Thursday, December 24, 2009

My New Year's Resolution

My first thought was to resolve not to further enrage my esteemed colleague Steve Bitker.

Nahhhh. First of all, it's a resolution doomed to failure, and second, I get way too much enjoyment out of being the fly in the ointment.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that many years ago, when I learned the ins and outs of casino gambling, I became a hardcore "don't" bettor at the craps table. For those unfamiliar with the game, the "don't pass" or "don't come" wager is essentially a bet against the shooter (and thus, it seems to win you few friends around the table).

My decision had nothing to do with being anti-social. It had everything to do with cold, hard logic: I learned that once you survive the "come-out" roll (where the shooter wins on a 7 or an 11 and the "don't" gambler loses on those numbers), the odds favor the "don't". You still need Lady Luck on your side, but she's a little less important.

Anyway, back to now, and my New Year's resolution. I'm going to try harder in 2010 to get away from the pack and find those nuggets of logic and truth that seem to get overlooked by the group-think. Bill Belichick's 4th-down decision against the Colts is a classic example: Bill was right; end of discussion.

It'll probably make me about as popular as I was around the craps table way back when.

And it'll probably tick Steve off, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Russell's Redemption?

One drive in a (reasonably) meaningless NFL game does not a career make.

But it may have halted the unraveling of one.

JaMarcus Russell's 4th-quarter efforts in Denver must have given Raiders brass (read: Al Davis) a vision of what they thought they were getting when they made the huge LSU quarterback the #1 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and then lavished huge amounts of cash upon him.

Russell has, since then, been largely a bust. By the time of the Denver game, he'd essentially become the Raiders' 3rd-string QB (and might have been 4th-string had J.P. Losman been signed a little earlier so he could learn a few plays). But with Bruce Gradkowski unable to play and his replacement Charlie Frye knocked out with a concussion, the Raiders had what appeared to be two bad choices: Russell, or Losman, who'd had less than a week to learn the Raiders' offense.

The game was in the balance: 3:29 on the clock, trailing by 6. 62 yards from the end zone. Russell's only other action in the game had been a 3-and-out on Oakland's previous possession, and he started this drive by fumbling as he was sacked. The Raiders recovered for a 13-yard loss, and only the morbidly curious or truly rabid Raiders or Broncos fans were still watching.

Russell threw deep and the Raiders picked up 32 yards on a pass-interference call. Two more incompletions under heavy pressure, and Russell had to leave the game after taking a big hit. Losman threw an incompletion, and Russell came back on 3rd-and-10.

This is where it got amazing. He completed a pass for the first down and by the time we all realized what had happened, Russell had thrown a touchdown dart to Chaz Schillens. Improbably, Russell and the Raiders had a win.

What now? Published reports suggest Russell's heroics did little to convince head coach Tom Cable that he deserves another shot at starting. With only two games left in a lost season, the Raiders may have already seen enough of Russell.

But those few minutes in Denver might convince another team--and maybe even Russell himself--that he merits another shot, somewhere.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gotta Be Toby

When it comes to the Great Rivalry, my DNA goes with Cal (Grandpa Bunger played football there WAY back when; had his knee destroyed on what he always said was a dirty hit by one of Slip Madigan's St. Mary's Gaels).

But I know good when I see it, and I am pulling hard for Stanford's Toby Gerhart to win the Heisman Trophy. Gerhart's performance down the stretch was the stuff of legend. He was the key player in wins over Oregon, USC and Notre Dame. And in that narrow Big Game loss to Cal, Gerhart nearly willed the Cardinal to victory (heck, if he'd had the ball on those final plays, maybe they would have won).

He's also a starting outfielder on the Stanford baseball team, good enough that he could seriously entertain thoughts of playing baseball for a living. He's a good student, has a sense of humor, and his teammates absolutely love him. In short: The All-American Boy.

As I write, I don't know how it'll turn out. I know there's a Heisman bias toward the football-factory programs, and it's even tougher if you're on the West Coast. In fact, the last non-USC player to win the Heisman also strolled the Stanford Quad: Jim Plunkett in 1970.

No slam on the other finalists, but from where I sit, it's easy. Touchdown Toby should cart home the Heisman.