Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Best Show in Football

One of the things that many hard core fans like about baseball is the way that the game's statistics allow comparisons between today's players and those who played a generation or more ago. People like Bill James and organizations like The Society for American Baseball Research have turned the analysis of baseball statistics into an art form, and books like Moneyball show that they have also had a profound influence on how major league baseball teams are run.

Whatever other contributions Bill James may have made to the game, he's given fans hours of enjoyment through his books, especially his Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which is one of the most comprehensive and interesting books about baseball history that I've ever read.

I used to think that football didn't lend itself to this kind of statistical analysis. The seasons were too short and there were were too many differences between how the game was played over the years to allow people to make meaningful comparisons of players and teams across eras. But ever since The Hidden Game of Football was first published in 1988, football scholars have been trying to outdo their baseball brethren in using statistics to reach objective conclusions about the game and the guys who've played it. If you want to get a sense for what they're up to, check out the Football Outsiders website.

Although I was aware of this hard core statistical analysis of football, for some reason I found it a lot less interesting than its baseball counterpart. That was until I read The Best Show in Football: The 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns -- Pro Football's Greatest Dynasty by Andy Piascik. Piascik tells the story of those great Browns teams in an entertaining and insightful way. He makes a compelling statistical case that the AAFC was every bit the NFL's equal during its brief history, and that while Paul Brown's willingness to sign black players may not have sprung from an enlightened racial attitude, it proved to be one of the major factors in allowing the Browns to separate themselves from the rest of the league.

Those are interesting tidbits, but what makes Piascik's book really interesting is how he uses statistical tools to demonstrate just how excellent the Browns and some of their players were. One of the best illustrations of this is the case that he makes for Mac Speedie's induction into the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, his analysis of Speedie is available online, and you can read it here.

Piascik also makes a very interesting argument for the proposition that the Cleveland Browns of the 1940s and 1950s were head and shoulders above every other football dynasty, including the 1960s Packers, the 1970s Steelers, and the 1980s 49ers. You'll have to buy his book to get the details on that, but it's worth the money. If you're a Cleveland Browns fan, this is a book that definitely belongs in your book shelf.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Uh oh.

Just before 8:00 am today, Tampa Bay's GM picked heads, but the coin landed tails up. That means the Browns now have the third pick in the draft. The draftniks' usual suspects for that spot go like this: JaMarcus Russell (QB), Joe Thomas (OT), Brady Quinn (QB) and Adrian Peterson (RB).

I'm not too thrilled with last year's #3 pick.

So, here's to hoping that the Browns don't screw up this one.

Friday, February 23, 2007

NHL-Style Alernative Dispute Resolution

Everybody's seen this on Sportscenter, but here's the call as it happened. I know I'm a barbarian, but I love a good old fashioned hockey brawl every now and again. The hit on Chris Drury wasn't that bad, but Buffalo's reaction to the hit is further evidence that they're ratcheting up the intensity after sleepwalking through the last month or so of the season.

I'm only sorry that I've got my own hockey game to play tomorrow night, or else I'd be tempted to plunk down the money for the NHL Center Ice package just to watch the rematch in Ottawa. How ugly could it get? We're talkin' NBA All-Star Weekend.

I can't believe that none of the Senators jumped in when Andrew Peters went after Ray Emery (who deserves a lot of credit for his guts). In fact, there appeared to be several Senators who never even dropped their gloves. That's not cool, and their fans have noticed. Perhaps the Senators remember what happened the last time the sent their top goon in to tangle with Peters. I've never seen a player go after a goalie, but then again, Andrew Peters is the closest thing to one of the Hanson brothers that we've got left in the NHL.

Update: Deadspin has a link to the Buffalo broadcast team's coverage of the fight. Listen to long-time Buffalo broadcaster Rick Jeanneret's call of the melee. I don't know about you, but I think he may have enjoyed it just a little.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Getting Off The Road to Nowhere

Great week for Browns news, huh? First, we get confirmation of something we've known for a long time but couldn't bring ourselves to admit--we can forget about LeCharles Bentley for next season. Then we find out that the little "cleaning out" that needed to get done on Kellen Knievel's knee was actually major surgery that may sideline him until training camp or even beyond.

In the midst of all this, most of the mock drafts that I've seen have Cleveland using the third or fourth pick in the draft to select injury prone Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. They can't be seriously thinking about doing something like that, can they? As far as I'm concerned, the Browns could clone Jim Brown, shoot him up with human growth hormone, and give him a machete and a can of mace and they still wouldn't have a running game worth a damn. They need to find some linemen and stop looking for a quick fix that's going to keep them on the road to nowhere.

Adrian Peterson may turn out to be a terrific NFL back. In fact, put him in the right situation, and that's probably the most likely outcome. I'm only saying that Cleveland is not that situation. Yet fans and, I fear, the front office continue to look for the Messiah--that one player who is going to lead us to the promised land. That kind of a quest leads to dumb decisions. Adrian Peterson would be one of them.

The good news is that there is at least one pick that would be worse than Peterson; the bad news is that this pick is also apparently on Phil Savage's radar screen. Who am I talking about? Who else-- Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn. There's some talk being bandied about in the media that the Browns might select Quinn. I'm a big fan of the Irish, but I'm not a big fan of Bradycakes. It would surprise me if he turned out to be a big star in the NFL, but he's almost guaranteed to be a complete disaster here. Just ask Tim Couch what happens when a team selects a franchise QB without commiting to surround him with a capable offensive line.

Offensive linemen aren't glamorous, and offensive lines aren't built in a day. It's going to take a combination of draft picks, smart free agent signings (as opposed to blockbuster free agent signings) and some luck in order for the Browns to build a line. It's hard work and it is going to take a lot of time. But if the Browns ever expect to build a contender instead of a laughingstock, it's the only realistic option.

There is no Messiah. Trade down, stock up on linemen and keep your nose to the grindstone.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Soccer Talk

My daughter plays soccer pretty much year round, so I've spent a lot of time watching soccer games over the past several years. I'm a pretty hard core football and baseball guy, but I've learned to appreciate the game of soccer. At the same time, I've also become increasingly creeped out by the general level of kookiness of many soccer parents.

No, it isn't the pathological stage mothering of some soccer parents that I'd like to talk about, although I could fill volumes on that. What has provoked me to write is how into the whole soccer scene some of these people are, how utterly ridiculous they look, and how borderline delusional they act.

One of the things about the youth soccer scene that's particularly ridiculous are the expressions that these folks pick up. For example, when somebody makes a good play, they say something like "thank you" instead of "nice play," or "unlucky" if a good pass or shot goes astray. These expressions are undoubtedly perfectly appropriate if you are a member of the British aristocracy, but they sound truly absurd coming out of the mouths of upper middle class yentas from the Cleveland and Akron suburbs. Some of these folks take it even further, and dress themselves from head to toe in soccer togs, even though it's painfully apparent that they've never set foot on a soccer field in their entire lives.

Then there's the "how many games did your kid play today?" one upsmanship that goes on among the more disturbed segment of the soccer crowd. I was at a game a few weeks ago when a guy I'd never met sidled up to me and started explaining how he had started his day with a 7:30 a.m. game, was now on his third game of the day, and had another one at 8:00 p.m. that night. I guess I should point out that he was wearing a Manchester United hat, a soccer sweatsuit, and Adidas indoor shoes. I managed to escape while he was telling me about his two kids who play in the Olympic Development Program or "ODP," as the kiddie soccer cognoscenti call it. I got as far away from him as I could during the game, although there was no mistaking his shouts of "unlucky!" and "thank you!" that echoed through the indoor facility.

Then, there's the whole Walsh thing. Here's the deal: Walsh Jesuit High School is without a doubt the premier high school girls soccer program in Ohio and perhaps the finest in the nation. Now, there have got to be about 1,000 girls who play on various premier youth soccer teams in the Akron and Cleveland area. The parents of approximately 750 of those girls are totally convinced that their daughters are going to play soccer for Walsh. There are 25 players on Walsh's varsity roster. You do the math.

So, I guess my advice to everybody would be that if you see a minivan with a soccer ball sticker on its window, make sure you stay out of its way and do nothing to provoke it. Better safe than "unlucky."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Keith Foulke Pulls a Bob Hallen

WTAM is reporting that Keith Foulke has retired. Thanks a lot, Keith. I guess that means that the closer's job is Joe Borowski's to lose, which isn't the most comforting news in the world when you consider that the Tribe signed him only after he flunked a physical with Philadelphia.

It's not LeCharles Bentley's torn patella tendon, but it's still not the best news to start Spring Training with, is it?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Great Communicator

Old Gipper Reagan had nothing on The General, Bobby Knight. After his Texas Tech team stunned Texas A&M in a squeaker, Knight pointed out to the national media that were going away disappointed like this:

“You came here to write a big story about A&M and we just (expletive) you.”

He's great and right to the point.

He didn't ask me, but...

...Here's what I'd suggest to Phil Savage. You've got a lot of dough for free agents. I think it's around $26 Million. Spend it. Here's how:

1. Offer huge money to get Max Starks (OT---Pittsburgh) as a free agent. He's restricted. Get him or make Pittsburgh go all out to keep him. He's only 25 and could be a stud for a long time.

2. Make sure you end up with at least two starting offensive linemen out of free agency. In addition to or instead of Starks, Eric Steinbach (G/OT---Cincinnati) would look mighty good in a pumpkin helmet. He's really a guard, but was pressed into duty as a tackle and did pretty well. I'd be happy with him as a guard or tackle. He's an unrestricted free agent and only 27. So, it's just gonna be the number of zeroes on his offer sheet. Leonard Davis (OT'---Arizona) is also unrestricted. He's a bit of an underachiever considering that he was the # 2 pick in the draft, but he's only 29 and is 6'6" and about 340 pounds. He knows how to pass block. The other guy Savage should consider is Luke Petitgout (OT---NYG). The Giants just let him go today in a cost-cutting move. He's 30 and is better than any tackle in Cleveland. That's also true of Mike Gandy (OT---Chicago). This may be the deepest group of talented free agent offensive linemen in years. Don't blow it by failing to sign a couple.

3. Get an impact defensive player like Dwight Freeney (DE---Indianapolis), or better yet, grab local boy, Nate Clements (CB---Buffalo). They're both unrestricted free agents and young. Either one upgrades the defense and gives it something it needs. Justin Smith of Cincinnati is also a free agent, but it looks like Cinci will put a franchise tag on him.

4. Get some real talent in the draft. If you get blockers through free agency, take Adrian Peterson and give him the damn ball... a lot. If you don't get linemen in free agency, trade the #3 or #4 pick and get as many hosses as you can.

5. Make it clear to Crennel that he has to take charge and just win.

6. Lastly, slap Braylon Edwards and tell him to shut the f*** up.

Not that.

I can't abide another term with Marty at the helm. He got booted before because of his arrogance and unwillingness to learn. He hasn't changed.

Marty's teams were generally undisciplined on the field, and he drove me crazy with his version of "bend don't break" defense.

Marty's a pretty good coach to turn around a crappy team. Then you have to fire him, quell the dissension, and get a new coach to get you over the playoff hump.

Let's save ourselves a lot of heartache. Don't hire Marty.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Martyball Redux? Hell YES!

The San Diego Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer last night. Rich Swerbinsky has an article today suggesting that the Cleveland Browns should snap him up. Rich, count me in. I think the Cleveland Browns are tailor-made for one of Marty's patented franchise turnarounds. I think that like the teams he inherited during his first stint here, and then subsequently in Kansas City and San Diego, the talent is better than the team's performance would indicate.

Sure, like everybody else, I'm painfully aware of The Drive and The Fumble and the rest of Marty's post-season mishaps. As far as I'm concerned, postseason heartbreak is infinitely preferable to dreary incompetence. And when it comes to the regular season, Marty's not just competent, he's brilliant.

Marty Schottenheimer started his career as a head coach by taking a 1-7 Browns team and going 4-4. He followed that up with four consecutive playoff appearances, two Central Division titles and two AFC Championship game appearances. When Art Modell fired him, he moved on to Kansas City. In his first year there, he took a team that went 4-11-1 in 1988 and coached it to an 8-7-1 record, good enough for second in the AFC West. Marty averaged 10 wins a year during his tenure with Kansas City and made the playoffs seven times in the 1990s--something matched only by the San Francisco 49ers. Then it was on to Washington for a one year stint as the Redskins head coach (8-8). Marty then signed on with the Chargers, where (surprise!) he quickly turned a team that had gone 5-11 in 2001 into one of the AFC's elite franchises.

Based on the team's inability to attract high-profile assistant coaches, it looks like the rest of the NFL has already figured out that the Crennel regime is taking on water. I'm guessing that free agents are going to send out a similar message. So, there's no time like the present to preempt the Romeo Crennel death watch.

One of the most compelling arguments for keeping Romeo Crennel around for another year is that if the Browns replace him, they'll start from square one and begin another multi-year rebuilding process. I guess that argument assumes that you buy into the idea that the Browns have made "progress," as the increasingly delusional Phil Savage asserted in his last press conference. But even if you're inclined to share a drink of Phil's Kool-Aid, you've got to admit that Schottenheimer provides the team with a unique opportunity to shorten the rebuilding process ordinarily associated with a coaching change by several years. Marty's got a proven track record of taking over bad teams and making them contenders very quickly. He hasn't done it just once, but three times for three very different organizations.

It's time for Cleveland to offer Marty Schottenheimer a chance to finish his head coaching career where it started. As a Browns fan, I know I'll need medication to get through the season, but I'd rather reach for Roll-Aids than No-Doze.

Friday, February 09, 2007

We Need a New Song

Did anybody else think that Billy Joel's rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl was kind of odd? Maybe it's just because his style is so distinctive, but it seemed to me that Joel turned the song into something that sounded like Piano Man meets the 4th of July ("so they sit at the bar, and stuff bread in my jar, and say 'man, our flag was still there'"). Anyway, after watching this latest nationally televised mangling of our national anthem, you can count me among the ranks of those who think we need a new one, or at least a different song to sing before sporting events.

Aside from egomaniac pop stars who trying to make the song their own and the occasional Roseanne Barr incident, the biggest problem with The Star Spangled Banner is that even the handful of Americans who actually know the words can't sing it to save their lives and don't want to try.

Did you ever notice that the most stirring renditions of our national anthem involve thousands of people listening to somebody else sing the song? When Whitney Houston sang it so memorably at the 1991 Super Bowl, it was all about her voice. The most impressive bit of audience participation in the national anthem that I can recall took place at the 1991 NHL All-Star game in Chicago, and the audience didn't sing, they cheered.

It isn't that way in other countries. You probably saw what the Canadians did during last year's Stanley Cup, but that's far from the only example. In Cardiff, Wales, 75,000 people (including the players) sing the Welsh national anthem before Rugby matches in a language that most of them don't even speak. Here are 60,000 Englishmen practically screaming God Save The Queen at Old Trafford. Even the jaded French can belt out La Marseillaise when the occasion calls for it -- although it usually takes a crowd of boorish Nazis to get them going.

There are a couple of things that are great about these anthems. First, they're real easy to sing and, second, they sound better when the singers are drunk. Those are both extremely important considerations if you want your song to be sung by a crowd at a sporting event.

So, what song replaces The Star Spangled Banner at sporting events? America the Beautiful is a strong contender, but it flunks the "sounds better when you've been drinking" test. I like Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land, but it's too political for a lot of folks and would never fly. I guess I'd go with God Bless America, (sorry Woody) which is a song that easily satisfies both tests.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

National Signing Day

Yesterday was the first day that Division I recruits could formally commit to colleges, and the media handed out grades almost immediately. Recruiting guru Tom Lemming said that Tennessee and Florida had the top classes, followed by USC, Texas and Notre Dame. Scouts, Inc.'s top five consisted of USC, Florida, Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Fighting Irish fell to eighth on the Scouts list.

The SEC feasted this year, garnering 32 out of the top 100 prospects. No Big Ten team cracked the top ten in Lemming's list. That School Up North ranked sixth on Scouts' list, while the Buckeyes ranked 20th. Happily, not a single Ohio kid signed with Michigan this year. The Vest grabbed 10 of them, including Brandon Saine from Piqua, this year's Mr. Football. Saine's 6'1" and 220, and runs a blistering 4.3 forty. So, if you Buckeye fans are depressed about the team's overall ranking, here's Saine's highlight video, which ought to cheer you up:

While you Buckeye fans are watching Saine, those of us who follow the Fighting Irish will keep our eyes on QB Jimmy Clausen:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Plain Dealer Embarrasses Itself Again

There's an interesting contrast between today's Akron Beacon-Journal article on Gene Hickerson's selection to the Hall of Fame and the one that appears in The Plain Dealer. While Pat McManamon's column celebrates Hickerson's achievement with stories about his playing days and his dry wit, Mary Kay Cabot decides that the best way to honor Hickerson is to make him an object of pity.

Apparently, Gene Hickerson's memory is not what it once was. Pat McManamon notes Hickerson's condition, and says that "Hickerson is suffering from memory loss and showing symptoms of early Alzheimer's disease, but he has not been diagnosed." That's all he says about Hickerson's physical condition. Instead of pitying Hickerson, McManamon writes about his days as a Cleveland Brown, and about his decency and humility as a person.

Cabot, on the other hand, wallows in Hickerson's misfortune to such an extent that she makes me think she's trying to emulate Pulitzer Prize winning weeper Connie Schultz. (By the way, don't miss today's column from Mrs. Sherrod Brown. It's vintage Connie--she's encouraging all of us to cry a river over a dead horsie). Anyway, Cabot goes so far as to contend that Hickerson's ailments result from an all-consuming bitterness over the injustice of having to wait 30 years for his induction. She's aided and abetted in her role as amateur diagnostician by the dunderheaded Dick Schafrath, who should have known better than to open his mouth in front of a PD reporter.

I am truly sorry to learn of Gene Hickerson's ailments, but it seems to me that if ever there was a time not to have a pity party for Hickerson, this is it. Unfortunately, I guess the bottom line is that The Plain Dealer has been throwing turds in people's punch bowls for so long that they just can't figure out how to do anything else. What a shame.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Congratulations, Number 66! Congratulations as well to the voters who had the good sense to finally vote him in.

Now about Mac Speedie...

Kuechenberg Can Wait

I read in Pat McManamon's column on Friday that there's at least one Hall of Fame voter who refuses to vote for Gene Hickerson's induction until Bob Kuechenberg gets in. That voter doesn't deserve a ballot.

Bob Kuechenberg was a very good player on some great teams and he certainly deserves to be in the Hall, but not at the expense of Gene Hickerson. Kuechenberg made All-Pro only twice, while Hickerson was selected five times. Gene Hickerson made the 1960s All-Decade team at his position; Kuechenberg did not make the 1970s All-Decade team at his. Heck, whatever Kuechenberg's credentials might be, the fact remains that he wasn't even the best guard on his own team. That honor belongs to Larry Little, who has been a member of the HOF since 1993.

The biggest problem I've got with the idea that Kuechenberg is somehow more worthy than Hickerson is that, frankly, guards from the 1970s are simply overrepresented in Canton. John Hannah, Gene Upshaw, Larry Little, Joe DeLamileurre, and Tom Mack are all in the Hall of Fame, but if anything, those players were less integral to their teams than the guys in the 1960s were--and players from that era are vastly underrepresented. In fact, the only pure guard from the 1960s who is a member of the Hall is Billy Shaw of the Buffalo Bills, and he played his entire career in the AFL.

It's inexcusable that in an era when the Lombardi Sweep dominated pro football, none of the guys who made that play go have been enshrined. Gene Hickerson's not there. Jerry Kramer's not there. Howard Mudd's not there. Fuzzy Thurston's not there. Yet half a dozen guys from a time after the pulling guard's signature play was made obsolete by moving the hash marks in have been found worthy of enshrinement. I'm not knocking the 1970s guys; all I'm saying is that if there are five of them in the Hall, shouldn't the best guard of the 1960s get in before they add a sixth from that decade?

Voting Gene Hickerson in today would be a long overdue step toward giving the guys who made the NFL's running game go back in the 1960s the credit they deserve.

Thursday, February 01, 2007