Archive for January, 2011

08
Jan
11

NFL 2010/11 Playoffs: Wild Card Round

The NFL second season is upon us and like the rest of the sports blogging world, it’s time for me to make my useless predictions based on practically nothing at all.

New Orleans @ Seattle

The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions, but haven’t always played that way this season.  The finished 11-5 (6-2 on the road).  They’re on the road to play the 7-9 NFC West champ Seattle Seahawks.  At first glance, this looks like a road blow-out for the Saints.  They had no problem handling the Seahawks in the Superdome in week 11 winning 34-19.  Things are much different, however.  The Saints are very thin at running back and having to play a vastly over-confident Seahawks team in their home nest will prove to be quite a challenge for Drew Brees and the Saints.  All that aside, the Seahawks finished 7-9 for a reason.  I think the raw talent of Brees along with the coaching acumen of Peyton and Williams gives the Saints a win in a close game.  SAINTS

New York Jets @ Indianapolis

This is a tough one to call.  The Jets are playing strong and Mark Sanchez settled down more as the regular season wound down, despite his late season injury.  For the Colts, all you have to say is Peyton Manning.  These aren’t the same old Colts.  Indy has fallen back to the pack and Manning has shown he is human after all.  I was thinking Jets for a while, but now I think the Colts front 7, and the home crowd, harass the still young Sanchez into making just enough mistakes for the Colts to pull this one out.  COLTS

Baltimore @ Kansas City

Baltimore was my preseason pick to make the Super Bowl this year (Minnesota was my NFC pic).  I’m not sure if they can still go all the way, but I think they can go on the road and handle the Chiefs.  The Ravens, always known for their great defense, has become much more balanced.  Kansas City has definitely shown improvement under head coach Todd Haley, but they’ve benefited from playing in a relatively weak AFC West division.  Despite hosting the game in the notoriously loud Arrowhead Stadium, the Ravens talent, experience and drive should carry them to a first round victory.  RAVENS

Green Bay @ Philadelphia

Probably the toughest game to call.  Green Bay finished the season on a very strong note.  Aaron Rodgers is playing his best football.  But so is Michael Vick.  Despite the quality of the guys under center, this game will be won or lost in the trenches.  Whichever defense can put more pressure on the opposing quarter will win the game.  Vick is very banged up and Clay Matthews is worthy of Defensive Player of the Year honors.  This will be a very close game.  The Eagles have ridden Vick for most of the season.  I think the Packers defense harasses him just enough to give Rodgers a chance to win the game.  PACKERS

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08
Jan
11

The Sixth Man

Who am I and why should you care?  Well, you don’t really need to care, but you may be interested in who I am.  My name is Ben and I’m 6’4″, 285 lbs.  Hence, the name BigBen.  I live in Buffalo, NY.  Born and raised here.  I’ve played sports most of my life.  I worked in sports for over 10 years.  I’m a student of everything sports.  This is how it all started.

After getting out of college and working in the real world, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I loved sports and I thought I could apply the skills I gained in college to embark on a career doing what I loved.  I knew I had to start at the bottom and I was willing to do whatever to took to get my foot in the door.  Buffalo had just gotten a professional indoor soccer team, the Blizzard.  I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to work and learn for a minor pro sports teams.  It took some perseverance, but I was able to get a job as their game night coordinator.  All I needed was a chance to show what I could do.  I took advantage and more opportunities came my way, including a dream come true.  A chance to work for the Buffalo Sabres.

I love the Sabres.  I grew up watching them and going to the games.  The chance to work for the Sabres came at an extremely unique time.  The City’s main arena, the 16k+ seat Memorial Auditorium was showing it’s age and a new arena was about to be built.  I was the game coordinator for the Sabres and was a part of the closing of the Aud, and the opening of the new arena.  I was also there when the Sabres unveiled their new uniforms (the first time).  As promotions coordinator, I had many tasks.  I was responsible for the execution of all pre-game, in-game and post-game promotional activities.  I got a chance to meet and interact with some of my sports idols.  I met a lot of great people and the opportunities kept coming my way.  A new team, in a new sport came to Buffalo.  The Buffalo Stampede of the Roller Hockey International league.  I was asked to join that team as their Director of Promotions.  The year was 1994.  I was working for 5 different sports organizations at the same time.  The Blizzard, the Sabres, the Buffalo Bandits (indoor lacrosse), Big Four basketball (Div. I) and the Stampede.  I never left the arena and I loved it!!

I also fell in love with the new sport of professional roller hockey.  The newness of the sport gave me a great opportunities to move up quickly.  It also helped when the team won the league championship in it’s first season!  I committed myself to the sport, and over the years, I rose up to become Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach of a new Buffalo professional roller hockey team, the Buffalo Wings.  However, for those of you in the sports business, you know that things are constantly changing.  In order to move up the sports ladder, you have to be willing to relocate.  I had gotten as far as I could in Buffalo, and there were opportunities for me in other areas or the country, but life threw me a curve-ball.  My wife, at the time, was pregnant and soon my son was born.  I made a conscious decision to stay in Buffalo, where my family and my wife’s family was, and be a part of my son’s life.  That didn’t mean sports was over for me.  I started my own sports marketing & consulting firm, focusing on marketing and public relations.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of sports entities including a Busch North race team, a semi-pro woman’s outdoor soccer team and a semi-pro football team.

There’s a lot more I want to do.  Public relations and writing is something I always loved to do and thought I was good at.  My son is getting older and the motivation to get back into sports on a more direct basis is growing stronger within me.  This blog is a way for me to get the sports juices flowing again.  We’ll see where it takes me!

06
Jan
11

Thoughts of the Day: Jan. 5, 2011

So Bert Blyleven finally got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  If you don’t already know, I’m not a big baseball fan.  I am a sports fan so I at least try to know what’s going on.  There was a time, when I was a kid, when I did watch a fair amount of America’s pastime.   It was during this time when I watched Blyleven pitch for the Pirates.  That was a great team, and a lot of fun to watch.  Bert Blyleven was THE man on the mound!  Some of the other guys I remember about that team were Kent Tekulve, John Candelaria, Willie Stargell, Omar Moreno and Dave Parker.  Congratulations Bert!

This is going to be a very interesting NFL draft and it’s all based on what’s going to happen in the next few day or weeks with Jim Harbaugh. He pretty much has his pick of where he wants to coach.  I would think San Francisco is the front runner.  He already lives there and it appears they are willing to pay his asking price.  Harbaugh is a smart man and money isn’t an issue with him.  As much as he relishes a challenge, he also doesn’t want to start out too far in the hole with his new team.  It appears that there are 3 NFL teams in the running for his services, the 49ers, Denver and Miami.  With the exception of Denver and Tim Tebow, the other 2 teams are not that well endowed at the QB position.  Part of his negotiations may have to do with who the team plans on drafting in the first round.  Does Harbaugh want his Stanford QB under center for the NFL team he will be coaching?  The 49er’s draft 7th.  Denver drafts 2nd and Miami 15th.  Carolina has already publicly stated that if Andrew Luck declares himself eligible for the draft, they will pick him with their number one overall pick.  All that means is if another team REALLY wants Luck, they’re going to have to put together a sweet deal to get him.  Denver would probably have the best chance to move up.  Yes, they have Tebow, but he could be an attractive part of a trade package.  There are a lot of “if’s”, “and’s” and “but’s”.  That’s what will make things interesting.

Speaking of the draft, the Buffalo Bills will be drafting third overall, as of right now.  I believe they need a quarterback.  Ryan Fitspatrick did an admirable job, but there are 2 franchise defining quarterbacks which will probably be available and I think the Bills should get one.  All eyes are on Andrew Luck, and deservedly so.  Whoever drafts first will be selecting him.  Maybe the Bills make a move.  The cost will be heavy, even just flipping from 3 to 1.  Yes, I recognize the Bills have many needs, particularly on defense.  Presuming Denver stays at number 2, I think the Bills should stay at number 3 and take Cam Newton.  People!  He won the Heisman Trophy!  By a lot!! Don’t throw the fact the there have been other QB’s who have won the Heisman and busted in the NFL.  Those guys weren’t Can Newton.  He is the type of quarterback the Bills need.  The Buffalo offensive line is a patchwork.  He will have some targets to throw to in Steve Johnson and CJ Spiller coming out of the backfield, and if the line breaks down, he has the legs to get himself out of trouble.  If you read my previous post on the 2011 draft, I noted that the Bills have gotten themselves 2 first round draft picks several times the past few years.  Try to find a way to “settle” for Cam Newton and get yourself a stud defensive tackle and your well on your way.

For the love of God, Brett Favre! PLEASE! Retire for good this time! You were an awesome quarterback.  A definite first ballot Hall of Famer.  But you’re turning out to be a bit of a scumbag human being.  Take all your money and your Wrangler jeans and fade away into the Mississippi sunset. Kthxbye!

04
Jan
11

The NFL Coaching Carousel 2011

I want to take a look at the comings and goings in the NFL coaching world to date.

First, the easy ones.

John Fox (Carolina Panthers). Saw it coming, as did the entire world, and probably a few worlds we haven’t discovered yet.

Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals). It would be a major shock if he kept his job.  Decision is supposed to be made on Tuesday (1/4/11).

Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings). I called it, but not a hard one to make.  He deserved it and keeping him was the right move for the Vikings at the right time.

Eric Mangini (Cleveland Browns). I admit I didn’t make this call, but I did think about it. Mike Holmgren came in a year ago and decided to keep Mangini around for the 2010 season.  I thought the Brownies showed a little progress this year.  They still have a ton of holes on their roster.  Hardly Mangini’s fault.  However, he has a overall coaching record of 33-47 and a .413 winning percentage with the NY Jets and the Browns.  This fall under the category of, “You’ve had your chance, now please step to the back of the line.”

On the fence.

Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans). He has one year left on his contract.  That’s usually enough for an owner to eat if he wants a guy out the door.  Bud Adams is taking his time, and maybe letting Fisher dangle a bit.  My guess is that Adams has been putting feelers out to see who might be interested before he pulls the trigger.  Maybe Adams will keep Fisher just long enough so that all the other prime coaching vacancies will be filled.  Clearly, Fisher would be very high on the list of many owners looking for a fresh face on their sideline for the coming season.  It’s also clear that there has been some friction between Adams and Fisher the last couple of seasons, mainly over the handling of Vince Young.  Gee, an owner being spiteful to a coach?  That’s never happened before.

Tom Cable (Oakland Raiders). Ok.  So Tom Cable was the bottom of the barrel when he was hired to manage dysfunction central, also known as the Oakland Raiders.  Al Davis was going through coaches like a fat guy goes through napkins at an all-you-can-eat bar-b-que rib joint.  Despite Cable’s own indiscretions, he’s brought a glimmer of respectability to this once proud franchise.  The team is finally starting to move in the right direction, partially from playing in the volatile AFC West, and Al Davis wants to make a change.  Unless he has some hot-shot coaching candidate hiding under his desk, I don’t see who he can get who will be better than Cable.  No one thinks Tom Cable is going to bring a Superbowl to Oakland, but Al needs to give Cable at least one more year to clean that pig up before he looks for someone better willing to dance with it.

Eric Studesville (Denver Broncos). Don’t get too comfortable.

Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys). All indications are that Jason Garrett will be named the permanent head coach of the Cowboys.  Not the way I saw it going down, but it’s not a bad move either.  Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, invested a lot of  time and money in Garrett and Jason showed he has what it takes.  My problem is with Jones and his handling of the Rooney Rule.  Jerry has all but said Garrett will be the coach, but umm, he needs to interview a few black guys first before he makes it official.  What a farce!!  I’m not going to debate the merits of the Rooney Rule right now, but Jerry Jones is clearly disregarding it and his token efforts to “abide” by the rule is distasteful and weak.

Tony Sparano (Miami Dolphins). I didn’t think Sparano was on the hot seat, but his fins have clearly underachieved.  Bill Parcells hired the little known Sparano.  Parcells then proceeded to shuffle to the chairs on the deck and decided he didn’t want to be in Miami anymore.  Sparano was left with a rag-tag roster and new Dolphins owners want to clean house.

Jim Tomsula (San Francisco 49ers). Clearly a place-holder.  The 49ers are going after Jim Harbaugh, HARD!  Harbaugh has a lot of choices, including staying at Stanford.  If San Fran doesn’t land him, they’ll be scrambling and will probably settle on a coordinator, someone from the offensive side of the ball.  One thing for sure, it won’t be Tomsula.

Staying put.

Tom Coughlin (NY Giants). A good non-call by the Giants owners. Coughlin has really changed his style. He won a Super Bowl for the G-Men just a few short years ago.  Injuries and free-agent departures left too many holes in the team.  Coughlin is a good fit for this team and to a man, the players like and respect him.

Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville Jaguars). The Jags showed a little life this season.  Maurice Jones-Drew had a MVP-type season, but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to carry the team all the way to a division title and a playoff berth.  Late season injuries to MJD and QB David Garrard were just too much to overcome.  Wayne Weaver gave his long-time coach a one year reprieve and a win or else ultimatum.

Gary Kubiak (Houston Texans). This one is a head-scratcher.  The Texans is clearly a talented team on both sides of the ball.  Kubiak had been the coach for 5 seasons.  His record is 37-43 and a .463 winning percentage.  I wouldn’t have given him one more year, but then again, I don’t have a billion some dollars to piss away like Bob McNair does.  There’s something to be said for maintaining stability.  There’s also something to be said for enough is enough.

02
Jan
11

Buffalo Sabres: Time to Sharpen those Dull Swords

This season, the Buffalo Sabres, is celebrating their 40th anniversary as a member of the NHL.  With almost half of the current season played, the team is 25th in the league, 11th in the conference and 8 points out of a playoff spot.  I have been following this team for as long as I can remember.  My father had season tickets when the team came into existence in 1970.  I was lucky enough to have worked for the Buffalo Sabres for 2 seasons.  I bleed blue & gold.  I even bled red & black for a time.  It’s safe to say that the Sabres is my favorite sports team by far.  Like any FANatic, I want my team to win their league’s championship, at least once.  As a long-time suffering Buffalo sports fan, losing is a way of life.  It shouldn’t have to be!

I’m going to borrow Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back machine and take us back to the Summer of 1997, when then Sabres President, Larry Quinn, hired Darcy Regier to be the team’s new General Manager, replacing John Muckler.  Regier’s first act as Sabres GM was to offer the reigning Coach of the Year, Ted Nolan, a one-year contract tender.  Nolan balked and Regier pulled the offer.  He then hired former Sabres Captain, Lindy Ruff, to be the team’s 15th head coach.  From that day, Regier and Ruff have become the longest active tenured head coach/GM tandem in the NHL.  Ruff is the longest active tenured head coach.   As for general managers, only the New Jersey Devil‘s Lou Lamoriello has held his position longer than Regier.  The New Jersey Devils have won 2 of their 3 Stanley Cup championships during the time Regier has been the GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

So Regier and Ruff are currently in their 14th season in charge of the Buffalo Sabres team, and they have won a grand total of ZERO Stanley Cups.  Wait, let me check that, in case maybe I missed one.  Nope!  Zero championships is the correct total for these two gentlemen.  I think they’ve been given a sufficient opportunity to bring a championship to Buffalo.  Maybe they’re on the cusp?  Maybe they’ve been slowly building the team and the chance to drink from the cup is right on the horizon?  Let’s take a look.

They have coached and managed in 12 full seasons.  The ’04-’05 NHL season was not played due to a lock-out.  In those 12 seasons, the team’s average record (counting regulation wins & losses) was 40-30 for 92 points.  They made the playoffs 7 times and missed out 5 times.  They won the President’s Trophy (for most points) once.  In their 7 playoff appearances, they’ve gotten to the Conference Finals 4 times, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals once.  They’ve had a second round exit once, and a first round exit twice.  Currently, the team is on pace for one of their worst seasons, under this pair’s tutelage, since the ’02-’03 season when they finished with only 27 wins and 72 points.  Under Ruff and Regier, the team has performed to a slightly better than average level.  The team is inconsistent.   How can this kind of performance for this duration be acceptable to a team’s ownership?  Maybe that’s the problem.

Regier and Ruff are about to be employed by their fourth owner during their Sabres tenure.  They were hired by future felon John Rigas.  They held the status quo under NHL stewardship when the team went through bankruptcy.   They performed admirably for Tom Golisano, operating the team like a business and turning a profit for the billionaire hockey novice.  Our hope as fans of this team is that anticipated new owner, Terry Pegula, will bring his love of hockey to Buffalo and make the necessary changes that will bring a championship to Buffalo.  Changes that Managing Partner, Larry Quinn, has refused to make since he returned to the team in 2003.

While I think Darcy Regier has failed in building a winning team here in Buffalo, it’s HIS boss, Larry Quinn, who has failed the Buffalo Sabres fans.  As Managing Partner, he is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the Sabres organization.  Larry Quinn deserves credit on a number of fronts. Most importantly, he brought in Tom Golisano to pull the team from bankruptcy and keep the team in Buffalo. From a marketing and sales standpoint, his oversight has brought the team to profitability, for both Golisano and himself.  In regards to the product on the ice, I cannot accuse Quinn for being cheap or for being more concerned for his profit margin than for player salaries.  The team has spent at or near the cap for the last several seasons.  It’s his decision to stand pat with a GM who has been given more than enough time to build a winner here that has me most infuriated!    This is all about personnel decisions and this is where Quinn has failed.

I’ve been involved in the sport of hockey for a number of years.  It’s my opinion that hockey, more so than any other sport, is all about the chemistry of the players on the team.  Obviously, a team needs some talented players, but you also need to get the right “type” of players.  I haven’t talked much about Lindy Ruff and what he’s accomplished with the Sabres as head coach.  It’s his job to take the players he’s given and put them in together in such a way as to wins games.  There are two ways a coach can fail.  Either he does not have to right players to succeed, or, he is not utilizing them, or coaching them, well enough for them to reach their full potential to win games.  I believe Ruff has shown that he is adaptable to the players he is given to coach.   At one time, Ruff was accused of being too defensive-minded; suppressing some his player’s natural offensive talents.  Then, after the lock-out, when the rules were changed, he modified his approach and the Sabres became a high-flying team that seemingly could score at will.  Ruff has been nominated for the NHL Jack Adams trophy for Coach of the Year twice, winning it after the ’05-’06 season.  So if Ruff is a good coach with bad players, it falls on Darcy Regier to get better players.

Regier has made very few trades during his tenure.  He has made an equally low number of free-agent signings.  In fact, he is more known for the players he has lost to free-agency than those he has signed.  He prefers to draft and develop his own players.  This is the cheap, easy and safe way to do your job as GM.  Hey!  It’s worked!  Remember?  He’s held his job longer than everybody with one exception.  It’s just not a way to win championships.  I’m not going to criticize Regier for relying on video instead of eyeballs to evaluate draft talent.  Eyeballs can be just as wrong as video tape.  It falls on his shoulders to select the players who will wear the Buffalo Sabres jersey.  12 seasons.  No championships.  FAIL!

So why does he still have his job?  Larry Quinn is his boss.  Quinn has publicly stated that the organization’s ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup.  26 teams have changed GM’s since Darcy Regier was hired by the Sabres.  9 different teams have won the Stanley Cup during that time.  This season, the team is regressing, despite some off-season moves by Regier.  There have been some hits and some misses.  This current team exemplifies what Regier has done wrong all these years.

This team has some talent, starting in goal with Ryan Miller, but one thing that has set this team back is the back-up to Miller.  Their choice’s for the #2 goalie has been atrocious at best.  They had a great goalie in Marty Biron, but they had to let him go.  Biron wanted his chance to be a number one and they gave it to him.  They had a chance to get Marty back and he wanted to come back, but for some reason they stuck with the brutally horrible Lalime. Ruff had no choice but ride Miller hard last year, even though Miller left it all on the ice during the Olympics, but Lalime was too awful, and Miller had nothing left in the tank when the playoffs came around.  The team’s defense has been pretty rock solid for the most part, but the chemistry among the forwards is virtually non-existent.  The Sabres finally got themselves a bona fide goal scorer in Thomas Vanek (by virtue of drafting him 5th overall) and only have one center who can get him the puck.  The team’s misplaced faith in the HIGHLY overrated Tim Connolly is nauseating!  I believe the team has some talent at the forward position in players like Pominville, Ennis and even Stafford.  The team has enough finishers.  They just need more play-makers, and more leadership.  Regier has had enough time to figure this out.  Quinn has had enough time to figure out, that Regier can’t figure it out.

Perhaps the reason why Quinn hasn’t made a move has to do with the impending sale of the team to Terry Pegula?   This would make sense if the news hadn’t just broke a few weeks ago.  When the news first came out that Pegula was about to sign a letter of intent to buy the Sabres, Larry Quinn denied the report and said that the team is not actively on the market..  If that’s true, then you can’t use the impending sale as an excuse for not moving out Regier.  Quinn must feel that either mediocrity is acceptable for Sabres fans or that 13 years isn’t quite enough time to build a winner.  Apparently, 26 other NHL teams are just too darn impatient.  It certainly looks like there will be a new owner for the Sabres.  That probably means Managing Partner Larry Quinn will be looking for a new job.  Hopefully, we will finally get a true hockey man making the decisions and his first decision should be finding a new GM.