Sunday, January 20, 2008

Big D-isaster

Darlings to disappointments in a week. The story plays out in sports every season, particularly in the NFL playoffs, where one bad afternoon can erase four months of dominance. The Colts and Chargers played the role the past two seasons, Dallas stepped into the role this year – the first top seed in the NFC to lose a Divisional Playoff game since the current playoff format started in 1990.

The Cowboys demise began in December, long before the Tony Romo-Jessica Simpson Cabo getaway. After toying with Green Bay on November 29th, Dallas let up and it showed. Focus and preparation clearly dropped a notch, and it showed on the field - struggling to beat Carolina, losing to both Philadelphia and Washington. While attention shifts to playoff teams that rest star players after clinching playoff berths, but teams that backpedal into the playoffs are more prone to failure.

Anyone who points to Romo spending the bye week on the beach instead of in Jason Garrett’s offensive playbook prep class as the problem is misguided. Romo should use better judgment, realizing he now lives in the spotlight. Still, it was not exactly the night before the game, or even during game week - the vacation does not correlate with the performance.

However, Romo’s mental meltdown in the fourth quarter did hurt the Cowboys last Sunday. Akin to what we expect out of Philip Rivers, Romo lost his composure in the fourth quarter, outwardly displaying his frustration as the pressure mounted and the clock ticked. Instead of firing up his team, he channeled his emotions into complaints. It affected his decision making – failing to throw the ball away when facing a rush and then throwing it away while still in the pocket – and seemed to rattle his teammates, who committed a few debilitating penalties down the stretch.

If the Cowboys did not face enough pressure trying to comeback in the final minutes, the Fox camera showed Jerry Jones standing arms length away from head coach Wade Phillips. Like George Steinbrenner, Jones will build a team to win at any cost, top class facilities, free agent signings, whatever it takes. Simultaneously he can make the team lose. The owner looking over their shoulders is the last thing players, or a head coach already facing the pressure of losing his job to one of his assistants, needs to see in the final minutes of a playoff game. Does Garrett really want this job? Jones creates an untenable situation by showing up on the sidelines.

Throw in the Tony Sparano to Miami and Jason Garrett to any team with a head coaching vacancy rumors, and you have a recipe for disaster. Forget 13-3, the 2007 Dallas Cowboys go down as the upset victim in the playoffs, possibly remembered as a footnote in a Giants Cinderella story. Last year Indy bounced back to win the Super Bowl, this season San Diego won its first playoff games in over 13 years and finds itself in the AFC Title Game. What does 2008 hold for Dallas?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Not So Sweet Science

Successful local sports talk radio caters to what the fans in that market want to hear. Case in point, NASCAR does not typically come up in New York, where baseball and football rule. Outside of the week leading into a big fight, which are farther and fewer between in recent years, boxing belongs on the backburner. Unfortunately, 1050 ESPN Radio did not get the memo.

How can ESPN suits allow Max Kellerman to spout about meaningless boxing matches that have about as much fan interest as his ratings depleted show, never mind the day after a Giant playoff win and the Clemens 60-minute interview? I try to look past the arrogance, try to look past the ridiculous arguments backed by crazy statistics and rhetoric, but the Kellerman/Kenny combo loses me with boxing. Not just a few plugs, but entire segments. Shows like this pop up in the middle of the night on far away channels, and on cable access, where Kellerman started and should relegate his daily boxing diatribe.

Treat the listeners with a little respect. Kellerman insults everyone’s intelligence by insisting every point that develops from his MENSA caliber mind is bulletproof, and not even acknowledge rebuttals. Then he assumes that New York fans want to hear about boxing for 20 or 30 minutes. The Benigno and Roberts combo, who have really synergized into an entertaining team, look that much better next to the mid-morning production of Boxing After Dark.

Toss in Bill James radio puppet, next to boxing aficionado, and Noble prize sports analyst, on Kellerman’s mantle. Stats do not always translate well to radio, they are more entertaining to read. Using numbers to make a point or support an argument is one thing, but who needs to listen to obscure batting stats in an attempt to prove Jason Giambi should play, for example. Watch the game, Giambi should not play, his bat is slow and he can’t field, forget his OBP, OPS, and the like. I am a baseball geek and can live on the statistical rhetoric. The general public does not want to hear it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fox, NCAA Fumble the Ball

Picture this: after a full season of listening to Simms and Nantz, Aikman and Buck, or Michaels and Madden, broadcast NFL games every Sunday right through the playoffs for their respective networks, the NFL decides to put the Super Bowl on ABC with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit behind the mic. Take nothing away from Musburger and Herbstreit, but do you think critics would go knuts about having two guys and a network that has nothing to do with the NFL put on the biggest game of the year?

That’s exactly the situation with the BCS Championship Game.
Fox did not cover one college football game all season, not one, not even a lowly bowl game played in Idaho in mid-December, yet the only place to find four of the five biggest games of the season, including college football’s “Super Bowl” is Fox. Yes, they host the BCS Standings show every Sunday, and undoubtedly know how to put on a big sports event, but I want the broadcasters I watch all season, the crews that have insight to those defining moments in mid-October.

Fox offset the lack of in-season college football experience with a strong cast of studio analysts and some game analysts, notably former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, Charles Davis, and even Urban Meyer for the title game. Jimmy Johnson, and the Kenny Albert/Moose Johnston tandem leaped over after covering the NFL all season. Still, the coverage lacks personal insight. Analyzing the game does not change, but familiarity with the players, referencing specific games during the season, bringing other teams into the discussion that can make a case for the crown, these guys and the network as a whole are not prepared for good college football coverage. I say this without even mentioned the Cotton Bowl, when Pat Summerall, who they ran off the stations NFL coverage a few seasons ago, had the call, and frankly, I could not bear to listen. For a few minutes it was great hearing the legendary voice, but his lack of knowledge quickly shined through and drove me to the next game.

To make matters worse, Fox and the NCAA completely blow the scheduling. Explain this one, build up for over a month, then play four BCS games in three days, before taking three days off prior to the title game. The final ratings will tell the story, but Fox lost out. A weekend of exciting NFL football, and the Clemens steroid debacle, completely overshadowed the game on Monday. Why wait? What was wrong with Friday night, while you have the audience captivated? Or, god forbid, play two of these games in the same time slot, perish the thought? Every week fans watch college football all day Saturday, and find a way to watch multiple games, and actually enjoy it. College football succeeded for years playing every game on New Years Day. Maybe squeezing all the games into one day will be too much, but why not start with the Rose Bowl on New Years afternoon, followed by a nighttime doubleheader, then two consecutive nights to finish the BCS.

The BCS also suffers from competitiveness problems. Without the exact stats in front of me, recent years have provided more unwatchable, blowouts than nail biters. For every Boise St. upset win we have a series of blowouts of over twenty points, case in point, four of this seasons five games. Another advantage of having two games played simultaneously is preventing a blowout from driving away the audience.
Picking the teams that play in the BCS, and the merits of a playoff system, is an argument for a different day. For now, the NCAA and the networks should at least fix the schedule, and make Fox get involved with coverage before the last week of the season, so they can present a game the viewers can enjoy.