Tag Archives: media

ESPN17: Start Bailing ‘Little Buddy,’ This Skipper Can’t Steer a Ship Either

4 May

ESPN president and Disney Suit John Skipper would never be confused on sight with Alan Hale’s seafaring TV character of the 1960s shipwreck comedy, Gilligan’s Island (’64-67 CBS). Now “Thurston Howell III,” Jim Backus’ sarcastic and always well-attired millionaire on the high-traffic but officially deserted key, he might bear a slightly better resemblance, at least in trappings.

Hale Jr. (“Skipper”), the son and near image of his famous actor father (mother was silent star Gretchen Hartman) and namesake who teamed with many greats including Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (38) (“Little John”), played the perpetually frustrated captain with the half-dozen castaways and bore little physical likeness to the contemporary Cufflink and Columbia graduate.

But were you to compare the two on their judgment and disposition of respective charges (“S.S. Minnow” v. ESPN), “Mr. Howell” might very well say this of both leaders: ‘Now I say, Lovie, there are two men cut from the same cloth…burlap!’

Disney ≠ sports

Last week the Disney (ESPN) sports network made the real news page when they announced the firing of 100 or so employees, some of long standing like NFL reporter / insider, Ed Werder and anchor Jay Crawford.

You want details on the pink-slip parade? You’ll have to peruse the net yourself. I can’t afford the megabytes, not with usage rates soaring skyward (oy vey).

Suffice to write, if these terminations are consistent with the industry approach in recent years, most of the pinkees were male, white, older (35+) and performed their jobs with overall skill and dedication, i.e., too many college degrees for too few jobs and with too many niche markets to meet.

Do we care about the cut-down, even as sport fans? Hmmm, not really. Aside from the smidgen of camaraderie I feel for the majority in that I too am male, white, degreed and older, those fired should’ve seen this coming years ago and prepared accordingly with resume updates in phone #s and references.

This mass, forced exodus may be just one more phase in a pattern of ill-advised changes that’ve been steadily implemented since Skipper took to steering content calls in 2005. Though, in the case of fired NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, the former QB had not been the same since he seems to’ve taken that bad (saboteur-ish (?)) advice from “Kenny Mitchell” on the set to develop an edge (See; Rob Parker).

What the downsize does do is provide a sounding-board for this former Disney devotee to vent views on likely motivations behind the on-going chintzy changes being wrought by Skipper & Co. to the network’s motif & mission, and then the big markers along this sad journey that have turned what had been a sport fan dreamland (1979 – 2010) into a nightmare that seems to have no good end.

♫ Those Were The Days My Friend ♫

I was a regular of ESPN’s early entrée in the 1980s. I think those like me had grown up on ABC Wide World of Sport and figured this was the next best step.

Diversity in race, gender and games was absent in the anchorage and content in this Mercury stage of cable media, so to speak. But by Apollo phase (85 >) pay-load in variety had launched, hit pay-dirt ($) and has been in orbit ever since.

Bottom-line: Everybody was welcome. Male or female, black or white, young or old, USA-born or foreign, most viewers had a common thread running through their collective letter jacket: A sincere love of sport. We didn’t care if you were a purple octopus from Venus reading the copy, if you knew your stuff, we could tell and we watched. And if you didn’t, we could spot that too. But those fakes never showed up on the Sportscenter back then or were awful terrific actors.

If a fan of the American majors (MLB, NFL, etc.) and highlights, you were in clover. Sport news served piping hot, before poker (Zzzz), college aid (ESPNU), morning fashion plate, kid content (X Games), music promos, Sportscenter specialty segments and all those boorish talking heads. Had the foreign sporting fare been served up (soccer (fútbol), rugby, béisbol – 野球 – 야구), their fans too would be waxing sentimental and grinding their teeth over ESPN’s devolution.

And there was always the ticker at the bottom of the screen as your fall-back to get scores, sans the endless sabrmetric snooze for today‘s fantasy gambler.

For $12 a month, basic cable gave you a whole new world of information, not as broadly capable as the internet but less pricey and totally cool.

For news you got locals, networks and CNN Headline 24-7 with neutral anchors who just read the copy. For sport you got TBS (Braves), WGN (Cubs), USA network and Bristol-based ESPN: Also 24-7 with anchors in standard-issue blazers. Then came the acquisitions by ABC (‘84), Capital Cities Communications (‘85) and in 1996 the game-changer in The Walt Disney Company.

The anchor personalities were memorable (Tom Mees (d.1996) and Charley Steiner come to mind), all clear, often clever without being cute. There wasn’t a clunker among ‘em. The savvy Linda Cohn and Bob Ley are the two remaining but most moved on to greener pastures ($) only to fall off the map, so to speak.

And now it’s all gone, gone with the wind in Turner vernacular.

Youthenization

In the 90s began the serious expansion and then dilution of the ESPN product.

First came ESPN Radio (‘92), ESPN2 (93), ESPY nite (Only SAG name is worse) and then the X Games (95), the start of a youthenization that’s swept the TV dial (Expect a “Harry Potter” marathon on TCM in the not too distant future) and all consumerland (See; Honda Civic). All reasonable enough ventures but started a process of change that’s become OCD with the Suits & Skirts in charge.

With Disney’s stewardship an arrogant air began to permeate the place. Contra-indicated, given the history of Walt‘s baby, but this wasn‘t your father’s Disney.

Media high-hats arrived like Tony Kornheiser, Stephen Smith, Skip Bayless, most on the Sports Reporters not named Dick Shaap or John Saunders, radio Colin Cowherd, onliner Bill Simmons, host Trey Wingo and former jocks in Marcellus Wiley, Tedy Bruschi and Mark Schlereth, all displaying to differing degrees, that boyish bravado to stoke confrontation and then have come to define the new ESPN gestalt: Edgy and most often annoying as hell, for sport fans, anyway.

Once at the content wheel, John put his Disney-sized staple-remover to work.

Out went trusty ESPN News (b.96), bread & butter for the sport junkie.

SportsCentury, the hour-long documentaries hosted by Chris Fowler, before he took residence in the weight room, that did more for sport and history than anything Ken Burns ever did (or likely will), was given the boot in 2007.

Pulled from premium, mid-level satellite – cable package was ESPN Classic where light-hearted (Cheap Seats) and thought-provoking diversions (Woody’s World), made with equal parts of insight and comedy, were showcased.

And due to the network coined ‘instant classic’ phrase, any game, even from the nite before, qualified as vintage, meaning, Howe v. Hull, Lasorda v. Herzog, Bird v. Magic, Marino v. Kelly, were permanently shelved as pre-historic.

Then came the clearest sign that Disney no longer had any interest whatsoever in keeping up the pretense that their ESPN property was a sports network.

Even as 1st and 10 had became the most highly anticipated daily sport debate in all of American media (2003-11), sometimes as a segment (Cold Pizza / First Take (AM gab-fest format)), later stand-alone but always diverse, Skipper pulled the plug and replaced it with a niche-market sabrmetric / diversity combo show called Numbers Never Lie, then His & Hers. Perfect.

I don’t watch much Disney (ESPN) anymore. I’d suspect not many sport fans do (unless an engineer or heart surgeon, “numbers (can) lie” plenty). Why go where you’re not welcome, especially when the time allotted for real sport news is thinner than the newest female anchor?

Who’s likely to watch the “leader” in sport coverage nowadays?

1) College females and family with a connection to Title IX;
2) College males and young brothers with fantasy play lineups;
3) Foreign-born citizens and residents (ESPN Deportes 2004);
3) NBA followers; and
4) NFL fans who have by August developed a ravenous appetite for anything football. The exits of the too comfortable Tom Jackson – Chris Berman can only fuel the hunger to feast whatever‘s put onto the plate.

Cohn spoke recently about the firings, stating that she believes “politics” played a role in the employee upheaval. That’s very likely but something long standing, more deeply engrained in the Disney dynamic is really at its root.

Youthful whimsy in cartoon defined the Disney company Walt and his brother Roy began in 1923 Los Angeles. That core purpose in selling to children and adult sentimentalities to that end has remained the focus in today’s diversified media and entertainment giant. Modern empire-builders, the Disneys understood the emerging, malleable market that were Amercia’s youth (plus their giving parents) and designed a template for success that worked as a sort of incubator of early youthenization marketing which John has simply carried over to the ESPNs.

Even as yesteryear’s cartoons and theme-park pirate patches have been replaced on the network with slinky club-wear, rap music motifs, fantasy-driven stat-parades and ESPN phone-apps, the goal remains the same: Selling to kids.

What’s good for the Donald has not always been what’s good for the Daisy.

Most perplexing in John Skipper’s management of the ESPN monopoly is that in its multitude of channel options, sufficient to cater to all their target markets in kids, females, foreign fare and angry men (radio), he could’ve quite easily stayed connected to the substantive news format on one of those channels to retain the base viewership that had always been the network’s real sustenance.

But when a better, more sport-centric, likely more popular product is juxtaposed along-side a channel that runs so much niche stuff or downright gobbledygook, that arrangement can make programmers, not necessarily prospective viewers, very uncomfortable for having slotted the ephemera in the first place.

Me and my ilk departed from ESPN Islands long ago. There’s a free charter on the south end with weather updates on the hour. It’ll take you anywhere you want. All you need to board is a suitcase full o’ frustration and a love of sport.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: TheWaltDisneyCompany, wordmark, wc.cca; A.Hale.Jr., 9.12.66, wc, GilligansIsland, CBS; ESPN, wc, word mark; ESPN2, wc, word mark; ESPN, wc, 2.26.10, Jaworski, Wingo, Schlereth, Bruschi, J.Kern; ESPN-studio, wc, Jkinsocal, Bristol-CT, 2.2.13; StraightShooter, citrus.fruit-label
Posted: 5.4.17 @ 12:28am EST, edit 5.4; Copyright © 2017

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MLB16 Chin Music: The Last Iconic, Hack’s 191 Endures As Ueber-Think Thrives

24 Aug

The Ueber Code: No $tone Unturned

Evanston, Illinois: That’s the birthplace.

It aught tell the reader, onto which of Windy City’s two major league ball-clubs I pin my hopes n’ dreams for World Series glory. It aught.

Not familiar with Chicagoland, beyond sports, its famous residents (Prez Obama, Ray Kroc (McDonald‘s), Carl Sandburg (“Big Shoulders”), Oprah Winfrey, Bill Murray) and the legends (Mrs. O‘Leary, Al Capone, Harry Caray)?

...........Hack.Wilson.smile.faceNo map-app? No problem. Some clues: I think Hank O’Day had moxie to burn while bribe-taking Joe Jackson, human as we all are, has no place in the Hall, ever.

Still in the dark? Hmmm, okay, let’s see…oh, oh, I’ve got it, this should flip the switch: My team was the first dynasty of professional baseball, winning the flag (6) or taking 2nd (3) nine of MLB’s first 15 years (1876 – 90) and today can make a strong case in claim of title to our nation’s most beloved sports franchise, i.e., America’s Team. A claim.

That‘s right, you got it, I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.

And like any Bruins backer worth their weight in beehive bounty, I accept the White Sox as a necessity to Chicago’s baseball gestalt, appreciating their one-half part in helping make that rare state, a metropolis supporting two major league teams (NYC, SF Bay, LA metro). Were they members of rival operations, i.e., a Federal, Players or American Association, that’d be even the better (quality & cost controls), but the Courts and compliant media don’t see it that way and most fans, even with $20 nachos, aren’t squawkin.’ Buuurp!

..........Comiskey.wc.thm.1910.BPLI’d appreciate South Siders even more had they chosen to keep “Old Roman” Charles Comiskey’s (1859-31) name for their new digs (1991-02), one that drips with cachet, first gaining national prominence in late 1880s as key cog in those great St. Louis Browns clubs (AA) and then of course as founder of Chicago’s entrant into the new rival American League, rather than cave to corporate shill, i.e., US Cellular, a tag with about as much cachet as a corn-dog n’ cola. Buuurp!

Nevertheless, I do hold the Pale Hose in higher regard than HFCS, most TV and fellow Evanstonian Peter Ueberroth who as Commissioner in ‘84 PS gave Cubs playoff chances, their first in 40 years (25 more than Padres existed), the short shrift in awarding the Garvey – Gwynn Padres home-field (SD 3-2), even as San Diego was five up in the loss column over the Sandburg – Sutcliffe North-siders, then strong-armed the Cubs into installing lights in the friendly confines.

Not very nice, Peter.

And not all too bright either, given that this baseball version of America’s Team was likely the favored opponent of neutralites around baseball nation who were eagerly anticipating the match-up with Sparky’s roaring Tigers (DET 4-1 SD).

But that sort of play was $OP for Pete in his two Directorships, the first selling the summer semi-Olympics in Los Angeles (Commies stay home after Corporates boycott Moscow (80)), then in steering MLB operations (Oct.1984-89), a procedure that would change the business of sport management forever.

..........Ueberroth.wc.USGov.thm.WrigleyWhile his baseball reign was a cup o’ coffee in Commissioner time, his directives have had staying power, becoming the template for sport leaders from coast to coast in both professional and semi-pro (NCAA) ranks.

The Ueber Principle: Maximization of profit potential (MPP). Nothing’s sacred, nothing’s off the table. Everything in the sport is either a billboard or bargaining chip in a profit scheme. If it doesn’t turn a buck, it’s out with the recyclables, Dude. Continuity, style, history, reflection, ‘Where’s the consumerism in those, Loser?’ Oy vey.

In a real sense, Pete’s tack was an outgrowth from Earl Butz’ game-plan for US farm families in the 70s, President Nixon & Ford’s landscape-changing Secretary of Agriculture: ‘Get big or get out!’ Sans the subsidies (anti-trust?), but ballparks no small contributor to the push on high-fructose corn syrup consumption.

And it’s not just greedy owners and media minions who push the UP, union rank n’ file (& Retainers) are at the front of the profit parade. When it comes to money in sport the enemies (owners) of my enemies (players) are friends. Cha-ching!

Ueberroth’s predecessor Bowie Kuhn (1969-84) was no Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two!”) and had his critics in owners (Finley / Steinbrenner) and players both (Flood / Mays & Mantle (casino ties)). But the Maryland native and former NL lawyer did exude a sporting spirit in maintaining a competitive field, backed the induction of Negro League greats into the Hall as their BoD resisted and had an awares of the corrupting influence that some forms of profiteering can have on a game‘s integrity (fantasy gamble, etc.). Cufflink with a conscience?

.....Kuhn.wc.MLB.1982.thmToday, those kind of views will make you a sauropod, flagged straight into the tar-pits. Gulp!

The games are no longer pastimes but merely vehicles for money-makers with smallest of pretense given to quaint notions of reflection & trust. No surprise then that most players now live by the Machiavellian (or Orson Wellesian (The War of the Worlds (radio ‘38))) credo: ‘Ends ($$) justify the means (PEDs),’ or, in present verbage, ‘Cheat if you can get away with it (smirk), even if you don’t (See: Lance, Braun, A-Rod, Lochte, Al-Jazeera 4, etc.) because you’ll get a Disney gig either way. Honk!

And the passengers taken for a ride in the vehicle? Young consumers, of course, the most malleable market who slurp celebrity n’ selling-points the media’s all too eager to pour (Goodell’s grim, rule change needed, officiating awful, etc.).

Hoping for Hatchlings

With the 2016 Cubs cruising to a Central crown, a 2nd straight post-season and most people’s pick to win their first Pennant in over 70 years, you might think I’d be giddy with good vibrations. And then you’d probably be new to sports.

.........Wrigley.wc.Jblesage.5.28.08.thmIf there’s one thing a well-weathered Wrigleyite is not, it is a chicken-counter, as in before those proverbial eggs get hatched. Hatchlings here being the necessary deeds & titles (playoff ticket punched, NLDS win, NLCS, etc) that must be in-hand for residence in Champion City.

The caution comes from generations of fan disappointment, starting with every Cubs contender post-1918, from Hippo Vaughn’s hopefuls, who had a higher BA (.210 v .186), scored more total runs (Red Sox’ Ruth top RBI man (2))) and lower ERA (2.18 v 2.30) than their ‘victorious’ Boston opponents, to last season’s NLCS fellows of fizzle (0-4 NYM) and 11 other post-season busts in between.

Wilson Watch: The New 61

But there is an achievement so impressive, so weighty that Bruins’ backers can, around late-August of every season, reflect upon with pride and satisfaction, one that’s not likely to be eclipsed anytime soon if ever, and that is Hall of Famer Hack Wilson’s eye-popping 1930 single-season tally of 191 RBIs.

This season, that satisfaction came earlier as the only challenges to the 191 were mounted by Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Nolan Arenado (COL) who just hit the 100 RBI mark last week. With five weeks to go it’s safe to say, “forget about it.”

........Hack-wilson_bat.thmHack’s record will likely stand for another winter and is so frozen in place it’s gonna’ take a serious bump-up in greenhouse gas emissions and disappearance of at least one polar cap to melt the icy wall of invincibility that seems to surround the mark.

There are many tremendous single-season records in MLB’s annals that’ve been achieved, challenged and sometimes bested since it‘s first opening day in 1876.

A short list of some unique and still standing notables:

· Boston Beaneater Hugh Duffy bats .440, wins NL Triple Crown in 1894;
· Same season, Phillies’ Billy Hamilton crosses home plate 198 times;
· Christy Mathewson wins 31 (1.27) and tosses 3 CG-SOs in 1905 Series;
· Ed Walsh wins 40 in ‘08 (1.42 / 464 IN / 42 CG) as Sox team bats .224;
· Ruth’s 1921: 177r, .378ba, 16tp, .846slg, 17sb, 145bb, 59hr and 171rbi;
· Indians’ Joe Sewell strikes out a mere four times in 608 at-bats in 1925;
· Rogers Hornsby wins 2nd Triple Crown in 1925 batting .403 (.401 ‘22);
· AL Leader in HR, R, SLG & OB%, Ted Williams hits .406 in style (41);
· Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson breaks MLB color barrier, wins ROY in ‘47;
· A’s Bill Fischer pitches 84.1 straight innings w/out issuing a walk in ‘62;
· B. Gibson (22-9 / 1.12) & D. McLain (31-6 / 28 CG) go pitch crazy in 1968;
· O. Hershiser throws 59 scoreless innings en route to ‘88 Series win (A’s).

Some sportologists try to sell the theory that the ‘streak’ is baseball’s grandest feat for its high stress and unassailability. And to that I say, poppycock, Doc.

.......Barrow.Ruth.Frazee.McInnis.wc.1918.TSN.282kSuch marks may prove invincible once sanctioned but anything subject to official scoring (Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56) or personal discretion (Cal Ripken’s 2632) will, upon closer inspection, reveal weak-links in their chains of greatness.

Ever since Yankees’ GM Ed Barrow snatched the Babe from Beantown (‘19), fans have thrilled at power-ball. Goodbye spitters, dead-ball hitters and “Hit ‘em where they ain‘t” (Keeler),..hello lively ball, home run call and “Holy cow, he did it (Rizzuto)!”

In supplanting Ruth’s 60 single-season homer mark (‘27) in 1961, Maris’ number became the biggest jewel in the crown of baseball exploits and holy grail every big bopper in the game wanted to grasp. If the stars aligned, both homer marks did invite serious challenges: Foxx (58 / ‘32); Wilson (56 / ‘30); Greenberg (58 / ’38); Kiner (54 / ‘49); Griffey (56 / ‘97).

But it was the possibility which made them enticing and then easy prey for the performance-enhancing slugs.

Juicers blew by the iconic 61 like it suddenly didn’t exist, as fans & media went ga-ga over Mark & Sammy (’98). The hypocrites could fill every park in the land.

.......Sisler.Ruth.Cobb.10.4.24.wc.929k.LoCSome of the great bat marks felled in recent years:

Maris’ 61, SS – HR (‘61), bested by Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa (‘98), then Barry Bonds’ 73 (‘01);
Hank Aaron’s 755 career HR (‘76), overtaken by San Francisco Giants Bonds’ 762 total in 2007;
George Sisler’s SS – 257 hits (‘20), surpassed by Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 with 262 safeties.

Baseball’s governors have a sticky-wicket on their manicured hands: What does Elias Sports Bureau do about Bonds tainted tallies (73 / 762)? Does Ichiro get a pass? Not bold-decision makers and, as noted, focused on coin rather than history, Manfred & Co. will likely continue on the ‘do-nothing’ path and leave the mess for future generations to resolve. Guardians of the game? Ugh.

What the major league game clearly needs is an injection of some Kenesaw Mountain Landisonium to give baseball back its courage and clarity, in play, ownership, management, media coverage and record-keeping, a bedrock component since 1876 . Get Pfizer on that one, STAT.

As such, Roger’s fabled 61 will never regain its former luster, leaving one, last, great, untouched single-season, power mark, free from the grimy fingerprints left by drug-cheats, calling-cards ignored by baseball’s cops on the beat (MLB & collectors in media) who seem only interested in making their pension.

......Hack.Wilson.Goudey.wc.1933.thmWilson’s gargantuan RBI record has stood the test of time (86 years) and serves as testament to what a man on a team stamped Good Dugout Seal-of-Approval can achieve w/out body armor, cortisone, PEDs and $30M-a-year (K).

The 191 is the new standard for power prowess, benchmark for immortality. It’s the new 61. But you won’t hear that on Disney (ESPN) or MLB Network.

Had Hack painted his masterpiece with a New York brush (NYG 1923-25) instead of Chicago, epicenter of trains, Great Lakes traffic, commodities & Midwest flair, Gotham City scribes would’ve immortalized Wilson’s fantastic feat in poetry & prose (See; Franklin Pierce Adams). As it stands, the media mecca of America will never pay homage to a record set by a Second City sultan.

Another reason Hack’s 191 is marginalized: So few have challenged it.

There were Gehrig (184 / ‘31), Greenberg (183 / ‘37) & Foxx (175 / ‘38), but even with today’s advantages in armor, medicine, nite n’ lites, travel-zip, more games, AL-DH, Denver and lower mound, 153 (T. Davis / ’62) and 165 (M. Ramirez / ’99) are closest anyone’s gotten in over 60y. Tigers Miguel Cabrera stood at 130 with five weeks+ left in the 2012 season and finished with a thud (139).

RBIs need three things: Base-runners, a team-mentality and general health.

......MeetingGods.wc.1630.Poelenburch.RPG-Mauritshuis.3mRuth ushered in homer-ball but Depression era players were frugal fellows, never forgetting the purpose behind batting: Score runs, win games! Today’s Home Run Derby mindset sneers at OBP and then, when the table is set, too many batters ( & Mgrs) fixate on the long ball.

Maybe the Sporting Gods guard the 191 as an emblem to an era. Good riddance to segregation and the fixola (1919) which was embedding but honoring the days free of nightly walk-off bunny-hop hysteria, Gatorade® drench, shave cream pie-in-the-face routine, drag pants, body armor, late-game World Series snooze (Zzzz), drug cheats (PEDs), tinker-bells (in rule change), sabrmetrics nor hanger-ons who hope for Hall call. Only records most 30s guys cared about spun on a Victrola.

And maybe Cubs finally take the Pennant again this season, maybe they don’t.

What’s certain now and likely to remain certain for the foreseeable future is that practically no one remembers who won the Pennants or World Series two years ago but nearly every baseball fan worth their weight in salted peanuts n’ franks knows the name of the man who holds major league baseball’s single-season runs-batted-in mark. “Hackidu” it’s you! That aught tell you something about the sacrosanct status of records, Mr. Manfred. So get crackin!’

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credit: H.Wilson-R.Hornsby, Chicago Cubs; H.Wilson; C.Comiskey, BPL, 1910, wc.cca; P.Ueberroth, wc, Wrigley, US.Gov; B.Kuhn, wc, 1982, MLB; Wrigley.Field, Jblesage, wc, 5.28.8; H.Wilson; E.Barrow, B.Ruth, H.Frazee, S.McInnis, wc, 1918, TSN; G.Sisler, B.Ruth, T.Cobb, LoC, wc, 10.4.24; Wilson, Goudey, wc, 1933; Meeting.Gods, wc, 1630, Poelenburch, RPG-Mauritshuis; Canned-corn
Posted: 8.24.16 @ 2:17pm EST; Copyright © 2016

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.

.............tailor.VEB.Erfurt.Schmidt.1955.wc.thumb

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.

......NFL.wikiproject.6kb

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.

.........cherries.Hispalois.Spain.wc.cc.thumb

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 W9: Contender Poor

1 Nov

The Great Pretender(s)

You might’ve heard Carl Sandburg’s famous line, “Sometime they’ll give a war and no one will come (The People, Yes (‘36)).”

Not as serious but in that same vane: What if they held a playoffs and “no one” showed?

Unfortunately, everyone invited will make the NFL‘s post-season party, even though at midway point in this 2014 season it’s looking like serious contenders are in short supply: Denver, New England, Arizona, Philly and a few borderline.

Where have all the contenders gone?

Packers and Cowboys, clubs on the rise and media darlings of week 8, both looked ready to rule the roost and then proceeded to lay an egg with loses against New Orleans (3-4) and Washington (2-5), respectively, two teams who had looked pretty tepid in 2014.

Ravens and 49ers were also making their cases for contendership but recent slip-ups reminded football fans that rumors of their ascension to serious status were slightly exaggerated.

............Rivers, J.Beall, wc.cca, 1.12.14, thumb

Two of last season’s more memorable playoff performers in Super Seattle and AFC dark horse San Diego started where they left off but have since showed some chinks in the armour and appear not quite the same teams.

It’s not just the losing. Excepting the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriot, teams are gonna’ have their ups & downs in the course of a 16-game season. It’s when and how teams choose to falter that makes contender such an ephemeral tag in the pro set.

After starting 0-2 w/loses to heavy-hitters in DEN & PHI, Colts went on a five-game win streak and had the ranking-set all a flutter. Then they ran into AFC rival Pittsburgh (W8: 34-51) and have prognosticators scratching their heads. But when one considers how Indy got spanked by NE in 2014-PS (22-43), this recent shellacking is no shocker.

Former early hopefuls the Bears, Falcons, Texans, Panthers and Giants have all been knocked to the canvas and show little sign of rising for the bell, let alone raising the belt.

............Eli.1.15.12.wc.cca.M.Morbeck.GB.thumb

There’s still time for turnarounds & tune-ups. Someone’s gotta’ fill these playoff slots and it’s looking like 8-8 could fill one in both conferences.

And there are positive signs.

Pre-season hopefuls KC, Cincy, Pittsburgh and New Orleans are building back w/recent impressive wins, surprise squads in Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit are hanging tough while nobody’s pre-season pick to challenge for a playoff spot outside of Floridians and this writer, Miami, is proving Bullygate did not destroy this franchise while the early, frequent calls for Mr. Tannehill’s head (62.3 C%) have faded to silence.

Where have all the (hopefuls) gone, long time passing…
Oh, when will (we) ever learn,
Oh, when will (we) eeeeevvveeer learn (Seeger ‘55)?

Swing Time

It might be the new betting craze: in lop-sided NFL games, plunking down money on the high likelihood of a massive swing in 2nd-half momentum where the team trailing turns the tables and snatches victory from the lollygagging leader who shockingly goes flat.

It’s a lock.

One might suspect skullduggery to explain these inexplicable flips in on – off (player performance) switch, from one half to the next. But that’s quickly dismissed by the near impossibility in pulling-off such a dastardly deed with the vast loyalty-factor it’d require.

..........Astaire.RKO.1936.Follow.thumb

Swings in momentum are nothing new.

Sometimes they’re attributable to weather, injury, turnovers or even adjustments.

But what goes on today is more frequent (See; SB47), predictable, sustained & staggering to chalk up to something as simple as a few turnovers. There’s a pattern here

Watch for the next lopsided score. One team’s up 14, 21, 24, and like clockwork, they’ll squander every last point, while the riser, who couldn’t seem to tie their shoes the previous half, are an unstoppable juggernaut in the second round.

And is there a fan in 2014 who doesn’t anticipate just this same super swing in momentum when they peruse the halftime scores and spot a blow-out? Not bloody likely.

Crazy as it sounds, you’re almost better off not going up big in half-one, for if you do and you‘re not fully prepared, the swing-back in momentum will knock you out cold.

If not orchestrated, what then the explanation?

Adult Attention Deficit Disorder?

A concentration that can hone in like a heat-seeking, missile, then dissipate as quickly as it came about. On the other side, one that lays dormant, unable to formulate but later, somehow, coalesces in the locker-room at half.

Latest case-in-point: NFL’s showcase game at London’s Wembley Stadium last Sunday morning (EST), between Detroit Lions and designated home team Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta jumps out 14-0 (1Q), then parlays a 21-0 commanding lead to go intermission.

The savvy gambler would have, if permitted, laid down a wad on Detroit to roar back, expecting the birds radar to go on the fritz as they fly straight into a plate-glass window.

Swing time.

............Astaire. Rogers.Flying.RKO.33.wc.cca.thumb

And that’s just what happened as the teams returned to the field, the roles completely reversed and Detroit squeaked out a 22-21 victory.

So here’s a team (DET) that hadn’t a clue how to play football in first half, then, during the break, figures out how to ‘split the (pigskin) atom,’ on both sides of the ball, mind you, as the hot shots from Hotlanta seemed to’ve mis-laid their playbook.

The same thing happens on the college scene where defending champ Florida State fell down 0-21 to host University of Louisville Thursday night (7-21 H), quickly tied it in the 3rd, held the now flat-lining Cardinals to 10 points and won away, 42-31.

Some call these shocking turnarounds, rallies. I’m not sure what to call em, but they ain‘t rallies. Equal parts resurrection from the dead and sinking of the Titanic.

Maybe this is one for the psychology folk.

Today’s player may simply be given to powerful mood swings (PEDs), the highs too high, the lows so deep they’re like quicksand from which you just can’t extricate yourself. Coaches & captains try to keep things even keel, balance the emotional scale but just can’t control the widespread tendency.

Whatever’s going on, it making for some pretty sorrowful football.

Curious Quotes

NFLN’s Brian Billick commenting on Tom Brady’s bodacious numbers compiled against the woeful Bears in Patriots huge win on Sunday (51-23):

............Billick.8.8.07.wc.cca.k.Allison.thumb

“If that (30-35 / 354y / 5td) is not (deserving of) a perfect quarterback rating, what is? The (QB) number is the most useless rating in the history of this game (Billick).”

When it comes to saber-think, Brian (QBR, WAR, etc.), ours is not to reason why, but to simply, obey. So they demand.

Wardrobe Dysfunction

Sunday NFL Countdown sought to fill morning air-time last game-day with a cutesy kids segment to honor the festive spirit of Halloween. It was called “Da Pumpkin Patch” as Mike Ditka handed out pumpkins & candy to youngsters dressed in their favorite team’s garb. All nice, all in good fun.

What wasn’t nice was the fashion statement in person of the female hostess (?) haunting the segment.

............ESPN.Jkinsocal.wc.cca.2.1.13.thumb

With advent of the new, hip-hop, flashy, noisy, hi-techy, stand & deliver ESPN, the “worldwide (monopoly) in sport” has seen fit to fit their female anchors with the latest & greatest in club-wear. The men remain in standard suit & tie.

This kid’s segment featured the hostess in high-heels and skin-tight leather pants. Inappropriate for any sport segment unassociated with TMZ and the like, but certainly poor style for a Sunday morning kid show.

I suspect the wardrobes of anchors and analysts are corporately directed. That means ESPN President John Skipper’s hand may be the one guiding the style or the hands of those that do “da” selecting.

There was another “Skipper” awhile back whose look was a tad mundan, for sure (See; Gilligan‘s Island), but at least Alan Hale’s wardrobe fit the deserted isle theme. As for “Ginger,” well, formal evening wear’s alwyas ship shape.

.........Cherries.on.cloth.thumb

Cherry Picks Week 9: Who Want’s It?

Cards (6-1) @ Dallas (6-2): 11-2 Fox 1:00 EST (GOTW2): AZ wins
Eagles (5-2) @ Houston (4-4): Fox 1:00: Philadelphia wins
Chargers (5-3) @ Miami (4-3): CBS 1:00: San Diego wins
Broncos (6-1) @ New England (6-2): CBS 4:30 (GOTW): Pats win
Ravens (5-3) @ Pittsburgh (5-3): NBC 8:35: Steelers win
Colts (5-3) @ New York (3-4): ESPN 11-3 8:35: Giants win

Record: 43 – 23 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: T.Romo, 9.26.10, wc.cca, A.Guel, 2m; P.Rivers, wc.cca, 1.12.14, J.Beall; J.Cutler, 11.1.09, wc.cca, M.Schadle; Astaire, RKO, Follow, 1936, wc.cca; Astaire & Rogers, Flying, wc.cca, RKO, 1933, wc.cca; B.Billick, wc.cca, 8.8.07, K.Allison; ESPN-HQ, Bristol, 2.1.13, Jkinsocal; cherries, wc.cca, 6-11, picdrome
Posted: 10-31-14 @ 11:58pm; edit 11-1 @ 10:43am EST