Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 5 Reasons Why the Giants Can Beat the Patriots... and 3 Why They Might Not

Super Bowl XLVI, a rematch of SB XLII between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots 4 years ago, is 5 days away.

I am not a Giants fan, for reasons that are not important at this time. But being a Yankee Fan has led me to despise all the New England teams. Yes, even the women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut. The only thing they arouse in me is anger.

I didn't always hate the Patriots. In fact, I supported them in their first 2 Super Bowl wins, XXXVI over the St. Louis Rams (the Pats weren't arrogant yet, and the Rams were) and XXXVIII over the Carolina Panthers. Then the Red Sox won the World Series and all those New Englanders (okay, not ALL of them) started acting more arrogant than New Yorkers ever did, and with far less justification. Eventually, we found out that Patriot coach Bill Belichick was cheating -- hence "Cheatriots." And, unlike the other cheating New England teams, Belichick actually admitted it. He basically said, "Yeah, I did it. So the hell what? I can do whatever I want, because I'm Bill Belichick. Try to stop me."

All the New England teams cheat: The Pats with "Spygate," the Red Sox with steroids, the Boston Bruins with their easily melting ice, the New England Revolution (soccer) with their diving, the Connecticut men's basketball team with their recruiting violations. I don't yet know how the Boston Celtics or the UConn women have cheated, but they have, we just have to figure out how.

So, yes, I hate the Patriots. But have you noticed... Since we found out about Spygate, they haven't won the Super Bowl.

2007-08 NFL Playoffs: Were a minute away from completing the first-ever 19-0 NFL season, but lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

2008: Didn't make the Playoffs.

2009-10: Lost in the Wild Card round, to the Baltimore Ravens.

2010-11: Lost in the Divisional round. At home. To the New York Jets. For shame.

So if the Patriots lose this one, it will, for all practical purposes, prove, "You can't win without cheating."

No, there's no direct evidence that the Patriots cheated in ANY of their 3 Super Bowl wins. As that great New Englander, Jed Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen on The West Wing), would say, you don't want your tombstone to read, "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc." That's Latin for "After it, therefore because of it." Or, as President Bartlet explains, "One thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it's not always true. In fact it's hardly ever true."

I don't know about "hardly ever," but it is a tricky analogy. Last season, I did just this kind of an analysis for the aforementioned Jets-Patriots Playoff: 5 reasons why the Jets could win it, and 3 why they might not. And the Jets won. A is followed by B, therefore A caused B. Not in that case: The Jets would have won whether I wrote that blog post or not.

Are there 5 reasons why the Giants can win this Super Bowl against the Patriots? Certainly. Are there 3 reasons why they might not? Definitely.

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Let me get the reasons why the Giants might not beat the Patriots out of the way first.

The Top 3 Reasons Why the Giants Might Not Beat the Patriots

1. The Belichick Legacy. Belichick knows that if he goes 0-for-5 in post-Spygate seasons -- 0-for-2 in Super Bowls -- his legacy as a coach that led a team that had never won a title to 3 Super Bowl wins vanishes. There will always be doubt on those 3 titles. He'll be remembered, certainly, as the right-hand-man that helped Bill Parcells win 2 Super Bowls with the Giants, reach 1 with the Patriots, and nearly reach one with the Jets.

But as far as being a head coach is concerned, he'll be remembered as a failed coach with the Cleveland Browns, and as a corrupt coach with the Patriots, who won 3 Super Bowls but did so under a cloud. So Belichick knows that, more than his team, he HAS to win. We've seen it before: He will do anything to win. What will he do? Cheat? Have his players cheat? Have his players play dirty? Who knows. But the Giants will have to be on guard for that.

2. Tom Brady. If Belichick cheated, and his achievements are questionable, then so are those of the quarterback he picked off the scrap heap. Once, Brady seemed a contender to get into the conversation of "the greatest quarterback who ever lived," along with Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. But now, he's a quarterback who, without his coach to cheat for him, lost a Super Bowl to "the other Manning brother."

Of course, if Brady loses a second Super Bowl to Eli, it doesn't hurt him as much as it helps Eli. But it would suggest that Brady can't win unless Belichick cheats.

3. They're Still the Patriots. Despite the Pittsburgh Steelers having won 2 Super Bowls since Pats won their last, and despite Super Bowls also having been won by the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and of course the Giants, the Pats are still the defining team of pro football excellence the last 10 years or so. They still find ways to win, and they may again.

Now...

The Top 5 Reasons Why the Giants Can Beat the Patriots

1. They've Done It Before. They know how to do it: Get in Brady's face and knock him on his ass.

2. The Giants Are As Good As They Were 4 Years Ago -- the Patriots Are Not. The Pats are not coming in at 18-0, and nobody is afraid of them. True, the Giants don't have Michael Strahan, but Osi Umenyiora is as good as he was then, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul have come into their own, Ahmad Bradshaw is running very well, and, it should be noted, the quarterback is better now than he was then. Which brings us to said quarterback...

3. Eli Manning. He's on fire. He'll never be as good as his brother Peyton was at his best, but, right now, he's playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL did this season, and that includes Brady, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Saints' Drew Brees.

4. The Giants' Legacy. No, winning an 8th NFL Championship isn't appreciably more prestigious than winning a 7th. But Eli, Justin and Osi could well be playing the game that will mean the difference between being a contender for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and getting into it for sure. The same could be said of coach Tom Coughlin.

5. Pressure. In spite of having to build on their legacy, the Giants need that a lot less than the Pats do. True, the Pats won 3 Super Bowls that were close, but the first time they were the underdogs (to the St. Louis Rams), the second time they were playing a team that had never been there before and was nervous (the Carolina Panthers), and the third time they were playing a team that had a history of choking (the Philadelphia Eagles).

The Patriots have more to prove. Can they? Sure. But they've never been under so much pressure before. Even in their 2 pre-Belichick Super Bowls, they weren't under this much pressure, because they were underdogs (XX to the Chicago Bears, XXXI to the Packers). Had they won either of those, it would have been great for the people of New England. But now, they HAVE to win to preserve their championship reputation. If they lose, they go down in history as "You only win when you're cheating."

The Giants are under a lot less pressure. I'm not saying they can relax, but they'll go into Lucas Oil Stadium a lot less stressed. A lot less.

Presuming no additional injuries, here's my prediction:

Giants 31, Patriots 21. Both teams making history -- but only the Giants doing so in a good way.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How I Rank the New York Tri-State Area Teams

Note that this includes only the major league teams -- no Rutgers, no Princeton, no Seton Hall, no St. John's, no Staten Island Yankees, no Brooklyn Cyclones, no Trenton Thunder, etc.

1. New York Yankees. The first sports team I ever loved, and the one that has rewarded my loyalty the most -- despite their 18-year title drought.

2. New Jersey Devils. The team closest to my house, if not to my heart. Since the sun set on June 24, 1995, in MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL combined, only the Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Red Wings have won more World Championships than the Meadowlands, now Mulberry Street, Marauders -- and, in addition, only the New England Patriots (by cheating) and the Chicago Bulls have won as many.

3. New York Red Bulls. You may not consider Major League Soccer to be, well, a major league, but I do. Let's go fucking Metro! Let's go fucking Metro! Da-da, da-da! Da-da, da-da!

4. New York Liberty. You may not consider the WNBA to be a major league, but the Libs are the best basketball team in the Tri-State Area. Well, okay, since 1976, the most successful basketball team in the Tri-State Area.

5. New Jersey Nets. Though there's only a few weeks left in which they will have that name and play home games in New Jersey -- and, thus, probably only a few more weeks why I should bother.

6. New York Giants. Because they do a better job of beating New England than the Jets, even though the Jets have two (or three) chances to beat them every season.

7. New York Jets. At least they're entertaining. No, at most, they're entertaining. One more season like this, and the Era of Big Mouth is over.

8. New York Knicks. With Pat Riley, and John Starks, who ruined a chance at a glorious era by clotheslining Kenny Anderson, it was easy to hate them. Now, I only pity them. Will I switch to the Knicks after the Nets' move to Brooklyn is absolutely official with tipoff in the fall of 2012? I don't know yet.

9. New York Islanders. I still hate the bastards for beating up the Devils from 1982 to 1988, when the Devils ended up beating them in their first-ever Playoff series -- still the only time the Devs and Isles have met in the postseason, and still one of only 2 Playoff series wins the Devils have over a New York team (the other being the sweep of The Scum in 2006).

10. New York Mets. I keep telling myself that what's happening to them isn't funny anymore... but it's a lie.

11. New York Rangers. The Scum. (Unless we're talking about baseball, in which case that's the Boston Red Sox; or soccer, in which case that's Tottenham -- more than MLS' D.C., Philly or New England teams will ever be.) Dunt, dunt, dunt, duh-unt, Dunt, dunt, dunt, duh-unt, Dunt, dunt, dunt, duh-unt, Dunt, dunt, dunt! RANGERS SUCK! Stephane Matteau is my Bobby Thomson, and Mark Messier is my Leo Durocher. Except Durocher had more hair.

Or, to put it another way: On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being how much I love the Yankees...

1. Yankees 10.
2. Devils 9.5
3. Red Bulls 7.5 and gaining
4. Liberty 6.0
5. Nets 4.0 and dropping
6. Giants 3.8 and that's mostly a measure of respect, not love
7. Jets 3.5 and that's mostly a sop to my sister, a Jet fan
8. Knicks 2.8 and that's mostly a measure of respect for their pre-Riley work
9. Islanders 2.0 and that's mostly a measure of respect for their 4 Cups and their '93 Playoff run
10. Mets 0.5 and that's entire a measure of respect for 1969 and '73 -- NOT for '86
11. Rangers 0.2 and that's entirely a measure of respect for what they were before there ever was a New Jersey Devils

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Of course, it's not just about sentiment. As former Jets coach Herman Edwards taught us, "You play to win the game!" And win enough of them to win a championship.

Since the sun set on June 24, 1995, with the Devils winning their first Stanley Cup at 11:09 PM that night (yes, I know the exact time -- don't bet me), the title roll looks like this:

1. Yankees 5 World Series wins
2. Devils 3 Stanley Cups
3. Giants 1 Super Bowl wins, with a chance to make it 2 a week from tomorrow
4. Liberty 4 Conference Titles
5. Nets 2 Conference Titles
6. Red Bulls no titles but reached finals in both the MLS and U.S. Open Cups
7. Mets 1 Pennant
8. Knicks 1 Conference Title
9. Jets 3 lost AFC Championship Games
10. Rangers 1 Conference Finals
11. Islanders haven't even won a Playoff series

Since I was old enough to start watching on TV, 1977 onward:

1. Yankees 7 World Series wins
2. Islanders 4 Stanley Cups, last 29 years ago
3. New York Cosmos 4 Soccer Bowls, last 30 years ago -- defunct 1985, and the reborn Cosmos, who have yet to play anything other than a friendly, are connected to them in name only
4. Giants 3 Super Bowl wins, with a chance to make it 3 a week from tomorrow
5. Devils 3 Stanley Cups
6. Rangers 1 Stanley Cup, 18 years ago
7. Mets 1 World Series win, 26 years ago
8. Liberty 4 Conference Titles
9. Nets 2 Conference Titles, last 9 years ago
10. Knicks 2 Conference Titles, last 13 years ago
11. Red Bulls no titles but reached finals in both the MLS and U.S. Open Cups
12. Jets 4 lost AFC Championship Games

Compare that to overall, the teams' entire histories:

1. Yankees 27 World Series wins
2. Giants 7 NFL Championships, with a chance to make it 8 a week from tomorrow
3. New York Cosmos 5 Soccer Bowls, last 30 years ago -- the "New Cosmos," who have yet to play anything other than a friendly, are connected to them in name only
4. New York Giants (baseball) 5 World Series wins, last 58 years ago, defunct 1957
5. Rangers 4 Stanley Cups, last 18 years ago
6. Islanders 4 Stanley Cups, last 29 years ago
7. Devils 3 Stanley Cups
8. Mets 2 World Series wins, last 26 years ago
9. Knicks 2 NBA Championships, last 39 years ago
10. Jets 1 Super Bowl win, 44 years ago
11. Brooklyn Dodgers 1 World Series win, 57 years ago, defunct 1957
12. Nets 2 Conference Titles, 2 ABA Championships
13. Liberty 4 Conference Titles
14. New York Metropolitans, 1 Pennant, defunct 1887 -- the 1962-born Mets were, sort of, named after them
15. Red Bulls no titles but reached finals in both the MLS and U.S. Open Cups
16. New York Americans, no Stanley Cups, only once reached Semifinals
17. Brooklyn Dodgers (football), never reached NFL Playoffs but finished 2nd to Giants in Eastern Division in 1941 and swept the season series, defunct 1944

Not counting the various AFLs which, unlike the one that was founded with the Titans/Jets in 1960, didn't make it. Or the USFL's New Jersey Generals, or any other football league that didn't quite make it to "major league" status.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Era of Big Rutgers Is Over



Greg Schiano has accepted the position of head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This means he is no longer the head football coach at Rutgers University.

He got Rutgers to 7 bowl games in 8 years, winning 6 of them -- but never one of the traditional New Year's Day bowl games, now called Bowl Championship Series games. And to the brink of 2 Big East Conference Championships -- but didn't win either of them.

Now, having gotten Rutgers that far, and no farther, he's gone, to Tampa Bay, the land of nice weather (if you don't mind humidity, hurricanes and mosquitoes) and bad football (at least at the professional level).

Now, Rutgers needs a new coach. Can they possibly lure one as good as Schiano? I don't think so.

The Era of Big Rutgers is over.

And now, Greg is gone, leaving Rutgers behind as if he were Newt Gingrich going after a younger wife.

I hope he doesn't expect us to say, "Thank you."

UPDATE: This article looks pretty dumb in the fall of 2012, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Number 20... Jorge Posada... Catcher... Number 20...



I will miss this man.

I will also miss his wife Laura.

Seventeen seasons in Pinstripes, 16 trips to the postseason, 7 Pennants, 5 World Championships, 5 All-Star Games, and, despite that face and those ears, he got THAT woman to marry him and raise 2 children with him.

As another Yankee Legend could say, today, he can consider himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

And we, Yankees Universe, have been lucky to watch him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Joe Paterno, 1926-2012

May he rest in peace. And that's all I'm going to say on the subject.

Any further criticism of him on my part would just be running up the score. It would be poor form for me to have accused him of doing that, and then to do it myself, to him. Whatever I thought he deserved, lung cancer is not included.

New York vs. New England in Playoffs

On Sunday, February 5, the New York Giants will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

The history of the New York Tri-State Area (New York City, Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, North and Central New Jersey, and the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven) against New England (the entire States of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, and the Connecticut Counties of Hartford, Middlesex, New London, Tolland and Windham) is rich and complicated, and has given both sides plenty of measures of what ABC's Wide World of Sports called "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Note that the following does not include regular-season finales, such as the 1904 4-game series that ended in a Pennant for the Boston Pilgrims (Red Sox) over the New York Highlanders (Yankees), or the 1949 2-game that the Yankees had to sweep, and did.

While the New England Whalers reached the Playoffs in all 7 seasons of the World Hockey Association (winning the first time, 1973), then entered the National Hockey League as the Hartford Whalers in 1979, and made the Playoffs 8 times before moving to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997, they never faced a New York Tri-Area team in either the WHA or the NHL Playoffs.

I'm not counting matchups in the Women's NBA between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun, or in Major League Soccer between the New York Red Bulls (formerly the New York/New Jersey MetroStars) and the New England Revolution, or in the former North American Soccer League between the New York Cosmos and the New England Tea Men.

Matchups that were, or led to, a World Championship for a New York Tri-State Area team are in bold.

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1884 World's Series: The Providence Grays, Champions of the National League, defeat the New York Metropolitans, Champions of the American Association, in 3 straight. Yes, it was called "the World's Series" (but not "the World Series," and is not officially recognized as such by Major League Baseball), and the Metropolitans were known as the "Mets" for short. But they have no connection to the New York franchise that began in the NL in 1962, except for the name.

1912 World Series: The Boston Red Sox defeat the New York Giants, 4 games to 3, with 1 game called due to darkness while still tied. This was the Series whose Game 8 went to a 10th inning, and the Giants led 7-6, before Fred Snodgrass' "$30,000 Muff" led to a Sox win. It would take 74 years for New York could make New England pay for that.

1916 World Series: Red Sox over Brooklyn Dodgers, 4 games to 1. At this time, the Dodgers were officially called the Brooklyn Robins, in honor of their manager, Wilbert Robinson, a.k.a. "Uncle Robbie." Although it was possible for the Boston Braves, 1914 World Series winners, to play the Yankees in a World Series from 1903 to 1952, it never happened: The closest call, and also the closest call for an All-Boston World Series, came in 1948, when the Braves won their last Boston Pennant, and the Yankees finished 1 game behind the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, who then had a Playoff for the Pennant at Fenway Park, which the Indians won. The Indians then beat the Braves for what remains their last World Championship. The Yankees and Braves have played each other in 4 World Series -- twice while the Braves were in Milwaukee, and twice thus far while the Braves have been in Atlanta.

1927 National Hockey League Stanley Cup Semifinals: Boston Bruins over New York Rangers, 3-1 in a 2-game total-goals series.

1928 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals: Rangers over Bruins, 5-2 in 2-games-total-goals.

1929 Stanley Cup Finals: Bruins over Rangers, 2 straight.

1939 Stanley Cup Semifinals: Bruins over Rangers, 4 games to 3.

1940 Stanley Cup Semifinals: Rangers over Bruins, 4 games to 2.

1951 National Basketball Association Eastern Division Semifinals: New York Knickerbockers (or Knicks for short) over Boston Celtics, 2 games to 0. Knicks-Celtics is the most common New York-New England postseason matchup, having happened 13 times. Rangers-Bruins is next, with 9.

1952 NBA East Semifinals: Knicks over Celtics, 2 games to 1.

1953 NBA East Finals: Knicks over Celtics, 3 games to 1.

1954 NBA East Semifinals: Celtics over Knicks, 3 games to 1.

1955 NBA East Semifinals: Celtics over Knicks, 2 games to 1.

1958 Stanley Cup Semifinals: Bruins over Rangers, 4 games to 2.

1967 NBA East Semifinals: Celtics over Knicks, 3 games to 1.

1969 NBA East Finals: Celtics over Knicks, 4 games to 2.

1970 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals: Bruins over Rangers, 4 games to 2.

1972 Stanley Cup Finals: Bruins over Rangers, 4 games to 2.

1972 NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Knicks over Celtics, 4 games to 1.

1973 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals: Rangers over Bruins, 4 games to 1.

1973 NBA East Finals: Knicks over Celtics, 4 games to 3. This was the first time the Celtics had ever lost a Game 7 at the Boston Garden. The Knicks went on to win their 2nd title in 4 seasons. They have never won another, while the Celtics have since won 6.

1974 NBA East Finals: Celtics over Knicks, 4 games to 1.

1978 American League Eastern Division Playoff: Yankees over Red Sox, 5-4. Although MLB counts the Boston Tie Party as a regular-season game, it came after the regularly-scheduled Game 162, so I'm counting it as a postseason matchup. Bucky Blessed Dent.

1980 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals: New York Islanders over Bruins, 4 games to 2.

1983 NHL Wales Conference Finals: Islanders over Bruins, 4 games to 2.

1984 NBA East Semifinals: Celtics over Knicks, 4 games to 3.

1985 American Football Conference Wild Card Playoff: The New England Patriots over the New York Jets, 26-14. Although the Jets and Pats were both original American Football League teams from 1960, being in the same Division made it impossible to play each other in the AFL Playoffs until 1969. This was their only Playoff game against each other in their first 46 seasons of play.

1986 World Series: New York Mets over Red Sox, 4 games to 3. Nearly three-quarters of a century after Fred Snodgrass, the Sox blow a 2-run, 2-out, 2-strike lead in Game 6, and then Bill Buckner's name gets written into the history of sports gaffery. The Mets haven't won the World Series since -- the Curse of the Bambino may be dead, but the Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives, born right after the Bambino Curse's most dastardly effort.

1988 NBA East Quarterfinals: Celtics over Knicks, 3 games to 1.

1988 NHL Wales Conference Finals: Bruins over New Jersey Devils, 4 games to 3. The Devils had made the Playoffs for the first time ever, eliminating the Rangers (who, like the Red Sox, are called The Scum on this blog) on the last day of the regular season, then beat the Islanders and the Washington Capitals in the Playoffs. But while the Bruins were the more experienced and probably the better team, and had home-ice advantage for the series, it will be forever remembered for the officiating (Same New England, always cheating) that had Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld yelling at referee Don Koharski, "You fat pig! Have another doughnut!" The Devils haven't lost a postseason series to the Bruins since. Here's the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asOmo8a4hrE

1990 NBA East Quarterfinals: Knicks over Celtics, 3 games to 2. The only to charter 1946-47 members of the NBA still playing in their original cities, they played each other 13 times in the Playoffs in the NBA's first 44 seasons, but not at all in the last 21 seasons.

1994 NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals: Devils over Bruins, 4 games to 2.

1995 NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Devils over Bruins, 4 games to 1. The clinching Game 5 was the last competitive sporting event ever played at the 67-year-old Boston Garden, and the Devils went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

1999 AL Championship Series: Yankees over Red Sox, 4 games to 1. The first official postseason series in the Hundred Year War, the Sox won Game 3, 13-1, pounding their ex-hero Roger Clemens while Pedro Martinez pitched well. It was the only game the Yankees lost in the '99 postseason, as they won Game 1 on a walkoff homer by Bernie Williams, and used Sox errors (and some dodgy umpiring) to turn a 3-2 lead Game 4 into a 9-2 win that had the Sox fans throwing garbage onto the field, permanently rendering ridiculous their self-proclaimed "Athens of America" status -- although anyone who's ever seen footage of a soccer game in Greece might say they fulfilled it!

2002 NBA East Finals: New Jersey Nets over Celtics, 4 games to 2. In Game 3, the Celtics erased a 21-point deficit to beat the Nets 94-90 at the building now known as the TD Garden. Did this loss crush the Nets? No, they've never lost another Playoff game to the NBA's most successful franchise, and went on to reach the first NBA Finals in team history.

2003 NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Devils over Bruins, 4 games to 1.

2003 NBA East Semifinals: Nets over Celtics, 4 straight.

2003 ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox, 4 games to 3. For the first time, New York and New England played each other in 3 out of 4 sports in a calendar year. Pedro tries to kill Don Zimmer, Grady Little leaves Pedro in, the Yankees come back from 5-2 down with 5 outs to go, Tim Wakefield throws Aaron Boone a knuckleball, and the Curse of the Bambino works one last time. Unfortunately, in the World Series, Joe Torre brought in Jeff Fucking Weaver...

2004 ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees, 4 games to 3. We now know that it wasn't so much the Yankees blowing a 3 games to none lead, the first MLB team ever to do so in postseason play, as it was the Red Sox cheating. The Yankees have clinched AL East titles over the Sox in 2005 at Fenway and 2009 at Yankee Stadium II, and knocked the Sox out of the race in a 5-game sweep at Fenway in 2006, and the revelations of the Sox' malfeasance is now known (if not fully accepted by the Sox-loving, Yankee-hating national media), but full revenge still does not feel like it has been taken. It may take another postseason series win over The Scum -- and at the rate said Scum are going, that may take years.

2006 AFC Wild Card Playoff: Patriots over Jets, 37-16. The first matchup between the teams since Bill Belichick, who had been an assistant to Bill Parcells when he was head man of the Giants, then the Patriots, then the Jets, was hired as Jets' head man, then one day later quit and took the Pats' job, leaving a note saying, in its entirety, "I resign as HC of the NYJ." This was also the first Playoff matchup between the teams since Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady started winning Super Bowls, and going through the Jets (at least in the regular season) to do it. This was, however, before it was revealed that Belichick was a cheating bastard -- and an unrepentant one at that. In spite of the Jets and Pats playing each other twice a year since the last year of the Ike Age, New York vs. New England, as a blood-and-guts rivalry, had finally spread to all 4 sports.

Super Bowl XLII, 2008: New York Giants over Patriots, 17-14. Maybe the best Super Bowl of them all, Eli Manning led the G-Men on a drive that turned the Pats' undefeated season into a big fucking asterisk. There is an intersection near my residence where U.S. Route 1 meets State Route 18. Officially, it's called the Brunswick Circle. I prefer to call it Patriot Circle: 18 and 1.

2010 AFC Divisional Playoff: Jets over Patriots, 28-21. The Jets finally slew the big cheating dragon. Then they went to Pittsburgh to play for the AFC Title, and laid an egg, and the Steelers fried it. In just 1 week, they forgot the wisdom of their former coach, Herman Edwards: "You play to win the game! You don't play it just to play it!"

Knicks: 6-7
Yankees: 3-1
Devils: 3-1
Rangers: 3-6
Islanders: 2-0
Nets: 2-0
Mets: 1-0
Giants: 1-0
Jets: 1-2
Giants (B): 0-1
Dodgers: 0-1
Mets (AA): 0-1

Baseball: 4-4
Football: 2-2
Basketball: 8-7
Hockey: 8-7

Total: New York over New England, 22-20. Very close, but New York has the advantage.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New York vs. California in Playoffs

(Note: This blog was begun on the day you see above, as a preview of Giants vs. 49ers. I wasn't able to finish it until the day after the game was played. The game was not actually played on a Thursday.)

Last night, the New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17 in overtime, on a field goal by Lawrence Tynes, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, for the NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLVI (46).

It would, after all, have been a bit more appropriate for the 49ers to play in Super Bowl XLIX -- or would that be "IL"? -- than SB XLVI.

This is not the first time the Giants and Niners have played in the NFL Playoffs, nor even in the NFC Title Game.

The Giants won NFL Championship Games in 1934 (over the Chicago Bears at the Polo Grounds), 1938 (Green Bay Packers at the Polo Grounds) and 1956 (Bears at Yankee Stadium); and lost them in 1933 (to the Bears at Wrigley Field), 1935 (Detroit Lions at University of Detroit Stadium), 1939 (Packers at the Dairy Bowl in Milwaukee), 1941 (Bears at Wrigley), 1946 (again, Bears at Wrigley), 1958 (Baltimore Colts in that overtime thriller at Yankee Stadium), 1959 (Colts at Memorial Stadium), 1961 (Packers at what became Lambeau Field), 1962 (Packers at Yankee Stadium) and 1963 (again, Bears at Wrigley).

The Giants have won 3 Super Bowls: They won Super Bowl XXI in 1987 (over the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl), Super Bowl XXV in 1991 (Buffalo Bills at Tampa Stadium), and, of course, Super Bowl XLII in 2008 (over the team they'll be playing this time, the New England Patriots, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona). They've also lost 1: Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 (to the Baltimore Ravens at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa).

They will play the Patriots on Sunday, February 5, at Lucas Oil Stadium, the retractable-roof home of the Indianapolis Colts.

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The history of teams from the New York Tri-State Area and the State of California playing each other in the postseason is a rich and complicated one.

It first became possible in 1946, with the move of the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles, where they could have played the Giants in the NFL Championship Game; and also with the founding of the All-America Football Conference, which included the 49ers and a team called the New York Yankees. These teams played each other in the 1949 AAFC Playoffs. Before the next season, the 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the original Baltimore Colts -- the history of that team name is complicated -- were taken into the NFL. Except for a brief interlude in 1951, there has never again been a pro football team called the New York Yankees.

From 1950 onward, it has been possible for the Giants to play the 49ers and Rams in the Playoffs, although the move of the Rams to St. Louis in 1995 makes such a matchup (which hasn't happened sine) no longer a New York vs. California matchup.

In baseball, it has been possible for the Yankees to play the Oakland Athletics and the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the Playoffs since 1969; and, since then, for the Mets to play the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in the 1957-58 off-season, and the New York Giants baseball team moved to San Francisco at the same time, it became possible for them to face the Yankees in the World Series, and they did so, in back-to-back years, 1962-63.

The Yankees have now played all 3 California National League teams in a World Series, and have beaten them all. The Mets have never played the Angels in a World Series, but lost the 1973 Series to the A's.

In basketball, it's always been geographic: A New York Tri-State Area team can only play a California team in the NBA Finals. The Knicks and Nets have both played the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals; the Los Angeles Clippers have never reached the Finals, nor have the Sacramento Kings, and while the Golden State Warriors have (though not since 1975), they have never faced either the Knicks (at least, not since moving west from Philadelphia in 1962) or the Nets in the Playoffs.

In hockey, it was possible for a Tri-State Area team to face a California team in a pre-final round from 1975 to 1982. Then realignment made it possible only in the Finals.

*

Series which clinched, or led to, a World Championship for a New York Tri-State Area team are in bold.

1949 All-America Football Conference Western Division Playoff: San Francisco 49ers over New York Yankees (football version), 17-7.

1962 World Series: Yankees over San Francisco Giants, 4 games to 3. Willie McCovey vs. Bobby Richardson.

1963 World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over Yankees, 4 straight. Sandy Koufax 15 Ks.

1968 AFL Championship: New York Jets over Oakland Raiders, 27-23.

1970 NBA Finals: New York Knicks over Los Angeles Lakers, 4 games to 3.
Willis Reed limps onto the court and hits the Knicks' first 2 baskets, and Walt Frazier has the game of his life. New York becomes the first city to win World Championships in all 4 major-league sports.

1972 NBA Finals: Lakers over Knicks, 4 games to 1.

1973 NBA Finals: Knicks over Lakers, 4 games to 1. The Knicks haven't won the title since.

1973 World Series: Oakland Athletics over Mets, 4 games to 3. Reggie Jackson says hello to New York.

1977 World Series: Yankees over Dodgers, 4 games to 2. Reggie says goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to Dodger pitches.

1978 World Series: Yankees over Dodgers, 4 games to 2. Reggie is hip.

1979 Stanley Cup 1st Round: New York Rangers over Los Angeles Kings, 2 straight.

1980 Stanley Cup 1st Round: New York Islanders over Kings, 3 games to 1.

1981 Stanley Cup 1st Round: Islanders over Kings, 3 games to 1.


1981 American League Championship Series: Yankees over A's, 3 straight. Billy Martin can't get his revenge on George Steinbrenner. Their seesaw relationship would resume.

1981 World Series: Dodgers over Yankees, 4 games to 2. Blew it, and the dynasty that wasn't quite comes to an end. Over 30 years later, this one still sticks in my craw.

1982 AFC Division Playoff: Jets over Los Angeles Raiders, 17-14.

1984 NFC Wildcard Playoff: New York Giants over Los Angeles Rams, 16-13.

1984 NFC Divisional Playoff: 49ers over Giants, 21-10.

1985 NFC Wild Card Playoff: Giants over 49ers, 17-3.

1986 NFC Divisional Playoff: Giants over 49ers, 49-3.

1988 National League Championship Series: Dodgers over Mets, 4 games to 3. Mike Scioscia vs. Dwight Gooden, and another dynasty that wasn't quite comes to an end.

1989 NFC Divisional Playoff: Rams over Giants, 19-13. This is "the Flipper Anderson Game."

1990 NFC Championship: Giants over 49ers, 15-13. No touchdowns, but 5 Matt Bahr field goals won it.

1993 NFC Divisional Playoff: 49ers over Giants, 44-3. Lawrence Taylor's last game.

1998 World Series: Yankees over San Diego Padres, 4 straight.

2000 NL Division Series: Mets over Giants, 3 games to 1.

2000 ALDS: Yankees over A's, 3 games to 2.

2001 ALDS: Yankees over A's, 3 games to 2. The Jeter Flip.

2001 AFC Wild Card Playoff: Raiders over Jets, 38-24.

2002 NBA Finals: Lakers over New Jersey Nets, 4 straight. The Nets' first NBA Finals appearance.

2002 American League Division Series: Angels over Yankees, 3 games to 1.

2002 NFC Wild Card Playoff: 49ers over Giants, 39-38. Giants blew a 17-point lead.

2002 AFC Divisional Playoff: Raiders over Jets, 30-10.

2003 Stanley Cup Finals: New Jersey Devils over Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 4 games to 3. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Playoffs, despite the winning goalie, Martin Brodeur, becoming only the 2nd goalie in Stanley Cup history to notch 3 shutouts in the Finals.

2004 AFC Wild Card Playoff: Jets over San Diego Chargers, 20-17. Doug Brien's field goal wins it in overtime.

2005 ALDS: Angels over Yankees, 3 games to 2. Randy Johnson spits the bit in Game 3.

2006 NLDS: Mets over Dodgers, 3 straight. Finally, the NL "half" of the Tri-State Area gets some revenge on L.A. -- if not on the evil O'Malley family, which sold the Dodgers a decade earlier. This remains the last postseason series the Mets have won.

2009 ALCS: Yankees over Angels, 4 games to 2.

2009 AFC Divisional Playoff: Jets over Chargers, 20-17.

2011 NFC Championship: Giants over 49ers, 20-17. Lawrence Tynes' field goal wins it in overtime. Will this one lead to a World Championship, the Giants' 8th? Stay tuned.

*

Yankees: 8-4
Giants: 5-4
Jets: 4-2
Islanders: 2-0
Knicks: 2-1
Mets: 2-2
Devils: 1-0
Rangers: 1-0
Nets: 0-1
Yankees (AAFC): 0-1

Baseball: New York leads California, 10-6
Football: New York leads California, 9-7
Basketball: New York & California are even, 2-2
Hockey: New York leads California, 4-0

Total: New York leads California, 25-15.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Giants Are Now Where Jets Were Last 2 Years

The Giants have advanced to the Conference Championship Game.

Just like the Jets did last year. And the year before.

Just like the Giants did 4 years earlier -- and, unlike the Jets, took the next step. And the next.

Just a reminder: What the Giants have done is amazing, but they are... not... done... yet.

They know. Because many of them have done it before.

*

Don't even get me started on Arsenal losing at Swansea City yesterday.

True, it was on the road, and, being Welsh, the Swansea players and fans treat every home game against an English team as if it were a cup final. And, true, Arsenal got screwed on a penalty decision -- again.

But Arsenal played like crap. Plain and simple.

But ask yourself this: If you could only beat either Swansea away or Manchester United at home, and not both, which would you prefer?

Let's pick ourselves up and beat the Fergiebastards. Vermaelen and Sagna could be back, and that, alone, will be a big help.

*

Bartolo Colon will not be a Yankee in 2012. He has signed a one-year contract with the Oakland Athletics.

Save your "dead weight" jokes. He did a good job for the Yankees in 2011. I'm sorry to see him go -- although it does settle the rotation a little more.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 5, this Saturday, a matinee against the Flyers, at the Prudential Center. They next play The Scum on Tuesday night, January 31, at the Prudential. The next game against the New York Islanders isn't until March 4, a Sunday matinee at the Nassau Coliseum.

Days until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 5, this Saturday night, a friendly against Venezuela, at the University of Phoenix Stadium, outside Phoenix.

Days until Arsenal play again: 6, Sunday morning (afternoon, their time), home to Manchester United. This is the season: Win this, and trophies will still seem possible; lose it, and we might as well pack it in.

Days until the next North London Derby: 41, on Sunday, February 26, at New Highbury. Under 6 weeks.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 58, on Sunday afternoon, March 11, at FC Dallas. Under 2 months.

Days until the Red Bulls' home opener: 69, on Sunday afternoon, March 25, at Red Bull Arena, against the Denver-area-based Colorado Rapids.

Days until the Yankees' next Opening Day: 81, on Friday afternoon, April 6, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. A little over 11 weeks.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 88, on Friday afternoon, April 13, against the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Year Angels of Anaheim. Less than 3 months.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 95, on Friday night, April 20, at Fenway Park in Boston. A little over 3 months.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 98, on Wednesday night, April 23, against the Philadelphia 76ers, at the Prudential Center. Just 14 weeks before New Jersey no longer has an NBA team.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 193 (July 27).

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 236, on Saturday September 8, against an opponent and at a location to be announced. Under 8 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 242, on Friday, September 14, opponent and location to be determined.

Days until the 2012 President election: 295, on Tuesday, November 6. Register to vote... and on November 6, vote!

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 311.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 551 (estimated around July 20, 2013).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 748 (February 2, 2014).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 821 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,656 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,690 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, he should get it late in the 2016 season, maybe around September 1, at age 41).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Analyzing the Montero-for-Pineda Trade & the Kuroda Signing

The Yankees have completed a trade of Jesus Montero with Seattle for Michael Pineda.

The Yankees gave up a 22-year-old right-handed-hitting catcher from Venezuela, who has a total of 69 major league plate appearances. This included 7 walks, 16 singles, 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 12 RBIs, a BA/OB/SLG of.328/.406/.590, an OPS+ of 159…and 17 strikeouts, almost as many Ks as hits.

Montero appeared to have a good future ahead of him… the question was, “Where?” As a righty hitter at Yankee Stadium (new one has some outfield dimensions as old one), he would have been at a disadvantage. He’s been rumored to be trade bait since he was tearing up the Eastern League and helping the Trenton Thunder win a Pennant.

Playing his home games in Seattle’s Safeco Field, a good pitchers’ park, he will be at even more of a disadvantage. Plus, the Mariners stink, having lost 95 games last year, including a sub-.500 39-45 at home, 29 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. And while the M’s are hanging onto their best pitcher, Felix Hernandez – King? As Jim Bouton, a pitcher who actually won 2 World Series games, would say, “Yeah, surrrre” – they gave up their best pitching prospect in exchange for Montero. While the Oakland (San Jose in 2015?) Athletics appear to be on track to be even worse in the near future, the AL West appears to be a two-team race between the Strangers and the Whatever They’re Calling Themselves This Year Angels of Anaheim. In essence, Montero has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.

If I were in Montero’s position, I’d think I was just a tad screwed.

*

That’s what the Yankees gave up. What did they get? Pineda is a 23-year-old right-handed-throwing pitcher from the Dominican Republic, who has a total of 28 major league mound appearances. This includes 171 innings, an ERA of 3.74, an ERA+ of 103, a WHIP of 1.099, 173 strikeouts, a K/9 of 9.1, a BB/9 of 2.9, a H/9 of 7.0, and a record of 9-10 – not bad at all considering the M’s scored just 3.4 runs per game, last in the majors. The Yankees should give him much better run support. He was named an All-Star, and finished 5th in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting.

He wore Number 36 in Seattle, but that’s currently being worn by another ex-Mariner pitcher, Freddy Garcia (who wore 34 in Seattle).

*

The Yankees also signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract. He’s a soon-to-be 37-year-old righth-handed-throwing pitcher from Osaka, Japan, who has pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008, and from 1997 to 2007 for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He was an award-winner in Japan, and the son of a player in the Japanese leagues.

He has made 115 appearances in the North American majors, all for the Dodgers, all but one as a starter. His career record is 41-46, despite the Dodgers having been pretty good in that tmie. However, his career ERA is 3.45, his ERA+ is a strong 114, his WHIP a fine 1.187, his H/9 8.6, his BB/9 an impressive 2.1, his K/9 a good 6.7. He pitched for the Dodgers in the 2008 NLDS and NLCS, winning a game in each series, but got rocked in his one postseason appearance since, in the ’09 NLCS.

He has experience. He is efficient. He pitched in Japan and in Los Angeles. Playing in New York is not going to throw him. He may not be Hideo Nomo, but he’s not going to be Hideki Irabu or Kei Igawa, either.

He wore Number 18 with the Dodgers. That number is currently not assigned to a Yankee.

*

Assuming no further trades, free-agent signings or major injuries, the Yankees can be expected to have the following starting pitchers in 2012 – though this is in order of general effectiveness, not necessarily the order in which they will pitch:

1. CC Sabathia
2. Ivan Nova
3. Phil Hughes
4. A.J. Burnett
5. One of the following four: Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda. If either Hughes or Burnett falters, it will be two of those four. If Both Hughes and Burnett falter, it could be three of the four.

This may not be the best rotation in baseball, but if CC remains a horse (I don't see why not), Nova keeps it going (hopefully, no sophomore jinx), Hughes stays healthy (I really hope for this one), A.J. builds on his postseason start and pitches like the '09 A.J., and we can get one more year out of veterans Colon, Garcia or Kuroda, it'll be a very strong rotation.

UPDATE: Colon has signed with the A's, and is no longer an option for the Yankees. This is a disappointment, but hardly a discouragement.

Certainly, Pineda looks like a good one for the future. I wouldn't mind going into 2013 with a rotation of CC, Nova, Hughes, Pineda and Manny Banuelos -- or, failing a full recovery from Hughes, an as-yet-unknown acquisition. (Maybe turn Felix into the king people have been calling him?)

There are, of course, two elephants in the room. What do do when Mariano Rivera retires or goes into decline, and what to do with Joba Chamberlain. (I know, Joba, elephant... )

If David Robertson continues to be to Mo what Mo was to John Wetteland in '96, I would have no problem, and I don't think Joe Girardi would, either, moving him into the closer role.

If Joba is fine with being a reliever, things will be looking up. But it is possible that Joba could be one of the future starters, especially if CC runs out of tank fuel by mid-2013. God forbid, as, even with all those options, he's the only lefty. Damn, I miss Andy Pettitte. I'm even starting to miss David Wells a little. (Back to the elephant analogy.)

But, for now, the Yankees' pitching options look good. And trading Montero, in addition to bringing in Pineda, does give Russell Martin a vote of confidence that he is the Yankee starting catcher through most of the 2010s.

I think we're going to have another Pinstriped October. Granted, I'm not exactly going out on a limb here. But while the Yankees didn't make themselves appreciably better with these deals, they did give themselves more options, which COULD lead to them getting better.

And that's good.

I return you now to your previously-scheduled New York media slobbering over a certain blue-clad football team.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Do Medicore Players Make the Best Coaches? NHL Edition

Last in the series. I'll start with the 1926-27 season. Partly because most of the previous winning coaches were player-coaches. Partly because it was the first season in which the Stanley Cup became the sole province of the National Hockey League. And partly because it was the first season for 3 of the modern teams: The New York Rangers (who, in those pre-Devils days, did not suck), the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.

Remember: A player who didn't make it to the NHL, even if it was through no fault of his own (injury, illness, career interrupted by military service), is still classified as a "mediocre player."

1927 Ottawa Senators: Dave Gill. As far as I know, he never played pro hockey. This was the last of 9 Cups won by the old Senators, formerly known as the Ottawa Silver Seven. (There was an additional position 100 years ago, the "rover," sort of a half-forward, half-defenseman. Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey would have played the position.) These Senators went bankrupt in the Depression, moving to become the St. Louis Eagles in 1934 and folding a year later. The new Sens began in 1992, and have been far less successful: They're usually competitive, but they've won a grand total of 1 Stanley Cup Finals game.

1928 New York Rangers: Lester Patrick. One of the best defensemen of his time. In the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player, although he had much more influence as a coach and executive.

1929 Boston Bruins: Cy Denneny. One of the best forwards of his time. Hall of Fame.

1930 Montreal Canadiens: Cecil Hart. Never played.

1931 Canadiens: Hart.

1932 Toronto Maple Leafs: Dick Irvin. One of the best forwards of his time. Hall of Fame as a player, although he had much more influence as a coach. Actually, his best contribution to the game may have been his son, Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr.

1933 Rangers: Patrick.

1934 Chicago Blackhawks: Tommy Gorman. Never played hockey, but was one of the best lacrosse players of his time.

1935 Montreal Maroons: Gorman. Not sure why he left the Hawks after winning the Cup, although it may have had something to do with team owner Frederic McLaughlin being a lunatic.

1936 Detroit Red Wings: Jack Adams. One of the best forwards of his time. In the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player, although he had much more influence as a coach and executive.

1937 Wings: Adams.

1938 Hawks: Bill Stewart. Played in college, but his professional sport was baseball. An injury cut short his playing career, but he became both a baseball umpire and a hockey referee, as well as the first American to coach a Cup winner.

1939 Bruins: Art Ross. One of the best defensemen of his time. In the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player, although he had much more influence as a coach and executive. You might be recognizing some of these names if you're a hockey fan over the age of 30, even if you're not one over the age of 80: Patrick, Ross and Adams all got their names put on NHL Divisions from 1974 to 1993, along with Toronto Maple Leafs executive Conn Smythe. With the NHL now having 6 Divisions, we'd probably have to add Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour.

1940 Rangers: Frank Boucher. Great center, on a line between the brothers Bill and Frederick "Bun" Cook, on the 1928 and '32 Cup-winning Rangers. Patrick, by now, was "only" the general manager, although his sons Lynn and Murray "Muzz" Patrick were Ranger players. Boucher, a Hall-of-Famer, was a part of every Ranger Cup-winner until 1994. And yet they've never retired his Number 7. Okay, it was also Rod Gilbert's number, but they've retired 9 for both Andy Bathgate and Adam Graves.

1941 Bruins: Ralph "Cooney" Weiland. Like Patrick, Ross left coaching and stayed the GM, and promoted his former Number 7, a Hall of Fame forward.

1942 Leafs: Clarence "Happy" or "Hap" Day. A Hall of Fame defenseman for the Leafs.

1943 Wings: Adams.

1944 Canadiens: Irvin. Left the Leafs for their arch-rivals. And, yes, today, the Habs and Leafs are still each others' arch-rivals, no matter what fans of the Bruins and the revived Ottawa Senators might think.

1945 Leafs: Day.

1946 Canadiens: Irvin.

1947 Leafs: Day.

1948 Leafs: Day.

1949 Leafs: Day.

1950 Wings: Tommy Ivan. An injury kept him from reaching the NHL.

1951 Leafs: Joe Primeau. A Hall of Fame center with the Leafs, along with Charlie Conacher and Harvey "Busher" Jackson on the 1930s' "Kid Line."

1952 Wings: Ivan.

1953 Canadiens: Irvin.

1954 Wings: Ivan.

1955 Wings: Jimmy Skinner. In the modern NHL, he probably would have made it, but in the six-team era, his path was blocked.

1956 Canadiens: Hector "Toe" Blake. He and Elmer Lach flanked Maurice "the Rocket" Richard on the "Punch Line" in the 1940s. An injury cut short his playing career but he was still elected to the Hall. Irvin was, uh, eased out of the Habs' head job after the 1955 season, partly because it was thought that an ex-teammate and good friend like Blake could handle the Rocket better, following the riot that bears his name. Blake coached 8 Stanley Cup winners, a record until Scotty Bowman broke it.

1957 Canadiens: Blake.

1958 Canadiens: Blake.

1959 Canadiens: Blake.

1960 Canadiens: Blake.

1961 Hawks: Rudy Pilous. A prospect for the Rangers, he never reached the NHL.

1962 Leafs: George "Punch" Imlach. Played minor-league hockey in Toronto, went off to World War II, and was offered a tryout by the Wings after his discharged, but didn't think he was in shape, and went into coaching.

1963 Leafs: Imlach.

1964 Leafs: Imlach.

1965 Canadiens: Blake.

1966 Canadiens: Blake.

1967 Leafs: Imlach.

1968 Canadiens: Blake.

1969 Canadiens: Claude Ruel. Played for the Habs' junior teams, but never reached the big club.

1970 Bruins: Harry Sinden. A good minor-league player, and an Olympian, but never reached the NHL.

1971 Canadiens: Al MacNeil. A defenseman, probably the first on this list to be good but not great, his career didn't have a whole lot of luck. Played for the Leafs before they won their 1960s Cups, the Habs between their '60 and '65 Cups, and the Hawks after their '61 Cup. Also an original 1967-68 member of the Penguins. His rotten luck continued when he coached the Canadiens in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons -- bracketing the October Crisis in Quebec. During the '71 Finals, with the Habs down 3 games to 2 to the Hawks, with a potential Game 7 in Chicago, Henri Richard, the Rocket's much younger brother but also a HOFer, told the French media in Montreal, "MacNeil est incompetent." These words, suggesting that MacNeil's inability to speak French left him unable to properly deal with the many players whose ethnicity and language got the team nicknamed "the Flying Frenchmen," stirred up the ethnic, linguistic and political emotions of a city that, without having a wall, was as much divided at the time as Berlin. The only thing that could unite the city was the Canadiens, and they won Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road. Afterward, Henri said, "I should've kept my mouth shut." As with Irvin in '55, MacNeil was quietly offered another place in the organization, and in came Scotty Bowman, who had coached the St. Louis Blues to the Finals in their first 3 seasons of play, without winning a Finals game, getting swept by the Habs in '68 and '69 and the Bruins in '70, despite a veteran lineup. Bowman and the '70s Habs were on their way to becoming the best dynasty in the game's history, as players like Henri and Jean Beliveau were on their way out, while men like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden were on their way in. MacNeil did coach in the NHL again, leading the Flames in 1980 when they moved from Atlanta to Calgary.

1972 Bruins: Tom Johnson. A Hall of Fame defenseman on the 1950s Canadiens.

1973 Canadiens: Scotty Bowman. An injury cut short his playing career, but as a coach he won a record 9 Cups, and with 3 different teams, so it can't be said that he was solely a beneficiary of the Habs' wonderful scouting and minor-league system. He is now a senior adviser to the Blackhawks, and his son Stan is their GM, and thus, as of 2010, also a Cup winner.

1974 Philadelphia Flyers: Fred Shero. The first first-time winners of the Cup in 38 years were coached by Freddy the Fog, who briefly played for the Rangers but was basically a career minor-leaguer.

1975 Flyers: Shero.

1976 Canadiens: Bowman.

1977 Canadiens: Bowman.

1978 Canadiens: Bowman.

1979 Canadiens: Bowman.

1980 New York Islanders: Al Arbour. An All-Star defenseman, won Cups with the '54 Wings, the '61 Hawks and the '62, '63 and '64 Leafs. Also a member of the Finalist Blues under Bowman, alongside such NHL legends as Jacques Plante and Doug Harvey. That Blues team thus had a reach in the NHL into the early Fifties and into the 21st Century. In the Hall as a "Builder," which is the Hall's category for coaches and executives, but a pretty good player.

1981 Isles: Arbour.

1982 Isles: Arbour.

1983 Isles: Arbour.

1984 Edmonton Oilers: Glen Sather. A defenseman, was traded from the Bruins right before their '70 Cup and the Habs right before their '76 Cup began a string of 4 straight. But his luck evened out as a coach.

1985 Oilers: Sather.

1986 Canadiens: Jean Perron. Never played in the NHL.

1987 Oilers: Sather.

1988 Oilers: Sather.

1989 Flames: Terry Crisp. A good center for the '74 & '75 Broad Street Bullies, although not, himself, known as a dirty player.

1990 Oilers: John Muckler. Never played in the NHL.

1991 Pittsburgh Penguins: Bob Johnson. Longtime head coach at the University of Wisconsin, earning him the name "Badger Bob," he produced some of the players on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, including their leading scorer, his son Mark Johnson. But he never played in the NHL. Died of cancer shortly after winning the '91 Cup. The Pens then hired Bowman, in the hope that he could keep the team's newfound success going. He did.

1992 Pens: Bowman.

1993 Canadiens: Jacques Demers. Never played in the NHL.

1994 Rangers: Mike Keenan. Although he's coached 8 different teams, including taking the Flyers to the '85 and '87 Finals and in '94 becoming the only living person to coach the Rangers to a Cup, he never played in the NHL.

1995 New Jersey Devils: Jacques Lemaire. A Hall of Fame forward for the 1970s Habs, he scored the goal that won Game 4 of the '77 Finals and gave Montreal a sweep of the Bruins -- as reflected in the film of Barney's Version. (While the Mordecai Richler novel on which it's based has Barney as a huge Habs fan, the time periods are different, so Lemaire's goal does not, as in the film, happen on the day of his 2nd wedding.)

1996 Colorado Avalanche: Marc Crawford. An unremarkable player, although he did help the Vancouver Canucks reach their first Stanley Cup Finals, in 1982.

1997 Wings: Bowman.

1998 Wings: Bowman.

1999 Dallas Stars: Ken Hitchcock. Never played in the NHL. Now coaching the Blues.

2000 Devils: Larry Robinson. Hall of Fame defenseman for the 1970s and '80s Habs.

2001 Avs: Bob Hartley. Never played in the NHL. Not to be confused with the lead character on the 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show.

2002 Wings: Bowman. His 9th and last.

2003 Devils: Pat Burns. Never played in the NHL.

2004 Tampa Bay Lightning: John Tortorella. A collegiate star, he never reached the NHL. Now the coach of the Rangers, who, as you may have noticed, suck.

2005 No Cup. Gary Bettman, you're going to hell, where you'll face Devils who will
treat you worse than the ones in New Jersey.

2006 Carolina Hurricanes: Peter Laviolette. Played a grand total of 12 games in the NHL, all in the 1988-89 season with the Rangers, who, by that point, had begun to suck. Now the coach of the Flyers -- who swallow.

2007 Anaheim Ducks: Randy Carlyle. An All-Star defenseman with the original Winnipeg Jets.

2008 Wings: Mike Babcock. Never played in the NHL.

2009 Pens: Dan Bylsma. Played several years as a defenseman with the two L.A.-area teams, the Kings and the Ducks.

2010 Hawks: Joel Quenneville. An original member of the Devils, was with the franchise when it moved from Denver, as the Colorado Rockies, in 1982. Being, as Wayne Gretzky put it, "a Mickey Mouse organization" at the time, they let him get away, and he became an All-Star defenseman with the Hartford Whalers.

2011 Bruins: Claude Julien. Had, as they would say in baseball, two "cups of coffee" with the Quebec Nordiques in the mid-1980s.

*

Great players: 29
Good players: 8
Mediocre players: 46

So there have been quite a few great players who've gone on to coach Stanley Cup winners. However, since Toe Blake hung up his whistle in 1968, of the 42 Cup-winning teams, 31 were led by mediocre players.

So my theory holds in this sport, too.

Today, the New Jersey Devils are coached by Peter DeBoer, who never played in the NHL. Does that mean there's hope for a Cup under him? If his coaching in this 2011-12 season thus far is any indication, the answer is no.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Do Mediocre Players Make the Best Coaches? NBA Edition

Part III of the series. I'll start with the beginning of the National Basketball Association, the 1946-47 season.

Remember: A player who never played in the pros, or for whatever reason did not pan out in the pros, is counted here as "mediocre" even if he was sensational in college.

1947 Philadelphia Warriors: Eddie Gottlieb. Never played, but organized the basketball team at the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. The team was known by its initials, the SPHAs. The Warriors, a charter franchise of the NBA, grew out of this club, one of the leading pro teams of the 1930s. Gottlieb lived most of his life in Philadelphia, yet moved the Warriors to San Francisco in 1962.

1948 Baltimore Bullets: Harry "Buddy" Jeannette. A player-coach, and a Hall of Fame player.

1949 Minneapolis Lakers: John Kundla. A good college player, but never played in the pros.

1950 Lakers: Kundla.

1951 Rochester Royals: Les Harrison. Played semi-pro ball, never in the NBA or in a
pre-NBA league.

1952 Lakers: Kundla.

1953 Lakers: Kundla.

1954 Lakers: Kundla.

1955 Syracuse Nationals: Al Cervi. A pretty good player by the standards of the 1940s and early '50s.

1956 Warriors: George Senesky. A star by the standards of the time, he played on the Warriors' '47 title team.

1957 Boston Celtics: Arnold "Red" Auerbach. A good college player at George Washington University, but only played briefly in a pre-NBA league.

1958 St. Louis Hawks: Alex Hannum. A terrific player, he became player-coach and got the Hawks to the '57 Finals, then retired to stick to coaching and got them all the
way the next season.

1959 Celtics: Auerbach.

1960 Celtics: Auerbach.

1961 Celtics: Auerbach.

1962 Celtics: Auerbach.

1963 Celtics: Auerbach.

1964 Celtics: Auerbach.

1965 Celtics: Auerbach.

1966 Celtics: Auerbach.

1967 Philadelphia 76ers: Hannum.

1968 Celtics: Bill Russell. Player-coach, and still one of the top 10 players in the history of the game.

1969 Celtics: Russell.

1970 New York Knicks: William "Red" Holzman. An All-Star, played on the '51 Royal titlists.

1971 Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Costello. Good player in the 1950s and '60s.

1972 Los Angeles Lakers: Bill Sharman. One of the best shooters in NBA history while playing for Auerbach's Celtics, and along with John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens one of 3 men who has been elected to the Hall as both a player AND a coach -- no other sport does that. Having won the previous year's American Basketball Association title with the Utah Stars, Sharman is also the only man to coach an NBA Champion and an ABA Champion.

1973 Knicks: Holzman.

1974 Celtics: Tom Heinsohn. A really good player for Auerbach's Celtics.

1975 Golden State Warriors: Al Attles. A reserve player on the San Francisco Warriors' 1964 Western Division Champions, before they moved across the Bay to Oakland and became the Golden State Warriors.

1976 Celtics: Heinsohn.

1977 Portland Trail Blazers: Jack Ramsay. One of the greatest minds in basketball history -- he was the GM of the '67 76ers titlists -- he never played in college, let alone in the pros.

1978 Washington Bullets: Dick Motta. Never played in the pros, going straight from college into coaching.

1979 Seattle SuperSonics: Lenny Wilkens. Starred with the early Sonics and, before that, the St. Louis-era Hawks.

1980 Lakers: Paul Westhead. Never played pro ball.

1981 Celtics: Bill Fitch. Never played pro ball.

1982 Lakers: Pat Riley. A decent reserve player with the Lakers' 1972 champions, can't really call him mediocre. Like Phil Jackson, might've been a better player in the expansion-diluted NBA in which he's coached.

1983 76ers: Billy Cunningham. A HOF player, was the rookie 6th man on the '67 76ers, and starred in both the NBA and the ABA. The Sixers have never won an NBA Championship without him -- at least, not since '55 when they were the Nationals.

1984 Celtics: K.C. Jones. Hall of Fame player with Auerbach's Celtics.

1985 Lakers: Riley.

1986 Celtics: Jones.

1987 Lakers: Riley.

1988 Lakers: Riley.

1989 Detroit Pistons: Chuck Daly. Went into the Army after college, and went into coaching after his discharge, never playing pro ball.

1990 Pistons: Daly.

1991 Chicago Bulls: Phil Jackson. A decent reserve player with the Knicks' 1973 champions, he was injured for the entirety of the 1970 title season. Probably a better player than Riley.

1992 Bulls: Jackson.

1993 Bulls: Jackson.

1994 Houston Rockets: Rudy Tomjanovich. A very good player for the Rockets, a member of their 1981 team that reached the NBA Finals.

1995 Rockets: Tomjanovich.

1996 Bulls: Jackson.

1997 Bulls: Jackson.

1998 Bulls: Jackson.

1999 San Antonio Spurs: Gregg Popovich. Graduated from the Air Force Academy, and while he played there, he served his commitment rather than play pro ball -- ironic, considering he coached David Robinson, who was allowed to curtail his Navy commitment.

2000 Lakers: Jackson.

2001 Lakers: Jackson.

2002 Lakers: Jackson.

2003 Spurs: Popovich.

2004 Pistons: Larry Brown. A scandal got him banned from playing in the NBA, but he became a star in the ABA. The ban was lifted, allowing him to coach, and no human being, living or dead, male or female, scholastic, collegiate or professional, has coached more wins than Larry Brown.

2005 Spurs: Popovich.

2006 Miami Heat: Riley.

2007 Spurs: Popovich.

2008 Celtics: Glenn "Doc" Rivers. An All-Star with the Atlanta Hawks and the Knicks.

2009 Lakers: Jackson.

2010 Lakers: Jackson.

2011 Dallas Mavericks: Rick Carlisle. A reserve on the '86 Celtics, but not a good player.

*

Great players: 7
Good players: 29
Mediocre players: 27

So good NBA players have been better at coaching than in MLB and the NFL. But great ones? Take out player-coaches Jeannette and Russell, and the outlook for future greats is grim.

Magic Johnson wasn't much of a coach. Larry Bird was all right at it. Michael Jordan apparently doesn't have enough patience.

I wonder if LeBron James will ever go into coaching? It may be his best chance to win a ring.

My Way to Fix the BCS

Last night, the University of Alabama beat Louisiana State University, 21-0, in the Superdome in New Orleans (essentially, LSU's home away from home) in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Game.

This avenged 'Bama's loss to LSU in November, which cost them the Championship of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) West Division.

Now, give Alabama credit for taking the chance they were handed and definitively doing something with it.

But they didn't win their own division, let along their own league. They should never have gotten that chance,and I don't care that they only lost to LSU in overtime.

Under the old system, the one in place from 1936 to 1997...

* LSU, as SEC Champions, would have played in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, against an opponent not tied to one of the major bowls. As the bowl with the Number 1-ranked team, the Sugar Bowl would have had their pick of the next-best untied teams. Since that wouldn't have been Alabama (they would've been highly ranked, but not Number 2), it might have been Stanford, which only lost once but that loss cost them the Pac-12.

* Oklahoma State, as Champions of the league currently known as the Big 12, formerly the Big 8, would have played in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Okie State probably would've been ranked Number 2 under the old system, and probably would've played the next-highest-ranked non-champion, which could well have been Alabama.

* Wisconsin, as Big Ten Champions, and the University of Southern California, as Pacific Twelve (Pac-12) Champions, would have faced each other in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, outside Los Angeles.

* Arkansas, as the highest ranked team among those teams that used to belong to the Southwest Conference (SWC, R.I.P. 1912-1996), would have played in the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas. Possibly against Oregon, highly-ranked but losers in the Pac-12 title game.

Supporters of the BCS say that it's an improvement over what we have now. Often, that's true. But we've seen 2-loss teams win the National Championship under that system. We've seen teams that didn't reach their conference title game reach the National Championship Game -- and now we've seen one win it.

Presuming they won the Sugar Bowl, LSU would have been 13-0, the only major undefeated team, and unquestioned National Champions. But what if they'd lost? Presuming they won the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma State could say they're National Champions -- and, unlike LSU & 'Bama, it would have bene a first for them.

*

A few years ago, as part of their Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... series, ESPN said the biggest reason there's no playoff for college football's National Championship is the university presidents: They don't want one, because the bowl system means more money.

Well, I've got a system that will get a playoff and keep the bowls.

First, everybody goes into a league. Whether they like it or not. Notre Dame, you cowards, you don't want to go into a league and split the pie? That's fine -- but you would be ineligible for the National Championship. That means you'd go through an entire season, and win nothing. No league, no national title... you'd have to content yourself with beating Michigan and USC (maybe).

Then we settle everybody into 8 leagues. We can think about what they should be named, but the best way to do it for this demonstration (perhaps only for this demonstration) is to use the old names: The Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the SEC, the SWC, the Big 10, the Big 8/12, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the Pac-8/10/12.

Divide them all into 2 divisions. A team that wins its division is still eligible. Now we've gone from 120 (or whatever the number is now) to 16.

I don't care if you go 10-1 in the regular season, and win your games by an average score of 42-3: If that 1 loss costs you your division championship, you're out. I don't care if you go 0-4 in your non-conference games and finish the regular season 6-5: If you win your division, you're in. As Herman Edwards taught us, "You play to win the game!" If you win the games you've got to win, you're in.

Then the division champions play each other for the conference championships. We play these games on the 2nd Saturday in December, so that all the regular-season games are in, including such traditionally late games as USC-UCLA and Army-Navy. And now we're down to 8.

Now we step aside from the National Championship process, and we have the minor bowls, on the 3rd Saturday in December. See, they stay.

Now we have the quarterfinals. If the 4th Saturday in December turns out to be Christmas Day, they can be moved back to Friday, Christmas Eve. And we can have the (sort-of) traditional matchups (with the leagues' traditional names, rather than their current names, listed below):

* The Rose Bowl matchup of Big 10 vs. Pac-10, in the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.

* The Orange Bowl's Big 8 vs., say, the Big East, at the Dolphins' stadium in the Miami suburbs.

* The Sugar Bowl's SEC vs., perhaps, the ACC, at the Superdome in New Orleans.

* And the Cotton Bowl's SWC vs. the WAC, at Cowboys Stadium in the Dallas suburbs.

What about the Fiesta Bowl, you ask? After 40 years, I suppose that's now a "traditional bowl." And it did crown a few National Champions in the pre-title game era. But I don't care how much the Fiesta has risen, or how much the Cotton has fallen: The Cotton is a traditional major bowl, the Fiesta is not.

Anyway, with these bowls-in-all-but-name that are actually Playoffs... now, we're down to 4.

Now it gets a little complicated, but fair. Now we can use BCS/AP/UPI rankings to set the traditional bowls, and have them on New Year's Day. This way, whatever prestige the bowls lose can be offset with the revenue of 2 big games at their sites. And teams that didn't make it to the semifinals can still play one more game, and win their season finale.

Then, on the first Saturday in January -- assuming it's not also New Year's Day, if so it can be moved -- we have the National Semifinals. Have the 2 easternmost teams play each other at a big stadium that's not a BCS team's home field. Possibly MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands. And have the 2 westernmost teams play each other at such a stadium as well. Maybe the Denver Broncos' new version of Mile High Stadium, whatever they're calling it this year.

And now, we're down to 2. The National Championship Game can be played on the 2nd Saturday in January, at a centrally-located facility. Soldier Field in Chicago. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. As long as it's not a potential home field for a participating team.

Might this result in 2-loss, 3-loss, 4-loss, or even 5-loss team winning the National Championship? Yes. But that team will have had to, starting in the conference title game, win 4 consecutive games, over a one-month period, against highly-ranked teams. They will have earned it.

The timing won't be bad, either. Last night's BCS National Championship Game was played on January 9. Under the system I'm describing above, it would have been played on January 14. Not that big a difference.

Too many games? Keeping an 11-game regular season, and going all the way, would be 15 games. But only the last 2 teams would play a 15th game. Perhaps the regular season can be shortened to 10 games, as it was until the mid-1970s. That way, given a conference title game and a bowl game, most of the good teams would still play 12 games.

This rewrite of the system would get rid of the BCS, keep the bowls, get a definitive National Champion, bring more prestige to the winners, and make everybody a hell of a lot of money.

It makes sense.

Making sense, of course, is not high on the list of priorities for any sports organization. Not even college football.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Do Mediocre Players Make the Best Coaches? MLB Edition

What have the New York Football Giants proved this season? So far -- and the fact that we can still say "so far" about them proves something -- they have proven that actions speak louder than words.

What did the New York Jets prove this season? That talk is not always cheap.

*

On Saturday, I asked the question, "Do Mediocre Players Make the Best Coaches?" I suggested that they do.

Let's look at the managers who led teams to the Major League Baseball postseason in 2011.

New York Yankees: Joe Giardi. Decent defensive catcher, not much of a hitter.

Tampa Bay Rays: Joe Maddon. Never got above Class A ball as a player.

Detroit Tigers: Jim Leyland. Never got about Double-A as a player.

Texas Rangers: Ron Washington. Reserve infielder in the 1980s, once batted .294 for the Minnesota Twins, but was never considered good enough to get 500 plate appearances in a season.

Philadelphia Phillies: Charlie Manuel. Reserve outfielder, better known as Chuck Manuel when he played, which wasn't much. Did help the Twins win the 1969 and '70 AL West titles, though.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ron Roenicke. Reserve outfielder in the 1980s, not nearly as good as his brother Gary. Good manager, though.

St. Louis Cardinals: Tony LaRussa. Reserve infielder for the 1960s A's, only once had more than 53 plate appearances in a season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Kirk Gibson. Easily the best player of these 8, although injuries kept him from approaching Hall of Fame status. One of the few players to win World Championships in both Leagues, and even fewer to homer in World Series games in both Leagues: 1984 Detroit Tigers and 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers.

So, for the moment, yes, 7 of the 8 were mediocre at best.

*

Historically? I'm going to start my count from 1936. Why? Because the 3 previous World Series winners each had player-managers: Bill Terry (1933 New York Giants), Frankie Frisch (1934 St. Louis Cardinals), Mickey Cochrane (1935 Detroit Tigers).

1936 New York Yankees: Joe McCarthy. Hall of Fame, Monument Park, one of only 2 managers to win 7 (or even 6) World Series. But never played in the majors, only getting to what we would know call Triple-A.

1937 Yankees: McCarthy.

1938 Yankees: McCarthy.

1939 Yankees: McCarthy.

1940 Cincinnati Reds: Bill McKechnie. Reserve infielder for a few teams in the 1910s, totally unremarkable, but in the Hall as a manager.

1941 Yankees: McCarthy.

1942 St. Louis Cardinals: Billy Southworth. Outfielder, led the NL in triples with the 1914 Pirates, played on Pennant winners with the 1924 Giants and the 1926 Cards. Lifetime batting average .297. Good player. But in the Hall as a manager.

1943 Yankees: McCarthy.

1944 Cardinals: Southworth.

1945 Detroit Tigers: Steve O'Neill. Good catcher, 3 times hit over .300, including with the 1920 World Champion Indians.

1946 Cardinals: Eddie Dyer. Journeyman pitcher, played on the Cards' 1926 title team but did not appear in the Series.

1947 Yankees: Stanley "Bucky" Harris. "Boy Manager" was 27 when, with himself as All-Star quality (no All-Star Game then) 2nd baseman, led 1924 Senators to Washington's only World Series win. In fact, only 3 Washington teams have ever won Pennants, and all with not just player-managers but "Boy Managers": Harris in '24 and '25, Joe Cronin in '33. Harris was a good player, but is in the Hall as a manager.

1948 Cleveland Indians: Lou Boudreau. The youngest permanent manager in MLB history (Roger Peckinpaugh was 23 when he managed the last 20 games for the 1914 Yanks), he was 24 when he took over in Cleveland, having replaced Cronin as the best shortstop in the AL (and preceding Phil Rizzuto as such). A genuine HOF player, was AL MVP in '48, but the stress of playing and managing allowed him only 1 more good year in either role.

1949 Yankees: Charles "Casey" Stengel. Outfielder for several teams before becoming the other manager besides McCarthy to win a 6th, and a 7th, World Series. Lifetime .284 hitter, not bad power for his era with 182 doubles and 89 triples. Had 3 .300+ seasons. Led NL in on-base percentage in 1914 with .404 (although he may not have been aware of it, as it wasn't a familiar stat then). Helped Dodgers win 1916 Pennant and Giants to Pennants in 1921, '22 and '23. Casey may have been the best manager ever, and while he wasn't a great player, he was no "mediocre player." The Ol' Perfesser could play. As the man himself would say, "And you can look it up."

1950 Yankees: Stengel.

1951 Yankees: Stengel.

1952 Yankees: Stengel.

1953 Yankees: Stengel.

1954 New York Giants: Leo Durocher. Shortstop for '34 Cardinals "Gashouse Gang," 3 times an All-Star for his fielding, not much of a hitter -- he was known as "the All-American Out" before the managerial career that got him the nickname "Leo the Lip" (or just "Lippy"). HOF, but as a manager.

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers: Walter Alston. HOF as a manager, but as a player had one at-bat, with the '36 Cardinals, and struck out.

1956 Yankees: Stengel.

1957 Milwaukee Braves: Fred Haney. Middle infielder batted .309 with 1924 Tigers, twice had seasons of at least 50 RBIs, but that was about it.

1958 Yankees: Stengel.

1959 Dodgers: Alston.

1960 Pittsburgh Pirates: Danny Murtaugh. Another middle infielder, led NL in stolen bases as a rookie with the 1941 Phillies. Had 2 .290+ seasons with postwar Pirates, but that was it. Can't call him mediocre, but was hardly great.

1961 Yankees: Ralph Houk. Yogi Berra's backup on a few Yankee Pennant winners.

1962 Yankees: Houk.

1963 Dodgers: Alston.

1964 Cardinals: Johnny Keane. Never played in the majors.

1965 Dodgers: Alston.

1966 Baltimore Orioles: Hank Bauer. All-Star right fielder with Stengel's Yankees.

1967 Cardinals: Albert "Red" Schoendienst. In the Hall as a manager, but a pretty good 2nd baseman, making 10 All-Star teams and twice finishing in top 4 of NL MVP balloting. Led NL in stolen bases in '45 (with 26, but never stole even half as many again), at-bats in '47, at-bats, doubles and sacrifice hits in '50, and hits with 200 in '57. Five times (nearly 6) batted over .300, topping at .342 in '53. Won Series with the '46 Cards and '57 Braves. I could call him a "great player" who won a World Series as a manager.

1968 Tigers: Mayo Smith. Outfielder played just 1 season in the majors, as a wartime placeholder with the '45 A's.

1969 New York Mets: Gil Hodges. Should be in the Hall as a player alone; if they could include his managing, he'd be in. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Hit 370 homers and was considered the best-fielding 1st baseman of his era. Helped Dodgers win 6 Pennants (5 in Brooklyn, 1 in L.A.) and 2 World Series (1 in each city, '55 and '59).

1970 Orioles: Earl Weaver. Never played in the majors.

1971 Pirates: Murtaugh.

1972 Oakland Athletics: Dick Williams. Utility player in '50s and '60s, had some good seasons.

1973 A's: Williams.

1974 A's: Alvin Dark. An All-Star with the Giants for his fielding, it wasn't his fault he was the 3rd-best shortstop in New York behind Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese (or vice versa).

1975 Cincinnati Reds: George "Sparky" Anderson. One season in the majors, as a weak shortstop with the '59 Phillies.

1976 Reds: Anderson.

1977 Yankees: Billy Martin. Scrappy 2nd baseman with '50s Yanks, good but not great... except in October where he seemed charmed.

1978 Yankees: Bob Lemon. Hall of Fame pitcher with '40s & '50s Indians.

1979 Pirates: Chuck Tanner. Decent left fielder in late '50s and early '60s, nothing
special.

1980 Philadelphia Phillies: Dallas Green. Relief pitcher for early '60s Phillies, nothing special, though the Phils' 1964 collapse was hardly his fault.

1981 Dodgers: Tommy Lasorda. Lefty pitcher in '50s for Dodgers & A's, lifetime record 0-4.

1982 Cardinals: Dorrel "Whitey" Herzog. Reserve outfielder, batted .291 in 112 games for '61 Orioles, but that was about it.

1983 Orioles: Joe Altobelli. Reached the majors, which is more than you can say for Weaver, but not much more can be said for this reserve outfielder.

1984 Tigers: Anderson.

1985 Kansas City Royals: Dick Howser. Was nearly named AL Rookie of the Year as a shortstop with the '61 A's, but it was for his fielding. Led AL in sacrifice hits with the '64 Indians, but by the time he joined the Yankees in '67 it was clear that, if he had a future in baseball, it was in coaching.

1986 Mets: Davey Johnson. A 2nd baseman (usually known as Dave Johnson while he played) who helped the Orioles win 4 Pennants and 2 World Series -- and connected the Mets' only 2 World Series wins thus far, making the final out in '69 and managing them in '86. With '73 Braves hit 43 homers with 99 RBIs, but while that was a freak year with the bat, he could hit a little, and won 3 Gold Gloves.

1987 Minnesota Twins: Tom Kelly. Outfielder who played 49 games for the '75 Twins.

1988 Dodgers: Lasorda.

1989 A's: LaRussa.

1990 Reds: Lou Piniella. Sweet Lou was a .291 career hitter, mostly with the Yankees I grew up watching. Another Yank who turned it up big-time in postseason play.

1991 Twins: Kelly.

1992 Toronto Blue Jays: Clarence "Cito" Gaston. An outfielder who iit .318 with the '70 Padres and .291 with the '76 Braves, but those were exceptions. Good, but hardly great.

1993 Jays: Gaston.

1994 No Series. You suck, Bud Selig.

1995 Atlanta Braves: Bobby Cox. Backup 3rd baseman with the '68 and '69 Yankeees.

1996 Yankees: Joe Torre. Maybe one step below Cooperstown as a player. A 9-time
All-Star, a Gold Glove catcher and the 1971 NL MVP, winning the batting title, leading the League with a .363 average, 230 hits and 137 RBIs.

1997 Florida Marlins: Leyland.

1998 Yankees: Torre.

1999 Yankees: Torre.

2000 Yankees: Torre.

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks: Bob Brenly. A good catcher with the Giants, an All-Star in 1984.

2002 Anaheim Angels: Mike Scioscia. A solid catcher for the Dodgers, twice an All-Star and twice a World Champion.

2003 Marlins: Jack McKeon. Never played in the majors.

2004 Boston Red Sox: Terry Francona. Utility player in the '80s, not bad but hardly noteworthy.

2005 Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen. Very good shortstop with the '80s and early '90s White Sox.

2006 Cardinals: LaRussa.

2007 Red Sox: Francona.

2008 Phillies: Manuel.

2009 Yankees: Girardi.

2010 Giants: Bruce Bochy. Backup catcher, but did help both the '80 Astros and the '84 Padres reach the postseason.

2011 Cardinals: LaRussa.

*

Now, keeping in mind that never making it to the majors automatically qualifies them as "mediocre players" -- even if they might have made it but an injury cut short their career...


Great players: 9
Good players: 25
Mediocre players: 40

Aside from Torre, the last "great player" to manage a World Champion was Bob Lemon in 1978. The last non-Yankee manager to do so? Gil Hodges, 42 seasons ago.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Do Mediocre Players Make the Best Coaches? NFL Edition

I just got a look at the NFL Playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans. At this writing, it's the 3rd quarter, and the Texans lead, 17-10.

This was the 44th season for the Bengals, and only the 10th time they've made the Playoffs. This was the 10th season for the Texans, and the 1st time they've made it, having also won their first AFC South Division Championship. The last time a Houston team made the NFL Playoffs was the 1993 Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, 18 seasons ago.

The Bengals are coached by Marvin Lewis, who never played in the NFL. The Texans are coached by Gary Kubiak, best known as John Elway's backup on the Denver Bronco teams that won 3 AFC titles but no Super Bowls.

Like a lot of athletes who were good enough to make it to the major league level of their sport, but not good enough to excel at it, they put their love and knowledge of the game to work in coaching. Kubiak became a respecting quarterbacking coach and offensive coordinator before getting the Texans head job.

Lewis, undrafted out of Idaho State, returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach, and worked his way into the pros, becoming the defensive coordinator that built the Baltimore Ravens defense that led them to the 2000 NFL Championship and Super Bowl XXXV -- holding the Giants to 7 points, and those on a kickoff return, making them the only team with no "offensive points" in a Super Bowl. (Of course, by definition, all points are scored by the offense, even if you pick up a fumble or intercept a pass, at that moment, even if you're a 300-pound defensive end, your side becomes the offense.) While it's not the lowest point total ever in a Super Bowl -- in SB VI, in 1972, the Dallas Cowboys held the Miami Dolphins to a field goal -- it is the lowest point total in an NFL championship game, under any name, since the Cleveland Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts in 1964.

*

What about the other teams in the NFL Playoffs?

Giants: Tom Coughlin won Super Bowl XLII, and got the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game in only the franchise's 2nd season. But while he set Syracuse University's pass-reception record on a team that had Larry Csonka and Floyd Little in its backfield, he went undrafted by the NFL. He coached at Syracuse, and made his name as Boston College's quarterbacks coach, turning a 5-foot-9-and-3/4 kid named Doug Flutie into a Heisman Trophy winner. He coached with Philadelphia and Green Bay before joining Bill Parcells' Giant staff, then became BC's head man before coaching the Jags and the Giants.

New England Patriots: Bill Belichick has won 3 Super Bowls -- perhaps by cheating -- but as a player, went right from college to working for a pro coach, Ted Marchibroda of the Baltimore Colts, and began his coaching rise that way, including coaching on Parcells' staff, along with Coughlin and some other names that became head coaches. I don't know what Coughlin learned from watching Belichick, but Belichick's been a head man in 4 Super Bowls, all of them close, and Coughlin's Giants are the only one to beat him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin, like Coughlin, set receiving records at his school, William & Mary, but went undrafted. He coached under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and when Bill Cowher left the Steelers they hired Tomlin, who has now led them to 2 AFC titles and a Super Bowl win.

New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton was one of the 1987 strikebreakers, playing 3 games for Chicago's "Spare Bears." Like Fox, he was on Jim Fassel's staff for the 2000 NFC Champion Giants, and led the Saints to their first Super Bowl appearance and win.

Green Bay Packers: Mike McCarthy went to Baker University, an NAIA school in Kansas -- there's the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A), there's the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA_, there's NCAA Division II, there's NCAA Division III... and then there's the NAIA. But McCarthy made his way to the nearby Kansas City Chiefs, where he was on a staff that got them to the 1993-94 AFC Championship Game, the closest the franchise has gotten to the Super Bowl since 1969-70. Maybe some of the Chiefs' veteran quarterback, Joe Montana, rubbed off on him. He became a well-regarded quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator before getting the Pack head job, and in the past 2 seasons has led them to a Super Bowl win and a 15-1 season which makes them the favorites to do it again.

Denver Broncos: Jon Fox played at San Diego State, where he was a teammate of Herman "You play to win the game!" Edwards, but went undrafted. Prior to his current job, his jobs including defensive coordinator for the Giants under Jim Fassel and the head job with the Carolina Panthers, whom he led to the 2003 NFC Championship before losing Super Bowl XXXVIII to Belichick's Pats.

Atlanta Falcons: Mike Smith was the defensive MVP at East Tennessee State University, but 1 year in Canada was the limit of his pro playing experience. Like Marvin Lewis, he was on Brian Billick's Ravens staff before being hired in Atlanta. He has taken a franchise that was a horror show after the Michael Vick fiasco and turned it into a very respectable unit again.

San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh is almost an exception to what I'm suggesting is a rule. The son of Jack Harbaugh, an assistant coach to Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan, he became Michigan's quarterback, got the Bears into the Playoffs a couple of times, and got the Indianapolis Colts to the 1995 AFC Championship Game. He was a member of the Oakland Raiders staff that won the 2002 AFC Championship, then was named head coach at the University of San Diego and Stanford University before being named Niners head man earlier this year. He seems to have singlehandedly turned Alex Smith from one of the biggest first-pick-in-the-draft busts ever into a Playoff quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens: Jim's older brother John Harbaugh never played in the NFL, having been a defensive back at Miami University of Ohio. The brothers' father, Jack Harbaugh, was an assistant to University of Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who had played at Miami and recommended John to the school. He spent 10 years on Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles staff before getting the Ravens job.

Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz played at Georgetown University, the Washington, D.C.-based school far better known for its basketball team. He was a Titans assistant under Jeff Fisher and helped them win the 1999 AFC Title and make more Playoff appearances in the 2000s. After the Lions bottomed out with their 2008 0-16 season, he was brought in, and has made them a Playoff team in just 3 years. Considering that this is his first head job, and what he had to work with at the start, this may be the most amazing NFL coaching job in a long time.


*

"Okay, Mike," I can hear you say, "this theory of yours makes sense for the moment. But is it historically true?"

Let's see. First, let's start counting from 1933 onward. Why? Two reasons: First, it was the first season in which there was an official NFL Championship Game; second, we're now getting out of the era of player-coaches, men who were playing and coaching at the same time.

1933 Chicago Bears: George Halas. Good player, not a great one. In the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a coach and owner, much more than as a player.

1934 New York Giants: Steve Owen. Good player, not a great one. In the Hall of Fame as a coach, not a player.

1935 Detroit Lions: George "Potsy" Clark. I can't find much information about his playing career, which suggests he was, at best, ordinary.

1936 Green Bay Packers: Earl "Curly" Lambeau. Good player, not a great one. In the Hall of Fame as a coach, not a player.

1937 Washington Redskins: Ray Flaherty. An exceptional player, helping the Giants win the 1927 NFL Championship (in the pre-title game era). His Number 1 is, by some sources, the first uniform number to be retired by any team in any sport. In the Hall as a player.

1938 Giants: Owen.

1939 Packers: Lambeau.

1940 Bears: Halas.

1941 Bears: Halas.

1942 Redskins: Flaherty.

1943 Bears: Heartley "Hunk" Anderson, a former Notre Dame star, and Luke Johnsos (not "Johnson") were co-head coaches while Halas was a Navy officer during World War II. Although Anderson was a very good collegiate player, neither had starred in the NFL.

1944 Packers: Lambeau.

1945 Cleveland Rams: Adam Walsh. Not to be confused with the boy of the same name, whose kidnapping and murder inspired his father John Walsh to start the TV show America's Most Wanted, this Adam Walsh was one of the linemen known as the "Seven Mules," blocking for the "Four Horsemen," that helped Notre Dame win the 1924 National Championship. But he never played in the pros -- although by the standards of the time he would have been considered an excellent prospect. Despite winning the title, the Rams did not draw well in Cleveland, and became the only team in North American major league sports history to win a "world championship" and then move for the next season, to Los Angeles.

1946 Bears: Halas.

1947 Chicago Cardinals: Jimmy Conzelman was one of the NFL's first stars, and was player-coach of the 1928 NFL Champions, the Providence Steam Roller. (Officially, the name had no S on the end -- why, I don't know. But most people just called them the Steam Rollers, anyway, and some surviving artifacts of the team such as banners and game programs have the S on the end. The franchise went bust in 1933 due to the Depression.) Conzelman is in the Hall of Fame, mainly as a player.

1948 Philadelphia Eagles: Earle "Greasy" Neale was a very good baseball player, the starting right fielder for the 1919 Cincinnati Reds. He played both Major League Baseball and pro football with Jim Thorpe (albeit in the pre-NFL era). As a football player, he wasn't as good as he was at baseball.

1949 Eagles: Neale.

1950 Cleveland Browns: Paul Brown was one of the greatest minds the game of football has ever produced, but he never played in the pros.

1951 Los Angeles Rams: Joe Stydahar played on Halas' 1940 "Monsters of the Midway" and is legitimately in the Hall as a player.

1952 Detroit Lions: Raymond "Buddy" Parker played on the Lions' 1935 title team, but wasn't a great player.

1953 Lions: Parker.

1954 Browns: Brown.

1955 Browns: Brown.

1956 Giants: Jim Lee Howell played 10 years for the Giants and was a member of their 1938 title team, but was not particularly noteworthy as a player. As a head coach, he's remembered less for leading the Giants to this title than for his assistants: Offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry.

1957 Lions: George Wilson played for Halas' 1940 Bears, like Stydahar; unlike Stydahar, he was an unremarkable player. But he did lead the Lions to what, for the moment, remains their last title, after Parker quit in a huff in the preceding off-season. Wilson was also the first head coach of the Dolphins. He should not be confused with George "Wildcat" Wilson who in the 1920s starred at the University of Washington and then played under Conzelman on the 1928 Champion Steam Roller. Oddly, I know a pair of brothers named George and Merle Wilson -- but Merle is the Dolphin fan, while that George likes the Redskins.

1958 Baltimore Colts: Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank is the only man to be head coach of both an NFL Champion and an AFL Champion, the 1968-69 Jets. But he never played pro ball.

1959 Colts: Ewbank.

1960 Philadelphia Eagles: Lawrence "Buck" Shaw was a teammate of Hunk Anderson on Knute Rockne's 1920 Notre Dame team that won the National Championship, but he never played pro ball.

1961 Packers: Vince Lombardi was a member of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" team that made Fordham University a formidable side in the late 1930s, but he never played in the pros.

1962 Packers: Lombardi.

1963 Bears: Halas.

1964 Browns: Blanton Collier is the most recent man to lead a Northern Ohio-based team to a World Championship, but he never played pro ball.

1965 Packers: Lombardi.

1966 Packers: Lombardi.

1967 Packers: Lombardi.

1968 New York Jets: Ewbank.

1969 Kansas City Chiefs: Hank Stram was an exceptional all-around athlete in high school, but World War II interrupted his college days and he went right into coaching in peacetime.

1970 Baltimore Colts: Don McCafferty played only 1 season of pro ball.

1971 Dallas Cowboys: Tom Landry was a very good player, a 2-way star for the University of Texas in the late 1940s, with Bobby Layne of the 1950s Lions as his quarterback. When the NFL went 2-platoon in the early '50s, he was the first player to make his mark as purely a defensive back. He became one of the great defensive minds in the game's history, building the unit that became the first one to lead fans to chant "De-FENSE!" as the Giants won the 1956 NFL Championship. He became the Cowboys' first head coach in 1960 and was their only one until 1988. He's in the Hall as a coach, but could have been elected as a player.

1972 Miami Dolphins: Don Shula was a good defensive back for the Colts, but not a great one.

1973 Dolphins: Shula.

1974 Pittsburgh Steelers: Chuck Noll was a very good 2-way lineman for Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns, but not a great one.

1975 Steelers: Noll.

1976 Oakland Raiders: John Madden was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1959, but wrecked his knee in training camp and never played a pro down. But that worked out wonderfully for him because Eagle quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was studying game film in the locker room and called him over, and taught Madden how to analyze game film. Madden couldn't play on the Eagles' 1960 NFL Champions, but he became an assistant in the AFL with the San Diego Chargers and then the Raiders, and was one of the few coaches in the era before the 16-game schedule to win 100 regular-season games in 10 years.

1977 Cowboys: Landry.

1978 Steelers: Noll.

1979 Steelers: Noll.

1980 Oakland Raiders: Tom Flores was the first-ever starting quarterback for the Raiders, but was an ordinary player, unlike later Raider signal-callers Daryle Lamonica, George Blanda, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Jay Schroeder and Rich Gannon.

1981 San Francisco 49ers: Although Bill Walsh he played football and boxed at San Jose State University, and served as a worthy assistant to Paul Brown with the original Cincinnati Bengals, he never played a down in the pros.

1982 Washington Redskins: Joe Gibbs went right into coaching after graduating from San Diego State, and never played a down in the pros.

1983 Los Angeles Raiders: Flores.

1984 49ers: Walsh.

1985 Chicago Bears: Mike Ditka is in the Hall as a player, and justifiably so, as he was the first offensive end to be a modern tight end, and helped Halas win his last title with the 1963 Bears and Landry his first with the 1971 Cowboys.

1986 Giants: Bill Parcells was drafted by the Detroit Lions but cut before the season started, and never played in the NFL.

1987 Redskins: Gibbs.

1988 49ers: Walsh.

1989 49ers: George Seifert never played in the pros.

1990 Giants: Parcells.

1991 Redskins: Gibbs.

1992 Cowboys: Jimmy Johnson played for the University of Arkansas' 1964 team that won a split National Championship, but never played in the pros. He made his name coaching at Oklahoma State and the University of Miami (the one in Florida, not the one in Ohio). His college teammate, Jerry Jones, bought the Cowboys, fired Landry, and hired Johnson, enabling him to become the first man to be head coach of both a college National Champion and a Super Bowl winner. But Jones drove Johnson nuts (not a long drive), Johnson quit, and Jones hired legendary University of Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who preceded them both as an Arkansas player, and then became the second such coach.

1993 Cowboys: Johnson.

1994 49ers: Seifert.

1995 Cowboys: Barry Switzer played at Arkansas, but went right into the U.S. Army and then into coaching after his discharge.

1996 Packers: Mike Holmgren has been called the best high school quarterback the City of San Francisco has ever produced -- hard to imagine, considering how fat he was by the time he became an NFL head coach -- and was a backup on the 1967 University of Southern California team that won a National Championship, thanks to another San Franciscan, O.J. Simpson. Holmgren was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but washed out with both them and the Jets before the season began, and never played in the pros.

1997 Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan was a quarterback at Eastern Illinois University, but a freak injury in practice ruptured a kidney, nearly killing him and ending his chances at a pro career. He was 2-0 in Super Bowls with the Broncos, the 2nd win coming at the expense of the Atlanta Falcons, coached by Dan Reeves -- who had a good pro career with Landry's Cowboys, first as a running back (SB VI) and then as an assistant coach (SB XII -- same with Ditka), but was 0-3 in Super Bowls as Bronco head man.

1998 Broncos: Shanahan.

1999 St. Louis Rams: Dick Vermeil was a backup quarterback at San Jose State, and never had a chance to play pro ball. But he's been named a Coach of the Year in high school, junior college, Division I-A (leading UCLA to win a Pacific Eight title and a Rose Bowl) and the NFL, getting the Eagles to their first Championship Game appearance in 20 years (losing Super Bowl XV) and getting the Rams to their first World Championship in 49 years (winning Super Bowl XXXIV).

2000 Baltimore Ravens: Brian Billick was drafted by the 49ers but was cut by them and the Cowboys and never played pro ball.

2001 New England Patriots: Belichick, as I said, never played pro ball.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jon Gruden was a backup quarterback at Ohio's University of Dayton and never had much of a chance to play in the NFL.

2003 Patriots: Belichick.

2004 Patriots: Belichick.

2005 Steelers: Bill Cowher ends a 20-year run of Super Bowl-winning coaches who never played so much as a single down in the NFL. A linebacker, he wasn't a great player, but he did help the Browns' "Kardiac Kids" dethrone their arch-rivals, the Steelers, as AFC Central Division Champions in 1980.

2006 Indianapolis Colts: Tony Dungy was a defensive back who didn't play long in the NFL, but did get a ring with the 1978 Steelers. He then became a boy-wonder coach, serving under Noll on the Steelers, Marty Schottenheimer on the Chiefs and Dennis Green on the Minnesota Vikings before getting the Bucs' job. Fired right before they could take the last step, he was quickly hired by the Colts, and led them to their first title since moving from Baltimore.

2007 Giants: Coughlin, as I said, never played pro ball.

2008 Steelers: Tomlin, as I said, never played pro ball.

2009 Saints: Payton, as I said, was a strikebreaker, but otherwise never played pro ball.

2010 Packers: McCarthy, as I said, never played pro ball.

2011 To Be Determined.

*

So, counting multiple winners multiple times, counting the 1943 Anderson/Johnsos entry as one player, and counting coaches who didn't play pro ball at all as "mediocre players":

Great players: 7
Good players: 20
Mediocre players: 50

Being charitable, the only "great players" to have become title-winning NFL coaches in the last 60 years are Tom Landry and his former player and assistant Mike Ditka. Being more specific, the only Hall of Fame player to have become a title-winning NFL coach in the last 60 years is Ditka.

Consider some of the Hall of Fame players who have become NFL head coaches from 1951 onward: Sammy Baugh, Tom Fears, Norm Van Brocklin, Otto Graham, Joe Schmidt, Bart Starr, Mike Singletary. But since Stydahar coached the ’51 Rams to the title, the only other HOF players to be head coaches of teams that even got into the NFL Championship Game (1952-65) or the Super Bowl (1966 season through 2010) is Forrest Gregg, who played on Lombardi’s 5 Packer titles and Landry’s 1st Cowboy title. (So did Herb Adderley, who’s never been an NFL head coach. He and Gregg are the only NFL players to have played on 6 title-winning teams.)

I'm not the only person to think about this idea. It's long been suggested that great players, when they become coaches, get frustrated with players under them who aren't as good as they were, and even more so with players who are good but don't put up the kind of effort the coach once did.

I'll look at the other major sports in subsequent entries.

Oh, and it's a final from Reliant Stadium in Houston: Texans 31, Bengals 10. This is the first time since December 29, 1991 -- 19 years and 9 days -- since a Houston team has won an NFL Playoff game. That time? At the Astrodome, the Oilers won 17-10 over... the Jets.