Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Screw the Digital Age! We Like Rolling Them Bones!

Put away the controllers and XBoxes and Playstations! We talked sports games last night---tabletop, board-game style---with Keith Avallone, owner of a website called www.plaay.com. At Keith's site, you'll find simulations of everything from roller derby to indoor lacrosse to, soon, hockey. That was our guest segment on "The Knee Jerks," the weekly gabfest I co-host on Blog Talk Radio with Big Al Beaton, who's rapidly beginning his own Internet writing empire.

After talking "old school" sports gaming with Keith, Al and I roasted the Lions (as usual), and wondered whether Drew Stanton has a future in the NFL---with the Lions or anyone else.

We also blistered the Free Press and its decision to run an "All Decade" team for the Lions, with such notables as Tony Semple, Joey Harrington, and Todd Lyght on it. The All Decade coach was Steve Mariucci! Oy vay!

You also might want to hear my last rant of 2009---a 15-minute rampage on the Indy Colts and their decision to bench Peyton Manning on Sunday. It's among my best, if I do say so myself!

Al included himself, indirectly, in his pick of "Jerk of the Week."

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Jan. 4: Big Ten basketball preview (OR January 11)

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stanton Awful in His First Career NFL Start

OK, so you saw Drew Stanton. Happy now? Can we move on?

If Stanton remains with the Lions as the No. 2 man behind Matthew Stafford, let's all chip in and provide Matthew with the best medical care available---and maybe we can raise enough dough to buy some offensive linemen, too.

Stanton was the prime suspect in the Lions' 20-6 loss to the 49ers in the Bay Area on Sunday. He was the leader of the gang that came in and stole whatever chances the Lions had of winning.

In the season of giving, Stanton giveth, alright---to the 49ers. And in doing so, Stanton taketh away from his own guys.

Stanton fumbled. He threw three interceptions, the last of which was as hideous a thing as you'll ever see on a football field. Finally, he was benched, his head hanging in abject defeat.

Stanton made his first career start yesterday, and if he was a Broadway show he would have closed after one night. It was the worst debut since the Italian Army in WWI.

This is who everyone clamored for?

They say the most popular QB in the NFL is often the guy who's not playing. So I guess that makes Patrick Ramsey, a Lion for less than 72 hours, the apple of every Lions fan's eye right now.

Stanton has wallowed as a Lion ever since being drafted by his hometown team in 2007. Some of us, present company included, thought he's been getting a raw deal for three seasons now. Maybe he deserved it.

Stanton's from Farmington Hills---the residents there are disavowing any knowledge of him---and he attended Michigan State University, which is no doubt this morning expunging all record of him ever playing as a Spartan.

Stanton was so bad on Sunday that he even made Daunte Culpepper a sight for sore eyes, when the latter entered the game with a tad over six minutes remaining. It was moments after Stanton threw maybe the worst interception in the history of pro football---and I'm not exaggerating AT ALL---a givesy-backsy one play after SF's Frank Gore fumbled and gave the Lions the ball at the 49er 29.

Gore fumbled and the Lions, with a quick score, would have been within 10 points. Well, it would have been interesting, anyway. So Stanton does a play-action, has all the time in the world to set himself and plant his feet and do all those other mechanical things quarterbacks do, and he lasered one---right into the chest of Dre Bly, of all people.

It was like the Lions found a $20 bill in their other pair of pants and Stanton set fire to it immediately.

Stanton had a QB rating of 31.9, and even though I have no idea how that's computed, I know that it doesn't get much lower than that. I think you can play Electric Football and have your QB post a better rating.

OK, so he's still a rookie, for all intents and purposes. He's rusty. His confidence was probably shot to hell.

But even given all those built-in excuses, Stanton under achieved. He proved he's not ready to seize the moment. And, in the process, he gave team coaches and management a big, fat opportunity to say, "I TOLD you he couldn't play!"

So dump him then. Get someone else. Stafford can't possibly stay healthy for 16 games, given the line he plays behind and his sense of recklessness on the field. So the Lions will need someone who can step in and doesn't have bubbles coming out of his pants and a big red nose and a fright wig and who is wearing size 34 shoes.

Stanton can't play at all. Culpepper can't play anymore. Ramsey never could play in the NFL. The Lions have Matthew Stafford and a black hole.

Am I being too hard on Stanton? I don't know; was the United States too hard on the Japanese after Pearl Harbor? Was Elin Nordegren too hard on Tiger Woods?

My apologies to Culpepper, by the way. Daunte, I apologize for actually thinking that Drew Stanton gave the Lions a better chance to win than you. I stand corrected. Neither of you gives the Lions a chance to win.

There---I feel better now.

The Lions have one game left, and I suppose they'll have to start a quarterback in it. Wouldn't you love to be coach Jim Schwartz? He's hungry, and when he opens up the fridge all he sees is moldy cheese and something green and gooey under plastic wrap.

Quick---someone give Schwartzie Scott Mitchell's phone number.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Wings Are Now the Rodney Dangerfields of the NHL

Well, how do you like the rest of the NHL? They’re showing their true character, these teams.

Look what they’re doing to the Detroit Red Wings these days.

Someone must have hung a sign outside Joe Louis Arena: “Free licks! Get ‘em in—limited time offer.”

The Joe used to be a House of Horrors for opponents. You flew into Detroit, got your requisite butt kicking, and moved on. They weren’t hockey games, they were wakes.

The Red Wings might stumble or lose interest enough to let five or six games, total, slide into the “L” column in any given season at JLA. They toyed with opponents, like an ape with a piece of Samsonite.

Now everyone is coming into Detroit and winning hockey games, like it’s part of a new world order. Even Florida and Atlanta have done it this season, and they win in Detroit once a decade.

The Red Wings are being treated shabbily on the road, too. It used to be that when the Red Wings came to town, you bought a ticket to see your team play the role of the Washington Generals to the Detroit Globetrotters. And you enjoyed it. The Red Wings were so special, it was an honor to see your team get clocked by them.

But look at what the league has the gall to do nowadays.

First they strip the Red Wings of their key goal scorers via free agency, in the summertime, then conspire with the hockey gods to rain injury and pestilence on them during the season. Finally, they’re acting like vultures, picking at the Winged Wheel carcass.

These are the Detroit Red Wings, folks. A little respect, please!

You don’t treat the Red Wings like this. These are the Popes of hockey. They’re practically royalty. You wouldn’t invite the Queen of England over and let the dog play with her crown, would you?

This is disgraceful, what’s going on in the NHL this season? I want to lodge a complaint.

All you teams are playing the Red Wings brave now, aren’t you? It’s like Jerry Quarry having a shot at Muhammad Ali with one of Muhammad’s arms tied behind his back.

They’re even shutting the Red Wings out now, which used to happen only during leap years or something. Five times the Red Wings have been blanked, and twice it’s happened two games in a row.

Of course, you knew team scoring would be down, seeing as the Red Wings lost a bajillion goals vis-à-vis players traipsing to other cities to play hockey in the offseason. It was the biggest mass exodus since the Exodus.

Players don’t leave Detroit to play hockey elsewhere, as a rule, unless they’ve been shipped out of town. But the Red Wings lost Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, and Jiri Hudler off last season’s Stanley Cup Finals roster. Even the backup goalie, Ty Conklin, skipped town.

OK, so the economics of hockey dictate that you just can’t keep all of your good players. Fine. But what about all of the injuries?

The Red Wings have been hit so hard by injuries that the Detroit Medical Center opened a kiosk behind Section 212 at The Joe. The first thing you do when you enter the Red Wings dressing room is scrub up.

As far as injury bugs go, the Red Wings are dealing with a humdinger of a cockroach. I’ve seen flies drop with less frequency than Red Wings players this season. Mike Babcock isn’t coaching the Red Wings, he’s trying to keep them animated. The best shot on the team is cortisone.

But does the rest of the NHL care?

I thought hockey players were the kindest, most down-to-Earth of all the professional athletes. Turns out they have a mean streak of a serial killer and are as opportunistic as a personal injury lawyer. I’m surprised at them—taking advantage of the league’s First Family like this.

This is kicking a team when it’s down—and they’re wearing skates while they’re doing it.

The Red Wings have a record of 18-14-5, which is really 18-19. They score about 2.6 goals a game. The Red Wings of old would have 2.6 goals before the game was 29.5 minutes old.

The Chicago Blackhawks recently played the Red Wings twice in four days, and the Hawks treated the Wings like Rodney Dangerfield. Normally, a home-and-home series between the two teams would be just another chance for the Red Wings to remind the young Blackhawks who was the Stanley Cup-contending team and who was the smart aleck kid.

The Blackhawks skunked the Red Wings twice, by identical 3-0 scores. It didn’t matter that the Red Wings were hurt, depleted, and miserable. This is pro sports; the next team that feels sorry for you will be the first.

“They’re just better than we are right now,” Babcock said of the Blackhawks after the second whitewashing.

And healthier, and younger, and more confident.

The Red Wings haven’t been getting much sympathy around the league. It’s open season on them now, and even the 98-pound weaklings have been getting their shots in. The Red Wings have been league bullies for years, and now it’s their turn to get their lunch money taken by force.

What a crazy, mixed up hockey season this is. The Phoenix Coyotes, practically wards of the league—a team that Wayne Gretzky didn’t even want a part of—are battling for supremacy in their division. The defending Cup champs play in the Eastern Conference. Now THAT’S something.

And the Detroit Red Wings are being defiled like a cheap floozy in Times Square.

But check back in May. That’s only five months away in normal time, but in the NHL that may as well be a galaxy far, far away.

Friday, December 25, 2009

NHL Gets It Right: No Action on Christmas Eve, Day

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the NHL, not a creature was stirring.

Do you hear that sound? The sound of silence?

If you want to hear anything in any NHL arena on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, first you'll have to break into the joint. Then, having succeeded, you won't find a soul.

For two days, the sticks stay untaped. The skates stay hung on their hooks. The pucks stay in the freezer. There might as well be a sign that says, "No morning skate to-day."

The National Hockey League doesn't do much right, so when they do, it's only fair to blare it. The appearance of "NHL," "good," and "decision" in the same sentence that doesn't also include "not a" is up there with "Man listens to wife," so this is big doings.

The NHL, bless their frozen souls, outlaw their own game on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The players are ordered to stay away from "the building." No games, no practices. If one has the urge to throw a hip check, then it's to be done to the kids at home, or the family dog.

For two days, not only are the goalies pulled, but so is everyone else. The only sweater worn is a garish holiday one, around the fire at home.

Good for the pucksters. They got one right for a change.

I wish other sports would follow suit.

The NBA has had a fetish for playing games on Christmas Day for decades. The Red Wings used to do it, too, in the 1960s, but then the players and their wives protested and the game was dropped from the schedule.

Do we need sports on Christmas? Are we so ravenous? Is our hunger so insatiable?

The NHL, by giving its teams Eve and Day off, are also saying to their fans, indirectly, "And you should have better things to do, too."

And we should.

The NBA ought to listen, but I doubt they will. Starting at noon ET today, the TV will be filled with NBA games---at least on ABC and ESPN---until past midnight. A quintuple-header---five games, with start times of 12, 2:30, 5:00, 8:00, and 10:30 p.m.


Can't we shut it off for a day and maybe say a few words to our families, even if we don't care for them all that much?

Not to pick on the NBA, because college football serves up Bowl games on Christmas, like it's just another day on the calendar. The movie theaters swing open their doors, too. And that's worse, because that requires leaving the house. Isn't being able to see a movie 364 days a year enough?

Yeah, it's a free country, with free enterprise. I get it. If mom and pop want to open on Christmas Day, then that's their prerogative.

But isn't it refreshing that the NHL has a two day moratorium, enabling players and coaches and arena workers to be with their families? Is that so much to ask, really?

Yet in today's economy, I can see where it might be attractive for a concession worker to pull in a Christmas Day shift at double time pay. Point taken. But do you really think that those folks have an option?

Pretty much the same people work the same jobs at every game in any given arena. If the schedule says "game," then they're expected to be there. Maybe holiday pay isn't that important to everyone.

I'm probably going to be lonely on this one. I can hear it now.

"Christmas Day games are wildly popular! Who are you to take away our sports? If you have a problem, then don't watch."

Just thought I'd save you some time.

OK, fine. You're right; not everyone celebrates Christmas, number one. Two, not everyone has a warm and fuzzy family situation that they can't wait to enjoy.

All I'm saying is, I think it's great that the NHL locks their doors on the 24th and 25th. Mainly because it's just so anti the norm. Again, refreshing.

And yes, I will take your advice. I won't watch a minute of the NBA today. I plan on going 0-for-5. Gonna give myself a collar.

I'll make it up some other time, believe me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lions Need to Give Stafford a Strong Veteran Presence Behind Him

Not to bring up the dead during this holiday season, but when Joey Harrington was in Detroit, struggling to become an NFL quarterback, the Lions organization didn't do a lick to help him.

By his second season, the Lions tried to plug Joey into Steve Mariucci's pattycake, West Coast offense, with garish results. Square peg, meet round hole.

But the most egregious thing the Lions did during Harrington's formative years was something they didn't do.

They never provided him with an honest-to-goodness, veteran NFL QB to help him along.

It wasn't about the competition. Joey was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft. There should have been no illusions about whether he was the quarterback of the future---back then.

But all the Lions gave Harrington was a kid from Rutgers, Mike McMahon, and called it a day. They brought in Ty Detmer for a time, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. They brought in Jeff Garcia in 2005, but Garcia was a Mariucci guy and still fancied himself a starter in the NFL. Plus, by 2005 Harrington was in his fourth season and he himself was halfway out the door in Detroit.

It may not have made one bit of difference, but we'll never know whether his progression as an NFL quarterback would have been helped by the presence of a veteran backup who could have functioned as a mentor and sounding board.

What the Lions did was draft a blind mouse and gave him Mr. Magoo to work with.

Well, the Lions have a rare second opportunity to right a wrong. They can give Matthew Stafford someone to help him---and not Daunte Culpepper.

Not a guy who's trying to audition for another job elsewhere. Not someone who's done like dinner.

The Lions need to bring in a veteran who understands that his role is that of caddy and adjunct coach---not someone who thinks he can steal the starter's job from Stafford.

I look around the league and I see someone like Mark Brunell, with the Redskins. Now that's more like it.

In 1994, the Lions made a ferocious run toward the playoffs---but only after starter Scott Mitchell went down with an injury and veteran Dave Krieg took over. Krieg had one of the best stretches of his long career, and the Lions charged to the postseason.

So far, the Lions have provided Stafford---who's only the franchise---with a self-serving Culpepper and a kid, Drew Stanton, whose confidence has been shot full of holes since being drafted by his hometown team.

Scott Linehan needs help, too. The offensive coordinator would be better served if he had a veteran guy who could take Stafford aside after practice and fill in any gaps created by the coaches.

There's also the matter of just being in the NFL, period. Not only how to read defenses, but how to read life as a pro football player. How to carry yourself. How to handle not only the bull rush of a blitzing linebacker, but that of the media. Stuff like that.

Stafford's the No. 1 guy in Detroit. There's no debate about that. If things go according to plan, he'll be a Lion for 10 years, at least. But those early years in the NFL are so key. It's when habits---good and bad---are learned. It's when confidence is built or destroyed forever.

Just ask Joey Harrington, if you can find him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": NHL Central Musings, Another Lions Waxing

Hockey took center ice, so to speak, last night on "The Knee Jerks," the weekly gabfest I co-host on Blog Talk Radio with Big Al Beaton, who's rapidly beginning his own Internet writing empire.

We held our much anticipated NHL Central Roundtable, in which we hosted Bleacher Report writers from Chicago, Columbus, and Nashville. Our St. Louis guy had a conflict and couldn't participate.

Joining us were Tab Bamford (Blackhawks), Ed Cmar (Blue Jackets), and Mark Willoughby (Predators). Each one of those guys were extremely knowledgeable and provided excellent analysis of their respective teams. We went a good 50 minutes and could easily have taken up the entire show time with that discussion.

But what would an episode of "The Knee Jerks" be without Al and me ripping on the Lions?

QB Daunte Culpepper was our target, with both of us agreeing that he should never take another snap in a Lions uniform. Al ranted about "moral victories" and I countered with one about fans who want the Lions to lose for "draft positioning."

With the holiday approaching and it being a relatively quiet week around Detroit sports---and having discussed the Red Wings in the roundtable---we wrapped up a bit earlier than our usual two-hour allotment. Not before choosing our Jerks of the Week, of course!

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Dec. 28: Tabletop sports game creator and business owner Keith Avallone

Jan. 4: Big Ten basketball preview

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another Moral Victory, As Lions Don't Embarrass Themselves Against Playoff-Bound Cards

If you look real hard at the NFL standings in this morning's newspaper---squint, go cross-eyed, maybe dip the newsprint in lemon juice and hold it up to a black light---you'll see a fourth column, nestled among W, L, and T.

It's MV. And the Detroit Lions are among the league leaders in that secret society category.

MV---the Moral Victory. The Lions do pretty well against that spread; have for years, as a matter of fact.

The NFL's Moral Victory is something that's declared, not proven on any stat sheet; it doesn't necessarily even jump out at you on the JumboTron scoreboard in the end zone.

The MV, loosely translated, means getting just due for something that should be routine.

The Lions lost yesterday---a distinct "L" in the commonly-accepted league standings that are visible to the naked, untrained eye. The scoreboard says so. It read Cardinals 31, Lions 24 when the sands of time ran out.

But hold on---a Moral Victory was declared! The first salvo was fired on that social media jobbie-do called Twitter.

"Lions lose, 31-24. But at least they didn't quit after falling behind by 17," was how one Twitterer described it, moments after the final gun.

Yeah, there's that.

So I guess the Lions did quit the week before, in Baltimore, when the Ravens gave them a swirly and a Melvin and took their lunch money to the tune of 48-3.

No MV when you lose by 45, eh?

The Moral Victory means that you hang in there and don't give up and, basically, come close but lose to a superior opponent. The NFL is filled with teams superior to the Lions, so the latter has more opportunities for the MV than most of their brethren, granted.

The 2-12 Lions fell behind yesterday to the 9-5 Cardinals, 17-0, and with the Lions you don't know which way that can go. A 17-0 deficit is just as likely to turn into 34-3, or it could result in an MV.

The bereft-of-big plays Lions pulled a couple out of their...posterior, and just like that a football game broke out.

Safety Louis Delmas, a rookie who has the temerity to play as if he knows what he's doing in this league, started the mini-onslaught with a 101-yard interception return. Considering it often takes the Lions' offense several possessions to traverse such a distance, Delmas's doing it in under 30 seconds was all the more impressive. 17-7 Cardinals.

Not long after, running back Maurice Morris, filling in for the ACL-torn Kevin Smith, boogied into the end zone to the tune of 64 yards---on ONE carry! Very un-Lions-like. 17-14 Cardinals.

Then beleaguered Jason Hanson even made a field goal, and the game was tied, 17-17.

At least the Lions weren't quitting. A Moral Victory was in the air.

The Cardinals went ahead again, 24-17, and the Lions tied it---again. The sweet smell of MV filled Ford Field like Christmas cookies baking in the oven.

Of course, no one in their right mind truly thinks the Lions will win such a contest, so the Moral Victory beckons the faithful. They get high off of it.

The Lions aren't quitting! They're in the game in the closing minutes! Take a deep breath and inhale that!

Then, of course, there's the inevitable collapse into defeat, another one goes under the "L" column, but at least there wasn't embarrassment attached to this latest loss.

Another hallmark of the Moral Victory: escaping humiliation and abject failure.

Speaking of abject failure, a message for Lions QB Daunte Culpepper: Magglio Ordonez called---he wants his throwing arm back.

Culpepper was again ineffective on Sunday, underthrowing receivers---until a Hail Mary just before halftime that sailed thru the uprights---and generally looking like a guy whose NFL career is swirling down the drain. Which it pretty much is.

Watching Culpepper now, trying to portray an NFL quarterback, is like listening to William Hung sing; it's impossible to do without making a face and turning away in dread.

Culpepper is done. Finished. History. Somewhere, a television studio and an Armani suit beckons him. Might as well get the graphic ready: DAUNTE CULPEPPER, NFL ANALYST.

If the Lions had any compassion, they'd pull the plug on Daunte today. Cut him and put him out of everyone's misery. He made a gallant effort in the offseason, losing weight and displaying leadership vocally and having a terrific attitude. But the guy just can't play anymore. Even Johnny Unitas soiled his legacy, stumbling around in a San Diego Chargers uniform at the end. So it's not unique to Culpepper, this carrying on past your time thing.

The Moral Victory, though, is preferable to the ugly loss, I will grant you that. Less jokes and snide remarks, number one. The players can show their faces in public. The coach doesn't have to rush to the film projector so that he may prepare his indictments and identify the perpetrators.

The MV column is in there, somewhere in the NFL standings. You just have to look for it.

If you can't find it, just let us know. We in Detroit can locate it pretty easily.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Take Heart, Lions Fans: Even Arizona Cardinals Became Winners

So even the Arizona Cardinals got it right, eventually.

There’s something wrong with the world in which I now live. Since when did they change slapstick and make it into refined theater?

The Arizona Cardinals are now a championship contender for two years in a row.

The blind squirrel found a nut—twice.

The Arizona Cardinals? Winners, two years in succession? About to wrap up another divisional title?

It’s like the Marx Brothers playing Shakespeare. Buddy Hackett reading Hemingway on stage. The Keystone Kops getting their man.

Maybe I woke up in one of those parallel universes. The kind where the sun rises in the West and human beings answer the phones at the utility company and the Arizona Cardinals are (gulp) good.

The Cardinals, who visit the Lions on Sunday and who will most likely leave Detroit 9-5 and in tune for the playoffs, used to be lockstep with all the inglorious losers in professional sports.

You could break up a room at just about any comedy club with the mere mention of their name.

The Lions have kept their losing confined to one city; the Cardinals have traveled the country, dropping turds from Chicago to Phoenix.

The Cardinals used to be the Los Angeles Clippers of the NFL when they played in Chicago. They shared a big city with a legitimate team, the Bears, and provided comic relief. And financial turmoil.

Here’s Pat Summerall, who was a Chicago Cardinal before he made it big with the New York Giants and CBS television.

“We used to get paid and run to the bank immediately,” Summerall once told NFL Films. “There’d be fights in the locker room. They’d dump our paychecks on the floor and make us fight for them. Then it was a race to the bank, to cash them before they bounced.”

The Cardinals got nudged out of Chicago and took their vaudeville act to St. Louis in 1960.

The Cardinals passed through the Gateway to the West and were semi-transformed. An occasional winning season would break out. Then, as if they’d signed a one-year pact with the Devil, the following campaign would be a return to fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling.

St. Louis wasn’t westward enough, though. The Cardinals pressed on in 1988, taking their sideshow all the way to Phoenix.

Phoenix! How fitting; the Cardinals move to a city named after a bird that rose from ashes.

But the losing followed them, like that annoying neighbor kid who won’t leave you alone.

The Cardinals even tried changing their affiliation. After six years of being known as the Phoenix Cardinals, they decided that one city’s reputation wasn’t enough to sully, so they indicted the entire state; they became the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.

The Cardinals, until last year, were among those sitting at the table at the back of the room—filled with those who’d never played in a Super Bowl.

The Lions, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans lost a member, when the Cardinals plowed their way through the 2008 playoffs and made it all the way to the Big One.

The Cardinals, like the Lions, are owned by a Bill.

Bill Bidwill, 78, has been the sole owner since 1972, after sharing the honor with his brother Charlie for 11 years. Other than his signature bow tie, the only thing Bill Bidwill was known for was losing. And being clue-free about how to win. Sound familiar?

Bidwill also has a kid named Bill. The comparisons to the Lions would be spooky, if not for one thing—the Cardinals are actually winning football games.

Which brings me to my opening state of confusion.

The Arizona Cardinals can’t be winners. This might be one of the first signs of the Apocalypse. Maybe that stuff about 2012 is true, after all.

They have an aging quarterback, Kurt Warner, who’s trying to recover from a concussion. But they also have a young, gun slinging lefty named Matt Leinart who’s stepped in and the Cardinals haven’t really missed a beat with the USC grad at the helm.

Leinart is young, good-looking, and from California. Which means he’s hated by every defensive lineman in the league and by sports writers in their mid-40s.

The Cardinals have a superstar wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, whose name sounds like he should be a friend of Beaver Cleaver’s. The have a running back named Beanie Wells, and I’m back to the Cleaver thing.

“Mom, can Larry and Beanie come over for dinner?”

The offensive line actually blocks. The defense is capable. The Cardinals are, you know, a real football team.

It should bring hope to Lions fans everywhere. If the Cardinals can do it, then…

Of course, Lyle Lovett did get Julia Roberts, albeit briefly.

The Cardinals are winners. Two years in a row. The clock broke at 11:59. Ice crystals are forming in Hades. I hear Steven Seagal is up for a Golden Globe.

My call to the cable company really is very important to them. The check really is in the mail. Comcast must be done buying things.

In such a parallel universe, you’d think the Lions could even be successful.

Instead, we get Jason Hanson missing field goals.

Maybe the Lions can find a player named Lumpy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Red Wings Might Have Competition Right Where They Want Them

Last June 12, as the Pittsburgh Penguins reveled in their first Stanley Cup win since 1992 on the Joe Louis Arena ice surface, the state of the team in mid-December, 2008 must have seemed to them like ancient history---something written in hieroglyphics on a cave wall somewhere.

I caught team president Mario Lemieux before he made his way into the locker room. The Pens had made a coaching change after the new year. And I wanted to know how the Penguins were able to go from also-rans around Christmas to Stanley Cup champions six months later.

"They bought in," Lemieux said about new coach Dan Bylsma. "And we got our special teams in order."

Same question, posed to Bylsma moments later.

"I thought that we had the talent to make this happen," Bylsma told me just after donning his champions baseball cap, about his feelings when he took the team over from Michel Therrien. "I didn't want to say it too loud, but I knew we had the talent."

The Penguins were 16-10-4 one year ago today, on the fringe of playoff contention. A few weeks later, they sank to 20-19-4. No one was talking Penguins when they were handicapping Cup contenders. They appeared to be another of those Eastern Conference champs who were destined to sink back into anonymity.

Under Bylsma, the Pens caught fire. They finished the regular season on a 16-2-3 tear. And they kept that momentum rolling in the playoffs.

The NHL, more than any other league, operates on its own space-time continuum. It's like dog years. Six months ago in the NHL might as well be years in the past.

Six months ago, the Red Wings were 60 minutes away from a Stanley Cup championship. Today, they're scrambling to stay in the playoff picture. Their roster has been depleted by free agency losses and injury.

Maybe they have their competition right where they want them.

I'm not filing a motion to have coach Mike Babcock replaced, like the Penguins did with Therrien. But I also know that no team in its right mind would want to play the Red Wings in the playoffs, no matter their seeding.

The Red Wings haven't played the role of the snake in the grass in years. They've been among the top five teams in contention for the Cup since the mid-1990s. You don't sneak up on teams with 120-point seasons.

But no one is talking Red Wings right now, just like no one was talking Penguins a year ago. Yet the injured players the Wings have won't stay out of the lineup forever. When the team returns to full health---assuming that's possible---it will likely be just in time for the last third of the season.

Just enough time for the hurt forwards to find their timing and their hands.

I hope the Red Wings seize this moment and enjoy NOT being mentioned as the "team to beat" throughout the winter. I hope they find contentment in playing in relative obscurity until their key people get back.

But I also hope they know how to deal with it, for it ain't the norm around "Hockeytown," today's Montreal.

Still, if you're a Western Conference playoff team, and you want a piece of the Red Wings come spring, then you've been sniffing the goal post paint.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Sports Shutterbuggin' with Greg Shamus

We took a step outside the box last night on "The Knee Jerks," the weekly gabfest I co-host on Blog Talk Radio with Big Al Beaton, who's rapidly beginning his own Internet writing empire.

It was our first show at our new 9:00 p.m. ET time slot, and our guest was professional sports photographer Greg Shamus, who's the official team photographer for the Pittsburgh Penguins (relax, he's a Detroiter), along with snapping shots for Getty Images and the NBA.

Greg took us behind the scenes in the life of a sports shutterbug and it was quite interesting. As Al said afterward, we could have gone longer than the allotted 45 minutes with Mr. Shamus.

After Greg left us, Al and I chomped into some meaty Detroit sports stories---don't forget, we were off last week due to some faulty plumbing in the Beaton household.

First up was the big Tigers trade last week that sent Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson to the Yankees and Diamondbacks, respectively. We both bemoaned the apparent lack of offense, and wrung our hands over the back end of the bullpen, with Brandon Lyon in Houston and Fernando Rodney practically out the door.

And it just wouldn't be an episode of "The Jerks" without several rants on the Lions, who provided us with plenty of material in the wake of their 48-3 thumping at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

We even got our "Jerks of the Week" in before time expired at 11:00---which is when we used to START the show.

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Dec. 21: NHL Central roundtable with Bleacher Report writers from Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis (rescheduled from 12/7)

Dec. 28: Tabletop sports game creator and business owner Keith Avallone

Some highlights from Monday’s show:

Big Al

On the Tigers: “They're going to have to win every game 1-0, 2-1! Granderson was a good player, but not a great player. And baseball people say the Tigers made a good trade in getting Max Scherzer for Edwin Jackson."

On the Lions: “I think Jim Schwartz had his first 'Bobby Ross moment' in the postgame presser."

On Drew Stanton not playing: "It shows that the Lions don't think he can play in the NFL."


On the Tigers trade: “Makes me long for the days when you made trades based on baseball, not on contract status."

On the Lions: “Daunte Culpepper has as much chance of returning to Detroit as Stroh's. Why was he in the entire game when the Lions were losing by 45 points?"

On Jason Hanson's rough year: “I'm uncomfortable saying that he's finished, because he had a good year last year with all the 50-yard field goals. And he's only 38 or 39, which is young in 'kicker years.'"

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Schwartz Officially a Lions Coach After Debacle in Baltimore

Forget the press conference last January. Forget the draft in April. Forget all the mini-camps and OTAs and even training camp.

Opening day in New Orleans? Pfft! The first win, against Washington? Puh-leeze.

Jim Schwartz officially became a Lions head coach Sunday, in the steady rain in Baltimore, his hometown. 48-3, Ravens. This is how they treat the native sons in the Crab City? It was the worst homecoming since Benigno Aquino was gunned down on the tarmac in the Philippines.

Schwartz was a Lions coach in name only---like a titular head---for the first 12 games of his tenure. But yesterday he was indoctrinated. He earned his mane.

It took until the 13th game, but there Schwartz was---at the post-game podium---madder than a wet hen.

"I hope you're not going live with this," he warned the electronic media folks. "If you are, you might want to make sure you're on a delay."

It wasn't quite "See you at the cemetery" or "I don't coach this stuff!" or "I'm the 'Big Buck'," but Schwartz was just getting started.

"That's not us," he seethed. "And it won't be us. I thought we were ready to play football today, and I was wrong."

Then this: "There will be accountability, and it goes beyond benching."

Legendary Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams used to keep train tickets to Edmonton---the team's minor league affiliate in those days of the 1950s---plainly visible, sticking out of the breast pocket of his jacket. The implication was clear, even to the bumpkin hockey players of the day.

Schwartz threatened, basically, to excise some players forthwith after Sunday's manhandling by the Ravens, in the city of Edgar Allan Poe, and even old Edgar never penned anything so horrific.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon...

Schwartz is now a Lions coach. You can remove the training wheels now. Tear up the temporary permit and give him his permanent license. His baptism is now complete.

Schwartz joins Monte Clark, whose morbid reference to being buried in Anaheim after a 1-4 start became legend around town---especially since the Lions turned things around and finished 9-7 and won the Central Division.

He joins Marty Mornhinweg, who drove away from training camp in disgust on his motorcycle one afternoon.

He joins Bobby Ross, who threw a tantrum after a road game, trying to convince us that he really WAS a good football coach, despite evidence on the field to the contrary.

He joins Wayne Fontes, who tried to become a human lightning rod, declaring that he was "The Big Buck" and all critiques should be addressed to him, thank you.

And, Schwartz joins Rod Marinelli, whose weekly metaphors made him sound like your crazy uncle.

You're a Lions coach now, Schwartzie! Congratulations.

I'm surprised it took him this long, frankly. Maybe it's fitting that his first post-game slow burn came in Baltimore, about six miles from where he grew up. Something about being embarrassed in front of friends and family, who normally don't get to see the Lions play.

Schwartz gave the players the day off today, so that he may pore over film and pick out the miscreants. Kind of like a video version of a police lineup.

"There, officer! THAT'S him! THAT'S the man who waved at Ray Rice with a feeble tackling try!"

The above line could be repeated about half a dozen times, all about different defenders.

The Lions stepped onto the field in the rain in Baltimore and then played like they were made of sugar. They "tackled" like it was touch football.

The Lions lost 48-3? Eastern Michigan University ought to sue for copyright infringement.

It could have been worse, had Ravens coach John Harbaugh not pulled his starters after three quarters.

Oh, and about that....

The Lions lost RB Kevin Smith, who was having a decent year, for the season and maybe beyond to a serious knee injury. The play happened with the Lions losing by gobs of points, early in the fourth quarter. Schwartz might want to save some of the vilifying for himself. Why was Smith in the ballgame at that point?

And while we're at it, why was Daunte Culpepper in the ballgame---during the opening possession?

Culpepper is so out of Detroit, it's not even funny. He has as much chance of returning to the Motor City as Stroh's. Yet not only was he starting, he stayed in the game for all 60 minutes. And poor Drew Stanton, who must have done something horrible to someone in the organization, couldn't even get into a 48-3 game?

That's a great confidence builder---the coach is afraid you might screw things up with your team trailing by 45 points.

But losing Smith to an injury that may affect his career, when he had as much business being in the game at that point as me, and last I looked I'm not even on the practice squad, is a tough pill to swallow. Schwartz says there'll be accountability; he might want to start with himself.

Will Schwartz cut players today? This week? It would seem to be one of those closing the barn door after the horses are out things, but I still think it would send at least a modicum of a message. Hey, he'd be the first Lions coach to actually do that, so there's something.

The Lions are three games away from another off-season full of hole-patching and four months away from their annual appearance in the Top Three picks of the draft.

And Jim Schwartz finally, FINALLY, officially became the team's head coach yesterday, nearly a year after being hired. I'd shake his hand, but it's going to be affixed to a video machine remote control all day today.

I wonder how long before he presses charges?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Shootout Makes a Mockery of the NHL

Leave it to the NHL to make the designated hitter rule look profound.

The NH Hell continues to chip away at its grand game, slowly but surely ruining it through a series of gimmicks, rule changes, and officiating that has the consistency of lumpy pancake batter.

The league is doing its best to kill its game by stripping it of what little credibility it has.

Take the shootout. Please.

There’s a phenomenon occurring right now in the NH Hell, and it has all the appeal of biting into a sandwich—after you’ve noticed the moldy bread from which it’s made.

What’s happening is that shootouts are gradually deciding more and more hockey games on a nightly basis. Playoff positioning is being determined by a bunch of faux penalty shots.

I don’t even like the word shootout. A shootout is something that happens at the OK Corral. Or, if it must happen in sports, then a shootout is an occasional high-scoring affair.

A shootout should be an adjective. But the NH Hell chose to make it a noun, and it’s spreading like cancer throughout the league.

Did you know that one of the greatest college football games ever played ended up in a tie?

Notre Dame-Michigan State, 1966. That game’s legacy hasn’t lost a smidgen of shine in 43 years, and the final score was 10-10. In fact, because there was no winner largely accounts for why that contest is so legendary.

Somewhere along the line, it was decided that every single NH Hell game have a winner. But the league couldn’t even get that right, because it managed to fashion a system whereby there could be a winner and yet, no loser.

The hockey shootout, me thinks, will go down in sports history as one of our greatest embarrassments. Generations down the line will ask two questions: How did George W. Bush get re-elected, and why did the NH Hell allow shootouts to decide games?

I start to get a nervous tick when I’m watching hockey and the score is tied with less than 10 minutes to play in “regulation,” a word that was once reserved for the thrill and drama of the playoffs.

I get that way because with each passing minute off the clock, we’re that much closer to overtime, which has merely become the opening act for the shootout.

An overtime session in the NH Hell is rapidly becoming five minutes of cautious, 4-on-4 hockey that is the equivalent of a game of egg toss at the company picnic. No one wants to have the egg break in their hands, so the goal isn’t a goal—it’s to survive the five minutes so you can win the game the way Commissioner Gary Bettman intended: with gimmicky 1-on-1 hockey.

The 4-on-4 thing was yet another gimmick. The original overtime rule—enacted for the 1983-84 season—stated that the teams would play 5-on-5, as normal, for up to five minutes and whoever scored won and whoever got scored upon lost. Two points for the winner, no points for the loser. Hard to argue with that, right?

Oh, and—get this—if NO ONE scored, the game would end in a (gasp!) tie.

Ties had been a part of the league since its creation. It was part of the charm of the hockey record—the trademark “yadda, yadda, and yadda” rhythm of a team’s won-lost-tied mark.

“What’s the Red Wings’ record now?”

“Oh, they’re 17, 14, and 6.”

Translated for today’s youngsters: 17 wins, 14 losses, and 6 ties.

The NH Hell still has the rhythm, but its meaning has been bastardized.

Today, 17-14-6 is a sugarcoated 17-20, for what 17-14-6 means now is that the team won 17 games—some in regulation, some in overtime, some in a shootout—lost 14 games—all in regulation—and then lost six more games, in a manner that’s for you to find out.

Maybe those games were lost in overtime, maybe in a shootout. Maybe five were in overtime, one in a shootout. Maybe four in a shootout, two in overtime. The NH Hell is the only league where a team’s record is shrouded in mystery.

But 17-14-6 isn’t 17-20 because teams get one point for each number in that mysterious third column.

Yes, you can “lose” an NH Hell game and still get a point. If the NFL had that, the Detroit Lions might lead the league in points. Maybe; who knows for sure? Quick, someone get that guy from Numb3rs .

So the hockey teams nowadays will often play 60 minutes with no clear cut winner and then commence to play up to five minutes of 4-on-4, which was originally intended to provide a more wide-open brand of hockey to encourage a game-winning goal.

But they could play 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference, because more and more the strategy seems to be to “just get to the shootout unscathed.”

The funny thing is, you still get a point if you lose in overtime, but teams are figuring out that their best chance at that extra point is to be the outshooter in the shootout. The result? Overtime sessions that are polite and sanitary.

An NH Hell overtime anymore is a great time to run to the kitchen to make a bag of microwave popcorn, in order to be prepared for the big shootout.

Don’t worry—you’re not likely to miss anything.

What’s happening now is exactly what I was afraid of when the shootout was announced for the 2005-06 season—the first season after the lockout: an over-emphasis on the shootout as a means to an end, instead of as a last resort.

I cringe when I watch a shootout. It rankles me to no end to see a hockey game decided in such a fashion. It’s bush league and makes a mockery of the 65 minutes of hockey that preceded it.

Then, as if the league knows it’s doing something wrong, the “losing” team gets one point anyway, like a parting gift at a game show.

What’s wrong with a tie game? And what’s wrong with getting two points for a win and zero points for a loss? This is hockey, not Wheel of Fortune .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jerebko's Baptism by Fire Good for Pistons, Long Term

Sit back, son, and let me tell you about a basketball time that once existed.

They once roamed the courts of the NBA---big, lumbering, slow moving beasts. A shooting range of six feet, tops. Unless you wanted to play four-on-five, you'd spend half of the 24-second clock waiting for them to take their place on the block.

Their space was the black hole of the game---if you tossed the ball into it, there it would disappear, until it reappeared in the form of a slam dunk or a "bunny."

They came from schools like UCLA and Centenary and Georgetown and St. Bonaventure. They were all 6'11" and weighed 240 pounds and wore size 20 sneakers. None of them could shoot free throws.

These were the "big men" of the NBA, and they became an endangered species sometime in the mid-1980s and now they're just about extinct.

One of the greatest of these behemoths, Wilt Chamberlain, was thought of so little by his coach when it came to Wilt's lack of mobility that Butch van Breda Kolff said, "If the basketball court was made of grass, Wilt would wear out a one-square foot patch."

They stopped breeding those type of bigs, or at the very least, the NBA stopped scouting them. Whatever, they're pretty much gone for good.

Today's big man runs up and down the court as if he's being chased. He can shoot from two area codes away from the hoop. He has a free throw shooting percentage of 80. And he's international now---he comes from Germany, France, and China. You don't scout them anymore, you import them.

The Pistons have one from Sweden. First time ever a Swede has laced up an NBA sneaker. Swen Nater and Rik Smits were Dutch. Close, but no meatball.

The Swede is Jonas Jerebko, and he wants us to know that his first name is pronounced "YO-nas," not like the bubblegum musical group of brothers. Oh, and while you're at it, Jerebko is properly pronounced "Yer-EB-ko." In Sweden, they treat Js like Ys.

Ironically, Jonas has a j---as in a jump shot. He can fire away from 22-24 feet and it won't look like he's a mason. In fact, he tickles the net at a reasonably successful rate.

Jerebko is starting and playing 30-35 minutes per game, as a Swedish rookie, because a) the Pistons didn't have anyone else, thanks to injuries, and b) he's actually pretty damn good, come to find out.

Jerebko, at 6'10", is playing small forward, which was once manned by guys who were 6'6" and who would get the ball 20 feet away and make like a whirling dervish toward the hoop. There's nothing whirling or dervish about Jerebko's game but that's OK---he defends. Yesterday's small forward snubbed his nose at the mere mention of the word "defense."

Jerebko defends---sometimes without much success because the guys he's been guarding have names like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James---and he runs the floor well and he can pass a little bit and there's that outside shooting game of his. He's got some Dirk No-vitz-ki about him.

And he's the first Swede to ever play in the NBA, which should legally change its name to the International Basketball Association, truthfully.

New Pistons coach John Kuester clearly has no second thoughts about starting Jerebko and putting him up against some of the biggest scoring forwards on the planet.

"I don't think they had televisions sometimes in Sweden," Coach Q cracked after last night's humdinger of a win over the Denver Nuggets. The implication: Jerebko shouldn't be scared of something he's never seen before.

Well, it was another night where Yonas got torched: the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony went off for 40 points, and a lot of those were at the Swede's expense; Jerebko played 34 minutes.

So it's not going to be a smooth ride for the kid as he gets baptized by fire. But Jerebko is getting invaluable experience---even if that means he'll make every highlight reel compiled by all the high-scoring small forwards in the league, as the beleaguered defender.

No one asked me but I like Jerebko---a lot. The Pistons haven't had someone of his skill set at his size who plays with that kind of enthusiasm since Rasheed Wallace, pre-spoilage.

Jerebko is likely to sit back down and come off the bench once Tayshaun Prince gets healthy again, which may be soon. But it's a win-win for Kuester, who'll get his No. 1 small forward back AND an "X" factor for his bench.

This Swede might also be the first NBA STAR from that country, too.

No yoke.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Stafford's Proven His Toughness, Now It's Time to Think About Shutting Him Down

OK, I get it---this kid Matthew Stafford is tough. So I wish the Lions would quit forcing him to prove it every week.

Actually, it's the Lions' offensive line---feel free to put the accent on the second syllable---that's putting QB Stafford in peril every Sunday. Just as I feared, way back in training camp.

Stafford winced and grimaced and grunted and groaned his way through another football game yesterday, picking himself off the turf in Cincinnati slower than molasses running uphill at times.

It's his non-throwing shoulder that is a mess, with the emphasis being on "non-throwing." In football, if what's hurting you isn't threatening your life---or keeping you from throwing the ball--- you're expected to be out there.

But Stafford has proven himself. Now it's time to think about getting him out of there before he gets waylaid and we see his helmet rolling away---not empty.

Stafford was 11-for-26 with a touchdown and two interceptions in the Lions' 23-13 loss to the Bengals. That's two awful games in a row following his storybook win over the Browns. Two awful games since his left shoulder got jackhammered into the faux turf at Ford Field against Cleveland.

Stafford is playing behind a line made of balsa wood. He has a pocket as claustrophobic as a phone booth. Unlike the other team's quarterback, who with the Lions' pass rush has time to not only read defenses but "War and Peace," Stafford must make decisions in the blink of an eye, if not sooner.

That might be a cause for the low completion percentages. And for needing an ambulance on the sidelines, the engine running.

But not only is Stafford a work in progress, so is the entire team. The kid QB's maturation is whipped into the Lions' makeup like cake batter. You can't separate it from the other ingredients, no matter how distasteful they may be.

Should Stafford be out there now, working with one good shoulder? How much longer before he's operating on one good leg? No good heads?

We've seen how tough he is. I'm convinced. The Lions are 2-10. They're going nowhere. But they'll be going worse than nowhere without the franchise quarterback on board. Is it mathematically or physically possible to go nowhere to the minus nth degree?

I'm afraid we're going to find out, the longer an injured Stafford plays behind this house of cards of an offensive line.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Frankenstein's Monster Returns: Iverson a 76er Again

Allen Iverson is back in the NBA. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

Coming to a pro basketball city near you: Petulance! Narcissism! High Maintenance!

Iverson is back—in Philadelphia, which is like the monster knocking on Frankenstein’s door. Philly created him, so now they can have him.

Iverson, the bratty little kid who thrilled us with his moves on the court and repulsed us with his moves off of it. Iverson, who claims it’s not all about him when his actions and words dictate otherwise. Iverson, who has always doth protest too much.

His original NBA team, the 76ers, are so bad off and so desperate that they signed Iverson to a one-year contract. He wept at the press conference announcing this marriage of convenience. Tears of relief, I’m sure. Iverson was thisclose to being frozen out of the league.

Iverson, when last a 76er, refused to go back into a game and had himself edited right out of the team’s highlight film. This was three years ago. A trade to Denver ensued. After a year-and-a-half trying to coexist with Carmelo Anthony, Iverson was moved again, this time to Detroit.

Another press conference. In it, Iverson repeated his desire to do “whatever it takes” to win a championship, his supposed white whale. The brat was now portraying himself as Captain Ahab.

We didn’t hear the fine print. Didn’t get the disclaimer. Maybe it was in his words, but backward-masked, like some cryptic Beatles clue telling us that Paul McCartney was dead.

The disclaimer was, Allen Iverson would do whatever it takes to win a championship, as long as it was best for Allen Iverson.

Translated: no benchy benchy.

Pistons President Joe Dumars traded one of the true good guys in the NBA, Chauncey Billups—more like Elmer’s in the Pistons locker room than we ever imagined, turns out—straight up for Iverson, and served him up for a rookie head coach’s consumption. But it was vice-versa. Iverson had Michael Curry for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and snacked on him between meals.

Curry dared to consider a plan: bring Iverson off the bench to spell Rip Hamilton. Curry was in over his head to begin with, but when he put “Iverson” in the same sentence as “bench,” he was engulfed completely by the undertow.

But that’s OK because Dumars was using Allen Iverson, plain and simple. Iverson wasn’t a basketball player, he was an expiring contract. Dumars looked at the little brat, saw millions and millions that would come off his books in July 2009, and drooled.

Dumars couldn’t have cared less if Iverson’s stay in Detroit was as stormy as the Gulf Coast during hurricane season. Whatever was best for the Pistons—the rookie coach and the prima donna player be damned.

Dumars sacrificed his coach’s respect among the players and watched the ugliness of Iverson’s time as a Piston unfold with barely a whisper of protest. All Joe D. cared about was the money that Iverson’s expired deal would net him just in time for free agent season to open on July 1.

It was “sports is a business” to the nth degree.

So yeah, Iverson was used, no question. If Dumars says otherwise, he’s practicing revisionist history.

But Iverson didn’t play nice, and thus almost blackballed himself right out of the league.

There was a mysterious—to put it nicely—back injury that sidelined him just as Curry was about to implement his “bring A.I. off the bench” plan. Backs are funny things, don’t you know. Never can tell when they might go out on you.

Yeah, you can roll your eyes here.

Meanwhile, Billups thrived in Denver, leading the Nuggets all the way to the Western Conference Finals. But Dumars had his money.

At age 34, Iverson was virtually unwanted in the NBA. His act had worn as thin as onion skin. The summer came and went. A player with over 24,000 points couldn’t get a contract offer. The league was wising up, finally.

But then the Memphis Grizzlies came calling. P.T. Barnum was right.

The Grizzlies, whose lack of NBA success should have prompted them to change their name to the Grislies, took a flyer on Iverson.

But the pairing of the Hall of Famer Iverson and the stumbling, bumbling Grizzlies gave you that Julia Roberts-Lyle Lovett feeling.

Barely out of training camp, Iverson was at it again. He said something about not having really talked to the coach yet and sounded thinly-veiled warnings about how he would react if he wasn’t made a starter.

The Grizzlies scrambled to find Iverson a big enough bonnet and rattle. Meanwhile, they went out and signed guard Jamaal Tinsley, another head case who wasn’t even in the NBA last season. It was like buying a pistol but keeping some cyanide capsules on you just to be safe.

Iverson suited up for a couple of games with the Grizzlies, threw another hissy fit, and was allowed to take a leave of absence for “personal reasons.” Then, he said he would retire.

The league barely noticed—except for the New York Knicks, who are another column entirely. But even the Knicks, after a couple of frightful days of actually considering it, decided that it would be unwise to bring Iverson into a situation where younger players are trying to be bestowed playing time.

So Iverson stayed “retired,” but really what he was saying was that he was going to hold his breath until he turned blue.

Enter the 76ers and their 5-14 record. P.T. Barnum was right again.

Iverson wept Thursday at the presser, telling everyone that he “didn’t feel right” wearing any uniform other than a Sixer one. He spoke of being not terribly proud of some of the things he’s said and done during his career. He—get this—also said that he doesn’t need the spotlight. He said he doesn’t need any special treatment.

We’ll see.

I’m not saying that Iverson’s were crocodile tears, but I do think that he came face-to-face with the death of his NBA career and it scared the bejeebers out of him. I think his tears were tears of relief and maybe, just maybe, a touch of contriteness.

But the 76ers were 5-14 when they signed Iverson. They are nowhere near pursuing Iverson’s supposed white whale. They were dreadful without him and now have only been elevated to awful with him.

So what is Allen Iverson playing for, now?

Himself—as usual.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's OK to be Interested in the Tiger Woods Drama

So Tiger Woods is human. Who knew?

You sure could have fooled me, with the way he slayed golf courses like the hero did to the dragons in one of those medieval yarns.

Human? Tell that to his fellow PGAers who are now merely notches on his belt. Tell it to Rocco Mediate, who had the 2008 U.S. Open in his hip pocket before Tiger lifted it in broad daylight. Tell it to anyone who's led a tournament on a Sunday, only to see Woods storm through, leaving broken dreams and birdies in his wake.

Tiger Woods, human? Not on the golf course, where he's shoved Nicklaus and Hogan and Palmer and Nelson and Jones aside, starting just out of diapers, for goodness sakes.

Tiger Woods, human? Not in the world of endorsements, either, where he's had the sneaker people and car folks and razor blade companies rubbing the palms of his hands for years.

Tiger Woods, human? Well, he married a gorgeous, Nordic model and had two beautiful children and theirs seemed to be a life lived inside a snow globe, not a fish bowl.

But something funny happened the last time that globe got shaken up.

When the faux snowflakes settled, the Woods' happy home looked different---immeasurably so.

Tiger Woods, human after all.

It's a long, long table at which he will now take his next meal. It's filled with politicians and CEOs and movie stars and just plain Regular Joes---all who've committed the very same "transgressions" Woods confessed to this week.

Not that he had much of a choice. The objects of his transgressions started coming out of the woodwork, one armed with text messages and e-mails, she said.

As a rule, the words "golf" and "scandal" go together like peanut butter and sauerkraut. You can find more titillating reads about static cling than you can about PGA tour members. As far as athletes go, golfers are a polo shirt and a pair of polyester slacks above bowlers in the personality department.

So Tiger Woods is again a trailblazer in the world of golf. He's provided the sport its very first, rootin' tootin' sexcapade.

He's human---and a man, a double whammy when it comes to having a sexual id. When a man says he regrets his actions (as Woods did in his public apology), what he really means is that he wishes like hell he'd never gotten caught. You think the affairs that have been alleged would have stopped had he not crashed his car early Saturday morning?

That's not to say that Tiger isn't sorry; I'm sure he is---and NOT just that he was busted. After your past catches up to you, out of breath but smirking, there's time for reflection. It's Olly Olly Oxen Free, so may as well sit down and think.

But should we care?

It's a fantasy world, some of these pundits live in. Must be, to think that someone of Woods' notoriety and fame is "just another guy." The revelation that he's human and not perfect isn't the issue here. That ought not to be what shocks us.

What's truly mind-boggling, to me, is the notion that this isn't news, that it's just a guy going through a tough time with his family.

I'll make a deal with those types: I won't give Tiger Woods any grief about what he's done in his private life, as long as you don't give grief to those who find this story fascinating.

You know of whom I speak. Those who cavalierly tell those who are following this story to "get a life," which I find terribly offensive. If you pass the scene of a serious car accident, which is filled with flashing lights and paramedics and police and concerned onlookers, and you stop to take a gander, do you need to "get a life"?

It's human nature to be fascinated with and have interest in the lives of celebrities and athletes. You think TMZ.com writes in a vacuum?

No, those who find the Tiger Woods drama interesting---and there can be many reasons why, other than pure lust for scandal---don't need to "get a life."

Just as long as they don't pass judgment on his.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Resurgent Holmstrom Key to Red Wings' Staying Above Water

For 13 years, Tomas Holmstrom has been the NHL's Redwood. He's been chopped at and hacked and if they could have taken a chainsaw to him, they would have done that, too.

Last spring, in the playoffs, it looked as if the lumberjacks in the NHL masquerading as defensemen were finally about to be able to cry "Timber!"

Holmstrom, the league's premier disruptor of enemy goal creases and netminders' vision, shrunk last season. He scored a mere 14 goals.

That's OK, the optimists said. Holmstrom is a playoff guy. A player who rises to the occasion at a time where goals are uglier than Keith Richards. A time where you don't need skates, you need work boots. When there are more scrums in the crease than in a rugby match.

You don't score goals in the playoffs, you will them in. And Tomas Holmstrom was the unmovable pillar, the giant Redwood in front of the opposing goal. He took more whacks than the losing family in a Mafia war.

But it all seemed to finally be catching up to him last spring. The deeper the Red Wings burrowed into the playoffs, the less visible Holmstrom was. He was the Incredibly Shrinking Hockey Player.

His age---he'll be 37 in January---and his lack of production caused know-it-all bloggers and bottom-feeding sports writers to fear that Holmstrom was at the end of the line.

Holmstrom, again making a nuisance of himself in front of the other team's net

Yes, I'm confessing. I was among those who whispered that maybe it was Olly Olly Oxen Free for Holmstrom's NHL career.

Who could have blamed him had he retired, anyway? It's no fun being a human pinata for 13 years.

But look who is among the Red Wings' scoring leaders as the first third of the season is nearing its close.

Tomas Holmstrom, with 10 goals.

Holmstrom looks to be no more finished than a playing of "Hey Jude" on the radio.

He's on pace to deflect, nudge, carom, knee, head-butt---whatever it takes---30 pucks across enemy goal lines this season. He's only done that once---when he tallied 30 goals in 2006-07.

Holmstrom has picked a wonderful time to regain his mojo.

The Red Wings have been so decimated by injuries and free agent losses that they barely resemble, today, the team that took the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. And that wasn't even six months ago.

So what better time for an oldie-but-goodie like Holmstrom to rediscover himself and put all thoughts of retirement and accusations of being washed up to rest?

You think Holmstrom's goals are just ugly and nothing else? The Red Wings are 7-2 when Holmstrom scores.

Though he's on a bit of a cold streak now---just one goal in his past nine games---Holmstrom is nonetheless having a surprisingly good season, doing his part to somewhat neutralize the team's losses up front.

And yes, he's still in front of the goal crease, setting up camp and making life miserable for opposing netminders, flashing his big No. 96 square in their peepers. Still taking hacks and chops.

The NHL's almost-37-year-old Redwood is still standing, after all.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Talking Turkey About the Lions and Notre Dame

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!

Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday and all the hoopla surrounding it, time just wasn't there to pursue any guests, so it was just Al Beaton and me for last night's installment of "The Knee Jerks," our weekly gabfest on Blog Talk Radio.

But that's OK---if you know us, you know that we can fill a 90-minute time slot, no problem!

First up: the Lions, and their Turkey Day performance. We started by warning the NFL to keep its mitts off the game in Detroit. Then we broke down Matthew Stafford's day (should he have played?) and once again Al brought out his "this team is cursed" concern, re: TE Brandon Pettigrew being out for the season with a torn ACL. And, once again, I as the "voice of reason" debunked that theory!

We then expressed concern over the officiating in the NFL, particularly when it comes to supposed "leading with the helmet" hits and phantom pass interference calls.

Next, we talked about Charlie Weis getting the ziggy at Notre Dame. It gave me an opportunity to issue a warning about Michigan's program.

The Pistons were up next and they got a little more than garbage time, for a change. Our thoughts? That coach John Kuester might be learning how to be a head coach in the NBA faster than he imagined, thanks to all the injuries forcing him to change his lineup, rotation, etc.

Lastly, it was time for our "Jerks of the Week." As usual, Al broke me up with the way he spoke about his selection!

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Dec. 7: NHL Central roundtable with Bleacher Report writers from Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis (our last 11:00 p.m. show!)

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!

Dec. 21: TBD (our Christmas wishes for some of Detroit's coaches and athletes?)

Some highlights from Monday’s show:

Big Al

On the Thanksgiving Day game: “This is just a yearly column that gets trotted out. Something 'evergreen' for the writers.”

On Daunte Culpepper: “It looked like he was pouting on the sidelines. I wonder if the Lions should just cut bait with this guy. He had a showcase opportunity in Chicago but he tanked."

On Notre Dame: “I think Notre Dame isn't going to be able to get the coach that it wants. That program needs to make a decision about the direction it wants to go in. The next coach has to come in and compete for national championships.”


On the Lions: “Maybe in retrospect, they should have just cut Daunte Culpepper after the exhibition season. I think the Lions used Daunte, to a degree---to give Stafford a veteran presence and help him learn Scott Linehan's offense. I don't think the starting job was EVER as hotly contested as it was portrayed to be.”

On whether Stafford should have played on Thanksgiving: “The doctors said he wouldn't really risk further injury. It was a 'pain management' issue. And just because he started the game, didn't mean he had to finish it, necessarily. What are you holding him back for? He needs to play as much as possible so he can learn."

On Notre Dame: “I hate to say it, but if you're a Michigan fan, and you want to see what your program might look like in three years, look at Notre Dame right now. Because unless Rich Rodriguez finds success in a hurry, Michigan is going to end up like Notre Dame: a cautionary tale."

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!