Archive for January, 2014

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.   




Good for O’Brien, Good for Penn State

January 2, 2014

by John Furgele

He came to Happy Valley because it was sad.   His goal, to restore the happy back in the valley in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal, a scandal that rocked the college town that is State College, Pennsylvania.  And, for two years, it was working.  Bill O’ Brien was doing the job and doing it better than expected.   He went 8-4 and 7-5 in two seasons in what were at the very least, trying circumstances.  Some thought the sanctions were too severe; others not severe enough. 


In many ways, Bill O’ Brien reminds me a bit of Jack Lengyl, the man who came to Marshall University in 1971 to coach the Thundering Herd after the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 members of the university, 37 of those football players.  Both Marshall and Penn State were in pain, albeit different kinds of pain.  At Marshall, the pain was caused by an act they couldn’t control; at Penn State, it was the deliberate acts of one man and a lack of responsibility by other men. 


O’Brien had the look of a college football coach.  He was tough, grizzled, enthusiastic and he was infectious to those who knew him.  He has a son that is autistic and cannot speak, but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself.  He is driven, determined and eager, all qualities you would want in your football coach at the collegiate level.  The bad news for those in Happy Valley was almost immediately after arriving in central Pennsylvania, he was being wooed by the NFL.   A long time and successful NFL assistant, O’ Brien’s dream was to be a head coach in the NFL.   He never said so, but in his eyes, he likely felt that they only way to be an NFL head coach was to be a head coach at some level.  Marc Trestman went north to Montreal of the CFL and that worked to get him the job as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.  O’Brien went to Penn State, won 15 games in two seasons under extremely limiting conditions and that was good enough to get him the Houston Texans job. 


Now, he is gone, and as they say, everybody can be replaced.  Bear Bryant wasn’t the last Alabama coach to win a national title, and there was one (Gene Stallings) who won one before Nick Saban won three.  Nobody can fault O’Brien for having a dream.  Some will of course, viewing him as a hypocrite for repeatedly saying he wanted to stay at Penn State while interviewing for NFL jobs on the side.  As much as O’Brien wanted to stay at Penn State, he was in demand and ultimately, couldn’t resist the lure of being a head coach in the NFL.  Sure, he could have said no thanks and stayed, but if you always say no, they (the NFL and other colleges) will stop calling and someday when the school no longer wants you—and that day always comes—the other people won’t want you either. 


If you were an off-Broadway actor and had the opportunity to act on Broadway, you would take it.  If you were a top notch lawyer at ABC firm and DEF firm wanted to hire you away and make you a partner, you would take it.  If you were Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners offered you $70 million more than the New York Yankees, you would take it.   For O’Brien, it wasn’t all about the money, and even though he’ll make more with the Texans, he wanted the opportunity to be just one of 32 head coaches in the NFL.  


As a fan of college football it is a sad day.  I believed that O’Brien is a dynamic enough personality to win and win big in college football.   He would have excelled at Penn State and down the road, could have stayed there or moved on to Texas, Alabama or another elite program in the nation.  But, there was the draw, the pull, the lure of the NFL that was too much to resist.   Yes, there are those who say that he left with unfinished business, but he did restore some luster and some pride at Penn State.   Most thought the Lions would be lucky to win eight games in two years; O’Brien nearly doubled that.   To say he failed would be a gross understatement.   He could have done better had he stayed at State College, but when you’re coveted, revered and wanted; sometimes you have to take the opportunity. 


O’Brien will be introduced soon as the Texans head coach.   He’ll say all the right things and he’ll say that leaving Penn State was perhaps the toughest thing he’s ever done.   Everybody says that when they leave one job for another, but when O’Brien says it, I’ll believe him.   It was a tough decision, and I hope he says that it was because that’s the kind of guy he is.  


Two years ago nobody wanted the Penn State job, but O’Brien took it and two years later, there will be plenty of applicants and candidates.   They can thank O’Brien for that. 



Let’s Go Bowling……Old School

January 1, 2014

by John Furgele

In the old days, there was no BCS title game, and teams played at designated bowl games.  If an SEC team was undefeated as well as a Pac 10 team, they wouldn’t play each other in a bowl game because the SEC champ went to the Sugar Bowl and the Pac 10 team went to the Rose.  So, for entertainment purposes only, let’s go back in time and you tell me what would happen.  I’ll count the Cotton Bowl as a major bowl game, just because it gets 10 teams into the BCS bowl games, like today.  

Rose Bowl:  Michigan State v. Stanford.  This bowl game is intact.  Under the old system, the Spartans with a 12-1 record would have national championship hopes.  Today, they don’t.

Sugar Bowl:  Auburn v. Ohio State.  Obviously, Auburn would have to go here as SEC champs, and this would cause a major outcry.  So, when people rip the BCS, this is why it was created.   But, in some ways, the BCS has made the other major bowl games sort of meaningless.   The winner of the BCS title game knows they’re going to be the national champion.  In the old days, all the bowl games—the January 1 games—had some drama.   I’ll cite 1978 and 1984 as the high water marks.  In 1977 and 1983, Notre Dame and Miami came into the bowl games ranked fifth in the AP bowls.  The next day, they were national champions. 

Orange Bowl:  Florida State v. Alabama.  This is a great bowl game, and to me, Alabama is still the best team in the land, but they blew it against Auburn.   I would think that if Florida State won this game, they would get the vote over Auburn if they beat Ohio State because most voters see Alabama as a better team than Ohio State in the subjective world that is college football.  And, the Seminoles would remain the only undefeated team in the nation. 

Fiesta Bowl:  Baylor v. Central Florida.  Both teams have one loss, but nobody is really sure how good they really are.  The Big 12 wasn’t great this year, and the American has its first and only BCS guaranteed bid this year.  But, if you’re a fan of college football, this is a more than an intriguing game.  How good is Central Florida?   They beat Louisville in Louisville, so to me, they seem pretty good, but they need a good showing to validate their season.   Baylor is in their first BCS bowl game, but remember, they played in some Cotton Bowls under Grant Teaff in the 1970s and 1980s, so that’s very misleading.   This is a rejuvenated program, but not a dormant one.  

Cotton:  Oklahoma v. Clemson.   A good game between two 10-2 teams that are very good, but not great teams.   Still, it’s worth watching.  Oklahoma is still a classic program and Clemson, does have a national title from 1981.  

Scenario 1:  Let’s assume that Michigan State, Auburn, Florida State, and Baylor win   Right now; Florida State is number one and is undefeated, so one would think that the nod would go to the Seminoles.    

Scenario 2:  Let’s assume that Michigan State, Auburn, Alabama and Baylor win.  Well, Auburn beat Alabama, so the vote would come down to Auburn and Michigan State with apologies to Baylor.   Based on what we learned this year, Auburn would probably be number one and Michigan State would be number two.   But, what do I really know? 

Scenario 3, the Last One:  Let’s go for the puzzling one.   Let’s assume that Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama and Baylor win.   Of those four, Alabama wins the eye test, but they entered the bowls without a conference title, which is not a prerequisite, but some voters would keep them down because of it.  Ditto for Ohio State.  Hard to vote for them when their lone loss was to Michigan State. Would Michigan State get the title?     Now, if Michigan State lost to Stanford, it would really be a fun vote, and my thinking is Alabama would nip Baylor for the title.  

We know this is for entertainment purposes only and truth be told, I really don’t care which system college football uses.   I have always left the word “national” out of the BCS Championship Game because that game is truly not a national title game.   It’s the fifth BCS bowl game that has a different name attached to it.   Next year, there will be a College Football Playoff, which will be better but not the cure-all that many think it will be.   College football is a great sport with great drama.  The old system never bothered me neither does the current system.   This is college football, college athletics, it really isn’t the end-all be-all that many think.   I feel sorry for the citizens of Texas for being defined by their success of the Texas Longhorns.   Paying somebody $5 million or more to coach football is absurd, but some economic expert must have determined that winning brings more applications, more students and more money to the university.   Tell that to the sport that gets cut or the academic program that meets the same fate.     

In 1994, Nebraska and Penn State finished 12-0, but the “championship” went to the Cornhuskers.  Both had unblemished records, so are you telling me that Nebraska was better?    But, the media loves this and refers to the national champions for weeks after, but if Penn State called themselves national champions, you would get no argument from me. A few years later, Nebraska came into the bowl games ranked number two in the polls behind Michigan.  Michigan won as did Nebraska, but the coaches decided to vote the Huskers number one in Tom Osbourne’s last season.   Why wasn’t there a split champion in 1994? 

The College Football Playoff will be great for the sport.   With four teams and true semifinal games, there will be tremendous interest.  I do think that the CFP will grow from four to eight to at least 12 teams, if not 16.   Twelve would be ideal, but one could easily see 16.  But, you can certainly see why back before the BCS, there was pressure to play well on January 1 because every bowl game had some kind of implication as to who won the mythical championship vote.   In 1978, number one Texas was throttled by number five Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.  At that night’s Orange Bowl, all number two Oklahoma had to do was beat Arkansas, a 10-1 team that’s only loss was to number one Texas.  They couldn’t do it, falling 31-6 to Lou Holtz’s Razorbacks.  

Enjoy the BCS this year, but remember the old times.   Maybe, in 25 years, somebody will look back—fondly—at the BCS era. 



Be Careful When Firing Coaches

January 1, 2014

by John Furgele

 You’re an owner of an NFL football team.  You’re in select company.  There are only 32 of you in the free world.   It’s a great club to be in.  Your team is worth at least $750 million and that’s in small market Buffalo or Jacksonville.   The TV money is insane and the revenue streams grow each and every year.  The only concern you have is getting people to actually attend the games.  Because of increasing digital capability, the fans at the stadium are actually at a disadvantage as those at home have unlimited access to all the products that is the NFL.  But, the 32 people who own the teams, they’re smart and bright and they’ll figure it out and will do so soon.  

You just went through another bad season.  You had high hopes this year, but things fizzled, the wheels came off and all of sudden, the season was lost.   This is not the NBA, the NHL or MLB where a team can lollygag, then go on a 20 out of 25 bender and take command, make the playoffs and even win a championship.   It’s tough to start 0-4 (Pittsburgh) or 0-6 (NY Giants) and think the playoffs are realistic.  It’s tough to win four games in a row in the NFL, let alone ten in a row or ten of 12.  

It’s a bad season, so the fans want the coach fired at the least, in some places it’s the coach and the general manager.  As owner, you have to be careful.   You don’t want to be a knee-jerk guy who acts on emotion like most fans do.  On the other hand, the fans pay the bills.   They buy the tickets, they buy all the merchandise, even those ugly third or alternative jerseys that you only wear to extract money from your customers.   If you maintain status quo, you may lose some season ticket holders, if you react too quickly based on the above mentioned emotions, you may actually lose more games and more fans next fall. 

The Monday after the regular season ends is called Black Monday; it’s the day where you can usually count on at least four to six coaches being served their walking papers.  Is that fair?  Is that right?  Is that practical?  In some cases, it’s justified.  Mike Shanahan is a two time Super Bowl winning coach, and last year, led Washington to a 10-6 record, a division title and a playoff berth.  This year, he went 3-13.  Did he forget how to coach?  Of course not, but in today’s NFL, you have to get along with the star quarterback and once Shanahan failed to do that, the writing was on the wall. 

As for the other dismissals, the jury will be out as to whether these will be good moves or not so good ones.   The Cleveland Browns change coaches like you and I change underwear and where has that gotten them?  They still haven’t played in a Super Bowl and haven’t won the NFL Championship since 1964 when Jim Brown was breaking tackles.   The Cleveland Browns fired Bill Belichick and that was a year after he led them to an 11-5 record, something that most people forget.   He was accused of running Bernie Kosar out of town and even though he had that 11 win season, as soon as the fortunes turned, he was jettisoned for …….

The same goes for the let’s be fair woeful Detroit Lions.  Here was a team that was 7-5 and leading Philadelphia by eight points in the snow in the fourth quarter.  They lost that game then went into what can only be called a football coma, dropping their next three games to finish 7-9.  Sure, Jim Schwartz underachieved and truth be told, he is not a leader of men nor a great strategist, but will the next coach be better?   Is Wayne Fontes still living in the 313 area code?

The Pittsburgh Steelers never panic.   They started 0-4 and stayed cool.   They won eight of 12 and darn near squeezed into the playoffs.  Since 1969, they have had three coaches; Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.   They make sure the players know that no matter what goes on, you’ll go before the coach does.  Ask Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes if you’re not sure about that.  And, yes, since 1969, the Steelers have won six AFC Championships and five Super Bowls.  

 A few years ago, Marvin Lewis was accused of being too soft and the pundits predicted that he wouldn’t; make it as an NFL head coach.   Many wanted him out in Cincinnati, but you don’t hear that so much anymore.  Lewis once again has his Bengals in the playoffs and most think they have as much talent as any team in the AFC if not all of football.   Yes, Lewis has not won a playoff games, but getting there year in and year out is an accomplishment and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Ask the Buffalo Bills. 

Many New York Jets and New York Giants fans and media think it might be time for Rex Ryan and the aging Tom Coughlin to be dismissed, and three weeks ago, most thought Ryan was a goner, but Jets owner Woody Johnson made a wise decision and used good reasoning in doing so.  Ryan won eight games with a rookie quarterback and no quality wide receivers and rather than fire a coach, why not get him some more players?   With the Giants, why fire Coughlin?  Sure, the Giants have missed the playoffs four of the last five years but since 2007, they have won two Super Bowls, two more than the New England Patriots and two more than Peyton Manning.   In 2011, the Giants went 9-7 and won the Super Bowl; in 2012, they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.   Of course, the experts call the 2012 season disappointing, but the records were the same.  In 2011, the tiebreakers were in their favor, last year they were not.    You really can’t make this up. 

In 2012, the Chicago Bears went 10-6 and missed the playoffs.  They fired coach  Lovie Smith, the coach that took them to the Super Bowl in 2006. In 2013, they brought in Marc Trestman, the offensive guru who won two CFL Grey Cup titles with the Montreal Alouettes.  This year, they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.  How did that work out Chicago? 

You’re the owner, you can do with your team as you see fit.   If you want to change coaches after 10-6 and 9-7 seasons go right ahead.   I can’t knock you for what you do any more than I can knock a successful salesperson who gets his/her numbers.   All you owners are wildly successful in business, so much so that you accumulated enough wealth to buy an NFL football team, which starts at $500 million and that’s being conservative.   Even though you drip of wealth, most of you have been able to successfully plead your case that the state build and pay for a stadium that hosts, at the most 12 NFL games per year.   Let’s commend for you that. 

So, if you want to switch coaches every year, two or three, go right ahead, owner of the Raiders.   Maybe you’ll catch lightning in a bottle once, but before long, you’ll fire that guy too.  It’s your team, your business, your toy.   But, don’t expect things to turn around in a flash just because you appeased the fans or yourself. 

 Consistency is the key, but you didn’t hear it from me.