Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Ocho Cinco" is "Loco Cinco"

Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver Chad Johnson--the self-styled "Ocho Cinco"--enjoyed a free pass from the national media for quite some time; for whatever reason, the media preferred to blast Terrell Owens, who has been a productive player and helped three different franchises make it to the playoffs. ESPN's Skip Bayless loves to call Owens "Team Obliterator," but the reality is that Owens' teams have performed well in no small part due to his excellence; the teams that got rid of him are the ones that have been "obliterated" and are still trying to find a player to take his place. Meanwhile, Johnson has played in exactly one playoff game during his career.

I have pointed out on several occasions that Johnson's conduct has had a negative effect on the Bengals. For instance, here is what I wrote after the Patriots beat the Bengals 27-13 last season:

Everybody loves Bengals receiver Chad Johnson. Tony Kornheiser tells us repeatedly that Johnson's antics are not mean spirited and that they do not detract from his team's focus and Mike Wilbon and others echo those sentiments, all the while portraying Owens as essentially the devil incarnate. Anyone who watched the Patriots-Bengals game knows that Carson Palmer threw an interception just before halftime. The pass was intended for Johnson and it was immediately apparent that there was a serious miscommunication between the two players. Johnson jawed at Palmer all the way back to the bench and gave him an earful on the sideline before walking away. As the players headed to the locker room at halftime, Johnson was in Palmer's ear again. ESPN reported that at least part of his message to Palmer was that he knew what route he was supposed to run and that he did the right thing. After the game, Palmer took the high road and said that the miscue was his fault, though ESPN analyst (and Hall of Fame quarterback) Steve Young insisted that the replay showed that Johnson had made a bad read and that he also should have made a better effort to prevent the pass from being intercepted.

In the locker room, Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis screamed so loudly at his players that his tirade was easily audible through the walls to the reporters outside: "If you don't want to be on this team, please don't show up! You don't call the offense, you don't call the plays. You just play. Nowhere in the NFL do guys act like this. We've got to figure this out." He couldn't have been referring, at least in part, to media darling Chad Johnson, could he? Of course, since everyone at ESPN loves Johnson, his conduct and the detrimental effect that it had on his team was almost completely ignored. A couple times, Mike Tirico made comments to the effect that Palmer and Johnson need to work things out because the game is going forward, time is running out and the Patriots are dominating. Kornheiser had nothing to say on the subject. Imagine what his reaction would be if Owens were to have a similar confrontation with Romo. The point here is not whether Johnson or Palmer is right about this particular play and I realize that sideline confrontations happen all the time in the NFL. The important issue here is how the media anoints favorite sons and then accords them nothing but positive coverage while at the same time deeming certain people to be villains and giving those people largely negative coverage. The reality is that sometimes a heated confrontation between two players can clear the air and ultimately be a positive thing and sometimes a heated confrontation is a symptom of a team that is dysfunctional. Without taking the time to really research what happened it is impossible to know the truth--but that does not stop many media members from reflexively bashing certain players while praising others. Coach Lewis' locker room rant and the fact that he has had to admonish Johnson on previous occasions for being disruptive are two strong indicators that Johnson's confrontation with Palmer was not a positive thing.

Three weeks later, I discussed Johnson's interview with Keyshawn Johnson:

It was surreal to see the guy who once said "Just Give Me the Damn Ball!" attempting to be a voice of reason. The sad thing is that, as Keyshawn said afterwards, Chad simply does not get it. Yeah, Chad has put up some numbers in recent years but his team has not accomplished anything and his relentless self-promotion has become a major distraction. Chad's friends in the media tried for a while to act like he was cute but Terrell Owens and Randy Moss were bad guys but that nonsense simply could only be spouted for so long. Owens played a major role on a Super Bowl team and has had several signature playoff games (Green Bay, New York Giants and the Super Bowl versus the Patriots). Moss has also played on very successful teams and had big playoff performances. All Johnson has done is rack up a lot of regular season yardage. Meanwhile, the word out of Cincinnati is that the Bengals believe that they cannot even try to rein in Johnson's act because they fear that his response would be to completely shut himself down. In general, I prefer the Jim Brown/Jerry Rice/Barry Sanders school of act like you've been in the endzone before but what I've never understood is people who blast Owens or Moss but praise Chad Johnson (yes, I mean you, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon--but you are not the only guys by far). I don't find any of those guys' dances/acts more or less entertaining than the others'. My criticism of Moss, prior to this season, is that he left the field once before a game was over and that he said that nobody else on his team cared about how badly the team was playing so why should he. Moss did not seem to have the same work ethic or focus that Owens does. What we are finding out this year is that when Moss has the right support system around him he can still be a very, very good player; Owens has always been a productive player, even in the midst of various controversies.

There are more examples, but you get the idea. What is interesting to see now is that some members of the national media slowly seem to be catching on to what I have been saying all along about Johnson, who skipped the start of the Bengals' offseason workouts and has vowed to play in the Arena League if the Bengals don't trade him. Do you believe for one second that Johnson is going to give up NFL money to play in a minor league? Johnson is an attention-seeking missile who has been "obliterating" his team for years now. His touchdown "celebrations" may be harmless to the team but his other antics are a major distraction. Speaking of touchdowns, Johnson has just 49 receiving touchdowns in 108 career games, well off the pace set by Owens (129 TDs in 173 games) and Moss (124 TDs in 154 games). Owens is a sensitive player who needs constant praise from his coaches and Moss is a player who requires a solid support structure around him to stay focused but they both have proven that they can be impact players on playoff teams. Johnson is a prima donna who puts up good numbers for bad teams and complains that he is underappreciated. Yet, for several seasons the national media has done its best to turn him into some sort of quirky folk hero while simultaneously demonizing Owens and Moss.

It is funny that thus far the Bengals have been reluctant to part with Johnson but that a few years ago they shipped off "malcontent" running back Corey Dillon, who immediately helped New England to win the Super Bowl. Apparently the Cincinnati organization cannot tell the difference between a player who is frustrated because his team is losing and a player whose frustrating actions are one of the reasons why his team is losing. In Bruce Coslet's last game as Bengals coach, Dillon ran for nine yards on 12 carries behind poor blocking and a bad offensive scheme; Dillon became so frustrated by the team's ineptitude that he removed himself from the game, drawing a lot of criticism from the media. A few weeks later, with Dick LeBeau as the coach, Dillon rushed for 278 yards, then an NFL single-game record. Anyone who understands football--or sports in general--should have been able to see that Dillon was frustrated because the Bengals were a second rate, losing operation, not because he is a bad teammate. Perhaps Chad Johnson will thrive in a new situation and help that team to win--but I'll believe that when I see it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Early Entry Players Have Diluted Both College and Pro Basketball

March Madness is always exciting and this year is no exception but it is obvious that the overall level of play in college basketball is not as high as it used to be--and that is hardly a surprise considering how many of the very best players are "one and done" guys who go to the NBA after their freshman seasons, not to mention the number of players who went straight to the NBA from high school in the past decade before the NBA forbade that from happening. For better or worse, most of the best basketball players in the world who are 19 or older are all in the NBA. I say "for better or worse" because, on the one hand, a prodigy like LeBron James blossomed instantly and is already his franchise's career scoring leader. No one can honestly say that skipping college was a mistake for him. On the other hand, we did not really need to see Kevin Durant bricking shots all year long for an atrocious Seattle team. Just about everything that Durant learned this season he will have to unlearn in order to be a significant contributor on a winning team; the Sonics let him shoot the ball whenever he wanted and the team is indifferent at best defensively and does not always seem to play hard. Those are all traits and tendencies that will have to be corrected.

If Durant had stayed in college he likely would have had a spectacular season and perhaps he could have even led Texas on a magical NCAA run like Danny Manning did with Kansas in 1988. Both the college and the pro games would have been better off if Durant had stayed in school. I'm not saying that he should not have the right to turn pro but the exercising of that individual right does have an obvious negative effect at both levels of the sport.

Another consequence of the dilution of talent at the college level is that results that may look like upsets on paper really are not shocking to people who watch the games closely. The nation's blue chip programs used to get all of the best players and they used to keep them for at least three seasons. Teams consisting of great players who have been well coached and have played together for several seasons are less likely to be upset in the NCAA Tournament than teams consisting of young players who are already counting the days until they play in the NBA. Also, smaller programs who feature players who are not considered top NBA prospects tend to keep their teams together like all teams used to do, so sometimes you have a situation where a team consisting of young, highly touted players is facing a team of experienced college players--and experience is a valuable commodity in a pressure-packed tournament situation.

Number seven seed West Virginia beat number two seed Duke 73-67 on Saturday. That "looks" like an upset not just because of the seeding but because Duke is such a well established program--but if you watched the game you realized that West Virginia is a bigger, more physical and more talented team; this was not a Cinderella team that got hot or made a lucky shot late in the game. West Virginia basically just pounded Duke into submission, outrebounding the Blue Devils 45-19. Frankly, in this year's field the only thing that would have really shocked me is if one of the 16, 15 or 14 seeds had won their first games; the rest of the teams are fairly evenly matched.

While some fans may enjoy the fact that there is not a clear favorite, I much preferred it when the college game was played at a higher overall level and there were player rivalries that carried over from one season to the next. None of the players who participated in last year's Florida-Ohio State championship matchup will play a major role in this year's NBA playoffs but those teams could have been fun to watch this season if their key players had not elected to turn pro. Instead, those teams did not even qualify for this year's NCAA Tournament while their former stars received on the job training in the NBA. Florida actually gave us a taste of what NCAA basketball used to be like because the Gators kept their 2006 championship team together in order to make a title run in 2007.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Black Magic": Must-See TV

ESPN's two-part series "Black Magic," which aired commercial-free on Sunday and Monday night, is must-see TV, to borrow an old tagline from another network. "Black Magic" interweaves the story of the development of the basketball programs at historically black colleges with the Civil Rights movement's struggles against racism and segregation. Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bob Love, Dick Barnett, Al Attles, Bob Dandridge, Sonny Hill, Ben Jobe and many others who played and/or coached at historically black colleges tell their stories. ESPN2 will be reairing at least a portion of the four hours on March 25. As the saying goes, check your local listings. Meanwhile, here are some highlights for those of you who missed it:

***If you think that Mike D'Antoni, Steve Nash, Don Nelson and/or Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers invented fast break basketball then you need learn about Hall of Famer John McLendon. Basketball's inventor James Naismith was McLendon's mentor and Naismith said that he hated to see kids playing basketball at just one hoop; he intended for basketball to be a full court game played at a fast pace with two hoops. Following Naismith's lead, McLendon preached to his teams that the ball should be shot every eight seconds (a precursor of D'Antoni's mantra of "seven seconds or less"). His Tennessee State squads utilized a fast break attack to win the NAIA Championship from 1957-59, making McLendon the first college coach to win three consecutive national titles.

***Jobe said, "Coach McLendon taught us to never use profanity. The coach never talks loud--and your players never use profanity or talk loud. If you can't communicate with normal conversation then you don't need to be on the team." Amen and wouldn't it be nice if someone had delivered that message to Bob Knight a few decades ago?

***Most real basketball fans know that Earl Monroe got his nickname "Pearl" because of a newspaper headline that described some of his college games as "Earl's Pearls." "Black Magic" showed that headline and the sidebar piece that listed those games. Here are Monroe's scoring totals and field goal numbers from those games:

13-20, 33 points
13-21, 30 points
29-42, 68 points
22-24, 58 points
8-15, 30 points
18-25, 40 points
18-30, 49 points
7-10, 23 points
22-41, 50 points
22-32, 52 points
16-22, 45 points
18-24, 54 points
13-29, 51 points

Monroe averaged 41.5 ppg in 1966-67 while shooting .607 from the field--and, no, those are not typos. He led Winston-Salem State to the NCCA College Division championship, scoring 40 points in the championship game; the dribbling display that he put on at the end of the title game to run out the clock would put "Hot Sauce" to shame--and Monroe did not travel, commit any violations or throw the ball off of someone's forehead.

***Earl Lloyd, the first black player to play in the NBA, was a scout for the Detroit Pistons when Monroe was creating his "pearls" for Winston-Salem. Lloyd told the Pistons to draft Monroe but the team's executives were skeptical that a player from a historically black college could really be that good. They drafted Jimmy Walker (Jalen Rose's father) instead. The expression of exasperation/disbelief that is on Lloyd's face when he retells this story (you can see this at around the 20th minute of Part II) is priceless. Walker turned out to be a pretty good pro who made the All-Star team a couple times but Monroe is a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.

***Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland declared that skill at anything is a God-given gift and while there is no doubt a lot of truth to that it is also true that to become great you have to work really, really hard. Psychologists call this "effortful study." Monroe said that he practiced shooting for so long when he was young that his shoulders became hunched over and his mother would rub alcohol on them to soothe his aching muscles. A lot of people say that they work hard and they may even think that they do but few people really understand just how hard you have to work to truly achieve greatness.

***Monroe said, "Once I started playing, I made a list of the guys who really dogged me and as I got better I checked them off the list."

***Most of the Monroe anecdotes were interesting but I had heard them before. However, I did not know that Monroe, like Hakeem Olajuwon and Steve Nash, was a very good soccer player. In their own ways, Monroe, Olajuwon and Nash are three players who have some of the best footwork and balance in basketball history.

***Clarence "Big House" Gaines, Monroe's college coach, preached a simple motto to his teams: "Kill, kill, kill"--in other words, always be aggressive and attack. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady and Bobby Fischer would have loved to play for Gaines.

***Near the end of Part II, Lloyd said, "Black folks are the most forgiving and nicest people on this Earth. I said, 'What could we have possibly done to deserve the kind of treatment we are getting?' It's a tough question to answer truthfully. One person said to me, 'Well, the Lord will test you.' I said, 'I understand that but 200 years is a long time to be tested. I wish somebody would tell me if I passed or flunked this test.'"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Five Reasons the NCAA Tournament is Better than the NBA Playoffs

Selection Sunday is here and March Madness will soon be in full effect. Here are five reasons that the NCAA Tournament is better than the NBA playoffs:

1) The unsurpassed drama of the one and done format.

2) "Bracketology" has become a national pastime.

3) Big shots like this one: "There is the happiest man in America!"

4) Big upsets like this one: "A miracle! An absolute miracle!"

5) You may not want to admit that you like this song, but you do: "One Shining Moment, 1987" (the first time the song aired after the NCAA Tournament).

Do you disagree? Post a comment explaining why and be sure to click here and read my "Six Reasons the NBA Playoffs are Better than the NCAA Tournament."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bob Knight Explains the Value of the Shot Fake

On ESPN's College Gameday, Bob Knight went on the set's demo court to explain the value of the shot fake and how to properly utilize the shot fake to break down the defense. Hubert Davis served as the designated shooter--stationing himself on the right wing--while Jay Bilas played defense and Knight played the role of point guard at the top of the key. Knight said that the shooter must position himself so that he is ready to catch and shoot. His feet should be pointed toward the rim and his body should be on balance. He should turn from the waist to receive the pass (as opposed to turning his whole body, which would then require him to reset himself before shooting). Knight added that the point guard should help the shooter by dribbling away from him, forcing the defense to shift as well. The point guard should further move the defense by faking a pass to the opposite wing before passing to the shooter. The pass should be chest high, so that the shooter can catch and shoot immediately if he is open. If the defender runs out at the shooter, then the shooter should fake the shot and take an escape dribble into the paint. He now has three options:

(1) Shoot the short jumper if he is open.
(2) Drive all the way to the hoop and finish strongly at the rim
(3) Make a drop pass to a cutter if a help defender cuts him off.

Bilas added that teaching the fundamentals of the shot fake is something that Knight always emphasized during his coaching career, a trait that Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up from Knight while playing for him at West Point. Bilas joked that when Krzyzewski taught him the finer points of the shot fake he always told him not to shoot and Knight quipped that Krzyzewski had heard that exact advice from Knight on more than one occasion.

It was fascinating to get a glimpse at the coaching acumen that helped Knight become the NCAA's all-time wins leader but throughout the demonstration one question kept going through my head: Why has Knight been such a boor for most of his adult life? He obviously is very intelligent and he has a passion for teaching basketball--but he is not more knowledgeable or passionate than Dean Smith or John Wooden, neither of whom embarrassed themselves by their personal conduct. I'm sure that there are people who believe that Knight could not have been as successful without being so fiery but Smith and Wooden's achievements refute that notion. Knight accomplished all that he did despite his personality flaws, not because of them. Indeed, if he had possessed less ability then his antics would have gotten him fired very early in his career.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Steroids in America: The Godfather

Although some economists will try to convince you otherwise, there is a good reason that steroids are called "performance-enhancing drugs": they enhance strength and athletic performance. Here is an excellent article that explains how some people got the wrong idea about steroids:

Steroids in America: The Godfather

Charles Yesalis, a leading expert about steroids, delivered one of the most telling quotes in the article: "Denying that these drugs worked is still to some extent damaging [the medical community's] credibility today."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Woody Paige Interview, Part II

While going through my archives, I found an unpublished gem: in October 2004, I interviewed Woody Paige for an article about Larry Miller, holder of the ABA' s single-game scoring record (that article was eventually published in the July 29, 2005 issue of Sports Collectors Digest; you can read a reprint of it here). Paige has spent a lot of time--and made a lot of money--convincing people that he is some kind of buffoon but his real personality is nothing at all like the character he plays on ESPN. I've never met Paige in person and I had never been in contact with him prior to this interview but he spent the better part of an hour talking to me about a wide range of subjects in addition to sharing his memories of Miller's record-setting game, which Paige covered as a young beat writer. You can read Part I of the interview here.

One of the most interesting things that I found out from Paige is how ambivalent he feels about the work that he does on television. His comments in this regard provide some interesting insight about the differences between being a writer and being a "personality." Long before Paige began appearing on TV, he wrote for several different newspapers and sports magazines, including Sport, which was arguably the best sports magazine in the country when Dick Schaap was its editor in the 1970s:

Paige: "I was a contributing editor at Sport for a couple of years. When I was a kid it was actually a more meaningful magazine than Sports Illustrated. I always wanted to write for Sport and I did it for a couple of years. A guy by the name of Roger Director was the managing editor. He has gone on to be the producer of a number of TV shows."

Friedman: "Didn't he do Moonlighting?"

Paige: "Moonlighting, yeah."

Friedman: "I remember that. Actually, I used to watch Moonlighting and then later on I got some old issues of Sport and I saw the name and I was wondering, 'Is this the same guy?'"

Paige: "Yeah. I did some work with him on Moonlighting. He had been fired by Sport and I made some calls for him and got him some interviews. He ended up in LA writing for a show called Bay City Blues, which was a spinoff from Hill Street Blues. It was about a minor league baseball team, before that became popular. It sort of died quickly and Bochco started Moonlighting and said, 'While you are out here, Roger, write for this.' That's how that all developed, because Roger was just a sports guy."

Friedman: "I saw this thing that Skip Bayless wrote on where he talked about the interchange that you and he have on Cold Pizza and how early (in the day) that starts and what all is involved in that and how it is a little bit of a different approach for him from being a newspaper guy and book writer and then being on TV. He talked about how when he writes something he composes it and gets all his points in but when he is interacting with you he is never sure if he is going to get in everything he wants to say. It's kind of interesting."

Paige: "Yeah. He doesn't (get in all his points). I think that frustrates him except I would say this--and he understands this--if he got in everything that he wants to say, nobody would watch it. People would get bored because he would have to say 30 minutes worth of stuff. It kind of works out well. At first I was trying to compete with him, but the guy does incredible research and is very passionate about it. Well, I'm not passionate about it at all. He does that stuff and I kind of listen. He never agrees with me. This morning I said, 'You know, you're absolutely right. I don't have anything to add to that. Why would I pile on top of that? That was great.' When he does that stuff, (sometimes) I'm like, 'OK, calm down.' This morning I threw a muppet puppet at him and spilled coffee on him or something. It's interesting. I guess it's like a minor league version of what Kornheiser and Wilbon do. It's a different time and a different part of ESPN and a different kind of show. It's all a different world (from writing) and I don't know if there will ever be the same kind of self-satisfaction in that. I told a friend of mine today that television is an entirely different animal. You'll write a story and you'll go, 'God, I nailed that lead' or 'I really thought that I researched Larry Miller and I know that and I did as well as I could.' Every morning when I get through with Cold Pizza I go, 'Well, I killed another two hours off.' I don't mean that in a bad way."

Friedman: "No, I understand."

Paige: "It's entertaining and informative but it doesn't have the same feeling--and it goes away. It goes away very quickly. At least, you can look a couple days later at your column or your freelance piece or whatever it might be. And at Around the Horn I've kind of become the resident goof on ESPN. That was a problem for me for a while, but today I talked to somebody who is in the hierarchy and that's whatever--well, I did my writing for a long time. I was a beat writer for a long time. People who I work with don't know that I actually covered beats for a long time. I guess they just assume that I came out of the womb writing columns. I did that (beat writing) and I wrote columns. I am doing this because it is another interesting challenge in my life."

Friedman: "Sure."

Paige: "I just think that whatever you are doing in life and what other people are doing, if you just don't try something different--I told somebody at ESPN that this is more important to Skip than it is to me. And I've known him since we were kids. He wants to make his mark on TV. I wanted to see if I could make this work. I don't know if this makes sense to you or not."

Friedman: "No, it does. It absolutely does. He wants to transition from writing to broadcasting. "

Paige: "I guess I'm trying to figure out, more than anything, why do they care if I am on TV? I'm at the end of my career and this is an interesting way for me to see if there is something interesting out there. I don't have to go, 'Wow, I'm now Dick Vitale,' or whoever it might be. I just want to see if there is a way that I can make this all work. Then I can go off and write books or--"

Friedman: "I get it. I understand. It's funny, a lot of times my Mom will watch Around the Horn and they will mute you or you are doing certain things and she will say, 'Why don't they let him talk? He must be so mad' and I say, 'Mom, that's the shtick. That's the way the show works. That's what he signed on for.' That's what you are doing. Like you said that you are the resident goof--that is a role that you are playing."

Paige: "Yeah, this is kind of funny-- I said to a guy today that Burt Reynolds, who does a show on ESPN Classic, said to a Vice President at ESPN, 'Is that guy really as goofy as he seems?' He said, 'What guy?' Reynolds said, 'The guy who is on everyday.' Jason Myers, who is a vice president at ESPN, said, 'Are you talking about Woody Paige? We don't know whether his personality in real life is him or that is really him. We're trying to figure out who is the real Woody Paige.' So I guess the good point is no one really knows whether I am a soft spoken, introspective person or if I am the goof that I play on TV. I create a character. Vitale is not the guy he (acts like on TV)--I don't want to make a comparison because I'm certainly not (as famous). Eighteen year old kids love us both--I don't know what that says about 18 year old kids. I'm doing Dan Reeves and nobody really ever got that. I am doing Dan Reeves and Don Meredith. My writing was an amalgamation of Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Jenkins and some Jim Murray thrown all together. I was trying to figure out how to do this character and Dan Reeves used to do this southern 'You guys' kind of thing--"

Friedman: '''Why do I have to straighten you guys out?'"

Paige: "Yeah. That's a line that Dan Reeves used to say. Dan and I talked about it. I saw him this summer and I said, 'You know, that's the line.' It was a line stolen from Dan Reeves. The guy who does 'Let's get ready to rumble' stole that line from Muhammad Ali and makes $10,000 every time he utters it."

Friedman: "Michael Buffer."

Paige: "Yeah. Dan and I talked about it. He used to say to me, 'Why do I always have to straighten you guys out?' It's a direct steal from him. There's a little Vitale and there's a little Don Meredith, a guy who doesn't seem to really care a lot. You put that all together...Before we go on the air we get a packet of research material and I'll tell my guild assistant, 'You know, I'm only four victories behind Mariotti.' I'm talking to my assistant but I know that Mariotti is listening to me. He'll go, 'No, I have 12 more wins than you do.' Well, I don't even know and don't care and everything else, but Mariotti knows exactly how many times he's been on the show and how many times he's won. Well, that's the character he plays--the character he plays is him."

Friedman: "It's very easy to needle him about it because he is taking it very seriously."

Paige: "Yeah, the guy who is the executive producer said that (Mariotti) is like a human pinata for me. That's really the truth. I can just bang on him and bang on him and bang on him and he doesn't quite get it. You create a character and that's the interesting thing. I was a columnist for whatever (many years) and I thought that I was a good writer and I think that I am still a good writer but I didn't make a national mark--I did as an ABA writer. I think at least as a TV guy that I have created something that is interesting to me. So Skip and I are kind of enjoying this--we'd enjoy this a lot more if we got to sleep. If we got more sleep this would be fun. He kind of needs me to temper his incredible heat and passion, which surprised me. (There are) two things in his life--working out and sports. He said this morning that he had watched every Oklahoma game. Well, I believe that. The thing about me is I've watched maybe two minutes of Oklahoma this year. So we come from totally different perspectives."

Friedman: "Right. He's so passionate and fired up and has got all his ducks in a row of what he wants to say and you are shooting from the hip."

Paige: "Yeah. That's the thing about it. I told him that I tend to work without a net. He does hours of research. I do maybe six minutes (laughs). I go in there and at the end of the program today they say, 'What's your extra point?' I say, 'I don't know. I'll figure it out.' I don't get timed. I do four sentences. He can have my time, because I can make my point in five seconds."

Friedman: "I really appreciate the time you've taken. I appreciate the insights that you have given me into the business and your experiences. I do enjoy watching you on TV. My Mom watches and she's not a sports fan. She always says that they should give Woody more time. She loves hearing whatever you have to say."

Paige: "I really appreciate that and she's absolutely right."

Friedman: "I'll tell her you said so."

Paige: "Great."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Woody Paige Interview, Part I

While going through my archives, I found an unpublished gem: in October 2004, I interviewed Woody Paige for an article about Larry Miller, holder of the ABA' s single-game scoring record (that article was eventually published in the July 29, 2005 issue of Sports Collectors Digest; you can read a reprint of it here). Paige has spent a lot of time--and made a lot of money--convincing people that he is some kind of buffoon but his real personality is nothing at all like the character he plays on ESPN. I've never met Paige in person and I had never been in contact with him prior to this interview but he spent the better part of an hour talking to me about a wide range of subjects in addition to sharing his memories of Miller's record-setting game, which Paige covered as a young beat writer:

Paige: "I covered the ABA from like '69, then I moved to Denver in '74 and I covered it until its demise. So I covered it for like seven or eight years."

Friedman: "So if you were covering it for Denver obviously then you were at the ABA Finals against the Nets and Julius Erving?"

Paige: "Oh, yeah. My greatest memory of that is that the Nuggets were up by 22. I walked by the Nets bench to go the bathroom and I heard Kevin Loughery say to the players, 'Just go out and beat them up. We're out of this game, go and hurt them.' I mean, not hurt them in the sense of hurting them physically, but in the sense that they're a soft team and the only way to get back in the game is to just bang on them. They came back and John Williamson was a mean guy and Taylor must have been on that club--"

Friedman: "Yeah, Brian Taylor."

Paige: "And Kenon. Kenon could be a banger. Billy Paultz was a banger. They went out and they did it and (Denver Coach) Larry Brown was defenseless to stop it. I mean, he couldn't stop it. Maybe Larry learned something (from that experience) by the time he got to Detroit. They (New York) came back and won the game and I always remember just the oddity of walking by the bench and hearing his strategy. It's kind of funny because I had to be within three or four feet (to hear it) because it's not something that I would be able to hear in a lot of large buildings, but the crowd was out of it because the Nets were down 22. If they go on to win the game then the Nuggets would (probably) have won the last ABA Championship. They got beat on a freaky play in the first game. Bobby Jones was a great defender and went up to defend Julius on the baseline and Bobby's shoe exploded."

Friedman: "I know--I read about that. I heard about that."

Paige: "And Bobby's not a guy who would make up a story or make up an excuse. He said he went up and the moment he went up his shoe blew apart and it distracted him for just enough time that Julius was able to get off the shot and make the basket. So, I mean Denver could have won the last ABA Championship...The Celtics would play Denver (in exhibition games) and you'd talk to those guys and they'd say, 'Yeah, these guys can play.' Because they (the Celtics) never saw the ABA. CBS put on eight games a year or something like that. They (the ABA) played in a lot of small towns."

Friedman: "Do you remember the first game that you saw Julius in person and what you thought at the time?"

Paige: "Yeah, it was in Virginia. It was a game toward the end of the year. I don't know why I know that it was the end of the year, but I wrote pieces for Basketball Digest later and that's why I distinctly remember that Bob Bass had a great quote that I used. He said that whenever Julius went up for a shot, for one his dunks, a tomahawk or something, everybody's ears in the building popped. It sucked the air out of the building--a different way of applying it. I guess Al Bianchi was the coach in Virginia."

Friedman: "Sure."

Paige: "I got to know Al Bianchi pretty well and he said that you're going to see a kid tonight that you're not going to believe. Yeah, yeah, ok, sure. If he's so good how come I've never heard of him? I never heard of him coming out of UMass. You heard of most of the good players but I guess he left after his junior year or whatever. He couldn't shoot, he didn't have any outside shot at all, but I've never seen anything like him. He had the Afro. I remember thinking that this guy's going to play his career in a vacuum. The NBA really never saw him early, because he had to be so much more creative going to the basket and doing things because he couldn't shoot a lick from the outside. He was a terrible outside shooter. If you remember--and you're old enough to remember--Magic Johnson couldn't shoot."

Friedman: "Of course."

Paige: "Well, Julius was that bad. (ed. note: To be fair to Erving, it should be noted that in his third season he shot .395 from three point range and he was a .778 free throw shooter during five ABA seasons, including .801 in his final campaign in that league). Nobody would guard him outside, obviously, because he couldn't shoot, so he had to do even more amazing things going to the basket than he did later when he could shoot from the outside. Yeah, I remember him distinctly. Two times in my life that I walked away (amazed). I went to see John Elway when he was a senior in college--because of the NFL strike--and I came back and told Dan Reeves, 'I've seen the future and it's John Elway.' He went, 'Yeah, he's a good quarterback.' Good quarterback? He's an incredible quarterback. That doesn't make me someone who discovered electricity."

Friedman: "Sure. I understand."

Paige: "When I saw him play at Stanford he would throw a ball through a cornerback's hands. You've seen the thing where a guy drops a dollar and you try to slap your hands together to catch it before it hits the floor. Well, the cornerback couldn't react quickly enough. I mean the ball was right between his hands but he couldn't react quickly enough to stop it from going past him, like guys could do in the pros. We started talking about him. It didn't seem like there was any way Denver could get him, but you know that story. The only two times I ever felt that way were seeing John Elway in college and seeing Julius Erving for the first time. We all knew about David Thompson from playing UCLA. I knew Michael Jordan could play--I saw him in the national championship game. I never knew what he was going to be, but I knew that he could play and that he was going to be a great player. I never thought that he would be the greatest. But Julius Erving was a totally unknown player and to see him and go, 'My God, I have seen the Messiah of basketball!'"

Friedman: "What do you think would happen if somehow through a time machine you would have the young free flowing Julius from the ABA and Michael Jordan from whatever we might think is his best year, what do you think that would be like?"

Paige: "Oh, I think that there is a natural progression. I didn't get to see him, but people would say about Elgin Baylor that nobody will ever be as creative or as demonstrative or as good in that position. Then Julius Erving came along and just blew him away and you go, boy, Baylor couldn't hold his jock. Then Michael came along and he did stuff that Julius couldn't do. I mean, he took it a step further. But I think Kobe--forgetting everything else--in certain ways can do some things that even Michael couldn't do. I'd say that there is a natural order, as has been pointed out by Darwin."

Paige laughs, then continues, "There is a natural order. There was never anybody like Julius Erving, not (even) Elgin Baylor. Well, Michael Jordan was like Julius--shorter, better shooter. He had--­probably because he had the North Carolina background--a much more functional game. I mean, he had a more solid game. Julius' game was based on the playground. Michael played in a very formalized system under Dean Smith. That is probably what made him able to take it (further)--because he could do things that Julius couldn't do in a formalized setting and win championships and he had Scottie Pippen, who had his back. I would have loved to see them (go head to head with both in their primes), but we got to see Larry Bird and Magic and I don't know how much more I could have taken. What was funny to me is that Julius Erving leaves Bianchi and those people in Virginia and you say, 'How in the world could you do that?' and Al Bianchi says, 'Wait until you see this next kid.' Yeah, sure, ok. Then you see George Gervin and you go, 'Where do they get these guys?' I mean, people that just show up out of nowhere and can play their asses off. Gervin had been in junior colleges and he was sort of like Jim Thorpe--you didn't know if he was playing for pro teams when he was 14 years old or what."

Friedman: "You're right. These guys come out of nowhere and then these guys could really play."

Paige: "Who in the world could imagine that one stupid club that lasted three years or whatever could come up with Julius Erving and George Gervin? I mean, where in the hell did that come from? The Boston Celtics did not come up with Larry Bird and then another Larry Bird. You don't come up with Magic Johnson and then another Magic Johnson. You (much later) come up with Kobe Bryant."

Friedman: "That franchise, in its earlier incarnation under a different name, didn't they have Rick Barry? He didn't want to go (to Virginia) when they changed the name--"

Paige: "They didn't discover him."

Friedman: "Oh, right, I see what you're saying--they didn't discover him (like they discovered Erving and Gervin)."

Paige: "Yeah, I mean Julius Erving and George Gervin came out of nowhere and suddenly are playing for the Washington Caps/Virginia Squires."

Friedman: "No, I see what you are saying--players that they discovered, not just who showed up on the team."

Paige: "Yeah. Did they totally discover them? Maybe not, but everybody says that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity and also discovered small town newspapers and the post office. Well, you know, other people equally 'discovered' some of those things, but Benjamin Franklin is remembered for it. I don't know that the Virginia Squires get the credit that they deserve for discovering a couple guys that nobody had ever heard of."

Friedman: "They just didn't have the financing to keep them, right?"

Paige: "Yeah. I don't remember the owner's name, but he said that we did as much as we could and then we sent them along. They hung on as long as they could. Julius got to play in New York and got to play in Philadelphia, so we all got to see him, but by the time he got to Philadelphia he was not--he was a much more fundamentally sound player and smarter player and a classy player, but he was not the young man who just played such a natural game that--well, most people never saw what Julius Erving was really about. Would you like to see a young Julius against a young Michael Jordan? Yeah, but I would like to see Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth play in the same game, but you can't do that."

Friedman: "With Julius and Jordan I am interested in your perspective because you have seen them both in person. I always thought, observing more from a distance, it seemed to me that Julius had more of a tendency to defer to teammates. When he came to a team he wouldn't say 'It's my team.' He would always say that it was McGinnis' team and Collins' team--that we are sharing that role. It seemed to me that Jordan had a personality that whatever team he was on was his team and he made it clear to everybody on the other team and on his team that it was his team and that he was taking the last shot and averaging 30 points and everyone falls in line behind him. Do you think that there is any credence to that, that maybe Julius' personality was a little different than Jordan's in some way?"

Paige: "He (Erving) was for most of his career a much lower key person, yes. I think there is a great deal of truth to that. I'll tell you, on the other side, he was a lot better leaper than Jordan. People think of Michael as a great leaper, but he couldn't touch Julius' leaping. If you were to go see Julius today, Julius has the biggest hands I've ever seen. I mean, that's why (he was so exceptional)--when you add leaping ability to the incredible hands. You know, who cares, but the untold story about Artis Gilmore is that he couldn't palm a basketball. He was a guy who was 7'2" and had to put stickum on his hands and players hated playing against him because the ball was always sticky because Artis Gilmore couldn't palm a basketball. He had the smallest hands in the world. Julius had the largest hands. I mean he wore the size 14 or 18 glove that you would see on a defensive lineman now. That really never got noticed. He had just incredible hands, so he could do a lot more with the basketball than Michael ever could and he had better leaping ability. He was not the shooter that he (Jordan) was and he was not the leader. Fundamentally he was not the guy, because as I said, Michael Jordan played for Dean Smith, who had the great ability to take incredible players and turn them into really average players. Dean and I are friends, but I mean everybody who went there you think, 'This guy isn't going to be much of a pro' and then (after they do well in the pros) you go, 'Why didn't he play great there?'"

Friedman: "It's the system, right?"

Paige: "Yeah. I think there is a great truth to that. He was much more of a leader than Julius was but that happened late. When he was in Philadelphia he took control of the team over McGinnis and when they played the Lakers and Pat Riley's club he was really a great leader at that point."

Friedman: "I don't know in would even call it being more or less of a leader--I think it (Julius Erving's style) is a different kind of leadership. I think Jordan was an assertive leader. Julius was more of a leader who led by example, it seemed to me. He would work hard, he'd show up, he'd practice, he'd play hard, but he wasn't the kind of person to get into someone's face--"

Paige: "A lot less vocal."

In Part II, Paige explains how he developed the persona that he uses on "Around the Horn" and which prominent NFL coach first asked the famous question, "Why I always have to straighten you guys out?"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Kobe Bryant Rallies Support for Darfur

I originally posted this at 20 Second Timeout but due to the importance of this issue I decided to reprint it here as well.

You may have already seen the PSA that Kobe Bryant just did regarding the genocide that the Sudanese government has been committing for years in the Darfur region. If you missed it, you can check it out here:

Darfur/Kobe Bryant PSA

According to a press release that I received from Hunter Payne, the founder of the non-profit organization Aid Still Required, "Bryant joins NBA notables Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Luol Deng, Derek Fisher, Baron Davis, Grant Hill, Derek Fisher, Emeka Okafor, Andrew Bynum and many more in speaking out about the atrocities. Celebrities and dignitaries involved in similar advocacy include Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Sheryl Crow, Mia Farrow, Common, Ellen DeGeneres, Donovan McNabb, Jessica Biel, Don Cheadle, Desmond Tutu, Barack Obama and President Bush. A few weeks ago Steven Spielberg quit his Beijing Olympics Artistic Director position in protest of China’s policies regarding Darfur. Between 200,000 and 450,000 people have been slaughtered in Darfur over the past five years and 2.5 million have fled to refugee camps...Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ira Newble began the NBA players Darfur campaign late last season by writing a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao asking him to use his considerable influence on Sudan to stop the violence. 12 Cavaliers signed the letter, the notable exception being LeBron James, who said at the time he needed to know about the situation more before signing. Separately last summer Newble and Tracy McGrady traveled to refugee camps in Chad on the Darfur border. Both have professed their trips to be life-altering. 15 NBA players have taped public service announcements, all calling for support."

Anything that increases public awareness of the horrors of Darfur is important and could still potentially save thousands of lives; as Edmund Burke once wrote, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." That said, I must disagree with one of the premises cited in the aforementioned press release, namely that the crisis in Darfur is primarily related to drought conditions there and a lack of "sustained economic development." While those issues do indeed need to be addressed, what has been going on in Darfur for years while most of the rest of the world shut its collective eyes is nothing less than state-sponsored genocide being committed by Sudan's Arab/Muslim government against ethnic African communities within its borders. This has been documented for quite some time. For instance, an April 27, 2004 fact sheet from the U.S. State Department declared, "The international community can no longer ignore the violence and atrocities taking place in Darfur. For more than 20 years the people of Sudan have been witness to a civil war between the Government of Sudan in the north and the Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Movement/Army stationed in the south. Now as both sides are close to the signing of an agreement that would end the conflict in the country, the Sudanese government, using supported Jingaweid (Arab) militia groups, are systematically killing, looting and destroying ethnic African communities in the western Darfur region of the country."

Basically, the Sudanese government has used the region's very real economic and ecological problems as a pretext to commit ethnic cleansing against a non-Arab, non-Muslim population that it considers to be undesirable. For that reason, simply sending aid to the region is not enough, because the Sudanese government will not equitably distribute that aid, as the above report noted: "Government forces obstructed the flow of humanitarian assistance to the Darfur region. Many thousands of civilians fled into Chad and were without access to any aid because of continued fighting. The UN reported that there has been a total disengagement of Government administration and suspension of all services in non-Arab villages in Darfur. However, no such measures have taken place in Arab villages located in the Darfur region. For example, South Darfur/West Darfur border, non-Arab and ethnic Fur villages in the vicinity are without services but a largely Arab village only four kilometers away has full services complete with schools, health and administrative facilities."

It is worth noting that Sudan is ruled by an authoritarian government controlled by the National Congress Party, which used to be known more descriptively as the National Islamic Front; that group has been in charge of the country for two decades and in the 1990s they provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden. Perhaps it is not fashionable to speak of good and evil but the horrors of Darfur are not simply the result of ecological and economic problems; these atrocities have been committed at the direction of evil Sudanese leaders and their followers who are determined to completely destroy defenseless ethnic communities in Sudan. I seriously doubt that this genocide will be stopped until that fact is understood and the international community finds the necessary backbone to deal with this issue aggressively; for instance, the political and military leaders who are responsible for this genocide should be put on trial just like the Nazi war criminals and perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge massacres were brought to justice.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Favre Era Ends Quietly

There will not be a farewell tour. There will not be a ceremony. Brett Favre played the game his way and now he has decided to leave the game on his terms, announcing his retirement in a voice mail message to ESPN's Chris Mortenson. "I know I can still play, but it's like I told my wife, I'm just tired mentally. I'm just tired," Favre told Mortenson. Favre added that the only way for him to consider the 2008 season a success would be to win a Super Bowl, concluding "...the odds of that, they're tough. Those are big shoes for me to fill, and I guess it was a challenge I wasn't up for."

Some writers have already suggested that Favre is making a mistake and that he will miss the game. Obviously, he will miss the game--the cliche says that athletes die twice--but no one can play forever, so a player who is fortunate enough to not have to retire due to injuries must decide when he thinks it is the best time to leave the game. Favre's stated reasons are actually very logical. He has already won a Super Bowl and he owns virtually every meaningful individual passing record, so he is right that anything short of winning a second Super Bowl would render another season a failure. He is also right that the odds of any one team winning the Super Bowl are not great. We just saw an 18-0 team that has won three Super Bowls lose in the big game and, as Favre reportedly said, there is no assurance that the Cinderella Packers from last year will not follow up that performance the way that the Bears and Saints played after doing so well in 2006. This is actually an excellent time for Favre to quit: he is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, largely erasing the memory of his subpar statistics in recent seasons. In fact, by retiring now, Favre actually set two more records: he has posted the most yards (4155) and most touchdowns (28) for any NFL quarterback in his final season.

The obvious and inevitable question now--and one that has been discussed with increasing frequency as Favre placed his stamp in the record book--is where Favre ranks in the pantheon of pro football quarterbacks. A few months ago--in a post titled Past Versus Present: Comparing Brett Favre and Dan Marino--I concluded that Brett Favre and Dan Marino are very evenly matched: "Favre has constructed a more weighty overall body of work, highlighted by a Super Bowl win, three AP MVPs and a laundry list of career records. However, in terms of peak value--which quarterback reached the highest level based on his performance during his best seasons--I would take Marino circa 1983-86, particularly the 1984 edition, in a narrow decision over Favre's great peak value run from 1994-97."

I recently did a series of articles titled "NBA Pantheon: An Examination of Greatness" (you can find Part V here and there are links to the previous parts within that article). My general philosophy about sports pantheons borrows from something that I once heard the great Walter Payton say during a radio interview: he suggested that rather than ranking the greatest running backs of all-time we should simply savor and enjoy the unique traits of each of the worthy candidates. "Greatest quarterback of all-time" is a mythical title but it is possible to list several players who clearly deserve consideration for the quarterback pantheon; my short list would include (in chronological order) Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Graham led the Cleveland Browns to 10 championship games in his 10 seasons, winning seven titles; he was not only a great passer but also a very mobile quarterback who was a major running threat. The NFL does not issue an "official" MVP award; Favre, Unitas and Jim Brown are the only three-time winners of the AP MVP award--an honor that was not given out during Graham's career--but Graham won three UPI NFL MVPs and he also won two MVPs (one of them shared) in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).

Unitas set career records for passing yards, completions and touchdowns. Those marks have since been broken in the now pass-happy NFL but Unitas has one record that some have compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak: Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games. Unitas played most of his career in the pre-Super Bowl era, winning three NFL titles; he also played in two Super Bowls, losing to Joe Namath's Jets in Super Bowl III and beating the Cowboys 16-13 in Super Bowl V. As a pure pocket passer he still ranks with anyone who has ever played.

Montana matched Terry Bradshaw by winning four Super Bowl championships. He retired with the highest passer rating in NFL history and he still ranks fourth. The twin hallmarks of Montana's game were accuracy and the ability to deliver in the clutch.

Marino may have had the quickest release of any passer in NFL history. He was not a scrambler but before he injured his Achilles he had the uncanny ability to move around the pocket in a three foot radius and avoid a sack. Like Unitas, he retired as the career leader in passing yards, completions and touchdowns. Marino never won a Super Bowl title and he only made it to the big game once. If he had won a championship he would rank higher on a lot of people's lists.

Elway spent most of his career with a paradoxical reputation: he holds the record for fourth quarter comebacks (47) yet he came up empty in his first three Super Bowl appearances. He seemed to be destined to be known as a great individual performer who never won the big game but then he capped off his career with back to back Super Bowl wins in his final two seasons. For most of his career, Elway was not a particularly efficient passer--he ranks just 43rd in career passer rating, which is not exceptional considering the pass-friendly era in which he played--but those two championships and his many memorable comeback victories ensure his place in NFL history.

Young will always be somewhat hidden in Montana's shadow but he is the highest rated passer in NFL history. That is remarkable because for quite some time he was considered to be a running back playing quarterback; Young rushed for 4239 yards, second among quarterbacks to Randall Cunningham, and he is one of the greatest all-around athletes to play the quarterback position. Young got the proverbial "monkey" off of his back by throwing a record six touchdown passes in a 49-26 victory in Super Bowl XXIX, winning MVP honors. That season he set a regular season record for passer rating (since broken).

Favre currently owns the career records for passing yards (61,655), touchdowns (442) and completions (5377)--but his most remarkable record is that he made 253 consecutive regular season starts (the number balloons to 275 if you include playoff games). Favre' s longevity enabled him to post the most wins by a quarterback (160); that longevity plus a gunslinger mentality also resulted in Favre throwing the most career interceptions (288). He was not as efficient as Montana or Young and he did not win as many championships as several other members of this pantheon but his durability and overall production are quite remarkable.

Manning and Brady are of course still adding to their legacies. Manning got his "monkey" off of his back by winning a Super Bowl two years ago and it looks like he has a shot to break Favre's career records. Brady has won three Super Bowls in four appearances and last season he put together one of the most remarkable single season passing performances ever. Brady is very reminiscent of Montana in terms of accuracy and clutch play but last season's assault on the record book proved that he can also put up huge raw numbers like Marino and Manning.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Browns Gear Up for Super Bowl Run

Browns General Manager Phil Savage has thrown down the gauntlet, declaring that the team's goal in 2008 is not just to make the playoffs but to get to the Super Bowl, a lofty ambition for a franchise that has never played in a Super Bowl and has not even won a playoff game since the 1994 season. During the early part of last season, I was skeptical that Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel would be able to turn the Browns into a winning program but the Browns showed a lot of promise in 2007, narrowly missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record. They sent six players to the Pro Bowl, proving that the Browns are no longer bereft of top shelf talent.

Savage's first big decision of this offseason was whether or not to sign free agent Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson. Although there was a lot of speculation that the Browns would get rid of Anderson in exchange for multiple draft picks and make second year man Brady Quinn the starter, Savage chose to sign Anderson to a three year deal. I really do not understand why so many Browns fans wanted the Browns to get rid of Anderson. Yes, Anderson threw some costly interceptions down the stretch but when is the last time that the Browns had a Pro Bowl quarterback? Would you believe that it was 1988 (Bernie Kosar)? It makes no sense to quickly give up on an obviously talented player who has not even had one full season as a starter. Look back at the careers of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Brett Favre, John Elway and Terry Bradshaw. They made some ill advised throws early in their careers, too. I'm not saying that Anderson will ever be as good as those guys but the point is that it takes quarterbacks time to mature. Anderson has the required physical tools to be a very good NFL quarterback and with experience he will learn to cut down on his mistakes. Also, while Quinn certainly looked good during the preseason there is a big difference between exhibition games and real games. I do think that Quinn will be a good NFL quarterback but there is nothing wrong with having two good quarterbacks on your roster. That did not work out too badly for San Francisco back in the day. For a long time the Browns did not have a single quarterback who could play, so what is the rush to get rid of the best one that the team has had in two decades?

Savage also re-signed running back Jamal Lewis, who had the first 200 yard game by a Browns running back since 1975 and whose 1304 rushing yards last season rank seventh best in franchise history, trailing only six efforts by Jim Brown. With his star passer and star runner securely back in the fold, Savage turned his attention to upgrading other positions on the roster. He signed free agent wide receiver Donte Stallworth, traded a second round draft pick to Green Bay for defensive tackle Corey Williams and traded cornerback Leigh Bodden plus a third round draft pick to Detroit for defensive lineman Shaun Rogers.

Stallworth should add another dimension to an already potent offense but the additions of Williams and Rogers could be even more significant. NFL games are won in the trenches. While Anderson, Lewis and Pro Bowlers Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards are the "skill" players who got the headlines from the Browns' offense, a major reason for the Browns' improvement on that side of the ball is that Savage upgraded the offensive line. In order to get to the next level, the Browns must similarly upgrade the defensive line. After all, the New York Giants toppled the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl largely on the strength of their great defensive line. The Browns need to get better at stopping the run and they also need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If Williams and Rogers are able to do those things and the Browns' offensive players remain healthy and productive then Cleveland will be very, very good next season.