Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nets' Goal is an Imperfect Ten

Only a team who plays in New Jersey could be jealous of Philadelphia.

The "New Joisy" Nets are still in the NBA, but they’re in it like John Edwards is in politics.

The NBA record for futility in a single season is nine wins and 73 losses, set by the Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73. It’s a record that’s been moderately threatened, at times, in the 36 years since.

Now it’s being circled, surrounded, and threatened more than Jodie Foster in Panic Room.

The Nets, after losing to the Washington Wizards Friday night, stand at 4-41. They won on December 4, December 8, December 30, and January 27. They’re the only team that can recall every one of their victories this season like you could recall what you had for dinner last night.

And it’s not like anyone could really see this coming. The Nets won 34 games last season, 34 the season before that, 41 before that, and 49 the year before that.


The Nets sprang out of the gate like Uncle Wiggily this season, dropping their first 18 games. The season began before Halloween, and the Nets didn’t win their first game until more than a week after Thanksgiving.

You want long losing streaks? The Nets will stop you on the street, open their coat, and show you losing streaks dangling from inside.

The Nets have compiled losing streaks of 18, 11, and 10. They were “hot” for three games in December, when they went 2-1 after their 0-18 start.

Okay, so no one saw 4-41 coming, but these are the New Joisy Nets, and that hasn’t meant all that much.

The Nets were the team that off-loaded Julius Erving in 1976—that would be Dr. J himself—because they didn’t want to pay him. The beneficiaries of this heinous act? The Philadelphia 76ers. Go figure.

The Nets used to play in New York until they got booted out. Then they played a couple of seasons at Rutgers University while an arena was built for them.

The Nets are a product of the old American Basketball Association, and were one of the four refugees from that league when it folded and its remnants were absorbed by the NBA in 1976. They were, by far, the worst of the quartet.

The Denver Nuggets won 50 games in that first NBA/ABA merged season of ’76-’77. The San Antonio Spurs won 44. The Indiana Pacers won 36.

The New Jersey Nets won 22.

The Nets didn’t have their first winning season in the NBA until their sixth try. They started making the playoffs annually, but they were cameos, walk-ons. Actually, they were more like walk-OFFS—as in the Nets were consistently shown the playoff door after the first round.

As if you needed any proof that basketball coach Larry Brown is a vagabond, Brown even coached the Nets, from 1981-83. That’s a guy who likes coaching too much and who clearly doesn’t care where he does it.

Yet these lovable Nets entered into a Satanic pact and made it to two straight NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. No, they didn’t come close to winning them, and were cannon fodder for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs, respectively.

Then Jason Kidd left town and the team has yet to recover.

But aside from those two speaking appearances, the Nets have mainly been extras in the NBA—bit players. This season they’re taking on a new role.

This season the Nets are playing the part of the Washington Generals, that laughable opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters for most of the latter’s exhibitions. All that’s been missing from a Nets game this season has been the bucket of confetti and Meadowlark Lemon’s half-court hook shot.

On Friday night, the Generals/Nets actually had a shot at winning—or at least tying. They lost to the Wizards, 81-79. The Wizards are a bad team too—no Globetrotters—but there’s bad and there’s the Nets. There’s ugly and there’s Keith Richards—know what I mean?

Washington’s Earl Boykins, a veritable Lilliputian—he stands all of 5’5”—dropped home a 16-foot game-winning jump shot as time drained from the clock. There was 0.4 seconds remaining when Boykins struck. The Nets had been beaten with a fraction of a second left, by a fraction of a player.

"It's definitely frustrating," said Nets guard Courtney Lee afterward. "We're starting to compete. We're starting to fight. But there are things down the stretch we need to work on."

Yeah, like keeping from being beaten by guys who are smaller than Shaquille O’Neal’s breakfast. But once again, the Nets can only blame themselves. Boykins was an unemployed rookie free agent when the Nets signed him in January 1999, starting tiny Earl on his now 12-year NBA career.

The Nets are coached by Kiki Vandeweghe, who once played for the team when it was actually semi-respectable. Vandeweghe played college ball at UCLA, where they would sometimes win four games in a week, instead of the 93 days it’s taken the Nets to rack up their four victories.

So the ’73 Philadelphia 76ers are now on the Nets’ radar. The Nets have to go 6-31 the rest of the way to avoid the ignominy of breaking the granddaddy of NBA records for failure. And that’s no slam dunk; 6-31 is a winning percentage of .162. The Nets are now piddling along at .089. That’s not a winning percentage—that’s a Mel Gibson blood-alcohol level.

So the next time you fret over the Pistons and their 15-30 record, remember that it’s still 11 full games better than the Nets. And if you’ve never attended a Pistons game when they’ve won, circle February 6 on your calendar—next Saturday.

That’s when the Nets come to town—also known as "Guaranteed Win" Night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Pistons Paradise (?) with Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press

We put the Pistons in our crosshairs 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.

That's because our guest was beat writer Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press, whose blog about the team can be found here.

Dave got us caught up on the latest news surrounding the possible sale of the team, went over his mid-season grades, and talked about the near and long term future of the REALLY Bad Boys. Chalk it up perhaps to his professionalism, but you'll hear that Dave didn't seem quite as visibly shaken as Al and I are about the Pistons' future.

After Dave's segment, Al and I plunged into the other hot topics around town---especially the Tigers, as their caravan makes its way around the state. We discussed their wild and wacky lineup, particularly who's going to bat leadoff and No. 2. We also speculated about who the No. 5 starter might be, and why the Tigers don't consider making someone (*cough* Carlos Guillen *cough*) a full-time DH. (Oh, and listen to Al's proposal as to who should be the No. 2 hitter---verrry intriguing).

Finally, we roasted Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi for the very incendiary remarks he made about the U-M hockey program, coach Red Berenson, and how they supposedly retarded the development of Kings star Jack Johnson.

Then, as usual, we closed with our "Jerks of the Week."

Some Highlights:

Big Al

On the Tigers:
"You can't play Gerald Laird as much as you did last year. He played too much in 2009. He can hit better, but he has to catch less."

Also on the Tigers: "I like Ryan Raburn batting third. He has power and can maybe hit 25, 30 home runs."

On the Red Wings:
They're getting players back. They're going to be one scary SOB come playoff time."


On the Tigers:
"What in the world is wrong with having one guy being the full-time DH? Instead they're going to do it by committee again. Too many people moving around the field, moving around the batting order."

Also on the Tigers: "I'd like to see Nate Robertson seize that No. 5 spot in the rotation again. I like his bulldog mentality. For awhile, I thought his career might be over. But he seems healthy now."

On Dean Lombardi: "There's an unwritten rule that you don't trash a university's program. And he put his own player in an awkward situation as well. The only thing that keeps this from completely blowing up is that it's the Los Angeles Kings, and who cares about THEM?"

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

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Long Time Coming, But Father Manning Still Can't Enjoy Saints' Super Bowl Appearance

Archie Manning hasn't taken a snap for the New Orleans Saints in over 28 years, and still they're sticking it to him.

The timing has never been good between Manning and the Saints.

First, he plays for them at a time when they were their most slapstick---from 1971-82---with Manning compiling a grisly record of 35-91-3. Now, when he has a chance to perhaps enjoy his old team going into the Super Bowl for the first time, it's a year when they're up against his kid.

The Saints are marching into the Super Bowl. The redheaded stepchild of the NFL gets to sit at the big people's table.

Cross the Saints off the list of teams who've gone Super Bowl-less since entering the NFL.

They started with a bang, the Saints did. Turns out they peaked in the first 20 seconds of their existence---until now.

John Gilliam took the opening kickoff in the Saints' very first game in 1967, against the Rams, and returned it for a touchdown.

The Big Easy, indeed.

Not so fast.

Gilliam's kickoff return would pretty much be the franchise's highlight for, oh, 42 years.

Now the Saints are going to the Super Bowl, thanks to another special teams play: Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal in overtime---almost one yard per year of the Saints' frustration---lifting Nawlins to a 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Now I really have lived. I've just about seen it all.

The Saints in their early years had jazz great Al Hirt on their side, a St. Bernard named Gumbo, players with names like Jubilee Dunbar and Guido Merkens, a kicker with half a foot who banged one home from 63 yards, and it didn't do them a lick of good.

The Saints didn't play football, they committed it. The NFL kept bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans because they knew there'd never be a home field advantage.

Their play was even a hazard to the health of our feathered friends.

Here's Manning, on a kick returner the Saints once signed.

"He had this big old bird, like a huge parrot," Manning once told NFL Films about the new guy. "It just sat on his shoulder. So we get dressed and everyone's asking him, 'Where are you going to put that bird?' He says he'll just put him on the top shelf of the locker and he'll just stay there."

The new return man dropped the first punt that came his way. It looked like it would be a one-night stand in New Orleans.

"So we come back into the locker room after the game," Manning said, "and that bird was DEAD. Just laid out in the locker."

Manning, running for his life (as usual) as a Saint

No one knows more about the pain of playing for the Saints than Manning, a tremendous talent surrounded by very little of it. His best season was 1979, when he "led" the Saints to an 8-8 record. The high didn't last long; the Saints fell to 1-15 in 1980.

The Saints finally put Manning out of his misery, trading him in 1982. But they were cruel to him again; they dealt him to the Houston Oilers, who were a 1-8 team in the strike-shortened season. Manning went 0-5 as a starter.

Manning finished with the Vikings, and of course it was when they were down, too. His career record was 35-101-3.

As for his old team, even when the Saints got good they were lousy. Starting in the late-1980s, the Saints would tease and lure, just like the city in which they played. Playoffs? No problem. Winning in the playoffs? The Saints weren't the Big Easy, they were the Big Hurt. They should have sued White Sox slugger Frank Thomas for copyright infringement.

But now the Saints, the New Orleans Saints---the team whose fans started the bag-over-the-head thing and called their team the "Aint's"---are going to the Super Bowl. And they don't have to present a ticket at at the turnstile to get in, either.

When Hartley kicked that field goal in OT Sunday, he also booted away 42 years of "don't even think about it" and "not quite good enough." Forty-two years of knee slapping hilarity and theatre of the absurd.

What's the NFL coming to? First the Arizona Cardinals make it to the Big One, and now the New Orleans Saints? Someone call Anthony Edwards, because I see another "Revenge of the Nerds" in the making.

The Lions just lost someone from their table. The Saints got called up to the podium.

Well, there's always the Cleveland Browns to talk to. For now.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No Matter the Cost, Verlander Should Be a Tiger for Life

Mike Ilitch is a pizza guy, so he’s used to raising dough. He ought to know what to do.

Yes, it’s not the most creative of puns, but it’s also very appropriate. Ilitch, you see, needs some cash. Some dough. Some of that filthy loot.

He ought to know what to do.

Tack on a quarter to every pie he sells. Gouge the customers a little more on the beer at Joe Louis Arena. Nudge the price of a red hot a dime or two upward at the old ballpark.

He should do it all, and then some, until he has enough moolah to keep Justin Verlander around town for, oh, the rest of his career. Or at least to make JV feel good about such a prospect.

It’s the dead of winter, and in this day and age, that means we talk business when it comes to baseball. Then if there’s time, we’ll talk about the game itself. But there’s usually not much time left.

It’s the dead of winter, and arbitration doesn’t mean umpiring. It’s a bean counter in a suit, sitting before player and management, with two salary figures in front of him.

The arbiter is like the umpire, though—he has to pick one or the other.

Safe or out. This figure or that figure. No in-between. You’re not "kind of" out, you know?

The player will state his case, and so will management. It’s also known as nitpicking time.

I have no idea what the Tigers will say at such a hearing about Verlander, if it comes to that.

The Tigers want to pay Verlander $6.9 million this season, according to reports. The kid wants $9.5 million. Don’t reach for the calculator—that’s a $2.6 million difference.

So what will the Tigers say about Verlander, who led the majors in strikeouts last season, who won 19 games, who had a fine ERA of 3.45, and who stopped one losing skid after the other, and whose next start all summer was anticipated more than Dec. 25 by a six-year-old?

What will they say about a kid who isn’t quite 27, who has already won the Rookie of the Year Award, who’s thrown a no-hitter, who’s pitched in the World Series, and who keeps adding to his career high in season victories—from 17 to 18 to, now, 19?

Joe Garagiola once wrote a book called Baseball is a Funny Game . It’s funny, all right. It’s so funny that you can use the word “only” in front of “$6.9 million” when it comes to a player’s salary.

As in what the Tigers are offering Verlander. For now.

An arbitration hearing can be avoided if the Tigers and their star pitcher, within the next month, agree on a salary figure to get them through the 2010 season. That $2.6 million gap can still be bridged. Or else, it’s off to a hearing and it’ll be the mother of all nitpicking.

What will the Tigers say to the bean counter in the suit? That they don’t like the way Verlander ties his shoes? That he could use a mint?

But even if the Tigers and Verlander agree on a salary for 2010, that just puts off the inevitable: keeping the Old English D on his left breast for as long as they both shall live.

The Tigers have three players, basically, whose names should never be spoken by other teams wanting to do some wheeling and dealing. Names that ought to be forbidden to even be mentioned—and that includes by any delusional fans from Detroit.

One of them is Miguel Cabrera, the man-child slugger. Another is Rick Porcello, the baby-faced hurler whose potential is so bright, they ought to give away sunglasses at every one of his starts at Comerica Park.

And the third of these unspeakables—forget untouchable—is Verlander.

The Toronto Blue Jays, a month or so ago, traded their ace starter, Roy Halladay, for three unknown entities, a.k.a. prospects. They did so because they either couldn’t afford to pay him, or didn’t want to.

I think Ilitch wants to pay Verlander. I think he looks at him as a cornerstone of his baseball franchise. Mike just needs to find the cash somewhere.

It’s going to take a king’s ransom, but the Tigers ought to put shackles and a ball and chain on Verlander and keep him in Detroit until he gets gray and distinguished. No Roy Halladay nonsense. I’ve written it before: Halladay has the stuff to win the Cy Young Award in any given season; Verlander has the stuff to throw a no-hitter in any given start.

No pitcher has gone into the Hall of Fame with significant time as a Tiger on his resume since Jim Bunning, and he last pitched for the Tigers nearly 50 years ago. Before that, it was Hal Newhouser, whose era was World War II.

That’s about to change.

Put these words into a time capsule if you wish, but Justin Verlander is going into the Hall of Fame. He is. And he ought to go in as a Tiger. Which means you have to pay him.

I know it won’t be cheap. I know it won’t always be comfortable to cut those checks twice a month. But this town doesn’t make starting pitchers, as a rule. Detroit has famously made beer, tires, soda pop, potato chips, coney dogs, and, on occasion, automobiles.

But Vernor’s fled. So did Uniroyal. And Stroh’s. And Jack Morris. The least the Tigers can do is keep one of the few homegrown products we have left in our midst.

So pass the hat, Mikey. Gouge us some more, we don’t mind. Justin Verlander bailed your baseball team out last season more than Charles Rogers’ lawyer. Rake up the loot. Find it somewhere.

Make Verlander a Tiger until there’s not one single pitch left in his golden arm. These types don’t come around very often, especially here.

Soon JV will have his hand on your wallet. And when he does, just turn and cough.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Will the Red Wings Make the Playoffs? Here's Five Reasons Why (and Five Why They Won't)

It's January 20 and the Red Wings don't have the division wrapped up. They're not scouting playoff opponents. These games in the snowy, wintry months don't come with the prefix of "meaningless."

What is this, 1990?

Twenty years ago. That's how long it's been since the Red Wings failed to qualify for the NHL's regular season afterglow. It's easily the longest current streak in the league.

Ahh, but what about keeping the streak going? As I bang away on the keyboard, the Red Wings are one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot. They're also just two points out of sixth place, and five points out of fourth. As Mickey Redmond would say, "You can throw a blanket over 'em!"

You may consider the following just another pea-brained piece of analysis by a bottom-feeding sports blogger. That's OK---I've been called worse. Regardless, here are five reasons why the Red Wings will keep their playoff appearances streak alive, and five reasons why they just might not.

Hold your applause till the end please.


1. Goalie Jimmy Howard
. You heard me.

Howard, who some of us---present company included---thought might not even be on the team at this juncture, is playing wonderfully and can't be disregarded as a key player in the Red Wings' season going forward. His watershed moment came in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago, when he stopped 51 of 52 shots. And he's humble and knows his place, which doesn't hurt. But he's also gaining confidence, and that doesn't hurt even more.

2. They're getting healthy, slowly but surely. The troops have been in sick bay for quite some time. It started early with Johan Franzen going down, which set the tone, as it turned out. One by one the flies have dropped, but time heals all as they say, and the Red Wings are getting people back---gradually. They should just about be up to full strength come mid-March.

3. They have the experience. Or they're too old. But this is in the "why they WILL" category so let's look at the glass as being half full---even if it is with Geritol.

The Red Wings have been through more battles than a G.I. Joe doll. Granted, playing for their playoff lives---in the regular season---hasn't been a battle they're really used to, but when panic might set in, who wouldn't want to look around a dressing room and see so many Stanley Cup winners and veterans?

4. Coach Mike Babcock. If anyone ought to garner serious Coach of the Year consideration, it's Babs. To lose the amount of talent that he did---via free agency and injury---and to be playing a rookie goalie most of the way, and STILL having his team in the hunt...that's impressive, no?

He won't win it, but Babcock's ability to keep everyone's head up and not feel sorry for themselves, plus the way he's been able to get Todd Bertuzzi to play both sides of the ice, speaks volumes about the man's coaching chops.

5. GM Ken Holland. Holland and his scouts keep coming up with young players to fill in, and his trade deadline success rate is pretty solid. If need be, don't be surprised if Holland comes up with a smart move or two at or around the deadline to give Babcock the needed ammo for his gun. The Wings are again up against the cap, but that hasn't stopped Holland in the past. This wouldn't seem to be the season to stand pat, as the Red Wings did last year.


1. Goalie Jimmy Howard.
You heard me again. Jimmy falls in both categories because he's a rookie and we have no idea how he'll handle the stretch run. If he falters, how long before that's the diagnosis, and how many points will the Red Wings have lost trying to figure that out? Yes, there's veteran Chris Osgood lying in wait, but a Howard implosion can't be a good thing, with the race so tight and Ozzie being inconsistent---again---in the regular season.

2. The penalty kill. First, a word about special teams. OK, a few words. They run in streaks. The Red Wings recently went on a miserable 2-for-45 power play stretch. Then they got hot and scored a few PP goals. The same thing happens with the kill. But overall, the Red Wings' 81.1% kill rate lands them in the middle of the pack, and has shown the potential to go really sideways for games at a time. In a tight race when points are precious, allowing a late PP goal could be very costly.

Kind of like last night in Washington, eh?

3. Chemistry. I really hate this word, because I think it's one of the most overused ones in sports, but how else to put it when you're concerned about how the returning players will fit in? Hockey is notorious for its rust when players have missed a lot of time. Just bringing guys back isn't necessarily a magic wand. Timing is so crucial, and so is playing with each other. Practice simply doesn't replicate that.

4. The "big boys" not being the big boys. Yes, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, I'm looking at you. Bertuzzi, who went into the regular season as a third or fourth line guy, has more goals (13) than both Z (12) and Datsyuk (11). This is great for Bertuzzi, but bad for the Red Wings overall. Zetterberg has battled injury---he did last year in the playoffs, too---but his production in 41 games played, extrapolated over a full season (24 G, 50 A) is pedestrian for a player of his skill. Hank is a 35 goal, 60 assist guy---at least. And Datsyuk has been as fancy as ever with the puck, but hasn't finished well at all.

Zetterberg's scoring pct. (goals/shots on goal) of 7.7% and Datsyuk's of 9.9% pale in comparison to the elite players in the league, who are well into double digits. Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, who leads the league in points, has a whopping 21.4 scoring pct. (21 goals/98 SOG). The Red Wings' big guns have to deposit the puck into the net with more frequency, plain and simple.

5. All good things must come to an end. Or, otherwise known as the Law of Averages. The Red Wings have been dodging the authorities on this law for years, and maybe now it's simply time for them to miss the playoffs, not that it's likely to be a regular occurrence.

So there you have it. Five Why, five Why Not.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll go get the beer and pretzels.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Talkin' MAC Smack with EMU Hoops Coach Charles Ramsey

College basketball was in focus 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.

That's because our guest was EMU men's coach Charles Ramsey, who's in his fifth year at the school in Ypsilanti.

The Eagles (9-7 overall; 1-2 in the MAC) feature no less than seven Metro Detroit players on their roster. Ramsey himself is an Ypsi kid who attended EMU and was an assistant there. He became the team's head coach in March 2005.

Ramsey is full of energy and passion, and that came through in the interview. It was good stuff, as he talked about the team's goals and how it can get back to the top of the MAC.

After coach, Al and I got down to business---literally. The finances of sports was the underlying theme in just about all of our topics. It was there when we talked about the Jose Valverde signing by the Tigers. It was present when the discussion turned to the future of the Pistons and Red Wings, as far as venue and, in the Pistons' case, possible sale.

Finally, we roasted the NHL on their bungling of the shootout debacle in Dallas involving the Red Wings last Saturday. Then it was time for our "Jerks of the Week."

Some Highlights:

Big Al

On the Pistons:
"These aren't the Clippers. The Pistons are worth a lot of money. But it looks like Karen Davidson doesn't want to own a basketball team anymore."

On the Tigers' signing of Valverde: "This is sending mixed signals. I think it's a waste of money."

On the Red Wings' situation:
"It's hard to believe, but Joe Louis Arena is a dinosaur, and it's only 30 years old. The luxury suites are in the nosebleed section. Who ever thought they might partner with the Palace Sports and Entertainment people?"


On the Pistons:
"Karen Davidson might end up selling just a portion of the team, not the whole thing. She shouldn't be in a hurry, although I think the current state of the team might be hastening her decision to sell."

On the Valverde signing: "Maybe there are other moves coming down the pike, that will make this make more sense. Right now it seems to fly in the face of the Curtis Granderson, 'Let's get cheaper and younger' trade."

On the shootout debacle: "There should only be two entities making decisions: the ref closest to the play, and the video review people. That's it! If you start reversing decisions like that, then you'd better be really sure. And the ref who made the original call had the best view in the house!"

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Jan. 25:
(guest TBD)

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spielman Would Agree: Vikings "Not Guilty" Yesterday

Chris Spielman called it the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to him on the football field. And Spielman played eight years for the Detroit Lions, so you know that he had quite a selection of humiliating moments from which to choose.

Spielman and the Lions were losing, 45-0, to the Washington Redskins in Week 1 of the 1991 season. And yes, it was as bad as the scored indicated. Maybe worse. But as bad as that butt-kicking was, it didn't compare, in Spielman's mind, to what happened toward the end of the game.


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The 'Skins were driving again, and had the ball inside the Lions' 10-yard line. There were under two minutes to play. Then the humiliating part.

The Redskins took a knee. Then they took another knee, draining the clock of its remaining time. All while Spielman, the tough-as-nails middle linebacker from Massillon, Ohio, wished the Earth would open up and swallow him whole.

"When they [took the knee], I was embarrassed, humiliated. No one has ever taken pity on me or my teammates on the field before," Spielman said afterward in the quiet of the Lions' locker room.

The Redskins didn't want to run up a 45-0 score to 52-0, which to a casual observer would appear to be a good, proper thing. But not to Spielman, who competed every week as if his very life depended on it.

"If they score, they score," Spielman continued. "That's better than feeling sorry for me!"

Spielman comes to mind in the wake of the Minnesota Vikings' 34-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday in the Divisional Playoffs. Seems some of the Cowboys, notably veteran LB Keith Brooking and head coach Wade Phillips, have accused the Vikings of running up the score---aggressively driving for a touchdown in the final minutes, already leading 27-3 and with the Cowboys devoid of timeouts. Brooking screamed at Vikings coach Brad Childress, and later called the final touchdown "classless."

I can see both sides of the coin here. Like most disputes, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I think the beef the Cowboys have is with the Vikings' play selection, read: too many passes. The Vikings took the ball over at the Dallas 37. There was 5:26 remaining. A couple first downs would have pretty much salted everything, if it wasn't already salted to begin with.

Which brings me to the mother of all questions here.

WAS the game salted away when the Vikings took over? If the Cowboys held them to a three-and-out, could they realistically have had a shot at tying the game---something which would have required THREE touchdowns and THREE two-point conversions? Oh, and at least two successful onside kicks?

Tony Romo is good, but he's not David Copperfield.

Yet I also see the Vikings' side. The game is meant to be played for 60 minutes. These are men on the field, not high schoolers or college students. Brooking is 34 years old. He ought to be able to take it.

Was the last touchdown necessary? Of course not. It occurred with less than two minutes remaining, on a 4th-and-three. The Vikes could have kicked the field goal and called it a game. In that scenario, I doubt you'd have heard much from Brooking, if anything at all.

So for four more points, there's a big issue here? Is 34-3 that much worse than 30-3?

Broach that question to Chris Spielman and see what you get from him in reply.

I suppose I should take sides here. What fun is it to skewer a writer who's fence-sitting?

OK, you want it, you got it: I'm in Spielman's camp.

The Vikings didn't need to score another touchdown, but the Cowboys needed a defensive stop in the worst way, and they couldn't get one. So what were the Vikings supposed to do? You could argue that they could have run more---which is also good clock management strategy. But they didn't, and the Cowboys couldn't stop them. Don't the defenders bear some of the responsibility, too?

Bottom line: these are men on the field. They ought to take a little butt-kicking from time-to-time.

And this is coming from a guy who has hated the Minnesota Vikings since being a youngster and growing up a Detroit Lions fan.

But I don't see all that much wrong with what they did yesterday. And I know Chris Spielman wouldn't, either. Of course, Spielman went to Ohio State, whose coach not only ran up the score on Michigan one year, he did it with venom.

Someone asked Woody Hayes why he'd gone for a two-point conversion, late in the Buckeyes' 50-14 win over Michigan in 1968.

"Why did I go for two? Because I couldn't go for THREE!" Woody snarled.

Now THAT'S running up the score, folks.

The Cowboys ought to take their butt-kicking back to Texas like men and exact revenge on the field, which is always the best place for that kind of stuff, anyway.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ford's Loyalty Finally Worked When it Comes to Mayhew

If there’s anyone who knows the double-edged sword of Bill Ford’s loyalty, it’s Joe Schmidt.

Joe was to middle linebacking what Thomas Edison was to electricity. And when you invent a position, you’re excused if you feel some bravado.

Schmidt, from the University of Pittsburgh, entered the NFL in 1953, the Lions already a winner—defending league champs. And they stayed that way, largely due to Schmidt’s brutality against opposing ball carriers. They won the championship again in Schmidt’s rookie season. Another world title followed in 1957.

They could have won at least a division in 1962, were it not for a boneheaded loss in Green Bay, thanks to a highly questionable pass play call late in the game that resulted in an interception. The old timers will tell you that the Lions never fully recovered from that loss.

Schmidt was a winner. And Ford, who took over as sole owner of the Lions in 1964, recognized that. He rewarded Schmidt with the head coaching job in 1967, two years after Joe retired.

It took him a couple years, but Schmidt started winning as a coach, too. The Lions were 9-4-1 in 1969. They went to the playoffs in 1970 with a 10-4 record. 1971 and ’72 produced winning seasons, too.

But Schmidt had another fight on his hands. This time it wasn’t Jim Brown or Hugh McElhenny or Paul Hornung who Schmidt had to stop. It was his own general manager, Russ Thomas.

Thomas was your father’s Matt Millen. He was as popular in Detroit as a foreign carmaker. If they had sports talk radio back then, hours could have been devoted to Thomas bashing.

Thomas was cheap. He treated players poorly. He never got the Lions over the hump. For most of Thomas’s tenure, the Lions were a mediocre team, bobbing above and below .500 every season.

Except when Joe Schmidt was the coach.

Schmidt was winning football games, and the more he won, the less tolerant he was of Thomas and the GM’s meddling.

There was a drink shared by Schmidt and defensive tackle Alex Karras, circa the late-1960s.

After listening to Schmidt bitch and moan about Thomas for several minutes, Karras had a suggestion.

“Joe, if it’s so bad, why don’t you quit?”

Schmidt, according to Karras, leaned in, sneered, and said, “That’s the dumbest blanking thing I’ve ever heard.”

So Schmidt, armed with four straight winning seasons, decided to take his personal war with Russ Thomas to owner Ford. This was January 1973.

It’s him or me, Schmidt basically told Ford.

Then Schmidt got sliced with the other side of Ford’s loyalty machete.

Schmidt underestimated the affection Ford had for Thomas, who’d been with the Lions organization since the 1950s himself, starting as a player—just like Schmidt.

Thomas stayed. Schmidt quit, after all. Apparently it wasn’t the dumbest blanking thing he’d ever heard anymore.

Funny, but as soon as Joe Schmidt quit in a huff, the Lions went down the tubes.

So you can forgive those who roasted Ford when he promoted from within last year at this time, elevating Martin Mayhew to general manager. Ford’s loyalty to coaches and executives, which had gotten the Lions into trouble many times before, was at work again.

Promote from within? After an 0-16 season?

Martin Mayhew? Wasn’t he hired by (gulp) Matt Millen?

Yep. And yep.

Mayhew (right) drives Ford around; it's only fair, since Ford has been taking everyone else for a ride for years

Oh-and-16 will live in infamy in Detroit, no matter how much winning the Lions might do in the future. I believe the organization will never fully rid itself of that stench. Ever.

But that’s water under the Ambassador Bridge. Mayhew got the job, another beneficiary of Bill Ford’s loyalty.

You think they’ll give the old man his props?

Mayhew was a splendid choice, as it turns out. He drafted better, in just one try, than his former boss, Millen, did in his eight drafts combined, just about. In October ’08, Mayhew, still interim GM, fleeced Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys in his first few weeks on the job, taking them for a first round draft pick for receiver Roy Williams.

Mayhew spent most of 2009 combing the waiver wires, trying gamely to bring the most talented players he could find—defensive backs, especially—to the Lions. Not all of his expensive free agent signings during the off-season worked out, but the draft is where you really build a team. And in that area, Mayhew did wonderfully.

I was one of those less than thrilled with the promote-from-within tact, a year ago December. Mayhew was a Millen guy, or so we thought.

Instead, it must have been on countless occasions when Mayhew—and you’ll never get him to admit to this—left meetings with Millen shaking his head, his advice either ignored or overruled.

Did Ford see this or did he just get lucky?

It must be the latter, because no one is giving the owner credit for making Martin Mayhew the general manager of the Detroit Lions. And they should.

So I will.

Congratulations, Bill—you got one right. Put this one in the left-hand column, for a change. I was wrong. You were right. You got a guy already roaming the halls in Allen Park, and for cheaper than you could have brought a big name guy in from the outside.

Mayhew is a fine general manager, me thinks. I think he’ll do alright, given a few more years—and drafts.

This time, “L” doesn’t stand for losing with the Lions. It stands for loyalty.

This time, it worked.

Even if you think Ford is a blind squirrel who found a nut, be happy that he found one at all. The Lions have a franchise quarterback, a young coach, and a blossoming general manager.

Now, compare that to last year around this time.

The Beatles got it right.

“I have to admit it’s getting better—it’s getting better, all the time.

It can’t get much worse.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hall of Famer Joseph Deserved Better from Red Wings

I wonder if Ken Holland ever apologized to Curtis Joseph. If not, he still owes him one.

Holland, the Red Wings GM, did Joseph rotten back in 2003 and, while he was at it, the team as a whole as well.

It comes to mind again now that the news is in: Cujo is retiring after a brilliant NHL career as one of the game's best ever netminders.

That Joseph's name isn't engraved on the Stanley Cup doesn't lessen his stature; he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

But he was treated about as shabbily as the Red Wings have ever treated a player, and they don't do shabby around Joe Louis Arena very often.

Holland actually made two mistakes in two years that were catastrophic: he hired Dave Lewis as coach, and he brought back Dominik Hasek from retirement. Both might have torpedoed any chances the Red Wings had at winning another Cup, or two.

The Hasek decision put Joseph in a bad spot.

The Wings signed Joseph as a free agent in the summer of 2002, needing a goalie after the "retirement" of Hasek, who had just led the team to the Cup a month prior. This was in the days before the salary cap, and the free-spending Holland had carte blanche, pretty much.

So Joseph signed on and the Red Wings cruised through another regular season with pretty much the same cast of characters as the '02 Cup team, with the exception of coach Scotty Bowman, who'd retired and been replaced by assistant Lewis. More on that later.

The Red Wings gathered 110 points and looked to be the team to beat, once again. Joseph did what he was hired to do, winning 34 games, posting a 2.49 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

Then the playoffs came.

The Red Wings were blitzed by the buzz saw known as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who swept the defending champs away in four games in the very first round. The Ducks were coached by a fiery young man named Mike Babcock.

Red Wings fans did what they usually do---blame the goalie. But Joseph wasn't why the Wings lost the Ducks series. Every game was a one-goal humdinger, but the Red Wings only managed six goals in the four games, after averaging well over three a game in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Hasek was getting restless in retirement. He made it be known through his agent that he'd like to strap on the monkey suit once again and stop some more pucks. Holland's interest was piqued.

Explaining later that he was afraid the rival Colorado Avalanche might snag Hasek, Holland brought Dom back to Detroit, despite having a highly-paid guy already between the pipes---Joseph.

Joseph hardly embraced the signing of Hasek. He felt betrayed, as well he should. This was his job, and the guy who left to create the opening was returning?

Hasek and Joseph mixed as well as oil and water. It was the worst pairing in Detroit since Chrysler and Daimler.

Joseph was a Red Wing from 2002-04

The 2003-04 season droned on, with Lewis, who was in over his head to begin with, unable to broker peace between his two high profile goalies. The tension in the locker room was thicker than pea soup. Hasek only played 14 games before being shelved with a groin injury. He and Joseph didn't speak the whole season.

Holland was to blame for the mess. I hit him with it a couple years later.

"Well, certainly it didn't work out like we thought," Holland told me. "But the idea of Dom playing for one of our conference rivals made it worth the risk."

Tell that to Curtis Joseph, who was ruined in Detroit by the move.

The lockout came and went, and before the NHL resumed play, Joseph, at 38 years of age, had signed with Phoenix. The Red Wings fired Lewis, who never should have been promoted because of his closeness to the players. They made Manny Legace the No. 1 goalie, and then Manny gagged in the 2006 playoffs like he was trying to swallow a puck whole.

It's been my belief that had the Red Wings been coached by just about anyone other than Dave Lewis, they might have won another Stanley Cup, or two. Lewis lost many key players, including Brett Hull and Sergei Fedorov. He didn't handle the Joseph-Hasek drama very well, though his boss placed him in that awkward situation.

Holland's fetish for bringing Hasek back, though, paid off in 2006, when he hired Dom on the cheap and the Red Wings made it to the conference finals.

And as for not having won a Cup, Joseph ought not to feel deprived, though it's easy for me to say.

Meet Hall of Famer Bill Gadsby, Cup-less as well in 20 NHL seasons.

"I had a great time playing hockey. I even liked practice!," Gadsby, the former great defenseman for the Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks once told me. "I never won a Stanley Cup but I had enormous fun. I loved my teammates. I loved the camaraderie."

Joseph retires with 454 wins, 51 shutouts, and a 2.79 GAA in 19 seasons. He played five seasons with the Maple Leafs, and he'll be back in Toronto in a few years---in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Stanley Cup or not.

Despite what the Red Wings did to him.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": Jamie Samuelsen, and a Pistons Roast

We left virtually no stone unturned 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.

That's because our guest was WCSX morning sports guy Jamie Samuelsen, and between Jamie and our post-guest rants, just about everything got covered!

We talked Lions, Pistons, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use with Jamie.

After that, Al and I skewered the Pistons, GM Joe Dumars, and coach John Kuester. I think only trainer Arnie Kander was spared our vitriol.

In fact, so voluminous was our ranting about the Pistons that by the time we were done, there was only time for our "Jerks of the Week."

Some Highlights:

Big Al

On the Pistons:
"I don't like the rotation. They should be playing the kids more. How did Joe Dumars free up all that salary space and still end up with a lottery team?"

On coach John Kuester: "He's grasping at straws. I think he's overmatched. They're built for running yet they play at a snail's pace."


On the Pistons:
"They're not even IN these games anymore. Forget the last time they won; when was the last time they were even in a game?"

On Kuester: "He scares me. He has his head...somewhere. This guy's not with it. His team has no leadership. I hate to say it, but they may have to look for another coach after this season."

On Dumars: "He's been quiet, but maybe that's because no one in the media is going after him. It's amazing how he's treated in this town."

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

Upcoming guests/topics:

Jan. 18:
Big Ten and college basketball (guest TBD)

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pistons a Mess; Is Kuester Up to the Task?

Eddie Mathews saw something on the chalkboard in the clubhouse and decided, all by hisself, that it was time for a meetin.'

Mathews, the Hall of Fame third baseman, was a Detroit Tiger for all of one day, maybe not even 24 hours. He had just been picked up from the Houston Astros to provide some help in the pennant push of 1967. It was late August.

Eddie was the only man who played for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. He'd won a World Series in 1957, defeating the mighty Yankees, and returned the next year, though the Yanks got revenge.

Eddie played for quite a few managers in his day, and always with the proper subordination as a player. So when he walked into the Tigers clubhouse that August day in '67, he was a little peeved.

"We'll win it despite Mayo!" was what "some clown" --- Eddie's words --- had written on the black board in the middle of the clubhouse about manager Mayo Smith.

Eddie, a Tiger for just a few hours, called a meeting. Players only.

In it, he took his new teammates to task for showing that kind of disdain for their manager.

Immediately, Mathews became ingratiated by men who wished, among themselves, that Smith had "chewed them out more." So Mathews's beat down was some welcome piss and vinegar.

The Tigers came within a whisker of winning the 1967 AL pennant. We all know what they did the following year.

But eventually Smith's laissez-faire, "treat them like men" approach petered out. The Tigers quit horribly on Mayo in the final months of the 1970 season, and Smith was replaced after the season by Billy Martin, the pissiest and most vinegary of them all.

Someone needs to talk to the Pistons of today, because it sure doesn't seem like their coach is doing it.

The Pistons have lost 12 games in a row. And counting. They look about as ready to burst out of their slump as an unpopped kernel of corn at the bottom of the bag. There are whispers that the big "Q" doesn't stand for John Kuester---it stands for "quit."

The Pistons, at least publicly, are getting a love-in from their coach.

"There are some hugs in there," Kuester, the first-year man, said the other day. "We address things, but there's room for some hugs."


I'm not saying go the Gilbert Arenas route and start pulling guns, but enough with the hugs.

"We have a great group of guys," Kuester also said recently.


Kuester might not be the right type of man to coach the Pistons, after all

The Pistons are, again, devoid of leadership. It's been a black hole, a vacuum, ever since they traded Chauncey Billups away. Poor Michael Curry got swallowed up by it. Don't believe me? Anyone see Michael lately?

The Pistons are a bunch of soft scorers and Ben Wallace. They play with no life, no urgency. The Palace is a great place to go to get caught up on some reading, or maybe study for a trigonometry test.

But their coach thinks they're a bunch of great guys who aren't afflicted with anything that some hugs can't cure.

Kuester's Mayo Smith-like approach would be great if: a) the Pistons were contenders; b) the Pistons were mature enough to police themselves; or c) Kuester wasn't a rookie head coach. None of the above is the case.

Who's the leader? Again, it doesn't seem to be Rip Hamilton. It's the same old story. Tayshaun Prince speaks as much as a mime. Rodney Stuckey is still trying to learn how to be a point guard. The new guys, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, don't have the pull. Chucky Atkins scowls a lot, but isn't a leader.

And they're being coached by Dale Carnegie.

The Pistons are bound for the draft lottery, which isn't the end of the world, but they're headed there like a man trudging off to his own execution, with nary a hope in the world of a stay.

What's worse, they don't seem to care.

I'll even take some in-fighting right now. Without the gunplay. You know what I mean.

These are the NBA's dog days---the middle of January, the end of the season nowhere in sight. It used to be a time when the Pistons of old would struggle to stay interested, mainly because they had a playoff spot sewn up and usually the division, too. Now they struggle to stay interested because they're so bad and no one is around to make sure they stay interested.

GM Joe Dumars created this mess, in case you were wondering. He'd better fix it, and fast. Or else leave town and we'll find someone who's up to the task. Joe fixed someone else's mess, once upon a time. Let's see if he has it in him to fix one of his own making.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Osgood Suckering Red Wings Fans (Again)

If I saw Chris Osgood at a billiard hall, I’d high-tail it out of there. If I met him on the golf course, I’d head in the other direction. I wouldn’t even trust him at the local bowling alley.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s banned from the casinos in town, plus the one in Windsor.

Osgood, if he chose to, would take you for everything you have at the above establishments. The only better sandbagging is done on the Atlantic Coast just prior to a hurricane.

Once again, Osgood has us all suckered. He’s about to fleece us once more. This is hardly the first time.

Remember the beaten down and sheepish look he wore when he returned from exile in 2005? The Red Wings had gotten rid of Ozzie back in the summer of 2001, having traded for Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek so that he may tend goal for them.

Osgood trudged off to the New York Islanders—the Islanders!!— and then ended up with the St. Louis Blues. In neither locale did he thrill the masses. They all but ran him out of St. Looey.

The Red Wings brought him back to Detroit as a soon-to-be 33-year-old backup in 2005. More like they rescued him. He was the prodigal son, only in this instance, the son got kicked out—he didn’t leave of his own volition. But he was back, in the warm and cozy confines of the Red Wings organization, which he’d known since before he was old enough to legally consume alcohol.

The Red Wings had Manny Legace—Manny Legace!—as their No. 1 goaltender, so Osgood was brought on board as a nod to his loyalty to the organization and to function as the veteran mentor.

Oh, what Ozzie must have been thinking when, on the eve of the 2006 playoffs, Legace popped off to the papers and openly wondered about his own qualifications as being the No. 1 goalie for a long playoff run. It was like being led into battle by General Patton—if ole George would have stopped just before they fired the first shot, turned to his troops, and said, “I wonder if I can do this, after all?”

If there’s anything Osgood is short on, confidence is not one of them. He may be short in other things, like feet and inches—and hair—but he’s got them all beat in the confidence department.

So to have been relegated to backup goalie, then to watch the supposed No. 1 guy wring his hands and turn into Don Knotts just before the playoffs must have killed Osgood.

Legace blew up, as expected, and the Red Wings lost in the first round to an inferior Edmonton Oilers team. In Steve Yzerman’s final season. What a way to send The Captain off, eh?

Again the Red Wings turned to Hasek, instead of Osgood, in the offseason. They signed Hasek as a free agent. Osgood would be No. 2 again.

Hasek played OK, but the Red Wings lost in the conference championship to the Anaheim Ducks, who would win the Stanley Cup.

Fast forward one more year, to the 2008 playoffs. Osgood was doing more sandbagging; he conned us into thinking he would be no more than a backup once again, could be no more than a backup to the great Hasek.

Coach Mike Babcock, after four games of the first round series against Nashville, the proceedings tied at two wins apiece, took his chips off of Hasek, who had been shaky in Games Three and Four, and placed them on Osgood. It was one of the gutsiest decisions I’ve ever seen a coach make in Detroit.

Osgood, poker-faced, shrugged and said sure, I’ll go in.

He allowed one measly goal in a game that was tighter than size 38 pants on a 40 waist. The Red Wings won, in overtime. Osgood was named one of the three stars, and he skated onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena to a thunderous ovation after the game when it was announced.

The Red Wings took off from there. Chris Osgood, the sandbagging goalie, led them to their fourth Stanley Cup—and his third—in 11 years. The fact that they won all the marbles was largely due to Osgood’s play between the pipes.

Then, last season and more sandbagging. Osgood suckered us again.

The apple of everyone’s eye was the backup, Ty Conklin. Osgood played miserably coming out of the gate and Conklin…didn’t. So while Ozzie sat on the bench, Conklin played and played very well. It was around this time last year, in fact, when the hockey denizens around town dared to crow that Ty Conklin, not Chris Osgood, should be the Red Wings’ starting netminder when the playoffs roll around.

It’s easy to sucker the thick-headed. And Osgood, who must never have met a blackjack table he didn’t like, was doing it.

Osgood really poured it on, though. This was going to be a hustle of great proportions. Ozzie was going to be Minnesota Fats, the Cincinnati Kid, and Paul Newman, all rolled into one. He played extra awful in goal. He was so bad, in February his coach sent him away, to “get his head together.”


It was like taking candy from a baby; the fans took the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

“Ty Conklin should be the starting goalie in the playoffs!”

“Chris Osgood is finished!”

Oh yeah? Place your bets, gentlemen!

Osgood “recovered” and Babcock, who was on to Ozzie’s con, named him the starter for the playoffs, after all.

Osgood almost ran the table. The Red Wings lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, by one goal. You can’t get much closer than that. But they lost the Cup not because of anything bad Osgood did. Yet had they won it, it would largely have been because of all the good Osgood did.

So here we are, January 2010. And Osgood is suckering us again, or trying to. This year it’s Jimmy Howard, a rookie , who has some people thinking the Red Wings ought to leave Ozzie on the bench come playoff time—should the Wings qualify.

Why? Because Osgood is sandbagging it again in the regular season, while the kid Howard is doing things like stopping 51 of 52 shots, as he did in L.A. the other night.

I’m not much of a gambler. I can barely figure out how to work a slot machine. But if I saw Chris Osgood at a table, I’d beat it.

You want the rookie Howard in goal, instead of the proven Osgood, when the playoffs arrive—again, should the Red Wings qualify?

P.T. Barnum was right, and this is your minute.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Last Night on "The Knee Jerks": No Guest, So Rants Aplenty!

Happy New Year from "The Knee Jerks"!!

We decided to eschew (like that word?) a guest so that we could get caught up on some Detroit sports talk, 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.

All our teams except the Tigers got some generous air time. We started, naturally, with those lovable Lions.

We dissected the team's 2009 season and the near future for about an hour, including giving a letter grade to rookie QB Matthew Stafford. Then, we talked Red Wings, with special emphasis on the resurgent Todd Bertuzzi and the surprising Jimmy Howard. We saved the Pistons for last, with us surmising whether GM Joe Dumars has it in him to author another rebuild.

Rants were aplenty last night!

We also each named our biggest sports story in Detroit in 2009 (hint: we both agreed!) before closing, as always with our "Jerks of the Week."

Some Highlights:

Big Al

On the Lions' off-season:
"They have 24 free agents and will only realistically bring about six back. Can you imagine?!"

On Stafford: "He has 'it.' He looks like a quarterback. I think he can improve from a 'C' to a 'B+' or even 'A-' next year."

On Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard: "Who would have thought that we'd be so impressed by Jimmy Howard at this time? He might be playing good enough to be the starter for the rest of the season."

On Pistons GM Joe Dumars: "If you look back at his successful moves, you could say that some of them were kinda lucky."


On Stafford:
"The good thing about him is that what's wrong with him is coachable. Plus, he knows he's the No. 1 guy and doesn't have to worry about all the draft hub-bub."

On Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi: "He's healthy, he's happy, and he's even playing well in his own zone. He's playing the best hockey he's played in years. If he didn't get hot, the Red Wings would have been up you-know-what without a paddle."

On Dumars: "I think he has to face some facts. He has to realize that his team is probably lottery-bound. But maybe he doesn't even WANT to do a rebuild here. He likes winning too much."

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

Upcoming guests/topics:Jan. 11: WCSX radio sports guy Jamie Samuelsen

You can listen to the episode by clicking below!

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Best Thing About the Lions Season is That It's Over

The circus has left town, not to return for another year. If you didn't get a chance to see it, shame on you---you had 16 weeks to check it out. Sometimes, you didn't even have to leave your living room.

Another Lions season is over with. Barnum & Bailey got another run for their money.

If you head down to Ford Field today, you can see the remnants. Smell it, too.

Crushed popcorn boxes, empty spools of cotton candy. Entire NFL careers, even---all lying in the wake.

The three rings came down today.

It was another thrilling run for the Lions. They managed two wins this time. The decade of the 2000s ended with another unbalanced act. Precious little in the left hand column, all the weight on the right side.

2-and-14. It fits nicely, in the same drawer as all of the other similar seasons. File it.

It was a typical Sunday afternoon at Ford Field yesterday. The Lions put up some semblance of a fight, then collapsed into defeat in the late going. They always do that. Unless, of course, they're collapsing in the first 10 minutes, or in the third quarter.

How do the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns feel this morning? The Brownies ended their season on a four-game winning streak, but it took a loss to the Lions to shame them into performing. The Skins fired their coach today, and he's lucky it didn't happen in the locker room way back in September, moments after losing to the Lions.

The Lions were the lone victims of the St. Louis Rams this season, who will draft first in the 2010 Draft. The Lions will draft second. They do that a lot, too. The Lions appear in the Top Five of the NFL Draft every year. Sometimes the Top Three, or Two, or One. Last ones on to the elevator, first ones off. Or something like that.

It was 37-23, Chicago Bears on Sunday. Another double digit loss. Every time the Lions take the field they're spotted 10, 14, 17 points by the bookies in Vegas and just about every time that's still not enough. Opponents cover the spread over the Lions like black paint on a white wall.

Sunday's tilt was a bonus exhibition game, for those who've longed for the meaningless since late August.

Players playing for their NFL lives. Nothing on the line except, well, nothing. Appearances by guys who'll never wear an NFL uniform again---certainly not a Honolulu Blue and Silver one.

Starting with the quarterback.

They may as well have held the game in court, because Daunte Culpepper, from the opening snap, was trying to make a case for himself.

Not for the Lions, of course---his ticket out of town was punched weeks ago. Maybe months ago. No, Daunte was trying to demonstrate why he's still a viable starter in the league.

He didn't play horribly. You could actually watch this performance with both eyes open. But whether it was enough to convince a team to take a flyer on him for 2010, who knows.

Calvin Johnson was again a man among boys. He's pretty good, in case you were wondering.

The folks at FOX Sports put up a graphic early in the game. It said that Jeff Backus was starting his 144th consecutive game at left tackle. I guess they were rubbing it in. Their timing was impeccable, too; they flashed the fun fact just after Jeff was flagged for holding.

Backus is the Lions in a microcosm. Nowhere else but in Detroit could a tackle of such pedestrian ability hold a job for nine straight years---simply because the Lions weren't able to get anyone else. For nine years.

Later, FOX showed Rod Marinelli, now the Bears' defensive line coach. They were rubbing it in again. Rod had that same perplexed expression on his face.

So Jim Schwartz has his first year as Lions head coach under his belt. Now he can continue to dismantle things. The first thing he should do is make safety Louis Delmas a team captain and fire everyone else in the secondary.

But here's to keeping the trio of Schwartz, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and quarterback Matthew Stafford together for a few years. They can all grow together. Maybe build something here for a change. That would be very nice.

Oh, and something else disturbed me. Some backup tight end was wearing No. 85, which I thought had been unofficially retired, for it was the number of Chuck Hughes, who died on the field in 1971. I honestly don't recall anyone wearing 85 since '71.

But the Lions all wear No. 31, truthfully. As in 31 of 32 teams. They inched up by one from last season.

Guess we should all prepare for a Super Bowl parade---in 2041.

The year 2010 is only four days old and already the Lions are winless in it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009: My Best (and Worst) of the Year

Happy New Year!

Time once again to look back on the previous year and see what clippings appeared in this space---and how accurate, wrong, or prophetic (or not) I turned out to be...

January 2009

On the outcome of Super Bowl XLIII:

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

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

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

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

(The Steelers won, 27-23; not bad!)
February 2009

On the Pittsburgh Penguins' firing of Michel Therrien and his replacement, Dan Bylsma:

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

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

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

Yadda, yadda, yadda -- right?

(Umm, the Pens regrouped, big time, and won the Stanley freaking Cup)
On Allen Iverson's legacy:

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

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

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

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

You really cannot win with Allen Iverson, after all.

(I don't believe this will EVER be proven wrong)

On Chris Osgood's regular season struggles:

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

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

(Osgood was a Conn Smythe candidate until the Red Wings dropped Game 7 of the Cup Final on home ice)

March 2009

On the fall of the University of Detroit-Mercy's basketball program:

There was a time when the University of Detroit (before they added the Mercy part to their name) wasn't a-scared of anybody, when it came to basketball opponents.

Powerhouse DePaul? Bring it on! Marquette, on the road? When does the bus leave? Michigan? Just name the time and the place!

That was a long, long time ago.

U-D is now UDM. They added an "M", but lost their nerve.

Why, UDM won't even play Oakland University, some 30 miles or so north.

It's not the travel, of course -- it's the quality of the Golden Grizzlies.

UDM is ducking OU. Has been for years.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe was chatting with some Internet fans the other day, and portions of the chat were printed by the Free Press.

Who, Kampe was asked, is Oakland's biggest rival?

"It should be the University of Detroit-Mercy," Kampe said. "But they won't play us. So it's Oral Roberts."

Oral Roberts plays in Oakland's league, in case you were wondering. Which is more than you can say about UDM.

(UDM was never the same after they added the "M" to their name, and never will be---until they replace decrepit Calihan Hall)

On Kris Draper playing in his 1,000th game as a Red Wing:

To get an idea of Kris Draper’s time spent on the ice in a Red Wings uniform, go to the nearest calendar and look ahead ten days. Then add ten hours from the time it is currently.

Now, imagine Draper zooming up and down the ice, forechecking, pestering, winning face-offs, killing penalties, backchecking. Imagine him doing that, 24/7, for those ten days and ten hours. Non-stop.

Draper just played in his 1,000th game as a Red Wing. He’s done so mainly as a fourth-liner, meaning that he plays about a quarter of each game.

So, a little math.

One-thousand games, times sixty minutes per game (not including overtime), equals 60,000 minutes. A quarter of that is 15,000 minutes, or 250 hours. And there’s your ten days, plus ten hours.

It was almost thirteen years ago when it was feared that Draper wouldn’t play another minute in the NHL.

Hockey players aren’t pretty. Their faces are full of scars and crevices and their noses are disjointed and their dentist is on speed dial. Ted Lindsay’s face looks like it’s made of a combination of corduroy and rough-hewn leather, to show you. You half expect to see bolts sticking out from his neck.

Teddy knows he’s not pretty, so I’m not worried about making him angry.

Be aware of the pretty boy hockey player, for he’s probably not worth a hill of beans.

The red-headed Draper isn’t pretty, either. He looks like a Howdy Doody doll that got caught in a garbage disposal. But he’s still playing, thirteen years after they thought it was all over for him.

Hockey is a great sport for those who love to hate the guys who wear the black hats. Lindsay was hated in each of the other five cities that had NHL hockey in his day. They didn’t call him Terrible Ted for nothing. Once, in Toronto, there were death threats during the playoffs.

“We were skating warm-ups, and nobody wanted to be near me,” Teddy recalled once about the threats in Toronto. “I asked Gordie (Howe) why, and he said, ‘What if they’re a bad shot?’”

(Here's to Drapes, who's one of those guys who you'd like to honor by retiring his number, but can't quite move yourself to do it)

On the passing of legendary Tigers announcer George Kell:

I always found it so ironic that George Kell mastered the art of the strikeout call, when he hardly struck out himself.

Kell, who died Tuesday at age 86, won the 1949 batting title, nosing out Ted Williams, no less. That much, you probably know. But how about this? In doing so, Kell struck out 13 times. Total.

A big league season is about six months long. So Kell, in hitting .342, struck out about twice a month. Once every 15 days or so.

Yet of all the signature calls that Kell, as the Tigers' longtime broadcaster, had, I think I'd put his strikeout call in the top two or three.

There were a few versions.

In a non-crucial portion of the game: "He STRUCK him out," in that Arkansas-coated accent.

In a more important situation: "Hey, he struck him out!"

In the last out of the game, a big Tigers' win put to bed: "STRIKE THREE! OH, HE STRUCK HIM OUT!"

I remember on one occasion, channel 4 edited together all of Kell's strikeout calls during a Jack Morris win in Kansas City. Morris fanned ten or eleven guys, and the montage was all of the third strikes, as described by Kell.

They were pretty much all the same. "Heee....struck him out." Nothing too exciting. But the fact that they WERE all the same was, to me, fascinating. For that wasn't a sign of boring repetition, but rather of sameness and reliability and, because of it, the comfort that Kell provided the viewer/listener.

He was a speaker of half-sentences, and that was OK, too.

(Turned out to be a baaaaad year for Detroit sports icons passing away)

On Mike Babcock:
Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL, yet he'll likely never win Coach of the Year honors.

Such is how coaches and managers are viewed.

You may as well rename the COY award the "Most Improved Team and So Here's an Award for their Coach" Award.

There's a fallacy that great teams can't seem to be coached by great coaches. Or, at the very least, great teams would be great no matter who coaches them.


Sparky Anderson, his critics said, only needed to possess a pen when he managed the Reds. That's all that was required to write in the names of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the rest every day.

Sparky's Big Red Machine -- that could have been managed by anyone and the results would have been the same.

Again, baloney.

If that was the case, if only the most talented teams won championships year after year, then we would be spared the drama of actually having the games be played.

We'd simply feed every team's roster into a computer and have it declare the champion for that year.

(Babcock's greatest challenge may be happening right now)

On the Red Wings' defeat of the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the conference semi-finals:

Thomas Edison ought to be proud.

It was Edison, the inventor, who famously opined, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Ole Tom would have loved the Red Wings' series-winning goal Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

It was a typical playoff tally. Devoid of artistry, full of ugly.

Dan Cleary's goal with exactly three minutes left in the third period wouldn't make the highlight reel of a beer league team's end-of-the-year video.

But it was beautiful to the Red Wings, who now move on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in a Western Conference Finals series that can't possibly be any more taxing than what the Wings and Anaheim Ducks just went through.

The series-winning goal, though, might have been drawn up on a playoff chalkboard.

Flick the puck to the net. Charge net. Bull your way in and keep jamming your stick where you think the puck might be. Repeat until red light goes on.

"It was the biggest goal of my career," Cleary said afterward.

So far.

The Red Wings are now rid of these Ducks, who seemed to made up of one line and two defensemen. Yet those five players managed to take the defending champions to the brink of disaster.

Oh, and a goalie. The Ducks did have that. And a good one.

Speaking of goalies, where are all the Chris Osgood bashers this morning?

Anyone? Anyone?

Osgood won the game for the Red Wings. That's all. Won the series for them, too, in the process.

Ozzie, yet again, came up big when the stakes were the highest.

(See above re: Ozzie's bounce back from the regular season)

On the controversial loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the conference finals:
Go ahead and accuse me of homerism--and I don't mean a man crush on Tomas Holmstrom.

Ignore the following as bleatings from a partisan.

Shake your head and say that my grapes are as sour as Dick Cheney's puss.

I don't care.

The Red Wings lost a hockey game in Chicago Friday night, and can you blame them?

They were playing five-on-seven all night.

It wasn't enough that the two referees got their jollies by watching the Red Wings play just about the entire first period shorthanded.

They also seemed to forget that hockey is a contact sport.

Niklas Kronwall just about killed Marty Havlat last night. But it was perfectly legal.

Legal to everyone, apparently, except for Gary Bettman's minions wearing the zebra stripes and orange arm bands.

(OK, so maybe I went overboard, but the officiating sure was suspect in that game)

On Matthew Stafford being the starter for the 2009 season:
There's a low rumble starting that I'm afraid is only going to get louder and more and more difficult to ignore as time goes by this summer.

Matthew Stafford, the Lions' bonus baby quarterback from Georgia, has his supporters, which is great.

But those supporters are taking their zeal too far.

They want Stafford to be the starting quarterback when the Lions tee it up for real on September 13.

What is it they say about those who forget the past?

If the Lions have even the tiniest peas for brains, they should at least be smart enough to know that Stafford shouldn't so much as warm up during any game this season.

He and his money should remain on the sidelines, from Week One thru Seventeen.

His jersey should be put on and removed week after week, never seeing a washing machine in between.

The Lions baseball cap should adorn his head at all times.

(OK, so I got this one wrong, big time!)

On quiet Red Wing Darren Helm:

Helm is the 22-year-old Manitobian who propelled the Red Wings to where they are now—about to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals: The Sequel—thanks to his goal at 3:58 of overtime on Wednesday night in Game Five of the conference finals against Chicago.

Not that you would know it.

The reporters continued to ignore Helm as he told me about how his parents instilled a work ethic into him and that “anyone in this room” could have gotten that series-winning goal—present company excluded, of course—and that he plays “hard between whistles.”

The more I talked to him, the more I either wanted: a) him to be six years younger, or b) my daughter to be six years older.

Memo to all you dads out there: you’d be thrilled if your little girl came home with a kid like Darren Helm in tow.

(Helm is still figured mightily into the team's plans, if he can just stay healthy)

On Kirk Maltby and his role in the Red Wings' win in Game 1 of the Cup Final:
After the scintillating, gritty shift, as Maltby willed himself to the bench (he didn’t skate, per se, because skating involves moving the legs one in front of the other, and Maltby couldn’t, so he simply coasted), the partisan crowd got off their feet and gave the trio a rousing ovation.

After the game, I asked Maltby if that shift and the fans’ reaction to it reminded him of the heyday of the Grind Line, on which he played with Kris Draper and Darren McCarty so marvelously in the late-1990s, early-2000s. Won three championships, the Grind Liners did.

“You never like to live in the past, but yeah, this arena is awesome to play in,” Maltby said, appreciating the acknowledgement from the crowd for the hard work–not just on that shift but throughout all those Grind Line seasons.

“The fans are great (in Detroit),” Maltby went on. “They’re very hockey smart. They acknowledge all sorts of big plays, whether it’s a goal, or a hit, or a great save.”

On the way home from the game last night, I was trying to put into words how the Red Wings played, because it wasn’t a typical game for them. Mainly because they seemed to put defense first and offense second.

Then it occurred to me.

The Red Wings had won by playing the perfect road game in their own building.

(Until Game 7, of course)
After winning Game 2:

Barring a collapse, the Red Wings will win their second straight Stanley Cup, fifth in twelve years, and 12th in team history. And Osgood, who’s been amazing in every round, will be the hands down Conn Smythe winner.

(Yeah, about that...)
On The Tigers not seizing control of their division:

The rest of their division is sleeping, and the Tigers aren’t wandering off.

The AL Central, I thought, was going to be a nip-and-tuck, close shave the whole way. A three, maybe four team battle.

The Indians looked like the team to beat. Tells you how much I know.

The Twins are always hovering, thanks to that damned Metrodome.

The White Sox are defending champs, and they have handled the Tigers in recent years.

The Royals, to me, looked improved–a good pitch, no-hit team but pitching is the name of the game, right?

The Tigers?

I had them around 90 wins–which didn’t endear me as a very smart man to a lot of folks.

The pitching, they said, was supposed to be awful. The bullpen would be positively heinous.

Hold up, I countered. They play 162 games on the field, not on paper, for a reason.

Things aren’t always what they seem, I reminded the doubters.

I whiffed on the Indians, but I’ve pegged the Tigers pretty good. So far.

But the Detroiters aren’t getting off scott-free here.

This division, it’s turning out, is so for the taking that you can practically see the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card lying on the ground and the Tigers stepping right over it. No team is playing particularly well. This is evident in the won/loss records, which show only Detroit playing on the north side of .500.

Oh, if the Tigers could only hit with any consistency! This race would be over with by now.

(It was true in June, and was true at the end of the season)
On the Penguins' winning the Stanley Cup:

Not very far from where Lemieux held court, I found Bylsma—just before he headed into the dressing room to enjoy the Cup with his players.

Was this moment ever, I asked, on his radar when he took over from Therien in February?

To my surprise, it kinda was.

“Actually,” Bylsma said, giving it some thought. “You know, there was a moment where I thought that this team could have a mural on Mellon Arena—a picture with them raising the Cup. But that was fleeting. We were more worried about just getting some wins.”

The coach agreed with the owner: the players “bought in” to the new system, the new way of doing things.

“This isn’t my victory,” Bylsma said. “It’s theirs,” he added, nodding toward the few players still on the ice.

The Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby, skated off in terrible pain after a hit early in the second period. It looked to be a knee injury—or something to do with the leg.

The score was 1-0, Pittsburgh. And there went arguably the team’s best overall player, doubled over in pain.

What was going through the coach’s mind at that point?

The deliciousness of the moment wasn’t lost on Bylsma.

“I just thought,” he said, truly giving his answer some time to formulate, “that it just made for a better story. That we didn’t have to rely on just one or two guys to win it.”

Bylsma adjusted his new Stanley Cup Champs hat.

“This is good stuff,” he said. “Good stuff.”

(So I guess that changing the coach thing worked, after all)

On the potential of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson

A healthier Johnson, in 2008, racked up over 1,300 yards receiving on 78 catches. He caught 12 touchdown passes—all while playing for the only 0-16 team in NFL history.

There’s a fluttering feeling in the tummies of Lions fans—and players and coaches—that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of Calvin Johnson.

He could be a one-man wrecking crew for years. He’s still a baby, in football terms. More like a bulldozer outfitted with a racing car engine.

Calvin Johnson could own Detroit. He’s the most talented, most physically gifted pass receiver to come down the Lions’ pike in, well…ever.

All the Lions need now is someone to throw the ball in his general direction with some degree of consistency.

(Maybe the Lions found that guy in Matthew Stafford; we'll see)
From July 2009

On Rasheed Wallace leaving the Pistons:

I, for one, won’t miss Rasheed Wallace. Once, he was the fire and brimstone that the Pistons needed to win a title. That was then.

Wallace, by the end of his time with the Pistons, had denegrated into a disinterested, scowling malcontent. It used to be that Sheed saved his disdain for his opponents and the officials. By the end, even his own team wasn’t immune to his toxic behavior.

Now he’s gone, off to Boston, where the Celtics hope he can do for them what he did for the Pistons five years ago — to be that missing piece.

In Detroit, he was just missing.

No Sheed.

On Curtis Granderson's baffling season

Fast forward to 2009, and where are the doubles? Where are the triples? Where’s the annoyance he’s causing opposing pitchers at the leadoff spot? Where’s the .280-.300 batting average?

It’s almost as if Granderson sold his baseball-playing soul to the Devil, in exchange for a season as a home run hitter.

Curtis has 19 dingers, which means he’ll likely eclipse his career high of 23 this season.


So we’re left with a .257 BA, 10 doubles, and four triples.

When Granderson missed the first few weeks of the 2008 season, his absence was used as one of the reasons why the Tigers came out of the gate oh-so-slowly. Made sense, as Grandy was coming off his dynamite 2007 season, when his 2B/3B/HR line read 38/23/23, and his average was .302.

How he failed to make the All-Star team in 2007 is almost as baffling as why he made it this year.

Granderson isn’t an All-Star—not now, and not when the team was announced. Maybe he made it because the center field crop is dry this year. Not sure.

(We all know what happened to Curtis, don't we?)
From August 2009

On the courage of Brandon Inge:

Inge should be on the disabled list, for the rest of the season, and should have had surgery weeks ago. Someone else should be playing third base.

“It affects everything you do,” he said recently. “Anything that gets you in any sort of an athletic position, that’s what hurts. Anything.

“It’s not fun playing like this.”

Even stepping into the batter’s box—stepping into it—causes Inge great discomfort.

But here’s where it gets legendary, as if that wasn’t enough.

“How could I go on the disabled list and not play, when we’re in first place, when there are people all over out of work and struggling to get by? What kind of message would that send?”


Did a professional athlete, being paid millions of dollars, just say that?

The words are Inge’s, said a few weeks ago.

From September 2009

On the news of Ernie Harwell's cancer:

If only the rest of us could accept Ernie Harwell’s fate as well as Ernie Harwell.

Leave it to Ernie to top us again when it comes to level-headedness and spirituality.

The news that Harwell, 91, the longtime Tigers broadcaster, has a cancerous tumor in a bile duct and that the prognosis isn’t terrific, is slowly but surely sinking into the souls of those who’ve listened to him call Bengals baseball for months, years, decades—whichever category you choose, and in whichever you happen to belong.

“I’m ready to face what comes,” Harwell told the Detroit Free Press. “Whether it’s a long time or a short time is all right with me because it’s up to my Lord and savior.”

OK, but what about the rest of us?

Ernie’s health is about to decline, perhaps quickly, because once this dreaded cancer gets started it can get downright insatiable until it achieves its purpose.

So who knows how long we have to prepare for the worst?

On Miguel Cabrera's performance down the stretch:

Miguel Cabrera—he of the big bat, big contract, and big expectations—has pulled another vanishing act, and at the worst possible time.

Cabrera’s talent is in rarified air. When he’s on, he’s a rightfully feared hitter who can break the spirit of entire teams. He has the goods to swing the bat of Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Howard. It is company with which he ought to feel comfortable.

But Cabrera is failing the Tigers now. Maybe it’s a lack of maturity or temerity, but Cabrera is proving to be a fraud in the broad shoulders department.

I’ve seen players of far lesser talent than what Cabrera possesses hunker down and pile the Tigers on their backs.

I thrilled to Kirk Gibson, who returned from the strike of 1981 as if a man on a mission. Gibby destroyed American League pitching in the second half of that divided season, batting a robust .375 from August 10 on, leading the Tigers straight into a truncated but no less real pennant race with the Milwaukee Brewers.

I remember Johnny Grubb—the Gentleman from Virginia—carrying the Tigers for several weeks in 1986 as the team scrambled to give the Boston Red Sox a run for their money.

Neither Gibson nor Grubb had anywhere near the talent that Miguel Cabrera has. Perhaps Cabrera has more of it in his left bicep than Gibson or Grubb had in their entire bodies.

But Kirk Gibson was the greatest money hitter I’ve ever seen in Detroit. By far.

Cabrera has a wonderful chance to own this town, right now. It’s all there for him. He should, by rights, be allowing his teammates to board him as he lugs them across the finish line, quite heroically.

(As with Granderson, we all know how Miggy ended the season)

From October 2009

On the hard-charging Minnesota Twins:

The Twins team that you’re seeing in September is more representative of what they truly are.

The Twins do many things better than the Tigers. They move runners along the basepaths better. They walk fewer hitters. They drive in runs from third base with less than two outs far better than the Tigers do.

They have a better lineup, hitting-wise.

They have Ron Gardenhire as manager, who nullifies Jim Leyland, and then some.

They had the Metrodome for 81 games.

Yet they—the Twins—are still likely to fall short, despite their late run, because they muddled along at or just below .500 most of the season. That’s their fault, of course.

That the Tigers couldn’t put the Twins away is an indictment against the Bengals.

(The Twins, of course, did NOT fall short)

On the eve of the one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins:

If the Tigers blow this, if they aren’t able to finish this heist—and that’s what it would be—then they ought to issue a public apology for doing such a heinous thing to their financially-decrepit fan base.

Shame on the Tigers, if they raise all those people’s hopes up for five months, teasing them, only to collapse in the season’s final days.

It would be almost too much for these people in this God-forsaken state to bear.

But if the Tigers do win it, they’d be, at the same time, thieves. Took the Twins’ division and away they ran, into the night.

The Twins rightfully own the Central Division. They’re the best team, clearly. So some shame on them, too, for fooling around for 142 games and waking up barely in time for a late, 20-game run.

How fitting it is, both ways, that this playoff is being played in the Dome.

Fitting if the Twins win, because it would be one last “GOTCHA!” for the Tigers under that plastic roof, housing all those trash bags.

And incredible irony if the Tigers win, closing the Dome for good with such a monumental win.

On the fate of Red Wing goalie Chris Osgood's No. 30, post-retirement:

So this much we know.

One evening, in the not-too-distant future, fans will look to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena—or wherever the Red Wings will be playing by then—and see a large red “jersey” with a white No. 5 and the name “LIDSTROM” adorning it, the years played for the Red Wings listed below it, in red on a white band.

That much we know.

But, and I know my timing isn’t great here, I submit that those same fans should also be able to crane their necks and see a big red swatch of fabric with a white No. 30 and the name “OSGOOD” sewn onto it.

You heard me.

It’s a few weeks into the NHL regular season, and that may turn some people on, but this is the perfect time to be an argument starter, if you ask me. Let these October games drone on in the background while we muck it up in the corner, figuratively speaking.

Chris Osgood’s number retired? You betcha.

By the time he hangs them up for good, Osgood will have likely passed the great Terry Sawchuk for most wins by a Red Wings goaltender. For starters.

He has three Stanley Cups, two earned as the starter throughout the playoffs—and ten years apart, which must be some sort of record, somewhere.

Your honor, the defense rests.

From November 2009

On old Olympia Stadium:

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.

On the retirement of former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan:

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?

(Almost immediately, Shanahan took a job in the NHL front office)

On the current state of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry:

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?

On Curtis Granderson being traded to the Yankees, of all teams:

But New York? As if they need any more effervescence. Adding Granderson to New York is like spritzing champagne with carbonated water.

What a waste of a good guy. New York won’t appreciate what Granderson does for life outside of baseball. He’ll be able to walk the streets of Manhattan and the only time he’ll be stopped is if someone happens to ask him for the time. In Detroit, Grandy might one day have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor Dave Bing in front of the groundbreaking for a new playground. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg might not even have time to take his call—if he even knows who Curtis is.

But from a purely baseball perspective, the Yankees will love what Granderson brings to their team. If he ever learns to hit left-handed pitchers, his only days off will come from November thru March.

The Yankees got their man. Again. Comcast just bought NBC and 20 percent of your cable lineup, so why not Granderson to the Yankees? While we’re at it, let’s sell Yahoo to Google and give Nestle’s a great deal on Hershey. Hey, how about getting McBurger King done?

So there it is---2009 at in a nutshell.

How'd I do?