Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another silly prediction Blob

So 2014 is all but out the door -- hey, look, there goes the snap over Peyton Manning's head again, and Ryan Hunter-Reay slamming the milk, and Madison Bumgarner trying to pitch around his Superman cape -- and you know what that means. That means it's time to look ahead to 2015.

(Obligatory crystal ball reference here).

(Cries of "No!", and "Come on, a little originality, please!" here).

Well, I'm not going to predict what's going to happen in 2015. I'm going to predict what's not going to happen.

In January, skeptics will be amazed to discover that Jim Harbaugh has not yet bolted back to the NFL.

"Impressive. I gave it three weeks," one skeptic will say.

"Clearly the man's committed to Michigan," says another.

"I don't know. I still think he'll be back in the NFL by February," says one dissenter.

When asked for his name, he mumbles something that sounds like "Davis." Then he makes a hurried dash for a car with Alameda County, California plates and drives away.

In  February, the Chicago Bears will not win the Super Bowl. Neither will the Jets, the Falcons, the 49ers or anyone from the NFC South, whose existence Roger Goodell will firmly deny in the commissioner's traditional pre-Super Bowl news conference.

"I don't know anyone named 'Ray Rice'," Goodell will be quoted as saying.

"Um ... we were asking about the NFC South," a reporter will respond.

"Oh," Goodell will say. "I thought you said 'Ray Rice.' Well, I don't know anyone named "NFC South,' either. How many games did I suspend him again?"

In April, thousands of people will not win their NCAA office pool. They'll blame Gonzaga, which once again will not live up to its Cinderella status.

"They were my sleeper pick!" the losers will wail, having just arrived from 2001 because, in 2015, time travel will become a thing.

In May, Danica Patrick will not be at the Indianapolis 500 again, which means no will watch the race on TV even though 250,000 fans will jam Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch a race in which there will be 72 lead changes, including 15 in the last 10 laps.

"IndyCar racing just isn't exciting," viewers will say. "Hey, didja see that NASCAR race? Two passes for the lead! I thought I was gonna stroke out!"

In June, somebody will not lift the Stanley Cup and somebody else will not hoist the NBA trophy, and a lot of somebodies will not care because, well, it's June and hockey and basketball should have finished up two months ago.

In September, Jim Harbaugh will still not have returned to the NFL, opting instead to go ahead and coach Michigan in its home opener.

"Well, it looks like he really is going to do this Michigan thing," one skeptic will say.

"You suppose the NFL teams have lost his number?" says another.

"I don't believe it. I think that's a body double leading the Wolverines into the Big House. The real Jim Harbaugh would never forsake the NFL for a silly college job," says one dissenter.

When asked his name, he mumbles something that sounds like "McCaskery" or "McCrapkey", then bolts for a car with a Dick Butkus bobblehead in the rear window.

In October, the Cubs will not win the World Series. I mean, come on. Like that's even a prediction?

Finally ...

In December, Jameis Winston does not win the Heisman Trophy, mainly because he's playing in the NFL. Florida State officials pronounce themselves shocked, having come to believe there wasn't any ruling they couldn't bend to Winston's advantage.

"What, he has to still be in college? Well, that isn't fair," Florida State's chancellor will say.

"I'm convening the disciplinary committee to look into this. We're experts at getting Jameis off the hook," another FSU official declares.

Jameis, meanwhile, professes not to be upset by the news.

"Aw, that's OK," he says. "I'm just excited that Jim Harbaugh will be here soon. Everybody says so."


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homecoming for now

The voice was a nail-file rasp, the vocal chords shredded from one last sideline weekend in the NFL. But the words that floated into the air on that voice were pitch perfect.

Michigan, Jim Harbaugh swore in his introductory news conference today, was where he'd dreamed of coaching all his life. It was an "honor" now, he said, to "live it." Along the way, he invoked all the requisite Michigan stations of the cross: Bo and Lloyd Carr and Gary Moeller and, who knows, maybe even Fritz Crisler himself.

If you were a card-carrying member of Wolverine Nation, a sufferin' clan these bleak December days, it was everything you wanted to hear and more.

"Our guy came home," said Michigan's interim athletic director, Jim Hackett, catching the general tone of the day.

All that was missing was the dose-of-reality qualifier: Our guy came home ... for now.

That Harbaugh will raise Michigan back to its accustomed place in the national college football conversation, scarcely anyone doubts. Though he has only 12 scholarships next year, and so must make do with Brady Hoke's under-coached leavings for a season or two, he'll get Michigan back to being Michigan. He did it at San Diego, he did it at Stanford, he did it in the NFL in San Francisco.

And then, having done that, he'll do what he did in all three of those places: He'll move on.

It says here the Harbaugh Era in Ann Arbor lasts no more than five seasons, and then it'll be back to the NFL. The only reason he's in Ann Arbor now, frankly, is because Michigan's going to pay him $5 million a year to be there, and all of the NFL jobs currently available (Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, the Jets) are dead ends.

So home he comes, for the time being. But never forget that he's a Super Bowl coach who didn't quite get it done in the ultimate football game America produces. That's a powerful incentive to go back and finish the job. Sooner or later -- probably sooner, if he gets Michigan back to being Michigan in the next three or four years -- the right NFL team is going to come after him. When it does, he'll be gone, if for no other reason than that's what his entire job history suggests.

So Michigan, love him while you've got him. But don't get too attached.


Monday, December 29, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 17

And now the final edition for 2014 of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature hailed by Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel as "an extremely dangerous storm" that he "can't wait to get out in":

1. Congratulations to the Packers, the Cowboys, the Seahawks, the Colts, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Broncos, your 2014 division champions.

2. Hmm. Seems like we're forgetting someone.

3. No, really. There's someone else. The Lions, maybe?

4. No, not the Lions. They lost the division when they lost in Green Bay again for the 247th consecutive time.

5.  Not the Saints, either. Anyone found them yet, by the way?

6. And not the Cardinals, who, you know, were really good, until all their quarterbacks got hurt, even Jim Hart and Matt Leinert.

7. Rex Ryan? Jim Harbaugh? Jay Cutler?

8. The Panthers?

9. Yes! That's it! The 7-8-1 Panthers! Champions of  ... of ... the NFC South!*

10.  (* -- Status as an actual NFL division still under review).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The answer in Ann Arbor?

So apparently University of Michigan officials were in San Francisco to meet with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, suggesting that A) they think he's the guy to revive the House That Bo Built, and B) they've sufficiently money-whipped him that he's willing to listen.

I think "A" presupposes Harbaugh won't get "B"ed hard enough by other lusting NFL teams (Paging the Raiders ... paging the Bears), and that Harbaugh will therefore take the money and follow a path hardly any accomplished pro coach follows. How many head coaches who've gotten to a Super Bowl have gone back to the colleges?

And then there's this: "A" also presupposes Harbaugh actually is the guy to revive Bo's House.

I have my doubts.

I have my doubts, because when I look at Harbaugh all I see is a glammed-up version of Brady Hoke: A Michigan man who's a short-term fix. Hoke's fix lasted until he ran out of Rich Rodriguez' players. Harbaugh's would last until his ego and sandpaper management style harshed everyone's mellow in Ann Arbor, or until he was lured away by the right NFL job.

The only reason I can think Harbaugh's even listening to Michigan, other than the wads of cash it's throwing at him, is that he hasn't seen what he likes on the NFL market. The Raiders seem like a dead-end even for Harbaugh, given their Hooterville front office. Ditto the Bears, who have problems that extend far beyond Marc Trestman essentially throwing up his hands and giving up on Jay Cutler.

The O-line's still a mess. The defense remains softer than goose down. The Bears' front office hasn't adequately addressed  either of these problems, which makes you wonder if it ever will. If you're Jim Harbaugh, that should give you pause.

The issue I don't see with Harbaugh-to-the-Bears, frankly, is the one so many others see: How good a fit he'd be with Cutler. Two headstrong men in the same room would seem to be the setup for an epic train wreck, but maybe not. If Harbaugh's shown anything, it's that he's great with quarterbacks, particularly QBs with confidence issues. Under his hand, Alex Smith became an effective NFL quarterback, and Colin Kaepernick, this season notwithstanding, thrived. And that was largely because of Harbaugh's constant positive reinforcement.

So maybe Harbaugh's exactly what Cutler needs.

And Michigan?

Don't think Harbaugh's what Michigan needs. Not unless it wants to be hiring another coach in the next five years.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Some things to remember about 2014

OK, OK, 2015. We get the message.

It’s not like we can’t see you out there, tapping your foot, checking your watch. It’s your time, and you want to get on with it. Point made.

But give us a minute or two here. 2014 deserves that, don’t you think?

Some stuff happened around here this year, see, and it was wonderful stuff. A man got his vacation gloriously delayed. A basketball team chased perfection and caught it. Another basketball team chased history, caught some of it, and scared the bejeebers out of the rest of it.

And then there was this, which is as good a place to start as any:  A young man holding up a trophy, a six-lane smile on his face, as confetti twinkled down from the sky around him.

This was Ron Howard on that night in April when the Mad Ants clinched the NBA D-League championship, bringing yet another title to a city that has grown accustomed to them. That was the moment of the year, because, speaking of things gloriously delayed, no one had seen a payoff delayed for so long and endured it with such grace.

They called him Mr. Mad Ant, and that was fine with him, that was something he embraced as fully as he and his young family embraced this city. And so you wanted to see what happened this spring happen mainly for him, for seven years of mostly pointless basketball, for seven years of ceaseless striving and unquenchable optimism. 

So put that night in April at the top here, with Howard and team president Jeff Potter – who believed, too, and finally saw it happen -- embracing as the confetti twinkled.

And while we’re at it, let’s put the Komets and TinCaps in there, too, because they had their own triumphs.

Let’s remember how first-year coach Gary Graham and the Komets front office put a hockey team together, and then took it apart, and then put it back together again, eventually closing with a rush to make the ECHL playoffs for the first time. And let’s remember the TinCaps, who were dead in the water with three weeks left in the season, then won six of their last seven games to make the playoffs for a Midwest League-best sixth straight year.

Let’s remember the Saint Francis women’s basketball team, and the number 38. That’s how many wins, against no losses, the Cougars put together last winter, going unbeaten and winning the NAIA national title behind Skylar Shurn and Jenelle Wilson, the best backcourt in the NAIA.

Across town, meanwhile, Indiana Tech’s men and women track teams brought home NAIA titles, too. And IPFW’s men won a school-record 25 games and came within a few trembling minutes of reaching the NCAA tournament before Taylor Braun of North Dakota State took over the Summit League title game in the last two minutes and got the Bison through, 60-57.

Three months later, out at Leo, the Lions softball team got through, too, zanily enough. They wobbled into the tournament off four losses in their last five games, and their coach, Ben Shappell, made plans to go to Hawaii with his family the week of the state finals. But then a shy kid named Lindsey Bowers started shutting everyone out, a phenomenal freshman named Alexa Allen led a potent lineup of bats, and Shappell had to postpone his trip as the Lions won the Class 3A title, Bowers pitching three straight shutouts to finish the tournament run.

A few months after that, Concordia’s volleyball team joined the Lions on the top step, winning its own 3A title behind All-State hitter and mental attitude award winner Tionna Williams. Ditto Canterbury’s girls soccer team, which, like Leo and Concordia, won its first state title, too.

It closed out, neatly, a year of firsts and near-firsts, which is only as it should be. Because we see you out there, 2015. And now 2014 has given us our perfect reply.

First things first.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A brief conversation with Mr. S. Claus

So it's Christmas Eve and the fat guy in the red suit just stopped by, because he heard me whining that there were no gifts under the tree yet for me, and why was that, anyway?

Right away he started in on me.

"Y'know, Christmas is supposed to be about giving, knucklehead," he said, plucking a cookie from the plate next to the fire.

"Yeah, I know," I came back. "So what gives?"

The big fella brushed a crumb or two from his sleeve and sighed.

"Look around," he said. "You've already been served."

"How so?" I said.

Another cookie disappeared into his snowy maw.

"Well," he said, "it's Christmas Eve right? A day you'd like not to mess with your Blob or whatever you call it, right? So I gave you a day when the only news out there is the Popeye's Bahama Bowl and the Hawai'i Bowl. Seriously, does anyone really believe those aren't totally made up? I mean, come on, Central Michigan and Western Kentucky in the former and Fresno State and Rice in the latter? Even if those are actual teams, you think they're worth Blobbing about?

"For the love of Blitzen, Fresno State's 6-7. Most of  their fans don't even know they're still playing. Ditto Rice. And did anyone but pathetic loser alumni watch Central Who Cares lose by a point to Western Where's That earlier today?

"The point, knucklehead, is this: You get a day off. And that beats a new bike any day."

I hated to admit it. But he had me there.

"You know, you're annoying as hell when you're right," I said.

The big fella just laughed.

"And a Merry Christmas to you, too," he said. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A few brief thoughts about NFL Week 16

And now, this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature hailed by Motor Trend magazine as its Car Of The Year for 1975, and by the Royal Archeological Institute as "a splendid example of early cave drawings":

1. Well, at least the Colts will always have the AFC South.

2. Aka, "Indianapolis And Them Others."

3. Meanwhile, the Cowboys!

4. Are the greatest team in NFL history again, because, they're the Cowboys! And it's December and they beat the Colts like Ali beat Mildenberger, which means they could still make it to the Super Bowl -- which they'd win, of course, because, they're the Cowboys!

5. ( The "Super Bowl" in this case not to be confused with the "Super Bowl," which the Patriots and Packers played a few weeks ago in Lambeau Field).

6.  Hey, that guy kind of looks like Peyton Manning!

7. Nah. Guess not.

8. Doggone it. Lost the Saints again. Coulda swear they were just here.

9. Maybe they got eaten by the Seahawks.

10. Who are suddenly eating everything in sight. Because, you know, they turned out to be the Seahawks after all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Great Jameis-dini

And now today's not-really-news moment coming to you from the capital of Jameisville, aka, Tallahassee, Fla.

A Florida State disciplinary committee, like the  Tallahassee prosecutor before it, has decided it didn't see nothin' where the Seminoles' star quarterback is concerned.

Winston was cleared of all charges that he violated four sections of the school's code of conduct, two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment, in the matter of an alleged sexual assault. It was the same decision prosecutor Willie Meggs, chuckling and mugging for the cameras, made a year ago when he decided not to bring criminal charges against Winston.

"We will consider an appeal but right now we feel a little duped," Baine Kerr, one of the woman's lawyers, said in an emailed statement. "At some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold [Jameis] Winston responsible."

Well ... no. But, then, when has he been held responsible for any of his various misdeeds at FSU?

Bottom line here is football rules at a football school, and right now Florida State, a gold-card football school, is gearing up for college football's first playoff. A suspension or expulsion from school for the Seminoles' star would have really harshed their mellow -- plus severely hurt their shot at a cut of the $4 million payout to the conferences of the two teams that reach the national title game. Which is on top of their cut of the $6 million payout to the ACC the Seminoles have already made by securing a semifinal bid.

So it's pure economics that drive this, just as it does everywhere in big-ticket college football, a vast corporate enterprise hiding out in the groves of academe. And so, let the queuing up at the ATM continue unabated, as Winston proves once again he's as adept at escaping peril off the field as he is on it.

"Somehow Jameis Winston still wins," Kerr said. "The order doesn't even follow the Student Conduct Code and it ignores the bulk of the evidence."

Oddly, he sounds surprised.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wildcats unchained

OK, just to get it out of the way: I still don't think Kentucky's going unbeaten.

Someone will get them. Sometime. Somewhere.

But I'm saying that with a little less conviction today.

This after another encounter in which the Wildcats turned another allegedly quality opponent into an oil stain. This time it was UCLA, and what happened was so gruesome that, somewhere out in the Great Beyond, John Wooden undoubtedly uttered a mighty oath.

"Goodness gracious," probably. I think that was his favorite.

What happened was Kentucky hauled off and went into halftime with a 41-7 lead. Read that again: 41-7. And this was against UCLA, not the International College of Puff Pastries And Other Baked Goods.

It wound up 83-44 after the Wildcats took their foot off the gas in the second half, a display of dominance so jaw-dropping Kentucky head coach John Calipari was compelled to point out that "they're not machines and they're not computers," and that "they don't play great every time out."

Yes, well. Whatever.

The fact remains the Wildcats are 12-0 and now have another convert in the whole run-the-table meme, that being UCLA coach Steve Alford. Alford declared the Wildcats, if they continued to play defense the way they did in the first half against the Bruins, had a chance "to run this thing out."

This from a guy who starred at Indiana, the last school to run the thing out.

As for me ... well, as I said, I stand by my prediction.

Clear across the room from it, these days. But still.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hail to the Chef

... or something like that, just to get into the spirit of presidential gaffes.

President Obama generally isn't known as the malaprop monster his predecessor was, but he cranked out a doozy in his news conference yesterday. And if nothing else,  it was at least revealing about where his outside interests lie.

The Prez has a well-earned rep as the most sports-savvy chief executive since Richard Nixon; the guy's a SportsCenter junkie, and he plays pickup hoops, for heaven's sake. And so no big surprise that when he addressed the issue of the ill-fated film "The Interview," he flubbed his lines along, well, sports lines.

Called one of the film's stars, James Franco, James Flacco.

As in, you know, Joe Flacco, the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens.

Which tells me he's less a Hollywood guy than a football guy, which is frankly OK by me. I'd rather have a guy in the White House who knows who the quarterback of the Ravens is -- and who actually roots for his Chicago teams, no matter what city he happens to be in -- than a guy who knows Jameis Flacco's filmography off the top of his head.

Oops. I meant, "Jameis Franco."  James Franco. Whatever.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bobby Douglass doesn't live here anymore

... because, you know, if he did, he'd be starting in place of Jay Cutler.

Instead it's Jimmy Clausen who's been thrust into the ever-widening breach in Chicago, and Cutler goes to the bench after devolving this season from a man on the  cusp of a breakout season to the Dunkin' Donuts of quarterbacks. As in, nobody serves up more delicious hot turnovers.

He's turned it over 24 times this season, tops in the NFL, and after the latest dismal showing he's suffered the ultimate indignity: Being benched for a guy who has gone the way of most Notre Dame quarterbacks in the NFL. Which is, hardly any way at all.

Clausen isn't much but he's all the Bears have, and there is some solace there. Just in time for the holidays, Clausen-for-Cutler offers up a fun parlor game to while away the idle hours.

The name of the game is "Finish This Sentence." The sentence in question begins "The Chicago Bears have  benched Jay Cutler and will start Jimmy Clausen against the Lions ..."

... because, oh, hell, why not?

... because their season is over and they didn't have a white flag handy, so they made do with Clausen.

... because the Bears are great fans of cruel jokes, and what  could be crueler than benching a man from Santa Claus, In., a week before Christmas?

... because the Lions' pass-rushing terror, Ndamukong Suh, is on a diet, and Clausen has fewer calories than Cutler.

And last but not least:

... because, no, Bobby Douglass wasn't available. Or Larry Rakestraw. Or Gary Huff. Or Vince Carter, Vince Evans,Vince Vaughan or Vincent Price.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reggie unplugged

Reggie Miller has never been the shy retiring type. Several million residents of New York who probably still want to break his spindly self in half can attest to that.

So no surprise  that his opinion on the Kobe vs. Michael debate -- revived again since Kobe passed Michael on the all-time NBA scoring list the other day -- is, shall we say, caffeinated. Like, a vat of espresso caffeinated.

Basically, he went on Dan Patrick the other day and said there was no debate. Michael was miles better than Kobe. All day, every day.

You know what?

He's almost right.

MJ is still cult figure for a certain generation of American, and Reggie falls squarely into that demographic. He got Michael in his prime and Kobe in the first awakening of his prime, and so no surprise he'd pick MJ by a wide margin.

The only thing he's wrong about is just how wide the margin is.

Says here it's a few miles shy of Reggie's mark, and that's not because the Blob suffers from long-term memory loss. MJ was great. Maybe the greatest ever. But let's not pretend that he never missed a shot or won every game in the last second, because he didn't.

He failed. A lot. He also succeeded a lot. And that goes for Kobe, too.

No, he didn't win six NBA titles in six tries and win six finals MVPs, like MJ. But he did win five of the former and two of the latter. And on those nights when he had it all going, he was as unstoppable as MJ.

That puts him behind Jordan, but not miles and miles behind him. And it doesn't diminish Jordan's greatness to say that -- even though there are some MJ cultists who think if we don't put Jordan far, far above everyone else who ever played, we're somehow shortchanging him.

Not so.

And Reggie ... God love ya. But you're wrong. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Eloquence squared

So Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt Sunday memorializing two young black kids killed by police, and the Cleveland police union got its shorts in a twist about it, after which Hawkins proved eloquence does in fact exist in the NFL, no matter what you might have gathered from watching the latest Roger Goodell news conference.

Here's what Hawkins had to say, without notes, to the media yesterday:

“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.

“To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement. I have family, close friends that are incredible police officers and I tell them all the time how they are much braver than me for it. So my wearing a T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.
“Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences. Those are the police officers that should be offended.
“Being a police officer takes bravery. And I understand that they’re put in difficult positions and have to make those snap decisions. As a football player, I know a little bit about snap decisions, obviously on an extremely lesser and non-comparative scale, because when a police officer makes a snap decision, it’s literally a matter of life and death. That’s hard a situation to be in. But if the wrong decision is made, based on pre-conceived notions or the wrong motives, I believe there should be consequence. Because without consequence, naturally the magnitude of the snap decisions is lessened, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“I’m not an activist, in any way, shape or form. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I keep my opinions to myself on most matters. I worked extremely hard to build and keep my reputation especially here in Ohio, and by most accounts I’ve done a solid job of decently building a good name. Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward, and I can’t live with that. God wouldn’t be able to put me where I am today, as far as I’ve come in life, if I was a coward.
“As you well know, and it’s well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy. The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality.
“So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt like my heart was in the right place. I’m at peace with it and those that disagree with me, this is America, everyone has the right to their first amendment rights. Those who support me, I appreciate your support. But at the same time, support the causes and the people and the injustices that you feel strongly about. Stand up for them. Speak up for them. No matter what it is because that’s what America’s about and that’s what this country was founded on.”

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 15

And now this week's installment of the NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature decried by the New England Journal of Medicine as "a major setback in the ongoing war against flu-like symptoms" and "a particularly virulent strain of projectile drivel":

1. Paging the Chicago Bears ... paging the Chicago Bears ...

2. Your tee times are ready.

3. Meanwhile, by virtue of the Bears saying "What, you mean we still have to play more games?", the Saints kept pace with the Duluth Eskimos and Pottsville Maroons in the NFC South -- aka, "Technically, we're still in the league."

4. Remember when the Chiefs-Raiders was an actual rivalry?

5. Anyone?

6. The Bills!

7. Beat the Packers!

8. No, really!

9. Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel.

10. Did something. Started, maybe? I forget.


Monday, December 15, 2014

The Beez takes his leave

It began at his brother's elbow, in a small room at South Side High School with all the oxygen squeezed out of it. They were packed in like sardines that day, friends and coaches and acquaintances and family, all to see a young man put his name to a sheaf of papers decorated with helpful red-and-yellow tags reading SIGN HERE.

The young man doing the signing was Jamar Beasley, who was going off to play soccer for the New England Revolution.

The kid at his elbow, in the shadow of Jamar's bright orbit, was his younger brother DaMarcus.

Now it is all these years later and DaMarcus Beasley is saying goodbye to an international career that knew both sunlight and shadow, that was incandescently bright for a while and then touched with gloom, and finally bright again in a wholly unexpected endgame.

He announced via Instagram that he was retiring from the U.S. Men's National Team, and if there is never an absolutely right time for an athlete to do that, this was as right as it was ever going to get. His international career, unmoored and all but finished four years ago, underwent an astounding rebirth under new USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who saw in the former child star something worth salvaging. And so he moved Beasley from forward to left half, where he started every game for the U.S in the 2014 World Cup, in the process becoming both the team leader he always wished to be, and the only American in history to play in four World Cups.

It was the future predicted for him when he burst onto the scene by winning the Silver Ball at the 1999 FIFA Youth Championship, becoming along with Landon Donovan the point men for the next generation of American soccer. By the time he and Donovan were 20 they were starring for the U.S. team in the World Cup; by the time they were 28, Donovan was the greatest player in American soccer history and Beasley, slowed by injury, was hanging on after knocking around various clubs in Europe -- mostly with diminishing returns.

Then came Klinsmann. And  the sunlight found him again.

 It had always been there, of course, even that day sitting at his brother's elbow. Everyone in the room with lick of soccer sense knew he was going to be special -- "Keep on eye on DaMarcus," they all said -- and everyone was right.

Although perhaps no one could have envisioned exactly how they would wind up being right, least of all DaMarcus himself.

If he came back to Fort Wayne last summer as something of a conquering hero, it was a hero who had conquered himself as much as anything. His place at the American soccer table was not quite the place he probably imagined when he was 19 years old and, along with Donovan, the Next Big Thing in American soccer. But he did find his place -- and it was as rich and meaningful and fulfilling as he ever could have hoped.

"Representing my country has been the greatest thing I've done in my career," Beasley wrote Monday in his Instagram announcement.  "Every time I've pulled on OUR colors I tried to represent myself, my family and my country with the utmost respect ... One thing I hope you all will say about me is that I was a good teammate and ALWAYS left everything on the field when I played."

They will say more than that, of course. They will say, first of all, that he was as adaptable a player as any who ever pulled on a national jersey. They will say he more than fulfilled Klinsmann's faith in him in that regard. And they will say that, along with others, he put Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the map as a soccer town.

Once upon a time he was just a kid sitting in the shadow of someone else's sunlight moment.

Now he's the 32-year-old man who, in the autumn of his career, found his own incandescent moment,  to the delight of not just a  packed room at South Side but packed bars all over his hometown.

"Beez! Beez! Beez!" they howled every time he appeared on the big-screen TVs last summer -- a salute to a quiet young man who had done the impossible: filled up bars in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for, of all things, soccer.

How much brighter does it get than that?


Champions for now

And so, once again, the Indianapolis Colts have clinched the AFC South, a perennial event on the level of putting up your Christmas tree, winterizing your car or fertilizing your lawn in the spring.

Which is to say, the AFC South is the Colts and three teams from the SAC. And not three of the good teams from the SAC.

Sunday they ho-hummed their way past the Texans, winning 17-10 against a team missing wide receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Garrett Graham and, after the second quarter, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was the 12th straight time the Colts have beaten Houston and the 13th time they've beaten the Texans in Indy, against no losses.

Same-old, same-old, in other words.

What's not same-old, same-old is that this Colts team doesn't look, smell or feel anything like the 10-4 team their record says they are.

Yes, they've won four in a row now, but it doesn't feel like it. In their last two games, they've turned the football over six times. They needed a desperation 11th-hour drive to beat sagging Cleveland last week. And they struggled to beat a Texans team that, as mentioned, was missing some important pieces.

Conclusion: This is a team not likely to go much of anywhere in the playoffs, despite the double-digit wins.

Is there anyone out there right now whose face isn't painted royal blue who honestly believes the Colts can go into either Denver or New England, the other division champs, and win? Because this doesn't look like a team that can do that, four-game winning streak or not. And the prospects didn't get any better when T.Y. Hilton, Andrew Luck's primary deep threat, limped off with a dinged hamstring yesterday.

You hate be all Mr. Negative about this. But right now, the Colts look like a team that needs to savor its latest AFC South title. Because no other hardware seems likely to be coming their way.     

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The right (Heisman) stuff

Say this for the 80th Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota: He's probably not going to drop the thing.

Or, you know, show up in a selfie in Vegas starring the Heisman, himself and his new pal Insert Celebrity Name Here.

Or use it as a doorstop to keep various investigators, campus police and actual police away.

This is because Mariota is the kind of guy who, upon getting the call, broke down and cried at the podium while talking about, no, not his show-business buddies, but his mom and dad. And he's the kind of guy who inspired even rival coaches (to wit, Stanford's David Shaw) to declare that if Mariota didn't win the Heisman, he likely wouldn't speak the word again.

He is, in short, the anti-Johnny Manziel, whose sense of entitlement and willing embrace of self-aggrandizement (i.e., the whole "Johnny Football" persona) made some wonder if the Heisman's fabled stiff-armed pose wasn't a literal attempt to distance itself from him.  And he's for sure not Jameis Winston, now starring in a police report/disciplinary hearing/campus complaint near you.

Mariota is none of that. If you tried to call him "Marcus Football," he'd probably get one of his linemen to turn you inside out like an empty pants pocket. And he's not going to turn up on a rap sheet or be caught charging around campus shooting up stuff with BB guns.

What you get instead from him is a humility all great athletes affect but few pull off with any sense of authenticity, and much of that squares with his background. This is a guy who was a backup quarterback at his high school in Hawaii as late as his junior year, and was pursued by exactly two schools: Washington and Memphis. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, in fact, discovered him while watching video of the kid he was playing behind.

So when he says he feels blessed by all of this, it's likely genuine.

And what kind of pro will he make?

Hard to say. He's got the size (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) and the speed (a 4.5 40) to get it done, but the success of college read-option quarterbacks transitioning to the next level has been uneven to say the least. What you can say about Mariota is that, from a temperament and character standpoint, he seems cut from the same cloth as Russell Wilson -- the one read-option QB who demonstrably has succeeded in the NFL.

But later for that. For now, the dominant image is of Mariota, wreathed in celebratory leis from his friends at St. Louis High in Hawaii, cradling the gnarled little stiff-arming guy.

Both of them look quite comfortable with the arrangement.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Today's media silliness: The LeBron Debate

Look, I know I was part of the problem for 38 years. But sometimes the sporting media is sillier than kittens on acid.

Case in point: Last night LeBron James went for 41 points in a loss to the Pelicans, then had to defend himself because some media twits with far too much time on their hands seriously debated whether or not his game (or at least the skywalking, Dr. Dunk part of it) is starting to erode.

Seriously. They did.

OK, first, some context: LeBron is 29 years old. You don't start talking about the things a guy can no longer do until he's, oh, 34 or 35.

Context, The Sequel: The man is the best player on the planet. By miles and miles. Nothing he has done or not done so far this season gives evidence that is still not the case, perhaps more than ever.

Context, The Sequel To The Sequel: The whole dunking thing has never been a big part of his game, anyway -- at least, not in the way it was for Michael Jordan during his MJ Moonwalker days. So to discuss whether or not LeBron can still jam like he did when he was 19 or 20 is a completely pointless exercise in assessing the state of his game.

But then, a lot of oxygen has been pointlessly expended by the yapping poodles of 24/7 sports media where LeBron James is concerned. It's a function, I've come to believe, of a lot of people's fundamental misunderstanding of LeBron's game. They insist on comparing him to MJ when the more accurate comparison is to Magic Johnson -- and even that comparison doesn't work on a lot of levels.

That's because LeBron's game defies characterization, and has always done so. He's a dynamic scorer whose greatest gift might be distributing the basketball. And so all the yawp over the years about whether or not he was afraid to seize control of games late missed the notion that he  actually was seizing control of games late, but in a way that was not always recognized by those who grew up with the MJ/Kobe model of gimme-the-rock-and-clear-out-a-side.

LeBron's first instinct, it seems to me, is to look for the open man. He's the rare unstoppable scorer who actually wants to get everybody else involved. And he has the skills to do it; although it rarely gets mentioned, he's a supremely gifted passer. Maybe the best in the NBA.

And if he doesn't dunk as often as he used to?

Hey. He's LeBron. He never did.    

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Geography, schmeography

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany isn't the first guy to wish he didn't live in fly-over America. Hey, we all want to be a hit on Broadway, don't we?

And so the instant the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland, slapping geography in the face with an almost comic stretching of its footprint, you knew yesterday would come. You knew the goal was to put itself in big-ticket East Coast venues without appearing to have materialized from outer space. Or, you know, Iowa.

Adding Maryland and Rutgers gave it the excuse to do that, and so the Big Ten will be bringing its basketball tournament to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. in 2017, and to Madison Square Garden in 2018. And Delany has already hinted it won't be a one-time deal.

This despite the fact that, with the exception of three schools, the Big Ten begins in Columbus, Ohio, and doesn't end until it hits the Great Plains.

And yet ... geography is one thing, cold hard cash another. And if adding Rutgers and Maryland wasn't about tapping into the lucrative East Coast television markets, what was it about?

Certainly not loyalty to the traditional fan bases that made you what are. So 1990s, that.

Putting the Big Ten basketball tournament in venues hundreds of miles from its geographical center might be shrewd business, but it's also a greedy cash grab for a conference hierarchy that never met a dollar it wouldn't pursue to the gates of hell. Those two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they hardly ever are.

So it's a good move for the conference monetarily.  But it's also an outright betrayal of its base, a hob-nailed boot to the cherries of the fans who made the Big Ten basketball tournament a valuable property to begin with.

 Why, you can almost hear the refrain, can't you?

Yeah, um, well, sorry, all you folks out there in Champaign and Madison. We're taking our show to New York. Sure, it'll cost you hundreds of dollars more now to follow your teams. And it'll screw up the regular season because we're hacking a week off it to make it happen.

But what do we care? It's a chance to tap into all that New York loot. So, you know, nice knowin' ya.  The sticks were fun, and you gomers made us a lot of money. Have fun milkin' the cows and stuff.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here come the Cubs, Part Deux

They could still screw this up. They are the Cubs, after all.

But remember a couple of months back, when the Blob said the following?

 (Theo Epstein) rode into Chicago on a promise to rebuild the Cubs' wrecked farm system, and by all accounts he's done it. Anthony Rizzo is solid for the next decade or so. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are apparently budding stars. And the Cubs just called up another ABS, Jorge Soler, who's been described by those who've played with him as a "freakish" athlete.

 Throw in Addison Russell, the young infielder acquired in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal who everyone seems to agree is the Next Big Thing, and you've got the makings of a team to -- dare we say it? -- look out for in the next two or three or four years.

 ...  it's true Epstein's had to gut his pitching staff to do what he's done, and equally true that this leaves any supposed resurgence in the theoretical category for now, given that pitching, as ever, is the difference between contending for hardware and actually bench-pressing it.

Well. Looks like Epstein and Co. just took a big step toward alleviating that little problem.

Comes now the news that they outbid the Red Sox -- the Red Sox! -- for Jon Lester, throwing $155 million across six years at him to come to Chicago and be the Arm for a club that is suddenly bursting with a lot of young Bats and Legs. That's two splashy deals in the last couple of months, if you count wooing new manager Joe Maddon away from Tampa Bay (and that's essentially what happened). And suddenly the pieces, or a lot of them, are in place for the Cubs to, well, not be the Cubs anymore.

Which is to say, it's winning time on the north side of Chicago. And, yes, a lot of people have said that before in December about the Lovables, only to see their hopes get crushed in June's ruthless fists.

But for the first time in a long time, it looks like there's an actual plan in place in the Friendly Confines. You can see its outlines, track its flow chart, thumb through a touchable blueprint. And if the weight of all that oppressive history -- of all that Cubness, if you will -- has KO'ed best-laid plans before, the best-laid plans look to have a puncher's chance this time.

Here come the Cubs?

At least for today, you can leave the irony on the bench when you say that.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 14

And now the latest installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature House Republicans have called "a massive federal overreach" and "the greatest threat to our liberty since that hippie Pete Carroll beat the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team":

1. Speaking of the Cowboys, they won again this week. 'Murica!

2. But it was only the Bears. Not quite so much 'Murica!

3. Hey, look, it's the Raiders!

4. Who was that they were playing again?

5. Because, you know, it kinda looked like the 49ers. A little bit.

6.  Meanwhile, the Packers! And the Patriots! Because, you know, the Packers and Patriots.

7. Likewise, the Browns. Because, the Browns.

8. Hey, anyone seen the Saints?

9.  Coulda sworn they were supposed to play the Panthers this week.

10. Somebody call the 49ers. Maybe they're together.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Big 12 issue

Look, I get where Baylor coach Art Briles is coming from. You get shouldered aside in the 11th hour, your thoughts naturally turn to power plays, politics and why the hell isn't there a Big 12 rep on the College Football Playoff selection committee, anyway?

(Actually there is. Oliver Luck, athletic director, West Virginia).

But you know what?

Briles' issue isn't with the committee. The committee got it right, because right now Ohio State is one of the strongest four teams in the country -- even if the Big Ten isn't one of the strongest four conferences.

No, Briles' issue  (and TCU coach Gary Patterson's issue, if it comes to that) should be a little closer to home. It should be with their own conference.

The Big 12 is directly responsible for getting its top two teams shut out of the process, because the Big 12 has no conference championship game. And so, foolishly, it declared co-champions. Which did neither Baylor nor TCU any favors, because why put a half-champion in the playoff when you can put four outright champs there?

Without a playoff the Big 12 should have just declared Baylor its champion,  because the Bears won the head-to-head with TCU. The dilemma, of course, was that Baylor was ranked behind Ohio State in the CFP ranking while TCU was sitting at No. 3. So maybe even that wouldn't have worked.

It all comes back to the conference's lack of a championship game. And it could have had one. Invite two more teams to join, split 'em into two divisions of six and have at it. Simple.

Instead ... well, instead the Big 12 today is the only Power 5 conference left out in the cold. And it has no one to blame but itself.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

And now ... Ohio State

Sooo. Guess style points do matter.

This upon the just-breaking news that Ohio State has officially crashed the first College Football Playoff party, apparently on the strength of its 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. If a decorative fruit basket is not on its way from Columbus to Madison, Wis., ("Thanks for lying down, guys!"), it ought to be.

(And here we pause briefly for the obligatory Conspiracy Moment. The scene: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's office. The characters: Delany and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. Fade in on Delany saying, "OK, here's the deal. The only way we get into the playoff is if Ohio State absolutely wrecks your ass. So, for the good of the conference, we're asking you to take a dive. We'll make it worth your while." At which point one of Delany's flunkies enters the room, toting a suitcase full of cash).

In any case ... it's Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. And howls of outrage from Fort Worth, Texas, where TCU is no doubt feeling very much like the victim of a mugging. One minute it's riding securely in the No. 3 spot and feeling pretty good about staying there after clouting Iowa State 55-3; the next, it's coming to in the gutter with its wallet gone and its No. 3 ranking having magically turned into No. 6. Wha--?

It is a curious turn of events in a situation where no matter the committee did, there were going to be questions. On the one hand, how do you keep out an Ohio State team that's shown such dominance against ranked opponents? And on the other hand, how do you suddenly jump them into the mix after not doing so previously?

After all, the body of work didn't really change with what happened last night. But now suddenly it's good enough, when it wasn't before?

And as for TCU ... the Horned Frogs have to wondering how a 55-3 victory gets them dropped three places. And the answer likely doesn't have as much to do with them as it does with the Big 12, which doesn't have a conference championship game. That means TCU shared the title with Baylor rather than either school winning it outright. Had that happened -- had Baylor and TCU played again -- the winner likely would have made the show, and Ohio State would have been on the outside looking in.

So the Buckeyes have the Big 12's lack of a conference title game to thank in addition to the Badgers not showing up. And proponents of said title games finally have a comeback for those of us who think  conference title games are nothing but a crass money grab.

Because this time, wonder of wonders, they actually did matter.

And now, a brief pause for speculation

Give Urban Meyer this much: He's not squeamish about style points when the situation seems to demand them.

And so his Ohio State Buckeyes laid it on Wisconsin last night, and then laid it on some more, and then laid it on  a little more. And when the laying on was done, the Badgers were nothing more than a faint smudge on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, having been mercilessly ground up 59-0 in the Big Ten title game by a third-string quarterback and an Ohio State team determined to make a statement so loud even the College Football Playoff committee could hear it.

But was it loud enough?

Hard to say. The Buckeyes sit on the doorstep of the playoff right now, and they could still be sitting there later this week. Because, if you're the committee, whom do you jump them over?

Defending national champion Florida State, which finished off a 13-0 regular season with a 37-35 win over No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game? Or TCU, which came into Saturday in the No. 3 slot and surely didn't hurt itself by pounding unranked Iowa State 55-3?

That's the dilemma here, and the Blob still says the committee will resolve it by standing pat. Although Ohio State has beaten more ranked teams (most by double digits) and have won 12 games against teams with a collective won-lost record of 84-60 (far better than either TCU or Florida State), those are credentials that haven't yet gotten the Buckeyes into the top four. Yet now, suddenly, they will?

What's killed the Buckeyes so far is the relative weakness of the Big Ten, and that didn't change Saturday night (to be sure, it might have actually hurt them that Wisconsin, the presumptive second best team in the conference, was so clearly inferior). On the other hand, they are crushing everybody, and Saturday night they did do it with a third-string QB. So maybe the committee concludes that, while they weren't a top-four team prior to 11:30 p.m. or so Dec. 6, they clearly had become one thereafter.

The skinny: A couple weeks or so ago the Blob opined that it just couldn't see any way the Buckeyes got in. Now it can.

So they've got that going for them.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The mythic sexy hire

So Nebraska hires  Mike Riley, a guy who somehow won 93 games in Corvallis, Ore., and a significant part of the Nebraska fan base apparently is cheesed off that, well, the Cornhuskers couldn't do better than a guy who won 93 games in Corvallis, Ore.

I say this: A guy who can do that can win a whole lot of games at a high-class joint like Nebraska. So chill.

And, while you're at it, dig a shallow grave and lay to rest the notion that there is a Sexy Hire out there who will fix everything and return the program to the days of yore, when everyone wore leather helmets and beat State like a bass drum every year. Because the Sexy Hire is largely a myth.

Oh, not in the sense that there aren't guys out there with big names that stand out in neon. In the sense that the Sexy Hire is no more likely to succeed than the un-Sexy Hire.

And here's the irony: No one should know this better than the Nebraska fan base.

The most revered coach in the program's history, after all, was pretty much the anti-Sexy Hire. Tom Osborne did not come riding into Lincoln trailing comparisons to Vince Lombardi or Don Shula. He was Nebraska coach Bob Devaney's offensive coordinator, who, the university decided, had earned his shot after a decade of faithful service. It doesn't get much less sexy than that.

But Osborne fit the university and its culture like a glove, and of course we all know what he went on to do in Lincoln. It was a lot like what happened in Columbus when Ohio State plucked Jim Tressel, a lifelong Ohio boy who'd made his bones in Division I-AA at Youngstown State. Nothing particularly sexy about that, except that Tressel knew football and, more to the point, knew Ohio State and what it demanded of its football program.

(You want to freak out Michigan and Ohio State fans at the same time? Throw Tressel's name into the mix for the Michigan job. It's not as inconceivable as you think. Bo Schembechler was every bit the lifelong Ohio boy Tressel was when Michigan called him to Ann Arbor from Miami of Ohio. That didn't work out too badly).

Anyway ... right now Mike Riley might seem like he came out of left field (or from Mars, rumored to be just down the street from Corvallis). And the expectations are obviously ridiculous at a place that fires a guy who won more games in his first seven years than any coach in school history. But if Riley takes Nebraska to a BCS bowl or wins the Big Ten next year, everyone's going to forget all that.

Nothing's sexier than a guy who can bring in the big bowl money. Truth.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Second-class citizenry

You may have missed it in all the excitement over A) Johnny Football actually getting in a football game, and B) Notre Dame narrowing its bowl choices to the Chicken Sandwich, Anyone? Bowl and the Your Website Here Bowl. But the other day, the University of Alabama-Birmingham pulled the plug on its football program.

Opinions vary as to whether that amounted to the first chunk of concrete falling from a crumbling dam.

It's an alarmist position but the perhaps it's time for an alarm or two, or at least an acknowledgment that college football is about to shudder its way through yet another seismic event. And that what will come out on the other side will not necessarily be worse or better than what we have now, but just ... different.

The cold truth of it is there is yet another emerging split between Us and Them in Division I college football, and UAB surrendering to economic realities -- it can't compete with the Alabamas and Auburns in its own backyard, and no longer finds it feasible to try -- is only the latest marker for that  eventuality.

The Power 5 conferences, with the blessing of the NCAA, already are allowed to operate under a different set of rules than their smaller brethren, who right now are still laboring under the delusion that big-time football is for them, too. But the hard reality is, it's not. The game the Power 5 plays bears no resemblance to that played in, say, the Mid-American Conference --  and credit UAB for coming to that conclusion before it drowned in a sea of red ink.

It says here the rest of UAB's natural kin will come to that conclusion, too, eventually, and either drop football or, more likely, break away and form a new division within the college football structure. And they'll do that because they won't have a choice.

Shut out of the playoff system and the big-money bowls (well, except for the one-non-Power-5-berth-per-year bone the NCAA reluctantly throws them), there's very little return anymore on the football investment. UAB just completed one of the best seasons in its history, but even if pulling the plug hadn't likely doomed its bowl chances, what did it really have to look forward to?

The aforementioned Chicken Sandwich/Website Bowls from which it would have chosen don't offer a payout worth the expense, which means the school would have lost money on the deal. Significant money. And those bowls -- I would argue 99 percent of all the bowls, frankly -- are mere exhibitions, anyway. Except for the team itself, what's the benefit to, say, Ball State to accept a bid to, say, the Belk Bowl? How many alumni are going to bother to spend the money to go to it?

The answers: None, and not many. Because the Belk, the GMAC, the Pinstripe, the bowls are completely irrelevant. And to be perfectly honest, so are most of the New Year's Day bowls, now that they're spread over three or four days.

Football does still pay an outsized chunk of the freight at the Ball States of the world. But it could do that under a separate structure from what's now considered Division I, too. And that separate structure is coming.

In its own way, UAB just confirmed that.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh, irony

Harmonic convergence (or its evil twin, disharmonic convergence) is a rare bird in a world largely driven by caprice and happenstance. And so it's only right and proper to recognize it when it happens.

Today it happened half a continent apart, in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Tucson, Ariz.

In Ann Arbor, as was fully expected, Brady Hoke was let go as the football coach at Michigan. Meanwhile, in Tucson, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez -- Hoke's predecessor at Michigan, and the guy who recruited the talent with which Hoke went 11-2 in his first season -- was recognized as the coach of the year in the Pac-12.

Voila. Disharmonic convergence.

And again the Blob is left to wonder if perhaps Michigan didn't pull the trigger too quickly on RichRod. Diehard Wolverines will splutter at the very notion, saying that showing the man the road was the right move because he wasn't a Michigan Man and didn't fit the Michigan culture. They'll tell you he never got the whole Ohio State thing, and that, esthetically, he never got that Michigan football was all about  running the football, playing defense and hitting people in the mouth repeatedly until they cried uncle.

That wasn't RichRod's way, and so they sent him on his way -- even though his teams improved incrementally every year, while Hoke went from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6 to 5-7.

And so out Hoke goes. And, as one who covered the latter's 12-0 Ball State team back in '08, allow me to consider it a lousy deal even if it was both understandable and inevitable.

Much as I like Hoke personally -- and who doesn't who's ever spent any time around him? -- it's clear now he was nowhere near ready for  Michigan. To go from Ball State to San Diego State to what was once one of the four or five premier jobs in the country in three years is one steep learning curve. Too steep, frankly.

He might have saved himself with a decent year, but a decent year was never in the cards. In retrospect, the beginning of the end was the Notre Dame game, when the Wolverines were embarrassed 31-0 in prime time; the Shane Morris debacle and the firing of athletic director Dave Brandon were merely the final acts of a script that seemed already to have been written that night in South Bend.

So where does Michigan go from here?

Well, not back to the Brady Hoke well, assuredly. This time, one assumes, they'll be looking for a hire that makes a splash -- although I'll be surprised if it's either Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles, the two splashy names most prominently mentioned right now.

 Harbaugh will be too much in demand in the NFL if he and the 49ers part company. And  Michigan simply isn't a ripe enough plum anymore to lure Miles away from the SEC --  unless, of course, U of M throws the accumulated GNP of six European nations at him.

Which I suppose it could.

But the plain bare wood of it is that LSU to Michigan is a step down at this point. And that's why there won't be another Brady Hoke hire in Ann Arbor.

Michigan can't afford it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 13

And now the latest installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature which Bill Belichick called "a delightful romp," and of which Tom Coughlin was heard to say, "Holy crap, we lost to Jacksonville, what's this (bleep) going to say about that?":

1. Holy crap, the Giants lost to Jacksonville.

2. And they led 21-0 at one point.

3. Holy crap.

4. Hey, look it's Johnny Football!

5. Actually playing football!

6. (Well ... sort of).

7. Jay Cutler. Tony Romo. Colin Kaepernick.

8. Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

9. Hey, look, it's the Super Bowl!

10. Weird that they played it so early this year. And in Lambeau Field, no less.


All about the Benjamins

So, still think big-time college football isn't about the Benjamins -- or the Hamiltons or Jackons or Ulysses S. Grants, if it comes to that?

Take a look at what happened in Lincoln, Neb., yesterday.

What happened was Bo Pelini went and got himself fired as the Cornhuskers' football coach, one day after his team staged an epic rally to clip Iowa 37-34 in overtime. And it wasn't really because he was a loser in his seven seasons as the head man.

He was, actually, a winner. In seven seasons, he went 67-27, a 71 percent winning percentage. He won at least nine games every season, and his 67 victories are the most ever for a Nebraska coach in his first seven seasons, beating even the sainted Tom Osborne. As a matter of fact, no coach in a Power 5 conference has ever been fired after winning as many games in the same time frame.

So why did Bo go?

Well, let's look at those 27 losses. And pay close attention to when they happened, and against whom.

Seventeen of them came against ranked teams, as opposed to just eight wins against same.  Three of them came in six bowl games. And none came in a BCS bowl, for the excellent reason that Nebraska never played in a BCS bowl under Pelini.

Which means, boys and girls, that he was unable to hit the big score -- BCS loot -- when the big score was there for the taking. And he was only .500 in money games (i.e., bowls) of any description. That's the significance of the 8-17 record against ranked opponents.

And that's the number that got him fired. Because, no matter how the NCAA likes to carry on about student-athletes and what-not, college football among the Power 5s really is just a business.  If you're not making the corporation money, you can start updating your resume.

Because, like Bo Pelini, you're gonna need it.