Just Win Baby

by Bert Bartlett

Domino’s Or Papa John’s?   In the second quarter on Sunday, Carolina rookie QB Cam Newton ran a basic  option  to his left side, of the vanilla variety he used to help Auburn win a BCS title last year. DeAngelo Williams received the pitch , broke a few tackles downfield, and was gone for 69 yards and a touchdown. The near side of the field where the running back romped looked vacant enough for the construction of a moderate sized single family residence, replete with driveway and a front yard.  Was the defense magnetized to the Saints’ far sideline,  where boxes of pizza were opened ? ‘Dat Was terrible! What The Hell Was Goin’ On Out There?

Culture Shock   In the not too distant past, when the Saints had possession with a dwindling clock, behind and needing a touchdown to win, most fans hoped they could somehow pull off just what it took to do it. These days, they expect that if Drew Brees has the ball in his hands and there is some semblance of time remaining,  it will happen, or at least a venerable bid will be made for it.  More faith, perhaps?  Nope. Just the realization that the Saints have a stellar quarterback who fits this team and city like a glove, and a pretty good football team to boot. Let’s don’t ever take ‘dis for granted……while we have it.

Much ado “classless, etc.” was made about former Saint Jeremy Shockey slipping the finger(s) to the Saints sideline in competitive defeat. In post game comments, Drew Brees and Sean Payton had smiles on their faces about the innocuous relevance of this, knowing that this mental bristle is largely what made him The Shock as a player.  Souls Of The Saints only wondered if he was wearing his Super Bowl ring on the fingers he was using.

Head Cases?   The Saints head to Tampa to play another division foe, the Bucs, who were annihilated  48-3  up in San Francisco on Sunday. That was not a typo.  48-3  (and no, Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had not risen from the dead). Raheem Morris may be facing the biggest challenge in his young  head coaching career in his preparations this week. What does he say to his team after a waxing like that? Better execution fellas’, we need just a few more plays here and there… Or, when we drafted you, I never imagined you were pigs that could roll over like that…..Or, say, did anyone else have a bad reaction to the food on the plane, or was it just me? Morris would be wise to keep his team out of the film room for review, lest his team has not yet seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  

Regardless, it all plays to benefit the Saints this week, who about this time last year, pummeled the Bucs in Tampa, when Chris Ivory ran wild, presenting a mismatch in the interior lines that you rarely see at the pro level. The Stones Of The Saints offensive line did not have to sing to mow over the Bucs, merely whistle. In Tampa,  the wishful thinking that last year, or last week, was a fluke, is a myth. The Saints may not have all the cards in this matchup that they did last season, but this game is in their hands to deal, especially now. Get on with it Boys…..there is no reason you should be content with another close game. Shoot for a rest by the end of the third. If you do, you may get it….

 

                                *************************

 

The passing of Oakland Raider impresario Al Davis generated a slew of memories and impressions.

Wise Guy  Davis was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1929, the year of The Great Crash. Perhaps as a youngster on the playgrounds, Davis did not have much athletic ability, but had the propensity to get other kids to listen to him and get them to do whatever it took to win.  

Later in life, the silver and black polyester, rayon, or silk athletic suit numbers he wore somehow did not intimate he was headed to the gym to work out.

Till Death Do Us Part  Reportedly, Davis  negotiated and obtained complete control and ownership of the Raiders with his majority partner while he lay on his deathbed, in terms not so favorable to the pending deceased’s estate.

In his book Home Team,  Sean Payton recalls that after the hours and hours and days and days he spent interviewing with Davis for the Raider head coaching position before taking that of the Saints, he thought he had the job but still somehow never really knew where he stood, reminiscent of some episodes of The Sopranos, when Tony talked in ….generalities.

Legacy   Davis loved to have his offenses go deep, stereotyped by The Mad Bomber, quarterback Darryl Lamonica and small, fleet wide receivers such as Warren Wells and Cliff Branch. But his stamp on the game was emphasizing up close, in your face, bump and run cornerback play on defense, epitomized by guys like the great Willie Brown and Lester “Stick ‘Em” Hayes (before the green goo on his arms became illegal).  Ironically, in the season of Davis’ passing, one of the best current cover corners that the league has seen in years,  Nnamdi Ashomugha, departed Oakland for Philadelphia. Somehow, one thinks if Davis had his faculties intact, he would not have allowed that to happen.   

Not A Good Instant Replay   In the 1970’s, rival Pittsburgh head coach Chuck Noll referred to Davis’ defensive backfield as a “criminal element” in the NFL. Players like Jack Tatum and George Atkinson had notoriously dirty reputations, and none of it was allayed when Tatum paralyzed Patriot receiver Darryl Stingley from the neck down for life (Stingley died in his 50’s) in a vicious hit, on a crossing route over the middle, in a pre-season game.  Though on tape, the play looked mostly like, well, tackle football.

Showman  As the Dallas Cowboys reaped the public relations benefits of other people considering them America’s Team, Davis adroitly cultivated the latter of a a good vs. evil persona for his team, to the extent he could have gotten an Emmy on Broadway.   

Whose Play Call Was It, Anyway?   The rumor was that Davis was so hands on with his teams from the press box, his head coaches had to have two headsets, one to use for his team, and the other to listen to Al’s meddling. Raider head coaches had to become extra dexterous in using of both sides of their brains.  

Commitment To Excellence   To his credit, before there was a salary cap, Davis did not mind spending considerably more than most of his contemporary owners did on talent to win. Plenty of mediocre franchises were much more interested in fattening profits than tallying up victories. In earlier years, he  struck gold with the acquisition of disgruntled or washed up players like Mad Stork Ted Hendricks from the Colts,  Lyle Alzado from the Broncos, and especially, Jim Plunkett from the Patriots. Plunkett had a been a top draft choice at quarterback, but was considered a bust and over the years seemed one step from the streets. Suddenly, it seemed, he was a Super Bowl winning quarterback. The nice part of the story? On both ends of the spectrum, Plunkett remained humble.

The Genius  Davis’ assemblage of  “last stop”  players over the years had lots of success in the 70’s and 80’s. In a well written segemnt on NBC’s Sunday’s Night Football, Bob Costas said it was all about him creating an “Us Against The World” mentality with his players, and it was assumed Davis had a keen eye for talent. Yet the reality is that when free agency began in earnest circa 1993, there were far more busts than booms, indicating a crapping out at the tables, and unveiling Davis as more of a Wizard Of Oz  

Bad Favorite   The Raiders were one of the worst favorites in Super Bowl history in 2003, in which they got blown out by Tampa Bay. That team seemed incongruously un-Raiderlike, with a productive though short pass, rinky dink offense led by veteran quarterback Rich Gannon, opposite a defense that had nothing special.  The only part of that weekend that made sense in Silver & Black imagery was when their starting center disappeared the night before in Tijuana, with mental problems.

Since that time, Davis inevitably had a hard time maintaining his Pride & Poise with his team, as it became one of the league’s worst.  He went through head coaches like candy wrappers, and some could not take any more of his act.  Despite the woeful records, citizens of Raider Nation have continued to be radiant representatives of Halloween year round, though perhaps in need of some counseling.

Trail Blazer  Davis is on record for hiring the first Hispanic and black head coaches, and a woman in a chief executive role in the front office.  Admirably, and wisely, he did not grandstand the sociological implications of these hires in the media, letting them run with that.    

Precedent   He was also the first owner to challenge and defeat the league on antitrust violations, claiming, rightly from a legal perspective, that he had the right to move his team to Los Angeles, or wherever else the heck he wanted. The litigation burned out Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who fought it, thinking unilateral, random franchise movement was not good for the stability of the league. Davis, however, largely thought it was a “conspiracy” to keep him from cashing in on what was assumed to be a most lucrative L.A. market.  After that proved not to be the case, Davis paddled back to Oakland, on his belly.  

If You Can’t beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em  The breed of owners who so vehemently opposed the Raiders moving to L.A. subsequently cashed in big time when moving their own teams; Art Modell to Baltimore, the Irsays to Indianapolis, Georgia Frontiere to St. Louis, and the Bidwills to Arizona.  It is somewhat surprising Davis did not sue for residuals. Thanks, Al…

In Costas’s segment on NBC, there were references to Davis wanting to be respected more than liked, and feared more than respected. Where was the multiple choice test box to check  “none of the above” about him?

Nevertheless, Davis will be remembered on Souls Of The Saints as a true original, a trait the National Football League, in this day and age, sorely lacks.

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3 thoughts on “Just Win Baby

  1. Keep going Burt. Love reading your take on everything. Not only do you know your stuff, which is more than many sportscasters like to claim–with no substance to back it up, you know how to turn a word as acutely as a Darrin Sproles cut to the left, right and back!

  2. Just write, baby.

    Thanks for the sympathetic comments about Davis.

    Tampa has embarrassed Saints in the past but like you say we are over that now. New Orleans expects!

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