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The Elephant in the Room: Our Odd Expressions Involving Animals

Matt Milligan

I’ve had an issue throughout my life deciphering sayings and expressions. I’ll use them in their appropriate form, but sometimes maintain a slightly too colorful etymology in my head… some more dumb than others. A prime example: until my mid 20’s, I’d use the term ‘make ends meet’ with the understanding that it was actually ‘make ends meat,’ and that the history behind the phrase roughly meant that you were so poor that you had to resort to the ‘ends meat’ in the dumpster behind the butcher shop to get by. Yikes.

‘Nip it in the butt,’ ‘wheel barrow,’ ‘next store neighbor’ – that’s the tip of the iceberg of my god awful misconceptions. But it got me thinking that, though I may be a bit slower on the uptake than others, that many of our everyday expressions can be interpreted in a variety of ways. ‘Paint the town red,’ i.e. go out and drink – what the hell does that actually mean to you in your head? As it turns out, the phrase is derived from one particular drunk named Marquis of Waterford, who lead a rowdy group of friends around a town in England and literally painted statues, doors, and even a tollgate red.

After some research into some of the more misunderstood (at least to me) phrases we hear on the reg, I noticed something almost immediately: animals, in general, absolutely dominate the landscape of our sayings and expressions, and we use them without thinking twice about their origin because they’re just accepted as such. Think about it… someone goes ‘cold turkey’ – in what dimension could you possibly be able to explain to me what in god’s name that actually means.

What I find most interesting is our usage of terms involving animals to describe human situations – you can be ‘under the weather,’ but you can also be sick as a dog. You could very well be drinking like a fish and wind up drunk as a skunk, in which case you’ll eventually be feeling as sick as a dog and may need a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you. Though we’re often told ‘opposites attract,’ you may counter that birds of a feather flock together. Happy as a clam while telling a whale of a tail, you may start to clam up when people start to question your story. Feeling like a fish out of water, you decide your story telling abilities are just far superior and you’re just a big fish in a small pond instead.

I could list these out until the cows come home, but instead of taking the bull in a china shop approach and listing everything out randomly, I’m going to make a beeline towards three animals that seem to get all of our colloquial attention:

Before we dig a little deeper into hands down one of the most outrageous commonly used sayings ever, I want to take a second to point out how many damn phrases involve a horse. At any moment you may be engaged in horse play, on a high horse, holding your horses, horsin’ around, looking a gift horse in the mouth, or you may just be a dark horse. But let’s not put the cart before the horse: automobiles have only been around for about a 100 years, so it stands to be said that horses were about as common as people around town at one point.

That said: I will tell you straight from the horse’s mouth that the phrase ‘beating a dead horse’ is far and away the weirdest of the bunch. Imagine you go through life without hearing that phrase until your mid-to-late twenties, and someone drops that one on you in the middle of a story.

“Excuse me?”
“Yea I said it, you’re beating a dead horse, move on.”
“What the hell? Screw you and the horse you rode in on, I’m calling Animal Control you MONSTER.”

You see… as I mentioned above, these sorts of sayings have a very real literal connotation via an image in my head. “Two birds with one stone” - boom, great throw! “Like a chicken with its head cut off” – uhh yea I could see a headless chicken just being generally spastic/uncomfortable to look at. “Beating a dead horse” – yup just a farmer with a baseball bat drunkenly beating the hell out of a dead horse at high noon outside of a saloon.

The etymology of this weird-ass saying varies; the earliest documented appearance occurs in the late 19th century in a speech as “flogging a dead horse,” and was used to convey a certain pointlessness (i.e. flogging a dead horse to make him pull a cart). It also has ties as early as the 17th where a ‘dead horse’ had a sort of urban dictionary status as a service being paid in advance of the work, of which I don’t truly understand.

Horses aren’t the only ones spared from our awkwardly violent expressions. I’ll let the cat out of the bag if curiosity doesn’t kill it first, but not before telling you that there’s more than one way to skin one. I mean holy shit, some of these sayings are vividly disturbing. Good thing they’ve got 9 lives ‘cuz they apparently need every single last one of them. Has anybody actually seen what a cat on a hot tin roof looks like, what material cat’s pajama’s are made from, or why someone ever would be in a position where a cat may have their tongue?

But look what the cat dragged in: dogs, i.e. “man’s best friend,” we happen to be a little friendlier about than cats, since “cats are conniving shitheads that would eat you if they could figure out a way” (that’s not an expression but it’s true). After all, we let sleeping dogs lie, and you can’t teach an old one new tricks (but they can do tricks - cats can’t because they’re psychotic narcissists).  You may find yourself doggin’ it, with your tail between your legs, or even in the doghouse every once in a while, but you’ll be top dog again soon enough because after all: every dog has its day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my brief delving into the theme of animals in our expressions: the early bird may get the worm and 2nd mouse may get the cheese, but god have mercy on the horses and cats.

 

Under the Radar: 2015 Fantasy Football 'Sleeper' Candidates

Matt Milligan

 

Sleeper – the term is thrown around fantasy football more than the ball on the field in which the real life version of the sport is played. Click on any “here are my sleepers yay!!” links on Google and who knows what the hell you’re getting into. More than likely, you’ll be directed to a link that falls under these two categories:

  • a list of guys who are being drafted in every single league who are starting already for their respective team, probably owned in 70+ percent of fantasy leagues – you click the ‘back’ button faster than you clicked the link and shake your head in disappointment that you didn’t become a fantasy football writer;
  • prospects far too buried on a depth chart to serve anything remotely useful in a single season – you click the back button again, thank the idiot writer for wasting 30 seconds of your research and move on from him too.

So for purposes of this article, let’s define what a useful fantasy redraft league “sleeper” is: a guy without an established starting role who could potentially capitalize on an opportunity as the season progresses (with the exception of already starting QBs), and contribute enough to warrant a roster spot at some point in the year, owned in less than 20% of leagues (i.e. you can have him almost certainly).

Let’s begin, shall we:

QB DEREK CARR, OAKLAND (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 17% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Can we really blame a guy for being brother to the #1 pick in the 2002 draft with more career INTs (71) than TDs (65)? Only partly, but aside from the DNA, the only thing on the field these two will ever have in common are the four letters on the back of their jersey.

Derek came out of the gate his 2014 rookie season showcasing some of his potential in the first week of the season, completing 20 passes for 151 and 2 TDs against the lowly Jets. After that, aside from the blip on the radar of the 4 TD game against the Chargers, Carr was sporadic at best all the way through November.

What remains to be seen is if how he closed the season is indicative of his potential or yet another blip: over his final 4 games, Carr threw for a total 7 TDs and 1 INT against some pretty stout defenses. Something unique to those four games: the return of a stable ground game in Latavius Murray, coming back from a concussion on a rainy Thursday night after bursting onto the scene for 116 yards and 2 TDs against the Chiefs. Well… Latavius is back, they’ve added a complimentary 3rd down back in Roy Helu, as well as the shiny new toy in consensus #1 rookie WR Amari Cooper. Let’s not act too surprised if the Raiders don’t start out 0-16 again this year – Carr could take a big step forward.

QB TYROD TAYLOR, BUFFALO (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 7% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Here’s where I make my bed to sleep in 6 weeks from now: picking a Bills QB in my first fantasy football post. But in the words of a muttering, fidgety, “is he lucid?” Lee Corso: not so fast, my friend.

There’s not a ton of tape… Tyrod’s thrown a total of 35 NFL passes over 3 years, but has an eye catching average 10 yards a carry when running. He looked invincible at some points through the preseason… then again, so did all the other Bills QBs. So what gives?

I think, though they’ll have Bill’ish moments, that Buffalo will be vastly improved this year, overall and divisionally. They’re committed to a strong run attack, as demonstrated by drafting Karlos Williams and bringing in Shady McCoy via trade. They swapped out possession TE Scott Chandler and brought in Charles Clay, a guy just starting to hit his stride. And folks, no matter which way you slice it: Sammy Watkins is the real deal.

This Rex Ryan coached defense is going to keep them in ball games, and the offense has more talent than an Ole Miss tailgate. If Tyrod can run this offense whilst chipping in with his legs, he’ll be owned in a lot more than 7% of leagues by season’s end.

RB THOMAS RAWLS, SEATTLE (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 0% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES):

This is as close to a crush as I’ll have this season:  a guy I’ve followed all camp long sitting at #5 on the depth chart trying to hang on for dear life before the final cuts. Oh, and that was before the Seahawks capitalized on Buffalo’s hastiness in cutting journeyman and fan favorite RB Fred Jackson and signing him to a year contract effectively rendering Rawls useless.

Rawls showed a lot of what scouts raved about before the preseason: an aggressiveness much like the guy at the top of the pecking order, Marshawn Lynch. He’s got a great burst through gaps, some great vision, and lowers his shoulder for contact. What the scouts may not have liked and why he went undrafted this year: coming off of three felony charges.

Now… I for one am not a fan of felonies (hopefully you aren’t either). But there are felonies, and there are childish mistakes with an associated lesson learned. According to the report, Rawls and a couple buddies went into a casino, found a purse, and used the credit card to buy sub sandwiches. The guy wasn’t fighting dogs, firing unregistered guns in public, laundering money, evading taxes… the guy was hungry.

Well, he put on a show in Seahawks training camp and obviously put in the work in an effort to make the final roster, and the feeling was apparently mutual: Seattle waived #2 back Robert Turbin, traded #3 back and hype machine Christine Michael to the Cowboys for peanuts, and let other rookie competitor Rod Smith go to sign with the practice squad. I’ve never seen something like that before… think about it. If on your second day of work you came in, sat down, looked over at the other empty desks and your boss waltzed up and told you he fired your counterparts cuz he loves your potential… that’s just nuts.

Keep an eye out for this dude. Fact of the matter is Marshawn Lynch, beast-mode as he may be, has some miles on him, runs physical, and turns 30 next year. And make no mistake… Fred Jackson is listed #2, but he is the complimentary 3rd downer. If Lynch goes down for any extended period, look for Rawls to hit the ground running, hard.

RB JARRYD HAYNE, SAN FRANCISCO (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 3% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES):

Think Mike Alstott with some wiggle but packs the same punch. The guy can flat out run and crush.

If you haven’t followed the story, Hayne is a highly touted rugby played from Australia who decided to give it a crack at the professional level of American football. Now let it be stated: I have plenty of respect for rugby and its style of play. NFL hits and rugby hits are apples and oranges, pads or no pads. But both are violent, both potentially dangerous.

This isn’t some monumental thing: even pro-level football players convert to rugby. Regardless, Hayne’s transition has been more than a sidenote: he’s the real deal in every shape and form.

There are two things standing in the way of Hayne and NFL success: age, depth chart, and experience. Put one of those things on any NFL player’s list of things to overcome and you’re working behind the 8-ball, much less all three. That’s how talented this guy is by making the team.

The guy had limited reps in the preseason, but all signs are pointing in the right direction: this guy can handle a football. What remains left to be seen: Carlos Hyde and his newly minted starting role with the departure of the personification of durability at the running back position, Frank Gore.

Here’s all that needs to happen: Hyde hiccups (we’ll see), Reggie Bush gets hurt (as likely as the sun rising, though he shouldn’t have to get hurt for Hayne to play a significant role), and fellow ‘rookie’ Mike Davis remaining as unimpressive as he did this preseason. In other words: there is a pretty significant chance Hayne gets his shot to take the ball and run/bulldoze – he’s too talented to keep locked down in punt return duties (and quite frankly, too powerful – he might kill somebody).

WR LEONARD HANKERSON, ATLANTA (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 6% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

Let’s take a step back for a second and consider the situation: leading up to his late 2013 ACL tear, Hankerson was… well, on the Redskins.  Though his footwork wasn’t highly touted coming into the league, he was just starting to make a little noise.

Listen… this guy’s not going to light the world on fire. This is more about the opportunity than it is the athletic upside, and that comes in the form of Roddy White, Atlanta’s cornerstone at the WR position the last decade who’s beginning to fade into the sunset. The hype is around the battle between Hankerson and ECU record breaker rookie Justin Hardy for #3 WR, who for all intents and purposes could wind up having a very successful NFL career out of the slot. Hankerson’s not that guy. But when the 34 year old Roddy goes down (and he will), watch that 6% ownership rate skyrocket with a pass-first offense and a competent quarterback tossing him the rock – assuming Hankerson stays next year, he could be on the top 100 draft radar. We’ll see!

WR PHILLIP DORSETT, INDIANAPOLIS (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 12% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES)

There are two offenses in the league where borderline #3/#4 WRs have some sort of late round value: Green Bay and Indy. These two pass happy offenses of the league spread the ball at will, and it’s a next man up kind of mentality (rookie Ty Montgomery’s Yahoo! ownership jumped a whopping 14% after Jordy Nelson’s season ending injury a few weeks back, and Devante Adams saw a jump from 22% to 98% virtually overnight).

The Colts are in the middle of a sort of transition: Reggie Wayne, a Colts lifer of 14 seasons which spanned the entire Peyton and current Luck era, was let go (he signed with the Patriots for about a week this preseason, then asked for release because the Patriots were “not fun.” Surprise!).  Make no mistake and it cannot be understated: those shoes are HUGE to fill – Wayne is a future Hall of Famer in my book.

So, who fills those shoes? Well, we start with 5’9 TY Hilton, 4th year shifty WR looking for a major payday from the Colts. Next, we’ve got journeyman, 6 time pro bowler (like Wayne) Andre Johnson coming to town (sidenote: can you imagine him 6 years ago paired with Luck? Good lord).

With Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener absorbing significant looks at TE, there aren’t a ton more targets to go around for the #3/#4 WRs on the depth chart to split. To make matters more complicated for Dorsett: the current #3 Donte Moncrief actually had a great last year – he should have a pretty solid NFL career.

Well, for one, the Colt’s didn’t light their first round pick aflame for a waste of wide receiver. Dorsett will need to develop his routes and he won't add any inches to his 5'10 frame overnight. But he had a great catch rate in college (caught 70 of 73 balls last year), and has absolutely killer speed… faster than TY.

So what do we have going on here that a fringe #4 WR is on this list. Well… one WR looking for money, and one WR on his way out of the game. A lot has been made about TY’s contract this offseason, mostly because Andrew Luck will be looking for the Colts to pony up next year – how much can the Colts realistically afford to pay TY? In my unsolicited opinion… they can’t, that is, if they’re going to trot out anything resembling a defense in 2016.

Andre, on the other hand, is looking for something Reggie attained with the Colts and Manning: a Super Bowl. It may be too little too late for Andre, but he’s all in: after multiple trade/release requests, the 12 year Texan signed with the Colts this offseason with the hopes of chasing a ring. Andre brings his experience and a 6’3 frame to an already deadly passing attack. So where does Dorsett fit?

This pick, to me, applies to all formats: in redraft leagues, Dorsett will work in with 3 WR sets with 2 WRs already on the field that demand full attention. He’s a Hilton/Johnson injury away from absolutely legitimate weekly value across the aboard. And for those of you in Dynasty and/or keeper leagues… between a 34 year old Andre and a contract without ink on it yet for TY, Dorsett has the potential to crack top 40 across all positions next year if he builds a rapport with Luck this year. Now that’s a guy with upside.

TE VIRGIL GREEN, DENVER (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 1% OF YAHOO LEAGUES)

Man… the TE position is as thin as it comes this year. Gronk is an injury risk, Gates is suspended and in his twilight, and Graham is sliding into a new not-as-pass-happy offense. Draft some of the more trendy names by all means… Kelce, Eifert, and even Olsen is getting some significant attention with Kelvin Benjamin done for the year with a torn ACL. But let’s face it… if you’re picking outside the top 6 TE options in the league, all TE’s are sleepers.

Enter: Virgil Green, the Denver #2 TE. The guy's been in the league a few years, and with Owen Daniels in front of him on the depth chart, it may be hard to get consistent looks.

Well, if history is any indicator, Owen Daniels will have problems staying on the field. He’s got 3 seasons under his belt of less than 12 games played (including 5 in 2013), and has only completed a full season twice.

TEs in Denver’s offense caught a combined 15 TDs last year. Granted, Orange Julius, who opted for career suicide/the Jaguars this off season, was responsible for 12 of them. But Peyton is not shy about spreading the ball, and Green should at the very least be in the mix, especially after being invited to Peyton’s offseason camp at Duke.

Virgil doesn’t have the same flash as Julius, but look for him to capitalize on Denver’s 2 TE sets in the red zone, and, potentially an expanded role if given the chance.

PK ANDREW FRANKS, MIAMI (CURRENTLY OWNED IN 1% OF YAHOO! LEAGUES).

The age old adage: never draft a kicker until the last round. Well… in the leagues I’m in, I’ve seen some guys go wayyy earier than they should, notably Stephen Gostkowski.

There’s not much to say at the kicker position – they get called upon to finish off the job the offense couldn’t’ capitalize on. That being said: the Fins fit the bill perfectly – they ranked #20 in TDs in the red zone last season, yet somehow still sit in the top 10 in points scored.

Why Franks? I’ve got nothing… we’ll find out quickly if the guy’s the real deal. But he cleared out a patch of snow to go practice whilst at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and studied in biomedical engineering. Oh, and he beat out an NFL kicker in Caleb Sturgis who was in the top 10 in field goals made last season.

That’s all I’ve got, but I’m willing to go out on a limb for the guy: unlike Sturgis, he’ll finish top 10 in field goals made AND field goal percentage. 

DangeRuss Territory: The Price of Paying a Quarterback

Matt Milligan

Russell Wilson is getting paid. News broke of the imminent extension: a 5 year, $89 million contract with a still yet to be determined signing bonus (rumors are floating around in the $20-30 million range). And, at least for the time being, @DangeRussWilson will be the highest paid player at the position. That is, until the salary cap increases and Andrew Luck signs his new contract which will inevitably make Russell’s look like a happy hour deal at Ruby Tuesday.

It's been interesting to see how these teams respond after forking over major cash to their quarterback. Over half the league is paying at least $12 million to their QB for the upcoming season, and yet less than half of them have a ring on their finger. 

The Good:

  1. Aaron Rodgers has worked out so far with one ring on his finger, but still has 3 years left at $22 million a year.
  2. Though they haven’t looked the same since their 2009 season Super Bowl run, Drew Brees’ five-year deal, at least statistically, was worth the investment.
  3. For a hall of fame quarterback, a $34 million contract for Peyton Manning and the Broncos ain’t so bad, though he inevitably won’t bring them any glory.
  4. While we’re on the topic of Mannings, the one with the more rings still stands around the middle of the pack in terms of money per year.
  5. Bargain of the decade? 4 time champ Tom Brady makes less annually than ringless Sam Bradford, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, and Jay Cutler.

The “We’ll See:”

  1. On the flipside, at 26 and 30 years old, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan may still prove to be sound investments if their teams can build around them in the worst division in the league.
  2. WR to QB convert Ryan Tannehill is making almost $20 mill a year and hasn’t really done shit, but continues to progress nonetheless.
  3. The Steelers and Cowboys, among a few others, currently sit on the fence together, as it’s too early to tell how heavy extensions for a 33 and 35 year old quarterback play out. Roethlisberger has brought the rings. Romo’s brought nothing but pain and suffering.

The "Oh My God We're Going to Suck For a Very Long Time:"

  1. After extending their quarterback through 2020 for $126 million ($54 million guaranteed), the Bears eventually benched Jay Cutler last season for Jimmy Clausen, and at one point actually considered releasing him and eating the rest of his guaranteed money.
  2. The Lion’s Matt Stafford has yet to live up to the hype or his contract with one of the best receivers in the history of the league on his team, and has yet to win a single playoff game; the two of them combined will eat over 30% of the team's cap next year.
  3. If last season was any indicator, the 49ers will be rotting at the bottom of the NFC West for quite a few years whilst absorbing the blunt of the Colin Kaepernicks $114 million ($61 million guaranteed are you serious!!!) extension from 2014.

The difference between Wilson and the QBs mentioned in the previous paragraph: track record. None of the guys mentioned above have been able to accomplish what Wilson has, much less in the first 3 years of their careers. It could be argued that much of Wilson’s contract should be calculated into what he’s already given them ­– three straight playoff appearances, including a 2012 divisional round lost by his own coach, a Super Bowl win, followed by a gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss at the 1 yard line this year. It sounds weird to say, but with a career record of 42-14 and at only 26 years old, he has very little left to prove – only Tom Brady currently holds a better career win percentage. Peyton, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Luck… Wilson trumps them all.

I don’t think anyone will argue Wilson’s talent and charisma. He’s an unselfish player, dates pop stars, got drafted by the MLB and stays out of the negative headlines – he’s the young Derek Jeter of football. He’s got a fan base that adores him, and the #1 defense in the league that picks him up when he’s down (see: Wilson’s 4 interceptions in Seattle’s 28-22 OT win in the NFC championship last year). But in my opinion, that #1 defense that’s kept his name so clean over these incredible playoff runs is the thing that’s going to wind up suffering the most at the expense of that shiny new contract. And as much as I hate to predict it, I think Wilson suffers equally from it.

It hurts to predict something like that because I genuinely like the guy and his swagger. I followed DangeRuss a bit at NC State and was passing out liquor drinks on the bandwagon at Wisconsin. He seemed to have this unfazability about him that I envied, and I just loved to cheer for the guy. Come the NFL draft, he was an afterthought for me; I figured he might go undrafted and wind up backing up Carson Palmer for a few years before I had to watch his name fizzle into the sunset.

I’m still amazed at the progress he’s made so far, but the guy has his limits. He picks his passes pretty carefully, as evidenced by only throwing over 25 attempts once in his last 5 playoff games. The guy doesn’t make mistakes, and when he does his defense saves his ass. To contrast, Tom Brady has only thrown over 25 times all but twice in his entire career’s worth of 29 playoff games. Those two games: 2002 when he was hurt in the second quarter and Bledsoe had to come in, and at Heinz Field in 2005 when the temperature dipped below 10 degrees. 

I bring it up because there’s a similar situation in the league that I can’t help but think of when considering Russel’s new situation. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory in March 2013, the Ravens signed young Joe Flacco to a 6 year, $120.6 million contract, despite some question marks around whether or not he was ”franchise quarterback” material. The Ravens were able to finagle some numbers for the 2013 season and spent 47% of their cap on defense despite the Flacco contract, still good for 1st in the league. But as that contract number started to become more of a reality, so too did the reality of losing out on some of the young prospects anchoring the defense. In 2014, that cap number slipped to 36%, and Baltimore comes into the 2015 season with 30% of their cap allocated to the defense, good for 31 out of 32 lowest in the league. 

That contract number may only be revolving around one person, but it has such a deeper impact than most people realize. Before Wilson signed his contract this year, the Seahawks were pegged for spending 2.16% of their cap on quarterbacks for this upcoming season, which would have ranked last in the league. Not surprisingly, 1.52% of Seattle’s cap was allocated to the QB position for the 2014 season based solely on Wilson’s rookie contract, coupled with Tarvaris Jackson as the backup (hint: there was no backup plan). 1.52% at the most pivotal position in the league – that is absolute highway robbery.

Don’t believe me? Of the 32 teams in the league, 9 of the 12 playoff teams last season ranked in the top 12 for money spent on the quarterback position. Translation: only 3 of the remaining 20 teams made the playoffs. Those 3 teams: the Carolina Panthers, who play in the absolute worst division in football; Arizona, who made the wildcard after blowing a 9-1 record to start the year; and of course Indy, who still has yet to bend over for the spanking from Andrew Luck and what will be his nuclear missile of a contract.

To be more direct: the Seahawks had the 2nd best deal on a quarterback of any Super Bowl champ the last two decades. Wilson accounted for an absolutely absurd 0.56% of the Seahawk's cap for the 2012/2013 season. For perspective, Flacco will eat up almost 19% of Baltimore's cap next year.

So for all of you who hope and pray a franchise quarterback falls into your lap, know this: since 1994, only 5 out of the 20 eventual Super Bowl champs had over 10% of their cap allocated to their quarterback: Young, Favre, Eli, Peyton, and most recently Brady at 10.4%. That's it. Elway won Super Bowls back to back coming in at 5% of the cap each season. The Rams rode on Kurt Warner's magic to their ring while paying him 1.3%. The only better contract steal than Wilson's over that span? Naturally, Tom Brady: the Patriots ponied up a whopping 0.47% of their cap for their 2002 Super Bowl MVP (although they were still paying Drew Bledsoe). 

Now make no mistake: the 'hawks will contend this year -- there’s no doubt about that. The defense is still anchored by a lot of the same guys who’ve been getting them there. They’ve lost crucial defensive playmakers but have drafted well enough to mask it. But with contracts like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman on the roster, that clock’s going to strike midnight a lot sooner than Seattle fans would like to imagine. That’s even before we discuss:

  •          the addition of Jimmy Graham's $10 million a year;
  •          Cam Chancellor’s holdout;
  •          K.J. Wright's $27 million extension that makes him the second highest paid at his position behind Lance Briggs;
  •          Marshawn Lynch’s $12 million a year extension, second highest behind Adrian Peterson.

Seattle has some decisions to make, but it appears their bed is made. Much like Flacco, Wilson and company will start the steady decline to mediocrity and make his fan base question the legitimacy of his contract. The Seahawks have been riding on the tailwinds of the perfect storm; Wilson has been more than anyone could have hoped for out of the the 3rd round of the draft. But as that storm starts to die, light will be shed on the fact that the Captain was given credit and paid accordingly for what his crew had been mostly responsible for... and that ship's gonna start to go down real quick because of it.

In the end, Wilson is not a  QB who can hoist a team on his shoulders and mow down opponents for 3 consecutive playoff games -- paying him like he can will ultimately be their undoing. So for those of you waiting on Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Football, Blake Bortles, Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, (I can’t keep going -- it’s too painful), it seems to me there’s only one solution: ride the wave of a rookie contract (Wilson, Flacco, Roethlisberger), or find a quarterback whose wife is worth more than he is and pray he’s willing to play at a discounted rate long term because of it. It’s your only hope.

 

 

For the Birds: Nurturing a Hobby and a Hatred

Matt Milligan

On a warm spring afternoon as the sun was going down and beams of light fired through the trees in the forest before which I sat, I developed a moderate addiction. A type of addiction that people like you and I suffer from throughout our lives that comes without warning and is occasionally irreversible. I’m talking about the black hole that is a random-as-hell hobby.

I for one have suffered at the suffocating grasp of hobbies my entire life: Pogs, model planes/ships, Beanie Babies (yup I said it), baseball/football/basketball/hockey cards… I even battled a (thankfully) temporary Pokemon addiction. I yearn for those days, as currently my only ‘addictions’ come in the form of foods my body no longer understands how to consume (I’m lookin at you old pal, pepperoni pizza), or the occasional TV show that I can’t look away from (House of Cards Season 1 robbed 14 consecutive hours of my life). 

But on that fateful sunny afternoon at my girlfriend’s parent’s house, my fixation was a little more unusual. I sat by myself with a beer in hand staring out into the woods at a deer that couldn’t see me, wondering aimlessly what a deer thinks about as the sun is going down: “ohhhh my god, oh my god, it's getting dark... it's so, so quiet.. too quiet.. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT??!?!? I can't see anything. I’m going to die tonight aren't I?" I just talked myself through why I could never be a deer - thanks for joining. 

As I was getting up for another beer, something darted in front of my face and sort of shook me out of my weird deerdream. I followed the trajectory of this little bullet and low and behold, a tiny bird landed on a feeder hanging from a tree nearby. I sat back down and admired it – it had this beautiful little voice, a little Mohawk thing going on, and a sort of bravado about him – he seemed completely unfazed by my presence 4 feet away.

I remembered seeing a bird identification book inside, so I walked up and snagged it with another beer to come back down and observe once more. After figuring out the book, I determined what I had seen was a Tufted Titmouse – a small bird with a sneakily big personality. For the next hour or so I studied the visitors: American Goldfinch, House Finch, Nuthatch, even a male Cardinal and his one eyed significant other made a few drop-ins. Needless to say, I was hooked – it felt like collecting baseball cards but for adults… except you don’t get to keep them, and you don’t have to beg your parents to pay for them.

Flash forward a couple weeks and I’m back home, bird feeder hung on the front porch, bird app downloaded to my phone, sitting at my window ‘calling’ in birds with the app’s sounds and having them stare at me like, “honey that’s the ugliest damn Cardinal I’ve ever seen.” 

Cardinals came in, lots of House Finches, some Sparrows, and a Mourning Dove (always thought it was ‘morning’) poked around on the ground - even a Blue Jay came over and made his presence known. The porch phase, however, was short lived. Seed shells were freaking everywhere after a couple days, adding the lovely side effect of squirrels and chipmunks freely roaming my front stoop like they owned it.

The next logical place was my backyard: a bit more secluded with grass underneath, a couple trees and good cover. I was delighted to discover that moving a bird feeder 30 feet doesn’t completely deter an entire species, as the same birds started to make their way around the house (sidenote: how the hell do birds find seeds?! It's not exactly like they've got a distinct smell to them). I noticed a couple things though: on this side of the house, the seed lasted maybe a day (compared to four days on the front) and there were a lot more House Sparrows this time around.  I refilled, observed, and so began a trend.

Here’s where we take a turn and get into the “well gosh darn, I didn’t know that!” territory.  Let me ask you a question: which answer below is responsible for invading the nests of native North American birds only to a. destroy whatever eggs are there, and b. rip the freaking heads off of the parent birds?  That had to be bolded for full effect, sorry.

If you answered A, B, C, or D, I commend you, because before my little hobby took hold that’s exactly what my answer would have been too. The correct answer is E, that little brown sparrow (or as a Bluebird conversation group calls them: HOSP) we see every single day on the sidewalks nibbling at a stale hotdog bun or sitting in bunches on power lines. And this is precisely where my healthy hobby transformed itself into full-fledged warfare – I haven’t felt like I wanted to completely eradicate something with such malice since I first laid eyes on a stink bug

And yet, as I’ve done more and more research on the English House Sparrow, the stink bug is exactly what they are: an invasive species introduced without much foresight that spread like the plague to the point where no one could contain it. According to this book, in 1852 the English House Sparrow was first released to North America in Brooklyn, NY, and spread throughout the continent in a matter of two decades. W.L. Dawson, a wildlife photographer and author around the time, had this to say in his book The Birds of Ohio, published in 1903:

"Without question, the most deplorable event in the history of American ornithology was the introduction of the English Sparrow."

If W.L. had been around long enough, I would have loved to have seen what he would have written after waking up to a stink bug landing on his face.  

I feel like I've been living a lie; what I thought was a harmless little hotdog bun snatcher is actually a ruthless killer str8 outta Compton.  Their main beef is with native Swallows and Bluebirds, as the three of them share similar nest construction. But by beef, I mean comes into a nest, corners the parent and proceeds to peck their eyes out and occasionally completely decapitate them (isn’t that part just a bit overkill?). Any offspring still present get tossed out or killed and the Sparrow then builds a nest there, sometimes right on top of the dead parent, reaffirming my theory that one major difference between the House Sparrow and the stink bug is that the latter might actually have a soul, albeit an incredibly stupid, putrid soul.

A House Sparrow taking over a Bluebird nest.

A House Sparrow taking over a Bluebird nest.

If we need any more proof of this bird’s status as a complete waste of space, look no further than the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which pretty much makes it highly illegal to mess with birds or their habitat. Not covered by this federal law: House Sparrows, i.e. it’s completely legal to treat these things like rodents or bugs and get them the hell off your property. They can be pretty destructive as they tend to build in the crevices of houses, and their aggressiveness makes it hard for other birds to come hang out at a feeder since they spend their entire day sitting there eating the seeds just so other birds can’t.

Part of me just wants to believe this is just a slight detour away from the hobby itself - I was actually starting to enjoy cataloging which birds came through and can even decipher calls from the trees while I'm running in the park. But like humans, they're not all law abiding good Samaritans capable of coexisting. And for that, these little shitheads are about to feel the wrath that is a guy with a random hobby, assuming I don't lose interest like the other 95% of them I take up.  

Knicks That - Can Phil Save New York?

Matt Milligan

Somehow, someway, the Knicks have found themselves once again in the precarious position of making a mistake of catastrophic proportions.

From a tanking perspective, their starting five to end the year probably wouldn’t have won any more than 10 games if trotted out for the entire season. This, of course, was by design – finish with the worst record in the NBA with a firm hold on the odds of landing the #1 overall pick in the draft. In typical Knick fashion, they (for reasons still unknown) won a couple games down the stretch that, for all intents and purposes, completely defeated the purpose of tanking, allowing Minnesota to squeak by them with the worst record. Adding insult to injury, they drew the #4 pick in the draft – an absolute monster of a backfire. 

So Phil Jackson's brought into win, can't lose on purpose, and the ping pong gods continue to punish us for letting us have Ewing and not ever getting him a ring. The 4 spot in the draft isn't the end of the world by any means. Naturally though, the only "consensus" prospects this year at the top are going 1, 2, 3: Karl Anthony Towns (Kentucky), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), and D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) are all projected to fall in some order to the Timberwolves, Lakers, and Sixers.

It is absolutely imperative that they get this draft right if they're going to right the ship and put out the dumpster fire that's been smoldering since the Isiah Thomas era. So instead of praying one of these three teams reaches up and grabs somebody else (although I'll be praying regardless), let’s have a look at the players available to the New York in the four slot:

Emmanuel Mudiay (China)

Unfortunately for the Knicks, simply comparing Mudiay to Russell Westbrook six thousand fucking times won’t magically transform him. Mudiay spent an injury riddled year playing in China after bailing on Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown and Southern Methodist. On tape, he’s got a ton of upside: athletic, great build, a willing passer and shows flashes of the slashing ability Russell Westbrook brings on a nightly basis. What also stands out: a scarily low 57% free throw percentage for a guard, coupled with a 3PT% of 34. Knicks fans may take some solace in the fact Westbrook shot similar numbers during his tenure at UCLA – he shot 55% from the line his freshman year, and his 3PT% coming into the NBA sat around 35%.

At 19 years old, I think it’s safe to say this kid isn’t broken – these problems can be fixed. His current jumper has a release of the ball on the way down ­– that obviously (hopefully?) won’t stick. But this is exactly what the Knicks do not need – a project. He may live up to the comparisons, but it won’t be for a few years and Carmelo is not getting any younger. 

Justise Winslow (Duke)

Winslow also has the build for the NBA, and brings the much desired ability to guard multiple positions and even potentially some leadership coming off a National Championship at Duke (oh and a kinda cool name). His offensive game, however, will be probably be limited in the NBA – his chiseled frame and quick feet allowed him get away with a lot of post points at the collegiate level. He’ll need to develop some resemblance of a dependable jump shot at some point, as he won’t find some of the same successes down low at only 6 feet 6 inches. He brings plenty to the table, but it’s what he doesn’t bring that is concerning. Ultimately, at the 4th spot in the draft, I’d expect Knicks fans to be disappointed in taking Winslow without having traded back for him, but would not mind acquiring him in the 7-10 range.

Mario Hezonja (Croatia), Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia)

At the tip-off of the 2014-2015 season, an NBA record 101 foreign players were on professional rosters. Eight foreign players were drafted inside the top 20 last year, although many of them went to school in the states (notably Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid). Both Mario and Kristaps have had no problems showing off their stuff in Euroball, and both bring completely different skill sets to the NBA level.

Porzingis in particular is high on almost everyone’s list – he’s a lock in the top 7 and the Magic are reportedly incredibly ready to draft him should he fall. The 19 year old 7-footer has played against the best competition in Europe and has a polished, well rounded game. Hezonja has a beautiful, smooth jump shot, a boatload of athleticism and a cockiness about him that scouts seem to love and hate in different realms. After the top 3, these guys are my favorite prospects coming into the draft.

The fear is not what’s on paper for these two. It’s the absolute coinflip that is drafting foreign prospects. And naturally, given their position this year with these two Euro stars right there for the taking, the Knicks are far too familiar with landing the wrong side of that coin:

Italian Danilo Gallinari was drafted by New York at the 6 slot in 2008, who would go on to miss the majority of his first year with back problems, and was subsequently bundled in a package to Denver in the Carmelo trade. In 2002, the Knicks drafted Nene, who went on to have a relatively successful NBA career… after the Knicks turned around and immediately traded him, Marcus Camby, and Mark Jackson for the crumbling Antonio McDyess and a later pick (they would select Maciej Lampe, and he would never be heard from again). And, of course, there's Frederic Weis, the guy most notably remembered for getting completely destroyed by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. After being drafted in the first round (#15 overall), Weis would ultimately refuse a contract with the Knicks, and never play the NBA.

Soooooo yea… the bar can't be set any lower. Hezonja and Porzingis are oozing with talent, and the Knicks are oozing horrible karma and terrible luck. One would think at some point that something’s gotta give. I wouldn’t be so sure.

Once Towns, Okafor, and Russell are off the board, Phil Jackson will be left with an absolute nightmare of a decision. Word on the street is that the apple of his eye of Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, who is viewed as a solid piece of the Zen Master’s dream of a resurrected triangle offense. However, his services could be acquired as far as five to eight picks back, making a selection at the four spot an incredible gamble and waste of a resource they tried so hard (or rather, tried so hard not to try hard) to get.  

Trading back is probably the best case scenario for New York, picking up future picks and maybe some more immediate help/incentive for free agents to sign. Teams know they're desperate to get out of that spot, and one can only hope Jackson won't be desperate enough to take a deal that doesn't help them immediately. If a trade scenario doesn't work itself out before the Knicks are on the clock, the Big Apple will hold its collective breath and wish for a miracle. Unfortunately, even a miracle is still probably just short of what they'll need to make it back to relevancy. 

 

The Epidemic of NFL Suspensions & Why Brady Deserves His

Matt Milligan

When one gate closes another one opens.  Spygate, Bountygate, ElevatorKnockoutGate, and now the infamous Deflategate – all under the watchful eye of your majesty Roger Goodell.  This league produces more drama on a yearly basis than any other sport on the planet -sometimes, it seems, by design.  And although I never thought I’d see New England’s wonder boy caught up in a scandal (I’ll get to that in a minute), I never could have predicted that the media and New England haters alike would be so smitten over air pressure in a fucking football. 

But long before Tom Brady’s face was plastered all over the Internet for all the wrong reasons - way, way before in fact - the first few suspensions dished out in NFL history came about from some pretty freaking unusual circumstances.  In fact, the first also happens to be the most unusual (if we don’t count being suspended for shooting your own dumbass self in the leg in a public venue): in 1925, backup quarterback Art Folz of the Chicago Cardinals was found to have orchestrated the ‘hiring’ of, I shit you not, high school players to participate for the opposing team in an effort to pad one more tally in the win column leading up to the playoffs, and was subsequently banned (initially) for life. 

More than two decades later in 1947, two New York Giants players were also suspended for life for throwing the season’s previous championship game because of bribes.  And yet another two decades later, Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and Detroit Lion Alex Karras (he played Mongo, the chained up hobo in Blazing Saddles) were both separately suspended for betting on NFL games. 

If there’s one thing for sure in today’s NFL, suspensions are in.  Jump forward to the new millennium and holy mother of tater tot… there have been a massive 250 total handed down since the year 2000, almost tripling the total of all years previous.  What’s more, there have been more dished out since 2012 than the previous 12 years combined.  There has not yet been a single preseason snap this year and already 10 players will be serving time for the upcoming 2015 season.  To contrast, the NBA had a whopping one suspension the entire 2014-2015 regular season. 

So what the hell happened?  A lot of things actually:

PED/DRUG POLICY & SUBSEQUENT TESTING

Beginning in 1989, the NFL began testing for and suspending players who tested positive for illegal substances.  Testing has become a little more touch-and-go and the technology is better.  However, unless you’re Josh Gordon, so are the masking agents to hide said substances – just ask Laron Landry’s bicep (just kidding Laron we’re cool right!?). 

Clearly, not everyone uses them, but these guys were already big enough as it was.  Team trainers have taken these athletes (who, for all intents and purposes, were already the cream of the crop of athleticism on the planet) and morphed them into otherworldly monsters.  Part of me has always wondered what was going through 6’1, 200 pound Colt McCoy’s delicate little noggin the millisecond before this happened to him by a guy who can do this

OFF-THE-FIELD ISSUES

Some learn the hard way, but news travels faster in 2015 than it has since, well, news was news.  And when shit goes down, you can bet your butt and a jar of pickles that people are going to find out about it – quickly.  There's an omnipresent army of fans with a camera on their phone, ready to pounce the moment these celebrities make even the slightest misstep (Johnny & Jerry are the current regulars).  This phenomenon has been compounded by Twitter, an extremely powerful tool – it gives certain players the power to be their ignorant, hostile, insensitive selves for the entire world to see, all from the comfort of their recliner.  

I mean shit… you can get suspended for things you didn’t even do while you were in the league!  The league has become a lot savvier to happenings off the field, putting out fires quickly and dousing gasoline on ones that turn into self-promoting wildfires.  But one thing’s for sure: it’s getting pretty damn hard to be an idiot these days.  

ON FIELD ISSUES

Gosh well shucks, I reckon the secret’s out:  having your brain smashed against your skull 17 weeks a year turns out to have been not so good for your long-term health, although some NFL doctors are still posturing that there’s no cut and dry correlation just yet.  It worked for the tobacco industry and it’s worked for the NFL – pretend the problem doesn’t exist for as long as you can get away with playing dumb. 

Unfortunately for the NFL, time’s up – former players are firing out lawsuits in waves and, well, people are dying in the meantime.  Helmet to helmet hits now come with some hefty added cost, and quarterbacks are becoming virtually untouchable.  Even stomping on people for no reason is punishable (does Suh actually know instant replay was implemented or is he just that merciless?).  Player safety is at the forefront of the league’s priorities, as it should be.  They’re even working on shortening the season so that these worn down guys aren’t so susceptible to catastrophic injury so late into a grueling NFL season.  Oh what’s that?  They’re trying to lengthen it?  Hmm that’s weird.

And yet… only a few out of the hundreds of NFL suspensions  don't really fall into any of these categories.  Coming full circle now, there’s something strikingly similar between the first suspension in the league’s history and the latest: players trying to play God.  I’ve heard both sides of Deflategate: Brady knowingly orchestrated said deflation, but they lit the Colts up in the second half with regulation balls so who really cares anyway right?!

In my opinion, Brady deserves every single last second of that suspension and then some – pump HGH into your arms until they pop, beat up your friends and family at your own risk, smoke marijuana until the cows come home, but do NOT tell me that a player who thinks he’s above the game and manipulates the components of that game for his own self serving preferences does not deserve to be punished.  Bullshit.  There’s a reason pitchers can’t use tar and why batters can’t use corked bats.  There’s a reason stock cars have rules around car weight and equipment, and why boxing gloves can’t be heavier than specified.   There’s a reason goalie pads can’t be 5 feet wide and why you can’t put Flubber on a basketball (I’m assuming there’s a rule for that).

Drop the appeal, suck it up and take the damn suspension, Tom.  You’re not above the game, and that you thought you might have been before an AFC championship game is absolutely terrifying.  It’s an embarrassment to your character and a disservice to your fans to think anything otherwise.  

Under Pressure: How the Hell Does Running Water Work?

Matt Milligan

Ever taken a moment to consider what the hell goes into being able to turn a handle on a sink pretty much anywhere you’ve ever lived and have clear, clean(ish?) running water?  Me neither.

That’s because it’s a perk I’ve come to associate as a given – it’s not like I was born into a world where running water was this new, cutting edge technology like it was the Internet or the Chipotle burrito.  So let’s just take a second to appreciate this little facet of our daily lives that may be considered the cornerstone of modern civilization.  

THE SOURCE

Where you get your water depends largely upon where you live.  If you live in a city, 99% of the time your water is getting supplied by a water treatment facility.  If you live out in the country, you’re more likely to live on a well, i.e. from a natural, underground source already on or near your property.  Two completely different living situations, two completely different mechanisms:

THE WELL

Since a well is underground, there needs to be a mechanism to get that water out and up into your home.  To do that, an electric pump is used to get the ‘ground’ water out of the well, and up into a pressure tank in your home.  The water that most wells pump comes out of your pipes ‘as is’ – it was originally precipitation that seeped into the ground and was filtered through rocks.  Additional filtration can be used to remove excess minerals and make the water less ‘hard,' but comes up 100% drinkable which, in the day and age of reverse osmosis and Montezuma's revenge, is pretty freaking amazing.  

The pressure tank that the pump fills is airtight, and as water gets pumped in it creates a pressure against the air within the tank... think the reverse of a Super Soaker: water is already in the tank, you pump the AIR in instead of the water, press the trigger and your result is your crying sibling or destroyed anthill. 

As that water supply is used, the pump will kick-in to pump more into the tank to keep the pressure consistent.   One minor flaw: this system relies exclusively on electricity.  When the power goes out, you’ll get as much water as was pumped into your tank and has been pressurized.  After that initial supply runs out, you’re on your own.

THE TOWER

In most cases, ‘public’ water starts out at a water treatment facility that’s been collected from excess runoff in the form of open reservoirs – the water you use on a day-to-day basis probably traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles (maybe drop a quiet 'thanks!' next time you turn on the faucet?).  These reservoirs collect millions upon millions of gallons of water throughout the year and are replenished from other bodies of water and rainwater.  Since they’re so out in the open (see pic below), its contents are funneled into the treatment facility to be filtered for sediment and treated with other chemicals like fluoride and chlorine.  In fact, they’re sometimes too wide open – in 2014 a reservoir in Portland, Oregon flushed over 38 million gallons of water because some idiot thought it would be cool to piss into it (this happens more often than you think, and the punishment is a lot less severe than you’d probably anticipate). 

From the treatment plants, a water pump (one of a various assortment) is used to get the cleaned H20 moving toward you, the customer.  The water gets pumped out to the city and in most cases up into a water tower.  These towers are designed to handle upwards of a day’s worth of water for their designated communities and have a mechanism that refills much like a toilet does – when it reaches a certain level, it opens up to the pump to refill. 

From there, as it turns out, there’s a reason all these massive water towers are up on stilts: what goes up must come down.  For each foot off the ground the water is raised, a percentage of pounds per square inch (PSI) is applied to it.  Considering the sheer amount of water and how high up off the ground it is, the pressure from gravity is immense - enough to push itself out into our homes and out of our sinks.  I mean... that is a lot of damn pressure, right?!  When you turn that handle, you’re activating pressure generated miles and miles away from your city’s pump and water tower just because you were thirsty. 

If your town’s pump fails or you have a massive power outage, that tower contains enough pressure to keep that water flowing into your home.  As long as there’s a pump to get that water up to the tower, you’ll be supplied (hence why the treatment plant pumps normally have backup power in the event of an emergency). 

UP ON THE ROOF...

A small caveat: living in a large apartment building… that pressure can only fight against gravity for so long on its own.  If you live in a tall apartment building, odds are that you have your own water tower on top of your building, as well your own water pump below the building.  The water comes in from the pipes via the method mentioned above, and your building’s pump then forces that water to your roof and into your tower.  Though they’re generally not as big as the towers you see out there in the open, they’re so high up that the pressure is enough to push its way back down into the building all on its own. 

It’s the ultimate ‘if it ain’t broke’ framework - in a world of constantly evolving technological advances, it’s kind of astounding that the mechanisms behind the scenes of the running water are literally thousands of years old (elevated water towers were used as early as 3000 BC).

Where There's Smoke...

Matt Milligan

Well, the NFL has done it again – on the eve of the 80th draft, people’s attention is glued to their teams blogs in hopes of landing a prized prospect (or in some cases in hopes of avoiding yet another complete dud (good luck Jacksonville!)).  EDIT (5/13): Jacksonville's 1st round pick (3rd) tore his ACL last week during his first NFL practice... wow. 

This year’s draft seems to be loaded with explosive play-makers on both sides of the ball; the wide receiver pool is super deep and the talent level of some of these defensive lineman is astounding.  That said, not all these picks are locks.  Every year we see teams reach, and every year we see those picks fall flat on their face at the professional level.  The Seahawks and Patriots have been on fire the last few years, while the Raiders and Jaguars continue to come up with answers that wind up turning back into questions.   

As GM of Millyville, here are a few players I'd generally be avoiding in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL draft (all while avoiding pun opportunities of pairing my blog title to players with pre-draft marijuana charges).  Hold onto your butts... 

Jameis Winston

For reason’s still unknown (fate?), on September 3rd of 2013 I was sitting back mindlessly watching the Seminoles take on Pitt.  A young Jameis was taking the field for the first time having won the job in camp and…  I gotta say: I was instantly a fan – he lit Pitt the f*** up for 4 TDs and 356 yds passing (topped off with a rushing TD).  I texted a friend before halftime: “are you seeing this?”  The reply: “yes.  Unreal.”

That’s been the story of his college career – completely unreal.  A National Championship, Heisman trophy, and 27 straight wins until getting taken down by Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the first year of the NCAA playoff format - it’s hard to imagine ever seeing something of that magnitude for quite some time. 

And yet with some $36 dollars’ worth of crab legs, rape allegations, and a suspension for screaming a phrase a potential 1st rd. draft pick should probably keep to himself,  I feel at times I’m on an island when I think to myself: “Who in their right mind would invest in this guy with their number 1 overall pick?”  Can you think of anyone in recent years drafted #1 overall with more character flaws going in?

Character aside, prove to me this mobile quarterback formula can work!  Fine you point me to Russell Wilson – he’s a game manager, he came at the cost of a 3rd round pick, and Seattle’s defense is otherworldly (his last NFL pass was also an interception in some game in February… can’t remember which).  I love the guy, but Jameis he is not.

Point: he’s not Andrew Luck, he won’t save your team, and you’ll lose your job over it eventually.  Trade your pick and get more value for this year and future years, and let someone else make the mistake.  He will not pan out – PERIOD.

Suggested Picks:

NONE - trade the damn pick to some other idiot!!!  Or take Mariota and suffer less.

Melvin Gordon & Todd Gurley

I get the hype – on paper these guys are no brainers.  On tape, they're even more convincing... anytime you get compared to Jamaal Charles out of college, you're probably pretty damn good.  

Since 2010, only 1 running back has been taken in the first 25 picks of the draft.  Count those: 124 of the last 125 picks in the top 25, teams have elected to pass on the position with some of the highest turnover in the league.  And for good reason!  That one pick was Trent Richardson, and we all know how that turns out.

Todd Gurley has strung together some great numbers when healthy, but is the risk worth the reward with already one ACL tear under his belt?

Last year, Gordon’s Wisconsin predecessor Montee Ball, who ran behind a similarly dominant offensive line, got handed the keys to the kingdom on an electric Denver offense where all he had to do was close his eyes and hold onto the ball.  We won’t get into the specifics, but anyone familiar with the situation can tell you: he was awful, and wound up being the 3rd (possibly 4th) best back on that Denver team in the end. 

I am not saying I am down on Gordon or even Gurley (Gurley worries me much more) – to go against the historical nature of the pick, I believe they'll both probably have a very successful careers.  But the fact of the matter remains: 14 of the top 15 rushers last year were drafted outside the 1st round.  The exception: Marshawn Lynch, an absolute nutjob who took 5+ seasons to reach an elite level and who isn’t with his drafting team.  Murray, Bell, McCoy, Foster, Lacy, Hill, Forte, Charles… the absolute best talent at toting the rock in the NFL can be had outside of the 1st round of the draft.  Wasting your first pick on the running back position is not only foolish but extremely uncalculated – I don’t care if you haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher in 10 years.  Find your guy in the next couple rounds, trade for him, or fire your GM.  It’s that simple.  If your team's only positional need was RB, you would have won a Super Bowl by now.

Suggested Picks: 

You're telling me you wouldn't take TJ Yeldon to head up your RB corps in a particularly RB heavy year and address another weak position in the 1st?  You're insane!  Jeremy Langford, Ameer Abdullah, Duke Johnson, and even Ajayi from Boise State may all wind up being just as sound investments.  Tevin Coleman looks to be the guy with the considerable question marks, but at the price the reward could far outweigh the risk.  

Trae Waynes

The more I read, the less I understand about the CB position this year:

The toughest: Kevin Johnson

The most well rounded: Jalen Collins

The most physical: Byron Jones

The most talented: Marcus Peters

Biggest coin flip: Ronald Darby

The smallest: Senquez Golson

That leaves us with Waynes, the only consensus top 15 pick @ cornerback that will be drafted… the fastest (top 3 fastest 40 time at the combine)?  The most consistent (35 tackles/3 INTs 2013, 34 tackles/3 INTs 2014)?  The most NFL ready cover corner?

Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: he ain’t that big.  Coming into the combine at 183 lbs @ 6 foot nothing and with an anticipated draft slotting to the Minnesota Vikings, it’s hard to imagine him gritting his teeth and accelerating towards an Eddie Lacy two Sundays a year.  If the projection holds true and Waynes is relied upon to stop runs on the edge all while keeping an eye on Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, and Alshon Jeffery, I think we’ll know fairly early on how effective he’ll ultimately be. 

I don’t have the answers at the CB position; the class is incredibly thin and even less predictable.  But with the talent/instinct of Marcus Peters, or the competitiveness/instinct of Kevin Johnson on the board potentially 10+ picks later, I’m finding it harder and harder to justify not trading back in the draft to acquire an equally serviceable CB while gaining value elsewhere (potentially another 1st rd. pick next year?). 

The talent is there, no question.  My concern – will that talent hold up at the next level?  Possibly, but not justifiably where he will be drafted.    

Suggested Picks: any of the guys above minus Jones.

The Rookie Mistake

Matt Milligan

Right around this time last year, some of the hottest story lines leading up to MLB opening day revolved around the hot prospects lighting up spring training.  First pitch came and went, and fans were left to wonder which team would pull the trigger and bring up their sparkling young gun first.  George Springer, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Tavares, and Andrew Heaney all eventually got the call, albeit with varying degrees of success (all but Springer were eventually sent back down). 

This year is no different: prospects putting up sometimes video game numbers trying to force the hands that feed them into a spot on the 40 man roster.  The Dodgers Joc Pederson continues to impress, the Met’s Noah Syndergaard continues to put up K’s, and the Cub’s Kris Bryant continues to just, well, destroy - Bryant recently launched his Grapefruit League leading 9th home run.

 And yet come opening day, we won’t see any of this sensational talent on the field.  Why?

The Rule

Once a player is drafted by an MLB franchise, they likely go two ways: play for a minor league affiliate of their major league team, or hit the college route.   The moment that player hits the field in the majors on their parent squad, the clock starts ticking: that team owns the rights to that player for 6 years.  Unfortunately for said players, there’s some pretty damning fine print; a full season of “time served” isn’t as simple as counting down the days to 6 years.

Rather, a full season of time served comes on the 172nd day on a major league roster out of a possible 183.  By delaying a prospects call-up, a team can avoid an entire year of time served by simply leaving that player short of 172 by only a day or two.  An example:

Player X hits the field for the first time on opening day of the major league year.  He accrues the full minimum 172 days on the roster for that year, and will remain under the team’s control for an additional 5 years at the end of the season.

Player Y isn’t so fortunate.  He lights up spring training, but gets left in the minors for the first few weeks of the season.  He’s called up in May, and the team reaps all the benefits of that player’s production without having committed a full year.  When Player Y’s season is up, even having played the majority of their season in the majors, their team still maintains the rights to them for an additional 6 seasons by leaving him short of a full season by only a few days.  When this player is finally eligible for free agency, he will (in theory) have served his 6 full seasons, plus an additional season minus a few weeks – close to 7 years!

Teams spin it almost entirely in one direction: player development.  But at the end of the day, it comes down to one factor: money.  You can’t exactly fault them either way – why wouldn’t a franchise want to keep their highly touted prospect around for an additional year if only by holding them back for a couple weeks. 

MLBPA and MLB.PNG

The problem starts with that same hand that feeds them: the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated by the Players Association and the League.  The rules agreed upon are specifically designed with major league players in mind, which is precisely the problem: neither the league nor the association care about the rights of a minor league prospect.  The CBA is essentially a set of terms agreed upon with zero people at the negotiating table representing players not in the league.

This is a pretty major flaw, and not without its own spotlight.  Keith Law of ESPN recently suggested a slightly revised version of the rule that would benefit both player and team, though it’s hard to imagine teams wouldn’t find another loophole regardless.  Though players can be compensated fairly well during that 6 year span, the real payday comes in free agency – teams must do everything in their power to delay that inevitable transaction - teams must do everything in their power to delay that inevitable transaction since they only have a three years to do it.  Per Wikipedia's page on MLB transactions

“A common misconception, based on the phrase, “out of options,” is that a player may only be moved between the major and minor leagues a restricted number of times. On the contrary, a player has a finite number of option years in which he may be moved between the major and minor leagues an unlimited number of times.”

The bottom line: players have a very specific window of time in their lives to be productive and make money - age, health, and longevity make up the key variables in what amounts to a player’s livelihood.  By holding back a player just those few days, teams are essentially robbing them a year of their career and, ipso facto, their future value.  Considering that an MLB player can on average expect no more than a 5.6 year career according to a study in 2007, every day matters. 

22 year old pitching phenom Jose Fernandez post-Tommy John surgery.

22 year old pitching phenom Jose Fernandez post-Tommy John surgery.

In my book, everyone loses.  Major league teams open up the season without their best possible squad on the field; paying fans come only to see a slightly watered down product.  And to-be MLB prospects, without any representation at the bargaining table, are handcuffed into sacrificing a year of their career because of a silly rule.  In this ‘Tommy John’ era of baseball where a pitcher is one awkward throw away from a potentially career derailing injury (31 MLB cases alone last year, receiving a surgery with an 80% success rate), or a batter one fastball to the head from never making it back, it’s absolutely time to start thinking about what time served should mean, and not how it’s defined in an agreement motivated solely by money.   

Absolute Madness - 2015 Tourney Predictions

Matt Milligan

The NCAA tournament is a pretty unique experience.  For no other sporting event do people scramble to learn so much with only 4 days until go-time.  It’s one of the most watched sporting events of the year, and the vast majority of its viewership are the casual fans that pay average (at best) attention during the regular season.  Can you imagine a world in which the NFL played out an entire season while no one really gave a shit, and then the playoffs came around and people started going nuts? 

The tournament is also one of if not the most gambled on sporting events on the planet, with over $9 billion dollars already wagered on brackets in the United States this March.  That is an insane number, considering how that same vast majority of people following their brackets throughout the tournament have virtually no idea what the hell they’re doing (including myself).

That said, here’s some of teams I’ll be riding this year to bracket stardom, and a few thoughts on some others:

Wisconsin

Not exactly going out on a limb here...  The #1 seed in the West seems to have a favorable route to the final four, depending on how hot UNC actually is and whether or not Arizona is for real this year.  I sincerely believe Wisconsin will make it to the Final Four unscathed – their team is way too talented and experienced for most of the teams in their region.  For Wisconsin, their true test would potentially come in the Final Four, where the heavy tourney favorite Kentucky awaits. 

It’s not quite a safe assumption that both these teams make it that far.  After all, two #1 seeds haven’t made the Final Four together since 2009.  Last year, the Badgers and the undervalued Wildcats both got there, with Kentucky edging by one point before going onto lose to UConn in the final.  They won’t be so lucky this year – Frank Kaminksy and Nigel Hayes will want this much more than the young, mostly untested Kentucky team, and will go on to win the tournament. 

LSU

LSU comes into the tourney having lost 6 of their last 12 since January 31st – not a great indicator coming into the tourney.  Even more concerning is the fact that 5 of those losses come to teams with a combined 28-44 SEC conference record, including Auburn who got 110 points dropped on their heads by Kentucky less than a month ago. 

But in the tourney, logic generally gets you nowhere – otherwise every year would be a Final Four with only 1 seeds, something that’s happened only once… ever.  LSU’s got two guys over 6’8 that average over 16 points a game and almost 10 rebounds a game, respectively.  41st in the nation in scoring, 12th in rebounding, and 16th in assists – I think it’s safe to say this team has been severely underachieving given their overall record.  And yet, on February 10th, they blew a lead with 1 minute 30 seconds to go against Kentucky.

With that kind of power down low in the tournament, I think they’ve got a chance to take out NC State, bully the annually overrated Villanova, compete with an undermanned Louisville, and face either a slumping UVA team or a solid Oklahoma team.  The health of Jordan Mickey is obviously critical – his bruised shoulder has clearly affected him.  If that extra week was enough to get him close to 100%, watch out – LSU could have a Final Four run up their sleeves shortly.  We’ll see which team shows up to play NC State.  And we’ll see how fast I delete this post after they lose. 

Villanova

I’m just not buying it this year from the Wildcats, which says a lot considering Joe Lunardi has them pegged as the best Villanova squad since their 1985 championship run, if not better.  Their wins against top 25 opponents come against Georgetown, Providence, Butler, and St. Johns (all tournament teams).  It’s hard to ignore a team with only 2 losses on their record, but the defeat against the 16-15 Seton Hall says it all – they can be beaten by almost anyone in the tourney.  I’m looking for Villanova to struggle with either NC State or LSU if not lose, or have the wheels come off a little further in. 

Virginia

As good as this team looked for the majority of the year, making it all the way up to the #2 team in the country with a close loss to Duke at home, they’ve looked a little more beatable at the finish line.  Once regarded as one of the few teams that could take down Kentucky, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers advancing without a completely healthy Justin Anderson.  After averaging over 12 points a game through the season, Anderson is 0-6 from the floor in his first two games back since coming back from a broken finger and appendectomy.  An extremely small sample size: yes.  A good sign of things to come: not exactly.

Malcom Brogdon is certainly a force, and the occasional heroics from London Perrantes and Anthony Gill will only help.  But without Anderson’s energy to spark them, the Cavaliers have simply not looked the same.  The potential matchup with Michigan State in the 2nd round, who knocked them out of last year’s tourney, will be very telling in the kind of run they’ll be able to make.  Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, I think we're looking at a repeat performance.  

Iowa State

Georges Niang has put together another solid year for the Cyclones, averaging about a point less per game @ 15.5, but raising his FG and 3PT percentage.  Fresh off of wins against #15 ranked Oklahoma and #9 ranked Kansas, Iowa State is looking to do a little more damage this year after being ousted prematurely last year by the eventual champs of UConn. 

I say prematurely with a grain of salt – Shabazz Napier at times seemed destined to win that tournament.  Realistically, when Niang broke his foot in the opening round last year, they never had a chance.  The loss to 1-6 Big 12 play Texas Tech is mildly concerning to say the least… that is, until you consider they blew them out of the damn water less than 2 weeks later 75-38. 

This year should be different – I’m looking for this Iowa State team to shake up the southern region with wins in the round of 32, as well as a squeaker again Gonzaga.  Duke may be a different story.  The Cyclones certainly contain enough firepower with 14th in the nation in scoring and 18th in FG%.   If Duke looks as flat at any point during this tournament as they did against Notre Dame, Iowa State could make a considerable run. 

EDIT: Iowa state has been upset Rd. 1.  Great!

Gonzaga

Much like Villanova, Gonzaga comes into the tournament a 2 loss, highly untested team.  You can only fault them so much for the schedule they were given, through which they beat most of their opponents fairly handedly.  However, they’ve played no team since Arizona in December ranked in the top 25, and meet up with Iowa State and possibly Duke in their region.  I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to hang with the caliber talent in some of the other more powerful conferences, and don’t think they’ll advance as far as their seed represents them.  

The Cuban Pipeline

Matt Milligan

So your team is gearing up for the rookie draft.  Basketball, Football, Hockey… you sort of know what you’re getting into for the most part.   You probably watched the talent in college, you watch the draft, and you know which teams they wind up with.  GM’s making rookie investments: sometimes they pay monster dividends, and sometimes they make you look like the disgrace your fanbase thinks you are 90% of the time. 

Learned time after time, the guarantee of a starting job in the pros doesn’t necessarily equate to production.  Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.  Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk.  Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.  Lebron James and Darko Milicic.  Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.  Players that were separated by a single pick in their respective drafts have made such monumental differences for their franchise that it seems the line between success and failure is sometimes so blurred that it could come down to a coin-flip.

But baseball… baseball’s player pool is a constantly evolving target, with players being brought up and sent back down to the minors every week.  Top 10 prospects with All Star talent sometimes flop and never make it to a single MLB at-bat.  Undrafted prospects sometimes rise through the ranks and make for feel good stories.  But at the end of the day, without major league at-bats, it’s generally impossible to pinpoint the success of a player based solely on stats at a lower level.  They’re general indicators, not necessary guarantees. 

But something that's been becoming more and more evident over the last few years is a particular pool of players that seems to defy that way of thinking.  The players that play for more than a contract; they play for a chance of a new life.  Cuban defectors inserting themselves in the MLB player pool are a completely different breed altogether.

The current list of Cuban defectors making their way to the majors dates back to 1963, and is sprinkled with varying success over the decades.  From that first prospect all the way to 1999, 26 prospects had made their way into the MLB system, with 22 eventually making MLB debuts. 

The most recent sensation to hit the scene was a 26 year old Jose Abreu.  Leading up to the 2014 spring training, there was a ton of hype around him – I saw a couple at-bats and was instantly a fan.  There was no lack of skepticism surrounding him – after all, the only stats for predicting what type of season he’d have in his first major league year were solely from Cuban national teams.  As high as I was on the guy, I couldn’t have seen it coming: he smashed 36 home runs and a whopping 107 RBI at a .317 clip, was named an MLB All-Star and finished with unanimous AL Rookie of the Year honors. 

Prior to that, we were introduced to an already household name in Yasiel Puig: a 22 year old right fielder who came into the league an absolute force, making his name as a legitimate threat in the heart of a Dodger order that needed a spark more than ever.  It’s not every day you come across the talent the likes of Puig – his strike out rate is on the high side, but the guy is still young with a ton of raw power.  But that’s what makes baseball’s player pool so unique  – in no other sport can teams simply bid on the services of exceptional new talent.

In the last 7 seasons, 19 players have defected from Cuba that have made major league debuts.   Of those 19, 6 have moved on to become MLB All-Stars.  Aroldis Chapman, Alexei Ramirez, Yoenis Cespedes, and the lights out Jose Fernandez – these are players that made their mark almost immediately.  Add in the players who have made midseason debuts in 2014 who have All-Star stamped on their forehead (Rusney Castillo, Jorge Soler, Odrisamer Despaigne) and we’re now flirting with one crazy ratio: almost half of the players defecting moving on to become All Stars, all whose services became available to the highest bidder. 

When my team failed to acquire the services of the most recent phenom to make the jump, I must admit I was a little disappointed.  Yoan Moncada will only be 20 in May, batted .277 in the Cuban national league with only four home runs in 2 years, and yet was just signed to the Red Sox with many suitors not far behind in the bidding.  How much?  The 19 year old Moncada will receive a $31.5 million dollar signing bonus.  To put that into perspective, Mike Trout, arguably the best player in all of baseball potentially of the last decade, made just under $1 million dollars for his first two years combined (not including his $10,000 bonus for his runaway Rookie of the Year award).

The fact of the matter: it’s hard to argue against giving these players that kind of dough, even to a 19 year old kid with still much to prove.  In the meantime, we’ll continue to see this trend of forking over major cash until the gambles stop paying off.  That, or until we bleed Cuba dry of all of its talent.  Either way, one thing has become undoubtedly clear: the reward is almost certainly outweighing the risk.

How to Trade Your Dragic

Matt Milligan

In all of professional sports, there are only a few things that really snag my full, undivided attention more than the NBA trade deadline.  The clock ticks down, the tumbleweeds roll along – silence.  Some radar blips go off here and there, but nothing to really move the seismograph.  Then suddenly, franchises that have been bluffing for months start to sweat, tanking teams that have been looking for an opportunity to get even worse start making calls, and a series of sometimes extremely questionable decisions begin to make their way onto the internet for self-proclaimed experts to evaluate.

This year was no different, aside from when all hell broke loose in the final few minutes and 20+ players changed hands in the blink of an eye.  However, none were as happy to have been moved as Goran Dragic, the odd man out in the three man system in Phoenix after they acquired Isiah Thomas this off season.  With Dragic to Miami, Phoenix could now roll with Thomas and Eric Bledose without having to force themselves to play so small (for reasons unknown, Phoenix then traded away Thomas about 15 minutes later, which seems to have defeated the purpose of trading Dragic).

The aftermath of the trade deadline seemed to have a few common themes among writers and talking heads:

  • Oklahoma City acquired a solid piece in Enes Kanter while shedding Kendrick Perkins and simultaneously avoiding Brook Lopez’s crumbling feet (agreed);
  • What the hell is Phil Jackson doing with the Knicks (in Phil I trust)?
  • Javale McGee is now so bad that he required a first round draft pick traded with him just to get him off the Nuggets (kind of amazing, actually);
  • Pat Riley is a god amongst men, stealing Dragic for pennies on the dollar with the Knicks and Lakers in hot pursuit, and making off like a thief in the night (TBD);

I really like Dragic. The guy’s got killer vision, a natural propensity to push the ball, and has shot over 50% from the floor the last two seasons (yea that’s correct – over 50% as a guard).  I, too, was looking forward to a potential Eastern Conference playoff matchup of Lebron and his new amigos coming back to Miami, at least until Chris Bosh (get well soon!) was ruled out for the remainder of the year.  But there are certainly many aspects of this trade that make Miami considerably better. 

But let’s get one thing straight – this deal was nothing special.  Pat Riley, as much as I respect (and simultaneously fear) the guy… how much GM magic is really required when your 3 championships of the last decade are made up of 3 gigantic free agent signings.  The same way Doc Rivers was considered a great coach for “coaching” 2 hall of fame free agents in Garnett and Ray Allen to a championship – in retrospect, shouldn’t they have won one or two more?!?  But I digress, but not without reminding Spoelstra to enjoy it while it lasts (lasted?).

This is the part where I make my bold prediction and pray I can come back to it in 3 years and say I wasn't crazy: this trade is going to bite Miami in the ass.

Question #1:

Player, system, and fit: will this move be as much as a simple change of scenery, or is there more lurking behind the scenes?  I fall into, if I’m not the full on president of, the latter camp.  Dragic isn’t simply a plug and play kind of guard; his talents are utilized best in a system that gets the ball up the floor quickly and into the hands of shooters.  Last season, Phoenix and Dragic made a living doing just that - his kick outs were pin point, coupled by his ability to cut into the lane and consistently draw away defenders from the baseline (and subsequently making Miles Plumlee a lot better than he’ll ever be for the rest of his career).  As such, Phoenix was the #1 team in fast break points last year, the first time even cracking the top-10 since 2009 when a very similar style (hall of fame) player was wreaking havoc on NBA defenses on a nightly basis. 

Miami last year in the fast break?  17th.  I guess that’s not atrocious, and you’d almost expect it to be a little higher with Lebron bullying his way down the court.  Well Lebron is gone now, and Miami sits second to last in fast break points this season.  Will Dragic come into Miami and reestablish a threat coming up the floor?  Maybe… but what if in all actuality, Dragic has been overvalued because of the system he thrived in, not necessarily because of the player he actually is?

Question #2:

Like every trade, there’s a general risk/reward.  Dragic turns 29 in May, notable not necessarily because of the age, but because of how long it’s taken him to get on people’s radars.  He’s been in the league since 2008, and has strung together two consecutive seasons of above-average play while struggling some this year by those standards (his current assist to turnover ratio currently ranks in the 90’s – not even close to where he should be at that position).   

I have little doubt that the combination of Wade, Deng, Bosh, Dragic, and the absolutely out-of-nowhere Hassan Whiteside could really be a force.  But if this season was any sort of fortuitous sign, this fairytale will strike midnight much sooner than people might suspect.  Wade just turned 33 and just can’t seem to stay on the court for any more than a week.  Chris Bosh turns 31 in March - he’s still got plenty left in the tank, but his freshly minted 5 year, $122 million dollar contract will probably start to hurt sooner rather than later.  

That said, the Heat have some major decisions coming up.  As great as it is that Whiteside has come on, it’s easy to forget this dude was waived by the Grizzlies just 4 months ago.  If he turns out to be the real deal (I still have my doubts – centers putting up these numbers just don’t appear out of the blue), the Heat are going to have to pony up AGAIN in what is looking to be a hot summer for free agency in 2016. A lot of question marks loom around this team, and none bigger than Dragic himself.  Having given up 2 first round draft picks to acquire his services, you would have thought he’d have been locked into a discounted 2 year deal.  Nope – Dragic is free to walk this summer. 

One thing I’m willing to wager on, regardless of whether Miami locks up Dragic this summer: the Heat are in the twilight phases of what was, not what is.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much longer can Dwayne Wade realistically handle 30+ minutes a game?
  • Can Bosh get back to 100% after this setback?  If he can, is his 100% even 70% of what he was a few years ago?
  • Will Whiteside turn back into a pumpkin, or force Miami’s hand next summer?
  • Will Dragic shake off the ghost of Isiah Thomas and approach last season’s numbers?  Better yet, will he even stay with Miami this summer?

And finally…

Given those variables, is it that far-fetched to believe these 1st round picks given up for Dragic, a week ago believed to be throw away picks at the end of the round, could actually turn out to be much more than Riley and the Heat would have been willing to give up? 

My answer: absolutely not, and Phoenix will be laughing its way all the way up to the podium with its top 15 pick from Miami in 2017.

 

  

Say It Ain't Tso...

Matt Milligan

For most of my life, I’ve hated Chinese food. Despised it, actually. I remember as a kid when my parents would bring it home, I’d go up to my room and stuff t-shirts underneath my door to keep out the smell. I remember driving by my parents’ favorite Chinese restaurant every single day on the school bus and looking at it with hatred and disgust. And when that restaurant eventually burned to the damn ground, I remember very vividly not feeling very bad about it.

I’ve come a pretty long way since then. At the forefront of my love for most things food, Chinese cuisine now holds a special place in my little saturated fat-riddled heart. Since early high school, it’s been my birthday dinner staple, my Sunday compadre, my hangover sidekick, and responsible for one of the saddest days of my adult life (yes, I wrote a ‘letter to the editor’ to broadcast my grief). But one question has always loomed in the back of my mind that I’ve always wanted to scratch but couldn’t quite reach…

Was General Tso an actual person and if so, why is his chicken so damn delicious?

I used some really reliable resources like Wikipedia and Yahoo! forums full of bored lunatics to get this research train rolling. E.g., username ‘SwaggerTrain’ from Saint Paul, MN gets us off to a decent start: “Who cares, he was a chicken LOL” – quite honestly the best answer I’ve found so far. Dig a little deeper: General Zuo Zongtang is generally known as General Tso throughout Asia.  According to his wiki, Zuo died at the age of 72 in 1885, which unfortunately makes it highly unlikely he could have possibly known how famous his name would become on a completely different continent 100 years later. However, the guy was pretty impressive – he established China’s first naval academy, and suppressed two major rebellions under his watch.  Way to go, GT!

The actual dish itself appeared for the first time in New York in the 1970’s, invented by a chef from Taiwan. Naturally, he opened a restaurant with it as one of his flagship dishes, and the place closed within a year. Fun sidenote: no one in China knows what the hell General Tso’s chicken is.    

How do you pronounce General Tso?

Quite frankly, I wish I never looked this up. Almost every opinion on the internet begins with “I’ve always pronounced it this way, but *insert some pointless aside about being from Louisiana or what they heard a waitress mumble once*.”  There’s a Youtube pronunciation as ‘so’ or ‘sew’ – the video also has far more ‘thumbs down’ than ‘thumbs up’ which is mildly concerning. 

I called 4 local restaurants to simply ask what the right way to say it was.  The results were as follows:

Sample A: ‘sow’

Sample B: ‘so’

Sample C: “is this for pickup?” (this was a generally unsuccessful survey attempt)

Sample D: ‘so’

Either way, I’ve probably been pronouncing it wrong my whole life and will continue to do so. jen-a-rull: rest easy knowing we can at least still pronounce that.  

Real Talk: General Tso vs. Sesame

Am I really the only one with the courage to stand up and suggest these dishes are the exact same thing with the exception of sesame seeds? I’ve looked up multiple recipes for each and the only difference I can find are the sesame seeds and the occasional hot peppers. Maybe, deep down, that’s all there is to know: the General is just a tricked out version of a classic for people who either like spicier foods or don’t like sesame seeds. Either way, I love them both the same.

Here’s to General Tso: a Chinese leader remembered in his home nation for his courage, ingenuity, strength, and wisdom, remembered by the rest of civilization as the crazy popular spicy fried chicken dish that no one can pronounce. Not a bad way to put your stamp on humanity either way.    

How to Say 'Goodbye'

Matt Milligan

I originally started out this piece of writing by talking about franchise players in professional sports, and what having a ‘face of the franchise’ means to an organization, a city, the fans, etc. Through two or three different iterations of the opening, I realized that’s not what I was really trying to write about at all.

During the 2014 MLB season, one of the first players I can personally remember play professional baseball hung his cleats up for good. It was a sad process having to come to grips with the realization, but almost equal parts joy and relief that ‘your guy’ got to walk away from the game (mostly) healthy and without too many career blemishes from sticking around too long. In a lot of ways, he transcended what it means to be the face of the franchise. Having been a fan my entire life, I can almost without a doubt say that when I think about the New York Yankees, my mind will always come back to Derek Jeter. 

So what hasn’t been said about the guy already? His 'victory lap' this last season was, at times, a bit over the top. The Nike ads, Sports Illustrated spreads, typical ESPN drowning you in it…  it’s all been said, I get it. But something in me will always feel like I didn’t get in on the farewell, to really just say goodbye in my own nonsensical way. As such, this is my opportunity to put into eternal scripture my parting thoughts on the guy that gave me a wholehearted appreciation for a game I might not otherwise give two shits about.    

Young Jeter.JPG

Jeter was drafted at the 6 slot in the 1992 MLB draft (I went back and looked at the 5 people drafted in front of him so I could write how they all washed up within 3 years and were never heard from again -nope.   Two all-stars in there, and who the hell knew: Johnny Damon was drafted in the same year?!). About being drafted by the Yankees: “It’s all I ever wanted, so I couldn’t picture anything else. It was perfect how it worked out.” 

I’m not sure anyone, especially George Steinbrenner, could have put it any better: a Michigan native but lifelong Yankee fan goes on to haul in 14 All-Star selections and spend his entire 20 season career on the same damn squad, just one year short of The Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr. He leaves the league as the last player drafted in the 90’s to have played for only one team. David Ortiz has been on the Red Sox since April 2003 – notable only because Ortiz’s 12 seasons now takes over as THE longest tenure in the majors on one team (though drafted by Minnesota). How’s that for perspective - 20 years on one team - unbelievable, really. 

The picture above is, more or less, one of the first memories forged in my brain of my childhood and the Yankees. At the time I just thought he was kind of a beast - in retrospect… he took the league by storm. In 1996, you hang up a Rookie of the Year honor and top it off with Mariah Carey?! 22 years old – that’s just absolutely absurd. And yet at the same time, that relationship represents everything that Jeter wasn’t over his 20 year career. Think about it - how did he not turn out more like Alex Rodriguez, i.e. self-centered, self-conscious, desperate for attention, always trying to live up to your own legacy? It defies odds to me, and it’s not like he started to date anyone less high-profiled thereafter – Miss. Universe Lara Dutta, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel… are you kidding me?  In a league marred by steroid scandal after scandal, the pure accomplishment of staying in the kind of the spotlight that doesn’t land you on the front page of the papers for all the wrong reasons really says a lot about a guy with so much to talk about off the field. 

Though statistically his defense was suspect at times in the many stages of his career, his patented jump-throw to first will always stand out to me. I’m a realist when it comes to his style of play – I understand that Jeter historically wasn’t anything to write home about at the shortstop position.  But play me a round of “The Flip” from the 2001 ALDS or even the regular season dive into the stands, and all is forgiven in my mind. Give me the moments I’ll never forget, and I’ll grant you enough forgiveness as a fan to not care about analytics enthusiasts trying to drown you in sabermetrics. When it mattered most, Jeter was there, or rather was there just enough not to be remembered for any notable blunders when the game was on the line. 

In the end, I’ll stick with the guy who brought me far more ups than downs, regardless of stats. In 2012, I was at a bar watching the ALCS when Jeter broke his ankle, and I’ll never forget the nauseous feeling that came over me.   The pain on his face when he went down… I legitimately felt that. That was the beginning of the end – he was never truly the same after that. And looking back, that moment of which I will never forget, in a way epitomized his career: the heartache along the way (e.g. the absolute gut punch that was the 2004 ALCS) coupled by occasional post-season heroics and five world championship rings (plus a World Series MVP). That moment of agony, him lying on the ground for what seemed like a decade for him to get helped off the field…  just a couple weeks after becoming the second oldest player in major league history to lead the league in hits at 38 years old. The highs and the lows – if you remember them all but appreciate them all the same, it’s hard to look back with any sort of remorse or regret. 

Yet one of the biggest regrets I’ll walk away with from this final season with the Yankees is not having attended one last game with The Captain on the field. I’ve only seen him a couple times in person, far too long ago to remember the details (aside from the ass I made of myself at 11 years old wondering (very) aloud why Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t playing when we were actually playing the Marlins, not the Mariners). I’ll always have his poster, the #2 jersey, the now virtually worthless trading cards, but what’s more: I’ll always have the memories. And in some sort of extremely roundabout way I think I’ve been able to even answer my own question about what it means to be the franchise player: leave the game with as much passion as you came in with, be remembered for all the right reasons, and have a couple signature moments – shit, maybe even a signature play. That’s what Derek Jeter means to me.