NFL18 Cherry Picks W6: Stackers, Slackers and Uff-Da, Memories of the Heidi Game

14 Oct

“We’ve just gotta’ keep stackin’ those wins”

Quoting James Conner, Steelers running-back in interview just following his club’s clobber of the visiting Atlanta Falcons, 41-17, to go to 2-2-1 (10.7).

Truer post-game words were never spoken: Stay positive, stay focused, keep it simple and keep that winning momentum going.

Conner’s a man who aught be trusted, and not tagged Pollyannaish.

*He’s the man who has proved quite capable in filling the breach created by All-Pro ball-carrier LeVeon Bell who has been holding-out for a new contract and seen his stock drop precipitously in recent weeks as Conner, a 2d-year back out of the University of Pittsburgh (b.Erie), has seen his own on the rise. Jim’s numbers through Week 5 of NFL18: 5g, 84r, 342y, 4.1ypc, 5td, 22rec – 239y.

Other stackers of recent wins include the Bengals (4-1), the Chiefs (5-0), Bolts (3-2), the defending champ Eagles (3-3), the Bears (3-1) (Did I just type the Bears (?)), Vikes (2-2-1), Saints (4-1), Panthers (3-1) and the Los Angeles Rams (5-0) whose decision to return to the white ram‘s horn on their helmet (gold in St.Louis – yellow in last years of prior L.A. residence) must be credited in some small way for their resurgence.

And whilst Jim spoke words of reason, Tom Brady spoke some of the weirdest words in recent memory in saying this week the NFL is now a “glorified college football.” If anyone’s earned the right to say silly things, it’s the New England Patriots starry quarterback. But right does not always make might. Oy vey.

— — —

Where there are stackers, there must also be slackers, teams that, plain and simple, are stinkin’ up the joint.

Some we figured would be rank in 2018 (Jets Bills Cards Giants etc.), but others we believed might just have found the formula to turn it into contendership but turned out to be so much pie-in-the-sky, hence, the term, slacker: 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons, Lions, Dallas, Oakland, Broncos and the Texans.

I was just a little tike when the Heidi Game made BIG news.

The date was November 17, 1968. The New York Jets were in Oakland to take on the Raiders in an AFL showdown, the precursor league to today’s AFC. Both clubs were contenders with Joe Namath and Daryle Lamonica quarterbacking for their respective clubs, and the New Yorkers just about two months away from their date with destiny, i.e., Super Bowl III versus the Baltimore Colts.

The game was close with the Jets taking the lead late in the 4th. Then NBC in all its wisdom decided to switch to its scheduled programming for the East coast viewership, a TV movie of Heidi. As you might guess, while millions in the Eastern time zone were marveling at the Swiss countryside, the Raiders roared back to score two TDs and win the game, infuriating Jets fans and the like.

In this NFL’s Week 5 action, a similar happenstance in Carolina as Fox network decided to switch national viewers to the later Vikings – Eagles game as scheduled. But low & behold, the hometown Panthers came from behind on the final drive with place-kicker Graham Gano booting a massive 63-yarder to win the contest against the Giants. The difference in THIS switch-a-roo was that NYG and Carolina viewerships stayed-tuned to their game, even as other viewers were deprived of the exciting finish in NC.

Not exactly a Heidi Game, but not exactly a foxy programming call, either.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 6

Tampa @ Atlanta: 10.14 Fox 1pE: A-Birds
Carolina @ Redskins: Fox 1:00: Washington
Seahawks @ Oakland: Fox 1:00: Raiders
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Steelers
Los Angeles @ Cleveland: CBS 1:00: Bolts
Chicago @ Dolphins: Fox 1:00: Miami
Baltimore @ Tennessee: CBS 4:25: Ravens
Jacksonville @ Dallas: CBS 4:25: Jaguars
Chiefs @ Patriots: NBC 8:20: New England

Record: 17 – 15

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; Pittsburgh-Steelers-enlarged-helmet, wc, Daniel-X-Oneil, 4.28.15, Chicago-Draft; Heidi-film, 1937, wc, Jean-Hersholt, Shirley-Temple; cherries-ripe, wc, Chirak, 6.24.07; Harold-Jackson, wc, Topps-Chewing-Gum
Posted: 10.14.18 @ 3:47aE; Copyright © 2018


NFL18 Cherry Picks W5: Mayfield’s the Manziel Equalizer, Mahomes the Mr.Smith Memory Buster

7 Oct

When all is finally written on his professional football achievements, it’s likely they won’t compare to those of the Cleveland Browns (maybe NFL’s) greatest quarterback in their long, hyphenated history (AAFC-NFL 1946-95, 99 >), that being Otto Graham (8 pro championships).

But if the University of Oklahoma Heisman trophy winner and #1 overall draft pick (2018) keeps playing with the composure he’s shown in just his first two NFL games, Baker Mayfield, will, at very least, last long enough to make Forest City faithful forget about the Johnny Manziel crap shoot (2015-16) (oy).

As an Aggie (Texas A&M), Manziel was a freak talent where he might’ve become the greatest NCAA signal-caller to ever lace ‘em up, had he hung around for his junior and senior seasons to grow physically and emotionally.

But John, currently rostered with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, was also a freak-show, obsessing with beer, sugar (“Skittles®), chicken-feed signature fees, celebrity and the hanger-ons who worship it.

The Browns play in the first quarter of NFL18 can be summed-up in one word: Improved (1-2-1). That doesn’t read very exciting but for a franchise that’s been down in the dumps since, excepting a couple playoffs (02, 94), the Kosar-Schottenheimer era (85-89), it’s plenty good enough, at this stage, anyway.

In the team breakdown, no blowout losses at this juncture (1-2-1: PIT NO NYJ OAK), and that’s important for a club in rebuild. Every game’s been a battle and a possible win. If you can keep it close into the 4th, anything can happen. But that works both ways. If ahead, you better protect that ball and play some D.

Individually, #1 running back Hyde has five TDs on an unimpressive 3.4ypc, veteran QB Taylor hurt his back but is not very missed on a 48.8 C% (2t-2i), Landry is the leading receiver (24r -312y), Joseph is perfect with the foot (4-4 / 3-3xp), Schobert is the tackler (37) and Garrett the sacker (4.5).

On Mayfield’s ledger, in one start, two games, he has a pleasing 59.4 C%, 2 TDs, 2 picks, a pretty spiffy 7.8ypc average and has showed a poise in the pocket in opposite of his collegiate scamper-style, rushing just six times for eight yards.

The rest of the slate leading up to Cleveland’s bye (W11), a total of six games, will make or break the season. And it’s quite challenging. Just two on the road but the tough teams look to be the Ravens this Week 5, plus KC, Atlanta, @ Pittsburgh and two .500 clubs in the Bolts and the Bucs in Tampa Bay.

That stretch will also do much to test young Baker (b.4.14.95 Austin), who will come through a winner if he shows judgment capability in protecting the ball and then keeps reining in the rabbit habit, the latter being more likely if he gets protection and same-page reads with his receiver corps.

*The numbers on 2d-year Patrick Mahomes, another Texas native (Tyler), are nothing short of astounding, if one can be that good in just the first four games of a season: A 4-0 mark as the starting quarterback, a 65C%, 1200 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes, zero (0) interceptions and a stellar 8.7ypc average. And these numbers with just one prior starting assignment in 2017.

Might this be a case of the new pitcher no one’s seen yet who gets the best of a lineup that’s still a bit befuddled (Dak Prescott?), but once they figure out his delivery, they make him pay but big?

The Chiefs slate so far might support such a belief (opposition unawares).

The four clubs the Chiefs have bested have a combined total of seven (7) wins. That’s pretty pedestrian. But 3 of 4 contests were on the road, always a big challenge in the NFL, and Pittsburgh is sneaky bad right now while the Broncos were 2-1 entering their W4 match with eventual victor, KC.

Of biggest concern to Andy Reid and his team is not be whether they keep matriculating on offense, for proven stars Hunt (289y – 3t – 4.1), Hill (23r – 3t) and Kelce (23r – 3t) are all again on the All-Pro track, but whether the defense, ranked poorly in points and yardage allowed (25 / 32), can do enough to hold leads late in the game against those teams that can put up points anytime, i.e., Packers (Rodgers), Pats (Brady), Saints (Brees), Rams (Goff) and the like.

Of most encouragement is Mahomes has kept his own flash to a reasonable infrequency, averaging just under five (5) rushes per game. That semi-poise will be tested well in the Chiefs upcoming schedule, one that include matches versus the Jags, Pats, Cincy, Denver and the Rams. Reid likes a West Coast system, so scamper will not be well tolerated. That means, Pat, take your licks and like it.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 5

Falcons @ Steelers: 10.7 Fox 1pE: Pitt
Jaguars @ Kansas City: CBS 1:00: Jags
Packers @ Detroit: Fox 1:00: Lions
Baltimore @ Browns: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Dolphins @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Cincy
Oakland @ Chargers: CBS 4:05: Raiders
Minnesota @ Philly: Fox 4:25: Eagles
Los Angeles @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Hawks
Redskins @ NO: 10.8 Disney 8:15: Saints

Record: 13 – 10

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; Browns, 8.17.18, wc.cca, EricDrost; Patrick-Mahomes, wc, US-MO-Air-National-Guard, Mstr-Sgt.M.Crane, 8.14.18, St-Joseph; Cherries-cloth, 6-2011, wc, picdrome; Jim-Otto, TCG, 1970
Posted: 10.7.18 @ 2:39aE, edit 10.9; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W4: Matthews Sports Angel-Hands As Brees Staves Cantonization

30 Sep

Together they constitute the 2d-longest running coach-QB duo in this current NFL, the New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees, dating back to 2006, tied with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and just one year greater than Big Ben and Mike Tomlin in the Steel City (07).

Only the Belichick-Brady pairing (2000) is longer in time and just a bit more accredited with eight (8) Super Bowl appearances and five (5) wins.

And like the Packers (2010-11) and Steelers (2008-09) long, successful pairings, Sean & Drew earned an NFL championship ring together (2009-10) in a game most memorable to this writer for the Saints’ head coaching call to start the 2d half with an on-side kick, one his men recovered and put in for score. New Orleans had been building back against the Manning-led Colts but this gutsy call gave the NFC rep full momentum which they never relinquished (NO 31-17).

But since that pinnacle performance, it’s been a mixed bag for the Big Easy bunch: Four (4) playoff shows + four miss-outs = lots of unfulfilled expectations, so much so that Sean’s retention by the Saints has been subject of discussion in recent years among fans, if not ownership (Tom Benson (d.2018) and family).

The Bountygate scandel certainly took its toll on New Orleans‘ winning ways.

The defense, traditionally a mainstay in New Orleans (67), has struggled somewhat since those semi-glory days, with the burden heavy on an offense that never lacked for passing yards but, like most NFL clubs today, found a reliable run-game (80-120y per) hard to come by, as hard to roster for most clubs as the master matriculator under center.

And that shaky defensive trend has continued into 2018. With a record of 2-1, the Saints have given up on average 34+ per contest. Not exactly awful in this NFL age but still pretty poor stoppage effort, one that cannot forever rely on future Canton inductee Brees to keep bailing them out of jam after jam with his heavenly passing arm.

The Austin, Texas native Drew is set to turn 40 next January and shows no sign of decline (80.6% / 1078y / 8t-0i / 144-107).

This Sunday or next he’s likely to surpass Peyton Manning’s pass yardage mark of 71,940 (71, 523). I remember when the Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton (47,003) surpassed the great Johnny Unitas’ (40,239) in the mid 70s, both marks, in their times, that seemed unbreakable. And that’s a big one. Yardage on level with the TD record, Peyton held, as well (539), another one that, baring serious injury, Drew should nab in not too distant future (496).

It does bear mentioning, Mister Brady is within striking distance for taking that yardage title himself someday (66,803), though, that’s a longer chance for Tom than the TD record (494), the ultimate holder of which is anybody‘s guess. Then there’s a guy in Green Bay named Rodgers.

All of this leading to the conclusion, we live in a very special time for great pocket passer quarterbacks. So enjoy it while you can, before flash-QB becomes the norm, again (30s-40s single-wing tailback).

Most sporting types know about old “Angel Eyes,” the Bad one of Sergio Leone’s trio of bounty-hunters that flavorize his Classic spaghetti Western, The Good The Bad And The Ugly (66), played by the incomparable Lee Van Cleef (d.89).

What they may not know, at least by its official name, is the National Football League’s own version of angelica called, the angel hands.

It attaches whenever a defender makes serious contact with an offensive player and immediately throws his sticky-hands up like a pair of angel wings, claiming innocence of any wrong-doing the officials or fandom my charge.

In Week 3’s Packers – Redskins tussle (DC 31-17), Green Bay linebacker and Campbells® Soup spokesman Clay Matthews was flagged in third-quarter play for unnecessary roughness as he pile-drove DC signal-caller Alex Smith into the FedEx Field turf in a disallowed sack.

Cries of over-protection and a seriously “soft(ening)” NFL soon flowed from the mouth of the charged offender, but Matthew’s whine has a bitter taste.

As Matthews rolled out of his thunderous thump of Smith, his right, then left hand rose upward in typical angel manner, clearly indicating his own self-doubt, a likely awares of the rule (one that, rather than soften the game had aimed to prevent over-zealous sack-seekers from needlessly pile-driving opponents into the ground) and then a pre-emptive plea for sympathy. A hard tackle is a favored feat among footballers and its followers but the pile-drive is a personal macho move that is best left to video aficionados.

Clay’d been better to’ve kept his hands to himself, post-piling.

But alas, when a Packers’ lad feels mistreated and declares that mental state to the world (“NFL’s gone soft”), the League that reveres Lombardi like he were its Founder (Halas), listens, whether it’s “earn(ed)” or not. They Suits & Skirts on the Rules Cmte have now undertaken to review what appears a sensible rule. And that can only mean one thing: “Soft(ening)” the rule to sooth egos. Oy vey.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 4

Jets @ Jaguars: 9.30 Fox 1:00: Jags
Miami @ Patriots: CBS: New England
Eagles @ Titans: Fox 1:00: Philly
Bills @ Packers: CBS 1:00: Green Bay
Lions @ Dallas: Fox 1:00: Cowboys
Tampa @ Chicago: Fox 1:00: Bucs
Bengals @ Falcons: CBS 1:00: A-Birds
Saints @ NYG: 4:25 CBS: New Orleans
Ravens @ Steelers: 8:20 NBC: Pitt
KC @ Denver: 10.1 Disney 8:15: Denver

Record: 8 – 5

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Drew-Brees, wc.cca, Kelly-Bailey, 1.8.11; Brees, wc, DB-King, 9.14.08; Clay-Matthews, wc, Amy-Anderson, 2010; JimMarshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 9.30.18 @ 11:40aE; Copyright © 2018

MLB18 Octoberfest: Royals Flush, Tribe’s Charming, Wild-Card Waterdown & Brewers Oleo Run?

29 Sep

The more the merrier.

Typically, it’s an idiom I can get behind, for things like wedding parties, do-gooder rallies, pizza toppings, potato-chip flavors, yard-sale stuff, etcetera. But when it comes to baseball’s post-season, more is becoming less.

In 2012, major league baseball added a second wild-card team to the playoff picture in each League, further diluting an already watered-down competition pool. In truth, the problem probably begins with the fact there may be too many teams in baseball, period, thirty (30) in all.

It only stands to reason, that as the sport grew in the late 1800s from 6 to 8 to 10 to two Leagues (1901) to 24 to .. you get the idea, and batters feasted on the diluted, less skilled pitching pools with each increase in arms, that the same result likely happens on a team level and explains the so-so playoff quality we see in most given post-seasons where regular season stalwarts suddenly flop.

The quality quotient in any of the four major USA prof’l sport leagues (MLB NFL NHL NBA) probably ranges from 24 or 28 teams. But what city would refuse?

Expanding the franchise has become common business practice: Sport, Halls of Fame, movie genres (noir). Such is the privilage of monopoly, even as quality may suffer. And with a consumership that would only complain if their daily sugar allotment were cut in half, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em?

The junior circuit looks to be very competitive this October with the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees and defending champion Astros all serious contenders. But if the Beaneaters don‘t make to the Classic, think Wild-Card waterdown.

When the Houston Astros won their 1st World Series last November, it left just seven (7) ball-clubs who’ve yet to bag the MLB championship. And with the Giants (2010, 12, 14), Pale Hose (2005) and Northsiders (2016) all parched for decades and having recently quenched their thirst, the sense of urgency grows for those teams and loyal fandoms still without (gulp).

Enter, the Milwaukee Brewers (b.1969), still a dry state.

They got close to quench in 1982, taking the Cards to a seventh game when St.Louis’ split-fingered fastball specialist Bruce Sutter proved the difference in relief. It was one of the last Series to hold day games, one of which this writer attended, a 7-5 come-from-behind Brewers win at old, wide-open, chilly but sun-drenched County Stadium.

As those memories fade, Milwaukee faithful have had to satisfy themselves on meager servings, just two playoff appearances (08 / 11) and a new stadium (Miller Park 2001) in 35 seasons, funded in largest part by Wisconsin taxpayers in a $290,000,000 payout ($400M) and a 20-year (+/-) 0.1% sales tax. All prompting this writer to ask, ‘When does the real, serious, committed-to-winning-a-World-Series type investment in the ball-club come, owner Mark Attanasio?’ And by the way, happy birthday, Mark (9.29.57 NYC).

Both the Brewers and NL Central rival Chicago have locked up post-season spots with this weekend’s final slate set to determine the division champ and the NL’s best record, good for home-field advantage throughout the Pennant fight. At this posting, the Bruins stand one full game up on Milwaukee.

But while Cubbies have the aura of a champion (2016), it’s the Brew Crew who can boast the more imposing bat lineup and greater fielding finesse.

Milwaukee rosters the senior circuit’s two top 2018 MVP candidates in outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, an All-Star member of KC’s 2015 Series winner (AL: J.Martinez or B.Snell) (Winners: Yelich – Martinez). They also sport one of finest closing units in the majors in Jeremy Jeffress (1.33), flame-thrower Josh Hader (2.28) who made the Cubs look downright silly two weeks ago and team save leader Corey Knebel (16 / 3.78).

With the glove, the Beermeisters rank near the NL top in fewest errors (105) and favored fielding percentage (.982), attributable, no doubt, to their manager Craig Counsell who in his 16 MLB seasons, all in the National, was considered an infielder who took his job seriously (79e / .985).

The Brewers Achilles’ heel: Depth, a lack thereof (a common complaint around both leagues), and in particular, starting pitching.

No C.C. Sabathia (08) or Zack Greinke (11) late-season pick-ups this time around to bolster Brewers’ brawn (R.Braun: .254 / 61rbi / 20hr / 51r / 122g), not even for that rare Wisconsin baseball championship run, Attanasio choosing instead to sit tight on his ample wallet or having GM David Stearns do it for him.

The 2018 market wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams but, cmon, brother!

Besides Venezuela-born right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (15-8), no pitcher with 10 or more decisions is more than two games above .500. And while relievers can seal the deal (See: Sutter above (82)), quality innings that a solid starting staff can provide in the do-or-die post-season gauntlet are invaluable.

One more pitch: He might just be the only Brewers employee remaining from that 1982 season, that being fabled announcer Bob Uecker (b.1.26.34) who began his radio run, long after his Illinois “ole-run (b.126.34),” way back in 1971. And I’ve gotta’ believe, everyone in the organization and America’s Dairyland would like to get it back to the World Series in small part for “Mr.Baseball.”

My two favorite Uecker quips:
“Sporting goods companies would pay me NOT to endorse their products.”
“I always thought (my) home run would keep Koufax outta’ the Hall of Fame.”

Third time’s a charm.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians reminded of that maxim that the playoffs are a second season when records mean little and opportunism means much.

As last season’s post-play began, the Indians were the American League favorite to grab their second Pennant in as many years when they played at a sizzling 55-20 (102-60) pace after the Home Run Derby & Family Fun Jamboree had completed in July (All-Star exhibition).

But as Cleveland’s baseball luck would have it, they flamed out in their first series by losing the Divisional to the Yankees (91-71) who did take the eventual champion Astros to seven games in the ALCS.

This year the Indians are closing out the regular campaign in more modest fashion (38-26 / 90-70 (9.29.18)) yet have coasted to their third consecutive American League Central division title, not exactly champagne-worthy when then the 2d place club (Twins) will finish with less than 80 wins.

As the Tribe holds the 3rd best mark of the AL division winners, Francona’s bunch will face the 2d best record-holder in Houston in the divisional. Home field does have real value but can prove ephemeral with one poor outing, flipping the advantage. So with expectations lower this time around, maybe Cleveland can pull off the upset themselves and find their way back to the fall Classic.

— — —

What in tarnation has happened to the Kansas City Royals?

It seems like only yesterday when, in 2015, KC grabbed its 2d consecutive AL Pennant on way to winning its 2d World Series title in franchise history (85 STL) when Ned Yost’s men easily toppled Senior Circuit foes, the New York Mets, 4-1. But since then, it’s been all .. down .. hill.

This 2018 version of Royals bears little resemblence to those champions.

They’re not quite as troubled as the Baltimore Orioles (45-112) but it’s gotten so bad that in a sad stretch from June 1st – July 10th, the Royals went a depressing 6-29, with losing streaks of 6, 9 and 10 games, respectively (oy).

The small ray of sunshine to break through the bleakness is that KC has actually been playing some of the best ball in the Majors these past few weeks. Since the end of August (24th) they’ve gone a respectable 19-13 to this posting date (9.29).

Why the tumble in the standings? Not eating their Wheaties®?

KC wasn’t exactly filled to the gills with talent when they were winning, so when the purse strings got a good tug from owner David Glass post-2015 (Wouldn’t want to build a dynasty, heavens no!), the talent level dropped down to the tail. Yost’s a fine manager but he can’t spin straw into gold.

But the Royals are still in Kansas City, so for that their fans are thankful (oy).

Can of Corn
Photo credit: Terry-Francona, wc.cca, 12.9.15, Winter-Meet, A.Pardavila; Bob-Uecker, wc, 1977, AP-ABC; Yelich-Christian, wc, Sgt-J-Cervenka, 7.2.16, Ft-Bragg, NC, 1.67m, USArmy; T.Francona, 10.8.16, wc, Boston, A.Pardavila; can-of-corn
Posted: 9.29.18 @ 5:42pE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W3: Are the Raiders Trending Tank?

23 Sep

Team dynamic: It’s a special kind of animal.

Some would call it a fickle beast. Fiddle with it too much or test it when the mood feels right and it may bite you back.

Before NFL18 kicked-off with defending champ Philly hosting National bird-rival and co-contender Atlanta on what may be one of the few anticipated match-ups to play on the long and widely-disfavored Thursday Night Football schedule (Eagles won), Raiders new, returning head honcho, Jon ‘I’m Older Than I Look’ Gruden (8.17.63) and Las Raiders braintrust did something considered by most in the junior-media to be unthinkable in trading 2016 AP-Defensive POY, Khalil Mack to Chicago for two, 1R draft picks.

Exactly what caused the rift in Raidersland may never be fully detailed by the relevant parties, even after their respective books hit the market. We can pretty easily surmise it involved personality-clash, money or parts of both. Money molds minds and minds can mint money.

It’s also safe to write that Gruden, aka, Chuckie, is putting his stamp on this team to shape it to his liking as any coach with wherewithal will do, whether the package delivers to destination Super Bowl or not. And in doing so, the message is loud and clear: Either you get on board or you get off at the next stop.

And Gruden’s got the credentials to demand as much, having taken his two prior clubs, the Raiders (98-01) and Bucs (02-08), to five (5) playoff spots collectively and having won the two of the NFL‘s three most coveted trophies: The Halas (NFC title TB-02) and the Lombardi (Super Bowl champion 03) (Hunt AFC).

— — —

It’s not uncommon, when a star like Mack is moved, that on a weaker team, a malaise suddenly sets in and all prior hopeful expectations tumble fast.

The Silver and Black (If Vegas folk add gold to the Raiders motif, they won’t be the Raiders anymore) looked unexpectedly malaisful in their season opening loss at home versus the Rams (LA 33-13), followed by an equally uninspired Week 2 result, a 19-20 loss at Denver to make it a losing streak (0-2).

And how has the former Raider been faring with the Monsters of Midway?

In Chicago’s opener at Lambeau Field, Khalil Mack is a tale of two halves: In the first, he played like an All-Pro by intercepting Rodgers for a touchdown, forcing a fumble, getting a sack and two tackles. In the 2d, the Mack-Attack had little impact when it counted most, allowing a hobbled Rodgers to carve ‘em up like an early, furry turkey in snatching victory from the Bears toothless jaw of defeat (GB 24-23). Was there any doubt Aaron would pull it off?

In Week 2 hosting Seattle, no dramatics in this one but the 27 yr old Florida native made four solos, another sackaroo (2) and a forced-fumble (2).

Mack’s had some good quarters in his two Bears outings but has not sustained a high level of play, falling short of deserving the exaggerated praise the pro-player junior media heap upon their reading public to his favor and Gruden’s disfavor.

I’m of that school of thought that believes the sporting gods created Mr. Linebacker primarily to tackle and approved of his evolution in disrupting rudimentary pass lanes that Walter Camp may have envisioned in 1905. He was not designed for frequent sacking and one-on-one pass defense.

Your typical linebacker in a 3-man set has too much territory to cover to be pursuing glory stats and ephemeral highs gotten from turfing opposing QBs. The well-timed red-dog can stop a drive cold, but work it too often and your defense turns loosey-goosey, one that a wily QB will slice n’ dice like a ripe tomato.

If Mack does not increase his weekly tackle totals, his teammates will have to cover his lessened load and the sacks will fall far short of returning the Bears’ D to its former monster state. But then, maybe it’s just that sort of revised job description which fueled the fall-out in Oakland.

— — —

Coaches must find a balance in their style between bossy and brainy (listening).

Players, too must work a balance between individualism and conformity. BOTH are suppose to put team first, if they truly seek titledom above all else.

But no player, nor guru can ‘possess’ his / her team, emotionally speaking, not unless they’ve attained such lofty heights of success that their balancing act has earned a more subjective scaling: Belichick, Brady, Ray Lewis, Bill Russell, the names are known. And even those giants must subjugate to some degree, their need to lead, to control in order to achieve that productive team end. The days of the dictator like Lombardi, Bryant, Jordan, Knight, they’re gone for good. One exception: LeBron James. He does WHATEVER he wants.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 3

Saints @ Atlanta: 9.23 Fox 1:00pE: Falcons
Packers @ Washington: Fox 1:00: Redskins
Indianapolis @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Buffalo @ Minnesota: CBS 1:00: Vikings
Oakland @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Miami
Broncos @ Baltimore: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Cincinnati @ Carolina: CBS 1:00: Bengals
Tennessee @ Jacksonville: CBS 1:00: Titans
San Francisco @ Kansas City: Fox 1:00: 49ers
LA Chargers @ LA Rams: CBS 4:05: Rams
Cowboys @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
New England @ Detroit: NBC 8:20: Patriots
Pittsburgh @ Tampa: 9.24 Disney 8:15: Steelers

2017-18 record: 83 – 63 (7- 4)

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Raiders-wordmark, wc.cca; KhalilMack, wc.cca, 2013, J.Beall; JonGruden, wc, 2003, TokyoDome, M3C-J.Woods, USNavy; cherries, wc, Hispalois, Caceres, Spain, 2012; WillieWood, TCG, 1970
Post: 9.23.18 @ 12:34p, edit 9.24 (LJ); Copyright © 2018

MLB18 Chin-Music: Homer’s Ubiquitous But The Triple-Shot Is Still Baseball’s Most Intoxicating Moment

6 Sep

Query a hundred fans on baseball’s most exciting moment and you’ll quickly get a consensus: The home run, round-tripper, four-bagger, dinger, space-shot, big-blast, the tater. Versus visitors, the strike-out draws cheers but it’s the homer that flies fat in nearly everyone’s wheelhouse.

The roundtripper, even the exhibition variety, is why Major League Baseball’s July festival, traditionally termed the All-Star break, has, in recent years, supplanted the fall classic as the season‘s highpoint for muscle-lovin’ teens and the sabrmetrically-minded sportician.

But in fact, it’s the three-bagger which is baseball’s most exciting event, that is assuming that no owner (Nick Mileti) ever again holds a “Ten-Cent Beer Night (Municipal Stadium 6.4.74).”

— — —

It’s Baltimore-born Babe Ruth (1895-48), the man who sportswriter Jimmy Cannon so aptly pegged “a parade all by himself,” that is frequently cited for making the long-ball the game’s most popular moment (1914-35 / 714 HR).

Once he’d completed his conversion from moundsman, and a good one (94-46 / 2.28 BOS), to a near everyday outfielder in his final Boston season when he clubbed 29 round-trippers (1914-19), the HR barrage began. In his first foray in pinstripes, the Bambino hit a then whopping 54 tators in just 142 games.

Though in a league all his own, Ruth did have his competitors.

Another American Leaguer, oft overlooked Ken Williams (Browns – Orioles), did his part to boost the big blast by socking close to 200 homers from 1920 to 29 on a career .319 batting average. Power AND contact were clearly in vogue.

Kings of Clout in the senior loop included lanky Fred “Cy” Williams (Cubs / Phillies) who became the first major leaguer to retire with 250+ dingers (1930: 251hr – .292), and Rogers “Raja” Hornsby who won two homer titles in the 20s and amassed 301 four-baggers by the time he’d hung up his spikes in 1938.

That the game would turn into a slugfest might’ve been a foreseeable consequence when, in the 1910-11 off-season, Cufflinks decided to ditch the dead-ball in favor of a lively, jackrabbit variety to boost offense by adding cork to what had been, since late 1800s, a simple rubber & twine core composition.

As part of that mission to increase run output, the spitter and other manner of doctoring would be outlawed (20), while practice of using a ball until the hide came off was banished in favor of regular replacement, which also allowed fans to keep the prize when gotten, a practice begun by AL founder Ban Johnson.

By the mid-20s the home run had firmly established itself as the new staple in baseball’s diet, peaking in 1961 when Highlanders Maris & Mantle, challenged Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60. Roger bested it by one, Mantle finished at 54.

Then things settled down .. for a time.

Willie Mays (1965) and the Big Red Machine’s big blast, George Foster (1977), both slammed fifty, while Hammerin’ Hank Aaron surpassed the Bambino’s 714 career mark in the summer of 1974 (755).

But a plague was soon to permeate the game, Stateside and abroad.

Not game-fixing this time (19) (That’ll return, now that the ivory-towered Robes have given a green-light to the co-mingle of sports and betting (Murphy v. NCAA)), but a sickness where players, though seeking to improve their play for better pay, began to do so in an unhealthy, unfair and corrupt manner.

The plague is drugs. Not the recreational variety that surged in the 70s, but one referred to today by its acronym, PEDs, performance enhancing drugs.

The permeation was not stealth.

It arrived in the early 1980s, mostly, not always, in younger players.

Some, like the brash Bash Brothers were atypically muscle-bound and began to collect Pennants fast (88-91). Others, already showing major capability (Bonds Clemens Palmero) chose badly in dismissing the morality (cheat) and played catch-up to fatten stats, paychecks and heads, literally, only to be given a pass by a greed-driven media (repeat PED suspendee Alex Rodriquez employed by Disney-ESPN in 2017), indifferent Commissioners and a scared player union.

The evil element ushered in cheating, unaccountability, dishonesty and greed, not just in players, managers and owners who all benefited from the ill-gotten surge in power, but the fans who looked the other way, and still do, in misguided hero-worship and collectibility craze.

Exactly who, how many and specific season it was first introduced won’t ever be known (some users have been exposed, a few have, kind of, sort of, came clean), but we DO know one of its biggest proponents in Canseco was the first to go public in exposing the epidemic in his 2005 best-seller, Juiced (ReganBooks). Jose’s had his hand on “the chicken-switch” not long after publication (back-tracking, etc.), but what’s done is done.

Since the plague permeated the game on a swiss-cheese testing policy (Cano 2018), pro baseball has become a fraud, worsened on a Commissioner Rob Manfred who skews the balance in allowing batters body armor and worse, enables racism (Astros’ Yuli Gurriel WS2017): No truth means no trust which means MLB is no longer America’s national pastime. That honor goes, not to the NFL, NBA or NHL, but to gambling.

Even as every team championship and player award now takes on a taint, there ARE individual efforts in the game that escape the stench of corruption and greed. And one of those is the triple. That’s right, the three-bagger.

Typically, it’s the most thrilling single-act in the game of baseball.

In the days before rocket-shots became commonplace, the national pastime’s focus was on the manufacture of runs. That meant keeping the other team off base with mindful moundsmen and sure-handed fielding, then getting your guys on those bags in any way possible: Singles, doubles, walks, bunt-hits or hit-by-pitch-free-on-boards when batting helmets were non-existent.

The triple, falling short of that rare home run in earlier, fence-less battlegrounds, was the managers’ dream. If gotten one early in the order, a mere single, sacrifice fly or wild-pitch would result in a score which meant plenty when pitchers usually went the distance and 2-0 outcomes were common.

In the 1910s, cork was added to the ball’s rubber core and ushered out the dead-ball era to begin the golden age of homers, triples and .400 batting averages.

It was the decade when John McGraw’s rough & tumble New York Giants were winning games like nobody’s business, though, on three pennants couldn’t close the deal (0-3) against the Philadelphia Athletics (1910-11, 13) or Boston Red Sox (1912, 15-16, 18), both teams who were winning World Series like big business. Big until the 1920s Yankees started ‘murdering’ and ‘bombing.’

The year 1912 marks the apex of single-season, individual triple total when Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder John Owen “Chief” Wilson (6’2”) set the single-season mark that still stands to this day with 36 tres (114). It would be Chief’s most outstanding personal career stat in a fine overall season where he batted an even .300 (2nd of back-to-backs) on 94 ribbies and double-digit taters at eleven (11), pretty nifty in the soon to cease Dead-Ball era.

In the team sense, Chief Wilson is most memorable as a capable sophomore starter on the Honus Wagner led Pirates championship club of 1909 when the Buccaneers bested the Ty Cobb – Sam Crawford Detroit Tigers in seven games in one of the era’s top World Series tussles.

Unrelated but curious that only two seasons later in 1914, MLB instituted a rule that gives the batter-baserunner 3-bases (triple) if a fielder throws their hat or glove at the ball in attempt to stop or slow its progress (1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts, Nemec & Palmer, 1994, P/I-Ltd.).

The triple was on the brain, collectively speaking.

More recently, only three other players since the Royals’ George Brett (79), Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins (07) and Twins Christian Guzman all reached the 20T mark, have surpassed it: Royals’ Willie Wilson (85) and the Mets’ Lance Johnson (96) bagging 21 each and the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson running-out 23 in 2007.

Taking a gander at the career totals, it becomes evident very quickly that left-handed batters have a clear advantage to tacking on that extra third bag.

South-saw, Sam Crawford leads the way with 309, followed by long-time teammate, Ty Cobb at 295 and super shortstop Honus Wagner, one of only three righties (one a switch-hitter Roger Connor) in the top-ten, comes in third at 252.

And often described as spindly-legged, Babe Ruth himself, he who clouted home runs like he downed hot dogs, topped the double-digit triple mark four (4) times, tallying as many as sixteen (16) in his monumental 1921 season when he hit 59 taters, scored 177 runs, slugged .846, batted-in 168 and averaged .378. Phew!

As of this posting, only one man, Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks, has even reached as many as ten (10) triples in either loop in the 2018 MLB campaign.

Why has the triple become a such rare commodity post-World War 2?

Unlike their sporting predecesors, today’s ball-cap wearer is unwilling to take the chance in stretching a double into a triple when shorter fences, the liveliest ball in history, batter body-armor (face-masks) that skews the balance and a still present PED boost, all make the home run a nearly every-inning possibility.

Photo Credit: Owen-Wilson, American-Tobacco-Company, LoC, wc.cca, 1909; Owen-Wilson, 1912, The-Sporting-News, wc; Sam-Crawford, The-Sporting-News, wc; Curtis-Granderson, K.Allison, 2011, Baltimore, wc; Canned-corn
Posted: 9.6.18 @ 12:00aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18: Wild West as Chiefs Roll Dice on QB and Rival Raiders Gamble On a Gruden Return

20 Mar

The upstart AFL was never too tied to tradition to forgo taking a gamble or two.

That was a pretty typical tack for any entity trying to survive in those days when monopoly was tightening its Court-aided grip on their respective business interests (NFL, MLB, communications, food, energy, banks, etc.).

One of those dice-rolls was instant-replay, introduced by red & white-striped zebra Cal Lepore (1919-02). Like it or not (me no likey), I/R continues to have a big impact on the game of football and sport generally.

And unlike the AFL’s older brother, the National Football League, which, in the 1960s, was stuck in the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust‘ offensive mentality, the American Football League (1960-70) was wide-open, turning the pro game into a pass-first profession, thanks largely to men like Oilers quarterback George Blanda and the strategies of San Diego Chargers sideline genius, Sid Gillman.

Sadly, at the insistence of deal-maker and co-founder Lamar Hunt, the AFL in 1971 merged with the more established NFL and became the AFC (NFC). In 2018 it takes absolutely NO gambles, not even on the Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake promised he wouldn’t pull another nipple-stunt like he did in 2002 with co-creator-in-crass, Janet Jackson.

But stop the presses!

Two AFC West teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders are harkening back to the days of yore by risking plenty in making dicey decisions that could significantly shape the 2018-19 NFL season.

KC head coach Andy Reid is entering his sixth season at Arrowhead and chose to part ways with his starting QB, the capable veteran but still priming, Alex Smith. He did this in the midst of a luke-warm, NFL signal-caller pool, while the Davis Trust decided Jon Gruden, he cooling his heels and collecting lots o’ loot at Disney (ESPN) for the last ten years, was worth another look-see (1998 – 02) in hopes he can shake off the rust and hasn‘t lost the zeal.

Rivalry: For many decades it stoked the fires in the sport furnace.

When Mays, McCovey & Marichal visited Chavez Ravine to face Drysdale, Wills, Koufax and rest of Walter Alston‘s West Coast Bums, all California buzzed.

When the Halas or Ditka-coached Bears arrived at City (Lambeau) Field in Green Bay, much of the NFL media turned out in anticipation of fireworks.

When Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird battled under the NBA boards, the Earth stood still, then rocked with rhythm.

And when Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Boston Bruins headed to Canada to face Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and rest of the Habs at the Montreal Forum, it wasn’t the War of 1812 (all Canucks) but you could cut the tenison with a knife.

Today, regionalism and the long-running, raucous rivalries that sprung forth from those adjacent locales has largely been neutralized, some weirdly cancelled altogether, at least in the college football setting.

On campus, the rivalry has been sacrificed for a miniature playoff system, positioned by mindlessly-drawn, mega-conference alignments and then, just as in the professional game, capped-off by celebrity (Heisman race), sold most seriously by a socially-driven junior media who can’t seem to get enough of the gossip and tiresome tidbits that accompany any life that runs in the mix.

But happily, rivalry still rocks the craddle of competition where men butt heads in the National Football League, though, you might not sense it where some of the League’s oldest grudge matches have become little more than concessions to tradition with one or both clubs are, to put it politely, in re-building mode. The Bears v. Packers (or Cardinals), Giants v. Redskins (or Cowboys), Bengals and Browns remain mired in mediocrity.

Yet some rivalries remain vibrant.

The SaintsFalcons, both recent Halas hoisters, still rules the Southland.

VikesPack are the dominent donnybrook in the Old Northwest Territory.

On the Pacific rim, Dick Sherman believes his transfer south to the 49ers will rekindle a rivalry with his former squad, the Seahawks. If Dick weren’t in full-fade, maybe, but more likely Pete, Russ & Bobby will keep doing what they’ve usually done to the Miners these past ten years: Beat the metal out of ‘em, even with Mr. Garoppolo now grappling the pigskin for the Bay backers.

And the best rivalry West of the Mississippi? That’s still the RaidersChiefs.

This will remain so even after the Silver & Black pull up stakes to head east and settle in Nevada. It may grow bigger, given the closer proximity, as long as LasVegas keeps the logo and color montage ‘as is.’ Add gold into the design, get gaudy, and then they are no longer the Raiders.

Both teams are AFL originals, Chiefs relocating from Dallas (Texans) to begin the 63 season and Raiders filling a slot that opened up for inagural 1960 when the Vikings backed-out on an offer to join the senior circuit NFL in 1961.

The rivalry’s intensity reached boiling point in late 1970 as both teams, the Chiefs reigning SB4 champions, battled for the AFCW crown. With KC ahead and QB Len Dawson on the turf after having ran for what seemed a game-clinching 1st-down, Raiders’ defender Ben Davidson speared Dawson with his helmet, triggering a melee where the Chiefs Otis Taylor was later penalized for his own ferocious response in defense of his quarterback. No permanent injuries but it all nullified KC’s gain, Oakland got the ball back, tied it up late, won in OT, clinched the West, the Chiefs were prevented from defending their Super Bowl win and missed the post-season. Ouch!

You can believe, stories like that are handed down by generation.

With Gruden back on point for the Raiders (OAK-TB / 95 – 81), owner Mark Davis hopes Jon can set young Derek Carr back in the saddle of success and work the same magic he did in coaching the Buccaneers to their first ever Super Bowl (SB37) when they trounced the Oakland club he coached just the year prior.

Carr has the pocket poise, taking-off a mere 23 times in 15 starts in 2017 (6-9). The O-line helps in that regard (20sk) but the Raiders need to provide the young QB with more offensive weapons to work his own magic that raised hopes in 2016, while Jon must retrieve those personal skills that served him so well with diva players like Keyshawn who, I must say, matured into a fine studio voice.

As to KC, a stable coaching state has not inspired off-season confidence.

In trading away veteran quarterback Smith (Redskins) and only toe-testing in the free-agency pool, Andy Reid & Co. have, at this posting, saddled themselves with a near-rookie QB in Patrick Mahomes (NFLD17) who’s started one (1) NFL contest (a win on zero TD, one INT) and who, at Texas Tech, showed a tendency to rabbit (averaging 10+ per). All meaning, it’s project time on the Plains.

Not being a pro-style signal-caller like Carr makes Mahomes’ promotion all the more perplexing when you consider the scheme Reid employs: WestCoast.

Evasive quarterback mobility is a plus but the WC-scheme sets the signal-caller to facilitate OTHER player movement in getting the pigskin to his ball-handling teammates in a forward thrust to pay-dirt. It won’t function at an optimal level if said QB is in flash-mode whenever that pressure floods the pocket.

The Patrick Mahomes issue aside, Kansas City does have some formidable offensive threats in dual-duty Kareem Hunt (1327y rush / 455y catch), veteran tight-end Travis Kelce (1038y – 8td), 3d year receiver Tyreek Hill (1183y) and new addition (BUF) in Sam Watkins who, if healthy, fills nice as a secondary choice in the slot, an essential for every title team.

Powerful as those players be, they must have a field general who can matriculate with confidence and consistency to maximize their capabilities in order to make a major run. Without one, team talent is only half-realized and a Wild playoff spot may be the best scenario for the Chiefs whose Super drought (SB4) is longer than the team they vanquished (MIN-78) in KC’s lone NFL championship.

Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; KCTV5-Dani-Welniak, Reid-Andy, wc.cca, 12.31.17, J.Beall; Packers-Vikings, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck, wc, Loadholt-Matthews; dice, N.Morberg, wc, 2.22.09; J.Gruden, wc, 2003, USNavy, John-Woods; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 3.20.18 @ 6:05pE: Copyright © 2018