Merry Christmas and thanks for stopping by! As you know, every Thursday (even on holidays, obviously) I chat with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we (as usual) talk about the history-making Lions; EMU’s new football coach; the Rob Parker-Rod Marinelli feud, which has gotten very personal; the Tigers’ continued search for a bullpen; what in the world is going on with the Pistons; and, as usual, WordAss. Oh, and instead of Jerk of the Week, we hand out candy and coal in certain folks’ stockings.

As you will….

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Eno: Happy Holidays and welcome to a very special Christmas Day version of “The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al”. I’m Eno, aka The Journalist, and he’s Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Hey, Al!

Big Al: Yo, Eno! Happy Holidays, sir. I was going to make a joke about asking if someone had married a better blogger in your family, but a version has already been done by a columnist in our little town!

Eno: Very funny – I like it! Well, may as well start there. What’s your take on the whole Rob Parker/Rod Marinelli flap?

Big Al: As you well know, I’ve been a Parker jihad for my entire blogging life. I don’t like his writing, or his broadcasting. I do agree that he crossed a line in making what was essentially a bad joke in bringing up Marinelli’s daughter in the post game presser. But…Marinelli deserves to be called out for keeping his son-in-law on staff as the defensive coordinator, even though statistically, his defense is the worst in Lions, and maybe NFL, history. Parker should get a slap on the wrist. Personally, I think Marinelli is enjoying playing the victim here, and made a big show of rejecting Parker’s apology for that reason. Parker has apologized, Marinelli has said his piece, so let’s all move on.

Eno: I agree with you mostly. I think Parker definitely crossed the line, and he’s lucky that wasn’t Mike Ditka or Bill Parcells up there; he would have gotten his clock cleaned. Don’t kid yourself. I also think Parker’s clumsy attempt at an explanation in his column was weak. He was trying to be funny? Trying to get Marinelli to laugh? And he thought THAT was the way to do it?

Big Al: Good point, Mr. Journalist. Marinelli did himself a favor by taking the high road when Parker asked his joke question. A Denny Green or Jimmy Johnson type would have gone medieval on his ass. Parker’s “apology” was revisionist history, as I seriously doubt Marinelli would consider anyone in the media a “friend.” I believe he thinks of the media as something to be tolerated, nothing more. As for humor, I doubt anything would have gone over well after getting blown out 42-7. The only joke was Barry’s defense, which never stopped the Saints till they took a knee at the end of the game.

Eno: 11-for-11 in 3rd down conversions – you don’t even see that in high school! And Gosder Cherilus – whoo boy! I don’t know, man. 0-16 looks like the surest bet in Vegas now, despite the Packers’ 5-10 record. Right?

Big Al: We could pool our money together and make a KILLING in Vegas. The Lions losing in Packer-land is the surest bet of our lifetimes. The Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since the Majik-Man, Don Majkowski, was under center for the Pack. 0-16 is a done deal. As for Cherilus, he hasn’t had the most impressive of rookie seasons, huh? Best case scenario is he becomes another Jeff Backus. Utterly, overwhelmingly, average. Then again, after this season, I’ll take utterly, overwhelmingly average from the Lions. It’d be a massive step forward!

Eno: And what of the other big news – Bill Ford, Sr. saying that 0-16 doesn’t warrant a housecleaning? Like I wrote in OOB, I hope to God he just said everything wrong and that this whole Tom Lewand/Martin Mayhew sticking around thing will be moot once we see who they bring in. But here’s the thing: in order to get who you need, he’s gonna want total control. No one is going to want to come here and work in a committee!

Big Al: I hope your reading between the lines was correct, that there still could be a front office overhaul. But knowing Ford, who seems to dig in his heels deeper and deeper the more public and media sentiment turns against him, he’s going to want to keep the status quo. It’s how he rolls. I’m also afraid that Marinelli will avoid the ziggy as well. But with Millen gone, the world will demand a scapegoat. Marinelli is still the likely person to receive the blame for 0-16. After all, he continues to say, “It’s on me.” God, what a mess this Lions franchise has become. Our only hope may be the NFL stepping in, like the NBA has done in the past in Cleveland and New York.

Eno: Well, Ford is a businessman, no? Then how can you market and sell bringing back the same bozos who led you to 0-16? Ford may be stubborn, but he’s got to understand the bottom line. That’s the only reason Darryl Rogers got fired. The Dome was half empty. Even Ford famously said, “We’re losing and we’re boring.” So it would almost be fun to see him try to bring the same management and coaching team back and see where his ticket sales go.

Big Al: If there are no substantial changes made, ticket sales are going to tank. They’ll be lucky to sell 35K seats a game. Ford may be a businessman, but as his very limited involvement in the family business shows, he’s not a very good one. I’ve always said the wrong Ford bought the team. Henry Ford II, Hank the Deuce, the man who ran Ford Motor with an iron fist, was the Ford grandson with the smarts and the will to win. Instead, we got the idiot brother who can’t do anything right.

Eno: True enough. OK, how about my alma mater, EMU? I love the Ron English hire [as head football coach]. Thoughts?

Big Al: The Eagl…uh, Hurons, could have done much worse. English was considered a real up and comer as Lloyd Carr’s defensive coordinator, until they all were somewhat tarnished in Lloyd’s final season. But English knows the area, has a good pedigree and should be the man to finally change the fortunes of EMU football. The fact that it’s a minority hire doesn’t even matter. English is a solid coach, period.

Eno: Well, EMU has traditionally looked beneath them for their coaches – i.e., smaller schools. I like that English is the first guy they’ve had in a very long time (since Ron Cooper in the early 1990s, who was from Notre Dame) who comes from a big time program. And I like that Eastern brought Lloyd Carr into the search as a consultant. EMU is a sleeping MAC giant; I truly believe that. It’s the closest state MAC school to the metro Detroit area. That’s an advantage that they haven’t exploited in forever. Maybe now with English, who’s said to be a strong recruiter, that will change.

Big Al: It’s a shame EMU has become the red-headed step kid in Detroit college sports. Sure, they’re in the shadow of the Big Blue Machine a couple of miles to the west, but they really should be more of a factor in the MAC. Hopefully English is the start of an EMU renaissance. Or at the very least, make them respectable. Hey, maybe English will take over the Wolverines someday. I’m sure that would have been Carr’s preference.

Eno: We’ll see! OK, I’ve chosen the first two topics. What’s on your plate du week, Monsieur Grand Shot?

Big Al: Of course I have a few things on my mind. Why are we here? Is there an afterlife? How did the tree change from a stick to a full fir in A Charlie Brown Christmas? Oh, you mean in SPORTS? Well, then…I need to think.

Eno: Don’t hurt yourself there!

Big Al: Funny, Mr Eno. Real funny! OK, what’s your thought on the Tigers, and other teams for that matter, sitting on their hands in free agency? The economic downturn, in a way, may be the best thing to happen to the Tigers. They may have a better shot at a pitcher or two as no one (save the Yankees, of course) is handing out big contracts. The price of some pretty good players may come down as we get closer to spring training.

Eno: Speaking of the Yanks, they owe MLB some $25 million, I believe, in luxury tax. Checks are due January 31st – honest! As far as free agency, you know I’ve never been big on signing arms; I’d rather trade for ’em. I want to know why the Mets needed Frankie Rodriguez AND JJ Putz! Sheesh! No real urgency now, anyway. Sometimes teams want to see what they have after a few weeks of spring training. The Tigers just need to concentrate on their bullpen. I think the starting rotation, believe it or not, is likely to bounce back. Too many good young arms NOT to. I would focus on the back end of the games, not the beginnings of them.

Big Al: I couldn’t agree more. As the price drops on the big name free agents, the price for average bullpen arms should drop even more. The Tigers should be able to add a couple of very capable bullpen arms before the season starts. They may catch lightning in a bottle, and stumble upon a closer. Bullpens are mercurial things, as you can’t predict performance from year to year. After the year both Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya had in 2006, no would have predicted the Tigers would be struggling to find end-of-the-game arms two seasons later. But that’s the nature of bullpens. As the famous Crimson Tide kick returner Forrest Gump once said, “Bullpens are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

Eno: Was that the same Gump who discovered the Watergate break-in and met President Kennedy and helped invent the smiley face? Well, you’re right about mercurial bullpens, but I’d also extend that to the rotation. I just don’t think the Tigers’ starters are going to be struck down by the same baloney as last season. I expect Justin Verlander to bounce back, Jeremy Bonderman to be healthy and better, and Nate Robertson to straighten up. Only Dontrelle Willis am I suspect about, really. Then there’s Kenny Rogers, who STILL doesn’t know if he wants to pitch in 2009.

Big Al: It’s rare for the Tigers to not have their 25-man roster set before the New Year. GM Dave Dombrowski is normally quick to pull the trigger on trades and free agent deals. He did get a shortstop, catcher and another rotation arm, but not signing anyone for the bullpen has me extremely nervous. There really isn’t a single reliever currently on the 40-man roster I’d trust with a late game lead.

Eno: Relax, grasshopper. Confucius say, “plenty of time to get a reliever.” Don’t you know that sometimes they fall off the grapefruit trees toward the middle-to-latter part of spring training? The itchy trigger finger didn’t work last season, did it? I’m willing to let this play out. Don’t forget when the Willie Hernandez trade was made: a week before camp broke in 1984!

Big Al: And I’m still bummed the man with the greatest batting stance of all time, John B. Wockenfuss, who went to the Phillies along with Glenn Wilson, didn’t get a World Series ring! Johnny B! Johnny B! Fuss! OK, with that out of my system, what’re your thoughts on the Pistons’ current issues? They are the fifth seed in the East right now, and don’t look anything like a title contender. Allen Iverson doesn’t seem to get along with Michael Curry, Curry’s rotation seems to be pulled out of a hat on a nightly basis and the Pistons’ defense, long their calling card, is non-existent. Is it time to push the panic button?

Eno: Hmmmm…..well, kinda sorta. I still like to think that this is still part of the meshing process: new coach, new superstar, etc. I don’t like the lack of composure being shown by Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton, especially. And that’s a direct reflection of Curry’s ability to keep his players disciplined. As for Iverson, what makes you think he doesn’t get along with Coach?

Big Al: Well, there’s the fact that [Iverson]’s been benched late in games. Iverson also had more off court issues during his two months in Detroit, than he had in his entire time in Denver. We had the skipping of practice, and now he’s been fined $25K for mouthing off at fans. Maybe it’s just me, but Iverson seems confused on the court, and unhappy off the court.

Eno: Well, you can never tell with those types; are they EVER truly happy? I think what we’re seeing, though, is that this bunch of Pistons isn’t as mentally tough as the Bad Boys. Remember the dinner they took Mark Aguirre to and basically browbeat him into behaving – players only? There really isn’t anyone on the roster who will take the lead in that manner. So it has to come from the coach, who is a rookie. It’s a little dicey, I admit.

Big Al: I don’t think there was a tougher team, both physically and mentally, than the Bad Boys. Nothing fazed them…save for old age. The Pistons are rudderless right now. Turns out Chauncey Billups was more of a stabilizing influence than we all thought. The Pistons still have the pieces to have a good team; I’m not sure Curry has the ability as a rookie head coach to piece them back together. The next question is, if this malaise continues, does Joe Dumars blow this team up sooner or later?

Eno: Well, it’s funny. I have suggested, more than once, that the next coach of the Pistons will be…..Joe Dumars. I wouldn’t hate it. I thought, for a time, that [former Pistons GM] Jack McCloskey wanted to coach the Pistons before he hired Chuck Daly. I put it to him once, and Jack told me that if he wanted to, he would have taken the job. Something tells me that Dumars might, before all is said and done, do a Gregg Popovich and roam the sidelines. But that’s down the line. As for now? I think we might see some serious trade deadline activity if the Pistons are still muddling along at five, six games above .500, heading for a 45, 46-win season.

Big Al: February may be quite interesting for Dumars and the Pistons, considering they have two very large expiring contracts in Rasheed Wallace and Iverson to dangle as bait. It remains to be seen if Dumars makes a move then for players, or would prefer to have that cap room available for free agency after the season ends. Joe D has his work cut out for him in trying to fix his sick team, to say the very least. Ready for some WORDASS?

Eno: Go for it, oh Al of Bigdom!

WORD ASSOCIATION

Big Al: OK, let’s rock and roll. Let’s start with Lions LB Ernie Sims.

Eno: Wow. Um, didn’t I see him on a milk carton today at the supermarket?

Big Al: Very good, Eno! Sims may be the most disappointing of the Lions. How about another Lion, the soon to be owed an $8+ million contract kicker, Leigh Bodden.

Eno: Bodden Bodden. That’s where he belongs.

Big Al: You’re on a roll, good sir! Let’s try one of the central figures in the Lions’ front office, Tom Lewand.

Eno: Show him the money – and make him keep his hands off anything football.

Big Al: Just like Rod Tidwell! One more for you. I’ll stay with my Lions theme and go with Bill Ford, Jr.

Eno: Three words: PLEASE. GET. INVOLVED. You ready for some?

Big Al: Fire away, Eno.

Eno: Someone who I spoke to on Monday and will have written about by the time this is being read: Red Wings “backup” goalie Ty Conklin.

Big Al: He’s NUMBER 1! Plus, I must add, “You’ve been Conk-blocked!”

Eno: I love it! OK, if you’re gonna do Lions, I’ll do Red Wings. Chris Chelios.

Big Al: The 2000 Year Old Man, with apologies to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

Eno: Nice reference! Too bad our kiddie readers won’t get it. OK, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Big Al: No kidding they won’t. (Look it up on YouTube, then learn and laugh) The ‘JHawks? Faux-tenders.

Eno: Really? Wow. OK. Jiri Hudler, who quietly has 13 goals.

Big Al: Coming into his own. The Wings’ ability to to keep finding players like Hudler is why they are the best organization in sports

Eno: OK, before we hand out candy and coal….I know we talked about them recently, but how ’bout those 24th-ranked Michigan Basketball Wolverines?

Big Al: It’s been over 10 years since the Wolverines have been ranked. The Michigan basketball program isn’t all the way back, but they are well on their way. Give coach John Beilein another couple of seasons, and he should have Michigan back where they should be: as a perennial NCAA tournament team. At the very least, Michigan hoops is FUN again, which is something we couldn’t say during the Tommy Amaker and Brian Ellerbee eras.

Eno: Please don’t mention Brian Ellerbee and “era” in the same sentence. I’m trying to keep my lunch down here! I think it’s great what’s happening in Ann Arbor, especially on the heels of such a crummy football season. Now if they’ll only either renovate or replace Crisler Arena!

Big Al: Ellerbee was the wrong coach at the wrong time. He was wrong, period. That seems to be the next move Athletic Director Bill Martin plans: a new practice facility and doing something with Crisler. If they want to compete in the Big Ten for players, Michigan has to upgrade facilities, as Michigan State did.

CANDY AND COAL

Eno: OK, let’s wrap this up. Give me three people who deserve candy in their stocking, and three people who deserve coal!

Big Al: Deserving of candy are…Michigan head coach John Beilein for turning around the hoops culture at U-M, Red Wings D-man Nick Lidstrom for being so damned good, and the last goes to the Detroit blogosphere. You’ll never find a more creative, fun and well written bunch of folks. I’m giving coal to 54 people, actually. The Detroit Lions roster gets not only a lump of coal, but an entire coal mine!

Eno: OK….my candy receivers are EMU for making an intelligent football coaching hire for a change; Mike Babcock for simply being the best coach in the NHL; and Lions placekicker Jason Hanson for not becoming homicidal by now. Coal? How about Detroit News columnist Rob Parker, on principle; Plaxico Burress for throwing it all away; and the NFL officials. They’ve had an awful year.

Big Al: Dead on as always, Mr. Journalist. I’m off to enjoy Festivus, for the rest of us! And maybe that little holiday called Christmas too! All the best to you and yours, Eno!

Eno: Have a great Holiday, and my family’s best to you and yours – truly. I’m having a blast every week. See ya on New Year’s Day!

Big Al: Works for me, looking forward to it! Now where’s my aluminum pole?

Eno: Ugh.

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