another Saturday, another loss. Another Monday, another possible NCAA "issue". But it is tOSU week, so could it be possible the staggering to the end of the season Wolverines can step up their game? However, John Beilein's basketball team started the season with a bang, as Manny Harris had a triple double in a win over NMU. Funny how the Wolverines' fanbase is now pinning all their winning hopes on the hoopsters, when they were persona non grata a little more than two years ago.

Pistons: Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon are showing signs of being a solid one-two scoring punch . Even more unexpected is the offensive firepower backup PG Will Bynum is bringing off the bench and the surprisingly effective Ben Wallace.

As always, At the end of the show, we'll also name our respective Jerk of the Week!

Tune in at 11PM every Monday night for the latest and greatest in sports talk...sports talk with a Detroit attitude! Of course, if you can't tune in live, the podcast will be available for download and streaming at our show page Tuesday morning!

Lions Pour More Losing Concrete in Minneapolis Stinker

The Lions proved once again that they have a losing foundation.

The mix that was poured to create it includes an impressive blend of poor blocking, miserable tackling, and obscene pass rush and coverage.

It's rock solid, this foundation, and the trouble is, their coach has been thwacking away at it with a hammer, when he really needs a medicine ball swinging from a chain.

On top of this foundation, the Lions play football and show us various ways every Sunday to come out on the losing side of things. It's really quite an art, like David Copperfield showing us how he can make different things disappear.

But below that surface is the foundation---the common denominator, if you will.

The Minnesota Vikings were the latest team to make mincemeat of the Lions---27-10 in the Metrdome on Sunday.

The foundation was rock solid as usual.

Impenetrable poor tackling of running back Adrian Peterson. Concrete-like strength of a non-existent pass rush. Waterproof, non-porous protection of an accordion-like offensive line.

The Lions could give the Mafia a run for their money with the concrete they pour every Sunday.

The Vikings padded their stats but not the scoreboard in the first half. It was 10-3, Minny, and the Lions were still hanging around, like the kid brother who won't let you spend time alone with your girlfriend.

The Vikings only scored ten points in the first 30 minutes despite raining long passes to Sidney Rice, who was as open as a 24-hour diner all afternoon, and despite Peterson running around, past, and through the Lions, who again showed why they're the football version of the Washington Generals.

Mack Sennett, God rest his soul, would love these Lions. So would have Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx. The Lions could have been perpetual co-stars. Margaret Dumont would have been out of work.

But the Vikings didn't do themselves any favors, either. They started shooting themselves in the cleats, with fumbles and penalties. So off they trudged at halftime, with a 10-3 lead and video game-like stats.

Peterson had rushed for 100 yards before the first beers were down, I think. Brett Favre would give him the ball and you could almost hear the Keystone Kops music and see everything turn to sepia and in fast motion.

But it was still just 10-3. Sennett would have put up a caption card in his silent short that said, "WTF?"

Ahh, but then Kevin Smith fumbled to open the second half, the Vikes pounced on it, and a couple of Peterson saunters later, the score was 17-3 Vikings and all was right in the world again.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford was harrassed by the Vikings' front four more than Sean Penn by photographers on a Hollywood sidewalk.

Stafford was denied one of the creature comforts of playing quarterback: time enough to look for a receiver. The result was a flurry of hurried throws, many of which came nowhere near their intended targets. It's hard to have accuracy when you can tell every d-lineman what he had for breakfast.

But a word about Kid Matthew.

On the occasions when he does have time to throw, why does he insist on forcing his receivers to make circus catches? The football is never delivered between the numbers; sometimes it's rarely delivered between the shoulder blades. It's like Stafford has sunk some dough into a highlight reel montage of diving, sprawling, mind-boggling catches.

Sometimes the Lions receivers oblige. Then again, sometimes Matthew gets the ball in the general area of the receivers' chest or hands and it doesn't matter, anyway. If the Lions don't lead the league in dropped passes, then I want a recount.

Favre beat the Lions again. He's spent about 13 percent of his career playing them---two out of 16 games every year---so I say we dock him and make only 87 percent of his numbers worthy.

The drumbeat of losing goes on for the Lions. They are 1-25 in their last 26 games. Jason Hanson is even missing field goals. Who do they think they are? The Italian Army? Wile E. Coyote? The Pittsburgh Pirates?

This isn't a football season anymore, it's a disaster management drill. Pretty soon they're gonna call in FEMA and give Martin Mayhew pointers.

The Lions play the Cleveland Browns next week. Frick and Frack, at Ford Field. Football theater of the absurd. If there's going to be any action on that one in Vegas, it'll be done by members of Gamblers Anonymous.

The game is likely to be blacked out in Detroit, which is a version of the mercy rule.

Vikings 27, Lions 10.

The End.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wallace Giving Pistons Great Minutes, But Maybe Too Many of Them?

Ben Wallace is a 35-year-old NBA big man who is playing like he's 25. For now.

There's been a lot of ballyhoo over Wallace, who the Pistons snatched from the jaws of retirement last summer and signed for a league pittance.

The signing was decried, but not by me. But that's because I figured Wallace could come off the bench when some energy was needed, maybe block a couple of shots, grab a few rebounds, and then sit back down, his night done after 10, 15 minutes.

I had no delusions of grandeur about him. No idea that he'd even be considered for a starting position, let alone be granted one.

But my blessing of the signing came with a caveat.

When a guy is publicly talking about retirement, when he's already in that "mode," be careful, because you have no idea when those feelings might suddenly reappear.

Wallace spoke openly after last season, which ended with him as a non-factor with the Cleveland Cavaliers, about hanging up the sneakers. Injuries had frustrated him, as did his time in Chicago, which never met anyone's expectations---Wallace's or the Bulls'---after he signed his big free agent contract in July 2006.

But he wanted to give it one more shot, and the idea of doing that in Detroit intrigued him, as it did the Pistons. So I figured, why not?

Now, after seven games, Wallace is being heralded as "the old" Ben Wallace. Not "an old" Ben Wallace. There's a difference.

I think it's terrific that Wallace is giving the team far more than it had ever dreamed when training camp began. He's back to being Windex personified. He's disrupting shots, and blocking some of them. He's providing sage defensive advice to the team's kids. He's almost, dare I say, a coach on the floor that way.

But he's playing way too many minutes for my comfort. Not that anyone bothered to ask me.

The NBA season is an 82-game marathon. And Wallace has sprinted from the start, racing out to a big lead.

But refer back to the opening paragraph, please. Ben Wallace is 35 years old.

Pistons president Joe Dumars subscribes to a theory which has merit, but still makes me shudder at the number of minutes Wallace is logging so far---well over 30 per night, and sometimes close to 40.

The theory says that big men can last longer in the NBA, can play well into their 30s, because they don't run up and down the court, as a rule, at the same speed as the smaller guys, i.e. the guards. OK.

But 35 is 35. And Wallace is more active than most big men.

Not to be Chicken Little, but let's see where Wallace's production's at come February, if he's still playing 30+ minutes per game. Then let's see if he has anything left for a playoff run a couple months after that.

The Pistons' frontcourt rotation, however, is probably not the same now as it will be down the line. New coach John Kuester still has to see what he truly has. And, in his defense, it's hard to yank Wallace off the floor when he's playing the way he is.

"Ben sets the tone for us defensively," Kuester told reporters recently.

Yes, he does. For now.

And about that retirement thing. Wallace says basketball is fun again, because he's healthy. Point taken. But what if something becomes the matter with him again this winter? He's already been in retirement mode once this year.

Food for thought, but it's unseemly to chew on it now, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": The Lions' Report Cards are in: "SEE ME!"

Believe it or not, half of the Lions' 16-game NFL schedule has been played, so after a suggestion from Big Al Beaton, my co-host on the weekly gabfest "The Knee Jerks", we gathered around the campfire and had ourselves a mid-season review.

Our guests were Michael Schottey and Dean Holden, two of the premier Lions writers for Bleacher Report. Those two guys chimed in with analysis, mid-season letter grades, and a look ahead at the season's second half. It's not "feel good" radio, but these are the Lions, after all!

After burying the Lions for about an hour, Al and I delved into some juicy topics around Detroit sports.

We segued into the mess in Ann Arbor as it relates to the football program. Once again, we openly wondered how much time U-M officials will give coach Rich Rodriguez after yet another second half collapse, this time to Purdue at home. I went off a little bit (understatement) on the type of football being played at Michigan, and it was Al, believe it or not, who was the voice of reason!!

Next, it was time to, as Al put it, talk about something more uplifting: the Tigers' hiring of former third baseman Tom Brookens as the team's new first base coach. Al wondered if this was a set up to replace Jim Leyland down the line. Interesting thought. So we talked about Brookens and whether he'd make a good big league manager.

Then, more happy stuff: the induction of Steve Yzerman into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. Yzerman went in with 2002 teammates Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, which caused Al to ask where that '02 Red Wings Stanley Cup-winning squad ranks among the all-time best NHL teams. Then I rained on the parade and lamented the hiring of Dave Lewis as coach of that team after Scotty Bowman retired.

By that time, we were running out of clock and with no timeouts remaining, we had to go to our "Jerks of the Week."

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests/topics:

Nov. 16 Ansar Khan, Red Wings beat writer for and Booth Newspapers
Nov. 23 U-M/MSU football post-mortem
Nov. 30 TBD (likely Pistons-related)
Dec. 7: NHL Central roundtable with Bleacher Report writers from Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis

Some highlights from Monday's show:

Big Al

On Michigan football:
"If anything is going to happen with Rodriguez, it probably won't happen until after NEXT season. I wonder if AD Bill Martin timed his September retirement so that they can't shove Rodriguez and him out the door at the same time."

On Tom Brookens: "He was a blue collar player. That's why the fans in Detroit liked him so much. Maybe he was born to be a big league manager."

On Yzerman: "Words fail me as to how classy this guy was. The ovation they gave him in Toronto was deafening."


On Rich Rodriguez:
"Something about this guy isn't right. It never felt right to me, from the moment of his first press conference when he admitted that he never had set foot in the state before."

On Tom Brookens: "Tommy's a smart guy. And he's a Tiger. I think he would make a terrific big league manager."

On the 2002 Red Wings: "If you were to corner GM Kenny Holland over a couple of beers, I bet he'd tell you that he should never have hired Dave Lewis to coach after Scotty Bowman retired. They could have won two more Stanley Cups with a more experienced coach."

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Losing Cultured Lions Have No Idea How to Handle Lead, Wither Against Seahawks

The Lions blew a game on Sunday, but you can hardly blame them. It wasn't exactly a familiar situation for them.

The Lions lost and those betting that the Seahawks would cover their 10-point donation won, as Seattle beat Detroit 32-20---the last seven points coming with less than 30 seconds to play on a "pick six" interception. Until then, the Lions had covered the spread---and the Lions don't cover things so well, normally.

Certainly not receivers. But that's another story.

The Lions found themselves with a cool 17-0 lead before the first quarter was finished. The 2-5 Seahawks came out like a 2-5 team---or the Lions---and coughed up the football on their first two plays from scrimmage. And the Lions made them pay with 14 points.

But one of the bi-products of losing so many football games in such a short period of time---the run is now 24 of the last 25 in the loss column---is not knowing what the hell to do with early success. So when the Lions zoomed out to that 17-0 lead, it had the feel of finding a lost dog that you knew, deep down, would be claimed by its rightful owner just when you start to get attached to it.

Sure enough, the Lions began coming from ahead, and worse, they did it in drip-drip fashion. And everyone knows that you need to just yank a Band-Aid off---you don't slowly peel it away.

A Seahawks touchdown made it 17-7. Then they started tacking on field goals, drawing nearer and nearer, when you knew that the Lions were powerless and would eventually surrender the lead.

17-10. 17-13. 17-16.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Peel. Peel. Peel.

The Lions don't jump out to early leads. It's not their style. They don't jump out to relatively early leads, relatively late leads, or any lead of any sort, truth be told.

So you'll excuse them for not having the slightest idea of how to handle what happened in Seattle on Sunday. They looked down, saw the Seahawks in a grave, stood above them with shovel in hand, and then lost the handle on the burial utensil. And while they scrambled to find it, the Seahawks were able to climb out of the hole.

Yes, funereal type metaphors are appropriate this morning, because the season is dead. Has been, probably, since the lie-down last week against the wretched Rams in Detroit.

The Seahawks went on a 32-3 run after the first quarter, which meant that the final 45 minutes were a far better indicator of what the Lions are than the first 15 were.

It's not that the Lions went into a shell, like a hockey team would with a lead. It's just that rookie QB Matthew Stafford got all Ty Detmer-ish and started chucking interceptions all over the field---usually on balls that were badly under thrown.

The Lions would move the ball a little bit---I love this Aaron Brown kid, by the way, who's the quickest, fastest little running back the Lions have had in quite some time---then Stafford would torpedo them with a completion to the Seahawks.

Yes, rookie quarterbacks will do that to you. They'll look wonderfully mature and together, as Stafford did in the first quarter, then they'll look like a clueless 21-year-old kid, as Stafford pretty much looked the rest of the game.

Hey---here's a suggestion that might help the kid out, and you can take it with a grain of salt if you'd like, as it's coming from someone who never played or coached the game.


I don't know, just a thought. But what the hell do I know?

Actually, what I know is that team's best players touch the ball as much as possible. In the case of wide receivers, that means damning the double teams and the game planning done by the opposition and somehow, some way, getting the ball into that star player's hands.

After three quarters, Johnson had one catch. And only a handful of footballs thrown in his direction.

It was wonderful that rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew again showed why he's the real deal, but no offense---CJ is the "go to" guy.

He was the "go to" guy alright---the Lions told him to "go to" a spot and wait. Patiently.

I don't care how much attention Johnson is paid every Sunday by opposing secondaries. Stafford should be zinging the ball in his vicinity 12, 15 times a game. At least. You think Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, et al played their entire careers facing single coverage?

A couple of the interceptions were the result of throwing to Johnson, but the ball never got to him. For a kid with a rocket, Stafford short-armed quite a few balls Sunday. Floated them, really.

But seriously---throw the ball to Johnson. A lot. If the Lions had a premier running back, you'd expect them to spoon feed him the ball to the tune of 20, 25 carries a game, wouldn't you? Then why not do whatever you can to let CJ do his thing?

Speaking of Johnson, there were those looks on the bench---the kind the TV cameras catch---that showed frustration and disgust with the situation. He even gave the kid QB a cold shoulder at one point, looking away from him in a blatant act of disregard.

But that stuff happens every week in the NFL. No cause for concern.

Yet it doesn't mean that the Lions shouldn't do something about it. I've been a supporter of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan all season, but he's irking me with this reluctance to throw to Johnson. It wasn't just the one catch Johnson had after three quarters; it was the long gaps between throws to him that mesmerized me.

Would the Lions have won yesterday's game had they gotten their best offensive weapon more involved?

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if that question wasn't rhetorical?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Local Boy LaFontaine Missed, but Red Wings Did OK with Yzerman

He played hockey in Waterford, growing up in the northern Oakland County burg in the 1970s—a decade of horrors when it came to his local team, the Detroit Red Wings.

As he honed his skills as an adolescent and started depositing pucks into opposing goals with eye-popping frequency, the Red Wings were stumbling through the National Hockey League, soiling what had once been a tradition-rich franchise history.

As the 1980s arrived, his name started to become known beyond Waterford. It didn’t hurt that it had a bit of royalty to its sound.

Pat LaFontaine, from Waterford, was off to play junior hockey in Quebec, in a town called Verdun. He was 17 years old.

In his lone season in the Quebec Junior League, LaFontaine made a mockery of it.

In 70 games, LaFontaine, a center, scored 104 goals. He added 130 assists for 234 points—over three points a game.

It was obvious that the QMJHL wasn’t big enough to hold his talent.

Down I-75 from where LaFontaine grew up, the Red Wings were playing to half-empty houses at Joe Louis Arena. The team had a new owner—a pizza pie guy named Mike Ilitch—but the only thing that seemed to change at JLA was that Little Caesars pizza was being served officially at the concession stands. The product on the ice was still miserably bad.

But the Red Wings held the fourth overall choice in the 1983 draft. They’d have a good shot at nabbing LaFontaine off the board.

It was GM Jimmy Devellano’s first draft with the Red Wings. He was Ilitch’s first-ever Wings hire in 1982, but Jimmy D. joined the team too late to participate in the draft that year.

Folks around town salivated at the thought of what local kid Pat LaFontaine could do in a Red Wings sweater.

The Red Wings wanted LaFontaine. The kid, by all accounts, was open to playing NHL hockey back home after his one year hiatus spent in Quebec.

Devellano didn’t make his mark as a hockey rink rat by targeting just one player, though. He knew that things didn’t always work out the way you’d like. He’d have to be ready to select another player, should LaFontaine already be gone.

Red Wings fans didn’t care about anyone else, though. Pat LaFontaine grew up in Waterford, and he should play for the Red Wings, dammit!

The New York Islanders, Devellano’s old team—the one he helped build into a dynasty in the late-1970s—held the third overall pick. It was by sheer luck, through trade, that they had a pick so high, because the Isles were defending Stanley Cup champs.

Sure enough, Jimmy D’s team stuck it to their old employee, nabbing LaFontaine with the pick just prior to Detroit’s.


No matter; with people back in Detroit slugged in the gut, Devellano picked himself up from the mat, deeply disappointed, and went with his Plan B.

No one knew how to pronounce Steve Yzerman’s name when the news came that he was the newest Red Wing.

Some thought it was Eezer-man. Others said no, it’s Why-zerman.

Jimmy D. not only knew how to say it, he knew all about the kid attached to it.

Yzerman’s numbers while playing for Peterborough in the Ontario Junior League weren’t as impressive as LaFontaine’s, but numbers never tell the whole story.

Devellano knew that Yzerman, the son of an Ottawa politician, quiet as a mouse, could be a big-time star in the NHL.

They played a video clip of Devellano, speaking in his squeaky Canadian-laced voice, at his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. He was talking about this new kid Yzerman, shortly after drafting him in the summer of ’83.

“We feel he can contribute right away,” Jimmy D. said. “My only concern is that because of his age – he’s only 18 – his strength is a question mark.”

Then, one of the biggest understatements in hockey history, as it turned out.

“But I think he’s gonna make it,” Devellano added.

Drafts in any sport are a crapshoot. All the studying and scouting in the world can’t predict what a kid is going to do once he starts playing the sport for money.

Even Yzerman himself didn’t really know.

I cornered him at Cobo after Jimmy D’s induction that October night in 2006.

Doesn’t it seem silly now, I asked, to see Jimmy speak about you in such uncertain terms?

Yzerman gave that bashful smile.

“Well,” he said, “not many people knew for sure back then, eh?”

I suppose not.

Monday, Yzerman will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday. He’ll be inducted with two former teammates: snipers Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille.

It’ll be 26 years, and some change, since he arrived in Detroit with that funny last name and the baggage of NOT being Pat LaFontaine.

LaFontaine, for his part, had a fine NHL career. He was no draft bust. A quick check on the Internet gives the numbers: 468 goals, 545 assists, 1,013 points. But no Stanley Cups—and a career cut short thanks to concussions. LaFontaine was only 33 when he played his last NHL game.

Yzerman played until he was about a week shy of his 41st birthday. He scored 692 goals, had 1,755 points, and won three Stanley Cups and the hearts of Red Wings fans forever. His jersey hangs in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, next to those of Howe and Abel and Lindsay and the rest.

All because the New York Islanders, Jimmy’s old employers, decided that they wanted the kid from Waterford, Pat LaFontaine, for themselves.

We cursed and grumbled in Detroit, then Steve Yzerman suited up and started playing some hockey for the Red Wings.

Jimmy Devellano’s hunch was right.

“I think he’s gonna make it.”

Yeah, just a bit.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hockey Palaces Like Olympia Sadly Extinct Nowadays

They don't make arenas like Olympia Stadium anymore. Hell, they don't make buildings like it anymore.

I don't know of any place where an escalator lifts you up at an 80 degree angle, which it did at Olympia---the Old Red Barn where the Red Wings played from the 1920s to December 15, 1979.

If you think I'm exaggerating about the 80 degree angle---you're right; perhaps it was only about 77 degrees.

The Olympia---corner of Grand River and McGraw on Detroit's west side---comes to mind because we're inching closer and closer to the 30th anniversary of the last game played there. Oh, they played a charity alumni game there a couple months later, but 12/15/79 was when the Red Wings recovered from a 4-0 deficit to tie the Quebec Nordiques---Le Nordique---in a final score of 4-4. No overtime back then. Certainly no silly shootouts.

For a few moments that night, I thought they wouldn't need the explosives used to implode buildings that have outlived their use, because when Greg Joly scored on an end-to-end rush with about three minutes to play to tie the game, you'd have thought the place would come down due to the thunder of cheers and foot-stomping.

I ought to know, because I was there.

It's among the list of electrifying moments I've been lucky enough to witness in person in Detroit sports history---right up there with Kirk Gibson's homer off Goose Gossage to seal the 1984 World Series, Isiah Thomas's 16 points in 90 seconds against the Knicks in the 1984 playoffs, and the Lions' 45-3 trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving Day, 1983.

Yep, my fanny was in the seats---and leaping out of them---for all of the above. Good stuff.

I cornered Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch a couple of years ago at the unveiling of the Gordie Howe sculpture inside Joe Louis Arena, and he confirmed that the organization was looking at parcels of land onto which they'd build a brand new arena for the Red Wings. One of them, I managed to get out of him, isn't too far away from Comerica Park, near the Woodward Avenue corridor.

But despite the success the Red Wings have enjoyed over the past 15 years or so at JLA---four Stanley Cups and some near misses---I don't know that the sentiment will hit me the same when they shutter The Joe for good, as it did when the medicine ball started ramming against Olympia's bricks in the 1980s.

Olympia, with its famous marquee on the lower left; beyond it would be a drugstore where players often stopped for a post-practice milk shake

There was the balcony at Olympia, number one, which thanks to the architects made you feel as if you were looking down at the ice between your legs, if you were sitting in the lower rows.

There was no overhead scoreboard or clock; instead, those were located in the "end zones," along the balcony facade, horizontally stretched from curved corner to curved corner. There were also smaller auxiliary scoreboards on the lower levels of the expensive seats, in the corners.

Olympia seated about 16,000 for hockey and was just about the most intimate indoor arena you'll ever enjoy.

The place shook when the crowd reaction was explosive enough. But when the din was low, you could hear the players shout to one another, even if you sat in the upper rows of the balcony. It was like a theatre that way.

The skates etching the ice, the puck being smacked from tape to tape as it was being passed around, the crunch of the glass during a solid bodycheck---those are hockey sounds to be treasured. And you could hear them at Olympia as if you were wearing personal earphones.

The acoustics were tremendous---which made it a wonderful concert venue, too. All the big name acts played the Olympia: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, you name it.

The Pistons called Olympia home for a few seasons before Cobo Arena opened on the riverfront in 1960.

Olympia's front doors---it literally had a lobby---were just a sidewalk away from Grand River. Kind of like the old Maple Leaf Gardens on Yonge Street. The old-fashioned marquee with the hand-posted red letters would announce that evening's festivities: "HOCKEY TONIGHT RED WINGS VS MONTREAL 8:00."

Then the escalators, which were, frankly, a nightmare for anyone with either claustrophobia or a fear of heights. If you had both, you were in trouble. The steps were barely wide enough for two people. And that steep angle made you feel like you'd tumble backward on the people behind you if you leaned back a bit too much.

I feel sorry for those who never got a chance to take in a Red Wings game at Olympia Stadium.

I feel that way, because they'll never make hockey palaces like that again. No one has it in them, I guess.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Mucking it Up in the Corner with Matt Hutter

We took to the ice---figuratively, anyway---and talked some serious Red Wings hockey last night on "The Knee Jerks", my weekly sports gabfest with Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience.

Our guest was Matt Hutter, who filled in admirably for Jose Canseco, whose schedule forced a re-set till next week (we hope). Matt is one of the featured Red Wings writers for Bleacher Report. Matt provided us with some terrific insight and analysis---not bad for a guy who covers the team from California! Matt gave us some solid minutes, as they say in basketball.

After Matt, Al and I delved into some juicy topics around Detroit sports.

We tipped things off, so to speak, with some concerns about the direction of the Pistons, and we wondered when the mainstream media was going to stop giving team president Joe Dumars free passes.

Next, it was time to, as Al said, talk about something uplifting: U-M football coach Rich Rodriguez's job security!

We ruminated about U-M and MSU football, and openly wondered which coach would be saying goodbye first: Rodriguez, or MSU's Mark Dantonio. Also, you gotta love it when Al used the term "George Perles Mafia" when referring to the dynamic in East Lansing!

Finally, we saved the worst for last: our lovable Detroit Lions. You'll have to listen for yourself.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests:

Nov. 9 Jose Canseco? (stay tuned)
Nov. 16 Ansar Khan, Red Wings beat writer for and Booth Newspapers
Nov. 23 TBA
Nov. 30 (or Dec. 7) NHL Central roundtable with hockey writers from Bleacher Report

Some highlights:

Big Al

On the Pistons:
"It's only been three games, but John Kuester isn't impressing me at all. And Charlie Villanueva is playing like a soft Rasheed Wallace."

On Rich Rodriguez: "He's more like an SEC coach. A Steve Spurrier type. I don't know that he's a good fit at Michigan."

On the Lions: "Is Stan Kwan the Enemy of the People, or is he the anti-Christ?"


On the Pistons:
"The Pistons have no one who can score in the low post. Joe Dumars is flailing; it's like he's grasping at straws. I don't think he even has a plan."

On Rich Rodriguez: "There's just something about this guy that doesn't fit. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it's going to end badly in Ann Arbor for him."

On the Lions: "It was embarrassing. They lost with no honor, no dignity. And I don't understand that."

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Lions Serve Notice to Rams: We're Still No. 32!

All those Jim Zorn haters out there ought to rev up their engines again. They ought to bang down Redskins owner Dan Snyder's door and demand that Zorn get the ziggy. In fact, the entire Redskins team ought to wear scarlet letters on their uniforms: "L," both for Loser and for Lions.

How any team can lose to the garbage that is the Detroit Lions is beyond me.

Someday, one of the current Redskins will pen an autobiography and he'll let us in on the secret. Surely it must have been an effort, willful and with malice, designed to get the coach fired.

No way could the Redskins have actually given it their all and still come up short against the Lions, as they did back on September 27 at Ford Field.

But they did, and for that the 'Skins ought to change their names to the Washington Red-faces.

How can you even report to work every week, knowing you've lost to the Lions?

Once again, football wasn't played by the Lions yesterday against the St. Louis Rams. It was committed. Poorly. Kind of like those guys they catch on videotape on those "World's Dumbest Criminals" TV shows.

The Rams won it, 17-10, and that score wasn't reached how you would think. It was 3-2, Rams, in the bottom of the seventh before it turned into a slugfest of sorts.

So two very long losing streaks have been snapped this year at FF: the Lions' 19-gamer, and the Rams' 17-game version, which had only begun to pick up some national media momentum before it all came crashing down on Sunday.

Now all we're left with is the Tampa Bay Bucs and their measly little 0-7 start. Hmph.

Ah, but fear not, because by the time the curtain closes on this season, the Lions may be doing a revival of their wildly successful 2008 tour and finish 1-15 with a 13-game losing streak in their hip pockets.

It could happen. Don't tell me that it can't.

Don't come at me with the Browns game at Detroit on November 22. And especially don't you dare try to sing me the tired, "The Lions rise to the occasion on Thanksgiving Day" ditty, either.

Look at the schedule and tell me where you see another Lions victory after the ostrich egg they laid on the Ford Field fake grass against the Rams.

When the Rams, no less, talk about you afterward as if they had just taken candy from a baby, it's time for some serious reflection.

The subject was the fake field goal the Rams pulled with about a minute to go in the second quarter, lining up for a 54-yard try.

This is the kicker, Josh Brown, talking:

"When they set up in that certain position with a two-man push (on their right side) they always come hard. Every single time,'' Brown said. "We really knew what they were going to do and we capitalized. We called it on the sideline because we figured what they were going to do. We had watched tape and they came every single time when they were set up that way. It was ours for the taking.''

Wow. It's not bad enough that the haven't-won-for-over-a-year Rams beat the Lions, they have to talk like it was so easy?

The Lions couldn't stop Rams RB Steven Jackson, who ran wild for 149 yards on just 22 carries. That's a Jim Brown/Barry Sanders-like 6.8 yards per carry, if you're scoring at home.

The Lions were without star receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), and so the rest of the receiving corps must have decided to not play, either, in protest.

Poor Matthew Stafford. The rookie QB worked like the dickens to get his sore knee ready after missing two games, and his pass catchers treat him like Isiah Thomas did Michael Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game?

The Lions receivers spoiled more passes than a pretty girl in a room full of nerds.

Through 45 minutes of play, the Lions had exactly zero catches from their wide receivers. Not that Stafford didn't try; they just kept dropping them.

By the end, Stafford gave up and didn't bother to throw the ball anywhere near them. That'll teach 'em!

It reminds me of an old line by that cut-up coach of the early Bucs, John McKay, who said after another loss, "Well, we didn't block. But we made up for it by not tackling."

The Lions dropped passes, but Stafford made up for it by being inaccurate.

The final "drive" was tragically comical.

The Lions started on their own 20 and ended at their own 10, four incomplete passes later.

The cozy little crowd at FF did their best to rain boos down on Stafford and the Lions, but even that was mostly pathetic.

This was a "message" game and the Lions delivered, big time.

We're STILL the worst, you St. Louis Rams---and don't you forget it!