Thursday, January 22, 2009

Have some laughs with your sports!

- The Onion on Barkley

- PFT reports: "The move will reunite coach Eric Mangini with Kokinis, in a pairing that some league insiders are calling “Mankok.”

[PFT via MLJ]

-Agent Easy

Monday, January 19, 2009

Just a coincidence?

Rex Ryan is the new Jets coach. Monte Kiffin is the new University of Tennessee DC. The two have more than an address change in common.

After the first talk of a head coaching interview for Ryan, his defense surrendered a season high 391 yards to the Titans. The next week, after Ryan's interview, they did much better against the Steelers, but still gave up more yards and forced les turnovers than their season's average.

When it came out, 12 games into the season, that Kiffin was going to UT, the Bucs defense was giving up 279.5 yards per game, 95 of them on the ground. In their last four games the Bucs D gave up 386 ypg, including 189 rushing ypg. They went 0-4.

There are other explanations. In Ryan's case the Steelers and Titans were two of the best teams in the league, and naturally, with each successive playoff round, the competition is intensified. The Bucs' the losses can be pinned on Jeff Garcia's injury: Griese started the Atlanta game and Garcia struggled when he came back, throwing half of his season's interceptions in the final two losses.

The relationships here certainly aren't causal, but two very good defenses didn't play their best immediately after their respective coordinators were distracted by job offers. The correlation is worth noting.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Hit: Why the Cardinals won't win it all

They still have to exorcise the curse of the Pottsville Maroons


Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Word on the JC Romero Debacle

The question most are debating is whether or not Romero is guilty.

That question is, however, secondary (obviously not to Romero, who, for what it's worth, seemed earnest in trying to play by the rules). In the big picture the main point is that a player on the championship team tested positive for a banned substance, regardless of the circumstances or explanations. The point is that yet again MLB has screwed up. The point is that this is just another example that MLB, despite popular and even legal pressure to execute a legitimate anti-drug program, is still incapable of doing so. That they bungled this (read bungled one of two ways 1. inadvertently misled/misinformed players* or 2. let a “cheater” participate and subsequently contribute to championship)** is just another indictment, the latest in a long line, that their leadership is either incompetent, negligent, or both.

*Gammons: "Somehow, after MLB was warned in early July, those concerns about three supplements available at every GNC store did not reach the players' association."
** He actually tested clean before the post-season, but if you're calling him a cheater, why is he playing in the postseason in the first place?

-Agent Easy

White Receivers Love the Number 83

Really. It's true.

We were watching early season highlights on In the week 6 Miami-Houston game, around the 1:40 mark, Rich Eisen compared Greg Camarillo to Wes Welker, then added, "He's got the 83 number also."

We dwelled on this, lamenting that Eisen had fallen into the typical announcer trap of comparing white guys to white guys* and black guys to black guys, regardless of specific styles or talents.

Just like Welker is a playmaker and Camarillo is simply a posession reciever, Steve Nash is a playmaker and Travis Diener is a slow point guard with a decent outside shot. The latter comparison was made during a forgettable Marquette game in winter of '05. Prior to Nash, the announcer (if only we could remember who) had also compared Diener to Mark Price and Scott Skiles.**

We don't think Eisen's comment was especially egregious, but we were still thinking about all of this when Houston's Kevin Walter, another white WR wearing #83, caught a ball at the 2:20 mark.

We wondered if this could be more a trend than a coincidence. Sure enough, it is.

Wes Welker, Kevin Walter, Drew Bennett, Greg Camarillo, Greg Estandia, Heath Miller, Billy Miller, Mike Leach, Jeff Dugan

That's right. All of these guys proudly wear number 83.

Everyone's familiar with the "Black Quarterback" trope.
- The famous, though seemingly apocryphal, Doug Williams question
- Our own surprise at the prominence of the topic within an SI McNair cover story
- More recently, the McNabb - Limbaugh mess

Now, sure enough, we have the White Receiver.

With the heavy emphasis on the passing game the WR has become the most “pure” athlete on the field - and thus fits with the stereotype of the athletically superior black player (as contrasted with the stereotype of hard-working scrappy white player - David Eckstein, Tyler Hansbrough). At the same time WR has become a glamour position (Moss, TO, Ocho Cinco, etc), and more specifically it’s become a black player’s glamour position, especially as it's still the case that most of the marquee players at QB (the game's traditional glamour position) are white.

These factors make white WRs stick out (white CBs stick out too, but not as much because “cornerback” doesn’t have the cache of “wide receiver” - but don't forget the wildly out-of-proportion fame of Jason Sehorn a few years ago).

Suddenly the #83 trend seems reasonable - that like black quarterbacks have a sense of fraternity so do, apparently, white receivers. And they’re showing it off on their jerseys.

It’s fair to point out that the above list is actually 50-50 WRs and TEs, but we’ll also include Kevin Curtis, who rocked the 83 until this year (wonder if he tried to buy it off Greg Lewis), and Brandon Stokley who we assume wouldn’t dare try to buy the 83 off a fellow white guy: But you’re a long snapper! Jeff Dugan's number choice is illustrative; the TE label matters not: Coach, I know I’m a fullback, but I gotta support my guys!

Then there are the #83 godfathers: Tim Dwight and Patrick Jeffers, he of the flukiest season ever.

Camaraderie aside, it's easy to see how this could have started. White kids playing receiver in HS looked up to white guys playing receiver in the NFL. And don’t think that Jeffers’ '99 season winning more than few fantasy leagues doesn’t factor in here.

Now the trend is firmly set for the future. If any of the teams without an 83 (Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, Oakland, Tampa Bay) draft Jordan Shipley, you can be sure which number he’ll take.

- Agent Easy

*Yes Camarillo is Latino, but we're not discussing ethnicity, but rather appearance. Bottom line: If Camarillo was black Eisen wouldn't have made the comparison.

**Another instance we recall, during 2005 East-West Shrine Game the announcer compared Chad Owens to Tim Dwight, Brandon Stokley, and Wayne Chrebet.

The Slash is Back

The Dolphins are apparently taking a serious look as WVU's Pat White for the specific role of running the Wildcat offense. With the Wildcat gaining some traction around the NFL (and not only in the NFL) could this be a new route to the pros for "slash"-type college quarterbacks who don't have the passing skills to be a full-time QB at an NFL level, but could be a weapon out of this formation? And could this also be the reason for Miami's audition of Jayson Foster last offseason? And, most importantly, is Kordell Stewart thinking he was 10 years too early?


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Delhomme quick hit

Delhomme's 5 interceptions tonight offer a great opportunity to remind everyone that that's still one shy of the modern day record, held by none other than the fabulous Favre.

Think for a moment just how atrocious Delhomme looked tonight, how loud the collective groan was that you heard after the fifth one. Then consider, that on January 20, 2001 Favre threw six interceptions against the Rams. (Technically he shares this record for most INTs in a playoff game with three guys who played without facemasks).

And yes coincidentally Kurt Warner was the QB on both occasions.

Cold Hard Football Facts has a handy chart showing just how devastating playoff INTs are.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quick Hit: BAL-TEN Play Clock Controversy

There's already been plenty of talk about the Ravens' getting a play off with zero on the game clock during their game-winning drive. What a lot of the complaining has missed is that the play clock's being at zero doesn't automatically mean the offense is out of time to run a play; rather they get a tick of the clock while while the zero is showing. So Baltimore didn't necessarily get a gift non-call here (unless the officials really did allow 1.35 seconds to expire with the "00" on the play clock).


The Year of the Fine

Wes Welker makes snow angels, Shaun Ellis throws a snowball into the stands. Winter fun? Nope, punishable offenses. Those are just the two latest memorable fines of the NFL season.

In Ellis’ case there is an argument to make as far as fan safety, though they had incited it, and ultimately it was a friggin snowball, and the fan even raised it in triumph afterward. But ok, the technicality remains. We’ll move on to the more egregious fines this year and there have been plenty of them.

It’s not your imagination. According to Jay Glazer, it’s official: “The NFL has placed an emphasis this year on player conduct both on and off the field. They have come down hard this year on players — harder than in any year past — when it comes to setting a harsh tone through the fine system.”

Yep, 2008 is the year of the fine.

- Ryan Clark fined for honoring Sean Taylor.
- Ronnie Brown fined for dancing.
- Chris Johnson fined for playing the bongos.
- Lamar Woodley fined for sacking Jason Campbell “in an intimidating manner.”
- DeSean Jackson fined for posing.
- Joey Porter fined for “verbal abuse.”
- Mascots fined for being mascots
- Randy Moss fined for saying there were "iffy calls."
- Justin Tuck fined for "tackling the quarterback with full body weight."

There are three categories of fine here:
1. Celebration
2. Speaking out
3. Protecting players

All three causes for fine have been enforced more and more over the past decade, but the recent increase in both frequency of fines and amount per fine (Moss $20,000 for his seemingly inoffensive remark) has Roger Goodell’s fingerprints all over it. From the moment he came into the league player policing has been his top priority.

He is “Fidel Goodell” as Dan LeBatard called him in a TBL chat.
“Goodell is a communist dictator. Fidel Goodell. He makes up the rules as he goes along. I can’t believe the way he has skated just circumventing our entire justice system by banning guys before they, you know, are convicted, and everyone just sort of applauds because it is the easy thing for him to do from a public-relations standpoint and it does nothing more than make him look good. It isn’t like guys aren’t getting in trouble anymore. Now they just drunk drive and flee their wrecked car. He hasn’t changed behavior. He has just done the easy thing and filed it under leadership. How would you feel if, for whatever reason, you were arrested three times because, as an example, the police just felt like bothering the rich black guy. But you weren’t guilty. And you went into work, and they told you that you’d have to miss three months without pay. And then, as seems to be the case with Tank Johnson and Chris Henry, it is later proven that you didn’t really do anything wrong on your last incident. That would kind of suck. I know these guys make very poor martyrs. Getting arrested a bunch of times seems like something most of us can avoid doing. But unfair is unfair and it would be nice if the commissioner of the league at least let the legalities play out before he starts swinging his dick. What he’s doing isn’t tough. It is easy.”
LeBatard specifically addresses the off-field stuff, but it is part of the big picture that is Goodell’s police state policies.

The Tuck fine, for example, was later rescinded upon appeal. Specifically, as noted in the above FanHouse link, Goodell himself cancelled the fine after seeing the clip for the first time and acknowledging how absurd the fine was. The bigger point here is not that justice was done in absolving Tuck, but that Goodell has successfully instilled a reactionary culture in which Tuck was unjustly penalized in the first place.

Celebration penalties were ratcheted up starting in 2004 after TO pulled out the sharpie in ‘02 and Joe Horn the cell phone in ‘03, but Goodell has been more than happy to not only continue this policy, but to continue raising celebration fines. After three years of overseeing this policy there is no sign that Goodell will reevaluate its effectiveness (after all the players are still celebrating) or make an investigation into the fan’s sentiment and preference. Choreographed and planned celebrations (two qualifiers on the NFL’s no-no list) are a fixture of NFL history: Billy White Shoes Johnson, The Ickey Shuffle, The Fun Bunch, The Dirty Bird, the Rams’ shadowboxing, and – oh yeah – the still legal Lambeau Leap.

We can understand the NFL’s reasoning for the restrictive celebration rules, but their unintuitive enforcement suggests that their policy is borne of a vague desire not to be embarrassed by the likes of TO. They are either incapable of understanding the nuances of the situation (really, what is the harm of a snow angel?) or unwilling to deal with them carefully. After all, the players are STILL celebrating.

As mentioned, the Lambeau Leap, though obviously premeditated is still legal. Why? Seemingly no other reason other than the NFL judging the anger and annoyance its prohibition would incite would not be worth the trouble. That’s backwards. Their decisions should be guided by what the fans would appreciate most not dislike least. Now the NFL has the awkward policy of allowing one leap into the crowd but not two. Devard Darling found out his leap constituted a “team celebration.” It’s incongruent with their promotion of football as a team game to then enforce regulations that don’t permit non-ball-carriers to join in the celebration.

A more thoughtful policy would acknowledge that a touchdown is worthy of celebration, and one that includes the fans, other non-players one the field (ie bongos), or is a choreographed dance, isn’t inherently in bad taste, bad sportsmanship, or bad for the game.

A reasonable policy would prohibit foreign objects (sharpie, cell phone) and leaving the end zone (TO on the Dallas star), but allow most everything else, with a stipulation that the NFL could still levy fines anytime it judged a celebration to “run counter to the spirit of fun” – or some other purposely vaguely-worded phrase to leave the NFL with the trump card.

Speaking Out
The NFL is silencing their players on and off the field.

Take a moment to consider what Moss actually said. “There were some “iffy calls.” That’ll be 20 grand Randy. Once again, the NFL’s refusal to deal with nuance. While their intent is admirable, the indignation with which the NFL approaches the “referee complaint” issue is laughable. How dare anyone say anything about one of our refs?

On the field, Jerry Porter was fined for trash talking. After Channing Crowder and Matt Light were fined for fighting, Logan Mankins fingered Porter, saying “Any time you have a team with the guy 55 (Joey Porter), he just won't shut up the entire game. Then I think some of the other guys are starting to play the way he does." That halfway intelligible comment lead to a $7,500 fine for Porter.

Yet NFL films regularly mics players, and until just a couple of days ago Porter himself could be found on a youtube clip of an NFL films segment in which he was cursing up a storm, trash-talking the Bengals endlessly.

Both these first two categories fall under the umbrella of self-expression, and here we’ll also include the case of Ryan Clark being fined for writing Sean Taylor’s #21 on his eye black on the anniversary of his death.

Here’s Goodell’s political explanation for the Clark fine:
“We don't allow personal messages…everybody has an interest, everybody has something that's a good cause. But we're a team game, and we represent the NFL. So when we do something, as we did last year with Sean Taylor, we do it collectively."

Player Protection
The rigid enforcement of the first two areas- self expression, simply changes the culture of the NFL, and while it is troubling, compared to this last area, it is more forgivable.

With these sanctions Goodell isn’t just changing the culture, but the game itself.

Back in October Troy Polamalu became one of the few players to address this problem.
“I think regarding the evolution of football, it's becoming more and more flag football, two-hand touch. We've really lost the essence of what real American football is about.”

Take a look at this miraculous Vince Young escape from two years ago (40 second mark):

Now look at the aforementioned Woodley fine (sack #5, 1:15 mark).

The continued prevalence of the Tuck and Woodley fines will make Kiwanuka’s kind of costly cautiousness typical for all defensive players.

Thankfully Kenny Phillips wasn’t fined for this hit, but here’s another example of Mike Pereira’s official 2008 edict, “When in doubt, throw the flag.”

It affects the way fans view the game. I remember watching the Monday night Packers- Saints game at a bar, and when Greg Jennings went across the middle and was cleanly separated from the ball, our instinctual excitement was tempered almost instantly with the now just as instinctual anxiety in anticipation of an unjust penalty.

The fines and penalties have become such a regular feature of the game that the AP felt compelled to report that Hines Ward was not fined for his clean hit on Keith Rivers.

Its a double edged sword. What NFL is realizing is the violence of the game is simultaneously compelling – the oohs and aahs that come from a big hit, and discomfiting – the ex-players complaints about the NFL’s and NFLPA’s negligence in providing sufficient medical treatment and financial compensation for debilitating injuries.

It’s instructive to note that ESPN’s jacked up segment debuted with lots of fanfare, was revised the following year with flashy editing techniques which effectively minimized the perception of impact, and now has been eliminated altogether.

Within his “pansy” comment Polamalu speculated that “it's probably all about money. They’re not really concerned about safety.” This theory might not be so dubious. It’s logical to believe that the NFL would ramp up their superficial player protection in the face of lawsuits from the aforementioned veterans. We say superficial, because, as Mark Schlereth deftly pointed out, the NFL still makes a profit off videos which glamorize hard hitting.

Part of the explanation is the culture of the times. The NHL suspended Sean Avery for talking about his girlfriends. The NFL is more involved in players’ lives on all levels, hiring out private security firms to tail players. It’s best summed up by Clinton Portis. “I don't think the NFL is ever going to be the same. It's less fun now. Everything's a worry, on and off the field.”

But another, equally large part of the explanation is Goodell himself. It makes us wonder how much of this agenda is self serving. How much of it is an attempt by a relatively unknown and young commissioner to try to instantly craft his own legacy, to quickly distinguish himself from Tagliabue by instituting new policies and simultaneously making those policies draconian to make himself appear powerful.

A question of coverage
Notice that most of the above links came from Ryan Wilson, and a few of his colleagues at Fanhouse. They’re the only ones who’ve covered this issue regularly and with any outrage, or at the very least skepticism.

Why is Wilson alone on this? The only thing more shocking than the extent of these policies is that it has yet to become a national story, or that a nationally known columnist hasn’t hammered it (save the on-sabbattical LeBatard's one blip). Is it because so many of the guys that could be expected to do so are tied to the NFL through their parent companies (ESPN/ABC, CBS, Fox)?

Instead, everyone latches onto the “Terrible Towel” story from a couple weeks back. A story, only allowed to breath because of the oxygen Goodell has been pumping. The idea that there should have been some kind of repercussions for that towel stomp is ludicrous. Unfortunately so are many of the above instances that were fined.

The more these fines become an accepted part of the game, the easier it is to equate them with real transgressions. Within the AP report on the Ellis snowball incident, the penultimate paragraph reads: “It's the latest troublesome incident involving Ellis, who was arrested for speeding and marijuana possession last month and could face a suspension next season under the league's substance-abuse policy.”

It’s legitimate on the AP’s part to group them together, because now they’ve both been defined the same way, that is, “wrong.” It’s unfair to Ellis that Goodell has re-written the dictionary.

Unfortunately this slow negative build-up – change of game, change of culture, change of reputations – will likely go unchecked. It’ll only be noticed once something happens on the national stage – a playoff game for example, or imagine the Super Bowl! We'll giddily laugh when the Super Bowl is tainted by a game changing penalty for "tackling with full body weight."

-Agent Easy

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let's put it in perspective

Here is the short list of school that have won National Championships in both football and basketball

Cal Football: '20-'22
Cal Basketball: '59

Maryland Football: '53
Maryland Basketball: '02

Michigan Football: '01-'04, '18, '23, '33, '48, '97
Michigan Basketball: '89

Michigan State Football: '52, '65, '66
Michigan State Basketball: '79, '00

Ohio State Football: '42, '54, '57, '61, '68, '70, '02
Ohio State Basketball: '60

Florida Football: '96, '06
Florida Basketball: '06, '07

Aside from UF, MSU is the only other school to win multiple championships in each sport. OSU is the only other school to win their cross-sport titles within a year of each other - the next closest is Michigan with an eight year span. If the Gators win tonight a UF frosh c/o '09 will have seen two basketball and two football champions in their brief college career. "Unprecedented" doesn't even begin to describe it.

-Agent Easy