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Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

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It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

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Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

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Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

jasonjerry

Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mile High Sudden Death Shootout: Underdog Ravens Upset Broncos 38-35 to Go to AFC Championship Game

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos

Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens throws a 32-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game. He also had touchdown throws of 59 and 70 yards the last to Jacoby Jones (below) with 31 seconds left in regulation. (Photo: Doug Pensinger , Getty Images)

It took 76 minutes and 42 seconds in in freezing weather conditions. The game went into the second overtime period, but Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis led the elderly Baltimore Ravens to an upset win in Denver Saturday evening in the 1st AFC Divisional playoff game. The 13-3 Broncos led by future Hall of Fame Quarterback and his high octane offense as well as one of the best defensive units in the league were prohibitive favorites having won their last 11 games before the playoffs.

Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees most of the game and as darkness fell snow began to fall. In the thin air and cold weather conditions it seemed that the Ravens had little chance. However the Ravens had more in them than most people or experts gave them credit.

Joe Flacco had an outstanding day throwing for 331 yards and had touchdown passes of 59, 32 and 70 yards, the last coming with only 31 seconds left in the game. The Ravens cut through the Broncos defense for 479 net offensive yards.  The Ravens defense gave up almost 400 yards against the Bronco offense but held when they needed and provided the first Ravens score when Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and ran it back for a touchdown.

The Broncos appeared to dominate most of the game holding an edge in time of possession and number of plays going into overtime. However, every time they went ahead the plucky Ravens found a way to come back.

Manning was 28-43 for 290 yards with 3 touchdowns, but also had two interceptions, including the pick six by Graham. The Broncos defense which gave up an average 290.8 yards a game in the season bas battered by a relentless Ravens running game and gave up the deep ball for touchdowns too many times and gave up almost 14 points more than their average of 18.1 during the regular season. The Broncos scoring was helped by Trindon Holloway who returned a punt for 90 yards and a kick off 104 yards for touchdowns.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones (L) catches a pass behind Denver Broncos free safety Rahim Moore and then scores a touchdown with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Denver, Colorado January 12, 2013. (REUTERS Photo Rick Wilking)

The game went to overtime in a late game offensive flurry. Manning threw a 17 yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 1:09 remaining. Not to be deterred Flacco threw a 70 yard bomb to an open Jacoby Jones to tie the game 35-35 with 31 seconds left in the game. Flacco’s throw to Jones, which some are now calling the “Flacco Fling” ranks up with Roger Staubach’s “Hail Mary” in the 1975 NFC Championship, the “Immaculate Reception” thrown by Terry Bradshaw against the Oakland Raiders in the 1972 AFC Title Game and “the Catch” thrown by Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship between the 49ers and the Cowboys.

After a scoreless first overtime period the Broncos appeared to be driving again. However Manning was intercepted again by Graham. The Ravens were able to move the ball into field goal range and Justin Tucker kicked a 47 yard field goal to give the Ravens the victory.

The game was one of the longest playoff games in NFL history and was a devastating defeat for the favored number one seeded Broncos who were Super Bowl favorites. Manning and the Broncos will now go home while the Ravens will go on to play the winner of the Patriots and Texans game.

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Future Hall of Famers Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (R) speaks with Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis after the Ravens defeated the Broncos in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Denver, Colorado January 12, 2013. (REUTERS Photo, Jeff Haynes)

For the Ravens it was an emotional win in what is not an ordinary post-season. A 9 1/2 point underdog going into the game they played with pride and determination. With the oldest roster in the NFL it is doubtful how many players will return for another year. Future Hall of Fame Linebacker Ray Lewis has already announced his retirement and for many of these players this season could well be their last chance at NFL Super Bowl glory.

Despite the loss I expect that the relatively young and healthy Broncos will be back next year as Peyton Manning has demonstrated his ability to recover from what many thought would be career ending neck surgery. Expect John Elway to strengthen the Broncos roster and again dominate the otherwise weak AFC West.

After the dismal games of the Wild Card weekend it was good to see an exciting and competitive game. We’ll see how the rest of the weekend goes, but this game marked a good start to the rest of the NFL post-season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Weekend of Surprises and Not : Packers Lose, Colts Win and Kim Jong-Il Dies; Tebow finally Loses and Padre Steve keeps on Trucking…

Packed away

Wow what a Sunday….

The Green Bay Packers who had not lost a game for a year lost to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs who had just fired their Head Coach on Monday.  It is actually fascinating because Kansas City started a Quarterback that had never started in the NLF prior to today and we facing a team that is the odds on favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.  It looked like that the Pack had a clear path to a perfect season and the playoffs.  They will be in the playoffs but it possible that they could lose their home field advantage.  I don’t think that is likely but stranger things have happened.

Not to be outdone the winless Indianapolis Colts who were coming close to being the second NFL team to go 0-16 in a season defeated the Tennessee Titans today. I was expecting that they had a great chance to tie the 2008 Detroit Lions for that seemed the impossible nightmare for any team.

The late Kim Jong Il above and son and new Dictator for Life Kim Jon Un below

To make things even weirder today North Korean Dictator for Life Kim Jong-Il died today, or actually tomorrow if you are in Korea. State media staid that he died on a train from a heart attack induced by “physical and mental fatigue.” I would guess that this was due to overwork at one of his notorious orgies with Scandinavian actresses but that is just speculation, maybe he was just trying to figure out his new Facebook profile page but I digress.  Of course I could be wrong and “Team America” got him. Kim will join his pals Moammar Ghadafi, Saddam Hussein and Ossama Bin Laden on their eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire. I hope that he brought his asbestos water skis. He will be replaced as Dictator for Life by his son and self appointed heir Kim Jong-Un who is know by some as the Un-Kim.  The younger Kim is in his mid to late 20s and must be a pretty sharp guy and military genius because his dad promoted him to the North Korean Equivalent of a Four Star General. Knowing this the South Korean government has placed its military on “Extra Special Chaos in North Korea alert.”  All kidding aside this is not a good situation. We have a young man insulated from any real reality now in charge of a rogue nation with a starving population, a big army and lots of nukes.  If it wasn’t reality it would make a great episode on South Park.

Finally the magic of Tim Tebow ran out today against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  It was a good battle but the Tebow and the Broncos turned the ball over in critical situations and the Patriots not only took advantage of every break but made their own. Yet it was a classy game. Two decent men quarterbacking NFL teams behaved with class during and after the game.  The Patriots with the Ravens losing are now in control of home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  Raiders blew a 13 point lead in the 4th Quarter and lost to the Lions and thus the Broncos remained even with the Raiders for the AFC West lead as San Diego made up a game on both by knocking off the Ravens.

As far as Padre Steve, it was a day of travel followed by fellowship with friends at Gordon Biersch followed by doctors appointments for her tomorrow before making the trip back. Of course our little dog Molly is enjoying the long rides and trips through drive thru restaurants.  Tomorrow evening Molly will be sweetly telling me every time that she thinks that she needs to pee or take a walk down to the beach and back.  Life is good when you are a cute little dog.

Anyway, have a great final week of preparation for Christmas or whatever holiday that you celebrate or even those that you don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dallas Braden; Perfect Games and Memories of Home in Stockton California

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

On Sunday Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s did what only eighteen men had done in the history of Major League Baseball, he pitched a perfect game.  However there is more to this story than meets the eye and some that touches me personally.

The setting of Braden’s feat was the venerable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the “other” ballpark in the Bay Area.  Sitting in an area just off of the Nimitz Freeway the coliseum and its surrounding parking lots are in one of the most un-picturesque venues in the Bay area.  While one can see the Oakland Hills to the East the Park is just far enough away from San Francisco Bay to lack the ambiance of the San Francisco Giant’s home across the bay AT&T Park which sits on the bay with views of the Bay Bridge and the Skyline of the City of San Francisco.  While the ballpark has been the home of multiple World Series Champion A’s teams, numerous League Championship teams and had its share of Hall of Fame players tread upon its natural grass it has never been considered a great ballpark for either pitchers or hitters.   The fact that it is a multi-use stadium and the home of the Oakland Raiders football team contributes to un- remarkableness as a baseball venue.  All of this said it is a place where magic has occurred before when in 1968, in fact almost 42 years to the day of Braden’s magical win, May 8th 1968 Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.  Like Hunter’s win in 1968 the A’s won the game by a score of 4-0 however Hunter’s win came before the American League adopted the Designated Hitter meaning that Hunter had to hit for himself in the game.  That being said he did hit and I mean that he really did hit.  Hunter went 3-4 including a double and knocked in 3 of the A’s 4 runs.  That was no fluke as Hunter had a .226 lifetime batting average with 6 career home runs and 51 RBIs.

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

With that little bit of trivia said Braden who is not your typical power pitcher that usually pitches perfect games pitched a solid game which was far different than one year ago when he was hit in his pitching hand with a 109 mile an hour line drive off of the bat of Vernon Wells which left the imprint of the seams on his hand.  Braden as I said is not a power pitcher.  He has one of the 10 slowest fastballs in the game topping out at a mere 87 miles an hour.  Normally an 87 mile and hour fastball is a dish served at a perfect temperature for most good hitters and they eat the pitchers that throw them for lunch.  However Braden has a remarkable equalizer, it is not his curve or slider but his change up.  I drive faster than his change up on a typical commute to and from work.  Braden’s change up comes in at a leisurely 72.9 miles and hour.  This pitch is the slowest change up in the league and it baffles batters by making his fast ball seem faster than it is. Batters at the Major League level are not used to this type of ultra-slow deception for a pitcher and it served Braden well but even so coming into the game he had a lifetime record of 18 wins and 23 losses and a 4.49 ERA.  He is not the pitcher that one would put money on to throw a perfect game and I’m sure that Jimmy the Greek, Larry the Latvian, Johnny the Walker and even Pete Rose would have wagered against him pulling this off. Yet he did it against the hottest team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Braden’s biggest notice came earlier in the year where he and Alex Rodriguez had an exchange of rather terse barbs following an incident where Rodriguez ran across the pitcher’s mound during the game.

Braden pitched for 5 or parts of 5 years in the minors for 7 different clubs in the A’s organization, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League, the Stockton Ports of the California League, The Midland Rock Hounds of the Texas League and the Sacramento River cats of the Pacific Coast League.  This year he has stayed in the majors and now after the win has a record of 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 7 starts.

Braden’s story is that of a young man who lost his mother Jodie Atwood in his senior year at Stagg High School in May of 2001.  His parents had separated when he was young and his father was estranged from the family.  His grandmother Peggy Lindsey took over and helped him through that last year of school providing the stability, love and care that he needed to survive his mother’s loss and not fall into the mire of Stockton’s often violent and crime ridden streets.  The story of this young man and the women who raised him is the story of how mother’s day ought to be.  Braden had the love and support of his late mother and grandmother during the turbulent times of his youth and as a result still remains closely connected to his grandmother and his home town.  In fact he commutes the 67 mile trip daily from Stockton to Oakland which means unlike many professionals, athletes, businesspersons, those in other professional fields to include the military that leave their home town and only make occasion visits home is able to keep himself ground in reality.  He does not live in a glamorous town; he plays for a very blue collar city on a very “Green Collar” team.  I think that is one of the stories that some people will miss, not all, Jeff Passan mentioned Braden’s connection to home in his column on Yahoo Baseball.

Downtown Stockton

You see there is something about this story of relationship and connectedness that I think may be uniquely Stocktonian.  You see for the past number of years Stockton has been ranked number one or at least in the top 5 of the nation’s “Misery index.”  This year it dropped to second as it was edged out by Cleveland Ohio, I guess Cleveland does rock. It is routinely in the highest percentage of crime, violent crime and murders in the nation.  In the economic downturn and the real estate crash it was hit particularly hard and for a fair amount of time led the nation in foreclosures, or may still I just haven’t checked.  It is a town that in many ways has experienced for many years and reflects the reality that many other locations in the country are just beginning to know in today’s economy.

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

All this said there is still something that native Stocktonians appreciate about our city, even those of us that have moved away.  We tend to remain in contact with our friends who still remain in town or have moved away.  I currently am in contact with over 100 friends on Facebook alone. My Edison High School Class of 1978 still has well attended reunions and is very well connected to each other and the classes that came before and after us. I look at the Stockton Record website every day. I used to read the obituaries until the Record started charging for them.  When I go home there is a certain familiarity with the city and though it has grown to a rather sizable city it still has a small town feel to me. I can still go to Arroyo’s Café when I go home and see the same people. The same is true with Donut King, Chucks , Manny’s burgers, the Fox Theater and a bunch of other places.  While other cities built huge super-malls Stockton still has Weberstown and Sherwood Mall.  Yes they have changed some over the years but they are still much the same. Yes much has changed but much is still the same in Stockton and I think that it one of the things that makes Dallas Braden’s story so remarkable to me he has not forgotten where he came from.  He still loves and cares for Stockton.  In an age where the really “successful” people move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco Braden didn’t cut himself off from his roots.  Are there others who have done such as this one that comes to mind is Joe Mauer in Minnesota but why leave if they will pay you more money than God gets in a season?

Another interesting thing that stuck me about Dallas Braden was his mother.  She was close to my age and I remember her, I thought it was in Junior High School but I couldn’t find t  find her in the yearbooks, it could have been the church youth group when I was in High School but regardless I am sure that I knew her.  I mentioned this to my mother today and she remembered the name.  Interesting how closely peoples’ lives are linked together.

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

I guess what strikes me the most about this game even more than the game itself which I must say that I am in awe of is the story of a man, Dallas Braden  who despite pitching in the Major Leagues still remembers home and family and stays connected to them.  This is becoming rare in our society and maybe given the state of the nation and how deeply divided we are it is time to return home, maybe not physically but returning to relationships with the people that we grew up with, schools, workplaces, churches and other activities.  Maybe Dallas Braden points us to something that matters more to many of us than the achievements of athletes or entertainers but to where we really need to be connected to one another as Americans, friends and families.  Yes it is wonderful to succeed and all should strive to be the best at what they feel called to be or do, but if that success destroys and alienates people from family, friends and home is ti really success? Maybe it is the pastoral environment of the baseball field that makes this happen for some of us.  Maybe like Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams we can understand that

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Thank you Dallas Braden for helping to remind us what is important as you play this game of baseball.  I do hope that you do well in your career and that this perfect game is a foretaste of a great career for you.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Thoughts on the BCS and the NFL

The Crimson Tide “Rolled” over the Florida Gators to reach the BCS Championship

Well the long wait to see who will compete in the BCS Championship and it looks like we have the Alabama Crimson Tide up against the Texas Longhorns.  The Tide won their SEC championship in a walk over the overrated Florida Gators.  The Gators who have not been dominant this year and struggled in a good number of games despite being undefeated before yesterday didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Crimson Tide.  The Gators conference opponents excluding the championship game were a combined 44-40 and their division opponents were 30-30.  Exclude the three sacrificial lambs and this is not a dominant team.  The fact that as reigning National Champion they had Florida International University (FIU) of the Sunbelt Conference as their next to last game before the SEC Championship speaks volumes to me about the school as they ran up the score on the hapless FIU 63-3.  Schools from the PAC Ten, the Big 12 and even the Big 10 don’t put schools like that in their schedule that late in the season.  Sorry Florida has no class in picking three teams from either the Sunbelt or Big South on their Schedule.  They deserved to lose.

Boise State: The Team the Big Teams Won’t Play

Texas and Nebraska played one hell of a game, Nebraska came up big and I thought should have won the game.  I think that Texas has the better team but Nebraska played well enough to win. I have no dog in the fight between Texas and Alabama and I expect that it should be a great championship game. Alabama was definitely far more deserving of being in the BCS Championship Game than did Florida.

As far as the rest of the BCS games they are in a sense meaningless except to the teams involved because none can produce a National Champion.  I personally think that the NCAA needs a true playoff system the fact that so many people, the NCAA, the Polls and the Bowl sponsors and the schools themselves have so say due to the money involved that is unlikely that such would ever happen.  I think a 16 tourney would do wonders for the NCAA but what do I know.  As it stands now teams from the “middle” conferences will never get a true shot at an NCAA title despite having superior teams’ because the big conferences, big universities and their powerful backers in the media will never allow it to happen. That sucks for teams like Cincy, Boise State and TCU, all undefeated and regulated to playing in bowls that will not allow them to be considered for the national championship.  At least the NCAA Basketball tournament and the NCAA Baseball World Series give teams from other conference a fighting chance to compete.  Until then the current system promotes a fascist and undemocratic system where the true manta of “any given Saturday” will never be tested in a championship game.  Simply put the way the NCAA runs this show is pathetic.  Why not introduce a tournament? Simply put it is money and the vested interests of big conferences who due to financial remuneration will never allow their conferences to be really put to the test.  The big teams refuse to play teams like Boise State in the regular season because they could lose. Thus Florida plays Florida International, Charleston Southern and Troy rather than halfway competitive teams that might just beat them.  Florida played just 2 ranked teams the entire year and lost to one of them.  I did have cause for rejoicing this year as “Troy Tech” better known as the USC Trojans despite beating my Alma Mater UCLA finished 6th in the PAC 12.  They are such an arrogant school and I love to see them lose, unless they are playing Ohio State or another overrated Big 10 team in the Rose Bowl.  Hell I even root for Notre Dame against Troy Tech. Pete Carroll runs a dirty show and likes to run up the score when there is no cause to do so.  He has no honor and I hope that USC sinks to nothing. That may not happen anytime soon, but life isn’t fair and there is always hope.  I’m not a San Francisco Giants fan because I like what happens to my team.

The Immaculate Reception

Now time to skewer the NFL.  Most teams in the NFL would have to be terrible to even be good. I long for the days without replay.  Back in the old days there were plays that were historic because they were blown calls.  They helped build rivalries and actually motivate fans. My dad was a rabid Oakland Raiders fan back in the day. The Raiders of that time were no stranger to on the field controversy.  The “Immaculate Reception” of Franco Harris helped spur the Steelers to greatness.  At the same time it motivated the Raiders and the rivalry was historic.  The same is true with the “Immaculate Deception” of the Raiders against the Chargers.  Fans of other teams can probably recall similar instances in their team’s history.  Today I watched the Redskins lose to the Saints.  The Saints no doubt are the best or one of the best teams in football. However they got lucky today, a missed chip shot field goal and some creative timeouts that led to ungodly long replay delays doomed the Redskins.  I personally think that the NFL’s anal insistence on trying to get every call right hurts the game.  I think that replay reviews should be limited to 30 seconds and the reviewer only have access to full speed replays.  If they can’t figure it out then well humanity strikes again. The fact that there is an unlimited amount of time, extra views and the ability to go frame by frame if needed takes that away, it is artificial and unnatural. Vince Lombardi and the other greats would find it embarrassing. Once again I could have cared less who won the game because I don’t like either team.  I just think that the NFL is afraid of real controversy and has forgotten that life isn’t fair.  Human beings make mistakes and since referees are human they will make them too. It sucks if is your team that loses because of a blown call, but that is part of life.  It means that there is real motivation to go get the bastards next year.

See the video of the Immaculate Deception:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUuOqUIHBZc

Today in the NFL was cool because a bunch of the “bad” or underdog teams won.  In fact they beat the “good” read “overrated” teams.  I loved it that the Raiders beat the Steelers and that the Dolphins beat the Patriots and the “Fork stuck in them” Giants handed the Cowboys ass to them.  I love mayhem.  Since with the exception of the Colts, Saints and the Vikings who lost to a good and underrated Cardinals team, there really are no exceptional teams in the NFL.  At least in the NFL unlike the NCAA the “bad” teams get a crack at the “good” teams. Yes Cleveland will always be with us and Detroit too, but once in a great while they surprise someone.

However, all this said it is what it is. The big conferences, bowl sponsors and media will crown who they want as national champion and the NFL is hell bent on trying to make everything fair.  Yes there are some legitimately great players and some outstanding teams in college football and the NFL but the systems that they are part of are ruining the game.

Will people agree with me on this…maybe more than I think, but I know that if there are partisans of Troy Tech and Florida out there who read this post that I may get flame sprayed by them, however, I just say look at the facts.  Facts don’t lie.  Yes my teams all suck this year. Thankfully this is merely a game to fill time in the cold winter and not the one true religion of Baseball, the Church of Baseball of which I am a member in good standing at Harbor Park Parish.  Only 4 months and 2 days to opening day at Harbor Park.  Thanks be to God.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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It’s Football Season…Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

“Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.”

George Carlin

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

068Tranquility: Harbor Park, Norfolk VA

It’s football season again…not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my heart is elsewhere, the lush green diamonds where baseball is played.  The minor league season is over, the Norfolk Tides have gone home and baseball is only on television for me.  I don’t see how I will see a game in DC or Baltimore before the end of the season; the schedule isn’t going to work out.  Football, Hockey and Basketball will all be going soon; football of course has already begun and my winter has already started.

I have nothing against football.  I find that it is an occasionally interesting diversion during dreary fall and winter days.  Football does not hold the same fascination for me that I have for baseball.  I have played football in my sophomore year of high school.  We’ll I went to a lot of practices and got into two games for a total of about 6 plays at the end of the season.  However as a scrawny defensive lineman I did get in on two tackles and a sack.   I also had two penalties called on guys who committed personal fouls on me.  Of course they were both a lot bigger than me and somehow when I got around them one took a wing at me and another gave me a block in the back.  Now I was not very good, I worked hard but I was small and slow.  Somehow I got my sophomore letter and was named as “most inspirational player.” Now being most inspirational means that they know that you suck but appreciate the effort.   I later became one of the team trainers in my senior year.  That was a better fit, I got to fix guys rather than be clobbered by others.

So anyway, football is merely interesting to me.  I can get interested in a really good game on television. However, going to a professional game doesn’t do it for me.  Even in good seats you are pretty far from the action. For me it’s like watching 22 center fielders scrambling around the field from the upper deck.  And I’m sorry I don;t like big bucks park a half mile from the stadium.  Nor do I find that having to  watch the game on the Megatron scoreboard while I am sitting in the elements freezing my cold wet ass off to be my particular style.  Likewise drinking $10 domestic beer and eating a cold soggy hot dog is just not what I enjoy doing.  I don’t need to do that. I can actually enjoy a football game more at home, or actually the best place at Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant bar.  I actually like Biersch the best for it is the good beer and the great people that make it fun..

There are some things that make football just a game for me, versus the one true faith, the Church of Baseball.  One is the limitations of the field, I find the gridiron  to be simply confining.  It is a battlefield where the limitations of time, space, time outs and other stoppages of play break up the flow of the game.  The parity imposed by the league has in my opinion taken away from the the luster of the game, we don’t really have great dynasties now like the Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys, Broncos and 49ers.  Now we have a lot of mediocre teams mixing it up with a few really good teams.  Sure it means that the game is “more competitive” and that small markets get to see their team in the playoffs.  However the lack of dynasties and big time rivalries between dynasties has made professional football rather ordinary.  The big NCAA programs still have that but not the pros.

I find that the insufferable amount of replays does nothing for the flow of the game.  Likewise the use of the video review for almost anything seems almost to be a way remove the human element out of the officiating a football game.  In an attempt to make things “fair” the NFL has taken away much of the controversy which made the the game memorable.  Who can forget the Franco Harris catch against the Raiders in the AFC Championship, or the “immaculate deception” when the Raiders beat the Chargers.  To make mistakes is human and adds to the drama of the game.  Reply and review kill that and when I see a coach throw down the flag to request a review I want to throw up.  What I like about baseball is that bad calls are still legal because no one is perfect, especially umpires.  It is part of the game.  Sometimes I wonder if the NFL is taking humanity out of the equation.  This even comes down to silly penalties for “excessive celebration” by guys that score touchdowns.  Assessing a 15 yard penalty because a team or player is happy?

allenson arguing

“The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager…” Earl Weaver

Now I have to admit that the NFL has the best television production of any sport. They manage through an incredible amount of talk, animation, commentary and replay from every possible angle with the exception of the Center’s sphincter to show the game in all of its gory glory.  Can you imagine the sphincter cam view of the center-quarterback exchange?  I can just see and hear the John Madden commentary now “Did you see how Brady got his hands on that snap?” Or “wait a minute those fingers aren’t supposed to be there…when I was a coach….” The TV production is awesome and it  does make football on TV a pretty good deal. But for me football with all of its self imposed limitations  is not the same is baseball which is not bound by arbitrary time limits nor defined by replay. Baseball is played on a field that with just a few aspects is different in almost every stadium, how big the outfield is, how fast the infield is, how much foul territory between the foul line and the stands and even the outfield fence or wall give a stadium a personality all its own.  There is only one Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field.   A football field is a football field maybe one has better turf than another but apart from that there is little difference between one and another.

Then there are parts of the game itself that make me wonder.  The “extra point” or as it is officially known as the “Point After Touchdown”  is something that makes little sense to me. A team that scores a touchdown gets 6 points.  If they kick an abysmally short kick they get an extra point.  Of course they can do a 2 point conversion where they try to run or pass the ball into the end zone to get two points from like the 2 ½ yard line.  Now if there was something similar in Baseball it would get weird.  Think about it.  A guy hits a home run and scores. The play stops, the pitcher turns around and the guy who hit the home run goes to second base with his bat and faces home plate.  Once they are set up the pitcher pitches off the back side of the mound and the hitter gets another run by hitting the ball into the grandstand behind home plate.

Then there are “special teams.”  Are these guys really that special, unlike Jerry’s kids, and if they were why aren’t they getting more than the league minimum?  I mean really people hit on the American League for the designated hitter.  In football everyone is a designated hitter, everyone is a specialist and there are coaches for everything, Head Coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterback coach, running back coach, offensive line coach, special teams coach, receivers coach, defensive line coach, linebacker coach, defensive secondary coach, strength and conditioning coach,and probably more that I am not counting. That’s like 12 coaches, maybe with all the legal problems of the players they should have a court and jail coach?  Now I’m sure in many cases having all these specialized coaches  makes the players better but once again I think it takes some of the life out of the game.  There was a time there were just a few coaches and when were not so specialized. There was a time when some football players played both offense and defense and the majority of special team’s players had roles on the offense or the defense.

The time limit that allows teams to simply run out the clock when they get a big lead takes the excitement out of the game.  How many times have you turned from a game because the game got really boring about the middle of the second quarter because one team has a huge lead and the other team is sucking like a Hoover?  In baseball you can’t run the time out, you have to pitch to each batter until you get the 27 outs.

Now I don’t take anything away from the players. There are a lot of tremendous athletes playing football and the rate of injuries and normally short career of a player that you have to respect them for the efforts that they make and the risks they take to play the game.   However, I think that the way the pros get their players is somewhat detrimental to the game and to education. Football gets almost all of its players through college football programs and invests little in player development.  Major League Baseball teams invest a huge amount of resources into layered minor league systems taking the time to develop their players.  Even the Yankees do this.

Now football, despite all the delays, replays and other stoppages can be exciting when big plays are made or when a quarterback methodically leads his team back in the final minutes of a game to win the game. At the same time there are plenty of times that the game devolves into a scrum of short gains and losses, the “three and out” that many games turn into series after series.

But most of all the games represent two distinctly different views of life and sport.  Football has become the technological gem of professional sports, but in my opinion has lost a lot of its humanity in doing so. It has become a high tech battlefield of speed and violence.  Baseball on the other hand as George Carlin said is more pastoral game from a bygone era.  A game that calls us back to more timeless American values exist.  A game which like life is played over a long season filled with ups and downs, great plays and errors.  Bad calls and weather delays keep the game real to what people experience at work or int their family.  Baseball is a game where people still matter and the public has higher expectations of the players and organizations.  I think his is why the steroids and performance enhancing drug scandals that have rocked Baseball for more than similar allegations in any other sport.

For the record my dad was a Raider and 49er fanatic who really got into the game.  He taught me baseball, but he could get very spun up about football.  He always talked about how he saw the first Oakland Raider game against the “Dallas Texans” which became the Kansas City Chiefs in the old American Football League.   I do have my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers and my favorite player of all time is Joe Montana.

Anyway, my game is baseball, as George Carlin once remarked:

“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

moon over harbor parkMoon Over Harbor Park

Having gone to war and having studied it for years, I can say that I need the peace of baseball, may April 8th come quickly.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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