Greg Eno

Archive for July, 2007|Monthly archive page

Walsh May Have Died, But Yet He Still Lives

In Bill Walsh, NFL on July 31, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Bill Walsh is dead. But yet he keeps coaching.

He’s the head coach in Seattle, the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. He’s several position coaches around the NFL. He’s still coaching at the college and university level. He may never stop coaching, at this rate.

Walsh, the Hall of Fame football coach, died Monday morning after a long battle with leukemia, with which he was diagnosed in 2004. He was 75.

Walsh died but he didn’t vanish from the earth. Not as long as guys like Mike Holmgren is in Seattle, Marty Mornhinweg is in Philadelphia, and others too numerous to mention are teaching the Bill Walsh offense on sandlot fields, at small colleges, and on the campuses of big-time universities across the country.

They call it the West Coast offense, and it’s sort of like another California commodity, tofu; it can either taste really good or really BAD, depending on who the cook is, and what other ingredients he’s using.

Steve Mariucci tried his version in Detroit, but the ingredients were ill-suited for it, and the whole thing was warmed over. Joey Harrington didn’t work well with tofu.

But Holmgren — first in Green Bay and now with the Seahawks — found the right mix. So has Mornhinweg, believe it or not, in his role as the Eagles’ play caller. His boss, Andy Reid, is another leaf on the tree whose branch leads back to the trunk that is Walsh.

Bill Walsh first started concocting his innovative offense — which emphasized YAC (yards after catch) for the receivers — back in the 1970s, as an assistant to Paul Brown in Cincinnati. One of his colleagues in Cincy was Sam Wyche, who went on to a fairly successful head coaching career himself. When Wyche’s Bengals faced Walsh’s 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII, it was a battle between mirrored images. No coincidence that that game wasn’t decided until the closing minutes, when Joe Montana led one of his famous game-ending drives.

Walsh (with Joe Montana during Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac) was “an extraordinary teacher,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said; “He taught all of us not only about football but also about life…”

Ahh, Montana. Walsh took him as a decent college QB out of Notre Dame in 1979, but not too many folks were sold on Montana as an NFL quarterback. He acquired Steve Young, who had been a scuffling QB in Tampa Bay. Both became known as among the best of their day. And both were big benificiaries of Walsh’s offense, which put a premium on short drops and quick releases, and decent QB mobility. Neither, you could argue, would have become what they became under any other system or coach.

Walsh was also one of the first great cerebral coaches — men who weren’t so much Lombardi and Halas as they were bookworms and professors who broke down enemy defenses with convoluted schemes and blocking techniques.

He had humor, too. I still remember the image of Walsh, dressed as a bellhop, greeting his 49er players at a metro Detroit hotel as they arrived for Super Bowl XVI. Many of them walked right past him, nodding a greeting, as he took their bags and welcomed them to Detroit. It was his way, he said, of keeping the team loose.

“If I can show them that I can be loose and have fun,” he once said in an NFL Films special, “then they can feel the same way about themselves.”

The 49ers rallied in the second half to beat the Bengals at the Silverdome in 1982.

Walsh was 102-63-1 with the 49ers, plus 10-4 in the playoffs. He retired after the 1988 season and showed up a few years later at Stanford. That run wasn’t all that successful, but it didn’t matter; he was already by then a coaching legend.

Bill Walsh, the physical person, was the coach for the team of the 1980s. But Bill Walsh, the legacy, is still coaching teams in the 2000s. His was a “West Coast” offense, but it became universal.

Monday Morning Manager

In Monday Morning Manager on July 30, 2007 at 2:12 pm

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-6
This Week: (7/30-8/1: at Oak; 8/3-5: CWS)

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

July started grand for the Tigers, and is ending graphically.

They got their tails kicked again by the Angels, 13-4, yesterday, and even Jeremy Bonderman couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was, in his words, a “bottle of kerosene”, giving up 10 earned runs in 2-2/3 innings. For the three-game series, Tigers pitching surrendered 34 runs — and it was indeed every bit as ugly as that sounds.

It was a rare eight-game week for the Tigers, and they lost six of them to fall to just 16 games over .500, after peaking at 21 over following their three-game sweep in Minnesota, which seems like eons ago.

Nothing is going right at the moment. The pitching is atrocious — starters and relievers — the clutch hitting is nonexistent, and there just seems to be a collective “blah” hanging over the club. Maybe all the road games in July are finally catching up to the Tigers, who had prided themselves on winning away from home.

Somehow, though, the Tigers remain in first place by a thread, mainly because other teams keep helping them by beating the Indians, who are in a rut of their own. It’s the division that nobody seems to want, right now.

More bad news: lefty Kenny Rogers on the DL with a sore elbow. His first three starts back from a season-long stint on the sidelines were amazingly good. The last three have been simply awful. He gave up four home runs in his last start in Chicago. That’s when manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski sensed something was wrong.

Three more road games are on tap this week, at Oakland, before the Tigers FINALLY return home for some extended face play at Comerica Park.

The question, of course, with the non-waiver trade deadline looming, is, Who will be wearing a Tigers uniform on Wednesday that isn’t wearing one now?

Next update on WHYGJG is Wednesday. I’ll recap the Tigers’ moves (and non-moves) and make the appropriate rants for yea or nay.


Some good news on the road trip was the contributions of Toledo call-ups Ryan Rayburn and Mike Hessman, especially in Chicago. They swung hot and heavy bats as the Tigers rested some people and dealt with injuries to Marcus Thames and Gary Sheffield (Sheff’s is minor). Hessman is a 1B/3B with immense power, and Rayburn is a spark plug outfielder who sprays line drives. Both should be a big part of the future in Detroit — unless one of them is traded tomorrow.

Fontes Was A Likable Clown Under Ford’s Big Top

In Lions, NFL, Wayne Fontes on July 29, 2007 at 5:42 am

To this day, I can’t look at a golf cart in the same way.

It’s not because they seem to be used nowadays for just about everything other than golf – on a used car lot, in airports, in shopping malls. I was once transported in one to a golf course from my car while covering the Buick Open – does that count as a golf cart being used for golf?

Despite all that, whenever I see a golf cart I can’t help but picture the bowl of jelly sitting on it that was former Lions coach Wayne Fontes.

It’s not only golf carts that Wayne-o has infiltrated. Parkas, ski masks, and cigars make me think of him, too. Oh, and multiple quarterbacks and silly grins and awkward moments and daft comments, too.

I bring up Fontes, the Lions head coach from 1989-1996, because NFL training camps are underway, and with them brings some of my favorite Fontes imagery.

It was 1994, and we’re watching the end of practice on a warm July afternoon. We’re gathered in a small circle, waiting for Fontes to arrive and give us his daily dose of “What’s up?” in regard to his football team’s status. I should have heard it, but you know how stealth those golf carts can be.

“Whoa, behind you!,” I hear, moments before Fontes, driving his cart, nearly puts me out for the season with a leg injury. And he has that silly, Fontesian grin on his large, kewpie doll-on-steroids face.

The post-practice presser is on, Fontes in his cart, sweat on his brow, as he talks about why the Lions will be good that season. Fontes always talked about why the Lions will be good. His football paradise was always just around the bend. He was like Pistons coach Dickie Vitale that way, only ratcheted down about four notches. But still definitively caffeinated.

“We’re getting better,” Wayne liked to say. He’d say it after wins, he’d say it after losses, and he probably said it at that golf cart gathering in ’94, though his words I didn’t save for infamy.

It seemed, with Wayne Fontes leading the Lions, that Bill Ford’s football franchise was turned into a three ring circus. And, like circuses, you may not like everything under the big top, but it was rarely boring.

Fontes and his parka; no Lions coach wore one as well — or wore one at all

Take the quarterback situation. Please. Under Fontes, the Lions tried Rodney Peete; Bob Gagliano; Peete again; Erik Kramer; Peete again; Andre Ware; Kramer again; Peete again; Scott Mitchell; Dave Krieg; Mitchell again; Don Majkowski; and Mitchell again. Fontes seemed to get some sort of twisted pleasure, especially before the team signed Mitchell as a free agent in January 1994, in putting his quarterbacks on a carousel and spinning it until everyone was dizzy – players, media, and even his owner.

It was a classic Lions moment. Fontes had named, after the typical spin on the carousel, Andre Ware to start that particular week. It was going to be the first start in the draft bust’s career. A congratulatory phone call was placed by Ford.

“Just want to wish you good luck in your start this week, Andre,” the message went, recorded for posterity on the quarterback’s answering machine.

The quarterback whose machine it was, was Erik Kramer.

And, to add another wrinkle, Kramer hadn’t yet been notified that he wasn’t starting. He found out courtesy of Bill Ford’s misplaced telephone call.

Peanuts! Popcorn! Elephant ears!

It was circa 1995, and the drum was beating again for Fontes’s dismissal. The Lions were off to a horrible start and the piranhas in the media and the frustrated callers to talk radio were nailing the coach to the cross. It was not an atypical thing during Fontes’s tenure.

“That’s OK,” Fontes said on radio, or TV, or maybe both. “I’m the Big Buck. Everyone is aiming for me. Everyone wants to take down the Big Buck.”

So Fontes was known as the “Big Buck” for awhile – derisively, of course.

At a Halloween party, Mitchell was caught on videotape by one of the news crews in town, dressed as his coach. He stuffed a pillow under his Lions sweatshirt, put on a fake, bulbous nose, and puffed on a cigar. And with a microphone stuck into his made up face, Mitchell spewed some Fontes-like clichés in an embellished, loud voice.

In other NFL cities, such blatant mocking and disrespect wouldn’t be tolerated. I shudder to think of what would happen to the quarterback who’d be so bold as to mimic Mike Ditka or Bill Parcells in such a public, brazen manner.

But not Wayne Fontes. The coach laughed and welcomed the jab – even going so far as to wrap his beef shank arms around his QB and crow for the media – in a sort of “That’s my boy!” way.

They said Fontes was a player’s coach. That can also be a nice way of saying, “He lets the inmates run the asylum.” I hit former safety Ron Rice with that notion a couple years ago.

Which was it, I asked Rice: Was Fontes a “player’s coach” because he was a buffoon who let them do what they wanted, or … something else?

“Oh I loved Wayne. But he was a player’s coach because he respected you and knew when to push you and when to pull back,” Rice told me.

There’s actually some validation to Fontes’ handling of his players. His teams’ records in the month of December weren’t that bad. In some years, they were very good. His teams came to be known as fast finishers down the stretch.

After making the playoffs with a hard charge in 1995, the Lions went into Philadelphia for a Wild Card game and got their rear ends handed to them in a 58-37 loss. At one point, the score was 51-7.

No way could Fontes survive this, we all said. He did.

But the next season, after finishing 6-10, the Wayne Fontes Era was over with. Ah, but not before one last moment of goofiness.

At the press conference announcing his firing, and after Fontes had already spoken his part, Ford was at the podium. Suddenly, the seriousness of Ford’s comments was shattered by an interloper to the room. Wayne Fontes.

“Fired?! What do you mean I’m fired?,” Fontes bellowed, laughing and hugging Ford. The look on the owner’s face was, to quote MasterCard, priceless.

Fontes, long retired – the Lions were his last employer – lives in Florida now, his back and legs not moving along thru the calendar with the rest of his body. He had some surgery in the spring.
Who knew that we’d look fondly back at his time as some of the grandest in Lions football? Maybe Wayne-o did, after all.

Again, Ford Wonders What All The Fuss Is About

In Lions, Matt Millen, NFL, William Clay Ford on July 27, 2007 at 5:00 pm

If only we could all not worry, like Bill Ford Sr. doesn’t worry. If only we could all exhibit the patience of Job, and refrain from hand-wringing. If only we could emerge every so often, unruffled, tanned and relaxed, and ask what all the fuss is about.

Ford, the Lions owner and centurion, did it to us again yesterday. The 82-year-old showed his face at Lions HQ in Allen Park, ostensibly to talk about franchise giant Charlie Sanders and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a week from Saturday. And, as he’s done so often in the past, Ford either sounded like: a) the voice of reason; or b) Nero.

To wit, according to Nicholas Cotsonika of the Free Press:

“I’m usually optimistic anyway going in. But I think this year will be a little bit special.”

“I could see right off the bat that they (president Matt Millen and coach Rod Marinelli) were compatible … I got to know Rod much better and I could see where they would mesh. You don’t want to break up a combination like that.”

On reports of Millen’s impending firing last season:

“I don’t know where those originated. I sure never said anything even approaching that — or if I did I didn’t mean to.” (laughs)

“I didn’t say, ‘You’re safe, don’t worry about it,’ in so many words (about Millen’s job security). But by the same token, I never intimated to him that he wasn’t safe. It was business as usual.”

Boy, he’s got THAT right, at least.

On whether his judgment of Millen is clouded because of his personal like of him:

“It’s possible. But I think if you like somebody and you believe in the same things that they believe in, I don’t know what other yardstick to put against it.”

On the 2007 season:

“I’m always an optimist before the season starts … When the team doesn’t live up to it, you’re very disappointed.”

“Thank goodness I can put that behind me and look forward. If I dwelled on the past, I’d shoot myself. Really, I’ve never felt that way. But if I were a fan, I could understand it.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

During the 1995 season, the Lions sitting at 3-6, Ford told the media that coach Wayne Fontes had to make the playoffs to keep his job. They did that, thanks to a 7-0 streak to finish the year. Then in the playoffs, the Lions got whalloped by the Eagles, 58-37 — a game in which they trailed at one point, 51-7.

Surely, the scribes and blabbermouths on the radio said, Fontes cannot possibly survive this debacle. For several days, speculation ran rampant that Fontes would be fired. That nobody could lay an egg like that and keep his already-tenuous job.

Ford emerged a couple weeks later, and he said, basically, that Fontes had achieved the mandate, and made the playoffs. His job was safe. And again, Ford wondered what all the fuss was about. He suspected, apparently, that we would think that simply making the playoffs, then getting torched on national TV, would be acceptable.

Sometimes I wish I had his countenance. Better on my health.

Before You Know It, A-Rod Will Be The New Standard Bearer In Home Runs

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Between the time that Babe Ruth swatted three homers in one game in Pittsburgh as a Boston Brave in 1935 — nos. 712, 713, and 714 — and the time that Henry Aaron cracked no. 715 in 1974, almost 40 years passed. And now, as Barry Bonds lurks, some 31 years have gone by since Aaron’s last home run.

The good news, for Bonds haters, is that you won’t have to see Barry on the home run throne for nearly as long as that.

Nobody knows, of course, how many roundtrippers Bonds will end up with. He says he wants to play in 2008, but that might be all. So give him another 30-40 dingers, as a rough guess. That would put him close to 800 home runs.

But it will be Alex Rodriguez, the greatest home run-hitting third baseman since Mike Schmidt, who will be your next king of the four baggers. And A-Rod will do it in the next 8-10 years, tops.

It’s amazing to me, but Rodriguez is basically a 500 home run guy (he has 499 right now) at age 32. Think about that for a moment. Bonds is 43. If Rodriguez chooses to play into his 40s, he’s liable to knock on the door of, dare I say it, 1,000 home runs.

If continued to be blessed with good health, Alex Rodriguez will shatter anything that Barry Bonds has to offer when Bonds hangs up his spikes and puts his syringes and creams away for good.

Now, how long we’ll have to wait for someone to pass Rodriguez is another story.

Rodriguez, it says here, will eventually be taking aim at 1,000 home runs

Clearly, this is a record that should have Ken Griffey, Jr.’s fingerprints on it, too. Injuries will forever cause us to wonder, “What if?” in reference to Griff. Hence the caution about Rodriguez. No one knows what will go snap, crackle, or pop at any given time in even the most conditioned athlete’s body. But if Rodriguez can stay off the DL for the most part, he will hands down be the next home run champion.

Is that good or bad? Well, it’s distinctly less bad than having Bonds up there, but I’m not sure about how good it is, simply because A-Rod is far from a universally-liked, respected player and person. He’s not … Griffey, Jr., for example. But he’s not Bonds, and that is probably good enough for most folks.

When Aaron hit no. 715 on April 8, 1974, the thought of anyone hitting nearly 300 more than that would have been stuff of fantasy. 1,000 home runs. An insane number, back in the day. Yet Rodriguez, I am telling you, has a legitimate crack at it. He figures to end 2007 with anywhere between 515 and 520 dingers. That would put him 480 to 485 away from 1,000. He’s 32. He can play, we would assume, another 10-12 years — especially with the DH rule. Could Rodriguez swat 480 homers in 12 seasons? Better question would be, if he’s healthy, why COULDN’T he?

But forget about 1,000 homers for the moment. It’s not going to take anywhere near that for A-Rod to be A-1 in terms of all-time home runs. I’d say 780-790 would do it. And he’s going to get there in a flash. That will be child’s play for him.

Alex Rodriguez has 500 home runs at age 32. You do the math.

Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Hearts Of Officiating Men? Tim Donaghy, Perhaps?

In NBA, Tim Donaghy on July 26, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Notice how you never see Tim Donaghy and Don Denkinger in the same place at the same time? Or Donaghy and the crew who worked the USA-USSR 1972 Olympic basketball game? Or Donaghy and the officials for the “Immaculate Reception” play in Pittsburgh? Or Donaghy and the ref who gave Tom Brady the benefit in the famous “tuck” game in the playoffs against Oakland? Or Donaghy and the ref during the famous “long count” boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney?

Have we bothered to check more into Donaghy, the disgraced NBA ref who’s under investigation for betting on games and possible affecting their outcomes? Do we know how old he REALLY is, for example? Is it possible that his physical body is just a contemporary vessel for the crooked officating spirits that have lurked in professional and college sports for over a century? How can we be sure that Donaghy isn’t some sort of refereeing demon who cannot and will not be killed?

Hey, for that matter, has there been a sighting of Donaghy and Simon Cowell together?

I’m starting to wonder if there’s now an explanation for some of sport’s most suspicious calls and actions ever made by game officials in the past.

1. Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Royals trailing the Cardinals 1-0, and 3-2 in the Series, Jorge Orta tapped a ball to first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell, who caught it and stabbed his foot at the bag. Denkinger (wrongly) ruled that Worrell’s foot missed the base. The Royals, thanks to that leadoff “hit,” were able to score two runs and win the game. They won the Series the next night. I doubt anyone was hoping for a Cardinals win in Game 7 more than Don Denkinger/Tim Donaghy, after replays of his blunder were shown around the world for 24 hrs. He’s SAFE! (Please disregard the photographic evidence to the contrary)

2. The USA was robbed several times at the tail end of the gold medal basketball game in the 1972 Summer Olympics against the USSR. After Doug Collins (yes, the same one) hit two free throws to put USA up by one point, there were three seconds remaining. The Soviets inbounded the ball and failed to score. USA wins!! But the refs — none of whom spoke English — ruled that the Soviets called time out before the ball was inbounded. On the second try, the Soviets again failed to score. USA wins!! But the refs again intervened, trying to explain to USA coach Hank Iba that the clock hadn’t been properly reset. On the third try, the ball was heaved all the way down the court, where a Soviet player blatantly fouled two USA players, muscled the ball away from them, and layed it in. USSR wins!! And it counts! The USA team was so disgusted with the actions of the officials/Donaghy that they refused their silver medal, which I always thought was cool as hell.

3. In a 1972 divisional playoff game, the Steelers were losing, 7-6, with 22 seconds remaining. Terry Bradshaw scrambled and chucked the ball downfield. Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua and Raiders safety Jack Tatum convened at the same time as the pigskin arrived. There was a collision. The ball floated toward the turf. Franco Harris appeared out of nowhere and snagged it with his fingertips, inches from the ground. He galloped in for the winning touchdown. The officials conferred for what seemed like an eternity (in those days, two consecutive offensive players couldn’t touch a forward pass, so the issue was, did Tatum touch the ball last, or did Fuqua?). According to Al LoCasale, a Raiders exec, the officials asked how much police protection they could get if they made the proper call, which was no touchdown? When told of the skimpy number of cops, the officials/Donaghy ruled TD, Pittsburgh. According to LoCasale — who’s hardly an unbiased informant.

Franco, Franco, the Steelers man — took the football (and the game) and away he ran (thanks to Donaghy?)

4. On January 20, 2002, the Raiders were leading the Patriots by three points with under two minutes remaining in a snowstorm in Foxboro, Mass. Pats QB Tom Brady faded back to pass and just was he was hit by Chuck Woodson, he brought his arm forward, as if to tuck the ball in. But the ball slipped loose. The Raiders recovered it. But referee Walter Coleman/Tim Donaghy rules, after viewing the replay, that Brady’s arm coming forward — even though it was for a tuck — categorizes the move as an attempted pass. No fumble — incomplete pass instead. Given second life, Brady leads the Pats to a game-tying FG and a game-winning kick in OT. And, eventually, a Super Bowl victory over the Rams.

5. On September 22, 1927, heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney fought Jack Dempsey in a title match. In the seventh round, Dempsey caught Tunney good with a left to the chin. The champion fell. But before starting the count, referee Dave Barry/Donaghy spent precious seconds telling Dempsey to go to a neutral corner. By the time he started the count, witnesses estimate that Tunney had an extra 8-10 seconds to recover, which he did. Later, of course, Tunney won by unanimous decision and defended his belt.

Barry/Donaghy spends too much time getting Dempsey (left) to a neutral corner

It may not make any sense to you, but who’s to say that Tim Donaghy hasn’t been existing in the souls of officials and referees, past and present, for years??

Congrats, Arena League! I Don’t Know How You Do It

In Arena Football, NFL on July 25, 2007 at 4:14 pm

I’ll come clean, right off the bat, so that you know where I’m coming from.

I’m not sure if I should be filed under “F” or “O” for being an Old Fogie. It’s a label that I find it difficult to argue against.

Yet another example reared its head this morning.

The AFL is 21 years old. And this O.F., whenever he reads “AFL”, thinks immediately to the American Football League of 1960-1969.

But no — it’s the Arena Football League.

William Bendetson of writes about the league’s triumphs and challenges, and two more things entered my mind, after I got my arms around the whole what the AFL really stands for thing.

#1 — has it been 21 years?
#2 — 21 years of what?

Actually, a third thing: is the AFL football at all, really? More about that later.

So by now you understand that if it’s “fair and balanced” you’re looking for in reference to treatment of the Arena League (I’m sorry, but the football historian in me just can’t bring myself to call it the AFL without fearing that I’m trampling over the gridiron graves of Jack Kemp, John Hadl, and Cookie Gilchrist), then look elsewhere. I’m not going to bury the Arena dudes, I’m just sort of scratching my head here.

First, something in my defense. I’m a Detroiter, and in the early days of Arena ball, the Detroit Drive was dominant. They won something like four or five championships in a row. (The fact that I don’t know how many it was for certain is another tip-off). So I’m not coming at this from a never-had-Arena ball-in my life perspective.

I just don’t get what the Arena League is trying to do, but yet they’ve done it since 1987. They’re not really a feeder system to the NFL. Very few NFLers have come from Arena ball. They’re an indoor, summer thing — and I never thought those two things went well together.

It must be the high scoring games. Many Arena games’ finals look like high school basketball scores. It certainly can’t be the ease of rules. To me, knowing what is and isn’t allowed in an Arena match is like trying to figure out what is and isn’t kosher to say to an old friend you’ve run into who’s put on 150 pounds.

“Heyyy there…you have more chins than a Beijing telephone book.” (wrong)

“I see you’re enjoying God’s bounty!” (better, but still not great)

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you” (when in doubt, DENY)

I do kind of like the super narrow space between the uprights. And the fact that you kick off with your back touching your own goal line.

But is it football, really?

The elements of football are there. And I’m defining elements here as: a football; and pads. But are there actual plays? An NFL quarterback wears a wristband with hundreds of plays on it in agate type. An Arena QB’s menu, it seems to me, could be written ON his wrist.

Actually, I think there are four plays in Arena Ball:

1. “Go long”
2. “Go short”
3. “Go medium”
4. “Handoff to YOU”

And how do you know when a team is doing a Hail Mary? The field is only as long as a legal pad.

Can you imagine if Cal tried to replicate its miracle play against Stanford on an Arena field? They would have needed about six fewer laterals and one less band. In fact, they may not have needed any trickery at all. How long does it take to traverse a legal pad, anyway?

But seriously, folks. The Arena League has been around for 21 campaigns. They must be doing something right. They’ve made most people forget the REAL AFL, for starters.

Tigers Have Made Waiver Deal Spashes, Too

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2007 at 2:59 pm

The non-waiver interleague trading deadline is next Tuesday. Simply put, it’s called “THE” trade deadline because teams can deal freely. Any trades made after July 31 have to involve players being put through waivers first — an extra step that has stonewalled deals in the past.

The Tigers, for the second consecutive year, figure to be placed under the heading of “Buyers” — that category of teams who are looking for players to boost their playoff runs. The “Sellers” are the teams either hopelessly out of contention, or too cheap, or both. Even when the Tigers were Sellers, rarely was anyone buying what they had on the lot. The Tigers had Edsels for sale in a market full of Corvettes.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some trades the Tigers have made in pennant races of the past — the ones that occurred AFTER the non-waiver deadline.

1967. The Tigers snag Hall of Fame slugger Eddie Mathews from the Braves. Mathews, already over the 500-homer mark, sticks around past the ’67 pennant disappointment and is a member of the 1968 champs.

1968. Two veteran pitchers join the Tigers. Don McMahon comes over from the White Sox in late July, and one of my all-time favorites, Elroy Face, is acquired from the Pirates on August 31. I like Face because he is the author of one of baseball’s great anomalies. In 1959, Face went 18-1 as a reliever for the Pirates. But as a 40-year-old with the Tigers in ’68, he gets into just two games for a total of one inning.

1972. Lots of acquisitions by GM Jim Campbell. Lefty Woodie Fryman, catcher/outfielder Duke Sims, and first baseman Frank Howard are the biggest names. Fryman goes 10-3 down the stretch, Sims contributes power and a .300+ average, and Howard cracks a couple of homers in September. Howard, incidentally, joined the Tigers too late to be included on the playoff roster, so Hondo — who always played on bad teams in Washington — had to be a 6-foot-7 cheerleader in the heartbreaking ALCS. The Tigers lost the series, 3-2, and Howard may have been able to make a difference. But he was ineligible.

1984. Nothing earth-shattering here. The big move that year came in spring training, when Bill Lajoie swindled the Phillies for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman for John Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson. The Tigers acquired lefty reliever Bill Scherrer in late August.

1987. The John Smoltz year. Need I say more? Smoltz-for-Doyle Alexander won the division for the Tigers. You know the rest.

1988. The Tigers finish second, but on August 31 they make a flurry of moves, acquiring Fred Lynn from Baltimore, and pitcher Ted Power from Kansas City. It’s a crazy day. For Lynn and Power to be eligible for playoff rosters, they have to physically be in the same city as the Tigers are as of midnight on the 31st. Power makes it to Chicago easily, but Lynn’s plane touches down right around the witching hour. It’s determined that if the Tigers win the division, a special meeting will be convened by MLB to decide Lynn’s fate. The Tigers finish a game behind Boston. No meeting needed.

1993. The Tigers finish a distant second this time, but they are on the fringes of contention when they trade for Eric Davis (Dodgers) on August 31. Davis swats a homer in his first Tigers game, but is injured (again) in 1994 and is out of baseball in 1995. He returns in 1996.

2006. I’m watching the Tigers on a Friday night in mid-September and all of a sudden I see Matt Stairs pinch-hitting. I didn’t even know the Tigers had acquired him. Stairs plays the last couple of weeks, and contributes a game-tying, ninth inning homer in the season finale, but the Tigers lose the game and the division anyway.

2007. We’ll see if the Tigers feel they’ve addressed their needs sufficiently enough at the July 31 deadline without having to make any waiver deals afterward. Who’s going to be the Todd Bertuzzi of baseball?

With Precedent, Lions Look To D-Line For Help

In Lions, NFL on July 24, 2007 at 2:26 pm

The photograph is signature, perhaps the most famous of all snapshots taken of a franchise that hasn’t sniffed a championship in 50 years. You’ll find it in the team offices, in the media lounge at Ford Field, and probably in Bill Ford Sr.’s bedroom, for all I know.

Packers quarterback Bart Starr IS in there, believe it or not. He’s the one being swarmed and turned into a wrap for some hungry Lions defenders.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 1962, and the Lions were hosting the Pack — the putrid smell of their last-second loss to the Packers a month or so earlier still lining their nostrils. It was a loss so great that no less than Alex Karras theorized that it may have been the single most destructive force behind the Lions never again returning to championship caliber. The Lions, with the ball, a 7-6 lead and the clock showing under two minutes remaining, needed only to punt and pin the Packers deep and seal the victory. But on third down, QB Milt Plum tried a pass, the Lions receiver slipped, Herb Adderly intercepted, and moments later, Paul Hornung kicked the game-winning FG.

Karras was so violently angry that he hurled his helmet at Plum’s head in the locker room after the game.

Karras let Plum know what he thought of the QB’s play calling in the ’62 debacle in Green Bay

The entire defense, in fact, was violently angry. The Lions were a very good team in 1962, the only real competition for the Packers in the Western Division. Had they beaten the Packers in Green Bay that October afternoon, it would most likely be the Lions, not the Packers, in the NFL Championship game that December.

So after stewing about the loss for weeks, and as the Lions matched the Packers victory-for-victory, the defense was absolutely ready to take on Green Bay in the Turkey Day rematch.

The front seven destroyed the Packers and their vaunted and Hall of Fame-filled offensive line that day. They sacked Starr all afternoon, tossing him around like a rag doll. But one play encapsulated the day, and became the signature shot.

I know you’ve seen the photo. It’s of Karras, linebacker Joe Schmidt, and defensive linemen Darris McCord and Sam Williams, all with their arms wrapped around Starr. There’s not a Packer o-lineman in sight.

It’s a grand picture for another reason. The Lions, through the years, have actually fielded some pretty darn good defensive lines and front sevens. It’s been an area, truthfully, that normally hasn’t been much of a concern, even in the more woeful-than-normal seasons. So it’s natural that the image of the Lions engulfing Bart Starr would be of note. Even if, in your mind, the signature photo should be of a Lions QB fumbling a snap. Or of a bad snap for an extra point. Or of an offensive tackle springing up, drawing a flag for movement.

The Lions open training camp this week, and again one of the team’s strong points is deemed to be the front four — the defensive linemen with the fat contracts and huge potential.

Cory Redding and Shaun Rogers inside. Kalimba Edwards and DeWayne White on the outside. These four, we are told, might make Lions fans forget names like Karris, McCord, Williams, English, Pureifory, Cofer, and Baker. We’ll see. They’ll certainly make people forget those players’ salaries.

Redding was given the richest contract of any DT in the NFL. Rogers, when he cares to be, can make offensive linemen curl into the fetal position. Edwards is still trying to become dominant. White is just thrilled to be back with Rod Marinelli again (he was in Tampa Bay when Marinelli coached the d-line), and vows to wow.

Again, we’ll see.

They may not convene at an opposing quarterback for a photo opportunity as rich as the 1962 pummeling of Bart Starr. But they’d better put some pressure on, because from what I understand, the secondary isn’t much to write home about.

Lem Barney has been retired for 30 years, you know.

No Matter How Small A Man He Is, Donaghy Casts A Very Large And Dark Shadow

In David Stern, gambling, NBA, scandal, Tim Donaghy on July 23, 2007 at 5:01 pm

I don’t know much about Tim Donaghy. I don’t know how tall he is, for example. So therefore, I have no idea how big of a shadow he casts — physically. But I do know this: the shadow he casts, figuratively, is greater than one of those gargantuan space ships that were in Independence Day.

Donaghy, the ex-NBA referee in the middle of a firestorm caused by news that he’s under investigation by the Feds for betting on games and affecting their outcomes, may be just one man, but the “Lone Nut” theory doesn’t apply here.

You see, it really doesn’t matter if it turns out that Donaghy is just a poor sap who got himself involved in some gambling debts that he couldn’t take care of on his referee’s salary, thereby forcing him into a desperate route of game-fixing. It’s irrelevant if only Donaghy was crooked, and none of his officiating brothers so much as blew one inadvertent whistle. It is totally meaningless if he’s alone in this mess, because once the news broke and was confirmed, Tim Donaghy wasn’t alone. Not even close.

It’s not all that complicated. For if mobsters, no matter how “low level” they might be, can compromise an NBA referee once, then who’s to say they can’t do it again, or haven’t done it again? And, even bigger, who’s to say that any of the other professional team sports are immune to it? Donaghy isn’t a “Lone Nut,” after all. This bombshell has forever changed the way fans, media, and players look at game officials. How can it NOT?

Not that the NBA, or the other leagues, shouldn’t do all they can to ensure that this never happens again, of course. It’s not a losing battle from that perspective. Time heals, they say. If nothing like this is even sniffed about for the next several years, then maybe Tim Donaghy can indeed acquire the label of “Lone Nut” with minimal damage to the integrity of pro (and dare I say, college) sports.

The NBA, clearly, has no choice but to overreact — and I hope they do. I hope they go overboard in dealing with this, once the legalities play out and more information is gathered and authenticated. I hope Commissioner David Stern treats this as the albatross that it is — an ugly one around the necks of his league that he’s spent so much time building.

But now is not the time for overreaction — at least not by Stern and his deputies. Now is the time for patience, waiting for everything to kind of sort itself out. A league investigation is obviously in order, concurrent with the federal one of Donaghy. Rumors, of course, are swirling that Donaghy is poised to sing to the Feds like a canary, and that in that tune will be the names of other referees — and even some players. That thought is too chilling to digest right now, if ever. All the more reason to overreact when the time is right.

Now, you must understand something. The FBI doesn’t investigate things for fun. This isn’t some team building exercise for their employees. They’re nosing around because there is very credible evidence that something stinks with at least one man in the grey, blue and red shirts. And they want to know if there are others.

So it’s likely that where there’s smoke, there’s fire in the case of Tim Donaghy. And if it’s just him — if he’s just one dude who succumbed to the weight of a gambling debt owed to some unsavory folks, it may be considered good news by most. Thank goodness there was no one else involved, they’ll say.

But you kinda gotta ask yourself: How long has this been going on? And, worse, where else?

Doesn’t seem like such good news anymore, does it?