NFL Excess, Keenan Allen, Jeff Tedford, Raiders Drafts, Giants Hopes
NFL EXCESS: Reportedlly, as many as 11 NFL openers will not be sellouts. Why? The economy is one reason, of course, but the NFL has also made it easier to stay home with its own TV package, which includes the best games and the ability to switch to other games. If you’ve got HD television, it can be better than being at the game.
The NFL needs to work on building up its stadium audience. One way is to curb the constant rise of ticket prices. Raising prices when people are already resisting lower-priced tickets and in the face of a bad economy….I’m not an economist, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
The other thing the NFL needs to do is lift the blackouts on home games. Television can be a great selling tool, and nobody needs it more than the “Team of the Decades.” As it is, the Raiders may not sell out a game all season, so their chances of building interest, especially given their legendary stiffing of the media, are nil.
RISING STAR: Cal fans came away from Saturday’s thrashing of UC Davis talking about freshman receiver Keenan Allen. So did the media.
“He sees the whole field,” longtime KGO sports anchor Mike Shumann told me after yesterday’s Cal news conference. Shuman, of course, was a wide receiver for Bill Walsh’s 49ers after an outstanding career with Florida State. “That’s what all the great ones do, like Joe Montana, Magic Johnson. When he took that little screen pass, he immediately saw the opening to the left (and ran for a 48-yard touchdown). When he rolled out to pass, he saw that the opening wasn’t there and, instead of waiting to see if a receiver would come open, he put the ball down and ran for yardage.
“It helps that he played both ways in high school. He knows the thinking of defensive backs, and he knows where the seams are in the defense.
“What he does is open up the offense for Jeff Tedford because he’s another big play guy the defense has to account for. Because he’s tall (6-3), he’s deceptively fast, with those long strides.
“Teams will be watching a lot of video of him and the next thing they’ll try to do is hit him at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, with tall receivers, they can get knocked off stride and they have a hard time recovering.”
Shumann doesn’t believe that anything opponents try will stop Allen, though. “He’s going to make a lot of big plays and, after two years, he’ll go to the pros.”
Until then, Cal fans can watch an unusual talent.
JEFF TEDFORD: After Saturday’s win, Tedford has passed Pappy Waldorf in total wins and trails only the legendary Andy Smith with his great teams in the ‘20s. I don’t count what happened in the first 20 years of the 20th century when Cal played rugby not football for nine of the first 14 years. When they did switch back to football for good in 1915, there weren’t many schools playing competitive football. It must have been like playing UC Davis every Saturday.
What you think of Tedford probably depends much on your age. Younger alums want more and more, and just going to a bowl game, if it isn’t one of the top tier, is not enough.
For those in my generation, more or less, it’s a much different story, because we’ve seen so much bad football and we know how hard it is to win at Cal.
I didn’t see the great Waldorf teams. We were living in northern California most of that time but not close enough to come to games. The only game I saw was against San Jose State on a high school journalism day in the fall of 1953. Of course, there were no televised games then, either.
By the time I got to Berkeley, as a junior in the fall of ’56, Pappy’s magic was long gone. In fact, he got hanged in effigy at Sather Gate that fall. Then and now, young men have neither memories nor patience.
In the 54 years I’ve been watching since, the only other coaches who had more than an occasional good season have been Mike White and Bruce Snyder. If Snyder had stayed, he probably would have had a run comparable to Tedford’s, but Bob Bockrath, a classic example of the Peter’s Principle, was the athletic director and wanted to make a clean sweep of coaches. So, Cal wound up with Keith Gilbertson and Todd Bozeman. Have we ever told you how grateful we are, Bob?
Tedford is the best I’ve seen at Cal, and I think it’s remarkable what he’s accomplished despite the constant turmoil. What other school in the conference has had to cope with idiots sitting in trees? And the athletic facilities – a very important factor to those coming in – have been the worst in the conference. They’re only now being brought up to standard.
There’s still another hurdle: the reconstruction and seismic upgrading of ancient Memorial Stadium. That won’t be completed until before the 2012 season. As anybody who went to the first game knows, it’s a mess now, and next year will be played at AT&T.
But for long suffering Bears fans, this is just a blip. I’m already looking forward fo 2012!
RAIDERS DRAFTS: Reader Phil Lichtenstein reminds me that the 2009 draft was one of the worst ever in NFL history – but it might not have been worse than 2007.
Last year, the Raiders took an incredible reach to draft Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first round. DHB caught only 12 passes and dropped about the same.
This year, he’s supposedly improved, but he still likes to cradle the ball against his body. That can cause fumbles and drops, and it also makes it impossible for him to do what he was drafted to do: run 60 yards down the field to catch a ball. That calls for catching the ball with your hands, not your body.
Raider boss Al Davis has always liked sprinters but few of them have football skills. I remember particularly Olympic sprinter Jimmy Hines who got the nickname, “Oops”, which I don’t think I need to explain. DHB is still in the “Oops” category.
The Raiders second pick was linebacker Mike Mitchell, another stunning leap. Reportedly, Raiders coaches wanted to release Mitchell this week but were overruled by….guess who. The only thing worse than making a mistake is not admitting it, a trait for which Davis has become renowned.
The Raiders did well with Louis Murphy in the fourth round, but otherwise the draft was a disaster.
But maybe the 2007 draft was worse because they took JaMarcus Russell with the very first pick and also such non-producers as Quentin Moses and Marlo Henderson, a swinging gate in the offensive line. They did make good picks, though, with Zach Miller and Michael Bush.
The Raiders have made some good picks in the lower rounds, when Davis apparently turns over the decisions to his scouts, but not enough for the team to live up to the “Team of the Decades” nonsense.
Maybe that’s why they only allow writers to watch practice for 20 minutes before they’re ushered out. When I covered the team, beat writers were allowed to watch all practices and talk freely to players. Of course, that’s when the Raiders were really good, so they didn’t have to try to hide anything.
NATE DAVIS: The 49ers release of Nate Davis showed once again what a difference there is between the way teams evaluate talent and fans do.
As I’ve written before, fans often get enamored of backup quarterbacks who look good in the fourth quarter of exhibitions. Coaches know that’s meaningless, because the QBs are throwing against defenders who won’t even be on the regular season roster.
It was the same this summer with Davis, who was a fan favorite. I got e-mails saying the 49ers should give him a chance to start, even as coach Mike Singletary was criticizing him for his lack of work ethic.
Davis was never more than the No. 3 in Singletary’s mind, and when Troy Smith became available, the Niners signed him and released Davis.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The Cal opener against UC Davis wasn’t much of a game but in another way, it demonstrated what is good about college football.
As the host, Cal made it “All College Day” because the two schools are part of the prestigious UC system. There were numerous parties over the weekend, and Davis had a sizeable rooting section at the game itself. UC Davis is, of course, only about 70 miles up the freeway.
When the weather is nice and the game is played at a reasonable time, I enjoy walking around the campus. Before the game. I stopped briefly at a tailgate hosted by Don Kosovac, a fellow member of the class of ’58, and then made my way up the hill in a sea of humanity. I was in that 90 per cent of those attending who waited until just before game time to go in and, because of all the construction, there is only one narrow avenue of access on the south end.
There’s a range of ages at college games that you don’t see at the professional games, everything from toddlers of 3-4 brought by their parents to alumni well into their 80s.
There’s also a level of civility not seen often at pro games. Cal supporters don’t like USC alums – it might help if the Trojan band learned more than two notes – and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. But a fan wearing a Trojan shirt will not be assaulted, as a fan wering a Broncos shirt and walking through the Raiders parking lot certainly would be.
I left the game early in the third quarter, and as I walked down the hill, I was passed by a steady stream of UC Davis students who had also left early. Though their team was losing by a lopsided margin, they were all in high spirits. It was a beautiful day, they were young and going to parties, which was more important. They had their priorities straight!
WHAT ANNOYS ME: The constant overuse of “icon” and “iconic.” Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read of “an iconic moment.” Give it a rest, people. The words are rapidly becoming meaningless because they’ve been overused. . . The attempt to make something seem more important by using a different word. Writers used to talk of the speed of a pitcher’s fastball. Now, it’s velocity. And a pitcher used to have good control. Now, it’s command. Cold anything be sillier?
NFL CONTRACTS: It’s amazing to me how many in the media don’t understand how NFL contracts work.
The latest example: the writers who wondered how the Cincinnati Bengals could give up on Antonio Bryant by cutting him before the season started after they’d given him $4 million.
Well, because they didn’t give him $4 million. They would only have been obligated to do that if he’d been on the roster when the season began. They cut him before that could happen.
Agents know very well how the system works, which is why they ask for big signing bonuses and big money in the first couple of years. They know a team will be reluctant to cut a player early if he’s gotten a lot of money up front. Example: JaMarcus Russell.
They also know that a player can be cut before any season, no matter what the supposed length of the contract is. I’m sure the delay in cutting Russell earlier this year was because the Raiders were trying to get him to re-negotiate his contract downward, as Alex Smith had done with the 49ers. Russell didn’t, so they cut him. I hope he bought a nice HD TV with his money so he’ll be able to enjoy NFL games this fall.
BASEBALL HISTORY: The Padres amazing freefall, 10 straight losses that made the NL West race competitive again, reminded me of 1964, my second year at The Chronicle, when the Philadelphia Phillies blew a 6 ½ game lead with only 10 games to go, handing the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals/
That was an even more memorable collapse because there was no reason for Phillies manager Gene Mauch to panic, but he did. Perhaps it was because of the constant reminders that Mauch, for all his tactical brilliance, had never won a pennant. At any rate, he started using his pitchers out of turn and absolutely ruined the pitching staff. It became a four-team race, including the Giants.
The Padres have come out of their tail spin with two straight – and face the Giants in a critical four-game series in San Diego starting tomorrow. The Giants, meanwhile, have had a stretch of great pitching. Will it continue tonight with Barry Zito, who’s been in a tailspin of his own? If Zito doesn’t pitch well tonight, he may get skipped the next time around because the Giants are off on Monday.
RADIO: I’ll be a guest on Ken Dito’s “Press Box” show on Action Sports, 860 AM, at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.
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