Archive | September, 2015

NBA15 Tip-Off: Top Storylines

29 Sep

“An old Indian game. It’s called put-the-ball-in-the-hole (“R.P. McMurphy“ to “Chief (One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest (’75))).”

* * * *

NBA 2015-16 is about to take the court.

Camps have opened with pre-season play beginning on October 2nd. The regular season is slated for tip-off at month’s end (27th). The opening act is a cross-country twin-bill pitting last season’s Finalists against a pair of playoff opponents, both with new head coaches.

The reigning champ Warriors get to unfurl their championship banner in hosting 1st-Rd foe New Orleans (0-4 (Alvin Gentry)), while the Cavaliers head due West to face the Chicago Bulls (Fred Hoiberg) at the banner-filled United Center.

1) Golden State Warriors

You can’t pen a piece about an upcoming season without first giving the champs their due. It’s made easy by the fact that the Warriors are expected by many to get back into the Finals, given the woeful competition and barring the dreaded injury influenza.

What 1st-year head coach Kerr and team accomplished still feels a bit fantastic.

His court leader in guard Steve Curry took regular season MVP honors and became the first 3-point specialist to lead his team to a title. All pretty special stuff that must’ve left victory parade participants Al Attles (coach) and Rick Berry (superstar) beaming with pride (’75 NBA title).

But a smoother roadway to title-town hath never been paved.

The Warriors breezed by the Pelicans (R1 4-0), did get tested by Memphis (4-2 (R2)) but then swept hot-house orchids Atlanta (4-0) and faced a Finals opponent in the Cavaliers who were without their #2 in Kev Love and hobbled elsewhere. LeBron James is special but he ain’t that special. Even Magic (Jabbar-Cooper-Wilkes-Worthy) and Larry (Parish-DJ-Maxwell-McHale) needed their buds.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers

Love re-signed in the off-season. What else do you need to know, except that LeBron James (2y ext’sn) is, if not giddy with optimism, fairly content with State of Cavalier-land and should fully expect a return visit to the Finals next May.

Mr. Blatt was a little shaky in the playoffs (“Not alot you can do (Curry)”), but then Eric Spoelstra came under frequent fire before guiding the Heat to a couple of O’Briens. And the East is pretty barren of serious contenders these days, the West not much better. That points to a quality of competition issue that was in all likelihood absent from everyone’s agenda this off-season. And that’s a shame.

3) Kobe Bryant

He’s denied having decided this’ll be his last run as a player, in opposite of GM Kupchak‘s public musings. Instead, Bryant speaks of a personal renaissance (“rebirth“). He did live in Italy. But Kobe’s body may have more to say about the decision than does his desire. And then planning on a final season absent formal annoucement may simply be his way of forgoing what he and many fans disdain, that being the “farewell tour,” aka, attendance-enhancer & memorabilia-booster.

Like the pantheon of pinstripers populating the long, mostly successful history of the Yankees, Kobe’s been a part of a similar near unbroken chain of great Lakers links since big George Mikan (d.‘05) and “Kangaroo Kid” Jim Pollard (d.‘93) were filling the peach-basket (it was steel rimmed) in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Some nicknames have surfaced over the 19 seasons he pounded NBA hardwood after enlisting straight from high school (Lower Merion, Ardmore, PA (‘96 R1-13 (Hornets-to-Lakers)), “Black Mamba” being the oddest. But like Wilt, Yogi & Cher, the worldly lad from Philly has always been known by one name, Kobe.

Suffice to say Bryant has scored lots o’ points and garned plenty o’ personal hardware in his long NBA tenure (MVP, All-Star, etc.), but it’s the title haul (5), equaling 80s Showtime, that will define his b-ball legacy.

To his character, well, let’s just say the sexual assault arrest (‘03), then case dismissal (‘04), a Bryant apology (sans admission of guilt) and final civil settlement, will likely afford the Lakers great the privilege of not having a statue erected outside Staples Center (x6) in his honor. Then again, these decisions aren’t cast in stone: 2030?

4) Spurs Forever?

There’s been discussion recently as to whether or not the Gregg Popovich Spurs have constituted a true dynasty. My initial view was that five titles in sixteen seasons was qualification aplenty and denial of such was stingy (P.Jackson).

Thinking more on it, a reflection triggered by the baseball Giants failure to once again defend their World Series or even Pennant titles, I’ve come to the belief that San Antonio’s inability to win back-to-backs or even get back to a Finals the season following a championship may very well disqualify them of the dynasty tag. No big whoop.

What owner Peter Holt (‘93) and his Spurs have accomplished since they took their first title in ‘98-99 may be more significant than achieving the dynasty thing: a space-time continuum (Poe). Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but weighty matters seldom do.

The core for 4 of the 5 O’Briens, Tim Duncan (C), Tony Parker (PG) and Manu Ginobili (G), all return for one more season as the Argentinian hints this one will be his last. When any of the three exit it won’t be long before the others follow.

Can the Spurs hold form and fashion one more title run in this staggered 2015-16 season? The infusion of more young talent with the vets didn’t take them too far last spring, bowing out to the Clippers in R1. But the door to title-town is wide open in this NBA and the humble Spurs seem to never stop learning.

5) Commissioner Adam Silver

Commissioners rarely rank high on those most-admired lists. Making money for the owners (and college Presidents), presiding over draft events and dolling out player punishment is what they devote majority of their time. Rarely, one will take the job to heart and go beyond the money rake (Landis / Giamatti (MLB)).

But don’t include Mr. Adam Silver in that select group. The name is apropos.

What can you say that’s inspirational about a point-man Silver who seeks to co-mingle gambling with sport (“good for business”) and handled the sad, multi-sided Sterling matter with all the finesse and courage of a corporate raider? He’s a media darling?

It can’t be an easy job, Commissioner of a major sport. But some leaders are more suited to the task than others who have no more love for the game than the politician who dons whatever ball-cap the campaign whistle-stop dictates.

Bold moves like paring down of an excess of franchises that might pump life’s blood in quality of competition back into the sport, and elimination of gimmickry like the 3-pointer (ABA) that’s destroyed b-ball’s dichotomy, could work wonders for a popularity of that’s ebbing at lowest in decades. Odds on that: 1000 to 1.

6) Team Potentiality

Before the 2015 Conference finals, if you asked me to name-off teams likely to contend for next season’s showcase venues, I’d have included the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks with no hesitation. That was four months and “a 1000 years ago.”

Both front-runners flamed-out in their respective CFs, winning one measly game between ’em both (4-0 (ATL v CLE) / 4-1 (HOU v GSW)).

While the Grizzlies and Clippers didn‘t advance as far in 2015 post-season play, both showed something to build upon. Los Angeles’ addition of wily vet Paul Pierce may be the binding-agent they truly need to become a cohesive crew.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: S.Curry, wc.cca, 2.24.15, K.Allison.
Posted: 9.29.15 @ 2:18pm EST; Copyright ® 2015


NFL15 Cherry Picks W3: Mighty Quinn?

24 Sep

Come all without, come all within
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.”

Opening line to Manfred Mann’s 1968 hit single, “Quinn the Eskimo,” known alternatively as the “Mighty Quinn.” It reached #1 in the UK and, unbeknownst by most oldies lovers, was written by Robert “Bob” Dylan. Imagine that?

Why the melody mention? To flag the Atlanta Falcons new hot commodity head coach, Dan Quinn.

Okay, I’m pressing.

The Falcons are just one of nine teams starting the season in perfection, a group that includes the unlikely likes of Carolina and the turbo-charged Jets.

But the A-Birds haven’t started 2-0 since 2012 in Mike Smith’s glory when they cruised to 8-0, eventually meeting their end in NFCC versus the 49ers (28-24).

What makes this different is that Quinn comes into the Georgia Dome with a kind of élan: a pair of championship rings on hand. Biggest for coordinating Pete Carroll’s defensive Legion of Boom in Super Bowl 48 win over Denver, the second for taking (stealing) the NFC title in Green Bay last January to earn trip to SB49 where ’Hawks came up short against Bill Belichick’s Patriots (28-24).

Presently, the Falcons are flying high on offense, ranking 5th in yards per game (398+) and 11th in points per game (25) but bottom-feeding in Quinn’s specialty, defense, where they come in at an embarrassing #27 in yapg (393+, ahead of Bills (28), Pats (29) and Lions (30)) but a respectable 13th in papg (21).

It’s all very early, way too early to be putting much stock in any trend. Not too early, though, to be wanting more from their youthful run attack in the persons of Devonta Freeman (2y) and rookie Tevin Coleman who better deliver some consistency (125+) or Julio Jones and Matt Ryan are gonna’ wear out by midway.

Most encouraging to Dan and GM Tom Dimitroff in their quest to return to contender status is a schedule that appears not the most challenging and aught trigger a muffin-basket mailing to the NFL office. “Thanks a bunch,” ya’ll!

Of course, for this particular year, playing in the NFC South does help. This week’s Dallas tussle looks to be one of the A-Birds toughies. But given last week’s plethora of upsets, one never knows how a game will go.

You do know Cowboys’ rover Sean Lee and punter Chris Jones (45.8 / 2-20) will bring their A-games to AT&T but will Weeden extend his tidy C% (7-7) compiled in brief Eagles stint, and Randle & McFadden start filling the Murray void?

Super Slate

It’s a most intriguing schedule of games for football fans to fix their glims this W3 of NFL action, beginning with the rejuvenated Redskins heading to the Meadowlands to take on intra-division rival the Giants who may hear the bell toll if they go 0-3. It closes Monday night with a top-shelf match-up between the conundrum Chieftains traveling to Andy Reid’s old stomping grounds (‘92-98) Lambeau Field to face Mike McCarthy and his happy-Packers.

Cherry Picks Week 3

Redskins (1-1) @ New York (0-2); 9-24 CBS 8:25: Giants win
Atlanta (2-0) @ Dallas (2-0); 9-27 Fox 1:00 (GOTW): Falcons win
Bengals (2-0) @ Baltimore (0-2); CBS 1:00: Ravens win
Eagles (0-2) @ New York Jets (2-0); Fox 1:00: Philadelphia wins
Chargers (1-1) @ Vikings (1-1); 1:00 CBS: San Diego win
Steelers (1-1) @ St. Louis (1-1); 1:00 CBS: Pittsburgh wins
San Francisco (1-1) @ Arizona (2-0); Fox 4:05 Cardinals win
Buffalo (1-1) @ Miami (1-1); CBS 4:25: Dolphins win
Denver (2-0) @ Detroit (0-2); NBC 8:30: Lions win
Chiefs (1-1) @ Packers (2-0); 9-28 ESPN 8:30 (GOTW2): KC wins

Record: 4 – 6

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: M.Quinn, wc.cca, 2.3.15, youtube-pUltS9FjyEA; M.Quinn, wc.cca, 12.29.13, M.Morris; T.Dimitroff, wc.cca, 8.14.14, Thompson200; cherries-on-cloth, wc.cca, picdrome, 2011.
Posted: 9.24.15 @ 3:10pm EST; Copyright ® 2015

NFL15-W2 Minute Waltz: Gambler’s Woe

22 Sep

Results from Week 2 offer reason #11 why you don’t gamble on games: topsy-turvy tally. “It’s all one big crap-shoot anyhoo (“Needlenose Ned,” Groundhog Day (‘93)).” That pretty much holds true even if it’s GB or NE. Watch & see.

I count nine upsets, if Dallas and Atlanta road-wins can be called ballyhoo.

A friendly wager for fun is fine but becoming a dedicated investor in chance (See Also: FanDuel® & DraftKings®), that’s foolhardy, indeed.

Countdown to Team Rankings: Week 4

Disraeli Marker: “There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics”

Time of possession:

1) 49ers 36:59 v Steelers 23:01 (PIT 43-18);
2) Titans 35:11 v Browns 24:49 (CLE 28-14).

It’s not necessarily time you possess but what you do with it that matters most.

All in the Family or The Brothers Colquitt (DEN 31-24 KC)

Not a true upset, W2 began with it’s kissing-cousin, the slip-away, leaving KC fans and Reid wringing their hands. Jamaal Charles OT fumble wasn’t the biggest boo-boo, nor Alex Smith‘s two INTs. Instead, it was watching what’s become the saddest thing in pro-ball: prevent defense. It is like watching a homicide in slow motion and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

With a team up late (KC 7), it seems SOP with most every DC in the land to pull pressure and instruct pint-sized D-backs to lay-off and let master matriculators, here, Peyton, do his thing: move the ball at-will. He did. Tie game. OT.

Wondering who won Battle of Colquitts? If yes, consider yourself an NFL expert as the name is synonymous with pro punting. Craig Colquitt punted on two of Super Steelers’ teams in the 70s, brother Jim briefly suited for Seattle (’85) and CC has two sons now doing Dad proud. Dustin continues to handle duties in KC (11y) while younger brother Britton is booms bombs for Broncos (6y). This round goes to the elder on average: 52.4 (4p) v. 42.7 (7).

Sharp Cheddar (GB 27-17 SEA)

Packers are leaving fans fulfilled (2-0), first toying w/rival Bears, then new nemesis Seattle who’s red-flagging at a spot they’ve been as stable as Microsoft the past 3y, QB. When Wilson (10-78) out-rushes Lynch (15-41), there’s big trouble on Puget Sound. Tip o’ the cap to GB’s M.Crosby: 4/4 + 54-yarder.

Good News First,… (DAL 20-10 PHI)

If you’re a Dallas fan, good news is your ‘Boys beat another division foe in Eagles (0-2) who’re struggling for answers. Sub QB B.Weeden made most of his chance (7-7, 1-0) in sealing the win late and LB leader Sean Lee is making up for lost time (9t – 5a – 1int). Bad news: Romo’s out, again, for a spell (clavicle).

Back n’ Forth Bruiser (OAK 37-33 BAL)

Even-Steven until Raiders channeled spirits of old glory in Upshaw (d.‘08), Davis (d.‘11) & Stabler (d.‘15) showing Ravens what-for in taking a surprise win. Tucker did his part (4/4) but BAL misses Suggs. Another 2y QB in Raiders’ Carr shone bright (30-46-351-3/1), Crabtree & Cooper clicked with over 200y combined and LBs Smith & Lofton made the stops when Oakland needed ‘em.

Sunshine Supermen (JAX 23-20 MIA)

Jaguars jump out early and held on to beat intrastate, history-laden rival, Miami. Dolphins were suppose to be contenders in 2015 and losing in JAX is a big no-no to that purpose. Two-year QB Bortles (18-33-273-2), handyman A. Robinson (6-155-2) both impressed while kicker J.Myers went 3-3, booting a 58’r.

Watch & Learn (PIT 43-18 SF)

Athleticism has it‘s limitations.

Kaep performed (33-46, 335-2 (9a)) but aught take lesson from a master craftsman in Big Ben who knows what‘s key (21-27, 369-3 (1a)) while Shazier (11t) & Blake (10) enabled the separation. Keep bolting Colin and you’ll never Super again. Pitt’s Brown (9-195-1) was all hands, Williams is in rebirth (77y-3td (4-rec)) while SF’s J.Hayne experiment may not deliver. And anyone who thinks a linebacker (Bowman) can be the same superstar after ACL tear & tie is not a football fan nor medically qualified.

Ram Fluff (DC 24-10 STL)

Up & comers St. Louis lay an egg in DC, falling behind early and stymied the rest of the way as Redskins showed moxie to chagrin of NFL-haters nationwide. Cousins spread it nicely (8 WRs) and star RB Morris (18-59) has company in rookie M. Jones who ran to daylight (19-123, 2td). Rams’ Foles is competent (17-32, 150-1) but bright spots were Ogletree (8t-8a) and punter J.Hekker who kicked the heck outta’ the pig (8-46.1).

Giant Fizzle (ATL 24-20 NYG)

All talk will be New York’s 4Q funk but give credit to new Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn whose scheme closed the door late on the Giants. DQ is making a mark in hip-hopping Atlanta after Super success in Seattle (DC). But A-Birds, like Denver, best find consistent run before Matt Ryan (30-46, 363-1) & Julio Jones (13-135) wear out.

“Hail, (Arians)!” (AZ 48-23 CHI)

Looks another long season in City of Big Shoulders (0-2) and wary warrior Jay’s banged again. Even Force Forte will fade (15-61). Cards, they look like GB’s NFCC foe. Sloppy too (24 PEN total) but Carson’s (17-24, 185-4) raising Aaron for MVP pot, Johnson & Johnson (David “Stiff Arm,” 5-42 (108 KOR)) give balance, Larry lives large (8, 112-3) and desert D (R.Johnson 9t-1-1td) did well (CHI 6.6 yppa, 17%-3DE)).

Saints’ Woes March On (TB 26-19 NO)

Like Giants and Bears, more of the same sluggishness for Saints. Lose focus for just one quarter and all may be lost (3Q: TB 13 – NO 0). Brees is fine (24-38, 255-1-1), but unlike Brady (Bill) & Rodgers (Mike), his man Payton is not filling void left by Graham exit (SEA), who’s learning, as should Kam, the big-money-grab has it‘s risks: He and Drew clicked. Sloppy stuff: 21 PEN – 7 FUM total, as Brees is sacked 4 more (6).

Luke-less Win (CAR 24-17 HOU)

Ref’s arms are as tired as some QBs, throwing flags in W2 with V&V (20 PEN). Texans’ Mallett nearly hit 60a mark (27-58), being w/out Foster (Polk 14-38), while Camster-the-Hamster keeps taking touches from his backs (10-76 (4.6 yppa)). This time it covered, but post-bye (@ SEA) will be a test. Lechler was HOU star: 8, 43avg, 3 (20).

Bengalicious (CIN 24-19 SD)

Now if Lewis & Dalton (16-26, 214-3) could just get into the fall canning spirit, Ball®-up (Jarden) up some of this mojo for the PS we might see tiger stripes back in the Super for the first time since SB23 (SF 20-16). Chargers’ backfield performed (Rivers: 21-27, 241, 2-1 / Gordon: 16-88 / Woody: 6rec-68) but 4sks and 2TOs can give it away.

Johnny Renaissance

Whether Jon makes All-Pro one day or not, he’s a better QB, man in 2015 than in NFL debut (‘14). Marcus looks to have mental playbook already well in-hand, for while he lost this Battle of Heismen (W1: 42-14 TB), he kept rabbit (3-16) and INT (0) down. Two fumbles + poor C% (21-37) are learning curve and by-product of a leaky Titans‘ OL (7sks (ouch)). No pain, no gain, and that’s no joke.

Purr Like a Kitten (MIN 26-16 DET)

Thought Detroit would challenge GB supremacy in 2015? Not bloody likely. Caldwell brings it hard in preseason (See: RG3) but Lions are kitty so far this regular. Stafford’s staunch (32-53, 286) but when he out runs his backs (20 v 18), it’s bad. Adrian’s finding his grass-legs (29-134) and Ted managed but better start spreading it far & wide and find a go-to guy or scamper will hamper (6-21).

Don’t Even THINK Unbeaten (NE 40-32 BUF)

Belichamps play like they’re on a mission. What’s new? But they beat Pitt in NE, a team sliding since 2010, and Buffalo’s testing a new QB who‘s got a ways to go (Taylor: 23-30, 242, 3-3). Brady or not, a Ryan team allowing 500+ TY (<60 rushing) is not dialed-in. Gronk (7, 113-1) gets the love but Edelman (11, 97-2), Collins (8t-4a) & Hightower (8-3) are the workaday wonders. Penalties: 25!

Meet the New Jets (NYJ 20-7 IND)

Won’t be a QB controversy in NYJ when Geno returns if this keeps up. Fitz’s been slightly splendid while the run game’s been fairly capable and defense pretty darn stout (2g: 17pts + top T/OD’l). For Indy (0-2), look no further than turnovers. A ground game that tabbed a 10y vet (Gore) as anwwer for a old issue didn’t help.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: worry, wc.cca, P.R. Simoes, Lisbon, 7.27.11
Posted: 9.22.15 @ 1:57pm, edit 4:53 EST; Copyright ® 2015

NFL15 Cherry Picks W2: Swivel-Head

18 Sep

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbPlaytime’s Over

Week 2 in the young NFL season is far from what incendiary scribes can make out to be a make or break (“panic”) game. But suffice to say that it’s time to get down & dirty (figuratively speaking), i.e., dead (figuratively) serious or this thing might get away from you real fast.

Two themes run through the second act: 1) Keep it going, for those who jumped out to 1-0 start; and 2) Get it in gear for those who needed a jump-start or couldn’t close the deal.


Cherry Picks Week 2: Flash v. Form

Broncos (1-0) @ Chiefs (1-0): 9-17 NFLN 8:25: KC wins
Pats (1-0) @ Bills (1-0): 9-20 CBS 1:00 (GOTW): NE wins
49ers (1-0) @ Pittsburgh (1-0): Fox 1:00: Steelers win
Cardinals (1-0) @ Chicago (0-1): Fox 1:00: Bears win
Chargers (1-0) @ Cincinnati (1-0): CBS 1:00: Bengals win
Falcons (1-0) @ New York (0-1): Fox 1:00: Giants win
Rams (1-0) @ Washington (0-1): Fox 1:00: St. Louis wins
Cowboys (1-0) @ Philadelphia (0-1): Fox 4:25: Eagles win
Seahawks (0-1) @ Pack (1-0): NBC 8:30 (GOTW2): GB wins
Jets (1-0) @ Indianapolis (0-1): 9-21 ESPN 8:30: Colts win

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Cherries, Hispalois, wc.cca,, 7.2.12, Spain; NFL-symbol, wikiproject; cherries, wc.cca, B.Kua, 6.1.8.
Posted: 9.17.15 @ 8:24pm EST; Copyright ® 2015

NFL15-W1 HunchLine: Minute Waltz

17 Sep

Good Spot

New England Patriots

Sure, Brady’s win in Rd-2 of Deflategate was, in Bart Simpson® vernacular, awesome, for Tom and all camped in his corner (See also; NFL bean-counters), but the months of legal wrangling had to take emotional toll on the boys in red, white & blue. So hats off to Tom who was, in cool 60s vernacular, groovin (25-32, 4td)’ and Rob Gronkowski who was totally TD (3). Nod too to Steelers’ RB DeAngelo Williams (21-127).

Tennessee Titans

Four TD tosses (Mariota) in a road win are a confidence-builder for an opening-act. The effusive praise is to be expected given Marcus’ following, even versus a reclamation project like Tampa. Good thing his head seems screwed on straight. Titans aught send NFL schedulers a muffin-basket. It’s not bad (@ CLE next), with four contenders-in-a-row at home. The closing’s a toughie (NE & IND late).

More impressive was that Mariota, with fair defensive pressure (2sk), only reverted to scamper mode 2x (Winston: 6x) and left the rush to the men built for carry (Sankey / West). He’ll need pocket poise down pat before season’s end.

Buffalo Bills

.....Ryan.8.3.8.K.Allison.thmbCount me among the jaw droppers when Rex announced Tyrod Taylor, who’d never started a game in his 4 NFLs (BAL), would lead the Bills’ offense against favored Indy. But TT made a monkey out of me in leading his club to an impressive 27-14 win (14-19, 1td). The secret, like with Mariota, may be keeping the call uncomplicated. Red-flag: Ty took off nearly 10x, a rabbit habit that’s gotta’ stop.

St. Louis Rams

Training in an atmosphere of uncertainty (LA move?), Ferguson feelings still frayed and taking on NFL juggernaut and division rival in the Seahawks, the Rams, Jeff Fisher and new QB Nick Foles (18-27, 297-1t) fell behind early, kept cool, took the lead, lost it (2 LFs), came back and won it in OT. Moxie to burn.

Unga-Chaka Unga Unga (“Hooked on a Feeling (Blue Swede)”)

It was a heart-wrenching loss to Dallas (26-27) but Giants bright spot might be in finding a hidden gem in L-backer Uani Unga (10t-2a-1int), formerly of BYU, while Cowboys’ range-boss Sean Lee looks to’ve recovered from injury that sidelined him in ‘14 (7t-2a). If Miami LB Koa Lisiate Foti Analeseanoa Misi becomes a regular, he’s gonna’ live-up to that tremendous name (9t-2a). Tall tackler Anthony Barr (6-5) gave the Vikes something to crow about (10t-2a) and J.J. Watt is off to an MVP-ish season, not just because he got to the QB twice but the 9 solos, too. That’s the ticket!

Keen Koncentration (SD)

Chargers’ receiver Keenan Allen hauled in 15 receptions for 166 yards in Bolts come-from-behind win over Detroit who let one slip through their paws, while leg-hampered Julio Jones did his best to top his Eagles counterpart J. Matthews (10-102) and made sure Falcons didn’t throw this one away (9-141, 2td).

Smooth as Cocoa Butter

Carson Palmer came through with flying colors in his first game back from last year’s season-ending knee injury and Arizonans breathed sigh of relief. The C% was a bit rusty (19-32) but three TDs and no INTs is fine form. Fewer fingers crossed on reliable Alex Smith but who put on his typical terrific but off-the-media-radar performance versus the Texans (23-33, 3td). And if you’re perplexed on the “Cocoa Butter” call, ask any woman who’s experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of childbirth, what the brand-name ‘Palmer’ means to her. She‘ll be impressed.

Bad Spot

Bad form to do a Week 1 power ranking or to employ the word panic to tag any team that may stumble outta’ the gate (0-1). Ugh.

Johnny on the Spot

....Manziel.8.2.14.ED.Drost.wc.thmb.headJon Manziel threw his first pro TD vs the Jets but fumbled away two possessions and tossed an INT. “Big steps and little ‘uns,” Jon, big ones and little ‘uns. God how I miss “All Creatures Great and Small.”

Two teams (HOU / OAK) passed on vet QB in Matt Schaub (BAL (64C%, 130-86 TD-ratio) but most likely could’ve given their seasons good hope but who now sits idle on Ravens bench behind NFL’s new ironman QB in Flacco. Go figure the football mind, eh?

Sad Spot

Anyone who suffered a serious, side-lining W1 injury.

More notables include Panthers tackle-titan Luke Kuechly who suffered one of a plethora of concussions and hamstring pulls (Mike Evans (TB)) in NFL W1. Luke’s in protocol, as is Browns’ starting QB Josh McCown who should think twice next time before choosing to fly over traveling by land.

And all the trench-men and kickers who go largely unnoticed by fans.

See Spot Run

Cowboys will need a run game of note (Randle (16-65); McFadden (6-16)) before this 2015 enters 2nd half (Nov) with Murray’s exit (PHI) and Bryant’s foot bang.

Like Romo, Palmer too will need consistency from his run game (Ellington (12-69) & C. Johnson (10-37)) to seriously contend with Packers alive & well. Giving rookie RB David ‘Stiff Arm’ Johnson (NIU) time to shine could work a pressure-release valve for the Palmer-centric AZ offense.

And for all the negative press media-trolls scribble on the ‘Skins, the name they nearly never drop is Alfred Morris who just keeps doing what he does best: push the pig (25-121). Ditto on Bears’ Matt Forte who keeps on keeping Chicago respectable (24-141, 1td) and Niners’ Carlos Hyde who may make San Franers forget Gore but fast (26-168, 2td).

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: J.Fisher, wc.cca, E.D.Drost, 8.23.14; R.Ryan, wc, 8.3.8, K.Allison; J.Manziel, wc, 8.2.14, E.D.Drost; NFL-wikiproject.
Posted: 9.16.15 @ 11:28pm; Copyright ® 2015

And Moses Led Philly-steens to NBA Promised Land

14 Sep

Moses Malone (1955 – 2015).

Back in the day (70 – 80s) that name struck fear into the hearts of basketball fandom from coast to coast. So just imagine what hearing it did to his peers who had to do battle under the boards with the towering figure from Virginia?

It’s a funny word (“peers”) to use when talking about one of the most dominating centers the game of professional basketball has ever known. Maybe the last true, great center in NBA history, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal notwithstanding.

Peers were far and few between for Mister Malone who died in his sleep on Sunday at the age of sixty from what is believed to have been a heart attack.

The true center, the super-terrific variety, was beginning to go way of the buffalo. Not quite extinct (Cowens, Abdul-Jabbar, Parish, Laimbeer, Sikma, Olajuwon), but no longer ruler of the range of roundball.

The numbers on Malone’s 20+ years in pro ball (ABA (’74) – NBA (’95)) are impressive but don’t completely capture the essence of this large figure in the history of basketball.

The 2001 Naismith enshrinee (HOF) scored alot of points, grabbed bushel baskets of rebounds, won three MVP awards, led two teams to the Finals (HOU / PHI), one of them, the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983 (their last) and played for nine different clubs including two stints in the City of Brotherly Love.

What set Malone apart from other big men of his era was his powerful presence.

.....Malone.wc.L.Witter.10.10.9.USMC.tmStanding at 6’10” and weighing in the low 200s, there were bigger, more muscular ball-handlers than MM, but few had a mental strength, a determination like the guy from Petersburg High School who in 1974 signed as a teenager with the Utah Stars of the former American Basketball Association.

He was neither a brute nor a bully, yet his menacing, almost brooding demeanor, tremendous skill on both ends of the court and possessiveness of the terrain under the basket made him one to be feared and was surely frustrating to opponents who were too often befuddled by this player with such a complete game.

His passing-on at a relatively young age engenders sadness from those who still vividly remember his playing days, while there is a bit of irony to it’s timing in that another NBA star of the time in Darryl Dawkins died recently just a few weeks past ((‘57) – 8.27.15).

It was Dawkins, another college-skipper (Evans (Orlando, FL)), whom Malone replaced at the center spot on the talent-laden but flawed 76ers squad in the early 80s, proving the key cog in the engine that drove Philly to the 1983 NBA title.

The mid-70s marked a rebirth in the Philadelphia scene, a franchise that had not supped champagne since the days of Wilt, Greer, Cunningham & Walker (’67).

With purchase of the team by Fitz Dixon (‘76), the 76ers, already well stocked with a stable of stars in Collins, McGinnis, Dawkins, Mix, Free, concomitant acquisition of Nets’ superstar Julius “Dr. J” Erving from the transitionary ABA ball-club and later key adds in Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones (‘78) and Andrew Toney (’80), the team looked set to be popping the bubbly for years to come.

But the fizz still failed to fly. would make two NBA Finals (’77 (Shue) / ’80 (Cunningham)) in the Dixon days and with the sale to Harold Katz in 1981, another (’82), but would be bridesmaids in each (2-4), first versus Walton’s Trailblazers, then Magic’s Lakers and again to LA in the ’82 showcase. Center duties were handled by the tandem of Caldwell Jones and Dawkins, both skilled big men but lacking in that rare ability to carry a team on their back.

In particular, Darryl seemed to typify the new breed of ball-player who too often put a premium on form (dunk) over substance. High-flying aerialist Erving, though a small-forward, was cut from the same cloth.

And then arrived 76ers’s savior in the man Moses Malone.

With the exits of Dawkins and C. Jones and arrival of former Houston Rocket and fierce playoff opponent Malone to start the 1982-83 NBA campaign, the tide was about to turn for Philadelphia.

In a nutshell, Malone was blue-collar ‘ball all the way.

Down (not dirty) in the paint and possessing a shooter’s touch on a soft fadeaway, MM was an adherent of contact b-ball, the way it was intended, keeping the game honest and the beautiful inside – outside dichotomy alive, before 3-pointers tamed the game touchless (‘79) and moved the action out to the perimeter.

The 76ers would finally uncork that nearly frozen champagne by exacting revenge on their Western nemesis, sweeping the Lakers 4-0 in the ‘83 Finals.

Moses would win series MVP going away (25.8 / 18.rb) but would leave Philly at the end of the 1986 season, continuing on with his traveling ways in playing with nine teams in all (PHI x2 (’93)), closing out in San Antonio in 1995.

To his family & friends, I send along my sympathies.

To Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones who died a year ago next week (9.21.14), my wish for good journeys in the unknown hereafter and a hearty thanks for giving sport lovers the best of the game.

......straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: M.Malone, wc.cca, Cpl.L.Witter, 10.10.09, USMC; Malone, wc, L.Witter, 10.10.09; basketball, M1-LF, Reisio, wc, 06; straight.shooter, produce-label.
Posted: 9.14.15 @ 7:53pm EST: Copyright ® 2015

“Thanks a Bunch!:” Why We Love the NFL

7 Sep

While the amateurs (FBS) kicked-off their season Thursday night, the pros will begin their long procession towards Super Bowl 50 (Santa Clara (2.7)), a journey most football faithful hold as near & dear to their hearts as any pilgrimage, the following Thursday night (9.10) when the Steelers travel to Foxborough to face,…well, the face of the NFL, a beaming Tom Brady and his defending champion Patriots in the League opener.

The Patriots starry QB cleared customs, courtesy of Federal District Court Judge Dick Berman (SDNY) who vacated NFL’s 4-game susp’n of the signal-caller for what appears due process (“notice”) violations in the Deflategate matter. The League appealed the ruling but don‘t be so sure Roger Goodell is singing the blues. Privately, he may be slightly relieved ‘the face’ will start the season.

Bad Spot

More important than Deflategate doings was a suspiciously growing chorus of complaints this summer from NFL media & bloggers concerning validity of the exhibition slate.

Suspicious because the value of NFL’s pre-season has always been discernable by most everyone concerned. Now all of a sudden some are suggesting it be halved (2g), which would, ta-dah, make room for an 18g season.

Not only does the P/S afford needed time for making hard choices in roster cut & keep but it also gives football ravenous fans a period of relaxation to watch & learn about the new team as it takes shape and ease into the upcoming season.

Fans haven’t been complaining, nor players or coaches, not so you’d notice.

Baseball has an extended spring training that spans February – March.

And with all the time and attention we now devote to the college draft, before, during and after the overblown event, you’d think those who do most the blowing (media) would afford these young draftees all the time necessary to acclimate to their new surroundings and enhance chances of making the roster. You’d think.

Why We’re Ga-Ga Over the NFL

1) It’s ain’t brat-ball (MLB)

Baseball’s great, it’s our national pastime born professionally in the heartland (Chicago 1876 (NL) & 1901 (AL)). But today’s player behaves more like a school-boy than a man in spikes and I’m not so sure the youngins like it that way.

Short-tempers, long beards, drag-pantalones in summer heat, watercooler – shave-cream-pie-in-the face hijinx, home-plate bunny-hop jubilees for every game-winning hit and no-no pajama parties (Cubs) are all giving the game of Koufax, Mantle, Perez and Mays a very odd feel.

The NFL can be short on maturity itself to be sure but footballers seem, on the whole, to pride themselves on being a pro. The PED use, it’s still an issue.

2) The place to be

Let’s face it, today’s standard in fun & frivolity isn’t what’s good but rather what’s trending. That’s world-wide, thanks to the internet. And nothing trends as virally in the States like the NFL which, from September to January, plays bigger than Oprah (Super Soul Sunday) and maybe even Jesus (gulp). John Lennon might’ve agreed and were he alive today the Liverpoolian turned New Yorker very well could’ve been a Jets fan (See; underdog).

3) More stars than the Milky Way

Milky Way is a whole lotta’ hyperbole (and creamy, delicious goodness by Mars®, if you can look past the HFCS, hydrogenated palm oil and gluten (See;, but it’s safe to say that there are more nationally recognized NFL players than the other three majors combined. You’ve got half a dozen in NHL and NBA each, maybe ten in MLB. In total their number still will likely fall short of the illuminated NFL line-up.

4) Showing constitution

No issue in sport today screams for exactitude like the crafted controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins’ 80-year old moniker. It’s a campaign that rose out of virtual anonymity before 2012 when Nike began flexing it’s merchandise muscle in performance of it’s terms under NFL contract and has been taken up as a cause by a malleable media and political sect that prior to 2012 had not made a nary a peep in protest.

The battle over it’s existence is waged on two fronts: the media and federal court where the last round went to opponents when a District Court ordered cancellation of the logo‘s trademark registrations (7.8). While the war being waged by the 4th branch to have the Redskins name removed is clearly a contrived effort, given it’s timing, Washington owner Dan Snyder, his peers, Commissioner Goodell, NFL sponsors and, as it appears, the mass of NFL fandom remain loyal to it’s retention, seeing the effort at it’s removal as largely insincere, bully-like and hypocritical by those who‘ve only recently claimed offense at the maligned moniker.

Choosing democracy over oligarchy (dictionary & media boards of editors, tribal elite, political strong-arming (P&TO)) and once and for all determining a Redskins definition through ballots cast by those majorities in tribal and non-tribal communities across the land seems at this stage the only just, sensible route to pursue.

5) Roger Goodell

Seems an odd time to be naming Roger as a reason why fans love the League, with the Commissioner once again licking his wounds after suffering another legal defeat (Brady – NFLPA) and the media piling-on in hopes of ousting the besieged potentate.

But in fact, I’d not be straying too far out on that proverbial limb in presuming that all the owners, most of the players, every sponsor (PepsiCo) and a super majority of fans are A-okay with Goodell and his efforts to keep the game fun, fair, reasonably safe and current.

The man from Jamestown, New York has made his missteps to be sure and the greed he feeds is not lost on this writer, but then, if he’d not made a few boo-boos he most certainly wouldn’t be doing his job, an undertaking that goes beyond making mounds of moolah for the ownerships.

This latest call for his resignation in wake of recent Deflategate ruling seems simply one more salvo fired from those in the media captured by an agenda to remove the sitting Commissioner that began with Bountygate, mushroomed with the national-media bolstered anti-Redskins movement (’12) and grows with every flame-fanned firestorm that flares (Ricegate, Peterson, Deflategate).

When Goodell does eventually step down, which can’t be too soon for his heart and family, his replacement will still shovel the shenanigans that players and owners have and will continue to drop on and off the turf, year in, year out, that has the man with the big scooper, the sport Commissioner. The only difference may be that the new leader might buckle on the Redskins issue which may in fact be what’s been fueling Roger’s crass critics all along.

NFL popularity is at an all-time high and it’s not due to the sports media or America’s great admiration for it’s legal system.

6) Pro style play

A quarterback League, the man under center has set the tone since helmets came into vogue. But the NFL is undergoing a subtle change. The proliferation of flash-QB in college, i.e. Sir-Runs-Alot, cultivated by coaching-on-the-cuff and fast filling up draft boards, is phasing-out precision passing, dousing diversity and making the rabbit-habit (’athleticism’) his play-call of choice.

But the professional theater of pigskin is still strong and favored by NFL fans.

Whether it’s the steely poise of pocket passers who “take a licking and keep on ticking (Timex®),” the protective walls on-line that adapt to diversity, ball-carriers who grind like tanks or cut like a surgeon, receivers with hands of glue that brave the blind-side or the tackle-machines that cover, enabling the glory-guys (sacks / INT) to do their thing, it’s a smorgasbord of skills & style that keeps the football in the game.


Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credits: ThankYou, wc.cca, 11.25.09, vistamommy; NFL-symbol, Wikiproject.
Posted: 9.7.15 @ 2:41am; edit 11:59 EST