Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gone south for Christmas

Sweaty Men Endeavors will be on vacation for the rest of the week, and will return after Christmas. (Likely on 12/27.)

I would've liked to post some stuff up until the end of the week, but I'm currently in South Carolina, visiting Dr. Lil' Sis. So I'm a bit out of touch with what's going on back home and away from my usual resources.

(And I'm kicking myself for forgetting to scan a hilarious Christmas card from Samela onto the blog for all to enjoy. You'll have to trust me on this: Picture Jim Leyland dressed as Santa Claus and Brandon Inge as one of his elves. It's awesome.)

Of course, Dr. Lil' Sis does have a TV. But she's also still on dial-up when it comes to her internet access, and I'm not sure how I'll deal with that. (And just between us, the good doctor makes broadband money, so I don't know why she hasn't made the switch. Bah.)

As always, thank you for stopping by, and Happy Holidays to each of you. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Chrismukkah, and Festive Festivus for the rest of us. May your egg nog have an extra splash of rum this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One hell of a West Side Story

Here's the football story I should've focused on yesterday, instead of flogging the Detroit Lions yet again (which isn't even fun anymore):

Congratulations to the Grand Valley State University football team for winning their second straight Division II national championship on Saturday.

If you're keeping count - and we really should be, at this point - that is four national titles in five years for the Lakers. They've won 66 games in that same time span.

Since GVSU plays in a Division II forest, however, not enough people have bothered to hear the trees that have fallen. But when a program keeps making the kind of noise that the Lakers have, it attracts attention. Even here on the east side of Michigan - where the "big boys" play - we have to turn west toward the little town of Allendale and take notice.

This is just too good a run of success to ignore. Slap the "dynasty" bumper stickers on the GVSU football wagon. It's more than well deserved.

Coach Brian Kelly built the championship foundation during his 13 years at GVSU (and has since moved on up the Division I ladder, first at Central Michigan, and now at Cincinnati). But his successor, Chuck Martin, hardly dropped the keys when Kelly handed them over at the end of 2003. He may have initially felt the pressure of maintaining the excellence that had been established, but has since emphatically carved out his own legacy.

Back in the summer, I wrote a feature on GVSU for Motor City Sports Magazine, and was able to interview Coach Martin. His honesty about the expectations he had to deal with - especially as a first-time head coach - was pleasantly surprising. But it was also pretty clear that building upon the success that preceded him had given him a great deal of pride and confidence.

(Of course, I'm also extremely grateful that he was patient with me, as some of my questions had made it apparent that I hadn't watched GVSU play very much. Thanks, Coach.)

The great fans at gvfootball.com posted my article on its forums when the article was published in August, which was really cool. I received some really kind e-mails from people who read the piece. Unfortunately, I never was able to make it out to Allendale this fall and follow up on the generous offers of tours and tailgates. Maybe next year, guys? I really do want to see some GVSU football up close.

You can read the article after the jump. Congratulations again to the GVSU football team, and thanks to Coach Martin for his time earlier this summer.

Read "A Grand Brand of Football"

Motor City Sports Magazine
August 2006 Issue
p. 64

A Grand Brand of Football
By Ian Casselberry

There’s something special happening on the west side of Michigan. And it’s becoming too good to ignore. Three national championships in the last four seasons. Fifty-one victories within that same time span, tying an NCAA record.

It’s the kind of record that the bigger schools across the state yearn for. It’s a run of success — of dominance — that fans and alumni in Ann Arbor and East Lansing expect from their gridiron programs. But the best college football you might not know about is being played at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale, a small town approximately 12 miles west of Grand Rapids.

One of nine Michigan schools in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Grand Valley State University has asserted itself as a football powerhouse. And after years of close-but-not-quite finishes, the Lakers finally find themselves on top. And they have no intentions of slipping from the pedestal they fought so hard to climb onto.

In 2005, the Lakers capped an undefeated season with their third NCAA Division II national title. It’s a result the fans in Allendale have come to expect from their football team.

“They expect you to win every game,” says head coach Chuck Martin, “and win by a lot.” Martin, now in his third year leading the GVSU program, took over for Brian Kelly, who left for the head coaching position at Central Michigan in late 2003, following two consecutive national championships. Having served as Kelly’s defensive coordinator, Martin was fully aware of the expectations he had to fulfill.

“It was difficult because I’d never been a head coach before,” Martin says. “But it was easier for someone on the inside, with some experience to draw upon.”

The Lakers went 10-3 in Martin’s first season, losing in the playoff quarterfinals at North Dakota. But as disappointing as that was, Martin knew his team faced more adversity than it could realistically overcome.

“Health was a factor,” he says. “We had seven starters out for the ’04 playoffs.”

So how did Grand Valley State become a Division II football power? Look no further than the school’s administration.

“The university invested in athletics,” says 1999 GVSU graduate Ryan Maguire, program director and afternoon drive-time host at WTKA-AM 1050. “There was a renewed commitment from [Athletic Director] Tim Selgo in marketing the program, and upgrading its facilities.”

Under Selgo’s term as athletic director, the Lakers’ sports teams have thrived, winning three straight Directors’ Cups, awarded by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the best overall athletics program in the country. And GVSU football has been a chief beneficiary of Selgo’s resolve.

On his watch, the football stadium has increased its seating capacity to 8,550, installed lights, incorporated a new weight room, and added executive suites, along with a video display scoreboard. And the GVSU Football Center, just outside the stadium, has been expanded by 4,000 feet.

“It’s on par with any university,” Maguire says. “It’s a showplace for recruits now.”

But sleek weight rooms and glitzy scoreboards can’t do it alone. To build a top-notch football program at a school this size, there’s another critical ingredient — talent. To find it, GVSU has seized upon an influx of transfers from Division I programs who opt for immediate playing time, rather than serving an apprenticeship behind entrenched upperclassmen.

Of course, when you’ve been as successful as the Lakers have the past few seasons, it’s a lot easier to register on the radar of high school athletes, especially when your postseason games are broadcast on national television.

“We’re pretty well-known now,” Martin says.

A vast majority of GVSU’s talent base comes from Michigan, and the coaching staff focuses its recruiting efforts largely within the state. But the school’s increased exposure has allowed Martin and his coaches to expand their scope, reaching throughout the Midwest, and even down to Florida.

So what can be expected from the Grand Valley State football team in 2006? Ask the other coaches in the GLIAC, who voted the Lakers No. 1 in their preseason poll.

Among the Lakers’ returning starters is senior defensive lineman Mike McFadden, who won last season’s Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year award. McFadden recorded a sack in every one of GVSU’s games in 2005, finishing the season with 19, tied for first in the nation. And with 29 for his career, McFadden’s next sack will give him the most in school history.

Leading the offense is senior quarterback Cullen Finnerty, whose résumé includes a 36-4 career record and two national titles. With 22 touchdowns passing last season, Finnerty is a force to be reckoned with. He’s also a threat to run the ball, leading the team with nine rushing touchdowns, and finishing second with 523 yards on the ground.

Also returning is senior running back Astin Martin, who runs just about as well as his automotive namesake, finishing with 1,419 yards last season. And Eric Fowler, one of Finnerty’s favorite targets, is back, too. The senior wide receiver caught six scoring passes in 2005.

On defense, the focus is on the one word that should make any defensive coordinator’s engine rev: Turnovers. And the defensive unit kept its coaches’ spirits in overdrive, forcing 28 miscues in 13 games.

Running the football, making big plays, and creating turnovers. No wonder GVSU wins a lot of football games. And the fans in Allendale turn out in big numbers to show their support. In five home games in 2005, attendance at Lubbers Stadium exceeded 10,000 four times — well above capacity. For two of those games, more than 14,000 fans packed themselves in.

The big schools in the state have taken notice. In November 2004, Michigan Stadium hosted a game between GVSU and Michigan Tech in front of 50,000 fans. Metro Detroit fans can join in the fun this season, too. GVSU will travel to Wayne State in late September for a conference game. And after watching the Lakers in action, you might find yourself looking outside the Big Ten and the MAC for quality college football.

“Give it a chance,” Maguire says. “You might enjoy it.”

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The Stanford stepping stone?

Keep an eye on him as he rises through the coaching ranks, from San Diego on up to Stanford.

Yesterday, former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh was hired as the Cardinal's head coach. And a job at a Division I program looks like an excellent point from which to jump toward the position that many Wolverines fans hope is his eventual destination.

Is there a set of headphones being kept warm for Harbaugh in Ann Arbor? I'm certainly among those hoping so, and said as much in one of the very first posts on this blog (which wasn't nearly the original idea I may have thought it was at the time).

His 29-6 record at San Diego was certainly impressive, though some will surely wait to see what he can achieve at the Pac-10 level before declaring him bona fide. For me, however, the Bob Bowlsby stamp of approval is enough for me. As athletic director at Iowa, Bowlsby hired Kirk Ferentz, which says to me that his eye for coaching talent is quite sharp. So if Harbaugh's good enough for him, he might just be pretty damn good.

▪▪ If you haven't read it already, Brian Cook has taken a closer look at Harbaugh and the Stanford job over at the AOL Fanhouse.

▪▪ And here's what Jake Curtis of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks of the hire.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

2-12: Dead team walking

Remember last week, when the Detroit Lions committed five turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings? The frequent mantra spoken in the locker room was, "You can't have that many turnovers and expect to win a game."

Apparently, that logic doesn't apply to the Green Bay Packers. Not when they're playing the Lions, anyway. (Or maybe it's that the magic number for a loss is five. The Pack only coughed up the ball four times.)

For the love of Vince Lombardi, even Brett Favre thought his team was "lucky to win the game," after he threw three interceptions on Sunday.

One of those picks, by 'Dre Bly, gave the Lions the ball at the Packers' 12-yard line. But even after Green Bay virtually handed them a touchdown wrapped up in a Christmas bow, Detroit still couldn't get into the end zone.

A fade pattern to Roy Williams in the corner? A short pass over the middle to Dan Campbell or Mike Furrey? No - how about three straight running plays, capped off by the brilliant call of a quarterback sneak on 3rd-and-6?

Six yards to go, and the play is a QB sneak up the middle? Let me emphasize that point again. There wasn't one yard to go. There were six. How many teams make that call? No wonder Mike Martz doesn't let his quarterbacks call audibles.

(Of course, if someone else wanted to take charge of calling time-outs - I know, Sgt. Marinelli; it's on you, right? - that'd be just fine. Martz was terrible with clock management when he was the head coach in St. Louis. And he clearly hasn't broken those tendencies calling plays for the Sarge.)

Maybe the best part about that play was Jon Kitna's quote after the game: "I can't really tell you what I saw because if I did, I'd be letting our secret out."

Apparently, however, the Packers' Ryan Pickett knew exactly what Kitna was looking at: a wide gap between the defensive tackles. The Lions still managed to grind out three yards (so it might have been a good call, had the yardage been much shorter), but didn't get anywhere near a first down.

Ultimately, it was just another embarrassing play in what's been one shameful display of a professional football season.

And though the Lions have been dead to this town for weeks now, the fans will try to burn one last Yule log for the sake of Detroit next week with another protest/walkout against Matt Millen in their last home game against Chicago.

Last year's "Millen Man March" got some attention, but there was still some outrage and passion to fuel that effort. This year, I don't see it. Yes, the anger is there. Lions fans are seething. But that bile's being diluted with a tall glass of hopelessness, too, so the urge to spit it out just isn't very strong right now.

And that's what the Lions and the Ford family should really be worried about. A year ago, at least they could look at the fan outrage and say, "Hey, they still care." So Millen hired a new head coach, and hoped his teaching and discipline could mold the assembled roster into a respectable football team.

Maybe this is a classic case of breaking some eggs to make an omelette, or taking one step back to take two steps forward, but when you look at Rod Marinelli's face, it seems to convey that he didn't anticipate just how big a project this renovation would be. Meanwhile, Millen is nowhere to be seen; he's just hiding out until it's all over.

Approximately one year later, apathy appears to be setting in here. So what changes will be made this time? What other solution is there?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Getting the band back together?

After getting the news that Kevin Jones' foot injury could keep him out well into 2007, the Detroit Lions are now likely faced with scrambling for healthy running backs.

It will almost certainly affect their off-season plans. Selecting a running back early in the draft probably wasn't under consideration (though I think they definitely should've looked at taking one late, as I wasn't convinced K.J. was a long-term solution at the position). Nor was scouring the free-agent pickings. Now, that could be among the top priorities.

One option for the Lions, as reported in today's Detroit News by Mike O'Hara, could be asking Mike Martz to call up his old buddy Marshall Faulk and see if his sweet feet still have some juice in them.

Faulk is still under contract with St. Louis for two more seasons, but the Rams seem comfortably in the Steven Jackson business, and would probably prefer to cut ties and move on. While recovering from a knee injury that didn't pass a physical, Faulk has been biding his time as an analyst on NFL Network (and doing a fine job, I think).

Martz, as you might imagine, would relish the chance to score a key component of the "Greatest Show on Turf" for his Detroit offense. "I'd ride a bicycle to pick him up," he said to the Detroit News, before acknowledging that such a move really isn't up to him. (And considering the turnstile Martz has overseen at wide receiver this season, it might a good idea to keep the company credit card away from him.)

It would be intriguing to see how someone with Faulk's receiving skills (if he's still capable of playing, that is) could affect the Lions' offense. As impressive as Jones' numbers have been in the passing game, he's no Marshall Faulk. Perhaps no other running back ever has been.

Meanwhile, if any of this news has reached Faulk over at the NFL Total Access studios in Los Angeles, I'd have to think that the possibility of playing for the Detroit Lions has compelled Faulk to approach Rich Eisen and beg him (or anyone else on staff, really) to crush his toes with a ball-peen hammer.

Okay, maybe he should consider something decidedly less drastic, like calling Rams general manager Charley Armey in tears, pleading with him not to make such a deal. ("Please Charley - don't hurt me!") Or just giving the phone to Neon Deion whenever Martz showed up on Caller ID. If Faulk can do any impressions, this could be a good time to use those, too. ("Uh, hello - this is Kevin Faulk of the New England Patriots... ?")

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

They'll shoot their eyes out!

Was anyone else kind of disturbed by the ESPN "Outside the Lines" feature on professional athletes who feel the need to carry guns? It's not that I wasn't aware this was a growing trend; something seems to pop up in sports news every month or so now. But I guess I didn't realize just how paranoid some of these guys are.

Luke Scott of the Houston Astros, in particular, (who's been attached to some trade rumors involving the Detroit Tigers) seemed like someone just waiting for a chance to show off what he's packing under his shirt and fire off a few rounds into some perp's ass as he's running away in fear.

And we can all rest assured that if Scott is driving through a neighborhood that looks shady, he's holding his trusty pistol right there on his lap. Don't try to squeegee his windshield, dude.

Of course, I suppose it's possible that Scott talked to his teammate, Morgan Ensberg, who was robbed at gunpoint and tied up in his hotel room a few years ago, and thought it might be time to visit the gun show.

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I thought this guy had gone away

Holy $#!+, did you read Deadspin's interview with John Rocker yesterday?

I'm sure there's very little Rocker and I would agree on (for instance, I've enjoyed my trips on New York City's 7 Train), and ultimately, the guy still comes off as something of an @$$hole, but it's not every day that someone speaks on the record with that kind of candor. Even if it seems like he's auditioning to host a weekend show on FOX News Channel.

(Somewhere in Atlanta, I think John Schuerholz's ears have been burning. I think I might check out that chapter in Rocker's book, whenever it's published.)

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Goin' to the movies

If you're looking forward to the upcoming We Are Marshall (and I'm right there with you), you might be interested in checking out The Film Geek's posts about Tuesday night's red carpet premiere in Huntington, WV.

He was all over it beforehand, and during the event. (The "during" stuff is pretty good, by the way, since a friend snagged him a sweet spot on the red carpet alongside Billy Joel's entertainment reporter wife.)

Also posted is his in-depth review of the movie.

And here's more on the Huntington premiere from Jim "Wabi-Sabi" McKay, who appeared as an extra in one of the football scenes filmed back in April. (Man, all the cool stuff happens to Jim!)

He also has some cool photos from the Marshall Green-White game that took place around the same time.

Between this and Rocky Balboa (which I know has Kevin Antcliff all excited), it's looking pretty good for sports movies (hit-or-miss as they can be) over the holidays. I'm sure I'll be seeing both of them.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Still the King, still The Greatest

So did you catch "Ali Rap" on ESPN Saturday night after The Troy Smith Show the Heisman Trophy Presentation?

Not that you could ever forget what an awesome athlete Muhammad Ali was, how important a social figure he had become, and what a force of nature he was when a microphone was placed in front of him. I can only imagine that it was a pleasure for sportswriters and broadcasters to just press "record" and let the river that was Ali's mouth flow.

But it was still fun to be reminded of just how much influence Ali has exerted over the past two or three generations.

I know the point of the show was to assert that Ali may have invented an art form that thrives today. I can't speak with any authority on that subject. You're looking at a guy who thinks rap began and ended with Run DMC in the 1980s. So I'll leave that sort of argument to the Chuck Klostermans of the world.

One thing that struck me as I watched "Ali Rap" (along with "Ali's Dozen," which played afterwards) was how much fun Muhammad Ali had being who he was. He wasn't just boastful, loaded with ego and hubris, like many of today's athletes. But he was creative. Did he come up with those rhymes and monologues on the spot, barking the words out as fast as his synapses would fire? Maybe he thought of some of that stuff beforehand. But it sure didn't sound practiced. It couldn't have been.

Even better, Ali was funny. How great was it when Ali was asked about Sonny Liston, and the first thing he said was, "Ain't he ugly?" Of course, it didn't stop there...

Watching such footage, I couldn't help but think of Michael Mann's 2001 film, Ali, and how this was a part of the man he seemed to get wrong. There was so much Mann got right in that movie; he obviously was meticulous with his research and filmmaking craft. (And I love Mann's work. You put Heat in your DVD player, and I'm staying over to watch the whole thing. Collateral was good, too. And Miami Vice was terribly underrated. Pardon the digression...)

But somewhere along the line, it felt like he missed Ali's essence. I think Michael Wilbon brought up this point on PTI back when the movie came out, so I can't entirely claim an original thought here. But Will Smith's portrayal of Ali seemed so burdened. He never seemed to enjoy the whole experience, which runs completely counter to the man I watched in old footage on TV and in documentaries such as When We Were Kings.

And maybe that was a point Mann and Smith were trying to make: that the weight of being Muhammad Ali was more of a load than any man could really shoulder. Or maybe the burden that Smith felt in playing Ali was projected onto his performance. Or Mann had too much difficulty trying to fit the highlight's of the man's life into a two-and-a-half-hour film. Who really knows? Maybe Mann or Smith will talk about in greater detail someday - if the movie isn't forgotten, which I fear it's well in danger of becoming only five years later.

Unfortunately, that's the hurdle that many sports movies (especially biopics like Ali) have to overcome. The re-enactment - even if it's re-created to the smallest detail - can't possibly match the images already imprinted onto our minds, and the memories that we cherish. It's impossible to sit back and get lost in a film version of Muhammad Ali, because the real thing was just too good.

Thankfully, we have programs like "Ali Rap" (and the accompanying book) to remind us. And it's on occasions such as this that ESPN shows what it's truly capable of as a sports and entertainment network. (Hey, if we rip 'em when they're bad, we have to give 'em credit when they're good, right?)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

It couldn't just be a regular foot injury, eh?

During his Monday morning appearance on WRIF's "Drew & Mike" show, Booth Newspapers' Detroit Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski reported that the foot injury Kevin Jones' suffered in yesterday's 30-20 loss to the Vikings could potentially cause him to miss even more than the remaining three games of this season. (Here's the news at MLive.com)

Jones may have sustained a "Lisfranc" fracture (which I found after several futile "Liz Frank" Google searches), which is often mis-diagnosed as a sprain, but is actually a break or dislocation among the small bones in the arch at the top of the foot between the ankles and the toes. The injury could also involve a tear in the ligament that holds the bones together in that part of the foot.

(Did that make sense? I'm no Will Carroll or Samela.)

If surgery isn't necessary, the foot is placed in a walking cast and rehabilitation can begin after four to six weeks. (This is what happened with Eagles running back Brian Westbrook last season.) But if surgery is called for, several complications can occur - the most common of which is post-traumatic arthritis in the joint - and recovery can take more than a year.

But as with any injury, recovery time depends on the individual athlete.

Lions linebacker Teddy Lehman suffered the same type of injury last season and has taken more than a year to get back on the field. And even after recovery and rehabilitation, it's not certain whether he'll ever be the same player he was in his rookie year.

Michael Strahan sprained the ligament in that part of the foot, and the New York Giants are still hoping he can recover in time for the playoffs.

So is this a mercy injury for K.J.? Is it good that he likely won't have to participate in the last three games of this torturous 2006 Lions season? Or is having to watch the games from the front-row view on the sideline more of a punishment? Oh, that foot pain might seem mild in comparison...

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

The man behind the trophy

It might be a bit late in the day for this, but with the Heisman Trophy ceremony tonight (I haven't watched ESPN today, but surely they have a countdown running somewhere), I thought I'd link to the profile of the man the trophy takes its name from in yesterday's New York Times.

Obviously, to get such an award named after him, John Heisman would have to have been an important man in the history and development of American football. But if you're like me, and didn't know much about what he was responsible for, it's pretty interesting stuff.

Heisman contributed many innovations to the game, things we take for granted now. But can you imagine football without:

▪▪ The forward pass?

▪▪ The game being divided into quarters?

▪▪ The center snap?

▪▪ Yelling "Hike!"?

▪▪ Calling an audible at the line of scrimmage?

▪▪ A scoreboard?

Another intriguing aspect of Heisman's story is that he was staunchly opposed to the Downtown Athletic Club's annual award for the best college football player in the country being named after him. He also didn't like the idea of giving such an honor to a single player in a team sport.

Once Heisman passed away in 1936, however, the D.A.C. named the trophy after him.

The article's
definitely worth checking out, even though I just gave away most of the factoids. At the very least, it'll give you something to read while ESPN tries to kill an hour before ceding to inevitability and giving the Heisman trophy to Troy Smith.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Thinking (and linking) over lunch

♦ That sound you may have heard earlier today was from the Brandon Inge Haters Club, lamenting his new contract extension (four years, $24.4 million) from the Detroit Tigers.

Some people point to Inge's error totals and say he's a poor defensive third baseman. Others (a group in which I include myself) say he gets to balls that most other guys at his position wouldn't come near. Yes - sometimes that leads to errors, and he makes some throws he probably shouldn't, but knocking down balls that would otherwise go to the outfield saves quite a few runs, too.

To me, that defensive ability makes up for his offensive shortcomings. No, he's not Aramis Ramirez and probably never will be. He's the Tigers' ninth-place hitter, and is hardly the easy out often expected at that position. And hey, Detroit isn't paying Inge $15 million a season, either.

Here's more from The Detroit Tigers Weblog.

♦ Speaking of contract extensions, Brian at Beyond Boxscores thinks the Tigers need to work out a deal with Jeremy Bonderman - and pronto. When you see the deals handed out to middle-of-the-road starters like Vincente Padilla, Ted Lilly, and Gil Meche, it's hard to argue such a good point.

Given what Bonderman's achieved at his age, he'd attract some serious interest on the open market, and the Tigers should be lock him up before it gets to that point. They're smart, proactive guys over there, right?

ESPN.com's Keith Law compares Gil Meche's five-year, $55 million deal with the Royals to what the Tigers did two years ago with Magglio Ordonez.

Is this an indication, by the way, that baseball's revenue-sharing plan is working? Kansas City giving a five-year deal, at $10 million a season, to a starting pitcher? (The Big Lead seems to think it's making things worse.)

♦ Nothing makes me smile more than Mike McClary's persistence in wanting the Tigers to get rid of Craig Monroe. As I've said before, the man deserves credit for consistency in his beliefs.

And now, Mike has Billfer on his side, too - though with a bit less fervor.

♦ Did the Tigers pick up Jamie Walker's replacement in yesterday's Rule 5 draft? What can be expected from young Edward Campusano? 81 strikeouts in 55 1/2 innings. Here's more from TigerBlog (who warns not to get too excited about those K numbers).

(Tip o' the cap to Tiger Tales)

♦ Sifting through all the transactions and rumors from the Baseball Winter Meetings, I'm thinking the best deal made in Orlando is the Braves trading Horacio Ramirez for Rafael Soriano. Suddenly, Atlanta's bullpen - which has been an annual weakness, and may have been the difference in knocking them out of the NL Wild Card race - could be looking pretty good.

I'm not sure the Mets are sweating it, though. And I don't know why the Mariners would trade Soriano. But I might be biased because he was very good to my fantasy baseball team mid-season.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Where in Arizona might Mike Martz go?

A month ago, the rumor was that Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz would be courted by the Arizona Cardinals to replace Dennis Green.

Right state, wrong job? Now, the Martz rumor roulette wheel is pointing toward Tempe and Arizona State University, which recently kicked Dirk Koetter to the desert.

According to last Saturday's Arizona Republic (via the AOL Fanhouse), the school is looking for a coach that doesn't need to be bought out of a current contract, can put together a coaching staff of experienced assistants, is able to recruit Southern California, and having the kind of name value that might sell tickets wouldn't hurt either.

Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis, Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, and our ol' buddy Stylin' Steve Mariucci were also mentioned in the article as fitting such criteria. (Seriously, does Mooch sit in his dressing room at NFL Network and laugh at these rumors over a glass of chardonnay while comparing jewelry with Neon Deion?)

But the man ASU Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love has her bullseye set on is the Lions' current offensive sooper-genius whose system would totally be scoring more points if Jon Kitna wouldn't, like, throw so many interceptions and most of the players Matt Millen gave him didn't, you know... suck.

Martz coached at Arizona State for nine years (as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator), and Love digs that about him, man! Oh, his 53-32 record as a NFL head coach (complete with Super Bowl appearance) is impressive, too.

Surely, she knows that Martz isn't the Lions head coach, even though FOX seems to think he is, judging from the number of times their cameras show you as opposed to the actual man in charge, Sgt. Rod Marinelli. But hey, the Lions' games get the C and D-level broadcast crews, so maybe they can only afford to train one camera on the sideline. And really, who's more interesting?

Don't leave Detroit, Mike Martz. You're our only hope.

Oh, hell - who could blame him?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It's too easy, but still so fun...

For the past few weeks - hell, maybe even since the beginning of this sadly comic 2006 Detroit Lions season - I've been thinking I finally need to admit I was a complete idiot for ever daring to defend Matt Millen.

(Thankfully, there appears to be no record of that on this blog, and any posts on message boards have either disappeared into the internet ether or have been gratefully lost to time and clutter. Oh, wait - this post comes close. Damn.)

Like a couple of others in the local blogosphere, it's long past time for me to join the pitchfork-and-torch brigade calling for his evisceration firing.

But rather than masochistically list each of Millen's faults as President and CEO of the Detroit Lions, and every one of his mistakes in his capacity as the team's general manager, I thought it might be more fun to see what other GMs and executives around the NFL have to say about his piss-poor performance.

If you haven't seen this already (I found it through the Sports Inferno forums), Ron Borges of the Boston Globe wrote a feature coinciding with Sunday's Lions-Patriots game, in which he quotes several people on Millen's utter incompetence. And there are some gems in this article, man. Get a load of these blurbs:

▪▪ "He's got the worst record in history from a general manager and he'll have that record forever."

▪▪ "I don't want to be too hard on him, but the record speaks for itself. It's pathetic. Inept, really."

▪▪ "They don't seem to have any idea what they're doing in personnel... If you draft a wide receiver with your first pick back-to-back-to-back, you have no idea how to build a team."

▪▪ "You've got to get guys on both sides of the ball. You have to balance your thinking. Taking a wide receiver with a top-10 pick three years in a row isn't balanced thinking. It isn't thinking at all."

And I didn't clip all the good quotes. The article has more. I don't know about you, but stuff like this keeps me warm in chilly weather like we're having in Michigan today. Snuggle up with some snark, people.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Take out the "C," and what do you get?

I try to pride myself on being a rational Michigan fan.

My buddy Rob has made fun of me in the past for attempting to distance myself from those Wolverines fans who seem to think that Michigan is entitled to win every single game, who believed that Lloyd Carr should've been fired after last season's 7-5 record, who call in to local sports talk radio after a 31-point victory and complain that 1) Michigan didn't win by enough, 2) Boy, they should've thrown the ball more, and 3) Why didn't the coaches give the back-ups some playing time with 42 seconds left in the game?! That's gonna haunt them later in the season - you watch!

So I maintained a calm demeanor when USC leapfrogged Michigan in the BCS standings for the #2 spot. No, I didn't believe the Trojans were a better team, but I thought they played a tougher non-conference schedule with games against Alabama and Arkansas. Plus, USC would win its conference, something the Wolverines had no claim upon once they lost to Ohio State.

As flawed as it is, this is the system that Division I college football has insisted on following - punishing teams for losing late in the season and indulging voters who factor such arbitrary standards as "Aw, I don't want to see two teams play each other again" into their decision-making. Ultimately, though I think it stinks, that's what we're stuck with. And I was going to live with that.

But then UCLA inexplicably beat USC, 13-9, Saturday evening. I figured a Trojans victory was so assured that I didn't plan on watching the game. I went to the movies. (Stranger Than Fiction, by the way, was very good. But I'll save that for the other blog.) After turning my cell phone back on in the lobby, however, I had two messages that made me rush home to catch the fourth quarter. And I got home just in time to watch Eric McNeal's game-clinching interception - after which I declared that I wanted to have that man's baby.

Was this really going to happen? Would the dominoes fall exactly as Michigan needed? Would they get another crack at Ohio State? It wouldn't be assured, however, unless Arkansas beat Florida in the SEC title game. And if Houston Nutt hadn't insisted on making his running back throw the ball so many damn times (how often did he think that trick was going to work?), maybe the Razorbacks could've pulled it off.

Once Florida won, however, I tried to tell myself that the Gators might be too far behind Michigan in percentage points to overtake them in the BCS standings. But deep down, I knew what was going to happen. The voters didn't want a rematch. And they hadn't watched Michigan play in two weeks. Despite such nonsense, I tried to apply the same rationale as I did with USC, and told myself I was fine with Florida playing for the national championship instead of Michigan.

So for most of yesterday, in the hours leading up to the announcement of the Bowl Championship Series match-ups - and most importantly, who would be playing Ohio State for the national championship - I had my Spock ears on and tried to look at this as logically as possible.

Florida won its conference - and the SEC was quite possibly the strongest conference in college football this season. According to whatever criteria ranks such things, the Gators played the toughest schedule in the country. And soon after Michigan lost to Ohio State, I was one of those people who felt like Michigan dropped its claim on the national title. After all, if those were the two best teams in the country, then that game was essentially for the championship. Fault that reasoning, if you will, but that's what I told myself as I fell asleep last night.

So why did I wake up this morning feeling like Michigan's been screwed here?

Okay, Florida won its conference, but let's be honest here: If the SEC didn't have a championship game, and Florida had beaten Arkansas, let's say, back in October, would the Gators' proponents be using that as Exhibit A in their case?

Besides, was the SEC really better this year? Really? I was ready to say yes. LSU! Arkansas! Auburn! Tennessee! Georgia! South Carolina! But after looking at the standings from the two conferences, I'm hardly certain about that. Ohio State! Wisconsin! Penn State! Purdue! Minnesota! Iowa!

You tell me Northwestern and Michigan State were bad teams, and I'll say that Alabama and Ole Miss stunk it up, too. How about Illinois? Well, how about Vanderbilt? And Mississippi State?

Three SEC teams in the BCS top ten! Hey, man - look at those standings again and count off the Big Ten teams for me. And while you're at it, note where those Big Ten teams are ranked in relation to their SEC counterparts.

And did some analysts really cite the utterly ludicrous argument that Michigan hadn't played in two weeks as some kind of legitimate reasoning to tout Florida as a more worthy championship opponent? As if Michigan's lack of bye weeks to stretch out its schedule and the Big Ten's lack of a conference championship game should hold any kind of merit in this equation? You'd have to be hiding behind Lou Holtz's coke bottles to say that with a straight (or Holtz-ian) face.

Sour grapes? Oh, you bet your sweet ass. Because no one seems to be making an argument for Florida based strictly on merit. And that's a case I'm willing to listen to. I might even agree with it. But when junk like "I don't want a rematch," "Ohio State shouldn't have to play Michigan again," and the above mentioned "haven't played in two weeks" bull$#!+ is factored in, the argument looks like a wet piece of tissue paper.

I've heard some look on with satisfaction and say "the human element" won out over the computers in reaching this decision. But after looking at how some of the Harris Poll voters ranked certain teams, I'm beginning to wonder if we should just leave it all up to the BCS-matic 3000 again. (Hat tip: Michigan Sports Center) It's enough to make a forehead implode. Or compel me to go outside, find a small animal - preferably a little girl's pet - and kick it across the street. We're going to leave this in the hands of people willing to rank Boise State #2? Louisville #2? Florida #5?

Sweet Jesus, bloggers have never looked more competent compared to the mainstream media in all my life.

Of course I'm biased, but this system absolutely reeks. Whoever would've predicted that a Rose Bowl match-up with USC would be seen as a terrible letdown? And I'm sitting here in Ann Arbor, Michigan ready to root for Ohio State - hoping Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes punch Urban Meyer right in his smug face. I'm not sure that's a college football world I want to live in, man.

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