Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gay New York Jets?

Gay New York Jets players? Yes there are some. And it's a problem.

I've mentioned this before in passing in past posts. It's been a problem before but the Jets are such a mess that the gay issue has been overshadowed by other pressing matters, like the lack of a quality QB, the lousy offensive line and the locker-room tension generated by inept backup QB Tim Tebow hogging all the media attention while contributing nothing in games. This team is terrible, quite evident in the 28-9 pounding by a bad Buffalo Bills team today.

According to two sources close to two Jets players, there are three partially-closeted gay players who are generating a different kind of tension. Respecting the privacy rights of the gay players, the sources won't reveal their names. Some straight Jets are aware of the gay players and feel uneasy in their presence. In that locker room, homophobia, not tolerance, rules. The gay issue creates another layer of tension, one that this team, with everything else going wrong, couldn't handle.

Right now, in the macho locker-room atmosphere of the NFL there is no place for gay players. They still make the straight players uncomfortable. Some straight Jets are aware of the gay players and feel uneasy in their presence. As the team spiraled down the drain, the gay problem was a contributing factor.

The NFL is about a decade behind the real world in acceptance of gay players. Around the league, bonding and camaraderie have "straight" written all over them. Implicitly, the message in the locker rooms  is a firm "no gays allowed." Owners and general managers know that signing a gay player is like tossing a grenade into the locker room. There are enough messy issues there without adding something as incendiary as a gay player.

The Jets are in turmoil. With their season over, it's not clear which players will return. It's possible that the gays won't be on the roster next season. Most likely, though, according to the sources, the gay players will be back. Whether they're farther out of the closet remains to be seen. Could management find out who they are and, despite talent ratings, ship them to another team? Maybe.

The only problems sure to be dumped are bumbling QBs Tebow and Mark Sanchez. The gay problem and its accompanying tensions? That will probably be haunting the Jets again next fall.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Laker Fans Delusional Again--Nuts Over Nash

Wake up Laker fans, wake up.

You've had a day or so to wallow in your delusions since your guys whipped a good Warrior team in OT, 118-115, on Saturday night. It was point guard Steve Nash's first game back after missing about seven weeks with a slight shin fracture. No question he was the difference. Without him running the offense, the Warriors, who had a fat lead going into the fourth quarter, win easily. Though he scored only 12 points while handing out nine assists, Nash clearly put the zip back into coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, running it like it should be run, like he did when he was playing for D'Antoni years ago in Phoenix. To put it simply, no Nash, no Laker victory.

But now, Laker fans, it's reality time. There's one disturbing figure in Nash's stat line. He played 42 minutes. That means he was resting only about ten minutes. Remember, this is a player, coming back from a bone fracture, who's almost 40. Instead of easing Nash back into the lineup, D'Antoni powered him in, apparently without restrictions, essentially full throttle. D'Antoni probably wanted him on the court every minute, but common sense prevailed.

But, at 40-plus minutes a game, how long do you think Nash is going to last before that leg or one of his other aging body parts breaks down? It's not humanly possible for Nash to do what he needs to do for the Lakers to win consistently. So look for Nash to be in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season, nursing this injury or that injury, acting like the old guy he really is..

The point guard position is the hole in the Lakers lineup. The healthy backups, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon, are inadequate. The No.1 backup, Steve Blake, has been out for weeks with an abdominal ailment and won't be back for a while. But when he's healthy, he's slow and very ordinary. Without Nash, the Lakers are slow and ordinary. That's the team we're likely to see more of this season.

The player most happy to see Nash back is Kobe Bryant. Without having to worry about sharing some of the point guard duties, Kobe was able to concentrate on what he likes to do best--shoot and shoot and shoot. With Nash feeding him, he was back in full, shameless ball-hog mode, taking 41 shots. While scoring 34 points, he missed a staggering 25 shots. Some star players don't even shoot 25 times in a two-game span.

So, Laker fans, do you really think that, with an ancient point guard vulnerable to body breakdowns and a erratic ball hog, this team is going to beat out Oklahoma City or San Antonio or the Clippers or Memphis for the Western Conference championship?

Dream on, Laker fans, dream on

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seattle Coach Pete Carroll Is an ASS

There is no bigger ass in all of sports than Seattle Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll. Actually I'm being polite. Others are trashing him more viciously. Most common anti-Pete zinger: lying s.o.b.

What's really angered everybody is what happened Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Buffalo blow-out, with the score 47-17 and the Bills waving the white flag. On fourth down, with the Seahawks in punt formation, they executed a fake punt, which led to a first down, which set up a field goal that pushed the score to 50-17. What a flagrant violation of coaching etiquette. A fake punt with a huge lead in that situation is a cheap shot. With that kind of lead. the offense should do just what the beaten opponent expects, simply run off tackle and try to run out the clock, not use razzle-dazzle to inflate the score.

Then, in a post-game press conference, Carroll had the gall to say that he didn't call for the fake punt, but that the unit was under orders to use it if the defense was in a certain formation. "I feel bad about this," he said after the game, a comment reeking of fake remorse. "It was part of the game plan. It was something I could have called off and I didn't."  So the punting unit just executed an automatic and Carroll didn't call for the fake punt. .

Bull. Does he think we're stupid? See why that "lying s.o.b." charge has been used again and again?

His motive was very clear. He wanted to reach 50 points for the second straight week, a rarity in the NFL. The previous week, the Seahawks had murdered the Cardinals, 58-0. In that game, though, Carroll wasn't maliciously piling it on. With eight turnovers, Arizona was shooting itself in the foot, again and again. But scoring 50 points on consecutive weeks is a meaningless stat. To reach that plateau, Carroll ignored the rules of sportsmanship and was dancing on a downed opponent's chest, doing some old-fashioned  King-Kong-style chest thumping.

In addition to being rotten sportsmanship, Carroll's move was stupid for two reasons. First, it puts your players at risk for injury, vulnerable to cheap shots by angry defensive players. Second, you waste a weapon, unveiling the fake punt, allowing it to be filmed, so other teams can prepare for it.

It's strange for Carroll to pull something like this. He knows what it's like to be on the wrong side of a rout. When he was coaching USC in 2009, Stanford came into the LA Coliseum and, late in its 55-21 win, unnecessarily went for two points after a TD. During the post-game handshake, a miffed Carroll asked Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" That tension-filled moment has become famous.

Ironically the two meet again Sunday night in a pivotal NFL game, with Harbaugh's 49ers facing Carroll's Seahawks. They still don't like each other. Many would love to see the Seahawks routed and have Harbaugh pile it on, doing something cruelly unsportsmanlike like ordering a bomb late in the game. Hopefully the tv camera would then focus on Carroll's fuming face.

 Then the anti-Carroll brigade would be smirking and thinking, "How does it feel now,  jerk?"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lakers Fighting Each Other--a Toxic Mess

Want to know why the LA Lakers are playing like a team loaded with guys who don't like each other and don't trust each other? That's because so many Laker players don't like each other and don't trust each other. Inter-player tension, among other ills, is killing the team.

Right now the Lakers stink, sinking below .500 and are threatening to slide even father downhill. Tapping into a fraction of their talent, they played listlessly and sloppily on Tuesday, losing to a lousy Cleveland team. The Lakers are particularly appalling on defense, which is based on effort, communication and teamwork Give this crew an F in all three areas.

Two sources close to two Lakers report that the players are constantly arguing, squabbling and sniping at each other. The locker room, say the sources, is downright toxic. As usual, Kobe Bryant is at the center of the turmoil. In his opinion, with the exception of center Dwight Howard, he's stuck with a bunch of lazy stiffs and treats the other players in a surly, stand-offish manner. To them Kobe is a mean-spirited jerk. Read the body language on the court and it's obvious who doesn't like whom.

But Kobe is just part of the problem. The sources report that the players are also divided over forward Pau Gasol, who's been out with tendinitis in both knees. Some think Gasol is a soft, super sensitive prima donna who should man up, stop whining and act like a professional. Others side with the Big Spaniard, charging that Gasol is being abused and misused by new coach Mike D'Antoni.

Meanwhile all the players are skeptical, even dismissive, about D'Antoni's run-run, offense-first system. In public they support him and his system. In private, though, they're constantly taking nasty shots at the coach, who doesn't have a clue about how to right this sinking ship.  His answer seems to be to wait for the return of point guard Steve Nash, who's been out nearly all season with a bum leg. So a gimpy, late-thirties player, who probably won't be back til next month, is the savior? Yeah, right.

Let's assess. The Lakers are not only without two of their best players--Nash and Gasol, they're aging, don't run the floor well, are not athletic, don't play good defense, are the worst free-throw shooting team in the league and are in the hands of horrible point guards and a clueless coach. In addition, center Howard, by far their best defender, hasn't recovered from this back surgery and isn't as effective as he can be. Oh yes, and Bryant, once a stellar defender, is playing the worse defense of his career, setting a bad example for his teammates.

If the players were getting along, this would be a tough situation. But factor in players fighting each other and you have one big mess. Don't look for the Lakers to win on a consistent basis any time soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Cal Coach Sonny Dykes--UGH!

My apologies, but I've got to vent. Got to get this off my chest.
If you don't give a damn about Cal football, feel free not to read any farther

Cal just hired Sonny Dykes as head football coach to replace Jeff Tedford, who was fired on Nov. 20, when the miserable 3-9 season ended with a dismal, dispiriting rout by Oregon State. Cal football, then, couldn't get any lower. Bear fans needed a pick-me-up.

So what does Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour do? She raids the WAC and hands the job to Sonny Dykes of Lousiana Tech. You gotta be kidding.

Raise your hand if you've ever heard of this guy before now. Just as I thought. 

After all that big talk of maybe luring Chris Petersen from Boise State or Hue Jackson, the former Oakland Raiders' coach, or some other notable,  this is what Bear fans get? What about a coordinator from a major program or even a deposed SEC coach, like Kentucky's Joker Phillips or Tennessee's Derek Dooley? Couldn't Barbour come up with somebody--anybody--better than Dykes?

Dykes was a nobody before this season. He got a lot of attention for leading his team to a 9-3 record. For a while they were 9-1 and in the lower part of the Top 20, a big deal for a WAC team. Their signature win was a loss, dropping a 59-57 scorefest to Texas A&M, which features QB Johnny Football, a Heisman finalist. La Tech is known to be a scoring machine, leading the nation with 51.5 points per game, while averaging 577.9 yards of total offense per game. Dykes' team finished at 9-3, which is a fine record, but does that mean he's ready to make the leap to Pac-12 head coach?

He's no stranger to the Pac-12, having been offensive coordinator at Arizona 2007-2009. Excuse me, but I don't recall the Wildcats being an offensive powerhouse back then. What the Cal hire is based on is Tech piling up big offensive numbers. But pooh on those flashy stats. The WAC is famous for not playing defense, so those numbers are tainted. Speaking of defense, Dykes' team, in the grand tradition of the conference, fielded a typically pathetic unit, among the nation's worst all season.

The Pac-12 has some hotshot coaches now, including Stanford's Shaw, Oregon's Kelly, UCLA's Mora, Arizona's RichRod and USC's Kiffin, These are guys other schools would love to have. So, to this illustrious group Cal adds Dykes? Yikes!

Now what? Do you think that offense-first, no-D format will fly in the Pac-12? Don't think so. To win in this conference Dykes will have to pay less attention to offense and accentuate defense. That's crucial.

In the last few years Cal has been in a deep hole. In the first half of the last decade, Tedford turned Cal into a prominent football school that was always one of the best in the conference and a fixture in the national Top 20. But in his last few years Cal tailed way off, mainly because the coach, known for his skill at developing QBs, couldn't come up with a good one.

When Tedford was finally booted out, it seemed as if Cal was stepping up the ladder and out of that hole. But, with Dykes and his score-first mentality, the Bears may have taken a few steps back down that ladder.

Dykes just doesn't seem like a smart choice. Hope I'm wrong, that he'll channel his inner Nick Saban and turn into one of the best coaches in the conference.

Go ahead Sonny, prove me wrong. In this case, I'd so love to be wrong.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bye, Bye Paul Gasol

Ever since the L.A.Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni as head coach a few weeks ago, power forward Pau Gasol has had one foot out the door. Since then things have gotten worse.

The team announced today that Gasol will sit out tonight's game in Houston with tendinitis in both knees. He may miss a lot more, if you read between the lines of his cryptic tweet from earlier today.

This is the tip of the iceberg. According to a source close to one of  the Laker players, the relationship between Gasol and the coach can only be described as miserable. But, at first, this was all under wraps, known only to the players and those close to the team. But last week D'Antoni went public with his disdain for Gasol. When asked after a loss last week why Gasol didn't play in the fourth quarter, D'Antoni replied acidly, "Because I wanted to win."

Ouch! It's been downhill since then.

Lately, Gasol has been moping and whining in practice. D'Antoni, a hard-ass who has no patience for moping and whining, has been surly and sour in practice toward the All-Star forward. Clearly the coach doesn't respect Gasol as a player. It's just as clear, in the locker room, that Gasol doesn't like D'Antoni. No question Gasol won't be around at the end of the season.

The problem is that D'Antoni's run-and-gun, uptempo system is not suited to Gasol, a seven-footer who's best in a slower-paced, half-court format, like coach Phil Jackson's triangle. Gasol thrived in the triangle, but he's been a bust in D'Antoni's racehorse system. Gasol likes to post  up, to play near the basket. But in D'Antoni's system, he's required to run much more and shoot from the outside. Not Gasol's style.

His stats are lousy, the worse of his career--12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on 42 % shooting. From three-point land, he's just 28.6%. Reserve forward Antewan Jamison, a good outside shooter and a better fit in this system, will start in Gasol's place.

It's only going to get worse for Gasol. When healthy he doesn't like sprinting up and down the court. With bad knees and at his age, 32, how can it get better? When Steve Nash, who returns at point guard later this month, is back and the system is running a top speed, Gasol will really seem out of place.

Is a trade in the works? Apparently there's nothing on the horizon at the moment. But traditionally, when a player is on the trading block, he'll all of a sudden be held out of the lineup. Supposedly Gasol sitting out is his idea, but don't believe that.

Trading Gasol won't be easy. Other teams, which play a more slow-down style, would love to have him but his salary, $19 million a year and $38 million over two years, is a major obstacle. Gasol could come off the bench and play limited minutes for the Lakers, but he makes too much money to be a reserve. 

Since he doesn't fit D'Antoni's system, and he and the coach don't see eye to eye, and reserve status isn't a viable option, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the All-Star forward is still a Laker at the end of the season.

So bye, bye Pau Gasol


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The REAL UCLA Showed Up Friday

Those sneaky UCLA Bruins.

They snookered us. They tricked us. They wanted us to believe the crew that was shuffling around the Rose Bowl last Saturday in the Stanford game was the real UCLA.


The guys who played doormat for Stanford, while the Cardinal rolled to a 35-17 win, weren't the real Bruins. A 9-2 team? No way. They looked like lame leftovers from the Neuheisel era.

What they were doing was playing possum, cagily trying to avoid the gallows, or college football's equivalent of certain death--playing Oregon up in Eugene. UCLA, rulers of the Pac-12 South, could eliminate Oregon from championship consideration in the Pac-12 North by merely losing to Stanford, which would automatically make the Cardinal king of the North.

For the Bruins last Saturday, being the best they could be meant beating Stanford and making Oregon Pac-12 North champ. Then the Bruins, the road team in the Pac-12 championship game, would have to journey up to Autzen Stadium and spend an evening futilely trying to corral those green-and-yellow-clad gazelles on their home turf. The Bruins' chances of winning up there? Forget it. Stanford won in Eugene a few weeks ago, but that was Oregon's annual home loss. The Ducks weren't going to blow another home game. So the Bruins would do anything to avoid the Valley of Death, better known as Autzen Stadium..

What made sense for the Bruins was playing possum last Saturday at the Rose Bowl, let Stanford win and take their chances battling the Cardinal in Palo Alto When UCLA tanked at the Rose Bowl, it seemed possible that devious plan had been implemented.

Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins spent the week denying it. We played our best, they insisted all week. Mora and aggressive LA Times columnist T. J. Simers even tangled over this issue. The evidence, though, really did scream foul. Bruin RB Jonathan Franklin gained 65 yards in 20 carries against Stanford. In the average game, he can get that many yards in one decent offensive series. What about QB Brett Hundley, normally a shifty runner, playing statue and getting sacked seven times? That also was way out of character.

The Bruins didn't really have to lay down against Stanford last week. All they had to do was use a conserative game plan that Stanford would easily figure out, a plan that would limit Franklin and reign in Hundley. The offensive schemes cleverly shackled the two Bruins' stars. UCLA didn't really challenge Stanford's defense, using only part of its playbook, making it relatively simple for those first-rate defenders to shut down the Bruins' offense. That way the Bruins could lay down without really looking like they laid down. Clever, really, clever.

Halfway through the first quarter of Friday's championship game it was clear that we'd all been had. UCLA scored two TDs in the first quarter. Hundley was running circles around Stanford's defenders. Franklin, who looked  like his legs were full of lead last week, suddenly was a fleet-footed powerhouse. The possums had sprung to life.

Stanford won a tight game, 27-24, mainly on the Bruins' one big mistake, a Hundley pick on a dumb pass that led to a gift TD. Otherwise UCLA matched Stanford blow for blow. It was a battle of heavyweights that was pretty even. The Bruins even led in the fourth quarter. Stanford eventually eked out a victory on a field goal. The Bruins missed the tying field goal on an attempt doomed from the start by a bad snap.

No shame though. Yes it was a loss, but a very respectable one. Losing in Palo Alto to Stanford, one of the two or three best teams in the country, is no disgrace..

The real Bruins showed up Friday in Palo Alto and, on the heels of a fiendishly clever plan, nearly won the Pac-12 title. More power to them.