Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Tao of Chip Kelly

...The sudden purge of talented veteran players by the Philadelphia Eagles caught every NFL fan by surprise. Then came the curious additions to offset the subtractions: LeSean McCoy is traded to Buffalo, and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews are added thru free agency. Quarterback Nick Foles bops his way via trade to St. Louis for oft injured Sam Bradford. I could go on listing the moves by Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly, but you've see it all as its streamed in headlines across sports-pages. A life long NFL fan, I've never seen anything close to what's been going on in Philadelphia...

So is Chip Kelly a genius, or mad man?

What intrigues me most, is trying to glean just what he saw - or didn't see - in players most fans thought were pretty damn good? LeSean "Shady" McCoy is one of the elite running backs in the NFL. Why did Chip Kelly opt for Dallas' Murray and San Diego's Matthews; both of whom have had checkered injury histories? Linebacker Trent Cole - now with Indianapolis, and is going into his 11th NFL season - was a key component for a middle of the road defense in Philadelphia. While they added Kiko Alonzo from Buffalo in the McCoy trade, and the competition for linebacker spots looks decent, Alonzo is coming back from injury.  So Kelly shifted from a solid veteran "maybe", to a second year linebacker with potential/injury "maybe"?

"...Kelly gave a contract extension in between raving about the veteran’s leadership qualities. Kiko Alonso is the only return Kelly managed to acquire while parting with LeSean McCoy,Trent Cole, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Cary Williams. Meanwhile, Kelly has commented on how much time Mychal Kendricks missed last year with a calf injury."

While the 49ers have lost loads of players this off season, it's nothing close to Philly. Players left San Francisco of their own accord. Not so in Philly, where Chip Kelly has made sweeping changes based on his view of what kind of team he wants to coach... He signed a 5 year/$32 million contract in 2013 with the Eagles after flirting with Cleveland. In his first year, his offense piled up big numbers. Averaging 417.2 yards per game put the Eagles just behind Denver and Peyton Manning for the most prolific offense in the NFL. Nick Foles finished with 27 TD passes, only 2 interception, and a league best 119.2 QB rating. A more balanced attack than most thought would happen, Kelly's offense generated 2,566 yards on the ground, and 4,110 in the air. That's 6,676 yards combined, folks!

Then, it happened... Kelly wanted more. After a front office shake up left Kelly with more overall control of team direction, players began to to be shipped out, in what came to look like a wholesale house cleaning. In 2013, wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a career best 1,332 receiving yards. He was quickly shuttled out of town after the season. The most interesting - and for me, down right puzzling move - was the trade of LeSean Mcoy to Buffalo. Over the last two seasons, McCoy's production was fantastic: 2,926 rushing yards/694 receiving, and 16 touchdowns. The stat that may be hardest to replace though, is his 179 first downs over the last two seasons... Lots of moves have happened for the Eagles, but these two kind of set an interesting stage for what followed.

I'm actually enjoying watching what Chip Kelly does. He's kicking over the conventional wisdom table. He's in one of the toughest NFL fan towns though. So many would think the Philadelphia fans would be on the verge of rioting in the streets, right? Not so fast. SBNation's Eagles blog - Bleeding Green Nation - has run a month to month job approval poll regarding Chip Kelly. Take a look at the numbers:

So, do you approve of the job Chip Kelly has done as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles?
Chip Kelly Approval Polls:
Interesting? Add in Kelly's signing Tim Tebow to the quarterback mix, and at times it seems he's going to great lengths to keep the Eagles' fan base guessing? The Philadelphia media - long known for being one of the toughest crowds around - has been held in check by Kelly... For now, anyway. I can't help but think the media hounds in Philly won't allow Kelly much leeway going into the 2015 season. If his great experiment falters even the slightest bit, they're going to pounce on him...

I like the idea of a head coach attacking his job in his own way. Kelly's gone at this with his hair on fire, and foot mashing the gas pedal to the floor. "Great experiments" in the NFL are fairly rare. Conventional wisdom, and conservative moves are the standard for the most part. I'm rooting for Kelly to succeed, simply because he's created an air of unknown possibilities. Will he? I don't know, but it's going to be the biggest story line in the NFL for 2015. Now, let's sit back and watch...

*** A big thank you to Pete Dunbar for the great pictures!***

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NFL 2015: What's Going On With The 49ers?

When San Francisco's linebacker Chris Borland announced his retirement after only a single NFL season, it seemed well reasoned, but odd at the same time. What no one saw at the time is how it cracked open a floodgate...

Patrick Willis, the perennial All-Pro middle linebacker - followed Borland into AARP-land. Losses in free agency added to woes being felt by first year head coach Jim Tomsula. Justin Smith called it a career after 14 NFL seasons. Frank Gore hit the road to Indianapolis, and Michael Crabtree headed across the Bay to Oakland, while guard Mike Iupati wandered off to Arizona. Now, starting right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement, though he left the door open for a return...
If you want to look at all this honestly, drawing the line back to last season - when rumbling of player/front office dissatisfaction began to bubble up around then-head coach Jim Harbaugh - makes some sense? From a distance, I can almost see the 49ers players were split into two camps: Pro-Harbaugh, and Con-Harbaugh... Then again, is it reasonable to look even further to a dysfunction in the front office and ownership?

One thing seems to have an underlying truth to it though: Players are leaving in droves regardless of money concerns. In an age where players seem overly craven where $$$dollars are concerned, the 49ers have people simply walking away...

Health concerns - when it comes to playing the game of football - are very real, and I respect anyone who makes the tough choice to stop playing a game that's been something they've loved. Willis' decision to retire is understandable. He's been struggling with foot issues for a number of years, and pain takes a toll on anyone. Davis' sudden decision is tougher to understand, especially when you consider his hint at a return in the future. Players who are injured get put on Injured Reserve; they don't have to retire to heal. It makes me wonder if Davis' is really injured, or simply trying to gain his release from the 49ers? He did suffer a substantial concussion last season that caused him to miss four games. Is this a response by Davis to resist efforts by the 49ers to force him to play when he thinks he needs more healing time? Could be, but it's just speculation...

Yet, what's going on with the 49ers right now has stepped beyond an aberration. No other NFL team is going through anything close to this. Add in how young the 49ers players who are retiring, and it has to make you wonder what's going on in San Francisco? Not to stir the pot even further, but is anyone else thinking some of this represents a broad showing of a "lack of confidence" in Tomsula/Baalke/owner Ted York?

One of the most storied NFL franchises is in deep trouble. The San Francisco 49ers are still a formidable team, but how much more disarray can they handle?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jeff Somers on Book Promotion

The Jeff Somers 10 do's and don’ts when it comes to book promotion:
(FYI - Remember to read the footnotes)
The Terminal State (Avery Cates)


1. ... get a haircut. Whatever that means to you. Shave your head, dye your hair, buy a new wig, *make* a new wig from the shedded fur of your cat -- whatever. Just do some hair maintenance. Nothing makes you look crazier when standing up in front of a room of people than Crazy Hair [a].

2. ... remember that most promotion has no immediate return. Readings, interviews, web sites, videos, podcasts, advertising - it will all seem to disappear into the endless void without a ripple, and you will despair. All you can do is try everything and hope it has an effect down the line.
3. ... readings, but temper your expectations. I have read to packed houses with standing-room-only crowds, I have *literally* read to my wife and two bookstore employees, neither of whom seemed impressed. Readings are hard to predict, so be prepared for despair.
4. ... couple Readings with something else. Even a packed reading will only move a few copies of your book - if you can get some local news coverage you've hit PR gold!
5. ... make a web site. Incredibly cheap, permanent promotion with potential to reach everyone in the universe. Don't go crazy - it's better to have a simple site with boring design that works than some crazy, animated-GIF hellhole of a site.
6. ... have a few drinks. Before appearances, during readings, afterwards if someone is footing the bill. While you don't want to be disastrously drunk when doing a reading or other appearance, you don't want to be sober either. Sobriety is terrifying.
7. ... learn to dance. Nothing will save a bombing public appearance like sudden and inexplicably entertaining with break-dancing. Watch old episodes of "What's Happening?!" and learn moves from ReRun. Trust me on this.
8. ... prepare for readings. When doing a reading, select the portion of your book you're going to read. Time it so it's around 5 minutes of reading time. Try to end on a strong beat. Try not to choose a section that has a lot of dialog. DO NOT EVER DO VOICES FOR YOUR CHARACTERS. Print it out on letter-sized paper in a big font. Practice a few times. Even reading it once will save you from stumbling over your own words like English is your third or possibly fourth language.
9. ... be prepared for people to laugh at the wrong times. Just go with it, and pretend you meant your dramatic moment to be hilarious.
10. ... prepare for interviews, both in-person and via email. Have *interesting* answers to the standard questions. Trust me when I say that telling us you started writing as a kid and would write for free, because it is your passion, is NOT interesting. In the least. [b]

The Final Evolution (Avery Cates)
Available June 28th


1. ... spend money. Well, not much. Some bookmarks and business cards, a web site registration and hosting -- fine. But self-funding an ambitious book tour or advertising campaign will only end in tears.
2. ... use every communication you have with any other human being on the planet to plug your book. People are pretty understanding that you want to get the word out, but there is a line. Find it, fix it's location in your head, and never cross it.
3. ... attempt black magic or deals with the devil to make your book a bestseller. This does not seem to work, no matter how often I, er, people try [c].
4. ... respond to bad reviews. Ever. No matter how insulting, puerile, or obviously personally motivated they are. You will come off looking like a prick, and the bad reviewer will simply post your arguments as proof of your immaturity. Take it lying down and don't worry about it.
5. ... obsess over your Amazon sales rank. Amazon is still a small portion of the book market overall, and their sales rank algorithm is Fancy Math that no one understands. It may actually be witchcraft, or completely random. No one knows.
6. ... spam. Mass emails are only acceptable if you have a list of people who have volunteered for such atrocities, and even then should be used sparingly, to announce things that are coming up too quickly for people to discover for themselves.
7. ... assault people physically or scream at them, demanding they buy your book in bulk. This results in more arrests than sales, believe it or not.
8. ... make it all about selling your book. Sure, that's the goal and you shouldn't be shy/ashamed about it, but you have to offer people more than a sales pitch. Entertain them. When you're reading or signing books, be fun and interesting. If you're making a video or web site, give away some content and have fun.
9. ... take yourself too seriously. The only people who like serious writers are no one ever. No one likes serious writers. People like their writers humble, inebriated, and jolly. And, if my own experience means anything, pantsless.
10. ... buy a trained monkey. You might think he'll dance and jig and amuse the crowd, and then be trained to fetch you whiskeys when you're home. But in reality he will soil every surface of your house, steal things from your wallet/purse, and then run away at the first opportunity, breaking your heart [d].

[a] I myself had Crazy Hair continuously from 2004-2009. No power on Earth could tame it. My career suffered accordingly.
[b] It is okay to make stuff up when applying #10. Create your own backstory. You're a writer, after all.
[c] Plus, all those dead sacrificial chickens. Yuck.
[d] COME HOME, BONGO! All is forgiven, I promise.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NFL Fines List: Where You Pay To Play...

During my Saturday morning Interwebs cruise, I happened upon a Tweet by the Boston Globe's Ben Volin. He posted the NFL's fine list for those slap-happy moments when emotions and lacking self control sneak into the game of football...
Some of the fines I can easily understand. But the thing which kind of jumps out at me is the "down to the last dollar" amounts? Make contact with a game official: $27,562... What's the last $62, a way of making a player reeeealy think about what he's done as he fills out the check? Paying that last $37 for having a foreign substance on your uniform is for the cleaning bill, right?
Fighting and touching the men who throw penalty flags are the biggies at $55,125 for a second offense. The real bargain on the list is standing too close to a fight: $2,756. Ringside seats don't come cheap, but if a player must mill around a brawl - and many of them MUST -  it will only cost them a few grand.

"Gang Signing"? My mind - being a titchy thing anyway - veered away from what this really means to an absurd image of a player being fined after being drafted by the "Eastside Whatevers", ect. He gathers with the gang at a tattoo parlor and has his new affiliation inked next to his barbed wire "tat", just below the picture of his Mom. Then he gets fined, and throws a party...
I can't help but wonder where all this fine money goes, not to mention just how much is gathered each year? Maybe it's a part of Rodger Goodell's bonus package, or donated to charity? Then again, is it a tax deduction for the fined player? Is his insurance carrier notified? Every time I get fined my insurance seems to go up, so it's only fair, right? When a player tries to get his child into a nice private school, will the principle whip out a fine sheet and read off his many violations? "I see here you "leg-whipped" a player in Philadelphia, and failed to attach your chin strap 17 times! Can we expect the same thing from young Buford, because that's not going to be tolerated here at the Wellington Academy preschool..."
What fines catch your eye? Let me hear about your thoughts on the NFL's "cash for bash" penalty system...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

 I recently had the opportunity to chat with Field Gull's columnist Kenneth Arthur. If you aren't familiar with "FG" - and you happen to be a Seattle Seahawks fan - you're missing the boat. It's packed with "12th man" crazy people. I talked with Ken about a few topics heading into the 2014 NFL season...

  While sorting through all the off season moves and losses via free agency, then adding in the recent NFL Draft, most teams have new questions in 2014? How did Seattle do overall on each side of the ball? Give me a 1 to 10 grade, with 10 being best.

 Ken : Defense - 9 and Offense - 8

It’s tough for me to “grade” the offseason moves because the Seahawks didn’t make a lot of them. At least, not externally. They didn’t go out in free agency and get much, though they made a serious effort to sign Jared Allen. Even though the defense lost three “starters” with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clint McDonald (And Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, but both were on their way out), the front office did what it most wanted to do: Sign Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Pete Carroll to long extensions, plus re-signing Michael Bennett.
That’s really the main reason that the other NFC West teams should be saying “Damn it!” when it comes to Seattle’s offseason. They didn’t really replace Clem, Bryant, or McDonald either, but they’ve been stashing players on the depth chart and practice squad. Players like Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Benson Mayowa, and the re-signed O’Brien Schofield will compete for spots, plus rookies like Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten. The crux of the defense — the secondary — is going to be as good as ever. That’s huge.

On offense they lost Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, while not yet extending Doug Baldwin (if they even do) but also re-negotiating Zach Miller’s deal down without having to release him. Instead, they drafted Paul Richardson and tackle Justin Britt to compete for starting roles. The loss of Giacomini on the right side of the line is more than survivable, though Tate’s loss is certainly not to be overlooked. That being said, Percy Harvin can come in and play 16 games (technically he could do that!) and it’ll be like upgrading over what Tate did in 2013 in a major way. They also released and re-signed Sidney Rice to a more reasonable deal and will be hoping for a big sophomore season from Christine Michael at running back.

Seattle’s offseason won’t seem like much if you just compare the 2013 roster to the 2014 roster, but in reality, they were busy and got almost everything they wanted.

 After studying the NFC West teams, I think they all - particularly the St. Louis Rams - have offensive line needs. In fact, it looks like the position of need they all have in common is Guard (Right or Left)? How did your team address it's offensive line needs this off season?

The Seahawks lost Giacomini as the starting right tackle, but he may have been close to losing his job last season anyway. 7th round pick Michael Bowie looked just as good, if not better, in place of Giacomini last season, while undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey was one of the breakout stars for the team in the 2013 preseason. So if those two competed for the starting RT job, the team would probably be okay, but they also drafted Justin Britt at the end of the second round. The team did not pick up the fifth year option on James Carpenter, which likely means that unless he has a great preseason and season, he’s done with Seattle. In fact, if he loses his job in the preseason, he will probably just be released. 
He was the starting left guard last season and JR Sweezy was the starting right guard. Sweezy also struggled and so the team might be looking for other players to step up and force the issue. It’s possible that Bowie wins RT, pushing Bailey into the RG competition, and Sweezy into a battle for LG. I’m keeping an eye on Stephen Schilling, a local kid that ended up getting released by the Chargers. It’s not weird to think he can compete for a starting job; after al, Giacomini was just a guy that Seattle picked up off of the Packers practice squad a few years ago.
Overall, the line is probably the weak link on the team. That being said, it was good enough to win a Super Bowl and can only get better. People often forget that left tackle Russell Okung was placed on IR last season, only to return before the playoffs. There were injuries all over the line, including Pro Bowl center Max Unger, so it’s fair to think it’ll be getting better.

  The NFC West appears to be sliding ever farther into a "run first" division. The Seahawks have the best running back (Marshawn Lynch) who fits this bill, with San Francisco's Frank Gore not far behind. The Rams have a promising second year RB in Zac Stacy, and Arizona's Andre Ellington showed flashes in 2013.
 Arizona may be the last holdout to "the run", since they really haven't added any running back depth via the draft or free agency? San Francisco is so deep at RB, that it's hard to see how they can keep all of them on the roster. Seattle has proven depth at the position, after hitting prior drafts for quality running backs to groom behind "Beast Mode". The Rams have Stacy, and a marginally proven Benny Cunningham to go with recent draftee Tre Mason, but the signs are there that Sam Bradford will be edging more toward handing the ball off more often than passing this season.

  How do you evaluate the Seahawks' run game for 2014?

  The Seahawks run game was surprisingly inefficient at times last season, and overall, the passing game actually had a higher DVOA than the running game. (8th in run DVOA, 7th in pass DVOA.) Marshawn Lynch really did beast mode the offense into points in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013, Seattle was all about their ridiculously great defense and big plays on offense. By adding Richardson in the second round and getting Harvin back to full health, they expect to stretch the field out, open up the box, keep safeties deep, keep linebackers honest, and then punch Lynch down a defense’s throat. The play of second-year back Michael will be huge however, because he’ll add a different element of explosion from the backfield. However, it’s concerning that he played almost never as a rookie. Even if they didn’t need him, there were certainly times where they COULD have played him and opted not to anyway. His blocking may be a concern, but if it’s an attitude problem, that’s much worse. Overall, if the line stays healthy, and if the receivers can stretch the field, then Seattle will probably be an improved running team in 2014.
Yep, improved!

 Defense is literally the watch-word for the NFC West. How did Seattle improve on defense this off season? What were the biggest additions or subtractions in the off season? What's the weakness on defense for your team?

A weakness? Not bloody likely. The Seahawks had arguably the best defense EVER last season. I know that people are going to hate that buzz phrase, and they’ll point out teams in history that did things that may have been more impressive (I love certain defenses of past eras, like the 2002 Bucs) and I’m not saying that Seattle definitely did have the best defense of all time, but I’m saying they have an argument. Why? 
43-8 against the “best offense ever.”
The biggest problem is that the Leo position is a critical one for this defense and we don’t know yet if they replaced Clemons with someone great. That being said, Clemons may have lost a step for part of last season due to ACL recovery, and the Seahawks still won the Super Bowl. Seattle likes to add young players and mold them into greatness. That’s what they did by adding Clemons when no one had heard of him in a trade with the Eagles. That’s what they did when they moved Bryant from DT to DE. That’s what they did by trading Kelly Jennings for McDonald. They signed Bennett to a one year contract for FIVE million dollars. They drafted Sherman and Chancellor in the fifth round. They added KJ Wright in the fourth and Byron Maxwell in the sixth and signed Browner from the CFL. So the “low key” draft picks and signings of 2014 may turn out to be the reason that the Seahawks continue to dominate under Carroll and Schneider. We don’t know that yet for sure, but I feel very confident. Why?

 The NFC West will be playing outside of division games against the AFC West and NFC East. Which opponents in these division look like the biggest problem for your team?

  If anyone answers anything other than “Broncos” for the AFC West, I am worried for their health.
In the NFC East, I actually have the Giants winning the division. I think the East is a crappy division and I think that’s why teams rise up and down so quickly year to year. The Giants get a slightly easier schedule than Philly and Dallas. I think the Eagles are fun to watch, but I think the Giants might be better.

 Give me your win/loss forecast for each team in the NFC West, and more importantly, the team to watch in the division other than your own?

1. Seahawks 13-3
2. 49ers 11-5
3. Rams 9-7
4. Cardinals 7-9

   I don’t know if that math checks out but it seem fair to me. I don’t know if the Seahawks are six games better than the Cardinals though. Again, I’m not sure if the math checks out. But I think that’s how I’d rank the teams in order. I’m fine with Arizona, they might actually finish in second, I guess I just think the Rams schedule sets up nicer and their first round additions were much better than anyone else in the division. The division is good enough that I don’t know what’s going to happen but I would say this:
Seattle can finish in first or second, but not third or fourth.
49ers can finish in first, second, or third.
Rams can finish in second, third, or fourth.
Cardinals can finish in second, third, or fourth.

I think only SEA and SF can win it, and only STL and AZ can finish in last, but all teams have a good shot at the playoffs. I still think the Seahawks are the team to beat in the whole NFL. Why?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Solution to Head Injuries In Sports Has Been Long Sought

Head trauma seems to be all the rage today. I did a little research: the wall, floor - the tree in my front yard - and I even tried to headbutt my friend Titus Fielding. That didn't work out well, since he's six inches taller than I am, though I can categorically say his chin is rock hard, and may have a cleft impression on my forehead...

My findings mirror those who have spent millions of dollars researching the subject: If hit your head on a hard object or surface, it hurts.

Mankind on the whole has studied what happens when the head gets a whack or two for thousands of years. It probably started with cavemen, and has continued on without respite as civilization have risen and fell. The general consensus seems to be, if you wear something that covers the head that's harder than the object you may strike - or be struck by - you have the problem solved?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Michael Sam: Barriers, Labels, and "Firsts"...

On September 16th, 1906, Charles Follis became the first black professional football player - EVER. There
have been loads of sporting world "firsts", and in the 2014 NFL Draft, another barrier was sundered for all time. I don't mean to equate Michael Sam - the first openly gay football player to earn his way into the NFL - to that of the racial mountains African Americans have to climb. But some of you will think I am, and more than likely take exception to it. If so, please accept my apologies in advance. My aim is to extol a moment - any moment - when a barrier to equal opportunity for everyone is crossed off the long list of biases that still exist...

The NFL crossed the racial barrier in 1920, when Fritz Pollard signed with the short lived Akron Pros as a player, then first black head coach. In the NBA, the first "non-white" player was Wataru Matsaka (1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke another barrier in baseball), predating the first black player - Chuck Cooper - who didn't enter the league until 1950.

You see, there is something absolutely awesome about "firsts". At times, they confound prejudgments, and smash outdated mindsets. I've been know to quote Soren Kierkegaard's: "Once you label me, you negate me..." This statement is more than true, and it faces each of us on an almost daily basis. Someone says this about another, it transposes itself into a mark that's hard to wash off. We impose penalties of time to heal on the suspect, and unsuspecting, alike; with little regard to effect.

One of the best observations I've read, was quoted by Harald Høffding, who kind of mauled the translation of Kierkegaard's thoughts, but it fits my current mind: "We live forward, but we understand backward..." For all the thundering footsteps mankind takes forward, there's this undeniable tendency to run back to opinion pre-sets passed down from generation to generation.

In a way, "firsts" are the dawn of a new "Yin" to go with the offshoot of a new Yang - formed by the very human response to find equilibrium as change whirls around us. We take viewpoints which are easy at times, and hard the next. But shying away from a shift in what has been perceived before isn't always easy. Culture and ingrained societal norms are as different as grains of sand, but are often set in a stubbornness-stone. Chipping away takes time, but it takes willingness too.

Today, Michael Sam is a happy young man, but he's also relying on us to wish him well along his NFL way. This is right, and true, and it's what St. Louis Rams fans will do. They'll get to field the wanton idiocy slung their way by those living in their personal, shallow, self-absorbed predispositions and hatred. But the truly magical thing about an NFL team, is the way their fans rally around them. They protect their favorite team's players like a mother Bear protects her cubs. Michael Sam will be given every chance to succeed, because he's made it through the door of an NFL that prides itself on how a player can rise from no where to being a star. Just ask guys like New England's Tom Brady, or Houston's Arian Foster. Both of these current NFL stars were told who they were, wasn't enough to succeed in the NFL. But they proved everyone wrong, simply because the game of football is about the right pieces coming together to form a winning team. Black, white, Hispanic, Samoan, it doesn't matter, and neither will Michael Sam being gay.

It's my greatest hope the only label I see being applied to Michael Sam is "great player". Make no mistake, he'll have to earn his way onto a St. Louis Rams roster already packed with defensive stars. There's going to be pressure on this young man from outside, and in a way it's both sad, and fair. You see, to be a "First", you have to step forward. You have to take the unseen stares of those who'll doubt you, and rise above every challenge. Only then, can you make a mark on history, and in this case, open a road for others to follow. To me, this isn't about Michael Sam being gay. It's about someone stepping up to inspire others to do amazing things. It's for the young girl, who dreams of throwing a fastball in Major League Baseball, or the wounded soldier overcoming his injuries to climb Mount Everest. It's about life, and it being your's to live as you choose...

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Little Short Story: The Candlestick Goodbye

   Walking into Brian Schottenheimer's office, he glanced at the myriad of warning signs posted near the door. Jeff Fisher wondered why "Hard Hats" were necessary, and the hand rails running between desks looked odd. He jumped back when a Rams staffer  - standing just inside the doorway in a hazardous materials suit  - held out a small waste basket. He shook his head as he tried to read the young man's lips behind the heavy Plexiglas face mask. He directed Fisher's attention to the colored lines painted on the plush carpeting, then the color code sign on the wall next to him.

"Coach, if you're looking for the OC, follow the blue line."

Slowly nodding his head, he walked off toward Schottenheimer's office, occasionally glancing down at the floor. He passed through the office space, noticing everything seemed to be padded. Desk corners had foam rubber duct taped to them, while every chair appeared to be bolted to the floor? The few people he saw working on desk top computers wore thick rubber gloves. He touched one of them on the shoulder, then pointed at the gloves she was wearing. The staffer shrugged, then pointed a rubberized finger at the "High Voltage" signs plastered all over her desk.

"Oh, for the love of..." He looked up at the ceiling, blew out a long breath, and continued on to his offensive coordinator's office. When he entered, Brian turned from the huge flat screen monitor he'd been studying - from twenty-plus feet away. Wearing goggles, and what appeared to be a Radiologist's protective vest, he smiled at the St. Louis Rams' head coach.

"I'll just be a second, coach. I'm going over some game film of the 49ers, and I think I found a weakness on their defense we can exploit." Using a laser pointer, he pointed at an area two yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Fisher walked closer to the monitor, and shrugged. "Careful coach! Those monitors give off radiation, and this laser pointer has been shown to blind rats in laboratory tests." Brian turned off the pointer, placing it back in it's lead lined lock box on the table next to him. "Whew! That was close!"

Fisher felt a nervous laughter rising within him. "Yeah... Brian, you may be taking the whole safety thing a little far?" He'd come to talk with Schottenheimer about opening up the Rams offense, but decided on taking another tack.

"You can't be too safe, Coach. Look, I know you think the playbook is short on exciting things like scoring touchdowns, first down or winning. But let's look at the BIG picture." He hit a button on his laptop, and the screen showed what looked like an actuarial table from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. "If we can maintain this level of play for two more years, we'll save $34.82 on medical insurance premiums." Brian smiled and nodded at the screen.

Fisher's mouth dropped open as he looked back and forth from the screen to Brian. He pulled out his wallet, and removed two twenty dollar bills. Placing them on Brian's desk, he said "Keep the change. Look, let's put aside the offense for a moment. I have a job for you that'll show whether you're ready to be a NFL head coach. It's BIG, Brian, and I think you're the guy who can handle it."

Brian stared at the money. hH was about to tell Jeff how many bacteria and diseases the greenbacks were saturated with, when Jeff's assignment cut through his thoughts. "I'm your guy, coach. Whatever it is, consider it DONE!" He reached for a box of surgical gloves, putting them under his arm like a football.
"Um, OK... Meet me in my office in an hour, and leave the gloves here." Fisher backed away slowly toward the door.


"Really? You want her to come to your office?" Jeff's executive assistant stared at him. "Can I take lunch early?"

"Yes I want her here, and no, you can't leave. Just don't make any sudden moves or make eye contact." Jeff continued into his office, closing the door. he stared out the window for a few moments, considering the drastic course he was about to take. It has to be done, he told himself. A knock on the door brought him back to the moment at hand. He ran to his desk, sliding into the big comfortable chair. He gripped the armrests, blew out a long breath and said, "Come in". Nothing happened. He stared at the door. Then a voice, that made him cringe, emanated through the thick oak door...

"I'm a lady, dammit! You expect me to open the door?" Derinda Platt leaned against the door frame, and winked at the assistant who occasionally glance up from her work. Counting to five, she grabbed the knob and opened the door hard. It met with resistance, and she heard a head bouncing off wood sound, followed by a "Ouch!" The door swung open, and Derinda watched as Jeff Fisher staggered back to his desk, holding a hand to his nose. "You, Kevin and Lester fall for that every damn time!"

Fisher rubbed his nose as he faced the wall behind his desk. "Yeah, it's funny every time too. Take a seat..." He turned to see Derinda sitting in his chair. "I meant..." He lamely pointed at the chair on the other side of his desk, then gave up. Jeff walked around and sat in the visitor's seat, facing her across HIS desk. "I have a favor to ask..."

"Sure thing, Coach. What do I get in return?" Derinda smiled at him.

"You get a paycheck..." He groused, then seeing it hadn't registered, his shoulders slumped. "OK, what do you want?" Jeff hating asking Derinda for anything, because it always came with a cost. He actually liked this tall, blonde, nutcase of a woman. It had taken time to get used to her, but he'd finally seen why St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke kept her around. You could never be complacent with Derinda around. She loved the team, and everyone in the organization. In fact, he knew her to be one of the nicest, big-hearted people he'd ever met. You just had to be able to handle her "crazy", which wasn't an easy thing to do. Every player on the team was scared to death of her, but they also universally loved her. If the players ever had a problem they didn't want to bring to him, they went to Derinda and no one else.

"First, I need to know just how big this favor is so I can make sure you're giving as much as you're askin' for? And it better not be anything to do with dating one of your old, fat coaching buddies." Derinda leaned over his desk and wagged a finger at him.

Fisher held his hands out in front of him, "It's not, but I do want you to accompany Brian Schottenheimer to a news event. You'll be part of a panel for a Bay Area TV show discussing the Rams - 49ers game."

Derinda looked at him with squinted eyes. "Let me get this straight: YOU want me on TV, representing the Rams?" Suspicious motives began to bounce around inside her skull. "YOU, want me to talk about the 49ers... In public? Who else is on this little panel?"

"Well, there's 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and a guy from a big fan site called Niner Nation. His name is Dave Fucillo. He's supposed to be an expert on the 49ers, and he hates the Rams with a white hot passion. He's been making fun of the team all week, and saying bad things about our rookies." He watched Derinda for a few seconds. She had both of her hands pressed hard to his desk top, and her back went rigid when he said someone was saying bad things about the rookies. He knew she had a thing about protecting the younger players, and would pitch a flat out nutty on this unsuspecting Niner Nation guy. It would be a GREAT show, and he, Kevin and Les were already making plans to watch it with the entire team.

Derinda tried to control herself. Fucillo, huh? His name sounded like some sick, twisted pasta. She bolted up from behind the desk. "I'll beat that spaghetti man to a pulp!"

Jeff had no idea what she was talking about, but fought back the urge to laugh. "You don't have to beat up anyone, even though he called Tavon Austin a midget who hates..." He let it build for a second, " Puppies!"

Derinda exploded. In a single motion, she tipped over Fisher's desk, sending papers and a computer flying. "PUPPIES!"

Jeff nodded, "Yes, puppies! I'm not sure if Tavon will ever stop crying. Stedman Bailey is sitting with him now..."

Standing at full attention, back straight as a rail, she asked "When do I leave?" Without waiting to hear his answer, she marched out of the room. He heard a crash and scream from the front office. Walking slowly to the door, he peered out. Papers were still floating slowly to the floor, as his executive assistant crawled out from under her desk mumbling something about "hating that woman..." At that moment, Brian appeared in the doorway.

"Come in Brian," Jeff smiled. Now he had to break the news to his offensive coordinator.


"We're LIVE in ten seconds," the show's producer said to the gathered panel. Some fidgeted in their seats, adjusting the small microphones clipped to their cloths. The show's host looked at each of his guests. While the two coaches chatted amiably between themselves, Dave Fucillo sat nervously beside a strikingly beautiful Rams front office representative. Every time he tried to say something to her, it came out sounding like "Gurgle... phitt, gurb, San Francisco? He was blushing so badly, the make up people were having trouble with his ever changing facial hues. The tall, blonde woman just glared at him, though he did think she said something about "puppies"?

"Good Morning San Francisco! We have a great show for you today. With the last game between the 49ers and Rams coming up this Sunday in Candlestick Park - before the move next season to Levi Stadium in Santa Clara - we thought it would be interesting to get an insider view on one of the most storied NFL rivalries in league history." He smiled into the camera, and the shot widened to show the assembled panel. "Joining us today are the offensive coordinators for both teams - Greg Roman from the 49ers, and Brian Schottenheimer from the Rams. The camera zoomed in on Roman, then Schottenheimer, who was dabbing on what looked like sunscreen from a small tube.

Brian looked at the camera, as a small hand from his right appeared in frame, swatting the tube from his hand. He looked at Derinda, who whispered for him to "man up!" He looked up at the bright studio lights, then longingly at the tube of sunscreen sliding across the floor, before turning back up at the camera. "Thank you for having me here today."

The camera bounced back and forth between Derinda and Brian for a few seconds, then over to the host. "Also joining us, is Derinda Platt from the Rams' front office. She has one of the longest job titles I've ever seen?" He was reading from a tele-prompter. "It says here you're the Executive Director of Player Personnel, Quality Control, Community Out-Reach, and Puppy Welfare?"

Derinda had added the last part to her title just before the show began. She smacked Dave Fucillo in the chest with the back of her hand. "Did you hear that pasta boy? Puppies! I'd like to start off by saying Tavon Austin loves puppies and isn't a midget... er, uh, I mean, a little person of a height challenged nature who needs a ladder." She smacked Fucillo in the chest again.

Roman and Brian stared at her, as Dave rubbed his chest and responded, "Gleasle lady!, Gurp flug ack!"
"So you're a foreigner? I knew it! You probably eat puppies... and kittens! Probably bake 'em up in a pie and serve them a la mode you sick, twisted, son of a bit..." Derinda flew out of her chair onto Fucillo, both toppling over backward as he sat looking stunned.

The stage crew ran onto the set as the host announced they'd be right back after a short commercial break. Across town the Rams' hotel, the roar from behind a conference hall door hit high volume. Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and Kevin Demoff had front row seats before a 100 inch TV screen. The entire Rams team was there, most high-five-ing and laughing as they watched Derinda.

"So as much as I'm enjoying this, why did you assign Brian?" Demoff smiled as he asked. Les couldn't stop laughing as he turned to hear Fisher's reasons.

Jeff shook his head, "Just wait and see..." He pointed at the show returning from commercial break.  Order had been restored, though Fucillo had been relocated to the far end of the stage away from Derinda. Her hair was tousled, and one of her shoes was missing.

"We're back. It seems like emotions are running high? Ms. Platt, why did you attack Mr. Fucillo?"

Derinda rolled her eyes, "You call that an attack? Ha!" She made a small wave of her hand.

The host and the rest of the panel stared at her. "Didn't you burn down the Today Show set a few years ago?"

"The damn turkey did it, not me. We aren't cooking anything today, are we?" The host shook his head. "Whew, That's a load off my mind." She relaxed a bit.

"Let's get back to the little altercation you had before the break. You said something about puppies, then flew at Dave here. Why?"

"Well, Dave here..." She took off her remaining shoe and threw it at Fucillo. "He likes to make stuff up about innocent young kids tryin' to make their way in the world."

"I did no such thing!" Dave adamantly interjected."... And quit throwing things at me."

"What did he say?" The host couldn't resist.

"Well, he's been making fun of one of our players. He called him, er, uh... Well, let's just say he used a bad word to describe Tavon Austin. Where's the damn ACLU when you need 'em?"

"I just said he's short for a NFL wide receiver, and..." Dave ducked as a glass of water flew toward him. "Stop that! I'm here to talk about the game this Sunday..."

"You're one of those Blogger guys, so you don't talk. You type. I have a friend in New Mexico who blogs for the Rams, and he told me you're a terrorist bent on world domination and eats puppy sandwiches covered in tofu. He also says you run a place called "Niner Nation" and are trying to supseed from America!"

"That's "secede" you wack-a-doodle!" Dave rolled his eye, then noticed Schottenheimer and Roman - who'd heard about Derinda before now -  both shaking their heads.

"See! He admits to eating puppy sandwiches!" Derinda stood up and pointed at him.

"I did no such thing... Did I?" He glanced at the host, who nodded as he edged away from Dave. Greg and Brian moved their chairs back a little.

Derinda jumped up on the host's small desk off to their right. Her hair hanging in front of her face, legs spaced in attack mode. "That's why the Rams have to win this Sunday! If we don't this guy will destroy Christmas. It will be another one of those "four sore and eleventy jillion years ago" things as he tries to tear the world apart because of his puppy fetish."

That's "four SCORE and seventy years ago" from the Gettysburg address..." He looked plaintively around the set, but everyone was eyeing him suspiciously.

"So you have a secret address in Gettysburg, eh? The FBI is going to kick your ass!" She made a giant leap toward Dave as the cameras cut away once again...


Why he was in handcuff too, he had no idea. The show had devolved into a riot, as Derinda tried to claw her way toward Dave Fucillo. Not knowing what else to do, he'd tried to pull people away from Derinda. Crazy or not, she was part of his Rams' family. He and Roman had exchanged words about the coming game, and Brian now had a growing black eye. As he and Derinda were slid into the back seat of a police car, Brian looked at her. Dress torn at the sleeve, she sported a black eye too. Her hair was stick out at odd angles, and her make up was smeared.

"Guess we showed them, eh Brian?" She said with a smile. "...And looked at you! All messed up in back of a smelly old police car..."

Brian nodded as he smiled. He hadn't even noticed his surrounds, which only yesterday would've sent him screaming for a anti-bacterial shower. "I'm not really sure what we showed them, but it was something they'll remember." Me too, he thought. "Why'd you go so crazy on that blog guy?"

She looked at him with mild shock on her face, then shook her head slowly. "You don't get it, do you Brian? The Rams are about to play their last game EVER, in one of the most famous stadiums in NFL history. This is the greatest NFL rivalry around, and all everyone wants to do is talk about the same things they say every week. Hell, I know that Dave guy didn't say anything bad about Tavon Austin, and Jeff thought he had me believin' he did." She smiled, "But all I know is, it was a great reason to come to San Francisco and say my goodbyes to that beautiful, hell hole of a stadium. I don't suppose you could come up with a way for the Rams to shock the hell out of the 49ers this Sunday?"

"You tell me? Anything you want me to do, I'll do." Brian began thinking of bizarre plays just as Derinda said:

"Go frickin' crazy! That's all I ask..."


*** If you'd like to read more of my short story scribbles, Go Here! ***