Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It was somehow appropriate that when I heard that Bill Walsh had died, I happened to be wearing my Cincinnati Bengals T-shirt. Walsh, the trunk of the most famous coaching family tree in football history, was himself just a branch of the Paul Brown tree. Walsh spent eight years as an assistant to Brown in Cincinnati, only to be denied the Bengals' head coaching job when Brown retired after the 1975 season. Walsh would later learn that Brown worked to prevent him from becoming an NFL head coach not only while he was in Cincinnati, but even after he left.

Walsh left Cincinnati and took a job on Tommy Prothro's staff at San Diego, then moved to Stanford for two years before being named coach of the San Francisco 49ers, whom he would lead to three Super Bowl titles -- including two over the Bengals.

Walsh's hiring in San Francisco kicked off a startling run of dominance is which the 49ers won 13 division titles in 17 seasons, reached the NFC Championship Game 10 times and won the Super Bowl five times. For Cincinnati, the same period was marked by steady decline that turned into a free-fall in 1991, after Paul Brown died and his idiot son Mike took over.

In recent years, it has been the 49ers who have fallen on hard times while the Bengals have been resurgent. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

20067-9 8-8

Now, which team is improving?

There's little I could add about Walsh and his legacy that isn't being said a thousand times over. Suffice it to say that five Lombardi Trophies make for a far more impressive lobby display than two Lamar Hunt Trophies.

He was drafted 22nd, for what it's worth

Rookie quarterback Brady Quinn still hasn't reported to the Cleveland Browns, and one theory spinning around the league holds that Quinn's agent -- and maybe even Quinn himself! -- is demanding that he be paid like a top-10 draft pick, even though the Browns drafted him at No. 22. This argument comes up from time to time, usually with quarterbacks: A player is generally considered a top 10 talent, but on draft day he is passed over by teams that either don't need a QB (Atlanta, San Francisco), don't think they need a QB (Minnesota, Miami), had greater needs at other positions (Washington, Tampa Bay), or play in Detroit and need another receiver for noodle-armed QBs to throw to. What's especially curious about Quinn's case is that the Browns were one of those teams. Picking at No. 3, Cleveland took Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas. Later in the day, they swung a trade with the Cowboys to pick up Quinn at No. 22 -- which is closer to the second round than to the top 10.

Now Quinn's agent, Tom Condon, the guy responsible for getting Eli Manning in over his head in New York, is said to be demanding top-10 money for Quinn because that's where he "should" have been picked.

Who on Earth understands this kind of thinking? For people who spend a lot of time pining for more free-market economics in football (meaning: no draft, no salary cap, every player goes to the highest bidder), Condon and his ilk choose to ignore the single, fundamental truth of capitalism: The market is never wrong. Never. If you are worthy of a top-10 pick, then you will go in the top 10, no ifs, ands or buts. Twenty-one teams (including the Browns) had a chance to pick Quinn but passed because they thought they could get someone better. That fact is all that matters. It wasn't until the 22nd selection that someone judged Quinn's value to be commensurate with that of the pick. The fact that some other team might have chosen him in the top 10 if the draft had been held under different circumstances is utterly immaterial.

Think of it this way: I'm an editor by profession. A good one. I can make a lot of money working for someone who needs a good editor. General Motors, however, does not need a good editor. Or maybe it does, but it doesn't think it does. Or maybe it even thinks it needs a good editor, but it already has one. Either way, GM is simply not going to hire me under its current circumstances. Further, I can't use the fact that GM might hire me under different circumstances in the future to leverage more money out of someone who needs an editor right now. Their competition for my services is limited to those organizations that need an editor immediately. If GM wants to hire me down the road (when I'm say, a "free agent"), then I can use that interest to squeeze more blood out of the stone. So it is with Quinn. Only one other team, Oakland, felt it needed to take a quarterback in the first round, and the Raiders (foolishly) took JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. There was no other demand for Quinn's services, so his price -- his draft status -- dropped, and fairly precipitously, too.

A lot of people, me included, think Miami should have picked Quinn at No. 9, as the Dolphins have been spinning their wheels at QB since Dan Marino retired seven years ago, and 37-year-old Trent Green is nothing like a solution. But they didn't. They went with Ted Ginn Jr., a ... good kick returner who might be a good second receiver if he puts in a lot of work. The consensus is that Ginn went far too early. Do you think his agent is telling the Dolphins, "Hey, since we know you overreached in taking my client, we're willing to take less money -- say, top 25 rather than top 10"? Of course not. Ginn went at No. 9 and will receive a contract equal to the pick. Remember: The Dolphins, as brainless as they may be, constitute 1/32nd of the NFL labor market, and the market is never wrong.

All that said, I continue to be annoyed by the media's insistence on referring to Quinn's situation as a "holdout." Quinn is not under contract. He is under no obligation to report to the Browns, take part in any team activities, or place himself at risk of career-ending injury without indemnity. Yes, if he wants to play football in the NFL, then he has to sign a contract. And once that contract is signed, he has a legal and ethical responsibility to live up to its terms. But until there is a contract, there is no obligation. Nor is there an obligation to sign whatever contract the Browns are offering.

"Holdout" is loaded language. It implies that someone is withholding his services in violation of his obligations. When Larry Johnson, with three years remaining on his rookie contract, refuses to report to the Chiefs' training camp, that can rightly be called a holdout (though probably a smart one in his case, considering how Herm Edwards destroyed Curtis Martin's career through overuse in New York and appears to be doing the same to Johnson in K.C.). When Quinn or Russell or any other draft pick continues to haggle over a contract into August, it's just that: haggling. Call it what it is.

What's going on with Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, meanwhile, is something else entirely. To keep him off the free agent market, New England applied the franchise tag to Samuel, which guarantees him a salary among the top five players at his position -- so long as he signs the contract tender that comes with the tag. Samuel has refused to sign. Is he "holding out"? Not in my opinion, because he isn't under contract anymore. The collective bargaining agreement effectively allows the Patriots to keep him off the market for a year with the tag -- a team that signs another club's tagged player has to surrender two first-round picks and two second-rounders -- but it doesn't require Samuel to play if he doesn't like the terms. Samuel says he won't play the first 10 games of the season to protest the rules that keep him from earning all he could on the free market(!). Gee, you may ask, why not sit out the whole season, if the principle is so important? Because you need to be on an active roster for six games in order to get credit for a year of service for veteran minimum salaries, pension benefits and all the other goodies that nobody gets in a free market anymore. Principle only goes so far.

Monday, July 30, 2007

MMQB: Coda

Vick is a sick dick. Now that we have less than a week to go before the first preseason game, we can stop running filler. Which means no more Peter King recaps. Frankly, I didn't think I could make it through another edition. A few selected highlights from this week's MMQB which will probably tell you all you need to know about why that feature -- and this one -- needs to die:

"As Roger Goodell nears his one-year anniversary as NFL commissioner ..."

"Donovan McNabb, with the hot breath of second-round quarterback Kevin Kolb breathing down his neck as the Eagles opened training-camp practice ... "

What a country. You can fly 2,479 miles from the woods of New Hampshire to the desert of the southwest, or you can park your car in a microscopic spot in New York City for as long as it takes to have lunch. Same price." (Stealing Yakov Smirnoff's material again.)

"Football Fever! Catch it!"

"I think a lot of people are thinking about you, Bill Walsh, and wishing you well." (Walsh was dead by the time I read this.)

"Aaah, fans. You guys are great. I mean it."

"Brent Musburger, you are the man. The man!"

I can't take it anymore.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


With this week's takedown of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, Down and Distance has reached the magic number of 200 posts. As everyone knows, once you put together 200 posts, you can syndicate your blog on local TV stations, so we're all pretty excited about that. A couple announcements:

Down and Distance will be adding Google AdSense text ads to the sidebar. Check 'em out to see if anything interests you.

I've decided to find a home for my non-football thoughts. That home is XIOA. It's an Iowa-based blog, but not an Iowa-centric blog, meaning folks across the country will find my witty rejoinders quite chortlesome. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MMQB: All Vick all the time



1. The first two pages of Peter King's column this week concern the Michael Vick dogfighting investigation. King spells out what he knows about the case and what he expects will happen, which is that the Falcons will suspend Vick for four weeks (the maximum allowed under the CBA) for conduct-detrimental, and possibly put him on paid leave after that to keep him away from the team (like the Bucs did with Keyshawn in 2003 and the Eagles did with T.O. in 2005). What's really maddening about King's take is that it's well-thought-out, well-reasoned and clearly the product of insider knowledge of the league. All of which leaves me asking: Why does it take a federal investigation to get this level of work in Monday Morning Quarterback? Possible answer: Because this week King isn't holding back his best stuff for the magazine? Beyond these metaquestions, though, there isn't a lot to criticize about the Vick material -- beyond King writing that Falcons G.M. Rich McKay is a "confidante" of owner Arthur Blank, which is the kind of thing only language experts find funny. But here's one other thing: King's "Quote of the Week II" has Emmitt Smith offering a somewhat conspiracy-minded ain't-nothing-wrong-with-a-little-dogfighting defense of Vick, the upshot of which is that prosecutors are just using Vick (the guy with the $130 million contract and the owner of the property where the fights allegedly went down) to get to the real criminals. King rightly calls bullshit on the statements by Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader and a newly hired ESPN commentator. Then he adds:
"I have a bad feeling about Smith's tenure at ESPN, and it hasn't even started. His comments on Vick are so idiotic and inappropriate that a few people at the Worldwide Leader have to be thinking, 'Uh-oh. What if we've gone and hired someone who's very famous but not very smart?' "
I really, really don't think ESPN worries too much about this. This is the network that has, or has had, in its stable Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe, Joe Theismann, Bill Walton, John Kruk, Joe Theismann, Paul McGuire, Joe Theismann, Joe Theismann, Joe Theismann, and Michael Irvin. Mouth-breathing stupidity doesn't get you fired at ESPN; it gets you a parking space closer to the door.

2. Introducing an item about the online sports book Bodog.com laying odds on the length of Vick's suspension and on which sponsor will dump him first, King remarks with disgust: "What a country." That country? Antigua, I guess. Hey, Pete: Yakov Smirnoff called. He says he wants his unfunny material back. And that he's a scumbag.

3. King says that one of his big questions as he begins his annual tour of training camps is about how Vick's backup, Joey Harrington, "wears the highly unexpected mantel of possible starting quarterback." Pretty much by definition, backup QBs have the mantel of "possible starting quarterback." Any QB that doesn't is himself the starting quarterback. What would have been unexpected was that Harrington will be the starter even though Vick's not hurt. And considering Vick's behavior of late, was it really all that unexpected?

4. Another question, King says, concerns the Patriots: "Can the front seven do a better job of stopping the run than they did in Indy last January"? Sigh. King must have skipped Down and Distance last week, when he wrote exactly the same thing, so I'll reprint this: "Last year's Patriots had the No. 5 rush defense in the NFL and the No. 2 scoring defense, so maybe they shouldn't be judged solely on their performance in one half of one game against the eventual Super Bowl champions." (Speaking of recycled material, this is also the second straight week that King writes glowingly about how new coach Mike Tomlin is going to whip those cake-eating pussies the Pittsburgh Steelers into shape. Ditto for his assertions that Rex Grossman sucks and that Tom Coughlin is a fucking goner.)

5. King believes he's found a cure for what ails the Jaguars. They need another injured quarterback!
"I think I'd like to ask the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have plenty of cap room, exactly why they're waiting to pursue, and sign, free-agent quarterback Daunte Culpepper. I can't think of any reason why Culpepper should not land there."
Because they don't think he's any good?

Sniggleworthy dropped name of the week: John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Total number of quotes of the week: 5. Total number of quotes of the week from U.S. senators pissing on Vick: 2 (John Kerry, Robert Byrd). Total number of quotes of the week from former Klansmen pissing on Vick and saying "the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people" who hurt "God's creatures," meaning animals, as opposed to the souls of sick and brutal people who wear sheets and kill God's creatures, meaning black people: 1 (Byrd).

Total number of things King thinks he thinks: 31. Total number about Vick that come after he says everyone's sick of hearing about Vick: 3.

Passage that's so unbelievably ripe for inappropriate humor that it's best just to back away slowly, lest you wind up on some sort of registry:
"Next time you see me, ask me about my extraordinarily fun time in a 10-and-under girls softball game in Saddle Brook, N.J., on Friday night. Space limitations, and legal reasons, prevent me from spilling here. But human beings under pressure can sure react in some strange ways."
Eeuw. I don't want to know where he "spilled."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dead dogs? Wotta riot!

The federal indictment against Michael Vick accuses the Atlanta Falcons quarterback of involvement in:
  • Forcing dogs to fight each other for amusement and betting purposes.
  • Fatally shooting at least five underperforming dogs.
  • Soaking another underperforming dog with water, then electrocuting it.
  • Executing eight other underperforming dogs by hanging, drowning or, in one case, slamming the dog's body into the pavement.
Hey, I don't know whether Vick is guilty. I'd suggest we let the case play out in the judicial system. If he's found guilty, then he should take his medicine (perhaps something involving a breeding stand -- or, as prosecutors are calling it only in the Vick case, a "rape stand"?). If he's acquitted, then he ... shouldn't. (That's how it works, right?)

In the meantime, pretend you're a journalist looking at this story. More specifically, pretend you're a copy editor reading a story about the indictment. It's your job to write the headline. What are you going to say? Whether you believe the indictment or not, it tells a disturbing story if depravity, cruelty and callousness. The charges against Vick and his associates are serious, and millions of people are disgusted and offended by them.

Here's a suggestion from the Los Angeles Times: "Dog days for Vick."

Get it? See, the story involves dogs! So for Vick, these are the "dog days"! It's so clever! I mean, sure, the term "dog days" was coined by the ancient Romans to refer to the height of summer, when Sirius, the Dog Star, was visible at dawn. But forget about all that, because look how funny it is: "Dog days for Vick"!

Here's another funny one, from the New York Daily News: "Dog days looming for NFL, networks." Ha ha!

The Portland Business Journal has a fun "twist" on the story, referring to Vick's relationship with Oregon's big shoe maker: "Nike dogged by relationship wth Vick." That's clever and funny, too! Because as a verb, "dog" means to pursue relentlessly. Such wordsmithery!

Having spent 15 years as a newspaper copy editor, I know that the most important elements of a good headline are cleverness and wordplay. Most readers love a cute headline, even more so if they get to "figure it out." It's like sudoku! Now that I'm out of daily journalism, I want to give a little something back to my fellow rim rats. They seem to have the dogfighting headlines well in hand, so I'll offer some fun and clever "heds" they can use on game stories during the upcoming season if and when another NFL star runs afoul of the law.

Murder, gun(Name) blows away Lions
Murder, knife(Name) carves up Packers for 142 yards
Murder, tire iron(Name) caves in 49ers' skulls
Infanticide(Name) shakes, slams Texans
Rape (Name) bends Steelers over a chair
Statutory rape (Name) takes advantage of Browns
Civil rights violations (Name) lynches Dolphins
Kidnapping(Name) chains up Jaguars in Basement
Indecent exposure(Name) beats off Bears' comeback bid
Terrorism(Name) blows up Jets

If only I'd thought of this back in 1998, in time to write "Oh Baby! Oh Mama! Rae Carruth in driver's seat," with drophead: "Panther conspires to gun down foes in broad daylight."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MMQB: Choke on it

I could just kiss Brett Favre. "MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK" FOR JULY 16

Peter King returns from vacation with his power rankings. We'll get to the football stuff in a bit.

Toward the end of this week's column, King kind of falls off his rocker sputtering with indignation over, of all damn things, the hot dog eating contest held at Nathan's Famous at Coney Island every Fourth of July:
"We ought to be ashamed in this country when events like hot-dog eating contests gain popularity -- the Coney Island fiasco was actually covered on New York sports-talk radio on my vacation -- instead of inviting revulsion. Stomach-gorging is not a sport, and it is abominable to try to make it one in a country where too many people go to bed hungry every night. ... I mean, what is America coming to?"
Aw, Peter, go wash the sand out of your vagina. First of all, the fucking thing has been going on since 1916. So if this contest proves that America is in the toilet, then we've been floating around down there since before doughboys were huffing mustard(!) gas at the Somme.

Look, I think competitive eating is a ridiculous pursuit, but when you get right down to it, there's not a whole hell of a lot of difference between it and other sports. If you can win Olympic gold by teasing your arm muscles to comical dimensions and lifting heavy objects over your head, why is it so revolting to apply the same training principles to your esophagus, your stomach and, I assume, your turd-maker? These guys can really pack it in, but that doesn't mean they're a bunch of fat fucks. Take a look at Takeru Kobayashi, the Jeff Gordon of competitive eating. Or Joey Chestnut, the current champion and world record holder (66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes). Or Sonya Thomas, the Black Widow. These people are gym rats. They have a hell of a lot more in common with "real" athletes than with the greasy yobs you see stuffed into satin jackets at the World Series of Poker every goddam day on ESPN.

Speaking of which, I almost don't have the heart to tell King that the Nathan's contest wasn't just covered on New York sports-talk radio. It was carried live on ESPN.

If King had said the hot dog-eating contest is a travesty simply because it's low-rent, he wouldn't get any argument from me, but he has to go and play the starving-children card to pump it up to an existential tragedy. It's called opportunity cost, Peter. It's not as if the hot dogs inhaled by Kobayashi et al at Coney Island would have gone to the poor otherwise. And the contestants weren't wiping their asses with wieners. They were eating them, celebrating them. It's no more offensive than a corn-on-the-cob festival or a barbecue festival or any other food-centered event. And a guy who every week goes out of his way to tell us about all the $5 cups of coffee he drinks has got a lot of balls pointing his thick fingers at someone else's complicated relationship with food.

Do people go to bed hungry in America? Yes, but not nearly as many as King's mom made him think there were in order to get him to finish his sweetbreads. The vast majority of this country's poor people are in no danger of starvation. Quite the contrary, their greatest health risk is obesity. Healthful food is expensive -- and all but impossible to find in low-income neighborhoods -- so the poor eat cheap, fattening junk food. Like hot dogs. Irony of ironies.

In the 21st century, as in the 20th, hunger is political. No one starves because there isn't enough food in the world. And sure as hell no one starves because those bastards at Coney Island ate all the hot dogs. The weak starve because the powerful allow it, either because they want them to or because they just don't care. If Peter King has a problem with people going to bed on an empty stomach, the bad guys are not the idiots in porkpie hats at Nathan's Famous on the Fourth of July.

OK, on to the power rankings. Per Down and Distance policy, we won't quibble with the actual rankings. They're supposed to be subjective, after all. We will, however, turn our critical eye to the stated reasoning behind the rankings:

1. Indianapolis. For the Colts to repeat as Super Bowl champions, King writes, coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will have to have "the bext coaching years of their career." Reason: The team lost to free agency both starting cornerbacks, safety Mike Doss, leading tackler LB Cato June, and D-lineman Monte Reagor. Two thoughts: First, if the damage was so severe that Dungy will have to do a better coaching job than he did when he won the Super Bowl, why does King have the Colts as the best team in the league? Second, last year's Colts had by far the worst defense of any Super Bowl winner. They could have scarcely gotten worse on defense, right? So what's so bad about losing these guys, particularly June, who got a lot of tackles, but half of which came after a 7-yard gain? King also notes that the Colts could "easily start 5-0." Two of their first four games are against the Saints (No. 4, according to King's rankings) and the Broncos (No. 6). They may indeed go 5-0, but it won't be easy ... unless these rankings are BS.

2. New England. "Maybe the interior run defense is better than it played at Indy in the second half." A typical King sentence. Last year's Patriots had the No. 5 rush defense in the NFL and the No. 2 scoring defense, so, yes, "maybe" they shouldn't be judged solely on their performance in one half of one game against the eventual Super Bowl champions. Just maybe. Further, King says that with the addition of free agent wideouts Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, "Tom Brady can finally outscore people." Because if there's one knock on the Patriots, it's that while they were going 50-14 over four years, they weren't outscoring anybody.

3. San Diego. "Best depth, 1 to 53 on the roster, in the NFL." Quite possibly true, but isn't King going to at least mention that the ghost of Norv Turner haunts this franchise? A couple years' worth of Norv, and Chargers fans will be begging for Marty Schottenheimer to come back and lose a couple playoff games.

4. New Orleans. "The Saints scored 30 or more points six times in November and December last year. I expect 10 of those days this year." But, Pete, the Saints only play nine games in November and December this year!

5. Chicago. To King's credit, he appears to understand what power rankings are supposed to do: rate teams by how strong they are, not by "who will win the most games because of their schedule." Thus, King says the Bears, rather than the Saints, will probably have the best record in the NFC because the NFC North is full of fairies. Then he goes and ruins the good vibes by saying: "I've had enough of the e-mails defending (Rex) Grossman. Those don't mean anything, Bearaholics. The way a QB plays matters." That's, um, kind of like saying, "Power rankings don't mean anything. The way the teams play matters." What a useless thing to write. Of course performance is the ultimate determinant of ability. But seeing as how the season hasn't started and all, we're pretty much stuck with e-mails and words and ideas and stuff. You could go ahead and explain why the e-mailers are wrong, but why bother when you can instead remind us that e-mails don't win football games? Or somthing.

6. Denver. "I think that the loss of the late Darrent Williams is a bigger blow in a football sense than the addition of Dre Bly." When you parse this sentence, it doesn't make any sense. So, the trade that brought two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Bly to the Broncos was a "blow" to the team, but not as severe a blow as the death of Williams?

7. Baltimore. I agree with King when he writes: "We were all so quick to write off the Ravens." Then he says: "Last year, in a tougher division than Indy's, Baltimore compiled a better record than the Colts." Here are the other teams in the Ravens' division, with their records last year: Bengals (8-8), Steelers (8-8), Browns (4-12). Here are the other teams in the Colts' division: Jaguars (8-8), Titans (8-8), Texans (6-10). Plus, the Colts played five out-of-division games against playoff teams; the Ravens played three. And the worst team on the Colts' schedule was the Redskins at 5-11, while the Ravens played the Raiders (2-14), the Buccaneers (4-12), and the Browns (4-12) twice. Look, it's OK to say the Ravens had a great year. It's even OK to assert that they were a better team than the Colts. But don't pretend like the schedule was Indy's big buddy.

8. Philadelphia. "The equation here is very, very simple. If Donovan McNabb plays 16 games, the Eagles are a factor in the playoffs." Well, gee. McNabb didn't play 16 games last year, and the Eagles were still a factor in the playoffs. Jeff Garcia, you say? McNabb didn't play 16 games in 2002, either, and the Eagles were a factor in the playoffs. The backup quarterback that year? A.J. Feeley. The backup this year? A.J. Feeley.

9. Seattle. "Seattle was outscored last year. Isn't that shocking? It is to me." My latest mainstream media annoyance is what I call "inclusive ignorance." That's when a writer either assumes that his audience is as ignorant as he is, or tries to convince them that they are. Here, King is practicing inclusive ignorance. The Seahawks made the playoffs only because they finished 9-7 in an awful division. Fans will remember them getting humiliated by the Bears 37-6 and the dreadful Vikings 31-13. So, no, I don't find it shocking that Seattle was outscored by 6 points last year.

10. St. Louis. "You know the Rams will score. They always do." Last year the Rams were No. 10 in scoring. The Patriots -- you know, the ones who can't outscore people -- were No. 7. No. 10 is still pretty good, but the Greatest Show on Turf folded up its tent a long time ago. Conventional wisdom never dies, alas.

11. New York Jets. "The AFC East will be the best division in football this year, and it's going to be very tough for New York to go 10-6 again." For once, King's own numbers bear him out! Here are the eight divisions, with their average team ranking:
AFC East 211192313.75
AFC South115182715.25
AFC West 36262815.75
NFC East 814212416.75
AFC North712173217.00
NFC South416202917.25
NFC West 910223017.75
NFC North513253118.50
However, the biggest reason the the Jets won 10 games last year was that their non-divisional schedule was loaded with cupcakes. It won't be this year, and that's why 10-6 will be harder to reach.

12. Pittsburgh. Hey, No. 12 seems about right to me. Still, I can't help but be annoyed by this passage:
New coach Mike Tomlin won't be Mr. Popular with his players; he's scheduled 15 two-a-day practices, which I'm guessing is the most of any team in the league. But you know what I like? Tomlin doesn't care. The players have to adjust to him, not the other way around.
Someone ring up Bill Cowher down in North Carolina and tell him that Mike Tomlin has decided that the problem with the Steelers is they're a bunch of pussies who have been coddled for too long. And that King agrees with him.

13. Detroit. You may think King is a fucking loony, and I may think King is a fucking loony, but remember, we're not going to argue with his rankings. Just read these words: "Some year I'll pick the Lions to do something good and actually be right about the prediction. This is the year they make a quantum leap." Keep this in mind when you get to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 30. Oh, and a "quantum leap," as defined in physics, is neither a large leap nor a necessarily positive one. It's just a change.

14. Dallas. King is probably right when he says: "The Cowboys are a team on the precipice." But then he explains: "They could dominate if Tony Romo is a B-plus quarterback, and they could be .500 if he stumbles. I'm betting it's somewhere between." So if the options are in a range between 8-8 and, say, 13-3 ... how exactly is that "on the precipice"? Going from 9-7 to 8-8 would not be not a positive move, but it's wouldn't be a collapse, either.

15. Tennessee. "Nick Harper helps at a corner, but he's in essence a trade for Pacman Jones -- and not an upgrade, even though Harper's good." Wha-? His abilities aside, Harper wasn't a trade for Pacman. He's a substitute. The Titans didn't let Pac go with the idea of replacing him with Harper. Pac was kicked out of football, forcing the Titans to make do on the free agent market.

16. Carolina. "When you've got Steve Smith on your team, you'd be a fool to run it 58 percent of the time." This doesn't make any sense. A great receiver gets maybe 15 passes thrown to him per game. A typical team runs 60 or so plays per game. What if you don't have anyone else to throw the ball to? Yes, the Panthers are getting Dwayne Jarrett, but King didn't say "When you've got Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett on your team ..."

17. Cincinnati. King calls them average, which they are. Then again, for the Bengals, three 8-8 seasons in four years is like a fucking dynasty. King is also to be praised for skipping the Bengals-in-prison jokes.

18. Jacksonville. King has them as average, too, which they are. Problem is, back when he was talking about the Colts, he included the average Jaguars (and the average Panthers) as part of a "punching-bag four-pack" (WTF?) of games that Indy will have to face toward midseason. If you're going to put a team in the bottom half of the league, you shouldn't then hold them up as a tougher opponent than Nos. 4 and 6.

19. Miami. Remember the draft, when to everyone's astonishment the Dolphins, desperately needing a quarterback, picked glorified punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. in the first round instead of poster boy QB Brady Quinn? Here's King's take: "If Brady Quinn turns out to be very good, the Ginn pick is a dud, almost no matter how good he is. If Quinn turns out to be Tim Couch, Ginn could look like Gale Sayers." What the hell does that even mean? Gale Sayers was a great talent, period. Either Ginn is a great talent, or he isn't. Either Ginn looks like Sayers, or he doesn't. If Quinn turns out to be great, Ginn may look bad in comparison to Quinn. If Quinn turns out to be a lousy quarterback, that has no bearing whatsoever on whether Ginn compares favorably to Sayers. Think! Of course, King could mean that Ginn will have some good seasons, then have his career ended by knee injuries. Or that his roomie will die of cancer.

20. Atlanta. "Bobby Petrino is a really good coach, a tough and smart football guy who I believe won't let the Michael Vick circus overwhelm his team." I know nothing about Petrino, but college coaches don't have the best track record at dealing with discipline problems on the NFL level. Besides, Vick's relationship with the owner has undermined every coach he's had. That's what will determine whether the Falcons run off and join the circus. Woof.

21. New York Giants. Blah blah blah John Mara namedrop blah blah. Then King sets up another of his legion of straw men: "I don't buy that the subtraction of Tiki Barber will take away a nettlesome critic of (coach Tom) Coughlin and make the locker room all happy and united again. I still see a team with everyone not pulling in the same direction." Pete, no one is buying it. The Giants haven't been pulling in the same direction since the 1970s, and even then they were all pulling the wrong way.

22. San Francisco. Eh.

23. Buffalo. King says they could go 3-3 in their division, the AFC East, the "best division in football this year." If so, then why only No. 23?

24. Washington. "I agonized over this one, because I think the Redskins are moving in the right direction." It's not clear what he's saying. Did he agonize because he has them so low? Or because he has them so high? Last year the Redskins were 5-11, the fifth-worst record in the NFL. He has them here eight spots from the bottom. That's the right direction, I guess.

25. Green Bay. King opines that "something just doesn't smell right" in Green Bay. "Maybe it's the loss of the Lambeau mystique; Green Bay was 3-5 at home last year." The Lambeau mystique is a myth. The Packers won a lot of games at home in the 1990s. Good teams do that. Back in the 1970s and '80s, they lost a lot of home games. Bad teams do that. The Packers are bad again. And their quarterback is old. That smell? Ben-Gay.

26. Kansas City. I agree with the ranking, but King attributes it to the possibility that Larry Johnson will hold out and to the Chiefs' inexperience at quarterback. More likely explanations: The team is older than dirt, and Will Shields just retired.

27. Houston. King says Matt Schaub will be just fine, and if the Texans suck, it'll be Ahman Green's fault. Nice.

28. Oakland. King provides a list of things that have to happen for the Raiders to make even "marginal improvement": Warren Sapp has to play like he's not 34 years old. Lane Kiffin has to coach like he's not 32 years old. JaMarcus Russell has to be ready to play by midseason(!). No. 28 seems awful optimistic, then.

29. Tampa Bay. Once again, I agree with the ranking but am annoyed by the commentary. "To be in year six of the Gruden Era and not have a quarterback of the future ... in sight is frightening." But Jon Gruden has never believed in the concept of a "quarterback of the future." The guy likes 'em old and all-but-used-up, and he always has (Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia). With Gruden, isn't it pretty much understood that you won't be getting a QB of the future? Also, the way King calls it "year six of the Gruden Era" makes it sound like the team has been in a rebuilding mode for six years. They won the Super Bowl, for criminy. Everyone knows you get at least a two-year grace period after a Super Bowl victory, and the Bucs won the NFC South in 2005. Has Gruden fucked over Chris Simms? Yes, but we knew he would.

30. Arizona. "If I had a quarter for every time I heard, 'This is the year the Cardinals finally make that leap to respectability,' I'd be Warren Buffett." According to King, the reason the Cardinals (5-11 in '06) will suck this year is that they have not lived up to expectations in years past. And yet King puts (3-13) Detroit at No. 13 without irony. As I started reading the rankings, I had thought that King would be high on Arizona -- if only because they'd hired Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm away from the Steelers, and King and his ilk pop a tent in their pants whenever the Steel Curtain comes up. But then I read the part back at No. 12 about how the Steelers had gotten so soft the past few years that only a pound-me-in-the-ass training camp can rescue them. Good to know! Does Brett Favre know that King has a new girlfriend?

31. Minnesota. "If Brad Childress makes an NFL quarterback out of Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota will have a chance to be good. That's a big if, and I don't think the upside is very high there." I fail to see how the second-to-worst team in the NFL can have "a chance to be good" if one player performs at an average level.

32. Cleveland. I have no idea what makes the Browns any worse than the Raiders, by King's reckoning.


Peter can read: The second "Factoid Of the Week That May Interest Only Me" is this: "Five parking spaces in the basement of a condominium development on West 17th Street in Manhattan are for sale ... for $225,000 each. There is a waiting list for the spaces." The story was on the front page of The New York Times last week, so it's safe to say this factoid interests more people than King. He's the only one, however, who's pretending that he's the only one who finds it outrageous. Which it isn't. It's supply and demand.

Peter is well-connected: "I saw (Keyshawn Johnson) last week in Los Angeles ... "; "Speaking of Californians whom I saw last week ... ";

Total number of quotes of the week: 2.

Total number of things King thinks he thinks: 23. Total number unrelated to football before he gets to his "non-football-related thoughts": 1 (David Beckham won't save soccer in America! A thought so original that even America's least-talented sports columnist is all over it.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You gotta fight for your right to 8 hours
of 'NFL Total Access' every damn day

I have DirecTV at my house, which means I get the NFL Network as part of the basic programming package. But many cable television subscribers are not as fortunate -- or, if they're not football fans, not as unfortunate. The NFL is fighting a series of battles with cable operators as it tries to get them to offer the network on their basic tier. The cable companies want to offer it as a premium channel, usually part of a "sports tier" with ESPN U, the regional Fox Sports networks, maybe the Golf Channel, etc. The NFL says the network is popular enough to merit inclusion as a basic channel like Food Network or HGTV or Lifetime Yeast Infection Channel; the cable companies say that because the NFL Network charges a relatively high per-subscriber premium (something like $1 a month), only those customers who want it should be forced to pay it.

I don't have a dog in this hunt. As white people say: "I got mine, so to hell with the rest of you." But I had to both gasp in horror and laugh in delight I came across this FAQ on NFL.com, in which the league discusses in an entirely objective manner the recent court decision that allowed Comcast to carry the network only as part of a premium sports package. The FAQ includes such questions as "Why is this happening?" and "Will I have to pay extra to receive NFL Network?" and "What can I do if I disagree with Comcast's decision?" These are entirely reasonable. Then comes this beautifully crafted question and response:
Q: I heard Comcast owns sport networks like Versus and The Golf Channel, and requires that they be included in broad packages sold to most if not all customers on Comcast and other cable systems, regardless of whether those customers are interested in the Tour de France, or hunting, or hockey. Isn't it disingenuous of Comcast to charge customers typically $5 per month to get sports networks that they don't own, like NFL Network, while forcing customers to pay for Comcast's networks whether they want them or not?

A: Yes, it is.
The NFL Newtork uses a made-up question from a made-up person to level accusations of disingenuousness. An absolute masterpiece!

But like I said: I got mine, so fuck you all.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

No Maas! Please?

Regular readers of Down and Distance know that I have long been mystified by the continued employment of Bill Maas, who for several years has served as the color commentator on Fox's seventh- or eighth-string NFL broadcast team. Maas is unmatched among broadcasters in his near-seamless stupidity, his utter ignorance of the rules of football, his penchant for stating the obvious, his trying-too-hard machismo, his depressingly boastful ignorance (Bill, as a color man, it's your fucking job to understand the passer rating system and to explain it to the viewer), his relentless beating of dead horses, and his mouth-full-of-gummy-bears diction.

Well, now we know why he's that way: He's high!