Don’t Forget About the 2014 Grey Cup

November 24, 2014

by John Furgele

The Canadian Football League has been around for a long time, in fact, there was a time when the CFL stole players from the NFL, luring them with more money than they were making south of the border. But, those days are long gone, but there is one thing that the Grey Cup—the coveted prize of Canadian football—has over United States football and that is that this Sunday’s title tilt will be the 102nd renewal compared to just 48 in the four down game.

On Sunday, November 30, the Eastern champion Hamilton Tiger Cats will take on the Western champion Calgary Stampeders for Earl Grey’s chalice, which will be accompanied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And, in a true surprise, the Grey Cup will feature the number one seeds from both divisions, unusual for sure.

It’s been a tale of two seasons in the 2014 edition of the CFL. For the first half of the season, the East was dreadful and the West was superior, so bad that there were calls for eliminating the divisions and going to an English Premier League style table and taking the top six teams in the standings. Right after the words were printed, things changed. The East teams started to turn the table on the West and the East, which at one time had all four of its teams at least four games under .500 started to gather themselves. The Montreal Alouettes were 1-7, then went 8-2 to finish 9-9 at season’s end. The ninth loss was the killer; an final week loss at Hamilton that gave the Tiger-Cats the division title and a bye into the Division Final. Montreal went into that game needing to win or lose by seven points or less to claim the top seed. Hamilton won the game 29-15 and waited for Montreal to beat British Columbia in the Eastern Semifinal to set up the rematch.

The CFL allows the fourth place finisher in one division to “crossover,” and take the three seed of the other division if they have a better record and that occurred this year as the Lions were one game better than the 8-10 Toronto Argonauts. The Lions went East and were pummeled by the Alouettes, which set up a war of words between the Als and the Tabbies. Well, most of the talk came from Montreal. While the Alouette players yapped about going to Hamilton and winning, the Ticats stayed quiet in preparation for the big game.

For years, the Hamilton Tiger Cats played at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium, but in 2012, the old dog was torn down to be replaced by Tim Horton’s Field, a 24,344 seat state-of-art stadium. The Ticats spent 2013 playing their home games at Guelph University and despite being nomads, won the East before losing to Saskatchewan in the 2013 Grey Cup.

The new stadium wasn’t ready for the start of the 2014 season, so once again, Hamilton played home games away from home. The new digs were ready for their Labor Day clash against arch-rival Toronto, even though the stadium wasn’t fully completed. Call it what you want, but the Ticats were 7-0 at what Chris Berman calls the ‘Donut Box,” and for the first time since 1998 and 1999, the Cats are making consecutive Grey Cup games.

The Cats are led by coach Kent Austin. Austin is no stranger to success in the CFL game. He won two Grey Cups as a player with Saskatchewan (1989) and British Columbia (1994), and also coached Saskatchewan to the 2007 Grey Cup title. The 1989 Grey Cup game, a 43-40 win over Hamilton has been called the greatest Grey Cup game ever, a thriller that ended on a 36 yard field goal by Dave Ridgway at the final gun.

The Tiger-Cats are led by quarterback Zach Collaros, a University of Cincinnati product who came over from Toronto prior to the 2014 season. It’s been a down year for offense and certainly for quarterbacking in the league this year, but Collaros has been steady this season.

The Calgary Stampeders have been the dominant team not only in the west, but in the league. A glossy 15-3 regular season and a dominating 43-18 win over Alberta rival Edmonton (12-6) in the Western Final will make the Stamps a heavy favorite in the Cup. They are led by running back Jon Cornish, a native of British Columbia who comes home to play in the nations’ biggest game. In a league where there are only three downs, it’s tough to commit to the run, but the Stamps do and Cornish, despite missing games with injuries carried 139 times for 1,082 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per carry. In the Western Final, he carried 18 times for just 54 yards, but he caught four passes for 120 yards. He will be Hamilton’s marked man for to be sure.

The quarterback is Bo Levi Mitchell, a name that most of you have never heard of. Mitchell was a star at Division 1-AA Eastern Washington, where he led the Eagles to the championship in 2010, rallying EWU from a 19-0 deficit to a 20-19 win over Delaware. Mitchell won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in 1-AA in 2011 and after not getting bypassed in the 2012 NFL draft signed with the Stampeders. He’s battled injuries in his CFL career, but when healthy, he’s been the best QB in the league, leading all passers with a 98.3 rating.

The Stamps are coached by John Hufnagel, who quarterbacked at Penn State, played three years in the NFL before embarking on a 12 year playing career in the CFL. He coached the Stamps to the 2008 Grey Cup title and was the Grey Cup runner-up in 2012, all with Calgary. The winning coach Sunday will add a second Grey Cup title to their respective coaching resumes.

The game is set for November 30 with a 6:30 PM kickoff. Imagine Dragons will provide the halftime entertainment and the game usually is full of excitement and drama. ESPN 2 will carry the game live beginning at 6 PM, and will use the TSN feed and their announcers, Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor. The CFL is not the NFL and with the exception of ESPN’s Chris Berman, the league doesn’t get much mention in the United States media, but the league has been around for many years and might–just might—deserve a peek to cap off your Thanksgiving football weekend.

What Has Happened to Baseball?

July 9, 2014

by John Furgele

Baseball. The National Pastime. The sport that ushered in the Golden Age of sports in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth was a giant, Lou Gehrig was the Iron Man and the sport held a collective grip on the nation.

What is baseball today? It’s a sport I loved, a sport I still love, but a sport that is really struggling to find its place in these the modern times. Look at ballparks when you watch games on TV and you’ll see empty seats everywhere. The Mets moved into Citi Field in 2009, and really can’t draw flies to their relatively new playpen. Sure, the team hasn’t won on a consistent basis, but there is something happening across the country and baseball better be savvy and ready for it.

MLB officials will tell you all about the good stuff. They’re doing great with MLB.com, their digital offerings are making huge profits, so the bottom line is more than fine. But, that only tells part of the story. Not only is attendance down, but so, too, is relevance. Love it or hate it, sports talk radio continues to grow, and if you listen carefully to it, you’ll find that baseball games get nary a mention.

There was a time when talkers reviewed the previous night’s action in the majors. They would give you the trends, the who’s hot and who’s not, the teams that are surging and those who are floundering, but today, nothing. ESPN can’t be blamed either. No network is more self serving than ESPN and ESPN Radio. They don’t care much about soccer, but when the World Cup gripped the nation, ESPN Radio was all over it, and oh, they broadcasted the games, too. Even Mike and Mike, who five weeks ago, couldn’t tell a soccer ball from a dodge ball, were discussing the games and the sport regularly. In 2018, the World Cup shifts to FOX, so one will wonder how rabid ESPN’s devotion will be? This morning, I listened to two national sports talk stations and the topic was the NFL and should college football and basketball players be paid. Ignored were the 15 games on the MLB scheduled and this is not an aberration, it’s a daily theme.

ESPN also carries baseball, both on radio and television and if you listen to ESPN Radio from 6 AM to 3 PM, they don’t give the sport much love unless there is an issue to discuss such as PED use, the quirks of All Star game voting or some other non-game issue. This illustrates just how far baseball has fallen. Johnny Manziel’s off season national tour along with the LeBron and Carmelo watch garnered far more attention than the old national pastime. If you’re a lover of baseball, you have to be a bit concerned. Except for the NFL, sports talk radio used to be about the games, before and after; now, it’s more about issues and events.

We know that football is king, and we know that college football is more watched than baseball and if wasn’t for New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, college football would be blowing baseball away. We know that those three cities love baseball, but they also have a general ignorance for college football. Could you imagine if just 10 percent of those metros watched the SEC on CBS? Baseball would be buried.

Baseball is not a niche sport like hockey and soccer are, but you wonder how things will look in ten years? We know that soccer will never captivate America like it does elsewhere, but Major League Soccer is moving forward. They play in nice, new soccer specific stadiums, they’re expanding to 24 teams and they’re putting people in the seats. Look around most MLS stadiums and you’ll see them full, while baseball stadiums are half-full at best. And, love it or hate it, soccer’s best feature is that a game that starts at 7 pm is over by 9:15 at the very latest.

Bud Selig has done many good things for baseball, but people remember the bad more than they ever will the good. But, Selig needs to step away as soon as his retirement date comes, because the game needs a new vision, preferably a younger person with that vision. Baseball is timeless, but Americans are in a time crunch. I have less free time than my parents ever did and sitting down for a baseball game that starts at 7 pm and might not end until 11:30 pm is just not in the cards. Americans are drawn ever more to event television, event programming. They’re watching the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes (when a Triple Crown is on the line), the Oscars and they’ve always adored the Super Bowl. Baseball is no longer event television, and that includes the World Series games that often see 3-2 games run nearly four hours. A seventh game is event television and perhaps a Game 6, but the rest, no way. We have seen with the World Cup that Americans like events because, in essence, that’s what we have time for.

Is baseball dead? Of course not, and it’s not on life support either, but as the older generation dies off, where will it be? Young people are on their phones and tablets all night, can they really sit through baseball games? And, what about their kids? When I was eight, I could watch baseball all the time; the Saturday Game of the Week was a must watch as was Monday Night Baseball. My three kids have never watched a complete baseball game and all are over the age of eight.

I may be going too fast here, but as lifelong baseball fan, I’m worried. The sport needs to progress, but it’s very nature, it’s being doesn’t lend itself to progression. For years, that was its charm. In a way, baseball was the class clown in high school. Back in the day, he was funny, charming, and quick witted and the nerds looked up to him. Now the clown isn’t as funny, or charming and the nerds are living in the $800,000 mansions while the clown manages a grocery store. The charm goes only so far and lasts so long. Substance eventually takes over. The clown is doing alright, but what got him by 25 years ago, doesn’t do so anymore.

The baseball officials know that they have to do something and deep down, they’re concerned. They still have a good product, but right now, nobody’s talking about it. There’s too much other stuff to take away from it and they need to act before they slip into fourth place on the major sports landscape.

Sterling Just Part of the Middle Aged White Man Complex

April 27, 2014

by John Furgele

This is not a defense of Donald Sterling, let’s make that clear.   Sterling bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 1981, a franchise that began as the Buffalo Braves, then became the San Diego Clippers before reaching Los Angeles.   Since 1981, the Clippers have been mostly laughable and Sterling has been synonymous with frugality, corner cutting and losing.  In 2013-2014, the Clippers are in the playoffs and are led by two stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.  That makes this peculiar because now that the Clippers are good, bad things continue to plague the franchise. 

Most of us have heard the audio tape of what allegedly is Sterling talking to his girlfriend about minorities, more importantly, Sterling’s distaste and dislike of them.  It must be pointed out that Sterling’s girlfriend is accused of embezzling $1.8 million from him, so one has to wonder why she would record a conversation such as this.  The one thing that’s likely true is that this wasn’t the first racist conversation between Sterling and his former girlfriend.  I’m sure these conversations were commonplace well before the April 26 tape came out. 

The easy thing that everybody is saying is that Sterling should be forced to sell the Clippers or that he should be thrown out of the league.   Folks, you can’t just force somebody to do that, nor can you just kick out an owner of a NBA team.   Sterling has been a wildcat owner since he took over and that was in 1981, that was 33 years ago.  He has been accused of being a racist before and he has been sued for being a racist.  Those charges that he discriminated against minorities in housing were never proven, so for the record, Sterling is clean, though his water is tinged with dirt.  And, despite this, he has never been sanctioned by the NBA, in other words, there are no strikes against him.  By the time Marge Schott was forced to sell the Cincinnati Reds, there were a few pages of transgressions.

Sterling employs black people.  His coach is black, most of his players are black and for many years, his GM, the legendary Elgin Baylor was one of a few black general managers in all of sport.   But, just because he employs blacks doesn’t mean he is not a racist.  The one thing to remember is the black people that he employs are his subordinates, meaning that he had the power, the control over them that racists love to have.   It’s no different than the slaveowner back in 1845.  That owner might have been cordial to his slaves, might have even slept with his slaves, but in the end, he, as slaveowner had the power and control.  Sterling will no doubt use that in his defense, if in fact, that was his voice on that recording.  I can hear it now:  “how can I own a team in a league that 70 percent of the players are black and be a racist?”  He will use that to plead his case, even though that really won’t change the fact that Sterling is likely a bigoted man.  He employed blacks, but he was the boss; they had to kiss his butt to keep their jobs and for Sterling, he probably justified that as his way of keeping him down.   Sure, I’ll hire blacks, but they’re my pawns and they will do what I say. 

Of all the major sports, the NBA has always had it the toughest, which isn’t fair, but it’s always been the truth.   If you look around the arenas of all pro sports, the majority of those in the seats are white, and because tickets are no longer affordable, these fans are middle aged with money in their bank accounts.   How many times have you listened to sports talk radio, heard a white man call in and say “I don’t watch the NBA,” or “I can’t take the NBA?”  Unless you’re under a rock, the answer is many times.  Though these white, middle aged men don’t say it, there comments are tinged with racist tones.   They don’t like the fact that 70 percent of the league is black and that these black guys make more money in one season than they will make in 25. So, rather than appreciate the high level of play, they announce that they don’t like the game anymore, even though as kids, when they spent nights working at Burger King, they watched the game. 

Even though the NFL has a large percentage of black players, these white men watch because the quarterbacks of these teams are usually white guys, so that makes it okay.   And, there are enough white guys on each team to make it acceptable.   They don’t knock Major League Baseball because the black percentages have slipped mightily over the years and even though there are many latino stars, the language barrier and the fact that these players live in their homelands once the season ends makes them less visible.  As for the NHL, 97 percent of the players are white but because the guy in Mississippi doesn’t watch hockey, it really doesn’t register.  

If the NBA had more white players, if the ratio was 50/50 or if there were more Larry Bird type stars in the league, that bitter, jealous middle aged white guy wouldn’t call Mike Francesa and express his disdain for the NBA and its players.   I’ve heard these callers claiming that players are tanking, coasting and not putting out great effort over the 82 game grind that is an NBA season.   These same people never call out NHL players for doing that in their 82 game grind.   I wonder why? 

As sad as this sounds, there are many that probably share Sterling’s sentiments.  Sterling feels that blacks are inferior and that they should be grateful that he employs them in the NBA and for the Clippers.   There is jealously, because the NBA is about the players; they’re the stars of the league, not the owner and that probably doesn’t sit well with slaveowner Sterling.  

Perception is perceived as reality and the perception is that the NBA is too black for America.   The league is full of thugs and bad people, even though more NFL players get arrested than NBA players.   These middle aged white men watch NBA games and complain that the effort isn’t there or complain that the players are overpaid while they work many hours and are more educated than these NBA players.   What illustrates my point the most is that these same middle aged white guys love college basketball.  They will call Mike Francesa and say, “I hate the NBA but love watching college,” and Francesa, to his credit will ask why, and they will come up with the phony reasons that there is more ball movement, more team play and less one-on-one play.  But, the real reason is simple:  money.  The college kids don’t get paid to play, so they play “for the love of the game,” while the black NBA player only cares about the paycheck.   College basketball is a plantation system at its best, and disgustingly, it’s legal.   These college kids make the universities millions and billions of dollars while playing for free, but in the NBA, because they get paid handsomely, it rubs the middle aged white guy the wrong way.  I’ll hear Francesa try to draw that out of the callers and they continue to hide behind what they said earlier.  And, as good as the NCAA tournament is, the games are often close, but they’re filled with low shooting percentages and missed free throws galore.  The NBA, even with two 10-30 teams playing is leaps better than the college game.

These same guys don’t love college football as much as NFL football.   They can get over it, because Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the stars and the mouthpieces of the league.   These guys know that even though there are lots of blacks playing in the league, the argument can still be made that the best players are white, ala Manning and Brady.  In the NBA, the best players have always been black, from Wilt Chamberlain, to Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan to the present day LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant.  The white middle aged guy doesn’t like it, so they proclaim that they have abandoned the NBA.   Of course, they rooted for Larry Bird and as great as Bird was, he shared MVPs with Julius Erving, Jabbar and Johnson and the water cooler talk often focused on who was better, Bird or Johnson, or as the white guy says, the “good old days of the NBA.” 

What happens with Sterling remains to be seen.   He may decide to sell the team and get out of the league.  He will certainly make a lot of money should he sell.  But, he may become defiant and decide that he’s going nowhere, the NBA be damned.   He knows, like the rest of us, that this will blow over.   In some ways, I’m surprised that nobody brought up the famous Ted Koppel/Al Campanis interview from 1986. When questioned why there weren’t more blacks in management positions in baseball, Campanis said that “they lacked the necessities,” to be in such positions.   Campanis was immediately dismissed, but he didn’t own the Dodgers, he just worked for them.  Sterling owns the Clippers, so we can’t expect him to dismiss himself. 

Once again, this proves that even though we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go.   In fact, racism may never go away, so let’s not think that it will.   The middle aged white guy, jealous of the black NBA guy will continue to share his anti-NBA opinions rather than keep them to himself, which would be preferred.   But, remember, this guy likes to watch college basketball and because of that, he’s not showing racist tones.  

The NBA is a great league with great players.   As a white man, do I like to see a white guy do well?  Yes, just like a black guy wants to see Tiger Woods do well.   But, I want LeBron James on my team, whether he’s black, white, green or blue.   I want him and Dirk Nowitzki because if I have them, I’m winning games.   

 

 

 

 

Requiem for the Big East: Cracks Began in 1987

March 22, 2014

by John Furgele

March Madness is here and America again takes notice.   For most, the first four days remains a part of Americana as people who never watch a second of college basketball fill out a bracket—or two—and see if they can be the big winner in the office or online or to Warren Buffet and his billion dollar bracket challenge.  Even President Obama gets involved and truth to be told shows that he actually follows the game a little bit.

Last week, ESPN showed perhaps its best 30 for 30 in a fine series when it debuted Requiem for the Big East.  The Big East was a league that transformed college basketball and just as importantly, made ESPN the four letter monster that sports fans love and cable companies hate.  Devoid of quality programming in its beginning, college basketball, specifically the Big East, gave the fledging network what they call inventory, and by 1982 when Georgetown started winning in its own unique way, both the league and the network were well on their way to stardom.  Soon, Big Monday, the ESPN tripleheader that featured the Big East, Big Ten and Big West (UNLV) was must see television, especially the Big East game.  It looked like the Big East and college basketball was here to stay, a 100 year force, but as we know, change is inevitable and one game changed the fate of college basketball, the Big East and college football.  It might have taken 30 years for the change to surface, but it did change.

The day that changed college sports forever was January 2, 1987, the night that Miami faced Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl for the “national championship.”  With 80 million viewers, it remains the most watched college football game of all time.  Why?  Because both teams were independent, undefeated and because they were, didn’t have to go to a pre-destined bowl game like the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl.   The Fiesta Bowl, which prior to 1987 was played either December 25 or December 26, moved to New Year’s Day (in this case, January 2) and upped the payout to entice both the Lions and the Canes.  It was a risk, but it provided a huge reward and payout.

The American viewing audience loved it.   The rugged demeanor of Miami, the renegade and cocky coach in Jimmy Johnson versus Middle America and buttoned up, conservative Joe Paterno.  The week long build up proved to college presidents and athletic directors that college football, not college basketball was going to drive the revenue bus in the future, despite a riveting stretch of NCAA basketball finals from 1982-1986 that were second to none. 

That game killed the Big East even though it took 20 plus more years for that to actually happen.   The Big East knew right then, that they had to do something for the football schools or eventually the football schools would have to leave.   Penn State had been courted and rejected for Big East membership because they “weren’t a very good basketball program,” and because they weren’t in an accessible metro area, ala Pittsburgh.    But, eventually, the Big East went to Blacksburg, VA and Miami to try to protect all members, the Villanovas and the Syracuses by balancing football and basketball. 

The game sent shockwaves to the leaders of universities because they saw how popular college football was going to be.   Most hung onto the bowl games the way Kodak held onto film.  Why not?  The bowl games, like the film, provided financial security and retirement packages for so many people.  But, hanging on too long can prove to be fatal, and in the case of the Big East, that’s exactly what happened.  

In the end, the Big East, with 16 schools—all with varying agendas and missions—became too bloated to survive.  On one hand, you had Pittsburgh, with Division I football and basketball, on the other; you had Seton Hall with just basketball and a much smaller athletic budget.  And, you had Georgetown a Division I basketball power with a 1-AA Patriot League football team that gets pounded by Bucknell every year?   The differences became too much to overcome, too much to deal with.  Syracuse didn’t want to share football money with St. John’s and St. John’s no longer wanted to feel inferior because they didn’t have a football program.   Villanova was caught in the middle.  They have a top notch Division 1-AA program, one that has won a national championship, but were they really that interested in spending millions of dollars to upgrade to Division 1 to save the Big East conference?  The answer: no. 

Even though it was only 1987, the league knew it would be in trouble long term because its leaders were visionaries.  Dave Gavitt had the original vision and it was he that convinced seven other schools to join Providence College and form a league that transcended college basketball.   Mike Tranghese also had a vision; in fact, he had three of them.   When the members rejected Penn State in 1982, he knew that the league would rue that decision.   He also knew that when the league decided to have football only members like Temple, that it would have repercussions.  Thirdly, when the league expanded to Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida to get to eight and eventually nine football members, the divide between basketball only and football/basketball schools would grow and become as wide as the Grand Canyon.

As the 2000s progressed, the league was perceived as weak in football and bloated in basketball.   Though the Big East held its own in the BCS bowl games, the conference was never regarded as strong enough to produce a BCS champion.  In basketball, the conference remained one of the best and toughest in the land and produced national champions with Syracuse (2003), Connecticut (1999, 2004, 2011) and Louisville (2013).  But, the coziness of the league was gone.   With 16 schools, they never really knew how to handle the conference tournament.  Should they invite everybody?  Should they invite just 14?  Should they have everybody play?  Should they give byes to the first four seeds?  It was tough to sell the 5/16 game, but the 8/9 game was kind of fun.  In the end, bigger is not always better.  

Football will continue to drive the revenue bus because simply, it is more popular than college basketball.  People watch regular season college football games; college basketball, not so much.   When all the major football conferences go to 16 schools, that will be tough for college basketball because a 10 team league is ideal with its 7/10 and 8/9 opening round, followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, but money will win out because it always does.  

 

Coming Out Easy for Sam, Next Up is Locker Room Culture

February 13, 2014

by John Furgele

Michael Sam has put down the gauntlet.  By announcing that he is gay and a would be professional football player, he is attempting to change the landscape that is professional football and indeed, professional sports.  You may give Jason Collins credit for being the first player to come out, but I don’t because Collins did it at the end of last season, knowing his career was more than likely over and he never did enter a locker room as an openly gay player.

Sam didn’t wait that long, in fact, he came out before he entered the professional ranks.  He did inform his teammates at the University of Missouri before the 2013 season, and the Tigers were a pleasant surprise, going 12-2 with a berth in the SEC Championship Game and a Cotton Bowl victory.  Give major credit to those teammates; they didn’t care and more impressively, they didn’t leak it out to anybody.

For the most part, in today’s society, most are fine with gay people.  In fact, in today’s high schools and colleges, most young adults don’t give one’s sexuality a second thought.   And, most of today’s athletes are okay with gay people, gay rights and all things in between.  That said, the locker room is much different than the office.  And, having grown men parading around naked is not the reason why it is such.  I don’t believe players will be worried about having Sam “checking them out” as they head to the showers.   But, as the Incognito-Martin fiasco tells us, it’s what is said in the locker room that could prove problematic.

Guys like to joke and clown around.   They make fun of your mother, your sister, your girlfriend and your wife.   When I grew up in the 1980s, the word “fag,” meant jerk.  If your buddy was annoying you, it was common to say, “stop being a ‘fag’ and leave me alone.”   Jeremy Shockey said as much a few years ago when he used the term.  He was blasted for it, but I understood it.  In the locker room, that word is still used, so are other “rough” terms that reference both male and female anatomy.   I apologize for being blunt here, but that’s the truth, the reality and today, the trend is to hide from reality.   Most of the guys who use those terms in the locker room are clowning around.  They don’t mean any harm saying them; it’s just part of the bravado that is the modern day sports locker room.

If Sam is on your team, is that going to stop?   Are players going to stop calling each other fags because Sam is walking around the coveted locker room?  The players really don’t care about Sam.  Once practice ends, everybody goes and does their own thing.   Some go home to their families; some go out on the town, while others do other things.   The fear among the players is not Sam; it’s the sanctity of the locker room, which for years was the only place where a player didn’t have to be politically correct.  Now, if Sam is in the locker room, what happens now?

In 1965 Charles de Gaulle said of presidential opponent Francois Mitterand:  “when you go to confession, it’s to get rid of the devil, but if the devil is in the confessional that changes everything.”  Sam is not the devil, nor his homosexuality, but having him in a locker room does change everything, and that is something that will make the players concerned.   They’re likely going to keep using those above mentioned words and it will be up to Sam to be able to process that they are not reflective of him and his sexuality.

Sam is going to be a pioneer here.   He will have to go through the ordeal.  If he sacks the quarterback, makes important tackles and helps is team win, all will be good.   Sports have always been ahead of its time with regard to social issues.  They integrated long before society did because winning conquers all.   The player that uses the word fag in the locker room will likely be the same player slapping him on the butt after he makes a big tackle on third and one.  They might even be best friends on the team.  What Sam will have to do is compartmentalize.  Can he hear the words and know that it’s nothing more than locker room fodder, or will he be offended to the point that Jonathan Martin was with the Miami Dolphins.

Sam has already tacked the hard part by announcing that he is gay.   I still hope for the day where such an announcement won’t be necessary.   If Sam can adapt and accept the locker room culture, he should be fine.   Once again, the word fag means different things on the street and in the locker room and if Sam realizes this, he and his teammates will be fine.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe those words won’t be said if Sam is on the team, but they’ve been said for decades and players want and need to be comfortable in that setting.    For the player, the locker room is where they have to be the most relaxed because the sport is hard enough.

AFC Championship Game is the Legacy Bowl

January 17, 2014

by John Furgele

Peyton Manning is two wins away from immortality.  Two wins from telling the world to “kiss off.”   One thing is certain; if Manning and his Denver Broncos get those two wins, he has too much class to tell the world those two words mentioned above.   But, in his quiet time, when nobody is around, he could look in the mirror and grin.

Manning is perhaps the best regular season quarterback of all time.  His numbers are more than spectacular.  The way he audibles has started a new game of taking a sip of a drink every time he yells “Omaha.”  That’s how profound his effect on the game has been.  Because of that, he has the pressure, the pressure of winning another Super Bowl title.  He isn’t the first person or team for that matter that has faced this pressure.  The 1980s Mets, as good as they were in 1986 are often criticized for not winning another title.   The 1988-1990 Oakland A’s are lamented for winning only one title as were the 1969-1971 Baltimore Orioles. Same goes for the 1985 Bears.   Individually, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving have seen their sterling reputations take a bit of a hit for not winning enough.

Manning is 10-11 in postseason games and his QB rating is 88.4 in those games.  Sure, you could say that Manning’s teams were never the best, but there were some years where he and his Colts underachieved.   But, Manning is held to a different standard, a higher standard, like Wilt Chamberlain, who for all his failures did play on two NBA championship teams.

Manning could cement his legacy with two more wins and you know what, in many ways that’s too bad.  He is a human being, he has feelings and emotions and he will feel the pressure, how can he not?  He knows what’s at stake, and in the end, it doesn’t matter, but as long as we take football and sports seriously, it will be there.   I’m sure Dan Marino is a comfortable secure person, but sports people are constantly saying that because he never won a Super Bowl he can’t be considered this or that.  Is it fair?  Of course, not, but it is what it is.

When Manning completes 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, it’s considered a sub-par game.  When Tom Brady goes 13 of 25 for less than 200 yards, it’s called a gritty, tough performance.  People expect Manning to be brilliant, to be dominant and many want him to be the star with that eye popping performance.  They want to see 30 of 41 for 425 yards and three touchdowns and a win.   He is great, so the fan wants greatness, and they want it all the time.   He has a Super Bowl title and a Super Bowl MVP, but people get on him more for the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans than his win over the Chicago Bears.   Tom Brady is 3-2 in Super Bowls but because he won his first three, nobody seems to care about those two losses to the NY Giants, including the 2007 season, when the Pats came in to the game 18-0.

When people think of Brady, they think great, clutch, winner, when they think of Manning, they say great, but not clutch.  They think because of those regular season numbers and those ten playoff wins that he needs to win more than one Super Bowl.   So, fair or not, the pressure will be on number 18 this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.   And, for Tom Brady, he gets to play this game with house money for the first time since he won his first Super Bowl in the 2001 season.  That’s a dangerous role if you are rooting for Denver and for Manning.

Brady took those Pats teams to two Super Bowls against the Giants and was expected to win.  He didn’t play badly in either game, but the favored Pats lost both.   Now, he comes in with most of the free world rooting against him and that could spell trouble for Denver.

The truth is that Manning has never played on great teams, those Indy teams won a lot because of his greatness.  The year he didn’t play, they went 2-14, so if the NFL keeps a WAR stat, Manning would likely lead the league.   The 2005 team was probably his best, but the hot Steelers got them, and then beat Denver and Seattle to win the Super Bowl.

This Denver team is a not a great team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if New England went up there and beat them.  If Manning plays great and they lose, it might still not be enough to get the critics off his back, but to dismiss the Pats is not wise.   But, if you look at the Broncos, do they come across as a sure thing, a dominant team?  I say no.

That said, the Broncos are at home, they’re the number one seed and they should win this game and advance to the Super Bowl.   That’s how sports are.  Sports anoint the favorite, and if they lose, they destroy the favorite.   Once again, it is what it is.

If the Broncos do win Sunday, there will be relief with many calling this Manning’s destiny, but at the other side in the Super Bowl will be the defending NFC champion 49ers or a dominant Seattle Seahawk team waiting for Manning and his date with destiny.   Remember, Manning is two wins away from cementing his legacy, and each hurdle is a monumental one.   Conventional wisdom tells me he’d play better in the Super Bowl than he does in the AFC Championship Game because he may actually take it all in and relax more.   And, let’s be honest, Tom Brady is to Peyton Manning as John McEnroe was to Jimmy Connors.   Connors recently said that he still gets tense when he sees McEnroe and both players retired from tennis in the early 1990s.   I think Brady has that effect on Manning, but Manning winning two Super Bowls to Brady’s three is much like Connors eight slams to McEnroe’s seven, it’s the company you keep.

This Sunday is the Legacy Bowl in Denver.  The winning quarterback moves to New York to play in the Cement Legacy Bowl.

Message to Alex Rodriguez: Time to Move On

January 14, 2014

by John Furgele

The ruling is in and Alex Rodriguez, barring a federal court miracle, will not play Major League Baseball in 2014.  My advice to the beleaguered Rodriguez is to stop fighting and accept the punishment.  The more you fight, the more you’ll have to pay your lawyers, lawyers that are not cheap. 

 

Let me defend Rodriguez for a moment.  When the Biogenesis suspensions came down and Rodriguez appealed, he had every right to do so.  The public ate him up, and many facebookers and twitters called him a disgrace and assumed his guilt.   They hid behind the “all the other players accepted their suspensions, why didn’t A-Rod?”  That did surprise me that the other 13 players accepted suspensions without appealing like A-Rod did.  Of course, the other players received 50 game suspensions; A-Rod 211.  The Jhonny Peraltas and Nelson Cruzs could have appealed and kept playing, but they took the 50 games and were then eligible for the postseason.  A-Rod’s 162 game suspension handed down by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz includes the postseason, something that Peralta’s and Cruz’s didn’t.  We know that was a joke.  For Peralta, he took the suspension, then came back to help the Tigers reach the American League Championship Series and in the offseason, was rewarded with a four year $52 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.  

 

In a way, I feel sad for Alex Rodriguez.  It’s easy to cast him as the ultimate villain and not to feel sorry for him and to say he got what he deserved, and you are right for saying so.  I don’t feel sorry for A-Rod, I feel bad for him.   When he signed with the Seattle Mariners at age 18, he was tabbed as the next immortal baseball player.   At 19, he made his debut and at age 20, he was an everyday player.  There were enormous expectations and A-Rod, at first, a reflective, fun and thoughtful kid, began to crack at the pressure and those expectations.   In 1997, baseball numbers were going through the roof.  Guys like Rafael Palmerio and Luis Gonzalez went from 15 to 20 homers per year to 47 and 57.  Take Palmerio.  Early in his career, he homered once every 27.6 at bats.  Later, he had a season where he homered once every 10.7 at bats.  

 

What was A-Rod (and for that matter Bonds) supposed to do?  They could stay clean and have those .298, 33, 115 seasons, or they could take some PEDs and have .330 55 147 seasons, like some of their counterparts.  These are competitive players, ruthless competitors.  You don’t make it the majors without being this way.   Everybody is quick to accuse the cheater, call him a disgrace, but what about the sport itself?  Baseball, and football, basketball and hockey today, looked the other way as old records became replaced by cartoon characters and cartoon type statistics. 

 

Rodriguez desperately wanted to keep his place as the best player in the game of baseball.  That and tons of self-doubt, and self-esteem issues seemed to plague him.  He was married to what appeared to be an educated, successful woman with whom he had two daughters with, yet, his insecurities led him to infidelity.  After admitting that he had taken PEDs, once he felt he was slipping, he sought out Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis to help him get strong and healthy again.  I feel bad that A-Rod felt so much pressure, because love him or hate him, that’s tough pressure.   It’s easy to be a fan, who works 40 hours a week for $45,000 and say, if you were making $25 million a year, you’d be clean, but you’re not the player, you’re not Rodriguez or Bonds or any of the others.  

 

These players believed that it was worth it.  Get caught, serve 50 games and next time do a better job and don’t get caught.   The hope was that it would blow over and once they retired, the Hall of Fame would come calling.    But, it doesn’t look like these players are going to get that call.   It seems that the voters, who said nothing as players bulked up, as players like Bret Boone went from nine homer seasons to 37, have awakened and are now punishing the cheaters.  And, the more A-Rod stays in the limelight, the less his chance of getting even 50 percent of the vote.  

 

Baseball is held to a higher standard because those numbers are timeless.   We know that Sammy Baugh would have trouble playing in the today’s NFL, but we think Sandy Koufax would be a 20 game winner in today’s baseball.   Players like Rodriguez and McGwire and Sosa and Bonds have ruined those numbers and there is nothing baseball can do to fix that. 

 

Rodriguez will struggle with life after baseball.  What is he going to do?  He needs the attention, he needs to be in the spotlight and because of this, he will probably report to spring training because it will keep him relevant.   He will be lost without the game he has played at the Major League level since 1995. 

 

The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League are said to be interested in Rodriguez’s services in 2014 and because they’re not affiliated with Major League Baseball, Rodriguez could play there if the Yankees allow him to.  My guess is that the Yankees would and hope that he injures himself so they could void the remaining $61 million on his deal, so the odds of Rodriguez stepping on the field in Islip, NY remains remote.   But, if Rodriguez truly loves baseball, he would think about it.  He would get what he wants:  a chance to play, a chance to put up numbers and a chance to be in the spotlight each and every day.  He has become a sideshow and I worry what he will do when the sideshow is gone.  Some players can leave the game and do well, others struggle mightily. 

 

Rodriguez it appears is at the end of the line.   He says he will appeal, but the federal courts are likely not going to hear his case.   The process seems adequate.  Rodriguez appealed, and both he and MLB took their case to an arbitrator, an arbitrator approved by both the players union and Major League Baseball.  The union says that it has accepted Horowitz’s decision ditto for Major League Baseball.  Both sides did put a but in their statements.  The unions says the suspension is too long, MLB says it’s too short.  However, in both statements, each side has said that they considered the process fair and the case closed and is ready to move on and move forward. 

 

Let’s hope A-Rod feels the same way

Biggio Not a Hall of Fame Player……But He’ll Get In

January 11, 2014

by John Furgele

I feel bad for Craig Biggio, the man missed going into the Hall of Fame by one or two votes, getting an agonizing 74.8 percent of the vote.  The BBWAA states that 75 percent is the magic number and the former Astro was right there, but I suppose there has to be a cutoff number of some sort.  The BBWAA are a peculiar bunch and because their human beings, they will remain peculiar.  Some vote for 10 players each year, some vote for none.  Others vote for the alleged steroid users, others won’t and will continue not to do so.

As for Biggio, simply, he is not a Hall of Fame baseball player.   The reason 74.8 percent of voters think so is because he collected 3,060 hits in a 20 year career.   That number, much like 300 wins or 500 home runs is considered a magical milestone, a barrier which automatically qualifies one for induction.   I never understood why that is?  If Biggio had 2,960 hits, he wouldn’t even come close, but voters feel that he had to be great to get over 3,000.

When it comes to the Hall of Fame—in any sport—I am a hard marker.   I’ve always believed that if it takes you more than five seconds of thinking about a particular player, then he shouldn’t be on your ballot.  Take Greg Maddux, for me, it took less than one second to say yes.   The man dominated, his numbers say so as do his individual seasons.   Take Tom Glavine.  It took me about 3 seconds to say yes to him.  He won 305 games, but he had dominant seasons, won Cy Young Awards and a World Series MVP in 1995.   Take Frank Thomas.  For some reason, Thomas says he never took steroids and everybody—including myself—believes him.  There are no traces that he did, no mention of him on the Mitchell Report and when he spoke to Congress, he was the one that most believed was telling the truth.   He also had dominant seasons, a two time MVP, and even as an old man, had a 39 homer, 114 RBI season with the Oakland A’s in 2006, a year that the A’s made it to the American League Championship Series.

With the Hall of Fame, you have to dominate or have dominant years for inclusion.   Some say that Kirby Puckett shouldn’t be in, but to me, they’re wrong.   Puckett had a .318 career batting average, extraordinary for a right handed hitter, better than Roberto Clemente and a host of others.   The .318 is a dominant statistic, and that puts him in.  Add to the fact that he had 2300 plus hits in just 12 seasons, 207 home runs and was a dominant defensive player with numerous Gold Gloves puts him over the top.

Biggio will get into the Hall of Fame, perhaps next year, but he shouldn’t.   He should be the first case of the writers ignoring the automatic number.   Biggio never was a dominant player.   He was a great player, a very great player, and to exclude him from the Hall of Fame does not take away from his greatness.   Many think stating a player is not a Hall of Famer is a knock or an insult.   In many ways, keeping a Jack Morris or a Craig Biggio out of the hall is similar to the team that loses the Super Bowl.   Rather than celebrate the runner up as a conference champion, we critique why they failed to win the Big Game.  Look at the Buffalo Bills.  They won four consecutive AFC Championships and played in four Super Bowls, but because they lost them all, three in ugly fashion, they became sort of a laughingstock.

Biggio led the league in doubles three times.   Seriously, does anybody care that much about doubles?   Batting titles, yes, home runs, yes, RBI yes, but doubles?   He also led the league in runs scored twice, twice in 20 years as a primary leadoff hitter.  He never led the league in walks either.  He did have some great seasons, including a .325 average in 1998, but there is nothing that sticks out in what was a stellar career.

There are some that will play the if he’s in, he should be game, and while there is some merit to it, I don’t buy it.   They will say if Bill Mazeroski is in, then Craig Biggio should be in.  Well, Mazeroski was a great fielding second baseman, won tons of Gold Gloves, but batted just .260 in his career.   That said, Mazeroski should never be in the Hall of Fame.   It was weak moment by the Veterans Committee, a moment that they should regret.   Biggio played second base when Roberto Alomar played, and Alomar was far superior and it isn’t even close.

If you’re a Biggio fan, don’t worry and don’t be offended at this article because in 2015, he will be voted in.   But, if you’re being fair, did you worry about Biggio?  Did he put fear in opposing players, like Rickey Henderson did, like Roberto Alomar did, like Frank Thomas did?  If you were hosting the Atlanta Braves and you had to face Glavine on Tuesday and Maddux on Thursday, you feared that you’d lose two straight games, but Craig Biggio and his .281 average?  I don’t think so.

Steve Garvey was feared, but he “only” batted .294 with 2,599 hits and 272 home runs.  He won an MVP award, one more than Biggio.  But, Garvey never came close despite being a much better player than Biggio.  But, life isn’t always fair and in the end, it’s not the end of the world.   Biggio got the magic number of 3,000 hits, despite just a .281 average.

You could go on and on with guys that have compelling cases.  Edgar Martinez was a dominant offensive player, who won batting titles and batted .312 for his career (see Puckett), but he is being punished for being a designated hitter.  Thomas and Paul Molitor were also known for being designated hitters, but Thomas achieved 521 homers and Molitor well over 3,000 hits.  Alan Trammell out “batted” Ozzie Smith .285 to .262, hit way more home runs, but the perception was that Smith was the greatest fielding shortstop of all time.   But Trammell won four Gold Gloves and overall was the better package at the position, but he only gets 20 percent of the vote, while Smith gets in on the first try.

There is no silver bullet formula, it just is what is, and as long as humans are doing the voting, that’s okay.   I wouldn’t vote for Biggio, but if he gets in, I won’t have a problem with it either.   It’s not personal, it’s business.

College Football: Let’s Now Go All The Way

January 8, 2014

The last BCS Championship Game was played Monday and it ended with a bang, a thrilling 34-31 victory by the undefeated Florida State Seminoles over the Auburn Tigers.  In its 16 years, most hated the BCS because it wasn’t a playoff, even though these same haters were waxing poetic and hiding behind the new term, “for the most part, they got it right.”

 

Like any breakup, it’s easy to forget the bad and remember the good.   It’s easy to forget Nebraska getting selected for the title game after being thrashed by Colorado in its regular season finale.  It’s easy to forget the USC-Oklahoma-Auburn which team doesn’t make it scenario, too.  Be that as it may, the BCS was an improvement over the old bowl system, even though January 1 lost much of its luster in the process.  Still, sometimes you have to give to get. 

 

Many of the BCS Championship Games had the high drama that everybody hopes for in a title tilt.  Last night’s game was a great ending, perhaps the second best of the BCS era, behind USC-Texas in 2006 (2005 season).   Next year, the College Football Playoff arrives, a four team event that will use two bowl games as semifinals and then have a championship game at a site that will be awarded to the highest bidder.  They already do this in Canada.  Up north, the semifinal games are called the Uteck Bowl and the Mitchell Bowl, with the two winners playing for the Vanier Cup the next week.  Let’s hope that the leaders of college football come up with a nifty name, or cup for the CFP title game.

 

The four team playoff is going to be popular with everybody that has a connection to college football.  The fans will love it, the coaches will love it, as will the bookies and the gamblers.  TV will love it, because unlike any other country, no country adores playoffs more than the United States of America.  And, our playoffs are tournament style, and we love tournaments.   That’s why the NFL will eventually expand its playoffs because that’s what the USA loves.  

 

The CFP will soar so much, that they will expand it.  They can say they won’t; say that the tournament will take time away from the classroom and all the other good stuff.   But, we’re dumb but not stupid.  We know it’s about money, but we want an 8, 10, or 12 team playoff.   The elimination thing is a thing we like, so bring it on. 

 

The 10 or 12 team format is the best choice.   My preference would be 12 with the top four teams receiving byes in the Opening Round.   As we know—because we love  tournaments—the opening round pits 5 against 12; 6 versus 11; 7 and 10 and the classic 8-9 game that college basketball fans salivate over.  And, with a 12 team format, you are rewarding the best teams but not subjecting them to that classic first round upset.   No Hampton beating Iowa State in college football.  

 

Before they expand, they have to clean up college football into two Division I associations.   The FCS would be gone, replaced by the CFA and NCAA.   The CFA would consist of the five power conferences, currently the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Notre Dame, which technically is associated with the ACC.   The NCAA would consist of the other five conferences, currently the The American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mid American and Mountain West, Army AND all current FCS schools.   FCS football served its purpose, but with so many schools moving up, let’s just abolish it for good.  That way, North Dakota State’s win over Kansas State would be fine, as it would Towson’s over Connecticut. 

 

Remember, just because there are two associations, it’s all Division I football.   Under the new system, the highest ranked NCAA school gets invited to the CFP.  In fairness, they should get two of the 12 spots, but for now, they get one.  The CFP and the merger of FCS and FBS actually helps the bowl games.  With only 12 out of about 250 schools making the CFP, that leaves plenty of teams remaining for bowl games and hopefully the  elimination of 6-6 teams from bowl consideration.  Under the new system, Army could play Youngstown State in a bowl game, or either team could play Iowa.  The Capital One Bowl could be Ohio State/South Carolina or it could be Ohio State/Boise State depending how the season plays out. 

 

The CFP will be the main attraction with its modest four team scenario.  Last night’s BCS title game drew a 15.7 overnight rating, and a real tournament championship game might get a 25.  Only the Super Bowl and Academy Awards draw higher.   The more it expands, the more popular it will be.  The NCAA basketball tournament used to consist of 16, then 32, 40, 48, 52, 64, 65, and now 68 teams, with some clamoring for more.  

 

Four teams is a good start.  Consolidating into a two association Division I system(technically there are three now) is the nxst step and expansion is the third step.   Football is king in the country.   Americans devour the NFL, they like college football and they like the NFL Draft so much that it has become a three day event.  

 

In the end, the BCS was good for college football.  It changed the way presidents, commissioners and athletic directors thought.  There was a time where the powers said that there would never be any changes to the old bowl system, but there was, once, now twice.

 

And, the third time will be the charm.

 

 

In the NFL, No Quarterback, No Win

January 6, 2014

by John Furgele

The most obvious statement of 2014 came early; you need a great quarterback to win big in the NFL.  And, to me winning big means winning a conference championship and getting to the Super Bowl. Of course, winning the Super Bowl is nice, but not a necessity.   Contrary to common media belief, there are great quarterbacks that haven’t won Super Bowls and are still in the NFL, or in the Hall of Fame.   Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly are four that come to mind.  When I hear, it’s all about winning championships, I cringe, because that’s not really true.    Was Troy Aikman better than Peyton Manning, because he won more Super Bowls? 

 

It is a tired argument to measure a quarterback’s greatness by how many Super Bowls they’ve won.  Jim Plunkett won two.  He was a good quarterback, but far from great.  In 1980, he came to the Raiders after struggling in New England and San Francisco and was backing up Dan Pastorini, until Pastorini broke  his leg and the rest, they say is history.  

 

Some judge quarterbacks by wins and losses, others big games, but I use the conference championship games as a personal barometer.   How many did you play in?  How many did you win?  Playing in a conference championship game means you led your team to at least one and perhaps two wins in postseason play.   Getting there is hard.   Dan Marino was the purest passer I’ve ever seen play, even purer than Peyton Manning.   If you close your eyes can you remember how many times Marino took the Dolphins 75 yards in four or five pass plays.  It was zip, zip, zoom , zoom, touchdown.   Yes, the Dolphins relied on him too much, never drafted and cultivated a great running back and never had great run blockers, but boy could he pass.   The Buffalo Bills also stood in his way.   They had a Hall of Fame QB in Jim Kelly and oh, yes, they had a top notch Hall of Fame running back in Thurman Thomas, as well as Bruce Smith and ……you get it. 

 

As good as Marino was, he only played in three AFC Championship Games and went 1-2 in those games, beating Pittsburgh in 1984, losing at home to New England in 1985 and losing at home to Buffalo in 1992.  A great career, lots of wins, but only three appearances in the AFC title game.  That’s why John Elway is often underrated.  In 16 seasons, he took to the Broncos to six AFC Championship Games.  They won five of those, with the only loss coming in 1991, when they lost at Buffalo.   People remember the two Super Bowl titles at the end of his career, but six conference title games?  Impressive.

 

I always view the conference championship games as the most sacred day in football.  On that day, two champions are crowned and you can see what it really means to the players.   There is joy, but it is a reflective joy, a reserved joy, because the ultimate prize is two weeks away.   Playing in an NFC or AFC Championship Game should never be taken for granted.   Never.

 

Ask Warren Moon, the old Oiler quarterback.   Moon resides in the Hall of Fame, even though I’m not sure he should be.  Moon was a nice quarterback but never played in an AFC Championship Game with those Houston Oilers.  In fact, Moon is remembered more for the games that he and his Oilers lost during his career.   They blew a late lead against Denver in the 1991 Divisional Playoff to Elway, losing 26-24.  That Oiler team was good enough to go to Buffalo the next week and win, but you have to get there first.  The next season was the epic meltdown at Buffalo in the Wild Card Playoff.  Up 35-3, the Bills came back to win 41-38 after Moon threw a pick in overtime.   The next year, they lost at home to Kansas City as the number one seed in the AFC Divisional Playoff, the game where Buddy Ryan punched Kevin Gilbride. 

 

Moon was a great QB, but his 3-7 playoff record shows just how tough it is to make it to a conference championship game.   When you draft or sign or give a QB the keys to the offense that is the question you must ask—can this guy get me to the AFC or NFC Championship Game?  Forget the Super Bowl for now.  That’s why the Jets may not be sold on Geno Smith.  In their mind, Smith might be able to manage the offense, go 9-7, maybe 10-6 and win a Wild Card game, but what about that Divisional Playoff.  They had a guy in Mark Sanchez that took the Jets to two conference title games and they still drafted Smith.  

 

Of the four playoff games we saw this weekend, the biggest question resides in Cincinnati, Ohio.   For the third time, Andy Dalton and his Bengals failed to advance to the AFC Divisional Playoff.  That’s not good, because that’s still a game away from the AFC Championship Game.   New Orleans, and Green Bay are not worried about their quarterback and as reluctant to throw as Nick Foles was, it was his first playoff start, so the youngster gets a pass.   But, there are no more excuses for Dalton and if he doesn’t improve, he could be the modern day version of Warren Moon.   He’ll get you to the playoffs, but if the goal is to play for the right to get to the Super Bowl, is he the man for the job? 

 

Lots of teams would be happy to make the playoffs three straight times.   Ask the fans in Buffalo, who last sniffed the playoffs when Doug Flutie was still playing and Steve McNair was still alive.  Ask the fans in Detroit, who are tabbed as talented every year, but fall way short of expectations.  Ask the fans in Cleveland, who can’t find a coach or quarterback to lead their team.  

 

Finding a QB is very, very hard and that’s why Dalton is an enigma.   You need a guy who can win, but when you have a talented team you need a guy who can win in the playoffs.  If you get rid of Dalton, you may set the franchise back years.   The Indianapolis Colts are the luckiest team in the NFL.  They had Peyton Manning.  The year he didn’t play, they stunk, stunk enough to land Andrew Luck in the draft.  That is nothing but pure good fortune.  The Colts may go 20 plus years with just two quarterbacks.   On the contrary, the Bills are still trying to replace Jim Kelly and the Dolphins continue to audition for Dan Marino’s replacement and those two guys retired in 1996 and 1999!

 

I was rooting for Dalton because had he played and won, the Bengals were more than capable of going on that magic carpet ride and getting to the Super Bowl.   I always felt Moon, had he got to the AFC Championship Game with those Oilers would have won at least one of the games, but it didn’t happen.

 

There are losses and there are historic losses.   In Philadelphia, it was a loss, same in Green Bay.  In Cincinnati, the decision makers will meet and they will have to decide if Dalton is their guy; the guy that can get the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game at the very least.   It will be a very emotional meeting to be sure.   

 

 

 


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