Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Volume 7, Number 11: Another Asterisk: A Brief History of 2,000-yard Rushers in the NFL

28 years ago, Eric Dickerson smashed O.J. Simpson's record for rushing yards in a season, gaining 2,105, a record that stands to this day.

Here's the thing, though: Dickerson needed 16 games to break that record. When Simpson set the record by running for 2,003 yards in 1973, the regular season in the NFL was 14 games. (The NFL began playing the 16-game schedule in 1978.)

Furthermore, if you look at Dickerson's game log from that season, he did not hit 2,000 in a 14-game span.

  • Games 1-14: 1,792 yards
  • Games 2-15: 1,869 yards
  • Games 3-16: 1,865 yards

Since then, four other running backs have rushed for 2,000 yards in a season:
So, did these backs break 2,000 in 14 games (instead of needing 16 to do so)?
  • Sanders only had 52 rushing yards after Week 2, and rushed for 2,001 in the final 14 games. So Sanders became the second back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a 14-game span.
  • Davis needed 16 games. He barely made it over 2,000 as it was; he did not even get to 1,800 in any 14-game span.
  • Lewis also needed 16 games. He ran for 1,883 in games 2-15; that was as close as he got.
  • Finally, CJ2K's 2009 season was also the result of the 16-game schedule. He only had 468 yards after 5 games.
In conclusion, the next time you see a list for who had the most yards in a season, like this one, put an asterisk next to Simpson and Sanders. They broke 2,000 the hard way--in 14 games instead of 16. Just as Roger Maris may hold the American League record for most home runs in a season, but with an asterisk (because Babe Ruth hit 60 homers in 154 games, but Maris needed 162 games to hit 61), so should Dickerson's record be recognized with such a disclaimer.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Volume 7, Number 10: Misplaced Priorities, Lies and Ruined Lives

Just under six months ago, when former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno died, just two months after being fired, I expressed sympathy for a man who said he wished he could have done more regarding the monstrous behavior of Gerald Sandusky, his defensive coordinator.  In particular, he said he had told athletic director Tim Curley about what assistant coach Mike McQueary had seen involving Victim #2, and had expected things to go up the "chain of command."  I said something about how tragic it was to lose your dream job, get sick and die in such a short span of time.**

However, in light of the report released two days ago by ex-FBI director Louis Freeh following his law firm's investigation of Penn State's handling of Sandusky, I now see that Paterno's fall from grace was no Greek tragedy.  Far from it.  He lied – lied behind the victims' backs, lied to a grand jury, lied to the media and lied to the public – regarding his role in the whole affair.  He did do more than report about Victim #2... but it was the bad kind of "more"; he took an active role, working with Curley, vice-president Gary Schultz (who, incidentally, was once in charge of overseeing PSU's police department) and president Graham Spanier in covering up Sandusky's wrongdoing, and worse, allowing him continued contact with young boys.  Based on the evidence presented in the Freeh Report, all four men cared more about controlling damage to their university, and especially its football program, than about controlling damage to innocent young lives.

There are questions about where to proceed from here, such as what to do with the bronze statue of Joe Paterno (some say to remove it; other suggest turning it around so he faces backward; I personally liked the suggestion that since he was part of the cover-up, that his statue should be covered up as well).  In particular, the debate has already begun on the matter of how the NCAA should punish Penn State.  A few people have said that the football program should stay up and running because the people presently associated with it were neither child molesters nor part of the cover-up; furthermore, shutting down the program theoretically could cause economic damage to the surrounding community.

I disagree. The NCAA needs to send a loud and clear message to all its members about what happens when higher-ups try to cover up a mess. Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier were so concerned about their football program and its image that they allowed–and enabled–Sandusky to continue molesting young boys. The message I hope NCAA sends should be something like:
“If you put your football program so far above everything else that you’re willing to sacrifice your morals, or ignore the cries of innocent people, then you should spend some time without said program so you can re-evaluate your priorities.”
Not to be comparing this scandal to the one that SMU had – their problem was money, not molestation – but seeing as both SMU and PSU allowed wrongdoing to go on repeatedly over an extended period of time, and covered it up as best as they could, maybe PSU should be shut down for two years (as SMU was in 1987-88). Or at the very least, no home games for two years – if PSU wants to play football, it would have to do so on the road.

**As an aside, one of my Facebook friends said Paterno was evil, and in particular, that he covered up a crime (which I refused to believe) and that anyone who expressed sympathies like that was evil as well.  He then un-friended me.  (No big loss – calling me evil was superficial, immature and uncalled-for, and as Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes.")

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Volume 7, Number 9: Onward and Upward, Part II

Holy crap!

I had thought that there would be some sort of poll set up to determine favorite entries in the recent Astros Uniform Design Contest first, but actually, Paul Lukas (head of Uni-Watch) picked his "five best" entries--out of about eight dozen--earlier this week and posted them here on June 14.

I was absolutely stunned. I knew deep down that my design kicked ass, but didn't know just how much ass it would kick.  To get such a distinction from such a longtime uniform connoisseur as Paul, that is a heck of an honor.

Here's what Paul had to say about my entry:
"Most of the design submissions included some version of the Astros' old tequila sunrise rainbow striping, but only Rabinowitz came up with the idea of restricting it to piping and trim. It's a clever approach, and it totally works -- a good visual reference to the team's past without being a slavish re-creation. The rainbow-outlined star logo is nice, too. Let's hope the team's real uniform for next year turns out to be half this good."
It got me thinking... I need to design more unis in my spare time, just to build a reputation for what I stand for in my designs... a balance of tradition and progress... clean, structured, clutter-free designs... and most of all, when I design something, I want something that will stand the test of time--I couldn't care less about what's "in" at the moment--so that when there's a change in the team's ownership or management, they won't be as interested in overhauling the uniforms as they should be in fixing the team.

(Note: The entries were listed in the alphabetical order of the designer's first name, so my being #3 doesn't mean I was Paul's third choice, just that "Mark" is third in that particular order.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Volume 7, Number 8: Onward and Upward:
My Concept for the Houston Astros' Logo and Uniforms

Recently, the Houston Astros announced that they will move to the American League next season, and to go with their new league, they would also get new uniforms. With that in mind, Paul Lukas,'s writer for all things related to sports logos and uniforms, announced on May 31 that Uni-Watch (a sort of online community obsessed with sports logos and uniforms) would hold an Astros uniform design contest.

It's not an official contest; for all I know, the Astros' ownership and management may not consider any of the over 100 submissions that have come in for this contest. The point is, I had been waiting with baited breath for ages for such a contest, because all this time, I've had a design in mind that incorporates a number of elements from past uniforms, yet keeps in mind the spirit of astronauts--exploration, experimentation, "pushing the envelope," looking to the future.

The seed for the design was planted when the Astros unveiled their current unis over 10 years ago.  I hated that design, but only because it looked better-suited for a team whose theme was "the Old West," not "astronauts."

You may recall that I've entered in a Uni-Watch contest before; my Tigers road jersey concept ended up finishing 13th out of 94 entries in a 2010 contest.

Without further ado, I give you my design concept. Click on the picture below to see it in full size. Further down this blog entry is an explanation of various details in my concept.

Cap logo: I've liked the star with the two sides missing since it debuted in 1995, but the first two renditions (1995-99, 2000-present) missed the mark. The first one looked way too much like the logo Lockheed Martin was using. The second, well, it didn't look too distinctive at all. And both were missing the all-important "H" for Houston that the 1965-1994 Astros had on their caps--such an omission would be fine if it was a team that was looking to move elsewhere, but the Astros, obviously, aren't. I wanted to bring that "H" back. I also wanted a star that was flying upwards like a rocket to match the "onward and upward" future-minded spirit of the space program. I hope that the upwards-shooting star doesn't remind anyone too strongly of a certain series of NBC public service announcements. Heck, the far left side of that upwards-shooting star may even remind some of the left end of the airfoil you see in the classic (and current) NASA logo.

Wordmarks/numerals: The font is derived from a font you have already seen from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Pepsi (late 1980s) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99). (That font definitely enhances the future-minded look I wanted to capture). I added some blocky serifs to it to give it a "Texas accent," and it may even remind you of the "HOUSTON" wordmark that the Astros once used on their road jerseys (1965-74). The wordmarks on the home and road jerseys swoop upwards--kind of like the Planet Hollywood logo or the logo the Seattle Sonics used in the 1990s--to match the upwards-shooting star and enhance that "onward and upward" spirit.

The proof is in the piping: You knew that the "tip of the cap" to the "tequila sunrise" jerseys had to come in somewhere. I never considered using the 1975 "tequila sunrise" design as a base for my design; still, those orange-and-yellow stripes are a part of Astros' history and I wanted to incorporate them some way. So after much deliberation, I decided to give that tribute in the form of piping--namely, three-striped piping (similar to the blue-red-blue piping you see on the Atlanta Braves' jerseys) made from the Astros' new colors: Navy blue, bronze and gold.

But wait, Mark, did you say "bronze and gold"? I didn't want to use orange and yellow; not when their metallic equivalents are available here in the 21st century. Bronze and gold go so well with navy blue and they shine like the stars (OK, maybe that last part sounded corny). Besides, metals are tough and yellow is a color you often find on bruises. The upwards-shooting star is also bronze and gold to add to that aforementioned "tequila sunrise" tribute.

So there you have it. I'd love to see these unis become solid reality next year, but as I said, it's not an official contest. For all I know, the Astros may have already shelled out mucho dinero for some sports marketing firm to come out with turkeys like the ones they brought out 12 years ago. I wonder why sports franchises even bother. The Uni-Watch community is so much smarter and could provide a whole slate of design concepts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Volume 7, Number 7: Ramen Noodles — The End of an Era

Like most people, I discovered ramen noodles when I was young and didn't know better.  They appealed to two of my core values:

  • Self-reliance: I loved the idea of making my own hot lunches without having to hassle my mother (so I was willing to try anything that had easy-to-follow microwave directions on the package), and
  • Frugality: I also loved the idea that you could get a hot lunch for less than the price of a postage stamp

I don't know what appealed to me the most about them—the texture of the noodles, the taste, or the price—but whatever it was, after trying and liking them, I was determined to try every flavor there was (except "mushroom", because I hate mushrooms), and when I started living on my own, I had them at least once every week (usually on Saturday; during my college years, I'd often find myself watching college football and eating ramen at the same time, so ramen wound up being a Saturday tradition).  I even pined for different flavors that don't presently exist.

But ramen noodles have a few problems:

  • Like most cheap foods on the market today, they're not very substantial.  They're almost 60% carbohydrates, which leads to one of two undesirable results: One, if you take in more carbs than your body can burn, the excess carbs get converted into fat; or two, your body does burn them but you end up feeling hungry a lot sooner than if you had taken something more substantial.
  • They have some fat in them, too.  For example, the Lime Shrimp flavor has 7 grams of fat per serving (so roughly 16% of that serving is fat).
  • And there's a lot of salt in that flavor packet.

I was ignorant of those drawbacks up until recently.  I realized that I had successfully lost weight by cutting way back on carbohydrate-heavy junk foods and switching from regular soda to diet, and late last year, I began cutting way back on pre-sweetened cereals.  But even then, I had stuck with ramen every Saturday.

Until last Saturday.  The last package of ramen I had was my undisputed favorite flavor, Maruchan's Lime Shrimp.

So long, ramen.  I may have you again when you come out in some new flavor (like "pizza" or "barbecue chicken" or "pepper steak" or "prawn cocktail").  Just so I can have the comfort of having tried that flavor.  But besides that scenario, that's it.  There are plenty of cash-strapped college students the world over to enjoy you anyway.

Next on the list to be phased out are these other high-carbohydrate, high-sodium soups that I happen to have in my house:

  • Campbell's condensed soups
  • Mrs. Weiss' Kluski Noodle Soup (another childhood favorite)
  • Lipton Noodle soups (yet another childhood favorite)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Volume 7, Number 6: A Quick Take on Interleague Play in Baseball

I liked interleague play better when it wasn't always NL East vs. AL East, NL West vs. AL West and NL Central vs. AL Central. When Major League Baseball introduced it in '97, I thought there would be a rotation where, for example, the AL Central would play NL Central teams one year, NL East teams the next, and NL West teams the year after that. The lack of such a rotation is why the "novelty" of interleague play has been wearing off. Did you know...

  • that Johan Santana has not pitched in Minnesota since the Twins traded him to the Mets?
  • Or that Cole Hamels has NEVER pitched at Comerica Park?

The aforementioned divisional rotation would have kept the novelty element alive.

Take my Detroit Tigers, for example. They get to take on the Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Astros, Cardinals and Cubs. And this ho-hum arrangement goes on year... after year... after year. (Occasionally the Tigers will swap a series against the Astros with the Texas Rangers, so that the Astros and Rangers could meet each other in an all-Texas interleague series while the Tigers face some NL West club that otherwise would have faced the Rangers, but that's about it.  And even the prospect of the Tigers facing that one NL West club will die away when the Astros move to the American League next year.)

So, Bud Selig, could you please bring that divisional rotation back to interleague play?  Thanks.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Volume 7, Number 5: The Detroit Vipers 2012 Draft — Behind the Scenes

As you may know, I'm in a highly competitive, 16-team dynasty fantasy football league called TUFF (Todd's Ultimate Fantasy Football).  One thing about being in a dynasty league means that every May since 2001, I and the owners of the other 16 teams take on the challenge of evaluating and drafting offensive players that went in the previous month's NFL Draft.  I already published a wrapup of all 64 picks made in this year's draft, but I thought I'd tell you some things not already in that wrapup about how and why I made the picks I did.

Even though my Detroit Vipers doubled their win total last season, going from 3-11 to 6-8, I actually felt that my team had more holes at the end of the season than it did before.  The main reason was that my wide receivers, as a whole, did not play like I thought they would.
  • I expected Mike "Product 19" Williams and Jacoby Ford to do at least as well as they did in their rookie campaigns.  They did not.
  • A few wideouts that I thought I could count on for backup turned out to be worthless.
  • The most galling part was when Randy Moss, who I thought would enter 2011 with a chip on his shoulder and a slice or two of humble pie in his stomach, decided to retire instead.
These issues meant I really had a third area on my roster that need improving, rather than just the two I usually have (QB depth and RB depth).

There was a bright side to having one more hole to fill: A greater likelihood that I could fill a hole in Round 1 just by taking the best available player, instead of having to reach to fill a need.  The catch is, I had the sixth pick in that round, and there were only four players that I really wanted:
  • QB Andrew Luck.  He was ready to play in the NFL a year ago.  He probably would have been better than Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, John Beck and Rex Grossman if he had been in the NFL a year ago.
  • QB Robert Griffin III.  The #1 reason Baylor went from "a Conference USA program in Big 12 clothing" to a bowl-eligible team in back-to-back seasons, and last year's Heisman Trophy winner.
  • RB Trent Richardson.  As close as you can get to "the total package" among this year's rookie RBs; however, I already knew that he would be gone at 1.01.
  • WR Justin Blackmon.  Another player who could have gone pro a year ago, he is only the second WR to have two Fred Biletnikoff Awards (given to the nation's best college WR).  In each of the last two years, his receptions, yards and TDs were more than double that of any Oklahoma State receiver, which tells me that even when opposing defenses knew that Blackmon would get the ball a lot, he could still produce.
In order to land Luck, Griffin or Blackmon, I would need Richardson and two other running backs to land in very good job situations.  Running backs are gold in this league (because you have to start two, no matter what), and more often than not, the teams that win the TUFF Bowl are the ones with at least one "bellcow" back.  Bad teams need them just to compete.  Competitive teams that have one are looking for that second back to turn them into TUFF Bowl contenders.  The end result is that running backs go higher in the TUFF Draft than they do in the NFL Draft, pushing potentially better quarterbacks and wide receivers to lower picks.

So I spent the NFL Draft weekend hoping a few backs would end up in great job situations, just as I did in 2010 ("Damn you Vikings for taking Toby Gerhart — you should have let the Patriots take him!" / "What, the Seahawks passed on Jonathan Dwyer again?!?").  Long story short, two did—Doug Martin (Boise State, to the Buccaneers) and David Wilson (Virginia Tech, to the New York Giants), both at the end of Round 1 of the NFL Draft.

Still, I was concerned that I still might not get Luck, Griffin or Blackmon.  The first five picks could have gone something like Richardson-Martin-Blackmon-Griffin-Luck.  But the Carolina Convicts took Martin at #3, instead of Blackmon.  I felt relieved at that point.  But that was nothing like the relief I felt when there was a delay on pick #5, held by the Pittsburgh Big Papas.  Why?  Because the more I waited, the more I realized that Pittsburgh was interested in trading that pick.  And the more I thought it over, the more I realized that Tennessee, with the extra picks they had in Rounds 1 and 2, and their need to improve depth at running back, would be an ideal trade partner for Pitt.

Turns out, that's exactly what happened: Tennessee traded up to get Wilson, and Pittsburgh got the 9th and 16th picks.  More to the point, I got my man at 1.06 in Blackmon—he could go right into my starting lineup.  Everyone was happy.  Upgrade at wide receiver—check.

On to Round 2.  This round was another pins-and-needles affair for me because I didn't think that anyone I targeted with my pick in that round would last that long.  But out of the players I hoped would fall my pick, two did.  One was QB Brandon Weeden and the other was WR A.J. Jenkins.  And frankly, I needed better QB depth in the worst way.  I have Ben Roethlisberger and not much else; I drafted Jimmy Clausen two years ago to replace Chad Pennington, but (long story short) he has not worked out so far.  And I don't think the Browns would have spent the 22nd overall pick on a 28-year-old QB unless they thought he could start for more than just a few years.  Yes, Weeden is almost as old as Roethlisberger.  Yes, the Browns are a bad team.  But when Roethlisberger is out, I'd rather start Weeden than Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch.  Backup quarterback—check.

I thought I might go for another wideout in Round 3.  I liked T.Y. Hilton and Marvin Jones, but other teams nabbed them, and I wasn't crazy about any of the running backs still available.  So I went back to the Excel spreadsheet I keep of all the players I've been tracking (many since last August) and worked on determining who the best available player might be.  And in the end, I went with tight end Dwayne Allen, even though a) I don't need a tight end—I already have Jason Witten and Zach Miller—and b) Allen will have to share receptions and TDs with fellow rookie Coby Fleener on the Colts.  I considered wide receiver Juron Criner to improve my wide receiver depth (for reasons I'll discuss in the next paragraph), but like I said, wideouts are such a crapshoot at this stage of the draft anyway, so I figured I'd take the better talent in Allen, who was the consensus #2 tight end in this year's draft.

As my pick in Round 4 approached, I considered taking a running back (you can never have too many of those in TUFF), and looked at other wide receivers (with the resignation that someone was sure to take Criner later in Round 3 or early in Round 4).  But something I didn't expect happened: Criner fell all the way to my pick in Round 4.  His size and productivity were hard to pass up in Round 3.  I was aware that he fell in the NFL Draft for a reason, and people were saying, oh, his numbers are down from 2010, something's got to be wrong with him.  I looked at his game log, and really, only the first half of the season was a downer.  The second half: 49 receptions, 616 yards, 8 TDs.  Having Jacoby Ford to handcuff him to is a bonus (basically, if Ford gets hurt again, as he did twice last year, Criner would be one of the receivers that could stand to benefit from that).  Extra wide receiver depth—check.

So there you have it.  I give myself a grade of A-.  With each pick, I got a player who could have gone earlier than he did, a player with talent and not just potential.

Once again, I just can't wait for training camp.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Volume 7, Number 4: A Sneak Preview of my 2012 TUFF Draft Wrapup

Update: I have posted the whole 2012 TUFF Draft Wrapup here.

As some of you may know, I'm in a highly competitive, 16-team dynasty fantasy football league called TUFF (Todd's Ultimate Fantasy Football).  "Dynasty," the uninitiated among you are entitled to know, means that whoever you draft, you get to keep for as long as you want.  One thing about being in a dynasty league means that every year, I and the owners of the other 16 teams take on the challenge of evaluating and drafting the best college football players going to the NFL.  This draft takes place every May (about a week or so after the conclusion of the NFL Draft).

As part of my draft process, I take notes on various players so I can figure out which ones I should or should not draft.  Then, as the draft unfolds, I find myself reacting the same way that I do as the NFL Draft proceeds: Wow, this guy's a steal; Whoa, that's a reach; and Oh, I didn't expect that team to take that player at all.  About eight years ago, I shared my thoughts on that year's TUFF Draft with the other 15 teams' owners and they really liked it, and I enjoy doing it, so it's become an annual tradition.  I'm posting it tonight, but I thought I'd give you a sneak preview here, with one of my own picks (38th overall out of 64 picks).  Check it out...

3.06 Detroit Vipers — TE Dwayne Allen

In the real world: Todd McShay said last October: "Allen has burst on the scene with good production this season. He has legit size for an inline tight end, and his speed and body control could help him become the top tight end on the board." His is an example where talent and job situation don't seem to meet very well; he has the talent and tools to be an every-down starting tight end, but not with the Colts, who took Coby Fleener a round earlier. (Then again, I thought Brandon Pettigrew's job situation got messed up after the Lions picked up Tony Scheffler, but Pettigrew's been getting his share of receptions and TDs.) While it is assumed that Coby Fleener will get more looks from Andrew Luck by virtue of 1) being drafted earlier than Allen and 2) having worked with Luck at Stanford, last time I checked, the head coach's name is not Andrew Luck, and the offensive coordinator's name is not Andrew Luck. Besides, draft position goes out the window once the season starts (just ask WR Bryant Johnson, who was drafted a round earlier than Anquan Boldin in 2003, and we all know how that turned out).

In the TUFF world: Even though I don't need a tight end—I already have Jason Witten and I plucked Zach Miller out of the Dallas Junglehawgs' garbage last year—Allen is the most talented player on the board and has arguably as good a job situation as anyone still on the board. It all depends on how well he and the other players fit Bruce Arians' offense. I may need depth at wide receiver more, and one can never have too many running backs. But I just couldn't pass up this talent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Volume 7, Number 3: 8 Selected Lions Draft Decisions (and What I Wanted Them to Do)

With the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft taking place tomorrow night, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the decisions the Lions have made over the last 22 years (focusing more on the past 10 as I have followed the draft more closely in those years).  The Draft is a lot like Christmas (or Hanukkah)... you have expectations but you know that not everything you get will be what you wanted.

1990 (7th overall pick)
Drafted: QB Andre Ware (Houston)
I wanted them to take: LB James Francis (Baylor)
Why: The Lions had not had anything remotely resembling a pass rush since they traded DE Bubba Baker in 1983.  They even wasted the fifth overall pick in 1987 on DE Reggie Rogers, hoping that he would revive the "Silver Rush", only to register more negligent homicides (3, in a 1988 drunken driving accident in which he ran a red light) than career quarterback sacks (2).  And the Lions already had three quarterbacks--Erik Kramer, Bob Gagliano, and Rodney Peete, a guy that I thought was a big-time steal by the Lions in Round 6 of the 1989 Draft, and had already won 7 of his first 19 starts for a Lions team that was still digging its way out of the Darryl Rogers Era.
The final story: Francis may not have been the perennial Pro Bowler I thought he'd be, but consider this: If the Lions had drafted Francis, who racked up 8 sacks in his rookie year for the Cincinnati Bengals, then three years later, they might not have traded a first-round pick to New Orleans in 1993 for Pat Swilling, who basically played the same position as Francis--outside linebacker.  As for Ware, there was no need whatsoever to use a first-rounder on him.  The Lions were the only team in the NFL using the Run n' Shoot offense and it wasn't working at the time; Ware only fit that kind of offense and there was no indication that any other NFL team was interested in him.  Ware turned out to be a huge bust.  Peete, meanwhile, went 6-2 for the Lions in 1991.  (Why they didn't stick with him the way, say, the New York Giants stuck with Phil Simms, I'll never know.)  Oh, and about that first-rounder Detroit dealt to the Saints--they used it to take offensive tackle Willie Roaf, who went to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was elected the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

2002 (3rd overall)
Drafted: QB Joey Harrington (Oregon)
I wanted them to take: CB Quentin Jammer (Texas A&M)
Why: I thought Mike McMahon merited a longer look as the Lions' QB, and besides, if he failed, there was always Byron Leftwich (2003) or Ben Roethlisberger (2004).  Meanwhile, the Lions' secondary had been a mess for the better part of the previous ten years, dating back to when William Clay Ford let CB Ray Crockett and SS William White walk.  Shut-down corners are hard to come by.
The final story: Harrington showed a thin skin as the Lions' QB, and looked about as fit for that role as Genevieve Bujold did playing Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.  (Main difference is, Paramount was quick to re-cast the role, handing it over to Kate Mulgrew.  The Lions' coaches weren't so quick.)  Jammer was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with the #6 pick, and while he may not have lived up to that draft status, at least he's still playing.  He has 18 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries to his credit over the last nine years.

2004 (originally 6th overall)
Drafted: WR Roy Williams (Texas)
I wanted them to take: I would have been equally happy with Williams, TE Kellen Winslow II (Miami-Fla.) or FS Sean Taylor (also Miami-Fla.); the Redskins took Taylor with the 5th pick
Why: Even after taking WR Charles Rogers in 2003, I thought the Lions needed every weapon they could get on offense, and adding either Williams or Winslow was a sure-fire way to get the offense going.  With Taylor off the board, it would have been tough to decide between Williams and Winslow, but the Cleveland Browns made life easy for the Lions and me by basically giving away a second-round pick (37th overall) just to flip-flop the 6th and 7th picks.  On top of that, the Lions traded up from their spot early in Round 2 for a late first-rounder, which they used to select RB Kevin Jones, the second-best RB available in the draft, and one of the speediest.
The final story: Williams stopped playing at a Pro Bowl level just three years into his career, and Martin Mayhew (who replaced Matt Millen after Ford sacked Millen in 2008) dealt him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-rounder and a third-rounder in 2009.  Jones became injury-prone in Detroit and wound up out of the NFL after five seasons.  Sean Taylor, rest in peace.

2005 (10th overall)
Drafted: WR Mike Williams (ex-USC)
I wanted them to take: LB Derrick Johnson (Texas) or OT Alex Barron (Florida State)
Why: The Lions had two big-play wideouts in Rogers and Williams, and a very good #3 receiver in Kevin Johnson, whom the Lions had recently signed in free agency.  They had two promising linebackers in Tedy Lehman and Boss Bailey; problem was, they were never able to fulfill that promise because they were injury-prone and no one in their right mind could expect them to stay healthy.  Their offensive line was a problem as well; they had just lost right tackle Stockar McDougle to the Miami Dolphins (also via free agency) and their left tackle, Jeff Backus, just was not a left tackle.
The final story: The Lions went and threw me the curveball of all time.  Williams, who did not play college football in 2004 due to the fact that he hired an agent that year (which itself was based on the assumption that he would be eligible to go pro in 2004, which turned out not to be the case).  He came in overweight and out-of-shape.  Worse still, Rogers turned out to have substance abuse issues--I thought the Lions had looked into that when other members of the 2002 Michigan State Spartan football team had those issues--and that was when Millen turned to Rogers instead of his original first choice (defensive end Erasmus James from Wisconsin, who himself would be a bust with the Minnesota Vikings, who took him with the 18th pick).

2008 (originally 15th overall)
Drafted: OT Gosder Cherilus (Boston College)
I wanted them to take: RB Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois)
Why: The Lions made it no secret that they were looking for a new running back after cutting the injury-prone Kevin Jones.  But it was too early to take Mendenhall, who really only had one great year at Illinois so he didn't have enough of a "body of work" with the Illini to be worth using a mid-first-rounder on him.  So when the Lions struck a deal with the Chiefs to move down from 15th to 18th, I thought that maybe Matt Millen would do something right for the first time in at least a few years (I still thought 2004 was a good draft, even if Roy Williams and Kevin Jones hadn't lived up to their draft statuses).  Three picks later, Mendenhall was still on the board, and Millen was about to look like a genius.  Then he took Cherilus.  Did any of the other NFL teams have him that high on their draft boards???
The final story: Mendenhall went to the Steelers, where he has played well (up until he tore his knee a few months back, anyway).  Cherilus is merely a serviceable right tackle with a propensity for false starts.  The Lions did address the running back issue by moving up in Round 3 to take Kevin Smith out of Central Florida, but like his predecessor, Smith quickly proved to be injury-prone, and on top of that, inconsistent as a runner.  He was brilliant against the Carolina Panthers last year, but then the following week, he got hurt again.

2009 (20th overall pick)
Drafted: TE Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma State)
I wanted them to take: OT Michael Oher (Ole Miss)
Why: Why take the 5th-best offensive tackle over the best tight end?  I can sum it up in three simple words: Supply and demand.  The 2009 draft, in my opinion, was very rich at tight end and I figured the Lions could address that position later (I admit that I would have taken Shawn Nelson out of Southern Mississippi with the 82nd overall pick in Round 3; he wound up going early in Round 4 to Buffalo).  Meanwhile, the Lions, coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, had just used the first pick--and $42 million in guaranteed money--to take QB Matthew Stafford, so why not protect that investment, and do so using one of the picks they had basically swiped off the Dallas Cowboys in the Roy Williams trade the year before?  Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side, looked the part of a franchise left tackle, and you knew you weren't going to get someone of his caliber in Round 2, let alone Round 3.  He went to the Baltimore Ravens with the 23rd overall pick and I thought Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome got a big steal.
The final story: Here's one pick where the Lions made the right decision.  Oher played at left tackle for Baltimore in 2010, but not well enough and he went back to right tackle last year--not exactly what I thought he would do.  Pettigrew is the all-around tight end that NFL teams really want--one who can block as well as receive--and he has played in all 32 games over the last two seasons.  As for Nelson--the guy I wanted Detroit to pass up Pettigrew for--he didn't even last a year and a half for the Bills.  Mea culpa.

2010 (2nd overall pick)
Drafted: DT Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
I wanted them to take: Suh
Why: Suh was a game-changing monster who single-handedly took Nebraska to the Big 12 championship in 2009, and nearly won it for them.  He had as many sacks that year as Gerald McCoy (also a defensive tackle, and the 3rd overall pick by Tampa Bay) had in 2008 and 2009 combined.  And Mayhew did not look this gift horse in the mouth.  Some of you may ask why I would not have considered OT Russell Okung, the top offensive tackle in the draft, Suh was the reason.  Nebraska was a sub-.500 team without him.  Anytime you see a player make that kind of impact, you don't pass him up.  Ever.
The final story: Suh has been a big reason why the Lions went from losing 30 games in 2008-09 to winning 10 (and going to the playoffs for the first time since 1999) last season.  I am grateful that the St. Louis Rams passed him up with the #1 overall pick--they could have had Suh in Round 1, then nabbed either QB Jimmy Clausen or QB Colt McCoy to open Round 2.

2011 (13th overall pick)
Drafted: DT Nick Fairley (Auburn)
I wanted them to take: CB Prince Amukamara (Nebraska)
Why: The Lions were already on their way to building their defensive line in 2010 with Suh and free agent acquisition Kyle Vanden Bosch.  The secondary, on the other hand, was still the same train wreck it had been in 2002 (the year I wanted them to take CB Quentin Jammer).  A good secondary covers opposing receivers well enough to buy time for the defensive line to break down the opposing offensive line and get to the quarterback, either sacking him or forcing an interception.  And Amukamara came recommended by Mr. Suh himself.
The jury's still out: Both Fairley and Amukamara had injuries last year, so it's not clear as to how well Amukamara would have played for Detroit last year.  You could argue that the Lions took "the best available player," especially considering that he was a candidate to be taken much higher in Round 1.  Amukamara fell to #19 to the New York Giants.

So there you have it. I'll go on record right now as hoping that the Lions get CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) or maybe even OT Riley Reiff (Iowa) tomorrow night.  But based off the last three drafts, if neither man falls to our pick--the Lions haven't picked this low in ages--I trust that Martin Mayhew will take the best available player, so if he doesn't get a cornerback or an offensive tackle, I'll understand.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Volume 7, Number 2: My First Tablet

Ten years ago, I had my first PDA--a Palm IIIxe with 8 MB of memory--and fell in love with it.  Here was this e-book reader/portable gaming device/occasional notepad that you could hold in your hand.  It was great for reading in bed, killing time with a game of Yahtzee or Mille Bornes, or that occasion when I had to jot down the name of a song (or at least some of the lyrics) so I could Google it on my home computer later.

I thought PDAs were the ultimate in portable computing. Like most other PDAs, in order to download stuff to the IIIxe, you would have to download it to your PC first, then transfer it to the PDA (usually by means of a cable). Sure, a few years ago, "smartphones"--basically cell phones with PDA functionality--were coming out and they could download stuff without any wires, but only obscenely rich people had those, right?

Besides, I hated smartphones for another reason. I hardly ever use my cell phone--it's there for me in case of an emergency (e.g. if I have car trouble and need to call AAA, or if someone needs to call me while I'm away from home). For that reason, I use a prepaid cell phone. Getting a smartphone would have entailed paying out the nose for a cellular service contract.

Tablets came out a couple years ago, of course, led by Apple's iPad, an overgrown version of the iPod Touch. Or was I the only person who read that? And wouldn't people rather want a computer they can hold with just one hand? Tablets have the same advantage over the old PDAs that smartphones did, obviously--the ability to download stuff anywhere you had WiFi. Oh, but up until January 2011, I didn't even have WiFi. I mistakenly thought only smartphones and other rich people's overpriced toys had that. Nope--all you need is to hook your existing high-speed Internet service up to this thing called a wireless router and voila, you have WiFi. My brother Josh gave me one that he had lying around, and so I got WiFi as well.  Thanks again, Josh!  :)

So, did I consider getting a tablet of my own, to fill the void the Palms had once filled (e-book reader, portable gaming device and occasional notepad)? Until a week ago, nope. Most tablets are still ridiculously expensive. And I wasn't about to spend hundreds of dollars on a form of computing that I didn't know much about and had been skeptical about for years.

A week ago, however, an eBay seller called 1saleaday had some "factory-refurbished" Pandigital Novel tablets on sale for $50 a pop. Obviously, Pandigital isn't the reputable maker of electronics that Motorola and Samsung are, but seeing as it ran the Android operating system (which I'm familiar with from my Google TV experience), and its hardware was much more powerful than that now-obsolete-and-hardly-used Palm Tungsten E2, it would be a huge upgrade. Especially if the WiFi worked.

While I waited for it to arrive, I did some research on it:

  • When the Pandigital Novel came out nearly two years ago, its makers thought that there was a market for unsophisticated customers that just wanted an e-reader, and nothing more; thus, they saddled it with firmware that both limited what it was capable of and failed to take full advantage of the hardware. They also sold it at stores like Kohl's, Dillard's and Macy's, stores better known for clothing, cookware and bedding than for electronics. Once people found out how to hack it, however, Pandigital realized that there was a much bigger market to tap--people who wanted a value-packed Android tablet--and released firmware that included the Android 2.0 OS.
  • But that wasn't the end of it. Some people--amateur software engineers, you might call them--are trying to get their PDNs to run newer versions of the Android OS.
  • Not all PDNs are created equal. They have come out with several different versions with varying degrees of hackability. To my great fortune, the one I received is one that is very easy to hack (the original white version).
  • Like most technology, the PDN's price has steadily slid over time, from $200 when it first came out in June 2010 to $114 last Memorial Day to $69 last Black Friday (and of course, $50 last Thursday).

Yesterday, I received my PDN.  And in just hours after getting it, here's what I've done with it:

  • Upgraded the operating system using the hack found in this SlateDroid online forum thread***
  • Upgraded the internal memory card from 1GB to 8GB (thanks to another present from Josh--an 8GB microSD card)
  • Got it to play streaming YouTube videos (the video quality may not be great and the audio's a little out of sync, but you can't have it all)
  • Installed a bunch of apps that were not originally installed on the Novel (Amazon Kindle, Amazon AppStore, Android Market, Dolphin HD Browser, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Gmail, TuneIn Radio, which lets you listen to thousands of radio stations from across the country and around the world, and so on)

*** The sort of hacking is not recommended unless you've read everything you can about hacking the PDN, such as this wiki. Do so at your own risk. Doing so voids your warranty and it is your responsibility if you decide to proceed this way.

Oh, and I verified that the WiFi works. It cuts out occasionally but that's OK with me. Long-term reliability and durability is still an unknown, but it feels solidly-built, and right now, I'm 1000% satisfied.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Volume 7, Number 1: An Open Letter to Jimmy Clausen

Two years ago, you declared for the NFL Draft a year early with the idea that you would go in Round 1, preferably to a team that would make you its quarterback of the future. It was a sound decision. Charlie Weis had been fired as Notre Dame head football coach, and 2010 was the final year that rookies could command bigger salaries than the ones they get under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the three years that you played at Notre Dame, you played in a pro-style offense and improved year-to-year in three key metrics:
  • Completion percentage
  • Touchdown-to-interception ratio
  • Yards per attempt
Add your size to the mix, and it seemed like you would be a plug-and-play fit for any NFL team that needed a quarterback. I still believe that you could be.

I am well aware that most of what has happened in the last two years was beyond your control. The 2010 Panthers were riddled with injuries at key positions (e.g. RB DeAngelo Williams, OT Jeff Otah) and their defense was subpar. They got the first pick in the 2011 Draft and decided that Cam Newton was too great a talent to pass up, especially after leading Auburn to the National Championship a few months prior to the Draft. They also signed a veteran quarterback in Derek Anderson who was more experienced with new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense, and relegated you to third-string, inactive for every game in 2011.

Through it all, you have kept your head up high and said all the right things. Well done. I could not give you enough credit for that.

Now that Peyton Manning has signed with the Broncos, and they want to trade Tim Tebow, I'd like you to consider asking the Carolina Panthers about a trade to Denver.

And I'm not exactly alone: Scouts, Inc. (the scouting service that grades both veteran and soon-to-be-drafted players for ESPN) says: "He has some tools to build on but could use time as a veteran QB's understudy."

I can think of at least quarterbacks who floundered on bad teams, and then got their careers turned around after backing up a proven veteran on a much better team:
  1. Jim Plunkett, a former #1 overall pick (New England, 1971) whose second season in the NFL was so bad (25 INTs, only 8 TDs) that most NFL fans today would have written him off as a "bum," or a "sunk cost". After seven mostly forgettable seasons, he landed on an Oakland Raiders team that already had a Super Bowl-winning veteran in Ken Stabler, and was third-string behind Stabler and Dan Pastorini for two seasons. Pastorini got hurt and Plunkett took over, and he went on to win two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII).
  2. Steve Young, who joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 after two seasons with the USFL's Los Angeles Express, went 3-16 in two seasons. He played for a team that went 2-14 in 1985 and 1986, and there aren't many NFL teams that lost 28 games or more in a two-year span, so it's plain to see that Young played on a team that was devoid of talent. The Buccaneers, who had deemed Young a bust, drafted a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick the very next year.** Young was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987, where he played behind Joe Montana for four seasons before taking over in 1991. In 1994, Young led the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl title as San Francisco vanquished the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
** That sounds a lot like what the Panthers did with you, huh, Jimmy?

I'd love to add this name to the list:
  • Jimmy Clausen had a rough rookie year playing for an injury-maligned Carolina Panthers team in 2010, going 1-9 in ten starts. He was demoted to third-string after the Panthers drafted Cam Newton first overall in 2011. Carolina traded him in 2012 to the Denver Broncos, where he backed up Peyton Manning (who had been released by his long-time team, the Indianapolis Colts, for monetary reasons). After learning under Manning for two seasons, he took over the Denver offense in 2014. Two years afterwards, he led them to their first Super Bowl title in 17 years, as the Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 28-17, in Super Bowl LI.
Dude. It could happen. All you have to do is do what you can to make it happen. But right about now, you're probably wondering, What the heck do I have to learn from Manning?

There are a few areas--all fall under "intangibles"--where you could stand to improve:

  1. Pocket presence. Most of the time that you got sacked, you just didn't see it coming. You have to figure out when the pocket is breaking down so you don't end up in a moment where it already has broken down. Scouts, Inc. said, "He does not always feel pressure, especially coming from the backside."
  2. Public relations. Yes, I must reiterate you did well in that area last year, not complaining about being third-string or blaming this teammate's injury or that teammate's performance for what happened in 2010. Unfortunately, plenty of people in this small world still insist on judging you by the time you arrived at Notre Dame in a limo, or that incident outside a South Bend bar where you got punched in the face. These people, wrong though they are, think of you as a brat with a sense of self-entitlement who rubs teammates the wrong way. That's where Manning comes in. He is a master at PR. I predict that after his NFL career is over, he'll move on CBS' pregame show, The NFL Today, where he'll replace either Dan Marino or Boomer Esiason.
  3. Doing what it takes to be both a leader and a winner in the NFL. This league has ground up and spit out signal-callers who accomplished a lot more for their college teams than you did for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Manning's won a Super Bowl in addition to the national championship he won at Tennessee. Wouldn't you love to pick his brain for his championship experience alone? After all, you once said you planned on being "a gym rat in the film room" before the NFL Draft.

You may be wondering why the heck I'm writing you this letter when I'm from Michigan and my hometown team is the Detroit Lions. That's easy. I'm in a 16-team fantasy football league, and the way that league is set up, the only players you can draft every year are rookies. In 2010, I drafted you over Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy because I need a backup for Ben Roethlisberger. I still think I made the right choice. I don't blame you at all for what happened. Besides, you're not the first quarterback to have a rough rookie season--I already mentioned Plunkett and Young, Troy Aikman took his lumps with a terrible 1989 Dallas Cowboys team, and so did Peyton Manning himself with the Colts in 1998.

Bottom line, your new career pathway has just revealed itself.  Pursue it like a man possessed.  Good luck.


Mark Rabinowitz
Owner/General Manager
Detroit Vipers