This Week In The 'Drome: Everything that's old is new again, Memphis blues, and more ...
Hasselbeck vs Locker: Part Eleventy: Remember when the Titans quarterback situation was settled?
Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck battled through camp and the preseason and the young Locker was declared the Two Toners' opening-day starter. That was all well and good — even if the football wasn't — because the Titans weren't looking very good in any event and the schedule was nightmarish.
Then Locker gets hurt, Hasselbeck comes in and wins some thrillers, and this minor shoulder injury to Locker suddenly looks major, the former Washington Husky needing just another week every week to get the tweak out.
So the grizzled Hasselbeck will start again Sunday against the Colts, with Locker (ahem) "expected" to return thereafter.
Mike Munchak, much as he insisted there was a quarterback battle during training camp, is insisting with all the enthusiasm he can muster that there isn't one now.
He is, of course, as full of it now as he was in July.
So the Hasselbeck-Locker battle rages like France and England between, oh, the Battle of Hastings and the Congress of Vienna, when the two powers fought so many wars, they stopped naming them with any rhetorical flourishes (the Seven Years War? How ever did you come up with that one, Early Modern Period headline writers?).
The old adage in the NFL is that a starter doesn't lose his job because of injury. A more practical adage is that you play the guy who gives you the best chance of winning. To be fair, it's not like Hasselbeck's Titans are running away with games while Locker's were getting blown out (though there were blowouts).
But in the NFL, the win column is all that matters, point differential mattering not a whit until the seventh tiebreaker. Which is good for the Titans, because despite their 3-4 record keeping them in the playoff conversation due to the AFC's chicken-broth mediocrity, their minus-89 point differential is the worst in the league.
Ultimately, does the quarterback matter? To a degree, sure, but unless the once-proud Titans defense elevates itself from "historically inept" to "merely awful," Rusty Smith might as well be calling the shots. [In our Anglo-French metaphor, Rusty is Saint Pierre & Miquelon, a quirky irrelevance]
The Week Behind
Plain Men: In years past, Vandy squeaking by Auburn 17-13 would have been cause for city-wide celebrations. And winning against a team just two years removed from a national championship? Why, The Tennessee Tower would have proclaimed "DYNAMITE!" from its windows.
Alas, these are different times. For Vandy, that's a good thing. It's a good win, as it's in conference, and it's a win Vandy needed, wanted and should have earned. But the fact is, Auburn ain't the Auburn you're used to, even if you just started paying attention to college football two years ago.
What's especially notable about the game is that James Franklin and his staff did their level best to Vandy-away the game.
For all the accolades heaped upon him — which happens when a coach wins on West End — Franklin's play-calling is baffling, his clock management ham-handed. It makes me wonder if this is Vandy's actual playbook.
Skills That Play The Bills: Oh, Chris Johnson. How you play with our emotions!
Just when everyone was writing you off, the commentariat discussing which exact date would be your last as a Titan before you were cut, ushering in the, I guess, Jamie Harper Era, you go and awaken the dusty memories of the not-so-distant past, awakening those Galloping Ghosts of yore, exploding for 195 yards on just 18 carries.
There are still haters among us, though. They'll note that one of those 18 went for 83 yards — as if it matters how the 83 came. They won't note that even without that run — a slashing and dashing ibidem referring back to the 2009 chapter of your career — you averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry.
The Buffalo Bills are nothing special, after their 35-34 loss, they, like the Titans, are 3-4. But 3-4 is OK in the AFC, a morass of mediocre holding up a bevy of bad (and also Houston, who is genuinely good, not AFC Good — football's equivalent of Office Hot).
The Titans will take wins how they come for now after that pitiful start to the season. But willikers, does that defense need to get better.
Garbage Time: TSU lost for the first time at Jacksonville State. Oh, for want of a kicker! ... R.A. Dickey predicts the Tigers will win the series. He did not count on the power of Pablo Sandoval. ... Belmont enters the OVC as a divisional favorite in basketball. Vandy? Ummm. Not so much.
Minsk-ing His Words: One of the great Nashville Predators' off-season traditions is Sergei Kostitsyn going back home, doing an interview with some local journalist and saying something hilariously off-putting, a verbal wrong-'un from behind the Iron Curtain.
This time, he told SovSport he wanted the lockout to last and that he "couldn't get used to an [American] mentality." And also he said Columbus was the gloomiest city in the NHL.
Or did he? He followed up with The Tennessean's Josh Cooper:
“The question the Russian reporter asked was if I will live in America after the end of my career,” Kostitsyn said. “I said probably not because my friends and family live here in Belarus.”
“I just want to say I really enjoy America and Nashville,” he added.
Oh, thank heavens: he still thinks Columbus is gloomy.
Memphis Blues: The Memphis Flyer's Sing All Kinds blog has a two-parter this week about why Memphians should hate the Tennessee Titans (and Part II), or as their clever writer calls them cleverly "The Nashville Titans." Clever. You see what he did there?
Anyway, it's really long and it's about how the Titans don't deserve Memphis or something because Bud Adams wanted a publicly financed stadium, which I guess is fine, except the Grizzlies were drawn to Memphis with a publicly financed arena. There's some stuff about the Showboats in there, too, and about how Memphis missed out three times on NFL expansion, including the mid-90s round which resulted in Carolina and Jacksonville, when Memphis' team was going to be called — swear to Elvis — "the Hound Dogs." Can't imagine why the NFL passed them by. In the comments, there's an interesting anecdote about how the then-fledgling NFL wanted the owner of Piggly Wiggly to start a team in Memphis.
Anyway, it comes off as whining to me, especially the writer's insistence that Nashville hates Memphis, when, at worst, Nashvillians have a heavy indifference for the Bluff City. There's also the typical baloney about how Memphis is genuine and Nashville is ersatz and how nobody from Nashville is actually from Nashville. It's 15 years of butt-hurt in a two-part blog post.
It's pretty silly, but if you ever had the idea that the Titans were Tennessee's team, universally beloved from Mountain City to the Mississippi, this will put you off that.
TV & Film: The yucksters over at Korked Bats cast the actors who will play Nashville's sports personalities in Nashville if Nashville lasts long enough to have a sports-related story line other than Powers Boothe's downtown ballpark foolishness. ... R.A. Dickey will do a Q&A at The Belcourt for, what else?, a documentary about the knuckleball called, what else?, Knuckleball!.
The Week Ahead
I Just Wanted To Feel Like A Winner: Wouldn't everybody make the deal with the devil the Indianapolis Colts made?
In 2011, the Colts had their Year of The Three Kings — with Dan Orlovsky, Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins playing the parts of Edward The Confessor, Harold II and William The Conqueror (Kerry Collins was also present at the Battle of Hastings, FYI).
As any half-awake Western Civ student will tell you, 1066 was certainly a turning point for England and 2011 was thus for the Colts. A horrific season resulted in a high draft pick and the selection of Andrew Luck, their quarterback of the future (perhaps he is more appropriately cast as William the Conqueror to Manning's Edward the Confessor, which makes the Colts' three quarterbacks more like the sundry Scandinavian also-rans who tried to secure the throne way back when).
So now the Colts have a promising young QB, two solid young tight ends (uh-oh) and a pretty decent rookie receiver in T.Y. Hilton.
While their defense is nothing special, it is speedy, unlike the Bills, so Chris Johnson may have difficulty finding the acres of room he had in Orchard Park.
The Titans should grab the opportunity to jump on the Colts while they are young and vulnerable — because they won't be either for long.
Worthless Prediction: Titans 38, Colts 35.
Basketball Season Already? : Were this 1996 and were it basketball, Saturday's Vanderbilt-UMass game would be intriguing.
Neither the Padilla Brothers or Marcus Camby will suit up for the Minutemen Saturday and you won't see Frank Seckar in black-and-gold, though Drew Maddux might be in the bleachers.
Anyhow, UMass is terrible, even for an FCS team and would get blown out whether they were playing at Dudley against the 'Dores or at The Hole against TSU, which has an intriguing game of its own against Tennessee Tech Saturday, which is a much better use of your time then watching Vandy do whatever Vandy is going to do against UMass.
Worthless Prediction: Vandy — A Whole Lot, UMass — Not Very Much. Go to the TSU-Tech game, I implore you.
Let's Stay Together : Rumors — like the best kind of rumors, they are unfounded but with just a soupçon of believability — are running rampant that Derek Dooley will be dismissed Sunday as UT's head coach to be replaced by Jon Gruden. None of these rumors address will what happen if the Vols upset South Carolina Saturday, but why get hemmed up in logic?
Gruden — or whomever — will be UT's fourth head coach since 2008. This at a school that had Phil Fulmer for 16 years and Johnny Majors for another 15 before that.
UT is like the middle-aged man who divorces his long-time spouse after 25 years and then goes through wives like a fanboy goes through iPhones.
In Nashville, we know something about replacing college football coaches as Vanderbilt hardly lets the paint dry at You Greek Me Greek before naming a new guy.
But our pro teams? That's a different story. We stuck with Jeff Fisher as long as we could. Barry Trotz still coaches the Predators (when they play). Heck, we are loath to even change announcers, as the long tenures of Mike Keith and Pete Weber attest.
Is it an attitudinal thing? Cultural, perhaps? Are our morals so informed by Bible Belt fundamentalism, we won't consider divorce, even when it'd be better for everyone?
Or is it another trend left over from Nashville's day as a college-sports-only town? I've written about this before: that because we know and understand college sports, we are OK with continuing to love former players long after they've gone elsewhere (although Ryan Suter and Jordin Tootoo will be interesting test cases whenever hockey returns). And in college, and especially in the South, coaches used to stay a long, long time.
Bear Bryant. Vince Dooley. Shug Jordan. And on and on. All throughout SEC country, coaches were the program. "L'Etat, c'est moi," Bryant would grumble, if only he spoke French. Questioning those coaches was blasphemy (or treason, depending on the degree of importance one puts on church, state and football, as if there's any difference).
Eventually, Nashville and the rest of new-to-pro-sports Sun Belt cities will mature a bit and see the distinction between college and pro. We'll see that while coaches are the stars on Saturdays, they are as interchangeable as the rest of a roster in the big leagues.
In the meantime, Nashville offers plenty of job security.
Be sure to listen Tuesday nights between 6 and 7 when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland on 102.5 The Game. I need intro music for my segment, so e-mail your suggestions (and whatever else you need to get off your chest) to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com.