Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Happy Hour 02/28: Non Sequitur Shots

♦ According to John Heuser of the Ann Arbor News, Steve Breaston's NFL Draft stock is rising, and Alan Branch's could be falling. David Harris and Leon Hall also impressed the scouts, while Prescott Burgess looked slow.

♦ As I've mentioned before, Dr. Lil' Sis' boyfriend is a huge University of Tennessee fan, so I got a reminder to watch last night's big game vs. Florida (which I might have watched anyway, since it was on right after Michigan-Michigan State) because Pat Summit was going to do something in response to Bruce Pearl's bizarro body paint bonanza.

I'm not saying I'd like to see it every night, but Summit leading the crowd in "Rocky Top" while dressed in a cheerleader outfit was pretty amusing. Again, it's just fun to see coaches who don't always take everything so damn seriously.

♦ Would Mark Cuban be the best or worst thing to happen to Major League Baseball if he bought the Chicago Cubs? I just watched a profile of him on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and admire that he refuses to sit upright with his feet placed together in David Stern's classroom. I'd love to see what sort of innovations and energy he could bring to baseball. However, it seems like the dude could be spreading himself awfully thin if he does this.

♦ Did you see MELblog's list of the top five Michigan running backs of the 1990s? I don't think I have any argument. But after reading that list, I'm still baffled that Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka had such terribly disappointing NFL careers.

♦ Speaking of lists, shouldn't there be at least one athlete in the top 10 at Mancrush.com? Or is it just too soon after the whole John Amaechi-Tim Hardaway uproar? (via Pop Candy)

♦ Would you watch a sports version of Best Week Ever? According to The Big Lead, that might be what ESPN has cooking. I think it sounds like a terrible idea. Fox Sports Net kind of already tried that with The Sports List, which was rather awful (despite getting to check out Summer Sanders) and lasted only a month.

Here's what it would come down to for me: I don't care what some slapdick stand-up comedian I've never heard of thinks of that week's Yankees-Red Sox series. If I want sports humor or snark, there are at least 25 places to find that on the internet. Now if ESPN was going to have sports bloggers on that show, that'd be a different story...

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Arriving Late to the Michigan-Michigan State Blog Party

Various errands kept me from the computer all day, so I'm blogging long after people have said their piece on current events and I hate that. It's also possible that I was hung over from having Erin Andrews less than two miles from my house last night. I can tell when she's nearby; I get all light-headed. At Iowa, I had to miss classes the next day whenever she worked a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Just... too... close.

Let's get to the reason Ms. Andrews was in Ann Arbor: Michigan-Michigan State. Unfortunately, my dear friend Mis Hooz decided to call during the game. Usually, I wouldn't take such a call, but since I kind of figured Michigan would lose and we hadn't talked in a couple of weeks, I was okay with blabbing on the phone. But I kept peeking at that corner score graphic. Hey, wait a minute - Michigan's winning. Then Brent Petway dunked that half-court lob pass from Jerret Smith, and I knew I had to get off the damn phone.

That was obviously unexpected and definitely impressive. Dion Harris was outstanding, and even Courtney Sims showed that he may actually have a pair. And suddenly, you have to wonder if those NCAA Tournament hopes are rising from the dead.

But maybe I'm just too far gone on Tommy Amaker, because my first thought after the game was, "Why the hell haven't they played that way all season?" Tom Izzo said Michigan played like a team that needed a win. The problem is that the Wolverines needed to play with that kind of desperation and urgency at least a month ago. Now it might be too late, in terms of NCAA tournament chances. And I still think that falls at Amaker's feet. I know - I shouldn't dump on the guy after his team's biggest victory of the season.

I also can't help but think a healthy Drew Neitzel would've made up that 11-point margin, even though Izzo would tell me not to. But as my sister pointed out to me via e-mail this morning, "He wasn't. Michigan won. Be happy." To which I responded, "Get back to me in a couple of weeks. Then I'll decide whether or not to be happy." Bah.

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Arriving Late to the Todd Bertuzzi Blog Party

I'm still not sure what to think of the Detroit Red Wings acquiring Todd Bertuzzi yesterday. I can't pretend that I've cared very much about hockey this season. In fact, this might be my first Red Wings-related post of the season. Maybe that will change during the playoffs, after which I'll look at myself in the mirror and ask myself when I became "that kind" of hockey fan.

Big Al probably best echoed my thoughts in his live blog of the trading deadline. At the time, I thought what Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore should perhaps result in a lifetime ban from the NHL. But both the NHL and the province of British Columbia thought he served a proper sentence for his actions, so if those institutions say he can play hockey, what does my opinion matter?

When I wrote a magazine preview of this year's Red Wings, each "expert" I talked to said not to judge the team Detroit began the season with. Ken Holland was biding his time, watching what he had, and holding onto his valued salary cap space until the trading deadline. Then, once Holland saw what his team needed - in this case, the kind of power forward they were lacking when Brendan Shanahan left for New York - he'd do what he always does: make a move to fill a need.

And if Bertuzzi can be anywhere near his 2002-03 form (when he racked up 97 points), then the Red Wings' power forward cup will runneth over, and this deal will look like a frickin' steal. (That Kyle Calder trade ain't lookin' so bad right now, either.)

With that back injury, however, I can't help but wonder if this is Uwe Krupp, part deux.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Hour 02/27: T.K. on the Radio

I don't know how many people reading this were fans of Tony Kornheiser's old ESPN Radio show, but it holds a special place in my heart. To me, it was everything I could've wanted from a radio program. Not only did one of my favorite columnists and his cohorts talk sports, but they also discussed music, TV, and most importantly to me, movies (with one of my favorite film critics, Stephen Hunter).

As I'm sure many of you can relate to, I worked a few jobs in my twenties that ravaged my soul. Not that there's anything wrong with being a delivery driver, shipping/receiving clerk, or bakery manager. I worked for horrible people. But one thing that got me through many of those miserable days was that show. I could listen to it in the truck, shipping dock, or behind the counter.

I liked that Kornheiser discussed subjects besides sports (as he put it, the show was for sports fans who read the rest of the newspaper, too). And instead of athletes who generally say nothing but cliches, he talked to his colleagues, the writers who had some information and opinions to share. Best of all, it was funny. And without being stupid or resorting to juvenile "guy talk." He respected his listeners for being smart.

Actually, my love for Mr. Tony on the radio began even before those ESPN days, when I spent a week in Baltimore interviewing for an internship I eventually didn't take, and I listened to him on WTEM-AM while driving around. And when I went back to school at Iowa (which thankfully had a nearby affiliate), I actually tried to plan my class schedule around 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. That didn't work so well, and sounds absolutely crazy now.

But that was no longer a conflict for me when T.K. left ESPN Radio in 2004. (A month or so before that, however, I managed to get an e-mail read on the air, which was a small joy I was able to share with absolutely no one who cared.) And I think you could see that coming because there seemed to be quite a bit of friction (which made for entertaining radio) between Tony and his bosses over the content of the show (and his tendency to make fun of SportsCenter's talking heads). If you listen to his successor, Colin Cowherd, you can hear what the folks in Bristol likely preferred. It's polished, corporate, and slap-happy.

I don't want this to become a Tony Kornheiser Show retrospective, since you can get that at Wikipedia, but when he returned to WTEM nine months later, I was so excited I wrote about it on my personal blog and just wanted to post a link to that. Gratuitous? Shameless? Whatevs.

Anyway, all of this is just a hugely long-winded way of saying that Mr. Tony is back behind the mic, doing his thing for Washington Post Radio, and it's pretty much the show he was always meant to do - some sports (largely from a D.C. perspective), with pop culture and current events. (Although he talks about American Idol far too much, and is a little too sore about Dan Steinberg, who he calls "The Cheese Boy.") Unfortunately, his longtime loyal sidekick Andy Pollin (Andy Polley!) can't be with him this time, but he has a rotating set of cohorts to indulge his various neuroses. (TNT's David Aldridge joins him this week.)

But the best thing of all is that the new show has embraced the 21st century (which should amuse anyone familiar with Mr. Tony's curmudgeonry) and is available each day via podcast. (Even better, whoever's doing the recording and editing figured out that we don't need to hear D.C. weather and traffic.) Oh, if only I'd had this technology 10 years ago. But I am a happy man today. Of course, the show still stinks.

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The Joey Harrington Tour Moves On

Down in Miami, it looks like our ol' pal Joey Ballgame is about to be asked to bring his playbook to Cam Cameron's office.

Too bad Joey can't follow Nick Saban to Alabama. Although from most accounts, even if Saban had stayed, this probably still would've happened. The dude was benched for Cleo Lemon (who is disappointingly not related to Chet) at the end of last season. And he went 5-6 as a starter. Not exactly worthy of a $1 million roster bonus.

So where will Joey and his piano end up next?

▪▪ In other NFL transaction news, the Rams released Adam Timmerman. If he has any tread left on his tires, I wonder if he might look for a job with his old coach, Mike Martz? He could fit in well at one of those guard spots. Plus, he couldn't possibly be worse than Damien Woody, right?

▪▪ And here's what Beyond Boxscores thinks of the Detroit Lions slapping the franchise player tag on Cory Redding. I think the Lions have handcuffed themselves into this by looking at some housecleaning/attitude adjustment on the defensive line.

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Swings Like A Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee?

I have yet to see Gary Sheffield take one swing in a Detroit Tigers uniform, but already I'm taking a liking to the guy. Even if he causes any ruckus with his mouth this season, it'll be a lot more interesting than "no comment." I'm not sure Sheff has those words in his vocabulary. And that'll make things more fun for us.

Anyway, I posted a quickie over at The Daily Fungo about Sheffield's remarks on the George Mitchell steroid investigation. I don't think he's going to be boring to follow this summer. And I actually might be looking forward to his upcoming book.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Happy Hour 02/26: Welcome Back to Detroit, Big Ben

I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't see yesterday's Pistons-Bulls game. Completely forgot about it. And it looks like I missed a good one. Was clearing out the DVR so I could record the Oscars really worth it? (Let me answer that for you: No, it wasn't.)

The booing Ben Wallace thing isn't that hard to figure out, is it? It's ingrained in the Detroit Sports Fan DNA; if you leave for someplace else, we'll take that personally. And Big Ben knows that. Sure, the booing seems somewhat inexplicable, considering that he was a key part of pulling the franchise out of the teal-George Irvine-Bison Dele era, gave DEE-troit BAS-ket-ball its identity, and helped bring the NBA championship back to Detroit. But this was the first chance Pistons fans had to get the disappointment of Ben Wallace signing with Chicago off their collective chest. And a key part of that last sentence is "signing with Chicago."

Not only were the Bulls a hated adversary through much of the 1990s, but Detroit and Chicago are just natural rivals. (How is it that the Chicago media gets that, while Detroit's is apparently baffled?) Plus, the Bulls have the look of an up-and-coming team that could someday supplant the Pistons in the East. What if one of "our guys" plays a role in that power shift? Had Big Ben signed with the Atlanta Hawks, there wouldn't have been the same outrage. (Hell, we'd probably be feeling sorry for the poor guy.)

But Pistons fans took their one shot, and now it's done. I would also argue that there was affection underneath those boos. Pistons fans wouldn't have made such a fuss if there hadn't been so much love to begin with. Applause with boos, you see. Next time, he comes back, I bet he gets a much warmer reception.

▪▪ When I saw the final two-point margin of the game, I first wondered what the Bulls were thinking. Are some people in the organization lamenting not making a deal at the trade deadline, if that's how close they might be to the Pistons? Or was this affirmation that they were right to hold onto their core young players, that if they just show a little more patience, this thing will come together?

▪▪ Check out this stuff from Steve Rosenbloom's blog at ChicagoSports.com:

The Bulls got mauled for 21 offensive rebounds by the Pistons, including the winner by Chris Webber. Fix this.

Then again, it's not like Webber will be a factor when it matters in the playoffs.

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Bitter, party of one?

▪▪ If you haven't seen the Sid Hartman article from yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune that had Flip Saunders emphatically repeating his denials of interest in the University of Minnesota head coaching job (and that there might already be a deal in place), here it is. (Hartman's been beating this drum for a while now.)

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Will Millen be able to resist?

It probably is too early for NFL Draft talk, but one of the worst fears of Detroit Lions fans was fed earlier today by John Clayton at ESPN.com. No, Matt Millen's not getting another contract extension from the Ford family. But it's very possible that a wide receiver will be the best player on the board at the Lions #2 selection.

According to Clayton, Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson was extremely impressive at the NFL Combine. Initially, he invoked fears of being the next Big Mike Williams by weighing in at 239 lbs., which was approximately 10 more than expected. No wonder the guy said he wouldn't run for the scouts until his own scheduled workout. But maybe Johnson heard enough murmuring to decide that he needed to make a good impression. So he borrowed someone else's shoes and ran a 40-yard dash. And those 239 lbs. flashed down the track in 4.35 seconds.

Throw that in with his height, leaping ability, and diva-free attitude, and you have someone who will likely make one NFL team very, very happy.

So where does that leave Matt Millen? Well, as usual, Big Al nailed it with his post on Friday. Millen's previous incompetence with the draft - especially in regards to drafting wide receivers - has left the Lions in a position where they actually can't afford to draft a flashy skills player.

Thanks to Millen's boneheaded buffoonery in past drafts, the Lions are only going to take a offensive or defensive lineman (There will be one exception, more on that later). Millen will get pilloried for taking a skill position player, even if that player (JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, Brady Quinn) is the highest ranked left on the draft board. Considering the past track record, deservedly so.

And this is the hell that Detroit Lions fans have to live through. Millen will more than likely be shamed into taking the kind of player they should've taken early in his tenure - when he should've focused on building a team from the interior line outward - thus placating a fan base more than ready to burn him in effigy and passing on what could be one of the most talented, athletic draft prospects in recent memory. Fortunately, an offensive lineman - Joe Thomas of Wisconsin has shown he might be good enough to pick at #2.

What's most comical of all is that the Lions actually need a wide receiver, since Charles Rogers and Big Mike Williams were exposed as lazy frauds and free agents, such as Corey Bradford, were brought in without the Lions knowing whether or not they could grasp Mike Martz's offense. But the Lions are hoping to fill that need with a veteran who knows the system, like Kevin Curtis. Plus, as Clayton's article also mentions, there should be plenty of depth at wide receiver in this draft, so the Lions can afford to address that need in later rounds.

My head is beginning to hurt with this mess. When does baseball season start?

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Knowing my place on the food chain

I'm about a week late with this, but I really think it's deserving of mention. My buddy and fellow blogger Brian would probably prefer I not write about this (and maybe I should've run it by him first), but it was so amusing - and impressive - that I just had to make note of it.

As you might (and should) know, Brian runs what is the authoritative blog on northern college baseball, Big Ten Hardball. To me, this is exactly what blogging should be: see a void, fill the niche. Brian wasn't getting what he wanted about Big Ten college baseball from any newspapers or websites, so he decided to create the damn thing himself. Since he was offering something no one else was, it was only a matter of time before he drew the readership he deserved.

Anyway, Michigan baseball held its annual "Meet the Team Night" last Monday, and since I live nearby, Brian asked if I wanted to join him. Even though I know very little about Michigan baseball, other than they use bats and mitts and play at Fisher Stadium, I tagged along. For one thing, I enjoy learning about a sport that's new to me. That's what made me a sports fan in the first place, and I've come to miss that feeling.

Plus, Michigan has a good team coming back, but baseball isn't the giant monolithic machine that football is, and it was nice to see people be invited to support and take an interest, and have a chance to meet the players. There's still a feeling of amateur athletics to it. But frankly, I just wanted to see Brian get to work the room and enjoy yielding some benefits from the work he's put in.

Not only wasn't I disappointed, but I got a little reality check, as well. I'm gratified by the readership I've been able to generate at this little blog you're reading here. It's worth all of the effort. But no matter what this site becomes, I will never expect athletes - amateur or professional - to walk up to me, shake my hand, and tell me they enjoy reading my blog. (Oh, and their parents love the site, too.) But that's exactly what Mr. Big Ten Hardball got to experience on Monday night.

And there are a lot of fantastic blogs that cover University of Michigan athletics, but I don't think it's likely that any of their writers will ever get much chance to chat with Lloyd Carr or Tommy Amaker. (I hope I'm eventually proven wrong on that, of course.) Yet there was Brian, getting 5-10 minutes of quality time with Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney.

Affirmation, baby. In comparison, I'm just a song-and-dance man. Treating Brian to munchies at Cubs AC seemed like the least I could do afterwards. And I can tip my cap here. Kudos, my friend.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

The One Boston Celtic I Could Never Hate

Just over two weeks ago, I wrote a little something about the Detroit Pistons' rivalry with the late-1980s Boston Celtics and how my dislike of them formed my identity as a sports fan.

My loathing of Bird, McHale, Parish, and most definitely Danny Ainge was a key formative influence for me as a sports fan.

You might notice the one name I left out. No matter how much I despised the Celtics (like any self-respecting Pistons fan of the late 80's and early 90's), I never quite felt the same way about Dennis Johnson. He wasn't cocky like Bird or arrogant like McHale. He wasn't surly like Parish. And he sure as hell wasn't a whining little baby like Ainge.

He was just a really, really good player who did everything well, and more often than not, was the guy who beat you. He wasn't flashy or boastful. He didn't immediately attract attention. But next to Bird, there may have been no more dangerous player on the court than Dennis Johnson.

To me, it's entirely appropriate that D.J. was the guy who finished one of the most infamous plays in the Pistons-Celtics rivalry (and perhaps all of NBA history), Larry Bird's steal of Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. Bird snagged Zeke's pass, but D.J. was the one who cut to the basket and gave that knife the final twist.

Though no other play is immediately as memorable, it seemed like there were plenty of other times Johnson beat the Pistons. (Game 3 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals comes to mind, but I can't find any statistical proof to back me up.) And in those instances, all I could do as a Pistons fan was tip my cap. It wasn't personal; the guy was just doing his job. D.J. didn't hold his hand up in a follow-through after making a game-winning shot. If he talked trash to an opponent, no one ever said so. He just made the plays the Celtics needed to win.

As I write this, it's becoming clearer to me why I never held the same animosity toward D.J. as I did for his teammates. Most of the previous paragraphs in this post could've been written about one of my all-time favorite NBA players, Joe Dumars. What Joe D. was to the Pistons, D.J. was to the Celtics. If he had to hit the big shot, he could do it. If he was needed to defend the other team's best player, he did that, too. I'm not sure any guard defended Magic Johnson, despite the obvious height advantage, as well as D.J.

It never occurred to me until reading Bill Simmons' tribute at ESPN.com that Dennis Johnson wasn't in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. I just assumed he would be. How can such an integral part of one of the NBA's greatest teams not be in there? Eventually, he surely will be. The man won three championships. He racked up 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. But it's a damn shame that he wasn't able to enjoy such an honor while he was alive.

For that matter, it's also a damn shame that Johnson toiled as a scout and assistant coach without any NBA team ever hiring him for a head coaching position. (That interim gig with the Clippers in 2003 doesn't count.) He died while coaching in the NBA Development League. Meanwhile, three of his teammates from that fearsome Celtics starting lineup - Bird, McHale, and Ainge - scored general manager jobs. (And two of them have proven to be terrible at it.) I realize no one's entitled to be a head coach, but D.J. wouldn't have been a better hire than Dwane Casey, Jim O'Brien, or Doc Rivers?

But I shouldn't be lamenting what didn't happen. This should be about celebrating what did happen, what Dennis Johnson accomplished as an NBA player. He was a champion. Hearing the news of his death was shocking and truly saddening. 52 years old is far too young an age to die.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Happy Hour 02/22: The NBA Trading Dud-line

Hey, would you like to make a trade just so we can say we made one?

Oh, you bet. And this way, my boss will think I'm actually working.

I'm betting such an exchange took place between two NBA general managers at least once today. But most everyone else appears to have been playing Solitaire, clearing out their e-mail, or out of the office to catch up on errands. They sure didn't seem to be working on making any deals or trying to improve their teams. What did we get today?

  • Atlanta acquired Anthony Johnson from Dallas for... a second-round draft pick. Johnson is surely thrilled that he gets to join the Hawks for the third time in his career. And how excited are they in Atlanta? The Journal-Constitution's "Hawks Hack" blog has a post titled "Trade brings ANOTHER backup point guard."

  • Portland shipped Juan Dixon (whom Detroit was reportedly interested in) to Toronto for Fred Jones (who I think won a dunk contest once). The Toronto Star's Raptors beat writer, Doug Smith, brings the sizzle by calling this transaction "a financial thing," and goes into some contract and salary cap stuff. I bet they almost went over the two minutes on "PTI" breaking down that deal.

  • And Philadelphia dumped Alan Henderson (who hasn't done anything of significance in the league for about six years) on Utah for "the rights to swap 2007 second-round draft picks." They're not even trying to sugarcoat this deal. Stephen A. Smith can't even raise his eyebrows for this one.

We'll probably hear about some of the trades that almost got through, only to fall apart at the last minute. Here in Detroit, we're a little disappointed Joe Dumars didn't pick up one more shooter to bolster what looks like the Beast of the East right now. But that will be only the smallest of consolation prizes to anyone anticipating a big, power-shifting deal at the NBA's trading deadline.

And really, hoping for such a deal was probably expecting too much. Very few teams are willing to significantly alter their roster during the season. And with the NBA standings essentially one big cluster#@$%, teams don't want to give up on a playoff run or help a competitor get better. Ultimately, all the fuss is probably just meant to keep ESPN.com's NBA page constantly refreshed. It's a good thing I DVR'ed SportsCenter.


Pat Riley is ready for another sabbatical

Just when he thought he was in, they push him back out.

I'm not trying to imply that Miami Heat coach Pat Riley deliberately decided that the middle of the season - which conveniently coincided with Shaquille O'Neal's recovery from knee surgery - was a good time for procedures on his own knee and hip. I'll just let the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard come right out and say it for me. (Here's some disagreement from elsewhere in the Herald's sports department.)

But with Dwyane Wade dislocating his shoulder last night - an injury that could keep him on the bench in street clothes for six weeks - I can't help but wonder if Riley's knee and hip are starting to ache more than they did earlier in the week.

I suppose we'll have to wait to see the doctor's prognosis on Wade's shoulder before we know whether or not Riles will find the strength to lead the Heat into a possible playoff run (where we'll surely hear that they're "the team no one wants to face"). But being helped off the court in a wheelchair can't be a good sign.

Was the wheelchair a bit much? Well, I'm no doctor, though I spent enough years in college for the occasional acquaintance to ask if I was going to medical school. Friends who would know better tell me the team physicians needed to keep Wade's shoulder immobilized. And he apparently has been having issues with that shoulder for the past week. I can only imagine how painful a dislocated shoulder must be, so I'm not trying to imply that Wade would exaggerate his agony. That would just make me an @$$hole. However, there has been recorded visual evidence of Wade misrepresenting how he's been thrown to the floor.

Regardless, no one likes to see a team's chances killed by injury. And suddenly, it's not looking so good for Miami's playoff prospects. Judging from the Miami Herald's blogs, it could be over. Israel Gutierrez: "Worst possible scenario? This is pretty much it." Greg Cote: "Wade injury = Heat nightmare." (Gutierrez still thinks the Heat "is still a .500 team or better," however. After all, they do still have The Big Aristotle.)

Of course, this all could just be setting up a glorious comeback story, a further testament to the coaching and leadership genius of Pat Riley. If the Heat somehow manages to make a playoff run without Wade, we'd very likely hear all kinds of praise for this being one of Riley's best coaching jobs ever (despite benefiting from the aforementioned presence of one of the NBA's most unstoppable forces). And that might be enough to keep the coach pacing the sideline all the way into a first-round playoff series with the Detroit Pistons. Will we see you here, Coach?

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Luckiest Coach on the Face of This Earth

[Yes, I know I'm a couple of days late on this, but dealing with the sick yesterday kept me away from the computer. So much like Big Al - welcome back, good buddy - I'm catching up on a few things I wanted to chime in on.]

I didn't catch Norv Turner's introductory press conference as San Diego Chargers head coach, but I can only imagine the first sentence began something like this: "Today... I consider myself... the luckiest..." Has any NFL coach ever feel into such a sweet gig @$$-backwards like this?

(Barry Switzer is a name that comes to mind, but at least he produced a head coaching record to be proud of at Oklahoma. And he got a Super Bowl out of his Cowboys gig, which sets the bar pretty high for ol' Norv.)

This sort of reminds me of the Detroit Pistons firing Rick Carlisle after two straight 50-win seasons. That looked like a potentially crazy move, also made largely because of personality clashes. Of course, a key difference is that Joe Dumars knew he had Larry Brown standing by while he made the announcement sitting side-by-side with Carlisle in what had to be one of the most bizarre pressers Detroit has ever seen.

As many have pointed out, Turner's record as a head coach is, well, not good. Yet here he is, taking over what was probably the best team in the NFL last season, largely because the Chargers' front office doesn't want to rock the boat. (Firing the coach who led them to that 14-2 record wasn't exactly the way to avoid choppy waters, however.) That's all this really is, right?

The Chargers obviously have a good thing going, and at this point in the offseason, they just wanted to bring in a guy who could - at the bare minimum - maintain the status quo. Turner knows that offense, and he has a good history of working well with quarterbacks and running games (as if LaDainian Tomlinson could get much better). So that should be covered. And on the defense, Norv's new right-hand man, Ted Cottrell, is familiar with the scheme and should keep it running smoothly. But just in case, Ron Rivera's on staff to step right in, if needed. This is head coaching by committee. If Norv can't motivate the locker room (as Jerry Rice has asserted), then this cafone has two capos to help him out with that. (Okay, I realize the mafia terminolgy's a bit much here.)

So if this set-up can yield a playoff win (and Norv has at least done that), then A.J. Smith and Dean Spanos can high-five themselves over glasses of chardonnay for making such an astute hire. But these championship windows don't stay open very long, so if the Chargers have blown it by making an utterly safe hire, it could be one of the all-time botch jobs. And that roster deserves a hell of a lot better.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Scottie Wants a Comeback

I spent most of the weekend taking a hard, whiskey-soaked look at myself in the mirror after suggesting that the Detroit Pistons pick up Scottie Pippen - a player I generally despised throughout his career - for their 2007 playoff run. How could it have come to this? Where had my principles gone?

And maybe Pippen asked himself the same questions while deciding whether or not to run his 41-year-old body onto an NBA court again. In his case, however, this might not be an existential, near-to-midlife crisis. The dude might just really need some money.

According to Saturday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pippen owes $5 million on a loan he took out to buy an airplane.

Because of all the flights Pippen was chartering with a busy playing and business schedule, one of the pilots convinced him in 2001 that he would be better off owning his own plane, court documents say. Pippen and his wife, Larsa, formed a company, Air Pip, to buy one.

Though he initially refused to pay the loan, claiming "he was a victim of a conspiracy by those he had trusted to put together the deal," a St. Louis County Circuit Judge rejected that notion and ruled that Pippen is still on the hook for the money. Just last week, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. Gee, if only there was a career offering a salary that could pay off such a massive debt. Could it be mere coincidence that Pippen talked about coming out of retirement three days later?

Could Pippen even expect to make that kind of cash in a short-term playoff comeback? Probably not. Of course, if he were to show he could still play, maybe a team would be willing to sign him for next season. And along the way, maybe Pippen could score some cash from endorsing assorted pain relief products, orthopedic shoes, or financial planners. As long as it helps out an NBA playoff contender, of course.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy Hour 02/16: Who Will #2 Work For?

Well, Natalie just beat me to this topic, but over lunch, I noticed that Scottie Pippen is thinking of calling it a comeback for one NBA lucky playoff contender this season. And it was at that point that my digestive system was considering what exactly to do with the sandwich I was scarfing down.

Let me try to be clear about this: I despised Scottie Pippen when he was Michael Jordan's #2 with the Chicago Bulls. It delights me that he still takes crap about sitting out the seventh game of a 1990 playoff series against the Pistons because of a migraine, in what might be one of the most infamous wuss-outs in NBA history. Four years later, Pippen also threw one of the most infamous snits in NBA history when he refused to play the final two seconds of a playoff game because Phil Jackson dared to run a play for Toni Kukoc (who ended up hitting the game-winning shot) instead of him.

And when Jerry Krause decided to break the band up after the Bulls' 1998 NBA title, Pippen opted to find another team with which he could tag along for a championship ride. He actually had a pretty good gig in Houston because he didn't have to be anyone's #2. He could be #3 to Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. But that didn't work out for him, so he headed off to Portland where he could again play second, third, or fourth fiddle alongside Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, and Damon Stoudamire. No sense in putting any pressure on himself, right?

Pippen's Trail Blazers bandwagon never picked up any trophies either - though they came oh-so-close to an NBA Finals bid in 2000, but lost Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals after blowing a 13-point fourth quarter lead. But nobody's ever been able to squeeze more glory out of being a sidekick than Pippen. Hell, he took being a #2 all the way to that 50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time list.

So now, three years after taking a farewell lap with the Bulls, Pippen (now 41 years old) wants to make another hobo championship run, looking for another title-contending train to hop onto. According to alleged blog hater Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune (I think he's getting a bad rap there, by the way. Read what he actually said, not just the pull quotes), Pippen thinks he could not only make a contribution on the floor, but on the bench too, as kind of a player/coach. And the list of teams he could help - Suns, Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, Spurs, Timberwolves, Heat, Cavaliers - is pretty long. Basically, if you have a winning record this season, your NBA team might be getting a call from Pippen's agent.

The only contender that Smith doesn't mention in his article is the Pistons. And here's where we're back to the indigestion I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Pippen might rule out DEE-troit BAS-ket-ball, thinking he could offer more to another team. And he's probably right about that. But - and I can't believe I'm writing this - Pippen could certainly help the Pistons. Many observers have assumed that Joe Dumars is still looking for one more piece to complete this year's team, especially someone that can help on the perimeter. And Pippen fills a lot of needs on Joe D's checklist.

He could back up Chauncey Billups at point guard. He can shoot the three. He can also back up Tayshaun Prince at small forward, where - perhaps most importantly - he could supply another body to stick on Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade in a playoff series. And as much as I've ripped Pippen here, he's been a good defensive player with a talent for steals. About the only thing he wouldn't help the Pistons with is getting rid of Flip Murray and Nazr Mohammed in exchange for his services.

I like to consider myself a proud man. But I could be persuaded to root for a jersey. I've already made significant progress in that area with Chris Webber. And hey, I've had plenty of practice converting my disdain for a former Chicago rival into admiration and support with Chris Chelios. If you had told the Ian of 10 Years Ago that Chelios would not only join the Red Wings, but also become one of his favorite players, Ian of 10 Years Ago might have taken a swing at you, and also tried to kick you as he was being held back.

So anything's possible. But wait a minute... is that a migraine I feel developing in my forehead?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

When NBA players check out for vacation early

There's a scene in the movie State and Main where Alec Baldwin's character smashes a car while out on a bender with an underage girl. What does he say when he gets out of the totaled vehicle? "So, that happened."

That's pretty much how I felt after Detroit's 90-81 loss to San Antonio. (I'm referring to the quote, by the way - not the drunk driving with teenagers. Just thought I'd clarify.) Okay, that happened. Let's move on to the All-Star break and try to forget this game ever took place.

Never mind that the Pistons apparently decided to take their mid-season break one game early. At the very least, their collective shooting touch decided it was time for a vacation. Weren't the Spurs at the end of a long, eight-game road trip? Didn't they play the night before in New Jersey? Yet Detroit was the team that looked sluggish on the court.

Personally, I completely understand. On the Friday before I'm about to head out for vacation, I've already checked out. Complete mental zombie at work. You know what I'm sayin'? So I'm inclined to cut these guys a break. Except this was kind of a big game against a potential NBA Finals opponent. Some people call games like these "measuring sticks." In this case, the Pistons were beaten with that stick.

Or maybe the universe just decided that the Pistons couldn't continue their winning streak while the Celtics mercifully ended their losing streak. There must be balance to maintain order, my babies. So I hear, anyway.

Is there any other explanation for how Francisco Elson could look like a frickin' All-Star (18 rebounds?!) against what's recently become a celebrated Detroit frontcourt? I know I don't follow the NBA nearly as closely as I did in high school, when I devoured league registers and handbooks, and could watch any game broadcast on TNT. But I thought I'd watched the Spurs a couple of times this season, and I've never even heard of this Elson guy before. (It's entirely possible that I just missed one of his games, however, as Elson's played in 41 of San Antonio's 52 games. Thanks for letting me off the hook, NBA.com!) Geez, no wonder they let Nazr Mohammed go.

Blow off some steam in Vegas, fellas. And come back with some fire next Tuesday. We're all counting on you.

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This cold weather makes me grumpy, Chris Webber!

I know I've picked on Chris Webber here before, and it doesn't really seem fair, considering how well he's played since joining the Pistons. His skills really have opened up the offense, and when it's clicking, it's very fun to watch. According to the stats, he had a decent game against the Spurs, and was one of the only guys who shot well. And considering he was playing against Tim Duncan, that's really not bad at all.

But it just astounds me that after 13 years of professional basketball, Webber still hasn't developed a consistent post move. I'm not talking about that jump hook that sometimes goes in. I'm talking about a drop step, a spin, an up-and-under move, a baseline fade-away jumper - stuff like that. That little shoulder dip fake he kept trying on Duncan - who was sticking him far outside the lane - wasn't working. The only thing Webber faked out with that move was his own lower body.

Webber's the same age as me, so I know he had an opportunity to watch Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon apply their magic footwork in the post. He can't say those guys were before his time. Of course, if I could've dunked the ball like Webber used to, maybe I wouldn't have tried to copy any of those moves, either. But hey, if they worked for a short, fat guy like me on the court, imagine what they could do for an actual NBA player.

Of course, Webber brings something else to the game with his passing, and his ability to hit the guards cutting to the basket is a skill that many other post players didn't bring to the court. At this stage of his career, he is what he is. So I guess you take what you can get, and utilize what a player does best. Okay, I give in.

See, if it wasn't so cold here in Michigan, I'd just go outside and shake my fist at passing cars or the neighborhood kids walking and skateboarding by. (Well, maybe not at this time of day.) Instead, I have to stay inside and post curmudgeonly rants on my blog.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Hour 02/13: Fired Faster than Greased Lightning!

So if you're San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, do you wish you'd have just promoted Cam Cameron or Wade Phillips now?

I realize it probably wasn't looking very good with a big chunk of Marty Schottenheimer's staff running off to other gigs. But given how much chatter there was about Marty getting fired after San Diego was knocked out of the playoffs, isn't it now pretty clear that the Chargers really wanted to make a coaching change, but couldn't justify it after a 14-2 regular season, and the presumption that most of the band would get back together again?

But it's not like the Chargers won't have a stack of resumes to choose from. You could argue that the talent pool is even deeper now that the Super Bowl has passed. None of this "we'll have to talk after the playoffs" junk now. Or they could just talk to the other nine candidates Jerry Jones didn't hire in Dallas.

(By the way, do you think any of the guys who pounced on the six previous openings in the NFL are kicking themselves today? What's a better gig than taking over a 14-2 team?)

Reportedly, Schottenheimer clashed with Smith and team president Alex Spanos over trying to hire his brother Kurt as defensive coordinator. I'm guessing that upon receiving Marty's request, the following sentence might have been uttered by either Smith or Spanos: "Kurt Schottenheimer? Didn't Matt Millen fire that guy?" In the two years that Marty's younger brother oversaw the Detroit Lions' defense, they finished 30th and 28th in the NFL. Of course, he would've had far better players to work with in San Diego. But nepotism should only take a guy so far, don't you think?

▪▪ As you might imagine, Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz has already been mentioned as a potential replacement for Schottenheimer. (Jay Crawford pitched his name on ESPN's "1st and 10.") But is it saying something that John Clayton has him listed last, behind four no-chance candidates, among his 12 possibilities for the job?

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Could the NBA mess up Kevin Durant?

Last week, Complete Sports asked the question that surely must be nagging at each of the crappy teams in the NBA: Who would you take with the #1 pick, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?

The general consensus seemed to favor Oden, since his size and skills are a rarer find in today's NBA. And once he finds the offense to go with his defensive talents, watch out!

But a few said they'd go with Durant, because you don't see too many 6' 10" (or is he 6' 9"?) forwards who can shoot and handle the ball like he can. Some have gone so far as to say he could "redefine" his position, though it seems to me that Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki have already paved that road.

Over at Slate.com, however, Nathaniel Friedman makes the argument that being drafted by the wrong NBA team could seriously screw with Durant's development.

The very thing that makes him great, his versatility, will make Durant a mixed blessing for some eager lottery team. Basketball is a game of positions, roles, and responsibilities. Point guards pass, shooting guards score, small forwards slash, power forwards do the dirty work, and centers control the paint. A player who can do all of these things poses lots of problems for opposing defenses. By the same token, the more a player deviates from basketball's traditional typology, the more difficult it becomes to assemble a roster around him.

For instance, Kevin Garnett can do so many things well, he's often let the Minnesota Timberwolves off the hook. He's tall enough to defend power forwards and centers, so the T-Wolves have never really felt the need to acquire a good big man. And he's talented enough to be "the man," but might not have the killer instinct necessary to be the "go-to guy." So Minnesota's never brought in a cold-blooded scorer to play alongside him.

Contrast that with how Dallas has assembled a roster of tougher big men and explosive scorers around Nowitzki, so he can focus on what he does best.

So which team could be the best fit for Kevin Durant? Boston? Memphis? Philadelphia? Which one will decide to either utilize his versatility or force him to stick to a position? And is it better to be creative or go with a formula that's worked over the years?

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Sending the Clippers on home

What was the most compelling story from last night's Pistons-Clippers game?

I'm trying to say that the game wasn't that interesting, y'see. The mind began to wander.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Already raining in Baltimore?

Sometimes, you can tell how a season will go before you even get started. You think that's how the Baltimore Orioles might feel after getting the news that Kris Benson will miss the entire 2007 season with a partially torn rotator cuff?

Pitchers and catchers haven't even reported to Fort Lauderdale, and things already look bleak for the O's. They were probably already looking at a fourth-place finish in the AL East. I don't suppose a team can just forfeit a season before it's even begun, eh?

Nah. Benson's not the only quality starting pitcher the Orioles have. Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera (if he can find the strike zone this year) should give them a chance when they play.

Having said that, this is a sobering reminder of just how fortunate the Detroit Tigers were with their pitching last year. (Yes, I see you, Mike Maroth. You can put your hand down. Keep that elbow safe.) I want to rub some rabbits' feet, look under the snow for four-leaf clovers, and make sure I avoid black cats and broken mirrors before the Tigers officially begin Spring Training.

Anyway, I feel kind of bad for Kris Benson today. I can't imagine what he'll do to make himself feel better while he's recuperating. Poor guy.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Happy Hour 02/09: Kobe Explains All

Thursdays are more about regular TV than sports to me, but I did make sure to tune in for the Pistons-Lakers game last night. And it wasn't even because I thought it would be a compelling inter-conference match-up. No, I just like watching the Pistons beat Kobe Bryant.

It's even more enjoyable when Kobe beats himself, as he did in the 2004 NBA Finals. Natalie mentioned it in her game recap over at Need4Sheed, and I loved being reminded of that. Do you think Kobe realizes that if he had only passed the ball to Shaq more, it could've been a much different series? Ben Wallace simply could not stop The Big Aristotle in the post, yet Kobe had to make it about Kobe, so he kept jacking up threes and dribbling into traps.

But let's talk about the present. When Kobe's held below 20 points (on just 13 shots), I think you could call that a disappointing game for him. Eight turnovers would seem to confirm that.

Did the Pistons' combination of zone and man-to-man defenses frustrate Kobe? Was Detroit so successful because assistant coach Ron Harper understands how best to defend the triangle offense, as Phil Jackson (who, in what's become comically typical, gave the Pistons as little credit as possible) asserted?

No way! In the world according to Kobe, it's because those pesky Pistons just kept fouling him. Check out the last two paragraphs from the L.A. Times' game story:

Kobe Bryant had 18 points, eight turnovers and, by his count, five scratches on his arms from Pistons defenders.

"They have a reputation for their defense," Bryant said. "They got away with getting some of our guys across the arms."

Of course. What the hell were the Pistons doing out there? Didn't they know they're not supposed to touch Kobe? Tayshaun Prince isn't even supposed to look at Kobe. C'mon, he's the Black Mamba (which Detroit Bad Boys has hilariously pointed out is the name of a female Marvel Comics super-villain)! Hopefully, the memo gets to Detroit before the next time the Lakers come to town.

By the way, I don't know if Phil Jackson was only talking about this because he was asked about it by reporters while revisiting the site of his only championship loss, but if losing that series to Detroit is something still bugging him to this day, well, that brings a smile to my face.

Man, I love it when the Lakers come to town!

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Happy Hour 02/08: Big Head Ian and the Tigers

While surveying The Daily Fungo before my maiden post this morning, I followed a link to Jason Beck's article at MLB.com about the Detroit Tigers loading up the trucks for Lakeland. Among all the information provided in the piece, however, and the warm feelings of the upcoming season that came with it, this is the paragraph that stood out to me:

Among the highlights: A hat stretcher, believed to be an antique among Major League teams, that the Tigers take on road trips with them. The team has had it since it was supplied by the New Era cap company in the 1980s, but the machine dates back years before that.

A hat stretcher! How cool is that? And in today's Detroit News, Tom Gage provided a bit more detail on this device - with accompanying photos.

Okay, I want to know more. How exactly does it work? Does it work just as well with today's major league caps as yesteryear's? If so or if not, why? What changes in materials have made the most difference? Or is it just as reliable in stretching hats for modern day noggins as it was for the old-time melons? Does it still have a practical use today, or is it more of a ceremonial, sentimental item?

Maybe I can track down a New Era employee who can help a blogger out.

But mostly, I want to get my hands on one so I can stretch out my Tigers caps to fit my increasingly fat head. No, not that Fathead. I mean my actual cranium, the one which surely tests the strength of my neck each and every day. I tell myself that the caps are tighter because of my hair, which I've let become long, shaggy, and grizzly this winter. So maybe once I shear it all off in the spring, the Olde English D (both home and away caps, of course) will fit as snugly and wonderfully as it once did.

Or after getting that crew cut, I'll find out that my head has become frickin' HUGE, far exceeding the eight-pound parameter once explained to me by Ray Boyd, and I know it won't have anything to do with becoming a sooper geenius.

I wonder what an antique hat stretcher goes for on eBay these days... ?

(Forget it; I checked. My head needs to shrink - pronto.)

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National Signing Day: I don't get it, but I understand it

I have kind of a Chris Rock outlook on National Signing Day: I'm not saying we should be following the every whim of these high school recruits, but I understand it.

It's college football's hot stove. And when your team or school finishes disappointingly - as Michigan did, for instance - you want some hope to look forward to. So I get why MGoBlog and Michigan Sports Center cover this stuff so closely. (And if you're into it, they both did a really good job.) What happened yesterday could have a direct bearing on several football seasons to come - though perhaps not for two to three years down the line.

I'm not saying I do it, but I understand it.

Actually, I look in on it, too. I remember being excited when Charles Woodson committed to Michigan, and I was intrigued by this little guy out of Syracuse who put up gargantuan rushing totals, but besides those occasional exceptions, I just can't get too worked up about it. So many things can change.

But this recruiting period seemed especially overblown - at least locally. This whole thing with Ronald Johnson - he's coming to Michigan; no wait, it's Michigan State; hang on, his mom wants him to go to Florida; there was some e-mail; wait a minute, he committed to USC? - exposed the insanity of this entire process.

How many of us have ever even seen this kid play, and we're waiting for his next move like it's an episode of 24. This stuff dominated local message boards, blogs, and to a lesser extent, sports talk radio. It was out of control.

And it might be even worse when sour grapes are added to the mix. Red flags, sirens, and warnings were flashing all around Illinois' stash of highly touted high school prospects. How did a coach with a 4-19 record get his school to finish among the top 15 recruiting classes (whatever that even means)?

Well, Ron Zook could just be working his ass off, as Mark Schlabach details at ESPN.com. That's possible, isn't it? A coach works in a state rich with Midwestern football talent, sees a chance to succeed in his conference, and decides to live and breathe his job, knowing that with a little more effort, he can make some strides. Is that really such an outlandish concept?

No, he must be cheating, according to a former Big Ten coach (who just might be nursing a grudge). At least that's what he sure as hell implied in yesterday's New York Times.

John L. Smith, who was recently dismissed as the head coach at Michigan State, expressed a view shared privately by many rival coaches and recruiters: “If they had a winning program and all of that, it would be a different deal. If they had the greatest facilities in the world, then maybe they could sell them. But what are they selling?”

He added, “Where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire.”

Tony Kornheiser said it perfectly on "Pardon the Interruption" yesterday. If John L. knows something incriminating about Zook's recruiting methods, he should have the balls to just come right out and say it, instead of playing coy behind a cliche. If he's worried about jeopardizing his chances at future employment, then just drink a hot cup of Shut the #@$% Up, and don't talk to the NY Times about this stuff. Nothing like continuing to embarrass yourself, Coach.

What is Zook selling? How about a chance to play immediately, in a prominent BCS conference, in which you're virtually guaranteed to get at least two or three of your games nationally televised each season? How about sitting on a potential gold mine of media exposure, playing just outside the #3 market? How about the head coach pointing to the current national champions, and telling a kid, "Hey, I built that team!"

Is any of that just not possible? Or am I being adorably naive? Maybe I don't understand it, after all.

I suppose I can just fall back on an old stand-by and blame ESPN for all this. How much air time and bandwidth did they devote to National Signing Day yesterday?

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My Daily Fungo seal is broken

If you're interested, my first official post at The Daily Fungo is now up for all to read.

My nine concerns for the Detroit Tigers heading into Spring Training are the subject du jour.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Happy Hour 02/07: Detroit Pistons Shots!

[Hey, it's Happy Hour in Hawaii right now, okay? So I spent the day avoiding all this National Signing Day ruckus...]

♦ I know the Celtics have been historically terrible this season, but I finally got to witness the brutality myself last night against the Pistons. And throughout the entire game, all I could think about was how much I used to hate the Boston Celtics. My loathing of Bird, McHale, Parish, and most definitely Danny Ainge was a key formative influence for me as a sports fan.

I don't even know who these guys are right now. But I do know they pissed me off last night for not being the team worthy of my formerly white-hot hatred. Aingie, you're doing a heckuva job.

♦ Best post-game quote? "Yeah," said Richard Hamilton, when asked if he could relate to the Celtics' losing streak. "My rookie year in Washington we only won (19) games. That ain't cool." No, sir!

♦ Surely you have read this already (especially since I'm doing this so late), and perhaps multiple times, but if you haven't, Detroit Bad Boys posted a tremendous interview yesterday with Detroit Free Press Pistons beat writer Krista Jahnke. If you want to know what it's like to cover a team on a daily basis (plus, being the new kid on that particular block), she provides some insight for you.

In my limited amount of sportswriting experience, I've seen several beat reporters in action, and I'm confident I could not do that job. That is tough work on deadline, man. I can only imagine the stress they feel some nights.

♦ On a more personal note, I also root for Krista Jahnke because on the couple of occasions I've interacted with her, she's been pretty damn cool with me. Back when I wrote about sports on my personal blog, (and before we had blogs like Detroit Bad Boys and Need4Sheed to show us the way), she interviewed me for a Freep piece on Pistons bloggers before Game 7 of the 2005 NBA Finals. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view), I was cut from the final article.

And back in October, when I wrote a Pistons season preview for Motor City Sports Magazine, Krista was one of several writers and analysts who took the time to give me some good stuff for my article. I remember underlining her comment about the Pistons "being so arrogantly man-to-man" on defense several times. (She rightly predicted how the Flip Murray signing would work out, too.)

♦ Over at ESPN.com, Ben Wallace is among John Hollinger's 15 most disappointing NBA players (subscription required). Yeah, that's a shame. Somewhere in Auburn Hills, Joe Dumars might be kicking back with a "Man, I look smarter every day on that one!" cigar.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Happy Hour 02/06: The Nationals' Pastime

Fellow sports bloggers (and baseball fans, in general) might find Barry Svrluga's feature in today's Washington Post interesting. The article profiles the many blogs that have been created in devotion to the Washington Nationals - the "Natosphere," if you will - which seems especially surprising given the short history of the team in D.C.

The two blogs prominently featured in the article are Capitol Punishment (a favorite of mine) and Curly W, both of which have caught the attention of the home team.

The e-mail popped in, and Chris Needham took a minute to digest it. The sender was easily identifiable: Stan Kasten is the president of the Washington Nationals, the baseball team about which Needham comments almost daily via his blog.

Needham had just published an entry titled "StanSpeak," in which he took the liberty of "translating" Kasten's words for the club's fan base, a smart-alecky but smart look at what the man who runs the club might really be thinking.

Needham opened the e-mail cautiously.
He knows about this?

Since that initial e-mail, Kasten has corresponded with Needham again. There's something of a punchline to that second conversation, however, so I won't ruin it for you.

The Nationals' blog and fansite community continues to grow impressively. "15 blogs about a two-year-old team," according to Curly W. As you might imagine, a strong sense of community has developed - something several of us Tigers bloggers have had "DIBS" on for quite a while. (And as we know, the Natosphere ain't the only sports blog community getting sit-downs with team presidents.)

The revolution continues... and it will probably be posted on a sports blog near you.

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Here Comes the Sun - or should I say Fun(go)?

Yesterday, Billfer posted a photo from Lakeland that should warm all of our torsos and limbs as we endure what's suddenly become a torturous winter.

And if the pending arrival of pitchers and catchers wasn't enough to make me smile, that photo reminded me of a favorite album cover.

Are we really just nine days away from the beginnings of Spring Training? That off-season flies by when you're excited about your team, huh?

This is also an excellent opportunity to mention that Mike McClary has graciously invited me to contribute to The Daily Fungo this season, and I'm going to take him up on that offer. I'm very excited about trading Detroit Tigers posts with Mike and Doug Hill. That doesn't mean all my baseball stuff will go over there, but I'll have to figure out how to juggle things as the season progresses. Guess I need some spring training, too.


Snickers: Apparently Always Looking to Satisfy

Since I wrote about this yesterday and immediately after the Super Bowl Sunday night, I figured I might as well follow up on the outrage over the Snickers "kissing mechanics" ad.

If you haven't heard already, the whole thing is gone. Vanished. Yanked off stage like a bad act at the Apollo. Tossed out like a Snickers bar left on your dashboard during a hot summer day. Gone like it never happened - except we know it did.

I guess I didn't realize just how far Snickers took the joke (or attempt at one) at its website, never bothering to look at the various alternate endings that were offered. Perhaps I'm not quite the judge of funny I thought I was.

▪▪ AMERICAblog has a bunch of suggestions for expressing outrage to Mars, Inc., Snickers' parent company. (Though now that the campaign's been pulled, I imagine the protest has been somewhat dampened.)

▪▪ Here's Deadspin's take on the matter, where I found all this stuff to begin with.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy Hour 02/05: Well, I Thought It Was Funny

Last night, I thought the Snickers ad with the two mechanics "accidentally" kissing was the best Super Bowl commercial. (On second thought, however, I think CBS' Letterman/Oprah ad might have been the funniest.) Of course, it's all subjective, but I figured that would've been the most popular, hands-down. Could I have been in the minority?

Kevin posted in the comments that he "HATED" that ad. Over at my personal blog, Fried Rice Thoughts, Susannah said the commercial made her "want to eat a Snickers LESS." USA Today's annual Super Bowl Ad Meter ranked it ninth. (The Budweiser crab ad was #1? Seriously?) Various Bears or Colts winced. And Salon.com's King Kaufman said it was downright homophobic.

Sad that with all the attention being lavished on Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Lovie Smith of Chicago as the first black head coaches in Super Bowl history, the broadcast of Super Bowl XLI ended up being so homophobic. Progress for one minority at a time, evidently.

Snickers kicked it off in the first quarter with an ad in which two guys are working on a car engine, one busts out a Snickers bar and the other, evidently turned on by the long, hard, caramel-filled ramrod of chocolate flavor, bites on the other end of it. The men work their way toward each other and end up touching lips.

Apparently, the Human Rights Campaign agrees.

I really don't think I'm in any position to judge whether or not the commercial is offensive. If anyone saw it, and either felt offended or somehow persecuted, he or she is obviously entitled to such opinions.

But I thought it was funny, and wasn't so much making fun of or criticizing gay people. It was ridiculing those who might think accidentally kissing might signal latent or repressed tendencies. Or those who would get so freaked out by accidental touching that they suddenly need to prove their manliness. I know quite a few people like that.

Or maybe I'm a bit more sensitive about this, given the occasional reeling reaction I've encountered when a person sees the name of this blog.

Anyway, relax. Have a Coke and a smile. Oh wait, that's a different commercial entirely.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl Post-Mortem: Rex sputters, Dungy shines

Was that the most lopsided 12-point victory you've ever seen?

After Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, before most of us could get our seats warm, were the Bears ever really in that game? Sure, the scoreboard says they were up 14-6 at the end of that sloppy, fumble-rific first quarter. And they were within a touchdown three minutes into the fourth quarter. But it never seemed like the Bears truly had a chance with their offense.

On the rare occasions when Chicago had the ball, they'd put the beginnings of a good drive together, racking up a few first downs with a nice run by Thomas Jones or a catch by Muhsin Muhammad. But then Rex Grossman found a way to #@$% it up. Either he treated the football like it was covered with turkey grease or just chucked the ball aimlessly down the field where two Colts defenders were waiting.

I'm wondering why Ron Turner didn't call more running plays for Jones. The Colts weren't stopping him, and it was the only way the Bears could move the ball down the field. Maybe Turner figured they couldn't win the game without some big plays from his quarterback. But when the guy's doing far more harm than good, don't you have to rethink your strategy?

Remind me again: How exactly did the Bears make it to the Super Bowl with Grossman at quarterback? And if he's sick of answering questions about his inconsistent performances, he should really think about trying to play better. Grossman's probably too young to give up on, but the Bears have to consider how long they can let him hold the rest of the team back.

The Colts were certainly beatable, especially at the beginning, when they looked extremely nervous. But by worrying so much about giving up the big play, the Chicago defense let Indianapolis grind out yardage with tough runs and short throws. And that allowed the offense to control the game once Peyton Manning settled down.

It was almost anti-climactic watching Manning and Tony Dungy accept the Vince Lombardi trophy. The "can't win the big one" talk was hushed after winning the AFC Championship. Finally! They got to the Super Bowl! The rest was affirmation, with quarterback and coach seeming more relieved than jubilant.

I wrote before that I wanted to see Manning win a championship, but as I watched the post-game celebration, I was happiest for Dungy. I'm sure the Vikings were thrilled to have him as defensive coordinator for four years, but he was long overdue for a head coaching job. And maybe he was screwed in Tampa Bay, but it's also possible that he just wasn't quite ready for that championship level yet.

But in Indianapolis, where he could trust that the offense was in good hands, Dungy could work that "Tampa Two" magic on the defense. It took long enough to wonder if he was just one of those guys who was never going to get that trophy. Plenty of other coaches are in that club. Of course, with his status as a coaching vanguard, Dungy may have placed additional pressure on himself. (Or hadn't you heard that he and Lovie Smith were the first two black head coaches in the Super Bowl?) But now, he doesn't have to worry about that anymore. Call it affirmation, call it culmination, call it celebration. The man definitely earned it.

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