NFL19: Belichick-Brady Eke Out Excellence as Sense of Swan Song Season Settles In

23 Apr

It must be the hope, the dream of every pro athlete and coach, to finish-out a career on top of their game, either in strong stats or preferably, hoisting a champion’s hardware. And so much the better if this good fortune can be had with a body and mind that are still largely in-tact and, where the jock is concerned, untainted by the PED tattoo (ugh).

Fantastic final season finishes are not uncommon and deposited in the memory banks of fans and followers. For this writer, a few of them stand-out:

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wins the 1986 Masters for a record 6th time at age 46; Steffi Graf wins her 22nd and final major singles title in taking the 1999 French Open, her 6th; In his 16th and final NHL campaign, Alberta-born Lanny McDonald captains the Calgary Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup (1988-89); Reliever extraordinaire Mariano Rivera ends his career in style by nabbing 44 saves on a stellar 2.11 ERA, securing a 1st-ballot HOF election; And Peyton Manning, plagued for two years by a neck injury, returns to the Denver lineup at mid-season to lead the Broncos to an SB50 victory before calling it a career.

And then there were those singular, final-game feats, like the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams who, on September 28, 1960, homered at Fenway in his final at-bat of a long, illustrious career (1939), and the Bambino, Babe Ruth, swating three home runs at Pirates’ Forbes Field on May 25, 1935, in his fond, if not somewhat inconspicuous farewell to the business of baseball.

But my favorite goodbye involves one of sports great personalities.

I lived in Wisconsin in 1976 when, that December, Marquette University men’s basketball coach Al McGuire surprised nearly everyone when he made statement he would be stepping down from his post at season’s end, an end not realized until his Warriors would win the NCAA national championship that following March by defeating his Finals opponent, Dean Smith’s UNC Tar Heels.

A dreamy career ending, if their ever was one.

There are two fellas today employed in Foxborough, Massachusetts, one a player, the other a coach, both getting long in the football tooth, highly accomplished (6 NFL titles) and both at that point in their careers where thoughts must certainly be turning to that day in the not too distant future when closure is in the cards.

The fellas: Quarterback Tom Brady (00) and his only pro head coach, Bill Belichick (91-5; 00), both still seemingly at the top of their games entering NFL19, all aglow after brushing aside the latest challenge to their decades long supremacy, the upstart Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53 (13-3) who clearly got Belichicked, mate. It wasn’t a pretty win, yet it was a win and that’s all that matters in the NFL battle for the championship.

But it does beg the question, at their advanced NFL ages, eking out excellence in ever more narrow margins of victory and with key cog Rob Gronkowski having shown the way with his recent retirement announcement, is this the right time for B&B to peg 2019-20 as their final, swan song season?

And keep these points in mind: 1) When they do exit, Bill and Tom will likely do it in the same season, and 2) avoid the now common ‘This is my final season’ announcement and hopefully spare us a farewell gift-giving tour (ugh).

Here then are the reasons why I think this will be their last hurrah.

The clearest reason why Bill and Tom call it quits after this season, they’ve got little else of significance to achieve. Getting that second back-to-back (03-04, 04-05), a technical dynasty, may be the only thing motivating B&B at this point.

If one does not consider them the masterminds of the greatest team in NFL history (It’s a debatable topic), they’re certainly right near the top of any reasonable list. And to be frank, the Pats are the only consistent ’big fish’ in what’s become a little NFL pond of competition, the only real challenge left for them being their respective battles against age.

And when Belichick does leave the Patriots, I don’t suspect he’s going to take the Lombardi route in assuming a new challenge as Vince did in DC (1969). I’d expect he follows John Madden’s play-call and stays out for good, maybe accepts an advisory position with Kraft & Co.: “Easy money.”

Then there’s reason #2 to think this is a swan song season: Preserving health.

Tom’s been fairly fortunate in the injury department. He missed almost all of 2008 with a knee bang but has had fewer concussions than other QBs with as many seasons. He doesn’t want to press his luck and his wife may think as much. And even though Belichick works the sidelines, his job classifies as high stress, a state now considered by heart experts to be one of the highest risk-factors for myocardial infarction and poor health in general, along with sugar addiction.

And reason #3 why B&B likely call it quits after this season? It’s like Gordie Lightfoot says, “walk away like a movie star (♪ IfYouCouldReadMyMind ♫).” The Patriots presently are the NFL standard and can hold their heads high.

Even if New England fails to win their fourth consecutive Hunt trophy (AFC) (They’ve copped four of the last five, five of the last eight), a simple winning mark (9-7), playoffs or not, would go down in my book as a successful exit.

How Gronk’s absence will play on team chemistry is hard to predict. He’d a great career and one of Tom’s favorite targets for nine seasons (2010-19), but then Bill has cycled through many great players in his New England reign, finding such, or he and Tom molding those men INTO greatness.

Whenever the two DO decide to hang up their respective cleats and headset, it’s certain they’ll take a good part of the NFL with them, explanation to follow.

Their departure will mark the end of an era, not just one that saw a franchise sustain success on the girdiron for 20+ seasons, but the end of an era in how the game is played and then enjoyed, it seems progressively less & less by an evermore fickle fandom, many who‘ve made whipping-boys of the zebra set.

Though pocket passers will always remain in the game in some numbers as they matriculate the ball and fire-up the exictement best, Tom’s stand-tall-in-the-pocket style of quarterbacking, in opposite of the rabbit-habit trend (aka, flash-QB or single-wing tailback), will become more rare as every year passes, no pun. The college training ground guarantees it. If given a choice to take hits in the pocket, learning to read with poise, or run-at-will with the ball over incapable collegiate defenses, most young athletes will choose the latter.

The NFL has always been a business first, but since B&B teamed-up we’ve seen a serious ratcheting-up of profit-taking in TV transmission, advertising, stadium and merchandise costs. No stone goes unturned today where even player jerseys and shoe-wear become billboards, enriching owners and players alike.

But the biggest change they’ll leave behind is the NFL’s new commitment to the millennial business model in youthenization, one that demands constant change and has a haughty disdain for continuity (tradition).

This callow, artless approach is seen in endless uniform changes (Nike) and rule tinker, to appease the target market (ages 8-28); Networks display little for serious sport fans but cater to those who boner-up on celebrity, sex and shallow trash talk; skittish online reporters deliver the new message while stifling fan input (no more fan-blogging or comments allowed), and gimmickry in ephemeral events like combines, weekly power ranks, endless mock-drafts, mindless re-drafts from years past, their one concession to history, and then the oversold draft day itself where youth is served a heaping helping of freshly-baked heroes to devour, most who never really pan out anyway (6-8 yrs+).

So consider this an early adieu, Misters Belichick and Brady. Don’t spend it all in one place and thanks for the memories because they’re probably going to have to last us real NFL fans the rest of our lives.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; Brady-Belichick-x4; Patriots-HOF, wc.cca, Leoparmr, 10.20.08
Posted: 4.22 @ 9:04pE; Copyright © 2019

Advertisements

NBA Playoffs 2019: Lite Ball + Feeble Foes Should Keep GSW Off ‘The Greatest’ Perch

14 Apr

With the NBA playoffs set to tipoff today @ 2:30pE, the question on the minds of every serious basketball fan is pretty straightforward: Does ANY team stand a good chance of toppling the Golden State Warriors from the lofty, championship perch they‘ve been occupying for most of the past five years?

The most likely, logical answer is a quick and decisive, ‘No.’

Such fans know, that unless the competition has been hiding their light under a bushel or unexpected injury rears its ugly head in the Oakland camp, there’s no team in this NBA19, not the Bucks, Raptors, Rockets, Nuggets nor Trailblazers that is possessing of the cohesive player talent (Curry, Durant, etc.) and coaching prowess (Kerr) to out-pace the Wars in their E-ZPass® highway drive to the Finals where a 4th title in five seasons, beckons.

Some may say, ‘These Dubs (A moniker entirely unbefitting of a champion) are vulnerable this season, well off their 73-win record pace set in 2015-16.’ And I will say, fixating on records and numbers can prove mistaken.

The Warriors won-loss this 2018-19 season is important only in that it puts them in a good post-season position, which they’ve got with 57 regular season wins, good enough to give them home-court throughout the Western playoffs.

You can believe coach Kerr had a good, long talk with his men following their failure to close the deal against Cleveland in the 2016 Finals, putting an asterisk (*) on their record-setting regular-season result (73). Plain and simple, GSW ran outta‘ gas. Steve hasn’t let that happen again and most likely emphasized the art of pacing. That doesn’t mean you tank, it means you hold a modicum of energy in reserve while keeping your eyes on the prize, the O’Brien trophy.

Yet, that quickie Q&A (who can challenge these champs), leads to a 2nd, more provocative question that even fans in-the-know may have trouble answering: If these Warriors win this 2019 championship, will their record, four titles in five seasons, the last three consecutively, make them the greatest NBA team ever, a long, colorful history that began in post-War 1946 (BAA)?

Winning a record 73 games enroute to their first of three 21st century titles (2015, 17-18), adds merit to their case, one of course bolstered accordingly with every additional O’Brien trophy garnered.

But as dense as is the championship aura that surrounds today’s GSW, the best team since the Duncan-led Spurs, hanging heavy overhead is the cloud of truth, a mass of molecules recognizing that the Wars’ glory has been achieved against some of the weakest competition in the annals of the NBA playoffs.

In their consecutive Finals run (2015-18), all four of the Warriors Series have been played versus the LeBron-led Cavaliers, taking the first (4-2), one the losers let slip-away, then conceding the next Finals to James Gang in another close one (3-4). GSW would re-focus, winning the next two Finals (2017-18) by trouncing the punchless Cavs in both, needing only nine games in total. But even when the Series were close, neither Finalist was exactly battle-tested in their respective Conference, riding the E-Zpass® roadway to make each Finale.

The grueling playoff gauntlet in both the NBA and NHL had been defining traits of toughness and championship worth, separating the pro sports from those less challenging versions of the NFL and MLB. It still is defining in hockey where the Stanley Cup winner more often than not has had most series go six or seven games. That has not been true for these titletown Warriors.

Typically, GSW concedes just 1-2 contests en route to the Finals. That’s not greatness, that’s poor product, Adam. You’re not fooling anyone, not over 18.

While the gold standard in sport is measured in championship metallica, it is weighted by its karat-count in quality of competition. It’s a long-standing, cross-cultural principle that has been applied by generations of people when measuring greatness in sport or any competitive endeavour.

Curiously, you’ll hear the standard referenced in the Classic Sydney Pollack film, Jeremiah Johnson (72) as trapper-pal “Del Gue (Gierasch)” schools Jay-Jay on his Indian combatant’s mind-set: “Some Indians .. a tribe’s greatness is figured on how mighty its enemies be.” Made sense then, still does today.

While today’s NBA is ebbing at its lowest level in quality of competition in its long organization history, this is a fairly new state of affairs.

In the early days (1940s-60s), as the Assc’n was getting financial footing, both dominant clubs in the Minneapolis Lakers (v. Knicks & Warriors) and then Boston Celtics faced some stiff competition (St. Louis & Los Angeles Lakers).

The 1970s were loaded to the gills with great teams in the Lakers, Knicks, Bucks, Bullets (Wizards), Supersonics, Celtics and the then Rick Barry-led Warriors battling and then holding, if even for a brief time, Association supremacy.

The 1980s represent what is arguably the NBA’s high-water mark in popularity, seeing Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics dominate, with the 76ers and Pistons taking titles earlier and late in the decade.

The Phil Jackson-led Bulls (Chicago didn’t gel until PJ arrived) owned the 90s without much fierce Finals competition until they’d face the Jazz near decade‘s close, and even then, the outcomes were never seriously in doubt.

The new century has seen three memorable teams in the Jackson – Bryant Lakers (six rings), the Popovich, Duncan, Parker and Ginóbili Spurs (five titles in fifteen) and today’s Kerr, Curry and Durant Warriors.

The Spurs – Lakers rivalry (1999 >) was pretty tremendous, so good it’s hard to pick the better team. They’d a similar number of titles, one had longevity (SA), the other multiple, triple-season dynasties (LA).

On the Warriors‘ ledger, there’s only Cleveland, a worthy opponent for the first two Series (2015-16), but by the third Finals, the Cavaliers just looked plain bored, in total, only winning one game in two sets. That’s pretty pathetic.

Also weighting down the Warriors from rising to the top of any reasonable ‘Greatest All-Time’ ranking is their manner of play.

It’s lite-ball, relying heavily on the 3-point shot, a gimmick that originated in the colorful, long defunct American Basketball Association (1967-76).

It’s a shot whose nonchalance and often unchallenged release has changed the manner and mindset of the sport, one which had been an aggressive game of controlled contact but now has lost its center, figuratively and literally.

For 90 years a balance existed between inside and outside play.

That symmetry has now gone the way of the 3-second and traveling calls, with the center position nearly obsolete, drives to the basket, shots in general, going uncontested (no defense) and most the game played passively out on the arc.

Excepting the occasional ego-flair-up, flying elbow or alley-oop, b-ball seems to have become just one, long game of HORSE. It’s so tiresome that even Playoffs can‘t hold the players interest as the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson are reported to have been texting in-game versus the Nets. Guess who won?

History shows the NBA runs best when it’s an ample stable of thoroughbreds, bangers inside, men like Wilt-the-Stilt, Kareem, Bill Russell, Lucas, George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Wes Unseld, Bill Laimbeer, Moses Malone, the Big-E and power forwards like Jerry West, Big-O, Havlicek, Worthy, Bird, Dirk, Magic and Dr.J, the type of men who could do it all.

Steve Curry is the NBA’s 3-point king (value-rated in rings), having learned from one of the best in a championship player, his coach, Steve Kerr (.454 – 16sn). But that‘s a pretty small principality to rule in comparison to those rough & tumble territories won-over by the guys mentioned above.

As for Mr. James, he’s always had the powerful frame but surprisingly spent most of his time on the outside. You’ve gotta’ bleed on the court to be in the running for the greatest team in NBA history, figuratively AND literally, and out on the circle it’s almost as dry as a fresh Band-Aid®. There are too many topper teams in consideration for the top spot to expect anything less.

LeBron has three big problems today: 1) Father Time; 2) an Association-wide dearth of talent, where finding another Kev Love or multi-skilled Dwyane Wade has never been so difficult; and 3) boredom.

That last problem may be his toughest to fix, yet won’t be alleviated by wearing multiple hats (player – coach – GM) or making puppet-coaches suffer as scapegoats (Walton – Lue). It’s like that idiom, ‘a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.‘ Duties must be delegated, or at least divided accordingly.

Is the Association on brink of bankruptcy? Heck, no.

Mr. Silver, and what an appropriate last name for an NBA Commissioner only concerned with coin, has but one target market: Kids aged 7-17, the same age range @Disney (fka ESPN) settled on when the Skipper era set sail (2000?). As long as the junior sport media and other marketers can create celebrity images for kids to follow through mock-drafts and merchandising, no matter the quality of court play, mountains of money will be made for all investors concerned.

It’s celebrity that drives the game today, not sport.

Owners probably began coming around to that idea about the time Julius ‘Dr.J’ Erving made his much ballyhooed arrival in the NBA (76) after having starred in rival ABA with Virginia and New Jersey (drafted in 72 by Milwaukee 1R-#12).

The great success of Magic and Bird would bring the celebrity-sell into greater focus for the Cufflinks, and by the time Jordan’s best days were over (98), his Bulls team having maintained the balance but benefiting from their own ‘Rules’ as well, the issue was settled: “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle (C.Kramer).”

But with this limited, 21st century vision of tumultuous merriment, the NBA will keep trending niche, never again challenging the NFL or MLB (boring as all get-out but beneficiary of a long history (1876)) for America’s top sporting spot.

StevenKeys
NothingButNet
Photo credit: basketball-board, wc.cca, 1995, mid-static; S.Curry, wc, C.Saatsaz, Denver, 11-2017; S.Kerr, wc, 11-2017, Denver, C.Saatsaz; K.Durant, Curry, Denver, C.Saatsaz, 11-2017
Posted: 4.13 @ 10:18pE, gram-edit 5.19; Copyright © 2019

NCAABK-19: Champions Happen But the Greatest Game Remains ’91 Duke v. UNLV

6 Apr

March Madness is crazy for upsets.

More than any other sport festival, the NCAA D1 Basketball Championships seem predicated on the probability that big schools will get unplugged by small-college upstarts on way to being fitted for Cinderello’s glass sneaker.

Bookies and business-types lose sleep about it but fans can’t get enough.

Shockers aren’t the only defining trait of March Madness. Single-elimination keeps the anticipation building high, but it’s the tournament’s unique inclusiveness which gives it a lovable lunacy.

The NCAA holds a big dance and nearly everyone’s invited.

Unlike the hoity-toity cotillion which is college football’s mini-playoff (CFP), the men’s and women’s basketball parties are where new stars are found and dreams can become reality. It’s not exactly a Delta Tau Chi bash (Animal House) but more like that dorm party the first week of classes: Come one, come all.

Apart from national crisis and electoral college tallies, no event in America does more to unify all 50 than Selection Sunday. Excitement-wise, it’s up there with horse racing’s Triple Crown, the last five minutes in the Super Bowl, final lap at Talladega or Indy-500 and the Atlas stones lift in World‘s Strongest Man. It’s why President Obama was so keen to publicize his tourney picks: Trendy.

And if you can’t find a team to root for you’re not really trying.

The Selection gets our attention but it’s the upsets that keep us talking.

College roundball has its share of doozies: Texas Western (El Paso / ‘66), North Carolina State (‘83), Villanova Wildcats (‘85) and Princeton (’96) head the list.

But one upset stands out from the rest. And it’s not even close.

March 30th marked the 28th anniversary of Duke Blue Devils improbable 1991 NCAA Final Four semifinal victory over the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. It remains in this writer‘s memory the most exciting, sublime game in college b-ball history. It is the gold standard by which all other NCAA contests must be measured.

Why such high praise for a college b-ball semifinal game? Simply put, this David and Goliath match-up had everything.

For starters, it was an upset of the first order.

UNLV was the defending champ, undefeated, showcased POY Larry Johnson, were riding a 45-game win streak and faced the same school they’d easily brushed aside in the 1990 Final to win their first national basketball title.

While Duke was no stranger to the Final Four (fifth under Mike Krzyzewski, ninth overall), each appearance had ended with a loss. In losing to UNLV in the 1990 Final by a lopsided 103-73 margin, the Blue Devils’ game appeared to be seriously and irrevocably out of step with the times.

Before tip-off it had all the signs of another impending hardwood massacre.

While the contrasting racial make-ups of the Texas Western / Kentucky squads (66) gave that game serious social overtone, Duke / University of Nevada – Las Vegas was not without its own psycho-drama.

It was ivy-covered halls versus desert developers, old money versus Sin City. More weighty was the appearance of favoritism when UNLV was given a pass by the NCAA Rules Committee and allowed into the tourney to defend their title.

Two years earlier Kansas University had been denied defense of its own title by rule infractions. The normally no-nonsense NCAA and their new open-door policy for a similarly-situated UNLV smacked of some serious hypocrisy. But then, new money is as green as the old kind.

On the surface the Blue Devils conveyed the student-athlete ideal. In reality and player interview, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner appeared no more studious or articulate than the Vegas bunch and emanated the same boyish arrogance as the soon to come onto the sporting scene, Michigan’s Fab Five.

As for the sideline strategists, when separated from the claims of NCAA Rules police, Jerry Tarkanian was as likeable and skilled as his Dukian counterpart.

It was on the court where the real differences existed.

Duke was ball-control & basics, UNLV was run & gun but dominant inside with size and strength.

And though a fan of neither team, I wasn’t exactly neutral either.

Like many, I pulled for the underdog Duke. Besides that, the Rebels were a regional rival to my own school, the University of Arizona who was looking for their own breakthrough moment.

In the final analysis, it was Duke’s relentlessness on both ends of the court, and then the ability to impose its style on much of the game-tempo, while managing to compete with the Runnin’ Rebels inside, that gave the Blue Devils the narrow but clear 79-77 victory. A two-point margin of victory was never so decisive.

UNLV didn’t lose the game, Duke won it.

This was no mistake-prone Colts team losing to the confident Jets in 1969 (SB3). The Rebels played with skill and with heart. A more hard fought, back & forth battle I never witnessed. Maybe Duke just wanted it, needed it more.

Like the USA’s 1980 gold-medal winning “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team (v. USSR and Finland), Duke’s ability to summon an inner strength, sustain team cohesiveness and then close the deal against Final opponent Kansas (72-65) gave their semifinal triumph a special place in American sport history.

The Duke University Blue Devils have remained one of the nation’s premiere programs while the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels have fallen into mediocrity. But both schools can look back with pride on that glorious night in Indianapolis when an epic battle raged and grit, not a miracle, made a champion.

Steven Keys
NothingButNet
Photo credit: Bball-rebound, wc, 1995, static; Duke, 1991, national-champion-trophy; J.Tarkanian, UNLV; C.Laettner, wc, 2014, S.Buyansky
Posted: 4.5 @ 11:50pE, spell-edit 4.6; Copyright © 2019

NFL19 Super Cherry Pick: A Bowl of Contrasts Topped With Pocket-Passer Poise

3 Feb

It’s what they used to call the ‘Big Game,‘ usually referring to the college kind.

Hollywood loved it, fitting fandom in racoon coats and waved pennants as co-eds in the outdoor stands rooted for their pigskin-carrying hero who typically ran it into the end-zone for a touchdown and swell hugs all around.

As marketing matured, that high-spirited, collegial hoopla eventually gave way to pro game profits and creation of the super serious, late (6:30p k/o), long, commercial laden NFL Championship, aka, the Super Bowl, known as such since the 1970 game (SB4), this one presently numbered 53.

And when the Big Game rolls around, even as late as February when baseball begins to bud in the consciousness, its midnite conclusion (EST) marking the end of the holiday season, we look for themes to stoke interest and set it apart.

In 2019 there are three themes I spot: 1) The stark contrasts between the two participants in the New England Patriots (AFC) and the Los Angeles Rams (NFC); 2) no few commonalities, and 3) possible conflict in protests.

Contrasts

1) East coast (Pats) versus west coast (Rams)

2) AFL original (Pats 1959) versus NFL oldie Rams (1937), though, interestingly, the Cleveland locale originated with the second AFL (1936), the first lasting just one season (1926), the third born in 1959 and merging into the NFL in 1970 (66) as the AFC (NFC) in the present-day set-up.

3) A very experienced coach-quarterback tandem (Belichick-Brady) versus one in just their second season together (McVay 17 – Goff 16), as were B&B in SB36 (02), though, the Rams head coach does have the very experienced Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator, a man with two Super Bowls under his belt, the first in 1981 with Denver in loss (SB24 90 SF), the second, having returned to Denver, but that one with a victory result (SB50 2016 W CAR).

4) Franchise history: More recently, New England has been template for success, winning ten Hunt trophies and five Lombardi in the Robert Kraft era, while the Rams have made two location moves the past twenty-five years (LA > STL > LA) and played in two Supers, both as St.Louis residents, one a win (00 TEN), and two years later a loss (02), that being the Patriots first championship hoist.

Commonalities

1) Defense: No forte for either club, both are quite capable. In the regular, even-Steven on ypg (359), edge Pats in ppg (20 v 24), but Rams tighten it better in the PS (22 DAL – 23 NO) (NE: 28 LAC – 31 KC).

2) Offense: If you know football, you know these two teas can put up the points, scoring almost at-will in regular (LAR #2 ypg – ppg / NE #5 in both), with Patriots holding slight edge in the playoffs, NE 41 LAC – 37 KC; LAR 30 DAL – 26 NO, though the Rams lesser totals accrued against slightly better defenses in Saints and Cowboys.

3) Pocket-passers: Both Brady and Goff are mobile when need-be but stand tall under pressure, running up-field only rarely. And the coaches like it that way, i.e., less injuries, more completions and fewer fumbles. Duh-hey.

4) Sort-of-a-rematch: Patriots and Rams first Super Tussle was in SB36 at the Louisiana Superdome (Feb-02), as New England topped St. Louis version of Rams, 20-17 to start the great Belichick-Brady run of championship play and effectively end the Rams, who’d taken the Lombardi (v. TEN) two years earlier in this same same host city of Atlanta, in the now demolished Georgia Dome, replaced by Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the summer of 2017.

Not much to gleen from those two facts, except that Brady-Belichick have been here many times and Rams can win in Georgia. But then, a similarly under-experienced coach-QB tandem in Pederson-Foles topped the B&B in last year’s Super, giving us all something to keep in mind: Experience matters but it’s not everything .. when your opponent has poise.

Conflict?

Will one, two or three players, take a knee for Colin Kaepernick in the biggest spotlight on Earth? If they do, he and his vague mission don’t seem worth it. CK is to some people believed to’ve been black-balled out of the NFL for his on-field protests, though, his same supporters will never include Tim Tebow in their line of gripe. That difference speaks to the sincerity question: Answer, not very.

The Win

The Patriots will again face another recently-tenured head coach (Pederson SB52) employing a not-inexperienced but not-well-tested quarterback (Foles). But Doug was an NFL signal-caller for ten-plus seasons, and though of the clipboard variety, certainly learned his share under Holmgren – Favre in Green Bay and as an assistant with offensive specialist, Reid in KC. That background proved invaluable to the Eagles QB Foles in SB52.

McVay handles his own OC duties, played receiver at Miami of Ohio and coached the same for half of his time in NFL (TB / DC) before taking the reins in Los Angeles. Against a highly-decorated club like the Patriots, knowledge by experience is everything, poise included. I don’t believe the Rams will have that deep well of knowledge at QB (Zac Taylor) to top New England through four quarters, the last as critical. Phillips has the years of experience but that’s D-side, edge Rams, and even then, his Super Bowl win was over the Panthers, not known as an offensive juggernaut. Brady & Company are not Newton & Friends.

Turnovers are always the wild-card, but not the officiating. The zebras are human, I want to keep it that way and champions don’t give game officials the power to decide the outcome. They win, regardless of penalties.

Super Cherry Pick 53: Patriots

Record: 64 – 52 (4-2)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, 4.25.15, White-House, USDoS; J.Goff, Rams, wc, 7.31.16, Praveer-Sharma; T.Brady, Patriots, wc, 11.29.15, J.Beall; cherries, Hispalois, Cacares-Spain, wc, 7.2.12; J.Marshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 2.3.19 @ 5:33pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL19 Conference Cherry Picks: Presidents, Field-Generals & Super-Chiefs

20 Jan

The National Football League quarterback: He’s sometimes called a field general, a commander-in-chief who musters his troops into an offensive, forward thrusting campaign to gain territory and vanquish the enemy.

Though America’s Chief Executive and gridiron signal-caller live worlds apart in the duties department, there is a commonality their jobs share. Even as both are just one part their respective operations, as Big-Kahunas (A2-US Const.), each will in good times receive much of the credit while, in bad, most of the blame.

As the partial federal government shutdown remains a reality and new accusations of illegalities fly concerning the investigation into current President Trump’s prior campaign tactics, blame is being apportioned, some to the White House, some to Congress (Pelosi-McConnell), some to the lead investigator (Mueller) and some to the press (journalist / junior-media). Surprising, in this democracy called the United States of America, is that no blame will be assigned to the public who assume none of it on their own, THAT you can bank on.

Followers of the NFL too have, as is customary, been engaging in their own critique in apportioning praise and blame on recent playoff game results.

While the blame has occasionally been debited, in part, to a coach (Harbaugh Garrett), kicker (Parkey) or receiver (Jeffery), as mentioned above, most has been layed at the doorsteps of the respective losing quarterbacks, though, all of it easily enough recycled with yesterday‘s news.

In this final round of post-season Conference championships in lead-up to the Super Bowl pairing, the League’s crème de la crème are in the spotlight.

Typically, these are the best contests. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, making most games real barnburners with outcomes often decided late.

Adding to the watchability this go-round are the two quarterback match-ups.

Each game will pit a wily, well-decorated field general (Brady – Brees), against a much younger upstart, both Patrick Mahomes (KC) and Jared Goff (Rams) in offensive leadership of clubs in quest of their first NFL title in many moons.

It’s not far-fetched to pen, these four signal-callers are, this season, the best four in the business, given that two of them in Mahomes (1) and Brees (2) are the top contenders for AP-MVP award. And Tom, even on a less-than-stellar statistical season, is almost always terrific, while Mr. Goff (and team) has compiled a sparkly 24-7 RS mark after a learning-curve rookie year (0-7 – 55C%).

Tom Brady: New England Patriots

1) FDR: The only Commander-in-Chief besides the cherry-tree-chopper who could’ve been king (Defacto?). Elected four times, his economic vision prescribed emergency medicine in seriously Depressed times (New Deal) and took federal policy beyond simply feeding greed, then undertook to save the world (WW2). He had a wife who was pretty swell, too (Eleanor).

Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints

2) Lincoln: Made the union whole, more human and gave his life in the process.

Jarod Goff: Los Angeles Rams

3) Washington: Iconic leader in War and government who led the world’s first revolt against Imperium slavery since Spartacus (d.71 BC), gave the new office of President serious stature and the budding nation a good head start.

Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs

4) Jackson: Old Hickory from Tennesse was his nickname, he was the first non-elitist President who fought hostile Indians, British invaders, banker thugs and brought the people and democracy to the nation‘s capital.

Cory Littleton: Los Angeles Rams (ILB)

5) Wilson: Prof President (1856–24) with steel resolve to make America a world leader in war (WW1) and peace (LoN), whose 2nd wife Edith (Ellen) co-ruled after his stroke (19) making her first unofficial female President (1872–61).

Aaron Donald: Los Angeles Rams (DE)

6) JFK: He saved planet Earth (Cuban Missile Crisis ‘62) and then lost his life in Dallas (11.22.63) in the risky battle against entrenched, corrupting power.

Anthony Hitchens: Kansas City Chiefs (ILB)

7) Cleveland: Should’ve been the first 3-term President, designing the template for modern-era “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

John Johnson: Los Angeles Rams (SS)

8) Jefferson: Crafty Louisiana Purchase doubled nation’s size, after drafting Declaration of Independence (‘76) and blue-printing first public college (UV).

Demario Davis: New Orleans Saints (OLB)

9) LBJ: Mis-policy in Vietnam did not derail efforts of this legislative juggernaut in making civil rights reality and protecting America’s seniors (Medicare);

Chris Jones: Kansas City Chiefs (DE)

10) Polk: Pragmatic, fiscally sound and productive, Mr. Manifest Destiny added thirteen (13) States in whole or part to America’s flag family of stars. Worn to the bone, he died only 3 months after leaving Office.

11) Truman: Plain-talking, former farmer, WWI major, haberdasher and pianist (See; leggy Lauren Bacall) finished out the big War with gutsy call on Japan A-bombs and proved critics and premature press-men, wrong (Chicago Tribune) with a strong, spirited and common sense administration.

12) Teddy: “Big Stick” policy boosts US clout, trust-buster checks monopolist greed and initiates our national parks network. A celebrity turned progressive.

13) James Madison
14) Andrew Johnson
15) William McKinley

Conference Cherry Picks: “Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Rams @ NewOrleans: 1.20 Fox 3:05pE: Saints
NewEngland @ KansasCity: CBS 6:40: Patriots

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; T.Brady, wc.cca, A.Campbell, 9.14.14; The-Conways, USCMC, D.Brees, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.09; cherries-ripe, Chirak, wc, 6.24.07; A.Jackson, wc, 1844, Boyer-Houghton-Mifflin
Posted: 1.20 @ 2:33pE; Copyright © 2019

NCAAF-19: No Checkmate, As Saban-Swinney Plot Next Move In Champions Chess Match

13 Jan

Saban v. Swinney: In today‘s sporting America it may be the best thing going.

Baseball’s best player (Harper) is still unsigned;
NFL playoffs have more pretenders than a Platters reunion;
In its peak period, NHL is getting bumped for soccer gossip, and ..
The NBA has never been more passé with competition ebbing low.

But the praise is piling high for William Christopher “Dabo” Swinney, five days after he and his Clemson Tigers garnered their second CFP national championship in three seasons (2017 / 19), both titles coming with wins over the most highly regarded college football program in the land these past 15 years, arguably all-time, that being Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

And “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet might’ve said, the big question in all this Clemson euphoria: Who then exactly IS today’s top program?

While the gold standard in sport is measured in championship metallica, it is weighted by its karat-count in quality of competition. Put another way, “some Indians .. a tribe’s greatness is figured on how mighty its enemies be (D.Gue).”

Besting the top dog in Alabama, twice in their last three championship games, certainly qualifies as weighty competition. Add to that poundage, the fact that the Tide’s last victory in the this burgeoning rivalry was of the lesser semi-final variety (CFP-18). As we all know in the sporting world, it is the biggest stage (championship) that proves the toughest test then matters the most.

And those who follow college sport closely, know that the first and most important ingredient in the championship metallurgy process is successful recruitment. And therein lay the OTHER rub.

Before Clemson football can make a serious claim to supremecy, Dabo & Company must first create a public perception among high-school players, parents and principals that their school is #1. Two national titles in three years (3 total) are big steps in that direction.

But affecting perception goes deeper than displaying contemporary accolades.

The Tigers history is a long one (b.1896), and proud, but the Tide have one themselves (b.1892), claiming seventeen (17) national titles and a modern-era stature that is second to none, including that of Notre Dame’s (11), one which is fast losing its golden luster, having last won a national title in 88 (Holtz).

Another aspect of program perception is the image of its head coach, the master-mind behind all of the success. Players, even the great ones, will move on, the college variety especially quick today (2-3 yrs).

If there’s enough of success, what develops might be called a cult of personality, a money mood (not legal tender but valuation) that the coach will use to fuel the recruitment. Pete Carroll had it, as did John Wooden, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summitt, Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson, Woody Hayes, Fielding Yost, Rod Dedeaux, Jerry York, Herb Brooks and Saban.

It’s a status that doesn’t necessarily remain, in its entirety, at the school where it began, but will leave, in some degree, with the coach if they happen to make an exit and as long as they keep winning (Saban: LSU > UA).

Swinney‘s cult is building fast.

So, what might he do to turn demigod, making top prospects tab Clemson as the coolest place to matriculate in the classroom and the gridiron? A third national title in the not too distant future is a necessity (many coaches have tallied, two), and if it forms a back-to-back dynasty (2019-20), so much the better.

Of no interest to Clemson folk but of great benefit to Swinney’s status would be moving on to a different school to take on the challenge of creating another championship program as did misters Saban and Urban Meyer (UF > OSU). But then it may be a bit early for such considerations.

Back to recruitment, it’s a little like the chicken-and-egg thing.

How do you consistently recruit the best until you are seen as the best, which you won’t be seen as until you recruit the best? All this made the more difficult when the current perceived best in Saban is still very much in the mix?

Yet, that’s exactly the kind of challenge a champion meets head on as they move to dethrone the current ruler of the roost, any difficulties be damned.

And if Dabo does one day rule the roost, you can be sure we’ll not mispronounce nor mis-spell his name ever again. One of the perks of being head rooster.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo credit: chess-game, checkmate, wc.cca; D.Swinney, wc, 10.31.15, Lambeau-Leap80; N.Saban, wc, 10.13.07, Crassic; macroecono, wc, lambcasinoroyal, 2011
Posted: 1.12 @ 7:58pE, edit 1.13; Copyright © 2019

NFL19 Wild Cherry Picks: A Showcase of Styles On the Evolving (Devolving) Pro-QB

5 Jan

If you think this 2019 NFL Wild Card playoff round looks like the makings of a quarterback revolution, I’d hold off on that thought for now. Think more like a less taxing, not as angry, Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94). That doesn’t make complete sense, either, but it ain’t a revolution, not yet, anyway.

The quarterback landscape is changing pretty rapid these days. With the college football ranks filling faster on flash quarterbacks than a tackle does on mashed potatoes (NO GARLIC, PLEASE!!), they’ve gotta’ end up somewhere, right? Canada’s one destination (CFL), but south of the 49th parallel north, the National Football League venue is every amateur’s biggest dream.

Couple that with the NFL’s need to replenish its ranks with capable signal-callers and it only stands to reason that the modern single-wing tailback would become plentiful at the pro-level, too, where, unfortunately, the real quarterback training in field assessment and development of serious intestinal fortitude begins.

Be that as it may, the pocket-passer will remain an NFL fixture, even if it becomes the exception, rather than rule, or ruler, as it were (See; SB).

As the run-quarterback operates largely on rabbit-sense, i.e., fear-flight, it will always be the master matriculaor, the ones who show poise behind the line, withstand hits in the face of pressure to connect consistently with receiver corps and in the most critical of times (red-zone), that will always be favored, not just by coaches, GMs and teammates but most by football fans who like courage and lots and lots of scoring.

And it’s the pocket-passer that will be one of the featured styles on both days of this weekend’s Wild Card slate, along with every other variety of quarterbacking style you can imagine, with the exception of maybe the wounded-duck form of field generaling. They may be gone forever.

Those were the guys like Billy Kilmer (Redskins) and Joe Kapp (Vikings) who never did perfect the spiral but generally got the job done on guts & semi-skill.

Here’s how the play-callers have been playing it:

Andrew Luck, pocket passer. Andy used to motor pretty well but recent injuries have curtailed that and the results, so far, are looking good.

DeShaun Watson, run-QB: He takes off at the drop of a hat but with an excellent C% (68+) and ypa (8.2). So the worry on scamper isn’t so much that he’s passing up opportunities in the air (red-zone blues?), but the injury risk.

Russell Wilson, mobile-manager: He has mobility to avoid the rush when the line breaks down and likes to roll-out. Russ’ earned an A+ in his biggest test in SB46 win over Denver, rambling a mere three (3) times, all early-on.

Dak Prescott, mobile-manager: Averages about 4.5 rushes per contest, finding the end-zone with regularity (6-TD). Level-headed and physically solid (“The Fortress” nickname fits), his motor has been tested in 2018 with a leaky Dallas O-line (56-sk), but can Coach Garrett deliver the Dude a game-plan?

Philip Rivers, pocket-passer: The old veteran (37 yrs) and sentimental favorite in this years early playoff round (37 yrs). Passing yards are down a bit but INTs reasonable (12) on pretty fair protection (32sk). His run-mates Ekeler (groin) and Gordon (ankle) are aching, so can Coach Lynn come up with a pass-heavy scheme that can compensate, on the road in Crabcake City (gulp)?

Lamar Jackson, run-QB: A Ravens post-season without Joe Flacco starting under center? Seems odd, but you go with what gets you there, right, and the young Mister Jackson (turns 22 on Monday) got the guys going in the right direction (6-1, 6t-3i, 695y-rush). The Bolts know offense, of course, but they also know defense this time around. Does Harbaugh know HIS offense, yet?

Nick Foles, pocket-passer: It’s a stand-tall-in-the-pocket tandem in Philly (+Wentz), together averaging a 70-C%, even as sacks are on higher side in 2018 (40). The Super Bowl winning Foles, who started the season slow, gave-way to Wentz and then got the call again, is like that race-horse who runs best in the stretch where the action intensifies and the stakes are highest.

Mitchell Trubisky, run-QB: This season, like most since 1919, defense is key in Chicago, which took some pressure off the 2nd-year from UNC (b.Ohio). Mitch carried his end well on nice C% (67), fair INTs (12) and enthusiasm, something that’d been missing on the Midway (JC), though, it does get a smidgen silly at times (post-TD). Run-game helps (Howard-Cohen-MT) but fumblitis (15).

NFL Wild Cherry Picks: Road Warriors

Indy @ Texans: 1.5 Disney 4:35E: Colts
Seahawks @ Cowboys: Fox 8:15: Seattle
Chargers @ Baltimore: 1.6 CBS 1:05: Bolts
Philadelphia @ Chicago: NBC 4:40: Eagles

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; R.Wilson, wc.cca, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; N.Foles, wc, T-Sgt-Walker, Dover, USAF; J.Kapp, wc, Ellensburg-Daily, 12.26.69
Posted: 1.5 @ 4:03pE; Copyright © 2019