Greg Eno

Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Pistons Lurking In Shadows, Which Suits Them

In NBA, Pistons on October 31, 2007 at 4:39 pm

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics? Fine! Send Kobe Bryant to the Chicago Bulls, too, while you’re at it. Anoint LeBron James the King. Oh yeah — that’s been done already. Prop Gilbert Arenas and his Wizards teammates up. Let the Miami Heat be lauded as a possible bounce-back team.

Most of this has happened, or has been rumored to happen. And the more of it that goes on, I say, the better it is for the Detroit Pistons.

The curtain goes up tonight on another NBA season in Detroit — the 51st since the team moved from Fort Wayne. Commemorative patches acknowledging this being the 50th anniversary of the first NBA game played in the Motor City will be worn by the players on their game tank tops.

Yet few times, if ever, have the Pistons been simultaneously a contender and a pretender in so many “experts”‘s eyes. Usually you’re either in or you’re out as a serious player — not both. But to hear many say it, the Pistons are either, a) too old and their time has passed, or b) still a very dangerous team, lurking in the shadows of trendy, sexy picks like the new-look Celtics or defending conference champ Cleveland, or still up-and-coming Chicago (with or without Bryant).

Just my opinion, but I go with choice b) in the above paragraph.

The Pistons have injected, appropriately so, some youth and energy onto the roster. They’ve promoted Antonio McDyess to an already formidable starting five. They now have a legitimate backup point guard in rookie Rodney Stuckey, as soon as he recovers from his broken hand. And they have some perimeter scoring off the bench in Jarvis Hayes, acquired from Washington.

All that, plus some stability in the coaching position. Flip Saunders is the first Pistons coach to start a third season since Doug Collins in 1997. And Collins was fired before that season was completed. In fact, the Pistons have only had three coaches, in their entire history, who’ve completed at least three full seasons: Ray Scott, Scotty Robertson, and Chuck Daly. Saunders, most likely, will be the fourth. That’s not too many men in 51 seasons.

It may not be trendy to do so, but the more level-headed basketball pundits are sticking with the Pistons as conference front-runners, at the very least. They’re not fooled by fancy, big-name acquisitions or a superstar-dominated ballclub. The best overall team will be in The Finals in June from the East, and that means balance, experience, and depth from one thru fifteen on the roster.

And going by those standards, the Pistons have the goods — even if many people choose to ignore that fact. Frankly, it’s best that they do. Shadow lurkers can be awfully scary, in the end.

Renteria Trade Another Example Of Tigers’ New-Way Of Thinking

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2007 at 5:14 pm

When the Tigers lured Dave Dombrowski from the Florida Marlins in November 2001 to be their new, three-headed baseball man — president, general manager, chief executive officer — it was quite a sell job, to be honest. For the Tigers of the early 21st century were a team devoid of much talent on the field, and with a mostly bare cupboard of young talent in the minor leagues. They had a brand-new ballpark with ridiculous dimensions in left and left center field, and after two seasons of Comerica Park, the novelty was already starting to wear off.

How the Tigers managed to get the well-respected Dombrowski to come to Detroit to resuscitate their franchise, after over a decade of poor decisions and horrible drafting, surely will go down as one of the greatest coups in this city’s sports history.

Back then, when Dombrowski addressed the media for the first time as a Tigers employee, wearing a Tigers jacket inside a CoPa suite — the baseball diamond as a backdrop — you might have wondered if even he knew what he was truly getting himself into. Did he have buyer’s remorse?

Dombrowski’s approach is to do whatever it takes to secure solid big leaguers like Renteria

In the early years of his job here, he spoke of the future. The idea was to cobble together a product on the field that, one day, would be good enough to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox and even the Twins for league supremacy. The other phase of Dombrowski’s plan was to fortify the minor league system — one that had become an MLB-wide joke. A third phase was to have the first two phases in place so that he could begin talking as he did yesterday.

“We’re trying to win now,” Dombrowski said in the wake of the news that the Tigers had acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves. The price for the 32-year-old, five-time All-Star Renteria was pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens and potential big league outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Two of the Tigers’ brightest young prospects, in other words.

That’s where the Tigers are now. They are in Phase III of Dombrowski’s plan. They now have a big league roster loaded with talent and a feeder system overstocked, to be used as bait for more talented big league talent.

It’s why Dombrowski can talk with the sense of urgency normally reserved for the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and other big-market MLB clubs. It’s even being mentioned that the Tigers’ “window” for winning some serious hardware might be closing soon — based on the ages of some of the team’s key cogs.

Talk of windows and “winning now” and trading some of the future for some of the present is all new stuff for the baseball team from Detroit. It was talk that would have seemed absurd as recently as four years ago. Then Dombrowski, perhaps using the same salesman skills once used on him, managed to get Fernando Vina, Rondell White, and most of all, Pudge Rodriguez, to sign with the Tigers in the off-season after the horrific 43-win season of 2003. The path to respectability had begun to be forged. A pre-2004 trade brought Carlos Guillen into the fold. A mid-2005 trade fetched Placido Polanco. Free agency brought Kenny Rogers in December 2005, and another trade sent Gary Sheffield to Detroit last November.

Now, the Renteria deal. And talk, from the GM himself, of winning now.

“You always want to set yourself up for the future, but to get someone like Edgar we knew we’d have to give up some talent,” Dombrowski said. And the Tigers, thanks to Dombrowski and his razor-sharp lieutenants like scouting director David Chadd (swiped from the Red Sox), have managed to put together a model big league organization in relatively short order.

Edgar Renteria is a Tiger this morning because the team saw an opportunity, seized on it, and filled another hole that needed to be filled, thanks to their stockpiling of young, quality players. Just like that.

That’s how the consistent winners in baseball do it. Which is what the Tigers have now become, and clearly intend to remain.

Lions Starting To Expect Wins Now

In Lions, NFL on October 29, 2007 at 2:54 pm

A year ago September, I asked actor and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels — in a magazine interview piece — if he thought the Lions would ever win again in his, or our, lifetime. And for purposes of the question, the definition of “win” was something significant — like a Super Bowl for instance.

He paused for a moment, looking skyward, then his eyes met mine.

“YES, they will win in our lifetime,” he said with a chuckle.

OK, but … why?

“Forget the laws of (NFL) parity,” Daniels said. “It’s the law of averages! Shouldn’t those kick in sooner or later?”

Maybe sooner.

The Lions won another yesterday — 16-7 in Chicago — and once again it was the other guys who imploded. The other guys whose rally was more slapstick than high drama. The other guys whose fans booed them off their own field.

And it was the Lions again, God bless them, who held it together — hanging on for the victory. Correction: hanging on is not fair terminology. They didn’t just win because the Bears failed. The Lions won because they played like that’s how it’s supposed to happen. They are beginning to play like a team that can now handle the slings and arrows that a perilously close NFL game always seems to present.

Oh, they might be good at losing 56-21, or 34-3, but this latest vanquishing of the Bears was victory no. 5, and in all of them, the outcome could have bobbed and swayed either way in the fourth quarter. But the Lions are now 5-0 in such perilous games.

And there’s more.

No bombastic requests for the media to plant a kisser on the posterior, like after last week’s home win against Tampa Bay. The locker room after yesterday’s win was low-key and full of a we-haven’t-done-anything-yet mentality. Which is good, because they haven’t, of course.

Even the poisonous pen of the Free Press’s Drew Sharp dared to scribe about playoffs. He didn’t even refer to Matt Millen as Mr. 24-72. Millen is still only Mr. 29-74, but you take your improvement how and when you can in this league.

The best part of watching the Lions win these football games is seeing how they are slowly, yet surely, becoming accustomed to doing so. Even the boisterous Roy Williams urged caution.

“We’re 5-2, but this thing could just as easily turn into 5-11,” he said. This from a man who last season kept saying that the Lions were the most talented team with a horrible record in the entire NFL. Now he’s the beacon of sage wisdom?

But he’s right, you know. 5-2 can, indeed, turn into 5-11. But doubtful with this team, in this season, with this coach. More like 11-5, I’d say.

Jon Kitna might turn out to be wrong about the win total, after all — but in a different way than any of us could ever imagine.

Flip In Elite Company; Third Year A Charm?

In Flip Saunders, NBA, Pistons on October 28, 2007 at 9:03 pm

The first, and maybe among the best, was Ray Scott. He was a true Piston. A player first, drafted fourth off the board in 1961 – a towering, rebounding and scoring machine from the University of Portland, but a born and reared Philly kid – who would adopt Detroit, and vice-versa.

Then there was Herb Brown, with his open collars and shoes with no socks. He had coached everywhere, including Israel. He rubbed his players so wrongly, the confrontations nearly became physical.

Then came Bob Kaufman. He played in the league, and wore the dual hats of coach and general manager in Detroit for a time. That is, before he gave way to the maniacal bleatings of Dickie Vitale, who became a de facto GM, too – when Kaufman gave up and fled town.

After Dickie was dragged screaming into the night – only to resurface on American television sets that were best off equipped with that wonderful invention called the “mute” button – there was another New Jersey guy to take his place: Richie Adubato.

Scotty Robertson was next, with his southern drawl and down-home honesty and humility.

Then the best: Chuck Daly, who rolled into town with coiffed hair and a resume that was in line with his predecessors. That is, largely undistinguished and filled with basketball stops in small towns and oh yeah – there was a college somewhere out east. Plus a brief NBA head coaching stint in Cleveland, one of the league’s two Siberias. The other was … Detroit. The won-lost record in Cleveland was so bad as to be best left off the undistinguished resume.

Some good, long-overdue stability with Chuck, before the door became revolving again. Ron Rothstein, who openly campaigned for the job and was brutally ineffective once he had bullied his way into it. Don Chaney, a nice man – and former Celtic champion – whose roster was filled with the dregs of the league and Grant Hill, pretty much. Doug Collins, whose claim to coaching fame was being lucky enough to be in charge in Chicago when Michael Jordan claimed ownership of the league. Alvin Gentry, another of those assistants who was minding his own business when management shoved the silver whistle into his mouth. George Irvine, who never really wanted the job, then coached like it, just to drive home his point.

More brevity, but with some success. Rick Carlisle, once labeled an up-and-coming genius, but who now finds himself in an ESPN studio, telling us what just happened and why. Larry Brown, a champion here, whose brevity was fait accompli, befitting his nomadic past.

All of which brings us to Flip Saunders.

Saunders is doing something quite extraordinary in Detroit, starting next week in Miami. For he is being entrusted to coax, prod, and nudge his players along through a third perilous NBA season. He’s breaking the string of two-and-out when it comes to Pistons coaches hired by the sage Joe Dumars. But the two-and-out wasn’t invented by Dumars. Far from it.

Saunders will get a third crack at reining in Rasheed Wallace

There have been 15 Pistons coaches during the ownership of Bill Davidson, which began in earnest in 1974. Yet only two of them, prior to Saunders, have been allowed to complete a third full season at the helm: Robertson and Daly.

See? The two-and-out pre-dates Dumars’ management significantly. It even pre-dates Davidson.

The Pistons are celebrating their 50th anniversary in Detroit this year, moving from Fort Wayne in 1957. Special commemorative patches are going to be worn on the players’ tank tops and everything. A one-shot logo has been crafted. Only – and I really don’t want to be a party pooper here – this is actually the 51st season in Detroit for the franchise. But they never have counted so good in the Pistons offices.

Back in the days of phantom attendance numbers, that is. And when the team used the two-and-out system of running coaches in and out of town. Ahh, those fabulous ‘60s!

Just about every coach the Pistons hired had the requisite two-year contract, and many didn’t even survive that long. Dumars, somewhat surprisingly to me, had seemed to carry on the tradition, despite significant team success. Out with Irvine, in with Carlisle. Two 50-win seasons with Carlisle, but it’s two-and-out! In with the basketball vagabond Brown. A championship and a runner-up, but it’s two-and-out! So out with Brown and in with Saunders.

Flip kicked things off with a record-setting 64-win year, but the suspected over-use of his starting five – four of them made the All-Star team – led to a flame-out in the playoffs against the Miami Heat in the conference finals. Last season, Saunders eased off a bit and worked some more bench players into the rotation, but the result was the same: sayonara in the Final Four, at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers of all people.

Chances are that Saunders will be allowed to complete his third season, making him only the third man to do so during Davidson’s ownership – and the first during Dumars’s president-ship. Where that will get him is anyone’s guess, here on the eve of the Pistons’ 50th anniversary/51st season in Detroit. But it, at the very least, puts him in an elite group. A SMALL, elite group.

Daly survived nine seasons because he won. And he won because he was smart enough to know that talented NBA players aren’t so much coached as they are managed and empowered. In the history of the NBA, you won’t find many more with such a combustible combo of strong wills and high-strung pedigrees than Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, and Dennis Rodman. Throw in the petulance of Kelly Tripucka and Adrian Dantley and the antics of Dennis Rodman and John Salley, and the supposed childishness of Mark Aguirre (pre-Detroit) – and it’s a wonder Daly lasted nine months. But the final tally under Daly was two championships, a runner-up, and five straight trips to the conference finals. Amazing what you can do in three years or more!

Saunders has extended the Pistons’ current streak of conference finals appearances to five as well. Yet they’ve only won two of those. The Chuck Daly Pistons won three of their five – and all in succession.

Flip is here for Year Three. But it’s only his two-year anniversary. See how that works?

Bears, Lions, Each Boast Two RBs That Thrilled, Chilled

In Billy Sims, Chicago Bears, Gale Sayers, Lions, NFL on October 26, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Between them, total, they gave us about ten seasons. Ten seasons filled with oohs and aahs and making cases for why they were the greatest running backs in their respective franchises’ histories.

Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet — a Chicago Bear from 1965-71 officially, but you can forget the last two seasons, when he gamely tried but failed to come back from a mangled knee.

Billy Sims, the high-stepping runner from Oklahoma. Heisman Trophy winner and a Lion from 1980-84, until a hit applied by the Vikings’ Walker Lee Ashley mangled Sims’ knee, too — in the middle of a fruitful ’84 season. Fitting that Sims’ career-ending injury should come at the hands of the Vikings, a team that’s tormented the Lions more than any other in the Bill Ford Era.

Note the abbreviated careers. Five seasons for Sayers, essentially, and not quite five for Sims. Each exploded onto the scene. In Sayers’s rookie season, he scored six touchdowns — in one game, in just 14 touches, against the 49ers at a rain-soaked Wrigley Field. Among his six scores was a kickoff return for a TD, AND a punt return for a TD. For the season, Sayers scored 22 touchdowns: 14 by ground, six by air, and the kick returns. He was the easiest choice for Rookie of the Year ever, in any sport.

Sims helped lead the Lions out of the gate with a 4-0 start in his rookie season by scoring from all over the field, on long runs and even fly patterns. On Opening Day in Anaheim, he blitzed the heavily-favored Rams with three TDs as the Lions pulled off the upset. His trademark was to leap over the pile at the goal line, somersaulting into the end zone. And the high step, of course.

Sims doesn’t get quite the nod that Sayers does as one of the game’s greatest runners, but for his time, few were better. And Sayers, of course, crammed a 10-year career’s worth of highlights into his five seasons.

Gale Sayers, running away from the Lions’ Alex Karras, ran for 867 yards (5.2/att) and scored 22 TDs in all sorts of ways in his ’65 rookie campaign

Sims rushed for 1,303 yards in his rookie year (1980) and scored 13 rushing TDs

Then the Bears offered up Walter Payton for public consumption, and the Lions would eventually counter with Barry Sanders.

Sayers-Payton versus Sims-Sanders. Which duo would YOU take?

This weekend, the Lions travel to Chicago, and the men running the football for each team — and no disrespect intended — are nowhere near the class of their predecessors. It just so happens that the Lions and Bears were each blessed with two of the most wonderful running backs in their time, or anyone’s time. So no shame in falling short of those players.

And hey — I haven’t even mentioned Bronko Nagurski or Doak Walker.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on October 25, 2007 at 6:53 pm

(every Thursday at OOB — almost — I rant in list fashion; this week I bring you the best of FSN Red Wings analyst Mickey Redmond)

Things Mickey Redmond Says That Ya Gotta Love

1. Bingo-Bango. Normally uttered during a replay when Redmond talks about a bang-bang play in front of the net, or if a goal has been scored shortly after another.

2. Johnny-on-the-spot. Actually, this is more of a general hockey term, but Redmond says it a lot — plus I love it. Said when a player finds himself wide open, pouncing on a loose puck for a goal.

3. BC Two-hander. Presumably the BC stands for British Columbia. This is a blatant, two-handed slash.

4. Holy smokes! When Redmond can’t believe what he’s just seen — like a cheap penalty, for instance.

5. Oh my … they’re going to be livid on the bench. Another utterance after a cheap penalty.

6. Better keep your head up, son. When a player, 99% of the time a Red Wings’ opponent, gets drilled with a clean check because he wasn’t looking.

7. Hasek, no chance. As Redmond analyzes a replay of a goal that the Red Wings give up, rightly commenting that Dominik Hasek had, well, no chance.

8. For you young hockey players watching at home … When Redmond feels in “clinic” mode, schooling the youngsters about how the game should be played.

9. Like he’s got the puck on a string! Redmond says this after watching some brilliant stick-handling.

10. Now it’s time to just shut her down. When the Red Wings find themselves with a two-goal (or more) lead midway thru the third period.

11. So let’s keep her goin’. When the Red Wings are on a winning streak. Said during postgame wrap-ups.

12. Nobody home. When a player finds himself all alone in front of the net.

13. If it wasn’t for _______, the score could be ____ Detroit. Redmond will say this when the other team’s goalie “stands on his head.”

14. It’s just a one shot game, folks. When the Red Wings only have a one-goal lead when Redmond thinks they should have a larger cushion.

15. Penalty shot??! YES!! (or, “NO!”). Few things will get Redmond more excited than a fight, or a possible penalty shot.

16. When you go to the net, good things can happen. Usually said after a “garbage goal” off a rebound, or a tip-in.

They’re they are. Talk amongst yourselves. And remember, they’re just things.

Osgood And His 337 Wins (Plus a Cup) Nice To Have In Reserve

In Chris Osgood, Red Wings on October 24, 2007 at 1:19 pm

In the cramped, sterile environment, the visitors whooped it up, sweaty with puffed lips and without a care in the world. Their season could have ended right then and there, and that probably would have been OK with them.

Over in the expansive, more luxurious home dressing room, a 21-year-old goaltender sat in front of his locker, uniform still on. He was also sweaty, but it wasn’t his lips that were puffy. It was his eyes. Puffy and red, stinging with real tears.

Chris Osgood anguished, the weight of an entire hockey nation on his shoulders, as he tried to describe the feeling after the third-year San Jose Sharks stole Game 7 from the mighty Red Wings in the 1994 playoffs, first round. For it was Osgood’s gaffe, a bad clearing attempt, that was converted into the series-winning goal with about six minutes remaining.

Osgood wept, yet the weight he felt was largely self-acquired. Even the fuming Red Wings fans, who in ’94 were getting used to playoff disappointment, were reluctant to pin the series loss on the rookie goalie. Instead, their anger was directed toward the circumstances under which Osgood was in net to begin with — a rookie in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Red Wings, suffering through an internal power struggle between GM Bryan Murray and coach Scotty Bowman, had a question mark in goal — or so they thought, mainly because everyone else told them so. Tim Cheveldae was the sacrificial lamb, traded to Winnipeg (Murray made the trade without really consulting Bowman) for former MSU star Bob Essensa, in January 1994. But Essensa wasn’t much of an improvement (if at all), so when the playoffs began, Essensa was the starter, but he was on shaky ground.

By the time Game 7 against the Sharks arrived, Osgood was deemed the man to give the Wings their best chance at victory — more of an indictment against Essensa than a star on Osgood’s forehead. Still, the rookie played OK, but made that tragic mistake late in the deciding game.
And he had taken the loss so hard, those around him wondered how much of an effect it would have on him as his career progressed.

Last week, watching the Wings toil out west sometime past the 11 o’clock hour, a graphic was flashed on the screen. It listed active goalies and their career victories. Dominik Hasek had something like 374. No surprise there. But just below Hasek, with 337, was the 34-year-old Chris Osgood.

Yes, young, sobbing Chris Osgood grew up to have almost as many wins as Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek.

Osgood is the Wings’ backup now, and will perhaps play in 25-30 games this season. He’ll turn 35 in November. Yet whenever I see him, I still see the baby-faced, boyish kid that I saw back in 1994. He hasn’t changed much, including his speaking style. But when you listen to him now, what creeps in is the sageness of an NHL career that is now 14 years old. He’s not a quote machine, but he’s wise. And his countenance hasn’t budged; not too high after success, not too low after disappointment.

The Red Wings pulled off a pretty unique stunt in 1998. They won two straight Stanley Cups, and with two different starting goalkeepers. Doing the former is hard enough; when you add the latter, it’s damn near unheard of. And in ’98, Osgood, the starter, played with the typical brilliance that’s needed to win the whole thing. Most of the time. He also had a fetish for letting in goals that were the results of shots taken somewhere near center ice; he did so at least three times that postseason — once each in series against St. Louis, Phoenix, and Dallas. All three were crucial, killer goals. Only one, in St. Louis, were the Wings able to overcome. The Dallas blunder came in OT in Game 5.

Yet after each of these horrific goals, Osgood wasn’t rattled. He said so, then he played like it. Every time, in the next game, he played magnificently.

In the official team video for 1998, there’s a scene of the happy Wings dressing room following their Cup-clinching win in Washington. Osgood’s mother seeks him out, and hugs him close.

“You DID it, Chris! You DID it!,” she says through tears. Tears of joy, this time. No doubt the ghosts of 1994 were in both their minds at that moment.

If Hasek’s groin should go pop, or any other part of his aging body, then the Wings will turn to still baby-faced Chris Osgood, sage veteran. Cup winner. Author of 337 wins.

How many backups in the league have such a resume?

Cold, Idle Rockies Will Be Overmatched By Warmed Up Bosox

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2007 at 6:14 am

The Colorado Rockies, the way I figure it, are like a once-hot engine that’s been sitting in a cold garage for eight days. In the winter time. In fact, it may be more like they’ve been sitting in the driveway, exposed to the elements: the wind, the cold, the moisture.

It’s the Boston Red Sox that are the warmed up engine, revving and waiting to host the Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series. It’s like two racing competitors, at the starting line, waiting for the flag to be waved — but one of them, the Rockies, has to begin the race with its engine turned off.

OK, OK — enough with the automobile analogies. But you get the idea.

Frankly, this may end up being one of the most interesting Fall Classics in recent memory, if only because I’m dying to see how the Rockies, winners of 21 of their past 22 games, will respond to their enforced eight-day layoff after sweeping Arizona in the NLCS. Aren’t you curious as to whether Colorado can continue to ride the hottest end-of-season streak in baseball history all the way to the world title?

Perhaps my views are tainted by what happened to the Tigers last year, but I believe the Red Sox will make relatively short work of the Rockies — like five games worth.

None of this nonsense about the Rockies’ taking two of three from Boston in Fenway Park way back in June. The Tigers swept the Cardinals in Detroit in 2006, you know. Anyhow, I hope you know that it’s folly to use regular season matchups as any sort of post-season barometer.

No, the Red Sox will win because there’ll be too much Josh Beckett, too much Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and too much of a playoff-veteran team that, thanks to its 2004 World Series win (which included the famous comeback from an 0-3 hole in the ALCS) and this year’s ALCS comeback triumph, absolutely knows how to win the big games. The Rockies’ run has been fabulous, but except for the one-game playoff against San Diego, the Rockies haven’t encountered any playoff bumps yet. They’ve never trailed in a series, let alone 3-1. So how do we know that they can win under such duress?

But having said all that, I still think it will be an interesting, albeit short, World Series.

The first-ever crowning of an MLB champ in the city of Denver. But it won’t be the home team — it’ll be the Red Sox in Game 5.

Mixture Of Gaudy Numbers, Loss Someone Else’s Castor Oil This Morning

In Lions, NFL on October 22, 2007 at 1:14 pm

They are numbers normally reserved for the winning quarterback.

Eighteen straight completions; 36-for-43 success rate; 315 yards. Two touchdowns, no interceptions. Also a fantasy lover’s dream.

But here’s what’s not so dreamy: two fumbles, including one near the one-yard-line.

And it was those two fumbles, converted into two touchdowns, that undercut Tampa Bay QB Jeff Garcia in his bid to beat his former team yesterday at Ford Field.

The Lions won, 23-16, and for a change it was their quarterback who won despite having less-than-gaudy numbers.

We’ve seen the fantasy lover’s dream here before. You know, where Jon Kitna throws 40+ passes, completes a bunch of them, piles up a slew of yards, maybe even throws a few touchdowns. And yet the Lions lose — probably because a high percentage of those numbers came after they were down three touchdowns in the first half.

Garcia led some long drives, but mostly came up empty. There were the two picks. There was a missed field goal. And the Lions used a blocked punt to get another three points.

It was opportunistic football — short on style but long on substance.

I’m not a big fan of the boobs on sports talk radio, nor their callers. But one of the cell-phone wielders on his way home from the game made a good point to the hosting boob yesterday afternoon after the game. His comment came after some sour pusses were complaining about the “ugliness” of the Lions’ win, and that the final score was closer than it should have been.

“I don’t know why everyone is complaining,” the caller said. “The Bears have made a living winning like that. They went to the Super Bowl winning that way!”

Good point.

Now, it’s not saying here that the Lions are going to the Super Bowl “winning that way”. But it sure is nice to see them win that way; they’ve done it already a few times this season.

But let’s stop something right now. You’ve already heard, and will continue to hear, about how the Lions started 4-2 in 2004 and yet lost five straight games on the way to a final mark of 6-10.

Since when does what happened in any NFL season of the past have anything to do with what’s going on currently? Especially when so many of the key characters have changed, their roles played by more able people. And that’s not to mention other variables like schedule, opponents changing, etc.

The Lions of ’04 were coached by Steve Mariucci and QB’d by Joey Harrington, who was never comfy in Mooch’s dink-and-dunk West Toast Offense. Roy Williams and Kevin Jones were rookies. Other receiver slots were given to frauds like Tai Streets. Also, things were different defensively. Everything was just … different.

So no more using the 2004 team as a cautionary tale. It’s completely irrelevant to what’s going on now. And that edict has as much chance of being heeded as Nancy Reagan’s plea to kids to “Just Say NO” back in the day. Still, it’s worth scolding you all about.

Random Observations: Did Calvin Johnson look like a freak (in a good way) or what during that 32-yard reverse for a touchdown? Goodness gracious. It was like watching a giraffe galloping with gazelle-like moves … Classy words from coach Rod Marinelli all week and again yesterday about how much the game meant to him, since it was against his former employer. He refused to cast the spotlight on himself, even once, and not even in an abstract way. It’s all about team with him, from coaches to the 53rd man on the roster … Good to see T.J. Duckett back into the mix. He had some good runs on a drive that led to a field goal, but I agree with Fox analyst Tony Boselli, who should know. The former OT wondered why the Lions would abandon the run on that drive, when it had been so successful. They got into scoring territory then suddenly called all passes. The insinuation, and it was a correct one, was that the Lions let the Bucs’ defense off the hook on that drive.

NHL Uses Their Fans As Punching Bags When It Comes To Outlawing Fighting

In NHL on October 21, 2007 at 2:26 pm

It sounds like a dinosaur story, what I am about to tell you. It’s tempting to begin it with “Once upon a time,” but why should I resort to such trite methods, when some of you know exactly of which I speak?

They roamed. Another dinosaur-like word. But they did. Maybe patrolled is a better, non-reptilian verb. Yes, much better – for in their heyday, they carried the moniker of “policeman”, because they laid down the law of the ice.

Every team had one, in the days of six National Hockey League teams and short flights to Boston, Montreal, Detroit, and the rest – back when each club engaged each other 14 times a year to make up the neat, symmetrical 70-game schedule.


There was John Ferguson in Montreal – the original “Fergie”, before America became enraptured with the female, Royal version across the pond in the 1980s. Big John, they also called him. He was a generous amount over six feet tall, and he owned the goal crease. But mainly he made sure stars like Jean Beliveau and Pocket Rocket Richard and Yvon Cournoyer had enough ice with which to work their magic, confident of not being bullied.

There was Reggie Fleming in New York and Howie Young in Detroit. Chicago had Doug Mohns. Toronto had their guy. So did Boston.

Before Fleming, the Rangers employed a tough guy named Louie Fontinato. He was the premier policeman in the league, in the late-1950s. Then one night, Gordon Howe rearranged his face, and exposed Louie as a fraud.

“I remembered what (Ted) Lindsay once told me,” Howe expounded years later, long after he, with a few rock-solid punches, toppled Fontinato from the throne of King of the Policemen. “He said, ‘Make sure you always know who’s on the ice with you.’”

There was a scrum behind the net, and Howe was watching Lindsay get into it with one of the Rangers. The game was played in old Madison Square Garden.

“I saw Louie out of the corner of my eye, and he’s coming right at me,” Howe said. “I remembered Lindsay’s advice. I knew Louie was their tough guy.

“He was going to sucker punch me. I ducked just in time. If I hadn’t, I might have been over with. So I grabbed him by the back of the head and hit him with some punches. I broke his nose a little bit.”

Howe broke Fontinato’s nose a “little bit” like a crystal glass crashing to the floor breaks a little bit.

A season or two later, Fontinato, perhaps trying to earn back some of the manhood taken from him under the glare of Madison Square Garden in New York, tried to run a Toronto player into the boards. Only Louie was the one who got the worst of it, injuring his neck badly.

“That was the end of his hockey,” Howe recalled.

Louie Fontinato, deposed NHL tough guy

The policemen patrolled. The skill guys skated. Traffic was directed and law was enforced. It was a grand time – and not only because such law enforcement meant that gloves would be dropped with relative routine and disturbances would be settled with hand-to-hand combat. But it sure didn’t hurt.

The NHL has a funny way of doing things nowadays. Basically, the way it works is this. They take their game and legislate the excitement out of it, change and experiment with the rules, award points for losing, and stuff the same teams down the fans’ throats. It’s a curious operation, when you consider that those who admired the game – the fans, the players, the coaches – didn’t think there was all that much wrong with the things that were changed, and weren’t too ingratiated with the changes that were made. It might be why the league finds its product buried on a television network called Versus, between the bull-hogtying and the mountain climbing shows they air there.

The Red Wings have tried, even in the post-expansion, post-legislative eras, to keep alive the tradition of the policeman.

Even in the wretched days of the 1970s and ‘80s, brutes have been employed by the franchise, with little more charge than to keep things interesting for the paying customers, since the rest of the team wasn’t much to look at.

Bob Probert and Joey Kocur were the two most famous of these brutes. They patrolled and they weren’t always good cops. Sometimes they used police brutality to beat justice into their overmatched opponents.

But never did they pound into submission an unfortunate before a silent crowd.

Probert serving up some justice to Tie Domi

Probert would engage another team’s tough guy, and so would Kocur on a different night – sometimes you’d get both bad cops doling out brutality on the same evening – and Joe Louis Arena, aptly named after a boxer, would rock. If you ever wanted to see 20,000 people shoot out of their seats at the same time, then you would want to see Bob Probert in a hockey fight. Or Joey Kocur. Or Basil MacRae. Or Randy McKay. Or Stu Grimson, the Grim Reaper. All of these, the Red Wings paid at one time or another, to serve and to protect. If their salaries were ever questioned by those in the team’s brass, all they’d have to do is follow the roar of the crowd when the fists came out of their hockey glove sheaths.

But fighting isn’t easy to come by in today’s NHL. It’s frowned upon by the league, even though polls and sports talk radio gab fests and water cooler discussions and conversations over pretzels and pop indicate that today’s hockey fan pines for the occasional act of fisticuffs. Maybe even more than occasional.

The 2007-08 Red Wings are carrying on their policeman tradition. They have Aaron Downey, and the other night he took exception to San Jose’s Kyle McLaren and his running of Henrik Zetterberg and Dallas Drake. So Downey, eager to lay down the law for his new teammates, went after McLaren. In a quick, one-sided fight, Downey subdued the ne’er-do-well McLaren with some swift, hard punches. Justice served.

After the game, Zetterberg raved about what Downey did, and how it can only help the team.

“I just wanted to show everyone that as long as I’m around, nobody is going to pick on this team,” Downey said of his actions.

So who is it, again, who wants to see fighting eliminated from hockey?

The NHL, where the minority rules with an iron fist.

Oops – can I say fist?