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, February 28, 2006

It's About Time

The Baseball Hall of Fame will have its biggest class ever when it inducts 18 new members this summer.

Why the big class?

Read this and find out the details.

Basically, the Hall of Fame is opening its doors to people of color who excelled in the Negro Leagues (whether as owners, managers or players) or in pre-Negro League days. One of the seventeen was a white woman who co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband. Another was a former Penn State football star who owned the Homestead Grays. Yet another was a well-known catcher and manager who helped mentor Roy Campanella. If the names Effa Manley, Cum Posey and Biz Mackey don't mean anything to you, you'll get the opportunity to learn lots more about them in short order.

I recently read Bruce Lanctot's excellent book, Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, which underscored for me how difficult it was for the Negro Leagues to operate. They weren't well funded, the travel and accommodations were substandard much of the time, and the teams were at the mercy of those who controlled bookings at the major stadiums. Yet, the institution persevered for a while, a tribute to many an unsung hero who played for the love of the game. Ironically, it was the admission of Jackie Robinson into organized baseball that ultimately killed the Negro Leagues. There are other outstanding books on the subject, including Robert Petersen's Only the Ball Was White, so if you want to round out your baseball knowledge, go to your favorite bookstore website, pick a book on the topic and order it.

It's a shame that most (if not all, and I haven't been able to confirm this, but it might be all) will be honored posthumously. It's also regrettable that it took the Hall of Fame this long to take this extraordinary step and induct these worthy people. All that said, it's great that the Hall of Fame has taken this step now.

Baseball has long been called "The National Pastime." With this announcement, the Hall of Fame has taken the important step of ensuring that the foundation of the game honors the entire nation's baseball history. Baseball may not be "The National Pastime" today (as you can argue ably that football is), but today the light shines brightly on organized baseball for doing the right thing.

The Wonderlic Test

Message to Readers:

First, to those of you who are visiting the site for the first time, welcome.

Second, to those of you who are visiting the site for the first time, please post in the comment section what your issues are with our about the Wonderlic test? I have gotten more hits this week on this blog that at any other time during its existence, and it isn't because another blogger or site has linked to this blog. It's because thousands of you have Googled"Wonderlic".

Third, I've read some rumors about scores at this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, so is that the big deal this time around?

Fourth, how much stock to you put in this test? Do you have any data that suggests that teams with higher Wonderlic scores fare better? I recall a comment once made about Moe Berg, a journeyman Major League catcher (who led a hard and somewhat sad life after baseball), a Princeton graduate who could speak many foreign languages. The comment was to the effect that he could speak a million languages but hit in none. Yes, the Manning brothers have scored very highly on this test, but Peyton's performance in the most recent AFC playoffs suggests that perhaps raw intelligence isn't everything. Terry Bradshaw owns four Super Bowl rings and was a great quarterback, yet I wonder whether he and "very high Wonderlic score" have been written in the same sentence. It's probably the case that Bradshaw's career predates the advent of the Wonderlic test, but you get my point. I loved watching Bradshaw play -- he was a winner. I like watching Peyton Manning play too, and I don't want to bash intellectual QBs or the Wonderlic test, but how much stock should we put in the latter? Shouldn't a players on-field skills and body of work in college count for much more?

Fifth, are the psychological profiles that some sports psychologists do for teams more valuable. I recall reading about one sports psychologist who has done well because he made the call for Indy to draft Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, having cast doubt about whether Leaf could perform at a high level. Are those evaluations more meaningful? Wouldn't you want Vince Young on your team regardless of his test scores? The guy has a high football IQ, Wonderlic or no Wonderlic.

Thanks for coming to the site and reading my posts. I welcome your comments about the Wonderlic Test and any other post.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Hoops Story for the Ages

Click on this link to Dave Sez's website and then watch the CBS News story.

This is a heartening, uplifting and inspiring story. Many sports fans get caught up in wanting to connect with greatness. They want to see Kobe score 100, claim that they were there when Wilt scored 100, get Bill Russell's autograph (talk about tough feats!), see a no-hitter, witness the next "great" NCAA playoff game, etc.

The funny thing of it is, greatness is probably before us every day.

You just have to know where to look.

It's not about big arenas, big names, big contracts, or the highest-level teams.

It's about heart, it's about effort, and it's about priorities.

Click to the link and watch the video.

You'll see what I mean.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gene Upshaw Opens His Silo, Shows His Nukes

If you don't think so, read this.

The NFL and NFLPA are apparently so far apart on their negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement that the league that has enjoyed the best labor relations might "Go Baseball" and have some bargaining ugliness, especially after next season.

Capless? That's the word that Gene Upshaw is using with agents, telling them that there might be a capless 2007.

Players won't play without helmets, and owners don't like to play without caps.

This iceberg has been out there for a while, and it's going to get uglier before you have the former Raiders' guard doing the Macarena on "Cold Pizza" with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

I used to think that the reason football players didn't strike and take strident positions was because a) their careers are very short and b) they're used to doing what authoritarian figures tell them to do. The latter is much more the case than the NBA, where it's hard to find many players who listen to anyone other than their favorite musicians on their Ipod Nanos before gametime. The fact of the matter is that the Goose that is the NFL is so golden that the players want a far greater share of the eggs than ever before. To continue with the fowl analogy, the owners and players are playing a game of chicken. Thankfully for the fans, the road that they're on is a pretty long one, and their high octane vehicles are far enough away from each other that a crash isn't likely anytime soon.

Still, that iceberg is moving quickly, ready to surface. If the powers that be let it, the next Titanic that you see listing mightily could be an NFL season, if not the structure of the league as we know it. Make no mistake about it, the current structure of the league has created a wonderful parity that gives every franchise hope of a quick turnaround. Change it to a capless situation, and the best capitalized teams will be at the top of the standings every year.

The good news will be that such a meritocracy will put teams like the Cardinals out of their misery once and for all. The bad news would be that only about 10 teams would be able to compete in all likelihood, TV money or no TV money.

Stay tuned.

Detroit, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Miami, Cleveland and Then What?

No, this isn't the itinerary of the Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Reunion tour. These are the six best teams in the NBA, record-wise, which means that the remaining 24 just aren't that good. Now, maybe this is the way it should be, that the cream rises to the top and that the rest are mired in some sort of bog that prevents them from cracking the acrylic ceiling and achieving platinum status. It's just that there is a little less than half a season to play, and it's hard to see, especially with the wacky salary cap and the paucity of meaningful trades made yesterday, how the trends which have established themselves so far will change.

Can't there be a ten-run rule concept in the NBA? Translated, if you're more than 15 games under .500 at the All-Star break they can cancel your season. Or, can't they do in U.S. sports what they do in the English professional soccer leagues? It's called relegation. The worst 3 teams in the Premiership, where the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal play, get sent down to the second-best league to play the next season, while the worst three teams in that league get sent down to the third-best league, and so forth. Conversely, when the worst three teams in the Premiership get sent down to the next level, the top three teams from that level get sent up to the Premiership for the next season. Talk about pressure.

Oh, yeah, and, by the way, once you're relegated there's no guarantee of returning to the better league unless, yes, you guessed it, you finish in the top three of the league to which you've been relegated.

Yikes -- a meaning measurement metric with consequences!

Of course, there is no next-level for the NBA, as the CBA and the NBDL aren't to the NBA what the Champions League teams in England are to the Premiership, where the UK's equivalents of the Yankees and Red Sox play. And, the NBA isn't exactly about to send the Knicks down to a league where they'd be playing in Roanoake, Sioux City and Moline anytime soon. Still, my guess is that the threat of having to play in places where the most exciting nightime activities for players with free time would be the latest release of a PlayStation 2 game or watching portable DVDs on a PC might compel some teams to play better team hoops and do everything in their powers to remain in the Big Apple.

Imagine. . . the NBA with no New York Knicks.

Come to think of it, we're pretty much there, aren't we?

Olympic Update: In Case You Missed This Yesterday

The Swedes beat the Swiss in women's curling.

This is women's curling, which isn't basically a trip to Queen Latifah's beauty shop to see who can create a perm the most quickly. Thankfully, there aren't judges like there are in figure skating, although in perm creation you would think that you'd need them because quality would have to count for something.

(I only thought of Queen Latifah when, at the beginning of the Olympics, a headling on the Philadelphia Inquirer's sports page reported that the U.S. men's hockey team was playing Lativa. Imagine the possibilities of crossing one of the Baltic State's with the popular U.S. singer and actress. Did that mean that they were playing her music in the locker room while preparing to play the Baltic State's hockey team? As early in the morning as I read the paper, it was confusing).

Much has been written about this sport, which is about as easy to comprehend as luge or skeleton, the latter which will put your remains into a cadaver laboratory if you're not careful, because if you miss-slide while hurtling downhill at 70+ miles per hour head first your helmet won't totally protect you from the head trauma that is likely to occur. Curling, in contrast, strikes me as a bunch of neighbors getting together using Swiffers to push the world's heaviest pie tins down an icy driveway, while some of their family members help aid the pie tin while using household brooms (or the brushes that you use to clear off your car after a snowstorm) into what's called the target area. If that analogy doesn't work, think of a bunch of old men wearing fedoras, Bermuda shorts, knee-high dark socks, white loafers and smoking ten-cent stogies playing shuffleboard at some Borchst Belt resort in the 1940's. Only, put them in Olympic team sweats, turn the shuffleboard court into ice, and have some teammates try to aid the slide of the discs into the target area.

Oh, yeah, and take away the nifty fedoras, the dime-store cigars and the copy of The Racing Form that Leo from Bensonhurst had rolled up under his arm while worrying about claims races at Belmont.

Come to think of it, perhaps it would be entertaining to have the old guys wearing the shorts, the tank-top undershirts and smoking the stogies compete in this event than the folks who do resemble the people you'd see at your house of worship or at an event at your kid's school. Maybe they should don mullets or up-dos, adopt Pro Wrestling personas and do New Zealand national team rugby chants before the contests begin. The only worse thing than watching the curling reports on TV right now would be if NBC were to cover an event from beginning to end. After all, roughly translated curling has 10 innings to baseball's 9, and there really aren't such thrills as a grand-slam home run, stretching a double into a triple, or watching El Duque throw back-door sliders to get his team out of a jam in the ALCS with the bases loaded and nobody out.

I am certain that the Swedish and Swiss women who compete in curling work hard at their craft and take their pastime very seriously. It's just that certain things get lost in translation in countries that don't share the same passion for waching secondary-school trigonometry teachers sliding concrete Bundt cakes on iced-over dance floors as people who hail from countries where ice is usually mentioned in conjunction with a lunchtime beverage order.

As in, "Hey, hon, do you want ice with that?"

In an era where cultures get merged frequently to provide unique experiences, combining your old time shuffleboard and bocce players -- and their unique period-piece getups that would qualify them for extras in a forty-year old mob movie -- with the treacheries of slippery paths would probably make Olympic curling an experience to which we all could better relate.

Give the old guys funky hair cuts, switch out the leaden Bundt cakes for bags of groceries that include fresh eggs, break out the cigars and let them trash talk, and then the ratings would start to sky.

To about half that of American Idol's.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Sporting World and American Idol Collide

In my post about the Winter Olympics, I noted that the winter games were losing out in the ratings to "American Idol." Some people who posted comments dissed "Idol", but little did I know that there is an overlap between Fox's big hit show and the sporting world -- contestant Becky O'Donohue.

O'Donohue, who is 25, played basketball for Niagara for four years alongside her twin sister Jessie. I confess to watching "Idol" last night, and I didn't catch O'Donohue, but it's interesting to find a crooning/hooping nexus. And the thing I liked about O'Donohue's bio on the Idol website is her comment that she has a 27" vertical jump and can post up anytime.

That's a cool comment. No, O'Donohue wasn't a star (she averaged about 6 ppg for her career), but you have to admire her versatility and confidence.

That she got to the Final 24 is a big accomplishment, probably a taller task for her personally that it would have been for her Niagara squad to have made the Women's Final Four.

Whether she gets to the finals is another story. Because even if you have a 27" vertical leap, you still have to climb a very steep ladder to get to the top.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses. . .

Is that the mantra of the New York Knicks?

They have Stephon Marbury, the poster child for a journeyman scorer who doesn't seem to make his team better, they have Jalen Rose, who is near the end of his career, and now they acquired Steve Francis in a great trade for Orlando that will give the Magic tons of cap room after this season to rebuild its team.

What is Isiah Thomas trying to accomplish here?

1. Rekindle the three-guard offense that the University of Arkansas made popular in the late 1970's with Sidney Moncrief, Ronnie Brewer and Marvin Delph?

2. Blow the Knicks salary structure so sky-high that they'll be able to contend perennially for the lottery pick.

3. Collect every difficult player in the league and try to show the hoops world once and for all that he can turn any group of talented players into a winner, whether or not they are "coach deaf."

I just don't understand the Knicks at all, and they will continue to frustrate and befuddle their fans, at least, those who will still pony up ridiculously high prices to see the product that the Knicks are putting forth. Additionally, while Isiah Thomas continues to confound, Larry Brown hasn't helped matters that much by refusing to give rookies sufficient playing time and then by burying others, including Trevor Ariza, who showed promise last year. Remember, while new coaches prefer shaping the roster according to their own coaching vision, that doesn't mean that everything the prior administration did was wrong. Ariza did show promise last year (even if he didn't stay at UCLA for as long as he should have and still needs polishing), and he and the extra cap room Orlando gets (along with the cap room that they'll have after Grant Hill's contract expires) should help the Magic build around Dwight Howard.

The Spurs and Pistons have proven that chemistry transcends all, assuming, of course, that you have enough talent in the first place. But if you look at NBA rosters around the league, you'll see that there are talented players on each team and that some teams start a bona fide college all-star team. Yet, for all their star power, teams like Chicago and the Clippers, among many others, are not outstanding teams in the league. Sometimes less, in terms of ego and expectations, is more. Get some talent, some grinders, some role players, and, presto, you could have a contender. In an era of unchoreographed pro hoops that lacks sound fundamental players, teams like Detroit and San Antonio are delights for the purists. Somewhere, I think, Red Auerbach would tip his cigar to Joe Dumars and to Gregg Popovich.

But to very few others.

The Knicks will continue to accumulate names and guards and cap-damaging salaries, but right now they are testimony to the notion that you can't buy excellence. And, in the Knicks case, you can't pay for it either.

New Meaning for the Hoops Term "Gunner"

Thanks to Skip Sauer at Sports Economist for blogging about this program in Philadelphia, which I saw in this morning's paper but forgot to blog about. That fan who you high-five at a game at the Wachovia Center (could it now be called the Whack Center) could be someone who turned in a Saturday Night Special to get his tickets.

I can see the marketing lines now: "Turn in Your Heater to See the Heat." Among other slogans, given that the 76ers' attendance is hovering at around the 15,000 mark (proving that people don't like to provide a sellout to a team mired in the molassess that .500 ball creates), the 76ers are using words like pride and passion. That's all well and good, but the fans like teamwork and winning. They love Mo Cheeks, but they'd like a 60-win season even more.

Sure, there's a social reason to get people to turn in their guns, but suppose kids come to the police station and turn in their water guns or their GI Joe toys, their Grand Theft Auto games or anything that might give them the wrong idea about violence. Should they get tickets too?

And what about the kids who work hard in school and go to the public library branch in the neighborhood (to the extent that many are left) to avoid the risks of the streets? What about the kids who get good grades? If the putative felons get single-game seats, shouldn't the honor students get single-game suites? I would vote for that in a heartbeat.

I don't know enough about Philadelphia's on-the-street problems to determine whether or not this will be an effective program. But I've always had problems not rewarding the good. Years ago, banks gave appliances to new customers who opened up accounts, and magazines still give inducements to new subscribers. But what about some props for those who have been with you for a long time? If we're giving the felons a bounty, what about the good kids out there who can't afford tickets? I would hope that the 76ers reward those who toe the line and make the best out of tough circumstances more tickets than those who turn in their handguns.

NBA Fans: Have Some Fun with These Two Websites

It's trading season in the NBA right now, and because of the salary cap when you move players you have to match up salaries to make sure the trade fits in under the salary cap. That's why you see five-for-two trades, trades that involve four teams, players whose popularity is measured sometimes not because of their ability but because of the remaining length of their contract (short) and the cap number it takes up (large). Translated, if you're Jamal Mashburn and you won't play again, you're popular right now because your $16 million or so salary counts against the 76ers' cap, and a team can acquire you simply to free up cap space for the free-agent market next year. Got all that?

Well, there are two websites that can help you measure the NBA trade market right now and play general manager while you're at it. First, there's the great HoopsHype, which is a must read in NBA front offices and which gives you tons of information regarding NBA trade talks. Start there to learn which teams are actually contemplating making moves. Second, there's ESPN.com's Trade Machine, which lets you plug in players into trade scenarios (it also lists their salaries) and tells you whether the trade will work.

So, if you want Steve Francis, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Marko Jaric or anyone else, fiddle with the Trade Machine and figure out what it will take to get the deal done. Remember, the team you trade with might take on a large contract with zero years left in order to clear cap room for next year. It's happened before, and it will happen again.

Have fun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This Is Pretty Cool

Check this out.

Okay, so it's not directly related to sports, but it's about perhaps the longest race in the history of man. Yes, there's a little bit of a pun there, because it's about the human race.

I found out about this project on a trip to Europe last fall, when I bought National Geographic Traveler magazine (Yes, I also bought The Sporting News' College Basketball Guide). In the former was an article about the National Geographic/IBM genomics project, which seeks to collect DNA samples from 100,000 people in order to trace the roots of people with varying DNA sequences. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying this, but basically the theory goes that we're all descended from one "Eve" who lived about 150,000 years ago somewhere in Eastern Africa, and what this project does is try to trace the paths that various races took to get where they are today. (Again, I'm oversimplifying). You should click on the link and read the whole thing.

Intrigued, I signed up for a kit (which costs about $100 plus tax) and was ready to swab my cheeks and put the swab sticks into a small test tube that contained some solution and then send the kit to the project. You do this anonymously, and it takes about 6 weeks to get your results. Well, my eight year-old daughter insisted upon doing the swabbing, and right around New Year's she did just that (for the lawyering types out there, as her parent I gave the "informed consent"). We mailed the samples into a test lab, and the website that I linked to enables you to track the progress of the testing.

The kit comes with a great DVD that features genomicists and anthropologists from Stanford, and it's compelling watching. We watched the DVD on a rainy night, and I tried to explain to the kids about the roots of various people. All I basically know about my ancestors is that they hail from various parts of Europe, so that doesn't distinguish me from a lot of people.

Well, the results came back today. The good news is that they provide a journey route on a silhouette of a world map that shows you the path your ancestors took to get to where you had some certainty where they were from (by listening to grandparents and, if you were lucky enough, great grandparents). The map dispelled the concept that my father-in-law had that some ancestors were Asian, as no ancestors appears to have ventured east of Azerbajian. Some parts of the journey were predictable, but yes, the family tree begins in eastern Africa and the journey began through some parts of the Middle East. Among the stops were some places I knew, and, well, some I didn't, such as Georgia and Moldova. The whole project is fascinating, and my family and I had some fun tonight tracing the map.

The bad news is that the map is a silhouette, so you have to pull up an on-line world map to try to precisely identify the countries that your ancestors went through. I wished that they had some more precision with their own map, but with some staring at world maps and the map the project gives you, you can ballpark the countries through which your ancestors traveled.

Sports bloggers write about contests, games and races, but this project seems to chronicle the longest journey of them all. Check it out if you get the chance, and, if you have some extra money lying around and the interest, participate in the project. It's been a great family tree/genetics/science/history discussion for the family so far, and we're going to try to better identify the countries on the silhouetted map to figure out with more precision where the journey went through.

It's good stuff on cold wintry days in the Northeastern U.S.

Monday, February 20, 2006

From Macho Row To Mystic Row

I confess I don't know enough about physics, metaphysics or philosophy, so it may be that Darren Daulton is a genius, he's before his time, he's another Spinoza, but somehow if that were the case I think he's brilliance in the thought realm would have been discovered well before now. Thanks to Chris Lynch of "Large Regular" for pointing out Dutch's treats, and here's a link to Franz Lidz's article on SI.com about the one-time Phillies' catcher's flirtation with, well, I can't even figure out what noun to use to describe what Daulton's talking about.

It's not the occult. It's not Tom Cruise's brain. No, it's not voodoo or Kabbalah or anything that has been defined before. Call it Dutch's philosophy of life.

I recall years and years ago, at a time after his retirement, where Phillies' Hall-of-Fame pitcher Steve Carlton was interviewed and spoke about his philosophies and theories, which were somewhat out there. What totally disappointed Phillies' fans was that they thought Carlton, an artist on the mound, would have been much more eloquent given that during the bulk of his career in Philadelphia (from 1974 to the late 1980's) he didn't talk to the press. Carlton had one of the all-time brilliant seasons in 1972, winning the Cy Young Award for a plum-awful team, only to follow it with a twenty-loss season in 1973. The Philadelphia media wasn't particularly kind to him, so he stopped talking.

To them and to everyone else. Late in his career, when he wasn't as compelling a player, he granted an occasion interview to his one-time catcher, Tim McCarver, who then was at the beginning of his broadcasting career. Still, those interviews were few in number. The published interview (I believe it was in "Philadelphia Magazine") didn't reveal a funny guy or an introspective guy, but a guy who liked his solitude, sounded like a survivalist and might have had a conspiracy theory or two. The shame of it was that so many of us loved Carlton's work ethic on the mound, and his silence added an aura of mysticism to him that made him even more appealing. It took that unfortunate interview to cause many a fan to go "Eee-gads", swallow, remember how much of a joy he was to watch, but remind ourselves that even our sports mortals are flawed humans like the rest of us.

I recall Carlton fondly as a master craftsman who I enjoyed watching with my father. I recall Daulton as an overrated macho guy whose team caught lightning in a bottle during one magical year but otherwise didn't accomplish all that much. Phillies' fans probably don't remember that Carlton interview, and, if they do, they've forgotten it. Phillies fans will view this interview and take pity on their former cleanup hitter, whose life seems to have been chock full of post-snowstorm big-city potholes since he retired from baseball.

No, I don't think that there was lead in the Vet Stadium pipes that led into the Phillies' locker room. A friend of mine, a one-time sportswriter, advised me once that you don't want to meet your heroes because they'll never be able to live up to your hopes and dreams. Steve Carlton was a hero, I met him in an elevator a few times, he nodded hello and otherwise continued his Harpo Marx imitation, sans the hair and the horn. Dutch Daulton played hard on the field with bad knees, but he didn't come close to approaching baseball's Mount Olympus or even the Phillies'. That fact, in and of itself, makes his comments much less worth listening too, and all the more puzzling.

Especially since I thought that Lenny Dykstra was the philosopher-king of the 1993 Phillies.

Exercise, Old Equipment and the Effort You Put Into It

I also could call this post "The Joy of Medicine Balls."

I'm one of those folks who gets up very early to exercise before work. At home. In a spare bedroom. I don't have a separate exercise room, per se, and I don't belong to a gym because to me if a gym were more than five minutes away it might as well be in Vladivostok. The drive would be taking away minutes I could exercise, and, well, that just won't do.

The health club I once belonged to had all sorts of nifty, state-of-the-art equipment, a good sound system, TVs on some aerobic equipment, you name it. But it was also about a fifteen-minute drive, which, coupled with my commute, made it all but unworkable on weekdays. I enjoyed working out there on weekends and on holidays, but I wasn't getting my money's worth, so I dropped out.

During the warm weather months, when it's light out early enough (and warm enough too), I'll get on my hybrid bike and do a 4-mile course in the neighborhood at least once, perhaps twice, and go hard all the way. The only hazard in the morning are the folks who deliver newspapers, who are wont to drive on both sides of the wide streets because there's no one else around. Because of this potential danger, I have a light both on the front and back of the bike, and, thus far, the closest I came to contact was when one of the delivery folks almost blew a stop sign.

The rides are fun. I am out in the fresh air, before the neighborhood is totally awake, and I pass a group of women who power walk, a few joggers, one or two other bicyclists and an older couple doing Tai Chi on the sidewalk. It's a great feeling to breathe the fresh air while the sun is coming up and before you surrender your day to the practical realities of work and the responsibilities of family. I vary the ride from time to time, so that it doesn't get boring.

But it's not that light out or that warm for most of the year, perhaps 4 to 5 months at the most. It's during the other months where I'm challenged to keep things interesting. I haven't bought the spin bike yet, if only because the one I like costs about $1,000 and some of the less expensive models have been written up as being particularly noisy. I've tried yoga, Tai Chi and even Tae Bo, but I did some serious damage to my lower back while trying to emulate Billy Blanks' doing a Tae Kwon Do kick, hurting it so much so that immediately after I had trouble turning on a faucet to get the water with which to take my anti-inflammatories.

So, several years ago, I returned to an old, faithful stand-by, a now almost 13 year-old Tunturi cross-country ski machine that they don't make any more (I've checked the Tunturi site) and, my guess is, I think they'd be amazed that there's one still in action. For those with low ceilings, this low-impact machine is good because, unlike most, if not all, elliptical trainers, it rests flat on the floor and not a foot above it. There are ski poles for you to push back and forth, and you get a good upper- and lower-body workout. It's not in perfect condition -- the grips are all but gone and the LED display hasn't worked for years, but I use and I-Pod and watch ESPN with close-captioning, so I really don't need to track my speed, mileage, etc. I think we paid about $200 for the machine in the early 1990's.

So, now, here's the workout. I stretch for about 15 minutes, doing back exercises my physical therapist taught me, some yoga stretches and then some hamstring stretches with a stretch band (I bought a pack of three of them for $5 at Five Below). After I stretch, I spend 20 to 30 minutes on the Tunturi machine, depending on how early I have to leave the house and begin my commute to work. Thereafter, I spend about 20-25 minutes using 4-, 5- and 8-pound medicine balls on a variety of exercises (about 20 in total) that are good for your core and upper and lower body. I got the lighter balls for $5 apiece at Five Below and then spent about $10 (perhaps $12) at Sports Authority for the 8-pounder. You may think of medicine balls from the days of the old gyms with the machines with the anti-flab bands you put around your waist and old, flywheel exercise bikes (remember Gordon Clapp, most recently of "NYPD Blue" but in the early 80's playing White Sox' catcher Ray Schalk in a gym scene in "Eight Men Out"), but they really help you develop your core strength. In addition, at the end of the workout, I use a big exercise ball to do 50 crunches and then 50 reverse crunches. I cool down for 10-15 minutes watching some news or doing some meditation, and then I'm ready to go.

I recall an old joke once where the comedian said, "I gave my mother an exercise bike. The best there is. Anyway, she sits on it for a while and then she asks, 'How do you turn this thing on?'" Now, for those of you used to LifeCycles, you might think her question to be legitmate, but, needless so say, she thought that the machine would do the work for her. As if.

Which gets to my point, which is especially germane for those of you who have thought about exercising for a while but whose intertia has prevent you from getting started. Just start doing something. Start out with a few simple stretches, get some dumbbells, do some pushups and crunches, all the while making sure you do them the right way. Get an exercise bike at a yard sale, buy one on-line for less than $250, and get going.

To quote the Vandellas from "Dancin' in the Street", "it doesn't matter what you wear, so long as you are there." Put on some exercise clothes (Dick's has a nice line of Russell Athletic stuff that is modestly priced, and Wal-Mart has some Hanes wear at very low prices) and do your best. You don't need a $1500 home gym, the $1000 spin bike, the $2000 treadmill or anything like that. Make sure your doctor clears you, and do whatever works for you in the space and time you have.

Yes, it's hard to get started. There are always people in better shape than you, and there are always people who will do more. You may think that your 20 minutes a day to start aren't significant, but after a while you'll build up to more vigorous exercise in a longer time period, to the point where it will be a highlight of your day. Just pace yourselves, and you'll do just fine.

You just have to start somewhere.

For me, it was some old-time stuff -- an almost-forgotten cross country ski machine and some old-school technology -- medicine balls. I try to exercise every day during the week, and I'm glad to do so every opportunity I get. Getting the motivation to get started is perhaps the biggest hurdle for most of us. Just remember, it really doesn't matter what you wear, how you look or how good your equipment is.

What matters is your commitment to better health.

And how much heart you show about your physical fitness.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Teflon and the New York Knicks

Thanks, Sports Frog, for bringing this to light. Or for at least reminding me that this was something that I wanted to post about.

For years people raved about Teflon, the no-stick substance that's used to coat pans so that your food doesn't stick to them, making both your meals and the pans a mess. Teflon became such a popular term that it applied to a President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) and a mafia don (John Gotti) to describe the notion that while bad things could go on under those guys' auspices, they themselves didn't get into trouble for them. In the case of the former, the coating never wore off. In the case of the latter, it wore off big-time, so much so that the Dapper Don died in a maximum security prison where he was confined to his cell for 23 hours a day.

(I won't opine on the current state of play of Teflon, in that it's the subject of mass-tort litigation by those who claim that it's cancerous. I'm not familiar enough with the studies to know what's going on there, but the irony of it is that, whatever the verdicts will be, Teflon has lost its magical powers, at least metaphorically, and might need another DuPont product, Kevlar, to protect it. )

Which brings me to the New York Knicks. If you go to the Hoops Hype website, you'll note that by far they have the highest payroll in the NBA, and, but for injuries to Charlotte, would have the worst record in the NBA. If you run a sales department, you know that each year you have to make decisions as to who you should fire to improve performance in certain territories. Those decisions, while sometimes tough to make because you like the people, aren't as tough from a business standpoint because, as they say, the numbers don't lie. The same holds true in an operations function -- if the yields and gross margins aren't there, you'll probably make some changes.

In this fashion, it's easy to tell how management of sports teams are doing, as it is how the players are faring. You look at the won-lost record and you determine how well the front office is doing. There aren't many extenuating circumstances. It's just about the record.

Isiah Thomas has been with the Knicks since December 22, 2003. In defense of him, he hasn't been with the Knicks all that long (although one might argue than any tenure in the NBA over 18 months is a millenium, given that owners change coaches about as frequently as parents of infants change diapers). During his tenure (and I'll count the entire 2003-2004 season if only because I have no way of breaking it out), the Knicks are 85-131 (37-45 two seasons ago, 33-49 last year and 15-37 so far this year), and it looks like matters will get worse before they get better. The talk on WFAN out of New York shows no optimism, especially because while the Knicks' current record forecasts a top lottery pick, the Knicks traded that pick last year to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal.

Put simply, it's not going well for Thomas or for Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown, whose hiring was hailed by many as a palliative for the Knicks' ails. I, for one, wasn't as certain as to Coach Brown's healing powers, reminding people that his first name is Larry and not Merlin. While accountability for much of the Knicks' fate rests at the doorstep of ownership and Thomas, certain of it should be laid on Brown as well, especially because his penchant for not playing young players all that much, relatively speaking.

Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan. It's easy to pass out the victory cigars and thank everyone in the organization, like Bill Cowher did when the Steelers won the Super Bowl, whether everyone deserved the props or not. It's another thing to stay silent while a flagship franchise of the NBA is in disarray. Maybe there's something they are not telling us. Maybe there's a double secret reconstruction plan that has the Knicks back on top in another two and a half years. It could well be the case, but the current trends seem to cast a shadow on that type of optimism.

It's funny about brand names. In most sports, they rise and fall. You couldn't have had a better trademark than the Celtics in the 1960's or the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980's, but today those trademarks belie the grandeur that once was. The Knicks were once a team that fielded Clyde and the Pearl, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas and, of course, Willis Reed. Today most people can't name a player on the squad, save Stephon Marbury, who isn't exactly a brand enhancer. Yes, it can take decades to build a brand, but only several years of questionable decisions to tarnish it. The good news for NBA squads is that while trademarks ebb and flow, and they seldom go bust.

So far, Teflon has attached itself to both Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown. The guess here is that it, or whatever other substance becomes the protective coating of the era, will remain glued to Larry Brown until he decides to retire. Isiah Thomas, though, is a different story. How many trades can he make? How many pariahs can he add to his squad? Steve Francis was rumored to be coming to Manhattan, although that story has faded. Now the focus is on Darius Miles. Perhaps they'll even contact Orlando about acquiring Darko Milicic.

It's an interesting saga in New York, especially when juxtaposed to that of the Rangers, whom SI picked in the pre-season as the worst team in the NHL and who are having a great year. How long can Isiah Thomas be immune from the fates that befall people whose performance metrics are bad? And how much heat can he and the franchise take?

Kurtis Blow once rapped, "I used to go to dinner and take my girl. . . to see Tiny play against Earl the Pearl." Yes, those were the days. The only thing tiny now for the Knicks is their won-lost record, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Where are you, Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, now that the Knicks need you?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Before You Put Them on Mount Olympus Just Yet. . .

Read this.

And this.

Believe it or not, the heavyweight champ has a jaw that aches when it gets hit. More than that, after cruising to a lead on points, the heavyweight champ can tire and fall prey to a feisty challenger that keeps on clawing back.

But I really haven't written about boxing before on this blog, have I? No, I'm talking about the more genteel sport, basketball, and, particularly, the Penn Quakers, who many, including me, thought would cruise to a 14-0 season in the Ivies. After all, the challenge for the Quakers this year didn't seem to be winning the Ivies -- they're the best of the lot -- but going undefeated, extending their double-digit average margin of victory (it was at 23.1 points after 7 Ivy contests), getting as high a seed as possible and perhaps winning the Ivies' first game in the tourney in about seven years (Bracketology recently had them as a 14 seed playing 3 seed West Virginia, which would be problematic given that (i) John Bellein is an excellent coach and (ii) who do the Quakers have to guard 6'11" three-point shooting forward Kevin Pittsnogle?).

Currently, the Penn team is like the smartest kid in the neighborhood whose parents worry about ever so slightly because they're fearful that he might get bored if he's not taking all Advanced Placement courses and might stray away from the perfect record and the Ivy admissions that go along with it. Alternatively, this Penn team is like the smartest kid at the small town HS you watch and wonder whether he'll be the next Bill Gates or Sam Alito (translated -- can they beat a Villanova, Seton Hall or even Bucknell?), because 2G Ibby Jaaber is one of the Ivies' best in years and because the Quakers have a high hoops IQ and play very well together. Either way, the ability to do outstanding things is there.

Tonight they ran into one of the newest kids in the neighborhood, the kid who is starting to get known a little bit, who hasn't spoken up that much in the classroom, but who knows what he knows very well and can hang intellectually with the smartest kids, at least for a while on some subjects. The Columbia Lions have a focused coach who is a good recruiter, and it was a one-time top Penn recruit (from the same South Jersey HS as Princeton captain Scott Greenman), Ben Nwachukwu, who tipped in the game winner with 2 seconds left, giving Columbia a 59-57 victory over visiting Penn. The Quakers had led 28-14 with 6:21 to play in the first half, and were outscored 45-29 the rest of the way.

Some interesting numbers: Penn shot 8-24 from behind the arc. Columbia outrebounded Penn 33-21. Penn had 14 assists and 14 turnovers, while Columbia had only 7 assists to 14 turnovers. Usually when you have a 1-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, you lose the basketball game.

Now Penn travels to Ithaca and Princeton to Columbia, where either both visiting teams will face stoked opponents who will rise to the occasion and give them tough games, or the Saturday Night Syndrome will take over, and both Columbia and Cornell will be worn out from their tough games tonight and have less left to battle Penn and Princeton on Saturday night. My guess is that Penn will come out charging, not permit a big lead to slip away, and beat Cornell by 17. The Columbia-Princeton game will be much closer.

The Penn Quakers are an excellent basketball team. Just when I wrote the obituary for the remaining Ivy teams and questioned the quality of play, Columbia rallied to upend the Quakers. On the one hand, it's hard to play Penn, because they have a great program. On the other hand, it's easy to get up for the Quakers, because for many schools in the league a win over Penn or Princeton makes their year.

All of the above, of course, is great testimony as to why the games are played in the first place.

Because even heavyweight champions don't go undefeated throughout their careers.

Wonder If She Called Him Joey

Sad tale about Albert Belle, the one-time Cleveland and Baltimore outfield great with limitless potential that his volatility sometimes hindered.

Belle is a complex person. Outstanding power hitter and one of two Orioles who could complete a New York Times crossword puzzle. The other was former Oriole and current Yankee Mike Mussina, a Stanford alum. I recall reading an article once that indicated that the two would compete to see who could complete a puzzle faster.

Unfortunately, this story isn't about losing a "Best of Will Shortz" crossword puzzle contest. No, it's about a tempestuous thirty-nine year-old and a broken relationship.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why People Aren't Watching the Winter Olympics

Instead of writing a narrative, I'll give you a Letterman-like Top 10 list (I'll concede that I might not be as funny as Dave).

10. Most of the civilized world doesn't participate in the sports that are featured in the Winter Olympics. It's hard to relate to half-pipe or whatever it's called if you can't do it in a schoolyard or in someone's backyard.

9. There is no suspense. Why watch a hockey game when you know the result unless a) you follow certainly players with an almost religious-like fanatacism or b) you're related to someone involved with the team. We watched USC-Texas and we watch the NCAA hoops title games (men's and women's) with a nice turnout nationwide because we haven't seen the result hours before.

8. There are so many choices on television. After all, if there is no suspense, why give up "CSI", "24", "Lost" or any other shows to which the American public has become attached. I, for one, haven't become attached to those, but I wouldn't pass on St. Joe's-UConn or the Spurs, Mavs or Pistons to watch skeleton or curling. Apparently, most Americans wouldn't either.

7. The big names have not fared well so far. I remember years ago the networks hyped the "Dan" and "Dave" show for the decathlon before the Summer Olympics, only to have one or both fail to qualify for the U.S. team. Talk about a bad ad campaign. Michele Kwan was controversial to begin with, and Bode Miller didn't exactly make himself likeable with his pre-Games interviews. You want to root for the underdog, the Bill Koch, the 1980 U.S. men's hockey team, the Dave Wottle of the '72 summer games. Not selfish people who either don't know when to yield or when to keep quiet.

6. In most of the events, you can't see the full heads of the participants. Somehow, the NFL transcends this, as does NASCAR, probably because the action is so compelling to their fans that the players and drivers get tons of endorsements that plaster their otherwise helmeted faces all over the U.S. Still, we like baseball and basketball because we can see the full profiles of the players. In most Olympic sports, you can't, and that's problematic when most of the participants aren't household names to begin with. How can you identify with someone whose name you didn't know in the first place whose head you can't see? Unfortunately, to most viewers these athletes are relatively anonymous.

5. Figure skating is not as popular as it used to be, in my opinion. There have been too many controversies about judging, and the Kwan affair left a bad taste in the mouth of many casual fans. The U.S. skating body whiffed big-time in letting Kwan on the team at the expense of Emily Hughes, who now must be weary having had the snow storm of '06 delay her travel to Torino. I have written a lot about judged sports, which, in my opinion, aren't sports at all precisely because of the judging. The one thing you have to respect about downhill skiing is that the fastest people win, and the judges aren't involved much unless a participant misses a gate.

4. As a corollary to #10, the Winter Olympics just aren't a major event any more, at least for most people. If you doubt this contention, watch how many people go gaga over World Cup 2006. Many more millions than either flocked to Torino or watched the games on TV. Think they're watching luge in Uruguay? Speed skating in Sao Paolo? Not a chance.

3. It's not "American Idol", is it? I suppose the attraction to picking the best unknown singer is that people come from out of nowhere, while many Olympic athletes train full time. I recall when ABC covered the Olympics in the 1970's, they made the stories so compelling, including one about a Belgian librarian who was a weightlifter in the heavyweight class. Jim McKay was classic in his role, and, without the internet, the world was a bigger place and those stories were more compelling. It's hard to spring stories like that anymore -- we know about them before the Olympics if we at all care about the competition.

Okay, so I've run out of contentions at this point, but I think you get my point. There are many interesting items that comprise the Winter Olympics, but the average American would rather watch "Desperate Housewives," if for no other reason than they don't know how a new episode will end and because they can relate more to the downhill lives that the residents of Wisteria Lane are leading than to the downhill racing that people who aren't named Picabo anymore are doing in Italy.

An L.L. Bean Story

I pride myself on making things last, and the longer I have a streak going the more I'd like to keep it. I suppose the sports nexus to this story is that L.L. Bean is a leading purveyor of outdoor wear, and I'm very fond of some of their products.

Yes, I was marooned in Florida on Sunday and Monday before returning Tuesday, and I use the word marooned because I felt somewhat powerless dealing with the rapid busy signal that was USAir and because the temperatures were in the low fifties with a twenty-mile-an-hour wind. So much for getting some sun and relaxation. Instead, we donned most of the layers we brought with us. I didn't wear my winter coat, if only because psychologically I didn't want to let go of the fact that I wasn't in Florida. I also made for a unique traveler among my group, in that I didn't leave my winter outerwear in my car, which most did, and which all who did lamented. Try going back and digging your car out of a foot and a half of snow while warming up the frigid coat that spend the past week in the back seat of your car. There are more fun things to do.

Anyway, I am walking along Terminal E at Philadelphia International Airport after having landed wearing my L.L. Bean Baxter State Parka. Now, this isn't just any Baxter State Parka, but a 1988 version that his hunter green with the black-and-red-checked wool pattern that lines the hood. What makes this coat outstanding is that it has stood the test of time, is good until it gets 20 degrees, is thin enough that you don't feel like the Michelin Man wearing it, and you can don layers under it to make you feel warmer. During my 18 years of ownership, I've had a pocket reattached once (courtesy of the company) and had the zipper reattached (courtesy of my dry cleaner). I get it dry cleaned after every winter, and it looks as good as new. It hasn't frayed, either.

A nice gentleman stops me, very polite, perhaps in his 70's. "Excuse me," he said, "but may I ask you where you got your coat."

"L.L. Bean," I said.

He smiled quickly.

"But," I added, "it's almost 20 years old."

His smile vanished.

"I had one of those with that lining for 30 years before it wore out," he said somewhat wistfully, "and it was just great. The hood didn't blow off your head the way the new models do. I've been looking for something just like it again, but I haven't been able to find it."

We then exchanged pleasantries about our older L.L. Bean stuff and shared a lament that more recent coats our family members have bought from various vendors (including one from Bean) haven't held up the way those old Baxter State Parkas have. Except for my attachment to my antique, I would have given him the coat, although it might have been a size too big.

Quality is an over-used word and one that also gets taken for granted.

I bought the coat in 1988 for $79 at a time when I needed my first post-college casual coat, instead of wearing a big woolen winter coat that looked better atop a suit. I also bought a pair of Bean Gore-Tex lined hunting boots for about $99, and I still have them too. They're great for shoveling snow. You could have a wind-chill factor of about 15 degrees, but your feet will feel like they're in the Caribbean Sea off the Jamaican coast. Great, great stuff. I splurged spending that money then; it looks like a bargain today.

I don't know whether they make that stuff like they used to, but these items give me a fond affection for the L.L. Bean brand. I've worn that coat to many a football game and to many a basketball game (although, thankfully, the gyms are of course warm enough not to need the coat while inside). At this point in my life, I hope to make it last forever.

Thanks, L.L. Bean, for high-quality stuff. If you can do so, resurrect your specifications for the late 80's model of the Baxter State Parka. They hold up really well, and there are a bunch of people out there who would buy them in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Zing, Oomph and Uh-Oh

Unfortunately, I was one of the masses who was unable to return to the Northeast on a timely basis because of last weekend's snowstorm. As a result, I didn't get to post my pre-game analysis of last night's Penn-Princeton game. Suffice it to say that the outcome did not surprise me.

Penn 60
Princeton 41.

Penn went into the game 6-0 in the Ivies, having won every game by double digits. Princeton went into the game a surprising second, having shown some newly found grit in the Ivy season after foundering badly in the pre-season, going 2-11. It's late at night and my patience for linking to my prior posts is thin, but one of you faithfully e-mailed me to chide me about describing Princeton as a freight train gathering steam.

Okay, so I got a bit carried away, but even in that post I wrote that perhaps the Tigers weren't a freight train but perhaps a milk train on steroids. If that were the case, then Penn is a nuclear-powered bullet train that totally outclasses the rest of the Ivies. The Quakers most certainly showed that last night.

There are, though, some hard truths about the Ivies:

1. The Ivies are at a low tide, their lowest in years, perhaps ever. Penn is the best team in the league, by far, but the rest of the Ivies are not very good. Before the season, there were high hopes for Harvard, Cornell and even Columbia, but none of those schools has honored the faith some pre-season prognosticators had in them.

2. This team is perhaps the worst of Fran Dunphy's title teams. Now, before Penn fans get upset, you must remember that this team isn't as good as a) the Jerome Allen/Matt Maloney teams, b) the Michael Jordan/Matt Langel teams or c) the Ugonna Onyekwe/Andy Toole/Koko Archibong teams, or, for that matter, last year's Tim Begley-led team, if for no other reason than David Whitehurst is not Tim Begley. And, as good I think a coaching job Fran Dunphy did last year, he is doing as good a job this year. Again, his teams lack the true point guard that Dunphy loves, but he's figured out a way to win without that guard. And without Tim Begley, last year's Player of the Year and a very gifted hoopster.

3. There was a good article by Mike Sielski in this morning's "Bucks County Courier Times" about Dunphy's mastery, and Dunphy is simply a class act. The Penn fans are great, particularly at a Princeton game, but the cheers that end with "You Suck" have got to go (even if, as Sielski pointed out, the comments are not always inaccurate). Dunphy, to his credit, said that he hates that cheer, and not every coach would chide his own fans for bad taste. That cheer dishonors the outstanding Penn hoops tradition, and if it's uttered in Princeton, it does the same thing there. (As an aside, a couple of years ago I took my then four year-old son to his first baseball game at Citizens Bank Park, where the bullpens are tiered in centerfield, with the visitors' bullpen sitting atop the home team's. Fans can congregate in that area, called "Ashburn Alley", and they were wont to heckle the opposing relief corps. I joked that I had to tell my son that "U Suk" was the name of the Korean reliver for the Houston Astros that day.).

4. Princeton's recruits should salivate at the potential for playing time if they bust their guts for Joe Scott next year. The team looked out of balance, needs a true center, a shooting guard and will need a PG after Scott Greenman graduates this season. They started four forwards and a PG last night, and the forward who played center, Justin Conway, is 6'4" and very limited on offense. While Conway has gotten rewarded for his outstanding play in practice, Penn didn't guard him from outside on defense, thereby creating a 5 on 4 situation for a good part of the night. That made it very difficult for Princeton's shooters to get open.

5. Penn will win the Ivies next year, too, because they lose only PG Eric Osmundsen and seventh man Friedrich Ebede, have a solid corps of frosh waiting in the wings and have some good incoming recruits as well. No other team should come close.

6. Will another school give Fran Dunphy his chance at the bigger time? He turned down Penn State a few years ago and was a runner up for jobs at Ohio State and Georgetown. It's clear that he'd be interested to scratch that "what if" itch, even if he's the dean of Ivy coaches and, if he coaches into his 70's, could eclipse Pete Carril's mark for career wins. The only way other Ivies can mount a challenge more quickly than a few years down the road would be if Dunphy were to leave after this season. I'd book the odds as one in five that he opts for another school.

7. I haven't read any bracketology predictions, but I would surmise that Penn will be a #14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I don't think that they have the size or pure shooting ability to beat a #3 seed, and the Ivies haven't won a game in the tournament in almost 10 years. I don't think that streak will end this season.

8. Ibby Jaaber of Penn clearly is the Ivies' Player of the Year. The junior guard is the Quakers' catalyst. He's not particularly a great shooter, but he has an outstanding first step and is head and shoulders a better athlete than the next contender for that honor. He is an outstanding defender.

9. Zing and oomph weren't present for the Tigers last night. Give the Penn Quakers credit for disrupting the Tigers' at both ends of the floor. Give the Tigers some demerits for failing to get into a rhythm and for failing to execute their game plan. Tiger fans are now reducing themselves to applauding the effort, but it's hard to get that excited when your favorite team had 5 assists to 17 turnovers. That stat, in and of itself, suggests that the game wasn't as close as the 60-41 final score.

10. Missing in action for the Tigers is soph center Harrison Schaen. Two years ago the Tigers won the Ivies because coach John Thompson figured out a way to put Schaen in games, particularly in the second half. Schaen sat at the back of a 3-2 zone, intimdated anyone who would try to penetrate, blocked shots and controlled the boards. He might not have put up great numbers, but he changed the game. This year he's missing in action. That fact perplexes Princeton fans, who remember fondly the potential Schaen showed a few years ago.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Beware the Tough Turtles!

I suppose it doesn't matter on Tobacco Road whether your hoops team is the men's or women's team, because right now it's tough to get significant exposure if your school is not named Duke or North Carolina. Within the past week, those school's men's and women's team played. The Carolina women beat Duke in Cameron, while the Duke men beat Carolina in Chapel Hill. Both were outstanding games; both are formidable teams.

But what a difference a week makes. An interloper has breached the treacherous perimeter that Duke and Carolina have built to protect their turf over hoops excellence in the ACC. . .

I joke with some colleagues at work that it's tough to take a victory lap because it seems as though every time one is attempted there's something waiting in a blind spot down the home turn that will elbow you in the solar plexus and send you sprawling. Which, perhaps, is what happened to Carolina when a very tough, up-and-coming Maryland women's hoops team (with no one with a name as mellifluous as that of Nik Caner-Medley, a star on the men's team) beat Carolina in College Park and sent a message that not only is the ACC loaded with great teams, but that the Terps are a great team on the national scene.

Read this link to a post on the Double-A Zone by Laura Harper, the center on the Maryland team. It's just a terrific post that demonstrates a) great insight into how teams come together, b) what a thoughtful young woman Harper is, c) what a good writer Harper is, and c) what a bright future Harper should have after she graduates from Maryland a few years down the road. The Double-A Zone has attracted some very good posts from NCAA student-athletes since its inception, and I try to get to it regularly. As to this particular post, it demonstrates very good insight about how players need to connect with one another and, implicitly, how coaches need to frame situations in such a way to let the kids develop the cohesiveness they need to win the big game.

They might not be Ninjas, but these are a tough group of turtles.

That Freight Train You Hear

could be the Princeton Tigers' men's basketball team.

Okay, so perhaps right now at 6-12 the Tigers qualify only as the Dinky on steroids, but they are picking up speed, and quickly. (For the uninitiated, there is a short-track train that runs from the town of Princeton to the Princeton Junction Amtrak and New Jersey transit station. Officially, it's known as the PJ&B, standing for Princeton Junction and back, but the locals call it the Dinky). Last night's win, a 60-59 road win at Harvard, demonstrates that the Tigers are gathering steam.

Last weekend, I wrote about the return of "zing and oomph", which, roughly translated, means that the Tigers showed precision and determination on offense and disruptiveness on defense. At a critical time early in the second half last Friday night against Yale, the Bulldogs made a run. The Tigers of 2005 might have folded and lost by 10. The Tigers of 2006 took a cleansing breath, refocused their efforts and put a physical (and bigger) Yale team away, winning by 19. In that game, the Tigers ran their offense well, had very few possessions where they took at bad shot as the 35-second clock expired, hit their three-point shots, aced their free throws and had numerous touches on defense. The next night, the defense clamped down even further, holding what usually is a high-octane Brown team to 37 points.

Last night was something different entirely. On a night where they shot only 11-30 from behind the arc, and on a night where they once led by 9 in the first half, the Tigers found themselves down 6 with two minutes to go. The Tigers of 2005 probably would have found a way to lose this game, but the Tigers of 2006 showed they have put the disappointments of last year behind them and are moving forward with a sense of purpose. Noah Savage's jumper with less than a second to go clinched a victory for the Tigers, who, last night, played outstanding defense against the three (Harvard shot 0-7) and showed that they could win a tight game on the road.

What does this all mean?

First, the Tigers' recent success does not suggest that they are playing basketball at the same level as Penn, which is 5-0 and in first place in the Ivies. The Quakers have slashed through the Ivies the way an adventurer clears brush with a machete, while the Tigers' journey through the same terrain has at times resembled the perils of the "Night Bus" in the third Harry Potter movie. While you have to count the entire season's body of work (which gives Penn a big edge), if you look at the recent trend you'll notice that we're seeing a different Tigers' team here. Through hard work in practice, some injuries and some roster retirements, the Tigers' rotation is set and playing pretty well. That should make them a much tougher team than they were even a month ago. Still, assuming that Penn and Princeton both win tonight, Penn should be favored by at least 10 at next Tuesday's showdown at the Palestra.

Second, Joe Scott's mastery is beginning to show. By inserting walk-on and formerly end-of-the-bench player Justin Conway into his starting lineup, he has sent a message that no one can rest easy in practice, that every job is open, and that each player must give his best all the time in order to remain in the rotation. With this type of fairness, the Princeton hoops product should get better and better. The hungriest and toughest kids will get the lion's share of the minutes, and the team should only improve (assuming of course, within reason, that the talent is there). It was Conway's steal with 20 seconds to go in last night's contest that opened the gate for Savage's game-winner.

No, Tiger fans shouldn't start to shoot off firecrackers and start to strut now or at any time in the near future. Your team is still 6-12. You don't usually strut anyway, but like many fans you feel a little extra happiness when your team is faring better. Take that happiness in a small dose now and watch the rest of the journey.

Zing and oomph returned last weekend.

Clutch play showed itself last night.

The steam is gathering, regardless of whether it's attached to the Dinky or a freight train.

Whatever the mode of transportation, it looks like it's going to be an exciting ride.

A Potential Belichick in College Hoops

He didn't say so in so many words, but Dick Vitale thinks so.

As you probably know by now, Quin Snyder resigned as head coach of the Missourit Tigers. One of the first of Mike Krzyzewski's assistants to get a head coaching job (and a big-time one at that), Snyder never got the Tigers above what I would call mid-major status (that is, an attractive pretender as opposed to a perennial contender). Yes, the Tigers got publicity, but it wasn't always positive. Some of the recruits were controversial, proved to be distractions and ultimately derailed Snyder.

Much has been written lately about the NFL coaching line that starts with Bill Parcells and goes through Bill Belichick. There are lots of big names in that line, many successful coaches (some of whom are Parcells' coaching grandchildren, as they got their shots as assistants not to Parcells, but to Belichick). Belichick's compelling story is well-known, that of being the son of an excellent coach, Parcells' defensive coordinator and unsuccessful in his first head coaching gig in Cleveland. After he left Cleveland, many thought that the Belichick story was simply one of a coordinator not being able to handle a head coaching job. That's an old theme, and it's been re-worked many times. As Paul Havey would say, "you know the rest of the story." Belichick now is on the contemporary version of pro football's Mount Rushmore along with Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs. Sorry, Tuna, but until you win another one, the Parcells name doesn't quite get there, that's how rareified the air is.

Back to basketball, the Coach K line includes the likes of Snyder, Michigan's Tommy Amaker, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Delaware's David Henderson. Good guys, all, I am sure, with Brey being the most successful to date (and he is not a Top 25 head coach). Amaker has yet to break out, either, and I found his hiring at Michigan a bit curious if only because he hadn't set the world on fire at Seton Hall. Henderson's fate is probably sealed at Delaware, with rumors out of the Philadelphia papers already stirring -- that he'll be replaced after this season.

College basketball is a brutal meritocracy. It doesn't matter if you were a great player, played on a national championship team, have a mentor who helped you get the job or, yes, have a Duke degree. In the end, as with sales, the numbers do not lie. If you don't win, the laws of coaching will catch up with you and you'll lose your job.

I don't know whether Quin Snyder will be an excellent head coach some day, because I haven't followed Missouri that closely to know whether that will be the case. That said, many an outstanding coach has had bumps along the road to success. John Wooden was at UCLA for about 15 years before he won a national title, and in the early 1960's his Bruins went 0-8 against Pete Newell's Cal Bear teams. Many of the NFL's all-time greats had losing records in their first four seasons on the job. The key for Quin Snyder will be whether he can learn from the past, leave the past there, and improve in the future.

And that's where the pedigree does help and does come in. If Snyder builds on all of the success he has had in the past and learns from the present, his future could be quite bright indeed.

He's far too young to get sent to the coaching junkyard, and my guess is that within the next couple of years he'll surface as the head coach of another D-I program.

And perhaps one that won't have the daunting task of going head-to-head with the storied programs of Kansas and Oklahoma State and the perennial threat that an Oklahoma poses.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Amid Madness, A Sense of Rationality

We're talking Detroit, yes, but we're not talking about the U.S. automobile industry.

We're talking football in Hockeytown U.S.A.

During this past football season, the hue and cry to run GM Matt Millen out of town on a rail, tarred and feather, reached a fever pitch. It didn't get so bad that it permeated the 7-and-under flag football games in Ann Arbor or Grosse Pointe, but the chants permeated many venues in Detroit.

Detroit's choice for a head coach was perplexing, in that the Lions chose a veteran assistant coach in Rod Marinelli who wasn't on anyone's pre-season list for head coaches to be the way, say, Eagles' offensive coordinator Brad Childress was (Childress inked early with Minnesota). Puzzling, yes, the choice was, and one of the theories was that Millen wanted someone he could work with (translated another way, Millen didn't want anyone with an ego bigger than his). If the choice was curious it's because that while the Lions need good coaching across the board, their offense has been plum awful, especially when you consider three first-round talents at WR, a star in the making at running back, and a QB who was highly touted out of college (and who has proved to be, along with several other Jeff Tedford-mentored QBs, thus far a bust in the pros). I would have expected an offensive coordinator to get the Detroit job.

While it would be easy to say "Rod who" and dump all over Matt Millen, because that pastime would be as appealing right now as adults playing biddy basketball. The challenges have evaporated before the opening whistle. In defense of Millen, other teams made curious picks, especially Green Bay, which, in selecting Mike McCarthy, selected an offensive coordinator from one of the worst teams in the NFL. In summary, 2006 wasn't exactly the year that teams got their fans psyched about their new coaches.

Head coaches are an interesting breed. Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame 49ers coach, really let his assistants do most of the coaching, and he would coach his coaches and let them have it royally when their strategies didn't work. In the 1950's, the New York Giants had an average-to-above average coach in Jim Turner, who was smart enough to have able coordinators. A guy named Tom Landry ran the defense, and some fellow named Lombardi ran the offense. With Dallas and Green Bay, respectively, those two outstanding coaches helped define the NFL for the next two decades. Others, like like Bill Parcells, control their staffs tightly and are the face of their teams. That's not to say that they don't let their coaches coach; to the contrary, Parcells and the coaches that he has mentored have minted more NFL head coaches than any line of descendants from any other coach. In short, different head coaches run their teams differently.

I submit now that perhaps the most important hire in the off-season was not any single head coach. I don't think that any of the recent hires will make an immediate, big impact. Herman Edwards inherits an able squad in K.C., and Bill Belichick disciple Eric Mangini is an intriguing selection in New York with the Jets. Most coaches are inheriting teams that need work, so it won't be as though they'll turn things around overnight. However. . .

To me, Detroit's landing Mike Martz is perhaps the biggest coaching coup of the off-season. When Dick Vermeil led the Cardinals and their "Greatest Show on Turf" to the Super Bowl, it was Martz who turocharged the offensive engine and enabled it to blast by most teams. En route to a second Super Bowl title in a row, it took an ingenious defensive by Belichick (playing as many as 7 DBs at once) to turn the turf into mud and begin the legend of Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the Pats. That aside, Mike Martz's teams, on offense, have been golden.

If the goings on in St. Louis were the "Greatest Show on Turf," I can only imagine that with Messrs. Williams, Williams and Rogers playing WR and Mr. Jones playing RB, that the Lions' offense will earn the moniker "Downtown in Motown" or "Mo-O-Town." Because if you give Mike Martz some talent, he'll figure out a way to spring it. Yes, Harrington presents a challenge, but knowing Martz, he'll figure out something.

And Detroit will start figuring out how to win more games.

Assuming, of course, that the GM drafts well and manages his cap well.

He should worry about that and stay out of the way of his new coaches.

Because it seems, at least, that they know what they're doing.

The Interference Penalty in the NFL (Among Other Things)

Mel Kiper, Jr. made a great point on the Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio this morning.

In football, there are two types of roughing the kicker penalties and two types of facemask penalties. Call them "lite" and "regular" or "you just nicked the guy" or "you dadgum plowed him over." However you slice it, if it's at the ticky-tack end of the continuum, your team gets a smaller penalty and not necessarily a game-changing one.

That seems about right. If you simply bump a kicker on fourth and nine, it's a five-yard penalty but it's not an automatic first down. If you flatten the guy, you get more yards tacked on and an automatic first down.

Interestingly, right now the same logic doesn't apply to the pass interference penalty. Brush a guy fifty-two yards downfield and the penalty is at the spot of the foul, which, translated into layman's terms, means that it's a fifty-two yard penalty. Clock the guy at the same spot, and, yes, it's the same fifty-two yard penalty.

We're talking some serious NFL real estate here.

Game-changing real estate. (So, if you're going to get called for it, bludgeon the opposing team's wide out, why don't you?)

Sure, the difference between running into and roughing the kicker, poorly interpreted, might change a game too, because the kicking team might get to keep possession in the waning moments. But in a game where fifty yards could well be more than 15% of a team's total offense on a given day, the difference between brushing and blitzkrieging an opponent's wideout downfield could really mean the difference between who wins and loses.

Mel Kiper, Jr. wants the NFL to gradate the penalties for pass interference the same way the league currently does for facemask violations and knocking over punters. He's right.

And, while they're at it, the NFL should try to amelioriate its officiating situation generally. Are there too many replays? Is the standard for overturning a play too high? Is the problem that officials have day jobs? Given all the money that's made in the sport, shouldn't the referees work full-time? Should there be more on-field officials? Do the calls have to be that precise? Or, as with baseball and basketball, do players need to adjust to an umpire's strike zone or how tightly the officials are calling jostling under the boards, which, in football, is how tightly they're calling holding on any given day? What gives?

Changing the pass interference penalty would be a good start.

But it's only a start; calming down the persistent public agony over officiating should stop promptly. Had Seattle sustained its first-quarter game plan throughout the entire game, had the TE not had the drops, had the kicker made at least one of his attempts and had the coach manage the clock better, they might have won the game.

No, the calls weren't perfect.

And the Seattle Seahawks weren't perfect, either.

Let's not hold the officials to higher standards than anyone else.

The quicker the Seattle coaching staff and players realize that, the quicker they'll be able to rebound and get ready for next season.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One View on Duke-Carolina (and Bruce Pearl's Jacket)

No doubt that Duke is a preeminent hoops team and that J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams are player-of-the-year candidates. Last night's win against a feisty Carolina team in Chapel Hill demonstrates that despite wearing a target on their backs every time they play (i.e., what team doesn't get up for the Blue Devils?), Duke kept its calm, overcame a Tar Heel comeback, and emerged with a narrow victory. Here's the ESPN.com link.

To be fair, that's the primary story. Duke won the game, Duke is the team to beat in the ACC, and Duke will be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Duke is a such an excellent program that we take it for granted, whether or not you like Duke, Coach K or the Cameron Crazies. Fans shouldn't take Duke for granted, but they've been so good for so long that they've become akin to the free space on the bingo card or a generic term for hoops excellence.

That said, there's another compelling story in all of this. Carolina lost its top 7 players last year, a group that averaged something like 85 ppg, and a group that yielded four first-round draft picks, of whom 3 were lottery picks (and the fourth was picked 14th, just missing the lottery). Most programs would have a sub-.500 season or fall off a cliff. The great institutions, though, find a way to transcend, and that's what the Heels, led by Coach Roy Williams, are doing. He had a good recruiting year last year and has had another good recruiting year this season.

Right now, the young Heels are 14-6 overall and 5-4 in the conference. (Scroll down this link for the ACC's standings). Of players who are getting more than 10 minutes a game, there are four frosh, one soph, two juniors and two seniors. Three freshmen play very meaningful roles on this team. I'm not an expert on the ACC like other blogs are (including ACC Basketblog and Dave Sez, which are linked on this blog), but what Carolina has done this year is very impressive.

Naturally, teams don't get handicapped the way golfers do in the average charity golf outing, so Duke still dominates. However, relatively speaking, were there handicapping here, Carolina's achievements this year would rival Duke's. The pressures are different. Coach K has the pressure of delivering what's expected -- a national title. Coach Williams has the pressure of honoring last season's national title by not letting his program disintegrate and by making it as competitive as possible. Based upon those measuring sticks, both are doing quite well.

Duke remains one of the teams to beat for the national title this year. My hunch is that Carolina will build on its successes and end up in the Big Dance, perhaps as a #5, 6 or 7 seed, where they will be very dangerous. Laundry alone doesn't guarantee you a title (see, for example, Kentucky and Louisville), but laundry plus tradition plus talent plus whatever special sauce Chef Williams is sprinkling on his squad will put a time-honored program back into the NCAA Tournament.

We are a month away from March, but the excitement is beginning to build. I, for one, would love to see a contrast in colors and a Tennessee-Carolina matchup in the Sweet 16, especially if we can get Tennessee mentor Bruce Pearl to don the jacket he wore last night (and, apparently, earlier in the season too) at the Vols matchup against Kentucky in Louisville. If we could get Roy Williams to wear a Carolina-blue equivalent, the matchup will be a colorful one indeed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tale of Two Hoopsters

Great post on the Sports Law Blog about the retirement of the Pacers' Jonathan Bender and how his decision to turn pro out of HS contrasts with the decision of one-time LSU player Randy Livingston, who opted to go to college out of HS and then blew out his knee upon arrival at LSU.

Read the whole thing.

Just When You Thought Things Were Getting Better. . .

Now the NHL has this scandal to deal with.

A gambling ring.

I heard about it on the way home from work and then went to the #1 blog for ice hockey news, Off-Wing Opinion, for the scoop. If you're interested in following this story, Off-Wing is the place to do so.

The synopsis is that one-time NHL star Rick Tocchet (who played for the Flyers and Penguins, among others) is charged with bankrolling a significant East Coast gambling ring that has ties to organized crime. Those familiar with investigations know that the investigators keep on turning over rocks until there are no more to turn over, and, as Off-Wing's report indicates, more names may surface as the investigators keep looking.

The tie to organized crime is interesting, because implicated in one of the reports is the old Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia. I recall at one point in the 90's a member of that family was seen at Flyers' games, and that led to a controversial report about the alleged friendship between a member of that family and a Flyer on the leading sports-talk radio stationin town that led to a defamation suit that led to a settlement and an apology and the termination of a talk-show host (that is, the termination of his employment). I wonder, in the midst of all this, whether that story will surface again, if for no other reason to examine how the foundation of the alleged relationship between Tocchet and that crime family surfaced. Hopefully, the for the NHL's sake, there's nothing to it.

Professional hockey doesn't need this right now, although the surfacing of this scandal comes on the eve of the Olympics, during which time the NHL will take a break and international hockey will take over. The NHL will benefit from its absence (from whatever airwaves that still consistently carry it), at least for a short while, but my guess is that the public scrutiny of this matter will intensify in the ensuing weeks.

Once again, it looks like reality will eclipse reality TV.

At least for a while.

What Does Star Really Mean?

Or, put differently, who would you rather have playing in your town -- these guys or these guys?

The former are household names; the latter just win games.

And keep winning.

One of the former played about 40 minutes last night and no assists. Another is past his prime, and yet another is hurt. Of course, the other two guys are two of the best young players in the game, and, yes, I suppose if you got this five to play together enough they'd probably win 62+ games with the right supporting cast off the bench. But how many times have their been assemblages of great talent in the contemporary NBA that haven't won? How well are the highest-paid teams faring? (See the Knicks and the 76ers for examples that your payroll doesn't guarantee victories).

As for the latter, well, they just win games. Relatively anonymously, too.

No Super Bowl ads, no shoes named after them, not much publicity, really, when you come to think of it.

Except when you view these.

And then they're the true all-Stars.

Prince, R. Wallace, B. Wallace, Hamilton and Billups. A finer five you could not find. Each knows his role, each can step up and be the guy in a certain way when he has to. A 6'11" player who can drain threes, a shooting guard who can complement, a point guard who can take over, and a center who doesn't have to be the center of attention, not to mention a small forward who can play big. All of these players are guys who realize that the grueling NBA schedule is at its most rewarding when team comes before individual stats, shoe contracts and endorsements.

That's not, by the way, a knock on any of the guys who were voted in as all-stars. Some of the all-stars do have their limits, but the knock is really on the fans (and the NBA for the way it promotes the game). They're voting for the marquis names, which, perhaps, is what the NBA's outstanding marketing organization wants them to do. After all, what would an all-star game be without LeBron in the starting lineup. Ditto "The Answer", Shaq Diesel and the rest.

The Pistons aren't as jazzy. There are no players who are known around the league by their first names, although there is only one Chauncey, Tayshaun and Rip in the NBA. (Come to think of it, are there any other Rasheeds?). They don't get the national endorsements.

But that statement is what makes the NBA's product schizophrenic. Is the NBA about entertainment, or is it about basketball? I think that the NBA is more about entertainment now than basketball. Otherwise, how can you explain the exorbitant ticket prices for a product that more often than not is mediocre? Are people going to see a rivalry, or are they going to see the stars?

Way back when, it was about the competition. Way back when, there weren't too many teams and therefore there wasn't a dilution of talent. Way back when, it wasn't about selling jerseys or merchandise. It was about selling tickets and having your town's team (in my case, Philadelphia's) beat the dreaded Celtics and the classy Knicks. Most of the time, it couldn't do it.

But when it did, well, it was something special.

Today, though, selling is the name of the game. When selling coalesces with a team that plays together, all the better, but in Detroit you have some throwback players who subordinate their own talents for the good of an outstanding team, a team that I'd pay to watch and that is fun to watch on television. Not a team where you have four guys standing around on offense and your star going one on four and neglecting to find the open man.

So, when we watch the NBA all-star game, we're watching a tribute to marketing and to individual talent.

What we're not so sure we're watching is a tribute to team basketball in the purest sense of the term. Naturally, the NBA all-star game is one big garbage time, but it doesn't reward all the guys who make the best teams the best teams.

And therein lies the NBA's and the fan's dilemma. Are they ever to dare to put teamwork and fundamentals again before entertainment value? (Forget about the all-star game; I'm talking about the regular season).

If they were to be so bold (in their own eyes, not mine), they might surprise themselves.

More people might start watching the games again.

Because, after all, it should be about the competition on the floor.

And not the packaging that envelops it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

An Offensive Theory to Think About

No, it's not offensive in the sense that it will offend you, unless, of course, you're the inventor of the vertical passing game or the West Coast offense. It's a theory about offensive football, see, that I posted over a year ago on this blog.

Now here's the update, and it's been a long time in coming. Something in last night's Super Bowl reminded me of it -- the so-called "gadget" play whereby Antawn Randle-El took a reverse handoff from Willie Parker and proceeded to throw the best spiral of the night -- a long TD to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward.

All week you read about the wonders of the Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger, who made the big plays when he had to last night but did not excel the way he had in the other Steelers' playoff games. Sure, we've read about both Randle-El and Ward, the former of whom was a QB at Indiana and the latter of whom was an all-purpose offensive player, including a QB for some meaningful time, at Georgia. Randle-El is a dangerous third receiver and even more dangerous return man, and Ward is perhaps the best all-around WR in the game (as well as being the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions).

In a game with defensive players who can move as fast as skill position players on offense (and this includes some linebackers), offenses have to be more and more creative. Yes, if you can do so, you can just have your OL plow over the other team's front seven and get four yards a carry every time. But in the age of 350-pound quasi-Sumo run stuffers, that's getting harder and harder to perpetrate. As is the vertical passing game, for while there are burners galore out there (WR might be the deepest position in the NFL), there are also sophisticated defenses that are designed to bottle up even the fastest WRs. Such as the hot Cover 3.

Calling plays on offense in the NFL is like callling pitches for a pitcher in baseball. You always want to keep the batter off-balance. Jam him inside with a fastball he fouls to the screen, and then throw him a slider on the outside corner which he'll take for a strike or get fooled on. Throwing is when you can blast a 97-mph heater that moves past even the best of hitters. But how often does that happen? Pitching involves using all parts of the strike zone and disrupting a hitter's timing. If it just involved speed, then how come the fastest hurlers don't dominate all the time. How come Jamie Moyer is pitching well at 43? Because he pitches, that's why (of course, a flamethrower who pitches can fare even better, but there is plenty of room for the pitching artists in Major League Baseball).

So what's the football equivalent? It's making the defense guess, catching them flatfooted. Last night, in a 3-WR set, Willie Parker ran 75 yards for a TD because LG Alan Faneca pulled and made a nice block on Lofa Tatupu to take him out of the play, and then RT Max Starks sealed the hole with some excellent blocking to spring Parker. All of this out of a 3-WR set, no less. That's called playcalling; it by no means involved running straight at and over the opposition.

But what makes Pittsburgh even more dangerous is that it has three-tool threats at two of its WR positions in Randle-El and Ward. Pitch them the ball and they can run with it, but they can also throw it. My proposition is that if an NFL team were to populate itself with one-time option quarterbacks at WR and RB, it could create quite the deception and have opposing defenses not knowing whether to blitz or stay back, whether to stay with 4 defensive backs or put in 6 at all times. Speed won't always beat you in the NFL, but quickness and deception most certainly could.

Why? Because you won't know whether Ward or Randle-El will run the ball, catch it or throw it. And that's a scary proposition indeed.

Imagine having three-tool players at TB and 2 WR positions. In addition, of course, to a very good QB. My guess is that suddenly your gadget plays won't have that moniker anymore.

Perhaps it's time, if it gets a little more fleshed out, for the Pittsburgh Offense.

Where you'll have enough gadgets to construct a most formidable offensive machine.

So many teams play the West Coast offense now that defenses have had time to adjust to it the way offenses had time to adjust to Buddy Ryan's 46 defense. It's time for offenses to evolve again, and this type of offense is just the ticket.

And more exciting, too.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

New York Teams and Trading Wives

Within the past month, the New York Mets traded pitcher Kris Benson to Baltimore. Benson, a part of the Mets' solid rotation, was roughly a #3 or #4 pitcher. Workmanlike, quiet, put him out there and he could give you quality starts more often than not. Not a headline grabber, not the career of a Tommy Glavine or the career and stuff of Pedro Martinez.

His wife, Anna, was and is another story. You can click here to read a bit about Anna, but suffice it to say for as bland as her husband's persona seemed to be, Anna's was anything but. She loves attention, speaks what's on her mind, and in the city that gave the world Howard Stern, well, she fit right in. Outspoken, she said a bunch of things, including something insulting about Carlos Delgado when the Mets acquired him in a trade from the Marlins. That comment might have been the last straw -- fairly quickly, her husband found himself in Baltimore.

The joke in NYC is that the Mets wished they could have kept Benson and traded his wife, but, alas, the world doesn't work that way (even if one-time Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapped wives about thirty-five years ago).

In Anna Benson, the Mets had a players' wife who was/is, well, forward. In Antonio Davis, the Knicks had a forward with a wife who was/is, well, tougher than some of the players.

Enter the Knicks, veteran and well-respected center Antonio Davis, who, for what it's worth, is also the head of the players union. About a month ago his wife Kendra, apparently one not to shrink away from conflict, got into a tussle with a Bulls' fan in Chicago. As it turned out, Kendra has had her public spats before. Now, in fairness, Kendra is not Anna Benson and not a publicity seeker, but she has had more than one conflict. What was bad about what happened in Chicago is that the normally mild-mannered husband climbed into the stands (a particular NBA no-no after the Pistons-Pacers debacle of a year ago) to defend her honor.

Instant five-game suspension. Instant bad publicity. Then reporters dig. And they find other information, such as Mrs. Davis is a lightning rod of sorts too. Totally different from Anna Benson, but with issues.

Now, the Knicks don't have the promise that the Mets do. Many baseball cognoscenti are forecasting that the Metropolitans will end the Braves fourteen-year run atop the NL East (I wouldn't bet on it just yet), while the Knicks are languishing in pro hoops' second division. How bad is it? Not only do the Knicks have the poster-child in me-first, shoot-first players in Stephon Marbury, as well as a bloated payroll, and a lightning rod of a head of hoops ops in Isiah Thomas, but they traded the blending Davis for Jalen Rose and a first-round pick. In the crazy world of NBA contracts, Davis's contract expires after this season and Rose has an option for $16.9 million next season. In the case of two teams going nowhere (Toronto and New York), Toronto frees up about $10 million in salary cap money while the Knicks' are so over the cap that you could field two NBA teams competitively for what they're paying players.

But Jalen Rose? Larry Brown is quoted as saying that Rose is just what the Knicks need, that the Knicks need ballhandlers, that Rose's game hasn't dropped off. Stephone Marbury welcomed the trade.

What is everyone smoking? Since when is Jalen Rose the answer to anyone's ills? Since when has he been labeled as a Rasheed Wallace-type of outstanding team player whom his teammates love and who helps his team win titles? Asking Marbury and Rose to co-exist just doesn't seem possible at all. Jalen Rose isn't the therapy the Knicks need. In fact, he'll probably create all sorts of new issues for Larry Brown, who needs to remember that he's a coach, not a sorcerer.

Okay, so the Knicks got rid of Kendra Davis and got a first-round pick to boot. Fair enough, but how eager was Toronto to peddle rose and his salary? So eager that they gave up a first-round pick. What does that say about the NBA? About Rose?

Rose is 33; Davis is 37. Neither seems to be the answer for any NBA team at this point in his career. The Raptors got rid of a problem player and problem contract and freed up cap room. The Knicks got rid of Kendra Davis.

Goodbye Anna Benson. Goodbye Kendra Davis.

Hello Jalen Rose, to join Stephon Marbury.

Who says the circus doesn't play in NYC all year-round?

And George Steinbrenner has even't bellowed yet, as the Lion of Baseball must still be in hibernation.