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May 25, 2018
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: The NFL's Anthem-Protest Rule Is Not a Threat to Free Speech

NRO: The NFL's Anthem-Protest Rule Is Not a Threat to Free Speech

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:49 PM | Football • | Politics 2018 • | Writings Elsewhere
October 11, 2017
POLITICS/FOOTBALL/HISTORY: Flag Protests and the Power of Symbols

NRO: Flag Protests and the Power of Symbols

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 AM | Football • | History • | Politics 2017 • | Writings Elsewhere
April 25, 2016
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Donald Trump Hearts Tom Brady; Does Indiana?

RS: Donald Trump Hearts Tom Brady; Does Indiana?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:30 PM | Football • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
February 5, 2013
FOOTBALL: Super Bowls Are Getting Closer, and That’s a Good Thing

Originally published at Grantland.com

For those of us who grew up with the lopsided Super Bowls of the 1980s, it seems as if we’ve had an unusual run. The past few years of Super Bowls have stayed tight, the result in doubt until the very end. It’s almost miraculous we haven’t had one go to overtime yet, though there have been some some close calls. Despite the early signs of a blowout (and maybe in part because of a brownout), Super Bowl XLVII held the pattern: While the 49ers fell behind 4:18 into the game, and never led, they were only three points down with the ball and a theoretical chance to win, right until Ted Ginn Jr. was tackled returning the game-closing kickoff.

How do you measure the closeness of a game? The final score is one way, of course. But for the viewer — especially the TV viewer who can change the channel — the real test is how long the outcome of the game remained in doubt. One way to figure that out is to ask: When was the last point at which the losing team was within striking distance?

Let’s look at three simple tests for when a game is in reach: the last time the winning team seized the lead for good, the last time the loser was within three points, and the last time the loser was within seven. If a game was decided by three, like Sunday night, that means that by the “within three” or “within seven” test, it was competitive for 100 percent of the game time. If the losing team fell behind four minutes into the game, like Sunday night, and never pulled even again, then by that measure the game was competitive for only 7 percent of playing time. There’s no magic formula, obviously, but if you plot all three together, you can see a trend. In the past 17 Super Bowls — dating back to Super Bowl XXXI (Packers 35, Patriots 21 in 1996) — the teams have remained competitive until late in the game:


In 13 of those 17 Super Bowls, the losing team was within seven points in the fourth quarter. In 12, the losing team was within three points in the fourth quarter. In 11, the losing team was within three points in the last six minutes of the game. In nine of the 17 — more than half — the team that won the Super Bowl only took the lead for good in the fourth quarter. For Roger Goodell, the network, the advertisers and everyone who hosts a Super Bowl party or just wants a good game — even for the gamblers and the fans of the losing teams who want to go down with dignity — this is a dream come true.

But if you’re older than 30, you know it wasn’t always this way. Super Bowls in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially those lost by the Bills, Broncos, and Dolphins, were often as lopsided as early as a Mike Tyson fight. (This was back in the days when Tyson was cold-cocking his opponents 90 seconds after the bell. You could order a beer and miss the fight.)


In the years from Super Bowl XI (Raiders 32, Vikings 14 in 1976) to Super Bowl XXX (Cowboys 27, Steelers 17 in 1995), the lead changed hands in the fourth quarter just four times in 20 Super Bowls, and in the second half only six times. In more than half of those Super Bowls — 11 out of 20 — the losing team was behind by more than a touchdown for the entire second half. In 15 of those 20 games, the losing team was never within a field goal in the fourth quarter. A whole generation of casual football fans grew up conditioned to the idea that the Super Bowl is about beer, buffalo wings, the Bud Bowl, and crummy football.

Mismatched conferences were obviously part of the problem. Between Super Bowl XVI in 1981 and Super Bowl XXXI in 1996, the NFC won 15 times in 16 years. The 49ers, Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys went 13-1 in those 16 Super Bowls, while the Bills, Broncos, Dolphins, Patriots, and Bengals went 0-13. The Bengals’ two losses and the Giants-Bills Super Bowl were close, but most of the other matchups were blowouts. Even more so than regular-season results, it was this period that elevated the league’s mantra of “parity” to a moral imperative. That ghost was only truly exorcised when John Elway and the Broncos — losers of some of the worst fiascos — won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.

The first 10 Super Bowls took a while to get going: Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III were the first AFL team to have a lead in the Super Bowl, and Super Bowl V was the first in which the lead changed hands. Super Bowls V through X at least produced their share of late drama, more than in the 1980s but still a lot less than the past few years:


You can see the trend toward closer games evolving over time if you take each of the three measures and plot them on a graph against a trendline. The tendency of Super Bowls to stay within three or seven points late in the game is even more pronounced than the tendency to have the lead change hands. There have been a number of games like Sunday night when an early lead held up under sustained, nerve-wracking assault:




These are not, of course, the only ways of measuring the closeness of a game; there are a number of sophisticated measures of odds to win at various points in time. And it’s true that you might prefer a game that is neck-and-neck the whole way to one that is lopsided early but features a furious late comeback. But that is a matter of taste as much as anything. Looking at the scoring patterns, it is clear Super Bowls have become more competitive. We should enjoy that now because the game never stands still, and the trends that have given us these games could turn out to be as much luck and transient conditions as inevitable historical forces. We could just as easily have another run of blowouts, in which case we will look back on the past 17 years as the Super Bowl’s Golden Age. Don’t say nobody told you to enjoy close Super Bowls while they last.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:17 PM | Football
FOOTBALL: Super Bowls Are Getting Closer

I've got a short piece up at Grantland measuring how Super Bowls are getting closer.

UPDATE: Deadspin uses a somewhat similar analysis to determine what the best Super Bowls ever were, although in my view it places too high a value on a lot of scoring.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
December 12, 2011
FOOTBALL: Money Talks

The $28 million is the whole article; the rest is details.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:23 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
August 3, 2011
BUSINESS: Negotiating Through The Media

There are many species of bad journalism, most of which involve too much opinion by the writer, but sometimes the opposite is true and a writer gives you the apparent facts without the context needed to make sense of them. Let me use an article from the NY Times about 30 Rock to illustrate a common type of bad journalism that I find to be equally amusing and annoying: reporting negotiating positions without bothering to explain to the reader to take negotiating positions with a grain of salt, let alone how to interpret statements made in the course of negotiations. This has been a common thread in scores of articles these past few months about - among other topics - the debt ceiling negotiations, the Libya war, the perpetual Israel-Palestine 'peace process,' the NFL and NBA labor negotiations, the Mets' legal dispute with the Madoff trustee and other business machinations and their efforts to re-sign Jose Reyes, and the legal imbroglio surrounding the Dodgers. I've read more articles on all these topics than I could count that failed to give the reader the guidance to put the parties' statements in the context of the underlying negotiating dynamics.

The Times tells us, first, that Alec Baldwin has said he's leaving 30 Rock after next season, a departure that of course would be a terrible blow to a show built around the tensions between his (awesome) character, Jack Donaghy, and Tina Fey's Liz Lemon. It may well be true that Baldwin sincerely has other things on his mind, maybe even a run for public office, and/or that he's feeling he's done all he could with the character. But it's at least equally likely that he could be persuaded to stay on if NBC offers money or other contractual concessions to make it worth his while.

Then we get the response from NBC brass and from Lorne Michaels, the show's executive producer:

Executives from the show and NBC aren't sure, but they made it clear in interviews here this week that his departure would not mean an automatic end to the award-winning comedy.

NBC's new entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt, said: "I'd love nothing more than to have Alec for the duration of the show. That's my goal. Let's see what we get."

NBC's interest in keeping "30 Rock" around for at least one more year after the coming season can be explained by the need for more episodes to enhance the show's resale value in syndication.

The executive producer of "30 Rock," Lorne Michaels, was more definitive about a future for the comedy, even if Mr. Baldwin turns down all blandishments to continue. "I would hope he would want to go on," Mr. Michaels said on Monday. "But we're going to keep doing the show."

Again: I don't doubt that NBC would very much like to extend the show's run one extra season for syndication purposes; many a sitcom past has been kept on past its proverbial shark-jumping point for that reason. If 30 Rock is still making money at that point, the network would probably try to soldier on without Baldwin. And Lorne Michaels has never been a guy who thought any of his cast members were indispensable (to put it mildly). But this all smacks strongly of a negotiating posture: the network and Michaels are doing interviews here precisely to send Baldwin the message that he's not holding all the cards. And the reporter, Bill Carter, doesn't breathe a word of that, probably because he knows full well why they are giving him these interviews.

Of course, Greenblatt and Michaels have their own competing agendas:

Mr. Greenblatt did open the door to a possible disagreement with Mr. Michaels over the re-entry of "30 Rock" onto NBC's schedule. The show's sixth-season premiere has been postponed until midseason because of the pregnancy of its star, Tina Fey.

Asked if "30 Rock" was ensured a spot back on NBC's successful Thursday night comedy lineup, Mr. Greenblatt said, "That is a good question, and I really don't have an answer for it." He added, "Nothing's written in stone."

But as far as Mr. Michaels is concerned, it is. "The show will be back on Thursdays," he said confidently.

Of course, if Baldwin's future with the show is in doubt, that's one reason the network would not want to commit valuable Thursday night prime-time space, plus Greenblatt is taking charge of a fourth-place network and probably should keep his options open. But NBC has to keep Michaels happy, too; as the creator of Saturday Night Live, he remains a vital part of the network's brand image. Michaels' certainty here is obviously intended to send an unsubtle message that he will not be a happy camper if the network moves his prime-time baby out of its Thursday night sinecure.

I don't mean to pick on Carter, who in this article has at least offered us enough quotes from each of the participants that a skeptical reader can piece together what is really being said here; that's not always the case with this sort of journalism. But in general, reporters aren't doing their jobs if they don't report how someone involved in negotiations could stand to gain from taking a particular position in public, and worse still if they straight-facedly claim that someone will never make a particular concession (e.g., Jose Reyes won't talk about a new contract during the season), when in fact they might well do so for the right price. The dynamics of negotiations and how they are handled through the media can differ across situations, but there are a finite number of basic underlying approaches to negotiating, and they crop up across many different fields of endeavor.

Consider the debt ceiling debate - surely many Republicans would have preferred to pass 'cut, cap and balance,' and some were genuinely opposed to raising the debt ceiling at all. But for many people involved in the fight, pushing for the ideal policy, even if it was the policy they wanted, was also a matter of getting leverage to extract a better deal when the time came to compromise. Similarly, many Republicans sincerely opposed any deal that would raise any taxes at all; others may have been willing to trade some revenue-raisers for something better, but found it convenient to stay in line with the ATR pledge against tax hikes as a posture unless and until that better offer materialized. None of this is insincere; it's just good bargaining.

Learn to look for the signs of negotiating postures between the lines of news articles, and they will surface again and again in every section of the paper.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:26 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Basketball • | Business • | Football • | Law 2009-18 • | Politics 2011 • | Pop Culture • | War 2007-18 | TrackBack (0)
March 10, 2011
BLOG: One Sporting Event

Tom Bevan passed along on Twitter this column asking what one sporting event you'd go back in time to attend in person if you could, and making the case for the first Ali-Frazier fight.

It's a tough question. I'd immediately discount any event I actually did watch live on TV, like Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or the Giants' three Super Bowl victories. My first reaction was to pick Game Seven of the 1960 World Series over some of the more impressive individual achievements like Don Larsen's perfect game or Wilt's 100-point game (of which film doesn't survive), or classics like Bobby Thomson's home run, but I think after kicking this around with some others on Twitter I'd probably settle with Game Seven of the 1912 World Series, which just had amazing team and individual drama and a chance to watch some of the greats of the pre-film era (Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood) in their primes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:07 AM | Baseball 2011 • | Basketball • | Blog 2006-Present • | Football • | Other Sports | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
November 10, 2010
BLOG: Apologies For Olbermann

Via Allahpundit on Twitter, Pat Sajak looks back at his role in putting Keith Olbermann on national television for the first time. The video clip, from Super Bowl week in January 1989, is kind of sad, really; Olbermann, complete with Ron Burgundy mustache, is affable, relaxed, and low-key, not the bundle of psychotic vein-popping rage, smarmy smugness, egocentric rants at personal enemies and neuroses about women we see on air today. (Sajak, by contrast, remains a tweener, funny for a game show host but not funny enough for a late-night talk show host). While I found Olbermann off-putting when he first started on SportsCenter, I came to enjoy his work with Craig Kilborn in what has to be the golden age of the show; back then they did shtick, but (1) it was their shtick, not an imitation of somebody else's, (2) it was new and different from everything else on sports TV, and (3) because nobody expected shtick to be the focus of the show, it was much more restrained than it later became.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:28 PM | Blog 2006-Present • | Football • | Politics 2010 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
December 30, 2009
FOOTBALL: Drive & Punt

The Wall Street Journal has a couple of interesting articles about long drives and punts. First, Tom Flynn looks back at the 2004 Emerald Bowl, in which Navy staged a 26-play drive against New Mexico that chewed up 14:26 of clock - including nearly the entire fourth quarter - and lasted more than half an hour, the most time-consuming drive in college football history. Second, Carl Bialik looks at whether NFL teams punt too much - even at a time when the average punt is reaching record lengths.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:16 AM | Football | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 14, 2009
BLOG: Busy Signal

Real life intrudes, from time to time, so apologies to regular readers if I'm tied up a few days - I know I'm particularly overdue on the Winter Meetings roundup. Hopefully, I'll be back in the blog saddle again by Wednesday.

Feel free to treat this as an open thread - baseball, politics, whatever. You can even talk about the Giants, but you can't make me listen.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:21 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-Present • | Football | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 11, 2009

Do not bet your television against the Saints.

Full story here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:03 PM | Football | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
November 17, 2009
FOOTBALL: Silverdome Fire Sale

The death of Detroit continues, as the Potiac Silverdome, onetime home of the Detroit Lions, sells for a mere $583,000 to an unidentified Canadian company:

The sale of the Silverdome takes a large financial burden off the hard-hit city of Pontiac, which has fallen on hard times, with budget shortfalls and high unemployment. Earlier this year, GM announced it would close a truck plant, taking about 1,400 jobs from the city.

As a result...Pontiac could ill afford to continue paying $1.5 million in annual upkeep for the stadium. With a private owner, the property "will go back on the tax rolls," he explained.

The 80,000-seat Silverdome was the biggest stadium in the National Football League when it was built in 1975 for $55.7 million. The stadium, which sits on a 127-acre plot, is also the former home of the National Basketball Association's Detroit Pistons.

The stadium reached its football zenith in 1982 as the site of Super Bowl XVI, when San Francisco's 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals...

Despite its rich history, the stadium has seen little use since 2002, when the Lions concluded their last season there.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Business • | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
October 13, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Climate of Hate and Lies

My RedState colleague Leon Wolf looks at the fabricated quotes being used to smear Rush Limbaugh - seriously, when national columnists like Jason Whitlock are quoting things found only on Wikiquote, there's a problem - as well as Chris Matthews wishing on air for somebody to shoot Rush in the head.

All this out of fear of Limbaugh buying a stake in the St. Louis Rams. What, are they worried that he'd go say something about Obama while accepting a Super Bowl trophy? Oh, that's right, that already happened.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:35 PM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: The Moralizers Were Right

My initial reaction, besides horror, to the shooting death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was to try to hide from the story. I was always a fan of McNair, and will never forget the heartbreak of the Titans' just-a-yard-short drive against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Like Kirby Puckett, McNair was a guy whose virtues on and around the field of play were such that I'd prefer to remember him only as he was in uniform.

That said, the saga of McNair's death at the too-young age of 36 is the proverbial train wreck you can't look away from, and the details are ugly: McNair was involved with a 20-year-old mistress while he was married to his wife of 12 years, with whom he had four children. From what we can tell, his mistress thought he was leaving his wife, and his wife didn't know about the mistress. McNair's death has been ruled a homicide, and while the police haven't wrapped up the investigation, it appears that the mistress shot him and turned the gun - which she had purchased days earlier - on herself. The motive for the killing is likewise murky, but the obvious likely explanation is that McNair's deceptions in one sense or another caught up to him.

The McNair story brought me back yet again to the downfall of Mark Sanford and a basic point that the cultural Left, with its pervasive hold on our culture, has fundamentally wrong. You will recall that the main criticism of guys like Sanford from the left is that they are "moralizers" - i.e., speak out on behalf of traditional sexual mores and 'family values,' such as not shacking up with a woman not your wife, especially if you are already married. The argument, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, is that the real sin of political and cultural leaders is not cheating on their own wives but telling other people that cheating on your wife is a bad thing.

Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. That being said, it can't be stressed often enough that when our leaders speak out against things like marital infidelity, what they are doing is not just abstract moral philosophy but rather bringing to bear the prudence and wisdom of human experience. Which is where McNair comes into the picture. We know, from many thousands of years of human experience, that cheating on your wife opens up a whole world of hazards and complications and deceptions, and that many bad consequences flow to everyone involved that could otherwise have been avoided. If Mark Sanford hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be a presidential candidate. If Steve McNair hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be alive. If Eliot Spitzer hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be Governor of New York. And on and on and on throughout the ages. The story is all the sadder when men like Sanford and McNair, who had been models of integrity and professionalism in their professional lives, throw it all away over such foolishness. Promiscuous sex, sex among teenagers, prostitution, divorce...we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses. When the leaders of our society, government and culture speak out on these issues, they are performing that valuable service. Would that someone had gotten that message through at some point to Steve McNair; would that Mark Sanford had listened to his own advice. And shame on anyone who wants to drive the wisdom of experience out of the public square.

The usual rejoinder at this point is to complain that of course it's all well and good for people to teach morality in the privacy of their own homes, but that people in politics and government have no business getting involved in private matters. As I have noted repeatedly over the years, that's an easier argument to make when government is small and less intrusive, and laughable coming from people who want to make it larger and more intimately involved in everyday life, but besides that, the very fact that things like adultery are largely beyond the reach of the law is precisely why they remain properly within the reach of the culture, and why it's a good thing to have prominent people speaking out on such issues.

Maybe McNair, and Sanford, and Spitzer, and so many, many others would never have listened. Human beings are sinful by nature, and desire is strong. But the whole point of civilized society is to make a concerted, collective effort to pass on what we have learned over human history about the restraints we must place upon our instincts if we are to avoid similar tragedies, if we are to act as reasoning moral agents rather than animals driven only by impulse. Being a 'moralizer' about those restraints may not be the popular path, but it's the path of wisdom and maturity. We should be happy for anyone still willing to do that job.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
May 2, 2009

Just saw this reported: Jack Kemp, a giant of the modern conservative movement, has died after a bout with cancer. Kemp never won national or even statewide office, and his gravelly wonkishness wasn't always the epitome of charisma, but his political career was a testament to the power of ideas, simple ideas like human freedom and the potential of the individual to do better for himself than the government could ever do for him. He was an inspiration to everyone who believed that the interests of government are not the purpose of government. Ronald Reagan inspired many people in politics, but Reagan didn't get to be Reagan alone, and then-Congressman Kemp was one of the people who inspired Reagan's belief in the transformative incentive power of reducing taxes on the last dollar of income earned. Before entering politics, Kemp was a heckuva quarterback, compiling a 65-37-3 record as a starter in the AFL, playing in championship games for LA and San Diego before winning two AFL titles for the Buffalo Bills. Kemp was also the rare HUD secretary who left office well-regarded rather than under investigation or indictment. He was added to the GOP ticket in 1996 when Bob Dole realized his campaign needed ideas - and Jack Kemp, though an ordinary guy, not an intellectual, was synonymous with ideas. And he was, most of all, a happy warrior, like Reagan - a guy who took visible joy in politics because he always believed that if you gave people the ability to keep their own piece of the pie, we'd all have a larger pie to divide. He was, in every sense, a true heir of the Party of Lincoln. He will be missed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:00 PM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
April 16, 2009
BASEBALL: Quick Links 4/16/09

*Nothing quite like Jose Reyes scoring from first base on a wild pitch last night. Speed gets overrated sometimes compared to the ability to get on base - without which it's of little use - but that play was a perfect illustration of how speed can really unsettle a defense: Nick Hundley may well have let the ball go by and Luis Castillo score from third in part because he was distracted by Reyes taking off for second, ending with Reyes coming all the way around to score on a comedy of bad throws.

The Mets radio announcers were complaining that neither they nor the managers nor the team PR staff that runs the scoreboards can see into the new bullpens to figure out who is warming up. Last night that was multiplied by the fact that everybody was wearing #42, which is a nice tribute to Jackie Robinson but kind of confusing in mid-April when people haven't absorbed all the rosters yet.

*Lyford notes an even more no-hitter friendly lineup. Ouch.

*Matt Wieters walks in his only appearance against David Price; presumably there will be many, many more rematches. Is PECOTA overprojecting Wieters by virtue of overly lenient adjustments for players from the Eastern and Carolina Leagues? And how long will it be before I can remember to write "Wieters" instead of "Weiters" without checking?

*I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that Chris Carpenter is injured.

*I don't love all aspects of the new baseball-reference.com redesign (which converts the site to features that had already been in place for the sister sites covering football, basketball and hockey); I'm always skeptical of things that make a site run slower and less clean, and that create more hazards of clicking something that will do something on a page when you are just moving your mouse or trying to scroll down. And some information seems to be harder to find or navigate to. That said, there is a huge amount of new data, and from my personal perspective, the ability to copy and paste stats into an Excel spreadsheet is a colossal improvement - I experimented with the method I use for my Hall of Fame columns in particular and found I could run four or five players in the time it used to take to run one. On balance, I give it a big thumbs up.

*Not baseball, but big sports news: John Madden is retiring. Madden's not as sharp as he used to be, but he's still entertaining, and he'll be remembered as the man who revolutionized NFL analysis.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:49 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Football | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 18, 2009
FOOTBALL: The Greatest Running Backs of All Time

The news that the Jaguars were releasing Fred Taylor started a discussion with some friends about where the oft-injured Taylor would rank among the great running backs, and where he might have ranked if he'd been healthy. As I often do with such discussions, I thought I'd take the broader context to evaluate how the numbers stack up for the all-time great running backs. First I'll offer the data, then a handful of my own thoughts on it.

Now, when you look at baseball statistics, it's critically important to do three things. The first is to understand context. A baseball player's statistics are influenced by many external factors - changes in the game over time, ballpark effects, the influence of teammates, the length of the season. For a variety of reasons, it's much harder to separate football statistics from the context of time and team. The numbers I'm setting out below are not adjusted for the changing offensive contexts these running backs played in, whether they worked in sophisticated passing games (Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James), behind great offensive lines (John Riggins) or great blocking backs (Emmitt Smith), or indoors (Barry Sanders) or wartime (Steve Van Buren), or whether they were just given the ball and told to hope the other 10 guys on the field might run into a defender now and then (Sanders, Eric Dickerson). I have, however, averaged their statistics per 16 scheduled games, as a way of evening out the old-timers who played 12- or 14-game seasons or the more recent players who played during strikes (I counted 1987 as a 12-game season except for Craig, who crossed the picket line). Although the job of the running back has changed less than the jobs of other offensive players over the past seven decades, the latter-day backs, reflecting the higher-octane offenses of modern football, are nonetheless overrepresented. I could have run averages per game played, but I preferred to let the numbers reflect the costs to their teams of injuries to guys who missed a lot of games (like Taylor) or whole seasons (Riggins, Garrison Hearst). Durability matters when you are building a football team. The "G/16" column on the chart shows how many games, on average, each of these guys played per scheduled 16 games over his prime seasons, including entire missed seasons (yes, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Eddie George and Roger Craig never missed a regular season game in their primes).

Second, and relatedly, you have to figure out what portion of a player's career you are evaluating. My own preference, in having these kinds of debates, is neither to zero in on a player's single best season nor to just lump together career totals (since they may include one guy who hung it up in his prime compared to another guy who was just as good and stuck around a bunch more years as a part-timer - a decision that really has nothing to do with how good they were in their primes). So, I'll set out here the per-16-scheduled-games averages not for these running backs' whole careers but for that section of their careers you would identify as their primes, in general the seasons when they were a team's #1 back. In doing so, I've set aside the years after these guys broke down (in most cases, running backs break down pretty quickly and dramatically, around age 29 for the usual back, 31-33 for the longer-lasting ones) and the lengthy second acts of backs like Marcus Allen and Ottis Anderson. The resulting focus rewards the guys who concentrated their best seasons all together. Consistency matters when you are building a football team.

Third, much as I've done for similar baseball columns, I'm breaking the numbers into two charts, one of guys whose primes were longer (7 years or more), one of the guys who were only on top of their games for 4-6 years. It's apples and oranges to compare a per-seaon average of a guy who starred for 5 seasons to one who starred for 10. Longetivity matters when you are building a football team.

More specific to football, once those preliminaries are out of the way, is what numbers to use to rank the running backs. I don't pretend to have a perfect answer to that, but I chose to organize the data around the most basic figure: rushing yards per team game, listed as Yds(R). I could have used combined rushing and receiving yards from scrimmage (YSCM), and you can re-sort the list if you like by that, as in some sense it's a truer picture of a back's total offensive contribution. But while catching the ball well is a useful skill, it's also true that receiving numbers are much more influenced by the team and the era a guy played in, whereas running the football is the purer, man-with-ball-versus-eleven-defenders task that every running back has faced down through the game's history.

The sample here is the 49 running backs who compiled at least 7,000 career rushing yards through the 2008 season, plus five other notables who popped up on various career leader lists (Van Buren, Marion Motley, Larry Johnson, Billy Sims, and Gale Sayers). I'm hoping the charts here will be more an argument-starter than an argument-finisher, as of course I haven't even touched here on playoff performances or other factors beyond the raw, regular season numbers. But we can at least appreciate those numbers for what they can tell us about the yards these men traveled with a football in their hands.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 AM | Football | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
February 2, 2009
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: Mixing The Two, Part Two

I really could have done without Steelers owner Dan Rooney thanking President Obama, who he had endorsed during the fall election, in the immediate postgame interview last night. I swear, an awful lot of Obama supporters seem to have some sort of mental block that prevents them from acknowledging even the possibility of an opposing point of view. It's not that public figures outside politics should never do endorsements and the like; I accept the fact that they have their views, and I have mine. But there's a time and a place for everything, and really, sticking your politics in the face of the audience in the biggest sports telecast of the year is just obnoxious, and a good reason to root against the Steelers as long as the Rooneys have anything to do with them.

As for the game itself, first of all, this had to be the most referee-dominated Super Bowl in memory, and not in a good way. Some of the more intrusive calls were necessary (the holding call in the end zone that gave the Cards a crucial fourth quarter safety), some of them just looked wrong to me (calling back a Steelers TD in the first quarter).

If there's one guy who just impressed the heck out of me in these playoffs, it's Larry Fitzgerald. He didn't have a huge game for much of last night, but the late breakaway touchdown was a thing of beauty when everyone knew he'd be Warner's top target, as he'd been in so many big plays over the past five weeks.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Football • | Politics 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
January 22, 2009
FOOTBALL: It's An Epidemic!

Another Giants wide receiver shot in the leg.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:51 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 8, 2009
FOOTBALL: Bill James vs the BCS

The master takes on college football's arcane ranking system: "It is very difficult to objectively measure anything if you don't know what it is you are measuring." I'm enough of a Bill James geek to recognize this passage as a slight rephrasing of a piece of the Oakland A's comment in the 1984 Abstract:

[T]he rankings are routinely described as "computer" rankings. Computers, like automobiles and airplanes, do only what people tell them to do. If you're driving to Cleveland and you get lost and wind up in Youngstown, you don't blame your car. If you're doing a ranking system and you wind up with Murray State in western Kentucky as the national football champion, you don't blame the computer.

And so, "whenever the computer rankings don't jibe with the 'human polls,' they fix the computers." He gets crabbier after that, in classic Bill James style.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:50 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 15, 2008
FOOTBALL: Classic Simmons

BTW, you missed a great column if you didn't read Bill Simmons' amazingly comprehensive NFL anti-gift list.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:31 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 18, 2008
FOOTBALL: There's No Tying In Football

Yes, it's definitely Andy Reid's responsibility to make sure his players know that it's possible to have a tie in an NFL game. I mean, that doesn't let Donovan McNabb off the hook for the fact that he still doesn't know the rule:

"I guess we're aware of it now," McNabb said. "In college, there are multiple overtimes, and in high school and Pop Warner. I never knew in the professional ranks it would end that way. I hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl and in the playoffs."

Uh, they keep playing if it's tied in the playoffs or Super Bowl. But McNabb apparently didn't know that, either.

But Reid's been McNabb's coach since 1999. And he never covered this? Wow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Football | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
September 9, 2008
FOOTBALL/LAW: Facenda v NFL Films

The very existence of this lawsuit makes me sad.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 PM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 23, 2008
FOOTBALL/WAR: George Martin Still Rules

Martin has just finished his cross-country walk to raise money for September 11 responders.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:16 PM | Football • | War 2007-18 | TrackBack (0)
June 9, 2008
FOOTBALL: Strahan Retires

A blow to the Giants, even with his successor in place. Strahan definitely retires as one of the great Giants on a franchise with a long and distinguished history of outstanding defensive players.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:18 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
FOOTBALL/LAW: Commerce? We're Students!

You know, I'm not really an expert on this particular corner of antitrust law, so maybe I'm missing a good, persuasive argument for why this rule makes sense, but I have to express some cognitive dissonance at the Sixth Circuit throwing out a lawsuit by a former Kentucky assistant football coach on the grounds, among others, that the NCAA rule enforcement process is not subject to the antitrust laws because it does not involve commercial activity:

In order to state a claim under the Sherman Act there must be a commercial activity implicated....the appropriate inquiry is whether the rule itself is commercial, not whether the entity promulgating the rule is commercial.... Although the question before us is whether the enforcement activities of NCAA violate the Sherman Act and not a particular rule, the analysis must focus on the enforcement action itself and not NCAA as a commercial entity....Bassett's Complaint contains considerable information on the size and scope of college football and the revenues generated by it. The Complaint is wholly devoid of any allegation on the commercial nature of NCAA's enforcement of the rules it determined Bassett had violated. Bassett's Complaint contends NCAA's enforcement process violated its own due process requirements and, as a result, constitutes a Sherman Act violation. We find Bassett's Complaint lacks the critical commercial activity component required to permit application of the Sherman Act.

...NCAA's rules on recruiting student athletes, specifically those rules prohibiting improper inducements and academic fraud, are all explicitly noncommercial. In fact, those rules are anti-commercial and designed to promote and ensure competitiveness amongst NCAA member schools. Violation of the applicable NCAA rules gives the violator a decided competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining highly prized student athletes. It also violates the spirit of amateur athletics by providing remuneration to athletes in exchange for their commitments to play for the violator's football program. Finally, violators of these rules harm the student-athlete academically when coaches and assistants complete coursework on behalf of the student-athlete.

If the rules themselves and the corresponding sanctions are not commercial, as the reasoning
in Smith supports, then the enforcement of those rules cannot be commercial. As long as the
enforcement of non-commercial rules is reasonably and rationally related to the rules themselves, we find enforcement is a non-commercial activity.

I'm not saying the rule should be different, since there is much to be said for keeping NCAA decisions of this nature from turning into federal lawsuits. But one gets the sense that the salami is being sliced rather narrowly here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:29 PM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 5, 2008
FOOTBALL: Most Fierce

judgeyou.JPGCBS Sportsline sent me an email promoting this contest to name....the "Most Fierce NFL Mascot."

At least they didn't say "Most Fiercest." Be thankful for the little things.

As for the contest, other than Pat Patriot I was blissfully ignorant of any of the macots. Football just doesn't lend itself to mascots that well, especially pro football. Although I suspect "Raider Fans" will win the poll.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:47 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 29, 2008

I guess I am not the only one to notice that Ben Sheets is a dead ringer for Brett Favre:


At one point during lunch, a fan approached Sheets and said "Hey Brett, how are you enjoying retirement?"

"I'm not Brett," Sheets said, pointing at [Geoff] Jenkins, who was mistaken for Brett Favre early in his career. "He is."

The confused fan walked away as the players laughed.

"I loved it," Jenkins said. "And he was dead-set that it was Sheeter. Now that I'm gone, I guess I'll pass that on to Sheets. I passed the torch."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Football | TrackBack (0)
April 22, 2008
FOOTBALL: Husker Too?

I suppose, given the state of Holy Cross football, I can understand why Justice Thomas prefers to root for Nebraska.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Football | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 4, 2008
FOOTBALL: Big Blue David

This is truly a moment to savor, as it's the first time in 17 years that one of my three teams (Mets, Giants, Franchise Formerly Known as the Knicks) has won it all. Before the game I had expected that the Giants would hang with the Pats for at least the first half, but I never thought they would actually pull this off. And I'll admit that over the past two seasons I never believed that Eli would turn into the kind of QB who could run that incredible do-or-die drive to retake the lead down 4 in the closing two minutes. And maybe I haven't paid close enough attention to the NFL but it still amazes me that the Giants were able to do this without Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey, the two mainstays of their offense these last few years. And on top of that, a quiet day by Tiki's replacement, Brandon Jacobs.

The co-MVP of the game could easily have been David Tyree, who caught Eli's first TD pass and had a number of impressive catches including a crucial 24-yard circus catch off the top of his helmet in the final drive that looked like a throwback to the stickum age. But the play that will most likely be re-shown in the days to come was Eli evading the grasp of defenders who nearly tore the jersey off his back to complete a 45-yard strike over the middle to Kevin Boss early in the 4th quarter when the game was still stalled at 7-3 Pats.

If there was one downside to this game it was the officiating, which seemed intrusive and yet missed shenanigans caught on camera by both sides on a couple of occasions.

Nobody will weep for Goliath - least of all the now-giddy 72 Dolphins - the Pats have plenty of rings to count. But from this day forward the credcendo will build whenever a team gets to 10-0 or so that they better lose now and not wait until the Super Bowl. Which is probably unfair to the Patriots, who just looked last night like a team that got beat by another team, not a team that played too tight and choked.

UPDATE: A few additional thoughts:

1. I didn't give the Giants D nearly enough credit above for stopping the Pats' vaunted offense. This defensive unit may not have the big names of Giant defenses of yore, but they showed up when it counted.

2. I guess it's no surprise that I can't reach firetomcoughlin.com this morning.

SECOND UPDATE: Yeah, I somehow got the plays mixed up in my head and forgot that the Eli torn-jersey play was actually the same play as Tyree's helmet-catch. Duh.

Also, humbling moment of the day: watching scrawny little Wes Welker, realizing that he's even smaller without his pads...and being informed that Welker is my height and outweighs me by 40 pounds.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:05 AM | Football | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
January 22, 2008
FOOTBALL: Giants Among...The NFC

Sunday night's Giants-Packers NFC title game made me nostalgic for the days when I used to follow the NFL every week, rather than casually with my full attention not focused until the playoffs. It was a rare kind of classic game - typically a monster game involves two offenses clicking on all cylinders (like the Giants-Pats season finale - the all-time classic of this was the famous Chargers-Dolphins playoff in 1981), or two great defenses slugging it out, or a great offense against a great defense. But this was one of those rare games - much like the 1991 Giants-Bills Super Bowl - that was crisply played by both teams on both sides of the ball, and doubly impressive for such great football being played in such terrible cold. I don't think I have ever seen so many passes completed by one team with just tiptoes in fair territory on the sidelines (many of them diving grabs) as the much- and (until very recently) justly-maligned Eli Manning hit to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in this game. Those weren't blown coverages, as few of them were totally wide-open; they were just a QB in perfect sync with his receivers and the receivers making amazing snatches. Burress and Toomer have to be the best Giants receiving corps ever (and rookie Stephen Smith wasn't too shabby over the middle, either). The only marring factor was Lawrence Tynes' disastrous kicking before the OT game-winner; it reminded me all too much of the infamous Seahawks game two years ago when Jay Feeley missed three game-winning field goals, one to end regulation and two in overtime.

One thing you have to say is that Tom Coughlin's decision to play full-bore for the 'meaningless' win the last day of the season against New England was the right decision. Going the distance against the undefeated Pats juggernaut clearly gave this team a confidence boost, and now they face the Patriots feeling quite reasonably like they can take them. I'm doubtful that they will, not least because it's nearly impossible to beat a demonstrably better team in the playoffs with an unreliable kicker. But there's time yet for hope.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:30 AM | Football | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
January 9, 2008

And it's only four letters. H/T Ben.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:14 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
January 3, 2008
SPORTS: Best Features of 2007

The WSJ's sports blog has a roundup of some great feature stories of the past year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:06 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Basketball • | Football • | Other Sports | TrackBack (0)
November 3, 2007
FOOTBALL: The Big Spread

Seriously, did you ever expect to see a team that was (1) the defending Super Bowl champs, (2) undefeated 7 weeks into the season, (3) playing at home, (4) against a team they beat in the playoffs the previous year, (5) who just lost their leading rusher for the season...and be a 5-6 point underdog?

I'm not saying the oddsmakers are crazy, given how the Patriots have played this season, but it remains an astonishing set of circumstances. As for the "Game of the Century" hype...um, don't we expect these same two teams to likely meet again in the playoffs?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:33 PM | Football | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
October 16, 2007
FOOTBALL: As American As...

The Super Bowl in London?

It's not complete heresy - this is football, not baseball, after all - but it does seem a bit much to take the nation's premier championship sporting event on the road.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Football | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2007
FOOTBALL: Lowered Expectations

You know, once you've been an ex-backup punter at the college level, it's all downhill.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:15 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
September 13, 2007
FOOTBALL: Bill Belichick's Patriot Act

No, especially after reading KSK's take I couldn't resist that title.

The news that Jets coach Eric Mangini caught Bill Belichick in the act of stealing the Jets' defensive signals via video camera in violation of NFL rules presents a number of interesting issues. For obvious reasons, the NFL isn't going to go back and start forfeiting games or kick Belichick out of the league, but the penalty does have to be real and stiff to discourage this sort of thing from happening; the NFL has talked about docking the team draft picks, and a first round pick would be a sufficiently stiff penalty that it should be included. And yes, the penalty should fall on the team as a whole, since this was an operation involving multiple people from the head coach on down for the benefit of the club.

Sign-stealing has a long pedigree, of course, and in baseball we have the now-notorious example (only unearthed 50 years later) of the 1951 Giants' elaborate surveillance operation. But while baseball has mostly treated it as a venial sin and one that carries no penalty if you aren't caught red-handed (as the Patriots here were) it strikes me as being a more serious issue in football, given the elaborate nature of the play-calling process in today's game.

At the same time, I'm not so quick to jump on the bandwagon of people trying to strip the legitimacy of the Patriots' titles; as is often the case with these things, you start doing that and it raises the issue of who else got away with what that was never known or suspected.

Probably the biggest lesson of the whole affair is that you should never use dirty tricks against people who used to work for you and know your M.O. "The Mangenius" knew Belichick's tricks from having worked for the Pats; if Belichick expected Mangini to keep quiet out of an unspoken code of loyalty, he shouldn't have tried the same thing against Mangini's team.

Oh, and: don't mess with a guy who knows Tony Soprano.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Football | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
August 24, 2007
FOOTBALL: Look For The Union Mug Shot


ESPN's Howard Bryant pens an uncommonly silly but revealing column arguing that the NFL Players Union should have put up a major fight to defend Michael Vick precisely because his conduct was, in Bryant's word, "indefensible."

Leaving aside for the moment the question of how serious Vick's conduct was and whether it ought to be a federal crime, Bryant's attitude is precisely what is wrong with many unions:

In the coming years, that will prove to be a colossal mistake. Vick deserves to go to prison, but the union's job is to defend every player's right to work.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, built and sustained by Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr and three generations of resolute players, long ago answered the question of defending the indefensible. The multiple drug abuse cases of Steve Howe, the spitting incident of Roberto Alomar and most recently the way the players association has handled much of the steroids era have served as examples of a union not finding itself on the right or popular side of an issue and at risk of damaging its public image. The rationale was this: How you fight today sets the parameters for the battles of tomorrow.


The responsibility of a union is to defend its membership -- every time, all the time, if for no other reasons than to send a dissenting vote to management that its membership always will be protected by a strong union and to alert the commissioner that his powers always will be checked by an advocate for the players. The union's message should be that a commissioner cannot simply do whatever he wants.


So the union has an understanding that it won't be blindsided by a runaway commissioner, adopting a position closer to equity shareholder than skeptical watchdog. It has labor peace and can take comfort in not worrying about losing public goodwill during contract years or losing face should its membership crack during pressurized labor negotiations. The union seems comforted that it is treated as an inside player instead of a hostile entity. But what good is maintaining the peace if it is not accompanied by power?

There are many fair arguments to be had for the pros and cons of unionizing for the purpose of better wages, benefits and working conditions. But those are general benefits, obtained by the whole union to benefit the whole union.

By contrast, when a union goes to bat for an accused or proven miscreant, or for that matter for its most incompetent or insubordinate employees or to otherwise block management's efforts to reward the better performers and weed out those who don't do the job, it is using the strength of the many to benefit the few - and indeed, to benefit those few who least deserve it. That's antithetical to the entire idea of unions as a collective effort to benefit everyone, and perversely rewards wrongdoers. And of course, it harms the business from which the union's members derive their livelihoods.

A union may think, as Don Fehr does, that you never give in to management on something management wants unless you get something in return. But that is a misunderstanding born of hubris. In fact, a union, like any other contestant in an ongoing power struggle, has only limited resources: only so much money, only so much time and attention from its leaders, lawyers and members, only so many battles it can fight without triggering an irrational response from management or draining the resources ofthe business as a whole (and thus shrinking the pie), only so many concessions it can extract. A union that prioritizes fighting for the protection of members who are criminals is expending resources that could be used to benefit members who actually stay out of trouble and do their jobs. A union that extracts concessions of that nature is failing to extract others that may be more evenly enjoyed.

Unions, especially private sector unions, have been in trouble for a while in this country, losing footholds in organizing and seeing the industries they dominate weaken. There are many reasons for this, but if there's a single characteristic of unions that is most unattractive and most gratuitously damaging to the businesses that employ them, it is the determination to go to the mat for members of the union who misbehave or don't perform at their jobs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:57 PM | Business • | Football | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 22, 2007

My kids hate Michael Vick. Not, mind you, because of anything he did on or off the field, but simply because on vacation, every time they turned on ESPN to get baseball news, they instead got The Passion of the Vick, repeated endlessly. (Two summers ago it was the same with Terrell Owens).

Vick's deal is no cakewalk - a likely 12-18-month sentence plus possible state charges carrying stiffer fines. In fact, I don't know if I would have let him plead to the federal charges given the state exposure. Although I can't say I see what point there is to the state getting involved once he has plead to a federal felony; is Virginia really that short on crimes to prosecute?

Apparently, Vick is cooperating with an ongoing investigation of other dogfighting rings, so analysts like Roger Cossack were wrong in assuming that he had nothing more to offer once his co-defendants pleaded out. But even if he was the last man standing, Vick had two key chips to play. First, if the investigation really had ended with him, there's the benefit to the prosecutors of being able to close a case and close it successfully - move on to other things, wrap up without a defeat or a messy, labor-intensive trial.

And second, Vick's plea legitimizes his prosecution - not a minor thing when a man has lined up the NAACP and similar groups to charge racism and witch-hunting in the bringing of the investigation. Having the man stand up and accept responsibility goes a long way in that regard.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:10 AM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
July 30, 2007
FOOTBALL: The Bill Walsh Way

One-liner of the day, on the passing of Bill Walsh.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:50 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
May 23, 2007
FOOTBALL: Boys Will Be Boys

But someone still cares to teach them to be men.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:50 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
May 14, 2007

Was behind on my KSK but this is hilarious.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:15 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
April 4, 2007
WAR: McGovern's Book

Sooner or later I will have to read "All American: Why I Believe in Football, God, and the War in Iraq," by Ropb McGovern, a lawyer, former NFL player, and graduate of Holy Cross and of my high school's arch-rivals Bergen Catholic who left the Manhattan DA's office after September 11 to become a JAG lawyer in Afghanistan and Iraq (I linked to an interview with him here).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Football • | War 2007-18 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 25, 2007
FOOTBALL: One Ring To...

New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft's wife on how Vladimir Putin ended up with Kraft's Super Bowl ring:

As Kraft tells it, she and her husband were in St. Petersburg with Sandy Weill, then the chairman of Citigroup Inc., their "good friend" the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, an oil executive, and a physician. That group, all except for Kraft, met at Konstantinovsky Palace with the Russian president, and when she next saw her husband in their hotel room, he confessed he had a problem. "They were getting up for formal pictures, and Sandy said to Robert, 'Why don't you show the president your ring?'" she says. "So Robert never wears the ring, [but] sometimes, in certain instances, he'll have it in his pocket, he'll take it out. Putin put it on his finger, and his first comment was 'I could kill someone with this,' which was a little bit of an unusual comment, and then they took pictures, and Putin put it back in his pocket and walked out."

Then the fuss began. The story leaked to the media, and Robert Kraft issued a statement: "I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin."

Myra Kraft even has an explanation for the official story. "Sandy called and said, 'You've got to do something to put this at rest,' so Robert said 'fine' and came up with some statement about the warm fuzzy feelings he had being in Russia. Of course, his forebears were probably raped and pillaged by these people, but Robert had to make it sound good," she says. "That's what it is. And so he got another one."

The article also has some Holy Cross-related anecdotes, for those of you who are interested.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:26 PM | Football • | War 2007-18 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 12, 2007
FOOTBALL: The Blind Side

Just in case you may have considered not reading Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, I'm here to tell you to reconsider. The Blind Side is one of the best sports books I've ever read.

Like Lewis' previous books Liar's Poker (about Salomon Brothers in the 1980s) and Moneyball (about the Oakland A's in the past decade), The Blind Side is fundamentally a book about markets and how they interact with the people whose unique skills or insights are suddenly made valuable by those markets. In this case, it's the market for NFL left tackles who protect the end of the line of scrimmage on a right-handed quarterback's blind side from increasingly quick and dangerous pass rushers. Lewis starts his tale with a (literally) shattering anecdote, recounting in stop-motion detail Lawrence Taylor's legendary hit on Joe Theismann and noting that the Redskins' star left tackle, Joe Jacoby, was on the sidelines that night. Lewis then details the rapid rise of left tackle salaries and the ripple effect that has had on the position all the way down to high school.

Wrapped inside a book about markets, however, is a second story - a unique coming of age story that takes over the narrative. Lewis follows Michael Oher, a 16-year-old African-American kid from the worst possible part of Memphis who arrives, Tarzan-like, at an overwhelmingly white Christian school with nothing but the ideal physical size and gifts to be an NFL left tackle. And I do mean nothing: no family, no home, no education, no money, no background in organized sports, no medical history - but also, perhaps surprisingly given his background, no boiling anger, no criminal record, no bad habits. The kid was just a complete cipher. It's an amazing testament to the generosity of his neighbors that a kid who never knew where his next meal was coming from somehow made his way to 350 pounds of mostly muscle by age 16.

I've been told by more careful watchers of the NFL that Lewis has a few factual details wrong - names misspelled, dates wrong. As a narrative, the only false note in the book is a chapter entitled "Death of a Lineman," which ends with the early death from cancer of 49ers guard John Ayers; while Ayers' story fits neatly into Lewis' narrative, his death really has nothing to do with nothing, and feels tacked on for surplus emotion (perhaps it would have felt less so if not for the chapter title).

This book may be less significant than Moneyball, in that it's far less likely to stir new debate in the NFL, but it's a great yarn full of laugh-out-loud "wow" moments (I may be biased because I went into Moneyball knowing more of the story). On the other hand, Lewis does also manage to bring in more of the world outside football through his examination of a Memphis neighborhood that is staggering even by the standards of urban poverty.

Lewis was a childhood friend of Sean Touhy, the Memphis businessman who takes Oher under his wing, and so this is the second outstanding book that Lewis essentially fell into, the first being Liar's Poker, which came out of Lewis' own tenure working at Salomon Brothers. That said, he's a tremendous writer and it's a tale worth the telling.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:00 AM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 8, 2007
FOOTBALL: Winning the Big One

KSK has the definitive last word on Peyton Manning.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:44 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 5, 2007

Peyton Manning seemed to spend much of last night with a look on his face that said, "hey, nobody told me the Super Bowl was going to be this wet!" Then again, that's better than Rex Grossman's look of "hey, those cars are coming at me really fast."

On the whole, from what I was able to see, it was a pretty solid game, not one of the greatest or most well-played Super Bowls but the outcome stayed in doubt into the fourth quarter, which is good. And it was worth it to see Manning finally win it just to hear the grinding of gears by sportswriters suddenly switching directions after years of branding him with the scarlet "L".

I have to think that one beneficiary of Manning's victory is Eli. Now, Eli has plenty of problems, but one less is having the burden of thinking that even if he got as good as his brother that still would never be enough to silence the critics, the boo birds, etc. This season, Eli can go back to worrying about living up to his family, not living down to it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Football | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
February 3, 2007
FOOTBALL: Irvin Yes, Monk No

I'm not ready to burn bridges over this, but I agree 100% with Ben that it's an outrage for the NFL to vote Michael Irvin into Canton over Art Monk.

UPDATE: I should add that when I saw the full list of people on the ballot, what's really outrageous is that they left out Derrick Thomas.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:28 PM | Football | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)
January 30, 2007
BLOG: Quick Links 1/30/07

*The Schottenheimer Playoff Coaching Index!

*From the same source: Rick Mirer, the worst NFL QB ever. Note that the list also includes Danny Kanell, Scott Brunner, Kerry Collins, Dave Brown, and Kent Graham.

*Via Instapundit, the Top Ten Iraq War Myths.

*In one January strike, the Iraqis brought down the highest ranking casualties of the war. (Confirmed here). One hopes this was just a coincidence and not a sign of inflitration or other compromising of our operational intelligence.

*John Kerry finally gets good press - in Iran's state-run media. I had more on his latest foot-in-mouth episode at RedState yesterday, including links to other sources. The most charitable reading of all this is that Kerry really is an idiot.

*Jimmy Carter backs off the implication that suicide bombing is a legitimate tactic that need not be stopped until the Israelis make certain concessions.

*Israeli PM Ehud Olmert on Iran. (A government that now includes a Muslim cabinet member - don't hold your breath for a Christian or Jew in the regimes of Israel's enemies).

*Did Barack Obama choose to run in 2008 rather than wait longer because a run now would be easier on his children, ages 5 and 8?

*Obi-Wan's cloak for sale!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:40 AM | Blog 2006-Present • | Football • | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-18 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
January 8, 2007
FOOTBALL: Time for Pitchers and Catchers

Well, the NFL season ended in a hurry in New York (not that this was any great surprise on either count), and with the Knicks done for the decade that leaves us non-hockey fans to await baseball season.

Not to take anything away from the Eagles' victory (although watching the game you had to question if either team really deserved to win), but this one felt, most of all, like the Giants just ran out of time as opposed to getting beat. At the end, though, they just didn't have the old Big Blue defensive stoppers.

It's a shame, of course, that the Giants weren't better positioned to capitalize on the seasons Tiki had the last two years; with his retirement it seems vanishingly unlikely they will be a playoff team next year. We'll see soon enough if Coughlin comes back (or if the Giants decide to get a coach who can keep his players from getting whistled every other down). Either way, next year has to be Manning's last in New York unless he steps up in a major way - if his name was Eli Jones he might well have to battle to keep his starting job after this one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Football | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
January 5, 2007
FOOTBALL: Centerpiece

Good Slate column appreciating the importance of centers. I'm just starting the Michael Lewis book mentioned here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:43 PM | Football | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
December 14, 2006
BLOG: Quick Links 12/14/06

*One of the more doleful implications of a very narrowly divided polity is the places it leads partisans to go in search of that one last vote that turns an election, a court, a majority, a presidency. So it is difficult for Republicans to resist the temptation to hope for a change in the Senate upon the news that South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is in critical condition after what may or may not have been a stroke. The right thing to do, of course, is to wish Senator Johnson and his family well (this is especially so because Tim Johnson, whatever his ideology, is not a loathesome human being like Ted Kennedy). Thinking otherwise may be only human, but it's a reflex to resist.

All things considered, it probably would be for the better if more states had laws that require the appointment of a replacement Senator of the same party, followed by a special election, if an incumbent dies or needs to be replaced - I believe such a law is in place in Hawaii, which has a GOP Governor and two elderly Democratic Senators, and a similar law (the details of which I forget) was enacted in Massachusetts when John Kerry was running for president. That said, existing practice in the absence of such a statute is to replace the Senator however the governor wants, as happened when the Republicans lost Paul Coverdell's Senate seat in Georgia and John Heinz's seat in Pennsylvania (both of which the GOP recaptured at the next election), or when Jesse Ventura appointed an independent to fill out Paul Wellstone's term.

*Count Rudy Giuliani and John McCain with the skeptics about the Iraq Study Group. As of Sunday, Mitt Romney was ducking the issue and saying he hadn't read the report, although a commenter at RedState has a purported statement from Romney that likewise hits the right notes in rejecting consensus for its own sake and rejecting negotiations with Iran and Syria. Still, there's a worrisome pattern to Romney's delayed reactions. The GOP needs its next candidate to be someone who can roll with the punches and drive the public narrative.

On the other hand, Syria loves the ISG report:

The United States will face hatred and failure in the Middle East if the White House rejects the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, Syria warned on Sunday, according to The Associated Press. Syria's ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper urged President Bush to take the group's report seriously because it would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in region," AP reported.

*Academic Elephant over at RedState notes a movement (see also here and here and here), apparently with at least tacit U.S. approval, to break up the current governing coalition in the Iraqi Parliament so as to remove the increasingly ineffectual al-Maliki as leader, build a new coalition that does not depend on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, and set the stage for a second and hopefully final military showdown with the Sadrists. This would be a necessary step to finishing the job in Iraq.

*This is just a really cool article about turtles. It also pretty well captures the NY Times science section, which still does about the best stuff in the paper - but the headline writer couldn't resist going for an anti-people headline that is really only a small part of the article.

*Great New Republic profile of Sam Brownback, once you make allowances for Noam Scheiber's view of the Catholic Church as a secretive cult. I'm not inclined to support Brownback for president because I don't think he can win (not least of which, the man isn't exactly Mr. Charisma), but I probably agree with him on more issues than most of the other candidates. He'd make a great Senate Majority Leader someday.

*Peter King (the football writer, not Peter King the Congressman) admits error, supports Art Monk for the NFL Hall of Fame.

*I'm all for attacking terrorism at its roots, but poverty ain't it. It's political and religious extremism married to anti-American and anti-Israel ideologies.

*Justices Scalia and Breyer debate the divisive issue of unanimity.

*Eliot Spitzer under pressure from Democratic legislators to allow drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants. New York moved to require more secure driver's licenses after September 11 by requiring social security number background checks before issuing a driver's license. Little faith though I have in our new Governor, you would think he won't be this indifferent to law enforcement and security concerns, let alone allowing the privileges of citizenship without its burdens.

*I'm sorry, this is just hilarious.

*Linda Greenhouse on the shrinking Supreme Court docket. This point is a useful fact:

One [reason] is the decreasing number of appeals filed on behalf of the federal government by the solicitor general’s office. Over the decades, the Supreme Court has granted cases filed by the solicitor general’s office at a high rate. In the mid-1980s, the office was filing more than 50 petitions per term. But as the lower federal courts have become more conservative and the government has lost fewer cases, the number has plummeted, opening a substantial hole in the court’s docket.

As recently as the court’s 2000 term, the solicitor general filed 24 petitions, of which 17 were granted. Last term, it filed 10, of which the court granted 4. This term, the solicitor general has filed 13 petitions; the court has granted 5, denied 3 and is still considering the rest.

This, I'm less convinced of:

In private conversations, the justices themselves insist that nothing so profound is going on, but rather seem mystified at what they perceive as a paucity of cases that meet the court’s standard criteria. The most important of those criteria is whether a case raises a question that has produced conflicting decisions among the lower federal courts.

I can certainly attest from my own practice that I routinely encounter issues of federal law that are deeply unsettled or as to which a circuit split exists (in areas like securities law, RICO, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, class action procedure, etc.). The Court has been wise to trim its docket from the days of the 1960s-70s; the quality and care with which opinions are crafted has noticeably increased, and it's crucial for the Court to get things right because it often will not return to a particular question again for decades, if ever. But if the Court really wants to take on a few more cases it should have no problem finding appropriate vehicles to clarify unsettled issues.

*Consumer fraud statutes as a remedy for descendants of slaves? (See p. 14). (H/T). I know at least under New York's consumer fraud law, you need to show some loss beyond than just having bought something you would not otherwise have bought, and Justice Breyer has worried about the free speech implications of such lawsuits, which I guess puts him to the right of Judges Posner and Easterbrook on this one.

*DC District Court finds that its jurisdiction over the Hamdan habeas petition has been validly stripped.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:08 AM | Blog 2006-Present • | Football • | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2006 • | Politics 2008 • | War 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 4, 2006
FOOTBALL: A Cry For Help

From Eli Manning. Hat tip: Galley Slaves.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:58 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 10, 2006

Not the usual intro to a story about a low-profile statewide race in Wisconsin:

Sex! The Green Bay Packers! Sex WITH the Green Bay Packers!

The usually ho-hum race for Wisconsin secretary of state is being spiced up by one candidate's naughty tell-all book about her bed-hopping exploits with Green Bay football legends during the team’s glory days under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

Sandy Sullivan, a 65-year-old Republican with no political experience, self-published a gushing memoir in 2004 titled "Green Bay Love Stories and Other Affairs" in which she claims she was the girlfriend of Green Bay Packers Paul Hornung and Dan Currie, deflected a pass from Hall of Famer Don Hutson and was on the receiving end of a saucy comment from Richard Nixon.

I also did not realize the La Folletes, like the Tafts, were still active in politics.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:10 PM | Football • | Politics 2006 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 11, 2006
FOOTBALL/LAW: The Washington Pigskins?

A group of Native Americans are petitioning the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the Washington Redskins' trademark. This is apparently a second effort to do this; the first is still being litigated:

Federal trademark law dictates that the government will not register any trademark that disparages any person or group, and in 1999, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the Redskins trademark was disparaging. The NFL appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court, which in 2003 reversed the PTO, ruling that the name wasn't disparaging. Further, said the trial court, laches (essentially, a statute of limitations) barred the Native Americans' claim because the Redskins had registered their trademark way back in 1967. The Native Americans then appealed to the D.C. Circuit, which issued an opinion last year declining to rule on disparagement but asking the trial court to reconsider the laches issue.

Actually, laches is a specific type of limitations - rather than a period of years, a laches defense is based on unreasonable delay in bringing a claim. The new plaintiffs apparently hope to avoid the laches defense because they are young, but I don't see how that helps them, since the disparagement is of a group of people and the Redskins have reasonably relied on the mark for four decades.

That said, I do think that "Redskins," far more than other Native American team names, is in fact derogatory, and even if legal action is inappropriate, it would behoove the team to change its name. I've long argued that they should change the team name to "Pigskins" - it's got an obvious football connection, it connects with the team's "Hogs" tradition, they would still be the "Skins," and even the theme song could become "Hail to the Pigskins" without much trouble.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:38 PM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 12, 2006
FOOTBALL: Roethlisberger Injured

Let's hope he makes a full recovery; it appears that he suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:25 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
May 31, 2006
FOOTBALL: Best Blog Post Title Ever

From Will Collier.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:38 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
February 15, 2006
FOOTBALL/LAW: The 12th Man

This just seemed like a silly thing to need a lawsuit over (and yes, I understand that trademark law sometimes forces you to do this). I wonder what's happened to it since the Super Bowl.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:08 AM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 16, 2006
FOOTBALL: I'll Say This Much

Yeah, my opinion counts for little enough, given how little I've seen of the NFL this year. Going into today's game, I could not have named one Bear besides Brian Urlacher. Now, I can name two - Urlacher and Rex Grossman. Not that I suspect that's a name I'll need to remember; from what I saw today, Grossman appears to be the NFL's answer to Nelson de la Rosa, a good luck charm of little practical utility.

But I'll say this: the Panthers have to be the favorites now to win it all. To do what they did to the Giants' running game and the Bears' defense in consecutive weeks on the road is just remarkable. John Fox has them playing old-school NFC football, and that will keep paying dividends.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 AM | Football | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
January 9, 2006
FOOTBALL: Men Among Giants

Yesterday's playoff defeat for the Giants could hardly have been more humiliating or demoralizing - I think Eli Manning may have passed for more yards to Panthers than to Giants. The Giants became the first playoff team to be shut out at home in 26 years (the last was Doug Williams' Buccaneers). What was particularly frustrating was that ex-Giants defensive coordinator John Fox did it by playing classic Giants football, munching the clock and stifling the Giants' running game. Take-home lesson: the single most essential element of a successful playoff team is the ability to stop the run. (#2 is a good offensive line; #3 is a kicker who is at least adequate; only after that can you start talking about skill positions, the pass rush and the secondary).

While the Giants were never the same this season after Antonio Pierce got hurt, and the injuries to the defense were clearly a factor yesterday, the defeat was too complete to blame on any one factor.

One result of this debacle, of course, will be to ratchet up the playoff pressure on Peyton Manning, since Eli's Jay Schroeder-ish performance only underscored the perception that the Mannings don't show up for big games.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:54 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
December 6, 2005
WAR/FOOTBALL: Crusading Again

Great KC Star story about Rob McGovern, Holy Cross class of '89 and a 4-year veteran of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has spent the past four years as a JAG lawyer in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was a whole family of McGoverns that played football at HC - they all went to Bergen Catholic, my high school's hated arch rivals (the BC football team was also the Crusaders).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:27 PM | Football • | War 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 12, 2005
FOOTBALL: Caught Red-. . .

There certainly should be a punishment for this. I share Ed Morrissey's skepticism that a man would carry this thing for another man.

via Off Wing Opinion

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:45 PM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2005

Interesting article in Reason Magazine arguing that the big Supreme Court takings case this term, as well as another rather flimsy-sounding lawsuit against the Bengals could spell real trouble for future efforts to soak the taxpayers for publicly-funded stadiums (via Bashman). Personally, I've long thought that - as a condition of exemption from the antitrust laws - it would be perfectly legitimate for the federal government to intervene by statute to prevent big-time pro sports teams from extorting public money as a condition of not relocating. While that would go against my usual disinclination to over-regulate business and interfere in state and local government, a statutory solution could be necessary to protect state and local taxpayers from the undue leverage created by the ability of sports teams to relocate and not be replaced.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:13 AM | Baseball 2005 • | Football • | Law 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
April 18, 2005

RIP Sam Mills, a hero to undersized athletes everywhere.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:19 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
February 9, 2005
FOOTBALL: Show Me The Money!

The Onion on the Super Bowl. The pictures just make this one. And make sure you read to the last line. (via Ryne McLaren).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
February 7, 2005
FOOTBALL: For $ale

Good game last night, not that I have anything to add to the mountain of press coverage; I'd agree with the obvious observation that the major difference in the game was the Eagles' inability to run the football.

You know, I'm not easily offended by "commercialization," but it just cracked me up flipping channels minutes after the game ended to see the Home Shopping Network on the field at Jacksonville hawking stuff. Amazing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:26 AM | Football | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 20, 2005
FOOTBALL: Scandalous Picks

Soxblog has the goods, based on an email to Bruce Allen at Boston Sports Media:

THIS IS THE BEST STORY OF THE DAY. In the Friday editions of the Boston Globe during football season, several Globe sports writers pick the winners for the following weekend's action. Thus some eyebrows were raised this weekend when the Globe's lead football correspondent Ron Borges picked the Patriots in Friday's paper and then on TV Sunday morning he picked the Colts. When challenged by one of his on-air interlocutors over the inconsistency, Borges said he didn't make the pick that was in his name in Friday's paper.

According to a Globe staffer's email to Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch (from whence this entire piece is virtually plagiarized), for years now Globe correspondents have frequently not made their own picks. A lot of times a writer or two wouldn't meet the deadline so a copy editor would make the picks that would be printed under the writer's name. With the Globe's legendary Will McDonough, the practice was apparently habitual. For years, "his" picks were made by a copy editor. Sometimes one of the of the putative expert's "picks" would even be made by an intern!

(via Kaus)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
December 21, 2004
FOOTBALL: Punch Drunk

Bill Simmons has a fun recap of last nights Patriot loss, including his take on how he would do the obligatory Monday Night Football introduction of himself:

I would give the "Bill Simmons, College of the Holy Cross" instead of just the "Holy Cross," to squeeze the extra three words in for more camera time. And I think I would grow a cheesy porn mustache just for the occasion. But that's just me.

However, I cant help but wonder: can a regular season loss by a team that was 12-1 really qualify as a stomach-puncher?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:31 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
November 28, 2004

I don't follow the NFL as closely as I used to, but . . . well, when you look up "taking it to another level" in the dictionary, you get something like this.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:09 PM | Football | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
November 1, 2004
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: From the Frozen Tundra of Lambert Field

Brett Favre has apparently joined the Bush camp. Not a big surprise, but that?s good news for Republicans in Wisconsin, since Favre is easily more popular there than either of the two candidates this year.

(By the way, if you don?t get the headline above, you're obviously not following the campaign obsessively enough! See here.)

UPDATE: There is now some doubt about that earlier report. Maybe someone in Wisconsin could confirm or deny?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:33 AM | Football • | Politics 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2004

Yeah, Mike Lupica is just all class:

I've mentioned in the past, as a Boston College man, that if Notre Dame can't hold up its end of this football rivalry, we're going to have to drop them the way we did Holy Cross. But I was taught to be more generous than that at BC. So we'll keep playing them, just as long as they understand something: We're their daddy.

If you read the front end of the column, Lupica is laying the groundwork for his preferred storyline that blames everything on A-Rod, totally absolves Derek Jeter, and makes it out like the Yankees' ability to import an endless line of superstars is somehow a burden they have to carry. Well, of course.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:44 AM | Baseball 2004 • | Football | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
October 13, 2004
FOOTBALL/WAR: A Man Worth Remembering

Why does the NFL insist on fining Jake Plummer tens of thousands of dollars for honoring Pat Tillman? And what can you do about it? Eric McErlain tries to answer the second question.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
October 10, 2004
FOOTBALL: A Town, A Team, A Blog

Drew over The Longhorn Mafia offers a nice preview of Friday Night Lights which looks like it may be a good screen adaptation of the excellent book.

In fact, between the Astros series, the election and, of course, the Longhorns (despite their loss yesterday to Oklahoma), its a good site to check out overall.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:04 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
September 26, 2004
FOOTBALL: Overrated

Another not-new-but-new-to-me link: Aaron Schatz, moving on up to Slate, on why star running backs like Ricky Williams are overrated.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:25 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
May 25, 2004
FOOTBALL/LAW: Clarett Runs Out Of Time

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which previously lifted the injunction ordering the NFL to permit Maurice Clarett to participate in the NFL Draft, has now rejected Clarett's contention that the antitrust laws require the NFL to let him be eligible for the draft. The opinion is here, but it's pretty dry reading unless you're a labor antitrust lawyer (and believe me, that's coming from someone who reads a lot of judicial opinions). Clarett has 90 days to file a petition with the United States Supreme Court, although unless he can convince the Court to issue an injunction providing for new emergency relief, the Court's usual schedule won't permit his appeal to be heard and decided until December at the earliest, and quite probably after the NFL season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:41 PM | Football • | Law 2002-04 | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2004
BASEBALL/OTHER SPORTS etc.: Great Sports Moments

Michele asks for greatest sports moments. I'll repost my thoughts here. I'll agree with some of the moments cited by her commenters - Jose Canseco getting hit in the head with a ball and turning it into a home run is still the funniest thing that's ever happened. Bill Mazeroski's homer - ten years to the day before I was born - is tough to top for sheer instant drama and finality, especially when you consider the aura of invincability of those Yankees and the back-and-forth nature of that game and that series. And yes, I once had a poster on my wall of the famous Starks dunk over Jordan.

My personal favorite, of course, is still the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six, 1986 World Series, specifically Bob Stanley's game-tying wild pitch. Close behind are Robin Ventura's "grand slam single" in the rain in 1999 and virtually every minute of the 1991 Super Bowl.

Probably the most electric moment from a sport I don't follow or, ordinarily, even like that much was Sarah Hughes' gold medal winning figure skating performance, because she single-handedly did what I thought couldn't be done in figure skating: overcome the expectations and grab victory through the sheer brilliance of a single performance. In other words, for one night, she actually made figure skating a real sport.

The most memorable ones I've seen in person: (1) Game Six of the Knicks-Heat series in 1997, when half the team (including Patrick) was suspended and the MSG crowd just tried to will the skeleton roster to victory; (2) Brad Clontz' wild pitch in the last scheduled game of the regular season in 1999 to send the Mets to a 1-game playoff with the Reds.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:22 AM | Baseball 2004 • | Basketball • | Football • | Other Sports | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 30, 2004
FOOTBALL: The Arizona Rangers?

One more thought on the Pat Tillman story: the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman's former team, have announced plans to name a plaza outside their new stadium in his honor, which is a nice gesture. Some have gone further, suggesting that the whole place be named after him. Of course, the Cardinals are a for-profit business, and the rights to name a stadium is one of their major assets, so it's unsurprising that this idea will go nowhere.

But here's an idea that makes a lot more sense: rename the team. And not in honor only of Tillman, who after all went out of his way to avoid an excess of publicity about his decision. Call them the Arizona Rangers, in honor of Tillman's unit in the Army and their sacrifices over many generations, most famously in scaling the cliffs at Normandy on D-Day but in many other deadly engagements.

This makes sense, of course, in part because the Cards could use a name change anyway; their current name is too tied both to the Midwestern (Chicago/St. Louis) roots they left behind and to one of the most abysmal franchise histories in all of sport. Why not give the franchise an honorable excuse for a fresh start?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:55 AM | Football | Comments (7) | TrackBack (1)
April 28, 2004

If you're wondering why New York Giants fans are so excited about Eli Manning, well, let me offer some perspective here. Consider my somewhat-typical experience. I'm a Mets/Giants/Knicks fan, and I'm 32 years old. Manning gives me, potentially (if he lives up to billing), the opportunity to see my favorite team develop an offensive superstar. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan or a Lakers fan or, even, a Detroit Lions or Montreal Expos fan, that may not sound like anything terribly novel. But consider the top homegrown offensive stars of my three favorite teams over the past 30 years or so, at least based on their performance in NY:

1. Patrick Ewing
2. Darryl Strawberry
3. Phil Simms (yes, Simms contributed more than Strawberry, but except for a brief moment around 1984, he was never a carry-the-team kind of QB)
4. Edgardo Alfonzo
5. Rodney Hampton
6. Mark Jackson (yes, #2 all-time in assists, but Jackson's a slow guy who can't shoot and only once scored as many as 15 points per game)
7. Joe Morris
8. Todd Hundley (we're scraping here; Hundley spent more than half his Mets career as an offensive millstone, although he did set a home run record for catchers)
9. Ray Williams
10. Amani Toomer
11. Mark Bavaro (an icon, but only briefly a light-up-the-scoreboard player)
12. Tiki Barber
13. Michael Ray Richardson
14. Lee Mazzilli
15. John Starks (I count Starks and Mason as homegrown players, since the Knicks developed them as regulars)

That's a top-of-the head list (feel free to quibble - this one's a natural argument-starter), and after Ewing, it's pretty weak; plenty of individual franchises could do better. And neither of the corresponding lists will knock your socks off, either - the top guys who were brought along in NY but bloomed elsewhere (Rod Strickland, Ed McCaffrey, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Gregg Jefferies), and the top guys who arrived from elsewhere (a list that starts to fall off after Mike Piazza, Bernard King and Bob McAdoo - meaning no disrespect to Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez - and on which the top Giants are creaky old guys like Ottis Anderson and Fran Terkenton).

Looking at the list above, it's no surprise that the Mets have never had an MVP or a batting champ, the Knicks haven't had an MVP or scoring champ in the past 35 years, and I couldn't find the last time the Giants had a league leader in passing, rushing or receiving yards. My New York, at least, is a defensive town. That's why people went crazy for Stephon Marbury, who seems no more likely to bring home playoff glory than King or McAdoo, and why Mets fans are so hopeful about Jose Reyes if he can ever put together a healthy season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:21 AM | Baseball 2004 • | Basketball • | Football | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
April 27, 2004
FOOTBALL: Football Blogs

Ricky West's buddy the Failed M.C. is looking for Atlanta Falcons blogs. There is indeed a great dearth of football blogging out there (either that or I don't know where to look); even Football Outsiders seems a bit thin on its list of football blogs, especially team-specific ones.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:33 AM | Football | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
February 21, 2004
FOOTBALL: Screwing the NFL?

Gregg Easterbrook takes severe issue with Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling, in Maurice Clarett's case, striking down the NFL's minimum age rule. I'm not sure if I agree with all his points, but Easterbrook certainly makes the case that the league has a valid interest in preserving a high quality of play and in keeping college football's free publicity machine for future NFL stars going.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:21 AM | Football | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 20, 2004

One observant viewer of the Super Bowl points out that CBS appears to have blotted out the contents of posters behind the end zone, and speculates that CBS may have been concealing "John 3:16" banners.* (Link via Stuart Buck).

*For the uninitiated, John 3:16 is the one sentence of the Bible that many Christians feel captures the essence of Christianity; I can still recite it from memory, as our sophmore theology teacher in high school made us memorize it for every weekly test: "For God loved the world so much that He gave us His only Son, so that all who believe in Him may not die, but have eternal life."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Football • | Religion | TrackBack (0)
February 1, 2004
FOOTBALL/POP CULTURE: Return of the Sports Guy

I hope you haven't missed out on this week's rare treat: Bill Simmons is back and blogging twice a day. Bill's Boston Sports Guy site, of course, was a hit blog before most people knew what a blog was -- for the last few years of the 1990s, he was a mostly one-man show offering daily links and sidesplittingly funny commentary on sports and pop culture. (As many of you know, I got my own start on the Net on Bill's site from May 2000 to its demise a year later). Anyway, he's been reduced to two columns a week lately while working for the Jimmy Kimmel show, but this week he's been in Houston for the Super Bowl and back in top form. Click here for yesterday's entry and links to the rest of the week.

I confess to not having followed football that much this season, but Bill's Thursday column completely sold me on why the Patriots should be heavy favorites:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:40 AM | Football • | Pop Culture | TrackBack (0)
FOOTBALL: The Toll Of The Pounding

The NY Daily News has a sad look at the decrepit-before-his time Earl Campbell, who was absolutely the most unstoppable force I've ever seen on a football field - harder to contain in his prime even than Jerry Rice or Lawrence Taylor. The online edition lacks the photo (check here for that). Take a look at the white-bearded Campbell and ask yourself if you can believe this man is two years younger than John Edwards.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
January 20, 2004
FOOTBALL: Martzitis

If you didn't already, you should check out Bill Simmons' rambling Friday column . . . it defies summary (ice boogers! lunch with porn stars!), but this was my favorite part:

[W]e might as well call it "Martzitis" because he's the most famous case. Certain coaches have a pathological need to win on their terms -- they call ridiculous naked bootlegs and wide receiver screens in big moments, instead of just keeping things simple and putting their best players in position to make plays. Martz does this more than anyone. How many times did we see things like "Marc Bulger rolling out on a naked bootleg on third down, then getting creamed" in big situations?

Take the Rams-Pats Super Bowl. From everything Belichick said in the weeks and months following that game, he planned his defensive strategy based on Martz's ego: Even though Faulk was Martz's meal ticket, Belichick banked on Martz overthinking things, dipping into his bag of crazy plays and trying to do too much to win the game. So Belichick dropped extra people in coverage, used various blitzes and dared the Rams to run the ball. He knew Martz wouldn't bite. It was too easy -- Martz couldn't win that way. And it wasn't until the Rams fell behind that they simplified things and made a late charge.

Well, the same thing happened against the Panthers. They spent three quarters running crazy plays and screwing around, and it wasn't until the fourth quarter -- down by 11, eight minutes to play -- that they started moving the ball with Faulk (mostly screens and straightforward runs, which set up the longer passes downfield). Needless to say, they ended up tying the game. And when they needed that two-point conversion, suddenly they weren't running naked bootlegs with Bulger anymore.

Here's my point: Good coaches don't care how they win. They don't care about scripting the first 20 plays or incorporating those four trick plays they whispered to Simms and Gumbel on Friday. Guys like Fisher, Reid, Belichick and Gruden keep sticking around in January because they don't mess around.

This, of course, is a common affliction outside of football as well; Tony LaRussa is perhaps baseball's most notorious example, although I can think of examples of managers like Bobby Valentine, Bobby Cox and Roger Craig managing themselves out of some games by insisting on doing it their way and imposing their own personal touches on what ought to be the players' game.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:01 AM | Football | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 31, 2003

Punch the Bag shares some thoughts on Pat Tillman, late of the Arizona Cardinals and currently serving as an Army Ranger.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | Football • | War 2002-03 | TrackBack (0)
October 24, 2003

I was proud to be one of the early linkers to FootballOutsiders.com, a site that tries to do for football what Baseball Prospectus does for baseball; one of the lead writers, Aaron Schatz, was an early reader of this site. Now, FootballOutisders has become the official safe house for news on Gregg Easterbrook's football column after his firing by ESPN.com; check out his statement here, which is bowed but not broken:

Though I apologized and deserved to be criticized, I didn't think I deserved to be fired by ESPN. But then, I didn't think Emmitt Smith deserved to spend his final year with the Arizona Cardinals, either. Both things seem to have happened.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:44 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2003

Eugene Volokh complains that he got the following non-response from ESPN.com to his email about Gregg Easterbrook's firing:

From: ESPN Support
To: volokh@mail.law.ucla.edu
Subject: Re: Other

Hi Eugene,

Thank you for contacting us.

We appreciate your interest, but that is currently not a feature on ESPN.com.



He then notes that other readers got the response I got:

Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 08:54:13 -0700
Subject: Re: NFL
From: ESPN Support


Thank you for contacting us.

We appreciate your comments and are considering your opinion. We will
forward your comments along to the appropriate department for review.



It appears that Volokh's problem was that he selected"Other" rather than "NFL" in the drop-down subject menu on ESPN's contact page.

Meanwhile, Ralph Wiley throws out the ceremonial first race card in ESPN.com's post-Limbaugh/post-Easterbrook era:

Dub's theory on baseball curses is that everybody sort of avoids what he calls the truth about them; teams that were -- or are -- historically dismissive and smugly cruel about its black folks -- those are the teams that stay cursed. . . . Maybe one day the Cubs and the Red Sox will get out of historical denial, ante up and kick in, pay off whatever their psychic debt is, and move on.

Um, a little history? Since the breaking of the color barrier, six all-white teams have won the World Series:

1947 Yankees
1949 Yankees
1950 Yankees
1951 Yankees
1952 Yankees
1953 Yankees

The Yanks waited nine years to integrate -- longer than the Cubs but not as long as the Cardinals (three World Championships since 1947), and when they finally brought in Elston Howard, Casey Stengel reportedly watched him in spring training and remarked, "they had to go and get me the only n_____r in the world who can't run." But that history's lost on Wiley and his race-is-everything meme. (Wiley also throws in a shot about the Marlins playing "non-sabermatrician style," but I'll leave that for another day).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:00 AM | Baseball 2002-03 • | Football • | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 18, 2003

I'm doing work tonight, so I'm actually listening to the game on the radio and don't have much time to blog, but let me just say that I agree completely with Instapundit and the many others he links to that the apparent summary firing of Gregg Easterbrook (the Tuesday Morning Quarterback) by ESPN Page 2 is just an appalling overreaction, even worse than ESPN's treatment of Rob Neyer some years back. Plus, the hypocrisy of an organization that pushes Easterbrook and Rush Limbaugh out the door for mildly inappropriate references to race and ethnicity while continuing to employ Ralph Wiley - who generalizes about race as often as Neyer cites statistics - is jaw-dropping.

Email ESPN here to let them know you want your TMQ back.

UPDATE: Aaron Schatz adds his two cents on why he'd be glad to have Easterbrook writing at FootballOutsiders.com. My own take is that Easterbrook's comments don't seem to be intentionally anti-Semitic, but they certainly crossed a line by pushing certain buttons (Jewish studio heads, greed, etc.) that have been too familiar hobby-horses for anti-Semites, so I can readily understand why offense was taken. More on this later, but this whole thing reeks of a game of "gotcha" with no application of common sense or perspective.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:45 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2003

While I tend to agree with my co-blogger The Mad Hibernian that some of the outrage at Rush Limbaugh over his comments on Donovan McNabb is rather artificial (Howard Cosell got away with worse), the fact is that this was a really idiotic thing for Rush to say, and one that will probably doom his second career as a sportscaster. Let's put this in perspective: Rush has a new job. He comes with a reputation. Ex-ballplayers have to prove to the audience that they're not just dumb, inarticulate jocks. Dennis Miller had to prove that there was a place for a comedian in the Monday Night Football booth. The one thing Rush has to prove is that he can keep his politics out of his football commentary. Responding to questions about the NFL's silly minority-hiring mandates is one thing; the network asked him to give his take on that controversial subject.

If Terry Bradshaw or John Madden said Donovan McNabb was overrated in part because of his race, it wouldn't be news. Bill Simmons, last Friday:

I can't imagine any QB in the league playing worse than McNabb did two weeks ago. Is he even that good? It's like the Ben Affleck thing -- everyone keeps telling me that Ben Affleck is a major movie star, enough times that you even start believing it ... but check out his filmography on IMDB.com some time. Not exactly a bevy of hits. Same goes for McNabb. For a few years, he was a winning QB on a very good football team. Doesn't make him a superstar.

But a lot of people will now just say, "Limbaugh. We knew he was a bigot." And that doesn't help Rush's ability to get people to hear his political message, either.

UPDATE: I seem to be behind the news cycle a bit on Limbaugh - more on the broader story later.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:24 AM | Football • | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 10, 2003
FOOTBALL: The Enemy is Me

Sports Illustrated's quote of the week shows that Kerry Collins of the New York Giants knows his strengths and weaknesses: In discussing the mental part of the game, Collins said, "I try to stay out of my own way. Sometimes going inside my head is like going behind enemy lines."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:49 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
August 8, 2003
FOOTBALL: The Outsiders

Statistical analysts have built an impressive body of knowledge about baseball -- can it be replicated for the gridiron? Aaron Schatz of Lycos50 (one of the very early readers of this site) and Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch are among the writers trying to find out at FootballOutsiders.com (I'll have to add it next time I reorganize the permalinks), including essays discussing the application of Bill James' Pythagorean Theory to football and looking at which coaches have exceeded their Pythagorean projections for their careers (the underachievers, unsurprisingly when you think about it, are all pass-happy types). There are a lot of interesting questions about how these methods translate, but the site is worth a look.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:08 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
April 29, 2003
WAR/FOOTBALL: Pat Tillman Update

Remember Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract shortly after 9/11 in order to enlist in the Army? Such an admirable act requires the occasional update. Read about him here. I wish him and his brother luck in rendering their service to our country.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:57 AM | Football • | War 2002-03 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
January 10, 2003
FOOTBALL: RIP Will McDonough

RIP Will McDonough. He died of a heart attack while, fittingly enough, watching SportsCenter. Dave Barry, from his 2002 year-end review: "In sports, the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl, thus using up all the sports luck that New England has been accumulating for decades, and thereby guaranteeing that the Red Sox will not win the World Series for another 150 years." The dean of Boston football writers got to see it. I wasn't always the biggest McDonough fan, especially when he wrote about baseball, but may he Rest in Peace.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:49 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
January 8, 2003
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: Searching For A Black Parcells

I got quite a laugh out of Rich Lowry's column on how the Dallas Cowboys are catching heat for hiring Bill Parcells without interviewing African-American candidates. I mean, could the proponents of race-counsciousness in the hiring of coaches pick a worse battle? This sounds like something PETA would do. There are only a handful of other coaches with similar qualifications to Parcells, and most of them (like Don Shula) are old and retired. None are black. Dennis Green? Green's got a decent resume - a lot of playoff appearances despite a perennial revolving door at QB, but also a lot of playoff failures. Parcells, he's not, any more than Randall Cunningham was John Elway.

At any rate, if people are serious about affirmative action in the NFL, their campaign should focus on getting more African-Americans considered for posts as offensive and defensive coordinators, which is the key stepping-stone job into the head-coach network, plus there are twice as many of those jobs and they open up more frequently. (Also, you can't fairly compare a guy with head coaching experience, whatever it may be, to a guy without any; the decision to hire an experienced coach is common in risk-averse organizations, and makes sense in some situations.)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:15 AM | Football • | Politics 2002-03 | TrackBack (0)
January 6, 2003

Rich Lowry on NRO reprints a fascinating point from a reader email on the last play of the Giants' implosion yesterday:

"Immediately [after the game ended] Chris Collinsworth gets after Matt Allen, the Giants holder, for not immediately spiking the ball. Collinsworth exclaimed that this would have stopped the clock and allowed for another field goal attempt. . . . under NFL rules Allen spiking the ball would have induced an intentional grounding penalty with a ten second runoff, thus ending the game. Only a quarterback taking a hand-to-hand exchange from the center, then immediately throwing the ball forward to the ground, constitutes a legal spike. Anything else is intentional grounding which results in not only loss of yardage and down, but a ten second runoff to boot."

I wasn't sure if this was correct, so I went to the rules; I didn't have time to scour the rulebook, but the grounding rule itself doesn't say anything about the passer taking a handoff rather than a long snap as a predicate to a proper spike:

Intentional Grounding of Forward Pass
1. Intentional grounding of a forward pass is a foul: loss of down and 10 yards from previous spot if passer is in the field of play or loss of down at the spot of the foul if it occurs more than 10 yards behind the line or safety if passer is in his own end zone when ball is released.

2. Intentional grounding will be called when a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage due to pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion.

3. Intentional grounding will not be called when a passer, while out of the pocket and facing an imminent loss of yardage, throws a pass that lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage, even if no offensive player(s) have a realistic chance to catch the ball (including if the ball lands out of bounds over the sideline or end line).

However, Jerry Seeman, the NFL's director of officiating, addressed just this point in a Q&A on the NFL's website two years ago:

Brian Chan, B.C. Canada: If the holder for a field-goal unit has trouble handling the snap, can he legally spike the ball to stop the clock without being called for intentional grounding?

Jerry Seeman: If the holder spiked the ball, it would be intentional grounding. The only player that can legally spike the ball to stop the clock, is a T-quarterback.

That looks like the answer to that - Collinsworth was wrong.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:29 PM | Football | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 2, 2003
FOOTBALL: A Syllogism


Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:35 PM | Basketball • | Football | TrackBack (0)
November 13, 2002

Bill Simmons waxes nostalgic for the days when being a sports fan sucked. Simmons is perhaps more bitter than I'd be, but he has a point. We lose our individual innocence and wonderment as we age, and the world discovers new ways to be cynical; the combination makes us think the past was a Golden Age. We can always identify ways it really was, but we're selective (Gustave Flaubert: "Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this." Bill James (paraphrased): "When people tell me they'd like to have lived in the 18th century, I ask them whether they'd have enjoyed having their teeth pulled without anasthesia."). In the 1930s, fans said, "I remember before all this home run craziness, when scoring a run was a team effort and really meant something." They didn't say, "I remember when I was a kid and the White Sox threw the World Series."

James had a better point in the 80s when he said he wished somebody had told him in the sixties and early seventies to enjoy all the great power pitchers, that they wouldn't always be around. He was writing then about the generation of great leadoff men headed by Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines, and it says something about what followed that generation that both men lasted into the 21st century. Every generation does have its glories that we will not see the like of again. Enjoy Pedro and Randy Johnson; admire Barry Bonds; tip your hat to Shaq. They may not pass this way any time soon.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:27 AM | Baseball 2002-03 • | Basketball • | Football | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2002

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback, writing on ESPN2 (hey, didn't he used to be on MSN somewhere?), proves that bashing the New York Times isn't just for political writers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:58 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
September 23, 2002

Mike Francesa on WFAN was berating some fan who called in yesterday, predicting a 31-21 Jets loss, with the Dolphins jumping out to a 31-7 lead and the Jets saving face with some garbage time TDs. Francesa told the guy he'd be embarrassing himself by 6pm. How's that crow taste? Football prognosticating can be a damn humbling business.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Football | TrackBack (0)
August 28, 2002
FOOTBALL: Randall To Canton??

NFL Hall of Fame debates usually leave me dry, but . . . Randall Cunningham? I'm speechless. I thought Dan Dierdorf said it best when he said that Cunningham was "not afraid to make the stupid pass."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:27 PM | Football | TrackBack (0)
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