Friday, 31 August 2012

The Chargers cut their roster down to 53

Here is the Chargers roster as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune as of Friday 1800 hr, although it will probably change before next Monday's game against the Raiders.

Philip Rivers
Charlie Whitehurst
Ryan Mathews
Ronnie Brown
Jackie Battle
Curtis Brinkley
Le'Ron McClain

No surprises at QB.  The Chargers decided to go with only one fullback and four running backs.  This means Jacob Hester, a player who A.J. Smith drafted in the third round by trading a 2008 5th round pick and a 2009 2nd rounder to the Patriots, was released.  Mr. Hester was a high-character player who didn't bring enough skill to the team.  He was expected to play mostly on Special Teams this year, but he got squeezed out by the need to carry an extra RB while Ryan Mathews is injured.

Robert Meachem
Malcom Floyd
Vincent Brown
Eddie Royal
Micheal Spurlock
Richard Goodman
Antonio Gates
Randy McMichael
Ladarius Green
Dante Rosario

No surprises here, the first four WR's were locks to make the team, and Micheal Spurlock and Richard Goodman were expected to make the roster as well due to their return/special teams contributions, and to provide depth in Vincent Brown's absence.  These guys will get offensive snaps.  The three veteran TE's are all talented and will contribute, apparrently Coach Turner has cooked up some multiple TE formations.  Ladarius Green did not have a spectacular camp, but he's talented and has potential, and the team was not about to cut him after spending a 4th round choice in this year's draft on him.  

The wide receiver group has big shoes to fill in trying to replace the lost production and intimidation factor of Vincent Jackson.

Jared Gaither
Michael Harris
Tyronne Green
Rex Hadnot
Nick Hardwick
Dave Molk
Louis Vasquez
Jeromey Clary

Ugh.  This unit had been a source of stability and strength for years now on the Chargers.  During the Ladainian Tomlinson years, it was a nasty unit that led his way to record numbers. As the team morphed into a passing team with Philip Rivers as the prominent player, the O-line became a stellar pass blocking unit.  It featured three Pro Bowlers from the centre going left, but now two of these stalwarts had to retire due to injuries.  In their place we have a less-than-comforting mix of returnees, rookies, free agents and other assorted odds and ends.  

This unit will be augmented from players cut from other teams today.  With the unreliable Jared Gaither on the sidelines, the Chargers can't afford to risk their season by exposing Philip Rivers to certain pounding.  The season will turn on the additions made by A.J. Smith and the coaching job of Norv Turner's staff.

Vaughn Martin
Kendall Reyes
Aubrayo Franklin
Cam Thomas
Corey Liuget
Antonio Garay

Again, no surprises here.  The transformation is complete.  Luis Castillo was released earlier this summer, and Jacques Césaire walked the plank today.  While very popular with teammates and fans, it was time to move on for him, and time to hand the keys to Vaughn Martin, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget at Defensive End.  Antonio Garay may chip in at end too, and will play Nose Tackle, along with veteran free agent Aubrayo Franklin and 2010 5th round pick Cam Thomas, who must start to deliver on his immense potential.

Jarret Johnson
Shaun Phillips
Melvin Ingram
Antwan Barnes
Larry English
Takeo Spikes
Jonas Mouton
Donald Butler
Demorrio Williams
Andrew Gachkar

No surprises here either.  Andrew Gachkar won his battle with Darryl Gamble and Bront Bird for the final LB/Special Teams spot, although both those gentlemen may stick on the practice squad.  With a healthy Larry English, impressive rookie Melvin Ingram, free agent acquisitions Jarret Johnson and Demorrio Williams, pass rush specialist Antwan Barnes returning from last season, trusty veterans Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes, and developing youngsters Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton, this is the most improved unit on the team, and should be a source of strength.

Quentin Jammer
Marcus Gilchrist
Antoine Cason
Shareece Wright
Atari Bigby
Brandon Taylor
Eric Weddle
Darrell Stuckey
Corey Lynch

A mild surprise that five safeties were retained.  Corey Lynch managed to sneak his way on the roster, but it may be short-lived.  The normally reliable and well-connected Kevin Acee reports that a safety may be added from the players cut by other teams today, as well as a veteran cornerback.  Three of our four CB's are ailing with tender hamstrings, so the team cannot risk going into Oakland without reinforcements.  Darrell Stuckey has been suffering from a concussion and sticks on the roster, there had been rumblings that what was first thought to be a stinger might cause him to get waived.

Nate Kaeding
Mike Scifres
Mike Windt

No surprises.  If Nick Novak was to beat out Nate Kaeding, he would have to have been lights out while Nate struggled, which didn't happen.  Nate seems to have come back from ACL reconstruction with a more powerful boot, if that's possible, he converted 50 yard kicks with ease in camp, while Mr. Novak doinked a 35-yarder off an upright in the first game.  He fell behind in the race and never caught up.  He may catch on with another team.

A final word about Jacob Hester, who is emblematic of A.J. Smith's spendthrift style at the draft.  As discussed, he picked him up in the third round at the cost of a 2nd and a 5th choice, which isn't exorbitant, but hampers the team down the road when it comes to depth.  Other players that Mr. Smith traded up to get are Eric Weddle and Ryan Mathews, and in all cases it can be questioned whether the players were worth the cost involved in acquiring them.

With the gaping holes on the offensive line and the lack of depth in the defensive backfield, for example, we can see that the pigeons are coming home to roost.  We can't afford to spend two for one picks on players we fall in love with and must have.  Eric Weddle took a long time to develop into a quality but hardly dominating player.  Ryan Mathews has flashes of greatness mixed in with boneheaded disappointments.  Jacob Hester was never the player the Chargers thought he was.  

It's time for A.J. Smith to stop getting crushes on picks and just let the draft come to him.  He's no longer running a stacked team that is one or two players away from a championship.  He needs to pick up talent and depth everywhere on the team, not just one or two All-Americans who are the apple of his eye.

Traffic jam in Whistler, ursine cause confirmed

So biking home from the gym tonight on the Valley Trail, I turned a corner and about 30 metres away was a small mother bear with her three cubs.  I hit the brakes and retreated a bit, but the sow seemed blithely unconcerned with my presence.  Instead, she was pre-occupied with pulling down young berry trees along the Trail, and showing her charges how to do the same.  You could imagine her saying "Look, these are tasty, this is how you get to eat them, yum yum."  Of course the cubs were more interested in trying to climb these or other trees, or wrestling with each other.  I watched and kept my distance, but they were stripping every shrub or young tree before moving on to the next, getting closer and closer to me, causing me to retreat a few times as I patiently waited for them to disappear into the bushes and go play in the River of Golden Dreams, which we could hear gurgling steps away.  Eventually, I gave up and took the long way around, it added 5 minutes to my ride, not counting the 5 or more that I wasted watching them frolic.

Living in Whistler can be hell.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

NFL Pre-Season Week 4: Chargers 3, 49ers 35

Ugh.  A disastrous showing in the final pre-season game, and it has to be pinned equally on Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager A.J. Smith.  I'll never let Coach Turner off the hook for failing to have his guys ready to play, whether early in a game or early in the season.  In this game, the offence stuttered and coughed up the ball twice to start the game, and it deflated the team and they never got into a rhythm, they never believed and were never in this game.  If Philip Rivers and his #1 offence can't get in sync, the rest of the boys are going to start to doubt.

Why was Philip Rivers even on the field for a fourth pre-season game?  We pin the other portion of blame on the Chargers GM.  Coach Turner chose not to play Mr. Rivers and a few other vets in the third game, which is traditionally used to get the starters ready for the regular season.  Instead of giving them three quarters of work to get into a groove, he held them out to avoid Philip getting killed by the subpar offensive line he was forced to field.  This is where A.J. Smith comes in.

The Chargers lost former All-Pro left guard Kris Dielman due to a career-ending concussion, as well as former Pro-Bowler Marcus McNeill due to a spinal injury, both during the off-season.  Nick Hardwick, affected by the injury suffered by Mr. Dielman and his subsequent seizures, thought long and hard before re-signing with the team.  A.J. Smith's response to the loss of the left side of the line?  He drafted an injured guard who was bound to spend his first season on IR in Johnnie Troutman, and a centre in the 7th round in David Molk.  He also signed chronic underachiever and malingerer Jared Gaither to a four-year contract to play the left tackle position, and Rex Hadnot, a journeyman guard who was released by the Cardinals in the spring.

Now it's hard to fault A.J. for drafting defensive players in the first three rounds, since that side of that ball needed a lot of attention.  It's also hard to find players off the street who can sub in for former Pro Bowlers.  In total though, his efforts to compensate for the loss of these two players are underwhelming, both in the results obtained so far, and in the judgment he showed.  Indeed, once the fourth round came about, he chose to stock up on a position of strength by drafting Tight End Ladarius Green, instead of beefing up on an area that was crying out for help.  We can argue that A.J. Smith did well by trying to get the best player available in the fourth or fifth round, but that will be his argument to make in the end.  It is thought that he and Norv Turner kept their job by the skin of their teeth last off-season.  Alex Spanos surprised most observers by retaining his staff instead of making wholesale changes.  We have to believe that these two gentlemen can't be patient, they were expected to deliver some results this season, since they have had a lot of the pieces needed to produce a winner and contender, and they have consistently underperformed.

So this off-season has been anything but business as usual, with Jared Gaither's back spasms keeping him out the entire off-season.  Add in nicks and dings to Nick Hardwick and Tyronne Green, and the offensive line has been in a state of upheaval, preventing the offence from getting its act together, and planting the seed of doubt in a group of players that has been trained to expect turmoil and poor results under this administration.  Somehow, an experienced GM and coach tandem have managed to muck up something as tested and routine as a training camp and exhibition season.

Now some will claim that we shouldn't worry, that pre-season games don't matter, that you can't tell anything by watching subs playing subs.  Well, earlier in this game, we saw the #1 offence against the 49ers subs, and two drives ended in turnovers.  Antonio Gates gave up a fumble on a strip tackle, and Philip Rivers again forced a ball into coverage and gave up an interception.  The latter was galling, in that the defender was standing up at his goal line, like a left fielder waiting for a fly ball, and the ball indeed came right to him.  It wasn't the case of a disguised coverage or a safety who came out of nowhere to snag the ball.

Charlie Whitehurst and Jarrett Lee who came in after Philip Rivers' two possessions fared no better, being unable to generate a rhythm with the 49er pressure constantly an issue.  The blocking was no better when running the ball, as the Chargers gained only 76 yards on 21 attempts.  A healthy Ryan Mathews would have helped here, but he would have had just as much trouble as the other Charger ballcarriers did finding open holes to run through.

Other impressions weren't very positive.  I had to watch the San Francisco feed, so most of the attention was on the players in burgundy and gold.  Still, it was hard to miss Atari Bigby's whiff on his tackle of Delanie Walker.  Sure, the SF TE is a lot bigger than the SD safety, but I didn't see an attempt to wrap up the receiver.  And Mr. Bigby is known as a big hitter.  On this one, he gave 70% effort, possibly keen to avoid injury, and just laid a good shoulder in his man, which wasn't enough to stop him speeding into the end zone.  Another DB, cornerback DeAndre Presley, a free agent who was a college quarterback at Appalachian State and is trying to earn a job as a defender, was lowlighted on a couple of plays where he played the wrong angle and tackled poorly.  It's hard to fault the guy for it, but it also makes it hard to think he can earn a job.

Bront Bird, a free agent linebacker who made the team last season on the strength of his special teams play, had a noteworthy game in that he got a sack and an interception.  Things are looking up for him, in that with the news that the Chargers will be allowed to place Vincent Brown on temporary Injured Reserve due to an agreement reached today between the Players' Association and the NFL, the Chargers will not be squeezed by having to carry Vincent on their roster.  So Mr. Bird and Andrew Gachkar are in a fight with each other for a likely LB/Special Teams spot on the 53-man roster still, and the former helped himself tonight.

So A.J. Smith has a lot of work to do on Cutdown Friday, along with Norv Turner.  Mr. Smith has to find one or two treasures out of the players who will be available tomorrow.  There's need at cornerback and safety, but most importantly at the offensive line.  There needs to be more talent, more depth, more effectiveness there.  He has to provide Norv Turner with a couple of players who can spot in when Jared Gaither sits out.  Undrafted free agent Mike Harris is a project, and we don't have the time to teach him.  We need a vet or two who will solidify the left side of the line.  They don't need to be spectacular, just effective, and that will be a huge improvement.

So A.J. has to pull a rabbit out of a hat and save the season right now, and then Norv Turner has to coach these new guys up and get them up to speed.  It's a tall task, but that's what they have to do to keep their jobs.  Enough excuses.

I hesitated before purchasing the Sunday Ticket package this year, being skeptical that the Chargers would contend.  In the end, I decided to splurge, since I enjoy watching the Chargers play, but my pessimistic outlook for this season was only strengthened by tonight's showing.

How did Bettman get his job? How does he keep it?

How did Gary Bettman get his job you ask?  I think we all must know that he used to work with David Stern at the NBA, and at the time it was the hot, sexy league, with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, they could do no wrong.  The NHL owners thought they'd capture some of the magic by hiring Mr. Stern's right hand man.

Now I have no doubt that Mr. Bettman was a basketball fan growing up, and was passionate about that game.  He tells the story about how he used to go to Knicks games with his buddies from school instead of doing homework, and they'd hold court sitting in the rafters.  Now where this breaks down is that he is quick to point out that he was 'also' a Rangers fan, but that rings hollow.  He doesn't know hockey and its history and the beauty and artistry of the game.  As the smoking gun, I put to you the instance when he described the St. Louis Blues as a member of the 'Original 12', a clunker of a phrase that no one has ever used and showed that he's not versed in the language and culture of the sport.

Is he successful as a Commissioner?  I don't think history will be kind when looking back at his reign.  He presided over a period of lackluster spectacle, a dumbing-down of the sport while other sports were exploding and trying to make their game more fan-friendly.  We see the NFL opening up the passing game by changing its rules to favour it over defence.  They also put in rules to protect the quarterback, the stars of the game who fans tune in to watch, despite the whining of defensive players, who should know that Brett Favre and Tom Brady are the guys who got them their fat paycheques, not defensive ends and linebackers.  The NBA has the illegal defence rule, the shot clock, they even went so far as to loosen the rules for travelling.  Rugby increased the value of the try from four ponts to five, and put in rules and interpretations that increased player safety, punished players who commit dirty plays, even if they weren't caught by the referee, and ensured that the team that is attacking with the ball gets to keep the ball when play breaks down, instead of it ending up with the defending team.  

What does the NHL do?  It looks into whether it should allow holding in some instances, with Brian Burke's 'bear hug' concept.  It allows the Bruins to out-thug the opposition, with hapless referees acting as impotent on-ice spectators.  It says in its own rulebook that light slashing is not slashing, so you know, go ahead and slash Steve Stamkos, it's all good.  Colin Campbell, a textbook case of conflict of interest, convicted by his own leaked emails, is somehow still in charge of things, when he shouldn't be running an AHL hotdog cart.  His solution to the 'diving' epidemic is to go on a wishy-washy PR campaign, instead of being very clear that it constitutes a blight on the game, is a form of cheating that will not be tolerated, and that divers caught in the act on video will be suspended, regardless of whether the on-ice officials catch them or not.  That would end the practice right there.  Instead, the poltroon that even Bob Probert outsmarted and derided is re-launching the once-failed public shaming campaign.  

There is a clear lack of vision in the NHL, which is buffeted by events and crises and lumbers from one disaster to another, instead of having strong leadership and charting a course for the league and the sport that would reap everyone (owners, players, spectators) great rewards.  Gary Bettman is a bean counter and number-cruncher and a redoubtable adversary in negotiations, no doubt, but he's not equipped to be in charge of a professional sport that he doesn't love and understand, and is played by men who do not respect him.

As far as the revenues growing under his watch, you have to assume that a trained monkey would have done just as well.  A lot of the growth of revenues stems from the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, so that seven Canadian teams now bring in money to league coffers instead of needing equalization payments, even when the arenas were full, when the dollar was worth $0.65 US.  

Another reason revenue is increasing is the rising tide that floats all pro sports league boats, namely the explosion of social media, which has driven the hype to heights unequaled in the age of newspapers and broadcast television.  Add in the introduction of the PVR, live sports programming has become the only guaranteed 'must see' content on TV.  We can all put off watching 'Breaking Bad', 'The Wire' and 'The Shield' until later now, as I did, and dang it if those series aren't awesome, and they lose nothing of their impact if you're a couple years late to the party.  Sports on the other hand must be consumed live, they get stale very quickly.  Mix in fantasy sports, and we see a convergence of factors that have made sports even more important in society than before.  

NHL hockey is still a minor sport in the broad North American picture, but its small slice of the pie keeps getting bigger as the pie itself inflates to previously unthinkable levels.  Gary Bettman has had no hand in this.  He didn't invent Wayne Gretzky.  In fact, what he has done is stifled Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.  Two players who should have been all-time greats are headed for lesser-star status, more Pierre Turgeon than Mario Lemieux.  Instead of letting these guys shine, as David Stern did with his Mega-Stars, Gary Bettman through ignorance and inaction has allowed some of his most treasured assets to be tarnished, diminished.  He wears that.  That's his fault.  There will be apologists who'll blame the GM's and refs who make and enforce the rules, to which I say: Exactly.  He's the boss, and he's letting the Colin Campbells, the former goons and pluggers take care of the minor detail of the game, the actual product he's in charge of growing and selling.  He's ultimately responsible.  The throttling of hockey is happening on his watch.  He's the one killing the golden goose.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Life Substitutes make their first roster move and pick up Shayne Graham

Breaking news!  The Life Substitutes took all of three days after they drafted their team to make a roster move.  And it would have come sooner, except the free agents were all on waivers until late Tuesday night.  The Subbies GM can be accused of many sins, but standing pat is not one of them.

In a blockbuster move, the Life Substitutes claimed Shayne Graham of the Houston Texans on waivers and released Dan Carpenter of the Dolphins.  The reason is simple: the Texans have an actual offence, they have a quarterback, they'll score points and so will their kicker.  Dan Carpenter, on average, won't.

Mr. Graham was available because while he's competent, he's not a great place kicker.  He was in a competition with Randy Bullock in training camp for the Texans' job, and won it by default when Mr. Bullock, a younger man with a bigger leg, tore his groin and was placed on Injured Reserve.  Talk about a gift opportunity.  Until then, Mr. Graham was lightly regarded and went undrafted.  Good thing for the Subbies that their GM is perceptive and decisive, he saw an opportunity and he tooked it, gawldang it.

So we feel a lot better about our kicker.  He fills all the requirements: Warm weather team?  Check.  Good offence?  Check.  Done.  

Let's get the season started already.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

"Bring the Noise" & "Enter Sandman": The Best Song Ever

The summer of 1991 (so, so long ago) was my first spent in Whistler.  I had a couple of jobs, like everyone else, trying to buy food and pay rent and my bar tab, and if I played my cards right, save enough to eventually afford a bike.  My supervisor at one job used to say that people in Whistler were downwardly mobile.  I had to agree, since in high school I couldn't wait to save enough from my jobs to buy a motorcycle and a car.  I now aspired to bike-dom.

So one of my service industry jobs was as a breakfast waiter at a major chain hotel.  It was a great job in that it paid tips, and the crew was fantastic.  We were besties, and couldn't wait for the shift to end, usually before noon, so we could hit the beaches.  Problem was, every morning, two suckers had the 'early shift', for which you had to show up at 0500 hr and start setting up the breakfast buffet area in the hotel lounge.  That meant dragging up tables from the basement boiler room, draping them, setting up chafing dishes, moving chairs and other tables out of the way, and then doing the nitty gritty, like setting up cereal and juice stations, etc.

Anyway, you may not know this but 0500 hr is really early.  It's like, only five hours after midnight.  It's 5 in the AM in Imperial measurements.  Heck, bar close happened at 0200 hr, you were lucky if you were home in bed by 0300 hr, and if you were really lucky you never actually made it home.  So you'd show up to work, you didn't shank it, but you weren't exactly rainbows and sunshine just yet.  The hotel lobby was deserted, the night auditors would nod at you as you shambled by and return to their vampirish duties, and you had the run of the place.  The lounge stereo was locked up, we couldn't access it, but the TV's were ours to use as we pleased, and the sound was fed through the stereo speakers.  We'd tune in MuchMusic and play it pretty loud.  Even though the lounge was open to the Lobby, we quickly learned to not care, and wait for a complaint before we turned it down.  The fact that it was way too early for guests to be up helped, and also that our audit staff were young and blasé.  We never got a complaint. We got bolder.

Now, I know I'm remembering this exactly 100% correctly, but every time that I was on the early shift, around 0515 or so, either Metallica's "Enter Sandman" or Public Enemy, ably assisted by Anthrax, belting out "Bring the Noise" would come on.  Invariably.  Without fail.  I'd swear to it in court.  It was like Erica Ehm had a sweet spot for me and knew I needed a pick me up.

So one of us would grab the remote and crank the volume from really loud to speaker-cone destroying levels.  Okay, that was usually me.  The floor would vibrate from the bass.  Very infrequently, a guest would walk by, agog at the sound, surely a portend that the world was coming to an end.  Then he'd see me polishing up the Frosted Flakes bin to ensure there were no smudges, I give him a big wink and a winning smile, and he'd walk away, shaking his head, fingers jammed in his ears.  Again, never a complaint.

If the walk or (eventually) bike ride in hadn't fully woken you up, Public Enemy and Anthrax and/or Metallica would finish the job for you.  These guys were our brothers in arms, getting us through a ridiculous sequence of chores for our pittance, they carried us sometimes, and I have nothing but great memories and appreciation for what is surely the Best Song Ever.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Should the NHL do away with the guaranteed contracts?

I see some discussion on giving teams more latitude in buying out players who don't necessarily live up to their high salaries.  While superficially it might make sense, philosophically I don't support this change.

I think in this new era of concussion awareness and knee microfracture surgery, the guaranteed contract is a reasonable, almost necessary precaution and advantage for the players.  The beatings these guys take every season is incredible, and I don't want the NHL to pattern itself after the NFL with its draconian system.

I think it was former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue who described non-guaranteed contracts as "fan insurance" which made it so that their ticket money went to performing players, and not malingerers, but there are huge moral flaws in that system.  One is that a lot of these players gave and give their all, but accumulated injuries prevent them from being able to play at the level that the team finds satisfactory.  These players are cut with little remorse.

Often, a player does produce at an adequate level, but is still replaced by younger cheaper player who is not quite as good or beloved by the fans, but allows the team a strategic advantage in terms of the cap.  Now the fans suffer as they watch a loyal favourite walk the plank and a less-talented rookie enters the meat grinder.

My main objection to the NFL way and its contracts is that they are in effect 'one-way', and not in the NHL sense.  The contracts bind one party to a much greater degree than the other.  Indeed, a player who outperforms his contract and plays at a level much higher than his compensation would predict or merit is stuck playing out the string.  Various mechanisms prevent a holdout or renegotiation.  Loyal soldiers like Jacksonville Jaguar Maurice Jones Drew, who is vastly under-compensated compared to his production and historic contribution to the team, is left twisting in the wind when he requests that his salary match his market value.

Conversely, the team can cut a player and walk away if the player doesn't live up to expectations.  They have an 'injury settlement' process where a player who isn't able to perform, because of an injury suffered while fulfilling his contract, is offered a lump sum to walk away.  Effectively, a worker who is injured on the job is cast away for his injury.  So what we have is a contract that's as morally bankrupt as a cell phone carrier 'contract', where one party is bound by various strictures, and enjoys no advantages or freedoms of its own.

From a fan perspective, the San Diego Chargers situation at left tackle is instructive.  Marcus McNeill was a veteran Pro Bowl player who diligently, ably protected Philip Rivers' blind side.  Two seasons ago, he started developing neck pain from the repetitive contact he was subjected to.  He was diagnosed with an injury that eventually forced him to retire this summer, but not before the Chargers had cut him and saved themselves a few mill.

In his place, the Chargers plugged in career malcontent Jared Gaither, a chronically injured player who suffers various strains and pulls, stuff that doesn't show up in an X-ray.  He was cut by the Ravens and Chiefs last season and was a free agent when the Chargers pulled him in off the street to fill the void created by Mr. McNeill's injury.  Sure enough, while trying to earn a contract, Mr. Gaither's play was stellar.  He received a four-year guaranteed contract this off-season and promptly went in the tank.  Fans are now writing off this season, seeing Mr. Gaither as the player who will get Philip Rivers killed, and eagerly looking forward to next season's draft when the team can cut him and go back to the well and draft a talented rookie to fill the LT spot.

So we saw that in Mr. McNeill's case, he deserves to receive every dime of his contract but the team cut ties with him.  In Jared Gaither's case, the system will probably do its job and protect the fans when he is let go with only the guaranteed portion of his contract paid out.

In most cases though, it's the players that bite the bullet.  Again last season on the Chargers O-line we saw All-Pro Kris Dielman, a man who was voted on the Chargers 50th Anniversary Team for his stellar play at left guard, suffer a career-ending injury.  During a game against the Jets, he was visibly staggered and dazed after suffering a concussion, but he waved off inquiries and assured everyone he was fine, and played through the end of the game.  On the plane ride home, he suffered a series of seizures which terrified his teammates, and was forced to retire as a result.  His being a warrior, which was lauded by TV analysts, led to the end of his career.

Now will the Chargers use the money they save for the benefit of the fans?  Will they invest it into building themselves a new stadium, for example?  Of course not.  The Chargers have been wrangling with the city of San Diego and a succession of mayors over the years, trying to get the taxpayers to defray the majority of the $1B in costs, with the threat of leaving for Los Angeles always in the air.  If the San Diego citizens ante in and buy the Chargers a new stadium so they can rake in luxury suite dough, and even though Jack Murphy stadium is still sound and could easily be maintained and used for another twenty or thirty years, what guarantees do they have?  If the Chargers don't perform, can they cut off their payments to the Spanos family?  Can they walk away from the deal?

We see how one-sided the NFL can be when we look at the nickel and dime operation of the Cincinnati Bengals.  The owner Mike Brown, who inherited this public trust from his father and endeavoured to run it into the ground, runs the team on a shoestring, having the most meager resources in scouting and coaching and training staff, but somehow has managed to find Director or VP jobs for all of his idiot sons and daughters and nephews.  The people of Cincinnati meanwhile have built his team a palace in what is widely described as the worst example of public stadium financing in the country.  In return they get to watch a team that has become as much of a joke and symbol of hopelessness and futility to its own fans as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So we can see that the 'Lord of the Flies' ethos of the NFL is mostly not for the benefit of the fans but rather the owners, and we shouldn't support the same approach in the NHL.  We'll have the same problems, in that players will hide injuries to avoid being cut, and players who are diligent and honest will be bounced when they suffer through a down year.  What would happen with players like Eric Lindros and Marc Savard in any new buyout system is open to question.

Instead of trying to find ways around the long-term guaranteed contracts that they were only too happy to offer, NHL owners should work to make qualitative changes to enhance player safety, protect their investments and make the game a joy to play and watch rather than a slog.  Get players like Colton Orr and John Scott out of the game.  Severely rein in the latitude of players and refs so that guys like Steve Downie and Dan Carcillo focus on hockey rather than tomfoolery and stabbings.  Limit the contact in the game to actual attempts to separate the puck carriers from the puck, rather than the 'finishing your check' ethos that rewards the slow-footed, talentless players who always get there a second too late.  Predicate the game in the direction of skilled players: tilt the ice in the direction of Daniel Sedin, instead of turning a blind eye to Brad Marchand.

Changes such as these will limit the unnecessarily high number of injuries, might energize players like Alex Semin to play to the level of their talent if they don't have to be cross-checked in the neck for doing so, and would make the game more spectacular and grow revenues to previously unthinkable heights.  Owners might find that instead of scraping the couch cushions for mean savings, they could instead get paid by grateful fans.

The Life Substitutes are constituted for another Fantasy Football season

The Life Substitutes have been doing a yeoman's job for at least five years now of keeping us entertained through the gift of fantasy football.  That's as far back as our records indicate that we've had a team with that name keeping us busy.  They play on's system, in a twelve team league, and this year it's called the Seattle Seahawks Die Hards.

Strategically, it's always a good idea to latch on to a league for fans of a specific NFL team if you don't have the same affiliation, because as they chase players from their beloved hometeam, they overvalue them and undervalue some gems that get scooped up by *this guy [Note: the asterisk (*) denotes two thumbs pointing at owner/author].  We saw a lot of that today during the Live Draft, players like Kellen Winslow and the 'Hawks defence being drafted in the fourth round (no lie), and others like Zach Miller and Robert Turbin (who?) being drafted at all.  Great for *this guy.

The Substitutes were slotted in the seventh position of the twelve team snake draft, and we did a few mock drafts to get a feel for how it would go.  The strategy going in was to not blindly follow the old-school strategy of loading up on running backs early, since the importance of doing so has faded with the essential demise of the stud RB.  Nowadays with RB platoons, there are very few backs who are worth spending a first or second-round choice on,  The better, more modern strategy is to possibly grab a stud wide receiver or franchise quarterback, a guy who doesn't come off the field and reliably produces points, and look for RB bargains with later, less spendy lower round picks.

The results of the mocks showed that we could reasonably expect to snag Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, or maybe luck out and have Drew Brees or even better Tom Brady 'fall' in our laps.  We game-planned a plan 'A' with Calvin Johnson as our first pick, followed by a second-round choice of either Bears RB Matt Forte or Texans' WR Andre Johnson.

Now, some may think that spending a #7 choice on a WR isn't a wise move, but Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson is an absolute beast, a physical specimen at 6'5" and 230 lbs with speed and magic hands.  We suspect that this season we'll witness a season for the ages from him, and he will be head and shoulders above every other WR in production, so drafting him early makes sense to us.

Our plan 'B' was to snag either of Brees or Brady, and then take either Forte or failing that Andre Johnson.  With either plan, we would have a reasonable certainty of a truly spectacular and productive athlete with our first pick.

So of course, the draft went sideways right off the bat.  Despite all the mocks that showed otherwise, Brady, then Brees, then Calvin Johnson came off the board before our turn came up.  Unprepared and lackadaisical, we perused the names left over and settled on Matt Stafford, the Detroit Lions QB who will be (we hope) feeding all the passes and touchdowns to Megatron.  He had a spectacular season last year, when he finally was able to avoid injury, and threw for 5000 yards and 40 touchdowns.  We were lucky to scoop him up in a later round last season, and obviously such a bargain wouldn't happen this year, but felt confident that he would justify the first-round pick spent on him, again if he stayed healthy.  So we went ahead and clicked, drafting him as our first pick, and immediately had second thoughts.

What a smart Fantasy GM should have done before clicking is ask himself "Which player(s) got bumped down out of the Top 6 if Brees, Brady and Megatron went earlier than anticipated?"  Which, it turns out, was LeSean McCoy, the Eagles RB who is an absolute stud, and produced tons of points for the Substitutes last season.  There he was, sitting available to be picked, except we didn't do our due diligence of actually taking a good look at who was available instead of kind of guessing who must be left.  Facepalm.

If we could do it over again, we would take LeSean McCoy instead of Matt Stafford, in a heartbeat.  No question.  It's not a disaster, but a serious lapse.  One which could get us fired.  If we didn't own the team.  Still.  Qualms.

Bravely we carried on, since we know that injuries and the waiver wire are usually how a league is won or lost, not the draft's first round.  Perseverance.  Forbearance.  Resolve.

The second round went more as we planned, with Matt Forte being available, and we snapped him up.  Some question whether he will be effective this season, seeing as he injured his knee late last year, and will split carries with former Raider Michael Bush, who may steal some goal-line TD's away.  We feel that the knee injury was a minor one, seeing as it was only a MCL strain, something which we have recovered from very quickly when we suffered one snowboarding, riding a rail and falling off awkwardly.  We were back on snow within two months with no ill effects, so we can trust that Matt Forte will be fully ready to resume his stellar production for the Bears.  As far as the increased competition for carries, we'll take that in stride, and suspect that the improved Bears offence with the addition of Brandon Marshall will more than make up the lost opportunities for Mr. Forte.

In the third round, according to the original plan, we felt that there would be some value at wide receiver more than any other position.  Certainly since we didn't yet have one, it became more urgent that we snag one in this round.  Except that as usual, the real draft deviated from our mock, with some other GM's doing some unexpected things.  And once our turn came up, undisputed #1 rusher for the high-powered Atlanta Falcons Michael Turner was staring us in the face.  Now, Mr. Turner is 30 years old, and has a lot of mileage, which means there's a risk he will fade this season, as he seemed to do late last season, but the thinking here is that while he won't be the main weapon with Matt Ryan airing it out to Julio Jones and Roddy White, he'll have plenty of opportunities as he closes out drives and games.  Plus, he's a former Charger, we've always loved 'Turner the Burner', and wish he'd never left.  So we decided to grab him, set ourselves up in the backfield with two strong starters, and hope to find some value in WR's still in the fourth round and later.

We missed out on Brandon Marshall by a couple of spots in the fourth, we almost took him in the third and had mocked doing so repeatedly, so we settled on Marques Colston of the Saints.  He is a reliably productive wide receiver, and despite the array of weapons at Drew Brees' disposal he tends to get more than his share of targets.  Especially with Robert Meachem having left the Saints, we figured he was our best option, and we like cheering for the Saints, so we'd rather have him our team than regrettable characters like Dwayne Bowe or DeSean Jackson.  He'll get us over 1000 yards and close to ten touchdowns, so we're okay with that.

The fifth round brought us another surprise, and another deviation from the plan of drafting big-name, dominating receivers early.  Beckoning us as we got ready to pick was All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.  Gates is a personal favourite of ours, and we like being able to cheer for our team and our favourite players on the field and on the scoreboard.  Also, he has been flying at Chargers training camp, he's reportedly fully healed from the Lisfranc fracture he suffered two years ago. So we got to thinking.

One consideration is that we wanted to avoid drafting Chargers this season, or at least chasing them, since the offensive line is a gigantic question mark for them and Philip Rivers may suffer a repeat of the woes he went through last season when he had happy feet, running for his life and chucking interceptions.  The O-line this year may be even worse, and the results in exhibition games has been less than stellar.  Then again, it may be more the WR's who tend to suffer if the QB doesn't get the protection he needs.  If anything, the TE may prosper from this, as the QB looks for him as a lifeline and quick dump-off option.

Also, we thought we didn't want to chase a premier TE, since Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had torn up the league last season and shone a spotlight on the position.  We thought we'd sacrifice an elite TE and go dumpster diving in the late rounds, maybe grab Owen Daniels from the Texans who has been productive in the past but struggled last season recovering from ACL surgery.  We hoped the tradeoff would be worth it, that we'd gain more by taking WR's and RB's while other teams 'reached' for their TE's.

But this was Antonio Gates, available in the 5th round, the value was too good to pass up, so we adapted and snagged him and felt pretty good about it.  We feel he could produce at the top of his position as he has done frequently in the past.  He's equal in potential to the young upstarts from New England and New Orleans.

Now, we had our QB, two RB's and a TE.  And only one WR.  We felt good about our draft, even if we were seriously off course, since our planning had identified some bargains in the later rounds that would serve us well.

In the sixth we snagged WR and former-Charger guilty pleasure Vincent Jackson, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He is basically uncoverable, at 6'5" and 230 lbs he can outmuscle any defensive back, and has the speed to run away from most cornerbacks and safeties.  His ability to jump up and get the ball before a 5'10" CB can swat at it is well established.  He does have to establish a rapport with his new QB Josh Freeman, who is a notch below Philip Rivers.  Mr. Freeman will struggle to deliver him as many deep balls accurately, but on the other hand Mr. Jackson won't have to fight for targets with the many other options he was up against in San Diego.  If we get 1000 yards and 8 or 10 touchdowns from VJ, we're happy.

The seventh round took us on another side road rather than the intended route.  We were getting a little antsy about our lack of WR's, both in terms of quantity and quality, as we saw the names which remained on the board.  It almost played to our advantage though, in that the players who we'd identified as targets once we reached this stage of the draft we felt we didn't need to draft right away, that they would last a couple more rounds.  Meanwhile, Stevan Ridley of the Patriots was still on the board.  He'd been hanging on for a few rounds as teams chased other positions, until he dropped in our laps when we felt that we couldn't ignore the value of a #1 rusher for the Patriots.  Granted, we're aware that Bill Belichick is known for splitting carries between his backs, he might as well be the architect of the 'running back by committee' plague that is endemic now, what with the rotations of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney and touchdown thief Kevin Faulk.  This year, however, it appears that Mr. Ridley is the undisputed winner of the training camp battle.  He's big so he won't be taken out at the goal line, and he can block and catch the ball, so he won't come out on third downs.

So with the opportunity to add a #1 back, we didn't hesitate.  While we didn't want to chase RB's early in the draft, we do value a good bargain, and a starting RB on a productive offence obtained with a seventh rounder is the very definition of a bargain, if not a steal.  Also, we don't want to give the impression that we don't value RB's.  Quite the contrary.  There's nothing more depressing than facing a juggernaut opponent and you're throwing out as one of your backs a Bengals third-down back.  Ugh.  We do want depth to be able to play matchups against defences and in different weather conditions, and to palliate against the prospect of injuries.  Now with three starting RB who can account for themselves on Sundays, the Life Substitutes are on solid ground.

With the 8th pick, we (finally) grabbed the third WR for our squad in Titus Young, the projected #2 opposite Calvin Johnson for the Lions.  Not a very intimidating pick, it's more of a hunch that could pay off if he and Matt Stafford combine for a lot of throws, that'll add up real quick if we get yards and touchdowns on both ends of these completions.  He's a speedy second-year receiver out of Boise State, the perfect complement for Megatron in that he will stretch the field and allow Matt Stafford to stretch his arm out.  Mr. Young has had some issues on the field, being involved in an altercation during practice with Louis Delmas this spring, sucker punching his counterpart and being held out of the next day's OTA.  This was the second such incident, seeing as he'd been involved in a similar incident with Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints during their tilt last season.  Worrisome, but this is the Lions we're talking about, it's par for the course for those choirboys, and we're only spending an eighth-rounder anyway.  Modest risk, potential for a high reward.

Still juggling priorities as we got to the ninth round, we felt comfortable that our WR reserves would last another round or two, so we decided to get some quarterback insurance in Matt Schaub who was still loitering around on the board.  This was somewhat according to the original plan, in that we thought we'd target him as our starting QB around the 6th or 7th round, so we're ecstatic that we got him on our bench this late in the proceedings.  Mr. Schaub had an off-year last season, after a couple of productive seasons, but this was strictly due to injuries, and he's fully healthy this pre-season and has been productive in exhibition season.  If he performs to expectations, we should reap 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns as he helms an explosive attack.  Heck, it might make for a QB controversy on the Life Substitutes, as the coach vacillates between him and Matt Stafford from week to week, agonizing over the matchups, weather, home vs. away factor, etc.  Anyway, better have two options rather than none.  Love us some Matt Schaub in the ninth round.

Once the tenth rolled around, it was time to add some WR depth, some we'd projected would still be there for the taking.  Sure enough, both Anquan Boldin and Malcom Floyd were still available, and we snagged the latter.  Again, it kind of goes against the stated intention to not draft Chargers, but we didn't chase him, we let him drop in our laps very late.  And at this point in the draft, every player has some warts.  Malcom is an athletic 6'5" receiver who is great near the goal line and with long bombs, as well as jump balls.  He has good chemistry with Philip Rivers, and if he can stay healthy, we can expect 800 yards or more and 6-8 touchdowns.  Again, the ceiling is high with Malcom, injuries have kept him down, as well as having to fight for targets with VJ and Antonio.  Another low risk, potential for high reward pick.

We lost out on Anquan Boldin, he was snapped up immediately before our turn in the eleventh round, but we didn't fret, we had another WR on the back burner for even later on.  So we added to our RB depth by picking Rashad Jennings of the Jaguars.  He missed the entire 2011 season due to a knee injury which at first was thought to be an ACL tear, which wasn't the case.  He felt ready to return in October, but had been placed on Injured Reserve and was ineligible to return.  This spring during OTA's and at training camp, all reports are that he's completely healthy and looking like a starting RB.  Funnily enough, Maurice Jones-Drew, the man in front of him on the depth chart, is embroiled in a contract holdout with the Jags.  Now, chances are minimal that MoJo will sit out the year, but the Jags may give more carries to Mr. Jennings to prepare the succession, as MJD could be traded.  Also, the track record for running backs who miss the entire summer and training camp is not great, they tend to get injured or underperform.  So we feel we may have a starting RB on our hands in all but official designation right now.

Another similar option that we considered was Ben Tate, the Texans' super sub RB, and we had mocked/planned to get both, but we hadn't expected to find Stevan Ridley in the middle rounds.  With room for only one RB, we went with Mr. Jennings due to the potential absence/departure of MJD, but Ben Tate plays in that Houston offence where he can do some damage coming off the bench.  It was almost a tossup, but we feel comfortable we made the right choice.

We don't usually draft Defences until the 13th round, and Kickers until the 14th, and usually a dart board comes in handy during the proceedings.  But all we had left to draft beside these two positions was another WR, and the one we had targeted was very likely to last to the bitter end if the mock drafts we had done were any indication.  So we looked at the defences available, and were disappointed to find the Giants, with their crazy pass rush and late, late Week 11 Bye, were no longer available, as the mocks I had performed had indicated would be likely.  So we grabbed the Patriots, with their late-ish Week 9 Bye, and hoped that their retooled defensive line will cause more havoc than in recent seasons and reap us many points.  We resisted the temptation to grab the Chargers D, tantalizingly still available, to preserve our sanity and reduce the complication of picking up another player with a Week 7 Bye.

In the thirteenth, we held off again on the WR, and selected Dan Carpenter of the Dolphins as our kicker.  Now I don't really care about kickers, their performance is so scatter-shot and unpredictable from season to season, it's a waste to grab one earlier than right at the end.  I usually try, if I can, to pick a guy with a potent offence who plays in a warm weather city, but not in this case.  Well, Miami is warm, but not the offence.  Anyway, who cares, it's a kicker.

For the final pick, we picked up Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers.  He's the #3 WR on the team, now that Hines Ward has retired, and should get his share of balls.  The Mike Wallace holdout and fallout might play in his favour too, for the same reasons discussed for Maurice Jones Drew.  A cheap, cheap pickup, as valid as any this late, with lots of upside.

The thought had entered our mind in the last three rounds that maybe we could pick up an extra TE instead of a WR, seeing as Owen Daniels was still available and he might be a good combo with Matt Schaub, but it didn't make sense to beef up an area of strength with Gates already on the roster, and neglect a possible weakness.  By the fourteenth round Mr. Daniels was gone, so the decision was confirmed for us, and we are quite comfortable with Mr. Sanders on our roster.

So there we have it, a good draft, save from the boneheaded miscue by *this guy right off the start, one from which we hope to have recovered later on.  We'd give this draft a B+.  Really, really happy with the QB situation, confident that the RB's will be a strength, and we have a premier TE.  The WR's aren't overwhelming but may be productive, and we might have the currency (RB's) to make a trade for WR's later on if need be.

QB                          Stafford, Matthew                         1
RB                           Forte, Matt                                   2
RB                           Turner, Michael                            3
WR                         Colston, Marques                          4
WR                         Jackson, Vincent                           6
WR                         Young, Titus                                 8
TE                           Gates, Antonio                              5
DST                        Patriots                                         12
K                             Carpenter, Dan                              13
Bench (QB)                         Schaub, Matt                     9
Bench (RB)                          Jennings, Rashad              11
Bench (RB)                          Ridley, Stevan                   7
Bench (WR)                        Floyd, Malcom                  10
Bench (WR)                        Sanders, Emmanuel            14

Review: "The Code" by G.B. Joyce

I blasted through "The Code" by G.B. Joyce, who you may know better under the name 'Gare' which he uses as a journalist covering mainly hockey.  (No, I'm not aware of the reason for the change.)  It's an easy read, with a pretty straightforward plot, decent characters and combines hockey with crime fiction.  What's not to love?

Here's an excerpt, the opening paragraphs from the first chapter:

Understand that the league is a systemic organization of hatreds. You might know a lot about the game but you'll know nothing about the league until you accept this. It's true of all of them: the players, the coaches, the general managers, the executives, the agents, and the owners. It goes from the high and mighty, the commissioner and his ilk in their plush Madison Avenue offices, right down to the lowest ranks, the scouts who sit next to me in arenas great and small.
No man is above the blackest animus. Could be a ref you jawed with. Could be your linemate who maybe knows your girlfriend better than he says. Could be the agent who rounds up his cut every time he thinks you're not looking. Could be the massage therapist who rubbed you the wrong way. Could be the goalie farting in the whirlpool when you're next in. If you are or were in the league in any capacity, even for the briefest time, somewhere somebody hopes that the next breath you draw will be your last. And guys won't give up hating you when you're dead. At that point the hate crosses over and they'll draw the same exquisite satisfaction from your demise that they'd take from raising the Cup.
Hated and Hated By: They should be listed on a hockey card, right below the height, weight, position, and hometown. They're a lot more important than your hometown, that's for sure.
I've got my hates, too—not many, but deeply felt. The number-one slot is reserved for Lavery, the guy who kneed me and shredded my ACL. I think of him when it rains. That's my Arthur, which has me popping Celebrex in the A.M. and hobbling whenever I have to climb two flights of stairs. I'll probably end up with plastic where there's bone, but for now I'll put off the repair work. Once I seize my chance to run Lavery off the road I'll see the surgeon and my conscience will be clear.

The book is the first of what is already described as a series centering on Brad Shade, a cop's son and former NHL journeyman who now toils as an amateur scout covering the CHL for the NHL L.A. team.  Shade is described as a defensive specialist who ran through the league, suffered through some reversals in his personal and professional life, including divorce, run-ins with the star system in L.A., financial setbacks, and injury, but also lived the dream of winning the ultimate prize, lifting the Stanley Cup as a Montréal Canadien in 1993(!), during which final he played a pivotal role by going up against Wayne Gretzky.

Therein lies one of the strengths of this book, in that Mr. Joyce doesn't reveal and explain everything about his main character in this first novel.  He doles out hints here and there about his life, delves in some areas in some detail, but leaves a lot to be discovered in future installments, a hook which is probably effectively set for this reader.  So we find out that Brad Shade 'shut down' Wayne Gretzky, and some knowledgeable fans still remember this exploit, but mostly he's a fameless and nameless veteran who plugs in at Old Timers' games as a last-minute substitute when the real former stars can't make it.  And we never hear the whole story about his Cup win.  Suspense.

Another strength of this book is that the plot works.  It doesn't go on ridiculous twists and dead-ends like a CSI episode or the abysmal "The Killing".  It becomes clear who the suspect is and the way Brad Shade investigates makes perfect sense, in that the crime is tied in to a prospect he's covering in anticipation of the coming NHL draft.

The fact that Brad Shade is the Sherlock Holmes in this story adds up, in that as a scout it's his job to ask questions and get background information on people.  Joyce gives him some grounding in policing through his experience with his father's occupation, but also through the fact that Shade played NCAA hockey instead of major junior, and took Criminology as his major at Boston College.  Shade often relies on knowledge he learned in Crim, and relates it explicitly.

Another interesting point is that the novel is a bit of a 'roman a clef'.  There's the former goalie-recovered alcoholic now turned GM.  There's the former scrub who is now a douchebag TV personality who covets a job in the league (Pierre McGuire?  P.J. Stock?  Bit of both?).  There's the stuttering, slovenly, broken down reporter who faithfully covers Junior hockey and is amply punished for his efforts.  There's the junior hockey coach who acts as GM and local hero and leader of young men, but has a few blemishes that those who know him see all too clearly.

A final thought that occurs as one gets to the last page is whether Brad Shade will remain a scout for a few more books, or will he quickly rise through the ranks, and work in a team's front office or behind the bench.  There have already been allusions to him being promoted or recruited.  In a way, it would be interesting for him to remain a scout a while longer, there are probably lots of stories to tell, and as Joyce explained in a CBC Radio interview, the hockey scout/private eye combo is a natural fit.

A nice quick read, if you're still looking for your beach read this might be the one.

Friday, 24 August 2012

NFL Pre-Season Week 3: Chargers 12, Vikings 10

Well, here's to the Chargers racking up meaningless wins.  They are now undefeated in exhibition season,  pulling out a last-second win against the Vikings on the strength of a Nick Novak field goal.  Both he and Nate Kaeding went 2-for-2, with Nate nailing a 54 yarder.

The Chargers chose to sit out Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Eddie Royal, and Chuck Muncie and Charlie Joiner I guess.  There was nobody on the field I recognized, except Malcom Floyd once or twice, and Jeromey 'Turnstile' Clary.

Charlie Whitehurst was a trooper while playing behind a patchwork O-Line, with rookie 7th rounder David Molk playing centre instead of injured Pro Bowler Nick Hardwick, undrafted free agent rookie left tackle Mike Harris playing instead of 'injured' Jared Gaither, who's trying to replace the retired Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill, and free agent Rex Hadnot, who was playing instead of the injured Tyronne Green, himself trying to make up for the loss of retired Pro Bowler Kris Dielman.  That's quite the patchwork.  And quite the comedown, going from a line with three Pro Bowlers on the same side to a line with three scrubs who came close to being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Jared Allen led the way with two of six sacks.  He made Mike Harris look clearly out of his element.  Mr. Harris worked hard, but surrendered clear lanes to the QB, was called for a hold and a false start, and generally makes us think back to the last few seasons when we were quite comfortable with our O-Line, and snickered when teams would reach for project or questionable left tackles in the first round (I'm looking at you, Bengals and Andre Smith).  We're going to be one of those clown teams next year.  And we miss you Marcus.  Terribly.

The defense had a so-so game, in that they yielded quite a lot of yards and first downs, but they did come up with four turnovers, and only yielded a late touchdown when the scrubs were on.  I'll take it.  Tack on a sack by first-round pick LB Melvin Ingram, another by second-round DE Kendall Reyes, and two from oft-injured 2009 first round pick Larry English, who is overdue to start delivering, plus a final one from Jarret Johnson, and we have something to look forward to on that side of the ball.

Melvin Ingram, the man-child expected to restore our pass rush so we can get off the field on third downs, gave us a scare when he went down with a thigh bruise in the third quarter.  It was hard not to think of Ryan Mathews and Vincent Brown when he crumpled and clutched at his leg.  He should be day-to-day to return.

Another worry to add to our list is that Quentin Jammer sat out the game after injuring his hamstring during warmups.  We can hope it's just a strain or tightness, instead of a pop, but we really don't have any depth in our secondary, so we can't afford to lose our starting cornerback.

Unlike other seasons, there's no Scott Tolzien or Bryan Walters this year, a dark horse fan favourite to make the team.  Is it because the high draft picks, the guys who are supposed to have our attention, are finally producing?  Or is it because we have other fish to fry?

Montréal Canadiens have the best uniform in sports. The Chargers are 51st?

ESPN decided to kill some time during the dog days of summer, and they ran a savant analysis of pro sports uniforms, ranking them from first to last.

No surprise, the Montréal Canadiens have the #1 uniform in sports.  The classic bleu-blanc-rouge works in both its variations, the red jersey with the center blue stripe, and the crisp sparkling white with the red shoulders and thin stripes at the bottom.

I know most other clubs prefer their dark jersey, so the convention now in the NHL is that the home team wears that and the road team wears the light jersey, but it didn't always work that way.  It used to be that home teams wore their light jerseys, so the Canadiens wore their classy white unis at the Forum.  I don't really know the reason for the change, through I remember some chatter that it was so that teams would sell the other colour of jersey to its hometown fans.  It might have to do with the 'studies' by sports psychologists which showed that teams in darker or more aggressive colours were more intimidating to play against, and teams wanted to maximize their home-ice advantage.

This may have been true for teams with no tradition and light blue uniforms like the Penguins, but I don't think the Canadiens needed the extra boost.  Opponents were plenty scared by the home unis, seeing as Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe were wearing them, with tall, cool Ken Dryden behind them.  Plus, this kind of thinking and teams buying into it led to disgraces like these.

I guess for no reason other than tradition and sentimentalism, I'd like it if the league went back to the home team wearing light jerseys, or at least the home team had the option and we went back to the whites at home.

As relates to my other favourite team, I wonder why the Chargers were ranked so low.  Man, the electric blue or powder blue, the lightning bolts, that's all that was needed to convince me as a young kid that these were the team to root for. I did prefer the blue helmets though, with the beefy bolt, instead of the current white ones.  I wish they'd go back to those.

Other random thoughts as they occurred to me while I scrolled through the list:

It is bizarre that the Celtics would be anywhere near the top.  I'm going to make a clear pronouncement, all blowhardy, and say that basketball uniforms are awful to begin with.  Swishy shiny shorts and tank tops?  Come on.  Those look like something a grade schooler would wear in the sandbox.  Plus, there's not enough material there to make an impression.

Second, the Celtics has that cartoony leprechaun thing going on and has that unfortunate green colour.  I don't dislike the Celtics as an organization, but seeing Kevin McHale and Larry Bird in those was certainly not an inspiring sartorial statement.

I'm surprised also that the Blackhawks wouldn't be one of the top unis in the NHL, they're generally given the nod as one of the best, yet are ranked #49.  The Bruins' is ugly as sin, diarrhea-yellow and black, to resonate with their fans' dark intentions and black hearts.  What the logo means, that B with the spokes, is as inscrutable as the good in the soul of Brad Marchand.  It is rated much too high.

I don't like the Stars' jerseys but I don't hate them.  They're nowhere near as nice as the old North Stars jerseys, so maybe that's the karmic tradeoff there, and why they got ranked near the very bottom.  It should be at least ranked above every basketball uniform, and two thirds of the baseball jerseys, but franchises that move away from their original city for greater profit elsewhere should go to reputation purgatory.

Generally, hockey uniforms look great, the guys look like warriors from the future and action heroes, but they can be improved by the simple act of allowing the 'Cooperall' pants the Flyers used for a season.  I don't know why these are derided nowadays, they looked swish and modern.  The hockey socks made sense in the olden days, but nowadays with better fabrics and technology, the Cooperall pants make more sense and would give designers more options when it came to the look of the players.  More modern, attractive uniforms might help attract the elusive American Sunbelt casual fan.

I know one problem with the Flyers unis was that their black pants made it hard to pick up the puck for the goalies, but mandating colour schemes would easily take care of this problem.

And again, bleu-blanc-rouge is the best uniform in sport.