Friday, August 28, 2009

Charlie & Me

Me and Charlie Weis, we go way back. We're like peas & carrots, bacon & eggs, salt-n-peppa. Oh, Charlie. He's not the devil, but he is bewitching. Gotta love the fat man.

From True/Slant on August 25, 2009:

Ode to Charlie Weis.

I love Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. I love him so much that I feel chagrined about a story I penned a long time ago titled, “Charlie Weis Is the Devil.” It was one of the first things I ever wrote for publication; it was meant to be fun and ridiculous. Looking back, I guess Weis got my so-called career kick-started, so a thank you is long overdue. More to the point, I’d like to think I’ve matured as a writer and as a human being, too. In fact, I’ve grown so much since Weis’ inaugural season in South Bend that I do believe I’ve come full circle on the man with the big waist-size and even bigger ego.

How do I love the head man of the Golden Domes? Let me count the ways:

I love Charlie Weis because his Fighting Irish are ranked in the Top 25 heading into the 2009 football season. It may make for a wonderful fall to reality. The higher the perch, the bigger the splat. At least that’s what the nuns taught me in grade school.

I love the “decided schematic advantage” that Weis brings to Notre Dame football. But then, who doesn’t?

Back in April of 2006, Weis’ blue-chip recruit Jimmy Clausen wooed me when he committed to N.D. What made it special was that he made the proclamation at the College Football Hall of Fame. You can’t make this stuff up. If Clausen weren’t playing quarterback for the Fighting Irish, you have to think he’d have a choke-hold on a spot for the next round of MTV’s “Real World,” where he would no doubt get the shit-stirrer/villain edit.

I love Charlie Weis for losing to Navy in 2007. Some people might call that an epic fail. More like nautical fail.

Who doesn’t love a 2009 schedule which has a dozen games, eight of which are at home and only one of which is against a ranked team? Way to set the bar high for your program. As my buddy Prong! noted, perhaps college football needs something like the degree of difficulty formulas used for diving and figure skating.

I’m head over heels with the N.D. athletic department ever since they saw fit to re-up Weis’ contract barely halfway through the first year of his six-year contract in order to ink him to a new 10-year deal (worth $30–40 million.) Thanks for keeping Charlie at Notre Dame through 2015. You guys are beautiful.

I love Charlie Weis for this masterpiece: Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23.

After Weis left the New England Patriots, Tom Brady only got better, winning the NFL MVP award for the 2008 season. So I guess that kinda means I love Tom Brady. Um, not really. No. Ewwww. Still, I’m sure Weis’ system was absolutely essential to Brady blossoming into the dominant player he is.

I love Notre Dame official coach’s bio which covers just the 2005 and 2006 seasons, as though 2007 and 2008 never happened. (Of course, the records are there, if you want to look for them, but in the text, ah, um, wait, I’m sure it’s here somewhere.) [] The English department may want to teach the football media guide in its advanced literature courses.

Few things are as entertaining as former N.D. coach, current pundit and all around goofy guy Lou Holtz. It was especially good of uncle Lou to partake in the annual Fighting Irish Kool-Aid Ritual to pick Notre Dame to win a National Championship this year.

I love Charlie Weis’ vocabulary. I haven’t heard that much profanity since my last viewing of “Reservoir Dogs.”

Perhaps the most beguiling, most alluring aspect of the big man is that fact that he actually believes his own hype. Come on over here, ya big lug, and give me a hug.

But the best part of coach Weis is that he is the gift that just keeps on giving, so I’m sure that, before it’s all over, the Charlie Weis Era will have so many more valuable lessons in store for me. In store for all of us, really, because Weis is a teacher; he’s more like a sculptor of souls, if you will. See, he’s all about giving back and passing on wisdom, like how things usually work out in the end, that water seeks it’s own level, and the belief that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. Wow. I guess that Notre Dame really does build character.

Marvin Harrison Will Catch for Food

How damaged is starvin' Marvin? Can he be in that bad of condition? Like Cash for Clunkers bad? Weird. I find it weird. So weird, that I spent hours and hours and hours culling through depth charts and salary cap figures. Sigh.

From True/Slant on August 23, 2009:

Marvin Harrison says he wants to play again, if some NFL team would sign him. While Harrison sits at home, running windsprints and perfecting his skills at Madden (or maybe Guitar Hero) there are three questions facing NFL teams: (1) can he still play, (2) do they need an upgrade at wide out, and (3) can they afford Harrison? Instinct tells me that at least half of the NFL teams could use an upgrade, but instinct is an unreliable, ephemeral beast, so here’s a quick stroll through all 32 NFL depth charts to see which ones could use Harrison, not as their featured, go-to guy because those days are behind him, but perhaps as a 3rd or 4th receiver. To address the byzantine and confusing matter of salary cap room, I’m relying on some fine work done by Jason Cole at, so a big, sloppy thanks to Jason, for sparing me hours and hours of googling and math.

1. NY Giants. The Giants offense struggled after they lost Plaxico Burress for the year last season. They’re heading into the 2009 season with Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith (not that Steve Smith), and Mario Manningham; plus they drafted Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden this year, so they’re probably more interested in cultivating those young guys than adding an old reliable set of hands.

2. Philly Eagles. The Eagles addressed wide out in the 2008 draft, using their second round pick to get DeSean Jackson. This year, they used their first pick to draft another wideout, Jeremy Maclin from Missouri. And, you have to figure that in week six, Mike Vick will be lining up in some sort of hybrid position and catching Donovan McNabb darts.

3. Dallas Cowboys. Meh. That’s my take on their depth chart at WR. Nobody stands out on this roster in terms of wideouts. Patrick Crayton is a good, but not great receiver. Roy Williams has a lot to prove before he lives up to the tag of No. 1 receiver. The rookie out of Virginia, Kevin Ogletree, has looked pretty good in pre-season. And it’s no secret that Romo will find his favorite target, Jason Witten, but it’s a depth chart that could be improved with the addition of Harrison. The ‘Boys have very little in cap room right now – $3.9 mil – so it’s very unlikely.

4. Washington Redskins. I was about to say there’s no way the Redskins have any room at all under the cap, but it turns out they have $7.7 mil. How is that even possible given little Danny Snyder’s uncontrollable spending habits? Seriously. There’s gotta be some AIG type accounting going on there. I can’t even think about it. Moving on.

5. Chicago Bears. I’m simply going to list all of the receivers on the Bears roster right now: Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, John Broussard, Rashied Davis, Devin Hester, Juaquin Iglesias, Dereck Kinder, Johnny Knox, Eric Peterman, and Brandon Rideau. Between them all, they have a total of 156 NFL receptions. With $22.5 million in cap room, what on earth is Lovie Smith waiting for?

6. Green Bay Packers. With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, plus a couple of younger guys on the horizon and Donald Lee at tight end, the Pack feels pretty comfortable at wide out.

7. Minnesota Vikings. Sorry, full up on aging superstar free agents in Minneapolis.

8. Detroit Lions. Okay, anything the Lions would do would be an upgrade, but you know, considering their execrable history with wide outs, maybe they should steer clear.

9. Atlanta Falcons. Roddy White doesn’t get much national attention, but he should, and Michael Jenkins and Marty Booker are both solid. Still, I can’t help but think that Harrison would love to play nine of his games in a dome in 2009. They have $12.5 million to work with before bumping up against the cap.

10. Carolina Panthers. Everybody knows two truths about the Panthers: John Fox wants to run the ball and Steve Smith is one of the most explosive receivers in the game. Plus, Marvin got used to having the ball tossed to him with freakish accuracy by Peyton Manning and his head might actually implode trying to adjust to the, um, variable nature of Jake Delhomme’s game. With $8.3 million in cap room, I wouldn’t rule them out.

11. New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees managed to put up 34 touchdown passes and over 5,000 yards last year throwing to Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, and Robert Meachem last year, so I guess he’s doing okay.

12. Tampa Bay Bucs. Okay, they’re heading into the season with either Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown on the trigger throwing to Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. Bryant is finally reaching his potential, but Harrison would be a major upgrade to this unit. And with nearly $43 mil. in cap room, why isn’t Marvin’s phone ringing off the hook?

13. Arizona Cardinals. With only $300,000 in cap room and three receivers named Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston on the roster, the Cards are standing pat. As they should.

14. San Francisco 49ers. They thought they addressed wide out by drafting Michael Crabtree in the 2nd round. Now, who knows if he’ll ever show up and most of metropolitan San Fran has given up hope of his ever signing a contract. With $15 million of room under the cap, you’d think they’d love to get a guy like Harrison as a stop gap measure for just one year.

15. Seattle Seahawks. With the addition of T. J. Whoseyourmamma (nod to one of the great ads of all time) to Nate Burleson, Deion Branch, and Deon Butler, they’re full up at wide out.

16. St. Louis Rams. They finished 2-14 last year. Torry Holt, their most productive, if old, wide receiver went to Jacksonville in free-agency. They could use an upgrade. At just about every position, actually. They’re $14.6 million under the cap.

17. New England Patriots. It looks like Joey Galloway’s best days are in the rear-view, but by adding third round draft pick Brandon Tate to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, they’re not really hurting at wide out. Still Mr. Hoodie loves to sign old guys who have been discarded (see, Dillon, Corey; Taylor, Fred; and Galloway, Joey), so it’s surprising they haven’t gotten starvin’ Marvin in for a workout, particularly as they have a little more than $10 mil in wiggle room under the cap.

18. NY Jets. They didn’t go after any receivers in the draft and it’s an obvious area of need. Tell me they’re not going to start their No. 1 pick, Mark Sanchez, at QB. Exactly. Couldn’t a young guy like that use a veteran wide receiver as a go to guy? This is an obvious fit, but with only $4.5 mil in cap room, the price would have to be right.

19. Miami Dolphins. They added Pat White from WVU in this year’s draft. Given their adeptness at working out of the wildcat, I think that Pat White + wildcat = points. Still, the Dolphins are not particularly deep at wide out and they’re $21 million under the cap.

20. Buffalo Bills. Somehow, I don’t see Marvin Harrison getting on terribly well with Terrell Owens. I could be wrong.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers. With lanky second year man Limas Sweed filling out the receiver depth chart with former Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward and recent Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, the Steelers are fine.

22. Baltimore Ravens. Derick Mason’s un-retirement returned the Ravens passing attack returned to 2008 levels, but there is still a boatload of room for improvement of this unit. They only have about $4.5 million in cap room, though.

23. Cincinnati Bengals. Ha. Okay, sorry, I just always laugh when I think about the Bengals. Maybe new helmets would help … We all know about the greatness that is Chad Ochocinco. (If only Chad were as prolific a receiver as he is place kicker. Or a twitterer. Is that tweeter? Oh, Ochocinco tweeted this as I was typing: “Attention:want a job at ESPN on first take: no sports background needed just the ability to say the dumbest shhh you can think of!!SkipSucks.”) Anyway, so we’ve got #85, Chris Henry and Laverneous Coles. Coles is a surprisingly astute signing for the franchise that put the franchise tag on their kicker, and Henry has the ability to be a game breaker, so long as he can stay on the right side of the law.

24. Cleveland Browns. Donte Stallworth is suspended for a year. Braylon Edwards failed his physical. Saying they could use some help is like saying Usain Bolt is kinda fast. They have $12 mil to play with.

25. Tennessee Titans. The Titans looked to upgrade their wide outs in the off-season by adding Nate Washington in free-agency and drafting Kenny Britt with their first pick. I’d guess they were going to stay put, but they have tons of cap room (over $27 mil.) Merde. How is any NFL team that far under the cap?

26. Indianapolis Colts. Nothing to see here, keep moving.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars. They already signed one great old wide out in Torry Holt. With over $26 mil in cap room, why not go for two?

28. Houston Texans. Is Andre Johnson the best receiver in the league? Check. Think he might like the company of the guy who used to be the best receiver in the league? Check mate. They’ve got $15.6 million under the cap.

29. San Diego Chargers. One 1,000 yard guy in Vincent Jackson, plus LaDainian Tomlinson, plus Antonio Gates makes the Chargers a solid aerial attack.

30. Denver Broncos. Brandon Stokely. Brandon Marshall. Jabar Gaffney. The Broncos have holes, but wide receiver isn’t one of them. Too late to tap Harrison to coach, then?

31. Kansas City Chiefs. Quick, other than Matt Cassel, name one other Kansas City Chief. The Chiefs list Terrance Copper and Devard Darling at the top of their depth chart at wide out. Heading into his sixth year in the NFL, Copper has a total of 61 receptions. Darling has only 37 catches over three seasons. Amani Toomer is third on the depth chart, but this will be his 14th year in the league. They have $30 million in cap room. Just saying.

32. Oakland Raiders. Oakland has little wiggle room with $6.4 million, plus they drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey with their first pick. Besides, zombie Al Davis likes reclamation projects, not guys like Harrison. Besides, Al’s probably still trying to lure Biletnikoff out of retirement with a fattie contract.

Starting a Jon Gruden Fan Club

Who is with me?

From True/Slant on August 16, 2009:

Jon Gruden Makes Monday Night Football Must See TV
I’ve never watched a sporting event on the basis of an announcer or color analyst. Certainly, there have been a few I’ve enjoyed. There’s also a crowded hall of shame filled with announcers and analysts who are so irritating that I’m tempted to turn off whatever game they’re working because I’m so turned off by them. (Yes, Tim McCarver, Nancy Lieberman, Al Michaels and Phil Simms, I am looking at you.) Still, my desire to watch sports overrides all, so I’ll put up with even the most moronic, abrasive, and narcissistic talking heads.

And then came Jon Gruden. He had me at hello

In his first game in ESPN’s “Monday Night” booth, working a meaningless pre-season tilt between last year’s Super Bowl contenders alongside Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski, I enjoyed Gruden as much as I enjoyed the game itself, which is the highest praise I can offer. The coach who pissed people off because he got more face time on the sidelines than his players did on the field was not adequate, nor merely good in the booth: Gruden was great. He is nothing short of an announcing phenom.

If announcing was a baseball swing, Gruden would be Ted Williams’ sweet stroke; if it was a jump shot, he would be Larry Bird’s jumper; if it was a tee shot, he’d be Ben Hogan’s explosive drive. Okay, that’s pretty hyperbolic even for me, and I realize it’s a little early to put “Chucky” in the broadcasting hall of fame after just one game. That would be like calling a rookie running back picked in the sixth round who lit up the third-string defenders in the 4th quarter the next Jim Brown. But Gruden was informative, natural, funny and self-deprecating. Most important of all, he didn’t talk too much, sparing us the inane prattling that goes on in way, way too many broadcast booths. He was the anti-Phil Simms. God, it was beautiful.

As a coach, Gruden’s work-ethic was legendary. Reporters ate up his practice of getting to the office at three and four a.m. to start his preparations, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that he had arcane data seemingly at his fingertips. It felt effortless as he tossed out Kurt Warner’s QB rating on play-action pass plays only and evidenced a real depth of understanding about Dick LeBeau’s complex defensive schemes.

Given the match up, naturally talk turned to last February’s Super Bowl meeting of the Steelers and the Cardinals, and Tirico mentioned that Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt hadn’t watched the film of that game until a week ago when he started prepping for this game. For his part, Jaws said he could relate because he has never watched the film of SB XV, in which his Eagles were soundly beaten by the Raiders. Nearly 30 years have passed and it’s still too painful for Jaworski. Gruden commented that he watches his Super Bowl (XXXVII, when the Buccaneers whomped on the Raiders) every chance he gets, sometimes twice a day. It was a great moment.

A bit later, after the crew had spent a good deal of time on the signing of ex-con Mike Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Gruden chided Jaworski about his anemic 772 yards rushing over his 10 years in Philly, adding that Vick had that many yards in two games — against Gruden’s teams. Given the seriousness of Vick’s crimes, talk about him always turns understandably heavy, but after a serious discussion, the booth had turned funereal and needed a lighter touch. Gruden brought the funny. It was a welcome respite.

I figure that pretty much every guy doing color analysis for the networks knows more about football than I do – from Troy Aikman to Brian Billick, Steve Tasker to Chris Collinsworth. Each played or coached at the highest levels and they’ve forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. Nobody doubts that. Not even me. But announcers who talk down to the audience just come off as pompous gas-bags, who bludgeon the viewing audience with their supposed superior intellect and knowledge. Nobody wants to listen to that. Nobody wants to hear an announcer whose subtext reads as some holier-than-thou, let me explain football to you, little lady, attitude apparent in so many. Maybe these guys would be well served to remember one of the lessons of early elementary school — nobody likes a know it all.

What I want, what I crave, really, is the illusion that I’m eavesdropping on a conversation between a few guys who have greater understanding and greater access than I do.

Gruden seemed to get that on some instinctive, organic level. Despite rumors of a monolithic ego, Gruden’s ego was nowhere to be heard. He let his broadcast partners take the lead in the dance and he let the game itself dictate his commentary.

Monday nights just got a lot more fun now that I have a standing date with Jon Gruden.