Gregg Williams; Ozziie Guillen; Barry Zito; Tiger Woods/Ginni Rometty; Bobby Petrino
BOUNTY HUNTER: I originally thought the story about Gregg Williams offering money to his players to injure opponents was overdone, but after the video of his talk to defensive players before the Saints January playoff game against the 49ers was released last week, all I can say is, “Wow!”
The scariest thing about the video to me was the fact that Williams knew the session was being recorded and would be released but he was so accustomed to saying these things without reprisal that he didn’t even hesitate.
Sean Payton has appealed his year-long suspension, but after that video, it’s hard to see how his suspension will be lifted. He was the man in charge, after all, and he’s responsible for whatever was done on his watch.
But Williams is the guy who’s really in the cross hairs now. His suspension is indefinite, which may be another word for “forever.” Certainly, he will never again be a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Possibly, he might get a job as an assistant at some point, but it seems to me that clubs would be very reluctant to have the publicity which would accompany his hiring. That video will be replayed any time he gets another job.
Ironically, Williams’ words had no effect. The Saints certainly didn’t discourage Alex Smith, who led the 49ers on two touchdown drives in the final four minutes, running on a bootleg for one of them. Vernon Davis wasn’t slowed down, either, as he made big catches on those drives. Michael Crabtree is indeed the prima donna that Williams talked about but Crabtree took himself out of the game (and the championship game the next weekend) because of his timidity, not because of hits by the Saints.
I’ve been covering pro football for 45 years, starting with the Raiders in 1967, and I’ve never heard of anything like this before. The goal for defensive players has always been to sack the quarterback but never to intentionally hurt him.
Certainly, there have been some very damaging hits on quarterbacks, the most obvious probably the one on Joe Theismann in a Monday night game. The Raiders had a picture of Joe Namath having his jaw broken by a Raiders lineman hanging on a wall in their office in the late .60s, but that was Al Davis’s decision, because it was such a dramatic picture. Davis always emphasized the importance of putting the quarterback on the ground but I never heard a player saying he wanted the quarterback injured.
The story about the Namath broken jaw among the general public was that Ben Davidson had done the damage. In fact, it was Ike Lassiter’s hit and Davidson pointed that out to writers, until his good friend, Tom Keating, told him it was good for his reputation to have fans think he had done it. So, after that, Big Ben would just smile and twirl his moustache when he was asked about it. But I knew Davidson well and I can say unequivocally that he never deliberately injured another player.
Pro football was a much rougher game at that point than it is now. Middle linebackers would routinely level a pass receiver coming across the middle; for that reason, the Raiders did not have a pass pattern in the middle, unless it was a very deep one when receivers would be covered by defensive backs. The battles in the ‘70s between the Raiders and Steelers were brutal defensive wars, and Steelers coach Chuck Noll famously said there was a “criminal element” in the NFL, referring to the Raiders. He should have looked in the mirror. But, both teams were operating within the rules.
The rules changes of the last 30 years have all been to limit the defense. That’s why quarterbacks are putting up ridiculously high passing numbers. Unable to hit receivers more than one time at the line of scrimmage, defensive backs have to concede many completions and look for opportunities to intercept passes, or cause fumbles by punching the ball out during a tackle. Last season, the 49ers DBs gave up a lot of passing yards but they also forced turnovers, so they ranked among the league’s best.
Though defensive players – and, sometimes, TV announcers who played defense earlier – rail against these changes, they’ve had to be made because concussions have become such a big story, with the league already facing lawsuits by former players.
Williams had to be tone deaf to ignore what was happening and continue with his program. He’ll pay for his ignorance for the rest of his life and, you know what, I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for him.
OH, MY! Ozzie Guillen, who wakes up each morning talking, inserted foot firmly in mouth with a comment praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the latest issue of Time magazine.
Guillen is no stranger to controversy. He’s been fined for homophobic comments, among others, and he never seems to think about what he’s saying before he says it. But this last one is the topper because he was just about to start his first season as manager of the Florida Marlins, playing in Miami, which has a huge Cuban expatriate population, all of whom hate Castro with a passion. Spanish broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez compared Guillen’s comments to going into the Jewish section of New York city and praising Adolf Hitler. Amaury knows. He left his native Cuba at 17 and spent the next five years in Miami before migrating west.
To make it worse, the Marlins have a new park which is located in the middle of the Cuban section. They were hoping to encourage Cubans, who love baseball, to spark an upsurge in attendance. And now, their new manager insults them before the team plays its first game in the new park.
Guillen has been suspended for five games. He’d be wise to spend that time resolving to think before he talks. For the first time in his life.
NFL OFFSEASON: The 49ers have done an excellent job in the free agency period, keeping their defense intact and picking up some good offensive pieces from the New York Giants, with running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham. Their only significant loss was guard Adam Snyder. The top OL candidates always go high in the draft, so the Niners will have to rely on their scouts to come up with prospects in lower rounds. In their favor is the fact that Greg Roman is an excellent offensive line coach, so he may be able to bring along Brian Kilgore, a fifth-round pick last year. Or, the Niners may sign one of the veteran free agents they’ve worked out. Stay tuned.
The Raiders approach has, of necessity, been much different. New general manager Reggie McKenzie has had to first clear out the bad contracts Al Davis had agreed to, so the team can be put on a solid financial footing going ahead. Though McKenzie paid the usual deference to “the greatness of the Raiders” when he was hired, he clearly was not a fan of the way Davis had operated. He has changed everything, and he’s gotten rid of some of Davis’s draft mistakes. Bruce Campbell, another of those guys Davis loved because they performed well in non-football tests, is the latest to go.
McKenzie has even hired a real public relations director, Zac Gilbert who was at Green Bay when McKenzie was there. For years, the nominal Raiders PR director has been Mike Taylor, whose principal responsibility was to bawl out writers and broadcasters who wrote or said things that Davis didn’t like. (I didn’t get that treatment because even Davis realized it didn’t work with me, but they’ve played silly games with me, waiting until the last minute to issue game credentials, for instance.) The media had long ago learned to go through the assistant PR man, Will Kiss now, to get things done. Taylor has been re-assigned but I expect he’ll be gone within six months.
Today, the Raiders even held a pre-draft media session with McKenzie, something they have never done before. Of course, there was no way they could. There was only one man making decisions and he wasn’t talking.
GIANTS: I just don’t understand this game. Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain get roughed up in their first starts but Barry Zito throws a shutout against the Rockies in Denver?
Zito started the spring with still another new approach, this one courtesy of Tom House, who obviously hoped that Zito would have a turnaround using his approach, which would direct more clients to him. Sorry about that, Tom, but the longer Zito used his approach in the spring, the worse he got. Finally, he went back to his old form, though he says he still has some elements of House’s approach. No writers have asked him which ones because they know from experience that Zito would have no answers.
What Zito did against the Rockies was to throw strikes, 71 of them among his 114 pitches. That’s something he’d gotten away from even with the A’s, as he recorded a career high 99 walks in his final season. That pattern has been even more obvious in his Giants’ career. He just hasn’t wanted to throw the ball across the plate and the pattern had become painfully obvious: He’d nibble and nibble, walk a couple of batters and then, boom!, the next batter hits a three-run homer. That’s what the Rockies were waiting for. Instead, Zito was throwing strikes and the hitters, behind in the count, had to swing at what Zito wanted them to swing at.
Lefthanders with mediocre fast balls can survive in the majors. The A’s have another of those, rookie Tommy Milone, who threw eight innings of a shutout win against Kansas City on Monday night. But a pitcher with a mediocre fast ball who doesn’t throw strikes is doomed.
Mike Krukow was discussing a pitcher’s reluctance to throw strikes during the early innings of Sunday’s game and recalled that, when he fell into that pattern, catcher Bob Brenly would come to the mound and say, “Throw strikes. They aren’t going to hit your stuff. And if they do, you get a chance to go into the clubhouse and have a brew, so it’s win-win.”
I’m sure young Hector Sanchez had no such words of encouragement for Zito, but he didn’t have to. Barry knew he was pitching for his survival because, if the Giants decided he couldn’t even be trusted to be the fifth starter, his baseball career would be ended. Nobody would pick him up if the Giants released him.
So, he just reverted to his early career form and pitched his first shutout since 2003, so long ago that he couldn’t remember anything about the game but the opponent, the Texas Rangers.
Which Zito will we see the rest of this season. Don’t ask me. I’ll never understand this game.
Maybe I can get Gwen Knapp to explain it to me.
TIGER’S MALAISE: When Tiger Woods blazed through to a triumph in his last tournament before the Masters, golf writers were ready to write that Woods was back, expecting that he’d win the tournament that has been his favorite.
Well, not quite. Tiger never came close to competing for the championship, getting worse as the tournament went on, and finished with his worst score ever.
I’m no authority on golf but I have been around many great athletes through the years and I’ve observed that, beyond their obvious physical skills, they also have an overwhelming belief in themselves. Tiger certainly had that earlier in his career – I remember his triumphal march to the U.S. Open championship at Pebble Beach in 2000 – but he has clearly lost it now. Forget all his talk about his swing. When he was playing so well, there was never any talk of that because he was hitting the ball so well and not thinking about it. He’s definitely lost his mojo, and without that, he has zero chance of returning to the top. My guess is that he’s stuck at 14 majors, an impressive total but four short of his goal, Jack Nicklaus’s record 18.
I can’t feel sorry for him. He brought this on himself with his reckless sexual games, breaking up his marriage and family. He doesn’t deserve any sympathy.
OF COURSE, the biggest story at Augusta National was the question of whether IBM CEO Ginni Rometty would be given a membership in the club. IBM is the chief corporate sponsor of the Masters and the last four CEOs were given club memberships. But, they were all male, as is the entire club membership. Outside pressure forced Augusta National to take a black member in 1990 but apparently members fear women more than blacks.
At the news conference just before opening of play, cClub chairman Billy Payne dodged half a dozen questions about Ms. Rometty, saying that membership is a private matter. But it wasn’t private when the previous four CEOs from IBM were given membership.
This is not just a social question. Considerable business is conducted on golf courses. When my brother went to work for the Bank of California, after getting his MBA at Cal, there was a program in effect to teach incoming MBAs how to act socially, primarily at big dinners. The head of that program debated adding golf instruction to that program because it was so important that the new executives knew how to play, for business reasons.
So, by excluding women from membership, Augusta National is also sharply reducing their ability to function in the business world. That plays well in Augusta, a backward Southern city (yes, I know I’m being redundant), but not nationally.
It’s also a problem for IBM because if they do nothing, it sends a message to their female work force and the country. Not incidentally, Ms. Rometty is a golfer and probably has conducted business on the course.
I think IBM should quickly announce that, if their CEO is not granted a membership, it will withdraw its sponsorship. Augusta National would have a hard time attracting a substitute sponsor, with all this negative publicity. The Good Old Boys may not recognize women’s rights but they understand money. Hit ‘em where it hurts.
SPEAKING OF Good Old Boys, I wonder how Bobby Petrino is going to explain to his wife how he lost his multi-million contract as football coach at Arkansas. And how long do you think it will be before that blonde beauty he put on the college payroll will dump his sorry ass?
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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