Archive for March, 2017

Don’t Cry for Oakland; They’ll Be Back

March 29, 2017

by John Furgele (The Exquisite 228)

It is official.  The Las Vegas Raiders have—or in 2019—will arrive.  It was just a matter of time before the NFL moved a team to what they call Sin City.  They let the NHL go first, but sadly, the Vegas Golden Knights will be a mere afterthought now that the NFL Raiders will soon be coming to town.

Everybody is feigning sadness.  How could the NFL do this?  The Oakland Raiders began play in the AFL in 1960 and after 57 years, it is over.  Sure, they moved to LA from 1982 to 1994, but we all knew that Al Davis wouldn’t stay there because Los Angeles was never going to build him a stadium.  So in 1995, he came back; back to the place he abandoned, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.  We know the Coliseum is not a good stadium.  It is the last of the multi-purpose playpens in North America.  In the 1970s, it was not unique.  The Raiders, Steelers, Bengals, and Eagles all played at these concrete jungles.

The Raiders were winners.  In the 1970s, they were perennial participants in AFC Championship Games.  If not for those darned Steelers, they might have won three or four Super Bowls.  That said they did well, ringing the bell in 1976, 1980 and 1983.  Those old enough recall the 1980 season when Davis was embroiled in a bitter battle with then commissioner Pete Rozelle.  This year, people drooled of the thought of Roger Goodell handing the Lombardi trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but Rozelle to Davis in 1980? That was not contrived.  That was real.  The men hated each other, were suing each other and when the Wild Card Raiders shellacked the Philadelphia Eagles, it happened.  When Rozelle presented the trophy to Davis after Super Bowl 15, the men shook hands and Davis, with his PT Barnum charm proclaimed that “This was our finest hour; this was the finest hour of the Oakland Raiders.”

The Raiders left for LA, but success continued.  Another Super Bowl title came in 1983 and eventually a return to Oakland and the Coliseum.  The return showcased the zany fans that inhabit the East Bay, but the team struggled.  There was a Super Bowl appearance in 2002, but much futility thereafter.  Davis aged and lost his touch and the Oakland Raiders became a laughingstock.  Minutes after he was laid to rest, his son, Mark began plotting a move.  He could have gone in with the 49ers and shared a stadium, but owners are greedy.  He wanted his own palace and he knew that the city of Oakland and the state of California weren’t going to give him one.

The move was a formality.  Today, if you want to be an NFL city, you have to give in to every demand of both the owners and the league.  The league says they value history, fans, and tradition, but then use words like untenable in describing cities with poor stadiums.  If Minnesota didn’t replace the Metrodome where would the Vikings be playing?  San Diego, another AFL pioneer wouldn’t build the team a new stadium, so owner Alex Spanos, who has a net worth of $2 billion left for a soccer stadium in Los Angeles.

The Buffalo Bills stadium goes back to 1973.  The team was recently purchased by Terry Pegula who is worth an estimated $4 billion.  He also owns the NHL Buffalo Sabres.  The league has already called New Era Field untenable and has begun putting pressure on the politicians and leaders that a new stadium must soon be in the offing.  The owner, careful not to offend a fan base that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since the 1999, says there is no pressure to build a new stadium right now.  But, we know that refrain will soon change, right Mr. Pegula?

That’s the way it goes in the NFL.  It is a league where you really have to play for pay. If you don’t give the owners what they want, they leave.  Look at St. Louis.  They tried to placate Stan Kroenke with plans for a replacement for a relatively new stadium that they had, but Stan the Man wanted the glitz of Los Angeles.  Poor St. Louis.  They have now lost two NFL teams in the Cardinals and the Rams.

The good news is that all is not lost for Oakland.  They will get another team someday.  Now that Oakland is available, it has never looked so good.  And, soon, they will begin flirting and wooing a prospective owner to its town.  Maybe it’s the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Jacksonville Jaguars, but sooner than later, they will successfully court and land another team.

Baltimore lost the Colts, and got the Ravens.  Houston lost the Oilers, the greatest football team, and got the Texans.  Cleveland lost the Browns and got the Browns.  St. Louis lost the Cardinals and got the Rams, only to lose them, too.  Eventually, somebody in Oakland will build a $2 billion stadium with all the amenities and another NFL team will find its way to the East Bay.  They won’t be called the Raiders, but they will play in Oakland; it’s just a matter of time.

As long as there is money, there will be a team.  The NFL is excited about Las Vegas and unlike hockey, it is a can’t lose proposition.  The NFL shares TV revenue.  There is no such thing as local TV revenue, so it doesn’t matter how big Las Vegas is, or how many fans come to their games, because the league splits television revenues in 32 equal parts.  Green Bay works in football; it couldn’t work in basketball.

The NFL can have teams in Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay and certainly, Las Vegas.  Heck, if Des Moines, Iowa builds a $2.5 million stadium, they too, could attract an NFL franchise.  What would they be called?  The Des Moines Sentinels?  The Iowa Huskers?  Laugh now, but never be surprised and never say never.

Today, the Raiders lost a team and that is sad and wrong on many levels, but the sun may soon rise again in the East Bay.  All it takes is a disgruntled owner and some politicians who can find some funding streams.  Nashville took Houston and Indianapolis took Baltimore and then Baltimore, enraged as they were when Indy stole the Colts, went out and stole the Browns!

The NFL is all about The Shield.  But, there is a lot that goes on behind it and it’s all cutthroat all the time.

Today, we can cry for Oakland, but eventually Oakland will strike back.  Here’s hoping Buffalo, Jacksonville and others are sleeping with one eye open.




The NBA: We Rest Our Case

March 24, 2017

by John Furgele (The Authentic 228)

The issue of rest is the plague of the NBA these days. And, like wildfire, it has spread through the networks, providing the fodder that the unimaginative sports talkers need to fuel their shows.

What can be done is the cry? Should the NBA try their best to eliminate the dreaded back-to-backs that the million dollar players can’t seem to perform and participate in? The funny thing is that in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Slick Watts’, Jack Sikmas and Kevin Johnsons’ of the basketball world seemed to be just fine, and they played for much less than the $30 million that LeBron James and others are playing for now.

Yes, there is science that is available today that was not around 20 to 40 years ago. Rest is important, travel affects the body and nutrition is a priority. In reading The Game by Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goalie talks of drinking cokes after games and practices, something that would never be done by today’s athletes.

When you play 82 games over six months, that’s 13.6 games per month on average. In the perfect world, there would be no back-to-backs, but NBA arenas are often shared with NHL teams, minor league teams, rodeos and tractor pulls as well as concerts, preachers, home shows and the like. Bon Jovi doesn’t want to play back-to-backs either, but if the arena is available Wednesday and Thursday, but not Friday, the Jersey rocker will have to go back-to-back.

The funny thing is that you don’t hear NHL players resting like their NBA counterparts despite the fact that both leagues play 82 games.  Why is that? Is the NHL player in better shape than the NBA player? Are they more dedicated to playing than their NBA counterparts? I don’t think so, but the NHL does something that the NBA does not—they start their season earlier.

The Buffalo Sabres started the 2016-2017 season on October 13. They will play 82 games over 178 days while the New York Knicks began their season on October 25 and will end on April 12. That’s 82 games over 169 days. Sure, it’s only a difference of nine days, but it is an issue. In truth, why can’t both leagues start their seasons in the first week of October and run through late April? It might not seem like a lot, but adding 30 days to the NBA and even 10 to 12 more days to the NHL certainly can’t hurt, can it?

The winter seasons are long–too long. We all know that, and because of the 82 game regular season, interest at a national level wanes. Yes, the Penguin fan living in Pittsburgh is going to watch as many of their games as they can, but the hockey fan in Milwaukee? They will jump in and out all year long, because 82 games is simply too much. Ideally, both leagues would play 60 games, but that will never happen. The 82 game schedules serve their purpose by keeping people employed, arenas filled, players paid and so on. So, cries of shortening the season are meaningless, because it’s never going to happen.

Lengthening the season calendar-wise is also risky. The season is long enough critics and fans say, so now you’re going to add to it?   But, if making the season longer ensures that the Currys, James, and Leonards will play more because they’re getting more rest has to be a positive for the league.

Fining teams isn’t going to work and neither is requiring them to play in the showcase games such as ABC Saturdays or TNT Thursdays. Coaches have a right to play and rest whomever they want. Their job is to win games and keep their owners happy and themselves employed. When a person buys a ticket to a game, there is no guarantee that all the players can and will play. Requiring teams to submit a doctor’s note proclaiming a real injury is also an example of living in Fantasyland.

Baseball teams give their players rest. In the old days, if you went to game on a Sunday, chances are you saw the “Sunday lineup,” which featured the backup catcher, backup infielders fourth outfielders. Ticket buyers knew this was the case and for the most part they accepted it. It is different in the NBA and NHL, but should it be? If Dusty Baker can rest Bryce Harper, why can’t Tyronn Lue rest LeBron James?

We all wish the players would be less self-absorbed; we would love to hear James say that he is playing in Milwaukee because this is the only time that Bucks fans will see me and my Cavs play, but due to that self-absorption, it isn’t going to happen.   The schedules, and now, the rest days are made in advance with the doctors and scientists. They study the body, the calendar and the cycle and if the best day to rest James is Saturday, March 25 against the Celtics, then he will be rested; ABC be damned.

The NBA has a soap opera quality to it and its image could use some improving.  For some reason, the rest thing comes up in the NBA, but not so much in the NFL, MLB, NHL and even Major League Soccer. And, before dismissing soccer, let it be known that no athlete gets less rest than the soccer player.  MLS begins in March and runs until December with only January and February as a break.  Furthermore, in addition to the 34 MLS games , players play in friendlies, cup competitions and other games.  A 44-week season for the soccer star, yet the NBA players struggle to play 82 games over 26 weeks.   The European leagues start in August and end in May, leaving only June and July free.  So, what gives with the NBA players?

There is no tangible solution. Imposing sanctions and rules set by the league will be met with resistance. In fact, the owners will likely defy Commissioner Silver because they don’t want to see their stars get hurt. The first step is to start the season on October 5 and end it April 25.   More days means more days off, more rest, less back-to-backs and less four games in five days. It seems simple, but as we know, nothing is as easy as it seems.