Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay, Wastin' Time

Well, the "bay" is about 2700 miles west of here, but as for the time-wastin' part, we've got you covered there.

With fourteen weeks gone and three to go on the NFL season, here's how we see the entire field, based on Bill Parcells' dictum that the best way to rate a team is by its-- well, by its won-lost record. Forthwith...

 1. Panthers 13-0 They've still three weeks to go/To get that 16-0  

2. Cardinals 11-2 Expect that they will peak/In season's final week  
3. Patriots 11-2 AFC opponents  fear/ Road to “50” leads through here  

4. Bengals 10-3 The shape of things to come/May hang on Dalton's thumb  
5. Broncos 10-3 Tough Raider loss at home/To Boston must they roam?  

6. Packers 9-4 Oh yes, they're in the lead/But still not up to speed  

7. Steelers 8-5 Beat Bengals big to gain/And three weeks yet remain  
8. Chiefs 8-5 Seven straight, you bet/Is wild-card all they'll get?  
9. Seahawks 8-5 Wilson's off the charts/And may still break some hearts  
10. Vikings 8-5 If they win all 3 games/Then first place will they claim  
11. Jets 8-5 To take that playoff ride/Will Bills and Pats decide?  

12. Eagles 6-7 Two more division fights/Keep them awake at nights  
13. Raiders 6-7 K-Mack's a superstar /And Carr behind ain't far  
14. Redskins 6-7 They finally won on road/As Cousins' mettle showed  
15. Giants 6-7 The schedule ain't their friend/Face Eagles at the end  
16. Bills 6-7 Rex can talk the talk/But they haven't walked the walk  
17. Buccaneers6-7 This loss leaves playoff hopes/A-hangin' on the ropes  
18. Texans 6-7 Beat Indy in the 'Dome/And bring the bacon home
19. Colts 6-7 Can Luck or Hasselbeck/Keep Houston off their neck?  
20. Falcons 6-7 The season's biggest flop/When will the losing stop?  

21. Saints 5-8 A chance to win four straight/And finish 8-and-8  
22. Jaguars 5-8 That thirty-nine-point run/They topped with fifty-one!  
23. Rams 5-8 We all know they can win/When linemen block again  
24. Bears        5-8 Can play a spoiler role/And put Vikings in a hole  
25. Dolphins 5-8 Bet Campbell won't be here/When tee it up next year 

26. Ravens 4-9 The ground has been well-tilled/It's time, John, to rebuild
27. Cowboys 4-9 One chance, it would appear/To wreck the Redskins' year  
28. Lions        4-9 Has everyone been dozing?/The window may be closing!
29. 49ers 4-9 A moment of faint hope?/Remember: York's a dope  

30. Titans 3-10 Mariota's past reproach/But who will be the coach?
31. Chargers 3-10 Is losing part of plan/To move to La-La-Land?  
32. Browns 3-10 Why win? We know it's sick/Let's get that first draft pick!    

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Parity or Parody?

Believe it.  This is exactly what the NFL wants, and what it really means, by "parity." Many have suggested that the ultimate goal of "parity" is for every team to finish 8-8 with all twelve playoff positions decided by tiebreakers. We're here to say that ain't so and never was.

No, this is what's meant by parity. After ten games, with six left to play, we have five powerful teams that have all but sewed up their divisions, six lousy teams that are all but eliminated-- and a whopping twenty-one teams that are left to scramble for seven remaining playoff spots. Yep, this is what it's all about.  A few at the top, a few at the bottom, and the great majority right smack in the middle. You need your top dogs for everyone to aim at, you need your bottom-feeders to troll for the top draft choice and/or play spoiler, and you need 70% of your fans believing their team still has a shot right up until January. That's parity, sports fans.  

Yep, you've got your perennials, the Patriots, the Broncos, the Packers-- even the Bengals, about to reach the postseason for the fifth straight year, qualify here-- on top. You've got your out-of-nowhere surprises: the Carolina Panthers' unbeaten streak and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both in contention at Thanksgiving. You've got some recent powerhouses-- Seattle, Dallas, Indianapolis-- going through a rough patch. You've got some teams for whom the ball has seemed to bounce favorably, such as the Vikings and the Cardinals, and a few for whom the bouncing ball always seems to be a fumble recovered by the other team-- the Rams, the Saints, and the Dolphins, for example. 

It's clear the Patriots, the Panthers, the Bengals, the Broncos, and the Cardinals are far enough ahead in their divisions that it will take a major collapse for any of them to give up their leads; even if they play .500 ball the rest of the way, they're likely to win. It's also clear that the NFC North will be a two-team battle with the loser a likely wild-card, and that the NFC East and AFC South will each produce one division winner, by default if nothing else, but no wild-card team. And then there are those for whom the bell has already tolled: our 49ers, the Lions, the Ravens, the Chargers, the Titans, and the inevitable Browns. That leaves three wild-card playoff berths for as many as fourteen teams to fight over. 

So let's take a division-by-division review of everybody's chances, now that winter is approaching and things are getting serious. 

NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys, at 3-7, have no shot at the wild-card, but they're only two games back in his division. And make no mistake about it, the mere presence of Tony Romo at quarterback makes every part of this team better, regardless of what the numbers may say.  Now, all of these four teams have a .500 mark in the division and there are five division games left. The Washington Redskins play in four of those, two against Dallas and one each against the Giants and Philly, who also face each other one more time. Right now we give the Giants and the 'Pokes each a 50-50 chance to win it, simply because they are the teams with the best QBs. 

NFC North. The Packers dealt the Vikings a setback this week, but Minnesota still has a two-game lead over the wild-card outsiders such as Seattle and Tampa. Both the Vikes and the Pack should make it. The Bears, who've already beaten Minnesota once, remain in the wild-card hunt at 4-6 despite losing to Denver at home when they had a chance to gain ground. Chicago have quietly improved their overall game over the past month.

NFC South. Who'd a thunk it? Tampa, winning four of six, breathing down the necks of Atlanta, who have gone 1-4 since opening the season 5-0. The Bucs already won in Atlanta and they get the Falcons at home in two weeks. Meanwhile the Saints, at 4-6, also have a win over the Falcons and get them again at season's end in Georgia. No one's catching Carolina, but the 'Card' is definitely 'Wild' in this division.

NFC West. The Rams' three straight losses have rendered their 3-0 division mark all but irrelevant; they are 1-6 outside the West. And they still have to face all three again. Seattle doesn't get another crack at Arizona until the season finale in Phoenix, and even if the Cards just go 3-3 over the last six games, the Seahawks have to win six straight just to tie. Not gonna happen, but Seattle as a wild-card team is plenty possible, and that'll still give other teams the jitters.

AFC East. The New England Patriots will win the East easily, tying the all-time record, set by the 1970s LA Rams, with their seventh straight division title. Buffalo and the Jets trail by five; we like the Bills, if they remain healthy, as a wild-card team. Not sure at all about New York after losing four of five, and we were never sure about 4-6 Miami to begin with. Like the NFC South, it's hard to see a wild-card team not coming out of this division.

AFC North. It's likely to be five straight postseasons for the Bengals, and two division titles in three years, but if  January yields another one-and-done, will Marvin Lewis get the boot? Superstitious folks will claim that once Cincinnati shows they can win a prime-time game, they will win a playoff game. Well, we already know Pittsburgh can do both, but the Steelers will go exactly as far as Ben Roethlisberger's legs will take them. Hard to tell how far that is, but they have a one-game lead for the wild-card today.

AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars are only one game out of first place, and it's almost December! Trouble is, they've already lost to both teams ahead of them, though the games were close. For now, presume the Indianapolis Colts, fallible though they are everywhere else, are still Kryptonite to their division rivals (3-0 so far). The Colts play at Jacksonville in three weeks and get Houston at home in four; if, and only if, they lose both those games, then the division might be up for grabs. 

AFC West. Osweiler for the season and Manning for the playoffs? Let's talk instead about the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of four straight, and a wild-card team if the season ended today. They host Buffalo this week, and then close out with five straight against teams with losing records. But two of those are against the Oakland Raiders, who are a game behind with a much tougher schedule (Packers, Broncos) ahead. If the Raiders sweep the Chiefs, maybe we'll be talking about them  at season's end.

Well, we got through that without one mention of Colin Kaepernick, Trent Baalke, Jed York, Jim Tomsula, or even Jim Harbaugh. That feels good. Doggone good.

Tomorrow? Panthers' unbeaten streak ends as Romo has a day for the ages. Eagles and Lions finish in overtime, decided by a turnover. Bears battle but Packers win a close one.

Enjoy the games and the food, but seriously, remember it is a day to give thanks to the One who created you.  Have fun and remember how blessed you are.    

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lon Simmons 1923-2015

Barely had the ink dried-- er, the digital images loaded, that is-- on our Opening Day Giants salvo, before the news came in that Lon Simmons, The Voice of San Francisco sports for many of us, had passed away yesterday at age 91, after leading a long, colorful, and beloved life.  Our best wishes go out to his family.

It was the "Golden West Radio Network" on "KSFO-560, in San Francisco," back in April of 1965, and that's where and when we heard our first major-league baseball radio broadcast. Russ Hodges, the legendary play-by-play man from New York who had come West with the team, the man who called the Bobby Thomson home run, was the lead announcer, but our childlike attention was captured by the rich, easy baritone of the man whose friendly asides and pithy comments punctuated Hodges' genial chatter. Lon Simmons, we understood right away, was a Westerner-- and as new arrivals in that beautiful, unusual land, we were drawn to all things Western and Californian. 

Lon was all that. He did the 49er games, too, and the 1965 49ers were one of the most exciting teams ever to play professional football. Lon's voice accompanied us as we cheered John Brodie shredding defenses with deep passes to Dave Parks, and as we stared in disbelief at eleven guys wearing scarlet and gold who couldn't tackle Gale Sayers if their lives depended on it. Perhaps clearest of all, we recall Lon's patient-but-quietly-exasperated tone as he covered the stumbling, bumbling 49ers of the late 1970s, the pre-Walsh days, like a doting but put-upon father shaking his head at the misadventures of his wayward children. It is a great irony that Lon, who carried the flag for so many awful Niner teams over two decades, lost his broadcasting job on the eve of the team's first Super Bowl season-- and not because of anything he did or didn't do, but simply because of a corporate decision to switch radio stations. It is a further irony that just two years earlier Lon had lost his Giants job for the same reason. In both cases it was KNBR-680 taking over for the old standby KSFO, and you youngsters who've grown up with KNBR as your sports station can't possibly remember what a shock to the system it was to hear our teams' games broadcast on a new frequency by a bunch of newcomers.

Of course, Lon's class act was followed by others-- Hank Greenwald with the Giants, Don Heinrich and Don Klein and Joe Starkey with the 49ers-- who were unique and wonderful commentators themselves. What an amazing run of quality voices and personalities we fans had to enjoy as both our teams reached unprecedented heights of achievement in the 1980s!

And of course Lon came back to the 49ers in the turbulent year of 1988-- a season that was a lot like those crazy 1960s campaigns, filled with highs and lows and controversies. And that one, unlike those, had a most happy ending, with Lon's signature football call: "TOUCHDOWN, FORTY-NINERS!" roaring across the airwaves as time ran out in Super Bowl XXIII.   He returned to the Giants broadcasts, too, eventually; mostly part-time, as an honored guest alongside Jon Miller, Mike Krukow, and Duane Kuiper, all of whom were clearly thrilled to share the booth with The Voice.  He called Opening Day at the inauguration of Pacific Bell Park in 2000, which had to be a personal highlight-- he had already called Opening Day 1958 at Seals Stadium, the Giants' first game in San Francisco, and Opening Day 1960 at brand-new Candlestick Park.  And of course for years in between Lon smoothly made the switch to the American League, Oakland, and the A's, working alongside yet another legend, the late Bill King. Yes, truly an amazing run of quality voices and personalities...

"TOUCHDOWN, 49ERS!"  That's the one we heard the most and remember the best. But there were others. The cool, reserved humor of Lon's usual delivery could, and did, give way to fevered, almost hysterical excitement when the occasion called for it. It was as though he instinctively knew when to turn up the juice even as we fans were doing the same thing, listening along. Here are a few we remember:

"MARSHALL... THINKS HE HAS SCORED A TOUCHDOWN! HE HAS SCORED A SAFETY!" You can get that one on YouTube. It's from a loss to the Vikings in 1964 with a bizarre highlight provided by Minnesota lineman Jim Marshall.

How about May 28, 1978, at Candlestick, Dodgers in town, Don Sutton on the mound, bases loaded, a full house, pinch-hitter Mike Ivie standing in?  At the crack, it's Lon: "HIT DEEP TO LEFT! WAY BACK, WAY BACK, WAY BACK.... A GRAND SLAM!!!"

And of course Steve Young,  against the Vikings again, November 30 1988 at the 'Stick, one of NFL Films' most popular highlight videos... "GETS AWAY!... GETS AWAY AGAIN!... TOUCHDOWN, 49ERS!"  

Finally, the inevitable home-run call, "TELL IT GOODBYE!"

Goodbye, Lon.  We'll miss you.