Monday, September 17, 2007

What a depressing weekend. I never would have believed that the Yankees could take two out of three from the Red Sox and it wouldn't make me smile. What is happening to the football team at Notre Dame is just that depressing. And the instability and unpredictability of the early stages of the NFL season isn't helping.

It's hard to find words to describe what Michigan did to Notre Dame this weekend. Suffice it to say, there just isn't a lot of fight in this vintage of the Fighting Irish. I guess the one moment that best encapsulated the debacle in the Big House this week came when the ABC telecast wound down mercifully. As they do for each team in each game, they chose the Chevrolet Players of the Game.

I didn't bother to remember which individual was singled out for Notre Dame, I just remember that he was a defensive player who recorded 9 tackles, including one for a loss. The team was beaten 38-0, and the player of the game was a defensive player. The bright spots were so few and far between that a guy who made a tackle behind the opponent's line of scrimmage merited a $1,000 donation in his name to the University of Notre Dame's general scholarship fund. How the mighty have fallen.

And as for the telecast itself, if ABC had dragged 3 of the inbred hayseeds who made up the home crowd in Ann Arbor, the network could hardly have assembled a crew more biased toward the Wolverines. That wouldn't have been such a big deal if they were at least decent announcers. Paul McGuire gets worse with each word that leaves his mouth. The world might be better served if they paid him more to stay home than they pay him to show up for work. Or at least unplugged his mike periodically. Let him think he's calling the game if they don't have the heart to get rid of him.

I found the brief segments where individual Wolverines were allowed to share fun little snippets of their thoughts and feelings about the game to be the most galling aspects this particular telecast. Granted, I have searched far and wide to see Jake Long give his own opinion of his strengths. And I was deeply shocked to see that literacy and the ability to point out forks in his family tree weren't among them.

A close second on the list of things that continue to vex me from the Michigan game is that Mike Hart delivered on his guarantee, so now this win will probably be cataloged in history with Babe Ruth's called shot and Namath's guarantee in Super Bowl III. Of course the fact that I predicted a Michigan victory in this space last week is absolutely no consolation. A blind man could have seen it coming with the way Notre Dame has played to this point.

Even with Ryan Mallett making his first start (and knowing Mallett would be a tool, with that name and all) I didn't expect Notre Dame to be 3-0. I knew with their opening schedule and a slate of untested players at key positions like QB, RB and WR that this 0-3 start was a very real possibility. What I did not expect, however, was that after 180 minutes of football I would find myself on a vision quest to see the Fighting Irish score their first offensive touchdown of this season. I could live with 0-3 if even one of the games were close enough to make me think that 0-7 weren't on the horizon.

The season has been so disappointing and surprising that I have struggled to find a good analogy. The closest I have been able to come to it is if I were to walk by one of those Dance Dance Revolutions games and hear Born to Run. Hearing that foolish machine play an Elvis song would hurt more, but surprise me less with the way Elvis Presley Enterprises operates. No, finding that Springsteen sold out in such a shameful manner would be the only equivalent to this travesty of a season.

Two final thoughts on Notre Dame-Michigan. First, I don't know now when I'll see 3:10 to Yuma. Russell Crowe attended Saturday's game in Michigan regalia as Lloyd Carr's personal guest. Eventually, I'll get over it because I love the movie Gladiator. But I hate Michigan, so it will take a while. And good riddance to Demetrius Jones as he transfers to Northern Illinois. Maybe he wouldn't have been as hurt by losing his job to Jimmy Clausen if he had tried to play a bit less terribly.

Then there is the bizarre NFL season to date. These weekend's games didn't do much to improve my state of mind. In fact, it made things much worse. First, no one on my fantasy team got in the end zone. So that put the kibosh on the Pork Chop Express. It didn't help that Chad Johnson had such a big game, as he was on the opposing team. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I hate Chad Johnson. TO made his shtick possible when he signed that ball in Seattle all those years ago, but every one loves Chad and hates TO.

Since the Cleveland vs. Cincinnati game was so surprising, it has been covered to death. I, however, have my own unique angle. I am (or more accurately now, was) in a suicide pool. For those who might not be familiar with the term, the people against whom I compete and I pick one team per week. If that team wins, we advance, When the team you pick loses, that's it for the pool entry. To make a long story short, I picked Cincinnati this week.

I had my reasons. In no particular order, here they are. As I understand it, the rules said I could only choose a team once. So I was trying to save teams who looked more like a guaranteed win for later on in the season. Fat lot of good that did me. In my inimitable wisdom, I decided that I was going to target teams that weren't very good and pick their opponent in the early going.

In week one, I chose San Fran over Arizona and that nearly blew up in my face. So I decided to pick against a team that looked dreadful in week one. So I chose Cleveland, who was so bad against Pittsburgh that they cut the guy who started at QB. And go figure, they scored 51 points. I would have bet going into the game that they wouldn't have scored 51 points by week 5.

It might be due to some neurotic streak in my personality, but I am not going to eat any crow on this Patriots win. Yes, the Chargers have an vastly superior pass rush than the Jets. But if you recall, the Patriots did just as good a job containing the same defensive package last season in the playoffs. And then when all New England seemed ready to fall in love with the Pats O-line, Dwight Freeny and Robert Matthis carved them up as though that were the object of pass protection and not the antithesis of pass protection just one week later. So I am not sold on this offensive line.

And the Chargers do have a better secondary than the Jets, so it was a more impressive performance for Brady, Moss and the rest. But the Chargers are not really that good in the defensive backfield. Maybe you think Quentin "Bad Mamma" Jammer qualifies as a front-line, shutdown corner. I don't. He's adequate, forgettable and occasionally regrettable to steal a line from the Simpsons President's Day Pageant in the Ralph Loves Lisa episode.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but Moss has always been a great front-runner. On national TV in the regular season, he just might be the best of all time. However, that isn't what gets players to Canton. Lynn Swann got into the Hall of Fame with weak regular season stats because he was incredible in huge games like Super Bowls. Moss hasn't gotten there yet, but he's fallen short in NFC championships. So forgive me for not putting on sackcloth and streaking my face with ashes as though I were a penitent man.

I didn't have much time for watching highlight shows or Sportscenter these past few days, but I wonder how much attention has been paid to another oddity at this stage of the season. During the four minute offense when the Colts had a chance to shut the door on the Titans, Manning threw two incompletions and took a big sack with under 3 minutes to go in the game.

If I remember correctly, the Titans only had one timeout, so even three running plays would have all but killed their chances to win, even if they went for no gain. Hell, even kneeling the ball three times would have run time and forced the Titans to burn their last timeout. It certainly would have been better than two incompletions which burnt mere seconds off the clock and a sack which forced the Colts to punt.

Granted it's all academic, as Indy went on to win the game, but for all the praise given Manning for his inexpressible brilliance it would be nice to see him take some heat for this one. Indy might have come up with a TD on one of those passes, but then again there could have been a deflection that turned into an interception or that sack could have turned into a fumble. Or Vince Young could have engineered game-winning drive when they only needed a field goal. You can't get lucky all the time, but you can be smart every day, as they say.

I don't have very much to say on the cheating scandal. Yes, every one tries to steal signs and signals. That's just one of the things that happens in professional sports. But having some front office flunkies sneaking around in the bowels of Giants Stadium with video recording equipment is a little bit excessive, no? All we need now is to find out that Kraft or Belichick referred to these guys as plumbers or a revelation to inform us that there is a recording system in the Patriots front office with a number of suspicious gaps in the tapes and then we have the NFL's version of Watergate.

I don't expect that there will be any kind of consensus on this issue. It's tricky. It seems to me that the Patriots and their apologists are dead wrong, because they're falling back on a defense that never got any of us out of punishment when we were kids. Just because every body else steals signs doesn't make it alright that your flunkies skulk around with cameras. Granted, Patriots fans as a group struggle to compose a more reasoned defense, but that's no fit excuse. But I have a strong antipathy to the Patriots, their fans and their management, so I might be wrong.

I guess I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little about this weekend's Red Sox Yankees series. I will keep my comments to a minimum since I fear my lengthy posts following the August sweep might have jinxed the Yankees a little bit, since they didn't gain any ground in the standings until very recently.

I will also refrain from making too many cracks about the three homer performance from Frank Thomas. I'd hate to beat Dan Shaughnessy to the punch by making some quip to the effect that the Big Hurt put a big hurting on Big Schill. Hell if I could work in blogboy blowhard, I'd write his whole column for him. I'd hate myself for it, since I'm sure the CHB all but wet himself with excitement when that third bomb left the Sky Dome or the Rodgers Centre or whatever the call it in Toronto.

I don't know what to make of Joba Chamberlain. It was nice to see him unveil his curveball for all of about ten seconds. He locked up Pedroia with it, but probably wasted it on JD Drew. JD Drew couldn't hit an eephus pitch at this point. As my old grandfather used to say, he couldn't hit the floor if he fell out of bed. My grandfather loved bad jokes and hated the Red Sox, God rest him. And then the media beat the story to death in an evening of good, hard work. Or at least work.

I'm not too worried about him letting up his first career run in the form of Lowell's homer. It had to happen at some point, as they say. Ideally, it wouldn't have come against the Red Sox, especially not in the manner in which it occurred. But Lowell is a very dangerous hitter in Fenway Park. That's part of life in baseball. If you throw heat it's not going to end well if a guy gets a hold of one.

What bothers me a little bit is that so much is being made of him now. Between the 17 and 2/3 inning scoreless streak and the "Joba Rules," he's a bad month away from being this generation's Mark "The Bird" Fydrich. Not so much from the eccentricity standpoint, but the young pitcher who gets a big buildup but never gets back to that early magic. Chamberlain's gotten too much attention. Hell, Clay Bucholtz hasn't gotten nearly as much coverage and he threw a no-hitter. This can't end well.

Finally, watching this evening's third quarter, with Charles Barkley in the booth, I am more convinced than ever that he should be announcing games. I know with the way the sports media is seeking uncontroversial controversy (think the NBC Sunday Night studio show) soon no sporting event will take place without Joe Buck or Cris Collinsworth or some similar bland, white-bread mouthpiece demanding that you take their position on an inconsequential argument.

John Madden is the last real loose cannon calling NFL games, and he's too old, fat and jolly to say anything that would hurt any one's feelings. But at least he avoids real controversy by being genuinely nice. That's why I like him, even as he nears senility. Every other announcer lacks the balls to say what's on their minds or the minds to have something to say. So Barkley should call games. Or I could to it. I'd work for food, short money and one of those set ups they use to conceal witness identities in mob trials.

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