Uncle Mike Vick’s Cabin 

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.

Disappearing Hockey Heroes

Soon either Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel and company or Nashville led by P.K. Subban et al will find their way to a Stanley Cup.

When they win they know they will skate around the ice and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup drowning in accolades and praise.  Many thinking back to junior hockey or the hard work in the minors that took them to the peak of greatness.  For some, this is the hardest trophy in sports to win-beyond maybe the World Cup.

After the celebration in the locker room with champagne and showers of beer, they’ll relax for a while knowing they’ve brought that trophy home with them for one day.  They can show it off to their hometown for 24 hours or take it to a party or anywhere they want-as long as they don’t lose or destroy it.

But the other perk of winning the prize is eternal recognition in the form of a square on the side of the Cup.  Each year another team gets put on the ring that goes around it forever displaying those that worked so hard to bring home the championship.

You may not know that Lord Stanley’s Cup is almost 125 years old.  It was first given out in 1893 in the form of the bowl you see on top of the trophy now.  As the years progressed and the NHL was formed they needed more room and added the bottom or the base that it currently sits on.  In pictures the rings with the engraved names can be seen along that base.  

125 years is a long time to keep a running record of who has won and at some point time catches up.  After this year, the ring from 1953 to 1965 will have to come off to make room for the next batch of champions.  Included in those years are Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and a host of other Hall of Fame players.  Imagine the talents during those years that many of us never got to see.

I think about the famous picture of 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky meeting the late Gordie Howe when “Mr Hockey” visited the young player’s hometown.  Who would have guessed that those two would change so much about the game?  Eventually we will have to take “The Great One”‘s name off the Cup to make room too.

I can’t imagine what the future will be like in hockey, there’s the Matthews, Marner, and McDavid future.  But who else is out there that we don’t know about?  Will there ever be another iconic photo like those two legends of the game?

The last time I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, my daughter and I went into the Esso Great Hall where the Cup is displayed.  She wandered right off to the shiny trophy on its magical perch.  I immediately made my way to the vault where the rings are held.  Not the winner’s rings but the rings that had been taken off the Cup to make room for more Champions.  I wondered about those men that had been engraved there and what they went through.  The struggles and the pain to win this elusive Cup.  It’s been said that once you win you are winner forever because your name is engraved on the side.  But tell that to those men who will find themselves tucked away in a vault on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.  One day Wayne Gretzky will find himself there too.

Bryce Harper and The Search For A Hero

Recently Washington Nationals outfielder and probable National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper was hit by a weaponized fastball.  San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland decided that he would throw in and tight to the lefty slugger to send a message.

It seems that back in the 2014 NL playoffs Harper made mincemeat of a couple of Strickland’s pitches and let the veteran hurler know with a mean mug.

Harper decided that he wanted to dance with the  right handed flame thrower.  He grabbed his helmet and tossed it like he was playing frisbee golf while running to the pitcher’s mound.  

Strickland had an inkling that Harper was on his way so as the helmet was being tossed he started his warmup and began to fire punches at the batter.  

Harper fired a few in return like two battleships next to each other with their guns pointed too close they only made incidental contact but no direct hits.  Bullpens and dugouts ran to the field and everyone acted like they were auditioning for a part in West Side Story- you’re either a Jet or a Shark baby.

After all the crazies had left the field, it was up to  me to ask: was Strickland seriously pissed about those two home runs for three years?  Come on dude you won a World Series with the Giants in 2014.  Did you not see Frozen?  Let it go already.

But it’s not just Strickland, there have been numerous incidents where batters were thrown at or hit by pitchers because they took them deep.  Maybe they also put a little “jump” in their step too when they rounded the bases, but it’s a sport isn’t it?  When was the last time you played or watched a sport you cared about and didn’t get emotionally involved?

One of my favorite players lights up the radar because he tends to hold on to his bat “too long” or toss it “too high.”  In case you aren’t sure, I’m referring to Jose Bautista, or “Joey Bats” as he is lovingly called,  of the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the 2015 American League Division Series, the Jays were tied with the Texas Rangers 3-3 in the decisive fifth game.  The series had been a grueling nasty affair and neither team liked the other.  With two men on base, two outs and relief pitcher Sam Dyson on the mound, “Bats” saw a 97 mile per hour fastball and crushed it over the left field fence.  

He watched the ball fly reminding me of Roberto Alomar’s 92 ALCS home run off A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley.  Alomar put his arms out as he ran to first, he had never hit a bigger home run in his career.  He would never hit another as big as that.

Bautista however paused, watched and then threw his bat as if to say “you can’t throw a 97 MPH fastball by me.”

The Rangers however were none too impressed. Most of baseball wasn’t impressed.

But I wonder, in a sport where we celebrate the home run and passion behind it why is it so wrong for hitters to show emotion?  Haven’t we moved past the point where our home run slugger gently places a bat down and runs as fast as he can around the bases?  Why are we so afraid to “show up the pitcher?”

If the pitcher didn’t want to be shown up, throw a better pitch.  The pitcher holds all the advantages in this game- he can fire pitches at someone’s body and ruin a career.  If Sam Dyson faced Joey Bautista again and wanted to “send a message,” he could throw the ball at the Jays’ slugger’s head.  If he made contact it could be lights out especially at 97 miles per hour.

Letting pitchers “send messages” only serves to create more conflict, cause injuries and take away the passion in the game.

I’ve Gone To Look For America

While watching the Penguins and Capitals play the favorite game of our neighbors to the North, an ad for a German car company included a tune from the folk duo of Simon and Garfunkel.

America.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the song that the two recorded almost 50 years ago that is almost the same age as the Pittsburgh Penguins.  What I do remember is that the song has haunted me every time I heard it.

A tune about a couple’s journey through tumultuous times trying to find themselves while discovering the wide world outside the places they once knew.  Everyone lives in their own fishbowl until they decide to jump out and swim in a different pond, taking that trip from different state to state or city to city.  Discovering ourselves.

Ironically the song mentions Pittsburgh as well – a place I’ve seen only from an airplane.

I was just a kid when I went looking for America – it felt like every summer my parents would pack up our car and head in every direction on the compass to some out-of-the-way destination.  I spent hours in the backseat of a car reading and sleeping on Interstate highways as we traveled the East Coast from Bangor, Maine all the way down to Daytona Beach, Florida.

In those trips, I found my America.  I found the parts of the country that excited me from the sports stadiums to the national monuments to the quirky foods to the dark and lonely roads that scatter this country.  I developed a love of french fries, an obsession with soda, a desire to see where pro and college teams play, the love of the cold from dipping in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine and a need to understand.

I found America when I saw the crack in the Liberty Bell, viewed the ships in Philadelphia harbor, looked up at Lady Liberty and saw the places where men fought over war that has been labeled “civil.”

I discovered different foods like clam chowder or carolina barbecue or shrimp scampi or fried catfish or pizza that wasn’t made in the South.  Although along the way I discovered that there are so many great things you can find in convenience stores like beef jerky and slurpees.

I also saw the Meadowlands, Veteran’s Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Fulton County Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and many college fields.

Most of all along the way I saw different things and different ways of life.  It was the need to understand the culture that I enjoyed so much.  Going to New York and seeing the fast pace of life after coming from the South where things moved so slow.  Or even going to Maine to see how vast America is.

Then there was the plane flight from Virginia to Pittsburgh to Seattle, flying over so much of the country to get to a place on the map that looked so far away.  Talk about culture shock for me – going from the sunny South to the dreary Northwest.  I admired the floating bridges of Seattle, the rain forest that was just hours away, the mystery of Snoqualmie Falls and the intrigue of Mount St. Helens.  The more I heard about Seattle the more I felt like it was so far away from Virginia even though it was America.

America.

The same America where sports teams will draft players who have multiple arrests: just recently the Minnesota Vikings who took Dalvin Cook and the Jacksonville Jaguars took Cam Robinson.  The Cincinnati Bengals who will draft a player, Joe Mixon, that knocked a woman out because she slapped him.  Or the Cleveland Browns who took Caleb Brantley even though he’s accused of battery on a woman like Mixon.

This is America.  America where sports has become so interwoven into our culture that baseball’s World Series is known as the “Fall Classic.”  College football is a religious day in the South only proceeded by high school football and followed by church.

Unfortunately we’ve become a product of our entertainment.  We’ve let ourselves be bought by glitz and glamour.  We’ve sold our souls for the promise of athletic achievement while giving up on common courtesy and humanity.  We are happy to use public funds to build sports arenas but balk at helping those who have nothing.  All the while sports owners use their funds to return to their mansions and luxury cars.

It’s the worry that our team might lose or we may never see them win a championship that keeps us hoping for next year yet we miss life passing in front of us.  We miss the things that Simon and Garfunkel went looking for on their trip through America.  We don’t enjoy the wire that we all walk in life and how much joy can be found in the little things.  We don’t understand the pain that everyone else goes through.  We don’t appreciate others.  We don’t value other parts of America.

America isn’t just a piece of land, or an ideal, it is people.  It’s humanity but it should also giving and caring.  It’s time we all went looking for that.

2017 Quick Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

April 12, 2017 marks the opening night of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the hope that one of the 5 playoff bound Canadian teams will win the Cup.

Sadly – I’m not sure that it is going to happen.

EASTERN CONFERENCE-

Montreal(47-26-9, 103 points) vs. New York(48-28-6, 102 points)

The Rangers are one of the NHL’s highest scoring teams (253 goals, 4th in the league) and the Canadiens are one of the stingiest teams at (198 goals against or 4th best).

Montreal is lead by 29-year-old goalkeeper Carey Price whose season Goals Against Average, 2.23, and Save Percentage, .923, are better than his career averages.  Price’s health, the trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber and the firing of Michel Therrien on February 14 and subsequent hiring of former Bruins coach Claude Julien have all led to Montreal’s success.

New York on the other hand, has seen goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist, 35,  struggle at times.  His 2.74 Goals Against Average and .910 Save Percentage have left Rangers fans wondering if the King is showing weakness.

The King is a money goalkeeper in the playoffs but so too is Carey Price.  These two have little to separate them but looking back to their March 4th match-up, the Canadiens won 4-1.  I’d like to think the Rangers could take this series but Price and company are going to have more than Lundqvist can handle.

Ottawa(44-28-10,98 points) vs. Boston(44-31-7,95 points)

Between these two Boston has the best Penalty Kill percentage and the 7th best power play percentage.  Boston is coming into the play-offs hot winning 5 of 7 in the two weeks leading up to the season finale that they lost at Washington.  Included in that span is a loss to these same Senators.

Ottawa has beaten Boston the last three games the teams have played but they went 9-10 during that span struggling against non-playoff teams Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Ottawa’s struggles to score and defend will likely be their downfall – especially since Boston is hot.  Ottawa’s 2.51 Goals For a game is 22 and their 2.56 Goals Against Average proves this team relies on getting timely goals and defense.  To be fair that 2.56 GAA is 10th in the NHL.

Boston will eventually come out on top but it’s going to be tight.

Washington(55-19-8,118 points) vs Toronto(40-27-14, 95 points)

I want to pick the Maple Leafs – I do but I simply cannot.  The Capitals are just that good and the Maple Leafs are in Year 2 of their rebuilding effort.  As a Leafs fan, I didn’t expect them to make the playoffs but now it’s time to enjoy the fact that it’s the second week of April and they are still playing hockey in the ACC.

I don’t see the Leafs slowing down the Capitals for maybe more than 1 or 2 games but it may be the time to see Auston Matthews’ star shine.

Pittsburgh(50-21-11, 111 points) vs Columbus(50-24-8, 108 points)

It would normally be a pretty easy pick to say the Penguins would take the series however the loss of Kris Letang is devastating.  Letang’s role in the Pens’ Cup run last season cannot be understated, his goal clinched the trophy for the skating birds.

On the other hand, Columbus brings a wild card in coach John Tortorella.  Torts and Pens’ head coach Mike Sullivan are ironically friends.  Torts brought immense changes to a team that under achieved in the prior season.

I think Pittsburgh have just enough to push past the Jackets.

2nd round – Montreal vs Ottawa

The battle of two Canadian hotbeds of hockey that will come down to goaltending – something that is always the story in the postseason.

The Canadiens are also built tougher and deeper to progress through the playoffs. Ottawa’s scoring from the blueline and struggles to score will be their downfall in this series.

Washington vs. Pittsburgh

The year that Ovi finally passes Crosby to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Capitals are going to find their way past the depleted Pens.

Eastern Conference Finals – Montreal vs. Washington

Washington not only has a great goalkeeper but they have strong defense and incredible scoring.  While it may be a lengthy series, Ovi will get the monkey off his back and take his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Western Conference

Chicago(50-23-9,109 points) vs Nashville(41-29-12, 94 points)

The number 1 seed in the Western Conference takes on the team that just made it into the playoffs.  That being said at the beginning of the season it was questionable whether Nashville would even have the chance to make it this far.  The off-season trade of former Nashville captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban didn’t start off well for the Preds.

Once you put the Blackhawks in the playoffs they turn into a juggernaut.  This season will be no different.  As much as I’d like to think Subban will spark the Preds, the Blackhawks are led by arguably the most talented playoff duo in Kane and Toewes as well as the best coach in Quenneville.

Chicago will come out on top thanks to all of these factors.

Minnesota(49-25-8, 106 points) vs St. Louis(46-29-7, 99 points)

There is something to be said for a revenge win in a series and for coach Mike Yeo of the Blues there has to be some desire to beat the Wild after years of coaching there.  Yeo says his focus is not on revenge but on the playoffs but I think he’ll have his team fired up.

I’m going with the Blues.

Anaheim(46-23-13,105 points) vs Calgary(45-33-4,94 points)

Every year it seems there is one team that falls apart in the playoffs and doesn’t live up to their ranking or expectations.  For me, that team is Anaheim and the team that takes them out is Calgary.  Of course I have a thing for Canadian teams so take it for what you will.

Edmonton(47-26-9,103 points) vs San Jose(46-29-7,99 points)

Welcome to the year that Connor McDavid wins the Hart Trophy and pulls the Oilers through the playoffs starting with the first round series win against San Jose.  Edmonton buckle up, you are in for a long ride.

2nd round – Chicago vs St. Louis

An immense rivalry that Chicago will come out on top thanks to their stars – but don’t believe that it’s going to be easy.

Calgary vs Edmonton

This my friends will be a dandy.  I can’t wait to see these two Western Canada teams play this series out.  However for Calgary, Connor McDavid and company will be just too much.

Chicago vs Edmonton

Did I say Edmonton fans were in for a long ride?  It’s going to keep getting longer after winning this series against the Blackhawks.

Stanley Cup Finals -Washington vs Edmonton

As much as I’d like to pick the Oil to be the Cinderella and win it all, Washington is just too much.  Ovi will get over the hump and cement his legacy as one of the best players to ever suit up in the NHL.