Thom Loverro, of the DC Times, still remembers when Vince Lombardi arrived in DC and reinvigorated the Redskins. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is football: “Most plays last just three or four seconds. So you have to execute immediately, upon the snap of the ball. You have to know where you’re going and move decisively. Linemen, you have to win that initial contact, make the hit, drive your man, stay on your man. If you can move him back even just a foot or two, he doesn’t beat you and the play can succeed. This is how we’re going to win. “Defenders want to penetrate. Once they cross that line of scrimmage, the play is destroyed. So our mentality is simple – snap the ball, hit your man, move him back a step or two. We win right there. We’re going to go man on man, run it at you, send runners into the holes, pick up four or five yards, move those chains. And there isn’t anything you can do about it, because we’re going to execute better.” That is what Vince Lombardi told his players in 1959 when he first addressed them as coach of the Green Bay Packers, a once-proud franchise fallen on hard times, according to “That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory” by Baltimore author John Eisenberg. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not football: “There was a glitch, but it didn’t have to do with the play caller and the play calls or anything like that. It had to do completely with something else. One of the times we had to call the timeout, I am looking around and saying, ‘What just happened?’ I didn’t feel that the clock was being managed right by the scorekeeper or whatever, because it happened so quick. We were getting the play in good enough time, and all of a sudden Jason [Campbell] had to call a timeout and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said it was down to zero. .. It happened so fast, I couldn’t believe it. … To work that situation in real time is very difficult.” That is Redskins coach Jim Zorn talking about the problems his team had with playcalling, clock management and who knows what else during their 7-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. It is unfair, of course, to compare Zorn with Lombardi. But it is important to understand what great leadership and coaching sound like because it’s been so long since we’ve seen it in the District. It is worth examining what Vince Lombardi did in Green Bay that first season – and certainly worth reading the book about it – because what he accomplished there needs to be accomplished at Redskin Park to restore this once-proud franchise. The Redskins need to hire someone to change the culture of this organization. Coaches like Lombardi come along perhaps once every 50 years, but the Redskins don’t need to find another Lombardi. There are coaches who presumably are available who could change the Redskins’ culture – Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy, for instance – in a role as a team president. Those are men who can lead change. Of course, the man currently in charge of the Redskins, owner Dan Snyder, would have to want the culture to be changed – and we still have no evidence of that. Snyder was asked after Joe Gibbs resigned nearly two years ago if he’d consider hiring a general manager. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. Forty years ago, Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams saw a desperate need for a change in the culture of his club, which had not had a winning season in 14 years. So, in 1969, he hired Lombardi to do for the Redskins what he did for the Packers 10 years earlier. Sure enough, in just one season here before his death from cancer, Lombardi changed the way people thought about the Redskins and the way the Redskins thought about themselves. There was the hiccup of a 6-8 season under Bill Austin after Lombardi’s death, but the organization recommitted to the change Lombardi had started the next year with the arrival of George Allen. Dan Snyder now has the chance to make that kind of change – historic change, the kind they write books about.”

Phil Rogers of the ChiTrib said that, “When Bruce Springsteen played the Bradley Center in Milwaukee earlier this month, he led into his encore with “No Surrender,” sending its haunting refrain of “no retreat, no surrender” echoing around the arena. Bud Selig is not a Springsteen fan. Yet that song applies to the Wisconsin-based commissioner as well as anyone. Selig has held true to his passion for baseball through his entire life, including 50 years of involvement in the sport, the last 17 of which have been as its chief executive. To many, it must seem as if Selig has been commissioner forever, given all that has transpired in the major leagues in the last two decades. Selig is entering the closing chapters of his tenure. He made that point semi-officially during an owners meeting in Chicago in mid-November. According to sources, a group of five owners approached the 75-year-old Selig about remaining on the job beyond the end of his contract, which expires after the 2012 season. It was the same kind of approach that had been used to convince him to stay in charge at least two other times, the first being after he stepped in as head of the executive council to lead ownership after Fay Vincent was forced to resign as commissioner in 1992. Selig’s tenure most recently had been scheduled to end in 2009, but his deal was extended quietly in early 2008. This time, according to sources, Selig told the owners he will step aside after 2012 — not because he is tiring but because he has other things to do while he’s able. Reached at his Milwaukee office Wednesday, Selig declined to discuss his conversations with ownership but confirmed he plans to stay on the job three more years. That means the next labor agreement, due to be negotiated in 2011, would be his final official act. Selig doesn’t see himself considering retirement. He said he is trying to create time to write a book and possibly even teach some history. That was his major at the University of Wisconsin. Selig’s children and grandchildren gathered in Milwaukee for the Thanksgiving holiday. Selig’s wife, Sue, was hoping to have him home Wednesday to help greet them. “I told her I’d only be (in the office) until 4:30,” Selig said. “That’s pretty good. I’m almost always here until 6.” It’s hard to imagine Selig with time on his hands. But the time finally is coming when baseball is going to need to consider the next commissioner. One of Selig’s top lieutenants, Bob DuPuy or Rob Manfred, might be the best choice if the goal of owners is to continue in the same direction. Baltimore Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail, whose father and grandfather are in the Hall of Fame as executives, would be a popular choice among owners. The list is sure to grow as Selig moves closer to retiring.” Phil also commented about Omar Vizquel, “The White Sox hope the newly signed Omar Vizquel will serve as a mentor to Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham. But don’t be surprised if they also arrange for him to work with 20-year-old Eduardo Escobar at some point. Escobar, who played at low Class A Kannapolis last season, is a shortstop with Gold Glove potential who, like a young Vizquel, is challenged as a hitter. He’s something to see in the field, however, joining Andrew Garcia (the grandson of former Indians manager Dave Garcia) to form a middle-infield tandem that helped Kannapolis hold opponents to 3.8 runs per game last season. Escobar, like Vizquel a switch hitter from Venezuela, hasn’t received a lot of attention as a prospect because he has a .320 career on-base percentage with limited power, hitting .256 this season. Vizquel batted .263 in high Class A when he was 20. His fielding skills were so advanced, however, the Mariners brought him to the big leagues at 22, and he has gone on to play a record 2,681 games at shortstop. He’s a lifetime .273 hitter who once batted .333 and hit .295 in 2006, when he was 39. Some with the White Sox believe Escobar has that type of potential. “He struggled really badly the first two or three months this season and was terrific the last two months,” White Sox farm director Buddy Bell said. “That’s a great sign. But I don’t think we want to drop Omar Vizquel (comparisons) on him just yet.”


Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, doesn’t agree with the Red Sox move to allow SS Alex Gonzalez to walk away. I don’t understand it either but, as a
Yankees fan, I’m not unhappy. “Here’s one thing we can say about Alex Gonzalez.
The ball is hit to short and you can write “6-3’’ in your scorebook without looking up. It’s a done deal.
So why won’t he be here next year? Did anyone ask the pitchers what they think?
Instead of Alex Gonzalez and the sure 6-3s, we will have a familiar player at short next year. Mr. X.
Mr. X might be Marco Scutaro or Khalil Greene or even Jed Lowrie (if he ever cures his wrist woes), or it could be someone off our radar screen entirely. But it’s doubtful Mr. X will be as soothing to the psyche of the pitchers as Alex Gonzalez, who was the best 162-game defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen in a Red Sox uniform back in 2006 and who wasn’t far from that status during the 44 games he played here in 2009. There’s a lot to be said for relaxing 6-3s, not to mention efficient 6-4-3s and 4-6-3s.
Shortstop is general manager Theo Epstein’s Achilles’ heel, his Black Hole, his annual source of confusion and occasional embarrassment. He hasn’t gotten it right for more than one full season since his bold decision to ship Nomar Garciaparra out of town on July 31, 2004. Gonzalez gave him that aforementioned stellar defensive season in 2006. Aside from that, Theo has had zero luck.
There was, of course, nothing wrong with the way Orlando Cabrera played for the Red Sox, either during the months of August and September or during the playoffs in 2004. He was 29 years old and appeared to be The Answer at short for many years to come. But the Red Sox did not seem too upset about losing
him to the Angels via free agency, the only reason anyone could come up with being unspecified off-the-field, shall we say, indiscretions
Theo next addressed the shortstop situation by wooing Edgar Renteria away from the St. Louis Cardinals for a hefty $10 million per. Tony La Russa warned everyone that Renteria and Boston might not be a good fit because Edgar was way too sensitive to thrive in the hothouse atmosphere of Boston, and, indeed, all of New England.
Playing for the Cardinals is akin to being back in high school. You get unconditional fan love as long as you wear the uniform with the Cardinals teeter-tottering on the baseball bat. We all know there is no such thing here. Some people (e.g. Big Papi) are allowed to bank an enormous amount of good will to insulate them during the hard times, but most players who play here know the normal deal is that people take things seriously and, worse yet, personally on a day-to-day basis.
Renteria was a bad fielder here almost from Day 1. A balky back had something to do with it, but the fans didn’t want to hear about it. He was actually a more productive offensive player than people recall (scoring 100 runs for the first time), but he was exceedingly unpopular and personally miserable. Theo was very fortunate to find a home for him in Atlanta.
Gonzalez was a dream defensive solution to the problem the following year, but the Red Sox did not like his low on-base percentage and did not want to pay him. The next move was perhaps Theo’s worst decision ever. He consigned $36 million of ownership’s money in a four-year contract to Julio Lugo, a once-upon-a-time decent hitting shortstop and generally fair-to-bad fielder whom the Dodgers had come to loathe (as a player) in a very short period of time.
In his first half-year as a Red Sox, Lugo was, arguably, the worst offensive regular in the American League, and an even worse defensive player. Things never really got much better. Did they win a second World Series in four years with him as their shortstop? Yes, they did. Or would it be more correct to say they won despite him? Probably.
Lowrie entered into the mix in 2008. He’s a thoroughly likable and rootable young man. But he is a switch-hitter who has not proven he can hit as a lefthander in the majors and he cannot stay healthy, so the Red Sox can’t count on him for anything. Journeyman Nick Green gave them all he had for a spell last year, and he did make what might have been baseball’s most astonishing defensive play of the year (the rollover 6-3 double play against Washington), but too many expected 6-3s wound up with a man on first (or even second) and Theo finally had to do something.
That something was a deal with the Reds for Alex Gonzalez, who was A) everything we remembered in the field, B) a surprisingly productive hitter, and C) pretty cost effective. I figured that even if they had to overpay him a little to re-sign him he was well worth it. He’d be playing 2010 at age 33, and many a good shortstop has gone deep into his 30s while playing at a very high level. Omar Vizquel, for example, just signed with the White Sox for another year at age 42.
I figured wrong. The Red Sox did not take aggressive steps to retain him. They cannot possibly think they’ll do better defensively with someone else in 2010. If it’s the on-base obsession, hey, it’s an imperfect world. And since when were comfortable 6-3s a trivial matter? Wasn’t that why Nomar was traded in the first place?
They’re telling us there is a wunderkind in the organization named Jose Iglesias who will some day be putting those comfortable 6-3s in the scorebook. He’s 19. He’s way off in the future. If I’m Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Dice-K, or the Papster, I’m thinking, “What good will that do me in 2010?’’
I could always be missing something here. Do you have any idea what it is?”

Debates are also active in football. SF Chronicle writer Ray Ratto is like a lot of us who live a die with their home team’s successes and failures. “And so the debate continues, because it’s the only thing 49er fans want to discuss – why they’re right about the offense and why Mike Singletary is wrong.
Which, of course, ignores the greater problem: the defense, which is the real reason the 49ers are in the position they’re in.
The pass defense is dreadful by every known mathematical rubric, having gone from 210 yards allowed per game through Week 4 to 287 since then, and from ninth to 30th in the league. The run defense went from 74 yards a game allowed to 109. The 49ers have gone from 13 points allowed per game to 26, from seven points in the first half to 17, which is important because teams that give up 17 points in the first half this year are 18-70, and most of the 18 are teams that also scored 17 in the first half.
In short, what has actually happened to the 49ers is not because Alex Smith is the victim of cruel and ham-handed offensive game planning, or because Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree are misunderstood talents, but because the team’s stated strength has become a weakness, and a dramatic one. That is Singletary’s stated specialty, remember?
But this doesn’t resonate because every red-jacketed man and woman on the street is what they have always purported to be – offensive geniuses who would do a much better job than the guys paid to do said job. And that may well be true.
Clearly, though, the 49ers lack enough fans who understand and/or care about the other side of the ball, because nobody seems interested in helping them with the real reason they have gone from 3-1 to 4-6.
Part of it is the schedule, true; they caught Arizona before the Cardinals straightened themselves out, and they got Seattle and St. Louis because they are Seattle and St. Louis. But a good defense holds teams week in and week out, and that has clearly stopped happening. The 49ers aren’t offensively challenged as much as they are defensively challenged, and until they get that squared off, the spread offense won’t be any more helpful than the pro set, the wishbone, the flexbone, the wing-T, the flying wedge or the Notre Dame box.
So if you feel compelled to grind on Singletary, at least get the reason right. And then you can tell everyone else that the 49ers don’t really need the spread offense, they need the A-11, with no offensive linemen at all. Your family will think you’re nuts, but you can claim it was the post-feast tryptophan talking.”

It won’t be long before we get another outrageous overtime incident in the NFL. Two teams will battle it out for three hours, leaving blood and bared emotions on the field, and then comes the coin flip, that pulsating moment when we find out which team can put together some half-baked drive and set up a game-ending field goal by a guy who was selling carpets in Liechtenstein two years ago.
This is one of the biggest jokes in all of sports. I can’t wait until it happens in a conference title game, or the Super Bowl, and causes red-faced embarrassment in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office. Yeah, Peyton Manning would have loved to match that drive by the Saints’ Drew Brees, but face the facts, Peyton – you guys called heads.
The solution isn’t so easily found. NFL insiders have made dozens of suggestions over the years, and none seems exactly right. But here’s the real answer: no field-goal specialists at all. The placekicker has to be an actual football player, preferably a starter, no worse than the legitimate No. 1 backup at an offensive or defensive position.
The game was infinitely more authentic through the decades leading up to the mid-1960s, with the likes of Lou Groza, Doak Walker, Paul Hornung and Bobby Joe Conrad kicking field goals. Groza was a starter at offensive tackle for most of his career with the Cleveland Browns; the other three were storied touchdown threats. From 1959 through ’61, with Vince Lombardi’s Packers on the rise, Hornung led the NFL in scoring with his artful runs and timely
(if not terribly long) field goals.
This is pure fantasy, of course, but consider how much more interesting the game would become. Field goals over 40 yards would be extremely rare. If games were to be decided by a placekick, players would feel a lot better if it was delivered by some hard-hitting linebacker or the “talented toe”
(old NFL expression) of an offensive lineman. Somebody with stains all over his uniform, or a slight limp to his gait after a brutal day in the trenches. There’s nothing authentic about a successful “drive” that stalls at the 38-yard line – or a “hero” who could be wearing a tuxedo.”

Bill Conlin wrote in the Philly Daily News about football’s Nirvana. “THERE HAVE BEEN some awesome technological innovations in my lifetime.
The flip-top can . . . Hi-Fi sound . . . Hi-Def TV . . . the microwave . . . cable TV . . . satellite radio . . . instant replay . . . cell phones . . . seat belts . . .
McDonald’s . . . laptop computers . . . the interstate . . . E-ZPass . . . WMDs . . . radar . . . Wi-Fi . . . automatic transmission . . . Slingbox and its PC-only
rival, HAVA.
The list goes on and on. We humans are nothing if not inventive.
I am writing this column at the same time I am watching the greatest invention since the wheel.
While typing on my I-Mac desktop – high on the list of inventions, by the way – Verizon Fios Channel 835 is being Slingboxed to the upper lefthand corner of my 27-inch display.
And Channel 835 is bringing me the NFL Red Zone, an out-of-body, all-encompassing, died-and-woke-up-in-football-heaven experience.
Nine 1 o’clock games have just kicked off. Comcast SportsNet alum Scott Hanson is at the studio controls of a breathless, no-commercial,
every-scoring-play – most of them live – roller-coaster ride that careens inside the 20s until the final whistle of the last 4 o’clock game.
Did I say no commercials?
Oops . . . Marion Barber just fumbled for the ‘Boys. It was scooped up by a Redskin; Tony Romo had to make the stop, and he’s down. But no annoying wait while the fallen quarterback is attended to. It’s off to live action elsewhere.
It’s third-and-inches for the Niners in Lambeau Field. Measurement. They lost a yard and settle for a 46-yard field goal, and TRZ seamlessly catches Adrian Peterson motoring for 12 yards followed by a Brett Favre sack . . .
It goes on and on like that, game-after-game scoring threat, and Michael Clayton just climaxed a 12-play, 78-yard Bucs drive with an end-zone catch to go up a touch on the Saints. And from Ford Field, the worst-scoring offense in the NFL, property of the Browns, has already topped its average just minutes into what will be a bizarre, clock-at-0.00 loss to the Lions.
When everybody is in halftime, all the highlights from the 1 o’clockers are replayed. And when a majority are in mandated commercial timeouts on Fox and CBS, the scores in progress are put up on the screen with down, time remaining and other pertinent info in the boxes. Hanson’s 360 minutes-plus gig could qualify him as the busiest anchor in the history of TV.
What happened in Sunday’s afternoon games will be ancient history by the time you read this. I am merely touting a product that has completely changed my perspective – oops, Peyton Manning just got picked and the Saints came back on the Bucs with a 68-yard drive – of the NFL. On the way to a blowout.
Let’s face it. Watching an NFL game in person or even in the comfort of your den isn’t much different than packing up the camper and driving to a remote
village in the French Alps to watch the Tour de France whirl past. So much time and effort to watch the peloton come and go.
NFL fans do the same thing. From the first tailgate burger and brew to the bumper-to-bumper procession out of the parking lot, an elaborate social ritual has surrounded less than 5 minutes of action worth remembering.
Just for fun – and it’s anything but – take a stopwatch and time each play from snap to whistle and add up the actual action.
But when it all winds up on a reel that unwinds at breakneck speed for more than 6 hours, you realize the sole reason you are willing to endure hours of
foreplay to witness events as fleeting as the mating of pigeons is the brilliance of the athletes themselves.
OK, getting drunk with friends is a close second.
What a thing it is to go hours without once hearing the inevitable words that follow a majority of punt and kickoff returns: “Illegal block in the back” . . . Or,
“Holding, No. 74” . . . Or, “The play stands as called on the field.”
TRZ doesn’t do penalties unless, of course, one nullifies a score.
The real fun comes in the frantic final minutes of the close games. It comes in dizzying waves, with a dozen or more quarterbacks some weeks running their
hurry-ups, beleaguered coaches managing time, TRZ going split screen often as games careen toward the final seconds with first-and-goal, then
going full-screen to whichever team lines up first.
Sunday’s 1 o’clock madness featured a shocking Steelers overtime loss to the Chiefs, a Giants OT win over the Falcons after blowing a big lead, and the
incredible Lions victory.
Comcast also offers TRZ, as does DirecTV and a growing number of smaller cable companies around the United States. Both Comcast and Verizon Fios
carry the NFL Red Zone on special channels in both standard and Hi-Def. They go dark or into a promo screen after the final game. The regular NFL Channel then hits all the postgame press conferences, coach-by-coach.
It costs $50 for the 16-game regular season.
Gotta go now . . . Sorry. We’re coming up on the 4 o’clocks.
And thousands of yards before I sleep.”

John Shea, of the SF Chronicle, talked about, SF Giant, Tim Lincecum’s enviable negotiating position. “Tim Lincecum is having an unprecedented career, and now he’s in line for an unprecedented contract.
A historic negotiation is expected after the Giants’ ace won Cy Young Awards in his first two full big-league seasons, and being eligible for arbitration for the first time adds to the process’ unusualness, not to mention Lincecum’s bargaining power.
Lincecum’s 2009 salary of $650,000 could soon be considered pocket change if he, as anticipated, breaks Ryan Howard’s record salary of $10 million (for first-year, arbitration-eligible players), won in February 2008, two years after his MVP season.
Arguably, two Cy Youngs trump one MVP.
“As of today, we’ll pursue a one-year deal,” Lincecum’s agent, Rick Thurman, said.
It was the expected course once Lincecum made history with his second straight Cy Young Award. In a long-term deal with escalating salaries, the first year often is relatively low to allow for wiggle room in a team’s payroll. The preference in Lincecum’s camp is to take full advantage of the arbitration system, which in turn would appease the players’ union.
Thurman wouldn’t comment on the union’s stance, but it’s clear Michael Weiner (who’s replacing Don Fehr as union chief) and Co. want to see the process played out, if only so Lincecum could set a new bar for arbitration-eligible players – just as Howard, the Phillies’ first baseman, did two winters ago.
Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners will pay close attention, too.
“This is one I have not been through, nor one many in baseball have been through,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. “The union on their side will be very interested in how it turns out, and Major League Baseball will be very interested.”
In arbitration, the player and club each submit a salary figure to a three-person panel on Jan. 19, and hearings to decide which salary to award are
Feb. 1-21 – unless an agreement is reached first. Hearings can get ugly, with the team bringing up negatives on the player (who’s sometimes in attendance) to make its case. Naturally, the Giants prefer to avoid a hearing.
Either way, Lincecum will cost a bundle.
Theoretically, because of a “special accomplishment” provision, the arbitration process allows Thurman to negotiate without regard to service time, meaning Lincecum could be compared with any pitchers, meaning teammate Barry Zito (averaging $18 million annually) and CC Sabathia ($23 million average) could enter the conversation, meaning open the vault.
Article VI Rule F (12) in the basic agreement states the arbitration panel must consider comparisons with others who have similar service time.
But it adds, “This shall not limit the ability of a player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.”
Lincecum’s camp could see that as an opportunity to compare Lincecum with the best (or most expensive) pitchers in the game, period. As Thurman said,
“Because of the special accomplishments, for something no one’s ever done before, you could take him outside those (service-time) lines and compare him to any pitcher.”
The danger in submitting a figure in the Zito or Sabathia range is that the arbitration panel might consider it exorbitant – especially because Lincecum hasn’t succeeded over the long haul like pitchers with such earnings – and choose the Giants’ figure.”
Howard’s agent, Casey Close, employed the special accomplishment provision in his victorious arbitration hearing – even comparing Howard to Babe Ruth – and the arbitration panel ruled in Howard’s favor and $10 million rather than the $7 million submitted by the Phillies.
Last winter, still arbitration-eligible, Howard submitted a figure of $18 million. The Phillies countered with $14 million. Rather than risking another loss in a hearing, the Phillies signed Howard to $54 million over three years.
Sabean hinted no serious talks would begin until the sides exchange figures in January, because that’s when he’ll learn of Lincecum’s asking price. Thurman said he plans to meet with the Giants during the Dec. 7-10 winter meetings in Indianapolis.
“In Lincecum’s case, it’s Howard-like in terms of where this could go as a first-time eligible player,” Sabean said. “Secondarily, because of the potential number that it could go to, we may be guarded, not wanting to talk about a long-term situation until you know the range. We could get something done in and around filling in the numbers.”
Lincecum is under the Giants’ control for four more years and isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. One reason the Giants aren’t rushing to sign him long term involves an insurance issue. Sabean said it has become tougher to insure long-term contracts.”


November 27, 2009

Tim Dahlberg, who is a Sports Columnist for the AP, ran his opinion in the Boston Herald. “Charlie Weis still has a job, even if he thinks he doesn’t deserve it.
Urban Meyer has one, too, and he’s planning on keeping it as long as the welcome mat stays out at Florida.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Meyer because his team plays for national championships. Notre Dame doesn’t anymore, and that almost surely means Weis will be out of work in the very near future, just like the coaches who went before him.
It’s not totally Weis’ fault, though he did himself no favor by declaring when he was hired that going 6-5 just wouldn’t cut it. He was going to take the Irish
back to the glory days of old, and school administrators were so certain that he would that that they tore up his contract midway through his rookie season and gave him a rich new one.
So now he’ll most likely be fired, even if his team somehow manages to stop the Stanford running game and give him a final win on Saturday. Weis himself said he would have a tough time arguing against his dismissal because in five seasons he hasn’t done what he said he was going to do.
Based on expectations alone, firing Weis isn’t such a bad idea, even if Notre Dame has to eat millions of dollars of his inflated contract. It doesn’t matter that those expectations may no longer be realistic at Notre Dame, because Weis understood what they were when he signed on for the job.
The expectations for the new coach will be just as high. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick believes — as do many Notre Dame alumni — that the Irish should
be competing every year for a BCS game, and competing every few years for the national title.
Unfortunately, the best coaches in the country don’t seem to believe it. And that could keep Notre Dame on the same coaching carousel the university has been stuck on since Lou Holtz rode off into the sunset after the 1996 season.
Meyer almost fell over himself Monday in declaring he had no interest in the position he once called his “dream job,” saying he would remain at Florida as long as they wanted him. If that wasn’t enough to convince everyone he wasn’t going anywhere, star quarterback Tim Tebow put an exclamation point on it.
“I don’t think he’ll be at Notre Dame,” Tebow said. “I don’t think that’s anything he’ll do now. I don’t think he’ll do that ever.”
Meyer has no reason to, especially since he spurned the job when it was open last time in favor of Florida. He’s won two national titles there, and was
rewarded with a new contract before the season that pays him $4 million a year.
The other big name coaches are also snug with their huge contracts. The lure that Notre Dame once may have had has long since been tempered by the reality that a lot of jobs now pay big money and a lot of teams are on national television each week, just like the Irish.
Notre Dame doesn’t get the automatic first pick anymore just because Knute Rockne was once the coach and Touchdown Jesus looks down over the home
field. If it did, it would have landed Meyer instead of settling for Weis, and everyone would have lived happily ever after.
The question now becomes, who would be an upgrade from Charlie Weis? Is there a coach who can roll the calendar back and restore Notre Dame to its
rightful perch near the top of college football’s hierarchy?
Could be, but he’s going to be hard to find. Based on experience, the No. 1 requirement should be that it’s someone with credentials as a major college head coach because on-the-job training hasn’t worked well in South Bend.
That means luring someone from another program, which is how it’s done in college these days. Though Les Miles is probably available after botching the end to LSU’s last game, anyone else would have to be convinced they can win despite the schedule and the school’s insistence that recruits can read and write.
There’s no doubt the brand still carries some cachet. Even after many down years, NBC still gets decent ratings for its investment in the university’s home games and pollsters automatically rank the Irish every time they win two consecutive games.
There’s still opportunity in South Bend. The right coach can win there.
What’s not so certain is whether Notre Dame can land the right coach.”

Ray Ratto, of the SF Chronicle, talked about the Irish and Luck. “Andrew Luck is fine with admitting that this Notre Dame thing doesn’t mean much to him.
Not Charlie Weis’ job, not Jimmy Clausen’s shiner, not Touchdown Jesus’ tears, not threadbare tradition, not much of anything really.
Save, perhaps, this:
“We play teams like USC, Cal and Oregon, so you have to put things like the history and other stuff behind you,” the Stanford freshman quarterback said.
“What I’m watching on film right now is players in blue jerseys and gold helmets.”
In other words, without saying it, without disrespecting the Fighting Irish, Luck told the cold truth, which is that Saturday’s game means a lot more to the outside world than it does to the Cardinal.
For one, a win does not enhance Stanford’s bowl profile because it isn’t a conference win, and because Oregon, Oregon State, Cal and USC have games that still would impact Stanford’s place.
For two, a loss, while a bit of a drag, only harms that profile a bit.
And three, whatever Jim Harbaugh’s coaching fate may be, it isn’t likely to be tied to this game. For the record, in fact, Harbaugh wouldn’t even touch the
matter of his next job during Tuesday’s news conference, interrupting the mandatory inquiry about whether he has been eyeing greener pastures with a quick “No, no, I’m not interested. I only want to think about the job I have. I don’t want to go through what I did last year.”
Of course, his stance is probably predicated on well-disguised bitterness over not getting the Western Kentucky job that his running backs coach, Willie
Taggart, took Monday. When that was suggested to him Tuesday, he processed the thought for a moment before absorbing the absurdity of the notion.
Harbaugh would never leave Stanford for a Sun Belt team – well, OK, maybe Middle Tennessee State.
But Saturday’s game is still Notre Dame, and though this series will expire after 2011, it will result in a likely sellout, a bizarre farewell to Weis, and a game that presents Stanford with one more chance to gild the lily it could not last weekend against Cal.
That’s it, though. Harbaugh is publicly uninterested in discussing a job that won’t be offered to him right off, if at all; Luck is just happy no disgruntled fan tried to clock him in a bar; and the angst of the Irish doesn’t much resonate inside the cocoon.
Of course, late November has never been a good time for this game to be played, but Stanford has not been in a position to get snippy about the date, as they were always the supplicants rather than the instigators in this series. Notre Dame needed a win (which it has gotten each of the last seven times) and an excuse to come west to recruit in years in which USC was playing at South Bend.
Thus, now that the Irish are breaking away from the arrangement because of their insistence on having seven home games per year, one is tempted to lament its passing, especially when one realizes that Harbaugh said he would prefer to replace the Irish with a team that would enhance the team’s victory total.
“I want to put our players at the best competitive advantage that we can,” he said when asked whether he would try to make the nonconference schedule
contain the standard sure things that dot many Top 25 teams’ portfolios. That’s code for “Yeah, we’d like a cake game here and there.”
When the schedule opens up in 2012, Harbaugh looks prepared to lean toward the extra win that seems to mollify many pollsters. That is, if he is still here, and even though he won’t even enter a chat on the subject, that remains the other sidebar of Saturday’s game.
Weis is clearly gone by all analyses, and Harbaugh is considered a longshot for the job (Brian Kelly of Cincinnati is the presumptive candidate at this point), but one more strong performance before the bowl game might offer him leverage through another high-profile offer (which won’t be Michigan). In short, if this is a job interview, it’s the last one he’ll have that a lot of people will be paying attention to.
But none of that will make much difference to Andrew Luck. He has a bilious taste in his mouth still lingering from Saturday’s Big Game, and for him Notre
Dame may as well be North Dakota. History is lost on the young, and so, sometimes, is chaos.”

Then Rick Morrissey of the ChiTrib talked about who DIDN’T want to coach the Irish. “Why would an established, successful, mostly sane football coach at a major program want the Notre Dame job?

Fighting Irish fans will bristle at the question and demand it be rephrased: Who wouldn’t want to coach at ND?

Answer: Coaches who don’t see the charm in getting hit over the head with a carnival mallet 10 times a day for five years.

There are worse things than being paid $3 million a year to be miserable. But if you’re a coach who already has tasted big success at a hefty salary somewhere else, it’s difficult to see what a move to South Bend, Ind., does for you, other than putting you and your family through Dante’s nine circles of hell.

Notre Dame is the kind of challenge that extremely competitive men are attracted to, and the challenge comes with a huge potential payoff: Restore the program, and you will be a legend. If you win a national championship, the school will commission a statue of you. You will be a bronzed god — lower-case “g,” of course.

That’s the lure, but let’s get back to the matter of scaling Mount Everest. The challenge in coaching at Notre Dame is to see if you can avoid chest pains while working in an intensely stressful environment. The challenge is to deal with the unreasonable expectations of a fan base that believes a BCS appearance should be a given every single season. The challenge is to build a consistent top-10 program when the past 13 seasons would seem to suggest thinking that way involves firing up a joint.

If you wanted any more proof that life at Notre Dame is lived in a fishbowl, you received it Monday, when word out got out that a man had punched
quarterback Jimmy Clausen outside a South Bend bar. Now this sort of thing could happen in about 50 other college towns. But what’s important is that it
happened at ND after a particularly bad loss to Connecticut during a season of bad losses.

And because it’s Notre Dame, the incident gets blown up bigger than a Macy’s parade balloon. Was the punch-thrower in a blind rage about the loss? If he
was, he was like about 100 fans I know.

Charlie Weis likely will be asked to hand in his whistle after this week’s Stanford game. Thus the hunt for the next savior is already on, at least in the media.
Florida’s Urban Meyer, who has said in the past that Notre Dame is his dream job, now says he will stay in Gainesville for as long as the university will have
him. There are dreams, and then there is the reality of having the state of Florida as your recruiting playground.

The usual suspects are popping up for the Irish job: Jon Gruden, whose father was an assistant at Notre Dame; Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly, whose name sounds
about right; and former Colts coach Tony Dungy, as if that’s going to happen.

I don’t mean to sound flippant about this. Notre Dame deserves a good coach. But a good coach doesn’t deserve to be treated the way he’s going to be
treated in South Bend. The school and its fans don’t suffer losing, even though losing has been a part of life there for quite awhile.

The last three coaches at Notre Dame have a combined record of 91-66. Weis is 35-26, Tyrone Willingham was 21-15 and Bob Davie 35-25.

Weis’ biggest sin was that he didn’t win, followed closely by the fact he was about as pleasant as a werewolf. Just to be clear, ND fans would take a
werewolf if he got the school out of the discussion for the St. Petersburg Bowl every year.

What I want to know is how everybody can be so wrong for so long about Notre Dame — the people who hire the coaches, the coaches who believe they can turn it around, the blue-chip players who choose the school, the independent talent appraisers who rate those blue-chippers. Every step seems to involve a miscalculation.

None of it is coincidence. It’s time for Notre Dame to take a good, long look at itself and take stock. And it’s time Notre Dame takes an honest look at the
landscape and realizes it never will be 1977 again. The dream of those years is being relived at football factories like Florida and Texas.

Before it begins gushing about echoes being awakened, the school needs to ask itself whether expectations for the program are unrealistic and whether it is setting up another coach for abuse.

Because Navy isn’t going anywhere, folks.”


November 26, 2009

 Nancy Armour is a National AP Writer who had a piece in the SF chronicle that gave thanks. “Devon Alexander was 7 when his mom gave in and let him join the new boxing program in his downtrodden neighborhood. He came home the first day crying, his nose bloodied from a sparring session with his friend Terrance Barker.
Fifteen years later, Alexander is the WBC 140-pound world champion.
And Barker, like so many of Alexander’s childhood friends, is dead.
Of the 30 young boys who joined Alexander day after day at that gym in the basement of the old police station, at least eight are gone forever. Another 10 are in prison or have spent time behind bars — including Alexander’s own brother.
The beauty of sports is in its power to inspire, with life-changing tales of triumph over adversity. Boxing didn’t simply alter Alexander’s life, though. It might very well have saved it.
“I think about that every day, why did God choose me? Why am I it?” Alexander said, standing a stone’s throw from a makeshift memorial to one of his old pals. “Most of the people that grow up in the ‘hood don’t believe they can make it. They just think that’s all there is to life.
“And I’m a living witness that that’s not true.”
Hyde Park in North St. Louis is the type of place that fosters despair, not dreams. Hundreds of once-proud rowhouses have been abandoned, the boards that cover their doors and windows an admission that no one will be calling them home anytime soon. Vacant lots abound and businesses are few and far between.
Money is scarce, opportunities even more so.
Alexander recognized early on that he was starting with a disadvantage, that he didn’t have many of the things most kids take for granted.
“I remember me standing by our complex one time, I walked out and there was a guy laying dead right there, by the side of my house,” Alexander said. “I remember seeing that and I was like, ‘Man.'”
And while he liked school, and was a good student, Alexander couldn’t tell you what he dreamed of being when he grew up. Doctor? Lawyer? Police officer?
Kids in his situation couldn’t afford to think that far ahead.
“I didn’t really think to be anything until I got older and I was around Kevin, who was teaching me that there was much more to life than that,” he said.
Kevin is Kevin Cunningham, now his trainer. But back in the early ’90s, when the war between the Bloods and Crips was at its height, Cunningham was a St. Louis police officer.
Patrolling the worst of St. Louis’ neighborhoods, Cunningham saw up close the toll gangs and drugs were taking. “Seeing these kids being murdered because of the color of the shirt they’re wearing, because of the color of hat they had on, it got sickening, you know?” he said.
As he rode through the dirty streets, Cunningham thought of what kept him out of trouble when he was younger. He boxed and played football before going into the Army, one season leading right into the other.
So he started a boxing program, setting up a gym in the basement of the old police station. Within three weeks, 30 kids were waiting for him at the gym each afternoon.
Few had ever seen a boxing glove before, but it hardly mattered.
“My thing was trying to instill some discipline in these kids where they could go finish high school, maybe some kids would go to college, trade school or something, to where, at the end of the day, you’re going to be a productive citizen,” Cunningham said.
Alexander showed a knack for boxing early, but he wasn’t the most naturally gifted of the group. Barker, for one, was better when they started. So, too, was Willie Ross, who won a Silver Gloves title alongside Alexander in what was Alexander’s first national tournament.
Like Barker, Ross is now dead, killed in a September 2008 shooting around the corner from the old gym.
“They were like brothers to me,” Alexander said.
In one case, it was his own brother in trouble.
Vaughn, 14 months older than Devon, was a promising boxer himself, 5-0 as a professional, fighting in Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden. The two boys once won Junior Olympic titles almost simultaneously, fighting in rings set up next to each other.
They dreamed of how boxing was going to change not only their lives, but those of everyone in their family. But like so many other kids in the neighborhood, Vaughn fell in with the wrong crowd.
Now he’s serving an 18-year sentence for, among other things, robbery and attempted robbery.
“Devon got it the first time,” Vaughn Alexander said. “He never took his eyes off that prize. He never took no wrong turns. He didn’t want to make no fast money. He didn’t want to do those things to jeopardize that No. 1 goal.”
Boxing is primal and brutal, not a sport one simply “does” like basketball or tennis. A boxer willingly absorbs dozens of blows each fight, to say nothing of the hundreds of hours of sparring and intense cardiovascular training it takes to get ready for a bout.
It takes a discipline and commitment few people have, and those who are serious are quickly separated from those who aren’t.
For Alexander, it was never a choice. He loved boxing from the first day Cunningham put the gloves on him, grinning and laughing when he heard that drumlike “pop-puh-puh-puh-pop” of leather on leather.
So when the other boys cut their training runs short, stopping as soon as Cunningham was out of sight, Alexander kept going. When everyone was urging him to “just hang out,” he kept walking.
And when his friends realized the drugs that were already all around them could be an easy means to those new clothes, sneakers and cars that every teenager wants, Alexander spent even more time at the gym.
“I don’t want to sound too perfect, but I just never wanted to do anything like that,” he said. “I played basketball sometimes, but either I was worrying about school or I was worrying about boxing.”
Just 5-foot-7, Alexander looks small in the ring. But the natural southpaw is extremely athletic, with excellent speed and enough power to win. He doesn’t get flustered, either.
England’s Junior Witter, Alexander’s opponent in the Aug. 1 fight for the WBC junior welterweight title, is an unorthodox fighter, yet Alexander handled him easily. He dominated for most of the fight until Witter retired after the eighth round, handing Alexander the title.
The American let loose with a guttural scream after the fight and then broke down, overcome by everything he’s accomplished — and endured.
It was equally emotional for Cunningham.
“All those years of driving the highways, going to tournaments, staying in hotels, doing this, doing that, you’re not thinking about a world title,” Cunningham said.
“You’re just thinking about helping the kids.”
Cunningham left the old police station back in 2000, setting up a gym in a rec center on the south side of the city. And Alexander now lives in a quiet suburb, a 20-mile move that may as well have been 2,000.
But memories of the neighborhood and the boys who didn’t make it out are never far away, trailing after him like ghosts.
Tucked in his massive scrapbook, between photos and stories about the many triumphs of “Alexander the Great,” are programs from Ross and Barker’s funerals. Posters from some of Alexander’s amateur fights still hang in the gym, his young face alongside those of boys who are now dead or in prison.
“I’m the only one standing now. It saddens me to see that, but it motivates me at the same time,” Alexander said. “God said to whom much is given, much is asked. I know I’ve got to do a lot, because I’m the only one here.”

David White, a SF Chronicle staff writer, talked about the Dallas overhanging scoreboard. “Raiders punter Shane Lechler was called out Tuesday, double-dog-dare-style, by Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, of all the dull people.
Hit the overhanging scoreboard at sparkling new Cowboys Stadium? Phillips said fat chance when the Raiders play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, or any other day.
“Oh, I don’t think he’s gonna hit it if he kicks it,” Phillips said in a teleconference. “I mean, nobody’s even come close except that guy that kicked it straight up in preseason to try to hit it.”
But Lechler isn’t some nobody. He’s certainly not some reserve Titans punter named A.J. Trapasso, who hit the 160-foot-long video board 90 feet above the field in the stadium’s first exhibition game.
Lechler is a four-time Pro Bowler with the boomingest leg in the NFL. Ninety lousy feet from field level? Please. If anyone is going to be the first punter to dent the scoreboard during a regular-season game, it’s going to be Lechler.
He’s the one with enough hang time to average 51.5 yards per punt, one-tenth of a yard ahead of Sammy Baugh’s 69-year-old single-season record. He’s the one who’s been talking about this game since the preseason, when 49ers punter Andy Lee told him how drillable that board was.
“Yeah, I could hit it,” Lechler said. “If that guy in Tennessee can hit it, I can hit it. I talked to Andy, and he said it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
The question, then is, will Lechler take aim for the same reason people climb mountains – just because it’s there?
“No, I’m not going to go for it on purpose,” Lechler said. “That is being really selfish that way. If I hit it, I hit it. It’s kind of a tough spot to put our guys in, though.”
By guys, Lechler means the punt-coverage team. The gunners have to sprint 50 to 60 yards downfield on most punts. If a punt hits the video board, the play is dead and they have to rekick.
You try sprinting all-out half a field a few times, and then immediately take the field on defense.
“I would love for him to get air on the ball, but then we have to do it all over again,” gunner Hiram Eugene said. “It kind of gives them an advantage, because we’re the ones who are running down there.”
The Cowboys’ punt-return team has advantage enough in Patrick Crayton, who ranks second in the NFL with 14.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns.
The higher and longer the punt, the more time the coverage team has to get downfield and stop Crayton before he slices through with a vertical burst.
So, Lechler doesn’t want to hit the board so his cover men don’t burn out. And he doesn’t want to hit it too low and straight so his cover men don’t get burned.
So go ahead, Lechler. Make Phillips’ day.
“I don’t think you can even worry about it,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said. “You’ve just got to let it rip. How do you kick around something that big?”

Bill Conlin, of the Philly Daily News, is passing along some thoughts on this year’s crop of MLB free agents. “THE GREAT FREE agent-auction of 2009
began last Friday. There were 171 ballplayers hoping – no, praying – their agents would be able to leverage them into a lucrative change of scene.
If the majority of these arms, bats and gloves for sale were casks of aged Bordeaux wine instead of ballplayers, this would be a year of rare vintages, indeed.
But this class of Fordeaux has so much age you’ll be able to smell the liniment this spring training if the wind is just right.
A year ago, Phillies rookie GM Ruben Amaro burst on the scene like a meteor, taking a big bite out of his budget to sign 36-year-old outfielder Raul Ibanez to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract. The late-arriving but loyal Pat Burrell Fan Club was incensed. But by the All-Star Game, Ibanez was on the short list of
National League MVP candidates – they were bellowing “Raaaaaaaaaaooooool” like everybody else.
Amaro fired one of the first shots of a free-agent season where the reeling U.S. economy has drawn a curtain of caution over what many clubs will be willing to spend for the 2010 season. I have a feeling that this will be a very good time for hot rookie prospects to come out of spring training with roster spots.
Look no further than the length of tooth of this doddering class than to conclude young, home-grown, big-league minimum players will get long, hard looks.
And when pitchers and catchers report in mid-February and the equivalent of 6.84 major league rosters lining up at the trough, scores of them will still be looking for their deal.
Here are some very hard numbers:
* Just 10 free agents are under 30 years old, but none younger than starter Rich Harden, 27. They include starting pitcher Brett Myers, outfielder Rocco
Baldelli, first baseman Hank Blalock and the class president, outfielder Matt Holliday. Blalock played all but one game at first and DH last season, but bear in mind the ex-Rangers slugger made two AL All-Star teams as a third baseman.
* There are 60 free agents over 35. It’s a vast, mostly undistinguished, group that has started the swift toboggan ride toward the waiver wire. Mike Hampton or Nomar Garciaparra anyone?
* Eleven free agents are over 40, snow-capped by 46-year-old Randy Johnson, who last season almost certainly became the last 300-game winner we will ever see. Somebody will pay the 303-game winner $5 million to spot start.
* There are 16 free-agent third basemen. The most topical for Phillies purposes is Pedro Feliz, who showed up in Charlie Manuel’s starting lineup in 158 of 162 regular-season games coming off back surgery. The rocket-armed veteran gave Ryan Howard letter-high throws at first and was the most productive No. 7 hitter in the NL with 82 RBI while leading the Phillies with a .336 average when batting with runners in scoring position. Amaro set off a lively debate among his front-office advisers when he declined to pick up Pedro’s $5 million option for 2010. For a few days, I thought Ruben was crazy like a fox. With the glut of free agents at the position, it seemed unlikely Feliz would be offered a starting job for that kind of money. I envisioned a scenario where Amaro would sign good-fit 3B/utility jack-of-most-positions Mark DeRosa. Then he might be able to re-sign Feliz to play third and late innings for a lower number when DeRosa is plugging other holes. However, I’m told Feliz was so hurt by being dumped after playing for two World Series teams he would not consider returning.
It gets worse when you look over the other free-agent third basemen. Feliz led all of them with his 82 RBI. He tied Chone Figgins – not a economic option, according to Amaro – with 158 games played. Pedro was third in extra-base hits (44) in a tight cluster with DeRosa (47) and Juan Uribe (46). Although Uribe is listed with the third basemen, he played 79 games at second and short last season, as opposed to 44 at third. Juan also has some pop and with his versatility and age (30) could attract a lot of suitors. Amaro does not appear inclined to get into bidding wars, which is how he wound up with Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay last July.
For out-of-the-box thinkers, Blalock could be a wild card. In 2005, Hank made just 11 errors in 158 games at third. In 2004, he slammed 32 homers and drove in 110. But a shoulder injury cut deeply into his 2007 and ’08 seasons and hitting machine Michael Young was moved to third base. Combine that with Blalock’s 2009 salary of $6.2 million and it’s probably a never-mind. But he is just 29 and belted 25 homers last season in 495 at-bats.
There are so many free agents straining at the starting line Ruben could even fill most positions with an Ed Wade Era team consisting of outfielders Marlon
Byrd, Endy Chavez and Jason Michaels; first baseman Jim Thome, second baseman Placido Polanco; starters Paul Byrd, Eric Milton, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf; relievers Bruce Chen and Billy Wagner.
Unfortunately, setup man Ugueth Urbina, acquired by Wade for Polanco, is eligible for neither free agency nor freedom at this time. ”

Tom Robinson wrote on about one of the few things about which the Lions can feel good. “I’m in, I mean, if there’s still room in Matthew Stafford’s fan club.
It’s got to be getting crowded in there.
Before Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Lions quarterback was no more to me and most people than a highly touted rookie on a lowly team operating far from the national consciousness.
Suddenly, Stafford is the epitome of sports’ cliched triumvirate – grit, guts and heart. At a tender 21, eight starts into his NFL career, Stafford’s name just
became analogous to the age-old athlete’s creed of suck it up and play on.
Arm hanging off? Facemask twisted north as you’re headed south? WWSD – What Would Stafford Do? Why, he’d tell his doctors where to stick their
X-rays, go win the game and re-attach the necessities later.
What a man.
Until Sunday, of course, the draft’s No. 1 pick following three seasons at the University of Georgia was moving predictably along his stop-and-go
Some good things – a 296-yard passing day. Some bad – five interceptions in one game, a banged-up knee – all under cover of the Losin’ Lions’ relative
Assuming he wasn’t at some point snapped in two – and even then you now have to wonder – Stafford was going to come out of this season the same as most rookies who are tossed straight into starting roles, with bruises and a bona fide hard-knocks education.
That all changed in the instant aftermath of Stafford’s inspired and inspiring effort in Detroit’s crazy 38-37 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Now Stafford represents nothing less than the can-do, never-say-uncle spirit of his challenged city.
You’ve seen the replay sequence, yes? You’ll remember it, for sure:
Barely able to stand upright because of what appeared to be a broken collarbone or a separated left shoulder, Stafford threw for a game-tying touchdown with no time left on the clock.
He did this after basically escaping from the Lions’ medical staff, in mid-exam, to re-enter the fray.
Seconds before, Stafford had been planted by a Browns’ tackler after an extended scramble and a last-play prayer that was intercepted in the end zone. But because Cleveland was flagged for pass interference, the Lions were given one more shot from the 1.
No way Stafford would be there to run it: he had already careened off the field grimacing, leaning over to soothe his pain, and signaling for backup Daunte
But as stunned Browns coach Eric Mangini called a stunning time out supposedly to set his defense, Stafford took that break to steel himself for his defining moment. If it was an old Western, Stafford would have gulped a shot of bourbon and chomped down on a bullet.
He jogged back out, told Culpepper to scram and quickly delivered the tying TD pass, which was followed by the winning point-after kick.
Then, after setting the rookie record with 422 yards passing and tying the rookie mark with five touchdown throws, Stafford collapsed as a rainbow appeared above Ford Field…
OK, I made up that collapsing-under-the-rainbow part.
But believe this: as much as we assume Stafford hurts today – he’s obviously questionable for Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day game – the Lions feel that
much bliss knowing he plays for them.”


November 24, 2009

Dan Shaughnessy talked about today’s Larry Bird. “Larry Bird was not in the house when Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and 2 from his 28. Even though Bird works just a few blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium, he has never been to a game there.
“But I watch ’em all,’’ he said Saturday night before his Pacers beat the Celtics at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“My son is a big Patriots fan,’’ said Bird. “He’s screaming and hollering and all that stuff. I always go with the Colts, but I never want any Boston team to lose, so I’m stuck in between. Even when my beloved Cardinals were playing the Red Sox [2004 World Series], I was like, ‘I can’t lose here.’ I just wanted the best team to win.
“I’ll tell you what, though. That Manning is good. I know Brady’s good, but Manning is unbelievable. There’s times when guys will be running and just turn and the ball is there for a 40-yard gain. That shows me that in the summertime, them guys spend a lot of time together. Those things don’t just happen.’’
Bird has been back in the news in Boston because of “When The Game Was Ours,’’ a book he authored with Magic Johnson. Actually, that’s something of a fib because former Globie Jackie MacMullan did all the actual writing. The tome is about to hit The New York Times bestseller list.
Magic got headlines for calling out Isiah Thomas (“I will never trust him again’’) in the book. Larry’s most controversial stuff appears on Page 151 when he rips Cedric Maxwell for not working hard to come back from knee surgery during the failed championship run of 1985.
“He got his money and he quit,’’ said Bird.
Standing in the hallway outside the Pacers locker room, just a 3-pointer away from where Max was preparing to do the radio broadcast Saturday night, Bird did not back away from his remarks.
“He did quit on us,’’ said No. 33. “You can ask everybody. Everybody was mad at Max in the Finals that year. It was disruptive. You get a chance to win a championship . . .
“It was about him not wanting to play more, more than anything else. I like Max. But he quit. I’ve said it to him a million times. He quit on us. He says I quit on him, but that trade – I didn’t have nothing to do with it.’’
Red Auerbach dealt Maxwell to the Clippers for Bill Walton after the ’85 Finals.
“Max always talks about Bill Walton. I had nothing to do with that. Red said, ‘Do you think Bill Walton can help us?’ and I said, ‘Yeah. If he’s healthy, we
win a championship.’ That’s all I ever said about it.’’
What about Magic’s stunning takedown of Isiah?
“That’s between them two,’’ said Bird. “I don’t know nothing about it. I don’t even know Isiah. I just know Magic from commercials. I’ve been around him
more now than I ever had. I just asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s been inside me for a long time. I want to get it out there.’ ’’
Bird had only great things to say about the person who actually wrote the book.
“When we decided to do it, I said to Earvin, ‘Let’s get Jackie. No bull. She gets her work done. She’ll be calling you all the time to get it going. But if you can
put up with that, don’t worry about the book.’ She knows what she’s doing. She’s good. She goes after it.’’
MacMullan got Bird to admit for the first time that: 1. He’d never seen an escalator until 1978 when he walked into the Indianapolis Hyatt to talk to the Pacers after his junior season at Indiana State; 2. His mom was a big fan of Bill Laimbeer, whom Larry hated; 3. After the Celtics won the 1986 championship, Walton sat alone in Bird’s kitchen drinking Wild Turkey until after the sun came up.
I told Bird I didn’t believe the Walton story. Simply too good to be true.
“Yeah, it happened,’’ he said. “After we won, me and Dinah went out to K.C. Jones’s restaurant. He had a rib place. I had two beers. Remember how we
stopped drinking that year?’’ – the ’86 Celtics swore off alcohol for their playoff run – “Well, I had two beers and they didn’t even taste good. I was tired, anyway, so I went home an hour later.
“Bill came over. It was late. Doorbell rang and Dinah answered and she was like, ‘Hey, Bill. Larry’s in bed.’ I heard him, so I go out and I said, ‘Hey, man I
ain’t doing this tonight. I can’t.’ He goes, ‘Don’t worry about it. I don’t even need you. I’m just going to sit down here at the table.’ He had a bottle of whiskey.
And he said, ‘I’ll be here when you wake up.’ And he was.
Greatest story ever.
As for his 2009 Pacers, Bird said, “We’re rebuilding and people tend to forget that. We have a plan, and after next year we’re going to have a lot of money
and I want to get a core of guys here to build with and hopefully take seven or eight of ’em with us going forward, and if we can do that, I think we’ll be better.’’
The Pacers are still recovering from the melee at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004.
“It changed everything,’’ said Bird. “It hit harder here than you can ever imagine. It not only killed our fan base, but everything we tried to do that year to win.
We felt we were very talented. It just stopped on that night. We had a decent bench and good players and felt we were going to make a great playoff run, but it all stopped.’’
Bird’s son is a high school senior and wants to go to Indiana University. Larry Bird quit IU after only 24 days of his freshman year.
“I told him, ‘If you get in, I hope you last longer than I did,’ ’’ Bird said, chuckling. “I don’t think the Birds do too well at IU.’’
His daughter is a high school junior.
“She’s already looking at different schools,’’ said Bird. “I saw her on the Internet today and I was like, ‘What’s that?’ And she said, ‘That’s BU, Dad.’ I said, ‘I’d like to see you go there.’ ’’
Me, too. Just to see the look on Larry’s face when he gets his first tuition bill from Boston University.”

Mark Medina, of the LA Times, said that Ari Fleischer has a really uphill battle this time. “When your job was to present controversial policies such as the Iraq war, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and No Child Left Behind in the most positive light, it’s probably not asking too much for former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer to defend the Bowl Championship Series.

Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, a sports public relations firm that works with NFL and Major League Baseball teams, was hired Saturday by new BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock to “highlight the positive aspects of the BCS.”

Fleischer may have trouble declaring mission accomplished, because this college football issue doesn’t just fall on party lines.

Even if they disagree on many national issues, Democrats and Republicans alike at least share similar views on the BCS.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) chaired a hearing last spring to protest a system that entails six of the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences having guaranteed spots in the five BCS games.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) sponsored a bill deeming the national championship game invalid if it’s not determined by a playoff, comparing the current system to communism.

Then again, Fleischer is used to standing against a wave of opposition.

Tweeted Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel: “I love that the BCS, the most unpopular entity in sports, hired a guy who worked under the most unpopular president in history.”

“Soccer players just can’t be trusted to be honest and Thierry Henry proved that by choosing to play volleyball against Ireland, blatantly handling the ball for the goal that sent France to the World Cup.
Cheating, plain and simple. More proof, if it was needed, that soccer needs far better on-field policing.”
AP sports writer John Leicester wrote about the french (lower case f) cheating:    “Something has got to be done,” says Graham Barber, a former Premier League and FIFA referee with hands-on experience of dealing with Henry.
The answer is not video replays. Video could have helped in Paris on Wednesday night, because replays clearly showed France’s captain steering the ball with  his left forearm and hand onto his right foot for the pass that William Gallas then headed in.
But video isn’t always clear-cut. More importantly, stopping every few minutes to consult replays would ruin the flow of the game.
Soccer isn’t tennis. Technology works in that sport because play has already stopped when players use the high-tech Hawkeye system to challenge linesmen’s calls.
But in soccer, play often continues after shirt-pulling, dives, handballs and other fouls that could, in theory, be spotted on video when missed by referees. That action flows one after another, end to end, is part of soccer’s magic. Stop-start, stop-start shouts from referees of “Hang on a second, let’s pause and take a few seconds to look at that on television” would be a disaster. Might as well toss in commercial breaks while we’re at it, too.
Barber says frequent referrals to video would be like “pulling the emergency chain on the train if someone spilled a cup of coffee.”
“I don’t think video cameras will work because it won’t work for the game,” he says.
But adding more officials now makes more sense than ever.
Henry most likely would have been caught red-handed had the two extra assistant referees being experimented with this season in European club soccer been employed for this World Cup playoff.
The additional eyes in UEFA’s Europa League specifically watch the goal area. Radios link the assistants to the referee.
The Swedish firefighter who officiated at Stade de France, Martin Hansson, was 20 yards away when Henry used his hand, too far to see. The view of
Hansson’s assistant on the touchline also was seemingly obscured by Gallas as he rushed in to head the goal. Until that horrible mistake, Hansson had an
excellent match, seemingly unfazed by the 79,000-strong crowd.
But an extra official alongside the goal, as in the Europa League, could have been perfectly placed to disallow Gallas’ vital score that broke Irish hearts.
“Whatever happens people will make mistakes. If you have 10 officials around the field, people will still make mistakes,” Barber says. “But the more eyes you
can have on it, the better.”
The players themselves also could be doing far more to keep play fair.
Rather than immediately tell the referee that he had broken the rules of the game, Henry charged off in celebration behind Irish ’keeper Shay Given’s goal, spreading his arms wide with joy. After the match restarted, chants of “Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!” rang out from the thousands of Irish fans when Henry next touched the ball.
Belatedly, after the match, France’s record goal scorer confessed that he’d handled. He said the ball “bounced” onto his hand, although it looked intentional.
As if to excuse his actions, the Barcelona forward recalled that he had been on the receiving end of a similar injustice when he played his club soccer for
Arsenal in England. He seemed amused when a reporter asked him if he’d considered saying something straight away to the referee.
“I stop, speak to him and then pass (to Gallas)? You’re funny,” he said.
Barber recalls yellow-carding Henry for a dive in the 2003 FA Cup final and says the player acknowledged afterward that the caution was deserved.
“I do think that Thierry Henry is an honorable man,” he says.
But the sad truth is that many players, like Henry, also do whatever they can to get away with fouls and unjust decisions. Ireland defender Sean St. Ledger
acknowledged as much, in speaking about Henry’s handball.
“If it had been one of our team we’d have probably done the same,” the Times of London quoted him as saying.
So bring on more officials, or the cheats will continue to prosper.”
Bruce Jenkins said, in the SF Chronicle, “Just for starters, the matchup was a farce. France and Ireland shouldn’t be playing each other for the right to enter the World Cup; they should be automatics, every time, right along with Brazil, England, Italy and at least a dozen others. Qualifying rounds are one thing. Cruelty is quite another.
Worse yet, the Irish outplayed the French in that desperately important game Wednesday night. They were the better team and they got cheated out of their rightful place in South Africa. Picture Derek Jeter getting busted for breaking into the Yankees’ offices and stealing a few C-notes out of some executive’s drawer. Then you can understand the worldwide shock surrounding Thierry Henry’s unfathomable act.
Henry once joined Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Jeter for advertisements in a Gillette campaign; such is the extent of his reputation in soccer. For years, notably with Arsenal in the English Premier League, he was a silky-smooth scorer with an uncanny feel for the game. He was part of the French team, along with Zinedine Zidane, that won the 1998 World Cup in France.
That team is now tarnished by bitter memories. Zidane may have handed the 2006 World Cup final to Italy with his inexcusable head-butt of Marco Materazzi.
And now this: Henry not just using his hand to control a ball near Ireland’s net, but literally guiding it into passing position. It set up William Gallas’
match-winning goal in the 104th minute and touched off a firestorm in Ireland, to say nothing of the widespread locales – particularly here in the
United States – where Irish football is the essence of life.
There have been calls to replay the game, a difficult and awkward solution that was officially rejected Friday. Because Swedish referee Martin Hansson and his assistants so blatantly missed the play, many felt Henry (who later admitted his transgression) should have approached Hansson immediately, in the name of fairness (no such luck there). The obvious answer is to use the replay technology so readily available, and perhaps FIFA will adopt that strategy in the future, but it’s a little bit late for Ireland, where hearts have been broken and a bunch of scrappy, passionate athletes have been robbed.
I’ll admit being partial to Ireland, with the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Kevin Doyle and goalkeeper Shay Given, but I feel that way about any team
that stirs the soul: the Dutch with Marco van Basten and Ronald Koeman, the Portuguese with Luis Figo, the Croatians in ’98, Ivory Coast (with Didier Drogba) this year, the Spaniards with Fernando Torres, the Argentines with Lionel Messi, the English with Wayne Rooney, the Brazilians or Italians any time.
That’s what the World Cup should be about: an assemblage of the compelling. Ireland is among the teams that should always be there, just on principle. In the wake of Wednesday’s travesty, the sport trudges on in disgrace.”

Steve Kelley wrote, in the Seattle Times, about David Beckham’s relations with his LA Galaxy (MLS) teammates and fans. “When David Beckham made his midsummer return to Los Angeles, he understood the mess awaiting him. He knew he was coming back to a team desperate for answers.
He knew he had to repair his relationship with the Galaxy fans and with his team’s leading scorer, Landon Donovan.
The fans felt he bailed on them last season when the team went nowhere and Beckham went on loan to A.C. Milan. And in Grant Wahl’s book, “The
Beckham Experiment,” Donovan questioned Beckham’s dedication to the team.
In a one-on-one interview Thursday night in a meeting room of a downtown hotel, Beckham, gracious and relaxed, wearing a blue sports coach and dress shirt, talked about the turbulence and the turnaround he has experienced in his third MLS season.
“Without a doubt I knew that there was going to be a meeting once I arrived back in Los Angeles,” Beckham said, wearing a protective boot on his right foot, tender from a recent bone bruise. “And, rightly enough, there actually was a meeting the day I arrive in L.A. and we got it out of the way. I said my feelings to him (Donovan) at the time.
“It got sorted out, literally the day I arrived back. Landon apologized and said he shouldn’t have said it. Then we swept it under the carpet and moved on.
Landon’s a great player and a great person and he’s showed it this year.”
There may not be a bigger name, or more recognizable face in the sports world than Beckham’s. His arrival in MLS was supposed to give the league more credibility, more exposure. But was this the kind of buzz the league really wanted? Was this more distraction than attraction?
“This is the first time we’ve ever had anything like that,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said Thursday when asked about the Beckham-Donovan dust-up. “It didn’t disturb me at all. If anything I was surprised a bit that it garnered the attention that it did.
“I kind of put that in the big-boy problem category.”
Beckham said he puts the brouhaha in the all-publicity-is-good-publicity department.
“Something like this,” he said, “well, you need the exposure to the league and the exposure to the sport, and this definitely brought a little of that.”
After addressing his differences with Donovan, Beckham won back the hearts of Los Angeles’ soccer fans by doing what he does — bending dangerous
services into the box, leading the team through the teeth of the regular season, past the playoffs and into Sunday’s MLS Cup against Real Salt Lake, at Qwest Field.
They jeered him heartily at Home Depot Center when he first returned this summer, but he got standing ovations as the Galaxy got past Chivas USA and
Houston on its way to Seattle.
Beckham has survived the melodrama.
“It was hostile when I first came back this year, and I knew it would be,” Beckham said. “I was kind of looking forward to it because I’m able to respond under a little bit of pressure.”
Beckham not only is a superstar, he is a survivor. He has grown accustomed to the tabloid life, to the people who question his motives for everything from his hairstyle, to his tattoos, to his wardrobe.
In his first two summers playing in the States, when the Galaxy foundered, many people questioned Beckham’s decision to come to Los Angeles.
“People came up to me after my first few months and after my first year here and asked me if I regretted my decision to come here and play,” said Beckham, who will start in the Galaxy’s central midfield. “And they still ask me the same question now. And I’ve always said, ’No, I don’t.’
“I’m still enjoying playing here. I think you always go through difficult times, in life, in your work and with people, and it’s about how you handle yourself.”
Beckham, who has 115 caps for England, cares enough about the Galaxy that he passed on a chance to play for England in a friendly match in Doha, Qatar
against Brazil last week, choosing to play in the MLS semifinal against Houston.
“David’s meant a lot for Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “He clearly is one of the key factors that has elevated Major League Soccer to where it is today.
“I don’t believe we’d have the awareness … or the international credibility that we have, had we not been able to sign David in 2007.”
There is always the thought in some people’s minds that European stars coming to the States to play soccer are on the slippery slope toward the end of their careers. That the MLS experience is a paid holiday in the twilight years.
But players like Beckham and Sounders FC’s Freddie Ljungberg and Kasey Keller brought life to the league. And they’ve shown they still have life in their games.
“I think there’s times, especially in the mornings, when you’re aching a little bit more,” Beckham, 34, said. “But I feel as fresh as I did when I was 24. And I’m still enjoying my soccer. I don’t ever want to be seen as that way (on holiday).
“I came over here when I was 32, and that’s still quite young for a soccer player. I still work as hard as I did when I was 24. My determination and mentality haven’t changed at all in the years.”
Beckham, who won the treble — European League, English Premiership and FA Cup — with Manchester United in 1999, was asked where the MLS Cup
fits in his professional bucket list.
“I’ve been lucky to play with some of the best players and win some of the biggest trophies in my sport, and it never gets old,” he said. The storm has passed.
The mess has been addressed. David Beckham is doing what he came to Los Angeles and to Major League Soccer to do.”


November 22, 2009

Steve Buckley from the BOSTON (take everything with a grain of salt) Herald said, “No doubt about it: Those slugfests that have taken place between the
Patriots and Indianapolis Colts this decade have made for an intense and historic rivalry.
But it is important that we understand that, as rivalries go, this one is as fleeting as an Eric Mangini coaching tenure.
In other words, this Pats-Colts rivalry is going to end the very day Peyton Manning retires. And then, a few years after that, aging Pats fans will be saying, “Remember when a game against the Colts used to be a big deal?”
The subject has particular relevance this week for no other reason than because the Pats’ most recent game was their 35-34 loss to the Colts last Sunday. It will be remembered as the Fourth-and-2 Bowl, and we’ll be talking about it for years.
But come tomorrow, the Pats will engage in the continuation of a rivalry that we’ll be talking about for years. The New York Jets come to Foxboro, and the
beauty of it all is that while coaches and players and owners and stadiums come and go, the rivalry remains intact.
Now let’s say this again, so there is no confusion: For now, Pats vs. Colts is one great big Gigantor of a football rivalry. But it’s Manning who holds the rivalry together. The quarterback broke into the NFL in 1998; prior to that, Pats fans didn’t set their watches and day planners around the next Colts game.
The beauty of Pats vs. Jets, beyond the obvious Boston-New York thing, is that it’s a rivalry that dates back to the inaugural 1960 American Football League season, when the then-Boston Patriots and the then-New York Titans were original franchises.
The first-ever game between the teams was in Week 2 of the 1960 season, with the Pats emerging with a 28-24 victory. Later that season, the Pats hung a
38-21 victory over the Titans.
It’s the characters, not just the games, that make Pats vs. Jets so special. We’re talking about Bill Parcells spending the week leading up to Super Bowl XXXI lining up his exodus from the Pats in order to coach . . . the Jets.
We’re talking about the infamous speakerphone press conference at Weeb Ewbank Hall. We’re talking about Bill Belichick resigning as HC of the NYJ.
We’re talking about Jets president Steve Gutman suggesting that Belichick was having a nervous breakdown.
We’re talking about Curtis Martin going to the Jets. We’re talking about Eric Mangini . . . and Eric Mangini . . . and Eric Mangini. Handshakes and
New characters: Rex Ryan takes over as head man of the Jets and makes it known he has no intention of kissing Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
After practice had ended yesterday at Gillette Stadium, running back Laurence Maroney was asked which rivalry he thinks is the biggest and baddest: Pats-Colts or Pats-Jets?
“I treat every game the same, don’t get me wrong, but you can tell what the big games are,” he said.
“I know it’s a big rivalry,” he said of Pats-Jets. “You hear about it every day. But to me, it’s just another team to go out and play hard against. No matter what team we’re playing . . .”
Blah, blah, blah.
Maroney finally answered the question.
“People around here do not like the Colts,” he finally said. “But they despise the Jets.”
Talk to Steve Nelson and those guys from the old days. They hated the Jets.
And they always will. Pats-Jets will be a big deal for as long as there is an NFL, and it’s all good, clean fun. When Peyton says goodbye, say goodbye to the
Then Ron Borges, also from the Boston Herald, said: “If phone interview transcripts are to be believed, not everyone analyzing and dissecting pro football in this town understands what they’re looking at.
The latest example was a week-long tempest in a teapot regarding whether New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis stopped Randy Moss what seems like a century ago in a 16-9 upset of the Patriots in the Meadowlands.
Revis held Moss to four catches for 24 yards. Understandably, the third-year player has grown testy about having to defend himself for having a good game against one of the premier receivers in football. Who wouldn’t be?
After that Week 2 game, Moss proved as sly at the podium as he is on the field, claiming Revis didn’t stop him but rather was the recipient of help over the top.
“There really are no shutdown corners in the league because they have help most of the game,” Moss said then. “I mean, I probably could be a shutdown
corner if I had (Pats safety Brandon) Meriweather over the top the whole game.”
Some in these parts took that to mean Revis was not in man coverage. This became a cause because some folks around here will never let it be said that
anyone had a good game against or, Lord help us, simply beat the home team. There always has to be a caveat, which is often spelled E-X-C-U-S-E.
In pursuit of that, an ESPN Boston reporter asked Revis on Wednesday to “set the record straight” on whether he was in man coverage “the entire time.”
Revis attacked the questioner the same way he had Moss – one-on-one.
“I’m asking you a question,” Revis snapped. “Do you know football?”
“Maybe parts of it but not that part of it,” the reporter replied.
“OK, so do you know defensive coverages?” Revis asked.
“Not very well,” the reporter replied.
In that case, let’s clear up a few things. First, no cornerback, including Deion Sanders or Michael Haynes – two of the best ever – was in single coverage “the entire time,” which Revis never claimed.
What Moss and Patriots coach Bill Belichick know is “safety help over the top” is not double coverage. Revis was in man-under, meaning he was man-to-man on Moss but a safety behind was doing his job, hence the name safety.
In cover-1, all but one defensive back is man-to-man. One DB, usually but not always a safety, plays deep and reacts to what happens in front of him, while
the other often heads for the quarterback, a flexibility coaches like the Jets’ Rex Ryan love. So, like most things in football and in life, the truth was in the details and somewhere south of what was said.
Was Revis in cover-0, or straight man-to-man, the entire game? No, he was not. Was Moss double-covered all game? No, he was not. Revis was in
man-under much of the time, jumping Moss’ routes early and trying to get physical, which always has given the wideout trouble. Playing deep behind all the defensive backs was one safety, usually Kerry Rhodes. Once the ball was in the air was he supposed to stare at it like Euclid studying the parabola, or go toward it?
Truth be told, and rewatching the tape makes this clear, Revis didn’t need help because he was all over Moss’ routes. He had a good day; Moss has had many.
Can we move on now?
This “debate” when there really was none is what happens when you bend yourself into a pretzel in an attempt to explain a simple fact.
As one great athlete once succinctly stated, “Those guys got big houses, too.” What he meant was there are good players on every team and sometimes ones not wearing red, white and blue have a good day. If they do, give them credit and move on. Randy Moss will have many more of them himself, perhaps even tomorrow afternoon.
If he does, it won’t matter whether Darrelle Revis has help over the top. If Revis has a good day, it still may not be good enough. What is sure is this: You don’t have to use semantics to try and rewrite history or explain what was not only obvious nine weeks ago but clear on tape.
Darrelle Revis won Round 1. Tomorrow is Round 2. Let’s see if he’s ready for what Randy Moss has for him this time

Bill Conlin wrote in the Philly Daily News about a massacre of baseball records “There is a scene in “The Godfather” where Vito Corleone has just called in the favor owed him by Amerigo Bonasero, the undertaker. He is to use all his powers to make the ambushed Sonny presentable for a traditional “family” viewing.
He draws back the sheet covering his son and sobs for the only time in the film.
The Godfather says, “Look how they massacred my boy . . . ”
That weird and disconnected image popped into my head when the BBWAA announced yesterday that Giants contortionist and party animal Tim Lincecum has won his second straight NL Cy Young Award. Not too shabby when you consider the undersized contradiction of everything scouts look for in a righthander has now won it twice in his three big-league seasons.
This time he did it with 15 victories – 15-7 to be exact – 2 days after Kansas City righthander Zack Greinke won the AL Cy with 16 Ws. Greinke had just tied D’Backs 2006 winner Brandon Webb (more on him later) for the fewest victories in a full regular season by a Cy Young winner. Well, records were made to be broken, right? And Lincecum greased under the Webb-Greinke bottom shelf in the pantheon of pitching paucity.
I pictured Bud Selig whipping a mortician’s sheet off a record book that has become as riddled as the .44 caliber corpse of Sonny Corleone. Records
sundered by the move from the 154-game schedule to 162 . . . Pages mutilated by the needle-tracks of the Steroid Era, a huge spike that began with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa andro-a-andro and went from the suspiciously sublime to the no-doubt-about-it ridiculous when Barry Bonds turned baseball’s toughest home run park into the Pac Bell phone booth . . . And now that the postseason has been extended to a possible 19 games for the World Series survivors, Mr. October has become Mr. Octember. Those Series records set before the Pastime went the best-of-5 LCS format, to best-of-7 and, finally, to the best-of-5 division series are now stale toast.
All of it meanders over so much down time to accommodate a second-tier cable network that the Phillies actually had to play a simulated game to keep the lads sharp for the NLCS. The Yankees’ 15-game march to a 27th World Series title was spread over 29 days. Hell, Joe Girardi might have been able to get away with a two-man rotation if TBS and Fox had decreed a few more lay days to prop up their sagging ratings.
So I pictured that shredded repository of all that is Scriptural about baseball, the lengthened shadow of fine print that comprises its history and greatness. 
And I muttered, “Look at how they’ve massacred our record book.”
The only group walking the Earth scarier than the Global-Warmingistas are the Pitch-Countniks.
They’re the reason the games are an ugly, split-screen parade of pitching-coach visits, manager slow-walks, followed by pitcher-after-pitcher marching in from the bullpens. Left-right, left-right, backward-march. At the same time – and thank you Charlie for such a useful, boomerang segue – the fans are parading to the concession stands. Does anybody think there is a connection to the NFL pace baseball is forcing on its game to the frequent late-inning stoppages that have turned the eighth and ninth innings into the final 2 minutes of an NBA game? I’m waiting for the MLB Rules Committee to put in a 20-second timeout so the on-deck hitter can stroll back to the dugout for instructions.
It goes without saying that the 300-game winner will take its place with the dinosaur, auk and dodo. The 250-game winner is sure to become as endangered as the Florida panther. The next 30-game winner? Denny McLain, your 31-6 is safe.
Ponder this little bit of shrinkage:
The player walkout in 1994 that led to the scrapping of the postseason and an abridged 1995 schedule left the Atlanta Braves sitting on 114 games. Greg
Maddux missed approximately 12 starts. But he won the Cy Young Award with a 16-6 record. He had 10 complete games.
The infamous walkout of 1981 that produced Dallas Green’s “split-fluffing season” and foreshadowed the coming of the wild card and division series format ripped 50 games out from the heart of the schedule. Fernando Valenzuela won the Cy with a 13-7 mark. The Dodgers lefthander was deprived of 10 starts.
He had 11 complete games.
Tim had a career high four complete games.
Meanwhile, you may have noticed that Brandon Webb, runnerup to Lincecum last year with 22 victories (four more than Tim managed), worked four innings last season, gave up six runs, six hits and finally had shoulder surgery about 4 months too late. The D’Backs have nervously picked up his expensive 2010 option. Two-time AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana was at the head of the Mets’ massive casualty list. He had elbow surgery in August and has 5 years left on his $137.5 million contract.
Match these enormous multiyear fiascos with the probabilities of pitchers breaking down and you have the root cause of why the 20-game winner, 300-game winner and 300-inning pitcher will vanish faster than the setting sun.
Dr. James R. Andrews and Dr. Frank Jobe understand.
They are to a game controlled by Scott Boras at one end and Bud Selig at the other what Amerigo Bonasero was to Vito Corleone.
Where is Michael when baseball needs him?”

Tom Knott of the DC Times said that, “We love the brutality of football – the sight of a head-hunting free safety taking out a vulnerable wide receiver who is cutting across the middle of the field and has his eyes on the football.
That is a John Madden-speak moment.
Ka-pow. Boom.
That rawness comes with the awful long-term price of scrambled brains.
Concussions are a way of football life, starting in high school.
Although football’s headgear is constantly being improved, the players are faster, larger and stronger, their collisions ever more violent.
An Associated Press investigation on the concussion plague in the NFL – 160 players were surveyed – concluded that nearly one-third of the players either have played through a concussion without notifying the team’s medical staff or minimized its effects.
These findings come after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, union head DeMaurice Smith, ex-players and doctors appeared on Capitol Hill last month to discuss the game’s risks and what, if anything, can be done to reduce those risks.
The essence of football is to put fear in an opponent, whether it is to encourage a receiver “to hear steps” or a running back to seek a soft landing spot before being wrapped up.
A big hit is a badge of honor, no matter its potentially debilitating effects on the brain.
That is the conundrum before the NFL.
It wants to reduce in theory that which it encourages in practice.
There are no genuine solutions, only modest hopes and contrite expressions, if the game is to remain the game that captivates a nation.
NFL nation knows the sadder cases of the brain-damaged: Mike Webster, who was homeless when he died of a heart attack at 50; Terry Long, who
committed suicide by drinking antifreeze at 45; and Andre Waters, who killed himself with a gunshot to the head at 44.
The thread of football-related brain trauma connected these once robust and fearless men.
Merril Hoge, an ex-running back, told members of Congress that he suffered a concussion soon after joining the Bears in 1994.
“Two things went wrong,” he said. “First, I never saw a neurological doctor. Second, I was cleared five days later.”
Cleared to crack heads anew.
Several weeks later, Hoge sustained another blow to the head, this one resulting in his heart briefly stopping in the training room and a stay in an intensive-care unit. He was unable to recognize his family at first, unable to walk.
Fifteen years later, the ESPN analyst still suffers minor effects; bright lights are apt to give him a headache.
Early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have become the bane of so many retired NFL players. They gave their all and played through pain and
sometimes worse because that is the culture of the game.
Real men do not go boo-hoo.
They play in a hit-induced fog, if necessary, because they know there is always somebody ready to replace them.
Players through education are becoming more aware of the long-term risks of playing too soon after a concussion.
Redskins running back Clinton Portis did not return to the game after suffering a concussion against the Falcons on Nov. 8.
Tiki Barber, the former Giants running back, once played through two concussions in a game. His motivation was neither money nor the fear of being replaced.
“For me, it was a sense of pride because I loved doing my job,” he said.
That is the culture of the game, played by fierce competitors not apt to be understood by those who call in sick at the first hint of a sniffle.
On some level, no fault of anyone, really, the game is impervious to everyone’s best intentions.
Further technological advances in equipment and the huffing and puffing of Congress cannot undo the primal nature of a terrifyingly beautiful game.“