Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did McNabb get what he deserved?

Rush Limbaugh once implied that Donovan McNabb was overrated. The fact that he made this point amidst a polemic rant insinuating that there was a liberal conspiracy in the sports media designed to promote the success of a black quarterback resulted in Limbaugh losing his ESPN gig and precluded a necessary discussion on the competency of Limbaugh as a sports analyst. The truth is, McNabb has always been underrated and Limbaugh has always been a blithering idiot.

It seems as though people love to hate McNabb even though the guy has done nothing but put together one of the all time greatest careers of any quarterback in the history of the game. Granted, he's without a Super Bowl ring, but so is Dan Marino and, like Dan Marino, McNabb has seen the best years of his career squandered by an overrated coach and a clumsy front office that has consistently failed to provide the weapons necessary to win championships.

McNabb doesn't even get credit for leading is team to the Super Bowl. That often goes to Terrell Owens, who actually didn't have any hand in the Eagles getting to there. Owens went down with a broken leg late in the 2004 season, missing the playoffs. Owens wasn't available until the Eagles played in the Super Bowl, which begs the question of whether or not is presence was a distraction. There was quite the media circus around Owens' recovery and potential availability.

The reality is that Owens didn't help the Eagles accomplish more than they had in previous years. It's true that McNabb and the Eagles had lost three consecutive NFC title games heading into the 2004 season but with their starting receiver out of action, the Eagles had more than a string of losses to overcome. McNabb stepped up and led his team to the Super Bowl. Owens put up nice numbers in the subsequent loss, but somebody had to throw him those 9 passes he caught and if not for Owens' penchant for occasionally losing interest in running the called route or quitting when a play is designed to use him as a decoy, Owens might have caught more. Many quarterbacks have thrown interceptions when TO has given up on a route, short-armed a high pass or simply failed to make his cut when he was supposed to. This was no different in the Super Bowl.

His statistics are enviable by all but a few of the people who have played the QB position and those who rank ahead of him consider McNabb worthy of their company. McNabb hasn't simply padded his stats year after year, he's played the game the way it should be played. He's tough, smart, athletic, he plays to win and he has delivered the Eagles franchise and their coach more wins than they deserve.

McNabb is simply the greatest player in the history of the Eagles franchise. It's hard to make an argument against him. In a league where teams struggle for decades to find a serviceable quarterback, McNabb has been outstanding. He's also been a consummate professional. When Terrell Owens tried to bait McNabb by throwing a nationally televised tantrum at the QB's expense, McNabb kept his mouth shut. When the Eagles kept their purse strings tight in the free agency market, forcing McNabb to take the field without any elite receivers or a dependable running game (Brian Westbrook was always more of a multipurpose threat than a downhill runner) McNabb resisted the urge to hold out and demand a quality acquisition or a trade. He has also lived clean in both his professional and personal life. No arrests, no sordid sex scandals, no positive drug tests...quite an accomplishment in today's NFL.

McNabb's not exactly past his prime. He's 33 and not showing any signs of wearing down. He's suffered a few injuries but he's demonstrated an ability to recover quickly and completely. The other options the Eagles have at QB aren't inspiring. Michael Vick's arm is as inconsistent as it ever was and he doesn't bring the same athleticism to field that we saw prior to his stint in federal prison. Kevin Kolb has looked impressive in limited action, but he doesn't look better than McNabb and what happens when teams get to study more film on him? It's quite common to see backup quarterbacks look great in their first three or four starts only to hit a wall later in the season. This is especially true when those QBs face divisional rivals the second time around.

The NFL is a business and that fact is driven home with cruel clarity every year. Ladainian Tomlinson saw his role with the Chargers diminish after he sustained an injury and now he's going to see if he can become the second option on a team that doesn't really need him. Joe Montana was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in favor of Steve Young and the Green Bay Packers decided they couldn't stay committed to a player who couldn't stay committed to his own career even if he had a Pro Bowl season left in the tank.

McNabb isn't pushing 40. His arm isn't held together with duct table and bubble gum. He hasn't spent an off season capitulating on is future. He was the best player the Eagles had and he provided them with their best chance to win. With 2010 being an 'uncapped' year it wasn't like the Eagles needed to unload his salary. In a business-first league, trading McNabb was a terrible business decision.

Some people believe that McNabb deserved better from the Eagles and they're right but it's also true that McNabb deserves better than the Eagles. By heading to Washington, McNabb will get to play for Mike Shanahan rather than Andy Reid and he'll play for an owner in Dan Snyder who isn't afraid to spend money. Granted, Snyder hasn't always been smart with the money, but that's why he hired Shanahan.

McNabb could very well find himself in position to win that elusive Super Bowl his detractors insist is required before we can frame him as one of the great ones. The Eagles could find themselves regretting this trade for the next 10 years.

One can only hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiger's Talk

A lot was made over Tiger’s mea culpa this past Friday. Some PGA players were upset at the timing, since it took place on during the Accenture Match Play Championship. People speculated that Tiger timed his press conference to get back at Accenture for dropping him as a sponsor. PGA officials however, have stated that they gave Tiger clearance for the press conference and granted him access to their facilities to conduct his public engagement.

Let’s be honest, Ernie Els can complain all he wants but the fact remains that the PGA is a shadow of what itself without Tiger. Since Tiger joined the PGA, purses have tripled, mediocre golfers are getting noticed and sponsorship money is at an all time high. Rocco Mediate is still doing interviews because his greatest achievement as a golfer is LOSING to Tiger Woods. Golf has become much more popular with a much younger crowd. That’s because of Tiger Woods. So back off and let the guy speak—it doesn’t matter if it’s during the final round of the Masters--he’s only been putting food on your table for the last 13 years.

Even if Tiger’s timing was vindictive, so what? Tiger is bigger than any non-major event on the tour. This is clear when you look at the attendance of any non-major event. Patron Passes sell out when Tiger confirms his participation. He’s like an instant cash infusion. Last weekend’s event was marginalized because Tiger wasn’t playing, his press conference actually drew more attention to the event because news crews wanted the reaction from other players. Ernie Els should be thanking him because if not for Tiger nobody would have put a microphone in front of his face.

Some people think Tiger’s response was insincere. He read a statement and didn’t speak from the heart. So? Tiger is not a person anymore, he is a corporation. Tiger can’t afford to speak from the heart because he is responsible for an enterprise that is worth more than a billion dollars. Corporations hire PR firms to craft statements, that’s what Tiger did.

People have tried to compare Tiger’s exploits to those experienced by other athletes. The problem is, there’s no comparison. A friend asked me what people would have thought if another golfer had done the same thing. I told him they wouldn’t have thought anything because people don’t care about other golfers. Tiger’s extramarital adventures are bigger news then Bill Clinton’s office BJ from Monica Lewinsky.

Tiger Woods is the biggest name in sports, which is amazing because he plays a sport few people find interesting. Tiger is bigger than the NHL or the NBA, which is why his affair(s), that doesn’t include criminal charges, is bigger news than Kobe Bryant’s. Granted, the allegations against Kobe were false but Kobe didn’t take time away from the game. He might have missed a start or two, but he didn’t take a leave of absence and enter rehab. Koba apologized to his fans and sponsors, bought his wife a big diamond ring and moved on. He endured a season’s worth of consternation from some fans, but he wasn’t taken to task the way Tiger has been.

Tiger’s demise is bigger news than Michael Vick, who actually committed crimes. He did Federal time and could very well be starting at QB for an NFL team next year.

Tiger didn’t break any laws. Forget about the petty traffic violations, nobody in their right mind thinks anything of that. People like to speculate as to what really happened, but Tiger’s not talking. Did Elin take after him with a sand wedge? Maybe, but that’s really between them. The cops seem satisfied with issuing a citation and hitting Tiger up for the cost to repair the damage. No big deal.

Ultimately Tiger cheated on his wife. He didn’t hurt anybody else. The women he slept with knew who he was and knew that he was married. They were using him as much as—prehaps even more than—he was using them. Tiger wanted sex, they wanted money, fame or both. He doesn’t owe any of them an apology. He doesn’t owe his fans an apology. He only has to make amends with his wife.

Tiger never cultivated an image. He was always a robotic prick who wanted to win. His focus on the task at hand caused him to be less than engaging with fans in the gallery. If things weren’t going well he could become surly and he was known for flinging around some harsh language. Of course anybody who has golfed will tell you that the most commonly heard four letter word shouted on the course is not ‘fore’ but it tends to follw a shot as well and it also starts with the letter ‘f”. To be honest, club throwing and cursing is all too common a sight on a golf course. It’s just that Tiger tends to be on camera more than any other golfer.

Because Tiger tends to be so robotic, people created an image for him. We assumed that he was so dedicated to golf that there wasn’t much off the course that brought him pleasure. We didn’t see him yucking it up with celebrities or clowning around on Saturday Night Live like Peyton Manning, but even though Tiger never tipped us off to his sexual transgressions, he also never gave us any reason to assume he was a boy scout. Tiger failed to live up to our expectations, but why did we have those expectations? What did Tiger do to make us assume he was a saint?

It’s not like Steve Garvey who wholeheartedly embraced his “Mr. Clean” persona, even though he was cheating on his wife. A lot. It’s also not like John Edwards who presented himself as a loving husband standing by his wife’s side while she battled cancer only to maintain an child-bearing affair with a tasty blonde. Tiger always kept his personal life under wraps and he never tried to sell us a persona. He always comes across as stiff and robotic.

Of course now people are questioning his sincerity. They aren’t buying Tiger’s apology. He let his lawyers write a statement and then he read it before a carefully selected audience that was not allowed to ask him any questions. How dare he?

But who is Tiger supposed to answer to? His sponsors have a choice, they can cut ties with him and find somebody who fits their image. Tiger’s fans have a choice as well, they can hop on the Mickelson bandwagon and cheer while Phil fights to keep his man boobs from chafing. The only people Tiger has to face are those he hurt. His wife and his family get to judge him. They’ll determine whether or not he’s sincere.

If Tiger’s putting on an act, it’s not for us it’s for them. He didn’t violate our trust. There’s no reason he can’t go back on the PGA tour tomorrow and win another PGA Player of the Year trophy. Moreover, he can do continue to cheat on his wife while he does it.

Tiger is a global icon. He transcends what we understand of fame. This guy is a golfer and he has made Michael Jordan look like a bush league side show. What sets Tiger apart is the way he has distanced himself from the spotlight. Tiger does commercials because he gets paid to. He does golf-oriented interviews because he has to, although it’s often lamented that he doesn’t do many golf-oriented interviews and is quick to retreat into seclusion. If Tiger wanted more exposure he could surely have it but Tiger opts to keep a pretty low profile. Yeah, we see a lot of Tiger, but how much of it is initiated by him? The guy seems genuinely uncomfortable with attention.

He also seems genuinely concerned about his marriage. Other celebrities don’t take time off to make things right, not unless a judge tells them to, anyway. Tiger is, for all intents and purposes, a rock star. He’s rich, he’s got millions of fans who go out of their way to see him perform and his wife is a bikini model. Is it any wonder that he’s a womanizer?

Tiger spoke of the temptations he faced and the sense of entitlement he felt. He worked hard all his life to be the best in the world. He deserved the spoils. Of course he didn’t think about how it would affect other people, that’s probably because those people aren’t in the gym at 6:00am working their butts off to be the best.

Were his actions selfish? Sure, but isn’t the culture of professional athleticism inherently selfish as well? The amount of work you have to put in to being the best at what you do demands it. Tiger was raised to put his success on the golf course first and a by product of that is not thinking about how your actions will affect others. Why do you think so many people of Tiger’s ilk--other professional athletes, actors, singers…politicians--seem more likely to cheat on their spouses?

Tiger’s sincerity is nobody’s concern but Elin’s. There’s no question that every word was measured but he doesn’t have to speak from the heart to anybody but the people he loves. His relationship with everybody else is strictly professional.

As great as Tiger is, there were a lot of people who hated him. Some hated him because of his race, others because he’s not friendly enough mostly he’s reviled because he’s so much better than everybody else. Those people are always going to find reasons to hate Tiger. That’s fine. It’s natural to create heroes and villains. Somebody has to be the bad guy and in every event Tiger plays he’s the favorite to win so there is never any shortage of underdogs. Tiger is the Darth Vader of the PGA . Fair enough, just don’t pretend that you started hating him after this story broke.

The majority of the people who liked Tiger will continue to like him. They’re pulling for him. If anything, the media frenzy around his private turmoil will probably rally more people around him. When he comes back the best golfer in the world will be an underdog. He’s been properly humiliated and people will cheer him on as he overcomes the consternation to win his first major since the fallout of his affairs.

Ultimately, Tiger Woods will be just fine. His marriage might fail and he could end up paying Canada’s GNP in child support for the next 17 years but he’s got plenty of money and the means to earn more. Other people will cheat on their wives and the tawdry tales of their elicit affairs might make headlines as well. People will remember that this is nothing new and they’ll remind themselves not to get personally invested in people they don’t know.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Super Bowl doesn't have Super Powers.

Every year during the Super Bowl fortnight a story emerges that makes me want to puke. I get angry to the point where I vow that I won’t watch the Super Bowl just because I’m tired of the hype. Among the greatest hits are The Kurt Warner Story, The Archie Manning Story, The Tom Brady Story and Those Crazy Chicago Bears. And let's not forget a cameo appearance by Brenda Warner's hideous fuzzy sweater and her trailer park mullet.

I was terrified that this year would force me to endure two weeks of a Brett Favre love fest. Sport reporters, who tend to be fat and old, love Brett Favre because he’s old. More than just being old, Favre looks it. He’s only 40 but his hair is gray and his stubble is almost white. After every game he looks like he got into a fight with a cotton candy machine. Favre’s toughness is well-documented and I wasn’t interested in hearing about it for two whole weeks. I’ve grown to dislike Favre a great deal. Besides being a big fat drama queen he is also a pretty lousy QB when the game is on the line. So no Brett Favre at the Super Bowl is a good thing.

Still, the media have done it again. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present: The Katrina Story.
In case you missed it, New Orleans was nailed by a hurricane back in 2005 and has been struggling mightily ever since. Moreover, the entire Gulf Coast has been struggling thanks to several storms that ravaged the area in 2005. Katrina gets the most attention because it scored a direct hit on The Big Easy. Even though FEMA would be quick to point out that they did more damage than that stupid fly by night storm. Sure, give credit to the shock and the awe, but who was there making sure aid and supplies didn't get to the people who needed it the most? FEMA. People don't dies from infection overnight, you know.

For some reason people seem to think that winning a Super Bowl is just what New Orleans needs to get back on its feet. To hear sports blabbermouths tell it, a win on Sunday will make everything better.

This is bullshit.

Winning the Super Bowl would be great for the Saints organization and would make Saints fans, who have never seen their team play in a Super Bowl, very happy. As a long suffering Browns fans who has reached a point where I’d just as soon see the Browns disbanded and everybody who works in the front office set on fire, I can appreciate this.

Beyond that a win would mean nothing. Even though the Saints have a lot of great fans, there are millions of people in the region that couldn’t care less. Literally. Thanks to decades of unadulterated suckiness by the Saints, New Orleans is home to a staggering number of Cowboys fans. Those people don’t care. They’re probably tired of hearing their friends and neighbors scream HOODAT every 3.65 seconds. The Gulf Coast is also home to people who grew up in other cities. So you’ve got a lot of people who are happy for the Saints but don’t really care who wins.

And all a Super Bowl win will do is make fans happy…for a little while. From what I’ve been able to gather that happiness doesn’t last nearly as long as you’d like it too. Steelers fans just watched their team snag a sixth Super Bowl ring last year and they’re already miserable because the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. And that’s a great place to examine how much a Super Bowl really means. No city has more Super Bowl titles than Pittsburgh but does that make it a place you want to visit? Nope. How many Super Bowls has Pittsburgh hosted? That’d be zero. Are Steelers fans still ugly, unintelligent and more than a little malodorous? Sadly, yes. And the city still puts the Pit in the ‘burg, if you know what I’m saying. The reason you spell Pittsburgh with that “h” on the end is because most people say it with a resigned sigh at the end. So, Andy, where are you from? pittsburg-eh.

The only thing all those Super Bowl titles has given Pittsburgh is a false sense of accomplishment. Living in Ohio I can’t even tell you how many Pittsburgh fans love to brag about all those titles as if they had something to do with it. One guy I know will ask Bengals and Browns fans how many rings they have. Um, chief? The same number as you: none, remember? All you’ve ever done is wear another man’s jersey (like a cheerleader on game day) and wave a towel around like an idiot.

Am I jealous? Maybe a little. I really don’t know. None of the teams I root for have done anything while I’ve been around to see it so I don’t have any context. The only thing I do know for certain is that my life will remain unchanged. My happiness over my favorite team winning would subside the minute I realized that I’m still a loser with a boring job, a crappy car and ear hair like steel wool.

Even if the Browns did win a Super Bowl, once I got used to monkeys flying out of my butt, some idiot Steelers’ fan would go out of his way to point out that his team won six, even though he wasn’t around when they won four of them. Also he wouldn’t say his team won them, he would say “we” yet again implying that he played a role in this accomplishment. I’m sure the Rooney family will rush to correct their oversight in not including him in the parade.

New Orleans winning a Super Bowl would be a nice reward for the half dozen fans that used to sit through entire games wearing paper bags over their heads back in the 70s and 80s, but it’s not going to restore the 9th Ward to its pre-Katrina luster. Winning the Super Bowl would be a nice accomplishment for Drew Brees who was treated like some little dude with a freakish mole on his face by the San Diego Chargers (perhaps the most poorly run franchise with a winning record), but it’s not going to create any jobs in the region.

I’m tired of hearing about it. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, New Orleans will wake up on Monday morning and still have work to do. Nothing’s going to change. The Super Bowl isn’t that big.

Personally, I’m rooting for the Saints. Not because I think it would mean anything to New Orleans or because I think the fans deserve it. As a fan I can honestly admit that I don’t deserve a damned thing. I’m rooting for New Orelans because they’re the underdog. I’m rooting for them because I like Drew Brees and Darren Sharper. I’m rooting for the Saints because Will Smith and Malcolm Jenkins used to play for the Buckeyes. Even so, I’m not emotionally invested in this game. If the Colts win, I won’t mind. I think they’re a great team and I like watching them play. Peyton Manning is, without question, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and he’s fun to watch.

That’s why, even though I’d like to see the Saints win, I don’t believe they will. The Saints will be overcome with emotion. Part of that will be due to the fact that everybody wants to make a big deal out of what this game means to New Orleans; part of that will be because the Saints are here for the first time. The Saints will also be overcome by an onslaught. Peyton Manning is great at exposing weaknesses in opposing defenses and New Orleans is full of holes.

The Saints play an aggressive brand of defense that requires a lot of pressure on the QB and a lot of gambles by the defensive backs…all of which are factors that play into Peyton Manning’s hand. He’ll read their coverages and use the opportunistic nature of the Saints’ secondary to his advantage. Drew Brees might keep it interesting for a while and the score will be high, but I see the Colts winning by 10 points.

And after everything is said and done the only thing that will be true about this Super Bowl is that it was only a game.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Legacy of a Gunslinger

I don’t want to pile on Brett Favre. He’s taken quite a bit of heat for the drama he created and he deserves that. He also deserves criticism for making yet another poor decision in a big game. People who defend him by saying that he’s always made plays with his arm need to stop. Sometimes you have to run. Great quarterbacks make great decisions. Not all the time, but when they count. Favre is the opposite.

But Favre was put in a tough spot by his coach who decided to try to confuse New Orleans by running too many people onto the field. Minnesota huddled up with 12 men and got nailed with a five yard penalty that pushed them out of field goal range. So it was “Chilly” who backed Favre into a corner and forced the issue for a big play.

It was also Adrian Peterson and his buttery fingers that kept the Saints in the game. No matter how great a team is, overcoming five turnovers is virtually impossible. Peterson contributed three of them.

And then you had the penalties, particularly in overtime. Vikings’ fans might cry foul over the nature of some of those calls but it was still a sloppy game on the part of the vaunted Vikings’ defense. The game shouldn’t have gone to overtime in the first place.

Still the Vikings had a chance to win it and in the end the game was in Favre’s hands. He rolled to his right, saw seven or eight yards he could have easily run and turned the game over to his kicker for an easy field goal. Instead, Favre threw across his body to a receiver who was clearly covered. Once again he made a poor decision and once again it cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl.

I don’t hate Favre for it. I don’t hate him for coming back. He loves to play and loves the spot light. He did the best he could. His effort has never been in question, but his decision making has. Favre decided to make a spectacle out of coming back. Don’t believe those who tell you the media did it, Favre carefully played the press to his advantage and milked it for all the attention it was worth. He wanted to play in Minnesota, partly because he knew the system and partly because he would steal the thunder from his old team, the one that decided it was time to move on. He desperately wanted the spotlight to shine on him and now, even though it’s revealed an aspect of his legacy that will, rightfully, always keep him off the very top of the list of all time greats, he has to live in its glare. At least for a while.

Favre belongs in the Hall of Fame. He consecutive games streak is almost reason enough, but then you have impressive numbers. He’s simply amassed mind-boggling statistics and, in spite of losing some big games, he’s been a winner. It’s hard to give one player credit for Super Bowl wins. I don’t like using that as a barometer of greatness. Super Bowls are team achievements. Failing to acknowledge that means that Trent Dilfer is as good as Peyton Manning because they have an equal number of Super Bowl rings; or arguing that Ben Roethlisberger is better than both because he has two. Then you’d have to downgrade Dan Marino to the bottom of the list because he didn’t win any. That’s just stupid.

Favre’s career has been impressive. He’s been fun to watch and when you factor in all of his toughness you have to rank him among some of the greatest football players of all time. But when you compare him to other quarterbacks you have to think about more than raw numbers. How did he do under pressure?

Four NFC Championship games have been decided in overtime. Brett Favre played in two of those games and lost both. It's not all his fault, but he had the ball in his hands with an opportunity to win both games and came up empty. That’s tough to overlook.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vick's back?

Michael Vick is not Adolph Hitler. I think that most people understand this, but nevertheless there are those who insist that he got off light and does not deserve to return to the NFL.

Whether or not he deserves to return to the NFL will be determined by several things, one is his playing ability. Vick has been out of football for two years. He hasn’t had access to the same athletic training and nutrition he had when he was chucking footballs for the Falcons. Vick’s going to have to earn a spot on a team if he wants to make a living as a football player.

He also has to find a team. That’s not going to be easy. Vick wasn’t exactly a great quarterback when he left. He was a remarkable athlete who resented the very appropriate criticism people in the know expressed regarding his abilities. His athleticism was never questioned but a lot of people wondered if he was a liability as a signal caller. Rather than honing his skills to dispel doubts, Vick pouted. The Falcons enjoyed some success without Vick which has a lot of people think that Vick might have been overrated. That’s a touch call because a lot has changed in Atlanta besides Vick’s departure. Still, Vick wasn’t exactly a joy to coach.

In addition to the dog fighting ring Vick was involved in, he also had some issues regarding substance abuse. A big part of the reason Vick didn’t get any leniency when he was sentenced is because he tested positive for marijuana while he was out on bond. He also had the airport security problem when his stash bottle was confiscated. Initial reports that the secret compartment smelled like pot were denied but the whole ordeal seemed like a cover up. A few hundred grand donated to the FOP can make minor charges go way. Especially when you’re dealing with residue and not the real deal

So Vick has baggage and teams aren’t going to want to check it. Did a year and a half of time behind bars help Vick put things in perspective? Did he check his massive ego? Is he willing to shut up and listen to his coaches? The NFL reinstated him but Vick is going to have to pass a lot of scrutiny if he wants to play. Teams are going to poke and prod him, looking for any sign of a public relations disaster. And if he does land a contract, a very modest contract by his standards, he will be on the shortest of leashes. One tantrum, public or private, and Vick will be cut.

It would probably be better for him to play in Canada. The CFL is the sort of league that makes guys like Vick look really good. He could win a Grey Cup or two and maybe set a few records. More importantly Vick would get more money. The CFL isn’t under the same microscope that the NFL is. Canadian fans aren’t going to be as passionate about Vick’s past. They’ll give him a second chance and a little more room to breathe.

Most fans in the US aren’t going to forgive him. For one thing, he’s black. Our society has a much harder time cutting black guys slack. Roger Clemen’s is a big a jerk as Barry Bonds and cheated just as much but baseball fans are more supportive of Roger. I’m not saying that they should give Barry a pass, the man is a jerk and should be reviled by all. The thing I’m saying is the Roger Clemens should be held in the same esteem.

Vick’s cut from the same cloth as both of those guys. He’s a gifted athlete who was spoiled because of his physical prowess. He grew up in the projects but Vick got breaks other kids didn’t because he could win games. He was never held accountable. Neither was his brother, Marcus, who eventually got in so much trouble Virginia Tech finally had to draw the line and cut him.

The NFL should probably draft a policy forbidding convicted felons from playing. I’m all for people getting second chances after they’ve paid their proverbial debts to society but the NFL is in the business of public relations. They don’t have to give second chances. Society at large does, but the NFL is different and should do a better job of insulating itself from troublemakers.

Vick also didn’t get off easy. They pretty much threw the book at him, but because our criminal justice system doesn’t see animal cruelty as that big a deal, the sentence seemed a little light. I’m not going to blame Vick for that. If we want tougher sentences for animal cruelty we need to write tougher laws. Vick’s just a guy who broke the law. He was punished in accordance with it. I think he deserves a chance to move on.

Because the NFL doesn’t have a no felony policy, they have no reason not to reinstate him. Some through Roger Goodell would harbor a grudge because Vick lied to him when the dog fighting allegations first hit the press, but who does Goodell think he is? He’s not Vick’s attorney or his priest. If Vick had been honest with Goodell Goodell could have been compelled to testify against him at trial. Goodell was an idiot for even asking Vick about the pending criminal investigation. He’s equally stupid for meeting with Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers’ QB was accused of sexual assault via a civil action. Ben can’t answer Goodell’s questions honestly.

So Goodell did the right thing and reinstated Vick. He’s not guaranteeing Vick a $10 million contract or making him the poster boy for the leagues community outreach. Goodell is simply putting Vick’s future into the hands of Michael Vick and any team willing to sign him. He really didn’t have any other choice.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Missed it by that much

A lot of people are calling Tom Watson’s showing at The Open Championship this past weekend one of the great moments in sports.


If Tom Watson had won it might have been one of the great moments in golf, but even then I doubt it. Tiger Woods, still struggling to find his stroke after reconstructive surgery on his knee, didn’t make the cut and Phil Mickelson skipped the event to be with his wife. Neither of them are exactly suited for the course at Turnberry, which penalizes the more powerful golfers on the tour, but you have to figure that it’s a lot easier for a the rest of the field to relax when Tiger’s not poised to make a late charge up the leader board.

At the age of 59, Watson would have been the oldest major champion in the history of golf, a mark that would likely stand the test of time but, given the circumstances, only as a trivia question. Ultimately, Watson put such a discussion to bed by failing to make a clinching put and ultimately fading in a playoff.

The fact that he essentially choked robs Stewart Cink of the adulation some think he deserves for winning the event. The story of the day is Watson’s run. Cink just managed to be in the right place at the right time. Some sports writers are trying to bring the focus back on Cink but because of the bar Tiger Woods has set, if you don’t win multiple majors most people think you’re a fluke. Cink’s career seems to support that notion. He’s a solid tour veteran with six career wins in 352 events played. He’s a respectable money earner but not a winner. So until he backs up his first major with, at the very least, a couple of top five finishes in the next four he plays this was just a lucky break. Besides, the fact remains that Tom Watson was eight feet away from closing the deal. Cink doesn’t deserve that much credit. If he had put up a low number that Watson couldn’t chase then we’d have a feather to stick in his cap.

The great story everybody was following this weekend went unfinished. The carriage turned into a pumpkin and Tom Watson’s beautiful gown morphed back into rags, seconds before he caught the eye of the handsome prince. Golf is a sport of winners and Tom Watson simply didn’t win. He played a couple of nice rounds of golf but he wasn’t at his best when it mattered most. Second place isn’t good enough. Not when you’re trying to frame this as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

As far as history is concerned, Watson’s finish is only better than Tiger’s from an academic standpoint. He posted a better score and took home more money but that’s about it. People who think that we’ll be talking about this moment years from now are nuts. At next year’s Open it will be a big deal and whenever some geezer stumbles into contention Watson’s name might surface. Other than that it will become part of Turnberry’s history. The vast majority of golf fans have already moved on and the vast majority of sports fans, many of whom couldn’t care less about golf, lost interest when Tiger Woods went home. Tom Watson was just a blurb on ESPN to them.

No offense to Tom, it’s nice to see him take one of those big checks that didn’t exist in his heyday. He got a little taste of the Tiger era and I’m sure he enjoyed it but his place in history hasn’t changed and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Unless you’re the 18-0 New England Patriots, second place is always second tier.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phat Albert is juicing!

You’ve heard it here first: Albert Pujols is on steroids.

I have no facts to support that claim and I’m not going to even try to prove that statement. It’s a pessimistic theory based on my belief that most professional athletes are willing to go to great lengths in order to be successful.

I realize that not everybody with muscles is on steroids. I realize that there are people out there who are just freaks of nature. I also believe that a freak of nature can take steroids and/or human growth hormone to enhance their abilities to even freakier levels, like 32 home runs at the all star break for instance.

People will get angry with me for making such a statement. They might even question my journalistic integrity, but I’m a guy writing a blog right now, not a journalist. I am an officer of the court of public opinion. It’s my duty to rush to judgment.

Major League Baseball is proud of its drug program and fans actually believe that the game has been cleaned up. They’re buying A-Rod’s story that he dabbled in steroids because he was young and stupid and give him the benefit of the doubt today. I think A-Rod’s still taking them. He makes enough money to get his hands on the really good stuff--the undetectable drugs that BALCO used to crank out before they got greedy and left their fingerprints behind for the FBI. Marion Jones never tested positive for steroids even though she admitted to taking them. She passed the International Olympic Committee's tests. Tests that make Major League Baseball’s drug program look like a Facebook quiz.

And that’s the real reason I think Pujols is on the juice. Major League Baseball wants him on it. They want all their players on it because homeruns sell tickets. Triple crown winners sell tickets. Without steroids, baseball would look a lot like it did 25 years ago. A couple of beefy sluggers surrounded by skinny guys from Latin America.

Maintaining 240 pounds of solid muscle isn’t hard to do if that’s all you have to do, but combine that responsibility with the rigors of playing 162 games and it’s virtually impossible. When do these guys have time to recover? If they’re taking steroids they don’t need to.

Even though I watched Manny Ramirez get bigger each year, he was the last person I figured would be a juicer. It’s not that he demonstrated a great deal of integrity, but he’s just such a flake I never would have pegged him for taking an interest. It turns out I was wrong.

It didn’t shock me, because as stupid as Manny seems to be the guy does love his cash and in the sports world steroids can mean an extra $10 million in guaranteed money. If Manny connected the dots, he’d take steroids and if Manny can see the logic in taking them so can Albert.

I’d love for him to prove me wrong, but unless he enters the Tour de France and passes their battery of drug tests I don’t know how he can. Barry Bonds insisted that he never took steroids and dared people to prove it, then they’d offer to test his urine and he’d be too busy, or he'd object to the spirit of the test. His name was linked to the BALCO investigation that sent Marion Jones to prison by way of perjury and if Victor Conti ever gets tired of stewing behind bars Bonds could do a few years as well. So it’s not hard to believe that Albert’s sitting on a dirty little secret too.

I’ll admit that I’m taking an easy position. If Albert tests positive for steroids in the next few years I’ll be able to point to this and people can pat me on the back for having the balls to stand up and claim something stank. If he never tests positive I can act like he got lucky, or blame the wide world of sports for fueling my righteous skepticism. I can’t lose.

So what’s the point? The point is I don’t want to be this way. I’d like to see all the major sports take a hard stance against steroids. In cycling athletes are suspended if they are simply associated with cheating. They don’t have to test positive. If Lance Armstrong’s dentist is dealing HGH on the side Lance gets banned. During the Tour de France, and a number of other events, cyclists are being tested every couple of days. In the Olympics test are conducted before, during and after the games. Doping is taken very seriously and violators aren’t suspended for a few weeks or even a few months; it’s years. There’s no warning. Test positive one time and you sit out for two years, test positive again and you’re done.

In the NFL players get slapped with a four game suspension if they test positive for steroids. There are 280 pound defensive ends running the 40 yard dash in 4.6 seconds but the NFL feels its testing policy is adequate. They feel that a 4 game suspension is enough to discourage steroid use. Really? How discouraging is it when a guy can test positive for steroids and sign a contract extension six weeks later?

Baseball’s 50 game suspension sounds pretty stiff but it’s not much more severe than the NFL’s. Manny missed about a third of the season but he got to sharpen his skills at the minor league level during that period. Now he’s back, the Dodgers are favored to win the NL West and Manny’s probably going to bat cleanup in the postseason. At his age, the 50 games off are probably beneficial. Oh, and Manny will still make more money this year than most people will earn in three lifetimes.

The way it’s structured, athletes are stupid not to take steroids. The testing procedures are laughable and the penalties for people stupid enough to get caught are minor. With the kind of money being throw around, why not?

So, yeah, I think Albert Pujols is on steroids. Prove me wrong.