The Greatest Athletes Of All Time? Not So Fast

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In modern sports it has become an obsession to talk about who is the “GOAT”, A.K.A., greatest of all time. Unfortunately, over the years, the conversation has escalated in frequency and devolved in to who has the most “chips”, as in championships. And that supposedly ends the discussion.

Growing up, I don’t recall Bill Russell being anointed as the GOAT even though he was the best player on those great Boston Celtic teams.  Same with Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I was a tennis fan for years before I heard the name Roy Emerson. FYI, that’s the guy who had the record of grand slam men’s title’s before Pete Sampras and then Roger Federer broke his record.

What a gross over simplification chip count is. Science suggests that in order to accurately compare two samples you would have to put them under the same conditions.

For example, in order to fairly compare San Francisco 49er QB legend, Joe Montana, to rising all-star QB of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson, you’d have to clone every person they’d ever played with and against, was coached by and against, and play the games in the same weather conditions and under the same league rules.  This would give you the fairest and most accurate comparison between the two. Don’t get mad at me, that’s science. But this is sports so let’s not let a little thing like science spoil all the fun.

Before the chip obsession we relied on statistics, clutch performance, the optics of what our eyes told us.  Players with chips stood out but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all that it seems to be today.  Other factors were and should also be considered.  Such as teammates, coaches, level of competition, rules changes, and so on.

Further, the difference between winning and losing can be so small and contingent on these other factors that have nothing to do with a player and warrant that they be considered.  With that in mind I am going to try to marry a little science with the optics and take a look at some of the so-called GOATs in a few different sports.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday November 18, 2012 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. New England won 59-24. (AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

(AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

TOM BRADY – He just led his team to the greatest comeback in the  NFL’s Superbowl history. Congrats to Brady and the Patriots.  It was a great/historic comeback that in the eyes of many clearly cements Brady as the greatest ever.  After all it gives him one more chip than Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

As great as the comeback was…

  1. Atlanta’s defensive back drops a potential interception that would’ve sealed the game. *
  2. Atlanta did mismanage the game clock.  Their offensive coordinator called plays that moved them out of field goal range which would have sealed the game before New England’s game tying drive.
  3. The refs missed a face mask call that should have offset a holding penalty, giving the Falcons another down and 10 yards of field position.
  4. Julian Edelman makes a great/miraculous catch.  Coach Bill Belichik makes great second half adjustments.
  5. N.E. defense plays great in the 2nd half.
  6. Specials teams plays great.
  7. Offensive line gives Brady much more time in second half.

*(In fairness to Brady, had Asante Samuel not dropped a potential interception of Eli Manning, against the N.Y. Giants, in 2008, Brady/ Pats win another SB.)

Brady still had to do his thing, and he did, but if ALL of those things don’t happen we’re talking about his pic six, and open receivers he missed during the game, because Atlanta likely wins.

Not every QB plays with the assets Brady has had throughout his career.  True, he’s not playing with hall of fame wide receivers (except for when he had Randy Moss), but the guys he’s throwing to are often open.  Brady deserves his share of the credit but that does also speak to the system and to the coaching.

Two more words for you with implications on how Brady is viewed in the pantheon of great quarterbacks: Tuck rule.

Yes, of course Brady is great, all-time great, but like other greats, you give him time, he will pick you apart, you pressure him, like the Giants did in two Superbowls or Atlanta in the first half of this one, and he becomes mortal.  Give a handful of other great QB’s his defenses, his field goal kickers/ special teams, and his coaches, and their chip count is right where Brady’s is.  Maybe they have one or two less, or maybe one or two more.

I do put Brady in the discussion of all time greats, but it is and always will be just that… a discussion.

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ROGER FEDERER – The Fed just did something no one thought he could do.  At 35 years of age, (geriatric for tennis) coming off a six month layoff due to knee surgery and having not won a tennis major since 2012 Wimbledon, he won his 18th grand slam title, The Australian Open. He increased his record and lead to 4 slams over Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras. To win the tournament he had to go the distance, 5 sets, in his last three matches, beating Nadal in an epic final. To many, this win, especially against Nadal, who has dominated their head to head competition, cements Roger as the GOAT.

You would think that declaring a GOAT would be much easier in an individual sport versus team but in tennis it certainly is not.  Tennis is played on different surfaces, clay, grass, hard, carpet, and indoor/ outdoor, that greatly affects the way the game is played.  Further, when trying to compare different generations, you have vast changes in racket and string technology, changes in surface, and advancement in training and recovery from injury.

I’m a HUGE Federer fan.  I was elated for him for his latest slam win. I draw personal inspiration from it as well, but objectivity requires that I point out the obvious.  Nadal is without question the better clay court player.  If not for a series of injuries, Nadal may have more slam titles than Fed, and he does have the head to head edge.  Pete Sampras, who was not the all-around player Fed is may be his equal or better on grass.  Novak Djokovic at his best at the Aussie? I’m not betting the ranch on either player.  At the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi in his prime, Sampras and others could have given Fed a run.  In fact in a hypothetical tournament of champions, Federer might not be the number one seed in any of the four slams.

Fed’s slam total, masterful play and the fact that he would likely be the first, second, third, or fourth seed in all hypothetical slams of champions of course puts him in the discussion, but cemented shut? Nope.  Most accomplished doesn’t automatically mean GOAT.

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SERENA WILLIAMS – Sticking with tennis.  In the women’s game, Serena just won her 23rd grand slam, passing Steffi Graf for the modern-day women’s lead. Also at the age of 35, Miss Williams is still dominant, ranked number 1 and may add to her already spectacular resume.

However.  I’m going to name some other players for you: Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsey Davenport, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles. What do all of these players have in common?

  1. They all of have won multiple grand slams.
  2. They were all ranked number one at one time.
  3. Their careers all overlapped with Serena’s.
  4. They all prematurely retired, or took time off due to injury, desired to get pregnant and start a family, in the case of Venus Williams, illness slowed her down, and in the case of Monica Seles, she was stabbed on the tennis court.

Those are eight battle tested champions.  That’s a lot.  Setting aside Seles for a moment, let’s say that Serena is better than every player mentioned above.  I submit that if  half of these players didn’t leave the sport prematurely of suffer injury, they would have dented Serena’s slam total, which seems to be the nail that shuts the door on the GOAT conversation.  My Mt. Rushmore of women’s tennis is Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and of course Serena Williams.

My personal favorite female player is Seles.  Seles, the sports world, including other players like Graf and Williams, were robbed when Seles’ career was irreversibly effected by the stabbing. Seles ended up with 9 slams.  No doubt she would have had many more if not for the lost years and psychological effect of such an event.

Her meteoric rise at such a young age came before that of Tiger Woods’ ascension in golf. Seles, by age 19, had begun to dominate then GOAT candidate Graf.  God forbid Woods had been stabbed after his 8th slam in golf and had he come back to only win one more, we’d be hearing for decades how he would have won 15 to 20 more slams easy.  History has not afforded Seles the same status they should have and would have if she were born in America or perhaps if she was a he.

But I digress.  Serena is an all-time great and given the length of her greatness and dominance and the fact her career is still going, the female tennis GOAT conversation does begin with her, but it does not end.  And like the men, in a tournament of champions her seeding may vary by surface.

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MICHAEL JORDAN – Toughest for last.  I love me some Michael Jordan.  When I think of MJ, I think of that scene in Rocky II when Apollo Creed’s trainer, Duke, is trying to talk Apollo out of a rematch with Rocky. Apollo asks Duke what is he afraid of. Duke’s answer is, “I saw you beat that man like I saw you beat no man before… and the man, kept, coming, after you … We don’t need that kind of man in our life…” Jordan, had Rocky’s heart and determination, and Apollo’s talent. A true terminator.  But the end of discussion GOAT?  I can’t go there.  Even for Michael.

When talking about all-time greats in basketball, big men seemed to get short-changed.  Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain. These are greats that can’t just be dismissed because their games don’t possess flash and style, or because they played more than 15 years ago.

Weirdly enough, the “chip” discussion in basketball only seems to apply to modern players and the flashy two guard or small forward. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James can’t be better than MJ because they have less rings?  (They’re not for other reasons but like I said, I love me some MJ) However, less rings doesn’t seem to disqualify MJ in the comparison to Bill Russell. Kareem has as many rings, scored more points and won more MVP’s, was an eleven time all defensive player, and had the most indefensible shot in the game.

MJ was a transcendent player who took the NBA to new levels.  With all due respect to the logo, (Jerry West), for all of his contributions to the game, and his game, the NBA should consider redoing the logo to Jordan’s image, and or do for him what hockey did for Wayne Gretzky and retire MJ’s jersey in all arena’s… But that still doesn’t make him the end of discussion GOAT.

These are just several examples of “GOAT” athletes.  I could have picked others.  In the case of Brady, Federer, Williams and Jordan, I am not saying that any of the them are not the GOAT in their respective sports, just that you can’t close the book, especially based on most championships.   There are lots of considerations, and this blog just begins to scratch the surface.

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When To Legalize PED’s And Medical Marijuana In The NFL

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Seems like we can’t go too long without a debate on the use of PED’s and medical marijuana in the NFL (and other sports). They’re not quite the same but, forgive the pun, I want to tackle them both. First up, PED’s. I’ve always been firmly against the use of performance enhancers for the following reasons:

  1. When used to get a competitive advantage.
  2. They can be dangerous if abused and taken over an extended period of time.
  3. When some players use it, it puts pressure on other players to make the same choice to keep up.
  4. It’s against the law and or is cheating.
  5. Bad example and dangerous for kids and teenagers.

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None of that has changed. However, Peyton Manning’s recent “exoneration” from an alleged HGH allegation got me thinking. Let’s pretend for a second he did use HGH. If a guy has four neck surgeries and missed an entire season, and uses some HGH to help heal and recover and get back to his previous established performance level, do we really want to compare that to the ongoing use of a healthy player using it to improve performance beyond his established level?

With or without medical advice there are a LOT of drugs that have side effects and are bad for you. In fact, according to Harvard University center for ethics, prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in America.

If a player has a season ending and or career threatening injury I am okay with him taking PED’s for a limited time, and under a league approved doctor’s supervision. In this limited circumstance:

  1. I do not see the player as getting a competitive advantage.
  2. It would not put undue pressure on other players to use when healthy.
  3. In this use, it wouldn’t be cheating if it was league approved.
  4. And it would be not a bad example to kids for the above reasons.

Marijuana is a little more complicated. I hear the NFL receiving criticism from many analysts on ESPN stating:

  1. Medical marijuana is legal.
  2. It is a hypocrisy for the league to test for marijuana given they make money from alcohol.
  3. It is not a performance enhancer.
  4. Football is such a violent sport, players need it for pain relief.

These arguments are not without merit. For instance, in 2013, what would you guess had more deaths related to it? Marijuana or alcohol? The answer is alcohol. Maybe that is not a surprise after all alcohol is legal. But what if I told you that the number of deaths due to alcohol in 2013 was 18,361 and for marijuana it was only 2,123? That’s a big difference right? Well guess what? I made those numbers up.  They’re worse. Deaths due to alcohol was 29,001 and for marijuana was, wait for it… zero! You can see the chart I pulled this from, here.

However I cannot fault the NFL or any league for keeping marijuana against it’s rules. First of all, until medical marijuana is legal in all states and survives initial appeals of such legality, I do not think the league should legalize it. But let’s assume that day comes.

If an NFL player wants to take marijuana for pain relief, or other approved medicinal use, I think he should be able to appeal for a waiver allowing him to take it in tablet form.

A medicinal reason to take marijuana should not be an excuse to “toke up” or chow down on brownies. Smoking and eating marijuana is associated with its recreational use and this is not what the waiver is providing for.

In order for this waiver to be approved, a league or team approved Dr. would have to:

  • Explain what other pain relievers have been tried and why the marijuana is needed.
  • The Dr. would have to inform the league of the dosage and length of time the player would need to use.
  • The player would need to submit to additional testing to measure the amount of marijuana in his system to ensure he is sticking to the prescribed dose and not abusing it.

Again, medicinal approval should not be a gateway to recreational use.

Yes, the league is hypocritical by looking the other way and profiting from alcohol. However, in this sense they are following the hypocritical lead of the country since the failure of prohibition, but to suggest that because they don’t do anything to prevent the use and abuse of one drug, alcohol, they should not for another is an argument I would expect from a rebellious teenager.

The league’s intention of keeping it illegal, is to protect their assets from themselves. Just like there are clauses in contracts to keep athletes from engaging in activities that increase the odds of injury, like skydiving or other sports.  

There is nothing wrong with this.  Owners invest a lot of money in players and it is not unreasonable for them to take measures to keep them from becoming addicted to a recreational drug that is addictive and can be a DPD, decrease performance drug, and a negative locker room influence.  

An irony here is that the NFL has been very rightly criticized for its handling of the concussion issue, but here they are getting criticized for not letting its players use an addictive drug?

I can just imagine if it was the opposite and the league had a lax policy for marijuana use.  They would be getting criticized for allowing players to do it, or looking the other way, so players can deal with pain and can get on the field and play through it. And with righteous anger they would state now you have these retired players who are addicted and have health problems and what is the league going to do about that?!

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ESPN’s First Take Co-Host Max Kellerman thinks the NFL is wrong on Marijuana Testing.

Talking heads love to talk and love to criticize.

So to surmise. Yes on PED’s to assist with recovery from season ending or career threatening injuries only. (I am open to its use for other severe injuries so long as the procedure is serious and legit and not used as a gateway/loophole for rampant use)

Yes to marijuana, if and when it becomes legal in all states where the NFL or a particular league plays, and with stipulations to help ensure it gets used for it’s intended purpose.

If Rex Ryan Is Fired The Broncos Should Swoop In

Cincinnati Bengals v  New York JetsThe conventional wisdom is that Rex Ryan will be fired as head coach of the New York Jets after today’s season finale. Heck, it has already been reported that Ryan has started to clean out his office in anticipation of being canned.

Conventional wisdom part II from the sports media talking heads is that Rex should take a job in TV, learn about offense and or wait for another head coaching job to come his way. The thinking being that the league already knows he can coach defense so taking another defensive coordinator position won’t advance his credentials.

I disagree. Assuming the Denver Broncos do not win a Superbowl this year, I think Denver is a great fit for Rex Ryan as a defensive coordinator/ assistant head coach. Denver added some nice pieces to their defense this year and it showed. No disrespect meant to current Broncos d-coordinator Jack del Rio but as a defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan is arguably the best, oftentimes mentioned in the same sentence as Bill Belichik.

Speaking of the Patriots, another reason for the Broncos to bring in Rex is for his relative success coaching against New England and Tom Brady. The Pats figure to continue to be an obstacle for Denver, and Rex’s Jets defense have proven to give New England a tough time.  With Denver’s personal and Peyton Manning running the offense Rex’s defense could be even more effective.

Face it Broncos’ fans, Manning isn’t getting any younger and his arm is not getting any stronger. Defense and the running game may have to pick up more of the slack in 2015. From Rex’s perspective this works if the Broncos pay him like or close to a head coach, and give him the title of assistant head coach.

Assuming health and other moves Broncos GM John Elway makes to improve the team, Denver will be right there competing for a Superbowl next year. Ryan and his defense will get plenty of attention. If Denver wins the Superbowl (or the defense does it’s part), teams will be calling on Rex to be their head coach. As for Rex learning more about offense, of Manning, Rex once said:  “He’s the best offensive coordinator in the league.  He just happens to be playing quarterback”.  Having a year to have a front row seat watching Peyton Manning operate won’t hurt… Likewise, I’ m sure Manning would enjoy learning a thing or two from Rex about defenses and how they approach defending him.

Rex does have a personality for TV but like his father, he may be a football lifer.  Being out of the game may not suit him.  Being a prominent coordinator on a winning team, may be more desirable to him than TV or jumping back into head coaching for a losing team or a moribund franchise like the Oakland Raiders.

Could be a win/win short-term marriage for Ryan and the Broncos.

Peyton Manning And Tom Brady Prove The Impossible

ManningBradyTwo all-time great quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, square off against one another today. Whenever they do, the inevitable question of who is the best comes up.

The pro Manning crowd points to:

  • All of the records Manning has broken.
  • All of the records he is projected to break.
  • Manning’s five regular season MVP awards.

The pro Brady crowd counters with:

  • The three Superbowl wins.
  • That Brady never had the offensive weapons that Manning had.
  • In the one year Brady had Randy Moss still in his prime, Brady put up incredible numbers and won one of his two regular season MVP awards.

But then the pro manning crowd would counter that Brady had the benefit of playing for arguably the best coach of all-time in Bill Belichick (and never had to play against him). And Brady played on teams with much better defenses.  They could also argue that defense and the field goal kicking of Adam Vinatieri played huge roles in the Superbowl wins.

Finally the Brady peeps would counter, Brady is clearly the better cold weather quarterback and better clutch player…

The thing about all of these points are; they are kind of true. But to say which one is better still comes down to a guess or an opinion. Empirically speaking, from a scientific perspective, the only way to definitively say who is better would have been to have cloned both players, all of their teammates, coaches, and stadiums they played in, and have the duplicates play with the same assets, liabilities, and conditions, at the same time, and see who performed better.

About the closest we may get to that is in a J.J. Abrams TV show. Barring that, have fun with this topic but don’t take it too seriously. Same goes with other QB comparisons. For those that bang the table and swear Joe Montana was the best ever, they’re saying that definitively if Peyton Manning or Tom Brady were QBing those 49er teams they would not have won those Superbowls. I’m not comfortable with that. Who knows, maybe they each would have won 4, 3, or 5? Remember, Montana had as many or more offensive weapons as Manning, had arguably the greatest offensive coach off all-time in Bill Walsh, father of the west coast offense, and played on teams with much better defenses than Manning and arguably as good or better than Brady’s.

Back to Manning V. Brady. So it is true that Manning has had more offensive weapons, but he always needed them, especially in Indianapolis. His defenses were not as good and some of his great teams also lacked the clutch kicking that Brady had in Vinatieri (until Vinatieri later signed with Indie). Mike Vanderjagt missed a huge 46 yard kick in the playoffs against Pittsburgh that Vinatieri doesn’t.  Conversely, in the infamous “tuck rule” playoff game Vinatieri made a 45 yard field goal in a blizzard.  Does that make Brady better than Manning?

So Manning had to score more and had to take more chances which inevitably leads to more mistakes because he could not trust his defense to make the stop or have his field goal kicker make the clutch kick like Brady could.

And for all of the talk we here about how much better the Patriots are when they have the injury prone tight end Rob Gronkowski in the lineup… The same could be said about the Indianapolis defense in the Manning days about Safety Bob Sanders, and how much better they were when the oft-injured player was on the field.  Better defense = would have meant more offensive possessions for Manning = less pressure to score on every possession.
None of that means I am decided in Manning over Brady. Brady is the consummate team player. Never complains and has been given less weapons than any “great” quarterback I have ever seen. Back in the day, those 80’s & 90’s 49er teams were hiring “capologists” to circumvent the cap. They would keep all of their great players and add others. It seems like the Patriots let go a key player or two every season and don’t always spend to the cap.  If the Patriots had the 49ers mentality of keeping and acquiring talent might Brady’s teams have won 5 Superbowls?  Inconceivably 6 or 7? This could have meant more regular season and SB MVPs for Brady and perhaps even another run at a perfect season.

Defense has been the priority for the Patriots and aside from the Moss year in 2007 when the Patriots went undefeated in the regular season, you can argue Brady has had the least weapons of any of the great quarterbacks, but has still put up impressive numbers of his own, and oh by the way 2 Superbowl MVPs and 3 wins overall.

I do think if Manning played for either Bill Walsh’s 49ers or Bill Belichik’s Patriots, those teams would have at least won the same amount of Superbowls. Conversely, if Brady played for Manning’s team’s I think his stats would closely resemble Manning’s.

So who would I pick? Well their stories aren’t done being written yet. Will Manning become the first QB to lead two different teams to SB wins? Will Brady get a fourth ring?

Don’t know. Not sure I care… I’d be doing back flips if I started a franchise and either was my starting QB in their prime. But not to cop-out on the question, if you put a gun to my head, if Manning wins a second Superbowl I would lean in his direction, if he doesn’t, depending on how it goes down, I would lean towards Brady.

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Want some stats (some serious, some fun) for the comparison?  Click here

NFL Contracts Are The Best

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NBA star and Los Angeles Laker, Steve Nash, admits that despite his current injury he will stick around for the final year of his contract because he wants the money.  A cool 9.7 million.  I appreciate his honesty.

After a cousin of his passed away from heart disease, MLB pitching star and New York Yankee, CC Sabathia, decided to lose weight.

Some speculate and are concerned that CC’s weight loss may be responsible for his loss in velocity and have an adverse affect on his performance.  For the sake of this blog, let’s assume that is true.

Both of the above are examples of why the National Football League salary system, though not perfect, is the best we have.

Football players have to continually earn their pay.  Baseball and basketball players have to earn their contracts.  Once a player and an owner sign on the dotted line, maybe they will live up to the contract, maybe they won’t.  Either way, owners and entire fan bases have to cross their fingers.  Robinson Cano just signed a ten-year, two hundred and forty million dollar contract with the Seattle Mariners.   Speculation is that on the back-end of the deal (if even the front end) Cano won’t be playing well enough to earn that money.

Back to Steve Nash and CC.  Perhaps with few exceptions, I agree with Nash when he says anyone would do what he is doing as far as collecting the money on the final year of a contract even if he can’t play or play well.  But just because most people would do it, that doesn’t mean it is not a flaw in the system.  Both team and fan base will suffer if Nash cannot give value in return for the compensation he is receiving.

With Sabathia, I fully understand the effect the death in the family can have. (I recently lost my mother.) Health should come first.  I respect Sabathia’s reasoning for wanting to lose weight.  However, assuming it is affecting his ability to perform, he is making this choice on someone else’s dime.  I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but if CC were an NFL lineman, would he make the same choice?

I’m guessing NFL linemen make all sorts of unhealthy dietary choices to keep their weight and strength up.  If they didn’t, and they lost weight and their performance suffered, they could get cut and lose their job.  If an athlete like CC made the choice to quit baseball recognizing he couldn’t do his job at the lower weight and chose health over the game I would have huge respect for that.

If football were like baseball, a lineman could gain weight, get the big contract, lose weight for health reasons and not be of use to his team.  Now, the NFL could encourage health by putting weight or body fat limits on players, but that is a blog for a different day.

A question I have often heard asked when a free agent in the NBA or MLB is being considered for a big money long-term contract is, “will so and so remain incentivized once he has the contract?”  While there is some guaranteed upfront money in the NFL, you don’t have to have this concern near to the same degree.

I think changing contract structure to something similar to the NFL is an issue worth exploring and fighting for when collective bargaining comes up again in the NBA and MLB.  If the owners paint it to the fans as wanting to put the best product on the field and as a fairness issue, public support would be on their side.  After all, most of us have to earn our salaries or we get canned.  And if we get injured on the job there is workman’s compensation.

Maybe the give back is shorter rookie contracts so players can hit free agency quicker.  And or contract escalators for performance included in rookie contracts.  But locking in dead weight to a franchise and not allowing them to make personal moves that would improve the franchise is not game or fan friendly.

The system in football does punish team with “cap hits”, so there is  “punishment” for mistakes or personal decisions that don’t work out.  Peter King of Si.com gives a good explanation here.   But it also offers some relief in terms of being able to restructure contracts or cut players not performing to market, that enables franchises to attempt to put a better team on the field.

Like I said.  Not perfect, but I’ll take.

An X-Factor Regarding Michael Sam

michael SamFor the most part the media response I have been hearing about Michael Sam coming out as being gay is exactly as it should be.  Supportive, encouraging and welcoming of Mr. Sam.  I often give ESPN’s Colin Cowherd a tough time but I think he spoke beautifully on the topic on his 2/10 radio show that you can download as a podcast. 

I applaud Sam’s courage, I applaud the support he received from his college at Missouri.  It’s about time, it’s overdue and I am glad this moment in history has arrived. 

Two prominent NFL team owners, Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have voiced support for Sam.  And other teams have released supportive statements as well.

On the other side, there have been anonymous general managers who have said that Sam’s draft status will fall as a result of his announcement because some locker rooms aren’t ready for an openly gay player.  Even those on the side of Sam, who are being very supportive, such as First Takes’ Steven A. Smith, acknowledge this is possible.  And that there can be locker room issues that are not necessarily related to discrimination. 

Whenever you are dealing with firsts, there are a lot of things that are possible, but you do not let it stop you from doing the right thing.  (Steven A. never suggested not drafting Sam.  He is strongly on the young man’s side.)

As far as the locker room goes, here is where the X-factor comes in.  Michael Sam may be the first openly gay player in the NFL, but he will not be the only gay player.  Odds are, whatever teams drafts him will have at least one gay player as well. 

IF Sam is having problems in the locker room because of his sexual orientation, will they stay silent?  I won’t judge them for not “coming out” previously; I can’t understand what it is like to be in their position.  But I would think, and hope, that they would feel a call to stand up for Sam should the need arise.  I would also hope that leaders of the team, whether they are gay or not, would also step forward if need be.  Ideally, they do so on day one before there is issue and firmly let everyone know there will be no issue.

For example, if Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stood up in front of the team the first day of training camp and told everyone this is how it is going to be, zero tolerance for discrimination, or you’re out of here, I have a feeling things would be okay in the locker room.  Same thing if John Elway, Jon Fox, and Peyton Manning did so for the Denver Broncos, and so on.  They may not be first ballet hall of famers, but all teams have their leaders, here is hoping they will do the right thing if their team drafts Sam.

Given the overall positive response to Sam, I don’t see it being nearly as long for someone else to come out.  Whether it is on Sam’s team or not, he will have company soon.   I believe this X-factor can help.

A note of caution.  While people with good intention should and will be quick to defend Sam against any sexuality-based discrimination, no one should assume it when it isn’t there or without evidence.

People who don’t know about the game will hear glowing facts like defensive player of the year,  and college All-American, and cry foul over a draft projection for Sam of being in the 3rd through 5th round.  Based on the comparables, or comparisons to similar players in terms of height, speed and ability, that sounds right.  

Keep in mind, great college players don’t always make great, or even good football players.  The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the college football’s best player, and Heisman winners are often not first or second round picks, or even make it in the NFL.

It is also possible a team thinking of drafting Sam  would be concerned about cutting him if he is not one of the best 53 players in camp.  Then a team that did the right thing by disregarding his sexual orientation by drafting him, could fear accusations of discrimination.  Obviously if there was any evidence of that it would have to be followed up.  But only if there is actual evidence to support it.

Another possibility, (although my gut tells me otherwise), that Sam could fall to a lower round beyond the 5th.  Not necessarily because of his sexuality, but because his sexuality could be viewed as a distraction.  Generally your 3rd through 5th round draft pick does not get more attention than your first round pick.  Or your entire team for that matter.  Regardless of the reason, teams generally do not like distractions like that.  Whether the cause of the distraction is sexuality, religion or whatever, unless you are an upper echelon player, some teams will turn away.

Ultimately, I think it will be a team with strong leadership that drafts him.  If I was player, I would rather go in the 6th or 7th  round, as opposed to the 4th or 5th, if it meant going to an organization like New England, the New York Giants, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or Denver, just to name some.  Draft position falling can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.

Wherever he lands, I’ll be rooting for him to succeed (with the possible exception of if he is drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, sorry, I’m a Giants fan, lol).  It took too long, but now that an openly gay player is here, hopefully he paves the way for others, not only in the NFL, but for major league baseball, and other sports as well.

 

 

 

 

 

ESPN’s PTI Gets Pass Interference Wrong

PTIYesterday, the Carolina Panthers coach of the year, Ron Rivera, suggested that the NFL competition committee should consider making a pass interference call reviewable by the referees.

On the 2/7/14 edition of the ESPN debate show, Pardon The Interruption, both hosts, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, agreed that this would slow the game down too much, take too much time, and should remain a judgment call that is not reviewable.

Their argument is flawed because Rivera does not suggest that coaches receive more challenges.  Currently a coach gets two challenges per game,  and a third if they are right on the first two.  Losing a timeout if they are wrong.   What difference does it make how they use them?  The time it takes for challenges is already factored into the game by the NFL and the fans.

If the league instituted it, or allowed it on end zone plays as an additional challenge, that could conceivably slow the game town slightly.

However, those are pretty big game turning and often-debatable plays that fans would accept the delay.   After all, what do fans complain about more: the use of replay to overturn bad calls?  Or the non-use of replay that let bad calls stand?

I have been advocating for review long before it was instituted and believe any play should be fair game for a challenge.  “If upon further review the evidence to overturn is clear and indisputable”, what difference does it make if it is a judgment call or not?

There are pass interference plays that are clearly terrible calls that should be overturned.  Plays where the receiver isn’t even touched! And the point of the system is to overturn these kinds of calls.

By yardage, pass interference is potentially the most costly call in the game.  And on more than one occasion the PTI guys have ripped the referees for making or not making this call.

Speaking of non-calls, not only should pass interference be reviewed, but a non pass interference call should be reviewable as well.  After all we’ve seen as many of these calls blown as the other way around.

Technology makes reversals so clear now that it becomes unfair to selectively review certain kinds of plays and not others.

For example, let’s say the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Dallas is on Pittsburgh’s ten-yard line and Tony Romo throws an interception that is run back for a pick six by Troy Polamalu.  But upon further review, Polamalu steps out-of-bounds on his own 38yard line.  Ultimately Pittsburgh punts and Dallas is correctly saved seven points.  Now, later in the same game, say a Dallas defensive back commits pass interference in the end zone, and it is not called.  This costs Pittsburgh seven points.

They say bad calls even out but if you allow for replay on some plays and not for others it makes it harder to do that!  By taking seven points from Pittsburgh by overturning one call, and not giving them seven by overturning another, the replay system becomes the cause of unfairness rather than the solution.  Because is this scenario, replay prevented the bad calls from evening out.

The system would still not be perfect.  Of course there would still be mistakes, but this moves the game in the right direction.  At least it should be tried experimentally.

In a playoff game this season a fumble recovered by San Francisco against Seattle was not reviewable for a reason that boggles the mind.  It was controversial and you can bet this type of play will be reviewable in the future.  Let’s not wait until an egregious, clearly overturn-able, pass interference call is made in the playoffs before we make it reviewable.

The OBVIOUS Reason To Change How The NFL Seeds Playoff Teams

NFLplayoffseed_editedWhenever I read an article about changing NFL playoff seeding, like this one, the argument is always the same.  It revolves around the unfairness of an eight and eight division winning team hosting a playoff game with a twelve and four wild card team.

Personally, I get it.  I am on the side that thinks, yes division winners should get an automatic playoff berth but NOT an automatic home game.  The seedings should be decided by record.  However, it is quite apparent that the powers that be in the NFL do not agree and are not about to change the rule.

But here is the argument I have not seen or heard made that can do the trick.  By seeding teams without regard to division or wild card status, you potentially create more meaningful games during the regular season.  For example, once a team’s playoff position is locked they may begin resting players.  So, an 8-7 team that has clinched the division can rest players on a final Sunday of the regular season, as could a 9-6 team that clinched the wild card, if their seeding were locked based on the current format.

However, if seeding were based on won/loss record and the wild card team held a tie breaker over the division winner, than both teams have something to play for in the final game of the season.

If you have this going on in both conferences, you conceivably create a lot more meaningful games down the stretch of the season. Arguably for the last two or three games of the season it becomes something for the fans, media and teams to watch.  Probably drives up ratings and revenue for games.

Now we’re talking the NFL’s language!  This is how we get the league to seriously consider changing the seeding system.

The Dallas Cowboys: From America’s Team To America’s Joke?

cowboysWhen I was growing up you either loved the Dallas Cowboys or hated them.  Either way you agreed on two things: You respected them, and loved their cheerleaders.

They had great NFC east rivalries with teams like the Washington Redskins and NY Giants, and of course the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC.  They were winners and usually were competitive.

cowboyspwallAnd then in 1989 Jerry Jones bought the team.  Jones, who can be sincerely commended for his charity foundation, has slowly transformed the Cowboy brand from one of respect and esteem to that of a car wreck where people can’t help but look.  They’ve become the subject of ridicule and border on becoming irrelevant.

After the team’s early success in the Jones’ reign, winning an impressive three Super Bowls (1993, 94 & 96) in four years, in which Jones deserves some  credit, the Cowboys have spiraled into consistent mediocrity and late season failure.

There are four key points that are the main examples of where Jones has gone wrong.

1– The disrespectful way in which he fired a legendary hall of fame coach in Tom Landry.  As an overenthusiastic new owner, Jones came riding in and summarily dismissed one of the games most respected figures.

He would later apologize for how this was handled and welcome Landry into the ring of honor (1993) but the initial damage to Jones’ credibility and Cowboy image was done.

cowboysjohnson2– The untimely dismissal of coach Jimmy Johnson.  The Cowboys had a chance to do something that had never been done before: win three Super Bowls in a row.  He had a rift with Johnson.  Apparently among other things, Jones wasn’t happy with the credit Johnson was getting for the team’s winning, and the lack of credit for himself.

The childish feud between the two ultimately didn’t look good for either. However, Jones should have found a way to make it work for one more season.  He robbed the sports world of what might have been.

So in comes easy-going, not as hard-working Barry Switzer.  After blowing the threepeat opportunity, (in a mistake filled playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers that the Cowboys didn’t have under Johnson),  the great Cowboy players lead by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, did win another Super Bowl on muscle memory the following year in 1996.

That was the beginning of the end of the team’s success.  Switzer resigned after a 6-10 season in 1997 and has never had a whiff of the NFL since.  Switzer never coached in the NFL again.

cowboysJJ3– Naming himself general manager.  As ESPN commentator/ Dallas Cowboy/ Jimmy Jones fan Skip Bayless likes to point out, Jerry Jones played the game, he is not an owner without first hand knowledge of football.  Yeah, and I took tae kwon do in college, doesn’t mean I can choreograph a $200 million Jackie Chan martial arts movie.  The Cowboys have sunken into mediocrity and haven’t had a taste of a Super Bowl since the days of Aikmen, Smith and Irving.

cowboysparcells4-Choosing Terrell Owens over Bill Parcells.  The last strong personality Jones brought to the table was head coach Bill Parcells.  The Tuna, had the Boys headed in the right direction.  He got them to the playoffs and a fluke miscue by a young Tony Romo cost them a chance at moving on.

In fairness to Jones, Parcells always seemed to have one eye on the exit door no matter where he was.  But given a choice and a chance to keep him, if it meant parting with Owens?  Jones should have done what it took to keep Parcells.

After this dalliance with a coach of credibility, track record and respect, it was on to low profile coaches that would enable Jones to be the off the field star and voice of the franchise.

While I can’t feel sorry for a man who plays football for a living and has a contract worth over 100 million for doing so, Tony Romo has paid a price for these decisions.  Romo is a very good quarterback with flashes of greatness who has not been able to capitalize on opportunities he has had for next level greatness.  (He is not “elite”, however, I put him somewhere in-between where his supporters and detractors place him.)

cowboysParcellsRomoSurely, Romo, and the Cowboys, would have benefited from the continued coaching and mentoring of Bill Parcells or someone of his gravitas and stature.  And of course the predictable Terrell Owens sideshow of distractions could have been avoided.

These four points trace back to one thing.  Jerry Jones’ ego.

Think I’m being hard on Jones?  Ask yourself this:  If Jerry Jones was just a GM, not an owner, and quit or was fired as the GM, would any other team even interview him to be their GM?  To be their GM assistant?  He would get offered another GM job around the same time Matt Millen would.

So basically, a guy who couldn’t get an interview for a job as a GM anywhere is running America’s team.

If Jerry Jones the owner and GM were two separate people, and he had the track record of the Cowboys since 1997 (one playoff win) don’t you think Jerry Jones the owner would fire or not renew the contract of Jerry Jones the GM?

No owner in the history of sports cared more about winning than George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees.  Especially in his younger days, he was hostile, arrogant, and even a tad nuts.  He fired many managers, but never because they won or got to much credit.

Steinbrenner wouldn’t hesitate to override a GM and sign someone he wanted, but was never foolish enough to not have a GM.  Losing was unacceptable but if you won you could get away with almost anything.

Jones has the money to sign one of the best and brightest minds to be GM and benefit from a sound voice.  Jones could still ultimately make decisions.

But I’m guessing now that Jones is in so deep, he won’t bring a GM in because he would get the credit for turning the team around.  It’s as if Jones doesn’t want to win if he doesn’t get the credit.  And he is holding an entire fan base hostage to his fantasy.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says it best when he characterizes the Cowboys as a dysfunctional bunch.  And when it comes to making the playoffs, Smith correctly states their recent track record is for them to find a way to break your hearts and are an accident waiting to happen.

Since “the accident”, (A Kyle Orton final drive interception leading to a loss to the Eagles in the last game of the season with the playoffs on the line), occurred this year with an injured Tony Romo unable to play (and take the blame) I’m going to start referring to that phenomenon as the curse of the Owner/GM.

Fire yourself as GM Jerry, and set your team free.  It will be good for you, good for Cowboy nation and good for football.

The NFL Gets Tomlin Situation Wrong

tomlingoodel

Taking six days to arrive at a decision over Mike Tomlin’s stepping on the field of play/interference in the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Baltimore Ravens game seemed a little long to me, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over a few extra days.  The fining of $100,000?  That is not out of line, but more on that in a moment.  The conditional losing of draft picks based on what happens and how playoff seedings are effected is where the league loses me.

Yesterday I wrote a blog disagreeing with ESPN’s Steven A. Smith on his position about the N.Y. Yankees and whether or not they should overpay Robinson Cano.  Today I am going to whole heartedly agree with him that whatever the league is going to do punishment wise, needs to be done now.

tomlinTomlin, a deserving well-respected coach, made a mistake.  One he deserves to be punished for.  But neither he, nor the Steelers deserve to have this dangle over their heads and be a story for months.  But this goes farther than that, as the league’s position is wrong on other levels as well.

Firstly, I think the taking of a draft pick is not warranted here.  Mike Tomlin acted on his own in the heat of the moment.  There is no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, of organizational misconduct.  This interference is not an example of something that the organization knew about or should have known about.  The latter being just cause to punish the team by taking a draft pick.

And the principle of making the pick or picks forfeited contingent on the ultimate effect it has on Pittsburgh’s playoff positioning is unprecedented.  If we’re going to do that why don’t we suspend players for illegal hits based on how long the opposing player they injure misses games?  And if the injured player’s team misses the playoffs why don’t we take draft picks from them?

Mike Piazza laid out after getting hit in the head by Roger Clemons

Mike Piazza laid out after getting hit in the head by Roger Clemons

Baseball can do the same.  If a pitcher beans an opposing player and he is out for the season, that pitcher is gone for the season.  Intentionally beaning someone with a deadly weapon is a far worse offense that does more to challenge the integrity of the game then stepping on the field.  (And does warrant a stiffer penalty then a free pass to first base, but I digress.)

Do you see what opening this door can do?

But if this is the direction the NFL wanted to go, taking a pick or picks depending on whether or not the four fewer points Baltimore scored affects them getting into the playoffs or their playoff position, the league should have:

A-    As Stephen A. suggests, just awarded Pittsburgh the four points and came down with a definitive punishment.

B-    Establish that if Ravens miss the playoffs because of the missing points, Pittsburgh will lose “X”, or if they get a worse seeding, they will lose “Y”.

C-    If Pittsburgh’s playoff positioning is unaffected by the incident they  lose “Z”.

At least this way, we avoid speculation and everyone knows what is what.

The intention of this fine and punishment is to reprimand Tomlin for a violation and to discourage the act from being done by anyone else again.  I get that.  So let’s look at the fine first:

A hundred K is a decent amount of cheese.  It’s real and more than the run of the mill ten to fifty thousand dollar slap on the wrist.  Okay.  But would it deter a coach from engaging in an act that he felt could help win an important game?  I don’t think so.  So the fine sounds nice, I would have been okay with a 50K fine, but it is appropriate,  however on it’s own, it doesn’t do much for me.

I do think a loss of a high draft pick will serve as deterrence, but as previously stated, I do think this punishment fits this “crime”.

The “just” punishment in this instance would have been a one game suspension.  No need to waste time on trying to figure out intent, (even though Steven A., Skip Bayless and many others think it was intentional), if a coach or any player not on the field of play interferes with a play on the field it should be a 15 yard penalty against that team and an automatic ejection from that game and one game suspension.  Period.  Done. No need for additional fines and histrionics.

Robert Horry gives Steve Nash a cheap shot, drawing Amare Stoudemire off the bench.  Stoudemire doesn't throw a punch but is suspended for a key playoff game.

Robert Horry gives Steve Nash a cheap shot, drawing Amare Stoudemire off the bench. Stoudemire doesn’t throw a punch but is suspended for a key playoff game.

This would be similar to the NBA rule having to do with players leaving the bench during an altercation.  Doesn’t matter if it is just their toe crossing the in-bounds line, if they do it, bam automatic one game suspension.

A fine is one thing, but coaches do not want to miss games.  This would be about a close as a deterrent as losing a draft pick, and a stiff loss of wage from the suspension all rolled up into one.  I doubt we would see this again.  And if it does occur again, it would take six days to come out with an incomplete disciplinary action.