Jim Harbaugh’s new training method?

Jim Harbaugh and Siku the Walrus at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California.

Jim Harbaugh and Siku the Walrus at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California.

How do I not post this? Among the things I thought I would see Jim Harbaugh do, push-ups with a walrus never crossed my mind. Hysterical… Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere. 2200 pounds – that’s how much the walrus weighs, so it’s also brave/stupid? And one last thing – walrus breath has to be amazingly, um, fishy?

Rashard Mendenhall – A Fond Farewell

Masha

Rashard Mendenhall announced his retirement yesterday. Among the free agents that would have been very popular in today’s free agency, Rashard has made an impact for both the Steelers and the Cardinals. He has a Super Bowl ring from Super Bowl XLIII. His college career was stellar. And now he’s retiring at 26 yeas old.

ESPN’s football experts have expressed shock that a 26-year-old would retire. Twitter went crazy. And I’m blogging about it. And I think I’m one of the few that admires Rashard’s decision. I’ve linked his announcement so you can read for yourselves, but I think Rashard is retiring for all the right reasons.

He’s accomplished everything anyone could dream of in football, including the difficult-to-attain Super Bowl ring. He’s a talented writer who has filled his life with other interests, along with football. He’s now following a dream of his to become a writer. Good for him, he’s following the advice of every business person on the speaker’s tour – do what you love and you’ll love what you do. He doesn’t love football anymore, he likes it. It sounds like he’s always “liked” football. But he loves writing. He’s going to write.

So bravo to Rashard for deciding to follow his heart. May we all be so lucky.

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” — Confucius

Rashard Mendenhall retirement announcement

NFL Draft philosophy and the Combine

Pat

With the NFL Combine finishing this week, can we help but talk about the upcoming draft in April? I do love watching the NFL draft to see how each team goes about it. Each team’s draft philosophy. The oldest and most prominent question here is do you draft the best player available, or the best player at the position you need the most? It’s the ‘what came first the chicken or the egg’ question of the NFL draft and has been discussed before every draft I have ever seen. And for both questions, there is no correct answer. But draft philosophy is where the good organizations make their teams better and bad ones make their teams worse.

Let’s face it. Every draft pick is a crap shoot. Some “can’t miss” picks end up dying on the vine. The great pick never makes it in the NFL and you end up paying them big money for a few years to find that out. Then there are the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th round guys that end up being Joe Montana and Tom Brady and take you to the promise land. But it’s not all luck. If you have a solid plan going into the draft and stick with it, you will be a leg up on many teams right off the bat.

I do believe that every team does have to take a look at their weaknesses and make a list of what positions they need to address those weaknesses. Whether it is offensive line or defensive backfield, quarterback or wide receiver, I don’t think you can win with blaring weaknesses. The time between now and Draft day can be very important. Right now is when you can take a close look at the free agents out there and maybe fill a big need before draft day even gets here.

Then I think whatever obvious needs you still have, you address with the first two rounds and then from there on, you draft the best player available at the time. Punters and kickers, if needed, can be taken in the 3rd through 7th rounds. It’s always fun to see how each team goes about it and how their team does the next year. Just before the draft, I will do a blog on who I think did well in free agency and who blew it. Yet another crap shoot.

Masha

The Combine is always interesting to me. It’s a chance for the media to make decisions about the futures of players based on physical performance standards and mental testing. The Combine is a series of physical tests, like bench press, long jump, 40-yard dash, an intelligence test called the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test, and interviews. But there is a real question, in my mind and many sports writers, whether this whole weekend is an actual predictor of future performance.

As a former human resource professional, I have used the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test as a pre-employment assessment tool. The Wonderlic is useful because of the huge database of results it can draw from. The test has been in existence since 1936, so a massive number of individuals have taken the test and because it’s an “old” test, work performance can be compared to test results. It is a timed test that steps the candidate through problems that become increasingly more difficult. The problems are word problems, geometry, arithmetic, logic, and following directions. The score of 20 is supposed to determine an “average” intelligence level. Tom Landry first used the Wonderlic as a part of a barrage of tests his future players took.

So does the Combine testing work? Does it predict great players for the NFL? Let’s look at some results: Justin Ernst established the record for the bench press in 1999. The bench press is supposed to evaluate strength and stamina. You remember Justin Ernst, don’t you? No? That’s because he went undrafted in 1999 and only made the Saints offseason and practice squad. And some Wonderlic scores? Dan Marino scored a 13 (remember, you’re looking for something around a 20…), and things turned out OK for him, I’d say. Ryan Leaf got a 27 (one point behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees…), and as a bitter San Diego Charger fan, I recall he doesn’t have the same type of career as Manning and Brees.

So the Combine is a nice filler in February. We get to see the invited guys run, jump from a standing start, and smile pretty for the camera. But I don’t think it should determine a position in the draft – I’m one for watching how the guy actually played the game in college… prior past performance is a great indicator for future success, or so they say in the HR biz.

Sports Seasons

Masha

I was raised in a city that experiences four seasons. As a result, my sports life also followed four seasons of play. Each season had a main sport with several others that were in playoffs and tracking toward an end. We had baseball and tennis in the summer (I hadn’t been bitten by the golf bug yet), then football in autumn with a splash of World Series, then in winter before my knees turned to mush, we had skiing, which led into spring training and baseball. It was a great yearly cycle. Those were the years when the Australian Open was around Christmastime and the Super Bowl was in January. Yes, I date myself. The sports desert that I was whinging about in an earlier post was instead full of Utah powder (and that’s never a bad thing.) It was a wonderful transition from sport to sport, and by the time one sport was ending, I was ready to say farewell because I had already moved on to the next sport in the cycle.

So when talk starts up about a new football league to “enhance” the NFL with the games held in spring, my mind starts to churn. Do I want football in the spring? In fact, one of our sportscasters said “Which would you rather do, watch Cuddy (Michael Cuddyer with the Colorado Rockies) play in April or watch football?” Umm, I’d love to watch both, I think, but I’d rather watch Cuddy in April. Sorry, I know that’s not the answer he was fishing for, but it’s just the cycle I grew up with. When the NFL draft is over, I’m ready to watch me some baseball. Well, a lot of baseball.

And I’m good with that. I’m not missing football yet, probably won’t start missing it until June. I’ll listen to the trades, how guys are recovering from their ACL surgery, and whatever odd stupid thing the Browns are doing, but I’ll be full fledged into baseball and golf and tennis and the spring/summer sports cycle I’ve lived with all my life. I’m not looking to add an additional sport in the spring. Not sure anyone else is either…

Pat

Many times when my wife is perhaps checking out cycling or FIFA soccer or America’s Cup Yacht racing, I make the joke that the last thing we need is more sports to watch and follow. But it isn’t really a joke. I think of that week-end in September when we have the first game of the NFL season, the MLB races are heating up, the US Open Tennis is going, and the PGA Fedex cup tournament is going on. It’s a wonderful time for sports and I love that weekend but it’s all but impossible to see every game and event you want to see. We don’t need another sport to follow, really. We do not need spring football. They have tried before and you can’t compete with the history and quality of the NFL. A new league is full of the people who couldn’t make the NFL. So you get an inferior product. It just won’t fly. March madness is around the corner, the only basketball we watch. We just don’t like Pro Basketball, but maybe we will continue to try to warm up to hockey. We enjoyed the Olympic Hockey a lot. So if we’re going to add another sport, we may add hockey rather than spring football.

Enter the Gladiator

Masha

This question has been on my mind for a while now, but with the media circus of this week’s Superbowl Media days, it seems a good time to bring up for discussion.

What do we really expect of our athletes? Do we want the Richard Sherman’s declaring their strength and skill (and the ensuing “cute” youtubes of kids emulating his “speech”) or the Marshawn Lynch/Bill Belichick one-word answer and rolled eyes? Do we want the Manning family generational stories? Are they really role models? And when you get right down to it, don’t we treat our athletes the same way the Roman masses treated the gladiators?

Gladiators, according to the histories I’ve read, were cheered in their victories, ridiculed and/or quickly forgotten in their defeats, the difference being our athletes aren’t killed, but rather toddle off to join the media or to fade into obscurity. We honor some with the label of HOFer and wear their jerseys years after they’ve stopped playing. Others we forget, even to the point of not remembering their name when they appear on a stage somewhere. Some of these athletes have given their lives for the sport; no one can argue that Junior Seau and the 11 others who have committed suicide recently didn’t sacrifice for the game.

So enter the gladiators today and may the best team win. We’ll see if the officials need to ticky-tak the game with constant flags or if the two teams can play a clean, competitive game. Because despite the arguments about role models and smack talk, I think that’s what all of us really want, a good competitive game without the flags and interference of the officials.

My dream for next year

Pat

There are only two teams left in the NFL Season. Everybody except Denver and Seattle are looking already to next year. I am one of them. I have a grand dream for next year. I am an Arizona Cardinal fan. I go back to the St.Louis Cardinals of the late 60s and early 70s with Jim Hart, Mel Gray, Terry Metcalf, Dierdorf and Dobler and Jim Bakken hitting last-second field goals. That team had limited success but were fun to watch. That was the start of Air Coryell and his legacy of offensive coaching. Since then they have moved to Arizona and given me a lot of long winters with a few light spots and the 2008 Super Bowl.

But in 2013, the organization seemed to have a strong direction toward winning and really did accomplish some goals for the season – enough for me to dream of a huge season in 2014. One accomplishment was holding the Superbowl bound Seattle Seahawks to 10 points and being the first team to beat them in Seattle in two years. So I am using that success to fuel really big dreams for 2014.

So my dream for next year is that the Cardinals improve just enough to truly compete in the very tough NFC West. Now known as the NFC Best. I just made that up! So they go on to win the division and home field throughout the playoffs. Tough as they are at home, they go on to win each playoff game and go to the Superbowl, also at home. That’s right the 2015 Superbowl is at The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Arizona, the home of the Arizona Cardinals. A home game Superbowl and with all the hoopla, the Cardinals go ahead and win their first Superbowl Championship ever! Hey if you’re going to dream, you just as well go all the way!

Here we are dreaming of next year and the 2014 Superbowl hasn’t even been played yet.  Since I live in Denver, and I tend to dislike the Seattle Seahawks,  GO BRONCOS!!!!!

Masha

C’mon people, let him have this little dream. And since my Niners are also in the NFC Best, I have to support the new label… Bruce Arians has brought a breath of fresh air to Arizona and depending on how the draft goes, next year could be a big year for Arizona. But it doesn’t appear to me that Mr. Martin in Seattle or Mr. Kaepernick in San Francisco are fading away, and I don’t doubt that Jeff Fisher is putting something together in St. Louis. Should be a great 2014-2015 season in the NFL.

Saints/Seahawks and Colts/Pats – woo boy

Pat

Well, the first game of the second round of the NFL playoffs is over and I am one for one.  Maybe I will do better picking winners this week. The Seahawks vs the Saints was freaking ugly. I realize the weather was terrible, but the Seahawks had many chances to put the game away in the first half and they never did it. The Seahawks’ Offense looks out of sync. In the second to last game of the season, the Cardinals turned the ball over four times and the Seahawks were only able to score ten points. This Seahawks team does not look as ominous as they once did. If I were the NFC teams playing in tomorrow’s game, I would feel really good about my chances in a Conference Championship game. I will comment on the other three games in my next blog.

Here’s something to think about. Mrs. Sport and I love to make bets this time of year on what may and may not happen in sports this year. Here’s two we have already bet on.

1.  Will Roger Federer win a grand slam event this year?

2.  Will Tiger Wood win a major this Year?  What do you think?

Masha

There’s a old joke from the time when Bear Bryant died and told often by a close friend of mine. A man asks God why the Tide ran a certain play and the punchline is God saying “I don’t know. Bear, why’d we run right?” Mr. Sports and I use this punchline now for all those times when you’ve made a pick or a decision and it turns out to be ill-advised and stupid. Let me just take a moment to say “Bear, why’d I pick the Colts?”

So far the playoff games have gone totally according to the expected outcomes. I don’t know why I persist in believing that somehow Tom Brady won’t pull it out in the end. Andrew Luck will be an amazing QB in the future, but against Mr. Brady, the dye was cast. I allowed last week’s amazing win over the Chiefs to persuade me that the Colts had turned things around. Watch out next year, because Ridley is going to join Edelman in the most amazingly resilient offense in the NFL.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Sports answers to the above questions were 1 – Yes, and 2 – Yes. The more cynical in me says 1 – No, and 2 – No.

 

NFL Coaches – The Purple Testament

Masha

There’s an episode of Twilight Zone from the first season called “The Purple Testament.” In it, a man sees a “flash of light” across the person’s face when they are going to die. For whatever reason, it was one of those episodes that played repeatedly during my childhood (much like the Star Trek ‘OK Corral’ episode) and is something that has stayed with me over the years. The mystical power of being able to predict someone’s death has always intrigued me.

Today, I’m going to provide my own ‘Purple Testament’ predicting the NFL coaches I believe are not long for this world. I don’t think anyone is getting fired before the end of the season but I believe each of these guys has the glowing face of coaching ‘death’ upon him. Leashes in the NFL are getting shorter and some of these guys haven’t been in the position long, but I don’t see owners living with losing records for long. I think at the end of the season, it’s going to be a blood fest of firings, some reasonable, some obvious, some just for a change. Whatever the reason, I think it’s going to be an apocalypse.

Jason Garrett – Jason doesn’t have just a ‘flash’ of light on his face, he positively shines with a steady, eerie glow. The Cowboys have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so many times this year that it’s become a bit of a joke on our couch. We have a friend in Texas we imagine we can hear screaming from our distant (and safer) position outside of the state, often with the refrain of “ROOMOO!”

Mike Shanahan and his little dog Kyle – I don’t think there’s a single soul who believes Shanahan will come out on top in the Shanahan/RGIII battle. It amazes me that Dan Snyder hasn’t fired him already. The Kirk Cousins move is working well, but I don’t believe it buys the pair additional time with the Redskins.

Mike Tomlin – Mike has dug a hole for himself with a losing record the last two years. (I know, I know, 500 is not technically ‘losing’ in 2012, but for the Steelers, it was not a stellar year). Although he has an ownership group that tends to be loyal and 5 years of success, I think he’s done in PIttsburgh. I think he still has a long coaching career in front of him, but it’s not going to be with the Steelers. The team doesn’t seem to perform for him and it’s time for someone else to give it a shot. Maybe Whisenhunt will come back…

Leslie Frazier – I like Mr. Frazier. I like how he coaches and I think he’s a good solid manner with his players. But I don’t think he can succeed with the Vikings right now. The team, and therefore Leslie, was adversely impacted by the revolving door at QB, but there are performance issues at more positions than just QB. He has only one winning year of the 4 as head coach. The Vikings looked as bad as any NFL team possibly could this morning and I think today’s game was the final nail.

Mike Munchak – Mike’s only been in position for 3 years, but has a losing record. Oddly enough, I think the death of Bud Adams in October may buy Munchak an additional year, because no one has really stepped into the decision-maker role or consolidated the role enough to fire Munchak. With that said, the team has been a disappointment and nothing breeds leadership confidence like someone taking charge and firing the head coach. Might be a good power play for someone in the organization….

And of course, Gary Kubiak has already joined the crowd invisible, no doubt surfacing somewhere as an OC next year.

Forgive him, Pat can’t work on the blog right now, he’s doing an Arizona Cardinal dance around the house and I can’t predict how long that might last.

Week – 16 – WOW!

Pat

The second to the last week of the NFL season is upon us. The cool thing is that at least 10 games this week have playoff ramifications and only one division title has been decided.  The Colts have clinched because their division is terrible. I don’t think too many people expect much out of them in the playoffs. I think New England will take their division and the Broncos will take the West  just due to the tiebreaker against K.C. Lastly, I think Cincinnati will take the division and Baltimore may miss out on the playoffs completely due to playing New England and the Bengals the last two games.

In the NFC, it’s even crazier. I think Philly will win the East due to lack of competition in that division. Who knows who will win the North, there are three teams still in the mix there. In the West, Seattle seems to have control of the division with the 49ers having the first wild card. Arizona will be playing for their playoff life at the Seahawks, a very tall order.

They will all be competitive, compelling football games with a lot on the line.  I for one can’t wait to see how it comes out and how much will still be on the line in Week 17.

Masha

Love this part of the NFL season, and this year has proven to be a great guessing game for division winners. But, today I’m focused on tennis. Novak Djokovic has hired Boris Becker to be his ‘head coach’ with Marion Vajda still on the team, but with “more time for his family.” So my question is how do athletes know when they’ve peaked or when they’ve reached their optimal performance level? Novak and Marion are both saying that Becker will be able to help Novak continue improving “certain parts of his game.” Wow – what could that possibly be?

I understand that Djokovic dropped out of number one in the ATP World rankings, but it’s difficult to imagine that his game will be dramatically impacted by Boris. Now, if Becker has joined the team to give Djoker a mental boost and share some of that German mind-steel Becker was famous for, then I’m all for this. But is seems a bit disingenuous to focus on his physical performance, when, based on what I’ve seen in the last two years, he is at his own personal peak. Can Djokovic improve in the mental strength area, yes, although he has made leaps and bounds in this area from the days when he used to withdraw on a regular basis. I’m looking forward to seeing if Becker can have the same immediate impact on his player that Ivan Lendl did for Andy Murray. Should be a great Australian Open on January 13!