Archive for January, 2011

The Pistons, as I write this, have 35 games left in this wretched season of theirs.

Will Richard (Rip) Hamilton play in any of them?

What’s happening at the Palace is becoming a league-wide embarrassment.

Other NBA players are beginning to chime in on the Saga of Rip—and in the basketball court of public opinion, Hamilton is coming out smelling like a rose.

Hamilton is the soon-to-be 33-year-old shooting guard extraordinaire, the beanpole whirling dervish who, once upon a time, formed half of a Pistons guard duo with Chauncey Billups that had been compared to the days of yore, when Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars manned the backcourt with aplomb.

Hamilton, when times were good—and it’s not all that long ago—was one of the smiling Pistons, one of a lunch bucket starting five who represented the city of Detroit the way its denizens adore it to be represented.

“Goin’ to Work” was the marketing department’s slogan in the mid-2000s, when a championship was a legitimate goal every autumn.

The Pistons won the 2004 championship and almost the 2005 version with their eclectic blend of talent, but with a twist.

The Pistons possessed no superstars, no surefire Hall of Famers. The starters were very good, make no mistake. But there was no one guy who reigned supreme. They weren’t Michael Jordan and Four Others.

On any given night, Hamilton was no better than Billups, who was no better than Rasheed Wallace, who was no better than Tayshaun Prince, who was no better than Ben Wallace.

There was no Isiah to rescue them in the game’s waning minutes.

They won collectively—and lost that way, too.

In those days, Hamilton was happy to be one of the Fab Five. His signature catch phrase, “Yes SIRRR!” was oft-repeated by the fans—at the water cooler, in their living rooms, at parties.

Hamilton smiled a lot in those days.

What he wasn’t, because he didn’t need to be, was a leader.

I think that’s one of the reasons why he smiled a lot.

Hamilton, I’ve written many times, enjoyed his cake while eating it too when the Pistons were winning and going to the Eastern Conference Finals every spring.

He could blend in, win, and not have to lead.

Which was fine, because that’s what the romance of those Pistons teams was: One for all and all for one. They were the NBA’s Five Musketeers.

When the nucleus of the team began to fracture, i.e. when the Wallaces were gone and Billups was traded, Hamilton looked around and saw something which obviously frightened him.

He saw a basketball team in woeful need of a captain, and what’s worse, he was the logical choice for such a designation.

The horror!

Hamilton signed a fat contract extension after Billups was dealt in November 2008. It wasn’t one of President Dumars’ brightest moves.

Hamilton, since signing that extension, has shown not one inclination to be the leader that the young Pistons so desperately need.

It’s been Tracy McGrady, a gimpy newcomer picked off the scrap heap last August, who’s proven to be the one coach John Kuester looks to for leadership and basketball advice.

This is because these days, Hamilton shows up for work, puts on his tank top and shorts, zips up his warm-ups, and takes his place at the end of the Pistons’ bench, where he’s been buried for about 10 games now, and counting.

The court of public opinion has shifted as this benching has developed.

Kuester, no angel in this affair whatsoever, tried to sell folks on the notion that Hamilton’s sudden disappearance was because of a “shortening of the bench.” Trite coach speak.

But the benching happened precisely when a rumored trade involving Hamilton moving to the New Jersey Nets was bandied about. Some coincidence.

Kuester, I’m convinced, kept Hamilton shackled to the bench in anticipation of the trade, so his guard wouldn’t suffer an untimely injury that would torpedo the deal.

But the trade was called off, and Kuester didn’t know what to do next.

The benching is dragging on, and it’s the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about—no one who matters with the Pistons, that is.

Kuester has done what I thought at one point was nearly impossible: he’s made Rip Hamilton into a sympathetic figure.

Former backcourt mate Billups was in town this week, and he chimed in.

Billups used words like “disrespectful” and “wrong” in describing what’s happening to his friend.

Billups mentioned Hamilton’s jersey one day being hung from the Palace rafters.

I think that ship has sailed, but I get where Chauncey is coming from.

Other NBA players have spoken out in favor of Hamilton.

Denver coach George Karl, a league veteran and so wise about these kinds of things, spoke favorably of both Hamilton and Kuester, but wished someone would initiate some communication. Karl’s words seemed to button hole Kuester more than Hamilton.

This is where Hamilton has been coming out looking like a victim.

Kuester, last weekend, told reporters that he’s “reached out” to Hamilton.

Call me crazy, but I took that to mean that the coach made a personal overture to Hamilton.

You know, something like, “Hey, Rip—wanna talk?”

But no.

A couple days later, word got out—from Hamilton himself—that Kuester’s idea of “reaching out” is a rather curious definition of the phrase.

Kuester, Hamilton told the media, sent for a team official, and had that person approach Hamilton, who refused the awkward overture.

Game after game, Hamilton sits, his number never being called. Later in the week, he developed a stomach flu.

Talk amongst yourselves.

I have been a critic of Hamilton, but what is happening now is wrong.

This is no way for an NBA head coach to treat a player of Hamilton’s stature.

John Kuester is ducking Hamilton, and he’s painted himself into a corner in the process.

How much longer can Kuester continue to not play Hamilton, who’s making over $11 million a year?

And when will we hear from President Dumars, who must have been airlifted to an undisclosed location during this mess?

This has gone on long enough. It’s beneath everyone involved to engage in this kind of nonsense.

Dumars must broker a meeting between coach and player. Nothing good can happen until such a meeting occurs. After that, we’ll see.

Rip Hamilton has been wrong a lot in the past two-plus seasons.

But what’s being done to him now is no more right.

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It was one of the most famous newspaper leads in sports history.

It came the day after Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

“The imperfect man,” New York columnist Dick Young wrote, “pitched the perfect game.”

It was true, for sure; Larsen was an average pitcher who had the day of his life.

But so was it true for many of the pitchers in MLB history who, for one game, were unblemished.

The roster of men who’ve pitched perfect games would not bowl you over with its largesse for talent. Few of them were anything remotely close to stars.

Armando Galarraga is not on that roster. But we know better, of course.

Yet Galarraga’s status, that of the Imperfect Man Who Met the Imperfect Umpire, doesn’t change the fact that Armando, too, is a blind squirrel who (almost) found his nut.

Galarraga, after his unofficial perfect game last June 2, went the next 21 starts for the Tigers garnering only two wins.

That, more than anything, is why he’s no longer a Tiger.

Galarraga has been dispatched to the Arizona Diamondbacks, safely out of the American League and in one of the farthest reaches of the country, where he can do the Tigers little harm.

Let’s see what AZ manager Kirk Gibson does with Armando.

Replacing Galarraga in the Tigers’ rotation is veteran righty Brad Penny, whose body has been imperfect. If Penny can stay healthy, the Tigers have made an excellent swap in their starting five.

Galarraga has been a frustrating, confusing pitcher for the Tigers since 2008, when he exploded onto the scene in Detroit and went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. He was, as a rookie, one of the few bright spots on a Tigers team that was a huge disappointment.

But since then, Galarraga has, alternately, pitched himself out of and back into the rotation—several times. He’s shown those flashes of his ’08 brilliance—and then some—but has withered back into just another mediocre pitcher. And he’s sometimes done this from start to start.

The last nail in the coffin for him in Detroit, I believe, was that 21-start streak last summer that lasted through the remainder of the season, when he produced just the two wins.

I highly doubt you’d throw Penny out there for 21 starts and get two wins in return.

Yeah, you can crab about run support and all that, but two wins in 21 starts is what it is. Somewhere in there a pitcher has to suck it up and pitch so good he can’t help but win the game.

Galarraga never got his footing back since his rookie year. Until the Penny signing, Galarraga was penciled in to be the fifth starter. But it was hardly a guarantee. You always had the feeling that if the Tigers could find someone better, Galarraga would be usurped. You also got the feeling that the team was shopping for an upgrade, even as they spoke of him as the no. 5 starter.

The Tigers found their upgrade in Penny, a Cy Young candidate several years ago and someone with post-season experience. If he stays off the DL, of course.

Galarraga is gone, and he leaves behind memories that this baseball town will never forget. He was thrown into a blender with umpire Jim Joyce and the two of them have been pureed ever since, combining to form an inseparable mixture of triumph over tragedy.

Another imperfect man who, for one game, was perfect—almost.

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Vinegar Over Sugar

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It’s a debate as to what is being judged more closely and harshly on the new season of “American Idol”: the would-be idols, or the new judges.

First impressions after Week One and last night: the contestants are still a mixed bag of talent and bozos.

The new judges are a breath of fresh air.

If this sounds like an indictment against the sour-pussed Simon Cowell, so be it.

The new twosome, former Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and singer/dancer/actress Jennifer Lopez, have shown the ability to render judgment without quarts of vinegar. It comes out in teaspoonfuls from Tyler and Lopez.

The third judge, Randy Jackson, seems to be at times trying to compensate for the loss of Cowell by going overboard with mean-spirited comments—even when they’re obviously undeserved.

They fall flat coming out of Jackson’s mouth.

But the trio of judges makes for a nice blend.

Tyler is funny, Lopez is adorable and has empathy, and Jackson is the returning vet who feels the need to remind his colleagues that not all of these singers can, you know, SING.

Speaking of which, what possesses some of these folks to show up, wait hours and hours, and then belt out sounds that defy description?

On national TV, no less.

Dreams are great. But doesn’t reality ever sink in?

What’s more, it’s odd that the most unlistenable contestants are often the most defiant and angry ones, after they’re shown the door.

“I can sing better than half the people here!” one woman shrieked after her audition went over like a lead balloon.

“Is it because I’m not SKINNY?!” she pressed on.

“This has nothing to do with looks,” Jackson calmly explained. “It’s about talent.”

The not-skinny-one would have none of it; she stormed off, declaring that she didn’t want to be on camera anymore. When a hand-held camera followed her out of the room, she glared at it.

Clearly, the producers of “Idol” choose to show us the bottom feeders for effect, but I wonder how many of them there really are. Surely there can’t be THAT many delusional people, can there be?

Tyler and Lopez: a breath of fresh “Idol” air

But back to Tyler and Lopez.

I like how the newbies let the untalented contestants down gently. I like how they are truly captivated by the good voices. And I like how it seems to truly bother them when they have to squash someone’s “Idol” dream.

Jackson is OK, but he’s old news. Tyler and Lopez are all the rage.

Critics are already out on Tyler and Lopez, saying that they said “yes” to too many contestants.


After years of Cowell’s snide remarks, it’s refreshing to see that people can be rejected without being humiliated.

After all, they often do that pretty well all by themselves.

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Crazy Talk

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Jared Loughner is, without question, off his rocker. A total nut job. The elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor—all that stuff.

But what he’s not, is insane.

At least not in the “I had no idea what the HELL I was doing” kind of way.

Loughner, the alleged gunman—not that we have to really use “alleged,” but there you go—in the shootings of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and several others, made his first appearance in court yesterday. And he’s just plain nuts.

Loughner was seen smiling in court as charges were read against him. But not in the “I’m just a happy-go-lucky guy” way—in the “he knows something we don’t” way.

Charlie Manson smiled a lot, you know. And you remember what atrocities he was responsible for.

Loughner is only 22, yet his mind is already filled with hate and paranoia and he’s just too young to be so terribly jaded.

Unless he’s bonkers—which he is.

But he’s not insane.

What’s the difference? Plenty.

The insanity defense is rarely successful, and that’s as it should be. To be not guilty by reasons of insanity means that the perpetrator committed a violent crime with little capability to stop himself. Maybe he snapped. Maybe he was in some sort of trance-like state.

Loughner was no more insane at the time he started pulling the trigger and pumping people full of bullets as you are going to the store to buy eggs and milk.

Both acts—Loughner driving to the shopping center where Giffords was appearing, you going to the market—require pre-meditated thoughts, a degree of planning, and a mission that needs to be accomplished.

Loughner: Crazy but not insane

Loughner’s was not the act of an insane person, in the judicial sense.

Deranged? Disturbed? Addled?

Absolutely. But not insane.

Loughner pleaded “not guilty” yesterday, and it makes me wonder if the old insanity plea is up his sleeve.

Let’s hope not, for Loughner isn’t insane.

He knew exactly what he wanted to do on that fateful Saturday. His aim was to murder Rep. Giffords, plain and simple. If that meant that others would have to die, like a nine-year-old girl, then so be it.

Collateral damage, you know.

“Not guilty by reason of insanity” is an antiquated defense whose success rate has fallen dramatically over the years as the courts have gotten smarter.

Jared Loughner is crazier than a box of hammers.

But he’s not insane.

Not even close.

Categories : crime, Enotes
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It’s a different type of competitiveness now.

These days, Steve Yzerman doesn’t go into the corners, he goes into an office. He doesn’t try to win face-offs, he tries to win players. He doesn’t wear a sweater and skates, he wears a dress shirt and wingtip shoes.

You can dress him however you like, put him wherever you want, but you can’t take the will to win out of him.

There’s quite a story going on in the NHL, not that you’d know it, because it’s happening to a team closer to Cuba than Canada.

Yzerman is Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a hockey team that really does play in the NHLI looked it up.

Yzerman took the Tampa job because he wanted to run an NHL team in the worst way. Mission accomplished; the Lightning has been an NHL team in the worst way in recent years.

At the time of his hiring last May, the Lightning hadn’t had a winning season since 2007. As recently as 2008-09, the Lightning were 24-40-18, a nice way of saying they won 24 and lost 58.

But Yzerman didn’t care. He wasn’t going to realize his dream of running an NHL organization inDetroitwhere everyone is entrenched and there’s a waiting list.

He retired as a player in July 2006 and immediately started his internship in the Red Wings’ front office. You could do worse than to learn from the hockey minds in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena.

Kenny Holland. Jimmy Devellano. Jim Nill. Mark Howe. And, for a time, Scotty Bowman.

You don’t think Stevie Y learned a thing or two?

It wasn’t going to happen in Detroit for Yzerman, so after four years of apprenticeship, The Captain got restless. He wanted to be The General Manager.

The Tampa Bay Lightning wanted to be respected. They wanted to be more than a nice little team who played in Florida and who would visit your team’s city, lose, and politely leave.

The Lightning looked at Yzerman, a hockey icon, saw his situation in Detroit, and got some ideas. New owner Jeff Vinik, who had bought the team in March 2010, set his sights on Yzerman and no one else, according to reports.

When the news broke of the Lightning’s interest in Yzerman, I wrote that he ought to take the job, no matter how repulsive it was. The job, I wrote, was beneath Yzerman, to work for the Lightning, who weren’t even in the NHL until 1992.

But he absolutely needed to take it I argued, if he wanted to realize his GM dream forthwith.

The Lightning not only made Yzerman the GM, they tagged him with the title of Vice President, too. He reports only to owner Vinik, who put complete faith and trust into Yzerman’s ability to rebuild his organization.

Seems Yzerman has indeed learned some things, wiling away his time in the Red Wings’ front office.

The Lightning are among the best teams in hockey right now and Yzerman has played no small part in the resurgence.

First, he hired a new coach, 38-year-old Guy Boucher. Yzerman couldn’t care less that most hockey people outside of Boucher’s next of kin would say, “Guy WHO?”

“Guy Boucher is one of the finest young hockey coaches in the game today,” Yzerman said in announcing his first hire as VP/GM.

Boucher’s résumé was as a minor league coach who had his finest season in 2009-10 with the AHL’sHamilton Bulldogs, winning 52 games and garnering 115 points.

Then, as his first choice, Yzerman drafted winger Brett Connolly, surprising the people labeled with that hackneyed term, “expert.”

Connolly was coming off an injury and it was a curve ball that Yzerman threw, because the supposed conventional choices were top-rated defensemen Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley—who both slipped in the first round—making them available to the Lightning at sixth.

Connolly is 18 years-old and if his recovery from his hip flexor injury proceeds as Yzerman expects, The General Manager will have pulled a fast one.

Yzerman was 18 once, only he was in the NHL at that age, drafted third overall by the Red Wings in 1983. Three years later, he was the team’s captain.

You know the rest.

Yzerman made some other roster moves, tweaks and such, in preparation for his first season as VP/GM.

Then they dropped the puck on opening night, and the Lightning has been striking ever since.

After 10 games, the Lightning were 7-2-1, followed by a little lull, then a five-game winning streak that made them 13-7-2.

Restless again in his Armani suit, Yzerman looked at the goaltending situation and found it to be unacceptable.

So he traded for veteran Dwayne Roloson, and when I say “veteran,” I’m trying to be polite. Roloson is 41 years old.

But the new/old goalie is playing OK for Yzerman’s team, going 5-3 with a save percentage of .910.

The young coach Boucher is doing better than OK with his equally-as-young team, squeezing every ounce of hockey-playing skill from it.

The Lightning, going into Saturday, were sitting at 29-15-5, second best in the Eastern Conference. They won just 34 games all of last season.

Yzerman is winning again—big surprise.

No team with which Yzerman has been associated has had a losing season since 1991.

Now he’s taking the slapstick Tampa Bay Lightning and making them the new Beasts of the East.

Veteran hockey observer Scotty Morrison had this to say about Yzerman’s decision to sign the 41-year-old goalie Roloson to compete with incumbents Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, both into whom Yzerman had put faith:

“There are some guys who would refuse to admit that things weren’t working as anticipated and might ride it out longer and wait too long. Whether it’s admitting a mistake or admitting he needed an improvement, (Yzerman) went out and did it, so good for him.”

Steve Yzerman, some might say, has nothing left to prove in hockey. He’s won three Stanley Cups, played for 22 seasons and overcome injuries that would make a medical examiner wince.

But competitors never stop competing. Yzerman has wanted this very badly for many years. He’s wanted to be a hockey architect, ever since he saw how the best did it in Detroit.

Yzerman is turning the Tampa (freaking) Bay Lightning into winners in his first year on the job.


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Outside the Bun, Inside the Tortilla

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You’ve got to hand it to Taco Bell. They keep pumping out new menu items using the same five ingredients.

They’re thinking “outside the bun” all the time, they are.

First, this isn’t an anti-Taco Bell rant. Quite the contrary; I find T-Bell to be the best “bang for your buck” among the fast food competitors. I like all the menu items whose costs are measured in cents, not dollars. I like that you can take as many sauce packets as you want, sans rationing.

And it truly is “fast”—much more so than the burger joints.

Taco Bell does more with five ingredients than some places do with twice that many.

The folks at T-Bell have been saddled with tortillas, beans, beef or chicken, tomatoes and onions for decades, yet they keep coming up with new menu items including just those ingredients, with few exceptions.

Everything is self-wrapped in its own casing, for the most part, except for the tacos, which are the roofless convertibles to the rest of the menu’s sedans.

I’m not going to bother to list the plethora of items that the Head of Cooks has come up with over the years, but they are amazing in their diversity, considering they all contain the same stuff, for the most part.

Yet another Taco Bell menu item utilizing the usual suspects

But that’s how Mexican food is, similar to Italian cuisine, which is mostly pasta, cheese, and sauce.

Did you laugh scornfully when I called Taco Bell, Mexican food?

Well, what ELSE would you call it?

I know the menu items at your local T-Bell aren’t exactly what a Mexican mother from south of the border would serve her family, so I’ll compromise and call it Mexican-American food. Or, more accurately, Meximerican.

Call it whatever you like, you can’t deny that Taco Bell gets awfully creative with the same five things.

They have a new item now, one that imports Frito’s corn chips into its makeup. But the rest of it is still a flour tortilla and the usual suspects inside.

McDonald’s, Burger King and the rest are constantly falling all over themselves trying to put together an eclectic menu, one that dares to be different. They use lots of different ingredients—way more than Taco Bell.

But Taco Bell keeps its menu items on the cheap side, and they keep coming up with new takes on old ingredients.

It’s like one of those word puzzles, where you have to come up with 25 different words using one with five letters.

Taco Bell prides itself on thinking “outside the bun.” I keep waiting for the time when they’ll have to think “outside the tortilla.”

More than 40 years after arriving on the food scene, that time hasn’t come yet. It may never.

Categories : Enotes, food, society
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Tracy McGrady has no world championship rings. He doesn’t have any conference championship rings. He doesn’t even have any first round champion rings.

He doesn’t have any anecdotes about what it was like to go up against Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson or LeBron James when the whole enchilada was on the line. He can’t gather the kids around the campfire and tell them how the spotlight shines so much brighter when the court has “NBA Finals” painted on it.

But McGrady, the 31-year-old, sometimes gimpy point guard for the Pistons, can tell the youngens what it’s like to stare the end of your career in the face, and to seriously ponder a life without basketball.

He can tell them what it feels like when most of the teams in the league looked the other way when his name was mentioned following the microfracture surgery on his knee.

McGrady is the one-time NBA superstar who became the Ernie Banks of his time and his sport—the poster child for bad timing, forever playing on teams, even good ones, that couldn’t survive past the first round of the playoffs.

So he owns no rings, like Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace do. Heck, even his coach, the rumpled John Kuester, possesses a World Championship ring from his days as Larry Brown’s assistant with the Pistons in 2004.

But McGrady has that whole career-was-nearly-over thing that none of the aforementioned players can relate to.

If the Pistons part ways with Hamilton, as they appear on the verge of doing, and if they let Tayshaun Prince vanish into free agency, as has been widely speculated, then the team suddenly becomes woefully deficient in NBA playing experience.

Don’t forget that Wallace is likely to retire after next season, the last on his contract.

All this means that the Pistons would do well to hang on to McGrady beyond the expiration of his one-year contract, signed last August.

All bona fide NBA teams—and coaches—need players around like McGrady, who entered the league as an 18-year-old in 1997 with Toronto, and who now has nearly 18,000 points accumulated over 855 games, a 20.8 per game average for 14 years.

In fact, McGrady is hitting on nearly 48 percent of his shots this season for the Pistons, and he hasn’t been this deadeye at shooting the basketball ever in his illustrious career. His career shooting percentage is 43.6.

Granted, the man they call T-Mac hasn’t been hoisting nearly as many shots at the basket as he has in years past, but 48 percent is still 48 percent, albeit in a relatively small sampling—for him.

McGrady, in the past couple of weeks, has assumed the role of starting point guard and has basically been showing younger players Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum how it’s done. McGrady is distributing the ball the way a quality point guard should. And he’s hitting shots when called upon.

All that, and he’s providing sorely needed leadership for a team that has had a vacuum in that area ever since Chauncey Billups was traded.

Kuester has been outspoken and effusive in his praise for how McGrady has mentored the Pistons’ younger players, while at the same time showing an exemplary attitude in a season where “exemplary” has been an infrequently used adjective, to say the least.

McGrady might be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done, except not all has been said, and it doesn’t look like all has been done—not even close.

The Pistons signed McGrady last August and it was the quintessential marriage of convenience. McGrady needed the Pistons so he could show the NBA that he still had game, and the Pistons needed another NBA veteran with a name—a player who wasn’t too far removed from his oohs and aahs days.

The Pistons didn’t need another swingman—in fact, they needed one like a hole in the head. And it wasn’t like NBA teams were knocking McGrady’s door down for his services. But the Pistons figured they could get McGrady on the cheap (which they did), and maybe he could still score a little and provide a veteran presence.

Check, and check.

I wrote, soon after the McGrady signing, that both sides were using each other, but that it was all good because sometimes that’s what happens in business.

It probably still is true, but I have an inkling that the Pistons might be using McGrady more than he’s using them, which is a good thing.

If the Pistons can manage it—no easy feat with the team up for sale—I’d be thrilled if they sat Tracy McGrady down and discussed a two or three-year contract extension.

The Pistons want to make their rebuilding process as quick and as painless as possible. The latter isn’t so easy, but if they want to work on the former, then they’re going to need guys like McGrady, who’ve been through the NBA wars.

T-Mac may not be a world champion, may have never set foot in the second round of the playoffs—not once in 14 seasons. But he HAS played in close to 900 games in the league, with and against terrific players, and in all sorts of circumstances. The one he’s experiencing now, with the Pistons, just might take the cake.

It’s not a bad idea to keep dudes like this on your roster, if you can manage it.

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Oh, Reeg!

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If you wanted to launch a nearly-50-year career in television, invading people’s homes and gabbing their ears off, you could have done better than to be Joey Bishop’s sidekick, of all things.

Yet that’s the path that Regis Philbin took, and it worked.

Philbin was the quintessential second banana—kind of a poor man’s Ed McMahon, if you can imagine such a thing—for four years in the mid-to-late 1960s, working under the shadow of talk show host and former Rat Packer Bishop, late nights on ABC.

For many, that might have been the end of the resume.

But Regis kept finding work, kept managing to horn his way into folks’ living rooms.

Now, about 50 years after it started, Philbin’s career is about to come to an end. He’s leaving “Live with Regis and Kelly” at the end of the year, a year in which he’ll turn 80 years old.

Whenever a celebrity can leave his or her medium on his or her own terms, that’s a feather in the old cap. For every Carson or Letterman or Philbin who leaves/will leave voluntarily, there are hundreds of actors/hosts/emcees who get kicked to the curb in one way or another.

Like so many second bananas, Regis Philbin had no discernible talent. Still doesn’t, really, except for one, and it’s a big one: the ability to be likable.

Don’t underestimate the power of this particular “talent.”

Philbin doesn’t act, doesn’t really sing. Isn’t all that good of an interviewer. But he’s self-effacing and seems like a guy you’d like to hang around with—if for no other reason than he would appear to be someone who’d defer the spotlight to you, if that’s what you wanted.

He’s the second banana who stayed that way, even when he was hosting the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” on ABC in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

In that role, Regis played second banana to the contestants and to the game itself. He was even the sidekick to the dramatic lights and sound effects.

He was the host, but he wasn’t the star. And that’s kind of what his entire career has been like.

There’s no question that Philbin, after over 20 years in television, finally found his milieu when he teamed with Kathie Lee Gifford for a daytime gabfest. The chemistry between he and Gifford, and then later with current co-host Kelly Ripa, was plain as the nose on your face.

Theirs were softball interviews, but that was OK, because “Live” didn’t purport to be anything other than a relaxed conversation, either between co-hosts or between co-hosts and guest. The audience was overwhelmingly female, and older than most targeted demographics. There was a lot of homemaker to everything.

The very likable (if not talented) Regis Philbin

Philbin was along for the ride when “Millionaire” exploded onto the scene in 1999, giving rebirth to the game show genre, which had been moribund for years. He wasn’t so much of a host as he was a maitre’d, directing you to your seat and letting the contestants, the lights, and the electronic music provide the bulk of the entertainment.

Regis, during “Millionaire,” would essentially stop by your table every so often and ask you how things were going, but then he’d fade back into the shadows, as he was so used to doing.

“Millionaire” was a victim of its own success, and overexposure, but Regis was fine; he had a steady day job, after all.

Regis Philbin may go down as one of the best-liked TV personalities of all time.

Which is why he’s been in our living rooms for half a century.

Sometimes the best talents are the ones you can’t teach.

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There are some who follow the National Hockey League who will never get over Todd Bertuzzi. To those folks, he’s not a hockey player, he’s an incident.

Bertuzzi, to the ones with long memories and an inability to forgive, shouldn’t even be playing in the NHL. He should be out doing community service, or anything else that doesn’t earn him a paycheck with Gary Bettman’s signature on it.

For the rest of his NHL career, like it or not, Todd Bertuzzi will be fused to a player named Steve Moore, the same way Lee Harvey Oswald is fused to John F. Kennedy.

Prior to Steve Moore—he himself also an incident first, a person second—Bertuzzi was one of the league’s bad guys. He wore the black hat, appearing in NHL cities as a wrecking ball of a hockey player who all but pitched a tent in front of opposing goalies.

Bertuzzi could score, and he could bully. He was the kid bigger than the others who’d take your lunch money, in broad daylight. Opposing players disliked him because they couldn’t stop him. Opposing fans disliked him because their team couldn’t stop him.

Bertuzzi pumped in goals from within three feet of the net better than anyone in the NHL. He was as immovable from the crease as someone nicknamed “Tiny” from the buffet line.

The numbers were impressive. Coming into his own in the late-1990s with the Vancouver Canucks, Bertuzzi scored 25 goals in the 1999-2000 season, with 126 penalty minutes. In 2001-02 those numbers skyrocketed to 46 goals and 144 penalty minutes.

Bertuzzi was a 6’3”, 235 pound net crasher who scored seemingly at will. He was hockey’s Shaquille O’Neal.

When the Canucks played the Red Wings in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Bertuzzi and Wings defenseman Chris Chelios had a well-publicized grudge match nightly. The smaller Chelios stood his ice, refusing to be intimidated by the NHL’s preeminent power forward.

The battles between Bertuzzi and Chelios made for great theater, in a series won by the Red Wings in six games after losing the first two in Detroit.

Then along came Steve Moore, and the answer to the following question was a shocking and resounding YES.

Can Todd Bertuzzi be despised even worse than he already is?

On March 8, 2004, Bertuzzi was on the ice against the Colorado Avalanche. He was out there to meter out justice on Moore, an Avs forward, in Gordie Howe fashion. That is, long after the initial transgression.

Moore, two Canucks-Avs meetings earlier, had badly injured Vancouver captain and leading scorer Markus Naslund with a vicious check to the head. No penalty was called, and Canucks players vowed revenge.

It was Howe who invented the delayed reaction in hockey.

When Hall of Famer Stan Mikita was a young NHL player, the Chicago Blackhawks center caught Gordie good from behind. When Mikita skated back to the bench, expecting congratulations from his teammates, he was instead greeted with a warning.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” a Blackhawk player who should know, told Mikita.

This was in the days of Original Six hockey—with 14 games against the other five teams per season.

Several Detroit-Chicago games went by, and Howe didn’t so much as sniff Mikita. The young center thought his teammates’ words were just a bunch of hooey.

Mikita thought he had gotten away with a blindside hit on Gordie Howe.

What a foolish player Stan Mikita was in his youth.

Finally, Mikita’s comeuppance occurred, months after his hit on Howe. After making a pass, Mikita was waking up on the trainer’s table.

“Who was it?” Mikita wanted to know.

“Number nine,” was the answer.

Gordie had an elephant’s memory and his interest rate was higher than a loan shark’s.

But back to Bertuzzi and Moore.

Bertuzzi, his team trailing the Avs, 8-2 in the third period, lagged behind Moore through the neutral zone. Then, in an instant, it happened.

Bertuzzi jumped Moore, punching him in the back of the head and landing his massive body on Moore as the latter collapsed to the ice.

It all happened so fast, but when Bertuzzi got up, Moore didn’t.

Moore’s injuries from the Bertuzzi sneak attack read like those of an unlucky race car driver: three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial cuts.

Todd Bertuzzi, in a thirst for revenge, ended Moore’s career, and started a legal firestorm.

First, Bertuzzi was charged with assault, and a hockey player charged with assault is like a squirrel charged with jaywalking.

Then the lawsuits started flying, which are still going on today. Commissioner Bettman is still trying to get Bertuzzi and Moore to settle out of court.

In March, 2008, Bertuzzi even sued his Vancouver coach at the time, Marc Crawford, by insisting that he was just acting on Crawford’s directive to hurt Moore.

Crawford, for his part, says the opposite; that he had ordered Bertuzzi to get off the ice before even touching Moore.

After Steve Moore, Bertuzzi was persona non grata in the eyes of many NHL observers, despite Bertuzzi’s tearful apology two days after the incident.

The league suspended Bertuzzi indefinitely after his attack on Moore. Then came the lockout that canceled the entire 2004-05 season, and Bertuzzi got shoved to the back pages.

In August, 2005, the league announced that it was taking Bertuzzi back, much to the consternation of many who follow hockey.

Bertuzzi lost about half a million dollars in salary from his suspension, plus endorsements.

Moore was 25 years old when his hockey career was ended by Bertuzzi’s momentary indiscretion.

Today, Bertuzzi is about to turn 36, is playing great two-way hockey for the Red Wings, and has been called an exemplary teammate and one who has bought into coach Mike Babcock’s call for more defensive-minded play.

He isn’t the player he once was. He doesn’t score 30 goals or more anymore, doesn’t steal anyone’s lunch money. Last year, playing in all 82 games for the Red Wings, Bertuzzi mustered just 80 penalty minutes, a little more than half of what he used to record, when he was terrorizing the league.

No, he isn’t the player he once was. He is, in many ways, better.

Even if you think he doesn’t belong.

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They might as well have held the press conference introducing new University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke in the Wolverines’ locker room.

Watching Hoke, the “Michigan Man” that supporters of the program have been clamoring for, address the media today didn’t seem quite right without a chalkboard behind him and a whistle around his thick neck.

The room should have been filled with the smell of sweat and Ben Gay, not ink and cologne.

The captive audience should have been made up of 19-to-21 year-olds, not pear-shaped reporters twice that age.

The first thing you notice about Hoke, fresh from San Diego State, if you didn’t already know him, is that his motor has two settings: turbo and warp drive.

Hoke was introduced by athletic director Dave Brandon, and the new coach didn’t step up to the podium, he annexed it. He all but jammed a flag with a maize block “M” into the dais. Then he started speaking.

Only, he didn’t speak so much as he bellowed. Within minutes, I was looking around for the exit to the tunnel leading to the football field—and I was sitting in my office.

I wonder if these Michigan football-playing kids have any idea what they’re about to get themselves into.

Hoke, for the duration of his presser, owned the room. He was Bob Knight at March Madness, Dennis Green after playing the Bears. There was even some Dickie Vs about him—Dicks Vitale and Vermeil.

Hoke pointed fingers. He slammed the podium. He made up words if he had to.

“This is MICHIGAN!” he said at one point, and for that moment I saw a guy named Bo with a blue baseball cap with a maize “M” on it.

Brady Hoke looks like a tough football coach. He sure sounds like a tough football coach. And he already has more hatred for “that school in Ohio”—Hoke’s words—than his predecessor could muster up in three years.

Hoke coached Michigan’s defensive line for eight seasons in a stint that ended in 2002, and listening to him, the subsequent eight years were spent just so he could find himself right back in Ann Arbor, this time as the Big Cheese.

Well, he certainly is big. Nothing about Brady Hoke is small—not his girth, not his passion, not his voice, not his enthusiasm. And certainly not his love for Michigan.

“I would have walked here,” he said almost from the get go, referring to his rather conventional method of getting to Ann Arbor: by flying.

Hoke was like a fighter pilot, picking off questions from left to right, and in almost the same rat-a-tat way as the Red Baron.

Hoke, to those who think Michigan is on its way down, especially if they’re “Michigan people”: “Shame on them.”

Hoke, on the rivalry games: “You want to win ‘em.”

Hoke, on the game against Ohio State: “It’s the most important game on the schedule” (and repeated for emphasis).

Hoke, on his program: “Everyone will be fanatical in their love for Michigan.”

Hoke gave the most boisterous, motivational press conference of any new coach that I’ve ever seen around these parts.

Now we’re about to see if he can actually coach.

Hunch? He’ll be fine. And so will Michigan.

Frankly, Michigan hasn’t had a coach with Hoke’s personality since Bo Schembechler, and Hoke might even one-up Bo when it comes to being bombastic. At least Bo came up for air, as I recall.

Hoke only stopped talking long enough to take requisite swigs of bottled water.

Gotta keep yourself hydrated when you get out there, boys!

Sorry. Hoke just has that effect on guys, I guess.

For anyone who fantasized about Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles standing up there today, take heart. Michigan didn’t do too shabby. At least, not on first blush.

A word now about Harbaugh, the former U-M quarterback who the fan base coveted, but who took the job with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL instead.

Harbaugh is 47. You really think he’d have looked at Michigan as a destination job? You think he was coming here to coach for the next 20 years, until he earned a gold watch?

After a couple years, tops, Harbaugh’s name would start to be mentioned on an annual basis, in connection with just about every NFL vacancy du jour. He’d have been another Nick Saban.

Just ask the folks in East Lansing’s basketball nation how annoying it can be when your coach is always rumored to be on the move.

U-M fans would have fallen in love with Harbaugh, then would have been forced to watch helplessly every winter as his name would be connected with every NFL city from Jacksonville to Houston, from Cincinnati to Denver. Every. Single. Year.

Always there’d be the dreaded feeling that Jimmy Harbaugh would flee to the NFL. Is that what Michigan fans really wanted?

No offense to Brady Hoke, but I dont’ see the NFL banging down his door, ever. But that’s not a put-down.

Hoke is a college coach, pure and simple. He’s as collegiate as they come, and he’ll stay that way. More important, he’s as Michigan as they come.

Being the head coach at Michigan has long been Hoke’s dream. His former boss, Lloyd Carr, started asking Hoke in 1998: What do you want to ultimately do in college football?

Why, be the head coach at Michigan, Lloyd, Hoke would answer.

“This is where I want to be,” Hoke said today. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Just about every reporter who introduced him or herself at today’s presser before asking their questions gave Hoke the same greeting.

“Welcome back.”

Hoke is back, no question. Back to his one true college football love. Back to the girl who knocked his socks off for eight years—the one who he never truly got over after he left in 2002.

The Michigan football fan base got what they wanted. They got a Michigan Man.

Let the healing begin.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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