This Week In The 'Drome: Sesquipedalian madness, Eddie and the blonde, and a whole lot more
The Nature vs. The Beast: In 1989, Eagles coach Buddy Ryan — always an example of rational behavior — famously put a $200 bounty on Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas, whom he had cut earlier in the season.
It was part of a regular practice of Ryan shelling out fresh Benjamins for big hits and big plays.
Ryan's defensive coordinator? A young Jeff Fisher.
Now emerges news that, while with the Saints (at the very least), Gregg Williams led a bounty scheme — or a "financial incentive program," for the more euphemistically inclined. Williams got his coaching start leading the special teams for — you guessed it — Buddy Ryan. He was also — wait for it — Jeff Fisher's defensive coordinator between 1997 and 2000, before an ignominious period as the head coach of the Bills prior to the Saints gig. He is now — at least on paper, pending NFL action — Fisher's defensive coordinator with the Rams.
In the wake of the NFL investigation of Williams comes an allegation from well-respected former Colts coach Tony Dungy that the Williams/Fisher Titans had a bounty on Peyton Manning.
Those allegations will almost certainly go unproven. The thick smog of a NFL investigation — with the aftereffects of suspensions, fines, forfeited draft picks and the like — has a way of clamming up any potential talkers who might turn state's evidence. Nevertheless, it's hard not to hear Sen. Howard Baker intoning, "What did The Mustache know and when did he know it?"
The NFL must act quickly here. Free agency begins next week — Manning, for one, will be a hot commodity after his lachrymose and sadly CCR-free press conference. The draft is just around the corner. Players and teams have the right to know how their once and future teams will be tainted by the Saints As Sinners controversy.
The NFL — meanwhile, and as usual — dominates the headlines and airwaves even as the other big sports have happier stories to tell.
The Week Behind
In Finnegan's Wake: He is a worker, a tombstone mason, anxious to pleace averyburies and jully glad when free agency comes his once ayear. And thus, the tale of Cortland Finnegan's time with the Titans comes to an end.
Nashville, a city which likes its overachieving underdogs, fell in love with the seventh-round draft pick out of tiny Samford, a fair trade for sending Cumberland University's law school to Birmingham 50 years ago.
With hard hits belying his small size, a tenacious, often dangerous temper, and a commitment to the community, he became one of the more popular Titans in an era with a shortage of lovable Two Toners.
But pro football isn't a popularity contest. Due for a big pay raise — even franchising the corner would have cost the Titans north of $10 million — it is time to part ways, the Titans content to cast their lot with brainy Alterraun Verner and emerging Jason McCourty. With free agency offering few solutions at safety and the draft offering fewer still, pit-bull lover Michael Griffin gets the franchise tag and Finnegan goes shopping.
Get In Where You Fit In: The Predators' trade deadline acquisitions are starting to get acclimated, although Barry Trotz may be having a hard time slotting everybody into place.
With the deadline behind him, the Predators roster more or less looks like what it's going to look like. Hal Gill has found his place in the defensive pairings, but Trotz is still trying to find out where forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad should go.
Andrei had his first goal as a Predator in Saturday's 3-1 win against Florida, an absolute rocket shot — and was assisted, appropriately enough, by Gill and Gaustad. Tuesday against the Kings was a total gong show. LA scored some wacky goals, chased Pekka Rinne and Gaustad played just 12 minutes and only 20 some-odd seconds on the penalty-kill, a role in which he was supposed to be a major factor.
Things worked out better Thursday. Gaustad found a more consistent role, but at the cost of a scratch to popular young Predators Colin Wilson and Craig Smith. Smith could probably use the break; Wilson is seemingly either the best player on the ice or the worst and found his way into Trotz's doghouse in last year's playoffs. Trotz indicated that Thursday's scratch was a bit of a message to Wilson.
Sadderday: Kicks in the teeth for Vandy and TSU last weekend.
Kevin Stallings still can't figure out how to win on the last Saturday of the regular season, dropping this year's conference finale to UT, who ended up inexplicably getting the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, an outcome which seemed as likely as TSU being the OVC's second-best team. That's the fate the Tigers will begrudgingly accept after taking Murray State down the proverbial wire at Fulton's Folly.
It was, in its way, a fitting end to a frustrating regular season for the 'Dores, a team never able to live up to the lofty hype, beset by an untimely injury to Festus Ezeli — which he never seemed to shake, and an all-too-familiar inability to close games, despite three legitimate game-changing players in Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, a guard who might as well change his name to Mercurial. With Ezeli and Taylor graduating and Jenkins almost certainly gone, Stallings is faced with a lean team for 2012-13. As for TSU, a good season might lead to great things in the future, as the buzz around the Tigers hasn't been so high since John McClendon had A&I putting up triple digits in the 1950s.
Garbage Time: Some things never change: Pat Summitt says to hell with dementia and cuts the nets in the SEC tournament. ... Tough sledding for the Blue Raiders. The regular-season champion men's team couldn't hit free throws and was bounced in the first round of a tournament won improbably by Western Kentucky; the women's team, which may have a puncher's chance at an at-large tournament bid, lost in the finals. ... Belmont will go dancing, natch. ... Belmont beat Vandy in a re-match of last spring's cross-town NCAA baseball tournament game. ... Memphis' Liberty Bowl (the stadium) gets caught inflating attendance numbers. Not that papering the house and garbaging the numbers is any great shock, but still. Hey, the Preds numbers look solid. ... Rads Watch is now a Rads Warning. Alexander Radulov's Salavat was eliminated by Ak Bars Friday. Will the prodigal Predator return?
Eddie & The Cruiser: Having not read Eddie George's book on how to keep marriage "real," The 'Drome can only surmise there is a chapter called "Baby, I Just Needed A Ride Home."
The Titans legend — and SouthComm office neighbor — was the passenger early Wednesday morning as 21-year-old British pro golfer Rachel Connor was arrested for DUI in Sarasota, Fla.
Meanwhile, Connor's arrest report [PDF-style] is a cavalcade of unintentional humor.
"When did you last eat? 3 PM. What did you eat? Steak/potatoe (sic)/chili/cookie"
"What time did you start? Before I was stopped." How zen.
"Prior to being stopped, what have you been doing for three hours? 'golf, no start over again I was napping.'"
Perhaps Eddie was charmed by her witty repartee.
Did Travis LaBoy Chip In For Mike Jameson?: Was Takeo Spikes the key to victory in Rachel Bell's upset of Mike Jameson in the Democratic General Sessions primary? Maybe.
Feel Good Video Of The Week: 'Drome favorite Brian "Big Ern" McGrattan often shares his story of recovery from addiction. He recently did so at a Salvation Army event, and man, is it powerful.
The Week Ahead
Blind Prognostication: By the time next week's 'Drome goes live, at least half of the first (er...second) round NCAA games will have been played, so making any sort of guesses about the tournament fates of local teams of note is a little bit like estimating the number of angels dancing on a head of pin; maybe that would be useful, but where to start?
Really, all we know is unlikely No. 2 seed Tennessee will play Ole Miss in the SEC tournament in the prime time game while Vandy will take on Georgia in the nightcap, scheduled for 9ish, but more likely tipping off around way-after-that-ish.
Both teams need some wins in New Orleans. Tennessee still sits on the bubble and a solid win today could move them firmly into the field of 68. A second win would firm that position. Vandy is likely in no matter what happens in the Big Easy, but if there's a team that needs a few confidence-builders and monkey-shakers in the conference tournament, it's the 'Dores.
Meanwhile, Belmont waits — likely a 14 seed or so — to see who they'll play next week. TSU has already accepted an invite to the third tier CollegeInsider.com tournament, but has the option to accept an NIT bid instead. And the unlikely Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky? They are all but assured of playing one of the First Four games Tuesday in Dayton.
Worthless Prediction: Oh, who knows? We don't even know what we are predicting. Enjoy the show.
West Coast, Best Coast, Pump In The Trenchcoat: The NCAA tournament takes over Bridgestone Arena, so after tomorrow night's game against the Red Wings, a team the Predators are desperate to beat and catch to shore up beneficial playoff position, they hop on the charter for a swing through the Pacific. They'll start in the desert against the Coyotes Monday and find the way to San Jose for Thursday night's game against the Sharks.
Beating the Red Wings at home would be a nice send-off as the Preds will want to bank as many home points as they can before they go road-tripping through the final weeks of the season. It's hard to gauge who the best team in the Pacific actually is, as none of them seem very good and everyone gets a turn at the top of the standings and a chance at the Western Conference's No. 3 seed.
Worthless Prediction: The Preds may be catching the Wings at just the right time as the Auld Enemy struggles through injuries. As for the 'Yotes and Sharks, a lot depends on which teams show up for them. Let's hope for four points before next Friday.
Open The War Chest: The NFL starts its free agency period Tuesday and obviously the big chip is Peyton Manning, who very well may be off the market by then. With Cortland Finnegan departing, the Titans may look to add a cornerback, albeit a cheap veteran, to play in the slot. They could use help up front as well, where the prize is Houston's Mario Williams. A play for Williams would be a helpful shot in the arm for a team whose fan base seems ever more moribund. Tagged with a reputation for not being historically big players in free agency, Ruston Webster and Mike Munchak could truly separate themselves from their predecessors by playing for the big fish.
The premise is simple: if you can play, you can play. Gay or straight, it doesn't matter. Sports should be the ultimate meritocracy where only skill determines worth. Burke — a truck-driving, tobacco-chewing lord of truculence — has become hockey's most vocal advocate for LGBT acceptance after the death of his younger son Brendan, who was killed in a car crash shortly after coming out.
You Can Play wants to stamp out casual homophobia — the locker-room and on-ice bandying about of words like "faggot," which are all too common — as well as institutional discouragement of gay athletes.
You Can Play says it has the support of 35 top-notch NHL players, representing every market in the league, an admirable effort if only because the elder Burke — hamstrung by the NHL's tampering prohibitions — could not speak directly to players on other teams and had to rely on his front-office connections to recruit.
The first ad, with its simple message, launched last week and included former Predator Scott Hartnell, now with the Flyers. More ads with more players will roll out in coming months, and the Burkes hope to expand the effort beyond hockey to other sports.
We don't know yet which — if any — Predator is part of the campaign and it will be interesting to see what the reaction is to him, openly advocating for simple acceptance on the rink. Nashville is one of three NHL markets in a full-on red state — Dallas and Phoenix are the others. Bridgestone Arena sits just a few blocks from where the General Assembly debates whether homosexuality can be discussed in school and where lawmakers debate "License to Bully."
As the Burkes say, the ultimate goal of You Can Play is that it becomes unnecessary: that kids and coaches and fans openly cheer, coach and play with gay teammates. In Tennessee, if Burke has truly recruited a superstar, it could mean a lot more.
James Joyce quotes? General complaints? Hit me at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And be sure to listen between 4 and 5 every Tuesday afternoon as I join Willy Daunic and Joe Dubin on 102.5's Sports Revolution in what is, against my best efforts, being called The Lindsanity Hour.