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Apr
24

Another Untimely, Tragic Wrap

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As if suicide isn’t rotten enough, it invariably raises more questions than it answers. That’s because suicide often doesn’t answer any questions at all.

Even a note left behind won’t necessarily satisfy all the curiosity. In fact, suicide notes are likely to create more questions than they answer, as well.

A suicide note is like a press conference where a statement is issued and the issuer scrambles away, without taking any queries.

Sawyer Sweeten is dead. Apparently it’s suicide.

Sawyer, on the verge of turning 20, was one-half of the identical twin actors who played Ray and Debra Barone’s twin boys on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005). Sawyer played Geoffrey and Sullivan Sweeten played Michael. The twins’ older sister Madylin played older sister Ally on the TV show.

According to reports, Sawyer was visiting family in Texas when he apparently shot himself on the front porch of the house where he was staying.

In the early years of “Raymond,” star Ray Romano would say in the open that the show “is not really about the kids,” and he was right. The Barone children were often not seen at all in episodes. Not making kids foils or smart alecks was one of many ways in which “Raymond” was refreshing.

The Sweeten kids weren’t fed rapid fire one-liners by the writers. Their characters rarely acted out, and only on occasion was a “Raymond” storyline built around the children.

But today, it IS about the kids. One, in particular.

No word yet if Sawyer left a note. Not that it helps if he did.

Throughout entertainment history, the travails of the child actor after he/she is no longer an adolescent have been widely documented. I don’t know if studies have been made, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether former child stars are, statistically, prone to big people-type problems more than “normal” kids. But certainly their issues are higher in profile.

I would imagine that some of the emotional/psychological problems that child actors face start with a question that we have all asked about said stars, either to ourselves or of others.

“Whatever happened to…?”

That may be the crux of a lot of this stuff.

Whatever happened to the kid actors after they grew up and their shows ended up in syndication?

But maybe the kid actors are asking themselves, “What do I do now, now that the spotlights have been turned off and the acting jobs have dried up?”


The Sweeten kids: Sawyer (left), Madylin  and Sullivan


Some of the kid stars turned to drugs. Some turned to alcohol. Some turned to both. Others followed their lives on set with a life of crime, almost immediately.

With or without a suicide note, the questions surrounding Sawyer Sweeten’s apparent suicide will never truly be answered, because the only person who possesses the answers and who can expound is gone.

And it might be that Sawyer’s demise had absolutely nothing to do with his having been a child actor.

Romano, who reminded us back in the day that his show wasn’t about the kids, reversed that course upon learning of Sawyer’s tragic death.

“I’m shocked, and terribly saddened, by the news about Sawyer,” Romano said in a statement.
“(Sawyer) was a wonderful and sweet kid to be around. Just a great energy whenever he was there. My heart breaks for him, his family, and his friends during this very difficult time.”

Big sister Madylin Sweeten told us to do something that shouldn’t take an untimely death to get us to do.

“At this time I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.”

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Apr
15

Ebb and Flo

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They were television advertising icons who resided on the banks of our cultural consciousness.

Mr. Whipple (Charmin bathroom tissue). Madge the manicurist (Palmolive dish detergent). The Maytag Repair Man. Even the Qantas koala bear.

Those were just a few commercial characters who invaded our living rooms in the 1970s and ’80s. Their ads—usually 60 seconds in length or even longer—were rarely the same. The format might have been nearly identical, and of course the tag lines were (“DON’T squeeze the Charmin!”), but each appearance by Mr. Whipple or Madge usually had them interacting with different customers.

The actors behind the characters were often nameless, as it should have been, but I’m sure their paychecks weren’t nameless—or paltry.

The pitchman on TV these days is usually a local litigator or a voice-over hawking prescription meds.

There isn’t really any character that is iconic—no one who, when they appear on the screen, instantly lets us know what product is being advertised.

Except for Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl.

Played by Stephanie Courtney (we only know that because this is the Internet age), Flo first started appearing on TV in the late-2000s. Her cheery attitude, dark hair, blood red lipstick and ridiculously long eyelashes, all packaged in an all-white uniform, screams insurance at the moment of seeing her.

To Progressive’s credit, the Flo ads are kept fresher than most other TV spots, which can gag you with their repetitiveness and lack of variety (i.e. those same three Liberty Mutual Insurance ads that are rotated).

Progressive has put Flo in all sorts of situations, from riding motorcycles to consoling a man in a locker room to being tied to a stake (in an ad that puts Flo in different eras in world history).

But unlike the advertising characters from days gone by, who were mostly universally liked (or, at the very least, tolerated rather easily), Flo, for whatever reason, is a polarizing sort.

My mother, for example, can’t stand Flo. I, on the other hand, find Flo attractive in an odd way.

Trolling the Internet, this polarization is acute.

There are Flo-hating websites and forums, as well as those that are visited by men who make no bones that they would like to do some things (sexually) to Flo that are unfit to print here. Other comments on Facebook et al have been from females who like Flo just because they think she’s likable.

Courtney, for her part, has never understood the allure of Flo, sexually.

“The GEICO gecko puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does,” Courtney has been quoted as saying.

Regardless of where you stand on the Flo issue, one thing can’t be disputed: She’s a throwback to a time when TV advertising was flush with identifiable characters and mascots. Back when TV hawked more than just insurance, beer, cars and drugs.

Flo’s Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes, though that number has been dipping in recent years from its peak of 5.4 million.

Like them or not, the Flo spots at least are freshened up rather frequently. Her character, these days, is seen less in that all-white, fantasy Progressive Insurance “store” and more in various situations and venues.

And, no doubt, Flo has made Stephanie Courtney’s wallet fatter than it likely would have been had she been forced to stick to more traditional bit parts on TV and in the movies, as she was doing prior to Flo.

You pretty much love Flo or you hate her; it’s hard to be on the fence with her. She’s the Howard Cosell of modern television that way.

The GEICO gecko, by the way, should get props for its popularity and freshness of new spots.

Who would have thought that the world of insurance would take over TV advertising?

Apr
04

Second National Title Still Eludes Izzo, But Not Honor

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In the end, the clock struck midnight. The carriage turned into a pumpkin. The BMOC got the girl. The house won another.

The NCAA men’s basketball championship will be a battle of no. 1 seeds, after all.

Duke University put an end to another furious March Madness run by Michigan State.

It is April, after all.

The Blue Devils, with their legendary coach and decades of basketball excellence, pretty much flicked the seventh-seeded Spartans off their shoulder in a decisive 81-61 romp that never really was much of a game.

MSU has a legendary coach, too. They have decades of basketball excellence on their resume, too.

But on Saturday night in Indianapolis, Duke showed why they entered the tournament as one of the top-four seeded teams in the country, while the Spartans showed that sometimes you can only go so far on grit, determination and a good story.

Going into this Final Four, MSU was the one team that showed up as an interloper—a supposed hanger-on that couldn’t possibly have been one of the last teams standing because their talent didn’t measure up.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski would have none of that talk prior to the game, telling anyone that would listen that the Spartans did indeed have players, not just moxie. It wasn’t just coach speak. Krzyzewski has been around long enough to know that any team that wins four games to reach the Final Four didn’t get there without guys that can play.

Coach K also knew that those players were being guided by Tom Izzo, who takes to March like a fish to water.

Izzo and his teams show up to the tournament and it’s as if nothing that happened prior to March matters in the least.

Look bad in a road loss in January? Cough up a game at home against a lesser opponent in February?

None of it matters to Izzo and his kids when March gets Mad.

The success Izzo has enjoyed in the tournament has been oft-repeated, and everyone knows it has all resulted in just the one championship (2000). But even if Izzo doesn’t win another championship, his teams will go down as ones that scare the dickens out of everyone before they’re finally defeated.

On Saturday, it took a great team from a great basketball school to put an end to Izzo’s latest improbable tournament run.

The Spartans got off to a 14-6 lead before Duke found their sea legs and ran MSU out of the gym.

Izzo wins in March, but Krzyzewski wins more. And Krzyzewski wins in April, too.

And the Blue Devils win in Indianapolis, where they captured national championships in 1991 and 2010.

Krzyzewski is 9-3 in Final Four games. Izzo is now 3-4.

So the pursuit for the elusive second championship that will ensure Izzo’s place on a level that is slightly higher on which he currently sits, continues.

Krzyzewski, meanwhile, seeks national title no. 5 on Monday night against Wisconsin, which upended Kentucky, 71-64 in the other semi-final game.

An all-Big Ten Final was oh, so close to happening, as it turned out.

But Duke was too smothering, too well-oiled, too on their game for MSU.

“After the first four minutes, we were a different team. We played great basketball tonight, especially on the defensive end,” Krzyzewski said.

Indeed.

Part of the genius of Izzo in March is that, while his teams certainly are not untalented, MSU has never embraced the one-and-d0ne method of going after players who pass through college like a commuter train. MSU isn’t a basketball factory, per se—its players stick around long enough to plant some roots and learn the campus without needing a directory.

Now, whether Tom Izzo can reach the mountain top again by offering recruits the more traditional, old school collegiate athletic experience, remains to be seen. He wants to produce NBA players, too, but he prefers to do it without his kids needing “HELLO My Name Is” tags at practice.

Duke is moving on. Again. Goliath advances. The hare beats the tortoise.

After Saturday’s loss, Izzo lamented the game. He was allowed.

“I feel bad because I didn’t think people got to see the team that won 12 out of 15 games,” the coach said. “So give Duke credit and give our team credit for getting someplace most people didn’t think we could go.”

That last sentence has often been attached to Tom Izzo-coached teams in the NCAA tournament.

Once again, Izzo got the Spartans to a place most people didn’t think they could go.

Once again, MSU got to a Final Four improbably.

But there is hardly any dishonor in losing to Duke, a school that doesn’t get there improbably. It’s only improbable if the Blue Devils don’t make the Final Four.

“It’s an amazing thing, I mean, just to be in the Final Four, but to play on Monday night is the ultimate honor,” Krzyzewski said.

“Now they’ve got a chance to play for a national championship, and damn, damn how great is that?”

It never gets old for these coaching legends, does it?

 

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Apr
04

Still Rockin’, Still Rollin’?

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The Rolling Stones are coming! The Rolling Stones are coming!

How much rolling they do nowadays, it’s anyone’s guess. They’re all in their 70s now.

The iconic rock group is touring this summer, and Detroit is on the travelogue, with the Stones playing Comerica Park on July 8.

This isn’t ageism, but one can only wonder how strong the voices are, how powerful the guitar riffs are and how much energy is in the tank for the Mick Jagger-led group, who can all order off the seniors menu at every restaurant in the country.

I’ve been listening to a lot of 1960s-era rock lately, thanks to a nifty little mobile app called Milk Music. The tunes (sans commercials) come in handy while walking the pooch.

The Rolling Stones are part of that, of course, but sprinkled in with the bands I am listening to are performers like Jim Morrison (The Doors), Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Elliot (the Mamas and the Papas) and others who died before their time.

So the question begs: what would have become of those artists had they lived as long as Jagger, Richards, Wyman, Watt et al?

The argument could be made that each of the aforementioned music artists, who all died in their 20s (except Elliot, who was 32 when she passed), were trailblazers for acts who came behind them.

But would their acts have stood the test of time?

We’ll never know, of course, but it’s still fun to imagine what kind of music The Doors would be pumping out in 2015, or if Croce’s ballads would have evolved over time or if Hendrix would still be wailing on the electric guitar some 45 years after he died.

Then again, there are many bands and individual artists from the British Invasion years that have pretty much vanished from the public eye—all while remaining alive and kicking.

The Rolling Stones are still a draw because they, like The Who, Paul McCartney and others who’ve been at this rock-and-roll thing for 50-plus years, pumped out so many hits in their prime that it never gets old for their fan base—many of whom are also in their senior years—to hear those hits performed live, no matter the age of the performers.

The bodies of work of Morrison, Croce, Hendrix, Joplin and Elliot, combined, averaged about four years at their peak. If it seems like it was longer, then that’s both a testament to their music’s influence and to the fact that they died young. James Dean only made four movies, believe it or not. Yet a prevailing belief is that Dean’s filmography is more voluminous than that.

Elvis Presley would have turned 80 in January. But forget The King’s music; how would those hips have held up?

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Mar
30

Dysfunctional Lions Need Front Office Help

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Ask any Tigers fan about GM Dave Dombrowski, and while they may not always agree with what he does or how he does it, the fans will likely know, at the very least, what Dombrowski’s blueprint is for success.

Power pitching. Power hitting. Big names. Three-run homers and 95 mile-an-hour fastballs.

Sidle up to a Red Wings “Wing Nut” and ask about GM Kenny Holland. The fan will be able to deliver a soliloquy about how there’s a “Red Wings way” and how the team relies on savvy drafting and player development in Grand Rapids.

Catch a Pistons zealot coming out of The Palace and even though Stan Van Gundy has only been on the job for less than a year, the fan will at least know that Stan has a plan—and a long resume of winning in the NBA.

Stop a Lions fan and ask if there’s a Lions Way. Ask if the GM seems to have a plan.

The response is likely to be unfit to print here.

Martin Mayhew has been at this GM thing with the Lions since 2008. He’s not a newbie. Before succeeding Matt Millen, Mayhew served in the Lions front office for some seven years. So this is Mayhew’s 14th year roaming the halls in Allen Park and at Ford Field.

Fourteen years and we’re still waiting for Mayhew’s plan. We’re still waiting for the Lions Way.

Mayhew’s clumsy handling, along with partner in crime Tom Lewand, of the Ndamukong Suh situation, was made worse when Mayhew spoke to the media last week.

Mayhew, as has become his way, talked out of both sides of his mouth. He tried to play both sides to the middle in explaining why Suh leaving may not be bad, after all.

“I think anytime you lose a quality player like (Suh), especially in the short term, that is to your detriment,” Mayhew said over lunch with beat reporters last week at the NFL owners meetings. “I think in the long term, I think we’re going to be glad we don’t have that contract on our books. But in the short term, that’s an issue.”

The best defensive player in franchise history walked away, and Mayhew is trying to sell the fan base that, in the long term, everyone should be “glad” that Suh’s contract isn’t on the books.

The fans don’t want financial prudence; they want a freaking championship.

Those old enough to remember the Lions’ last championship in 1957 are pushing 70 years of age.

Can you imagine if the Lions had let Barry Sanders walk away, only to comfort us with the knowledge that Barry’s fat contract will be off the books?

Certain players come down the pike in a franchise’s history and they should never be allowed to leave, no matter the cost.

Ndamukong Suh was one of those players.

But he’s gone now so it’s time to move on. I get it.

The trouble is, the Lions are once again a store in need of minding, and it’s unclear who is doing that now.

For those of you who thought the problem with the team was the owner, think again.

Bill Ford is passed away and his widow, Martha, ostensibly is in charge.

Yet I haven’t heard vitriol directed at Mrs. Ford. Nor should there be.

The trouble with the Lions isn’t with their owner, it’s with the reporting structure.

The team needs another football man with keys to the executive washroom.

Mayhew and Lewand have had their chance, as direct reports to the owner. They’ve had six full seasons to craft a plan. And all they have to show for it are two playoff appearances—and two playoff losses.

It seems that the Lions are always reacting; they’re not proactive. Everything is done under duress. They can’t draft right.

The scrambling that’s done at Ford Field isn’t limited to the quarterback.

Mayhew and Lewand report directly to Martha Ford. Neither of them can fire the other.

Bill Ford Jr. is too wrapped up in the car company to be hands-on with the Lions on a daily basis.

It says here that the Lions need another football man—someone steeped in experience and wise in the ways of an NFL front office—to act as another layer of reporting between Mayhew/Lewand and Mrs. Ford.

There isn’t a Lions Way. There isn’t a plan. If there is, no one is talking about it.

The only “plan” since Mayhew took over from Millen has been to stock the shelves with skill players in hopes of making Matthew Stafford better.

When Dombrowski realized that the Tigers were highly unlikely to be able to sign Max Scherzer to a long-term extension, he executed Plan B: trading for David Price last July.

It was an example of forward thinking that simply doesn’t go on with the Lions.

Suh should have been signed, sealed and delivered a year ago this time, so the team could put that to bed and move on to other things.

It should never have come to free agency.

Suh is spilled milk, but his situation is also symptomatic of what’s wrong with the Lions—a team with no plan and no vision.

There’s too much desperation with the Lions. There isn’t the feeling that the hand at the wheel is steady amid the rough waters of the NFL.

The Lions need such a steady hand. They need a veteran NFL guy to oversee things.

They need someone like Ernie Accorsi.

Accorsi is steeped in NFL knowledge. He’s held a variety of jobs, including general manager, assistant GM, PR flak and consultant. He helped the Bears in their GM search in December.

He’s 73 years old and he’s available for a full-time position.

Running the Lions might be intriguing enough for someone like Accorsi, who laid the groundwork for a Super Bowl win with the 2007 Giants.

The Lions haven’t had a heavy hitter upstairs. They haven’t had heavy hitters on the sidelines either, really.

But Jim Caldwell seems fine as head coach. The problems don’t start with the coach.

The dysfunction is with the guys in the suits.

Mayhew and Lewand have had their chance. They’ve had six years. Now they need a football man to report to.

The Lions should give Ernie Accorsi a ring, but that phone call would have to come from Bill Ford Jr., who just might do something progressive, even by accident.

I will forgive you for not holding your breath, however.

Categories : Detroit Lions, football
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Mar
22

Monroe Another Big Man Being Wasted by Pistons

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The Pistons teased Bob Lanier when he played in Detroit.

Lanier, the greatest big man in franchise history, got teased from the moment the Pistons chose him first overall in the 1970 NBA draft, out of St. Bonaventure.

Lanier was flat on his back in a hospital bed, his leg immobilized in a cast, when the draft took place. A serious knee injury suffered in his last college game made him a temporary gimp.

Yet the Pistons, for too many years a team that was a doughnut (a hole in the middle), had faith in the 6’11” Lanier and, despite his knee injury, snatched him off the board.

Lanier combined with young point guard David Bing to create an inside-out presence that the Pistons had never known. And the Pistons got off to a 9-0 start in Lanier’s rookie season.

One can only imagine the sugar plums going through Lanier’s head. Rookie year, undefeated after nine games. How many championships will I win in the NBA?

Teased!

Lanier and Bing were great, but the supporting cast was always a work in progress. Some pieces were contributory, but others weren’t a great fit. The result was that the Pistons were frequent playoff participants in the 1970s but only once did they get past the first round (1976).

More teasing for Lanier.

Lanier played for eight coaches in his nine-plus years as a Piston. The revolving door was letting in the stench of organizational dysfunction.

There was no free agency in the NBA when Lanier played. Even now, only speculation can be used as to whether he would have bolted Detroit if given the option.

There wasn’t free agency in Lanier’s day, but there were trades. And finally, late in 1979, Bob Lanier, the face of the Pistons franchise once Bing was traded in 1975, demanded to be relocated.

The Pistons were going through turmoil, yet again, when Lanier approached new GM Jack McCloskey and all but begged to get him out of Detroit.

Lanier was 31 years old and he wasn’t in denial about that. The calendar wasn’t his friend and he wanted so badly to compete for an NBA championship.

The Pistons in 1979 were a mess. As usual.

The team had changed coaches. As usual.

Bob McAdoo, another great big man, had been added to the roster but McAdoo was unhappy, uninspired and unwilling to play nice.

The Pistons were stripped of draft choices thanks to the brief but ruinous era of Dick Vitale and the future looked bleak. The team was winning once every six games or so.

Lanier had had enough of the Pistons, though it pained him to ask for the trade. Any success he was going to have in the NBA, he wanted to have it in Detroit.

But that clearly wasn’t going to happen in the near future with the Pistons, who weren’t even bothering to tease Lanier anymore. They had now moved on to being just plain bad.

McCloskey pulled the trigger on the deal in early-February, 1980. Lanier was shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks, who knew how to win, and the Pistons got Kent Benson, who was no Lanier, but they also received a coveted first-round draft choice.

The Bucks teased Lanier, too.

More playoffs. More post-season heartbreak, though Milwaukee once made it as far as the conference finals with Lanier at center.

Greg Monroe is no Bob Lanier but neither is he a stiff, by a long shot.

Monroe is a left-handed shooting big man, just like Lanier. He has played for a lot of coaches in Detroit, just like Lanier. Monroe has seen organizational dysfunction, just like Lanier.

But where Monroe differs from Lanier is in two respects.

One, Monroe has never played in a playoff game in the NBA. He was never teased by the Pistons.

Two, Monroe can be a free agent and shop his talents around the league.

Monroe doesn’t have to sidle up to Pistons czar Stan Van Gundy and beg to be relocated. Monroe’s expiring contract will do that work for him this summer.

There was a brief moment this season where the Pistons flirted with playoff contention. They moved on from Josh Smith and a 5-23 start and clawed their way into the picture for spring basketball.

Then Brandon Jennings got hurt and Van Gundy made some trades at the deadline and whatever fragile chemistry the Pistons had was ruined.

Through it all, Monroe has been healthy and doing his thing on the court. One can only imagine what’s going through his head off it.

When the Pistons were in the hunt for the playoffs in February, Monroe’s comments to the press didn’t even attempt to hide his giddiness at such a scenario. Even the notion of being in the mix tantalized Monroe.

But now that’s all gone by the wayside and the Pistons can’t use a playoff berth as a means to entice Monroe to sign with them long term before or after July 1.

Van Gundy will have to use a full court press to convince Monroe that the SVG Way is the path that will lead to competitive basketball in Detroit.

Monroe will have to feel good about the direction in which the Pistons are heading, or else he is sure to get big bucks elsewhere. Unlike Bob Lanier, Monroe isn’t tethered to the Pistons and he doesn’t have to beg for a trade.

Monroe can simply peel off his Pistons jersey after Game 82 this season and move on from them.

Unless he wants to stay.

Greg Monroe has leverage in today’s NBA that Bob Lanier could only fantasize about, 35 years ago.

Today’s Pistons are much closer to contention than the 1979-80 team (16-66) that Lanier begged to be removed from. But Monroe still has played five years in the NBA and all he’s known is losing, coaching changes and chaos.

The Pistons will be asking Monroe to take a leap of faith that, heretofore, has little basis on which to positively refer.

At least the Pistons haven’t teased Greg Monroe.

We’ll see if that’s good or bad.

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Mar
14

Austin’s Coaching Chops to Be Put to Test, Sans Suh

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In 1962, the only “sack” was something filled with potatoes. The word certainly wasn’t used in the same sentence with “quarterback,” unless you were directing your signal caller to go to the market.

The term “sacking the quarterback” was coined by Hall of Fame defensive lineman Deacon Jones, sometime in the mid-1960s. Prior to Deacon’s creativity, on the quarterback’s stats line, what we know as a sack today was called “times tackled for loss.”

Yawn.

There were no sacks, per se, on that Thanksgiving Day in 1962. But Bart Starr’s body didn’t know the difference.

The Detroit Lions, on one of their most glorious days since their 1957 championship, brutalized and punished Green Bay’s Starr on national television while the nation feasted on turkey. Eleven times Starr faded back to pass and was “tackled for a loss.”

Sacked!

The effort was payback for the Lions letting the Packers off the hook in Green Bay a month earlier.

The Lions’ defensive line in those days were the “original” Fearsome Foursome—several years before Jones and company got tagged with that moniker with the Los Angeles Rams.

Darris McCord and Sam Williams at the ends. Alex Karras and Roger Brown in the interior. Those four collapsed the vaunted Packers offensive line—filled with future Hall of Famers—all afternoon on that Thanksgiving Day of ’62. Sometimes the linebackers, like Joe Schmidt, would get into the act.

The Lions won, 26-14, and it was Green Bay’s only loss of the season. The Packers would go on to repeat as NFL Champions a month later.

But the Lions, on their way to an 11-3 season in ’62, had their day against the Pack.

The Lions defense in the early-1960s was a force. All eleven men worked in unison to be among the league leaders in fewest yards and points allowed from 1960-62.

The architect of the defense was a young former NFL defensive back for the Cleveland Browns who soaked up the teachings of the legendary Paul Brown.

Don Shula was hired by the Lions after a couple of seasons of coaching in college ball. George Wilson made Shula his defensive coordinator, though that wasn’t the term used in 1960.

Under Shula, the Lions terrorized opposing offenses. There was that great line, Schmidt and Wayne Walker led the linebackers, and the secondary had Night Train Lane, Dick LeBeau, Yale Lary and Gary Lowe, all ball-hawking defenders and in Lane’s case, head-hunting. Schmidt, Lane and LeBeau are enshrined in Canton.

In Shula’s three years running Detroit’s defense, the Lions were 26-13-1. But there was no wild card back then so there were no playoffs, thanks to the Packers winning the West Division all three years.

Shula was 33 when Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom tabbed the Lions assistant to be the Colts’ new head coach.

Shula thus became the youngest head coach in NFL history at the time.

Wilson stayed head coach of the Lions through 1964 before resigning in protest. The person he was protesting was new Lions owner William Clay Ford.

Had Shula not been pilfered by the forward-thinking Rosenbloom, he probably would have remained on Wilson’s staff, and maybe Don Shula would have been the next Lions head coach instead of the unsavory Harry Gilmer.

Speaking of unsavory, during this Ndamukong Suh free agency mess, my thoughts turned to Shula’s time with the Lions.

I thought of Shula because right now the Lions have a young, up-and-coming defensive coordinator who has been getting some play as a possible future head coach.

Teryl Austin put together a defense in 2014 that was among the league’s best. He interviewed for some head coaching positions in January. The Lions, though happy for him, heaved a sigh of relief when Austin was bypassed by those teams.

But Austin’s defense was anchored by Suh, the destructive defensive tackle who signed with Miami last week—Shula’s old team, if you like your irony cruel.

Austin will have to answer the question going forward: Was he, not Suh, the real reason the Lions had a superior defense, by the numbers, last season?

We’re about to find out.

It’s a defense not without holes.

Even with the trade for DT Haloti Ngata, the line is a shell of its former self. Suh is gone and so is the inconsistent but potentially dominant Nick Fairley.

The secondary could use another top-flight cornerback. Or two.

Austin’s coaching chops will be put to the test in 2015.

Is he another Don Shula?

That’s a loaded question but this is the NFL, which one former sage coach once said stands for Not For Long, if you don’t get the job done.

Last year, Teryl Austin was a darling among defensive coordinators. He looked like head coaching material after just one year of running a defense.

But Austin had Suh last year.

The NFL is a league of adjustments and no D-coordinator in the league will have to adjust as much as Austin in 2015, and not just because of losing Suh.

In fairness, in Shula’s days with the Lions, there was no free agency to speak of. Shula didn’t have to fear losing Karras or McCord or Schmidt or Lane to another team.

But while he had those players, Shula drew every ounce of performance from them in three years.

It’s no coincidence that after Shula left for Baltimore, the Lions defense wasn’t quite the same even though most of the players were.

 

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Someday in the future, a defensive player as destructive as Ndamukong Suh will enter the NFL. Maybe.

It’s highly unlikely that if such a player will ever exist, that he will play for the Detroit Lions.

It’s really just a matter of odds.

The second coming of Dick Butkus has yet to play in the league, and Butkus retired over 40 years ago.

Has there been another Joe Greene? Who has filled Lawrence Taylor’s cleats?

Players like Suh, the enigmatic force of nature that he is, come down the pike with the frequency of Halley’s Comet.

They are not only franchise players in the present, they’re names that should be forever linked to one football team.

Jim Brown with the Cleveland Browns. Butkus with the Chicago Bears. Taylor with the New York Giants. Greene with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Barry Sanders with the Detroit Lions.

There should be no good reason to allow someone like Suh, a probable Hall of Famer, to ever slip into another team’s uniform.

The Philadelphia Eagles made that mistake with Reggie White, and there are some fans who forget that White was anything before he was a Green Bay Packer, a franchise for which White helped win a Super Bowl—something the Eagles have never done.

Yet here we are, with Suh on the verge of signing with the Miami Dolphins, as he keeps his vow to sign with the highest bidder in his very brief foray into free agency.

The Lions, as has been their wont, bungled this one. They got the money messed up over the years with Suh’s contract and they couldn’t cough up enough dough in the end to keep him.

In the weeks and months leading up to Suh’s free agency, Lions President Tom Lewand and GM Marty Mayhew talked a tough game, another thing for which the Lions have been known to do, though it’s usually the players who have blown the hot air.

Lewand and Mayhew talked the talk but couldn’t walk the walk, and now the one who is walking is Suh.

I don’t want to hear about financial prudence or that no one is worth the kind of money that the Dolphins are throwing at Suh or how losing someone of Suh’s magnitude is actually a good thing because the Lions now have $17 million of salary cap space.

Bullpucky!

The Lions are not a better team without Ndamukong Suh, just as pizza isn’t better without cheese and a golf bag isn’t better without a driver.

But it goes further. The Lions are a worse franchise for this.

It’s true that Greene and Butkus and Brown and Taylor played their careers before the advent of true free agency. But there were trades, and none of those players were ever off-loaded in the name of saving some cash.

That’s because they were game-changers and brilliant at their craft, and because their respective franchises knew that players of that degree of excellence come along once in a generation, if you’re lucky.

The Lions, whose last championship is creeping up on 60 years ago, are a worse franchise for letting Suh go because if they are truly serious about delivering a pro football title to the long-suffering fans in Detroit, you are either all in or you’re not.

It’s not enough to say that you made Suh a “competitive offer.” It’s not enough to throw your hands up and cry about the financial landscape of today’s NFL.

It’s not enough.

Those three words might as well be emblazoned on team headquarters in Allen Park.

When you have a player like Suh land in your lap, as he did when the Lions drafted him second overall in 2010, you make him a member of your franchise for life. You build around him.

The Lions never let Barry Sanders sniff free agency, and the fact that the team could never make deep playoff runs while Sanders played in Detroit is not a case study against keeping him as a Lion for life.

Suh should have been the defensive version of Sanders—a player who would forever wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver, for good or for bad, til death do us part.

The pleas for financial reason and letting Suh walk should fall on deaf ears because while he is one player of 53 on the roster, he is a genuine building block. You pay the big boys and fill in with draft picks and second tier free agents.

Ahh, that’s the rub.

The reason there was hand-wringing over Suh’s status after that playoff game in Dallas is because the Lions haven’t been very good at finding capable NFL players beyond the second round of the draft.

Had they possessed the track record of, say, the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots—teams that always draft low but always manage to keep their rosters replenished with mid-to-late round picks, the argument to pay Suh would be much easier to make.

But because the Lions have been so bad for so long, they have consistently drafted in the top five, which means they have lots of money tied up in just a few players. And that would be fine if they were adept at finding good players on the cheap, or better at prioritizing their needs smarter.

Suh leaving the Lions isn’t just another case of a pro football player chasing the almighty dollar and leaving for greener (literally and figuratively) pastures. Players come and go all the time in the NFL, and lots of times it’s all about money. And why shouldn’t it be?

The average length of an NFL career is about three years. Three! I say let the players make all the money they want, as fast as they can.

Suh leaving the Lions the way he did, with his former team holding the bag, is yet another indictment on a franchise that has quite a rap sheet.

It doesn’t matter that Suh can be a perplexing, frustrating, weird dude. It doesn’t matter that he has been, at times on the exterior, cool to the city of Detroit and distant with the football fans within it.

Professional sports these days is more about financial stability and less about loyalty and warm and fuzzies. I get that. But the Lions didn’t need Suh to wear his love for Detroit on his sleeve—they just needed for him to suit up and wreck offenses on Sundays until he retired.

Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle to be drafted into the NFL in years, and will likely be the best to be drafted for years to come. He is without question the most dominant player on the D-line the Lions have had. Ever. Short of defensive back Night Train Lane, Suh is the most feared Lions defender of all time as well.

And the Lions let him go.

But hey, they made him a competitive offer.

It’s not enough.

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Mar
02

Crafty Holland Plays It Safe, Smart Just Before Trade Deadline

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The 36-year-old defenseman arrived in Detroit, a moving piece in one of those NHL trade deadline deals, toting his equipment bag and maybe a bottle of Geritol. It was a chance for another “kick at the can,” as the hockey people like to say about the pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The aging blueliner, booed out of his previous city, had already won two Cups by the time he was traded to the Red Wings in March of 1997. He gained those rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in consecutive years (1991-92).

Larry Murphy was already on his fourth team and was 11 years into his NHL career when he helped lead the Penguins to glory, but that was five years ago and he had added a fifth team to his travelogue when the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs swung a deadline trade.

For whatever reason, the Maple Leaf fans funneled their frustration with the team’s proclivity to spin its wheels on Murphy.

They booed whenever he touched the puck. They jeered him at every turn. If there ever was a player who needed to be moved, it was Murphy from the Maple Leafs in 1997.

The trade is listed on Hockey-Reference.com as Murphy to the Red Wings on March 18, 1997 for “future considerations.”

Murphy was an offensive defenseman who rocked the NHL as a rookie, scoring 16 goals and adding 60 assists for the 1980-81 Los Angeles Kings. He was 19 years old when the season began.

Sixteen years and two Stanley Cups later, Murphy was still known as a good puck-moving defenseman, except that the fans in Toronto used him as a figurative pinata. It is still a mystery as to why the Maple Leaf faithful turned on him so.

Regardless, Murphy jetted into Detroit on March 18, 1997 and there was one mission and one mission only: to win the Stanley Cup for a third time.

I asked Murphy about the treatment he got in Toronto. We chatted as we watched the Red Wings play Anaheim the night Steve Yzerman’s jersey went up into the rafters. It was January 2, 2007.

The brutality he went through in Toronto didn’t seem to have bothered Murphy all that much.

“Fans are fans,” he told me. “They pay their money.”

So it didn’t get to you?

“I thought it was kind of funny, actually,” Murphy said.

Murphy switched his Toronto blue for Detroit red and the results were palpable.

The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup the next two springs. Murphy was again on a team that won two straight Cups, the only player in NHL history to win consecutive Stanley Cups with two different franchises.

The Larry Murphy trade is among the best the Red Wings ever made at the deadline. And they’ve made a lot of them.

Two years after Murphy, the Red Wings made a big splash at the deadline, acquiring forward Wendel Clark, goalie Bill Ranford and defensemen Ulf Samuelsson and Chris Chelios in a whirlwind of trades.

But despite the pomp, the Red Wings were blasted out of the playoffs in the second round in 1999 by their arch nemesis, the Colorado Avalanche.

Sometimes deadline deals make all the difference in the world; sometimes they don’t do a lick for your Stanley Cup chances.

In 2002, Red Wings GM Ken Holland, by that time a five-year veteran of the art of the deal, landed veteran defenseman Jiri Slegr at the deadline. It wasn’t looked at as much more than a move for depth. Slegr wasn’t expected to contribute too much.

Slegr didn’t play in a single playoff game for the Red Wings that spring, except for one: Game 5 of the Cup Finals.

In Game 4, fellow defenseman Jiri Fischer got suspended for a game after taking some liberties in Carolina.

Slegr, who was a healthy scratch for the entire post-season, got the call for Game 5. The Red Wings led the series, 3-1.

Slegr played 17 minutes that night at Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings won their third Cup in six seasons.

You never know.

Holland, who inexplicably has never won an Executive of the Year Award, gathered his scouts and coaches at the Joe on Sunday and Monday. It’s a routine that gets played out every year on the eve of the trade deadline.

The list of potential acquisitions gets bandied about. Holland listens to input, takes notes, asks some questions. His money people are in the room, too, because it’s a salary cap world now and the contracts have to fit, like a jigsaw puzzle piece.

Holland was under no real urgency to do a deal. His team is playing well and while you can never have too much depth, the Red Wings didn’t have to go crazy and mortgage the future. If something made sense, Holland said he would do it. But it was felt that a move wasn’t a prerequisite for this spring’s playoff run.

There would be no 1999-like splash.

On Sunday, Holland got on the phone with former assistant Jim Nill, now the GM in Dallas. Two good friends talked trade.

When the cell phones closed, Holland had acquired 36-year-old forward Erik Cole for some lower level prospects. Cole can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. His future in Detroit beyond this season is uncertain to say the least.

On Monday, Holland fulfilled coach Mike Babcock’s wish for a right-handed shooting defenseman with some offense, getting Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils for a conditional draft pick. Zidlicky is 38 and he, too, is unrestricted come July 1.

These were old school Holland moves but with a new school team: bring in veteran guys who might be considered “rentals.” Only this time, the core of the Red Wings is more young than old, a reversal from the Cup-winning years.

But the price for Cole and Zidlicky was hardly steep, and in today’s NHL, these moves might be good enough to catapult the Red Wings.

The NHL post-season is a two-month roller coaster ride. It’s hockey’s version of March Madness, in that the eventual champion could be one of half a dozen (or more) teams. It’s not the NBA, where only a select few teams have a legitimate shot at the championship. You never see any six or seven seeds make it very far in pro basketball’s playoffs.

Whether you call it parity or just plain unpredictable, the NHL’s post-season is a crap shoot, like baseball and football’s.

For that reason, why unload a bunch of high-level prospects and front line players for someone who likely won’t improve your team’s Cup chances all that much?

This was Ken Holland at his best—accurately gauging his team’s current state and making smart, prudent moves without giving up the farm, literally.

Will Cole and Zidlicky do for the Red Wings, in their own way, what Larry Murphy did for them in 1997?

No one knows for sure, but again Holland has seemed to have improved his team without weakening its core.

One of these days, those who determine such things will name Holland the NHL’s Executive of the Year. It might be like when Paul Newman finally won a Best Actor Oscar for a movie that wasn’t his best work. But one day the voters are going to get smart.

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Feb
25

Heat Index

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My first experience with spicy food came when I was a youngster.

I was a latch key kid, and that included lunch. My grade school was literally across the street from the house, more or less. So I would let myself in and prepare my own lunch, as early as age 11.

This was circa 1974-75.

Nobody reported my mother to Child Protective Services. I managed to not burn the house down. I’d fix my lunch, eat it, and be back in class on time.

Somehow along the way I have lost that efficiency in my life, but that’s another blog post entirely.

The point being, my first encounter with spicy foods came in the form of those Vlasic hot pepper rings in a jar. Again, I was 11 and I started nibbling on those tangy, vinegar-encased yellow rings, usually combining them with a sandwich of some sort.

That was some 40 years ago, and it was way before I discovered Szechuan Chinese food, Indian cuisine and Thai delights.

It was also way before fast food joints and snack manufacturers discovered anything remotely on the warm side, spicy food-wise.

Today everyone is pushing spicy food.

Jalapenos are all the rage now.

Everyone from Frito Lay to Applebee’s to Burger King are putting jalapenos in their offerings.

Spicy food is everywhere. Buffalo style (fill in the blank); “bold” menu items; Cajun everything; Thai this and Thai that.

Not that I’m complaining.

My yen for bold, spicy and tangy foods clearly started with those latch key lunches in the mid-1970s. Vlasic hot pepper rings was my first experience. I remember it like a woman remembers her first kiss.

But I eventually had to eat something other than hot pepper rings to satisfy my growing craving.

My mom and I used to eat Chinese food a lot but it wasn’t until I went off to college and started working in Ann Arbor that I realized not all Chinese cuisine was of the Cantonese variety.

Spicy Chinese food? Really?

Some co-workers were getting take-out at a Chinese place down the street and it served something called Szechuan, they said. Never heard of it, I replied.

Oh, it’s good, they said. Very spicy and hot.

I probably cocked my head, like a bemused dog does.

But I for sure said that I was in on that!


Part of nature’s nectar


The food arrived and I’m surprised my taste buds didn’t all drop dead of a heart attack.

Never before had they seen anything like Szechuan Chinese food come down my gullet.

What a taste sensation!

So that’s when I got hooked on spicy Chinese food (circa 1982). That would change from Chinese to Asian when I discovered Thai cuisine, some five years later.

If I thought Szechuan (and Mandarin) was hot, I had no idea when it came to Thai food.

Thai food was invented for people like me. Intense heat, but still adjustable for individual taste.

Siam Spicy, on Woodward in Royal Oak, gave me my indoctrination to Thai food. I foolishly ordered it “extra hot” on my first visit. I dismissed the sweet waitress’s warning.

I should have listened to her.

But that painful (literally) experience didn’t dissuade me. I had discovered a treasure trove.

In the early-1990s I found out about Indian food. More delightful salivating ensued.

So here we are today, 40 years after I lost my spicy food virginity, and only now is the food industry catching up.

It’s a generational thing, I’m sure.

I was born in 1963. Today’s target demographic was born some 20 years after that, and they, as a whole, are more in tune with hot and spicy food.

They are less afraid and more adventurous eaters than the generation preceding them.

The products and menu items today reflect that shift in taste bud stamina. Although when the so-called spicy offerings first started to appear, they weren’t nearly hot enough for my liking. Now the heat level is increasing as the demographic is getting younger.

The easiest bet I ever won came some 30 years ago, when a friend wagered that I couldn’t eat an entire bag of extra hot potato chips without drinking anything.

I won a case of Molson Brador beer. Like taking candy from a baby.

I still eat hot pepper rings, by the way. Today I call it comfort food.

Categories : Enotes, food, society
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