Thursday, January 03, 2008


It's amazing, the difference between fact and fiction in professional sports. That which is accepted as fact, often by the apologists or those looking to bolster their own arguments in an effort to make a player, coach, or organization look either better or worse. Sometimes the myth is true...or more accurately, the truth is so wild or great that it becomes mythic - the Immaculate Reception, Carlton Fisk's home run in game six of the 1975 World Series, Kirk Gibson, the 1980 Olympic American ice hockey team, and so on. Sometimes it becomes difficult to separate myth from fact.

Let's take a shot at a couple of the big myths floating around professional sports today...

Myth - Bill Belichick was fined $500,0000.00 for filming the Jets' signals. The knock, among fans of other teams, is that Belichick cheated by stealing signals.

Fact - Belichick was fined for filming from the sideline, the fact that he was shooting the defensive signals was incidental. According to the following report from when the story broke -

From reports when the story broke -

As part of the league's investigation, Goodell determined the filming of Jets coaches had no impact on the outcome of the game. Goodell also ruled that Robert Kraft and Patriots ownership were unaware of the filming...The NFL's rules state that "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game" and that all video shooting locations for coaching purposes "must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

In a memo to NFL head coaches and general managers on Sept. 6, 2006, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson wrote: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."

So...according to the NFL, the issue had nothing to do with them taping signals, and everything to do with where they taped from. According to this, any team can film its opponent's signals as long as the filming location is not accessible during the game - like, say, one of the skyboxes, which is enclosed on all sides with a picture window facing the field.

Myth - "Steroids don't help you hit the ball." This is the favorite defense of Bonds apologists who first will argue that he never used (he did, he admitted it, get it through your thick skulls) and even if he did...(see statement above)...

Fact - No, the performance enhancers largely don't help a person with their natural ability to hit the ball, but they do, in the end, help a batter hit...

To wit, steroids and other performance enhancers in baseball are used in order to recover faster from games, double headers, and other workouts. They also make the player stronger.

Increased strength and faster recovery time results in the following -

  • Balls hit harder, thus, the ball travels both farther and faster. Balls dying on the warning track get deposited three rows behind the outfield wall. Balls barely reached by the middle infielder in the hole get by for hits.
  • The player using these drugs is fresher at the end of a ten game stretch than the one not using, thus allowing the user to turn on a ball, with the greater likelihood of putting it into play than the tired opponent whose timing might be off enough to make his swing result in a foul ball or strike, instead of a hit. hitting the ball. Who would've thought. Oh, right, the ball players injecting themselves with steroids.
  • Balls get thrown harder by power pitchers losing their power
Myth - Baseball didn't even have a rule banning steroids in 1998.

Fact - MLB had a rule passed in 1971. According to the Mitchell Report a drug policy was written in MLB that prohibits using any prescription medicine without a prescription. From all reports, virtually none of the players named for use of either steroids or HGH had a prescription from a doctor. And those that did had their prescription from less than reputable doctors (see Paul Bird).

So, based on this 1971 rule, steroid and HGH users were in violation of MLB's rules and regulations, and use of those substances, in essence, has been against baseball's rules for the last 26 years.

Then in 1991, just to be safe, then commissioner Fay Vincent added steroids to the prohibited substance list.

Myth - The offensive coordinator of a record setting offense will make for a great head coach.

Fact - Right now 31-year old Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel is generating interest from both the Falcons and the Ravens for their head coaching vacancies. Recent jumps from record setting coordinator to head coach have included Mike Martz and Brian Billick.

While it can be debated as to how successful Billick was, winning a Super Bowl and making multiple playoffs, one thing is certain - Billick was brought to a Ravens team that already had a solid defense, with the purpose of putting together a championship caliber offense. His offenses, over his nine years with the Ravens, have averaged 23rd. Only twice in the Ravens last six seasons have the Ravens achieved at least ten wins and the playoffs.

He inherited a team that had an improving defense, a slowly improving record, and an opportunity to build the offense he wanted. The offensive guru has been so good at identifying the talent he needed at key positions that he had 12 different quarterbacks start for him during his nine seasons at the helm.

Mike Martz won a Super Bowl ring running the Greatest Show on Turf for Dick Vermeil. Without Vermeil's tempering hand, Martz eventually went pass-happy, let the defense deteriorate, and the team's record eventually suffered in subsequent years.

Under Vermeil, during his last season at the helm, the Rams ranked 4th in points allowed on defense. Under Martz in the first year, 31st. Over the five full seasons at the helm, his defenses finished an average of 17th in points allowed and was fired in a year that the team was again 31st.

Gaudy numbers get you noticed, and there is success to be had with these coaches, but the numbers in a record setting season sets the bar impossibly high. Billick's offense in Minnesota was fueled by a young Randy Moss, just as McDaniels' offense in New England is fueled by Moss.

What is the likelihood that McDaniels will be the solution in Baltimore when they have a scouting office that can't identify a pro-ready quarterback on the collegiate level, or a veteran that still has some gas left in the tank?

The slow pitch softball player and the high heater

There are two very different games being played by two central parties involved in the Mitchell Report.

Roger Clemens is playing beer-league softball while Brian McNamee and his lawyers are coming inside on Clemens with some chin music with the high heat.

Clemens, in light of McNamee's claims that he injected Clemens with a pharmacopoeia of performance enhancers, thus far has elected to avoid any lawsuits, choosing instead to fight his case in the court of public opinion. His agents the Hendricks brothers and Rusty Hardin have scripted a series of denials and arranged for an interview with Mike Wallace, an admitted Yankees fan, and friend of both Roger Clemens and George Steinbrenner. No one expects this to be vintage Mike Wallace.

The denials scripted by Clemens' handlers have attacked McNamee, previously called a friend by Clemens, now referred to as "a troubled man," by his handlers. Those denials, of course, have rung hollow in light of Andy Pettitte giving McNamee's claims credence.

Clemens claimed that he would speak at the appropriate time. Evidently the appropriate time, in his head, wasn't when he was initially given the chance by George Mitchell to respond to the allegations in private during the investigation. No. In his head the appropriate time, evidently, was to wait until his use was made public, and then to arrange for an interview with the interviewer of his choice. Really credible set up there

The interesting fact - McNamee was, in essence, under oath while making his highly detailed claims. Clemens, of course, won't be on 60 Minutes, and has failed to initiate any sort of legal action as we close in on a month after the report hit. McNamee's handler's, on the other hand, are coming with the high heat, threatening to sue Clemens for defamation if the 60 Minutes piece airs.

Everything in this smacks of the quintessential flame thrower for the last 20+ years in MLB being nothing more than a glorified softballer when it comes to protecting his legacy.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Point

Jimmy McGinty: You know what separates the winners from the losers?
Shane Falco: The score.
Jimmy McGinty: No, getting back on the horse after getting kicked in the teeth.

A lot has been made this year about the motivation behind the Patriots destroying their opponents. The whole Spy-Gate thing in particular. While I think that played a part early in the season, I think the impetus for the way the team played and was coached started long before September, and the events in the Meadowlands.

Bill Belichick, as has been his history, did away with convention, and went for the jugular this season...everyone's jugular. He gave no quarter and exhorted his team to play 60-minutes every game, even late in the fourth quarter with the team up, sometimes by as many seven touchdowns, not because of anything that happened this year.

Rather, this all started with thirty minutes left on the clock in Indianapolis last January. Up 21-6 at half-time, the Patriots laid back a little on the throttle, and the Colts came back to beat the Pats by a final of 38-34, outscoring the Patriots in the second half 32-13.

With key drops by last year's leading receiver, Reche Caldwell, in the second half, Belichick and personnel guru Scott Pioli set about creating an offensive juggernaut by bringing in receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and running back Sammy Morris. What they got was a 16-0 club that averaged 36.8 points per game while giving up an average of 17.1.

The party line of the team since Belichick arrived has been that statistics don't matter, only championships. The Hoodie, however, has a history of going against conventional wisdom.

Back in January of 1991 he put together a defensive game plan to combat the Bills that is in the Hall of Fame. The defense was designed to give up yardage, but not points. With only two linemen on the field for almost the entire game, it was a dare and a statement - "if you can beat us with Thurman Thomas, then so be it. But I'm betting you can't."

The potent Buffalo receivers were rerouted time and again into the middle - into the linebackers, who spent the day beating them up. Andre Reed told NFL Films that he had never been hit as hard as he was in that game.

This season Belichick trashed conventional wisdom, and has set out to do what no one has done in the history of the game.

He put together a team with the following firsts -

First team to win 16 games in a season

First team to win 19 regular season games in a row

First quarterback to 50 touchdown passes, and the only quarterback that doesn't play the game in a dome or warm weather to even come close (Manning 49, Marino 48, Marino 44, Warner 41)

First team to have a wide-out catch at least 23 passes in a season

After years of beating teams like the Colts and Rams that tried to spread defenses out, Belichick ran the table doing just that. The question becomes, can they do it through the post-season?

If they do, then it will add to the firsts - Brady would become the first quarterback to lead the NFL in yardage and win a Super Bowl in the same season.

The point Belichick is making? There is no right way to get things done in the NFL other than making sure that the personnel fits the scheme a team is trying to run. If teams take care of that and have good coaching, the rest takes care of itself.

All of this because the team is getting back on the horse after getting kicked in the teeth by a Colt back in January.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Short timers...

With the close of the season, I have been reflecting upon who will and who won't be back in a Patriots uniform next year...some of which I think is dependent on whether or not the Pats win the Super Bowl this year, but this is what I think...

Gone regardless, or unless...

Asante Samuel is not likely to be back for the 2008 campaign. I just can't see the Pats ponying up the money that Samuel will demand.

Eugene Wilson. After a strong first couple of years, Wilson, whether due to injury or some other reason, has backslid in each of the last three seasons, this year losing his starting position to James Sanders. With Rodney Harrison under contract through the 2008 season, and the need to continue the development of Brandon Meriweather, I just don't see the Pats bringing Wilson back.

Dante Stallworth. Stallworth signed a multi-year contract in joining the Patriots, however, with his contract scheduled to count for over $11 million against next season's salary cap, don't expect this to be any more than a one year contract that was more about rebuilding image and reputation around the league than it was about being with New England for the long haul. Unless Stallworth renegotiates that contract, and with Jabar Gaffney often showing up as the third receiver, don't expect to see Stallworth in the red, white, and blue come September.

If they win a ring...

Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau - These three players have 45 seasons of NFL experience between the three of them, 29 of those playing with the Patriots. Their last several years have been haunted by injury, limiting their effectiveness. Bruschi and Seau have been healthy this year, however, there have been times that their age has shown.

All that said, if the Pats won it all last season, I think that both Bruschi and Seau would have retired at the end of last season.

Others that I wouldn't rule out leaving once a ring is on their finger...

Rodney Harrison, Kyle Brady - Both of these players are under contract through the end of next season, however they are the two other old-timers on the team with 27 years of experience between the two of them. Harrison and Brady have had a few injury issues of late, and Brady even said when he signed with the Patriots that he was looking for a place where he had a good chance of winning a Super Bowl. I think Harrison hanging them up at the end of this season as unlikely, but it wouldn't surprise me.

There will doubtless be others that will be gone - borderline cases, back-ups, special-teamers - but these are, I believe, the top name candidates for moving on. Randy Moss will be a free-agent at the end of the season, but I have a hunch that he will take a little less to stay somewhere that he is happy, and he knows he's unlikely to find a quarterback like Brady elsewhere unless he goes to Indianapolis.

New Year, new season

Happy New Year to all my readers.

The change of a year is always time for reflection. As I've never been one for resolutions, I'll settle for reflection.

With the advent of 2008, so begins the NFL post season. The Patriots are the odds on favorites, the Colts are being looked at as having the best chance of knocking off the first team that went 16-0. Let's look back at some of what the pundits have said about the Patriots, and some of the other stories that started in 2007, and will follow us through 2008...

"The Eagles have given us the blueprint on how to beat the Patriots..."

This is what the pundits said after the Eagles played the Patriots fairly evenly from wire to wire. The Eagles still lost by a field-goal. Interesting statement, but wrong.

The blueprint provided by the Eagles is the one most likely to beat the Patriots given that they have only beaten teams that have played like that by an average of three points per game. However, until there's a number in that loss column that doesn't look like a big egg, to make that as a definitive statement is just wrong.

The Giants came out and played that same physical game, and gave up 38 points.

The Mitchell Report...

The 2008 baseball season is going to be played under the shadow of the Mitchell Report, and Roger Clemens less than believable denials of his steroid use. Clemens and Barry Bonds are going to continue to dominate the headlines like they have in recent weeks.

Both of these situations will resolve themselves this year, but neither are going to go away any time soon.

Tuna Helper

The announcement of Bill Parcells return to the NFL coincided with the week the Patriots played the now 1-15 Dolphins. The Tuna has already begun to clean house, and rumors have it that he is likely to plunder personnel people from his last NFL stop, the Cowboys.

While the news of him joining his third AFC East franchise will fade quickly, every time this team plays one of his former teams, be it the Jets, Pats, or Cowboys, this will be brought up, as will some variation on the term "Bill-Bowl"

New Englanders need to be ready for that last item at least twice a year for as long as Parcells and Belichick play for their respective teams.

Pacman Jones

With the season over, Jones is likely to receive his reinstatement for next season, assuming he can continue to keep his nose clean, and he can keep out of jail. If one of his many transgressions result in jail time, I wouldn't be surprised to see Roger Goodell extend his suspension.

The Boston Three Party...

The new Big Three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have not only made the Celtics relevant in Boston again, but have the team as the odds on favorite to represent the East in the NBA finals, while on pace for a record 74 win season. Amazing for a team that finished its last season with a second worst league total of 24 wins.

Happy New Year Paul's a brand new day for you.

Overrated Savior...

The rumors regarding the Boston-Minnesota trade of Johan Santana will continue until the season starts, if nothing is consummated before the season begins.

I'm on record as saying that the Sox are already offering too much for a player that the Twins either have to move, or receive nothing for. Minnesota is demanding top prospects as well as Jacoby Ellsbury, along with one of the following pitchers - Clay Buchholz, or Jon Lester.

The Sox package includes Lester, Coco Crisp, and shortstop Jed Lowrie, along with pitcher Justin Masterson. Both Lowrie and Masterson project as big leaguers. Lester already has a better post-season history than Santana who has a horrible ERA in Fenway park, and a history of wilting down the stretch.

Right now the Sox hold the cards in this, and as long as they can keep Santana away from the Yankees without selling the farm - especially considering that the Sox will need a shortstop sometime soon - then I say let Santana languish in Minnesota.

This story might go away come April, but it will return at the trade deadline.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Forging the perfect season...

The Patriots are 16-0 this morning. If the Redskins and the Browns make the playoffs, they will have accomplished this feat during a season in which they played seven playoff contenders, including four division winners - Indianapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Dallas.

Overall, the winning percentage of the team's opponents is .465. With eight games left among those 12 other opponents, assuming wins by the Jets, Chargers, Browns, and Colts, the best the final winning percentage can be is .474. While .474 isn't going to make anyone say "wow," here's something from ESPN to put what the Patriots did this season into perspective -

The biggest negative on the '72 Dolphins' résumé is the strength, or lack thereof, of their schedule. While it's true that they could only play who was scheduled, it's also true that with an opponents' winning percentage of .396, the Dolphins' schedule was one of the easiest since 1950.

How easy?

Basically, 99 percent of the teams since 1950 had a more difficult season schedule than the 1972 Dolphins. That is a very easy schedule.

Four of the Patriots victories were by four points, or fewer. Only two of those tight victories were against playoff contenders. The team's average margin of victory over the rest of the playoff field is 25.6 points per game.

Additionally, the Patriots defeated the entire NFC East, and AFC North through the course of their season - two of the most physical divisions in the NFL.

Based on what happened during the regular season, one has to assume that the two AFC teams with the best chance of advancing through Foxborough - the Colts and the Jags.

Costly loss -

In a game they didn't need, the Giants lost their starting center, Shaun O'Hara to a knee injury, starting corner Sam Madison to a groin injury, and starting linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Both Mitchell and O'Hara are reported to have each sprained a knee.

All players at key positions on the field.

This is not good for a Giants team heading into a playoff game with a physical Tampa team.

The 300, Patriots Redux...

Tom Brady became the sole number of the 50 touchdown club when he hooked up with Randy Moss on a 65-yard bomb. That means that 300 of the Patriots 589 total points came off the arm of Tom Brady.

Brady's arm has accounted for just under 75 percent of the scoring by the Patriots O. The offense accounted for a total of 402 of the points, special teams another 151 points (one two point conversion), and the defense scored 36 with touchdowns by Randall Gay, Adallius Thomas, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, and Rosevelt Colvin.

Fearful Symmetry...

Just a few final facts to leave you with:

The Patriots started and ended the season in Giants Stadium. The y won both games, scoring exactly 38 points in both contests. In both games Moss caught a touchdown pass of at least 50 yards, and Brady completed at least 76 percent of his passes.

The Patriots top three receivers, Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth, each averaged better than 10 yards per reception in the two games in the Meadowlands - 20 receptions for 254 yards against the Giants, and 16 receptions for 263 yards against the Jets.

Randy Moss is the common denominator between the record setting Vikings offense that got Brian Billick his head coaching position in Baltimore, and the current Patriots offense.