I’m not saying that the good start of the Bengals isn’t at least mildly surprising, but I think a lot of writers were missing the fact that Carson Palmer hasn’t been a good quarterback in three years. Getting two first-rounders for him is a real coup for Cincinnati.
I came into football awareness in the late 70s and early 80s in Sacramento, California. The choice in football lay between the Raiders and 49ers, and for reasons I can’t fully explain I chose to love the Raiders and hate the Niners. This persisted in spite of the Raiders move to Los Angeles; by that time I identified closely enough with the team that I hated those who hated it. This meant, of course, that I developed a healthy lack of respect for the NFL and for establishment sports media at an early age.
I don’t know much about Davis’ political leanings, although apparently his father was a Taft Republican. The Raiders donated more money to the Democratic Party than the Republican, but this would not be unusual for a team that bounced between Los Angeles and Oakland. Davis did hire the first Latino head coach, and the first black head coach of the modern era. Davis had a reputation for generosity with his players, although this doesn’t mean that he supported any structural efforts on their behalf. Indeed, Davis understood his relationship with the players in personal terms, supporting Howie Long’s devastating decision to cross the picket lines in the 1987 strike. And of course, Davis knew how to hate.
What to say about Davis and Marcus Allen? Davis lost faith in Allen on November 30, 1986, when Allen fumbled in overtime on what should have been the winning drive against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Raiders were 8-4 at the time, but they lost the last four games of the season, including an awful 37-0 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks. It was twenty-four years ago, but I swear I remember the fumble like yesterday; I was crushed in the way that only a 13 year can be crushed. It was very, very easy for me to blame the Raiders’ collapse on Allen, and so on some level I understood Davis’ reluctance to rely on Allen. But then, I was 13 year old; Davis was fifty-eight, and should have known better.
But… The Raiders drafted Bo Jackson in part because of Davis’ skepticism about Marcus Allen, and it turned out that hey, Bo Jackson was actually better than Marcus Allen. Jackson didn’t become a Raider by accident; he was precisely the kind of player that Davis was interested in, and the Raiders targeted him because of the feud. The Jackson-Allen 1-2 punch almost made up for the fact that the Raiders were trying to put together an elite team with helmed by Jay Schroeder, although this was itself a result of Davis’ weird attitude about Steve Beuerlein.
As I understand it, Davis’ player acquisition strategy was guided by an emphasis on athletic ability over demonstrated football skills. The Raiders thus aimed for players of outstanding physical ability, without specifically trying to fill holes in the offense or defense. As a strategy, this seems to have made sense for the first two and half decades of the Raiders existence, and less so afterward. I don’t think that this is accidental; as the NFL (and the NCAA) matured in terms of physical training and scouting, it became harder to find “athletes” who were undervalued because of their lack of skills. This is to say that NFL teams began to appropriately correct for lack of skill in their acquisition, just as the gap covering raw athletic ability narrowed. By the 1990s, the Raiders were drafting players like Ricky Dudley, who had Hall of Fame caliber athletic ability but who couldn’t catch the ball. Under Davis’ influence, the Raiders were never able to update this acquisition strategy.
That said, the thing I hold most against Davis is a departure from the focus on athletic ability, which was the drafting of Todd Marinovich. Not much serious thought seems to have gone into this, beyond the notion that Marinovich was somehow undervalued because of his attitude. Turned out that Marinovich just sucked, and that he didn’t even fit into the Raiders offensive scheme. If there’s one thing I can’t forgive, it’s that Al Davis made me believe in Todd.
Nevertheless, he was a remarkable individual, and football would have been poorer without him.
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I feel like I should be able to make a funny joke here, maybe something about Davis deciding that Satan would make a really fast wide receiver despite his inability to catch. Or maybe something about Davis drinking the blood of live goats. But really, I can’t say too much more than Davis was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of American sport.
After doing this very thing, or more specifically saying that John Boehner playing golf with Barack Obama was like Benjamin Netanyahu playing golf with Adolf Hitler, ESPN has suspended Hank Williams, Jr. from doing his hideous Monday Night Football “Are You Ready for Some Football” intro bit.
As Hank Hill once said, “Hank Williams was the greatest country singer who ever lived. Hank Williams Jr. destroyed Monday Night Football.” Indeed.
Is it too much to hope for that Faith Hill turns out to be a Satanist or something and NBC kills her awful Sunday Night Football intro? This seems like a very reasonable thing to hope for to me.
Also, is everyone else as excited for Hank Jr.’s upcoming Senate bid from Tennessee?
Great WSJ story on how the Cincinnati Bengals completely fleeced Hamilton County taxpayers for their stadium, creating a long-term county budget crisis that is crippling the region. My favorite part:
Given the national economic slump, the county budget would have run into trouble with or without the Bengals deal. But county officials say the cuts are deeper and longer lasting because of it. Unlike most areas of the budget, the stadium can’t be pared.
“It’s the monster that ate the public sector,” says Mark Reed, Hamilton County’s juvenile court administrator.
Like many other items in the budget, the juvenile court has seen its funding slashed—by $13.4 million from 2008 to 2010. It was forced to nix funding for programs like Youth, Inc., which worked with troubled adolescents.
Publicly funded stadiums for sports teams owned by billionaires are always a bad idea, but it seems that Cincinnati civic leaders were extra good at playing the sucker.
But hey, at least the product on the field has been consistently first-rate!
It’s a measure of just how indefensible the NFL lockout is that even Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriter Bill Plaschke won’t defend the owners. Still, to show you what the players normally have to deal with he makes sure to make up for his heresy by kissing some plutocratic ass:
Incidentally, I’ve never been a players’ union guy. I’ve always believed the owners are the ones taking the biggest risk, and therefore should be entitled to the greatest rewards.
The are many words that can describe people worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars buying into (or inheriting into) a lavishly taxpayer-subsidized cartel whose franchises almost always appreciate in value, but “risk” doesn’t leap immediately to mind. And the idea that this involves more risk than athletes risking their bodies for big payoffs that only a minority will receive is beyond absurd. (And, yes, there are some ownership “opportunities” — the NHL in the Sun Belt, whatever sucker wants to bring professional basketball to Charlotte — that involve some risk, but I don’t really see how owners making incredibly dumb decisions should mean that players shouldn’t receive fair compensation.) You can probably predict the next point in advance:
I believe the baseball union has been the single biggest factor in the erosion of the game’s popularity, from the protection of steroid cheats to the joke that has become arbitration and free agency.
The first problem here is with the normative arguments. I’ll take Plaschke’s horror at the idea of players having basic bargaining rights seriously as soon as he agrees to write for whatever provincial paper wants to hire him for whatever salary they see fit and be subjected to continual drug testing. But the bigger problem here is the empirical claim about free agency causing baseball’s “eroding popularity.” Hmm. Let’s compare the attendance per game in the last year before the Messersmith arbitration gave the players some measure of the rights than Plaschke takes for granted with last year:
1975: 15, 403
2010: 30, 116
Mind you, this makes no adjustment for ticket price increases or the expansion to a dozen or so more markets. If Plaschke finds that Jersey Shore is more suitable to his attention span than baseball that’s his privilege, but he shouldn’t assume this is universal, let alone make stuff up in order to act as an apologist for rapacious owners.
Since it came up in comments, this empirical data about the effect of the officiating in Super Bowl XL is useful. Overall, you can read actually the bottom line as ammunition for the “get over it” faction, in this sense: the offensive pass interference penalty on Jackson was the only penalty that was both high-impact and outrageously bad. (And I still I have absolutely no patience with claims that the call was defensible. Incidental shoulder contact that doesn’t prevent the defender from making a play or create separation is — and should — be called roughly 0.0% of the time.) The call on Hasselbeck went beyond bad into surreal, Denis Morel-level stuff — I think it’s reasonable to expect an NFL official to be able to tell the difference between blocking and tackling — but the impact was modest. The Locklear hold, which had a huge impact, is more complex. I don’t think it was a good call, in the sense that it’s the kind of hold will be called less often than not. But it was a de jure hold, and the arbitrary nature of holding penalties is something you just have to live with. It just felt worse because it negated a huge play and occurred in the middle of a series of marginal calls that went against the Seahawks. And the Roethlisberger TD I don’t think was a bad call at all. Or, more precisely, the replay call wall clearly right because there wasn’t definitive evidence, and while I would have said he didn’t break the plane if you asked me to call it one way or the other, given that the replays aren’t definitive it’s reasonable to defer to the official.
So, as I’ll return to in another post, there are limits to how much the Seahawks can complain — it’s not as if the calls put them in a position they couldn’t have overcome, and only two of them were really awful. On the other hand, there’s no serious question that poor officiating (with the addition of the fact that every major marginal call went against one team) had a major impact on the game — which given that the Seahawks lost while outgaining the Steelers by 60 yards and being +1 in turnovers is pretty obvious.
I guess I’ll take the Packers. It’s true that the Steelers survived their offensive line injuries last week, but it wasn’t so much that the Jets couldn’t get penetration as that they missed tackles. Granting that that’s partly Mendenhall…I don’t see that happening again.
…If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the folks at Frito-Lay desperately need a new ad agency.
…And isn’t F-L owned by Pepsi? I’d definitely short the stock of that ad agency if I had any money.
Two good games today, and a good time to reiterate that people who think that playoff football needs to be played in sterile environments in Southern suburbs are nuts.
Packers (-3 1/2) over Bears. The Packers have the best QB in the conference, and a (slightly) better defense. Playing at home and with Hester the Bears are a live dog, but…I have to go with the conventional wisdom on this one.
Jets (+4) over Steelers A gut pick. One could give the same kind of analysis here: the Steelers have (all hand-waving about Sanchez’s playoff moxie aside) a substantially better QB and their defense has actually been better this year, plus they’re at home. Even granting that whether the Steelers defense is actually better is questionable — the Jets arguably have better personnel than in 2009, when their pass defense was historically good — that’s a pretty strong prima facie case. So why do I lean the other way? 1)Given the weather, I think (Jets win + Steelers win by less than 4)>50%; 2)Polamalu doesn’t seem remotely healthy, which I think gives the Jets defense the edge; 3)as we saw last week, it’s hard to beat the Jets if they can get to the QB, and the Steelers offensive line involves too many players who are not very good, hurt, or both (in a game rife with talented assholes, Flozell Adams represents a change of pace — an asshole who also can’t play anymore); 4)I think the Steelers will regret giving away Santonio Holmes. My big caveat we might call the Ghost of Herm Edwards: for all his bluster Ryan is extremely conservative about going on 4th down, and trying long field goals at Heinz Field is suicidal. But even with this, in a game that figures to be low-scoring I can’t leave 4 points on the table.
…Is the Falcons/Bears combo the worst #1/#2 seed pair in NFL history? Has to be in the running. This is a minor issue, w/r to the Bears, shouldn’t a team serious about winning be a little more selective in picking its backup?
Pittsburgh (-3) over Baltimore: I wish it weren’t so, too, but the Steelers have a major edge as well as a major asshole at QB, are home, and it’s not like the Ravens have a substantially superior defense.
Green Bay (+1) over Atlanta: Frankly, part of me thinks that Atlanta might pull it out at home, but I don’t want four home teams and the Packers are certainly better on a neutral field.
Chicago (-10) over Seattle : As Bill James says, it’s fun to believe in Cinderella, but you have to believe in midnight too. In particular, Lynch is unlikely to do a second Barry Sanders impression, and Smith is smart enough not to play into Hasselbeck’s hands by going blitz-crazy.
New England (-8.5) over Jets Sort of like the way they stopped giving MVP awards to Mantle and Mays well before they stopped being the best player in the league, Brady’s historic season has gotten surprisingly little attention. I do think the Pats defense is more vulnerable than the second half suggests, but 1)I doubt Brian Schottenheimer (who can get as conservative as the old man under pressure) is the guy to expose the vulnerabilities, and 2)the thing the Jets do best on defense — stop the run and take away the #1 receiver — won’t help that much against New England. It’s hard to beat Brady without a good 4-man pass rush, and the Jets have trouble getting to the QB when they blitz. It probably won’t be 45-3 again, but I wouldn’t bet on it being close in the 4th quarter either.