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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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Oct
28

SVG Not the First Man to Wield So Much Power With the Pistons

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To hear the media tell it, the Stan Van Gundy hire is the first time the Pistons have given so much power to one man.

Don’t they remember Dickie Vitale?

On Wednesday, the Pistons will tip-off in Denver against the Nuggets to open the 2014-15 NBA season—which will be Van Gundy’s first as the team’s judge, jury and executioner.

SVG wears the hats of coach, President of Basketball Operations and de facto GM. Players will find Van Gundy at every turn, should they ever act out.

Power? Oh yes. But 36 years ago, the Pistons unwittingly gave lots of power to Vitale, and it didn’t end so well.

Vitale was a year removed from coaching at the University of Detroit in the spring of 1978, having just served one year as the school’s Athletic Director. He quit coaching because his stomach turned against him.

But Dickie V’s tummy made a miraculous recovery in time to accept a hefty contract from the Pistons.

There have been many cautionary tales of college coaches trying to make it in the NBA without first serving as an assistant. Vitale’s time with the Pistons should be the mother of all those tales.

Vitale was officially hired as coach only, but the Pistons in those days were a strange little organization. And Dickie got a lot more power than anyone thought he was going to have.

The Pistons had a GM when Vitale was hired, a former NBA player named Bob Kauffman, who also served as interim coach for half a season after firing Herb Brown.

But not long after Vitale was hired, Kauffman, who could see the writing on the wall, resigned. Kauffman knew that Vitale was ownership’s darling.

Oscar Feldman held the title of general manager, but like so many other GMs before him with the Pistons, Feldman was less of a basketball man and more of something else. In Oscar’s case, that meant lawyer.

So Vitale was the coach only, in title, but in reality, Dickie had pretty much the same power that Van Gundy enjoys now with the Pistons.

That meant Vitale could make trades and draft players, unabated.

There have been GMs in Detroit who have been among the most hated men in the history of sports in this town.

Ned Harkness with the Red Wings. Russ Thomas with the Lions. Matt Millen with the Lions.

Vitale wasn’t hated; he wasn’t with the Pistons long enough to hate him. But Vitale arguably did more damage to the Pistons in his 18-month reign than the above men did to their teams over many years.

Operating with little to no supervision, like a puppy left alone at home by his owner for the first time, Vitale ran amok. He had never been able to trade and draft players in college. In the pros, he could—and he wreaked destruction on the Pistons franchise.

Feldman, the feckless GM and owner Bill Davidson (who bought the bull that Vitale sold in his interview) pretty much looked the other way as Vitale traded, traded some more, and drafted very curiously.

First, Vitale apparently didn’t get the memo that the Pistons were allowed to draft players who went to school in states other than Michigan.

In 1978, Vitale chose John Long and Terry Tyler (both in the first round), his old players at U-D. A year later, he famously (and foolishly) gave the Milwaukee Bucks $50,000 to trade places in the first round, so Vitale could draft Greg Kelser from Michigan State. The Bucks wanted Sidney Moncrief anyway. Later in the first round in 1979, Vitale grabbed Phil Hubbard out of Michigan. In the third round, Dickie drafted Terry Duerod, another former Detroit Titan.

The NBA had killed the territorial draft allowance in the mid-1960s, yet Vitale drafted as if the state of Michigan was the only repository for NBA players.

Then there were the trades.

Dick Vitale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(above) Vitale, probably announcing the drafting of another Michigan-based collegian

 

Just a few games into his first season, Vitale dealt guard Chris Ford to Boston for Earl Tatum. It was a lopsided trade, one that was made because Ford and Vitale didn’t see eye-to-eye.

Later in that season, sticking with his U-D theme, Vitale brought in former Titan Dennis Boyd, whose claim to fame was hitting the game-winning jump shot that beat 8th-ranked Marquette in Milwaukee in 1977.

But the most egregious trade Vitale made occurred in the summer of 1979.

Again acting without supervision, Vitale had his good eye on scoring center/power forward Bob McAdoo, a malcontent who the Boston Celtics were eager to jettison.

McAdoo was a former multiple league scoring champion, but in recent years his stints with the New York Knicks and the Celtics hadn’t gone well.

Vitale had sugar plums dancing in his head about what McAdoo and center Bob Lanier could do together for the Pistons.

The Celtics, all too eager to trade McAdoo, told Vitale that they wanted M.L. Carr in return. For starters.

So Vitale engineered a deal that essentially brought McAdoo to Detroit and which sent the Celtics two first round draft choices and Carr.

The Celtics used one of those draft picks to select Kevin McHale and the other to trade for Robert Parish. Those big men, plus Carr and rookie Larry Bird, helped turn the Celtics from a 29-win team in 1978-79 to strong championship contenders, overnight.

And McAdoo? He didn’t want anything to do with Vitale and the Pistons, and so Mac spent an uninspired season-and-a-half in Detroit before being benched and eventually waived. McAdoo would turn up a few years later with the Lakers as a role player for championship teams in Los Angeles.

Vitale was fired 12 games into his second season with the Pistons, but he left the franchise bereft of draft choices and with little future.

But there was one good thing that came from Vitale’s reign of terror and subsequent dismissal.

He recommended that the Pistons hire, as a bona fide GM, a haggard assistant coach sitting on the bench with the Indiana Pacers.

Jack McCloskey told me that to this day, whenever he sees Dick Vitale he makes sure to thank him for the recommendation.

 

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Oct
27

Zetterberg Playing Like a Young 34 After Being an Old 33

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The Red Wings captain of today was wearing a suit when he should have been wearing a uniform.

When the Red Wings honored defenseman Nick Lidstrom last winter by retiring his no. 5 jersey, the evening was jarred by the sight of two current Red Wings and former Lidstrom teammates, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, wearing Armani instead of Reebok.

Both were battling injuries. Zetterberg’s was a back ailment, and watching him move around gingerly that night was less-than-inspiring.

The Red Wings captain, Lidstrom’s successor in that role, returned in time for the playoffs but he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent.

Hockey players are the Frankenstein monsters of athletes. They are sewn together and zipped up. I think if you look closely, some of them have bolts coming out of their necks.

They’ll play on one leg and seeing out of one eye. Teeth are optional, as are all internal organs other than the heart.

But as tough as they are, hockey players aren’t immune to two things: groin injuries and bad backs. Those maladies are the hockey player’s Kryptonite.

Just ask the guy in the broadcast booth who has described Zetterberg’s on-ice wizardry ever since Hank broke into the league in 2002.

Mickey Redmond was 28 years old when his back popped. A two-time 50-goal scorer, Redmond’s hands never left him. His shot never vanished. But his back went out and that was pretty much it for him as a hockey player. His last NHL game played was in January, 1976.

More than three years later, at age 31, Redmond tried to give it another shot on the ice but only lasted a few days in training camp in 1979 before retiring for good. The bad back quickly re-flared.

So there was some understandable breath holding when Zetterberg’s back, which has given him problems off-and-on for several years now, ached him yet again last season. Zetterberg’s age (33 at the time) only added to the angst.

Seeing Z waddle around during the Lidstrom ceremony didn’t help the psyche of a fan base that was rooting for its team to make the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season.

Fast forward to this season. The captain’s back is repaired and he’s, well, back.

Boy, is he ever back.

Zetterberg is 34 now but he is flitting around the ice like he’s 24. Usually he is the Red Wings’ best player on any given night. He skates freely, briskly and with purpose. Sometimes you swear there are two no. 40s on the ice at once.

All Zetterberg has been doing is scoring goals, assisting on others, playing defense on both ends of the ice and leading by example. You know, kind of like what Z’s predecessors at captain—Steve Yzerman and Lidstrom—did all their careers.

On October 15, Zetterberg said he played a stinker of a game against Boston at Joe Louis Arena. He was quick to call himself out. The Red Wings lost in a shootout that night to the Bruins.

Zetterberg then took out his anger on the poor Toronto Maple Leafs.

In a rare home-and-home series with an Original Six club the weekend of October 17 and 18, Zetterberg assisted on all four Red Wings goals on Friday night in a 4-1 victory. The next night, he scored the game’s only goal, in overtime. The following game, in Montreal, Zetterberg scored Detroit’s only goal in a 2-1 loss.

That goal in Montreal meant that Henrik Zetterberg had a hand in the Red Wings’ six most recent goals.

The schedule moved on and Zetterberg moved on with it, his back healthy and leaving him pain-free.

Two nights after Montreal, the big, bad Pittsburgh Penguins came to town and with less than three minutes remaining, the Red Wings trailed 3-1 and the arena was emptying.

Enter Zetterberg. Again.

He took a pass near the Penguins blue line and split the defense like a high-flying youngster. Before Pens goalie Thomas Greiss, making his first start of the season, knew what hit him, Zetterberg had fired a shot over the goalie’s left shoulder to make the score 3-2.

Exactly two minutes later, at 19:21, Zetterberg assisted on Niklas Kronwall’s tying goal.

In overtime, with less than a minute remaining, Zetterberg was hard on the forecheck behind the Penguins net and got his stick on an attempted clearing pass. The puck squirted out to Justin Abdelkader, who deposited it past Greiss to cap the amazing comeback, which gave the Red Wings two of the most unlikeliest points they will earn all season.

When the snow settled, the three points Zetterberg earned against the Penguins gave him a hand in nine of the last 10 Red Wings goals.

The streak started immediately after the captain indicted himself for his play against Boston.

Watching the man they call Hank or Z—because Henrik and Zetterberg take too long to say—play this season is like watching a youthful rookie skating on fresh legs. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Zetterberg was one of those Grand Rapids Griffins called up last year.

Lately, coach Mike Babcock has paired Zetterberg with Pavel Datsyuk on the same line, now that Datsyuk is back in the lineup, healed from his shoulder injury.

To say that it’s pleasing to finally see Z and Pavs together again is an understatement. Last season, injuries kept the two off the ice far too often. Or when one was healthy, the other wasn’t.

Zetterberg turned 34 a few weeks ago. Last season he looked like an old 33, with his bad back. This year he looks like a young 34, mainly because his back doesn’t make him feel 54.

He captains a team that is younger and less experienced than any roster Yzerman or Lidstrom led, which makes Zetterberg’s savvy and skill on the ice all the more appreciated.

And heaven help the league the next time Z thinks he’s had a bad game.

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Oct
16

Wing Cha-Ching!

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It takes about 15 seconds to eat one, from start to finish. They cost about 79 cents a pound, raw at the supermarket. They are made up of bone more than meat.

So why are chicken wings at the restaurant so expensive?

I like a chicken wing as much as the next person. You can do a lot with a chicken wing, in terms of preparation. Chicken wings play nice with the various sauces and batter that coat them.

That’s all fine and dandy, but does that equate to $9.99 for a dozen?

I use $9.99 as an arbitrary price, but that’s in the ballpark.

I think we’re being gouged on chicken wings.

The easy answer, of course, as to why the markup is so high, is that we consumers are willing to pay it.

Let’s face it. Properly cooked chicken wings are a sight to behold.

They are slathered with sauce, which envelopes the crunchy skin, which is deep fried and/or baked deftly, so the meat inside stays tender and moist.

But when not done right, the chicken wing can be slimy, gummy and thoroughly unappetizing.

In either case, you can expect to pay about $9.99 a dozen.

I have no idea why we think that chicken wings are worth the price, but we pay it.

Heck, there’s even entire restaurant chains that devote themselves to the chicken wing.

Buffalo Wild Wings (or B-Dubs, as the cool people say) comes to mind, as it did when a co-worker asked me last week if I wanted to go out to lunch.

We ate at a burger joint, but on the walk back to the office, a B-Dubs loomed.

“Do you like Buffalo Wild Wings?” I was asked.

That’s when I launched into my chicken wing rant, to which you are now being exposed.

As far as B-Dubs goes, the family and I ate there a few years ago and I was underwhelmed. Again, the prices got to me—but frankly, I didn’t think the wings were all that.

B-Dubs boasts that it offers lots of different flavors of wings, which is true. There are lots.

But they’re still chicken wings, and they still take just 15 seconds each to consume. And they’re still more bone than meat.

Let’s face it: have you ever looked at the wing of any bird and licked your lips because they look so meaty?

Even a large Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have a wing that has enough meat to impress, much less a dinky chicken.

Yet restaurants boldly price their wings at obscene markup and we devour them by the basket-full.

OK, so they offer some celery sticks and blue cheese on the side. Whoop-de-doo.

We actually like to cook our own chicken wings at home, though it is some work to do it right. But we can also buy a huge bag of the frozen things at a dirt cheap price, relatively speaking.

Hint: most butchers will chop your wings up for you, for free, while you wait. That way, you can take them home in the same sizes and shapes as the ones you pay $9.99 for at the restaurant.

Some restaurateur hit the jackpot when he or she discovered that the cheap wing of a chicken could be baked, deep-fried and slathered with sauce and sold at a 500 percent markup. And that’s as an appetizer.

Let’s see. At $9.99 a dozen, and with chicken wings taking 15 seconds each to eat, that equates to three minutes’ worth of eating time per dozen.

That means restaurants are charging us the equivalent of $200 an hour to enjoy their chicken wings! And we have to use our hands to eat them; we don’t even get to use silverware.

At $200 an hour, what are chicken wings? The lawyers of food items?

Not to mention all the dry cleaning bills, thanks to the messy fingers and sauce dripping all over the place.

We’re getting rooked but what else is new, right?

Categories : Enotes, food
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If you happen to be in the Minneapolis area and see a young man curled in the fetal position, it just might be Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback, is going to see Ziggy Ansah and the rest of the Lions defensive line in his sleep. The sweat will be cold, the images will be all-too-real. It might be like that cartoon of back in the day.

“Mr. Wizard! I don’t want to be a quarterback anymore!”

This was Thanksgiving Day, 1962, all over again. Upstairs, Alex Karras is grinning.

The Lions made mincemeat of Bridgewater and the Vikings on Sunday. Bridgewater played the part of Green Bay’s Bart Starr and Ansah, George Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were Karras, Darris McCord, Roger Brown and Sam Williams.

The Lions’ front four spent more time in the Vikings backfield than the referee. Or at least, as much. Bridgewater was harassed more than the only girl at a fraternity party.

Every pass play the Vikings tried in their 17-3 loss to the Lions looked like a Chinese fire drill. Bridgewater would snap the football and then immediately start running around, in survival mode. He spent more time trying to find his wits about him than finding a receiver.

In the rare times when Bridgewater found a man, the pass was often dropped, or tipped into the hands of a Lions defender for an interception. Just ask Tahir Whitehead, who if this was hockey would be called “Johnny on the Spot” by Mickey Redmond.

The slaughter wasn’t limited to passing plays.

If the Vikings tried to run the football, the Lions front four was there, too, like white on rice.

With the exception of an interception the rookie threw in the end zone in which he was baited by safety Glover Quin, the Vikings didn’t sniff paydirt. Every play they ran was between the 30 yard lines, it seemed.

The words “Lions” and “dominant defense” haven’t been used in the same sentence very much since the days of the 1960s and early-1970s, when every year the defense was way ahead of the offense—which was never more evident than in the Lions’ 5-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970 playoffs.

The aforementioned Thanksgiving Day game in 1962, in which the Lions poured through the usually vaunted Packers O-line and battered Starr to the tune of 11 sacks, is legendary stuff.

“Lord, we were ready for the Packers that day,” Karras wrote in his autobiography, Even Big Guys Cry.

The motivation in ’62 was the game the Lions blew in Green Bay earlier that season—a travesty that pitted the offense against the defense for years, thanks to a horrible pass play that was called in a situation that screamed for a conservative running play.

The pass was intercepted and the Packers kicked a game-winning field goal.

So on national TV on Turkey Day, the Lions destroyed the Packers, racing to a 26-0 lead as they punished Starr for the game in Green Bay,  before winning 26-14.

On Sunday, Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil was about as effective against the hard-charging Ansah as a screen door in a submarine. Ansah tossed Kalil around all day like a rag doll.

Ansah was the biggest and baddest Lion on a day when the defense surrendered yardage as begrudgingly as a mother-in-law doles out compliments. Ansah was credited with 2.5 sacks but that doesn’t begin to illustrate the disruption the second-year defensive end caused on Sunday.

The Lions allowed just 212 total yards of offense.

So let’s talk about this defense, seriously.

It’s only six weeks, but the Lions are ranked no. 1 in the NFL and they haven’t only victimized rookies.

In Week 1, the Lions made two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning look like, well, a rookie.

In Week 3, the great Aaron Rodgers, another Super Bowl champion and a likely Hall of Famer, was flummoxed. He and partner in crime Jordy Nelson were turned into a pair of juvenile delinquents.

Granted, in Weeks 4 and 6 (the Jets’ Geno Smith and Minnesota’s Bridgewater, respectively), the Lions weren’t exactly facing elite quarterbacks. But isn’t that what (gasp!) dominant defenses do? Remind the young how young they are?

On countless occasions in the past decade, the Lions have made pedestrian, even mediocre passers look like a combination of Unitas, Montana and Elway.

Not this season, so far.

You can’t pass against the Lions. You can’t run on them. You can’t even wait for a foolish personal foul or encroachment penalty.

Let’s not underestimate the Jim Caldwell factor.

The Lions’ new head coach promised that his team would clean up the penalties. He preached discipline.

And it’s working.

Few and far between have been the roughing the passer fouls and the silly jumping offsides, induced by quarterbacks using simple changes in cadence.

There have been an acceptably low number of penalties in the defensive backfield as well.

Darius Slay, the second-year cornerback, is quietly having a Pro Bowl-type year. He did a commendable job on Nelson in Week 3, a receiver who could make a career highlight reel solely based on games against the Lions. Slay is far from a “shut down” corner, but he’s also proving to be a member of the league’s upper class, and getting better every week.

That’s another strange thing to say: the Lions finding a superior cornerback in the draft. But they have, in Slay.

Here’s another breath of fresh air: the Lions don’t have to blitz anymore to pressure the passer. They can invade handily by sending just four guys.

But despite all this slap-happiness, leave it to the no-nonsense Suh to keep things in perspective.

“(Sunday’s win) is definitely something to be proud of, but at the end of the day it’s very early in the season,” said Suh, who had two sacks. “If we’re talking Week 17 or Week 16 and we’re still at this pace, which I expect this defense to do, then we can start to be really excited about it because it’s translating to wins.”

True that. The Lions have played just six games.

But at the same time, I can’t recall a six-game stretch where the Lions have played anywhere near this good on defense in decades.

It’s not like the Lions added a boatload of new players from last year, either. They did, however, add a new defensive coordinator.

If this keeps up, Teryl Austin is going to have a statue built in his likeness in front of Ford Field, by the fans themselves.

The Lions are 4-2 and should be 5-1 if their kicker hadn’t torpedoed them. In all the wins with the exception of the Giants game, the defense has bailed out the scuffling offense.

Check for tie-dye. Are people saying “groovy”? Are the Beatles charting?

Surely this must be a time warp that we’re in.

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Sep
30

Smile! (Or not)

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Allen Funt created television’s Candid Camera. But he was not the star.

If Funt were alive today, he would concur.

Funt, who took the idea of a roving microphone capturing unguarded moments from the days of radio and turned it into a TV phenomenon, also never liked the notion that his show made fools out of unsuspecting people.

Funt preferred to think that Candid Camera was more of a series of case studies on human behavior, rather than a gag-filled half-hour.

Regardless, the star wasn’t Funt, though he hosted the in-studio segments and often appeared during the hidden camera “case studies.”

The stars of Candid Camera were always the people—the folks whose behavior was being chronicled in a very unfiltered and unscripted way.

Therefore, the laughs that resulted were always from the audience’s glee at the reactions of the unwitting, caught by Funt’s hidden camera.

But that was then.

TV Land has trotted out a new version of Candid Camera, hosted by Funt’s son, Peter, and actor Mayim Bialik.

As in Allen Funt’s original version, the hosts in the studio don’t matter. Not that the younger Funt and Bialik do a poor job (they don’t), but they aren’t the stars.

The new version, however, falls flat.

It’s not the fault of Funt and Bialik. It’s the fault of the people. And that’s not even fair, really.

The charm of the original Candid Camera was not only watching normal people in abnormal situations, it was in the reveal—that moment when Funt, et al would finally let the unsuspecting in on the joke.

“You’re on Candid Camera!”

But back in the original show’s days, there weren’t cameras all over the place. There weren’t cell phones and tablets and the like, all equipped with cameras that could be whipped out at a moment’s notice, ready to capture just about anything the possessor wished to capture, newsworthy or not.

Today, people aren’t stunned or shocked by the presence of a camera, even if they didn’t know one was trained on them for a case study.

So the reaction to the reveal in the new version is, well, muted.

And a muted reaction isn’t very entertaining to the TV viewers.

Now, that might not be so bad if the situations the people are placed in made up for the less-than-spectacular reveal reactions.

But they don’t.

Candid Camera debuted in 1948 and there have been a few relaunches along the way. So we’re talking 66 years, essentially, of the show’s existence. That’s a long time and it’s hard to come up with fresh new stuff.


Allen Funt, back when this notion still had the power to amaze


But again, the society in which we live makes it awfully difficult for us to be flabbergasted anymore by what we see going on in front of our eyes.

Whether it’s a soap dispenser at a market that doesn’t stop dispensing or a retail outlet that charges a $10 fee to shop in the store as opposed to online (both used in the new version), does anything really surprise us anymore?

The charm of Candid Camera was rooted in two certainties that existed decades ago that simply don’t anymore—a much more impressionable public and a genuine amazement that a hidden camera could be set up. The people were video virgins, so to speak.

Today’s society is far less impressionable and there are cameraseverywhere anymore. In fact, it seems like we are all on camera more than we aren’t, when you add security cameras and the like into the mix.

I think it would be more of a surprise if the revealing person shouted, “You’re NOT on camera now!”

Still, I give TV Land credit for trying to appeal to those of us who remember when an evening with Allen Funt and company was truly a special event. The situations were comical, the reactions were priceless and the reveals were the cherry on top.

However—and it’s not TV Land’s fault—today’s society is just so damned hard to amaze and impress. And we are certainly not aghast at the notion of a camera lens shooting us through a hole in a wall.

The result is that watching the new Candid Camera is like dusting off an old Jack-in-the-Box and failing to be stunned by the clown popping out—while being wistful of the days when it did.

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Editor’s note: The following e-mail arrived from none other than Peter Funt himself, who saw this post, on October 1, 2014:

Funny thing about the “original.” There’s no bigger fan of my Dad’s work than me, and I never suggest that my stuff is as good as his was at his prime. However, I find that our memories have a way of distorting and condensing and selecting from the past. I think what you and some other viewers are, in effect, saying is: When I recall the handful of fabulous reveals that Allen got over decades – perhaps seen in highlights or “best of” packages – they’re better than what Peter gets week in and week out. How true!

It’s hard to compete with a legend. Fortunately that’s not my objective. Good luck with your site.
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