DeAngelo Hall, March Madness, Jason Kidd, DeVon Hardin
Looked at strictly from a physical standpoint, Hall gives the Raiders a second shutdown corner, matched up with Nnamdi Asomugha, so the Raiders can continue with the man-to-man defense that Al Davis prefers. Two corners who were drafted in 2005, Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt, have shown themselves to be no better than nickel backs, and Washington is also facing domestic violence charges. The Raiders had already strengthened their defensive backfield with the signing of safety Gibril Wilson. Hall’s signing could give them their best defensive backfield group since their return to Oakland.
Davis has always prized top corners. In a conversation early in the 1967 season, my first covering the Raiders, he said to me, “If you put the quarterback (Daryle Lamonica) and the corners (Willie Brown and Kent McCloughan) on the board, who would be more valuable?” Coach John Rauch and general manager Scotty Stirling had pushed to get Lamonica from Buffalo, a trade Davis was reluctant to make because he had to give up a favorite, wide receiver Art Powell.
The answer to his question was both. After a slow start, Lamonica came on strong in the second half of the season and the Raiders wound up in the Super Bowl. Brown and McCloughan, father of the 49ers current general manager, Scot McCloughan, were an unbeatable pair. Brown did it all, defending passes and providing run support, and he eventually made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A knee injury ended McCloughn’s career early, but he was a great cover corner, the only one in the AFL who had any success against Lance Alsworth.
That’s the model, and Asomugha and Hall fit it perfectly, except for one troubling sign: Hall has been a problem player.
In Davis’s first years with the Raiders, he was known for bringing in problem players who became significant contributors to Raiders success. But, there were two important elements at that time: (1) There was a core of good, even great players who had exemplary characters – Brown, Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Tom Keating and Ben Davidson, among them. The Raiders do not have that core now. 2) Players had no freedom, so problem players knew that, if they didn’t make it with the Raiders, their careers were over. Now, they know they can leave as free agents.
And, that’s why the Moss example is so scary. There is no receiver more talented than Moss, and his arrival three years ago was greeted with great excitement. (Not by me; I warned that he could be a disaster in the very first column I wrote on this site.) Of course, we know the rest of the story. Moss was a huge disappointment in his two years in a Raiders uniform. Traded to New England – the Raiders couldn’t afford to keep him because of a balloon payment of $9 million due in 2007 – he resurrected his career in a winning environment, catching an NFL record 23 touchdown passes last season.
Football is the ultimate team sport. If you put players in the right spot, they’ll thrive. But when you bring a problem player into an already troubled environment, you’re just asking for trouble.
So, Raider fans, keep your fingers crossed. On physical ability alone, Hall would be a great pickup, but emotionally, he could just add to the problem.
MARCH MADNESS: It’s ironic that the NCAA tournament, which became the top tournament because of the point shaving scandals which hit the NIT, now benefits greatly from gambling of a much different sort: Office pools.
After World War II, the NIT was the more important tournament, which is why it was such a big thing when the USF team coached by Pete Newell, with stars Don Lofgran and Rene Herrerias, won in 1949.
But the point-shaving scandal of 1951, which involved the CCNY team which won both the NIT and NCAA tournaments, and Kentucky and Olympic stars Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, effectively downgraded the NIT to second-class status. The NCAA trumpeted the return of the game to college campuses, apart from the “sinful” atmosphere of Madison Square Garden in New York.
Now, the NIT is much less important than the NCAA tournament. I had a vivid reminder of that when I covered Cal in the 1999 NIT, which the Bears won. The tournament was a minor story for the New York papers and television stations, and the crowds were very small. A large contingent of Cal fans came to New York for the tournament and their cheers were easily the loudest in the building.
Meanwhile, the office pools mania only grows. It’s a source of wonderment for me because I’ve never participated in one, mostly because it’s been almost 36 years since I worked in an office. In June, 1972, when The Chronicle made me a full-time columnist, I decided to work out of my home. My son, Scott, was then a month short of his second birthday and I wanted to watch him grow up. Friends wondered how I could work with a young child around, but I had been working in a Chronicle office which had clattering teletypes, ringing phones and the non-stop talking of Art Spander. My home office was a public library in comparison.
Now, there is much gambling at the normal sports book venues, but it is the office pools which bring in people who are not usually followers of the game. Everybody draws up his/hers brackets. The selection days become big television events.
The tournament can only be compared to the Super Bowl and World Series for national involvement. The NBA playoffs don’t come close.
March Madness indeed.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: As the Cal season winds down in a meaningless NIT (see above), the player I feel most sorry for is DeVon Hardin.
Hardin is known as “The Beast” for his strength and athletic ability, but his failure to develop those skills is a searing indictment of Ben Braun. Hardin is the most extreme example, but few of Braun’s players have ever improved as they should.
As a senior, Hardin still has no offensive moves. He has had an occasional good game against a team like Washington, which has no starter close to him in size, but he was easily handled by Stanford’s Lopez twins. Despite his shot blocks, he is not a good defensive player because he is often out of position, which is why he gets into foul trouble.
There is still talk that he will be a first round NBA draft choice, but the team which takes him will be disappointed. It’s hard to develop players in the NBA because there is relatively little practice time between games. College is the place where players should develop. Unfortunately for Hardin, he went to the wrong program.
STEROIDS RE-VISITED: If you want to read a sensible evaluation of steroids in sports, for a change, I recommend a piece called “Stop Blaming Sports” in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.
The article debunks a couple of widely-held beliefs: (1) High school athletes take steroids because they know that pro athletes are. The article quotes a poll of student athletes in which 99 per cent of them said they would not take steroids because of the pro athlete example and noted that a high school user is as likely to be somebody who is not playing sports as one who is; and (2) Pro athletes are the main users. In fact, many people, ranging from entertainers to ‘ordinary” people who simply want to counteract the effects of aging are taking performance-enhancing drugs. Exact numbers are impossible to find because so many of these drugs are available on the street but the projected numbers of users are truly astounding.
Everybody agrees on one point: These drugs should not be taken by anyone of high school age whose body is still growing. Beyond that, there is simply not yet enough evidence of possible long-term effects to draw any conclusions. Even in sports, most of the anecdotal “evidence” is unreliable. That’s why I’ve advocated that their use in sports be allowed but that athletes would have to register what they’re taking, so long-term effects could be monitored. They’re going to take them, anyway, no matter how many attempts are made to stop them.
It’s ironic that SI should be printing such an article because the magazine has long been a leader in the steroids-are-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thinking. But, that was when it was All About Barry. SI has been angry with Bonds ever since he kept the magazine’s writer waiting for a week to talk to him in 1993, and the editors ran an all-out attack on Bonds, with steroids the centerpiece. Now that others are in the steroids spotlight, most notably Roger Clemens – and is there anything more ridiculous than the government spending so much time on this issue, with Congressional hearings and prosecutions for perjury? – SI is taking a balanced approach to the issue. I would wish that other writers who have jumped on this issue without really thinking it through would also examine it more closely, but I have no real hope that they will.
JASON KIDD: Speaking of SI, I laughed out loud when I read in an article about Todd Bozeman’s coaching resurrection that he taught Jason Kidd his point guard skills when they were both at Cal. From personal experience, I know this is totally wrong.
When Kidd was a sophomore in high school, my friend, Sam Spear, insisted that I had to come out and see him. I resisted because I hadn’t seen a high school basketballame since I’d come to The Chronicle in 1963 and wanted to keep it that way.
But, Sam kept on me so, finally, when Jason was a junior, I went to see him play. I was amazed, because he displayed the court awareness and ability to find the open man with his passes that later made him successful at Cal and in the NBA. He was much too good for his teammates, who were often not prepared for his passes.
After seeing him, I wrote that he would be even better when he moved up to college and pro levels because he would have teammates who could keep up with him. Another Chronicle columnist watched him and said he was good in high school because he was bigger than most of the players but that he’d have problems on the collegiate level. Oh, yeah, he sure did.
HOCKEY INTEREST: Occasionally I hear from Sharks fans who wonder why I never write about hockey. When I tell them it’s because not enough people are interested, they point to regular sellouts at the Shark Tank – but relatively few people beyond those actually at the games have any interest in the sports.
Football and baseball are the major American sports not just because of the attendance at games but the huge numbers of people who watch on television, listen on radio and read about then in newspapers or on the Internet. They are also sports with which Americans in every area of the country have grown up with and often played when they were younger. Hockey is familiar only to those who grew up in the northern areas of the country and, of course, it does not televise well, so there is little chance to educate fans who have not grown up with the sport.
When a dispute between players and owners resulted in the baseball season ending abruptly and the World Series being canceled in 1994, it was a huge national story, causing great anguish among fans across the country. There are still references to it.
When the NHL canceled its whole season because of a labor dispute, most of the country greeted the news with a huge yawn.
E-MAILS : My apologies to anybody who e-mailed me yesterday and did not get a response. I had oral surgery to remove shreds of a tooth which broke off at my gum and that pretty much wiped me out for the day. I’ll try to get to my messages today.
March Madness is here and tickets for all tournament games, including the Final Four, are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! links at the bottom of my Home Page. In the entertainment world, Kenny Chesney’s tour will be at AT&T Park on June 8, Radiohead will hit the road in May. On Broadway, Rent will end a 12-year run in June, and tickets are available. Jersey Boys and Wicked remain hot tickets. As the NBA hits its stretch run, the Warriors have key back-to-back games against the Lakers, March 23 in Los Angeles, the next night in Oakland. The start of baseball season is less than a month away, and tickets are available for all teams. Tickets are also available for the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, as fans prepare to say goodbye to the most fabled stadium of our time. For tickets to these events and many others, just click at the local and national links and everything will come up.
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