Archive for November, 2010

Nov
30

Nielsen Rated

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There were two Leslie Nielsens, as it turned out. Who knew?

Depending through what prism you looked at him, Nielsen, who passed away the other day at age 84, was either a serious, steely-eyed man who played in B-movies and spoke with a hard-boiled style, or he was a rubbery-faced clown who became a caricature in his second life as the lead in the “Naked Gun” movies.

But after the “Naked Gun” series, which was spawned from his hilarious send-up of himself in the “Airplane!” movies—both franchises written, produced and directed by Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers—it was impossible to take Nielsen seriously. Not that he wanted us to, and not that taking him for a clown was a bad thing.

The original “Airplane!” came out in 1980, and one of the delicious things about it was the brilliant casting of players like Nielsen, Peter Graves, Robert Stack and George Kennedy—actors who were never associated with anything remotely funny. Yet here they were, seemingly having a blast satirizing everything they’d done prior to “Airplane!”

The delivery of the lines was just like it would have been for deadly serious films like the ones “Airplane!” most aped—the “Airport” series—but the words were for play and for laughs, yet Nielsen et al. spoke them as straight as an arrow.

Nielsen was plucked by Abrahams and the Zuckers to star in the short-lived TV series, “Police Squad!,” as Lt. Frank Drebin, a character that would eventually be transferred to the big screen vis a vis the “Naked Gun” films.

Nielsen’s Drebin was Maxwell Smart-ish—that is, Drebin was a buffoon and incompetent, yet he always got his man. Surrounding Nielsen was always a backdrop of sight gags that barely paused throughout the entire movie.

Nielsen himself was a sight gag, when you think about it.

Leslie Nielsen displayed a flair for comedy that no one—and I mean no one—thought he possessed. Maybe not even Nielsen himself.

Nielsen parlayed his new-found role as a comedic actor in other non-”Naked Gun” projects, but he mostly played the same character, albeit in different clothing: the class clown, crazy uncle who could say juvenile words like “fart” and make you laugh in spite of yourself.

Nielsen worked as long as he could, before health issues took their toll. And there was a reason behind that, according to him.

“Doing nothing is very hard to do,” he once said. “You never know when you’re finished.”

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Nov
28

EMU Football’s Futility Dwarfs That of the Lions

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Ypsilanti, Michigan is 45 minutes west of Detroit, a dreary drive from downtown along I-94, a stretch of freeway that is as hard on the eyes as Rush Limbaugh in a Speedo.

You’d think you’d get rewarded for traveling such an unpleasant interstate, but when you exit the freeway toward Ypsi, you actually consider getting right back onto 94.

Ypsilanti is the town you pass through on your way to Ann Arbor, similar to how a root canal is something you have to endure before your toothache goes away.

Ypsi is a burg with sniffles and pain in its joints. The faucets in town should release NyQuil, not water. You can spend a weekend there and keep the change.

Its culture is a cross between down south country and the red light of Times Square. If they charged a toll to leave town, the city would make a mint.

Michigan Avenue is the dividing line; north of it is 1985 and south of it is 1967.

No one settles in Ypsilanti; they give up there.

But despite all this, the city does contain Eastern Michigan University, my alma mater (class of 1985). The home of one of the best teaching colleges in the state and a football program that should lose accreditation.

If anyone cared about EMU football, you’d have a real story on your hands. For what has gone on in Ypsilanti over the decades when it comes to football makes the Lions’ situation seem like a 24-hour virus.

At EMU, the season records every year look like ranges of numbers, not won/loss marks.

1-11. 0-12. 2-10.

When I arrived at Eastern as a freshman in 1981, the football team was in the throes of a losing streak that had passed adolescence and had entered the teens.

By the end of my freshman year, the (then) Hurons had lost 19 games in a row. During that season, the president of the student body delivered a petition to school president John Porter calling for the firing of head coach Mike Stock.

Porter passed on the suggestion.

The Huron losing streak reached 27 before they finally won a game on November 6, 1982—a 9-7 decision at home over Kent State, who was in the middle of their own 21-game losing streak.

EMU and KSU had quite a thing going on in those days.

EMU broke its 27-game streak by beating Kent, which was the Golden Flashes’ 11th loss in a row at the time. Kent’s last win before the streak began was against EMU.

Kent would go on to lose 10 more games in a row after the 1982 game in Ypsilanti, the losing streak reaching the aforementioned 21 games. Their next win wouldn’t be until November 5, 1983—over Eastern.

If it hadn’t been for each other, the losing streaks of EMU and Kent State in those days would have been even more outrageous.

It got so bad in Ypsilanti that the Mid-American Conference (MAC) looked at EMU’s football program and threatened to boot Eastern out of the conference.

They called it the “MAC Attack.”

We had some clever folks at EMU, eh?

It’s surreal even now as I recall the state of football at EMU circa 1982-84, when the program turned to desperate acts of marketing just to get fannies into the seats, thus meeting the MAC’s quota for attendance so the school could stay in the conference.

They brought in B-list acts like comedian Skip Stephenson and singer Lynn Anderson and even the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders to perform at halftime of games.

I remember the male fans booing the poor cheerleaders because instead of wearing their famous fringed halter tops and go-go boots, the girls came out in spandex bodysuits to combat the chilly weather.

Lynn Anderson was a joke, as she resorted to lip-synching—quite poorly I might add—her big hit, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” She, too, was booed.

Football games at EMU back then were about 25 percent football and 75 percent circus.

But it worked; the school met the MAC’s attendance requirements and was allowed to remain in the conference.

Aside from a brief rise to power that occurred between 1986 and 1989, EMU’s football program has been among the worst in the country. Despite being closer to Detroit than its fellow MAC schools in Michigan like Western and Central, Eastern routinely gets its ass kicked in recruiting the PSL high schools.

CMU and WMU’s campuses are no nicer than Eastern’s, and the enrollment is about the same. But both of those schools have enjoyed more football success—by far—than Eastern has, and as an alumnus, I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of seeing EMU’s losses reach double figures every year while CMU and WMU can seem to field competitive teams almost routinely.

After the 2008 season, Eastern went looking for another head football coach—think Joe Dumars and the Pistons when it comes to frequency in this area—and hired Ron English, who was minding his own business as the defensive coordinator at Louisville University when EMU came calling.

English was known to the higher ups at EMU because of his time spent down the road in Ann Arbor, coordinating defenses for Lloyd Carr at the University of Michigan.

English seemed like a good hire. I applauded it, for whatever that’s worth to you.

English’s inaugural season in 2009 didn’t go so good. The (now) Eagles went 0-12. English had done something that I thought was impossible—he took over EMU’s sorry football program and managed to make it worse.

This year’s squad played its final game of the season Friday, at home.

Northern Illinois beat them, 71-3.

I don’t have the school’s football media guide handy, but I’m pretty sure that’s among the worst losses in EMU history.

Eastern finished the season 2-10. As usual.

And as if the Eagles needed something else to make recruiting Detroit high schools hard on themselves, English opened his mouth a few months ago and inserted a big football cleat into it.

Speaking to a reporter, English basically said that he didn’t think a man could properly coach kids raised by a single mother. It was his sloppy way of trumpeting the virtues of kids who come from dual-parent homes.

Guess which city’s football-playing kids have a low percentage of dual parents?

English managed to offend not only single mothers but also the PSL coaches who coach those mothers’ boys.

Eastern Michigan University’s football program has had one winning season in the past 21 years. In just about every one of those 20 losing years, they haven’t come close to .500.

It’s a school plopped in a depressing town that has the amenities of a motel on Eight Mile Road and the culture of yogurt. The least they can have is a winning football team for the people sentenced to live and go to school there.

More than once every 21 years, that is.

Categories : football
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Leo Durocher said it, though they got The Lip’s word cockeyed a little bit. Still, the spirit is there.

You probably think that Durocher, the legendary baseball manager, said, “Nice guys finish last.”

Not quite.

Leo, managing the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time (1946), was talking about his cousins from Manhattan, the New York Giants. Leo noted that the Giants were full of nice guys, like Mel Ott, but that they’d finish last anyways, as was their wont in those days.

“Nice guys,” Durocher said of the Giants. “Nice guys; finish last,” he added.

Thus was born “Nice guys finish last.”

But I digress—as is MY wont.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz is, by all accounts, a nice enough fellow. So is his boss, Marty Mayhew, who hasn’t done or said anything to indicate that he’s anything but a decent sort.

I’m sure the Lions players are a bunch of dudes that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. There don’t appear to be any bad apples among the bunch. The police blotter doesn’t contain any of their names.

Yet they’ll finish last in their division this year, as they pretty much have done this entire century.

It’s easy to pound away on a keyboard and dictate who should stay and who should go when the subject is any professional sports organization.

So I shall, but I don’t take this lightly.

There’s evidence now, in the wake of the Lions’ latest Thanksgiving Turkey, that there is discord among the troops. There seems to be two factions, based on the post-game comments from players uttered after the 45-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

There’s the “We are tough and we’ll bounce back” group, and their counterpart, the “Some guys need to get called out and take this more seriously” circle.

Two high profile Lions spoke words similar to those after the game: QB Shaun Hill, of the former group, and DT Corey Williams, of the latter.

This is all understandable, of course. The Lions have perfected losing football since 2001. They have that down pat. What they’re having a hard time getting a hang of is this business about winning.

I’ve been a big supporter of Mayhew, the Lions’ aggressive, means-well GM. He’s had a couple of nice drafts in two years, and despite being the understudy for one of the worst sports executives of all time, the village idiot gene hasn’t been absorbed by Mayhew through osmosis, thank goodness.

But the frustrated comments of Williams and the counterpoint by Hill indicate that the losing is taking its toll, even on an organization that’s trying desperately to shed its old skin.

Truth?

This “losing culture,” a term that has been affixed to the Lions for the past 10 years like Velcro, can only be disposed of if the man on top of the mountain has been, well, to the top of the mountain.

No, I’m not talking about owner Bill Ford Sr.

The Lions have been a franchise that’s subscribed to the “blind leading the blind” method of operating for too long. It’s a twist, actually; the modus operandi with the Lions is more the “losing leading the losing.”

Mayhew is a fine man, but he hasn’t won in the NFL, wearing Armani.

Schwartz had never been a head coach before being hired by the Lions.

The team’s stalwarts—basically players who’ve been Lions longer than this season—have never won on the field with anything close to consistency.

My opinion: the Lions, if they ever hope to truly shed their losing skin, must bring in a high-profile man upstairs with a reputation of getting it done. Williams, among his words of anguish, cited a lack of accountability in his diatribe.

The Lions don’t win, haven’t won, because they have no winners in the two positions where it matters most: in the executive’s chair, and wearing the headset of the big cheese on the sidelines.

You can shuffle players in and out all you want; you can even have some nifty drafts, on paper.

It won’t mean a hill of beans if there isn’t anyone in the Ivory Tower who exudes accountability, winning, and success.

There are men like that who are out there, available—who could be coaxed.

A couple of years ago, Bill Parcells reached out to the Lions, i.e. Ford. Parcells wondered if his expertise might be welcome in Detroit.

Ford blew him off.

I think Mayhew has a nice eye for football players coming out of college. He hasn’t hit on all his draft picks, but who does?

If the Lions looked—and they wouldn’t have to look too hard—they’d find some folks who’d drop what they’re doing and fly to Detroit to have a chat with Ford, who has a reputation among the NFL’s circles for being one of the finest men you could ever work for.

That’s one of the reasons why Parcells dialed up Ford; The Tuna knows a good owner when he sees one.

Ever since the hiring of rookie GM Millen in 2001, it’s been the blind leading the blind.

Millen hired a rookie head coach, Marty Mornhinweg. Then, whether due to hubris or stupid pride, Millen failed to bring in a seasoned NFL personnel guy to help him with his first few drafts.

Those guys were out there, too—and they would have come to Detroit in a heartbeat, for this was way before Millen’s stock plunged like Enron’s.

But that’s all water under the proverbial bridge.

I’m not calling for the firing of Mayhew. I’m not even asking for Schwartz’s head. Not yet, anyway. Ford hates firing people, I know.

If Bill Ford Sr. could somehow be convinced that bringing in a top-notch NFL man who’s had a history of building winning football teams would be a neat idea, then the Lions might have something.

Let Mayhew run the draft. Give Schwartz another year, at least, to see if he has the chops to be a quality NFL head coach.

A winner at the top who is teeming with success, accountability and no regard for the losing history in Detroit would be the best thing to hit the franchise since Bobby Layne stumbled here with whiskey on his breath in the 1950s.

Parcells, by the way, was recently quoted that he feels he has one more rebuild in him.

And he’s not the only one who could make a difference with the Lions. Nor is he the only one who would love to come to the Motor City. Turning the Lions into a winner is the white whale that several quality NFL men would dearly love to slay. That individual would be set for life, whether with the Lions or any other franchise.

To be known as the Man Who Made the Lions Into Winners Again is a delectable prospect for the right guy.

That man is out there. The Lions just have to ask.

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Nov
23

Leftover, But Not Left Out

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Is there a more wonderful, more thrilling time to raid a refrigerator than on Thanksgiving night?

Is nothing better than to feel that first tummy grumble, right around 11:00 p.m., and know that in the icebox lies mountains of food to silence those grumblings?

If you hosted Turkey Day, that is.

It’s one reason—hell, the main reason—that my wife enjoys hosting Thanksgiving. You can’t forage for leftovers if you’ve spent the day at relatives’.

But I won’t throw her under the bus. I’m just as guilty of “leftover envy.”

It’s a lot of uncovering, unwrapping, reheating and replating, but what’s better than chowing down on Thanksgiving, Part II as the witching hour approaches?

We only serve five on Thanksgiving, yet we annually purchase a 25-27 pound bird. Because hot turkey sandwiches the day after the holiday, positively rule.


Eat. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s the usual fare as you’ll find in most American homes—turkey; stuffing (my wife’s famous Italian stuffing featuring ground sausage and rice); mashed spuds; green bean casserole; sweet potatoes; Italian mushrooms (cooked for hours in water and oil and mixed with sliced onions); rolls; cranberry sauce (gelled AND whole); jello mold; cherry pie; and pumpkin pies (two of those).

There’s always enough for several meals, which means we chow on that smorgasboard all weekend. Then, to top it off, I make my famous Turkey Frame Soup on Sunday, a family tradition.

You can’t accuse us of not getting the most out of our turkey.

All told, from Thursday through Monday, at least, we’re picking away at the big bird until just about every shred of it is gone.

The real challenge is to clear the downstairs fridge on Wednesday, because it will be bursting at the seams the next day, and throughout the weekend.

I still can’t understand those who would eschew tradition and do fish or a ham on Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but we only make one turkey a year in our house. Why substitute?

We always overdo it with the food on Thanksgiving. Sometimes I think we made too much.

Naah.

Categories : culture, Enotes, food
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Nov
22

Former Lions Soothsayer Kitna Comes Back to Haunt Them

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The declaration grew a life of its own. It would be used first as a rallying cry, then eventually as a weapon of mockery, rubbed in the face of the source of the words.

Jon Kitna’s delusional expectations for his Detroit Lions in the spring of 2007, once it hit the airwaves and the Internets, spread like wildfire. Or cancer—depending on how you look at it.

The Lions of 2006, Kitna’s first season as Lions quarterback, rode in at 3-13. Their third win came on the season’s final week—in Dallas.

So here was Kitna, talking of his expectations for his team in 2007.

“I think we can win 10 games,” Kitna said.

The daffy prediction drew ire, praise, and derision—depending on to whom you served it up.

The words made it into the ears and through the eyes of the entire fanbase within minutes, it seemed.

But Jon Kitna first spoke them to me. True story.

He was on the phone, chatting with me as I gathered info for the “A Few Minutes With” section of the Detroit sports magazine I was editing. Kitna was the subject. After several questions of eclectic variety, I put one more to him.

“What would you say,” I said through the phone, “to the long-suffering Lions fans reading this?”

He thought about it briefly; there were several seconds of dead air.

Then he spoke with excitement, as if he had just remembered the answer to a trivia question.

“I would tell them that we’re gonna win 10 games next season,” Kitna said.

I reminded him that his words would not be printed in invisible ink.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Kitna said.

Well, a few days later, speaking to one of the radio stations in town, Kitna repeated his assertion about the 10 wins for the Lions in 2007.

That’s when all of Detroit became awash with their quarterback’s delusional giddiness.

Kitna’s words, so infamously uttered, became so only after he spoke them into a phone through the radio. His conversation with me had been much more private.

Same declaration, totally different result.

Over three-and-a-half football seasons have gone by, and the Lions have only recently surpassed Kitna’s 10 win total, predicted in the spring of 2007. The win total that Kitna thought the Lions could reach in a single season—not three-and-some-change seasons later.

Since the beginning of the 2007 campaign, the Lions are 11-47; they’re 5-45 in their last 50 games. It’s unbelievable in its ineptitude, that in today’s NFL, a team could average just one win for every 10 games for over three seasons.

Kitna still wears blue and silver, but it’s a different shade of blue, and there’s a Texas Lone Star on his helmet—not the futile rampant Lion.

Kitna on Sunday was the latest quarterback to make mincemeat of the Lions, a team he so once gallantly led.

It took the Dallas Cowboys more than a half, and a flukey punt return to kick start them, but they had more than enough in the end to subdue the men in Honolulu Blue and Silver, 35-19.

The Lions, once again, used a suicide cocktail of penalties, a poor rushing attack and a second half swoon to blow a football game that they, if ever so briefly, held in control.

After a safety early in the third quarter put the Lions ahead, 12-7, the Cowboys’ sparkling new stadium was cast with a pall. Kitna and his offense were mostly a rumor, aside from the opening, 98-yard TD drive.

When Kitna spoke his delusional words to me over the phone that spring day in 2007, he’d only been a Lion for one season. He had no idea how bizarre Lions football could be.

That bizarreness was on full display during a punt by Nick Harris in the third quarter, not long after the aforementioned safety.

Just when you think you’ve got a favorite bad/weird play in Lions history to hold up as a sampling of the franchise’s bungling, along comes another one.

This one came courtesy of Bryan McCann, a three-time NFL loser who is suddenly one of the most dangerous return men in the league.

McCann, playing in just his third NFL game Sunday, nonetheless had the presence of mind of a grizzled veteran and took off running with the football at his own three yard line, following what appeared to be yet another great special teams play by the Lions’ John Wendling, who batted the ball from the evils of the end zone.

A touchback never looked so good, after what McCann did.

Up the sidelines McCann scooted, 97 yards to paydirt. Maybe one of the strangest punt returns you’ll ever see—and it went for six points. Against the Lions, natch.

I remember Lem Barney against the Cincinnati Bengals at Tiger Stadium in 1970.

Barney, punt returner extraordinaire in addition to being a shutdown cornerback (Lem was Deion Sanders before Deion was out of diapers), watched along with a group of Bengals as a Cincinnati punt rolled to a stop.

Just before the Bengals went to touch the football, Barney bent over, scooped it up, and zig-zagged about 50 yards for a touchdown.

There was a time when the Lions inflicted odd punishment, believe it or not.

Momentum is one of the most overused words/phrases in sports, right up there with chemistry and unsung heroes and “on the same page” and “at the end of the day.”

But sometimes those words are appropriate in their use. After McCann’s “excuse me” punt return, momentum indeed shifted, like San Francisco’s terrain during the 1989 World Series.

You just knew the Lions were cooked, even though McCann’s dazzling play only put the Cowboys up, 14-12.

Jerome Felton poured gasoline on the Cowboys’ fire by benevolently fumbling on the Lions’ next possession. Before long, it was 21-12, Dallas.

Goodnight, nurse.

How’s this for the epitome of “same old Lions”?

After a week of talking and preaching and practicing in order to cut down on the before snap and after whistle penalties, the Lions had the Cowboys pinned on their own two yard line for their opening possession.

On the Cowboys’ first play, Detroit DT Corey Williams jumped the snap and was flagged for encroachment.

The Lions are 5-45 in their last 50 games. It took them over three years to reach Jon Kitna’s predicted 10 wins in 2007.

So when you see plays like what Bryan McCann made Sunday, shame on you for being surprised that they happened to the boys in Honolulu Blue and Silver.

It would be more surprising if McCann had done that to a team other than the Lions, when you think about it.

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Nov
21

Kuester in Quicksand Coaching These Bratty Pistons

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Herbie Brown, when he first came to town in the mid-1970s, was a frenetic, nervous man with wide, plaintive eyes, long curly hair, and a mission.

He arrived in Detroit in 1975 as the new assistant to Pistons coach Ray Scott, who performed the task for two years without any help.

But Ray, one of the finest men you’ll ever meet, did a favor for a fellow coach and long story short, hired Brown to be Ray’s assistant.

That favor would come back to bite Scott in the you-know-where.

“I guess I didn’t see it coming like some others did,” Ray once told me.

You might know Herbie Brown by way of his more famous coaching little brother, Larry.

So Herbie comes to Detroit, joining Ray Scott, and before long it’s obvious to some of the sportswriters in town, like the Detroit News’ Jerry Green, that Herbie is gunning for Ray’s job, the “it” that Scott says he didn’t see coming.

Ray told me of a meeting he had along the Detroit Riverfront with Green, in a car near Cobo Arena, in which Jerry tried to warn Ray of Herbie’s intentions.

In January, 1976, Ray was fired, the Pistons tumbling from first place toward oblivion in the latter part of December and early January.

Herbie Brown’s mission was accomplished; he was the new Pistons coach.

For better or for worse.

The Pistons actually played hard for Brown initially, using a late-season run to squeak into the playoffs. Then they upset the Milwaukee Bucks in a best-of-three series before taking the defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games.

The following season, Brown was still frenetic and manic and he still wore shoes with no socks and open-collared leisure suits. He looked like a reject from Studio 54, coaching the Pistons in Cobo Arena and throughout the arenas of the day.

One day in practice, according to Green in his book “The Detroit Pistons: Capturing a Remarkable Era,” Brown was overseeing a ball movement drill and noticed one of the Pistons being checked in a mismatch by point guard Kevin Porter.

Porter was an angry, simmering player who scowled a lot and distrusted coaches. He and Brown were very similar people, which was part of their problem.

Brown saw the mismatch and implored the bigger player to shoot.

“You got a midget on you! Shoot the ball! You got a midget on you!”

Kevin Porter didn’t like being called a midget by the disco-dressing Herbie Brown.

That was part of the tenuous, stormy relationship between coach and point guard, which at times nearly turned physical in its confrontations.

Brown would sit Porter during games and not call on him for chunks of minutes at a time. Porter would glare and scowl. Herbie would finally call for Porter and it was even money whether Kevin would actually acquiesce and enter the game.

This went on for most of the 1976-77 season, a year in which the Pistons managed to win 44 games despite several key players (like Bob Lanier) holding Herbie Brown in complete disdain.

Herbie was eventually fired in December, 1977.

Herbie Brown rubbed his players raw, like a cheese grater. He yelled a lot, which even back then wasn’t the best way to get through to NBA players, even before they made salaries that would make a lot of corporate magnates blush.

Unlike Herbie Brown, Chuck Daly got it.

Chuck, the Pistons coach from 1983-92, knew his place. He knew that NBA players weren’t seventh graders who needed to be taught basketball and scolded. Rather, they were, in Chuck’s own words, 12 different corporations who responded to diplomacy and empowerment, even if the latter was disingenuous.

Chuck Daly’s brilliance was that he made it seem like the players were in charge more than he was. He let them police themselves, realizing that if you have tough-minded leaders like Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer on your roster, you might as well have them work for you rather than against you.

Once, during the 1985-86 season, the Pistons in a terrible slump, rumors were abound that Daly was to be fired—soon, any day now.

But Thomas went to bat for his coach. He encouraged GM Jack McCloskey to give Daly some more time.

A couple years later, the Pistons were in the NBA Finals. The next two after that, they won them.

Daly would end up as the greatest coach in franchise history, not that any of us saw it coming when he was hired from obscurity in 1983.

I can’t help but think of the cautionary tales of Herbie Brown and Chuck Daly as I watch John Kuester wallow in his tenure as the coach of today’s bratty Pistons.

No one seems to have Kuester’s back, as Isiah and Laimbeer did for Daly, back in the day. Rather, the coach appears to be surrounded by a lot of Kevin Porters.

As I write this, the Pistons have played 12 games. It seems like 112. The drama that has occurred so far is enough to keep a soap opera writer on retainer.

Guard Rodney Stuckey, who started yapping in training camp about being tired of not yapping enough previously, has already spent a game tethered to the bench as punishment for not leaving a prior game upon Kuester’s request.

Forward Tayshaun Prince has already verbally sparred with Kuester via the press, then cut out the middle man and sparred with him face-to-face during a game at Golden State last Monday. The coach had to be restrained during that delightful encounter.

The Pistons cannot compete with the league’s elite. There was a sorry blowout loss at home to the Celtics, which was one of the worst efforts I’d ever seen from a Pistons team.

Then the ultimate indictment came on Wednesday night.

The Pistons entertained the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and they did so in every sense of the word. The Pistons laid down for the Lakers. They all but brought out appetizers and cocktails before serving them a main course of an easy win.

Afterward, Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who’s been at this NBA coaching thing for over 20 years now, delivered the worst zinger of the year.

“It looked like some of their guys weren’t playing very hard,” Jackson said.

They ought to put that on the 2010-11 Pistons’ epitaph.

It was the worst, cruelest blow. Jackson’s words, coming from a spoiled victor, ought to embarrass the Pistons to no end.

But you want to know the worst part?

Jackson’s charge won’t embarrass this group of petulant Pistons one iota.

John Kuester is no Chuck Daly, but he’s no Herbie Brown, either.

Still, Kuester is likely to suffer the same fate as Brown, eventually.

That’s usually what happens in the NBA, when you can’t get all the corporations that Daly spoke of to play ball—literally and figuratively.

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Phil Coke nestled in the Tigers’ starting rotation is looking better and better.

It’s been bandied about for months, that the Tigers are about to pluck uber-reliever and southpaw Coke from the bullpen and plop him among the rotation that includes hard-throwers Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello.

With this week’s free agent signing of Tampa’s Joaquin Benoit, the Tigers have essentially replaced Coke with one of the best set-up men in baseball last year.

That means Coke is free to join the rotation, which needs a lefty in the worst way.

Fortunately, making Coke a starter is doing it in anything but the worst way.

Coke was part of last off-season’s larceny that GM Dave Dombrowski committed, when he traded popular CF Curtis Granderson and enigmatic RHP Edwin Jackson and brought in Coke, CF Austin Jackson, RHP Scherzer, and LHP Daniel Schlereth.

You don’t need to wait the requisite several years to know that DD hit a home run with that deal.

All Coke did was appear in 74 games, pitch 64.2 innings, surrender just two home runs, post a fine 3.76 ERA, and stabilize the Tigers’ pen, especially in the season’s first half.

Coke was the most reliable reliever the Tigers had overall, so it was a little off-putting when the rumblings began that he might be moved to the rotation.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul, you might say.

But that all changes with the addition of Benoit, who in 2010 was as lights out as an army barracks after 10:00.

And if Joel Zumaya defies the odds and stays healthy next year, the bullpen will miss Coke even less.

This sort of thing usually works the other way around; it’s the traditional starter who will shift to relieving.

You’ve heard of Dennis Eckersley, Dave Righetti, Goose Gossage and John Smoltz?

All starters—and good ones—who became outstanding relief pitchers.

Coke started the Tigers’ final game last season, in Baltimore—his only big league start.

It didn’t go so well.

Coke lasted just 1.2 innings, coughing up five hits and two runs.

But that ought not to dissuade the Tigers from moving forward with the Coke Experiment, and it appears that it hasn’t.

Of course, Benoit is a righthander and Coke is a lefty. So who becomes the Tigers’ primary lefthander in the bullpen?

It could be Schlereth, a strikeout guy who has a world of potential.

It could be Fu-Te Ni, but Ni didn’t pitch for the Tigers after June 29.

It could even be Andy Oliver, should he not be traded and should he not be considered worthy of the fifth spot in the rotation.

But with Benoit, if he comes anywhere close to repeating his magical 2010 season, it might not matter if you have a consistent left-handed presence in the pen or not. It could be “lefty by committee” and that might be good enough—especially if Zumaya comes back strong.

Free agent pitchers traditionally make me squirm with uneasiness. Seems an awful lot of them go sideways as soon as the ink dries on their new contract.

Troy Percival, anyone?

Maybe Benoit, who survived surgery and missed the entire 2009 season recovering, has already had his physical calamity for his career. Maybe his terrific 2010 season is proof that he’s back and isn’t to be derailed.

The Tigers have 16.5 million reasons to hope so.

Meanwhile, Phil Coke as a starter is looking peanut butter and jelly-ish in its compatibility.

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Nov
18

Bristol’s Two Left Feat

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Bristol Palin is dancing her way toward the bottom of the pile but being electronically delivered into the hearts of Americans.

Bristol is one of the top three remaining contestants on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”, a show that is hemorrhaging credibility like red ink from the federal budget.

Bristol is the daughter of ultra conservative political wonk and Tea Party proponent Sarah Palin, who fancies herself as a presidential candidate in 2012.

Rumors abound that Sarah Palin has mobilized her Tea Partiers to flood ABC with phone calls and e-mails in the portion of the voting that calls for the general public to weigh in on which dancers should stay and which should go every week.

The result of this alleged campaign?

Bristol, who’s a fine young woman but a mediocre dancer—especially when compared to the recent competitors who’ve been voted off the island—is one of the last three standing, despite poor marks from the show’s judges and superior scores from her competition.

Something’s rotten in Alaska.

The look on the face of singer/actress Brandy, who was the latest to capitulate to Bristol on Tuesday night, was both heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch.

Brandy was legitimately stunned beyond comprehension when her name was read as the one who’d be saying goodbye that night. The crowd was stunned, too. You could hear a pin drop after host Tom Bergeron made the announcement.

The judges were stunned.

Most of America, I think, was stunned.

Somewhere, Tea Partiers were high-fiving each other.

ABC’s method of voting across the country is coming under some serious fire. Apparently one of the cracks through which Bristol’s competitors are falling is the one that doesn’t verify the e-mail addresses of those voting online. One e-mail per vote, but if you’re making up phony e-mails that no one is verifying…

You get the idea.

Bristol and “DWTS” partner Mark Ballas


Bristol, 20, joins actress Jennifer Grey, who’s been getting high marks through most of the competition, and 19-year-old actor/rapper Kyle Massey as the three remaining finalists, as the show winds down for the season.

There’s a creeping feeling that Bristol will end up as the winner; after all, she’s survived this long with less-than-wonderful dancing.

But even if she doesn’t win, the fact that she’s still alive is an indictment of ABC’s voting system. Aside from not verifying e-mail addresses, maybe the network should look at reducing the influence the public’s vote has on the competition. In other words, simply weigh the judges’ scores greater than the folks using phones and their computers.

This way, the public can still influence the results, a la “American Idol,” but if the judges’ scores are overwhelmingly favoring one dancer (Brandy had received a perfect score the night she was dismissed), then it would be nearly impossible for the general public to elevate a weak dancer above a superior one.

If Bristol Palin wins, “DWTS” will take a serious hit in the credibility department.

You can’t trust the general public in these sorts of contests, where popularity so often trumps actual ability and talent.

ABC will deserve all the heat they get if so-so hoofer Bristol Palin wins this competition.

She’s a sweet girl, but often has the look of a deer in the headlights when she dances. I think even she knows she’s not that good.

But it’s not her fault she’s come this far. It’s not even the Tea Partiers’ or Mama Palin’s.

It’s the system’s, and ABC needs to fix it before the next season of “DWTS” starts this winter.

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Nov
17

Kobe Bryant the Greatest Laker, and Maybe the Greatest, Period

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He’s the greatest Laker of them all, and in case you didn’t know, that franchise hasn’t exactly had chopped liver playing for it over the generations.

It all started with No. 99, George Mikan, the NBA’s first Redwood. That was when the lakes the team played near were in Minneapolis, not Los Angeles. Mikan was 6’10″ at a time when any player whose head top rose more than six feet from the ground was considered basketball-ready.

Mikan played among relative Lilliputians, but that doesn’t take away from the trail he blazed in the NBA; that is, being the first true big man who wasn’t as immobile as a pylon, and who was dominant.

Mikan only played seven seasons in the NBA, but that’s like saying Godzilla was only in Tokyo for half an hour. George left his mark, make no question.

Then there was the terrific duo of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, once the franchise moved westward to Southern California. The ole lefty from UCLA, Gail Goodrich, joined them in 1965 and soon afterward did Wilt Chamberlain, and key role players like Happy Hairston, Jim McMillian, Keith Erickson and Leroy Ellis, and that’s how you win 33 straight games, as the Lakers did in 1971-72—and Baylor only played in nine games that season.

There was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who came over from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 and who would become the league’s all-time leading scorer. Earvin “Magic” Johnson went from an NCAA Title with Michigan State in 1979 to an NBA Championship with the Lakers one year later.

Kobe Bryant trumps all of them. Heck, he might trump just about anyone who wore any uniform, except for Michael Jordan—and it’s not a slam dunk (pun intended) that MJ was the better player.

The Lakers are in town to play the Pistons tonight. Once upon a time that meant a playoff-like atmosphere and a possible preview of the NBA Finals.

Thanks to the schedule makers, Western Conference teams only invade the Eastern arenas once a season, and vice-versa. So if you miss Kobe and the Lakers tonight, and with the state of the Pistons, you’ll have to wait till next season to see the Greatest Laker of Them All.

It may seem like you’ve been in a time machine going backwards when you look at Bryant’s age and see that he’s only 32 years old. For opposing teams, that’s like having the week from Hell and realizing that it’s only Tuesday.

You don’t have to like Kobe Bryant as a person. You don’t have to include him on a list of folks you’d like to have dinner with, or to marry your daughter. It’s OK if you keep a dart board in the basement with his photograph taped to it, or a voodoo doll with a Lakers No. 24 jersey on it.

It doesn’t change the fact that Bryant is the greatest of all the Lakers, and when he calls it quits, he might have supplanted Abdul-Jabbar as the player who’s tallied the most points ever.

It’s quite possible, you know.

Kobe has a little more than 26,000 points as I write this. Kareem finished his brilliant career with 38,387 points, with only one measly three-point field goal among them.

So Bryant needs about 12,000 points to surpass the second greatest Laker of all time and become the No. 1 scorer in NBA history.

If he plays at a relatively high level—scoring between 1,800 and 2,000 points per season—Bryant can become the all-time leading scorer in six or seven seasons. He’d be 38 or 39, and you’d be foolish to bet against him still being an impact player at that age.

Remember when Shaquille O’Neal left L.A. and smirked that Kobe couldn’t become a champion without the Almighty Shaq?

The Lakers are two-time defending champs and Bryant is two-time defending Finals MVP, nipping at the heels of Shaq, who won three straight of those from 2000 to 2002.

Kobe Bryant pops in about 25 points a game (at least), grabs five boards, and dishes off about that many assists. Every night. Been doing that for, oh, 12 years now. That’s all.

He’ll shoot his 45 percent from the field, his 84 percent from the stripe, and break your back with an occasional three-pointer at the worst possible time. He commits 2.4 fouls per game and draws about three times that many on any given night.

Has he had his moments with coach Phil Jackson? Has he feuded with teammates? Has his personal life left something to be desired?

Triple yes, but he wears five rings and has come in second place twice. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

They say Kobe Bryant is petulant and thinks about himself first and is, frankly, a spoiled NBA brat.

Truth?

He’s been all those things, at one point or another. But show me an NBA player who’s never been selfish, and I’ll show you an unemployed NBA player whose only rings are around the collar.

You think pro basketball is a team sport first? You think you can win in today’s NBA without a megastar?

Then you must be a fan of that other team that plays in the Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker of All Time. It says here that, before you know it, he’ll be the NBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer, too.

And at that point, Michael Jordan’s legacy as the NBA’s greatest player ought to be under a cloud of doubt.

Like it or not.

Categories : Baseball, Out of Bounds
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Nov
16

Size DOES Matter

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When it comes to sizes of things, this country was practically founded on the premise of small, medium, and large.

We have small (Rhode Island), medium (Michigan) and large (Texas) states. We have small (villages), medium (towns), and large (cities) municipalities. We have small (ponds), medium (rivers/lakes), and large (oceans) bodies of water. We even have small (jockeys), medium (baseball players), and large (sumo wrestlers) human beings.

That perfectly efficient way of designating sizes bleeds into our clothes and our foodstuffs.

You just can’t beat small, medium, and large. They’re about as American as it gets.

So who do those coffee people think they are?

I’m cranky with the coffee folks, and not just because they charge $4.79 for a cup of fancy-shmancy joe.

The coffee people, with the delicious exception of Caribou Coffee, insist on ramming very un-American like sizes down our throats—literally.

Tall, grande, and venti is the coffee shop’s small, medium, and large.

WHY??

In every other joint in this country—from the greasy spoon diner to the five-star restaurant—the beverages are sold using the tried and true S, M, L system.

Some places eschew medium, or small. That’s fine. Having two sizes instead of three is OK by me.

But this tall, grande, and venti stuff is for the birds.

And worse, the word they use for small sounds like it would be the large version—”tall.”

When I hear tall, I don’t think small. Call me crazy!

Yet tall is small in the world of overpriced coffee.

Maybe that’s how they do it in the tony coffee shops in Europe; I don’t know. But this is America and we speak small, medium, and large—in just about everything.

Starbucks is a place I won’t patronize, and it’s not just because of the size name issue.

When this lousy economy began affecting the coffee houses, Starbucks had a golden opportunity to seize the moment and do a couple of things.

For example, they could have temporarily reduced prices or began offering real specials. It would have been a marketer’s dream: make your competition look bad by boldly announcing price breaks until the economy gets back on its feet.

What’s the markup on a cup of brew, anyway?


Oh, shut up and get over yourselves!

Yet Starbucks didn’t do that, of course. Instead, they closed locations and laid off a gazillion workers.

Bastards.

Heaven forbid they knock 75 cents off the price of a “tall” drink.

I mentioned Caribou Coffee, and they won me over a couple months ago. We stopped at their Royal Oak location after a day in downtown Detroit. It was chilly and rainy and a perfect day for a hot beverage.

I tensed as soon as I walked in, because I can never get those damn coffee sizes right and I was sure Caribou used that oddball system of sizing.

Yet there those three magical words were on the menu hanging behind the workers: small, medium, and large.

Caribou Coffee is my new most favorite coffee joint.

I’d have given them the shirt off my back if it wasn’t so cold.

I wear size extra venti, by the way.

Categories : culture, Enotes, food, society
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