November 28, 2009

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.”


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