Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Revelations 53


And Joe sayeth, go forth and mack your hoes and yea the Cristal flowed

Curly R has already commented on the central topic of this story here, when it was revealed that Joe Gibbs is allowing at least some of his players to conduct off-season workouts on their own. My position is this is a bad idea and is compromising a central philosophy of Joe's: Coach knows best. Although never taken to name-calling (TimesSelect) or ridiculous fines, Joe has always been a control freak on the order of the Old School. Remember sleeping on the couch? Snow on his car at Redskins Park from being there overnight?

Even as Bobby Beathard was resigning in May of 1989 (not before trading draft picks for Gerald Riggs and Earnest Byner), ostensibly to get back to southern California, there were stories that Bobby and Joe were in conflict. Bobby was in charge of stocking the team, but Joe made the roster and decided who played. In that conflict was forged a decade of good football.

Maybe Anthony at Hog Heaven is right and there is no one at Redskins Park that can counterbalance Joe, that if there is no one now that will stand up to him, there is no one that can stand up to him. Despite his prowess at building a team and executing football strategy, Joe has never been great when involved in player selection. After Bobby Beathard left, Charley Casserly took the helm and worked his ass off to ride inside the lines between Jack Kent Cooke and Joe Gibbs. He was not a great general manager and Joe abused him when it came to player selection. Look at the three Charley-Joe drafts: 1990 / 1991 / 1992. Not too much there.

It hasn't gotten a lot better since Joe came back either. After telling Patrick Ramsey that Patrick had Joe's confidence, Joe immediately goes out and trades a third-round draft pick (oh, like the TJ Duckett deal) for Mark Brunell when if Joe had waited a day or two could have had him for nothing since the Jaguars were about to release him. Then he signs Mark to a seven-year 43 million dollar contract, way overpaying for services and totally undercutting Patrick.

Curly R aside: Mark's got to go. Rarely do I agree with Tony Kornheiser any more (WaPo Sports here, check down to Talking Points video 2/27), but the fanbase has turned on him and he cannot be a productive and respected member of the team. To be sure, teams should not make personnel decisions based solely on fan wants, but restructuring, reschmucturing, it's over for Mark. When he trotted out for a couple snaps in the season finale after Brandon Short touched up Jason Campbell the cascade of boos told you everything you need to know. Skin Patrol thinks he is still of benefit because he knows the offense, can be a coach in uniform, et cetera, but I think he's just baggage now, coming off an injured shoulder and such a disappointment in 2006. Get rid of Todd Collins, get rid of Mark and almost any one of these guys will do the trick. If Jason goes down next season, the season's done. Joe, don't keep Mark and give fans reason to believe that despite your miraculous awakening on flexibility and tolerance of player concerns that you are behind the play, hanging onto a guy that has lost his skills. Having said all this, I am at least encouraged that his cap hit drops by half this year. Hopefully the Redskins will be paying him for doing nothing.

Continuing to look at the free agents brought in under Joe and the stick-rate of draft picks, it's obvious to me that Joe can't do this alone, and Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder don't count as help. And Len Shapiro should be forced to watch footage of the Dave Shula Bengals for suggesting that Charley could come back to the Redskins and be an effective GM.

So it's all still a bit disappointing to read Howard Bryant in the Washington Post today digging into the details of how Joe came to his revelation that players should be on their own for conditioning. I have disclaimed that I know little about the details and Howard shines a little more light, but it all seems to me to be throwing up of hands and admitting that the players run the show now. Let's walk through this piece a bit:

Renaldo Wynn, Phillip Daniels and Clinton Portis told Joe after the October 29 2006 bye week that they thought Joe had worked them too hard, too early after the 2005 season, and that because they had been worked too hard, the players were breaking down physically.

Hunh? Are you telling me that part-time workouts starting in March made you too tired to work in October? I thought the narrative was that the Redskins' 2006 training camp was too wimpy, that the team didn't work hard enough or get in good enough condition to start the season. So it's actually that the team was too tired from a grueling offseason of part-time workouts and training camp wasn't soft enough for the players to get back their stamina in time for the season. Give me a fucking break. Ladell Betts and the offensive line might disagree with the assertion that they were too worn out because they never got a week off and played well through the end.

Joe even reveals his workout philosophy as he is capitulating to the players: winning begets winning. 2004 workouts started early, 2005 workouts started earlier and the team was better and went to the playoffs. Joe's inner voice is telling him, start 2006 earlier, work harder, make 'em a family, roar into the 2006 season. Instead the wheels came off but I don't believe conditioning had anything to do with 2006 (for those just joining us it was injuries, lack of control by Joe and bad playcalling).

Repent for the Joe Gibbs end days are upon us.



Joe Gibbs: Toni L. Sandys / Washington Post

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jacqueline Cooke Redux


All, er, grown up

Back on January 26, Curly R ran a piece on Jacqueline Cooke, the 20-year old granddaughter daughter (thanks for spotting that, mom) of Redskins owner emeritus Jack Kent Cooke, suing her dead grandfather's estate. This is a follow-up to that story.

On Feburary 5, an anonymous commenter to that thread pointed me to Jackie Cooke's MySpace page, at this location. Since the furor over her lawsuit, the page has been taken down. It was for all intents and purposes any college girl, with pictures of friends, comments to her personal blog and things she wanted visitors to know (her 20th birthday for example had been right before the lawsuit story broke).

Jackie continued to stay in the news. February 3, a week after the original lawsuit the George Washington University offered Jackie admission and financial aid if she wanted to leave Southern Methodist University and transfer to GWU. The story was irony-deficient though, because GWU is the most expensive school in the country, and Jackie had been locked out of SMU because she was unable to pay.

February 13, the Washington Post reported that Jackie had worked it out with SMU and would be returning for the spring semester. If SMU was ever serious about booting her it was because they did not know who she is. SMU would never want to alienate a trustfund student like Jackie, who's going to be known her entire life and certainly not in an environment where Stanford raised almost a billion dollars in one year. It all worked out and she does not have to leave her school and friends.

Then four days ago on February 21, Jackie appeared in the Washington Post's gossip column, the Reliable Source, written by two longtime enablers in the disgusting world of celebritology and I read it every day usually to find out which celebs are bad tippers. The piece was a brief recap of Jackie's hard-way arrivee into public Washington as the three-year old meeting her 77-year old father for the first time, and how Jackie's mother was cut out of JKC's will. According to the piece, Jackie still loves football and is considering a career as a sportscaster. Or an actress, or a model, or a news woman.

In researching this piece, I came across two other interesting tidbits. First, this is not the first time Suzanne Cooke has claimed JKC was not paying Jackie's school bills. On October 17 1995, the Reliable Source reported that timely payment for Jackie's private school tuition was not forthcoming (this would have put Jackie in about third grade). Money quote from mother Suzanne and her attorney:

"I am appalled that Jack would do this to his own flesh and blood," she said. Mark Barondess, Suzanne's lawyer, noted drily: "If Jacqueline were a stadium, maybe Jack could find the money."
At the time, JKC was furiously negotiating a deal for a new Redskins Stadium.

Second and most odd I found this reference to Jackie in the Washington Post on January 24 2007, a mere two days before her lawsuit was reported. In a Reliable Source live discussion on the Post's website, Bronxeville, NY asked this question:
would love to hear a follow-up on some of the best gossip articles from the past. In particular, where is Jacqueline Kent Cooke, or has she just dropped off the face of the Earth?
Amy Argetsinger responded thusly:
Ah, good question. Anyone else remember when late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke became father, at age 75-ish, to a little baby by his short-term wife Suzanne? Well, believe it or not, Jacqueline Kent Cooke is all growed up and a college student now, and allegedly a total hottie. Let's cross our fingers and hope she produces some news sometime soon...
Methinks Amy doth protest too much for Jackie Cooke news. I'll bet this question was a plant and that the Reliable Source ladies knew what was coming out of the A section later that week.

Personally, I think we will see Jackie back in Washington again, where she will be the Beltway's own Paris Hilton. About time. We need some of that old Cooke vibe back in town.



Image: Washington Post here. Young Jackie and Suzanne Cooke by Annie Groer. Inset is allegedly a family photo but it was also the lead photo on Jackie's MySpace page.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Too Little, Too Late


I enjoyed Ben's two-part series on the confluence of money, age and health in the NFL so much that I was awakened from my offseason slumber to post my own take. In part 2, Ben avoids taking sides on the issue, but I'm way too opinionated for such diplomacy. While I do feel sympathy for the former players and their families who are coping with lifelong football injuries, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the league or the players' union owes these veterans any more pension benefits than they already receive.

Retired NFL players already receive quite generous pension benefits: $200 per month for each season played (minimum four seasons) for pre-1992 players and a minimum of three seasons for players after that year. In addition, the league and NFLPA just upped the pension benefits by $110 million for 1400 pre-1977 players in the latest extension to the Collective Barganing Agreement in 2002. That increase doubled the pension of the oldest NFL retirees, including the much-aggrieved Mercury Morris, as profiled in Ben's post. Morris gets $1400 per month for his seven NFL seasons, or $16,800 per year.

Go ask your favorite retiree if s/he gets a $16,800 pension for seven years of work. S/he doesn't? Oh.

In fact, NFL players are ridiculously fortunate to even have a pension. A vast and growing majority of Americans receive no pension benefits whatsoever. Corporations are trying hard as hard as possible to shed defined-benefit plans in favor of defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s and IRAs. The trend toward defined-contribution retirement plans reflects a larger shift in the United States of the burden of risk from the state or corporation to the individual. Whether you agree with this shift depends on your political preference, but the fact remains that today's worker is almost entirely responsible for providing for himself in retirement. NFL players are lucky to get a nickel.

NFL players, like the rest of us, are responsible for investing wisely during their earning years in order to support themselves during retirement. Retirement planning is difficult enough for those of us with 40-plus year careers, but the average NFL player's career is only 3.5 years long. Fortunately for the players, the league minimum rookie salary for 2005 was $260,000. This minimum goes up to $305, $380 and $455 thousand in years 1, 2 and 3 of a player's career. So even a player with an "average" career span walks off the field at age 26 with $1.4 million. That's more money than most Americans will see in a lifetime, much less 3 years. Why does the league owe them more?

Mercury Morris played for seven years and when his career ended in 1973, as Ben points out, the league minimum salary was $55,000, or about $250,000 in 2006. But Morris was a star player and almost certainly earned more than the minimums. Where has all of Mercury Morris's money gone? The real problem here may not be insufficient pension payments but that NFL players may be spending every cent they make during their playing years only to find that the well has gone dry in retirement. I guess a measly $16,800 per year doesn't cut it anymore when you're used to making at least $250,000. NFL players (or their handlers) should be smart enough to set aside some of their income for retirement.

But this brings us back to yet another advantage that NFL players have over many Americans: a college education. Football players are perhaps the best educated of all pro athletes because the NFL has established college football as its primary developmental source. Baseball and basketball players turn pro straight out of high school, but nearly every NFL player ships with a college degree. Moreover, these players aren't even saddled with student loan debt (like most of us) because they all got scholarships to play football.

Their free college degrees give NFL retirees an excellent chance of securing well-paying jobs outside of playing football. Football players not named Morten Andersen are in their late twenties or early thirties when they head out to pasture, which means that they have 30 to 40 years left to build a second career and earn more money for retirement. Yet this still isn't enough for men like Mercury Morris.

The final argument for upping NFL pension benefits is that the league owes permanently injured players more money for health care. While the plight of Mike Webster and other former players with long-term disabilities is tragic, it remains difficult to understand why these players can't afford the care they need with the money they earn. Football is a violent game that offers significant risk of lasting injuries. Players accept this risk when they choose this profession and again, must plan accordingly with their financial resources.

44 million Americans lack health insurance of any kind and the United States government could care less. Most of these people have earned nowhere near the kind of money that NFL players do and must fend for themselves in the byzantine health care market. Even Marines and soldiers returning from Iraq do not receive adequate medical care, as evidenced in last week's WaPo outing of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Health care is a problem for nearly everyone, but NFL players have yet another huge advantage over most people through their increased ability to afford better care.

I'm not saying that NFL players aren't entitled to a decent retirement with adequate benefits. I'm saying that we should take another look at the popular assertion that former NFL players are somehow getting shortchanged. Simply giving retired players more money accomplishes nothing. If the NFL owes its players anything it should be mandatory education on retirement planning and fiscal responsibility for all rookies. Instead of just upping pensions, the NFLPA could assign a personal financial planner for each player to help him invest and spend his money wisely. This assistance would create a lasting solution to the problem instead of simply rewarding beggars.

NFL players earn a large salary, a free college degree and a guaranteed pension. Most Americans have none of these things. I wish Mercury Morris could realize how good he has it.

"Retirement" image doled out from Despair.com

RIP Damien Nash


Damien Nash, 1982-2007

Just two months after Darrent Williams was killed in a New Year's Eve drive-by shooting, another Denver Broncos player has died. Running back Damien Nash collapsed yesterday and was pronounced dead. No cause of death has been determined.

Damien attended Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College for two years until he was academically eligible, then transferring to the University of Missouri. There he showed talent but clashed with coaches, leaving school and entering the 2005 NFL draft, where the Tennessee Titans selected Damien in the fifth round. Before the 2006 season, the Broncos signed Damien as a free agent, and though he played sparingly, Mike Shanahan's Broncos have demonstrated an eye for ball-carrying talent.

Damien's brother Darris had recently had a heart transplant and Damien was playing in a charity basketball game benefiting the heart transplant research foundation in his brother's name. Witnesses said Damien did not appear in distress before collapsing.

Damien's passing comes just two days after the sudden death at 52 of former Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson, a hero of mine growing up and a player that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Damien Nash was 24.



Damien Nash: uncredited photo from the Columbia Misssourian

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Irregardless, Bad


Irregardless is not a word and this is not a Joe Gibbs workout policy

Stan Humphries has a Super Bowl ring, and it says 'Redskins' on the side. It's from the 1991 season. Bobby Beathard selected Stan in the sixth round of the 1988 draft from Northeast Louisiana University, now the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He was a solid Joe Gibbs quarterback, 6 foot three, 223 pounds, brick of foot and cannon of arm, and he was on a predictable arc to the starting job in Washington.

In the old days, before it meant the end of the season, Joe Gibbs would stash his future starters on injured reserve aka the 'taxi squad.' For his first season, Stan was on IR and never appeared in a game. Second year two games 10 attempts, third year seven games 156 attempts. With Mark Rypien not yet cemented as a solid NFL starter, the Redskins had options. It was good.

Then something happened. In between the 1990 and 1991 seasons, Joe Gibbs asked Stan to stay in Washington for offseason workouts. Stan wanted to be at home in Louisiana and refused. Stan didn't throw a pass in 1991, though databaseFootball and Pro Football Reference differ as to whether he appeared in a game. Mark Rypien started all 16 games in 1991, never got hurt and the garbage time that season all went to former Giant Jeff Rutledge. The Redskins went on to win Super Bowl 26.

That offseason, Charley Casserly and the Redskins shipped Stan off to the San Diego Chargers for a third-round pick (op. cit.). He went on to become one of the greatest Chargers ever, leading the team to Super Bowl 29 three seasons after leaving the Redskins. Although the Chargers lost the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers, that season's team of destiny, Stan has more pride in the AFC Championship ring he earned in 1994 than the Super Bowl ring he has from the 1991 season.

For a decade now I have read about how Stan feels he was not treated fairly at the end by Joe Gibbs, and I always thought tough shit NFL football is year round whether you like it or not and the pay is pretty good so suck it up. If your coach thinks you can be better, it is a good thing to listen.

Which is why I was floored to read today in the Washington Post that Joe Gibbs is now permitting players to be in charge of their own conditioning, away from Redskins Park, wherever they want. While the Howard Bryant piece is short on detail, such as benchmarks and whether the team will have any influence over the player workouts, I generally view trusting players to take care of their own offseason conditioning as another bad sign that Joe has lost his fire, is just ceding the team to the players.

It began with the free agent signings and aftermath of the 2006 season. To my sensibilities, Joe picked all these 'stars' (ok we are saying for the sake of argument that Joe is on the level when he says all these players were picked by him or his staff and not by Dan Snyder with Joe's rubber stamp) but then when the top drawer still needs motivation and management, Joe shrugged his shoulders like Norval Turner and just said, if they don't want to do it, I can't make them.

Back in the day, Joe could coach 'em up. He took a team of replacement players and won all three strike games in 1987, including the famous Monday night Dallas game when the picket line-crossing Cowboys regulars, including Tony Dorsett, Danny White, Randy White and Too Tall Jones, lost at home to the Redskins who had a convicted drug offender out on work release at quarterback.

It continued with Al Saunders. Joe designs the offense and calls his own plays. Bringing in anyone else, irregardless of whether it's another Don Coryell alum, signals that Joe is not invested enough in the outcome to handle the details.

And now, two years after Joe tolerated Sean Taylor not returning team calls he is trusting players to stay in condition on their own. In the economics of football, obviously there will be many players that still show up to Redskins Park, lower caste players that want face time. But the big ticket players, the money players, expect that they will be "handling it" on their own.

Yes, there are top drawer players that take care of themselves, but Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor and Brandon Lloyd are not Donovan McNabb and I have no sense that these guys doubt their raw abilities or believe they can be better, and I'll be on Fat Patrol come training camp.



Joe Gibbs: Michigan Daily here / AP photo

Friday, February 23, 2007

This is All My Fault Part 2


Dude played six games with a broken neck in 1973. What do you think about that, Troy?

=====

Today, The Curly R concludes its two-part series looking at the confluence of money, age and health in the NFL. Over a twelve-day period from January 21 to February 2, the New York Times and Washington Post ran three pieces on the economics of football and the health of players, current and retired. Here we tie these three pieces together and examine the politics of retirement from the world's premiere professional sporting league.

Part 1 of this series examined the popularity of the league and the harsh reality of brutality and short careers in the NFL.

=====

Part 1: The Pie Gets Bigger Every Year
Part 2: Enjoy it While You Can
Postscript: The Debate: Retired players at Hogs Haven
Epilogue: Too Little, Too Late by Brandon

=====

On the one hand are today's players and today's league. There are millions to be made, as long as you can stay healthy and productive. On the other hand are the legions of retired players, some of whom only stayed for a cup of coffee, others that played long careers. The league to which my sports affection is owed was built on those now-retired players, the guys I remember like Chris Hanburger (how can a seven year old not remember a guy named hamburger?), Pat Fischer, Mark Moseley. But these guys don't get a very big piece of the pie. Should they? Does the league have any responsibility for their health and well-being in retirement? Should there be a statute of limitations on injury claims? How do you prove what's a football injury and what's not?

Back in January, the Washington Post ran an enterprise piece in Sports on Mercury Morris, the former Miami Dolphins running back. Mercury and Larry Csonka were the first running back tandem both to gather 1000 yards in the same season in 1972, when the Dolphins went undefeated on the way to beating the Redskins in Super Bowl 7. Mercury broke a neck vertebrae in a Monday night game in 1973 and played on it for six games, only learning from John Madden after a pre-Pro Bowl physical that he was hurt. Compounding the Dolphins' doctors initially incorrect diagnosis was a later bad medical opinion by the same Dolphins doctors that the league's Pro Bowl doctors were overreacting and the Dolphins doctors did not advise Mercury to keep the neckbrace on. He did not have surgery until six years later, when he was out of football.

Mercury now has nerve damage and the league has steadfastly refused to admit any responsibility and address Mercury's problem. In fact, in the piece Mercury tells us that the league has spent 13 million dollars over the past five years on the law firm defending the league against disability claims. (The Post piece makes no mention of Mercury's 1982 lawsuit over a car crash that he claims shortened his career. In this short New York Times piece there is no mention of his football injury from 1973.)

Who is at fault and what should be the remedy if any is above my paygrade. It's an unfortunate situation and Mercury is still at it, on a personal crusade to bust open the logjam of claims by oldsters with health problems, retired players from a period in which the average player made far less money and therefore could not have the same level of financial security upon retirement.

The league wants it to be about at-will employment. You assume risks by playing in the league, here is our injury policy, blah blah blah ignore the fine print sign here, here and here. Mercury and the others are looking for the league to take some responsibility for helping players with serious conditions get back to a normal life. He has migraines. Earl Campbell and Harry Carson have trouble walking. Andre Carter Andre Waters (oops, thanks to Skin Patrol for pointing out this error) was depressed and killed himself. Turns out he had undiagnosed brain damage (TimesSelect) from years of playing football. There are hundreds of others I am sure.

Which is why it irks me when I read about the NFLPA telling retired players to fuck off. The New York Times ran a story (TimesSelect) earlier this month about four Hall of Famers, Mike Ditka, Jerry Kramer, Lem Barney and Joe DeLamielleure heading up a campaign to improve pensions for retired players. These four guys are using their names to raise awareness of the league's dirty little secret of old men in bad shape. NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw and NFLPA player rep and just-cut former Redskin Troy Vincent just want these guys to go away. Gene sounds positively George W. Bush-like when he whines about how no one ever reports the good things the NFLPA does for oldsters and says it's just not feasible to raise pensions of long-retired players to those of current players. I'd like to see the numbers. If you really want to get wonky on this issue, head over to NFL Retirees, a blog written by former NFL player Bruce Laird.

Troy then just piles on. Get this:

Troy Vincent, president of the players association, said he had empathy for former players, but said that some players had grown weary of hearing complaints.

''On the opposite sideline, I'm getting up and going back to the huddle, and I have a coach that's a retired player, 'Hey, Troy, when you going to increase the benefits?' '' said Vincent, a defensive back with the Washington Redskins. ''At practice, you're at the airport, everywhere. Every conversation with the retired player is strictly about economics. At some point you just go, I've had enough, I don't walk to talk about it anymore.

''We are really making every effort to bridge the gap. Let's develop a relationship first. You're a Hall of Famer, tell me what I can do to improve my game, not just belittle me about what we're not doing as an association.''

Here's a little clue for Troy: those guys that seem to be always haranguing you about money? They are former players who like you were obsessed with money and getting paid to play, and like many players never thought of themselves as needing the pension. Most of these guys don't get to make a million dollars a year after they get out of the league. Their attitude toward money has not changed just because they don't play anymore and your's won't either. Possibly in a matter of weeks you may be among them in retirement, and then it will be you harassing the player rep to the union, pissing and moaning about the NFLPA not kicking down enough to the guys that opened the doors for the next generation of paid football players.

Gene, I don't have a problem with him. He's a bureaucrat and has gotten fat off this NFLPA gig, and he will continue to do the bidding of his masters, the NFL owners. The issue of poverty and health problems in retirement won't go away and someday soon it will earn a high enough profile to get something done. I thought Mike Webster and Andre Carter Andre Waters (durnit that's two -- sorry Andre Carter, it's not intentional and thanks to lifetime Eagles fan, season ticketholder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery for pointing it out) might do it, but those sad stories have not.

Meanwhile, look at the NBA. They just increased by 50% the pensions of players that retired before 1965, a move that the NBA Retired Players Association thinks will only benefit 40-60 former players. That's not a lot of extra money to dish out for a lot of free publicity that generates goodwill toward a league that truly epitomizes new money tackiness and excess for the sake of excess.

Troy and all the current players wishing the old dudes would stop trying to take food out of their mouths should look themselves in the mirror and give thanks for the guys before them that made the league the thing that millions of people like me obsess on and kick down some coin to the oldsters. For all these players, the shoe will be on the other foot one day, faster than you thought and you'll be wondering why you didn't lobby harder to give the old dudes their due.

Me, I'll still be a football fan, still enabling this whole thing, long after every single player in the league has hung up his spikes for the last time.



1973 Mercury Morris Topps football card from here and here. In 1973, Mercury ran for 149 times for 954 yards on an incredible 6.4 yards per carry.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

This is All My Fault Part 1


This is Mercury Morris in 1973. The average salary for all NFL players that year was 55 thousand dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that is 15 thousand dollars less than the rookie minimum today.*

=====

Today, The Curly R starts a two-part series looking at the confluence of money, age and health in the NFL. Over a twelve-day period from January 21 to February 2, the New York Times and Washington Post ran three pieces on the economics of football and the health of players, current and retired. Here we will tie these three pieces together and examine the politics of retirement from the world's premiere professional sporting league.

=====

Part 1: The Pie Gets Bigger Every Year
Part 2: Enjoy it While You Can
Postscript: The Debate: Retired players at Hogs Haven
Epilogue: Too Little, Too Late by Brandon

=====

I'm a football fan, plain and simple. Football has been a part of my life since at least 1974 when we moved to Dale City Virginia and I sat at the foot of my Naval Aviator father's dingey old yellow recliner, can of Budweiser in his hand, watching George Allen (not former Senator Noose-and-Boots, his father), Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer drive the Redskins into the playoffs when I was in kindergarten. Remember newspaper kites at the elementary school? Good times, dad.

And I'm not alone. Football is the undisputed number one professional sport in the US. Harris Interactive found in 2005 (the latest year for which I could find a reputable poll) that football had a two to one lead over baseball, and a three to one lead over auto racing among respondents that indicated at least one favorite sport. That 2005 poll represented a widening of the gap over the same 2004 poll.

Football is popular and getting popularer and the more popularer the more money in the picture and the more money in the picture the more hands trying hard to grab it.

Here (TimesSelect) we have today's players, getting bigger and delivering harder hits even in a more restrictive rules environment. It's a violent game and the average career lasts less than four seasons. Players eternally want to make arguments for greater salaries to offset the longterm wear and tear on their bodies and the risk that one injury is all that separates them from being a guy looking for a real job, possibly after months or years of rehabilitation. I remember when Emmitt Smith held out of Cowboys camp in 1993 (the Cowboys went 0-2 without him to start the season), the argument he and his agent were making is that yes, running back is a special position because feature backs have shorter careers than their skill position counterparts and therefore should be paid higher. He got his money and the Cowboys got another Super Bowl trophy.

So the players are keenly aware of the economics of the game. Periodically we read about how players are unhappy with Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), because what some see as 'labor peace,' others see as management still with the upper hand, profiting on the players' backs despite constant poor-mouthing about this and that franchise losing money every year. Applying laws of economics, there is more money to be made, if each owner would increase ticket prices until none of the teams could sell more than one stadium's worth of seats at time. Although it's money the owners are quote "losing," it's also excess cash the owners are reaping in the form of parking and concessions, none of which goes to the players.

Empirically we read every few years about how the TV contracts have gotten too expensive. Remember when NBC bowed out after the 1997 season and their big idea was XFL in 2001? How NBC decried the soaring cost of rights in 1998 but then was sure as hell back in the game seven years later, realizing that losing money on football is a time-honored network tradition and that the markets for beer, boobs and new cars subsidize the losses quite nicely through advertisements. The fact is that the league is making more money on TV now than ever, with a larger number of broadcast partners. The next negotiations, before the 2013 season, will bring in even more money.

Make more, want more, that's the mantra. Players get ever-larger signing bonuses to offset possible loss of income if cut before the end of the contract. Owners need new stadiums with public financing and luxe suites and ticket price increases to 'keep up with demands' of player salaries. But the owners establish the demand by paying the money.

Over on Hogs Haven, there has been an interesting discussion here and here about whether the Redskins should spend big dollars to acquire Nate Clements or Asante Samuels, the consensus best free agent prospects at cornerback, a desperate need for the Redskins this offseason. Skin Patrol and I agree: no, the Redskins should not make either of these players the highest-paid corner in the league. Why? Because Champ Bailey is the best corner in the league, maybe ever, and the quote "fact" that 'the market rises' is not reason enough to pay someone more because he was the best available at the time. That's how guys like San Francisco's Alex Smith get 49 million over seven years to be not a great starting NFL quarterback.

It's called escalation. Players indefinitely upping the ante all based on the previous year's, or even the previous day's signings. The players love it, the agents love it and the owners just can't say no to themselves or each other. Someone is going to pay Nate Clements 20 million in signing bonus and the interval of time between the signing and that team realizing it overpaid will be so short it will require an atomic physicist to measure.

But eventually, every player moves on and leaves the league. Those that are lucky draw a pension, paid with union dues. Those that are very lucky have financial security and few health problems. But for those that are unlucky and need help after football, they are finding that the very same union that fought for them as players now wishes they would just go away.

=====

This series concludes tomorrow with Part 2, Enjoy it While You Can, a look at the treatment of retired players and what the union is or is not doing about it.



* Source for 1973 NFL salary and today's inflation equivalent here. Rookie minimum NFL salary from here.

1973 Mercury Morris Topps football card from here and here. In 1973, Mercury ran for 149 times for 954 yards on an incredible 6.4 yards per carry.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dominos, Falling


One of these men is an accomplished head coach

The old man was right, history does repeat. But what he failed to tell me when I began this mission is that it also inverts. Today, we have the strange case of the San Diego Chargers...

Last month, Marty Schottenheimer's offensive coordinator Cam Cameron left the Chargers to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, that team reeling from huckster Nick Saban's quick exit for the money after two seasons. Then in quick succession, Marty lost linebackers coach Greg Manusky (new 49ers defensive coordinator), tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski (new Browns offensive coordinator) and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (new Cowboys head coach). Believing that overcoming a public cold war between Chargers GM AJ Smith and Marty was a smaller challenge than rebuilding a senior coaching staff, Chargers owner Dean Spanos let Marty go.

Curly R aside: how's that whole PR thing working out for you, Nick? Tip from non-football coach: any word describing ah an ethnic person is touchy enough and those that contain either the term 'coon' or 'ass' should be avoided.

Enter Norval Turner, who had been atop the Cowboys coaching list before being passed over by Jerral W. Jones, in favor of Wade Phillips. Yesterday, Norval was named head coach of the Chargers, complete with a four-year contract. Generally, I'm with the San Diego Union-Tribune's Nick Canepa: the least-bad move for a team with few options.

Norval Turner
San Diego is a homecoming for Norval, in more ways than two. Don Coryell, Hall of Fame coach of the Chargers from 1978 to 1986, passed his offensive philosophy over five seasons on to one Ernie Zampese, who in turn passed it on to Norval between 1987 and 1990 when the two worked together on John Robinson's Los Angeles Rams staff. Norval went on to join Jimmy Johnson's Dallas Cowboys staff in 1991, running an offense that won two Super Bowls in his three seasons there.

With great fanfare despite his heritage as the playcaller for the hated NFC Beast rivals, Norval was hired in 1994 by Jack Kent Cooke to be the Redskins coach following the sad Richie Petitbon debacle. Norval never marshaled discipline or particularly winning ways in Washington, managing 49 wins, 59 losses and a tie in 6 and 13-sixteenths seasons. Heath Shuler (D-NC 11) and Gus Frerotte manifested a quarterback trainwreck like none since Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen. Michael Westbrook kung fu'd his way right out of the league and we saw the reuniting of Alvin Harper with the coach that won him two Super Bowl rings in Dallas to the tune of two catches in twelve games.

Other milestones in Norval's career in Washington: in 1994 the Redskins lost all eight home games, a feat never before accomplished by the Redskins in a 16-game schedule; in 1996, the Redskins opened the season 7-1...before going 2-6 to finish 9-7, and out of the playoffs; 1997 was a sawtooth season for the Redskins, with the team never winning or losing more than two in a row to finish 8-7-1; in 1998, the Redskins had almost the reverse of 1996, starting the season 0-7 before finishing 6-10; 1999 was Norval's only 10-win season in Washington, and the Redskins made the playoffs before a bad snap by Dan Turk, mishandled by brother and client Dan Turk; finally, in 2000, Norval was fired by new owner Dan Snyder after losing to the Giants. Dan Snyder told Norval to wait in his office for the owner to come back and meet with him. Two hours later and tired of being treated like a child sent to his room, Norval left and went home. He was fired the next day. The Redskins were still in playoff contention.

After his dismissal from the Redskins, Norval joined Mike Riley's staff in San Diego for the 2001 season as offensive coordinator, then on to two seasons in 2002 and 2003 as offensive coordinator working for his old Dallas co-coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Norval was head coach of the Raiders in 2004 and 2005, getting fired after tallying 9-23. In 2006, Norval went to work for Mike Nolan, his former defensive coordinator in Washington. Last season, the 49ers were in the bottom half offensively in scoring and passing, but enjoyed the wicked coming-out of running back Frank Gore, a player that made a lot of fantasy players happy. The 49ers reportedly offered Norval good money to stay in San Francisco.

Courtesy of Blogging the Boys via Hogs Haven, Norval never ran too hot an offense despite his reputation as a 'mind,' averaging 17th over his entire time as an offensive coordinator or head coach. I have a great deal of respect for Norv, but I think he is unable to manage it all. He is an excellent coordinator in a system that does not require emotional leaders at the coordinator level. Norv will work with whatever players you give him, and has a middling track record of player development when he is the head coach.

Norval is the third Redskins head coach to earn the Curly R history treatment, after Jack Pardee and Marty Schottenheimer.


Cam Cameron
Continuing coaching lineage, new Redskins head coach Norval Turner hired University of Michigan's quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron to be the Redskins quarterbacks coach, a position he held for three seasons from 1994 to 1996. In this period, Norval and Cam working together the Redskins offense got better. The first season, John Friesz and Heath, was all about the system and the team scored overwhelmingly on the pass as Norv continued to force it even when clearly bad. In the second season, Heath and Gus, the offense was more balanced but not as good overall and in the third season, Heath for one half and then all Gus, the Redskins took that balance and ran power offense with big ground scoring.

Despite a chaotic upbringing in the league, Gus managed to go to the Pro Bowl after that season and going into the 1997 season, it was In Gus We Trust (check 1m30s) in Washington.

Before the 1997 season, Cam left the Redskins to become the head coach of his alma mater, Indiana University, where he compiled an overall losing record of 18-37 in five seasons and is quote "credited" with the development of former Indiana quarterback and current Redskins receiver and returner Antwaan Randle El. It is true that Antwaan was an explosive player in college, like Michael Vick and Eric Crouch, just a player that opposing teams cannot answer. But last time I checked, football was played on both sides of the ball and Cam was, er unable to see his vision through to fruition at Indiana.

And this catches us back up with the timeline. Before the 2002 season, Cam returned to the pro league, as new Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer's offensive coordinator. After the 2001 season, the Chargers did not retain head coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Norval interviewed and was not hired. Rather than wait around to see what happened with the next coach, Norval packed his carpet bag and headed off to Miami. Marty was hired and liked the offense ok so he found the next best thing: Cam Cameron, thus completing the loop from Don Coryell to Ernie Zampese to Norval Turner to Cam Cameron back to Norval Turner so maybe it's more like a figure eight with a fat bottom and a little loop on top.

After getting his bearings (and sticking with Marty after the Chargers nearly fired him after the 2003 season), Cam ran a consistently top-drawer offense, ranking 20, 16, 3, 5 and 1 in points scored in his five seasons (stats from here).

Now Cam gets to do what Norval did, all those years ago except without the Super Bowl rings giving him fingercramps, go off and coach his own team. Cam is cut directly from the Norval mold and I think he will be a great coordinator and will need to make it happen fast not to be let go in three seasons. A wonky guy with his head in a playbook, a guy that tries but can't conjure words to motivate millionaires to do what they get paid for I don't think can survive long as head coach except in a special system, those that have checks and balances and the Dolphins don't and I thought the Chargers did but they just fired Marty Schottenheimer.


Marty Schottenheimer
Think I covered that one pretty well here. You don't fire a guy that wins 60% of his games because he's a prick. Being a prick is a potential side effect of being a successful NFL coach. My guess is that AJ Smith convinced Dean Spanos that AJ Smith is most responsible for the Chargers overall performance, not Marty Schottenheimer. Everyone knows it takes two.

The conditions for coaches like Cam Cameron and Norval Turner to win big have to be just right. They are simply not there period for Cam, and for Norval, next season or the next may come his best chance. After that, experience tells me the team will begin to get bored and those that seek leadership from coach will find it is only there in the playbook.



Norval Turner from here. Cam Cameron from here. Marty Schottenheimer from here. Act fast kids because all these webpages are likely to expire.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

If You Love Something Set It Free


If it resists change the locks

So I am back from nine days of vaca in paradise gulf coast Florida, on my way to work for the first time in two weeks yesterday and I get a call from a friend and former co-worker. He's a Redskins fan and he just cannot resist calling me first thing to get my take on the Washington Post reporting that morning that former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer was fired by the San Diego Chargers and LaVar Arrington was cut by the New York Giants. His quick take is the same as mine: the Chargers are fools and the Giants were fools.

Marty Schottenheimer
Dean Spanos should not have let Marty go. Marty had San Diego in a good situation and letting him go over a coaching exodus is a worse option than starting from scratch with any other available coach. Look at it this way: Marty knows who's good and he can deal with being so good that those he attracts themselves attract attention. Both of Marty's coordinators are now head coaches and his top offensive assistants are now coordinators. Look for Greg Manusky and Rod Chudzinski to be in the running as head coaches in two or three years maybe less.

Second, Mike Singletary, first to interview in San Diego is not the answer. The Chargers just gave up a guy with 200 career wins and a positive predictability and their first interview is a guy with 4 years total coaching experience who was the assistant head coach-defense for the 49ers last season yet not the defensive coordinator, who just got fired. It doesn't matter if Mike is a Hall of Fame player, he's not ready for duty and I'll wager one dollar with any one of my Redskinsland writer colleagues that if hired Mike will leave the Chargers with a losing record.

In San Diego, Marty lost another asymmetrical battle. In Washington in 2001, Bruce Smith led the cadre of players that resisted Marty's methods. Bruce in his 17th season did not believe he should have to be out in the summer doing the Oklahoma drill and he complained to the media. Bruce's cover was the chatter of 2000 Redskins holdovers that were supposedly whispering to the media that at least one of Marty's former Chiefs players Donnell Bennet, Dave Szott and Kevin Lockett was a locker room snitch. It was a play-action sabotage. Chatter about teacher's pets made Bruce look not so infantile in his campaign for 'fairness' in training camp and allowed him to attack the coach directly.

Marty, said nothing. He refused to strike back in the media. Up there at those new conferences with those eyes squinted for all time, those lips pursed like my Naval Aviator dad's when he was pissed he'd talk about the culture of football and how we were in fact going to deal with the reality of a regular season fast approaching and then and only then will we know who in fact is committed to the game of football. After starting 0-5, Marty's one Redskin team finished 8-8. Marty is the second Redskin coach to earn the Curly R history treatment, after Jack Pardee (hoooooo that's a tease). He was fired when Danny Rockets got a whiff of Steve Spurrier in heat.

That Marty and AJ Smith may have not gotten along, that's a personal thing and it's been proven a thousand times in football and to me personally in life that if you can put that shit aside and exceed expectations then in the end it's a positive experience for everyone. Ladies and gentlement, Marty Schottenheimer:




LaVar Arrington
LaVar left the Redskins after the 2005 season, forced to buy his way out of his contract after two really bad years. He had been to the Pro Bowl in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and had retired Troy Aikman in 2000. Coming off that 2003 Pro Bowl season, LaVar got into a contract dispute with the Redskins. Although the agent was found to have been negligent in failing to address the supposed 6.5 million dollars missing from that offseason negitiation, it was the first real evidence that Danny Rockets gets bored with his toys quickly and needs new ones to keep him from freaking out like an overtired 4 yr old at Chuck E. Cheese.

So the Giants signed him for seven years, 49 million dollars this past season. What happened with LaVar? The short answer is that Marvin Lewis and George Edwards used LaVar and going into that 2004 season after the dispute (ibid.) and the injury Gregg Williams built a top-three defense without him. Doesn't matter that the Redskins defense stinks two years later, 2004 LaVar being a problem and the team successful, Mr. I Don't Care How Much You Make just said piss off.

But part of LaVar's problem was that he is a freelancer, plays outside his body and went for the hit. Though not endowed with Sean Taylor's natural ability to deliver a hit in an exhibition game, LaVar could move side to side with the play, or without the play. He played the Giants first six games when they were 4-2 and not really noticing he was barely contributing, then tore his achilles (ouch). As Redskins fans we knew this would not work out but cutting LaVar after one year of a 49 million dollar deal is positively Danny Rockets-like.

I'm going to commit heresy: Joe Gibbs is not into it. Danny Rockets screwed Marty and LaVar over once but money heals all wounds. If Joe is wavering and Marty wants to stay in the game, if Warrick Holdman is not the future and LaVar is affordable, bring them home. I believe Marty Schottenheimer has ten years or more of good coaching in him and Joe may have one, or two. Marty got the Redskins out of the first salary cap nightmare in 2001, won that team over and had a plan for the future. He is a man on fire right now and he could do it again.
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In other NFL news, I'm just going to say that what's happening to Andy Reid's family is saddening, and I hope it does not turn tragic. Throw in Tony Dungy's son's suicide and you know Andy is doing the math. Former Redskins fan and Eagles season ticket holder Wilbert Montgomery's sister thinks this may be his graceful way out. I'd never want to see anyone have to deal with what Andy's family is dealing with and as a husband and father, my thoughts are with him.



Marty Schottenheimer as a Redskin uncredited photo from from here (read it, it's a great article about Marty turning around an 0-5 team in 2001). LaVar Arrington as a Redskin: Nick Wass / AP via this article on a guy getting shot at a 2005 party hosted by LaVar. Trouble just around the bend huh LaVar.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Danny Rockets


Would you like fries with your 5-11 season?


If you needed another reason to avoid fast food, here's an excellent one. The Washington Post is reporting that robber baron and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has purchased Johnny Rockets, the noisome, vaguely 50's-themed fast food joint with the singing and dancing wage slaves employees.

(Curly R aside: what's the point of forcing the workers at places like Johnny Rockets to sing while they work? Do the owners of these shmaltz-peddlers think that I want to hear a bunch of teenagers grudgingly sing hideously corny songs? I just want to eat my soggy burger in peace among the grease-stained paper and faux chrome.)

According to the Post article, Snyder plans to dramatically increase the number of Johnny Rockets (Rocketses?) by an incredible 1,000 stores over the past five years. This number becomes even more hilarious when we learn that the chain has added only 65 locations over the previous five years.

Snyder plans to fuel this rapid growth in part by installing smaller Johnny Rockets outlets at Redskins home games and at Six Flags amusement parks, the other large piece of Snyder's burgeoning corporate empire. While this fusion of brands makes sense for Snyder and his partners, the acquisition and planned expansion of a fast food chain seems to be yet another extremely risky investment.

Headlines about the health risks of fried foods are more prevalent than ever at a time when Americans seem to be at least outwardly preoccupied with leading healthier lifestyles. If Snyder has millions to spend on the acquisition of a brand, why would he spend that money on something with such a negative connotation? Can there really be that much money to be made in the hamburger business? Why doesn't Snyder invest in something truly lucrative like defense contracting or oil and gas?

Snyder's purchase of Johnny Rockets is only the latest in a string of higly puzzling investments. The Redskins' owner bought controlling interest in the Six Flags amusement park chain in 2005 despite the fact that the chain owed $2.1 billion in debt and had lost money every year since 1998. The same could be said for his puzzling 2006 decision to partner up with Tom Cruise's production company at the absolute nadir of the actor's public and film industry support.

All of these non-football business decisions underscore what has seemed to be Snyder's philosophy for the team: take huge risks and sort out the consequences when they arrive. It is not unreasonable to look back at the Steve Spurrier hiring, for example, and draw a connection to the Six Flags purchase. Both were big risks that were taken when safer alternatives could have been chosen. When I think of the Johnny Rockets purchase I think of the decision to bring Joe Gibbs back: everyone loves hamburgers, and everyone loves Gibbs...it's bound to be a success, right?

A new Johnny Rockets is preparing to open right down the street from me. I wonder if the employees will be singing the Redskins' fight song along with the oldies?

Johnny Rockets logo flipped from the Junk Food Blog; Redskins logo scalped from sportslogos.net

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cowboys Decision Bad; Options Worse


This place will eat your soul Wade. That's ok Bill, I'm a little light in the soul department anyway.

The Cowboys finally shit and got off the pot: Wade Phillips, son of Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, has been named head coach. Norval Turner was the only other serious candidate in a group that included Mike Singletary, Ron Rivera, Gary Gibbs, Jason Garrett and Jim Caldwell. As a Redskins fan, I'm very happy about this hire because I think Jerral W. Jones has completely mismanaged the process that produces the most influential person associated with the team. Jason Garrett was brought in as a possible head coach but not really and now Wade Phillips, a defensive guy, is coaching.

Let's walk through the 2007 Cowboys: Jason is brought in to be the head coach, or offensive coordinator, or head coach. He has two years of coaching experience and has never been a coordinator or called plays, much less coached a whole team. Norval, who was at one point coach of the Redskins before that storyline was retconned out of the timeline, has history and a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys, but Mike Nolan, the 49ers head coach and Norval's former defensive coordinator in Washington, reeeeeally needs Norval to stay on as offensive coordinator, so much so that the 49ers offered Norval a big raise to stay. Norval coaching in Dallas would have been a dicey proposition in the first place because Norval is his own offensive coordinator and Jason would have been little more than he was in Miami, the QB coach. And if I were Norval, who's been a good coordinator and a disappointing head coach everywhere he's gone, I'd want to leave it alone in Dallas and let history remember me with the Super Bowl teams rather than the guy that came back, was mediocre and then run out of town.

Ron, Mike, Gary and Jim were also-rans and I don't think Jerral W. Jones was ever serious about hiring one of those guys. As lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery says, and I agree with him on this point, Jerral W. Jones is back where he was after Jimmy Johnson left. He doesn't really believe anyone but him can make this team a success, so he's going to make a series of ego-hires lasting the next three to five seasons, and the team will never be very good. This is excellent news for my Redskins and his Eagles.

This is not to dog Wade Phillips. He has a winning record as a head coach, I just don't see him as a bold choice. A'course he'll come in and coach the team, but let it be well known that Jerral W. Jones is in charge, and I'll bet Wade and Jerral W. Jones have an understanding in this regard. Wade will get nominal run of the defense and Jason, at Jerral W. Jones' behest, will run the offense which will be interesting because Jason has never called plays.

Now, I must come up with a catchy name for my new regular feature for the 2007 season, watching as Terrell Owens turns Wade, Jason and the entire Cowboys team into his personal cabana bitch. Recommendations welcome in comments.



Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips from here.

When I See Bob Costas on Conan O' Brien


I know there's no real news to report

Lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery and I are on vacation and were drunkenly riffing on how bad Wade Phillips will be for the Cowboys and I just don't have it in me to write it up tonight.

Conan's bit featuring Dr. Phil in a leather jacket lamenting idiots over a bottle of Wild Turkey? Brilliant.



Bob Costas from here

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ultraman


Shuwatch!

Off-topic vacation blogging continues. Other entries in this series: Giant Robot

So you are Shin Hiyata, pilot and deputy captain of Science Patrol, Earth's last desperate line of defense against a never-ending horde of giant monsters emerging from the oceans, mountains and from the rubble of man-made disasters. You are tracking a blue sphere of unknown origin when a second sphere, a red one, appears from nowhere, collinding with your ship, obliterating it and killing you instantly.

Lucky for you, the creature in that red sphere is Ultraman, a giant super-powered being from a far-off nebula tracking the blue sphere into Earth's quadrant. Ultraman feels so guilty for killing you while you were in defense of your own planet that he grants you his lifeforce, reviving you. He also gives you the Beta Capsule with which you may summon Ultraman, tramsforming yourself into the giant hero in times of Earth's greatest need.

This was the premise of the original 1966 Japanese series Ultraman. Like its cousin Giant Robot, Ultrman came to the US in the great pre-Star Wars sci-fi reawakening of the 70s. I would have been watching Ultraman on TV sometime between 1975 and 1977. Although not quite as influential in my formation as Giant Robot, Ultraman was a show I ran home from school to watch.

Ultraman was a 30-minute show that lasted two seasons. Episodes would always start with some monster appearing and threatening civilization, whereupon Science Patrol would hit the scene. Inevitably, they would be unable to stop the monster, or someone was in too great danger, or the city was threatened and Hiyata would whip out the Beta Capsule, which looked a little like a toothbrush holder and click the button and Ultraman would appear. He would wrestle and tussle with the monster, there would be stuff destroyed.

Ultraman's one weakness was that he could only survive three minutes in Earth's atmosphere. At two minutes, the timer light on his chest would begin to blink, getting faster and faster until Ultraman's energy would begin to dissipate. When the colortimer on his chest began to blink is usually when Ultraman would whip out one of his special powers, such as the specium ray, ultra-slash or shield wall. Once the monster was on the ropes Ultraman would perform his finishing move, make sure the humans were safe, and then fly off into space. Hiyata would then come running back onto the scene with some Clark Kent story about hitting his head or getting trapped in wreckage to explain his absence during the action.

I have just acquired season one (nominally for my kids) on DVD and I will be getting season two as soon as we get through season one.

Ultraman continues to live on in American and Japanese pop culture spawning no less than 18 other shows and 35 total Ultramen in 40 years. It was a very important series to me growing up and when I was planning my off-topic vacation posts last month I had planned to include one on Ultraman.

So imagine my surprise that when watching the Super Bowl on Sunday I see what amounts to a 30-second episode of Ultraman in the guise of a Garmin GPS commercial. A man in a car opens a map, it takes on a life of its own, bursts out of the car and becomes a giant map monster, destroying the countryside. Another motorist steps out of his car, holds a GPS device to his belt and is transformed into a giant silver hero that wrestles kata-style with the map monster before finishing him off with a ray from his belt device. It is so clearly inspired by Ultraman that there must be more of us out there than I thought if Garmin is paying that much for the privilege to mine my demographic during the Super Bowl.

The Garmin commercial is here on YouTube, and the Garmin press release for the spot is here. As with Giant Robot, the first episode of Ultraman is YouTube, and you can go see the source of the homage yourself. Part one is here, note Hiyata's transformation at 9 minutes 30 seconds and part two is here, note Ultraman's specium ray power at 2 minutes 40 seconds.

Wikipedia entry on Ultraman.



Image from Garmin Super Bowl 41 ad via New York Times here. The piece calls the Garmin an homage to 'monster movies,' and makes no reference to Ultraman. A good article commenting on the prevalance of violence in this year's Super Bowl ads.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Giant Robot


Giant Robot...launch!!

Off-topic vacation blogging continues. Other entries in this series: Ultraman

In 1967 a series called Jainto Robo premiered in Japan. In 1969, it came to the US as Giant Robot. Somewhere around 1975 or 1976 (when I was 5 or 6; my mom can probly tell me for sure) I discovered this series, in the great pre-Star Wars sci-fi reawakening of the 70s. It remains one of the greatest pieces of television ever created.

Led by the alien Guillotine, an evil society called Gargoyle is bent on subjugating the planet by creating a never-ending stream of giant monsters that rise from the oceans and destroy cities. Battling for Earth is a secret organization called Unicorn. One of Gargoyle's monsters sinks an ocean liner carrying Unicorn agent Jerry Mano and a 9-year old boy named Johnny Sokko. Jerry and Johnny are marooned together on a secret island where Jerry discovers an imprisoned scientist who has been forced to create a 100-foot tall invincible robot to serve Gargoyle.

The scientist foils Gargoyle's plan by detonating a nuclear bomb, killing himself and his captors, but the the bomb activates the robot. By accident, Johnny has possession of the robot's control device, disguised within a wristwatch. The robot imprints upon and will only respond to the first voice it hears through the control device, and as the robot wakes up, Johnny commands it to save him and Jerry. As the only one that can control Giant Robot, Johnny helps Jerry and Unicorn fight Gargoyle, battling a staggering array of monsters and villians over 26 one-hour episodes.

Not only did this show epitomize my Creature Feature fascination with giant creatures that destroy miniature sets, it was a metaphor for the complicated experience that is growing up, casting off the comforts of immaturity. Johnny, through no choice of his own, is thrust into this intergalactic conflict, becomes one of the good guys in his own right, and when called upon to save himself, his team and the planet, does so without hesitation or regret. Although often disrespected by Gargoyle's agents as a mere child, Jerry Mano and Unicorn never treat Johnny like a child and he rewards them with repeated heroism and steely resolve. Johnny Sokko was the hero to us, not the robot.

Sadly, this show is not available yet on DVD. According to Wikipedia, Sony has come into possession of the rights to this show and I hope they will see fit to release it in a set worthy of its place in the memories of legions of children of the 70s. Given the recent proliferation on DVD of Japanese anime and giant monster shows from the 70s (most of it was originally broadcast in Japan in the 60s), I am hopeful. Memo to any Redskins fans working at Sony and reading this story: I'll preorder.

In the absence of an authorized set, I have managed to find a couple of places on the web to buy bootleg DVDs of Giant Robot, and as soon as that major media enterprise buys out Curly R and I'm writing from Boca Grande full time, I intend to buy it.

More on Giant Robot:
Stomp Tokyo. Glen Johnson's memory page on Giant Robot. You Tube has most of the first episode of Giant Robot in two parts. Part one. Part two.

The Art Monk Travesty, Day 4


Robbed

A reminder for you Redskins fans, Art Monk was denied for the Hall of Fame for the seventh time. As Peter King reminds us, although Michael Irvin is out of the way for Art, Cris Carter and Tim Brown come up in the next two years, and since the voters have telegraphed that raw stats and not relevance are what matter (Cris Carter: no Super Bowl appearances; Tim Brown: one Super Bowl appearance, a loss in 2003 when he was coming off a 59-catch season where he scored a total of two TDs and his season-long catch was 35 yards), guys that played under tougher rules for receivers will just continue to fall back under increasingly inaccurate historical comparisons. It's a shame.

Skin Patrol at Hogs Haven is owning the Art Monk story. Head over there if you want the rational discourse and a dose of old-fashioned outrage. I'm still having a hard time getting over the fact that Thurman Thomas was elected and Art was not. Although they played head to head three more times, their highest profile matchup is inarguably Super Bowl 26. In that game Art had 7 catches for 113 yards and Thurman had 10 carries for 13 yards, and could not find his helmet on the sidelines for a long period in the first quarter, and if memory serves actually went into the game with someone else's helmet until his could be found.

Coming off that 1991 season, Thurman was the AP NFL MVP, the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the Pro Football Writer's Association NFL MVP and the UPI ACF Player of the Year. I understand one game doth not a career make, but c'mon. The Bills fought back hard after losing a Super Bowl heartbreaker to the Giants the previous year on Scott Norwood's miss, got to the Big Game and...Thurman literally couldn't keep his shit about him. Just didn't show up. No wonder the Bills never won one.

Stats from DatabaseFootball. Hat tip to DjTj at The Art Monk Hall of Fame Campaign blog. Look there for more.



Presumably photoshopped, but you never know with those crafty Aussies. Image from here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sunrise on the Island of Gasparilla


7:33am

Sleep. Eat. Dig sand castles. Repeat.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl 41; Hall of Fame Bitterness Day 2


Losing your helmet before the Super Bowl means you want to fail. Getting arrested three times for drugs means you have failed.

Super Bowl 41 is happening right now. Even if Devin Hester had not run the opening kickoff in for a touchdown and then the Bears had not intercepted Peyton Manning, I'd still say the Bears were going to win it. Lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader / lurker Wilbert Montgomery and I agree that Lovie Smith and Ron Rivera will have a plan that will fustrate Peyton into a bad day. Go Bears.

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In other news, still-bitter Redskins blog Curly R is hosting a caption contest for the above photo. Post your captions in comments or email them to us. The winner gets to help me collect a box of flies to send to Canton.



The wages of Canton irrelevance: Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas by Chris O'Meara / AP

Saturday, February 03, 2007

What I Did Today


3:23 pm, view west into the Gulf of Mexico

Neighbors saw me off suitably last night, up until 2am drinking bourbon, then I had to load my ipod for the trip. 6:15am, lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery and his family arrive in Alexandria, 6:45am two Red Top cabs arrive to take us to National Airport. 8:30am, my flight to Fort Myers, Florida is delayed on the tarmac 30 minutes because W. is airborne in the vicinity (all air traffic stops while the president is in the air around DC). 9-11:30am, miserable flight to Florida featuring incredibly heroically unhelpful US Airways gate and flight attendant personnel and a bitchy queen of a flight attendant that sets his own flight rules.

2pm we arrive Boca Grande and it's alllllllllllllll good from there. For Curly R readers only, here are photos from today on Florida's Gulf Coast.

In Redskins news, Art Monk was denied, again, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for the seventh time. Instead of admitting the at-retirement all-time leading NFL receiver, the HOF admitted Thurman Thomas, who lost his helmet in Super Bowl 26 (Jim Kelly, born 40 years old, had more rushing yards than Thurman in that game) and Michael Irvin, a convicted cocaine abuser who was alleged to have raped a woman on at gunpoint on videotape.

After retiring in 1999 due to a life-threatening neck injury (Wilbert Montgomery insists that the Vet crowd was not as vicious in reaction to Michael's career-ending injury as the media seems to remember), Michael was arrested again in 2001 on cocaine and mary whana charges just eight weeks after completing his probation for the hotel coke and hookers party in 1999 and then arrested again in 2005 for a pot pipe the belonged to his friend no his brother no really his friend not his brother. Here's a link to a mugshot of Michael, but I honestly don't know if it's from his first, second, third or fourth arrest. NFL fans, this is the guy that got into the Hall of Fame today. But I don't agree with Skin Patrol. It's not 'fuck Canton,' it's fuck all the dumbasses that Canton lets jerk off on its face when they vote Michael Irvin up and Art Monk down.

In case you are not watching Michael on ESPN, they have no respect for him on that set. It's a weird scenario because the way he replaced Sterling Sharpe on NFL Countdown and ESPN coverage and the way Tom Jackson openly disrespects him evokes bad thoughts about tokens.

Dan Snyder weighed in on Art's snub:

A good man and legitimate Hall of Famer is being denied entry for reasons we never know, by people who secretly vote...Art Monk is a Hall of Famer by any measure. This is not right
Dan, shut the fuck up. I don't want to hear anything from you on any Redskins player predating your ownership until you show me you can pilot this team out of your ass. Art Monk is a better man than you and any player you have signed in the past seven years. You are an accident of Redskins history.

Art Monk deserves to be in the NFL Hall of Fame.



Photo by me and the internets can have it