Tuesday, January 29, 2008


There's a part of me - the part that savors a well-pitched 2-1 ballgame, the part that appreciates a Bugs Bunny changeup that instantly turns a slugger from ferocious to feeble - that was thrilled about the prospect of Johan Santana pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and beyond. In that sense, it's a small disappointment that his immense talent and admirable approach to the game will be some other fanbase's treat for the next few seasons, provided his left elbow remains sound.

So much for that daydream of a Josh Beckett-Santana 1-2 punch. But you know what? It's better this way. No, Santana's not a Red Sox. But he's not a Yankee, either, thank goodness. He's out of the AL, and the way it all played out is the best possible outcome for the reigning World Series champs.

That's not to say Minnesota made the correct trade, however. Perhaps time will prove me wrong here, but my immediate impression is that Minnesota whiffed like Trot Nixon against a lefty. New GM Bill Smith made a classic rookie mistake. He got reasonable, if not overwhelming, offers from the Red Sox and the Yankees around the time of the winter meetings, decided neither proposal was enough in exchange for the best pitcher of this decade, waited too long for more . . . and ended up getting less. Much less.

Minnesota received (or should I say will receive, for the deal isn't official until Santana signs an extension) four of the Mets' top seven prospects according to Baseball America: outfielder Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. But what they didn't get - and what they absolutely had to receive in exchange for a 29-year-old two-time Cy Young award winner - was an elite prospect, someone whom they could show their fans and say, Yes, we traded the best pitcher of this decade. But we think we just acquired our signature star of the next generation. Be patient. There's hope.

Instead, Twins fans are left lamenting the departure of yet another iconic athlete in exchange for what looks suspiciously like a handful of magic beans. As one commenter put it on Twins blogger extraordinaire Aaron Gleeman's site:

The only thing that could have made this better is if the Mets had somehow thrown in Herschel Walker.

Turns out bitter sports sarcasm isn't solely the domain of New Englanders.

By all accounts, the one player the Twins coveted - and the one they should have demanded - was outfielder Fernando Martinez, a slugger-in-waiting who made a good impression in Double A this past season at the age of 18. I don't think much of Omar Minaya as a GM - sometimes it seems like his mission is to reassemble the 1999 Caribbean Winter League All-Star team in Flushing - but he deserves a tip of the ball cap for getting Santana without giving up his most prized prospect.

In retrospect, Smith should have taken the Yankees offer a month ago. I'm on record as a believer in Phil Hughes, who I think will turn out to be a more accomplished player than anyone mentioned in these rumors, Jacoby Ellsbury included. No Sox fan wanted to see Santana end up in the Bronx, of course, but is it of mild concern that the Yankees took the - gasp! - prudent, big-picture approach here. You know if Hank "The Tank" Steinbrenner had his druthers, they'd have given up Hughes and Ian Kennedy without a moment's hesitation. He's got to be furious about Santana ending up with their back-page rival. I bet he stayed up all night in the official Steinbrenner Lair, chain-smoking Camels, cursing that prospect-hoarding know-nothing Brian Cashman, and scouring the internet for NSFW photos of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The Yankees made the best offer, in my humble opinion, and based on what we think we know, the Sox made the second-best, at least up until Jon Lester was recently taken off the table. Yet despite the fair proposal, I'm still not convinced Theo Epstein's interest was entirely sincere. The cost - not only in dollars on Santana's extension, but in terms of prospects - had to gnaw at the Sox GM. I imagine he's entirely satisfied with the outcome today. Santana's a Met, the Yankees still desperately need a No. 1 starter, and the Sox remain the AL East favorite while retaining Ellsbury, Lester, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson, prized graduates of the Player Development Machine.

Sure, the thought of Santana as a Red Sox was lovely one. But like the GM, we're attached to the kids, too, and even the Pink Hats know that Ellsbury and Lester have already contributed to one World Championship. Funny thing is, after today's developments, there's a decent chance they'll have to beat the Mets and their new ace to contribute to another one.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

I can't believe he hasn't bailed out on the Heat yet. Save for Dwyane Wade, that's one reprehensible basketball team right now.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Sunday mornin' comin' down

Disorganized thoughts while waiting for the game to hurry up and get here . . .

One of the mini-perks of this bloggin' gig is the occasional advertising-generated gift certificates from Amazon that show up in my inbox. They've never for much money, $13.14 here, $8.92 there, but I always feel like I'm getting free books when I cash them in, one of the little rewards that make this all the more worthwhile. Lately, I've been using them to fill in the gaps in my collection of old Bill James books. I added all three editions (1990-'92) of the addictive, sprawling "The Baseball Book" for about 10 bucks total, and the UPS truck yesterday delivered James's 1995 Player Ratings Guide, the final year it was issued. You might recall that I used player capsules from his two previous Player Ratings Guides as sort of a quirky quiz in my Fox column last summer, and while the column will likely return in some form in a couple of months, I'll probably discontinue that feature. But for your viewing pleasure - or because you're a certified James dork too - I figured I'd share five of the more notable caps here from the '95 book. All you need to know is that these players are currently active and remain relatively prominent. As always, clicking the link within the clue will reveal the player's identity. I'm betting you go at least three for five:

"I wonder how many pitchers in baseball history have gone 48-16 over three seasons? [He] is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his years of effectiveness are probably limited. He's 26, but pitches more like he's 33. He'll run out gas within four years, when guys like Cone and Randy Johnson, who are older than him, are still going strong."

"History shows us that there is at least one and normally are two rookies in every crop who will wind up in Cooperstown, My best from the 1994 rookies: [This player] and Ryan Klesko. [This player] had a terrible slump last May, hitting .132, but hit .300 or better in every other month, hit .361 against lefthanders, and played surprisingly well in right field."

"There is every reason to believe that [he] will be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the next few years. His future is unlimited. Many of you will note that when his brother was the same age, we would have said the same thing about him, but that didn't happen, in part, because [his manager] pushed him too hard when he was young."

"Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and [this hitter] . . . maybe the three best hitters God ever made. Gets on base half the time, has tremendous power, hits .350 . . . what more could you want? He works hard, stays healthy, never slumps. Only weaknesses are his glove and speed. When [he was picked] seventh overall in the the 1989 draft, [his team was] widely ridiculed by the scouting community."

Lastly, this was filed under the back page category of "Long Shots":

Back in the minors, getting his knuckles beat in.

So . . . know them? C'mon, I know you do.

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Six other slightly more timely thoughts:

1. Nice to see Gerald Green is still the same clueless waste of physical talent that he was in Boston. A Friend of TATB who was around the team on a regular basis the past few seasons says he has the maturity and attention span of a 9-year-old, which is why he was talking trash to the Celtics bench after hitting a couple of shots tonight, as if somehow he was avenging some wrong done to him by Doc Rivers. It's also why he'll be fading into obscurity with the likes of Butte Daredevils when the T-Wolves dump him after the season. The kid just doesn't get it, and though he's still young (21), he probably never will.

2. Put it this way: If Tom Brady's ankle injury was at all serious, would Bill Belichick be taking such a light (for him) tone with the media the past few days?

3. I'm officially concerned about Ray Allen. It's gotten to the point that when he squared up for a shot, I'm expecting his to miss, and I never, ever thought that would be the case when he came here. It's probably just a slump, but if he's hurt more than we know, Doc Rivers needs to get him out of there and give him the proper rest, immediately.

4. I like the idea of Klesko as the lefthanded stick off the Sox bench, though I think Brad Wilkerson would be my first choice. As for Trot Nixon? No thanks, Nick.

5. File it under "Blind Squirrel, Nut" if you must, and definitely don't tell Peter King, but I absolutely nailed Brett Favre's postseason gack-job, just as I pegged Roidin' Roger's pathetic postseason farewell. Don't say I can't spot a phony.

6. Finally, we give you the early frontrunner for sports quote of the year, this comes from a former associated of Jose Canseco's, via Jon Heyman's column on the former slugger/man of letters:

"[Jose] is a moron of the highest order. If he could have majored in moronics, he would have gone to college."

Moronics. Hmmm, I'm pretty sure I got a C+ in that at UMaine back in the day.

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As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Not the rapper. Just the inspiration for the name.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Little big man

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free Dana Jacobson bleep-faced rants for you . . .

1. Remember when Kevin Faulk couldn't nudge aside a decaying Terry Allen to become the Patriots' feature back? Remember a few years later when he lost his third-down role to temporary hero J.R. Redmond? Remember when you cringed every time he carried the ball because it seemed like he fumbled in every big situation? Remember when Kevin Faulk wasn't nearly as dependable, clutch, admired, smart, tough, respected, and downright essential as he his now, in his ninth NFL season? Talk about a player who has redeemed himself, not only on the field but in the eyes of the fans. He's the heir apparent to Troy Brown as the team's designated Beloved Overachiever, and it's to his endless credit that he has arrived at this point in his career after such a maddening start.

2. It kills me how the ESPN hairdos and other would-be contrarians, in their desperation to find a way the Giants can stop the Patriots, repeatedly cite the 1990 Bills and the 2001 Rams as two historically great offenses who were defeated in the Super Bowl. I mean, c'mon - shouldn't it be obvious, even to the multi-concussed likes of Merril Hoge, what the common denominator was in those two games?

3. Let's see: Mike Vrabel allegedly tried to leg whip Philip Rivers in the AFC title game, Rodney Harrison's list of dastardly transgressions is long and distinguished, and I'd be tempted to side with Richard Seymour against Nick Hardwick's claim of cheap play if only he hadn't been caught stomping on the Colts' Tarik Glenn last season. If the Pats aren't careful, they're going to get the reputation as a dirty team. Which, frankly, is fine by me.

4. Philip Rivers yaps way more than a quarterback of his limited talent and accomplishment should, but after watching him gut it out against the Pats on a messed-up knee while LaDainian Tomlinson passed the biggest game of his career by brooding in his Haz-Mat suit on the bench, I know who I'd respect more in that huddle from here on out.

5. A pleasant dilemma for Danny Ainge: Should he sign Damon Stoudamire once his buyout with the Grizzlies becomes official, or should he gamble and hope that the superior Sam Cassell - a good buddy of KG's and proven postseason performer - becomes available in a similar fashion a few weeks down the road? I think I vote for the latter, though the risk is that Stoudamire signs elsewhere, Cassell doesn't become available, and we're stuck watching the likes of Tony Allen pass, punt, and kick the ball upcourt in a playoff game when Rajon Rondo is on the bench.

6. I suppose the man Bill Parcells christened "Beach Ball" deserves credit for being honest about who he's pulling for this week. To put this delicately, DeOssie doesn't strike me as a guy who always put family before football, but he wouldn't be the first person to get his priorities straight as he grew older.

7. Damn. Talk about seeing a ghost. A few days ago, I watched that '86 Maryland/North Carolina game on ESPN Classic - you know the game I mean, for it's remembered as Bias's definitive performance - and I was reminded yet again how easily the memories of his death come rushing back. Yeah, I'll probably check out the movie. But I doubt I'll see anything that wasn't permanently burned into my mind when I was 16 years old and devastated.

8. The closer we get to spring training, the closer I get to officially becoming concerned that Terry Francona doesn't have the lucrative, long-term contract he deserves. Here's hoping this is something Theo's getting done under the cover of darkness, and it'll be announced when we're not expecting it.

9. Best wishes to Tom Coughlin with your extensive skin-graft surgery, and here's hoping you don't come out looking like the Cat Lady. Seriously, by the end of the NFC Championship Game, he looked like a cross between the Snow Miser and Fire Marshall Bill. Couldn't he have at least worn some ear muffs?

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

I pay about as much attention to hockey as I do to "The View," but I'm fairly certain the Bruins' coach looks nothing like this nowadays.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pregame jitters

Well, sure, of course I'm nervous. Nervous that Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips will get their share of cracks at Tom Brady, especially since Matt Light and Nick Kaczur both had a touch of flu this week. Nervous that Darren Sproles will blow past the Pats' aging linebackers just as he did against Indy's faster unit a week ago. Nervous that Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson will win more than their share of jump balls against the Pats' shrimpy cornerbacks.

Nervous about the impossibly high stakes of this game, and the legacy as the Undisputed Greatest Team Ever that depends upon a victory today and another in two weeks. I want this so bad I can feel it. I can't imagine how wild this must be for the players.

But mostly it's those good kind of nerves, the ones you have when you're on the brink of something special or fun or meaningful. You'd think we'd become jaded after watching the Pats make it to five AFC championship games this decade, that playing for a trip to the Super Bowl wouldn't seem as special as it did in, say, '96 or '01. Yet after all this team has accomplished in the Bill Belichick Era, I'm glad to report that making it to this moment and anticipating what's to come still gets the butterflies dancing in the belly.

Besides, it's a mistake to confuse nervousness with a lack of confidence. While you have to respect the Chargers, not only for what they did to the Colts last weekend but for the depth of talent on their roster, I can't convince myself that a team coached by Norv Turner and quarterbacked by Billy Volek or the insufferable Philip Rivers is going to win a big game against Bill Belichick and Brady. The Patriots have an enormous advantage at head coach and quarterback. I imagine you probably knew that, huh?

And while it's natural to be nervous about those potential plot twists I mentioned in the first paragraph, the truth is the Chargers have much, much more to be worried about. With Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson looking iffy, the offense could be without its two best playmakers, though I have to admit I have major questions about LT's toughness after he missed the rest of the Indy game with what turned out to be a minor injury. There are no questions about the toughness of the Chargers' defense - but there are plenty about their personnel. Antonio Cromartie is a terrific cornerback, which by my accounting means that San Diego has exactly one high-quality defensive back. I just cannot see them slowing the Patriots' passing game whatsoever. Even if Randy Moss's mind is still on the dreaded Consensual Horseplay Scandal, he will have his moments. Plus, no one has stopped Wes Welker yet, and Drayton Florence sure as hell won't be the first. Spectacularly and efficiently, the Pats will get their points.

I do realize that the Chargers come into this with nothing to lose, which makes them all the more dangerous. The victory over the Colts already gives them a season-defining, feel-good theme for the NFL Films highlight reel; there's really no pressure on them. They should be loose and confident, and you know Merriman, Stephen Cooper, and friends will be jabbering and smack-talking from the time they arrive at the stadium. Which, precisely, is why it would nice, if not quite imperative, for the Pats to jump to an early 10-0 or 14-0 lead, just to remind the Chargers, hardly the mentally toughest team in the league, who they're dealing with and that the cause is hopeless.

But even if they don't silence the Chargers early, you know they will do it eventually.

Patriots, 37-17.

Next up, a trip to Arizona. Where history awaits.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mission statement

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free half-formed thoughts for you . . .

1. I know we're supposed to be focusing on football at this hour, but I can't help getting all jacked and pumped for baseball season when I read that Manny Ramirez has been working out at the legendary Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona for the better part of the winter. You know what? Screw that oh-no-he's-beginning-his-decline stuff. Manny's ticked, he's focused, he's probably a little embarrassed, and he's coming back, big-time. I'm thinking .320-36-133, conservatively.

2. Okay, one more Sox item before we swing over to the Pats: Geffner's gone! GEFFNER'S GONE!!! WHEEEEE-HOOOOOOOO!!! BREAK OUT THE ZIMA, SOX GAMES ARE LISTENABLE AGAIN! (Deep breath. Fist pump! Okay, calm. YESSS! Calm. Deep breath.) Beyond the fact that even Joe Castiglione must be thrilled that his media guide-spewing, ridiculously unqualified sidekick is departing for a job with the Marlins, it's curious that another perceived underling/lackey of Larry Lucchino is out the door, not long after Dr. Charles took his patented schmaltz to Los Angeles. Hmmm. Almost makes you think Theo's running the whole show now, doesn't it?

3. Here's a fun hypothetical for you: What devious scheme do you think Bill Belichick would come up with to stop - or should I say attempt to stop - this Patriots' offense? Obviously, his credentials need no rehash here, but it's still worth noting that he's the mastermind who thwarted both the K-Gun Bills and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, two of the most prolific offenses of all time. Of course, the rules were different then - his defenses could knock the living snot out of the receivers, which brings us to a great point in this Washington Post article sent along by Official TATB Antagonist Donovan Burba. Namely, that the Patriots have taken advantage of a rule change that Bill Polian and the nefarious competition committee thought would ruin them:

"When the NFL rule-makers cracked down four years ago on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by defensive players to try to open up the passing game, the move widely was viewed as a response to the rugged way in which the New England Patriots had played defense on their way to their first two Super Bowl titles.

"That 2004 directive by the league's competition committee changed the way the game is played, perhaps forever. It has led to a rewriting of the record book. And, oddly enough, it set the stage for the Patriots to become arguably the most dominant team in league history this season as they chase an unbeaten season and their fourth Super Bowl championship with an offense orchestrated by Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

"The very rule once thought to be more detrimental to the Patriots than to any other NFL club has become a crucial asset, yet another example of how the franchise has become a dynasty because Belichick and his front office are more adaptable than anyone else in the league."

If that isn't delicious irony, I don't know what is. Somewhere, Polian just punted his hairless cat, slapped his manservant, then fired his glass of scotch against the wall.

4. Just when I was beginning to wonder if Ray Allen was careening headlong into that Over-32 wall that seems to affect virtually every star shooting guard not named Jordan or Miller, he goes out and delivers a vintage 35-point performance against a very impressive Portland Trail Blazers team. So for the moment I'm convinced that Mr. Shuttlesworth is still capable of a major star turn when the moment calls for it, provided Doc Rivers has the common sense to give him the necessary rest the next few months. It would also be swell if Danny Ainge could find a suitable backup point guard so Allen doesn't have to expend energy with additional ballhandling duties. He's a shooter, still. Let that be his focus.

5. Let's put it this way: If Roger Clemens goes before Congress willingly, I'll eat his lawyer's hairpiece. In the biggest moments, he's always shriveled and tried to find the coward's way out. Why should that change now? I fully expect that if he does end up having to testify, he'll pull out his old standby and try to limp out of the proceedings halfway through with the trusty "tweaked" groin excuse. Desperate man, desperate measures. (And if you haven't seen this yet, Esquire absolutely destroys him with this point-by-point list of his all-time scumbag transgressions, appropriately titled, "The Wonderful, Despicable Life of Roger Clemens." You know I loved it.

6. Nice of Jason Garrett to let Wade Phillips stick around on his staff in Dallas, isn't it? Phillips doesn't strike me as the sharpest tool in the shed - I believe the past phrase I used to describe his coaching style was "Pete Carroll with man-boobs," and I'm sticking with it - but even he has to know he's a dead-man walking in Dallas. No one's admitting it, but Jerry Jones simply had to promise Garrett one of two things to get him to turn down head coaching gigs in Baltimore and Atlanta to stay as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator: That he'd be Phillips's eventual successor as head coach - and, shhh, don't tell Wade, but sooner rather than later - or that he'd could take Jessica Simpson to Cabo and give her the Romo treatment for the week. Probably the former, I suppose.

7. The Baltimore Orioles haven't done a whole hell of a lot right in recent seasons, but shipping Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros the day before the Mitchell Report was made public was inspired. That's just the kind of sneaky I like.

8. Even though the dynamics weren't quite right this season, I'm still going through serious "The Office" withdrawal. Can't imagine there's any chance the season can be salvaged given how long the writers' strike is expected to last.

9. I was as annoyed by Rodney Harrison's unnecessary penalties against the Jaguars as anyone, but as far as I'm concerned he can keep on spearing that floppy-armed motormouth Philip Rivers until he has one of his bloody ribs dangling from his facemask. And that goes double if Rivers isn't actually playing in the game.

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

I mentioned my boyhood adulation of J.J. and the rest of the Air Coryell Chargers before last year's San Diego-New England playoff showdown, and so the rules of superstition and jinxes dictate we mention them again this time around. Hey, at least I'm not tempting fate by comparing the Pats to the '86 Celts before they actually win the damn thing like some people. Sheesh.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

An extremely arrogant post about the Patriots

I suppose I should be nervous for the Patriots tonight against preening mastermind Jack Del Rio and his jacked-and-pumped Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, pretty much everything I've heard and seen this week about the game has had a common, terribly worrisome theme:

Jacksonville can win this football game. Oh, yes, they can. And we're going to spend the next 30 minutes murdering all common sense and logic by telling you how.

Now, maybe I've been getting my Trey Wingo fix at all the wrong times, and maybe all of the simpering Schlereths, concussed Hoges, and blathering Baylesses have been giving the Patriots the proper respect.

Surely at some point perhaps they mentioned the record point total and the record point differential as signs of the Patriots' historically unmatched dominance. Surely they gave them their due for beating just about every legitimate heavyweight challenger along the way, having decked Indy and Dallas on the road, and knocked out San Diego at home. (If only they got to knock around that phony Favre, too.)

Yes, surely they mentioned that at this particular moment in time, the New England Patriots are blessed to take the field with, arguably, the best coach, the best quarterback, and the best wide receiver in the history of the league. Surely they mentioned that the Patriots have a greater depth of talent than any team has a right to in the salary cap era. Surely they mentioned these things while I was looking away. (And don't call me Shirley.)

But I have not heard them say these things, at least not nearly often enough given their significance in foretelling what might happen tonight, and because of that I can come to only the obvious conclusion: The vast majority of football pundits - and, I assume, fans who don't have an allegiance - would like nothing better than for the Patriots to follow up their unbeaten regular season with a winless postseason.

And to that I say this: I will remember to shed a tear for all of the poor, clueless souls who rooted and bet against the Patriots after they walk off the Gillette Stadium turf with another convincing victory over another talented, hopelessly overmatched opponent tonight. No, wait, check that: I'll be honest here. I won't feel their pain. Not an ounce of it. I'll smirk, smugly celebrate, and make Massholish sarcastic remarks, just like I'm doing now. What can I say, the Patriots' us-against-the-world attitude seems to be rubbing off on their fanbase. (Look, I'm even exaggerating perceived sleights, just like they do! Go Pats!)

Now, in all seriousness, I don't mean to suggest the Jaguars aren't worthy of respect, at least in certain aspects. The running backs, as I'm sure you have heard, are outstanding. Maurice Jones-Drew is a relentless dynamo, a Tasmanian Devil in cleats, and I'm sure he will pose a problem for the Pats' D on some level. And I'm a longtime fan of his running mate in the Jags' backfield, Fred Taylor. There was a time not so long ago when I thought he was the most complete runner in the NFL, a devastating combination of power and elusiveness, and he deserves endless credit for efficiently chugging along a decade into a career that often seemed like it would be cut short by injuries.

There are other characters and characteristics to admire. Quarterback David Garrard is bright and efficient. The defense is tough and mean. And as Football Outsiders whiz Aaron Schatz pointed out, their offense was actually superior to the Patriots' over the last half of the season. So, yes, I agree with the TV hairdos, bloviators, and Ordways - this is not a team to be taken lightly, even if Del Rio is playing Candy Land to Bill Belichick's chess.

But that's the point, dummy. The Patriots won't take them lightly. This team has been on a vengeful mission since a few hours after Mangini's goons confiscated that freakin' camera. They want to shut up the '72 Dolphins once and for all. They want their critics to shove their snarky asterisks where they will never see daylight again. They wanted 16-0, and you know they can taste 19-0. They want to be regarded as the greatest team in league history, dammit, and they are too talented, too well-prepared, and too motivated to allow the freakin' Jacksonville Jaguars to prevent them for fulfilling their mission.

This is how it's gonna be: Brady finds Moss for a pair of early scores, Garrard becomes uncharacteristically careless with the ball when he has to play from behind, and the Pats beat a good team in convincing fashion . . . again. Patriots 34, Jaguars 13.

Bring on Peyton and the Ponies, the only legitimate threat to that zero in the loss column. But you knew that all along, didn't you?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

The Ultimate, All-Time, Wicked Awesome, New England Patriots Player Quiz (Part 2)

All right, listen up, ya bunch of Marys. (Or is it Sallys? I can never remember.) Way too many of you so-called Patriots fans griped that the first test was (sniff . . . sob . . . wahhhh!) too hard, that included too many old-school players and not enough of recent vintage.

You sniveled like Hines Ward after the Steelers' annual playoff gag job. It was not your proudest moment.

But don't fret, Marys. And Sallys. And Hineses. Your tears have not been shed in vain. Your whiny emails have been considered. We will make this easier and more modern. Below is part two of the quiz, featuring 25 players, all of whom played for the Patriots in the past 20 years. There are no Joe Kapps in the bunch. One of them is even Drew McQueen Bledsoe - that's one freebie right there. You do remember him, right?

I assume you know the rest of drill - we'll offer a written clue to the player's identity as well as a link to that player's profootballreference.com page to confirm (or deny) your guess. If you get all 25 right, we'll send you . . . well, nothing. But at least you can take comfort in knowing you got 22 more correct than Felger probably did.

So put on your thinking cap and your lucky throwback Clayton Weishuhn jersey, and let's go. Anything less than 20 correct this time, and you're doomed to a life listening to the Patriots' pregame show on an endless loop. Actually, that's a hell we wouldn't wish on anyone.

Hit it, Run . . .

* * *

1. A beast on special teams and in short-yardage situations, this object of "The Mooses' " affection spent 13 seasons with the Pats (1978-'90) and remains one of the franchise's all-time most popular players. His kid's not a bad linebacker, either.

* * *

2. One of the most electric athletes the Patriots have ever had, but too many of his highlights here happened off the field. Does the carved-up finger before the Super Bowl ring a bell? How about the tale of how he drove his car into a tree at halftime of a game he was playing in? To his credit, he turned his life around after he left New England, and finished with 851 catches in 17 seasons.

* * *

3. Chosen with the 13th pick in the '92 draft, he lasted just three seasons in New England and five in the NFL. Rumor has it he now works as a turnstile at the entrance of Gillette Stadium.

* * *

4. Third-round pick in 1990 after a storybook career at LSU, this occasional starter at QB had a pea-shooter of an arm that makes Chad Pennington's look like Jeff George's.

* * *

5. Pretty good cornerback on some pretty wretched early '90s teams, he was the player Lisa Olson was interviewing when Zeke Mowatt decided to, um, introduce himself.

* * *

6. Speedy showboat out of Michigan was named All-Pro in '92 as a kick returner, averaging 28.2 yards on 20 attempts, including a 100-yarder for a TD. But his inability/unwillingness to adhere to the playbook got his ticket punched out of New England, and he was out of the NFL after four seasons at age 25. A complete waste of talent.

* * *

7. Journeyman passer held the Pats' starting job for a couple of seasons in the early '90s, but his greatest accomplishment, on the field or off, was dating Lisa Guerrero in her prime. (She was then Lisa Coles, Patriots cheerleader and lousy-quarterback aficionado.)

* * *

8. A decent pass-catching tight end before Ben Coates seized his job, he made the Pro Bowl in '91 and '92, but was something less than a deep threat: in '91, he had 82 catches for 808 yards (9.9 ypc), then in '92, he hauled in 52 passes for 413 yards (7.9 ypc). I'm guessing Eugene Chung had a better time in the 40.

* * *

9. This former Bledsoe caddy is probably the only player Andy Gresh could get correct in this quiz, seeing that they do a radio show together every morning. Actually, come to think of it, I'm still not sure he'd get it.

* * *

10. Plodding running back, a first-round pick in '91, was stabbed in the chest outside a club in '93. Irving Fryar's wife was not considered a suspect.

* * *

11. Archaologists report this football dinosaur was tall with a strong arm, and he's fossilized proof that there was indeed Life Before Brady. Last seen getting sacked by his own kids at the Parenting With Dignity Summer Picnic after holding the Nerf ball too long.

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12. This underachieving former receiver + pool cue = extremely agitated and vengeful Lawyer Milloy. Once missed a good chunk of a season with a hamstring injury, prompting Bill Parcells to note, "I came back from my heart-bypass surgery faster."

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13. One of the Giants retreads Parcells brought with him to the Pats, this safety had five interceptions in two seasons in New England before losing his job to . . .

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14. . . . this savvy but slow safety nicknamed "Big Play," who unfortunately tended to give up as many as he made. His end-zone interception of Mark Brunell in the '96 AFC Championship Game helped seal franchise's second trip to the Super Bowl, then he was promptly scorched by Brett Favre and Co. in the Packers' win. Oh, the cruel irony of that nickname.

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15. A star running back at Ohio State, he evolved into a lumbering but sure-handed H-Back-type by the time he arrived in New England in time for the '96 Super Bowl run. Ran with what had to be the shortest, choppiest steps of any player in league history, but somehow it worked for him.

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16. Ron Borges pegged him as "a slow dwarf" when Bobby Grier took him in the first round in '97. Turned out he was dead-on with that one. The only thing this Kansas State product mastered was the art of dancing like a jackass after making a tackle on a 10-yard gain on third-and-9.

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17. Another blown pick in '97, this third-rounder out of Iowa had a 71-yard run in '98. To be honest, I don't remember him running for 71 yards in his Pats' career. Derrick Cullors and Corey Croom were better backs, and Marrio Grier was close.

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18. Drafted in the first round the same season the Jaguars took Fred Taylor, I'm assuming the picture is hint enough as to this ill-fated running back's identity.

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19. Ah, remember the days when the WEEI banshees used to yowl that this speedy, rocket-armed, completely clueless third-string quarterback should be playing ahead of Drew Bledsoe? Little did they know that it was the scrawny fourth stringer who would become the superstar.

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20. Overhyped, fast but stiff linebacker probably peaked as a player in his freshman year at Ohio State. One of two first-round picks in '99 (Damien Woody was the other), he walked away from football before the '02 season after spending '01 on injured reserve with a neck injury. He always struck me as a guy whose talent was something of a curse; he never seemed to actually like the sport he was blessed to play.

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21. Had 814 catches in a 17-year career - including five in a five-game cameo with the Pats in '98. (Full disclosure: I completely forgot he played here.)

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22. A run-stuffing linebacker with a reputation as a lunatic, he was an important and respected elder on the franchise's first Super Bowl champion; his skull-rattling hit on the Colts' Jerome Pathon helped set the take-no-prisoners tone during that impossibly magical season.

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23. A strapping 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver with sprinter's speed, about the only time he was open was when he admitted he struggled to learn the playbook. Finished with just 12 catches in '02, his one season with the Pats and his last in the league.

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24. Ridiculously touted as "the next Jerry Rice" when the Niners traded up to choose him in the first round out of UCLA in '95, he was too slow to become an elite receiver in the NFL and averaged just 12.6 yards per catch as a pro. Finished his nine-year career with the '03 Pats, making two catches in two games, including, improbably, a 31-yarder.

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25. This fullback caught 826 passes in his NFL career, the most by a non-receiver in league history. Had 19 receptions for 106 yards with '03 Pats, then retired after 15 pro seasons following that championship season.

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My apologies for the lack of posts the past week. Well . . . not really. I'm on vacation - my first extended one in about four years - and I've been taking it seriously, mostly by taking lots of naps. I've made the effort to stay the hell away from the computer other than to work on some freelance stuff. Recharged, I am hoping to post some thoughts on that lying sack of doughnuts Clemens, the Pats/Jags, and anything else that crosses my chick-pea of a mind on Friday, so be sure to check back in then, and thanks for tolerating the hiatus. - TATB Management


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Ultimate, All-Time, Wicked Awesome, New England Patriots Player Quiz (Part 1)

Now that the Patriots have completed their perfect regular season, the bandwagon is overloaded with novice fans who want to enjoy the party. That's cool with us - we're all inclusive here at TATB, accepting of the pink hats or whatever it is we're supposed to call you. (Pink helmets? Er, no, that's probably not it.)

But just for the sport of it, we've come up with a quiz to test the Patriots acumen of you newbies, as well anyone else who wants to give it a shot. Here's how it works: We'll give you a picture of a past Patriot, along with a brief comment or two that should strongly hint at the player's identity. The order is more or less chronological, and a link in each bio will take you to that player's football-reference.com page should you need to confirm ID.

For longtime Pats fans - those of us who remember, say, Fred Smerlas as an All-Pro defensive tackle long before he became the "Messin' With Sasquatch" stunt double who appears on Channel 7 on Sunday nights - this should be as easy as an extra point. For the rest of you . . . well, we'll find out. As for the grading scale, let's break it down like this:

21-25 correct: Brilliant as usual, Mr. Pioli.

16-20: A Dick Steinberg disciple. No shame in that.

11-15: See ya, in Miami, Tuna. And please leave Chris Long for us on draft day, okay?

6-10: Is that you, Bobby Grier? Must have sneaked up the back stairs.

1-5: Scurry back to college, Jankovich. You're way out of your league here.

0: Wait a minute, you're no GM! You're Andy Gresh! Scram! No shrill, FloBee-cut doofuses allowed!

All right, sports fans, it's time. Get out those No. 2 pencils and remember, no cheat sheets (or media guides) allowed. The clock starts . . . now:

1. Two of this respected former running back's sons are currently prominent in the Boston sports media. The elder of them probably should wear a helmet at all times.

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2. For the old timers, this classy wide receiver/kicker/broadcaster is the iconic Patriot, Mr. Brady included. I can't imagine anyone doing a more dignified job of representing the franchise all these years.

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3. This popular and affable quarterback had his share of success in the NFL, mostly with the Vikings, despite throwing mechanics that would make Garo Yepremian snicker.

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4. Former No. 1 overall pick took a beating and struggled mightily with the Pats (8 TDs, 25 INTs in '72), but later found Super Bowl redemption with Al Davis's band of rogues in Oakland and L.A.

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5. Receiver found greatest success with Cleveland Browns; in retirement, he had a brief, comically disastrous stint as a color commentator on Cleveland Indians telecasts, once suggesting that if he were the manager, he'd play one of the outfielders behind the catcher to prevent passed balls. (Seriously - read about it here.)

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6. One of the most versatile running backs the Patriots have ever had, he completed 7 of 9 passes, four for touchdowns, in '81.

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7. It's probably safe to assume he does not, and never will, send Ben Dreith a Christmas card.

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8. My old man still insists he was a better tight end than Kellen Winslow Sr.; Winslow had 148 more receptions (541-393), but the Chargers Hall of Famer didn't block like the player Howard Cosell memorably labeled "All-World."

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9. In 1976, the Patriots ran for a staggering 2,948 yards; he ran for 721 of them second on the team to Sam Cunningham, and averaged a league-best 5.6 yards per carry.

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10. He's probably the only former NFL player who could be excused for watching "The View."

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11. Averaged over 20 yards per catch for the first six seasons of his 13-year career, during which he caught 557 passes for 10,716 yards. Why he doesn't merit more consideration from the NFL Hall of Fame voters remains a mystery to this day.

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12. You can have "Prime Time" Sanders, "Night Train" Lane, and any other cleverly nicknamed defensive back you want to consider. For our money, this eight-time All-Pro is the best cornerback in league history, and it's a shame he spent just half of his 14 seasons in New England.

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13. Speedster from Oklahoma ran for 11 touchdowns and 4.9 yards per carry in '78 and he was a hell of a kick returner, too, but knee problems abbreviated his promising career. On the plus side, he may have the coolest name in Patriots history . . .

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14. . . . and if he doesn't, then this guy, a briefly effective former No. 1 pick out of Notre Dame, does.

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15. In 1979, the veteran receiver caught 45 passes for 1,013 yards, an average of 22.5 per catch - at age 33. Steve Grogan sure did love to throw the deep ball, didn't he? Different game then.

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16. An outstanding bookend to Andre Tippett at outside linebacker, he had his career cut short by a neck injury four games into the '87 season. Is now in his 18th season as an NFL assistant coach, currently with the Chiefs.

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17. Common perception is that he's the biggest sissy ever to throw a pass for the Patriots - John Hannah's suggestion that "he should be wearing a dress back there" certainly didn't help his reputation - but he actually had a fine '86 season as the Patriots won the AFC East title. Yeah, he may have gone fetal at the first sign of a pass rush, but he's not the worst quarterback the Patriots ever had - though in retrospect, Dan Marino might have been a wiser pick in the '83 draft.

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18. This talented but oft-injured running back's brother, Chris, played briefly for the Red Sox in '95. If you follow college football, you probably see him every Saturday on TV; he's carved out a successful second career as an analyst and commentator.

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19. Bulled his way to 1,168 rushing yards and a Pro Bowl bid in '88, but was unpopular with teammates and never ran with quite the same fury after a helmet-to-helmet collision with the Niners' Jeff Fuller left the standout safety partially paralyzed.

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20. Must . . . resist . . . Patriot Missile . . . jokes . . .

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21. Talented, troubled No. 1 pick in '89 just fractured his leg in three places while reading this.

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22. Menacing tackling machine was one of few standouts on some truly wretched Patriots teams, but creaky knees ended his career at age 30 just when Parcells was turning the franchise around. No one ever said professional sports is fair.

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23. A first-round pick by the Red Sox out of Brockton High, he instead chose to attend Michigan on a football scholarship. Was it the right choice? Hard to say. We never found out if he could hit a curveball, but we did learn he wasn't particularly gifted at catching a football. His NFL ended after 4 1/2 nondescript seasons.

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24. The one that got away. Allowing Parcells to steal him away was the biggest personnel mistake the Patriots have made since Bob Kraft bought the team. But hey, at least they kept Todd Rucci.

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25. Second-round pick in '98 was the Bethel Johnson of his time - he could take your breath away with his pure speed, but struggled with the other, more complex requirements of an NFL receiver, such as running the correct routes and catching the damn football. My goodness, I just described Chad Jackson, too, didn't I? Yikes. He's doomed.

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Okay, that's all we've got for now, but hopefully we'll do this again soon. In the meantime, study up - especially if you happen to be a certain member of the Patriots' radio pregame show. You know who you are.