Posted on: December 17, 2009 12:12 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2009 12:18 pm

An expectation of privacy... a sense of dignity

WHATEVER Chris Henry's last thoughts were as he fell from the bed of his fiancee's pickup truck onto a Carolina road can only be guessed at.  Each of us has had conflicts with those we love, and each of us has made poor decisions as a result of those conflicts.  Hopefully, we live to speak out loud our regrets, and to 'make good' when given a second chance.  But the decisions made by Chris Henry and Tiger Woods over the last month will be given extra scrutiny, due to the celebrity status of the people involved.

CELEBRITIES, and sports celebrities in particular, have been given a lot of leeway through the years with regards to their off-the-playing-field behaviors.  Some fans say that with celebrity comes a responsibility to the adoring fan base to be held to a higher standard of behavior.  On the other hand, there are many people who strongly believe that everyone is entitled to some privacy, no matter how famous they are.  I believe this too.  Yet the latest instances of sports figures misbehaving badly have been out in public for all the world to see, if only the public happened to be driving down a particular stretch of road in Florida or North Carolina.  Replete with police reports and investigations, these instances have played out on our computers and televisions as never before in the age of immediate media.  We discuss them as sports fans, as news junkies, and as amateur psychologists.

SADLY, the latest word is that Cincinnati Bengals' wideout Chris Henry has died from the injuries suffered in his accident.  Now not only will his family, his wife's family, and the NFL family not be allowed to grieve privately for their loss, but the media will attempt to speculate over and over about the causes of the accident: why was Henry in the bed of the truck?  What were he and his fiancee fighting over?  Is this just another case of the Bengals being an out-of-control team?  Painful questions that will go on and on, just as those regarding Tiger Woods and his alleged affairs, and the effect they have had on Woods, his family, and the entire golfing community.

THESE reminders are just those: reminders that our heroes are in fact human, and while they may be superstars on the field and on the links, they are susceptible to the same mistakes the rest of us are when playing in the human arena.  May the families, friends, and teammates of Chris Henry find the peace they need to get through these difficult hours... and may the rest of us use dignity when remembering and discussing these sensitive affairs.
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 3, 2009 12:34 pm
Edited on: December 4, 2009 11:09 am

A fan is born

HOW did you become a fan of your favorite sports team or player?  I can think of several ways a fan might grow to adopt a certain team or player as his or her own.  Fantasy success, inherited season tickets, cute buns (it happens around 50% of the time I would wager) or just a happy coincidence of right place, right time.  In my case, I'm a little embarrassed about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Twins became my two favorite professional teams.  Daring to be different, I guess would be an apt description.

I grew up in Northern Minnesota.  So far as sports go, it's hockey country, and in my formative years, I witnessed my high school team win the Minnesota State High School Hockey Championship.  Yes They Use All Capitals For Something So Important.  And while I loved rooting for the local teams, and the North Stars until Dallas sneaked them away, everyone around me was a hockey fan, so that was to be expected then and there.  They even carried the CBC on cable, so "Hockey Night in Canada" was international.

The local baseball team, the Twins, were another matter.  They were laughingstocks, featuring no-names like Terry Felton, Mickey Hatcher, and Sal Butera.  At that time, Kirby Puckett was a kid in Chicago, and Kent Hrbek a wheel of fortune puzzle run amok with consonants.   The Metrodome was the team's only drawing point, only because it guaranteed no rainouts.   In those years, the Twins also wore those powder blue uniforms, which fit the moniker "twinkies" well.   And as lovable losers, I felt a bit sorry for them since their 'local' fan base was nowhere to be found.  My parents hailed from Chicago, and Dad was as big a Cub fan (speaking of lovable losers) as there was in Minnesota.   Also Yankee, Athletic, and Brewer fans (Robin Yount was cool, Gorman Thomas cooler) were in no short supply.  But no Twinkie fans.   So I took it upon myself to become one.  (Had a lot of company come 1987 too, when they finally played in and won a World Series.)

It was the same story with the Bucs.  Dad was of course a huge Bears fan, talking of the glory years of the Monsters of the Midway, and the opposing player who stuck his hand into a scrum on the field only to have Dick Butkus bite it. ("He BIT him!  Butkus BIT him!")  And the Viking's successes in the 1970s were recent enough so that they were still very popular, even though Two-Minute Tommy Kramer and Ahmad Rashad were the only big names I can remember today.   Of course the Packers fans would come out twice a year and be obnoxious as well, tussling with Vikings fans at the local taverns.  And this was in the day when your TV choices for football were a lot more limited than they are today.  Tired of the Packers fans, tired of the Bears parents, sick of the Purple People Eaters who seemed to have lost their appetites... What was left?  In the NFC Norris Division (Chris Berman was just coming into his own) the other choices were the Lions and Barry Sanders, or the Buccaneers, up to that point then only team to go winless for a whole season.  I chose sherbet orange over Honolulu Blue.  I think it was because of John McKay's classic quote, when asked what he thought of his team's execution: "I'm all for it."   Maybe Lee Roy Selmon scared me.   Whatever; the Big Sombrero was my home-away-from-home each Sunday, to the delight of everyone around me.  It took a long time, but the Bucs eventually did me proud, dispatching the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

So there you have it: how this fan was born.  Cleveland Browns fans and Chicago Cubs faithful keep watch well, every lovable loser will eventually have their day.

Posted on: November 19, 2009 3:37 pm

Their timing couldn't be worse

THE Minnesota Vikings have been unhappy with their situation at the Metrodome almost since they moved there from the old Metropolitan Stadium.  The lack of revenue-producing extras has hampered a succession of Viking owners in their ability to make the money they see other owners making, and the Wilfs (one in a line of owners) will likely now consider moving the team. 

THE TWIN CITIES have paid through the nose lately for new sporting venues, Target Center for the Timberwolves (not the model of success by any stretch), the Xcel Energy Center for the Wild, and the yet-to-open Target Field for the Twins.  Another previous tenant of the Metrodome, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team, is also leaving.  All of which leaves the operators of the dome, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, with concerts, truck shows, high school sporting events, and well, the Vikings, as moneymaking enterprises.

THE VIKINGS have done everything right from a competitive angle this season, and in part because of that, the Wilfs and the National Football League feel they are dealing from a position of power.  Having an NFL franchise in your town is indeed a feather in any community's cap.  But being asked to fork over yet more money, following the statewide debate over funding a new Twins stadium, and in the midst of a financial downturn... is more than the people of Minneapolis deserve.  The Vikings should sign the lease extension, and buy time until the economy improves.   Not doing so and trumpeting the fact that the team is winning this season makes the Wilfs come off like poor winners.  If it becomes known that the Vikings will ultimately be moving to Los Angeles or anywhere else in 2012, just how committed will the team ownership be to "winning" for Minnesota in 2011?

Category: NFL
Posted on: November 17, 2009 4:01 pm

Pipe down! Where's the organ?

IT wasn't the only noise at the rink, but it was the most reconizable.  Even on AM broadcasts of games from Chicago Stadium, there was no mistaking the sound of the old Barton organ and Al Melgard.   This was the instrument that stopped hooligans in the stands cold, shattered glass, and sent chills up and down the backs of fans and players alike as the strains of the national anthems rolled down from above.  And I almost looked forward to the breaks in play sometimes, to hear those old melodies without names, scattered throughout the game.

ORGANS across the NHL in the 1970s even sounded different.  A discerning ear could determine even over the radio, that the wheezy old Nassau Coliseum organ sounded nothing at all like the electronic version at Met Centre, which I hated.   Madison Square Garden's instrument too, had a gritty, unwholesome sound to it.  But the organ music heard at games at The Forum in Montreal and the Checkerdome in St. Louis had voices all their own, and added to the ambiance in those venues.

AT SOME POINT in the 1990s, stadium music directors, rather facility managers, decided that fans didn't care so much for some of the traditions found in hockey rinks.  Perhaps informal surveys, or a sense of trying to sound modern, persuaded them that folks would rather listen to canned popular music during intermissions and breaks in play.  The trend began in some of the relocated teams' arenas first: I do not recall ever hearing an organ play in Dallas after the north Stars moved there.  The Hurricanes use very little organ music, I suspect that what is heard there comes from a CD.   And I wouldn't call that ruckus coming over the speakers in the Shark Tank in San Jose music at all, but more synthesized noise, but it does at least have a local flavor, coming from Silicon Valley. 

CHICAGO however clings to tradition, as many large cities do, and the new stadium does prominently feature beautiful, boisterous organ music during NHL games.  Pittsburgh too has kept from changing with the times, but when the Igloo finally closes, it may mark the end of that era.   And I was pleasantly surprised during the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 to hear plenty of organ music in Tampa Bay, of all places. 

BUT for the most part, in order to experience the flavor of the NHL in past decades, with organ music and plain white boards, fans must use their memories. does have some footage of games from this era, and it is very pleasant for me to relive hockey broadcasts from a bygone time online.   But today, a part of the character of NHL teams and their stadiums is gone, gone the way of the Drunken Sailor, early in the morning.
Category: NHL
Posted on: November 17, 2009 3:37 pm

Timeshares: Goalie or running back by committee.

Fresh legs are overrated.

From the athlete's point of view, he is most effective when given the opportunity to play regularly.  "Give me the damn ball", says Keyshawn, and he is right.  Any star worth his salt wants to be the focus of his team, the player around whom the action is centered.  Ask them, and they will tell you that regular playing time helps them to keep their focus, and stay in the flow of the game.   Goaltenders in hockey sometimes have a hard time staying sharp if those first tests do not come until well into the halfway point of the game.  And it seems from casual observation, that running back by committee as practiced in the NFL might help maintain the health of the players (not) involved, but it doesn't necessarily seem to translate into more success.  

Continuity is necessary to become proficient at any repetitive task.  Stopping pucks, tightening lugnuts, hitting the hole.  While players practice on offdays to hone these skills, they will tell you that there is no substitute for real live game play, taking that first shot, stopping that first breakaway.  Being switched in and out at the coach's or the management's discretion is a distraction, and it gets in the way of that continuity. 

You might argue that rotating players is a motivational tool, used in an effort to make the competitors for playtime work harder, give more.   On the other hand, you could also believe that using committees is an effort to placate the players involved, to rationalize the salaries paid or to satisfy egos.  Ultimately, the decision is up to the coaching staff, and they will do what they think best to win.   But because the decision is out of their hands, you cannot help but be just a bit  sympathetic when a player says "give me the damn ball."
Posted on: November 12, 2009 6:59 pm

A card-carrying member

I think most sports fans collect or collected trading cards at some point in their lives.  I did for a short time in the 1990s, during what is now referred to as the "mass-produced" card era.  And while I don't expect to be able to retire off anything I own, it's nice from time to time to see what other folks are interested in card-wise, either on E-Bay or from Beckett. 

Some nice stuff... while that Fleer Cal Ripken RC hasn't taken off, it is old enough that it hasn't takne a big hit in desirability.  Cal just never goes out of style.   Too, that set of NHL cards I have with the Jagr, Fedorov, and Modano RCs in it, is still a nice thing to have, even if they're a little dated.  It's weird to see pictures of hockey players without helmets... I sometimes forget.  One of my favorite cards from wayback is an old Harold Snepsts card from the 80s.  If you don't know who Harold Snepsts is, you just didn't stay up late enough to watch the games from the West Coast on USA network or the CBC.  Google him, you'll laugh.

One of the fads that card companies used extensively in the 1990s was the use of "parallel" cards in a series.  So while Fleer produced a "regular" card of Mike Sweeney, there was also a "gold" version of the card, and maybe a "platinum" version of the same card.  Ah, sometimes they changed the picture for variety.  Then, those cards were in high demand.  But today, they are often less desirable than the "regular" card.  New coke... hmmm...

Category: General
Tags: Sports cards
Posted on: November 12, 2009 6:48 pm
Edited on: December 4, 2009 11:11 am

Draft day redux: What went right, what went wrong

It's a good idea to look back on your fantasy football draft at this time of the year, and realize that maybe you've gotten too attached to certain players.  Who did you overrate?  Who did you underrate?   If I had done this last season, maybe I would have detected some patterns that could have helped me this season.

We use a ten team semi-keeper league, this year rolling over only one player from 2008.  In my case i chose DeAngelo Williams, with Steven Jackson being the only other possible choice (no choice at all.)   My first five picks: Frank Gore, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Aaron Rodgers, Chad Ochocinco.  I bought into the Saints hype, and the Thomas hype as well.  Imagine my disappointment at both Gore and Thomas getting hurt early on.   Aaron Rodgers has been solid. even if a 4th pick for a qb seems early. 

Next five: TJ Houshmandzadeh, Anthony Gonzalez, Chris Cooley, Ravens D, Tim Hightower.  Another injury bust in Gonzalez, but real value in Hightower at number ten.  I have always liked Cooley, and probably jumped too soon.  And I have always liked Housh.  Well, too many favorites, perhaps.

Next: Fred Jackson, Steve Smith (NYG), Mason Crosby, Sammy Morris, Kyle Orton, Jermichael Finley.  Backups all in my eyes, except Crosby.  I hoped Jackson would have performed better than he did while Lynch served his suspension.  But Steve Smith was my diamond in the rough for the first half of the year... I hope he can keep it up!

Finley, Orton, and Housh are no longer on my roster, replaced by Hasselbeck, Celek, and Mike Sims-Walker.  I also snuck in and picked up Miles Austin, Justin Fargas, and Mike Bell, while dropping Gonzalez and Cooley.  I am going to cross my fingers and ride the Cardinals defense the rest of the way. 

I'm 6-3 now.  Last year at this time, I was sitting ugly at 2-7.  While my draft yielded some gems and some busts, my free agent signings in weeks 3-7 are largely the reason I'm in a good place.  Looking back, there's always room to improve your team, even after all the "good" guys are off the draft board. 
Category: Fantasy Football
Tags: Draft, Frank Gore
Posted on: November 9, 2009 3:09 pm

Al MacInnis

Al MacInnis was well known as the owner of the hardest slap shot in the NHL.  In competition as well as in All-Star events, his shots were measured in excess of 100 mph.  Intimidation is a part of many NHLers' portfolio, during this same era, the Flames' Willi Plett was among the most notorious.  Yet I can't imagine anything more intimidating than seeing (or not seeing) a frozen biscuit coming at you faster than a Randy Johnson fastball. 

MacInnis spent some seasons in Calgary, but many people will remember him as a member of the Saint Louis Blues.  However the 1989 Cup-winning Flames team, along with cookie-duster toting Lanny McDonald, will be etched in my mind as one of the highlights of MacInnis' career.  Check out this excellent article, if you like...

Category: NHL
Tags: Al MacInnis
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