On a recent weekend, I attended a housewarming barbeque for a buddy. And, it should be noted, he's a bachelor.
(This is important because I made the mistake of bothering to shower, wear a presentable shirt, and bring an actual gift purchased by the wife. Geez, what a bonehead move on my part considering not a single other attendee had even bothered to shave, much less bathe or shop. Think housewarming party at a frat house.)
That said, it's probably not surprising that the biggest and best furnishing in the house? You guessed it. By far, the television. A big screen, flat screen TV featuring non-stop UFC pay-per-view bouts all evening.
Yes, we're trying to paint a picture and set the scene: beer, bbq, Doritos, MMA, backward baseball caps and sports talk. In fact, we should've simulcast the conversation on Arizona Sports 620. No doubt, we covered all the hot topics -- Cards QB question, D-backs minus J-Up, Suns stink, LeBron vs MJ, dudes with idiotic workouts at the gym and ...wait for it… women's college basketball?!
In hindsight, it was a good thing we were on the patio as the conversation turned because I reacted with an involuntary spit take into the bougainvillea.
Yes, a bunch of guys spontaneously started talking women's hoops unprompted. No joke, no embellishment. Although, truth be told, the talk revolved around a single woman hoopster -- Brittney Griner.
And right there, that's why the Phoenix Mercury will draft Griner #1 overall next month.
Can she play? Can she block shots? Can she dunk? Absolutely. But that's not groundbreaking. Not at all. Diana Taurasi is the more decorated player and she already sports a Mercury uniform (how many corporate logo patches this season -- three?)
The bigger question is -- does the WNBA player matter? Ding. Does she create chatter? Double-ding. And, most importantly, will Brittney Griner move the meter in the marketplace? Ding-a-cha-ching.
Sunday night, Griner had her 15th career dunk amongst 33 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Defending national champion Baylor opened the NCAAs with an 82-40 jackstomping of Prairie View.
That's great. But once again, what really separates Griner is that people aren't just watching her, they're talking about her.
"Her wingspan is amazing," said Latia Williams, the SWAC Player of the Year. "Her hands are huge. When she grabbed my hand and helped me up, her hand was on my forearm. She's cool."
No, what's really cool is that Griner's celebrity is starting to exceed her skills.
"It was amazing. It was amazing," said Prairie View guard Jeanette Jackson. "We got star struck."
And we're not just hearing from opposing players. What if we said, like my buddies at the bbq, that LeBron James opined on Brittney Griner recently.
"She's awesome," James said. "It's not like she's just catching and laying it or dunking every time either. She's shooting turnaround jumpers. She's drop-stepping over her left shoulder, right shoulder, shooting jumpers. She's got a fade-away jumper. And she's dunking the ball, too. She's great."
Griner to the Mercury. That's going to be slam dunk number 16 in her career.
How did things taste at the NFC Coaches Breakfast Wednesday morning at the Biltmore here in Phoenix? No clue. Hey, I was too busy interviewing Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians before bolting back to KTAR to be on-air. (I mean, how do you think I maintain my nickname -- Paulie Pencilneck?!)
Enough of that, I had a chance to chat for a few minutes with Bruce Arians. So, let's run the no-huddle Q&A with the Cardinals new head coach.
And let's get specific. Since Drew Stanton hasn't taken a regular season snap in two years, what can Arians tell us about his former Colts backup?
"Extremely bright. Very competitive. Can make all the throws. Is a little bit too tough for his own good sometimes. He'll go running up in there and take some guys on. He's a fiery competitor and that's what it takes to play the game," Arians said. "I've been around him for a year and I've never seen one (QB) improve his, I call it ‘swing,' just like a golfer, in a year as much as he did. His accuracy was off the charts by December."
Of course, last year, the Cards had a QB competition that spanned the entire offseason and five-game preseason. This season, it appears the QB competition will be decided before Mother's Day.
"There will be NO quarterback competition," Arians said when I asked the proverbial quarterback question. "If you have two, you have none. We will have a quarterback set by May 1st."
Speaking of QBs, Coach Arians told the assembled media that he sees a half-dozen quarterbacks in the upcoming draft that will play a "long time" in the NFL, right?
"I do. I think they'll play a long time," Arians confirmed. "How soon? I don't know. How dynamic will they be as rookies will totally depend on the team and the system."
As for the offensive line, I asked Arians what he sees when he flips on the game film from last season?
"I see a revolving door. Every film you turn on there's five different numbers up there, so you're not going to be very good because it takes some continuity and cohesiveness to play as a group," Arians said. "We have good depth. We're going to have some good competition. And with that competition, we should have a pretty good offensive line. Now, we throw one more guy into that mix and we could have a really good offensive line. And that's what it's going to take for our division."
Of course, as a direct result of the O-line woes up front, the Cardinals wound up last in the NFL in rushing. So, what does Rashard Mendenhall bring to the Cards backfield?
"Dynamic player," said Arians, who coached Mendenhall in Pittsburgh. "He's still young, he's only 25. Carried us to the Super Bowl. He's an every down player. He's 230 pounds with 180 pound feet. He's got unbelievable jump cut ability. He can catch the football. He pass protects. He never has to come out of the game. We rode him to the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh."
Can the Phoenix Suns beat the Heat? And we're not talking about the dreaded summer heat that's straight ahead in our weather forecast.
No, we're talking about the upper-case version: the Miami Heat. Hence, in the spirit of "Spy vs. Spy," we're launching a campaign called "Streak versus Season."
Sure. After Monday night's comeback win at Boston, the Heat currently own the second-longest winning streak in NBA history -- 23 straight. And after beating the Lakers Monday night, the Suns have won 23 games -- this entire season.
Hit the brakes. That's a #HolyCannoliStat that says it all, right? Sure again. But that ain't no fun. At the risk of going all Paulie Pocket Protector here, let's bust out a line graph in order to track our two teams and crunch some more numbers.
Entering Monday night, if you set up a compare/contrast Tale of the Tape between the defending NBA champions and the Worst in the West, let's just say they have a lot of opposites in common. That makes sense, uh, right?
For instance, Miami just finished a stretch of holding its opponents to under 100 points in 10 straight games. Prior to the injured and worn out Lakers coming to AZ (Steve Nash: "We just hit the wall"), the Suns had allowed their last six opponents to score more than 100 points, including the league's lowest-scoring team (Wizards) torching the Suns for 127 points on Saturday night.
After shooting 58% in a win against Toronto, Miami is now 31-2 this season when shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Through 68 games, the Suns have shot 50% or better a grand total of five times, going 4-1 in those games.
What's more astounding when it comes to shooting percentage is that the Suns' defense entering Monday night had allowed opponents to shoot 49% over the past seven games... from three-point range!
During their current winning streak, the Heat have beaten three different teams multiple times (Philly 3x, Toronto 2x, Atlanta 2x). Believe it or not, the Suns have now beaten six teams more than once this season (Cleveland, Charlotte, Sacramento, Portland, Memphis, Lakers).
And one other polar opposite these two teams might have in common by the end of the season? The numero uno. As in, the Heat is tracking to wind up #1.
Same with the Suns, sort of. As in, maybe, just maybe, if we pray to the great ping pong ball in the desert sky, the Suns might wind up with the #1 pick.
(Note: if we're wondering whether the Heat can extend the streak? Miami's next four opponents -- Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando -- have the four worst records in the East. Also, eight of their next 11 games are against teams with losing records.)
If you open up an Oreo cookie, you will not find the Phoenix Suns. No way, no chance. This Band of Backups is most definitely not creamy white filling. There is virtually nothing in-between about Suns games.
At first glance, those figures read like high/low temps for Phoenix in August.
We wish. Turns out, we did not consult the National Weather Service. Instead, those numbers come from Suns box scores. Yep. They happen to be final scores from this season, all XL lopsided losses by the Suns.
Hence, we pose a question: Why is it that when the Suns (rarely) win, they win. #Ding. But when the Suns lose - look out.
As in, look out below because the Suns scream "cannonball" and then smack the water from the roof of the garage, like an episode of Jackass.
The latest example had Johnny Knoxville and Planet Orange Cones in Houston. At least, the NBA schedule listed the Suns as allegedly taking on the Rockets. To date, we're still looking for tangible evidence that an actual game took place.
See, thing is, at the risk of getting all metaphysical here, did you really play a game if you didn't compete? #BuellerBueller
And we're not talking about expertise, where the Suns are challenged by a dearth of talent. We're citing effort, or the lack thereof. Did you even try? We know NBA salaries are guaranteed. And, based on this season, we now know something else: effort is not guaranteed. (By the way, forget maximum effort. We're realistic. We'd settle for respectable/acceptable effort.)
How else can you explain a game where you flipped on the TV to find the score was an eye-popping 100-64 midway thru the 4th quarter? In fact, we'd like to petition the NBA stat geeks to register a honkin' huge "DNP" across the Suns section of the final box score. #JackStomp
"Those that go along with the program will be here," Lindsey Hunter said on Wednesday night. "Those that won't...will eliminate themselves."
Nice to hear the coach deems it unacceptable. Thing is, it's happening on his watch. And, of course, Hunter has a business card that reads "interim" head coach.
Meaning, it's his team that's failing to consistently respond. (#HolyCannoliStat: 6 times under Lindsey Hunter, the Suns have committed 20 or more turnovers. Under Alvin Gentry, that happened twice this season.)
On Seinfeld, if memory serves, didn't Jackie Chiles offer up that "If you don't compete, thou shalt feel the heat," or something like that.
Ron Burgundy would've been a good choice to call the game Saturday from the Chase Field broadcast booth:
"Boy that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast. "
Yep. That'd pretty much describe the scene in the 9th inning, when WBC stood for World Basebrawl Classic between Team Mexico and Team Canada. #Fisticuffs
In some ways, it was your typical baseball free-for-all. Meaning, an unwritten rule was violated. Therefore, thou shalt be punished with a fastball between the shoulder blades. Moments later, let there be fight!
Thing is, that's where this became an atypical baseball melee. Instead of huffing, puffing, and pretending, the players (and coaches) were actually swinging, punching, and wrestling. For real, no WWE here. In fact, snarky media types joked that maybe the Canadians suddenly thought a hockey game had broken out.
And since our rule is it can always get worse, well, it did just that. In the stands, a Raider game broke out, as fans launched objects towards dugouts. In fact, video shows a water bottle striking the Team Canada pitching coach upside the head.
My initial reaction? Thank goodness. Good thing that I watched it on television and not in person. Hey, Paulie Pugilist likes a basebrawl as much as the next dude, but I immediately gave thanks that I decided to take my 6 year old, just starting his first Little League season, to the D-backs spring training game on Saturday instead of the World Baseball Chaos game downtown.
As we all know, 6 year olds ask a lot of questions. And let's just say that I felt more than a little relieved that I didn't have to explain why NAFTA violations were occurring all over the diamond, not to mention fans leaving in handcuffs.
But forget being a parental unit altogether, how sad that the most memorable moment in the short history of this event now happens to be a violent brawl. Isn't the WBC supposed to showcase the game and spirit of baseball? Actually, yes. It's in the mission statement all in the name of growing the game internationally.
Let's see, a batter drilled. Dugouts emptied. Baseball uniforms alongside police uniforms. Not only does that fail to grow the game worldwide, it's actually instilled fear in other nations.
According to AP reports, video of the fracas has spread across the globe and "caused concern in Japan, where bunting is a big part of the game and baseball brawls are rare."
Yet, officials of the World Baseball Classic decided not to suspend or punish a single participant, despite the fact that seven players were ejected.
``Because at least one club - and potentially both - will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact,'' WBC officials said in a statement.
So, apparently, it's only players that mete out punishment. Thereby reinforcing why players feel compelled to take matters into their own hands, especially when the consequences are non-existent.
If it was up to me, I'd re-enact Nolan Ryan on Robin Ventura.
Attention Team Mexico: while the World Baseball Classic occurs every four years, you're invited back in eight years. See you in 2021. By then, you've had ample time to study up on why this tourney is held in the first place.
I got hit by Adrian Wilson. Sure. Hit, shoved, bumped, brushed, duped and mocked. But that's life on the sideline as the pencilneck sideline radio guy.
It's inevitable and unavoidable. You get your pen hit out of your hand. Your notebook smacked to the ground. Beware the punter, kicker & long snapper, who like to joke they're aiming for you during warm-ups.
Look out for the hit ‘n run forearm shiver when it's deemed you're too close to the bench area. And fear the final moments of a big win when your headphone volume leaves you unaware (cue the Jaws impending doom sound effect) of what's coming next. Namely - ice, smelling salts, snowballs, rolls of athletic tape, or the proverbial fountain of fluid from a water bottle at long distance.
All in great fun, mind you. It's absolutely nothing like what AW did to opponents. (Otherwise, this would be an obituary instead of a blog). But, just like quarterbacks, I learned to constantly ask myself - where's #24?
Now, we're done looking. The next time we see his name & number will be in the Cardinals Ring of Honor. And attention wide receivers, it's not going anywhere.
Larry Fitzgerald will always be the most iconic Arizona Cardinal. By far, the most important and valuable draft pick in Arizona history. If nothing else, Fitz resonates on a national basis, something no other sports entity in Arizona can currently claim (unless you count Scottsdale resident Danica Patrick).
But Adrian Wilson brought as much loyalty as he did lumber. And, at the time, that was far from the norm. Anquan Boldin had the same level of ultimate locker room respect, but even Q felt the need to leave. Not AW. It would've been easy and, ultimately, forgiven by AZ fans. But not A-Dub. He re-signed long-term contracts not once, but twice.
And let's not forget that a year in the NFL should be considered a dog year (7x) in virtually any other profession. Between staying healthy, staying productive, and staying away from being a salary cap casualty, lasting a dozen years in the NFL as a position player is staggering.
So, if we hit "zoom out" for a moment, I do believe we have the rare perfect storm in sports where all parties actually got their money's worth: the franchise player, the franchise itself, and the fans of the franchise.
Alas, that doesn't mean that come Sundays in September, I won't be conditioned to still look for Adrian Wilson. And thing is, rarely did he ever say a word on game day. Didn't have to. The eyes behind the facemask conveyed the message that his shoulder pads delivered. Heck, I'll even miss the good-natured Deacon Jones head slaps that sent a message as well.
But, you know what? We all got hit by Adrian Wilson.
And, that's why, if we think about what he did in his career and what it meant, when it comes to Arizona sports history, AW will serve as the definition of a true impact player.
"I think last year we competed a lot better," Telfair told Arizona Sports 620's Craig Grialou while in town with the Toronto Raptors.
"I understand they're going in a new direction, but I wished we would've known that this summer. I really can't understand it. I'm not mad at nobody, but I don't understand it."
Can we get a show of hands here? Who else doesn't quite get it? #NoComprendo.
From here, we see a front office that has cornered the market on mediocrity. Planet Orange is more like Planet Ordinary.
Between players and picks, if the name of the game is amassing non-star talent that would never start a game for a contending team? #Ding. Or if the plan is to accumulate all the mid-first round and/or second round picks possible, then somebody please cue Al McCoy because "Suns Win! Suns Win!"
Thing is, when it comes to box scores and turnstiles, the NBA is a star-driven league. Get a superstar to drive your team into the passing lane or you're marooned in the bike lane with your blinker on desperately trying to merge into traffic.
Right now, the Suns are the snowbird in the Buick sporting Wisconsin plates. Their only hope appears to be hitting the lottery before the lottery hits back. Meaning the Suns better pray those ping-pong ball bounce their way or virtually every draft pick they possess will net a mid-round rookie. And how has that worked out recently (Robin Lopez, Earl Clark, Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall)?
Once upon a time, when the Suns stank out loud, Jerry Colangelo would take a big chance. BIG, BIG chance. Trade All-Star Larry Nance for a young Kevin Johnson. What? My team still stinks? Let's make history with the blockbuster free agent signing of Tom Chambers.
Hey, that still doesn't put us over the top? Move the meter and trade for Charles Barkley. Heck, you ain't trying if you ain't trading. Tom Gugliotta. Penny Hardaway. Jason Kidd. Stephon Marbury.
None of that works? Let's call Knicks GM Isiah Thomas. Still not championship caliber? Hey Bryan Colangelo, please make a midnight recruiting visit to bring back Steve Nash. The Big Cactus.
Bold attempts for legit star power; that's what's missing with the current iteration of the Phoenix Suns. Anybody ever see pawns moved around a chess board, only to be followed by the word "checkmate" shouted out? Yeah, me neither.
Where's Bart Scott when you need him. Here at Paulie Roundball Inc., we simply "Can't Wait!" until the fortunes of our local pro basketball team change forever.
Make no mistake, that day is right around the corner. And it will bring much-needed change for the better in a big way.
That's because a dynamic franchise-altering player awaits atop the draft. A two-time All-American who went for 50 points on Monday, including a rim-rattling slam dunk on a spin move from the block.
A 6-foot-8 matchup nightmare who just drained 21 of 28 field goals and eight of 10 free throws. A player who packs the arena (as evidenced by Monday night's record-tying crowd of 10,627 fans) before bringing ‘em out of their seats.
A phenom with plenty of upside and a nasty glare to match a competitive edge - "Postseason, it's here. It's time. It's time to bring it.''
And soon, that player will all be all ours. Calling the A-Z home. Geez, ain't it a great time to be a fan of the Phoenix Mercury. "Can't Wait!"
``You saw a dunk on senior night. You saw a kid hit 50 points. You saw a win,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ``It's one of those historical moments.''
Brittney Griner. Come the WNBA Draft on April 15th, here she comes. Hear her roar. The Phoenix Mercury will select Britney Griner number one overall.
In fact, just like Griner is one dunk away from matching the total number of dunks (15) by all other players in the history of women's college basketball, it's a tomahawk slam that Griner will pose with a Mercury jersey (how many corporate logos this season - three?) sporting the #1.
Heck, the Mercury's future is so bright that the opening night fan promotion should be "Free Sunglasses Night."
As for that other pro hoops team in town (the, uh, umm, err, Suns, that's it), well, maybe the WNBA might offer a loaner program? Robert Sarver does own both teams… hmmm.
Cuz, right now, Suns fans don't need sunglasses for a bright future ahead. They need binoculars.
Did Carl Edwards care if he didn't stick the landing (#RuhRoh) before heading for Victory Lane after ending a 70-race winless drought? Not especially.
"I wasn't sure about the back-flip, to be honest," Edwards explained with a smile wider than the 1-mile oval at PIR. "I really don't care if I fell down though, it doesn't really matter. I was having a pretty good day. I can do these interviews from a hospital bed if I have to. It just feels good to win this race."
And it was hard not to feel good for him. As one of the media guys on hand covering the second race of the NASCAR season, I'll remember not only how Edwards used PIR to snap another extended winless drought, but how he doesn't believe for a minute that it's some sort of fluke.
"This is my first track that I ever drove a pavement race on in 2001. Ran the Copper World Classic here," Edwards shared. "My family took a huge gamble. We did not have the money to do it, pretty much sold everything and gambled on everything. We made the race. And that was a very special, very big moment in my career. And so, from there until now, it just seems like there's always good things happening in Phoenix."
Not nearly as positive would be some of the reaction to the new Gen 6 car and the brand of racing at PIR.
"It did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars," Denny Hamlin said after losing a near photo finish to Jimmie Johnson for second place. "Teams haven't figured out how to get the aero balance right. Because, right now, you just run single file and you just cannot get around the guy in front of you."
As for Danica Patrick, her No. 10 Chevrolet blew a front tire and crashed into the wall. The Scottsdale resident was done with about 100 laps left.
``Whenever those right-fronts go, they always hit hard because you don't broadside, you hit more straight on,'' said Patrick, who was cleared by the medical center and finished 39th. "I'm fine, so NASCAR is doing a good job at safety."
You attended the event as a fan, but you left as a patient.
You showed up and probably paid $40 to park, but you left your car in the lot because you left in an ambulance.
And you liked it?
"That's the mentality of the NASCAR fans. They come to see life on the edge and they want to participate in life on the edge. They actually, I think, want to participate in the danger."
That was the assessment from Ed Hinton, senior writer for ESPN.com, a day after a 12-car crash on the final lap sent Kyle Larson's car airborne and his burning engine through a catch fence. A tire shot into the stands and other debris sprayed into the lower and upper seating areas.
``The only way to describe it was like a bomb went off, and the car pretty much exploded,'' one fan described.
Over 30 fans were injured, including seven who wound up spending the night in the hospital. And that's what they signed up for?
"Some were hurt quite badly. But the majority of ‘em were minor injuries. I guarantee you about 65-70% of them have already been on their cell phones home bragging about being part of this. That's just their mindset," Hinton told ABC News.
Perhaps. But other fans had other ways to describe the experience: ``It was freaky," one fan told the AP. ``I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn't see anything else. That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe.''
"Stuff flying everywhere, fluids, parts, pieces," said another fan, who was in the line of fire but didn't say either way whether he'd bragged about it over his phone.
As for the drivers, most of them seemed to relate. And that makes sense considering they spend their life risking their life.
"We've always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it's, it's hard. You know we assume that risk," said Tony Stewart, who then went on to add that spectators don't assume the risk of putting their life on the line.
Do they or don't they? Ideally, spectators would never have to think twice about their own safety when attending a NASCAR event. But should they?
"I'm a plumber, okay? I grabbed my belt and wrapped it around his leg and that seemed to help because it cut down the bleeding," said Terry Huckabee, whose quick-thinking might've saved the life of his own brother, who was sitting next to him in the lower stands and had his leg sliced open by a piece of shrapnel.
Is climbing in your own car more dangerous than watching race cars go around a track? Yes, no doubt. But, once again, you know the inherent risk when you buckle your own seat belt. Should you assume risk in a grandstand seat at the track?
"Never saw one quite as bad as we did today," said Debbie, a longtime fan in attendance. "We were all praying because we knew (fans) got hurt badly. I'm a nurse."
The argument goes that auto racing is no different than baseball or hockey, where balls and pucks can fly into the seating areas at any time with many fans unable to react in time. Here's the difference -- a baseball or puck isn't tearing through the fencing in flames and packing the lethal velocity of car parts.
"Some of the patients who were released late last night and early this morning will be coming back to attend the event," said Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. "And we're going to make sure that they've got good accommodations to attend the event."
Hey, it's good to know that at least fans got that going for ‘em. Right?
Of course, the day after, not every fan was able to attend the Daytona 500.
"I'm not gonna go and leave him in the hospital," Huckabee said about his brother. "I mean, maybe I'll come over here and watch it on TV with him. I mean come on."
On Sunday, Danica Patrick didn't just turn a lap of 196.434 mph, she turned heads. And maybe, just maybe, she turned the tide in her favor.
Perhaps the haters are more apt to become believers. And complete NASCAR acceptance is just around the next corner. Uh, possibly. But not quite, not yet. In fact, let's hit the brakes.
Look, the Scottsdale resident didn't just happen to make history as the first woman to capture pole position for the Daytona 500 (or any race in NASCAR's top series). No, she earned it, every bit of it. Let's face it, drivers don't like to lose -- period. And they especially don't like to lose to Danica (not because of her gender, but primarily due to the perception that she's more hype/marketing than skill/substance in earning a top ride).
And it's not that capturing pole position isn't an accomplishment. It is indeed. And it's already paid off with exposure and coverage - big time. No doubt, it will result in plenty of casual or non-fans making the Daytona 500 appointment viewing. And that alone is invaluable to everyone in the sport. #Ding.
"That's a huge accomplishment," said Tony Stewart, Danica's team owner. "It's not like it's been 15 or 20 years she's been trying to do this. It's her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She's made history in the sport. That's stuff that we're proud of being a part of with her. It's something she should have a huge amount of pride in." #DoubleDing.
But here's what winning the pole is not -- it's not racing. Just like the combine isn't NFL football and home run derby isn't baseball, qualifying isn't racing. Heck, Danica herself said that qualifying, especially at Daytona, is 90 percent car and 10 percent driver.
So, the question remains -- can she race? In other sports, we would pose the question -- can they play? Here, we know that Danica can drive and qualify. But, can she compete in a field of fellow NASCAR cup drivers?
The first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 and the only woman to win an IndyCar race doesn't want to be the NASCAR equivalent of the best golfer -- on the driving range.
‘Tis the season for MLB teams to field not only grounders, but questions. For the D-backs, some of the most pressing questions during Spring Training include: pitching rotation, starting shortstop, bullpen pecking order, Adam Eaton's readiness, and perhaps whether the "Up-town" signage will appear on Craigslist?
Speaking of the guy we dubbed Justin "Upside," we'd like to add another question: why does the "D" in D-back seldom stand for -- Develop?
At least, here in the A-Z, that is. Jarrod Parker? Sure. He developed. He's a perfect example of a former first round pick who flourished just fine -- for the Oakland A's last season.
Carlos Gonzalez? Once upon a time, the now two-time All-Star, 2010 batting champ and Gold Glove winner was D-backs' property. Alas, he's still in the division -- with the Colorado Rockies.
Carlos Quentin. Stephen Drew. And yet again, the D-backs have traded away a pair of former first round picks in Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer.
Should we rewind back to draft day and recall how the Snakes waxed euphoric about the skills, talent, tools, athleticism, mental makeup, intangibles, pedigree, DNA, hygiene…etc., etc.?
Nah. Because, here in 2013, all those attributes are no longer wearing Sedona Red. So instead, here's the question we are wondering about: why is that, exactly?
Paulie Pattern looks at the raw data of prospect after prospect, year after year, and a thought bubble pops up with the Vince Lombardi sideline quote: "What the heck is going on out here?!"
Should we diagnose our local baseball team as the A.D.D.-backs? Do they lose focus and attention with their own roster?
And, let's be clear, just like D-backs fans who were booing last summer, we were just as frustrated that Justin Up-side had regressed to just that -- more potential than production. #Ding.
We get it. But we also wonder -- whose fault is that? Chicken or the egg? Did the player fail to develop for the club? Or did the club fail to develop the player? I mean, how many prospects can we name in the past decade with more pure baseball gifts in the past decade than J-Upside?
In baseball, if a player's "prime" is typically defined as 27-32 years of age, the D-backs just pulled the rip cord two years early. Again.
Then, you know what else we get? Nauseous. Sick to our stomach at the thought that Upton might grow up to be the next Carlos Gonzalez. Or even better, which would make it worse.
When you hit the "zoom out" button, here's where the D-backs have gone wrong: too quick to elevate and too quick to detonate.
This takes us back to the erstwhile "Uptown" signage in right field.
"Yeah probably wouldn't have done it and it's because we put so much pressure on that kid at a time when we probably shouldn't have," CEO Derrick Hall reflected on Arizona Sports 620. "He could have made comments the last couple of years and he never did and I credit him for that. But that's a lot of pressure to put on someone."
Here on this Valentine's Day, we wonder - shouldn't the D-backs show more love for their own?
Here's a recent headline: Phoenix Coyotes Deal Goes South (Again)
And again, the story revolves around how Greg Jamison "failed to raise enough money" to buy the franchise, etc.
But are we absolutely certain that he failed to raise the money? Or did his investors refuse to hand over the money? Based on conversations I've had with NHL sources, maybe the more accurate account might be that Team Jamison became the latest prospective ownership group to refuse to meet the NHL's stated asking price of $170 million.
For a moment, let's hit the rewind button. In our Coyotes coverage, we almost always blame the buyer, right? Actually, make that buyers. Meaning, just fill-in-the-blank: Mr. _____ (Hulsizer, Reinsdorf, Balsillie, Jamison, Ice Edge Inc.) couldn't seal the deal.
Other times, we haven't hesitated to blame the realtor, if you will. And, no doubt, the City of Glendale has demonstrated its share of political dysfunction and budget ineptitude.
But what about the seller? In this blame game, doesn't the NHL itself share some culpability in a Coyotes sales process that has gone sideways again and again?
Like any transaction, if an asset isn't selling, then maybe it isn't priced to sell. And, if not, then guess what? Doesn't the seller share some culpability for the fact that a "For Sale" sign has been in the Coyotes' front yard for three years now?
Good question. That said, what exactly is the comp in the Coyotes neighborhood? What is the fair market price?
Well, in May 2011, the St. Louis Blues sold for a reported $130 million. But, the sale also included the AHL Peoria Rivermen, the Scottrade Center arena, and what the Blues said was a "substantial" interest in the adjoining Peabody Opera House, per multiple reports.
What's more, just six months earlier, Forbes had valued the Blues at $157 million.
As of the 2012 rankings, the Phoenix Coyotes are valued at $134 million, which is 29th among the 30 teams according to the magazine.
Yet, the NHL continues to list the Coyotes sale price at a firm $170 million. If you were any of the astute businessmen named above, would you pay well above market value? The value in Phoenix "does not pencil out," as I'm told by sources in the wake of Jamison missing the deadline.
How does Gary Bettman justify this price? The NHL is obviously aware the franchise is priced well above a fair market figure. And the league almost certainly has to be aware that it has now resulted in another failed ownership bid.
Now, I'm going to guess that the NHL commissioner wants to make his owners "whole" for funds the league has invested into the team ever since it was purchased out of bankruptcy while hemorrhaging cash.
Here's our question: does that sunk cost ultimately sink the Coyotes?
Because the NHL maintains that it wants the Coyotes to remain in Arizona. Okay, gotcha. But when will the league put its asking price where its mouth is?
What's the first thing I did after the Phoenix Open? Naturally, I ran out and bought a brand new driver. Hey, if it worked for Phil Mickelson, then it most certainly will work for Paulie Persimmon, right? I mean, as a lifelong hacker, there's always room to blame my game on inferior equipment. Like the barkers say at the car auctions - "it's only money, you'll make more."
But, that's so last week. It's now time to move on and become Paulie Pebble Beach. Somebody cue Bart Scott, because I can't wait for this weekend along the Monterey Bay. Remember all the drama last year, when Lefty overcame a six-shot deficit and was paired with Eldrick in the final round. Mickelson shot a 64 to trounce Tiger by 11 shots.
Surely, the ultra-competitive Tiger Woods has been tasting a rematch. He's been on the range muttering "can't wait" himself as he crushes bucket after bucket of practice balls. Right? Wrong.
Instead, buried in a preview story on the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, we get the following half-line: "Woods is skipping the event." Oh.
And herein we have the problem with golf -- the players are bigger than the tour. Players don't need the tour, not really. If life breaks down into wants and needs, golfers want certain events, but, ultimately, they don't really need ‘em. Not enough to put the PGA Tour in control.
However, the PGA Tour most certainly needs the brand names on the bags. Otherwise, the PGA Tour slowly dissolves into its minor league counterpart, with a bunch of no-name players competing on a tour that boasts a different corporate name every year. Or worse, every tourney becomes the Quad City Classic.
Click on the official PGA web site this week and you see the headline: Rory-Tiger-Phil Rivalry Gaining Steam. Outstanding. When does Rory tee off at Pebble? Or Spyglass? Uh, what? He doesn't? Nope. Not until February 20th. Maybe.
See, at the very end of the article regarding the world's #1 ranked golfer, we discover: "…McIlroy continues to get comfortable with his new golf clubs before making his first 2013 U.S. appearance, probably at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship."
Gotcha. So, getting back to Phil and his new driver at TPC Scottsdale, didn't Mickelson receive that new club last Tuesday? Actually, yes. And then, come Thursday, didn't Phil wind up two close putts away from firing an all-time tour record round of 58? Yes again.
And, once again, this is where it's a PGA problem. If the marquee matchups don't show up, then why should we?
Somewhere, my diligent disinfectant defense system (known as 3D around Casa Calvisi) of sanitary wipes in the workplace broke down. Hence, I'm sick (as in illin', not stylin').
Apparently, the Suns were also under the weather. In this case, they were sick and tired of losing games in the 4th quarter.
"We came together. That's really been our problem this whole season - the end of the 3rd, the 4th quarter," Michael Beasley said. "We just told each other - we don't want to lose. Especially in front of a crowd like that on national TV. It just wasn't an option for us."
Sounds great. But, in this case, it looked even better. And that's not our fever speaking either. As Al McCoy roared on AZ Sports 620 while Beasley was scoring 10 of his season high 27 pts in the fourth quarter - "Oh Brother! You had to see it to believe it.."
True that. In fact, don't feel strange if you found yourself staring at the scoreboard in borderline disbelief. That was not a typo. Final score: Suns 92. Lakers 86.
Of course, it's not like the Lakers are any more/less dysfunctional than the Suns (LAL just went 0-for-January on the road). Thing is, the Suns outscored the Lakers 29-13 in the final quarter to eclipse a 13 point deficit. In the Valley of the Sun(s) these days, that qualifies as a Holy Cannoli Happening.
"Tonight was a big setback for us, especially given that we were in control of the game and couldn't close it out," Steve Nash said following a game that featured a video tribute and a standing ovation from his former(current?) fans. "That's disappointing."
Here's what we're wondering - we know that Michael Phelps was courtside, fresh off the Phoenix Open Pro-Am. But, did anyone spot Vijay Singh anywhere near the Suns bench?
Because, getting back to Beasley, how do we possibly explain his splendicular performance other than to cite deer-antler spray? I mean, Vijay Singh is in town, right? And with his recent deer-antler spray admission of using the performance enhancer… I mean, is it possible it got into the Gatorade bucket… #Buzzer
``I'm just playing aggressive,'' Beasley said. ``I'm trying to turn over a new leaf. No more nonchalant Beas. I'm back to the Beast.''
Okay. But if Beasley starts calling his latest hair-do "The Antlers"… then the Calvisi Consulting I-Team reserves the right to launch an investigation.
Anybody remember when the Arizona Diamondbacks fired Bob Melvin and hired A.J. Hinch?
At last check, Melvin earned AL Manager of the Year honors and just received a multi-year contract extension from Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, who might know a lil' bit about baseball.
Conversely, Hinch then joined the San Diego Padres as VP of professional scouting and hasn't sniffed the dugout since.
So, to answer our own question -- I didn't remember a single thing about A.J. Hinch. That is, until the Phoenix Suns fired Alvin Gentry and promoted Lindsey Hunter.
Back in 2009, D-backs management and ownership promoted Hinch ahead of qualified and accomplished baseball men, like Kirk Gibson. #GibbyBall.
In the Suns organization, Hunter just vaulted past 14-year NBA assistant Elston Turner and franchise icon Dan Majerle, who has been an NBA assistant for more than four years, along with serving as the Suns head coach in the NBA Summer League for four years. Hinch… err, Lindsey Hunter wrapped up his playing career in 2010 and then joined the Suns as player-development coordinator.
Hinch had never coached or managed a single professional game. #OrganizationalAdvocacy.
Similarly, Lindsey Hunter's coaching experience includes helping out with his son's high school team. #OhBrother! (Cue the Al McCoy sound efx).
Anybody remember how the A.J. Hinch era ended with the D-backs? Uh, let's just say the "D" in D-back stood for disaster and dysfunction.
Where do we think the Suns are headed? Dare we say that maybe, just maybe, the Suns are pointed exactly where owner Robert Sarver intends -- possessing the most ping-pong balls as possible in the NBA Draft hopper.
How else do you possibly explain entrusting a roster full of misfits and castoffs to an uber-rookie head coach?
Then again, perhaps the perfect fit for a roster that features nine new players, not a single go-to guy in crunch time and zero superstars just happens to be a head coach whose grease board still has the price tag on it.
In an interview posted on the Suns team web site, Hunter is quoted as saying about his entry level player-development coordinator position: "I'm still finding my way, meeting new people every day and just learning…I think it was just a perfect time for me to fall into a good situation."
That was exactly seven months ago.
Looks like Hunter just managed to fall upward again. And if the Suns keep losing (by design?) and plunging in the standings, then all those extra ping-pong balls might just yield oceanfront property in the desert.
On Planet Orange, this approach is known as the Failing Upward game plan.
Why...am I much more apt to believe an investigation firm NOT hired by Notre Dame. #FiestaBowl
Why...do I think that if we're still looking for an objective, that this is indeed about financial gain. Not the perpetrators. But Team Te'o. Why do I think that the game plan went something like this: maximize the value of your senior season by any means necessary. Then, monetize your status as an Irish living legend. #StraightCashHomie
Why...do I think that this personal game plan also included an objective of winning the Heisman. Let's face it, winning the Heisman makes you a "made man" in college football. And that makes you a lot of money the rest of your life. #FriendOfOurs
Why...speaking of trying to win the Heisman, do I figure that Te'o knew that being a very good defensive player would never be good enough. If you're not a skill player (read: QB, RB, WR), then you need a good story. A really good story. A tale that touches everyone nationwide, not just football fans. You need a story worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover (October 1st issue - "The Full Manti").
Why...do I want to cease with the investigating and interviewing and go straight to the lie detecting? Paulie Polygraph says the next interview shouldn't be conducted by Oprah or Jeremy Schaap. Nah. Instead, let's allow the South Bend PD to wire up the NDU linebacker. #Ding. #Buzzer
Why...does the silence from Manti speak so loudly? The longer it goes, the louder it gets.
Why...have the most flagrant/heinous/stupefying scandals hit those sports heroes who are seemingly the most respected/revered/unimpeachable? Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno, Lance Armstrong, Manti Te'o.
And why...am I waiting for this story to get worse? Much worse.
Shane Doan has been traded. Effective this week, Captain Coyote is no longer a shirt and tie-wearing member of the suits. Since the NHL Lockout is now over, that puts Captain Coyote back among the fashionable crowd wearing sweaters (his designer logo happens to be the letter "C").
"From being in the room quite a bit, there was a sense this was the best deal available," Doan said in New York. "It's always tough because we're all fans of the game and we wish we didn't have to go through this. But we did, and we're on the other side now."
Indeed, Doan trades one set of teammates for another. And, compared to attorneys, NHL players have almost as much money, just fewer teeth.
"I'm hoping that our fans understand this was something that had to be done for the strength of the league, for the strength of the Players Association," Flyers owner Ed Snider told The Associated Press. "I hope they don't hold it against us and just come out and see some great hockey."
Whoa, hang on. This is where Paulie Puck has to step in with a question: Dearest NHL, hold it against you? Fans should be thanking you.
For all fans beyond the vulcanized die-hards, the NHL season doesn't really start until January anyway. October, November and December hockey (yawn) barely moves the meter, usually lost amidst the feeding frenzy of the football season.
In other words, if you live for the intensity of playoff hockey, well, guess what? An ultra-compressed 48-game season means every game matters (translation: no so-called 'off-nights' where players essentially decide to give themselves the night off).
Now, did local businesses in the 623 area code ("Wessst Siiiiide") lose hockey-related revenue during the labor dispute? No question. And that's a shame. What's not a scam… err, shame… is that fans now save big dollars (BIG, BIG $$) on season tickets (no preseason hockey right?!) #Ding. Once again, it's thanks again to the NHL for the third work stoppage in Commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure.
So, back to Doaner's wardrobe, we're thinking that when he goes to the office now, he can accessorize that sweater with other things that lawyers don't wear (for the most part) - blood, sweat, tinfoil, bite marks, stitches…
Since I played high school football against Fox analyst Tim Ryan (he single-handedly wiped out our entire O-line before moving on to start at USC as a true freshman) and considering that Fox play-by-play voice Chris Myers used to be a fellow sideline reporter (cut me a little slack here people), Calvisi Consulting is now going to offer the network a little free advice on how to go about televising the Cardinals vs. Lions game on Sunday.
May we suggest three letters - PIP. Actually, make that four letters - PPIP. Permanent Picture in Picture. In the main screen, broadcast the Week 15 matchup between a pair of 4-9 teams. In the sub-screen, feature the game within the game for the duration of the game: Patrick Peterson competing against Calvin Johnson.
It's a mega-talented defensive back who aspires to be the best cover cornerback competing against Megatron, the perennial Pro Bowl receiver who Larry Fitzgerald calls the "best in the business."
"I'm trying to get to that point where I can be recognized in the league as one of the best corners in the game," Patrick Peterson said before a reporter observed that he's not shy about offering his self-analysis. "Not at all. At the end of the day, that's what I play this game for, to be the best at my position and Super Bowls."
How ‘bout his defensive coordinator? Does Ray Horton mind the bravado from his second-year defensive back who is third in the NFL with a half-dozen interceptions?
"No, because they're the ones who have to back it up. I'm encouraging him to be bold and assertive. If he believes that and he wants to say it, I'm sure everybody else will try to co-sign that check for him," Ray Horton said on Friday.
Actually, enlisting a little help from your friends on defense (double/triple coverage) is the typical game plan against a receiver who is on pace to set an NFL single-season record with over 1,900 yards receiving. We are talking about a receiver who psyches out defenders before he ever runs a route. Just look at the measurables on a player who checks in at 6-5, 236 lbs. and runs a 4.4 40-yard dash with a 45 inch vertical leap. Holy Pigskin.
"He's pretty good in all three phases in terms of size, physicality and speed. He has a good combination of all three. I can't play complacent," Peterson explained. "I have to bring the fight to him."
Of course, when you combine the marquee matchup with the juicy quotes, it brings something else - headlines.
"It'll be an interesting spotlight on him this week," Horton noted. "Patrick is ready for this guy. It's probably a statement game for Patrick."
With Pro Bowl voting coming next week, Horton summed up this Tale of the Tape scouting report by observing that "it's very important for (Patrick) to prove his elite status."
And that's why it's very important that the Fox broadcast crew implements our Calvisi Consulting value-added suggestion for PPIP during its broadcast on Sunday.
Come to think of it, I'm going to send Chris & Tim another text message… we will not be ignored!
Has anyone taken a glance inside Chase Field lately?
Paulie Pine Tar presumes that the AZ Diamondbacks have ordered a new banner for right field. Soon, the marketing mantra will transition from "UpTown" to the more accurate "Out of Town" …right?
I mean, how else are we supposed to forecast the fate of a (soon-to-be former) franchise player who's in more rumors than Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan -- combined.
"The reason he's being talked about, in part, is because of how much of a talent he is," Kirk Gibson explained at baseball's winter meetings.
Of course, #GibbyBall is talking about the man with mondo skills -- Justin Upton. And the D-backs manager says he knows what he's talking about because he's been there and heard that during his own playing days.
"I played with the same rumors, okay? I got booed," Gibson said. "I did all that. It's just part of it. I don't look at it as anything is tough, it's just part of it."
Maybe the best advice for Upton's sanity would be to emulate his skipper in one other area -- stay off social media. For instance, the following tweet came out Tuesday afternoon via ESPN MLB reporter Pedro Gomez:
Phillies and Diamondbacks are discussing Justin Upton for Cliff Lee. Money coming to AZ would also be involved.
Thing is, before we could even debate the value of trading for the 34-year-old Lee in the midst of a five-year, $120 million contract, it got cut down faster than an overweight catcher trying to steal second base.
"We typically do not comment on rumors," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said on MLB Network. "But that's one I'll comment on -- that's absolutely false."
Considering that Gibson also blew the report out of the D-backs right field pool water, the rumor du jour just suffered a fatal cease and desist, right? Wrong.
Less than a couple hours later, another round of reports emerged. This time, according to Yahoo Sports, the Upton-Lee swap "could just be a start..(as) Arizona is discussing all sorts of three-and-four-way deals to get a shortstop."
Simultaneously, Gibson made it known that his preference would be that any deal does not include Upton.
"I want Justin on my team. I know he's going to have a bounce-back great year. He's going to be re-energized," Gibson said. "He's going to be healthy and I expect big things out of him. I mean, he's a huge impact player."
Okay, so we either have an XL rift between the D-backs dugout and the front office. Or…perhaps we have a concerted effort to run the hot stove version of the good cop, bad cop negotiating scheme to pump up the value of a 25-year-old former All-Star. Which is it?
And one other question: if Upton still stands as a "huge impact player," then why doesn't the "D" in D-back stand for develop? Has the team failed to properly develop a former #1 overall pick?
Because, right now, we don't know who the D-backs are getting. But, based on years of persistent trade talks, we definitely know who's going. Call him J-Up, up and away.
With the Big Red going to the Big Apple, Paulie Pigskin would like to acknowledge the best known New York Jet player of 'em all. That's right, in honor of Broadway Joe Namath's (in)famous sound bite on Monday Night - "team strugggling" - we've been thinnnking.
But first, let's hit 'zoom out' on our hand held devices because this is a big picture question that we've been chewing on since, well...before the Thanksgiving leftovers. Actually, ever since the ribs of Kevin Kolb were torn asunder like a wishbone.
Are the Arizona Cardinals a team that is struggling? Or are the Cards an NFL team that is struggling at quarterback?
Team struggling? Or a team struggling at the QB position?
Either way, you wind up in the same landing spot - below sea level in the standings. Both scenarios are akin to driving on bald tires in a rainstorm. Eventually, you'll find yourself in a full-blown power slide and looking at the road ahead through your side windows.
The difference comes when the skid (seven games) grinds to a halt. How do you put that car back on the road? Do you ever get behind the wheel of that car again?
Because if your entire team is struggling, then you're rebuilding ("Fire in the Hole!")
However, if it's the QB position that's struggling, then you're either recruiting ("Hey, uh, Peyton, can we buy you dinner?") or commencing with research and reconnaissance (Matt Barkley?)
Wait, hit 'zoom out' again. New question -- how many franchises succeed without a winning QB? We're not saying a Pro Bowl or Hall of Fame QB. We're not even saying a bona fide franchise signal caller.
No, we're talking about a "winning" QB. How does Paulie Pigskin Inc. define that? Simple. A quarterback that doesn't lose football games, capisce?! (All apologies…a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game lost by exactly 14 points still has us a rootin' & a tootin'.)
In fact, following Sunday, did you happen to catch this Holy Cannoli Stat? In 33 drives since the injury, they've "punted 17 times, lost seven fumbles, thrown four interceptions and had one possession end on downs. It scored two touchdowns and two field goals."
What's more, the QB rating was "38.7...thanks, largely, to three second-half interceptions" in a loss to a 3-8 team.
The above stats come from the Cards loss to the Rams, right? #Buzzer.
It almost reads like a multiple choice question gone awry…
Question: In Week 11, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the AZ Cardinals after the Falcons allowed which of the following to occur:
A) A half-dozen turnovers, including 5 INT's by Matt Ryan
B) Getting boo'ed at home (dome-not-so-sweet-dome)
C) Allowing LaRod Stephens-Howling to rush for 127 yds (career high)
D) Sleepwalking thru the first quarter
E) All of the above
Considering that each of the multiple choice options actually took place during a 23-19 win by the Falcons, the correct answer is indeed "all of the above."
"We knew he'd throw us the ball, so it was up to us to just make the plays and make the catches. And we did," Sam Acho said about Matt Ryan during our Cardinals radio network postgame interview on Arizona Sports 620. "Unfortunately, we were one stop too short."
Indeed, the Cards defense held the Falcons offense to just a single touchdown. Stating the ultra-obvious, the Big Red D played well enough to win. And the Cards offense left Atlanta with almost a guilty look on its face.
"It's terrible because of the job that the defense did. On offense, we need to score more points and help them out," LaRod Stephens-Howling bottom-lined after a career-high rushing effort.
The game plan called for the Cards to pump the A-B-S (brakes) in the A-T-L and bring the skidding to a halt. Thing is, that's getting tougher as it's a moving target right now.
"We ran the ball well today, didn't throw it. Last game, we threw the ball well, but didn't run it," head coach Ken Whisenhunt told me after the game. "We have to get a mix where we can do both of them well and move the ball well and make plays."
And if you don't make plays? Effective immediately, it doesn't matter if you're a 5-time Pro Bowler (Adrian Wilson) or the starting quarterback (John Skelton), the gauge has reached zero-tolerance.
"The message this week was that we were going to make changes at different positions and the quarterback isn't exempt from that," Ken Whisenhunt replied when I asked him what prompted replacing John Skelton with rookie Ryan Lindley. "If they're not making enough plays to win then you have to look and see if the next guy can do that…we had some throws early in the game we missed."
In fact, in baseball terms, this latest Cards loss is akin to an at-bat where you strike out swinging…after hitting 5 long drives - foul.
"It really is a game that we should've won. There are some games where you say you should've won and other games where hands down, no question everyone in the locker room and everyone in the stadium knows you should've won that game," Acho said. "That's the toughest part about games like that."
Then I suppose this wouldn't be a good time to mention to Cards defenders that Matt Ryan just became the first quarterback since Green Bay's Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game despite throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns, according to Stats LLC.
"We were kind of sleepwalking thru the first quarter of the football game," Falcons head coach Mike Smith stated. "It shows our resiliency, that's what it shows. We're a very resilient football team that is going to find different ways to win."
Well, the Cards sixth straight loss was, uh, different alright. As in - all of the above.
After spending most of this past weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, I'm still not sure what I found more captivating -- the horsepower or the accusations of horse-bleep driving.
"I've just had it. Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me," Jeff Gordon said. "He got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. And I've had it."
The short track found tempers running pretty short. No need to cajole, drivers were more than willing to run open throttle in front of open microphones.
"For him to act like that. I mean, I barely touched him," Clint Bowyer retorted after Gordon played demolition derby on what should've been the final lap. "Next thing I know, Brett's telling me on the radio that he's waiting on me. I mean, it makes us all look like a bunch of (bleeps). It's pretty embarrassing."
Did we mention that when Gordon got out of his car he was jumped from behind by Bowyer's crew and the garage area turned into an episode of The Jerry Springer Show?
"The sport was made on fights. We should have more fights. I like fights," Kevin Harvick said after taking the checkered flag with smoke and flames nearby. "They're not always fun to be in, sometimes you're on the wrong end, but fights are what made NASCAR what it is."
No question, the crowd was abuzz. And maybe that's because everyone with a driver's license can relate to that frustrated feeling of getting cut off in traffic. Hence, fans live vicariously though drivers who can respond with fender benders and fisticuffs without ending up in handcuffs.
"I'm more just disappointed in the quality of racing that we saw," Brad Keselowski said, despite taking a commanding lead over Jimmie Johnson in the points standings. "I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and I was ashamed to be a part of it."
After scribbling down that choice quote, I got up to leave the press conference room and return to Victory Lane. Not yet. Keselowski then slammed his mouth into top gear in decrying how he got slammed for the brand of driving on display at PIR.
"It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half-dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish. Then I see (bleep) like that. That's (bleep). That's all you can call that," Keselowski explained in a calm but stern manner.
"These guys just tried to kill each other. You race hard and I get called a (bleep) for racing hard, and it just (bleeps) me off," Keselowski continued. "It's (blanking) ridiculous. And they should be ashamed."
Yet nobody left their seat. Whether it was in the stands or the press room, you didn't dare go anywhere until the smoke cleared.
NBA experts warn us not to overreact when it comes to a season opener. Whew. That's good to hear. Because much of what Suns fans saw against the Warriors was not good. We're talking stuff they're hoping to never see or hear again.
Then again, maybe it's more a case of what we didn't see. Namely, Suns forward Michael Beasley in the fourth quarter. As in, Beasley rhymes with measly. Just 22 -- near meaningless -- minutes of game action. And, once again, none in the final quarter when Beasley got benched in favor of journeyman P.J. Tucker.
"He's got to be on the floor for us. He's got to be a star player for us," Alvin Gentry said.
Uh, what happened? Here at Paulie Roundball Inc., all we know is that the "No Comprendo" aspect to this story actually comes from the shootaround session prior to Wednesday night's opener. Armed with a microphone, I asked Jared Dudley to name the Suns' go-to guy with the game on the line?
His answer: "Beasley."
Then, moments later, when I relayed that endorsement to Beasley himself, he nodded immediately and replied that he embraces and relishes his new role with his new team. He didn't exactly shout it out in his Bart Scott voice (#CantWait!), but, in his own low-key manner, the conviction was earnest.
So again, what happened?
"When he's out there, it's got to be a 48 minute-focus," Gentry explained and/or pleaded thru the media. "And that's what we're trying to get him to. We've got to give him a little bit of a break because this is the first time in his career that anybody, any team has asked him to do what we're asking him to do. We're asking him to be, basically, the man on our team."
But, as we've said before, it can always get worse. With that in mind, did you happen to hear Beasley the day after? When asked by Arizona Sports 620's Craig Grialou, and the assembled media, after practice about how riding the bench during crunch time wasn't exactly a stellar first impression, Beasley agreed.
"No, it's not (a great first impression)," he said. "But, I'll be here for a long time. So, get used to me."
Get used to me? Our follow-up question would be -- which one? Are we supposed to get used to the former No. 2 draft pick with the talent to take over any game at any level at any time? Or are we supposed to get used to 6' 10" worth of enigma who, at 23 years of age, has already been discarded by two teams?
"We need him to play to win ball games. He's going to be there for us, I know that," Luis Scola said. "We need to find a way to make him more comfortable and get him the shots that he wants."
How do the Suns make that happen? Can they make that happen? Or is it (gulp) only Beasley himself who can make that happen?
"Just got to be aggressive," Beasley self-diagnosed. "I feel like I have the talent level and the stamina and also the mental stability to play 30-plus minutes a game. Just got to stay aggressive. I can't really flow in and out of games."
On Halloween night, Michael Beasley dressed up as a Phoenix Sun, replete with high tops and $18 million in guaranteed salary. Yet nobody knew for certain what they were looking at. That's scary.
So, we got our first look at an honorable gesture by ASU Football. And I recoiled in horror. Don't like it. Not one bit. And, ever since that first glance, I've been trying to figure out -- what's my problem?
Here's the happening: during practice this week, Alden Darby is wearing #42. The same #42 that makes every Sun Devil fan -- actually, every Arizonan -- instantly think of Pat Tillman, who wore it over a decade ago before leaving football and losing his life in combat while defending his country.
Now, it's on a practice jersey for any Sun Devils player who earns the right.
"We call it PT42, it's about a person who embodies all the things that he emulated," said ASU Head Coach Todd Graham. "To earn that jersey is really hard to do. And Alden Darby earned it. Because, every single day, he's brought it in the classroom and the community. On the field, off the field - I think he's having an All-Pac-12 season. He's just been phenomenal. And those are very hard to come by."
To me, it should be impossible to come by. Never before and never again will there be a Pat Tillman. He was singular, not plural. If anyone ever should've worn #1, it was the one and only Pat Tillman. And singular Pat's jersey should stay -- forever. Tillman earned it.
To be clear, as Coach Graham noted about Tillman - "he was not perfect." No doubt, as someone who attended the same high school and hails from his hometown Almaden Valley (metro San Jose), I knew Pat was most definitely human before he ever earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Academic All-American honors, or became an American hero to many.
But Pat Tillman is no longer captured in a jersey, not even a military camo version, as Darby is sporting. Tillman's life went way beyond the gridiron and the college experience. In fact, Pat conducted himself in such a way that it made the rest of us examine the manner in which we were leading our own lives. (Not to mention that having the number revived on merely a practice jersey makes me want to break into an Allen Iverson fueled rant.)
Moreover, putting any sort of Tillman jersey on an ASU player simply isn't fair -- to the player. No matter how deserving and humbled he might be.
"I felt proud of myself honestly. I felt really proud of myself," Darby shared with reporters after becoming the first ASU player to be awarded the PT42 for a practice week. "It just reminded me that hard work and effort really does pay off."
In this case, it should pay off…with perhaps a PT42 patch on a jersey. Or a PT42 sticker on a helmet. Yes that feels right, more befitting the moment. But then draw the line - in permanent marker.
What's the difference? A patch or a sticker rides alongside the uniform numeral actually assigned to that player. In a sport where players wear helmets and, thus, can be largely anonymous to the general public, a number becomes their identity.
And in ASU history, the #42 should not bring with it any sort of confusion or clutter. To me, PT42 became the sole property of Pat Tillman the moment he lost his life as an Army Ranger.