Friday, January 25, 2008

ESPN Responds...Sort of...

A copy of yesterday's Sports Media America story on Dana Jacobson was forwarded to ESPN. Following is the network's response:

Thank you taking the time to write.

Ms. Jacobson's inappropriate comments were delivered in the context of Notre Dame football and its Touchdown Jesus icon. They were wrong and inexcusable, and she was suspended from her duties. Her uncharacteristic behavior was not aimed at a particular religious faith. They took place at an adult-only roast that was not aired on any ESPN outlet.

We appreciate your giving us the opportunity to respond.

ESPN Viewer Response

Hmmm..."not aimed at a particular religious faith..." Well, there is only one particular religious faith that sponsors Notre Dame football and is responsible for the Touchdown Jesus icon. That's Roman Catholicism. Guess from now on everyone gets a pass based on the "adult-only roast" clause. In other words, if you say bigoted things in a private gathering, then that's more or less okay. Sort of like what happens at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

She should be fired.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Many a Truth Said in Jest: ESPN's Jacobson Strikes a Blow for Anti-Catholics Everywhere

"F**k Notre Dame." "F**k Touchdown Jesus." "F**k Jesus." And with those words, uttered under the influence of tongue- and mind-loosening alcohol, ESPN’s Dana Jacobson has helped to expose the longstanding—but long ignored—American bigotry against Roman Catholics.

Jacobson’s recent drunken tirade at an ESPN roast for the overly ambitious and minimally talented duo of Greenberg and Golic confirms what I’ve suspected for years: that anti-Catholicism is the last unaddressed bigotry in this country.

Blacks? Got ya covered. Decades of attention to righting the wrongs. Jews? Yep, the Holocaust and the evils of anti-Semitism have been drilled into our heads. (PBS programming continues to pile that on, too.) Asians and Hispanics have their advocacy groups. Heck, even Arabs have attempted to combat negative stereotyping pretty actively, and with some success, in the post-9/11 world. With the rise of presidential contender Mitt Romney, there’s been a more open approach to the acceptance of Mormonism. Other examples abound.

Whether it’s an ethnic thing or a religious thing, America and its media always like to jump on the latest bandwagon and show what openness is all about. It’s the American way, after all. We are a melting pot, and we’re all supposed to espouse liberal attitudes about color, creed and nation of origin.

But if you’re an American Catholic, you’re supposed to turn the other cheek, while media hammer on—always with impunity—against the priesthood, the Pope, the church’s supposed “millions of dollars,” its stand against abortion and its male-dominated hierarchy.

Catholics get the short end of the apologist stick. They can’t cry virulent racism like blacks or Jews. At the same time, they remain a bit of a curiosity to America’s millions of Protestants, especially in the South, where Baptists and evangelicals still harbor a lingering suspicion of Catholic practices and beliefs. To narrow minds, if you’re not a black or a Jew, but you’re not in church on Sunday listening to hellfire and brimstone speechifying and thumping your Bible, then you might be a Catholic and you might be suspect.

There are supposedly about 50 million Catholics in the U.S. Those are big numbers, but many Catholics’ regular practice in the faith waxes and wanes. They don’t always go to church on Sunday, and they don’t always drop money into the collection basket. They tend to struggle with the papal stand on many social issues as well, and this has strained their commitment to a church they wish were more “understanding” of human frailty. To be a Catholic is often a work-in-progess type of thing. I know, because I am one.

Yet I would argue that that is the faith’s very strength: its pledge to forgiveness, its mode of penitence, and its willingness to accept its black sheep back into the fold. Disagree with the church’s stand on social issues if you will, but you can’t say that the faith isn’t consistent. If you want a faith that turns a blind eye to abortion or that allows women as priests, then by all means go seek out such an organization. But don’t rag on the Catholic church. They’re doing their thing the best way they know how. They also do what a lot of other groups don’t: commit millions of dollars and (wo)man-hours to ministering to the sick and poor worldwide. So stick that in your vodka bottle, Dana Jacobson.

Jacobson, 36, a Jew from upper-crust Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a grad of the University of Michigan, has been with ESPN since 2002, having joined the ever-increasing fraternity of fellow non-jock Jews, male and female, who fairly dominate the sports giant’s anchor and reporting duties (except for the jocks themselves, of course). Her vile remarks put me in mind that, shortly after the college football season ended, Tony Kornheiser, another Jew, made a negative comment on “PTI” about Notre Dame football. In sum, Kornheiser doesn’t like Notre Dame and he was glad to see them doing so poorly on the field. So what’s with Jews and Notre Dame? (Honestly, just wonderin’.)

According to the Chicago Tribune, Jacobson was suspended one week for her outburst. The Notre Dame response? University spokesperson Dennis Brown was quoted thusly: "While we in no way condone Ms. Jacobson's comments, we're aware of the circumstances in which they occurred, and, in the interest of forgiveness, trust that she and ESPN have addressed the matter in an appropriate way."

No, I don’t think so, Dennis. Sometimes turning the other cheek is a crock. Sometimes forgiveness is not in order. A one-week suspension is outlandishly lenient. Jacobson should be fired. Public drunkenness and an attack on a major world religion have gotten her less a slap on the wrist than the one Kelly Tilghman received recently for her “lynching” remark re: Tiger Woods.

Should the punishment not fit the crime? Let's say a Catholic reporter for ESPN got drunk and proclaimed in public, "F**k Jews. F**k the B'nai B'rith. F**k Moses and his clan." You think he'd last a day more on the job?

It’s funny how we tend to forgive those who say things when they’re drunk. We acknowledge always the altered behavior. But there’s another property about alcohol that can’t be undervalued here: that it often causes a person to reveal their deepest held beliefs and innermost mind-set.

Dana Jacobson, you've offended me. Have a nice day.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tabloid Thinking: Golfweek’s “Noose” Cover Reveals Dimwitted Editorial Reach

ESPN’s Thursday afternoon “Outside the Lines” feature, with Bob Ley, addressed the hubbub surrounding the “noose” cover on the latest issue of Golfweek magazine.

It all started last week, of course, when Golf Channel broadcaster Kelly Tilghman (left) used the word lynch while discussing, with partner Nick Faldo, the steps Tiger Woods’ foes could take to stop him from winning all the time. “Lynch him in a back alley” were Tilghman’s precise words, delivered with a smirk, doubtlessly innocent from the get-go, and clearly intended to be an offhanded—surely tongue-in-cheek—remark. Definitely not a word to be used in reference to an African American, though. I, you don’t use that word anytime unless the context is clear and clearly not potentially offensive.

My first reaction to the story was, “Well, whoever this Kelly Tilghman is—yet another babe that TV sports execs have hired to keep a job away from a knowledgeable non-jock male?—she’s probably really young and has no sense of the historically charged, negative connotation of the word lynch.” She might be so darn young that the idea of strained racial relations isn’t even on her youthful radar screen. Maybe she’s a truly nouveau member of the broadcasting world—from a new generation in which everyone and everything is absolutely color-blind.

It turns out that Tilghman graduated from Duke in 1991. That makes her close to 40. So, yeah, any broadcaster that age, with any brains at all, should be aware that, years ago, racist Southerners lynched black men. (Maybe the subject never got covered in class at Duke? In Durham, North Carolina?) Whatever...

Fast forward to the ESPN show, where Ley interviewed Golfweek writer Scott Hamilton. I don’t know Hamilton’s work, but if he writes anything like he speaks, then he must be one duffer of a journalist. He bumbled his Neanderthal way through an explanation of how Golfweek editors came to the decision to run the controversial cover picture. He stumblingly admitted that there were no African Americans in on that decision either. Ley’s questioning had subtext: Why would Golfweek run such a cover for any reason other than to stir up the embers of an incident that seemed well on its way to being forgotten? (Tilghman had apologized to Tiger. Tiger claimed no offense taken. Tilghman was suspended for two weeks—for being a dummy, presumably, and not a racist.)

According to Hamilton, Golfweek editors, in running with the cover image, were acknowledging the historical racial issues in the sport. Yeah, there used to be some of those. Such as blacks being barred from playing at all. That was a long time ago—though not as long ago as lynchings.

The game has been dominated for a decade now by a black man, and there are up-and-coming stars who are Asian and Hispanic. Frankly, the diversity has helped the sport tremendously. I daresay your average golf fan would love to see yet another black man step up to challenge Tiger—if only because certainly none of the white guys are having any luck. No one wants to see Tiger challenged because he’s black. We want to see him challenged for the same reason we want to see the Chargers challenge the Patriots this weekend. Because it’s good for the game.

And Golfweek ran the noose cover...why? Because a clueless lady broadcaster used an unfortunate verb, and they saw an opening to go tabloid about it to get attention. That’s why.

If only Tiger weren’t so damn good. Then maybe Golfweek could expend its energies publishing cover stories on some of the other players who were beating him.

Interesting that Golfweek’s website does not feature the cover on its home page. But better smart late, than never at all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Conference Championships Weekend: Great Stories with Interesting Angles Abound in AFC, NFC Matchups

While we all scratch our heads trying to figure out why the federal government is spending our hard-earned money holding congressional hearings into major league baseball’s drug problems—Would they bring in the CEO of Ford Motor Co. if a lot of assembly-line workers were taking HGH? Would they haul in Rupert Murdoch if his media conglomerate had a big steroid problem? Didn’t the NFL prove that a major sport can police its own internal business in a systemized and efficient manner?—let’s focus instead on this weekend’s conference championships.

Where to begin with the fabulous story angles? Let’s see, pro football’s best “old” quarterback, Brett Favre, gets a shot at playing in another Super Bowl, while the game’s very best, Tom Brady, goes for 18-0 and the chance at making his fourth Super Bowl appearance. (The latter would tie Brady with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for all-time bragging rights.) The other two QBs, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, were actually traded for each other in 2004, when the drafted Manning didn’t want to play in San Diego. (Remember that?)

Packers RB Ryan Grant faces off against the Giants, the team that originally signed him as an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame in 2005. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson nurses a hyperextended knee, making one wonder if backups Michael Turner and Darren Sproles might not be getting the call. And who knows, they might be getting the ball from Billy Volek, who subbed for the banged-up Rivers (knee) in last weekend’s divisional victory over the Colts. Volek proved resilient in leading the Bolts to a game-winning TD in Indy. He’s a talented QB who’s simply never had an extended trial. With the Titans in ’04, subbing for an injured Steve McNair, Volek put up terrific numbers (218-357, 61.1%, 2,486 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs, 87.1 passer rating). Then, when Vince Young joined Tennessee in ‘06, Volek was deemed expendable and dealt to San Diego.

On the coaching front, we’ve got the crusty grand wizard Bill Belichick of the Patriots, and also the fresh-faced youngster Mike McCarthy of the Packers. But most of the focus will be on the Chargers’ Norv Turner and the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, each of whom has suffered a lot of criticism in their careers. Neither has ever been able to win the big one, though Coughlin made it to two conference championships with the Jaguars. Turner is much-maligned: too soft, cursed with bad karma. Now he heads to New England, against a team making history. We’ll be rootin’ for ya, Norv, if only because your challenge is so impossible. (Oh, a bad name, too. Norv?)

It’s all good stuff. Much better than baseball.

AFC Championship

San Diego Chargers (13-5) @ New England Patriots (17-0)

Sunday, 3 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

The Chargers are pretty banged up. Rivers, Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates (dislocated toe)—the main cogs in their offense—are either questionable, day-to-day, or game-time decisions. If they play, they face a defense that, whatever occasional criticisms it's endured, does not let up and would probably love nothing more than to see Volek have to step in to the spotlight. The Chargers have a very good defense themselves, of course, and if there’s maybe one team around that has the raw talent to pressure Brady with any consistency, it might be the Bolts. Yet even 17 games into the season, it’s amazing how much time Brady gets. And even after the occasional sack, his line just sucks it up and eventually does its job for him. The problem with defensing the Patriots is that, once you’ve accounted for, say, Wes Welker and Randy Moss—challenge enough—then Donte’ Stallworth comes out of nowhere and catches the long pass instead. Or Ben Watson. Or Jabar Gaffney. Conventional wisdom says that Pats RB Laurence Maroney should step up and provide the ground game. He might. Or he might not. Brady & Co. still look invincible. If the Chargers show no ability to match the Pats drive for drive, how will they ever win on a cold, hostile field? Theirs would certainly be a magnificent victory, but a soul-sucking loss looks more likely.

Prediction: Patriots 24, Chargers 13

NFC Championship

New York Giants (12-6) @ Green Bay Packers (14-3)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

Here’s a good question: Why have they scheduled the coldest venue for the later starting time? It’ll be 8:30 at night in January in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when this game’s in the fourth quarter. (Just wonderin’.) Nevertheless, the Giants have a shot here. They’re not playing dominant football, but they’re playing error-less football. If they can stay in this game—they’re an amazing 9-1 on the road this season—anything can happen. The Giants’ D is playing aggressively and getting some turnovers. Eli is putting up acceptable numbers while playing things close to the vest—and it’s working. He has very good receivers—Amani Toomer has a ton of talent, and even though he’s been around awhile, we’re getting a showcase glimpse at his abilities. TE Kevin Boss has stepped up amazingly to replace Jeremy Shockey with no apparent drop-off. We’re still waiting for RB Brandon Jacobs’ break-out game. He’s a truck back there, and even when he hasn’t put up big numbers, he’s proved very useful. On the other side are the upstart, generally youthful Packers, helmed by a 38-year-old QB legend and seemingly in a definite “up” cycle and playing at home before rabid fans. The Pack showed a lot in coming back from a 14-0 deficit against Seattle last weekend. Their defense went into shutdown mode, and with a solid D-line, three young and talented LBs (Barnett, Hawk, Poppinga) and a tough, veteran secondary, they might be getting better. History proves that Favre excels with a running game, no matter how capable he is of carrying a team with his arm. So Grant needs to keep doing what he’s doing: slash through the line for quick gainers and use his speed with the occasional sweep or dump-off pass. If Favre gets the option of keeping the New Yorkers guessing—38 and still the master of the play-action—he’ll try to hook up with his talented receivers (those guys seem to be getting better also). It should be a very good game. If the Giants hang tough, and someone makes a critical mistake... The thing is that, despite their youth, the Packers have been consistent all year long. They don’t play like a Cinderella team. They look like they belong here. Will the big-game atmosphere rattle ’em?

Prediction: Packers 24, Giants 23

Monday, January 07, 2008

Divisional Playoffs Weekend: Home-Field Sweep a Distinct Possibility

If kicker Shaun Suisham doesn’t miss that field goal in last weekend’s Redskins-Seahawks battle, Washington takes a 17-13 lead and has sufficient momentum to knock off Seattle. It didn’t happen. That left us 3-1 on the wild-card predictions. Our pride is a little wounded, but heck, we’ll take a .750 percentage anytime.

We’re looking for the home-field sweep in the divisionals. Too many good teams hosting games and way too much history backing up the value of being a rested, top-tier division winner.

NFC Matchups

Seattle (11-6) @ Green Bay (13-3)/Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

Was that a surprise when the Seahawks dismantled the Redskins last week, or are they really pretty good? Not sure. The home crowd was so loud the Skins couldn’t hear their offensive signals, and were plenty thwarted. Even so, they mounted a comeback, took the lead fairly late, intercepted Matt Hasselbeck twice, and got a good break they should have exploited for a four-point lead with the momentum going their way. The Seahawks have some serious physical players on defense, and if they’ve got any energy left after laying on Todd Collins and Clinton Portis, they could be the key to upsetting the Packers. The voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “The Packers are still untested. Have they matured enough? Exactly how good is this team?” (Yes. I dunno. I dunno.) But they’ve looked very strong throughout the season. They’ve been consistent. Their defense allowed the second-fewest points in the NFC, and their offense scored more points in the conference than everybody but Dallas. There’s no 12th Man for the Seahawks here: Running back Ryan Grant and the Packers receivers will hear Bret Favre barking out the signals, and the Lambeau Field crowd will provide their own positive ambience to aid the Pack D. This could be a tussle, but Pack coach Mike McCarthy looks like a pretty tough guy, and with a 21-11 record in his young career, he’s a rising star. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t have his team ready.

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 24

New York (11-6) @ Dallas (13-3)/Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

The Giants are feeling pretty good about their wild-card victory over the Buccaneers. They get a real test here going into Dallas. The Cowboys didn’t look very good as their season wound down. They looked distracted and got careless. Here’s something else to chew on: Dallas coach Wade Phillips is 0-3 in his playoff career, while the Giants’ much-maligned Tom Coughlin is 5-6 and has taken two teams to the conference championship game. Obviously, if Cowboys QB Tony Romo plays badly, his team is in trouble. The Dallas running game has been MIA recently, and Terrell Owens is rebounding from an ankle injury (presumably better-rested by now). Meanwhile, the Giants‘ offense is probably capable of even better performances, especially if RB Brandon Jacobs has the monster game we think he’s capable of. But all those “ifs” are meaningless if the ’boys simply regroup and focus committedly on the task at hand. They’re the superior team on paper, and they’re at home. ‘Nuff said.

Prediction: Cowboys 23, Giants 17

AFC Matchups

Jacksonville (12-5) @ New England (16-0)/Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

Every game with New England is fun because that perfect record is on the line. The Jags are a talented bunch for sure. Two ways to look at their slim victory over the Steelers last weekend: They almost blew it, or pulling it out is a harbinger of their destiny. Winning on the road is such a difficult thing, however, and yet another journey back home to the South and then back again up to the North, for a game against the Belichick Machine... well, it doesn’t look good. (For those curious about the weather factor, and if the Florida team will have to brave the winter, the temperatures in Boston Saturday should hover between 27-44 degrees Fahrenheit under partly cloudy skies.) If the Steelers could get 29 points vs. the Jags’ D, how many will Brady & Co. put up? On the other hand, the Jags’ D–when it’s hitting on all cylinders—is just the kind of aggressive squad that could disrupt the Pats’ offense. Just say, for instance, that the Jags’ defenders play the game of their lives, and Jax RB Maurice Jones-Drew gets loose in any number of his potential ways. The more I think about it, the... NAH!

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jaguars 17

San Diego (12-5) @ Indianapolis (13-3)/Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

This is a good matchup—if the Chargers come to play. Not sure about them. They’ve got a lot of talent, but as the Titans have proved this year, their offense can be stopped. Peyton Manning will have to be on top of his game ’cause the Chargers’ front seven is very good. Very good. Colts RB Joseph Addai has to reassert his value here. Otherwise, the Colts very quietly finished up an impressive season, and I don’t see Norv Turner outcoaching Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. The Colts are a determined team, and they’ve had to overcome injuries to keep the boat afloat, which they’ve done impressively.

Prediction: Colts 24, Chargers 20

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

They say your ascent to the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States is practically a foregone conclusion. I suppose congratulations are in order. One primary win in Iowa and you have been fitted for an impressive temporary crown, and in fact there are other so-called experts who claim that we’re already breathing the air of inevitability: that you may very well be our next chief executive.

Yet I have one specific question for you that—so far as I can tell from watching the TV news and reading my favorite online outlets—has yet to be answered: Exactly what is your political philosophy, and exactly what will you do to effect this “change” you talk so much about?

We hear about your interest in various issues—health care, the war, energy—in other words, the same issues every candidate attempts to address. Whenever you speak, the words seem to have a rather mesmerizing effect on your audience, and the subsequent excitement evinced by your appearances is characterized as palpable. You’ve been dubbed a phenomenon. No doubt some people think you are a visionary. Yet no one knows anything about what the vision is.

It’s one thing to have words of inspiration thrilling throngs of people desperate for something to believe in. (They might try church or something, but I digress...) It’s quite another thing to actually spell out specific methods of change that will let voters know what the impact will be on their pocketbooks, their personal lives and their sense of security.

It’s interesting to note that Republican candidate Ron Paul comes under criticism for some of his so-called radical ideas, but in fact Paul always explains that his plans—for dismantling the IRS and revising the tax code, for withdrawing troops overseas, etc.—involve transitional periods for everything. Paul has stated that gradual reform is a necessity. You, however, use pretty words and a slick (if appealing) demeanor to declare that there is some kind of broadly sweeping transformation of America coming under your leadership. Yet you tell us nothing about how it will be accomplished.

We have, in these pages, previously accused Hillary Clinton of demagoging the issues. But, in fact, you are out-demagoging the demagogue.

Anybody can talk about change. Lord knows there are many critical issues that need addressing with an eye toward distinctive change. Here are five things many Americans want to see happen:

1. An end to unbridled immigration. Stop the flow inward—absolutely, completely—and then address the issue of what to do with the illegals residing here. Illegals are killing the tax system in California and elsewhere, and they just keep coming.

2. A total reassessment of income taxation and a reduction in the size of the federal government. It’s a cliche, for sure, but middle- and lower-income Americans are getting killed with the rising costs of gas and food and lots of other things. If you keep taking their money to feed the monstrous federal bureaucracy, you will make their lives even more miserable. Instead, if people are going to be miserable, or at least needing to readjust their lives, it should be federal employees. There are too many of them doing non-essential work, many of them being paid more than private sector workers, with secure benefits and health-care plans. The federal government tail should not wag the tax-paying public dog.

3. The end of our dependence on imported oil. This is not only a question of our own economic independence as a nation, it is a question of freeing up our foreign policy. So long as we are beholden to radical and tyrant states simply because they sell us oil, our future is in peril. This requires a multi-pronged, long-range plan (sort of like getting to the moon) that should begin on January 20, 2009. It means having the balls to take on the domestic oil and car industries and tell them to fend for themselves while new technologies are developed for an OPEC-less future. (If you’ve got vision, Barack, you’ll need a ton of it for this one.)

4. The implementation of reasonable solutions to health-care issues. If 43 million Americans are uninsured, that means about 260 million of them have insurance of some kind. Actually, that’s a pretty decent percentage of insured folks, though a great deal of others have insurance that won’t handle heftier bills. This is a monster problem nonetheless, due mostly to the rapacious tactics of health-care providers and insurance companies. Who ever said it was right that doctors and insurance executives should get ultra-rich on the backs of sick people? Certainly there are compassionate compromise solutions to this problem.

5. A responsible approach to the war (which we all know you didn’t create or endorse). Well, it’s not just the war. It’s that the military-industrial complex is sucking all our money out of our domestic economy. I support our troops. I support the troops that we need. What I don’t support is a huge military infrastructure, worldwide in scope and paid for with American tax dollars. Sorry, but like the federal employees, the soldiers will have to be employed elsewhere while rejoining the rest of us workers not on the dole. It’s not that bad a life, really. We have to fend for ourselves a bit, but you get used to it.

There are other things, of course. Social Security. Our escalating trade deficit. Green issues (which suddenly look like nothing when compared to the challenges that really lie ahead).

So, okay, Barack. No more pretty words. No more hyperventilating throngs. No more Oprah. If your specifics for addressing the issues are as practical and logical as the attractive package in which you wrap your rhetoric, I’ll be the first to listen and remain last among the captive audience.

Fisher Deserves Better: Titans Coach Bushwhacked by Ailing, Failing Offense

After Sunday’s 17-6 loss to the San Diego Chargers, one can only imagine what Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher will do when he first finds some quiet, peaceful moments alone. He might sit heavily in his favorite chair, look skyward, close his eyes, and mutter to himself, “Lord, if only I had an offense...”

For the second time in five weeks, Fisher’s squad lost a physical battle to the Chargers, yet another game where his defense had asserted its superiority and shut down LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and the rest of the San Diego offense, only to watch his million-dollar quarterback Vince Young fail to direct the requisite scoring drives that might give his team a decent cushion of points, which a better-rested D would be more apt to protect.

The Titans took a 6-0 lead into halftime. Not unlike the Dec. 9 game in Nashville, which the Titans led 17-3 in the third quarter (and lost 23-17 in overtime), Young continuously failed to work any sustained magic, giving the Chargers’ offense plenty of time to get back in the game and eventually wear down the Titans’ inspired defenders, whose performance brings to mind an old Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “Some Gave All.”

Fisher was quoted after the game saying, "I thought Vince played well enough for us to win. He got banged around a little bit and bounced back, made some throws." If you call 16-29 for 138 yards and no touchdowns “making some throws,” Jeff. You’re way too kind.

Sadly, Rivers began to connect with receivers Chris Chambers and Vince Jackson, and the Tennessee secondary couldn’t play perfectly. LT was still held to only 42 yards on 21 attempts, however, and yet again, all things considered, the Titans’ defense played well enough to win against a well-favored opponent.

Young’s postgame remarks were his usual monosyllabic cliches. He never discusses what kind of looks the opposing defense was giving him. He’s rarely able to articulate how his game plan unfolded—or went awry. There were some holes on the Titans’ offense due to injuries, true. But after 30 games as a pro QB, Young plays with little microcosmic purpose and no apparent sense of overall strategy. He’s like an improv actor being told to get onstage and play Hamlet. Once in a while he gets his lines right, but mostly he flounders, out of his depth. Watching him complete two- and three-yard passes is painful, but moreso is watching him panic in the backfield and then throw an incompletion that probably was ill-advised to begin with.

“Run, Vince, run!” is all I can think of, going against my own firmly held belief that quarterbacks who win—Manning, Brady, Elway, Favre, Montana, Aikman, Bradshaw, Starr, Unitas—do (and did) so because they know how to stand back there and run their offenses. Even the very mobile Elway only ran when he had to.

It even occurred to me to wonder if Fisher would have the balls to yank Young at the beginning of the second half and put in veteran Kerry Collins. Collins is no Unitas, but he’d’ve been a better bet to sustain a drive, or maybe complete a long pass. Fisher stuck with Young, but the possibility of substitution must have crossed his mind.

Fisher is a terrific coach. He doesn’t have half the raw first-string talent of teams like San Diego, Jacksonville, New England, Dallas or Seattle. His philosophy is based on the hand he’s been dealt, which includes about three major defensive stars, one much-ballyhooed but underachieving young quarterback, and a remaining roster of virtual unknowns or re-treads who are willing to give up their bodies determinedly till they’ve got no more to give.

One can only wonder what Fisher might do at the helm of a team like, say, the Washington Redskins, owned by Daniel Snyder, who has absolutely no problem spending his money in order to give his coach options and depth.

Fisher just completed his 14th season at the helm of the Oilers/Titans. His career regular season record is 115-99. He’s made five playoff appearances, including losing the Super Bowl following the 1999 season. This year has been a case-study in the limits to which motivation and strategizing can take a modestly talented football team.

In fact, 10-6 and a first-round playoff loss isn’t bad at all. Especially when you don’t have a playoff-caliber quarterback calling the shots.

Fisher’s future fortunes—surely he’d like to get back to the Super Bowl someday—rest with Young. It’s an interesting but nervous prospect. It’d be a shame to once again waste all that bone-crunching defense while VY gets his on-the-job training.

Meanwhile, Snyder might be looking in a year or so, depending on how long Joe Gibbs plans to extend his Second Coming. You never know.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton

Dear Ms. Clinton,

I’ve been watching you on C-SPAN and other cable news outlets. Today I saw you addressing some New Hampshirites in your typically strident fashion, one day after your disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses. A very strange feeling came over me. I actually felt sorry for you.

I’ve decided to explore these feelings, for my own psychological benefit and also possibly for your own campaign advantage.

Now, it makes no sense for me to want to aid your campaign, since heretofore I have essentially categorized you as a demagogue. Do you know what a demagogue is, Ms. Clinton? The dictionary defines it thusly: “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

Now, how is it that an eggheaded gal like yourself—Wellesley College, and all—could be conducting herself like a demagogue when surely you must be familiar with the word, know what it means, and know that, for most every politician in history except Hitler, it’s been a dead-end strategy. (I guess Hitler ended up badly as well, though he did have a good long run.)

Do you videotape your appearances? Do you go back and look at them? Has it occurred to you that you come across with a kind of determined desperation that is very offputting to the average viewer? If you do not address your perception problem, you are sunk. Now, you may be sunk anyway, but there’s still time to spruce up the medium if not the message.

Yeah, you’re a smart lady. Everyone knows it. We remember those pictures of you in the ’70s, when you were a young lawyer and had those nerd glasses and probably went to parties where people drank Boone’s Farm and smoked a little pot out on the back porch and bashed Nixon. But this is politics, girl, and if you lead with your brain all the time you’re going to relate a sterile message and alienate all those people out there who want you to make them feel good.

Here’s the irony of it all, Ms. Clinton. You’re so desperate to prove you can play with the big boys, that you’ve forgotten what’s great about being a woman—how those female attributes can soften your perception and even make your message seem more caring. And hence way more appealing.

Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that you are incapable of projecting your feminine side. You’ve always been so hell-bent on election, and proving yourself—and so darned proud to be a feminist—that perhaps you have no perspective on what being female can add to your run for the presidency.

Just being a female won’t cut it. Especially now that you are being challenged by an African American male. I know, I know. More irony. Finally, America gets a serious-minded woman on the stump—one with huge recognizability and formidable intelligence—and she has to run into the one buzzsaw that can really undercut her automatic cachet as a woman: a black man with equal and uniquely fresh appeal.

So guess what, Ms. Clinton? It’s time to play hardball. It’s time to play the gender card. That means being unafraid to be a woman. Let us see your gentler side. Shed a brief—but controlled!—tear at your next touching human encounter on the campaign trail.

Here’s another tip: Smile. Like many intense women, you communicate a whole other you when you smile. You’re not a bad-looking lady. You’ve still got a feminine shape and you seem fairly comfortable in it. Don’t be afraid to play that up, either. And don’t stop smiling unless the situation du jour actually demands gravitas.

Like it or not, Ms. Clinton, you are a woman, and that’s your ace in the hole. You seem to have convinced yourself that acting like a man will put you on the level playing field, but you are wrong. In fact, you are not going to be on a level playing field ever, which means that it behooves you to take advantage of your one singular difference over the rest of the players. This isn’t football, thank God. You don’t have to bench-press 300 pounds. This is a battle for hearts and minds. That’s a woman’s game in my experience.

You are a modern woman, Ms. Clinton. We already know you can roar. Now let’s see some of that nurturant lioness. You know, like in those National Geographic specials, where the mother lion takes care of the cubs with loving care but also with totally aggressive zeal, willing to give up her life for her children if it comes to that.

In short, Ms. Clinton, you need to become a human being again. A female human being, with all the creative wonder and surprising energy that we associate with all the women that we love.

The demagogue has to go, Ms. Clinton. And have you noticed that I’ve not once called you “Hillary”? That’s because the media’s use of your first name only is a pejorative gender-buster. Oh, it sounds catchy and clever and almost affectionate, but that is not its ultimate effect. It does not take the mother lion seriously, which is definitely what you want. (Did they ever call Margaret Thatcher anything but “Mrs. Thatcher”? No.)

All the rest—the nurturing, the humor, the personal warmth, the perceived (and actual, we hope) sincerity—is up to you. If you don’t relax your persona—if you persist on giving us a robot programmed to stridency—you will lose. And you will lose very fast.

I can’t help you with your message. As it is, your rap seems woefully absent of specifics. The good news, I guess, is that your opponents seem to have the same problem, which is why the Democratic race for president has become one of persons and not ideas. But at least that might be a race you can still win.

Be our mommy, Ms. Clinton. Be that intelligent, energetic, caring, vivacious, and still attractive middle-aged lady that most of recognize as the good mother of our youths. You seem to have all of that in your kitbag of tricks, but, to quote a line out of the film Mr. Mom, “you’re doing it wrong.”

It’s not too late to get it right, Ms. Clinton.

(You know what else? Get Bill off the campaign trail. Or at least minimize his presence. Not good. Yeah, a lot of people liked him, but, know, this is your race. This is for all the marbles. You need to win it on your own. And you needn’t worry: We’re all too aware that if you win, he’ll be the First Gentleman. But we don’t want to think about that any more than we already do.)

You go, girl!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wild Card Weekend: Sentimental Favorites Have Their Work Cut Out for Them

I grew up in Washington, D.C.—a rabid Redskins fan. Now I hang my hat in Nashville—a rabid Titans fan. Both teams made it into the NFL playoffs as #6-seed wild cards in their respective conferences, and there’s the temptation to place heart before head when evaluating their prospects. But a prognosticator cannot enter the process as a partisan fan. It’s a clear-cut conflict of interest. So now, after savoring the past weekend’s heart-thumping results for the personal faves, we wade in with eyes wide open, the rose-colored glasses safely ensconced in the dresser drawer. If the Titans pull off a surprise victory, I won’t mind having been wrong. If the Redskins lose, I lose double.

NFC Matchups

Washington (9-7) @ Seattle (10-6)/Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST, NBC-TV

The Seahawks both scored more points and allowed fewer points than the Redskins. They were also 7-1 at home, while the Skins were 4-4 on the road. Those are the hard facts that make this seemingly a slam-dunk for Seattle. Yet the Redskins are playing, if not actually dominant football, then certainly inspired football, and sometimes a team like that can will its way to victory. Will Skins QB Todd Collins continue to play practically to perfection? He needs to continue his error-free ways (zero interceptions in four games since replacing Jason Campbell), mainly because he doesn’t have the quick-strike, long-ball capabilities of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. The Skins need to stay in this game from the beginning, continue their aggressive, run-to-the-ball team defense, and hope for another big effort from RB Clinton Portis. Collins has receivers, too, in Moss, Randle El and Cooley. If his offensive line can hold Patrick Kerney and the rest of the Seattle D at bay, he might find some success. Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ running game has been only so-so most of the season, finishing 20th in the league, leaving the offense to ride on the arm of QB Matt Hasselbeck (3,966 yards, 28 TDs). The receiver-vs.-secondary matchups seem to favor Washington, actually, though Seattle’s Engram and Burleson are certainly reliable pros. The Seahawks were rather a mystery team all year, playing in a weak division and quietly going about winning 10 games, but facing only two teams that ended up in the playoffs. (They beat Tampa Bay and lost to Pittsburgh.) Their secret has been home-field advantage and a weak-sister schedule. If anyone’s ripe for the plucking, it’s them.

Prediction: Redskins 24, Seahawks 17

New York (10-6) @ Tampa Bay (9-7)/Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, FOX-TV

The problem with Eli Manning’s good performance against the Patriots in the season-ender is that now he has to go do it again. Consistency is not his forte, and he’s facing a Tampa defense that yielded the fewest points of any team in the NFC. But what if Giants behemoth RB Brandon Jacobs rumbles his way to 100 yards or more? What if receivers Toomer, Burress and Boss come up big for Eli? The talent is definitely there, but you never know with these Giants. On the other side, the Buccaneers lost three of their last four games, and QB Jeff Garcia (a noted Giant-killer with both Philly and the 49ers) is rebounding from injury, leading an offense that has its moments but statistically is unimpressive. Plus, the Bucs won a meager division and posted their barely respectable 9-7 record playing a last-place schedule after finishing 4-12 in ‘06. The Giants clearly have the ability to pull off the road win, and they were 7-1 away from the Meadowlands this season. If their scary-good defensive line can get after (and thwart) Garcia—never an easy task—their chances improve dramatically. If a computer were asked to pick this game, it’d be Giants all the way. But then there’s the human factor. Let’s hope the computer’s right.

Prediction: Giants 19, Buccaneers 16

AFC Matchups

Jacksonville (11-5) @ Pittsburgh (10-6)/Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, NBC-TV

The Jaguars already beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh once this year. They did it in convincing fashion, too. In yet another game where the visiting wild-card entry has a better record than the division-winner host, the Jags appear to be the superior team. Seems crazy to bet against the Steelers on their home turf, but you can’t ignore the Jags’ strengths: a confident, talented QB in David Garrard, an inside-outside running game with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and a hard-hitting defense. Even their passing game has picked up lately. The Steelers, on the other hand, are without RB Willie Parker, and it’ll be up to Ben Roethlisberger to withstand Jacksonville’s rush and somehow connect with receivers. The only things in the way of automatically picking the Jags are the Steelers’ general mystique and the fact that the odds are against anyone beating them twice in one year at their own stadium. A very tough pick, and one we may end up regretting.

Prediction: Jaguars 24, Steelers 16

Tennessee (10-6) @ San Diego (11-5)/Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST, CBS-TV

Laden with injuries, the Titans must make a cross-country trip to visit a team on a six-game winning streak, who also dealt them a serious emotional blow only four games ago back in Tennessee. Somehow the Titans rebounded from that 23-17 overtime loss to capture their final three games, but the victories were ugly and included a mere 10-6 home win over the lowly Jets. If the Titans were healthy, their defense would match up well against the Chargers’ offense, led by an up-and-down QB Philip Rivers. It took LaDainian Tomlinson three quarters to get untracked against the Titans in the previous game, but he should have smoother sailing here. If Rivers can make some decent throws into the bargain, LT could have a field day and it might be over early. Titans QB Vince Young’s health status is day-to-day, but even if he were 100%, he’d still have to contend with the Chargers’ athletic and hard-hitting defense. It’s tough to admit, but it’s true: Young’s been carried this year by an occasionally productive running attack and a stalwart Titans defense that’s been asked to do way too much. If he can’t play, that means 35-year-old Kerry Collins gets the nod, which might not be so bad where the passing game is concerned. Yet that would leave the immobile Collins at the mercy of the Chargers’ front seven, a prospect no Titans fan wants to think about for more than a millisecond. Yep, the Titans finally got back to the playoffs. They’ll soon be one and done.

Prediction: Chargers 28, Titans 9