Terrelle Pryor; Aldon Smith; Aaron Rodgers/Peyton Manning/Tom Brady/Drew Brees;Andrew Luck; Mark Stephens/Sandy Barbour/Sonny Dykes
WOW! It’s hard to believe players on a 3-4 team can be overconfident but that’s the way the Raiders appeared against the Philadelphia Eagles. They had all the appearance of a team which thought it just had to show up to win, although their wins had been hard-fought affairs. No easy touches for any of them.
Their inability to play any semblance of defense was especially puzzling because a strong defense had been the key to their earlier resurgence. Not Sunday. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was hardly touched, so he just sat back in the pocket, throwing seven touchdown passes, which tied an NFL record. Foles is hardly a great quarterback, but any NFL quarterback can hit wide open receivers. Tim Tebow couldn’t but he’s not an NFL quarterback, no matter what God apparently is telling him.
Usually, when there’s no pass rush it’s because the defense is dropping off defenders, but the Raiders managed to combine a terrible pass rush while still failing to cover receivers. That’s not easy.
That put even more pressure on the Raiders offense, which is progressing slowly as Terrelle Pryor learns how to play quarterback in the NFL. I think he’s going to be a good one but he’s not quite there yet. And, once again, Darren McFadden had to come out of the game in the second quarter with a hamstring problem. When he’s healthy, McFadden is great fun to watch, but he can’t stay healthy and a running back who can’t stay healthy in the early years of his career doesn’t suddenly become durable later. For all his talent, the Raiders would be foolish to sign McFadden to another big contract when his current one lapses at the end of this year.
I was not at the game. Because Nancy and I were going to Sam Spear’s 65th birthday party later that afternoon, I just watched the first half on TV. That was enough. I knew it wouldn’t get better and, in fact, it got worse.
Now, the question is whether the Raiders can rebound from this. We all knew this would not be a season that would end in the playoffs but they still have to regroup and play hard the rest of the way. Coach Dennis Allen said at his Monday press conference that they would but he has to. His players have to do it on the field. I think they will but this (lack of) effort certainly gives me pause.
ALDON SMITH has been cleared to play in the NFL, after going through a substance abuse program, and it’s likely coach Jim Harbaugh will activate him for next Sunday’s game at Candlestick against the Carolina Panthers. I think this is a seriously bad idea.
This is obviously a very troubled young man. He has been arrested twice for driving while intoxicated. He was stabbed at a party he hosted, and there were several weapons in his house, including an assault weapon. Of course, Smith is a Southerner (Missouri) and in that section of the country, they arm themselves as if expecting an enemy attack at any time.
He is also a very talented football player, especially adept at rush the passer. For that reason, Jim Harbaugh will play him. But I have to wonder if the NFL will step in and stop that. Playing football in the NFL is highly stressful and not exactly good therapy for a troubled young man.
Meanwhile, the career of former Cal star Nnamdi Asomugha appears at an end. After a stellar career with the Raiders, he was a serious disappointment with the Eagles, who played mostly zone defenses instead of the man-to-man coverages in which Asomugha had excelled with the Raiders.
In training camp this year, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio questioned his ability to play at a high level and the emergence of ballhawk Tremaine Brock, who has three interceptions in the last four games, doomed him. Asomugha had not played in the last two games, though he was healthy. It’s probably time for him to think retirement.
AROUND THE NFL: The shoulder injury to Aaron Rodgers in the Monday night game cost the Green Bay Packers the game against the Chicago Bears and will be even more costly if he misses any more time. Rodgers has become the best quarterback in the NFL, notwithstanding Tom Brady’s five touchdown game last Sunday, Peyton Manning’s oft-spectacular games or Drew Brees record-setting yardage totals.
As far as the young quarterbacks go, though Colin Kaepernick, RG Griffin and Cam Newton have been more spectacular at times, Andrew Luck gets the nod because
he’s a winner; he’s led fourth quarter comeback wins in 10 games in a season and a half. Last year, he took what had been the worst team in the NFL in 2011 to the playoffs. None of the other young quarterbacks can match that.
He’s also a young man who doesn’t take himself seriously. I’ve treasured the memory of the time he showed up at the media luncheon before the Big Game wearing a blue shirt and yellow tie. When I kidded him about that, he told me, “This is my only clean shirt and the only tie I own.”
And, of course, he went out that Saturday and beat the Bears.
MONEY IS always the name of the game: The NFL, which traditionally played Thursday games only on Thanksgiving, now routinely schedules Thursday night games. These are never good games because the players’ bodies haven’t had enough time to recuperate from a Sunday game and there also hasn’t been enough time to install good game plans. But, these games are another addition to the TV schedule, bringing in yet more money.
Meanwhile, the college game has sold out even more completely to TV with games scheduled at whatever time a network wants them – or all day on the Pac12 network. This week, they’ll copy the NFL with the big showdown between Stanford and Oregon on Thursday night at Stanford. Good grief.
NAME DEBATE: The Washington football team is resisting the pressure to drop its racially offensive nickname “Redskins”, supposedly because it represents tradition.
Well, there are two kinds of traditions for nicknames for sports teams. One if when there’s a legitimate historical background. Patriots, for instance, is that kind of nickname, certainly appropriate for a New England team because the start of the revolution against the English rule was the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor. The 49ers nickname is also a legitimate one, representing the Gold Rush that made San Francisco a major city. It could be argued that Cowboys is a legitimate historical name for a Dallas team because Texas was part of the wild, wild west – and still thinks it is.
There are other nicknames which are traditional only because they’ve been around for a long time. Redskins is one of them, as are the other less odious nicknames which apply to Native Americans – Braves, Indians, Warriors, etc. Stanford changed its nickname from Indians to Cardinal, the color, not the bird. I guess we’re lucky they didn’t select fuschia.
For all the talk about tradition, if the Redskins name were changed to something less offensive, I’ll bet the fans wouldn’t care after the first couple of weeks of outrage. After all, they’re rooting for a team, not a nickname.
NBA nicknames can be the most baffling because, when teams transfer, they take the nicknames with them. The Lakers nickname was appropriate because they were originally based in a state whose motto is “state of 10,000 lakes.” I lived on one for the first seven years of my life. But, has anybody spotted a lake in Los Angeles? Similarly, the nickname Jazz was appropriate for a team in New Orleans, where the musical form originated, but in Salt Lake City? Oh, I forgot all those Saturday night jazz concerts in the Mormon Tabernacle.
I think there should be a simple litmus test for teams’ nicknames: They should, whenever possible, reflect the city they play in, and they should never insult any group of people. Redskins does not meet either test.
WALT BELLAMY, who died last weekend at the age of 74, played in an era when centers dominated. Monte Poole once asked me how I thought Bellamy would be rated now if he were playing. “He’d be at the top,” I said. When he actually played, he was very good but hardly the equal of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, and probably not Nate Thurmond, either. He was still good enough to make the basketball Hall of Fame, for his play as a collegian at Indiana University and in the NBA.
A reader sent me an amusing excerpt from the New York Times obituary on Bellamy. As a rookie, Bellamy was very polite to Chamberlain before their first game, hoping to soften him up a bit. It didn’t work. Wilt told him, “You’re not going to get a shot off in the first half.” Bellamy attempted nine shots, but each one was blocked. At the start of the second half, Wilt told him, “OK, you can shoot now.”
Bellamy was hardly the only center to be cowed by Wilt, who was an incredible athlete. Russell won far more championships than Chamberlain, but that was because he had a stronger supporting group. When Wilt had an equal supporting group on the 1968 Philadelphia 76ers, they were regarded as the best team ever. When he joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor with the Lakers at the end of his career, they won a record 33 straight.
ONE OF the people I talked to at Sam Spear’s birthday party was Mark Stephens, who should be Cal’s athletic director.
Mark was the assistant to Steve Gladstone and he put the department on a business-like schedule, much more efficient than the loosy-goosy style of John Kasser. The last year Gladstone was AD, he was mostly concentrating on his job as crew coach while Mark ran the department. Mark ran the search which brought in Jeff Tedford as football coach and it was assumed that he’d formally take over the job of athletic director the next year, with Gladstone returning to full-time duties with crew.
But then, Robert Birgeneau was appointed chancellor. Birgeneau didn’t want Stephens because he was friendly with alums – Mark had also played football at Cal – which should have been the tipoff to the kind of job Birgeneau would do. A confident man would have been pleased to have an athletic director who was close to influential alums. But Birgeneau wanted an AD who would be beholden to him, so he hired Sandy Barbour.
In a way, it was the best thing that could have happened to Mark. He’s the financial manager for a law firm in San Francisco, making far more money than he would have at Cal.
Meanwhile, Cal athletics is a mess. The graduation rates for football and basketball players are in the toilet, the football team is probably on its way to a one-win season, that wub over a Bowl Subdivision team, and a fight between teammates in the Simpson Athletic Training Center last Friday sent freshman Fabiano Hale to the hospital with unspecified injuries.
The football coach is in over his head. Sonny Dykes is a nice guy and he inherited a bad team, but I don’t think he’s equal to the competition in the Pac-12 and I don’t like his offensive system. The main problem with these go-go offenses is that they usually don’t have real tight ends so they’re lack blocking in the red zone and can’t run the ball well close to the goal line. And, guess what: That’s been a big problem for Cal.
And, after some excitement early because of the passing offense, Cal fans are staying away from games in droves. The stadium payment plan has stalled, in part because so many of the older alums – who are usually the big contributors – are tired of these TBA schedules, which have far too many night games.
I think Dykes will probably get three years before he’s fired, with Cal having to pay off the rest of his seven-year contract. I don’t think Barbour will last that long, with her protector, Birgeneau, gone.The final nail in her coffin will probably turn out to be her floating of an idea to hold the 2014 Big Game at the 49ers new stadium. More than anything else, that showed that she’s really out of touch with Cal traditions.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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