SportsProf

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

Name:

Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Exercises in Assininity in the ACC

The ACC admits that the official timekeeper at last week's Duke-Clemson game erred, resulting in enabling Duke to have time to go the length of the floor in the waning seconds to score a basket as time expired to give the home team the victory.

So what?

So what, as in, that's all they're going to do? This is an outrage, and the right thing to do would be to a) wipe out the final result, b) replay the final seconds and c) do so at Clemson before Duke's game against the Tigers in their gym and play an ensuing OT there if need be. And d), think hard about having all DI teams standardize their clocks (if they haven't done so already) and have a crew of however many people it takes, say 3-5 people, who travel like the officials to and run the game from the scorer's table. This way, they're not Duke people, they're not Clemson people, they're officials like the guys who wear the striped shirts on the floor. To fail to do otherwise is to continue to enable this type of amateurish result and to cast some lingering doubt on the integrity of the foundation of the game.

Yes, that's harsh, but it's hard enough to win in Coach K-ville. Duke is a great team, the gym is a bandbox, the local partisans are intimidating (and very loyal fans), and, yes, I think that the refs get intimidated too. So, against those odds and against a formidable team that usually wins at home, Clemson found themselves tied with a few seconds to go. Except the official timekeeper goofed, didn't start the clock at an important interval, and, well, Duke ended up having enough time to win the game.

I give Clemson coach Oliver Purnell credit, because he's put it past him like a good coach should and is getting his players focused on the rest of their season. But if I were the Clemson A.D., I'd be screaming bloody murder at the meetings of the ACC Athletic Directors and work with the NCAA to effect this change.

Look, I understand that mistakes get made, and my guess is that the local timekeeper regrets the error. But underlying that is the fact that local people -- be they University administrators, townies, whomever -- like to get close to the program and work the games because they get a good seat to great hoops. Deep down, you have to believe that they hope their hometown squad fares well and goes deep into the NCAA tournament. Which means, of course, that they have a built-in conflict of interest -- they work for the university or in the community -- they are not as impartial, as, perhaps, they should be. And maybe they're not impartial at all.

That doesn't mean that these folks don't try to do their best, and many do a great job. But what it means is that in key games every now and then gaffes could be made that undermine the system. And when that happens, reforms should be considered.

Because Clemson got jobbed.

They might not have won the game in overtime, but they deserved to play an overtime to determine the winner.

Because it's tough enough to play Paulus, McRoberts, Nelson and company and against Coach K. It's tougher to do it in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

And it's even worse when they can't get fair treatment on the clock in the waning moments. The clock, for Pete's sake!

That's embarrassing, and the ACC should have had a better remedy than simply acknowledging that a mistake was made.

Because, until reforms are implemented, mistakes like these could recur.

At worse times than this one, too.

Second Acts in NFL Head Coaching (Super Bowl Level)

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "there are no second acts in American life." Which means, of course, that it won't necessarily follow that the investment banker who's opened up new markets will be a success as a real estate developer, or that Michael Jordan would become a Major League baseball player after his championships with the Chicago Bulls. It also doesn't mean that a head coach who won a Super Bowl with Team X is likely to win one with Team Y.

Put differently, no coach has won Super Bowls with 2 different teams.

That's right, no one. A few have been there with two different teams -- Don Shula (Baltimore, Miami), Bill Parcells (New York and New England) and Mike Holmgren (Green Bay, Seattle), but no coach has won the Super Bowl with 2 different teams. Which means, of course, that the next one, will be the first one.

Think about that. And then consider this:

For example:

1. Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with his Redskins' teams of the 1980's but has not been successful in his second act (and let's not even talk about Super Bowls, let's talk about making the playoffs, despite having the highest-paid assistants and lots of expensive free agents).

2. Bill Parcells will join Gibbs in the Hall of Fame, but after his two Super Bowls with the Giants, he didn't win a third with any of the Patriots, Jets or Cowboys. True, he made it to the Super Bowl with the Pats, and, true, he got all three teams to the playoffs, but he didn't win another Super Bowl (and during that time many other coaches did).

3. Mike Holmgren won his Super Bowl in Green Bay, but he struggled for a while in Seattle before getting the Seahawks to the Super Bowl two years ago, only to lose. In fairness, he improved the product and brand in Seattle, but he didn't win a Super Bowl.

4. Mike Ditka won a Super Bowl with that outstanding Bears team in 1985, but he didn't fare well in a subsequent gig with the Saints (and made that awful trade in which he gave up all of the team's draft picks for a first-round pick who became the enigmatic running back Ricky Williams). Put blunty, Ditka was not a success in the Big Easy.

5. Jimmy Johnson excelled with Dallas in the early 1990's, winning 2 Super Bowls (the Cowboys of that era won their third title under Barry Switzer). Then he moved to the Dolphins, and they didn't get to the Super Bowl under his leadership.

6. Dick Vermeil won his Super Bowl in St. Louis (he had perhaps the biggest "Rip Van Winkle" period in the NFL, going something like 15 years from when he last coached the Philadelphia Eagles (early 1980's)) to returning to the Rams (late 1990's). But he subsequently moved to the Chiefs, and he didn't win a Super Bowl in Kansas City.

7. George Seifert, who succeeded Bill Walsh as the head coach of the 49ers and won 2 Super Bowls, was a washout in Carolina.

You can look up pertinent Super Bowl information, including who coached which teams, here.

So what do you make of all of this? If John Gruden has a falling out in Tampa Bay, do you want him to resurrect your program? True, he, like some of the others, above, can bring your program into respectability, the playoffs and perhaps even to the Super Bowl (Parcells, Holmgren), but can he take them the whole way? Because the next one who does will be the first one. Which means that if you think Bill Parcells will coach again or if you want Bill Cowher to come out of self-imposed exile to return to the sidelines for your team, you'll be bucking history if you think he can take your team all the way.

Of course, there's always a first time, and whoever accomplishes this feat will be feted mightily. Someone will do it, but in the meantime it's silly for franchises to always been on the hunt for a former championship coach. The reason: history hasn't been kind to them in terms of Super Bowl wins. That said, the fraternity of men who coached in Super Bowl games is rather exclusive, and you might have a better chance to rebuild and get to the big game than you would with the head coach of Boise State (who, by the way, would field some kick-ass, exciting NFL teams and, if I owned a franchise, would consider him immediately for his creativity if nothing else) or, say, a Marty Schottenheimer, Dennis Green or Nick Saban. But those Boise State guys metaphorically could be gems, and the Belichicks, Seiferts, Reids, Levys, Shanahans got their start somewhere. So, if you're an owner who's great at mining and developing coaching talent, you may be better off finding that "next great one" than recycling someone who's been there and done that already.

It's funny, because a few years ago the head coaching roster of the NFC East read: Parcells, Gibbs, Tom Coughlin and Andy Reid. The first two had won 5 Super Bowls between them, and Coughlin had taken a young Jaguars team to the AFC Championship Game (and Reid had been to the NFC Championship Game, I think, once by that time). Some pundits, though, thought that the Eagles would be at a big disadvantage because of the relative inexperience of Reid and the outstanding resumes of the other three. To the contrary, he proved to be (despite some of his personnel and play-calling gaffes) the best sitting coach in the NFC East. Perhaps he was more innovative, perhaps he was more hungry, whatever the reason, he was better. He might not make the Hall of Fame, but during the past 5 years he's been the best in that division. Just look up the teams' overall records and playoff experience, and you'll see why.

So whom do you hire? Who do you pursue?

It's a tough question to answer, but if I had a good nucleus and was looking for a coach to put my team over the top, I'd probably tend toward hiring the next rising star than the guy who's had the Gatorade dumped on him and hefted the Rozelle trophy.

That's pretty harsh, huh?

But right now, that's what history tells us a team should do.

Super Bowl Prediction

I will not make this prediction with the precision of a Vegas bookmaker, a subterranean bookie, the pundits on ESPN or the cognoscenti who pump out statistical analyses on football the way the (Bill) James Gang does on baseball. I'm just going with a gut feeling here.

The Bears will win the Super Bowl.

Why? There are a few reasons:

1. No one is picking them. Few picked them to beat the Saints, who were (rightfully so) the feel-good story of the year. Moreover, few picked the Colts to beat the Patriots, because everyone thought that this century's version of Merlin would wave his hooded sweatshirt and, voila, the Patriots would prevail over the Colts. Memo to file: it's hard to get to the big game when you give up 32 points in the second half. Now most people are picking the Colts, because they're focusing almost exclusively on the comparison between Peyton Manning and Rex Grossman. Second memo to file: Dan Fouts, Dan Marino and Fran Tarkenton did not win a Super Bowl; Trent Dilfer did. There's more to this game than that matchup; there always is.

2. Defense wins championships. Yes, I do believe that, and the line "offense sells tickets, defense wins championships" is an all-timer. The Colts, in a way, are similar to the Eagles, a team that I follow, in one certain respect. The Eagles had a bad run defense for most of the year, only to resurrect it in the last five weeks of the season plus the first playoff game, against the Giants. But once the Saints, with their "pound the ground" game faced them a week ago, the resurrected run defense gig was up. The Saints marched all over the Eagles' run defense and beat the Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Last week, the Colts' defense bent but did not break, and it's played better in the playoffs than it did during the regular season. That said, with two weeks to prepare, I think that Lovie Smith and Company will have ample time to plan an offense that might score 24-27 points against the Colts (and that the Colts' defense will revert to form). True, the Colts can score a lot, but this is a big-time defense they'll be playing. Somehow, some way, I think that Lovie Smith will best his good friend, Tony Dungy, to claim his first Super Bowl win.

3. Irony. Of course, Lovie Smith is the lowest-paid head coach in the NFL. So it would be fitting if he were to win the Super Bowl over the likes of Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Bill Belichick, all of whom have won Super Bowls. We've all read that Lovie is due for a huge raise and a big contract, and he deserves it. Let's just hope he doesn't make a mistake and jump into the living heck that is the Dallas Cowboys. He deserves better than the combination of the Jones Family and Terrell Owens.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Where Community Still Matters

As most of you could probably guess, I live in between Philadelphia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is one of the four counties that surrounds Philadelphia. Bucks County is between Philadelphia and New Jersey, with Trenton and Princeton to the north of it. While over 50 years ago much of the county was farm land, today it is full of houses that the likes of Toll, Realen, K Hov and others have built.

The school district I live in is the Pennsbury School District, which gained notoriety last year for a bitter 3 1/2 week teachers' strike that divided the community and has a high school prom that made Reader's Digest's list of the top 100 events in America. Put simply, kids, parents and teachers work all year on a plan to redecorate the school, and kids find all sorts of creative ways to make an entrance. Several years ago, one of our neighbors and a bunch of friends rode to the prom on a fire truck. That same year, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile made an appearance too.

It's a district that encompasses both blue-collar and white-collar workers, a district that once was home to a large U.S. Steel plant, a district with a huge high school that fields all sorts of championship teams, including a football team that went to the state semifinals this past year. I can't say it's the best academic school district in the area, but thus far my kids have experienced a warm and caring environment where the parents care the right amount and where the teachers have been nurturing.

About two weeks ago, tragedy struck. A school bus went out of control in the high school's parking lot during the afternoon pick-up, striking 17 kids. All but one were treated and released at local hospitals. The seventeenth kid, Ashley Zauflik, was helicoptered to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was taken into emergency surgery and put on the critical list. Ashley, you see, was suffering from a broken pelvis, two broken legs, and internal injuries.

The community was all shaken up. We felt for for Ashley and her parents, sibling and friends, we felt for the other kids who were injured, we felt for the bus driver (and it remains unclear what really happened), we felt for the kids who witnessed the accident, and we felt for our own bus driver, an earnest woman who shows great care when the kids get on and off the bus and always endeavors to make sure the kids get to school safely.

We all read with interest the accounts in our local newspaper about Ashley's progress. Her condition seemed touch and go for a while, and about a week ago the doctors had to amputate Ashley's left leg. The reason was that an infection was spreading, and if the doctors did not amputate, there was a danger that the infection was prove fatal. Thankfully, after that surgery, Ashley began to improve. The doctors had put her in an induced coma to help with her healing, and the other day they started to bring her out of it. The last I read, she had opened her eyes. I haven't read an update in a few days, but we all pray that she is doing well.

And amidst all of the sadness, magnanimous events have been springing up all throughout the district. Kids at schools throughout the district (and even at some in neighboring districts), are raising money for Ashley. Some are selling ribbons, others have asked the owners of the businesses where they work to put out collection boxes. Business owners are doing that of their own accord. People have sent the Zaufliks all sorts of packages, and a builder left a voicemail on their tape offering to do -- for free -- whatever construction work would be necessary to provide Ashley with the type of access she needs on her road to recovery.

And then there was a local pizza parlor, Originals, which held a fundraising event yesterday. The owner, Sal Matarese, promised to donate one half of his proceeds to the Zaufliks. The last time I checked, pizza places are not the highest margin businesses, which means that Sal and his family were actually going to lose money on the high volume. But who cared? People flocked to Originals yesterday. My family had lunch there with another family. Another friend was there to take out pizzas to deliver to our town's police department for lunch. The high school football team held a pizza-eating contest mid-afternoon to raise money. At last count, Originals sold over 1,000 pizzas yesterday.

This might not have been the barn-raising scene in Witness, but it's pretty close in my book. Read the local paper and you'll see over a dozen entries of different groups doing things for Ashley. High school kids, who can be self-absorbed and not always that magnanimous during a stage in life when they're trying to figure out who they are, are rallying to Ashley's cause by the dozens, including people who don't know her. Why? As one kid pointed on last night's news, "Because that could have happened to me."

Someone is clearly teaching these kids about what's important in life.

Right after the accident, my nine year-old told my wife she wanted to contribute. She saves her allowance carefully, and at her age she's mostly interested in Webkinz, getting her nails done, buying books and the like. But when she read the local newspaper's account about what happened, she told my wife that she wanted to help. Without any prompting. In addition to eating pizza, we sent our check to the Zaufliks as well.

From the looks of it, conversations like these have popped up all over the district. And they make me feel good about the place where I live.

I have lived in other places, and I'm not sure that every community would rally behind an injured child the way this one has. After all, people are busy in their own lives, some people can't deal with accidents and injuries, and some people figure that there are many others who will step up and help out and that means they don't have to. And some people just are not charitable.
But this place isn't one of them. One of our own got badly injured, and people have rallied by the hundreds to help out.

For a girl who many of us do not know.

Except for the fact that she's one of us, a member of our community.

And I thank God that despite all of the negativity out there, community -- in the true sense of the word -- still matters.

And I well up when I think about it.

Because the people in these parts don't take it for granted.

(If you want to read any of the stories about Ashley Zauflik, click on this link to the Bucks County Courier Times. From all accounts, she's a feisty kid, and let's pray that she'll have one heckuva comeback.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Belichick Snub

Readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of the coaching savvy of Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots. It's easy to get on that bandwagon, isn't it? He's only won three Super Bowls, so he should be admired, shouldn't he?

For his sideline brains and preparation, absolutely. For what happened after the AFC championship game against the Colts, absolutely not.

In case you missed it, Peyton Manning approached Belichick after the Colts' victory and tried to congratulate him. It could have been a warm moment between the coaching maven and the "best quarterback not to have won a major, err, championship game", but Belichick ruined it. He walked away from Manning, leaving him hanging. The act was akin to not acknowledging someone who is waving hello to you, so that the waver is forced to comb his hand throw his hair to preserve his dignity.

What Belichick did was inexcusable. He embarrassed the best quarterback in the game right after his finest hour, a reminder that you can't always confuse great coaching with leadership. Most apparently, they're severable.

Those who defend him will say that the rest of us in the chattering classes don't know what it's like to lose a big game like that, to come down after the heat of battle, and that because he's such a competitor, Belichick just wasn't ready for that type of moment. But that's a lame excuse, and everyone knows it. What Bill Belichick made people wonder is that despite his talents as a coach, what is he like as a human being? Miserable, without grace, without class? What happened to the dad who was hugging his kids a week earlier after his team's upset of the San Diego Chargers on the road? Why couldn't he have stuck out his hand, put an arm around Manning, and said, "Hey, great job. You deserved to win. Good luck in Miami"?

Would it have been that hard? To stop for a moment and do the right thing?

It's easy to be a great guy in victory, isn't it? You can run up and down the sidelines, looking for someone to hug, you can embrace your longstanding assistants, look for your kids to join you, hug your teammates, whatever moves you at the moment. But how you celebrate isn't really the measure of a man, is it? All of us can be great guys in victory, because that's pretty easy to do. What's much more difficult is how we handle defeat and disappointment, and what we do to rebound from it. Our leadership is measured, in part, on how we handle the difficult situations in life, such as losing.

And Bill Belichick failed this past Sunday after his Patriots lost to the Colts. Sure, it's hard to lose, but you lost to a Hall of Fame quarterback who played a great second half and who got a big monkey off his back. Did his team do its best? Perhaps yes, perhaps not (giving up 32 points in the second half couldn't have been the Patriots' best, and letting the Colts come from 18 points down to win wasn't their best, either). But the point is that Belichick put a cloud on the post-game because of his lack of magnanimity.

That lack of grace won't diminish Belichick's on-the-field accomplishments. He's a great coach, no doubt about it.

Whether he's a great guy is open for debate.

And it's one, which, right now, the graduate of prestigious Wesleyan University probably would lose, at least for now.

Ethics, Trade Secrets and Job Changes in the NFL

As an Eagles' fan, this headline puzzled me. The article reports that the Eagles' linebackers' coach, Steve Spagnuolo, is leaving Philadelphia to become the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. That's right, the arch-rival New York Giants.

How does this happen? After all, in most businesses, there are trade secret laws that would prevent an employee from taking company secrets to a competitor, and, in many cases, there are employment contracts with non-compete provisions that can effectively have someone sit on the sidelines for a year or more should they want to compete directly against their former company. After all, would you want a key sales guy to go to your competitor and then beating your brains a week after he left your employ? If you're a stockholder in the now-former employer or an employee of the now-former employer of the key sales guy, how would you feel about the main competitor's taking this guy away and putting him on your team?

In the NFL, most coaches are mobile so long as the job another team offers is a step up. As a result, the Giants could recruit Spagnuolo because being defensive coordinator is a step up from being a position coach. As a result, they offered him the job within the NFL rules, and by all accounts Spagnuolo is an excellent coach who has been overdue for a coordinator's position. So, congratulations to him on his new job and to the Giants for picking a good coach to fill their coordinator's spot. In contrast, the Giants, by NFL rules, would have been prohibited from pursuing a current defensive coordinator, because the job being offered was not a step up. Sounds simple, right?

As far as employment mobility goes, it does, and in fairness to the coaches there are only 32 NFL teams and the number of opportunities are limited. Prevent a Spagnuolo from going to the Giants, and you might prevent him from becoming a coordinator, ever. Also, what's the diference between a trade secret and common football knowledge. These coaches watch tons of film, so they know a great deal about defenses generally and about other offenses. That said, most of the film that Spagnuolo has been watching, presumably, has been that of the offenses that his team, the Eagles, were going to face during the NFL season. You would guess that he wasn't watching film of defenses other than his own, which means, yes, that the one defense he knows intimately is that of the Giants' arch-rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Which means that if you're an Eagles' fan, you're a little scared, because not only do you lose a respected position coach (you also might lose another one, the DB coach who is rumored to be a possible successor to Mike Tomlin as the Vikings' defensive coordinator), you have that guy go to a division rival loaded up, in his mind, at least, with detailed knowledge of your team's defensive schemes -- which, presumably, he can then share with the Giants' offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride. (Truth be told, given that the Eagles' defensive performance was uneven last year and teams seemed to have figured out Jim Johnson's vaunted defenses to a greater degree than previously, perhaps it's not a total loss -- what will the Giants learn that they don't already know?).

The hard part in the entire analysis is that these coaches can't split their brains, and neither, probably, could a court. What does Spagnuolo know that is common knowledge to good defensive football coaches that is out in the public domain? Probably a lot. What does he know that is indigenous to the Eagles -- more than you probably think. He knows their coverage calls, he knows their schemes in detail, and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Birds' defensive players as much as anyone other than, say, Jim Johnson.

So what's the protocol in the NFL? My guess is that Spagnuolo cannot take any Eagles' documentation with him, no defensive playbook, no film compilations, nothing. It's hard to say whether he may reveal to Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride what he knows about the Eagles' defense that could help them devise plays to beat it. Does that happen in the NFL, or is the rule that Spagnuolo is off-limits for those purposes?

Or is it just not a big deal at all?

The papers in Philadelphia haven't made this an issue, and, of course, the beat writers know much more about this sort of stuff than I do. But I hope that someone asks the question and writes about it, because the answers would be interesting reading.

Says Who?

Recently I posted on Ed Snider's most recent tenure as the head of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, and, in doing so, linked to a column by Stephen A. Smith, which I thought was right on point. Today, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin writes about Snider, states that the Comcast empire is profitable despite the horrid results of the Flyers and 76ers, and that when Snider leaves, he'll have handpicked his successor. Read the whole thing here.

I can't agree with Conlin unless he has been briefed upon Comcast's succession plan (if they have one and if it's something other than, "well, we'll call a national recruiting firm like Russell Reynolds and conduct a search") and has been told that Snider will have the say as to who will succeed him. Somehow, I just don't think that's the case. First, the Roberts family, which holds a lot of stock in Comcast and effectively calls the shots, will have a significant say. Second, this is a publicly held corporation we're talking about, and while fiefdoms can exist in any entity -- public or private -- it's hard to figure that this entire space has been ceded to Snider and that Comcast simply won't interfere with him. I find that hard to believe.

Moreover, I'm not sure whether Snider has had a track record of development successful sports executives the way Bill Parcells has developed future NFL head coaches. You don't hear around either league or sports networks that such and such a person comes from a long line of distinguished sports executives who cut their teeth in Philadelphia sitting beside Ed Snider. Bob Clarke was Snider's protege, and he fizzled out, a combination, perhaps, of being in the same job for too long and failing to adapt to a changing game. As for coaches, the Flyers always seemed to be looking for the next Fred Shero, and they failed. As for the 76ers, no one ever said Ed Snider knows much about basketball. He doesn't.

That's not to say he's not an accomplished man. He built a hockey following in Philadelphia out of thin air and gave the city some great excitement in the early-to-mid 1970's with the Flyers. Those teams were electric, and they amped up a city that was still reeling from the collapse of the Phillies in 1964 and the implosion of the post-Wilt Chamberlain 76ers in the late 1960's and early 1970's. He built an admired hockey franchise and created more value through sports media. And more.

But that doesn't mean that he's built a sustainable organization with a succession plan or that he is a good evaluator of managerial talent. Bob Clarke remained as Flyers' GM for too long, and his successor, Paul Holmgren, is iffy. Billy King hasn't been successful at the 76ers' GM, and he remains on the job after many failures. Which means. . .

that there's a good argument to say that not only shouldn't Ed Snider pick his successor(s), but he probably won't.

The Philadelphia sports media may think so, but to me they've always cast this magic wand over Snider, making him seem like the local Sports Ninja with superpowers who always prevails. I don't know why that is, but they permitted him for a long time to ride a thirty year-old wave that was two successive Stanley Cups dating back 30 years. In fairness, the Flyers have had some (very) good teams since then. But to say that he's invincible and calling his own shots, I think, is wrong.

The key is to let Snider exit gracefully and preserving his legacy. Some people know when to retire; others do not, but if the Snider regime continues into the future for both of these local franchises, the numbers (which Conlin says are great) will catch up with him and Comcast.

And despite all of their media properties, neither the company nor the icon will be able to create a believable storybook ending.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thanks A Lot, S.I. for Kids

I had a birthday recently, and my seven year-old son smiled and said at the dinner table, "Dad, you're a man in his prime."

Nice compliment, huh? Pretty funny, too. Especially if you know my son.

After we all got a good chuckle out of that, he said, "Dad, actually you're middle aged."

So there went that balloon, inflated one minute, pin stuck in it the next.

Later that night my wife told me that he read about these terms in Sports Illustrated for Kids, that both expressions were used and that my son asked what they meant. I'm not sure what the article was about, but it was pretty amusing to see that he then transferred those terms to his own home.

Switching to ESPN parlance, I supposed that when my son hit me with the "middle-aged" line, Dad was "all jacked up."

Thankfully, though, I've recovered, I hope, the way Reggie Bush did from the Sheldon Brown highlight-reel hit in the first quarter of last Saturday's Eagles-Saints game. I might not have Reggie's moves, but I hope that I have his spirit.

Middle-aged?

Perhaps.

In his prime?

Always striving to be.

Ed Snider Must Go

So says Stephen A. Smith.

And he's absolutely right. Snider's recent tenure as the chief of the Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia 76ers has been abysmal, and it's time for Comcast Corporation to give him a graceful exit and find new people to run both teams. Smith's column is right on point, once again demonstrating that this columnist is an excellent writer who has the courage to take a stand on important issues.

The facts support what Smith says, namely, that the Flyers are an awful team that responded poorly to the evolution of the pro hockey game. Put differently, while other teams have the skating equivalents of Reggie Bush and Michael Westbrook, the Flyers have continued to put the Jared Lorenzens of the ice hockey world on the ice. While the Broad Street Bullies of the early and mid-1970s brought notoriety to the City of Philadelphia and two championships, that was a long time ago. The 76ers had their brush with glory about 5 years ago, but under GM Billy King they have made a succession of bad moves. They've missed out on the European invasion, and they've spent their money poorly. It's pretty clear that Snider either knows little about, or has little interest in, basketball. And it's a shame that the powers at Comcast ever thought that just because a person is successful in one line of work means he'll automatically be successful at another. Even Michael Jordan couldn't hit a baseball well -- and that was at the AA level.

About a month ago a group of sportswriters gathered on Comcast SportsLive in Philadelphia talking about the fates of these two franchises. One, a respected Daily News reporter, said that he doubted that Comcast could let Ed Snider go because he thought that Snider was smart to have a deal where he couldn't be fired. That comment just goes to show you that the writer should stick to sportswriting. Last time I checked, anyone can be fired, especially in the United States and most especially at a publicly held company. Now it may be that Snider would be due for quite the exit package upon his termination. While there's probably enough justification to terminate Snider for cause (after all, in sports, the ultimate measurement is the won-lost records of the team and how they fared at the gate) and relieve Comcast of some of the burdens that they would have if they terminated him without cause, the guess here is that both parties would want to resolve the matter with dignity and little fanfare under some sort of separation agreement. That said, Comcast shouldn't be afraid to do the right thing here, and my guess is that the fans won't get too upset over Snider's departure. He's ridden the wave of the Broad Street Bullies for a long time.

The fact remains that the pro hockey and hoops franchises in Philadelphia are among the worst in their respective sports, and both teams need to re-tool in order to improve. The 76ers, with three first-round draft choices, including their own, and increasing cap space, will have a golden opportunity to take some big steps forward after this season. If Comcast has any regard for their loyal if shrinking fan bases, they'll turn over the 76ers to new leadership. While they're at it, they should do the same thing with the Flyers.

It's hard to let iconic figures go (although I confess that I've been in the minority for a long time and haven't been the biggest fan of Ed Snider's and never thought that he should have had anything to do with the 76ers -- and time has proven me correct). Bob Knight's departure from Indiana was a fiasco, and the succession planning for Joe Paterno at Penn State has been a mess (with the diehards lambasting well-intentioned suggestors of a solid succession plan, me included). What's curious is why Comcast let Ed Snider rise to this level in the first place. True, he had developed an excellent reputation as a successful owner in the NHL, and it's probably the case that when Comcast took on both teams they needed someone to run them, because they probably couldn't supply the management. But it's clear that in retaining Snider for so long, they made a mistake.

Stephen A. says what many of us have been thinking, and, once again, whether you like his style or not (and I think his style is just fine), he's right.

Now the decisions are up to Comcast.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Pinewood Derby, Part II

Last night was the big night for our Pack, the Super Bowl of the Cub Scouts' season, and, quite frankly, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that my son's group had to be there by 20 of 7 so that we could have the cars weighed and measured. After that, they would be placed on a table with numbers before them, so that the kids in the group (Tiger Cubs) could vote on which car was the best looking. After the vote, they were to take their cars into the elementary school's gym, place them on another table, and then wait for their races to be called.

Going into the evening, we had a few modest objectives. First, we hoped that the car stayed together. While I had full faith and confidence in the den mother's husband (who affixed the wheels), he had cautioned me a few days before the race that our efforts using a flathead screwdriver to clear primer and paint out of the axle slots might have widened them a bit, thereby creating the possibility that the pins could fall out. Based upon his suggestion, I borrowed my neighbor's wood epoxy and put it on the rear axle slots over the pins, so as to keep them in place. I did that late on Thursday night. Second, we hoped that the car would finish the race. Plain and simple, those were our goals.

The entire family went to the local elementary school at the appointed time. The car fit well within the measurement requirements, and it weighed it at 4.9 ounces (some friends' weighed in at 4.7 and 4.4, respectively, but I prided myself on weighting the car within about 0.5 grams of 5 ounces, or roughly at 4.92 ounces). I had applied powdered graphite to the wheels (to help make them go faster), and we placed my son's car on the table for balloting. His wasn't the nicest looking car, but it definitely looked like a seven year-old had painted it (another boy, with a car that looked like a model Parnelli Jones raced over 50 years ago, won the award for best-looking). For good luck we put a number 6 on it, representing, of course, his fealty toward the National League's MVP, Ryan Howard. After the balloting, the kids carried their cars into the gym. I made sure my son carried his wheels up, so as not to mess with the alignment.

There were about 13 Tiger Cubs racing, and my son was in the third pairing. Now, if you're among the uninitiated, you have to understand that this is a sophisticated setup. The cars start on a curved ramp that's about 4 feet in the air (imagine a Hot Wheels setup from years ago). The packmaster releases a lever, and then the cars go hurtling down the track (I can't tell you how long it is, but it runs about 3/4 of the width of an elementary school basketball court). There's an electronic finish line which measures the cars' speed to the hundredth of a second. Then a dad gets that information and records it on a spreadsheet, where then the winners can be selected. Pretty sophisticated stuff, huh?

So there we were, waiting for the race, and my son drew Lane 2. They put his red car into the slot, and mom, sister and I held our breaths. How would this car fare? Would the wheels stay on? Was the weighting right (in that it wasn't too far to the front, which would have caused the car to bang into the sides of his lane)? He and a friend from his den were paired against each other, and they both sat excitedly near the finish line after their names were called. The Pack master released the lever, and the cars were off.

And my son's red car hurtled down the track at pretty good speed. It didn't bang into the sides, and the wheels operated just fine. The car pulled several lengths ahead of his opponent's car about 2/3 of the way down the track, won by about 3 lengths and logged a time of approximately 3.32 seconds. That was our car, the car that the village helped raise. Of course, it was the weighting and the design that enabled its victory (i.e., the stuff we had something to do with, right?).

Then they raced again, switching lanes. Again, both cars got out of the start well, only this time the other car beat my son's car by about 3/4 of a length, perhaps 1 length. Interesting, the car logged an almost identical 3.32 seconds as its time (many cars' times throughout the night differed by about 0.4 seconds from one lane to the next). So, with our cumulative time of about 6.64 seconds, we watched the other cars compete against each other. We also watched the spreadsheet, which was up on the projector. We couldn't tell precisely how my son's entry was faring, but we knew it showed respectably, and that's all we cared. As an added bonus, one of his friends had to go last, and because there was an odd number of Tiger Cubs competing, he was permitted to pick fellow Tiger Cub to race against. He picked my son's car, and the times didn't count for his entry (as he already raced). The joy on those two boys' faces was something to behold. It was more important to them that their cars were racing one another than who won those races.

The creativity of the entries was terrific. There was a shark, a police car, an I-Pod and an eraser, among other things. There were cards with funky stickers, cards with plastic men, cars that looked like bullets or cigar tubes, cars that looked like wedges and cars that seemed to be made out of only one half of the block of wood we were given. The fasted time that I saw that night was about 3.0 seconds, and that was, comparatively, lightning fast. Parents were all over the gym, as were some of the school teachers, who came back to watch. It was a celebration of creativity and community, and I for one learned a great deal and can't wait to help my son with his car next year.

After the Tiger Cubs raced, the kids went to the rear of the gym for the awards ceremony. Each kid received a medal after he raced, and each kid was to receive a trophy. The top three cars in the category were to advance to the county races in March (and have their cars impounded by the Pack so that they could not be worked on further). And when the awards were announced, we were surprised -- my son's car, the one that the village helped with, the one with the uneven paint job, the one that I probably primed too much, the one with the widened axle slots, the one shaped like a Formula 1 car -- came in third place. It's off to the county races, this in our first year.

How did this happen? I haven't the foggiest idea. The son of the Assistant Pack Master, whose wife gave us some tips and provided us with paint, didn't come in the top half of his group, despite having a really cool car and being just a great kid. Another Assistant Pack Master's kid had the lightning fast car that I mentioned, and the times his that group were just amazing. The son of our den mother, whose husband graciously helped set our wheels, didn't place either. He, too, had a great-looking car. And that made me think . . .

All of these kids won because of what they did and what they participated in. The older kids could do more with their cars than the younger ones, true, but not all Cub Scouts elected to participate in this, and the whole event last night was a celebration of good things in life. Making a car, going to an event, having it staged like it's a big-time affair, being with your family, being with your friends, having a teacher or two stop by to watch and take photos, siblings being invited, parents filling a variety of roles. Yes, there had to be cars that had the best times, but that's an afterthought, really, as the experience is what mattered.

Some took to this project better than others, some just got it out of the way. Some entries looked more like kids made their cars than others. Many kids were already talking about next year. They sat wide-eyed looking at how fast their cars could go, and they marveled at the creativity of some cars. My son talked to me this morning about his paint job and about the need to put a little man in his car. It was a fun conversation.

As I said, when I got into this event I didn't know what to think. And, yes, I am somewhat craft-challenged, but we used this year as an opportunity to learn how to do it ourselves, and we're convinced that except for the cutting, we'll be able to do this ourselves next year.

It was a great event!

And we can't wait until next year.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Pinewood Derby, Part I

If you're into Scouting, you know all about this. If you're not, I hope that you'll learning something from this post, so here goes.

The Pinewood Derby is, by all reports, the highlight of a Cub Scout's year. The reason I say "by all reports" is that this is our first year in Scouting, so I only can rely upon the reports of others and not personal experience.

Essentially, you're provided with a small block of wood (that has slits cut into it for the insertion of your "axles"). You're also provided with pins (to insert into the slots and which will serve as axles) and wheels. The job of the Cub Scout (and his "village") is to create a car that weighs no more than 5 ounces, that's painted, that's "neat looking" and that can win a race down a slight incline. Cars are judged on appearance, and, of course, they race.

Sounds pretty simple, along the lines of Tony Gwynn's comment regarding how he became such a good hitter. "See the ball, hit the ball", right? No problem for the dads, huh, because every man has a workshop in his house, a band saw, a coping saw, a belt sander, wood epoxy, powdered graphite, primer, hobby paint, paint tape, sandpaper, brushes, etc.?

Well, that's not really me. I'm good at fixing certain things and putting things together, but I'm not a woodworker and am not dextrous with power tools (ask me to cook a gourmet meal or make a great dessert, and I can). The Pack leadership thought ahead, though, and volunteered various pack leaders to volunteer their band saws to help cut the design from the block. I also figured that I'd check with the veteran dads about how to create this car. After all, I'm coachable, and I viewed this experience as an opportunity to learn how to create these cars in future years.

So, figuring that "it's the journey," I looked at the box and the booklet that came with the Pinewood Derby kit, talked about them with my seven year-old, designed a few favorites on graph paper, talked about them some more, and then, with a straight edge, drew the markings on the block. We created a car that looks a bit like a Formula 1 model, and then we took the block, as marked, to a pack leader, and he graciously cut our shape out of the block (and complimented my son on his choice).

Next, we had to sand down the rough edges. First, my son hand sanded the entire car, but there was a significant bump on the back that required more heavy duty sanding. We're energetic and enthusiastic, but this was a tall task, so enter my neighbor, who is a Scout master (his son is a high schooler). He whipped out his electric sander and smoothed out that edge. Then he whipped out his router to bore a space beneath the car so that we can insert the flat weights that many people deploy. My son hand sanded some more.

So now we had a smooth car. This is where it got difficult -- how to prime the car before painting it, what paint to use, how not to get paint into the slots for the pins, how to make the car shiny, how to get the wheels aligned, and, yes, how to weigh the car. Every veteran advised to weigh the car carefully, to go to the local post office before the big event, so that we can get the car as close to 5 ounces as possible.

Dizzying choices for the uninitiated, lots of other costs, and, of course, we had to remember that this is the project for a seven-year old. (We also were admonished not to buy the car "skins" that the Pinewood line offered as a car coating -- all cars had to be hand-painted). There were also suggestions of using automotive rub to make the surface shinier and perhaps using car wax.

Off I went, looking for various supplies, and I spent money at Home Depot (sand paper, primer, glossy paint), Pep Boys (rub, spray paint, nozzle for spray paint can), and A.C. Moore (dashboard supplies, tool for aligning the wheels, weights for the car). So much for an inexpensive initiative.

My son and I used the Pinewood kit primer, but it came out clear and not white and we weren't sure whether we primed the vehicle correctly. So, we whipped out the Home Depot primer (Kilz) and put on a couple more coats of primer as evenly as we could. Needless to say, my son and I got a lot of primer on our hands.

Then it was time for the paint. I was ready to use the spray paint and the black-gloss paint (for trim), but at that point (last weekend) my wife talked to the Assistant Pack Master's wife, who suggested we use a certain type of metallic paint. So, goodbye spray paint and black gloss paint; we used their paints, and the car didn't come out as bright red as we had hoped, more like a dusty red that would look better on Scarlett Johanssen than a race car, but what the heck. The black made a nice accent, and, truth be told, the car looks like a seven-year old painted it. Even with the paint tape (designed to tape over areas to prevent you from overpainting or dripping), there was still some running, but what the heck, it's the car of a seven year-old.

Sanded and painted, we needed to put the weights on the car and to attach the wheels and get them aligned. I used a kitch scale to weigh the car (which came in at about 2 ounces) and the weights, but not being a scientist I forgot about calibrations and, well, thought the car could take more weights than it really could (read on -- I'll get to that point). But then I got paralyzed, fearful that we'd create a car that wouldn't run or where the wheels would come off. What to do?

By this past Wednesday, I couldn't connect with my handy and helpful neighbor, the Assistant Scout Master, so my wife came to the rescue. She called our Den Mother to ask about how they were doing with their kids, and the Den Mother volunteered her husband, an engineer, to help with the wheels on the car. It was at that time that I had the confidence to glue weights to the undersize of the car. Out of an abundance of caution, I broke off portions of the "standard" weights sold at A.C. Moore and only glued on portions of the weights (yes, we had to spend on Krazy Glue too!). I placed the weights closer to the back wheels, as my company's Chief Scientist (also a scout dad) told me not to put the weights too close to the front, because the drag would end up pushing the car into the walls of the track and not make it hurtle down the course faster. Thanks, again, for helpful tips.

Our Den Mother's husband was terrific, and he put on the pins and aligned the wheels. He cautioned not to let my son run the car along the floor and risk re-alignment. He did an excellent job, and he suggested that I get some wood epoxy to make sure that the pins stayed in the rear axle slot. The cause of the concern was that in trying to get paint and glue out of the rear axle slot, I might have (inadvertently) widened the slot. So, the following night, my neighbor the Assistant Scout Master's son, walked over some wood epoxy and the powdered graphite for the wheels (which you deploy before the race to make them run more smoothly).

In between -- yesterday -- I brought the car, lying upside down in a Tupperware container, to work. The reason -- to use the scale in our mail room in our product development lab at work to weigh the car digitally. The scale was in grams, and, as then weighted, the car weighed about 7 grams less than 5 ounces. I also weighed various weights in grams to see what I could add, and, with that information in tow, I knew to affix one more weight to the car last night. And, about 10 p.m. last night, I glued on the final weight and put the wood epoxy over the rear axle slots. This morning, I brought the car to work and weighed it again, and, low and behold, it's about 1/2 gram below 5 ounces. Mission accomplished. Oh, sure, one of our engineers said that the machine was due for a calibration, but if the car weighs in over 5 ounces tonight at the weigh-in, I'll lop off the weight that I attached last night.

Whew! I think that we have a car ready to race. That said, there's one thing I didn't do. . .

sand down the pins to reduce the friction for the wheels. The Den Mother's husband said his kids' cars did fine without it, and my colleague the scientist said that you could do it wrong and make the wheels not work too well. But my neighbor the Assistant Scout Master said that we really should have done it, but I couldn't hook up with him to get it done. Maybe next year.

So, to recap:

Work on the car with my son and my wife. Assistance from the Pack Master (cutting the shape), Assistant Pack Master's wife (metallic paints), Den Mother's husband (wheel insertion and calibration) and neighbor (an Assistant Scout Master) (routing the space for the weights and sanding out a particularly rough spot), as well as the latter's son, an aspiring Eagle Scout, who brought over the epoxy and graphite.

Expenditures -- primer (only 1/100,000 used), spray paint (unused), spray pint nozzle (unused), fine sandpaper (used), automotive rub (not used), steering wheel/dashboard kit (not used), calibration tool (not really used), weights (1/5 used), paint kit (1/4 used).

Experience -- I hope it's priceless. We had a lot of fun doing this, and we've learned a lot, and I promise I'll practice on these this summer (have a Dremel kit, have a lot of fun). I hope you're not as exhausted from reading this as this process sometimes tired us out, but what the journey is illustrative of is that we live in a nice town with all sorts of helpful people. I'll post again with my observations on the Pinewood Derby, which will be held tonight.

I'm sure that there will be better looking cars with slicker features, but this car does look like it was painted by a seven year-old and sanded by him. Next year, I'll work with him more on tapping in the wheels and aligning them and let him do more. I don't agree with the package insert to the kit that says the average scout can build the car by himself, but I think that as our family advances through scouting my son will be able to do more and more.

Pinewood Derby here we come!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles?

Having had the weekend to digest the Birds' loss to the Saints, I offer the following observations:

1. The Eagles chances for 2007 and beyond are good. They went into the season with some serious doubts, given the implosion of 2005 owing to T.O.'s intransigence and the numerous injuries they suffered, including one to Donovan McNabb. After McNabb's injury this season, the team was left for roadkill, only to have a magical finish that taught each team member something about himself and about leadership. A few questionmarks became exclamation points (such as center Jamal Jackson, wide receiver Hank Baskett and the durability of Brian Westbrook). Yes, the Eagles have holes to fill, but they should go into the 2007 season as the favorite in the NFC East (assuming that they have a healthy Donovan McNabb).

2. McNabb is the team's starting QB, and there is no QB controversy. He can do more things better than Garcia, and should shine even more if the Eagles stick to their newly found playcalling and balance the pass and the run as well as they did in the last part of this past season. At the beginning of the season, when they lost the game at the Linc to the Giants, the pundits said the Birds had no running game. By the season's end, the o-line was being touted as one of the best in football. A tale of two seasons? Perhaps.

3. Not sure what I would have thought about the team had they blown up after McNabb's injury. Before the big finish, there were doubts, in no particular order, about a) Westbrook's durability, b) the need for a big back, c) the effectiveness of two over-thirty offensive tackles (William Thomas and Jon Runyan), d) the quality of play of Jamal Jackson (after all, the Birds tried to sign LeCharles Bentley in the off-season), d) the need for another receiver, e) the quality of the linebacking play, f) the need for a strong safety, g) the ability of the team to stop the run, h) whether Jeremiah Trotter overruns plays too much, i) whether Brian Dawkins lost a step or two, etc. Several of those questions were answered, and those that were not are not as big as the ones that were (with the possible exception of the ability to stop the run, and the Eagles still will have to improve in that area -- look for them to go for a run-oriented SS and better linebacking in the off-season, as well as pushing first-year DT Broderick Bunkley to get into better shape). Had those questions lingered, we could have expected a serious roster turnover this off-season (as the team would have finished something like 6-10 for the second year in a row).

4. As for the game against the Saints, I note the following:

a. On offense, Brian Westbrook had a few drops (one of which probably cost the team a TD) that you just cannot make in a championship-caliber game.

b. Reggie Bush showed me something after he got "all jacked up" by Sheldon Brown early in the game and returned to play a great game.

c. The Eagles' special teams did not play well. They need to upgrade the quality of their returners, and their kickoff coverage was poor (the Saints had too many positions near their 35 yard-line).

d. Neither Brian Dawkins nor Jeremiah Trotter had a particularly good game.

e. Reserve guard Scott Young played poorly filling in for the injured Shawn Andrews. His holding penalty killed the momentum of a big drive late in the game, and his procedure penalty late didn't help matters either.

f. The playcalling -- by whoever made the calls -- late in the game after Bush's fumble -- was bad. The execution also wasn't there, and after failing on a pass on first and ten it seemed too ambitious to call a run on second and ten. The coaches really didn't give the team the best chance to win the game.

4. Conclusion:

All in all, this was a very satisfying season. The leaders stepped up after McNabb went down, the team showed a lot of character in stepping up and making plays, and one of the top offenses in the league -- despite not having the "big" back or the Pro Bowl receiver, returns, this time, with a five-time Pro Bowl QB at the helm. The coaches learned, too, to trust each other more and to trust the players to make the big blocks and the big plays. The defensive coordinator also learned that people have started to figure him out, so look for the Eagles to show some new stuff on defense next season. Compare the Birds to their competitors in the NFC, and you have to like their chances. Dallas, a talented team, has an iffy QB who opponents have figured out a little more now that he's played half a season, a divided team because of a locker room menace, problems at DB, and a coach who looks spent. New York also has a lot of talent, but they have a QB with a confidence problem, they'll miss Tiki Barber, and the coach and players aren't in sync, no matter what any Tisch or Mara will tell you. And then there are the Redskins, who seem to be missing a few pieces despite all the money they have spent.

The better team won the game at the Superdome on Saturday night, but the stars appear to be shining brightly for the Eagles only two months after the team -- along with its fans -- thought that they were exiled to a gulag somewhere northeast of Irkutsk.

Fly Eagles, fly!

Indeed.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who Will Succeed Bud Selig?

Late last year, Bud Selig announced that he would step down as Commissioner of Baseball after his contract expires (at the end of 2009, I believe). The announcement wasn't met with a lot of fanfare. I didn't see many articles waxing eloquent about whether or not the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers was good for baseball or wasn't. Likewise, I didn't read any articles about who might succeed him in his post.

I offer a few suggestions:

1. Rob Manfred, who now serves as head of baseball's player relations committee and banged out the new labor agreement with players' union head Donald Fehr in record time and with almost no publicity at the end of 2006. It's obvious that the owners place a great deal of trust in Manfred, and since labor relations is at the heart of what the owners-players relationship is all about, Manfred is a logical choice. It appears that he's earned the respect of the union, and that's not easy to do.

2. There could be someone from the current roster of owners who might make sense. Look, the owners plucked Selig from their ranks, and they'll have kept him for almost 17 years by the time he retires. On the one hand, the players' union still has the upper hand in this game (after all, there isn't a salary cap), but on the other, Selig got the upper hand in terms of drug testing, at least to a point. There are those who argue (I am among them) that he and his administration whiffed on the steroids era (they benefitted from it with mammoth home runs, large home run totals and increased gates) and compromised too readily on drug-testing and discipline standards that aren't as strong as they could be. At any rate, I think that MLB can do better than Selig the next time around.

3. Naturally, there are tons of outsiders who would crave this job. For example, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a native New Yorker, just was re-elected governor and has said he's done running for office. Rendell is in his early 60's now, and he'd be a great front for the sport. He's positive, he's effusive, and most people who know him or have worked with him like and respect him. Still, he'd be walking away from the last two years of his term, and he might not believe it's appropriate to do that. While employers may not discriminate on the basis of age, they might not want a 64 year-old rookie commissioner (and Rendell will be 64 at the time of the succession planning).

4. President George W. Bush. The odds are against this. President Bush didn't have that much to do with the daily operations of the Texas Rangers when he was a part owner, and because his public approval ratings are what they are, I think that MLB would pass and say "thanks, but no thanks," if he expressed interest.

5. ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg. Greenie, as he is known to the faithful listeners of ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning Show," jokes that he'd be a serious candidate after Selig retires. He is very knowledgeable on the air, evenhanded, and a graduate of Northwestern. Plus, he's only in his late 30's, which means that he'd be able to hold the post for decades. While I doubt that Greenberg would be a serious candidate, the owners could do far, far worse.

Then there's the debate of whether you'd want a politician, owner or business person to run MLB. I don't think that MLB should hire an owner for the post at this time. Football and basketball haven't gone that route (although basketball is a mess), and MLB shouldn't take the risk again. Selig hasn't been a disaster, but he hasn't been All-Star caliber, either. There could be an up-and-comer who has had profit-and-loss responsibility at a major consumer products company that might be an excellent fit for the job. She/he could be an unknown to the public, but could help re-fortify baseball. If that person has had involvement in sports marketing to a serious degree, she/he might really have a shot.

I haven't given any thought to any members of the baseball media. To me, some report the day-to-day goings on well, but they all missed the huge issue of steroids, and that's pretty amazing given the access that they had and their responsibilities as journalists. Yes, Peter Gammons is revered, but, no, he's not worthy of being the commissioner. After all, the writers and broadcasters watch games for a living; someone in the commissioner's seat is actually in the arena and does things. There's a big difference in responsibility and skill sets.

So who will replace Bud Selig? I'm sure that the owners are giving this issue a lot of thought, as they should. Basketball hired their principal outside lawyer after Walter Kennedy retired, and David Stern has done a good job selling merchandise and filling the coffers of the owners (even if the quality of the product has begun to wane). After legendary commissioner Pete Rozelle retired from the NFL, the football league hired their principal outside counsel, Paul Tagliabue, and he did a fine job during his tenure. Upon Tagliabue's retirement, the NFL stayed in-house and elevated Tagliabue's deputy. The NHL hired one of the NBA's top deputies, Gary Bettman, once one of the NBA's top lawyers, for its top job, and he's done a nice job so far of helping restructure a league with problems.

That's where Manfred has some particular advantages. Prior to joining MLB, he was one of the Player Relations Committee's principal outside lawyers Since being at ML&B, he's been one of the principal deputies, and, perhaps, the most important one for Bud Selig. If you look at what the other leagues have done in hiring their commissioners, you can say that Manfred has all of the things on his resume that make him very qualified for the top job in Major League Baseball. It would be a sensible hire, but these owners always haven't done the sensible thing.

Which means that the race to succeed Bud Selig as Commissioner of Baseball is, well, anybody's ball game.

If I Can't Have Him, He's No Good

Real Madrid is benching David Beckham now that he's signed a contract with the L.A. Galaxy for next year and the four seasons after that.

On the one hand, I agree with the decision. When you're a coach, you're trying to build teamwork and comradery. When you have someone in your midst who obviously doesn't want to be there, you probably won't want him around. My guess is that's the way the best coaches think, but the practical reality is that players and coaches are free to move around after their contracts expired. Had Real Madrid really wanted to keep Beckham, they could have paid him dearly for the privilege.

But the thing is, they didn't want him.

Truth be told, David Beckham is on the downside of his career. He no longer is one of the world's premier players. One of the U.S. goalies (I think it was Brad Friedel, but it might have been Kasey Keller) was asked to fill in the following sentence: "David Beckham is. . .." To which the goalie replied, "A poseur." English soccer fans lamented that Beckham no longer had the stamina that he once did, and that he was kept in the lineup for the "set pieces," which, for the uninitiated, are free kicks and corner kicks.

That's right, Becks is no longer one of the best in England, let alone the world.

And if you didn't know much about soccer, you'd have to assume that anyway. Which world class players in their right minds would play in the U.S., which is a "B" League at best and which does not play host to the world's best players? Let's face it, the best players in the world play in the top leagues in England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. They don't play for the L.A. Galaxy.

A friend of mine once had this to say about U.S. soccer in light of all of the comments about how many kids play it versus play baseball (where the soccer fans contend that soccer will somehow appear on the roster of the top sports in the United States, supplanting one of the big three). "Soccer is a sport on the rise in this country, and it always will be." To him and many others, making professional soccer more popular is a Sisyphian exercise. Even with Beckham, the Lords of U.S. Soccer won't push their proverbial rock up to the top of the hill anytime soon. Sure, he might draw some fans because of his past accomplishments and the star power, but he will not transform the U.S. into a soccer nation anytime soon. And before people get too giddy about the comparison to Major League Baseball, that league is doing, well, quite fine, thank you very much. Attendance is great despite the steroids scandal and despite the fact that "more kids play soccer than baseball."

I wish the Beckhams well in Los Angeles, and I wish pro soccer well in the United States. I just don't think that the Beckham investment will work.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dodgers Offer "All You Can Eat" Seats

As Americans continue to get fatter than the prized hogs at the Arkansas Farm Show. . . (if this were Sports Illustrated, this story would appear under the "Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us" header in the front of the magazine)

The Los Angeles Dodgers are offering all you can eat seats. For a fixed fee, fans can get all the hot dogs, sodas, peanuts and popcorn they can eat. Beer, ice cream and candy are extra. This is just what America needs -- encouraging an already overweight population to stuff themselves silly. Obesity and the myriad number of healthy problems that accompany it is upon us already. What are the Dodgers thinking?

This reminds me of a story regarding baseball and the overarching allegation that baseball players just aren't in the same shape as football or basketball players are. Years ago, when he was with the Phillies, a 70 year-old woman sitting near the dugout caught John Kruk taking a drag on a cigarette.

The woman caught Kruk's eye and admonished him: "You should be ashamed of yourself. You're a professional athlete."

To which Kruk replied, "Lady, I ain't an athlete. I'm a baseball player."

That's not to suggest, of course, that football and basketball fans are in better shape than baseball fans (and I'm not certain whether the Dodgers are establishing a precedent by offering up this seating), but it doesn't help the argument, either. And the advertising possiblities are endless: "Come see the game where the players hardly move and eat yourself into a state where you can hardly move." Or, "Come help us rewrite 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,'" which would be accompanied by a rendition that said, "Give me all the peanuts, popcorn and crackerjack (that I can eat), and I won't be able to wait until I come back." And, to get into the gutter, instead of "Root, Root, Root for the Home Team" one would figure that after eating 5 hot dogs, drinking 3 sodas and eating two bags each of popcorn and peanuts, the average fan in that section could, "Toot, toot, toot" for the home team.

Emeril Live, this ain't.

The changes for sponsorship are endless, from fast food chains to antacids. Right now, Rolaids sponsors the awards for the best relief pitchers. Perhaps Maalox can sponsor this section. Or Tums. You have to give it to those baseball marketeers in L.A. -- they surely know a good thing when they see it.

I don't like the idea one bit, and I offer one more word of caution. There have been blog-based discussions about airline seating and whether overly large people have to pay for two seats (and a corresponding discussion about how difficult it can be to sit next to someone on a flight whose avoirdupuis carries over into your seat space). Click here for an example on Tigerhawk. With this in mind an with Americans "growing" at an alarming rate, if you want to make sure that you have the best chance of not suffering from the encroachment of an overeater, don't sit in this section.

You may be sorry.

It's bad enough that most ballpark fare is grease served with cholesterol and washed down with sugary beverages or overpriced beer.

It's worse, though, when gouging this stuff is encouraged.

I thought L.A. was the land of fruits and nuts (and granola and sprouts and protein shakes).

Instead of just another nutty idea.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Giant Mistake

The New York Giants announced that they're going to let Coach Tom Coughlin remain on his job for another year. The ownership cited that in talking with players, it was clear to them that Coach Coughlin hadn't lost control of the team. Pundits also have surmised that this ownership doesn't like to fire coaches and perhaps doesn't think that there's a candidate out there who is better than Coughlin.

On "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, there was an excellent conversation this morning among Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic and Mark Schlereth regarding Coughlin. That conversation, in part, focused on the players who commented about Coughlin. Those whose names were mentioned were unanimous in their standing behind their coach (among them Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce). Anonymous players were quoted as saying that Coughlin was a bad coach whose teams faded down the stretch and who focused on minutiae instead of bigger-picture things. Greenberg was skeptical of the anonymous players, Golic disdainful (because they weren't "man enough" to let their names be used), but Schlereth was surprisingly refreshing and frank about them. Schlereth said that these were the only reliable sources, because those who let their names be used weren't going to say anything controversial and that the anonymous players were going to be telling the truth (I agree).

Here's my take:

1. Getting input from the players was ill-advised at best and stupid at worst. If you sponsored a school breakfast program and gave the kids hot chocolate, chocolate bars and chocolate cupcakes for breakfast, my guess is that if you polled the kids they'd say, "we love it." But elementary schools aren't democracies, and that breakfast isn't nutritious and is guaranteed to have kids suffer from sugar lows and wreak all sorts of havoc on their ability to learn. Analogously, who really cares what the players think about Coughlin, given how dysfunctional the Giants seemed this past season? The team looked undisciplined. Too many players spoke out of turn (including Shockey, Strahan and even Tiki Barber), and there were too many dumb penalties (although a Stanford alum, Bob Whitfield's behavior against the Eagles in the game at the Meadowlands was anything but smart). Sure, the players will say that they support Coughlin -- because they ignored him and ran right over him. Why ask for someone who might suffer less nonsense and even kick a star off the team because he wasn't thinking team first? You know this guy, and you have taken advantage of him. It's just like letting the little ones have chocoloate for breakfast.

2. He's a lame duck. The veterans didn't show sufficient leadership last season to help enforce the discipline, and why should they now? After all, unless the Giants have a great year, this guy is gone. My guess is that if the Giants get off to a bad start, things will deteriorate quickly in New York (even if players are told, "well, still, you're playing for a job next year, so you had better play well."). You don't want to create a lame-duck situation unnecessarily, and the Giants' ownership didn't need to do this.

3. The team was undisciplined. The team needs better mentoring of its quarterback. The team needs a better offensive coordinator than either John Hufnagle (who should not have been let go the way he was before the end of the season, but this treatment was emblematic of an organization that, from the head coach on down, was adroit at throwing team members under the bus) or Kevin Gilbride (who has had a long NFL career but wouldn't surface on a list of the Top 15 offensive coordinators of the past 10 years). Someone needs to tell all wideouts that they should do what other teams do in the off-season -- and go where Eli wants them to to work on routes. Forget Shockey's going "to the U" or Plaxico's going to whatever planet that he invented (it probably sits in the galaxy right near Lovetron, the one that Darryl Dawkins created). The last time I checked, the "U" had its problems in teaching functionality. So do the Giants, and retaining Coughlin won't help things any.

4. Coughlin's comportment. Coughlin is a good man, a knowledgeable football man, and he has been a good coach. But he looked spent, and his histrionics on the sideline reflected poor leadership. You can't act that way with professionals and get away with it. His body language suggested that he was sick and tired of the entire situation and that perhaps it's time for a change. Compare him to Bill Parcells, who looks tired and spent and devoid of the fight that he used to reserve for sportswriters. Parcells needs either a change of scenery (that is, away from T.O. and Jerry Jones) or a change of career (read: retirement). Coughlin won't change, and that's not good for the Giants.

5. The suggestion that there's "no one good enough" to replace Coughlin. Huh? For those of us old enough to remember, in the mid-1970's the Philadelphia Eagles were a bad football team. They had so many coaches from 1966 to 1975 that I can't remember all of them (there was Joe Kuharich, Jerry Williams, Mike McCormack, Ed Khyat, and probably one or two more). At any rate, in 1976 then-owner Leonard Tose approached five different people about coaching the Eagles before settling on his sixth choice, an energetic young coach who had just helped his UCLA squad pull off an upset in the Rose Bowl. His name: Dick Vermeil. The point: there are always great coaches out there waiting to be tapped, and they all don't have to be sitting head coaches at either the college or pro level. Andy Reid is an excellent head coach (okay, not perfect, but very good), and he wasn't a coordinator at the time the Eagles hired him. There has to be someone out there if the Giants were to look in the right places. I don't know whether ownership has suggested this, but if they or anyone out there has, they're just dead wrong.

If you're a fan of anyone else in the NFC East other than the Giants, you should be happy with this move. If you're an Eagles' fan, you have to like the Birds' chances to win the division next year. Why? First, who knows whether Bill Parcells will be back in Dallas, but T.O. once again has proved to be a huge distraction, and perhaps the bloom has fallen of the rose that is Tony Romo. Second, despite all of the money that Dan Snyder has thrown at the Redskins and their coaches, they just aren't that good. Joe Gibbs hasn't been able to rekindle the mojo that made him the best coach on the planet in the 1980's. Finally, the Giants, while they have talent, have some big worries. Will Eli develop? Who will replace Tiki? And can Tom Coughlin really rally this team to an good season? The Eagles, comparatively, have fewer question marks (assuming that Donovan McNabb returns on time).

I know a bunch of Giants fans, and they went into last Sunday's game against the Eagles with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they wanted their hometown team to win. On the other hand, they thought that a loss would have a silver lining -- the termination of Coughlin's contract. To them, they've now lost twice, as they fear that the 2007 season will be a lost season under Tom Coughlin.

And they might well just be right.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How Will the Pats Try to Stop the Chargers?

Read this book and you'll get a serious clue.

Okay, I'll give you the "Cliffs Notes" version. The book is "The Education of a Coach" by David Halberstam, and it's about the education of Bill Belichick and how he became the coach he is today. It's a wonderful book, and I recommend it for the serious football fan and the student of any game. There's great insight about how a coach looks at a game.

What's instructive on the point I raise in the title of this post is how New England changed its defense to defeat the St. Louis Rams and their "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. The Rams had defeated the Patriots right before Thankgsiving in Foxboro, and the home team hadn't played particularly well. Belichick knew it would be tough to beat the Rams, who had a bunch of weapons with MVP QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk and a great group of receivers, including Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. The question was how.

Many observers feared the passing game of the Rams the most. Warner threw tight spirals, didn't make mistakes, and the Rams liked the vertical game. The receivers were fleet and sure-handed. This team didn't fiddle around with the West Coast Offense. Under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, this team tried to torch you. They finished the regular season 14-2 and were a double-digit favorite to win the Super Bowl (New England finished the regular season at 11-5).

But when Belichick and his assistants watched the film, one aspect of the Rams' offense kept on resonating in Belichick's mind -- how critical Marshall Faulk was to the Rams' attack. Faulk was a great runner and even better pass receiver, and Belichick designed a defense that would hit Faulk on every play, regardles of whether Faulk touched the ball or not. Hit him hard and tire him out. Even if the Patriots succeeded in carrying out this game plan, Belichick wasn't totally sure it would be enough. In his mind, the Rams were that good.

So what happened?

The game was a close one, and with about 1:45 left the Patriots got the ball. I vividly recall John Madden's saying that they should run out the clock and prepare for overtime. I also recally my slapping my hand on my chair and saying, "Nothing doing. You're a professional football team, you have plenty of time. And you play to win."

So Tom Brady remained calm and led the Patriots down the field, and Adam Vinatieri kicked a last-second field goal to win the game for the Patriots, thereby starting the now-great reputations both players have for being cool under fire and able to deliver in the clutch. Madden, I recall, quickly admitted that he had erred in his assessment.

So remember this, though: even with the all-out effort the Patriots threw at the vaunted Rams' offense, they "only" won the game on a last-second field goal.

But who cares, right? That's all anyone will remember, anyway. The game plan worked well enough to win a championship.

And a good part of the credit goes to a game plan that derailed the highly potent "Greatest Show on Turf."

Can the 2006-2007 version of the New England Patriots do it again, this time to Mr. Tomlinson? The Patriots "only" have one week to prepare for a well-rested Chargers squad. The Chargers, of course, are, going into the playoffs, the favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Sounds just like the type of challenge Bill Belichick relishes.

And we've seen what can happen when he faces challenges like these.

You know that the Chargers won't be taking this game lightly.

And you know that the Patriots will try to make Philip Rivers beat them.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Eagles-Giants

I'm going on record and questioning why many pundits are dismissing the New York Giants on the eve of their playoff game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. They forget that

a) 8-8 teams have fared well in recent years in the playoffs;

b) road teams have fared well in recent years in the playoffs in the first round;

c) this is a real rivalry and a revenge game for the Giants; and

d) the Giants have a lot of talent.

They also forget these facts about the Eagles:

a) they are playing with a QB whom most of the league thought belonged on the trash heap before the season and who failed in Cleveland and Detroit before finding the Fountain of Youth in Philadelphia 5 weeks ago; and

b) they are the same team that couldn't run the ball or stop the run as recently as a month and a half ago.

Naturally, I'm overlooking (intentionally) the stark contrast between the dysfunctional aspects of the Giants (Plaxico, Shockey, injuries on defense, Eli's gaze, Coach Coughlin's loss of the team, T Bob Whitfield's loss of his temper) versus the unity that the Eagles have been showing (the road graders on the OL have been rejuvenated, Garcia has energized the team, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has helped create a run defense that works, Brian Dawkins has been playing Pro-Bowl caliber football in the past 6 weeks, etc.).

Still, this is a rivalry game, the Giants have talent, there's a new person calling the plays for the visitors and Eli can rally a team. And let's not forget Tiki Barber, an amazing player who doesn't want to retire, at least just yet.

Many have called it a 10-point plus win for the Eagles. I think the game will be much closer than that, and I think it's anybody's ball game.

I hope I'm wrong, naturally, and I hope that the pundits are right. But when you have an intra-NFC East (or intra-divisional) playoff game, it can become a "no holds barred" type of contest that will go to the last man standing. That fact should scare any Eagle and Eagles' coach who thinks that the game should be a repeat of what happened a few weeks ago at the Meadowlands.

That Roar You Hear. . .

is the "return" of the Princeton Tigers men's hoops team as some of us remember it.

Except, this version is different.

Princeton partisans and observers over the years will recall a few notable aspects of the Princeton men's basketball teams that won Ivy titles. They shot the ball well, they defended well (leading the nation in "scoring" defense) but they weren't all that physical and didn't rebound the ball all that well (you could look up the fact that many a title team was outrebounded by its opponents -- and, yes, sorry for the use of passive voice there).

The Princeton Tigers dismantled, derailed, folded, spindled and mutilated the Rice Owls yesterday, 51-28 in Jadwin Gym. Yes, the headlines will read "Princeton Cooks Rice," Princeton Burns Rice" or "Bitter Almond for Rice", as the Tigers played amazing defense yesterday and held the nation's leading scorer, Morris Almond, to 9 points. Heck, the entire Rice team didn't manage to score the 31 points plus a game that Almond was averaging going into yesterday's contest. (Ask any coach, and they'll tell you they love to go against a team with a "go to" guy; stop that guy and the opponent will struggle with what to do because the other guys aren't prepared to step up). At any rate. . .

Here's the story. And here's the box score.

And here are a few things to note:

1. The Tigers' defense was awesome yesterday. The Tigers helped each other well, confronted the Rice players and did a terrific job on defense. Past Tiger champions played great defense. This is the best defense I've seen the Tigers play in at least four years, if not longer. It was amazing to watch.

2. These Tigers crash the boards with an almost reckless abandon. Prior Tiger teams sometimes were one and done on offense, but not this team. Time after time, the Tiger frontcourt players crashed the boards and battled hard for rebounds on both ends, particularly the offensive end. It's fun to watch, and there is achievement to accompany the activity.

3. The frosh guards are very good. Marcus Schroeder plays the point like a seasoned veteran, and he and backcourt mate Lincoln Gunn have very good hoops IQs. They found plenty of loose balls yesterday, balls that in prior years might have headed out of bounds and into the other team's possession or straight to the other team. Both played heads-up hoops yesterday.

4. Looks at yesterday's box score. Rice had 3 assists to 18 turnovers; Princeton 15 assists to 17 turnovers, and the turnovers are the only thing that I can't explain about this great effort, except to say that the Tigers played very hard yesterday and occasionally tried to force things (their Achilles' heel: sometimes a frontcourt player would go one on two or three inside the paint and not have the move to finish the play). To quote John Wooden, the team that wins will make more mistakes. I'm not sure I totally understand Coach Wooden's logic, but the Tigers were all over their visitors from Houston yesterday. The turnovers were a by-product of that aggression, but look for the Tigers to reduce them against Ivy opponents.

5. Junior forward Noah Savage and senior guard Edwin Buffmire provided quality minutes off the bench yesterday. Savage was very aggressive on offense, and Buffmire is a catalyst who makes plays.

6. This is a confident team that has a good sense of each other. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the Ivies beating them this year save perhaps Columbia in NYC or Penn. There's no doubt that Penn has a great nucleus in Ibby Jaaber, Steve Danley and Mark Zoller, and PG Brian Grandieri has played well. Penn's supporting cast still needs to assert itself, and there's also the question as to how Penn coach Glenn Miller will fare as a favorite after years of coaching an underdog (my view: this shouldn't be a problem for Coach Miller at all). That said, Miller hasn't proven that he's a great defensive coach, at least not yet (or how else would you explain the season at Brown when he fielded three first-team all-Ivy players and still did not win the Ivy title?). Penn clearly has the offense to light it up with anyone, and the troika of Jaaber, Danley and Zoller is formidable and plays good defense (especially Jaaber, who is one of the best players to play in the Ivies in the past several decades). Overall, the title remains Penn's to lose, but I think that the competition from Princeton will be much more formidable than even the Princeton faithful would have hoped at the season's outset.

7. Fun game in a hot Jadwin Gym for the Tiger faithful yesterday, as it hit 70 degrees in Tigertown yesterday.

8. Recall what several (including me) wrote about Joe Scott's tenure at Princeton. The same way it was at Air Force, it has taken a few years for the Tigers' re-conversion to the orthodox Princeton system that Pete Carril made famous (and a few people, including me, commented to that effect). I don't think that the conversion is complete yet, but I do believe that Joe Scott has to be very happy with the progress his team has made since last season. Coach Scott is a clearly a man who has a vision and coaches to it. He had great success at Air Force, and if he can complete this conversion, the Princeton fans should be very happy in the years to come.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Required Reading: A Class Act Resigns

Bill Cowher was and is a class act.

He will be back, although, as one of his players said, it will be hard to imagine him coaching any team other than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I found it difficult to see Willie Mays labor as a New York Met, the way I found it awkward to watch Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief or Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard.

I wish Coach Cowher's successor all the success in Pittsburgh, and I wish Coach Cowher and the Steelers all the success in their next chapters.

You don't see organizations like the Steelers that frequently, having had only 2 head coaches in the past 38 years. That's just unbelievable in this day and age, as was the reverance with which the organization -- from the owners to the players -- showed for this man.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Neal Cotts, World Series MVP -- for the Cubs?

Charlottesvillain over at TigerHawk has a funny post about Neal Cotts, the relief pitcher, who just inked a free-agent contract with the Cubs, and whose contract has a clause that will pay him $150,000 if he is named World Series MVP. Read the post, because it's harder to think of what's more unlikely -- Cotts' winning the award or the Cubs' winning the World Series.

What could some other creative clauses be? Who is Cotts' agent? What is Cotts' agent thinking? Where are the actuaries? What are the better odds -- that the Cubs will win the World Series and Cotts will be Series' MVP or that Cotts will get hit by lightning while playing golf during the late afternoon of an off-day in the middle of August?

My guess is that Mr. Cotts is buying Power Ball tickets to supplement his salary.

Denver's New Leader Gets Fined

$25,000 for criticizing an official. That's a pretty mature thing to have said for someone who has been in the NBA for 10 years.

And what's Steve Wulff been smoking? In his one-page piece of philosophy that he writes in each issue of ESPN the Magazine, he writes something to the effect that some players work hard and play hard and lead and put team over self (love that one) and then never get what they deserve. The implication is that what they deserve is a title, and coupled together are Tiki Barber and Allen Iverson as examples of players who fall into this category. Huh?

Tiki is more worthy of that comment, but you'll remember that Tiki has spoken out of turn on several occasions in the past few years, either burying coaching decisions (and coaches) or teammates (there was a kerfuffle regarding Michael Strahan's contract negotiations and Tiki's comments thereon). Okay, so no one's perfect, and I'll agree that Tiki is worthy of a title. As for Iverson -- putting team over self? Since when? That comment made no sense whatsoever. Yes, AI plays very hard, but there have been times during his illustrious career where that hard play has been more along the "activity" end of the spectrum than the "achievement" end. I appreciate AI's talents, but I won't shed a tear if he does not win an NBA title before his career is over. He hasn't really shown that he's worthy of one.

And meanwhile the 76ers did beat the Nuggets and AI in Denver earlier this week. Makes you wonder what will happen when Carmelo Anthony returns. Will AI and CA mesh and propel the Nuggets to great heights?

Somehow I don't see that happening.

Cultural Relativism

I blogged just a few days ago that I couldn't see the wisdom of Alabama's hiring of Nick Saban. Yes, I'm a northeasterner who went to a college where the Texans quit the football team because the version of football played in the northeast at what's now the D-IAA level paled in comparison to the "Friday Night Lights" experience these boys had in Texas. So, it is hard for me to understand all of the intensity surrounding major college football, even if there are Penn State alums in my midst and even if nearby Rutgers alums are no longer avoiding eye contact at the mention of their school's football program. After all, I come from a town that is a pro football town; there just isn't any room for any other football.

I talked today with an acquaintance who is a Crimson Tide alum, and he's just thrilled that Alabama hired Nick Saban. "We needed to do this," he explained. And when I questioned him about the wisdom of spending all that money ($32 million over 8 years), he had the following to say: "Well, it's not that much money. Bob Stoops gets $3 million a year at Oklahoma, and the football program's revenues pay for a lot of other things at the university." He then offered that his friends, also fellow alums, were stoked about the hiring. Clearly, visions of national championships are dancing in the minds of the Alabama faithful. "Besides," this man offered, "the money that's paying for this contract is private money. Wealthy alums."

Put simply, the Alabama Crimson Tide fans are very excited about this hiring.

I still would use this money to enhance the computer science department, fund some good basic scientific research projects, alternative fuel technologies or whatever, but the faithful in Tuscaloosa apparently wanted this -- the arrival of Nick Saban -- more than anything else. Sure, it's easy for me, a centrist in a blue state, to question the whole system that exists in the SEC and whether it's wise (and I will argue, again, that it isn't), but down there apparently arguments like mine are attributed to the un-American element in society (it's just un-American to question the wisdom of college football in places like Tuscaloosa). That said, if everyone did what I said, there wouldn't be much to talk, write or argue about.

So, good luck Bama fans -- may you both find happiness in the new arrangement.

I hope you get your money's worth.