Friday, February 27, 2009

Haynesworth Finds Greener Pastures in D.C.

So Albert Haynesworth is gone to the Redskins, who acquire the Titans’ behemoth defensive tackle for $100 million on a 7-year commitment. Haynesworth earns a guaranteed $41 million with the deal.

There are two shorthand ways to think about this:

1. Haynesworth is a premier defensive talent who is just now entering his prime. The Titans lose the heart of their defense, and the Redskins have immeasurably improved their team.


2. Haynesworth has peaked, he has had a history of underachievement, he’s one hyperextended knee away from prolonged periods of inactivity, and the Titans dodged a fiscal bullet of sorts, while the Redskins and owner Daniel Snyder have once again paid out huge money on a risky venture that may very well yield limited dividends.

Haynesworth is talented. He’s listed at 6’6,” 320 pounds, and when he’s on his game, he is a dominant force. For a huge guy, he’s reasonably mobile, and his strength is clogging the middle and disrupting running games. When he’s doing that effectively, he makes everyone around him better, especially linebackers.

Haynesworth will turn 28 on June 17, so he’s young enough to still have banner years ahead of him. Barring injury. Barring his penchant for underachievement. Barring the usual drop-off we see when players get larded with obscene amounts of money (which seems to happen a lot with the Redskins, in particular).

Fact is, it took Haynesworth about five years to hit his stride with the Titans. Plus, if Redskins fans are expecting Haynesworth to terrorize quarterbacks in the fashion of marquee defensive linemen, they can forget about that. In seven years and in 90 games, Haynesworth—who only in his rookie year in 2002 played in every game—has recorded a grand total of 24 sacks.

So where does this event leave the Titans? Not that bad off, actually. The team received surprising performances on the D-line last season from rookies Jason Jones and William Hayes, plus strong levels of play from younger vets Tony Brown, Jacob Ford, and Kevin Vickerson. They still have veteran former All-Pros Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse anchoring the ends. If they can add another promising defensive tackle through the draft or free agency, they have a shot at finding ways to retool their generally successful defensive approach.

What remains to be seen is whether Haynesworth has in fact entered the Twilight Zone of Washington, D.C., where high-priced talent has arrived in droves in recent years, only to achieve at a consistent level of mediocrity.

Media note

Titans radio announcer Mike Keith recently was accorded the Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year Award. Ouch. Must have been another down year for local electronic media voice talent.

Keith is just awful. Nothing grates so much on the ears than Keith when he’s getting all worked up over action on the field, his voice rising to a strange treble-y one-note level, then exploding into his signature cry, “Touchdown, TIIII-TANNNNS!!”

I can’t stand Keith’s play-by-play voice. He renders Titans broadcasts unlistenable after more than about 20 seconds. Proving once again the old shibboleth that it’s better to be lucky than good.

What makes things worse is that we hear Keith’s voice all over the radio as a pitchman for every product under the sun. (He’s very big promoting jewelry stores, especially.) So the small-market guy with the small-market voice and small-market enthusiasm is cashing in big-time locally, his gross overexposure trumped mightily by his vaunted choice position as the Titans’ radio voice.

To be fair, Keith is just fine on his TV gig, “Titans All Access.” That’s because in that forum his voice resides at a consistently conversational level, and he does conduct decent, if softball, interviews.

They say Mike’s a nice guy. I’m sure he is. But I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Da Thom Abraham Show: Nashville Sports Talk Radio’s Answer to Phony Blue-Collar Fandom

Thom Abraham’s been on 106.7, the local ESPN outlet, since the summer of 2007. He has a somewhat sketchy resume as a small-market radio host and also as a high school coach, so the Nashville gig is probably a big deal for him. His career has stretched in its previous, various incarnations from upstate New York to Florida and Alabama, which makes you wonder why he sounds like one of the SuperFans from the old Saturday Night Live sketch. (“Daaaa...BEARS!”)

For the uninitiated, here’s a short glossary of some key SuperFan terms, as used by Abraham, with phonetic pronunciation and translation:

The Glossary of Abraham

“dare”—there, their, they’re
"yer"—your, you're


In order to fully understand SuperFan-speak, you need to see it in action. Here are some examples of how Thom Abraham might use it in his “colorful” radio broadcasts. (Tip: For full effect, pronounce the following really loud and fast):

“I’m tellin’ ya, doze Red Wings are gonna come into da Sommet Center and dare gonna run doze Preds ragged wit-out mercy, and den dare gonna beat dem down in da third period wit dare front line.”

“Den dare’s da case of LenDale White. Da guy’s kinda a bonehead, wit-out any sense of da impact of stomping on dat Terrible Towel.”

“I went down dere wit my good buddy Jeff Diamond. I went dare wit da family and day all had a great time, wit-out any hassles.”

“Dare’s no way da Titans can beat dare opponents. Dare lost wit-out a passing game. Dare gonna lose.”

“Let takes da Preds. Day have no chance to win da division. Day kinda suck right now.”

“Dis is not da first time dat da Preds have tanked in da third period.”

“Dat’s probably da last time dat I’m gonna see Kerry Collins move da team wit-out a running game.”

“Da Titans haven’t been to da Super Bowl since our own Jeff Diamond was in da front office.”

Now, I lived in Chicago for 20 years, and if anyone knows what a Windy City Northwest Side sports-nut Polack sounds like, it’s me. That’s why the SNL skit was so successful: In essence, it was absolutely right on. So one can only conclude, without firm biographical evidence otherwise, that Abraham’s a complete put-on with this stuff.

I recall possibly hearing Abraham once discuss Cleveland as a point of origin, and his bio mentions that he passed “on an opportunity to play football at Ashland College in Ohio.” (Whatever dat means.) So I dunno. Do Clevelanders talk like the SuperFans? More importantly, do guys who’ve spent the bulk of their professional life in upstate New York, Florida and Alabama sound like the SuperFans?

I don’t think so. Which is why one can only conclude that Abraham’s rap is absolute phony-baloney, probably designed to inject a breath of fresh air onto our drawly Mid-South sports airwaves.

But if you want to hear Abraham really let loose in this mode, listen to him when he’s shilling for the local restaurants that sponsor his gig. For example:

“Ya gotta get down dare to Joe’s Sport’s Bar, down dare in Cool Springs. Yer gonna love it. Day got da chicken and da ribs, day got da pork and da beef, day got da burgers and da subs, and day even got a deep-dish pizza dat’ll drive you wild! Plus day got da sides ta go wit it, like da cheese sticks and da French fries and da onion rings, and dat’s not all: Day got 18 kinds a beer dat you can wash it all down wit. Dat’s my favorite place ta watch sports and get myself a great meal ta boot.”

Or, with that menu, as the SuperFan played by the late Chris Farley would say, “I tink I’m ’avin’ a ’eart attack!”

Put-on? Or actual Rust Belt blue-collar guy who digs sports? We'll let you decide. But listen closely when Abraham shills for other, slightly more genteel products. Your more-articulate slip is showing, dude. And dat's all I'm gonna say about dat.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl Weekend Roundup: The Game, the Hall, and a Trivia Quiz for Diehards

Yep, that was a good Super Bowl. Actually, a great one. My pregame prediction was 24-17 Pittsburgh—same as ESPN’s John Clayton—but I was rooting hard for the Cards.

Hindsight’s always 20-20, but maybe if the Cards had taken the gunslinging approach sooner they’d’ve put some early points on the board. They credibly made the pro-forma attempt to “establish the running game,” but in so doing it ended up taking a while for Larry Fitzgerald to get his first catch before he finally caught fire.

I’d have to say the Steelers were definitely the stronger team in the “physical” department, but the Cardinals were pretty damn awesome in some tough defensive situations, and their combative spirit put them in position to win.

It’s easy to hate the Steelers. Their uniforms—the black and the gold—always seem to make them look bigger than everyone else, and maybe they just flat-out are. And somehow Ben Roethlisberger makes plays out of improbable circumstances, and there’s nothing else you can say about that. He’s a “New Age rock ’em, sock ’em robot” figure standing back there like Goliath, and hence a damn good argument for all future NFL quarterbacks to never line up at less than 6’6,” 250 pounds. Santonio Holmes deserved the MVP, too. He was a relentless force, and his timing was impeccable. How that decisive TD pass play came off without one of those athletic Cardinals defensive backs getting a hand on the ball was slightly miraculous.

So the Steelers were good—and lucky. You can’t beat that. (For example, linebacker James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a TD was insane. How could he rumble and stumble that far without a Cardinal running him down sooner? That play changed the game, and even at that the Cards came back to take the lead late. Now, if Harrison doesn’t score...?)

As for Kurt Warner, he remains, for me anyway, the most entertaining QB in the game. When he’s on, he’s great, and his performance this day recalled his amazing seasons with the St. Louis Rams. There’s been much discussion lately about Warner’s Hall of Fame chances. Personally, based on the caliber of his play—raw numbers notwithstanding—I think he’s a lock. No one runs a passing offense like Warner. And if the Cards’ D could’ve held off the Steelers on their last drive, it’s Warner hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Great game. Maybe the greatest of them all.

Hall of Fame Watch

Hall of Fame honors were announced over the weekend, and the most important selection was Bob Hayes, the late, great Dallas Cowboys wide receiver. Hayes’ selection was long overdue, and he had to get a reprieve from the Senior Committee to become eligible a second time for possible induction.

Hayes was the seminal, modern-day, fleet-footed wide receiver, the first guy to stretch defensive secondaries and force the development of the zone defense. No one could cover Hayes one-on-one. He was an Olympic gold medal sprinter before he came to the NFL, and his 11-year career concluded with a 20.0 yards-per-catch average, which is totally unheard of in the modern age of short, dump-off passes and the dinking and dunking that has come with the rise of the West Coast offense.

Hayes won his requisite Super Bowl ring following the 1971 season, which completed a two-year regular season stretch in which he caught 69 passes for 1,729 yards for a crazy 25.1 YPC and 18 TDs. (This was back in the day of the 14-game season, by the way.) And Hayes still holds the Cowboys record for TD pass receptions at 71.

Hayes had fallen into disfavor with Hall voters because of some drug-dealing troubles he had following his retirement. Maybe the scribes got more forgiving once they realized they had voted in Michael Irvin—himself an ex-Cowboy receiver with drug problems (and a guy of questionable character, to boot)—in 2007.

But Hayes is in, and that’s right.

Interestingly, former Eagles/Vikings/Dolphins receiver Cris Carter didn’t make it in this year, and in next year’s voting he’s up against Jerry Rice, who becomes eligible for the first time. Carter’s got huge numbers, piled up over the course of 16 seasons, including 130 TDs and almost 14,000 yards on 1,101 catches. Yet Carter’s career YPC is a puny 12.6, indicative not only of the age he played in—dink and dunk—but also of his status as premier “possession receiver,” a term that I usually interpret as meaning, “Oh, he’s not very fast or elusive and, hence, doesn’t catch many long balls.” Carter did have great hands and he was a pretty tough character. From 1988-2001, he played in every regular season game with the exception of four he missed in 1992. Carter should get in eventually, but to me his candidacy raises the old question: Is the Hall of Fame for guys who played a long time and piled up weighty numbers, or it it for guys whose talent is undeniably superior no matter how long they played?

Others who made it into the Hall were former Vikings offensive guard Randall McDaniel, deceased Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, versatile cornerback/safety Rod Woodson, longtime Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, and also Bills owner/founder Ralph Wilson. The main snubs were Carter, former Vikings DT John Randle, and, by the Senior Committee, former DE Claude Humphrey, who was a good player on mostly forgettable Atlanta teams and probably won’t ever see the Hall now. (Humphrey played in Super Bowl XV with the Eagles.)

The Randle snub is perplexing. Again, it has to do with ability. Randle’s stats are fine—14 seasons, 137.5 sacks—but even those don’t tell the whole story. He was an animal of a player, an extremely nimble and aggressive DT, a position very often filled by chunky dudes whose main task is to clog the middle. Latter-day behemoths like the Titans’ Albert Haynesworth are very good at what they do, of course, but Randle played the position far differently than the typical DT. With his quickness, he raised DT play to a new level. He’s one of those guys who oughta be Hall-bound based on what we saw him do, not merely on what the statistics tell us.

As for Wilson, frankly, I don’t know why owners even go into the Hall in the first place. The guy’s 90 years old, for chrissakes, so why now? Former commish Paul Tagliabue was also denied entry, but again, why should commishes be singled out for the Hall? Or worse, have to go through the voting process and get snubbed? Just seems kinda dumb to me.

Trivia Quiz
Anyway, the season’s over. It was a great one, and the culminating game was a classic. So now we’ll leave you with a little fun and a look back at Super Bowls past. (Answers below.)

1. The 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, then lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 27-17. Who led the Steelers in rushing that season?

a. Bam Morris

b. Erric Pegram

c. Barry Foster

d. Jerome Bettis

2. Three teams have lost 4 Super Bowls. Was it...?

a. Dallas, Buffalo, Denver

b. Buffalo, Washington, Minnesota

c. Minnesota, Buffalo, Denver

d. Dallas, Oakland, Buffalo

3. Almost everyone remembers Scott Norwood for missing a potential game-winning field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV, won by the Giants, 20-19, over the Bills. But who kicked the actual game-winner for the Giants earlier in the fourth quarter?

a. Raul Allegre

b. Chris Bahr

c. Matt Bahr

d. Pat Leahy

4. Besides Kurt Warner—1999 Rams, 2008 Cardinals—who’s the only other quarterback to start Super Bowl games for two different teams?

a. Jim Plunkett

b. Earl Morrall

c. Rich Gannon

d. Craig Morton

5. Only four head coaches have taken two different teams to the Super Bowl. Was it...?

a. Ewbank, Holmgren, Shula, Flores

b. Holmgren, Madden, Ewbank, Parcells

c. Shula, Parcells, Ewbank, Vermeil

d. Vermeil, Shula, Parcells, Holmgren

6. While located in Baltimore, the Colts won only one Super Bowl, following the 1970 season. Who was the head coach?

a. Weeb Ewbank

b. Don McCafferty

c. Don Shula

d. Ted Marchibroda

7. Which of the the following is not a Super Bowl-winning quarterback?

a. Brad Johnson

b. Trent Dilfer

c. Jeff Hostetler

d. Neil O’Donnell

8. The 1967 Oakland Raiders posted a 13-1 regular season record on the way to Super Bowl II, which they lost to the Packers, 33-14. Who was their coach?

a. Al Davis

b. John Madden

c. John Rauch

d. Lou Saban

9. In their only Super Bowl appearance, the 1994 San Diego Chargers were spanked by the 49ers, 49-26. Who was their quarterback?

a. Dan Fouts

b. Gale Gilbert

c. Jeff Hostetler

d. Stan Humphries

10. The Cincinnati Bengals made their first Super Bowl appearance following the 1981 season. Who was their coach?

a. Forrest Gregg

b. Paul Brown

c. Sam Wyche

d. Bill Johnson

11. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Bengals in that Super Bowl, their very first of five won in the ’80s and ’90s. Who led the 1981 team in rushing?

a. Roger Craig

b. Rickey Watters

c. Ricky Patton

d. Wendell Tyler

12. Which of the following quarterbacks won only one Super Bowl?

a. Steve Young

b. Jim Plunkett

c. Bart Starr

d. John Elway

13. Which of the following Super Bowl-winning coaches has the most regular-season career coaching victories?

a. Mike Ditka

b. Dick Vermeil

c. Tom Coughlin

d. Bill Walsh

14. Who is the only man to have won a Super Bowl as both a player and a head coach?

a. Tony Dungy

b. Bill Cowher

c. Mike Ditka

d. Mike Tomlin

15. Only one player has earned Super Bowl rings with three different teams. Was it...?

a. Charles Haley

b. Matt Millen

c. Bill Romanowski

d. Preston Pearson

5.-d. Vermeil (Eagles, Rams), Shula (Colts, Dolphins), Parcells (Giants, Patriots), Holmgren (Packers, Seahawks)
13.-a Ditka (121)

Mark your calendar: The 2009 NFL Draft is April 25-26.