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I was at a public gathering one evening and I needed to find out the score of a game. So I used a phone.

Only, I didn’t bring up the Internet and go to ESPN.com or the like; I placed a call. And it wasn’t my phone.

No, not to my bookie. I never made enough dough to have a bookie.

I called SportsPhone.

We’re talking circa the mid-to-late 1980s.

Anyone reading this under the age of 40 may not know of what I speak. It may as well be written in hieroglyphics to those folks.

Wherever there was a public phone (remember those?), there was SportsPhone. We’re talking the days before everyone had a “mobile device.”

SportsPhone was a lovely invention. Not lovely enough to not be made extinct by the advances of technology, but in that regard SportsPhone is hardly alone.

Oh, how I miss those days.

There was excitement, there was drama. I’m not talking about the games themselves; I mean in terms of just waiting for the score.

SportsPhone worked like this: you dialed into a number (1-976-1313) and on the other end you were greeted by the (fresh) recording of a fast-paced, breathless voice of someone like Dave LewAllen or Rich Kincaide, who would blast through the scores of all the major sports matches of the night. Some brief mentions of top stories were thrown in as well.

The recordings were updated every 10 or 15 minutes, so you were getting almost all partial scores unless you called past 11 o’clock at night, in which case everything was pretty much final—unless the Tigers, Pistons or Red Wings were playing on the Left Coast.

Sounds archaic, doesn’t it?

Well, of course it was! But that’s all we had in 1985.

The Tigers didn’t air 162 games a year back then, even with the birth of the pay-to-watch Pro-Am Sports System (PASS) on cable.

The Pistons had plenty of games not televised, as did the Red Wings.

So with no Internet to run to, what else was a shaggy young man to do if he wanted to know how is team was faring?

Dial 1-976-1313, that’s what.

Now, using public pay phones meant you needed one of two things: lots of loose change, or a calling card.

I can see the 30-year-olds’ heads spinning at the mention of a calling card.

It was actually very simple. Before AT&T there was something called Ameritech. And before Ameritech there was something called Michigan Bell. And Ameritech and Michigan Bell had calling cards.

The calling card was a sort of credit card for phone calls. The calls were billed to your home phone bill. You dialed the number you wanted from a pay phone and then, when prompted, you’d punch in your calling card number in lieu of depositing coins.

I knew my calling card number by heart. In fact I was probably the fastest calling card puncher in the midwest.

You had to be fast, if you wanted to get the score in rapid fashion, so you could rejoin your party without appearing to be too rude.

I called SportsPhone from all sorts of places and events: wedding receptions (including when I was the Best Man), social gatherings, business meetings and even dates.

One of the first things I would do whenever I entered an establishment was ascertain where the pay phone was. I’d mark the spot mentally, because you never knew when you might have to make a quick dash to call Dave LewAllen to see how the Red Wings were doing in Chicago.

This was when establishments had pay phones.

The voices on SportsPhone all sounded so rushed and urgent and I liked that. It added to the drama. Every time, LewAllen et al sounded as if they were giving their reports amid gunfire from a war zone. They couldn’t mince words or waste any time.

At the end of every call, they’d tell you when the next update was forthcoming. Mostly it was 10 or 15 minutes, although on some especially frantic nights, SportsPhone would update in seven or eight minute increments.

I think I got hooked on SportsPhone during the first Tommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard fight, in September 1981.

I was a college freshman and if the fight was on closed circuit TV, I had no idea where it was being shown. And even if I did, I certainly didn’t have the cash for admission.

So I called SportsPhone that night. A lot.

Even from my dorm room, I could get a feel for the excitement and drama of that fight as it happened, because I was dialing SportsPhone every couple of rounds or so.

My heart sank when, on one call, I got the word that Hearns had been knocked through the ropes in the late rounds. Another phone call confirmed it: Sugar Ray had won by technical knockout.

Times had changed by 1989, when I did have the dough to pay to see Hearns-Leonard II on closed circuit TV. I wished I hadn’t; Hearns was jobbed in the decision, which was a draw.

I saw Hearns last December and I told him that he got rooked, which probably made me the millionth person to tell him that.

He laughed and told me that even Sugar Ray admits that Tommy won that fight.

But despite witnessing the second fight on television as it occurred, somehow it still doesn’t measure up to that September night in 1981, when as a freshman at EMU I “followed” the bout from my dorm room through several frantic phone calls.

For some who lived through the 1980s, the most famous phone number is 867-5309.

Pfft!

Gimme 1-976-1313. Now THAT’s a phone number!

Dec
11

A True Miss America

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Today’s Miss Americas serve their term and then they’re never heard from again. Or so it seems.

There’s no prerequisite, of course, that the winner of arguably the most famous beauty contest of all time needs to stay in the limelight when she hands the crown over to her successor.

But there was a time when Miss America was often the springboard to bigger and better (or, at least, more profitable) things.

Mary Ann Mobley was one of those Miss Americas who stuck around in our consciousness long after she sashayed down the runway.

Mobley, 77, passed away the other day after a battle with breast cancer.

She was the first Mississippian to win the legendary contest, and she parlayed that distinction into a pretty decent stage and film career as an actress.

Like so many other women of her era, Mobley was able to star opposite Elvis Presley on screen, and like her brethren, she out-acted him.

Mobley had a smile that went from ear-to-ear and her dark beauty was a stark contrast to the blond, lighter handsomeness of Gary Collins, an actor and game show host (and fellow Mississippian) who she married in 1967.

Mobley captured the Miss America crown in 1959 and six years later she was a winner again—this time with a New Star of the Year Golden Globe.

But despite all her credits on stage and screen (big and small), it was in charitable causes where Mary Ann Mobley was a true Miss America.

She served on several councils and contributed to many charities and her work was exemplified by the naming of a pediatric wing after her, at a hospital in her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.

Mobley and Collins formed one of television’s most well-known couples, particularly in the 1980s. For many years they were both in our living rooms in some way, shape or fashion, with Mobley doing turns on shows like “Falcon’s Crest” and Collins chatting up folks on talk shows and helping them win money on game shows.

Mobley was the first woman to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.

But Mobley’s sweet-as-pie good looks and her Mississippian, southern belle demeanor shouldn’t have fooled you, because she was also a very competent filmmaker.

You heard me.

For years, Mobley documented the “young victims of war and starvation in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan,” according to a release from Warner Brothers.

That probably doesn’t sound like the Mary Ann Mobley with whom you’re familiar.

The Chairman of Miss America, Sam Haskell, sang Mobley’s praises after word of her death reached him.

“She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh! I shall miss her!”

Mobley once spoke of her ever active life, when she was knee-deep in acting, fundraisers and volunteer work.

I’m home about two days a month, and on those I have to pack.”

 

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The last two Michigan football coaches were defined by who they weren’t, not by who they were.

Rich Rodriguez wasn’t a Michigan Man, and he wasn’t Les Miles. He also wasn’t the school’s first choice. The fans and alumni felt that their university settled.

Brady Hoke wasn’t Jim Harbaugh, and he also wasn’t Michigan’s first choice.

The next coach runs the risk of also not being Harbaugh.

There was a time when Michigan didn’t have to search outside of campus to find a football coach.

Gary Moeller was promoted from within after Bo Schembechler retired after the 1989 season. When Moeller had a notorious, drunken flare up at a Southfield restaurant in 1995, Lloyd Carr got the job, and Carr was another assistant coach who was head coach-ready.

Carr retired in 2008 and Michigan has been wandering in the wilderness ever since, save an 11-2 season and a bowl win in Hoke’s first year (2011).

First, let’s get something straight. All major football programs have gone through this sort of thing.

You think Alabama has always been a big deal after Bear Bryant left? Oklahoma, after Barry Switzer? Nebraska, after Tom Osborne? Notre Dame, after Lou Holtz?

Show me a quote-unquote storied college football program and I will show you an era where that program fell out of relevance.

Michigan fans should know very well of Notre Dame’s dark days, having played them every September for about 35 years.

Remember when they made “Oust Faust” signs in South Bend?

The Fighting Irish elevated Gerry Faust from high school and made him the football coach at Notre Dame in 1981. It was dubbed The Great Experiment. And it failed, miserably.

Faust was indeed ousted after five seasons (actually, he resigned under pressure). Then Notre Dame hired Holtz.

Holtz presided over a rebirth of college football at Notre Dame, but after Lou left in 1996, the program went wandering again.

Program after program has lost its way.

Harbaugh, the darling of the fans in Ann Arbor, has as part of his appeal the rejuvenation of Stanford football on his resume.

Stanford, once so strong on the gridiron, had fallen into doormat status in the Pac-12 before Harbaugh arrived and, working with quarterback Andrew Luck, put the Big Red “S” back into prominence.

Alabama was wandering before Nick Saban put away his mercurial ways and became the Crimson Tide’s savior.

Michigan, in fact, has gone through this before, in the 1960s. The football program was an also-ran in the Big Ten before a guy from Ohio named Schembechler arrived on campus.

Every college football program has lost its way. The key is to keep the hemorrhaging to a minimum.

The danger of Michigan football and its supporters putting all their eggs in the Jim Harbaugh basket should be obvious.

What happens if you don’t get Jim Harbaugh?

It could be “Here we go again,” i.e. introducing a new football coach who isn’t someone else.

Anyone other than Harbaugh could be perceived as being sloppy seconds.

And guess what? Michigan isn’t getting Jim Harbaugh.

On the surface, when rumors of Hoke’s dismissal began as early as in October, it appeared as if the timing was right with Michigan getting Harbaugh, the embattled San Francisco 49ers coach and former Wolverines quarterback under Schembechler in the mid-1980s. It looked like, at first blush, that Michigan was poised to lure Harbaugh back home.

Harbaugh was perceived to be a short-timer in San Francisco, and the Michigan job was going to be open. It didn’t take a mathematician to figure it out.

But the timing wasn’t right, after all. Harbaugh, by all accounts, has gotten college football out of his system. He’s a pro football lifer now. Not even the lure of Ann Arbor can change that.

If Michigan fans were being honest with themselves, they’d have faced the fact that once a football coach leaves college and has some success at the pro level, he usually doesn’t go back to school. He becomes an NFL journeyman and then ends up in a TV studio as a talking head.

Only those coaches who flop in the pros, return to college. Usually.

But lust is often blind.

Harbaugh won’t be Michigan’s coach. I don’t have any insider information to support this, but I don’t think any is needed to come to this conclusion.

Harbaugh has spurned his alma mater, but Michigan shouldn’t take it personally. Jim’s an NFL guy now, and who can blame him?

The Super Bowl is football’s grandest prize, and the chase for it can be intoxicating. The money is crazy good if you’re considered an elite coach. And if you wear out your welcome with one franchise, there will always be another ready to hire you. Then when the coaching jobs dry up, you put on a suit and blab into a microphone. That pays pretty good, too.

In college, Harbaugh would have to sit in living rooms again, talking to kids and their parents, begging and pleading with them to attend a school that he knows in his heart shouldn’t need any selling. At Michigan, he’d be working with a president who knows nothing about big time college athletics and a rookie athletic director.

There was a window of time, a few weeks ago, when I thought that if any college program could lure Harbaugh out of the professional ranks, it would be Michigan’s.

I have amended that to say that if Michigan can’t lure Harbaugh from the pros, no program can. And no program will.

Coaching in the NFL is the ultimate job for someone as competitive and as fiery as Jim Harbaugh. No college experience can replicate it. Not even Michigan.

So now what?

So many folks who support Michigan football have set their sights on Harbaugh, that anyone else will be, at least initially, considered a secondary choice. Even Carr publicly stated his desire for Harbaugh.

The new coach has the unenviable task of not being Jim Harbaugh and having to win right away. The win-now mandate is there because Michigan is going on too many years of wandering to continue to do so for very much longer.

The new guy will be the third straight hire at Michigan who will be regarded as not being Miles or Harbaugh. That’s not a clean slate and that’s not a good start.

But winning will end all that. Hence needing to win right away.

I have no more idea who will be the next coach at Michigan than you do. But I do know it won’t be Jim Harbaugh.

But Michigan faithful, take heart.

No one knew who Bo Schembechler was in 1969.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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Dec
04

Alco-Haul

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My bar-hopping days are long gone, so maybe I know not of what I type.

So call me naive, but do we need bars to be open until 4 a.m.?

A hurried-through bill by the Michigan State Legislature would allow some bars to stay open until 4 in the morning on weekends.

According to the bill’s sponsors, it’s a matter of competition.

Senator Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), the bill’s sponsor, says the measure is needed so Detroit can compete with other big cities, like New York.

Come again?

We are going after the lush crowd? Tourists will decide their destination based on bars being open further into the wee hours?

Another legislator said that the bill merely gives businesses that serve alcohol the option to stay open later.

“Who are we to tell bars how late they can stay open?” was the quote.

OK.

That seems to be a shocking display of being short-sighted. I mean, we aretalking about alcohol consumption here. There figures to be some degree of consequence to this bill, one would think.

As you would imagine, the law enforcement folks aren’t crazy about this, for multiple reasons. One is that the 4 a.m. thing just happens to coincide with when police staffing is thin. Another is that those stumbling out of bars and taking to the roads will now start to overlap with the people who leave early for work.

Ah, but there is a financial component to the bill. Money talks, as you know. Usually.

The bill lets bars and restaurants that pay a $10,000 annual fee sell alcoholic drinks until 4 a.m. Eighty-five percent of the money would go to local police, 10 percent to the state Liquor Control Commission and 5 percent to the communities where the permit is issued.

But even though the police are the beneficiaries of the extra cash, they are down on the bill.

What does that tell you?

Why stop at 4 a.m., by the way?

Some bars open as early as 7 a.m., which is a whole other blog post. So those establishments could close at at four and re-open three hours later. Seems kind of silly.

The bill passed in the Senate, 22-14. It now moves to the House.

Supporters like Smith say that the extended hours would help put illegal “blind pigs,” which are open past 2 a.m., out of business.

Not so sure about that. Seems to me that blind pig patrons will stay blind pig patrons, for the most part.

Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, lauds the bill because it will help certain businesses, like taxis.

That reasoning should be filed under the “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” category.

In other words, with this bill, we hope the taxi business booms, driving home the soused.

Nothing from Gatzaros about how he proposes to get the drunks to call a taxi to begin with. Gobs of alcohol isn’t exactly a precursor to common sense and wise decisions.

But hey, who is the state to tell bars how late they can serve booze?

It’s not like it’s a public safety issue or anything.

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Dec
01

After Just 17 Games, Van Gundy Seems at a Loss

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Welcome to the world of Pistons basketball, Stan Van Gundy.

Giving the coach all the personnel power in the world can’t save this bunch from itself.

Van Gundy is 17 games into his reign as Pistons czar and already he has that look and demeanor of his recent coaching predecessors.

Heavy sighs, long pauses before answers and a tight mouth punctuated his press conference after Sunday’s 104-93 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Someone asked if the lineup he used for the game was the one he would use for the next game.

“Look, when you’re 3-14, you’re never happy with the lineup,” the Prez/coach said.

Van Gundy already has the look. He’s already imploring his players to “fight” during games. He has the body language on the sidelines of a man trapped in a phone booth.

Too bad he can’t change into Superman.

The Pistons are chewing up another coach, but this time from the inside out.

Van Gundy has fallen on the sword for his players several times in the first 17 games. He’s pointed the finger at himself for everything from the team’s lack of energy (maybe he worked them too hard in training camp) to not making good substitutions (there’s been more than one instance of bemoaning taking a player out and/or leaving him in) to being unable to find the right quintet that can actually deposit the basketball into the hoop.

The Pistons can’t shoot—and that includes free throws. They allow far too many layups. Nobody knows what to do or where to go on offense. They can’t even win at home anymore. They are, again, running a lengthy fourth place in a four-team town when it comes to relevance and fan interest.

I didn’t think it would go this badly for SVG out of the gate. I didn’t see 3-14 coming. I doubt Van Gundy did, either.

But it’s here, and it’s not likely to get better until it gets worse.

The Pistons have lost for so long that they literally don’t know how to win. With them, it’s not just a catch phrase. They actually do not know how to win.

Van Gundy is in a world of hurt with this roster.

He wants badly to play an inside/outside game but nobody can shoot from the outside, and the inside guys keep getting in each other’s way.

Nobody can make a stinking free throw. Their prized player, Andre Drummond, practically starts every game with two fouls.

Nobody trusts each other. Why should they? No one has really won anything, anywhere in the NBA.

The coach has had success, but he’s had much better players, too.

Van Gundy has to coach heads more than x’s and o’s. He has to burrow himself inside the addled brains of his players and somehow convince them that his way is the right way and that they can win if they stick to it.

Right now, no player (save Caron Butler, who’s played for SVG in the past) really believes in Van Gundy, and that’s not his fault. They wouldn’t believe in Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, either; they’re too full of losing to think that there’s any way that can work in Detroit.

The players might talk a good game and put on a brave face, but the fact is that there isn’t a dude on the roster who’s truly experienced any sustained success in the NBA. All they know is losing, and that’s why the Pistons might stay in games after 36 minutes but collapse sometime in the fourth quarter.

Van Gundy surely knows all this. He didn’t sign with the Pistons after falling off a turnip truck.

But it’s one thing to know what the problem is and quite another to be able to fix it.

Pat Riley won 15 games one year with the Miami Heat, just two years removed from a championship. And that team had Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal.

Riley is a Hall of Fame coach, but sometimes you just don’t have the rest of the players.

Van Gundy, I believe, knew that the Pistons had some issues when he took the President/coach jobs, but I don’t think he expected this, right out of the gate.

The Pistons are on track to win about 15 games—just like Pat Riley’s 2007-08 Miami Heat.

The talent would seem to indicate that 15 wins are ridiculously low for a roster of the Pistons’ caliber, but as usual with this team, it’s not as much about talent as it is about getting everyone to trust and believe and know where to go on the court.

Van Gundy hasn’t come close to figuring that out yet, and he would be the first to admit it. In fact, he already has—several times.

The prez/coach has been pretty good at not tweaking his players publicly, with the exception of Cartier Martin and Gigi Datome for their often-injured ways. But other than that, SVG is careful not to throw his players under the proverbial bus.

That’s fine, for now. But sooner or later you know Van Gundy is going to lose his patience and someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. It’s one thing to pick on scrubs like Martin and Datome.

The one saving grace SVG has is that he is likely to outlast his players in Detroit, and you haven’t really been able to say that about a Pistons coach since Chuck Daly. With the power of president, Van Gundy can freely wheel and deal. He can cut and waive and bench players with impunity.

The greatest challenge Stan Van Gundy has now is to convince his players not to pack it in for the next 65 games. And staring down the barrel of 3-14 isn’t making that task any easier.

After the Golden State game, Van Gundy was asked by the Detroit News’ Vinnie Goodwill about the “FIGHT!” remark during the game.

Van Gundy gave a long pause and looked down before commenting. For a moment, it appeared that he didn’t really want to answer the question—almost as if he was hoping nobody had heard him yell the word to begin with.

“Yeah, I thought at that point we fought harder,” he finally said.

“But,” he added with exasperation, “by that time the hole was too deep.”

Too little, too late.

That’s been the Pistons’ epitaph since 2008.

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Chris Spielman sat in front of his locker and fumed.

It was a potentially explosive moment. The Lions had just been demolished, 45-0, at the hands of the Washington Redskins. It was the opening week of the 1991 season and the Lions had traveled to the Nation’s Capital to take on the ‘Skins without Barry Sanders, who sat out the game due to injury.

The Lions were never in the game.

In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Washington was driving yet again and moved the football inside the Lions’ five-yard-line. Less than a minute remained on the clock.

But instead of running another play, Washington QB Mark Rypien took a knee—a mercy knee—and the clock drained.

Rypien and the Redskins didn’t want to pile onto the Lions’ misery.

Yet that didn’t sit well with Spielman, the Lions’ fiercely competitive middle linebacker.

After the game, Spielman did a slow burn in front of reporters. He didn’t like the mercy knee, not at all.

On the field in those final seconds, Spielman screamed at the Redskins, imploring them to continue to play football. Spielman sensed that Washington coach Joe Gibbs was calling off the hogs and that wasn’t in the MLB’s DNA.

“I’ve never had any team take mercy on my team on the football field,” Spielman said after the game, his soft and low voice belying his anger and embarrassment.

Spielman, beloved in Detroit, made the locals forgive and forget that he played at Ohio State. He was Honolulu Blue collar.

The Lions season started and ended in Washington in 1991, because four months after the 45-0 blowout, the Lions met the Redskins for the NFC Championship.

Washington won again, 41-10. No mercy knees were taken.

Chris Spielman’s indignation at the Redskins not playing football until the final gun in 1991 contrasts sharply with the attitude of Dominic Raiola, the irascible center of today’s Lions.

Raiola admitted that he put a cheap shot on the New England Patriots Sunday on the game’s final knee down.

The reason for Raiola’s ire was the Pats scoring a touchdown late in the game, with the score already 27-9 in favor of New England.

So Raiola, who has a history of taking matters into his own hands, leveled a cheap shot. He dove at the knees of nose tackle Zach Moore at the game’s final snap.

“I cut him. We took a knee, so I cut the nose [tackle],” Raiola shamelessly explained after the game. “They went for six [a touchdown]. They went for a touchdown at two minutes. They could have took three knees and the game could have been over. It’s football. He wants to keep playing football, let’s play football. Not a big deal. It’s football.”

Compare Raiola’s reaction to that of Chris Spielman, who was enraged because the opponent did take a knee.

I get Raiola’s frustration. He’s in his 14th season and only once has his team made the playoffs. But he’s also part of the reason why the Lions have been mostly losers since Raiola was drafted out of Nebraska in 2001.

Raiola’s past has included giving the finger to fans, arguing with band members and other punk-like moves, of which Sunday’s was another.

You ever notice how the boorish, loudmouth boobs who do a lot of yapping usually play for losing teams?

Me thinks that Dominic Raiola protests too much.

This is the NFL, not Little League. A 35-year-old pro football veteran ought to be able to take a late touchdown that makes the score 34-9.

It wasn’t like the Patriots were trying to pile on; the Lions actually gave New England new life on the drive in question.

Moments before the touchdown, the Pats were content to kick a field goal—actually, someone should check with Raiola to make sure that was OK—but the Lions were flagged for a personal foul for slapping the helmet of the snapper.

New life, new set of downs inside the five-yard-line.

The Patriots would have looked foolish to take three knees—that’s how many they would have needed to take in order to drain the clock—that close to the goal line.

It would have looked totally ridiculous; a complete mercy job. Both teams would have been the subject of ridicule.

What were the Patriots to do?

They already kicked their field goal. But the Lions had committed yet another bonehead play to give New England a fresh set of downs.

The difference between Chris Spielman’s indignation and that of Dominic Raiola is so telling.

Spielman respected the game of football and he showed it by his actions on and off the field.

Raiola, for whatever reason, sees himself as the chief of the competition police.

The Lions weren’t champions when Spielman played in Detroit, but they made the playoffs four out of five years between 1991-95, including the last three in a row.

Raiola’s Lions haven’t done diddlysquat. Yet Raiola seems to put his cleat in his mouth time and again.

The players who yell the loudest are usually the ones who play for losing organizations. Must be an inferiority complex.

Late last week, Lions safety James Ihedigbo spouted off, saying that Patriots QB Tom Brady should be scared of the Lions defense.

As soon as I read Ihedigbo’s words, I knew they would come back to bite the Lions in the you-know-where.

“Man, look at the names, and guys we’ve got on this team. You should be intimidated by the people we’ve got on this team,” Ihedigbo said Wednesday. “We got (Ndamukong) Suh; we got guys that are beasts in this league, not even just on this team. So why should we take a backseat to anybody? Why should we?”

The Lions didn’t just take a backseat on Sunday in New England—they found themselves riding in the trunk.

These next five weeks will go a long way to determining whether Lions fans will hop on the Jim Caldwell train, for real.

I wrote a few weeks ago about discipline and how Caldwell has seemed to instill it in the Lions since taking over for Jim “Handshake” Schwartz.

But two losses later, things are starting to look like they’re fraying.

Caldwell isn’t just trying to shake off a two-game losing streak here; he’s coaching against history. He’s coaching against a mindset. He’s coaching against whatever is the opposite of a mystique.

The Lions need to win a football game right quick. Maybe the short turnaround before the Thanksgiving Day game is just what the doctor ordered.

Sometimes coaches like short weeks. Their players get to put the last game out of their minds quickly. There is no time for feeling down in the dumps.

This isn’t just about making the playoffs. Wins and losses are crucial, but these next five weeks are also about seeing how the Lions handle success, something they have failed at miserably in the past. It’s about whether they truly have bought into Caldwell’s preaching, or if it’s all just a bunch of hooey yet again.

What Dominic Raiola did on Sunday and his shameless admission about it afterward, doesn’t help matters.

Now, there is off-the-field distraction nonsense to deal with when the Lions are fighting for their playoff lives.

Again.

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Nov
20

Cos and Effect

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In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.

Thirty years later, he’s toxic to an entire industry.

It was in ’84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.

Cosby was 46 years old and though he’d been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had “Fat Albert” and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.

The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no “Good Times” scenario.

The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn’t in poverty wasn’t new (witness “The Jeffersons”), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids—lots of kids. George and “Weesie” Jefferson’s TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel—but he wasn’t emphasized.

So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.

It worked.

“The Cosby Show” ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.

I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his “Bill Cosby Show” of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.

I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, “Bill Cosby: Himself” at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.

I have history with Bill Cosby.

It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby’s comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.

But he is.

As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.

A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.

TV Land has pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” indefinitely.

Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn’t even want Cosby’s likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.

This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.

Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby’s defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a “Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me” story.

In America you are innocent until proven guilty.

That’s in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.

Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.

There often isn’t a “smoking gun” when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It’s classic “he said/she said” stuff, except that in this case, it’s pretty much all “she said.”

Cosby’s radio silence is ear piercing.

All we’ve gotten from the Cosby people is that they’re not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.

That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you’re the Cosby camp.

Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?

The answer is probably the latter.

Personally, I feel victimized as well—though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.

I’m in that other boat of victims—the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby’s comedy attached to our childhood hips.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?

Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.

Fine.

You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.

But emotions and memories and gut feelings don’t ride technicalities.

I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That’s our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.

The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.

If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it’s Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.

If Cosby did these despicable things, we’ve all been victimized. We’ve all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.

But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.

Let’s not forget that.

Categories : crime, Entertainment
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Nov
17

Pistons Can Play in Timbuktu as Long as They Win

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It’s the refrain of the real estate professional.

Location, location, location!

It’s true. You can take the same 1200 square foot ranch house, lift it from its current lot and plunk it down in another, and the property value will go up or down based on the neighborhood and other location-related factors.

The home itself is officially the thing that is being appraised, but everyone knows that where that home is located largely determines what price a prospective buyer is expected to pay.

Rochelle Riley, columnist for the Free Press and self-admitted non-basketball fan, recently joined the latest mini-consortium of folks who are calling for the Pistons to move downtown.

“We left at halftime because it was too hard to stay,” Riley wrote of a recent trip to the Palace with a girlfriend to watch the Pistons play. “The parking lot wasn’t full. The highway was clear. It took less than an hour to drive back. It just wasn’t the same.”

It wasn’t the same—she compared it to going to a game in 2004—because the team hasn’t won in years.

You want the Pistons to move downtown?

They tried that—remember?

In 1960, the Pistons started playing in a shiny new, circular-shaped arena at the riverfront called Cobo. The arena was an extension of Cobo Hall, which was built for conventions and other big events.

The team was three years removed from moving to Detroit from Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Pistons shared Olympia Stadium with the Red Wings in those days—and the experience was often less than desirable.

The floor would get slippery from the condensation that formed due to the basketball court being placed on top of the ice surface. The seats near the court—the supposed “good” seats—gave the patrons cold feet, literally.

The Red Wings were the primary tenants, and they weren’t about to constantly melt and re-freeze the ice to accommodate the new basketball team. So the court was plunked on top of the ice with minimal wooden planking in between.

On top of that, the Pistons were losers in the 1960s. Attendance was always going to be a challenge because basketball was—and still is—running fourth place in a four-team race for market share in Detroit, behind the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings.

Even the drafting of Hall of Famers Dave Bing (1966) and Bob Lanier (1970) couldn’t lift attendance at Cobo into five figures for a night on anything more than rare occasions, even when the Pistons won 52 games in 1973-74.

Owner Bill Davidson finally pulled up the stakes and moved the Pistons north in 1978, starting with the Silverdome in Pontiac and, 10 years later, the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The Pistons have been in the northern burgs for 36 years—15 years longer than they spent playing downtown. That’s about 60 percent of their 57 years since moving from Fort Wayne.

The Pistons are in a conundrum, and they partly have their arena to blame.

The Palace continues to be one of the NBA’s crown jewels—still a state-of-the-art facility that was built ahead of its time, with some suites positioned at mezzanine level instead of in the nose bleed part of the arena, as was the norm for so many hockey and basketball arenas built in the 1970s and beyond. It simply isn’t old and decrepit and in need of replacing, as is Joe Louis Arena.

The Palace is a great venue but now that the Pistons are losing again, suddenly it’s in the wrong part of town?

In pro sports, the real estate mantra doesn’t apply.

It’s not about location—it’s about winning.

If the Palace was where Cobo Arena is, and the Pistons were losing like they are now, attendance would still be a challenge, despite the arena’s amenities.

Conversely, if you put the Pistons in a dump like JLA and the team is winning, the arena could be in Kalkaska and the attendance would be OK.

Fans will drive a bit to see a winner. The Pistons have proved that—twice.

They proved it in the late-1980s and they proved it again for most of the 2000s. The common denominator? Winning, championship-caliber basketball.

The Pistons simply don’t have, and never will have, the kind of following in Metro Detroit that their three brethren enjoy; i.e. the ability to draw fans even when the team isn’t all that.

The Pistons rely on winning for their attendance figures to remain aloft, more than any pro team in Detroit. It’s been that way since 1957 and that will never change.

Detroit has never been a pro basketball town. The major colleges draw very well, but the pro game is still the redheaded stepchild of Detroit sports.

Pistons owner Tom Gores has been pretty diplomatic when the subject of the Pistons moving downtown crops up, even when broached by heavy hitters like Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Gores knows he has a gem in the Palace. He has backed up that adoration by pumping millions of dollars of improvements into the arena, including a monstrous new scoreboard, aiming to enhance the basketball attendance experience.

So when the question arises of the team moving back downtown, Gores has deftly demurred. He doesn’t want to hurt feelings, but he also wants folks to know that, for now, the Pistons are happy to play at the Palace, some 45 minutes north of downtown Detroit.

The question isn’t whether the Pistons should move downtown. It’s, when will they be good again?

The quality of the team has always driven Pistons attendance, not the location of the arena.

Been there, done that.

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Nov
04

Keep On Truckin’

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Why does the ice cream man have the market cornered on driving trucks around the neighborhood, selling his wares?

Think about his clientele—six-year-olds, who aren’t exactly loaded. How much disposable income does a first grader have?

This may seem like a strange time to bring this up, because we’re hardly in ice cream truck season, but I say this is the perfect time to discuss this.

With ice cream no longer a viable purchase option at your curb, why not consider other items that a grown up would run out of his/her house to snatch up?

Liquor, for one.

Can you imagine if there was a liquor truck that cruised the neighborhoods? The driver would make a mint. Adults would be lined up down the street as far as the eye could see.

The possibilities are endless.

How nice would it be if you could purchase an apple pie from a truck in front of your home? Or a dozen doughnuts?

The items for sale wouldn’t have to be limited to food stuffs.

I’d have killed at times to be able to buy batteries off a truck. I would have been forever grateful if a Tylenol truck drove by, ringing its bell.

I wonder why ice cream became the item of choice when it came to retail trucks rolling down a neighborhood street.

The ice cream truck was one of the few American creations that never really spawned any offshoots.

Despite the popularity of selling ice cream from a truck, catering to grade school kids who don’t have any money, no entrepreneur ever considered marketing toward adults (who actually have cash) with items that don’t even need to be frozen.

I think an enterprising person could make a killing driving around residential areas the day before Valentines Day, selling greeting cards, chocolate and flowers. Or even a birthday card truck, because birthdays happen every day, and every day people forget to buy a card.

Following behind could be a postage stamp truck.

Categories : economy, Enotes, society
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Bruce Bochy gets paid a lot of money to manage the San Francisco Giants, and sometimes the best way to earn that kind of dough is to sit in the dugout, shut up and don’t screw things up.

Especially come October.

This one’s for every skipper who’s tried to fix things that weren’t broken; for every manager whose over-thinking and over-tinkering has put his club behind the 8 ball.

This one’s for using pitch counts as a compass instead of listening to the gut. This one’s for managing for tomorrow, even when there  is no such thing.

The Giants are world champs for the third time in five years, and you can argue that the 2014 title was won because Bochy made the best non-move in recent World Series history.

Bochy sat on his hands instead of calling down to the bullpen in Game 7, when Madison Bumgarner was mowing down the Kansas City Royals for five innings.

Bumgarner was pulling a Koufax, and Bochy knew it. So the Giants manager went with it.

The last time a left-handed starter pitched on two days’ rest in Game 7 of the World Series—on the road—was when Sandy Koufax took the mound in Minnesota in 1965.

The home team won the first six games of the ’65 World Series. Dodgers manager Walter Alston knew that in order to break that trend, he would have to rely on his ace—who also happened to be the ace of all of baseball at the time—on two days’ rest.

Alston knew it might come down to this.

The Jewish Koufax sat out Game 1 because it conflicted with his observance of Yom Kippur. That screwed Alston’s rotation up, if he wanted to get Sandy three starts. Barring a rainout, it didn’t take a genius to know that in order for Koufax to start three times, the last of those starts would have to be Game 7 on short rest.

Alston could have gone with Don Drysdale, who was 1a to Koufax, in Game 7. Big D started Game 1, and a Game 7 start would have been on Drysdale’s regular three days’ rest.

But Drysdale had been hammered by the heavy-hitting Twins in Minnesota in Game 1, giving up six runs in the second inning.

The performance spawned one of the greatest lines in baseball history.

Drysdale looked at his manager after the brutal outing and, referencing Koufax’s absence due to Yom Kippur, the big right-hander said to Alston, “I bet you wish I was Jewish too.”

Alston didn’t know what he would get from Koufax in Game 7, but if the lefty faltered, Alston still had Drysdale available in relief.

But the Dodgers’ bullpen remained quiet all game, as Koufax—relying almost strictly on fastballs from his painful, arthritic left arm after his curve ball abandoned him early—shut the Twins out on three hits as the Dodgers won, 2-0 and captured the ring.

In Kansas City on Wednesday night, the Giants’ Bochy proved that you don’t have to show how smart you are in terms of the quantity of moves you make—just the quality.

Everyone knew that Bumgarner, who won Games 1 and 5 in impressive fashion, was a ready and willing option for Game 7 in relief, if it came to that.

It did.

The Royals blew the Giants out in Game 6 and from the Kansas City perspective, it was a classic case of “be careful of what you wish for.”

The Royals forced a Game 7 but they also unleashed Bumgarner for the third time in the series.

The question going into Game 7 wasn’t if Bochy would summon the southpaw Bumgarner, but when. The Giants manager had a weapon of mass destruction and he wasn’t about to let it go unused when there was no baseball until spring, 2015.

The entry came in the fifth inning.

Bumgarner, with his long stringy hair swinging past the neck of his 6’4″ frame, loped in from the bullpen and Kauffman Stadium became the center of town in an old Western flick, at that moment when the bad guy arrives.

The Royals had no answer and no chance.

Bumgarner burned through the Royals like a teenager through his allowance.

Bochy looked on and he wasn’t about to screw this one up. This wasn’t just a game, it was history.

Bochy admitted later that he stayed as far away from his ace as possible, so the pitcher couldn’t even inadvertently tell his manager that he was feeling tired.

“I wasn’t about to take (Bumgarner) out,” Bochy told the press afterward.

In the ninth inning, Bumgarner pulled a Koufax in another manner: he eschewed his breaking stuff and poured one fastball after the other past the Royals hitters.

He also figured out that in doing so, he didn’t even have to throw a strike.

In baseball parlance, it’s called “climbing the ladder”: enticing hitters with fastballs that are slightly up in the strike zone, which they usually can’t catch up with.

Bumgarner used the strategy brilliantly, and he wasn’t daunted when Alex Gordon ended up on third base after a misplayed hit with two outs and the Royals trailing, 3-2.

It didn’t hurt Bumgarner’s cause that the Royals’ last hope was Salvador Perez, today’s Manny Sanguillen.

For those too young, Sanguillen was a catcher who “came out of the dugout swinging,” as the announcers of the day would say. Sanguillen was almost impossible to walk. An intentional walk was even money on whether Sanguillen would make it to first base.

So Bumgarner threw Perez nothing but fastballs that were no lower than the bill of the cap. And Perez kept swinging.

The final out was a foul pop fly between third base and the dugout. Series won, legend secured.

What Madison Bumgarner did was as close as you’ll see, in this day and age, to what Koufax did to the Twins in 1965.

It’s still not as impressive, because Koufax started and pitched a complete game on two days’ rest with essentially one pitch. But in today’s game, with pitch counts and “roles” for relievers and stubbornness from managers, it’s very hard to create the perfect storm that Bumgarner and Bochy weathered in Kansas City last Wednesday.

Categories : Baseball
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