Friday, March 31, 2006

And This Is How Not to Analyze Draftable Quarterbacks

The gulf between Football Outsiders' rational, astute, fact-based analysis of the three top quarterback prospects and this conclusory, ill-reasoned effort from Ian O'Connor at Since I'm feeling snarky this morning, I thought I'd do the Fire Joe Morgan thing and Fisk the shit out of this bad boy:

Some 130 million job and school applicants have taken a Wonderlic test, and I don't care if 129,999,999 of them posted a higher score than Vince Young. It's the films, stupid.

Crap, we're one paragraph in and he hasn't said anything disagreeable yet. Since there's little evidence that Wonderlic scores are good predictors of success in the NFL, I'm with Ian so far, although at the margins, a 6 for a quarterback might be extreme.

Take another look at them and tell me with a straight face that Young shouldn't be the first quarterback taken in next month's draft.

I'm sure that Ian has pored over the coach's film of Vince to analyze his reads on every play for the past couple seasons and to determine whether he can make the mental decisions that are so critical for an NFL quarterback...or he just watched the past two Rose Bowls while pounding Miller Lites and said "damn, that boy sure is fast!"

So now Young's one-man demolition of the Trojan empire in the Rose Bowl doesn't count, right? His one-man demolition of Michigan in the previous Rose Bowl can be scrapped as well, no?

This is what I hate about the analysis of Vince Young. I really liked the guy as a college player and there's no doubt that he's in the pantheon of great college quarterbacks, but it does bear mentioning that he wasn't playing for Baylor against Michigan and USC. Texas' line-up was loaded with future NFL starters, or didn't Ian's intensive film study reveal that?

And it also occurs to me that Ian might want to do some film study on the '95 Orange Bowl and the '96 Fiesta Bowl, then look up Tommie Frazier's NFL stats. Wait, Frazier didn't play in the NFL? You mean dominating a college national title game isn't a sure sign of future pro success? The film lies?

We're all supposed to forget everything our eyes, brain, gut and heart tell us about Young as an NFL prospect — and remember that he scored a six out of a possible 50 on a test with a name that sounds more like the title of an adult film.

Hahahahaha!!!! Good one, Beavis!!!! I had never noticed that the Wonderlic has the syllable "lic" in it and that can be a euphemism for oral sex, but now that you've pointed that out, I'm rolling on the floor. Now how about a Brokeback Mountain joke for some real originality.

This is the naked truth: General managers and scouts are petrified of their own shadows. They're afraid to run against the grain of the pack. So if four or five of buddies say they wouldn't touch the Texas quarterback in the top half dozen picks of the draft, your average GM or scout will embrace the copout in the name of self-preservation.

Yes, and it's SO controversial to take one of the most hyped college stars from a marquee programs in football. How would a GM ever be able to handle the media firestorm after doing that?

Ian is right that NFL GMs and coaches are afraid of doing anything against the grain, but this is actually a reason why Vince has a good chance of being a failure. He ran an offense at Texas that was perfectly suited for his talents, but that is also foreign to the NFL. Some coach is going to have to have the balls to install the modern version of the veer offense to make Vince work. What's more likely is that he'll end up in some cookie-cutter NFL offense that would be great for Tom Brady or Matt Schaub, but lousy for Vince Young.

If I take Young and he flops, the thinking goes, I'll be ridiculed for gambling on a kid who showed an alarming lack of cognitive ability on the Wonderlic, and I might be fired because of it. Who needs that angst when you can just as easily take Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt, a guy who's won absolutely nothing?

Ian, you may be unfamiliar with this strange thing called "Vanderbilt," but they're a college football team in Nashville that has far, far less talent than the teams they compete with because their pool of potential players is one quarter the size of that of their rivals. They haven't been to a bowl game since 1982. They've never won the SEC. Bitching that Jay Cutler never won anything at Vandy is like bitching that Noriega's generals must have been crap because they couldn't fend off the U.S. invasion in 1989.

Somehow, some way, one measurement at the scouting combine — of speed or strength or intelligence — can negate three of four years' worth of gameday heroics. Or vice versa. Mike Mamula was the ultimate combine creature, a player who looked positively Cantonesque under the combine microscope and who looked entirely different — ordinary, even — on Sunday afternoons.

We had a saying during my high school debate career that whenever someone broke down and used Hitler or the Nazis in an argument, that meant that they were out of ideas. I think a corollary to that truism should be that whenever someone brings up Mike Mamula in a draft discussion, they've officially waved the white flag.

Downgrading a once-in-a-generation talent like Young is going to get a GM fired. Not the GM who picks him, but the GM who does not.

Vince is great and all, but he's a more durable Mike Vick with inferior moves and an inferior arm. He's very close in terms of talent to Donovan McNabb. Thus, he's hardly a once-in-a-generation talent. But why miss a chance to make a grandiose statement.

Young shouldn't just be taken ahead of Cutler; he should be taken ahead of Matt Leinart, too. The Texas quarterback just came off the greatest performance in the history of Big Bowldom, running for 200 yards and passing for 267 more to end Southern Cal's 34-game winning streak and its bid for a third straight national title.

Matt Leinart's numbers in the 2006 Rose Bowl: 29 of 40 for 365 yards, one touchdown, one pick. Yeah, I can see how Vince should obviously go #1 seeing how Leinart crapped the bed on the biggest stage. Or maybe Leinart's performance in the Rose Bowl was a fluke? Let's see his performances in USC's other national title games:

2005 Orange Bowl: 18 of 35, 332 yards, five touchdowns, no picks.
2004 Rose Bowl: 23 of 34, 327 yards, three touchdowns, no picks.

Leinart is clearly some sort of choker who can't match Vince as a big game performer.

Young scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds. He won the MVP. He was a better passer than the 2004 Heisman winner, Leinart, and a better runner than the 2005 Heisman winner, Reggie Bush.

In what alternate dimension is Vince Young a better passer than Matt Leinart? Here are their career stats:

Leinart: 807 for 1245 (64.8%) for 10,693 yards, 99 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, 8.59 yards per attempt, one pick every 54.1 passes

Young: 444 for 718 (61.8%) for 6,040 yards, 44 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, 8.41 yards per attempt, one pick every 25.6 passes.

Leinart is better in every single category. Even taking into account that Leinart got to throw more than Young and thus, his raw numbers are higher, he still had a higher yards per attempt, a better completion percentage, and a significantly lower interception rate. But hey, Texas won the Rose Bowl, so Vince must be better.

In winning his 20th consecutive game and finishing his college career 30-2 as a starter, Young was equal parts John Elway and Randall Cunningham — tall, accurate and lethal on the move. After Young wiped out the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl with four touchdowns and 372 rushing and passing yards a year before he won the national title from USC, Lloyd Carr called him "the finest athlete I've ever seen on the field as a quarterback."

Yes, equal parts John Elway and Randall Cunningham, other than the fact that Elway and Cunningham don't throw like Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds. Incidentally, Elway never played in a bowl game at Stanford. Ian, remember when you held that against Jay Cutler a few paragraphs ago? Care to reconsider in light of inconvenient facts?

And with all due respect to Vince, the 2003 Michigan defense could make Dam Marino circa 1998 look like a fine athlete.

Caveat emptor to those who pass on him.

Would I have preferred a Wonderlic score of 20 for Young, a score that represents average intelligence? Sure. Would I take Leinart and Cutler ahead of Young because they reportedly scored 35 and 29, respectively, at the combine — much higher even than Young's second score on the rebound, reported to be 16? Absolutely not.

No, you should take those guys ahead of Vince Young because they throw the ball better, which seems somewhat important for a quarterback.

Let's assume for a moment that of the 11 USC Trojans trying to tackle Young in the Rose Bowl, at least 10 would've outscored him on the Wonderlic. At least 10 would've performed better in the areas of problem solving, understanding instructions, learning specific tasks, applying knowledge to new situations, etc.

They still couldn't tackle Young. In fact, all that additional cognitive power didn't help the Trojans put a single gloved hand on him. Young was the man, and they were the boys, making the Longhorns the outright national champs for the first time in 36 years.

This is idiotic for at least two reasons. First, no one is saying that the Wonderlic is critical for defensive players in the same way that it is for a quarterback, a position that requires far more processing. Second, Ian might have missed the entire college football season up until the Rose Bowl, so I'll let him in on a little secret: USC's defense was not very good, or maybe you missed the 42 points they allowed to Fresno State.

Genius is relative. Behind center, under the lights, Young is a genius. He is also a leader, as evidenced by the way the Longhorns rallied around him after he felt snubbed at the Heisman ceremony.

Right, Texas' highly-motivated play in the Rose Bowl must have been the result of the Heisman "snub" and had nothing to do with the fact that Texas was playing for their first national title in 37 years against a team on a 34-game winning streak that had been anointed as the best team of all-time by ESPN.

They made the Trojans pay for Bush's victory in New York. They ensured that Young would be the biggest star on the sport's biggest night.

Kudos for at least acknowledging that Young's teammates had something to do with the Horns winning the national title and that he didn't have to beat the SC defense one-on-11 on every play.

Leinart? He's going to be a good NFL quarterback, but he's a lead-footed lobber. That's going to get him in some degree of trouble Sundays.

So's Tom Brady and he's done OK in the NFL.

Scouts love Leinart's accuracy, but Young walked into the Rose Bowl with a better passing efficiency rating and an extra 816 rushing yards on his 2005 resume. At a time when pass rushers are faster than safeties, quarterbacks who can move are at a premium.

Which must explain why the Super Bowl quarterbacks this year were Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Hasselbeck, who combined for a whopping 193 rushing yards in 2005.

Young can move like no big quarterback before him. So his Wonderlic score shouldn't hurt him any more than, say, his semi-sidearm release.

Yes, Young is a great runner and that will help him in the NFL, but I have this strange idea that quarterbacks also need to be able to throw the ball with velocity and accuracy to the right receiver.

Young is the best quarterback in the upcoming draft. If an intelligence test can't tell you that, a film projector surely can.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One of the Best Articles I've Read

I've become a big fan of the Baseball Prospectus over the past several years and one of their statistical tools that I've always wanted to see applied to the NFL is the way that BP attempts to normalize minor league stats to project them as major league numbers. They concede that they're work is only educated guesswork, but they do a good job of interpreting minor league numbers to evaluate prospects. They're also constantly re-evaluating their methodology. For instance, they used to treat walk rates as one of the most important minor league stats, but they've now tweaked that opinion based on an observation that hitters with great eyes, but limited power can draw walks in the minors because the pitchers tend to have suspect control, but they can't draw walks in the majors where the pitchers can hit their spots in the strike zone and where the pitchers won't be afraid to hit those spots when the hitter can't do anything more than hit a single.

Anyway, Football Outsiders has a terrific article up now where they've analyzed quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds of the Draft over the past couple decades, determined that completion percentage and games started are the stats that have the most predictive power for the success or failure of a prospect, and now speculate on Cutler, Young, and Leinart in the NFL based on those stats. Some thoughts:

1. I've always thought that completion percentage was a lousy way to evaluate a quarterback and that yards per attempt was the only important stat (with touchdowns and interceptions having some value, but only secondarily so). That may still be true in terms of a quarterback's value to their team, but in terms of evaluating a quarterback's talent going forward, it appears that completion percentage is quite relevant. This makes sense, since accuracy is the #1 physical tool that a quarterback needs and completion percentage is the best way to determine whether that QB hits their spots on a regular basis.

2. The implications for D.J. Shockley are not good. Shockley only started for one year at Georgia and the fact that he was never able to beat out David Greene, a decent but hardly overwhelming starter, ought to be a major strike against him. If he can't beat out a likely career NFL back-up (assuming that Mark Richt didn't keep him on the bench for factors other than ability), then how is he expected to be starting caliber in the NFL, or even back-up caliber? And the 55.8 completion percentage is nothing outstanding, especially since it is lower than any of David Greene's season completion percentages.

3. Excellent point on Vince Young: he never had to throw the ball that hard. That would explain why he never looked like his arm was that strong, and it's also possible given how open his receivers typically were.

4. It's good to hear someone else make this point:

When it comes to adjusting your system to your players, the NFL is nowhere near as flexible as college football. This is because in the NFL players are much more expendable. A key example of this would be a man to whom many misguided people compare Young, Michael Vick. Vick has two things that he is absolutely outstanding at, running and throwing the ball far. His major weaknesses are reading the field and accuracy. Yet for some reason he has been made to play in an offense geared to short accurate passing and quick reads, so go figure.

The problem with the first part of the argument is that Mike Vick is not really expendable. The Falcons are committing a huge chunk of their salary cap to him and his back-up has a completely different skill-set than he does. As a result, the team probably has him in a system that de-emphasizes running and long passing because they don't want him taking hits that will knock him out for an extended period of time. This is why I think the Falcons need to trade Matt Schaub for a high draft pick, axe Greg Knapp, find a Vick-like back-up (Brad Smith, anyone?), and install an offense tailored to Vick's talents.

5. The biggest problem with FO's theory is that it attempts to screen out system quarterbacks like Dorsey, Kingsbury, and Wuerrfel by limiting itself to quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds, but it does not take into account the effects of systems and surrounding talent as pertaining to QBs taken in the first two rounds. For instance, this argument regarding Matt Leinart is problematic:

The most statistically similar recent college quarterbacks are Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, both of whom played in the MAC. Leinart had better talent around him, of course, but he also had to face much more difficult competition. Dip a little further into the past, and we find that Leinart?s college statistics are remarkably similar to those of another Pac-10 quarterback: John Elway.

Leinart did not merely have better talent around him than Elway, Leftwich, and Roethlisberger, he had better talent than any of the teams on USC's schedule. As a result of Pete Carroll's skills as a recruiter, USC's location in the middle of a talent-rich region, and the ineptitude of the rest of the Pac Ten at recruiting, USC has more talent than any other college program and certainly more talent than their opponents, who have players that, with very few exceptions, USC declined to offer. (Notre Dame will ultimately challenge USC on a talent basis, but they're going to suffer the after-effects of Ty Willingham's crappy recruiting in 2007 and 2008.) Leinart had the benefit of virtually flawless protection, the best running threat in the country, and a bevy of great receivers. Thus, his stats really aren't comparable to Elway's, since Elway competed with less talent that Stanford's opponents, or Leftwich and Roethlisberger, who competed with equivalent or slightly greater talent than their MAC opponents.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I am the Smartest Man Alive!!!

Remember when I said that Vince Young and Mike Vick would both be far more effective in a zone-read offense and that NFL teams shouldn't make the same mistake with Young that the Falcons are currently making with Vick by shoe-horning him into an offense that doesn't suit his needs? (OK, I also mentioned that Vick wouldn't be able to stay healthy in a shotgun, run-based spread like those used by every BCS bowl winner last year, but let's ignore that.) Remember this morning when I said that the Falcons needed a jumbo tackle to put next to Rod Coleman to help stop the run and free the linebackers to flow to the ball? Voila.

Great Atlanta Tragedies

Sherman's burning of the city, the Winecoff Hotel Fire, Jim Leyritz, and now this: a near riot at Vision to get close to Kevin Federline. I'm fully willing to concede that judging Atlanta based on the hoochies that flock to Vision is similar to judging The Beatles based on Yoko, but this is still embarrassing. I defended the city when the Braves struggled to sell out playoff games, when our bus drivers had no idea where they were going during the '96 Olympics, and when the Metro area (or "Atlantaland," for those readers in Chicago) was responsible for sending to Congress the most insane representatives on both the right (Bob Barr) and the left (Cynthia McKinney), but this is truly indefensible. Good gracious, we could be mocked by Los Angelinos. Is there anything more embarrassing than that? Oh yeah, the fact that the lead video story on the AJC's web site right now is about a 45-pound cat in Smyrna.

An encouragement to have children: cancelling out this guy's multiple contributions to Earth's gene pool.

By the way, in my efforts to find a suitable picture that exudes the essence of K-Fed, I came across a site that would surely be linked and commented upon with great frequency and intensity if Andrea had her own blog: PURSE BLOG!!!

Catching Up with the Local Sports Collectives

Falcons - The Abraham deal got done, with the Falcons moving down in the first round and picking up a third- and fourth-rounder to boot. (Naturally, the AJC managed to confuse me today by stating or at least implying that the Falcons don't pick before the second round. Would it be too much to ask that AJC reporters understand the deals on which they're reporting? Remember Sekou Smith's belief last year that the Hawks were going to lose the first-rounder they got in compensation for Antoine Walker? I digress.) The team signed him to a six-year, $45M contract, which naturally means nothing and I'm still looking for a breakdown on the deal. The Falcons need to get four good years out of him to make up for the fact that they traded away the chance to draft a young, cheap, productive player with the #15 pick. The defense does look a lot better now with the safety and defensive end weaknesses addressed. Now, they can focus on getting a corner who can relegate Jason Webster to the nickel and keep Allen Rossum from having to cover anyone, along with a left tackle who can at least impede opposing rushers from getting to the franchise. I'd also like to see them get a space-eater to put next to Rod Coleman to give the team a dream defensive line, but that might be too much to ask.

Thrashers - They followed up their big comeback in Boston with an even bigger comeback against New Jersey on Thursday night and then left a real stinker on the ice in Uniondale. This, combined with Montreal sweeping the Maple Leafs (thanks for the help, Toronto), leaves the Thrashers three points out with 11 games to go. Thursday night's game with Tampa is an absolute must-win. If the team doesn't make it, then chalk their failure up to an average defensive corps that have left Kari out to dry on too many occasions. Braydon Coburn, this is your life calling.

Braves - I'm going to go on record now as saying that trading John Thomson would be an enormous mistake. He's a legitimate #3 starter and giving him away for left-handed relief help, which is completely fungible, would be stupid. I know that the Braves want to get Kyle Davies into the rotation, but it's far more likely that they'll do so when one of their starters gets hurt (it's like clockwork with Tim Hudson and need I remind our fearless GM that the ace of the staff is 38 with a history of arm problems) or when Horacio Ramirez or Jorge Sosa blow up. Ramirez and Sosa both had suspect peripherals last year and have not set the world on fire this spring. Spring ball is never a good barometer of success once the pitches start flying for real, but for players about whom we already have doubts, weak spring performances are a concern. Ramirez and Sosa aren't Greg Maddux, intentionally f***ing with hitters by throwing them cheese that will confuse them when Greg sees them again in June. They both allowed a ton of runners last year, with Horacio adding the special treat of letting those runners score at a canter on the heels of another home run. I'd much prefer Davies and possibly Chuck James replacing them in the rotation if one or both suck.

Hawks - The team is firmly back in the crapper after a solid February. They aren't competitive with the good teams and they're losing to most of the bad teams. The players seem as if they've hit a wall, which is probably to be expected with a young team, but still discouraging. The only good news is that they're earning themselves a few more lottery balls.

The Atlanta Regional - I had a good time at the game on Thursday night, although I might never forgive my friend Billy for convincing me that Texas had things wrapped up at halftime and thus depriving me of seeing dueling clutch threes from Pittsnogle and Paulino in person. Still, I got to see Redick weep off the court after crapping the bed in his final game, so the trip was certainly worthwhile. Some assorted thoughts:

1. If Coach K didn't have his carefully crafted image of "more than a coach," then he might get some criticism from inside the periphery that his post-Grant Hill/Laettner teams have mostly underachieved in the tournament. He brings in the best high school talent every year, but almost every time Duke plays a similarly talented team in the tournament, they lose. No one can look at the talent that Coach K has brought in over the past decade and claim that his teams haven't underachieved, but since he has a healthy platoon of Caucasians (who are "gritty" and "heady" instead of "talented," despite the fact that they were huge recruits with similar physical skills to those "naturally-gifted" Black guys playing for other programs) and the aura of Duke University and Duke basketball behind him, he doesn't get criticized. And why do his teams underachieve? Possibly because he doesn't use his depth? Possibly because his coaching style, especially on defense, can be exploited by teams with quality size and those are the teams that Duke inevitably confronts in the later rounds of the tournament? Possibly because he doesn't spend as much time on the tactics that he excelled at earlier in his career and has instead entered a Bobby Bowden stage where he's more CEO than hands-on coach?

1a. One major caveat: Coach K is still the same guy who made seven Final Fours in nine years, at times with relatively untalented teams. (The 1990 team comes to mind, for instance.) Billy Donovan was being written off as a one-hit wonder before this season, but now, he has reminded us all that he's the same guy who did a fine job in riding Florida to the title game in 2000. If we just used the past several years as predictors, then we never would have guessed that the Pac Ten and SEC, two conferences that have struggled mightily to place teams in the Final Four, would have three-quarters of the representatives, while the fourth representative would come from the mid-major Cinderella class that hasn't produced a Final Four team in decades.

2. The hanging scoreboard and buzzer didn't work at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. Given the efficacy of our city and state government, I can't say that I'm overly surprised.

3. The NCAA does everything they can to make the experience of going to a tournament game as antiseptic as possible. Maybe I've been spoiled by Hawks games (and when did you ever think you'd hear that?), but the interminable commercial breaks after every four minutes of game time were made much worse by the absence of any entertainment. No videos on the Jumbotron, no t-shirts being shot into the upper deck with bazookas, nothing but me and my thoughts. Don't they know that Gen X needs constant stimulation? Entertain me, dammit! And because the NCAA piously refuses to allow the sale of beer at the Tournament (they want to get rich of the unpaid labor that are their athletes, but they apparently don't want to get THAT rich), I couldn't even maintain a buzz.

4. Naturally, it took mere hours following GMU's win over UConn before I heard the first "why can't college football have a tournament so they could have their George Mason story?" remark (courtesy of Steak Shapiro on Mayhem in the AM). First, college basketball was not discussed at all until the NFL season ended (including on Mayhem) and even afterwards, there was more of a search for a storyline ("Hey look, there are two white guys scoring a lot of points for top ten teams! And one was home schooled while the other is a Marxist! Let's hype this story to death!") than there was interest in the games themselves. College basketball has reduced itself to a three-week impact on the sports consciousness of the country. College football has a season-long playoff.

And if you don't believe me, contrast the impact that Ohio State-Texas had on your memory with Duke-Memphis or Memphis-UCLA. If you were like me, you were probably surprised to find out that the Oakland Regional final was a rematch, mainly because no one cares about college basketball until late in the season. This is the wrong year to be bitching about college football's structure, since it worked perfectly, building up all season to the two best teams meeting in the Rose Bowl and then producing an absolute classic. Isn't that better than the second-place team in the CAA playing the second-best team in the SEC for all the marbles? I'm not saying that college football's system is perfect. 2004 surely illustrated that. However, the solution is a four-team playoff, not some sort of soulless 32-team monstrosity designed to allow casual fans to ignore the entire regular season and then pick up in December.

Second, there's no way for a George Mason to compete in football. College basketball requires a limited number of good players and a limited financial investment. That's how a team like George Mason can do better than the richer, bigger flagship schools of the Commonwealth. College football requires a large number of very good players and a larger financial investment. There's no such thing as a Danny Manning in football because one great player can't single-handedly win a game. (A great player with good teammates, like say, Vince Young? Sure. Vince Young with Middle Tennessee State talent around him? Eh, not so likely.)

Third, does anyone else find it a little cheap that a team that couldn't win the Colonial Athletic Conference has a good chance to win the national title?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Musical Meme!!!

After achieving a bloggy highlight to the first off-season timekilling meme with the story of my Dad's declaration of war against a beef stroganoff baked potato, we're excited to get after this meme on music. Prepare for the ramblings of someone whose musical tastes typically match those of a Baby Boomer who thinks that a blog is an amorphous alien that became the subject of several bad horror movies. On with the fun:

By the way, if you want background on most of the songs I'm sure to list, this link will be a great help.

1. A favorite political track.

Shit, this seems to be right in the wheelhouse of your average Dylan fanatic. I suppose I should say "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" or "Hurricane", but instead, I'm going with "Only a Pawn in their Game." Dylan's "folk" phase is not my favorite epoch of his career, but this song never gets old, mainly because Dylan can write about the murder of Medgar Evers while still not blaming everything on rednecks as most folkies of the era were wan to do. When I try to explain why poor whites have it almost as bad as blacks in the South, this song does a lot of the work for me.

2. One of those tracks that will make you dance on the dancefloor no matter what.

"My Own Worst Enemy" by Lit. In my memory palace of being a star striker for Barcelona, this is on my I-Pod before heading out onto the pitch at the Bernabeu, putting a hat trick past Real Madrid, kissing the badge on my jersey, and then derisively giving David Beckham a peck on the cheek. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not start shuffling their shoulders like a whitey with no rhythm.

3. The song you’d use to tell someone you love them.

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" by Bob Dylan. You can have all your songs that'll be forgotten in ten minutes; you won't do better than this for the opening verse of a love song:

My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can't buy her.

I had to talk myself out of using this song for my vows at my wedding. It seemed a little unoriginal to use another Jew's words under the Chupah. "In My Life" by The Beatles would also be a good choice.

4. A song you know would sell lots of VWs (or ipods, or whatever) if they paid for it. (One that hasn’t already been used).

"Electrolite" by REM. Call me crazy, but I can see a woman washing her hair in a commercial with Stipe singing over a piano and Andrea immediately deciding that she needs that conditioner on her next trip to Publix.

5. A song that forced you to sit down and analyze its lyrics.

"Black Diamond Bay" by Bob Dylan. I've spent more time trying to figure this one out than any other song, with the possible exception of "Desolation Row" and "Visions of Johanna." It's one of the only songs that Dylan has not played live, which has to be telling that it's personal. Is the female character his ex-wife? Is there significance to the fact that the bay has the same initials as Dylan himself? Is the final verse Dylan's way of saying that he's tuned out of what's happening in the world? And is anyone reading this familiar with anything I'm saying?

6. A song you like that a 2 year old would like too.

"Rocky Top." I'll admit that it's catchy and fun to sing while drinking, but it's repetitive simplicity is something that a two-year old could truly appreciate. Well, maybe they won't understand what it means to drink corn from a jar, but that's not a bad thing.

7. A song that makes you drive too fast.

"Original of the Species" by U2. I can make this statement from personal experience, as I listened to this one three times in a row last May when I was driving up to Charlottesville for my five-year law school reunion. The combination of a sunny day, a scenic ride on US-29 north of Danville, the fact that I was missing work for a day, the prospect of seeing other lawyers more beaten down by life than me, and this soaring song (isn't that the mandatory adjective for U2 guitar-heavy songs?) got Guderian into high gear.

Note of disclosure: my car is German and I named it after the Wehrmacht's Panzer ace from WWII. And yes, I'm Jewish. Welcome to a human contradiction.

8. A song that makes you feel like kicking someone’s ass.

"Take this Job and Shove It" by Johnny Paycheck. Nothing makes me want to kick ass quite like being frustrated at work and this song always comes in handy. "Oney" by Johnny Cash comes in as a close second and has the advantage of not having been destroyed by a million covers.

9. A song that both you and your grandparents (would probably) like.

"1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky. The song was almost destroyed for me when I figured out that it figures prominently in the menu offered by the Notre Dame Marching Band, but then I figured out that it's about a massive defeat for a predominantly Catholic army and it became amusing to me. Anyway, I suspect that my grandparents like classical music more than music that they shouldn't criticize because they can't understand.

11. The song you’d send to someone you hated.

"My Humps" by Fergie. I defy any future boy bands or Barry Mannilow's to come up with anything as insipid as this pile of crap. If the recipient is a small-chested woman or a large-chested feminist, then all the better.

12. A sad instrumental song that would be in the soundtrack to a movie about your life.

I've often thought that Steve Earle's "Transcendental Blues" would be a great opening for my life on screen, although I don't do enough drugs (or any, for that matter) to justify being transcendental. But it isn't sad or instrumental. So instead, "I'm So Tired" by The Beatles is going to have to do. This'll be playing after I've stayed up all night obsessing about Lloyd punting on 4th and three from the 38 when nursing a narrow lead, shortly before I come to the realization that there are more important things in life...the same that every Cameron Crowe protagonist reaches.

13. The peppy song that would start the opening credits in the soundtrack to a movie about your life.

"No One Left to Run With Anymore" by the Allman Brothers. This song gets the nod, in part because the Brothers are from Macon and in part because the movie is going to be about me coming to grips that the days of working as Camp Judaea's sports director and lording my mad skillz at NHL '94 over the rest of the staff have sadly faded to black and been replaced by TPS reports.

14. An a cappella song.

"Imagine" by Neil Young. I'm just not a John Lennon fan, so I'm opting for Neil's version on "America: a Tribute to Heroes." It's not exactly a capella, but it's close enough and it's one of those songs that nails a time and place for me. My friend Bob and I were having beers at Smith's Olde Bar shortly after I had returned from being stranded in Europe after 9/11. I was pretty unsettled by the whole experience and in just the right emotional spot to be hit by Neil Young singing the right song. We'll return to Oxygen after this short commercial break.

15. A good song from a genre of music that no one could guess that you liked.

"Express Yourself" by NWA. I guess it isn't that surprising that a suburban kid who grew up in the 80s would like NWA, but it seems to surprise other cars on Peachtree Street on a Saturday night to hear this one coming from the redhead in the A4.

16. A song you think should have been playing when you were born.

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones. It seems appropriate that I should have come out of my mother's womb to the line "I was born in the middle of a crossfire hurricane."

17. A favorite artist duo collaboration.

"Gone" by Kanye West with Consequence and Cam'Ron. "It's my sweet brutha' Noompsie!"

18. A favorite song that you completely disagree with (politically, morally, commonsenically, religiously etc.)

"If That Ain't Country" by David Allen Coe. I want to use this line in conversation all the time, and then I remember that this is the song that Coe drops an n-bomb and I stop myself. Such a shame, because it's a catchy tune and yet DAC just can't help himself. He might be the only artist on earth who drops a racial epithet on his greatest hits album. Normally, that sort of mistake is saved for some underground bootleg where Band X have been drinking gallons of turpentine moonshine and someone slips up and forgets that they're not in "Crash."

19. The song that you love despite the fact your IQ level drops several points every time you listen to it.

"Behind these Hazel Eyes" by Kelly Clarkson. I honestly contemplated putting my head in the oven when I downloaded this to my I-Pod. And yet it's on the mix I use when I go running. There's nothing quite so humiliating as spending $.99 on a song by the winner of a gameshow.

20. Your smooth song, for relaxing.

"Something in the Way" by Nirvana. Just avoid paying attention to the actual subject of the song and it's a wonderful companion to a glass of Baker's after a long, hard day. "I Shall Believe" by Sheryl Crow isn't bad, either. Why that song never took off as a teenager slow dance song I'll never know.

21. A song that you like but would play loud to annoy the neighbors.

I hate my Republican, trust fund, FSU grad, loud music at odd hours while probably high on Bolivian nose powder downstairs neighbors and have fond memories of the Spurrier era, so whatever the Florida fight song is actually called, I'll roll with that. And speaking of fight songs...

22. A favorite song that’s about a sport or sports.

Louis Elbel, take it from here:

Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant!
Here they come with banners flying.
In stalwart step they're nighing.
With shouts of vict'ry crying.
We hurrah, hurrah, we greet you now, Hail!
Far we their praises sing
For the glory and fame they've bro't us,
Loud let the bells them ring,
For here they come with banners flying
Far we their praises tell
For the glory and fame they've bro't us,
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Here they come, Hurrah!

Hail! To the victors, valiant...

23. A favorite track from an outfit considered a “super-group.”

"Tweeter and the Monkey Man" by The Traveling Wilburys.

24. The song that makes you want to drink more beer.

"I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" by Merle Haggard. If we aren't just limited to beer, then I have a whole setlist ready, bitches:

"Jack Daniels if You Please" by David Allan Coe
"Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg (especially to follow a song by an open racist with one by the pride of South Central.)
"Roll Another Number for the Road" by Neil Young
"Hypnotize" by Notorious B.I.G.
"Loving Cup" by The Rolling Stones
"Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle
"Beginning to See the Light" by The Velvet Underground
"Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" by Bob Dylan (especially the version from the "No Direction Home" soundtrack, which I like more than the "Blonde on Blonde" version.)
"Rudie Can't Fail" by The Clash
"One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" by George Thorogood
"Mr. Brownstone" by Guns 'n' Roses

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If the NHL Regular Season Ended Today...

Then the Canadiens would be wondering why it is that the Thrashers got to play one more game than they did. Thus, although I'm excited that the Thrashers have moved into 8th place, it's an incomplete victory since the Canadiens still have a game in hand. The better news is that the Thrashers are playing some of their best hockey of the season, certainly better than the other seven teams fighting for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference.

If the team does indeed make the playoffs, then last night's come-from-behind win over Boston might stick in our memories the same way as David Justice's epic game-winning blast off of Rob Dibble in game 158 of the 1991 season to help the Braves rally from a 6-0 deficit against the defending World Champions stay in first place. It's not quite the same as a critical win in the process of going worst-to-first and winning the divisional title against your hated rival and their obnoxious, SlimFast-hawking manager and coke-swilling leftfielder, but still, coming back from two goals down with seven minutes to play is a big deal.

The only negative from the game is that the Thrashers bled another two power play goals. Only six teams in the NHL have an inferior penalty kill percentage. Even if the Thrashers make the playoffs, they won't be going anywhere if they don't shore up the penalty kill. We can't blame the goaltending for the penalty kill, as Kari Lehtonen has been consistently good since the Olympic break. The defensemen aren't great, but that isn't going to change for the rest of the season. Getting Patrik Stefan back would be very important. If he's healthy, he can be the defensive center that Bobby Holik is supposed to be and he could make the penalty kill better.

Although every game is big, the next three are all enormous: home against the Devils, followed by trips to the Island and Tampa. Each game is going to be a four-pointer in the playoff race, so a good stretch in these next three outings could go a long way to making the last few weeks of the season more about playoff seeding and less about biting our fingernails for that first playoff berth.

Monday, March 20, 2006

This Just In

Joe Johnson is good.

In a season in which we hearty few Hawks fans have spent most of our verbiage moaning about taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul or complaining that we overpaid for Johnson, in light of Boris Diaw's excellent performances for Phoenix and the fact that we're probably going to end up surrendering a lottery pick in a loaded 2007 Draft, it's good to take a step back sometimes and admire the fact that Billy Knight did identify Johnson's potential correctly. Here's Joe's stat line from yesterday's win over Orlando:

40 points on 17/24 shooting, three rebounds, 11 assists, and no turnovers.

The only complaints I could possibly make about Joe's otherwise sterling performance are that he only shot two free throws and that he missed the winning shot at the end of overtime, although his penetration left Zaza with a wide open path to the basket to tip in the winning points. Otherwise, yesterday's performance was an absolute gem. I went to the game with my brother Dan and spent a good chunk of the 4th quarter discussing this article from, which was vindicating for us since neither of us like Vince Carter or Kobe and the stats make them look bad. Sure enough, Joe had the ball in his hands at the end of regulation and did the smart thing, drawing the defense and then kicking the ball to Al Harrington, who missed a wide open look for the win. Harrington missed two potential game-winning shots off of good feeds from Johnson in the space of a week, yesterday against Orlando and Monday night against Milwaukee.

Overall, the team is a disappointing 3-6 in March, so it looks like they've failed to build on their solid 6-6 February. The Hawks have been in every game, so it isn't as if they aren't competitive, but as Sean Connery helpfully pointed out in The Rock, losers always whine about doing their best; winners go home and f*** the prom queen. The team hasn't gotten much from Johnson and Harrington's supporting cast, other than Josh Smith, who has been playing well for an extended period of time. The Hawks being the Hawks, his emergence in his sophomore year leads to this question: if the team does get a point guard and then slot Joe Johnson in at the two, then can they play Smith or Marvin Williams at the four? Are Smith and Williams redundant at the three? Oh no, I've gone cross-eyed.

The John Abraham Saga

The latest question is whether the Falcons should trade their #1 pick (#15 in the first round) for Abraham. For comparison's sake, here are the last ten players to be taken #15 in the Draft:

2005 - Derrick Johnson (Kansas City)
2004 - Michael Clayton (Tampa Bay)
2003 - Jerome McDougle (Philadelphia)
2002 - Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee)
2001 - Rod Gardner (Washington)
2000 - Deltha O'Neal (Denver)
1999 - Booger (I refuse to call him Anthony when he has such a great nickname) McFarland (Tampa Bay)
1998 - Anthony Simmons (Seattle)
1997 - Yatil Green (Miami)
1996 - John Mobley (Denver)

Out of those ten players, only Deltha O'Neal has made a Pro Bowl, although most of the players on this list are productive starters. NFL teams tend to overvalue their Draft picks and John Abraham is almost certainly a better player than whomever the Falcons will take with their first round pick, especially since he's entering his prime and the team would not have to worry about a learning curve with him.

On the other hand, one has to factor the salary cap into the equation. Is it better to have Abraham making star money or a good, but not great player like Tamba Hali or Mike Kudla making significantly less. The role model franchises in the NFL right now are New England and Pittsburgh and neither of them break the bank for free agents. Rather, they have a few stars, most or all of whom came through the Draft, and then they fill in around them with cheap, young players. The key is that they don't overpay for stars and they get rid of players without sentimentality before they start declining. If the Falcons sign Abraham to a deal that is hard to get out of after 2-3 years, then they'll be paying for his decline phase, as well. The Falcons also have an iffy history with big contracts. Peerless Price pretty much defines the word "bust", although the current regime can't be blamed for that colossal mistake and there's no reason to think that Abraham is analogous to a second receiver making first receiver money. The team is currently overpaying for Keith Brooking and Mike Vick; they are not overpaying for Patrick Kerney. The Rod Coleman and Warrick Dunn signings were both good ideas, as they were the best players on their sides of the ball for the past two seasons. OK, that last sentence convinced me that going after Abraham isn't a bad idea, even if it isn't something that the Steelers or Patriots would do.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some Final Four Stats

I was bored during a telephone conference earlier today and decided to pass the time by seeing if I could remember every Final Four for the past 20 years. Success!!! Anyway, my nerdiness will now entertain you. Here are a few observations:

1. Duke and North Carolina have combined for 17 Final Four trips in the past 20 years, which is more than any other conference. Duke has been to the Final Four ten times, North Carolina has been seven times, and only Kansas has more than four trips. (They've been six times, inevitably when I haven't picked them. I swore that I would never pick them again after I picked them every year I was in college and they never made it. So naturally, they made it twice once I started work.) However, the Big Ten has proven to be a deeper conference than the ACC, as it has sent seven teams to the Final Four over 20 years (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State), whereas only Georgia Tech and Maryland have gone from the ACC in those two decades. Ergo, as much as I sing the praises of ACC basketball, almost all of the conference's impressive stats can be attributed to the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. Annoying as he may be, Dick Vitale has a reason to be so obsessed with them.

2. Arguably, Michigan State is the best program in the last ten years, with four Final Four trips and a national title. Thanks, Maurice Taylor!

3. The Big East's struggles yesterday are nothing new for the conference, as only the Pac Ten has had fewer Final Four entrants over the past 10 or 20 years. (I only gave them credit for teams in the conference at the time that they made the Final Four, so they don't bootstrap Louisville, Marquette, and Cincinnati's trips. Likewise, the SEC only gets credit for two of Arkansas' three trips over the past 20 years.) In the last decade, the odd thing is that the Big East has had four Final Four entrants...and three of them have won national titles. The one that didn't was 1996 Syracuse, which made the finals before losing to Kentucky. Thus, Big East teams don't do much to get to the Final Four, but they're 7-1 once they get there in the past ten years.

4. The Pac Ten sucks. They have three Final Four trips in the past ten years, two from Arizona and that one bizarre trip for Stanford. They had three Final Four trips in the ten years before that, again two from Arizona and one from UCLA. I guess that the Pac Ten's enormous advantage in sophistication and mental ability only extends to the gridiron. That said, the Pac Ten isn't working on quite the same national title drought as the Big XII, none of whose current members have won a national title since 1988. That's not quite the Big Ten's 1968-97 drought in football, but it's nice nonetheless.

5. The SEC has sucked recently. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed this, but the conference has not had a Final Four entrant since the 2000 Florida Gators unleashed their armada of I-ROCs on the unsuspecting citizens of Indianapolis. The SEC is also no stranger to Final Four droughts, as they didn't send a team from LSU's cameo trip in 1986 until Kentucky arrived in New Orleans in 1993. From '93 to '00, the conference was a force of nature, sending Kentucky four times, Arkansas twice, Florida twice, and even noted power Mississippi State in 1996.

The Discussion in the Bathroom this Morning

(Background: the Mayhem in the AM crew were going on and on about how surprising it was to them and the rest of the patrons of the Cheetah that Syracuse and Boston College struggled so much after doing so well in their conference tournaments.)

Michael: It doesn't surprise me that these guys would be totally shocked by Syracuse and BC struggling, since they have the sports radio mindset that completely overvalues the most recent events. If they had any ability to think back longer than last weekend, they would have been wary of teams that play much better in their conference tournaments than they did all season. Every year, there's some team like Syracuse that's mediocre for three months, catches fire for one weekend, and then surprises every knuckle-dragger with a bracket when they crash out in the first round of the Dance. I didn't get much right yesterday, but I did nail the A&M game.

Andrea: A&M won? That's great! I also had them winning!

Michael: Really? What made you pick them? I assume that you had a different reason than I did.

Andrea: I like Bobby Knight.

Michael: He coaches Texas Tech and they aren't in the tournament.

Andrea: Ooops.

Michael: I am SO blogging this.

And incidentally, it gave me great amusement to hear the Mayhem guys make fun of whatever poor media schmuck asked Gerry McNamara how he felt after he stunk in Syracuse's loss to A&M, since the Mayhem crew are the absolute masters of the obvious question. For instance, here are some of the gems that Cellini and Bell offered up to D.J. Shockley and "Uberagent Todd France" earlier in the week (I'm paraphrasing):

It must have really sucked to not play against Florida, right?

It helped to have a coach for a father, right?

You have interest from NFL teams, right?

NFL teams like the fact that D.J. is such a character guy, right?

Who was your favorite receiver last year? It must have been fun to throw to Leonard Pope, right?

Fortunately, by the end of the segment, Mike Bell was imitating Gunther Seeger and we were laughing our asses off, while being reminded of why we listen to the show every morning and are disappointed that they're only on for about 33 minutes every hour.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Good Blurb from the Prospectus on the Braves' First Base Situation

The Baseball Prospectus weighs in on the Braves' first base situation. They're not high on the notion that Adam LaRoche can hit lefties and, unfortunately, they have good reason to be so pessimistic, going back to his minor league stats. Fortunately, James Jurries and Matt Diaz both look like solid options as the right-handed parts of the Braves' first base platoon. Jurries can step into Julio Franco's roster spot and Diaz will hopefully step into Brian Jordan's as the right-handed outfielder. I guess the problem there is that the Braves would be carrying five outfielders unless they send Kelly Johnson or Ryan Langerhans down. My personal preference is that the Braves keep Johnson, since I developed a man-crush on his last year on account of the fact that he has emerged from the Braves' minor league system with a very good batting eye, a relatively novel concept.

Then again, maybe LaRoche simply needs to grow a mustache and that will take care of his short-comings as a hitter. The one thing I will say on his behalf is that he has been one of the Braves' few offensive stars in the last two NLDS defeats, so he may have that "clutch" gene that BP swears is a figment. (Of course, I also swear it's a figment when the subject is Derek Jeter, but that's a different story.)

Both Losers

My eternal admiration to anyone who gets this reference. (My brothers do not count, as they've heard me make these jokes too many times before.) I'm planning to make a poster for use at the Atlanta regional using this analogy so I can revel in the confused looks from all assembled.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Here's What I Don't Get

Overlooking the fact that NFL teams consistently treat second- and third-round draft picks as if every player taken at that stage in the Draft is going to be Dan Marino running a 4.5, how is it that Daunte Culpepper, an upper-tier player at the most important position on the field, is worth a second-round pick, but John Abraham, an upper-tier player at a less important position, is apparently worth a second-round pick AND a quality quarterback prospect. I understand that Culpepper could be damaged goods and that reduces his value, but Abraham hasn't exactly been a model of durability either. I also understand that Culpepper cost the Dolphins a huge signing bonus, but Abraham will probably present the same challenge for the Falcons. The only distinguishing characteristic, as best I can tell, is that Culpepper completely burned his bridges with the Vikings and reduced his trade value as a result. The Jets and Abraham appear to be at an impasse in terms of his contract value, but they have the option of keeping him with the franchise tag again, so he has more value to them than Culpepper does to the Vikings.

As far as trading Matt Schaub is concerned, I'm not totally certain on his contract status, but if this is indeed his last year with the team and would be unlikely to re-sign because he wants to be a starter and knows that will never happen in Atlanta, then the Falcons ought to trade him now. It's nice having a solid insurance policy for Mike Vick and there are those of us who would love to see Schaub and Vick actually compete for the job, but I might as well start looking for real estate in Washington, D.C. on the assumption that I'm going to be tabbed by Dubya for the next Supreme Court vacancy. Vick is the starting quarterback, as the franchise has totally committed to him financially. Given that context, the team cannot commit too much money to a back-up and they have to take any chance they get to flip that back-up into a quality starter. If they indeed turn Schaub into Abraham, then their use of a third-round pick on the Wahoo will indeed have been an inspired decision. They got a cheap back-up for two years and then turned that back-up into an upper-tier starter who answers a major need. With Abraham in the fold and Lawyer Milloy under consideration at safety, the team could focus on the corner position with their first round pick and the offensive line (especially the left tackle spot) with their second-rounder. Assuming that T.J. Duckett is let go, then a back-up running back will be a priority with the third or fourth round pick, with a space-eating defensive tackle being one other priority. (Rod Coleman would benefit greatly from a Gabe Watson-type next to him, although Gabe isn't going to be around after the first round.) There, I've just plotted out the Falcons' entire Draft. You can now spend April 29 frolicking outside. You're welcome.

One other note on Matt Schaub: the fact that the Jets are so interested in him is quite a compliment, since his one start last year was against New England, a team whose defensive coordinator, Eric Mangini, is now the head coach of the Jets. He was impressed enough by that performance to have apparently identified Schaub as his #1 target. Maybe we can't chalk Schaub's performance in that game up to New England's battered secondary. Does Mangini see Schaub as his Brady, a tall, but relatively immobile passer who has decent arm strength, terrific accuracy, and a degree from one of this nation's two premier public universities? (You know I couldn't resist making that remark.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Outstanding Article on 40 Times

The next time you hear some blowhard, in between telling you about how the new recruits for State U. are all studs who are going to be tops on, er, dominate your favorite team's players, refer to a player's "4.3 40" time, please refer them to this article (HT: Bruce Feldman, the only reason I visit ESPN's college football page in the offseason) and respond "oh, so you mean faster than Ben Johnson in Seoul."

The overstatement of players' speed based on 40 times has always been a pet topic of mine after hearing fans rave about their players running physically impossible 4.1 40s. (Hearing over and over again about how speed kills and Michigan would not be able to handle SEC speed, all while Michigan was on a three-game winning streak against very good SEC bowl opponents from '98 to '00 also had an effect on me.) Three fan bases always stood out in this regard:

1. Arkansas fans, mainly for Cedric Cobbs. (As it turned out, they weren't totally off on Matt Jones.)

2. South Carolina fans, the model for irrational exuberance. Corey Jenkins comes to mind, the supernatural athlete who weighed 240 pounds, could throw a ball from goalpost to goalpost, and ran faster than Carl Lewis. Naturally, he was benched before the end of his senior season.

3. Virginia Tech fans, who had the rare experience of being right in their hyperbole when talking about Michael Vick and then transferred their apocryphal tales of 40 times below 4.2 to Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, Jimmy Williams, and probably the little man living inside Frank Beamer's jaw that tells him that UVA's punt protection scheme is vulnerable to an overload on the left side.

What's interesting to me is that the article debunks the 40 times that come out of the Indianapolis combine, which is noted for having slow times because of the surface, and out of pro days on campus, which are timed by NFL scouts who have no incentive to overstate the speed of the prospects. In the college football world, 40 times usually come from breathless high school and college coaches who have strong incentives to exaggerate how fast their players are. Thus, the article debunks the times of college seniors, but by implication, it completely demolishes the 40 times for high school and active college players.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Schuerholz's Lurid Tell-All!

If this article is part of a campaign to drum up interest in John Schuerholz's memoirs, then congrats to John, because it's mission accomplished. Some really interesting material in there. A few observations:

1. It worries me that Schuerholz declined to write the book initially because he only wanted to do it when his career was over. Uh, those rumors that Mazzone left because he knew that Cox and Schuerholz would be retiring soon just got a bit more likely. Let's enjoy this season, as it might be the last for the brain trust for 14 straight divisional titles.

2. Barry Bonds as a Brave? You think we might have won a few more World Series with the best hitter in decades perched in the three-spot in the order, with Chipper following him? The jolt to the Braves' offense, combined with a stellar pitching staff would have been unbeatable, even in a short series lottery. (Of course, we need to remember that with Bonds on the payroll, the team probably wouldn't have had the money for Greg Maddux, so we need to knock that pitching staff down a peg.) Yankees' dynasty? It would have been a bad dream that never came true with Bonds in the fold.

The other, less appealing question would be how we would feel now about Bonds if he would have hit 600 home runs in a Braves uniform. Could we be rational about the fact that our star was teeing off for years with the help of various illegal steroids, hormones, drugs, and fish paralyzers? And how would we have felt about rooting for a guy who is such a prick to the media and his teammates? I've wondered how Giants fans feel about Bonds, a tremendous player who is so unrootable and now turns out to be a cheater. Fans will generally root for anyone who plays well for their team, but Bonds really puts that to the test. I'd feel very conflicted if I was writing the San Francisco Sports Blog, my loyalty tested against my objectivity. (I guess that's the dilemma for sports fans all the time.)

A few other notes: if Bonds would have been a Brave in '92, then the epic '92 NLCS would have been totally different, as it's very unlikely that the Pirates would have made it that far. And was it divine retribution that the Bucs were beaten in such dramatic fashion after they reneged on a deal to send Bonds to Atlanta? And if Leyland doesn't veto that deal and Bonds is still a Brave in '97, does Leyland ever win his World Series with the Marlins?

3. Tom Glavine didn't really want to go to New York, but was pressured to do so by his agent and the union. Well, there's a shock. What'll be amusing about this is the horrified reaction in New York, which will be akin to a hooker being taken aback that her John was lying when he said that he loved her. The Mets have money to offer and nothing else. What rational person wants to play in Flushing in the shadow of LaGuardia? What rational player wants to play for the most underachieving franchise in recent baseball history? What player wants to play in a town where scores of newspaper reporters vie with one another to get and print the juiciest rumors about you? The only possible reason to play for the Mets is the fact that they can offer more money than anyone else, so why are you surprised that a player would find that the only reason to play there? (I guess Pedro's presence makes the Mets a cooler destination now for Dominican players.)

By the way, seeing Glavine come back here to go for 300 wins would make me very happy. After this season, he'll almost certainly be willing to come back to Atlanta on the cheap.

4. Deion, Lofton, and Rocker were all schmucks? Again, not the biggest surprise in the world. Come to think of it, how would Bonds have fit in in the Braves' clubhouse, given that most selfish players find it hard to co-exist with Cox and the Braves' veterans? Or would the current atmosphere that gives the Braves a leg up never have emerged with Bonds wearing the Tomahawk for a decade?

An Actual Conversation with the Wife

My Mom scolded me at lunch on Sunday about referring to my bride as "The Wife" and since Jewish boys always listen to their mothers, I'll give The Wife a pseudonym: Andrea. So here was the conversation this morning as I was showering and Andrea was applying one of the 17 lotions that she uses on a daily basis:

Michael: Barcelona has drawn Benfica of Portugal in the quarters of the Champions League. That's ironic, or at least interesting, in the sense that Benfica is coached by Ronald Koeman. Koeman was a teammate of Barca coach Frank Rijkaard on Holland's '88 European Cup winning side. More interestingly, Koeman scored the winning goal for Barca the only time they won the Champions League.

Andrea: That's interesting. The fact that you know all that stuff makes me think...

Michael: That you want to divorce me?

Andrea: No.

Michael: That I'm mentally unbalanced?

Andrea: No.

Michael: That I have misplaced priorities?

Andrea: Well...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Thrashers Are Dead!!!

Since Sunday, when I blogged about the fact that the Thrashers' chances of making the playoffs were very bleak, they've taken maximum points in two games (including a win over the #4 seed Rangers) while the Canadiens have taken one point in their last two. As a result, the Thrashers are now only one point behind the Canadiens, although the Habs have two games in hand. Tampa sits four ahead of the Thrash with a game in hand, but they are about to embark on a four-game trip to Ottawa, Buffalo, Toronto, and Montreal, so they might be coming down as well. So since it was clearly my profession of pessimism that led the team to narrow the gap between it and eighth place, I'll have to keep saying over and over again that the Thrash aren't going to the playoffs this year.

I hate simplistic explanations of why teams win or lose, but it's hard to get past goaltending with the Thrash. (If anyone knows of a hockey equivalent of the Baseball Prospectus that uses all sorts of space age stats with long acronyms like PECOTA to explain why all of my neanderthalic notions are wrong, please let me know. Speaking of which, my copy of the BP arrived on Tuesday, which, along with getting my bonus for the year, Barca knocking out Chelsea, and the Hawks reaching 20 wins, made it a great day. A book report is forthcoming.) They were winless in shootouts before Lehtonen's groin healed (BLGH) and they're unbeaten in shootouts since that blessed event (ALGH). The Thrashers' season can neatly be divided into those two epochs, with the somewhat inexplicable lapse that ended right before the Olympic break standing as an exception. (Maybe Kari was banged up?) It makes me feel good that if the Thrashers can somehow pull even in the 8th spot, they'll have the advantage going down the stretch, as long as they don't get complacent at that stage and stop playing as hard once the arrears have been eliminated. Wait, I forgot that I need to be pessimistic. Waddell sucks! Hartley sucks! Ilya plays no defense! Slowdry will ruin everything! Lehtonen's groin is a ticking time bomb!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chelsea are Shite!

But don't take my word for it; read what The Guardian had to say about it. Hundreds of millions of pounds spent by Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho and they failed to produce a single corner kick in 90 minutes when they came in needing two goals. They wouldn't have scored a goal, if not for a sympathetic decision by Marcus Merk to earn a non-earned penalty with the last kick of the game. "Maybe this will shut up Jose. I'll give Chelsea a going-away present that they didn't come close to deserving." How does such an expensive team end up channeling their offense through John Terry when they need goals? How does Mourinho leave five defensive players on the pitch (four defenders plus Makelele) for the entire match? When he realized "Gee, maybe we need to score a couple," he sent on an attacking midfielder (Gudjonsson) and striker (Crespo)...for an attacking midfielder (Duff) and striker (Drogba). And with his last throw of the dice, he threw on a central defender (Huth) who has scored two goals in four years for the Blues. How the hell does a team with so much alleged attacking talent have so few ideas for attacking other than hoofing the ball long towards their giant central defenders? Is Barca so intimidating defensively? Hardly, although they did show some spine in these two matches that bode well for the next stages of their season. I should be thrilled with Barca getting revenge over the bullshit Chelsea team that knocked them out of the Champions League a year ago and I am somewhat, but I'm more filled with contempt for Chelsea's squandering of copious talent in an ugly fashion. How can no one in the Premiership beat this lot?

Other thoughts:

1. There are plenty of negatives of big firm life, but I was liking it today, specifically the fact that I can plan my own work schedule. Get into the office at seven, bill 6.5 hours, leave at 2:15, head to Brewhouse for the Barca match, and by four, I'm floating on a cloud of football exhilaration and Guinness.

2. Speaking of Brewhouse, there were very few Chelsea fans in the house, which was surprising for an English soccer bar. I guess the ex-pat community tend to have few bandwagoners. There are almost certainly an armada of Chelsea bandwagoners across the pond, but thankfully, they haven't made an appearance in the Durty South yet.

3. I've said it before, but Edmilson makes a serious difference for this Barca side. Chelsea managed no offense through the middle in two matches because of the screen that Edmilson provided for the defense. One other Barca shout-out: Rafa Marquez was a rock in defense and makes me feel OK that Puyol is going to miss the first leg of the quarters. Marquez was possibly the most valuable players for Barca over the two legs. (Ronaldinho was the man of the match today, even before he scored a great goal. It was nice to be reminded who the fulcrum of the side is.) I eagerly await the day when I can say the same for an American in the Champions League. Some day.

4. One wonders how the tie would have been different if Chelsea would have had a healthy William Gallas for both legs. He did a credible job against Messi before Leo went off with a hamstring injury. If he plays in the first leg, then Chelsea never has to go down to ten men as a result of Messi torturing their left back. Say that leg finishes 0-0 or 1-1; how does the second leg play out? Chelsea might lack any concept of how to attack and they are cruelly exposed when they have to score and can't rely on their opponents to be sucked forward to create space for their attacking midfielders, but they play defense awfully well. Gallas knows what he's doing in his own half. He doesn't have many ideas going forward, which makes Chelsea's insistence on playing five defensive players in the second half even more inexplicable. It's almost as if Mourinho is still pissed about Del Horno's red card and was resigned to losing thereafter.

5. If Benfica can take care of Liverpool tomorrow, then the two crap English sides with no offenses will be out of the Champions League and we can be spared the somnambulating experience of having to watch them on the Continent for another year.

See You at Brewhouse at 2:30

In Case We Had All Forgotten about John Rocker...

He's back in the news here (to the extent that an interview on sports talk radio can create "news") after hanging up on Mayhem in the A.M. when they ham-handedly provoked an easily provokable person. Anyway, having heard the segment once when it originally aired and then again this morning in the shower when it was gleefully replayed, I was so moved that I actually posted on the comments section of an AJC article.

The comments sections are typically a miasma of thinly-veiled prejudices being hurled back and forth. Take for instance this high point in Western Civilization, which started from an article about 680 the Fan dropping Bill O'Reilly and devolved into a series of almost-open racist remarks about the Two Live Stews. Or take this reasoned discussion about the safety of Downtown Atlanta after dark, which naturally started with this gem by "Kelly":

Atlanta is very dangerous at night and I will not consider going down there except with a large group of people, and then only to a few places such as the Philips Arena. I'm notsurprisedd that NASCAR didn't pick Atlanta-they wanted a family environment, which downtown Atlanta is not. Maybe Atlanta can after the national rap museum.

Kelly could not be reached for comment afterwards, as she was dining at one of the 17 Applebees in Alpharetta and complaining to the waitress that the Queso Dip & Chips were too spicy, no doubt the result of the infiltration of Mexicans into America.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to discuss John Rocker's radio adventure. The episode illustrated something else, which is the inept way in which Steak interviews guests. He's right that Rocker shouldn't expect to come on the radio without having to reference his SI outburst at some point. It must suck to be known for one particular episode in your life and to be asked about it dozens of times, but that episode is putting food on Rocker's plate now, so he needs to have some level of tolerance for it. (Tolerance might have never been his strong suit, but that's another story.) That said, there's a right way to ask questions and a wrong way. The right way would be to ask an open-ended question like "do you have any regrets from your time in Atlanta?" or "have your views on New York changed in recent years now that you've been playing there?" Instead, doing what he always does, Steak made a banal observation, something to the effect of "You got this gig in New York based on the comments you made to SI" and then turned it into a cross examination question, by adding a "Right?" to the end of it. Ahmad Rashad would have been so proud of that technique.

A question like the one Steak asked will never lead the interviewee to say anything insightful and was clearly designed to provoke an easily-combustible person. Mike Bell then further showed the intentions of the Mayhem crew by referring to Rocker as a "washed-up pitcher." Oooh, how tough to attack an easy target on the radio! I'm not a big fan of Rocker (possibly because I'm bitter that he struck me out every time I batted against him in Little League at Vine-Ingle in Macon,) but I felt sympathetic towards him after his exchange with Steak and Mike. His feelings about the media are legitimate, if this stunt was indicative.

I generally like Mayhem, but the two things that drive me crazy about it are the incessant commercials and the weak interviewing skills of the hosts. They don't understand how to ask open-ended questions that will elicit interesting responses. Chris Dimino is miles better than the Mayhem hosts at asking the right questions to elicit interesting responses, not to mention the fact that he actually does research before talking to a subject, rather than relying on his radio persona to get by. Ryan and Doug Stewart are also better interviewers, mainly because they have credibility with African-American athletes that your typical angry white host does not.

And one other point: Steak's continued references to himself as Rocker's "Public Enemy Number One" could not be any more grandiose. (He made sure to mention it at the outset of the interview, no doubt to grease the wheels of inciting Rocker.) Given the number of people ripping on Rocker when he became one of the most hated men in American sports after the SI article ran, I doubt that his biggest concern was a morning host on AM radio in Atlanta. With Rocker, I wonder how much of his "wild man" image is an act; with Steak, I highly doubt that his delusions of grandeur are anything inauthentic.

Coaching under Phil Is Fun!!!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

You Are What You Are

As of this morning, I'm not very positive on the Thrashers' playoff chances. The danger of being in a four-team race for one spot is that if one of those other three teams get hot, you're in a lot of trouble. That's the problem right now. Montreal has taken 14 points in their last ten games and have opened a four-point lead on the Thrashers with two games in hand. The way they've been playing recently, we could project them taking three points in those two games, which means that the actual deficit is seven points, a significant sum with 23 games to go. And it gets worse when you look at Montreal's home/road situation down the stretch. They have five more home games than road games down the stretch and they're 16-7-4 at home this year.

What I'm getting at is that the Thrashers are going to have to play their asses off to make the playoffs. Assuming charitably that the Canadiens go .500 down the stretch, they'll end up with 91 points. To finish with 92 points, the Thrashers have to take 30 points in their final 23 games. What are the odds that they'll play that well when they've taken 62 points in their first 61 games this year? To be optimistic, we have to take that flight of fancy that sports fans always take: imagining that their team is better than what the results actually show. The Thrashers are a .500 team over 61 games for a reason. They've been outscored by seven goals on the season. They bleed more goals than just about anyone else in the NHL, especially on the penalty kill. I'd love to think that they could win 16 of their final 23 games. Maybe their record is deflated by the fact that they had to play minor league goalies for the first several months of the season. Then again, they've come out of the break with an impressive win in Buffalo, a dispiriting loss in Boston, and an ugly home win against the third-worst team in the NHL. Is there any evidence in that three-game stretch that they aren't a .500 team?

OK, how about one positive thought: there's a non-trivial chance that the Thrashers could catch Tampa. The Lightning have lost two in a row, bleeding 14 goals in the process. They have a home game against Ottawa, followed by a five-game road trip on the docket. Could the Lightning and their shaky goaltending collapse enough that the Thrashers could make up the six-point deficit and pass the Stanley Cup holders? The teams have three games remaining against one another, all of which are in Tampa, and the Lightning are 3-2 against the Thrashers this year, having shut our local hockey collective out twice. OK, that possibility isn't that great. Wouldn't it be lovely if both the Falcons and Thrashers missed the playoffs at the expense of our jean-shorted, Camaro-driving, Quiet Riot-listening friends down I-75? I suppose that's the price we pay for not being overrun by these hordes for the month of March:

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ron Artest: Kryptonite to the Hawks

For further evidence that Joe Johnson has become the fulcrum of the Hawks' offense, take last night tepid performance against the Sacramento Melechim. (A lil' nod to our Hebrew-speaking readers. Did you know that B&B is HUGE in Israel? Me neither. Maybe Maceo Baston lovers all end up together.) I was interested coming into the game to see how the Hawks would play offensively with Ron Artest guarding Johnson and the answer is: not very well. With Johnson unable to make mischief on offense, by either scoring or passing, the offense withered on the vine. The team played good enough defense for three quarters to stay in the game, as they were trailing only 71-69 going into the fourth, but the fourth quarter was a miasma of players standing around and making individual moves with no offensive movement or flow whatsoever. 71-69 became 92-78 in about eight minutes. It was NBA basketball at its worst. I guess you could also say it was an example of a player taking control of a game without his effect showing up in the box score. Artest, for all of his demons, is a great basketball player. This Sacto team would be nowhere without him, which ought to be remembered when he blows up and the howling idiots in the media shout their "told ya' so" chorus.

Other thoughts on the game:

1. The Hawks came out playing well and then lost their lead almost exactly in congruence with John Edwards' entry into the game. Edwards accomplishes nothing on the court. He doesn't rebound very well, nor can he play defense, nor can he score, nor does it appear that he's a crazy effort guy who earns a paycheck by throwing his body around. It takes a special kind of player to make me miss Esteban Batista.

2. Speaking of suspect defenders, the moment Marvin Williams came into the game, Ron Artest went right after him for a basket. The kid still has a lot to learn. In his defense, Marvin did score 17 points on nine shots, but he also had three turnovers without recording an assist. We need to keep Marvin's limitations in mind, assuming that he takes the small forward spot in place of Al Harrington next year. Long term, it's the right move to sign-and-trade Harrington this off-season, but it's going to hurt initially and Hawks fans aren't going to have that much patience with another slow start next year.

3. The wife got seriously angry when Section 119 got free Chic-Fil-A instead of our Section 317. For those of you who wonder why pro sporting events feature so many giveaways and non-sports related skits during timeouts, please remember people like me who get to go to 20 Hawks games every year because the bread and circuses keep our significant others interested. In the wife's defense, she does pay attention to the game, at least enough to tell me that I had said that the Hawks weren't getting enough assists on at least ten occasions during the fourth quarter. She then accidentally hit me in the nose with our free cooler (compliments of Sprite!) when we were leaving the game. I guess I shouldn't be so repetitive.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm One Year Old Today!

It was one year ago today that I decided that I had so much to say about the Braves' acquisition of Tim Hudson that I had to vomit them out into the Blogosphere. One year and 338 posts later, the Braves are still champs of the East, the Falcons still haven't strung together back-to-back winning seasons, the Hawks are still well below .500 (but they're looking frisky,) the Thrashers are still on the cusp of something good (as opposed to dormant as they were at this time last year,) Georgia is still meeting or exceeding expectations in college football, Tech is still mediocre, and I'm still barfing opinions about all of it into cyberspace. At some stage, I'm going to need to go back into the archives to actually figure out what we learned in the past 365 days, but for the time being, the Spanish phrase nunca nada cambia ("nothing ever changes") comes to mind. Well, except for the fact that there are no more 24-ounce beers for $7 at the Ted or Philips, a fact that still galls me more than it should.