Thursday, November 29, 2007

Junior class

While checking something for a story I was reading at work tonight, I stumbled across this tidbit of information that hammered home just how ancient (in a football sense) Junior Seau actually is, and I have to share:

Seau entered the NFL in 1990 as the San Diego Chargers' No 1 pick out of Southern Cal. In that same draft, the Patriots' selections included - and consider this the warning that you're about to suffer terrifying flashbacks to some brutal football - linebacker Chris Singleton, defensive lineman Ray Agnew, quarterback Tommy Hodson, and wide receiver Greg McMurtry, among assorted others whose football legacies exist only in their own minds and in the small type of an old Patriots media guide. (Can you hear me, Ventson Donelson?)

Seau, who went fifth overall, very well could have become a Patriot then and there. You might recall that New England originally held the No. 3 choice in that draft, but dealt it to Seattle for the eighth and 10th picks, which they promptly spent on Singleton (who lasted all three seasons with the Pats) and Agnew (who played five nondescript seasons for the Pats and concluded his career with the '00 Rams).

As for the No. 3 pick, Seattle used it on mammoth U of Miami defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy . . . who, coincidentally, we found out today is one of the new finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Full circle and all that.

So, in sum: The Patriots could have had Kennedy or Seau, who as far as I could tell is the last active player from that draft. General manager Patrick Sullivan - the son of original Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, which I suppose makes him a less-rich, less-smug version of Jonathan Kraft - dealt his way into getting Singleton and Agnew. Shrewd, son. Shrewd.

Though you know I'm too cynical to put much stock in tidy lessons and teachable moments, I suppose you can find something of the sort here without much searching. Should you ever catch yourself taking this glorious current era for granted, just take one look at ol' No. 55, a Foxboro favorite 17 years after he first could have become a Patriot, and suddenly those days when this dynamic, dynastic team was the league laughingstock won't seem so long ago.

And if that doesn't sufficiently humble you, well, I might just have to mention Tommy Hodson again.

(By the way, here's a fun do-over on how that draft should have gone.)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tito, get me a tissue

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .

1. It's reassuring that the Red Sox took care of their most personnel business early in the offseason, signing Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling to reasonable, fair deals, and all but ensuring that next year's team will look a whole lot like the one that ended this season so triumphantly. But there is still one more matter that needs to be resolved in the next few weeks for this offseason to be considered a complete success: Theo Epstein must give Terry Francona, who has one year remaining on his contract, the lucrative extension he deserves. You know how I feel about Francona, and I trust those of you with clear eyes and at least a dollop of common sense feel the same: He's is the best Red Sox manager of this and perhaps any era. There is no one else I would rather have running this baseball team, and he deserves to be at the top of the managerial pay scale. I have little reason to believe this is the case right now, but if Theo and his underlings somehow actually subscribe to the Billy Beane theory that the importance of a manager is vastly overrated, then they are making a grievous, inexcusable error. Francona is necessary. They'd better realize as much.

2. Someone with an appreciation and knowledge of defensive line play, answer me this: Is Richard Seymour doing the kinds of things that don't show up on the stat sheet - commanding a double team, collapsing the pocket, making life easier for the linebackers, etc. - or is he, as the stat sheet suggests, doing nothing at all? Because right now, I'm beginning to think it's the latter, and I'm wondering what became of the game-altering beast who wreaked such havoc a few seasons ago.

3. Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox' Vice President of Schmaltz who is leaving the Red Sox for the Dodgers, always struck me as the Smithers to Larry Lucchino's Mr. Burns, and I have to assume he's to blame for such insidious adominations as the Red Sox Nation Presidency and that trainwreck dating show on NESN. Yet when Steinberg got it right, he really got it right, most notably regarding the pitch-perfect 2004 ring ceremony, and I suppose the fact that the Sox are more popular than ever has at least something to do with his marketing savvy. I won't miss him, but then, as a lifelong and eternally loyal Sox fan, I'm not who he was trying to appeal to anyway.

4. TATB's two favorite Celtics moments from the past week: 1) Ray Allen's improbable, delightful buzzer-beater at Charlotte, which happened only after Paul Pierce had the presence of mind to feed him the ball rather than heave up an ill-advised attempt of his own. Hey, he's learning. 2) Rajon Rondo's behind-the-back fake that deked Derek Fisher out of his tube socks, an impossibly athletic move that Rondo finished off with a layup. Eddie House was so pumped and jacked after Rondo's highlight-reel move that he comically ran onto the court and whacked him with a towel as play continued. Man, this is a fun team.

5. You know your perspective as a Red Sox fan has undergone a healthy change when you hear reports that the Yankees are in trade discussions with the Twins for ace Johan Santana, and your initial reaction is something along the lines of this: Huh. I guess we'll just have to keep Buchholz and Ellsbury then. Seriously, it's a refreshingly satisfying feeling to know that the Yankees are chasing the Sox now, and in order to get the 28-year-old two-time Cy Young winner, they'll have to give up some of that quality youth (hopefully Philip Hughes and Robinson Cano) that their ancient, thin roster so desperately needs.

6. I still don't think I was wrong in assuming the discovery of a 10-pound hairball in a person's stomach had something to do with Fred Smerlas.

7. Ideally, they'd both be back next season, and I'd say right now there's decent chance they both will be. But I'll ask the question anyway: If the Patriots can retain only one marquee-free-agent-to-be, who would you prefer it to be? Randy Moss or Asante Samuel? Discuss.

8. I think Bill Belichick is much more sentimental than his dour public persona would suggest - he's given Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde their moments in the sun in recent seasons for no reason other than it was a nice, respectful gesture to a couple of old pros - and it's going to be fascinating to see if his obvious admiration for Troy Brown affects the decision to add him to the active roster or not. I hate to say it, but at the moment, there just doesn't seem to be a spot for ol' No. 80 on the offensive side of the ball, especially with Jabar Gaffney being so dependable as a fourth receiver and Kelley Washington such a force on special teams. Though, come to think of it, the way things are going with the DBs lately, maybe Brown will be playing nickel back for this team by December.

9. It won't happen this year, but Tim Raines, one of the notable newbies on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot revealed yesterday, deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. The man they called "Rock" didn't get his due for a couple of reasons: he played in the same era as the transcendent Rickey Henderson, he spent his finest seasons in the distant outpost of Montreal, and he was tarnished by a drug problem early in his career. But Raines was one of the most dynamic, efficient, and underrated offensive performers of the '80s, and he was a superior player to, among other Hall of Famers, Lou Brock. (Go ahead: look it up. Or better yet, read this.) Like I said, it will never happen on the first ballot, but I do hope one of these years, Raines gets his just reward. And his ex-teammate and mentor Andre Dawson belongs there with him.

10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Anytime an ex-Maine Guide/recovering coke head writes a book, you know I'm readin'.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

TATB Live: Patriots 31, Eagles 28

While watching one of today's junior varsity games a few hours ago - the Chargers-Ravens, I think it was - the color commentator opined with a certain level of confidence and a high level of ignorance that no one will beat the Patriots this season, but that the Patriots "will beat themselves," his point being that they will suffer a mental letdown one of these Sundays, and that's when they will lose.

I'm not sure who said commentator was, but he clearly suffered multiple concussions at some point in his career. The 2007 Patriots will never lack for motivation. Because of the over-the-top fallout from the CameraGate nonsense, this is the most vengeful, focused, angry, motivated, downright pissed off football team you, me, and any other football-watcher is possession of a shred of common sense has ever seen.

They may lose somewhere along the road, though at the moment I tend to doubt it. But should it happen, it won't be because they beat themselves. And it sure as hell won't be tonight against A.J. Feeley and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Let's go for 11-0. Gentlemen, start your engines.

. . . And as I'm writing that intro/rebuttal, Asante Samuel picks off a Feeley duck and takes it to the house, becoming the 20th Patriot to score a touchdown this season. It's 7-0, New England, and Tom Brady hasn't stepped on the field yet. I believe we can file that one under "Going According To Plan."

Well, I guess I'm going to have to eat at least a few of those words I just wrote. The Eagles just strung together a 14-play, 77-yard drive featuring several quality throws by Feeley and capped off by a one-yard leap into the end zone by fantasy football franchise player Brian Westbrook, knotting the score at 7-7. "You'd have to call that shocking," Al Michaels says, and I think most Patriots fans are nodding in agreement right about now.

The Pats' offense takes the field for the first time tonight with 6:31 to play in the first quarter. Did I mention how impressive that Philly drive was? Dammit, it's only the first quarter, and I'm already exposed as a hypocrite.

Rodney Harrison has already limped off tonight (it didn't look serious, but you never know) and Brady has taken a hellacious hit that you could tell he was feeling. No, the karma definitely is not good thus far.

The Patriots come out in a hurry-up offense with four wide receivers, including Kevin Faulk lining up wide on at least one play. I'm getting Air Coryell flashbacks, and you know I'm digging it. Someone let me know if you see J.J. Jefferson.

Now that's what you call a goal-line offense: Mike Vrabel at tight end, Junior Seau at fullback in the I Formation, and Heath Evans at tailback. Surprisingly, the play that gives the Pats a 14-7 lead isn't a pass to touchdown-machine Vrabel, but a one-yard blast into the end zone by Evans. All in all, an impressive, effortless answer to the Eagles' drive.

Says John Madden: "You wonder, where is Laurence Maroney?" Actually, I'm not sure it was Madden. It might have been that Frank TV guy for all I know. But it's a valid point. It seems like a long time ago that we were giddy about Maroney's explosiveness and potential. I don't know if he needs to grow up or his nagging injuries are holding him back, but I sense that there are some doubts as to whether he is the back of the future here after all. Heck, he might not be as good as his U of Minnesota runningmate, Dallas's Marion Barber III.

Maybe it's because I watched so much horrendous quarterback play today - I just cannot believe Kyle Boller and J.P. Losman were ever first-round picks - but Feeley actually looks more than competent, just as he did in 2004 when he was in Miami and the Dolphins upset the Patriots in December. He and Westbrook have the Eagles moving the ball effectively again, and the Patriots' defense looks out of sync and a little bit slow right now.

Junior Seau on Westbrook: "He's one of those three-dimensional players you can't stop, you've just got to try to contain him." Somewhere, Dan Patrick nods in approval.

Well, well, what do we have here . . . a competitive ball game? I'm not ready to say the Patriots are in for a four-quarter battle just yet, but Feeley just connected with Greg Lewis on a dazzling deep ball right out of the Brady/Moss highlight reel - really, Feeley made a perfect throw and Lewis a sensational catch - and it's even at 14. I'll concede this much right now. The Pats aren't going to cover that 24-point spread.

The Eagles are playing like they have nothing to lose, attempting and recovering an onside kick after the TD. "They're taking it to them," Madden says, and there's something disconcerting about that truth. Fortunately, the Eagles go three and out after Feeley stunts the possession by falling for a sack on first down.

Brady has completed four straight passes, three to Moss. It's like Brady and the offense has suddenly switched into "Quit ------ around" mode.

Five straight . . . six straight . . .

The Patriots are moving the ball effectively, but Philly is getting a consistent pass rush off both ends. The Patriots' offensive line has been outstanding all season, but suddenly the tackles are looking a little Max Lane-ish. (You know, I take that back. Matt Light with two peg legs would be more effective tackle than Reggie White's whipping boy.)

I won't say a field goal that gives you a 17-14 lead is a lost opportunity, but with first and goal inside the Philly 10, you'd think the Pats would be able to punch it into the end zone. But Brady gets sacked, Welker can't bust a tackle on third down to get into the end zone, and Gostkowski bangs home the three. That should be Maroney territory, you know.

Feeley is picking apart the Pats' secondary. Jeez, now there's a sentence I didn't think I'd write tonight. But he's doing a great job of getting rid of the ball just before the Patriots' pass rush arrives . . . and dammit, he just did it again, hitting Lewis on a post pattern for the go-ahead score. It's 21-17, Eagles, and the Patriots have shown no indication that they're capable of stopping them. Better hope for some shrewd halftime adjustments, folks, because whatever they're doing right now is not working.

Lewis has as many catches tonight (5) as he had all season coming into the game. In a completely unrelated note, remember when Eugene Wilson looked like a future Pro Bowler? He's inactive tonight despite not being on the injury report at the end of the week. What an inexplicable fall from grace.

The Patriots have allowed scoring drives of 77, 76, and 70 yards tonight. To an offense led by A.J. Feeley. At this point I will note that I've seen more of Eddie Jackson and Rashad Baker tonight than I have Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour, and I wish that were one of my usual exaggerations.

Despite Lito Sheppard and friends doing a decent job of keeping Moss from getting deep, it appears the Eagles can't stop the Patriots, either. With typical precision, Brady passes the Pats down the field (I don't recall a single running play on the drive, and Maroney, apparently the Gene Wilson of the offense, still has not seen the field tonight), and a strike to Jabar Gaffney gives New England a 24-21 halftime lead that it probably doesn't deserve.

Four quick halftime thoughts, one of which actually has to do with this game:

1. Feeley is playing admirably tonight, but you have to figure the Pats will solve him in the second half. Belichick is a master of adjustments, of course, and you have to figure Feeley really isn't that sharp given that he supposedly ditched US soccer babe Heather Mitts.

2. Costas, Collinsworth, and Olbermann (a hat-trick of look-at-me blowhards) make me long for the days of Brent Musburger, Phyllis George, and Irv Cross. Especially Phyllis George.

3. At this point, Archie Manning has to wondering if Eli is really the milk man's spawn.

4. If Peter King still claims Baltimore has a chance to beat the Patriots, he must be drinking crystal meth lattes these days. That team is excruciating, and Brian Billick owes his career to Moss.

Not exactly the way you'd draw up the first possession of the second half, with a penalty on the kickoff, a penalty on first down, a near interception, and a sack in which Brady got rattled by Darren Howard. Fortunately, Patriots punter Chris Hanson (who I'm assuming is a part-time employee) launches a bomb from the end zone, and the coverage team keeps the Eagles on their side of the 50. Time to see about those defensive adjustments . . .

. . . and a much-needed three-and-out by the Eagles, with Rosey Colvin, Ellis Hobbs, Thomas, and Seymour swarming Westbrook on third and 2. So far, so good.

How about taking a deep shot with Moss here? He'll strike at some point, right, or does Brady not have the time to let a deep play develop?

Damn, Wes Welker is just fearless over the middle. It is reminiscent of Troy Brown in his prime, except I don't remember ol' No. 80 taking the shots Welker takes. How does he get out of bed on Monday mornings?

Well, there it was - the deep shot for Moss, I mean. Damn near connected, too, except he couldn't quite hang on to what looked like about a 50-yard gain. Give the Eagles' DBs credit - they're not letting him beat them.

Third down . . , Welker . . . first down.

Dude, check it out - a Maroney sighting! He looks good, too, carrying the ball three times on this drive and hitting the holes with decisiveness rather than falling into his maddening Reggie Dupard happy-feet dance in the backfield. Perhaps sitting him out in the first half was all part of the plan rather than anything more sinister.

Wes Welker is just . . . well, he's just one hell of a football player. Taking a little screen pass from a pressured Brady at midfield, he turns upfield, ducks behind a beastly Stephen Neal block, and zips all the way to the Philly 4. He really does do all those Troy Brown things, doesn't he?

Now that is a wasted opportunity, one that will linger in the Patriots' minds should Philly somehow steal this game. On first down, a Moss touchdown was negated by an offensive pass interference call (which, to be honest, could be called on him much more often than it is). Brady, under siege, threw a pass behind Welker at the 5, and on third down he was hurried and underthrew Watson. It's to Stephen Gostkowski's credit that we assume the three points whenever he trots onto the field within reasonable range, but he hooked this one from 32 yards, and what should have been a 10-point lead is stalled at 3.

I'm not convinced Feeley is even an average quarterback - although considering what constitutes a starting QB these days, I might be selling him short - but I will say that he's playing better tonight than I've seen Donovan McNabb play in quite some time. Philly fans can have a quarterback controversy if they want one.

Michaels: "The Patriots find themselves in a dogfight." (Pause.) "Sorry, poor choice of words." And somewhere, a single tear rolls down Michael Vick's cheek as he snuggles his affectionate new roommate Bubba.

Sorry, no time for jokes. Philly is driving again, and as Madden points out, the Patriots are doing a poor job covering the in-cuts of the Eagles' receivers. Philly may well take the lead here, and at the least Gostkowski's lousy kick looms large.

Third and four at the Pats' 8. Huge, huge play. . . gotta be Westbrook, right?

Nope. Ten plays (all passes, Michaels points out) and 78 yards after the drive began, Feeley hits Reggie Brown on - you guessed it - an inside pattern, and the Eagles take a 28-24 lead. I feel like I'm watching a Pete Carroll team right now, with Randall Gay playing the role of Chris Canty.

Sure-handed Kevin Faulk drops a third and 3 pass deep in Pats territory, and this has officially gotten frustrating.

I've never heard of Nick Cole until this moment, but I'm glad I did. The anonymous Eagle, No. 59 in your program, is called for a neutral zone infraction before the punt, giving the Pats a first down. They must take advantage of this. It's imperative the way this game is going heading into the final 15 minutes.

Madden says he's suspects that the Eagles are frustrating Moss right now, and that leads to an interesting point: this is a great opportunity for Moss to prove that he can be depended on when things are not going well for his team. Because, let's face it, hanging in there during dire or frustrating circumstances has never been one of his personal attributes.

On fourth and 4 from the Philly 35, the Patriots go for it rather than have Gostkowski attempt a 52-yarder. I like the decision, though the play ultimately had no chance. Takeo Spikes, who has lost about three steps since his Cincy days, nonetheless gets to Brady on a blitz, forcing him to underthrow Moss on a short sideline pattern. And I'll say it again: The Patriots' line, fantastic all season, has been absolutely porous tonight.

Andrea Kremer - who isn't shy about giving Brady the ol' Moonie Eyes - informs us that Colvin (foot) and Gay (back) have gone to the locker room with injuries. Cruel as it sounds, I'd be more concerned if they were actually playing well.

Pats inside the red zone again, thanks to two more huge catches from Welker, including one on third and 9 that extended the drive. I think that gives him 11 tonight. I wonder how Moss likes being the decoy?

Okay, Kool-Aid (check out the ridiculous door on his ride), all is forgiven. Maroney blows through the guts of the Eagles' defense from nine yards out - seriously, it's the best run I can recall him making this season - and the Pats retake the lead, 31-28.

Just under seven minutes left. Philly starts inside the Pats' 10. A championship-caliber defense makes a play right here, doesn't it?

Maybe, but the current version of the Pats' defense doesn't. Feeley hits Lewis for 11 yards on third and 3, and the Eagles wiggle out of a bad situation.

Feeley is killing the Pats over the middle, completing three straight passes for three straight first downs well into New England territory. What the hell is this, a prevent?

God bless you, Asante Samuel. Pay the man, Mr. Kraft. Pay the man!

. . . and after No. 22's second pick of the night, running under a Feeley floater in the end zone like he was the intended receiver (now that's the A.J. Feeley I used to know), the Pats convert on third and 6 on a slant to Gaffney, who has been immense tonight. Philly has just one timeout remaining, so one more first down ends this thing, and we can all exhale.

"Who will cowboy up on Sunday Night Football"? Man, I hope Millar gets royalties for that commercial crap.

Philly gets it back after three Maroney runs take time off the clock, but Feeley, who apparently turned back into a pumpkin around 11:15, hits James Sanders in the numbers with his first pass, and that'll do it. The Patriots are unbeaten. Still.

A parting thought while we wait for the '72 Dolphins to put away the champagne glasses: I guess there are two ways at looking at tonight's developments. First, you have to figure there will be nights like this even if the Pats do ultimately run the table, and it is to the immense credit of Brady (who was outstanding tonight despite taking a beating that would have put Tony Eason in a permanent fetal position) and Wes Welker (13 catches, 149 yards), among others, that they won this game when it so easily could have been lost. Despite tonight's far from perfect performance, I still disagree with that nitwit broadcaster who said the Patriots will eventually beat themselves; they're the last team in the history of football that will beat itself. But that brings us to the other way of looking at this - Philadelphia followed the Colts' approach to attacking this team, and it damn near worked. They pressured Brady constantly, took advantage of the underbelly of the Patriots' pass defense (I wish they had just one more quality linebacker who can run), and had the talent in the defensive backfield to hassle Moss. So I guess the lingering question is this: Is there another team on the schedule who has the personnel, coaching, and discipline to pull off the "blueprint," as Madden called it? I still doubt it, but it certainly adds a little more intrigue to the next five weeks.

Wait! Four more things I forgot to mention:

1. The Patriots had one sack tonight. Feeley did a fantastic job getting rid of the ball quickly, but that's no excuse for Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, and Seymour to be invisible against the Philly passing game.

2. I was encouraged by what I saw from Maroney in the second half, and frankly, they are going to need that if this season is going to end with a victory. The Eagles obviously had little respect for the Pats' running game, and while the spread offense was effective in the first half, it's alarming that they had just one carry from a running back in the first 30 minutes.

3. Keeping Brady healthy is obviously the key to, well, everything, and he took way too many bone-rattling shots tonight. This simply cannot happen again.

4. Samuel really must be signed. He's convinced me. He's an elite cornerback, he does the things Ty Law used to do, and the drop-off from him to Hobbs and Gay is like going from Mike Haynes to Elvis Patterson. All right, so that's hyperbole (hey, it's late), but you get the point. He's essential, and he's as big a reason as anyone that they survived tonight.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Late innings

The Fox column is on hiatus until pitchers and catchers head south, yet I've still got baseball on the brain, so let's chase some headlines . . .

The Red Sox re-sign Mike Lowell to a three-year, $37.5 million contract: I realize I'm late to the party on this . . . but c'mon, what's not to like? Great deal for the ball club, and a nice raise for the admirable third baseman as well, a classic win-win situation. I'm skeptical that Lowell will ever duplicate his sensational '07 season, but then, I was skeptical he would hit in the second half for the first time in his career, and all he did was win the World Series MVP award, so it wouldn't be the first time he made me look like a boob. And even if Lowell does fall off to somewhere slightly below his career norms offensively - say, if his numbers average something like .275-17-80 over the next three seasons - he'll still be well worth the sticker price, if only for his dependable defense and, yes, steadying influence in the clubhouse. Sometimes I'm suspicious that the recognition a player gets for his leadership often runs parallel to his level of cooperation with the media, but I think in the bilingual Lowell's case it's a legitimately valuable attribute. I'm glad he's still on our side, and with him and the Big Schill sticking around, it's nice to have a drama-free offseason and a chance to root for essentially the same core group next season. (By the way, isn't it just strange seeing Lowell in a Yankees uniform on that baseball card? It reminds of how disconcerting it was to open a pack of baseball cards and find this when I was 10 years old. I can't imagine the were serious about bringing their former farmhand back to play first base, though it would have been comical in this sense: Lowell would have been the second Yankee infielder in recent seasons to switch positions in order to avoid puncturing the massive ego of an inferior defender at the same position. Right, Captain?

The Angels sign Torii Hunter to a five-year, $90 million contract: I like Hunter a lot. He's charismatic and fun on the field and off, one of the most engaging interviews in any sport and a player whose passion for the game shines through in his play. He has 59 homers and 205 RBIs the past two seasons, and he's probably good for 25 homers and 90 or so RBIs a year into his mid-30s. And while all the homer-heisting "Web Gems" he made at the Metrodome probably caused him to get more credit for his defense than he deserves - should the Twins somehow acquire Covelli Crisp, he'd be an upgrade with the leather, despite what the Gold Glove voters say - Hunter remains a top-notch center fielder, even at age 32. But - and there's always a "but" around here, isn't there? - Angels rookie GM Tony Reagins is making a mistake if he thinks Hunter is the guy who's going to make life easier for Vlad Guerrero. With a .271 career average and a .324 on-base percentage, he's more suited as a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter rather than as a lineup anchor for a team with championship aspirations; to put it another way, his most similar career comparisons are Carl Everett and Preston Wilson. Zoinks, Scooby. Now, if the Angels should land Marlins enigma Miguel Cabrera - who I'd love to someday see in Boston despite his Body By Nutty Bar - then give Reagins a pat on the back and praise him for remaking the feeble Anaheim lineup (remember Maicer Izturis, No. 5 hitter?), because a heart of the order of Guerrero-Cabrera-Hunter makes them the favorite in the AL. But Hunter alone? Not enough.

The Twins reportedly offer ace Johan Santana an $80 million extension: If that's not a cue for the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, and a half-dozen or so other teams to get their trade proposals into Billy Smith, pronto, I don't know what is. If Santana goes to free agency after next season, he'll make twice that, easily; hell, the offer is $47 million less than what the Giants gave a declining Barry Zito last offseason. So I guess the real question for the TATB readership is this: Would you give up, say, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and another legitimate prospect such as Jed Lowrie, to bring the two-time Cy Young winner to Boston? The hunch here is that Theo Epstein, who is prideful about his "player development machine" and greatly values having low-priced, high-ceiling talent on the big-league roster, would be extremely reluctant to pay such a price, unless there's a concern about Buchholz that we're not aware of. I'm also curious if the Sox suspect, as I do, that Santana showed subtle signs of decline last season at age 28 - after all, his ERA (3.35) was the highest it's been since 2001, his ERA+ of 130 was his worst since '02, and inexplicably, he allowed a league-high 33 homers. Sure, it's fun to daydream of a Santana-Beckett 1-2 punch. But given the enormous cost - not so much in terms of salary but in terms of talent going to Minnesota - I imagine he'll end up in New York or L.A. instead. Besides, hasn't Boston plundered enough star power from the Twin Cities already?

The White Sox sign reliever Scott Linebrink to a four-year, $19 million deal: White Sox GM Kenny Williams is beginning to make me wonder if Chicago's 2005 World Championship was a happy accident. We all adore Orlando Cabrera around here, and White Sox fans will as well, but it made little sense to trade Jon Garland, a durable 28-year-old starting pitcher with 46 wins the past three seasons and a career ERA+ of 106, for a 33-year-old shortstop who had a subpar OPS+ of 95 in what at first glance looks like a very productive season (.301-8-86). I'm not saying Cabrera won't be a quality player for the White Sox - watching him play steady and occasionally spectacular shortstop every day might be enough for White Sox fans to be okay with the deal. It's just that I think Williams dramatically underestimated what he could fetch for Garland during an offseason in which the mediocre likes of Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse are expected to sign for $8-to-$10 million per season. Chances are he could have got a heftier ransom than merely Cabrera for Garland, but at least an argument can be made for the White Sox' side in this case. There's is no logical explanation why Williams threw all that loot at Linebrink, a 30-year-old setup man who had a WHIP of 1.50 with the Brewers last season after he was dealt from San Diego. It was telling that Padres GM Kevin Towers, who knows a thing or two about putting together a pitching staff, swapped Linebrink for three prospects last July despite the fact that San Diego was in the midst of a playoff race; the Padres clearly believed that Linebrink's best days were behind him, and I'm fairly certain that Williams is the sole dissenter from that opinion right now. I realize Chicago's bullpen was flammable last season. Linebrink will do little to prevent the White Sox' late innings from going up in flames again.

David Eckstein is reportedly asking for "Lugo money," i.e. a three- or four-year deal at around $9 million per season: Yes, I understand his Everyman appeal. Yes, I know he's the patron saint of every undersized Little Leaguer and gritty, gutty, scrappy, dirt-doggy wannabe who somehow never quite was. Yes, I know he runs out every walk (all 24 of them last year) like a miniature albino Pete Rose. Yes, I know he looks so darned adorable when he dresses up like an elf, even if he really yearns to be a dentist. But the reality, at least to anyone who can assess baseball players objectively and without sentiment, is that David Eckstein . . . well, to put it bluntly, he stinks. To a clear-eyed analyst, his flaws are equally obvious on the field and on the stat sheet. He catapults the ball rather than throwing it. His range is sub-Jeterian. His career OPS+ is 89, with a mediocre best of 101. In 2006, he had 21 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs in 500 at-bats, and he wasn't much more productive last year. He is not an average baseball player; he is an aging one (he's 32), and an increasingly injury-prone one (117 games last year, 123 in '06), and by every single statistical measure, a relentlessly ineffective one. And yet I have no doubt that some ill-prepared sucker of a general manager surely will be come close to his asking price for no apparent reason other than the little fella hustles, and that dupes some people into thinking he's actually useful. So pay attention, because this is probably the only time you're going to read these words on this site: I'd much rather have Julio Lugo.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I give him all the credit in the world. Me, I would have gone by "Ricky" and saved myself the lifelong hassle.

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Quick programming note: Barring unforeseen circumstances, such as yours truly snapping a tibia or two after falling off a rickety wooden ladder while following orders to clean out the gutters this morning, I'll be back tonight to live blog the Pats-Eagles game, so be sure to stop by for A.J. Feeley's public humiliation in real time.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

He's still got game

Part Deux of TATB's player-by-player look at your once-beaten, rejuvenated, and remarkably enjoyable Boston Celtics.

RAY ALLEN: I must not have seen Seattle play much the past few seasons, because Mr. Shuttlesworth is a much more complete all-around player than I gave him credit for. We all know about Allen's knack as a shooter - he's probably got the most effortless release on his jumper of anyone since another ex-Sonic two-guard, Dale Ellis - but considering he's been in the league for 12 years and has made seven All-Star teams, I should be embarrassed that it's a revelation that there's much more to his game than drilling open jumpers. At 32, Allen still can slice to the basket with effectiveness (he made little hesitation move in the open court in that first game against New Jersey that was about the most graceful play I've seen a Celtic make in years), he's a willing and clever passer (though he's been inexcusably careless with some entry passes lately), and there's absolutely no wasted movement to anything he does on the court. Even though he's been in a minor shooting slump lately, it has been a joy to watch him play. (Footnote: I don't think I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, but it's worth noting that Allen and Kevin Garnett actually were teammates previously, albeit very briefly. Allen was chosen by Garnett's Timberwolves with the fifth pick in the '96 draft, but he barely had time to shake David Stern's hand before he was dealt to Milwaukee along with a draft pick for No. 4 Stephon Marbury. And we all know how that turned out.)

PAUL PIERCE: I can usually tell how much someone actually pays attention to the Celtics by how they perceive Pierce. To put it simply, those who thought prior to this season that he was a selfish, undisciplined gunner who would be content chucking up 25 shots a night and collecting a fat paycheck for a lousy team have about as much credibility as an NBA analyst as Stuart Scott. Pierce has long been one of the elite dozen to two dozen players in the league, an offensive talent so polished and complete that Tommy Heinsohn insists he's the best pure scorer in franchise history. And unlike some of his All-Star peers, he always played hard, and it's a tribute to his professionalism that he has kept his professional frustrations to himself despite the burden of carrying a franchise that until this year never gave him a teammate better than Antoine Walker. (Think about that for a minute.) Yes, Pierce sometimes falls into bad habits offensively (with the talented teammates he has now, there's absolutely no reason Pierce should ever again go 1 on 3, spin into the lane, and get stripped of the ball, as he seems to do at the end of every other quarter), and it certainly was fair to question his maturity after he showed up to a postgame press conference wearing a bizarre makeshift sling wrapped around his face following a playoff loss to the Pacers three years ago. But I will never forget how Pierce, with 'Toine riding shotgun, drove those Jim O'Brien Celtics to much greater heights than their talent level suggested they could achieve. Does the 46-point effort in a decisive Game 5 against Iverson and the Sixers in '02 ring a bell? Or his 19-point fourth quarter as the Celtics overcame a 26-point deficit and pulled off the greatest final-period comeback in NBA playoff history against the Nets later that same postseason? Let me leave it at this: Paul Pierce convinced me a long time ago that he's a winner. I'm glad for him that he finally has the teammates to help prove it.

GLEN "BIG BABY" DAVIS: The rookie second-round pick already is the darling of the fat guys and the pink hats (or whatever the Celtics' version is), and for obvious reasons: The effervescent "Big Baby" has a personality as outsized as his physique. He's a very easy player and person to like, which is why everyone is pulling for him to become a consistent contributor. Will he? I'm not completely sold, in part because so much of his value is tied to his low-post offense, and he really lacks the the lift to get his shot off against taller opponents. On the plus side, he has astonishingly quick feet, especially for someone of his build, and if he can continue to control his weight (it's a hopeful sign that he's in considerably better shape that he was when he came into national prominence as a sophomore on LSU's '06 Final Four team), he could be another one of Danny Ainge's draft-day bargains. You know the vast majority Celtics fans are rooting hard for that to happen. It's up to him whether it does.

JAMES POSEY: Ainge is getting endless plaudits and praise for acquiring Allen and Kevin Garnett, and while one can make the case that some of that might have been accidental genius, the Celtics' boss probably isn't getting enough credit for the shrewd move of signing this intense former Heat forward. Posey is the perfect complementary player for this team, a versatile and fierce defender who can knock down the three (even though his unorthodox form seems to cause him to fade to the left on every attempt), rebound, run the floor, and generally do everything Coach Garnett and Assistant Rivers ask of him. Here's what his former coach, Pat Riley, said after Posey hit 5 of 8 shots, dogged Dwyane Wade into missing a potential game-winner, and corralled the clinching rebound in the Celtics' 92-91 win over Miami Friday: "He’s a big-game player. As the season gets longer he’ll be there even more for them.” We're really going to appreciate this guy before it's over.

SCOT POLLARD: I appreciate some of the attributes he offers - hustle and aggressiveness on defense and on the boards, a willingness to put his elbows to effective use, comically unfortunate grooming decisions - but I can't shake the feeling that a player of his age, limited skill, and recent injury history really should be farther down the bench on a legitimate championship contender. P.J. Brown slipped a lot last season and probably wouldn't have been much of an upgrade, but it's a bummer Juwon Howard decided to go to Dallas instead. I'm not a huge Howard fan, but he's tight with Garnett and probably would help more than Pollard. (Of course, I should note that Pollard did a nice job beating on Dwight Howard in Orlando Sunday when Garnett was in foul trouble. Maybe he'll be more useful than I'm giving him credit for.)

LEON POWE: Did he do something to offend Doc Rivers that I don't know about? Maybe make a smart-aleck remark about how Spud Webb was the real floor leader of the late-'80s Hawks? Does he call him "Glenn" rather than "Doc" or "Coach"? There's got to be something more to this than what we see on the floor, because otherwise I can't find a reason why Rivers refuses to give the bruiser from Cal more playing time. Yeah, Powe is a 'tweener, undersized for a power forward and not quite quick enough to play the 3, but he's a downright excellent rebounder (he averaged nearly one rebound per three minutes of playing time as a rookie), he's tough and fearless, he has a decent nose for the hoop, and he seems to make some sort of positive contribution every time his coach allows him to see the court. I realize there are only so many minutes to go around, but I'm convinced Powe could help this team more than Davis or Pollard, if only he got a legitimate chance.

GABE PRUITT: So can the scrawny rookie from Southern Cal play? Hey, he's played exactly five minutes so far; your guess is as good as mine. At the moment, I'm hoping he can be this generation's Terry Duerod. We'll alter our expectations from there when the time comes.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

. . . and featuring Doc Rivers as K.C. Jones

Part 1 of TATB's player-by-player look at your unbeaten, rejuvenated, and remarkably enjoyable Boston Celtics.

KEVIN GARNETT: Of course it's only appropriate that we start this thing with the fulcrum of it all. I think I got to the essence of what KG would bring to the Celtics when the deal first went down, but even those of us who long admired his work in Minnesota have enjoyed certain revelations. I knew he was unselfish, but I didn't realize he was such a clever and efficient passer, especially in feeding cutters from the low post. (If Paul Pierce doesn't set a career high for field-goal percentage, then he's not trying.) I knew he was an elite rebounder - the guy has led the league four years running, after all - but I didn't realize how easy he makes the game's hardest labor look; he's always in position, and if he gets his hand on the ball, you can be sure no one else is getting it. I've always tended to view overly vocal "emotional leaders" with a cynic's eye, but you can tell by the way his teammates react to him that there is absolutely no b.s. to Garnett's personality; he walks the walk, in the locker room and on the court, and everyone else follows. After Papi, he's the most charismatic athlete in New England at the moment, a certain Patriots quarterback included, and I'll let you know when I've wrapped my head around the reality that he actually plays for the Boston Celtics. I can't help but daydream how history would be different if Garnett had played his whole career here, but I'm also savoring every moment of watching him do everything in his power to restore a franchise's pride right now. Damn, this is fun.

KENDRICK PERKINS: He still looks like he's pre-planning his post moves rather than reading the defense and trusting his instincts, but with the offensive stalwarts now surrounding him, he's getting a lot of easy, uncontested shots, which theoretically should improve his self-confidence when the ball is in his hands. He should shoot 55 percent blindfolded, not that his offense matters on this team. He's here to do the little things - rebound, block shots, stick an elbow in Vince Carter's sternum whenever the opportunity arises - and Perkins does those things with increasing efficiency. He's a decent complement to Garnett up front, and it has not gone unnoticed how hard he's worked to shed his rookie-year baby fat and become a physically imposing NBA power forward. He's still a kid (23), yet he conducts himself like the consummate pro. Here's hoping Big Baby is paying attention.

RAJON RONDO: I think he's doing just fine, don't you? Sure, sometimes he looks like he has his master's degree from the Marcus Banks Academy of Pointless Dribbling, and I wish he was just a little bit more natural as a playmaker (as does the suddenly visible Bob Cousy, who nonetheless gives "Way-jon Wand-o" the benefit of the doubt, something he's been reluctant to do with young point guards, from Chauncey Billups to Banks to Sebastian Telfair.) But he's a demon defensively, he's so beep-beep! quick that he often beats his man off the dribble even when the defender is giving him the jumper, he's got moves like Plastic Man when he's finishing in the open court, and the early morning work he reportedly puts in with Ray Allen is paying off with a gradually improving jumper. Rondo's a bright, talented kid who seems to have the dedication to improve. Can't really ask for much more than that from any second-year player.

TONY ALLEN: Probably the only player on the team I don't particularly like. Yes, I know he's still not fully recovered from a major knee injury, and that has at least temporarily robbed him of his two main attributes as a player: his explosive leaping ability and his quickness on the defensive end. Which leaves him with . . . not much. Allen's basketball IQ is about what you'd expect from someone who blew out his knee dunking after the whistle. He handles the ball like his fingers are fused together (who were Doc and Danny kidding by suggesting he could handle backup duty at the point?), he's perpetually out of control - or should I say "Toine-like" - when he's attempting to run the break, and he's beginning to strike me as a reluctant passer. If his pre-injury athleticism never comes back, he might find himself wearing a Yakima Sun Kings jersey before he knows it.

BRIAN SCALABRINE: Funny what playing for a good team and with talented teammates will do for a player's perception. Scal is never going to look graceful at, well, anything, and he seems to be one of those guys who plays to the level of those around him; remember, when he was with those good Nets teams, he was a very useful role player who more than once tormented the Celtics. When he tries to do too much, sure, he can look like that awkward stiff from your Rec League team, but he plays fearlessly, sets a mean pick, knocks down an occasional three, and seems intent on showing Celtics fans that he's a better player than he showed a season ago. I might go so far as to say he'll be a fan favorite by season's end, a more useful version of Lakers-era Mark Madsen. However, no matter how well he fits with Garnett and friends, we must admit that he'll always be our second-favorite translucent redhead in the Association as long as Matt Bonner is around. Concord, N.H. . . . represent!

EDDIE HOUSE: We've already seen that the journeyman guard can, and will, shoot it. (If ESPN Classic actually existed anymore other than in name, I'd love to see his 61-point game from his gunnin' days at Arizona State. Sadly, an endless loop of the 2003 World Series of Poker takes precedence over anything, you know, classic.) But his real gift? Comedy. This is from ":07 Seconds Or Less," Jack McCallum's casual look at the '06 Suns, for whom House provided as many punchlines as jump shots:

House . . . is able to get to an insult with maximum expedience. He looked at James Jones's size 18 sneakers one day and said: "How do you play basketball with them big-ass skis on your feet?" When [Boris] Diaw entered the locker room wearing a pair of retro short shorts, House said, "Damn, Boris, you gotta pull your shoes up." And when [Raja] Bell showed up in a strangely patterned brown jacket, tight-fitting and zippered just below the waist, House took one look at him and said, "Damn, Rah-Rah, you look like ----------- luggage."

Comcast Sports Net should give this guy his own reality show, immediately. Or maybe he and Scal can do a buddy flick together, the hoops version of Nolte and Murphy in "48 Hours." Naturally, it would be called. . . . (drum roll) . . . "48 Minutes."


And on that note, I'm heading off to bed to dream of banner No. 17 (hopefully with a plotline that includes some Beesley). I'll be back in the day or two with a look at Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and the rest of the roster.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Don't go away mad (just go away)

Just a quick redirection to this week's Fox column, which leads off with our eighth annual Happy Retirement, Roger Clemens! tribute. We think this one will stick, however, because he's definitely done for good this time . . . no, seriously, he's outta here . . . no more relaunches for the Rocket . . . gotta go watch the "K Kids" (Koby, KremeHorn, Kwitter, etc.) play ball, maybe help Debbie sell some of that crap . . . yup, time for ol' Cletus Clemens to hang up them cleats . . . hasta la vista, baby . . . that's all folks . . . Roger over and out . . . whoa, wait - whaddaya mean he filed for free agency Friday?

Oh, God. He's never leaving, is he? Please, I beg of you - don't tell Waldman.

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(P.S. - Aiming to have a new column up Monday night on a certain basketball team we're all falling for, so be sure to check in again Tuesday morning. And for the record, I will eventually get that Sox wrap posted, though at the rate I'm going pitchers and catchers may be arriving at Ft. Myers by the time it happens.)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

First and 10: Patriots 24, Polian SoundMachine 20

1. So let me get this straight: The Patriots played far and away their sloppiest game of the season, with equally poor tackling and blocking . . . against their biggest rival, which happens to be the undefeated defending Super Bowl champion . . . in a hostile, raucous dome that may or may not have had its sound system enhanced by every microphone Bill Polian's minions could snap up at Tweeter . . . while being forced to overcome a ridiculously inept junior-varsity referee (Hochuli must have been putting on the gun show at the Senior Mr. Universe competition this week) . . . and yet, despite all of that, they scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes, made two enormous defensive plays down the stretch, and escaped with a 24-20 victory. And yet the recurring theme I heard on the national football shows Sunday night and Monday morning had little to do with the Patriots' remarkable, improbable, affirming comeback or the fact that Peyton Manning reverted to his old habit of swallowing his tongue in the clutch. Nope, all the Youngs and Schlereths could talk about was how Saint Dungy and the Colts deserve a pat on the back for hanging so tough against football's Evil Empire. To which a Pats fan can say only this: Keep it up, fellas. It's this sort of disrespectful nonsense is exactly what's helping to fuel this vengeful, angry football team right now. I'm not saying they will go undefeated - hell, they're not even halfway there yet - but this victory, and the way it came about, should at least make the '72 Dolphins nervous. The mission continues.

2. Just heard John Clayton say the Colts were "thrilled" when Joseph Addai fell to them with the 30th pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Funny, but I seem to recall some lamenting on their part that Laurence Maroney (taken 21st by the New England Cheaterasterisktaints) was the player they really wanted. Either way, things turned out pretty well for Indy. Addai is a remarkably fluid runner, a perfect fit for the Colts' offense. While I'm not ready to say he'll be a better player than Maroney - I still think with good health and a little more decisiveness No. 39 will live up to his tantalizing talent - he's definitely the superior back at the moment.

3. I still haven't heard a plausible story as to why Adalius Thomas played such a limited role Sunday. (I think Mike Reiss said he saw the field on just three of 10 defensive series.) Rodney Harrison did an outstanding job covering Dallas Clark, but you have to figure there still should have been some role for the versatile former Raven, particularly after Tedy Bruschi was so ineffective in the first half; hell, I thought half the purpose of signing Thomas in the offseason was to unleash him on the Colts. I don't buy the theory that the Patriots' scheme was so complex that they felt they had to use the linebackers who are more experienced in the system. My primary suspicion is that the ankle injury he sufffered against Cleveland is bothering him more than he lets on, and in a sense I hope that's all it is.

4. Manning and the Colts' fans should know better than to blame injuries for this loss. If I recall correctly, the Patriots were without eight starters in last year's AFC Championship Game, including the essential Junior Seau (we'd never have heard of Eric Alexander or Bryan Fletcher had he been healthy), Harrison, and Richard Seymour, who got hurt early in the game. By the end of the fourth quarter, I think the Patriots defensive backfield consisted of Troy Brown, Rashard Baker, Prentice McCray, and Fred Marion. Further, the team was ravaged with the flu. Yet I'm pretty sure I didn't hear Manning mention in the aftermath that he picked apart a decimated Patriots defense, and he shouldn't have. It's football; you're always going to be playing without a hobbled teammate or two. This time it was Indy's turn. Here's hoping it is next time, too.

5. The next time these teams meet, the network televising the game would be wise to set aside one camera to aim at Indianapolis general manager/resident lunatic Bill Polian. Mike Felger was talking about this with two of the guys from Patriots Football Weekly (their names escape me at the moment, but the insufferably snide Paul Perillo wasn't one of them) on his show the other day - apparently Polian is an out-of-control madman during the game, swearing, yelling, pounding his fists, and threatening not to pay off the referees if they don't start calling more phantom pass interference calls on the Patriots. (Okay, maybe not the last one.) Everyone I've heard mention this seems to agree that it really enhances the game experience. I don't know about you, but I would pay good money to see his reaction when Kevin Faulk dove over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown. I bet his sucker-punched his personal Smithers and stormed out of his box to go find an intern to pistol-whip.

6. Regarding Faulk, I probably should confess that I thought J.R. Redmond was a much better third-down option back in the day, and once even went so far as to suggest in my Concord Monitor column that the Patriots should make an example of Faulk and cut him after a particularly boneheaded fumble in a galling loss to Green Bay. Of course, he's overcome those fumbling problems, and despite that it takes him roughly 10 stutter-steps to gain three yards, he's made himself into a remarkably effective, versatile, smart, and trustworthy player. You bet I'm glad he's still here. And by the way, whatever happened to Redmond, anyway?

7. An asterisk? Seriously? I'll just chalk that up as further proof that anything Don Shula says about the Patriots should be immediately disregarded. The former Dolphins coach has had it in for the Patriots franchise the infamous snow plow game. It's worth noting that in a way he was the Polian of his time - a successful and powerful figure in the league who had a knack for using his clout on the competition committee to his own team's benefit. I'm not saying he's a hypocrite. What I will say I suspect he did things to gain a competitive advantage for the Dolphins that would make Spygate look even more trivial than it is. Okay, I am saying he's a hypocrite.

8. Baseball stuff: Love the C. Montague Schilling signing, obviously. The price is right, the expectations aren't high, and yet this is guy who was the No. 2 postseason starter for a championship team. It's the definition of win-win. I really got a kick out of Shaughnessy's column on Schilling's return, too. I'm not saying the compliments were insincere, but I'm pretty sure he typed the thing backhanded . . . Happy to see Orlando Cabrera win his second career Gold Glove; he's steady and spectacular, a much more worthy choice than the usual rangeless alternative . . . Youk was a deserving winner as well, but I'm a bit chapped (copyright: Dale Arnold) that Coco Crisp was overlooked. He's better than Torii Hunter at this point, and he's much more fearless than Grady Sizemore . . . Here's what I know about John Russell, the new Pittsburgh Pirates manager: He caught one of Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters; he was a no-field, no-hit catcher for my Maine Guides in the late-'80s; and his wife at the time (I think they're divorced now) was absolutely the hottest woman I had seen in my life until that point. She was a blonde who looked and dressed like she strolled right off Malibu Beach, and having grown up in Bath, Maine, where the girls' idea of skimpy clothing was taking the sleeves off their L.L. Bean vest jacket, let's just say I'm pretty sure she caused my teenage jaw to unhinge, among other parts. I have no idea if John Russell can manage a baseball game, but he's got my respect . . . ARod's going to the Mets, isn't he?

9. He might kill me for saying this, but is there a bigger fraud in professional sports than Ray Lewis? The pile-jumping, Bible-thumping, spasming-like-Elaine Benes fool had the nerve to blame the Ravens' offense after Lewis and the Baltimore defense gave up five first-half touchdown passes in a blowout loss to the Steelers Monday night. Granted, the Baltimore offense does stink, and their blunders repeatedly gave the Steelers excellent field position. (Remember when Brian Billick was an offensive genius? Funny how he coached Randy Moss then, isn't it?) But anyone playing for a defense that gives up 35 first-half points has no right to point fingers. Lewis was once worthy of his reputation, but he talks a much better game than he plays.

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Cards:

I stumbled across this unsolved mystery while searching for the Lydell Mitchell card that concluded a recent post. Notice anything unusual about this progression from '73 to '79? (Excluding '77, which I couldn't find.):

So . . . either ol' Lydell was a charter member of Hair Club for Men, he figured out some secret formula to reverse aging, or that follicly challenged cat on the '73 card is not him (and it does look like him). Any theories regarding what is going on here would be much appreciated.

(And yes, I did just spend 15 minutes analyzing the hairstyle of a '70s football player. Someday I will get the help I need.)

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just a quick Pats/Colts pregame post while trying to figure out what the $*%* Shannon Sharpe is trying to say

Why Lydell Mitchell? Because his half-baked, prematurely balding visage is the perfect segue into my Pats-Colts preview. All right, so maybe not. But I've gotta head to Boston in a few minutes, and I wanted to throw my Super Bowl 41.5 prediction out there before I go:

Ours are gonna whup theirs. I'm thinking 42-27, Patriots. I expect Wes Welker to have a monster game on short crossing routes, assuming the great Bob Sanders is consumed with helping out on Randy Moss coverage. I think the Patriots will have a much easier time staying on the field on offense and getting off the field on defense than they did in the AFC Championship game. I'm not sure Rodney Harrison is capable of staying with Dallas Clark at this point, but if the Pats' linebackers can take away some of the underneath stuff and reign in the remarkably talented Joseph Addai somewhat, I can see it getting frustrating for Peyton Manning pretty quickly. And don't forget two other crucial points: The Patriots' offseason moves were made specifically to combat this opponent, and since the Spygate-taints-their-legacy nonsense, the Patriots are on a mission to annihilate the rest of the league. I respect the Colts, but today it will be mission accomplished yet again.

Three other things that I've been meaning to say:

1. We're two games into this thing, and I still can't believe Kevin Garnett plays for the Celtics. Beyond the obvious highlight-reel stuff you'd expect from a 10-time All-Star and former MVP, it's been a basketball junkie's joy to watch him pass from the post (the Celtics had more easy baskets in the opener than they've had in any game in who knows how long) and snag every rebound that's within his reach (he must be much stronger than he looks, because he is always in position). His unselfishness will be the reason that he, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will mesh so well.

2. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is ridiculous, I had an inkling he might be this good, and I'm now spending every Sunday pounding my head against the desk wondering why I didn't choose him in any of my three fantasy football leagues. Dammit. I think Chester Taylor's involvement was a factor, which is of course moronic in hindsight. Cripes, I took the decomposing Shaun Alexander over this kid. I hate fantasy sports.

3. Look out, Ed McMahon. Manny was downright charming on the "Tonight Show," and quite funny too, and in a strange way I'm kind of proud of him. He proved once and for all that the public perception of his personality and the reality are two entirely different concepts. He might be a savant with a baseball bat in his hands - though much of his greatness is due to his uncommon work ethic - but those who precede the word with "idiot" when describing him clearly have no clue what they are talking about. He'd probably do himself some favors by talking more to the media, but like he told his new buddy Jay Leno, he's "true to himself," unlike some guys who change personalities when the camera is off. (I think he may have had No. 38 in mind there.) I didn't think I could like the big goof more than I already did, but then, I didn't know he was capable of being Leno's sidekick, either.

As for today's Completely Random Boston Icon card:

Really digging that ubiquitous Reebok commercial; it hasn't gotten old yet despite airing during every commercial break of every game on every network. Turns out Bobby Orr can make even an ex-"New Kid on the Block" seem cool. (To be fair, Donnie Wahlberg is a pretty decent actor.) And how many takes do you think it took for Knee-Brace Menino to get his line right? The over/under is a dozen, I'd say.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Big decisions

This week's Fox column is here, leading off with a look at a couple of available third baseman of note. ("RE-SIGN LOWELL! RE-SIGN LOWELL"). Also, I'll be back late Saturday with a Sox/Pats/Celtics medley. Tonight should be a Boston sports night to remember - the Big Ticket's Boston debut and Manny on the "Tonight Show." Can't wait.

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