Fuck Michigan

It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve had the energy to sit down and write something. I’m sure some of that can be attributed to the pandemic afflicting our lives, but the truth is I just didn’t have it in me to go to the effort to put pen to paper (er, uh, keyboard to screen?). But this week a local group of people have provided me with the inspiration I need to organize my thoughts into a coherent post that I believe people will want to read (although I’m sure there will be many who disagree). Who are these people you ask?

The Walmart Wolverines.

Fuck This Guy

About five years ago I wrote a post about how I perceived my Spartan fandom as requiring justification to some while simultaneously not being as full-throated as it could be to others. And while I still don’t have the out-and-out hatred of the University of Michigan that some of my fellow Spartans do, listening to the loudmouth Michigan fans act as less than fully gracious winners after clinching their first College Football Playoff berth, I’m here to spew some sore-loser venom.

(Although, you know, we didn’t lose to them this year. Or last year. So there’s that.)

A little background, although if you read my blog, you likely don’t need it. Michigan just completed a 12-1 regular season by beating Ohio State for the first time since 2011, and then crushing Iowa in their first trip to the Big 10 Championship Game. In doing so they became the first team to start the season unranked and finish it with a CFP berth.

Good for them.

It’s hard to diminish what Michigan has done this year. They’ve looked good almost all year long, their only loss came on the road against a resurgent Michigan State team, they slayed the dragon in Ohio State, they exorcised almost every one of Jim Harbaugh’s demons, and just for good measure, they’ve got a Heisman Trophy finalist in Aidan Hutchinson.

But it’s not good enough for them.

After the Big 10 title was secured and the CFP pairings were announced, immediately the Michigan faithful started bitching that they should’ve been #1 instead of #2, that they should’ve gotten the “easier” matchup with Cincinnati, that Georgia’s season was somehow fraudulent, and even that they were screwed by the refs in their loss to Michigan State (you know, a game that happened over a month ago).

It’s bullshit.

In the SEC Championship Game, #3 Alabama routed #1 Georgia 41-24. Alabama has not looked like the Alabama of old this season, and they won a couple of games they probably should’ve lost to inferior opponents (although calling an opponent inferior to Alabama is somewhat redundant). Still, Georgia had given up a total of 83 points (6.9 per game) on the season, and Alabama lit them up for 41.

It is not at all uncommon, when the #3 team beats the #1 team, for that #3 team to jump #2 and find themselves ranked #1 (I’m not doing that research for you. I know it happens. If you want to prove me wrong, you Google it). That’s what happened here. Being ranked #2 is nothing to sniff your nose at, but to hear U-M tell it, they should have been #1. Here’s the thing though: it literally does not fucking matter.

Georgia, on the strength of their dominant regular season, had already secured a spot in the Playoff. You could make the argument that their season looks significantly less impressive after their loss to Alabama, but if you look at the teams in the discussion for the Playoff, there’s little (legitimate) argument that Georgia belongs.

With that in mind, it is mind-boggling to think that the CFP committee would have Alabama play Georgia two games in a row. It defies logic. You’d have to be a moron to think that was going to happen. If Michigan had been ranked #1, Georgia would have been #4. Michigan was not getting Cincinnati (or Notre Dame, or Ohio State, or whomever else would have taken Cincinnati’s spot). In order to win the title, Michigan is going to have to beat Georgia, and then likely Alabama.

I might accept the premise that Michigan should be #1. I’d probably give Michigan the vote 51% of the time, and Alabama 49% of the time. But again, it’s irrelevant. Complaining that you should be #1 and be playing Cincinnati just looks like sour grapes from a fan base that doesn’t think they can beat an SEC power (justifiably so, it would seem, as Georgia has opened as 7.5 point favorites).

Now, if Michigan finishes 13-0 instead of 12-1, they would finish the season ranked #1 regardless of the outcome of the Alabama-Georgia game. Which brings us back to the Michigan State game.

Michigan fans, players, and coaches have spent the last month whining about the officials costing them that game. The primary issue involved the officials overturning a strip-sack fumble that Hutchinson recovered in the end zone and would have given Michigan a 13-point lead with 1:30 left in the first half. It is a borderline justifiable complaint. Was it a fumble? Maybe. The officials felt that there was sufficient video evidence to overturn the fumble. I think that’s a stretch, and that the call shouldn’t have been overturned, but it was. I’m an idiot sitting on my couch, the officials reviewing the play know the rules better than I do.

But combined with a couple of other no-calls that would’ve allowed Michigan drives to continue, the officiating gave Michigan (fans, players, and coaches – it’s important that this isn’t just idiot fans bitching about this) just enough grounds to complain that the refs cost them the game. They conveniently ignore the fact that they blew a 16-point lead with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Or the 5 TD that they surrendered to jilted-Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III. They can’t take responsibility for their own deficiencies, they lost because of the officiating. Hutchinson and Harbaugh both implied as much in interviews after recent wins.

I’ve heard arguments that had the Hutchinson fumble recovery been allowed to stand he might be the front-runner for the Heisman. Hutchinson might be the greatest example of recency bias in Heisman voting I’ve ever seen. He failed the head-to-head stat comparison against Alabama’s Will Anderson, and it’s not particularly close. Think I’m wrong?

  • Anderson: 91 Tackles, 31.5 Tackles for Loss, 15.5 Sacks
  • Hutchinson: 58 Tackles, 15.5 Tackles for Loss, 14 Sacks

Hell, Anderson had a stretch this season where he had 7.5 sacks in 3 games, better than the 7 that Michigan fans love to point out that Hutchinson racked up against Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State (incidentally, not 3 consecutive games, as Michigan played Maryland between Penn State and Ohio State). And as a die hard Michigan State fan, it’s worth pointing out that Kenneth Walker III boosted his Heisman case by running for 3 of his 5 TD’s against Michigan in Hutchinson’s direction.

(I’m not even going to pretend I’m not bitter about Walker not getting invited to NYC for the Heisman presentation. I’m extremely bitter. Doak Walker Award… Walter Camp Award… Can’t get an invite to NYC despite being a front-runner with 3 weeks left in the season. The Heisman can get fucked. I won’t necessarily put that all on Hutchinson, but the guy’s sudden candidacy has proven that voters basically watch the last 3 games of the year, if that.)

But we shouldn’t be surprised that Michigan bitches about the refs. They’re still bitching about a call from 2016. And 2001. And 1990. Hell, they complained so much about a vote of athletic directors in 1973 that cost them a trip to the Rose Bowl that the Big Ten Network made a documentary about it 40 years later.

Let me give you a short history lesson. The University of Michigan has belittled Michigan State going back to the latter’s very inception. When the federal government proposed a land grant college in Michigan, U-M fought against MSU’s creation and argued that they should get the land. When the Big 10 was looking for someone to replace the University of Chicago, Michigan openly campaigned against Michigan State. When that 1973 vote took place, Bo Schembechler (the less said about his legacy the better) honed in on Michigan State as the culprit of the tiebreaking vote to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, as if we owed them our fealty. They called us “Little Brother” after a comeback win in 2007.

When Michigan State beats Michigan, which has happened quite frequently lately (10-4 since the “Little Brother” comment, so some thanks must be given to Mike Hart), their fans will trot out the overall record in the matchup, as if what happened in 1902 has any impact on the game that ended an hour ago. Here’s the thing about that overall record. It is considerably tighter since MSU joined the Big 10 in 1953, which, again, Michigan actively fought. Michigan State has actually won 3 national titles to Michigan’s 1 in that time. Please, discuss with me our school’s head-to-head history because you’re butt-hurt that we just beat you again.

I can have a conversation with a Michigan fan as long as they can talk respectfully about both teams. It actually happened fairly recently with a guy I met at the bar. For those fans, for my friends who don’t talk to me like I’m less than because of where I went to school, I’m genuinely happy for their team’s success.

But I’ve spent the last 25 years justifying my Spartan fandom because I grew up a Michigan fan and for some reason should still be a fan. I haven’t experienced anything like some uneducated Michigan fan working behind the counter at a gas station belittling me because I’m wearing an MSU shirt (something that did actually happen to a friend of mine), and that’s likely why my hatred has not evolved to the point where it is absolute.

Their behavior after this recent run, though, has altered my view somewhat. Nothing’s ever good enough. I heard local sports talk actually ask – should Michigan win the national title by beating Georgia and Alabama – if it would be the most impressive run in college football history. Well, as someone pointed out, LSU won the title in 2019 by beating 7 teams in the top 10. And I’m not sure how it could possibly be the most impressive run when you couldn’t go undefeated. But that’s just me.

Michigan State fans have bitched about our seeding in the NCAA basketball tournament for years. And then we go out and get beaten by a 15-seed. Or UCLA, who then gets a favorable bracket to go to the Final Four. Michigan fans need to learn from that lesson. Act like you’ve been there before, because complaining about not being #1 and crying that you should be playing the “lesser” semifinal team isn’t a good look. They’re acting like this hasn’t happened before. It has, we were there, it didn’t end well.

I can’t stand the SEC, but I’m not rooting for Michigan out of some sort of local pride anymore. I don’t care about niceties, about hearing, “Oh, I root for Michigan State if they’re not playing Michigan.” I couldn’t care less. I hope Georgia takes it to them, and if they don’t, I hope Alabama or Cincinnati does. And if they don’t and Michigan comes home with the trophy?

You can be damn sure we’re going to remind them who beat them this year.

Michael Jordan is a Whiny Bitch

Like seemingly every other sports fan in America, I spent the last five Sundays watching the ESPN’s epic 10-part Michael Jordan infomercial, The Last Dance.  And while we may not have any more episodes to keep us entertained tonight, I’m here to offer you some biased analysis of the man, the myth, the legend.  And after 10 hours of Jordan love, there are two inescapable truths to be gleaned from the doc:

1) Michael Jordan is probably the greatest basketball player who ever lived.

2) Michael Jordan is a whiny little bitch.

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A Disclaimer

It needs to be stated here that I first started watching basketball during the Bad Boys era of the Detroit Pistons, and we hated Jordan and the Bulls more than perhaps anyone in sports until Patrick Roy and Matt Millen entered our collective hive mind. With the exception of a brief interlude that I’ll discuss momentarily, that hatred has not gone away, so it’s important for you to read this post with that information in mind.

Now, when I was 14 or 15, I told my dad I hated Michael Jordan. My dad had grown up outside of Chicago and harbored loyalties to that city’s teams, but with the exception of a soft spot for the ‘85 Bears, his loyalties had not passed down to me, largely because he had moved back to Illinois while I grew up in Michigan. We weren’t watching sports together, so my loyalties tended toward the local Detroit teams. Well, and the 49ers, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I told my dad I hated Jordan. I was a shitty 14- or 15-year-old, and my dad and I weren’t getting along particularly well, and my dad told me that telling someone you hate their team or their favorite player might be a way of telling them you don’t like them. I didn’t think it was fair for a couple of reasons – one, he’d never mentioned any particular affinity for the Bulls or Jordan (unlike his beloved Bears) and two, it didn’t show any particular respect for the rivalry that existed between my team and his.

Still, it made me think, and when I saw how happy my dad was when John Paxson hit the game-winner against Phoenix in ‘93, I found myself thinking, ok, I can do this. The Pistons’ mini-dynasty was done and I had a penchant for being a fair-weather fan, so why not hitch my wagon to my dad’s team?  I was never much of a Jordan guy even when I wanted to see the Bulls win – I was more of a Scottie Pippen guy and Dennis Rodman was an obvious choice when he joined the team – so I didn’t feel much when he “retired” in ‘93.

I don’t remember when or why I stopped pulling for the Bulls. I remember having no particular rooting interest during the ‘97 or ‘98 Finals, and only followed the NBA in passing until the Pistons re-emerged in the early-2000’s. But it felt like the mini-loyalty to the Bulls should be pointed out to my faithful readers. Both of you.

On to The Last Dance.

As everyone knows by now, ESPN managed to secure the rights to a 10-part documentary that looked back on Jordan’s career and the Bulls dynasty. Of course, in order to secure Jordan’s involvement in the project, they had to offer him final approval. Saying this was an objective look at the man is like saying Michael Moore is fair to the Republican Party. Michael Jordan is a bully, he’s got a chip on his shoulder that dwarfs the Rock of Gibraltar, and a 10-part documentary where he gives is sign-off was not going to treat his adversaries in a flattering light. I’m here to offer an opposing view.

Because whining about shit years after it’s happened is something a bitch does.

I know, I’ve done it.

Let’s see if we can look at a few examples.


The Pistons Walkoff

In the documentary, Jordan was kind enough to say that he wouldn’t have made it to the summit without the Pistons. It was their toughness and tenacity that inspired Jordan and his teammates to get in the weight room and dish it out as much as they took it. Of course, no one remembers that.

No, they remember the Pistons walking off the court without shaking the Bulls’ hands as the clock ticked to zero in the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals.

Oh, they’ll tell you the Celtics did the same thing to the Pistons in ’88. They’ll do that so they can show how magnanimous Jordan and the Bulls were in shaking the Pistons hands in defeat when the Pistons had knocked them out the previous three seasons. Because Jordan’s nothing if not a good sport. I mean, nothing screams good sportsmanship like shitting all over the guys you defeated 30 years prior.

You know what they didn’t show you? They didn’t show you Jordan and Phil Jackson declaring – before that series was over – that the Pistons were undeserving champions, that they were bad for basketball, and that the sport would be better off when they were gone. No, you can’t show that, because it doesn’t help the argument that they were being disrespected when that disrespect is completely justified.  It’s worth pointing out that this nuance was included in the 30 for 30 episode that ESPN aired on the Bad Boys.  Funny how that gets left on the cutting room floor when Jordan’s got final cut.

Considering the Bad Boys’ reputation, Jordan can consider himself lucky they just walked off the court. They should’ve smacked him in the mouth.


Blackballing Isiah

There’s some controversy over what initiated Jordan’s animosity toward Isiah Thomas. To the producer’s credit – and by extension Jordan’s since he had final approval – they let Isiah say his piece about his relationship with Jordan. There’s not much point arguing over who says what – Jordan believes that Isiah and a couple of other veterans froze him out at the 1985 NBA All-Star game. What Isiah says is largely irrelevant – it’s not going to change Jordan’s mind. The walkoff in ’91 didn’t help.

So what did Jordan do? Nothing, if you ask Jordan. If you use basic common sense Jordan had Isiah left off the greatest basketball team in history, one that would’ve had extra meaning to Isiah.

When USA Basketball announced that NBA players would be playing in the 1992 Olympics, it was only a question of who would be on the Dream Team. Obviously, the first call was to Jordan. Jordan asked who was playing, and was told, “The guy you’re asking about [Isiah] isn’t playing.” Of course he’s not. If Jordan says, “If so-and-so is playing, I’m not,” so-and-so isn’t playing. You don’t select anyone over Michael Jordan in 1992. So for him to suggest this was anyone’s call but his is nonsense.

Oh, sure, everyone involved in that team is tripping all over themselves these days to say they didn’t want Isiah on the team. David Robinson said he wasn’t welcome because of his connection to the Bad Boys, which makes sense for about 2 seconds until you realize that the team was put together by the GM of that Pistons team and coached by the Pistons’ head coach. Magic Johnson was icing Isiah out because he believed Isiah was questioning the circumstances that found Magic contracting HIV, a belief that Magic apologized for when he was selling a book years later. Karl Malone had bad blood with Isiah and had no problem saying he didn’t want Isiah on the team. Karl Malone is the same guy who impregnated a 13-year-old when he was in college and said he didn’t want to be on the same court as Magic after he was diagnosed, but Isiah’s a bad dude.

Really?

There’s one other possible explanation. Isiah Thomas was the president of the NBA Players’ Association, an elected position that would seem to require a certain amount of likability in order to hold. During his tenure, he looked out for the rank-and-file players at the expense of the superstars. The superstars and their agents didn’t like that, so, led by Jordan’s agent, they had Isiah voted out and looked out for their own interests from that point on.

The same superstars who made up the Dream Team.

But yeah, Jordan had nothing to do with it.

Isiah said that he’s been in business settings with Jordan, had dinner with him, and figured all the water was under the bridge. Hell, in 2003, when Jordan was named as a reserve in his final All-Star Game, Isiah pushed Vince Carter to sacrifice his starting spot so the league could celebrate Jordan, a story that was not included in the documentary, naturally. And Jordan sums up his relationship with Isiah by saying, “There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an asshole.” 

You know what makes the blackballing of Isiah Thomas even worse? Isiah was named to the 1980 Olympic team, but didn’t get the chance to play because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics. He was ineligible in ’84 (when Jordan won a gold medal) and ’88. He was a long shot for ’96, where his replacement, John Stockton, won a gold. The 1992 Olympics were Isiah’s only chance to play for his country.

Jordan didn’t care.

Update, May 26, 2020: ESPN published a story showing that Jordan had in fact told Rod Thorn, a member of the USA Basketball selection committee in 1992, that if Isiah was on the Dream Team that Jordan wouldn’t play.  Thorn said that the head coach of the Dream Team didn’t want Isiah on the team, so it wouldn’t be an issue.  Curiously, the head coach of the Dream Team was Chuck Daly, who coached Isiah in Detroit, and there was no apparent animosity between Daly and Isiah.

It’s interesting that ESPN would correct the issue after the fact, but had no issue with the clear and blatant lie being allowed in the documentary.


“Retirement”

Jordan stunned the sports world in October 1993 when he walked away from the Bulls and “retired”. There are three possible explanations for this:

1) He was exhausted from the grind of three straight championship runs.

2) He was distraught over the murder of his father a few months prior.

3) His “retirement” was a quasi-suspension for the massive gambling debts Jordan had racked up.

To their credit, the producers addressed the suspension theory with the two people who mattered, Jordan and then-NBA commissioner David Stern. Of course, leaving it out would be like doing a documentary on the JFK assassination and not mentioning Sam Giancana. Obviously, both Jordan and Stern denied the allegations, so let’s take them at their word.

The murdered father theory would seem to make sense. But in the documentary, Jordan admitted that the night the Bulls clinched the 1993 title – two months before his father was murdered – Jordan and his father suspected he was done. He had accomplished what he wanted, he had gotten the 3-peat that Magic and Larry Bird had never pulled off, he was done.

Then why’d he come back?

Look, it’s probably not appropriate for me to discuss someone’s exhaustion or mental health. Thing is, I’m writing 3600 words on how much of a bitch Michael Jordan is, so I’m not exactly a model of propriety.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the standard set by Jordan has been applied to LeBron James basically since he was in high school. Those are impossible expectations to meet, yet LeBron’s largely met them. In my introduction I said Jordan was probably the best player of all time – LeBron is the only reason to say “probably”.

Why am I bringing up LeBron? Through his age 29 season, LeBron James had played 1000 games across the regular season and the playoffs. Jordan had played 879 games in the regular season, playoffs, and college. LeBron had 3 more seasons of the NBA grind (and the 82 games as opposed to roughly 35 in college). He’d played 47 more playoff games than Jordan had at the same age; even if you include Jordan’s NCAA tournament games, LeBron had still played 37 more “high stress” games at the same age as Jordan had. He’d been to the Finals 4 times and won 2 titles (to Jordan’s 3/3). And you never heard a word about LeBron walking away for exhaustion.

And people call LeBron soft.

One of the overarching themes of The Last Dance was that Jordan and his teammates couldn’t understand how Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ GM, could tear down the team after the 1998 season. Of course, that’s not exactly what happened. Krause announced before the season started that Phil Jackson wouldn’t return, even if the team went 82-0. It was a questionable decision, but he hadn’t made any decisions or pronouncements about the makeup of the team. Jordan immediately announced that he wouldn’t be playing for anyone but Jackson, and thus it was Krause’s fault he wouldn’t be coming back.

It’s never explained why it was ok for Jordan to decide when a team’s run ends but not the guy who has to rebuild the team after all the championship pieces are gone.  So what led him to walk away in ’93?  Was it exhaustion? A suspension? Overwhelming grief over the loss of his father? An overwhelming desire to ride the bus through the minor leagues? Whatever it is, LeBron’s taken more shit for compiling a mega-team than Jordan did for walking away from his team.


1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals

The producers of the series spent a decent amount of time on the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals.  Trouble is, the focused on the wrong game.

In Game 3 of that series against the Knicks, Phil Jackson drew up a final shot for Toni Kukoč.  This pissed off Scottie Pippen – who’d had an MVP-caliber season – who wanted the shot and refused to enter the game.  The doc spent a fair amount of time on this, with Pippen curiously admitting he regretted the decision but would do it the same if he had to do it again.

Wait, what?

Anyway, Kukoč would hit the shot to get the Bulls back in the series, they won Game 4 to even it up, and had the lead in the closing seconds of Game 5 when the refs made an atrocious call that allowed the Knicks to take the lead in both the game and the series.  Pippen was called for a foul on Hubert Davis with 2.1 seconds left, a foul that one of the officials later admitted was terrible.  Davis hit the free throws, the Knicks took the game and went up 3-2.  They would take the series in 7 and eventually lose the NBA Finals to the Rockets in 7 games.

That call didn’t make it into the show.  Why not?

Look, I’m not that smart, so I can’t take credit for this analysis – I believe I found it on CBS Sports, but couldn’t locate the article to share.  Of course, a skeptic would say this is me shifting blame for a stupid take, so you’ll just have to take me at my word.

Say the refs don’t blow the call and the Bulls are able to close out the game to go up 3-2.  They’re now hosting Game 6 with a chance to win the series.  Let’s assume that reality holds and they win that game to win the series in 6.  They would’ve then faced the Indiana Pacers with home court advantage in the conference finals.  The Bulls went 4-1 against the Pacers in the ’93-94 season, so let’s assume that they continue their dominance against Indiana and advance to the NBA Finals.

It’s difficult to assume that the Bulls would’ve won that series against Houston, but we’re assuming that they would’ve won a series against a Knicks team that, in reality, were up 3-2 on the Rockets and took the Finals to 7 games.  Hakeem Olajuwon was having an MVP-caliber season, and Patrick Ewing matched up better against Hakeem than anyone on the Bulls, but the idea they they could’ve beaten the Rockets and taken their fourth straight NBA title – without Jordan – isn’t ridiculous.

(I’ll add the obvious caveat that there’s no guarantee that the Bulls win Game 6 or Game 7 if they’re up 3-2.  Maybe the Knicks play with more urgency and are able to take Game 6, maybe the Bulls win the series but the Pacers pull an upset and go to the Finals, where the Rockets make mince-meat of them.  But with what we know, it’s safe to say that if they get the call in Game 5 there’s a damn good chance they go to the Finals.)

So why didn’t they leave the blown call in the story?

Because it’s Jordan’s story.

Jordan had no issue shitting on Pippen throughout The Last Dance.  He expressed skepticism about the migraine that hobbled Pippen during Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference finals.  He had no problem calling out Pippen for the selfish decision to pull himself out of the game when Jackson ran the play to Kukoč.  He whined about the back spasms that limited Pippen in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and compared his inability to play hurt to Jordan’s “Flu Game” in 1997.  To Jordan, Pippen was a sidekick, nothing else.

If Pippen is able to take a Bulls team that Jordan walked out on to the NBA Finals and potentially win the title, in a season in which Pippen finished 3rd in the MVP voting, that diminishes Jordan’s view that he is the team.  Jordan’s spot in history was already well-established, but you have to think his importance to the team takes a hit if they can be a legitimate championship contender without him.

In Jordan’s eyes the Bulls were a plucky upstart who managed to survive the loss of his services and make it to the second round of the playoffs.  In reality they were a 3-seed with an MVP contender who got screwed out of a chance to play for the title.


Jerry Krause

I realize this post has run very long, but you can’t talk about The Last Dance without discussing Jordan’s relationship with Jerry Krause.  Krause is an unsympathetic character – his decision to not renew the contract of a man who’d coached the team to 6 of the last 8 NBA titles was curious, to say the least.  But he never made any decision on the composition of the team until Jordan “officially” declared he wouldn’t be returning when Jackson wasn’t retained.  The 1998-99 Bulls were not the same as the 1993-94 Bulls.  Everyone was 5 years older (duh…math), a new crop of talent was coming into the league, and it wasn’t a safe bet that the Bulls would be the favorites even if Jordan returned.  With Jordan retiring again – seemingly for good this time – it was as good a time as any to tear the team down and begin the rebuild.  It’s probably not what I would’ve done – flags fly forever, so I’d hold off on the rebuild until someone took us out – but the strategy wasn’t crazy.

Jordan has no problem expressing his disdain for Krause throughout the series.  Jordan hated Krause so much that he made sure to point out that he didn’t invite Krause to his Hall of Fame induction…during his speech.  Krause’s insistence that organizations win championships was ludicrous to a guy who made sure everyone knew that “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’, but there is in ‘Win’.”

Here’s the thing though: Krause wasn’t wrong.  Jordan without Pippen was an elite talent on a mediocre team.  He never dragged bad teams beyond what they should’ve been capable of, like LeBron James did with the ’07 Cavaliers, or Allen Iverson with the ’00 76ers.  In the 3 seasons before Pippen entered the league, Jordan’s teams went 108-138 (87-95 in games he played), and lost in the first round of the playoffs all three years, winning a total of 1 playoff game.

And of course, it was Jordan who told Krause to draft Pippen, right?  Or maybe it was Pippen – an unheralded prospect out of an NAIA school – who refused to sign with the SuperSonics and demanded he be traded so he could play with Michael Jordan.  No, that was Krause.

Krause drafted Pippen, Horace Grant, and B.J. Armstrong.  He traded for Bill Cartwright.  He hired Tex Winter, who installed the triangle offense, then replaced Doug Collins with Phil Jackson.  He signed Toni Kukoč and traded for Dennis Rodman.  Ask Jordan how many championships he’d have if Krause hadn’t made those moves.  Hell, ask Jordan what it takes to win a championship as an owner or GM.  Charles Barkley called out Jordan for his ineptitude at running a team, and Jordan hasn’t spoken to his former best friend since.

To close, I come back to the Bad Boys Pistons.  Their GM, Jack McCloskey – the same guy who was tasked with building the Dream Team – was known as “Trader Jack”, and did the same thing Krause did with the Bulls, building his team from a laughingstock to repeat champions.  When the Pistons were awarded the trophy, the players had McCloskey front and center to celebrate with them; Krause was nowhere to be found when the Bulls celebrated.  To Jordan (and, to be fair, the rest of the Bulls of that era), Krause was the short fat kid that they let tag along on their ride.


Look, obviously I don’t like Michael Jordan, but to deny his talent is ridiculous.  I’m prepared to be called out for my bias, but the simple fact is, if you’re building a team composed of players in their prime to play one game to save your life, and your first pick isn’t Michael Jordan, you’re clearly suicidal.  A friend – who, it should be noted, is perhaps the biggest fan of Detroit sports I’ve ever met and hates Jordan almost as much as I do – maintains that his significance in American sports can only be rivaled by Babe Ruth; I don’t completely agree, but the comparison isn’t crazy.  His career merits a documentary, maybe even a 10-part documentary series that saves America from the nightmarish hell that is 74 days (and counting) without sports.

But Michael Jordan is not a good guy.  ESPN and the basketball-loving public can slobber all over him and declare that he just behaved that way because he was so competitive, that he never asked anything of anyone that he wouldn’t do himself.  But in my eyes, he’s what’s wrong with America today.  Hard work can get you far in this country, but ultimately you’re probably not going to reach the pinnacle if you don’t hitch your wagon to someone who is going to stomp people into the ground if that’s what it takes to get there.  And not only are those people going to ground people into dust on their way to the top, they’re going to make sure to remember every slight and make sure to play the “Woe is me” card to alter the narrative.

And I’m calling bullshit.

 

The Detroit Sports Czar’s 2020 NCAA Tournament Simulation

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Loyal readers…both of you…may remember that one of the very first posts the Detroit Sports Czar brought to you was how to fix the NCAA tournament, despite the fact that it’s almost the perfect tournament.  So, as we sit here lamenting the fact that there’s no Final Four this year, I’ve decided to simulate the tournament for you, all while implementing some of the changes I suggested 7 years ago, and bringing about a few others.

And boy was it a doozy.  A 15 taking down a 2.  A 19-seed in the Sweet 16.  A 14-seed in the Final Four.  A mid-major champion.  You’re gonna love it.

(Unless you’re a Michigan fan.  Sorry…I only report the results.)

So let’s get to it.

The Ground Rules

Elimination of Conference Tournaments

If you’ll recall, the DSC loathes conference tournaments.  They’re nothing more than cash grabs and they screw deserving teams out of the tournament when they lose to an 8-seed in the first round of their conference tournament.  Worse, most conferences do not use the regular season as a mechanism for eliminating teams from their conference’s tournament, so what that 8-seed does in 4 days is more important than what the 1-seed did over 16-20 regular season games.

So we’re getting rid of them.  Rather than granting an automatic bid to every conference’s tournament champion, we’re giving automatic bids to the top 2 finishers in each conference.  But wait, DSC, I’m sure you’re saying, there are only 68 qualifiers for the tournament.  With 32 conferences and 2 automatic bids, that only leaves 4 at-large qualifiers, doesn’t it?  No it doesn’t, because we’re going to a…

96-Team Tournament

That’s right, 64 automatic bids, 32 at-large qualifiers.  The top 8 seeds in each region get a bye into the Thursday/Friday games, while seeds 9-24 play on Tuesday/Wednesday.  This is actually a decrease of 4 at-large bids, but in reviewing the new process, the lowest ranked at-large qualifier, which we’ll discuss shortly, is ranked 52nd in the nation.  Sorry, but if you can’t crack the top 52, you don’t have much of an argument to make the tournament.

Admittedly, in seeding these games, there were some less than ideal Tuesday/Wednesday matchups, but people love their brackets so much that they’ll tune in no matter what.  I had contemplated granting each of the conference champions an automatic bid to the Thursday/Friday games, but no one will argue that Prairie View deserves a bye ahead of, say, Duke or Louisville.

Modification of NIT

The NIT is an antiquated tournament that lost its importance when the NCAA allowed at-large teams in 1975.  Since then it’s been a second-tier tournament that has teams competing for who the 65th or 69th best team in the country is.  This is obviously misleading; if we were simply going by the quality of the teams, many NIT teams would qualify for the NCAA tournament ahead of automatic qualifiers from smaller conferences.  Still, the system is what it is, and it’s hard to argue that the NIT champion carries much cachet anymore.

So we’re changing that.  The NIT will continue to exist, and still as a consolation tournament, but instead of taking the top 32 teams that didn’t make the tournament, the NIT will consist of a 4-team tournament between the 4 highest ranked teams that didn’t make the Final Four.  We’ll see better matchups and more prestigious games, and we can still do it at Madison Square Garden the week preceding the Final Four.

Automatic Seeding

In 2000, Cincinnati had the best team in the nation.  Now, that’s no guarantee that they’d win the national championship, especially considering their history of early-round flameouts, but they should’ve been the #1 seed in the tournament.

Then Kenyon Martin broke his leg.

Because of the way seeding in the tournament works, instead of determining seedings based upon how the team played over the course of the entire season, injuries and how a school finished its season are huge factors in seeding the tournament.  With Martin gone, Cincinnati lost their next game in the conference tournament, the tournament committee dropped Cincinnati from #1 overall to #2 in the South, Michigan State was elevated to the #1 seed in the Midwest that Cincinnati had rightly earned, and was able to take advantage of Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Detroit and ride their way to the national championship.

(God that was painful to write for a Spartan.)

Numerous other factors are considered when seeding teams for the tournament, travel being foremost among them.  Theoretically, a top-level team could get matched up with a superior lower seed because that lower seeded team’s campus is closer to the first round games.  So we’re taking the human element out of the seedings.

With the sheer number of computer rankings determining the who’s played the best throughout the season, it’s possible to aggregate them and seed the qualifying teams from 1-96.  Simple and painless, we don’t need to hear mindless drivel about how difficult it is for the committee to put together a bracket.  Seriously, it literally took me about 2 hours to put it together.  The tournament committee is pointless.

Travel Considerations

When the committee is putting together the brackets you’ll hear a lot about pods where the games are played.  Teams are generally assigned to the pods closest to their campus, so, as I mentioned previously, a top seed is not necessarily playing the proper seed in their early round matchups.

Additionally, there are some rather stupid rules regarding home cities and arenas.  So this season, Gonzaga was allowed to play in Spokane because the tournament games were not taking place at their home stadium, while Creighton was barred from playing in Omaha because they were.  No more of that.

The top 16 teams are assigned geographically to the closest opening round tournament sites, in descending order.  The remaining teams fall in line behind them.

The Process

Before I get to the games, I’ll tell you that the rankings were determined by the aggregate rankings found here, with the rankings being done after the games of Sunday, March 8 (the final day of the regular season).

Simulation games were done at WhatIfSports.  I had contemplated doing 5- or 10-game “series” to determine who the “proper” winner should be, but that’s not how the tournament works.  If Virginia plays UMBC 10 times, they probably win 9.  But we all know how the game turns out.  So it was 1-and-done.  There were no shenanigans to come up with an outcome I preferred.  You’ll just have to trust me on that one.

(Sorry, I didn’t do play-by-plays or scoring stats or all-tournament teams…go to ESPN if you want that.)

The Games

Play-In Games

Midwest Region
(17) Harvard, (16) Northern Colorado 72
(9) Illinois 77, (24) North Carolina A&T 68
(12) Mississippi State 77, (21) South Alabama 76
(13) East Tennessee St. 94, (20) Siena 58
(11) Purdue 79, (22) St. Peter’s 70
(14) Vermont 71, (19) Murray State 70
(10) Oklahoma 67, (23) American 64
(18) UC Irvine 78, (15) Akron 66

South Region
(17) Wright State 79, (16) New Mexico State 75
(9) Wichita State 90, (24) UT Rio Grande Valley 75
(12) USC 74, (21) William & Mary 73
(13) NC State 80, (20) South Dakota St. 75
(11) Cincinnati 94, (22) Radford 67
(14) Northern Iowa 84, (19) Winthrop 74
(23) Cal State Northridge 92, (10) Utah State 89
(15) Stephen F. Austin 92, (18) Eastern Washington 90

West Region
(16) Belmont 91, (17) Loyola-Chicago 80
(9) Marquette 81, (24) NC Central 61
(12) Arkansas 81, (21) St. Francis (PA) 70
(20) Northern Kentucky 73, (13) Memphis (67)
(11) Indiana 80, (22) Abilene Christian 64
(19) Arkansas Little Rock 88, (14) Furman 77
(10) Richmond 79, (23) Robert Morris 47
(18) Colgate 84, (15) Yale 81

East Region
(16) North Texas 84, (17) Western Kentucky 75
(9) St. Mary’s 86, (24) Southern 67
(12) Stanford 86, (21) North Florida 76
(13) Arizona State 82, (20) Bowling Green 67
(22) Stony Brook 71, (11) Xavier 58
(19) North Dakota St. (74), UCLA 72
(10) Providence 90, (23) Prairie View 85
(15) Liberty 64, (18) Hofstra 60

First Round

Midwest Region
(1) Kansas 94, (17) Harvard 67
(9) Illinois 76, (8) Florida 73
(5) Kentucky 91, (12) Mississippi State 86
(4) Maryland 81, (13) East Tennessee St. 76
(11) Purdue 74, (6) Butler 71
(3) Michigan State 74, (14) Vermont 62
(7) Colorado 66, (10) Oklahoma 56
(2) Louisville 68, (18) UC Irvine 60

South Region
(1) Baylor 80, (17) Wright State 53
(8) Louisville 87, (9) Wichita State 75
(5) Auburn 94, (12) USC 75
(4) Ohio State 78, (13) NC State 77
(6) Wisconsin 78, (11) Cincinnati 76
(14) Northern Iowa 65, (3) Villanova 63
(7) Virginia 61, (23) Cal State Northridge 55
(15) Stephen F. Austin 87, (2) Duke 79

West Region
(1) Gonzaga 90, (16) Belmont 89
(9) Marquette 99, (8) Texas Tech 93
(12) Arkansas 94, (5) Seton Hall 89
(4) BYU 81, (20) Northern Kentucky 68
(6) Arizona 102, (11) Indiana 99
(3) Creighton 89, (19) Arkansas Little Rock 80
(10) Richmond 93, (7) Penn State 85
(2) Florida State 82, (18) Colgate 65

East Region
(1) Dayton 86, (16) North Texas 70
(8) Rutgers 72, (9) St. Mary’s 70
(5) Houston 74, (12) Stanford 71
(4) West Virginia 88, (13) Arizona State 81
(22) Stony Brook 88, (6) Michigan 86
(19) North Dakota St. 86, (3) Oregon 83
(7) Iowa 78, (10) Providence 57
(2) San Diego State 84, (15) Liberty

Round of 32

Midwest Region
(1) Kansas 103, (9) Illinois 82
(5) Kentucky 89, (4) Maryland 76
(3) Michigan State 77, (11) Purdue 65
(7) Colorado 90, (2) Louisville 81

South Region
(1) Baylor 89, (8) LSU 82
(5) Auburn 72, (4) Ohio State 56
(14) Northern Iowa 72, (6) Wisconsin 71
(7) Virginia 67, (15) Stephen F. Austin 57

West Region
(9) Marquette 90, (1) Gonzaga 85
(4) BYU 86, (12) Arkansas 76
(6) Arizona 94, (3) Creighton 90
(2) Florida State 76, (10) Richmond 62

East Region
(1) Dayton 93, (8) Rutgers 65
(4) West Virginia 76, (5) Houston 71
(19) North Dakota St. 75, (22) Stony Brook 67
(2) San Diego State 103, (7) Iowa 102

Sweet 16

Midwest Region
(1) Kansas 78, (5) Kentucky 58
(3) Michigan State 79, (7) Colorado 73

South Region
(5) Auburn, (1) Baylor 70
(14) Northern Iowa 76, Virginia 69

West Region

(4) BYU 95, (9) Marquette 79
(2) Florida State 82, (6) Arizona 77

East Region
(1) Dayton 82, (4) West Virginia 75
(2) San Diego State 83, (19) North Dakota St. 72

Elite 8

Midwest: (1) Kansas 98, (3) Michigan State 80
South: (14) Northern Iowa 81, (5) Auburn 76
West: (4) BYU 88, (2) Florida State 81
East: (1) Dayton 86, (2) San Diego State 66

NIT

Semifinals
(2) Florida State 92, (1) Gonzaga 72
(1) Baylor 103, (2) Duke 94

Finals
(2) Florida State 86, (1) Baylor 80

Final Four

(1) Kansas 79, (14) Northern Iowa 76
(1) Dayton 114, (4) BYU 108 (OT)

NCAA Title Game

(1) Dayton 81, (1) Kansas 61

So Michigan State doesn’t win the title.  Michigan, Villanova, Oregon, and Seton Hall all suffer first round defeats after some thought they’d be title contenders.  We get to see Duke lose twice.  Baylor’s late-season swoon continues.  Kansas proves that despite Bill Self’s campaigning, national championships are won on the field, not by having themselves declared when the season was abruptly canceled.  And in the cruelest twist, the championship in this aborted season goes to a mid-major having a season that comes once in a lifetime.

Really sorry we didn’t get to see it.

2020 DSC College Basketball Championship-page-001

The Detroit Sports Czar’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown

Folks, it’s been a while.  But we are living in bizarre times, with all sports shut down for the first time since 9/11, and the Detroit Sports Czar is here to fill the desperate sports viewer’s void.

Detroit’s had plenty of rewatchable sporting events over the last few decades, and with the leagues opening up their League Pass apps for free during the shutdowns or offering games on YouTube, now is the perfect time to catch up on some classic games to give you yours sports fix.

Without further ado, I present you with the DSC’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown.

(Some of these may require you to sign up for free access to Leagues’ Game Pass websites, but otherwise these are games that you can access for free.)

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Detroit Tigers

Tigers 4, Yankees 3 (2006 ALDS Game 2)

We’re kicking things off with a couple of dark horses.  The Tigers have had plenty of rewatchable games over the years.  We could go back to 1984 and show you Game 5 of that year’s World Series.  Or Game 162 in 1987.  Or Justin Verlander’s no-hitters, the Armando Galarraga perfect game, or the Magglio Ordonez pennant-clinching home run.  You could even go with 2009’s Game 163 if you hate yourself (a truly classic game, but not exactly one that Tigers fans would be too eager to re-live).  But we’re going with a game that quite possibly changed the history of the Tigers’ franchise.

In 2006 the Tigers took the baseball world by storm, jumping out to a huge lead in the AL Central before a late-season collapse landed them the Wild Card spot and a Division Series matchup with the New York Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball (although only 2 games in front of the Tigers), spoiling some of the excitement of their first playoff birth in 19 years.  After their late season swoon and a Game 1 loss at Yankee Stadium (which followed some rain delay shenanigans on the part of the home team), most Tigers fans were hoping only to escape that season’s playoffs without getting swept.

That pessimism felt justified after a Johnny Damon home run in the 4th gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.  But the Tigers clawed back, cutting the lead in half on a Curtis Granderson sac fly in the 5th and tying it up on a Carlos Guillen home run in the 6th.  When Granderson tripled in Marcus Thames in the 7th to give the Tigers the lead, Detroit went wild, realizing the Tigers could win the series without going back to New York.  They did just that, finishing off the victory in Game 2, kicking off a 7-game winning streak that would only be stopped by a 9-day layoff before the World Series.

If the Tigers don’t win Game 2, a sweep is not out of the question, and it’s questionable how much of that season turns out to be a fluke.  Owner Mike Ilitch was a spender in those days, so it’s likely his moves don’t change much in the ensuing offseasons, but there’s no question Game 2 helped put the Tigers back on the baseball map.

Detroit Lions

Lions 38, Browns 37 (2009)

Look, finding a rewatchable game for Lions fans isn’t easy.  Their last playoff win was 28 years ago, and that’s their only one since they finished their run as the Team of the ’50s in 1957.  Any memorable game the Lions have been involved in found them on the losing end, and we don’t want to spend our quarantine being any more miserable than we have to be.  The best bet here would be to just share a highlight reel of Barry Sanders runs, and hell, why not just to be safe.

But in 2009 they won a game that a YouTube video proclaims to be “The Greatest Game That Nobody Watched”, and having been at the game, it’s hard to disagree.  Usually I wouldn’t guide you to a game between two 1-8 teams, but it’s one worth watching.  The Browns jumped out to a 24-3 first quarter lead, only to watch the Lions tie it in the 2nd.  The Lions got the ball back down 6 with no timeouts and under two minutes to go, and rookie Matthew Stafford led the team to the Cleveland 32 with 8 seconds left.  Then things got weird.

Stafford scrambled the remaining 8 seconds (plus an additional 4, just for good measure) off the clock, threw an interception in the end zone, and absorbed a vicious blow that dislocated his non-throwing shoulder.  Game over, right?  Nope.  The Browns got flagged for pass interference in the end zone, nullifying the interception and granting the Lions an untimed down (those don’t typically turn out too well for the Lions).  Stafford had to come out of the game because of the injury, but after the Lions were (correctly) granted an injury timeout, Browns coach Eric Mangini called a timeout of his own to throw a temper tantrum, the Lions were able to put Stafford back in the game even with the injured shoulder, and he threw a touchdown pass to fellow first round rookie Brandon Pettigrew, allowing the Jason Hanson kick to win the game with no time left.

Truly a classic that hardly anyone ever talks about.  Most of the classics we talk about come in the playoffs or between contenders, but sometimes the best games come between two bad teams on a random November Sunday.

Detroit Pistons

“The Block”

The Pistons have played plenty of classics over the years, but a fair chunk of them, like the Lions, saw them coming out on the losing end.  The last 2 games of the 1988 NBA Finals were undoubtedly great, but the Pistons got the short end in both (both literally and figuratively, as the officiating was…less than top notch).  There was Isiah Thomas scoring 16 points in 94 seconds to send a clinching playoff game to OT, but again the Pistons came up short.

So we’ll go with “The Block” in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.  Down 1-0 to the Pacers, the Pistons clung to a 2-point lead in Indianapolis when they turned the ball over with 23 seconds left in the game.  Indiana picked up the loose ball and Jamal Tinsley found a streaking Reggie Miller racing towards the basket.  But instead of an apparent easy layup for Miller, Tayshaun Prince came out of nowhere to block the shot, with Rip Hamilton corralling the ball rather than setting up an inbounds play for the Pacers.  The Pistons would win the game, take 3 of the next 4 to win the series, then score one of the biggest upsets in NBA history when they pulled off the “5-Game Sweep” of the heavily favored Lakers.

While the shot only kept the Pacers from tying the game and there’s no guarantee they win, if the Pacers win that series they take a 2-0 lead and are heavily favored to win the series.  A win against the Lakers was not guaranteed but also not unlikely.  The Pacers were among the NBA’s contenders in the 2004-05 season, derailed only by the Malice at the Palace.  But with a possible title under their belt, it’s reasonable to think that the brawl never happens, Indiana isn’t depleted, and the Pacers and not the Pistons spend the next few seasons going to the Eastern Conference finals (if not further).

(The NBA has opened up their League Pass site during the shutdown, but the classic games are shockingly sparse, so I had to find video of this play on YouTube.  Sorry I couldn’t do better.)

Detroit Red Wings

“The Brawl”

I tried to keep to recent history with these teams, but the Red Wings’ recent history has been…less than ideal, shall we say.  So we’re going back to the game that really started the Red Wings dynasty.

The Wings had really become contenders in the late-’80s/early-’90s after years of being known as the Dead Things in Detroit, but by 1997 they’d become the Buffalo Bills of the NHL, failing to live up to their potential in some memorable playoff flameouts.  By 1997 it was thought that their window had closed and passed on to others, with the Avalanche winning the Cup in 1996 in their first season in Denver.

Colorado – and Claude Lemieux specifically – had kicked off the rivalry when Lemieux checked Kris Draper into the dasher, breaking his jaw, nose, and cheekbone, and giving him a concussion, in Game 6 of the prior season’s Western Conference Finals.  Lemieux was ejected from the game, but the Avalanche would win the game and the series, and go on to win the Stanley Cup against the Panthers.  The hit was not forgotten, and when things got chippy in a late-season game in Detroit, all hell broke loose.

The game had seen a couple of fights, but the real fireworks started when Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg (not exactly well-known brawlers) went at it late in the 1st period.  It wasn’t long before Darren McCarty made Lemieux answer for the Draper hit, sending him to the ice in a turtle position while throwing shots relentlessly.  Patrick Roy left the goalie crease to help his teammate, leading to a memorable collision between he and Brendan Shanahan and eventually the rare goalie brawl between Roy and Mike Vernon.  At the end of the game the teams had racked up 144 penalty minutes.

Thing is, the Avalanche had the Wings’ number, having won the all 3 games up to that point between the two teams, so the brawl meant nothing if the Wings couldn’t get the win.  Luckily, McCarty was able to play the hero in more ways than one, netting the game winner in OT.  The game propelled the Wings into the playoffs and another matchup with Colorado, with the Wings winning the conference finals in 6 games (blowing out the Avalanche 6-0 in another brawl-filled Game 4).  The Wings would sweep Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Final, with McCarty scoring the Cup-clinching goal, ending a 42-year title drought for the Red Wg ings.

(Another video not available on YouTube, but some pretty good footage of the fights in the March 26 game.)

Michigan State Football

“Trouble with The Snap!”

Our college teams give us a much lengthier list of memorable games to choose from, and we’ll start with Michigan State football.  Do we go with “Little Giants”, with Mark Dantonio calling one of the gutsiest play fakes in history with the overtime touchdown pass by his punter?  Or the Hail Mary against Wisconsin in 2011?  Perhaps you like the Northwestern comeback in 2006?  The 2014 Rose Bowl?  Negative 48 yards rushing by the defense against Michigan in 2013?  Or the Ohio State game or Big 10 championship games in 2015?

But no, this one’s simple.  It’s the 2015 Michigan-Michigan State game.  The Spartans had won the game everywhere except where it mattered, beating the Wolverines soundly in both first (20-10) and total yards (386-230).  MSU had cut it to two with just under 9 minutes left in the game, but a late attempt to get into field goal range had failed with 1:47 left on the clock.  Michigan State had a timeout left and was able to force a punt with 10 seconds left, but all Michigan had to do was get the kick off and the game was over.

Except, they couldn’t pull it off.  Punter Blake O’Neill bobbled a low snap, the ball popped free as he was trying to get the kick off, right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who ran it back 38 yards to win the game as time expired.  Michigan State stayed undefeated, would go on to beat Ohio State with their backup quarterback, survive a late loss at Nebraska, and win the Big 10 championship game to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff against Alabama.

(We won’t talk about what happened there.)

Michigan State Basketball

Michigan State 68, Duke 67 (2019 NCAA Regional Final)

This was a tough one.  When you’ve got games where your school won a national title, it seems logical to go that route.  Parades are forever after all, and the 1979 championship game remains iconic.  But there’s just something about beating Duke…even if it doesn’t happen all that often.

Michigan State enters most NCAA tournaments contending for the title, and 8 Final Fours in the last 21 seasons backs up that resume (even if their Final Four results have been less than stellar).  But Duke was the favorite last season, with the top 3 in the ESPN 100 starting (plus #17 and #41 for good measure).  MSU fans groaned when they saw Duke on the top line of their bracket, but stranger things had happened.  The tables looked like they might have turned, as MSU had won their first 3 games by an average of 16, while Duke had survived their 2nd and 3rd round games by a total of 3 points.

The game was close throughout, with the Spartans managing to turn a 9-point first half deficit into a 4-point halftime lead.  The second half was a nail-biter, with the game separated by no more than 6 points.  Duke held a 1-point lead with 50 seconds left, when Kenny Goins was able to pull down the rebound on an R.J. Barrett jumper, then hit the go-ahead 3 with 34 seconds left.  Duke had their chances, with Barrett going to the line with a chance to tie with 5 seconds left.  He missed the first, then hit the second when he was trying to miss and force the rebound.  Michigan State was able to inbound, Duke didn’t have enough fouls to send MSU to the line, and the Spartans were off to Minneapolis.

(We won’t talk about what happened there either.)

Bonus: 2000 One Shining Moment

Now, my faithful readers will know that the Detroit Sports Czar is a devout Spartan, but as I said at the outset, we’re in bizarre times, and I’m not above showing solidarity with my readers who may be faithful to Michigan.  I’m not going to give you a write-up for these games, but there’s some entertainment to be had for the Wolverines out there.

Michigan Football

The Braylon Edwards Game

I know the “Trouble with the Snap” game is painful for Michigan fans, so I’ll give you one that was just as painful to us.  MSU blows a 27-10 lead, Braylon Edwards catches 3 TD, and Michigan wins the first overtime game in the rivalry’s history.

Michigan Basketball

Michigan 87, Kansas 85 in OT (2013 NCAA Regional Semifinal)

I could’ve gone with the 1989 NCAA title game, but I’m trying to keep it relatively recent.  Michigan rallies back from 14 down with 7 minutes left, then Trey Burke hits a 30-footer with 4 seconds left to send the game to overtime.  They knock off top-seeded Kansas and advance to the school’s first title game in 20 years.  Wait…make that 24.

(Had to.)

Bonus: 1989 One Shining Moment

Things have been bad on the Detroit sports scene in recent years.  The city’s last playoff win was five and a half years ago, our college teams have not lived up to expectations, and only the Pistons were not in last place at the time the world closed (and they were only half a game up on the Cavaliers).  But this town loves our sports, and we were just as sad to watch the games end as people in Boston, or Milwaukee, or Dayton (ok, maybe not Milwaukee or Dayton, as they’d had legit title teams shut down).  If watching these games can bring just a little happiness to your world in these dark times, I’ll consider that a win.

The Stupidest E-Mail of 2015

In the 30+ years that have taken me from obnoxious elementary school student glomming onto the babysitter’s son learning about baseball to the esteemed position of Detroit Sports Czar, I have, at times, engaged in conversations with local and even occasionally national sports journalists/commentators thru sports talk radio, Twitter, internet comment boards, and even emails directly to the personalities themselves.  Unfortunately, as with most things, these exchanges have focused on disagreements, with my opinion of the main “antagonist” typically being one of sheer idiocy.

I was reminded of one such exchange the other night when I was out with a friend and casually mentioned the idea of Bruce Rondon being Lynn Henning’s son.  My friend politely asked what the hell I was talking about, and I dug up the email exchange I’d had with good old Lynn.

A little background.  Lynn Henning is a local beat writer for the Tigers and Spartans who’s been known for injecting himself into the news instead of reporting it.  Perhaps most famously, Henning created a rumor in 2006 that Kenny Rogers – who had started the All-Star Game, for whatever that’s worth – was pitching so poorly that he would be replaced in the rotation by the immortal Chad Durbin.  The Tigers were the biggest surprise in baseball, so not only was this big news in Detroit circles, eventually Henning found himself being interviewed on national sports outlets about what he’d heard in the Tigers’ clubhouse (in my experience one of his favorite fallback defenses).  Rogers was not replaced in the rotation; he would go on to go 3-0 in the 2006 postseason with a 0.00 ERA and win the only World Series game the franchise has won in 34 years.

Chad Durbin would throw 133 innings for the Tigers with a 4.58 ERA over 2 seasons.  He did not pitch in the postseason until he joined the Phillies.

I have read Henning off and on (mostly off these days, unless he says something truly inane) and engaged with him somewhat regularly over email.  To Henning’s defense, he does respond, although my somewhat snarky attitude has led to him typically responding with something to the effect of, “I’m in the clubhouse, and you’re not,” no matter how ridiculous his position was.

Well, around 2013 the Tigers had a young fireballer named Bruce Rondon that Henning (and a large portion of the Tigers’ brass and fan base, myself included) became quite enamored with.  He was the second coming of Joel Zumaya, which would have been great if Zumaya had ever made a career for himself and not injured himself playing Guitar Hero or 4-wheeling in California.

Unfortunately, Rondon was both injury prone and incredibly immature, with the most memorable achievement of his career to date coming when he was sent home early at the end of the 2015 season due to his “effort level”, which is never a situation where the guy is giving too much effort.

Henning never came to grips with this.  Rondon was injured and unavailable for the 2013 postseason, the Tigers’ best chance to win the World Series since at least 1987 and perhaps even 1984.  He missed the entire 2014 season after needing Tommy John surgery, which is almost an inevitability in today’s day and age.  Henning’s belief was that had Rondon been available in both postseasons the Tigers would’ve overcome their bullpen woes and won the World Series at least once if not both seasons.  This might be reasonable if Rondon had pitched more than 28 innings in his career and put up better numbers than a 3.45 ERA and 1.360 WHIP.

And so, in April 2015, after yet another column (that I unfortunately cannot find) extolling the virtues of the immortal Bruce Rondon and downplaying his failures, I sent Henning the following email:

Hello Lynn,

I’m wondering if you can answer a question for me.  After reading your column about Bruce Rondon – and after reading pretty much every Rondon column you’ve ever written – there’s only one rational explanation that would explain your fawning over the kid.

Is Bruce Rondon your son?

I understand, children blind us.  If he were my son I might think his injuries might’ve cost us the 2013 World Series, even though pinning such high hopes on a guy with less than 30 innings pitched in the Majors would seem ludicrous.  If he were my son I might also criticize Angel Nesbitt for his youth, even though Nesbitt is actually older than Rondon and has thrown only 22 fewer innings than Rondon.  In short, I’d do anything I could to promote my son’s success, even if it meant downgrading my own work in the process.

Obviously this is ludicrous.  I don’t think Bruce Rondon is your son, but I can’t be too sure.  I can’t imagine you traveled to Venezuela in 1990 to do a story on Johnny Paredes or Urbano Lugo and happened on a comely lass who turned out to be Rondon’s mother.  But you can understand why the question would be asked.  You have written numerous articles on Rondon, all of them relating to how much benefit he will be to the Tigers or how his injuries may well have cost the Tigers a title, if not two.  As a diehard Tigers fan who studies the statistics – although, admittedly I don’t have access to the team like you do – I find it ridiculous to put so much weight on the shoulders of a guy who’s got the injury history of Joel Zumaya and statistics that don’t exactly raise comparisons to Craig Kimbrel.

So settle a bet for us.  Rondon’s your kid, isn’t he?

Thanks,

DSC

Admittedly a little immature, but hey, I did my research.  I looked up Rondon’s stats, found out how old Angel Nesbitt was, even looked up what Venezuelan players were on the Tigers’ roster in 1990, the year Rondon was born.  I did some work on this!

Henning’s response was…predictable:

Idiocy has no limits. Nor does childishness. As you prove. If it’s any consolation, you’ve forwarded the stupidest e-mail of 2015. And you don’t want to see what you beat out. But congrats on one triumph in your life. One …

Alright, I deserved that.  And I did want to see what I beat out.  But I couldn’t leave that alone.

Lynn,

I’ll cop to the childishness. There’s no denying that element of my email. But idiocy? You can’t call someone an idiot simply for pointing out blatant factual errors (such as Angel Nesbitt’s “youth”) or inquiring – albeit in a very roundabout way – why you believe that a player as young and inexperienced as Rondon is somehow the savior of the Tigers’ bullpen.

Based on conversations with others who have written you it’s my understanding that you choose to insult people who have written you questioning your facts, or you try to rationalize your shoddy fact checking. That’s your right, but it’s yet another reason why so many people think you’re a hack.

I could’ve taken a more mature approach to my question, but I’ve done that in the past and your basic response has been, “I’m in the locker room and you’re not so I know better than you.” Knowing that, I figured I’d have some fun. What’s life without a little entertainment?

Keep up the work.

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P.S. Will I get any kind of recognition or mention in the paper for winning the stupidest email of 2015? I’d like to tell my parents that I’ve finally got a triumph in my life.

He never responded to my question, which sort of bothered me, especially since my mother passed away last week and I never got to tell her one of my accomplishments.  So I had to share this with my dad before it was too late.

I’m sure he’s very proud.

So Your Bracket’s Busted… (Redux)

deflatedbb2

When I was a senior in high school, our football team went to the state finals.  The school had never been to the playoffs, let alone the finals, so this was a HUGE deal.  And because I love sports but wasn’t on the football team for a myriad of reasons, including, but not limited to, being afraid of asking anyone for a ride home after practice; not being overly enamored with the idea of pain; and generally being terrible at anything that required athletic ability, I wrote for the school newspaper about the team instead.

The West Beverly Blaze this was not.  If we put out one issue a month, it was considered productive.  But because of the unprecedented success of our football team, we somehow managed to put out a new issue after each round of the playoffs – four straight weeks.  Because high school students have ambition these days, I’m guessing that isn’t that much of an accomplishment, even at a terrible school like mine, but in our day it was an achievement.

I tell you that story because I’m coming back to you a scant 3 days after my last post for a new display of my inane ramblings.  And why?  Because of my unprecedentedly terrible picking of my desired Final Four matchups.

In my last post, I decided that I wanted to see Nevada, Texas A&M, Purdue, and Clemson to make the Final Four.  None of these teams would be considered the favorites in their respective brackets, but considering how crazy this tournament has been, I expected maybe one of them to sneak through to San Antonio.  Or hell, at least survive the Sweet 16.

Nope.  Not a one.  Somehow, all four of my teams lost on Thursday and Friday nights.  Now, I don’t know how to calculate probabilities, so I can’t tell whether the chances of this happening were 50% or 0.00001%, but I picked a couple of higher seeds in there.  I would’ve thought Purdue would’ve snuck through to take on Villanova.

Ugh.

So we’re trying this again.  If you’re looking for gambling advice, never come to me.

South Region

#9 Kansas State vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago: for some reason I don’t like Kansas State’s basketball team.  Maybe it was because they hired Bob Huggins for his 1-year “redemption tour” stint after he was fired at Cincinnati.  Maybe it’s that the group of fans I mentioned in my last post really annoyed me.  I don’t know what it is, just not a fan.

At the same time, there’s something disappointing about the fact that I know all about Sister Jean and her brackets but I couldn’t tell you the name of a single Loyola player or coach.  The human interest story has gone a little overboard.  So this one’s a coin toss.

The pick: Heads…Loyola-Chicago it is.

West Region

#9 Florida State vs. #3 Michigan: I’ve got a few thoughts over the local fan reactions to Michigan’s trouncing of Texas A&M on Thursday.  But they beat us twice, they’re a win away from the Final Four, and considering what their side of the bracket looks like, if they don’t make the final this year their season is going to be almost as disappointing as Michigan State’s.  So I’ll keep my mouth shut and avoid being called out for sour grapes.

But I’m not rooting for them.

(Also, seriously, a 5-year-old girl has a chance at winning our pool because she picked Florida State to win it all.  I mean, how cool would that be?)

The pick: Florida State

East Region

#1 Villanova vs. #3 Texas Tech: Detroit is currently in a remarkable tailspin when it comes to sports.  The Red Wings and Pistons are terrible.  The Tigers unloaded everyone except Miguel Cabrera, and that’s only because his contract is atrocious.  We are legitimately at a time where our best chance at a championship is the Lions, and the only thing more ridiculous in all of sports would be if the Browns were Cleveland’s best hope.

So I’m not going to throw my support behind a team from a town that just hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.  I know Philly has something like 14 college teams so the city’s loyalties are somewhat split, but so is Detroit’s.  It’s a good enough excuse for me.

The pick: Texas Tech

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas vs. #2 Duke: I have become resigned to the fact that the national title game this year is going to be Duke versus Michigan.  It’s just the way it has to be.  It will be my punishment for being so overly confident about a team that never really deserved it.  And because I no longer have any chance at winning any money in my bracket, I will probably find myself rooting for Michigan and being a traitor to the Spartan cause.

Serves me right.

The pick: Kansas

So there you have it…again.  My (revised) picks for the Final Four are Loyola-Chicago, Florida State, Texas Tech, and Kansas.  And amazingly, I don’t believe any of these teams will be favorites in their Elite 8 games this weekend.

Place your bets accordingly.

So Your Bracket’s Busted…

2018 final fourIt’s that time of year again, when almost everyone’s dreams of winning their bracket is over and for the vast majority of the population their teams have been eliminated from the tournament.  So naturally, every sports media organization insists on putting together a “who should you root for” article for those of us who are dealing with the dual heartbreak of your school’s season ending and your bracket being busted.

Because I’m a sheep, I’m doing the same thing.

Mind you, I don’t care who you pull for.  There are crazy people in this world who can justify wanting to see Duke cut down the nets at the end of the season.  But for some insane reason, several weeks ago I figured that my beloved Michigan State team was such a lock for the Final Four that I decided to buy tickets and go visit a buddy to watch my team win the national title in Texas.

So now I’m required to find a new set of teams to root for.  With such unlikable teams as Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse left in the bracket and more than a few Cinderellas with intriguing backstories, picking a new team shouldn’t be all that hard, right?

Oh, if only.  This year’s Sweet 16 seems to be populated by the unlikable blue bloods and the generic Cinderellas.  There’s not a Florida Gulf Coast or Butler left in the bunch.  So this could be a bit more challenging than it would seem at first.

South Region

#9 Kansas State: Not a particularly unlikable team, but they did knock out the Cinderella of all Cinderellas – the only 16th seed to ever beat a 1-seed – in UMBC in one of the most unwatchable games you’ll ever see.  Also, I once hung out with a group of Kansas State fans who insisted that ESPN hated their basketball team, when in reality Kansas State’s basketball team is rarely relevant enough for ESPN to have an opinion on.  (Now, if you want to see how ESPN truly hates a team, just look at how they’ve tried to tie MSU’s basketball team to the disgusting Larry Nassar scandal.)

#5 Kentucky: After the tournament selection show, Kentucky coach John Calipari screamed to the high heavens that his team got screwed in their seeding, and even complained that several of his players didn’t know where Boise was (hmm, seems like a problem with the education of your players).  And then, because karma exists, Kentucky could go to the Final Four this year without playing a team seeded higher than 7th (or, if the Basketball Gods have a sense of humor, no team seeded higher than 9th).  On that basis alone we should pray for an upset to knock these guys out.  Complicating matters, however, is that in my company pool I have Kentucky winning it all.  Thankfully, the prize is only a $20 gift card, and I’m not so cheap as to root for Kentucky over a matter of $20.

#11 Loyola-Chicago: Our first true Cinderella.  Loyola’s a fun team with a couple of exciting buzzer beaters to advance, a cute fan in 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean, and I didn’t have to suffer through sitting next to an obnoxious Loyola fan cheering every made basket at the bar as a friend of mine did this week.  But Loyola’s a Catholic school that recently responded to a comedian bringing up the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal during his set by cutting his mic, which offends my delicate agnostic sensibilities.  Not as simple a choice as one would think.

#7 Nevada: They defeated Cincinnati – always an unlikable school – with an epic comeback and have no glaring or particularly offensive flaws.  Plus their coach dropped a ton of expletives on live TV while celebrating their first round win, and that appeals to my life-long potty mouth tendencies.

The choice: Nevada

West Region

#9 Florida State: The Seminoles are a generally unlikable school, although that can typically be attributed to their football team and their decades of recruiting morally questionable characters.  But if the Seminoles can somehow pull off a miracle and win the whole thing my pool is won by my friend’s 5-year-old daughter, which would seem oddly fitting this season.

#4 Gonzaga: Ordinarily I wouldn’t begrudge a team for screwing up my bracket, but Gonzaga cost me some cash last year with a fairly significant bed-shitting in the national championship game.  Plus Gonzaga has joined Kansas and Michigan State as schools who are going to screw up my bracket every year, no matter where I pick them to win or lose.

#3 Michigan: I just can’t.  Sure, a chunk of my friends would be happy and I don’t hate Michigan nearly as much as I should, but I just cannot maintain my Spartan credentials and pull for Michigan to win the title.  It’s already painful enough listening to the Wal-Mart Wolverines brag about how they’ve beaten us 3 straight times.  Having to watch them cut down the nets would just be unbearable.

#7 Texas A&M: Aside from their consistency in being a highly regarded team in football every year that ultimately disappoints, there’s nothing particularly offensive about this team.  Plus, they knocked out North Carolina, who offended me with their ridiculous seeding.

The choice: Texas A&M

East Region

#1 Villanova: Another team that’s not particularly offensive.  They are from Philly though, and they’ve already gotten enough this year.

#5 West Virginia: Coached by Bob Huggins.  ‘Nuff said.

#3 Texas Tech: It’s hard for me to pull for any team that once employed Bob Knight.  That said, the father-in-law of the buddy who’s going to the games with me went to Texas Tech, so I may wind up pulling for them through osmosis.

#2 Purdue: The highest remaining Big 10 team and the only team left in the field that MSU defeated this year.  This one seems easy.

The choice: Purdue

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas: An annoying program, if moderately successful.  Did you know that for all their history, legendary alums, and the fact that they literally invented the game, they only have 3 national titles?  And one of those came as a 6-seed and another came because Memphis couldn’t hit free throws?  They’re the Cincinnati Reds of NCAA basketball.

#5 Clemson: Not gonna lie, in a region with Kansas, Syracuse, and Duke, the 4th team is going to be the pick by default.

#11 Syracuse: If it weren’t for one man, Jim Boeheim would be the most annoying coach in America.  I’ve said that for years, and it has nothing to do with the fact that they used their bullshit scheme to beat my alma mater.

#2 Duke: The only coach more annoying that Boeheim.  Coach K’s Boeheim with a bag man, enough talent to actually win without resorting to gimmick schemes, and Grayson Allen.  If the fate of humanity rested on Duke winning a game, I’d say my prayers and hope the afterlife is worth it.  That said, I did hedge my bets and have a bracket with Duke winning that still has the potential to put me in the money, so if they win it all it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

The choice: Clemson

So there you have it folks.  As a miserable son of a bitch who truly believes his school’s season was derailed by bullshit accusations levied by a lazy news organization trying to stir up controversy for the sake of ratings, the only way my cold dead heart will be happy is if we get a Final Four of Nevada, Texas A&M, Purdue, and Clemson.

So let me be the first to congratulate Kentucky, Michigan, Villanova, and Duke for their regional titles.

See you in Texas!

The Trouble with Colin Kaepernick

Five seasons ago, Colin Kaepernick was a blown personal foul penalty away from leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl title. During his playoff run, he set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in any game. After the following season he signed an extension worth $54 million guaranteed. Despite struggling under two coaches who would only last a season each, he still threw for 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions on a team bad enough to secure the #2 pick in the draft.

And today he can’t find a job.

Of course, you already know that. And you probably know that Kaepernick is good enough to be one of between 64 ad 96 quarterbacks employed by an NFL team. And you definitely know that Kaepernick being out of a job has absolutely nothing to do with how well he plays on the football field.

But instead of launching into the stupidity of why Kaepernick can’t find a job or debating the appalling nature of how he’s being treated by the League and its member teams, I’m instead going to participate in a little experiment.

Last week, I listened to local sports talk personality Mike Valenti lament the stupidity of the Jacksonville Jaguars opening their quarterback competition between Blake Bortles and Chad Henne, instead of handing it over to either of the outright. Obviously, Valenti pointed out that it was asinine that the Jaguars would start the season with either of these 2 as their starting QB, and insisted that they were idiots for not calling Kaepernick. But, for reasons I’ll get to later, it’s not nearly that simple.

So I’m going to examine every team’s quarterback situation and determine whether or not they should bring in Kaepernick and examine just how deep his so-called blackballing goes.

AFC East
Buffalo Bills – Tyrod Taylor, TJ Yates, Nathan Peterman. None of these have ever done anything in the NFL and Taylor is so inept as a QB that the team benched him rather than risking injury and triggering his contract to become guaranteed. Kaepernick’s an upgrade over any of them.

Miami Dolphins – Matt Moore, Retired Jay Cutler, Brandon Doughty, David Fales. The Dolphins’ QB position opened up when Ryan Tannehill blew out his knee in the preseason, but one could argue that Kaepernick would be an upgrade over him as well. Logically he’d be a perfect fit here, but then we look at the political situation. Kap once did a press conference in a Fidel Castro t-shirt and compared his regime to those in the U.S. (I never argued that Kaepernick was the smartest knife in the block). And in the city with the nation’s largest concentration of Cuban exiles, that’s a non-starter. No go in Miami.

New England Patriots – Tom Brady, Jimmy Garopolo, Jacoy Brissett. Not even worth discussing, and easy no.

New York Jets – Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg. Unless the Jets are playing for the #1 pick in 2018 (which is entirely possible), Kaepernick could sign 5 minutes before kickoff and be the starter for this embarrassing franchise.

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Thaddeus Lewis, Josh Woodrum. It’s widely believed that when Flacco went down with an injury that would keep him out for a week during the preseason, Ravens owner Steve Biscotti nixed any chances of signing Kaepernick over ticket sales concerns. But while Mallett sucks, he’s definitely more in line with Flacco’s style of play and if Flacco goes down the Ravens are probably screwed anyway. No point in rocking the boat when Flacco will be back for the regular season.

Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel. Established starter, similarly styled backup, so no need here.

Cleveland Browns – Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan. Kizer is likely the Browns’ designated QB of the Future for 2017, but Kaepernick plays with a similar style and could be a good mentor (as much as a guy everyone thinks is a cancer can be a mentor). He’d definitely make sense in Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs, Bart Houston. They’ve got a future HOF’er as their starter and Kaepernick isn’t the same style QB. Pittsburgh’s set.

AFC South
Houston Texans – Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden. In this putrid division Houston has gone to the playoffs with Savage, Brock Osweiler and TJ Yates. Kaepernick could come in and do the same and provide a stop-gap before Watson takes over for the next decade.

Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris, Philip Walker. Assuming Luck is healthy (the new version of “Assuming Matthew Stafford is healthy”), they’re set for years, and they’re probably doomed if he’s not. No point here.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen.  Considering a conversation about this team’s QB situation inspired this post, this seems like a no-brainer. However, I once read an anecdote that Jacksonville is so racist that when David Garrard was the QB the team was practically forced to sign two black quarterbacks to back him up for fear of fan backlash that the white guy wasn’t starting. In a world where Tim Tebow is a free agent and also the walking messiah in northern Florida, Kaepernick wouldn’t stand a chance here.

Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson. Mariota isn’t going anywhere, and there’s a solid argument to be made that Kaepernick is a better QB than Cassel. With a similar playing style and Mariota’s tendency to get hurt, Kaepernick could be a good backup option here.

AFC West
Denver Broncos – Trevor Simian, Paxton Lynch, Kyle Sloter, Chad Kelly. With the exception of Kelly, who’s only known because he’s Jim Kelly’s nephew and a total asshole off the field, all of these guys are anonymous nobodies (redundant?) who have done nothing. Kaepernick could fit here.

Kansas City Chiefs – Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray, Joel Stave. Kaepernick has already beaten Smith in a QB situation and has a similar playing style to Mahomes, who the Chiefs took in the first round this year. If Mahomes isn’t going to play this year, I’d take Kaepernick over Smith, and if he is, Kaepernick would be a capable backup and mentor.

Los Angeles Chargers – Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens, Cardale Jones, Mike Bercovici. I could see Jones as the eventual heir apparent to Rivers, and the playing styles aren’t particularly similar. No fit here.

Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook. As a Michigan State grad, I’m supposed to stand up for Connor Cook, but the guy sucks and was a well-known asshole who could very easily wear out his welcome wherever he goes. Derek Carr might’ve been MVP last season if he hadn’t gotten hurt, so he’s not going anywhere. Kaepernick might be a good fit in a couple of years when the Raiders move to Vegas where he’s from, but no dice this year.

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, Cooper Rush, Luke McCown. Prescott isn’t going anywhere, but Moore isn’t much of a runner and Kaepernick would allow an easy transition if Prescott were to get hurt. Plus, Jerrah loves him some controversy and would sign Hitler if he could run for 1500 yards. Not only is Kaepernick a decent fit for Dallas, I’m borderline floored that he hasn’t signed there yet.

New York Giants – Eli Manning, Josh Johnson, Geno Smith, Davis Webb. Just as a little aside, it’s amazing where Eli Manning ranks on the all-time passing lists (8th in passing yards, 7th in touchdowns, completions, and attempts, etc.). He’s been a joke for his entire career and he’s a definite first-ballot Hall of Famer. As for the Giants, I’m amazed that Johnson and Smith are still in the League, and they’re in the same mold as Kaepernick. Of course, their owner is the guy who signed a kicker whose wife had called the police on him over 20 times and complained that he’d gotten more calls about not signing Kaepernick than any player ever. He would make sense here as a player, but because their owner’s a douche, he won’t.

Philadelphia Eagles – Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Matt McGloin, Dane Evans. Wentz was the #2 pick in the NFL draft and barring a Teddy Bridgewater type injury he’s not going anywhere for a while. All of his backups are in a similar mold as Wentz, so Kaepernick doesn’t make sense here.

Washington Redskins – Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld. I’ll be damned, Colt McCoy is still in the League! I’m absolutely stunned. Anyhow, you’d have to think that someone who’s as dedicated to social justice as Kaepernick is wouldn’t sign with the team with the most racist name in sports, so this one’s a pretty simple no.

NFC North
Chicago Bears – Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Mitch Trubisky, Connor Shaw. The Bears made arguably the biggest free agent signing of the offseason, then made the dumbest draft day trade in history to take another QB. And then, just for good measure, they signed the immortal Butt Fumble! So, no, I’d say Kaepernick doesn’t fit here.

Detroit Lions – Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Bye Felicia Kaaya. Stafford’s not likely to go anywhere and half of Detroit wants Rudock to take over yesterday. Kaepernick would not go over well in this town.

Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill. Who has ever heard of any of Rodgers’s backups? And I mean this year, Matt Flynn doesn’t count ever since the Lions turned him into an immortal. So no, I’d say Kaepernick doesn’t fit here.

Minnesota Vikings – Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Taylor Henickie, Mitch Leidner. Obviously Teddy Bridgewater was the QB of the future until he had to have his leg reconnected. Kaepernick has done more than any of these QB’s in their career, so I’d bring him in. It would make the ridiculous draft bounty they gave up for Bradford look pretty stupid, though.

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms, Alex Torgersen. Seriously? The Falcons have 3 QB’s named “Matt” on the roster. Was that intentional? Not that it really matters, but Ryan won the MVP last year and the backups are similarly styled, so no Kaepernick here.

Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb, Garrett Gilbert. Kaepernick is essentially Cam Newton Lite, and Newton’s bound to have his brain scrambled by one of the 47 hits to the head that the refs don’t penalize this season. Carolina probably makes more sense than any other team for Kaepernick.

New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees, Chase Daniel, Garrett Grayson, Ryan Nassib. The Saints seem to like undersized QB’s who took their schools to unexpected bowl games. Kaepernick doesn’t seem to fit that particular mold, or the Saints’ system for that matter, so no.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin, Sefo Liufau. The Bucs clearly like rapists (sorry, “accused” rapists) as opposed to guys who stand up for injustice, so I’d say he doesn’t make a ton of sense here. Then again he and Winston have a similar style, so let’s go with yes.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals – Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Trevor Knight. I’m actually floored any of these guys are still in the League, although obviously Palmer is in a different category than the other 3. Palmer probably has a year or two left, but Stanton has a playing style similar to Kaepernick and isn’t nearly as good. By those standards I might bring him in, but probably better to leave well enough alone.

Los Angeles Rams – Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Dan Orlovsky. Goff may well suck, but he was the #1 pick in the draft last season so he’ll be around for a while. All 3 QB’s are similar styles, and Kaepernick isn’t the best fit, so no go here.

San Francisco 49ers – Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens. As someone who’s watched Michigan State for over 20 years, I have no idea how Brian Hoyer ever took a snap in the NFL, let alone lasted 8 seasons. Kaepernick is better than any of these guys with his eyes closed. I have no clue why he opted out of his contract, but he shouldn’t have.

Seattle Seahawks – Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin, Austin Davis. Seattle’s the only team that even brought in Kaepernick for a tryout. Then they signed Austin Davis, and if you said you know where he went to college, you’re a liar (Southern Miss, by the way). After the defense supposedly shit all over Russell Wilson I can actually understand why the Seahawks didn’t sign Kaepernick – the last thing Pete Carroll needs after a Wilson interception is Richard Sherman screaming in his ear to put in Kaepernick. So I’ll say it makes sense that Seattle passed.

So by my count, I see 12 teams where Kaepernick could fit, 15 where he doesn’t, and 5 (Miami, Jacksonville, Washington, NY Giants, and Seattle) where political issues interfere. Twelve teams, several of whom have signed domestic abusers and players who can’t pass a drug test, won’t make their team better because he chooses to protest the injustices in this country.

There’s much to be said about Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Personally, I’ve got no problem with it, although I think Kaepernick’s hurt his cause by wearing socks showing police dressed as pigs and a Fidel Castro t-shirt and proclaiming that he wouldn’t vote because it didn’t matter who won, which is absurd. And obviously the people who disagree with Kaepernick’s protest have as much right to their opinion as I do.

But you’ve got to admit that when you look at the ease with which guys like Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Josh Brown, Pacman Jones, and Leonard Little found jobs after far more appalling behavior, it’s hard to argue that the NFL has its priorities in order.

Blame Dick Vitale

We’re in the middle of summer right now, with MLB’s Home Run Derby currently airing on ESPN, so naturally we’re going to focus on a truly timely matter.

Dick Vitale and the election of Donald Trump.

dick_vitaleThe Detroit Sports Czar is a huge fan of “what ifs”, so imagine my surprise when, during a conversation with a friend a few weeks back, I discovered it wasn’t that hard to draw a line between an ill-fated trade entered into by Dick Vitale and the election of our current president.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  Well follow along.

Bob McAdoo

The tale actually starts with John Y. Brown, who overruled Red Auerbach and dealt 3 first round draft picks to the Knicks for Bob McAdoo, supposedly because his wife was a fan of McAdoo when he played in New York (to be fair, his wife was a sportscaster, so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds).  Auerbach was rumored to be so livid that he almost followed McAdoo to New York, but he stuck it out to rebuild the Celtics while Brown was run out of town to become the governor of Kentucky.

Which brings us to M.L. Carr and Dick Vitale.

Detroit Pistons

After playing in Europe and the ABA until the league folded, M.L. Carr played for the Pistons until becoming a free agent after the 1979 season.  Auerbach scooped him up, which required the Celtics to offer compensation to the Pistons.  McAdoo was miserable and injury-prone during his half season in Boston and Auerbach never wanted him in the first place, so he offered him to the Pistons and their head coach, Dick Vitale.  Vitale was ecstatic, but as a negotiator he was Donald Trump to Auerbach’s Vladimir Putin, and so he gladly handed over the Pistons 2 first round draft picks in the 1980 draft.  Trouble was the Pistons sucked, one of those draft picks turned out to be the first overall pick, and Vitale was long gone by the time the draft rolled around.

This is where the tale starts to turn.

1980 NBA Draft

Let’s not fool ourselves, Red Auerbach was a basketball genius.  He built 16 NBA championship teams, so to say he wouldn’t have been able to do it again without swindling the Pistons is likely nonsense.  But for the sake of our “what if”, lets just pretend this draft swung the balance of power in the East.  Because in the 1980 draft, Auerbach took the Pistons’ 2 draft picks – again, including the #1 pick – and traded them to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and the draft pick that would eventually become Kevin McHale.  And I think we can all agree that building the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s is substantially more difficult without McHale and Parish.

Here’s where our little thought experiment requires a bit of a stretch.

Gerald Henderson Trade

Now, what takes this trade off the basketball court and down the line to the Oval Office was the Celtics drafting – and subsequent death – of Len Bias.  And without the trade of Gerald Henderson to the Celtics, the Celtics don’t have the #2 pick that allows them to draft Bias.  While Henderson was with the Celtics in 1979, without his contributions to 2 championship teams, including a pivotal steal and layup that allowed the Celtics to steal a game against a superior Lakers team in a series they won in 7 games in 1984, it is unlikely he would’ve demanded the trade that found the Celtics holding the #2 draft pick in 1986.

We’ve now established that there is no Celtics dynasty in the 1980s, which means the 1986 Celtics aren’t one of the greatest teams ever.  They also don’t hold the #2 draft pick that will allow them to draft a player many expected would challenge Michael Jordan as the best player in the 1980s.

Now we start to get serious.

Death of Len Bias

As mentioned earlier, many expected Len Bias to be one of the best players in the NBA from the minute he was drafted.  That doesn’t change because he gets drafted by the SuperSonics instead of the Celtics.  Unfortunately, what also likely doesn’t change was the fact that he overdoses two days after the draft.  What does change is the political circumstances of his death.  If Bias is drafted by Seattle instead of the reigning NBA champions, he’s just another #2 draft pick, a sad footnote mentioned alongside such immortals as Sam Bowie, Hasheem Thabeet, Darko Milicic, and Steve Stipanovich (obligatory mention of such NBA immortals as Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, etc.).  More importantly, his new fan base is not located in the Congressional district of a Speaker of the House who is trying to keep control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections.

 The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986

Shortly after Bias’s death, it was widely reported that he had overdosed on crack.  It wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading; Jesse Jackson even lamented the scourge of crack at Bias’s funeral.  Crack was becoming an epidemic in the inner cities, and Bias’s death was the final straw that saw Congress – and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill out of Massachusetts – implement a law that required mandatory minimums that were harshly skewed against crack “dealers”.  The law required mandatory sentencing of 5 years in prison for 5 grams of crack, but 500 grams of powder cocaine.  The mandatory minimum rules decimated the black inner cities and helped contribute to the 1992 L.A. Riots, which did nothing to help the image of minorities by White America.

“Super-predators”

At a 1996 campaign speech in New Hampshire – one of the whitest states in the nation – Hillary Clinton referred to young black male criminals as “super-predators” and said that they needed to be “brought to heel”.  Clinton was defending her husband’s crime bill, which was designed to curb street crime in the black community.  Unfortunately, analysts have now determined that the bill was a major factor in the Era of Mass Incarceration, and Bill Clinton’s defense of both the crime bill and his wife’s super-predator comment during the 2016 campaign did not help the issue.  The super-predators comment was not as significant to her campaign problems as her email server was, but to say it didn’t help is an understatement.

2016 Election

Finally, we come to the 2016 election, which found a well-established racist running against the woman who uttered the super-predators comment 20 yeas before.  And how did the black community respond?  They stayed home.  While  Barack Obama’s inclusion in the 2012 election helped the black voter turnout rate reach an all-time high that year, the fact remains that 765,000 fewer black voters showed up at the polls in 2016.  Considering 88% of blacks voted for Clinton in 2016, and the election swung on roughly 80,000 votes in 3 swing states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan with their significant black populations, it’s not difficult to pin the election result on the decreased voter turnout in the black community.

So there you have it folks.  John Y. Brown overrules the greatest executive in NBA history to acquire Bob McAdoo.  Red Auerbach suckers Dick Vitale out of the #1 draft pick, which Auerbach then flips for 2 future Hall of Famers.  Those 2 Hall of Famers contribute to the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s.  Auerbach flips Gerald Henderson for the SuperSonics’ 1986 first round draft pick, which they use on Len Bias.  Bias overdoses on cocaine two days after the Celtics draft him.  Boston’s Congressman overreacts and helps push through anti-drug legislation that dis-proportionally punishes the black community.  Hillary Clinton refers to the victims of that legislation as super-predators, which the community never forgets.  And then the black community stays home on Election Day 2016, allowing Donald Trump to eke out a narrow victory.

There are any number of people to blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) for the presidency of Donald Trump.  I’m blaming Dick Vitale.

Fixing Major League Baseball

1986

We’re a week into the Major League Baseball season (at least we are when I started writing this, with my writing prowess it could be the All-Star break before this actually gets published), and it’s time to revisit one of my favorite pieces of this blog – fixing something that really isn’t broken.

Baseball’s a phenomenal sport, and reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.  It will never overtake the NFL – well, at least not until someone dies on the gridiron and the masses flee in droves – but it’s also never going to lose its ground to the NBA or NHL.  That said, there are still some relatively simple fixes that will make a great game even greater.  Without further ado:

Expansion/Contraction

A fair number of my suggestions will require an even number of teams in each League, so we should address the expansion/contraction of teams first.  My personal opinion is that there are 2 too many teams in baseball, and the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay prove that out.  If it were up to me, we’d contract the 2 teams that have never been to the World Series – the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals – and move the Rays and A’s to those respective cities for the sake of franchise continuity (I’m a history geek like that).

But since we know that, barring a catastrophic financial situation – like, say, the bursting of the television rights fee bubble – no professional league is going to contract its teams, so let’s add teams in Montreal and Charlotte or Portland and call it good.

On Field Improvements

Universal Designated Hitter

Major League Baseball is the only sport on the planet (i.e., in the U.S., which is all that matters, amirite?) where half the league plays by one set of rules and the other half plays by another.  With year-round interleague play (we’ll get to that in a minute), that means a team built to play with the designated hitter may have to play a season-ending series with the playoffs on the line with their DH on the bench.  And anyone who’s ever seen Justin Verlander swing a bat knows that you’d much rather have Victor Martinez batting in a big situation.

So we’re changing the rules and either eliminating the DH or making it universal.  And while we can all marvel at Madison Bumgarner’s home run hitting ability, we tend to ignore the fact that he’s a career .186 hitter, and he’s the best hitting pitcher.  The simple fact is that watching a pitcher swing the bat is generally boring and painful (Bartolo Colon notwithstanding), and it leads to ridiculous managerial decisions where a guy throwing a shutout is pulled for a pinch hitter after 73 pitches because the offense can’t put up any runs.  No, it’s time for the NL’s antiquated rules to go by the wayside and MLB to adopt the DH permanently.  The fans will love it, the players will love it (more money for aging veterans to finish out their careers), and the owners…well, screw the owners.

Pitch Clock

I’ll get push back here – and I know this because I got plenty of push back from a buddy of mine when we were discussing it on Opening Day – but for a league that’s attempting to cut the length of their games so Millennials with attention spans measuring in nanoseconds can stay engaged, the pitch clock makes too much sense not to happen.

You can’t implement the pitch clock with men on base, because there are too many variables with that baserunner to force the pitcher to stick to a clock without disrupting his rhythm or making a stupid mistake.  But when there’s no one on base, there’s no reason a pitcher (or a batter) needs more than 20 seconds to make the next pitch.  Start the clock when the catcher receives the pitch, and if the umpire determines that the batter or pitcher is stalling, they’re punished with a ball or a strike against them.

Automated Balls/Strikes

In 2017, when anyone with a smartphone has access to PitchFX that shows exactly where every ball crosses the plate, there’s absolutely no reason for a human being to call balls and strikes.  Talk to me all you want about the human element, but I don’t want the game determined because some umpire didn’t see where the ball went across the plate.  The “human element” applies to the players; fair or not, the officiating of a game needs to be as close to perfect as possible.

With so few baseball calls being truly subjective – especially now that they’ve gotten rid of the neighborhood play on double plays – I’d argue that all officiating could be automated, but let’s start with baby steps.

Overhaul Instant Replay

Aside from Screech on Saved by the Bell, there’s not a person on Earth who has ever watched a game because of who’s officiating that game.  And yet we give the teams challenges to question when an umpire might have made an incorrect call, instead of insisting that the calls just be right.  So we’re going to remove the challenge system and put a fifth (or, in the case of postseason play, seventh) umpire in the broadcast booth, and if an umpire screws up, that extra umpire is going to correct him.  We’re not going to continue to allow the umpires’ egos to determine whether or not a game gets called correctly.

Drastically Reduce Ejections

Some ejections are deserved – I’m looking at you Bryce Harper.  But in a lot of cases a batter will question a call just a little bit more emphatically than the umpire likes (although not at all egregiously), and he’s gone.  The problem is that it drastically reduces the flexibility of the manager, and if someone like Miguel Cabrera gets ejected and has to be replaced by Andrew Romine, the strategy for the remainder of the game is changed immensely.  So unless someone is risking physical harm to another player or an umpire, or truly making an ass out of himself, we’re going to keep the Umpshow to a minimum.

Scheduling

154-Game Schedule

The owners will never go for it.  The players will love it.  Eliminate 8 games from the season to return to what was standard prior to expansion in 1961.  If you want to placate the owners, increase the cost of everything by 5%.  Well, everything except my beer.

Eliminate Interleague Play

Interleague play is over.  It’s played out.  It was never particularly interesting to start, and it ruined the truly novel approach that only MLB had – namely, that the two teams that met in the World Series had not met in the regular season.  MLB loved the “natural” rivalries in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida, and a few other places, but they didn’t account for truly dreadful games like Padres-Mariners.  And because the interleague games all took place on designated summer weekends when the weather was nice and the rivalry games were naturally more appealing to the local fans, MLB could proclaim that interleague games were more popular than your average American League or National League games.  It’s worth pointing out that since they’ve gone to year-round interleague play, we haven’t seen proclamations about the popularity of the games, likely because that April Marlins-Orioles game is dragging down the average.

Balanced Schedule

With 16 teams in each league, a 154-game schedule, and the elimination of interleague play, you can play 10 games against each team with 4 games left over.  The remaining 4 games can be rotated among the teams on an annual basis, or you could add a series based upon where the teams finished the previous season (for example, the best team plays the second best team, third place plays fourth place, etc.).  Either way, it’s better than 19 Royals-White Sox games a year.

Holiday Doubleheaders

There are 5 “major” holidays throughout the baseball season: Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.  We’ll throw out Mother’s Day and Father’s Day since those are Sundays by rule and thus travel days.  But every team is required to play doubleheaders on 2 of the remaining 3 holidays – one at home, and one on the road.  If that holiday falls on a Sunday, the doubleheader will revert to the previous Saturday.  The players hate doubleheaders, but we’ve just cut 8 games out of the schedule, so they’ll get used to it.

Beginning/End of Season

Every season begins on the first Monday in April.  If you want to cater to ESPN and have them air a Sunday night game the night before, fine.  But this year there were 3 Sunday games to start the season, and that’s just insane.  One’s enough as a showcase for the game.

And since we’ve cut 8 games, plus 2 additional days of game play via the new doubleheader rule, there’s no excuse to be playing games in November.

Playoff Scheduling

Major League Baseball has deduced that playing 4 straight Division Series games on a Thursday will garner more television viewers than running 2 games simultaneously.  This seems dubious to me, but I’ve tended to default to the position of, “Someone smarter than me is making that determination.”  I mean, they have to be, right?

Still, it sucks for the fans with tickets.  Because the playoff schedule isn’t set until a day or two before the games start, you could wind up buying a ticket to a noon playoff game that you can’t use because you can’t get off work.  So either show the fans that there truly are more viewers for a Thursday noon game than there are for 2 games airing simultaneously, or cut out the weekday afternoon games.

Also, while I understand that games involving teams from New York and Chicago are going to garner more viewers than Oakland or Tampa Bay games will, it’s kind of crappy when all of the Oakland League Championship Series games get relegated to the 4pm games.  So alternate the LCS games so that both teams get prime time treatment.

Playoff Determinations

Realignment

In 2015, the three best teams in all of baseball all played in the National League Central.  The St. Louis Cardinals won the division with 100 wins, while the Cubs (97 wins) and Pirates (98) were subjected to a 1-game playoff to determine who moved on.  The Pirates and Cubs were punished because they were geographically close to the Cardinals.  And just to add insult to injury, because the team with the best regular season record automatically plays the winner of the Wild Card game in the Division Series, the Cardinals were punished by having to play the a 97-win team instead of the 92-win Dodgers or 90-win Mets.  This is asinine.  The best teams should be rewarded for having a superior regular season.  So we’re eliminating divisions.  Two Leagues, 16 teams each, with a balanced schedule.

Oh, and the Brewers and Astros are going back where they belong.

Playoff Seeding

Playoff seeding is simple: the top 5 teams in each League make the playoffs.  The top 3 teams get a bye to the Division Series while the 4th and 5th place teams play the Wild Card game to move on.  There’s no reason to reward a team for being located in a geographically advantageous location.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that a lot of these rule changes seek to fix some of the quirks that make baseball “great”.  Fans love to see pitchers hit dingers and the Wild Card situation I discussed isn’t particularly common.  But the Giants can still refuse the DH to let Bumgarner hit (which they’ve already done in interleague games), and no one’s going to weep because we close a loophole to give an advantage to a better team.

And I’m not going to stop watching because these rule changes aren’t made (because, let’s face it, most of them won’t be), but we could definitely make the game better.