Friday, November 9, 2012

The Hippodrome: After The Chicago Dumpster Fire

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 8:23 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: Bud is old, the black and gold, hockey's still cold and more

Gather ye rosebuds, pal
  • Gather ye rosebuds, pal

Opening Face-Off

Bud Adams vs. The Inexorable March Of Time : Not to shock anyone with a bold pronouncement, but Bud Adams is old.

The Titans owner will no longer be an octogenarian come January. He'll be a nonagenarian, which is not nearly as cool sounding.

He founded the Houston Oilers as part of the nascent American Football League in 1959. He moved the team to Nashville 40 years later and he's never ever won a Super Bowl.

When the team was in Houston, he had a reputation — not quite Steinbrennerian, but not far off — of having an quick trigger when it came to coaches, but he's become quite a bit more patient in his advanced age. He stuck with Jeff Fisher — and various other moving parts of the Titans team — for an awfully long time, it never occurring to him that a change at the top might get him that illusive Lambeau Lombardi Trophy (sheesh, I dropped that ball) and, perhaps more importantly to a legacy-seeker, membership in the Hall of Fame.

But it seems Adams' late-life patience is wearing off, the patina disappearing, his old ways returning. In an interview with Jim Wyatt after the Titans implosion against Chicago, he made no bones that he had his eye on goings-on in Nashville.

Of course, Adams is within his rights to replace whomever he wants whenever he wants, but the fans — who, as I wrote this week, are growing as impatient as him, have no choice but to have Adams as their owner. And as Paul Kuharsky wrote, some of the onus for the onerousness of the Titans coaching — especially at the coordinator level — lies with Adams himself, who waited far too long to send Fisher packing, forcing a Munchak regime to scrape the bottom of the barrel when hiring a staff.

At a Sports Authority meeting this week, Titans officials cheerily announced they expect to sell-out the rest of this season — it will bring the streak to 144 sold out games at LP Field — but if Sunday's game against the Bears was any indication, the team might as well be playing at a neutral site given the influx of visiting fans.

And if the team continues its woeful ways with Adams' manic-depressive hiring philosophy, folks from Pittsburgh and Chicago may keep finding plenty of ticket-buying options in Nashville.

The Week Behind

Henry Clay, you must warn your fellow Kentuckians what happens when they mess with a band of bitter Nashvillians!
  • Henry Clay, you must warn your fellow Kentuckians what happens when they mess with a band of bitter Nashvillians!

Lexington Conquered : Not to be too on the nose here, but Kentucky is truly an awful football team. And I'm from Nashville, so I know bad football.

Nonetheless, Vanderbilt can only play the games they are scheduled to play and bad teams lose to other bad teams and lose games they ought to win. And I'm from Nashville, so I know what it looks like when a team loses games they ought to win. In that context, good on the 'Dores for the historic spanking they put on the Commonwealthians, a 40-0 blasting in front of, allegedly, just 18,000 people in Lexington.

It was the first shutout of an SEC opponent by Vanderbilt since they beat Kentucky 6-0 in 1968. That's almost hard to believe, frankly, because even during the Woodyball Era, Vandy had a stingy defense while they were having fun and expecting to win.

The win moves Vandy to 5-4 and 3-3 in the SEC, making them the improbable fourth best team in the division.

Speaking of Bad Football : Brother what a night it really was. Glory be.

It's very easy to be dour and critical of the Titans, but let's acknowledge first that Chris Johnson, who just five weeks ago was a washed-up, waiver-eligible waste of money is now the NFL's sixth leading rusher and is there despite having the second fewest attempts per game among backs in the Top 10. It appears that whatever was ailing CJ has disappeared.

But let's be fair: it certainly helps that he is able to carry the ball while the other team is sporting its third team defense with the safeties 45 yards off the line of scrimmage because they are protecting a 30 point lead.

Now, as for Sunday. In a 51-20 loss to the Bears, the Titans surrendered (and that is absolutely the correct word for it) more points than they ever have at home since moving to Nashville. Only the 59-0 debacle in Foxboro is anywhere close on the demoralizing scale. The game against Chicago was so absurd, the Titans first points came off a safety as a result of a Bears' penalty in the end zone. That's like losing a baseball game 21-1 with a homer coming off Canseco's dome.

Injuries depleted what little depth the Titans had at linebacker. The defensive backs can't tackle. And Jay Cutler was all "Oh. Cool. Whatever." (NB: This is actually Jay Cutler's reaction to everything).

The game disabused anyone of the notion this team is going anywhere, which should have been disabused when the Titans were giving up points like CCNY in 1950. At least the Beavers had a fiduciary responsibility to do so.

Garbage Time : Thoughts and prayers with TSU after the sudden death of walk-on freshman Wayne Jones, who collapsed at practice Wednesday. ... And congratulations to TSU on the induction of Ed "Too Tall" Jones, John Merritt and Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam Jr. into the Black College Football Hall of Fame. ... MTSU got bowl eligible with a late-night win last Thursday at Western Kentucky. FUN BELT! ... And a cool story about the cool calm of Kevin Stallings, now free of pressure and able to just be. ... Tennesseans David Price and R.A. Dickey, as expected, are Cy Young finalists.

Halftime Entertainment

By now, you think Chicagos supply would have bounced back
  • By now, you think Chicago's supply would have bounced back

Da Booze : It was enough that they drained our football team dry of any hopes of a good season or that they took over LP Field, emptying it of Two Tone faithful.

The folks from the City of Big Shoulders also have hearty livers and thirsty gullets, apparently. According to a report from NBC's Chicago affiliate, the Windy Citians drank Lower Broadway dry.

Tax dollars, y'all.

Melt Away : Nashville's favorite visiting snowboarder-slash-angry-drunk-vandal has settled his charges.

Olympic medalist Shaun White took a deal with the Davidson County D.A., agreeing to alcohol treatment, community service and restitution in exchange for the dismissal of charges stemming from Sept. 16 fire-alarm pulling shenanigans at the Loews Vanderbilt.

Just In Time For Veterans Day : Great story from the Associated Press on the military service of Ohio State women's basketball coach Jim Foster, who formerly coached at Vandy.

Foster, who will be inducted into his sport's Hall of Fame next year, did three years in the Army, including 18 months in Vietnam. One hitch in southeast Asia was unplanned:

He was nearing the end of his tour of duty. His brother John had been drafted and was in camp in the States.

It's unclear whose idea it was, but the idea was proposed to Foster that if he re-upped for another six months of duty in Vietnam, his brother wouldn't have to go.

"As it was explained to me, they wanted us - myself and another fellow - to consider staying another six months. And part of that discussion, I was made aware that by extending ... that only one family member at that time could be in a war zone,'' he said. "And my brother was in the infantry and I was in a different venue, so I - my parents had two special-needs children and already had one son in the service. They didn't need the aggravation of another.''

The Week Ahead

Vandys Cleanth Brooks literally wrote the book on Oxfords William Faulkner, so that should come in handy
  • Vandy's Cleanth Brooks literally wrote the book on Oxford's William Faulkner, so that should come in handy

This One's For All The Blue Blazers! : When the SEC expanded to 12 teams 20 years ago, Ole Miss was selected as one of Vanderbilt's permanent cross-divisional opponents (at the time, when there were two, Alabama was the other, hilariously).

The reasoning for this was, probably, that both teams weren't very good historically, so let's throw 'em a bone, although Wikipedia goes to great pains to explain why we should consider this a legitimate rivalry worth saving.

In any case, the 86th edition of the Madras Pants, Regrettable Fringe, And Uninterested Coeds Whose Shoes Are Absolutely Killing Them Bowl is set for Saturday in Oxford with both teams at 5-4 and looking for one more win so they can go to the Compass Bank Bowl. Heck, the race to six has come so early for these two teams, reps from the relatively prestigious Chik-Fil-A (née Peach) Bowl will be in attendance.

To be fair, Vandy and Ole Miss actually tend to play exciting games, so this one is worth watching (especially if Penn Wagers is refereeing, which is a virtual guarantee).

Ole Miss has some injuries, while Vandy is relatively healthy — always a bonus for Vandy, which frequently struggles with depth issues. The Dores have won four of five and are playing solid defense.

Worthless Prediction: Vandy locks up its first-ever back-to-back bowl seasons with the usual nailbiter against the Rebels. Commodores 28, Ole Miss 24.

Unlockered : In a miracle of modern medicine, Jake Locker's nagging shoulder injury looks to have magically improved in the days since the embarrassment against Chicago. It's truly a coincidence it worked out like this, but it sure looks like — this is amazing that it happened this way, just a serendipitous occurrence — he'll get the start Sunday at Miami.

The Dolphins are 4-4, but three of those four losses were by three points. This is a team that just as easily could be 7-1. After trading Brandon Marshall, they have no true No. 1 receiver, but Brian Hartline is a solid contributor. Reggie Bush is suddenly a good running back again. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill doesn't get the hype of his fellow first-year signal callers Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but he's been very effective, calmed by having college coach Mike Sherman alongside.

The Fish have gone 22 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher — the longest such streak in the NFL — and if they keep that alive by shutting down Chris Johnson, they'll run away (ahem) with this game.

CJ, unlike most of his teammates, can't be counted out. Locker's return may give a boost to an anemic Titans team and while the game is on the road, Sun Life Stadium isn't one of the league's more vicious venues.

Worthless Prediction : The Titans will keep it close, but Miami is bound to steal back one of the tight ones. Dolphins 31, Titans 27.

Overtime

Silver And Gold : Much to the consternation of Karl Rove, Dick Morris and this guy, Nate Silver was right about the presidential election.

Silver — who may be a witch — went 50-for-50 on state calls (assuming Florida holds for President Obama), accurately predicting the boffo electoral college victory even while pundits wailed about the closeness of the national polls (speaking of which: wasn't that sort of silly? These people are paid handsomely to pontificate on politics and they rationalize based on the popular vote which matters not a whit).

Silver got his start as a stats dude for Baseball Prospectus, where he developed the PECOTA system for predicting baseball player's future performance.

After Silver was right and the talking heads were wrong, the fancy stats folks (I'm grouping together sabermetrics guys from baseball and their still less-sophisticated brethren in the other sports) counted this as a victory (there are solid pieces on this from Deadspin and Fear The Fin)

And well they should. Silver — to borrow the title of his book, broke out the signal from the noise — made a confident call based on the inputs and his algorithm and nailed it.

But here's the takeaway. First: Silver didn't guarantee an Obama win, much as he didn't guarantee Matt Wieters would be the greatest ballplayer of all time. As Deadspin notes, he never pretends a "confidence interval were the same thing as the Pythagorean Theorem."

And, secondly, in the days since the election, there's a bit of narrative that this election was Nate Silver's. That his prediction is wot won it. Or to take the opposite, that the pundits — the Scarboroughs — lost it.

The election was won by the president and lost by Gov. Romney. It was the voters who decided it (to quash the school-marmy scolds: yes, via the electoral college). Silver — and Scarborough — observed the election. Bill James — and Dan Shaughnessy — observe sport. Unless and until they get into a batters box or a ballot box, none of the above have much effect — if any — on the outcome itself.

And that's what makes these fights between the numbers and the narrative so silly. The stats kids get defensive because they've been broadly painted as lily-livered nerds and often their first instinct is not to explain, but to disparage and call into question the intelligence of their challengers. The narrative guys are often willfully obtuse or use straw-men to claim the stats guys made bolder assertions than they actually did. But the cold truth is it doesn't matter. Someone out there wants to look at fancy math and someone out there wants to read $8 words (or abject hackery — there's a mighty market for that too). And nobody on any side is actually changing the games themselves, much as Silver didn't change the votes in Cuyahoga County.

Like academia, the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

Shoot me an email at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And listen Tuesdays on 102.5 The Game from 6-7 PM. We'll talk about Matt Wieters (please no).

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