Wednesday, December 26, 2007


**The following is not text of an actual letter being sent to the loser senator. I'm too lazy to buy a stamp.**

December 26, 2007

U.S. Senator John Kerry
304 Russell Bldg.
Third Floor
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Kerry

First off, belated thanks to you on running your 2004 presidential campaign incompetently enough as to ensure four more years of That Guy. Next time, why not get caught with a prostitute in the middle of the primaries so someone else can get a shot?

Anyway, that's not the point of my letter today. Senator, I wanted to congratulate you on winning your political game with the NFL office, mainly Commissioner Roger Goodell, whom you have successfully persuaded to make an NFL Network game available on regular television.

You spoke loudly about the need for everyone Patriots fans to see the game. It is a noble cause, as the Patriots are taking a shot at an unprecedented 16-0 regular season. And since only 40 percent of American homes get the NFL Network, it would be tough for all those homebound New England fans to catch their team's shot at history.

However, I have a couple questions, and only one of them is sarcastic in nature.

1. Where were you when the NFL Network's game actually mattered and meant something? Let's face facts. If New England wins this game, but loses a playoff game, they aren't remembered for going 16-0. They're remembered for not getting it done in the playoffs, despite being a transcendently good team. If New England loses this game and goes on to win the Super Bowl, they are remembered as being one of the greatest teams to ever take to an NFL field, even if they are "only" 18-1 instead of 19-0.

This game is meaningless on the standings. The Giants and Patriots have both clinched their playoff seeds, and it could be argued that the only way this game isn't a walkover for New England is if the Giants don't bench starters like Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress, who are valuable but banged-up. And if they don't bench those starters, it could be argued that they're not doing something that is obviously in their best interest, since they're hitting the road for a playoff game next week.

On November 29, the Packers played at Dallas. Both teams entered the game 10-1, and the game was going to put one of them in the driver's seat for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Not only that, but it was a matchup of two of the NFL's great traditional franchises, with fans planted all over the country. Somehow, Senator Kerry, you didn't have a problem with that game being on the NFL Network, where upwards of 60 percent of America couldn't see it in their homes, even Packer fans in your home state of Massachusetts, who probably had to hunt out a Packer-friendly bar somewhere.

Way to care about your constituents, Senator.

2. What about these poor fans of 48 Hours - Mystery, High Crimes, and Law and Order: SVU? You've just taken their shows away on Saturday, all in the name of your political game. I hope you're proud.

And what about those fans of My Chemical Romance? They've been waiting all week to see their performance on Saturday Night Live, and now the show won't be on time because the football game will surely run past 11:30pm Eastern time.

Poor people. More pawns in John Kerry's latest political game.

(Guess which one was sarcastic. If you can't figure it out - and I'm guessing that, as a relatively humorless U.S. Senator, you can't - it's the second one.)

I'm all for access to football games. But in an era where the NFL has allowed DirecTV to have a stranglehold over satellite distribution of out-of-market games (for a price that exceeds $1 per game), it's rather silly for Kerry or any other politician to get all in a fuss over a game like this.

10.1 million people found a way to watch Cowboys-Packers. If they really cared, they'd do it again for Giants-Patriots. The NFL doesn't need to play favorites with the Patriots and cave in to political heat in order to increase access. If anything, they've hurt the marketability of their own channel, and perhaps doomed it for failure. After all, if anything of potential historic significance is ever again relegated to the NFL Network, the league knows that they've set a rather awkward precedent with this Saturday's game.

Oh, wait. I forgot to sign the letter. Thanks for your time, Senator.

Now go away.

Bruce Ciskie
Sports fan who actually made an effort to get the NFL Network

Friday, December 21, 2007


Merry Christmas.

Last week: 12-4
Season: 147-81

Home team in CAPS
Pittsburgh over ST. LOUIS (yes, really, duh)
Dallas over CAROLINA
Cleveland over CINCINNATI
Green Bay over CHICAGO
DETROIT over Kansas City
NEW ENGLAND over Miami
BUFFALO over N.Y. Giants
NEW ORLEANS over Philadelphia
MINNESOTA over Washington
ARIZONA over Atlanta
SEATTLE over Baltimore
TENNESSEE over N.Y. Jets
Tampa Bay over SAN FRANCISCO
SAN DIEGO over Denver

I hope you're all safe and that you enjoy the holiday to its fullest. I'll be back if I get a few spare moments and anything big happens over the weekend, otherwise you probably won't see anything new here until Wednesday.


I've allowed the news of Kyle Okposo quitting the Gophers to turn pro to absorb the last 48 hours or so. There have been a few posts about it on the internet, many of the good ones linked by our friend Chris Dilks.

This is possibly the first time that I have ever had to so openly and loudly defend the University of Minnesota. I'm sorry. I'm not proud of it, but some things just have to be done out of the interest of fairness.

Let me lay out a few key points.

Don Lucia is not perfect. He's a super coach, but not everyone is going to connect with him and work well in his system. Yes, he's won 500 games in 21 seasons, but the Gophers and the way they play aren't a great fit for every player. Maybe Kyle Okposo was one of them. We'll probably never know for sure, since he quit before his career even reached the halfway mark.

For every Okposo or Erik Johnson who seem unhappy with Lucia, there are countless guys who have improved, grown, and prospered as Gophers, and then moved on, either in or out of hockey. The idea that this guy can't coach is laughable, and the idea that he can't develop pro-caliber talent is simply preposterous. However, there will be some - mainly common, everyday Lucia detractors and Islander fans - who believe this is all at the feet of the Gophers' head coach.

It comes back to the common perception of the Gopher program as being arrogant. If you think Lucia and the Gophers are highly arrogant, you're more likely to believe that this is his problem and isn't the fault of the Islanders or Okposo. Otherwise, you probably find fault in the behavior of the Islanders and Okposo in this situation.

No matter who you choose to blame here, Lucia is not beyond fault. No coach can connect with everyone, and it's clear that Lucia and Okposo, for whatever reason, were not on the same page. Neither were Lucia and Garth Snow.

Kyle Okposo quit. In my world, when someone faces adversity, and they choose to walk away, they're quitting. It's not like Don Lucia asked the kid to move to defenseman. He asked one of his best players to help out at a position they were short at. Would I want a player of Kyle Okposo's type playing center? No, but Don Lucia knows just a smidge more about hockey than I do, and I trust his judgment.

If you are Kyle Okposo, and you know Mike Carman is coming back in January, this doesn't seem like a tough call. You stay in school. Work out the problems that you had in the first half (6-5-11, -9). Mature as a person and a player, and impress your coaches and teammates with your work ethic and leadership.

This is, of course, assuming that Okposo was most upset about being a natural winger playing center. We don't know that for certain. It's just speculation. He could have simply been upset with the team's overall lack of offensive production or his own personal subpar play. No matter what, Okposo faced some challenges, and chose to walk the other direction and avoid them.

Or you can quit. When the going gets tough, run away and hide. Forget the 20-some other guys with you. Just quit. They won't mind.

Sorry, Kyle, but if you think life sucks now, just wait until you struggle for four or five games, and Ted Nolan makes you watch the next three or four from a comfy seat in the press box. Unfortunately, you can't just move to the Rangers whenever convenient. You're going to have to suck it up and earn back your spot in the lineup, just like everyone else who eventually gets benched.

Garth Snow, I have one question. Who the hell do you think you are? Were these comments courtesy of Scotty Bowman, I might understand. But Garth Snow?
"Quite frankly, we weren't happy with the program there," Snow said in a telephone interview. "They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that."

Asked for specifics, Snow said, "[Okposo] just wasn't getting better -- bottom line. And to me, that's the frustrating part. We entrusted the coach there to turn him into a better hockey player, and it wasn't happening. We feel more comfortable in him developing right under our watch.

"It's well-known in hockey circles that the situation for college players is to develop and get better," Snow said. "And quite frankly, it's a big responsibility for a college coach -- a program -- to handle these kids.

"Whether it was Kyle or another player, until things change in that program we'd probably make the same decision. There should be a coach there that looks in the mirror."
Don Lucia has won over...ah, I already mentioned that. You get the point.

Garth Snow has won...a supersecret lottery to become the Islanders' GM? Enough games to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs last year? Enough games to hold off Washington and avoid being the worst team in the East this year? Congrats, Garth. Great work in the front office so far. I especially liked how you gave up so much for a late-season rental of Ryan Smyth last year, then watched with horror as he signed with Colorado. Oops.

Lucia wins games. He sends players to the NHL. He graduates kids and sends them off to professional careers outside of sports. He runs a clean program. The Dinkytown incident might show that he needs to handle disciplinary issues better, but there are probably a few dozen, if not over 100, NCAA coaches who could use improvement in that area.

I get sick of hearing people criticize college coaches for not making kids "better" or "more ready for the NHL". That's not their job. The NHL is an afterthought for close to 100% of college hockey players. They'll probably never make it, and they have to come to grips with that and just work on being part of a team and trying to win. College coaches aren't paid to send kids to the NHL, AHL, ECHL, or any other pro league. They're paid to win games and graduate kids. If you are nothing but an abject failure in either area, you're probably not long for the job you have. No college coach has ever been fired because his program "didn't do a good enough job getting players ready for the NHL".

If Snow didn't like the way Okposo was developing, why was Okposo told to go back to college? The Gophers haven't really changed much about how they're using him, as Okposo was moved to center last year. It failed then, too, so it shouldn't have come as a horrible shock that it would fail now. And there was at least a puncher's chance that Okposo would get better once Carman came back. Lucia isn't going to dramatically alter his systems to accommodate Kyle Okposo, and no one should expect him to. Same for Ted Nolan with the Islanders. At some point, Okposo has to adjust to fit a system, because this hockey world won't revolve around one guy who hasn't proven himself.

Basically, Garth Snow needs to shut up. You pulled a bush-league stunt, using a loophole in the rules that should be closed, preferably by like yesterday, and you don't like getting any backlash for it. Lucia's comment (that the "Islanders put him (Okposo) in a difficult position") was well-measured and tame compared to what he could have said (things I won't recite on this site).

What is the impact on college hockey? I just don't know. I'd like to say "virtually none", because the population of guys who will pull something like this (either from Okposo's or Snow's perspective) is pretty low, as is the described behavior. However, it exists, and that's a problem.

I'm not in favor of stipulations that would force college players to stay 2-3 years before signing with NHL organizations. I have no problem with the one-and-done players (i.e. Phil Kessel), because most of them are guys their college coaches knew would be gone within a season or two. Okposo was one of those types of players, a guy Lucia probably thought he'd only have for one year.

However, when a college season starts, those players have to be untouchable for pro programs. You're going to get guys like Tyler Hirsch or Mitch Ryan or Nigel Williams who just don't think they are in a good situation or can't behave themselves enough to stay on the team. Mid-season departures will happen, but a guy like Kyle Okposo shouldn't be in line for a seven-figure reward for quitting his team and reneging on his commitment to the University of Minnesota. If you want to go play juniors, fine. But the pros should be off-limits until your college team's season is over.

Outside of this rule change perhaps becoming a bit more urgent to prevent NHL organizations from thinking that they can take advantage of the loophole, I don't see a long-term impact. The Gophers will either fall apart without perhaps their most talented offensive player, or they'll come together and rally around each other, using slogans like "We can win with the guys who want to be here".

Oh, and Kyle Okposo might just surpass Todd Bertuzzi has the most despised NHL player among fans in Minnesota. I'm guessing he won't draw many cheers if he's in the lineup for the Islanders February 9 in St. Paul.

Meantime, if you have a player on your team who has an "NYI" listed by his name on the roster (signifying that his draft rights are owned by the Islanders), look out behind you. If you don't cater to that kid's every need and want as a player, Snow could very well take him away from you. After all, the world revolves around the New York Islanders and how they want their players developed, dammit. Do what they say, do it now, and do it better than anyone else. The Islanders have a high standard for player development, as evidenced by all the homegrown superstars on their NHL roster today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Christmas schedule. Posting will be practically non-existent from Friday through Tuesday, as we go into full Christmas mode around here. In typical "radio people" fashion, we're doing our Christmas party on January 11*, naturally on a date that I can't attend.

(* - This isn't a slam on the company I work for at all. Radio people are perpetually late, to the point where I have tricked myself I have to be at a 7:00pm hockey game by 4:45pm.)

I allowed myself to get roped into this Secret Santa deal. When I get something from someone, I'm probably supposed to guess who got it for me. I'm not going to have any idea. Why do we do this? I mean, there's probably a 65% chance I'll get something related to the Packers or UMD. Odds might even be higher than that for all I know. The normal line you get is that "we all need to get to know each other", but does anyone really do that? No. Instead, we just assume that since the girl in the sales cubicle down the aisle really likes dogs, we should get her something related to dogs. What if she doesn't want anything related to dogs? Then we just look stupid.

And why am I ranting about Secret Santa?

Mitchell Report fallout. First off, I'm one of those people who believes that if you've been caught in this report, you should just be a man and come clean.

See, even if Mitchell says you did steroids in 1994, it's not like you didn't think there was something wrong with doing steroids. After all, they were banned everywhere, including society. Odds are that you knew this and knew you were simply taking advantage of spineless, clueless leadership in baseball.

But for you to deny taking steroids at this point is kind of childish. Stupid, too.

With that said, what might be even worse than denying it altogether is trying to make me believe that all these guys just took stuff once. That's it. Just that one time to recover from an injury, or out of whatever reason, but only once! Or maybe you just took HGH because you were hurt all the time.

Seriously, do you think I just fell off the proverbial turnip truck?

Do you think the cop believes you when you told him you've never driven drunk or sped before?

Do you think the boss believes you when you told him you've never snuck in the back door ten minutes late before?

I suppose your spouse believes you when you say that you've never made out with the gardener before?

Stop. Just stop. If your answer is "Well, I only did it once, and if I offended anyone, I apologize", then just don't bother, because I don't want to hear it anymore. It's been five days, and I'm already sick of it.

Congrats on the stupidity, NFL. The Pro Bowl system is so broken that words don't even describe it. The rosters have been announced, and it's probably a good thing no one watches the game, because this is ridiculous. As expected, the 12-2 Cowboys put a lot of guys on the NFC team. But 11 is a bit much, especially considering that the other 12-2 NFC team, Green Bay, has four.

Hilariously, Green Bay's best defensive player, Nick Barnett, isn't going. Neither is their best defensive back, Charles Woodson. Instead, the Packer defense sends the deserving Aaron Kampman and the not-so-much Al Harris. Apparently, the majority of the Pro Bowl voters don't get the NFL Network, because they didn't see Harris have a horrifically bad night against Terrell Owens and the Cowboys a few weeks back.

On the other side of the ball, Brett Favre and Donald Driver are going, as they should be. Where the hell is Mark Tauscher? Am I the only one that noticed Scott Wells having a great year in the middle of that offensive line?

Meanwhile, the 8-6 Vikings have seven players on the NFC roster. Seven?


(Side note: Congrats to the voters on their posthumous voting of Sean Taylor as an NFC starter. That was a super gesture, and hopefully leads to a ceremony in Hawai'i honoring his memory one last time.)


(Including starting NFC safety Darren Sharper, who might be having his worst season as a pro. Seriously? I mean, you're better off with Atari Bigby.)

I mean, who are you people kidding? Even when you factor the 30% or so of the selected players that won't bother to play, opening up holes for alternates, this is beyond a joke.

On the other hand, it underscores what the Packers have been selling us, and each other, all season long about this being a team and not a group carried by outstanding individuals. I'll take 12-2, a bye week, and four Pro Bowlers any day over 8-6, fighting for the playoffs, and seven Pro Bowlers.


Friday, December 14, 2007


Clemens finally called out. Obviously, George Mitchell did his homework. Well, actually there are some who don't think he did.
"Roger (Clemens) has been repeatedly tested for these substances and he has never tested positive," Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement. "There has never been one shred of tangible evidence that he ever used these substances and yet he is being slandered today."
Well, Rusty (can I call you Rusty?), if it's slander, I would fully expect that a lawsuit is forthcoming, correct?

I won't hold my breath.

Mitchell's conclusions, well-documented all over the media and blogosphere, are pretty simple.

1. Baseball has a serious problem
2. The commissioner's office and players' union stuck their heads in the sand and ignored warning signs.
3. If the game is ever going to be cleaned up, it has to start now, and it will take cooperation to make it happen.

I hate to oversimplify, but this is pretty much what those 400-plus pages were all about. The naming of names was a necessary step, but it does nothing more than to add a soap-opera quality to this story. People wanted to hear names, and people wanted to know who was (allegedly) involved.

I'm not here to convict Roger Clemens. Not Andy Pettitte, either. For that matter, I'm not trying to throw F.P. Santangelo under the bus.

I just want to be able to watch baseball without wondering if the guy on the mound, the guy at the plate, or the guy selling hot dogs is on steroids. Probably an idealist thing at this point, but I'm still hopeful.

Overall, the Mitchell Report can only be a jumping-off point. From here, Senator Mitchell can do nothing. It's now up to Bud Selig and Donald Fehr. And even though it was 12 years ago, these are the guys who are reponsible for the cancellation of a World Series. Let's not forget that. If you trust them, you're a better and more trustworthy soul than I.

Don't fret. Barry has still never failed a drug test. This seems to me to be a bit of an issue when it comes to the legitimacy of tests.
Barry Bonds and his supporters often pointed to the fact that the home run king never flunked a drug test administered by Major League Baseball. The Mitchell Report suggests why: it appears Bonds received advanced warning of two tests in 2003. According to the report, Bonds was tested for steroid use on May 28 and June 4, 2003 as part of MLB's first attempt at formal detection. The report cites a San Francisco Chronicle report that it had obtained a tape recording of Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson boasting he received advanced notice of the testing. Anderson purportedly said on the recording that he was told the 2003 testing would occur in late May or early June. "Therefore," the report said, "if the report of this conversation is accurate Anderson correctly predicted the dates of testing, at least for his client Barry Bonds."
For starters, it's obviously easier to somehow circumvent the testing system if you know when you are going to be tested.

Of course, had Bonds tested positive, he wouldn't have been suspended in 2003. Not only that, but he continues to insist that he didn't know those things were steroids.

Yeah, right, Barry. And I didn't know that Twinkies were bad for me, either.

Oh, yeah. Football. Some picks for you.

Last week: 11-5 Season: 135-77

Home team in CAPS
Denver over HOUSTON (gotta be honest)
SAN FRANCISCO over Cincinnati
Buffalo over CLEVELAND
Tennessee over KANSAS CITY
Green Bay over ST. LOUIS
MIAMI over Baltimore
NEW ENGLAND over N.Y. Jets
NEW ORLEANS over Arizona
PITTSBURGH over Jacksonville
TAMPA BAY over Atlanta
CAROLINA over Seattle
Indianapolis over OAKLAND
DALLAS over Philadelphia
SAN DIEGO over Detroit
Washington over N.Y. GIANTS
MINNESOTA over Chicago

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Petrino to Arkansas. There is no defending the snake-like behavior of former Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino. The guy has a history of going back on his word, and he has a history of trying to leverage employers for raises by threatening to work elsewhere. This is the third contract that Petrino has signed in less than 18 months, and there's no reason to think that Arkansas will be his last stop as he scorches his way across the country.

ESPN's Pat Forde probably summed it up most effectively:

The disingenuous drifter doesn't love you or any other fan base. He doesn't love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account.

That's it. Don't expect it to change.

Bobby Petrino will return your embrace, Hog fans. But while he's hugging you he'll be looking over your shoulder, scanning the terrain for his next hook-up.

Even in a profession rife with dishonest posturing, Petrino is singularly mercenary. Loyalty, allegiance, commitment and honesty are foreign concepts to him. It must be a sad existence.

Ouch. This smacks of a human being who doesn't care about anything but himself. He likes to talk about doing what's best for his family, but his family can't possibly like the public image he's carved out for himself, and his family can't possibly like moving this much.

Trust me. I've moved before. It sucks.

There's nothing illegal about being selfish and phony. Politicians have made careers out of this kind of behavior, and it no longer surprises anyone when the lies and deception become public.

Not all football coaches are like this. Some of them actually keep their promises. Some of them actually mean it when they talk about how wonderful a place is and how much they like it there. Some of them actually mean it when they say that a particular position is their "dream job". Others are serious when they talk about not wanting to move away from the home they've made.

Bobby Petrino isn't the only coach who doesn't have these values. He's the latest, and he's one of the most notorious. If you're an Arkansas football fan, you can expect a lot of on-field success, probably not a lot of off-field issues, and plenty of rumors about where your coach is going to go next. Along with those rumors will come the occasional contract extension and raise at Arkansas. They mean everything in the world to Petrino, until it's time to leverage for more.

Mitchell report due. Thursday is a big day for baseball, as former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's report on steroid use in the game is going to be released.

It's to be expected that we'll get leaks over the next 12-15 hours before the actual release of the report (2pm ET Thursday). The first of those leaks is rather innocent, as it appears Mitchell will blame both baseball and the union for the drug issues in the game.

Mitchell's report is also expected to call for the testing system to be turned over to an independent company, and he will also say he believes baseball needs to test more frequently and make the system more transparent.

This report is the culmination of a 20-month investigation into drug use in baseball by Mitchell, who was given free reign by commissioner Bud Selig to conduct this investigation. Selig will not appear at Mitchell's news conference Thursday, instead holding his own news conference a couple hours after Mitchell. The union will follow with a news conference of their own closer to dinner hour.

Reports are that Mitchell will name close to 80 current and former players, but he will also state his investigation was hampered by an overall lack of cooperation. So what will he reveal? How rampant a problem is this? How much worse is the reality versus what Mitchell will present? Will Selig and the union do enough about the problem to satisfy the American public?

80 names is a lot, even if you add in a few former players who wouldn't surprise you all that much. But is the sports world prepared to see names of guys we would never suspect?

It just gets worse for the Knicks. No one is shocked that this team sucks. That was expected after all these years of letting Isiah Thomas make the basketball decisions.

However, what is truly shocking is how messed-up owner James Dolan apparently wants to let this franchise get before he pulls the plug on Thomas' disastrous reign as coach and personnel hatchet-wielder.

The whole sexual harassment mess was bad enough, but now Thomas has developed a warped viewpoint about this current team, and who is to blame for the putrid on-court product being displayed at Madison Square Garden.

Following the boo-infested defeat, which dropped the Knicks (6-14) a season-low eight games below .500, Mara Altschuler, who said she is a longtime season-ticket holder, rushed to the press table to complain that Thomas had lectured the fans behind the bench for not being more supportive.

According to Altschuler, Thomas said, "We're missing layups because you're booing." Altschuler, who worked 16 years for CBS News, said Thomas turned to make his stream of remarks in the third and fourth quarters, directing it to the first couple of rows.

I swear that I'm not making this up. This is too rich for me to make up.

Stop booing this group of multi-millionaires. You're making them upset, and you're making them play badly.

Before you ask, that 104-59 loss to the Celtics was played in Boston. Maybe the Knicks were upset because the Celtics fans were laughing so hard.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Two weeks away. Are you ready? Didn't think so. My advice is to start getting ready. It will be here before you know it.

By the way, the name of the "winter holiday" is "Christmas". I have nothing but respect for all religions, and I'm not here to start a holy argument. That's not what we're about here.

But this one drives me nuts. The name of the day is "Christmas". Even if you aren't a practicing Christian, December 25 is Christmas. The calendar says so. Similarly, Hanukkah shows up on my calendar, even though I don't celebrate it. If you choose to celebrate Hanukkah, then I wish you a happy Hanukkah. If you choose to celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry Christmas.

This isn't difficult. Call the day what it is. It's not meant to offend anyone, and it's not meant to alienate anyone. As much as I hate to say something like this, if my observance of Christmas offends you, I wish I had your life. In my life, I don't have the time or ability to worry about insignificant bullcrap like that.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. No matter what you celebrate, may the next three or so weeks be nothing but joyous for you and your family.

Now to step off my soapbox...

Miles to Michigan??? This won't go away, as Some Guy noted on FanHouse December 1, until Michigan introduces Somebody Not Named Les Miles as their new football coach. And since Michigan hasn't done that yet, it isn't going away.

Turns out Les Miles talked to Michigan last week. Now, Miles says he's just being a good alum and trying to help M's feeble coaching search. But the fact that there is still communication leaves open the chance that I'll get my wish, and Miles will take the job after OMG SIGNING THAT EXTENSION.

So who Not Named Les Miles is there? Schiano's out. Ferentz doesn't appear to be a serious candidate. Has Michigan somehow overvalued a job at one of the great traditions in college sports? Will they be stuck with the overly unattractive Mike DeBord? Why can't they get a great candidate? Are they better off with a top I-AA (er, FCS) coach or highly-regarded I-A (er, FBS) assistant?

Frankly, I think the high-priced, high-profile move is overrated. The Wolverines have a great program, but they could get by very well doing what Ohio State did. It's very much about getting the right guy and making a good fit for the program, instead of just throwing some money at a guy like Les Miles who might not be as good a coach as his LSU teams sometimes make him look.

(Please note that my wish for Miles to take the Michigan job has nothing to do with what's best for Michigan. It's all about the comedy.)

Quick hockey note. NHL goal number two for Matt Niskanen last night in Dallas. The former Bulldog scored from the blue line in the first period, and he added two assists for a career-high three points in the game. Niskanen now has 11 points (2-9) and a plus-five in 31 games for the Stars.

He's playing great for Dallas, and it's high time that he get some time on the power play more consistently. Put him with Sergei Zubov on the point, and you'll really start to see what he can do offensively. Oh, and he got his ride "pimped" last week, too.

Way to go, Marty Turco. Nicely done. Follow the link above to get to more pictures (bigger, too) of the work that was done.

Rik Jordan heard about Niskanen getting a pie in the face on his 21st birthday last week, and he noted that it's a sign of how well Matt's been received in the locker room. I couldn't agree more. They must like him, and they must respect him, because they're treating him as one of their own.

It's something that doesn't always happen with a rookie.

Monday, December 10, 2007


No, this has nothing to do with Michael Vick.

Nothing at all. I promise.

It's also not meant to be venomous in any way. The NFL's officials work their tails off, and unless they screw up monumentally (or are Ed Hochuli), they are anonymous on the NFL landscape.

NFL coaches also work hard. They log insane, inhumane hours in the name of game-planning and preparation (well, ego, too). They work in the face of constant pressure, both from a vulturous media and rabid fan bases. They're on-camera more than they should be, bringing unnecessary visibility to an already-difficult job.

So this isn't about making them seem inadequate or unqualified.

I'll start with the officials. We've been left now to deal with some realities with regard to the officiating in the NFL.
  • There is little to no consistency. What is "illegal contact" in one game is "good defense" in another. Actually, what is "illegal contact" in the first quarter can be "good defense" by the third if you get the right crew.
  • Replay will never be a perfect system. As long as you force coaches to risk timeouts to challenge obviously bad calls, and limit them to only two challenges per game, the system is fundamentally imperfect. But when you allow officials to have obviously differing standards on reviews, you're not going to get far, either. A good example of this is the "catch" for a "touchdown" by New England's Jabar Gaffney last Monday night. If that was a catch, then why wasn't Marcus Pollard's play for the Lions in 2005 ruled a catch?
  • The NFL is very selective about when they admit their mistakes. The pass interference call on Green Bay's Tramon Williams in the Dallas game, a game-changing call, was said to be a good call by officiating overlord Mike Periera. It wasn't. The intentional contact made by Williams on the play was completely inconsequential, as the receiver didn't break stride. Only when the players' legs tangled did the receiver fall, and that contact was incidental. If that's pass interference, then why aren't all 32 teams throwing 45-yard bombs on every down? The chance of a penalty makes it worth a shot.
  • They're not going to get any better. We always hear about how great the officials are, and if the past three or four years are any indication, improvement is not on the horizon. As long as the NFL is so outwardly satisfied, why bother?
Coaching is a whole different deal. As noted genius Peter King pointed out today:
Since 2000, by my count, NFL teams have hired seven big-money geniuses (average salary per year: $4.3 million) to take their teams to the promised land.

The Magnificent Seven: Nick Saban (Miami), Steve Spurrier (Washington), Dick Vermeil (Kansas City), Dennis Green (Arizona), Bill Parcells (Dallas), Joe Gibbs (Washington) and Bobby Petrino (Atlanta). They have coached a combined 21 years with those teams. Playoff appearances in those 21 years: 4. (It's mathematically possible to be five this year, if the 6-7 Redskins run the table and get some help.)

Playoff wins in those 21 years: 1. Championship Game appearances: 0. Super Bowl appearances: 0. Gibbs won the playoff game with Washington, 17-10 over Tampa Bay in January 2006. Parcells made the playoffs in two of his four Dallas seasons. Vermeil had the other playoff season, a one-and-done job in 2003 with the Chiefs. One playoff win by the geniuses in 21 years.

Wow. That's a lot of money for a lot of nothing in return. And it's not out of the ordinary. Consistent success is hard to find anywhere in the NFL, and at least part of that falls on the coaches. It makes what Tony Dungy (Indianapolis), Bill Belichick (New England), and their respective staffs have done all the more impressive.

It also makes it all the more maddening. In a league full of guys who obsess over preparation, there are still two teams doing it better than anyone.


After six years of Brady and a decade of Manning, isn't there enough film on those guys yet? What are those coaches doing with their players that others don't do?

These are things I don't understand, but shame on the NFL for continuing to talk up the greatness of its chess-master coaches, but forgetting that there are two teams doing it better than anyone. By a lot.


It's odd, sad, and rather strange to think about the fact that we're already halfway through the college hockey season for some teams.

(Well, one.)

UMD is the only team in the WCHA to have already played half their scheduled conference games, hitting that mark with Saturday's 5-3 loss to Alaska-Anchorage. The loss leaves UMD under .500 in league play (5-6-3) for the first time this season, and leaves them 0-2-2 in their last four, which were all against lower-division league foes (UAA and Minnesota State).

Seems like an awfully nasty way to end the first half, and I'm sure it doesn't leave a happy taste in the mouths of the UMD players or coaches (fans, too, I suppose). However, it's hard to argue that it was a failure of a first half in WCHA play. UMD beat some really good teams (Denver, North Dakota, and Michigan Tech), took care of business against two non-conference opponents, and found out that they can succeed with quality defensive play and sound goaltending.

The weaknesses at this point are probably consistency and scoring punch. The Bulldogs have struggled to play strong hockey for 60 minutes, but who doesn't have problems with that? They've also not found a single go-to offensive line or goal-scorer. The former can be a problem when the latter is also an issue, if that makes any sense. As long as UMD has problems scoring goals in bunches, they're going to have to avoid getting out-worked and out-muscled.

The second-half schedule is somewhat favorable, though it's not at all favorable to have avoided Minnesota and Wisconsin to this point. Both teams figure to improve greatly in the second half, and playing four against the Gophers and two in Madison will prove difficult. The good news is that UMD's other toughest series are all likely at home. The Bulldogs host Colorado College and North Dakota late in the season, along with a home date with Minnesota State and a trip to Michigan Tech. If UMD can finish their last eight league home games with 10 of a possible 16 points, home-ice is likely a reality for them, despite the struggles of the last two weeks.

The reason UMD still has a decent shot at home ice is that the league is down from a goal-scoring standpoint. Goaltenders are better, and the fact that UMD lacks that go-to offensive threat will not be as big a problem in a season like this.

Right now, you can fairly (and maybe accurately) state that there are two really good teams in the WCHA: Denver and Colorado College. North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin should probably be better than they are, but they are all led by experienced coaches who will get them playing better by February. Then there's a group of five other teams, the five teams left in the league, who are all capable of claiming a home-ice spot if they play strong defensive hockey and take advantage of opportunities. Excluding UMD, of the teams in this group (all of whom I've seen), I firmly believe that Minnesota State is a legitimate threat. The key for them will be to get more production out of their third and fourth lines. Guys like Jon Kalinski, Mick Berge, and Trevor Bruess can't be asked to do it all.

Alaska-Anchorage's schedule is insanely difficult - not because of who they play, but because they won't have a bye week after January 4-5. Not only that, but they alternate between home and road every weekend, making for a very taxing travel schedule. Road trips for UAA are tough enough, but there are no layups in the WCHA, and the Seawolves need to be able to bounce back from the long trips in order to claim as many home points as possible.

(Sidebar: UAA is 0-3-1 in WCHA play at home so far. I'm sure this will change, because it's such a break from the norm for them.)

St. Cloud State is going to have too many struggles scoring goals, and while I like Jase Weslosky, he's no Bobby Goepfert. Michigan Tech just hasn't scored enough goals, either, and without Casey Pierro-Zabotel, they aren't likely to become a juggernaut.

In Division III, St. Scholastica is trying to turn things around after a rough NCHA start. They've claimed five points out of a possible eight the last two weekends, and they've got a good shot to pick up a huge win over UWS Friday night in Superior. The Yellowjackets are mimicking WCHA teams with their scoring prowess, netting all of 19 goals in their last ten games. Give UWS credit, because they've actually managed to go 4-3-3, staying over .500 despite averaging 1.9 goals per game. However, for any long-term success in the NCHA, Dan Stauber has to find a way to get his team to score more goals.

Our local high school season is also underway. Early on, Duluth East and Cloquet/Esko/Carlton are off to their normal hot-and-cold starts. Mike Randolph and Dave Esse will have them playing well in February and March. Among Class A teams, Duluth Marshall and Duluth Denfeld have the look of state contenders at this early stage. They're in different sections now, and Denfeld has already beaten Hermantown, the local team most likely to rival the Hunters for the Section 5A title. Superior had two games called off by bad weather, and they've only played once (a 2-0 win at section rival New Richmond Saturday). The Spartans appear poised for another trip to the Wisconsin State Tournament out of Section 1.


Working on what will be a large week of stuff here.

It's the least I can do.

Stay tuned. I'm taking my son to play in the snow first.