Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Thoughts for my 100th Post

That's right, Sandlot fans, this is my 100th post since this blog started. Thanks for reading over the past couple of years. I had a day off from work yesterday, which means I watched ESPN for about 23 hours, so here are some random thoughts about what's going on in the the world of sports...

Colts vs. Jaguars
That was just a dominating performance by the Colts last night. In the past few years, even when Indy's been able to beat the Jags, Jacksonville's always been the more physical team. But on MNF, Indy played superior on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning was his usual amazing self, hitting Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark with huge, timely passes, and Joseph Addai continued to show why he's one of the best backs in the league. But it was Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney on the defensive side who made the biggest difference with game-changing tackles, a pick and a safety. The Colts still have to take care of business on the road in Carolina Sunday after a short practice week, but with a win, that will lead to the biggest game of the regular season Nov. 4 when they host the...

New England Patriots
Don't get me wrong, I hate the Pats as much as any other Boston team, in particular because of their arrogant fan base in Massachusetts, but it sure is fun watching a football team that looks like a video game or a ridiculously unrealistic Hollywood sports movie. ESPN.com's Bill Simmons (a.k.a. Boston Sports Guy) has labeled them the "Cobra Kai Yankees." That's great. Unbeatable and Hated. I can't help but smile at Randy Moss's success, though. He's been my favorite receiver since his days in Minnesota, and he's showing everyone why he's simply the best wide receiver since Jerry Rice retired. Unless they lose at Indianapolis (the only game other than hosting Pittsburgh that looks like a possible loss), we're looking at the 19-0 Superbowl champions.

"Red Sox Nation"
Can we please stop using this phrase? Can the original "Cardinal Nation," in existence since the 1940s, please sue these bandwagon jumpers for trademark infringement. For those who no nothing of baseball history (including the aforementioned bandwagoners), Cardinal Nation refers back to the time when St. Louis was the westernmost franchise in professional baseball. Before western expansion and franchise relocation, baseball fans west of the Mississippi followed the Cardinals. Combined with the midwestern broadcast reach of former broadcast station KMOX, the roots of Cardinals fans spreads through more than ten states in the Midwest. I certainly won't deny the historical appeal of the Red Sox throughout New England, but Red Sox Nation? That's just more hype from the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network.

Okay, so we're up to 13th in the BCS after the Saturday beatdown of Texas Tech and their vaunted #1 offense. I can live with that ranking, but the top ten is just ridiculous. Kansas #9? Are you kidding? Who have they beaten? Mizzou's going to beat them by three touchdowns when they meet at the end of the season. I just wish all the screaming kids in the student section at Faurot Field could really appreciate what they are experiencing. Mizzou has won more games in the past two years than they did during my entire undergrad career (1986-1990). Gary Pinkel is changing the identity of both the team and the fan base from...wait for it..."At least they're trying!" to "We expect to win." It's about time.

LaRussa Returns
Great. Six division titles, one wildcard, two NL pennants and a World Championship. Tell me again, why did we want to get a new manager? Was there someone with a better record available? Tony can leave when Tony wants to leave. Whiteyball was over twenty years ago. Tony LaRussa should already be considered the best manager in Redbird's history. Welcome back, skipper.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nothing Left to Lose

I love football. I was raised to love baseball in the way that some children are raised to follow a religion. But if baseball is my faith (I'm monotheistic—St. Louis Cardinals only; no other team even matters), then football is my passionate mistress.

I play pick-up games with friends from my workplace, which, since it's a college, includes some guys half my age with whom I have no business playing. I always feel like Samuel L. Jackson in "Unbreakable" for at least two days after I play. And even though my arm is worse than Chad Pennington's, my teammates insist that I play quarterback.

Why? In our games, the QB is also the play caller, and I'm a great offensive coordinator. I use the run a lot, which is almost unknown in pass-wacky touch football games, again mainly because of my crummy passing arm, and I try to be as creative as possible with mismatches and misdirection plays.

But here's the thing: I'm a terrible head coach. I tried to coach flag football a couple of years ago, and my team was a disaster. We didn't win a single game; we tied the last game of the year. I realized that what makes me a good offensive coordinator—an almost obsessive concern with moving the ball and scoring—didn't serve me as a head coach.

Why not? Great offenses are about "right brain" thinking: creativity, unpredictability, taking goofy chances. But football teams are based on discipline and teamwork, which is the hallmark of the defensive side of the ball. I don't care about defensive strategy. I want to figure out how to beat a defense. It's no accident that my favorite players throughout the ages—Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning—have been quarterbacks.

Look at last year's Superbowl coaches: Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, both defensive coordinators at some point in their career. Bill Belicheck was Bill Parcell's defensive guru. New Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is a defensive guy. Wade Phillips? Succeeding in Dallas; defensive guy. Norv Turner? Stinking it up in San Diego; offensive guy.

That leads me to the point. I like Scott Linehan. He was a great offensive mind in Minnesota, the reason for all the success between Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. He also had success in Miami with that offense despite a lack of talent. But he's an absolute disaster as a head coach in St. Louis. He'd probably be a great offensive coordinator, but he's not going to win a game this year with this Rams team. They don't respect him.

No one respects the offensive guy. The offensive guy is weird. We're nerds. Mike Martz is our king, and he wasn't the greatest head coach in the world, either. I'm not saying offensive guys can't make it, but if I owned a team, I'd be looking for a defensive genius. Good defensive guys create good teams. Good offensive guys are better off sticking with the offense.

Hey, there's no shame in being the #3 or #4 guy on the organizational flow chart. Come on, who would you rather be right now, George W. Bush or the President Pro-Tem of the Senate? (By the way, that's Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WVA, and yes, I had to look it up.) So, whether he decides to resign on his own, or whether the Rams fire him, it's time for Scott Linehan to go. I hope he finds success running an offense somewhere. We already have the ideal interim head coach in place: defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. This needs to happen now. If I was the team owner, I'd already be making it happen.

Oh, and one more thing: Vikings head coach Brad Childress was offensive coordinator for the Eagles before he went to Minnesota. What's he done so far? Only relegated shoe-in Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson to a backup role while starting Tarvaris Jackson at QB, who sounds like a fill-in distant cousin of the original Jackson Five lineup. "Ladies and Gentlemen, here they are: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and filling in for Michael...Tarvaris!" Just shoot me now, please.

At least Peyton Manning's head coach is a defensive guy.

p.s. Check out the new link at the top of the page for "Tuck's Baseball Toons." Sandlot supporter and comrade Tuck is now publishing his work at The Hardball Times. Support those who support The Sandlot!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The only NFL Power Poll that counts!

"Power polls" are fine, but they're so subjective as to be laughable. The guys who get paid to write the kind of columns that I'm doing for free (although if anyone wants to pay me, I'll be happy to cash your check) include teams like San Diego and Chicago based on reputation or expectation rather than performance. Here at "The Sandlot," now that the season is 25% over, we're only going to consider who would be playoff teams if the season ended today.

AFC Division Winners
East—New England Patriots (5-0)
North—Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1)
South—Indianapolis Colts (5-0)
West—Oakland Raiders (2-2)

AFC Wildcards
Tennessee Titans (3-1)
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1)

If the playoffs were held today...
Pittsburgh over Jacksonville; Tennessee over Oakland; Indy over Pittsburgh; NE over Tenn.; NE over Indy.

NFC Division Winners
East—Dallas Cowboys (5-0)
North—Green Bay Packers (4-1)
South—Tampa Bay Bucs (3-2)
West—Arizona Cardinals (3-2)

NFC Wildcards
Washington Redskins (3-1)
Carolina Panthers (3-2; best conf. record)

If the playoffs were held today...
Washington over Arizona; Tampa over Carolina; Dallas over Washington; Green Bay over Tampa (Fla. team at Lambeau in January!); Dallas over Green Bay.

My current Superbowl Prediction: New England over Dallas...hey, that game kicks off at 3:15 CDT this Sunday! Lucky us!