NFC Superior; Bob Griese; High TV Ratings; Narcissistic San Franciscans; Goodbye, DH
SUPER BOWL OBSERVATIONS:
--The overall conferences may be equal but the NFC is stronger at the top. I think the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints and, yes, the 49ers could all have beaten the Patriots.
These things come and go. The AFC won nine of the first 10 Super Bowls after the AFL and NFL were merged into one league with two conferences in 1970. The AFL had also won the last two before the merger. Three very good teams, the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins, were joined by the Baltimore Colts, who won the first Super Bowl after the merger, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 1-13 in their last year in the old NFL but rebuilt into a team which won four Super Bowls in six years.
Then, starting with the 49ers win in 1985 over the Miami Dolphins, the NFC won 12 straight, with the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys dynasties, along with some very good Washington Redskins teams and the 1985 Chicago Bears, who get some votes as the best of all time though they couldn’t win another Super Bowl.
Now, you have four NFC teams which seem built to be successful a time while the Patriots have fallen off because they haven’t drafted for the defensive help they sorely need – and they should watch the 49ers technique in wrapping up ball carriers and receivers with tackles. The Baltimore Ravens are getting old before our eyes.
--Receivers were the biggest difference in the latest game. The Giants receivers made some incredible catches, the most incredible being the sideline catch by a well-defended Mario Manningham that got the Giants from their 12 to midfield and kick-started their winning drive. Conversely, the usually reliable Wes Welker dropped a pass that would have been a very big gainer for the Patriots – TV color man Chris Collinsworth, a former receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals, noted that Welker “catches that pass 100 times out of 100” – and receivers dropped two catchable passes on the last Patriot drive.
--The ratings were the highest for any television show ever. No surprise. There were two East Coast teams involved, with that huge built-in audience. This is why Fox’s baseball Game of the Week so often involves the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox – or both. Good luck to anybody who wants to see other teams.
--Quarterbacks who win Super Bowls often make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s usually the reason given for Bob Griese’s selection, because the Dolphins won two Super Bowls with Griese as the quarterback. But when the Dolphins won the first Super Bowl in 1973, Griese was 8-for-11 for 88 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Larry Csonka carried 15 times for 112 yards. In the Dolphins’ win the next year, Griese was 6-7 for 77 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions. Csonka carried 33 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
There can be only one conclusion: Griese is the first quarterback to make the HOF for his skill in handing off.
SAN FRANCISCANS: I suppose New Yorkers can be intolerable if you’re dealing with them on a daily basis, but for those of us on the “left coast”, there’s no group so narcissistic as San Franciscans, especially those who describe themselves as “third generation San Franciscans.” Well, I guess they deserve credit for searching for months before their own births for parents and grandparents who were born in San Francisco.
Now that the 49ers have solidified the funding for their stadium in Santa Clara, we’re hearing from the San Francisco Uber Alles group. One wrote into The Chronicle saying the Niners were moving to Palookaville. Since I wrote in Tuesday’s Examiner about the importance of the stadium deal, I’ve been assailed by San Francisco readers who say the Yorks are taking away San Francisco’s team. Really? With no more than 10 per cent of those going to games actually living in San Francisco?
The ignorance doesn’t stop with fans. I was on a conference call with Jed York last Thursday when a TV reporter (not from sports) asked, “Does this mean there’s no chance for a San Francisco stadium?” Well, let’s see. On one hand, you have a stadium project that has been in the planning stage for years, which has a contribution from Santa Clara that has been approved by voters, $850 million in bank loans and now $200 million from the NFL, and is ready for shovels in the ground soon. On the other hand, you have San Francisco, which has zero money raised, only a nebulous idea about a trouble-filled site in Hunter’s Point and no plans to go forward. What do you think?
The reality is that the 49ers have not been a San Francisco team for decades, as the majority of the fan base moved south down the Peninsula. Nonetheless, the 49ers have tried to stay in San Francisco. Lou Spadia moved the team from Kezar to Candlestick. Carmen Policy had an imaginative plan that had a stadium at the center of a huge entertainment/shopping district, but that plan went south when Carmen got an offer he couldn’t refuse from the Cleveland Browns. John York had a plan to build a new stadium on Candlestick Point – I was the only sportswriter to talk to him about those plans, of course – but San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom wouldn’t answer his phone calls. Newsome didn’t want the Niners leaving on his watch but he knew the city had no money to put into a project.
Nonetheless, the self-satisfied San Franciscans are irate that the 49ers are “leaving”. Hello! They moved their headquarters to Redwood City from San Francisco in the ‘70s, then built their current complex in Santa Clara in the mid-‘80s, right across the street from the planned stadium. Apparently, San Franciscans thought the 49ers were still operating out of the Jack Tar. Maybe all that fog obscures their vision.
ON THE other hand, it’s no treat to live in Oakland these days, either. We’ve been cursed with bad and worse mayors, Ron Dellums and Jean Quan – don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for either one – and a City Council which can’t even vote for clamping down on the anti-police group which has kidnapped the Occupy movement.
And now, the city has decided to put $3 million into a study for a new stadium complex, mostly to keep the Raiders where they are. This is urban renewal money that was put aside before Governor Jerry Brown cut all these funds for cities.
Why didn’t they just go to an open sewer and pour the money down it?
This project is going nowhere. As I pointed out in an earlier column, the Oracle Arena was renovated by previous owner Chris Cohan and is quite capable of serving as an arena for basketball and special events. If new owner Joe Lacob chooses to move the team to San Francisco, it will be a misguided attempt to go to a more glamorous site which will not serve his fans well. Building another arena in Oakland wouldn’t placate him.
The Raiders need a new stadium but the idea that Oakland and Alameda County could finance it is ludicrous. Instead of discussions that will go nowhere, the Raiders should be talking to the 49ers about being co-tenants in Santa Clara, much like the Giants and Jets sharing a stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
DH GONE? There was an interesting piece in the “Inside Baseball” section of Sports Illustrated in which Joe Sheehan noted that American League teams could afford long-term contracts to sluggers – Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both jumped from National League teams to American League – because they can slide these sluggers into the DH in the second half of their contracts. National League teams can’t do that, so they’re gong more for middle infielders, who can move to third or first when they age and slow down.
From there, Sheehan went to a discussion of the DH and what will happen in the 2013 season when the Houston Astros go from the National to American League, so there are two equal leagues.
The DH, as Sheehan noted, was originally put in by the AL in 1973 as a three-year experiment. Not surprisingly, the DH boosted scoring immediately, so it became a fixture in the American League – and was soon adopted at virtually every level of play, except for the National League, which has clung religiously (I use that word because it’s certainly not a rational decision) to its 19th century model.
Though baseball is sometimes called the unchanging game, in fact it has changed enormously just since I came to The Chronicle in 1963. At that time, nobody worried about pitch counts; Juan Marichal reportedly threw 221 pitches in a memorable 1-0 game in 1963, won in the bottom of the 16th inning by a Willie Mays home run, but there was no mention of that in stories of the day. Teams had four starters and a relief pitcher for late inning situations, sometimes as long as three innings for Rollie Fingers in a World Series games. Those pitchers not good enough for either role were put in long relief, usually for mopup.
The big changes started in the mid-80s when Bill James and the sabremeticians (not Billy Beane, as the fictional “Moneyball” claims) brought in a whole new set of statistics. Tony La Russa in that decade used specific pitchers for the seventh and eighth innings, as starting pitchers were limited to little more than 100 pitches. La Russa also took Dennis Eckersley, who no longer had the stamina to be a starting pitcher, and made him a closer, always bringing him in at the start of an inning and usually pitching him only in that inning. (All of these changes, of course, are what make Bruce Jenkins scream.)
The DH is part of that revolutionary change. As I’ve pointed out previously, it’s substituting an offensive specialist for a defensive one. A pitcher is the only one in the lineup who is selected strictly for his defensive ability. The closest position player to him is the shortstop and really good defensive shortstops will survive for a time when their batting averages dip close to .200. The Giants have a shortstop like that in Brandon Crawford, brilliant in the field but only a .204 hitter last season, which led to his frequent benching. I’m hoping Crawford can hit well enough to stay in the lineup this season but he’ll have to get up to at least .225, I would think.
But he’s an offensive powerhouse compared to pitchers. NL pitchers hit only .142, with an on-base percentage of .153 last season. For that reason, they had more than half the sacrifice bunts in the league.
National League fans like to talk of the superior strategy in their league but when a pitcher is at bat with a runner on base and less than two outs, what do you think he’s going to do? Swing for the fences? Oh, yeah.
Baseball has dodged the issue of the DH by using it for games in American League parks, including postseason, and not when games are in National League parks. But that would be silly in 2013 when there will be an inter-league game every day.There will be only one style of play and it seems logical that commissioner Bud Selig will go with the style that everybody else in baseball is using instead of the National League’s 19th century model.
And for those who disagree with that…well, how do you like your horse-and-buggy?
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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