Thursday, August 31, 2006

It might wind up being a long year for Baltimore Ravens fans.

I was just perusing the local sports page when I saw this quote from Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis (courtesy of the Baltimore Sun)...

"To harp on anything that deals with preseason, that means nothing at the end of the day, you're wasting your time and energy...Let's kick the ball off in Tampa and cut out everything else."

does that bother anyone else as much as it bothers me? I have never been a big believer in the ability of sports teams (or anyone else for that matter) to "turn it on" when it counted after turning it off to save energy or to stave off injury. The 2005-06 Detroit Pistons are just the latest example of how that just doesn't work, and in the "any given Sunday" world of the NFL (where even the 2005 San Francisco 49'ers won 4 games and were in a dog fight for the top overall pick until the end of the season) it is even less applicable. All of this is amplified by the fact that Baltimore ended the 2005 season with a record of 6-10 (which included an emphatic one point win over the 2-14 Houston Texans and a season ending loss to the Cleveland Browns - who lost to those Texans earlier in the season, emphasizing my point - and that means that the Ravens don't exactly have a leg to stand on in regards to cutting everything else out).

I will admit that as a local guy I bought into the hype that was the healthy returns of Lewis and Ed Reed into the same defense (Lewis missed 10 games in 2005, Reed 6, and there was not a lot of overlap between the two being on the inactive list), the return to form of a hungry (and no longer troubled by jail and injury) Jamal Lewis, and of course the arrival of Steve McNair to both lead the offense, keep the defenses honest in respect to the passing game (opening up the running game), and to mentor Kyle Boller, giving him what he should have had from Day 1, a chance to watch and learn from a veteran (like McNair and Carson Palmer and Eli Manning did. There are very few Peyton Manninng out there that can be thrown to the wolves like that and thrive). And the opening drive of the 1st preseason game did not lower any of the expectations around here, as McNair drove the 1st team offense straight down the field to a touchdown (that may have been the worst thing that could have happened, judging from the reaction around Baltimore and the malaise stemming from the next two preseason games and the offenses lack of production).

The Ravens have one of those excellent "on paper" teams, with few glaring weaknesses (but the glarers are doozies. Like both lines. Can't win when the lines are falling apart, even though they never get the credit they deserve when the teams ARE winning. Sorry if I sound bitter but as a former offensive and defensive lineman -small high school- I am bitter about that). In theory they should do well this year as long as the offense gels into a cohesive unit. But the first game of the season is against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had a better defense last year than the Ravens, and a better offense too. They have a good young running back in Carnell Williams and a smart young QB with a great pedigree in Chris Simms (who is in a contract year. I expect big things from him and rue that I couldn't get him as my 2nd QB in my fantasy draft), not to mention Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway (and the "all natural" David Boston) as receivers. They are NOT going to be a pushover. And don't let the line fool you. Sure Tampa is only a 3 point favorite (at the time I am writing this) and the game is in Tampa (as a rule you adjust 3 points for home field advantage. Technically this game is "Pick'em". Remember, Vegas doesn't pick who they think is going to win, they try and make money off the people who think they know who is going to win. The line is merely a reflection of the choices of the gamblers and it really means nothing towards the outcome of the game), but this is a playoff team last year who should have won the game against the Washington Redskins (Tampa Bay held Washington to 120 total yards of offense but turnovers were the difference maker and they lost 17-10) and should be just as good if not better this year. Suffice to say, it will NOT be an easy game (no matter WHAT the locals think).

The Baltimore Ravens have always played their best when they had a chip on their shoulders and a bit of swagger to their step. However, it has been a good long while since they have had the RIGHT to have that swagger, and until you earn it, you shouldn't use it. I think back to the (now infamous, at least in Nashville) clip of Brian Billick holding up the Sports Illustrated in the visitors locker room after the Ravens had just defeated the Tennessee Titans in the regular season, handing them their first ever loss in Adelphia Stadium/Coliseum/Arena/et al (by the way, I have never understood the uproar over the Titans' PR staff showing that clip on the Jumbotron before the playoff game between he teams in 2000). At that time, the Titans were defending AFC champs, the two teams were in the same division, and they had some well fought, heated battles recently. I know the crowd didn't need any help in getting riled up, but if I had any kind of bulletin board material I would use it too. In case you don't remember what I am talking about, after the regular season game Billick stood in the middle of the locker room holding a copy of the newest Sports Illustrated with Tennessee on the cover, proclaiming them to be the best team in the NFL. Billick told the team this and then said "Maybe that's true. But not today.", and the team erupted in cheers. And honestly, I really don't see that as being all that controversial. McAllister saying that Eddie George "folded like a baby" when he played against the Ravens' defense was prime bulletin board material. The drama over Billick's comments seemed manufactured to me. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, that is the last time Baltimore had any right to claim to be cock of the walk. Walk the walk first boys. That is the rule, otherwise you are a bunch of jerks (and that is the most polite way of saying what people would- and DO- call them).

I remain wishful of a good season, and would like nothing more than a Super Bowl. I realize that those hopes are more than a little pie in the sky for lack of a better phrase, but that is what being a fan is all about. I had the same hopes before the 2000 season with even less to back them up, and look how that turned out. But no matter how much I will wish for it to happen, I have become a little less hopeful that it WILL happen, and a little more resigned that it won't.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Terrell Owens rant.

Yes I know that all of this coverage, even the coverage that might not be read by a single person besides myself right now, feeds his massive ego and encourages his boorish behavior. Well in this case I cannot help myself.

I am sure you are aware of Owens being fined $9500 by the Cowboys for missing a meeting (and in what isn't mentioned as much in the coverage, a scheduled rehabilitation session for his "injured" hamstring). This is the latest in a long line of controversy that Owens has stirred up, from implying that (his then teammate) QB Jeff Garcia is gay (and if you have ever seen pictures of his one time and possibly still girlfriend Heather Kozar, well, if that is gay then I am the biggest queer in the world) to showboating on the star at midfield of the Dallas Cowboys (while a member of the San Francisco 49'ers) to his completely destroying the Philadelphia Eagles last year, he is a hurricane of flinging crap. And this is without even covering in any detail his end zone celebrations (Sharpie/pompoms/etc.). So why am I bringing all of this up now? Because I kept thinking about what would have happened if he had been forced to honor the trade to the Baltimore Ravens in 2004. And more to the point, the history of Owens and his performance.

I don't know if you remember one of the reasons why Owens balked at playing for the Ravens. The real reason is because he felt he should have been a free agent even though his agent at the time did not file the paperwork necessary to void the final 3 years of his contract. He had all but agreed to a rich contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now he was stuck playing for less. He also said that he didn't want to play with Kyle Boller (I will have to sound off on Boller at some point). But among all the reasons either bandied about by Owens and the teams or the real reason (money), there was one that got some airplay, but was eventually relegated to the back burner and all but disappeared as soon as the Ravens and 49'ers rescinded the trade and Baltimore sent Owens to the Eagles (where Owens signed that new contract and then one year later help out because the contract wasn't fair to him and the work he had done. We'll come back to that). It seems that when Owens and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome met, Newsome said that both he and Owens were "two black guys from Alabama" and that "Sometimes you just have to slap a black man". Ignoring the racial aspect of the statements (not easy, but necessary. I am not black, but I think the old adage of being able to pick on your own applies here as it does in PC comedy clubs across the nation. For a wonderful examination of that concept, go pick up George Carlin's "Classic Gold", a double CD with three total comedy albums from Carlin. It will change the way you look at a lot of things), let's look at that second sentence.

"Sometimes you have to slap"

Now let's look at Owens' history. When he came up with the 49'ers, who did he have across from him? Jerry Rice, one of his biggest childhood idols. It is hard to argue that he is NOT the greatest receiver in NFL history (although I have always held to the thought that if you gave the old school offenses the protection offered by the rules now along with the modern training and rehabilitation equipment that they would have set records that would still be standing. And I know that offensive and defensive schemes are much more complicated now, but for all the substitutions and packages in the world, football is still at the core 11 guys being on the same page, reading each other and their opponents. And nothing about that changes whether you are in a Cover 2 or a modified West Coast Offense with an emphasis on the H-Back). Jerry Rice kept Owens in line. So did the 49'ers QB at the time, a guy named Steve Young. No matter how much hubris a player has, no one would have the guts to question the Alpha Dogs that Rice and Young were at that time. And Owens pretty much kept in line and produced. Once Rice and Young were gone, it didn't take long for Owens to undermine Garcia and 49'ers head coach Steve Marriucci and make himself the sole focus of the team, and THAT was when the drama really started.

So he forces the trade, and forces it to the team that he wanted. And he got the contract that he wanted. And that first year he stayed pretty much controversy free (minor skirmishes/riling the other teams, not chipping at the foundation of his own. That would come soon enough). But in the middle of the season he got injured. A broken leg and a severely sprained ankle. And he pushes himself HARD to rehab it and get himself ready for the postseason. And the Eagles make it back to the NFC Championship game, where for the previous 3 years they have lost. He doesn't play, but the Eagles win the game and make it to the Super Bowl. Owens declares that he will play, no matter what the doctors (who said he was several weeks away from being fully recovered) said. He did play in the game, and ended up with 9 receptions for 122 yards (the fact that the Patriots' secondary was giving him plenty of space and concentrating on the receivers who could actually run with if not pass them is ignored when many look at that stat. Why focus on the guy with good hands but only one leg?). Everything looks good, right? Just wait.

In the offseason, Owens fires his agent and hires Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus is the "super agent" known for squeezing blood from rocks. HE and his baseball counterpart Scott Boras are so reviled by the respective clubs that teams have been known to avoid drafting/signing a free agent that is represented by them. Talk about fulfilling a stereotype. Anyway, next thing you know he is holding out and asking for more money because he has already outperformed his contract that was just negotiated one year previous and is now, according to Owens and Rosenhaus, obsolete. And THIS is where he makes it even worse. He starts questioning Donovan McNabb, his quarterback and (just one year ago) his best friend. The kind of quarterback he has always wanted to play for. Now he is saying that the team would be better off with Brett Favre as the QB. And now he is questioning McNabb's heart and desire and conditioning and leadership (or as he put it "I'm not the one who got tired in the Super Bowl").

This becomes the crux of my argument as to the real meaning of what Ozzie Newsome was saying. McNabb does respond, but he doesn't do enough to shoot Owens down. He doesn't establish that he is the Alpha Male on the Eagles, even though there is no question that he is. And if there is no question that why should he? Because if he doesn't then questions start to pop up. When the Alpha Male of the pack is challenged, he responds by attacking. If he wins he is still the Alpha Male. If he doesn't, then his time is done. Either way, there is no confusion among the pack. By not challenging Owens and slapping him back into place (Newsome?), he opened the door for Owens to divide the team. And he did.

The whole time, the Eagles handled the Owens situation as well as they possibly could. They did not, nor will they negotiate with a player who is holding out. They made no exceptions with Owens. They suspended him for the maximum allowed by the NFL for his conduct, and proclaimed they would deactivate him as soon as the suspension was over. Two days later Owens issued a public apology. They slapped him down. And even though Owens did apologize, it was obvious hat it was not sincere and the Eagles' organization knew that if they allowed him to return it would make things worse. They had decided to back McNabb, and they would not be swayed. It was the correct decision. McNabb's only real fault in the whole boondoggle was not speaking up enough. He is a quiet leader, one who commands respect. He thought that it would carry over no matter what, but there are times that you need to voice your thoughts when you are a leader. Without audible dissent to the challenges that Owens laid in front of the team, the team became unsure of who to rally around and lost its way. I do not expect that to happen this year, and anyone who has written off the Eagles is making a huge mistake. Soon will be my prediction column, and you will see what I mean.

Now Owens is in Dallas. Drew Bledsoe is his QB, and Bledsoe will get in the ear and (more importantly) in the face of anyone who questions his leadership. He is a decent to good QB. He is a great leader. Owens' coach is now Bill Parcells. There is no one who can challenge his track record, being one of very few coaches to lead 2 different teams to a Super Bowl (anyone besides him and Don Shula? If so, I cannot think of him), and he led another team to the AFC Championship game. He is in charge. Will they slap him down? Yes. Has anyone seen or heard his reaction to the fine? He immediately apologized, claiming that he, like everybody else in the world has done once or twice in their lives, overslept. He wanted to make sure that everyone knew that he was NOT challenging any authority nor was he trying to garner publicity. He almost sounded scared. Almost.

Parcells took it one step further. Owens has missed the bulk of the preseason and almost all of training camp with his hamstring injury. Parcells has said that until he can see him on the field and gauge his ability and figure out how to work him into the offense, Owens will not start, including in the regular season opener. Owens responded that there was 10 years of film to watch that could be used to figure it out. Parcells said no way. You show me on the practice field. Slap.

The most telling line was where Owens was describing the relationship between himself and Parcells. Owens said that it isn't where it need to be, but that it is a process. Then he said THIS...

"It's obviously a work in progress. At this point, there is no tension between us."

Does it sound like he is expecting trouble down the road? I know I am, and I cannot wait to see how Parcells slaps him.

The whole thing makes me wonder what would have happened if the trade to Baltimore had been upheld. Is Boller any kind of substitute for McNabb? Not even close at this point (as I said, I will sound of on Boller in the future, but I will say right now that I am not convinced that the kid is a waste or a failure). But on a team with Ray Lewis, would Owens have been slapped down? I am willing to bet YES. And with a coach who had won a Super Bowl in Brian Billick (I never got into the Andy Reid aspect of Owens' career in Philly. To me, he didn't do enough to stop Owens, but I felt like he was taking his cues from McNabb on that and letting the guy he has chosen as the team leader lead the team. If he had stepped in, it would have further undermined McNabb. But I don't think Billick would have let it get that far without doing some slapping of his own. And since, unlike McNabb, Ray Lewis is on the other side of the ball from Owens, it wouldn't have been undermining for him to act), Owens would have been kept in line, I think. It is all conjecture, we'll never know what would have happened. But I like to think that it would have been a lot different if Ozzie Newsome's words had been put into practice. There is more to them than meets the eye, and they seem to be more correct than anyone wanted (or still wants) to admit.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I have never liked players who put themselves above the team. Players who hold out because they don't like where they play for or who their coach is or their contract or for any other reason. Steve Francis whining on draft day until he was traded from Vancouver to Houston. John Elway threatening to play baseball if the Colts drafted him. Bo Jackson actually PLAYING baseball instead of playing for the Bucaneers. And the last two aren't as bad as the fist one. One that REALLY gets me is Terrell Owens last year trying to renegotiate ONE YEAR after signing a contract. There is no excuse, if you agree to a contract for ANYTHING, you need to honor it. If you contract a company to put a new roof on your house, and one third of the way through the job they decide that they are not going to finish unless you re-negotiate a new price for them, you would call the Better Business Bureau and possibly that local news station that does the "We're on your side fighting fraud in YOUR community" pieces. It isn't done in "real life", so why is it okay in the world of sports? I am no apologist for owners, they have spent 100 years making money off of the labor of those in the spotlight. But how does that make them any different from Bill Gates or he guy who owns stock in Exxon/Mobil? That is business. And yes I know that, at least in football where there are no guaranteed contracts, holding out is the only way a player can make himself heard. And no, an NFL player can't just go looking for another job like I could if I was unhappy with my current employer. But here is the thing, they knew that before they signed the contract. They knew that from the time they were big time high school players being recruited by big time colleges. There are no secrets to this, no mysteries. Professional sports is a business, and if you don't like the business model pick a different profession or shut up and go with the system that is in place. That is why you have a union and collective bargaining. If enough of you want the system to change than make it a point in the next CBA. If the union decides to strike over what is considered by them to be unfair labor conditions, they have every legal right to do so and I would support their decision even if I didn't agree with their position. I would even sacrifice being able to watch the games. However, negotiations are never about things that noble. They are about money, and how each side can get the biggest piece. That is the way it is. And this is what brings me to Ashley Lelie.

A little background on Lelie. He was drafted out of Hawaii by the Denver Broncos in the 1st Round of the 2002 Draft, 19th pick overall. And (this is important) he signed a contract to play for the Denver Broncos. He decided this offseason that he should be classified as (and paid like) a #1 receiver instead of the 3rd receiver he was. And if you look at his stats (courtesy of )...

Stat Overview Receiving Rushing Fumbles
2005 42 770 18.3 56 1 5 84 16.8 39 0 0 0
Career 168 3007 17.9 60 12 20 172 8.6 39 0 0 0
Postseason - 2005 7 118 16.9 38 1 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0

You can see that he does not deserve either the desination nor the compensation that would be paid to a #1 receiver. But he (and more likely his agent) was convinced that he should get those things, so he held out. And last week he was traded from the Broncos to the Atlanta Falcons. Where he will be...(wait for it)...the 3rd receiver. So what did the holdout get him? A chance to play the same position with a worse quarterback that he had (I would take Jake Plummer or Jay Cutler over Michael Vick ANYDAY, and I challenge anyone who reads this to prove to me that it would be a mistake. Fact: Kyle Boller has a better 2005 and a better career completion percentage than Michael Vick. In fact, with a couple of exceptions the stats are AMAZINGLY similar. So when Is Kyle going to get the cover of Madden?) and a lesser chance of making the playoffs and making a Super Bowl run. Brilliant move.

Oh yeah, there is one other thing the holdout got him. Debt. According to his contract, Lelie was due to make $700,000 this year. $100,000 was for participating in offseason workouts, and $600,000 would have been his base salary. Well toss the $100,000 out the window because he skipped the offseason workouts, and since he was such a shining example of how teams build chemistry and sacrifice the one for the many, he was fined about $11,000 for skipping the Bronco's minicamp in July and $14,000 per day for training camp. Grand total, over $375,000. But wait, there's more. The Broncos are ALSO going after part of his original signing bonus, which he agreed to allow them to do as part of them trading him (another brilliant career move on his part). Overall it is possible that he will have to pay the Broncos to play this year. He will OWE THE LEAGUE MONEY! And let's see what kind of contract he gets when this one ends. It just goes to show Karma is a bitch. So is my ex-girlfriend, but we don't need to go there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Yes, it is another thing that I am doing instead of working. But this one is a little different. I have always been a sports nut, and this is my place to sound off on whatever comes to mind. First, this...

Albert Pujols is just like Babe Ruth

Amazing article, and (in my humble opinion) shows that Pujols is not on performance enhancers. He is one of the rare players who sees the game differently. Although when I first read the headline, I figured the test would have more to do with hot dogs, beer and hookers. By the way, if any scientists are testing the effects of those stimuli on the average human, well I would like to volunteer my time.

To tell you about myself in this world, I am very much a homer when it comes to my teams, but that does not mean that I will not criticize where necessary. For instance, I think that Nick Markakis should be a top nominee for the ROY this year. He is someone that the FO got RIGHT. But that being said, them not trading Tejada when they had the chance (especially when Oswalt was on the table) was unconscionable. Would the Orioles have missed his bat? Yes. His leadership? Not 100% sure about that. Would Fahey have been a defensive upgrade? Yup. Fact of the matter is, 9th straight losing season means you have to try something else. Miggy is a great player. I have his jersey. If I wasn't working, I would probably be wearing it right now. But that being said, the window to build your team around him is closing fast, and any leadership he brings to the table would have been replaced by Melvin Mora, who does not get nearly enough credit for what he brings to the table both on the field and with his level of professionalism. We have some good young players and a LOT of potential on the mound with Bedard, Cabrera, Loewen and Penn. I like Benson a lot, but I could see Oswalt doing for the Fantastic Four(my new name for them. I claim credit for that!) what Sutcliffe did for Mussina. He would definitely had to have pitched here next year, and if next year you are cocksure you are not going to re-sign him and you are not in contention for the playoffs, you trade him for some prospects. Get a year of education, let him and Mazzone work their magic on them, and the cut bait.

There will be more where this came from, but this will do it for now. In the meantime, if you have a question/comment/opinion/bunion/whatever the hell is stuck in your crawl, drop me a line. I would love to get some good dialogue going on here, and it doesn't have to be about Baltimore sports teams either. That will be my focus, but if you have something about the Cardinals (MLB or NFL) that you want to get off your chest, let's hear it!