Archive for September, 2010
I suppose that Bill Shakespeare wrote a run-on sentence or two. Michelangelo surely must have dabbed on orange when he meant to use red. Somewhere there exists a can of film showing Sir Laurence Olivier flubbing a line.
Ted Williams had a down year once, although a pinched nerve in his neck was the main culprit, not the curve ball.
So given all that, it’s easier to abide Henrik Zetterberg scoring a measly 23 goals last season.
Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ destructive left winger from Sweden, is a player next to whose name you write in 30 goals, at least—before the season starts. It’s never a prediction, it’s just telling the facts ahead of time.
Prior to the 2009-10 season, Zetterberg and 30 goals were hockey’s peanut butter and jelly.
Hank’s goal total for the previous four seasons went like this: 39, 33, 43, 31. Power play goals read 17, 11, 16, 12.
But then came ’09-10, and it was like Zetterberg’s soft hands got left out on the counter and became hard.
Twenty-three goals? Zetterberg can score 23 goals by the All-Star break in a good year. He can pump pucks into opposing goals like a roofer with a nail gun.
It gets worse. Of Zetterberg’s 23 goals last season, only three came with the Red Wings enjoying a power play. You heard me.
Maybe it was all a case of crooked shooting. Zetterberg’s shots on goal total in 2008-09, when he scored 31 goals, was 309. Last season, it was…309.
Same number of shots, eight fewer goals, and nine fewer power play tallies.
If the Red Wings are to return to territory with which they’re very familiar, i.e. hockey in June, they need Henrik Zetterberg to be, well, Henrik Zetterberg.
All last season, Zetterberg was slightly off. He never quite found his rhythm. Then injuries hit the Red Wings harder than a M*A*S*H* unit, and Z maybe tried too hard to lead the team offensively. He was Henrik Zetterberg in name only.
But it was a diluted, watered down Zetterberg. He was Pavarotti singing with a head cold.
Zetterberg is one of the Red Wings who marveled at all the spare time they had this summer, what with being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last spring. He got married, spent some time in Sweden, and to hear him tell it, he was looking at his watch the whole time.
“It’s like, after awhile, I couldn’t wait to get back to Detroit and back to hockey,” Zetterberg told the media last month of his longer-than-usual summer, and his time spent in his native country.
The Red Wings need Zetterberg to shake off last season’s truncated output and be the straw that stirs the drink. Or, since this is hockey we’re talking about, he needs to be the spoon that mixes the slush.
Coach Mike Babcock plans on putting Zetterberg back on the same line as center Pavel Datsyuk, rather than keeping them split up. Both players like the idea, and why not? It’s fun to play with the puck and not letting the other team have it.
Babcock can reunite Zetterberg and Datsyuk because the Red Wings’ forward depth chart is an embarrassment of riches. The coach can hoard his two superstars on the same line because lines two through four would never be mistaken for chopped liver.
So being back with Datsyuk, alone, should increase Zetterberg’s production.
As talented as the Red Wings are up front, they still need that catalyst. Think the Lakers without Magic Johnson, the Yankees without Derek Jeter.
With Zetterberg humming along in high gear, the rest of the Red Wings’ forwards should be all that much better.
Some players would be thrilled to have “23″ listed under their stats column that says GOALS. Zetterberg looks at 23 like a Democrat looks at Ann Coulter.
Twenty-three goals? Zetterberg can score that many with one hand tied behind his back. It’s a small number for him, one that ought to embarrass him. The three power play goals are a Scarlett letter.
But they all had a down year, the great artists and superstar athletes.
Note that I didn’t pluralize that.
Zetterberg had his.
Goalies, we now return you to your regularly scheduled nightmares.
Usually I like a stand up guy. Who doesn’t?
But I don’t need one delivering my TV news, thank you very much.
I blame Wolf Blitzer.
Blitzer, on CNN, seems to have started this trend that’s beginning to creep into other news programs—that is, the reporting of news stories standing up, the camera showing him head to toe.
I don’t like it.
There’s a reason why we call the TV news people talking heads, after all.
The only people I care to see standing up and walking around on the set are the weather folks, because they have big maps to show us and satellite images and they’re more like class instructors to me—and those types are forever standing.
But the news anchors need to take a seat.
There’s just something nerve wracking, to me, about having my top stories and breaking news delivered by someone standing. It’s not natural.
Think about the conversations you have with people while one of you is standing. Such a confab is either very casual, or in an elevator, or in a retail outlet. Rarely do you have important, serious discussions while standing.
Isn’t that the first rule of receiving sobering information?
“Are you sitting down? I think you’d better sit down for this.”
So why should the deliverer of said sobering news be allowed to stand, as if he’s giving a lecture on campus?
Why is this man standing in my living room?
They say that people identify with TV news people because it’s like they’re “coming into your living room.”
But wouldn’t you be nervous as hell to have someone standing in your living room, talking?
Wouldn’t you have the urge to interrupt with, “Umm, why don’t you have a seat?”
Yet there’s Blitzer and some of his brethren, standing in front of huge screens, the cameras unable to stay put, either—they’re forever panning and swooping and trucking.
Just sit down, look me in the eyes, and tell me what’s going on.
Watching Blitzer in his self-described “Situation Room” (pssst—it’s just a studio!) as he gives me the news in that bordering-on-yelling delivery style with the huge images behind him makes me anxious.
The only people who should be standing and giving me information are, once again, teachers, lecturers, and meteorologists.
Everyone else needs to return his or her tush to the chair.
It’s the news, not open mike night.
The problem with the Lions is that they’re available without prescription.
You don’t need a junkie to score a dose, when you find yourself ailing and in need of a pick-me-up victory.
For years, the Lions have been the NFL’s elixir—something you take when you’re feeling punky.
I can’t imagine that there was real, genuine panic in and around the Twin Cities after the Minnesota Vikings fell to 0-2 after last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. Disappointment? Sure. Anxiousness? Probably a little bit.
How could there have been, when the best cure-all since Dr. Jonas Salk accidentally discovered penicillin was on the schedule for Week Three?
If you’re the other team, and you need a win to chase away the doldrums, you take the Detroit Lions, wash them down with a glass of water and wait.
Sometimes the Lions kick in right away; other times, you have to wait three quarters for results, occasionally even longer.
But the Lions always come through. They’re the NFL’s Tylenol 3 to the other 31 teams’ migraines.
The Vikings were sniffing, sneezing and coughing on their way into their dome Sunday morning. The 0-2 start hit them like a ton of bricks. Something was going around the NFL and the Vikings had caught it. The Cowboys, 49ers, and a bunch of other teams had been inflicted, too.
The Vikings took a healthy dose of Detroit Lions and, a few hours later, they were feeling much better.
You watch the Lions and you can kind of see them in sepia tones, moving in super-fast motion with the occasional caption card, like the old Keystone Kops flicks in the days of silent movies.
Leading the Vikings 7-0 on Sunday and having just forced a nice three-and-out, the Lions were poised to get the ball back. Punt returner Stefan Logan awaited the booted ball.
I see the play now in sepia, in fast motion. The caption card flashes on the screen, the calliope music playing in the foreground.
Logan, running toward the football, diverted his gaze away from the ball and by the time he un-diverted it, the football was bouncing off his fingertips and into the arms of the eagerly awaiting Vikings kick coverers.
The Lions’ generosity continued on the very next play when they declined to cover Percy Harvin, and QB Brett Favre hit the wide open receiver for a 23-yard touchdown.
More sepia tones. More calliope music.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson torched the Lions for an 80-yard TD run in the third quarter. It was the sort of big play that the Lions swear after every game they can’t afford to surrender and yet manage to, the very next week.
More Keystone Kops images.
Lions QB Shaun Hill threw not one but two interceptions in the Vikings’ end zone, in the waning minutes of the game.
The Lions are the medication that never stops working.
It all added up to another of those 24-10 type losses in Minnesota, the kind beset with suicidal football plays and interceptions. The Lions have been losing that way in Minnesota for 13 years now.
After the game, there were a lot of “We can’t keep doing that” and “We’re better than that” quotes coming from Lions players, quotes that keep getting printed, as if they’re full of profundity—or as if we’ve never read them before.
If the Lions are subscribing to the “take one step backward to take two steps forward” method of improving, Sunday’s game was the step backward—presuming you recognize the closes losses in Weeks One and Two to be the two steps forward.
However they step, the Lions are 0-3. They were close twice, and not so close yesterday.
Doesn’t matter. This is the NFL, where the weak are eaten and moral victories are for losers.
Just another Sunday in Minnesota for the Lions. The spread was Minnesota giving 11 points, and they still covered.
Someone could have made a mint hawking the Lions off the back of a truck.
He has been Rocky Balboa on skates, complete with sequels.
He’s a twist on an old joke.
“I went to a hockey game and Aaron Downey broke out.”
Some hockey players stay in the NHL because of their soft hands. Downey has hung around because of his calloused fists.
Downey is 36 years old, and he attended Red Wings training camp on a tryout last weekend—probably on his own dime.
Downey is the quintessential “enforcer,” that hockey word for pugilist, goon, tough guy, miscreant. He pounded his way into the league and is trying to scratch and claw to stay in it.
Downey has not a prayer of making the Red Wings, but that isn’t stopping him from trying. The Red Wings forwards are a symphony and Downey is Metallica. He’s the one you circle in those “Which of these things doesn’t belong?” children’s puzzles.
For years, the Red Wings have hemmed and hawed as to whether they need an enforcer type. The organization has been torn between letting the skill players do all the damage, or to inject a bruiser occasionally to, as coach Mike Babcock likes to say, “keep the flies off.”
Downey was the Red Wings enforcer three seasons ago, when the team won the Stanley Cup. He managed to appear in 56 games that season, about 70 percent of the schedule. No one gave him any chance of making that squad, either.
Downey was a Cup winner with the Red Wings in 2008
(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“I know the odds are stacked against me,” Downey told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan last week about making the Red Wings this season. “But I just turned 36, the odds have been stacked against me my whole life, ever since I was a 16-year-old going to juniors.”
Last year, the Red Wings tabbed longtime enforcer Brad May to keep the flies off, but May was gone by the second half of the season, the team’s will to keep a tough guy having waned, as it usually does.
Yet Downey, who was out of hockey last season, dialed up Red Wings GM Ken Holland in early summer and asked if he could tag along to training camp.
Holland said yes, even though he was out of range of Downey’s right cross.
Downey’s journey back to the NHL would appear to be so ridiculous in its unlikelihood that even Sylvester Stallone would laugh at you if you tried to pitch it as a Hollywood script.
Downey was a borderline NHL player even when he was on a roster, when he was two years younger.
But YOU tell him he should quit and go home.
“I came here as a long shot in ’07-08 and made the team because I had a good training camp, brought some energy, brought some toughness,” Downey told Khan. “For some reason, a spot seemed to keep opening up. I just found a way to keep hanging around and hanging around.
“I love this place,” he said of the Red Wings organization. “I won a (Stanley) Cup here.”
It’s true. Aaron Downey’s name is engraved on hockey’s silver chalice, fair and square.
Detroit has been home to some of hockey’s toughest characters.
Need I mention Terrible Ted Lindsay, who was 5’7” but who played 7’5”?
There was Howie Young in the 1960s, whose colorful life off the ice could have sold out Olympia, too.
The 1970s gave us Dennis Polonich, another shrimp whose fists kept him in the NHL longer than his skill alone would have.
You already know about Bob Probert and Joey Kocur, the first tag team in the NHL.
But as the Red Wings got more skilled and talented, as their forwards acquired the maddening ability to pilfer the puck and keep it to their hearts’ content, the need for a box office draw pugilist—and that’s what a lot of those guys were, let’s face it—lessened.
That’s all well and good, but the other NHL teams didn’t get the memo. They looked at the Red Wings, saw no “tough guys” per se, and started taking liberties.
The fans cried foul. They wanted vengeance.
Hence the hiring of skill-deprived players like Downey, May, and Brad Norton in recent years, though you could tell that management’s heart wasn’t really into it.
So, why does Downey think he can become a Red Wing again? It’s like hamburger asking filet mignon for a tryout.
First, Downey dropped 15 pounds.
“I have no idea why I was even carrying that weight around in the first place,” he said. “I think it might have been an ego thing, just to say you’re 225 because you’re a heavyweight in the league. Nowadays, with the training, you don’t have to be 225 pounds anymore to fight a guy who’s 240. I can be 210 pounds—faster, leaner, and meaner.”
Second, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said something to Downey that resonated.
“I remember Mike saying last year… that you don’t necessarily have to be a heavyweight to play in the NHL, but you got to be quick,” Downey said. “It’s all about finishing your checks, it’s all about getting there first and creating that energy.”
So, Downey kept in shape during his year out of hockey, dropped the weight, and worked on his quickness. Cue the theme from “Rocky”; roll the montage.
“It’s not necessarily all about fighting, it’s about finishing your body checks with speed and being able to get in on a forecheck and make a first body check, so that defenseman doesn’t necessarily put that pass where he wants to put it,” Downey said. “I can do that better than I have my entire career.”
With the Red Wings deeper than an Olympic swimming pool at forward, Downey’s only possible salvation to resurrect his NHL career is to sign a two-way contract, which would put him with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, and hope to get called up during the season.
Downey played in the Red Wings’ exhibition opener in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
He got into a fight in the first period.
Carlos Guillen has been one of the finest Tigers in recent memory.
A great teammate, a perfect gentleman.
They’ve moved Guillen all around the field, the Tigers have, both to create space for other players, and to try to protect his body. The former has worked much better than the latter.
The switch-hitting Guillen isn’t all that effective from the right side of the plate, but he still gives you more flexibility because of batting righty and lefty.
But when the Yankees’ Brett Gardner plowed into second baseman Guillen in August in an attempt to break up a game-ending double play, the resulting damage to Guillen’s knee meant yet another trip to the disabled list.
Guillen’s Tigers season ended that night in mid-August. Another year of playing in only a fraction of the 162 games.
You’d be honored to go to war with Carlos Guillen on your side, except for the fact that when you’d like to do so, he’d probably be laid up in a hospital bed somewhere.
The physical limitations of the soon-to-be-35-year-old Guillen (September 30) have been painstakingly documented, literally.
Guillen hasn’t played in over 120 games since 2007, when he appeared in 151 contests. He missed 49 games in 2008, and exactly half the season in 2009 (81 games). In 2005 he played in just 87 games.
Guillen has been a great Tiger, but he’s held together with bailing wire and screws and bolts. He’s not a man, he’s a case study. All that’s missing from Carlos is a big, red nose that lights up, electrified tweezers, and a game box.
It will be among the most gut-wrenching decisions the Tigers have ever made, but it’s looking to be time to consider lopping Guillen from the 40-man roster.
Such a move will go down like castor oil and leave the aftertaste of limburger cheese, but how much longer can the Tigers wait for Guillen to return to health?
What good is he if he’s playing in 70, 80 games a year?
Guillen’s latest injury involves the use of microfracture surgery on his knee. It’s not the most trustworthy of procedures, and the rehab time can be well over a year.
Guillen played second base this season, his fifth full-time position with the Tigers, and he’s only been in Detroit for seven years.
But the Tigers, if they choose to bring Guillen back in 2011, are fooling themselves if they think Guillen can be a viable option for them at second base.
The Tigers ought to hide all his gloves and make him one of those designated hitters the American League says you can have. Full-time, for as long as he shall stay healthy.
If not that, then it should be adios.
The Tigers, should they decide to part ways with Guillen, need to be careful how they handle such a cashiering. For they could look awfully callous and cold-hearted if they do it wrong.
Timing is everything, they say.
So the Tigers will likely—and probably should, frankly—allow him to recover from the knee injury and see how he fares.
But Guillen is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
Guillen is a paradox; he’s versatile yet he’s as fragile as a diva’s ego. He’s great in the clubhouse, except that he’s rarely in the clubhouse.
Guillen wears street clothes more than he does a baseball uniform—and that’s in the summertime.
I’ll go eyeball-to-eyeball with you on this one: I wouldn’t want to be GM Dave Dombrowski when he has to call Guillen into his office and deliver the bad news that will likely need to be delivered.
“Carlos, you’ve been great for this organization but our future plans unfortunately don’t include you.”
The Tigers are trying to build something great again with a mix of their kids from Toledo and the veterans who are able to stay together in one piece.
If Guillen is unable to fully come around after this latest injury, then the Tigers will have to pull a Gary Sheffield on him and release him, forthwith.
Carlos Guillen has been a terrific Tiger. But he can’t seem to stay on the field. There’s always something the matter with him.
He’s a great guy but you can’t rely on him. If his body was as trustworthy as his word or his work ethic or his class, Guillen would be Cal Ripken, Jr.
It’s looking like it’s time to make a decision that won’t be very popular. Not at all.
But it will be the right one.
The landscape of politics is like Michigan weather—wait five minutes and it just might change.
With that in mind, it would appear to be folly to try to ascertain what might happen in the presidential election of 2012—the upcoming mid-term elections notwithstanding.
President Obama will be halfway through his term this January, believe it or not. He might also be halfway through his ONLY term.
I want to believe in the Obama Administration; I voted for him, after all. My thought at the time of the 2008 election was that Obama was the right president at the right time—just like Reagan was probably right in 1980, Kennedy was right in 1960, and Eisenhower was probably right in the 1950s.
But you can only be the right president at the right time if you’re re-elected. Otherwise, you’re just another one-hit wonder.
Kennedy would likely have been re-elected in 1964; that’s why I make an exception in his case.
Obama, for all his adeptness at the podium and his smarts—I truly believe he’s one of the smartest presidents we’ve ever had—has also shown his tenderness, i.e. his lack of political experience.
Obama is our first fast-track president. He was rushed through the system, having been a U.S. Senator for less than one full term when he took on first Hillary Clinton then John McCain.
He was the Democratic party’s boy wonder; the next Kennedy, as a matter of fact.
But even JFK spent considerably more time as a senator—nearly eight years to Obama’s three-plus (and much of that time was spent running for president).
Kennedy took over the country when times were relatively good—both economically and in terms of peace. Obama entered a quagmire. So that must be taken into consideration.
My belief that Obama was the right president for the right time was based on what had happened in eight years under George W. Bush. Obama was as far apart from Bush as you could get, in just about every way imaginable.
But it’s becoming clear to me that Obama is also, sadly, maybe the most polarizing president we’ve had, at least since WWII.
That’s saying a lot, I know.
It’s ironic, because Obama’s platform included a call to bring people together. His being the first black president was supposed to be a victory for mankind, not just for those who voted for him.
Now I’m not so sure if Obama is the right president for the right time. He may have been voted in simply because he wasn’t Bush, and he had a message that resonated. He may be just another Democrat who won because he was going up against an old, crotchety Republican, a la Carter over Ford and Clinton over Dole.
But Clinton won a second term, despite sordid tales of what apparently went on in the Oval Office—specifically under his desk.
Obama is on another fast track—to be the first one-term Democrat in the White House since Carter. That’s what the weather forecasts indicate to me.
Of course, that can all change very quickly.
The Republicans can capture the White House in 2012 if they build on the momentum they’re sure to get from the 2010 mid-terms, and if they run the right person.
Obama, for his part, has less than two years to gain his own momentum, before he has to start hitting the campaign trail yet again.
But his next campaign has to be more about substance than style. And the former seems to be more difficult for him than the latter.
What happened to MSU football coach Mark Dantonio was sobering, but about as surprising as tomorrow’s sunrise. What should be causing chin rubbing and head scratching is why this doesn’t happen more often.
The heart attack that Dantonio suffered following Saturday’s thrilling victory over Notre Dame—ANY victory over Notre Dame is thrilling in my book—has brought coaches to their public all over the country, mainly in the form of their weekly press conferences.
They’ve all said the same thing, basically.
They’ve offered their best wishes for Dantonio and his family. They’ve acknowledged that this is a tough business that they’re in, and full of pressure. They don’t deny that they could be the next victim, though they hope not, of course.
Then they’ve gone back to their 18-hour days and sleeping on the couch in their office and watching film until they’re bleary-eyed.
The head football coach at the college and pro levels is like the race car driver. No matter how many of their brethren are struck down, they’re right back at it the following weekend.
I’m grateful but amazed that this doesn’t happen more often. Coaches in football and basketball, especially, drive themselves bonkers. Train your eyes on the basketball coach next time you’re at a game. Watch nothing else. You’ll be witness to a series of tantrums that would put a two-year-old to shame.
How more of them don’t keel over is a wonder.
Not long after Northwestern football coach Randy Walker tragically passed away in 2006, I was on the phone with then-MSU coach John L. Smith.
Smith gave me the usual somber analysis about his fallen colleague.
That’s when I hit him cold.
“But coach, you’re not going to change the way you do your job, are you, despite what happened to Coach Walker? You’re going to keep working 18-hour days.”
Smith sheepishly chuckled and admitted that I was right; he wasn’t about to change one iota.
Not to be morbid, but half of the Division I-A coaches could drop dead tomorrow and it wouldn’t change how the other half go about their business.
Mark Dantonio was lucky. Sometimes the human heart gives you a warning sign to change your ways, whether it’s diet, exercise, smoking, what have you.
Sometimes it just quits on you, leaving a widow and a grieving family.
The procedure that Dantonio underwent—the placement of a stent to open up a closed artery—is fairly common nowadays. As far as heart episodes go, this one was on the lower end of the danger spectrum.
So how will Dantonio respond to this warning sign? Will he take his foot off the gas pedal a little bit? Will his return to work be a return to work as before, or will “normal” take on a new meaning?
But Dantonio isn’t the proper gauge of the response to this incident. It happened to him, and you can’t hit closer to home than that.
The bigger question is, how will his coaching comrades respond to what happened?
My guess is that they’ve already responded. They’ve taken their moment to speak to the local press, maybe say a prayer or two for the MSU coach and his family, and reflect.
Then it’s back to the office for another 18 hours of film, practice, and recruiting.
You can take a man out of coaching, but you can’t take coaching out of a man.
So, is Matthew Stafford four points better than Shaun Hill? You’d like to think so.
Stafford, the Lions’ franchise, sat in the coaches’ box at Ford Field Sunday, his ear hooked up to some sort of a gizmo, and he looked down below at the game that broke out midway through the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sadly, he was as useful as the late Bobby Layne, the man whose high school Stafford attended in Texas.
Stafford’s injured right wing was up in the nose bleeds of the coaches’ box, absolutely of no use to the Lions, who tried mightily to mount a monumental comeback against the Eagles—trailing 35-17 then, in a flash, getting within 35-32 and with the football after recovering an onside kick.
Less than two minutes remained. The Lions had the ball on their own 43—about 25-30 yards away from legitimate field goal range.
Layne would have been licking his chops.
They say ole Bobby never lost a game—time just ran out on him.
That may be so, but time didn’t run out on Hill—he just couldn’t pull off the heist. Four straight incompletions after the onside kick, the Lions were toast and 0-2, but not as bad an 0-2 as they’ve been recently.
Could Stafford have done it? Could the second-year kid have somehow marched his team the necessary yards to give Jason Hanson a shot at tying the game?
Hell, could Stafford have gone one better, and actually led the Lions to a game-winning touchdown?
That’s what they’re asking today, around the water cooler and on Twitter and that’s what the topic will be on the afternoon drive time radio shows and into the evening.
What would Matthew have done?
Hill, the gutsy backup who has 1/10th the flash of Stafford, 5/10th of Stafford’s talent but 10/10th of the fight, threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions—one in the end zone—and when the stage was the biggest, Shaun didn’t run out of time, he ran out of answers, and completed passes.
Make no mistake—the Eagles were reeling. They lost on Opening Sunday and their season flashed before their eyes. A ghoulish Lions comeback was looming. A nasty plane ride back to Philadelphia awaited them. Philly sports talk radio was about to blow up.
The onside kick recovered by the Lions made things awfully uncomfortable for the Eagles. Two Lions TDs and 15 points weren’t lovely, but you recover the onside kick and the game is over.
The onside-kicked football hit the Eagles player in the numbers, but the operating word is “hit”, not “caught.” The Lions pounced on it. Never was momentum, that overused sports word, any bigger.
Oh, to be able to see Stafford in such a situation! That’s what the Lions drafted him for—to seize that sort of an opportunity and be the hero. You win enough of those kinds of games and they start saving a spot for you in Canton.
But Stafford was in a Lions t-shirt and several stories up from the field, where the players down below look like electric football guys.
It was Hill who would have to somehow nudge the Lions the needed yards for a field goal try.
Nothing really came close to materializing. Hill’s passes weren’t all that close to being completed, and what had moments before been a potential league-wide drama unfolding, suddenly turned into another exodus of Lions fans to the exits. If Ford Field was a balloon, it would have been flitting around in the air aimlessly, its air let out.
Bobby Layne wouldn’t have thrown four straight INCs. And maybe not even Stafford would have, even though Hill has been in the league longer.
It’s tempting to look at the final moments of yesterday’s Lions game and declare that the injured Stafford would have led the team to glory.
And, screwy as it may seem, that’s progress, folks.
It’s progress in Detroit to believe that your starting QB would have pulled off a stunning comeback.
Ever since the miracle against Cleveland last November, Stafford has believers. But he has to keep doing it to legitimize the faith shown in him.
The other question they’re asking today is, “Barry Who?”
OK, maybe not to that extreme, but this kid Jahvid Best is something else. All he seems to do is score touchdowns, which is a pretty nice feature to have if you’re a football player.
Best, when given some daylight, ran through, around, and by the Eagles like a video game football player. It was a remarkable bounce back from his 14-carry, 20-yard performance of a week ago.
The Lions have scored six TDs and Best has five of them. He turned a simple screen into a 75-yard touchdown romp, and when was the last time a Lions RB pulled that off?
I think you know the answer to that loaded question.
The Lions are 0-2, but have been outscored by just eight points, total. It’s not as odiferous of an 0-2 as we’ve seen in the past.
But Shaun Hill isn’t Bobby Layne, and he’s not even close to being Matthew Stafford, frankly. Hill is a serviceable backup who is absolutely better than the No. 2 guys the Lions have paraded through town in recent years.
That’s progress, too.
First, let me say that I know it’s not a job for the faint of heart, or for anyone who prefers his body with all his bones connected and his stuffing inside, where it belongs.
You don’t have to tell me that returning kicks in the NFL is sport’s version of Russian Roulette.
I know it’s a job that must have originally been given to the loser of a bet, or to the last man to arrive at the field before kickoff.
I’m well aware that the return man is a staph infection, and the 11 men on the kicking team are penicillin.
It’s not an easy gig, by any means. Yet, I find it incumbent to complain about the lack of quality return specialists employed by the Detroit Lions since the 21st century began.
But my crabbing isn’t solely done just to vent or to be contrary. There is a distinct cause and effect between the Lions’ return game and their overall lack of success.
The Lions start every possession in bad field position, it seems. They haven’t had anyone who can move the ball north of the 20 yard line on kickoffs with any consistency since slippery eels like Glyn Milburn and Mel Gray wore Honolulu Blue and Silver.
That was a long time ago.
Punt returning is a similar joke. With the Lions’ return men of late, a fair catch is a victory.
Mel Gray, off to the races yet again, in 1994
(Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images)
It didn’t used to be that way. In fact, even when the Lions were bad before Matt Millen (and they were), at least we had kick returns to look forward to.
Some of the most electrifying kick returners in NFL history have worn the Lions’ colors.
It takes a different type of man to agree to return punts and kickoffs. And when I say different, I mean totally nuts, cuckoo, off his rocker, stark raving mad.
There isn’t anything quite like it in sport, returning kicks, unless you’re going to count being a tennis ball, a hockey puck, or anything else that gets smashed and smacked around a playing surface.
The return man must first show no regard for his own health, or for his anatomy as God originally designed it. He must have the gene of a skydiver who knows his chute was put together by gorillas, yet decides to jump out of the plane anyway.
Let’s take kickoffs, or as they could otherwise be called, Human Demolition Derbies.
The kicking team races as fast as it can down the field, after getting a running start before the kicker’s foot even connects with the ball. We’ll call them Train A.
The return team chugs ahead, sometimes joining hands—perhaps for comfort and support—and strives to gain momentum. We’ll call them Train B.
The return man catches the football and aims to go from zero to 60 in less than five seconds. We’ll call him the Pinball.
Train A and Train B collide, and the Pinball tries to slither through the mayhem and emerge intact. Sometimes he does and he’s the one sprinting toward the end zone, running as if his pants are on fire.
But most times he gets clobbered by the effects of the wreckage from Train A and Train B colliding, and he’ll be the one planted into the turf somewhere near the 20 yard line.
The return man knows he has 11 men trying to get on SportsCenter and trying to impress coaches—all they have to do is clean his clock with a hit designed to knock the wind out of his body and halfway to Timbuktu.
So that’s the kickoff.
It gets worse.
The punt return man is often not the same as the kickoff return man, because usually he’s even crazier.
NFL punters are trained to boot the football high and far. While the rest of his teammates practice real football, the punter spends hours doing nothing but kicking footballs high and far. The higher and farther, the better.
The higher the kicked ball, the more “hang time” it has, the more time the punter’s 10 comrades on the field have to think of how hard they’re going to blast the returner.
Here’s why the punt returner is even more looney tunes than the kickoff return guy.
The punt returner can’t do a damn thing until the football falls into his arms after its high, far journey through the air. The thundering herd of kicking team members can be heard and felt, yet all the punt return man can do is wait for the football and say some Novenas.
After he catches the football, the punt returner has less than a second, roughly, to figure out where the heck he wants to take it. He is charged with finding holes through which to run, in a split second with 10 screaming banshees running down the field hoping to place him in an NFL Films highlight reel for the ages.
It’s no wonder that you so often see the punt returner actually run backwards initially, toward his own end zone. Call it survival instinct.
I’ve always wanted to know what’s going through a punt returner’s mind as he waits for the football to fall from the sky, knowing what awaits him after he catches it.
So you see, I know it’s not the most desirable of vocations. Returning kicks is like jaywalking at the Indianapolis 500.
But the Lions used to have some great return men.
In the 1960s, there was Bobby Williams and Lem Barney, who was Deion Sanders before Deion was out of diapers.
Barney played into the 1970s, dazzling us with return feats of amazement.
In the 1990s, the Lions had Mel Gray, who was the only return man I’ve seen who was made of mercury. In six seasons with the Lions (1989-94), Gray took seven kicks back for touchdowns, including three kickoffs in ’94 alone.
After Gray came Milburn, who wasn’t quite as effective as Gray, but who was a legitimate threat to break free.
In the 2000s, the Lions have been returning kicks politely. Their return men frequently collapse to the ground easily. They’ve been as elusive as a turtle, and as slippery as flypaper.
In 2010, there’s a new kid back there fielding kickoffs. His name is Stefan Logan and he’s the size of a matchbox. Maybe the Lions are hoping it’ll be 20 yards before anyone finds him, let alone tackles him.
Logan had one decent return last Sunday, just before halftime—and just before the ill-fated sack of QB Matthew Stafford. Beyond that, he didn’t show me much.
None of them have, for more than a decade now.
You look at the photo now, knowing what you know, and you can swear that Bethany Storro is smirking at you.
Before, you might have said her expression—upturned mouth peeking through a curtain of acid-corroded skin—was that of a relieved, grateful woman who was just happy to be alive.
The photo of which I speak is that of the 28-year-old Storro, who is, for the moment, the most famous hoaxster in Canada and the U.S.
She’s the clearly disturbed girl from Vancouver who falsely reported that she’d been the victim of an apparently random attack in which acid was thrown in her face by a black woman.
Storro was snapped, sitting in her hospital bed, the effects of the acid evident on her forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin.
But not in her eyes, and not on her mouth.
That makes sense now, of course—because Bethany Storro splashed herself with acid. So why would she splash her eyes and mouth?
How ironic that she should have taken care not to damage her eyesight or accidentally swallow the caustic liquid—while at the same time in need of more help than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
The first thing you think of when someone concocts a false story of being victimized is one word.
OK, so Storro got the attention she craved, alright—presuming that was one of her motives.
She became a dual national story—both in her native Canada and in the United States. Fundraisers had already begun their planning stages. Facebook pages were started. Oprah came calling.
Storro had even made up what quickly became a signature line of the attack, allegedly spewed by the perp just before the act.
“Hey pretty girl, have a drink of THIS!”
So it not only became a perplexing story of randomness, it had a sinister edge. The attacker apparently chose Storro because of her looks and, perhaps out of jealousy, lied in wait until Bethany appeared. The acid was designed to take those good looks away.
And she was attractive, Bethany Storro was. I saw a photo of her prior to the incident. She was a pretty girl.
OK, so what else, other than attention, would Bethany have been seeking?
Bethany Storro, her eyes and mouth “miraculously” unaffected by acid
Attention is fleeting. Even a person in need of mental help must know that. Fifteen minutes of fame and all that. Eventually, the furor over her misfortune would have faded. It always does.
From where would she get it? How can you sue someone who doesn’t exist?
Donations were starting to come in, but money from that kind of source isn’t just forked over, especially when there’s a criminal investigation involved.
“I think it got bigger than she anticipated,” one of the police officials told the media of the reaction to Bethany Storro’s fable.
I see—she wanted attention but not TOO much attention?
As I write this, it’s unclear what charges will be levied against Storro. But there will be some, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.
Some false police reports make a degree of sense, like the woman faking rape or abduction because she’s afraid to go home or back to an abusive boyfriend. Doesn’t make it right, mind you, but there’s a path from Point A to Point B, though it’s clearly a crooked one.
I’ve thought on Bethany Storro’s tall tale, and I’m not seeing Point B at all.
Where was she going with this? What was her end game?
This was an acid attack, don’t forget—something that involves a certain degree of time and planning, and acquisition. It loses a lot of its spontaneity when you factor everything in.
Storro “miraculously” was wearing sunglasses at the time of the incident, an item she said she purchased about an hour before the “attack.” Or else her eyes may have been splattered.
Thank God she bought those shades!
I don’t know how far Bethany Storro thought she was going to take this hoax.
But she has a chair with her name on it at a psychiatric hospital, somewhere.
Pray for her.