Friday, September 30, 2011

Why there is logic behind Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland starting Brandon Inge at third base tonight

It shouldn't be a suprise Tigers manager Jim Leyland went with Brandon Inge over Wilson Betemit at third base for tonight's opener of the American League Division Series.
- Inge hit .245 against left-handed pitching this season, Betemit .236.
- Inge is a much better defensive player.
- Inge hit .324 in September.
On the downside, Inge has batted against Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia the second most of any pitcher. He has hit just .190 against him with two home runs and four RBI and 15 strikeouts in 58 at bats.
Betemit is 3-for-5 lifetime against Sabathia with a double and RBI.


Thoughts on the Detroit Tigers and postseason baseball

The key for the Tigers is their starting pitching getting deep into games.
Justin Verlander is very likely to do this. Doug Fister has been, but he hasn't faced a lineup remotely like the Yankees since coming to Detroit. After Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, the Tigers' bullpen is questionable. Alberto Alburquerque could be the wild card in the equation.
Brad Penny was put on the postseason roster because he has pitched relatively well out of the bullpen in long relief in the past in playoffs. Four of his eight postseason appearances have been in relief. I don't know if it was the right decision, though. David Pauley has had some reasonable success pitching against the Yankees in his career (2-3 record, 4.43 ERA).
Obviously Alburquerque is capable, but his injury issues are a question mark. So is the Tigers' range defensively at multiple positions.
David Robinson has had a great year for the Yankees in the bullpen. One interesting development was Luis Ayala getting hit so hard in the season-finale at Tampa Bay. Will that carryover to the postseason. He had been pitching very well for NY before that.

- Stat: Of the Tigers final 51 games, 47 were played against teams that finished the season below .500. The exception was the Tampa Bay series in early September when the Tigers won 3-of-4. In those 51 games, the Tigers compiled a 36-15 record. They rarely faced a team the caliber of the Yankees during their surge to the postseason.

- Prediction department: I have the Tigers beating the Yankees in five games; the Rangers beating the Rays in four. In the NL, I have the Phillies sweeping the Cardinals in three and the Brewers beating the Diamondbacks in four.

I have the Phillies over the Rangers in the World Series.


Detroit Tigers ready to take another postseason snap shot of brilliance against the Damn Yankees

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why I think the Detroit Tigers will beat the New York Yankees in five games

When I hear the statement "Bring on the Yankees" in regard to the Tigers, I can't help but thinking, "Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it."
The Yankees are very good. They won 97 games. They were playing for nothing in that final series against the Rays.
C.C. Sabathia is an excellent pitcher. Mariano Rivera is the top closer of all time - and still productive. They have excellent depth in the bullpen, and an outstanding and deep lineup. The new Yankee Stadium suits the team - and they have home field advantage. It could mean everything.
Also, of the Tigers final 50 games, only four were played against clubs that finished .500 or better.
Having noted all that, I think this is going to be a long series. I believe the Tigers match the Yankees in every area other than bullpen depth. I won't be surprised if the Tigers win the series. In fact, I'm picking them to win it - in five games.
Part of it is Justin Verlander. This is his time. Can't imagine him not succeeding on such a bright stage. Also, the Tigers have developed this sort of magical quality. They have so many MVP types (Verlander, Jose Valverde, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister, Delmon Young), and had an extraordinary number of thrilling, improbable victories the last couple months of the regular season.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Detroit Tigers are the victims of Mike Scioscia's disrespect of baseball

Pulling his top two starting pitchers, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver, from the final two games of the season was a bush league move by Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
It's a total lack of respect for the game, and essentially is handing the Texas Rangers a decided edge in the first round of the playoffs over the Tigers. The Rangers and Tigers are fighting for the home field edge in the ALDS, with the Tigers a game behind entering today's final night of the season. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker, having beaten the Rangers more head-to-head this season.
Scioscia's reason: Innings pitched by Santana and Weaver.
Come on.
The numbers aren't that high. They don't put them in some kind of danger category, especially considering they don't have to work in the postseason. It just doesn't wash.
If every manager pulled this stunt, it would be jumping the shark on the Major League Baseball product. What if you were an Angels fans who bought tickets to see Weaver pitch tonight? How can Scioscia justify having such a bearing on the postseason race? How can he not give Weaver a chance to win the ERA title? He has a 2.41 ERA compared to 2.40 for Detroit's Justin Verlander.
Some will say it is to get back at the Tigers for what happened this season when the two clubs played a heated game that involved Weaver being ejected. Yet, that doesn't make sense because the Rangers are the Angels' biggest division rival.
Scioscia just wasn't thinking, especially about the integrity of the game, which he just compromised.


Dallas no longer "America's Team" and Lions no longer "America's Chumps"

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Will the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander split MVP votes with teammate Miguel Cabrera?

Before the weekend, I would have said with relative certainty, the Tigers Justin Verlander would become the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to be named MVP.
The reasons are many. There is no clear-cut position player, who has emerged for the honor. Verlander was ahead of other pitchers in the American League in most important categories - by a wide margin in most. He won all those games after Tigers losses. He pitched a no-hitter. He's just stood out like no other pitcher of his generation in a single season.
Those parameters are still very much in place, but not to the same degree. They would have been if Verlander had pitched better Saturday against Baltimore. Giving up five runs in seven innings raised his ERA to 2.40, narrowly ahead of the Angels Jared Weaver, who will carry a 2.41 ERA into his final start Wednesday against Texas. It had been a given Verlander would win the triple crown of pitching - wins, ERA, strikeouts. It's not anymore. Also, Verlander wasn't involved in the decision (the Tigers eventually lost the game that night). It kept him at 24 victories. If he had gotten to 25, it would have been on his MVP resume that Verlander had the most wins in a season by any major league pitcher since Bob Welch had 27 in 1990.
At the same time, the Tigers have surged down the stretch of the season behind Miguel Cabrera, who now leads the American League in hitting. Will there be MVP voters who view Cabrera's contribution as more important to the Tigers, because he plays every day, than those of Verlander? Will it split some of the votes that would have otherwise gone to Verlander? Cabrera has never won the MVP before. There might some voters who feel this is year.
I still think Verlander will win the MVP, which I think is important to him gathering credentials to possibly reach the Hall of Fame someday. But it might be close.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Why the Detroit Lions Jeff Backus deserves better

Lions left offensive tackle Jeff Backus didn't play well Sunday against the Vikings. He looked confused the first half, which I pointed out in my blog update at halftime.
Late in the second half, he had two false start penalties deep in Lions' territory, and was beaten for a sack by Jared Allen. It could have been a disaster. It wasn't. The Lions won to go to 3-0, but Backus has become a source of consternation for fans again.
And I am going to defend him, despite what was obviously a decidedly subpar performance Sunday.
It's because Backus never, ever gets credit when he plays well - like the first two games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Tamba Hali of the Chiefs had 14.5 sacks last season. He has two this season. He had none against the Lions. Stafford wasn't sacked in the opener at Tampa Bay, either.
Last season, Backus did well in his matchups with Allen - and other sack specialists. The Lions were in the bottom fourth in sacks allowed in the NFL. Yet, all many people remember is that he was beaten on a play Stafford got hurt by the Bears' Julius Peppers. And Backus getting beaten by Peppers was just one of many things that broke down on that particular play.
Backus has played his best football the last two seasons, drawing praise from head coach Jim Schwartz, who made it point his first year because he seemed to understand how inequitable Lions' fans have treated Backus.
Backus has never missed a game, despite injuries that would put other players out. He has not made excuses for the Lions' poor play down through the years. He is a standup guy. He has never been a malcontent in the midst of an environment that has often been maddening.
He is one of the Lions' most valuable players. If he weren't able to play, there would be a huge void at his position - and accounting for it would be a major problem that would not be easily solved.
Also, they left Backus out on an island with Allen. They do it all the time with Backus against top defensive ends, and usually he delivers. He didn't Sunday. A double-team was called for, and it took the Lions too long to adjust. But all the times Backus has performed well in those situations, it's rarely pointed out by fans.
What I don't understand about this is he is a Michigan kid. Played on terrific teams for the Wolverines. Protected Tom Brady and other QBs very well there.
I think he deserves better in this town. Nobody is saying he is the second coming of Anthony Munoz, but Backus is a good player. And doesn't deserve the constant scapegoat treatment he receives.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Detroit Lions deserve a bandwagon that is full

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Thoughts on first half of Lions game at Minnesota

This is the type of adversity in the past where the Lions just folded. This game would absolutely be over. Are they different? We'll find out. Minnesota, remember, has been outscored 41-3 in the second half this season.

- The Lions offensive line is getting punked. How did Gosder Cherilus totally whiff on a pass block.? Corey Hilliard should have started the game. Bad coaching decision. Good one to replace Cherilus with Hilliard. Jeff Backus looks confused, which given his veteran status is not understandable. How about double-teamming Jared Allen? There is novel thought. He dominating this game.

- The Lions need to take more shots downfield. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must be more creative getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. One shot down the field to Calvin Johnson isn't enough. The Lions are letting the Vikings dictate everything. Matthew Stafford has to more aware. He is playing tentatively. The entire offense is.

- There has been a lot of hype about the Lions improved linebacker corps. It looks overrated based on that half. They aren't exactly filling the holes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Michigan's victory over San Diego State was more significant than Notre Dame win

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Friday, September 23, 2011

A brief thought on Denny McLain

There are two things I always think about Denny McLain.
One, is when he walks in, he lights up a room. He makes everybody feel like he is their best friend. It's why he was a good personality on radio and TV. He was also an incredibly gifted pitcher, who talent-wise could have been Hall of Famer.
And two, he always seems to get in trouble. Even now - after he's been to incarcerated multiple times. Isn't there a point where it stops? My gosh, he's 67 years old.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland starting Justin Verlander on short rest in ALDS wouldn't only be ridiculous, but irresponsible

I think uproar about Tiger manager Jim Leyland's decision to not pitch Justin Verlander on short rest in the American League Division Series is ridiculous.
You have to consider Verlander, who will make his final start of the regular season Saturday, will likely throw 250 innings or more this season (he is at 244 now). The last American League pitcher to do that was Roy Halladay in 2003 for Toronto. The next two seasons, Halladay was limited to 19 and 21 starts because of shoulder problems. He was 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA in 2004 at roughly the same age period Verlander now. No other American League pitcher - more difficult than the National League because of the DH - has thrown 250 innings since 1998.
If the Tigers advance to the World Series, there is a good chance Verlander will throw at least 40 innings in the postseason. That he will be over 290 for the year (more than 300 counting spring training). Throwing him out of his routine that early in the postseason would not only be ridiculous, but irresponsible.
Verlander is owed $20 million per season for each of the next three years. There is also the investment to consider - protecting it.
The worst argument for this comes from oldtimers about Mickey Lolich in the 1968 World Series when they point out he won Game 7 on two days rest.
Lolich threw only 220 innings that season. There was no DH. Only one postseason series. The mound was five inches higher than it is now. Totally different cirucmstances and time. Doesn't equate.
And it would be different if it is the World Series. Then pitch Verlander, maybe, on shorter rest. But doing so in the opening round is a recipe for disaster.


Michigan basketball ahead of Michigan State? Sporting News, Lindy's think so

The Sporting News and Lindy's preseason college basketball magazine preseason projections about Michigan and Michigan State are revealing about the perception of the two programs.
Michigan is on the rise. Michigan State is dropping. But, honestly, how much of that is really going to play out that way?
The Sporting News projects Michigan being a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament, MSU seventh. The Sporting News is predicting Michigan will place third in the Big Ten, MSU fifth.
Oddly, the magazine projects no Michigan players on the All-Big Ten team. The Spartans' Draymond Green is listed first-team All-Big Ten.
Look, I would have seen it this way if Darius Morris had stayed at Michigan. I can see where Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan will be better, but can't see freshmen Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge - although obviously talented - replacing Morris, who was on the brink of becoming a great college player.
Conversely, Branden Dawson, MSU's freshman, will have a huge impact. State's entire freshman class is very good.
John Beilein has done a wonderful job at Michigan, but Tom Izzo isn't going to fold up and crawl into a hole because of what happened last season. Green's a good leader. There is plenty of talent around him.
Lindy's has Michigan and Michigan State both going to the NCAA tournament, but doesn't project seeds. They have Michigan placing second in the Big Ten, Michigan State third. No Michigan players are on their preseason All-Big Ten team, Green the lone Spartan.
Getting a lot of love is Detroit. The Sporting News is picking the Titans to win the Horizon League, although they evidently think Butler will win the postseason tournament. They list Titan big man Eli Holman as the best player in the Horizon League. Lindy's has Detroit second in the league and sophomore Ray McCallum Jr. as the conference player of the year.
Oakland's Reggie Hamilton is rated as the fourth-best point guard in the nation, McCallum eighth. It's tremendously high praise for both programs. Oakland is picked to finish second in the Summit League by both magazines behind Oral Roberts.

Why the Detroit Tigers would be better off starting Doug Fister in Game 3 rather than Game 2 of the ALDS

In the ALDS, a five-game series, it would make more sense, in my opinion, if Doug Fister - clearly the Tigers' No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander - starts the third game rather than Game 2.
In a five-game series, the third game is arguably the most important. The three scenarios are elimination, clinching or taking control of the series. The stakes aren't nearly as high in Game 2.
That is especially true for the Tigers if they are hosting the first two games of the ALDS. That's because Max Scherzer, who is the mostly likely option to start either Game 2 or Game 3, has an ERA that is considerably better at Comerica Park than it is on the road.

Justin Verlander is exception to the rule and deserves MVP. My column

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who is kidding who? Finishing ahead of the Rangers extremely important for the Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have clinched the American League Central title, but the pennant race is far from complete.
The Rangers caught the Tigers Tuesday for the second-best record in the American League among division leaders.
In the meantime, the Tigers are setting up their rotation for the postseason (Max Scherzer and Doug Fister are both pitching tonight) and turned in an uninspired performance against Kansas City in a blowout loss Tuesday.
I understand what happened in 2006 - when the Tigers collapsed and lost the division title, didn't host Oakland to begin the ALDS and instead traveled to New York to face the Yankees. I understand they won the series anyway and eventually advanced to the World Series.
But that doesn't mean lightning will strike twice in the same place. The Yankees of that era were in a period of transition.
The Tiger would be much better served having home field advantage against Boston or Tampa Bay in the ALDS than not having home field advantage against the Yankees. According to research done by USA Today, road teams have only won 47 percent of the games in division series since the wild card system was implemented in 1995. Only three years in division series have road teams had better records than home teams - 2002, 2004 and last year.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but the odds would favor the Tigers much more if they beat out Texas and get the home field edge in the ALDS against two teams which were inferior to the Yankees this season.
Also, there is the matter of momentum. This issue has been brought up a lot by Tigers’ fans. Have they peaked too soon? My answer to that has been, "No." Peaking in September is generally perfect. But I'll amended that if the Tigers treat the last week of the regular season like the final week of spring training and just let the Rangers cruise to a better record.

This time the Detroit Lions 2-0 start is not an illusion

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A look at what will likely be the Detroit Tigers postseason roster

This is how the Tigers postseason roster will likely breakdown and the decisions they must make, which are fairly minimal
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Jhonny Peralta
3. Ramon Santiago
4. Wilson Betemit
5. Ryan Raburn
6. Brandon Inge
7. Austin Jackson
8. Delmon Young
9. Magglio Ordonez
10. Andy Dirks
11. Donald Kelly
12.Alex Avila
13. Victor Martinez
14. Justin Verlander
15. Doug Fister
16. Max Scherzer
17. Rick Porcello
18. Jose Valverde
19. Joaquin Benoit
20. Phil Coke
21. Daniel Schelerth
22. David Pauley
23. Ryan Perry
24. Brad Penny
Decisions have to be made on the injury-plagued duo of Carlos Guillen and Alberto Alburquerque, depending on their health. Guillen is a veteran presence, who is more than capable of delivering a big hit in the postseason. Inge has more value to the Tigers on the postseason roster because he can catch if something happens to Avila and serve as da efensive replacement. Inge might even be used for a spot start against left-handers, but hasn’t done so well against the top lefties Tigers might see in postseason (0-3 against Jon Lester, 2-for-8 against David Price, .190 in 58 at bats with just a homer and three RBI against C.C. Sabathia).
But if Alburquerque’s health is still iffy, why not put Guillen in? Do the Tigers need 12 pitchers in postseason? Probably not. If both Alburquerque and Guillen are in, that would leave Penny likely out. But that would be a bit of gamble. They need a pitcher to capable of coming in relief in case a starter has a short outing. Half of Penny’s eight postseason appearances have been in relief, and he’s been reasonably effective in the role.


Monday, September 19, 2011

On where Matthew Stafford ranks, Michigan fans view of MSU and Tigers postseason rotation

- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is the fourth-rated passer in the NFL. The top three are Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The theory Stafford has been performing like this in the first two games because of inferior competition goes out the window when it's considered both the Chiefs and the Buccaneers were 10-6 in 2010. It's not a mirage. The kid has special talent.

- The reaction of some (certainly not all) Michigan fans to Michigan State's loss at Notre Dame in the Twittersphere and elsewhere Saturday is laughable. They act like MSU fans used to toward Michigan.
Also, haven't many Michigan fans been passing the notion for years that Notre Dame is a bigger rival of Michigan than MSU? What happened to change that perception?
Good for Michigan getting into the Top 25. Brady Hoke is a terrific coach, but the ranking could be fleeting, depending on the result of a tough home game Saturday against San Diego State. As for the Spartans, their season isn't over. The Big Ten season is what matters. And this state won't know for sure on the in-state rivalry until Oct. 15.
It's always anticipated, but will be even more supercharged this year, won't it?
If that game were being played this week, what would the point spread be? Considering Michigan State is at home, my best guess it would be the Spartans by a touchdown.

- Here's a not-so-comforting thought for you: Max Scherzer is 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in three career starts against the Boston Red Sox. That includes giving up seven earned runs in two innings in his only start vs. the Red Sox this season at Comerica Park. He is 0-2 with a solid 3.06 ERA in three career starts against the Rays.
Rick Porcello is 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA in three career starts vs. the Red Sox. He allowed six earned run in three innings in his only start vs. Boston this season. He didn't pitch against the Rays this year, but is 1-1, 3.46 in two career starts vs. the Rays.
A case the Tigers would be better off facing the Rays? Maybe. Until it's consider the Rays are the one team that hit Justin Verlander relatively hard this season.
Replay of my livechat today on Tigers, Lions, Michigan and Michigan:

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Thje "r" in rout stands for respect for The Detroit Lions

My latest column for The Oakland Press:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why the Tigers would be better off facing the Red Sox than the Rays in the postseason

The Boston Red Sox drilled the Tigers during the regular season. Conversely, one of their most important - and successful - series was when the Tigers went to Tampa Bay and won three of four from the Rays.
But I think the Tigers would be better served by playing the Red Sox rather than the Rays in the American League Division Series. I also believe it would be a more interesting series.
The Red Sox have a better team than Tampa Bay or the Tigers, but they have been floundering lately. I don't see their starting pitching being that ominous and their bullpen is vulnerable. The Rays have the best starting pitching overall of the three teams.
Also, Tampa Bay has hit Justin Verlander this season. The Red Sox have struggled against him.
And call this personal, but honestly, where you rather see the Tigers playing in the postseason - at Fenway Park or that awful dome in St. Petersberg?


Thoughts on the first half of Lions-Chiefs game

- Matthew Stafford's emergence is even more evident in this game than last week. He'd have nearly 300 yards passing by now were it not for two big passing plays that were called back. He also looks more athletic. He's done some good escaping from the pocket.

- You know the Chiefs are in trouble because their leading tacklers today are safeties who are slow by NFL standards, Jon McGraw and Sabby Piscitelli. They badly miss Eric Berry.

- The complexion of this game changed immediately when Jamaal Charles was hurt. The Lions defense was having trouble matching up with his speed.

- Tony Sheffler looks like a different player this season compared to last year.

- Lions are all about Stafford and the passing game right now. Lack of running attack a concern against better opponents.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Michigan State and Michigan Saturday...

- I think Michigan is a work in progress, obviously. Normally, I defend Denard Robinson's passing. Not Saturday. It was awful. If he doesn't start throwing the ball more accurately, the Wolverines will not beat any of the big boys on their schedule. In fact, with that defense, they will get waxed. He has good receivers, too. That's not an issue.

- Michigan State's problems start upfront, both offensively and defensively. I can see some potential for the defensive line, but the offensive line has been brutal. Not sure Mark Dantonio will find an answer for that one. It's the type of thing that can turn a 10-2 or 9-3 team into a 8-4 or 7-5 team.

- The San Diego State game this Saturday will be difficult for Michigan to win. That defense will be tested severely by QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman. Don't let the tight games San Diego State has played to this point fool you. The early start should help Michigan, though. All San Diego State's games otherwise are late starts.
No reason it should end with the Detroit Tigers winning the AL Central. My column in Sunday's Oakland Press


Friday, September 16, 2011

This version of the Tigers better than 2006? Oh, really

There are certain strengths this team has that the Tigers didn't in 2006. They have arguably the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander was really good as a rookie in 2006. He is great now. Jose Valverde is an upgrade from Todd Jones at closer.
But that team had a little more depth than history is giving it credit for now that the Tigers have gone on this late-season run.
The 2006 team did a lot. They won 95 games (this version of the Tigers is on pace to win 95). They didn't win the AL Central, but the division was much stronger then. Minnesota rolled late in the season and the White Sox were the defending World Series champs. Jones, for example, was really good in the postseason. Players like Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge had excellent seasons. Placido Polanco was outstanding. Alex Avila is having a terrific season, but Ivan Rodriguez hit .300 and was still in a reasonable facsimile of his prime, and is one of the best catchers of all time.
And despite a late-season collapse, the 2006 Tigers did reach the World Series. They won seven straight postseason games. They beat the Yankees. They swept the American League championship series against a club that had knocked off the Twins.
How can this version of the Tigers be considered better until it accomplishes similar feats in the postseason?
It was only until recently anybody, if they are really honest about it, thought the Tigers would have even a fighting chance in the playoffs. Did that 12-game winning streak mean that much? It shouldn't. It was just a snapshot of their season.
The Tigers aren't as bad as the grumblers were complaining about as they were limping through the summer. They aren't as good as they have seemed in the last two weeks. The Tigers lie somewhere in the middle, and we'll see what that means in the postseason.

College football was fine in the old days, but it is so much better these days

My column in Friday's Oakland Press:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Lions should be 4-0 entering the Monday night game against the Bears - this is why

What appeared to be a daunting four games to open the season suddenly don't seem as ominous for the Lions.
They beat Tampa Bay, one of the NFC swing games that could help them enormously down the road should tiebreakers come into play to determine the NFC wild card teams.
Kansas City, which was 10-6 last year and made the playoffs, lost all its preseason games and was blown out at home by hapless Buffalo in the season opener. On top of it, the Chiefs have lost Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, their top defensive player, for the season because of injury.
The Chiefs were totally out of sync in the preseason and in their opener. They have responded poorly to the landscape following the lockout. Obviously, they weren't ready to go when football started again. They still have some good players - quarterback Matt Cassel, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles - but the 9-point spread going into the game isn't out of line. Ford Field is going to be a tough place for the Chiefs Sunday. It'll be as charged as it has ever been for a Lions home game.
At Minnesota the following week will be trickier. Charles is a version of what the Lions hope Jahvid Best will become some day - a runner they use in limited situations, but provides big chucks of yardage per touch. The Vikings still have Adrian Peterson. The Lions' run defense, which seems so improved, will get a strong test in that game. The Lions can load up on Peterson. Donovan McNabb just doesn't seem like the same player. And defensively, the Vikings struggled more than it seemed in their 24-17 season-opening loss to the Chargers, who had 31 first downs compared to just 10 for the Vikings. A long kickoff return by Percy Harvin is what kept that game reasonably close in a sense, allowing Minnesota to shorten the clock a bit.
The Cowboys got typically overhyped in the preseason. They couldn't hold a lead at the Jets. Tony Romo was a turnover machine when it mattered.
The Minnesota and Dallas games are on the road, but the road isn't nearly as precarious as it used to be for the Lions. They played better on the road last season, and have won three straight road games overall.
Part of it is the margin for error goes down on the road when you have a defensive line which is stout against the run and takes a quarterback out of his comfort zone. Also, this a better coached team. Not as many penalties or turnovers. The kicking game is pretty good - a sign the Lions have better depth because their coverage units are solid.
After the Monday night game against the Bears, they Lions have home games vs. San Francisco and Atlanta, and a road game at Denver.
It looks more like the sea is parting for the Lions than their is any sort of ominous cloud hanging over them because of the schedule.
The first half of a season can be misleading; the Lions were 6-2 in 2007 and their world fell apart after that.
But this is different. It isn't built on a house of cards. This is a more complete team, that is only going to get better.
There are going to unexpected losses. When they happen, how the Lions react will be the key litmus test. Yet, they appear better prepared to handle those situations, don't they?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's becoming obvious, isn't it, that the Detroit Tigers Jim Leyland is AL Manager of the Year

There was a point, at the end of July, when the Tigers' season was decidedly frustrating.
They were 56-51. The American League Central was still very much a race - even though the Tigers obviously should have been running away with it. Manager Jim Leyland kept putting up these goofy lineup cards that made no sense. There was much anticipation the Tigers would collapse in the second half of the season again.
Well, they didn't. Given a couple more pieces to the puzzle by general manager Dave Dombrowski, Leyland has been pushing all the right buttons.
The Tigers are going to win the AL Central in a rout.
The Tigers have gone from underachievers to overachievers that quickly. Leyland stopped with those goofy lineups, he handled his pitching staff very well and pulled his club together.
There hasn't been a manager in the American League who has done a better job. Leyland deserves to be AL Manager of the Year. Manny Acta of the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Rays are the other leading candidates, especially Maddon if the Rays nip out the Red Sox for the AL wildcard spot.


On Justin Verlander, Glen Rice and MSU uniforms

I thought Tuesday's outing by Justin Verlander was typical in many ways of why he is a brilliant pitcher.
He didn't have his best command. He was getting squeezed by the home plate umpire. Yet, when he got into jams, he made these great "out" pitches to get out of those situations. That breaking ball he dropped in for a strikeout to get out of trouble Tuesday was one of the best I have seen in that spot. Earlier in the season, also at Chicago, he made another brilliant pitch - except it was a 100 mph fastball on the corner.
He threw seven shutout innings when it wasn't going all perfectly well for him. That defines a pitcher.

- I find it odd, maybe a tad sad, that Glen Rice's life has now been defined by an alleged fling at the Great Alaska Shootout with Sarah Palin, and his ex-wife's appearance on "The Real Housewives of Miami." I remember seeing Rice at Flint Northwestern while he was in high school playing with Andre Rison. It was the best high school basketball team I've ever seen in this state. There isn't a close second. And he was truly a great player at Michigan.

- I think Michigan State's pro combat uniforms are the best I have seen. The bronze really fits in well. But whether they symbolize good or bad will solely depend on the Spartans' performance Oct. 15 vs. Michigan.

Matthew Stafford has a chance to be a championship caliber QB for the Detroit Lions

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

About Justin Verlander and the AL MVP

The Tigers have the American League Central title all but wrapped up at this stage, but tonight's start against the White Sox will be, nonetheless, an important one for Justin Verlander.
His shot at becoming the first starting pitcher since 1986 to win the American League MVP Award remains at stake.
Remember, no starting pitcher has been in the Top 10 in voting since 2006 when Johan Santana was seventh for the Twins, and no starting pitcher has been in the Top 3 since Pedro Martinez in 1999. Verlander must be far above the norm at the end of this season get a legitimate shot at MVP.
I think:
- He needs to get to 24 victories.
- He must keep his ERA under 2.50.
- All his final numbers must remain sky-high.
Regardless, voters should remember that Verlander did win an awful lot of games after Tigers losses, and when it wasn't going well for the club. Without him, the late-season streak that has turned the AL Central race into a rout would not have been possible.
There is no clear-cut MVP candidate among position players. Curtis Granderson, Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista all have strong points, but a few holes, too. Miguel Cabrera, in my opinion, has had a season to equal any of them overall.
Winning the MVP would also be a strong point for Verlander should he put together a Hall of Fame caliber career. It would definitely be a factor in his favor that would set him apart from virtually any other pitcher from his generation - at least to this point.


Where is the slogan or nickname for the 2011 Tigers?

Here's three I've come up with:
1. Bringing the heat and making them weep. (in reference to Justin Verlander)
2. Motor City Mashers
3. Lose yourself (that's what they have kind of done in the moment, like the Eminem song)

OK. These are lame. You do better

Five factors that will determine whether the Tigers can hang with baseball's elite

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on Denard Robinson

The Twittersphere is amazing on a number of different levels, but I find it particularly so in that it is instantaneous feedback on the reaction of fans during sporting events.
Everybody sees that fist you just slammed to the coffee table, that shoe you just fired at the television or that red, bitter beer face you just made. And conversely, the utter joy on the other end of the spectrum. Just in short 140 character or less bursts on the Internet, that's all.
Never was that more evident than during the Michigan-Notre Dame Saturday game. Man, were people down on Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the first half. Why isn't this guy a running back or a receiver? Robinson, you see, has run the 100 meters in 10.3, which likely makes him the fastest quarterback in college football history. But he also has a pretty throwing arm. Decent mechanics. He completed 63 percent of his passes last year - and his receivers dropped a lot of balls. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year. He is not a good player, he is a great player. Or should I say, he is not a good QB, but a great QB. Because that's what he is - in my opinion, anyway.
It wasn't shared by many people as I piped up on Twitter (patcaputo98) during the first three quarters of Saturday's game.
A couple things:
- My point isn't that I was right and others wrong because Robinson led a dramatic comeback in the Notre Dame game, posting phenomenal statistics (when was the last time a QB threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns on just 11 completions?). There is still most of the season remaining. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Just like you all, it's an opinion. I respect the thoughts of others on this subject.
- I'm not trying to be judgmental or race bait here, but if Robinson were white, would there be the same clamoring for him to change position? It does seem moot in this sense - his backup Devin Garnder is black. But I do believe there is some racial stereotyping going on here, although subconscious.
Michigan fans are used to a more traditional style. So is Michigan's new coaching staff (offensive coordinator Al Borges' background is in the West Coast Offense). I think Devin Gardner is a terrific player, but there is no way he is as threatening to opposing defenses as Robinson. Gardner has a chance to be very good, Robinson is already special.
- Where the patience? Robinson has been asked to change his style of play. Doesn't he get any slack from Michigan fans in this regard? Also, and I think Michigan's coaches got the message regarding this late in Saturday's game. They need to play to Robinson's strengths for the betterment of the team. Get that defense right. The offense is in really good hands with Denard Robinson.
Replay of my livestream chat Monday with Oakland Press sports editor Jeff Keuhn

Video streaming by Ustream


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why Jose Valverde is the best closer the Detroit Tigers have ever had

Down through the years, Tiger closers have been the source of considerable consternation.
Willie Hernandez had the greatest season ever by a Tigers closer, in 1984, when he pitched 140 innings, had a terrific record (9-3) and ERA (1.92) and closed all but one save opportunity. He was the AL Cy Young winner and MVP.
But it didn't last. He was ultimately booed out of town. Mike Henneman and Todd Jones were roller coaster rides. They in the middle-of-the-pack on balance, although you have to admire Jones for his longevity and body of work given his limited ability. He got a lot out of a deceptive motion and a sloppy curveball.
Fernando Rodney? Does he count? Please. John Hiller was great for a period, but it was a long time ago - when the role of closer was much, much different.
Jose Valverde is probably the best closer the Tigers have had. He throws in the mid-to-high 90s, has a nasty slider, a serviceable slider and has developed consistency. The only time he has faltered was the second-half of last season when he was hurt.
You know a closer is really good when it is just taken for granted he will get it done. 43 out of 43 is spectacular. So Valverde hasn't been so good in non-save situations. Ultimately, did it matter?
My column on Lions victory over Tampa Bay Sunday:


Great event, better result for Hoke, Robinson and Michigan Wolverines

My column on Michigan-Notre Dame game


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Below or Penny - who should be on the Tigers postseason roster?

I think that is one of the big questions the Tigers must decide with their postseason roster.
On the surface, Penny seems to be the better candidate. Certainly he has more experience. Tiger fans curent dismay with Penny aside, I see him as a better option than Below to start a postseason game - if necessary.
But Below may have more value as a reliever. He is left-handed. He has pitched in that role reasonably effectively this season. I don't necessarily see Penny adjusting to a relief role.
Penny has only made four relief appearances in the regular season during his entire major league career - and has an 18.00 ERA as a reliever.
Half his eight appearances in the postseason have been in relief. He is 1-1 with a 3.85 ERA as a reliever in the postseason. But he hasn't pitched at all in relief since 2008.
Below has done OK in relief for the Tigers - a 1.186 WHP and a 3.86 ERA.
A lot will depend on manager Jim Leyland's willingness or hesitation to pitch his starters - particularly Justin Verlander - on a shorter rest, if necessary, during the postseason.
Also, Below has rarely pitched in a victory. For the most part, he's mostly done mopup work for the Tigers.
Could neither be on the postseason roster? That will be another interesting call that could involve Carlos Guillen.


Friday, September 09, 2011

For Michigan against Notre Dame, the size of the result must equal the size of the event

It’ll be more than a football game Saturday in Ann Arbor when Michigan hosts Notre Dame. It’ll be an event. The first ever night game at the Big House. The Wolverines will break out their legacy uniforms, which I found to be laughably busy at first considering how perfect Michigan’s football traditional uniforms are - until I saw Maryland’s the other night. Now Michigan’s legacy uniforms don’t seem so bad.
Desmond Howard will be honored on the 20th anniversary of his huge catch against ND. The ESPN GameDay crew will be there. Great stuff.
But whether it is perceived as a gimmick or an event will depend on this:
The Wolverines play on the field.
Notre Dame is not a Top 25 team, but neither is Michigan. The Fighting Irish were beaten at home last Saturday by South Florida, and Irish coach Brian Kelly going ballistic on the sidelines drew more attention than anything else - even Mother Nature’s strikes. Notre Dame has become the biggest enigma in college football.
Michigan’s problems, I feel, can be put on making the wrong decision to hire Rich Rodriguez as head coach following the departure of Lloyd Carr. Period.
Notre Dame doesn’t have that excuse. Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis - the list of decorated coaches who failed in South Bend is getting long. And Notre Dame has every advantage - maybe even more - Michigan does when it comes to a foundation to built upon.
Kelly is an excellent coach, and Notre Dame closed strong last season. Then this - and already a QB change from Dane Crist to Tommy Rees.
But in truth, everybody has been beating Notre Dame lately. Michigan, too. Rodriguez was 2-1 against Notre Dame.
The challenge for Brady Hoke and Michigan is making sure the result equals the event. A loss would be a step back. How couldn’t it be?
I was impressed with Michigan against Western Michigan. The defensive coaching staff put the right players in the right places at the right times. That’s how turnovers happen. They are not accidents. I think Denard Robinson is a truly great player, and you could see improvement offensively across the board.
But this is a much bigger stage. And in the infancy of Hoke’s program, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is the Wolverines play a great game, not just stage a big event.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Not trying to rain on anybody's parade, but I don't think the Lions will win Sunday

Tampa Bay was 10-6 last season, the Lions 6-10. I know the Lions won a road game at Tampa, but it was close and a couple calls went Detroit's way late in the game.
I didn't get a sense in that game, that if the Lions were to play the Bucs again in Tampa, they would automatically win.
In fact, I do expect the Bucs to beat the Lions. They have a good team with a quarterback, Josh Freeman, who is only improving. That it is on the road this early in the season is a huge factor. Humidity figures to be very high. The forecast is for 90 degrees and probable thunderstorms Sunday. Tampa has a big back, LaGarrette Blount, who could give them a huge edge in this game.
I also predict this: A huge overreaction if the Lions lose the game, and a big overreaction if they win it.
There will be no in-between come Sunday night.
Even though I don't think the Lions will win this game, I do believe it will be close, and I still think they will go 10-6 this season - regardless the outcome.

Tigers farm system has done better than given credit - this is why

The Tigers player development system has often been under fire for not drafting nor developing high-ended players. The criticism has mostly been justified.
This season is providing redemption for the organization, however.
Justin Verlander has been the best pitcher in baseball. While it is true he was the second overall selection in the draft, it was anything but a no brainer at the time. Verlander was 21-18 in his career at a relatively low profile college program - Old Dominion. There was much-speculation at the time the Tigers would select a high school pitcher, Homer Bailey, instead.
The Tigers also drafted Curtis Granderson from Illinois-Chicago in the third round. At the time, he was projected as a solid-hitting corner outfield prospect with limited speed and power.
That's the possible American League Cy Young/MVP combo right there.
And the Tigers found pitcher Jair Jurrjens in Curacao.
The current team has homegrown players, still relatively young, who has performed well. Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch. And there are others used in trades who have had good seasons. Matt Joyce with the Rays comes to mind first.
Avila, Joyce, Verlander, Granderson and Jurrjens were each selected for the All Star Game


Time to believe in the Tigers - they've earned it

My column in Thursday's Oakland Press:


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How I'd rank the Detroit Tigers players in value

1. Justin Verlander - Without Verlander winning all those games in June, July and August after losses the previous day, the Tigers would not be in such a secure place atop the AL Central.
2. Alex Avila - To catch as many games as he has and still be so productive offensively, is amazing.
3. Victor Martinez - His clutch hitting and clubhouse leadership cannot be emphasized enough.
4. Jhonny Peralta - Such production at a premier position such as shortstop is rare these days.
5. Miguel Cabrera - To put Cabrera so low on this list seems like a joke. He is very productive. Yet, it does speak to the Tigers' depth this season.
6. Jose Valverde - His record in save situations is, as they say, a matter of record.
7. Doug Fister - Even in a short period of time, he has solidified the Tigers' starting rotation.
8. Delmon Young - He has given the Tigers a much-needed three-hole hitter and cushioned the loss of Brennan Boesch.
9. Joaquin Benoit - Bad start, but a lot better when it really started to matter.
10. Brennan Boesch - Had a breakout year that unfortunately for him and the Tigers ended too soon because of injury.

With optimism as high as ever, Detroit Lions must cash in

My column in the Oakland Press NFL section:<

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ramon Santiago has earned the second base spot for the Tigers - this is why

I've longed viewed Ramon Santiago as a backup player. He is one those players who does well in stretches, but when he is played too regularly, gets exposed.
Also, Ryan Raburn has a reputation as a better hitter than Santiago.
But in comparison, during the second half of this season, the numbers don't bear that out. Santiago is hitting .311 for the second half, so is Raburn. Santiago doesn't have as much power as Raburn - supposedly. He has the second half. Raburn has four home runs, Santiago three. Raburn's OPS for the second half is very good - .865. Santiago's is better - .884.
What about platooning them? Doesn't make sense because Santiago is a switch hitter who is hitting .349 right-handed this season.
There is little question which player is the better fielder. That part is not even close. Santiago is obviously much better defensively.
Now, there are still three weeks remaining in the season. A lot can change in that period, especially in a drive for a division title. There is Carlos Guillen, for example. Right now, it doesn't look like he may belong the Tigers' playoff roster, but that will change if he gets a key hit or two.
Presently, though, it's difficult to look past Santiago. He's the earned second base spot.


Thoughts on Detroit Lions adding Keiland Williams

Keiland Williams, signed by the Lions Sunday to be their so-called bigger back, has been somewhat of an enigma since he left high school.
He was 5-star recruit coming of high school. Big time. One of the top two or three backs in the nation, according to many recruiting services. His final choices came down to LSU and USC. He was that coveted.
He did some good things at LSU, but lacked consistency. He couldn't beat out Charles Scott - later a sixth-round draft choice of the Eagles - for the running back spot.
Lack of speed probably kept Williams from getting drafted (he ran in the mid-4.6s for NFL scouts in the 40-yard dash).
The theory is that he made the Redskins last year because he reminded Washington coach Mike Shanahan of some of the backs he had in Denver that were relatively unknown, but had surprising success to varying degrees. Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson, Mike Bell, Selvin Young, Peyton Hillis. Bigger, hit-the-hole, one-cut, downhill runners.
A couple of those guys turned out to be great players - Davis and Hillis. Others were basically one-hit wonders. Yet, Gary, Anderson and Droughns did have 1,000 yard seasons for Shanahan.
The Lions would take that one-hit wonder about now...
Williams did compile some decent numbers last season, but they were misleading. His best game statistically was against the Eagles, but he did all his damage long after the game was decided. (Philadelphia opened up a 28-0 lead in that game, Williams scored on a pass to make it 35-14 in the second quarter, and a 32-yard run in the fourth for the final score in a 59-28 rout. Jerome Harrison was the star back that day for the Eagles with 109 yards on 11 carries).
Williams played a more prominent role in a sense the following week in a tight victory over Tennessee, but he averaged less than three yards per carry. Gradually, Williams got less playing time. Ryan Torian became the Redskins feature back.
This is where scouting comes in. Pure speed often means a lot for a back, but there are times with bigger backs, it isn't that much of a factor. LeGarrette Blount comes to mind. although he is considerably bigger than Williams, and was much more productive as a college player.
The Redskins were in the process of trying to make Williams a fullback, while it didn't pan out, it could benefit the Lions if fullback-type skills are necessary in certain situations. Williams also showed pretty good hands last season.
I do think Williams is an NFL player. But how good of one, I'm not sure. What kind of help will he provide on special teams? Can he press the hole for that necessary yard or two in a close game?
It does seem like the Lions were looking for downhill runners out of Shanahan's family tree. Bell, obviously, didn't work out.
We'll see on Keiland Williams

Monday, September 05, 2011

Just because it seems too good to be true for the Detroit Tigers doesn't mean it is

The Tigers were probably going to win the American League Central even if general manager Dave Dombrowski hadn't made several moves.
But it probably would have been more by default than actually capturing the division.
The White Sox should be able, but aren't willing. That team has rolled over. The Indians are very willing, but just not able.
Doug Fister has not only solidified the Tigers' starting rotation, but he has become the No. 2 starter. He throws harder and has better command than I could have imagined. I saw him pitch a lot for the Mariners. He wasn't like this, and it is a great surprise. I'm sure the Tigers thought he was good, but it's doubtful they believed he would be this good.
It can't be overstated what Delmon Young has meant in the third spot in the order. It has not only made the Tigers as close to a certainty as possible of winning the division, but has made them much more threatening in the postseason.
That would be especially true if they beat out Rangers down the stretch to secure home field advantatge in the ALDS.
It's a credit to Dombrowski. He has had his share of stinker moves in the past. but lately he has displayed the Midas Touch. All his moves lately have turned to gold.


Thoughts on the Tigers

The Tigers haven't clinched the American League Central title by any stretch, but they pretty much knocked the White Sox - resoundingly - out of the competition. The Indians have hung in pretty well considering their injury issues, and that, honestly, they just aren't that good. If I had a vote for Manager of the Year, I'd give it to Indians' manager Manny Acta. Don't see where anybody is a close second at this stage (although the Tigers Jim Leyland might be No.2 on that list). A day game on the road after a night game at home is a difficult scenario. We'll see how the Tigers handle it today. Love the Fister-Jimenez pitching matchup.

- Austin Jackson is a hard-working kid with a solid talent base. He will struggle as a young player, but correct his issues. Leyland told him he does not want him to think like a leadoff hitter, but to just hit. He's been doing a better job of that lately. Jackson got off to a terrible start, but since the beginning of May, a span of 401 at bats, he is hitting .281. He batted .293 as a rookie last year. He is already a good player who will get better.

- The Tigers can't be that bad. They are on pace to win 90 games. They've done that just one time in the last 24 seasons - in 2006. Over that same period, theyhad 90 or more losses nine times. So maybe it's time for people to enjoy this a little more. It hasn't exactly been a common occurrence.
Lions, Tigers - "The boys of fall" likely to come through this time - my column in Monday's Oakland Press


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Will Magglio Ordonez display another baseball life?

That's one of the key questions for the Tigers, isn't it?
Before Sunday night's game against the White Sox, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Brennan Boesch is going to miss the remainder of the season with a thumb injury.
It's not a surprise. It's expected. It does put a burden on Ordonez to perform.
There has been a little bit of spark with Ordonez's bat lately after it appeared he was done. It wouldn't surprise me if he does well in the stretch and/or in the postseason.
This is a player they said was done in 2005 because of a severe injury that required radical surgery. They said he was done in 2009 when he couldn't pull the ball or get extra base hits. He was the one few Tiger hitters who came to life in September, and then he had a really good season in 2010 before he broke his ankle.
He's baseball's version of a cat. Ordonez has nine baseball lives. Has he used them all up yet?
If he hasn't, it would be of great benefit to the Tigers.


Detroit Lions cut of Harris could haunt them

Having a really good punter won't mean much until you have don't have a good punter.
The Lions took a risk by cutting Nick Harris and keeping undrafted rookie Ryan Donahue instead. The pressure is on the kid. Not that Donahue didn't perform well in the preseason - he did. It was obviously based on a tight salary cap, perhaps even because Jason Hanson made the squad ahead of Dave Rayner as kicker.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Not an impressive performance by Spartans, but won't matter in long term for MSU

My column in Saturday's Oakland Press:

Friday, September 02, 2011

Michigan State will own this state for years to come

My column in Friday's Oakland Press:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A suggestion for the Detroit Lions about naming the press box at Ford Field

There are three writers, who covered the Lions, mostly together, for more than three decades and were synonymous with the franchise in many ways - Tom Kowalski, Mike O' Hara and Curt Sylvester.
I think it would be fitting if the Lions honored them by naming the press box at Ford Field after these three in the near future.
Tom, who grew up in Farmington, went to college for a couple weeks at Western Michigan, came home and turned an editorial assistant's job at the age of 18 at The Oakland Press into a brilliant career. There has been a lot said and written about Tom's "every man" quality following his passing this week - and that is certainly true. But he was also off the charts talented. Very bright. Exceptionally gifted.
Mike, who retired from the Detroit News, but still writes for FOX Sports Detroit, is an unrelenting reporter. When I was on the Lions beat I had made this vow I wasn't going to be outworked. I was going to get there earlier and leave later than these icon writers I was competing against. That was kind of difficult with Mike. He was always there and didn't miss a thing. The consummate beat writer. Outstanding.
Curt Sylvester of the Free Press didn't get outworked, either. And Curt wrote great game stories. First thing I'd look at on Monday during the football season, when the Lions would hand out the press clips, was Curt's gamer.
It would be like taking a page out of the Lions' play book when they retired the jersey No. 20 for Lem Barney, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.
Tom, Mike and Curt were unique to this town and that team. And it would be fitting if it were acknowledged by the Lions.