The Blog Squad

Friday, April 25, 2008

Curses, Foiled Again

This should be interesting. Electronic Arts officially announced today that retired Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre will grace the front of Madden NFL 09.

Peter Moore, EA Sports president, discussed the move on his blog and the popular game's Facebook page reveals the new cover. Madden is scheduled to be released Aug. 12.

I’m in disbelief.

Why would Favre do this to himself?

For a man who has experienced a few tragedies in his life, he should know better than to bring such a thing into his home. I’m sure most people remember when his father died. Or when his wife battled cancer. Or when he admitted that he had an addiction to prescription pills. Oh, yeah, let’s not forget about Hurricane Katrina destroying his home.

And now this?

Why, Brett?

I thought you were going into retirement quietly. I thought you were going to ride an ATV around your property, find a perfect spot to lay back and watch the sky move.

This is a thrill you can do without.

Could it be you don’t believe?


Everyone believes in the Madden Curse.

Maybe you should talk with Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders about it. He was the first victim. Sanders was the 2000 cover boy. He was young, healthy and at the peak of his career. He was also one year away from breaking Walter Payton’s all-time career rushing record. Then he randomly retired. Nobody knows why. It’s even rumored that Sanders doesn’t really know the reason.

I do.

The Madden Curse.

Tennessee running back Eddie George was next. He had just completed a great year, rushing for 1,509 yards and 14 TDs. The cover year produced a drop of nearly 600 rushing yards, even though he played all 16 games. George was never the same and retired three years later at age 31.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper’s year was 2002. He had thrown 33 TDs and rushed for 7 more the season before. His cover year produced a season-ending knee injury after 11 games.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk put up some eye-popping stats. He was named to the 2003 cover after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in seven of eight seasons. He also had four consecutive years of 80-plus catches. His cover year produced nagging injuries and poor performances. He never reached the 1,000-yard rushing plateau again in his final four seasons and retired at age 32.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is perhaps the greatest player in Madden history. He donned the cover in 2004. Then he broke his fibula in the preseason and started just four games. The curse continued to bite Vick as he is now in prison serving time for dogfighting.

Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is considered one of the most dominant defensive forces to ever play. He had 121 tackles and six interceptions as the leader of a great defensive unit. He was rewarded the next season with the cover of Madden. He made 20 fewer tackles and didn’t record an interception. His team also missed the playoffs. Oh, yeah, Lewis was injured and was forced to sit out a game.

The cover boy for 2006 was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. The year before, he passed for 31 TDs, led his team to a 13-3 regular season record and a berth in the Super Bowl. What happened after the Madden Curse got him? He suffered a sports hernia after the first game. McNabb tried to play through it, but was eventually shut down after nine games. The Eagles fell to 6-10 and the following season, McNabb tore his ACL in the 10th game.

Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander was coming off an MVP season when he was put on the 2007 Madden cover. He then broke a bone in his foot and was limited to 10 games. Alexander was recently cut.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young thought he survived the curse. Not so fast. An injury forced him to miss his first game ever — high school, college and professional career. Experts have said Young also regressed in his play, throwing for 3 fewer TDs and 4 more INTs.

That brings us to the present. Maybe Brett thinks he’ll be immune to the Madden Curse since he’s not playing anymore. All I have to say is: Brett, stay off ladders.

OUT AT HOME: Does mocking the first round of the upcoming NFL draft make me a geek? My wife (proudly?) thinks so.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This is an interesting concept. It makes sports writers accountable.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One Coach Stays, One Goes Antiquing

I should have picked up on the hints.

When I heard Virginia Union University coach Dave Robbins announced his retirement this week after 30 seasons of leading the men’s basketball team, I thought about our many conversations last October. Several months back I wrote a story for Richmond magazine about Robbins and his tenure at the historically black university on Lombardi Street.

Robbins, 65, compiled a 713-194 record as the first white coach in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. He won three NCAA Division II national championships and coached a handful of players who later found success in the NBA.

He was perhaps the most interesting person in the city. A white man who had transcended race and culture to become a strong and dignified leader of young men. His stories, his memories — whether they be of racial friction or cultural education or basketball glory — are more than enough to fill a book.

During one of our conversations, I asked Coach if he was going to retire after the season. He waffled, prattled on and on about how he wasn’t thinking about it, that he didn’t want such talk to be a distraction.

However, he did drop some hints, and if I had been better at reading between the lines, I would have known he had made up his mind already.

He admitted that there was some symmetry to 30 seasons. It was a nice neat number that universally represents retirement because of vested pension plans after that many years.

He also said back in October that his longtime assistant of 23 years, Willard Coker, was deserving of an opportunity to lead the Panthers. Coker played for Robbins on the first national championship team in 1980.

“It’s a happy, happy day for me, mainly because Coach Coker will be taking over, Robbins,” said Tuesday during a press conference. “He’s a good friend. He is more than ready to take the program and run.”

When I last spoke to Robbins in October, I asked him hypothetically what he would do if he retired since coaching had been a part of his life for 42 years.

“Antiquing,” he replied.

Right there was the biggest clue. Antiquing is searching for something, perhaps a masterpiece, belonging to the past. Maybe Robbins realized it was time to let go and allow the future to happen.

Robbins is a great man in every sense of the word. He is humble, faithful and treats people with goodness and kindness. He also walked away when he felt he needed to move on. As much as the decision will torment him in the nights to come, it was an altruistic act befitting of only great men.

The other coaching move that needs discussion is Virginia Commonwealth University’s effort to keep Anthony Grant for one more season.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in early April that VCU was working on a financial package that would pay Grant “at least $750,000 and possibly close to $900,000 with incentives and basketball camps.” The paper confirmed that Grant is currently making a base salary of $400,000 with a $100,000 annuity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Coach Grant. He’s brought so much joy and pride to my alma mater in two short seasons—he’s 52-15 with a victory in the NCAA tournament over Duke.

But VCU is not an institution where coaches make that kind of money. Dare I drop the cliché? You can buy a lot of library books with that cash. I gulped hard when I heard he was making $500,000 and thought he probably deserved it. But with all apologies to Grant, an amazing coach who will one day earn seven figures annually, if it’s going to take nearly $1 million to keep you, I’d just as soon go after the next young hot coach.

Besides, Grant’s new raise could instead be a great financial start to adding a football team.

OUT AT HOME: Another reason why I hate mowing the lawn. I was grinding away yesterday while my wife was replanting some daffodils. Suddenly, I hear a faint scream. I turned and found her bleeding from a gash on the tip of her nose and on her cheek, which swelled up to the size of a golf ball. Apparently, the lawn mower shot a stick or rock at my wife’s beautiful face. Poor thing. Now she looks like Marcia Brady after that time she took a football to the nose.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Are you kidding me?

Friday, April 11, 2008

21 Bad Days 20 Years Ago

Imagine stubbing your left big toe for 21 consecutive days. Or having a flat tire for 21 mornings in a row. Or spilling your dinner wine for 21 straight evenings.

Hard to believe it could happen. But if it did, I would suspect it would be more incredible to consider that no matter what you did — make changes in your routine, anticipate the occurrence or seek professional help — the same thing happened over and over. There was nothing you could do to stop it.

It’s not some far-fetched Twilight Zone plot. This 20-year-old story has some truth to it. For one April in 1988, the Baltimore Orioles experienced something very similar when they lost their first 21 games. The losing streak to start a season is a Major League Baseball record.

Just take a moment and think about it. That’s 21 games in a row. How does this happen?

It’s not like the Orioles were a bad team. They had two future Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray. They had two very capable catchers in Mickey Tettleton and Terry Kennedy. The outfield of Brady Anderson, Fred Lynn and Larry Sheets was very solid. The pitching staff featured a young Curt Schilling, veterans Mike Boddicker and Scottie McGregor as well as hurlers in their prime like Mike Morgan, Jeff Ballard and Dave Schmidt. This was a decent team.

Plus, they say baseball is a game of inches, and on any given day, the ball will fall your way. And with this law of averages, it’s unlikely that good teams can lose more than a handful in a row. Nature won’t allow it.

But that was certainly not the case for these Orioles of my childhood.

April 9, 1988, was opening day at Memorial Stadium. A then franchise-record crowd of 52,395 showed up to witness the Orioles give one of the worst season-opening performances in history.

Baltimore lost 12-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers and in the process let a man score from second on an infield hit, allowed a steal of home, yielded 16 hits, threw two wild pitches, walked five batters and hit two more. All of this in front of Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who threw out the first pitch.

Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. told the Washington Post after the game: “Sometimes you have games like that. You don’t like to see it on opening day, especially in front of your fans, but it’s a funny game. The positive thing is that we’re going to show up Wednesday and the score will be 0-0. We’re a lot better than we showed today. I guarantee you that.”

General Manager Roland Hemond added: “We'll bounce back. Every team has games like this.”

Little did they know.

Wednesday indeed came but not the fans. Only an announced crowd of 13,487 watched Baltimore lose 3-1. The Orioles flew to Cleveland and were swept in four games, being outscored 28-6 by the Indians.

The streak stood at six, and Cal Ripken Sr. was fired and replaced by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

The beatings continued. Three more games to the Royals. Then three to the Indians. Baltimore nearly snapped their streak when Mike Morgan pitched a shutout for nine innings against Cleveland. However, the Indians scored in the 11th to take the lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Billy Ripken hit a single and then Murray missed a homer by inches. The double put runners at second and third. Baltimore failed to bring them home and lost 1-0.

The Orioles extended their streak to 15 when they lost three to the Brewers. The Royals stole three more from Baltimore in the next series. The losses featured several storylines. In the opening game, Kansas City scored nine runs in the first inning. Then in the next, the Washington Post ran this headline: “17th Loss Elemental, 4-3, Royals.”

The story’s lede was this: “KANSAS CITY, MO., APRIL 23 — They could have littered the roadway with excuses. They could have pointed toward a dazzling sun that cost them two runs or a dancing wind that cost them another.”

Apparently Mother Nature was in on the joke as well.

President Ronald Reagan called the team before the 19th consecutive loss. Iced champagne couldn’t prevent losses in games 20 and 21. The Twins were the seventh team to sweep the Orioles in the young season.

But the nightmare ended on Friday, April 29, when Baltimore beat the Chicago White Sox, 9-0, before 14,059 fans at old Comiskey Park. The streak had lasted 26 days.

“We have pride, and this has been tough,” reliever Dave Schmidt told the Washington Post. “To lose and lose like this has hurt. We handled it pretty well, getting the same question day after day. We know we’re not this bad, and to lose like this is incredible. We couldn’t relax until it was over, and we didn’t until it was over tonight.”

The Orioles promptly went out the next night and lost to end April with a record of 1-22.

OUT AT HOME: My dad is coming to town from NoVa to visit tomorrow. That means we’ll be going to Super King Buffet for dinner. It is simply the best place for a glutton like me.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: If this is wrong, I never want to be right.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Shadow for Hire

I’d like to hire myself out. I’m available full time or part time.

Here’s my ad.

Have you been ARRESTED several times in the past couple of years? Do you seem to always find trouble when you go to nightclubs? Are you on super-double probation with your professional organization or the league?
Since your agent and lawyer don’t give a #%$^& about you, let me make sure your nose always stays clean.
I’ll taser you if you decide to backhand a stripper. I’ll put a boot far in your rear if you want to wave a handgun about. And I’ll squeeze and not let go if you think it’s a good idea to drive after several magnums of champagne.
You’ll thank me in the morning when you wake up in your own bed.

I’m not sure where I can place the ad. Maybe Sports Illustrated?

My career inspiration came after I read that Chris Henry, a talented receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, recently was arrested for the fifth time since 2005. The team cut him yesterday while he was in jail awaiting arraignment on assault charges.

Henry, 24, is accused of punching an 18-year-old in the face and breaking his car window with a beer bottle. A municipal court judge set Henry’s bond at $51,000 and noted his previous arrests for drugs, guns and alcohol. Judge Bernie Bouchard also called Henry a “one-man crime wave.”

The NFL would not speculate on Henry’s future with the league, but it’s likely he’ll be suspended indefinitely if he’s convicted. He was suspended for eight games last year for violating the league’s conduct policy. He was also forced to sit out two games in 2006 because of misconduct.

Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement that Henry had forfeited his career with the club.

“His conduct can no longer be tolerated,” Brown said.

The Bengals had 10 players arrested from April 2006 to June 2007.

Hypothetically, if I was out on the town with one of my pro-athlete clients, this is what would happen. Before heading out, I would attach a remote electrical shocking device to his armpits so I could singe his hair with the push of a button.

The pro and I go out, he in a chiffon lemon suit and me in jeans and a grungy hoodie. We enter a club. He sees some lovely ladies and moves to talk with them. I go to the bar but with the client always in my sights. I order a Red Bull. He starts to pound club-issue Mad Dog 20/20.

The boyfriends of the ladies return. They accost my client, who pushes them. Suddenly, “Funky Cold Medina” thumps through the club. The boyfriends and my client continue to push and point fingers. I pull out the remote and shock him once. He jumps in the air and grabs his pits. The boyfriends stop, very confused. I shock my client again. He does the same move — a high jump with his hands in his pits. Others take notice. They shrug their shoulders and imitate. Just for kicks, I shock my client a third time, but with more voltage. He screeches, jumps and moves his feet like they’re on hot coals.

It’s all the rage. Everyone at the club dances “The High Jump.”

Later that night, as we take a taxi home and my client rests his head on my right shoulder, he thanks me for a good time.

I reply, “It’s my job.”

The next day, he trains hard to be the best free safety in the NFL. A week later, I get a call from him.

“Yo, Shadow, you wanna kick it at the clubs?”

I put on my jeans and hoodie and disappear into the night. It’s time to go to work.

OUT AT HOME: Wouldn't it be great to never have to make a bed again?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Imagine if this guy was a golfer or a baseball player.