SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The False Allure of High-Stakes Poker

I've read a bunch about poker lately (particularly Texas Hold 'Em), including its star, David Negreanu, a 23 year-old Canadian by way of Romanian ancestry who has matured into one of the "sport's" stars, gets along with everyone and wins big pots. I've glimpsed at it on TV, but if you can't convince me that ice hockey or lacrosse are saleable on TV, there's no way that you can convince me that watching people play cards on TV is at all interesting (heck, it isn't interesting watching people play cards in person, and at least ice hockey and lacrosse very much are). Finally, with "the boys" a few weeks ago, I played a few games of Texas Hold 'Em and lost. Quite frankly, in a world where I have to exercise great patience with many things, I'd rather spend my spare time fishing on a quiet lake than wondering about the significance of the "river" card and sitting for a while after folding hand after hand to win the "all-in" pot.

Pet rocks. Hula hoops. Frenchy Fuqua's platform shoes with the goldfish in the heels. I've seen 'em all.

Most are harmless fads. Some, like Jazzercise, were quite helpful. Others -- like retro baseball stadiums with the impaired-view seats and irregular outfield fences -- leave and come back. All in a lifetime.

I really don't care what people do in their spare time, within reason, and am so middle-of-the-road politically that my political species is on the endangered list. I don't think that poker is a sport. It's a game, and ESPN is entitled to broadcast games if they so desire, but the skills required are more akin to whether a Wall Street trader goes long in Chilean bonds than whether Adam Dunn can hit a curve ball or Juventus striker David Trezeguet (and if you've never seen him play, you should) can curve a free kick over a wall of defenders and past the AC Milan goalkeeper. There is no athletic skill involved, except, perhaps, the skills typically required at the big consulting firms, law firms, investment banks or that are required of residents at hospitals -- staying up late and maintaining your game face, in this case, yes, your poker face, all the while.

Except there's one catch. Guys can fall in love with Madden's 2005 Football video game, get hooked on a number of EA games (including FIFA Soccer, where it's pretty easy to figure out who the world's best playes are), love to go to their hometown's NFL games, play two rounds of golf on the weekends, fish, bowl or whatever, but the object of those types of activities is either comradery, excercise or diversion, period. You aren't engaged in the activity for the purpose of making money (okay, some of you may argue that many who watch the NFL bet on games, and the spreads make the NFL so bettable, and you have a point, but many who watch those games do not wager significant sums on them, if they wager at all). In poker, though, that's the whole point.

And that's the whole problem.

In society, we always read about the winners when they're winning. They're the guys with the big cars, the great hi-tech wi-fi pads, the big wads of money and all of the bling. They are the Negreanus and the Doyle Brunsons of the world, the gaming world's equivalent of supermodels. The flavors of the month. They win, and they win big.

No one writes about the losers until it's too late, until many have lost their savings, their families, their tuition monies, all because they've read about a game that they think that they can play because it doesn't require them to hit a golf ball 325 yards, or to shoot a basketball or run fast. No, this game can be played by average Joes with high cholesterol, 20-400 vision and exceptionally tight hamstrings. So the thinking is that if Negreanu can play, why can't I?

Read the recent Sunday NY Times article on him, and you'll see that he's an elite performer. He has the game wired, it's part art, part science, and if you're just some guy who fares okay in five-card draw, you're a lamb, and his table is your slaughterhouse. Go on-line, and you'll find many elite players looking for the local yokel small-stakes player to beat out of several thousand dollars. Many will learn their lessons and head back to the cozy confines of their local neighborhood games. But others will want the easy way out, think that winning shouldn't be that hard, and they'll get in deeper and deeper, holding out for some window of glory that will make them rich and famous.

Instead, they'll go broke.

I have no problem at all with the elite players who do this for a living. Those who aren't elite players, though, should remember that those who win have great talents for winning games like these, the same way Kobe Bryant can hit a game-ending jumper or Tiger Woods can sink a put on the first playoff hole to win the Masters. Sure, it may be cards, and cards do not require athletic ability, but don't let that fool you one bit.

Either you know what you're doing in those games -- in Vegas, in the Bahamas, in Reno or on-line -- or you don't. Figure that out before you bet your mortgage money in one of these games.

Or else risk being one of those losers that no one ever writes about -- unless you're a reporter covering personal bankruptcy cases.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Showdown in Philadelphia (and Some NCAA History)

NCAA Division-I lacrosse style.

Post-season tournaments are a thing of beauty, especially when the top two teams reach it to the finals, and that's exactly what's happened here. Yesterday, #1 Johns Hopkins survived a determined UVA team, beating them by a goal in OT, while #2 Duke thrashed Maryland 18-9 to set up a great Memorial Day championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. Hopkins beat Duke earlier this year in Baltimore by a single goal. Click here and here to read about yesterday's action.

I was contemplating taking the family to go see this game tomorrow, but the kids aren't old enough to appreciate the nuances of the game, and sometimes the ball is hard to follow given how fast the good teams move it around. Instead, we'll watch our local Memorial Day parade, down Main Street, and that should be a good time for all, including, perhaps, of all things, ice cream in the morning! (And then I'll sneak back to try to catch as much of the action as I can on ESPN 2).

On a different note, a tip of the hat (perhaps it should be mouthguard) goes to the Northwestern Lady Wildcats womeen's lacrosse team. A club team only five years ago, the Lady 'Cats won Northwestern's first NCAA title ever by winning this year's Division I NCAA women's lacrosse title. In doing so, they became the first team ever to win this title that wasn't from the east. Way to go, Lady Wildcats!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Tale of Two Point Guards

One guy never had the limelight, or, if he did, it was because of the skills of blending that he brought to his tradecraft. Need a seventeen-foot jumper -- he hit it. Get the ball chest high to the shooting guard -- he put it right on the money. Thread the bounce pass to the small forward breaking toward the hoop for the wing -- he did it. Help the low post center go hard to the hole -- he got the ball there. In one magical year, his team won the title. A long time ago.

The other fellow was born to the limelight and had it at a very young age. Tenacious and lightning fast, he could blow by anybody who was guarding him (still pretty much can) and takes on all comers. He became a better passer this past season, but for the most part he's a shoot-first PG whose team's fortunes ride and fall on his streaky play. Still, because of his own magnitude and the fans' and sportwriters' love for watching him carry his epic battle of the little guard against the world, he makes first- or second-team all-league year-in and year-out. Those of us who look at the boxscores on a nightly basis see many more 8-23 shooting nights than the admirers would like to admit. During his nine-year career with his team, he hasn't helped make anyone else an all-star, and his team hasn't won an NBA title.

The first guy is Maurice Cheeks, the Philadelphia 76ers PG on a team that featured Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and Julius Erving (yes, sports fans, Marc Iavaroni started at the PF, but Jones replaced him in the game rather quickly). This team did have a lot of talent, but it beat heralded the heralded Celtics and Lakers because it played as a team. Its floor general, Cheeks, had a great knack for distributing the ball, finding the open man, hitting the open shot to keep opposing defenses honest, and making his team better. More than that, he was beloved in Philadelphia because he was a man of few words, an unselfish player, but one who always conducted himself with class and dignity. It's a great, abiding love, an admiring love, a thankful love, both for the acts of Cheeks on the court and the forebearance on it -- where he blended in to be part of something bigger.

The second guy is Allen Iverson, current 76ers PG and a guy who has never been able to play on an NBA team that developed a meaningful second violin to his concertmaster's role. On the one hand, he's never played on a team that had the type of talent that Mo Cheeks' did, but on the other hand he hasn't help lead his team to greater heights by being more unselfish with the ball. Translated, that means he hasn't helped develop much, if any, of the young talent that has tried to play Scottie Pippen to his Michael Jordan. True, perhaps none of those guys was (or is) a Pippen to begin with, but it's not like they're guys who'd have trouble being starters on a their CYO team. The 76ers fans have an awkward relationship with Iverson. Many like him and are in awe of his play, others want to like him but feel that he puts up a wall that prevents them from getting a sense of what he's really like, others want to like him but won't until he helps elevate his team more, and, finally, many dislike him because while he has great individual skills, he plays selfishly. For all of the awe-inspiring moves they see, they remember 9-29 shooting nights and a 10-point loss at home to an evenly matched team. Those fans see .500 records, or worse.

So now the first PG is coaching the second PG, and this is a league, of course, where coaches get fired with greater frequency than the average American gets an oil change. It was only two seasons ago when the 76ers hired a new coach to replace the nomadic Larry Brown, and what has proceeded since that time has made the 76ers' job nomadic. They hired Brown's assistant, Randy Ayers, didn't even let him change the furniture in his office, so to speak, fired him, and then hired career NBA journeyman coach Chris Ford to coach the team for at least the remainder of that season. The players didn't seem to listen to Ayers, who had a very tough act to follow, and Iverson and Ford clashed. Enter Jim O'Brien, whose coaching pedigree seemed pretty good -- Jack Ramsay's son-in-law and a former Rick Pitino assistant who succeeded in Boston after Pitino failed but who fell out of favor with the Celtics' head of basketball operations, Danny Ainge.

O'Brien had a reputation as a players' coach, but his coaching style puzzled people. Sam Dalembert is a talent, yet he would bury the young center at times. Ditto for guard Willie Green. There never seemed to be a good wavelength between him and the teflon GM, Billy King, and risking losing the young talent as free agents in a year or so, and found the guy who they orginally wanted to replace Brown in the first place, a hometown favorite, Mo Cheeks, to help steady the ship.

The same Mo Cheeks who played with Dr. J and Moses Malone (although unlike those two, he did not get immortalized on Kurtis Blow's "Basketball") and who got national attention two seasons ago when, on the first night of the playoffs, he did an amazing thing that had nothing to do with coaching basketball but everything to do with heart, leadership and generosity. A young teenaged girl was slated to sing the national anthem, and in front of about 18,000 people and a televised audience she forgot the words and froze. For a moment, she looked like she might melt. Calmly strolling over toward her, right before coaching his first playoff game, was Mo Cheeks, who proceeded to put his arm around her and guide her through the song. I saw a video clip of this, and it was an amazing, and, yes, moving moment. Here's a guy coaching the ConAir of NBA team's on the eve of the first playoff game of the post-season, and he totally saved the day for this young girl, who my guess is might have been somewhat scarred had he not stepped in (she has since gone on to sing the national anthem -- unaided -- at at least one professional sporting event if not others). You don't find better examples of character than
that.

The same Mo Cheeks of whom Larry Brown, the primus inter pares of NBA coaches, thinks very highly of.

So what will happen in Philadelphia? Can Mo Cheeks coach Allen Iverson? Can Iverson change? Does he have enough of a sense of history and a wish to create a legacy that he might alter his game a bit to help give more looks to his teammates and make everyone really better? Will Cheeks prove to be Mary Poppins, or just another one on the long list of nannies who failed to improve the performance of a modern-day NBA version of the Banks' children?j

Can they get along?

The stakes are much higher now. Before, if there was a clash between a coach and a player, Iverson won. Larry Brown hated conflict, team "owner" Pat Croce meddled, and Iverson usually got his way (the team did get to the NBA Finals in Brown's second-to-last year in Philadelphia). As a result, if Iverson couldn't really listen to the coaching of an icon, there was no way Randy Ayers or Chris Ford had a chance. Ford and Iverson clashed big-time, and the result was that Ford did not have the "interim" tag removed two seasons ago. He was gone. Then there came O'Brien, a Philly native but one who was a more anonymous one, than, say, either Jimmy Lynam, Matt Guokas or his father-in-law, Jack Ramsay. It didn't seem that Iverson reallly listened to him, either, although in fairness to A.I. he did show flexibility by agreeing to play the PG position and by passing the ball more (he also shot and missed too much too often). None of these coaches -- including Brown -- had the true fealty of the Philadelphia hoop fans. It's hard to explain, but it's a city where loyalties run deep in the sports world if you showed a certain type of grit -- the type that Mo Cheeks displayed.

Mo Cheeks is a low-key guy, but he has one trump card that his recent predecessors -- including Larry Brown -- did not have. That trump card is the undying fealty of a fan base that not only respects him because he was a key member on the 76ers' last title team (and the last championship that any pro sports team in Philadelphia has won) but also because of the way he went about his business -- with hard work, with class, and with dignity. The Philadelphia 76ers' fans, then, have Mo Cheeks' back the way they have not had anyone else's.

What's the significance of the trump card? A.I. had better play ball with Mo Cheeks, listen to him and, in the twilight of his career, grow up and help make everyone better. No one doubts A.I.'s toughness, his hard work while on the court and his determination. What they doubt is his vision -- on the court and off -- as to how to get a team to the highest level possible. Mo Cheeks has been there, and he can help show A.I. the way. But if A.I. reverts to his traditional A.I. mode, there could be a showdown that may not be of either the key player's or the head coach's making.

A painful showdown, one where, if the behavior of A.I. harms the career or aims of Mo Cheeks, could finally have everyone in Philadelphia siding with the coach.

And perhaps could have A.I. sent to hoops Siberia, playing for the Clippers or Warriors.

Rock beats scissors, star players beat head coaches.

Unless that head coach is such an icon in his city that the franchise could risk serious implosion if any harm comes his way.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

SportsProf's First Anniversary

I normally don't get sentimental about such things, but I realized about a week ago that I have been blogging on sports for about a year. When I started, I got very few hits a day, and now get about a hundred and fifty or so. I've probably posted more than once a day on the average during the past year, even though my production dropped off during the past ten days because of a short trip and a short-lived obsession with figuring out EA FIFA Soccer 2005 on the PlayStation (and, yes, the other day I did score three goals playing as Juventus against some Division Two English soccer team from the Cotswolds). Through cross-linking to other bloggers, posting on some blogs and sharing an occasional e-mail with a fellow blogger, I started to get more hits, and I thank all of you that.

I suppose I started blogging because I wanted to see what it would be like to write regularly about sports and to see how my voice, as it were, would develop in this area. As it has turned out, I like writing about human interest matters, people who are long since off the radar screen and a sense of fair play, while also trying to poke good and clean fun at the establishment every now and then. Here are 25 of my favorite posts:

Iranians in the NBA Draft;

The Legacy of Wilt Chamberlain;

The Interesting Tale of Willie Williams;

SI's Hall of Fame Photograph;

A Little Boy's First Baseball Game;

On Giving Up Tickets to the Greatest College Basketball Game Ever;

Must Joe Go?;

Fishing with My Daughter;

The All African-American QB Roster;

Letting Kids Be Kids;

The Best Reality TV There Is;

All-Time Quarterback Ratings;

A Homecoming of Sorts;

I Think I Can, I Think I Can;

I Am a Philadelphia Eagles Fan;

Say It Ain't So, Jose (The Poem);

Sports Reality TV That Could Be on Its Way;

My All-Time Favorite Sports Movies;

The MSM Is Now Hot on the Steroids Issue in Baseball;

The SportsProf Sports Quiz;

The Ballad of Barry Bonds;

And They Don't Take American Express;

Jermaine O'Neal, David Stern and the NBA;

Adrian McPherson's Chance for Redemption;

NASA Offers to Buy Citizens Bank Park from Phillies, Philadelphia; and

Mike Nolan Should Be Fit To Be Tied.

I hope that you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I don't know where my writing journey will take me. I'd like to write a novel some day, and I hope that I'll find the time and discipline to get it done some day. Taking about a half hour a day to blog, perhaps, has been a good intermediate step, causing me to write every day without regard for the urge for perfection that has prevented me from finishing the three or four or five novels that I have begun to write but, with a busy life, haven't found the time to finish (one, about a pair of aging vets that help the Red Sox to win the World Series will never get finished, but that's a happy sacrifice I'll make).

Blogging also has enabled me to join a community that I didn't really know existed before I began this blog, a community of concerned writers and fans who like to examine some of the same topics that I do. To my fellow bloggers, thanks for letting me into your community; I really appreciate it.

This isn't a signoff or a swansong, just a reflection on a first anniversary of something that I enjoy doing. Like anything else in life, there are hot and cold streaks, times when you want to write many posts of day on topics that are amusing, concerning or infuriating, or times when you look at the major news in the sports world and wonder why you're blogging in the first place. And when you hit that place, there's always something that pops up to fuel a whole string of new posts.

I might slow down my posts a bit to, well, the frequency of a sports columnist in a major daily, using the rest of the time to try to piece together and finish that first novel. Blogging has helped me discover that sitting down to write every day is as important an act in the journey of a writer as anything else. Sometimes you'll look back on what you wrote and ask why you wrote it, other times you'll look back and say, "that was pretty good, wasn't it?" The key thing is that I sat down to write in the first place, and I'm hopeful that if I bring the energy to the book that I have brought to this blog, I'll be in pretty good shape.

Thanks for your support.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

How Many Times Have We Heard This Before?

You know the story, that the renegade, the rogue, the one who strayed from the flock, can and will change.

This time the subject matter of this dime-store novel is "former" Miami Dolphins RB Ricky Williams.

Williams has the same agent as QB Adrian McPherson, about whom I have blogged so extensively that I think I became a regular read at draft time on a Florida State fans' website (notice I say a regular read and not a favorite, because I am sure that once burned, many Seminoles' fans were twice shy about letting McPherson have another chance). Leigh Steinberg, agent for so many stars and one of the inspirations for Jerry Maguire, has another reclamation project on his hands.

I certainly hope that Ricky Williams straightens out. It is a shame when someone with so much talent has a public implosion on a grand scale. After that implosion, Ricky Williams wandered for a bit and, according to his agent, did some reflecting. The result: the RB wants back into the NFL.

Many questions remain, such as a looming four-game suspension for marijuana use and a credibility issue with his Dolphins' teammates, who were left hanging last year without his strong presence in the backfield and endured a miserable season. How are they to know that they can count on him?

That's a hard question to answer, and only Ricky Williams can answer it.

He has one last chance to do so.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Forest Gump Fuzzy Math Sweepstakes

Brought to you by conferences worthy of the intellect of Forest Gump, using algorithms that your five year-old could have drawn up on the back of a Kids' Meal bag from McDonald's.

Yes, the BCS is at it again.

This time they're trying to come up with a way to replace the AP poll is their way of calculating which college teams are worthy of eight spots in the best and, yes, highest-paying, bowls in the country. This reminds me of one coach who once said he always put Penn State in his top 10 because he liked their uniforms, and of another who said that he always put Nebraska up there because, well, they always were. Then again, I do recall reading that some major colleges once taught some of their athlete-scholars to answer "B" on multiple choice tests when they were guessing because statistics showed that "B' appeared as the answer more than the other choices.

You get my point.

Championships that judges decide have all the respect of figuring skating, gymastics and diving. Championships that are won through a series of playoff games get the ultimate respect. North Carolina's men's hoops team went through a rugged gauntlet of six games and won their national title. No one is showing them disrespect because the best team in the SEC somehow got sent to the Swiffer-Cottonball Bowl instead of being matched up head to head against them. They played -- and beat -- the best.

So here comes the BCS, once again, avoiding the simple truth that a playoff game -- and not a 12th regular season game -- would make major college football complete.

Let's let the players decide who's the champion.

By playing the games on the field.

Because unlike Forest Gump, like shouldn't be like a box of chocolates. The fans and the players deserve to know what they're gonna get, which, in this case, is that instead of getting a ticket to a BCS Bowl they get a slot in an eight-team playoff that will lead to a national title game around New Year's weekend.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Whereabouts

Sorry for not posting in about 5 days, but two things interrupted my postings. The first was a weekend with the boys from college where we golfed, told stories and bonded over good food and drink. The second was that we received PlayStation2 as a gift, and I'm still trying to figure out how to score a goal against the machine in FIFA Soccer 2005. To try to get more proficient, I take a great team, such as Man U., and then play a not-so-great team, like one from MLS, and then try to move the ball around and score goals. The best I managed so far was a 0-0 tie. If any of you have any suggestions as to how to get better, please let me know.

I'll post more later on a variety of topics, but I just wanted you to know that I took a brief R&R from the blogosphere to re-charge my batteries, have some fun, and, yes, play video games.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Eagles Put T.O. In Timeout

Last year, he acted like the ultimate man.

Injured for the NFC playoffs, he stood on the sidelines, pumping up both the crowd and his teammates, waving towels, showing outstanding leadership. He was a man on a mission, and he stood tall.

Not fully recovered for the Super Bowl, he played anyway, caught about a dozen passes, and helped his team acquit itself better against the Patriots than anyone else in the post-season. In the stadium, again, he was a man on a mission, and he stood tall.

That's what he had indicated he could deliver, and deliver he did. It takes a full team to deliver a Super Bowl title, and T.O. did more than his fair share. He played like a champion.

But then he talked a bit too much in the off-season, demonstrating that the mouth control problems that had infected another (and now former) Eagles' receiver were contagious. And he asked for a new contract.

He tugged on Superman's cape. He spat into the wind.

Worse, he told management that he would hold out until the matter gets resolved and he gets a new contract.

Hell might freeze over sooner.

The Eagles responded yesterday with what everyone expected: they will not renegotiate.

T.O. was the center of attention, the center of discussions of character, during the end of last year's NFL season.

Today, he's the center of discussions about the self-centered athlete.

And it doesn't look like he'll get much public sympathy, either.

The Eagles and T.O. are in a game of chicken right now.

The Eagles will play football (and make money) in the fall. It appears unlikely that they'll flinch.

T.O. doesn't have many earning years left.

But is the clock ticking on the Eagles' window to win the Super Bowl with this team?

How badly does T.O. need the Eagles, and how badly do the Eagles need T.O.?

I recall the 1985 Super Bowl season, when the Bears blitzed everyone and looked invincible. Two players held out from the outstanding 46 defense that Buddy Ryan created -- Al Harris and Todd Bell. They weren't the stars, and the Bears proved that they could win without those two starters.

T.O. is better than those guys, but does he really want to risk upsetting a potential Hall of Fame career? A potential Super Bowl championship.

He signed an agreement before last season. He should think about that long and hard.

Before the Eagles send him back to San Francisco for a bunch of good draft picks.

What Will Baseball's Reaction Be To This?

It's a report about a football player, too.

Normally, baseball wouldn't notice.

Except this time, the story is about the football player and his "elaborate" kit to beat drug tests.

The plot gets thicker.

I hope, of course, that this is an isolated incident, that Onterrio Smith will get the help he needs, and that will be the end of it.

But you know, of course, that there are some players out there, in all sports, who will be very interested in the kit and where they can get it. My guess is that the unregulated chemists out there who trade in performance-enhancing drugs (and recreation drugs, for that matter) probably sell their wares in combination with the test kit. That would make sense.

One would hope that the reason that no "big" names have turned up in baseball's drug testing thus far is because of abstention. One would hope that once the new rules came into effect, former users decided to stop using. One would guess that this is precisely what happened; a report I read the other day indicated that home run totals were down 9% from a year ago. That could mean a) that certain power hitters have laid off the stuff and b) that because of a), pitchers are now emboldened and battling hitters more.

Of course, the 9% drop could be a coincidence, and it could be that pitching overall is better. And it could well be that certain players are still using, because their "elaborate kits" make detection of their transgressions very difficult.

I harken back to Jim Bouton's line in Ball Four, that if someone invented a pill that would guarantee a pitcher a 20-win season even if it would take five years off his life, he'd take it. Bouton was a pitcher; the same logic holds true for hitters. The temptation to use is great, even with new testing, if the "elaborate kits" can do what their hawkers claim.

All that said, while it had to be a case that a significant number of players used some form of now-banned substance (my rough estimates are between 10-25%) or else why the public furor and the roll-over by a usually feisty players' union on the issue, I won't go into speculation as to who might have used because there's a risk you could finger the wrong person. (I have blogged that is was lamentable that despite the agreements between management and ownership, the owners, players and the media were still closing ranks regarding who might have used what when and how prevalent the usage was). It also may be the case that some players are still using. Whatever the case, the Onterrio Smith matter is a sad one, and hopefully it will give the drug testers the insight they need to create tests that are not beatable.

At least for a while.

At least until the next "elaborate" kit comes around.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Maybe Some Good Can Come Out of

this.

In one corner you have the NFL, which signed a contract with Reebok, which obligates all head coaches to wear Reebok apparel on the NFL sidelines for a period of time. A deal is, of course, a deal.

In the other corner, you have Mike Nolan, the new head coach of the 49ers, who asked the NFL if he could honor his father, one-time 49er coach Dick Nolan, by wearing a shirt and tie on the sidelines.

How do you think the NFL answered young Nolan:

a. No.
b. Hell no.
c. We're not the NBA.
d. Too many coaches are battling weight problems, so we prefer to cloak all head coaches in clothing that drapes.
e. Err, sorry, but you're a runway model for Reebok.
f. The Vince Lombardi look went out a long time ago.

Or perhaps the NFL front office was more diplomatic than that. Perhaps Young Nolan will don a headband during games, a Reebok headbank, albeit with a likeness drawn on it of Dick Nolan coaching on the sidelines in a shirt and tie. Perhaps Jim McMahon, one-time Bears' QB for those SportsProf readers who may be too young to remember the gunslinging QB from BYU, will model it.

I kind of doubt it.

Now, I am a big believer in business casual, especially where there's a serious job to do under pressure. I also love the HS coaching look of the best coach in the business, Bill Belichick, who is all business even if he coaches cold-weather games in a hooded sweatshirt. Now that's a nice look, a classic look, and you could envision him working the tackling dummies while growing up in Annapolis wearing a similar outfit.

But compared to the game-day outfits the coaches wear, I'd prefer the suit and tie look -- Blanton Collier, George Halas and of course the one-time offensive and defensive coordinators for the New York Giants -- Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, who had some success in Green Bay and Dallas, respectively. They looked like real head coaches, and not models for an overweight society's attempts to look comfortable on weekends.

It's a somewhat minor point in the scheme of things, because I doubt whether any franchise really cares what a coach wears so long as he wins games -- and so long as he wears Reebok. Put another way, I'd prefer to have Andy Reid and Bill Belichick than the other head coaches, whether they are in bespoke suits or Reebok jumpsuits.

Still, the embrace of commercialism has thrust old traditions to the wayside. It's nice to honor one's father, and it's touching that Mike Nolan wanted to honor the dignity of the coaching profession by wearing a suit and tie.

A deal might be a deal, and there usually are many suits around when deals are signed.

Too bad that a suit can't be around at a time when proud traditions should trump hard economic realities. Easily.

Here's a request of 49ers fans and the 49ers, do the following:

1. 49ers: create a 49er-oriented tie that will support a charity, say, for example, the American Heart Association or American Cancer Society. Sell the tie over the summer in local stores, give the proceeds to charity. Encourage the fans to do the following:

2. Fans: buy the tie in droves, support the charity, and wear a white shirt and that tie to the home opener of the 49ers. Reinvigorate your support for the team and team spirit, and stand in support of what you hope will be a new era for your 49ers.

Honor the Nolans and honor your past and present -- 50,000+ strong of you.

And show the NFL that at some point it should give the boot to a shoe company.

Monday, May 09, 2005

What Does Julio Franco Have

that Rickey Henderson doesn't?

Franco is 47 and still in the major leagues; Henderson is 46 and still looking for one more shot.

Henderson is a future Hall of Famer; Franco has had a nice career.

Franco is on one of the best franchises in contemporary times.

Henderson just signed with his second independent league team in as many years.

Odd that more Major League personnel are Francophiles than they are enamored of Rickey's numbers.

Or is it?

I personally am looking forward to the day when some team in the Majors announces a lineup that includes a 46 year-old leadoff hitter.

We're Not Talking Flinstones Chewables Here

Or vitamin B12, either, which would be suitable for the Big 12 Conference, in a nifty type of way.

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, it isn't.

We're talking all sorts of supplements, including those that the NCAA banned.

And we're talking two, maybe three, Big 12 schools.

Where are the stories about the scholar-athletes who work in laboratories, act as big brothers and sisters to young children, tutor kids, visit old-age homes and children's hospitals, write poetry or help support their families?

The Big 12 Conference, for one, surely could use them. If they exist, it would be nice to see them.

As it would be having the NCAA give one of the culprits a swift and long-lasting disciplinary kick in the butt for hijinks like this.

Friday, May 06, 2005

FredEx is an ex-Eagle

Read all about it.

Funny how sometimes the quiet guys get it down and the loud guys get most of the attention. Philadelphia has enough problems with a vocal and productive wide receiver; it just doesn't have time for the distraction of a vocal and unproductive one.

Freddie Mitchell was a breath of fresh air for any writer covering the Eagles. He spoke frankly, never relying on the cliches and bromides that many players toss at the media. He also was entertaining for many fans, who got tired of the collective monotone of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.

But the whole act would have gone over better if he were more than the third option. For Freddie Mitchell's sake, here's to hoping that he gets down to business at his next stop, keeps his mouth shut most of the time, and delivers.

Many players get a second chance in the NFL, but most coaches are authoritarian, and they won't put up with third options whose talk otherwise would seem to indicate that they're the star of the show.

FredEx now has the label of many other players who stopped fitting within the Eagles' business model -- ex-Eagle.

Horse Race for Brian Zoubek

On the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, it's only fitting that the recruiting battle for Brian Zoubek, #3 on the list of centers in the HS class of 2006, has come down to a horse race between Duke and Stanford. Click here for a very recent article at bootleg.com, a website dedicated to Stanford Cardinal athletics. Click here for links to my prior posts on Brian Zoubek's recruitment.

This is a choice between good versus good, Duke versus Stanford, with Wake Forest, another good choice, rounding the post as a dark horse, trying to eke out a victory at the finish line.

It's also a choice between the dynasty, where Zoubek would be one in a long line of outstanding players, versus a good program that has flirted with greatness, where he probably could make a bigger impact if he's as good as people think he could be.

What would you do? Go with the dynasty or go where you'd have a better chance, probably, to be a star?

But it's hard to turn down a shot to play for the Yankees, isn't it? The Yankees just don't call anyone, do they?

Then again, as evidenced by this year's 11-18 start, the Yankees don't always win, either.

And even then again, isn't the Yankee concept I'm trying to evoke one that says it's up to the individuals involved to make theirs a championship experience, regardless of whether the laundry reads Duke or Stanford? If that's the case, who's to say that Brian Zoubek can't help Stanford to a Final Four appearance and perhaps a national title?

Duke or Stanford. What would you advise an eighteen year-old with Brian Zoubek's combination of brains and basketball ability to do? What would you do?

The Saddest Words for the New York Yankees

Last night the Yankees lost to the Devil Rays, 6-2, and, in the process, fell into a tie for last place in the AL East with an 11-18 record. The start pitcher was Chien-Min Wang, who was added to the starting rotation to replace injured Jaret Wright. Following Wang were oft-used journeymen Buddy Groom and Tanyon Sturtze, who are more at the Horace Clarke end of the Yankee continuum of excellence than, say, the Yogi Berra end.

Only about five years ago you would have a triumvirate of Mussina, Nelson and Rivera, and that type of pitching combination scared opposing hitters. The triumvirate of Wang, Groom and Sturtze does summon Pavlovian instincts in opposing teams' hitters, those of the salivating nature. It isn't a case of man biting dog any more this season; the Yankees' hurlers just aren't that good.

Accordingly, some verse:

Yankee fans
so happy with their history
have new fears
now that their team is losing in spurts.

For the saddest words they can hear
from the public address announcer's voice,
are the fateful gong-like sounds
of "now entering the game" are Wang and Groom and Sturtze.

They hearken back
to the days when over the American League they used to lord.
When pitchers were guys named Raschi and Shawkey,
and, of course, the Chairman of the Board (Whitey Ford).

Today their hurlers are an old, injured bunch,
whose best days took place five years earlier
when their fastballs were gas, the curves downright nasty
and the inside heat much surlier.

Back then everything was happy,
There were parades in the Canyon of Heroes
Because during those days,
the pitching staff was chalking up zeroes.

But now the weather is gloomier
And watching every pitch downright hurts
every time the diehard Yankee fan hears
the names Wang and Groom and Sturtze.

Buddy, can you spare a . . .
few feet on your fastball?
Your team's mound staff is pitching like in belongs in the ER
And most certainly not in the Hall.

They were supposed to strike fear in the hearts of hitters everywhere,
Johnson, Mussina, Pavano and Brown,
But those batsmen now salivate nightly;
it's the Yankees' fans turn to frown.

Because the tides have swept change into the Bronx air,
Causing many a Yankee fan to blast out these fateful blurts,
"What in the world were they thinking,
when they gave us Wang and Groom and Sturtze?"

29 games down, Yankee fans, now 133 to go. And no one has told the Orioles and Blue Jays, not to mention the Devil Rays, that they're supposed to roll over and fall by the wayside this year.

Somehow, methinks that fireworks may come to the front office of the best franchise in baseball history much earlier than Independence Day, and the fear, of course, that in a rash act to shake things up, Joe Torre will be set free well before then.

That would be a mistake.

As it is to rely on Wang, Groom and Sturtze.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Great American Home Run Hitting Contest

I've thought aloud on this blog before about Sports Reality TV and came up with these ideas previously. Those were written, of course, is jest, but this one is written with a bit more seriousness.

Let's stage a national home run contest. Naturally, major leaguers and former major leaguers would be ineligible, and I'll leave open the debate about former minor-leaguers (or former minor-leaguers who played AA ball or above). There will be drug-testing, to ensure that steroids, HGH and other drugs cannot permeate into this fun. After that, millions of Americans will be eligible to participate -- against, of course, reasonable, batting practice-speed pitching. After all, it was once said that the hardest thing to do in professional sports is hit a baseball. It's hard enough without it coming at you at 93 mph and then bending slightly within a foot of your face. Straight-up, BP fastballs, that's the ticket.

Now, I don't expect that we'll get contestants coming out of the woodwork the way they do on American Idol, but then again more Americans think they can sing than think they can hit a baseball, and more Americans probably listen to music than watch baseball games. Fine, because we need the process to be manageable.

Out of 280 million Americans, if we stage this contest, people will enter.

I'd envision running the entry-level contests at every minor-league ballpark in the country and at or near every major-league ballpark in the country, with brackets ultimately being composed of people from an American League orbit and a National League orbit (that is, if you start out at at a minor league park of an AL affiliate, you're in the American League half). People of all ages can enter, and, yes, we don't want the HS kids because we don't want to jeopardize their amateur status (and there will be big bucks in this tournament). I want the cross-country truck driver who lives in Elko, Nevada, the foreman of a steel fabrication shop in Plainfield, New Jersey, the high school baseball coach from Ninety-Six, South Carolina, the durable medical equipment sales representative from Casco, Maine, the building inspector from Yakima, Washington and the film studio carpenter from Studio City, California. All of them.

Now, before you say, so what, they've tried that before in golf, and Evan "Big Cat" Williams won those long-driving contests on ESPN14 at 2:30 a.m., let's make this more interesting. Let's put a $1 million prize for the winner (along with some customized Hillerich & Bradsby bats), and, say $200,000 for the runner-up. Ultimately, the winner will be decided on a live prime-time show on All-Star Game weekend or prior to a World Series game (given how late these games start these days). Stage it at Fenway, at Wrigley, or at the "Field of Dreams" field in Iowa. Cloak it in history or lore.

There are details to be worked out, such as the identity of the pitchers (and you could get one-time big-name players to pitch to the contestants in semi-final and final rounds), how many rounds there will be, how many swings a contestant will get in each round, etc., but the basic premise is there.

The Great American Home Run Hitting Contest.

Baseball is, at heart, a kid's game. And what better thing to do than to stage a contest that brings out the little kid in everyone?

Who is this year's version of "The Whammer", Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron? Which earnest fellow has left his day job behind for a little while to win this contest? It's America and part of Americana, plain and simple.

Major League Baseball might need a contest like this more than ever, if for no other reason than to remind everyone that baseball is a game for the whole family, a game that the Red Sox taught us last fall is about comebacks, never quitting, redemption, beautiful settings and prodigious feats, and not about Congress, off-the-field issues and performance-enhancing drugs.

In an age where legends cannot get traction and myths cannot swell because there are too many microscopes and scrutinizers to take the lustre off just about anything, it would be fun to have a Paul Bunyan swinging for the fences.

To bring out the little kid in all of us once again.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Baseball's House Afire

Wow.

First, Jose Canseco tells all, and, yes, for the Major League Baseball Players Association Canseco's book is the equivalent of Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Canseco kicked over the lantern, so to speak, and, in the process, gave Commissioner Bud Selig the fuel to burn down Donald Fehr's one-time fireproof house to the ground. Think Bobby "The Brain" Heenan smacks down legendary Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin. From agreeing to a wimpy 10-day suspension for a first-time violator of the steroids policy to demanding a 50-game suspension for the same offenses with, seemingly, the U.S. Congress acting as his tag-team partner, Selig is now a man on a rampage. Think of your high school classmate with the runny nose who always forgot his homework who comes back to your reunion with the starlet on his arm and millions of bucks in the bank because he invented something to make toilets work better.

That's Bud Selig today.

And now this.

On top of all this. And this. And this.

How many other cleats are going to drop in this seemingly neverending saga?

Okay, so you don't like Jose Canseco, he was flamboyant, undisciplined, failed to get the most out of his talent, and so forth. But with Tom House, you have the guy who caught Hank Aaron's 715th HR while standing in the Braves' bullpen and who made a name for himself as a pitching coach. Will baseball's spin machine come out in full force and try to discredit House? Or, will House, who probably has more credibility than Canseco (that's probably a safe bet, but we shouldn't talk about those either), be the dagger that the one-time 98-pound weakling Bud Selig uses to put the players' union in a bad place and keep it there?

Will the players' union master House, or will House master baseball?

Who would have thunk it?

But after you get over the big story, the equivalent, potentially, of Buster Douglas's beating Mike Tyson, then you have to look at the real result -- that baseball will have a meaningful drug policy that addresses steroids, human growth hormone and amphetamines. All within the shadow of potential threats of the U.S. Congress to step in and impose rules itself.

See what Congress can do when it really puts its mind to it?

But this battle is far from over, either. Don Fehr and Gene Orza won't simply roll over on this one.

You can bet on that, too.

Because there's one thing when you turn into a potential champion from being the 98-pound weakling. People will start wanting to take shots at you, too.

Even when they're fighting an uphill battle.

Argument Regarding Having HS Kids in the NBA

Con.

I tried to find a link to "Pro", but couldn't tonight, although I have blogged earlier on the topic that permitting HS kids to enter the NBA draft isn't what ails the NBA. I still think that's the case, although the linked story won't help high schoolers everywhere.

Especially since Kwame Brown, now suspended for the playoffs, plays on the same team as Juan Dixon, the poster young player for staying in college and doing what you can to make your team better. Dixon scorched the Bulls last night, scoring 35 points in 31 minutes off the bench, just going to show you that bench players who are determined to show the coaching staff what they can do and stand ready to play well when the starters do not always will get ahead.

USA Today's headline writers got it right when they said that a Wizard was told to disappear. The bigger question is whether David Stern, the Headmaster of the Ballhogs School of Basketball, can wave his wand and make all HS kids disappear from the NBA draft forever.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Dartmouth Has 10 Incoming Basketball Recruits

Click here, scroll down, and check it out for yourself.

Click here for the Big Green's 2004-2005 roster.

Then do the math.

15 players on that roster; 4 seniors are graduating. 11 remaining players.

Plus 10 recruits.

21 kids fighting for 15 roster spots and 8-9 spots in a meaningful rotation.

Part of the explanation?

A second-year coach, Terry Dunn, is looking for his type of player. His predecessor, Dave Faucher, had put together some talent, but his teams fared poorly during the last 3-4 years of Faucher's tenure. Which means, for the most part, if you were a Faucher recruit, hit the weight room hard this summer and seriously work on your game.

Another part of the explanation?

The Ivies don't grant scholarships, so they don't have the limits that most of the D-I schools have.

But how do you feel if you're a freshman in the soon-to-be class of 2009?

You can't feel that special, can you?

Although, if you're going to Dartmouth, you have to be a pretty smart, ambitious kid. Which could mean that each of these kids thinks that he is a special one, and that if anyone fails it will be several of the other kids.

The potential result?

I've seen it happen before -- lots of unhappy kids in the program.

Because even in the Ivies, 10 incoming recruits is a bit much.

Just do the math. That's something that Ivy coaches and kids should be good at.

Isn't it?