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May
26

Meara, Meara

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Comedians/actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were married for 61 years, but had they not heeded warning signs, the marriage might have ended some 44 years ago.

The comedy team of Stiller & Meara was seemingly cruising along in 1970, having just enjoyed a nice run of 36 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s, when both members of the team/marriage sensed that something was amiss.

With an act based largely on their real-life domestic trials and tribulations, Stiller and Meara found that despite their success—or maybe because of it—the line between life at home and life on stage was getting further blurred as the years went on.

“I didn’t know where the act ended and our marriage began,” Meara toldPeople magazine in 1977.

“We were like two guys,” Stiller said in the same article.

With Meara questioning things and Stiller worried that he might lose his wife, the act was disbanded in 1970.

But they never stopped working together for very long at any given time; they just didn’t do so as the stage act Stiller & Meara.

The couple had been teaming up on a web series in recent years before Anne Meara passed away over the weekend. She was 85.

On television, Stiller and Meara were most recently seen sharing some scenes together on “The King of Queens,” with Stiller playing Carrie Heffernan’s widowed father Arthur Spooner and Meara playing the part of Veronica Olchin, the widowed mother of Doug Heffernan’s friend Spence Olchin.

Ironically, that series ended with Stiller and Meara’s characters getting married.

Stiller and Meara’s actor/producer/director son, Ben Stiller, produced the web series for Red Hour Digital, which Ben owns.

Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller in New York after a failed audition in 1953, and the couple was married a year later. But it took much prodding and several years of convincing before Meara agreed to join her husband on stage as a comedy team, whose only rival at the time in the male/female duo category was the team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, who weren’t married.

Thus, Stiller & Meara would eventually become the entertainment industry’s longest-running, most successful husband and wife comedy duo, surpassing that of George Burns and Gracie Allen.

After the stage “breakup” in 1970, Stiller and Meara hardly disappeared from view or from listeners’ ears.

They did radio ads for Blue Nun wine, and appeared in television commercials together. They also teamed up in 1977-78 for “Take Five with Stiller & Meara,” which was a series consisting of humorous blackouts about everyday life.

Meara was no Gracie Allen, and that’s hardly a knock. Where Allen was George Burns’ ditzy foil, Anne Meara was Jerry Stiller’s equal, and then some—both physically and in terms of material. She was a tall, Irish, Brooklyn redhead whose height caused her to loom large on stage next to her husband, literally and figuratively.

Meara was a four-time Emmy Award nominee and she was nominated for a Tony Award once.

There was so much more to Anne Meara than being Jerry Stiller’s comedy partner—and Ben Stiller’s mother. There was the acting and the writing and the teaching and the trailblazing aspect to her career for other female comics.

Not bad for a woman whose own mother committed suicide when she was 11 years old.

Meara once gave a glimpse into what the secret was to staying married to a co-worker for over six decades, practically unheard of in show business.

“Was it love at first sight? It wasn’t then—but it sure is now.”

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Twenty-five years ago, Mike Ilitch sent a car to pick up his hockey coach.

Jacques Demers was about to go for a ride.

Inside Ilitch’s home, the Red Wings owner sat down with Demers and the two men had a good cry.

Ilitch gave Demers the ziggy, after four years in which Jacques won back-to-back Jack Adams Trophies and led the Red Wings to two Final Four appearances. All this, after Ilitch hired Demers away from St. Louis on the heels of a season in which the Red Wings won 17 games and allowed over 400 goals.

But after three straight playoff appearances under Demers, the Red Wings slid, and missed the post-season in the 1989-90 season.

Jacques wasn’t shocked by the ziggy, but ever emotional, Demers began weeping and so did Ilitch.

Bryan Murray, the Red Wings coach-in-waiting, was brought over from Washington for the 1990-91 season and beyond.

The Red Wings made the playoffs again in Murray’s first season and they haven’t missed spring hockey since.

The coach for the past 10 years of that post-season streak called his boss, GM Ken Holland, on Wednesday morning.

There was a message to be relayed to Ilitch, the ziggy-renderer of Jacques Demers 25 years ago.

Mike Babcock, Holland told the octogenarian owner, was leaving the Red Wings. This time, the coach was giving the team the ziggy.

Such is the change in the landscape these days.

Babcock was the tail wagging the dog with the Red Wings. He had all the leverage. It was quite a role reversal from the status of most coaches in professional sports.

It was the old Pistons and NBA legend Earl Lloyd, who we lost earlier this year, who put it best.

In 1971, Earl was just hired as the coach of the Pistons and he made an astute observation.

“When you’re hired as a coach,” Lloyd said, “you’re signing your own termination papers.”

But Mike Babcock wasn’t in the boat of so many of his brethren. He was the rare pro coach who could call his own shots. His question wasn’t whether he’d have a job—it was where that job would be.

Ilitch, who values loyalty as much as winning, and probably more so, couldn’t possibly have enjoyed seeing his coach, who was still under contract, flitting around North America, playing the field.

It’s been suggested that Max Scherzer’s refusal to take the Tigers’ contract offer made before the 2014 season turned Ilitch sour on the Tigers star pitcher. From that point on, those folks suggest, Ilitch wasn’t going to sign Scherzer. No way, no how.

Yet Ilitch let the Mike Babcock Road Show go on, with the apparent provision that the Red Wings and their contract offer (reportedly five years at $4 million per) would be waiting for Babcock should he determine that the ice wasn’t smoother elsewhere.

Then again, Scherzer was only a Tiger for five years; Babcock coached the Red Wings for ten.

The Babcock spectacle was unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Detroit, involving player or coach.

Players certainly can’t shop their services before their current contract expires, so why should coaches?

It’s a question that nobody seemed bothered enough to ask while Babcock jetted from city to city, entertaining offers.

As usual, the so-called insiders on social media made their sure-fire declarations of what was going to happen before it actually happened.

Bob McKenzie of TSN boldly stated on Monday that Babcock was definitely NOT going to Toronto. McKenzie didn’t know where Babcock would end up, except that it wouldn’t be in Toronto.

A day later, rumors heated up, led by more “insiders,” that Buffalo had become the front runner for Babcock’s services. A contract with the Sabres was being negotiated, the insiders said.

The San Jose Sharks were longshots.

The Red Wings were still in the mix as late as Tuesday, other insiders maintained.

In the end, on Wednesday morning, the Sharks had been eliminated. The Sabres had dropped out of contention on their own volition.

And Babcock made his phone call to Holland, informing the GM that Detroit was out, as well.

That left the Toronto Maple Leafs, widely dismissed as a poor destination for a coach of Babcock’s stature and desire to win, as the last team standing.

Go figure.

Holland told the media on May 1 that money wouldn’t be an issue for the Red Wings when it came to retaining Babcock as coach.

But money was even less of an issue for the Maple Leafs, who ponied up $50 million, spread over eight years.

That offer dwarfed that of Detroit’s, which was five years at $4 million per.

Babcock told us that he was all about winning. His hesitation at re-signing with the Red Wings was supposedly tied to his concerns about the future of hockey in Detroit, i.e. would the Red Wings be Cup contenders again soon?

The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. They have made the playoffs once in the ten consecutive years that Babcock has guided the Red Wings to the post-season.

Their locker room has been dysfunctional. One of their best players, Phil Kessel, has a reputation for being difficult to coach and he’s sparred with reporters along the way.

The team isn’t close to winning and their farm system doesn’t have very many people talking.

Yet Babcock, who is all about winning and who had grave concerns about the hockey future in Detroit, signed with Toronto.

It would be easy to call this a money grab and nothing else, but who among us wouldn’t have taken an offer that was, essentially, $30 million more than what you were being offered by your current team?

All things being equal, yes, it’s about winning. If the Leafs offered roughly what the Red Wings were offering or slightly more, then Babcock probably stays.

But $30 million is a lot to leave on the table.

So Babcock is gone, and another Detroit sports team has to pick up the pieces.

First it was the Tigers, with the departure of Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.

Then it was the Lions, who lost Ndamukong Suh to Miami.

Now it’s the Red Wings, who’ve lost their coach to another Original Six franchise.

But at least the Red Wings appear to have a capable replacement for their loss, unlike the Tigers and Lions with Scherzer and Suh, respectively.

Jeff Blashill is the coach-in-waiting, just like Bryan Murray was 25 years ago, when Jacques Demers got the ziggy.

Blashill is 41 years old and all he’s done is win at the college level and in the high minors. His Grand Rapids Griffins are still in the AHL playoffs.

Blashill has coached many of the current Red Wings and he has one year as a Babcock assistant on his resume as well.

It says here that Blashill will be named the next coach of the Red Wings as soon as it can possibly happen.

The Red Wings are ripe for a coach like Blashill. The NHL has been moving more toward younger head coaches for several years now, and with some success.

Blashill will also come much cheaper than Babcock.

Not that money is an issue.

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May
08

Who Among Us?

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The only thing that is certain in the road rage trial of Martin Zale is that it was tragic.

A wife widowed. Children growing up father-less.

After that, it gets tricky.

Zale is the motorist who is accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Derek Flemming last September 2 in Genoa Township, at Grand River Avenue and Chilson Road.

Zale was allegedly driving recklessly and Flemming, on a beautiful afternoon after having lunch with his wife, didn’t appreciate it.

The vehicles stopped at a red light—Zale’s in front of Flemming’s—and Flemming got out of his vehicle to confront Zale. Witnesses say that Flemming looked very angry and had both fists clenched as he approached Zale’s truck.

Moments later, Flemming was dead—shot once in the face. He died instantly.

Zale didn’t flee; rather, he pulled off to the side of the road and called his lawyer.

Those are the basic facts. Zale’s trial is happening now, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to follow.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than what I have chronicled. But that’s what makes it so fascinating.

Who among us has never been enraged by another motorist?

635666718283062463-Martin-Zale
Martin Zale at his trial


That’s what enthralls me about the Zale trial. So many criminal trials are difficult to relate to, because they involve actions or circumstances in which a vast majority of us would never find ourselves.

But Martin Zale and Derek Flemming? We’ve all been the latter and some of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, have been the former.

It’s just that in this case, Flemming took that extra step that many of us have fantasized about but have still managed to avoid actually doing—probably because of the fear of the fate that befell Flemming.

It’s a trial that so many of can relate to. And I believe that its verdict could have a ripple effect in several ways.

It’s also a trial where there will be no shortage of opinion or water cooler talk at the office.

As I said, the only non-debatable aspect here is that what happened was a tragedy. It always is, when something bad happens that was avoidable.

But there’s that word: avoidable.

It’s a sort of chicken and egg thing going on here.

You can say that Flemming initiated, in essence, his own death by climbing out of his vehicle to confront Zale.

You can also say that Zale initiated everything because of his allegedly reckless driving to begin with.

Then there are the backgrounds of the two men.

Zale, according to co-workers at least, was notorious for crazy driving. He also has another documented road rage confrontation from his past in which police were called.

Flemming, for his part, also–according to those who knew him—had exhibited behavior in the past that aligns with possible anger issues.

So there we have it—two known hotheads coming together to form a perfect storm of rage and reaction.

The easy thing to do—and I am among those who have done it—is to wag a finger and hold up Flemming as the poster boy for why you should never confront, and why you should call 911 instead.

But that doesn’t let Zale off the hook, of course. Flemming’s actions may have been ill-advised, but did they deserve the death penalty?

Maybe something like this was bound to happen, involving Martin Zale.

Perhaps the same could be said of Derek Flemming.

Still, tragic.

They’ll be talking about this one for years.

Categories : crime, Enotes, society
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Ever since Jim Harbaugh was named Michigan’s football coach in December, he’s been on tour.

You can hardly pick up the Internet these days and not read Harbaugh’s name in a headline on some website somewhere.

First he’s helping distressed motorists. Then he’s being passive/aggressive with fellow coaches. Then he’s posing for a selfie with the First Lady of the land. And pretty much everything in between.

Harbaugh will talk about anything, to anyone.

You wanna talk khakis? Harbaugh will bend your ear.

It’s as if Harbaugh has been charged with selling Michigan football—barnstorming the land, espousing the Michigan Way. You keep looking for the back of a truck and the bottle of Love Potion no. 10.

Harbaugh, after just four months on the job, has already gotten more positive press as Michigan’s football coach than Brady Hoke got in four years.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when Harbaugh was even remotely undecided about his future beyond the San Francisco 49ers.

There hasn’t been this much buzz about Michigan football since the man who coached Harbaugh roamed the sidelines on Ann Arbor Saturdays.

With all apologies to Lloyd Carr, a fine man and coach, Harbaugh has the state and the nation on pins and needles about the block M in a way that reminds the old-timers (like yours truly) of when Bo Schembechler donned the headset, sunglasses and ball cap.

College football was never boring in these parts when Bo coached Michigan.

Whether he was turning red with anger at yet another question about his kicking game, or working the officials on the sidelines, or getting into the face of one of his players, Schembechler WAS Michigan football.

Bo never would have conceded that fact, but it was 100 percent true.

Now, with Harbaugh, the Wolverines finally have a coach that is the face of the program, and right from the jump.

There is deliciousness in the connection between Harbaugh and Schembechler—a direct link that can never be broken.

Camaraderie among the brotherhood of coaches is nice and all, but it doesn’t come close to the relationship between player and coach—especially when that player is a quarterback.

It’s one thing to say that you are returning to be the head coach at a place where you were once an assistant. That’s a nice little story.

It’s quite another to have once been the BMOC and then return to campus to take the head coaching job—a job once held so grandly by your mentor and practically second father.

We’ve all seen the photos and the videos of quarterback Jim Harbaugh, no. 4, being given a talking to by Schembechler on a fall Saturday in the mid-1980s. Their relationship was not atypical when it comes to that of QB and coach. Tough love comes to mind.

Now Harbaugh is the coach, and unlike when Bo arrived in Ann Arbor as a virtual unknown in 1969, Harbaugh bounces into town with a nifty resume and a cult following.

You’d never catch Bo making the rounds as publicly as Harbaugh has this year, but that’s more of a sign of the times than anything else.

Schembechler was larger than life and he didn’t have social media to help him—not that he needed it.

Harbaugh has all the trappings of being the next great Michigan football coach (again with apologies to Carr, who did a very good but not great job), but no matter his win/loss record, one thing is for certain: there’s a lot more juice in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry now.

Remember Michigan-Ohio State?

The rivalry hasn’t been the same since Woody Hayes was forced out of Columbus after the 1978 season.

Bo coached Michigan for 11 more years, but nine years of Earle Bruce and two of John Cooper at OSU didn’t move the meter nearly the way Bo and Woody did between 1969 and 1978.

In fairness to their successors, Bo and Woody coached their teams partly during an era where you didn’t go to a bowl game unless you went to the Rose Bowl for winning the Big Ten—otherwise known as the Big Two and Little Eight in the 1970s. So there was a lot riding on that final game of the year in Columbus or Ann Arbor.

But the fact remains that Michigan-Ohio State hasn’t had the star power at the head coaching position—on both teams—since Bo and Woody cast their large shadows.

Until now.

Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State form arguably the most intriguing coaching matchup in college football today.

Finally, both schools have star power under the headsets.

This Michigan-Ohio State thing has some juice again. Meyer’s program has the leg up on Michigan’s, but for how long?

The recruiting battle will be fierce. The gamesmanship will be fascinating to watch.

More importantly, the football played on the field will be exquisite, once Harbaugh fully sinks his meat hooks into the job.

The coaches don’t have catchy names like Bo and Woody. “Jim and Urban” lacks in that department.

But the coaches could be named Frick and Frack for all anyone cares. What will matter, and what is finally back in this rivalry, is the intensity. For too many years since Woody left OSU, either Michigan or Ohio State have gone on streaks of dominance that have relegated the rivalry to second class status.

It’s not a true rivalry if one team is constantly beating the brains out of the other.

As long as Harbaugh and Meyer are at U-M and OSU, respectively, there shouldn’t be dominance by one school over the other.

Bo’s record vs. Woody was 5-4-1, to show you.

Remember Michigan-Michigan State?

That just got a lot better, too.

Harbaugh-Mark Dantonio won’t be chopped liver, either.

Jim Harbaugh is the rock star college coach. He tours and he has a following and he hangs with celebrities.

He brings a je ne sais quoi to the table.

He also wins.

Life has been breathed back into Michigan football.

Finally.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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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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