This Week The 'Drome Looks Back
What Could Be vs. What Is: With the Titans visiting Denver Sunday, this week in the dead-tree I look at the Titan-ic pursuit for Peyton.
And Titanic is the right word — a grand, massive idea that went terribly awry. Early in Peyton's search for a place, Titans GM Ruston Webster declared unequivocally the Titans were happy with their quarterback situation.
From February 2012:
“We’re excited about our quarterback situation,” Webster said. “I think Matt [Hasselbeck] brought us through a difficult time, especially once we lost Kenny Britt last year. I think everybody saw a glimpse of Jake Locker and … we’re real excited about his future.
“Obviously Peyton’s a great player but we feel like we’re in good hands.”
It's easy to imagine him patronizingly patting the fanboys' heads: "Oh, that is an interesting idea, Timmy, but I live in the Real Actual World, not a fantasy land where war doesn't exist and we get everything we want."
Keep stuffing your flowers into the business end of the rifle, kids. Dreaming is just fine, but reality is — you know — reality.
Of course, the Come Home Peyton folks are still spending money on billboards and print ads, proving that, despite the election year recriminations from the right, Americans are still free to spend their money however they want, even on patently stupid things.
But the heart wants what the heart wants, even when that heart is carefully ensconced underneath a garish white suit-coat. The late Bud Adams — whose repeated declaration "VY is my guy" should have been proof enough he shouldn't have been anywhere near decisions about quarterbacks — wanted Peyton Manning in Two Tone Blue as bad as any screeching fan at MetroCenter. As predicted, Adams' insistence that the Titans go all-in on Manning hamstrung the team, the effects of which we are still seeing with another moribund year from the Titans:
Yes, Manning played for Tennessee and in our heart of hearts we know this is the place he wants to play. So make up your mind already, Peyton! We need to know so the Titans can do what they have to do if you do something else. But this prison — if there is a prison — is a prison of Bud Adams' design. He's the one who decided he wanted to go hot and heavy after Manning. He's the one who usurped his general manager and front office, bigfooting them and telling them to shift all their resources to Peyton's gun, rather than the butter of the defensive line.
And now, while Peyton slings pizza for Papa John's, Titans fans eat the bitter fruit.
This Week In The Drome, We're Throwing Idea Grenades
Home Vs. Away: Up in Philadelphia, they've got something called the Big 5. It's an annual all-city, round-robin college basketball series featuring Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, Penn and St. Joseph's.
They've been doing it for nearly 60 years and its survived conference re-alignment, TV contracts and the lure of playing in the Virgin Islands.
In this week's dead-tree, I contend Nashville — in the great Music City tradition of liberally borrowing good (and, well, sometimes bad) ideas from other cities — should totally rip this idea off.
Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, TSU and (to make five, we'd have to go a little far afield) MTSU each have distinct histories, personalities and fanbases and, again with the exception of the big state school in Murfreesboro, are pretty compactly located. The seeds of rivalry are there. Even the green shoots are there — over the course of three or four seasons, these teams all play each other anyway.
Drop the Tennessee Temples and the Arkansas-Little Rocks and the other hyphenated, directional schools and set this up. Each school gets four games, two home and two away, with a rotation that puts a few games every year at Bridgestone or, if we truly want to rip off the City of Brotherly Love and go old-school as they do with games at The Palestra, at Municipal Auditorium.
The series doesn't have to be compacted into a few weeks — indeed, it couldn't be, with Belmont and TSU's games tied up into the OVC schedule. It could stretch from November into January, as the Big 5 does. The little schools get a boost by playing against SEC and Conference USA competition. The big schools get an unexpected strength of schedule bonus by playing against often-competitive mid-majors. And if the season goes pear-shaped for somebody? Heck, maybe they have a chance at the Music City 5 trophy anyway.
This is an idea whose time came years ago and it's now time to give it some momentum.
This Week In The 'Drome, We're Going Big
Penny vs. Pound: In this week's dead-tree, I proffer an idea: if the city is going to spend $65 million to build a stadium for a team that's valued for less than a third of that, why not just make the Sounds municipally-owned?
Right now, the Sounds — despite the Dean Administration's insistence otherwise — have no skin in the game. The team is expected — but not required — to build a $50 million development around the park, which the mayor goes on to say will happen whether the Sounds do it or not.
So a big chunk of this deal — to build a stadium that points the wrong way, mind — is based on a promise without a contract that the new tenants do something that is going to happen whether they do it or not.
If this is a huge mistake, the city should go all in and purchase the team, as Harrisburg, Penn. did with their hometown Senators when that team threatened to bolt despite getting a new stadium from that city. After a decade, the city sold the Senators for an Eastern League record $13 million-plus, more than twice what it paid originally.
Obviously, the value of the Sounds is going to go up and the current owners are in the catbird seat as it is, so the best time to have this discussion would have been a year or 18 months ago, but there's still an opportunity here.
Under the arrangement presented this week, the Sounds reap the benefit of the stadium: all the hot dog and beer and ticket revenue (plus revenue from the parking garage during home games). The city gets the property tax and sales tax that is supposed to be generated by the development. Why not capture all the revenue, hold on to the team for a decade or so and sell it off and retire that long-term debt early?
Just a modest proposal.
This Week In The 'Drome, We Talk About Basketball (Briefly)
Inflated vs Deflated: This week in the Scene, I took a look at the looming Vanderbilt hoops season.
And "looming" might be the most appropriate word, used as it usually is to describe a sense of overarching doom and malaise. Vandy comes off a summer in which they lost an entire recruiting class to transfers and their best player from last season to suspension.
It's hard to make many judgments on a season, especially in college basketball from the semi-exhibitions (or in Vandy's case, an actual exhibition) that dot the early November calendar, but the 'Dores performance against Alabama-Huntsville Wednesday night won't calm any fears that Vandy will be sub-par.
The fact is, though, Stallings is often at his best when his teams are expected to be at their worse. He practically spent the entire winter gushing about his 16-17 team last year, heaping praise he never hoisted on the much more talented team from the year before.
If Vanderbilt fans are honest with themselves and can stomach another rebuilding year on the heels of what was supposed to be the rebuilding year (and with an upset of Kentucky and a semifinals appearance in the SEC tournament, that rebuild wasn't so bad as rebuilds go), Stallings may earn himself even more rope and more time to bring the program back to where the Black and Gold faithful expect it to be.
This Week In The 'Drome We Still Sort Of Miss Him
Wistful vs Hateful: The Titans head to St. Louis to face their former coach Jeff Fisher for the first time since his departure in the height of the Circus Era.
It won't be as dramatic as the first time the mustache graces the sideline at LP Field leading another team, but nonetheless, it's an emotional event.
Fisher, after all, was all Nashville knew — the man who led the Oilers and Titans through four stadiums, to a Super Bowl, into the early 2000s halcyon days and through the Vince Young Malaise.
The reaction has been and will be interesting. In sports fandom, the rules of the game require chest-puffing and lip-stiffening — a he's-not-ours-we-don't-care attitude that manifests more strongly with players than with coaches, but is still evident with coaches nevertheless.
And there will be moments of we-recognize-that levity — when Fisher calls the same between-the-tackles run three times in a row or when he sends out the field goal unit. That's to be expected. All the jokes stifled when he was Ours flow out now that he is Theirs.
What's shocking, though, is the amount of vitriol Fisher inspires. When David Boclair noted that it was Fisher acting as the face of the franchise in the wake of the death of Bud Adams, the level of anger spewed at Fisher was shocking. This was not a man who stole away in the night or torpedoed the team. The divorce from the Titans was as amicable as it could be — the relationship had wound to its conclusion, he'd outlived his usefulness and it was time for a change.
The change, though, was to a new coach and despite all the efforts to sever ties to the Fisher Era — notably this season by axing special-teams coach Alan Lowry for no particular reason, a decision that has been detrimental — Fisher's legacy is still strong.
The Titans didn't pick a coach whose philosophy was antipodal to Fisher — Munchak, at times, is even more Fishery than Fisher. In this week's dead-tree, I note that maybe Titans fans should pump the brakes on the Fisher hate — Munchak hasn't totally shaken his legacy and it is for lack of trying.
This Week In The 'Drome We're Back At Home
Turned Us Out vs. Turned Us It: Titans owner Bud Adams died Monday at the age of 90, after a life of big oil, big sports and big gambles.
Forbes called Adams the most successful owner in NFL history, because of the massive return on investment he got for the $25,000 he initially laid out to get Houston an AFL franchise in 1960. The $1.06 billion the Titans are worth represents an annual 24 percent return — four times the annual growth of the S&P 500 in that time.
That's an testament to Adams' astute vision about the potential of pro football, but it's also a testament to Adams' ability to play the NFL's insidious game of public-financing — and that is his legacy to Nashville, at least in part.
The nearly $300 million LP Field was funded half by personal seat licenses — now considered very risky investments — and half through public dollars. Adams was able to extract these concessions from a city that, at the time, was desperate for national acclaim.
And so Adams should be lauded for either recognizing Nashville's desperation or for foreseeing Nashville's potential, depending on how you choose to look at it.
Did the Titans put Nashville on the map for more than just country music? It's arguable (but it's not accepted science either). He certainly put Nashville on the map as a place willing to lure billionaires with public money.
This Week In The 'Drome, Nashville Truly Gets Hip
The Way vs. The Truth: This week in the dead-tree I set up the Predators 2013-14 season, which opened Thursday at St. Louis.
All offseason long, we've heard about a return to The Predator Way — the oft-used shorthand Barry Trotz uses to describe how he wants his team to play, namely: being tough to play against.
There are multiple ways to achieve that end, of course. A team could, like the Predators, play tight defense, wear down their opponents, get top-level goaltending and hope for the odd goal to win it. A team could also go out and hang six on the scoreboard every night (don't expect that).
In certain circles, this proclamation was met with raised eyebrows, the curious wondering when the Preds abandoned their low-scoring ways, but that ignores the other half of the Tao of Trotz. No, the Predators don't (and likely won't) put up big numbers on the scoreboard; that hasn't changed. But last season, the Preds were all too often given to giving up far too many goals. When Trotz talks about getting back on the path, that's what he means.
No, the Predators don't have an established scorer, but they never have. Yes, they have four lines of forwards which could generously be described as "four second lines," but it's really four third lines. Reflexively, that seems bad, but as Sam Page noted earlier this summer, it's actually more like what the team had in 2010 when they very nearly slayed the Chicago giant, a team that went on to win the Cup.
And we learned there's a method to this as well. The Predators have taken the model that served them well and added a new emphasis this summer on carrying the puck, rather than dumping and chasing it. They acquired Minnesota's Matt Cullen — the Wild's most efficient puck-carrier — and focused on bringing the play into the zone, building off research done by PhD Eric Tulsky.
Whether this return-to-the-past model will work remains to be seen — it's a long season, but a team stocked with interchangeable parts is built for one.
This Week In The 'Drome, We're Hoping There's Not A Repeat
In an age when the default position for someone who has failed is to dismiss criticism as "hating" and to stand by a position even if it's demonstrably the wrong one, it was refreshing for Britt to come out after the win against San Diego and admit he wasn't very good (for the second week in a row).
Now, it would be better if, instead of talking about how bad he played, Britt would instead play better, but baby steps are at least steps in the right direction.
Britt wasn't lying, of course, when he suggested the Titans were shutting him out of the offense. The coaches are, indeed, doing that, but in his tweet, Kenny didn't acknowledge the underlying reason for that:
He is playing badly. Very badly, at times. The system doesn't make him hold, the system doesn't make him drop passes, and, while talented, he's not so talented a receiver that he has the leeway to make errors because eventually his contributions will outweigh them.
It seems Britt wants to be better and that he's not going to shrug his shoulders at the criticism, but he has yet to actually be better. So he'll trod the sidelines until he is, until he demonstrates that watching he's better suited on the field as opposed to watching forlornly as the team puts together a thrilling drive without him.
And he might get there, but, for now, he isn't, but at least he's blaming himself and not casting aspersions on his haters.
This Week In The 'Drome: Superfans, super weird and super nicknames
This week in the dead-tree, I write about Ross and Nashville and how growing up as a sports town isn't the universal good it always seems.
We've grown as a sports town — we've added pro sports and a bowl game and championship tournaments and, this spring, a women's Final Four. We'll probably host an NHL All-Star Game soon enough and there are people who still won't shut up about the prospects of adding a Major League Baseball team or (even more improbably, somehow) an NBA team.
We kvetch over contracts and parse tweets and dig out slide rules to split and divide every statistic we can find.
And all of that is fine — people all enjoy sports in their own way, much as Frederick The Great of Prussia posited that every man must get to heaven his own way.
But, at some point, all of us were what Chuck remained to his last day — devoted singularly to our team, hoping they'd "beat 'em and beat 'em bad" and knowing, until the last second ticked off, there was always a chance.
Growing up means growing more knowledgeable. But as Adam and Eve learned when they took a bite of that fruit, knowledge means seeing everything — the blemishes, the indignities, the dark places. It's hard, sometimes, to enjoy the games when you know the big scary machine behind them.
Chuck was a reminder of what we used to know before we knew everything.
This Week In The 'Drome We're Kicking It Back To The Old School
Tried & True vs. Something New: This week in the dead-tree, I note how the Titans won by going back and how the Preds will try to do likewise.
Sports change. The football of 2013 is not the football of 1969 or 1999 — or even 2007. Hockey has similarly evolved — multiple times. Offensive innovation is matched by defensive changes, which beget more offensive innovation and defensive adjustments, and then rules are changed "for the good of the game" (read: "for the good of the TV network coffers").
But the proverbial cat can be skinned in numerous ways, it's true. For all of Nick Saban's supposed innovation with the "process," his method of winning football is basically run and stop the run, which is cliché. Hockey teams win, more or less, by controlling the puck more than their opponent, and teams that consistently outshoot other teams consistently win. There's nothing new there. There are men we consider as innovators in football — Chip Kelly, late of Oregon, now of the Philadelphia Eagles, for example — who win with schemes that Saban would slur.
But win they do.
What Mike Munchak and Barry Trotz are hoping works, though, is a rehashing of old methods. Once successful, always so: argumentum ad antiquitatem.
In a general way, there's nothing wrong with that. But their systems specifically live within the margins. The Titans absolutely demolished the Steelers in time-of-possession, controlling the ball for more than 34 minutes of Sunday's game. And yet they won just by just a touchdown.
But win they did.
It remains to be seen if the cat being skinned is Schrodinger's. And if it is indeed alive or dead.
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