Archive | December, 2014

Chin Music: Pigskin or Cowhide, Bama’s Ball Country

30 Dec

Alabama.

The name itself has its origin in the Choctaw Indian language, then reflecting Spanish, French and English influence from exploration & settlement beginning around the mid-1500s. It’s meaning is not entirely clear but linguists think it translates roughly to “clearers of the thicket (13)” or “herb gatherers (18-19) (See; Wikipedia notes).”

.............Bama.Theatre.CM.Highsmith.2010thmb

Introspectively, the State’s name will conjure up stark images and strong, if not entirely justified beliefs, about the region and its culture.

Historically, it was cotton fields, plantations and slavery, the heart of Dixie, Jim Crow, segregation, Governor Wallace and Civil Rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.

.............Cotton.Steamer.AL.RN.Dennis.wc.cca.thmb

Today, desegregation and equality are not just the law but the norm in form and feeling of the mass of Alabama’s residents, even as the State flag still holds the Confederate bars in this rock-solid Red State.

Weather-wise, winters are generally mild, hurricanes can happen, hot & humid in summer and in certain locales the subtle scent of camellias hangs in the air (State flower).

.............camellia.3.3.13.hungda.wc.thmb

Northerner Stephen Foster (PA, 1826-64), one of America’s earliest and most prolific song writers, etched Alabama indelibly into the minds of music lovers from New York to California with his classic, “Oh! Susanna.” It’s most memorable line: “♫ Oh I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee ♫ (Wikipedia).”

In contemporary times, it was Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd who popularized the region in their now legendary poli-ballad of Southern pride, “Sweet Home Alabama,” while upbeat country crossover group “Alabama” softened the State’s image in cranking out hit after hit throughout much of the 80s and 90s.

Ever since tumultuous merriment swept the nation post-Civil War, the yellowhammer state (woodpecker) has said one thing and one thing only to sport fans: football.

.............B.Jackson.wc.2.1.04.JC.Dillard.USAF.Asia.thmb

No major professional team currently resides in Alabama, though, two football operations of note did field franchises in Birmingham: the Stallions of the USFL (1983-86)), and the Americans of the short-lived World Football League (1973-75) who won the only World Bowl championship, 22-21 over the Florida Blazers on December 5, 1974.

But while absent the higher profile pro game, Alabama’s two marquee college programs have more than made up for it by way of national notoriety and a 100+ year history of holding one of the biggest gridiron grudge matches on the continent: the Auburn University Tigers versus University of Alabama Crimson Tide (Tuscaloosa).

When New Years rolls around, it often means one or both schools are in play.

..............UoAL.MDB.M.Tosh.wc.9.11.10.thmb

With the UofA currently ranked #1 in the AP and slated to take on Ohio State, excuse me, The Ohio State Buckeyes on January 1st in the 2nd CFP semifinal game (Florida St v. Oregon @ 5:00), the State of Alabama is once again in the national sporting spotlight.

What folks don’t realize when they hear the name Alabama is that it’s also been a “victory garden” for growing baseball players, some of the best ever seen.

Alabama’s baseball country. Believe it.

A short list of notable ball-players born in Alabama, courtesy of Baseball-almanac.com:

Former MLB notables & greats

Henry Aaron: Mobile, 2.5.1934
Tommie Agee: Magnolia, 8.9.42
Lyman Bostock: Birmingham, 11.22.50

..............H.Aaron.wc.7.27.13.C.Evans.thmb
Jeff Brantley: Florence, 9.5.63
Clay Carroll: Clanton, 5.2.41
George Foster: Tuscaloosa, 12.1.48
Oscar Gamble: Ramer, 12.20.49
Shovel Hodge: Clayton, 7.6.1893
Monte Irvin: Haleburg, 2.25.19
Bo Jackson: Bessemer, 11.30.62
Cleon Jones: Plateau, 8.4.42
Jimmy Key: Huntsville, 4.22.61
Frank Lary: Northport, 4.10.30
Heinie Manush: Tuscumbia, 7.20.01

...............H.Manush.Goudey.1933.wc.cca
Carlos May: Birmingham, 5.17.48
Lee May: Birmingham, 3.23.43
Lee Maye: Tuscaloosa, 12.11.34
Willie Mays: Westfield, 5.6.31
Willie McCovey: Mobile, 1.10.38
Don Mincher: Huntsville, 6.24.38
Amos Otis: Mobile, 4.26.47
Satchel Paige: Mobile, 7.7.06

..............S.Paige.Bowman.1949.thmb.wc
Juan Pierre: Mobile, 8.14.77
Joe Sewell: Titus, 10.9.1898
Luke Sewell: Titus, 1.5.1901
Rip Sewell: Decatur, 5.11.07
Ted Sizemore: Gadsden, 4.15.45
Ozzie Smith: Mobile, 12.26.54

..............O.Smith.J.Mena.wc.cca.1983.thmb
Riggs Stephenson: Akron, 1.5.1898
Don Sutton: Clio, 4.2.45
Andre Thornton: Tuskegee, 8.13.49
Virgil Trucks: Birmingham, 4.26.17
Billy Williams: Whistler, 6.15.38
Willie Wilson: Montgomery, 7.9.55
Early Wynn: Hartford, 1.6.20
Rudy York: Ragland, 8.17.13

Some current Alabama MLB’ers

Matt Cain: Dothan, 10.1.84
Craig Kimbrel: Huntsville, 5.28.88
Corey Kluber: Birmingham, 4.10.86
Jake Peavy: Mobile, 5.31.81
Alex Rios: Coffee, 2.18.81
David Robertson: Birmingham, 4.9.85
Josh Rutledge: Cullman, 4.21.09
Josh Willingham: Florence, 2.17.79
Adam Warren: Birmingham, 8.25.87

Yes, college football reigns king in the country of commodities & aerospace.

And Texas, California, the Asian Rim & Latin America will all keep crankin’ out ball, bat & glove men like so many widgets.

But “as long as the grass grow, wind blow and the sky is blue,” Alabama can pride itself on the vital part it’s played in contributing to America’s national pastime.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: W.Mays, wc.cca, BaseballDigest, 9-1954; Bama.theatre, CM.Highsmith, 2010, wc.cca; Cotton.Steamer, AL, RN.Dennis, wc.cca, 1869-1910; camellia, wc.cca, hungda, 3.3.13; B.Jackson, wc.cca, JC.Dillard, Asia, 2.1.04, USAF; UofAL, MDB, M.Tosh, wc.cca, 9.11.10; H.Aaron, 7.27.13, C.Evans, wc.cca; W.Mays, Greene, WT&S, 1961, wc.cca; S.Paige, Bowman, wc.cca, 1949; O.Smith, wc.cca, J.Mena, 1983;
Posted: 12.30.14 @ 2:22am EST

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NFL14 Cherry Picks W17: Why Divisions? States United

26 Dec

“Sea to Shining Sea”

Bemoaning & Groaning have been the grumpy guests at NFL gatherings in recent weeks as the League’s divisional alignment and its role in playoff birthing is once again under strict scrutiny as if it were an over-baked ham, with NFC South preparing to crown a 7-9 ‘champion’ after Sunday’s closing act pitting Carolina against the Falcons in Atlanta.

I used to be Scroogey myself about the set-up, a proponent of ‘division ditch’ since the 7-9 NFC West winners Seattle bumped-off defending champ Saints back in ‘11, a Seahawks squad that we now know was beginning to show the results of a master craftsman in his first campaign (Carroll).

............USA.DrRandomFactor.thumb

But I’ve come around, broadened my perspective, seen the light. I’m hangin‘ with the wise men (& women) now, at least on the spiritual meaning of football.

The automatic bids and heightened seeding awarded each winner of the eight divisions is clearly in design of respect for regionalism. It benefits the game, the nation in ways that go beyond mere tradition and coinage, even while its precedence over a simple win-loss as first-test for conference playoff admission & rank can appear unfair in some years.

Maybe Roger (NFL), DeMaurice (NFLPA) & friends all figured we fans were strong enough to handle a few minor imperfections, given the broader benefit divisions afford.

NFL’s tip o’ the cap to nationalism, as it were, awarding playoff slots and then top seeds to division winners, is not a practice shared throughout sport. MLB uses a similar method, but on the college scene, the regional respect that conference alignments had previously been afforded is now, sadly, entirely toxic to the gabagoul greed grab (See; “(MSG) to Host Big Ten Conference Tournament in 2018” / SI.com / Thamel / 12.6.14).

...........NFL.Lokal.Profil.Astrokey44.thumb

NFL might throw the hound-dogs a bone in proposing a compromise by retaining division structure and its automatic playoff birth but base seeding strictly on a win-loss basis.

And keep in mind, sometimes the difference between a playoff-caliber club and a “train wreck (“Staring“ / Banks / SI / 11.26)” is a meager one. A-Birds & Cats are both playing competitive ball of late. Whomever comes out on top of their South showdown in Atlanta Sunday will no doubt be playoff worthy and may prove “The Little Engine that Could.” Toot, toot!

They who are hottest will often hoist it.

The Carroll Template

This Jim Harbaugh story’s like quicksand, the more you move around in it, the deeper it pulls you in and end up no closer to an answer than when you started.

Jimbo definitely has something special, something Nick Saban and Peter Carroll did not yet have in their respective, first NFL forays.

Jim’s four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (‘11-14) show these results: a 43-19 record, three NFCTs in four (43-18), should’ve had two Super Bowls, including ’12 vs NYG, and an unrealized but on-the-cusp position to greatness in SB47.

That written, Jim, like anyone, also has his limitations.

He’s defensively minded. That’s a good place to start in football. But the Harbaughs (brother John) are not offensive tacticians nor innovators. Colin Kaepernick’s “red-zone blues” are a shared melody with his head coach who apparently has done little to ‘connect the dots’ for Kaep Krusader in crunch time (SB47 & NFCT14). The Yorks ‘no likey.’

The Carroll template may offer Jim his best career-touring road map.

...........Harbaugh.M.Dempsey.CJCoS.7.26.12.wc.cca.Cullen

Harbaugh made good showing in his short college coaching stint at Stanford (‘07-10), where he improved each season, closing at 12-1 (4) and an Orange Bowl win. And it’s a setting that might respond somewhat more favorably to his style of coach (rah rah), as well.

He clearly favors the run-QB (40s single-wing tailback) formation that now thrives in the college game, evidenced by his Kaepernick for Smith swap (‘13). No surprise there, for the coach whose tool kit lacks offensive hammer, flash QB provides short-cut to success. Just hand-off the pigskin to Mr. muscle-man and he’ll do the rest. It’s a college cinch.

After brief tenures in the NFL, coaching legends Saban and Carroll returned to campus and turned it around. Now they can write their own ticket. If Harbaugh were to take and then succeed at Michigan where he’s been offered a mint, put Wolverines back in blue, the NFL would always remain an option for a later challenge, a la, Carroll.

Jim Harbaugh certainly craves the Lombardi silver that brother John holds. Wherever he lands, NFL or the collegiate setting, it’s a can’t miss for Jim. He earned it, but what a life!

Curious Quote

When speaking last Sunday of Jimmy Clausen and his heated-exchange with referees and Lions after what the Bears new starter deemed a cheap-shot, NFL Network‘s GameDay host Chris Rose had this to say about Jay Cutler‘s replacement:

“He just showed more emotion in 8 seconds than Jay Cutler showed in 4 years.”

Howse ’bout some salt in that wound, eh, Mr. Rose? Oh brother.

........J.Cutler.wc.cca.11.1.09.M.Schadle.thumb

As my grandparents might’ve said, some folks like to ‘parade their emotions’ for all to see. That doesn’t mean an on-looker must charge to the front of the procession and trample a benched bystander (JC) in the process.

Besides being ‘Harry high school’ and Johnny Obvious in making comment on Cutler’s well-known stoic expression, and then in his presently humbled state, no less, Chris figures everyone must be cut from the same cloth.

I’ve seen some of this guy’s duds. He’s no tailor.

.......cherries.B.Kua.thumb

Cherry Picks Week 17

Bills (8-7) @ NE (12-3): 12-28 CBS 1:00 EST: Pats win
SD (9-6) @ Kansas City (8-7): 1:00 CBS: Chiefs win
Rams (6-9) @ Seattle (11-4): Fox 4:25: Seahawks win
Lions (11-4) @ GB (11-4): 4:25 (GOTW3): Packers win
Panthers (6-8-1) @ Atlanta (6-9): 1:00 Fox (GOTW): Falcons win
Cardinals (11-4) @ San Francisco (7-8): 4:25 Fox: 49ers win
Bengals (10-4-1) @ Pittsburgh (10-5): NBC 8:30 (GOTW2): Steelers win

Record: 84 – 50 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-map, Lokal.Profil.Astrokey44, wc.cca, 2007; USA, DrRandomFactor, wc.cca, 9.12.12; NFL-map, Lokal.Profil.Astrokey44, wc.cca, 2007, thumb; Harbaugh, Dempsey-CJCoS, wc.cca, Cullen, 7.26.12; Cutler, wc.cca, Schadle, 11.1.09;
Posted: 12.26.14 @ 1:56am; edit 1:03pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W16: Poli-Spo 101

20 Dec

Soliciting Sport

Poli-sci: That’s college slang for a course in political science. Basically, it’s the study of government and people, powerful ones in particular, usually at the federal level and with a little history, economics and psychology mixed in for flavor. Life, essentially.

It was my minor while I matriculated, majoring in history. Surprisingly, not much politics, just the facts. Teachers are smart like that.

Today there’s a new subject sweeping America, it’s called poli-spo. That’s short for political sportician, which is the more likeable cousin of the sport technician (Costas, KO, SAS, sport radio, etc.), which is the former college roommate of the sport mortician (sabermetrics, fantasy) who can bore you to death.

They’re men and women who use the sport subject to achieve political and / or monetary ends. Left-wing, right-wing, it’s open enrollment, but definitely Machiavellian, i.e., ‘ends justify the means.’ Sincerity is an elective.

It’s a course that’s not yet been officially sanctioned by Harvard trustees (I just made it this week), but it’s actually been taught for many years now, going back to the Caesars who tossed victory garlands at the Coliseum, the stone one, in Rome, old days. History.

Politicians used to kiss babies. Now they tour on the sport cycle. Here’s a short list of some of the most recognizable, recent enrollees in poli-spo 101:

Chris Christie

The New Jersey Governor (‘10) is a Cowboys fan since childhood. No surprise there, as Dallas became America’s Team in Chris’ formative years (70s) under leadership of Tom Landry and Roger “the dodger” Staubach. Only the Favre phenomena has compared.

............Christie.2.9.11.wc.nightscream.thmb

Now he’s taken his passion on the road to back his ‘boys. Funny it happens to coincide with Cowboy contention and a likely Presidential run. Maybe CC sees their stars aligning. But he best tread lightly. Hitching your wagon to Romo’s star is a risky association as Tone has a panache for ‘falling’ in clutch-time, not exactly what we seek in a Chief.

And I’m guessing, if Christie happens to run for New Jersey governor again, he won’t be donning the ten-gallon in AC.

President Obama

When the Commander-in-Chief spoke on ESPN’s “The Herd” last week, chiding the NFL (and NFLPA?) for being “behind the curve” on issue of domestic violence (Rice), Mr. Obama piled-on in manner not unlike Ken Starr and his politicizing of the Lewinsky affair (’98), a fishing expedition that left America holding its nose, bitter at the GOP and sympathetic with the bungling and personally humiliated President Clinton and his embarrassed family.

Just as the President cut a deal with the “monster(s)” of healthcare to fashion the ACA, Roger Goodell too took the easier route in relying on the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s template for his initial handling of the Ray Rice susp‘n (2g).

Had Mr. Obama been ahead of the curve on the issue himself, given federal guidance beyond the slew of standard speeches Chiefs and Cabinet members give on various topics and been proactive on this matter typically governed by State criminal codes, before it became hot, trendy topic on which other agendas might ride, his criticism here might carry weight with the public.

Voters of all ages are looking for independent minded leadership that works with others for solutions, not bandwagon-jumping and piling-on. Poor play, Mr. Prez.

Hillary Clinton

I count three ball caps she’s worn (Cubs, Sox & Yanks), but if Hillary hits the campaign trail again, the former First Lady and Secretary of State may give former MLB traveling-man Octavio Dotel (13 hats) a run for his money.

Wearing different hats, glad-handing, as it were, in the political arena, is a-okay. They gotta’ give voters what they want, i.e., “sweet little lies.“ We voters don’t handle the truth so well.

...........H.Clinton2.wc.cca.ChathamHouse.10.11.13.thmb

But when Clinton boards the anti-Redskins bandwagon in 2014, after decades of tacit public approval of the 80-year old Washington motif, leadership and sincerity become issues of concern for the would-be presidential candidate.

Want to create millions of named racists in America over-night? Start a logo war.

One could consider it mean-spirited and irresponsible to join and further a national campaign, begun surprisingly the same year Nike® assumes the NFL uniform contract (’12), that tries to add millions & millions of supposed racists to America’s roll of ignorance. That roll necessarily must include all connected to the NFL, the production, distribution and consumption. That probably comes to about 85% of the nation, give or take.

Those who’d validate those attaching harsh label (“racist”) to those who’d vote ‘yes’ on the under-siege motif, a vote absent the hate, the prejudice that makes-up racism, seem more than happy to do just that in adding mass amounts of names to their bad-people list.

Not exactly what Martin, Jack, Cesar and Bobby had in mind, Hillary.

“Tanks for Nut’in!’”

If “Maggs (Caddyshack)” were in with the Brownies, not the girls club, the footballers, she’d be livid. I wouldn’t say Cleveland tanked it against intrastate rival Cincinnati last Sunday (30-0 CIN), but this Browns team was clearly dispirited in W15 action.

It’s been a season of highs & lows for the Forest City bunch, playoff contenders through much of 2014 with some nice wins. But injuries to key cogs (Mack / Gordon) and a late-season switch-a-roo at quarterback (J.Manziel) by head coach Mike Pettine has got to have players somewhat befuddled.

Manziel.Hoyer2.wc.cca.7.25.14.Drost.thumb

It’s not as if head honchos must poll their rosters to make a QB change. That can’t work. But taking the pulse, getting a read from team leaders is a favored tack. Maybe Mike did as much, though, it doesn’t look that way.

As for the LeBron-Nike-LRMR-Manziel promo tour, the Cavaliers star is, like Christie, a Cowboys fan. Unlike the Governor, LJ keeps his Dallas devotion under his new Browns hat as he does his part to back his new friend and keep their shared interest trending.

Benched starter and just capable Brian Hoyer was not looking All-Pro in ‘14. He kept mistakes to a minimum in most games, helped forge viability for a stagnated Cleveland franchise but then the Browns hit a brick wall. Maybe ‘mates saw this as Brian’s year past midway, win or lose. They can hardly blame Jon for Sunday’s crash but he clearly wasn’t ready to start as his fumble bungle at Buffalo attested.

This week is about Pettine. Will he run the team or will the media keep assisting?

The Cutler Conundrum

Bears headed into hibernation early in 2014.

Chicago’s sorry state is not unlike the Giants of Meadowland. Though contention was expected, both under-achieved (5-9) with poor defense (CHI #30 ypg (Allen 5s – 34t) / NYG #26) and talented quarterbacks who’ve found no synergy. One difference being, G-men have recent ring-hauls (’08 / ’12) which carry weight.

........J.Cutler.wc.cca.11.1.09.M.Schadle.thumb

Former Bears’ coach Lovie Smith, now at Tampa Bay, couldn’t beat Green Bay, while Marc Trestman can’t seem to beat much of anyone else in the League. But the prospect of re-boarding the coach carousel is one the Halas Hall brass must simply dread.

They feed off eachother, offense and defense, and it’s clearly a team effort in futility at Soldier Field in ’14 with Forte, Mundy & Willie Young the few bright spots. Trestman, Pres. Ted Phillips and GM Phil Emery know all too well it’s a seller’s market in the NFL for quality QBs and were they taking inquiries for Jay Cutler’s services the calls would be incoming.

Bears wouldn’t have been unwise this week to’ve stayed the course and ridden it out with Jay, rather than throw Jim Clausen into the frying pan. Then, in off-season, among other needs, add a favored backup QB if they can locate one and hold a competition next summer.

Curious Quotes

“Wow, that was a shocker.”

Shocking words from former 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci (NFLN) Sunday night after the Niners loss to division rival Seattle (7-17) knocked them out of the playoffs (7-7) for first time in Jim Harbaugh’s short yet quite successful San Francisco tenure (3 NFCTs).

...........Harbaugh.M.Dempsey.CJCoS.7.26.12.wc.cca.Cullen

When linebacker extraordinaire NaVorro Bowman went down (ACL) in last season’s NFCT (SEA), the Niners 2014 season was pretty much mapped out (.500 (+/-)). All-Pro Pat Willis’ absence (W6) compounded the problem: a talent and leadership mix that’s sorely missed. Not that the fill-ins aren’t very capable, they are, but there’s more to this game than shear talent.

Had Packers or Patriots’ seasons gone south because Aaron or Tom were sidelined the entirety, no one would be expressing such “shock.”

Jim Harbaugh’s structure centers on defense, no surprise there, it’s a NFCW trait, though, pocket passer Palmer at Arizona gives Arians another dimension.

And again, as we’ve seen in Chicago, the offense will take cues from the defense and vice versa, though, again, Arizona’s defense has broken with that tradition in carrying their offensive-challenged team of late, and with pluck to burn.

With run-QB Kaepernick’s broad learning-curve (red-zone blues) and defense stalwarts down, most should’ve seen 7-7 coming last January. That written, unless it’s personality clash or disparate visions, Yorks would be mistaken to let Jimbo go elsewhere. It’s not exactly a buyer’s market for top coaches, either.

...........ripe.cherries.thumb

Cherry Picks Week 16: Mix & Mingle

Chargers (8-6) @ San Fran (7-7): 12-20 CBS 8:25: Bolts win
Ravens (9-4) @ Houston (7-7): 12-21 CBS 1:00: Baltimore wins
Browns (7-7) @ Carolina (5-8-1): 1:00 CBS: Panthers win
Lions (10-4) @ Chicago (5-9): 1:00 Fox: Detroit wins
KC (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5): CBS 1:00 (GOTW2): Steelers win
Falcons (5-9) @ New Orleans (6-8): Fox 1:00 (GOTW): NO wins
Colts (10-4) @ Dallas (10-4): CBS 4:25: Cowboys win
Seahawks (10-4) @ Arizona (11-3): NBC 8:30: Seattle wins
Denver (11-3) @ Cincy (9-4-1): 12-22 ESPN 8:30: Broncos win

Record: 78 – 47 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Christie, wc.cca, Jagendorf, 3.2.11; Christie, wc.cca, 2.9.11, nightscream; H.Clinton, wc.cca, ChathamHouse, 10.11.13; Manziel & Hoyer, wc.cca, 7.25.14, Drost; Cutler, wc.cca, 11.1.09, Schadle; JimHarbaugh, wc.cca, M.Dempsey, CJCoS, M.Cullen; ripe.cherries, wc.cca, Chirak, 6.24.07.
Posted: 12.19.14 @ 8:56pm; edit 12.20 @ 12:24am EST

CFP: A Matter of Caliber

15 Dec

When it comes to most sporting playoffs, the post-season net is cast far & wide. The fatter the field grows, the more glims gander and the more moola is made.

But money’s not the only motivation towards inclusiveness.

A small respect goes out to regionalism as well as a tip o’ the cap to quality by assuring the best team is included and gets crowned the year’s champion.

In football, the NFL and college differ slightly in their respective playoff picture. Both, like NCAA b-ball, are single-elimination, but the party’s noticeably bigger in the pros.

NFL punches 12 tickets, six in each conference (AFC / NFC) with four division winners and two wild entrants, while the new College Football Playoff system seeds four schools.

Since someone started awarding college football’s national championship, retroactively selected by Mr. Parke Davis (‘33 (Princeton)) who generously started the list running from 1869 (Wikipedia)), the title has most often been decided on a two-team tussle.

As a myriad of competing pollsters sprang forth over the decades, sometimes that meant dueling title match-ups over the holidays, where the two winning schools could simultaneously hold the winner’s cup and rightly call themselves national champs.

And it worked out pretty well. There were some rightful grumblings (1970), but all in all, it pleased the nation on the whole.

Then greed worked its way into the picture (80s) and a push for a playoff began.

.............UTx.wc.cca.Johntex.05.thum

I favored the duel polling-system (AP / UPI) over the BCS. It was a unique operation. Where else but boxing and college football could you have two, legitimate champs and hardly anyone squawked?

As the CFP rolled out its first final four selection this week, the Committee took heat for passing on two 11-1 schools in TCU (6) and Baylor (5). But given the narrow parameters within which they selected, they have to be commended for, overall, doing a fine job.

The problem: Committee’s action was half-measured. A 4-team field’s too small.

If the changes that took us from a duel polling system, to BCS and then the CFP, were suppose to promote one thing virtuous beyond working their money-makers, it was that every championship caliber team would make the playoff.

Popular opinion would say TCU and Baylor both possess the same CC as do selectees defending champ Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon, though, those same folks would be hard-pressed to bump any of the chosen four.

Some sports put on a big playoff bash: NBA, NHL, NCAA b-ball, hockey and baseball, too. The pool is diluted in early rounds but whomever runs the gauntlet, survives the long arduous journey will leave little doubt they are the best team in the land.

Other venues like NFL and MLB have expanded their playoff franchise and the results are mixed. Not infrequently, the hottest team, not necessarily the best, will take the trophy.

The College Football Playoff Committee certainly understands the multiple goals they’re entrusted to pursue in their mandate, things like $$$, quality of competition and fairness, as well as the practical limitations in holding a gridiron playoff during holiday season.

But at some point the CFP field will likely have to be expanded to eight teams.

Every year you can count on anywhere from 2 to 8 clubs who are, by regular season’s end, clearly in possession of something special. In pigskin play, the field of top talent is small. Some years, one team may stand slightly taller than the rest, but there’s always at least a few more who qualify as possessing the championship wherewithal.

..............TxTech.K.Mericle.wc.cca.6.7.07.thum

Two teams tangling for the title is what we had. Four, in most seasons, won’t be enough. Six won’t work, so it’s gotta’ be eight. That means another week of playoff. And there in may lay the crux of the problem.

The truth behind the Committee’s decision to forego an eight-team, expanded field and the additional week of playoff it would require, may never be fully revealed.

Not likely it was an academic conflict a bigger playoff might’ve posed for players as could be inferred. Concern over studies from the greed-meisters of College Enterprise, Inc.? Fat chance.

More likely it was a competing financial interest(s).

Expanding the playoff pool has potential of diluting the quality of competition.

Again, some season’s there’ll be only 2 or 3 top-talent teams to test. Other years, like 2014, it may be as many as 5 or 6. But better to be inclusive (8) than exclusive (4) and leave out some serious contenders and the title’s worth in doubt.

That means the grumblings will grow. That was bearable 20 years ago but with today’s information highways in social media and the internet, the rumblings could prove grizzly.

Events like these prefer to be settled, predictable every year so money-makers can plan accordingly, but maybe a flex-format is a route to consider. Leave the Cmte the option of expanding or retracting the field each year, depending on the caliber of teams in that particular season of play.

Whatever the reason(s), they best get it corrected soon or the squawk-meter will red-line with complaints every December and “Remember the Alamo” will turn into ‘Remember Baylor -TCU.’

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credit: NCAA official football, Wilson; UTx, wc.cca, 2005, Johntex; TxTU, K.Mericle, wc.cca, 6.7.07
Posted: 12.15.14 @ 5:37; edit 6:51pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W15: Sizing-Up

12 Dec

Measuring the Material

It’s the most…wonderful time…of the year.” That it is, Andy Williams, that it is.

At churches and temples, holy folk never see so many familiar and new faces.

For family and friends it’s time to re-acquaint, while party-goers get acquainted.

And for merchants and merchandisers, the holidays rain down “shiny new pennies” from heaven.

Let’s face it, in today’s American consumerocracy, this season is, for most, largely about one thing and one thing only, gifting: giving and getting, seemingly in bushel-baskets.

The buying is fast & furious from early November right up to the big day, Christmas. If you’re fortunate enough to have some disposable income to spend and invigorate the economy, the challenges can prove numerous and nerve-racking. Giving, and getting, aren’t as easy as you’d think.

1) What to buy your loved ones that’s new and pleasing;

2) Where to get your kids favorite, hard-to-find toys, and then finding a parking spot when you finally track one down; and

3) Sizing up. The clothing buy can be a vexing one with blends and variations in maker quality. The more info the maker provides the less risk we buyers assume and why free-shipping is a deal-clincher when purchasing by mail.

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Much easier to size-up is the NFL’s State of Contendership at week 15.

In the NFC, seven teams are in contention for at least a wild-card spot with two of those ultimately joining the post-season on Divisional crown invites. That’s not alot, in part because the South will have only one playoff entrant, a champion at no better than 8-8.

Cardinals (10-3) are currently the #1 seed but appear on shaky ground with QB Palmer out and fill-in Stanton gamely seeking his grass-legs underneath. That puts Green Bay (10-3) as National favorite, especially with a remaining slate that looks favorable (@ BUF, @ TB, DET) compared to Arizona’s gloomy gauntlet (@ STL, SEA, @ SF).

Staunch road wins like Seattle’s last Sunday in Philadelphia is what’s missing from GB’s 2014 performance plate. McCarthy & Company will put on a good face if they happen to draw ‘Hawks in the PS, revenge and all (W1 (L)), but no one can relish idea of taking on Pete Carroll’s crew in January, not even at Lambeau. In Pack’s favor would be Wilson’s short resume on playoff roadies (1-1). His Badger bloodline could help.

All at 9-4, Dallas, Philly & Detroit have flexed their muscles in 2014 but look iffy of late. Lions would get the nod on balance-of-talent but, like Cowboys, have a history of late-season fade to overcome, not helped by a closer at Lambeau.

And defending champ Seattle looks to be peaking at the right time (9-4) with successive road wins over top talent (SF / PHI), a success that’ll be tested as they hit the airways for two of their final three (@ SF / AZ / @ STL). A week 1 rematch in Green Bay seems imminent.

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In the AFC it’s much the same, as two perennial powers stand out, Denver (10-3) and New England (10-3), with three, 2nd-tier aspirants trying to move up in class (SD / IND / CIN) and two hoping to recapture some past glory (PIT / BAL).

Colts (9-4) can improve on last year‘s playoff shootout (Chiefs 45-44) and then shellacking at Foxborough (22-43); Cincy leads the North by a tie (8-4-1) as Dalton rounds into form but defense gives up killer quarters (25-4Q v PIT), while Chargers search for the verve they showed in ‘14 PS (1-1) and that run game.

Steelers (‘09 & 11) and Ravens (‘13) still have pieces remaining from Super days, most notably at quarterback (Ben / Joe) and coach, but must find consistency.

Kansas City (7-6) is the Conference’s biggest bummer in 2014 but, like Texans and Dolphins, still hold some hope.

Curious Quotes

ESPN (Disney) has taken on a rougher edge, a casual crudeness in recent years, designed to appeal (?) to the younger audience and last Sunday’s pre-game chatter fit the form.

What the show was titled I did not take note, but pre-game analysis was the focus. The standard two-host format was in place because one just won’t do, while former players Ron Jaworski and Tom Waddle fielded the questions.

For some time now I’ve sought a complete, on-line listing of ESPN personalities but have come up empty. As such, I couldn’t identify the male host who posed the awkward query, but it went something like this:

Paraphrased: ‘Was Bruce Arians (Cardinals head coach) “lying” when he said (QB sub) Stanton could take them to the Super Bowl?’ Ouch. And the guy was serious.

That’d be like asking Major League Baseball, was it “lying” in 1905 when it dubbed their new championship match between fledgling American and senior circuit National, the World Series, or would Joe Namath have been a liar if his bold Super Bowl III prediction of defeating the favored Colts not come to pass?

Only today would those posers require answers: no, and no. In the case of MLB, you might call it, appreciable hyperbole, with Joe and Bruce, plain optimism.

How low can ESPN producers go? Earth’s innards seem the limit.

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Cherry Picks Week 15: Testing Mettle

Cards (10-3) @ STL (6-7): 12-11 NFLN 8:25 EST: AZ wins
Packers (10-3) @ Buffalo (7-6): 12-14 Fox 1:00: GB wins
Bengals (8-4-1) @ CLE (7-6): CBS 1:00 (GOTW): CIN wins
Texans (7-6) @ Indianapolis (9-4): CBS 1:00: Colts win
Dolphins (7-6) @ New England (10-3): CBS 1:00: NE wins
Steelers (8-5) @ Atlanta (5-8): CBS 1:00: Falcons win
Broncos (10-3) @ San Diego (8-5): CBS 4:05: Bolts win
Vikings (6-7) @ Detroit (9-4): Fox 4:25: Lions win
49ers (7-6) @ Seattle (9-4): Fox 4:25: Seahawks win
Cowboys (9-4) @ Philly (9-4): 8:30 NBC: Eagles win
Saints (5-8) @ CHI (5-8): 12-15 ESPN 8:30: Bears win

Record: 72 – 42 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: tailoring, Erfurt.Wolcka.Wehse, GFA, 1956, wc.cca; tailoring, VEB.Erfurt.Schmidt, GFA, 1955, wc.cca; NFL wikiproject; cherries, Hispalois, Spain, 7.2.12, wc.cca.
Posted: 12.11.14 @ 8:29; edit 11:59pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W14: “Kingdom for a (QB)!”

4 Dec

Quarterback Crude

A (quarterback, a quarterback), my kingdom for a (quarterback).”

That’s word-play on a famous line from Shakespeare’s work, Richard III (A5 S4).

Edward de Vere (1550-1604), 17th Earl of Oxford and author of Shakespeare papers (a/k/a “Shake-a-Spear”), was quite the pen-master, quilled variety.

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No word-processors, no writing tablets and not much in the way of research tools, beyond monasteries and small, private libraries, in those days of minstrels and non-refrigerated beef, all making Edward’s exploits that much more stupendous.

As for the Shakespeare character, allegedly from Stratford on Avon and emblazoned on 75 million beakers to attest to the fable, he was about as real as The Cat in the Hat.

And what was the #1 folly (sport) in de Vere’s day? Falconry, talons & tearing. The sport of aristocrats. They didn’t mess around in 1589, and if you did and got caught, it was off to the Tower of London or chopping block for you, poor devil.

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What Richard shrieked on the battlefield as his world came crashing down around him differed slightly from the version above, but so similar are the sentiments to that of many an NFL king in 2014 it’s hardly worth quibbling over: a desperate and decisive shortage of a critical element to victory, at Bosworth, a horse, here, a top flight quarterback.

What the owner of a floundering franchise wouldn’t give for a top field general to take his offensive team to higher ground and winning ways.

Wide receivers can be game-changers (See; Rice & Alworth).

A few teams have ridden a running back to glory (See; Brown & Riggins).

A stout defense can make good offense look pedestrian (See; SEA ‘13 & CHI ‘85).

But even with a guy like Ray Lewis or NaVorro Bowman roaming the terrain, you best have a reliable Mr. Matriculator under center or kiss any Super Bowl plans goodbye. It’s why the quarterback gets the cheers in victory and jeers in defeat.

A good signal-caller is hard to find.

Today, there are approximately 60 rostered quarterbacks in the NFL. For those franchises who’ve secured their man, it’s like money in the bank: surety.

Teams that win consistently are QB contented. He need not be Canton bound, i.e., Peyton or Tom, but a dependable bloke who wins more than he loses, i.e., Flacco and Rivers.

By my count there’ll be 18-20 settled quarterback spots as summer camps open in ‘15, all but one (CAR) pocket-passers or mobile managers. That leaves a dozen or so teams that can be fairly characterized as facing a QB quandary and will then more than likely seek a starter, whether by draft, trade, free-agency or giving a current rosteree his big chance.

Keep in mind, of those 20 odd established stars, you’ve got half a dozen veteran QBs with 10+ years under their belts and another half dozen closing in fast on their 1st decade.

And while their jobs are not (or shouldn’t be) in danger, four of those est’d passers, Ryan, Brees, Cutler and Eli, are putting up numbers while having a tough time translating them into wins. But there is something called team defense, or lack thereof, and if put on the open-market, these guys’d move but fast.

Who will fill those vacancies when they come open in the not-too-distant future? Talented pro quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, they need nurturing, time to develop. Can’t crank ‘em out like so many widgets, not the pro type, anyway.

After getting the basics in high school, it’s college where advanced training for signal-callers is suppose to take place. But “there’s a problem, Houston.”

Unlike major league baseball, where an extensive minor league farm system will weed out college grads who don’t make the grade while grooming the honor roll, pro football gets Joe college straight off campus w/all his habits, good and bad.

A quarterback crisis looms on the NFL horizon.

It’s a paltry plight compared to the impending worldwide energy crisis that will prove catastrophic at the pace we’re on (2035?), but for the serious NFL fan and general manager, this present positional predicament should be of paramount importance.

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The player pipe-line running from college to the NFL, supplying trained passers, is dryin’ up quicker than a Texas’ oil well. Why? Sir Runs-a-lot is all the rage in amateur-land.

High school and college coaches both are taking a short-cut, using their EZ-Pass® on the highway to glory by slotting Mr. Athletic into the quarterback spot, giving him carte blanche to hog the ball and bring home the bacon.

And it‘s paid off in pork bellies.

National championships and Heisman awards are proof that flash-QB works wonders at the lower level of play, where disparity of talent can be wider than the Lone Star State.

Trouble is, teachers (coach) and students both are foregoing their Football 101 studies. They can prove time-consuming, tedious and a painful learning process enroute to becoming a proficient pocket passer, one who reads defense beyond “See Spot run.”

And NFL fans are paying the price.

Not unlike the 3-pointer in basketball, the proliferation of run-QB has set into motion a devolution of football, where today’s “Gridiron Flash” or modern-day single-wing tailback (30s) (‘read-option’ misnomer), is retarding decades of progress as the art of quarterbacking steadily becomes, if not a lost calling, a rare craft, indeed.

When Mr. Freelancer hit’s the pro scene, GMs are left “wishin’ and hopin’ and thinking’ and prayin’” his game doesn’t get lost in translation, a prayer that’s going unanswered.

The Suits aren’t the only ones biting at the bit.

Co-workers at tight-end, wide-receiver and backfield can’t be all too pleased at the fewer touches they get when run-QB covets the ball and fails to spread the joy. Those 2-3 fewer takes each game add-up over course of a season, lowering totals and the valuation that can show-up on draft days and contracting time.

Remember Mike Vick, now with the Jets? Moments of prowess (’03 (ATL v GB)), a bad break of his own making but not enough tools in the kit (56C%, 59-50).

Cam Newton takes NFL by storm in his first season (‘11), passes over 4000 yards (60%), sets rookie scoring mark (35td (14r)) and can’t get back in sync (27-31).

Colin Kaepernick bursts on the scene making Green Bay sharp look Swiss cheesy but couldn’t close the deal when spotlight shone bright (See: SB47 & NFCT‘14).

Tim Tebow makes the most of his chance by taking Broncos and USA on a wild ride called Tebowmania (’11 (7-4)) while setting the bar low on a QB staple (47.9C%).

And Rob Griffin looked a diamond in the rough (9-6, 66%, 20-5i (‘11)) but a panache for pace provoked injury (knee / ankle), eventual benching and now his future is foggy.

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As for Seattle’s starry young quarterback Russ Wilson, run-QB supporters claim him as one of their own, example of why the flash-form is a winner. And they’d be wrong.

Wilson ran lots at Wisconsin but raised Lombardi only as he reigned-in the run-habit under Pete Carroll, evolving into a pro-set, mobile-manager, actually rushing fewer times (3-26) than did similar styled Roger Staubach in his first Super start (5-18 (SB6)).

Russ & Pete are now the template for conversion from playground run-around to savvy NFL signal-caller. Keys are a personality to permit, and a coach who knows his stuff.

And Manziel? Still a sideliner. Some say he’ll change the NFL (“yute(ful)” indiscretion). He’ll get his shot, but flash tends to think himself Superman, always able to make things happen. NFL defensive studs will make you regret such folly, when “the better part of valour is discretion (See; Buffalo, ‘Don‘t even think about it‘ fumble).” On busted play, drop & roll, kid.

The devolution at quarterback won’t end anytime soon. Question is, will NFL fans, with their higher standard and refined football tastes, forego the pass game, a central, defining trait of pro-play since Sid Gillman made the scene (AFL ‘60), in favor of run-rabbit-run?

Answer: It’s about as likely as a gusher in the Keystone State, or a photograph of young Billy Shakespeare scribbling and burning the midnite oil. When pigs fly.

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Cherry Picks Week 14: “Importance of Folly”

Dallas (8-4) @ Chicago (5-7): 12-4 NFLN 8:25: Bears win
Ravens (7-5) @ MIA (7-5): 12-7 CBS 1:00: Dolphins win
Colts (8-4) @ Cleveland (7-5): CBS 1:00: Browns win
Steelers (7-5) @ Cincinnati (8-3-1): CBS 1:00: Pitt wins
St. Louis (5-7) @ Washington (3-9): Fox 1:00: Redskins win
Buffalo (7-5) @ Denver (9-3): CBS 4:05: Broncos win
Chiefs (7-5) @ Arizona (9-3): CBS 4:05: Kansas City wins
San Francisco (7-5) @ Oakland (1-11): Fox 4:25: Raiders win
Hawks (8-4) @ Philadelphia (9-3): Fox 4:25 (GOTW): Seattle wins
Patriots (9-3) @ San Diego (8-4): 8:30 NBC: New England wins
Falcons (5-7) @ Green Bay (9-3): 12-8 8:30 ESPN: Green Bay wins

Record: 66 – 37 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Richard3, wc.cca, 10-1912; deVere, wc.cca, 1575, Brown&Harding; penny-Richard3, R.Suarez, wc.cca; NFL.wikiproject; Wilson, 11.11.12, Maurer, wc.cca; Cherries-on-cloth, 6.2011, picdrome, wc.cca.
Posted: 12.4.14 @ 5:54pm; edit 12.5 @ 1:02am EST