GLENDALE -- Here I sit in the press box at University of Phoenix Stadium following the Arizona Cardinals' latest "let's give 'em a show" victory. Despite trailing 13-0 at halftime, not being able to run the football or protect their quarterback, committing an unbelievably untimely turnover and generally getting outplayed in every phase of the game, the Cardinals are 4-0 following a 24-21 overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins.
One question keeps rattling around in my head: how in the world is this team still one of three unbeatens in the NFL?
The Cardinals really had no business being in this football game. From the outset, the team in red looked a lot like a bunch who had read its press clippings. It's hard not to attract the attention of the national media after wins over the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles on back-to-back Sundays, so the Cardinals were quite the popular subject of discussion this past week.
Whether it was Kevin Kolb getting kudos for doing just enough to help his team win or defensive coordinator Ray Horton's impending status as a high-profile head coaching candidate in the coming offseason, a lot of people were talking.
And that talk was justified.
But as this game unfolded, and Miami built that 13-0 halftime lead, the social media naysayers reared their ugly heads in 140 characters or less. "The Cardinals are who we thought they were" one person posted on my timeline. Several others shared similar thoughts.
Arizona would fight back. Kevin Kolb (who had a roller coaster of a game if ever there was one) hit Larry Fitzgerald on a short touchdown pass to put Arizona on the board. Then with 9:45 to go in the ball game, Kolb threw a beautiful 46-yard scoring strike to Andre Roberts, and just like that, the Cards had the lead.
Miami came back. After a costly interception by Kolb in the end zone, Dolphins' rookie signal caller Ryan Tannehill hit Brian Hartline on an 80-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion put Miami up 21-14.
Undaunted, the Cards continued to plug away. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington channeled his inner-Charles Jefferson (look it up if you haven't seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High), flying over a blocker and sacking Tannehill and jarring the ball loose with just under three minutes to play. Vonnie Holliday recovered, and the Cardinals were in business.
Kolb would be sacked for the seventh and eighth times of the game on the first two plays of the next possession. Then Kolb hit Roberts on a 16-yard gain. Facing a fourth and two with the game on the line and only 1:50 to play, Kolb connected with Roberts on a 9-yard gain to keep the drive alive. That fourth down conversion was just foreshadowing.
Six plays later, facing a fourth down and ten from the Miami 15-yard line, Kolb threw a dart to Roberts, who got both feet down in the end zone. Jay Feely's extra point tied the game and sent it to overtime.
Battered and beaten for most of the day, the defense came up huge again in the extra period when linebacker Paris Lenon hit Tannehill as he threw, and Kerry Rhodes was right there for the pick.
Seven plays later, Feely booted the game-winner, lifting the Cardinals to a 4-0 record and once again giving the fans more than their money's worth.
And even about an hour after Feely's kick sailed through the uprights, I still sit here and wonder how this team is where they are.
The only answer I can come up with: this is a good football team, and good football teams find ways to win games they don't necessarily deserve to win.
God knows, Cardinals fans have sat through countless games where they were shaking their heads and muttering "how did we lose this?" See the Monday Night Football loss to the Chicago Bears in 2006 if you don't believe me.
Maybe the Cardinals themselves did read their press clippings going into this game. Maybe they did overlook their opponent just a tad, who knows?
But you know what? Those press clippings were right. The Arizona Cardinals are a good football team -- and pulling out a win like they did Sunday against Miami just reinforces it.
I went from being part of a popular FM morning show back to sports radio, where I had started eleven years earlier.
Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes had been a frequent guest/friend of our FM morning show. He'd come on once a week and talk about everything from the one NHL player he didn't get along with to what he preferred to read on the toilet. He was a great sport, playing along with our morning antics. Heck, he even became a fan of the show.
Shortly after I switched jobs in February, I covered a Coyotes game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Coyotes were cruising, up 4-1 late in the second period. I figured I'd go down after the game, listen in on Coach Gretzky's press conference and then go say hello to Doan, who had just signed a new five-year contract worth $22.75 million, in the dressing room. After a win, everybody would be in a good mood. This was going to be great.
Uh, not so fast, Marotta.
Chris Pronger scored with :05 left in the second period to pull the Ducks to within two goals. Then in the third, during a 2:21 span, Dustin Penner and Pronger scored to tie things up at 4-4. The game headed to overtime, and 1:53 into the extra period, Teemu Selanne beat Curtis Joseph to lift Anaheim to a completely improbable 5-4 win. It was a crusher for the Coyotes, who had just lost their fourth straight game during a stretch where they dropped 19 of 24 games. In other words, the joyous dressing room that I thought I'd be visiting would more resemble a funeral, only with body odor.
As per usual, Doan stood in front of his locker and faced questions from the media about a soul-crushing loss. He did so with class and respect. After the hordes moved away from Doan's locker, I made my way over to say hello.
I shook his hand, said something to the effect of "man, that was a tough one tonight." We spoke for a few minutes, and I told him I'd let him get on with his evening. I turned and walked away, and after a few steps I heard, "Vince, by the way, congratulations on your new job."
I was floored. I joked that I should be congratulating him -- after all he was the one who had just signed a multi-million dollar deal while I took a pay cut to go work for Clear Channel.
That's how Shane Doan is. He's not one of the nicest athletes I've ever met -- he's one of the nicest people. Along with all that niceness comes a serious case of loyalty.
Last Friday, the Coyotes announced that Doan, who was highly-coveted in the free agent market, had spurned more lucrative offers to stay with a franchise with a still uncertain future. The Coyotes are going into their fourth season without a real owner. Doan is banking the rest of his hockey career on the hope that Greg Jamison will finally strike a deal to purchase the team from the National Hockey League. It is by no means a certainty.
"If I thought there was hope that this could work here, then I was going to come back here," Doan said at his press conference. "In the end, I think there's hope and that's really what this comes down to."
This basically makes Doan the most loyal athlete in the history of organized sports on this continent. Seriously, can you think of anyone whose career has faced a more defined crossroad? Doan could have been hockey royalty in a hotbed market like Vancouver, Detroit, New York or Philadelphia. He could have made a lot more money in Buffalo. But because there's a shred of optimism that Jamison will make the deal happen, he's still here.
Think of it this way...would you get married if your potential spouse informed you ahead of time that there's a real possibility they might just pick up and move a couple of years into it? Of course you wouldn't. And your friends and loved ones would steer you away from the situation if you were presented with it.
Phoenix sports fans, the same ones that went from worshiping Steve Nash to loathing him the moment he orchestrated a trade to play for the hated Lakers, would understand if Doan left town. He's been overly patient in this process, waiting three-and-a-half months to make his decision. And yet, he stayed. He stayed in a town that's a punchline among hockey pundits (and Canadians -- they're not necessarily the same thing) with a franchise that, forgive the pun, is skating on thin ice.
There's always discussions circulating among sports fans about who would be included on a city's Sports Mount Rushmore.
If you're in Phoenix, and you have one of these discussions without including the name Shane Doan, you're doing it wrong.
TEMPEOK, maybe Todd Graham is on to something.
Beating Northern Arizona by 57 points on opening night was one thing. After all, NAU is considered a middle-of-the-road FCS squad. Those who were less than jazzed about the Sun Devils' near-perfect victory were quick to point out, "it was only NAU."
But the 54,128 that watched Arizona State take apart a decent Big Ten team in Illinois by a 45-14 margin probably exited Sun Devil Stadium thinking that this year's squad is a little different.
ASU flexed their muscles early and often against a good defensive Illinois team. The Devils looked like a well-oiled machine on their first possession, taking over at their own 31-yard line and methodically moving down to the Illinois four. On a first down play, senior running back Cameron Marshall coughed up the football and Illini safety Pat Nixon-Youman recovered.
ASU would force an Illinois punt, and undeterred, the offense picked up where they left off before the untimely turnover, marching 65 yards on eight plays, capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Kevin Ozier.
The Sun Devils would score on four straight possessions in building a comfortable 28-7 halftime lead. Then, after safety Alden Darby intercepted Illinois quarterback Miles Osei on the second play of the second half, D.J. Foster carried it in from one-yard away and the rout was on.
Offensively, the Devils looked well ahead of the curve again, rolling up over 500 yards and 45 points against a defense that ranked seventh in the nation a year ago. Think that satisfied Graham? Nope.
"We've got a long way to go," he said following the game.
Meanwhile, there were times Saturday night where I was trying to remember an ASU offense that looked as crisp in my 30-plus years of watching, following and covering this program. I'll admit, I had trouble coming up with anything.
ASU has had 26 offensive possessions this season. They've scored touchdowns on 15 of them, punted seven times and turned it over thrice. That is amazing efficiency.
So if indeed the Devils' offense does have a long way to go, consider me absolutely giddy over what it'll look like when it gets there.
On the defensive side, amazingly, the Sun Devils played another full football game without committing a penalty. Think about that. Two straight games without a single defensive miscue. There were times over the previous three seasons that a certain linebacker who shall remain unnamed, but wore #7, would get two penalties on one snap.
The 2011 Sun Devils of now-departed head coach Dennis Erickson completely unraveled on one play, and the genesis of that collapse was the defense. In November, ASU was in the driver's seat for a Pac-12 South title, and then UCLA's Kevin Prince completed a 33-yard pass to Nelson Rosario on a third-and-29. The Bruins went on to score and win the game. Arizona State went into a shell defensively, lost their last five games, and gave up the most points in a five-game stretch in school history in the process.
So not only did Graham have to come in and lay the groundwork for a culture change - he had to "unteach" leftover players bad habits that were tolerated in the past. Two weeks in, the process is well under way.
Graham's Sun Devils look like one of the sharpest, most-disciplined teams in the nation while his former squad, the Pitt Panthers, are 0-2 and in complete disarray after getting blown out by Cincinnati on national television Thursday night.
He'd never say it flatly, but you can tell the native Texan is pleased, even somewhat surprised, how this team has performed in 2012.
The Arizona Cardinals have a starting quarterback.
"At this point going forward, we feel that the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win right now is John Skelton," Ken Whisenhunt announced Friday.
And who amongst you feels good about this decision?
I don't mean to knock John Skelton. He performed admirably last season when pressed into duty after Kevin Kolb's series of injuries. He helped guide the Cardinals to six victories in their last eight games.
Notice I said 'helped'.
In none of those six victories did the Cardinals score more than 23 points. The defense rightly deserves the lion's share of the credit for that string of victories.
So Skelton was declared the winner of this competition...what did he do to warrant this decision?
Granted, I didn't see every practice that the Cardinals held in the preseason. From what I did witness, it certainly wasn't clear that Skelton was the better quarterback. Most observers who did see the majority of practice snaps agreed that Kolb was the better practice quarterback.
OK, how about the games? Skelton completed 14-of-25 passes for 131 yards. That's a QB rating of 50.6 -- against vanilla defensive schemes designed to let opposing coaches evaluate one-on-one performances.
But the fact is, Kolb wasn't any better against those same plain-Jane schemes. His QB rating was lower by nine-tenths of a point. He threw more interceptions. He was sacked more often. His pocket presence, or lack thereof, became a national story when Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly labeled him 'scared'.
It's hard to know what is going through Kolb's head at this time. It looks to me that he's not the same quarterback after he suffered a season-ending concussion against San Francisco last fall. Is he scared? I don't think so. I think it's impossible for an NFL quarterback to accomplish anything if fear is present.
A more accurate way to describe Kolb's appearance on the field is uncomfortable.
And it was that discomfort, coupled with major question marks on the Cardinals' offensive line, that led to this decision.
The old adage in boxing is if you want to beat the champ, you better knock him out and take it out of the judges' control.
We saw how even these two quarterbacks are, so with everything else being equal, Kolb should have been "the champ" based solely on the fact that he's the guy with $21 million guaranteed on his contract.
Did John Skelton "knock out" Kevin Kolb to take his title away? No, he didn't. We just witnessed the very rare split decision that crowned a new champ.
First, this year featured the launch of the national and regional Pac-12 Networks that will ensure every conference football game is televised.
Secondly, USC is off probation and Lane Kiffin's Trojans come limping into the campaign after the harsh NCAA penalties that crippled their program. Yes, that was dripping with sarcasm. USC is loaded offensively, has a favorable schedule that features three non-conference home games, and they get Oregon in L.A.
Thirdly, there are four new, high-profile (one high-octane) coaches in the conference that will certainly make things more interesting, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
This year, the conference features a powerhouse in each division (USC and Oregon), three good teams (Washington, Stanford, Utah) and a whole lot of uncertainty (the rest of the bunch).
So here's my look at what should shake out this season in the "Conference of Champions."
1. USC Trojans (12-0, 9-0) - Off of probation, 19 starters back (including Matt Barkley) and they pick up Penn State's best player in Silas Redd? Lane Kiffin's team has the best chance of anyone to break the SEC stranglehold on the BCS title.
2. Utah Utes (10-2, 7-2) - QB Jordan Wynn returns from injury and workhorse RB John White is back. The schedule isn't too daunting either as the Utes miss Oregon and Stanford (for the second straight year) and get USC at home in SLC.
3. Arizona Wildcats (5-7, 4-5) - If Matt Scott is as good as people in Tucson seem to think he is, the 'Cats offense will be fun to watch. However, let's remember he's lost the starting job once before. If Scott doesn't live up to the hype, it'll be trouble for new coach Rich Rodriguez, because the QB cupboard is otherwise bare.
4. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-7, 4-5) - Look for the Devils to run and run a lot in Todd Graham's first season. Taylor Kelly won the QB battle in a surprise and doesn't inspire much confidence with his passing ability. ASU is loaded at RB and Graham's Pitt team ran 55% of the time last season.
5. UCLA Bruins (4-8, 2-7) - Can Brett Hundley hold off challenges from incumbents Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut at QB? Can Jim Mora stop putting his foot in his mouth? It's not wise to make your cross-town rival angry, Jim. Just ask Rick Neuheisel.
6. Colorado Buffaloes (2-10, 0-9) - The good news is the Buffs will open the season 2-0 after wins over Colorado State and Fresno State. The bad news is they'll lose ten straight after that, including a brutal stretch of three games at USC, at Oregon and home against Stanford in late October to early November.
1. Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1) - Still have no idea why Darron Thomas left the Ducks to go to the NFL. He's not even in an NFL camp right now. If Thomas would have stayed, the Ducks may have won another Pac-12 championship. With Marcus Mariota (or Bryan Bennett) at the helm they'll still be very good, but won't knock off USC.
2. Stanford Cardinal (9-3, 7-2) - How do you fill the shoes of Andrew Luck? You don't. But don't feel too bad for head coach David Shaw. Stepfan Taylor is still around and will carry the ball a lot and take pressure on new QB Josh Nunes. Defensively, the Cardinal have six starters back and will also get LB Shayne Skov back from injury.
3. Washington Huskies (8-4, 6-3) - Keith Price was absolutely outstanding in his first year as the starting QB for head coach Steve Sarkisian. Despite the loss of a lot of firepower, the Huskies will still be formidable. And look for big-time defensive improvement with Justin Wilcox taking over for the overpaid Nick Holt as DC.
4. California Golden Bears (5-6, 3-6) - The Bears, and maybe Jeff Tedford's stint as head coach, will be derailed by a late-season five-game losing streak.
5. Oregon State (3-9, 2-7) - Last year at this time, I thought the Beavers were on the right track. Instead, they lost their season opener to Sacramento State and went in the tank. If Mike Riley's team loses its opener to Nicholls State this season, look out.
6. Washington State Cougars (4-8, 2-7) - I'm not sure I feel good about this pick. Mike Leach was one of the top coaching hires in the country, and the Cougs have a lot of offensive talent back, namely wide receiver Marquess Wilson. But it'll be tough to outscore everyone on their schedule.
USC will defeat Oregon in Pac-12 Championship Game.
USC in BCS Championship Game
Oregon in Rose Bowl
Stanford in Alamo Bowl
Utah in Holiday Bowl
Washington in Sun Bowl
* According to above projections, the Pac-12 will fail to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill slots in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl.
Offensive Player of the Year - Matt Barkley, USC - Barkley is coming off a magical season and has possibly the two best receivers in the country to throw to.
Others to watch: De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon), Kenjon Barner (Oregon), Marqise Lee (USC), Robert Woods (USC), Stepfan Taylor (Stanford)
Defensive Player of the Year - Chase Thomas, Stanford - The linebacker had 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and forced 5 fumbles in 2011. Look for him to pick up where he left off a year ago.
Others to watch: Dion Jordan (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Star Lotulelei (Utah), T.J. McDonald (USC)
Coach of the Year - Lane Kiffin, USC - Oh sure, he's unlikable, but Kiffin has built a team that is stacked with talent. He could be the national coach of the year as well.
Toughest non-conference schedule - Washington - Look, nobody in the conference is playing truly a killer slate of games. In fact, only Arizona State, who plays Illinois and at Missouri, is taking on two BCS-conference foes. But the Huskies are traveling to Baton Rouge, easily the toughest single road game a Pac-12 team will face this season.
Easiest non-conference schedule - Oregon - I've gone on record and said under the current BCS system, if I was a national championship contender I wouldn't schedule anyone tough in the non-con portion of my schedule that could derail the quest. Apparently Oregon has followed suit. The Ducks don't leave Autzen Stadium for the first month of the campaign, and will welcome Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to Eugene.
Toughest conference stretch - Colorado - In a three-week stretch in late October to early November, the Buffs play (get their heads kicked in by) USC, Oregon and Stanford, with two of those games on the road.
Best uniforms - I've always had a soft spot for the unique nature of Washington's color combo (I can't think of anyone who wears metallic gold and purple), but I'll give the nod to USC. It's hard to argue with that tradition.
The second-to-last preseason game in the NFL is supposed to be the most important one of the (interminable) preseason. Since starters see the most playing time in this game, it's supposed to be the most accurate depiction of what we can expect from teams over the 17-week regular season.
The Cardinals lost in Nashville to the Tennessee Titans 32-27 Thursday night and a few questions arose.
How hard is it to play left tackle with a torn triceps?
It's amazing to me that the one of the most-maligned members Cardinals in years past will be the most-missed player this season. Left tackle Levi Brown went down with a season-ending triceps injury last week in a preseason win over Oakland.
Yeah, that's going to be a problem. Getting the first crack at replacing Brown at left tackle was D.J. Young, who went undrafted out of Michigan State in 2011 and spent most of last season on the practice squad. Young was woefully overmatched in his matchup with Tennessee defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, who got to the quarterback twice for sacks.
The truth is, Young won't be the starter at left tackle when the season opens September 9 -- or at least we should all hope he's not.
But whomever fills in for Brown will have their hands full this season. Just look at their schedule and the elite pass rushers the Cardinals will try to slow down this season. Arizona will face nine of the top 20 sack artists in the game, including Minnesota's Jared Allen, who led the league in sacks in 2011, and Philadelphia's Jason Babin, who ranked third.
And while we're on the topic of tackles, why have the Arizona Cardinals been so hesitant to invest high draft picks at that position. Left tackle is always talked about as being one of the most important positions on the football field, so why is it that Arizona has spent only one first round pick in the last eleven seasons on a tackle? Ironically enough, that pick was Levi Brown, who was chosen fifth overall in 2007.
Now, I'm not saying that simply picking a tackle in round one leads to stability at the position, but I will say this -- of the seven tackles who played in the Pro Bowl after last season, five of them (Joe Staley, Joe Thomas, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Ryan Clady and Jake Long) were first round picks.
Right now, the Cardinals' four leading contenders for the tackle positions consist of two undrafted players who have been on the practice squad for at least a season, a sixth-round pick and a fourth-round pick.
C'mon, Levi. Rub some dirt on that tricep and get back in the game. Wishful thinking, I know.
What was he looking at?
For the most part, Kolb showed improvement Thursday night. But the two interceptions he threw were such poor throws/decisions, that they nearly erased all confidence anyone had in him to that point.
With their projected quarterback struggles, and the aforementioned offensive line issues, whomever runs this offense will have to take care of the football, first and foremost. Thursday night was not exactly a strong showing for Kolb in that area.
Is that the best you can do, ESPN?
Earlier this summer when ESPN announced that the Cardinals-Titans game would feature Chris Berman on play-by-play and Trent Dilfer on color commentary, my first reaction was "why?"
It was a warm-up for the duo, who will also broadcast the second half of the Monday Night Football debut between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders on September 10.
I'm not a Berman fan. Sure, I thought his player nicknames were funny. Then I turned 17. I'm not a fan of his breathless studio work complete with vocal sound effects, and honestly, I don't think he knows all that much about the sports or events he's covering.
But I went into the game with an open mind. I figured with months to prepare, he'd be okay. It didn't take long to prove me otherwise. John Skelton's first pass of the game was intercepted by Michael Griffin, who wears jersey #33 for the Titans. Berman announced that it was intercepted by William Gay, who wears #23 for the Cardinals. Sure, you could blame it on his spotter, but Berman, who has "covered" the NFL for 28 years, should probably know better.
By the way, I wasn't the only one who railed on Berman. First there was this blog that appeared in USA Today that pinpoints 15 reasons why the broadcast was painful. Then there were these:
And Trent Dilfer, you're not exempt either. I'm not sure why you kept calling the quarterbacks in the game by their proper given names, when neither John Skelton nor Matt Hasselbeck has ever gone by them. Why not Jacob Locker?
About two series into the game, I was really regretting not having a radio nearby. I mean, I could have been listening to Dave Pasch -- in my opinion, the most underrated play-by-play man in the business -- and Ron Wolfley -- who gives estute football analysis in a one-of-a-kind way. And most importantly -- THEY KNOW WHO THE PLAYERS ARE!
Shame on me. I've learned my lesson in time for the Monday Night game.
After watching the Arizona Cardinals' second preseason game -- a 27-17 loss to Kansas City last Friday -- one phrase stuck in my head.
The NFL is a quarterback's league and the Cardinals' much-talked-about quarterback competition has been an exercise in futility through two exhibition contests.
Kevin Kolb, who held an edge (if only by default) heading into camp, has completed only 2-of-9 passes for 25 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating is a big, fat zero. His competition, John Skelton, hasn't been much better. The third-year pro from Fordham has completed 7-of-12 passes for 67 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating isn't much better -- 39.24.
For a competition that was supposed to be fierce in nature featuring two solid candidates who were supposed to push and bring out the best in each other, this sure has been a dud so far. Nothing discourages a fan base more than seeing a QB position be determined by default.
Maybe Mr. King knew what he was talking about. In fact, after seeing what I've seen so far this preseason, I agree. So I'm calling it -- Lindley will make his first start in Week 11 against the Falcons in Atlanta. The Cardinals will be coming off back-to-back games against San Francisco and Green Bay followed by a bye week. The timing could make sense to see what they've got in Lindley, and if he doesn't work out over the last seven games, they can address the need at the position in the offseason again.
I'll end by saying this: I hope I'm dead wrong.
After news broke Saturday night that Dolphins receiver Chad Johnson had been arrested on a domestic violence charge, I put the following out on Twitter:
Please, please, please let the #Dolphins Ocho seis Chad Johnson.
You'd think that a diva receiver who had a completely forgettable season in New England and was seemingly forgotten about would get the hint and possibly concentrate on football.
Johnson signed with Miami for a chance at redemption and an opportunity to prove that he can still play this game. Instead, he proved that he has no clue, regardless of what his surname is these days.
The Dolphins are featured on HBO's Hard Knocks this season, and the first episode, at least to me, demonstrated that this guy still doesn't get it. Every second Johnson appeared on screen during the premiere -- from his expletive-littered press conference with local media, to his "hijacking" of a confidential coach's meeting because "his wife didn't want him to come home" -- wreaked of a petulant child who just wanted attention.
Is Johnson still serviceable? Probably. He's always taken good care of himself, and has been productive for most of his career. But one of the positives about him is now erased; for as much of a distraction the guy was, he never got in trouble with the law.
The Dolphins moved swiftly and severed ties with Johnson. Some think they moved too quickly and should have waited for all the facts to come out. I applaud them. It comes down to a personnel decision, and undoubtedly head coach Joe Philbin and company can find another serviceable receiver who doesn't have a domestic violence arrest on his record or the need for constant attention from everyone around him.
For as critical as I've been over the years of former ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, I have to admit I smiled Friday night when I saw him intercept Jets quarterback Tim Tebow during the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-6 win over Rex Ryan's team.
Two things stood out to me on the play. First, Burfict made a hell of a play, breaking off his coverage after reading Tebow's eyes and laying out to make a tremendous catch (1:50 mark of the video). For a guy who had a tough childhood and a rough offseason, it was nice to see that Vontaze is applying himself in his first crack at being a professional.
My second thought was goodness gracious, what was Tebow looking at? Seriously, it's the worst throw I've ever seen, and I've seen Baba Booey throw out the first pitch at a Mets game at Citi Field.
Arizona State basketball released their 2012-13 schedule Monday. While there is some excitement around the program since we'll finally get a chance to see prized point guard recruit Jahii Carson don the maroon and gold, there shouldn't be any about their schedule.
The Sun Devils' non-conference docket includes games against only two teams (Arkansas and either Wisconsin or Creighton) that had a winning record last season. In addition, ASU will play five teams that finished last in their conferences a year ago: Central Arkansas (Southland), Cal State Northridge (tied for last in Big West), DePaul (last in Big East), Dartmouth (last in Ivy League) and Texas Tech (last in Big 12).
Other opponents Florida A&M, Cornell, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Sacramento State, Hartford and Coppin State combined to go 66-117 (.361 winning percentage) last season.
And finally, seven of ASU's opponents had RPI rankings of 300 or lower in the 2011-12 campaign. There were 344 Division I basketball teams last season.
Arizona State's basketball program has been criticized for many years concerning the quality (or lack thereof) of non-conference opponents, but I never remember a list of teams this weak in my 30 or so years of following the program. A schedule like this could result in a lot of non-conference victories, but will do little in terms of helping Sendek's team prepare for life in an improving Pac-12 Conference.
Congrats to the Arizona Rattlers for wrapping up their first ArenaBowl Championship since 1997 with a 72-54 dismantling of the Philadelphia Soul in New Orleans last Friday.
Let's remember that the Rattlers trailed the Utah Blaze by nine points with 67 seconds to play in the conference championship game before rallying to win. Let's also remember that the game was played in Phoenix at U.S. Airways Center, where yours truly is the P.A. announcer.
Now let's just say that the crowd was whipped into such a frenzy on the Rattlers' final defensive stand that ended in a Kevin McCullough interception that set up the game-winning touchdown pass from Nick Davila to Maurice Purify with nine seconds left.
One could certainly arrive at the conclusion that without the increased level in crowd noise, the Rattlers don't force the turnover, don't score the game-winning touchdown and don't advance to the ArenaBowl.
So I guess what I'm really getting at is...Ron Shurts, Joe Windham, Kevin Guy...can I have a championship ring?
My name is Vince Marotta, and I'm a recovering Team Kolb
Since the summer of 2011, when I was on the air doing a
daily morning show at a Valley radio station, I've been on
board with Kevin Kolb taking over the Arizona Cardinals'
offense. Of course, the lockout basically turned our show
into an every day smorgasbord of Kolb-to-Arizona rumors,
and I followed them religiously, buying into the thought
that the Eagles backup was the answer for the Cards.
How could I not feel that way? After going from Kurt
Warner and 10 wins to Derek Anderson/Max Hall and five
wins, the case for Kolb to be the solution for head coach
Ken Whisenhunt was an easy one to make. Sure, the sample
size was small -- only seven starts -- but in his first
two starts in 2009, Kolb threw for 391 and 327 yards,
becoming the first NFL quarterback ever to throw for 300-
in his first two outings. Derek Anderson couldn't do
that. Max Hall? No way!
I sat at Kolb's introductory press conference last summer
and felt excitement that the Cardinals quarterback
position was solidified. Did I have concerns that $63
million was a little too much to give a quarterback with
limited starting experience? Yes, but those thoughts were
quelled by confidence that Kolb's rιsumι was limited
because of the presence of Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick
in front of him on the Philadelphia depth chart. A new
location would equal a fresh start and a chance to prove
The Kolb era got off to a good start in his first game as
a Cardinal when he threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns
in a 28-21 win over the Carolina Panthers. But the rest
of Kolb's campaign was marred by injuries and
inconsistency. Fans who weren't drinking the Kolb Kool-
were quick to point out the fact that the Cardinals
were only 3-6 in games that he started.
Never mind that the defense vastly improved over the
season's second half when Kolb was on the sidelines and
John Skelton was becoming the Cardinals' version of Tim
Tebow -- leading Arizona to wins despite less-than-stellar
statistics. Never mind that the injuries -- turf toe and
a concussion -- were legitimate injuries that would have
kept every other NFL starter in street clothes.
The haters were going to hate. "The Cardinals wasted $63
million," they'd say. "Skelton is the man."
I heard the comments and chose to disagree with them. My
thought process was simple: 2011 was a wash. Kolb's
progress was derailed not only by injury, but by the
lockout which prevented OTAs and mini-camp workouts, which
are invaluable to a quarterback learning a new system.
With a full season, Kolb would be fine.
Then Sunday night happened. Kolb got the start in the
annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio and did
absolutely nothing to grasp control of the much-talked-
quarterback competition. Kolb's first pass of the
game was a tardy sideline floater intended for Andre
Roberts that was intercepted by New Orleans safety Malcolm
Jenkins. On his second possession Kolb was 0-for-2 and
the Cardinals went three-and-out.
The third possession actually started with a completion to
fullback Anthony Sherman for four yards, but Kolb was
pressured by New Orleans defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis
who landed on top of the Cardinals quarterback after the
ball was thrown. A perfectly legal, seemingly innocuous
hit knocked Kolb out of the game with a rib contusion.
And it was at that moment that I took off my Team Kolb
John Skelton needs to be the starting quarterback for the
Arizona Cardinals in 2012. That's not to say that I
believe Skelton is the long-term answer, either. But he
has proven he can win football games at this level, he
doesn't fade in tight, late-game situations and he's big,
strong and durable.
I like Kevin Kolb and when you get right down to it, I
feel he is a better quarterback than Skelton. But the
difference between the two is so small right now, coach
Whisenhunt needs to go with the guy he can rely on to stay
on the field.
Interestingly enough, one commenter asked if I could write
article pinpointing how Kendall Marshall's rocky start in
Vegas Summer League is also not a big deal.
Actually, I am a little more concerned about that.
The Phoenix Suns' first round draft pick out of North
Carolina struggled in his initial Summer League games,
shooting just 20% (5-for-25) in his first three contests.
The southpaw also missed his first eight three-point
and had a 16-to-10 turnover-to-assist ratio.
The big difference between the two youngsters' struggles?
Bauer has shown he can dominate
lesser competition, going 11-1 in the minor leagues this
season and 12-3 since signing his contract last summer.
to see him struggle in a 16.1 inning stretch against the
his sport has to offer isn't that alarming to me.
And while Marshall did improve in his fourth and final
Summer League game with 15 points and 10 assists in a win
against Memphis on Saturday, the truth is the rookie
struggled against a lot of guys who are nothing more than
One of the knocks on Marshall coming into the draft is
he wasn't a strong outside shooter, and he didn't do much
dispel those rumors in Las Vegas.
Could it have been nerves? Sure, but I find it hard to
believe that a guy who starred for one of the premier
college hoops programs in the country could be rattled by
going against a lot of players who will be earning
paychecks outside of basketball come October.
Certainly it's not time for panic, but if I had to pick
between the two, I'm more concerned about Marshall's
Years ago, I made a promise to myself that if advertising
up on the uniforms of any team in the four major league
sports, I'd be done as a fan.
Accurate? Not entirely.
But the NBA seems to be the first league that will
the use of advertisements on jerseys, as commissioner
Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver
discussed last week.
The ads themselves will be 2½ inches-by-2½ inches and are
expected to generate over $100 million in revenue league-
So come 2013, fans will spill into an NBA arena with a
corporate name attached to it, be exposed to hundreds of
on video boards and arena banners and sit through
timeout and halftime activities. And now, even while the
game is going on, the historically sacred, uncluttered
space on NBA
will be adorned with another ad impression.
To me, this just opens the door for more ad-based revenue
take over the sport. Don't believe me? Just wait for the
2014 NBA Finals presented by Vizio featuring the AT&T
against the American Airlines Heat of Miami sponsored by
I won't give up watching basketball because of it.
Instead maybe it'll force me to change my way of watching.
Anybody want to sponsor my fanhood?
And finally, was there a better free agent signing
anywhere in baseball than Jason Kubel in the offseason
had Kubel listed as the 24th-best free agent in
the game last November. That wasn't surprising, as Kubel
was injured for a good portion of the 2011 season for a
wretched Minnesota Twins team. Kubel hit just 12 homers
and drove in 53 runs for the Twins last year, and the
Diamondbacks, seemingly set in the outfield with Gerardo
Parra, Justin Upton and Chris Young, gave the life-long
American Leaguer a two-year, $15 million deal.
What a bargain.
Kubel is leading the National League in RBI with 71, and
is on pace to drive in 121 runs -- which would be the
second-most in team history.
Considering that Kubel is out-producing Angels' first
baseman Albert Pujols and Tigers' slugger Prince Fielder
and cost $453 million less than the values of their
combined ridiculous contracts, I'll say it again.
What a bargain!
Kubel, along with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second
baseman Aaron Hill and rookie
left-hander Wade Miley, is one of four reasons that the
Diamondbacks are still inexplicably within six games of
division-leading San Francisco heading into Monday's
I get really frustrated sometimes when I watch Justin
Whether it's seeing him struggle with a ball in the corner
when he strikes out with runners in scoring position in
situations, there are varying levels of frustration
Judging from the booing Upton has received in recent games
Chase Field, I'm not alone in this category. Hell, he's
labeled an "enigma" by the guy who signs the checks.
Considering Upton's immense talent, his 2012 season, to
point, has been a head-scratcher. As I write this, Upton
hitting a modest .273 with seven home runs and 36 runs
in. Five Diamondbacks have homered more often through the
season's first half. Four have driven in more runs.
Right now, Upton is tied for 63rd in the National League
home runs and 44th in RBI. On the heels of a very good
campaign during which Upton helped the Diamondbacks win
National League West and finished fourth in the league's
voting, this year has been an unmitigated disappointment.
There's no denying that.
surfaced over the weekend that the Diamondbacks were
(again) thinking of trading the two-time All-Star. Other
reports indicated that the interest around the majors was
"very high" and that Arizona GM Kevin Towers would
pulling the trigger on a deal even though the team is only
four games out of first place in the NL West at the break.
Upton's first half struggles make little sense. Trading
makes no sense.
Justin Upton is in his sixth big league season. He has
660 games. He's 24 years of age.
Why would you give up on that when it is still so early in his career,
when Upton (as far as we know) likes playing in Arizona,
affordable and has worlds of untapped potential that we've
seen glimpses of since he came to the bigs as a 19-year-old
To me, it's just not worth it.
What a difference a year makes. Last year at the All-Star
break, Diamondbacks fans were defending Upton's honor.
Arizona outfielder wasn't picked by team captain Prince
Fielder to represent the National League in the annual
run derby, and Fielder heard about it. The former Brewer
booed heartily throughout the All-Star festivities and his
family even had water thrown on them in the name of
by D-backs supporters during an All-Star parade.
Diamondbacks fans were willing to make fools of themselves
defending Upton a year ago.
Now, they're willing to make fools of themselves by booing
player who has played through injury and has endured an
average first half of the season.
Maybe this is a motivational ploy by the D-backs' front
office. Upton was reportedly shopped in the offseason
to the 2011 season and responded with an MVP-caliber year.
In his last three games, Upton is hitting .385 (5-for-13)
with five runs scored, two doubles, two triples and three
runs batted in. Arizona won all three games. Oh, by the
way, those numbers coincide with the trade rumors that
trickled out into the public late Friday afternoon.
But at least for one weekend, we saw Justin Upton play
baseball the way he's capable of over a three-game
Going into the All-Star break, that's exactly what he and
this team needed.
"Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to
justify because the players are always changing, the team
could move to another city. You're actually rooting for
the clothes when you get right down to it. You are
standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat
the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love
with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo
him. This is the same human being in a different shirt
and they hate him now. " -- Jerry Seinfeld
Sure, the above was a funny comedic intro bit to a
Seinfeld episode in 1995, but man, is it prophetic in
Phoenix right now.
The Suns' decision to push this deal through not only
allowed Nash to make
substantially more money from the Lakers than he would
have received by simply signing a free agent contract, but
also thrusts Los Angeles back into the driver's seat for
Western Conference superiority right away.
Why, oh why, would the Suns do such a thing? They have to
know that the most ardent members of their fan base might
not root for the Lakers if they were playing Al Qaeda or
cancer, right? Most Suns fans were reserved to the fact
that the Nash/Phoenix marriage was over and that Nash
would slink off to Toronto or New York, chase a ring,
collect a paycheck and generally not be flaunted in the
And I'm supposed to find solace in the fact the Lakers are
giving Phoenix a package of four draft picks (only two
rounders) -- none of which will likely make a real
contribution to the Suns' roster?
The Suns must have a wide foot, because I'm pretty
sure they got both of the boys with that swift kick, if
you know what I mean.
Many would argue that it's never wise to do business with
rivals. And, hold up right there, Lakers fan. Before you
say that it's not a rivalry since your team is so
superior, I'll refresh your memory with
some of the comments your beloved
Kobe Bryant made
But a stroll through history shows that this isn't the
first trade made between the Suns and Lakers.
Fan favorites Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins, Maurice Lucas
and Cedric Ceballos were all traded by the Suns to Los
Angeles over the years. Some of those deals worked out,
some didn't. But there is precedence, even though the two
teams have hooked up for trades only three times since
Anyway, back to Seinfeld. The bit Jerry performed 17
years ago popped into my head Wednesday while images of
Steve Nash wearing that hideous combination of purple
(c'mon L.A. fans, it's purple, not Forum blue) brought me
to the point of fan nausea.
Since I found out I was moving to Phoenix in 1978, I've
rooted for the home teams. I love the Phoenix Suns, which
in turn means I despise the teams that stand in their way
of success. What team has blocked the Suns' road to glory
more often than the freaking Los Angeles Lakers over the
last 44 years?
So if a player who has worn the Suns' colors for the last
eight years, and just ten days ago commented on how
playing for the Lakers would be difficult, can have an
about-face and orchestrate a trade to the enemy, what
should a fan think?
If a front office at the controls of a franchise competing
every year with the Lakers can bend over backwards to
accomodate a player they no longer find value in and
practically drive him and his $24 million to the main
entrance of Staples
Center, what should Planet Orange dwellers feel?
I'm not speaking for anyone else here, but for me, it
makes me question why I root for teams and organizations
Doesn't it make more sense to support players? If I was a
Steve Nash fan (and I was a much bigger one prior to
I'd be ecstatic right now. A true professional who has
done things the right way his entire career is going to
the league's marquee franchise and is in a great position
to win his first championship.
In a meeting in the office just this morning, a co-worker
said "I hate Kobe Bryant, but if he came to the Suns, I'd
be his biggest fan." How does this make sense?
Possibly we're all better off not supporting players or
teams, and just observing the sports themselves. I have a
friend who doesn't have team affiliations, but is a huge
fan. I've known this about him for 13 years, and for the
first time, that stance makes sense.
Being a fan is all about laundry.
And when you get hit over the head constantly with
reminders about how sports is a business, like we all did
Wednesday, that's just silly.
I once thought that any scenario devised to determine a
national champion in the great sport of college football
that included the word 'playoff' would be a huge
improvement over the sham of a system that is the BCS.
Man, was I naive.
This week, a presidential oversight committee approved a
four-team playoff to determine a national champion. The
new system will feature a field picked by a selection
committee -- although we don't yet know what criteria
they'll use to build the field.
We know that six existing bowl games will alternate as
semifinal hosts in this new plan. Four are assumed to be
the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls.
Already a fifth bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, has
come out and expressed interest in being included in the
rotation of semifinal hosts. Expect others to follow and
muddle the picture even more.
We also know that the championship game will go to the
highest bidder. So, in other words, don't be surprised if
whatever they call this thing ends up at Cowboys Stadium
in Arlington under the watchful eye of Jerry Jones on at
least a semi-permanent basis.
Of course, there's still that little matter of certain
conferences being tied into traditional bowl games that
causes a problem.
There is obviously still much to be worked out before this
latest attempt at crawling toward the right way to
determine a champ is unveiled. Yet, at first glance,
(gulp) this doesn't appear to be much better than the BCS,
which has been a lightning rod of controversy since its
introduction in 1998.
Why does this have to be so hard?
The above question is naive too -- I acknowledge that.
But it's just unfathomable to me that determining a
champion in a sport is this difficult to do the right way.
I've always been in favor of a 16-team playoff. The
formula for inclusion would be simple. All eleven regular
season conference champs would get an automatic bid. Yes,
my formula would include champs of Conference USA, Mid-
American Conference, WAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. My
reasoning? If the LSUs and Alabamas of the world can
fatten up their records against teams from these
conferences from September to November, then they better
have some representation in a championship tournament.
The naysayers argue against it, pointing out that teams
like Northern Illinois, Arkansas State and Lousiana Tech
don't belong in the hunt for a title. That's the beauty
of such a system -- these conferences and schools get a
representative but have no hope of actually navigating
through a four-game trek to a title against far superior
competition. Translation: thanks for playing, here's your
participation trophy and parting gift. Now, shut up!
I'd even be willing to bend on the criteria for a 16-team
playoff. Let's just say all six of the so-called BCS
conference champs get in. Last season, that would have
guaranteed invites to LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma State,
Wisconsin, West Virginia and Clemson.
The next six spots could be teams from the power
conferences that didn't win their league crown, but are
still worthy. This would be determined by using the BCS
formula (or a similar substitute). In 2011, that would
have extended invitations to Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas,
Kansas State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
That would leave four spots for teams from the non-power
conferences and would have ensured participation from
Boise State, TCU, Houston and Southern Mississippi last
If you used the BCS formula to determine seeding, you'd
have the following matchups:
(1) LSU vs. (16) West Virginia
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) South Carolina
(5) Oregon vs. (12) Clemson
(4) Stanford vs. (13) TCU
(6) Arkansas vs. (11) Virginia Tech
(3) Oklahoma State vs. (14) Houston
(7) Boise State vs. (10) Wisconsin
(2) Alabama vs. (15) Southern Mississippi
That's a pretty good tournament field, and for all those
who feel that opening up the tournament to 16 teams would
water it down substantially and allow for mediocre squads
to get in, just know that the only two teams with three
losses going into the postseason would have been West
Virginia and Clemson. Maybe not coincidentally, they were
both rewarded with BCS bowl bids anyway.
Even an eight-team field would have been better. Four
major bowl games serving as the semifinals leading up to a
neutral-site championship game. That takes away the
inevitable belly-aching by the powers-that-be in pastel-
jackets that will occur under this new plan.
The consensus among college football experts is that the
playoffs will eventually grow to eight teams anyway, so
why are there baby steps being taken here?
Let's do it right the first time. That would be a
I was just 27 days away from my 21st birthday. But
instead of looking forward to going out and getting
schnockered like most soon-to-be 21-year-olds, I had a
sadness in my heart.
The Phoenix Suns, tired of being a perennial 50-win team
who bows out of the NBA Playoffs in the first or second
round, engineered arguably the biggest trade in the
history of Phoenix sports. The Suns sent my favorite
player, Jeff Hornacek, along with forward Tim Perry and
center Andrew Lang to the Philadelphia 76ers for All-Star
forward Charles Barkley.
This also may have been the first trade in sports history
that was on hold until one of the principals could be
acquitted of assault charges. Barkley had been arrested
in 1991 for throwing a man through a window at a Milwaukee
bar. After he beat the rap, the trade went down.
So the Suns, who had just won 53 games and advanced to the
Western Conference semis before being rudely eliminated by
the Portland Trail Blazers, shipped off three-fifths of
their starting lineup to Philly for a guy whose 76ers team
had just missed the playoffs and had won only two
postseason series in the five years he had been the
centerpiece of the team.
I remember wearing a small name tag on my shirt at work
that read "In Memory of Jeff Hornacek: 1986-1992" in
protest of the Suns' maneuvering.
I was 20. I was naive. I had no idea what the Suns were
getting. I had no idea the ride the city of Phoenix was
The Suns were moving into their new palace in downtown
Phoenix, America West Arena (now US Airways Center), after
calling the Veterans Memorial Coliseum home for 24
seasons. For the first time in the team's history, they
were getting a substantial uniform and branding change.
There would have been an increased buzz even without a
But the Suns, to their credit, knew what they were doing.
Yes, they were getting an outspoken player with a
checkered past. But they were getting easily the most
marketable athlete in the Valley's history. Quick, name
another Phoenix athlete who had done a national television
commercial for a major advertiser before 1992? Can't
think of one, can you?
Forget the marketing; we'd never seen a player like
Barkley, either. His first game in purple and orange was
harbinger of things to come. Sir Charles pumped in 37
points and grabbed 21 rebounds as the Suns christened
their new arena with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
SunsMania was born.
The 1992-93 season was unlike any other in Phoenix sports
history. The Suns won 62 games, overcame an 0-2 deficit
to beat the Lakers in the first round of the Western
Conference Playoffs and stormed all the way to the NBA
Finals for the second time in franchise history. Barkley
won the league's MVP award, becoming the first Suns player
to do so.
People painted their cars purple and orange. Didn't have
tickets to a game? Sorry, you weren't getting any. In
fact, you were lucky to get a seat in a sports bar to
watch a game. Every other dog in the Valley was named
Majerle. You get the idea.
But Paxson's dagger didn't kill the spirit of the Suns
fan. An estimated 250,000 people lined the streets of
downtown Phoenix to give their favorite team one last
salute on a day where the mercury crept close to 120
degrees. When the crowd dispersed that day, it was the
end of the best single season in the annals of Phoenix
We've never experienced anything quite like that season.
Not when the Diamondbacks won the Series in '01 or when
the Cardinals nearly shocked the entire sports world by
coming up just short in Super Bowl XLIII.
Nope, 1992-93 was a season-long celebration; not a case of
a team getting hot at the right time. The Suns were hot
from November until June.
And it was all because of the trade that went down twenty
years ago. The '92-'93 Suns would have been good with
Hornacek, Perry and Lang -- no doubt a playoff team -- but
not a serious contender for a championship.
So today I look back on my 20-year-old self and shake my
head. How could I have been that upset about the Suns
making the best trade in their history?
The Suns organization had existed for nearly a quarter-
before June 18, 1992. But it was that day that
Phoenix earned a spot on the sports world's map -- and it
was all because of Charles Barkley.
They're especially tough when they're coming to an end.
So what's the best way to tell Ryan Roberts of the Arizona
Diamondbacks that we, the fan base, need to start seeing
other third baseman?
We've tried to hang on. We occasionally get reminders of
the glory days of the relationship -- like last Friday
night when Roberts jacked a three-run walk-off homer
against the Oakland A's.
But mostly, we just spend a lot of time thinking about
what happened to the Ryan Roberts of 2011 -- how he used
to routinely deliver clutch hits and make tough plays at
the hot corner that helped the Diamondbacks win games.
The walk-off only served as a painful reminder of happier,
more consistently productive times.
Wednesday was the last straw. Wade Miley was slinging an
absolute gem against the Texas Rangers -- one of the most
potent lineups in baseball. The rookie had allowed two
hits and was facing Texas nine-hole hitter Craig Gentry
with a runner on
second base and two outs in the 8th inning.
Gentry hit a sharp one-hopper
to Roberts at third. Despite the hop being at belt-level,
Roberts was unable to make the play. The ball bounced off
his glove and into left field, allowing Mike Napoli to
score from second base. Despite Miley's mastery of the
Rangers lineup, Texas won the game 1-0.
The play was scored a hit, but this is a play a starting
third baseman needs to make -- especially in a scoreless
tie in the 8th inning. Ok, we would have settled for him
just knocking the ball down and keeping it in the infield,
which would have held Napoli at third base.
Incidentally, after the run scored and Miley was lifted in
favor of reliever David Hernandez, Roberts made a tough
play on a sharply hit ball off of Ian Kinsler's bat to end
the inning. Too little, too late.
Look at Roberts' numbers -- they're down across the board.
Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage,
Roberts' transgressions haven't been egregious. Hell,
they haven't really even been transgressions. He's just
simply not the player he was a year ago, and we deserve
had a good run and some great times. We'll remember them
fondly. But this relationship just isn't progressing like
it should and it's time to move on.
And we don't hate you -- don't even think that. In fact,
if you want to still be
our backup utility guy or go grab a beer sometime, we
think that would be great.
Was anyone else irked Friday night watching the Arizona
Diamondbacks implode in the 8th inning during an ugly 7-1
loss to the lowly San Diego Padres?
No, I wasn't irked that the Diamondbacks bullpen fell
apart during that ill-fated half inning. Those things are
bound to happen now and then.
And I wasn't irked that the Arizona offense managed only
one run on seven hits in 6.2 innings against Clayton
Richard. The Diamondbacks offense has been prone to long
droughts and in a pitcher's paradise like Petco Park,
that's bound to happen as well.
I was irked at the behavior of the San Diego Padres, who
(wait, let me check it again) have the worst record in all
of baseball. Bud Black's team did a whole lot of
celebrating during that 8th inning. In my opinion,
excessive celebrating. In fact, I tweeted the following
on Friday night while witnessing the incredulous show of
Padres celebrating having a 4-run lead over #Diamo
ndbacks like they're about to wrap up the pennant.
News flash- you still suck.
(Ed. note: This tweet was sent before the completion of
Of course, this celebration came on the heels of a very
minor dust-up between Arizona's Chris Young and San Diego
pitcher Andrew Cashner. Cashner threw a pitch high and
tight to Young for ball four, and while Young made his way
to first base, some words were exchanged. For whatever
reason, San Diego and their crowd were newly energized.
Then the 6-run barrage followed and the Padres were in
full-on party mode.
Maybe some would cut the Padres some slack because they
had been absolutely manhandled in nine out of their last
ten games (and they were outscored 55-20 in those nine
losses.) Not me. If you're going to show up a division
foe because you had one big inning, they're going to
remember it. And because you're not very good, they'll
likely kick your teeth in the next time they see you.
Guess what? The D-backs administered a glorious bounce-back
over the next two days, outscoring the
Padres 10-2 in the process. Paul Goldschmidt continued his
torrid streak at the plate, clubbing a home run in each
while Daniel Hudson, J.J. Putz and Trevor Cahill baffled
San Diego hitters.
After the smoke cleared, the Diamondbacks had won two out
of three and returned home from their road trip not only
games out of first place, but with their first glimpse of
momentum in quite some time. And with games this week at
Chase Field against two losing teams (Colorado and
Oakland), the Diamondbacks have a chance to re-insert
into the National League West race.
And if any of their recent swagger is as a result of the
Padres' evident glee Friday night, so be it. We'll take
The ping pong balls have settled, the logo cards have been
pulled out of the envelopes, and the order for the 2012
NBA Draft has been determined.
The New Orleans Hornets own the first selection in the
draft, which will be held June 28. And unless they get
hit in the head by a blunt object between now and then,
they'll take Kentucky's Anthony Davis.
The Phoenix Suns, to nobody's surprise, ended up where
they were expected to -- with the 13th overall selection.
Unlucky number 13. You thought it was bad for the
clueless teens who spent summers at Camp Crystal Lake?
It's been just as bad for NBA franchises with the 13th
pick in the draft.
OK, that's a stretch. Nobody picking in that slot ever
got their head chopped off by a homicidal, goalie mask-
wearing psychopath, but the Milwaukee Bucks probably would
have preferred decapitation over watching the bust that
was Marcus Haislip out of Tennessee, whom they selected in
Haislip lasted two seasons in Milwaukee, playing
sparingly. He got into nine games with Indiana in 2004-05
and then went overseas, becoming the highest-paid foreign
player in the history of the Lebanese Basketball League.
I'm sure the Bucks didn't envision that career trajectory
they made the pick.
I know what you're thinking, all 13th picks can't be
busts. You're right. Kobe Bryant was picked 13th by the
back in 1996 and after he whined his way to L.A., he's
been an All-Star 14 times and has five championship rings
in his collection.
He's been the outlier. Don't believe me? Guess where
Terry Dehere, Keon Clark, Courtney Alexander, Haislip,
Marcus Banks, Sean May and Julian Wright were all drafted.
In fact, since 1990, only two players picked in the cursed
spot have been All-Stars: Bryant and former Pacers forward
Dale Davis, who cracked that status once during his 14-
In other words Suns fans, don't get too jazzed about the
13th name commissioner Stern will call out on draft night
28 days from now.
Phoenix will undoubtedly land a player that will make the
roster and contribute as a rookie. After all, Markieff
Morris was picked there by the Suns just a year ago, and
he had a decent rookie campaign (as long as he wasn't in
the starting lineup).
And I don't want this to come off as an indictment of the
Suns' scouting department. It's not. It's more of an
advertisement about how little NBA superstar talent comes
into the league on a yearly basis.
History says the chances of the Suns finding their
next superstar in their current draft position are next-
We in Phoenix have long been saddled with the label of
being L.A.'s little brother, much to our dismay. And
you've given us
wedgies, wet willies and played countless practical jokes
on us over the years and we've had no choice but to take
But now, we're getting older. More established. More
able to rise up and beat you on any given night.
We've had our head-to-head moments in the sun. What you
to us on Tuesday night, however, was just
downright cruel. In fact, we're telling Mom.
Dustin Penner's goal 17:42 into overtime lifted the Los
Angeles Kings to a 4-3 victory and allowed L.A. to punch
their ticket the Stanley Cup Finals for just the second
time in their 44-year team history. And of course, it
ended the Coyotes' longest postseason run ever.
As painful as it was to watch the Kings celebrate on the
ice at Jobing.com Arena, it was inevitable. They were,
after all, the better hockey team over the course of the
five-game series. And they're unbeatable as the road
team. Don't believe me? Just look at the big, fat zero
road loss column during the postseason.
It was a fruitful run for the Coyotes. The team exorcised
postseason demons that have haunted them since they called
Manitoba home. They ignited a dormant fan base and
continued to plant seeds for a long run of relevance
should the team
remain in Phoenix -- but that's a story for another day.
Mike Smith launched himself into the category of Phoenix
sports legend with his unbelievable play between the pipes
Boedker raised the level of his game enough to make the
rest of the league take notice.
While that was going on, about 30 minutes east of
Glendale, the Arizona Diamondbacks were receiving an
atomic wedgie from the Los Angeles Dodgers. You know, the
kind that leave not only physical, but mental marks.
led 6-1, but when Trevor Cahill was removed from the game
after six effective innings, the wheels on the Sedona red
bus fell off. Brad Ziegler relieved Cahill (and I use
that term loosely) allowing two hits and three runs
without recording an out. Craig Breslow followed and
yielded three hits and two runs again without recording an
out. Sure, his performance was marred by a throwing error
third baseman Josh Bell.
In all, the Dodgers scored five times, tying the game at
6-6. Ouch. It feels like the elastic is about to rip.
Unlikely hero Lyle Overbay, who had four hits on the
night while raising his season batting average to .370,
homered in the 8th to give the D-backs the lead back. It
wouldn't last long, as Ivan DeJesus doubled in two runs in
the top of the 9th off of J.J. Putz to give the Dodgers
their first lead of the game. Arizona went down quietly in
the 9th, losing 8-7.
That underwear is toast.
It's only May, but this was the kind of demoralizing, gut-
wrenching, I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out kind of loss that
has derailed many a baseball club over the last 132 years.
And I fear that it will completely derail this
Diamondbacks club. At the very least, the defeat further
exposed the D-backs' massive bullpen issue and increased
their deficit to 11.5 games -- a huge number to overcome
at any point of the season.
So, thanks big brother Los Angeles. Thanks for ending one
and possibly two of our teams' seasons within minutes.
And you owe us a new pair of boxer briefs, you jerk.
It's only mid-May, but the clock is ticking on the Arizona
Currently 8.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the
NL West, the D-backs' lackluster 16-22 start has applied
pressure early in the season to "get their act together".
Overcoming a double-digit deficit in the standings is
never easy, so Kirk Gibson's club finds itself in a
tenuous position less than one-fourth of the way through
There is hope on the horizon: center fielder Chris Young,
shortstop Stephen Drew and starting pitcher Daniel Hudson
are all getting closer to returning from injuries.
Getting three main cogs back will undoubtedly give the
Diamondbacks a boost.
But until then, the D-backs have been presented with
another golden opportunity to try and exploit. Los
Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, the best player in
baseball not named Josh Hamilton, is on the disabled list
with a strained left hamstring for the next two weeks.
And quite simply, the Dodgers' offense stinks without Matt
Don't believe me? In the three games Kemp has missed
since being shelved, the Dodgers have scored a total of
six runs, are batting .229 and are 1-for-14 as a team
with runners in scoring position.
With Kemp in the middle of the lineup this season, the
Dodgers averaged 4.5 runs per game and hit .272 with
runners in scoring position.
It's admittedly a tiny sample size, but Kemp's absence has
already been felt.
During an offensive struggle, teams will talk about
keeping a positive attitude and approach and will look
inward to cure their ills. The Diamondbacks are saying
and doing those things, which is the right approach.
But the D-backs have also had a wide door opened up for
them, and Kemp's injury and the Dodgers' offensive
difficulties could make Arizona's climb out of the hole
they've dug for themselves a little easier to get out of.
It's always a bit of a kick to the gut when your NBA team
doesn't qualify for the postseason.
After all, the NBA Playoffs aren't exactly the most
exclusive party -- more than half the league gets an
Pressing your nose against the glass to snoop on what's
happening inside that party for two years in a row is
That's the boat the Phoenix Suns find themselves in --
dressed-up (for them) with nowhere to go.
It's not as if the Suns are a social pariah that would
never considered for an invitation to the party -- that
role is reserved for the booger-eating Charlotte Bobcats.
No, the Suns are right on the cusp of inclusion, and like
a slightly awkward teenager, they just need to tweak
their look a little bit.
The good news is, the Suns have money to spend at the mall
to freshen up their appearance in hopes of catching the
eye of the party's host. The bad news is, most of the
stores they want to shop at have a very limited selection
of clothing left on the racks. This year's crop of
unrestricted free agents isn't exactly awe-inspiring.
The Suns organization is in a strange position. They've
potentially got $28 million of cap space to use when free
agency starts in early July. But, according to team
president Lon Babby, they're also armed with a sense of
responsibility to do the right thing.
I understand the sentiment. Phoenix doesn't want to spend
money just to spend money. They've done that in the past,
and that strategy has them on the hook for over $30
million to Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick.
But as a sports fan, when was the last time you bragged to
a buddy about your team's fiscal responsibility?
"I know your team is having a parade today to celebrate
their championship, but my team's got cap space, so suck
Yeah, that's never happened.
Babby met with the media Wednesday and talked about the
state of the Suns moving forward. He mentioned that the
Suns will likely
match any offer tendered to restricted free agent Robin
Lopez. Babby talked about how he'd love to see Grant Hill
back in Phoenix...again.
And of course there's the seemingly never-ending Steve
discussion. Will he be back or will he sign elsewhere and
chase a championship in some other team's uniform in the
twilight of his career?
Babby said if it's a win-win for both Nash and the Suns,
it's something they'll pursue.
The bigger issue is, do any of the above re-signings make
the Phoenix Suns a better basketball team closer to
winning a championship? The resoundingly clear answer is
Lopez is a backup center who plays spotty minutes, has a
limited offensive game and has battled foul trouble his
Hill is pushing forty, and his remarkable run of health in
Phoenix after an injury-ravaged six-season stint in
Orlando showed signs of ending during the 2011-12
And Nash is in his late-30s, and despite playing for an
offensively-challenged team, put up almost two less shots
this season than any year since 1999-2000. Coincidence?
Maybe. But more likely, Nash is losing his ability to
free himself for easy field goal attempts.
In other words, the Suns can't show up next school year
wearing the same 9-dollar jeans and rocking the same nerdy
hairstyle and expect to get an invite to the big bash.
As hard as it will be, it's time to empty the closet,
throw all of those clothes into a big plastic bag and
leave it by the curb.
Steve and Grant, thanks for the memories and thanks for
being great representatives of Phoenix and ambassadors of
The Suns are faced with a decision: have a pocket full of
money and stay home on Friday night watching reruns of
America's Funniest Home Videos or reinvention.
I say it's time to head to the mall and drop some coin on
a new look. The party awaits.
During my Sunday errand running, I found myself at a
local grocery store with my 16-year-old son, picking up a
few items for a visit to my sister's house.
We were headed over to watch Game 2 of the Western
Conference Semifinals between the Phoenix Coyotes and the
Watching big sporting events in a large group has been
going on for years in my family -- this, however, was the
first time any configuration of the Marotta clan had ever
gathered for a hockey game.
Anyway, as my son and I walked to the checkout stand -- he
in his official Whiteout shirt and me in a Coyotes cap --
we were engaged by the clerk who started talking
hockey with us.
"Are you guys going to the game tonight," he asked.
"No, we're just going to catch it on the tube," I
"Man, I hope they win this one without having to go to
overtime," he said.
"Yeah, hopefully," I answered. "But it wouldn't shock
Forgive my lack of salient analysis in this conversation.
I was floored.
I've lived in the Valley since 1979 and became involved in
this city's sports media in 1996 - the same year the
Coyotes got to town - and this was the first time I can
remember a perfect stranger engaging me in a conversation
about the Phoenix Coyotes.
It's starting to feel like Phoenix is becoming real hockey
Those in traditional hockey markets and rabid Canadian
cities may scoff at the above proclamation, but hey, it's
gotta start somewhere.
This has been a season of firsts for the Phoenix Coyotes'
franchise. They won their first division title. They've
moved on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
for the first time since they've been in the Valley.
They've won three straight playoff games for the first
time since 1999.
So why can't these be the first steps toward Phoenix
becoming a "real" hockey market? This can be the case, as
long as the Coyotes continue this run.
I hate to say it, but Phoenix is a front-runner town. We
all know it. "SunsMania" was at an all-time high in 1993,
when Barkley and the boys were marching toward the team's
second-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
The Arizona Cardinals' unexpected journey to Super Bowl
XLIII sparked a football fever in Phoenix that had not
been seen before.
And of course, the peak of Arizona Diamondbacks' fandom
was their dramatic win over the New York Yankees in the
2001 World Series.
The Coyotes could never share in the glow of capturing the
market's attention. For most of their existence in
Phoenix, sports fans treated the 'Yotes like that weird
uncle -- the one you know a little bit and he's
part of the family, but you're certainly not apt to drive
across town to see him.
But suddenly, old Uncle Whatshisname is getting his act
For the first time, both rabid fans and casual
latecomers are expecting big things instead of just
hoping that the Coyotes get into the playoffs or win a
The way this team is playing right now could very well end
in guys like Shane Doan, Mike Smith and Radim Vrbata
hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in June.
But even if that doesn't happen, eager Phoenix bandwagon
jumpers have been given their first opportunity to taste
Now it's up to the Coyotes and the City of Glendale to
keep them aboard.
Near the end of the press conference introducing Todd
Graham as the new Arizona State head football coach last
December, a question was asked about how Graham felt about
rustic facilities and lack of television.
The query had to do, of course, with Camp Tontozona and
whether the new ASU head man would be willing to have his
Sun Devil teams train in the cool pines east of Payson
like so many coaches had before him -- that is, until
Dennis Erickson put a halt to the tradition in 2008.
Graham's response was vague and safe.
"I have a great respect for traditions, and we'll work
hard to maintain the traditions at Arizona State
University," he said. "A lot of times, traditions are
lost through coaching changes and things like that. So
I'd be very open to listen to that."
I remember walking out of that press conference thinking
that Graham said all the right things. I also remember
thinking there's no way a return to Tontozona would
seriously be considered. It's just another coach's
version of campaign promises. Tell 'em what they want to
I was wrong.
Thursday, Graham, along with ASU athletic director Steve
Patterson and Payson mayor Kenny Evans, unveiled the
"Return to Camp T Campaign", which outlined a plan for the
Sun Devils to return to Tontozona -- in preparation for
the upcoming season.
All necoaches talk about the importance of tradition.
don't follow through.
Thursday's announcement is just another reason why ASU
fans should be excited about Graham's tenure in Tempe.
He's following through.
Tradition is important, and Camp Tontozona is a huge part
of ASU football tradition. The greatest teams ever to
wear the maroon and gold -- the undefeated 1975 squad of
Frank Kush, the 1986 John Cooper-led Rose Bowl champs and
the 1996 Pac-10 titlist team of Bruce Snyder -- all shed
blood, sweat and tears at Camp T prior to those magical
I'm not sure I'm buying that, but for a football program
that has mostly floundered for the
last 15 years, reliance on tradition becomes even more
important for a success-starved fan base in an over-
saturated sports market.
Graham and Patterson understand this. So much so that
they're ready to commit to a project that requires a
minimum of $150,000 of work to even get the facility
It's only scheduled for five days in August, but I do
believe there's value in coaches, players and support
staff bonding among the tall pine trees with nothing --
I mean nothing -- to concentrate on but football.
Will a return to Tontozona translate to more wins in 2012?
I highly doubt that.
But this move isn't about this season. It's about the
Todd Graham and company have just appeased a huge portion
of Sun Devil Nation while taking another huge
step toward erasing a decade and a half of mediocrity for
Arizona State football.
If I told you two weeks ago that the Arizona Diamondbacks
would win seven of their first ten games, you'd probably
If I told you two weeks ago that the D-backs would go 7-3
in their first ten without getting an RBI from Justin
Upton, you'd think I was mad.
But that's exactly what's happened.
Upton, picked by many to win
this year's National League
MVP Award, is in one of the worst run-producing slumps
his big league career. In June of 2008, during his first
year in the league, Upton endured a 14-game RBI-less
stretch and had just two runs batted in for the entire
month, while hitting .123.
Not surprisingly, the D-backs went 11-16 that month. That
team wasn't equipped to deal with prolonged droughts from
their key players. That's one of the reasons why they
couldn't hold off Manny Ramirez and the hard-charging
Dodgers to win the division crown. Of course, Upton's
injury that sidelined him for much of July and August was
a huge factor too.
The difference four years later is that the current D-
backs squad can withstand stretches like this from key
players and still win. Their starting pitching is better,
as is their bullpen (2.23 ERA through 10 games). Their
depth is the envy of most big league teams. If someone
struggles, another picks up the slack and expects the same
when a slump comes calling upon them.
Of course it doesn't hurt that Upton's outfield neighbor,
Chris Young, is off to the best
start by any baseball
player not named Matt Kemp.
So imagine how scary this team will be when Upton does
start producing, because it's only a matter of time. The
24-year-old right fielder has shown the propensity to get
really hot for stretches where he's capable of carrying a
team. Does anybody remember June/July of last season?
Justin Upton will be fine.
And when he's fine, the D-backs will be frightening.
Face it - when news broke March 30 that Suns forward Grant
Hill was having surgery on his right knee, you figured the
season was over.
For a second straight season, a slow-starting Suns team
would rally furiously following the All-Star break, only
to fall short of their goal of reaching the NBA Playoffs.
I mean, after all, the Suns were going to be without their
best and most versatile defender for a good chunk of the
remainder of the regular season. With ground to make up
and teams to overtake, Hill's absence would certainly be
the final nail in the Suns' playoff coffin.
I definitely felt that way.
But the rest of the players on the roster apparently
didn't get that memo, and that includes Shannon Brown, who
has done more than an admirable job in filling in for Hill
in the Phoenix starting five.
I'll admit it - I've always found Shannon Brown to be a
maddening NBA player dating back to his days with the Los
Angeles Lakers. He undoubtedly possesses unbelievable
athletic ability. He also lacks a filter that helps him
determine what is a good shot and what is not.
Early in the season, many a Suns fan was shaking their
head about some of the on-court decisions made by Brown.
Those moments haven't stopped altogether since Brown
stepped into the starting lineup eight games ago, but
they've been drastically reduced.
With Brown as a starter, the Suns are 5-3 and find
themselves just one game behind Dallas and Denver for the
final Western Conference playoff spot with just nine games
Individually, Brown is averaging 17.5 points per game as a
starter on 45.3% shooting from the floor. These are not
earth-shattering figures, but for a team that readily
admits they don't have a go-to scorer, they're
Not only has Brown thrived as the recipient of increased
minutes, but the Suns' bench is arguably playing their
best basketball of the season as each member has a more
The news is good on the Grant Hill front. The veteran co-
captain could be back for the stretch run which includes
tough games against Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Denver
and San Antonio.
When Hill is ready to go, does Alvin Gentry just re-insert
him back in the lineup and relegate Brown to the bench?
That remains to be seen, as does whether or not the Suns
re-sign Brown in the offseason. He has not hurt his stock
around the league with his play in the last two weeks, and
could be a commodity in this summer's free agent market.
One thing we do know is Hill is coming back and it'll be
good to see #33 on the court when he gets
back. But if the Suns do end up reaching their goal of
making the playoffs, we'd be remiss in not properly
crediting how important Shannon Brown has been during this
second half run.
Question: A boy is 17 years old and his sister is twice
When the boy is 23 years old, what will be the age of his
Answer: 40. Does that qualify me to play in the NFL?
Morris Claiborne is a terrific football player.
The 22-year-old cornerback from LSU was a consensus First
Team All-America pick, was the SEC Defensive Player of the
Year and won the Thorpe Award presented to the best
college defensive back in the country. Over the last two
seasons, he defended 12 passes and intercepted 11 more.
After excelling on the gridiron during his career in Baton
Rouge, Claiborne performed admirably at the NFL Scouting
Combine in Indianapolis as well, running a 4.5 40-yard
dash, and recording a 34.5-inch vertical jump.
Claiborne remains the top defensive back prospect in this
year's draft class and will likely be selected in the top
five or six picks on April 26.
So why, pray tell, must we know if Claiborne correctly
answered a question similar to the one at the beginning of
this column? Does that affect his ability to play
football? It certainly didn't at LSU.
Pat Dooley, a writer at the Gainesville Sun
(interestingly, a newspaper in a rival SEC town) tweeted
that Claiborne recorded a score of 4 out of 50 on the
Wonderlic Test, which is given to prospects at the
scouting combine. It's the lowest Wonderlic score ever
Now, by a simple reporting of fact, Claiborne will at
least be dogged by the "dumb" label the rest of his
career. The number four will be subconsciously pinned to
his jersey like a sort of scarlet numeral.
Low scores have not acted as a deterrent for teams to
draft certain players. University of Texas quarterback
Vince Young famously scored a 6 in his
first crack at the Wonderlic, and he was still selected
third overall by Tennessee in the 2006 draft. Dan Marino
got a 15 back in 1983, was still drafted in the first
round by the Miami Dolphins and went on to have one of the
most storied careers of any quarterback in league history.
And high scores haven't been an indicator of success in
the league, either. In 1998, Ryan Leaf scored a 27, six
points better than average. And he's proven, even well
after his playing days, that he's one of the biggest
boneheads ever to put on a helmet.
In other words, this test doesn't mean anything in terms
of how a player is going to perform at the highest level
of football. The point being, individual teams have been
armed with the information on players' scores and have the
final say on whether or not to draft them.
Early in my media career, I had the pleasure of working
with Mike Golic, who's now of course half of the popular
Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio. Golic also enjoyed a
colorful 8-year career in the NFL and was part of one of
the most feared defensive lines in history with the
Philadelphia Eagles in the mid-90's.
He talked frequently about his father's advice to him when
preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine. "Do they have a
bench press at the 50-yard line on Sundays?" his father
would ask. "Then, don't worry about it."
The same can be said for the Wonderlic. And maybe Morris
Claiborne had that attitude when he took the test. Maybe
he didn't prepare for it. Or maybe, he just botched it.
Whatever the reason, it's not fair to Claiborne or others
to have their test results leaked or reported --
especially when they're not even football-related.
play on Sundays. Intelligent quotient and problem-
skills still aren't the deciding factors in whether or not
a rush end can win a one-on-one matchup against a left
tackle or be able to run stride-for-stride with an All-Pro
I'm not saying that teams shouldn't issue the test and
have access to the results. It's their money, and they
should be able to use as many methods as they can to
determine whether or not to employ a player.
Why must these test scores leak out publicly? Do they
But there are certain things that the general public and
media don't need to know about when it comes NFL Draft
Thirteen days after he was cut by the Indianapolis Colts,
the Peyton Manning saga came to an end when the four-time
MVP signed his name on the dotted line of a contract
printed on Denver Broncos letterhead.
But did Manning make the right move?
Yes, he's got 96 million reasons to believe it's the right
move, but take the money out of the equation for a second.
Let's assume all five of the teams Manning seriously
considered or visited with were offering near-equal
compensation (because this was never about the money,
So let's break it down based on ownership/front office,
coaching staff, competitiveness, offensive line and
offensive weapons, shall we? I'll rank each of the teams
1 to 5 in each category, and award 5 points for 1st, 4 for
1 (5 points) - Denver Broncos - Pat Bowlen is a
respected owner and executive VP of football operations
John Elway is a legend and by all accounts, one of the
biggest deciding factors in Manning's decision-making
process. I'm not sure how Elway's presence helps now that
the ink is dry on the contract, but it got him to don that
hideous shade of orange.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - Owner/CEO Jed
York is only 31 years of age, but has done a nice job in
rebuilding the 49ers franchise toward its one-time
dominance. President Gideon Yu, while not from a football
background, is a sharp cookie who served as the CFO for
Facebook and GM Trent Baalke is the reigning NFL Executive
of the Year.
3 (3 points) - Tennessee Titans - Bud Adams is an
aggressive and outspoken owner, who despite his less than
polite finger gestures from time to time, is respected
around the league. Senior exec VP Mike Reinfeldt has a
wealth of experience in the league as a player and exec,
and Ruston Webster, while new on the GM job, also has been
in league front offices for more than two decades.
4 (2 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Like it or not,
the Cardinals still battle the national stigma of being
the "same old Cardinals", even though we in Arizona know
that isn't the case anymore. Michael Bidwill and GM Rod
Graves have built a competitive franchise since the
opening of University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006, but the
longtime label on this franchise remains.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - What a mess.
Stephen Ross is loaded, which is a good trait for a sports
owner to possess. How loaded? Loaded enough to give $100
million to the University of Michigan School of Business,
which now bears his name. So with all that money, and
Ross' willingness to spend it, why isn't anybody signing
with the Dolphins? Good question. GM Jeff Ireland has
been roundly criticized and due to the Fins' lack of
attracting top free agent talent, made media rounds in
South Florida earlier this week to explain things. "I
think he's a guy that's not trustworthy. He's a guy that
doesn't really hold up to what a GM is supposed to be,"
former Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said this week on
NFL Network. Ouch.
1 (5 points) - San Francisco 49ers - I know Jim
Harbaugh's only been on the job for a season. But
considering what happened during that season, and what
Harbaugh accomplished at what was a dead program at
Stanford, he's the best head coach on this list.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is solid, if
2 (4 points) - Denver Broncos - John Fox is a good,
flexible head coach who has led his team to the playoffs
four times in his ten years in Carolina and Denver. And,
he's got a Super Bowl appearance to his credit. Mike
McCoy, the former University of Utah quarterback, is
entering his 4th year as an NFL offensive coordinator.
3 (3 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Ken Whisenhunt
is on a similar career path as Fox, having guided the
former laughingstock Cardinals to two playoff appearances
and a conference championship in his five years on the
job. Mike Miller, the offensive coordinator, is an up-
and-comer heading into his 2nd season on the job.
4 (2 points) - Tennessee Titans - Hall of Famer
Mike Munchak was 9-7 in his first year as an NFL head
coach. He spurned reported offers from his alma mater,
Penn State, in the offseason. Longtime NFL assistant
Chris Palmer is heading into his 2nd year as the Titans'
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins have
new head coach in former Green Bay coordinator Joe
Philbin, who becomes Miami's 7th head coach in 9 years.
This will be Philbin's first head coaching job at the
college or pro ranks. Coordinator Mike Sherman takes over
the reins of the offense after his ouster as Texas A&M's
1 (5 points) - San Francisco 49ers - The Niners
13-3 a year ago, and were maybe a botched punt return away
from taking on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Oh, did I mention that San Francisco has one of the top
defenses in the league?
2 (4 points) - Tennessee Titans - Under Munchak,
Titans were 9-7 a year ago, and seem to be a team on the
3 (3 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Yes, the
were only 8-8 a year ago, but they finished 7-2, and that
included a hard-fought win over the 49ers in Glendale.
Coordinator Ray Horton has his defensive unit headed in
the right direction.
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - I know, I know
fans...you were in the playoffs a year ago. Hell, you won
a playoff game last season. That doesn't change the fact
that the AFC West was a study of mediocrity that allowed
Denver to back into that division title by losing their
last three regular season games.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - Notice a trend here?
The Dolphins were 6-10 last season, and missed the
playoffs for the ninth time in the last ten seasons.
1 (5 points) - Tennessee Titans - RT David Stewart
graded out as the NFL's top right tackle last season,
according to Pro Football Focus, while left tackle
Michael Roos ranked 6th. In pass protection, the Titans
allowed just 24 sacks in 584 pass attempts -- the 2nd
lowest total in the league. However, the Titans ranked
2nd-to-last in the league in rushing despite having Chris
Johnson locked up to a big money long-term deal.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - LT Joe Staley,
a 2011 Pro Bowler, anchors a good offensive line for the
49ers. San Francisco allowed 44 sacks in 457 pass
attempts a year ago and the line helped pave the way for
the 8th-ranked rushing attack in the league.
3 (3 points) - Miami Dolphins - LT Jake Long is the
single-best offensive lineman for any of the teams Manning
considered, and went to his fourth Pro Bowl last season.
Long allowed just 5 sacks and drew only 5 penalty flags in
2011 for a line that allowed 52 sacks in 469 passing
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - While many have
touted the Broncos line to be a huge selling point to
Manning, their pass protection left a lot to be desired.
Broncos quarterbacks were sacked 42 times - not a great
number for a team that threw the ball less than any other
NFL team. LT Ryan Clady is also often put on a pedestal
as one of the top lineman in the league, but his Pro
Football Focus ranking was 66th in the NFL among tackles.
He also drew 12 penalty flags, 2nd-most in the league
5 (1 point) - Arizona Cardinals - There's no other
way to slice it, the Cardinals' line hasn't been very
good. Much of the criticism is lobbed at LT Levi Brown,
who did show some improvement during Arizona's resurgent
second half of the 2011 season. But the scuttlebutt is
that Brown will be moved to the right side, and there is a
lot of uncertainty on the line, as starting guard Rex
Hadnot was cut and right tackle Brandon Keith is a free
agent not likely to be brought back.
1 (5 points) - Arizona Cardinals - As John Elway
was the a huge advantage in the front office category,
Larry Fitzgerald should have been just as big an advantage
in the weapons category. Fitzgerald has excelled in the
Cardinals' offense no matter who's throwing him passes,
and the thought of Manning throwing to #11 would have kept
NFC defensive coordinators up at night. But the Cardinals
boast more than Fitzgerald. Receiver Early Doucet was re-
signed and Andre Roberts returns, giving the Cardinals
three receivers who more than 50 catches last season.
Tight end Rob Housler should develop into a stretch-the-
field type and running back Beanie Wells returns as does
Ryan Williams, who missed 2011 with a knee injury.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - The Niners
have beefed up their offensive weaponry this offseason,
signing future Hall of Famer Randy Moss to go along with
former Giants receiver Mario Manningham and Michael
Crabtree, who caught 72 balls a year ago. Tight end Vernon
Davis is a freak of nature who is a matchup nightmare and
running back Frank Gore is a steady threat in the
3 (3 points) - Tennessee Titans - Chris Johnson ran
for over 1,000 yards again in 2011, but his output has
been cut in half since his 2,000-yard season in 2009.
Nate Washington was Tennessee's top receiver in '11, but
the Titans will welcome back the supremely talented and
knuckleheaded Kenny Britt, who had his season cut short by
injury. Tight end Jared Cook is one of the good, young,
up-and-coming players at his position.
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - Denver has a young
receiving corps headed up by Eric Decker and Demaryius
Thomas, but they combined for only 76 catches in the run-
heavy Broncos offense in 2011. Top tight end Daniel Fells
bolted to New England via free agency. Running back
Willis McGahee ran for over 1,000 yards at age 30, and
Knowshon Moreno remains an injury-plagued enigma.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - Outside of Reggie
Bush, there's not much to be excited about in South
Florida after the trade of Brandon Marshall to Chicago.
Anthony Fasano is a decent tight end who caught 32 passes
and scored 5 touchdowns last year.
Considering the five categories, again assuming the money
would be similar from all five teams, and knowing that
Manning is hell-bent to get back to the Super Bowl, my
rankings indicate that Peyton made the 3rd-best selection
for his career.