Wednesday, December 31, 2008

110 Percent Hall of Fame 2008: Barry Sanders

As a Cowboys fan, I always sided with Emmitt Smith in the "Who's the greatest running back?" debate. And Emmitt provided plenty of support for my case: Super Bowl rings, MVPs, rushing titles, TD records: Emmitt had them all.

But Barry was no slouch, either. He was a Pro Bowler in each of his ten NFL seasons, and was first team All Pro six times. When he retired at thirty, he declined the opportunity to break the career rushing record that season. Emmitt set the record four years later, but Barry could have shattered it with only a few more seasons in his prime. Look at that picture again--look at those hips, that ankle. Bodies are simply not supposed to move that way. Most pictures of Barry look like bad Photoshop jobs--if it wasn't Sanders, we wouldn't believe it was real.

And let's not forget that while the NFL instituted the "Emmitt rule" to keep players from taking off their helmets on the field, Sanders quietly handed the ball to the ref after yet another score--classy.

Bottom line: Emmitt won because he had help, starting with an awesome offensive line and fellow stars at quarterback and wide receiver, not to mention a killer defense. Barry had none of these things. Any success the Lions had, including the win over Emmitt and the Cowboys in the 1991 playoffs, was due almost entirely to Barry.

In fact, that's what led to Barry's early retirement. Ten years of not getting a commitment to win from the Lions was enough--Barry walked away from it all. I was so convinced he would come back during the season, either with the Lions or another team, that I used a late round pick in my fantasy draft on him. Unfortunately for me and other NFL fans, I was wrong on that pick--Sanders never even looked back.

With Emmitt joining Sanders in retirement in 2004, the distance of time has finally allowed me to make a confession. Taking nothing away from Emmitt Smith: Barry was better.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cowboy Fan? Yea, I still am. Despite you Mr. Jones

So, you may be wondering who this is as the last time I contributed a post was... well.. I'd rather not say. But, after watching (most) of the debacle on Sunday and having a day or two to digest it, I felt the need to address a few things. I agree with Rus' comments about the team having no heart. To point it out that much more, a fan actually picketed the Cowboys facility yesterday and was accosted by Bradie James. Normally, I'd make a funny joke about how James should have had more heart on Sunday than he did against this fan. But, I don't think James is to blame for the loss on Sunday. No, it has to go to the top, and like it always does, will go no where from there.

For the past couple days, I've been thinking that the Cowboys should fire the coach, but that's not the place to start. The GM is the one who really needs to be fired. Giving a large contract to Romo before he had a full couple of seasons as a starter was either shrewd, or foolish and right now, it's looking like the latter. Trading draft picks for Roy Williams who has done nothing since (or before) was foolish (I'm censoring myself in wording). Siding with Terrell Owens rather than a multiple Super Bowl winning coach was foolish. Bringing in character guys like Pacman and giving him opportunity without having good reason on or off the field was foolish. All of these things would have led any other GM in the league to be tossed to the curb. The problem of course being that the GM and Owner share the same skin (No Jimmy Johnson "Michael Jackson" jokes please).

After the GM goes, the coach needs to go next. He's stated that he plans on changing his approach a little next season, but to me those sounded like the words he was given to say by the GM who loves having a puppet for a coach. I understand the players have to execute a plan, but three things were curious to me during the game. 1. The team did not look ready to play, as they haven't most of the year. They have started slow especially lately. That is completely inexcusable in the type of game they were in on Sunday. 2. The defense seemed completely confused whenever Westbrook would slide down to a receiver position (something the Eagles do quite frequently). I'm not saying that the coach isn't putting time in watching film. I'm not naive enough to really think that, but that should be a formation that is heavily practiced against. 3. The team has completely taken on the form of its coach with the "whatever happens, happens". While that's a nice attitude to having in life, the absolute last thing I want to hear from my quarterback after that game is: "well, if this is the worst thing to ever happen to me, I've got a pretty good life going on." But, I'll get to Tony Romo in a minute.

Offensive Coordinator... I really don't know. For the brilliance he has shown, Jason Garrett has also shown some curious decisions. Throw out the games Tony was out, because I think Jessica Simpson would be a better option than Brad Johnson at QB. Not getting Felix Jones involved more before he was hurt was a curious choice. There is some confusion whether it is Tony or Jason trying to be forced to involve certain receivers, but either way, why are big physical receivers not being used like they were last season early on? The offense has seemed awful, and a lot of that has to go to Garrett. I think he's gone if the Lions want him. I wouldn't want to be associated with this mess at this point. I don't think it's a good thing for Dallas to lose him however. Yes, he had a bad season, but there seems to be a lot of whispers that was more to do with no support from the owner or coach.

Defensive Coordinator.. Remember when the Cowboys improved their defense after Wade threw his coordinator under the bus because they had a couple really good defensive games right when everyone got healthy? How did that work out when they played the last two teams of the season?

Players. You can't fire all your players and I don't think they should. There are some very talented people on the team, but they all need to keep their mouths shut. Romo - act like you care more. Nothing inspires confidence in your on-field leader like hearing the quote from above. Also, see how Peyton Manning has extra practices with his receivers to work on timing? Maybe try that or something. Witten - Change NOTHING. There is not a coach in the league who wouldn't want Witten as their tight end. (Or maybe even QB after last week). Owens - Pipe Down. When you were holding your peace during the games Romo was out, it was refreshing. Insinuating that the world is against you just makes you look like the primadonna everyone already thinks you are. Roy Williams - Actually, I like to pretend that neither one still plays for the Cowboys. Pacman - Make a play. Any play..

So, where does that leave me. My favorite team is awful and I don't think they'll turn around anytime soon. My second favorite team finished 11-5 and is not in the playoffs while Arizona (9-7) and San Diego (8-8) are hosting first round games. I lost the two rounds of playoffs in Fantasy Football, and saw my lead disappear and then finished fourth in Pick 'em. I think I'm glad football season is over.

Now to get to work on that Larry Bird column. Sorry Chris...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No Heart

I’m writing this at half time and there is no freakin way this is turning around. If it happens, I’ll gladly eat all the crow in the world, but I just don’t believe it can happen.

I have always been a Cowboys fan. I take pride in the fact that I was a Cowboys fan when 3-13 and 1-15 was the results and Steve Peuller and Paul Palmer wore the silver and blue. In fact, I go further than that. I vaguely remember The Catch and No, Danny No!

But I’m just completely dismayed by the performance in this team this year in general and this game in particular. In just the first half, I saw all this aspects of the 12 Days of Christmas I wrote about, except 12 men on the field. Missed tackles, terrible blocking, horrendous play calling, stupid interceptions, dropped passes, dumb penalties, bad play by their best players (Terrence Newman, Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, DeMarcus Ware, Flozell Adams, Roy Williams- In fact, I’m trying to think of someone who played well so far and I can’t do it.)

The facts are the facts. This team has no heart. There are, as is said in Texas, all hat and no cattle. This team is a collection of ill fitting parts that apparently can’t play together to save their lives. With everything to play for, the Cowboys are playing like it’s a preseason game.

I can’t tell you that I’m turning in my Cowboys fan badge, but this team is just asking for the fan base to turn on them.

Added midway through the 3rd (34-3): Back in 60s before they won their first Super Bowl that they couldn't win the big one. At least those teams lost big ones in the playoffs. (Now it's 41-3)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Airing of Grieviences

Today is Festivus and with it comes the airing of grievances, because as the Festivus patriarch Frank Costanza said, "I've got a lot of problems with you people!" Because this is a sports blog (such that it is) it will only have my sports grievances. They are in no particular order, just as they come to me.

1. I'm looking at you, Dallas Cowboys, first, because you are foremost in my mind right now. Every one of you should be ashamed of yourselves for way you've performed this year. I look back on the season and see 1, maybe 2, well played games. But I swear, you have got to be the worst coached, most undisciplined, stupidest team in the history of professional sports! How can you continue to get ridiculous penalties at the worst times? Without fail, every game, there will be at least one snap that comes at the wrong count, 5 false start or offsides calls, several absolutely awful throws by Tony Romo, 2 dumb personal fouls, atrocious special teams play, a crying wide receiver, and 6 dumb looks from Wade Phillips. Has there are ever been a higher profile, less accomplished team than this one? Norm Hitzges call you the Dallas Resumes and that is exactly what you are. A bunch of resumes that have done absolutely nothing. It makes me sick watching it. This last game against the Ravens is just a case in point. Every single part of the team had a hand in that debacle. Romo throwing two of the worst thrown pics I have ever seen, just throwing it up for grabs, and would it kill the receivers to play a little defense on those plays? Two Ravens scoring drives made up mostly by Cowboys penalties. Every offensive play, there was someone coming free, and no adjustment? I know the Ravens are good on defense, but no one should get free runs at your QB every single play! I don't even want to think about those last two runs by the Ravens where there was almost no resistance, a couple of arm tackles and then nothing but space. And the special teams are a laughing stock. And somehow, through no doing of your own, you are on the precipice of the playoffs with a win in Philly on Sunday. Is there any one who has confidence in the your mental make up to win this game? I don't. Forget the mental make up. Does anyone think this coaching staff can come up with a game plan that might make a lick of sense? I don't. The blame for all this lies at the feet of Jerry Jones. This off season, Jerry, cut Terrell Owens, fire Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett and every one else on the staff, and take a dump truck full of your money and drop it in Bill Cowher's lap and give him control of the team. I know you won't do it. Your ego is too big.

2. Ok, Mavs. How stupid do you look for the most recent dumb Jason Kidd trade? Way to go Mavs! Most teams only get a chance to blow the trade of a player once. You did it twice. And what do you have for your trouble? A 35 year old point guard and a ninth place team. Awesome! You aren't even in the same zip code as the Lakers or the Spurs or the Hornets. Good bye challenging for NBA titles, hello mediocrity where you're just quite good enough to get run out of the playoffs in the first round, which is exactly what happened the last two years.

3. Stars. Are y'all even playing? I have no feelings one way or the other.

4. If I had written this a couple of weeks ago, I'd would have ranted for pages at the injustice of college football. Quite frankly, I'm ranted out on that. The bottom line is how the hell does the Oklahoma Sooners get away with losing to Texas on a neutral field and making the national championship game? Remember a few years ago when OU got plastered in the Big 12 Championship game and still made the national championship game (only to get predictably run off the field in that game)? Does OU have pictures of someone? There is something screwed up about the system and it's not gonna change because people are stupid. At the same time, Texas, you should have just stopped Tech. You had the game won and gave it away.

5. Finally, the Rangers. Why does anyone remain a fan of a team determined to hold the payroll below that of the Kansas City Royals? As Tom Hicks smugly says, "I'll be glad to expand the payroll when attendance rises." What happened in the last 10 years to make people think that anything is going to change? At least they didn't finish in last place in the division. They finished 2nd! Wow! A full 21 games out of first place! That's progress. Oh, we may sign Ben Sheets, but we're gonna have to trade Hank Blalock and his 6 million dollar salary. We could get Randy Johnson, but we are going to have to trade Vincente Padilla. Your payroll isn't going over $70 million dollars while legendary spenders like the Royals and the Pirates laugh at that total. Now I am not one of those people that think spending hundreds of millions of dollars is the way to the promised land, but Tom Hicks, you are deliberately ham stringing this team. If you can't belly up to the bar, sell the team. Hey, I think the Rangers are going in the right direction. The Rangers are generally considered to have, if not the best, then a top 2 or 3 farm systems in baseball. But no one cares about the minors. We want results in Arlington. It better happen soon or you'll really see what an empty ballpark looks like.

So, those are my sports grievances. I feel a little better. I think.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

VY vs. Collins

Chris wants me to give a home town view of Vince Young vs. Kerry Collins. Before today's games, some people from outside of Nashville seemed to think that the Titans need to go ahead and bench Collins for Young. I'll tell you right now: There is no way in hell Jeff Fisher will bench Collins unless he's hurt. He could have come out today and throw 5 pics today and they wouldn't pull Collins. Well, he might have pulled him for today, but next Sunday against the Colts and in three weeks in the playoffs it's going to be Collins, no question. Fisher just doesn't work like that. In fact, I think they should have run some plays of Vince. I mean everyone else is running the Wildcat formation. Why can't the Titans? It's because Fisher doesn't work that way. The only way Vince sees the field is injury or blowout.

I think the issues falls to two things. First, I doubt that Vince is really Fisher's kind of quarterback. I think he definitely prefers the "caretaker" QB, and that's exactly what Collins is. If anyone says that the Titans are where they are simply because of Collins is blind. They are here because of the running game, especially rookie Chris Johnson with complements from LenDale White, so-called Slash and Dash, a powerful defense, and a good kicking game. Collins has been good and for the most part has avoided throwing stupid interceptions unlike some quarterbacks I know, but he's not anything special.

The other issue is what happened during week 1. Apparently Vince quit on the team right before he hurt his knee. They had to talk him into going back out there after an interception. Do the other players want him to play? Has he used to time to get better at the things that he was struggling with, such as reading defenses and making good decisions? Of course, at the games, every idiot with a pair of binoculars watches Vince on the sideline waiting for him to yawn or look away so they can call in the talk shows and tell everybody about it.

The question is what to do with Collins and Young down the road. I'm pretty sure Collins is a free agent and will want a multiyear deal as well as a starting job. Will he be worth it? Sure, as long as you know what you're getting. He's a bus driver. He will do well for a good team, but he won't be able to take a mediocre team anywhere. About Young, the owner Bud Adams has said that the Vince is still the QB of the future. That may be Adam's thought, but is it's Fisher's? He's already won one power struggle with the Titans when he ran off former GM Floyd Reese to gain control of the team. If Fisher doesn't want Vince, I'd have to imagine he wouldn't have to take him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

College football: What could have been

Last year I presented my plan for a sixteen team playoff. (Last year's final bracket is here, including links to each week's brackets.) To summarize the sixteen teams will consist of the eleven conference champions, plus five at large teams. They will be seeded by their BCS ranking. Here's what this year's playoff would have looked like:

1) Oklahoma (Big XII)
16) Troy (Sun Belt)

8) Penn State (Big Ten)
9) Boise State (WAC)

4) Alabama (At large)
13) Virginia Tech (ACC)

5) USC (Pac-10)
12) Cincinnati (Big East)

3) Texas (At large)
14) East Carolina (Conference USA)

6) Utah (Mountain West)
11) TCU (At large)

7) Texas Tech (At large)
10) Ohio State (At large)

2) Florida (SEC)
15) Buffalo (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Oklahoma State (13)
Georgia Tech (14)
Georgia (15)
BYU (16)
Oregon (17)

I addressed issues such as season length, game sites and the fate of the lesser bowls in the initial post last year, so let's look at the benefits for this season. Like last year, this one has shaped up to be a prime candidate for a playoff. There were eight one-loss teams, plus undefeated Utah and Boise State. How can we distinguish among these teams other than a playoff? Anything less than that is a mockery of the game, full stop.

Opponents to a playoff still bring up the tired argument that it would dilute the regular season. As I said last year and as this bracket demonstrates, that is simply not true. Look at those who missed the cut. Oklahoma State is the thirteenth best team in the nation according to the BCS, but they did not make the playoff. Georgia, a near unanimous pre-season favorite, did not make the bracket. Would they say their regular season didn't matter. In fact, it is the current BCS format that de-emphasizes the regular season. Texas beat Oklahoma, but what good did it do them in December? Eight teams did as well or better than OU and Florida, but are ignored. Is this what they call "meaningful"? I respectfully disagree.

With a playoff, the best of the mid-majors gets the chance to prove they are worthy. All season, playoff opponents complain that teams like Utah and Boise State play inferior competition, and in most cases, they are right. However, this doesn't mean they aren't good teams, so give them a chance to put up or shut up on the field. You think Penn State would be happy about playing Boise State in the first round? Or Texas wouldn't be a little nervous about a second round game against Utah or TCU?

Finally, opponents of a playoff often cite the need to protect the tradition of the bowls. Tradition? Did you know that 34 bowl games will be played this year? Did you know that the traditional Peach Bowl has morphed from the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to simply the Chick-fil-A Bowl? Did you know that the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Bowl, Brut Sun Bowl, and magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl will all be played this season? And people dare to cite tradition in reference to the bowls?

It is time for common sense to prevail. Do not confuse controversial for interesting. Just because people are arguing over the BCS does not make it legitimate--that's what they are arguing over. Please, give us a college football playoff, where the winner has to prove it on the field.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The State of the Dallas Sports Scene

It's been a while for me, so I'll jump back in by evaluating the state of Dallas sports. Putting it briefly: it isn't pretty. A year and a half ago we were looking at a series of near misses. Who knew those were the good old days?

Dallas Cowboys: Dallas has underachieved this year, but the problem is not Pac-Man Jones, Jerry, Wade, or any of the other "distractions" that get all the talk. The real problem is that this team has had to deal with something this year that they have avoided for a few years now: injuries. Since they have gotten most of their players back, they have been 3-0, although against weaker competition, bringing their season record to 8-4. The real test will be the last quarter of the season against playoff-caliber opponents. As tough as that will be, it has been made even tougher with the injury to MB3, especially with Felix Jones already out. Going at least 3-1 will be tough enough against these opponents, and having to do it for at least one game with a third string running back makes it even tougher. But if the Cowboys can do that, they should make the playoffs. They have left themselves no wiggle room, but if the Cowboys can't go 3-1, they aren't good enough anyway. For Dallas, the playoffs begin today.

Dallas Mavericks: I'm getting tired of reading articles or hearing radio personalities say that nobody could have seen the Mavs falling like they have. According to this, this, this, this, this, this and this, here at 110 Percent, we are nobodies. The Mavs are as soft as ever, but at least before they were young and soft, leaving hope that they would become grizzled veterans. Now they are just getting old and soft. They talk the same game of stepping up their defense and taking the ball to the basket, but as always, it's just talk. It stings even more seeing Devin Harris blossom into the Tony Parker starter kit that we were always told he would be. As for Josh Howard, not only is he an immature nutcase who can't play four quarters, but now he is also injured. Meanwhile, Ron Artest, who the Mavs could have aquired by dropping Howard, is a strong contributor down in Houston. Sure, the Mavs are on a 9-1 run, but like the Cowboys' last few opponents, it's been done against weak competition: eight of the ten teams have records worse than Dallas. Bad sign: the Mavs only have three players averaging double digit points. Worse sign: JJ Barea, Devean George, Antoine Wright, Shawne Williams and DaSagana Diop all get significant minutes with this club, and the Mavs are trying to convince us that this is OK. I am reminded of the mid-90's when Popeye Jones, Fat Lever, Loren Meyer and Sean Rooks were all supposed to be viable players. Hello, mediocrity!

Dallas Stars: Such high hopes. The Stars ended last season in the Western Conference Finals, but they haven't been able to carry that over to this season, instead fighting to stay out of the bottom spot for the entire league. Things went from bad to worse with the Sean Avery Incident, who likely has played his last game in Dallas. Tom Hicks has always been kinder to his hockey team than his baseball club, but I don't think he's going to enjoy buying out Avery's four year contract. Oh, well, at least everyone in the lockerroom will like each other as they miss the playoffs this year.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers have so far been inactive in the trade and free agent market, and I'm OK with that. Wheeling and dealing has not been this team's strongsuit. Imagine if the Braintrust had left well enough alone: we could have Edinson Volquez, John Danks and Chris Young at the top of the rotation. Hopefully, the Rangers will stick to their new plan of drafting smart, developing their own and making smart decisions. Who knows, in a couple years, the Rangers may be the most competitive team in Dallas.