Craig Schaller

Copyright @ Craig Schaller. All rights reserved.

YOU CAN'T BLAME DOUG MARRONE


Doug Marrone stepped aside as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills today.


For many, it was a surprise.  For others, it was a complete shock.  


Marrone had led the Bills to a 9-7 record.  The first winning record for the franchise in a decade or so.  The Bills have a young, improving defense that is already one of the NFL's best.  They have young, talented players at many of the offensive skill positions, including #3 overall pick in last years draft, Sammy Watkins.  They have a new ownership group that is committed to winning.


"Why would anyone step aside from a situation like that", you ask yourself as a Bills fan.


Well. I'm here to tell you--for Marrone, it makes a LOT of sense!


When the Bills changed owners, a clause in Marrone's contract kicked in that gave Marrone a three-day window to opt out of his three year contract.  At the end of the three days, Marrone surveyed the situation, and decided to bolt.  


I think it was the right decision for Marrone.  For the Bills players, it wasn't.  For Marrone though, I think it was.


Let's analyze.  First of all, Marrone gets four million dollars in his pocket just to walk away.  That's not exactly chump change.  He's not going to be on the bread line while he looks for a new job.  You can buy a lot of value meals with four million dollars.


Secondly, Marrone increased his NFL marketability big time while coaching the Bills.  When he was hired in Buffalo, he was a no-name, up and comer coach that the Bills gave a chance.  After taking a losing Bills team that hadn't made the playoffs in 15 seasons, and making them a winner, he is going to be far more sought after by many franchises looking for a new coach than he was two years ago.  That equates to better opportunities and bigger contracts, not to mention more respect, which I don't think he felt he had in Buffalo.


All season long, we heard reports about shouting matches in the tunnels at One Bills Drive between Marrone and GM Doug Whaley.  What were those all about?  No one knows, but one has to think there had to be some acrimony between the two.  If Marrone felt like he wasn't getting the respect he deserved, or had the kind of control he wanted in Buffalo, then he must feel he has a much better chance of getting that elsewhere, and he probably does.


Also, as good as the Bills defense was this year, Marrone realized he was at the helm of a team with a first round bust of a quarterback, another who came to the rescue this year but then retired, and also didn't have a first round draft pick in the upcoming draft.  He knows that if the Bills can't address the quarterback position, and had to start next year with EJ Manuel again, the likelihood of another 9-7 season or worse would be great, and he would be the scapegoat.  At the end of his contract, he would probably be let go, and his marketability would be in the Mike Mularky catagory, instead of where it is now.


As I said already, for Marrone, this move makes complete sense.  For the players who played for him the past two seasons, it doesn't.  In the hours after Marrone quitting, cornerback Aaron Williams tweeted that he was "pissed off".  I'm sure many of the other players feel the same way.  They probably feel Marrone's choice is cowardly.  They probably feel like they had a good thing going, and by quitting, Marrone abandoned them.


I can't blame them for feeling that way, but this is a business, and Marrone made a business decision;  For Marrone, the world has opened up for him.  Rumor has it that the Jets lovc him, and he is a native of the Bronx.  The Falcons have a franchise quarterback and Julio Jones, which could be enticing for the offensive minded Marrone.  San Francisco is a great football market, and have a lot of pieces in place.  Marrone would also be a top choice for any major college football programs in need of a new coach if he wanted to go that route.


As for the Bills, maybe this is the best thing that could happen as well.  Marrone asked new owner Terry Pegula for a new contract extension after the season and Pegula declined.  Obviously the Bills didn't feel like committing to Marrone as "their guy" for the long haul, so now, they are free to find that guy that they truly want to build around.


Pegula has deeper pockets than Ralph Wilson ever had, so could they possibly be the franchise to lure Bill Cowher back to the sidelines with a huge contract?  Or Jon Gruden?  Or Mike Shanahan or Mike Holmgren?  Will they now be able to re-hire legendary Bill Polian to be their GM again and then hire one of Polian's boys--Frank Reich as their new head coach?  Will they be able to land the hottest offensive minded guy on the market, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase?


Trying to look at the whole Marrone thing as a "glass half full" kind of guy, I'm hoping this will work out well for everybody. 


Either way, it's going to be fun to see how this plays out.

ALL BILLS WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A QUARTERBACK


Jim Kelly--that is the last time the Buffalo Bills have had a dependable, "franchise" quarterback.


Really.  It's hard to believe.  Looking back to 1997, when ol' #12 held his farewell press conference after his Bills were eliminated from the playoffs by the upstart Jaguars, that it would be nearly 20 years later and Buffalo would still be searching for a quarterback to replace him in Western New York.


Oh sure, there was the magic of Doug Flutie, but the Bills didn't even realize that they HAD a franchise QB in him when they had him.  There was also a couple of decent years with Drew Bledsoe, but even then, he was more of a placeholder in the downside of his career and not someone to build around.


Other than those two, the list is long and endless of Bills QB wannabees.  


Todd Collins.  Alex Van Pelt.  Rob Johnson.  JP Losman.  Trent Edwards.  Kelly Holcomb.  Ryan Fitzpatrick.  EJ Manuel.  Jeff Tuel.  Thaddeus Lewis.  Have I forgotten anyone?


Now we can add Kyle Orton to that less than impressive list.  Can you say "Ouch babe!"?


We all knew the move to Orton had to be made.  EJ Manuel was just not getting it done, and was in the process of proving that the Bills had taken another mighty swing and a miss on a drafted quarterback.


Orton is a heady veteran, who has done ehhh, ok by NFL standards with numerous other teams in his career.  However, by no means is he a signal caller any NFL team should be wanting to build around.


Let's face it--there is no other position on an NFL team that is more important in this day and age, as the quarterback, and the Bills have not had one for decades.  That HAS to change if the Bills want to make the playoffs or make a Super Bowl run.


I have broken it down to how quarterbacks stack up in this league.  I have put everybody into one of five catagories:  The Superstars, The Mavericks, The Unproven Upsiders, The Established Up & Downers, and The Placeholders.  Here is how I see all the current QB's fitting into those catagories:


The Superstars (in no particular order):


1.  Tom Brady:  His record speaks for itself.

​2.  Ben Roethlisberger:  I just had to put him in this catagory.  Can do it all, just maybe not as consistently as some of the others in this catagory.

3.  Andrew Luck:  The youngest QB in this catagory, he has shown he has all the tools to be a great one for years to come already in his career.

​4.  Peyton Manning:  his numbers speak for themself.

5.  Tony Romo:  The toughest one to add to this catagory, but not many have put up the consistent numbers as he has over the last ten or so years.  All that is missing is consistent winning, and now with an offensive line, that should come.

6.  Aaron Rodgers:  Probably the best QB going right now

7.  Drew Brees:  Best numbers in the past six years of anyone plus a Super Bowl win.


The Mavericks (these are guys who bring an extra dimension to their games, and can make things happen with their legs as well as their arms):


1.  Cam Newton:  A freak athlete who has a cannon for an arm as well as speed and a powerful body.

2.  Ryan Tannehill:  A former wide receiver who has shown this season that he can do some special things with his legs, but also his strong arm.

3.  Russell Wilson:  The Fran Tarkenton of this era, he has an uncanny ability to run for first downs when plays break down, but also has a very accurate arm, even if it's not the strongest.  Is also a great leader and won last years Super Bowl

4.  Colin Kaepernick:  The fastest of the current QB's.  If he could learn to consistently read defenses, he could be the most dangerous of all of them.


The Unproven Upsiders (this is a group who have just not played enough for me to know what to do with them, but all have an upside that makes us think they COULD be good someday):


​1.  Geno Smith:  Yes, he has struggled, but perhaps with the right system, he could be proficient.  I doubt anyone could be great with that Jets team the last two seasons.

2.  Johnny Manziel:  Two games do not a career make.  He has great speed and no matter what you think of him, has an upside if he could find the right system.

​3.  Ryan Mallett:  the guy learned from Tom Brady for four years, and has an amazing arm and great size.  Something has had to rub off

4.  Blake Bortles:  Played decently for the lowly Jags this year and showed flashes of being a potential superstar down the road.

5.  Derek Carr:  Has a great arm and seems to be able to read defenses pretty well.  Has led the Raiders to three wins in their last four games.  Lots of potential.

​6.  Nick Foles:  Is he a product of the Chip Kelly system?  Still, has talent and upside.

7.  Robert Griffen III: Has been too injured to really know what he can do.  The talent and upside is there if he can stay healthy.

8.  Teddy Bridgewater:  Lots of potential and seems to be a pretty good leader.



The Established Up & Downers (not superstars, but aren't going anywhere.  Inconsistent but established starters)


​1.  Andy Dalton:  Great some weeks.  Awful other weeks.  Seems to play worst in big games.

2.  Joe Flacco:  Won a Super Bowl, but it wasn't because of him, despite what he thinks.  The Rodney Dangerfield of NFL QB's--he never thinks he gets the credit he deserves.  Too inconsistent to deserve it.

3.  Philip Rivers:  The closest in this catagory to be put in the superstar catagory.  He is just a little too inconsistent to be put there.

​4.  Eli Manning:  Yes he has won two Super Bowls, but also led the league in picks.  Too many bad decisions 



5.  Matthew Stafford:  With Calvin Johnson to throw to along with the other talented receivers he has had, he has actually been a disappointment.

6.  Jay Cutler:  The poster boy for this catagory--can be great some weeks and singlehandedly lead his team to victory, then the next week singlehandedly lose one with four or five picks.

​7.  Matt Ryan:  Has all the tools to be a superstar but something is missing.  Disappears in the biggest games.

8.  Carson Palmer:  On the downside of his career, but has the talent to always be a starting quarterback if he is healthy.

9.  Sam Bradford:  Has been hurt so often that it's hard to not put him in the "unproven upside" catagory.  When he HAS been healthy though, he hasn't shown anything more than just being an average quarterback.


And finally, Placeholders (these are guys who are more suited to being backups, but due to the lack of talented QB's, find themselves starting.  Their coaches would LOVE to replace them if they have the chance)

1.  Kyle Orton:  Plays decent at times, but doesn't have the talent or arm strength to consistently win games.

​2.  Brian Hoyer:  Has been a winner because he plays within his capabilities.  Doesn't have the talent to keep a starting job though.

​3.  Ryan Fitzpatrick:  Any Bills fan knows he has his shortcomings.  Great backup, but not good enough to be a consistent starter.

4.  Jake Locker/Zack Mettenburg:  The Titans are in the same situation as the Bills.  Neither of these guys have shown enough potential to be consistent starters in the league.

​5.  Alex Smith:  Has done some nice things, but I highly doubt he has the talent to ever win a Super Bowl.

6.  Josh McCown:  Great last year with the Bears, horrible this year with the Bucs.  The definiation of a placeholder.


The Buffalo Bills are all too familiar with that "placeholder" column.  That is all they have had for the last decade.  


My point of this article is, the Bills HAVE TO address the quarterback position!  Their current defense is strong enough that they can win right NOW, but only if they have a competent quarterback.  The Bills must find someone who can do the job quickly!


Trade for Jay Cutler if you have to.  I hear Bills fans everywhere saying they don't want him.  Well, as bad as he can be, he also has the ability to be great if he is protected and has talent around him. 


If you don't want to trade for Cutler, or a guy like him, then draft a quarterback.  Draft two or three every damn year if you have to until you find one that steps forward and proves that he can do the job!


We have known this is the Bills weakness for years and years.  It's about time the Bills finally do something about it, once and for all!



FAREWELL MY YOUNG FRIEND


I have not written a column for a while.  It’s been nearly a month, maybe over a month.  I could say I have been busy, but truth is…I really haven’t had much to say.  Not working in sports radio anymore, I have started to find a distance growing between my love of sports and I.  My sports “takes” just aren’t as strong anymore.    Plus, I have been put on meds for anxiety and anti-depression because before them, everything bothered me.  So many things, both in sports and life itself, got under my skin.  My irritability was affecting my marriage and my life in general.  Being put on these meds has worked for me in one way—I am much more chill now and even tempered.  It has NOT worked for my writing.  Reason being is that I haven’t had the fire about things in sports that I had before.  Nothing gets me fired up anymore.   Sports aside, I needed to write tonight.  Reason being, that I have been put in touch with my own mortality today, probably moreso than I ever have been in my life.   I lost an old friend today.  Well, not really an old friend, but a young friend…who I hadn’t seen or talked to in the last 27 years of my life.   At one time, Joe Pavone was a big part of my life.  My young life.  My childhood.   I met Joe when I was probably around 12 or 13 years old.  Back then, my parents had a summer cottage on Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes of upstate NY.  It was actually a mobile home, in a mobile home park in Vine Valley, right on the lake, off East Lake Road.  Joe’s family had another mobile home in the same park.    After a few weekends of going down there, I began to assimilate into the culture.  I started meeting new friends my age, and one of the first was Joe Pavone.   He and I were pretty different.  Joe had long hair for a boy even then.  I didn’t.  Joe was 100% Italian.  I was 100% German.  Joe was pretty quiet.  I was pretty outgoing.  Joe loved rock music.  I loved sports.  But together, we just clicked right off the bat.   I remember one of our first excursions.  We decided to walk the Bare creek, which emptied into Canandaigua Lake but started somewhere inland.  We weren’t sure where, but we decided to find out.  We walked it about a half mile, when it turned from a creek into more of a pond.  We decided we didn’t want to get wet up to our underarms, turned and went back.   It was always one adventure after another for Joe and I.  I remember the night we saw a raging bonfire halfway up South Hill, which bordered Vine Valley.  Joe had to find out what was going on up there, so we trudged up the dirt road up the hill.   We got to where the fire was and heard people…singing and chanting.  Joe insisted on going into the woodline and off the road to get a better secretive vantage point.  When we got to the perfect view, we saw a dozen or so 20-somethings, sacrificing some kind of animal over the fire while chanting.  Pagan ritual?  Satanic worship ceremony?  We didn’t know, but we agreed on one thing—we had to get the hell outta there.  As we tried to sneak away, one of us stepped on a branch, and behind us, we heard the chanting stop and someone yell, “Hey, someone’s there!  Who is it!?  Let’s get em!”   We just said to each other, “RUN!” and took off down the hill like bats outta hell (perhaps literally), jumping into a gully on the side of the paved road at the end of the dirt road.  We freaked out, ducking next to each other, while these weirdos drove slowly by in cars shining flashlights just over our heads.   We somehow made it back to my cottage safely and unharmed, but that memory of that night with Joe remains vivid in my mind as if it just happened last weekend, not 30 years ago.   It was incidents like these that made me look forward to weekends at the cottage, hanging out with my pal Joe.    I had an orage huffy bike with a black bicycle seat at the time at the lake.  Joe and I had to watch our favorite show at the beginning of each weekend—the Dukes of Hazzard.  We came to call my bike, “the General Lee” of course, and Joe brought his bike down there as well.  We would ride around everywhere together like little hellions, pretending I was Bo Duke and he was Luke.   We would set up jumps at the end of the steep hill that led down to the water, and I still remember both of us flying 20-25 feet in the air after hitting our ramp, then landing and hitting the brakes, skidding into an impressive 180.  All the other kids thought Joe and I were so cool.   When we felt like chilling out, we would take my boombox with us, and go out on the boat dock to my family motorboat sitting in its hoist.  We would just get in the boat in the hoist and jam out to Van Halen, Foreigner, Molly Hatchet and so on for hours.  All the other kids thought we were just so cool.   We used to do something called “tandem skateboarding” which we thought we invented.  It consisted of laying both of our skateboards side by side, about a foot and a half apart.  We would then sit down on them, facing each other.  We would put our feet on each others board and grab each others biceps.  Once you started moving, you would steer by leaning back or forward.    We would go up to the top of the steep S-curve beyond the Indian Village campground, where the road sign told drivers “15 mph”.  We would then tandem skateboard down this S-curve, reaching speeds of around 40 mph by the time we reached the church.  It was insane, and our parents would have surely killed each of us if they ever caught us doing it, but it was such a rush, and we trusted each other enough that we just KNEW we could avoid any cars if we ever had to.   It was such a carefree time.  It was such a fun time in my life, and I have nothing but fond memories of that time in my life, and my time spent with Joe.   ​When I graduated high school, things changed, as they often do.  I stopped going down to the cottage as much once I went away to college in Florida.  I got a girlfriend, who I wanted to spend most of my weekends with.  I grew up.  Popping wheelies and doing 180 spins on my bike with Joe didn’t seem as much fun or as important anymore.  We pretty much lost touch around that time.    I saw Joe one more time after I graduated and came home from college.  I remember he came over to my house in Irondequoit, and we went out somewhere and had a few beers and just hung out.  But being buddies away from Canandaigua Lake was never to be for us.   I found out today on facebook that Joe Pavone died this morning.  I don’t have all the details, but from what I read, Joe had stage four cancer of the liver and kidneys.   ​The news hit me hard.  Ironically, I had just had a dream within the past couple of weeks, that I had gotten together with Joe, Ed Kaiser, Brian Vincent and Ben Smith and we had a reunion of sorts with all my buddies from my youth at Canandaigua Lake.  After that dream, I was honestly going to begin looking those guys up and see if I could make a dream come true and actually do that in reality.   Now, the realization that won’t be happening saddens me deeply.  After I “friended” Joe on Facebook last winter, I had called the number on his page.  I got a voice mail message.  I left a message on it for Joe, but I never heard back from him.  I guess I felt like he didn’t want to bother hooking up with me again.  Now I’m thinking, with him battling stage four cancer, he must have had other things on his mind.   The thing that is strange is that Joe Pavone will forever live in my mind as a teenager.  I know he lived halfway into his 40’s, but the young Joe is all I know. It also is very sobering.  Joe Pavone can’t die!  He is a 14 year old boy, jumping his bike 20 feet and skidding into an impressive 180 skid stop.   That’s how I remember Joe.  The always fun, exciting, up for anything, adventurous, exuberant kid.  I wish I could have known him as an adult though, and now, I’m very saddened that I will never get that chance.   If there is a moral of my story here, it’s that you should never wait til tomorrow or next week to look someone up.  Don’t take for granted that they will always be there.  Don’t wait around to tell someone what they have meant to your life.  You may never get that chance.   Rest in peace, my friend Joe.  Rest in peace.  And save that other skateboard up there for me.  We’ll ride again sometime.




DECISION TO TAKE REINS FROM MANUEL IS AUTOMATIC


I swear to God that I almost wrote a column last night about how the Buffalo Bills should bench quarterback EJ Manuel.  I honestly did.  Now, after tthe big news today that the Bills ARE benching EJ Manuel, I can instead write a column about how the Bills are making the right choice.  It's basically the same column, only I don't come off looking as smart as I would have if I had written it BEFORE they actually did it.


Seriously though, with apologies to EJ Manuel fans, this is a move that had to be made.  It shocks and surprises me that they made it, but I am glad they did.  Bills fans who truly want their team to win games now should also be happy with the move.


Why am I surprised that the Bills made the move to Kyle Orton?  Because no NFL coaching staff, scouting department, GM and directot of player personnel like to admit that they were completely wrong.  Benching Manuel and naming a career backup like Kyle Orton as your new full time starter is as much of an admission that the whole staff that made the decision to draft Manuel 16th overall in the 2013 draft, as you will ever see in this league.  Turning to Orton after four games is admitting that they all have egg on their faces, and it is time to wipe it off with a towel and move on.


The thing is, I don't think you would see the move being made if not for the upcoming ownership change in mid October.  Bills fans should consider themselves lucky for that being the case.


The fact that Manuel is not the Bills "QB of the future" should be obvious by now.  As much so as it should have been obvious that Ryan Fitzpatrick is nothing more than a backup quarterback.  The Bills got that one wrong when they signed Fitzy to an overpriced contract extension, and immediately Fitzpatrick went 1-8 the remainder of that season, and was gone two years later.  This time, the Bills got it right.


EJ Manuel is Christian Ponder.  He is a guy who the Bills reached for based on potential.  After one and a quarter seasons, it was obvious that potential was something Manuel was never going to achieve.  This is a young quarterback that looked better in his first month of his career than he has looked in the first month of his second season.  That is NOT supposed to happen!  A quarterback is suppoed to have learned something from his rookie season, which was shaky in itself.  


It was obvious that EJ Manuel had not learned at all.  He was making the same mistakes now that he was making last year.  He was inaccurate last year, and is just as inaccurate or worse this year.  He also never runs anymore.  The Bills billed themselves as a "read-option" offense with Manuel, but since Manuel never kept the ball on those read-option plays, teams had lost respect for his ability to carry the ball, thus negating the efficiency of those plays.


The Texans game was a perfect example.  This was a winnable game, if not for Manuel and the coaching staff.  Manuel threw for 225 yards on 21 completions.  He attempted 44 passes.  If you take away the 80 yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, which was a fluke exception, that means that Manuel averaged 6.9 yards per completion, but more alarming, only 3.3 yards per attempt!  That is incredibly pathetic for an NFL quarterback.  That means that even the worst starting running back in the NFL averages more yards per carry than Manuel averages every time he drops back to pass.  And that has been consistent with EJ.  He had taken the name "Captain Checkdown" from Trent Edwards.


A change had to be made.  Manuel has shown no signs of improvement and doesn't show any signs that the chances are good that he ever will.  The main question now though is:  Is Kyle Orton the right guy to turn to?


Orton is a career backup.  Orton is a guy who was, for all intents and purposes, retired.  The Bills had to coax him out of retirement when it finally became obvious to them that they were also wrong about Jeff Tuel.  


You know how everyone loves to rip Tim Tebow for being the worst quarterback to ever take snaps in the NFL?  How everyone loves to make fun of Tebow?  Joke and laugh and say how horrible he is and was as a quarterback in the NFL?  Well, Orton is the quarterback whose ineffectiveness got him benched in favor of Tebow in the 2012 season, when Tebow then took the same Broncos team to the AFC semi-finals!  


Kyle Orton is no Johnny Unitas.  However, he is no EJ Manuel either.  At the very least, he is a competent NFL quarterback, who should be able to utilize the offensive weapons the Bills have assembled far better than Manuel was able to.


That is all the Bills need Orton to do.  If he can come into the lineup and just make a handful of throws a game.  Throws that would fall incomplete with Manuel at QB, then the Bills will win games.  For Doug Whaley.  For Doug Marrone.  For the Bills...the future is NOW!!!   And that means Kyle Orton.




ROGER, OVER AND OUT


Should Roger Goodell step down as the NFL commissioner?  Should the NFL owners band together and fire Roger Goodell?


These are the two main questions that seem to be bouncing around on NFL themed TV shows, ESPN, Twitter, sports talk shows and every other sports media outlet.


It is the way it goes in the US workplace.  Anytime anything goes wrong, there has to be a fall guy.  There can't be any understanding.  There can't be any second chances.  If comeone screws up in any way, deceives or makes one bad decision, his head has got to roll!  That is the way everyone sees things nowadays.  It's one thing that bothers me now, especially since it happened to me.


I had a friend of mine rail against Roger Goodell the other day.  He was saying how horrible it is that Goodell hasn't cracked down on this latest wave of domestic violence among NFL players.  He was incredulous that Ray Rice originally only got a two game ban when the original video was known of, and then suspended indefinitely after the second part of the video was known.  He says Goodell needs to send a firm precedent when punishing Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Dwyer and Greg Hardy and so on.  He thinks it is appaling how NFL violence away from the field is spiking and out of control, and players need to be "taught a lesson".  He says Goodell needs to lose his job.


He is not alone.  Many, many other NFL fans seem to feel the same way.


So, do I feel that Roger Goodell should step down, or be fired?  Well, to me, it all depends on the answer to one question.  Did Goodell know of the NFL having the full Ray Rice video (or saw it himself) right from the beginning, and if so, did he fall victim to the Ravens owner and front office's pleas to "take it easy on him" and/or knowingly try to "sweep the incident under the rug"?


If the answer to that question is YES, then I believe a case could be made.  If not, or it cannot be proven, then Goodell has the right to stay at his post.


The thing is, this whole domestic violence thing among NFL players is nothing new.  This did not just start a few months ago with Ray Rice, or Adrian Peterson, or Greg Hardy.  NFL players have been givin' whupin's at home since football was invented.  It is a violent sport, and it is hard to turn that violent streak off once players walk in the door saying, "Honey, I'm home!".


Remember Lawrence Phillips?  The St. Louis Ram and former Nebraska great running back who once dragged his woman down a flight of stairs after knocking her out?  Remember Rae Carruth?  The Carolina Panther receiver that shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend and is now doing life in prison?  Remember those pictures we saw at OJ Simpson's trial?  The ones of Nicole's face all battered and bruised by OJ when he was still playing with the 49ers?  Remember Larry Johnson, the all-pro running back, who was arrested on THREE separate assaults of his significant other?  Remember Michael Vick, who committed atrocities to dozens of pit-bulls, killing many?


No, NFL players engaging in domestic violence has been going on for a long time.  Sadly, domestic violence has been going on in general since the days of the caveman.  We like to think we have evolved.  We like to think that humanity has become a world of pacifists.  For some of us, that is true.  For others, it is not...unfortunately.  


The main difference is that now, there are far more cameras, everywhere, that are standing guard to catch those of us who commit that domestic violence.  With more and more people (mostly men, but some women) being caught doing it, and better media covereage of these people, more people are aware of it than every before.


And this is a good thing!


But does it mean that Roger Goodell should be fired?  I don't think so.  


Goodell has shown something that you don't often see in a sports commissioner:  contrition.  He has admitted that he made a terrible mistake in his handling of the Ray Rice matter.  Because of it, and the backlash against it, he realized how upset the rest of the world is by his lack of a punishment.  I highly doubt he will be lenient with anybody anymore.


Goodell has been a good commissioner for the NFL.  He has the support of the owners.  He has been strong with most of the punishments for spygate, bountygate and all the other fiascos during his tenure.  He has been strong with his enforcement of NFL rules, punishing hundreds of players with serious fines over the years.  He has done whatever he can to help players safety--from equipment changes, to rule changes and enforcement.  And the bottom line--he has increased the popularity of the league since he took over from Paul Tagliabue.


Even with all of the outrage over the domestic violence recently, NOBODY has stopped watching!  The NFL is the lead on sportscasts all over the country.  The NFL Network has become one of the most popular cable networks.  Fantasy football keeps growing in popularity among both sexes every year.  A recent poll showed that 89 % of those polled said their viewing of NFL games will not be affected by all of the recent domestic violence incidents.



As long as that is the case, and advertisers are not walking away from the NFL, I don't think Roger Goodell is going anywhere.  



NFL DOUBLE STANDARD IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY


I read a story today that incenses me.  That is nothing unusual.    Many, many things about this world that I live in currently insense me, but this is particular made my blood boil.


The story has to do with Robert Griffin III, and a post game interview after his game yesterday.  Griffin, of course, got hurt yesterday in his game, dislocating his ankle, which will keep him out of action for 4-6 weeks.


It was after this game, that Griffin was heading to a press conference to discuss his injury and the team's performance.  He happened to be wearing a t-shirt that said "Know Jesus, know peace" on the front of it.  As he was heading to the presser, NFL uniform police inspector Tony McGee told Griffin that he couldn't wear the shirt "because it wasn't a Nike product", according to a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


Griffin was still allowed to wear it though, but he had to turn it inside out.  This seems like bull to me.  If he couldn't wear it, then he shouldn't have been allowed to wear it.  Making him turn it inside out certainly makes it look like something else to me.  It makes it look like the NFL is discriminating against religious messages.


Unless the brand name was clearly marked aside the message on the front, it doesn't make any sense to me why RG3 wouldn't have been allowed to wear it.  If censure is the main purpose of that conversation, that is wrong, and it shows one of the things that is totally wrong with this country.


It shows how the liberals are winning.


What if Griffin wanted to go to that press conference weating a shirt that said "Jihad rules!"?


I'll tell you what would happen.  No one would say anything, and he would be allowed to wear THAT shirt.  Why?  Because the NFL would never want to offend pro-Muslim groups.  It's the way it goes in our society nowadays.


It sickens me that putting down Christianity is en vogue in the US.  It's ok for networks to cut away from an interview from a player when he starts praising God, Jesus, or his faith, but by all means, don't stop anyone when they say anything about Allah.  Wouldn't want to offend those folks, but if someone is Christian, and proud of it--go to the next shot.


It's one of the main explanations why Tim Tebow is not in the league anymore.  It's why so many people are reviled by Tebow, and yet, so loved by others.


The liberal left has created a double standard in this country that is becoming so pervasive, yet no one is saying anything about it.  They can't, or they fear the reprisals.


They cover up any reference to God on buildings behind politicians who are making speeches in front of those buildings, but any group who wants to pray to Mecca is allowed to do so anywhere they want, even if it invonveniences others.


​They are trying to get God written out of all government documents and the Pledge of Allegiance.  Schools make children who are wearing religious shirts to school, go back home and take them off, but any child who wants to wear a burqa to school is allowed to do so without anyone batting an eye.


Religious freedom is one thing.  The US Bill of Rights allows for freedom of religion for anyone in this country.  Oppression of religion is another, and that is what has been happening more and more in this country.


And that pisses me off.


I am admittedly not the most religious person in the country.  By far.  I am by no means a bible thumper.  I am a Christian though, and I am proud of, and stand by my beliefs.  It totally ticks me off when someone else who is a Christian and wants to testify to THEIR beliefs, get told that they can't.


Robert Griffin III wanted to wear a religious themed shirt in a press conference.  What would really be wrong with that?  Why would that be hurting anyone?  With all the domestic violence, child abuse, drug use, assaults and murder going on with NFL players lately, why would outlawing a player wearing a religious shirt be the best choice?


The double standard doesn't stop at just religion of course.  Racism has a major double standard that no one has a problem with.  A black person can call another black person the N word all day long, but there is no problem there.  A white person ever utering that word even once in their lives, and their entire life is ruined (Paula Dean).  Charles Barkley can say all he wants about a white player being slow and not being able to jump, but if a white person ever says anything about black people being bred to be better athletes (Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis), their lives are ruined.


We will never be able to move forward in this country until there is equality as to what is accepted and what is not.  You can't have freedom of expression for some, but repression of expression for others.


It's just not right, and it's just not fair.



WHY IS EVERYONE SHOCKED ABOUT RICE?


People are stupid.


How else can you explain the huge story that rages on this week about Ray Rice. 


We got ten extra seconds of video from TMZ about Ray Rice and that unfortunate incident with his wife back in February, and suddenly, the whole world changed!  For Rice.  For his wife.  For the Ravens.  For the Ravens fans.  For football fans.  And most importantly, for victims of domestic violence.


Don't get my point wrong folks.  I am not saying that this is unfortunate for Rice and that I am saying this weeks news minimizes things for victims of domestic violence.  My point it that the outrage everyone is feeling this week should have been felt when news first came out MONTHS AGO about Rice hitting his wife.


We are such of a visual society aren't we?  What happened this week proves that.  We don't believe ANYTHING unless we see it with our own eyes!  If I don't see it, it didn't happen.  That is how most of us obviously look at things in our world.


I'm not talking about the average person here either.  I am talking about dozens and dozens of people who should have known better from the start.  


The Ravens organization, who soldiered up for Ray Rice, and supported him during "this tough time", and pledged their unwavering support for one of their own, who is dealing with a tough situation.


The national media, who covered the story, showed the video and somehow, still focused on how this will affect the Ravens, and what Rice's fantasy stock is, and showed his apology in his press conference about the event.


The NFL and Roger Goodell, who "punished" Rice with a debilitating TWO GAME SUSPENSION for the event.  The incident where Rice had domestic violence with his wife, and was seen dragging her out of an elevator like a caveman dragging his kill back to the fire.  Meanwhile, Josh Gordon, who smoked a little pot and got caught for it, gets a full season suspension.  Wes Welker downs some cold medicine and gets four games.  Same for Matt Prater.  And so on and so on and so on....


To his credit, Roger Goodell came out to the media last week and admitted that he made a mistake in the Ray Rice situation.  He did so before the shit hit the fan, saying that two games was not anywhere close enough to what Rice should have gotten.


Now, days after that admission, ten extra seconds of video came out, and Ray Rice now has an INDEFINATE suspension from Goodell and the NFL.  He was fired in essence, by the Ravens and the NFL.  He can't work his craft for the Ravens, or any other team in the NFL.  


Where was this months ago?


People are stupid.


Now, all of the media are questioning why the NFL never saw a 2nd tape.  Did the NFL or the Ravens see the 2nd tape before this week?


It's all BS.  That shouldn't matter.


This is all because of ratings.  This is all about "THE STORY".  This all should have happned months ago.


When the Ray Rice story first broke early in the spring that a tape of Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator at a casino hotel, everyone should have done what they did this week.


Just because you had a tape of the aftermath and not the actual tape of the violence, shouldn't have mattered in this situation.  What did everone think....that the "Casino Elevator Ghost" took a sledgehammer to Janay Rice that night?  Did they think that Janay Rice decided to push the hotel floor elevator button with her nose and lost her balance?  Did they think she tripped over Ray Rice's giant running back feet getting into the elevator and banged her head into the elevator wall?  


No, SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS!!!!  Even if ANY of those things happened, chances are, she WOULDN'T BE UNCONSCIOUS!!!  She wouldn't have had to be DRAGGED out of the elevator!  I mean, C'MON!  Have a little grasp of reality here folks.  Smart folks, who should have known better.  


You have two people who go into an elevator in a casino hotel high rise.  One comes out of the elevator dragging the other one....what do you think happened?  Sheesh, it should not have taken a swami to figure that out!


The bottom line is that so many people got this wrong from the start.  The NFL got it worng.... BADLY.   The sports media got it wrong....BADLY.  


Now, Ray Rice and his brand new wife Janay have to start out their new marriage....BADLY.  


I feel sorry for them actually.  After the incident, Janay actually went through with the wedding, marrying Ray Rice, the NFL running back, who made millions doing his job.  Now, because of this incident on video caught on tape, Rice is out of football.  Can this loving couple make it work, with all this media crush on them and now, with Rice losing his considerable salary?  




I take that back....I feel sorry for Janay.  Not Ray.  



He deserves everything he is getting now and should have gotten months ago.


She deserves much better.  


We all need to learn from this.  The bottom line is that PUTTING YOUR HANDS ON A WOMAN IS WRONG!!!   Hitting a woman for any reason is wrong!  


I know this.  Most of you guys know this.  Hopefully, the rest of you guys who didn't know this will now learn it.  Ray Rice better learn it, because now that he doesn't have the protection of the NFL, if he does it again, it's serious jail time, which will be well deserved.   And there won't be any media coverage.



NFL FORECAST 2014


It's finally here!  At long last, it's football season again, and the NFL starts again in earnest tomorrow night.  That being said, it's time for me to trot out my annual predictions.  I will start with the AFC today, and then on the same column, I will add my NFC fprecast tomorrow.


AFC EAST

1.  New England Patriots (11-5).  You really have to hand it to Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and company for the Pats contined consistent greatness.  Every year, all of the pundits like myself want to say that the Pats have started a decline, and every year, they continue to win games, divisions and post-season contests.  This year will be no different.  Sure Tom Brady is now 37, but he has all of his young receivers back from last year and hopes to add a healthy Rob Gronkowski to the mix.  Darrell Revis was added to the secondary and Vince Wolfork should be back healthy and ready to clog up the middle of the D-line.  Another year--another AFC East crown in New England.


​2.  Miami Dolphins (8-8).  The rest of this division could go either way.  The Dolphins, Jets and Bills all seem about even to me.  The biggest difference, to me at least, is at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill has the biggest upside and that gives the Dolphins the edge for me.  The Dolphins have the most pitiful targets in the NFL though in Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay, so Tannehill has to be really good to reach the 8 and 8 mark I am predicting.  Knowshon Moreno brings a winning mentality from Denver and that will help as well.


3.  Buffalo Bills (7-9).  Boy this is a tough one.  It all rests on EJ Manuel taking a step forward in his 2nd year.  If he does, the Bills will too.  If he doesn't, or regresses, the Bills will struggle to another 6-10 (or worse) season and another playoff miss.  Then it's probably time for yet another coaching staff to draft another QB in next years draft;  The Bills defense should be solid though, with former Lions coach Jim Schwartz bringing a pressure scheme to take advantage of Mario and Kyle Williams and a pretty good secondary.  The Bills will need to run the ball with CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown, control clock and rely on their defense if Manuel still isn't ready.  That's not a great recipe for success in today's QB driven NFL though.


4.  NY Jets (5-11).  Geno Smith is in a similar predicament for the Jets as Maunel with the Bills.  It's put up or shut up time.  He's got to prove it to me.  Chris Johnson comes over from the Titans to bolsteer the running game, but a bad offensive line and his diminishing skills and speed will not really help in my opinion.  Eric Decker joins the Jets from the Broncos, and will find it much tougher getting open as a #1 receiver than he ever did in Denver as a #2 or 3 with Peyton Manning throwing to him.  The defense is overrated.  Rex Ryan will be looking for a job--possibly this season.


AFC NORTH

1.  Cincinnati (10-6).  Everyone seems to be discounting the Bengals in the "rust belt division" this season and I don't understand why.  They can't win to save their lives in the post-season, but no one in this division still has as much talent as Cincy.  Andy Dalton is still young and has the potential for a breakout season.  He has weapons too, with AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Giovanni Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill.  Bernard especially has the potential of a 2000 total yard season (rushing and receiving).  Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham could be the best 2 tight end package in the game.  The offensive line is above average and the defense is the best in the division, especially with Geno Atkins back and healthy.


2.  Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7).  Ben Roethlisberger is another one who gets no respect.  All he does is win.  Even last year in a down season for Pittsburgh, Big Ben still overperformed.  This year, he has Leveon Bell back at RB for a whole year, Antonio Brown, who led the league in receiving yards, and explosive Marcus Wheaton are at the other receiver spots.  He will have to be good, because the defense is getting a little old in the tooth, although first round draft pick, linebacker Ryan Shazier, looks to be a potential monster to build around.


3.  Baltimore Ravens (7-9).  The Ravens either had an off year last year, or it was the beginning of a downward slide.  I'm going with the latter.  Ray Rive will miss the first two games due to suspension, but he wasn't good when he was in there anyways last year.  The offensive line is a shadow of what it once was.  The Ravens brought in aging Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but I don't think they will help Joe Flacco enough.  Flacco proved to be just ordinary last year, and I think that continues.


4.  Cleveland (6-10).  On every media outlet, you can't go two minutes without hearing the name Johnny Football, or Johnny Manziel.  I don't get the fascination with this guy.  He hasn't proven anything, other than he was a very good "system" quarterback in college...oh, and he likes to party.  I could be wrong, but I don't think he will ever be anything more than an average, but fun to watch, quarterback in the NFL.  Cleveland lost Josh Gordon to suspension for the whole year.  The defense, led by superstar Joe Haden will be very good and keep them in games, but I don't think they have the playmakers to win many games.  Expect the Browns to be on the short end of a lot of 20-10 or 17-13 type games this year.


AFC SOUTH

​1.  Indianapolis Colts (11-5).  Andrew Luck is the best young quarterback in the game.  he has proven he can win and be a great leader in only two years.  He just needs some help, and he didn't get it last year from a terribly 

disappointing Trent Richardson and an injured   Ahmad Bradshaw.  If they are healthy and better this year, Indy could be the team to beat.  If not, they should still hover around the 10-6 or 11-5 mark.  Adding Hakeem Nicks to an already great wideout corps of TY Hilton and Reggie Wayne was nice.  The defense is middle of the pack though, which will cost them in some games.


2;  Houston Texans (8-8).  I know this will shock some people.  Heck, it even shocks me, that I could predict 8-8 for a team with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting QB, but I'm doing it, and even saying that if things fell right, they could even win the division.  Why?  Because of defense.  The Texans have the potential to be 2000 Baltimore Ravens dominant.  Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is a freak athlete and perhaps the best pass rusher to hit the NFL since Lawrence Taylor.  JJ Watt is a monster on the D-line.  Brian Cushing returns from injury and the linebackers and secondary are underrated.  If Arian Foster can stay on the field, Andre Johnson gets motivated and Fitzy plays the Trent Dilfer role, this Texans team will be very scary.





3.  Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9).  I will predict that record if Blake Bortles is the starting quarterback by week four of five.  If not, it will be more like 5-11 or 4-12.  Toby Gerhart comes over from Minnesota, steps out of Adrian Peterson's shadow and should be a productive runner.  Rookie Marquise Lee and veteran Cecil Shorts are playmakers.  The defense is extremely underrated and should be the Jags calling card in the near future.  Gus Bradley is a year or two away, but the Jags are getting there quickly.


4.  Tennessee Titans (4-12).  What a non-descript bunch!  No stars.  Little excitement.  Jake Locker has proven nothing other than the fact that he can get hurt easily.  Nate Washington is one of your starting receivers.  Shonn Greene is your starting running back.  Few playmakers on either offense or defense.  I'd hate to be a season ticket holder in music city.


AFC WEST

1.  Denver Broncos (13-3).  The Broncos dominated everyone offensively en route to the Super Bowl last year.  Even with Peyton Manning at the top of his game, it's hard to imagine them being that good agein.  Fortunately for the Broncos though, their defense should be even better after bringing aboard DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib.  Montee Ball should be an upgrade over a solid year from Knowshon Moreno, and that running threat should be a big help for Peyton.  If Ball improved his pass blocking and doesn't fumble like he did last year, he could have a monster year.  I expect better balance offensively and better defense, which should lead to another Super Bowl run.


2.  San Diego Chargers (10-6).  The Chargers proved that they were the AFC West team best able to play the Broncos even.  They beat them once and played them pretty close in the playoffs.  Philip Rivers showed that he is a top notch QB last year and returns most of the same targets, which include Keenan Alen, who could be on the verge of a breakout type season.  Ladarius Green pairs with an aging Antonio Gates to rorm a formidable 2 TE package.  The defense is young and aggressive.  Donald Brown was added to help the running back depth.  Probable wild card again this year for the Super Chargers.


3.  Kansas City Chiefs (9-7).  Everything went right for Andy Reid and the Chiefs last year.  Alex Smith played error free football.  Jamaal Charles was healthy all year.  The defense got a ton of rurnovers and TD returns.  Even Dwayne Bowe stayed out of the doghouse.  I highly doubt that all happens again.  Charles is one of the best game breaking running backs in the league, but I don't think the Chiefs have enough offensive playmakers.  The defense could take a step back if they don't force turnovers like they did last year.


4.  Oakland Raiders (4-12).  The Raiders made a brilliant move...or a stupid move...naming Derek Carr their starting QB week one this week.  It all depends on how he performs.  If Carr does great, it was a brilliant move.  If he struggles and becomes a clone of his brother, former #1 overall pick David Carr, it was a horrible move.  Only time will tell.  Thing is, he probably can't do any worse than Matt Schaub would have done.  The Raiders were once again the Raiders.  They signed a bunch of has beens looking for a new, fresh start, and drafted Khalil Mack.  Mack is the real deal, and if the re-treads play well, the Raiders could surprise.  I doubt it.


NFC EAST

1.  Philadelphia Eagles (11-5).  The Chip Kelly offensive approach works!  That is the main thing we got out of last year when it came to the Eagles.  No one was sure if his up-tempo, hurry up approach would work, but Kelly and the Eagles proved many wrong.  This year, the Eagles will be a handful for defenses, with Nick Foles running things again, and Shady McCoy running the ball and being the top all-purpose threat in the league.  Jeremy Maclin returns from injury and will be needed to step up and be that "go-to guy" replacing DeSean Jackson.  If the defense is in shape and plays up to its potential, the Eagles should win this division.


2.  Washington Redskins (9-7).  As bad as the Skins looked in the pre-season, I think they will bounce back and be a force.  RG3 can't be any worse than he was last year, as he tries to continue learning how to be a pocket passer.  Je certainly has weapons to work with, with DeSean Jackson joining Pierre Garcon and upcoming but injury prone, Jordan Reed.  Alfred Morris is one of the leagues best a trunning back.  The defense isn't great but I think they have the offense to overcome that, especially once they find their groove.  Because of that, Washington could struggle for a few games, but I believ will finish strong.


3.  New York Giants (6-10).  Coach tom Coughlin could be in peril for about the dozenth time during his tenure in the Big Apple, as his Giants won't look good again.  Eli Manning is stuck behind a young and often overmatched offensive line.  Rashad Jennings comes over from Oakland to anchor the running game, but is nothing more than a middle of the road type back;  He can do a lot of things well, but nothing specific spectacularly.  The new "West Coast" offensive scheme didn't look like it fit well with the talent there, and it remains to be seen if that can change.  The defense is no longer a strength.  


4.  Dallas Cowboys (5-11).  How many more years does Jerry Jones have the patience to stick with coach Jason Garrett?  The Cowboys seem to be a sinking ship with not enough fingers to plug all the holes.  The bottom line here is that the Cowboys defense could be historically bad.  They were close to that last season, didn't really add anyone, and lost their two best players (Sean Lee to injury and DeMarcus Ware to free agency).  The Cowboys will try to replace Lee with Rolando McClain, who was out of football for two years, but is a former first round pick out of 'Bama.  Tony Romo could put up great numbers though, because he should be passing non-stop after Dallas falls behind 24-0 in the first quarter of most of their games.  Expect a lot of 38-28 type losses.


NFC NORTH

1.  Chicago Bears (10-6).  I know most are picking the Packers in this division, but I like the Bears to pull it out after Packers nost tackle BJ Raji blew out his bicep.  The Bears have improved their offensive line, which should give Jay Cutler enough time to have his best year.  It's hard for him not to, throwing to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.  Matt Forte is a top five running back.  The defense lost Julius Peppers, but Lance Briggs is back from injury and the Bears should have an improved run defense.


2.  Green Bay Packers (10-6).  Losing BJ Raji will hurt, as the Pack needs to be able to stop the run and get opponents into third and long situations.  Without that, the Pack could struggle at times, because they don't have the playmakers they used to, other than Clay Matthews Jr and newcomer Julius Peppers.  Aaron Rodgers is great, and has the wespons around him to succeed wildly, especially Eddie Lacy providing a run game, but the defense could hurt them.  I still expect the Packers to contend for the division crown or at least a wild card spot, but I expect quite a few high scoring wins like 37-30 or 41-38.


3.  Minnesota Vikings 8-8).  I actually love what the Vikes are doing.  Bringing in Mike Zimmer as their new head coach was brilliant.  Drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the 1st round was genius.  They still have Adrian Peterson.  They have young speedster Cordarrelle Patterson ready to break out and become one of the game's dominant receivers and game-breakers.  Zimmer should improve the defense with his philosophy and coaching.  Like Washington, The Vikings could struggle early as the youngsters find their way, but I truly believe they could finish strong and contend for a playoff spot.


4.  Detroit Lions (7-9).  The Lions have a GREAT offense on paper.  Matthew Stafford, throwing to the games best widout Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and newcomer Golden Tate, along with first round pick, Eric Ebron.  Reggie Bush and Joique Bell running the ball and making plays.  Problem is, the Lions tend to become one-dimensional when teams stop the run, which leads to too many three and outs.  The defense is inconsistent.  The Lions can look like worldbeaters one week, and lose 38-10 the next.  They are a maddening team.


NFC SOUTH

1.  New Orleans Saints (13-3).  The Saints have a much improved defense.  That makes the Saints scary, and I think they will be the class of the conference this year.  The Saints have one of football's three best QB's in Drew Brees.  They have Marques Colston, Jimmy graham, Kenny Stills and now Brandin Cooks to catch Brees' passes.  They have Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas as all-around threats out of the backfield.  And now, a strong defense that should be even stronger after signing Jarius Byrd away from Buffalo.  If they can learn to win away from the Superdome, watch out!


2.  Atlanta Falcons (9-7)  Are the Falcons as bad as they were last year or as good as they were two years ago?  I think it's somewhere in between.  The dirty birds lost Tony Gonzalez to retirement (finally), but get back a lot of guys who were hurt last year, including Julio Jones on offense and Troy Bierman on defense.  If Deveonte Freeman can supplant Stephen Jackson in the backfield quickly, the Falcons will have an added dimension--a YOUNG power runner to go with Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan.  The problem is that, despite their efforts to prove they weren't on "Hard Knocks", the Falcons defense lacks a "touchness" factor, which could be their undoing.


3;  Carolina Panthers (8-8).  The Panthers have one of the best defensee in the NFL, and they rode that to a division title last year.  I don't think they can remain injury free enough to do that again, especially with Cam Newton already dealing with injuries and the season hasn't started yet.  The receiving corps is atrocious, and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both are aging and couldn't stay on the field, even when they were younger.  Expect a step back for Carolina and Ron Rivera to lose his job at years end.


4.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9).  Josh McCown had a career year last season in Chicago.  Now he goes south to try tp prove that it wasn't a fluke.  I actually think it was, but I like Mike Glennon as a competant backup if McCown flames out.  At least they have Bears receiver clones for McCown in Vincent Jackson and first rounder Mike Evans.  Doug Martin returns from injury and hopes to get back to top five RB status.  Mike James and Bobby Rainey are quality backups.  The defense should be much improved, but a very tough division and schedule should leave the Bucs under .500.


NFC WEST

1.  Seattle Seahawks (12-4).  The Seahawks seem to have it all.  A heady playmaker at quarterback in Russell Wilson.  Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and explosive Christine Michael in the backfield.  A healthy Percy Havin and Doug Baldwin at wideout.  The best defense in football.  Everything went perfectly last year for Seattle.  The tough part is having exerything go perfectly again this year after winning it all.  The Seahawks will still be great, but an automatic ticket punch back to the big game is far from a certainty, especially in the toughest fivision in the league.


2.  Arizona Cardinals (11-5).  This could be the best offense Carson Palmer has ever run.  He could throw for 5000 yards with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, as well as underrated Rob Housler at tight end.  Andre Ellington is a very explosive double threat out of the backfield and he should now be on the field for all three downs.  The Cardinals defense was one of the best in the league last year, and should be again, thanks to Patrick Patterson and an outstanding pass rush.  Jonathan Cooper, the first round pick from two years ago, should be healthy after missing the year last season, and is itching to prove his worth.


3.  San Francisco 49ers (10-6).  The 49ers will still be good, but could take a step back, mainly thanks to Navarro Bowman's injury and Aldon Smith's behavioral issues.  Still, the Niners have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.  Colin Kaepernick looks to have a breakout season that he didn't really have last year.  Michael Crabtree is healthy again.  Stevie Jackson comes over from the Bills to give an added target, along with returnee Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.  Frank Gore hopes to have one good year left in him, but rookie Carlos Hyde is there in case he doesn't



4.  St Louis Rams (7-9).  The Rams could have the best defense in the league--even better than Seattle, Arizona, Carolina and Houston, if all falls right.  They had a great defense last year, and added run stuffer Aaron Donald in the draft.  Robert Quinn, Chris Long are top notch defensive ends.  They have young playmaker Alec Ogletree at middle linebacker, and an opportunistic secondary.  The problem will be offense, with Sam Bradford's injury, which will keep him out all year.  Can Shawn Hill play error free enough football to win enough games in this tough division?  I don't think so.



TEBOW+BILLS=PERFECT FIT


RANDOM THOUGHTS....


**First of all, I want to apologize to my faithful readers for my lack of columns lately.  You see, I have been working for the Rhodes Consulting Group for a while now, and recently got a bit of a promotion.  My boss put me in charge of the oil and gas division and life became much busier.  I took the ball and ran with it, and have been having conference calls and putting together executive summaries to help get funding for multi-million dollar oil drilling projects and well sales.  


With all that going on, I'm finding that it's much harder to follow sports.  When you finish putting together an executive summary, and a pro forma earnings projection excel sheet at 1 in the morning, and you know you have a 9 AM conference call about a different project, well, watching SportsCenter and writing a column about something just isn't going to happen.


I will still keep writing when I feel like it and have the time, but I doubt it is suddenly going to start becoming every two or three days.  I will shoot for at least once a week if I can, so keep checking in every day for a second if you would.


**Why is Tim Tebow out of the NFL, and if he was in the league, why shouldn't it be with the Buffalo Bills?


As I continue my quest to watch every NFL pre-season game, I am noticing something obvious:  THERE ARE A TON OF CRAPPY BACKUP QUARTERBACKS OUT THERE!!!  With stiffs like Jordan Palmer, Dan Orlovsky, Curtis Painter, Brad Sorenstam, and yes, Jeff Tuel, all pretty much assured roster spots as a #2 or #3 quarterbacks, it is sickening that Tim Tebow can't find even a tryout for a single NFL team.


How is it that each of those guys mentioned above will cash NFL paychecks, while a guy who led his team to a conference finals game in his first and only year as a STARTING quarterback in the league can't find a job?  Add in the fact that Tebow is a world class individual as a person, and will add nothing but class to any organization he plays for.  Add in the fact that just Tebow just being on your sidelines means thousands of extra ticket buyers.  Add in the fact that having Tebow on your roster will bring more relevance to your team on a national level.


Still, not a single team will bite.  The one who should be first in line to do so should be the Buffalo Bills.


I recently saw a national sports writers rankings list of backup quarterbacks in the league.  He has Jeff Tuel dead last.  You don't think Tuel will be the 2nd stringer?  OK, well then maybe Thaddeus Lewis moves you up a spot or two.  Still a terrible situation either way.  It is inexcusable that Buffalo can think about walking into a new season with those two QB's backing up a still unproven EJ Manuel.  


​The Bills run what is basically a read-option scheme with movement, rolling pockets and things happening off of that with Manuel.  Lewis fits that scheme.  Tebow would fit that scheme perfectly.  Tuel is like a square peg in a round hole.


The Bills should sign Tebow, give him a realistic chance, and let him start the season as their third QB.  Eventually, he could move up to 2nd on the depth chart.  The reason it will never happen though is obvious.  Doug Marrone would never want to get into a situation where they bring Tebow in, Manuel gets hurt and then Tebow does better than Manuel while he is out and then you have a major controversy with all of the national media fanning the flames of Tebowmania all over again.  


THAT would be any NFL teams worst nightmare.  It would happen too.  Just like it did in Denver.  But NFL teams don't want that...not with Tebow.  No one, other than the fans,  wants to win with a guy like Tim Tebow at quarterback.  Why?  Because it proves all the guys in the player personnel departments, scouting staffs and coaches in the team colored hoodies wrong.  It makes them look bad.


Why Buffalo would feel that way though is baffling to me.  Here is a team that has become the "Siberia of the NFL" as far as national prominence goes.  Bills highlights haven't made it onto SportsCenter since that little Flutie flake was starting there.  If there is any NFL team that you would think would LOVE the publicity of bring Tim Tebow aboard, you would think it would be the Bills.  


But the main reason Tebow should be a Bill:  as bad as everyone thinks he is, he STILL is better than Jeff Tuel!


**Is it just me, or does it feel like the LPGA tour has already left Rochester?


We are into the third round of the LPGA Championship today at Monroe CC, and I have heard the tournament referred to or mentioned about three times all week long so far while just walking around in society or listening to media.  There once was a day when you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about the Wegmans Rochester International.  Couldn't turn on a TV or radio without seeing or hearing Nancy Lopez, Rosie Jones or Patty Sheehan.  Now, you don't hear about it all.  What happened?  I think I know, but I am not going to get into it anymore.



**Talk about feeling old.  I had my 30th high school reunion last weekend.  It was amazing how different everyone looked.  I know I am legally blind, but I couldn't recognize ANYONE if they were more than five feet away from me.  It was only when I was standing right in front of them, talking to them, that I could see who they used to be.  



What was a bit surprising though, was that everyone looked pretty good.  There weren't any cases of the prom queen housing out at over 300 pounds, or the shy bookwormey girl now looking like a Victoria's Secret model.  Not a lot of extreme either way.  Everyone pretty much looked the same, just older, grayer and a little heavier.



What also was pretty funny was that everyone pretty much hung out with and talked to the people they used to hang and talk with.  Cliques stand the test of time.  There didn't seem to be many tragedies or sob stories either.  In fact, I was probably the saddest case--losing my sight with a genetic eye disease.  Didn't really make me feel too special.  Still, a good time was had by all. and I look forward to my 40th in another ten years.


**Has this been the crappiest summer in years when it comes to weather?  Perhaps it's just me, but this summer sucks!  Where are the sultry, hot, hazy days of summer?  There haven't been any dog days.  It's been cloudy more often than not and it seems like it rains every other day.  Just makes me want to move to Denver more every day.


**When will everyone realize that Tiger Woods will NEVER be the same again?!  


Years and injuries have taken their toll on the worlds once dominant golfer.  At this point, if he wins another major it is going to be in the same "miraculous" catagory as Jack Nicklaus in 1986.  The networks and national media have to come to grips with the fact that Tiger will never be the Tiger of old ever again.


Thankfully, Tiger did the right thing and took himself out of the running for this years Ryder Cup team.  If he didn't, Tom Watson would be under the utmost pressure to make Woods a "captains pick" by the USGA and the network carrying the event, and there are far too many other deserving and better choices for that spot.



SO LONG AGO


It sure was wonderful this Hall of Fame weekend, wasn't it Bills fans?


Watching Andre Reed get his long deserved gold jacket.  Reminiscing about past glories.  Reliving some of the great times in Bills history.  Seeing the faces of some of the best players in Bills history again.  Reed, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Marv Levy, and of course, Jim Kelly--who is still battling cancer, yet found enough strength to come to Canton to support his good friend and favorite target.


As I listened to the words, relived the memories, and watched the endless highlights, a thought occured to me:  those glory days of the Buffalo Bills seem like just yesterday, but were really sooooo long ago!


​The Bills went to their last playoff game in January of 2000, following the 1999 season.  They played in their last Super Bowl in February of 1994, following their 1993 season.


Father time tricks us.  It flies by like a runaway freight train.  For me, and countless other Bills fans who were old enough to remember those four straight Super Bowls, the memories are still so thick, it seems like a few short years ago.  It's almost difficult to fathom that it has been twenty plus long years since that last Super Bowl appearance.


Since the Bills were last in a Super Bowl, we have had four US Presidents.  When the Bills last appeared in a Super Bowl, hardly anyone had a home computer or a cell phone.  It's amazing to think about that a baby, born the day after the last Bills Super Bowl appearance, either just graduated college or will soon.  If you are reading this, and under the age of about 27 or 28, you probably have no recollections of the Bills playing in a Super Bowl.  If you are reading this and you are under the age of 20 or 21, you probably don't even recall the Buffalo Bills playing in a playoff game!


All of you young bucks don't know how great it was.   The Bills glory years from 1988-1994 were so good that it's hard to believe now.  You don't know what it was like to see the Bills favored to win almost every week.  You have no idea how exciting it was to be in Ralph Wilson stadium (then Rich Stadium) for a big game.  You don't know what it was like to see a Bills offense that could actually move the ball at will, gain first downs all the way down the field and score plenty of touchdowns each week.  You don't know what it was like to see a Bills team that had the talent and leadership and coaching that could allow them to convert a 3rd down and long situation numerous times a game.  You probably don't know what it is like to see a defense that is among the league's best.


It is an era that will never be forgotten.  It is also an era that the Bills are so long overdue to get back to.  When will younger Bills fans be able to see the same kind of success that us 40 and 50-somethings talk about?


I think the current Bills are making strides, and are finally going in the right direction, but there still are a long list of questions:


--Is EJ Manuel really the answer at quarterback?  Is he the signal caller that can take the Bills back to the playoffs and consistent success again?


--Is CJ Spiller a durable and big enough back to have 20 plus touches a game that a lead back needs to be successful?


--Will the Williams boys, Mario and Kyle, still be young and productive enough once the Bills finally get good enough to contend every year?


--Is Sammy Watkins destined to become the next dominant wide receiver in the NFL and will he have the quarterback and offensive line necessary to get him the ball consistently?


--Can newcomer Brandon Spikes be the run stuffer the Bills need, especially with Kiko Alonso out for the year, or will the Bills continue to get manhandled on the ground week in and week out?


--Is Doug Marrone and his staff the right coaching staff to get the Bills to the next level of play in the NFL?


--Can anyone step up, like Jim Kelly back in the day, to become the leader of this group and give everyone the winning attitude that has been missing for so long?


If all of these questions can be answered positively, it could be a very fun year at One Bills Drive, and will finally give the young fans something to really cheer about.  If they can't, at least all of us middle aged and older fans will still have our memories.



BASEBALL'S FIRST HALF AWARDS


It someone had told you before the season that the Milwaukee Brewers would be leading the NL Central a week after the All-star break, would you have believed it?  If someone had also said the Houston Astros would NOT be in last place, would you be shocked?


What about if someone had told you that Rick Porcello and some guy named Alfredo Simon would be tied for their league lead in wins?  Or how about if they also said that Brian Dozier would be on pace for 35 homeruns?


If someone told you all of those things, you'd probably tell them they needed a drug test, laugh and walk away from the psycho.  Yet, all of those things are true.  That's the fun thing about a baseball season.


Lets take a look at my annual first half awards from the 2014 major league baseball season.


BEST TEAM:   Seattle Mariners


​Probably an obvious choice.  really, it's the ONLY choice.  The A's are doing it in all facets of the game.   Best winning percentage.  Most runs scored.  Biggest run differential.  Only the Seattle Mariners have allowed less runs, but in that pitching friendly haven known as Safeco Field, that almost doesn't count.


 The A's have power, with Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson with at least 16 homeruns.  They have some speed, with Coco Crisp and his 16 steals.  They have defense and they have pitching.  Oh do they have pitching.  Sonny Gray is proving he is no fluke at 11-3.  Scott Kazmir is having a career resurgence with an 11-3 record, and an amazing 0.99 WHIP.  That was before they traded for Jeff Samardzijia and Jason Hammel, which gives them the best top four starters in the league.  Sean Doolittle took over the closer role early and hasn't looked back with 19 saves.


1st HALF MVP:    Mike Trout


This is a much tougher choice.  I had to think about it for five or ten minutes about Trout or Troy Tulowitzki, who is having a monster year, after being finally healthy for a whole year so far.  I finally went with Trout, mainly because of his Angels being in contention in the AL West, and Trout is the main reason why.  Trout is hitting .309, is among the leaders in HR (24) and RBI (76).  He also still has the speed of a youngster, with 10 out of 10 stolen base attempts.  He plays above average defense, and is a team leader--even at his young age.


​MOST UNDERRATED TEAM:  Baltimore Orioles


The Orioles are leading one of the weakest divisions in baseball, the AL Least.  Most experts predicted it would be among the best divisions before the season, but every team has disappointed, except for Baltimore.  The O's are still amazingly in first place, despite last years triple crown candidate, Chris Davis, hitting around the Mendoza line.  Lucky for Baltimore, their newest bird, Nelson Cruz and holdover, Adam Jones, have picked up the slack big time.  The Orioles have a very underrated starting staff, and ace Chris Tillman is having a down year.  Zach Britton has taken over and solidified the closer spot.  If Davis catches fire and has a more typical 2nd half, the O's will be tough to beat.


MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER:  Paul Goldschmidt


Goldschmidt is the biggest superstar in baseball that nobody has ever heard of.  There is not a player in the league who puts up such gaudy numbers, and gets absolutely none of the recognition for it.  He is hitting .310 with 18 homeruns and 65 RBI, not to mention his nine stolen bases.  It's too bad he plays in a wasteland out in Arizona, and no one on the East coast gets to see him play on his putrid D'Backs.



TEAM MOST LIKELY TO GO INTO THE CRAPPER DOWN THE STRETCH:   Milwaukee Brewers


The Brew Crew is in first place in the NL Central right now.  That should last about another week.  With Pittsburgh, St. Louis (3 games behind) and even Cincinnati hot on their heels.  The Brewers have a nice power/speed combo in the middle of their lineup in Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun, but have too many outs in their lineup to sustain their current pace.  As for pitching, Kyle Lohse has been solid, and Matt Garza could be better, but Wily Peralta and Yovani Gallardo will probably fall off in the 2nd half.



TEAM MOST LIKELY TO SURGE IN THE SECOND HALF:  Pittsburgh Pirates





In the same division, the Bucs should be the team rising into first, while the Brewers will be falling.  The Pirates have a great, young offensive corps with Andrew McCutcheon, Starlin Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.  They just haven't gotten any pitching.  Francisco Liriano has been battling injuries all season, but seems healthy now.  Charlie Morton has been very good, and if young stud Gerrit Cole can turn around a bad first half, the Bucs should cruise in the division.


BIGGEST BUST--TEAM:   Texas Rangers


Another tough call here.  The Red Sox could go from first to worst, at least in their division, and the Dodgers are only eight games over .500, despite that All-star team they put together.  I went with the Rangers due to their lousy 40-62 record, after they were forecast to contend in the AL West before the season.  True, injuries have played a major role, with Prince Fielder out for the entire season, but they have just been bad all around.  Only Adrian Beltre has stood out and had a typical, great season.  Too bad he has no help anymore.




BIGGEST BUST--PLAYER:   Joe Nathan




I have a reader who will LOVE this choice.  He ripped me mercilessly after my pre-season forecast when I touted Nathan as a major reason the Tigers would win the division.  Well, the Tigers still lead the division, but it has been IN SPITE of Nathan and not because of him.  He has been brutal, with a 5.89 ERA and five blown saves.  He does still have 20 saves, but his ineffectiveness forced the Tigers to trade for Rangers closer Joaquim Soria yesterday.  Chris Davis is a close 2nd choice, but even though he is hitting .202, he still does have 16 HR's and 50 RBI.


And finally, UNLUCKIEST TEAM:  New York Yankees


It's amazing that the Bronx Bombers are still five games over .500 with the kind of luck they have had, mainly to their pitching staff.  Longtime staff ace CC Sabathia was awful until he finally went on the DL and ultimately had season ending knee surgery.  Their  REAL ace Mashihiro Tanaka started off great (still tied for the league lead in wins), but then partially tore his ulner collateral in his pitching elbow, and is probably lost for the year--at least if the Yanks know what's best for them long term.  Their #3 starter, Michael Pineda, also started off the year very hot, but then got suspended and then hurt and has been out for two months.  Mark Texeiera has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, along with Derek Jeter, while Brian McCann has been overwhelmed by the bright lights of the Big Apple.


The Yankees have held firm and are still in the hunt though, and now have brought in Chase Headley.  If Tanaka does comeback, along with Pineda, the Yankees could still be there at the end.


​Stay tuned.  It should be a very interesting stretch run!



ALL-STAR REVISIONS NEEDED


It seemed to me that for some reason, I was far more invested in this years major league baseball all-star game than I usually am.  I followed the vote counts, voted myself a few times, and watched the selection show.  I voted for Justin Morneau to be the "extra player" on the NL squad too.  It didn't matter to me as much in the AL.


When Monday came, I was in front of my "boob tube", watching the rain-delayed home-run derby.  When Tuesday came, I was two feet from a TV in Jeremiahs, with a couple of fellow fantasy baseball owners in my leagues, watching the game and talking about it.


I feel I am pretty "up on things" and have been for a number of decades, when it comes to all-star baseball games.  That being said, I have noticed a few things about both the home run derby and the game itself, and wanted to pass along my thoughts for the first time.


Now, as for the home run derby, in general, I liked the changes.  The old derby seemed to get boring.  With ten outs, it seemed to go on and on, like an endless insurance seminar.  Sure, it led to some impressive displays once a player got on a roll--15-25 homeruns were not out of the question--but all too often, the highs weren't worth the lows.


Dropping it to seven outs instead of ten seemed to speed up the rounds a bit, although it seemed much tougher for any of the participants to get on a roll.  


I liked the "head to head" matchups by league, and the fact that the top two homer guys in the first round got a bye to the finals, although that was the main reason BOTH of the players who got those byes didn't win.  Giancarlo Stanton lost to Todd Frazier in the NL final round by the ignominious total of 1-0, while Jose Bautista had the most homers in the first round of anyone, and waited over two hours before he could hit again.  He lost lost in the AL finals to Yoenis Cespedes, who then routed Frazier to win the whole thing.  Anyone who was watching knew that would happen, and could have predicted correctly that Frazier had no chance whatsoever against the heating up defending champ.


I've heard some say that it wasn't fair that Cespedes hit every 20-30 minutes, while Bautista had to wait over two hours, and while one (Bautista) was cold, the other (Cespedes) was warmed up and hot.  Problem is, I don't see any way to make it fairer.  Ask Bautista if he would rather hit in the 2nd round or have a bye and he is going to take a bye every single time.  Theoretically, it still should give him a better chance to win than having to win another round in the derby to get to the finals.  As it was, it was a "Cespedes for the rest of us", and I was very excited that one of my fantasy baseball players won the derby for the 2nd year in a row.


I think on a warmer, more humid night in a different city than Minnesota, the derby will be much better as it was last night than it has been in the years before that.


I cannot say the same about the all-star game itself.


It was not a terrible reflection of the game itself, which was better than most, and quite entertaining, with the AL winning 5-3.  What is ridiculous are the same issues the game has faced for the last 10-20 years.


--Other than the home team, MLB should abolish the ridiculous "every team must be represented in the all-star game" rule.  That would allow more "deserving" players to actually get in and make it easier for the selecting manager.    


--Instead of taking away players, they are ADDING players!  This is utterly ridiculous!  They have 34 players per team now, which is about 10 to 15 too many.  The players who are voted in should play at least three innings each, maybe more.  The second line players who are truly having the best years should play the rest of the games.  There could be maybe three of the eight position players who could have three players play that position during the game.  Each league should need no more than ten pitchers (one per inning in a regular game plus one for extra innings).  The Starting pitcher should go at least three innings, unless they are getting totally ripped.  


--There needs to be some kind of standardization of how many starting pitchers and how many relief pitchers can be elected to each team.  It is ridiculous that one league could choose 8 or 9 relief pitchers and 4 or 5 starters, while the other league chooses 9 starters and 4 relief pitchers.  In a single game elimination like the all-star game, a team with 9 relief pitchers who are used to pitching one inning max, and all throw 100 mph smoke would have a serious advantage over a team that has 9 starters who are used to going 6 or 7 innings and pacing themselves.  Starting next season, baseball needs to say, "In next season's all-star game, each league must select ____ starting pitchers and _____ relief pitchers.  It doesn't matter what the numbers are, it just needs to be uniform.


Adding it all up, if you have eight players voted in as starters who play at least three innings, plus another eight, who five of the eight play the rest of the game, while three others play...that equals 19 (8+8+3).  Then, you add in the ten pitchers, and the way I see it, each roster should be limited to no more than 29, and that is a liberal number.





To get rid of another three, you could say that the starters play at least five innings, and then each position player is allowed ONE backup, who will play the remainder of the game.  That equals 26 players per team.  Actually, that seems to be about right to me.  


Another thing baseball did better this year (and I believe this was the first year for it but I am just going by memory)--they started the pre-game introductions at 7:30 instead of 8.  That allowed hundreds of thousands of young fans to see the end of the game for the first time in their lives.  





Baseball doesn't know a lot, but at least they are doing some things right.  They are doing some things better too.  Now if only they listen to me and read this column, they would be well on their way to making the all-star game what it used to be--a true summer classic. 




THE SOCCER REVOLUTION IS NOT COMING


I'm hearing it again.  That low rumble of the population talking.  Like a train coming in the distance.  Like the sound of thunder in the distance. 


It's actually growing louder now.  You hear it when you are walking around the supermarket.  You hear it when you are sitting in a restaurant.  You hear it next to you when you are working out at the gym.


​It is the talk of America...that with the popularity of this years World Cup, soccer will be the next big thing in this country.


You hear this talk every four years.  Maybe every two years if it is a Summer Olympics year.  It comes on strong for a couple of weeks, then, leaves a few weeks later with a whimper.


AND THEN NOTHING CHANGES!


It takes everything in my being to hold back and not tell the people I hear saying that, that IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!


I've heard the arguments for years.  Decades, really.  The soccer proponents say "Oh, there are so many kids playing soccer right now.  It's such a cheap sport to play--all you need is a ball, a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, socks and for the lucky ones, cleats.  Youth soccer is so well organized, with leagues all over the country, in every big city and small town.  It can't help but grow, and when these kids grow up, they will be so good from playing since they were toddlers, that the US team will succeed and win a World Cup eventually, and then, watch soccer really take off!"


BALONEY!


I have heard that soccer talk since the early 1970's, which was really the first wave of soccer optimism in this country.  Hell, I was a part of it.


That first wave of interest started around 1975, when the New York Cosmos signed the Michael Jordan of soccer, Brazilian star Pele.  They soon also added Italian star Giorgio Chinaglia and German star Franz Beckanbauer.  American goaltender Shep Messing also became a household name and starred in numerous TV commercials.


Around that time, soccer gained popularity big time.  The NASL drew huge crowds, especially when the Cosmos came to town, and kids like me joined soccer leagues everywhere.


I soon found out that as cheap soccer was to play, it was even more boring to actually play.  When you are ten years old, a soccer field seemed as large as some small counties, and most of the time, you just would run back and forth, up and down the field, errr, pitch.  The ball would bounce around from kid to kid who actually knew how to "dribble" the soccer ball and then kick it, while the rest of us just ran up and down, back and forth, on the off chance that one of these kids would actually lose the ball or accidentally kick it to one of us.


In these games, scoring was reserved for these soccer wunderkinds, and half the kid's on the field wouldn't come close to kicking the ball once.  Some times, the goaltender on one of the teams would eat an apple or two or a twinkie while the "action" was on the other end of the field, which could be for hours.


Needless to say, I was not enamored with playing the game of soccer, and my experience lasted only one season.  Of the guys on the team, I think only Scott Kroner and I never figured in a goal.  In fact, I think the two of us touched a soccer ball (with our feet of course) a half dozen times all season.  It was a joke and a complete waste of time.


Unfortunately for soccer, there are too many kids like Scott and I.  Even the lil' soccer "stars" in youth soccer often grow up and found that playing baseball, football or basketball was much more fun to play, more popular, and made it easier to get chicks.


Here is the other thing about soccer that annoys most people when they are not watching the World Cup:  NOBODY SCORES!


Most Americans couldn't give a rats ass about all the chess maneovering of soccer.  All the going forward towards the goal and then passing the ball BACKWARDS five times until the team with the ball is back near their own goaltender again, who says "hey, the other goal is THAT WAY".  Then "attacking" again, going forward toward the opponents goal, only to go backwards again.  Doesn't make sense to most fans.  A team seems like they can have the ball in their possession for ten minutes and not get off a single shot!


With soccer, there isn't another sport that can have such a level of activity--players are always moving, the ball is usually in play--with so little actually happening.  In short, soccer is a sport with a whole lotta NOTHING going on.  


People are watching the World Cup.  That's great for a sport!  Problem is, when anyone watches a soccer game where two of the world's best teams aren't playing, they are bored to tears.  That's NOT a great thing for a sport.


Quick....name three teams in Major League Soccer?!  I doubt many can do it.  I can think of the New England Revolution, the New York/New Jersey Red Bulls (or did they fold?), the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders

annnd how about the LA Galaxy.  Or is that the WNBA team?  And I bet I am on the high end of people who can think of US professional teams.



In that league, the average attendance is 19,996 per game, which is skewed because some teams, like Portland and Seattle, sell out all their games in the soccer crazed Pacific Northwest.  Twenty thou a game isn't terrible, but it's not rivaling major league baseball.  




Soccer is a niche sport, that is loved by foreigners, immigrants and assimilated Americans.  For folks in most other countries, it is the primary sport, mainly because there aren't any other sports the masses can afford.


For Americans, it will continue to be a niche sport.  It will NEVER take over as the primary sport in the US.  Never EVER!  It will not become more popular than baseball, football, basketball or hockey.  Not in my lifetime.  Most likely, not in our grandkids lifetime.  No matter how many World Cups we win.


The next time I hear anyone saying how soccer will become the next big thing, I am seriously going to tell them they have taken one too many "headers". 



ANOTHER "DECISION"


First of all, I would like to thank all of my faithful readers for bearing with me.  I had a very nice vacation in the Mile high visiting my family and a few old friends.  


I also went to my bi-annual Choroideremia conference--which, being in Denver--led to a nice vacation and family visit.  There are so many new developments in the fight to save our sight, and a phase one clinical trial that is starting in September at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr Jean Bennett, who is leading that study, was one of the main speakers at the conference, and it was interesting to hear of her progress.  I am in the running to be selected to be a subject in that trial, and should find out within a month or two.  If I am selected, you better believe I will keep everyone up to date on my progress through this column.


Anyways, other than that, it was a pretty typical vacation.  Too much eating of tasty foods, a bit of drinking, and plenty of fun.  I got a pretty good sunburn out on the boat one day, and it is now flaking off of me as I sit here and type.  I feel like a snake that is shedding his skin.  


We didn't get to look at any houses, but if I don't get into that clinical trial, a move is definitely in our plans.


Now, onto my regular column, which I swear will become more regular again, now that I am back home.


Lebron James announced that he was not picking up the option on his Miami Heat contract recently.  His Heat had just lost the NBA title, after playing in the championship series four straight years.  The Heat went 2-2 in those four series, which is a little disappointing for fans of James.  You still can't argue the success rate of the "Big Three" though.  Teams don't get into four straight championship series every day, winning two.  Now, it could be completely broken up, and the participants might move onto a different chapter in their NBA careers.


Of course, it all starts with Lebron.  


King James, who started it all with his "decision" to "take his talents to South Beach", is once again the key domino that will make all of the others fall.  He has the biggest say, and most of the other big names in the free agent pool will wait to decide the choice of teams until James makes his.


So where will Lebron end up THIS time?  Will there be another "The Decision" show on ESPN?  Will Lebron bring other superstar players with him to his chosen city?  I will attempt to handicap the field, as I see it, and answer those pressing questions....


1.  LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS  (2-1 odds).    James has proven that he wants to win.  He took less money than he could have gotten in Miami in order to bring in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as well.  If he stays consistent, he may decide to "take his talents to Tinseltown".  


The Clips have the most ready made group for Lebron to join, and will be instant favorites to win the title if he goes there.  His good friend, Chris Paul, is the unquestioned team leader already, taking that pressure off Lebron, which is something I'm sure he would be thrilled about.  The Clips have Blake Griffen at the four, and young stud Deandre Jordan at the five.  They could round out a starting five with either JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford or Danny Granger, depending on who gets re-signed and who gets let go.  Granger is a free agent, so he will most likely be moving on.  The rest are signed, but someone will be traded due to cap issues and fitting Lebron in.


Either way, that starting five is even more impressive and dynamic than the Heat have been over the past four years, and most of the key players are already signed for more than a year.  Lebron in this team at the three, would be the best fit and the strongest possible lineup and supporting cast, as well as a respected "players coach" like Doc Rivers already there.  Also, with tightwad Donald Sterling out, it has the potential to happen.


​2.  MIAMI HEAT (9-2).  This is somewhat of the opposite scenario of LA, in that staying in Miami would allow the Heat to basically start over, rebuilding a new cast of their choice around Lebron--as opposed to in LA, where everything is already in place.  The Heat have a whopping EIGHT players that have just become free agents, including Lebron, although Wade is signed thru 2016.  Does James want to stay with Wade, and call his shots as to whom he wants management to target to play with the two?  You bet your ass he does, and he already is as much involved in player personnel for Miami as Michael Jordan is in Charlotte.


3.  CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (10-1).  Lebron loves his hometown of Akron, Ohio.  Cleveland is basically Akron's adopted favorite NBA team due to proximity.  Lebron grew up in Ohio, and played for the Cavaliers for seven years, taking them to one championship series.  Imagine the "returning hero" storylines in Cleveland if James decides to come home.


It could happen, because the Cavs have a nice, young and talented supporting cast now--something James didn't really have the first time.  This is because the NBA somehow made the lottery balls fall in such a way that the Cavs were able to get three number one overall picks in a four year stretch.  




Kyrie Irving, the first of those three top picks, is an exciting point guard who could get the ball to James, as well as score himself.  They just added Adnrew Wiggins in the draft, and although Anthony Bennett was a HUGE disappointment as last years #1, he is a project who could still be great if given time.  Tristan Thompson is a nice complementary four who can rebound, and Dion Waiters is young and exciting at the two.


This time in Cleveland, James wouldn't have to do it all.


4.  NEW YORK KNICKS (25-1).  Last time, Miami came out of nowhere to land Lebron.  Could the Knicks be that team this time?  It's ppssible.



Lebron knows his NBA history.  He knows what an icon Phil Jackson is.  He would love the opportunity to play under him, and add to each's legacy.  New York is the largest media market in the country, which has to intrigue Lebron, who would love to be able to walk from the garden to Madison avenue and become the "next Jordan", as far as endorsements go.


The problem with this scenario is that the Knicks are a mess.  Carmelo Anthony is also a free agent, and the Knicks will doubtfully have the cap space to resign him AND bring Lebron in.  The Knicks would be in a much better shape next year when Amare Stoudamire comes off the books, but there is no supporting cast this year, and probably won't be much more of one next year either.  Still, it is the apple, so you never know.


5.  CHICAGO BULLS (30-1).  As I said, James knows his history, and grew up being a huge MJ fan.  Would James be interested in taking his talents to the Windy City to write a new chapter in that Bulls legacy?


The Bulls have a defensive minded coach in Tom Thibodeau already there, who is very well respected, and a defensive mindset that James knows well and appreciates.  The Bulls have Derrick Rose hopefully coming back next year who can score and get Lebron the ball.  They have the paint players in place with Joaquim Noah, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer (for 1 more year).  They just drafted an exciting scorer in Doug McDermott, who would be a great sixth man if Lebron signs with the Bulls.  They have a good, young defender on the wing in Jimmy Butler.  


The Bulls have all the pieces in place, and can find ways to get James under the cap.  Problem is, Chicago had all the right pieces in place before Lebron's last "decision" and he spurned them then, so I am guessing he will again, not wanting to mess with Jordan's legacy.


6.  THE FIELD (50-1).  There are plenty of other teams who would love to land King James.  Houston has plenty of trade pieces in James Harden, Chandler Parsons and others that could make an enticing deal for someone if they land James.  Dallas has the money and cap space.  And I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the Lakers found a way to get in the mix, but there really aren't any possibilities that are as attractive as the six I mentioned above.  Nothing will shock me, but I would be very surprised if anyone in the rest of the field nabbed him.


How will it play out?  We'll see in the coming weeks.  No matter how it does, I hope there won't be another "decision, part two" show.  I'd like to think Lebron learned from the last one.  



HEY LPGA--GOOD RIDDANCE!


No-el, No el, No LPGA!  


Remember that oh so annoying radio and TV commercial that used to air all the time around the holiday season?  It used to air constantly around the Rochester area, urging golf fans to buy their tickets for the upcoming summer's LPGA tour event.  


It would implore you, that if you didn't get your tickets soon, there would be "no Lopez, no Sorenstam...no Natalie Gulbis as your favorite stocking stuffer!"


Little did we know at the time all those years, it would also be a very prophetic little diddy.  That's because after this August's Wegmans LPGA Championship, the golfers will all be packing into their little golf carts, and driving away from Rochester for good.


Twenty...fifteen, maybe even ten years ago, I would have been devastated by this news.  The annual LPGA tour stop was a big deal here in golf crazed Rochester.  


The event started way back in 1977, when Pat Bradley won the "Bankers Trust Classic".  What was a Bankers Trust anyways?  It was a local bank I believe.  It's been so long ago, that I can't even recall what Bankers Trust eventually morphed into.  It was a nice new little tour event that didn't really catch on until the next year when a young upstart named Nancy Lopez was becoming the "Jack Nicklaus of the LPGA tour".  Lopez won a record fifth straight weekly tour stop at Locust Hill, and a legend...and a tournament...was born.


Rochester galleries fell in love with Nancy Lopez and "Nancy's Navy" would push her to more tournament wins in the Roc and great success.  It was a mutual love affair too.  Nancy Lopez fell in love with Rochester as much as the town embraced her.


Largely because of Nancy Lopez, the yearly LPGA event was a "can't miss" event in town.  It was a place to socialize, and catch up with fellow fans many would only see once a year--at the tournament.  The "fan favorite" mantle began to fade from Nancy as her game did the same, and that torch was passed to Patty Sheehan--a diminutive warrior in golf slacks and a visor.  Sheehan would win FOUR times in Rochester, many in thrilling fashion.


After Sheehan, Rochester adopted Rosie Jones, Karrie Webb and Lorena Ochoa, who all won twice here.  They also fell in love with Anneka Sorenstam and Laura Davies along the way.  Yes, it was a great tounament for many years.


That all seems so long ago.


Last year I said pretty much the same thing, but I made a mistake.  I made a mistake in phrasing what I meant to say.  I said last year that the local tour event was suffering from a real lack of interest over the last few years because of the preponderance of foreigners (specifically asians) on the tour.  


It was a controversial opinion.  It was an opinion that got my ass fired amidst a national controversy.  It was an opinion that got me booked on numerous national radio shows to talk about my opinion and my firing because of it.  It was an opinion that still to this day makes dozens of twitter followers of my column think I am a horrible racist.  It was an opinion that, when people have met me over the past year, most have shared with me, and most are shocked that I was fired over it.  It was an opinion that, for better or worse, changed my life.


A year has now passed, and you know what?  I still have the same opinion.  I would change one thing about it though--the wording of it.  What I should have said is this:  The LPGA is suffering with waning popularity because there are not enough dominant AMERICAN golfers!  


That fact has hurt the interest level here in Rochester, and I'm sure it is affecting the interest level in most other AMERICAN cities.  As for Rochester, it has nothing to do with what the tournament is called, whether it's a major or not or what course it is played at.  It has just not been the same since the 90's or earlier.  Why?  Because of the lack of sucess of American golfers, plain and simple.


Take a look at the winners of the Rochester LPGA tour stop since 2000.  The first year it was a major, 2010, American Christie Kerr won it.  Since then, there has been a winner from Taiwan, a winner from China and one from South Korea.  Prior to 2010, when it was just the Wegmans LPGA yearly tour stop, only ONE US golfer won, and her name was Kim Saiki, in 2004.  You have to go back to 2000 to find another American born winner of the event and that was Meg Mallon.  


That's THIRTEEN local LPGA events in Rochester, and only TWO US citizens who have won.  Three for fourteen if you include Mallon.


That is why I said what I said last year.  It has nothing to do with racism.  It has to do with a sinking ship in this country, and the LPGA's misplaced aggression towards the future.  By continuing to turn their back on the real problem, they will continue to see declining popularity in this country.


It is the same thing with tennis.  Tennis used to be a big deal.  A HUGE deal!  Back in the 70's and 80's and into the 90's.  Back in the day when Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier  and Andre Agassi were dominating the grass, clay and hardcourts.  Now, no one cares about tennis.  Why?  Because there hasn't been a halfway decent American male tennis player since 1997 and only the Williams sisters have saved the country from complete embarrassment the last decade and a half.



The game of womens golf is headed down the same road, and the people in charge continue to have the blinders on as to reasons why.  The tour bosses would rather watch their tour fade away into oblivion, than do anything to address the issue.


I understand the LPGA tour is an international tour, and there are events held in other countries, but at tour events held on US soil, why can't the tour think about restricting the number of foreign players in each event?  The Japanese baseball league does it, and no one calls them anti-American racists.  In Japanese baseball, each team may not have more than four foreign players in their active lineup, including the pitcher.  They can have one foreign pitcher and three position players, but that's it.  Why do they do this, do you think?  Because they realize that Japanese fans like to cheer for Japanese players!!!  


It's not rocket science folks.  Call me a racist all you want, but I stand by my contention that it does no one any good when nine of the top ten finishers of most LPGA events in US cities are South Koreans and if the fans are lucky, maybe Paula Creamer sneaks in there.  When you watch the Olympics, don't you cheer for the Americans???  When did it become a crime to be a proud American?


The LPGA Championship is moving onto a rotation of courses in and around New York City.  They are going to get way more money from corporate sponsorships, and raise the purses.  That will be great for the Koreans and other asian golfers, who'd love nothing more than taking all the American dollars they can get, and taking them back home to convert into their national currency to spend there.  Meanwhile, the scores will plummet as these women golfers try to play Shinnecock Hills or Winged Foot or Westchester Country Club, and while the events will be televised by ESPN and other larger networks, fans will surely see more birds and squirrels taking in the event than actual fans.


The LPGA tour took the money grab, and in doing so, they are turning their backs on the good fans that actually still care about watching the event here in Rochester.  They say it will be good for women's golf.  I say it will backfire by showing the whole country of the United States what the tour has become--a tour that is dominated by foreigners--and that no one is attending the event.


I used to love the local LPGA tour stop.  That was a long time ago.  Now, I can fondly wave goodbye.


As a matter of fact, I wish the LPGA tour had left Rochester two years ago.  I'd still have a job.




CAN PACERS, SPURS GET OVER THE HUMP?


There is so much history in the NBA of teams that had a stumbling block, but finally got past it.


Looking back to the 1980's, it is well documented.  The Detroit Pistons lost three times in the playoffs to the Boston Celtics, before finally beating them on their way to a title.  The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, lost three straight years to the same Pistons before finally beating them on the Bulls run to their first title.  In the West, the Utah Jazz lost numerous times to the Seattle Supersonics before finally vanquishing them in the conference finals.


Now, we have two teams in that same situation, three if you count the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Both San Antonio and Oklahoma City have lost in the finals to the Miami Heat the past two years.  The Thunder have been a young team that just can't seem to win a title.  The Spurs are an aging, solidly prepared team that can't seem to take that final step.  Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers have lost to the Heat the past two season in the playoffs and can't seem to get past them.


This years playoffs have the taste of those great playoff teams of the past.  The question for all of them is:  "Who will be able to rise up, be stalwart, and finally get over that huge hump that has eliminated them from the playoffs before?"


The answer, in my opinion, is--none of them.  What is ironic is that two teams that are left probably have the two best players in their respective league.  That will help one team, but I don't think will be enough to help the other.


The Miami Heat have the world's greatest player right now and possibly the best to ever play the game in Lebron James.  They also have the 2nd best player in the Eastern conference (when he is healthy) in Dwyane Wade.  That is tough to beat in a short series, which is what the Pacers are facing.  Indiana has a team oriented attack.  They play great defense, and with the likes of Roy Hibbert and David West, they have height and talent in the paint.  Their problem is, with players like Paul George and Lance Stephenson, they just don't have the guys who can hit the big shot down the stretch or in crunch time, like the Heat do with James and Wade.


That will be the difference in this series, as it has been in the past.  Like Michael Jordan used to be able to do in the 90's, James and Wade have the ability, and complete lack of fear, to will their team to victory.  The Pacers just don't have that, and have to play almost the perfect game each time out in order to beat the Heat.


Meanwhile, in the Western conference, the Thunder have the same fortune.  They are lucky enough to possess the 2nd best player in the NBA, and this season's MVP:  Kevin Durant.  They also have arguably the 2nd best player in the Western conference (when he is healthy) in Russell Westbrook.  Sadly for them, I don't think I can have the same confidence as I do about the Heat.  Why?  Because of the loss of their THIRD best player to injury, and that is Serge Ibaka.


Ibaka is the defensive heart and soul of the Thunder.  His long, lanky frame and wingspan make him one of the best defensive players in the NBA.  Unfortunately, he is injured and lost for the series.  His replacements, Nick Collison and Steven Adams, just don't have the quickness to match up with the Spurs.  We saw in game one just what happens, and just what the Spurs can do to the Thunder without Ibaka in the game at power forward.


What happened was that the Thunder were manhandled by San Antonio in the paint, as the Spurs shot over 60% inside the colored area.  For the Thunder to have any chance, they are going to have to find some way of doing better at limiting those shots.  If they can, Durant and Westbrook give Oklahoma City the chance to win this series.  I think they might be able to do it for a game, maybe two, but in my opinion, the Spurs are far too smart and wily to allow that to happen.


I think we are going to see yet another repeat finals in the NBA this year.  If that were to happen, it would be the fourth time since 1979 that two teams have played in back to back finals.  It would be five if you counted the Celtics and Lakers playing in two out of three a couple years ago, but I can't count that.  In those previous four back to back finals matchups, ONLY ONE TIME did the same team win both, and that was the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz.


In those other three finals, the teams split.  The (then) Bullets and SuperSonics split in 1978-79.  The Lakers and 76ers split in 1982-83.  Most recently, the Lakers and Pistons split back to back series in 1988-89, with Los Angeles winning the first, but Detroit "getting over the hump" to win the second.


As you can see, in the finals, history seems to be on the side of the San Antonio Spurs.  The trend could be in the favor of the Miami Heat.  I think the Heat will become the 2nd straight back to back series opponent to win both, joining the Bulls.  They are just as good as they were last year, while the aging Spurs are a year older.


Unless younger players like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green step it up big time and can D up James and Wade, as well as provide needed offense, this will once again be the year of the Heat.  



DID NFL ORCHESTRATE SAM DRAFTING?


Something seems a tad suspicious to me about the NFL draft and Michael Sam.  


You know the story by now.  Michael Sam came out of the closet around the time of the NFL combine.  Said he was gay.  Said he was content being gay.  Wanted the world to know.  Wanted the NFL to know.  Sam wanted to be known as the first openly gay football player in history.  Sam knew that his announcement was big news.  He didn't seem to care.  In fact, it seemed that he actually played the whole situation up, enjoying every interview.


Draft experts said that Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, would likely be a third or maybe fourth round draft selection inthe  May draft.  They said that although Sam was a bit undersized, he had a non-stop motor and skills as a pass rusher.  They said someone will take him in the draft, never minding the whole gay issue.


When the NFL draft actually came around though, a funny thing happened.


The third round went by, and Michael Sam wasn't drafted.  The fourth round came and went, and Michael Sam wasn't drafted.  The fifth and sixth round rolled by, and Michael Sam STILL wasn't drafted.  


What in tarnations was happening?  The NFL draftniks were surprised.  The TMZ people, who were following the draft just to exult over Sam being drafted, were aghast.  All the TV shows, like "Inside Edition" and "Access Hollywood", and all the pro gay media were besides themselves.  How could it be that Michael Sam was still on the board halfway through the seventh round?  


As the final round wore on, and team after team made their picks leaving Sam undrafted, the NFL offices had to be concerned.  


Here the NFL was, in the middle of this huge human rights story.  The NFL had a stake in this too.  They helped stir up all the Michael Sam hoopla.  The league's PR people set up interviews with Sam and numerous media outlets.  This was supposed to be a crowning moment for them--that the NFL was happy to welcome an openly gay player into their ranks.  They said that being gay wouldn't matter, and they were happy to help Michael Sam live his dream.


As the final round rolled by though, and Sam still wasn't drafted, time was running out on this NFL "feel good story".  The NFL apparently miscalculated.  Apparently, being gay DID matter to many NFL teams.  How else would you explain Michael Sam falling like a stone into a pond?  


This is where I am surmising that the NFL sprung into action.  This is where Roger Goodell and the PR people in the NFL's offices must have gotten together for an emergency meeting.  They couldn't let Sam go undrafted.  What a public relations nightmare that would be, after all the hype over the previous months.


"What can we do about this", they commiserated.  At the same time, the talking heads at ESPN that were announcing the draft, kept saying things like "The big story here now is when Michael Sam will get drafted".  Not IF he would get drafted, but WHEN?  It was almost as if they KNEW.


The other strange thing was there was no talk about drafting Michael Sam in the Rams war room minutes before they took him.  Usually there is discussion and teams have an idea of who they will be taking with each pick, but in this case, it was like the Rams just decided at the last minute to take Sam.


I think Roger Goodell and company reached out to the Rams.  Since Sam went to college at Missouri, the Rams were the natural fit.  I think Goodell called Rams GM Les Snead in the war room and said to him, "We've got a problem.  After all the hype and hoopla, we need to get Michael Sam drafted, so that we don't end up with egg on our collective faces.  We've gone to bat for you,rescinding the suspension of Gregg Williams and allowed you dto hire him as your defensive coordinator.  We helped to facilitate the RG3 trade for you and stood up for you when all the talk about moving the franchise back to Los Angeles, so we need you to do us a solid.  Draft Michael Sam."


​Again, how else would you explain it?  The Rams biggest position of strength is defensive end.  The Rams had the most sacks in the NFL last year.  Chris Long and William Hayes combined for 13 and a half sacks.  On the other side, Robert Quinn and Eugene Sims combined for 21.  They drafted defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round.  If there ever was a team that WOULDN'T need another pass rushing defensive end, it would be the Rams!


That being said, when training camp rolls around, you can bet on one thing--Michael Sam will NOT be cut.  Even though the Rams have the positional depth of the Pacific Ocean at defensive end, they will not want to deal with the backlash from gay rights groups if the Turk axes Sam. 


I predict that Michael Sam is put on the St. Louis Rams practice squad.  He will stay there and practice with the team for a couple of years until all the hubbub dies down.  Perhaps, late in the season, the Rams will add him to 


the active roster if there is a game they don't need to win, just so that he can make a special teams tackle and 

give the gay rights people something to cheer about.


In my opinion, Sam went about this the wrong way.  Instead of coming out quietly, like Jason Collins did, he came out with the bluster of a ringmaster in a three ring circus.  In doing so, he is making it much tougher for any future gay athletes who are thinking about coming out.  


It's really a shame to me.  It should be all about what the guy can do on the football field.  With Michael Sam though...it's not. 



SO HOW DID THE BILLS DO?


The 2014 NFL draft is over, and now that the dust has settled, we get to examine how we thought each of our teams did.  Of course, we won't REALLLY know until three or four years from now, but it's a fun exercise nonetheless.


How did I do on my mock draft?  Well, not as good as I would have liked.  The first two picks went as I expected, but when the Jaguars unexpectedly took Blake Bortles with the third pick, the dominos began to fall.  I was able to regroup and get the Mike Evans to Tampa pick correct at number seven, and then very late in the draft, I pulled Jason Verrett to the Chargers out of my butt, thus settling for four picks right.  


The teams that seemed to fare the best in my opinion were the Raiders--getting Khalil Mack to fall to them at four--and then still getting Derek Carr with their 2nd round pick.  The Browns made the most of all of their picks, taking Justin Gilbert to pair with Joe Haden in a top notch cornerback pairing, and then getting Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick, along with 20 thousand plus new season ticket holders.  The Rams also had another great draft, using all the remaining picks from the RG3 trade to address several needs with first round talent.


But how did the Buffalo Bills do?  Well, I think they did very well in general.  Here are my thoughts:


FIRST ROUND PICK:  Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.  Watkins was by far the most explosive playmaker in the draft.  He has great speed for a number one receiver, good hands and is a monster at YAC (yards after the catch).  He has the ability to make any catch and then take it to the house.  He was the top receiver in this draft by all accounts, and can be a real difference maker.  The question is:  did the Bills give up too much to trade up to the four slot to get him?


Buffalo traded their 2015 first round pick and a conditional fourth to the Browns to move up to pick Watkins.  That IS a steep price, but in my opinion, it was worth it.  The Bills need to know ASAP if their first round pick last year, EJ Manuel, is the right guy to build a young team around, or if that was a horrible reach.  Bringing in an established talent like Mike Williams and drafting a game-breaker like Watkins, along with shoring up the offensive line, will allow them to know the answer to that question this season.  With a talented and explosive wide receiving corps like Watkins, Williams and Robert Woods, if Manuel can't show signs of becoming a dominant quarterback, the Bills will know if they have to address the QB position in next years draft.


Bills management is going for broke this season, and I can't blame them.  When you have the longest streak of missing the playoffs in the league, and your team will most likely be sold within the year, you can't think about the future.  The front office is trying to save their jobs, and a successful season could be the only way they can do that.  At the very least, the Bills should be much more entertaining to watch this coming season than they have been since the 90's and the Flutie era.


​BEST VALUE PICK:  Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke.  Cockrell was taken by Buffalo in the 4th round, but according to many draft experts, he has late 1st or 2nd round talent.  He has great awareness and ball skills.  He can be a defensive playmaker, and even though he isn't the biggest or fastest corner, could compete with Leodis McKelvin for the starting left corner spot.  He has excellent measurables, despite his 4.5 speed.  Above average vertical, broad jump and cone drill speed means he should be able to close well on balls thrown his way, and can leap to make plays.


RISKIEST PICK:  Cyrus Kouandijo, OT, Alabama.  As the draft progressed, Kouandijo was the best offensive tackle on the board at the time the Bills took him in the 2nd round, so you really can't blame them, but this pick has some risk.  Big Cy has an impressive pedigree.  He was one of the top recruits coming out of high school, but didn't really live up to his immense potential.  Cy had a very good sophomore season when 'Bama won it all, but then seemed to regress and struggle at times last year.  Still, he has the size at 6'7" and 320 pounds, the strength and the ability.  With the proper offensive line coach and scheme, hopefully he can thrive in Buffalo.


​BEST LATER ROUND STEAL:  Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor.  Richardson was the 7th best offensive guard in the draft, and many thought he could be picked in the first three rounds.  For him to be sitting there when the Bills 5th round turn came around had to be like opening presents on Christmas morning for the Bills.   He has the size at 6'5" , 329.  He has decent strength, and his cone drill time of 7.7 seconds at the combine shows he is surprisingly agile.  Word is that he struggles against speed rushers at times, but luckily, there aren't a lot of those guys on most NFL teams interior lines.  He could supplant Chris Williams or Kraig Urbik at either guard spot or at the least, provide excellant depth at those positions.


MY BIGGEST WISH FOR A DO-OVER:  As good as a late round pick that Cyril Richardson was, I still would rather have seen the Bills draft either Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray or Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron with their 5th round pick.  With EJ Manuel's injury history and the uncertainty over whether he is the Bills guy long term, either Murray or McCarron would have been a very inexpensive young insurance policy for the Bills.


Other than that, the Bills added two linebackers in the draft that could help down the road.  Inside linebacker Preston Brown from Louisville is a little undersized at 6'1" and 251, but makes up for it with a non stop motor.  he can also hit like a Mack truck.  Brown runs a decent 4.7 forty yard dash and has good measurables and a feel for the ball carrier.  He will have to develop in pass coverage though, but could work out to be a nice 3rd round pick.


​The other linebacker, Randall Johnson from Florida Atlantic, is also undersized at 6'3", 242, but is a bit of a freak athlete.  He has excellent speed, running a 4.58 forty at the combine, but will be a bit of a project.  Still, for a 7th round pick, the risk is low.



Overall, I thought the Bills did a quietly nice job with this years draft.  A game breaker on offense who could become one of the league's best wideouts, two beefy offensive linemen who could possibly become immediate starters, and two very good defensive players who could help out next year and down the road.


The key remains for Buffalo to be quarterback EJ Manuel.  In a quarterback driven league, you need a competant signal caller.  The Bills need to find out if they really do have that in Manuel.  If EJ makes big strides in 2014 and shows that he indeed IS that guy for Buffalo, a playoff beth is not out of the question.  If he struggles like a rookie again and/or gets hurt again, it looks like it could be another 6-10 season and continuing the lack of playoff streak.



MY ANNUAL NFL MOCK DRAFT


FINALLY!  The NFL draft is upon us.  After an extra two weeks waiting period, which is ridiculous and arrogant for the NFL to do, we are finally ready to get it going.  The draft is a wonderful rebirth.  Each NFL team is 0-0 in the standings.  Each team feels they are one or two great draft picks away from completely turning around their fortunes.  And guys like me get to predict who goes where and feel like a genius, or a dumkopf.


Doing a mock draft is never as easy as it seems.  Try doing it yourself and you will see for yourself.  The reason of course is obvious.  When you get one pick wrong, it is essentially like missing two picks necause the player you thought will go to one team will eventually go to another and you miss that pick as well.


Now that the excuses are out of the way, here is my 2014 NFL mock draft:


​1.  Houston Texans (or Atlanta via trade):  Jadeveon Clowney, DE.  Clowney could be the next Julius Peppers or Bruce Smith.  Problem is, he could also become the next Aundray Bruce.  He is a freak athlete, but also lacks intensity and passion.  He has been called a "lazy" player who doesn't like to practice or work out.  Not exactly an endorsement for a #1 overall pick, but his physical gifts are so great, he has to be the top pick.  I highly doubt Houston will keep him though.  They will either be drafting for another team or a trade will happen before the pick.


​2.  St. Louis Rams:  Greg Robinson, OT.  The best offensive tackle in this years draft.   The Rams biggest need is left tackle, protecting the blind side of Sam Bradford.  The Rams seem to have indicated they are not giving up on Bradford, so the next best option is to give him great protection.


3.  Jacksonville Jaguars:  Khalil Mack, LB.  Mack will become the best player to ever play for the University of Buffalo in the NFL immediately after this pick.  The Jags need a quarterback, but I don't see them going for Blake Bortles or Jahnny Manziel here.  They need defense more and they need a playmaker who does it all and is a monster.  And of course, we know Gus Bradley is a defensive guy.


​4.  Cleveland Browns:  Sammy Watkins, WR.  After giving up on QB Brandon Weedon, it would seem that quarterback would be the Brownies biggest need and Bortles or Manziel would be the pick.  For some reason though, Browns management has said they are not picking a QB, and it seems they are happy with Brian Hoyer.  That being said, Watkins would be the best choice--a dynamic wideout with speed and all the tools to pair with Josh Gordon, giving the Browns two outstanding receivers.


​5.  Oakland Raiders:  Derek Carr, QB.  The Raiders have said they are NOT going to draft Johnny Manziel.  That doesn't mean they won't take another quarterback, and the Raiders are known for reaching, no matter where they are picking in the draft.  Carr is a Fresno St. product that GM Mark Davis reportedly is enamored with, so what the heck--I say they take the reach and make Carr the shocking first quarterback drafted.


​6.  Atlanta Falcons (or most likely, Houston):  Blake Bortles, QB.  This is a tough one.  If Atlanta trades up for the #1 pick, as I expect they will, this is Houston's pick, and they will take Bortles.  If there isn't a trade, there is no way they pick Bortles.  I am assuming a trade and going with Bortles here.


​7.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Mike Evans, WR.  The Bucs could take Johnny Football here, but I can't believe they would just give up on Mike Glennon, who showed promise last year, so quickly.  I think they will allow common sense to prevail and pick the 6'5" target to pair with Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs two great wideouts.


​8.  Minnesota Vikings:  The Vikings have to be tempted to take Manziel here also, but again, I think they use common sense and listen to their football men.  When you have Adrian Peterson, you need to run and stop the run.  The Vikes couldn't stop anyone last year, so Donald would be the perfect fit to anchor the middle of the defensive line for a decade.


9.  Buffalo Bills:  The pick we' ve all been waiting for here in Western New York.  With Watkins and Evans both off the board, the temptation to take either of them is gone.  The biggest need is offensive tackle, and the best one on the board would be Johnny Manziels best collegiate protector, Jake Matthews.  Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but it would be like Christmas morning if Matthews is still on the board for them.


​10.  Detroit Lions:  Taylor Lewan, OT.  Offensive line isn't the biggest need for the Lions, but they could move Riley Reiff back to his more natural right tackle spot and put this kid right in at left tackle.  Or he could play the right side.  Either way, they couldn't pass up the Michigan product falling into their laps at ten.  Matt Stafford, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will thank them for it.


11.  Tennessee Titans:  Anthony Barr, OLB.  The Titans would not shock me if they took Manziel here, but again, the smart pick would be Barr--a monster of a linebacker who can do it all--tackle, rush the passer and make plays.  That is exactly what the Titans lacked last year, and they should go defense, unless they have given up on the injury prone Jake Locker.





​12.  New York Giants:  Zack Martin, OG.  Anyone who watched any Giants games last year knows how BRUTAL the G-men's offensive line was and it affected Eli Manning's play.  A well schooled Fighting Irish boy like Martin would be just what the Giants need.  It just might not be the sexy pick, so get ready for the catcalls at Radio City Music Hall.


​13.  St. Louis Rams:  Haseem "Ha Ha" Clinton Dix, FS.  OK, so the Rams have just about wrapped up their booty for the RG3 trade.  They grabbed Alec Ogletree last year and he really helped the defense.  We know they can rush the passer with Chris Long and Robert Quinn.  They have two young corners with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.  About all that is missing is a free safety that is a playmaker.  The Alabama product fills the bill.  The Rams could also go with Odell Beckham Jr if they want to go wideout, but the smart pick is Clinton-Dix


​14.  Chicago Bears:  C.J. Mosley, ILB.  What do you know--back to back 'Bama guys go off the board.  Mosley just makes the most sense, with Lance Briggs not getting any younger, and the Bears run defense struggling mightily to stop anyone last year.  With the offensive potential of this team, they need to get some defensive stops and not allow so many long drives.  Mosley would help.


​15.  Pittsburgh Steelers:  Justin Gilbert, CB.  Could be Marqueze Dennard.  Could be Gilbert.  Either way, it SHOULD be a cornerback.  Steelers cornerbacks combined for five interceptions last year, and their two starters combined for 1.


16.  Dallas Cowboys:  Johnny Manziel, QB.  The wait finally ends for Manziel, who had to be going crazy in the green room.  The Cowboys have many more pressing needs, but everyone knows Jerry Jones loves to make headlines, and who would make more headlines than a Cowboys and Manziel marriage.  Plus, Tony Romo may have seen his best days and has proven he is not a big game playoff QB.  What makes more sense than a Texas kid nicknamed "Johnny Football" playing for "America's team"?  Nothing!


​17.  Baltimore Ravens:  Calvin Pryor, FS.  The Ravens current safeties combined for a grand total of ONE interception and three fumble recoveries last season.  It seems a long time since the days of Ed Reed.  Pryor can come in and make things happen for this defense.


​18.  New York Jets:  Odell Beckham Jr, WR.  The J-E-T-S, JETS< JETS JETS brought in Michael Vick and Eric Decker to give the offense a new flavor.  What better than to add another speed threat to an awful receiving corps?  


19.  Miami Dolphins:  Darqueze Dennard, CB.  Miami also has a need on the offensive line at the guard spot, but get better value with Dennard, who could have been a top 15 pick.  He could replace the oft-injured Cortland Finnegan right away.


20.  Arizona Cardinals:  Cyrus Kouandijo, OT.  After addressing the need at the guard spot last year with Jonathan Cooper, the Cards turn to tackle this year and take the 6'7" behemoth from Alabama.


21.  Green Bay Packers:  Eric Ebron, TE.  It's an early Christmas for Aaron Rodgers if Ebron, the best tight end in this years draft, falls to the Pack at 21.  If he's there, it makes a lot of sense.


22.  Philadelphia Eagles:  Brandin Cooks, WR.   Could be Cody Latimer.  Could be Cooks.  What we know is that after letting Desean Jackson walk, it SHOULD BE a wide receiver.


23.  Kansas City Chiefs:  Marquise Lee, WR.  It would not shock me if the Chiefs take Teddy Bridgewater here, but I'm going with probably the smarter option and that is USC's Lee.  The Chiefs have the ground game, but could use another playmaker on offense to take the pressure off Jamaal Chales.


24.  Cincinnati Bengals:  Kyle Fuller, CB.  The Bengals are pretty set on offense, but have a need at left outside linebacker and left cornerback, where Terrance "Toast" Newman is the current starter.  I could see them taking Ohio State's Ryan Shazier if they go LB, but the better value and bigger need would say Fuller is the better choice.


25.  San Diego Chargers:  Jason Verrett, CB.  The Bolts biggest need is at corner, where there are a number of good choices here.  Current CB's on the roster combined for 1 interception all of 2013.


26.  Cleveland Browns:  Teddy Bridgewater, QB.  Remember how I said the Browns seemed to be happy at QB with Brian Hoyer?  That lasts about two hours.  I think they snap the Louisville QB up here, which would be a nice value pick for a quarterback who was the top pick in the draft before his awful pro day.


27.  New Orleans Saints:  Ryan Shazier, OLB.  The Saints got great production (12 sacks) out of Junior Gallatte at the left outside linebacker spot, but next to nothing out of the right.  Shazier fixes that, although it wouldn't shock me if the Saints went cornerback either.


28.  Carolina Panthers:  Cody Latimer, WR.  The Panthers lost Steve Smith and brought in Jerricho Cotchery from Pittsburgh,  Jason Avant from Philly, and Tiquan Underwood from Tampa, trying to replace him.  It's not enough.  A young every down wideout who is rising up draft charts would be the perfect fit for Cam and the Panthers.


29.  New England Patriots:  Louis Nix, DT.  We saw what happened when Vince Wolfork went out with injury last season.  Bill Belichick won't let that happen again, drafting a 331 pound widebody in Nix.


30.  San Francisco 49ers:  Kony Ealy, DE.  Another perfect fit pick if he lasts this long.  The Niners could be looking to replace Aldon Smith after tiring of his antics, and Ealy could be every bit the speed edge rusher that Smith is.  An impressive athlete, Ealy ran a mid 4.6 time in his personal workout--blazing for a defensive end.


31.  Denver Broncos:  Xavier Su'a Filo, OG.  Protecting Peyton is paramount, and another young stud offensive lineman who can run and pass block would be a good choice.  Su'a Filo had 40 career starts on UCLA's talented O line and is the most pro-ready guard prospect.


32.  Seattle Seahawks:  Joel Bitonio, OG.  The Super Bowl champs have the least holes to fill, as you would expect.  The biggest need could be depth on the offensive line, and Bitonio is the highest rated and most versatile of anyone on the board.


Well, that's it for 2014.  If I get ten of the 32 picks correct, I will be ecstatic.  Heck, if I get 5-10 right, I'd be pretty happy.  Enjoy the draft folks!         



WONDERING ABOUT THE WONDERLIC?


ITexas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly scored a 30 on the wonderlic test--the highest score of any of the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft pool.



  Wow!  That's impressive!  I guess that means he will be the best quarterback to play in the NFL out of this draft class, right? 


  HA!  Hardly.


  The Wonderlic test is a test that was developed by Stevie Wonder and...no, that's not true.  Sorry.  I couldn't resist.


  No, the Wonderlic was created in 1938 by Eldon F. Wonderlic, and is a popular group intelligence test that is given to NFL players at the annual combine.  The test is designed to measure cognitive abilities in the areas of math, vocabulary and reasoning.  It is a timed test, where respondents get 12 minutes to answer 50 questions such as, "If a train is leaving Chicago at 3 pm and is traveling 40 miles per hour, and another train is leaving New York at 5 pm and is traveling 50 miles per hour, what time will they crash and explode into a huge fireball?"


  Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.  The questions aren't a piece of cake.  The thing that surprised me was, none of them had anything to do with football!


  I am not sure why NFL talent evaluators put any stock at all in this test, but they seem to.  We hear about players scores every year--both high and low, yet they have NOTHING to do with football playing ability.


  I could care less if a player doesn't know the correct synonym for the word "chide" if he can get to the quarterback in 2.3 seconds.


  Do you wonder if success on the Wonderlic equates to football success?  Well, let us take a look at some of the history of the wonderlic, shall we? 


  The highest score ever recorded was a perfect 50 by Pat McInally, who was a punter for crying out loud!  Mike Mamula, a pass rusher from Boston College, who was a high draft pick of the Eagles, scored a near perfect 49.  He turned out to be a colossal disappointment.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, a quarterback for the Rams, Bengals, Bills and Titans, also scored a 49, but was a below average signal caller.  Ben Watson and Kevin Curtis each scored a 49.  One turned out to be a disappointing tight end, and the other, an average wide receiver.


  Meanwhile, Morris Claiborne scored a 4, which didn't stop him from being a top ten pick, and a probable future pro-bowler.  One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Dan Marino, reportedly scored a 15.  Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw didn't let a 16 on the Wonderlic slow him down.  Ray Lewis, one of the best middle linebackers in history, got a 13.

  See what I mean?  The Wonderlic is meaningless.  Just because Johnny Manziel scored a 30 does not mean success.  He is too small, too erratic, and too undependable to be a great quarterback in the NFL.  Scoring a 30 on the Wonderlic doesn't mean he can read a defense.

​   At least he can say he beat me.  I need to go and take the darn thing again.  I need to break my tie with Tim Tebow and his 22.  I may not be able to reach Johnny Football, but I know I can do better than THAT.



STERLING PUNISHMENT WAY TOO HARSH


I am really worried about where our country is headed. The NBA has come down hard on Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, for his racist views, and it has to have anyone in a position of power worried.


On the one hand, sure it is a good thing that everyone wants to see racial relations improving in the country.  We have come an awful long way since the Jim Crow days of segregation and sitting in the back of the bus.  That is definitely a good thing, and I am not disputing that in any way.


What concerns me most is everyone's extreme reaction to anyone in this country who still has those antiquated views.  Should those people, like Donald Sterling, still have those kind of beliefs that they don't want to be associated with black people?  No, obviously not.  But it's not simple to change them.


We are in a difficult time in our countries history when it comes to racial acceptance.  It was only about fifty years ago that Martin Luther King was rising to prominence, saying that he had a dream.  


It was only fifty or so years ago that major portions of the south still had racial segregation, and most of the rest of the country still hadn't accepted desegragation.


There are still millions of individuals who are still alive that were born into that reality.  Many of them still have those feelings about minorities that they were brought up with.  Many of those people had children in the 50's, 60's and even 70's that they instilled those thoughts into.


Racial acceptance is a long process, and MLK's dream is getting closer to being realized each and every year.  However, it still leaves millions and millions of people who are still around who don't exactly share that dream.  

Is it these people's fault that they still feel this way?  Does still having these feelings that have been so deeply instilled in them in their childhood make them bad people?


I don't believe so.  


You won't seem to find many who agree with me on that though, listening to the reaction and outrage over Donald Sterling's comments.


Donald Sterling is a longtime repuded scumbag.  It has been well documented.  No one likes him.  No one has ever liked him.  But for the NBA to now ban him for life from attending any of the games of the team that he owns, or any other NBA team is ridiculous.  To ban him from even entering the NBA arena that he owns for any purpose, is extremely harsh.  To attempt to strong-arm the other owners into voting that Sterling be forced to sell his team that he has owned for decades is too much.  


All of this for Sterling's making comments about how he feels about black people and minorities in a one on one conversation with a person he trusted that he had no knowledge of being recorded, is way over the top. 


Sterling didn't make these comments as a keynote speaker at some charity event, while representing the LA Clippers.  He didn't make these comments in an interview with some newspaper reporter, magazine writer or television analyst. He didn't even make these comments to his golfing buddies over a round in the clubhouse bar after a few too many mai tai's.  He made these comments to his girlfriend/mistress--a woman he obviously trusted--in the privacy of his own home.  She also happened to be a woman who is of black and Mexican descent.  (The fact that Sterling had no problem having a dalliance with a black/Mexican woman, while at the same time having these feelings about minorities makes the whole thing even stranger and hypocritical)


This could lead to a whole new industry of wire tapping and secret recording.  Now that everyone has seen what happens when someone is caught making racially insensitive comments, light bulbs should be going off in everyone's heads who have feelings of "wanting to get ahead".  I think it might even become part of our vernacular.


We will call it "bagging a Sterling".  You have a problem with your boss?  Take him out to lunch or dinner, and buy him a couple of drinks.  "Sterling-bait" him with a question of something like, "did you see there was another homicide in the ghetto last night?"  When the boss answers with something like, "Yeah, those blacks are a bunch of violent thugs", simply take your tape to Human Resources and say, "Do we really want a bigot like this working for our company?"


Easy peasy, right?  In today's day and age, everyone has a tape recorder.  It's right on my iPhone, under the utilities icon.  A voice recorder that even a monkey could operate.  Everyone who is in a position of power or in the public eye in any way should be very very worried after this.  Like the ol' Santa Claus song goes, "you better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout.  I'm telling you why.  Everyone could be recording what you say."


After my previous column, I had twitter haters saying that they couldn't believe there is a pub or bar anywhere in america that you would find people telling racially motivated jokes.  Well, one of us is living in a completely skewed reality, and I'm pretty sure it is not me.


Hey, if you are living in some kind of understanding, empathetic, white collar, tree hugging, graduated from Princeton, politically correct world where no one ever says anything even slightly racially insensitive...well, 



consider yourself lucky.  You are living in a world that for most people, doesn't exist.  I live in a more true reality, 

where people of all races aren't afraid to say questionable things about other races or nationalities--sometimes in a joking manner, and sometimes not.


Nobody has a sense of humor anymore.  Everyone needs to just lighten up.  No one is able to express themselves anymore or have any feelings that could be negative.  The P.C. police want to turn everyone into mindless drones, who all think the same way. 



 That's not America.  Not the america I want to live in.




The reaction to Donald Sterling is wildly inconsistent as well.  Look at Aaron Hernandez.  The former New England Patriot allegedly KILLED someone, but he didn't face the universal condemnation that Donald Sterling has.  Hernandez is in federal prison for MURDER, but really all you hear anyone say is "ohhh, what a colossal waste of talent."


You get caught making racist comments in our culture, and everyone says, "What a sad excuse for a human being!  That guy has no place in our society.  He deserves to rot in hell!"  Yet you can kill someone, and everyone says, "what a shame.  He was a great player."  Michael Vick killed dozens of dogs, burning some of them alive, and he is still a starting quarterback in the largest media market in the country, still cheered on every Sunday.  Leonard Little and Donte Stallworth got drunk and killed someone while driving drunk, then continued playing and no one batted an eye.


Doesn't that seem inconsistent to you?  It sure does to me.  


I'll end with this...Donald Sterling's feelings about minorities are reprehensible.  He should not feel that way, but the fact that he does is probably not something he can change.  It doesn't mean he should lose his basketball team.


As for the rest of us, watch what you say, and watch out for microphones.  You too could become a victim of Sterlingcide.    



CLIPPERS OWNER NOT SO STERLING


Al Campanis. Jimmy the Greek. Marge Schott. Rush Limbaugh. Ben Wright. Don Imus. Fuzzy Zoeller. These are all the names of prominant announcers, personalities and owners or front office people who have lost their jobs, had to sell ltheir teams, or had their careers ruined by racially (or sexually) insensitive comments. 


Now, you can add Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to that list.


Well, not officially.  Not yet.  It's prbably going to happen though.  The suits that run the NBA will find some way to force Sterling to sell his Clippers, a team he has owned for decades.  They will make some kind of back alley deal, sweeten the pot for Sterling, or maybe even pay him to sell out.  The NBA probably feels like they have to after what happened today.


What happened today was that word that a tape recording, apparently recorded surreptiously, came out with what is believed to be Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend not to publicly show off pictures of herself hanging out with black people.


In the nearly ten minute recording, posted on the TMZ website, the male voice, presumed to be Sterling, says he is opposed to the woman, presumed to be his girlfriend, posting pictures of herself with Magic Johnson on her instagram page, "why are you taking pictures with minorities, why?"  He then continued with ""Don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. … And don't bring him to my games, OK?"


Finally, the voice said, "Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" 


Now of course you realize that this is 2014, and not 1974.  Sterling might have gotten away with saying those things then, but not now.  Not with the culture police out there ready to pounce on anything anyone says that they deem "racially or culturally offensive".  The overwhelming outrage about this surprises me, but at the same time, doesn't surprise me at all.


The thing is, the people who are the most outraged  with what Sterling said--primarily the media--are the ones with the microphones, and the cameras.  They are the ones who are telling the rest of us just how outraged we should be.  


Just like with what happened to yours truly, whenever someone says something like this, or is caught doing so, the general reaction that you hear about is like the Salem witch trials.  From the reaction I have heard today, you would think that a suspension of Sterling would not be enough.  The NBA forcing him to sell his team wouldn't be enough.  Really, the only punishment acceptable should be to have Sterling take a swim in his backyard pool and then have someone throw a plugged in television set or toaster in it.  Either that or a firing squad.  Just put the sick bastard away quickly.  He is not fit to be in our society.  Pardon the murderers, but get rid of this guy.  He's a MONSTER!


It really frightens me about how our country is going.  The thing is, for every person who is so outraged about comments like Sterlings, there are probably at least as many people who feel the same way Sterling does.  I'm not saying that's a good thing.  I'm just saying that those people are the ones who you will never hear from.  They quietly go about their lives with that belief system, telling no one, and being fine, upstanding members of their community.  They are not monsters.  Donald Sterling is not a monster either.


I know it sounds like I am defending Sterling.  I am not defending what he said.  IF that was indeed his voice, and he did indeed say those things, I can't defend him.  Sterling has had two lawsuits against him about racist related things.  One from former GM Elgin Baylor and one from the Southern California NAACP.  By all accounts, yes, he is a racist.  He is probably one of the worst owners in NBA history.  He could very well be a scumbag.  Does that mean he shouldn't own an NBA team?


Let me explaion my main problem with this whole thing.  First of all, this recording was obtained surreptitiously (for my Twitter haters--that means: without his knowledge), by his girlfriend in a private conversation at home.  This was not said by Sterling at a dinner party, or to a media person, or in an interview, or amongst his golfing buddies, or in the owners box at one of his games.  This was a private one on one conversation with his "supposed" girlfriend.  This is also the same girlfriend, as it comes out, who is being sued by Sterling for embezzling nearly two million dollars from the Sterling family.  She vowed that she would get even...wow, it appear that she did.  Moral of this story--never underrate a woman with a vengeance!


I believe that those things have to be taken into account in this case.  This was a private conversation with a person that Sterling THOUGHT he could trust.  If he has racist feelings, I believe it was his intent to keep them to himself, and would never have said them to this woman if he knew he was being recorded.  If we start penalizing anyone who even thinks racist thoughts, we are going to have to punish LOTS of people.






If you are so holier than thou that you are prepared to tell me that you have never laughed at a "black joke"--you're a damn liar.  If you are able to tell me that you have never chuckled at a joke about "dumb blondes" or women drivers or women in general--you're a damn liar.  If you never laughed at the old joke, "why do Jews have such big noses?  Because air is free"--you're a damn liar.  If you tell me you've never made a comment or even thought to yourself that most of the crime in most inner cities happen in the ghettos where all the blacks and hispanics/Mexicans live--you're a damned liar!  If you are a black reader, and you are telling me you have never referred to a white person as a "cracker" or a "honkie"--you're a damn liar.




Everyone's reaction to this story is so hypocritical.  Outwardly, they are saying how outraged they are on camera, but stop at their favorite pub on their way home from work and tell black jokes to the guys on the stools next to them.


Oh, and here is another thing that bothers me.  This whole racial thing doesn't go both ways.  If you are white and have money, and say something controversial, you are fired and buried.  If you are black and your name is Charles Barkley, you can make all kinds of comments about white people not having the genes that allow them to jump, or as he said when asked about his teams not getting calls being a racial issue, "This is why I hate white people...they are always trying to turn everything into a racial issue".  That gets a pass.  Barkley didn't get fired.  In fact, he is still announcing, and is as popular as ever.


If you are Floyd Mayweather, and you call your rival Manny Pacquiao a "yellow champion", and ordering that "motherf'r to make me a sushi-roll and cook me some rice".  That gets swept under the rug and no one hears about it.  He wasn't forced to quit boxing.  If you are Shaq in 2002, when asked about the emergence of Yao Ming, said to Fox Sports "Tell Yao Ming 'Ching-Chong-yang-wah-ah-so'", you don't lose your job, nor does Fox Sports even make a big deal about it.


Donald Sterling is just the latest in an example to all of us white folks:  Don't get caught saying ANYTHING racially insensitive to anyone, anywhere.  Should he be suspended?  Yes, he should.  Should he be forced to sell his team?  No, I don't believe he should.  You can't penalize someone for the way they were brought up.



Let me put it another way.  My parents would not have been happy if I dated a black girl.  I never did.  Partly because I haver had the opportunity, but partly because I knew how my folks felt.  It didn't make them bad people.  As most people do, they kept those feelings to themselves.  They were able to have black friends, and get along fine with everyone.  I think my parents were both charming people.  They were brought up in a different time, with a different mentality.    


Donald Sterling is an older fellow too.  He was probably brought up with the same beliefs.  In his mind, his girlfriend hanging out with black people is fine, as long as she didn't publicize it.  He felt that it would reflect poorly on him.  We don't know who he hangs out with but Sterling wants to look as good as he can with them.  I get it.  I understand it.  I don't condone it, but I do understand it, and I wish everyone else would at least try to understand the whole situation before they stone Donald Sterling.  As time goes by, fewer and fewer people are being brought up with this way of thinking.  And that's a good thing.  I believe we just need to have patience for the ones who don't.


And next time you are telling an off color joke....make sure no one has any running microphones!



BEST TIME OF THE YEAR FOR SPORTS FANS


Which is the best time of the year for sports?  There is no definitive answer.  It really depends on the sports fan, his likes, dislikes, favorite sports and so on.  To break it down though, I think we can pretty much limit it to four time periods, in chronological order: 


1. Mid-January to Mid February.  You have the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl.  NBA and NHL are nearing their midseasons, with all-star games approaching.  College basketball teams are in their conference play and getting ready for March Madness.  You got the Daytona 500 as well.


2. RIGHT NOW--Mid to late April to early June.  Many sports fans lives revolve around football, especially the NFL.  Each year, the NFL draft seems to get bigger and bigger.  It's the renewal process for each team and its fans.  Other than the draft, you have the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing.  You also have major league baseball in its early months, deciding who will be good or not good.  You also have the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500. 


3.  Early September to mid October.  You have the NFL starting up, in its first four to six weeks.  Opening week of the NFL season is almost a religious experience for myself and many other men.  You just want to sit in your mancave and worship for the whole Sunday.  You also have the major league baseball playoffs in full swing and World Series approaching, college football season also in full swing.  NBA and NHL seasons are about to start up.


and finally....


4.  Early December to mid January.  I know this is pretty much a continuation of number one above, but I think you need to deliniate the two.  In this section of time, you have college football bowl season!  You also have the NBA and NHL kicking into gear.  College basketball holiday tournaments, and perhaps most importantly, the final few weeks of the regular season of the NFL.


Taking into consideration all four of the best parts of the sporting year, I honestly prefer where we are right now.  I don't think it's even close.  Sure if you are a fan of the NFL and don't care about hoops or hockey, you are going to say its #3 or #4.  It you are a baseball fan, you are going to think it's #3.  If you are a coilege basketball or NASCAR fan, you are going to think it's #1.  But if you are a fan of ALL the major sports, there can be no doubt it is right NOW!


The NFL draft is almost as important as the regular season.  That's because EVERY team is on even footing.  The teams that sucked last year have top picks and a chance to get better.  The teams who were good last year are looking at who to draft to keep them atop the standings.  It dominates sports radio talk shows and water coolers everywhere.


The NBA playoffs are awesome as well.  Especially if you have a huge rooting interest.  Do you like to cheer against the dominant two-time champion Lakers or are you rooting for them?  Do you want to see superstars like Kevin Durant and Lebron James lead their team to a title or do you want to see the old folks in Brooklyn or San Antonio continue to shine?  Playoff games every night for over a month!


The NHL playoffs are awesome as well.  The thing that makes the NHL playoffs so good are "sudden death overtimes".  I gotta say, there are few things better in all of sports than a playoff hockey game in sudden death overtime!  One shot.  One great pass.  One guy who loses a skate at the wrong time and gives up the game winning goal.  You know what it's like?  It's like when you are 17 or 18 and your girlfriend goes into the bathroom to pee on a stick, and she comes out and....says.....she is.....NOT PREGNANT!!!  In a sudden death overtime hockey playoff game, you feel that same scared anticipation....and....relief release....at least a half dozen times a period.  Edge of your seat excitement for as long as the game goes on, and when it ultimately ends, you almost feel sad.


If you are a baseball fan, you have to love the new beginnings of April.  When it seems that every team still has a chance.  When a player has a quick start and you can say, "wow, if he continues at his current pace, he will hit 120 homeruns!"


​Finally, you have the top two races of two other sports....the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500.  Sure they might not be as big as they used to be, but they are still the tops in their sport. If you are a sports fan, they all have their benefits, but for my money, I will take this point of the sports year every time.  Have fun and enjoy it while it lasts! 



NBA PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS


It's finally time for the NBA postseason!  After a long grind of a season, and 82 games in the books, hardcourts come alive with playoff excitement.  So what will happen?  Who will upset whom?  Let's take a look at my thoughts about what I expect to happen in the NBA postseason this year.  


First round.  EASTERN CONFERENCE.


​--Indiana Pacers over Atlanta Hawks four games to one.  Indiana struggled down the strect, especially offensively, but should still have no problems with the Hawks.  The Pacers still have the best record in the East, and have size, with multiple 7-footers, speed, athletic ability and can make big shots.  Atlanta has nothing to lose, and if they play loose, can be dangerous, but I still don't think they get more than one game.


--Miami Heat over the Charlotts Bobcats four games to none.  The Heat are the Heat.  They still are the defending champs.  They are relatively healthy, and have been here before.  The Bobcats can't say any of those things.  They are young, have little playoff experience, and can't really shoot the ball well.  Looks like a classic mismatch to me.


--Brooklyn Nets over the Toronto Raptors four games to two.  The difference here could be playoff experience.  The Nets are loaded with it, while the Raptors have little to none.  Toronto has been dissed by every playoff team in the East though, as two or three teams seemed to be angling to get them in a first round matchup, and the lack of respect could drive the Raptors.  I just think the Nets have too much talent and experience.


--Chicago Bulls over the Washington Wizards four games to one.  The Bulls play defense like none other, well, except for maybe Indiana.  They have been there before and are well playoff tested.  The Wiz are young and inexperienced, although they may have more talent than the Bulls on paper.  You don't win playoff series' on paper though, and the Bulls experience and suffocating defense should be more than enough to beat Washington fairly easily.


First round, WESTERN CONFERENCE.


--San Antonio Spurs over the Dallas Mavericks four games to two.  The Spurs are the best team in the NBA over the last fifteen years or so and we know they are playoff tested.  Problem is, most of the Spurs stars are on the wrong side of 30, and you wonder how many runs they have left in them.  You can say the same thing about Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs too though.  If Dirk can revert to 2011 form, the Mavs would have a chance, but overall, Dallas just doesn't defend well enough to beat the top seeded Spurs.  They could make things interesting though.


--Oklahoma City Thunder over the Memphis grizzlies four games to three.  This could be the most exciting series in the NBA first round.  NO ONE wanted to play the Grizz, who aren't all that talented, but use their size and slow things down and muck things up so much that they are usually right there at the end of games.  Russell Westbrook is the key here.  He is fully healthy now and if he can play in control and within the framework of the offense, should lead this team to a series win.  Oh, and they have this Durant guy too.  He's pretty good.  I think talent wins out, but just barely.


​--Los Angeles Clippers over the Golden State Warriors four games to one.  This might have been an interesting series if the Warriors didn't lose Andrew Bogut to a season ending injury a few weeks ago.  They did, and therefore, it won't be.  Steph Curry would have to shoot lights out for the whole series just to keep it close, but the Clips have too much talent, and now, have a coach who knows how to take a team deep into the playoffs in Doc Rivers.


--Portland Trail Blazers over the Houston rockets four games to three.  If there is going to be an upset in the first round, I think this is it.  The Blazers have a great mix of talent with Lamarcus Aldridge inside and Damian Lillard outside.  They can hit shots and shoot the three with guys like Nicolas Batum.  They can struggle on defense 

though, and will definitely have their hands full with Dwight Howard.  There is something about the Rockets I don't like though.  Howard still can't make free throws, and James Harden plays out of control too much and takes too many bad shots.  When your top two players have those question marks, it doesn't bode well.




SIX POSITIVES OF A BON JOVI OWNED BILLS


There have been a lot of rumors lately about rocker Jon Bon Jovi being part of a Canadian group that wants to buy the Buffalo Bills.  This has been met with mixed reviews by football fans in Western New York.  For some, it would be a bed of roses.  For others, they would be forced to swallow bad medicine.


At first, I was on the borderline.  What does Jon know about owning a football team anyways?  The more I thought about it though, the more I was thinking that this was something to believe in.  Hey, the way I see it, everyone has gotta have a reason to be optimistic, and I think Jon Bon Jovi owning the Bills would give me another reason to believe that this franchise was ready to breakout.


Let's face it, One Bills Drive has been brokenpromiseland since the mid 90's.  A change is needed, and Jon Bon Jovi has been to Buffalo, and said "I love this town!"  He has exclaimed to the media, "It's my life!  I don't wanna save the world, I just want to own an NFL football team, and the Bills are born to be my baby.  I want to make a memory."


Well Jon, I gotta say, you had me from hello.  I am not going to runaway.  I am going to take the seat next to you and have no regrets about pro football in Western New York for the next hundred years.  I really believe that under Jon's ownership, I will never say goodbye to the Bills.  I believe that if Bills fans keep the faith, the Bills will soon be the king of the mountain.


Are you as convinced, or will you be living on a prayer if Bon Jovi buys the Bills?  Well, I have come up with some reasons to help bring you one step closer to saying "I'm with you", if that's what it takes.


1.  It will bring national relevance to the Buffalo Bills.  Of course, Bon Jovi hasn't been the hit machine they once were, but Jon and the boys were really the "supergroup of the 80's" and Jon is still nationally relevant.  He has gone into acting, producing and directing, and has a ton of contacts with very important people in the nations entertainment industry.  TV networks will put the Bills on national telecasts just to get a shot of Jon watching in the owners booth.


2.  The best damn pre-game and halftime concerts in the league!  Imagine the possibilities.  Bon Jovi plays a four song set on the field at the Ralph at the half of every home game.  Pre-game concerts in the parking lot with Skid Row, Poison and Great White, with different bands rotating every home game.  For many of those bands--I'll be there for you!


3.  The city of Buffalo would take over from Detroit Rock City--it would become "Buffalo Rock City" that would be on everyone's lips.


4.  A name change could be in order.  Let's face it, the "Bills" has had its day.  What is a Bill anyways?  I've always wondered why a team named after the legendary "Buffalo Bill" from wild west fame had a buffalo on it's helmet anyway.  Shouldn't it have a picture of a gunslinger?  With Jon Bon Jovi owning the team, he could change the name to the "Buffalo Rockers", "Buffalo Blast", "Buffalo Rocknrollers" or "Buffalo Guitar Solo's".


5.  The Buffalo Jills could be clothed in studded leather uniforms.  Yowza!  Imagine that!  The cheerleader hotties dancing and strutting around on the sidelines looking like hard rockin' babes.  Craigy likey.


6.  A Hard Rock cafe could be put in somewhere in the Ralph or adjacent to it, maybe next to the practice facility.  Hey, the new Yankee stadium has one, why not the Ralph?  A Hard Rock cafe wouldn't be more appropriate in any other NFL stadium than in one owned by Jon Bon Jovi, would it?  It would give fans another reason to go to games, and something else to do other than getting drunk in the parking lots.  Now they could get drunk inside instead, and the team could make money off of it.  A Hard Rock cafe?  I'd die for you, even if they did serve bitter wine.


The bottom line is, if Jon Bon Jovi were to buy the Bills, I think it would be a beautiful world.  I believe it with 


every beat of my heart.  Ralph, it's hard letting you go, but if Jon Bon Jovi buys the Bills, I think it will be wild in the streets of Buffalo.


I just hope I am right, and he doesn't say, "who says you can't go home" and moves the team to New Jersey.


That would make him wanted, dead or alive, in the hearts of most Bills fans.






By the way, if you can name every Bon Jovi song I mentioned in this column, let me know how many and I'll buy you a beer or something.  (I'll give you a clue--there's over 30!)



RANKING THE GREATEST RIVALRIES OF ALL TIME IN SPORTS


In the last week or so, I have watched the Giants play the Dodgers, Louisville play Kentucky, and the Yankees will be playing the Red Sox over the next few days.  It gave me pause to think about rivalries.  I have seen other media outlets reports of their lists of the greatest sports rivalries of all time, but what do I think?  How would I rank the greatest sports rivalries of all time?  


That is what I will attempt to do in this column.  In MY world, based on what I have seen myself, and what I have heard, researched or read about, here is how I would rank the top rivalries in sports history.  I will only include teams vs teams or individual athletes vs individual athletes in individual sports.  I will not put Brady vs Manning in this list, as they play team sports.  Everyone does either a top ten list or a top 100 list.  I don't have time for a top 100 list, and I could not possibly limit my list to just ten, so here is my top TWENTY sports rivalries of all time list...


​20.  Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins.  Sure it doesn't have the luster lately, but these two teams played each other twice a year for 46 years.  They played some legendary games in the 1990's, and anyone living here in Western NY all their life who is over 40 knows how intense "squishing the fish" used to be.


19.  Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins.  This is the ONLY hockey rivalry on here.  I don't have Montreal vs Toronto simply because both teams have not been good at the same time in the last forty years.  The Pens and Flyers have both been pretty darn good for decades.  Both have rabid fans and fairly close proximity--at least in the same state.


18.  Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson.  The best golfer of the last thirty years and his closest competitor for that same mantle during the same time frame.  Both have shared the same prime years, and when one didn't win, the other usually seemed to.


17.  Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys.  The two greatest teams in the 1970's and early part of the 1980's, these two franchises played many big games, mainly in Super Bowls.  Two of the best Super Bowls ever, played in the span of three years, and then another matchup in the 1990's.


16.  Jeff Gordon vs Dale Earnhardt Sr.  Ahhh, what NASCAR was all about--this was the rivalry that defined it.  The squeaky clean California boy who used his napkin, wiped his feet before entering his own house, and was the boy women wanted to bring home to mommy and daddy.  Earnhardt was the redneck incarnate Southern boy, who wiped his mouth on his sleeve, tromped dirt in his neighbors house and hit on his date's mom and shared beers with her dad.  Fans haven't taken up sides for any two guys since like these two.


15.  Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert.  Even more than Venus vs Serena Williams, Martina and Chrissy was the ultimate rivalry in women's tennis.  For more than a decade, it seemed as if these two met up in at least half the Grand Slam finals.  Martina's power game vs Evert's baseline game and strong ground-strokes.  They usually always went three sets and often, there were long tie-breakers.  These two knew it would be a duel whenever they matched up.


14.  Kentucky vs Louisville basketball.  Every year, these two teams are good.  Competing for the National Championship type good.  It has been this way for a half century, and then some.  Currently, Pitino vs Calipari is as good as it gets as far as a coaching rivalry goes.  The two in-state rivals divide the loyalties of most residents in the whole state of Kentucky.


13.  Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers.  Same can be said about these two as I said about the Cowboys and Steelers, with two exceptions causing this to be rated higher.  One, the 49ers and Cowboys were the dominant teams of the 80's and 90's, instead of the Steelers 70's and 80's.  Two, these two teams are in the same conference, which means they have met up more times on the football field.  Because each has been good for much of the last thirty years, there have been many many important matchups, including three in a row in the 90's.  SIX times since 1970, these two have met up in an NFC conference final, far more than any other two teams.


12.  Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal.  Another tennis rivalry.  This one was one of the classics.  Two guys, matched up against each other dozens of times, primes intersecting.  Federer--in his prime slightly earlier--dominated the first half of the matchups with Nadal.  Once Nadal hit his prime and beat Federer, he has dominated since.


​11.  UCLA vs USC.  Forget about in state rivalries, this is basically an in-CITY rivalry.  This is like the Bloods and the Crips.  This is like brother versus brother.  Most other rivalries tore up the loyalties of residents in a 


state.  This rivalry tore up loyalties in families.


​10.  Alabama vs Auburn.  Not quite the proximity of UCLA and USC, this rivalry made up for it through passion.  SoCal fans often have lives away from college football.  Down in 'Bama, Louisiana and Florida, football IS life for many folks.  The passion they have is what makes this rivalry.  How else do you explain an Alabama fan poisoning the landmark oak trees at Toomer's corner on the Auburn campus?  The rivalry made him do it!


9.  Army vs Navy.  I know, most sports fans younger than about 80 would never have this rivalty on their list.  I have to, if only due to tradition.  This was the BIGGEST and BADDEST rivalry in collge football in the early century and before 1900.  From the first game between the two in 1890, they were two of the best football teams over the next three or four decades.  The game has such tradition, it has it's own weekend devoted to it to this day.


8 and 8 1/2.  Jimmy Connors vs John McEnroe vs Bjorn Borg.  The rivalry between these three was so strong, it has to be mentioned together.  The three dominated mens tennis in the 1970's through the mid 80's.  All three seemed to HATE each other...their games....their personalities....their wardrobe...everything.  


7.  Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (Bird vs Magic).  I know I said I would not include individual players in a team rivalry, but this is the one lone exception because it meant so much to this team rivalry.  Both teams were struggling until Bird and Magic joined each team.  From that point on, their primes intertwined as both were the dominant teams in their respective conferences for a decade, resulting in several memorable finals matchups.


6.  Jack Nicklaus vs Arnold Palmer.  They weren't in their primes for much of the rivalry, but it didn't matter.  Arnold was the golden boy of golf in the 60's and early 70's when Jack came along.  Nicklaus was the guy trying to steal Arnie's title, and would eventually do so, becoming even more dominant.  Fans were divided.  Either you were a fan of the Golden Bear or a member of Arnie's army.


5.  Muhammed Ali vs Joe Frazier.  The two dominant prize fighters of the 1970's and early 80's were more or less in their simultaneous primes.  They had totally contrasting styles.  They fought three times in title bouts and nearly fought to the death in all three.  Heavyweight boxing may never have been the same since.


4.  Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers vs San Francisco/New York Giants.  These two teams have been good, more or less, for the past seventy plus years.  They often have had to go through one another for any successes they have had.  They have also had proximity--in state rivals for the last fifty or so years, and in-city rivals before that.


3.  Duke Blue Devils vs North Carolina Tar Heels basketball.  Separated by scant miles, these two teams are ALWAYS good, always battling for ACC supremacy, and hate each other.  It's a rivalry that has everything going for it--passion, proximity and success.  Rivalries aren't much better than the one on Tobacco Road.


2.  Michigan Wolverines vs Ohio State Buckeyes football.  The tradition is rich.  The two teams success rate is glowing.  The Big Ten is probably the most storied conference in college football history, and the yearly matchup between the two teams is always the highlight of the year for both--usually with a trip to the Rose Bowl and often a National Championship on the line.


1.  New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox.  So many storied moments, especially in the last twenty years or so.  The two teams spend the whole offseason trying to match each others moves, and the whole season trying to beat each other up on the diamond.  Baseball's ultimate player, Babe Ruth, played for both, and the "Curse of the Bambino" lasted for 70 years.  Taking into consideration the past, present, and probable future, I would have to put Yankees-Red Sox at the top.           



2014 NATIONAL LEAGUE PREVIEW


Now it's onto the National League for my fearless forecast.  Will the Dodgers ready to take over as the dominant team?  Will the Cardinals be back again?  Can the Giants ride their pitching to the top again?  Are the Pirates finally ready to turn the corner?  Can the Nationals bounce back from a disappointing 2014?  Let's find out what I think, starting with the....


NL EAST

​1.  Washington Nationals (100-62).  I dopubled down hard on the Nats last year and they totally let me down.  I am a sore loser, so I am picking them again.  Stephen Strasburg seems poised for a career year.  COmbined with Gio Gonzalez and I believe the Nats have the best pair of starting pitchers at the top of the rotation in baseball.  Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche provide leadership at the corners, and Bryce Harper is one of the best young sluggers in the league.  Ian Desmond is one of the best offensive shortstops, and Anthony Rondon is ready to bust out.  The Nats brought in Doug Fister to join youngsters Jordan Zimmerman and Tanner Roark in the rotation.  The Nats have depth in the bullpen with guys like Drew Storen and one of the best closers in the NL with Rafael Soriano.  Should be a much better year in the nations capitol.


2.  Atlanta Braves (92-70).  The Braves will miss Kris Medlen, who is out all year, but still have a pretty good rotation with young Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and David Hale.  The Braves brought in veterans Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to bolster the troops.  Offensively, they should score a decent amount of runs, thanks to Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Justin Upton.  Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis are young but have huge upside.  If BJ Upton can bounce back from an awful 2013, they could contend, but I don't think the back end of the rotation is strong enough.


3.  Philadelphia Phillies (81-81).  The main question in Philly is "how much will Father Time screw with the Phillies this year?".  Age is all over the Phils lineup and pitching staff.  Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and crew don't have too many more runs in them.  Cliff Lee. AJ Burnett, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon have plenty of wear on the tires.  If all can stay relatively healthy, and young Domonic Brown and Cody Asche break out, the Phils could have one final shot at  adivision title, but I highly doubt aeverything can break right for them.


4.  New York Mets (74-88).  The Mets were quite active off-season, bringing in Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Bartolo Colon.  Problem is, the Mets best player, Matt Harvey, will be out most of the year.  David Wright is a great player, but the Mets don't have a lot of help for him.  Too many automatic outs in the lineup (Ruben Tejada, Travis D"Arnaud, Ike Davis, Young).  Will Eric Young be an effective leadoff hitter?  Can they establish a closer (Bobby Parnell) or will they have to fall back on Jose Valverde?  Too many question marks, but at least they should stay out of last because of the....


5.  Florida Marlins (65-97).  The Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.  They Marlins don't have much else.  Really, is there anything more to say?  Hey, at least I predict they won't lose a hundred.


NL CENTRAL

1.  Pittsburgh Pirates (93-75).  I'm probably drinking the Kool Aid, but I think this is finally the year that the Bucs get over the cusp and win the division for the first time since 1991.  MVP Andrew McCutcheon has a great chance to repeat and possesses all five tools.  OF partner Starling Marte is ready to bust out as well.  Neil Walker is in his prime.  Russell Martin is one of the NL's better backstops.  Pedro Alvarez is young and can mash.  The pitching staff is healthy again with underrated Wandy Rodriguez back in the rotation joining Francisco Liriano, young stud Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.  Solid closer in Jason Grilli.  Bullpen depth.  I'm rooting for them.


2.  St. Louis Cardinals (91-71).  St. Louis was one of the higher scoring teams in baseball last season, but something in me tells me they overachieved.  With David Freese moving on to the Angels, Matt Carpenter moves over to 3rd base to make way for youngster Kolton Wong.  Problem is, Carpenter really doesn't have third baseman power.  Yady Molina is a great leader, hitter, and handles a pitching staff better than anyone.  Matt 



Adams and Matt Holliday provide middle lineup pop.  Adam Wainwright is a solid staff ace.  If the Cards young 

pitching (Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly) are ready for prime time and put up great years, the division will stay in St. Louis hands.


​3.  Cincinnati Reds (88-74).  The Reds will score plenty of runs.  That's not the problem.  Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwich, Mesoraco, Cozart, Frazier...the lineup is stacked.  A key will be whether rookie Billy Hamilton is ready to be a tablesetter.  Can he get on base and make things happen with his speed, 



or will he have an on base percentage of .250 over the first month or so and be sent back down?   Cueto, Bailey, 

Leake and Cingrani are a pretty good rotation with upside, but the last two are still rather unproven.  Aroldis Chapman is out for at least a month and whenever a pitcher gets a line drive in the face, you always wonder if they can ever be the same.  I think the young pitching might be a year away.


4.  Milwaukee Brewers (74-88).  Ryan Braun is back from suspension for 'roid use, and will be looking to prove he can be just as good off the juice.  It will be interesting to see what the falloff will be with his numbers.  Carlos Gomez is finally living up to potential.  Juan Segura is a very good up and comer with a nice speed/average combo.  Jon Lucroy is solid behind the plate.  Other than that, the pitching could be atrocious, and there are too many offensive question marks.  Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay have seen beter days.  Ricky Weeks is a perennial disappointment.  Scooter Gennett and Khris Davis are unproven.  Aramis Ramirez is on the decline.  Miller Park better be ready to serve up the brew to plenty of disillusioned fans this year.


5.  Chicago Cubs (60-102).  Theo Epstein has a plan for the Cubbies, but it won't be realized this year.  Anthony Rizzo, Junior Lake and Mike Olt are young and have plenty of upside, but, too many outs in the lineup other than them.  Darwin Barney, Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena can't hit their way out of a paper bag.  Starlin Castro may never be as good as he was as a rookie.  Catcher Wellington Castillo is young and unproven.  The pitching staff should be hit around like a pinada.  Should be a waiting game in the Windy City until Javier Baez, Jorge Solar and Kris Bryant eventually get the call.


NL WEST

1.  Los Angeles Dodgers (103-59).  What can you say about the Dodgers?  They seem to have everything.  Speed with Dee Gordon and Carl Crawford.  Power and batting average in Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez.  Speed, power and batting average in Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.  Cy Young and rormer Cy Young candidates all over their pitching staff (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett).  Three former closers (Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League) to go along with current closer Kenley Jansen.  What they don't have is a recent history of postseason success.  That could change this year.


2. San Francisco Giants (93-69).  Two thirds of the Giants lineup is as good an anyone in the league (Pagan, Pence, Belt, Posey, Sandoval and Morse).  It's the other third that concerns me (Brandon Crawford, Joaquin Arias/Marco Scutaro, and the pitcher spot).  Luckily, the pitching staff should make up for it.  Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are studs.  Tim Hudson comes over from Hotlanta and is still crafty.  Ryan Vogelsong isn't bad for a number five starter.  Tim Lincicum looks like he has lost it and is a concern though.  Deep bullpen anchored by lights out closer Sergio Romo.  Still, it's going to be tough to compete with what the Dodgers have assembled.  Look for the Giants in a wild card spot though.


3.  Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78).  Arizona has a lot of great young hitters, starting off with MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.  Mark Trumbo comes over from the Angels to protect him in the lineup.  Aaron Hill has pop at second.  AJ Pollock, Gerardo Parra, and Chris Owings are young talents.  The rotation, led by Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy is underrated.  Closer and setup depth with Addison Reed, JJ Putz, Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez.  Sadly, this team would have much better luck in either of the other two divisions.


4.  San Diego Padres (80-82).  The Padres could be the real darkhorse team in the National League.  They play in a pitchers park, and built their team around it with solid pitching and defense.  They don't have a lot of names that moderate baseball fans have ever heard of, with names like Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Will Venable, Everth Cabrera and so on, but they are all young and all underratedly good.  The pitching is similar, without a lot of household names (Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin).  Shaky closer in Huston Street.  If the Pads can win a ton of 2-1 and 3-2 games, they might even be able to finish in 2nd or 3rd.


5.  Colorado Rockies (64-98).  Gone is Todd Helton and now the team falls into the hands of CarGo (Carlos Gonzalez) in the middle of a rebuild.  Gonzalez is an MVP candidate and Justin Morneau is a former MVP, but other than that and Troy Tulowitzki, there isn't much else.  The rotation of Jorge DeLaRosa, Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales/Jhoulys Chacin doesn't scare anybody.  They have a 40 year old (LaTroy Hawkins) as a placeholder for Rex Brothers at closer.  I see a long year in the Mile High.


Clip, it, save it, and rip me a new one if I am totally wrong with your team at the end of the year.  I will of course, be pointing out how right I was on the things I am right about.  




AMERICAN LEAGUE PREVIEW


Time for my annual forecasting of major league baseball.  Hard to believe, but we have almost finally made it out of the long winter and "Play ball!" will soon be echoing out of umpires mouths at stadiums all around the country.  


Since Rochester is primarily an American League town (Twins. Yankees, Orioles), I always start with the AL.  In my next column, I will forecast the National League.  Here we go, beginning with the....


AL EAST

​1.  New York Yankees (96-66).  Yeah I admit I am drinking the Kool-aid.  This is not a "homer" pick either.  I normally root against the Yankees, but I like what they did offseason and I think they stack up with everyone in the AL East.  Solid rotation in Mashahiro Tanaka, Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova (ugh) & Michael Pineda, who could be comeback player of the year.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a monster and the Yankees gain with him hurts Boston.  Nice blend of speed and pop.  If Mark Texeiera has anything left, the Bombers could cruise to a division title.


2.  Baltimore Orioles (94-68).  The Baby Birds are finally all grown up.  For years, the Orioles have had young minor league pitching studs and finally, guys like Chris Tillman & Brian Matusz are ready to reach their prime.  Very good lineup featuring Chris Davis and Adam Jones.  Above average rotation with Tillman, Wei Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and newcomers Ubaldo Jiminez and Bud Norris.  Tommy Hunter could be an underrated closer and Matusz could be one of the better setup men.  This team has everything going for it other than the Yankee mystique.


3.  Tampa Bay Rays (91-71).  Every year, everyone thinks the Rays lost too much talent and will fall out of contention.  Yet every year. tjey are right there at the end.  That's because they keep replenishing through their awesome farm system, which is becoming the modern day version of the Orioles of the 70's.  David Price is one of the best aces in baseball and he is joined in the rotation by unheralded Alex Cobb and Matt Moore along with youngsters Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.  Grant Balfour comes back to Tampa to close.  If youngsters Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers come into their own this year, the Rays could even win the division.


4.  Boston Red Sox (84-78).  I know Boston fans are pumped up for another great season, but I just think last year was the perfect season and everything just came together.  The odds of that happening again are slim.  The main reason is pitching.  John Lester is a decent ace but the rest of the starters look like pinatas--other teams will beat on them.  John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront.  UGH!  The lineup is strong and will score runs, but they will give up too many to be dominant.


5.  Toronto Blue Jays (70-92).  Talk about a team that will score runs but give up more...meet your 2014 Blue Jays.  At least they will be fun to watch with an imposing lineup of Jose Reyes and sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and so on.  As for pitching, RA Dickey was subpar last year and he is the ace.  Then you have young and unproven Drew Hutchison, Mark Buehrle, Brendan Morrow, JA Happ and Dustin McGowen.  I don't know if they could get guys out in a dodgeball game, much less major league baseball.  


AL CENTRAL

1. Detroit Tigers (105-57).  The Tigers could be the best team in baseball.  At least they look that way on paper.  Miggy Cabrera is now signed to a long term deal and is happy.  Verlander and Scherzer are the new Spahn and Sain (and pray for rain).  The Tigers now have a closer in Joe Nathan, which should mean at least a five game improvement.  They are strong at nearly every position.  If they come even close to living up to expectations, 105 wins should be reachable.


2.  Kansas City Royals (99-63).  Two teams from the Central better than the Yankees?  Yes, I believe it could happen.  The Royals have so much young talent that one of these years, that talent has to collectively find itself.  This will be that year.  Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas...they can all RAKE and will have career years.  Pitching is what could make me totally wrong or lead the Royals to the playoffs.  James Shields is a quality ace, but when Jeremy Guthrie is your #2 starter and Bruce Chen your #4...could be problems.  Greg Holland is one of the games best closers though, so I'm rolling the dice that the pitching holds up.


3,  Cleveland Indians (83-79).  The tribe is doing some nice things and are on the right track.  They just may be a year or two away from serious contention though.  Pitching should be the Indians strength, with your arms Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister.  John Axford comes in to Cleveland to close games and is erratic but throws gas.  Young Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall form a nucleus that will grow together and form a nice crew with upside to build around.Cleveland could surprise and contend this year, but next year might be more likely.


4  Minnesota Twins (74-88).  The Twins had awful pitching last year.  This year, it should be better.  Then again, it can't be much worse.  Newcomers Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco join Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelphrey and Kevin Correia to form the rotation.  Glen Perkins returns as closer.  The lineup lost half of the M and M boys as Justin Morneau is now in the Mile High, but Joe Mauer remains.  Oswaldo Arcia, Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe add pop and the minor league system could be the more fertile in baseball currently.  Twins will be under .500 this year, but the future is very bright.


5.  Chicago White Sox (60-102).  It's appropriate that Chi-town is called "the Windy City".  



There will certainly be a lot of wind coming from the batters box this year with Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn & company swinging and missing as much as they do.  The White Sox are an unitriguing blend of age (Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, John Danks), youth (Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Conor Gillespie  Marcus Semien Dayan Viciedo), and unknown commodity Cuban exile's (Jose Abreu).  Chris Sale is a dominant ace, but other than him, everything else is a huge question mark.


AL West

​1.  Los Angeles Angels (92-70).  Las tyear, the Angels were nearly everyone's choice to win the west.  They didn't.  They disappointed everyone.  The chances of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton having similar years as last year are slim and none.  Mike Trout has a new contract extension and is one of the top 2 or 3 players in baseball.  Not many weak spots in the entire lineup.  Jared Weaver is a nice ace with nasty stuff.  He just needs to stay healthy.  Young studs Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs join the rotation, joining CJ Wilson and Hector Santiago.  Ernesto Frieri is a decent closer.  Only reason they only win 92 is the overall competitiveness of the division.



2,  Seattle Mariners (92-70).  No team in baseball made a bigger splas in the offseason, bringing in Robby Cano, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and closer Fernando Rodney.  Kyle Suager and Michael Saunders are young with a lot of upside.  The rotation should be very good with King Felix leading the way, along with youngsters like Erasmo Ramirez and phenoms Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.  Hasashi Iwakuma is currently injured but is highly underrated.  M's should be among the most improved teams in baseball and should contend for the division crown.


3.  Texas Rangers (86-76).  The Rangers have all the ingredients to be a surprise, but they could also fall flat on their faces.  I'm going somewhere in between.  They will miss Nelson Cruz, but still have Adrien Beltre, Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus and newcomers Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo to produce runs.  Pitching is a question mark though.  Can Tanner Scheppers be a quality starter?  Will Colby Lewis be effective coming off injury? Can Joe Saunders still get anyone out?  Are youngsters Martin Perez and Robert Ross ready?  Can Joaguim Soria still be a dominant closer coming off injury?  If the answers to all those questions is "yes", the Rangers could surprise.  If not, they could finish last.


4.  Oakland A's (80-82).  The A's have been successful thanks to their pitching, but with ace Jarrod Parker out for the year with another Tommy John surgery and AJ Griffin out for at least a month, that pitching suddenly looks very shaky.  Sonny Gray becomes the staff ace, while Tommy Millone and Dan Straily move into the rotation.  Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp and Josh Donaldson can produce runs, but there are too many holes in the A's lineup to contend again this year.


5.  Houston Astros (62-100).  The Stros are doing the right things, and the future looks bright, but they are still a few years into a complete rebuild, putting them a couple years from contending.  Minor leaguers Jon Singleton, George Springer and Mark Appel are at least a year away.  Chris Carter has immense power but still doesn't put the bat on the ball enough.  Dexter Fowler comes over from Colorado to be a leader and a much needed bat.  Jose Altuve is vastly underrated.  The pitching staff is young, with guys like Jared Cosart and Brett Oberholzer, but has a lot of upside.  If Houston comes anywhere close to the .500 mark, it would be a huge surprise.


National League preview coming early next week, so stay tuned....                  

   



A BAD TIME TO BE A BILLS FAN


Talk about the old saying, "When it rains, it pours."


If you are a fan of the Buffalo Bills, and have been for much of your life, like me and so many others in this region, you are probably reeling right now.  


A day after word came out that former Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly, was heading to New York city for another round of surgery on an aggressive form of cancer, which had returned after initial jaw surgery last summer, comes word today that long time owner, Ralph Wilson, has passed away at age 95.


Both are hard to deal with.


Kelly was "The Franchise", for the Bills.  The Pennsylvania native was the perfect fit for blue class Buffalo.  A hard-nosed, hard-working guy, full of piss and vinegar, Kelly seemed more fit to play linebacker, than to be a quarterback.  


Kelly didn't want to come to Buffalo originally.  After being drafted 14th overall in the first round of the famed 1983 draft, Kelly blew off the Bills in favor of the Houston Gamblers of the fledgling USFL.  After two record breaking seasons in H-town, rather than jump to the NFL and the Bills, Kelly instead signed for the mega bucks of Donald Trump and would have played a season with the New Jersey Generals if the league didn't fold.  When it did in the summer of 1986, Kelly had no other choice--with the Bills holding his NFL rights, he finally gritted his teeth and shuffled off to Buffalo.


Kelly immediately gave the Bills credibility.  Within two years, along with first round pick Bruce Smith, Kelly had the Bills in the playoffs.  If began a stretch of eight straight years in the playoffs.  From 1990 to 1993, the Bills won four straight AFC crowns, which unfortunately, led to four straight Super Bowl losses.  It is a feat that will probably never be duplicated.


Now, Kelly lays in a hospital bed.  His cancer has returned, and survival is not assured.  It's a sad case for a once great icon.  Kelly has had nothing but setbacks since calling it quits.  His son, Hunter, was born with a rare disease and lived most of his nine years unable to walk or do much of anything for himself.  Kelly has had numerous surgeries and fought off cancer initially, when it was taken out of his jaw.  Now, it has returned...with a vengeance.


It doesn't seem fair.  To have to deal with the devastation of four losses in the biggest game of his sport, and then to be further tested with a special needs child and serious health issues.  It proves that life isn't fair, and only the strong survive.  The one thing we all know is that if anyone can rise above all of this heartache, it is James Edward Kelly. He certainly is a fighter, and we know he will give this his all, just like he did in so many of those key AFC playoff matchups.


Ralph Wilson was certainly a fighter as well.  You don't get to live until age 95 if you aren't.  Wilson seemed to defy death for many years.  His love of football remained strong until his very dying days.  He became one of eight young renegade owners to buy a team in the fledgling AFL in 1969, paying $25,000 for a Bills team that is now worth $800 million dollars, according to estimates.  Without men like Wilson, Al Davis, Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, there is no doubt the NFL wouldn't be where it is today.


Over those 54 years, Wilson had many overtures from many other cities to move the Bills.  He never accepted one of them.  Ralph's legacy will be all about loyalty.  Loyalty to the city of Buffalo.  Loyalty to his players.  Loyalty to his staff, his wife and his family.  Now, with his passing, and no one to be loyal to them anymore, Bills fans will remain on the edge of their seats, wondering if and when their Bills will be on the move.


As for that, no one is really certain.  If there was a plan to keep the Bills in western New York, it was never made public.  It is rumored that Wilson stipulated that upon his death, he wanted the team sold.  No one seems really 


sure about that though.  What remains to be seen is if that happens, will the buyer keep the Bills where they are.

It will be a hard waiting game for all rabid Bills fans, with the fate of their very team at stake.


The one thing we know about the Buffalo Bills and their history:  NO ONE circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!


We can only hope for Jim Kelly and Ralph Wilson's sake, they can do that one more time. 



NFL BAN OF "THE N-WORD"--GOOD IDEA OR WASTE OF TIME?


If you have not heard, the National Football League is trying to change our society.  They want to ban the N-word, and penalize any players that are heard saying it during a game 15 yards for a version of "unsportsmanlike conduct".


In case you are totally clueless, or have been in some kind of time pod for the last 30 years, the N-word is jargon for a specific word.  It's a word no one dares say anymore.  No one can even mutter it anymore, for the last 30 years or more, for fear of being labeled a bacist.  All anyone can say is "the N-word".  


Well the beauty of writing for one's own website is that I don't work for anybody.  I don't answer to anybody.  No one can fire me.  I am not going to be arrested...at least, not yet, for saying whatever I want, and taking advantage of that silly amendment of free speech.


The word no one can bring themselves to say is.....NIGGER.


Now yes, it is an ugly word.  I understand that.  The origins of that word go way back to the Civil War days, slavery in the south, and oppression of blacks in our country's history.  


It is not a pleasant word.  There are many negative connotations to it.  I understand that.


The thing is, there may not be a single word in our society that has morphed more in the last hundred years than "nigger".


If the only meaning to the word was what it was a hundred years ago, then obviously, I can see the NFL, the US government, local governments, TV shows, every other professional sports league, and every possible organization doing whatever they can to ban that word forever.


Here is the funny thing though....there is a HUGE difference between "nigger" and "nigga". 


It is all in the context.


A white person who is pissed off because some well meaning black man who works for the airport, scuffed their hundred dollar suitcase, calls the man a nigger.  That is incredibly offensive and in bad taste and damn well racist.


A black man who sees his best friend at the local convenience store and says with excitement, "Hey nigga, what you be up to, yo?"  That is NOT racially motivated in any way, and in fact, often used as a "term if endearment.


The NFL is planning on penalizing any player an official hears saying that word to another player 15 yards.  If it is a white player saying that word in an antagonistic fashion to a black player, I can buy that penalty.  If it is a black player who is defending a black wide receiver and says after an incompleted pass, "Yo nigga, that was one mad go route yo.  You a bad nigga", then I believe it is a bad penalty and a waste of time--not in the spirit of the rule.


What is the NFL trying to do anyways with this rule?  Are they trying to affect society?  Do they have the "God complex" so much that they feel if they can stop anyone saying that word in the league, then everyone in society will follow suit?  If so, then they are wasting their time.


The word "Nigger" is still a derogatory term, when a white person says it to a black person.  The word "nigga", when said by a black person to another black person, is usually a term of ultimate endearment.  It's similar to white people using the word "dude".


Think I have no idea what I am talking about?  Well, being blind, I had to take the #4 bus to work for 6 years.  



The 4 bus is highly black.  I was often the ONLY white person on the bus...either going downtown, or going 

away from downtown.  Almost every time I was on that bus, I heard that word.  I heard the context of that word, and I can assure you, it was NOT derogatory.


It's all perception.  If you are white, you should just never use that word.  If you are black, hey, do what you want, but just know it is a very uncomfortable word for white people to hear, even if you are using it to each other.



I will share a brief story with you.  My wife was recently in a Hess Mart, standing in line.  She



walked up to that line with just a refilled Coke.  A young black man saw this and had a half dozen items and told her, "Ma'am, you can go ahead of me".  


At that point, a white woman who looked a tad "trailer park trashy" standing at the ATM, heard the interplay and said to the black man, "well, look at that...there are still a few good niggers in the world".  


My wife was flabbergasted, and understandably so.  The poor, nice man who was allowing her to cut in front of him acted non-plused, but embarrassed.  He sheepishly said to the woman, "well yes, there are a few of us left", and smiled at her uncomfortably.  After my wife had paid for her drink, and turned to leave the line, the woman, now getting in line, passed the black man and once again said to him out loud, "You're a good nigger!".  


Like I said, it's all perception.  That woman probably thought she was being "cool" and "hip".  That black man probably felt uncomfortable at the time, then told his buddies later and they all had a good laugh about it.  My wife, and any other white people in the store at the time probably felt beyond uncomfortable, and told everyone they know how some uncouth white woman insulted a black man at the Hess mart.


Who's right?  Who's wrong?  I don't know, but to me, you can't legislate it when it comes to a word like this.  Would everyone be better off to have that word gone forever from our lexicon and dictionary?  Yes, of course.  But to assume so and attempt to regulate who can say it and who can't is almost being racist in an unintentional way, isn't it?




WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?


"Time keeps on slipping...into the futrure"  --Steve Miller, 1976


I have nothing to say about sports.  What can I say?  It's that time of year.  Oh sure, I could talk about Syracuse's collapse recently, or go into my thoughts on who the Buffalo Bills should target in free agency, or the Knicks total ineptitude.  Really though, none of that is very interesting, and most of it is pretty obvious.  So, this column  will not be about sports.


I feel like just ruminating about....getting older.


Time is an interesting thing.  We try to make time for things.  We run out of time.  We never seem to have enough time.  We work overtime.  We time ourselves.  We take time for special events.  We call a time out for our kids.  We sometimes need time alone.  We need more time for friends and loved ones.  We take time to reflect.  Now, it's time to continue...


All the time, we are getting older.  We are born, and then most of us don't have any memories until around the age of five.  From the time we go to school to the time we move away from college, it seems like it takes forever when you are in that time frame, but then when you get to be 40, you realize that 12 years went by so fast.  College is a blur, then you enter the workforce.  Before you know it, you are into your 30's.  Often, a wife and kids follows sometime in there, and you hit your 40's.  


I am hitting 48 years old this coming May.  I say that, look at it in print, and shake my head.  It is almost hard to believe.  It seems like just yesterday that I was graduating from high school and then college.  What the hell happened?


​Time also plays funny tricks on you.  Perceptions change wildly.  For example, I remember watching "All In the Family" when I was a kid.  At the time, I thought Caroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton, who played Archie and Edith Bunker of course, were so old.  It seemed like that were in their 50's or 60's--far into middle age.  Now you look back and realize that O'Connor was 45 years old and Stapleton 46 when the show premiered in 1971.  They were both younger than I am now!


Same thing goes for that show "Match Game".  Remember that panel game show?  My wife and I have lately taken to DVR'ing that show every day on the Game Show Network.  We both fondly remember watching it when we were young children.  At the time, Richard Dawson, Brett Somers and Gene Rayburn seemed so old.  They were in their early 40's.  Fannie Flag looked spinster-ish.  Now we find out she was in her mid 30's.  It's crazy!


Same thing goes for the reverse.  Now that I am on the wrong side of 40, every time I see high school kids in the mall or if I go to a high school basketball game or something, they all seem like they are 12.  16 and 17 year olds never looked that young when I was that age!


Time is good to some of us, and not good for others.  My friend Scott looks the same as he did when he was 30.  Full head of hair, and in good shape.  Our high school prom queen still looks like she could be a model.  Me?  Well, I am starting to look like Wilfred Brimley, hawking grape nuts.  The hairline has disappeared, and most of my hair is gone.  Speaking of hair and how it's not on my head, I do have it growing out of many orifaces that you would think hair is not supposed to grow out of.  My cheeks look like I am hiding a couple of walnuts, and as far as shape goes...well, "pear" is a shape, right?


It sucks, and it's not fair.  Time should treat everyone equally, but it doesn't.  The one thing that is consistent, is that none of us will be here forever.  As William Shakespeare said, "We are all just food for worms".  I'm sorry to be so somber, but what can I say--my mood must be reflected by the weather.  It's just how I have been feeling lately.


The funny thing about our lifetimes is that in the big picture of things, we are just a blip on history's radar.  This world we live in has been spinning for thousands of years and will probably be spinning for thousands more.  Our 70-80 or so years that we spend on the planet amounts to such a short, short time.


What is my point of this overly depressing column?  Well, I guess it is just to remind you of all that life has to offer, and how we need to slow down and enjoy it.  Losing my job of 20+ years last summer, 



and starting a new career in a consulting business and freelance writer has given me new perspective.  I am working out, eating better and losing some pounds.  I am trying to live better, love harder and smell the roses more along the way.


Time is continuing to fly by, and I am going to do all I can to enjoy all it has to offer, especially before 


my sight fades away.


It would be nice if you would join me.   I'd like to have some company in the old folks home in a few years.  It'll be here before we know it.



GOT THE BLUES?  IT'S MILLER TIME!



​Less than 24 hours following the Buffalo Sabres trade of their franchise goaltender, Ryan Miller, it seems like there is a lot of sadness and second guessing going on among the fan base.  At least that is what I am seeing on social media and hearing on local talk shows.


"How can they trade away Miller?  He is all they have!" says one person.  Another laments, I just don't understand it.  There is just no layalty in sports anymore."  


"I can't believe it.  He was my favorite Amerk way back when."


"So the Sabres trade away their best player, and what do they get back???  A bunch of nobody's.  Ridiculous!"


And so on.  Folks....relax!  Calm down.  Take a deep breath/  It will be ok.  I promise!  The Sabres know what they are doing.  You don't, if you are complaining about this trade ok?


Fans don't want to admit it, but professional sports is a business.  There is no such thing as loyalty--either from management and ownership to players or from players to management and ownership.  Everyone wants to get theirs, and the other side doesn't mean jack squat when it comes to achieving those goals.  For the Sabres, they made a business decision, but to be honest, it wasn't just that.  It was a good trade for them.


I can't fault Buffalo's trade.  I definitely can't fault the decision to trade Miller in the first place.  Ryan Miller was Buffalo's most marketable commodity.  The Sabres are in the midst of a youth movement, complete rebuild of their team.  In that case, it doesn't help either party when your face of the franchise is 33 years old, and in the final year of a contract.


Here's the deal folks.  Miller could have, and most likely would have walked away from the Sabres after this season.  He and his agent would have little to no interest in resigning a new long term contract with a team that was at least 2-3 years away from serious playoff contention.  Not at 33.  The Sabres beat him to the punch, and helped him by trading him to a bonafide Stanley Cup contender in the St Louis Blues.


Trading Miller was a no brainer.  There was no other option.  Perhaps if the Sabres had a legitimate chance to win a cup, but that is far from the case, so he had to go.  The Sabres realized this and played their hand perfectly.


Buffalo could have waited until the clock was ticking down on trade deadline day March 5th.  They would have backed themselves into a corner, and had to settle for trading Miller for a 2nd round pick and a minor leaguer or something like that.  They didn't.  They found a suitor early in the Blues, who felt that Miller might be the key to putting them into serious Stanley Cup contention this season.  They wanted him, but they also wanted a gritty, two way forward named Steve Ott as well.  Ott is just the type of player that is a huge help in the postseason.  By getting Miller and Ott, the Blues got two vetteran pieces that could push them over the top in the West.


The Sabres love Ott.  He is their captain for crying out loud.  How often do you trade your team captain?  Well, the Sabres are getting good at it.  They traded Jason Pominville last year when HE was the team captain too.  Sometimes though, you have to bite the bullet and do something you don't want to do in order to help yourself down the line.  That is exactly what Buffalo did.


First of all, they traded Miller for Jaroslav Halak, who is also a goaltender.  Halak is younger (going to be 29 this May), and has similar statistics this year.  Miller had a 2.72 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.  Halak has a 24-9-4 record with a 2.23 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.  He is in the same situation as Miller in that his contract expires at the end of the year, but will presumably be cheaper to resign than Miller wwould have been.  He will essentially be on a tryout over the remainder of the season for Buffalo.


The Sabres also received forward Chris Stewart, a still young but inconsistant forward who can score.  Stewart has 15 goals and 11 assists this year, and 115 goals in six seasons with Colorado and St. Louis.  The Sabres also get a prospect, 19 year old William Carrier, in the deal.  Carrier was the Blues 2nd round draft pick last year and has potential to be a solid NHL player.  He could also help the Amerks.  


Not only did the Sabres get three players for two, but here is the key to the trade in my opinion:  they also got two draft picks, one of them a first rounder in 2015.  They also pick up a conditional third rounder in 2016.


This is exactly what the Sabres need.  With all their trades in the past two years, Buffalo is stockpiling draft picks.  


Buffalo has one first round pick in 2014 and an option on a first round pick this year because of the Thomas Vanek trade from the Islanders.  Most likely, they will choose to take that first round pick in 2015.  They also have THREE 2nd round picks this year becuase of their Robin Regehr and Jason Pominville trades.  If they defer the Islanders first round pick to 2015, they now have THREE first round picks that year, plus three second round picks.  Now you add in a 2nd second rounder in 2016, and that is a LOT of pieces for new GM Tim Murray to play with.


Of course, the Sabres need to hit on many of those draft picks if they use them, OR they can use those picks as an enticement to other teams to possibly trade for established players.


All in all, it was an very good haul for the Sabres.  Miller and Ott will be missed, but I don't have a problem with the trade one bit.  Life moves on in the NHL and for Buffalo, the kids will be alright.



WHAT DO WE DO NOW?



​Well sports fans....welcome to the worst time of the sports year.  


From the day after the Super Bowl ends to the day the NCAA tournament begins, this is where sports fans enter sports "no mans land".  It is a yearly purgatory that we sports fans have to suffer through each and every year.


This year, this hellish period was mercifully shortened by two weeks though.  That's the good news.  The Sochi Winter Olympic games eased us into this period, providing much needed excitement of something to watch, follow and cheer for.  Now that the closing ceremonies have come and gone though, things are looking mighty bleak.


Pitchers and catchers are just starting to report.  The NBA and NHL are at their boring midpoints, as teams begin to gear up for the stretch run.  The NFL draft is still months away, and when the combine makes for big news--you KNOW it's a slow time of year.


So, until March Madness kicks off in a few weeks, it is my job to try to give all of you sports fans some alternatives.  We need some ways to pass the time, and now is the perfect time of the year to get those things done.  Some of you need some ideas, so I will do what I can to help.  Lord knows it won't be long before the NCAA tourney kicks off, baseball's regular season starts, and the NBA and NHL playoffs begin and we can all return to our mancaves, so if you are in need...here are seven sure fire ideas:


1.  Talk to our wives or significant others.  Yeah, I know guys.  This is a tough one.  I know most of you don't care about her excitement over her new nail polish or that new blouse she bought, but this is the time to actually act like you do.  Give her that little extra attention that women all need.  Have a "date night" or two.  Romance her!  Bring her flowers "just because".  Who knows--it may actually lead to a little bonus time in the boudoire, which is always a nice thing.  Besides, what else are you going to do?  Watch the key college hoops game between Saint Mary's and Pepperdine?  


2.  Volunteer for a local charitable organization.  There are plenty of great organizations out there to choose from that need your help.  Big brothers and big sisters is a good one.  You get to pass the time with a local underpriveleged kid that you can regale with all of your high school sports exploits.  Do some shopping for the old folks in your neighborhood.  Instead of cheering for the Wildcats, go help out the local animal shelter with their wild cats.  Even if it's just helping out at the local soup kitchen for the homeless, any of these things will get you through until Final Four weekend at least.


3.  Clean up around the house.  If you are anything like me, many of the rooms in your house haven't been vacuumed since late August, so get out that Eureka and hit it.  Straighten out your closets, and purge them of all those things you never wear anymore.  Take them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or even Savers.  Someone out there may want that old bowling shirt that you used to wear in your mens league in the 90's.


4.  Clean out the garage.  Sure, it's still going to be pretty cold, but you know you aren't going to want to do it when the weather gets nicer.  Admit it, right now, you moved things around and scrunched them into every possible crevice in order to get at least one car into your two car garage last fall.  Now is the best time to get rid of a lot of it, and gussy up the remaining space.  Don't be wistful either.  I know there are many memories associated with that rickety wooden step ladder, but it's time has passed.  Put all the unneeded crap out on the curb for all the people driving by that want more unneeded crap.


5. Get together with friends.  Everyone has dozens of friends that they rarely see anymore.  Some of whom they probably don't even like.  Well, your friends are your friends--like 'em or not--and now is the best time to call them up and invite them over to "catch up".  Of course, you are going to want to tackle #3 on this list before you do, and possibly even #4.  Have a dinner party for a number of these friends if you want to get it all out of the way in one fell swoop.  Pretend that you care about their lives.  Play some gin rummy or pinocle.  Just don't let Bob bring his famous taco dip, since it made you sick last time.


6.  Start taking your dog for walks again.  Admit it, you haven't been a great friend to your best friend during football season.  You can't take the dog on a walk when the Niners are playing the Packers.  Make it up to Fido now by taking him for a nice walk a few times a week.  His out of shape ass needs the workout even more than you do.  Get that pooch in shape again now, because you know you aren't going to want to do it during those NBA and NHL playoff games.


7.  Take up a new hobby.  If you've never whittled a wooden horse or pipe or some other small object, you'd be surprised how relaxing it is.  I haven't either, but that's what I've been told.  Try needlepoint or macrame, but of course, don't tell your friends.  Once you get the hang of it, it's amazing how quickly you can put together a quilt or an afghan that you can use next football season on those cold fall days.  Or you can get into building model trains.  I know people who build such elaborate trains and settings for them, that it is like a little world inside their real world.  This will also give you something to break when your favorite college or pro football team loses next fall!


Well, you get the idea folks.  Hopefully that will get you off on the right track.  With a little imagination and thought, I am sure many of you can think of some other things to help get you through this trying time.  



Just remember, you are not alone.  We are all in this together, and with a little help, we CAN get through this.  Good luck!



JUDGING THE JUDGES:  AN F!  



​US Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner is pissed of.  


​​"I feel gypped,", said Wagner, who skated completely clean programs in both her short and long program at the Sochi Olympics. 


Wagner was fired up after both programs.  After her long program, she pumped her fist in the air in jubilation, knowing she did just about all she could do in her quest to win an Olympic medal.  She left it all on the proverbial ice.  Her reward?  A 7th best 127.99 score in the long program and an overall 7th place finish.


​Finishing ahead of her were teammate Gracie Gold, who had the 5th best score in the long program despite falling on her cute little derriere after one of her jumps.  She also finished behind Russian 15 year old Yulia Lipnitskaya, who also hit the ice after one of her jumps.


​And then there is defending Gold medalist Yuna Kim, who had the lead skating into the long program.  She skated a flawless performance, as did Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, yet somehow, when the dust cleared and the judges scores rolled in, Sotnikova ended up with the gold and Kim the silver.


For many observers watching who don't know a salchow from a loop, it baffled the mind.  It surely did mine.


How can it be that a skater can skate what looked like a flawless performance, hitting all of their jumps, looking graceful on their spins and quick and seamless on all their footwork passes, end up with a lower score than one who does the same thing, yet falls down on their posterior at least once during their program?


It wasn't even close either!  Wagner had a score that was NINE whole points lower than Gold, and four less than Lipnitskaya.  It doesn't make sense.


​​"People don't want to watch a sport where you see people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean," said Wagner. "It is confusing and we need to make it clear for you.


"To be completely honest, this sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it. People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one who pulls through. People need to be held accountable."   


I couldn't agree more.


The whole thing is confusing.  There is this thing called "bonus time" that came up on the screen after two minutes of each skaters program.  What did that mean?  I watched the whole thing, and never got a feeling that I had a solid grasp on an answer for that.  Did it mean that each skater had to get all their "compulsory" elements in before that and the bonus time was just to impress the judges?  That is the idea I more or less settled on, but I'm still not sure.


You would see the sets of scores come up for technical merit and artistic impression, and then "deductions", but it was never explained what the deductions were for, and it seemed a number of the skaters that fell had little to no deductions.  The whole thing seems very convuluted and hard to understand--even for the skaters.


As for Wagner, I have a hunch as to her low scores.  After the team skating programs, Wagner was seen on camera after her scores came up, showing a look of disdain and muttering "that's BS" (she actually said the longer version of the phrase), and that video clip went viral on social media and youtube.  Obviously, the judges weren't too thrilled with her reaction and their judgment being questioned like that, and held it against her.


I can see that, but it is totally unfair.  A skater is supposed to be judged on each individual performance, and not punished by a silly vendetta.  Wagner skated the performance of her 22 year old life, and comes away from it looking like a whiner and a crybaby, which is too bad.


"They need to get rid of the anonymous judging," Wagner said. "There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base, because you can't depend on this sport to always be there when you need it. The sport in general needs to become more dependable."


I think she has a point.  The judging in figure skating now is way too much like that of another sport that often gets questioned and is embroiled in controversy, and that is boxing.  Add in the fact that it came out today that one of the judges in last nights ladies figure skating was suspended for a year for fixing a competition sixteen years ago, and another is married to the head of the Russian skating federation, and the whole thing smells even worse.


What should be done?  Well, I'm not even a figure skating afficianado, but I have a suggestion.  I think the 



whole thing should be uniform.  Each skater has to perform the same exact list of compulsory elements.  No more, and no less.  Everyone should be judged on the same criteria.  Simple as that.  Whoever does the elements the best should win.


It is too late to help Wagner and Kim this year, but it would make things much better for 2018



MIRACLE ON ICE--A FADING GLORY?


For those of us sports fans who were there, it was an indelible moment.  For those of us who remember, you can tell exactly where you were when it happened.  You know where you were and what you were doing when the Americans beat the Russians.  If you are like me, you probably remember where you were and what you were doing when team USA beat Finland for the gold medal two days later as well.  The sad thing is, if you are under about age 40, or maybe 38, you really can have no appreciation of what has become known as the "Miracle on Ice".


And that's a shame.


Oh sure, you have heard about it.  You have seen the movies.  The one with Karl Malden and then the one with Kurt Russell playing coach Herb Brooks.  As good as those movies were though, it is hard to fully explain the magnitude of that event.  It beccame a microcosm of all things great about this country.  Sure the Berlin Wall didn't fall officially until a few years later, but in some ways, it began to crumble that day in February of 1980.


I was a 13 year old boy at the time.  Full of vim and vigor, and a huge sports fan, in many ways, it was the first Olympic winter games I had really truly followed in my life.  Oh I remember Franz Klammer winning the downhill and Dorothy Hamill winning womens figure skating in 1976, but in '80, I was more mature.  More aware.  More "into it".


I remember staying up late, laying in bed and watching Bill Baker score on a slap shot from the point to tie the heavily favored Swedes 2-2 in their first game.  It gave the US team confidence--confidence that would grow two days later when the US walloped favored Czeckoslavakia 7-3.  A 5-1 win over Norway and a 7-2 win over Romania would follow.  Eyebrows began to be raised and expectations began to grow.  A 4-2 win over the favored Germans would get team US into the medal round.


​At that point, reality sunk in.  The US team going 4-0-1 in preliminary play was a nice story, but now, it was time to play the Russians.  The mighty Soviet Union.  C.C.C.P.  The red menace.  The best hockey team in the world.  The team that had toyed with the American boys in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden 10-3, in a game played just two weeks before the Olympic matchup.


The Russians were MEN.  Grown men who had gone 5-3-1 in an exhibition tour against NHL teams in the previous year, and had beaten an NHL Allstar team 6-0.  Team USA was just a bunch of kids.  Most of them 19-22 year old college kids.  Heading into this medal round semi-final game, it wasn't a matter of win or lose.  It was a matter of how embarrassed the US team would be after losing to the Russians.  Would they take it easy on us, and only beat us 7-3 or would it be just like the previous outcome?


I remember the game was on a Friday.  I don't even have to look up a schedule of 1980.  I just know that.  The game was played in the late afternoon hours, and I remember it was snowing in Rochester, New York.  The game was being shown on tape delay in prime time on the network that was covering the games, so by the time most Americans actually saw the game, they knew the outcome.  Most didn't care.  I somehow was able to turn the channel whenever anyone was about to mention the result, so honestly, I didn't know who won until I watched it.  


In 1980, the United States was much like it was in 2009 economicallly.  It was just coming out of a horrible recession under the Carter administration, and the country's mood was in the doldrums.  The US had just dealt with the Iranian hostage crisis, botched attempts at rescues, and was still less than a decade removed from the Vietnam war ending.  Tensions were still at an all time icy high in the Cold War between the US and the USSR.  There had not been a lot to cheer about for a long time in this country.



That all changed in the late afternoon hours of February 22nd, 1980.  The Russians jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first period, and then the magic happened.  Mark Johnson jumped off the bench on a change, gathered in 


a dump in shot, and with a second left in the period, slipped the puck past Vlad Tretiak, who happened to be possibly the best goaltender to ever play the game.  Tretiak was inexplicably pulled after that, and the Americans started thinking, "hey, we might have a shot here!"


After a Russian goal made it 3-2, Johnson scored again on a power play to tie it at 3, which set up the "goal heard round the world".  Captain Mike Eruzione gathered in a loose puck at the edge of the right circle and fired it past Myushkin, the backup goaltender, and the US had a lead with exactly ten minutes left in the 3rd period.


What followed was the longest, and most gut wrenching, edge of your seat nervousness I have EVER felt in the history of sports.  The US went into a defensive shell, and withstood an onslaught of shots and pressure.  Russia out shot the US 39-16 in the game, and it seemed like 29 of those 30 came in those ten minutes.  As the clock wound down to zero, you can still hear Al Michaels yelling "Do you believe in miracles.....YES" in the back of your mind as if it was yesterday.


I will never forget the US players jubilation on that ice surface after the game.  I will never forget the entire country's jubilation either.  


When you think about it 34 years later, it gets even more remarkable.  Add in the fact that of that whole Olympic team, only a handful of those players had decent NHL careers (Ken Morrow, Mark Johnson, Mike Ramsey, Neal Broten, Dave Christian), it becomes even more impressive.  The US winning that game would be like the University of Rochester beating Alabama for the National title in football.  It would be like the Batavia Muckdogs beating the New York Yankees in the World Series.  It is the mother of all upsets in the history of sports, and probably always will be.


Since 1980, the International Olympic Committee decided to allow professional hockey players to play in the Olympic games.  Dream teams.  That is an ironic term really.  It seems that now, it doesn't allow us to dream.


Like it did in 1980.


Now it seems like every four years that goes by, that accomplishment of the 1980 US mens Olympic hockey team gets mentioned less and less.  Every four years it gets more and more forgotten.


And to me, that is very sad.  


That team showed us what is great about America.  It brought us out of the doldrums as a nation.  It gave us all hope and belief.  It made us all realize that with hard work and determination, that any obstacles can be overcome.  In some ways, it was the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and the start of national prosperity.


It will never happen again.


​The United States hockey team is playing very well in these Olympics.  Maybe team USA might even be the team to beat for the gold medal.  It will be fun to see if it happens, but I know I won't feel that same excitement that I felt on that Sunday afternoon on February 24th 1980, when the US beat Finland 4-2 to wrap up the gold medal game.


It just can't.  And that's allright by me.




ENNIS-ATIONAL!


This just in.  This kid who plays point guard for the Syracuse Orange is pretty darn good.


Tyler Ennis is just a freshman, but is playing better than any point guard the Orange have ever trotted out there onto the floor.


Sure, Ennis is only fourth on the team in scoring, at 11.9 points per game.  But what Ennis is providing transcends point totals.  He is 2nd on the team in minutes, and leading the team in assists at 5.8 per game.  It is his intangibles--his leadership and his mind for the game that is far beyond his years.  This week, Ennis provided perhaps the most defining moment for an Orange freshman since Pearl Washington that has everybody talking.


With just under five seconds left in a game at Pitt, and Syracuse trailing by a point, Ennis stole the show, and made his mark in a defining moment.  After Pitt coach Jamie Dixon inexplicably called his last timeout, Ennis, the team's 2nd option, took an inbounds pass, weaved his way down the court, and heaved up a 40 foot prayer that was answered.  


Nothing but net!


Cuse players mobbed Ennis and SU stayed unbeaten on the year, keeping hold of their number one ranking.  It wasn't all because of Ennis of course.  CJ Fair and Jeremi Grant had big games and made key plays as well, but Ennis is becoming DA MAN at crunch time.


In the final two minutes of all ACC games combined this year, Ennis is 8-9 from the floor and now 1-1 from three point range.  There is something special about this kid, and coach Jim Boeheim must be thanking his lucky stars that he loses Michael Carter Williams, but gains a guy like Tyler Ennis.


Can it continue for the Cuse?  Well, with no single dominant team in division one, and Tyler Ennis running the show and making big shots like this week, I would say the Orange have as much chance as anyone else in the country to win it all the first Monday night in April.


--Shifting gears, so much has been made about Missouri pass rusher Michael Sam's big announcement this week that he is openly gay.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "What's the big deal??"


We know there are gay athletes in all of the major sports.  If about 5% of the general population is gay, then it stands to reason that the same amount would be gay in professional sports.  Personally, I just don't need to know about it.  


If a player feels the need to come out and let everyone know about it, well, that's his prerogative, but it doesn't make him some kind of "hero".  It is what it is, and he is what he is, but I wish it wasn't such big news.  


If you happen to be gay, I wish you'd just keep it to yourself.  It shouldn't matter what anyone's sexuality is between the lines.  Can you use a swim move and chase down a quarterback running out of the pocket?  That's what I want to know.  I don't give a rats ass who you slept with the night before!


--Shifting gears again, I am enjoying watching the Olympic Winter Games.  It seems like so far though, it has been primarily a Winter X-games exhibition.  


Haven't the networks shown a LOT of slope style, half pipe, moguls, jumps and snowboarding?  It is pretty fun to watch, but where are all of the other events?


While I'm at it, some of these jumps from these guys are incredible.  They way they fly 50 feet in the air, twisting, turning and flipping while flying through the air takes your breath away.  But it really makes me wonder....how the hell do these guys ever get tthe courage to try some of these jumps in the first place???


Seriously!  You know these guys must have fallen hundreds of times while trying to perfect these amazing jumps.  It amazes me that these guys and girls still have four limbs attached when you think about it.


Anyways, I can't wait for some of the more "traditional" events to get going.  Figure skating, bobsledding, hockey, ski jumping, and even curling (which I call bocce on ice) are all fun to watch.  Should be a great week to come!



IT's THE OLYMPICS, BUT BETTER NOT CHEER FOR THE AMERICANS


Yes, it's hard to believe folks, but another four years have rolled by and once again, it's time for the OlympicWinter Games.


This year they are in Sochi, which is a little skiing town in Russia.  The good folks in Sochi were so excited to get these games, they agreed to provide running water for the Olympians and all the fans and media, but reportedly, not much else.


The rumors from Sochi are that the living conditions there are pretty brutal.  Hotel rooms falling apart, lousy food, and transportation that is only slightly better than mule carts.  But hey, who's to complain.  These are the Olympic Winter Games!  The home fans in Russia are stoked, and they are cheering wildly for their men and women.  In the good ol' US of A, we better watch out who's watching though when we cheer for our competitors.


You see, the US is the great melting pot.  We have citizens from all over the world, and according to them, they aren't Americans.  They are just people from another  country who happen to live here, where they can have a much better way of life than where they came from.  They don't cheer for the American competitors in the Olympics.  They cheer for the competotors from their home country.  The thing is, they don't want you to be cheering for the Americans either. They will get offended.


Don't you know, we live in a "politically correct" society here in the United States.  NOTHING in your life matters more than NOT offending any foreigners, immigrants or illegal alians who chose to live here.  


​Did you hear about the school in Colorado whose kids wanted to start up a "celebrate America" day fpr a special project, but were told that they couldn't because it would alienate all the non-American students?  It's true.  Check out this link from Fox news:


http://nation.foxnews.com/2014/02/03/school-tells-teens-you-can%E2%80%99t-celebrate-usa


Isn't that something?  Well, it is the culture we are living in here in the states folks.  Get used to it.  So if we can't "celebrate America" for fear of offending people, then we gosh darn better not cheer for the American competitors for the same reason.  Right?


I got fired from my radio job last summer for having the gall to suggest that the LPGA tour would be better received here in the US if they had more AMERICAN players on it, and less foreign players.  Many of these foreign players come from Korea or other Asian countries, but it doesn't really matter what country they come from.  My suggestion was simply offensive.  How could I even SUGGEST that?  Why, it's offensive, and bordering on racist to suggest that more US born players should be on a golf tour that primarily plays its events on US soil.  That was ludicrous, and I was fired and shunned for it.


I most definitely learned my lesson, and so you can bet your ass that I am NOT cheering for a single American Olympian during this Olympics, and the following Summer Games two years from now.


Back when I was a kid, it was different.  We lived in America, and wore red, white and blue, and cheered for the US Olympians with all of our might.  We felt a sense of pride when a US Olympian won a gold medal and stodd on that podium, watching the American flag be raised and the Star Spangled Banner being played.  We felt our hearts swell up, got a little tear in our eyes, and yelled "way to go!"  


Can't do that anymore.  You never know who in the room with you is from another country and is offended by your nationalistic outburst.


The best thing to do is to watch the Olympic games, enjoy the competition aspect of things, appreciate how every Olympian is doing his or her own best, and cheer for everyone you watch.


If you are in a bar or restaurant, try to introduce yourselves to as many people as you can, and ask them what their nationality is.  Then, when one of the people's country's wins a medal, go over and congratulate them.  Shake their hand, and say "I'm so glad it wasn't an American who won".  


If you happen to own a restaurant or bar, have a copy of each countries national anthem on hand and play it on your sound system whenever one of your patrons countries wins a gold medal.  Encourage everyone else to buyy that patron a drink.  


Yes, these are different times we are living in, but if we all follow these simple rules, act accordingly, and by 



any means, not cheer for the Americans, we can all enjoy these Winter Olmpics without offending anyone.


And really, that is all that is important nowadays, isn't it?



NOT ANOTHER FAVRE!


There are few things in life that really tick me off.  I am pretty even keel, and go through life like a twig on a stream.  However, like the average Joe, there are still a few things that really get under my skin.


The person in front of you when you are in a hurry, paying with a check at the grocery store.  Speaking of grocery stores, I can't stand those people who put two carts worth of crap on the conveyor belt at the "15 items and under" line.  Repair places that tell you, "we'll get right to it.  It'll only be a few minutes", and then you sit there for two and a half hours waiting.  Meteorologists who call for a beautiful, sunny day, you make outdoor plans, and then it rains all day.


I'm sure there are a few other things, if I had more time to think about it.  The worst thing that drives me crazy though....are wafflers.


You know the type.  You've stood behind them in line at McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy's.  


"OK, I will have the double cheeseburger, fries and chicken sandwich, annnnd, no wait...make that a fish sandwich, side salad annnnd.  No, on second thought....gimme a second.  OK, I will have two regular cheeseburgers, a kids meal and, no wait.  One cheeeseburger, a chicken wrap and....  No, I'm not in the mood for a wrap now, how about....", and you just want to yell at the top of your lungs, "For cryin' out loud dude, it's a freaking burger joint!  Just order SOMETHING before Halley's comet comes back!  Sheesh!"


As bad as that is in real life, it is far worse to me when it comes to sports.


There have been a few boxers who have gone through a number of "retirements".  It's pretty prevalent in the fight game.  Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield come to mind.  I am tempted to give boxers a pass though.  It's the nature of the beast.


Magic Johnson had a much publicized comeback after a retirement, but that had to do with HIV, and was a unique case, so I give him a pass as well.


The most famous waffler of all time though, bar none, was Brett Favre.  He had at least three "retirements" and subsequent comebacks.  Told the Packers he was done.  They asked if he was sure.  He said yes.  Then two months later he wanted to come back, then acted like an insolent child when they told him to stick it.  Retired again with the Jets,  Cane back with the Vikings.  Favre drove me crazy, made a lot of people think it was all about him, and badly tarnished his legacy.  Now, it looks like we have another famous, future hall of fame waffler.


First ballot, sure to be hall of famer Tony Gonzalez made news today by saying that he is open to a comeback.  Again.  


This is not new for Gonzalez.  Two seasons ago, he told anyone who would listen that it was his last season playing football.  He was retiring at the end of the year.  He had a "farewelll tour", complete with gifts, cheers from visiting fans, and accolades from announcers doing his games.  Then, after his Falcons lost in the NFC Championship game, he changed his mind, and said how he can't leave the game with his team so close to a Super Bowl.


OK, I can see that.  He's still in good shape, and all the experts thought the Falcons would be a contender again this year.  So, Gonzalez came back, played and played well.  Again, more gifts, cheering and accolades on the 2nd "farewell tour".  A standing ovation from the home fans in his last game in the Georgia Dome.


Now, once again, Gonzalez says he is open to the possibility of a comeback.  Obviously, it won't be in Atlanta either.  That after he dissed his quarterback, Matt Ryan, in an interview with ESPN, the Magazine.  Gonzalez told the magazine that Ryan is "not an elite quyarterback", and that he was open to a trade last year.




Amazing how quickly that loyalty fades when you start out 2-5 huh?  


It will be interesting to see what happens.  Like Brett Favre, if Tony Gonzalez wants to play again, there WILL be a team that signs him.  He certainly has the track record, and even in his late 30's, is still one of the top ten tight ends in football.


I

just hope it isn't with one of my favorite teams.  If Gonzalez comes back again next year, my respect and 

appreciation will be gone.



BRONCOS WANT A "DO-OVER"


 Has there ever been a more one-sided Super Bowl?  Ever?  


Probably not.  It would be among the most one-sided Super Bowls of all time, but was the result really one of complete domination and the result of the better team winning?  I say "no".


Was this the most "flukey" Super Bowl ever.  Possibly, yes.


I honestly don't say this just because I was rooting for the Broncos, or that I predicted they would win.  I say it because of the way the game went; the fact that the Broncos were actually the team that was favored, and the bizarre things that happened that resulted in a 43-8 final in favor of Seattle.


Has there ever been a Super Bowl game that was decided on the first play of the game?  If there was, I surely don't remember it.  For all intents and purposes, this one was though.


Two weeks of hype.  All the waiting, talking, preparing and waiting some more.  The Seahawks won the toss, deferred to the 2nd half, and kicked off.  A kick return to the 13 yard line, and the Broncos started 1st and ten.


At that point, everything went to hell for the Denver Broncos.  A Manny Ramirez snap over Peyton Manning's head, when he wasn't even ready for a snap to be made, resulted in a safety as Knowshon Moreno recovered the ball in the end zone.  That was just the beginning of the end.


The following kickoff resulted in a decent drive for Seattle that included a 30 yard end-around by Percy Harvin, and a short Seattle field goal.  After a quick three and out and Denver punt, the Seahawks drove into field goal range again and another Steven Hauschka field goal and it was 8-0 before Denver could even breath in the low altitude air of the Meadowlands.


At that point, as the Seahawks prepared to kickoff, I told my wife, "the one thing that Denver can't do at this point is turn the ball over",  Sadly for Denver, that is exactly what happened, as Manning threw an ill-advised pass on 3rd down that was intercepted by Kam Chancellor, giving the Seahawks a short field.  The subsequent touchdown by Seatttle made it 15-nothing, and at that point, the fabric of the game was decided.


Anyone who has watched NFL football this season knows that the Seahawks are money when they get ahead by a couple of touchdowns.  The Seahawks defensive linemen pin their ears back and rush the passer, and the defensive backs smother the opponent.  Anyone who knew anything about football knew the Broncos were up against it at that point.  


The next time the Broncos had the ball, they drove downfield again, but Manning was picked and returned 69 yards and suddenly, it was even worse--22 to nothing, Seattle.


Denver was able to drive downfield to near the red zone again after that, but went for it and missed on 4th and short, and the game went to half, a one sided whitewash.


The second half was not even worth commenting on.  The Seahawks continued to add to their lead, while the Broncos continued to take needed chances.  Seattle kept forcing turnovers, keeping Denver from getting back into the game.


The way the game went, it is hard to make the case that Seattle wasn't the better team by far.  I honestly still don't see it that way.  The Broncos were favored for a reason.  They have as good of a team as the Seahawks, but the game didn't go their way.  If things play out differently, it could be a much different result, and each team might win five times if the game was played ten times.


If we have a time machine, and that first snap doesn't go over Manning's head, the Broncos could go down the


field and score a touchdown and it's 7-0,Denver.  Who knows how things work out from there, but Seattle surely isn't any better than Denver at getting back into games coming from behind.


What is left for the two teams looks much more bright for Seattle.  They had the 4th youngest team in the NFL thjis year and the 2nd youngest team to ever win a Super Bowl.  They will have to be favored next year as well and possibly could be on the verge of a dynasty.  For the Broncos, if Peyton comes back, they will be favored in the AFC again, but above that, no one will be talking dynasty.  Also, Peyton took a hit to his legacy.  It 



wasn't   all his fault but I'm afraid he will be looked at as more of a choker in big games than a champion of big games.


Right now, the main thing I feel is sadness and depression.  Sure I was cheering for the Broncos to win, and believe me, my wife is nearly inconsolable right now, but I am just sad football is over.


Six whole months go by before the beginning of training camps.  That's a looooong time.  Right now, I always wonder if I am going to be able to make it.  I sure hope I will be able to, but it certainly brings a sadness to me that I will be "sans football" until late summer.  That could be more depessing than what the Broncos are feeling right now.


  



BRONCOS WILL BE TOO MUCH FOR SEAHAWKS 


Well, we have finally arrived at the nations pre-eminant sports event, the Super Bowl.  It's been a long season, but after all the "Omaha's" have been said and all the "red dogs" have been done, we arrive with the two best teams matching up--the Seahawks and the Broncos.


I realized that I screwed up last week too.  In my predictions for the conference final games, I failed to look back at my pre-season columns.  In that column, I predicted that.....


"In the NFC Championship game, Seattle's defense is just too much for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who become too one-dimensional after getting behind.  Seahawks move on to the Super Bowl with a 28-20 win"


Last week, I mistakenly picked the 49ers to beat the Seahawks, which I never would have done if I had re-read that pre-season prediction.  In fact, I also picked the Broncos to win the conference championship game.  Of course, I guess I have to embarrassingly point out that I picked them to beat the Houston Texans, but still, the point is that I correctly predicted this Super Bowl matchup before the season started, so I must know something about football.


So, I bet you are wondering if I predicted the winner of this Super Bowl as well way back then?  Why, yes.  Yes I did.  Here is what I said then....


"In the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos have too much offense and too many answers for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.  Peyton Manning wins his 2nd ring with a 34-20 win."


I didn't really break it down much, but I am sticking with that prediction now.  I will explain why in this column.


--First of all, the game is at a neutral site.  If the game were in Seattle, things might be different.  The Seahawks are one of the toughest teams to beat in their building, and even Peyton Manning and his explosive, up-tempo offense would have a tough time there.  The game is in the Meadowlands, at Met Life stadium though, and as such, no home field advantage means the Seahawks are vulnerable.  By the way, the same can be said about playing in Denver.  The Broncos would be very tough to beat in the thin air of the Mile High.  A neutral site though, means no advantage either way, so we move on to just football comparisions.


--They say defense wins championships, but those who have said that have never seen this Broncos offense.  Peyton Manning has had the quintessential "perfect season".  He set records for yards and touchdown passes in a season where Denver set the record for team points scored, and for the most part, has been unstoppable.  The Seahawks have a great defense, no doubt, but they don't do anything special.  They play a pretty base defense and just let their athletes go out and make plays.  They don't have a ton of intricate blitz pachages, but just rely on their front four to get pressure.  Both of these things play right into Manning's and the Bronco's hands.  Denver has the personnel and the playbook to hangle whatever is thrown at them.


--Protection is key.  Peyton Manning has not been sacked in the two postseason games, and has only been pressured five times.  The average time it takes for the Seahawks to get a hand on opposing quarterbacks is 2.76 seconds, but the average time it takes for Peyton Manning to release the ball this postseason is 2.35 seconds.  That tells me that Manning will be making things happen before anyone is able to get to him.


--Denver's plethora of targets will be too much to contain.  The Broncos have four guys who caught ten touchdown passes or more this year!  There is no ONE guy to contain.  DeMaryious Thomas is Denver's unquestioned #1 receiver, and much publicized Richard Sherman will be on him, but what do the Seahawks do about stopping Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Jacob Tamme, Virgil Green and Knowshon Moreno?


--Take your pick.  There is no other team in the NFL that run rub or pick routes better than the Denver Broncos.  The Seahawks have not seen these plays executed by anyone this year as well as Denver does them.  With these routes resulting in more defensive players running into each other than cars on the Tappan Zee bridge during rush hour, there will be plenty of open targets for Peyton to find.


--Denver's unheralded run defense will step up.  One of the key guys in this game will be a guy named "Pot Roast"..  Denver's unheralded nose tackle Terrance Knighton has been as huge as his waistline this postseason.  LaGarrett Blount came into last weeks game playing like the second coming of Jim Brown, and 



was limited to a single digit rushing output.  I believe that will continue, especially with Denver realizing the importance of limiting Marshawn Lynch from getting into "Beast Mode", and stopping the run.  If Denver can force Seattle to be one dimensional, it's "lights out" for that offense, as I don't think Russell Wilson has the arm stregth to pass the team to victory.


--Knowshon knows the way.  Bronco running back Knowshon Moreno has been one of the best stories of the season.  A "spare part" when the season began, Moreno stole the starting job away from fumbble prone rookie Montee Ball early on and never let up, rushing for over a thousand yards.  If the Broncos can establish 


even a decent running game, Manning and the rest will be that much harder to stop.  I believe it will happen, mainly because no team runs more out of pass formation that the Broncos.  Seattle has not seen the amount of delay draws and shovel passes, like they will Sunday all year long.  It will keep them guessing all day.


As usual, turnovers are the great equalizer, and Seattle needs to have a bunch of them in order to make this a game I believe.  About the only way I see Seattle winning this game is if they can get a couple of early turnovers, and getting out to a 14-0 or 17-0 type lead, then using that amazing defense to force Manning into 2nd or 3rd and long situations and being one dimensional.  Other than that, I thihink Denver just has too much firepower for Seattle to keep up with offensively.


I'm sticking with my original, early September, pre-season prediction:  34-20 Broncos! 




THE SUPER BOWL GOES TO POT


There is one thing I find interesting about this Super Bowl.  I have heard some analysts mention it, but I have not heard it made a focal point like I believe it should be.  


What I am referring to is that both teams represent the only two states in the US nation that have legalized marijuana.


I'm honestly wondering if that is just coincidence, or could actually have something to do with the matchup.  


Most of the time, I am a card carrying member of the conservative right.  I believe in capitolism, the smaller the government--the better, and that you are rewarded and not penalized if you work hard and earn good money.  


There are really only two hot button political items that I do not hold the party line on.  One of them is abortion.  I have always been pro-choice.  What a woman does with her body should be her choice.  I believe that life doesn't "officially" begin at conception, or in other words, the right of decision of the potential mother usurps the right of the fetus.  The other hot button item of mine that I don't stand with my right wing brethren is the legalization of marijuana.


I am not a pothead or a stoner.  Never have been and I doubt I ever will be, although if it is legalized, I can see myself checking out if it helps my eye condition.  I am not going to lie and say I NEVER used it either though.  My first time, I had bet a fraternity brother during hell week that if we make it through this and get into Sigma Phi Epsilon, that I would get high with him.  We did, and I followed though.  I actually didn't like the way it made me feel actually.  I remember going back to my dorm room and trying to read a book.  The lights in the room seemed soooo darn bright.  And I kept getting caught up on the same line in my book, over and over.  I ended up giving up and just going to sleep.


The second time, I was with other frat brothers at a Van Halen concert.  One of them passed me a blunt and just as I was about to put it to my lips and inhale, a security guard knocked it out of my fingers and ran off.  Other than that, I have maybe tried it about 2 or 3 other times.  I'm not an expert by experience, believe me.


What I have learned though makes me realize how ridiculous it is that pot is illegal.  First of all, it is holistic.  It is completely natural.  Pot also has healing qualities.  If you add up a list of "positive things about pot" against a list of "negative things about pot"....the positives outnumber the negatives.


One must also consider that according to an informal straw poll of current NFL players, more than half already indulge in marijuana use.  Some of it is recreational.  Some of it has a bearing on dealing with pain.  


Those who smoke pot and play a sport that is physical and involves a lot of contact will tell you that using marijuana helps them deal with the pain associated with their lingering injuries.  When you consider the alternatives when it comes to dealing with pain in the NFL, pot comes off smelling like a...well, a sweet, stanky, rose.


When NFL players have serious pain and injuries, they are usually prescribed vicodin, tramadal, neurontin, percocet and so on.  Most of these drugs are highly addictive and end up causing more harm than good after the injury has healed.  Many players, like former Nebraska defensive end Jason Peter, has had their careers ruined by prescription drug addiction.


Legalizing marijuana would help many of these players with lingering injuries deal with the pain associated with those injuries.


As for the rest of the public, I don't think legalizing pot would have huge implications either.  If anything, there will be less shootings and it might result in fewer drug dealers on inner city streets.  It also could have a huge economic benefit as well.  Convenience stores would see a huge spike in business from stoners desperate for a 3 am ho-ho binge.



If I am wrong with anything I have said here, I'm sure my doctor friend Jeff will fill me in, but I really believe legalizing marijuana will benefit society in general.  Or at least not hurt society as much as some politicians seem to think it will.


​It will also help profession sports.  The Broncos and Seahwaks could be testament to that.



NFL HAS TURNED PRO BOWL INTO A COMPLETE JOKE


The Nfl Pro Bowl has been going downhill for years.  It was never really a great game in the first place, but compared to 20 or 30 years ago, the game has been going downhill lately faster than a runaway locomotive.  


In an attempt to stem that tide and slow that slide, the NFL has resorted to desperate measures.  They are calling it "fantasy football for real", or something like that.  What they have done is to appoint Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice honorary captains, and let them choose their own Pro Bowl teams, much like kids used to do on the playgrounds.


What this has done is turn what was a bland exhibition game into a complete and total travesty.  


The draft was held earlier this week, and was televised by the NFL Network of course.  This "dog and pny show" is scheduled to be played this Sunday--a week before the Super Bowl.


With this ridiculous notion, the NFL has successfully lost any fan of the league that they had left, as far as this game goes.


It was bad enough when the league started putting the game the week BEFORE the Super Bowl, instead of the traditional week after the Super Bowl, which it had been for decades.  As a traditionalist who usually believes that any change is a bad thing, I was never a fan of that in the first place.  You have your two best teams for that whole year, and since that asinine change, none of them are able to play in the Pro Bowl, for fear of injuries.  Now this!


The ONLY thing left that made the Pro Bowl at least semi-interesting was the conference battle.  Not that they really ever battled mind you.  There is usually more hitting at a typical hairdresser convention than there is in a typical Pro Bowl.  But for fans, you are either an AFC guy, or an NFC guy.  Wither you live near a city that is in one of the conferences, or your favorite team or teams play in one of the two.  Therefore, at least you had some small rooting interest in the game usually.


Now, that is all gone.  What is there left now for the average fan to cheer for in the game?  Taking away the conferences takes away any rooting interest.  Plus, not that history mattered much in the Pro Bowl, but at least you could know which conference's record was against the other in the game.  Now with no conferences represented, what goes into the history books of the league?  Deion Sanders beats Jerry Rice?  Ridiculous!


As a die hard NFL fan that usually loves everything about the league, the one thing that I always had after the Super Bowl was over, was "at least I have the Pro Bowl next week before football is over for another year".  You can't say that anymore about the Pro Bowl.  In fact, you can't really say anything about the Pro Bowl.  I'd rather watch the Puppy Bowl.


Let's hope the powers that be realize how ridiculous this joke of a game is this weekend and put it back to its normal, where it should be, week after the Super Bowl, next year.  Or else get rid of it completely.  Name a Pro Bowl team for each conference on paper, but don't play the game.  I'd be fine with that too.  As it is currently constituted though, it's not even worth watching.  I doubt many will.  Hopefully the NFL notices that. 



IS TOM BRADY'S LEGACY NOW IN QUESTION???


One week ago, I wrote a column on this very webpage about how Peyton Manning's legacy is at stake this postseason.  How he will be remembered and thought of years from now will depend greatly on how he performs over the next two games and if his team wins.


Well, it's time to revisit that topic, only now, not to examine the Manning legacy, but his vanquished opponent, Tom Brady.  


While Manning's greatness is never questioned, his losses in big games have brought into question if he will be thought of as a winner.  Brady has never had this question mark next to his name and being a "winner".  I'm here to say, that maybe it should.


That had never been the case early in his career.  In fact, over the first seven or eight years of his career, Brady was the poster boy for being a winner.  The Merrium Webster dictionary actually put a picture of Brady in their 2005 edition next to the word "winner".  OK, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point, and probably remember it yourself--how fans and media alike regarded Brady.


Brady's problem may be that he set the bar too high early on.  In three of his first four years as the Patriots starting QB, he went 9-0 and won three Super Bowls (over the Rams, Panthers and Eagles, in that order). Brady was 10-0 in the playoffs until he finally lost, to the Denver Broncos in the 2005 playoffs.  He was 12-1, when Peyton Manning finally beat him in an AFC Championship game, en route to his only Super Bowl ring in 2006.  Since then, Brady has not been the same big game quarterback, but still seems to get a pass.


Tom Brady is only 4-6 in his last ten postseason games.  In those games, he has thrown 19 touchdown passes, along with ten interceptions.  Not awful, but considering that Brady threw only THREE interceptions in his first ten playoff games, it is quite the comedown.


In the 2007 season, he had his career year, leading his Pats to a near perfect season, but was upset by the heavy underdog Giants in the biggest game of all--Brady's first Super Bowl loss.  He didn't perform all that well either in the Super Bowl, and seemed fearful of the Giants fierce pass rush all game long.  


In the 2009 playoffs, the Patriots lost at home to the heavy underdog Baltimore Ravens in the conference semi-finals.  The following year, Brady also didn't look great, losing to the heavy underdog New York Jets.  In 2011, it was eerily similar to four years earlier.  Brady and his Patriots cruised through the playoffs, and were not quite as heavily favored as they were against the G-men in 2007, but they still were favored.  Brady underwhelmed in that Super Bowl as well, losing again to the boys from the Big Apple.  Finally, the past two years, Brady and his Pats lost in the Conference finals each time.  Brady didn't win those big games for them either.


Now something important to keep in mind is that when Manning loses a big game, it's his fault.  When Brady loses a big game, it usually falls on the team as a whole.  Ever notice that?  It's true though isn't it?  When the Patriots lost any of those games, you really never heard anyone say how it was all Tom Brady's fault.  Because of Peyton Manning's greatness, the same cannot be said for him.  When Manning threw that pick to Tracy Porter against the Saints, no one ever said "oh, the Colts lost that game because of their lack of a running game".  No, Manning is the sure target, just as he is usually the sole credit when his team wins.


That being set aside, Tom Brady is still a first ballot hall of famer.  I'm not disputing that.  I am simply saying that perhaps when we think of Brady decades from now, that temptation 


to put him with Joe Montana as the "greatest winner of all time" in the NFL should definitely be tempered.  In fact, his place in history is falling with each playoff loss.  At one point, Brady was thought of on the same level as Montana.  Now, I think he has dropped down perhaps even below John Elway, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and maybe even Dan Marino.  His lofty place in history used to be on the highest echelon.  Now, he is starting to fall down into the Eli Manning, Terry Bradshaw, Drew Brees, and maybe Kurt Warner type level.



Maybe we are starting to see now that Brady maybe never was as great as we all made him out to be.  Perhaps he was just the perfect guy to run that system for all these years?


That loss in this year's Championship game could be more costly for Tom Brady than anyone had ever thought of before last weekend.  




REPLAY REDUX & CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY PICKS


​Baseball made a big splash yesterday, announcing that an expanded video replay system has been approved by major league baseball and will start immediately.  They are trumpeting this achievement from the highest mountaintops as well, apparently convinced that they have now cured all that is wrong with their sport.


Once again, they don't have a friggin CLUE!


Ironically lost in this incredible "triumph" to bring replay to the game on a much less limited basis, is that by doing so, it will most likely make baseball's biggest problem even WORSE!


Everyone who watches the game of baseball nowadays knows exactly what that "real" problem is of course.  It is simply the tiume it takes to play a regular nine inning game.  The guys who run the sport don't have one iota of of comprehension about this.


Back in the 1960's and 70's, when baseball was king, and nearly the perfect game, a regular nine inning game took just under two and a half hours to play.  It was the perfect amount of time to pay your money to come and watch.  If it was a quick game, you still felt you got your full, nine innings worth.  If it went into extra innings, you felt you got some "bonus baseball" and still got back to your car around three hours or so after you went in.  Currently, the average nine inning baseball game takes around three hours and 15 or 20 minutes to play, with extra inning games routinely coming in over four hours.  In some Yankees-Red Sox games in fact, you can watch the season change over from spring to summer or summer to fall while it is being played.


Now each manager will get a replay "challenge each game.  If they win that, they will get a 2nd.  That makes for four replay challenges per game possibly, and that's just from the managers.  You know once this is tweaked, any umpire will be able to call for one whenever they want in an effort to "get the call right".  


Now don't get me wrong--this is all good.  baseball should want to get as many calls right as they can, so that the proper winner of the game can be determined without the umps involvement.  When it comes to solving the game's biggest problems though, it pales in comparison to the length of games on the priority list.  In fact, with all these ecxtra challenges, it will make the problem far worse.


Lets say there are four replay challenges a game.  Major league Baseball says its replay system will be able to get each call decided in under two minutes.  So, let's say two minutes for the sake of argument, because these things always take longer than anticipated.  Just ask football.  That means the average game will take EIGHT MINUTES LONGER THAN BEFORE!!!  Now you are getting closer to three and a half hours for an average game!!!  


It is getting ridiculous, and the guys who run the sport need to realize this, and not be so oblivious.  If they don't realize it soon and start doing something about it, the sport hay never have a chance of coming back to even a percentage of it's former levels of populatrity.


Now of course, it's time to shift gears and talk football!  It's NFL Chamionship Sunday in a couple of ays and many of you can't wait.  Neither can I.


My wife and her family are from Denver, so there is a collective "Bronco fever" sweeping all of our households right now.  Meanwhile, NFC fans are stoked for a matchup of the two best teams in that conference as well.


The matchups couldn't be more interesting.  In the AFC, it's the "old guard" one more time, as we get another Peyton vs Tom AFC title game.  Each time these two hall of famers match up, it is eagerly anticipated and exciting.  It also usually leads to Super Bowls, as both have won the big game each year they faced each other in the AFC Championsjip game--the most recent in 2006 when Peyton's Colts won their only Super Bowl.


In the NFC, it's the young upstart quarterbacks doing battle as Colin Karpernick and Russel Wilson lead their Niners and Seahawks into batle.  Not only the two best younbg QB's match up, but also two of the best defenses in football.  Both games should be great matchups.  Now, without further adieu, I know everyone wants to know who I am going with after my 4-0 week last week both straight up and with the spread, so here goes....


Denver Broncos  48--New England Patriots 26



As Dick Vitale would say, "Blowout ciuty baybeeee".  I have a real strong hunch about this.  Remember how the Broncos led New England 24 to nothing at the half in their last meeting?  Well, I think this one will go much the same way, only this time, there will be no comeback.  The weather is supposed to be unseasonably warm and not an issue, which means great things for Denver.  Not only will they have the altitude advantage in their favor, but won't have to deal with elements that caused their demise in the first game.  This time, the Broncos receivers are all healthy and at full strength (Julius Thomas missed the last game), while Tom Brady will still be missing Rob Gronkowski (he played the first time).  The Patriots also have more key injuries to their defense, with numerous players banged up, although all of them (Kyle Arrington, Donte Hightower, Danny Aiken and Dane Fletcher)  are probable and should play.  I don't care that Brady is 10-4 all time against Manning.  All that matters is this time, and I think this time, it will be the Broncos in a walkover.  I really think Denver will have had it's tougher game last week against the Chargers.  Broncos win big.


San Francisco 49ers 19--Seattle Seahawks 17


Everyone knows this will be a defensive4 battle.  It will be a knee you in the balls, poke your fingers in their eyes, spit out teeth like chiclets, blood and guts showdown.  I think it will live up to expectations.  I know Seattle is nearly untoppable at home this year and routed San Francisco the first time they played in Seattle.  I still don't care.  I think the difference is that Colin Kaepernick can make more things happen with his arm than Russel Wilson can make happen with his legs.  The fefenses are a wash.  Seattle gets an edge for home field advantage.  The biggest difference to me right now, when it counts, in crunch time, in the playoffs--is that Kaepernick is simply a better passer than Wilson, and that will show on the big stage.  With Michael Crabtree back, the Niners are unbeaten.  Crabtree was the missing ingredient the offense was missing.  When the play breaks down, Kaepernick will be able to make more plays with his legs AND ARM than Wilson, especially if Percy Harvin is a no go, which is looking likely.  I say Niners take it by a safety.


Enjoy the fun.  It promises to be a rip roaring Sunday! 



MANNING A LEGACY


Peyton Manning is one of the game's greats when it comes to NFL lore.


His status as one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks is secure.  Fifty years from now, fans will remember him.  They will talk about him and his accomplishments, much like we do today about Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh.  


Yes, no matter what happens in the remaining two weekends of the NFL playoffs, that legacy as "one" of the NFL's greatest is pretty well established.  That is not in doubt, to me, and to most other observers and historians of the game.  


What Peyton Manning can do about it though over the next two weekends, is to go from "one of" the greats...to arguably "THE" greatest quarterback to ever play the position.


​That is how much is at stake for Manning right now in this year's postseason.


Manning led his Denver Broncos to a record breaking season as the highest scoring team in NFL history for a single season.  Manning himself broke the single season record for touchdown passes with 55, beating Tom Brady's old record by FIVE whole scores, which is like a game and a half more than Tom Terrific.  He broke Drew Brees record for passing yards in a season as well, completing the NFL version of the "holy trinity" of single season quarterback records.


Now what can he do for an encore?  Well, the only thing TO do is complete the feat with a Super Bowl ring. ANYTHING else for Peyton will be a total disappointment and just not suffice.  


It would be akin to the 2007 New England Patriots, who had a chance at the first perfect season of the 16 game schedule era.  Tom Brady had compiled a similar record breaking season that year as well.  What happened of course, was that Brady's Pats were upset by the Giants in the big game, putting a huge blemish on that season.  If he and the Patriots win that game, Brady is looked at as the greatest quarterback in history and that team would have been put on a near God-like pedestal as the greatest team EVER!


Manning's Broncos don't have that same worry.  Of course, if they win the Super Bowl, they will be in the discussion, but it won't be as unquestioned as that Patriot team.  Manning however, is a different story.


There are two different scenarios right now when it comes to Peyton Manning.  One is, if the Broncos lose either this week's game at home against New England, the story will once again be how Tom Brady is the much better big game, postseason quarterback.  It will probably be said that Brady finds a way to win, and how Manning choked in the clutch once again on the large stage of big playoff game glory.  Manning will be looked at as one of the best signal callers in NFL history, but one who couldn't win "The Big One".


If Manning vanquishes the Patriots and beats Brady, but then loses in the Super Bowl to the Seahawks or 49ers, I believe the same things will be said about him by the experts, pundits and fans alike.  It really is a "no-lose" situation for Manning.


If Manning wins the next two games and notches his second Super Bowl trophy (and probable game MVP award), I believe it validates him as THE greatest quarterback to ever play the game.


If Denver wins the whole thing, beating a tough Patriots team along the way, slaying the dragon that is Tom Brady for the 2nd time on the way to his 2nd title, and then beats a formidable Seahawks team (who will most likely be favored), I believe it will leave no doubt.  


Oh sure, some will still say that Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw had more Super Bowl wins, and that Brady 


not only had more Super Bowl wins, but also got the better of Manning in most of their head-to-head matchups.  Some will still say that Dan Marino had his success in a completely different era, or that John Elway was more versatile, or Brett Favre was more of a "gamer".  But in my mind, if you add up Peyton Manning's career dominance among his contemporaries and the numbers he is putting up combine to make him the best ever.


If Manning has his surgically repaired neck examined after the season, and is given the greenlight to continue



playing, and he chooses to, then he should pass Favre in career yardage and touchdowns, as well as holding most other career passing records.  If the doctors shut him down and force him to call it a career, then he finishes 2nd to Favre in yards and touchdowns, but would have two Super Bowl wins to Favre's one.  Scoreboard!  


It all will be decided in the next three weekends.  A legacy will be born, or forever tarnished.  No pressure Peyton!



THE BEST TWO WEEKENDS OF THE YEAR


Yes, we are in the midst of the two best back-to-back weekends of the year.  For many sports fans, there is no question about that.


Wild card weekend in the NFL, followed by the divisional playoff weekend, or if you prefer--conference semi-final weekend.  As the ol' beer commercial says, "It doesn't get any better than this."


​Last weekend, we had three incredible games, and the one that wasn't all that great was the biggest upset of the week.  I will start with some thoughts on the four games.


The first game of the weekend gave us all an inkling that this was going to be one pretty extra special weekend of football.  The Kansas City Chiefs jumped all over the Indianaplis Colts and their young star Andrew Luck, jumping out to a shocking 38-10 lead early in the 2nd half.  This despite the fact that KC's best player, Jamaal Charles left the contest on the first series of the game with a concussion, never to return.


The Chiefs were frustrating Luck, forcing interceptions and turnovers left and right.  Still, the Colts scored to pull to 38-17 and then the key play of the game happened.  Alex Smith was sacked by Robert Mathis, fumbled, and the ball was gathered in by Kelvin Shepherd just before going out of bounds.  A Luck to Donald Brown 3 yard TD pass followed and the momentum switched 180 degrees at that point.  Suddenly, the Colts were down by only two touchdowns and were able to come back and win 45-44.


It was the 2nd largest comeback in NFL playoff history, surpassed only by the Bills amazing comeback against the Oilers in the '93 playoffs.  


The crazy thing about it was, I honestly think the better team won.  For two and half quarters, it seemed like that would be the Chiefs, but Indy showed some amazing fortitude and a never say die attitude.  The Colts came out of that game much healthier than the Chiefs would have, and have a much better chance against New England than KC would have.


For Kansas City, it was a fitting ending for a season that started with such promise.  A roaring 9-0 start was followed by a whimpering 2-6 finish, but there will be better days for the Chiefs, who have too much young talent to continue to regress like they did late this season.


The next game was just as good as the Saints came from behind to beat the Eagles.  Philadelphia looked like the better team in the first half, but in the second half, they inexplicably played like the road team, looking unsure and unconfident.  New Orleans played more like they wanted it and grinded out the win on the ground, which is very unusual for a Drew Brees-led offense.  The Saints need to continue that running success this weekend if they hope to have any chance against the Seahawks.


On Sunday, the Bengals did what they always do--choke in the first round of the playoffs.  Cincinnati scored the games first touchdown, but that would be it for them, as the Chargers dominated from that point on.  San Diego was able to run a balanced offense, and play surprisingly great defense.  Watch out for the Chargers!  They seem to be peaking at the right time, and are gaining confidence with each win.  If they can shock the Broncos at home this weekend, the Chargers could be the team to beat the rest of the way--even with an 8-8 regular season.


Finally, the final game of the weekend was as good or better than the rest of them, as San Francisco won a close, back and forth game over the Packers on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.  


The difference in the game, just like last years playoff game, was Colin Kaepernick's legs.  Kaepernick ran for 98 yards on 7 carries, while also passing for more yards than Aaron Rodgers.  Kaepernick appears ready to do exactly what he did last year--peak at the right time and play his best football in the playoffs, which is scary for the rest of the NFC.  Green Bay should have learned from last year's playoff game when Kaepernick torched them for nearly 200 yards rushing, but apparently, they learned nothing and have no one to blame but 


themselves (and defensive coordinator Dom Capers and assistans Mike Troovac and Kevin Greene).


So, what can we expect this weekend?  Will it be more of the same?  I don't know but it sure looks good.  Here are my bold predictions:


Seattle  27--New Orleans 23




The last time these two teams played in Seattle, it was no contest as the Seahawks handed the Saints their worst loss of the year in a blowout on Monday night.  Usually when two teams meet after a blowout, the next game is always much closer, but usually the same team wins.  That is how I think this one will go.  The Saints need to run the ball with effectiveness, like they did last week, to have any chance at all.  The Seahawks can be run on, but their pass defense is the best in the league.  If New Orleans falls behind early, like they did last time, it's lights out, and the Saints will go marching out.


New England 30--Indianapolis  17


The old adage says "give Tom Brady and Bill Belichick an extra week to prepare for a big playoff game and they will carve their next opponent up".  Well, something like that.  OK, maybe it's not an adage, but it should be.  Brady and Belichich always seems to win the game after the bye week.  It is the conference final that they have struggled with.  Anyways, they should have no problems with the Colts.  Teams generally coming off amazing comeback wins usually lose big the following week.  I think back to the incredibel Chargers win over the Dolphins in that overtime thriller in the 1981 playoffs.  They got hammered by the Bengals the following week.  Expact a similar fate for the Colts, even with Luck on their side.


San Francisco  19--Carolina 15  


These two teams met toward the end of the regular season (week 10 I believe) and Carolina won a close, low scoring game.  That game was in the Bay area, and I expect the Niners to repay the favor in another close, low scoring game.  I'm thinking the Panthers will get five field goals and the 49ers will get four.  The difference will be the late touchdown by Colin Kaepernick, where he does his Burt Reynolds impersonation--running the ball in from the one yard line, just like in "The Longest Yard".


Denver  38--San Diego 35 in overtime


This should be the game of the weekend.  The Broncos should be rested and ready, and the weather should be decent with temperatures in the 50's.  That should mean that Peyton Manning and his record breaking offense should once again be unstoppable.  The problem for Denver is, their defense has to take the field at some point, which should mean Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense should also be unstoppable.  The result should make for the most entertaining game of the weekend, and could go either way.  I'm banking on an overtime finish with Matt Prater using his distance edge over Nick Novak to kick a game winning 72 yard field goal in the thin Rocky Mountain air.  


Grab your popcorm folks, and make sure you stock up on plenty of beer and soda.  This should be a LOT of fun!



WHO WILL ENTER THE HALLOWED HALL?


This is one of the toughest times of the year for a baseball fan.  It is about smak-dab halfway through the offseason.  Pitchers and catchers don't report for another month or so.  Most of the off-season free agent signings have already happened.


Ahhh, but then comes the baseball Hall of Fame selection.  


The elected class of 2014 to enter the hallowed hall in Cooperstown this coming summer will be announced tomorrow.  Who will it be?  Some of the biggest first year names include Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina.  Then there are the steroid holdovers.  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and so on.  Will Maddux be the first unanimous choice?  Lots of questions to be answered.


A player needs to appear on 75% of the ballots of the baseball writers of america to get in.  Each voting writer can vote for up to ten names on their ballot.  I don't have a ballot, but if I did, I thought it would be fun to write down who I thought deserves to get in.  So, here is my ballot...If I had one, in order of preference.


--Greg Maddux.  The bespectacled right handed hurler looked like an accountant.  He never had the best fastball or curve.  He just plain knew how to pitch, with perhaps the best changeup the game has ever seen.  If you complile a list of the top ten pitchers of all time, Greg Maddux would be one of the names you should see.  A 355-227 record in the live ball era.  A 3.16 career ERA, but in his absolute prime, his ERA was nearly two runs lower than the league average.  Maddux was purely dominant.  The only downside was his 11-14 postseason record, along with a slightly higher 3.27 ERA.  Should be the first unanimous selection in history in my book, but we know he won't be already, as a writer from MLB.com has admitted he inexplicably did not vote for Maddux 


--Mike Mussina.  "Moose" was one of the top five dominant starting pitchers of his era.  That is my rule of thumb, and in my mind, Mussina fits the bill.  A 270-153 career record means he won a percentage of his games much more often than not, and is very H-O-F worthy.  He had his best year in his final year, winning 20 games for the first time in his career at age 39 in 2008.  He was a five time all-star and was in the top five in strikeout to walk ratio a whopping 12 times in his career.  That says hall of fame to me.


​--Tom Glavine.  Glavine wasn't as dominant at Mussina or Maddux, but to me, he still has the numbers.  He could be the final 300 game winner to get into the hall for a long time, with a final 305-203 record to go with a 3.54 ERA.  Not the best postseason pitcher, but usually kept his team in games.  Glavine was also a ten time all-star and a two time Cy Young award winner.  Open the doors Cooperstown--here comes Tommy!


--Frank Thomas.  "The Big Hurt" was one of the top five sluggers of his era, again meeting my basic criteria.  At his adsolute peak, there were few better sluggers in the history of hte game.  521 career homeruns and 1704 RBI shows he has the magic numbers needed for enshrinement.  What really separates Thomas from his contemporaries was his amazing batting eye at the plate.  Thomas had 100 walks in a season an incredible TEN times in his career, putting his on base percentage as well as his OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) into stratospheric numbers.  He was a five time all-star, two time MVP and won one batting title, which is almost unheard of for a pure sligger.  That all says the Big Hurt is hall of fame worthy to me.


--Mike Piazza.  Piazza is one of those guys who is in a grey area.  Was he a steroid guy?  I think he probably was, but he is also one of the guys who skated through the scandal relatively unscathed--never being lumped in with the others.  Therefore, I have to go by the numbers, which Piazza has, especially at the catching position.  For a catcher, he had outfielder type numbers:  a .308 career average, 427 homeruns and 1335 RBI.  His career on base percentage was .377 and his career slugging mark was a remarkable .545.  Piazza was a 12 time all-star and won the silver slugger award 10 times.  He was never the best fielding catcher and had an average arm, but with those offensive numbers, especially in his prime, I don't care.  He's in!



--Jeff Kent.  Like Piazza, Kent is deserving of enshrinement to me because of the position he played.  Second basemen, with the exception of Rogers Hornsby, are usually not hall of famers based on slugging.  Kent is a rare exception, and with the possible exception of Joe Morgan, no second baseman since Hornsby was as proficient of a power hitter as Jeff Kent.  Even I was surprised when I saw that Kent had over 1500 career RBI (1508).  He also had 377 homeruns, a .356 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage--very lofty numbers for a second baseman. Kent was a five time all-star and won one MVP, and I believe, was still underrated.  Being a contestant on the reality show Survivor puts him over the top.



--Given serious consideration, but just missing out on my ballot:


--Moises Alou.  Very good mubers, especially in his prime, but injuries and missed time because of them leave him just short for me.


--Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.  The Houston duo have the numbers and will get in eventually I believe, but for me, not in this particularly bounteous year.


--Edgar Martinez.  Also has the offensive numbers to get in someday, but again, what kills him is the fact that he was a DH only for much of his career.  Frank Thomas was just a DH too for the most part, but at least he played some first base, even if it was poorly.


--Jack Morris.  A workhorse, and the ace of his staff most of his career.  I think he gets in someday, but this year, the ERA is just too high to make my ballot (3.90).


--Curt Schilling.  "Howdy" as he was known during his Rochester Red Wings career, Schilling was a dominant postseason pitcher.  He just wasn't good enough for Cooperstown during the regular seasons.  And finally....


--Larry Walker.   With a career .313 average, and an eye-popping .400 OBP and .565 sLG, Walker is perhaps the toughest for me to leave off.  Problems are, he fell just short of 400 homeruns and 1400 RBI AND put up most of his numbers in hitter friendly Coors field.  Still, Walker has better numbers than a lot of current hall of famers and might get in eventually...just not this year.


How would you vote?




IT"S TIME FOR NFL TO CHANGE PLAYOFF SEEDS


The NFL has a problem.  Year after year, a popular topic on sports radio and at water coolers everywhere is how the league seeds its playoff teams, and who gets home games. 


Some years, it's worse than usual.  Remember a couple of years ago when the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West division and hosted a playoff game after a 7-9 season?  This year, it's not quite that bad, but it still doesn't make any sense. 


The New Orleans Saints were 11-5 on the year, but lost out on the division title to the 12-4 Carolina Panthers.  Same for the San Francisco 49ers, who went 11-5, but finished 2nd to the Seattle Seahawks.  Yet for some inexplicable reason, they are both "wild cards", and will be playing at the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles and 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers facilities respectively.


It doesn't make sense to me.  Never has.  Why should teams with better win-loss records be playing on the road, just because two other teams won their divisions?  Isn't getting in the playoffs enough of a reward for teams who win their divisions?  Why isn't win-loss records the definitive decider when it comes to the playoffs?


The NFL doesn't do many things wrong.  The NFL is the best thing going in american sports, and most decisions they make are the right ones.  Therefore, it seems woefully inconsistent when they much up this situation year after year.


I think it's about time a change is made.


The NBA and NHL seeds their playoff teams one through eight, where one plays eiught, two plays seven and so on.  I can see why you can't do that in football.  First of all, there are only six playoff teams per conference.  Six doesn't work out if one plays six, two plays five and three plays four.  You'd have three winners, and no way to match up three teams the next week.  So that's out.  You'd have to allow two more teams to make the playoffs for that to work, which would take too long in January.  


The other option, and the best one in my mind, is the NFL should give the top two seeds a bye week and a home game against the winners of the previous week.Teams three to six should then be seeded regardless of division win, based on record and record alone.  The third seeded team would play the sixth seed at home, while the fourth seeded team would host the fifth seed.  Doesn't that make much more sense?


If you win each of the four divisions, you make the playoffs.  After that, it all goes by record.  Easy peasy.  Plain and simple.  Makes the most sense to me and I'm sure you too.


Now, who will win this weekend's games?


Indianapolis 24--Kansas City 13


The Chiefs are all banged up on defense, which should help Andrew Luck and company in the dome.  Trent Richardson and Donald Brown are finally starting to come around in the run game, and Luck has shown himself to be a pretty good big game QB (see the Colts win over the Broncos this year).  The key to the game will be the Colts ability to limit Jamaal Charles.  If they shut him down or keep him under 80 yards or so, they win this game.  I think they will.


Philadelphia  31--New Orleans 17


Other than the previous game in the dome in Indy, weather is expected to have a huge impact on the rest of the games, including this one.  My point in this column abut playoff seedings is a good example here.  If this game was held in the dome in the Big Easy, like I believe it should be, the Saints win easy.  It's not though,  and New Orleans really stuggles away from home, especially in inclement weather.  With NFL leading rusher 


LeShon McCoy, the Eagles are much better prepared to deal with the elements than the Saints.  Philly is 2nd in yards per game.  The Saints are 4th.  The Eagles are also the hotter team.


San Diego 23--Cincinnati 20


This is my upset special this weekend.  Sure the Chargers are a west coast team.  Sure this game will be 

played in the jungle on the tundra outside.  Bur I think the Chargers short passing scheme with Rivers 



throwing to Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead won't be as affected by the bad weather.  Ryan Matthews has been a beast the 2nd half of the season, and the Bengals have a long history of playoff chokes.  I can see Andy Dalton tossing a couple of picks and another choke coming.  If I'm right, it could mean the end for Marvin Lewis reign as head coach.


Green Bay 31--San Francisco 20


Aaron Rodgers is healthy again, and therefore, the Pack should be back.  With this game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and not in San Fran, and rookie Eddie Lacy tje [erfect power back to have in a possible blizzard, the Packers will win this game.  The other reason--they are due.  After Colin Kaepernick ran hog wild over them in last years playoff game in San Francisco, and the Niners beating Green Bay earlier this year, the Packers should learn from those past mistakes.  Again, I refer to my point in this column--if the Niners hosted Green Bay like I believe they should, this would be a different prediction altogether.




ALL COLUMNS FROM HER DOWN ARE 2013


RYAN'S HOPE:  TO KEEP HIS JOB


He took his team to the conference finals in his first two years as a head coach in one of the NFL's largest media markets.


He became a media darling, loved for his quick wit and press conference quips that brought guffaws from a room full of media members and journalists.


He practically became a rock star after starring on HBO's "Hard Knocks" pre-season show.


He survived numerous scandals largely unscathed.  One of the scandals--an embarrassing video clip of his appreciation for his wife's pretty feet.  Another one had to deal with his use and abuse of a former Heisman winning quarterback.


Of course, I am talking about Rex Ryan, the current head coach of the New York Jets.  I say current largely because I believe there is no way that ther word "current" doesn't change in the next few days, and become the word "former".


Ryan was the king of the Big Apple in 2009 and 2010.  He had perhaps the league's dominant defense, and New Yawkers everywhere loved his renegade, "old-school" approach.  He would talk about "smash mouth" football, and running the ball down the opponents throats, and letting his defense do the rest.  Even with a rookie and then 2nd year quarterback, Mark Sanchez, the Meadowlands was a place teams didn't want to go, especially in January.  


​Ryan actually did most of his damage away from home though those first two years.  He won in Cincinnati and then San Diego his first year, before losing to the Colts in a close one in the conferencce finals.  Then Ryan's Jets won at Indy and then New England the following year--upsetting future hall of famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on back to back weeks--before losing in Pittsburgh in another close conference championship game.


For Rex Ryan though, those would be the best of times, and things would go downhill from there.


​An 8-8 season in 2011, followed by a 6-10 campaign last year.  This year, Ryan may have done his best coaching job yet, coaching a Geno Smith-led team to a .500 record at best (the Jets game with the Dolphins is tied in the first half as I write this).


In the New York media market, those records are just not good enough.  Ryan's witty quotes and machinations are great when you are winning.  When you are losing however, they lose quite a bit of luster.  


What it boils down to is that I don't see how Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, allows Rex to keep his head coaching job next year.  


Ryan depended far too much on his defense.  He never developed a halfway decent offensive system and/or didn't bring in the right offensive coordinator and other offensive people.  When key injuries, like the ones to defensive tackle Kris Jenkins or cornerback Darrell Revis happened, there was not enough depth or offensive proficiency to compensate.


Ryan stuck far too long with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.  It was hard for Ryan to not show loyalty after Sanchez's post season heroics in both of their first two years.  When Sancvhez struggled, especially last year, Ryan didn't have the balls, or was too lazy, to make the switch and put Tim Tebow in as the Jets full time starter.


The way the whole Tebow thing was handled by Ryan was a mess from start to finish.  In retrospect, it became obvious Ryan never wanted to acquire Tebow, and single-handedly ruined Tebow's career in the league.  Using Tebow in punt block packages and other bizarre situations, as well as not playing him at quarterback 


hardly at all ruined any credibility Tebow had left.  If Ryan had been able to put aside his pride and stubbornness and pulled that trigger, that 6-10 season last year could have been 10-6 behind Tebow.  For that decision alone, Ryan deserves to be fired.



This year, Ryan made the gutsy decision to go with unproven Geno Smith as his starting quarterback.  Of course, after Sanchez suffered a season ending shoulder injury when he was inexplicably put in the game in 



the 4th quarter of a meaningless pre-season game, he didn't really have a choice.  Because of that injury, Ryan had to stick with a woefully ineffective Smith at QB most of the season.  Ryan only did it to himself.  Putting Sanchez in to win a pre-season game is reason enough for Ryan's ouster.


I could be wrong of course.  I was wrong once.  But I will be absolutely SHOCKED if I am wrong this time.  I don't think it will take long either.  After the Jets finish their season most likely losing to the Dolphins, I expect to see a press conference at Jets headquarters by Tuesday afternoon, explaining Ryan's firing.  


Ryan's legacy in New York will be more like Jerry Glanville than Weeb Ewbank, but he will be alright.  Ryan will be hired again--most likelly as a defensive coordinator like his brother Rob, and he will be extremely successful at it.  I even think Ryan will be a head coach in the NFL again someday.


Hopefully for Ryan, he will inherit a much better quarterback situation next time.



DEAR SANTA...


I know it's late in the game, and that you are probably flying over the Ukraine in your sled right now, but I'm sure you have a wireless GPS and an iPad, so here are some last minute requests of what I'd like for Christmas in the coming year....


--First of all, I'm not sure if there is anything you can do about this, but I'd LOVE to be selected to be in the phase one clinical trial for my eye disease at the University of Pennsylvania.  It would mean so much to me to be a part of an experimental trial that could possibly save whatever sight I have left for the rest of my life.


--I would like to have continued good health and mental well being in the coming year.  I know Obamacare is here to rescue everybody, but I'd prefer not to have to test it.


--I'd like an official Red Ryder carbine action two hundred shot range model air rifle!  What can I say.  I love that movie.


--I'd like to win at least two fantasy football league changionships next year.  I know I won one this year, but I'm greedy.  Same for baseball.  Even though I won a title this year, another one next year would be wonderful.


--I'd like to see my 14 year old dog and 21 year old cat be able to live until at least next Christmas


--I'd like to see EJ Manuel live up to his potential and become a dangerous quarterback for the Buffalo Bills next year.  While I'm at it, I'd like to see the best available and highest rated offensive lineman in the draft go to the Bills to protect him.  Also, I'd love to see sixteen games of 100% health for CJ Spiller.


--I'd like to see my Chicago Bulls trade Luol Deng and/or Carlos Boozer for at least one first round lottery pick in next years NBA draft.


--I would love to see Tiger Woods regain his top form and re-establish himself atop the golf world for at least one final year of past glory, winning at least one major and  re-establishing himself as the worlds top golfer.  It would be great for the game if he could.


--I would love to see Pat LaFontaine pick a very good head coach for the Buffalo Sabres.  Speaking of the Sabres, I wouldn't mind seeing them trade Ryan Miller if they could somehow get a first round draft pick for him.  Finally, I'd love to see them draft a fast Canadian or American sniper with one of their draft picks, instead of a slow, plodding Euro or Russian forward who is big but doesn't hit and has poor scoring abilities.  It'd be nice to see one of their young draft picks who could put the puck in the net, no matter how small he may be.


--I'd really like to see my wife's hometown team, the Denver Broncos, win the Super Bowl.  It would create such happiness and family unity here in the Schaller household, and get Peyton Manning a much deserved 2nd Championship ring.


--I would like to see Kevin Durant get over the hump that is Lebron James, and finally win his first NBA championship.


--For at least one year, I would like nothing better than to see every major sport go through a season with total labor peace and harmony, with no threats of any strikes, lockouts or work stoppages of any kind.


--I would love it if somehow you could give the Syracuse Orange the national champion Santa.  With exciting young point guard Tyler Ennis, CJ Fair and company, and no true dominant team out there, this shouldn't be too hard for you, should it?


--I would love to see you get Alex Rodriguez to finally take his punishment, and have to sit out most of the 


year, then have him retire soon after out of  embarrassment.


--I would like to see the Yankees win one more very good starting pitcher and a solid closer.  As much as I root against the Yankees, baseball is only really fun when the Yankees are good.


--Finally, I'd love to see the United States dominate the Olympic winter games, including a gold medal for the US in hockey.



I hope you all get just what you want for Christmas this year, and that you and your loved ones enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


 



TIME TO REPEAL FIRST AMENDMENT?


Our society is changing.  


Many people would say it is changing for the better.  We no longer tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or anti-gay people, ethno-centrism or extremely religious Christian zealots.  Anyone who outspokenly exhibits any of these traits or beliefs are immediately branded, raked over the coals and shunned.  


The current political correctness in our American society has made everything so much better, hasn't it?.  Everyone better watch their P's and Q's, fall in line with the rest of the mindless drones who don't have any opinion, or if they do--do NOT express it publicly.


The lines have been drawn.  Certain people have found out what happens when you cross them.  Marge Schott, Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, Rush Limbaugh were busted for crossing that line over the past two decades.  More recently, Paula Deen, myself, and now Phil Robertson have stepped over that line and got whacked.


All those names above had the courage, and in most cases, either stupidity or ignorance, to say something that they believed, or was their opinion.  They also all had the mistaken belief that they were living in a free country, with an established amendment to the country's constitution providing freedom of speech and freedom of the press.


It is therefore my belief that it is time to repeal that amendment.  


The first amendment gives ALL Americans the right to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, as well as the right to assemble, protest and petition the government.


--Phil Robertson recently proved once again that we don't have free speech.  


--There hasn't been a newspaper in the country who has written anything bad about Obama in six years.  


--School districts have removed the pledge of allegiance from most school's because it has the word God in it, and God has been taken out of most government buildings. schools and businesses.  


--Finally, it seems any time anyone protests the policies of the current administration in Washington, the national guard gets called in.


No, most of those freedoms and rights in that stupid ol' first amendment have about as much meaning as a Will Ferrell movie, so lets just get rid of it!


In case you haven't heard about Phil Robertson, well, join the club.  I had never heard of the guy until a few days ago, when something he said in a GQ magazine interview lit up twitter, news channels and social media feeds like a Christmas tree.  


Apparently, this Phil Robertson is some "good ol' boy" from Louisiana, who was fortunate enough to have fallen into reality show stardom on some show called "Duck Dynasty".  Now I don't know Duck Dynasty from the Ming dynasty, so I had to look it up.  


Phil Robertson said that, to him, homosexuality is a sin, and that he didn't believe that a man loving a man in the biblical way, was right.  He didn't mention anything about a woman and a woman, but that's beside the point.  He was subsequently suspended by the network that airs the show indefinitely.  


Why should this guy lose his (nicely paying) job just because he doesn't have the same beliefs as the political correctness machine?  While I'm at it, why do the networks and news organizations have to cover this "story" like he committed a triple homicide?  This whole political correctness BS is getting out of control!!!


Here is another way of looking at it.  If gay people and black people and other minorities didn't have the first amendment right to speak out about how things were, where would they be now?  I'll tell you where.  Black people would still be at the back of the bus and gay people would still be in the closet.  Now, when anyone says anything that goes against the machine, everyone gets a geather up their butts.  You can't have it both ways folks!





I lost my job because of similar circumstances.  I said that the LPGA golf tour was losing popularity and fans in America because they have too many Asian golfers playing on the tour, and that perhaps they should think about capping the number of them getting on the tour.  I have nothing against Asian people--I was being PRO LPGA and trying to offer a helpful suggestion.  After all, the Japanese professional baseball league has a limit of only two US born players per team.  Americans cheer for americans at the olympics.  They don't cheer for foreigners.  This is an American based tour.  I didn't think what I said was that 




inflammatory, yet in addition to being fired, I was a national news story, was reviled as a racist, and actually called the "racist of the week" nationally by one website.  I think many cult-member followers of "Deadspin", who don't have lives of their own, still think I am "the new Hitler".  Maybe they, and the gay and lesbian groups can now tab Phil Robertson to take over that mantle from me and Mrs Deen.


Seriously though, it is an unfortunate situation that people's lives can be so negatively affected by speaking their minds or being upfront about their core belief system or religious upbringing, especially in a country that is supposed to protect peoples rights to speak them.  We have lost over one an a half million American servicemen in all of this country's wars to protect this first amendment and each and every other amendment in the constitution.  Let us not forget that.


Either we need to repeal the first amendment, and have a country of mindless, un-opinionated zombies....or keep it and all of our other rights and protections around, and everyone needs to just LIGHTEN UP!




MILLER SHOULDN'T GET INTO HALL


The major league baseball hall of fame will divulge their inductees for this years Hall of Fame induction in just a few weeks.  On January 8th we will learn who will be the newest HOF'ers to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  


​As of right now, we know that Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox will all be in.  The three were elected by baseball's expansion era committee this week.  They are three excellent choices, and have been three of the best managers of our current era.  In fact, you could make a strong case for Torre to get in as a player too--his numbers are that good.  When you add in his managerial credentials, he is a no-brainer.  Same for Cox and LaRussa.  The amount of division titles and playoff appearances from that duo is among the best of any manager to get in.


As for the rest of the possible choices, I know one that I would never elect if I had a vote, and that person would be Marvin Miller.


Marvin Miller is the longtime leader of the BLB players union.  Many educated observers of the baseball hall of fame and its voting, seem to think Miller should be a shoo-in to be elected.  They say that the fact that he hasn't been elected already is a terrible injustice.  They say the game of baseball wouldn't be the same right now without the contributions of Miller.  They say he is the main reason why players are being paid how they are, and how wonderful that is.


POPPYCOCK!


If I had a vote (and sadly, I don't) Marvin Miller would never get into the hall of fame.  The Miller backers say that the definition of enshrinement include the person's contributions to the game--that the game is markedly better because of them.  That he had an impact on the game.  They say this most definitely applies to Miller.  I say it's the opposite.


I say that Marvin Miller has actually been a DETRIMENT to the game of baseball.  He had an impact on the game no doubt, but it was a NEGATIVE impact.  More recent player union boss Donald Fehr has said that nobody meant more to the game of baseball in the first half of the 20th century than Jackie Robinson, and nobody meant more in the second half of the century than Marvin Miller.  


He's half right.


Miller took over as the player union boss in 1968 when that union was nothing more than a handmaiden of the owners.  After the reserve clause was thrown out and free agency began, Miller negotiated the league's first collective bargaining agreement, almost single-handedly changed the salary structure in the game in just a couple of years.  In other words, he priced the average fan out of the game.


When I was 9 years old, I remember going to spring training game in Florida for the price of a typical Red Wing game.  $7 bucks would get you box seats.  $5 would get you in the reserved seat section and for $3 bucks, you get in on general admission tickets.  Now, according to seatcrunch.com, the average ticket price for a spring training baseball game last spring was $60 bucks!


Same thing goes for regular season games.  When I went to a Cleveland Indians game with my aunt and unle in Ohio in 1975, the ticket stub (I still have it) says $12 dollars.  Now, you can't walk through the gates of a major league baseball stadium for less than $50 bucks, unless you are taking a stadium tour.  This is all largely to Marvin Miller.  During his tenure as union chief, the average salary for a major league baseball player went from $19,000 in 1968 to $326,000 in 1982.  That increase came right out of fans pockets, and now with average salaries over $3 million dollars (according to ESPN), fans won't be getting anything back anytime soon.


Miller was also instrumental in the game missing 50 games in 1981 due to a player strike, and his policies 


were instrumental in two other strikes.  


You want to talk hall of fame?  Yeah, Marvin Miller would be in the players hall of fame.  As for this fan, Miller will hold a perennial spot in my baseball hall of shame.






NFL RIVERBOAT GAMBLERS


I have noticed something about this current NFL season.  If you are a faithful watcher of many of the games, chances are you have noticed it too.


NFL coaches have completely changed their mindset from just a couple years ago, and have gotten far more gutsy than they used to be.


Just a few short years ago (think the Dick Jauron years in Buffalo), the thought of going for a first down on a 4th down situation on the opponents 35-45 yard line was given about as much thought as Tom Cruise deciding whether to be in "Porky's 4".  If a team was 4th and a couple yards at any point in the game, the mindset was "60%--punt, 39.999%--attempt a long field goal, and .001%--leave your offense on the field and go for the first down.


Same thing goes for a 4th down situation on the opponents one or two yard line.  A team has a 4th and goal at the one or two, and the prevailing thought was "we need to come away from this drive with SOME points.  We have to kick a field goal".  


That is no longer the case


You see it every game.  Teams faced with these situations and instead of playing conservative, coaches are deciding to let it ride and go for the first down.  In some cases, even shocked fans are questioning these decisions.  


I'm not saying I am against this new way of thinking either.  I am just saying that I have noticed the change and am puzzled by it.


Some friends and I were out at a local watering hole last night watching the Saints dismantle the Panthers, and I mentioned that I had noticed this trend.  The results of the discussion were varied.


We decided that there were a number of reasons for this change in philosophy.  One of them was that many creative coaches in the league, like Bill Belichick and Sean Payton, have shown that they are not afraid to gamble, buck the old "here's what the book says you do", and have had success with it.  Other caiches notice this, and mimic the philosophy, hoping for similar success.


Another reason for this is that the rules favoring the offenses, combined with the enforcement of player safety, makes it more of an offensive league.  Getting first downs is easier because of this.  Teams try to outscore each other more often than they try to "out-defense" them.  That puts more of a premium on points, and since seven is more than three, forces them to think differently.


The other reason we could think of is that there is much more focus on percentages now.  This "sabrmetric" approach says that there is a 70% chance of scoring a touchdown from the one yard linefor example, or 60% chance from the two, and coaches like thaat better than the 95% chance of getting the sure three points.    Same thing goes for a 4th and 1 from the 40 yard line.  If the chance of getting a first down is 65 percent, and the chances of punting and the ball going into the endzone is 75 percent, and the other team chances of scoring on that subsequent drive is 35 percent, then they feel the odds are better to go for it.


So anyways, there is a trend of coaches to be more liberal.  I would like to propose some ideas to counteract that thinking and make coaches think even more.....


Firstly, how about moving the extra point try from the ten to the 35.  Watching that Eagles-Lions game yesterday where the conditions were so bad for kicking that only one extra point or field goal was attempted the whole game, made me think how fun it was that both teams had to go for two every time.  So, if you move 


the extra point try to a kick that is more of a 70-75% chance of accuracy instead of 99% makes it a much tougher choice for coaches.


Here is my other idea, and this is a bit radical, but it sure would be fun, is to eliminate the kicker from the game entirely!  Think about it.  Every situation, you would have to have a position player attempt a field goal if you wanted to go that route, or make "going for it" in every situation much more expected.  Also, whenever a team scored a touchdown, whatever player scored the touchdown had to be the player who had to kick the extra 


point (if they keep the extra point at the ten), or the team could go for two.  Wouldn't THAT be interesting!


Either way, I think those two choices would make watching NFL games even more fun and interesting for fans, players and coaches.  


Of course, neither of those things will ever happen, but it is fun to think about.  What do you think?   



YANKEES TELL CANO "GO WEST YOUNG MAN"


Big news today from the hot stove league, otherwise known as baseball's off-season.  Robinson Cano is heading out to Seattle.  Cano signed a monstrous ten year contract that is worth $240 million dollars--the third highest contract ever.


It never ceases to amaze me how sports teams will spend like drunken sailors.  Each time a big name player enters the free agent market and asks for an exorbitant amount of money, I wonder to myself, "Will this be the time the player blinks first and has to lower his demands after there are no suitors?"


That hasn't happened yet.


It was a huge win for Cano and his agent, Jay Z, a rapper who announces his resense in the world of the sports agent with a thunderclap.  $240 million dollars is definitely nothing to complain about.  Will that kind of money be easy for Cano to live up to though.  I say, doubtfully.


First of all, Cano is going to Seattle and Safeco field, where homeruns go to die.  There were 58 percent more homeruns hit by left handed batters at Yankee stadium than there were in Safeco last year.  So, if that stat holds true, Cano's hoerun total could fall from 11 homers hit at home to 5.  If that were to happen, his homerun total would drop from 27 to 21.  Fans might be questioning paying that kind of money to a guy who hits 21 homeruns.


Also, Cano isn't known as his hustle.  He is a guy who often doesn't run out ground balls, can be lackadaisical at times in the field, and is sometimes perceived as a "lazy" player.  Putting that kind of money into a guy like Cano's hands sets up potential problems for home boo birds if Cano doesn't hit lights out all year every year.


The other problem for Seattle is that a contract like Cano's puts the M's in salary cap jail for years to come.  How will the Mariners be able to surround Cano with great talent if they are paying him such an exorbitant amount of money?  That is the question that they will have to answer now for a number of years.


As for Yankees fans, their reaction had to be "Noooo....say it ain't so Cano!" upon hearing the news.  Well, let me put a rosier glow on your pin stripe glasses Yankee fan--the Yankees did the right thing in letting him walk.


This could be the first time I have ever said this in my lifetime, but the Yankees made the financially prudent decision.  


First of all, the Yankees have already made moves to replace him.  A couple of weeks ago, the Yankees signed all-star catcher Brian McCann.  McCann is a no nonsense, spitfire of a player, who will give the Yankees the talent and grit at the position that they haven't had since Thurman Munson.  McCann will be a clubhouse leader for many years to come in New York.


A couple of days ago, the Yankees also signed Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Red Sox.  This is significant for two reasons.  One, it gives the Yankees another exciting player who can do a lot of things on the field, is in his prime, and will improve their outfield defense.  Secondly, it significantly weakens their biggest rival, the Red Sox.


The best part of these signings is that they will set the Yankees back a little less than a hundred million dollars less than if they had re-signed Cano.  In fact, those signings make a lot more sense now.  New York never planned on showing Robby Cano the money.  And that is a good thing.


Letting Cano walk will allow the Yankees to have the financial flwxibility they never would have had if they had signed him.  In the past, the old George Steinbrenner days, he would have written the check to re-sign one of "his guys" and dealt with the repercussions later.


That won't happen this time, and the Yankees will be much better for it.  Letting him go will allow them to continue their controlled rebuild under more control, and allow them to re-establish dominance quicker.


Letting Cano walk was the right choice.  It really was the only choice.  



ZEBRIMCOMPETANCE!


I just watched a true sports travesty.


I am not a Redskin fan, nor a Giants fan, but I know one thing:  what I just watched was, pardon my language, a fuckup of monumental proportions.  It was so bad, I still can hardly believe it happened.  


The New York football Giants were leading 24-17 in the 4th quarter with two and a half minutes left.  The Washington Redskins were driving and had made a few first downs, and were gathering some momentum.  With the ball on the 41 yard line of Washington, a pass was completed to Pierre Garcon that was near a first down.  As the officials took the ball and moved it to the center of the field for the next play.  


This is where things all went to hell. 


The head referee apparently thought the ball was obviously short and signaled third down with his fingers.  He also apparently failed to tell any of his fellow officials.  


The line judge apparently thought the pass to Garcon resulted in a first down.  He yelled to the chain gang marking the first down line to change the down marker to a "1" and move the chains.  


Washington coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinators apparently saw the number one on the sticks, and called a deep out--a typical call for a first down play, and not one that would have been called for a 3rd and down and less than a yard.  In Shanahan's post game press conference, he stated that he asked for a measurement and was told "we don't need a measurement.  It's a first down".  Unless he's lying, that's enough for me to say ther's eomething rotten in Denmark!


Ultimately, as everyone on the field, in the announcing booth, and in the home stands realized what was going on, the Redskins would throw an incompletion to Fred Davis, and after a respot, complete a pass to Pierre Garcon, which was then fumbled and recovered by the Giants, who would then kneel and run out the clock.


What was amazing is that no one knows what downs those plays were!  Here is the official play by play run down from NFL.com:


2-5-WAS41(2:00) (Shotgun) R.Griffin pass short middle to P.Garcon to WAS 45 for 4 yards (J.Williams) [D.Moore].
1-10-WAS46(1:37) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Griffin pass incomplete deep middle to F.Davis (A.Rolle).
4-1-WAS45(1:29) R.Griffin pass short right to P.Garcon to NYG 49 for 6 yards (W.Hill). FUMBLES (W.Hill), RECOVERED by NYG-W.Hill at NYG 49. W.Hill to WAS 43 for 8 yards (P.Garcon).


See what I mean?  It says that Griffin completed a 4 yard pass to Garcon, then on first and ten, an incompletion to Davis.  THEN, mysteriously it became 4th down and one!


Here is the rub:  if Washington KNEWWWWW it was a 3rd down and less than a yard, they would have called plays completely differently!  After the incompletion to Davis, the officials STILL had not sufficiently notified Washington's coaches that it was 4th down and a foot.  The Redskins would again have called a totally different play than the one they called.


I know some of you will say, "what's the big deal?  It's just a game".  No, this was more than just a game.  This monumental blunder by referee Jeff Triplett goes way beyond just a simple mistake.  Lives were affected.  Or maybe I should say "could have been affected".


Maybe the Redskins would have still fumbled, been intercepted or went four and out on that final drive if they had known the right down.  Maybe, and if so, the right team won, and no controversy would follow.  Fact is though, the way things went down, we will never know, and the Redskins were deprived of a fair chance to do so.


If things were done right, and Washington goes down the field and scores to tie it, then won it on overtime, who knows?  Perhaps they could have used the momentum from that win to go on a huge run, like they did last year, and maybe squeeze into a wild card spot.  A loss like that would just about kill the Giants post season hopes.


As it is though, the Redskins are out of the playoffs now.  That could affect attendance in the nations capitol.  It could affect ratings, advertising dollars for those games, team revenue from concession sales and vendor sales, and a whole lot of other incidentals.  The Giants win gives them a much better chance at sneaking into a


playoff spot, increasing their fortunes.  It's just unfortunate that they have to walk away from this game with a "what if" rattling around in their minds.



What I believe SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED is that as soon as the referee realized his line judges had the downs wrong, he should have shut it down.  Stop the clock, and reset it to the time it was after the four yard completion to Garcon.  If a play was run, wipe it out!  They wipe out plays on many penalties, they can and should have done it then.  If a second play is run and there is STILL confusion, like in this case--then wipe them BOTH out!  



It was YOUR line judges confusion.  It was the referres inability to properly communicate the situation to the rest of his crew.  It should be up to them to get this right, which they absolutely didn't.  Any way you look at it, it's another black and white eye to the NFL. 




WHAT I'M THANKFUL FOR


It's time for another Thanksgiving.  It's my 47th Thanksgiving on this planet.  


It is a time of tradition, but also a time of reflection.  A time to think deeply about things that you are thankful for in this crazy life we have.  I realized that I have never done that before, so I thought I would foray into all the things that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.


--First of all, I am thankful for the bounteous feast that my wife and I are about to have.  A twelve pound turkey for just the two of us and our animals, plus all the fixin's.  My wife's world famous stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce (the good kind--from a can--that makes a "splush" when you pour it out), and topped off by apple pie and whipped cream.  Can smell it now and can hardly wait.


--I am thankful for having a loving wife in my life.  My beautiful wife Michelle came into my life late in 2006, moved here to be with me in July of 2007, and married me in May of 2010.  She has brought love, stability and for the most part, happiness into my life.  She is my angel who has helped me get through the loss of both of my parents, rapidly declining vision and recently, my beloved chihuahua Chico.  I don't know where I would be without her.


--I am thankful for our wonderful brood of animals that share our house.  Our border collie/Australian shepherd mix Gypsy, wiener dogs Leroy and Koko, and our three cats, Mikey, Shadow and Sammy.  The companionship, love and laughter that they bring to both of us is immeasurable.


I am thankful for the remaining vision that I have left.  I am slowly going blind due to a congenital eye disease called Choroideremia. Each passing month, week and day, more and more photo receptor cells in my retina die off, and getting around on my own becomes more of a challenge.  I pray every day that a treatment or cure can be found, and I will have some usable vision for the rest of my life.  In the meantime, I am thankful for being able to look into my wife's eyes, watch the antics of our animals, see the snow fall, sun shine and leaves turn color.


--I am thankful for Dr. Jean Bennett, Dr. Ian McDonald, Dr. Miguel Seabra and all the other eye doctors and researchers around the world who are putting in long hours trying to race against time and beat the clock, hopefully saving my sight and that of all my blind brethren.


--I am thankful for sports, being a needed diversion in my life, and providing excitement to all of us who watch the games.


--I am thankful for all the good friends I have in my life.  Scott, Ducky, Rob, Erik.  Bob, Tim, Todd, Kevin, Don, Bob, Todd and all my fantasy football and baseball buddies.  All the good friends from my past like Dr. Jeff, Todd, Dan, Craig, Bren and Scott.  They all have made a huge difference in my life, and I know I can count on each and every one of them if I am in need.


--I am thankful for the wonderful family I have married into.  My father and mother in law, Kip and Jan have taken me into their lives and treated me like the son they never had.  My sister in law, Connie and her husband Bryant have also been loving and accepting and I look forward to the day that we can move to Denver and share many many more memories together.


--I am thankful for the smell of the ballpark.  Going to a baseball game, and smelling the field, as well as the combination of popcorn popping, hots and hamburgers cooking, and vendor yelling.


--I am thankful for the smell in the air at dawn.  The dew on the grass, and the birds chirping at sunrise when you first wake up, or often in our case, just before we go to bed.


I am thankful for all the fond memories of my youth.  Going to ball games with my dad.  Going back to school 


shopping with mom.  Christmases and Thanksgivings together.  All the vacations we took together once a year to Florida.  I'm thankful for the memories of the most beautiful beach in the world at Siesta Key--the whitest, softest sand in the world.


--I'm thankful for having the parents that I had.  For teaching me right from wrong.  Teaching me to be kind and respectful.  Showing me how to treat a woman.  I appreciate them both for everything that I am and willl be, and I miss them terribly every day.



I am thankful that we have less than three years left of Obama's presidency, unless as I predicted, he finds a way to remove term limits and gets re-elected again by the same disillusioned mass of followers that re-elected him last time.


--I am thankful for the extended family I have left.  My aunt Norma and Uncle Jack in Clevelend and their kids and grandkids, my cousin Rich in Texas, my other cousins John and Wilma here in Rochester and their kids Bill, Suzanne and Bonnie.  Also my cousin Dave in Georgia and all my other family members.  I wish we had more time (and/or different circumstances) to spend with all of them


--And finally, I am thankful for making it to age 47, and other than the blindness, being in relatively good health.  I pray that continues for a long, long time.


Most of all, I am thankful for you reading my column here.  I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a very happy holiday season.


 




FLACCO FALLS FLACCID FOLLOWING FLATULANT FEEDBACK ON FORMATION



Now how's that for alliteration?  Gotta admit, I am darn near pulling a muscle reaching around to pat myself on the back for my creativity writing that headline.


Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, stood in front of microphones today, and as Flacco often does when standing in front of microphones, said something stupid. 


Flacco admitted his distaste for the Ravens running the "wildcat formation" for a half dozen plays last Sunday in their win over the Jets.


''I don't like that stuff,'' Flacco said Tuesday. ''I think it makes you look like a high school offense. That's just my opinion.''


​Flacco then went on, saying:

 

'I don't care how we use it in the game, I'm just not a huge fan of it,'' he said. ''I'm the quarterback. I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, I want to be taking the snaps. That's really the only thing. I don't necessarily take it personally.

''I just think it makes us look like not an NFL team.''


There has always been something that I don't like about Joe Flacco.  It is hard to put my finger on exactly what that is either.  There is just something about him, what he says to the media and how he says it.  These latest comments just add to how I feel.


​There is something so annoying about someone who can't tell you enough how unappreciated they feel, especially when they are already in such a gilded position like a starting quarterback in the National Football League.  


There are 32 such jobs in the world, and Joe Flacco has one of them.  You'd think that would be enough for him, but nooo, it never seems to be.  Flacco spent most of his career telling anyone and everyone who would listen that he feels he should be considered among the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.  That he should be perceived by the fans as one of the "elite" QB's in the league.


​He had a very good year last season, culminating in a Super Bowl victory, in which he was named the game's MVP.  In the offseason, Flacco signed a new contract extension that paid him $120 million over six years, or $20 million dollars a year.  You'd think that would be enough to make him happy, but it still doesn't seem to be.


Now because the Ravens are trying to use backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the wildcat to juice up their pitiful running game, it is not "all about Joe", so he is unhappy.


I'd like to infuse Mr. Flacco with a little dose of reality.  Joe, you are completing an average 59.1% of your passes this year, thrown 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a QB rating of 76.9.  Only Chad Henne and Eli Manning have lower ratings of QB's who have started most of their teams games.  Your teams running backs have rushed for only 899 yards in 11 games, with an average of 2.9 yards per carry, which is near the bottom of the league.  Why is this?  Part of the reason is that teams don't fear you Joe.  That, combined with a pitiful offensive line and below average receivers.


My bottom line is that if Flacco was such an elite quarterback, he would find a way to rise above that and get the job done, like Tom Brady has in New England, or Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay before his injury.


Joe Flacco should be happy he has a job as a starting quarterback in the NFL, with no quarterback controversy to worry about and a nice hefty paycheck.  


As for the rest, he should listen to his coaching staff, shut his big yapper and just play ball.  Maybe then, he'd be more appreciated. 



MY FANTASY LIFE


I have got a problem.  Fantasy football has taken over my life.


No, not in some little, joking way either.  I mean in a  "waking, sleeping, eating, every decision I make revolves around it" type way.


I realized this was becoming a problem when I woke from a dream this morning.  I was dreaming about Jerrett Boykin of the Green Bay Packers only getting six point five points this coming week, and wondering if that would be enough to offset the 4.7 points that Danny Amendola got in order to be good enough to get the win in this weeks matchup.


In this dream, I was looking at a spreadsheet I had made up for the weeks matchup, and I also had three others of my other three matchups scattered around the one.  As I looked at each, my brow furrowed more and more, sweat started pouring out of every orifice and my pulse quickened.


You see, I am involved in FOUR different fantasy football leagues this year, which is an all-time high for me.  One of them is my league, the RAFFL (Rochester Area Fantasy Football League), which I formed way back in 1990, and has gone on every year, uninterrupted, since then.  It is a yardage league, which makes it different.  You get one point for every ten yards rushing and receiving, and one point for every 15 yards passing, but you get NOTHING for a touchdown.  Current owners love the fact that this is very different from typical leagues, and I always have 12 good owners.


My second league, the BAFFL (Bay Area Fantasy Football League) is an offshoot of my league.  A guy I used to work with, Bob Baker, was in my league for a year, and decided to start his own league in 1998, which is more typical and uses touchdowns and yards.  


I used to dominate the BAFFL, back in the days before computers and websites doing everyone's research for them.  I won the league once and had the best regular season record and points total two of the first three years of that league I believe, and won again in 2002 or 3.  Since then though, with the fantasy playing field being evened by computers and websites, I haven't won it, and have only made the playoffs a couple other times.  The worst thing about it is that I have been getting trash talked on the message boards for two years now--about how the once mighty Schaller is a fantasy shell of what he once was.  


I would never tell them that, but it bothered me, and I came into this year with a steely resolve--to get back to my former glory of BAFFL dominance.  I wanted that league more than ever, and due to my June unemployment, work was put in.  


I looked at fantasy football drafts like my new job this year.  Finallly, I had the time to put in the extra work it took to give me the edge again, and it is paying off.  Tied for 2nd in my league and tied for 2nd in the BAFFL along with the 2nd most points scored.  But those are just half of my leagues.


Since my wife and I vacationed in Denver in late July/early August, we decided to start a "Franz Family Fantasy League", and the triple F league was born.  An eight team league, with my wife and I, my sister and brother in law, father in law, and brother in law''s father and his wife.  That is only seven, so we had to have a "dummy" team that we each made picks for.


My brother in law Bryant and I were the obvious favorites, each having an extensive fantasy football background.  Not to mention everyone in the family knows I have been a longtime sports broadcaster and a sports writer, so suddenly, even though this is only a small $25 bucks, winner take all league, I feel immense pressure.  I am SUPPOSED TO BE the guy to beat.  If I don't do well, or even the best, I feel like I lose credibility WITH MY OWN FAMILY!!!  I'm not supposed to lose to, say...my sister in law.  But I did!


We knew my brother in law would be good, and he is.  The thing nobody counted on, except her, is that my 



wife and her raging honey badgers would be 9-2 and leading all of us!


I knew my wife was lucky--I mean, remember, she married me, but I never could have dreamed she was THIS lucky.  She's got the third most points scored, but the fewest points scored against her.  It seems, no matter who she plays has a louusy week against her.  Also, her 3rd and 4th picks after Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson were CJ Spiller and Steven Jackson--two of the biggest fantasy busts of the year.  Her 3rd running back was Darren 

McFadden.  She has proven that none of this matters when you have Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson.


It also seems that no matter who she starts, they do well.  If she picks someone up off the waiver wire, they do well.  I don't have that kind of luck.


I needed a wide receiver this week, with my top two--DeSean Jackson and AJ Green--on a bye.  I looked at every matchup, checked the histories of all possible pickups against this weeks matchups.  Checked weather reports, injury lists, defensive secondary matchups, horoscope reports...I spend two days going over this crap, putting together spreadsheets, deciphering results and so on.  I finally decide on Marques Colston against Atlanta's pitiful secondary.  First of all, it's hard to believe the #1 receiver on the NFC's best offense would be on the waiver wire, but Colston is 100% healthy now, had a touchdown in the week one matchup against Atlanta, and has a great history against the Falcons.  He is playing in a dome, against the team who has given up the third most points to wide receivers all season.


So, what happens?  FOUR STINKIN' LOUSY POINTS!!!  No touchdowns.  Zero second half catches on zero second half targets.  My wife could pick up Buffalo's TJ Graham going against the Seahawks in a blizzard, and he'd get 28 points.  I spend 58 hours deciding to pick up Colston, and I get four points.  That's my kind of luck friends.


Anyways, now I need the rest of my team to pick up the slack, playing against my brother in law and his 2nd place team that leads the league in points, and beat me in the first matchup.  I need a win desperately and can't afford to fall back to .500 and 6-6 with a loss.


Meanwhile, in my final league, the O'Loughlin's pub league, I need a win to get back to that same /500 mark.  That would keep us in the hunt.  See, I co-own that team with my friend Rob.  We split the entry fee and will split the winnings if there are any.  I drafted the team but we share most key decisions.  


We have had terrible luck this year in this league.  Despite scoring the 3rd most points in the league, we are 5-6 and in third in our own division.  The good news is the division leader is only 7-4.  We win out, and there is still hope.


So, wonder what I've been doing since losing my job?  Well, there you have it.  Other than looking for a new job that is.  


Well, I gotta go.  Gotta figure out a creative way to get Bobby Rainey into two of my lineups this week.


 



THE CALL HEARD ROUND THE WORLD



It's the penalty flag that just won't go away.  It's become laundry you just can't wash.  Everybody is still talking about the final play of the Monday night football game.


I'm sure you remember what happened, but just in case, I'll remind you.  


​With just a couple of seconds left on the clock, and the Patriots needing a touchdown from the 18 yard line, it was obviously the final play of the game.  It would be either a touchdown and a Pats win, or anything else--a Carolina Panthers win.  It should be pointed out, the game was in Carolina.  Tom Brady dropped back from the shotgun and fired a pass into the endzone intended for Rob Gronkowski.  As Gronk made his cut, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed Gronkowski as if he was hoping for a slow dance, and the pass was intercepted in the endzone.


The refs threw a flag.  It seemed obvious that they should have.  However, after a zebra huddle, in which they had to be deciding how they were going to get out of Bank of America stadium with all their limbs intact if they call something on Carolina's defense, announced to the masses that there was no pass interference because the ball was uncatchable, and picked the flag up.  Game over--Panthers win.


It was a blown call.  I don't care what the explanation was, it was a blown call.  


Here is why:  even if it wasn't "pass interference", there was contact between Kuechly and Gronkowski.  There is no way anyone in the NFL offices can dispute that.  That being said, it was also contact in the endzone.  Since the snap was from the 18 yard line, the contact had to be beyond five yards with a receiver, which is a penalty in every other NFL game in every other situation.


​In that case, the game can't end on a defensive foul.  As the NFL rule book states in Rule 8, Section 4, Article 3, Illegal contact beyond the 5 yard zone results in a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down.  Since this was the final play of the game, the ball should have been moved to the 13 yard line and the Patriots should have had one final play from there to try to win it.


That is if you call illegal contact outside of the five yard zone, which is what I believe the call should have been.  I think an argument still could have been made for whether or not the pass was catchable, and in that case, it could have been called "pass interference", which should have resulted in one final play for New England from the ONE yard line.


Either way, there should have been SOMETHING called.  The fact that there was not, was unfair to New England.  Perhaps, in either case, the Panthers may have stopped the Patriots anyways and still won the game.  It is a shame for both teams that they never got that chance.


What truly bothers me is the arrogance of the NFL in the whole matter.  The fact that everyone in the NFL offices backed the officials and said it was the proper call, is ridiculous in my book, but we have come to be used to that from them, haven't we?


I'm not a Patriots fan by any means, but it would be a travesty of justice if that non call makes a big difference down the road for tham, when it comes to playoff seeding.


​I'm afraid it will.



PROTECTING NFL'S CHINA DOLLS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS


It happened again on Sunday.  It is happening on most Sundays.  "It" is a referee's flag, sometimes at very inopportune times, for a personal foul for "roughing the quarterback", or "contact with the quarterbacks head", or "hitting the quarterback low" or something of that ilk.


Might as well add "tickling the quarterback" or "patting the quarterback on his butt".


It is getting ridiculous!  


This past Sunday, the Saints were driving for a possible game winning touchdown to beat the 49ers in a key  NFC conference matchup.  One that could have home field playoff implications for the two teams.  Drew Brees dropped back to pass on that final drive, was hit with a forearm across the sternum by Niners linebacker Ahmad Brooks, fumbled the ball, and the 49ers recovered.  Should be time for the victory formation and a huge 49er victory on the road, right?  


No.  Instead, the flag came out for a "hit to the quarterbacks head or neck area".  15 yards, and the Saints were able to continue that drive, which ultimately ended up with the Saints winning the game.


Brooks, understandably, was quoted as saying the call was "bullshit".  I have to agree, and I was rooting for the Saints to win.


You've seen things like that happening all year long.  A quarterback throws the ball, and a flag is thrown if a pass rushers pinkie finger happens to touch the QB's helmet.  I've seen pash rushers be blocked, fall down and accidentally roll onto a quarterbacks feet as he throws, and they call a personal foul for hitting the quarterback low.  I've seen quarterbacks throw the ball under a fierce rush, then the pass rusher grab him by the midsection and gently bring him to the turf, and they call a personal foul for "roughing the passer".


So, let me get this straight...you can't hit the quarterback in the head, you can't hit the quarterback in the legs, and you can't hit the quarterback in the middle of his body?  


Why don't we just put skirts on every quarterback and the only way you can tackle them is by pulling their skirts down over their hips, like flag football?


That's what it is coming down to!


I understand the reasons for it and what the NFL is trying to do.  The passing game is what the NFL is all about right now.  It is what brings fans to sit in front of their big screens every Sunday, Monday and Thursday.  The star quarterback is the league's meal ticket and it knows it.  Still, protecting them like little china dolls ruins the league's credibility.


It is also hypocritical.  The NFL prides itself on its physical nature.  It is a game where the goal is to tackle the guy with the ball, yet this apparently does not apply to quarterbacks.  You can't have one definition for one guy, and another for the other ten guys.  Yet that is what the NFL is doing right now.


The problem is, as long as viewership remains high, and the outcry remains low, nothing is going to change.  So grab your makeup kit, and straighten up your doiles and throw pillows ladies....and enjoy your new NFL!



FINALLY!!!



It's about time!  The Buffalo Sabres and owner Terry Pegula finally saw the light and fired General Manager Darcy Regier!


It was only about...ohhhhh....FOUR YEARS TOO LATE.


Regier should have been let go three or four years ago, when it was obvious that his core of players that won the Presidents Cup in 2007 were not going to bring the team to those lofty heights anymore.


Regier should have been fired after the 2011 season when it was obvious that all of his prized off-season acquisitions in free agency like Ville Leino, Christian Erhoff and Robin Regehr did not produce the proper chemistry to be successful.


Regier should have most definitely been fired last season when longtime head coach Lindy Ruff was made to be the fall guy and given his walking papers.


Finally, Regier should no doubt have been fired at the end of last season, ehen it was obvious that the team was in the beginning of a full rebuild, and since Regier was the main reason for this, should not have been the man to take charge of a new rebuilding process.


Finally, after the Sabres started off the year an NHL worst 4-15-1, Pegula sent Regier packing.  


Regier had become the Rasputin of NHL GM's.  He had so many chances that it was purely amazing.  One could lose most of their hair scratching their heads as to why Regier still had the job of NHL General Manager.  About the only explanation I could think of was that Regier had pictures of Pegula being intimate with a farm animal.   


Now finally, he is gone, and Sabres fans have to hear harps playing, the sun being a little brighter, and have a little extra step in their giddyup.


Pegula has finally teken steps in the right direction.  Sabres legend Pat LaFontaine has been named the Sabres Director of Hockey Operations.  It is an excellent choice.  LaFontaine knows the game and has a ton of contacts, as well as a great name that players should love playing for.  


Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan was brought back to be the interim head coach.  I think that is another excellent choice.  Nolan has the chops to get the job done, and must be respected by the current players, which is something that newly fired coach Ron Rolston never had.  


LaFontaine will be interviewing potential GM's now, and Nolan is a good enough company man to step aside quietly if that new GM wants to bring in his own coach.  He is also a good enough coach with enough of a track record that it wouldn't be a bad thing if that GM keeps him on and removes the interim tag.


The shakeup was needed in every way, and everyone involved comes out a winner.


Except for Ron Rolston.


I feel bad for Rolston, who is a class individual who deserved better.  Rolston was brought into the organization to coach the Rochester Americans.  He had an extensively successful track record of working with young players, and was getting the most out of the Amerks.  When Ruff was fired, Rolston was brought up to coach the parent Sabres and it was obvious from the start that he was in over his head.


Rolston never really had the locker room, and never gained the respect of the veteran players.  Ideally, 



Rolston should have been sent back  to coach the Amerks again after last season, and another head coach brought in to work with the Sabres.  That didn't happen and things continued to get worse for Rolston.  When he benched the top line for the Sabres a couple games ago, he lost what was left of the locker room.


Now he is looking for another job.  You can look at it as collateral damage to moves that just had to be made though.  Other than that, the future is looking much brighter today for the Buffalo Sabres.




NFL MID-SEASON AWARDS


It's the midway point of the NFL season.  Well actually, it is a little more than that, but it's time for me to look back on the first half of everyone's favorite sports season and give my grades on things.  Let's start with.....


MVP:  Payton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos


My dear Lord!  What can you say about the year Peyton is having?  Perhaps the best first half of a season any player who ever played the game has had?  I'd go that far.  Manning leads the league in every positive catagory and is posting a record setting 121 quarterback rating.  He is on pace to blow away every esteemed passing record in the books for a single season.  He has led the Broncos to an 8-1 record and their offense is on pace to score the most points in NFL history.  Recent injury concerns are the only thing casting a pall over this amazing year he is having.


Runner up:  Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints


​He is second to Peyton in every major catagory, and his Saints are 6-2 and an early favorite to win the NFC.


Honorable mention:  


Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs


725 yards rushing and another 389 yards receiving to go along with 8 total TD's.  Charles is the engine that makes the unbeaten Chiefs go.  He touches the ball more than any other Chief and is the main reason for their unblemished record.


Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks.


Same can be said about Lynch that was said about Charles.  871 yards rushing and another 212 receiving.  A 4.6 average.  8 TD's.  With Russell Wilson having a bit of a sophomore slump, Lynch has more than picked up the slack.


Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers


Rivers is 5th in yards, 3rd in QB rating and has had an amazing bounce back year for the Bolts.  He is the main reason his team is alive for a wild card spot in the AFC.


LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles.  


McCoy has proven himself to be the perfect back for Chip Kelly's uptempo system in Philly.  He is leading the NFL in yards rushing and rushing average as well as yards per game.


BEST TEAM:  Denver Broncos


​Yes I know Kansas City is 9-0 and the Broncos are 8-1.  Thing is, Denver has scored 155 points more than KC through those 9 games!  That's neartly two touchdowns and a field goal per game more than the Chiefs!  I may have egg on my face come next Sunday night around 11:30 pm if the Chiefs beat the Broncs, but I doubt it.


​Honorable mention:  Seattle Seahawks.  Seattle has been outstanding defensively, and is 9-1.  Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs have been better than anticipated offensively and great defensively.  No team is more opportunistic as well.  New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are 7-2 and still have that high octane offense and a better than average defense now with Rob Ryan there.


COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:  Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers



I have never been a big fan of this award, because that usually means you were bad the year before, but Rivers should be the winner.  No one expected him to do what he is doing with an unknown supporting cast.


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:  Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers.


An easy choice, with 669 yards rushing and 4 TD's for the Pack.  Keenan Allen, the wide receiver from the 



Chargers could catch him though.  He has 468 yards receiving so far for the Bolts, along with 3 TD's


MOST SURPRISING PLAYER:  Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos


Thomas isn't a rookie, but you could name on one hand how many serious fans had ever even heard of him before this year.  Now, the Broncos tight end is on pace for over a thousand yards and 15 touchdowns.


​BIGGEST BUST:  Eli Manning and Hakeen Nicks


I can't choose between these two Giants, so I will give it to both of them.  The "other" Manning is a polar opposite to his brother this year.  He is last in the league among all quarterbacks who have started all their teams games with a 55% completion mark, and he leads the league in interceptions.  Nicks has just over 550 yards receiving, but STILL hasn't found the end zone--almost impossible for a starting receiver, even on a bad team.


DISHONORABLE MENTION:  Maurice Jones-Drew (it's not all his fault, playing for the woeful Jags), Rashad Mendenhall, Colin Kaepernick, Ray Rice (2.5 yards per carry...WHAT???), Lamar Miller and finally, CJ Spiller.


​TEAM MOST LIKELY TO IMPROVE IN THE 2ND HALF:  Baltimore Ravens, who are much better than their 4-5 record would indivate.  I can also see the Giants and Redskins getting better, as well as the Steelers, Texans and Buccaneers.


TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL ON THEIR FACE IN THE 2ND HALF:  Kansas City Chiefs.  They will make the playoffs, but I think a loss to the Broncos this week will send them back to reality and may start them questioning themselves.  I could see a 3-4 type finish coming.  Other teams that may fall off a bit include the Jets, Panthers and Cardinals


TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR THE MOST IN THE 2ND HALF:  New England Patriots.  With Tom Brady getting Shane Vereen back soon and all his wideouts healthy again, Bill Belechick and his boys may come out from under everyones radar really quickly.  It's amazing how this team has a 7-2 record right now.  I could see the Pats finishing very strong with perhaps only one more loss the rest of the way.




NFL BULLYING NO LONGER INCOGNITO



Since I wrote my previous column, we have learned more about the Jonathan Martin situation in Miami.  Most of it has not been good.


We learned that there was one person at the heart of the issue.  That person should not be a surprise to anybody.  Reportedly, it is Richie Incognito.  Incognito is a self-admitted troubled guy, who has not been a stranger to being in trouble while in the National Football League.


Incognito has been a bad dude for many years.  He was suspended way back in college numerous times for violating team rules and fighting at Nebraska.  He then transferred to Oregon but then-coach Mike Bellotti kicked him off the team a week later, because Incognito didn't live up to his part of the transfer agreement.  


Despite being labeled as "undraftable" by many NFL GM's due to character concerns, it was on to the NFL in 2005 for Incognito--drafted in the 3rd round by the Rams. 


Once in the NFL, Incognito showed talent, but also problems.  Reported partying led to injuries for him off the field.  Drug and alcohol problems led to fights and problems as well.  Incognito was also recognized by his fellow players for being a wackjob:  he was voted the NFL's dirtiest player in 2009--a club that he became a charter member in.


The Rams had enough in 2009 and cut ties with Incognito.     He was claimed on waivers in December by the Buffalo Bills, of all teams.  He started the final three games of 2009 on the Bills, but they didn't bring him back in 2010.  He signed on instead with the Dolphins, where he is today.  


Incognito won't be there much longer.  The Miami Herald is reporting that according to sources, it is only a matter of time before the Dolphins cut ties with Incognito as well.  I can't say that I blame them.  It will be hard for Incognito to get another job in the league after this, mainly due to his track record.


As for what he did, you have heard the voicemail.  You have heard the text quote.  You have read the tweets.  I am not going to go into them.  I will just say that it was disgusting.  You don't say that to any other human being, jokingly or seriously.  It's not right and he deserves to have repercussions.  That is not what's bothering me here.  


What is ticking me off the most in this case, is the lack of support for Jonathan Martin.


This poor kid.  


Martin had Richie Incognito as a bullying ringleader.  Incognito is a bully, only in this case, he is also a veteran NFL lineman, who was completely capable of intimidating other young, big men, both black and white, and getting them on his side.  They all in turn, began to make poor Jonathan Martin's life a living hell under the guise of "hazing".


What else can we believe at this point?  At least that is what I glean from it.  What is truly surprising to me is that it seems that everyone you are hearing from keeps saying what a great guy Richie Incognito is.  How well liked he is and has been by other offensive linemen, players on the team and Dolphin coaches.  Nobody seems to be condemning him.  No one seems to be saying how badly they feel for Jonathan Martin.


If anything, I get the feeling that most Dolphins are going to BLAME Jonathan Martin in this.  They may not say it to the media, but I bet behind closed doors, they are saying to each other that Martin is a total pusscake.  They are saying how weak minded he is.  They are probably saying he doesn't have a backbone.  They are also probably saying how they don't want to ever line up next to him on their team anymore.


That is the real tragedy here.  Incognito's days as a Miami Dolphin are most likely over.  His NFL career may 


follow.  I'm afraid that the career of Jonathan Martin may be over as well because of this.  That is sad.


The media is also playing up the racial aspect of this, because of Incognito's use of the N-word against Martin.  From what I gather, that doesn't mean jack squat.  Race had little to do with this.  Black teammates are supporting Incognito as much or more than his white teammates.  No, this is a simple case of bullying, which is proving that bullying doesn't end on the schoolyards.



It should not be tolerated in any profession.


I don't know how this is going to end, or what the final ramifications will be here.  All I know is that I have a new guy to root for in professional sports, and that is Jonathan Martin.  




CHILDISH IMMATURITY IN THE NFL


The NFL recently proved that immaturity doesn't end at adolescence.  Members of the Miami Dolphins proved that 20 and 30-somethings can still act like grade schoolers.  


​I read the story about Jonathan Martin a couple of days ago.  What I read really distressed me.  It also showed me that grown men are still capable of harsh humiliation usually only reserved for schoolyard bullies.


Jonathan Martin is an offensive lineman for the Dolphins.  He is a young man at age 24.  He is also a smart man, who was born in Pennsylvania but was intelligent enough to go to Stanford and play on a football scholarship.  He is also a talented man, who is thought of highly enough by the Miami Dolphins to have made him a starter on their offensive line for the first seven games of the current season.  


You'd think that with all of that going for him, Martin would be a happy and contented young man.  You'd be wrong.


I don't know Jonathan Martin personally.  Chances are, you don't either.  We are left to speculate, but I'm guessing Martin has some interesting personality traits.  I base that on the fact that he has a nickname.  I learned that many of his Dolphins teammates call him "the big weirdo".  


Generally, a person doesn't get a nickname like that unless there is something a bit offputting about you.  That kind of nickname can be taken two ways though.  If it is applied in a joking fashion, as in the people calling him that don't really mean it and are just kidding around, it can be funny.  If it is applied to the individual behind his back, and used to poke fun at the individual without his knowledge, it is cruel.  I'm guessing from what I know now, it is the latter in this case.


This past Monday, Martin's teammates took their derision of Martin to another level.  Reportedly, a group of players called Martin over to their table in the cafeteria.  They urged Martin to "come, come sit with us."


I'm guessing Martin had to be thrilled by this.  As an outcast on his own team, a group of fellow players opening their arms to him--asking HIM to actually join THEM, must have been heartwarming to big Jonathan.


When Martin got over to the table with his tray, all the members of the team who urged him over, all grabbed their trays and got up and walked away, probably giggling like scchoolgirls at their planned goof on Martin.


Jonathan reportedly slammed his tray down, banged his big hands down on some tables, and had an anger fueled fit.  It was completely understandable.


After his outburst, Martin reportedly drove himself straight to a mental hospital in the Miami area to check himself in.  Media reports are saying that Jonathan Martin had an "emotional breakdown"  It would be completely understandable.


Imagine that you are Jonathan Martin.  I don't know this, but I'm guessing Martin has been big all of his life.  I'm guessing perhaps he has been teased by school classmates, friends and maybe even family, about his weight and size all of his life.  When so many people poke fun and tease for such a long period of time, it has to be balanced by support and love for that person.  In many cases, perhaps like Martin's, it wasn't.  


This is the result.


Now Jonathan Martin has been placed on the "non-football illness" list, and have set no timetable for his return to the team.  Many of his teammates have clamored for his return, apologizing and saying how they need him and want him to return.  


After what has happened, Jonathan Martin wouldn't be blamed if he thought that was just another trick.



As of right now, it is too early to say what will happen in this case.  We don't know how badly Martin has been affected by this incident.  There is a chance that Martin just throws his hands up and says "I'm through with football!"  There is also a chance that Martin comes back to his team, the team and coaches realize the error of their ways and how their childish actions impact others, and there is a very happy ending for everyone involved.  


Either way, I am praying for the young man.  Jonathan Martin deserves happiness and acceptance from the 



people in his life.  Heck, we all do!


I'm also praying for those Dolphin players whose prank caused all of this.  I'm hoping that it is a learning experience for all of them.  Hopefully, it is a learning experience for the rest of the league as well.  


Bullying doesn't help anyone. 


 



NBA PREVIEW 2013--DO SPURS HAVE ONE MORE RUN?


Much like Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference, the balance of power in the Western Conference depends on a rebuilt knee, and if you stretch it, possibly a rebuilt achilles.


Russell Westbrook tore up an ACL early in last years playoffs, ruining any chance Kevin Durant had to win his firrst NBA title.  Same can be said about Kobe Bryant and his achilles tear.  Now, the Thunder hope to get Westbrook back soon, and the Lakers Bryant.  Both hope their re-additions will help them compete for a Western Conference crown.  Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets added the best big man in the game in Dwight Howard, pairing him with explosive James Harden, and the San Antonio Spurs have everyone back from last years finals team.


​So, who will it be?  One of those teams or a possible outsider, like the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors or Denver Nuggets?


WESTERN CONFERENCE

​Southwest division

​1.  Memphis Grizzlies.  The Grizz have the best 4 and 5 big men in the conference with Zach Randolph and emerging star Marc Gasol (Pau's brother).  Mike Conley at the point, defensive stopper Tony Allen and a great system.  They are younger and hungrier than both the Spurs and Mavericks and this is the year they finally move past them.


2.  Houston Rockets.  Dwight Howard's addition is getting all the experts excited by the possibilities.  He and James Harden form perhaps the best one-two on any team in the West.  I'm just not buying that the supporting cast will be good enough or if they will play enough defense.  I'll buy the hype enough to put them ahead of San Antonio but that's about it.  I don't think Jeremy Lin is a championship caliber point guard either.


3.  San Antonio Spurs.  Tim Duncan is nearing the end of his hall of fame career.  Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are past their primes as well.  The Spurs should finish ahead of the Mavs because their supporting cast will be younger and more productive than Dallas.  Kawhi Leonard is an emerging superstar and Danny Green can shoot lights out.  Will make the playoffs and maybe win a round or two.


​4.  Dallas Mavericks.  What a team this would be....in 2004.  Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Sam Delembert.  Age is everywhere on this team.  Monta Eliis is the only one left still in his prime.  Mavs may have enough talent tp make the playoffs if everyone stays healthy, but will be a quick first round exit.  Mark Cuban better start on the rebuild quickly.


​5.  New Orleans Pelicans.  I still can't get used to the new name, Pelicans.  Not exactly threatening.  That describes this team too.  A work in progress.    Former #1 overall pick Anthony Davis is a great building block and now he is joined by newcomers Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans.  Sub .500 team but going in the right direction.


​Northwest division


1.  Oklahoma City Thunder.  If many GM's were starting a team tomorrow, they would take Kevin Durant over Lebron James.  He is that good.  If Russell Westbrook comes back strong from his rebuilt knee, the Thunder will be the team to beat.  Serge Ibaka is perhaps the best defensive forward in the NBA today, and Jeremy Lamb is an upcoming shooting guard.


​2.  Denver Nuggets.  These Nugs are not the Nugs of a couple years ago.  These fresh Nugs will wear out opponents with rebounding and defense.  Javale McGee is a shot blocking beast in the paint and Kenneth Faried is the most underrated rebounder in the game.  Wilson Chandler, Randy Foye and Ty Lawson are solid at the other three starting spots and the Nugs have good depth with guys like Andre Miller and rookie Evan Fournier.  Should make the playoffs and be dangerous to anyone they meet.


​3.  Portland Trail Blazers.  The Trail Blazers have a nice young foundation.  Damian Lillard at the point.  


LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are better than average at the 4 and 5 spots.  Nick Batum is solid at the three.  Wes Matthews is one of the NBA's best bombers from the arc.  Depth is a bit of a question mark, as is rebounding, but the Blazers could be a playoff team.


4.  Utah Jazz.  First round pick Trey Burke is the key to the Jazz fortunes.  If he can be the scorer they think he will be, the Jazz could fight for a playoff berth.  If he struggles, there's no way for this team.  Derrick Favors is a budding superstar at power forward though.



​5.  Minnesota Timberwolves.  The T-Wolves think Ricky Rubio is finally ready for full time duty, so they jettisoned Brandon Jennings.  Kevin Love is a force on the boards, but lacks defensive intensity.  The bench is weak.


Pacific division

1, Los Angeles Clippers.  Doc Rivers comes west and you know he brings defensive intensity with him.  Blake Griffin is a superstar in today's NBA, as is Chris Paul.  Jared Dudley, D'Andre Jordan and JJ Redick are nice complementary pieces.  Bench is deep with Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes and Antawn Jamison.  Could contend for the Western Conference title if all breaks right and they avoid injuries.


2.   Golden State Warriors.  I love the combination of inside outside play of the Warriors.  Andrew Bogut and David Lee down low, and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry from behind the arc.  Now they add Andre Iguodala to the mix.  He should add much needed defensive intensity and help in the scoring department, not that they needed it.  Warriors should be a playoff team, and like Denver, should be a tough out no matter who they face.


3.  Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers let Dwight Howard walk, but still have an aging Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and now Chris Kaman to build around.  When Kobe Bryant comes back from his achilles injury, it remains to be seen if he will still be the same Kobe.  LA will be a borderline playoff team at best.


4.  Sacramento Kings.  One of the players with the most upside fell to the Kings in the draft in Ben McLemore.  They could use his scoring.  The Kings are one of the youngest teams in the league but they have potential.  It won't be realized this year though.


5.  Phoenix Suns.  Perhaps the only team younger than the Kings are the Suns, who are in full rebuild mode.  They do have some young pieces with upside though, so it's not a total loss.  The two Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus have a ton of potential.  Alex Len, their first round pick should start right away at center.  Eric Bledsoe gets a chance to start and shine in Phoenix.  The Suns are a few years away though.


If I had to predict a final four, I would have the Bulls ending the reign of the Heat in the Eastern Conference.  I would predict the Thunder to get by the Clippers out west.  In the finals, I don't think the Bulls have the scoring to match up with Oklahoma City, as the Thunder win in seven games to give Kevin Durant his first championship.



NBA PREVIEW 2013--WILL HEAT THREEPEAT?


The NBA season kicks off tonight, and the main question on everyone's minds are "Is there anyone out there that can dethrone the Miami Heat?"


The Heat once again come into the season as the team to beat, but this year, it really seems like they may have some serious challengers.  The Brooklyn Nets have upgraded themselves more than anyone, and have the league's highest payroll.  The Indiana Pacers looked like a hungry team close to overcoming the Heat last year.  Finally, the Chicago Bulls, who had the best regular season record two years ago, have former MVP Derrick Rose back from knee surgery, and he was playing better than ever in the pre-season.


​That's just getting out of the Eastern Conference.  If the Heat navigate past those teams, they will have some serious competition waiting for them in the finals.  The Oklahoma City Thunder have the 2nd best player in the league in Kevin Durant as well as Russell Westbrook coming back from his own knee surgery.  Dwight Howard took his talents to H-town to pair with dynamic James Harden and the San Antonio Spurs may have the talent to make one last run.  Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and new coach Doc Rivers could make a serious run in LA as well.


It ought to be an interesting season for sure.  Here is how I see it stacking up:


EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

​1.  Brooklyn Nets.  It's difficult to pick against the Nets.  They kept the best parts of last years playoff team in Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams and added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with AK-47,   Andrei Kirilenko.  While Pierce and KG are nearing the end of their hall of fame careers, the Nets should have a good chance of making a long run.  Can they play enough defense to keep up with the Bulls and Heat though?


2.  Philadelphia 76ers.    


The Sixers have the pieces to be competitive on a nightly basis.  Spencer Hawes is decent in the middle.  Thaddeus Young is underrated at forward and swingman Evan Turner has all the talent in the world, but just needs to put it all together.  Is James Anderson ready at shooting guard and is Michael Carter Williams ready for prime time?  Sixers should make the playoffs but how far they go remains to be seen.


3.  New York Knicks.  I think the Knicks will take a step back.  Carmelo Anthony is an MVP candidate.  Tyson Chandler is underrated in the paint, Ray Felton is decent at the point, and JR Smith has never met a bad shot he didn't like.  I don't think the Knicks can play enough D to go far.  Borderline playoff team.


​4.  Toronto Raptors.  Rudy Gay moves up to the great white north and Amir Johnson is unheralded at power forward.  Kyle Lowry makes things happen but can't shoot well.  Same thing for Demar DeRozan.  Under .500 and will miss the playoffs.


5.  Boston Celtics.  A rebuilding year in Boston to say the least, especially with Rajon Rondo out with injury and no timetable for a return.  Jeff Green can only do so much.


​Central diviaion


1.  Chicago Bulls.  Derrick Rose is back and seems as explosive as ever, and with an improved jump shot.  They also brought in Mike Dunleavy, who could be the three point shooter needed to take pressure off the bigs.  Joaquim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler provide excellent defense.  Carlos Boozer's last chance.  The Bulls will go a long way.


​2.  Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers bring everyone back from the team that nearly unseated Miami last year.  Roy Hibbert is a monster in the paint defensively and has an improving offense.  Paul George is close to superstar status.  Danny Granger is back.  If they get good point play from George Hill, the Pacers will easily be in the playoffs.


​3.  Milwaukee Bucks.  OJ Mayo and Caron Butler should provide some scoring and they will defend well, 



especially in the paint with guys like Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, but I don't think the Bucks will score 

enough on a nightly basis to be a playoff team.


4.  Cleveland Cavaliers.  Youth is keeping me from picking the Cavs third, but I wouldn't be surprised if they finish there over the Bucks.  Kyrie Irving is a dynamic and exciting player to build around.  Same for Dion Waiters, Tristan Thomson and Earl Clark.  Cavs lack a low post scorer, but if Andrew Bynum has anything left, he could solve that problem.


​5.  Detroit Pistons.  Seems like eons ago from the Bad Boys doesn't it?  Detroit has some young pieces to work with like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe down low, and explosive Josh Smith.  With those three, the Pistons will have the biggest three starters in the league.  Pistons are on the right track but a couple years away.


​Southeast division


1.  Miami Heat.  As long as Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are there, the Heat will be the favorite to win it all.  The Heat are giving former top pick Greg Oden a chance, and if he has anything left and can stay healthy (two HUGE if's), could be all they need to stay dominant.


​2.  Atlanta Hawks.  Hawks still very good down low with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand.  Losing Josh Smith hurts.  Jeff Teague is becoming a very good point guard though.  Hawks may take a step back but still should make the playoffs.


​3.  Washington Wizards.  Tough to pick who will be the worst between the final three teams in this division.  I'll go with the Wiz first because of upside behind John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and Kevin Serephin


4.  Orlando Magic.  Victor Oladipo won a lot in college at Indiana.  That won't happen for a while in Disney.  Magic are in full rebuild.


5.  Charlotte Bobcats.  Like  death and taxes, picking the Bobcats last is a tradition.   Actually, Charlotte will be better with new acquisition Al Jefferson and first round picks Cody Zellar and Michael Kidd-Gilcrist.  Still won't make the playoffs though.


I'll take a look at the Western Conference next time.



BAN THE BEARD!


I hate when I have to be the arbiter of good taste in sports, but there is a problem brewing in Beantown.


The Boston Red Sox have taken the hockey tradition of "playoff beards" and boosted it to a new, even hairier level.  It ain't pretty.


Hey, I should know!  Remember?  My namesake, Craig Schaller from Houston, accused me of being "disheveled" and was apparently embarrassed by my looks.  If anyone can speak about being disheveled then, it would be me.  It takes one to know one and believe me, the Red Sox look mighty disheveled.


"Disheveled" actually is a complement to these Sox beards.  Most of these guys look like they were holding up "will work for food" signs at exits on the Mass turnpike that afternoon, before someone on Yawkey way picked 'em up, gave 'em uniforms, and sent them out on the field.


It really is an embarrassment.  To the Red Sox.  To baseball.  To good taste.


Where the hell did this crap start anyways?  Was it Brian Wilson and his San Francisco Giants bullpen mates in two of the last three World Series?  I honestly don't remember it being a "tradition" before that.  Oh sure, there have been beards that have come, and gone, over the years.  I remember the Oakland A's of '72-74, and a few stragglers over the years, but the Giants seem to be the real culprits who started this.


Whatever.  No matter who started it, it's time to stop this insanity now!  How can anyone enjoy watching the World Series when one of the two teams (and a few guys on the other) look like the Hebrew National traveling team.


The history and tradition of the "playoff beard" in baseball is sketchy at best.  It goes back about three years.  Before that, ballplayers were relatively well groomed.  Every now and then a wackjob like Johnny Damon, who looked like a speedy caveman, would come along, but for the most part, everyone looked presentable.  Then a few yars ago, the Giants thought it would be funny to steal the playoff beard tradition from hockey.  


I get it, and understand why they would do that.  The playoff beard is a rich traditionn in the sport of hockey.  It works in that sport.  Hockey is a rugged game, played by rugged men who have few teeth and like to collide into each other on skates.  It works there!  Baseball is pastural.  It is a sport that was loosely taken from cricket, is played on a field or diamond in a park.  Doesn't exactly scream "rugged" now does it?


Can something be done about it?  Of course.  It would be up to our friend Bud.  A mandate from the Commisioner's office stating that facial hair must be neat and manageable, or even mandating none at all would do the trick.  Heck, the Yankees have had that policy for decades, so why can't every team?


It would make watching the sport on television much more acceptable.  It is hard to enjoy watching this series when you can tell what a pitcher had for dinner before the game because pieces of it are on his face.  


This beard thing isn't helping the sport, which already needs an umage makeover.   Now, it looks like many of


the players look like they should be planning a terrorist event, instead of turning a double play.


If you disagree with me, well, enjoy the final five games of the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Boston Amish farmers.  


I'll be watching football




SWEET GOODBYE, BEST FRIEND


Why does it always seem like the worst things in life happen in the middle of the night?  


I am pretty gosh darned low right now, and writing is the only things that I can think of to do in order to perhaps help me sleep. You see, I have had a tragedy in my house late last night/early this morning.


My best friend passed away.


My dog, Chico, came to me on a Monday in March of 2001.  I remember it was a Monday, because I was dating a girl who worked at Lollipop Farm at the time, and I went to visit her at work on a Friday.  She gave me a tour of the facilities, including a "hehind the scenes" part that took me into the doggy infirmary.


It was there that I met Chico.  I thought of him all weekend long.  He had a little doggy lampshade on his head when she brought him out for me, telling me that he had just had surgery.  It was on his penis.  His hot dog didn't fit into the bun at all, and they did some cutting to try to make it fit better.  I jokingly told Dorothy that I could relate to a Chihuahua with a big penis, and big laughs were had by all.  Chico climbed right up into my lap and was all excited to meet me.   He was even moreso when someone brought a box of mice into the room.  Chico was enthralled by the mice, but still imparted to me that he wanted me to take him home.  It was love at first sight.  How could I refuse?


I still remember the drive home vividly.  Chico was so excited and exuberant, he was all over the interior of my car.  Chico was exuberant about everything, as I was soon to find out.  He had a zest for life that was above reproach.  He loved chasing balls, running after people on bikes when on a walk, and goodies or treats.  


There were countless walks, and apartments on Lake Avenue and Gorsline street to adjust to in addition to my house.  Nothing ever seemed to bother him, except when hiding toys.  He had the funniest thing.  When Chico would have a toy in his mouth, sometimes he would want to hide it somewhere in the house or apartment.  He would walk around looking for a place, softly whining the whole time.  Finally, he would find a cushion or blanket that he deemed perfect, put the toy down, and try to bury it under the blanket or cushion and crying and whining the whole time while doing so.  It was bizarre, but oh so adorable.


The whole time, Chico endeared himself to my father and mother, and then my wife.  Of course, he was always "my little boy".  You grow close to a dog that you have to put KY Jelly or Vaseline on his wiener a couple times a week for most of the time you have him.


When my wife (then girlfriend) moved from Denver to live with me in the months after my father's death in the  summer of 2007, Chico suddenly got four brothers and sisters that my wife brought with her.  He handled it with aplomb.  In fact, I think he loved spending the latter part of his life as part of a "pack".


Sadly, age started creeping up on Chico in the last year or two.  Lollipop told me that they THOUGHT he was a year or so old when I got him.  I am pretty sure now that they fudged that, and he was at least 2 or 3, maybe more.  Little dogs like Chico usually make it into their mid to late teens, and it he was one when I got him, that would put him at 13 now.  I'm not buying it.


Anyways, our vet told us a year and a half ago that Chico was in early stage renal failure.  His kidneys were failing.  They put him on a special diet to feed him and told us to give him IV fluids at least once a week.  My wife and I did that faithfully.  We gave him an extra half year at least I'm convinced.  


When we went to Denver in Late July, we noticed Chico was starting to cough a little bit.  We didn't think much of it.  After all, the dog is old, we thought.  Had to just be age, or allergies or the nights getting colder, we thought.  After two or three weeks following our return, Chico's cough kept getting worse, so we took him to the vet.  They put him on antibiotics and told us to up his IV fluids to 3 or 4 times a week.  It didn't work.  Cough didn't go away.




We took him back to get looked at again by a vet, and an X-ray.  They gave us another round of antibiotics and a cough suppresent for dogs.  Nothing seemed to work.  His cough just wouldn't go away.  Finally, last night, Chico started breating soft and fast.  It was a Sunday night.  It was 3 in the morning.  Chico wouldn't eat for the first time in his life.  I knew it was bad.  I called my wife, who was in Denver to tell her things were not good.  She told me to pick Chico up and hold him.


He died in my arms while I was talking to my wife.




As I speak, Chico's body is lying comfortably sleeping in his doggy bed on our dining room table.  I can't sleep at all.  Probably won't.  Gotta find a neighbor or friend to drive me to the doggy cremation place now.  


I've been wiping away tears the whole time I have been writing this.  Can't help it.  Those memories of that little fella will be with me for the rest of my life, joined with the memories of my other three dogs.


As sad as I am right now, I still feel so sorry for those people who don't have any dogs or cats in their lives and refuse to get any.  Those people don't have to deal with barking, meowing, pooping or peeing on the rug, keeping you awake at night by whining, fussing or snoring.  or bothering the neighbors.  They also won't receive the unconditional love and acceptance that a dog or cat will provide for more than a decade.  Not to mention the countless hours of entertainment and amusement they will give you.


As sad as I am right now, I wouldn't trade anything for the dozen years I spent with my best friend.  He was with me for  my happiness after a number of first dates.  He was there to console me after a number of breakups.  He was there to welcome my wife, moving from Colorado.  He was there to greet me when I got home from my wedding reception.  


Now, I'm sure he will be waiting for me on the other side.  Rest in peace my dear little friend.  I'll see you again on the other side of the rainbow bridge.    



GIVE IRSAY A BREAK



As usual, I am amused by the national sports media reacting to a story.  The story is about what Indianaplis Colts owner Jim Irsay had to say about his team during Peyton Manning's tenure there.  The story got even bigger play because this is the week that Peyton returns to the Hoosier Dome (or whatever corporate name the place has now) for the first time since Irsay and the Colts parted ways with him.


​Here is what Irsay had to say originally:


"(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these (championship rings," Irsay told USA Today. "Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.

"You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this (referring to his Super Bowl ring)."


Now, because of those statements, it seems many in the media are hanging Irsay in effigy, as if he has said something to dis one of the football gods, one of which right now is Peyton Manning.


It is ridiculous to me how big a deal this has become, and the national sports media twists it more than a french braid.  I guess that is what you will get whenever you have four full time sports networks trying to fill time, and milking the same story for all it's worth.  It's still amusing to hear the chatter.


"With Jim Irsay saying all those terrible things about Payton Manning, taking all the shots he took, and ripping him his abilities and competitive drive in the playoffs like he did, what effect do you think it will have on this weekend's game Tom?"


"Well Andrew, I have to think it will add to Manning's fire.  I think he's going to come out firing against the Colts, looking to send a message and I wouldn't be surprised to see Peyton pointing up to the owner's box after every touchdown throw."


It's been one exchange like that after another on ESPN, the NFL Network, Fox Sports 1 and so on.  One of them interviewed Broncos head coach John Fox, who blasted Irsay and joined in the fray.  That made for a NEW news story on all the sports networks.  Jim Irsay also responded to the controversy himself, trying to clarify his point, which he believed was being taken out of context.  Problem is, in clarifying what he was saying, Irsay basically said the exact same thing he had said before, which set tongues wagging all over again.


So, now we know how Irsay really feels, and that he isn't going to backtrack.  Now let me analyze what Irsay said, and see if it really should bother anyone.


Irsay basically is saying that his Colts, under the guidance of Peyton Mannig put up amazing offensive numbers and the team had a high winning percentage.  That being said, because they won only one Super Bowl, it was disappointing to Irsay.


What's wrong with that?  


Irsay was not saying anything bad about Peyton Manning personally. Irsay didn't say anything about Manning being a terrible quarterback or choking in the playoffs or in big games.  He didn't say that Peyton has a big head that barely fits in his helmet, or that he looks like a goofball in those Papa John's commercials.


What Irsay simply said was that, for whatever reasons, his Colts underachieved in the playoffs.  He said that for a variety of reasons, including poor defense, injuries and cold weather, his Colts teams lost games and didn't go as far as he expected them to, which was disappointing to him.  He realized the error of how he put that team together, and was trying to do things differently this time with Andrew Luck.


I see no problem whatsoever with Jim Irsay's comments.  In fact, I agree with them.  Manning's Colts were too good a team for too long of a time to only have won one Super Bowl.  I'd be disappointed too, and trying a different approach with a new group of players.  That is not to say that it was all Peyton's fault.  



That being said, I think Peyton still has something to prove this year with his juggernaut Broncos team.  Irsay's comments also subtlely put more pressure on Manning.  He better win this year's Super Bowl, or many people will begin to re-question the context of Irsay's comments.  They'd have a right to.  



NFL's BLACKBALLING OF TEBOW IS BORDERING ON RIDICULOUS


Look around at the current state of NFL quarterbacks.  Please, go ahead.  I dare you.  Look at the depth charts in the NFL.  OK, so you don't want to take the time to do that.  I can understand.  Your life is busy.  OK, here is a link for you to the rotoworld website:


http://www.rotoworld.com/teams/depth-charts/nfl.aspx


OK, so what I want you to look at is...."how many of these teams could benefit from having Tim Tebow on it?"


Now I know that many of you so-called "football experts" will say, "I would rather have a blind three headed monkey quarterback my football team than Tim Tebow.  He is so awful, it's indescribable."  


That's your prerogative and your opinion to feel that way, but you are being unrealistic.  You are also full of shit.


Let me remind you, and give you a history lesson of sorts.  Tim Tebow took over a 1-4 Denver Broncos football team in 2011, and led them to an 8-8 record and a playoff berth.  Then, he led his team to an upset of a ten point favored Pittsburgh Steelers team in the first round of the playoffs.  


Has Thaddeus Lewis or Jeff Tuel done this?  Hell no!  What about Matt Simms or Brady Quinn?  Hardly.  Or Matt Moore or Pat Devlin?  Moore has had a couple decent NFL games, but hasn't done what Tebow did.  And that's just the AFC East.


​In the AFC North, Tebow has a better NFL resume than Tyrod Taylor, Josh Johnson, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones.  In the AFC South, with Jake Locker injured, Ryan Fitzpatrick's backup is someone named Rusty Smith.  With Blaine Gabbart injured, Chad Henne's backup is Ricky Stanzi.  Ever heard of either of them?  Me neither, yet their NFL GM's feel they are more "ready for action" than Tim Tebow.  Amazing!


What about the AFC West?  Well, Terrelle Pryor is the Oakland starting quarterback.  His career record as a starting QB is 2-4 (Tebow's is 9-7).  He is also a "running quarterback, like Tebow, yet the same experts who rip Tebow endlessly, say Pryor has a "high ceiling".  His backup is Matt McGloin, who at least one person thinks is better than Tebow--the Raiders GM.  The Chargers have Charlie Whitehurst as their backup QB.  He doesn't have the resume of success that Tebow does, and Brad Sorenstam is their third QB.  Ever hear of him before?  Me neither, but Sorenstam has an NFL roster spot, while Tim Tebow is out of the league.  Sound ridiculous enough yet?  Let's check the NFC.


​In Big D, the guy Tebow took over for...who couldn't win in Denver, before Tebow turned the Broncos fortunes around in 2011, Kyle Orton--well, he is Tony Romo's top backup in Dallas.  He's still in the league.  Tebow is not.  In the Big Apple, Curtis Painter, who was utterly inept filling in for Peyton Manning in Indy two and three years ago, is Eli Manning's top backup.  Rookie Ryan Nassib is the third stringer and has an NFL roster spot.  Tebow doesn't.   


  In the NFC North, Josh McKown and Seneca Wallace have had more NFL chances than Ralph Nader has had Presidential runs, and have shown zero success stories.  Their teams feel strong enough about them to have them be backup quarterbacks over Tim Tebow.  In the twin cities, first round draft bust Christian Ponder has an NFL record of well under .500 as a starter, and they are ready to give up on him.  Would they turn to Tebow?  No, they would rather give a shot to two QB's with losing records as a starter, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel.  


In the NFC South, Domenique Davis has no track record whatsoever, yet the Falcons would rather have him than Tim Tebow as Matt Ryan's backup.  In Carolina, Derek Anderson has had two shots at being an NFL starting QB in Cleveland and Arizona, but was run out of town each time for ineffectiveness.  Still, the Panthers would rather have him than Tim Tebow, even in a 'read/option offense.  In the Big Easy, Luke McCown has been a clipboard holder in more cities than an aviation secretary.  Finally, in Tampa, Mike Glennon's new backup is the main starting QB for the NFL's only 0-16 team in history, Dan Orlavsky.  They can call themselves NFL quarterbacks.  Tim Tebow is out of the league.


Last, but not least in my little exercise, the St. Louis Rams backup quarterback for Sam Bradford is perhaps the WORST NFL quarterback I have ever seen in my lifetime....Kellen Clemens.  Clemens showed promise at one time, mainly as a rookie, but ever since then has looked worse than any quarterback I have ever seen try to play the position.  Bernie Kosar may be a (much rumored) drunk, but he knows the quarterback position and said as much this pre-season.  


The bottom line is that the NFL has obviously blackballed the "most polarizing quarterback in the history of the NFL".  It's obvious to me, and after reading this, it should be obvious to you too.


The amazing thing is that so many of these teams recently could use Tebow, and still never looked his way.  The Bills are running a read/option offense, based on a strong running game and a mobile quarterback.  Despite this fact, they never called Tebow in for an interview or workout, and instead moved a guy on the practice squad with ONE NFL start up to start last week.  



The Jacksonville Jaguars have not won a game all year.  They play in the worst market in the NFL for drawing fans.  Their young, "franchise" quarterback (Blaine Gabbart) has not shown any promise and keeps getting hurt.  Their main current starter at the QB position, Chad Henne, has been less than stellar.  Their backup is a guy NO ONE has ever heard of.  They have fans flying banners from planes over the stadium during home games to sign Tim Tebow, who is from the area.  They have nearly a hundred thousand fans who have signed a petition that if they sign Tebow, they would be willing to buy season tickets.  All that, and they still refuse to even bring Tebow in for an interview.  What more does anyone need to know that there is a "blackballing" in effect???


If that is the case, and I'm pretty sure I have demonstated that it is here, the question is "WHY???"  


Tim Tebow stands for nothing but goodness.  He is ultra-competitive, but in no way mean.  He believes that a higher power helps him on the field.  He believes in teamwork, working together and that hard work can overcome many odds.  He has shown that he will do whatever it takes to win, whether it is throwing nearly 40 times in a comeback win, like he did against the Texans late in 2010, or running the ball 20 times and throwing it less than 10, like he did in a win for the Broncos in 2011.  He is "old school".  He doesn't care about stats.  He only cares about winning.  


The problem is, obviously none of that matters anymore in today's NFL.  Today's NFL is all about 40 times, read and recognition drills, mechanics and arm strength.  GM's and player personnel directors are blinded by all the tapes, the stats, the physical numbers and so on, that they forget to care about the competitive nature, will, pride, leadership and intangibles of a guy like Tim Tebow.  Meanwhile, players like Michael Vick, who killed dogs, and Ben Roethlisbeger, who faced allegations of rape, get second chances at stardom.  What is that saying about the NFL?  I'll tell you.  Badness is rewarded, while goodness becomes a pariah.


What should happen right now?  I'll give you one option.  One idea that will end this talk forever.  The Jacksonville Jaguars should call Tim Tebow's agent tomorrow, if not sooner.  They should get him to sign a contract for one year (this year) for the NFL minimum.  He and the coaching staff should give Tebow two weeks to learn the offense, then Gus Bradley should tell the kid, "OK, it's your team...do what you do".  


The Jaguars have not won a game without Tebow.  If he starts at QB from week 8 until the end of the year and wins anywhere close to half his games, that should be proof enough.  Imagine that, if Jacksonville went 0-8, then handed the reins to Tebow and he finishes at least 4-4 for a 4-12 season.  What could the "experts" say then?  Oh I'm sure they would find something, like they did before.


My money would be on Tebow.  So would my faith.  




HAIL TO THE "REDSKINS"



​There has been a lot of talk and consternation lately about the Washington Redskins changing their name.  


Apparently, many people are offended by the name "Redskins".  They say it is an affront to all Native Americans.  They say it is a put down to this race of proud people.  They say it has no place in American sports culture--to have a name so offensive, that it makes fun of the color of a race of people's skin.  


The problem is, it is not American Indians who are saying all of this.


Yeah, as usual, it is a group of leftist, democrat leaning, tree-hugging people, who have so much time on their hands that they feel the need to be the arbitors of everything that everyone should be offended by.


A recent poll that I was reading online pointed out that 90% of natives, IE: American Indians, are not bothered or offended by the nickname "Redskins", when it comes to the NFL team in the nation's capitol.  I would say that's about right.  So, if one in ten people in an entire race are offended by a football team's name, is that enough to have that team be forced to change it?  I say "No friggin way"!


The way I see it, people need to get a grip nowadays.  Someone is going to be offended by nearly everything we do today in society.  I may offend someone tomorrow by the way I pull a paper towel out of the holder in a public restroom and wipe my hands and toss the paper in a wastebasket.  Someone may think to themselves, "why, that heathen just dried his hands RIGHT OVER THE SINK!  He then finished the job by WIPING HIS HANDS ON HIS PANTS!!!  I think he was raised by wolves!!!"  The point is, people need to get used to being offended.


I am German.  100% born and bred.  Both parents and grandparents are German.  I am about as "purebred" as an American can get.  If someone called me a "kraut", "heinie" or a "squarehead", it would probably make me laugh.  I wouldn't be in the slightest bit offended.  Still, there are probably about ten percent of Germans who would be.  Are we to have to kowtow to the small minority who are offended in each of these instances?  No, especially when there is such a rich tradition already in place here.


The Washington Redskins have been the Redskins since the inception of the team in the 1920's.  The term "redskin" has as much positive connotations as negative in this case.  Redskins are warriors/  Battle-hardened, pround Native Americans.  You want to be offended by something?  Be offended by what the white men did to the Indians.  It's too late to "pay them back" for the atrocities of our ancestors by righteously getting rid of the name "Redskins".  


It's just so typical of the political correctness that has run amok in this country.  If anyone knows about this, it's me.  


I made a comment about how the proliferation of Asian golfers was hurting the LPGA tour.  I made fun of how the LPGA leaderboards sound like the sound you hear when you bang pots and pans together.  THAT was in poor taste and I realize that could have offended a number of people, but my initial point had merit in a non racially biased way.  I was simply saying that it is bad business for an AMERICAN based tour to have too many good golfers from a specific group that is not American.  I was fired because of it.  Now whenever I tell my story about what happened to anyone I meet, the most common refrain is "What?  You have got to be kidding!  What you said is true!"  However, because a very small portion of people were offended, I was crucified and fired.


There are so many things that we all know or believe about our society, but nobody can say anything about them.  If anyone does, then God forbid, that person becomes an immediate pariah.  Why?  Just because they stated a truth that we all know but no one can talk about.  We have turned into a nation of censorship.  So much for free speech;  it doesn't exist anymore.


That brings us back to the Washington Redskins.  



Should they be forced to change their football team's name?  No way!  If they have to though, I have a perfect idea for a replacement name.  How about the Washington Hypocrites.


For a bunch of politicians who say how Obamacare is the best thing since sliced bread, but don't have to actually enroll in it like the rest of us, it would be PERFECT!





"MONEYBALL" MATCHUP?



I am going out on a limb.  It is early in the major league baseball playoffs, but I think it will be the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland Athletics meeting up in this year's World Series.


Why do I say this?  For a couple of reasons.  


First of all, it would be a matchup of to "teams of destiny".  It has been a storybook season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They have not been in the postseason since 1992, when a young Barry Bonds led the Bucs.  After two decades of being a farm system to other better teams in the league, the Pirates finally went for broke this year.  They were actually buyers instead of sellers for a change at the trade deadline, bringing in a much needed power bat in the middle of their order in former AL MVP Justin Morneau.  Actually, it was a post deadline deal, but why quibble.    The point is that there seems to be something special about this years Pirates team.


Oakland meanwhile, got a taste of the postseason last year, but still possesses a young team that is beginning to believe in itself, which is a dangerous thing for their opponents.  The A's hadn't won a fall classic since the days of the Bash Brothers in the late 80's.  I'm sure they feel they are as overdue as the Pirates.


Secondly, it would be appropriate that the two teams in the league that best exemplify "Moneyball" would meet up in the World Series.  


You remember that movie right?  Moneyball was released a couple of years ago, starring Brad Pitt as A's GM Billy Beane, and touted a new style of building a team.  It is a style based on sabermetrics, percentages and ratios.


The gist of "moneyball" is that you want to build a team of players with high on base percentages and OPS, which is on base percentage plus slugging.  Something called WAR is important too, but don't ask me to explain how it works because I have no idea.  It stand for "wins above replacement", but I honestly don't know what it means.  As for pitching, you want players who have good control but can strike guys out as well.  These guys have to have something called a low WHIP, which is a ratio of "walks plus hits divided by innings pitched".    The most important thing in moneyball though, is you want to get most of these players on really low salaries.


The Pirates and A's do this better than any other team in the league, which is why it would be great for fans of the game if these two teams met up for the trophy.  It would show all the other teams out there that you don't need a ton of $100 million dollar contracts to win championships.


According to ESPN, the A's are fourth from the bottom of the majors in team payroll, with just over $60 million.  The Pirates are right above them with just over $80 million.  To give you a better idea of how great the disparity is, the A's and Pirates COMBINED team salaries would be less than SIX other teams!  The Yankees lead the list of course with just over $230 million.  Then it's the Dodgers, Phillies, Red Sox, Tigers and Angels, all of whom have a higher salary than the A's and Bucs combined.


Both of these teams also embody moneyball with their stars.  For the A's, AJ Griffin has a 1.12 WHIP.  Bartolo Colon, a 1.17.  Jerrod Parker has a 1.23.  Same low ratios for most of the key middle men and closer Grant Balfour,  The team WHIP is 1.22.  Meanwhile, the team on base percentage is .327.


​As for the Pirates, it's very much the same thing.  AJ Burnett has a 1.21 WHIP.  Francisco Liriano, a 1.21.  The team WHIP is 1.22.  The team on base percentage is .313, but that has to take into consideration that pitchers hit all year long, or it would be very close to Oakland, if not higher.


I'm not going to bore you with a mountain of stats to back my opinion up, but I just have a feeling here.  I could 



be wrong.  The Dodgers look pretty unstoppable, and the Tigers have some serious bangers, not to mention Justin Verlander and probable Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer.  The A's and Pirates will be decided underdogs against both, but as the old adage goes, "pitching wins championships", and the A's and Pirates may have the best staffs, top to bottom, in baseball right now.  


There is another adage that says "it's not always the best team that wins, it's the team that's playing the best right now".



That could be the Pirates and A's.  I'll be rooting for them at least.




COULD BROWNS BECOME FITZY'D?



The Cleveland Browns have to be bringing back memories of the Buffalo Bills, circa 2009, right about now.


Journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer has taken over for Brendan Weeden as the starting QB, and led the Brownies to two straight wins.  Suddenly, Browns fans are thinking they have found their savior.  


Sound familiar bills fans?


It should.  Let's turn the clock back four years, to 2009.  The Buffalo Bills were languishing at 1-4, and coming off a lackluster 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns in one of the ugliest regular season games in recent NFL memory.


Against the New York Jets in week six, early in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick took over for an injured Trent Edwards and led Buffalo to a 16-13 overtime win.  The following week, Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a 20-9 win over Carolina.


Just like Brian Hoyer has done this year with the Browns.


It's amazing how little can get a city to fall in love with a quarterback.  Two straight wins.


It's often more a case of the previous quarterback being so ineffective, that it makes the new guy look so much better.  


In Buffalo, Trent Edwards was the opposite of a gunslinger.  His fear of making mistakes, and his lack of arm strength, practically earned him the name Trent "dump-off" Edwards.  He was the king of the three yard check-down.  Fitzpatrick came in and made a few things happen with his arm.  He actually completed a few passes downfield, and because of this, Bills fans thought he was the second coming of Jim Kelly.


​When you look back now, it's kind of funny how snowed we were.  Fitzpatrick only led the Bills to three other wins that season after the Carolina game.  The following year, the Bills started 0-6 under Fitzy, finishing 4-12.  He passed for 3000 yards, but on an average-at-best 57% completion percentage.  He tossed 23 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.  Somehow, this was enough to allow him to keep his starting job for the next two seasons.  It also earned Fitzpatrick a multi-year contract that paid him over $8 million a year.  The following year, in 2011, his yardage total and completion percentage went up, but he led the league in interceptions thrown.  The final two seasons in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick compiled an 11-18 record as a starting quarterback.


I'm not saying that the same exact thing will happen with Hoyer in Cleveland.  Well, on second thought, I guess I am.  That is my point here.  Although we all, as sports fans, want to believe in guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer, it usually is a false hope.  We love the story.  The story of a guy who had never really been given his shot, finally getting it, making the most of it, and entering into stardom.  In today's NFL, it rarely if ever happens.


Once, maybe twice in a generation you might get the occasional Rich Gannon.  Brian Hoyer is bucking the odds.


It didn't work for Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills.  I doubt it will work long term for the Cleveland Browns and Hoyer either.  There is a reason why career backups are just that.  


For Browns fans, I hope they don't get Fitzy'd and let the same thing happen to them.



PEYTON PERFECTION


Have you ever wondered what it would look like if possibly the best quarterback to ever play the game was playing at his ultimate prime with the best surrounding cast he has ever had in his career?  Well, we are seeing that right now with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.


It is quite a story really.  Manning had eight surgeries on his neck, was out of the game for more than a year, and many wondered if he would ever play again.  Manning used his time away from the game to study, and make his football mind even sharper, and now we are seeing the dividends.  Last year, Manning got phyically stronger as well, and now, at age 37, is better than he ever was.


Look at the cast of talent around him too.  DeMaryious Thomas is a 6 foot 5 beast of a receiver with speed.  Wes Welker came over via free agency from the Patriots, and he just may be the best slot receiver to ever lace 'em up.  Eric Decker is a thousand yard receiver who can do it all.  He can catch the deep ball, is physical enough to withstand the bump and run, and big enough to make the tough, over the middle catches.  Julius Thomas is a young, former basketball player (think a young Antonio Gates), who is only going to get better at tight end.  Finally, Manning has three running backs who all can catch the ball in Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.


​What Manning is doing so far this season is laughable--in a good way.    He is averaging 387.5 yards per game.  He is completing 75% of his passes.  He has thrown 16 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions.  His QB rating is an otherworldly 138.  Watching Bronco games and seeing Manning lead that offense, the words "surgical precision" come to mind.


So, is this the best offense I have ever seen?  In order to say, I have to analyze all the other offenses I have seen in my lifetime, which is 1970 til now.


​I'll start with the New Orleans Saints from 2009.  Drew Brees completed 70% of his passes for over 4300 yards.  He had a plethora of targets to throw to like Marques Colston,  Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.  He had good pass catching backs like Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.  The main difference was that the Saints could beat themselves with mistakes, as Brees threw 11 interceptions along with those 34 TD passes.  Manning is on pace to blow away both of those marks.


How about the "Greatest show on turf"--the St. Louis Rams of 1999.  Kurt Warner completed 65% of his passes throwing to perhaps the best wide receiver duo ever:  Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.  Add in Marshall Faulk, who had over a thousand times rushing AND receiving, and this offense was certainly dynamic.  Warner had 41 TD passes and 13 interceptions for a QB rating of 109.2.  Very good, but still no where near what Manning is putting up now.


Then there is the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.  Randall Cunningham throwing to Cris Carter, a young Randy Moss and Jake Reed.  Robert Smith in the backfield.  Those Vikings put up a whopping 556 points in a 15-1 season.  Cunningham's numbers were no where near Manning though.  He threw for 3794 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  Obviously very good, but not as unstoppable as this years Broncos.


​1984 Miami Dolphins.  They had Dan Marino in his best year.  They had Clayton and Duper.  The Dolphins put up over 500 points.  Marino completed 64% of his passes for a record 5084 yards, with 48 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.  Those Dolphins did it all in an era when rushing the ball still dominated, and Miami had no running game.  Opponents knew Miami would be throwing the ball and still couldn't stop them.  Taking all that into consideration, it is impressive, but still not up to the level of Manning this year.


​How about the 1983 Washington Redskins?  They put up an amazing 547 points.  Joe Theisman had his best year, throwing for over 3700 yards to guys like Art Monk and Charlie Brown.  The Skins had balance though 

with John Riggins running the ball, which made the passing game that much more dangerous.  They were an impressive offense, but it just wasn't as dynamic as this years Broncos.



1981 San Diego Chargers.  "Air Coryell" was certainly fun to watch, and they may have had the best complement of players on offense that could possibly rival this years Broncos.  Chuck Muncie and James Brooks in the backfield.  Wes Chandler, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow were quite the trio and Dan Fouts was in his hall of fame prime.  Fouts numbers were not as impressive though.  He completed only 59% of his passes for a then record 4802 yards, 33 TD and 17 interceptions.  What makes it different is Fouts had a 13.3 yards per completion average--higher than most other QB's on this list.  Those Chargers were great, but the offense beat itself more often than this years Broncos.



After taking a look back, I can now say more confidently that  we are really watching something very special this year in the Mile High.  I think Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos have the makings of the best offense we have ever seen in NFL history.  Now the only question is....can they keep it up?


 



GIVING EM THE FINGER


​One of the grossest things I have heard in sports happened this past week.  It is right up there with the Lawrence Taylor hit that broke Joe Theisman's leg, the Jason Kendall stepping on first base wrong, ankle bone popping thru his skin and flopping about, and the Kevin Ware leaping to block a shot and landing awkwardly, breaking a leg that popped out as well.  What really makes this a mad gross out is the circumstances and the discovery of it.


​Last weekend, the Arizone Cardinals were playing the Saints.  Safety Rashad Johnson was playing on special teams, and attempted to make a tackle on a kick return.  At that point, the tip of his middle finger snapped off inside his glove.  At least that is the best guess, looking back at the game film.  Johnson says he honestly doesn't know when it happened.  That's bizarre.


What we do know is that at some point during the game, Johnson peeled off his playing glove and, oops, realized that the tip of his middle finger was in the glove, separated from the rest of his finger, along with, presumably, a decent amount of blood.  AWWWW>>>>EEEUUUUGHHHH!!!  


The finger apparently was too mangled to reattach, so Johnson went into the locker room and the training staff reportedly just gave him a little "finger tourniquet" and saved the rest of his finger.  There is no truth to the rumor that they gave the severed finger back to Johnson, who then threw it at the Saints the next time he was on the field, which would have given new meaning to the term, "giving the opponent the finger".


Either way, Johnson is becoming a huge hit on twitter, where he tweeted pictures of the finger, which now looks about the same length as his index and third fingers.  He obviously also has the utmost respect from his peers on the gridiron.  He is a football player!  


I can't even imagine doing something where I get the tip of my finger ripped off, and not ever realize when it happened.  Then, going in the locker room and getting it treated like a normal person putting on a band aid.


Rashad Johnson has my respect for sure--what a stud!



--NFL GEARING TOWARD PUTTING A TEAM IN LONDON?


Another regular season NFL game is being played in London again this weekend when the Vikings take on the Steelers.  With yet another real game being played "across the pawnd", as ye ol' Brits say, more talk has been bouncing around that the NFL is hoping to eventually put an NFL team in London.  Everyone is wondering, "What will this do for the NFL?  What will it do to the game we all love, if a team actually is put in London?"  There seems to be a lot of concern and knashing of teeth.


Personally, I don't see what the big problem is.


Sure, the National Football League is a purely American game.  So was basketball though, and now it is as much of an international game as any other sport.  Same could be said about baseball.  Hockey is a Canadian sport, but now every country plays it as much and as well as the Canucks.  Why should American football not have the same opportunity?


I will take it one further.  Not only is the NFL hoping to eventually put a team in London, but I would be willing to bet that it is also hoping to eventually put a team in Frankfort, Germany, Barcelona, Spain and two or three other European cities that have already been exposed to American football throught the World league a few years ago.  I say, "what's wrong with that?"  Nothing.


The NFL, more than any other professional sport, has the Midas touch.  They really know what they are doing, and most of their decisions end up being right.  Putting teams in Europe will only help.  



The globalization of the NFL is a good thing people.  Worldwide marketing opportunities equals more money in the NFL coffers and a better product on the field.  Plus, imagine the excitement of having one NFL division being composed of only teams from Europe.  Like the rest of the NFL, each team plays each other twice each regular season, once at home and once on the road.  Talk about rivalries!




The only downside I can see is that players would not be thrilled about being drafed by a Euro team, but after a while, I don't think it will matter.  I think it's a win-win for everyone.


​Bon chance, NFL!





BEST COMEBACK EVER?


I heard some national sports talk show hosts talking about the big win for the United States today,  wining back the America's Cup.  They were saying it might have been the best come from behind victory in the history of sports.


The Americans trailed the best of 17 series yacht race 8 to 1.  Then, they came back and won the remaining 8 races to win America's Cup back for the US 9 races to 8.  


It is a stunning comeback, but honestly, it can't rank among the best comebacks in the history of sports.


Why?  Well, because it's sailing.


Sailing is not a sport.  Plain and simple.  Sailing is a means of transportation.  Therefore, winning this "Super Bowl of yacht racing" is a nice achievement, but it can't rank on my list.


The America's Cup wasn't even a part of the American sports consciousness until we lost it.


I remember that, back in 1983.  The America's Cup began way back in 1851, and the United States won it every four years until Alan Bond and his "Austrailia II" boat beat skipper Dennis Connor and his mates in 1983.  


​Once that happened, a sense of American fervor began.  Suddenly, it was like a dog that had their bone taken away, and every American wanted it back.  Once the US beat the Aussies four years later, and set everything right in the world once again, we all forgot about the competition for another 26 years.  It didn't matter that Australia won the Cup back in 1995, or the Swiss took it from them four years later.  Now suddenly, it's big news again that the US has won the race again.


I'm not buying it.  


We've had the discussion around the water coolers about what is a sport, and what's not.  In my mind, anything that is a mode of transportation isn't really a sport.  It may be an activity, or a pastime, but it's not a sport.


That includes auto racing, which falls into the same catagory for me.  Racing a car or a boat is something anyone can do.  There is no special skill set for it.  I don't believe that people are "born drivers", or someone is "a natural" at skippering a yacht or driving a car.  To do both, you sit on your ass and steer.  I'm sure there are many nuances about doing either, but it usually boils down to the equipment.  The better car or boat usually wins.


I'm proud of those yachtsmen, and it is great whenever the US wins something, but I am not doing cartwheels about it.



BROTHERS MANNING--A STARK CONTRAST


How weird is it that the Manning brothers are setting new standards for each other so far this year...in opposite directions!?


While Peyton is playing at the highest level the NFL has ever seen for a quarterback after three weeks of the season, Eli is playing worse than he ever has in his career.


Through three weeks, Peyton is completing an unreal 73% of his passes for 1143 yards, a league record 12 touchdowns, and has yet to throw an interception.  His quarterback rating is a video game like 134.7.  He has led his Brocos to three easy wins, and is making the offensive game of football look easier than anyone ever has before.


​Eli meanwhile, has tossed eight interceptions to only five touchdowns, equating to a lowly 70.5 QB rating.  His Giants are 0-3 after the worst loss in coach Tom Coughlin's tenure, a 38-0 throttling by the lowly Carolina Panthers.