Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Philthadelphia Story; Also, More Nyjer Morgan

The Steelers have had their troubles lately, Pitt continues to struggle and Lord knows long-suffering Pirates fans have had their fill of woe, but this morning we can all be thankphul we're not Philadelphians. 

Phillies fans watched in agonizing slow-motion horror Friday night, as their high-payroll team suffered a crushing defeat to get bounced out of the playoffs by the underdog St. Louis Cardinals. Adding insult to injury -- or more accurately, injury to insult -- they also witnessed star slugger Ryan Howard crumple to the ground in excruciating agony with a torn Achilles tendon -- suffered when he grounded out to end the series. Howard faces a long, painful and uncertain recovery that will extend at  least a couple months into the 2012 season. The Phillies also stand to lose key players to free agency, including Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge

On top of all that there are the Eagles, with the maladroit Michael Vick at the helm. If the Eagles lose to the Bills today, look out. As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford wrote, "And so begins a nuclear winter of discontent and one -- just guessing here -- that doesn't seem likely to be enlivened by the Eagles."

How depressing for the already surly fan base. The City That Booed Santa Claus at Halftime of an Eagles Game could get really ugly, very soon.
It's Nyjer Morgan's World. We Only Live In It.

End of an Era: Al Davis is Dead

Oakland Al is dead, according to Darth Raider himself. He was 82. End of an era.

As much as Al Davis became a caricature of himself later in life, he was a pioneer who was instrumental in advancing the American Football League to prominence and legitimacy in the 1960s. He demanded a "Commitment to Excellence."

Al Davis was many things: audacious, visionary, paranoid, brilliant, cantankerous, iconoclastic, iconic, quirky, truculent, enigmatic, driven, egotistical, eccentric, bold, accusatory, vindictive, sly, crusty, bizarre, fierce, stubborn, irascible, intractable, vitriolic, tenacious, myopic, micromanager, rigid, pioneering, selfish, feisty, ingenious, draconian, troubled, temperamental, rebellious, outspoken, football strategist, business tycoon and empire builder. All of that, and more.

One thing for sure: He was one of a kind. A character.
Davis saw himself as a maverick and set the impassioned "Pride and Poise" identity of the Raiders, although the team often lacked poise, if not pride, through the years, as one of the perennially most penalized and mistake-prone teams in the NFL.
The late, great Hunter S. Thompson wrote often and at length about Oakland Al, and it is all worth reading. As HST noted, Al Davis was the persona and identity of the Raiders and everything that went with the team's mystique:

"Every game was a terrifying adventure, win or lose, and the Raiders of the '70s usually won -- except in Pittsburgh, where cruel things happened and many dreams died horribly. You could see the early beginnings of what would evolve into the massive Raider Nation, which is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and whackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single "roof," so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world. No doubt there are other profoundly disagreeable cults that meet from time to time in most of the 50 states."

Indeed, for a few years, the 1970s Raiders-Steelers rivalry was as bitter, vicious and intense as any rivalry, though it didn't have the longevity of the Steelers-Browns or the Bears-Packers.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the Raiders now. For that matter, it should be interesting to see how the Raiders play the Texans in Houston tomorrow. Davis would surely say, "Just win, baby."

First Steve Jobs, then Al Davis. Truly, the end of an era. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would say,"Rest in Peace," but we're pretty sure Davis wouldn't want to hear it. We're pretty sure he didn't go quietly. 
Oh, and we still have the Oakland Raiders Christmas card that Al Davis once sent our way. He was full of surprises.

Other Views:

Saturday Morning Miscellany

Heinz Field is 10 years old already?  

The Post-Gazette's Blog 'n Gold offers an awesome compendium of 10 years of highlights at Heinz Field, and they have been mostly great years. Kudos to online sports editor Dan Gigler at the Post-Gazette. 

  • Get to "Know Thy Enemy" with Nice Pick, Cowher providing perspective from Nashville.
  • Also, from Nashville, The Music City Miracles blog has a nice report on the Titans at the season's quarter pole.
  • Did you know the Titans have a rookie defensive back who played for the Aliquippa Quips, Pitt Panthers, Edinboro and California University of Pennsylvania? That's not all. Tommie Campbell also worked as a janitor cleaning toilets at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. The Tennessean tells his story, which is about redemption and making the most of one last chance. It's a good one.
  • Lest we overlook baseball, Bob Smizik offers his report card on Pirates' hitters.
  • Speaking of baseball, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls (that's us) offers a tip 'o the hat to former former Pirates Nyjer Morgan, Don Kelly and Jim Leyland.
  • You might also want to glance at a study in contrasts -- an examination of the relative stability of the offensive lines of the Tennesssee Titans and the Steelers.

No Big Snack? No Big Juicy? What's Going On Here?

Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith are out.
It definitely would be tough to play nose tackle with a bum shoulder, so-o-o-o ... Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton, also known as "Big Snack," will miss tomorrow's game vs. the Tennessee Titans. As reported on ProFootballTalk, Hampton is one of six injured Steelers ruled out of the game. Hampton has a shoulder injury sustained last Sunday in Houston. Both Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon will play in Hampton's place.

Also missing from the defense will be Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Jason Worilds. And, as if the offensive line didn't have enough discontinuity, it will be without starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu (also known as "Big Juicy"). Also missing the game will be running back Mewelde Moore. With starter Rashard Mendenhall still listed as questionable, Isaac Redman will get most of the carries.

We Can Be Heroes: Jim Leyland, Don Kelly, Nyjer Morgan, Tony Plush and Tony Gumbo

Former Pirates in both leagues played pivotal roles advancing their teams to the World Series. Good for them!

Nyjer Morgan was the hero of the Brewers' NLCS walk-off win in Milwaukee Friday night. With teammate Carlos Gomez on at second in the bottom of the tenth, Morgan and his alter ego personalities Tony Plush and Tony Gumbo swatted a single up the middle to drive in the winning run to send the Brewers to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nyjer Morgan, or is it Tony Plush? Tony Gumbo?
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls hated to see the Pirates trade Morgan (to Washington in 2009, with Sean Burnett for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan), and not just because Morgan was our favorite Pirate at the time -- and no doubt, the Pirates became much more boring and vanilla after he was traded, and the Brewers became much more interesting and fun after he joined them.

Morgan's antics overshadow the fact he is a good player. He provides leadership on the field and in the clubhouse. He's a catalyst. He brings energy and personality(ies) to his team. 

The dismissive, know-it-all Sabremetricians will snicker smugly and point knowingly to Morgan's baseball shortcomings, so we'll turn to the guys on the MLB Network panel after the game last night, who were saying things like:  "This guy's a good ballplayer, fundamentally sound." ..."What a difference Nyjer Morgan has made in Milwaukee." ..."He's always in the middle of the action." ... "A good hitter and a good defender." ..."You need unique people on a team." ..."He brings an energy to the team."

With his bubbly presence, Morgan was (and is) an exciting player and an effusive fan favorite. Oh, so you think "effusive fan favorite" doesn't matter to fans and even management in Milwaukee, or that it shouldn't matter in Pittsburgh? Here's how tone-deaf the Pirates' management is: Guess which player on the Brewers, who have not just one but two legitimate MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, guess which player's shirt has the most sales in the Brewer's Clubhouse Store? Nyjer Morgan's. Pirates owner Bob Nutting must rue the lost nickels and dimes. 

Nyjer Morgan, the former hockey player, wasn't good enough for the Pirates, but now he's a beloved hero in Milwaukee. He's fun. Good for him.

Don Kelly: Home Run Hero
Don Kelly was deemed not good enough to stick as a utility player with the Pirates, but now he's a hero in Detroit. What a story for Kelly, who has overcome long odds with the dogged determination of a pit-terrier mix. Thursday night, he cemented his place in Detroit baseball lore by hitting the first-inning home run that silenced Yankee Stadium and seemed to guarantee the Tigers' ALDS victory.

Kelly, who played high school ball at Mt. Lebanon High School and in college for Point Park, is easy to root for. His is a really, really great feel-good story, not to be redundant.

Jim Leyland gave Kelly the chance Pirates wouldn't, and Kelly made Leyland look like a genius. The former Pirates manager once again displayed uncanny intuition Thursday night when he penciled Kelly's name into the line-up at third base and No. 2 in the batting order. Kelly validated Leyland's belief in him with that crucial home run that ESPN showed again and again and again.

Tammy Faye Baker
For a man who cries more than Tammy Faye Baker in her heyday, Leyland provided a remarkably steady hand at the helm of the Detroit Tigers this season. Still, after his Tigers dismissed the New York Yankees Thursday night, Leyland almost cried on national television when he talked about Don Kelly.

"He deserves to be in there," Leyland said. "You don't get sentimental at this time of year. He's been swinging the bat very well. He's got a lot of big hits. I think that's a guy that's a great story. Here's a guy that's the 25th guy on the team, I guess, but I wouldn't rather have another 25th guy. It's kind of a nice story. Good for Don Kelly."

Good for Don Kelly. Good for Jim Leyland. Good for Nyjer Morgan. Congratulations to all.