Tag Archives: sports

NBA.F17: Resting Has Warriors Besting LeBron’s Backs-to-the-Wall Gang

6 Jun

It was as plain as even the rather small nose on the forlorn face of Stephen Curry as he watched his Golden State Warriors in the closing seconds of last June’s NBA Finals, about to drop their third game, second in a row, to their fierce foes the Cleveland Cavaliers who were going to take game six (115-101) and even-up the Series at 3-3, the defending champs having squandered a 3-1 lead: The 2016 single-season record setters in victories (73) were, not surprisingly, dog tired.

It had been a whirlwind campaign of championship and achievements for the Bay boys, having bested LeBron’s bunch in Finals 2015 (4-2), his 2d Cleveland tenure, then almost running the table the following regular season to reach those 2016 Finals only to fall short (3-4) to what in the aftermath must’ve seemed a certain James’ destiny to bring a first NBA title to his native Ohio.

That Wars’ leader and star Curry had bagged two (2) consecutive MVP awards added just that much more glitter, and pressure, to their mostly joyous run.

So when coach Steve Kerr & Company failed to complete the technical dynasty (at least two (2) sequential championships), all asked, ‘What happened?’

LeBron James happened, of course, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote last July in wake of Wars unexpected collapse and Cavs historical comeback win, postulating what was a major factor in the result and what the future (F17) held in store:

“The weary factor: It’s why Warriors failed to close the deal on what might’ve been the greatest season in NBA history. Ironically, those 73 RS wins that put them on precipice of immortality were also the reason why they fell short. Winning that many takes its toll, as previewed in the WC final vs OKC (4-3) where the champs had to pull their fat outta’ the fire just to move on. Of course, those 1995-96 Bulls piled a weary-worthy total themselves in their super season (72-10) and still managed to take the title vs Seattle (4-2). Just sayin.’

Rubbermaid® NBA Finals 2017

NBA’s powers-that-be salivate over thought of a Cavs – Wars 3-peat. Who’s gonna’ stop ‘em, besides the injury bug? That the Association’s quality of competition rating is at lowest ebb since the scaling was first calibrated by this writer some years back, matters not in the least to the Cufflinks, the same frat-boys who think tanking’s a joke, as long as the Big Celebrities make it to the Big Party, i.e., LeBron, Stevo, Durantula, Love & Irving.

Even if Durant does work a small drain of the splash-pool and Lue takes no action to teach Kyrie who’s #1 (James) and fundamentals of point play, i.e., ‘See the ball, set a play, pass the ball,’ these two teams should have little trouble making it into next season’s Finals, again barring any notable injury issues.

If they do meet, it’s Warriors who likely take the rubber-match.

Kyrie Irving’s not about to learn that kindergarten starter-skill called sharing and former All-Star Kevin Love is now so marginalized by team & press that LeBron’s gonna’ lose whatever hair he has left by season’s end.

For the Oaklanders, they’ve already got the 73, the substantive one (See; B.Bonds (‘01)), and Kerr will make damn sure his men are better rested this time in event they make the WC finals. Sixty-plus should get home-court…no tanking, mind you, but Stevo will give his starters…respites as needed to avoid weariness that turned splash into a prolonged belly-flop in G5-7 (https://stevenkeys.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/nba17-too-many-cooks-spoil-the-splash-but-cavs-wars-are-rubbermade-for-re-match/).”

So, did Kerr work to curb enthusiasm in a strategy to help ensure his men had enough Finals end-game this time around? The six (6) fewer regular season victories (67-15) suggests he might have. Of course, having 2014 MVP Kevin Durant rostered this season has certainly played a part to ease some burden, maintain energy levels, while at the same time easing his own workload for the first time since his rookie NBA campaign in 2007 (Seattle (OKC)).

Which brings this Series, this terrific NBA trilogy of titledom that may someday rival the fantastic Lakers v. Boston feud of the 80s (Jordan never had a great rivalry) to its critical point: Game 3. It’s winner will likely win these Finals, for a third W for the Wars will break Cleveland’s spirit while a Cavs victory will enspirt a team that seems to play best when their backs are to the wall.

We might even get one of those forever frozen in time moments, as when Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, at center for Jabbar, scored on that baby hook-shot late to steal G5 (?) in the Garden, going a long way in helping LA win the ‘87 Series and then the rightful claim to supremecy as the decade‘s best. We might.

Steven Keys
Nothing But Net
Photo credit: basketball-net, wc.cca, 1995, static; S.Kerr-NBA.referee, wc, 2.24.25, K.Allison; S.Curry, wc, N.Salzman, 4.6.14; Love-Irving-James, 10.1.14, wc, E.Drost;
Posted: 6.6.17 @ 6:45p EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017

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

NFL17: Adrian Peterson Pressing For Saint-hood On a 2d Miracle Comeback

27 Apr

Adrian Peterson v. Marshawn Lynch

If New Orleans Saints new superstar in Adrian Peterson can pull off yet another miracle comeback as he did in 2015 when, post-injury, he led the League in rush yards and the Vikes to an 11-5 mark, it won’t qualify him for sainthood by Vatican standards but it should help to return the NFL Saints back to contendership while exorcizing any demon that All-Day may’ve realized in last year’s physical and family troubles. “The power of Christ (and a Super Bowl ring) compels you!”

On Monday, Peterson inked a 2-yr, $7 million deal with the Saints (3.5M gtd (2.5b)) that has a potential to pay the future HOF’er $8M+ if incentives are met.

Adrian’s exit from Minnesota and subsequent sign with his former team’s 2010 NFCC opponent, ironic in that it was they (NO) who forced him into fumblitis (3) to stymie his one chance at Super trip, marks the end of an era for the franchise which is still seeking its first SB win in four tries and return trip to the Big Game since 1977 when Bud Grant strolled the frigid Metropolitan (MoA) sideline.

In Peterson’s ten seasons in the Land of 10.000 Lakes, missing almost two complete campaigns due to knee injuries, Purple made the playoffs four (4) times, getting as far as the NFCC once with Brett Favre under center, Adrian winning All-Pro honors four times and MVP (AP) in 2012.

The Vikings have some things to smile about on the departure of their franchise face: A glittering new stadium (US Bank), veteran, fairly savvy QB in Sam Bradford and a head coach in Mike Zimmer who has returned the Norseman to a semblance of defensive respectability (#3 yapg / #6 papg) that has only been seen sporadically since the Vikings glory days in the 70s.

But while their braintrust in GM Rick Spielman, owners Wilf (Zygi – Mark) and the coach may feel equal parts of gratitude and relief when the optioned-out Peterson turns topic, they’ve still got a major problem in matriculation (offense) that’s persisted since Favre’s exit, one which the Draft won’t resolve quickly.

The Saints, on the other hand, they matriculate just fine.

In final 2016 regular season ranks, New Orleans led all teams in yards gained per game (426), just ahead of NFC champion, Atlanta (416 (#2)), and flip it with their regional rival in the all important points scored per game category (#1 / 33.8), putting up on average 29+ per (#2) last year.

When you’ve got record-setter Drew Brees expertly manning the controls (2001), an ageless wonder who, like Tom Brady, looks to have some kind of a Dorian Gray thing going, sans the gruesome painting (See; O.Wilde), offense is rarely a problem. Those 1000 receivers can come in (Michael Thomas) and go out (Brandin Cooks (NE)) and Brees just keeps breezing along.

And even a quarterbacking-machine like Brees needs a break from the pressure now and then. And that’s the run game’s job, assuming the OL is doing theirs.

Besides relieving the signal-caller of certain stress, a good ground attack also helps keep the defense on its toes and guessing. New Orleans got that in 2016 from backfield tandem in Mark Ingram (5.1) and the since departed Tim Hightower (4.1 (SF)). And that’s where All-Day will come into play.

But it’s the defensive side, once a strong suit for the gold & black but now New Orleans’ mountain to conquer, that‘ll need most attention. Key defensive ranks in 2016: #27 in yards allowed per contest; #31 points per. The collapsing Falcons (See; SB51) better join that climbing team, too, or can forget winning, let alone getting back to the Big Game (#25 / 27).

— — —

With the Raiders recent acquisition of game-dormant but very visible running back Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks for a 2018 draft swap (5R for 6R), there emerges a curious comparison to the Saints own Peterson pick-up.

Lynch sat out all of last season and played < half of 2015. It’s good to workout (ML passed his Oakland test), but that won’t replace game hits and habits. Like Adrian, Marsh is no spring chicken, having turned 31 last week (2007). In AARP years (1 NFL year = 5 AARP), both men would be eligible for benefits & discounts (Caution: Always find & read boilerplate before contracting). Unlike Adrian, Marshawn has a title ring, playing a small but key role in ‘Hawks SB48 win.

Where Peterson gets winning points is in his attitude.

Lynch promotes himself as a free-spirit, some might say a wingnut. That’s cute when times are good but when rough waters hit, it’s the kooks that tend to pout and withdraw inward, a bad character trait in the ups & downs of team sport. In addition, because of his extended absence from the NFL, one has to seriously question Marshawn’s level of commitment to the competition.

With Adrian commitment is never in question. Imbued with great determination, his drive for perfection is pronounced, maybe too much so at times, in himself and with those around him. Big question on Peterson is not whether there is still sufficient ‘gas in the tank’ but will the tires hold out (knees)? Like Lynch, AP has missed nearly two of the last three seasons and turned 32 in March.

Ingram (2011), who joined the 1000 rusher club in 2016, is expected to remain the #1 carrier in Sean Payton – Pete Carmichael’s scoring scheme. If Peterson can contribute 600 on the ground, 200 in the air and impart some of his 10 years of NFL experience to the up n‘ comers, GM Mickey Loomis will be pleased.

The Saints (7-9) were competitive down the stretch in 2016, going 3-3 with only the Detroit loss a poor show. Again, a serious reconfiguration of D-scheme is New Orleans’ key to success in 2017 (See; Atlanta), but a healthy and occasionally electric Adrian could give their offense that added pop to keep defenders, and then the whole Saints sideline, confident in a return to contendership.

Commentators in the Bayou and in the Saints’ circle of strategy are tempering expectations over the arrival of the rehabbed and rather aged Mr. Peterson. But his gangbusters style of run and Hall-of-Fame credentials will no doubt give Saints fans hope that Adrian has another miracle in his pocket, or in his legs, as it were. The man and his mission to make good will likely be in their prayers.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject; A.Peterson, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12, wc.cca; D.Brees-Conways, USMC, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.9; M.Lynch, wc, 2.5.14, D.Sizer; Mosaic-Saint, Geolina, AachenCathedral, wc, Germany, 2011; J.Otto, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 4.27.17 @ 4:16pm; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: Draft Dogs and Pony Show to Exhibit at Philadelphia Museum of Art

21 Apr

Gotta’ hand it to the curators of the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft, they can spin friggin’ straw into freakin’ gold, holy Rumpelstiltskin!

With a player product possessing of such a high degree of uncertainty as do most college draftees, the Cufflinks have done a splendid job in persuading media conglomerate (Disney / Comcast / NA / Fox / TW) that draft days (4.27 – 29) are “must see TV” and the plethora of fluctuating mockery (pre-draft boards) that precede ‘em are required homework for every fantasy follower.

Within this year’s mildly-anticipated draft will quite possibly be a future Hall-of-Famer, maybe two, likely multiple Pro Bowlers (today about half the NFLPA membership) and anywhere from 30-50% who will roster in the NFL and / or practice squads for on average of 3-5 years.

On the flip side, of the seven (7) rounds of picks, including those of the compensatory selections, about 2/3rds will last for but from 0-2 years in the National (50-70%), never to roster or just in for a cup o’ Gatorade®. Keep in mind that the League does need to replenish its ranks, so, even if that year’s pool is rated luke-warm, if teams are top-heavy in older players, the so-so selectees may get an atypically longer look-see from needy coaches & GMs.

With those numbers, with that state of ephemeralia, it’s nothing short of miraculous the job that NFL Suits & Skirts have done in selling this Traveling Circus of Selection to the buying public.

I use ‘buying public’ generously here, given that 90% of those enthralled with the tedious tally of picks over three days are young males aged 9-22, 20% of those matriculating in sport media. But hey, they’re consumers, too, you know it.

— — —

I’ve listed herein a break-down of all the 1R pick performances from last year’s 2016 draft held in the city with “Big Shoulders,” in total a result I believe that’s pretty typical of most first-year, first-rounders in the League.

A team’s 1st-round pick is certainly not wholly determinative of the success or failure of that year’s draft or its decision-making. The following rounds (2-7 (+C)), assuming every team chooses in most of those later phases, can, on wisdom and a little luck, bolster a clubs roster for years to come, even as the #1 turns pumpkin before its pie-time (bust-a-roo).

But that first pick, even as a 2nd-rounder, is also a very well vetted pick.

And not just combine skills but mental maneuverability as well, in test form and real world record, making Deshaun Watson’s surprise visit to a Tuscaloosa eatery a few weeks back, with no intro, no greet n’ meet before settling-in to start a good vibe, a display of ghastly gall that may’ve banked on the race – rivalry confusion to pull off the play, a factor then in his reliability rating, on field and off.

There is bold & brave, and then there is just plain bad judgment. Rivals worth their weight will often need only the smallest excuse to be generous beyond their legal duty. I guess small is still humungous for the gargantuan ego.

But in truth, most of the time and hope that a search committee invests will ride on that first selection. When it doesn’t pan out or provides less-than-expected benefit, it puts just that much more pressure on the following picks, where the pool of talent dilutes accordingly with each passing round, to pan in. And of course, draft outcomes will play to some degree on the tenor of talks come contract time with established veterans

That doesn’t mean that positively peachy picks can’t be had on the back branches. They certainly can as the Dallas Cowboys (Dak Prescott 4R(C) -MVP candidate), Chicago Bears (Jordan Howard 5R) and Kansas City Chiefs proved (Tyreek Hill 5R, 1T-All Pro) with some of the best grabs in the bunch for 2016.

#31: Germain Ifedi, OT, Seattle Seahawks, 13g (13s)*
#30: Vernon Butler, DT, Carolina Panthers, 10g (0s), 1-fr, 1.5s, 5t-8a
#29: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona Cardinals, DT, 5g (0)
#28: Joshua Garnett, OG, San Francisco 49ers, 15g (11), 3fr
#27: Kenny Clark, DT, Green Bay Packers, 16g (2), 2-fr, 13t-8a
#26: Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos, 3g (2), 1-1, 59%, 2t-1i, 6.ypa
#25: Artie Burns, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 16g (9), 3i, 13pd, 51t-13a
#24: William Jackson, CB, Cincinnati Bengals, 0g, pre-season injury (pec)
#23: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 9g (1), 1r, punt team
#22: Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins, 2g (0), 2r, not “healthy (?)”
#21: Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans, 14g (13), 47r, 635y, 2td
#20: Darron Lee, LB, New York Jets, 13g (9), 42t-28a
#19: Shaq Lawson, DE, Buffalo Bills, 10g (1), 7t-6a
#18: Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts, 16g (16), “one of good pieces (GM)”
#17: Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons, 14g (14), 72t-33a, 5pd, 5ff
#16: Taylor Decker, OT, Detroit Lions, 16g (16)
#15: Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns, 10g (10), 33r, 413y, 3td
#14: Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders, 12g (9), 44t-16a, 1i, 1ff
#13: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Miami Dolphins, 14g (14)
#12: Sheldon Rankins, DT, New Orleans Saints, 9g (0), 4sk, 15t-5a
#11: Vern Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 16 (16), 10pd, 68t-8a
#10: Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants, 14g (11), 7pd, 41t-8a, 1i-1ff-2fr
#9: Leonard Floyd, LB, Chicago Bears, 12g (12), 7sk, 23t-10a (W11 neck-C))
#8: Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans, 16g (16), AP.1T – All-Pro
#7: DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers, 15g (15), 6sk, 2fr, 43t-30a
#6: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens, 12g (12), AFCN – ROY
#5: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars, 16 (16), 2i, 14pd, 55t-10a
#4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas, 15g (15), 1631y, 15td, 32r – 363y, 1T-All Pro
#3: Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers, 12 (11), 10.5sk, 29t-12a
#2: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, 16g (16), 62%, 7-9, 16t-14i
#1: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams, 7g (7), 55%, 0-7, 5t-7i, 5+ypa
* Patriots forfeited 29th 1R pick per Deflategate penalty to reduce total to 31

There were 1st round dandies (12) in Draft 2016, impact possibilities (12) and wish-we-had-it-overs (7). Any wash-outs are still pending.

It’s not exactly an exhaustive analysis but then who wants to fall asleep at the screen (See; sabrmetrics)? Likewise, it’s not exactly hard to demonstrate just how over-sold is the NFL draft every year, at least as family entertainment.

In the League’s defense, they target their market (See; above) and probably reach it to some degree of satisfaction, keeping the boys busy for a few days and host city restaurants hopping with happy customers.

Nearly every NFL fan will take a gander at their team’s #1 selection, and then the tally of names / positions / college affiliations of the rest when it’s all done by Sunday AM. Fans of football won’t invest too much mental energy but will instead put the lion’s share of their trust in their team’s calculations of particular needs and then to pick accordingly, even if that‘s the next best player available.

There is good art, there is bad art, and then there is NFL Draft 2017 jammin’ up the parking lots and lavatories with their performance art and all the drama “of a bladder (Twain on viewing Shakespeare bust in Straftford-upon-Avon).”

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; R.Goodell-L.Boyd-M.Green, NFL.Draft, NYC, 4.26.12, R.Clinton; E.Elliott, wc, 11.9.14, WOSNsports; D.Watson, wc, 1.10.16, AtlantaFalcons; JimMarshall, Topps, 1970
Posted: 4.21.17 @ 1:07pm; Copyright © 2017
Sources: Wikipedia (draft) & pro-football-reference (#s)

MLB17 Chin Music: Will Joe’s Cubs Need a Merkle Boner to Complete This Repeat?

17 Apr

“Merkle’s Boner:” It didn’t catapult the Chicago Cubs to the 1908 Series, their 3rd in as many years, but it did by way of that game’s 1-1 tie, provide the Bruins with a means, an opportunity were the National League schedule and standings to end in a tie (Cubs & Giants) requiring a playoff (4-2 CHI) to save their bacon.

In a nutshell, the Boner was a base-running blunder committed by Fred Merkle of the New York Giants in a stretch-run contest at the NYC Polo Grounds (9.23) versus their neck n’ neck nemesis, the defending World Series champion Cubs. It denied his the New Yorkers the win as Merkle had failed to fully advance and touch second-base on a teammate’s hit, preventing the runner from third and his cross of home plate from constituting the game-winning run.

At its essence is this lesson: Baseball, all organized sport, is a game of rules to be enforced, chief among them being the act of completion by its participants in letting the world know that the ball has been caught, the runner tagged or bag reached to finish the play, providing necessary clarity. No loose ends.

— — —

Merkle was born in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1888 (Cubs-land), not far west of Milwaukee, hometown of Al Simmons (b.1902). By all rights, Fred was a rookie when he miscued, having majored briefly in ‘07, a bit longer in ‘08 – 09 and finally full-time in 1910. He had a 16-yr career, was a quality major leaguer (.273), played in five (5) World Series, all losses, including one with the Cubs in 1918 (BOS) and could be argued was somewhat blameless in the blunder.

I can’t write to exactly when the rule of completion began to lose support, but it had, explaining in part why League officials had denied Cubs’ protest of the Pirates’ Warren Gill having pulled the same act a few games prior, even as a rule was on the books. But the point was made, a directive laid down for future enforcement and announced to relevant parties (teams) and crews.

Boner-game umpire and former player Hank O’Day needed no formal announcement for the stepped-up watch as he’d umpired the earlier Pittsburgh contest and made the call in ruling Merkle out for failing to complete the play (umpire and former pitcher himself, Bob Emslie, claimed to have not seen it).

Whether Giants Mgr John McGraw took the news to heart, instructing his team or considered the League position to enforce the completion of play to be an affront to his sensibilities, I do not know. Given Merkle’s on-field base-running (stop-short), a man who appeared possessing of an astute baseball mind, I’d hazard a guess it was the latter. What I do know is that notice had been given.

Like a double-stranded DNA virus, stubbornness is forever in all our blood-streams, countered in some by common-sense or today’s conformity craze often manifested in cliques & consumerism. But John, the talented player (1890s Orioles) and teacher, was stubborn as a mule in an age that seemed to pride itself on the trait (segregation, disdain for protective gear, safer stadiums, etc.).

Fred was the key figure in what you can call G1 of the Merkle Series. The 2d (G2) being the post-season playoff back at the Polo Grounds (10.8) where the brave Cubs (Pirates 1/2 behind) showed the baseball world who was boss in taking the tie-breaker without much trouble, 4-2. That was on the diamond. Big trouble occurred in Chicagoans having to field pre-game death threats and then fend off locker-room attackers to make an escape for their lives. The Bruins lived, then went on to best the Tigers again in the Series 4-1 to make the dynasty.

But it was the Boner-ball itself which would have an incredible story to tell, at one point tossed into the stands by Joe McGinnity to keep it away from the Cubs seeking to make the force before Merkle could return to complete it. With some strong arm tactic from the determined and tough as nails Bruins bunch, the ball was retrieved, handed to 2d-bagger Johnny Evers who made the formal force out which O’Day was obligated to enforce, nullify the run and declare the tie.

For the best firsthand account of what happened before, during, immediately and days after (playoff) the Merkle boner, Evers’ personal narrative is required reading and found in that early baseball classic, “My Greatest Day in Baseball” by famed sportswriter, John P. Carmichael (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1945).

If the greatest pitching staff in history (Brown, Pfiester, Lundgren, Taylor, Reulbach, Cole, Overall (1906-10)) was the wind behind the sails of the dynastic Cubs, it was the smart play of its infield in Bronzed trio of Bear Cubs Tinker (Mgr Federal champion Whales (1915)), Evers (Chalmers MVP Miracle Braves (1914)) and 1B-Mgr Chance, as also overlooked 3rd-sacker Harry Steinfeldt and catcher John “Noisy” Kling, that constituted the tar & nails keeping it all ship-shape.

Did Evers have a bias? I wouldn’t be surprised. But the same goes for any Giants or New York scribe who might weigh-in. Bottom-line, John was in the best spot to tell it like it was. And what a tell! Merkle melee has to be the greatest moment in MLB annals, at least on par with Ruth’s called shot (‘32), Jackie’s debut (‘47) and Rose’s slide home to win an All-Star (‘70). Movie material, for sure.

Merkle’s Boner is more than an infamous miscue. It created four maxims:

1) MLB is a rules-bound game;
2) Completion of play is not just quaint, it’s part of the product;
3) Failure to enforce the rules will be the game’s ultimate demise; and
4) The 1906-10 Chicago Cubs are the greatest baseball team in history.

— — —

Can Joe Maddon’s Cubs match their tough-as-nails forefathers to win a handful of pennants (4) and that not-all-too-common back-to-back Series tandem?

The knee-jerk would say, ‘No, it’s too tough, and they not tough enough.’

To the first part, the 2017 Cubs appear as well-stocked and managed as anyone. And as they’ve done it once already (ring it), that air of confidence puts them in the top tier of hopefuls. To the second, not many of us are as tough as they were back in the dead-ball days. Not many as sentimental, either.

Bruins are off to an inauspicious start at 6-6. A come down off their 103-win season in 2016 would be no surprise. Teams today just ain’t what they used to be (Cubs 1906-10: 116, 107, 99, 104 & 104). If the pedestrian play keeps up, the dog-days (June 20 thru August) will be a real mettle-test for the Northsiders.

But with their talent, sound skipper, a tenacious spirit to defend their title and a little bit o’ luck, these Cubbie bears can make it back to the fall classic in 2017. And if they go through the Bruce Bochy Giants to get there, all the more fun.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: ChicagoCubs, wc.cca, 1917, sports logo; F.Merkle, NYT, C.Conlon, wc, 1912; CoogansBluff, wc, MerkleBonerGame, 9.23.1908; J.McGraw-F.Chance, wc, LibraryofCongress, GG.Bain, 5.2.1911; J.Evers, wc, 1910, LoC, P.Thompson; J.Maddon-B.Bean.VPSR&I, wc, 10.26.16, A.PardavilaIII; Can-of-corn
Posted: 4.17.17 @ 2:19pm EST, edit 6.21; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – Las Vegas: Think Symbolism Is For Suckers? Try Sitting Out Francis Scott Key

6 Apr

Las Vegas Raiders: It has a certain NFL ring to it, no pun, even as I’m not a fan of the relocation. But “a rose is a rose,” i.e., it is what it is, in pragmatic speak.

The Raiders name is not what I would envision for the League’s newest member of metropoli (2019), a family of locales where, once you’re in it’s not hard to get out (Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis), i.e., no knuckle-crushing or horse-head sheets. Though, Davis-the-Younger will no doubt take heed of Tom’s warning, “you can’t go home again,” not to set things right, anyway.

That’s not because the silver & black pirate-guy image is not a terrific motif. Arguably, it’s the NFL’s best. I’ve got a hat and cherish it. And its slogan from the mind of AFL original and their legendary owner Al Davis (d.2011), ‘just win baby,’ flows from the lips like wine on a Spanish galleon.

But when a city (LV) – State (NV) contract to commit $1.5 billion (+) to build a new home in cement & girders, coupled with the fact that those parties-of-the-first-part are landlocked (not oceanside), they’ve every right…no, they’ve every obligation to nix half-measures, start anew and wave their own design.

I like the Nevada Sunsets or Las Vegas Buffets (seriously) as new name possibilities, but if the Raiders name remains, which it probably will, the slogan and uniforms will need some detail work: ‘Just roll baby’ and gold ($) trim to create a sense of both separation and remembrance of their California roots.

— — —

Back to the decision to relocate, a move marking the ramblin’ Raiders third attempt to find a permanent home (‘82-94 LA).

I’m no curmudgeon. I like football.

I like city- states that’ll fork over the ducats to get it done (new stadium).

And I like games of chance in their proper place, person and time. But this is neither the place nor the time to set-up shop in the gambling capital of the Milky Way galaxy, outer rim, notwithstanding.

NFL Cufflinks collected in Phoenix the last weekend in March and voted on Monday 31-1 (Mia) to give go-ahead to majority holder Mark Davis to move his father’s silver & black baby from Oakland 400 miles southeast to Sin City.

Vegas’ detractors in its smaller TV market (#40 +/-) (Bay area #5 +/-), and a more transient, tourist-based economy were obviously out-weighed by its biggest asset in that the citizenry of Nevada are willing to foot a little over one-third the $2 billion bill expected for a new stadium planned to open for play in 2020.

But sport + gambling (≠ success) = $#8%?@!! (big trouble).

Does an NFL presence in Las Vegas (NHL’s Golden Knights (there’s a bold name) begin play in 2017) necessarily mean team personnel will be rubbing shoulders with corrupt elements, those who’d solicit game-change (fix)? No, it does not.

The morality of individual or corporate greed aside, Vegas’ strip is no longer gangster-operated as it was in the heyday of heavies (1950 – 70s) as depicted so colorfully (gulp) in the Martin Scorsese crime-drama, Casino (95).

It’s now quite the opposite as Sin City is one of American’s favorite destinations for family fun, food and wholesome frolic.

As for betting, practically anyone, anywhere with internet capability can make a wager in 2017. Knowing a bookie, or as “Jim Rockford” would’ve quipped, “those short little guys in their green cigars,” is no more necessary than dressing up for the game in fedora and dress-jacket (See; 50s photos).

And that, while gambler age seems of little concern to sport moguls or Americans in general as all the Majors have been soliciting investments from children by way of fantasy for a decade now yet raising not a peep from politicos nor socialites.

It’s one thing to bombard kids with shoe and team apparel advertisements where the buyer gets something concrete in return, but the fantasy gamble offers no such quid pro quo, only speculation as if it were Romper Room roulette.

The goings-on in Las Vegas is not so much the problem with it housing a major pro sport team, but rather, the symbolism of what used to go-on (bone-break / life-savings lost) and still does in the Neon City (gambling galore).

‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ may apply to a whole slew of sultry affairs in Sin Central but not when it comes to symbolism.

The city’s wagering reputation, even as fun-parks fill-up daily with families working to scrub that image clean, will remain the same were the Girl & Boy Scouts, Policeman’s Benevolent Society and Sisters of Notre Dame to all relocate their headquarters to Nevada’s most populous city.

That means the message will remain the same with a Vegas major: ‘Gambling is good for everyone in the NFL fan family, its partners in business and pink-wear (ACS),’ where the gamble cancer-patients and families fretfully undertake every-day is the costliest of all and was the real message behind early Breaking Bad.

While I’m confident the vast majority of Nevada citizenry are as hard-working (or lazy) as anywhere else in America and probably have little or no connection to the gamble, that’s not what the public nor players will see.

Some jocks might use Vegas venue as excuse to cross the line (‘Hey, the Big Boys (NFL) are rolling in it, takin’ chances, why not me?’). Why not indeed? It’s a crossover that, if it did happen and were detected today by League watch-dogs would likely not be broadcast in the news as it was in 1919-20 (Black Sox).

Can’t mess with the golden goose, right? Right. And athletes don’t need another reason to cheat themselves and the fans (See; PEDs).

Think of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, aka, Kaep Krusader, and ask yourself if symbolism doesn’t matter.

Kaepernick was never gonna’ be an elite QB, not with his red-zone blues, a habit of coming up empty on the goal-line late in the big game (SB47 – NFCC14). It was a run-QB skill-set that would keep him in the back-up or temporary starter’s role. Once that status became clear in 2016, the Anthem kneel-down began as he threw caution to the wind which became his best completion percentage (ugh).

But Kaepernick’s matured in the pocket, less likey to rabbit and improved TD ratio (v. INT) which should’ve made him an ideal clip-boarder to have rostered if a starter goes down. But no such luck for him, not at this posting.

Clearly, it’s not CK’s limited skill-set that has him waiting on the phone call. Had he caught one more break and put it in the end-zone to win SB47 (+ power-outage), he’d be sporting one of those god-awful-looking champion rings.

And it’s not his National anthem stance, or sit, in protest of what he claims a brutal American police policy. These United States were born in protest (1776-83) and can appreciate, or at least stomach, a sincere objection.

Instead, it’s Kaepernick’s racist pig socks that depicted only white (pink) police that he sported as he hit stride on his shtick, which has him persona non grata and unemployed apart from Beats By Dre, etcetera. And that’s not owner collusion, that’s fighting the good fight against ignorance and hatred.

Symbolism matters. Money matters, too.

But when you make a pact to be the gambling Mecca to every creature with coin or credit (‘Take me to your (ATM)’), a social contract Las Vegan elders freely entered, you forfeit the moral right to house a major professional sporting enterprise, meaning, all bets are off, or on, or whatever the bad one is.

The National Football League, who, ironically, have been successfully fighting a legal battle against the sport-betting biz, it’s sponsors and current Vegas elders are all in breach, non-actionable as that state will remain.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: R.Goodell, NFL, wc.cca, 8.30.12, SSG.T.Wade, USMA; LasVegas-sign, wc, 4.19.05, D.Vasquez; dice-Antonio, wc, JGuzzMaan, 6.24.16; C.Kaepernick, wc, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; NFL-wikiproject
Posted: 4.6.17 @ 12:28am EST, edit 4.10; Copyright © 2017