Greg Eno

Archive for December, 2005|Monthly archive page

Money Can’t Buy Happiness — Just Ask Miguel Tejada

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2005 at 3:27 pm


Tejada: Unhappy in Baltimore; Detroit an option?


Two years ago, the Tigers made a pitch for free agent Miguel Tejada. They were coming off that dreadful 43-119 season. Tejada, the crown jewel of free agents that winter, was coming off an MVP season with the Oakland A’s. So, naturally, he told the Tigers to stuff their offer in their protective cup.

Today, Tejada, who signed with the Baltimore Orioles that winter to the tune of six years and $72 million, is so unhappy and disgusted with the Orioles that he would like to be traded. Seems Miguel doesn’t think the O’s have done enough — actually, anything at all — to strengthen their club. He looks around his division and sees the Yankees and the Red Sox — powers already — and if that isn’t bad enough, the mediocre Toronto Blue Jays have gone on a spending spree that would make Paris Hilton blush.

“I don’t want to say anything bad that can hurt my teammates, but look at Toronto, they have strengthened themselves and we haven’t done anything,” said Tejada, who hit .305 last season with 26 homers and 98 RBIs.

So now Tejada wants a “change of scenery.”

I wonder if the Tigers look any more attractive to him nowadays.

I don’t know whether to laugh or shake my head at Tejada. Maybe I should do both. The trouble with signing with the Orioles is two-fold: Yankees and Red Sox. Period. He knew ahead of time that contending in the East was always going to be difficult as long as those two teams were still allowed in the league. The AL Central, despite the White Sox winning the World Series, is no AL East, let’s face it. Any division in which even the Tigers can talk bravely of making noise isn’t worth a hill of beans, in my book.

Now, that’s not to say that Tejada’s desire to win and to see his team make a splash in the offseason is a negative thing. Maybe, frankly, if they hadn’t comitted $72 million to him, then they’d be able to be more active in the free agent and trade markets. Who knows.

Regardless, an unhappy Tejada isn’t what the Orioles need, so he kind of has his team under the barrel after making his feelings public fodder.

Isn’t owning a baseball team fun? You get to pay guys $12 million per year AND be hostage to them at the same time.

U-M Once Again Comes Up Short In A Bowl Game

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2005 at 3:23 pm

It began with a pregame heart attack in 1971, and continues with another blown lead in 2005. In between there have been strange calls, strange plays, and strangely below-par performances.

Whatever voodoo doll with a University of Michigan football uniform on it is out there, it must still be being passed around, because bowl game nonsense has been a hallmark of U-M’s program off and on, mainly on, for the past 35 years or so.

The Wolves dropped another of those postseason games, 32-28, to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl last night. They blew a nine-point fourth quarter lead, but that’s nothing new for U-M, this season or in bowl games. The game ended with a bizarre, Cal-wanna-be lateral extravaganza which got the ball to the Cornhuskers’ 13 at the final gun. That play, too, was a microcosm of Michigan’s rate of success in bowl games: wild and wacky, but coming up short in the end.

It hasn’t been all bad, of course, U-M’s performance in bowl games, but mostly disappointment is the carryover feeling the program and its followers have between the final game of the previous season and the start of camp in August.

Bo Schembechler, a wonderfully succesful regular season coach, had a devil of a time in games played in December and January. The frustration for Bo began with his heart attack suffered days before his first Rose Bowl against Stanford in 1971, and it never really went away entirely. The Wolverines, however, actually won TWO bowl games in 1981: New Year’s Day in Bo’s first Rose Bowl victory, and on New Year’s Eve 364 days later, winning the old Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. But what is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention U-M football and bowl games? Not umitigated success, I can tell you that.


Bo: A heart attack in ’71 was a harbinger of things to come

About a year and a half ago I asked Johnny Wangler, U-M’s quarterback in that ’81 Rose Bowl win over Washington, if Bo was emotional in the lockerroom following that win, which finally got the Rose Bowl monkey off his back.

“It was very emotional,” Wangler told me. “And Bo didn’t get emotional very often.”

Things didn’t change much after Bo left. Gary Moeller, and now Lloyd Carr, have unfortunately carried on the tradition of lost opportunities in bowl games. Even Carr’s 1997 team, co-National Champions with Nebraska, have that nagging feeling that they should have been sole champions. Tom Osborne’s well-timed announcement of his retirement as Huskers coach, I believe, contributed mightily to the vote that year. Always something with Michigan.

The Wolverines have tried all sorts of gimmicks and changes in itinerary, especially in bowl games played in California, to try to find the winning formula. But the truth is, they haven’t had all that much luck in any of our continental United States, when it comes to those games played around the holidays.

Years Later, Bird Okay In My Book

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2005 at 3:01 pm

There are two athletes who, in their playing days, rankled me to no end, for different reasons: Wayne Gretzky, and Larry Bird. Both were thorns in the sides of our Detroit teams. Both were superstars in their respective sports. And both were annoying as hell to me; Gretzky with his whiny approach to the game, especially in the 1980’s, and Bird with his, well, whiny approach to the game. And Bird’s dislike of the Pistons meant that the feeling was quite mutual.

But both Gretzky and Bird — they’re alright in my book now. I’ve learned to respect both of them as their careers advanced, and especially now that they’re done playing. I am most certainly rooting for The Great One to be a Great Coach, and I am supportive of Larry Bird in his role as the president of the Indiana Pacers — as long as they don’t beat the Pistons, of course.

Bird has grown up nicely, thank you


Bird’s reign as Pacers president doesn’t get the acclaim as Joe Dumars’ does in Detroit, but the job that the Hall of Famer has done in guiding the Pacers — first on the sidelines as coach and now in the front office, is nothing short of brilliant, too. He has managed to cobble together a championship-contending team with more distractions and in a more volatile situation, frankly, than Dumars has had to contend with in Detroit.

The latest, of course, is the Ron Artest situation, although with Artest, you need to put Roman numerals after that; I think we’re probably in Artest Situation IV, or maybe V. The loose cannon that is Ron Artest is a handful for any team executive to handle, and Bird is probably up to the challenge. But Artest’s latest distraction — publicly demanding a trade out of Indianapolis — has pushed Bird over the edge, as far as biting his tongue publicly.

“I think enough is enough,” Bird told the Indianapolis Star. “I think Ronnie will do fine, but not here.” Bird added that he felt “betrayed” by Artest, rightly pointing out that he — Bird — has done nothing but try to please his fragile star.

“He was clearly frustrated,” Bird said of Artest’s trade demands. “Ronnie thinks if we lose, we would have won the game if he had the ball every time. The offense bogs down at times, but it’s still a great offense. He held the ball a lot of times. Nothing frustrated me more than him not rebounding, but I didn’t go out in the public and say anything.”

Bird, at this point in his career, is a sort of hero of mine. As a coach, Bird was hesitant to take much of the credit for the Pacers’ success, admitting that most of the real coaching was done by his assistants. He has matured and grown into his executive’s role just fine, and has made mostly good decisions. If you want to call him the white Joe Dumars, then that’s just fine, and also ironic. It was Dennis Rodman, if you recall, who complained in 1987 that if Bird was black, he wouldn’t have gotten the recognition he did as a player. That assertion was ridiculous, of course, but so were some of the things Larry Bird said around that time.

But Larry Bird — the executive — no longer says outrageous, smarmy things. He no longer carries himself with all the spoiled graciousness of the high school jock who knows he’s popular and to hell with everyone else.

Instead, he manages them.

Talk Of 70 Wins Would Drive A Former Pistons Coach Crazy

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2005 at 2:11 pm

Daly: Chicken Little in Armani

Can you imagine if the Prince of Pessimism himself, Chuck Daly, coached today’s Detroit Pistons? I think this team — and the media covering it — would change Daddy Rich’s attire from Armani suit to straitjacket.

Daly never thought the glass was half full in Detroit. Sometimes he didn’t even want to acknowledge any liquid in it at all. He was the epitome of the wary, let’s-not-get-too-excited coach, always leery of what lied around the corner.

Once, when the Pistons had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series over the overmatched Boston Celtics — minus Larry Bird due to injury — Daly was in hand-wringing mode.

“I’m bringing enough clothes to Boston to last several days,” Chuck told the press, meaning that he was afraid the Pistons would have to play two games in Beantown — not just one. It was never in the bag with Chuck Daly. The Pistons won Game 3, completing the first round sweep. So some of Chuck’s clothes went unworn in Boston.

The Pistons played the New Jersey Nets in another of those best-of-fivers, back in 1985.

“They’ve (the Nets) beaten us like a drum all season,” Chuck said with the proper amount of foreboding. “I have no idea how we’re going to win a game, let alone the series.” The Pistons swept the Nets away in three.

Even as the team got better and better, and worthy of championship talk, Chuck Daly played the role of Prince of Pessimism — one of his nicknames in Detroit — without wavering. Not that he didn’t savor success, of course. Next time you look at video of the Pistons celebrating their second straight title in 1990, on the court in Portland, be sure to look at Chuck Daly hugging trainer Mike Abdenour. It isn’t hard to read his lips.

“we won it! We f—— won it!,” Daly shouted into Abdenour’s ear.

This season’s Pistons, with their glittering 22-3 getaway, are starting to cause folks to talk about a plateau that isn’t bantied about too much: 70 wins. Such talk would put Chuck Daly in a funny farm, coiffed hair and all.

Scottie Pippen is one who believes the Pistons have a shot. And he ought to know what it takes, having played on the Chicago Bulls team that won 72 games. “They’re playing such good basketball,” Pippen said the other day. “And they have so many ways to beat you.”

It’s still hard to imagine, despite their jackrabbit start, that the Pistons could win 70 times. That means no more than 12 defeats, which means they only have nine more mulligans. But the franchise record of 63 wins is very much in peril, I would confess. The cruel NBA schedule, with its four-games-in-five nights fetish, can snap you up and put you on a little downward slide before you know it. But yet the Pistons have handled their early scheduling rigors with some panache, so who knows?

For his part, today’s coach, Flip Saunders, has remained stoic and very noncommittal about the 70 wins talk. “It’s still early,” is about all you’ll get out of Flip nowadays.

Today the Pistons play at an .880 clip. And still Chuck Daly, if he was the coach, would be trying to convince us of bogeymen under the bed.

MONDAY’S FEATURES: Quote of the Week, Obscure Factoid

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2005 at 5:22 pm

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

The inimitable Charlie O. Finley


“Once I was in New York, and an empty cab pulled up, and Bowie Kuhn got out.”

Charlie O. Finley, Oakland As’s owner and no friend of then-baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, circa the mid-1970’s.


OBSCURE FACTOID

Toby Harrah: nothing doing

The Lonely Guy
Toby Harrah, playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers on June 25, 1976, played all 18 innings of a doubleheader without handling one chance. Then, in 1977, Harrah played 17 innings of an extra-inning game at third base without recording an assist.

Lions Win A Dandy, But Not According To Plan

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2005 at 3:39 pm

In the end, it was all a mistake.

The Lions had just pulled off one of their most improbable victories, unexpected for 40+ years worth of reasons, and were staging a rather unusual scene indeed: jumping on each other on the field, hollering and whooping it up, celebrating a last-second field goal to beat the New Orleans Saints Saturday, 13-12. Take that, Tom Dempsey.

You remember Dempsey, don’t you? His record-setting 63-yard field goal lifted the Saints over the Lions at the gun, 19-17, in 1970. Thirty-five years and some change later, the Lions returned the favor, though Jason Hanson’s kick had to merely travel 39 yards for the victory.

But interim coach Dick Jauron let the cat out of the bag: the frantic moments that led to Hanson’s kick went largely unscripted. Typical, of the Lions. Even when they find a nut, turns out they were a blind squirrel all along.

“We knew we had time to kick it,” Jauron explained to the, I’m sure, dazed press after the game. “We had told the field goal unit on the sidelines that we had time to kick the ball after the last play from scrimmage.” It was true, barely. The Lions, without timeouts, had 19 seconds with which to work as Joey Harrington came up behind center, looking at a 3rd-and-10 at the Saints’ 36. A failed pass would mean about a 54-yarder for Hanson.

But here was where the mistake occurred: the next play was a 15-yard pass to Roy Williams, right in the middle of the field. The ball was now at the Saints’ 21. A very do-able kick. But as Lions fans all over screamed at their television sets, “SPIKE IT!”, Harrington and the offense frantically ran off the field, giving way to the field goal people. Why?

“They (the field goal team) thought we meant, ‘Kick it no matter what — first down or not,’” Jauron explained, sheepish but happy. “And once they ran on the field, it was too late to call them back, so we just said, ‘Let’s kick it.’”

Yeah, like they had a choice at that point.

Hanson also had to run on to the field too, don’t forget. I don’t know how often he practices field goals when he’s huffing for breath, but the snap happened, it was clean, the hold was good, nobody committed an infraction, and Hanson’s line drive kick was true. Lions win.

The not-spiking-the-ball thing was dicey, because not only did the Lions run the risk of running out of time — a typical way for them to lose — they also ran the risk of committing some sort of foul that can be associated with hurried snaps: false start, etc. And at the end of games, penalties against the offense require an automatic run-off of, I believe, 10 or 15 seconds from the game clock. The Lions, in such an instance, being flagged, would have lost, right then and there. No time to kick after the run-off of time. It all would have been such a Lionesque way to lose a football game. But this time the lump of coal was in the Saints’ stocking.

Harrington was asked after the game if this victory meant the Lions went into their finale at Pittsburgh with momentum, that ancient word.

“I wouldn’t call it momentum,” Harrington said. I wouldn’t either.

But the Lions won, in such unbelievable fashion for a franchise that has maybe three or four of those kinds of wins on their resume in the past 40 years or so. The football gods decided to give the fans a Christmas gift.
The victory means nothing, of course, to the long term. I don’t think it saves Dick Jauron’s job. I don’t think it means the fans are any less forgiving of president Matt Millen. I don’t think it means the lockerroom is all that much more harmonious. It may not even, frankly, help Harrington’s chances of sticking around next season, even though he came through in the clutch. The only person it may have boosted was receiver Williams, who made an outstanding 40-yard grab on 4th-and-17 from the Lions’ 24 that clearly saved the game, along with the 15-yarder just before Hanson’s kick. Williams, though, still tends to drop the easy ones, so the Lions will have to live with that, it seems, until he corrects that problem. But Roy Williams is a keeper — one of the few on the Lions that you can say that about.

The Lions won Saturday, a Christmas Eve sugarplum, and it all mostly happened by accident, at the end.

But, good for them. Our bums deserve to feel good about themselves from time to time.

In A Bottom Line Business, The Coach Is Always "Interim"

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2005 at 2:06 pm

Earl Lloyd was right. So was Bum Phillips.

Lloyd, the Pistons coach from 1971-72, said upon taking over for the just-resigned Butch van Breda Kolff, “This is a funny business. When you sign on as coach, you are signing your own walking papers.” Phillips, the old football coach of the Oilers and Saints, said of his profession, “There are two kinds of coaches: those that have been fired, and those that are gonna get fired. And I’ve been both.”


Bum: “There are two kind of coaches…..”

It dawned on me, watching Dick Jauron stumble along as interim coach of the Lions nowadays, that the term “interim coach” is sort of a redundancy. After all, is there such a thing as a permanent coach? It’s just that some are more interim than others — only they might not even know it.

But some do. Lou Lamoriello is the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. He hasn’t been a full-time hockey coach since the mid-1980s. Earlier this week, Larry Robinson resigned as coach, committing a “self ziggy” — the “ziggy” is that Detroit word for a coach firing — citing health reasons. So Lamoriello himself took over, albeit on a very temporary basis. What else would you expect, considering Lou hadn’t coached an NHL game since 1988, in the playoffs, taking over for the suspended Jim Schoenfeld. The Devils lost that one, 7-1. But last week, in Madison Square Garden, the Devils won, 3-1. I guess Lou got a lot smarter in 17 years.

Front office types dressing themselves up as coaches is nothing new, of course, and sometimes it’s to satisfy ego, other times it’s done out of necessity, with the GM-turned-coach looking about as comfortable as a man passing a bowling ball-sized kidney stone. The Rangers’ Phil Esposito fancied himself the cure-all for the club when he fired his coach in the late 80’s, toward the end of the season, the playoff run gaining full steam. But the Rangers soon rebelled against Espo’s ways and the team went into the tank, getting swept in the first round. Kevin McHale fired Flip Saunders as Minnesota Timberwolves coach last season, taking the reins himself, admittedly with a lot of discomfort and reluctance. The move didn’t have much of an effect on anyone except maybe McHale himself, who quickly retreated back upstairs when the season ended, his worst fears confirmed.

Eddie Stanky committed a self-ziggy, after one game. Stanky, hired as Texas Rangers manager midway thru the 1977 season, wasn’t hired to be an interim guy; he was supposed to be THE guy. But after managing the one game, Stanky quit, saying he was homesick. Real thorough interviewing process there, huh? Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves owner, fired manager Dave Bristol and actually managed the team himself, for one game in 1976 — and not with the notion of being as interim as you might think. But the league stepped in and spoiled Ted’s fun, ordering him out of the dugout after the one game (a loss). And how many people exist that can give Ted Turner the ziggy — other than Jane Fonda?


Stanky, before homesickness entered his life

Being an interim coach, in the real sense of the term, must be similar to being a substitute teacher. The players/students gotta know you’re unlikely to remain long term. So how much respect and cooperation do those sorts get? Not to mention, they’re taking over a group who performed dysfunctionally enough to get the previous guy canned. Yet each of them fancies himself as motivator and teacher and leader enough to bring the team from its doldrums. For many it’s their first time as head coach, and they know it very well could be their last. It’s ironic, but the interim coach often has more of a motivation to succeed than his players. And the players can see right through that.

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Interim coaches hardly ever get the job for real. They are, after all, still considered part of the slime in which the team has soaked itself….

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When the Pistons fired Dickie Vitale in 1979, they turned the keys of their Edsel over to assistant Richie Adubato. Richie had Bob Lanier, brooding Bob McAdoo, and not much else. Fantasizing that he could repair what was irreparable, Adubato soon challenged his team’s work ethic. He ranted and raved on the sidelines. He pissed Lanier and McAdoo off. They weren’t going to take any guff from an unknown coach from Jersey named Richie Adubato. And, as expected, Richie was gone at the end of the season, having gotten the ziggy, the interim label fitting him like a glove.

When a coach gets the ziggy, someone already working for the organization makes a handy-dandy temporary replacement. Assistants minding their own business are frequent targets. We’ve already discussed GM’s turning into whistle blowers. But leave it to the Lions to try something outside of the box. In 1976, having fired coach Rick Forzano, GM Russ Thomas turned to Tommy Hudspeth, who was working somewhere in the player personnel department. To this day, I don’t know where in the world Hudspeth came from, yet he coached most of ’76 and all of 1977, too. When he got the job, everyone said “Who?” and when he left a year and a half later, everyone was still saying “Who?”


Who? Tommy Hudspeth!

Interim coaches hardly ever get the job for real. They are, after all, still considered part of the slime in which the team has soaked itself, leading to the “real” coach’s ziggy to begin with. In Detroit, it’s happened a few times, when the interim guy was asked to stick around. Wayne Fontes was an interim coach for the Lions once upon a time. Larry Parrish took over the Tigers from Buddy Bell in 1998 and was retained. Herb Brown guided the Pistons after Ray Scott got the ziggy and was hired permanently, sort of, until he got the ziggy and Bob Kaufman, the GM, took over. See a pattern here?

Sometimes replacements come from out of nowhere. After the Red Wings started miserably in 1985, coach Harry Neale was on the chopping block. Finally, during the holidays, Neale’s head was lopped off and, lo and behold, he was replaced by former player Brad Park, who was working as a TV analyst for ESPN. Park, who had played the previous two seasons in Detroit, had zero coaching experience when he was plucked out of the broadcast booth. Still, he bragged to associates that he could have the mess in Detroit cleaned up “in about six weeks.” Not only was Park a first-time coach, he turned out to be a poor soothsayer, too. If anything, the Red Wings got worse under Park, who didn’t enamor himself with GM Jimmy Devellano. “We were like oil and water,” Jimmy D. explained upon giving Park the ziggy shortly after the season.


Park as a Red Wing: as a coach, not so good…

The odds of Dick Jauron being retained as Lions head coach beyond this season lie somewhere between 50-1 and those of the sun rising in the west, if you want to know the truth. For his part, Jauron says he’d like to stick around. “It’s one of 32 jobs like it in the world,” Jauron explained. “It’s a special position to be in.”

You know what, Dick? Enjoy it while you can. But that’s one way to shed the “interim” tag: don’t get asked back.

We Don’t Need Sports On TV On Christmas Day…..DO We?

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2005 at 3:53 pm

I think Pistons-Spurs is a wonderful matchup for national television. It usually is, when the two finalists from the previous June hook up. For that matter, Heat-Lakers, in its own dysfunctional way, presents the TV viewer with an intriguing storyline, especially with Pat Riley back in charge of the Heat sidelines. Yes, great games, both, and it’s hard to argue with those two games being part of an NBA TV doubleheader.

Just not on Christmas Day.

I know I’m howling into the wind here, barking up the wrong tree, talking to a brick wall, shouting complaints to deaf ears, and all that rot, but I just don’t know why we need these two games, or any pro or college sports for that matter, on Christmas Day. I also don’t know why some movie studios release new films on Christmas Day. Aren’t 364 other days in a year enough to take in a movie?

Now, my wife will tell you, I am the last person that’s going to complain about too much sports on TV. Just ask her what happens to the movie she’s watching when she leaves the room for 30 seconds. In a flash, the bleatings of a character on Lifetime is replaced by the bleatings of Rasheed Wallace on Fox Sports Detroit.
But as insatiable as my craving for sports can sometimes be, I absolutely wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t on TV on Christmas Day. Besides, football on Thanksgiving Day satisfies my sports-on-a-holiday needs. So why can’t we just turn off and tune out on December 25, enjoying as background sound the giggles and squeals of the kids playing with their new toys, or a Christmas CD spinning holiday favorites or even — heaven forbid — families actually talking?

Yes, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas from a religious standpoint. But it is, on the other hand, a national holiday, no matter what race, creed or color you are in this country. So why can’t it be observed with a moment of sports silence? And by a “moment” I mean…..all day.

I know this part of my argument won’t inspire much sympathy or empathy, but let’s not forget the players who have to play in these games. Regardless of what you think about the millionaires playing games today, perhaps you have some compassion for the ones who have to jump on a plane, leaving their families — again — alone on a day when most of us wouldn’t consider being anywhere else but home. And if that doesn’t do it for you, heartstring-wise, then how about the employees at all the stadiums? Do you think Tom the Ticket Taker or Mabel the Beer Girl is thrilled with dragging themselves to the arena on Christmas Day, to deal with some of the bozos that attend these contests? Wouldn’t they rather be home, warm and cozy, enjoying family and fellowship?

Will I peek in on the Pistons-Spurs game tomorrow? Of course. And maybe if I was 100% sincere, I would boycott the game and not watch it at all. But I maintain that if it wasn’t on, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t suddenly divert my attention from our 12 year-old daughter or my mother or my mother-in-law or my wife and think, “Hmmmm…I wonder what sports are on the tube today?”

It’s bah-humbug in reverse.

Tony Dungy: Living Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2005 at 3:33 pm


Tony Dungy

Today, Tony Dungy is not the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, chasing a Super Bowl dream. He is not the former quarterback at the University of Minnesota. He is not the hard-working assistant who learned how to coach football players under Chuck Noll at Pittsburgh. He is not the man who took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the dregs of the league and molded them into Super Bowl contenders.

Today, Tony Dungy is not any of those things. Today, he is a father. He is a husband. He is a grief-stricken man living every parent’s worst nightmare.

For those of us with kids, especially, Dungy’s tragedy — his 18 year-old son dead of an apparent suicide — hits close to home. We have a 12 year-old daughter, and I can assure you that it is impossible not to think of the worst when you bring kids up in today’s world. The thought of burying my child scares me senseless.

Dungy’s misery resonates even more with me because just last month, my wife’s best friend lost her 25 year-old son, a bright, handsome kid, finding him dead on the couch the morning of November 17. Autopsy results are still pending. There is absolutely nothing you can say to a person — best friend or casual acquaintance — whose life will forever be altered. I can’t imagine going to bed, my son sleeping on the sofa, and awakening to find him not breathing and cold. But that’s what happened to my wife’s friend. How do you console that?

Tony Dungy’s life, like my wife’s friend’s, will never, ever be the same. It can’t be. His football coaching career will continue, I’m sure, probably for many more years. He will, perhaps, one day get some gratification from this season, which was shaping up to be
potentially the most special of seasons. Maybe years down the line. Maybe never.

But this isn’t the time to think about football, clearly. I hear people saying, with good intentions, “And around the holidays, tooo,” as if there is ever a better time to lose a child. But every parent will tell you — whether it’s Christmas Day or May 16 or August 22, the death of a child is a two-ton kick to the stomach that leaves an imprint on the outside and damage on the inside from which you never truly recover. That kind of grief is similar to battling alcoholism. Time will make it better, and it is a step-by-step process. But just as an alcoholic is always an alcoholic — the recovering kind, eventually, so is a grieving parent always just that. The pain never dissolves entirely.

When I heard about James Dungy’s death, I was sick. To have this happen to Tony Dungy and his family just when it appeared they were riding the crest of a wave with their football team, was perhaps the cruelest reminder that pro football has absolutely nothing on real life.

Sparky Anderson had a sign in his office that said, “Every day the world turns upside down on someone sitting on top of it.”

Please include the Dungys in your Christmas prayers.

The Not-So-All-Pro Bowl

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2005 at 3:09 pm

Seven Indianapolis Colts named to the Pro Bowl. Michael Vick named, suspiciously so, according to some folks. Even a Lion — defensive tackle Shaun Rogers — made the team. Yawwwwwn……

If there is a more inconsequential all-star game than the NFL Pro Bowl, perhaps it is the MLS Soccer Jamboree or the Garfield Heights, Ohio Little League Honor Roll. It’s a joke game played under joke rules featuring players who are selected based on reputation more than performance. It’s touch football played under the sun in Hawaii and they may as well just put a lei on the quarterback for as often as he gets hit.

To me, the more respectable postseason honors belongs to the All-Pro team, which usually varies significantly from the Pro Bowl rosters. I believe the All-Pro squad is selected by the Associated Press. Certainly they underwrite it. Regardless, there are no players on their selection crew. And the players, who have a role in determining who makes the Pro Bowl, don’t always think right. They sometimes make decisions based on the last time they faced someone — which may have been three years ago.

I remember Pat Swilling when he played for the Lions. Swilling, a pass rushing linebacker/defensive end, arrived in 1993 after a decent career in New Orleans. For that ’93 season, Swilling was serviceable, and made the Pro Bowl, probably rightly so. But in 1994, Swilling was far from the Pat Swilling of old. He was injured. His sack total dropped way down. He just wasn’t, frankly, a top notch NFL linebacker anymore.

Yet Swilling made the Pro Bowl anyway, and that was the last straw for me regarding that game and the people who play in it.

It’s laughable, really, to see the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over the Pro Bowl and who makes it and who doesn’t. Of course, I’m sure there are contract incentives based on Pro Bowl selections, and since players have a hand in deciding rosters, it’s a curious thing indeed, when the fraternity of NFL players tend to look out for one another. If you think I am suggesting that may taint some players’ decision-making, well there you have it.

This just in: Jerry Rice is an alternate.

Relax — I’m joking. I hope.