Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, October 31, 2005


What a crushing loss for the Lions yesterday. To lose on an interception returned for a touchdown? Just awful. How the hell could Joey Harrington make that throw? He's terrible! You never throw across your body, back to the middle of the field! This is his third year as a pro; he should know better than that!

Wait. What? That wasn't Joey? But Joey's the one that sucks. Jeff Garcia threw that interception? But I thought he was supposed to be the savior. Huh. How 'bout that?

(Image by Daniel Mears/
The Detroit News)

Out of Bounds and Beyond Boxscores both have excellent takes on the Jeff Garcia Experience and the exercise in utter incompetence that is our Detroit Lions. You should also check out Orotundity, and not just because Evan mentions me in today's entry. (Also, read his first two paragraphs in the voice of legendary NFL Films narrator, John Facenda. Trust me, it's fun.)

Me, I'm about one week from looking for another football team to root for. How are the Cleveland Browns doing? Oops. Never mind.

Here's what bugs me the most, and Evan touched on this a bit in his blog: Steve Mariucci is the only coach in the history of the NFL who hasn't been able to score points with the West Coast Offense. Years ago, my friend Chris bought me Bill Walsh's book, Building a Champion, as a gift, and I read that thing cover-to-cover because I wanted to know that offense worked. The system has worked through the past two decades. I can think of four teams off the top of my head - San Francisco, Green Bay, Denver, and Tampa Bay - that have won the Super Bowl with that philosophy. And Philadelphia has come damn close.

Is the system a bit antiquated now? Maybe. Rob Rubick brought up an interesting point on the FOX Sports Net post-game show yesterday: With the speed of linebackers in today's NFL, you can't just run a bunch of slant, flat, hitch, and quick-out patterns and expect to move the ball down the field. Defenses are too fast now for anything to happen in such small space. But the other coaches employing the West Coast Offense have adjusted with more downfield patterns and formations that spread defenses out to create more space on the field to work with.

Mariucci has taken a system proven to be successful, put it in a stranglehold, and moved backwards with it. You can see the Lions regress on offense with each successive play. It's scarier than any horror movie you could've seen this Halloween weekend. This team has actually gotten worse in the three years he's been head coach.

There's only thing I want for Christmas, and that's a new Lions football coach.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Boring? We'll take it.

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm not interested in leaving this blog for any NFL job. Hey, Charlie Weis got a 10-year extension from doing that, so I'm trying it too. A 10-year extension for a guy who hasn't yet coached a full season at Notre Dame (and was far from their first choice for the job)? Wow. Can I find anything like that in the classifieds?

Okay, moving on to last night's game, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a snoozefest of a game more. Well, "enjoyed" is probably too strong a word, but after the last five weeks of nail-biting, defibrilating football from Michigan, it was nice to sit back and relax.

(Image by John T. Grelick/ The Detroit News)

Hell, midway through the fourth quarter, I was checking to see what I'd received in the mail from Netflix and debating whether to start Donovan McNabb or Mark Brunell on my fantasy football team. I watched the game to the end, but it hardly received my undivided attention once it became clear that Northwestern's offense just wasn't going to do anything against that Michigan defense.

And that last sentence isn't one I thought I'd be typing after last night's game. 17 points from Northwestern? Sure, maybe after the first quarter. That didn't quite happen, but it looked possible after Brett Basanez rolled up 149 yards passing. But the Michigan defense ensured there wouldn't be another 50-point outburst in Evanston (and can you imagine if this U-M offense had to keep up in a shootout?) in possibly its best effort of the season. Are spread offenses still scary for Michigan fans? Not so much. Mobile (semi-mobile, in Basanez's case) quarterback? Contained, flustered, and flattened.

The defense received a little help from a run-heavy, ball-control game plan that kept Northwestern's offense off the field. Mike Hart's not playing? Oh no! But the redemption of Jerome Jackson continued, as he rushed for 105 yards. And Kevin Grady added another 64. Oh yes. Garrett Rivas also deprived me of much material by converting all four of his field goal attempts.

Of course, it wasn't perfect. If there's nothing to complain about, there's nothing to write about, right? Chad Henne still isn't playing well. He completed 17-of-30 passes for 174 yards and three interceptions. Most of those passes were of the quick throw/ skip/ screen variety to the wide receivers. (Actually, most of those probably counted as running plays.) And one of those interceptions - a Hail Mary throw just before halftime - basically didn't count.

The end of the first half, however, was infuriating. After Grant Mason intercepted Basanez, Michigan had a chance to put the game away before halftime. But three straight runs into the line and settling for a field goal gave Northwestern a break - which they immediately capitalized upon, taking only 49 seconds to score a touchdown, cut Michigan's lead to 27-17, and send me into a swearing, throwing-things tirade that would've made my mother wonder how well she raised me. But any and all momentum Northwestern gained from that play ended at halftime. Who would've predicted that to happen?

All I have left is one question: Is this too late in the season for a bye week? Lloyd says no way.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bring Your Playbook, Joey

If you're interested (and I certainly hope you are), Mike Valenti and Terry Foster of WXYT's "Sports Inferno" generously posted an essay of mine - Bring Your Playbook, Joey - at their website, sportsinferno.com.

Mike and Terry have asked listeners to submit columns or essays to bring more content to the site and create a unique relationship between the show and its audience. I'm certainly grateful, and I hope it's not the last time something of mine is posted over there.

So please check out my essay, along with the rest of their site. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Sports Inferno" broadcasts from 10 am to 2 pm on 1270 AM in Detroit (and also streams live over the internet.)

Thanks, guys.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sorry, Herky

Is it possible to type with no fingertips? Somehow I'm doing it. The past two weeks, I've gnawed them from the nails down to the bone. (Actually, the last five weeks have been nerve-wracking.) Yesterday's 23-20 defeat of Iowa wasn't quite as defibrilating as the last-second win over Penn State, especially once the Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal in overtime. But it was dramatic right until the very end.

My first thought after Jerome Jackson scored the winning touchdown - and this is from a guy who's spent the last two years drinking the water that Kirk Ferentz walks on in Iowa City - was this:

The head coach blew the game for Iowa. Lloyd Carr's critics love to criticize him for the team's conservative philosophies on offense and defense (100 victories, by the way), but Ferentz was the one who tightened up and puckered at the end of the fourth quarter.

(Image by Harry Baumert/ The Des Moines Register)

Iowa's offense had driven 67 yards down the field to Michigan's 15-yard line. Drew Tate and Herb Grigsby just connected on a spectacular 30-yard pass play. A touchdown seemed imminent. Michigan's defense was reeling. And then Ferentz let them off the hook by settling for a game-tying field goal. Iowa didn't even take one shot at the end zone, with two timeouts in its pocket, and 1:10 left on the clock? Are you kidding? Did you have that little confidence in your quarterback? Were you that afraid of a turnover? C'mon, Kirk - let your kids go for the win.

A little Herky sat on my shoulder, stroked my ear with his feathers, and tried to rationalize Ferentz's strategy. "You have to at least tie the game," he told me. "You can't lose the game when you're that close." And for a minute, I listened. Of course Ferentz made the right decision. He's the best coach in the Big 10, right?

Sorry, Herky - I ain't buyin' it. The memory of Pete Carroll going for the win last week at Notre Dame is too fresh in my mind. Michigan was on its heels, defensively. You can't just go to overtime and figure you have the advantage because you're at home, where you've won 22 straight games. And yes, your defense has played well, but have you seen how Michigan plays in clutch situations? Hell, I'd argue you're putting more pressure on your team by taking the game to overtime.

But that's looking at the game through Hawkeye-colored glasses. I'll put my maize-and-blue blockers on now. (This, by the way, is why you should follow Bill Simmons' rules for sports fans. "You cannot root for two teams at the same time. You cannot hedge your bets. You cannot unconditionally love two teams at the same time, when there's a remote chance that they might go head-to-head some day." Not just for credibility's sake, but for your health, both mental and physical.) I think that was Michigan's most impressive win of the season.

"What? Are you nuts? More impressive than Penn State? Weren't they ranked #8?" That's what my sister - who got to watch the game in South Carolina this week, thanks for asking - said to me when we talked afterwards. (She also wonders how, as a Midwesterner, I can root for the Astros in the World Series.)

Hell, yeah. How many of you thought Michigan was in big trouble once Mike Hart's couldn't play on his twisted ankle? How many games has Michigan won with #20 out of the lineup? Then Jerome Jackson reminded us not only that he was still on the roster, but that he was once a starter at running back. 44 yards on 11 carries? The game-winning touchdown? After being buried at fourth-string and barely sniffing the field? A guy coming out of nowhere to be the hero is just the kind of story that makes sports so compelling to watch.

LaMarr Woodley hurt? C'mon in, Pierre Woods. Chris Graham, you can't go? John Thompson! You're not the former Georgetown basketball coach and current Washington D.C. sports talk radio host? Okay, get in there and play a hell of a game! Woods called him "baby Ray Lewis" after the game, and as Brian points out at mgoblog, the defense was much better with Thompson in the lineup.

Look at the Hawkeye streaks Michigan snapped yesterday. Besides the 22-game winning streak at Kinnick Stadium, here are the other trends Michigan ended (courtesy of Andy Hamilton of the Iowa City Press-Citizen): The Hawkeyes hadn't lost at home since 2002 (vs. Iowa State), they hadn't trailed in a home game since 2003 (vs. Minnesota), and hadn't blown a fourth-quarter lead in its last 35 chances.

Other thoughts rattling around in my head:

♦ Did Chad Henne at least buy Jason Avant a pizza after the game? Man, he should've. Avant's leaping, twisting 18-yard catch in overtime probably won the game for Michigan.

♦ Was that a pass play that Michigan ran with Antonio Bass at quarterback? (Is that the last one they'll call? Avant totally bailed Bass out, catching that thing you'd call a pass.)

♦ Speaking of Bass, what the hell were the replay officials looking at when they said he fumbled in the fourth quarter? What part of "the ground cannot cause a fumble" do those guys not understand? Was there some super-secret camera angle shown in the replay booth that we didn't get to see at home? Fortunately, it wasn't a factor in the game's outcome. Here's my second Pete Carroll mention of the day; if that's how instant replay is going to work out, I'm with him - don't use it.

♦ Pat Harty of the Press-Citizen isn't surprised Iowa lost. He just can't believe how sloppily the Hawkeyes played.

♦ My inner Hawkeye still can't help but wonder how Iowa's offense would look with Adrian Arrington at wide receiver. Oh, were they bitching about that one in Iowa! Cest la vie.

♦ And this is a different game entirely, but what the hell was this? That's the effort you bring for Homecoming? Michigan only beat these guys by three points? Are you nervous about Northwestern next week?

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

A house divided

Can a young man get in a quickie Michigan-Iowa blog before the game is over? I wanted to post this yesterday, but something... er... hell, I don't know what came up. Anyway. Just before the game starts, I'll try to squeeze some predictions in. But first, please indulge me as I fill in some background.

It's a conflicted day for Casa de Casselberry, largely a Michigan household. But for one Saturday a year, there's one lone holdout. Me. See, I was born and raised in Ann Arbor. Michigan has always been my team. Virtually every Saturday, I'd sit in front of the TV with my Dad, watching the Wolverines, and agonizing over every play. If they won, of course it was a good day. If they'd lose, we'd spend hours wondering what the hell happened. Just like every other Michigan fan. And life moved on normally.

Then I had to go to school at Iowa (I'll spare you the "why" details), and things changed a little bit. Of course, I still rooted for Michigan, riding the emotional roller coaster with my Dad each Saturday. And I knew Iowa City was only going to be a temporary stop for me, so I never really fully embraced the place. But a little trickle of black-and-gold found its way into my maize-and-blue blood. I couldn't help it. The people were just too nice, and the school was very, very good to me. It took two years, but somewhere in my chest, there's a soft spot for the Hawkeyes. And that's made the Michigan-Iowa football game a little more interesting in my family.

Now that I'm back in Ann Arbor, however, it's been difficult to keep up with all things Hawkeyes. (Hell, I've learned more about this year's Iowa team, and how they look going into the Michigan game, from mgoblog than any other resource. And I owe a tip of the gratitude cap to Brian for linking over here the past couple of weeks and giving my fledgling readership a boost. Thanks, YMMFer.) I've fallen back into the old patterns with Michigan. It's like slipping back into that old comfortable pair of jeans that you haven't worn all summer but feel great when the weather gets cooler.

So what about the game, Ian? Okay, okay - enough of the sepia-toned nostalgia. Here's what I think: I wonder if the spectacular win over Penn State covered up the flaws that this Michigan team still has? Chad Henne, up until the fourth quarter, wasn't playing that well. And the defense let Penn State put together some big drives. If Michigan hadn't scored with no time left, and there would've been an opportunity to drive back down the field, could the defense have stopped Penn State? Of course, we'll never know and it doesn't matter. That was the kind of win that can ignite a team and turn around a season.

Iowa's struggled, too. They had two bad, 20+ point losses to Iowa State (??) and Ohio State. And it's difficult to say just how good this team is, when their last three wins were earned against Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana, the chafe of the Big 10. The defensive line lost key players to graduation. And the secondary is banged up. But if the linebackers can manage a pass rush, Henne's shown he doesn't always react well to pressure.

Another encouraging thing for Iowa is its running game. It's back, which is to say, they actually have one. Last year, virtually every single running back on the roster got hurt. The Hawkeyes were about three pulled hamstrings and sprained ankles from asking me for a tryout. And, well, I can't run. Shifty, but no speed. And I'm short. Healthy hamstrings, though. Anyway, Michigan's struggled defending the run, so if Iowa can gain yards on the ground, its offense - despite the injury to #1 receiver Ed Hinkel - looks damn good. Michigan's defense was already going to have a hard time trying to keep tabs on the elusive Drew Tate, who runs and throws well.

My sister tried to give me shit this week; "You're not going to root for Iowa, are you?" Well, Lil' Sis, I'm torn. (See above.) A loss to Iowa would essentially crush Michigan's chances for a Big 10 championship (admittedly slim) or a New Year's Day bowl game (which has become something of a given for Wolverine fans). Yet I know how special a win over Michigan would be for Iowa. The PedMall would be a non-stop party Saturday and Sunday.

So maybe it's a copout, Lil' Sis, but I just want a good game. Am I biased? Maybe, but your guess is as good as mine which way that turns. Call it a gut feeling, with a little bit of Crash Davis ("Never fuck with a winning streak!") thrown in for Iowa's record at Kinnick Stadium (22 wins in a row), but I think we're looking at a divided Casa de Casselberry.

Iowa 20, Michigan 16.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

I have thoughts! ... On baseball

♦ I have to admit, I thought the Houston Astros were done after Albert Pujols' amazing ninth-inning three-run homer Monday night. How many postseason series have turned on a moment like that? A few immediately came to my mind. Kirk Gibson's home run against Oakland essentially decided the 1988 World Series. What about Boston's Dave Henderson against California's Donnie Moore in the '86 playoffs? Or the Yankees' Jim Leyritz against Atlanta in the 1996 World Series? Each of those series looked like they were going one way, and then BOOM! Pujols' home run looked like one of those moments to me. The Astros would surely crumble after letting a victory get away like that, right? Ah, what do I know?

♦ I'm struggling over who to root for in the World Series. Usually, I can find some reason, any reason to decide between two teams I don't really care about. (If not, I suppose I just don't watch. But I always watch.) Normally, the Astros would be a cinch. That franchise has never even been to the World Series, let alone won it. Yet it's been so long since the White Sox were there (1917) that it may as well be never, too. So I need to come up with some reasons before Saturday night. Let's see if I can work it out.

▪ ▪ Phil Garner. Former Tigers manager, and someone whose reputation was wrongly tainted after being screwed over when Mike Ilitch decided to cut payroll. Rooting point: Astros.

▪ ▪ The Cubs. I hate the Cubs. I hate Cubs fans, many of whom I had to listen to for two years in Iowa City - which is 200 miles away from Chicago. (You pick the nearest team when you're far away from everything, I guess. And the University of Iowa has a ton of students from suburban Chicago.) So I'd love to see Chicago's stepchild baseball team win, just to make it that much more painful for Cubs fans. Rooting point: White Sox.

▪ ▪ Richard Justice. Maybe my favorite current sports columnist. I read his blog faithfully. I love it - love it - when he's a guest on PTI. And I would love to see him get to write about a World Series champion. Plus, he has a superhero name. Rooting point: Astros.

▪ ▪ Ozzie Guillen. Okay, he might be batshit crazy. And he never shuts up. But you never hear "We just have to play hard and win one game at a time" from him. At one point this season, when it looked like the White Sox might lose the AL Central to the Indians, he said "We really flat-out stink." C'mon, how many managers do that? Don't you want to see this guy in the biggest of postseason spotlights? Rooting point: White Sox.

▪ ▪ Jay Mariotti. I don't get it. I don't get how this guy is such a darling at ESPN. His voice makes my temples throb, his inane observations make my teeth grind. And he picks fights with play-by-play announcers (though after hearing one more "Put it on the board... YES!" from Ken Harrelson, I'd like to clock him too.) I'd hate to see this guy get to write about a World Series champion, or boast about it on TV. Rooting point: Astros.

▪ ▪ Ken Harrelson. See above. He's already insufferable. Does anyone have more gimmicks (the White Sox are always "the good guys," if an opponent strikes out, "he gone!") in his announcing repertoire? Imagine how he'd be if he were calling play-by-play for a defending World Series champion. Rooting point: Astros.

Okay, that's Astros 4, White Sox 2. And I didn't even mention Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell finally getting a chance at a championship. No tie-breaker necessary. Looks like I'm rooting for the Astros. Glad I could work that out.

But let me warn you, Houston: I could be persuaded to go the other way if I see any more headlines paraphrasing "Houston, we have a problem." "Houston, we have a pennant"? Stop it. You had your moment. But stop it. Right now. Enough, already.

♦ Last night's loss meant the St. Louis Cardinals played their last game in Busch Stadium. And I'm glad I got to see a game at the old Busch before the Cardinals move into the new one. It was last June, the Cards were playing the Reds on a Saturday night (with Ken Griffey, Jr. one home run away from 500), and I was in the bleachers. This photo by J.B. Forbes of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch isn't an exact match to my view that day, but it's pretty close. And with a pair of binoculars, it was like watching the game on TV when I saw Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols hit home runs. (Griffey didn't get #500 that night.) How much better could it be for a first-time visitor to Busch Stadium?

I was hooked as soon as I walked into the ballpark and saw those arches lining the outer ring of the stadium. And almost immediately, I understood why St. Louis is considered one of the best, if not the best, baseball cities in the country. I've never been to Fenway Park (which I hope to remedy within the next year or two), and I was only a kid when I visited Wrigley Field, so my memory's a bit hazy. Busch Stadium doesn't have any bars and restaurants surrounding it, so that part of the ballpark experience is lacking. But I can't imagine a more exciting atmosphere anywhere else.

Everyone was wearing red on the way to the ballpark. (And yes, the Cards were playing the Reds, but I didn't see any Reds t-shirts, bucko.) And they were all excited about the game. The closest comparison I can make is to a college football game. I've never seen anything like that at a baseball game. ("Atmosphere" surrounding Comerica Park usually means "traffic.") And those fans were there to watch the game. "How's Scotty [Rolen] gonna do tonight?" "Pujols hits Acevedo well." "Who's catching tonight?" I was in awe of "Cardinal Nation" that night. And they'll make the new Busch Stadium just as special as the old one. Knowing how much the Cardinals mean to those fans makes me a little sad when they lose in the postseason.

♦ One more thought on the Cardinals: Tony LaRussa - brilliant manager or seriously overrated? I haven't seen that column yet, but I'm sure it's coming. With all the good teams this guy has had, he only has one World Series championship to show for it. And several of those didn't even make it to the World Series. Does LaRussa do something wrong during the postseason or is this an indication of how unpredictable baseball can be?

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Magnifico Mario!

All week long, it seemed like Michigan fans were waiting for that one loss, the confirmation that this was finally the season where the Wolverines officially slid into mediocrity. And this week's game versus undefeated Penn State looked like it could be the one.

That could still happen, because we still don't know how good these guys really are. But it didn't happen yesterday. Just when you thought Michigan might really be down, they show that they're still a player in the Big 10 race with a defibrillating, literally last-second 27-25 victory.

Of course you've already heard the call of Michigan's last-second win over Penn State on TV or radio (Boy, Frank Beckmann's going to miss U-M on WJR). But I'm curious if your house sounded anything like mine when Mario Manningham caught that 10-yard, game-winning touchdown pass from Chad Henne.

(Image by Duane Burleson/ Associated Press)

I was on the phone with my sister, a U-M graduate who lives in South Carolina and, thanks to ABC's regional TV coverage, was relegated to watching Louisville-West Virginia. (Top item on Lil' Sis' Christmas list this year? A satellite dish.) I tried to be helpful and called her with updates, but when Henne had the ball ripped out of his arms for a Penn St. touchdown (and I blew out her ear by screaming, "Oh, that FUCKER!"), she yelled at me and insisted she didn't want to hear anything about the game until it was over. "I'm gonna have a heart attack!" she said. "I can't take this!"

But she couldn't stay away. When she saw that Michigan had tied the game at 18 (via NBC's crawl), she called back, asked if it was true, and then repeated that I wasn't to call her until the end. Of course, I called back just before Penn State took a 25-21 lead. "WHY?" she shrieked at me. "I told you not to call me! Heart attack!" But with only 53 seconds left in the game, I kept her on the phone with me and made her suffer through my play-by-play commentary. (A sample: "Ohshitohshitohshit! Damn, he dropped it! But that's okay. The clock stopped. It's 2nd-and-10, 28 seconds left.")

Here's what my house sounded like at the end:

"Okay, one second left. This is it."

"Why did you call me, Ian? I can't take this shit. Why don't you listen to me?"

"C'mon, you wanted to hear this. Okay, here we go... Henne's dropp-- YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! HOLY SHIT! IS IT GOOD? YEAH! NO FLAGS! NO FLAGS! TOUCHDOWN! HE HIT MANNINGHAM! YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!"

I drop the phone while jumping around - really much more than a man my age should be - then pick it back up to hear my shrieking sister.

"Touchdown? Really? No! Yes! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! YES!"


Sound anything like yours? Unfortunately, Lil' Sis didn't get to see a highlight of the play, no matter which channel she tried. Louisville-West Virginia went to overtime on ABC, LSU and Florida went down to the wire on CBS, and USC staged its own amazing comeback over Notre Dame on NBC. I hope she stayed up to watch SportsCenter last night.

(Image by Carlos Osorio/ Associated Press)

I'm sure a nitpicker or two could disagree with me, but didn't everyone in the Michigan Fan Doghouse redeem himself yesterday?

♦ Had Lloyd Carr not fought for those extra two seconds (from :28 to :30) after calling timeout, would Michigan have won the game? They literally needed every second left. (Joe Paterno thought the decision by the referees was "baloney," by the way.)

♦ I've been tough on Henne (which means I know nothing about quarterback play, according to Carr), but he was Fonzie on that last drive - cool. And that showed some toughness, coming back after that rather emasculating fumble. We'll see how Henne plays from here on out - and I certainly hope his confidence soars - but he assured no one else will be playing quarterback for Michigan for the next 1-2 years.

(But I do have one suggestion for young Chad, in regards to that fumble: Slide next time, you jive turkey! Slide!)

Garrett Rivas has been my favorite punching bag lately, but last week, an anonymous reader reminded me that Rivas has kicked game-winning field goals before. (Put a name to your comment next time, pal. I'm giving you credit here.) I might have to reassess my contention that kicking a field goal in a tie game (18-18) isn't a pressure kick, because Michigan really needed that field goal and - at 47 yards - that was hardly an easy kick to make. Garrett - for this week, you're a good kicker, and I'm a putz.

♦ With a huge 41-yard run to set up the game-winning score, Steve Breaston has had big kickoff returns two weeks in a row, and no longer belongs on the side of a milk carton. Does he once again deserve the hype The Sporting News lavished upon him earlier this season?

Okay, does that cover everyone? Did I miss anybody? Let's move on to some last points and thoughts from the game:

▪ ▪ How did Penn State let Manningham get that open on the game-winning touchdown? And would you believe Manningham was the second read for Henne on that play? Can you believe Breaston was the first read?

▪ ▪ From Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor News: Despite the win, Lloyd Carr is still mad as hell and not going to take it anymore - the criticism of Chad Henne and Jim Herrmann, that is.

▪ ▪ Hey, Michigan defense! How about not giving up any more 61-yard runs in the fourth quarter? Jesus...

▪ ▪ Will Michigan ever call for a pass play when it lines up Antonio Bass at quarterback? I like Michigan doing that, but if you're the opposing defense and see that formation, don't you know Bass is going to run the ball? Yet Bass gained 24 yards on one of those plays, so what do I know?

▪ ▪ Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette still thinks Penn State is the better team. Lest you think he's completely biased, however, he acknowledges Michigan played the better game and points out that Paterno will forever kick himself for kicking off to Steve Breaston toward the end of the game.

▪ ▪ Finally, it has nothing to do with the game, but if you're curious how Michigan feels about WJR's new deal with Michigan State, Terry Foster has some interesting insight into the story.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday stir-fry

♦ So am I crazy for thinking Michigan's still going to beat Penn State tomorrow? I watched most of the Nittany Lions' victory over Ohio State last Saturday, and was certainly impressed. But maybe the Buckeyes aren't as good as we thought they were, either.

And isn't it interesting how the prevailing sentiment has gone from "Paterno's old! He has to go!" to "Wow, what a job he's done! Who said he was too old?" Exhibit A: this New York Times feature on Paterno.

Call me a slappy, but I think Chad Henne wants to look good against his home state team. Michigan 23, Penn State 14.

♦ Lions prediction? The Lions have been "Team Turmoil" this week, with distrust among receivers and quarterbacks, and Roy Williams and Kevin Jones apparently totally still in a fight. (Oh, wait - now they're not in a fight, you guys!) It's too bad the passing game isn't in sync, because Carolina gives up a bunch of yards through the air. The Lions could use the pass to set up the run, and open up some space for Kevin Jones. Plus, the Carolina running backs are all banged up, the Lions' defense is playing well, and Vegas even favors the Lions by one point. So the Lions should win on Sunday, right?

Well, they should. But can you imagine these guys winning two games in a row? On Monday, we'll all be complaining again about how much this team sucks (and I'll probably be blogging about it). Panthers 27 (my fantasy team needs those John Kasay field goals), Lions 23.

♦ One more Michigan thing: Did you see this? Did "the great voice of the Great Lakes," WJR, really drop Michigan football and basketball broadcasts in favor of Michigan State's? Wow. WJR has been U-M's flagship station for almost 30 years. It was one of the things I learned to take for granted during my lifetime: Michigan sports on WJR.

Where does Michigan go from here? Their next stop can't come close to matching WJR's 50,000-watt blowtorch. The Detroit News says Infinity Broadcasting (WWJ, WXYT, WKRK-FM) will be in touch. And according to the Ann Arbor News, U-M's athletic director, Bill Martin, was completely caught off guard by the move.

♦ If you're a fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, CA, did you scream with rage and tear this article (also from today's NY Times) up into itty bitty confetti bits? "I should have either said, 'No catch,'" umpire Doug Eddings said. "Or, if I did have a catch, that he was out. Which I never said: 'He's out.'" Gee, ya think that woulda helped, Dougie-boy?

And since I haven't written about it, here's my quick take on Wednesday night's controversy, which completely hijacked every bit of sports broadcasting I watched or listened to yesterday:

If Anaheim's catcher, Josh Paul, tags Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski after he swung and missed - something I see catchers do all the time, whether they need to or not - that play is a complete non-issue.

♦ Staying in Anaheim for one more point, if you were wondering what they think of Mike Babcock, now that he's moved from Anaheim to Detroit, here's an interesting piece by the LA Times' Helene Elliott.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

10 days later

Ultimately, firing Alan Trammell was the right move for the Detroit Tigers. I know that. Only someone who grew up totally idolizing the man, wears a Tram jersey four days a week, and still has posters of the man taped all over his bedroom (or den) walls would completely deny that a change had to be made.

I certainly acknowledge that the Tigers' abysmal record can't be entirely blamed on Trammell. Due to injuries, he never had his best lineup together for more than a handful of games. Having players like Carlos Guillen, Rondell White, Magglio Ordonez, and Troy Percival healthy for a full season likely would've pushed the Tigers closer to a .500 record.

(Photo by Steve Perez/ The Detroit News)

But losing control of the team after Kyle Farnsworth was traded to Atlanta was Trammell's biggest failing as manager. The players interpreted the deal as giving up on the season, an excuse which consumed the team and overwhelmed Trammell's management skills. Pudge Rodriguez became a petulant diva and set his own rules for himself, which was best displayed by his "vacation" to Colombia during his four-game suspension in August.

Once you let your employees walk all over you, you just can't be an effective boss. In college football, the worst thing that can happen to a program is for the NCAA to cite it for "lack of institutional control." That's exactly what happened with the Tigers; Trammell lost control of his team.

But though I generally agree with the move, there are few things still rattling around in my brain that I need to dump out.

♦ When Trammell was originally hired, I was happy to see him back in a Tigers uniform. Really, who wasn't? Yet I felt an underlying sadness, because it seemed rather obvious how this was all going to end. Tram was eventually going to be fired, an indignity one of the Tigers' greatest players didn't deserve. Unless he proved to be a managerial genius, the second coming of Tony LaRussa, a first-time manager guiding a youthful, inexperienced team looked like a potentially toxic combination. And with everyone learning on the job, the 2003 Detroit Tigers were almost historically bad. At times, it seemed like Tram was learning his craft and getting a handle on the job. But eventually, his inexperience just couldn't overcome the many screaming failures this team was burdened with. The inevitably sad ending came to pass.

♦ To me, the most troubling aspect of Trammell's firing and Jim Leyland's hiring is the total traveshamockery of a charade General Manager Dave Dombrowski perpetrated when he crammed two quickie interviews with Juan Samuel and Bruce Fields (whom I'd argue could've been named manager instead of Trammell) in the hours before Leyland arrived in Detroit. Major League Baseball, in the interests of equal opportunity, prefers its teams to open up its interviewing process and give minority candidates an opportunity to pursue managerial positions.

Of course, I agree with this policy, in principle. But in practice, it doesn't seem to work. Especially when teams subvert the policy by squeezing in a couple of token interviews before hiring the guy they wanted all along. It was almost comical when Dombrowski admitted that he interviewed Samuel immediately after firing Trammell. He may as well have been holding up a sign that said "Loophole, people!" Dombrowski will say that he had to act fast, before another team courted Leyland, and his actions certainly support that. How fortunate that he had Samuel and Fields on hand to bail him out.

♦ The Detroit News' Tigers beat writer, Tom Gage, astutely pointed out how tiresome this whole hire-and-fire process has become for owner Mike Ilitch. "This time he looked ... bored," Gage wrote. And I'm sure he was. Along with having to fire a man who a generation of Tigers fans idolized, Ilitch had to face the embarrassment of admitting yet another failure and making yet another managerial change. (I also think he had to face the embarrassment of going out in public with that hairpiece. Are you looking at that picture? Damn. How can a rich guy have such bad hair?)

He even tried to pull the ol' Red Wings card (Hey, remember how many Stanley Cups we've won?) by comparing Jim Leyland's hiring to the Wings' hiring of Scotty Bowman.

Let's see, how can I say this most succinctly? No. Let me elaborate. No, no, no. No, no. Bowman has nine Stanley Cup championships. Jim Leyland has five winning seasons. That's not to diminish Leyland's accomplishments. He won a World Series title in 1997 and is easily the best manager the Tigers have had since Sparky Anderson. The Tigers aren't going to lose games because the manager sat the wrong guy or made an incorrect decision within a game. And he has the gravitas to stand up to Pudge when he's acting like a spoiled rich girl who has to drive a Honda instead of a Lexus. But Leyland is not Scotty Bowman. I know that's not exactly what Ilitch said, but he did try to draw the comparison to make himself look better, and needs to be called out on it.

♦ A guy who's been in Detroit for a grand total of four years (Dombrowski) was allowed to dismiss a Tigers legend, one of only three men who played in this town for 20 years. If you grew up in the late-70s or early-80s, Trammell was probably the best Tigers player you ever watched. Getting fired by a relative outsider - when it comes to the Detroit Tigers - just doesn't seem fair.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Elsewhere in Detroit, a bittersweet Sunday

This will just never look right to me. I hate seeing Darren McCarty in another team's uniform.

(Image by David Guralnick/ Detroit News)

I imagine most, if not all, Detroit sports fans feel the same way. Here are the reports on Darren McCarty's Sunday return to "Hockeytown" from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

I've written about my admiration and appreciation for D-Mac previously at my mother ship blog, Fried Rice Thoughts. So rather than repeat myself, I'll just let those blog entries speak for themselves. Carry on.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Lose your minds, lose the game

In case you were wondering, yes, it is possible to beat a football team while standing on your head. But only if the other team goes completely batshit crazy.

(Image by Doug Kapustin/ The Baltimore Sun)

Have you ever seen a professional football team lose its collective mind the way Baltimore did against Detroit yesterday? The Ravens were called for a near-record 21 penalties. Two of their players (one of whom apparently had "malice in his heart") were ejected. They looked positively petulant, throwing footballs at opponents and against walls. And one guy was penalized for making an obscene gesture to the Ford Field crowd. Tell me you've ever seen those things happen in a football game.

♦ It's hard to blame the Ravens for going crazy after the call in the first quarter that eventually led to the Lions' first touchdown. I can't complain too much, since it helped out my team. But as a Lions fan, I think the Ravens wuz robbed. It sure looked like the wrong call. If Joey Harrington's hand was moving forward with the football still in it, isn't that a forward pass? Not according to the referees yesterday.

"The ball was loose in the quarterback's hand before his hand came forward. He didn't have a grip on the ball, and he didn't have full control."

They ruled it a fumble, so Kevin Jones picked up the live ball and - while everyone else was still wondering what the hell was going on - ran with it to the Ravens' 1-yard-line. I had the same look on my face as Ray Lewis here.

(Image by John Makely/ The Baltimore Sun)

♦ I agree with the Detroit News' Bob Wojnowski: The Lions showed some toughness yesterday. After it was clear that the referees weren't going to do Baltimore any favors, they thought they might win by bullying the Lions. But the Lions stood up to them and got right back in the Ravens' faces. Kevin Jones didn't flinch from Ray Lewis; he ran straight at Lewis and threw all that jibber-jabber right back at him. How could you not root for the guy after that?

♦ When asked why he ejected Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, referee Mike Carey said, "He bumped me with malice in his heart, and he was gone." Those refs are pretty damn good if they can see what's in a player's heart.

♦ Has a football team ever scored 35 points when its quarterback threw for only 97 yards? Joey, Joey, Joey. I've defended you for three years now. You're making me look bad, and I'm running out of material. Ultimately, I only care if you help my beloved Honolulu Blue-clad football heroes win games. But you're playing so terribly that the Lions are going to ship you off next year. And I'll probably be okay with that. But my mother won't. That'll break her heart. You're the reason she watches these games. She and my sister have mad crushes on you. C'mon Joey, make 'em happy. That's how I'm appealing to you, dude. Do it for the ladies.

(Image by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bye-bye, Brown Jug

Did that really happen? The end of Michigan's game vs. Minnesota had a surreal quality to it, with the official game clock malfunctioning and the referees keeping time on the field. It looked like the game was going to overtime, tied at 20, two-and-a-half minutes remaining, and Minnesota on its own 15-yard line, 85 yards away from a touchdown. Or 60 yards away from a field goal.

(Image by Steve Perez/ The Detroit News)

Even Minnesota's coach, Glen Mason, had essentially conceded that the game would go to overtime.

Then, with a minute-and-a-half left, the Michigan defense suffered a terrible lapse and allowed Minnesota running back Gary Russell to gain 61 yards on one play. (If not for Michigan's Brandon Harrison finally catching him, Russell probably would've scored a touchdown. That's how out-of-place Michigan's defense was on the play.)

Kicking a game-winning field goal was merely a formality after that. It didn't matter if you couldn't tell how much time was left in the game. You knew it was over. Seconds later, the Minnesota team swarmed to the Michigan sideline and retrieved the trophy it hadn't seen in 19 years.

19 years. What were you doing in 1986? Some of the players on that field hadn't even been born the last time Minnesota won The Little Brown Jug from Michigan.

Three losses, one week into October? A 1-2 record in the Big Ten? A .500 record after six games? When's the last time that happened? (The answer is 1990, actually - just read that in today's Detroit News.) How much worse can this season get for Michigan, with games remaining against Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State? (And hey, Northwestern and Indiana aren't looking so bad either.)

♦ Minnesota was probably due to win one of these games. They had each of the previous two games in hand, only to collapse at the end and let Michigan escape with a victory. Losing those games ended up ruining Minnesota's last two seasons. This year, it was the Gophers' turn to ruin something for Michigan. As a Wolverines fan, I'm upset about the loss, but I have to acknowledge the law of averages, cosmic order, and all that other stuff.

♦ Can we just throw away that "Michigan would have been 5-0 if Mike Hart had been healthy" theory? Wasn't that Mike Hart I saw at running back for Michigan yesterday? Didn't he gain 109 yards? How'd that work for Michigan?

♦ After the game, there were rumblings that Minnesota players had planted a flag in the middle of the Michigan Stadium field. I wasn't at the game, and TV and radio made no mention of this. But today's papers confirm the story. Maybe it's poor sportsmanship, and rubbing it in. But I can't get too mad about it when Michigan lost the game. What does bug me is what Mike Hart pointed out: it's a copycat move. MSU did the same thing when it beat Notre Dame two weeks ago. But at least the Spartans had won five straight games on the Fighting Irish's turf.

♦ Two points to repeat from previous posts (because they need to be repeated):

1) During his post-game press conference, coach Lloyd Carr mentioned a failure to protect the quarterback as one of the reasons Michigan lost. By saying that, he's trying to do what his offensive line couldn't: Protect his quarterback.

Replace that number "7" on Chad Henne's jersey with a question mark. He completed 14 of 29 passes for 155 yards against Minnesota. The only way you win with those numbers is if Hart has another 200-yard rushing performance. "Wild Thing" Henne was all over the place yesterday, overthrowing receivers down the field on deep passes, and badly missing on fade patterns in the corners of the end zone. (It's called "throwing with touch," Chad. We'd like to see you learn that in your remaining two-and-a-half years at Michigan.) Maybe the Michigan coaches need to give Henne a pair of glasses like Lou Brown did to Ricky Vaughn in Major League.

Or how about just benching him for a game or two? Don't the coaches owe it to the rest of the team to see if the offense could run better with Matt Gutierrez at quarterback?

2) Garrett Rivas has made 38-of-50 field goal attempts in his Michigan career. That's a 76 percent conversion rate. Pretty good, right? Yes, but I'll argue with you until the bar closes that Rivas is not a good kicker. Bill Simmons recently criticized the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez for only hitting home runs when the game's already been decided. It's the same thing with Rivas. When an important field goal is needed, Rivas can't make the kick. He can make anything when Michigan already has the game in hand, and he'll rack up a handful of field goals when the offense can't score touchdowns. But when the game is on the line (and not tied), Rivas will miss - as he did at the end of regulation vs. MSU last week. (Don't tell me about the one he made in overtime. Was that really a pressure kick?)

And he missed two field goals against Minnesota, each of which Michigan really needed to win the game. And that brings me to my central, entirely irrational point: Rivas sucks. He sucks worse than Ashlee Simpson singing live. He stinks worse than your bathroom after you ate a black bean burrito, with a side of asparagus, while you had stomach flu. He's terrible. He's worse than the "Bewitched" movie. He's awful. He took another five years off my life yesterday.

This piece by the Ann Arbor News' Jim Carty might explain everything. As Carr tried to pump up his defense before they went back on the field (and subsequently allowed Russell's long run), the players just sat there and listened. Where's the leadership from the players?

(Images by John T. Greilick/ The Detroit News)

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Okay, I'm paying attention now

Anybody get the license plate number on the truck that hit the Boston Red Sox? Several reports placed a man with a grey #14 jersey at the scene.

Wow. Just when I decide to devote more attention to the baseball playoffs, the defending World Series champions are gone. No Yankees-Red Sox postseason drama this year. (Hey, it's not looking so good for the Yankees either.) And I really enjoyed those two teams going at each other the last two years.

Enthusiasm for baseball had been sucked out of me by the choke-and-sputter finish to the Tigers' season. So when the playoffs started, I was only checking the scores, not watching the games. But when the Red Sox fell behind 2-0 in their series with the White Sox, I sat up and took notice.

And now, I'm definitely pulled back in, because there won't be a repeat World Series winner. A new team is going to win the championship. (Okay, if the Yankees win, I won't consider that new. But see above.) Exciting, yes. Yet I'm not sure it'll be as fun to watch.

There are approximately 4,832 Red Sox blogs on the internet, so if you just stretch out your arms and wave around, you're bound to catch one. But if you'd prefer a guiding hand, I'll steer you toward a few of my favorites.

As I write this, Sam at Blue Cats and Red Sox hasn't gotten around to writing about this yet. Either because she's still shocked, she's been wiped out from a week of exams, or more than likely, some combination of the two. But check back, because she'll surely have something to say. Surviving Grady doesn't have much to say on last night's game yet, but he definitely saw the end coming and has been working on concession speeches. Nothing from Cursed to First either. But hey, it's early on a Saturday morning. Normal people are still sleeping. Thoughts are still being formed.

I wouldn't call myself a Red Sox fan, per se, but I've been following them over the past few years, and they were definitely my team of choice these last two postseasons. I envied Red Sox fans' passion for their team and for baseball, something that's been sorely lacking in Detroit for the past decade. I wanted to see their devotion finally rewarded.

And if it weren't for the Red Sox winning last year's World Series, I might have never started blogging. Their curse-breaking victory certainly inspired me. So I owe them some gratitude, even if exposing my narcissism to you was probably inevitable. Once again, I tip my cap to the Red Sox and their fans. There's always next year, right? And we can still root against the Yankees.

(Image by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

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Friday, October 07, 2005

The grass is always pinker

It was a normal enough fall afternoon. I was toolin' around town yesterday, running errands, and flipping between sports talk radio and music on the car radio. Then I heard this story on WXYT-AM's "The Big Show."

Somebody - or a group of somebodies - snuck past security at the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium late Thursday or Friday night, before Iowa's game with Illinois, and sprayed herbicide on the field, burning the words "IOWA SUCKS" into the grass.

Initially, no one knew what had happened. Then, toward the end of Saturday's game, "SUCKS" apparently began to materialize. Maybe people thought it was just an illusion - a product of hangover or heartburn. A couple of days later, however, the herbicide finished its job and the whole message became visible.

(Image via The Daily Iowan)

The hosts of "The Big Show" - Doug Karsch and Art Regner - speculated that Illinois fans were responsible for the prank, since Iowa was playing Illinois. A reasonable assumption, of course. But according to each of the reports I read, there's no reason not to suspect, say, Iowa State fans. (On the other hand, "sucks" is spelled correctly, so you can probably scratch them off the list.) Or disgruntled Iowa students. You always have to watch out for those high school kids, of course. And maybe people pissed off with Kinnick Stadium's pink visitors' locker room (more on that later) did the deed.

Soon after getting home, I found an image of the vandalized field at mgoblog. Oh, man. No, they didn't. Holy shit. Look at that!

(Image via KCRG.com)

You know... normally, I'd probably think something like this is pretty damn funny. College football pranks often make for hilarious stories. But I like that field, man. During my stay in Iowa City, I worked up a healthy affection for the Hawkeyes and their football home. It took two years, but the place (and the people) eventually wore me down and I converted to a Hawkeyes fan. And I truly enjoyed my one-and-only visit to Kinnick Stadium for Iowa's game vs. Purdue last season. It's a great place to watch college football.

Damn. Look at that! Iowa just replaced that sod a few weeks ago, because a brutal summer burned it up. It cost $150,000. There's an argument for switching to FieldTurf, if I've ever seen one. I'll contribute to the cause, guys. Put me down for $20. I'm good for it. Unless you still haven't spent all that parking ticket money you got out of me. If not, go ahead and put that $100+ toward the field.

But that's not the only story involving Iowa and Kinnick Stadium right now. Last week, two Iowa law school professors, Erin Buzuvis and Jill Gaulding (who sound like two huge fucking barrels of laughs), criticized the football program and its visitors' locker room for its pink color, and called upon the school to turn its back on a 25-year tradition and paint the room a shade of something else.

What's wrong with pink? According to the two professors - along with other faculty and students who have joined in their protest - the use of pink in the locker room perpetuates stereotypes about women and homosexuals that promote weakness and effeminacy. (As Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post, this could set one hell of a precedent. Maybe the makers of Pepto-Bismol should start consulting lawyers. Are they calling indigestion sufferers "sissies"? Hmm, they could be next on the list.)

(Image from the Associated Press)

Why was the locker room pink in the first place? Former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, a psychology major, read that pink had a calming effect on people and thought it might pacify opponents. Presumably, this would give his Hawkeyes a psychological advantage when both teams took the field. So the locker room walls were coated with a warm tone called "Dusty Rose." (That sounds kind of tough, doesn't it?)

During Kinnick Stadium's recent renovation, Iowa's athletic department took the opportunity to expand on this piece of Hawkeye football lore. Now, it's not just the locker room walls that are pink. Everything in the damn room is pink. This time, the shade is called "Innocence." The carpet, the chairs, the sinks, the urinals, the toilets, the tiles - it's all pink. Elle Woods would love it!

Did it work? Well, it apparently had quite the opposite effect on former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler. Legend has it that Schembechler went ballistic when he saw the visitors' locker room and ordered his assistant coaches to put paper over the walls before his team came in. I wonder what color that paper was?

You think Fry didn't kick back and smile when he heard about Schembechler's reaction? I haven't been able to find out if Iowa won that game or not, but if Fry managed to distract Schembechler by making him think about the locker room walls instead of football strategy (even if it was for 15 minutes), I'd say he accomplished his purpose.

But besides that, it's a funny story. And after you strip away all the talk about psychology and strategy, the idea of a football team in a pink locker room is funny. At least to me. Clearly, it's not funny to people like Buzuvis and Gaulding. What happened to their sense of humor? Look, maybe there's a shred of truth to what they're saying. I'm chuckling at the image of big, tough behemoths surrounded by pink. I'm sorry - I don't think there's anything inherently misogynistic or homophobic about that. (And this is from someone who admitted to watching America's Next Top Model yesterday, okay?) Isn't the humor in this obvious? Or am I being insensitive, and just not realizing it?

You know who else sees the humor in this? The hundreds of people who wore pink t-shirts to last Saturday's football game. Right now, pink t-shirts might be the hottest clothing item in Iowa City. According to this Daily Iowan article, stores near campus can't keep their pink "IOWA" t-shirts in stock.

Now that stuff makes me miss Iowa City. Just a little bit. That other stuff? Eehh, not so much.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

It's never boring in Detroit

It's been a tough fall for Detroit sports fans so far. The Tigers sputtered toward the finish, and then just flat-lined. Now, it looks like the Lions could be following their lead. And who knows what the Red Wings will look like in this new, post-strike/rules-changed National Hockey League? The championship days are likely making a pit stop. Thankfully, we still have the Pistons.

But here's something I love about the Detroit sports scene (and missed so much during my two years in Iowa): Two of the four major teams may stink like skunk roadkill, but it is never boring around here. Look at this past week.

On Sunday, the Tigers' season came to a merciful end. The very next day, the Tigers' front office fired manager Alan Trammell and his coaching staff. And as General Manager Dave Dombrowski was explaining his decision to the press, revealing that he'd already interviewed two candidates for the job (who, conveniently for the Tigers, both happened to be minorities), former Pirates and Marlins manager Jim Leyland was in a car, on his way to town - ostensibly to replace Trammell. By Tuesday evening, it was a done deal: Leyland was in as manager. It took longer for me to have a post-root canal bottle of whiskey shipped to my friend Mis Hooz in New York.

(Photo by Steve Perez/ The Detroit News)

On Sunday, the Lions lost to Tampa Bay, 17-13, after a touchdown was (wrongly) taken away by the referees. The next day, sports talk radio was on fire, ripping the Lions' wide receivers for dropping balls and lazily running pass patterns. Inexplicably, one of those receivers, Charles "Half Baked" Rogers, who'd been on a milk carton so far this season, complained to the Free Press' Drew Sharp about his increasingly diminished role. Later in the day, everyone who said "What the hell is Rogers smoking?" got a surprising answer to their question. ESPN reported that Cheech Rogers was being suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy.

And once all the smoke from the teams that suck cleared, the good things in the Detroit sports scene returned. On Tuesday, the Pistons reported for training camp, eager to win back the NBA title they lost back in June. And last night, after a year-long absence, The Red Wings - who made their own coaching change in the offseason - took their first step in re-introducing professional hockey to fans by stomping the St. Louis Blues, 5-1.

How many other cities have a week like that? Our baseball team might not be in the playoffs, and our pro football team has a losing record, but they're keeping things interesting. And this coming Saturday, we'll get to watch two good college football programs take the field. I love it here.

I took my sweet, lazy time addressing the issues of this past week, unlike several great Detroit sports blogs that stepped up right away to comment on what's been going on. You probably read these already, but I can't just pretend no one else has written about these stories - and really well, to boot. If they weren't so good at what they do, I wouldn't have spent the last couple of days wondering whether to bother jumping onto the pile.

♦ The Detroit Tigers Weblog not only thoroughly covers all sides of both the Trammell firing and Leyland hiring, but takes a look at the team on the field, and analyzes perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this past season: the Tigers' limp, ineffective bats.

♦ Greg Eno provides angles on Trammell and Leyland too, while also pointing out the silly shell game losing teams play when they change coaches, at Out of Bounds.

♦ Brian at Beyond Boxscores made me pound my desk in admiration, by addressing something that really bothered me about the Trammell firing - the token minority interviews - before I could do it. (But I'll try to do it later, anyway.)

Bless You Boys points out how important a role public relations has played in the managerial game of musical chairs that the Tigers are playing.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

A game with some kick

Right. Like I said - Michigan State 34, Michigan State 24 31.

I tried to give myself an out by saying I thought Michigan would somehow win the game, yet I picked MSU to win the game. I know - Mr. Decisive over here. But c'mon, it really was a tough call. Was MSU really as good as it looked in its first four games? Was U-M that bad? Was the balance of power in the state going to shift so drastically, so quickly, as many had predicted all week?

For the second year in a row, we got a classic game. All the ingredients that go into a recipe for an exciting contest were here. Heroes (Mike Hart) and scapegoats (John Goss). Suspense (MSU coming back to tie the game at 31-31, after falling behind 21-7). And perhaps most importantly, memorable plays (Chad Henne's was-it-or-wasn't-it-a-fumble, followed by a did-that-really-happen 74-yard fumble return by 325-lb. Domata Peko).

(Photo by Chris Holmes/Lansing State Journal)

I'm looking at this through Michigan-colored glasses, but is there another college football rivalry that has recently had two better games than these last couple of meetings between U-M and MSU? ESPN Classic might eventually have to devote a whole week of programming to these games.

Michigan looks like it's righted itself and jumped back into the Big 10 race. Yet to me, it still feels like there are more questions than answers surrounding this team. And the biggest curiosity is Henne. Replace that number "7" on his jersey with a question mark. In the first half, he was hitting throws all over the field and looked like he'd easily have his best game of the season. But by the fourth quarter, the Michigan coaches - terrified Henne would make a costly mistake - practically put him in a strait-jacket and reduced him to a hand-off machine. ("Okay, next play... what are we calling? Oh, what a surprise - another running play for Hart.")

And we still don't know how good Michigan State is. They beat a Notre Dame team which now appears virtually unstoppable, and were maybe a missed field goal away from defeating Michigan. In past seasons, MSU would carry this loss for weeks and psychologically tumble. They have to chew on this one for two weeks (next week is a bye) until they play Ohio State - at Columbus. If they lose that one, do two straight losses knock them out of the Big 10 race? Probably, though I'd argue they could win their next five games. I think we'll find out just how good John L. Smith is as a coach during that stretch.

Other points and thoughts:

♦ I don't care if he made the game-winning field goal for Michigan. Garrett Rivas has taken years from my life with his misses. I will surely die in my sixties (if not my fifties) because of that kid. You will never convince me he's a good kicker. If the game was on the line, and my choices to kick a field goal were between Rivas and my mother, I'd probably go with Mama Cass - and not just because she's family. If I convinced her the football was the head of one of her in-laws, she might kick an 80-yard field goal.

♦ Mike Hart should get a cape sewn onto his jersey. Dude was Superman yesterday, with 36 carries and 218 yards. No way Michigan wins that game without him. I predicted he'd be important, but I had no idea how important. Most surprising (to me, anyway) were Hart's two long runs against the MSU defense. As good as Hart's been, he's never been flashy. Big plays haven't been part of his resume. Not yesterday, though. It was too early in the game to decide the outcome, but Hart's 45-yard run on Michigan's third offensive play was shocking and set a tone for the rest of the day.

(Photo by Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

♦ I've thought John L. Smith was a clown since the moment MSU hired him in 2002. It seems like he'd rather boast about his mountain climbing and safari excursions than talk football. (On the other hand, it's sort of refreshing to see a football coach with a life.) Based on how MSU has played this season, I was ready to eat that opinion and admit I was wrong. However, Smith was seriously outcoached by Lloyd Carr yesterday. His clock management at the end of the game (before overtime) was awful, costing his offense at least 30 seconds that could've allowed MSU to get in position for a game-winning field goal. And what the hell was that hook-and-lateral play on their last drive? MSU just needed to get down the field, not waste time waiting for a trick play to develop.

♦ To quote Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive, "Don't let 'em give you any shit about your ponytail!" I'll never make fun of Domata Peko's hair again. I'm still shaking my head in amazement at his 74-yard fumble return. Have you ever seen a big, fat guy run that fast? He was mo-tor-in'! And then he hurdled over Mike Hart to score the touchdown! Are you kidding me? 325 lbs! He looked like Edwin Moses! Hell, he runs better than Chad Henne! I'm convinced the referees didn't change the call on Henne's "fumble" (which should've been ruled an incomplete pass - Henne's arm was moving forward) because they were so awed by Peko's athleticism. How could you take a touchdown away from him after he did that?