It’s hard to add much to the Colts game. I thought they would hang in a little better than they did, but it’s hard to be too surprised over it. As has been mentioned here and numerous other places, the Colts struggled to get most of their 11 wins this year against far and away the easiest schedule in the league. That is not the formula to success in the playoffs. Even so, the Colts and their fans should still count this season as a resounding success and take it as a wonderful sign of things to come with this group. I’m pleased enough with what I saw this year that this team could be ready to make some serious noise by the end of Reggie Wayne’s contract in 2015, which could well be his own “last ride.”
And, well, there isn’t a whole lot to write about the other games this weekend, which played out more or less how I and many other expected. Where there does seem to be some fertile ground, though, was last night’s Redskins-Seahawks game. At the end of the game in particular.
If you’ve somehow managed to miss it, RG3 has been playing on a bad knee the past few weeks, and it was reaggravated last night earlier in the game. This was a big fear of Dr. James Andrews, whose name you might recognize from damn near every high profile sports injury since Bo Jackson. Maybe even earlier. You might check out that Wikipedia link just for the client list. That guy has had some very pricey joints in his care. There is some discussion about whether or not the good doctor even cleared RG3 to play the past few weeks. Obviously, he did play, and when he tweaked that knee again, he clearly was not the same player. Still, Mike Shanahan stubbornly stuck with him rather than turn the game over to Kirk Cousins.* With RG3 clearly trying to gut it out while the cracks kept growing in the levee that was his knee, the dam finally burst in the fourth quarter. As he reached for a bad snap, his knee went one way, his body the other, before it all came crashing down onto the slick turf in Washington. As he laid almost motionless, the Seahawks fell on the ball and pretty well sealed the game right then.
*If there was any coach in the NFL who would refuse to listen to somebody of Dr. Andrews stature, even after things were clearly going down the tubes, it would be Shanahan. Seems to me that Shanahan has never had any real success except when he has a top two or three type quarterback, and yet, somehow, he’s regarded as a genius. Not sure if I’m buying that one, especially now.
Would Kirk Cousins have saved the day if he had been given the chance to play from the get? Maybe not, but contrary to what RG3 said,* as soon as the injury flared up again (if not before the game started), Cousins was the best option. Cousins was pretty darned good at Michigan St., you might remember. I don’t know why he spiraled down on draft day, but I have never seen any reason why he didn’t get drafted by a team who could start him. Not when you’ve got the sort of messes you see in Kansas City or Arizona. And when Cousins has gotten to play, he’s looked poised and ready to go. Even last night he didn’t look half bad. Now, the rest of the team looked demoralized and had all but quit, but I don’t think you can fault Cousins.
*And I don’t fault RG3 for thinking he is always the team’s best option. Isn’t that what you want from your players? To believe in themselves at all times? This is why you have coaches and doctors to make a less biased decision on who gives the team the best shot. Clearly this failed on a great many levels.
This year’s draft class looks pretty thin at QB, too. I don’t know if I would trade the number one pick for Cousins, but I were Andy Reid, I would be taking a pretty hard look at what pieces I would be willing to part with for this rebuild and offer those up to Washington. And if they aren’t interested, the Seahawks have their own high-priced backup they might be interested in parting with. If you’re Arizona, geez, I don’t know what you have to part with that anybody would be interested in. Not outside of Larry Fitzgerald, and, well, giving up him pretty well guarantees that whoever does start in the desert won’t have a damn thing to throw to. It starts to look pretty darned clear why Andy Reid picked Kansas City to start over in over some other places. There are some good guys in place for the Chiefs. They just need somebody who can deliver the ball. Sounds like it might be time to right what you whiffed on, KC.
I’m trying pretty hard to come up with something today. I’m failing a bit, though. I guess that’s what happens when you fall asleep at 8:30, wake up at 2:30 or 3, spend a few hours watching a show about the Ark of the Covenant, and then fall back asleep for a couple hours. Doesn’t leave a lot of time to take in any sports.
But, we soldier on in these times. Let’s think of some different topics. Purdue? Covered that yesterday. Colts playoffs? Did that earlier this week, too. Pacers? I have the last game recorded, but haven’t watched it yet. Can’t say I’ve paid any attention to the Celtics, so I really feel out of my depth to forecast that game. But, I did say when I started this blog that it wouldn’t necessarily be about what’s going on right at the moment. Or, if I didn’t outright say it, I sure thought it. I assured myself there would be enough historical things to write about to sustain me writing something more or less every week day.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, and it even relates to one of my hometown teams. I really don’t care for how the ABA is still totally discounted and shamed by the NBA to this day. I mean, can your average fan even name the four teams that came over from the ABA?* And, yet, the NBA owes a huge debt to the ABA for a number of reasons. Not the least of which has to do with the NBA today much more resembles an 70’s ABA game than a 70’s (or prior) NBA game.
*That would be the Pacers, Nuggets, Nets, and Spurs. And, no, I didn’t have to look that up.
It’s been written about here and other places, but the conditions of the merger of the leagues was pretty draconian. It set the incoming ABA teams back years, especially the Pacers, who had their own financial issues. And, as I alluded to either, the NBA pretty much took all the memories and mentions of the ABA and threw them into a deep, dark well to starve to death.
Treated like this for all ABA brought to the NBA, not to mention all the great players that came over in the merger. I’m talking about the three point line, the slam dunk competition,* the up-and-down play, etc. Add to that the ABA had a winning record in exhibition games between the two leagues (79-76), and there is some real history here that the NBA is just flat out ignoring.
*Sure, the dunk contest is watered down now, but you don’t have to think too hard to remember the 80’s and 90’s contests that are so ingrained in basketball lore now.
And, well, that hurts. If you just paid attention to NBA media, you might get the idea that Reggie Miller was the first star the Pacers ever had. When’s the last time you heard about Roger Brown, George McGinnis, Mel Daniels, or Rick Mount? In a professional setting, anyway. It’s like it never happened. That, I think, is a big reason why the Pacers have had a hard time keeping a consistent fan base. When a huge swath the basketball watching population knows nothing about the ABA, or only knows about it from stories like myself, it’s hard to relate to that history and tradition. The same kind of history and tradition that keeps teams like the Celtics or Lakers going when they are down.
And, you know, the Pacers really had that sort of history in the ABA. They were the juggernauts. The ABA played for nine seasons, and the Pacers won the league three times, and appeared in the finals two other times. That means they won a full third of the ABA titles, and appeared in over half of the finals held. It’s hard to argue with stats like those.
That was one reason I was pretty shocked to see the NBA seem to acknowledge the ABA with gusto last year with all the throwback jerseys. And I have to say, the Pacer ones looked even nicer than I thought they would. I wouldn’t mind seeing those trotted back out full time. It was made even more shocking by how the NBA seemed awfully uncomfortable the Pacers’ own ABA tributes just a few years ago. They fought for the okay to play a preseason game back at the fairgrounds, wore some (different) throwback jerseys, had Slick Leonard coach the first quarter, had all the old legends back in the building. It was all set up to be a big lovefest for the Pacers history. The only missing was the most iconic thing about the ABA. That ball. The Pacers wanted it, the fans wanted it. David Stern wanted no part of it. Just another kick in the gut for Pacer fans.
Now, if you walk around Bankers Life Fieldhouse,* the evidence is still there. The ABA championship banners still hang, the ABA retired numbers hang right up there beside Reggie’s. There are displays all around the concourse talking about the history. Which is great. One of the best days I spent was at a job fair at the arena. It was nice to get my resume to people, but even bigger was getting a chance to walk around to all the exhibits, more or less by myself, and just take it all in. I would highly recommend it if you ever get the chance.
*I’m really trying to get used to the new name. I would “still call it Conseco,” but there’s really no point in clinging to a bankrupt company’s name, is there?
Still, as great as that is, it only gets the message out to people in the arena who take the time to really soak it in. And that, I would imagine, is a very small amount of people, and an even smaller amount of younger folks. No, if you want to get that sort of story out, you need media help. And these days, for better or (mostly) worse, that means ESPN. And, well, EPSN isn’t terribly interested in that history, and they are going to be even more loathe to piss off the NBA, even if it would help the league. And as long as Stern is around, well, I just don’t see it happening. Maybe that will change when Silver takes the reins. We can only hope, because the stories and history is just too rich to ignore like this.
And damn it, I want those three championships legitimized by the NBA.
That was the Purdue team I’ve been waiting to see.
I think I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that I thought Purdue was going to be just fine this basketball season. I don’t think I said that out of blind fandom, either. Sure, this year’s squad was not going to be the Hummel-era Boilers. There is no Robbie Hummel on this team, and there certainly are not E’Twaun Moore or JaJuan Johnson replacements. Not yet, anyway. But there are still some pieces on this team. And those centerpieces certainly stood out last night.
Purdue managed to put 68 points on the board last night. Usually, the magic number for Purdue is 70, so 68 is close enough. Of those 68, DJ Byrd and Tyrone Johnson combined for 40 of them. Those two guys are not necessarily cream of the crop the way the last group that went through Purdue was, but they are certainly legitimate big time scorers, and last night they finally came alive. Another nice surprise was the re-emergence of Jacob Lawson. I’ve got some high hopes for that kid, and he added another ten points. He is going to be very important, as it looks like we can finally conclude Travis Carroll has been a bust.*
*Maybe bust is too strong a word, but he certainly hasn’t been the big time inside presence he was billed as being when he was recruited.
Even more pleasing than the scoring output, though, was the defense. As you may be aware, defense lives at Purdue. Unfortunately, during the non-conference schedule, it looked like defense took a little break. Not that it was horrible, mind you. They still generally kept teams under 70 points, which, again, is Purdue’s usual magic number. The bigger problem was still the total lack of offense. But, in those games, Purdue’s defense seemed to lack a certain intensity.
The hallmark of Purdue’s teams is that in-your-face, hard-nosed, suffocating man-to-man defense. The Boilermakers don’t believe in zone, and frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of it, either.* The defense has been fine, but there weren’t the obvious moments of frustration from the opposition that Purdue fans thrive on. We finally got to see some of that last night. T. Johnson** had Illinois’ star Brandon Paul*** completely flustered. This was most obvious during a stretch in the second half where Big Johnson stole an inbound pass, leading to an easy Lawson jam, and then totally locked Paul down on the other end in a play where I’m not sure how Illinois wasn’t called for five seconds. I wish I could find some video of it, but no luck so far. In any case, that’s the sort of thing this team has been missing, and I think it has translated to a total lack of intensity (and success) on the offensive end as well.
*I’m sure there is some correlation there.
**New Rule: When talking about all the Johnsons on this Purdue team, Big Johnson is Tyrone Johnson (being the older brother), Little Johnson is Ronnie Johnson (being the younger brother), and Anthony Johnson is Other Johnson (being unrelated to the other two).
***That seems pretty fair to say, as he leads their team in points, assists, and rebounds.
So, where to go from here? Well, Purdue will head up to East Lansing to take on the Spartans come Saturday. Purdue’s had some success in their building lately, last year’s travel woes excepted. Of course, as stated earlier, those were totally different Boilermaker teams. It will be awfully tough for this young team to find wins on the road, I’m afraid. The trip to Madison Square Garden turned into a disaster, even if Purdue was robbed against Villanova. One of the worst games I’ve ever seen happened in a loss at Eastern Michigan. They did look awfully good in Clemson, though. If they can get the kind of game they got in South Carolina, they will win on Saturday. Unfortunately, I think that one was the outlier. I’m not expecting a win, but I do want them to make it tough on Izzo and company. Going into conference play at 6-6, I think a lot of the conference thought Purdue would be a push-over this year. What better time than now to send the message that there’s still talent on this roster.
Here’s to hoping all my readers have a great 2013. I’m sure hoping this year is better than last, at least for the start of last year.
In checking my analytics, I see I have some new countries to add to the fold. Welcome to Israel, Italy, and Hungary.* I’d also like to point out that IE is the third-most used browser to view the blog. My personal favorite, Chrome, is in second, with Firefox leading the way by a wide margin. Just an interesting observation.
*I think Italy is new, anyway.
2012 ended on some high notes in the local sports scene. Purdue could still pretend to be a bowl-worthy team, the Pacers finally could say they were on a real roll, and the Colts managed to make the playoffs as the first wild card. And there is plenty good to say about the Colts. For one, I don’t see how you argue that Pagano and/or Arians aren’t the coach(es) of the year. 70% of the roster turned over from last year, which left precious little experience on the field. And that group, without Peyton Manning, won two games. This year, with even less experience and renown, this team has won 11 games. Not too shabby. Related to that, Ryan Grigson has to be the executive of the year. The argument seems to be going to John Elway right now, and I just don’t get it. He supposedly took this huge gamble by adding Manning. I mean, did everybody in the media forget just how freaking good Manning was in Indy over the year he was out? Let me repeat this. The same core that had consistently won ten to twelve (or more) games every year, minus Manning, managed two whole wins. That shows you just how much Manning elevated that team. If he was anything resembling healthy, there was no real gamble here. And with the workouts he did before he signed, I’m sure Elway lost exactly zero seconds of sleep. In fact, that number was probably negative. Would you sleep a little more soundly if you were told your team would be quarterbacked by Peyton Manning instead of Tim Tebow?
So, yeah, accolades are not out of order, and I don’t mean to imply otherwise. But, let’s be frank here, the Colts are the worst team in the playoffs, and if they aren’t, chances are they’ve got the good fortune to have drawn the other candidate in that race. The Colts, for practically the entire part of the season where they’ve won, have played outright awful for three quarters. Typically they’ve only been in the game by the grace of God. Or, if you’d rather, having the good fortune of playing the worst schedule in the NFL, thanks to a weak division and a very weak year last year. That has been what my eyes have been telling me for several weeks now, and the stats seem to back that up. You just don’t generally advance far into the playoffs with those sorts of numbers. Hell, you don’t typically win more than a couple games with numbers like the Colts have put up. But, clearly, the Colts have had nothing but good fortune since they decided to let Manning go.
The latest turn in the Colts run of good luck,* they’ve managed to draw a Baltimore team that couldn’t seem more lost at the moment. Part of that has been injuries, but this offense has been middling at best for a few years now. Joe Flacco, though I want so badly for him to succeed, doesn’t seem like he is going to be much more than a serviceable NFL quarterback. Apparently the team is acutely aware of this. Why else would a ten win division champion feel the need to fire their offensive coordinator 14 weeks into the season? Especially when your replacement is maybe the least inspiring coach ever, or at least in recent memory, Jim Caldwell. I think most Colts fans would agree. I liked Caldwell just fine, and I don’t think any of last year’s two win season was really his fault. But, I would have to agree that he certainly wasn’t going to inspire anybody to run through the proverbial brick wall. Certainly not the guy you want to hand the reins to when you’re looking for some great spark. And judging by the Ravens response, they have totally failed to get that spark.** They had their own good fortune to be in a weak division this year as well.
*As opposed to the quarters one through three Luck. Har har har.
**The only win the Ravens have got since making that change was a 33-14 win over the also free falling Giants, which probably says a lot more about the Giants than it does about the Ravens.
So, as much as I believe that the Colts* are this years “Good Bad Team,” I actually have a decent amount of faith that they are going to pull off this upset. The Colts might have only beaten one actually good team this year in the Packers,** but I just have a feeling that they are going to go on the road and beat this mess of a Baltimore team. And we can all pretty well thank Chuckstrong for that one, too. You might remember that Pagano came from the Ravens’ defense, and the Ravens defense, by all accounts, absolutely adored him. Emotion will only take you so far, and a lot of that emotion has been spent already by the Colts. But look for a whole new surge when Pagano gets back to Baltimore.
*Along with the just-missed-the-cut Bears.
**Who have had their own ups-and-downs this year.
And if it does happen like I think, look for an awful lot of grumbling out of Baltimore. I’m sure it just twists the knife a little harder for Indianapolis to be the team to put them out of their misery in these playoffs, at least for older fans.