Monthly Archives: January 2012

Super Bowl Forty-Meh

The Pats don't really need another Super Bowl win. For that matter, neither do the Giants.

To borrow (or rather skewer) a line from the post-Camper Van Beethoven band Cracker, “What the world needs now is another New York or Boston champion like I need a hole in my head.”

Ugh. Super Bowl XLVI is like the Bush tax cuts for the sports world. The rich get richer, no matter who comes out on top in this one, folks. (ESPN The Magazine even allowed the two over-publicized cities to shit-talk one another, perhaps forebodingly, via hometown comedians, Artie Lange and Denis Leary.) Though, in the new century, I suppose Boston currently sits atop of the sports town heap, having won at least one championship in each of the four major sports.

To hear Bill Simmons talk about the manner in which the Pats found themselves moving on to the Super Bowl was to hear an entitled fan spoiled from too much recent success. On his B.S. Report podcast from Monday, Simmons says, “That was so much more of a loss for Baltimore than it was a win for the Patriots. … Your watching it going, ‘These can’t be the two best AFC teams. It doesn’t seem right.’ That was probably Houston’s conference. … Maybe [the Pats] didn’t back in. Maybe they just got lucky because of the Houston thing.”

If the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl because their opponent’s bus broke down on the way to the game, I’d be beyond elated. A well-defensed pass and a rushed, hooked kick? I’d probably be excited enough to turnover a car on my own.

Can you even imagine being so blasé about your team making it to the Super Bowl?


The Cleveland-Duke Conundrum

Championship ring from the last major title of any kind in the city of Cleveland--1964. Dammit. At least it's classier than the newer bling-era Liberace rings.

Before we discuss loser-on-loser violence in response to atlswami’s last post, I must note that it is just after halftime of the Ravens-Pats game for a trip to the Super Bowl. Dear Ravens: Lose please. I hate you. Naturally I’m bitter about that team’s ongoing success, hard-nosed running and defensive identity, even the rivalry with the stupid Steelers (these two teams of remorseless, jackbooted headhunters deserve each other—it blows that they have to constitute one-quarter of the Browns’ schedule every damn year—and it makes the battle for third with Cincinnati our only real rivalry, which is just sad), and, especially, their Super Bowl victory four years after leaving Cleveland. That falls into the expanding category of unique, innovative ways that fortune stabs Cleveland fans in the neck. I certainly can’t think of another beloved franchise stolen from one town that won a chronically elusive title (Browns one of four teams with no Super Bowl appearances) within five years. As big a middle finger at a town I can imagine, worse than The Decision, especially since the WoA is still without a title as yet. Compound this with the fact that my favorite player when I was a child, Ozzie Newsome, is their goddam awesome GM. Another Coming Up Small city, Seattle, is starting to understand what this feels like, but OKC needs to win a title first. Side note: Simmons and his ilk recently discussed somewhere how poetic it would be if Baltimore won a title in Indianapolis (site of this year’s Super Bowl, and I must confess that I freaking love that stadium’s design), the city that stole its Colts franchise in 1983. Blech, who cares. Indianapolis more or less sucked donkey balls until Peyton arrived. Baltimore got its justice. I’m just waiting for the wheel to turn and “hapless Ravens” to enter the SportsCenter lexicon. I wish them ill.

Yes, I did evince a little hope for the Cavs future–there’s a ton of young players on that team, likable guys who are starting to distinguish themselves. Irving, Thompson, Casspi, I like these guys. A couple of pieces and some experience away from being interesting. Play hard, good coach, fun to watch, what’s not to like at the moment? At least we’re not Washington Wiz (the major omission in the Coming Up Small lineup of sports towns at the moment). They’re a cavalcade of awfulness because their young promising players are like torture to watch, hot dogging when they’re getting blown out and ball-hogging all the time. Yech. Concern with the Cavs now is maybe winning too many games and fouling up their lottery ticket in a strong draft. So thanks Hawks for setting us straight. I’m happier with the Cavs situation than I think atlswami is the with the Hawks. Sure, the Hawks make the playoffs every year, but they’re stuck in the ghetto of mediocrity, and it’s costing them an arm and a leg. Sparing Dwight Howard, they’re not getting any further until they blow it up and start over again, I figure. So Cavs, step one in rebuilding the right way under way. Kudos, fellas. We could look like Oklahoma City, Denver, or the Sixers in a few years, and maybe take Miami out of the playoffs once. That’d taste like truffles, man. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Finally, the Duke-bag issue requires some explanation. I came by Duke fandom honestly–I went there for college, and it’s impossible not to absorb some of that culture. If pain is the engine of solidarity in Cleveland, persecution does it for Duke fans. The vitriol that goes their way, delightfully saucy stuff. But yeah, it’s awful weird for a Cleveland fan to also have the Yankees of college basketball in his personal stable (and the two have several connections–Danny Ferry, Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer, and now Irving). I actually do know what it’s like to have one of my teams win a title–two, actually, since I matriculated in 1993. Begrudge me that? Meh. Your prerogative, Bobby. I’m not gonna fight you. As much as I enjoyed those Duke titles, that fandom really doesn’t measure up to being a Cleveland fan. Not in the slightest. Being a Duke fan is easy. Being a Cleveland fan is hard.


Friendly Fire

Atlanta wins a battle of Coming Up Small squads. Likely doesn't portend anything positive.

I still don’t think the Hawks have a big season ahead of them without Al Horford on the court. But, they can still beat up on the franchise that represents the only city that Atlanta has defeated in a major sport’s championship game.

Just the other day, valmikcle was telling me how the Cavaliers were looking all right. Probably not good enough to make the playoffs, but trending positive. He also noted that young Kyrie Irving was coming along swimmingly. (In addition to being a long suffering Mistake by the Laker, my fellow blogger and all-around great American is also an unapologetic Duke-bag.)

All evidence to the contrary tonight. The Hawks shredded the Cavs, winning by 27 at home in the Highlight Factory (which often doubles as the Lowlight Factory). I won’t belabor this point, as in the world of Coming Up Small, that would be fool-on-fool violence—especially given that the Hawks have played only two 2011 playoff teams since Horford went out (and lost to one of them, the Sixers, by 14).

I don’t really see big things in store for either of these squads this year—aside from their odds in the draft lottery.


When Falcons Once Soared

The greatest moment in Falcons' history? Yup, probably.

SI.com has a list of the “Best NFL Conference Championships of All Time.” Look what came in at #9. Dirty Birds!


Why So Serious?

As a fan, I’m jealous of the Niners. I watched with envy this past weekend as the San Francisco special teams unit took the field to prepare for each of its six kickoffs during its tilt with the New Orleans Saints this past Saturday. The team looked loose, but focused. Insouciant, yet intense. Ready to break skulls, but also having a lot of fun. They were fuckin’ dancing.

I watched it and wondered why the Falcons haven’t really adopted such an air since the 1998-1999 season when they were the Dirty Birds on an improbable, happy-go-lucky march to the playoffs. (The last person I’ve seen do the Dirty Bird was Hakeem Nicks, after scoring a 70-yard TD with fewer than three minutes left in the third quarter of a game I’d rather not talk about.) Apparently the Falcons facility in Flowery Branch is the town from Footloose. As the Goodie Mob once rapped (oddly enough back in ’98), “They Don’t Dance No Mo’“.

The Falcons of today feel awful business-like. In fact, that’s the exact wording Sporting News writer Clifton Brown used to describe them before the game we won’t discuss any further. “Mike Smith is the first coach to take the Falcons to the playoffs in back-to-back years. He pays attention to detail and is consistent. The Falcons have adopted his businesslike persona.”

Last year, I took great pride in a New York Times Week 11 capsule preview that characterized the Falcons matchup with the middling Rams as “just another week of the Falcons’ generic victory porridge: filling and nourishing, but a little bland.” That team was played boring, mistake-free ball. Long drives, very few penalties, and ground out wins. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, in preparation for 2010’s post-Christmas meeting with its rival Saints, “Drawing upon the personality of their staid, steady coach, the Falcons are not going to attract people with their flamboyance. Aside from the occasional Twitter twaddle issued by receiver Roddy White, this team is extremely adept at not calling attention to itself.”

The keeping your head down and staying focused approach rebuilt the franchise from a shambles at the end of the ’07 season into the perennial playoff contender it is now. But, maybe that austere mood has gone too far.  “The atmosphere is way different … Up there, it’s a lot tighter,” ex-Falcons punter Michael Koenen told reporters in Tampa Bay this fall, after signing with the Bucs. “There is a little more nervous energy, but here it’s light-hearted and just fun energy.”

I know that fun energy netted the Bucs a 4-12 record and spelled the end of Raheem Morris’ first tenure as a head coach. But, damn, I wouldn’t mind a little flamboyance, a little panache, and a little bit of those ol’ Dirty Birds. It doesn’t seem to be hurting the Niners.


Yelling at Buildings

This video makes me a little uncomfortable for its evocation of an abusive relationship. But well played good man.


Haterade Bath

There’s no legit reason the Tebow-la virus should be gracing this site, which is about withering on the vine, not creating a mile-high vortex where the laws of probability, common sense, and F=ma cease to apply. And yet here he is. Word out of Denver is that he and LeFraud James are chummy. “Us Nike guys stick together,” said the whore of Akron (WoA, let us stop a moment to admire his loyalty). Among the choice nuggets from this interview:

“I can relate to him a lot. I see how the media plays it sometimes and how the critics go at him and to see him continue to prove them wrong.”

“I’m one of those guys who has been in those shoes before . . . I understood a lot of what he’s going through, what he went through, and it’s good to see him success(ful) now.”

Before I get into this, the WoA is a fan of the Cowboys and Yankees and doesn’t that just say it all. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless had one of their bilingual shoutfests over it, actually agreeing on a few points. They agree that the WoA and Tebow have almost nothing in common. All they share is the hothouse of ESPN complicity in brand awareness. Oh, and each of them turns into a completely different athlete at certain times. The WoA takes an entire season of divine athletic ability, strongman tactics, and neck beards, and then turns it into root marm. Tebow takes 55 minutes of tomfoolery and wounded ducks (his only observable skill being survival until the last 5 minutes) and then appears to be the only man left standing on the field—at least in about half his games. So they’re opposite sides of the same coin, eh? Enough for the WoA to relate to? Or perhaps he’s just sniffing around in the hopes that if they get mentioned together enough, he’ll be able to grab some of that improbability matrix for himself and start ruling the NBA like he should have years ago (or still could, once he extracts himself from under Dwayne Wade’s heel).

Now, I hate—I’m using the word hate here—the entire Tebow phenomenon and have a nauseating, visceral reaction to watching him succeed. I’m an atheist, and you can have any god more invested in the Broncos ineptitude than the earthquake in Haiti. It’s just mortiferous to believe that blindness and ignorance of your own limitations, combined with Rudy-like dedication, is somehow a recipe for success. Storybooks are fiction, man, even though Rudy is now a successful motivational speaker.

Anyway, the WoA brought this comparison on himself. So he needs to own it. For all the nasty things I can say about Tebow (wait, there aren’t any, he’d probably give me his last nickel, which makes him even more infuriating), he’d never, ever have pulled something like “The Decision.” He’d never, through ignorance or malice, gut an entire sports community. The WoA was allowed to leave Cleveland—I did, Thome did, Ilgauskas did (though we’re happy to have you back in the front office, Big Z)—but his greater crime was not understanding the town, not understanding what he meant. Tebow’d never do that shit. He’d never be accused of giving up. He doesn’t check out. I mean Tebow stayed in a fracking game he was losing by 35 points with rib and lung injuries because he wanted to finish the season with his teammates on the field. Jesus! Um, exactly.

One mocks loyalty and doesn’t know when to stop talking. The other mocks his limitations and piles on the sincerity to the point of meaninglessness. It would take the WoA to make me appreciate Captain God Wad. Context is a bitch, ain’t it?


Don’t Hate the Player, Kiddo, Hate the Game

Claes Oldenburg's "Free Stamp"--It's totally in Cleveland, look it up.

Many people now have asked whether I’m going to raise my infant son as a Cleveland sports fan. Bitter legacy and all that. Why not let him fall into the warm, smelly, corrupt embrace of New York fandom, or pick a frontrunner of his own, or devise some random association (like my Cleveland-born-and-raised cousin who lives and dies by the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas Jayhawks basketball—something about the hawks? I never asked him)? Notably, no one who asked me this question is from Cleveland. They’d never even think to ask it, just as I’d never even consider letting this little kid think for himself. He’s going down with the ship, riding on his father’s shoulders, cursing Art Modell, Jose Mesa, and LeFraud James.

Lots of people leave Cleveland, probably more than stay. A few more years and I’ll have been in New York longer than I ever lived in the Midwest. But I’ve observed that people who leave the town (different, in a way, than even the most prideful who still live there), love the place unreasonably. Ask Michael Symon, Drew Carey, or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (our best and brightest?). People who come from Cleveland wear that shit on their sleeves, man. Maybe it’s an overreaction to the overdiscussed “Mistake by the Lake” days, or because it was a nice place to grow up, or the world-class art museum and symphony (right, that’s totally it). Nah, it’s because of the Browns, Cavs, and Indians. I don’t need to go over the sources of this pain—shit, I will anyway in this space, over time—but no other town claims “Most Tortured Sports City” more vociferously than the Metropolis of the Western Reserve. Stop arguing. We’re winning that shit in a walk. No one knows what it’s like to be us, and dammit if shared pain isn’t the greatest engine of solidarity.

So yeah, the kid is going to grow up with this. It’ll build character and teach him patience for things that may never come. I’ll cross my fingers that it won’t set him to tears like it once did me, pray that he can lay claim to the ground floor when Cleveland has a multiple title–decade like stupid Boston just had, and hope that he doesn’t one day hate me for it. I salute you, little man. Here’s a helmet.

If they ever tell my story, let them say that I rooted for giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die. Let them say I lived in the time of Omar Vizquel, Mark Price, and Ernest Byner. Let them say I lived in the time of Kosar.


Welcome (Back), Koetter

Well, at least Koetter's yelling in this photo. It'd be nice to have someone fiery on the sidelines (or up in the box) for a change.

Meh.

That’s my reaction to the news that Mike Smith is reuniting with his former Jacksonville compatriot Dirk Koetter, who the Falcons head coach just hired as his new offensive coordinator. They worked together during the Jaguars 2007 season that saw the team make the playoffs, knock off the Steelers in the wild card round, and then be upended by the then-undefeated Patriots. That year, the Jags offense ranked sixth in scoring.

It’s defense, on the other hand, ranked 10th in points allowed per game, which, perhaps begs the question: Was Mike Smith ready to be a head coach at that point, if Koetter apparently was not? Though, I think he’s done well, to-date, this is obviously the equivalent of a contract year for Smitty with the Falcons. Fail to make the playoffs? My guess is he’s gone before (or as soon as) the season ends. Lay an egg in the first round? There might be some discussion, depending on the circumstance, but I’d surmise he’d be gone in that instance, as well.

So, with the pressure of a roster that’s aging in key spots, specifically on the offensive line, at tight end, at defensive end, and running back, was Smith right to hire his old crony in lieu of someone splashy. Other names believed to be under consideration included Green Bay QBs coach Tom Clements, former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, former New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick (which actually would have been a marquee name and an instance of cronyism/nepotism since Billick is Smith’s brother-in-law).

The big issue with Koetter is that he’s coming off a season where his offense was ranked 32nd out of 32 teams. (His offenses have been trending downward since the ’07 season.) It’s partially understandable, given that the tools he was given to work with in the passing game amounted to a cruel joke, but one has to ask how much recent track record impacts these hiring decisions. After all, Mike Mularkey, who was lambasted for his predictable milquetoast play-calling all year and engineered zero points in the Falcons playoff game, became the Jaguars head coach last week. The team as currently constituted does very vaguely resemble the 2008 Falcons, with a reliable running back, a young QB, and a young receiving corps—so, maybe, Mularkey is the right person to get the Jags back to the playoffs (where they’ll promptly get blown out).

Looking more closely at Koetter’s NFL resume, he’s never really been at the helm of a well outfitted passing attack. So, now he is. And he’s been told to use screens, which will immediately add a new wrinkle to the Falcons playbook. I’m happy to give him a shot. I’ll also happily admit that I would have been at best ambivalent about anyone they’d have brought in. At the end of the day, we’ll just have to see what the guy can come up with, given the array of weapons at his disposal.

But, mark my words, my eyes will roll out of my head, if we can’t figure out a way to better incorporate players like Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas into the offense. Talk all you want about the Julios, Roddys, and Gonzos, any Super Bowl-bound Falcons team is going to have to learn to utilize these speedy skill players.


Barkley Outs Major Atlanta Sports Flaw: Too Many Nice Guys

In this uproarious clip that multiple friends sent me last week, Charles Barkley unknowingly unburdens himself during a TNT broadcast of the Hawks’ pitiful, triple-overtime loss to what was essentially a developmental league team fielded by the Miami Heat. During a break in the action, Sir Charles discusses his success on the Weight Watchers plan and then moves on to panning the Hawks, characterizing them as just a “bunch of nice guys.”

Barkley’s comments cut not just to one of the main facets behind the Hawks’ enduring mediocrity—the other being the franchise tying all its money up in second tier, aging “star” Joe Johnson—but it might also explain a pervasive issue with all Atlanta franchises. I am not sure I’ve felt a sense of urgency with an Atlanta team aside from the 1991 Braves and the 1998 Falcons, two teams that ended up in their respective league’s championship games against what was written in everyone’s script (including their own). There’s a lack of fire that seems to infect all Atlanta teams and all its players.

The last, truly intense, seemingly unhinged competitor I can recall was Jesse Tuggle, the standout Falcons linebacker who did it all on the field and made me feel like he might not be the nicest person in the world off it. (His eyes were pretty close together, so he always looked like he was glaring.) I’m not saying we need a Ray Lewis (he allegedly murdered someone, by the way), a Ndamukong Suh, or a James Harrison—but someone with an unmistakeable competitive fire burning in them would be nice.

Maybe a Patrick Willis-type? Or an Osi Umenyiora? A Pujols? Or even a smug fuck like Kobe?