Sunday, January 30, 2005

This called The Show

OK, I was going to let this go, but a co-worker recently brought up Doug Brien’s missed opportunity to send the Jets back to the AFC Championship Game. Here’s the thing, of course Brien should have made those field goals, but either Herm Edwards, or Paul Hackett should have tried to get him closer for that first FG attempt. After all, once they got within 47 yards the Jets didn’t make any serious attempts to get any closer. Therefore I blame the coaching staff for setting Dougie up to fail. This isn’t the first time Dougie has been set up to take the fall for other people’s shortcomings. Hence, in defense of a good player I present an article that first appeared on this site in October of ’03. This one’s for you Dougie…

Owen Pochman is out (thank goodness) and the Niners will now turn to Todd Peterson to solve a kicking game that has been in flux since, well, since Ray Wersching left in 1987. Since then they have had adequate guys like Mike Cofer, Doug Brien, and Wade Richey. Some very good kickers like Jeff Wilkins and Gary Anderson. But mostly they have had spectacular flops, Jose “Clown Shoes” Cortez, Tony “El Bouquero” Zendejas, Jeff “Really? A 4th Round Draft Pick?” Chandler, and now, Owen “Cut by the Giants” Pochman.

Pochman missed 3 field goals last week in a game won by the 49er defense. This week he missed two more as the 49ers lost in OT to the hapless Arizona Cardinals. Now Pochman is out and SF will bring in Peterson hoping that last years 57.1 FG% was an aberration. While Peterson may help in the short term the 49ers kicking problems run much deeper and will not be solved without a change in organizational philosophy. Basically the 49ers have never cared about kickers, since the glory years began having a good kicker was considered a luxury not worth the expense.

This was fine when SF had Montana, Craig, Rice, Solomon, Clark, Young, Watters, Taylor, Jones, Frank, an great O-line and an all pro defense. Back when John Madden was calling out “Sooooo many weapons” and the Niners were in the NFC championship game year after year. But this is a different team in a different era. Dennis Erickson has not lived up to his promise to “open up the offense.” The O-line is shaky and SF is having trouble scoring points. This team that is not going to blow people away like they did during the stretch between ’81 and ’97. This is a team that needs to scratch out wins the way Carolina is with John Kasay (career FG% 80.1, 17/17 this year).

SF has made some terrible decisions with its kickers, here is brief over view:

Name Year Career% %When Cut Post SF Career
Ray Wersching ‘77-‘87 67.5 76.5 Retired in 1987
Jeff Backhaus 1987 50.0 50.0 Subbed for Wersching, never played in NFL again
Mike Cofer ’88-‘93 66.2 61.5 44.4% for Indy in 1995
Doug Brien ’94-95 80.5 88.2 Current 88.9% with NYJ
Tony Zendejas 1995 73.5 42.9 Never played again.
Jeff Wilkins ’95-96 80.2 88.2 Went to rival Rams and won a Super Bowl
Gary Anderson 1997 80.1 80.6 92.9% for Tennessee in ’03
Wade Richey ‘98-‘’99 72.4 68.2 Currently 1/1 with Baltimore
Jose Cortez ‘00-’02 71.9 75.0 With Minn. no FG attempts this year.
Jeff Chandler ’02-’03 73.7 85.7 Out of football
Owen Pochman 2003 47.1 53.3 Out of football
Todd Peterson 2003 77.8
(During this time they also cut Ryan Longwell and his career 81.1%)

Some analysis on the above list shows that the Niners had a decent run of kickers from the middle of 1995 through the end of 1997 which was also the end of the Niners great run (lost NFC Championship to Green Bay). Since then the Niners have suffered through salary cap hell and the premature retirement of Steve Young. But their inability and unwillingness to resign good kickers has cost them games over the years. They didn’t want to spend the money to resign Wilkins or Anderson. They ran out of patience with Chandler who was kicking well when he was cut. Brien was made the scapegoat for a slow start in 1995 when the real problem was that SF tried to replace Ricky Watters with Derek Loville. In both cases the quick hooks cost them games. They brought in Zendejas in ’95 who lasted three games and went 3-7 with 3 blocks (he was also 1-3 on PATs). This year they cut Chandler in favor of a guy who brought in a career FG% of 47.1.
If SF ever again finds a reliable kicker they need to keep him. Consistency is good, from 1981 through 1994 SF had three regular kickers. Since then they have had eight. If SF had a consistent kicker at this point they would be a least 4-4 (if not better) and still be in the hunt in the NFC. As it is they face a huge up hill fight to make the playoffs. You can overlook special teams when you’re rolling over fools to the tune of 42 point per game. When you fall back to the pack however, you need good special teams, coverage, returns, and kicks. After all, as good as the Pats were in ’01 it was Adam Vinatieri (career 81.7%) who won the game for them.

Friday, January 28, 2005

"Can Music Save Your Mortal Soul?"

I started writing this as a self-pitying year-in-review taking stock of my sad, sad 2004. Then I realized that would be a bunch of bullshit. Instead I hit upon something infinitely more important about 2004 than my depression over getting older. You my gentle reader have been faithfully reading about all the things that piss me off for about a year and half now, so today I've decided to expound upon some of the things I actually liked in 2004.

 The inspiration for this radical new line of thought was brought about, in part, by one the things I liked in 2004, a book called "Planet Simpson," a postmodern deconstruction of the TV show "The Simpsons." The important thing in this discussion is something almost totally unrelated to the overall subject of the book. For now I'll concentrate on something from the last chapter. In a section entitled "The Rebirth of Sincerity" the author writes about the exact moment when he regained his faith in rock n' roll. Prior to this point in his life the author details how the cynicism of youth culture in the 1990s had pretty much consumed his entire being. In his mind rock was "played out." He then goes on to describe how he regained his faith in rock n' roll.

This resonated with me as I had been going through the same rock malaise since 1994. As you may recall that was the year Kurt Cobain decided that being Kurt Cobain was played out. With Nirvana gone a whole horde of whiney-Wallflower-Bush-crappy-McCrap rock rushed in to fill the void. Ever since then my relationship with rock n' roll had stagnated into an adoring love for all the songs I loved during high school mixed in with an occasional single from a current band. At no time in the decade between then and now did I feel the need to rush out and buy an entire album from any one rock band.

Now, allow me to be not one bit original or insightful. Here's the thing, I don't know about music the way, say, my friend, and former contributor here,  Daniel knows about music. I know what I like, and, except for a few isolated singles most of what I like was released prior to 1996. That changed in 2004. The past year was the best year in music since 1991, which saw the release of Nevermind, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and The Low End Theory (along with Metallica's Black Album). 2004 finally saw the release of three very good rock albums:

-Jet: Get Born:

The Rolling Stones can go ahead and retire. Remember back when everyone said that Oasis were the next Beatles? Uh, where's Oasis been the past few years? Yeah, that's what I thought. If anyone has assumed the mantle from the rock bands of the 60s and 70s it's Jet. The problem with Oasis is that they were pretentious. They set out to be the next Beatles, they believed they were the next Beatles, they were decidedly, NOT, the next Beatles.

Jet however has done exactly what I, as a rock fan, want, an unpretentious rock album, an album without any real message, an album that is not intended to shock people, or make them think, or any of the other BS things that bands try to work into their albums. This is an album that simply rocks. This is the album, in particular the first single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," that restored my faith in rock n' roll. Topics covered on the album include women who are, by turns, unattainable, unreachable, and evil, bad DJs, and general RnR malaise. In other words, they cover all the old rock standards.

The band also produced two of the best rock videos of the past decade, for "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and "Look What You've Done." I simply can't stress enough how great it is to finally here a band that's not overly poppy, or whiney, or any of the other crappy adjectives that can be placed upon most of the crap that has passed itself off as rock and roll since Kurt killed himself.

-Greenday: American Idiot:

I spent a long time trying to figure out why this was such a good album. In the dark years after '94, after Green Day's "Dookie" was released I had a lot of hope that this would be the band to shine through and take over where Nirvana left off. Then that stupid "Time of Your Life" song found it's way into every TV show in the Western Hemisphere. I remember watching NBC one night and hearing that song on three shows back-to-back-to-back. At that moment Green Day went from being a slightly disappointing band, to an object of down right scorn.

All that has changed. "American Idiot" is a great, let me repeat, great rock album on sooo many levels. First off it's an overt return to politically based anti-establismentary punk. I don't know if Green Day has been inserting political messages into their albums all along, I do know that their singles haven't had anything like the edge that "American Idiot" has. The album, like the title song, rails against the powers that be, and have been for the past few years. There's an awesome send up of the Governator on the third track "Holiday." The last voice begins with an intercom type announcement that "The representative form California has the floor." The next few lines take the piss out of both Bush and Ahnold,

Sieg Hail to the President Gas Man
Bombs away is your punishment
Pulverize the Eiffel Towers
that criticize your government

And it goes on like this throughout the whole album. The radical thing is not that a band, or anyone else, would speak out against the idiocy of the US government, or the media, the radical thing is that it would come from a band that has such a strong history of making commercial pop-punk. That is, we're used to rebellion from the counter culture segments of the population, but rarely does a band with something to lose put out a statement this strong. That's why the call of rebellion in this album hits as hard as it does, because it comes from people who don't need to use it as a device, it comes from those who have already "made it" and are now risking rebuke from those that gave them their position.

But rebellion and angst are only a small part of why this album rocks. The album is actually a concept piece. It tells the story of St. Jimmy, The Jesus of Suburbia, and a girl they call Whatsername. The album tells a story in a very loose sense. There's no real clear narrative. Instead the album guides the listener through an emotional pseudo-story that, like a film noir project, is meant to leave the audience with the experience of a feeling rather than a coherent story. The album sounds like a soundtrack to a play that doesn't exist, which it kind of is. However, the fact that the album is being fleshed out into a Broadway show is irrelevant. The point is, in an era of good musicals also standing as good rock albums (Hedwig, Rent), Green Day has put out a solid rock album that should do well as a musical. It's this interplay that allows Green Day to escape their stripped down power trio roots while maintaining a solid punk sensibility that was missing from their later over produced mass-market schlock.

I'm not doing this album justice. Buy it, or better yet, steal it, listen to it a few dozen times, then get back to me.

-Killers: Hot Fuss

Anyone else miss Depeche Mode or New Order? Well, the Killers aren't really like them, but they're like a bastard love child of punk and new wave. They're album, which includes the singles "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me," is another one that makes over produced punk sound cutting edge rather than just commercial. I really don't have as much to say about this album as I did with the previous two. It pretty much just rocks

So there it is, 2004, the year that saved rock. I know there are other good albums that came out but many of these (To The 5 Boroughs to name one) came from groups that have been putting out a consistently good product forever. Instead I wanted to focus on the bands that surprised me and restored my faith in an art form.

Also deserving mention:
-Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out
-Maroon 5: This Love (I know it's cheesy but it helped me through a tough time.)
-Modest Mouse: Float On
-My Chemical Romance: I'm Not OK
-Velvet Revolver: Slither (So GnR yet So STP, let's have some peanut butter cups.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dallas vs. Dynasty

OK, the super bowl is set and SR has a few things to say. First of all, Jim Mora Jr. knows that he still has Michael Vick on his team right? Atlanta should have carved up that Philly defense but they only used Vick to his true abilities when it was predictable, or on busted plays. Vick is the most exciting player since Barry Sanders, but only when you allow him to do what only he can do. Barry used to lead the league in yards lost, but he’d also lead the league in yards gained. The point is you have to take the bad to get the good. By playing so conservatively in the first half Atlanta put themselves in a bad situation, instead of Vick being unpredictable and maddening Philly knew exactly when and where he would try his trickery.

That said Philly played very well. The great thing is that they did it without TO. Don’t get me wrong, TO is a great player, and I rode him like Zorro in my fantasy league, but, in the end I, like the Eagles, had to find a way to get it done without TO. Andy Reid drew up a great game plan the last two weeks but, Freddie Mitchell’s “great” hands not withstanding, the Iggles won on a couple of lucky bounces last week. Now I’m left to wonder whether TO will help or hurt his team if he can come back for the big game.

Not that I think it will make any real difference. The Pats look as good as ever and I expect them to win it all. Sure, last week I thought that Manning and Co. would roll into Foxboro and sprint on to Pittsburg. Sure I said that a scheme can’t win without the players to carry it out and that the time had come for the New England secondary to finally not only be exposed, but exploited. But I was wrong. Around the middle of the third quarter last week I decided that Belichick IS the next Walsh and that my money’s on the Pats to win until they lose. After Pitt escaped last week’s game against the Jets and Big Ben looked like the rookie he really is, I knew there was no way the Steelers could win.

So, if the Pats win what is their legacy? A lot of people are starting to throw around the word “dynasty.” During the broadcast yesterday Chris Collinsworth mentioned that when asked about dynasties Belichick mentioned the Dallas teams of the early 90s. Those teams won three titles in four years, which is exactly what the Pats are trying to do, so it’s apt that Belichick would choose them as his example of a dynasty. I disagree. Those Cowboy teams were very good, great even, but they were no dynasty. “But SR, if the Cowboys run doesn’t make a dynasty what does?” I’m glad you asked.

A dynasty requires both winning and longevity. Both the Cowboys of the 90s, and these Pats, if they win the Super Bowl, have the winning, sort of. In order to be a dynasty I think you need to match the title total of the NFL’s first modern dynasty, the four Super Bowls won by the Steelers in the 1970’s. During their dominant stretch (1972-1984) the Steelers won their division 10 times, went to the playoffs 11 times and played in 7 AFC Championships. Still, in order to define a true dynasty you must look at the single greatest dynasty in NFL history, the San Francisco Forty Niners. Even if you mark their run only from the start to the end of their championship years you are looking at 14 years at or near the top of the league. If you include the fact that they lost the 1997 NFC Championship Game their legacy spans 17 years of dominance, nearly two decades as the team to beat in the NFC. During those 17 years SF won their division 13 times, went to the playoffs 15 times, played in 10 NFC Championships, and was the first team to win 5 Super Bowls. No other team has ever had that much success for so long. Even in the lean years, 1998-2004, SF made the playoffs three times, including the second biggest comeback victory in NFL playoff history.

Want more? Too bad, it’s my web site and I’ll Rant if I want to. Going back to the original dynasty, the Steelers won two titles in the first half of the 1970s, and then two in the second fitting them to the criteria of both winning and longevity. The Niners won their championships over an extended period of time becoming the team of the 80s. This is a very important factor. Even if you toss out the ‘94 season the Niners won four titles over nine years with one repeat. They never went more than three years without a title. By contrast, the Cowboys of the early 90s won three tiles in four years, but none after 1995. In my mind this makes them the team of the first half of the nineties, but not a dynasty. This is the mold from which the current Patriots may be cast. If they win this title they will be a very good team that has had a short run of incredible brilliance. Of course they still need to win the Super Bowl this year, and even then they won’t be as good as those Cowboy teams for the fact that between titles the Boys lost to the Niners in the NFC championship Game, between titles the Pats missed the playoffs.

So what needs to happen for the Pats to become a dynasty? Well, they’ll need to win on Feb. 6th, and they’ll have to win at least won more time after that. That fourth win can come any time, but if it comes in 2006 or 2007 so much the better. In the meantime the Pats would have to win their division and make it deep into the playoffs in the years they don’t win it all. If they can keep up this kind of pace for next two or three years I’ll be willing to call them a dynasty.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Deja Vu

Monday, January 10, 2005

Hmmm, I feel like I just wrote this column. Sure, it was two years ago, and sure, I only wrote it in email format to a few friends. Still I feel like I just had this conversation and that the sentiment hasn't changed much. Some of the names are different (Pete Carroll), and some are the same (Romeo Crenel), but basically the list of guys I don't want is longer than the list of those I do want.

Here's a brief recap on my conversation with DMJ on this very topic in January of 2003.

From: SR Subj: Head Coach
Here are some names I've heard that I think could work out for the 49ers:
Lovie Smith (Rams D-coordinator)
Ray Rhodes (Broncos D-coordinator)
Rick Neuheisel (U of Washington head coach)
Jim Tressel (U of Ohio head coach)

Names I've heard that I don't like:
Dennis Green
Tom Coughlin
Ted Tollner (SF QB's coach)
Mike Riley (Former SD head coach)
Ted Cottrell (Jets D-coordinator)
Jim Mora Jr.

Dark Horse???:
Willie Shaw (Vikes D-coordinator)
Terry Donahue
June Jones (U of Hawaii head coach)

When Hell Freezes:
Jim Mora Sr.
Marv Levy
Wade Phillips
Art Shell
Mike White
Joe Bugal
Barry Switzer

From: SR Re: Head Coach
Jimmy Johnson?

From: DMJ Subj: Dumb
Glenn Dickey said in today's Chron that Neuheisel would take the job if the team offered it, despite his denials. Apparently him and Donahue have some (good) history. Erickson would be a disaster.

From: SR Re: Dumb
And dumber...

49ers comfortable with Erickson hiring
Noooooooooooooo!!!!!........... Erickson WILL be a disaster. ESPN reported that Neuheisel said he had not been contacted, nor was he interested. May the spirits of Frankie Albert and Vic Morabito save us all.

From: DMJ Re: Dumb
I don't know who those people are. Explain, please. For some reason, I
didn't watch the news last night, nor this morning.

From: SR Re: Dumb
I'm going to assume you mean you don't know Albert and Morabito. (You better know Ricky, Ricky can't stand people not knowing Ricky.) Vic Morabito was Eddie D before Eddie D. He was the founding owner of the 49ers back in 1946. He tried to get an NFL team but was rebuffed and so he helped found the AAFC. He paid players well and loved the game. Frankie Albert was Steve Young before Steve was. Back when QB's threw less and ran more Albert threw a lot. He was the first star QB in SF. People mention Montana, Young and now maybe Garcia, but they forget about Albert, Tittle, and Plunkett...and Steve Deberg. Roger Craig? How about Hugh MacElhenny, Joe Perry, and John Henry Johnson? Along with Albert they formed "The Million Dollar Backfield" in an era when if four player's salaries added up to a million dollars it was big news. So there you go, your 49ers history lesson for today. There will be one comprehensive final at the end of the semester.

OK so that kind of went off on a tangent. The point is that I was wrong about Neuhiesel, he would have been a disaster also. I was right about Ericsson tough. The guy I liked, Lovie Smith, is now the HC in Chicago, Green, Coughlin, and Mora Jr. all have other HC jobs too. Cotrell is back in the mix, Donahue is out, and the rest of the names are out dated and not worth discussing.

So, here we are, two years and a world of talent away from 2003. For the record I still hope they call Jimmy Johnson. I know he's old, and we all still remember him for his 63-3 playoff loss in his last game, but maybe he's reenergized now. OK, back to reality, let's see who's out there...

First off, "owner" John York said he wants to look for a "proven, winning NFL coach," which would seem to rule out the man who seems to have grabbed the headlines recently, USC HC Pete Carroll. Good old Pete, the D-coordinator for the Niners last championship. The thing is, Carroll, like Ericsson, is a great college coach who has totally bombed as an NFL head coach. Prior to 1994 Carroll was fired by the Jets; and afterward he was fired by the Pats. Still, Carroll is currently the hot guy even though he says he's not interested. "Not interested" is the same thing Neuhiesel said around the time of his secret interview. Carroll should stay at USC. He's been very good there. He should not ever leave USC. Ever. He should retire after that job. At the very least he should never go back to the NFL.

The sad thing is that the landscape is very bleak right now. There are no hot coaching candidates. I can't even come up with a good list of who I don't want. And my list of who I would want is exactly two, Johnson and the guy the Niners can't get and never should have let go, Steve Marriuci. I think the Dolphins got the only real viable college guy and the list of coordinators is uninspiring. Romeo Crenel seems to have the inside track, but who knows how he'd do as the top guy? So, here is my please, please God no list in no particular order, including guys who haven't been officially mentioned:

-Pete Carroll
-Dave Wandstat
-Greg Williams
-Wade Phillips
-Ray Rhodes
-Jim Fassel
-Dan Reeves

Other than that there are two coaches that are at least a little bit interesting. Mike Holmgren, who still hasn't shown that he can win without Brett Favre, and Raven's D coordinator Mike Nolan who is the son of former SF head coach Dick Nolan. Both men have SF ties, which is nice. Holmgren brings a pedigree that includes a Super Bowl win, and ties to the Bill Walsh era. Nolan brings a good defensive mindset and by being an unknown won't have to face the same kind of pressure the other candidates may face.