Number 8 Will Always Be Number One To Me

There was a time when the NBA allowed high school basketball players to jump directly to the league without any college experience. There was no talk of “one and done” players joining University ranks before being drafted into the Millionaire Club.

One of the players who paved the way for the NBA of today came straight from Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A man who did exactly what I wanted to do, a player I admired for being the talent that everyone said he couldn’t be, a guy who created a legacy around one name: Kobe.

Say what you will about the 18 year old Kobe demanding to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe at times during his career he played with a swagger that certain fans did not like. His inauguration into professional basketball came at a time when Jordan was ruling the league. No one wanted to see the King dethroned – certainly not by some flashy teenager straight out of high school that could speak Italian fluently and signed with Jordan’s shoe rival Adidas.

But I did. I believed that 18 year old kid was just like me – wanting to live out a dream and I wanted to live out my dream of basketball through him. As much as I don’t like the Lakers I always wanted Kobe to win. When Kobe came out with shoes I got them – I’ll never forget the “spaceman” shoes – I still have them.

Now that the NBA has moved on from Kobe and my dream, the league is different. 20 years of Jellybean Bryant’s son and now he’s gone. Life moves on and as I watch Kobe as a man and not that 18 year old kid – I realize that I’ve grown too. I fight the feeling that I’m getting old, but seeing the years on Kobe’s face I realize we both have aged. It doesn’t matter to me about the championships or the awards or points. What matters is Kobe did the things I wanted to do at a time I wanted to do them. Kobe was me.

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A Cubs Fan Finally Gets His Championship Ring – And I’m Fine With It!

The Chicago Cubs are giving Steve Bartman a World Series ring this week for all the hell he's been through since that ill fated night in Wrigley Field 14 years ago. Bartman has led a sheltered and very secluded life after the death threats he received in the wake of the Cubs 2003 National League Championship Series loss. Cubs fans hit the radio waves to express discontent for the man they believed caused the team to never reach their destiny. A man who had to be escorted from the stadium after reaching for a foul ball.

Among many sports fans a debate has raged about whether the Cubs are breaking an unwritten rule of professional athletics by handing out a ring. Questions like Bartman didn't play with the team so why give him a ring? Or does doing this cheapen the accomplishment of the 2016 champs? What if the other clubs decided to just hand out rings to whomever? Should Bartman even accept the gesture in the first place?

For all the questions, the answers aren't as clear as one might think. No one can truly say but Bartman whether he should take the offer from the club. He is the one who has had to separate himself from the team he loved so dearly. Can you imagine your team winning after 107 years and not being able to be at the game to celebrate? Much less having the ability to show your face in public all because people thought you were the reason a team lost?

Teams can do whatever they want with their rings. If New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft can give one of his Super Bowl rings to Russian president Vladimir Putin how can we criticize a team giving one to a fan? A ring from a championship is merely a symbol of a win, something that most players simply lock up and put away in a safe only to come out at special events. A championship win by players builds bonds and families within a locker room that no piece of jewelry or banner can match. How is it any different than any other memorabilia that is sold after the playoffs? In fact, players sell them all the time.

I'm not sure if there is a team that doesn't do what it wants when it comes to victories. In 2016, the Denver Broncos took the Lombardi Trophy to a late fan's funeral. The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers gave rings to janitors and food vendors. Why is everyone getting so excited about the Cubs? Give Bartman some peace finally, he's been through hell.

Last Chance U Part Deux: Buddy Stephens Revisited

When the first season of Netflix's football series "Last Chance U" ended we saw the JUCO program of Eastern Mississippi exiting the Mississippi state playoffs after getting into a brawl. Coach Buddy Stephens was berating his players as "thugs," much to the dismay of many of them.

The new season of the series promised more football and more drama. What I didn't count on was Stephens announcing that he was embarrassed watching the first season of the show and that he was going to be nicer to his players. Call me skeptical but I didn't buy it at the time and as the show went on, I was right.

The first couple of games he preached change, positivity and how he was a new man. His use of swear words in practice led to him having to drop down to crank out push-ups in front of the team. I was more stunned than impressed, he almost seemed to be embarrassing himself in front of the team.

As the wins mounted, so too did the immense pressure lofted onto Stephens' shoulders. Injuries hit star running back Isiah Wright. The defense struggled to stop anyone who ran right at them. When Coach would attempt to talk to a player it felt as if he was begging that person to say anything at all. One word and Stephens would snap.

I lost count the number of times he kicked Wright out of practice. As the defense struggled to find an identity he berated the Defensive Coordinator for not doing enough. When the refs asked Stephens to back up from the sidelines he freaked out on them.

"Don't touch me. I don't touch you." Stephens screamed at them. So much for the kinder, gentler coach.

Near the end of the season as the team played for the Mississippi state championship Stephens sent his offensive coordinator up to the press box. The same offensive coordinator that had been there for years. I thought that Stephens wanted to turn over a new leaf, but no.

Even though the team won the game and the state championship, Stephens had damaged his team in the process.

Team mother Brittany Wagner left Eastern Mississippi to form her own company to help students.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Wood stepped down from his duties after his interactions on the sidelines of that championship game.

Quarterbacks coach Clint Trickett left the program to work at Florida Atlantic University.

Defensive coordinator Ed Holly left to coach high school football in Florida.

Who else?

To paraphrase Isiah Wright, he said "I can tell when someone cares for me and when they want something from me." The former running back of Eastern Mississippi couldn't have been more painfully clear about the situation in Scooba, MS. It also becomes obvious less than halfway through the season that the head coach's driving factor is to win football games.

The series visits former players and examines their current situation. My favorite is Ronald Ollie who looked happy to have left Eastern Mississippi for Nicholls State. Even former quarterback John Franklin III smiles for the camera while explaining his situation as a backup quarterback at Auburn University. Their lives are drastic comparisons to what the athletes are experiencing back at the junior college.

Eastern Mississippi's defense shows a disconnect because of the malaise that starts at the top. The offense runs well only because former offensive coordinator Wood cares about his kids and sheltered them from Stephens' negativity.

By the end of the season even he can't keep away the drama and is swallowed up by it. I believe Stephens' lack of self control is ultimately going to be his downfall. Even if he wins football games, his lack of compassion guarantees he will never grow as a person. I feel bad that he never gets to understand the kids the way Wagner and Wood did but one day he'll realize that humanity is more important than wins.

Losing Faith Or Sports Is So Screwed

Apparently the Dallas Cowboys are so worried about a man named Lucky Whitehead supposedly getting arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting from Wawa in suburban Virginia that they cut him from the team. The same Cowboys team that has fielded players charged with domestic violence, gun charges, drug charges and DWI incidents. I'm guessing that as a Cowboy you are held to a higher standard- no shoplifting but plenty of beating, drinking, drugs and poor decisions.

I feel for Whitehead because the police now admit that it wasn't him who they arrested for shoplifting. All that drama from the Cowboys and it turns out he wasn't even there, imagine that. Jerry Jones is going to do what he's going to do. In fact Jerry's son, Stephen said that it was a "culmination of things over a period of time." You mean he missed a practice or skipped a meeting or claimed his dog got kidnapped? Sure, he's probably a knucklehead but he DIDN'T break the law.

The starting running back was questioned for domestic abuse charges. A linebacker was charged was assault for hitting someone with a truck. Another player was charged with DWI. In 2015 they fielded a player who was a repeat drug offender. Of course they signed Greg Hardy.

They are hardly the only team to put questionable people on the field. The NFL is full of players that are on the edge of falling off the cliff. The problem is that the league is all about money. When the only reason guys are on the field is because they can play a sport and normal people would be in jail it's because of power, money and influence.

I have a huge problem with the fact that a guy like Whitehead lost his gig over some arrest that never happened. He doesn't even have the ability to sue the Cowboys over wrongful termination because of the way NFL contracts are written.

I wonder what the arresting officers must feel today knowing they helped contribute to the man's loss of employment. Did they just say "hey he said his name was Lucky Whitehead and he had his information so we aren't going to look at his mugshot?" Isn't this a statement on its own? Lucky Whitehead's picture is easily found on the internet- is there no due diligence? If someone was arrested with my information would they verify that it truly was me? I'm scared for this world.

Uncle Mike Vick’s CabinĀ 

I recently saw a shirt that says : 

We march, y’all mad, We sit down, y’all mad, We speak up, y’all mad, We die, y’all silent.

Let those words sink in for a bit before you pass judgement on what they are saying.  

I’m not going to wade into the political world but this shirt reminded me of Colin Kaepernick and what he’s been going through with NFL free agency.  Whether you agree with him or not his actions have caused people to talk, something that is necessary in this country.

Unfortunately there are people like Mike Vick who went on FS1’s “Speak For Yourself,” and said that the reason why Kaepernick doesn’t have a job is because he is still sporting an afro.  Really Mike?  Vick went on to say it’s really not about his hair but about his last two years of play.  If he cuts his hair and goes back to the NFL with hat on hand and keeps on line, Vick thinks all will be forgiven.  Much like after he was forgiven for his dog fighting charges.  Vick reminded us all “it’s not about selling out.”

I’m not sure I buy that.  While it may not be that Kaepernick is getting black balled from getting a job in the NFL because of his beliefs, he’s causing questions to be asked of the culture and mentality of those that are in charge of signing players.  He’s reaffirmed my opinion that football is about money and the image of what is on the field.  Look at some of the white players who have long hair and long beards, why is that okay?  Is what Vick saying that Kaepernick’s hair cut reminds fans of the 70s and Black Power activists?  Mike Vick reminds me of a dog killer.  There are players in the NFL with weapons charges.  There are players in the NFL who have beat and abused domestic partners.  There have been players in the NFL that have killed others and still been able to come back.  You are going to tell me someone should cut their hair Mike?  Give me a break.  All Kaepernick did these past two years is express his right to protest.  He didn’t break a law and he didn’t break an NFL rule.  He can grow an afro and he can kneel for the anthem.  However you can’t kill or beat a human much less defenseless animals.

I have a real problems with the fact that it’s okay with guys like Rex Ryan to attend and even announce guys like Donald Trump at political rallies without their teams saying a word.  Meanwhile Kaepernick doesn’t say a word on the field but keeps to himself.  Each man expressed his right to protest or display his view only one of them has been chastised for it – I wonder why?

A League Full Of Losers

In the NFL, 31 teams go home at the end of the season as losers.  If you think about it that’s 97 percent of the league that doesn’t accomplish the ultimate goal every single year.  It doesn’t matter if your favorite team won their division if they didn’t win the Super Bowl, they still came up short.

As previously stated in earlier blogs, football is a business and owners do whatever it takes to make their product earn.  Unfortunately there are times when the monster eats itself or some teams just don’t have the structure in place internally.  Many times what’s seen on the field reflects that lack of planning by General Managers or Owners but at the end of the year when the results are in, the coach takes the fall.  

The coach may not be able to win with the lack of depth they were given or maybe the GM didn’t give them players that fit their system.  Too bad, the coach is the one to go.  Think about all the different parts of a football team and the number of players that have to do their job.  If one player doesn’t perform their assignment the whole chain will snap.  Many times the players don’t realize that the average career of an NFL player is less than 4 years.  Players see guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that have longevity in a rough and tumble league.  However, because of the violent collisions injuries are common and career threatening.  

When these players drop their end of the rope, coaches have to scramble to find someone else to pick it up.  It’s what many refer to as a “next man up” mentality.  The problem is there are guys who aren’t able to deal with the pressure or the pace and they too fall.  Even though most players in the NFL are close to the same skill set in most areas, it’s the mental aspect that makes guys great.  It’s up to coaches to push men to find that.

But what happens when guys tune that out?  Or what happens when some guys don’t have the ability to push through that final wall?  Scouting players isn’t a science, as is evident by the many busts in the NFL draft.  These players can become what is known as “coach killers” contributing to the average length of a coaching career being less than 5 years.  Think about that player who was drafted and fizzled out within his first 4 years in the league even though the first year coach relied so heavy on him.  Now the coach might have one more year to prove himself, but more than likely that coach is already out the door.

When we watch football very few of us think of those guys that walk up and down the sidelines.  Not just the main guys like Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin.  There are those men behind them, the ones that give their all to coach the wide receivers or the defensive backs that rarely have their names in the paper or the news.  When a defense plays lights out it’s normally the defensive coordinator who gets the credit even though that defensive backs coach gave up his free time and his life to be there researching and preparing too.  When the coach gets fired guess who is going to go too?  All those coaches.  Maybe some of them will never get another job in football even though they were great at what they did.  The problem is no one knew them except for that coach and now he can’t find another job.  But the players who let go of the rope, they might get another shot.  That General Manager who didn’t bring in enough players that were good enough to cover for injuries?  You can bet he’s still there.  

I understand that coaches watch film and prepare a game plan.  They call the plays and try to put the players in the right position to win however sometimes it isn’t the coach’s fault that a team loses.  Sometimes there truly are bad teams based upon the roster they’ve been given. Sure it’s up to them to make the best of hands they are dealt but I think many times fans, executives and the media expect way too much of coaches instead of realizing that players have to be held accountable too.  Coaches aren’t miracle workers, they are human and can only do so much- it’s time to stop blaming them for everything and start praising them.

Football Isn’t A Game

I refuse to say the word “gamechanger,” I hate when it is used in everyday context.  I’ve seen it used on car commercials or in ads for other products.  Those things aren’t games.  However, I don’t even like it when it is used in the football sense either – football isn’t a game.

A perfect example is the Los Angeles Rams.  In 2016, the Rams moved from St. Louis, Missouri to L.A. because the owner wasn’t making enough money and he wanted the city to help finance a new stadium.  No go on that, so he pulled the plug and decided to take his show to L.A. where the Rams came from and the place where he owned a large piece of land.  A perfect piece of property to put up a megalithic stadium that will make all the other NFL owner and fans jealous.   Why not right?

In the meantime, the Rams were coming off picking first overall in the NFL draft after going 7-9 the season before.  They had previously traded picks with Tennessee in order to allow the Titans to get Marcus Mariota in the 2015 draft.  All that being said, the Rams also traded their starting Quarterback from 2016 Sam Bradford to Philadelphia, leaving them with a lifetime backup in Case Keenum to open the year.  Let it be said that a good starting Quarterback in the NFL is hard to find.

For all the humor that was made of Jeff Fisher, I think he’s a good human being as is evident in the two video series produced about the 2016 Rams season.  Unfortunately, he was handed a young team with a less than stellar Quarterback in Keenum and then was forced to start the Rookie in the 10th game of the season after many failures.  Fisher was replaced after going 4-9 in 2016, a result of not being able to get the defense off the field or get the run game going.  Both of these things I believe come back to the decision to trade Bradford and start Keenum.

As is the case, the coach takes the axe when it comes to these decisions and it was Fisher whose head rolled.  It’s not about how he coached the game or how much he cared about the game it was about wins.  Plain and simple it was about how much money the owner could make, how good he could make the product look in order to keep the fans.  Football isn’t about the game or the people, it’s about the score and the result.  Owners don’t care about the coach or the players as long as they get the W.  The only “gamechanger” is money, it rules the world.