Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Different Take on Mark Sanchez

Haven't been many reasons to smile lately for Sanchez

Something occurred to me while I was watching Monday Night Football with the Jets and Titans. Mark Sanchez isn’t a good quarterback (shockingly deep, right?).  Jake Locker is similarly an ineffective signal-caller. Sanchez is in his fourth year; Locker, his second.  Yet when the announcers spoke of them, they did so as if they were talking about finished products.

In the wake of a sterling crop of young, talented quarterbacks a new philosophy regarding the position has formed.  Formerly, quarterbacks would get drafted and immediately sit behind a more experienced player in order to learn the plays and the subtleties involved in successfully making the transition to the professional ranks of sports’ most difficult position.  It was commonplace for even the most talented guys to take their time making the ascension. Joe Montana, Len Dawson, and Roger Staubach all sat more games than they started their first two years in the League.  Those players have something else in common; they all have a bust in Canton, OH at the NFL Football Hall of Fame.

Sanchez was never given the chance to sit; after being taken in the 2009 draft, he was thrust into the starting lineup. Indeed, compare his first two years to that of Montana’s replacement, Steve Young (take a look at the postgame breakdown of the Jets QB situation that Young and Trent Dilfer did). Young threw 11 TDs and 21 INTs and had a completion percentage of 53% (Sanchez threw 29 TDs and 33 INTs with a 54% completion percentage).  More telling than raw numbers (because of the proliferation of passing in the NFL, QBs now will naturally have more yards, attempts, and touchdowns), are the percentages of their throws that resulted in scores and turnovers.  2.2 % of Young’s passes were Touchdowns and 4.2% of them were Interceptions.  Sanchez’s numbers were 3.3% and 3.8% respectively. 

Now clearly I am not suggesting Sanchez will be Steve Young, but the environment is completely different.  Instead of getting traded and learning under Montana for several seasons, Sanchez (after seven game-winning drives and AFC championship appearances) had his weapons depleted year after year and only had Mark Brunell as veteran QB leadership for the majority of his career. 
Sanchez’s 2013 Cap number is $9.1 Million from previously unamortized charges, plus $8.25Million in salary.  All totaled, his cap impact will be over $17Million for the franchise; despite that, there have been multiple pundits calling for his release.  Additionally, since the Monday Night Meltdown on National TV Sanchez has been demoted and Greg McElroy (who led a game-winning drive in week 13) was activated and will start.

Perhaps the talent isn’t the problem, perhaps he has been mismanaged. It might be best for both parties if he isn’t with the team next year.  A trade would benefit both teams, so the Jets could get something tangible out of the deal, but with his poor showing I think it’d be difficult for a team to part with anything in return for Sanchez. 

How do you think the rest of Sanchez’s career will pan out?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Leave Baseball Better Than You Found It

Some of the biggest names in America’s favorite past time are back in the news and bringing with them arguably the greatest major league baseball controversy of their heyday.    Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, first timers on the ballot for a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame, also are all linked to use of performance-enhancing steroids.   

Because of their incredible numbers, they are eligible for entry into the baseball shrine via a vote of about 500 sportswriters, however, should they get in? 

Bonds is MLB’s  all-time home run hitter.  Clemens set a record as a seven time Cy Young award winner. And, Sosa, number eight on the homer list, helped revive interest in baseball with his legendary home run battles against former major leaguer Mark McGwire.  (McGwire, who also is linked to using the banned substances, repeatedly has been denied entry into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, since becoming eligible.)

This sparks a debate as big as whether all-time hit leader Pete Rose should be kept out of Cooperstown because he allegedly, but now admits, he bet on baseball…against the rules of the sport.  

Their numbers are amazing, but sometimes it’s not just about the numbers.
Based on stats alone, without a doubt, the three should make it in.  But, to get into baseball’s Hall of Fame, sportswriters are to consider a player’s character, integrity and sportsmanship….and therein lies the dilemma. 

I grew up watching baseball and other sports with my Dad…in the days when you could watch ALL the Atlanta Braves games for free on TV.  I am a baseball purist.  Don’t like the designated hitter rule, don’t like artificial turf (called AstroTurf back in the day) and have capitulated to baseball under the lights.  (No domes, though.)  And, this doesn’t work for me.  It leaves a stench in my nostrils.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have, at the least, plausible reasons or denial in disputing the rumors of steroid use associated with their names.  Bonds says he was duped by a trainer into using banned substances, Clemens was recently found not guilty of lying to Congress when he said he had not used steroids—though his former teammates say he did.  And Sosa, we now know, failed a drug test—but maintains he never used.  

Some argue to keep them out of the Hall of Fame would be a travesty. Others argue the many of the sportswriters , who have publicly said they’ll vote to keep them out, have no real proof. 
They have evidence…and while evidence is not always proof, this is not a court of law; it’s just baseball.

The three are among more than three dozen players being considered for a spot among baseball’s immortals.   But, the perceived scandal has overshadowed the accomplishments of the other players. 
Character, integrity and sportsmanship are part of the criteria under consideration.  They have to count for something , too. 

The fact that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa bring with them the baggage of baseball’s steroid-tainted era is enough for me to bring doubts about their integrity. If I had a vote, I’d say “no” to the home run king, the pitching great and the ever-popular slugger.  

The sportswriters , who have until later this month to cast their ballots, also have a right to their doubts and suspicions. However, the players have no “right” to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  It is, and should remain, an honor and a privilege to be there.  

Copyright 2012  Artis Media Group  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boxing isn't's back!

With Marquez's defeat of Pacquiao, Manny's fight may never happen

We’ve all courted her; the girl that is always just out of our grasp.  Whatever you do or say, it seems to be the wrong thing at the wrong time.  It’s always something keeping it from happening.  After time passes, you realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal, and that there are more fish in the sea.

We’ve reached that point with the Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight.  When this fight was first proposed YEARS ago, it was extremely enticing. Mayweather looked untouchable as he danced through his opponents, and Pacquiao had begun to flash a power that had never before been witnessed in his fighting career.  The match looked obvious and sublime, the tactician with the perfect record (Mayweather) against the Tasmanian Filipino Devil. 

Now, Pacquiao looks to have stayed too long and the window of opportunity has closed…and that’s ok.

I’ve watched boxing two straight weekends in a row, and it has been great.  I saw Nonito Donaire round out his candidacy for Fighter of the Year as he systematically dispatched a game, but over-matched Jorge Arce (aired on HBO). I witnessed Amir Khan return from the verges of being an inconsequential fighter, to showcase his new trainer (Virgil Hunter) and accompanying defense to remain relevant with his 10th round TKO of Carlos Molina. I was even privileged to see a potential Fight of The Year candidate between Alfredo Angulo and Jorge Silva that was full of blood, guts and heart (Showtime Boxing had a FANTASTIC card top to bottom last Saturday).

In short, we don’t need no stinkin’ Mayweather and Pacquiao fight.

We were excited at the possibility.  We were eager to seize the opportunity of a classic fight.  Now, we’re just thirsty.  First it was reportedly the drug testing that held up the fight, then the money split was not to the boxers liking.  Throw in an adversarial relationship with Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum, and Floyd looked disinterested in pursuing the fight further.

But here is the secret that most boxing-heads know; there is a glutton of talented fighters. Canelo Alverez, Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz, Amir Khan, and Robert Guerrero are some of several talented and extremely entertaining boxers.

{Sidenote: If you get an opportunity, watch the Berto vs Guerrero fight (part two is available on the side of the screen);  An action-packed slugfest where two inside fighters stand in the middle of the ring and bang on each other. It’s another Fight of the Year candidate and an absolutely fantastic piece of pugilism}

Despite what mainstream media will have you believe, boxing isn’t dead. Sure, the Heavyweight division isn’t what it used to be.  The behemoths that dominated the division have sought more lucrative waters in the areas of baseball, basketball, and football.  Add to that the fact that the division has been dominated by the Klitschko brothers, and the Heavyweight division as a whole hasn’t been entertaining (although Deontay Wilder obliterated Kelvin Price with a walk-off KO in the 3rd round Saturday, and has tantalized American Heavyweight fans with a new favorite). The middleweights (here defined as 135-168 pound fighters) division is overflowing with talent, and the crown jewel may just be Adrien Broner.

Don't miss your blessings choosing style over substance, fellas

Honestly, Pacquiao vs Mayweather isn’t even the best matchup on the horizon.  Canelo Alvarez is the new hard-hitting boxing import that everyone wants to see, Khan’s a throwback fighter that responds with aggression when he’s hurt, and Guerrero is the scrappy fighter who is finally getting the due that his talent demands.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Mayweather and Pacquiao fight (sooner rather than later due to both their advanced ages).  There is no sporting event like a big-time prize fight. But let’s not get hung up on Robin Givens when Halle Berry is staring at us in the face.    

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brain disease, injury and football

Someone I know one who likened football to bulls crashing into each other…and nothing more.  She cannot see, and subsequently she cannot appreciate, the beauty and strategy of the offensive and defensive matchups; she only sees the violence. 

As for me, I recognize the power, speed, impact, and the tactical science and art of the game.   I love football.  But, the thought of someone suffering permanent brain injury for the rest of his life because of it is ridiculous to me.    

Following this month’s tragic murder-suicide involving a Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher linebacker, the issue of brain trauma, concussions and pro football is back in the headlines. 
Let’s face it, football players take blows to the head in practice and in game situations all the time. And, medical professionals will tell you that you don’t have to lose consciousness to have experienced head trauma or brain injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a concussion causes chemical changes in one’s brain.   That jolt to the head “can change the way your brain normally works.”  The Atlanta-based health organization also states it can lead to changes in mood and behavior.
Do brain injuries trigger violent reactions leading to arguments, physical altercations and more serious and deadly behaviors?  

There’s a new study on brain trauma and pro football out this month from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy  at the Boston University School of Medicine.  The center’s findings show that of 35 football players, mostly at the professional level, whose brain tissue was examined posthumously—all but one showed evidence of brain disease. 
The findings also show problems begin when repeated blows to the brain are not allowed to heal, and with each blow after that, the damage gets worse.  In its later stages, that, according to the study, can lead to rage, aggression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. 

I don’t think society needs to rid itself of football.  The NFL is doing all it can, some say too much, to minimize head and helmet hits to defenseless players in hopes of reducing concussions.  
But, this whole “play through the pain” business that some players advocate is absurd; at its least, and dangerous, at its worst.  There’s more at stake here than playing hurt; it’s about injury and possibly death.  It’s also about the violence and aggression in players off the field. 
Of this I feel certain, without a properly functioning brain, a person is a detriment to himself or herself and those around them.   

Wise up…money is important, no doubt.  But, NO AMOUNT OF MONEY is worth a brain injury.  In this life, all you really have are your name and reputation. And without good health and a properly functioning brain, neither will amount to much of anything.   
So, what is the answer here?  I wish I knew.  But, I do know that I get just as much of a thrill seeing a good “hit” in a football game as I do seeing a 90-yard punt or kickoff return.  I know that a couple of concussions don’t always lead to brain disease, and that there are plenty of reasons people commit murder-suicide.   I also know that like all fans, I’ll continue to watch and cheer on the game, until someone comes up with a solution.

Copyright  2012 Artis Media Group   All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Carolina Panthers’ Coach Rivera to Return?

Let’s cut to the chase…can Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s job be saved?   Should they miraculously (and miracles do happen) win the rest of their games this season, they’d finish 7-9.  Is that enough to save his job? 
Sadly, I fear, it is not.  Sometimes, it’s not about the number of wins and losses.  Sometimes, it’s about the internals…the team dynamics.
It seems to me that Coach Rivera has failed to provide his team, and his immensely-talented, young quarterback Cam Newton, the atmosphere for a winning attitude and the leadership they so desperately need. 
Some say Newton has more natural talent and ability than the super-skilled Robert Griffin III.  However Griffin, the Washington Redskins’ rookie QB, was recently named one of his team’s captains. To my knowledge, that honor has not been bestowed upon the second-year player, Newton, despite having arguably the most impressive rookie season the National Football League has ever seen.  But again, it is not always about the X’s and O’s.
Though we cannot blame the games lost this season on Newton, we’ve seen his performance progress; we’ve seen it regress.  Besides an injury-plagued offensive line, something in this picture is amiss.   It is leadership…or the lack thereof.
Newton has been heavily and publicly criticized by fans, the media, former players and his own teammates.   It’s time to grow up, and a leader would tell him so.  Someone like the team’s former defensive back Mike Minter or the late Panther favorite Sam Mills would be just the kind of guys to help Newton keep things in “perspective.”
But, the Panthers have no such leadership.  Steve Smith, whose sportsmanship attributes are at best questionable, is not the guy.  Apparently, neither is linebacker Jon Beason, who has been out most of the last two seasons with injuries.  And so, it falls, unsuccessfully, to Rivera and his coaching staff.
With one exception, in my memory, Rivera has allowed his young quarterback to sulk on the sidelines when things don’t go his way --without fear of being removed from the game.  Newton’s talent is enormous and Rivera might be crucified by the fans and media for plainly giving him the hook and owning up to it.  Or would he be? 
I believe as exciting and charismatic as Cam can be, we, the fans and media are growing weary of his pouting and press conferences with his eyes closed, etc.   Rivera has done young Mr. Newton no favors in permitting this type of behavior. 
I believe Cam needs a mentor…and a whole lot more…to help get him back on track.  Rivera has not been able to wrangle that issue.  (And, yes, the young star quarterback, his attitude and the attitude of the team are Rivera’s issues to deal with as head coach. The buck must stop with him, particularly since the team General Manager Marty Hurney already has been fired.)
It’s very unfortunate when someone loses a job.  The well-respected Rivera, who proved himself an able assistant, is in need of a miracle. Though it is possible,  I don’ t expect that to happen and can’t imagine the Panthers keeping him around.  I believe the only question regarding Rivera is whether he’ll be the first coach fired the first day after the regular season ends…or if that distinction will go to someone else?

Copyright 2012  Artis Media Group   All rights reserved.