The Memphis Grizzlies Still Remind Us of the Vancouver Grizzlies

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It was just last year that the Memphis Grizzlies tilted against the Oklahoma City Thunder.  I compared this to an old style match between the Seattle Supersonics versus the Vancouver Grizzlies.  This series in 2011 was an epic battle between two foregone teams.  And the Grizzlies are back with virtually the same team that went to the conference semifinals last year.  Playing a team with virtually the same putrid history of basketball irrelevance – the Los Angeles Clippers.

Led by Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) and Rudy Gay (with assists from O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley), the Grizzlies are poised again to reach the Conference Finals.  And while a lot of writers believed that this team was horrible (remember how most everyone thought that the Gasol trade to the Lakers was so one-sided that Memphis’ General Manager was supposed to resign?), the Grizzlies are again one of the powers in the Western Conference.

These days are a lot different than Vancouver’s early days.  No playoff appearances, an average of 19 wins a year for six years, no-shows in the stands. Bryant Reeves couldn’t do anything about the team, and neither could Brian Hill.  Despite Abdur-Rahim and Mike Bibby being on the team in the last year in Vancouver – 2000-2001 – the team could only muster 23 wins and promptly moved to Memphis the following year.

Here they are now, one of the darlings of the NBA.  Similar to the Bad New Bears.  An almost lovable team.  And they are now one of the favorites to represent the Western Conference against the Heat (er, I mean the representative from the Eastern Conference)

Even Gilbert Arenas and his special brand of crazy can’t stop the Grizzlies train.  And that’s saying something.

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Houston Oilers Just Had Bad (Oliver) Luck

ImageThe Houston Oilers have the worst luck.  Literally and figuratively.  While the Indianapolis Colts are poised to take Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck with the First Pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft, stories are harkening back to when Luck’s Father Oliver Luck was drafted in 1982 after winning the Peach Bowl for West Virginia the previous year.

His career in West Virginia wasn’t great – he threw the same amount of touchdowns as he did interceptions – but he was still drafted in the Second Round by the Houston Oilers.  Luck was the placeholder until (eventual) Super Bowl winning Quarterback Jeff Hostetler settled in as the Mountaineers Quarterback.  

The Oilers at the time were still rebuilding from the good times in the late 1970′s.  Earl Campbell was a shell of himself by this point (although he did rush for 1300 yards in 1983, his last full year in the NFL).  Bum Phillips, Ken Burrough and Billy Casper were long gone at this point.  The 1983 season was marked by Archie Manning’s arrival in Houston to share time at quarterback with Luck.  Neither did well as the team faltered to a 2-14 record.

Luckily for the Oilers, Warren Moon arrived on scene the following year to take snaps away from Luck.  During that time, when he was just a middling backup, the elder Luck studied law and prepared for his career as a sports executive. Eventually his career ended in 1986. Similar to his days in West Virginia, Luck was merely a placeholder until Warren Moon came out of exile in the CFL.

Luck didn’t bring much luck at all.  The Oilers went to a dominant rival of the Steel Curtain to the doormat of the the AFC.  After Luck retired, led by Moon, the Oilers made the Playoffs for 6 years in a row after Luck retired.  But the Oilers record in his 4 years there?  14-45.  I think we’re all glad he got that law degree.

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Seattle Joins the New Arena Conundrum

The home of the former Quebec Nordiques has now been joined by the city of Seattle in the publicly-financed arena game.  City officials are debating whether it makes sense to build a new arena in the hopes of landing an NHL and/or NBA franchise.  Not surprisingly, these officials, still smarting from the Seattle Supersonics leaving town back in 2008, are concerned about the risks of using public funds to build an arena just to have the team leave a couple of years later.

It’s a risk that should be taken.  NBA or NHL teams in a city, bring millions of dollars in tax revenues and spending to the City.  Admittedly, the tax revenue argument is a little nebulous, but establishments will see an increase in revenues.  The area seen as a possible landing spot for the new arena would be South of Downtown, which is already zoned to accept arenas.  The key will be to have who ever signs the lease at the new arena to have to agree to stiff penalties for breaking the lease early.  That would also need to coupled with some tax advantages and other benefits that would make Seattle an attractive alternative for a relocating team.

On the other hand, building arenas for the sake of building arenas is not a city official’s dream.   His or her thought would be that a team should be relocated to the city and THEN a new arena is built for the new team.  Not the other way around.  That being said, I would really like to see Seattle get another NBA franchise.  They got the short end of the stick from the Thunder fiasco.

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Quebec’s Stadium Folly Comes Closer to Reality

Quebec City is planning on a September 2012 groundbreaking for a new stadium that just so happens to comply with the NHL’s mandate of certain attendance and amenity numbers.  Granted, the Quebec Nordiques haven’t played in Quebec in nearly 17 years, but that isn’t stopping the powers that be from building this US$400 million dollar behemoth with the HOPE that a team will decide to relocate.

Now the majority of the time, the team comes to the City and the stadium is built while they play at an existing arena for a few years – similar to what happened with the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina 14 years ago.  Teams just don’t build these kinds of arenas – and spend this kind of money – without some strong assurances that a move is imminent, or at least a pretty strong suspicion that a team would be moving.  So what are we missing here?

Now there are numerous teams that are still candidates to move – the Islanders and the Coyotes, just to name two, but the talk isn’t as strong here as it was this time last season.  So would Quebec City build a $400 million dollar arena for the occasional Celine Dion concert?  Perhaps City officials believe that by the time the stadium is built, one of these teams will be a stronger position to move.  But that’s quite a chance to take.

It’s not my money, but it seems like a waste of public money with no definitive plan for relocation back to Quebec.  Incidentally, Le Colisee can accommodate most of the functions that would happen here, if hockey doesn’t come back to town.

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Gary Carter’s Montreal Expos Legacy

[[posterous-content:pid___0]]I remember Gary Carter mostly as one of the culprits of the most astonishing World Series comeback in baseball history.  If you live around these parts, you probably feel the same way.  The Red Sox, up by two runs in the bottom of the Ninth of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, was just one out away from their first World Series since 1918.  After harmless flyballs from Keith Hernandez and Wally Backman were caught for the first two outs in the 10th inning, Gary Carter, on an 2-1 count singled to left center field, starting an onslaught that would scar Red Sox fans like me for years to come.  I remember watching the little floater like it was yesterday, hoping Mike Greenwell or Dave Henderson would make the catch, all to no avail. What a lot of people forget is that Gary Carter also drove in the tying run in the bottom of the EIGHTH inning in that same game to bring the game into extra innings in the first place.  So, Calvin Schiraldi blew the game not once but TWICE.

That was my first thought when I heard that Gary Carter died this afternoon of brain cancer.

While many believe that 1985 and 1986 were Carter’s best years – playing for the New York Mets – an argument can be made that Carter’s best days were indeed for the Montreal Expos.  He suited up for the rouge, bleu et blanc from 1974-1984 during the team’s heyday, what with Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, Tim Raines and Steve Rogers anchoring a strong contending team.  While with the Expos, Carter was second in the 1975 Rookie of the Year Ballot, 2nd in the 1980 MVP vote and won received two Silver Slugger awards.  1984 saw Carter lead the National League with 106 RBIs as an everyday catcher.  All three of his Gold Gloves were awarded while with the Expos.  His WAR was All Star quality for 7 of the last 8 years he played in Montreal, including three years 1982-84 where his WAR was high enough to garner the MVP.  All in all, a stellar career in Montreal.

To further define his value for the Expos, in the 1981 Playoffs, Carter batted .429 with a .488 OBP in 10 games against the Phillies in the NLDS and the Dodgers in the NLCS.  With that performance, he nearly singlehandedly carried the Expos past the Los Angeles Dodgers into the World Series.

While Carter always wished to have the Expos and the Mets be his cap when enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Committee ultimately chose the Expos as the hat he would wear.  Personally, I think his career with the Expos warrant this honor.  And the city of Montreal was a better place for having known him.

But, yes, I will always remember that dumpy little single back in 1986. RIP.

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Rams’ Norm Van Brocklin Reminds of the Moderrn Day Quarterback

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2011 will go down as the year of the Quarterback.  Whether you gauge that year with not one – but three – quarterbacks passing for 5,000 yards (Brees, Brady and Stafford), or with the emergence of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as viable quarterbacking threats, 2011 will most certainly go down as the year of the Quarterback.

One record that was not broken this year, however, was a record that has been in existence for 60 years.  A record accomplished by an unheralded Quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams who never threw for more than 2700 yards in a season, was a platoon quarterback in the year that he broke this record, and had more touchdown passes than interceptions only 5 of the 11 seasons in which he was the primary quarterback.  It’s a record that seems outlandish considering that it was not accomplished by Dan Marino, Warren Moon or Drew Brees.  The record for most passing yards in one game is not held by one of the modern day quarterbacks, but instead by guy who hasn’t thrown a football for over 50 years.

Norm Van Brocklin, drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 4th Round of the 1949 Draft out of Oregon, was in just his third year when his Rams team (that incidentally won the NFL Champtionship in 1951) took on the New York Yanks in the first game of the season.  Van Brocklin at the time was splitting snaps with the Rams veteran Quarterback Bob Waterfield.  The platoon was successful as the Rams made it to the Championship Game in 1950 and won the Championship in 1951.  And 1951 certainly started with a bang.

The game against the Yanks started quickly for the Rams as Van Brocklin (the primary starter in this game) hooked up with Elroy Hirsch and Vitamin Smith on long touchdown passes in the First Quarter to shoot the Rams out to a 21-0 lead.  Van Brocklin ended up throwing 5 touchdown passes and threw for a record 554 yards, more than 100 yards to each fo the Rams Wide Receivers, Smith, Hirsch and Tom Fears as the Rams rolled over the Yanks by the score of 54-14.

While Stafford and Brady both approached Van Brocklin’s record this year as they each threw over 500 yards in a game, neither was able to eclipse the record.  There is still next year.

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Former Hartford Whaler Randy Cunneyworth’s Language Barrier Issue

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Randy Cunneyworth actually speaks the correct language for the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s an interesting issue.  Former Hartford Whaler Randy Cunneyworth was recently promoted to the position of Montreal Canadiens’ head coach after the firing of Jacques Martin.  His hiring has unfortunately caused a firestorm in the local media.  Not because of his relative lack of experience, or the fact that the Canadiens needed different leadership and he was merely Martin’s rag doll, Cunneyworth’s issue is that he doesn’t speak French in this French-Canadian city.  In fact, Canadiens’ management has now come out to declare that Cunneyworth’s title is “interim” until he learns how to speak the official language of Quebec (no the official language of Quebec is not condescension or disdain, the official language is French).  Management rationale is that its permanent coach will speak French.  Seriously?

We live in a society where tolerance is as important an ideal as any other that we’re taught in ethics class.  But yet, in hiding behind excuses like “nationalism” and “the Habs are the people’s team,” aren’t all of detractors just labeling themselves as intolerant?  Aren’t they just just proving themselves the assholes that many in English-speaking Canada already think they are?  I’m hoping that this fervor is not really from the fans (don’t they care about wins and wins only?) but instead from a lazy, overwrought media looking to sell some newpapers.

Cunneyworth is in Montreal to coach.  If he wants to keep his job, he actually needs to relate to and communicate with his players.  Take a look at Montreal’s current roster.  15 of the 28 players on the current Canadiens’ roster is actually from the United States of from English speaking Canada.  Only three players are from Quebec, the same number of players as are from the Czech Republic and from Russia.  Should Cunneyworth also learn how to speak Russian and Czech? Ironically, my argument is that the next Montreal coach needs to speak English.

This is probably just a fabrication from the Quebec media since having a French speaking coach is only important to the media during post games.  But instead of hiring an interpreter to translate for him (just like virtually every other coach or player who doesn’t speak the language – you think Bobby Valentine spoke a lick of Japanese when he was there managing?).  Ultimately, I remember Cunneyworth from his days with the Whalers.  He’ll be ok, he’s a tough hombre.  I just wish he doesn’t have to learn a dying language to keep his job.  I hope he has a good attorney.

photo courtesy of Globe and Mail

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