Friday, September 28, 2007

Fifty Years Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

It’s amazing, when you think about it, how much the year 1957 is mentioned around these parts.
It’s as if there have been two periods in Detroit sports history - pre-1957 and post-1957.
The Lions weren’t bad before 1957. Actually, they were pretty good. They moved to Detroit in 1934 and won four National Football League championships in 24 years. A title every six years? Not bad, eh?
Of course, there were only 12 teams in the NFL back then. Unless there was a tie for the division championship, there were no playoff games - just the championship game.
I talked to my father a lot of about it. He used to go to Lions games when they played at the University of Detroit. He saw Dutch Clark play. I have older brothers who remember the 1950s and how great the Lions were, and the championships, vividly.
I have seen films of those championship games. They’re not bad. They’re actually in color. I have studied those teams. Can recite the starting lineups by heart. But even given all that, they remain a blur to me - just like most of you.
It was so long ago. Five decades. Subtract 50 years from 1957 and the automobile had essentially just been invented. Don’t know exactly why, but I keep thinking about it in those terms.
Sunday, they will honor the ‘57 NFL champion Lions at halftime of the game vs. the Bears at Ford Field. Many of the players, including defensive back Jim David just recently, have passed. It will be a relatively small group of men who have endured.
Good for them. It will be a much-needed reminder that Detroit once ruled the professional football world. That’s the happy part.
But it was also be a reminder of how long it has been since. And that’s pretty sad.

A Note:
My podcast, "Three-point Stance" is now a regular feature. You can catch my views on why the Tigers should consider trading Jeremy Bonderman at Blog Central at I update it every Monday and Friday around 11 am. If you want to comment on the podcast’s content, you might what it do it here. I still haven’t figured out how to reply to the comments on the podcast.

Random Thoughts

- I admit that when it comes to postseason baseball, I usually adopt a team that I hope wins it all. This year it’s the Phillies and for one reason: Jimmy Rollins. What a great player he has become.

- You must remember, that when it comes to picking games, I am one of the all-time worst, but...
I have a hunch Michigan State is going to upset Wisconsin Saturday, even though the game is in Madison.

- When I first started following the Lions, my favorite player was Pat Studstill. One of my first memories of the Lions was Studstill hauling in a 99-yard touchdown pass from Karl Sweetan vs. Colts. It was in Baltimore. I saw in black and white on TV. The Lions lost that game 31-10.

- I not only believe Gary Sheffield will return next season, but will have a productive year. I am not so sure about Kenny Rogers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where Are The Magglio Doubters Now?

During the 2006 season, I did a number of radio talk shows during which I defended Magglio Ordonez.
What I kept hearing that summer was how Ordonez isn’t a good clutch hitter and a liability defensively.
There were two reasons I didn’t buy into it: 1. Ordonez was easily the most productive hitter on a team that ultimately won 95 games and advanced to the World Series. 2. When he first arrived in Detroit and started in a long "0-for" slump, Ordonez was obviously hurting physically. One day Ivan Rodriguez called all the writers in the clubhouse at the time over to his locker and told us about it. Pudge talked about how Ordonez was trying to play, but just couldn’t because of what was eventually diagnosed as a sports hernia. "He is embarrassed," Pudge said. "He cares a lot. He is playing when he shouldn’t be playing because of pride."
Here is a guy who had a $72 million contract. And he wasn’t making excuses because, when he was asked about it, Ordonez wouldn’t mention his injuries. Like this season, he has played with an awfully bad foot ailment. He never talks about it. He just keeps hitting.
What a year, eh? The best I have ever seen a Tiger position player put together. I’m not old enough to remember Norm Cash in 1961. I did think Willie Horton’s season in 1968 was underrated considering how offensive production was down overall at the time, and Alan Trammell was brilliant in 1987. Cecil Fielder had a couple big years, too. But honestly, nothing has come close to Ordonez in 2007. He has been a model of consistency in every way.

Random Thoughts

- To me, the Lions’ chances of winning Sunday were reduced a great deal by the news Brian Griese is going to start at quarterback for the Bears. The Bears have their share of injury problems, particularly on defense, by the QB spot has been the real issue. Greise isn’t Peyton Manning, but he will manage that offense a lot better than Rex Grossman.

- Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy’s tirade was over the top and unnecessary, but did anybody read the column in question? To be honest, I don’t blame him for being upset. It was nonsensical. Nothing wrong with the kid having a strong relationship with his mother. And what was she doing with the chicken reference, calling the kid a chicken? That’s just wrong.

- I must confess. I have come around to the wild card situation. It sure has added fire to the National League pennant races.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Detroit Lions: Football Team Or Great Elixir?

I don’t know if I was duped. Or whether it’s just another example of me not being that smart.
But I honestly thought the Lions were going to win Sunday at Philadelphia.
Everything seemed to be on their side. The Eagles were without their best defensive player, safety Brian Dawkins. They didn’t have their top cornerback, Lito Shepphard. I have been to Philly a few times and the reputation the fans there have for being brutal is not overstated. And it’s one of those lovable things as is often portrayed. It’s downright nasty and toxic for Philly’s teams. Once a player like Donovan McNabb gets under the gun there, it is very difficult to perform. And he was very much under fire entering Sunday’s game, not only because of mediocre play, but because of comments he made to HBO about the plight of being a black quarterback.
So what did the Lions do? Became the great elixir for the Eagles All is well in Philly again. For all we know, McNabb might get another Campbell’s soup commercial out of it.
Again, the Lions talk a big game. Again, the Lions play a little one. Not only were Detroit’s coaches totally outmaneuvered schematically, but the Lions played uninspired football. They didn’t tackle and they didn’t block. It wasn’t much more complicated than that. The Eagles could have scored 80 points if they really wanted to.
People seem enamored with the Lions passing yardage numbers. Jon Kitna threw for 4,000 yards last season. But that offense isn’t effective overall. It has moments of brilliance, but doesn’t sustain them because of turnovers and sacks and poor protection and drops.
It was just one game, and normally I’d buy into that thought. Yet, that defeat was such a structural collapse of a team at its fundamental roots, I find it difficult to imagine the Lions will recover easily from it. I mean, they allowed eight touchdowns. Eight touchdowns!

Random Thoughts

- If I were the Tigers, I would add, not subtract. That means I would re-sign Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, and pick up Ivan Rodriguez’s option - and still go outside the organization to build from the core. It would mean a bigger player payroll, but this team is too close to reaching the postseason and winning a championship not to spend money. Shortstop, with Carlos Guillen moving to first base, should be the top priority.

- Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson have recovered nicely from that dismal last year they were together in Detroit. Looks like the Cubs and Diamondbacks are going to the postseason. It could mean another shot at managing for Trammell, but I believe Gibson will get a manager’s job before him.

- The best college football player in the country not that many people have heard of is Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson. It’s looking like he will be a Top 10 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kitna Lacking Perspective

I am glad Jon Kitna is apparently healthy and his concussion evidently wasn’t too serious. I think it was a great story line the Lions won a game Sunday over the Vikings they would have probably lost in the past. Kitna turned in what was, in a football sense, an heroic effort.
I just wish Kitna would keep God out of it.
I have no issues at all with athletes - or anybody else - having strong religious faith. It bothers some, but not me, that Kitna wears a cross on his cap when he gives interviews. It’s who he is and it seems perfectly natural to express it.
I, however, take issue when athletes such as Kitna act as if God is on their side when it comes to athletic contests.
Kitna called his return to Sunday’s game "a miracle." He was also quoted as saying it involved, "the hand of God."
Seems like, when you really think about it, that statement is more pompous than grateful.
There are many religious beliefs in this country. All are accepted by this nation, including the right not to believe in a God at all.
But I am unaware of any religion that believes God is on the Lions’ side and wouldn’t take the Vikings players into account, too.
While Kitna was able to return for the end of the game, Minnesota quarterback Tavaris Jackson was out with an injury. Was that a miracle, too, that involved the hand of God? Does God love Kitna and the Lions more than Jackson and the Vikings?
Maybe it wasn’t intentional. Perhaps they were meant as innocent, joyous comments. Regardless, Kitna did cross a line that indicates his perspective is skewed.

Random Thoughts

- Well, I think it’s time to admit I was wrong. Early in the season, when Cleveland jumped up as a leading contender, I didn’t think the Indians had the staying power to win the American League Central. I didn’t feel Cleveland’s bullpen was deep enough, nor did I think the Indians were a good enough fielding club. They have proven those concerns were not justified. And the Indians haven’t backed in, either. The Tigers did push them in September - and the Tribe pushed back.

- People who think the game has passed Joe Paterno by are wrong. Did you know Penn State has won 25 of its last 30 games, finished 2005 ranked No.3, last season in the Top 25 and is currently ranked No. 10 by the Associated Press? Michigan will have its hands full Saturday.

- The more I think about it, the more I’d be inclined to pick up the $13 million option on Pudge Rodriguez’s contract. The Tigers will still contend next season and catching is too important of a position to leave vulnerable considering the dearth of catching in the game today. I just don’t see other viable options.

Monday, September 17, 2007

This Close-But-No-Cigar Stuff Ain't All Bad

This summer, more than any other I can remember, has reminded me just how extreme the Tigers have tended to be throughout their history, at least the part I can recall.
In most major league cities, they are used to their club being on the fringe of contention going down the stretch of the season, particularly during the wild card era.
But for most of the wild card era, the Tigers have been dreadful. In the National League, for example, there are five teams within 5 1-2 games of the wild card spot. Several of those teams are also involved in divisional races, which is also the case for this version of the Tigers in the American League.
I must admit, it presents an interesting dynamic. I got done taping my TV segments at FOX 2 Sunday night and was just standing there watching Derek Jeter hitting when he delivered that big home run. I went nuts, screaming, "Now that’s a ballplayer" and, "What a moment," when I noticed a couple Tiger fans that were watching with me were none too pleased at my reaction. It was the baseball purist in me. Nothing against the Tigers. I hadn’t even thought about them. I appreciated the great baseball moment - Jeter doing that to the Red Sox in Fenway Park again. But it was hurtful to Tiger fans. Because the Tigers have all of a sudden started winning, they and their fans are dreaming of overtaking the Yankees. Maybe even the Indians. A good week by the Tigers and this will get really interesting for the final week of the season.
But it hasn’t really been like this. The Tigers either jump way out in front of everybody, like in ‘68, ‘84 or last season, or are involved in a real tight race, like in ‘72, 87 and ‘88, or are done by September. They were on the fringes of contention in 2000, but that was mostly because the other teams were not stellar. The Tigers finished below .500 that year.
I must admit, it has made this month awfully enjoyable. Call me a little weird, but I have always liked September baseball, even when observing a couple teams out of the race. But I do like this better. Make that a lot better.

Random Thoughts

- Good thing for the Lions they won Sunday. They need to start winning some games because interest in the team is obviously down. They weren’t even sold out until the final stage of the process last week. And the club level seats, which for some odd reason don’t count on the attendance, were far less than half full. If it remains that way for the season, it will cost the Lions several million dollars in revenue. If the Lions win, though, they will become a hot ticket again - and quickly.

- Watching the Twins this weekend, it was evident why general manager Terry Ryan recently resigned. They just might be the worst hitting team in baseball right now. Maybe this is it, you know, the time when being a small market wonder had ended. It seems to have, instead, finally caught up with the Twins.

- If Placido Polanco doesn’t win a Gold Glove this season, then the process is a joke. Manager and coaches vote for the award. Polanco is easily the best-fielding second baseman in the American League.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lions Offensive strength Should Not Be Dismissed

The Lions’ season-opening win over Oakland was impressive on a number of levels. They ran the ball effectively, they forced turnovers, their passing game was solid and they did not fold after blowing a lead. But it was also one of those victories you had to wonder whether was the result of the Lions’ good play or the Raiders’ ineptitude. The Raiders are a bad football team. Certainly worse than I had anticipated.
But after watching replays of every game played during the first week of the season, I have come to the conclusion there are a number of NFL teams that aren’t much better than the Raiders. The Browns are just brutal. The Chiefs, as another example, are struggling, too. There isn’t much offense from a lot of teams. The Redskins, for example, had to run the ball to set up with their winning score in overtime vs. Miami. Their passing game, like at least half the NFL teams, is limited. I am still not sure about the Lions’ defense despite an excellent performance by their defensive front at Oakland. The Raiders’ offensive line is weak. The offensive line from the Lions’ opponents this week, the Vikings, is much stronger. But the Vikings can’t throw the ball worth a lick.
Guess my point is, don’t discount the Lions’ offense, particularly their passing attack. It’s still true that defense wins championships, but there are so many teams whose downfall is going to be their offense this season that it’s a huge advantage for the Lions they aren’t one of them.

Random Thoughts

- Two series key the Tigers’ postseason fate. One is the Yankees and Red Sox this weekend. The Red Sox have a better chance of knocking off the Yankees than any team left on their schedule. And it will be more than interesting next week if the Tigers somehow manage to sweep the Indians in Cleveland. I still see the Indians as vulnerable.

- I can’t believe sometimes how judgmental fans are about young players making their major league debuts. It’s amazing how many fans have already dismissed Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Miller won some key games and pitched well for the Tigers until just before he was hurt. Maybin was called to the major leagues with only three weeks remaining in his minor league season. Don’t people realize much it helped their development to see time in the major leagues this season?

- If Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis doesn’t insert mobile quarterback Demetrius Jones and go to a spread offense Saturday against Michigan, he isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Seems Like MSU Closing Gap Quickly On U-M

Ah, the DVR. What a great invention. I watched the Michigan State-Bowling Green game this morning and I can’t even begin to tell you how impressed I have been with the Spartans’ new head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff. Is that even the same team?
Bowling Green was a trap game for the Spartans. There is no way that game should have had an 18-point spread. Bowling Green quarterback Tyler Sheehan, albeit in his first season as a starter, is an excellent player. Minnesota had no answer for him the week before - and Michigan State’s secondary was hardly tested by Alabama-Birmingham in the opener. And Bowling Green’s defense is relatively stout.
Bowling Green didn’t roll over. The Falcons were right there with State. In the second half, though, the Spartans made the necessary adjustments and won going away. Oh, and that 55-18 win over UAB became much more impressive when UAB played Florida State so tough Saturday (it was tied 24-24 with one play left in the third quarter before FSU won by 10).
The fundamentals are much improved. The Spartans are tackling better and blocking better. The coverage skills of their defensive backs - although with the same personnel - are markedly better. The Spartans are running the ball and setting up the pass well. State’s more talented players, like wide receiver Devin Thomas and tight end Kellen Davis, have made noticeable strides. Davis might have a future in the NFL as an edge rusher on defense. His closing speed has been exceptional when spotted defensively specifically to rush the passer. Quarterback Brian Hoyer has obviously been schooled well.
Obviously, the buzzword for Sparty is caution. But given Michigan’s struggles, and that it looks like the Spartans may have found something really good in Dantonio, it’s not out of realm of possibility MSU could close the gap on the Wolverines much faster than had widely been thought possible.

Random Thoughts

- A-Rod or Mags for MVP? As somebody who has voted for the MVP in the past, I’d have to give it to A-Rod. As good as Ordonez’s numbers are, A-Rod’s are just better. That would change, though, if the Tigers rally down the stretch and ace out the Yankees for the wild card spot. Without Ordonez, I am not sure the Tigers would be much above .500 this season when it is considered how their pitching has essentially collapsed.

- We’ll know a lot more about whether Shaun Rogers is really back to his old dominating self this week when he faces two of the best interior offensive lineman in the game, Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson and center Matt Birk.

- An underlying factor in the Michigan-Notre Dame game Saturday is how the two best high school quarterbacks from last season, Michigan’s Ryan Mallet and ND’s Jimmy Clausen, are starting against each other. Considering the struggles of both programs, it’s real sink or swim stuff for these two youngsters. Don’t be surprised if Irish coach Charlie Weis doesn’t unleash some form of the spread offense with speedy Demetrius Jones taking most of the snaps instead of Clausen, a pocket passer. It would be the smart way to attack Michigan’s defense, which has no glue how to stop the spread.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Miles The Perfect Fit For The Wolverines

To me, Michigan’s remarkably rapid fall has been surreal. I suppose that is because I just didn’t believe it could happen.

Not like this, anyway. A loss to a Division 1-AA team - Appalachian State. A 32-point loss at The Big House to Oregon, which is essentially a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 program.

It’s been pretty obvious for a long time now that Michigan can’t handle the spread offense. What’s not so clear is why. This is a program with premier athletes. The notion Michigan doesn’t have team speed is ridiculous. Yet, for reasons I can’t comprehend, their coaches don’t put the Wolverines’ players in proper position to make plays.

I knew Bo Schembechler well. And I liked and respected him very much. I have never been one of those people who felt that Michigan needs to look outside the Schembechler lineage for Lloyd Carr’s replacement.

I always figured Schembecher’s legacy was Michigan’s greatest strength. But after the last two weeks, I must admit that U-M’s football program has become stale.
They need new ideas. Fresh blood, so to speak.

The ideal candidate as far as I’m concerned is Louisiana State’s Les Miles. He presents the best of both worlds. He played under Schembechler in the mid-1970s, and coached under Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Carr as an assistant.
He has kept LSU’s program at an extraordinarily high level after Nick Saban’s departure.

Can Michigan match LSU when it comes to financial packages for Miles? No. But the Maize and Blue is in Miles’ heart. It’s difficult to believe he wouldn’t want the Michigan job. Supposedly he isn’t a favorite of the Carr camp. That was the big knock against him.

But does it matter anymore?
NOTE: My podcast, "Three-Point Stance." is up and running. It will be updated every Monday and Friday. The Link is currently at "Blog Central"

Random Thoughts

- Just when you think the Tigers are making progress, the Yankees go on a five-game winning streak. And Cleveland wins a couple games.
The Tigers are playing a little better, but are still not making much headway. The situation with Jeremy Bonderman has been a killer.

- To be what is essentially a club of two with Willie Mays says a lot about Curtis Granderson. What a great season he is having. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes Detroit’s next great sports superstar. The other player - Frank Shulte - with 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 steals and 20 triples in the same season played with Tinkers, Evers and Chance on the Cubs, but he was just a lifetime .270 hitter.

- I don’t know what they were thinking by getting rid of him in St. Louis, but Shaun McDonald is a very good player. I don’t believe his stellar performance in his Lions’ debut during Sunday’s victory over the Raiders was a fluke.

- I love the Adrian Peterson vs. Calvin Johnson comparisons that will be inevitable when the Lions host the Vikings this week. Johnson’s pretty good, but Peterson will likely have more impact this season because he will touch the ball more.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Believe It Or Not, The Tigers Are Still In A Race

I have talked to a lot of people about the Tigers lately - in the media, with fans, through this blog - and I must admit I have been taken aback by the tone of the conversations.
It’s as if the club isn’t even involved in a pennant race. That the Tigers are cooked. Done like dinner, so to speak. To say there isn’t a lot of belief in this version of the Tigers is putting it mildly.
And I understand why. The Tigers have gone a long stretch - since mid-July - since they have won more than two games in a row. Seems like every time one player gets healthy, another is injured. Andrew Miller folded. Calling up Cameron Maybin hasn’t had the desired impact. Brandon Inge, Jeremy Bonderman and Ivan Rodriguez have struggled to a frustrating degree. And just when all seems to be going well, Todd Jones has a bad night at the worst possible time.
These are all signs of a team that just doesn’t have it.
But I do think the Tigers, despite everything, have hung in there pretty well. They are still in the wild card race. They did just win two one-run ball games vs. the White Sox, who had been beating the Tigers like a drum. The Tigers did lose 31 of their last 50 games and their first playoff game last season - and then won seven games in a row to advance to the World Series.
Do I think the Tigers will make the playoffs? Not really. Like a lot of people, I just don’t like the way they have played the second half. But I wouldn’t be shocked if they got in. I still think they have a decent shot at it.
My advice is to just enjoy the ride. It’s September and the Tigers are still playing meaningful games. I remember when that was the Tigers’ stated goal. Not that long ago, either.

Random Thoughts

- The Lions are really hurting at safety. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Oakland work the middle of the field extensively in the first game Sunday. Then again, what is there to fear outside? The Lions are really hurting at cornerback, too. Ah, they better get a strong pass rush.

- In a way, Jim Leyland has done a better job managing this season than he did last season. With a lesser manager, this team might have fallen to .500 or below. He didn’t panic. If the Tigers don’t reach the postseason, it won’t be because of the manager.

- The Red Wings vs. the Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals? Now that would be something to behold.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

About Tiger, The Tigers And, Of Course, Michigan

Trust me. I spent seven hours on the radio talking about it Sunday and Monday. There were no breaks in the phone lines, either. None. Even on Labor Day. It’s definitely topic No. 1. The buzz on the street is still there. And it’s not just the sports nuts who are discussing it. Everybody is.
But enough already. Michigan’s upset loss to Appalachian State was huge, massive, colossal - but the world does move on. Obviously the defeat was extremely damaging to Lloyd Carr’s program, but I don’t buy the notion that even if the Wolverines finish this season strongly, it’s still the end of Michigan’s football program as we have known it.
With each passing week, if the Wolverines win, the sting will gradually be taken out of the epic loss. A Big Ten championship would mean a lot. Beating Jim Tressel and Ohio State and winning a bowl game for a change would mean even more.
Saturday’s loss will only measure to the level of extreme damage if Michigan’s football program unravels. Say, a 7-5 or worse record, with and/or more of the same to end the season vs. OSU or in a bowl. And I am not so sure it is going to work out that way. The talent is there. Carr has won in the past.

Random Thoughts

- I was at the Tigers game Tuesday and wrote my column about it in The Oakland Press. You can read it in "sports columns" at I thought the most telling moment came when Ivan Rodriguez popped out with runners in scoring position and less than two out. The Tigers either get production from Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen or Curtis Granderson - or they don’t score. Last year, their great strength was production up and down their lineup.
Two factors have hurt the Tigers more than any other compared to last season: 1. Their pitching isn’t nearly as good. 2. They aren’t as strong in the lower slots in the batting order. It’s the bottom line. They are still within striking distance of the Yankees for the wild card, but reaching the postseason is difficult to envision at this juncture. The Tigers just aren’t playing well.

- Can’t believe, given his legendary work ethic, that Shaun Rogers wasn’t named as one of the Lions’ team captains. (Just kidding).

- Don’t know what the bigger weekend "miracle" was - Appalachian State upsetting Michigan or Phil Mickelson beating Tiger Woods down the stretch in a golf tournament. Didn’t think either was possible, although I still can’t imagine Lefty getting the best of Tiger in a similar situation during a major. I’d like to see it, though. Tiger does need a rival and - like it or not - the best golfer in the world not named Tiger Woods is Phil Mickelson.