Thursday, November 29, 2012

Top Detroit Trades

Well, it's a slow day in the sports world. Duke beat Ohio State last night. Next up for the Blue Devils--the Washington Wizards (who, despite trying to lose, also got a win last night). To be brief, Coach K has got his team playing good basketball. They'll be fun to watch come March, as they normally are. On days when the headlines are as boring as monitoring the NHL lockout, one must find entertainment elsewhere. So I present to you my list of the top ten trades (in my lifetime, at least) in Detroit sports history.

#10-No More Mateen

The 2000 Michigan State Men's Basketball team was one of the greatest ever assembled. They had everything covered. They had guys who could shoot, they had guys who could pass, they had guys who could play defense, they had guys who could rebound...hell, they had guys who could probably start on the football team. And their coach, well, he needs no introduction. Tom Izzo is one of the five best, ever. I'll argue that one with anyone. Izzo is a mastermind, a mastermind who never had a leader like Mateen Cleaves (I love Draymond too, but he didn't raise the big banner). Mateen was the heart and soul of a team that captured everyone's heart. He was as entertaining as he was good. And then the Pistons drafted him?! A match made in heaven. Only problem is St. Peter was playing a joke on everyone, because Cleaves and the Pistons meshed about as well as oil and water.

If it were the Lions, they may have hung onto Cleaves, hoped he'd come around, and still now we'd be talking about what an awful decision it was. Instead, Joe Dumars pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Mateen Cleaves to the Sacramento Kings for fan favorite Jon Barry (and a first round pick). Barry went on to help the Pistons reach the playoffs a couple of times. And although he never won a ring with Detroit, Barry is recognized as one of the pieces that helped bring the team together. Mateen Cleaves went on to grace Detroit television with his presence, as he never did much of anything else in the NBA. However, Cleaves still is one of the greatest college players in Big Ten history, and one of the best leaders in NCAA history.

#9-Mister Fister

Doug Fister is one of those guys who will live in Detroit sports lore for years to come. His impact on the Tigers is similar to a guy like Dan Petry. Fister is a guy who isn't a number one starter, plain and simple. He's very, very good. He's very efficient and fun to watch. And the Tigers stole him away from the Seattle Mariners. Fister was traded for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, and Chance Ruffin. Anybody know what those guys are doing these days? Me neither. Fister, however, has sparkled in the playoffs for the Tigers in the last two years. After joining Detroit on July 30, 2011, Fister went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in ten starts with the Tigers to close the 2011. Fister still has not been healthy for a whole season with the Tigers, yet somehow has managed to pitch brilliantly when it matters most.

#8-Cheli's Chili

For years, Chris Chelios was that guy. You hated him. You hated watching him, you hated the way he played, how aggressive he was. On top of it all, Chelios played for the Chicago Blackhawks. People in Detroit like Richard Nixon more than the Blackhawks. That didn't stop the best GM in sports from acquiring the gritty blue-liner, as Ken Holland sent Anders Eriksson and a couple of first rounders (eventually Steve McCarthy and Adam Munro...umm, who?) to Chicago for Chelios. What followed? Two Stanley Cups out of three trips to the finals, a great bar right next to Comerica, and a love affair with the city that Chelios now calls home. Winner winner, chili dinner.

#7-The Masked Man

Jerry Stackhouse was a good player with the Pistons. Nice player, nice game, a guy who could fill up the stat sheet (not with assists, though). Stackhouse's tenure in Detroit is best known for the trade that sent him away, as it should be. Another winner from Dumars, Joe D sent Jerry, former Purdue great Brian Cardinal, and Ratko Varda to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Bobby Simmons, Hubert Davis, and Richard Hamilton. Everyone else in the trade is irrelevant other than Stackhouse and Hamilton. Varda may have even been the dude in "Office Space"--Samir naga, naga, not gonna work here anymore, that's for sure. Hamilton, however, worked for the Pistons for quite sometime, becoming the second half of one of, if not the greatest backcourts in Pistons' history. Joe D and Isaiah may have something to say about that. Either way, both backcourts produced championships. Rip and Chauncey anchored the great Detroit teams of the 2000s, teams that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals, winning a championship in the process.

From left: Rip, Tayshaun, Rasheed, Chauncey, and Ben photo credit:

#6-Say It Ain't So, Curtis

This trade ranks up there in terms of the most heartbreaking moves ever seen in Detroit. Curtis Granderson was as beloved a player the Tigers have had since Tram and Lou. However, from a baseball standpoint, he wasn't that good. Granderson hits home runs, sure. But if you hit left handed, you could hit home runs in Yankee Stadium too. He was a nice figure in a city that needed a representative. He was well-spoken, respectful, and enjoyable to watch. But the Tigers won in that trade, by a landslide. In December of 2009, the Tigers sent Granderson to the Yankees and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks. In exchange, Detroit received Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Austin Jackson, and yes, unfortunately Daniel Schlereth as well. I can live with Schlereth if it means we got the other three. Coke, Jackson, and Scherzer remain integral parts of a Tiger team that will challenge for and expect to win a World Series in 2012 and beyond.

#5-The Dollar Menu

To me, this may be the greatest steal in sports history. That's right, not just Detroit, but all of sports history. On June 30, 1993, the Detroit Red Wings made a trade that may never have been covered if not for the work ethic of one man: Kris Draper. The Wings acquired Draper from the (old) Winnipeg Jets for future considerations. The trade was nearly forgotten until the two sides realized they needed to complete the deal. So the Wings bought the Jets a double cheeseburger, er I guess McDouble now, and sent the Jets one dollar. One dollar for one of the best penalty killers ever. One dollar for a player who would go on to anchor the Grind Line, the most famous line in Detroit hockey since the Production line. Draper won four Stanley Cups in Detroit, wore the "A" on his jersey at times, and always worked hard. What else is there to say?

#4-Did I Say I Like To Hit??

I know, it should be higher on the list. He won a triple crown for Christ's sake, how can this be number four? Simple--win a ring, and it gets higher. Miguel Cabrera is a talent that has not been seen in baseball in a long time. The only thing this guy can't do is speak English very well. Oh well, I forgive you Miggy. Just before the Tigers shipped Granderson off, they made a blockbuster deal, sending A-list prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin to the then Florida Marlins in exchange for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Willis never panned out. That's okay neither did Maybin or Miller; both are now playing outside of Miami, with Maybin in San Diego, and Miller in Boston. At the time the trade was questioned. Miller was directly out of North Carolina, a fireballing lefty drawing comparisons to Randy Johnson. Maybin could cover more ground than a cheetah in centerfield and hit for power. The guy took Roger Clemens deep in his second game for the Tigers. That would be about all he would do, for the Tigers or anybody else. Miller is now in the bullpen in Beantown. Willis is out of baseball. And Miguel, well Miguel is good.

Miguel Cabrera photo credit:

#3-Ball Don't Lie

The Pistons had been there. They had been in the Eastern Conference Finals and gotten swept by Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets. They were playing uninspired, so Joe D again struck gold, and pulled the trigger on Rasheed Wallace. In a three team trade, Detroit acquired Rasheed and Mike James, shipping Chucky Atkins and Lindsey Hunter (they got him back anyway) to Boston, and Zelijko Rebraca and Bobby Sura to the Atlanta Hawks. Rasheed made an instant impact.

Wallace was the final piece in one of the greatest starting fives in NBA history. That's not bias, that's true. Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallace, and Wallace went on to win a title, play in two NBA finals, and three Eastern Conference finals, in three years. The same starters the whole time, before Ben Wallace sold out. Rasheed remains one of the most entertaining sports personalities to ever play in Detroit, and one of the best power forwards as well.

#2-The Goatee

In 1995, the Detroit Red Wings took the NHL by storm. Following the first of Gary Bettman's follies, the NHL returned for a shortened season of 48 games. The Red Wings went 33-11-4 in those 48 games, winning the Presidents' Trophy and besting the Chicago Blackhawks in five games before meeting up with the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Wings were heavily favored and the Wings got swept (sounds like another Mike Illitch owned team). The next year, the Wings won 62 games and tallied 131 points, again winning the Presidents' Trophy. They then lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Western Conference Finals.

Just after the start of the 1996-1997 season, Kenny Holland pulled one out of a hat. He sent Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey, and a first round pick to the Hartford Whalers for Brian Glynn, and a player that would turn into one of the Red Wings' best: Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan was the Rasheed Wallace in Detroit before Rasheed got here. Shanny helped lead the Red Wings to Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998, as well as 2002. Shanahan immediately became a force in Detroit. When Shanahan retired, he had tallied 656 goals. He remains the only NHL player in history to record at least 600 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes, something that endears him to Red Wings' fans still to this day.

Brendan Shanahan raises Lord Stanley's Cup in 1997 photo credit:

#1-The Fro

He was the best. He was the next Jordan. He was dominant. He could score, rebound, pass, defend, not to mention he played at Duke. Everyone loved Grant Hill. He was the face of the Pistons the minute he walked through the Palace doors in 1994. He won the Rookie of the Year award, sharing the honors with Jason Kidd, and became the first Piston to win the award since Dave Bing. Hill didn't love Detroit as much as Detroit loved him, though. When it came time for Hill to pursue the free-agent market, he wanted out. Thank God.

The Pistons granted Hill his wish, executing a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic in August of 2000. The Pistons would help Orlando become a hot-bed free agent market, a team that would eventually sign the likes of Tracy McGrady, immediately making the Magic a title contender. The Pistons got two scrubs in return: Chucky Atkins and some dude with big hair, Ben Wallace. Atkins was a perennial back-up in the league, and Wallace...well, Wallace was as offensively inept as a twelve year old. The two teams were heading in complete opposite directions of each other (opposite of what they thought, as well). The Pistons became the marquee franchise in the East, with Big Ben front and center. Wallace was phenomenal in Detroit, before he got greedy. You couldn't go in the lane without getting your shot blocked. And you were intimidated every single time John Mason announced Ben's name as you heard the original Big Ben chiming in the background. The Pistons won a lot with Wallace. Hill was never the same after he left Detroit. Bone spurs in the ankle diminished what could have been a hall of fame career. A shame, but not really.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ndamukong Nation

Being someone's good friend entails a few things. First, it entails that you are probably going to go through a lot of bad things, as well as a lot of good things. You may not always agree with your good friend. You may disagree with them a lot more than you agree with them, in some instances. But mostly, it entails that you are going to stick up for them whether they are right or wrong, cause that's what you do for your good friends. It sort of comes with the job title.

The Lions are 4-7 this year. They are in last place in their division. Their chances of making the playoffs rival the chances that you are going to win that $550 million dollar lottery jackpot when the lucky number is drawn. Those (for the most part) are facts. What's NOT a fact is that Ndamukong Suh intentionally kicked Matt Schaub in the powerball(s). I don't know. You don't know. You can think he did, and you may be right. But the beauty of it is you will never know unless he comes out and admits it. And since it took him quite a while to admit he stomped on someone, something that seemed a little more blatant, it's doubtful he's going to admit to this, so you might as well live with it.

Since Ndamukong Suh joined the Lions, a number of things have happened. Amazingly, the NHL has proven it's leadership to be worse than the NFL. The Lions still have not won a playoff game. And Suh has dominated the Thanksgiving headlines, more so than his team. So much so that now people would love to see Suh traded for some draft picks, so the Lions can pick up Manti Te'o. That is just one of the many different scenarios I have heard while screening calls for 97.1 "The Ticket." Believe it or not, that makes more sense than most. I've heard everything from "drop his ass," to "he should go back to playing soccer with that kick." Or here's an idea. Maybe he could just stay with the Lions and get back to playing?

I'm not sure Detroit has ever seen as controversial a player as Suh, in any sport. The only comparisons I can come up with are Gary Sheffield (wasn't here long enough), and everyone's favorite, Rasheed Wallace. Sheffield is a hall of fame caliber player who likely won't make it to Cooperstown because of the era in which he played. Rasheed is still screaming "ball don't lie," and still getting technical fouls for it. Suh has a chance to be better than both of them, something that everyone in Detroit seems to forget.

Let's set the stage. December 5, 2009; Texas and Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. In an offensive shootout, the Longhorns, led by Colt McCoy, clipped the Huskers, led by Ndamukong Suh, by a final score of 13-12. Very rarely is a college football team led by a defensive player. Many teams have great players on defense, but it's rare when a good team's number one association is with a defensive player. The last two examples (other than Suh) I can think of are Michigan's 1997 National Championship team, led by Charles Woodson, and this years Notre Dame team, led by Te'o. The point is the ability that Ndamukong possesses is off the charts.

Ndamukong Suh brings down Colt McCoy for one of his four sacks. photo credit:

In that Big 12 championship game, Suh had a game (not team) high 12 tackles...for a defensive tackle. 12 tackles? Are you freaking kidding me, for a defensive tackle? He made the Texas offensive line look like they were emulating Billy Bob from "Varsity Blues" (Mack Brown does kind of remind you of Jon Voight, doesn't he). You know what, that's not even accurate, cause Billy Bob actually blocked someone. The dude had four one game. And you want to drop him cause he's a bad influence? Stop.

If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to watch Billy Corben's 30 for 30 documentary titled "The U." In short, it tells the story of a culture of football created by a coach. Jimmie Johnson led the Hurricanes, and they flat out stomped opponents. Just ask Brian Bosworth. Not only did they stomp you (um, no pun intended, sorry Evan Dietrich-Smith), but they told you about it after. And then they told you again, and again, and again. Their trash talk would make Rasheed proud. Nuns are still rolling in their graves thinking of those teams. But you know what, they won...a lot.

It seems everyone thinks Ndamukong Suh is too dirty to play for the Lions. He's not the kind of "character" guy that we want when building a franchise. The problem with that is simple. You build your franchise with players of Suh's caliber. "Nice" defensive tackles are as prevalent as mean kickers. Accept it, embrace it, do whatever you have to do to live with it, but just know that if you let this guy go, it's going to be one of those moves that you look back on and compare to trading Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin for Miguel Cabrera, except you would be a Marlins' fan. Man, that would suck.

Am I advocating Suh's behavior? Yes and no. I don't think it's right to stomp on someone's arm. But if he kicked someone in the groin that may or may not have been intentional? Who cares? It's football, do you know what goes on at the bottom of those piles? It's not players asking each other how their wives are doing. It's a game where grown men push each other around. The harder you hit someone the more money you make (or lose, according to Commissioner Rog). There are bigger issues with this football team than Ndamukong Suh. He needs to play better, yes, absolutely. He needs to find that magic that he had his rookie year. But the D-Line is not losing the Lions games. That would be the secondary, when late in the game, it seems that Charles Barkley could get open, and not for a jump ball.

The ball is in the Lions court. Their coach seems to be accepting it and defending his players, and I applaud him for that. Suh's antics are not causing distress in the locker room, otherwise he'd be Titus Young-ed right home. He doesn't have a plethora of personal fouls this year. And the most aggressive suspender ever to call the Commissioner's office home didn't even care about his kick. So give the guy a break. He gets a bad reputation for doing dumb things, and maybe he's earned it. But if you're going to be a Lions' fan who lives in the past, well you might as well get ready to lose.

Ndamukong Suh makes contact with Matt Schaub's groin area. photo credit:

The Lions need Suh just like you need the Lions. You've watched them for years. I know, so have I. You've stuck with them when everyone else hasn't and you'd like to see a little return on your investment. You can even call the Lions one of your good friends. You hang out with them every Sunday it feels like. So be a good friend, and support them, whether they are right or wrong, whether Suh is right or wrong. That's what good friends do.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not So Fast, My Friend

Pre-season rankings are about as relevant as NASCAR. There are some people who will absolutely swear by them, while the rest of the country sort of looks at it like, “eh…did Danica Patrick pose for Playboy yet?” Unfortunately, no, she has not, to my knowledge at least. Heff needs to work some magic on that one. Pre-season rankings…right. Take football for example. Notre Dame was unranked to begin the season, and look at them now? Irish eyes are smiling (cheesing would be a better term) as hard as ever. Michigan and Michigan State were both pre-season top fifteen in the country. Michigan went 8-4 in the regular season, and Sparty, well, yeah. No one ever knows if pre-season rankings will turn into post-season results. So let this message be very clear to Michigan basketball fans: slow down.

It’s been a long time since the Wolverines were in a Final Four: 1993 if we are being technical, but those banners (like Chris Webber’s pride) are gone. The latest college basketball polls have the Wolverines at the number three spot in America. That is, simply put, too high.

Chris Webber photo credit:

Michigan has a good basketball program. Years of inconsistent coaching and play have seemingly been erased by John Beilein. He has brought stability and talent to a program whose most notable alum in the last fifteen years is…uhh…Robert Traylor? You get the point. Michigan has been bad for a long time now. Finally it seems those days are behind the Wolverines. But again, be very wary of what others tell you, particularly when they tell you how good you are.

It’s easy to buy into hype, especially when there hasn’t been any hype since the Fab 5. There are plenty of Michigan fans out there who, with this latest ranking, are ready to declare a return to the Final Four for Big Blue. And while that may happen (no one knows), it isn’t advisable to bet on just yet. There are plenty of hoops and ladders to go through for the Wolverines. I’ll tell you what I’ve told anyone who is willing to listen. While I don’t think they are good enough to be number three in America, I also don’t think they will get touched before the B1G starts conference play.

Tomorrow, the Wolverines face their most formidable task before the conference slate begins: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are a team similar to Michigan, in that they both were ranked too high to begin the year. Unlike Michigan, however, NC State has already proven they are not as good as their ranking. The Wolfpack lost in last years Sweet 16 to eventual national runner-up Kansas. It was a great game, decided by three points, thus jolting them into immediate conversation regarding this seasons powerhouses. Michigan, however, lost in the opening round to Ohio. Rather different results from rather similar teams. That said, I believe Michigan is the better team, and should win tomorrow.

The Wolverines have the easiest road to an undefeated start of all the B1G powers. While it may be a down year in college football for the B1G, the same cannot be said for basketball. There are four potential national champions in the conference. That is not a typo. Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan all have the ability to cut down the nets this year in Atlanta. Michigan is the second highest ranked out of those four. They are also, in my opinion, the least likely to win it all.

The fact is Michigan has just not been there. They don’t have the experience. Sure there are counters to that argument. Take Kentucky for example. They’ve won consistently with freshman who have never been there before. But their coach has. And let me ask you this: Is John Wall or Anthony Davis suiting up for the Maize and Blue anytime soon? No. Michigan has good players that, when they play together, can challenge anyone in the country. But they are mighty young, with very little big game experience. That will change by years end, and it starts tomorrow.

Trey Burke (left) and Tim Hardaway Jr. photo credit:

You win in college basketball with great guards. That has been established, disputed, and proven over years and years; it’s not a small sample size. Michigan has very good guards. What’s separating them from being great guards is a little hardware (no, the pre-season NIT does not count). Burke and Hardaway Jr. are as good as any backcourt in America. They haven’t gotten a lot of chances to shine on national television. They’ve got one tomorrow. Michigan will go as they go, so watch them tomorrow. See how they handle themselves. See if they’ll get in the lane and take a charge, or if they’ll argue with the refs on what they think is a blown call (insert Daniel Horton joke here). See if they play unselfishly, and give up an open shot for a good shot. And most importantly, if they are to lose, see how they act. You can hate losing, absolutely, but you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. Hopefully that will stir some things up. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back to Normalcy

In a college football season that has been anything but normal, Saturday was quite...pedestrian. Notre Dame is going to the National Championship. Michigan and Ohio State played a game worthy of the rivalry, with one team securing an undefeated season. Florida beat Florida State. Alabama rolled Auburn. Bruce Springsteen checked in with the number one hit in the country this week with "Born To Run." Oh, it's 2012? My mistake, I thought it was the mid-70s.

Okay, maybe not the 70s. It's been a while since I've seen any Bell Bottoms with peace signs draped all over them, multicolored. But it's also been quite some time since the scenario I started this article with has occured. And isn't ironic that as the BCS, the brain child of 21st century sports, nears its institutional death, for the first time in a while, it SEEMS as though there will be no controversy regarding who should play in the National Championship? (Read that one again, I know there are a lot of commas) Quick, someone call the House Committee on Matters with NO Relation to Politics and tell them to reverse their decision on a college football playoff. Boise State can once again go undefeated, Utah can cry for the Sugar Bowl, and Sparty can go back to besting Big Blue and Touchdown Jesus on the gridiron. You mean you like this version of college football better? Me too.

Before I go into what I think will happen in the future, Buckeye fans will of course want me to mention what happened yesterday. So let's give credit where credit is due. It was Ohio State's day from the beginning, just like it was Michigan's last year. Honoring Tressel, ushering in Meyer, and beating Michigan. Those days don't come around very often. So good for the Buckeyes. That said, what a blown chance for Michigan. Two halves that were polar opposites of each other don't occur like that very often. Michigan missed a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on this game, and contribute to the growing legend of Brady Hoke. They missed it, badly. Oh well, this team is not one of the all-time Ann Arbor greats. That said, it COULD have been a great day. But again, being respectful since it's the holiday season, an Ohio State win adds to this rivalry...yes, I really believe that.

Denard Robinson breaks away from two Buckeye tacklers photo credit:

As the seconds ticked off at Ohio Stadium, and every Michigan fan had to come the realization that the one year hiatus of bad Ohio State teams is over, I found myself thinking of Eminem. Slim Shady is an interesting person to think of at a time like that. I've always felt a special bond with Eminem. If you aren't from Detroit and you are reading this, chances are you know someone from the Detroit area. Chances also are that if you've ever been in the same room with that person while an Eminem song has been playing, then they've probably uttered the line that is taught at every "Being a Suburban Detroiter" class ever assembled: Oh My God, I live by 8 Mile! No stranger to that line, I actually grew up off of 8 mile. And while my version of 8 mile may have been just a little tougher than Mr. Mathers's version (haha), I've still listened to "Guess Who's Back" plenty of times.

It's back. They're back. Finally, both of them, at the same time, are good. It's been a while since Michigan and Ohio State each had top notch programs. And while the Spartan fans reading this will swear that Michigan is not nearly as good as I think they are, they're wrong. No, Michigan could not win a national championship this year even if Devin Gardner played quarterback every game. But what we learned yesterday in Columbus is that the B1G is about to hop on the back of the Maize and Blue and the Scarlett and Gray. Am I saying that they will be the only B1G teams to win big games? No. Am I saying they will be 11-0 each time they face each other in the future? No. And to appease all of my Spartan friends, am I saying they will both go a combined 10-0 vs. Michigan State in the next five years? Yes. Okay fine, no. But put an alarm in your phone for five years from today. It's possible. Label it "Have Michigan and OSU dominated the B1G in the last five years," and see what happens.

Last year it was Michigan plus six. This year, Ohio State plus five. The last time these two played back-to-back games with each opponent winning at home by less than a touchdown? 1971 and 1972; right smack-dab in the middle of one of the few wars recognized by many, that saw no deaths...the Ten Years War. Who were the coaches again during that period? Two weird names that's for sure. A couple of dudes who were known by their nicknames as opposed to their first names: Wayne Woodrow "Woody" Hayes and Glenn Edward "Bo" Schembechler. The rivalry has always been great. It's been around as long as Michigan and Ohio have disliked each other. Those two men took it to new heights. The two men now, with weird enough names of their own, will take it even higher.

Bo Schembechler (left) and Woody Hayes (right) photo credit:

The last two games in this series could not have meant more to the schools and less to the overall agenda. I'd go as far to say that in ten years, the last two games in this rivalry will be known for NOTHING except each coach won in their first game. Michigan beat Ohio State last year, a game Buckeye fans will say did not mean as much because their coach was too fickle. Ohio State beat Michigan this year, a game Wolverine fans will say didn't mean as much because, well, it just doesn't sting like it should. The B1G Championship game was unattainable, and while that never matters in "The Game," the loss changes nothing about what is going to happen to Michigan come bowl season. Every loss to Ohio State hurts, that will never change. But compared to games like the epic shootout of 2006, this one just feels a little bit different. I'm trying to be more pissed than I actually am. But I just can't help thinking about where this rivalry is about to go.

All non-Michigan fans prepare to grimace: Brady Hoke is a Michigan man. Urban Meyer is a proud son of Ohio. Let's get this clear, I don't like Meyer. I respect what he's done. I imagine he's a good card player, cause he played every single person in this country with his sad tale on the contract he signed with his daughters and leaving Florida for health reasons. BS. He wanted out, he got out, and got the job he really wanted. The two coaches are great at what they do. They get top notch talent to buy into a system, and turn it into results--fast. Brady Hoke took a program that was as stable as Courtney Love, turned it around in one year, won eleven games, and a BCS bowl. Urban Meyer took a 6-6 team, turned them into an undefeated 12-0 team, and took them to a BC--oh, just kidding, no BCS bowl for the Buckeyes (couldn't resist). Both of those coaches did that in one year, with talent they didn't recruit. Imagine what they can do when their systems are fully in place?

Urban Meyer gets the gatorade shower from OSU players photo credit:

Seeing players from both sides jawing hard before the game brought a smile to my face. That's the way it should be. Michigan and Ohio State should not like each other. That should be reflected on the field. I think it will be. I'm even for the coaches not liking each other. Respecting each other, sure. But they don't have to like each other. I don't think it's a coincidence that the two coaches forgot to shake hands after the game yesterday, because the field was too full? No matter what they say, it's on. They want to beat each other, badly. Take Urban Meyer's press conference two days ago. Take Brady Hoke's refusal to call Ohio State, well, Ohio State. The days of "that team up north vs. Ohio" are back. Get ready. It's going to be entertaining.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Thursday

After flipping a coin (twice--had to go with best two out of three after losing the first flip), I have decided to try and dissect what the hell happened yesterday at Ford Field. The other alternative on the coin toss was to cut off my pinky toe, yet I'm not sure which would be more painful. Having to relive yesterday may in fact trump losing a toe that is only there for show anyway. Okay, just kidding, I like my pinky toe. Aside from always being the easiest nail to clip, one of my feet would simply not be the same. Lost in the debacle that was the Lions' annual Thanksgiving loss was the right foot of a certain Lions' player, but I'll get to that later.

Each and every year, America turns its attention to Ford Field for a football game. Most years, all eyes seem to be on Ford Field only once. Ndamukong Suh is making it his personal mission to keep the attention here for a few more days at least. The Lions, however, as odd as it may be for those of us who have never seen them win a Super Bowl (oh wait, that's everyone), have been surprisingly relevant for the better portion of a year and a half. A trip to the playoffs last year, albeit a brief one, has had fans at least waiting three quarters until they turn the game off this year. Yet yesterday, everybody stuck around for the end, because the other option was helping mom prepare dinner; thanks, but I'll pass.

Jim Schwartz photo credit:

Thanksgiving football has been disappointing Lions' fans for a decade now. I actually got a text from a friend of mine yesterday who said to me, "hope the Lions didn't ruin (Thanksgiving) too bad for you." And as only a Lions' fan knows, I responded by saying something along the lines of I'm used to it by now. How can you not be? Think about the last time the Lions won on Thanksgiving: Brett Favre was still a Packer, many Americans still liked George W. Bush, and Michael Jackson was last seen dangling his child off of a balcony. Ah, how the world has changed since then. Well, mostly changed at least. Still, no one cares about the NBA regular season.

They didn't have to lose yesterday though. No, yesterday they could have won one for a change. Chances squandered, coaches criticized, and referees blamed took the headlines this morning, in turn condensing the Lions I have known for my whole life into one singular game. You can say what you want, but that's how it's gone for you too. Whether it's been Greg Landry or Matt Stafford throwing it, Herman Moore or Calvin Johnson catching it, even Mel Farr or Barry Sanders running it, the Lions haven't won anything since radio trumped television. I, like most fans, probably would have ignored that thought with a win yesterday.

Before we get to the bad, let's get to the good. Matt Stafford was good. He wasn't great, but he threw for 441 yards. If you've lived through Dan Orlovsky (and if you know how to read, you have), then you'll take 441 yards six times a week, and about 1000 times on Sunday. Calvin Johnson was Calvin Johnson. And because Ryan Broyles has proven that maybe he wasn't that bad of a draft pick after all, Billy Ford can basically send Titus Young (Sr. of course) a holiday card with the note saying, "Great talk, Titus. See ya out there." I wouldn't feel right giving credit to anyone without giving credit to Riley Reiff, either. His name was called maybe twice during the CBS telecast? Twice for an offensive lineman for one game equals Pro Bowl. He was very good containing the right side of the Houston defense, a task that probably made you as nervous as I prior to the kick-off.

Now the bad. Let's start (because it's the only time I'm going to mention them) with the officials. I thought the officials were really not that bad. Yes they made a GLARING mistake. It was awful. Stevie Wonder could have told you that Justin Forsett was down. That was a horrendous call. Yet, at full speed, it's easy to miss something that seems so obvious afterwards. Ask Jim Joyce. The officials didn't lose the game for the Lions.

Jim Schwartz...EPIC fail. And I do mean epic. With Roger Goodell at the helm, it seems like each and every week there is a rule coming into play, or something completely random that ends up as the lead story on Sportscenter (until, of course, the next week when a different rule takes its place). Never fear sports fans; you can expect ESPN to be ALL over this one. I've made a pact with my dog to not turn on Sportscenter until something else major happens in the sports world. However, stupid as the rules may seem, as the age old adage goes, rules are rules. Job number one for a head coach: know the rules. Before you hire your staff, before you draft players, before you deposit your paycheck, know the damn rules. Schwartz does not deserve most of the criticism he normally gets; I'm a firm believer that every coach in the NFL prepares their team to win, and players play. Not this time though. As you saw on the sideline after "challenge-gate" (might as well get ready for that), Schwartz was quick to point out that the mistake was on him. He gets credit for that. He gets credit for nothing else. Sure, they had chances after that. Bringing that right foot back into play, had you told me Jason Hanson would have a field goal from under fifty yards to win it, I would have said our chances are as golden as the ticket to Wonka land. But he missed. And it doesn't matter. It should never have gotten to that. Go ahead and say, "They had their chances to win and they missed on their chances." No one will argue with you, because you are right. They did have their chances. But this is the Lions. When have they made good on their chances? Ever (one little trip to the playoffs does not count--no one plays to finish anything but first).

It was as entertaining as any Lions game I've seen in a while. Now, is it possible that Houston may still have gone down the field and scored, even if Forsett is ruled down? Yes, entirely possible. But we'll never know. Too hard to tell, really. The Lions defense seems to be more hot and cold than Katy Perry (oh yeah, you bet your butt I was excited to get that one in there). But this one is on Schwartz. You HAVE to know the rules. Period. Looking at the facts of the game, if Jim Schwartz doesn't throw that challenge flag, the Lions win, and in doing so excite an entire city and fan base. Instead, Thanksgiving in Lions world might as well be called Black Thursday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Rutgers and Maryland REALLY mean to the B1G

Alright, today it was made official. It is the first time I have run the dishwasher in the last four years. Go ahead and laugh, that's fine, tell me I'm spoiled. But I will swear until I die that the biggest travesty of my college career is that for four years, my roommates and I did not have a dishwasher. The proverbial saying, "if that was your biggest problem, you had it pretty good," is flashing across many a mind right now, and I will not argue with you on that. College was awesome. Hours upon hours were spent sitting around watching Family Guy, Jeopardy, and B1G athletics. Turns out there happened to be some news regarding one of those three things today, and no, unfortunately Alex Trebek has not been fired...yet.

Commissioner Jim Delany made it official today that Rutgers has become the fourteenth member of the once Big Ten. I refuse to call it (in writing at least) the Big Ten, because for nineteen years now there have been at least eleven members; B1G is fine though. Two years ago, Nebraska joined to give the conference twelve members. Over the weekend, there was speculation that Maryland and Rutgers would become members thirteen and fourteen. And today, Delany announced that Rutgers has indeed joined Maryland as the next two members of the B1G, confirming the speculations, and also confirming that a key factor for entrance into the conference is a school's primary color: it better be red.

B1G Commissioner Jim Delany (left) and Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti (right) photo credit:

Now the question becomes what to do with Maryland and Rutgers. I guess you can't put them in the Legends Division because they are brand new to the conference; how could they be legends? So to the Leaders Division they go? Well that would make things uneven, giving the Leaders eight schools and the Legends six. So that's out. The only logical thing to do would be to split them up, sending one to the Leaders Division and one to the Legends Division, which would mean the two schools that are the most isolated from the others would be in different divisions? Since I mentioned Family Guy earlier, that makes about as sense as "Beowulf having sex with Robert Fulton at the first Battle of Antietam." After you get over your initial shock that I could have possibly put "sex" in a post, you will realize it makes no sense at all. Anything Peter Griffin can't understand, you shouldn't be required to understand either.

Before I get into what the B1G should do about their choices for assigning Rutgers and Maryland divisions, let me first say what the addition of the schools ACTUALLY means for the conference. With the addition of Rutgers, the B1G now has three of the coolest basketball arena nicknames in the country (The Barn, The Bres, and The RAC). Okay seriously though, from a basketball standpoint, this move is a no-brainer. Maryland is rich in basketball tradition and immediately provides a formidable opponent for any school. Rutgers, while still an up and coming basketball school, will continue to grow and should see a spike in recruiting, due to their entrance into a basketball mega conference and exit from a dilapidated Big East. Both schools will fit right in, right away. Rutgers Women's Basketball will also assume a dominant position in the B1G, and C. Vivian Stringer will get the added bonus of playing games just a little bit farther away from Don Imus.

The "RAC" photo credit:

From a football standpoint, you may not think much of the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. This is where I invite you to remember that Rutgers would have the best record of any bowl eligible team in the B1G right now if they were already a conference member. Sure, the Big East is not the football conference the B1G is, but it isn't that far off this year. The B1G is as down as it has ever been. New blood is not a bad thing. The addition of Maryland brings a basketball school with an up and coming football program. Their coach, Randy Edsall, may not seem like a household name, but a few years ago some people in Ann Arbor were looking over his resume before giving old Brady a call. And in addition, they take over as having the most bad ass football uniforms in the conference.

photo credit:

As for the other sports, well, let's be realistic. This move was made as a business decision. In other words, the schools and conference were playing with a lot of money. Any individual who tells you that football and basketball don't bring in the most money for a school (for the average school, at least) needs to go to confession. Football and Basketball are the sports that will be the measuring stick as to whether or not the additions of Rutgers and Maryland were beneficial to the conference. Period.

Now, back to that whole Legends and Leaders thing. The B1G has been given the rare opportunity to fix its mistake without admitting it made one. I would advise them to take it, because that opportunity doesn't come around very often. Besides the two weirdest names for divisions within a conference in college football, the assignment of schools makes no sense whatsoever. Lucky for the B1G, Terrelle Pryor and his friends decided their championship rings weren't worth much, and their coach decided it wasn't worth much of his time. If not (I realize Nebraska is a win away), the B1G might be facing the situation of having Michigan and Ohio State play each other in back-to-back weeks, which makes about as much sense as, well, you get it by now. So Commissioner Delany, now would be a good time to cover your hiney and realign your conference. As boring as they are, the names "east" and "west" would do perfectly fine for the names of your division. Here's what I propose. In the B1G West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin. In the B1G East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers. For those of you saying, "that makes one division too stacked," my question for you is why? You still have Wisconsin and Nebraska on one side of the equation, both powerhouse football schools. Not to mention Northwestern is on the rise.

For me, that makes sense. When it comes to basketball, the divisions make no difference anyway. With those two divisions, you ensure rivalries stay rivalries, you create rivalries with Rutgers and Maryland, and everybody is (hopefully) happy. And who doesn't want to be happy two days before Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Best Bad Quarterback Ever

Sports movies tend to be hit or miss these days. For every Raging Bull there always seems to be a Caddyshack II. For every Rudy there is always a Major League: Back to the Minors. Fine fine, I didn't see Raging Bull. But I'm inclined to think that half the people who claim what a great movie it is are like me: they don't want to have that awkward five minute conversation with an elder who claims Raging Bull is the greatest piece of cinema ever created. I'd rather just take your word for it, throw in a quick, "Oh yeah, DeNiro is phenomenal," and carry on with my day. So that's normally what I do when it's brought up. That said, someone reading this will most likely tell me that I HAVE to see it the next time we come in verbal or textual contact. I guess my covers blown. Oh well, I guess there are also worse things I can do with two hours of my day.

Every once in a while though, there is a sports movie that is simply put, awesome. Take Major League for example. After you get over your initial shock that I am talking about Major League (I know it's shocking), think about if you really like Charlie Sheen. Most of you will probably think, "He is insanely hilarious in life." He is, no argument there. But when looking at Major League, most people will look at it as simply a comedy and overlook the true story of how a ragtag bunch of athletes came together for a common goal, with Sheen giving a great performance. Oh, and also Pedro Cerrano, who later went on to tell us all how we are in good hands with Allstate.  Another sports movie that tells a great story, yet doesn't have that R-rated humor to fall back on, is Remember the Titans.

Right about now you may be thinking, "make your point dummy, my food is burning." Relax it's coming. Aside from having what I think is the greatest soundtrack in movie history, Remember the Titans brings every element of being a human into play. In short, it tells the story of how cultural differences are put aside to achieve a common goal. Take notes America. Remember the Titans reels off dramatic one liners as well as JFK, Lincoln, and FDR put together. Yeah, I'm reaching. But every once in a while, you have to reach, especially in a blog. One line sticks out to me because it sums up so many different life situations and gives perspective on how to look at them. It's a scene in a hospital: that scene where Gary is laying in his hospital bed paralyzed, and Coach Yost tells him that, "it's a time for prayer," to which Gary so calmly responds, "Coach...I'm hurt...I ain't dead." How perfect is that line? Well just ask Brady Hoke, cause that's what he inherited in Ann Arbor nearly two years ago: a program that was hurt, but not dead. And like Coach Yost and Coach Boone, lucky for Coach Hoke he had a quarterback with some wacky hair to save the day.

Denard Robinson stiff arming Manti Te'o. photo credit:

You may not think much of Denard Robinson. You may think he's overhyped, can't throw, and should never have been the quarterback for Michigan. You may be right. He is a little over hyped, he definitely can't throw, and he probably shouldn't ever have been under center (well, in the shotgun at least) for Michigan. And thank God he was. Just about five years ago, Michigan introduced its new head coach, a strapping young offensive genius heading north from "almost heaven, West Virginia." It's only fitting that as I use that John Denver line, I think about John Denver's performance in the movie Oh God! Be honest, that's what you said to yourslf when Michigan hired Rodriguez, don't lie. You wanted Les Miles. I wanted Les Miles. Hell, Rich Rodriguez may have even wanted Les Miles, looking back on the situation. I'm going to blame Kirk Herbstreit for reporting it early and sabotaging Michigan's attempt to bring a proud son home (come on, I mentioned Jack Kennedy earlier--you knew I was going to bring in a conspiracy). Instead Michigan fans got Rodriguez. The first year was a disaster. The only person who didn't play quarterback for Michigan that year was Rodriguez himself. Two names for you: Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan. If I were to get up in front of a crowd of people and say "yikes" when referring to those two, I would fully expect a Nobel Peace Prize. They were horrible. They were awful. Yes Shaq, they were horr-awful. I never thought I'd use that term unless I, like Shaq, was referring to Craig Sager's wardrobe, but it fits. But by year two, everything was better. In Tate we trust...haha.

Forcier was a diva, whose career went south faster than Rodriguez's. He beat Notre Dame and was anointed as Michigan's next leader. Everyone beat Notre Dame those days. Jimmy Clausen was their quarterback, how could you lose? To think that Forcier was at one time mentioned in the same sentence as Brady or Griese makes me cringe. You can think to yourself that he wasn't, but he was, partly because Michigan fans (myself included) wanted any bridge to the "glory years." Little did they (and I) know that their bridge was sitting on the sidelines with his shoes untied.

Those who stay will be champions. Immortal words to anyone who has ever loved Michigan. How can they not be? For Christ's sake, the building is called Schembechler Hall people. The man is a legend. Even if you despise Michigan, you respect Bo. You wanted to cry when he died. I did cry when he died. And as I ponder what Bo would say to Denard Robinson, the unlikeliest of faces for a program that needed one desperately, I can't help but think it would go something like, "Well done, son. Well done."

What else can you say to Robinson? His scrutinization-per-capita amongst Michiganians is second only to the former Lions GM-who-must-not-be-named. Every time Robinson does something well, Michigan fans are quick to point out that Robinson should still be considered a Heisman candidate. And as soon as he throws a pick that hits Manti Te'o right in the numbers, fans are calling for John Navarre. He's twenty-two people. He may be the most scrutinized college football player in the last thirty years, going back to Marcus Dupree (look him up, it's worth it). And as Robinson's tenure comes to an end for the Maize and Blue, if I had the opportunity to say something to him, I'd probably say, "Well done, son. Well done."

Without Robinson, Michigan probably doesn't have the one decent season it had under Rodriguez. The product you see on the field now would not be nearly as good. And they most definitely do not go to the Sugar Bowl (and win) last year. Someone somewhere is reading this and saying to themselves, "you're wrong, Devin Gardner would have been just fine, probably even better." Think hard. Devin Gardner has played quarterback for Michigan at points over the last couple of years. And he has looked a lot more like Nick Sheridan than Denard Robinson, minus of course the last three weeks. Robinson never tried to fool you. You knew what you were going to get with him. He was going to make mistakes in the passing game, striking gold every once in a while. He was going to burn you in the running game. He was going to win the non-conference Heisman trophy. And he was going to be respectful, humble, and fiery afterwards.

What three characteristics better define a leader? I couldn't think of any either. He is a winner who (along with his head coach) has led the revival of the proudest football University in this country. Sorry Irish fans, Michigan has still got you on wins. Robinson may never be mentioned with the all-time greats at Michigan. That's fair. He isn't one of the all-time greats. But without him, Michigan football isn't where it is today. Think about that next time he makes a mistake and you call for his head. Go blue.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pat Fitzgerald: Doing it Right

Well if yesterday was any indication, the rest of the college football season should be mighty interesting. At the beginning of the year, if you had told me Notre Dame would be one game away from a national championship, my response would have been something like, "in what sport?" All Irish fans will be sending Christmas cards to Kevin Harper, the poor kicker from Pittsburgh who allowed Touchdown Jesus a do-over at raising Lazarus from the dead. That seems to be where the Irish find themselves: risen from the dead. I'm not sure why it's a surprise to anyone. Brian Kelly, who along with Manti Te'o and Everett Golson form the three parts of the Notre Dame trinity, has won everywhere he's ever coached. And I mean everywhere. For those of us who live in the great state of Meee-chigan, Kelly's story is no shocker. He took Grand Valley to the promised land, fired up every Chip to ever say those three proud words, and made Cincinnati a football school for a short three years. That may be his greatest accomplishment yet. Cincinnati, a football school; that's like saying Notre Dame is a basketball school (which it pretty much was before Kelly got there--the Notre Dame Fighting Harangodys). Kelly coaches with a quiet tenacity, yet can erupt at any moment, sort of like his star linebacker, which makes sense considering Kelly played linebacker in college. And while Kelly may have his Irish one game away from allowing ESPN to do the unthinkable and put Lou Holtz back on television, I find myself rooting much harder for a different linebacker turned head coach: Pat Fitzgerald.

Now before I go into the depths of my man crush on the only dude who pulls off purple when he gets out of bed, it should be noted that no one has ever accused me of being a big time Michigan State football fan. I dislike the institution on the basis that they did not allow me to attend school there. I guess I shouldn't be that upset. Hindsight is of course 20/20, but going to Kalamazoo College remains the second greatest decision of my life, right behind asking Pete Rose if I could bet horses with him in Las Vegas (he said yes). Okay maybe college was better, but I'll bet good money you can't say you've ever gambled with Pete Rose. In any event, I will probably hold my grudge against the green and white for just a bit longer than Dion Sims can hold on to the football. Too soon? Well, hail, I'm sorry Sparty.

Surprising as it is, I would have been just fine with a Michigan State victory yesterday. I know too many great kids who play for that team to be happy when they lose (unless of course it is to the Maize and Blue). But as Michigan dismissed Iowa like their little brother (like that one? I thought so), I switched to the Michigan State game for what I assumed would be a Spartan victory, ensuring Sparty's bowl eligibility and leaving Northwestern fans heartbroken after another close conference loss. And there was Pat Fitzgerald, running up and down the sidelines like a mad man. He was screaming at the refs arguing for his player who CLEARLY committed pass interference. Hell, he was even running on the field to jump-bump (fictional word for two people running and leaping before gingerly touching side tips) his players. The athlete inside of me was jumping for joy: a coach who goes out and fights for his players, whether they are right or wrong. I looked at my mom and I said, "I would love to play for him," and I meant it. There's no greater feeling than seeing your coach out there fighting with you. It makes the game that much more intense.

photo credit:

Last week part of me even felt bad for Fitzgerald as his Wildcats tried to run the clock out against Michigan, before Devin Gardner channeled his inner Doug Flutie and broke Wildcat nation's collective heart. Then late in the game, as Northwestern got the ball deep in their own territory up three points, it occurred to me that deja vu was going to occur for Pat's 'Cats. Sparty was going to do the same thing Big Blue did. As if I needed any more reason to like Fitzgerald, he gave it to me; he started throwing the ball. What's the quote? Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results is insanity, or something like that. Most every coach in America would have run the ball, forced Michigan State to take their time outs and left it up to his defense. And there was Pat Fitzgerald, up three points with under three to go, throwing the ball on first and second down. Fitzgerald did not let the Michigan loss beat him twice. He challenged the norm and his challenge worked. Northwestern eventually did punt the ball. Michigan State got it back and didn't score. The same thing may have happened if Fitzgerald would have run the clock out; we'll never know. But we do know that what Fitzgerald tried worked, and for that even Rod Allen is giving him the, "I see ya, Pat."

What Fitzgerald did is what I like to call playing to win as opposed to playing not to lose. He tried to go out and score again, which would have all but ended the game. He didn't sit on his lead and play right into Michigan State's hands. He dictated the game, like a good coach does. The other side of that argument is that Fitzgerald practiced bad clock management and got lucky. What if an interception was thrown? As I told my nameless best friend yesterday when he posed the same question, "what if" is pretty neat...and pretty irrelevant. Fitzgerald learned from his results the previous week. He sent a message loud and clear to his players that he is going to give them every opportunity to win the game, and not give the opponent a chance to tie it. For that, he should be applauded.

In an industry where coaches are in the media for all the wrong reasons, Fitzgerald seems to always be in the media for the right reasons. A week ago, Bobby Petrino's name surfaced around the Kentucky job opening. Petrino was of course fired by Arkansas at the beginning of the year for having an affair with a nice young lady (who he also provided with a job) and then lying about it. I guess it isn't that big of a surprise. After all, a certain President drove that same road. Oh, I'm sorry, nevermind...apparently that President did not have sexual relations with that woman. All Monica Lewinsky jokes aside, in an industry that too often shows men with questionable character in the limelight, Fitzgerald's character shines. Do all coaches have questionable character? Absolutely not. The one in East Lansing does not. The one in Ann Arbor does not. And the one in Evanston does not, either.

Northwestern will probably never win a national championship under Pat Fitzgerald. It may not be fair for me to say that, but that's what I believe. Unfortunately for Pat, the Wildcats probably won't be landing the type of talent that Alabama and Notre Dame get each and every year. That said, Fitzgerald is every bit the coach that both Brian Kelly and Nick Saban are, the coach that both Brady Hoke and Mark D'Antonio are. He sets a great example for his student-athletes and for all those young coaches in the industry to follow. He's loyal and passionate. It is nearly impossible not to root for him. Somewhere, Ron Burgundy is saying, "You stay classy, Pat Fitzgerald."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What's Wrong With Those Pistons?

The world lost two legends yesterday. Rest in peace to both Sonny Elliot and the Twinkie.

“The horn sounds as the Pistons drop another to the (insert team name here).” Whether it’s George Blaha or Mark Champion saying it, the fact is they are saying the same thing. The Pistons now check in at a cool 1-9 on the early season. They are off to a worse start than Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign. If you don’t care about the Pistons, now would be a good time to check your e-mail or do something else on the Internet. But if you are like me, then watching the Pistons is quickly becoming as frustrating as receiving the elusive “K.” text.

Okay maybe it isn’t THAT frustrating. That text normally makes me want to chuck the iPhone across the room, hoping it will shatter into pieces and Apple will reward my momentary loss of temper with a crisp new iPhone 5. That too seems over the top, but its 3:06 in the morning and I’m working, so you’ll have to bear with me. Anyway, back to the Pistons.

Seven years ago, the Pistons were on top of the basketball universe. After three straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons finally clipped the New Jersey Nets, punching a ticket to the NBA Finals. Waiting for them: Bryant, O’Neal, Malone, Payton, and the rest of the Phil Jackson led Los Angeles Lakers. What happened next shocked everyone who was not wearing a Detroit uniform. Sure, you might have thought the Pistons could beat the Lakers. But beat them…no, dominate them, in five games? Don’t lie to yourself. Needless to say, every Piston fan was ecstatic. A return trip to the finals the following year left every Detroit basketball fan in Piston mania, even despite a heartbreaking seven game loss to the Spurs. Joe Dumars built a winner. He then destroyed a winner.

It’s not Joe’s fault that Ben Wallace, the ultimate prodigal son, bolted to the Bulls for a few extra bucks. How’d that work out? Exactly. It is Joe’s fault that he traded the best leader/player combo the franchise had seen since, well, Dumars himself. Maybe he wanted to retain that title for himself, but probably not. He probably figured, like almost everybody else at the time, that Rodney Stuckey would assume the role as heir apparent to the beloved Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson would rediscover himself in the Piston red, white, and blue, and Detroit would remain relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for years to come. Instead this dude named LeBron burst onto the scene, shifting the power in the east before, you know, taking his talents to South Beach.

That’s how it typically goes the NBA, maybe even sports. You lose for a while at the highest level, get to the top and win (hopefully a few), and someone else comes along and does the same thing. In my lifetime it started with the Pistons (in the late ‘80s) losing to Earvin Johnson and those “Showtime” Lakers, after finally getting past those great Celtic teams. Then Michael came along, and took the reins right out of the Bad Boys’ grip. After Jordan retired for the second time, Kobe and Shaq decided it was their turn, until the Pistons took it back from them. Mix in a stiff helping of the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics and you’re pretty much covered. And now finally, LeBron has the NBA at his disposal.

All of that aside, what is the deal with these Detroit Pistons? A 1-9 record is not indicative of the overall product; it hardly ever is. With that said, this team is a far cry from “good.” That makes this next prediction rather difficult to comprehend, but never fear…I will explain myself. The 2012-2013 Detroit Pistons will make the playoffs. You can read it again, but it will say the same thing. I know, how the hell can I say that? Well, it certainly is not from their record, nor from their inability to close out games. But when you look at this Pistons roster, one thing jumps out at you, maybe more so than any other: they are mighty young. The Pistons average age is 24.85 years old. The stars-in-the-making on this team are all three years or less removed from college, with all of them sans a degree. The NBA makes it so difficult to remember that players are sometimes too young to know what goes on and how to win. I think (and hope) that seems to be the issue with this installment of Pistons players. It’s never one thing; it’s not as simple as “if they were older they’d be better.” But I have watched every Pistons game to this point. The team competes most every night. Relax, I said most every. That’s not acceptable for a playoff team, I know. The idea would be to compete every night. But even a great team is going to get bombed every once in a while.

Ten games is too small a sample size to really evaluate how this team is going to perform. So my prediction may be better suited as a hunch. I have no facts to back it up. I have only what I see, and what I see is promising. It seems like this team blows a double-digit lead every time it gets one, en route to another bone crunching loss. Again, challenging traditional thinking, that is a good sign. Here’s why: they are getting double-digit leads against the likes of OKC, Houston, and Orlando. Those three teams represent all spectrums of the NBA. The Thunder will challenge for a title this year. The Rockets are a middle-of-the-road team that could very well make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. And the Magic…well the Magic aren’t very good.

Greg Monroe (left) and Brandon Knight (right) photo credit:
The Pistons can play with anyone. Now they have to learn how to beat anyone. It doesn’t happen over night. But it could happen this season. I think it will happen this season. Next time you swear out loud at Greg Monroe or Brandon Knight or Andre Drummond remember this: none of them can legally rent a car. Knight and Drummond can’t even (legally) have a drink. Kyle Singler doesn’t look like he can have a drink. The Pistons are very young. After all, their coach is seventeen days into no shave November, and only now is he approaching Alex Avila’s five o’clock shadow. They’ll get there eventually. Be patient. After all, it is a virtue. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


November 16, 2012-"Pilot"

Torii Hunter (center) with Dave Dombrowski (left) and Mike Illitch (right) photo credit: Detroit Free Press

Well, after an excruciating fifteen minute search for the perfect name for a blog, and getting over the initial disappointment that "Topspin" may be too dangerously close to "Deadspin"to get away with, I settled on "The Winged Roar." I know, I thought it may be a little too basic to be catchy at all, but if "The New York Times" can sell millions of papers, I figured catchy content may best a catchy title. So this little experiment will be basically what it sounds like: a pre-cynical Detroit sports fan's take on the way the motor city sports scene moves (of course extending my boundaries from sea to shining sea because there are far too many ridiculous story lines and quality information out there to make one quarter of these posts about the Lions). I'll do my best to be on here as much as possible, but as most sports fans will argue, there will be days when the most interesting of occurrences doesn't warrant a text message to your best friend. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days...

Since I was a little one with white hair and coke bottles resting on my face, my sports heart has belonged to Detroit; maybe even more so, to the Tigers and Red Wings. And since Gary Bettman vs. The Players (Round 3) seems to be taking more time than expected, everyone LOVES to talk about the Tigers. It's difficult for anyone to blame them. The Tigers (other than the beloved Winged Wheelers) have forcefully taken over the "contend-for-a-title" mentality that brings so many proud Detroiters to the edge of their seat--and the edge of their wallet. Owner Mike Illitch's pursuit of the Commissioner's Trophy has been documented as well as any Detroit sports issue in recent memory. And for the record, yes I did have to look up what the name of that giant awkward trophy is called. What I didn't need to look up though is the name of the A-list talent that the Tigers made very rich: Torii Hunter.

In Detroit, it has been my assessment that the hardest sports positions to play are goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Lions. Before Kwame decided to enact his own party on the political scene, there may have been an argument that the quarterback/goalie combo got scrutinized more than the mayor. But I'll need Blue Label not Red Label to get into that discussion, and the funds are focused elsewhere than a $200 bottle of scotch at this point. In any event, Torii Hunter may find himself in a role that most Detroiters have already anointed him: savior. Hunter has been labeled as the missing piece to a Detroit team that is on the cusp of greatness. Whether fair or unfair, true or untrue, if Hunter fails to produce and the Tigers miss out again on baseball's holy grail, Hunter may take the title of "biggest waste in Detroit sports acquisitions" right out of the firm grasp from Marian Hossa. It may seem crazy at first, but Torii's only going to be here for two years; Hossa was here for one. The difference between the two is of course that the Red Wings were coming off a Stanley Cup when they signed Hossa. The Tigers, on the other hand, are coming off a World Series sweep that most fans will blame on the photo bomber Sergio Romo, and of course Joe Buck. Yet all things considered, I have a difficult time feeling like Hunter will be anything but a home run with the Tigers, and Detroit.

The 2012-2013 Detroit Tigers have those rare expectations that anything less than a championship is unacceptable. Those expectations don't grow on trees. As much as anyone from New York who decides to read this will argue, the Yankees do not have those expectations every year. The Miami Heat probably have those expectations. Other than that, I'm fairly certain I could come up with a counter to any other sports. Sure Brady and Belichick want to win it every year. Sure Girardi and Jeter want to win it every year. But the viable threat of a roster that will be extremely disappointed without a ring, and more importantly SHOULD be disappointed without a ring, is a criterion that does not fit more than one or two teams a year. The Tigers have that criterion. Torii Hunter solidified that point for a marathon of reasons (see his contract). Last year when Prince Fielder signed, everyone was ecstatic, and with good reason. But if you looked at the Tigers from a purely baseball standpoint, and not a monetary standpoint, it seemed they may be a year away. That year is here. The Tigers have strong potential All-Stars at seven of the ten positions that make up an American League baseball game. The three that they don't have a perennial All-Star at are shortstop, left field, and second base. Yet if they had anyone other than Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks, and Omar Infante at those positions, I think their title chances go down. People have knocked Peralta for his range and for his underachieving numbers at the plate. The facts are he misses almost zero ground balls and has produced in the postseason at every opportunity. In that lineup, if he doesn't hit .275, they still win games. Andy Dirks seems to be the least criticized of Detroit role players since Kris Draper. Two words: the slide. Omar Infante has been criticized for everything from his defense to his "swag" to his English. He plays second base. Trust me, he's a fine second basemen. If you could name five Hall of Fame second basemen in fifteen seconds (without looking them up), I'd hand you ten dollars. But since we aren't in the same room, I'll take my chances. And to those about to say it, don't tell me Avila isn't a potential All-Star, he was there two years ago.

This Tiger team has more hype than any Tiger team in my lifetime, which is only 22 years at this point, but to go 22 years without a title is long enough. Sorry Cubs fans. This team has as much hype as any team in Detroit Sports since the 2001-2002 Red Wings, a team that saw the sixth leading scorer in NHL history center its third line. Signing Torii Hunter to go along with that lineup trumps the Pistons trading for Rasheed Wallace in 2004. For me it trumps the Red Wings signing Marian Hossa. And everyone knows it trumps the Lions signing of anyone in the Super Bowl era. Anyone who talks about Hunter immediately makes sure to say he is a better person than player. That doesn't happen very often with stars. For a team that seemed to lack leadership down the stretch (no, that's not the reason the Tigers lost to the Giants), they couldn't have asked for a better leader. The Tigers now have the toughest part of Comerica Park covered with two of the best defensive outfielders in the game today. They now have a legitimate number two hitter, who hits those soft throwing southpaws, steals bases, and hits home runs. They have the best hitter in the game. They have the best pitcher in the game. They have an owner willing to put a plethora of zero's at the end of checks to bring the pieces to Detroit. They have a GM and a Manager who have built winners and won before. They have youth where they need youth. They have experience where they need experience. They have a fan base who wants a title more than they want a warm winter. They have a city on the rise behind them. The marriage between the city of Detroit and the Tigers is firmly in tact. But to put this marriage on the map the way the Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox are, it needs one thing: a ring.