NFL Dispute; Aaron Rodgers; Jeff Kent; Barry Zito; A's Chances; Cal Scheduling
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 16, 2011


NFL MANUEVERING: The NFL owners made an interesting move this week, filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the NFL Players Association was doing no more than surface bargaining, setting up a scenario in which the NFLPA would decertify and sue the league.

From the outside, it appears that the players are the only ones doing any bargaining at all in this situation. The owners walked out of a negotiating meeting last Friday AFTER the players had agreed to a reduction to 50 per cent from 60 per cent for their share of what is supposed to be total revenue but has some significant exceptions. That seems to be a significant concession, especially since the owners haven’t budged an inch on their demands.

Decertifying may be the players’ only weapon. The owners have much more money, so they can survive during a work stoppage. Too many players spend money almost as fast as it comes in. They couldn’t survive long without salaries and medical insurance.

But when the PA decertified in 1989 and went to court, the owners eventually were forced to settle. The resulting settlement allowed the players to have free agency after a specified time and also put in a salary cap.

The result has been an unprecedented rise in popularity for the NFL, which now far exceeds baseball in popularity; recent polls have shown baseball barely ahead of basketball. Because the owners have put in their own revenue-sharing provisions, which shovel money to horribly mismanaged franchises like the Raiders and 49ers, no NFL franchise loses money, while the value of franchises goes up. Nice business to be in.

That’s not been enough for the owners, though. They’ve wanted a bigger share of the pie – which the players have agreed to – and an addition $1 billion. To put food on the table, I guess.

Meanwhile, they have been milking the TV cow for everything they can get, scheduling games on Thursday, Saturday and Monday, as well as the traditional Sunday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday don’t have any NFL games yet, but we haven’t seen the 2012 schedule yet.

Next up is the 18-game schedule, which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has called a “done deal”, though the players haven’t officially accepted it yet. That’s to get more of the yummy TV money, of course. There seems to be no limit to the owners’ appetite for money.

The players aren’t the only ones who would lose if there’s a lockout. There are many people who work as ushers, concessionaires, cleaning detail, parking, etc. for games, and they’re often seasonal workers. For some of them, that may be their only income for the year.

Does that bother owners? Apparently not. We don’t seem to have advanced much since Charles Dickens’ time.

ANY REGRETS? Reader Alex Maluquer asked me if I thought Mike Nolan ever thought that he made a mistake in drafting Alex Smith instead of Aaron Rodgers. I said no, because I don’t think Nolan ever thought that he did anything wrong. It was the other people around him who were screwing up.
Mike Singletary had the same attitude. When he was interviewed by Comcast and asked about his opinion that the quarterback was no more important than other players, he said, “Maybe it’s different with the 49ers…” Actually, Mike, it’s different with every other team, too.

That inability to admit mistakes and change an approach is symptomatic of all coaching failures. On the other side, the ability to keep changing is a sign of a successful coach. Occasionally, a coach will show both sides. Bill Belichick was totally inflexible when he started as a head coach, but he changed his approach when he went to the New England Patriots and became very successful. Still doesn’t have a clue about dealing with the media, though.

As in so many areas, Bill Walsh is the best example of a coach who welcomed change. Walsh was always looking for a way to make his system even better.

It was part of the Walsh lore that he once diagrammed a play on his wife’s arm when they were out socially.

I never saw anything that extreme but I can believe it because once, when I was at a dinner on the Beringer property in the Napa Valley, I was sitting with Walsh and Bruce Snyder, then the Cal coach, when Snyder asked a question. Walsh whipped out his pen and started to diagram on the paper table cloth. Soon, he and Snyder were deep in discussion about offensive technique, far beyond my comprehension.

Now, if Nolan and Singletary had a football discussion, I’m sure I would have no trouble understanding them. Before I fell asleep.

MORE RODGERS: Many 49ers fans have agonized over the fact that the 49ers drafted Alex Smith instead of Rodgers, but let’s be realistic: Rodgers went to a good team, so the pieces were in place when he became the starter. If he’d been drafted by the Niners, he would have been stuck in a dysfunctional mess. No quarterback could have succeeded in that situation.

I understand when fans don’t think of all the circumstances involved, but it bothers me when media people don’t, either. There was a piece in USA Today’s Sports Weekly that went through the five teams at the top of the draft which passed on Rodgers, concluding that any of them could have reached the Super Bowl with Rodgers.

Hello! Football is a team game. It takes more than a quarterback. The only quarterback I know who got an inferior team to the Super Bowl was John Elway, and as much as I admire Rodgers, he is not John Elway. Even Joe Montana needed a great defense around him to get to his first Super Bowl; the Niners would never have made it I they hadn’t been able to trade for super pass rusher Fred Dean in early season.

Now, the 49ers are starting to put the right pieces in place. Jim Harbaugh is a huge upgrade as head coach, and he’s brought in some great assistants. Harbaugh understands quarterbacks, the first Niners coach who has since Steve Mariucci who was, surprise!, the last winning coach. Because of the labor dispute, everything is up in the air right now, but there seems to be a good chance that Alex Smith will be re-signed. He’ll be a much better quarterback under Harbaugh.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The fact that Christina Aguilera fumbled a couple of words in the National Anthem has apparently upset a number of people. I confess I didn’t even see it. I watched and listened to “America the Beautiful,” but I fast forwarded through the National Anthem because I am so sick of hearing it before every single baseball, football and basketball game.

This started during World War II when baseball owners kept the major league season going at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt but wanted to show their patriotism. When the war was over, they kept playing it. Soon, other sports followed. The worst now is the NFL, which wraps itself in the flag to the point of strangulation, supplementing the National Anthem with jets flying overhead (even when the stadium has a roof!) and marching troops.

Enough. I can see playing the National Anthem before a Super Bowl or World Series, but what place does it have in a midweek game at AT&T or the Coliseum?

Why don’t we play it before the start of an ACT production or the ballet or opera? Are they less patriotic for it?

So, instead of worrying about Ms. Aguilera’s vocal fumbling, focus on something more important – like the price of beer at baseball games.

GIANTS: I was glad to see the Giants bring Jeff Kent back for some hitting instruction in spring training. Kent was an important part of the Giants success when he was here, and I’ve always thought the bitterness of Giants’ fans over his departure was foolish.

The Giants have always done a good job of paying tribute to their history, in large part because former managing general partner Peter Magowan grew up with them in New York before his family moved to the Bay Area, just as the Giants were moving to San Francisco. The statues of Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey around AT&T Park are vivid reminders of their excellence, and both Mays and McCovey work for the team.

Kent’s time with the team wasn’t as long as that of the three stars above, but he was part of probably the best trade general manager Brian Sabean ever made. Sabean was aiming mainly to get depth when he traded Matt Williams for Kent and others, but Williams, thought of as a possible Hall of Famer at the time, soon faded because of injuries. Now, it is Kent who will be a strong HOF candidate when he’s eligible.

I don’t know how much Kent will do in camp but I’d like to see him, or somebody else with the Giants, encourage Pablo Sandoval to ditch the switch-hitting and concentrate on hitting left-handed. For all the talk about Sandoval’s weight, an equal problem is that he was basically helpless hitting right-handed last year. His left-handed stroke was fine, and I think he can once again be a force if he sticks with that.

BARRY ZITO: They’d never admit it, but the Giants have to be working overtime to try to trade Zito. He was left off the postseason roster last year and it’s hard to see him any more than the fifth starter this year, and if you thought his contract was excessive before, just think about paying $18 million a year for your No. 5 starter.

The problem is, no other team wants that salary, either, so the Giants wouold have to eat some of it. The Yankees strike me as a possibility. They need starting pitching desperately with the retirement of Andy Pettite, and they have the money to take on part of Zito’s salary. Can’t happen a minute too soon.

FOR THE first time in five years, I’’m actually excited about the A’s chances this year.

They’ve been putting together a very good pitching staff for the last couple of years, with a strong, young rotation, anchored by Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, and have built up their bullpen to the point where some observers have wondered if they have too many good arms. To which I say, you can never have too much good pitching.

Offensively, the best news is that Jack Cust is gone. Cust was a great story when he came up but the pitchers have figured him out; his ratio of home runs at at-bats has gone down every season. Not his strikeouts, though. The Seattle Mariners can now deal with his record number of strikeouts – and his defensive liabilities if they ever try to play him in the field.

The A’s still don’t have a big power guy in the middle of the lineup but they’ll have more pop there with Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui, enough to shove Kevin Kouzman, Kurt Suzuki and Mark Ellis down in the batting order. Suzuki and Ellis are both good clutch hitters and will be more dangerous where they’ll be.

Both in position players and pitchers, the A’s are much deeper than they’ve been, with outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson on the bench, after starting last year. Building up depth was a major consideration after all the injuries the A’s have suffered in recent years. The A’s have also overhauled their medical staff. About time.

The other reason for optimism about the A’s is the division in which they play. The Anaheim Angels and Mariners, who both finished behind them last year, have not improved. The Texas Rangers, who got to the World Series, have signed Adrian Beltre as a free agent but lost ace pitcher Cliff Lee, which is a net loss. And the signing of Beltre forced another move for Michael Young who now wants out. Young has been a very important part of the team.

All in all, it looks good, and there’s been a spike in interest and ticket buying among the A’s fans. Wonder what Lew Wolff will do to discourage that?

CAL SCHEDULING: The Bears are scheduled to host Presbyterian College of Clinton, South Carolina, a school of 1,200 students in a September game.

Apparently, the Little Sisters of the Poor didn’t have an open spot in their schedule.

BIRTHDAY: Today is both my birthday and my wife’s – Nancy, is much younger, of course, about 39 I think – so we’ll celebrate tonight with our favorite champagne, Billecart Salmon brut rose.

I’ve enjoyed every stage of my life for what it is. Now, writing on a free lance basis, I have much more freedom. Nancy is retired, so if we want to do something together, we can. I don’t go to night games any more because I prefer to stay home and have dinner with her. Besides, they don’t serve wine in press boxes!

We’re doing what we want to do, including the traveling we love. We’ve been taking Christmas cruises with our son and daughter-in-law – and will this next Christmas, too – and we’re planning to take another trip to Europe in June with friends from St. Louis. Counting two trips to England and cruises, this will be our 16th trip to Europe since 1976 and, since we’re also thinking of a trip to Italy in 2012, probably not our last. The traveling keeps us young, in spirit if not in body.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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