Saturday, February 25, 2012

When Mitt Romney Came To Town...Along with Rick, Newt, and Ron

On Tuesday, voters in the mitten state will go to the polls. The Republican Primary is here (and in Arizona), and as such, it's been a race between two of the top four: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich has essentially written off Michigan, and Ron Paul doesn't resonate very well here, so neither are expected fair better than 15% on Tuesday.

The real race then comes down to either Romney, our supposed "favorite son" and Santorum with his conservative insurgency and reliance on Tea Party activists. Romney should have taken this state rather easily as he was born here, spent the first 14 years of his life here, and conventional wisdom would suggest the sooner he wrapped up the GOP nomination, the sooner he can devote all his resources to defeating President Obama.

Unfortunately, the road to his inevitable coronation hit a few pot holes. Of course, this is Michigan, so that can be taken literally as well.

It looks as though Romney is only now coming back after a series of unfavorable polling that showed Santorum gaining momentum here. I think what had hurt Romney the most here was his defense of the position he took back in 2008 where he opposed the federal bailout of Chrysler and GM. Romney opined in the Detroit News back on Valentine's Day that the bailout was "crony capitalism on a grand scale."

The last thing Romney needed was to remind voters here that he opposed a policy four years ago that turned out was successful and saved jobs. Of all the GOP candidates, Mitt Romney knows best how important the auto industry is to this state. Rather than admit he was wrong, he opined a column that tortured logic and in the end tried having it both ways. "It needed to go through managed was put through managed bankruptcy."

It's hard to say how exactly he would have done differently. I don't know if it was contradictory. It kind of looked like he was trying to come up with a solution so confusing that maybe we should just assume he knows what he's talking about and we'll all just go along with it.

I am no auto expert. But I do know that federal loans saved GM and Chrysler (Ford managed to mortgage farm to avoid a federal loan), and thereby staved off an even more severe economic downturn. No amount of spin from Romney can change this.

In typical Romney fashion, he came off pandering by blaming the unions (or the union bosses), which I don't really understand why unionized workers are such a target. They are exactly the kind of voters Republicans need: they're middle class and they've got a ballot. More to the point, many of them are socially conservative, many own guns, many hunt, and most importantly, they are archetypal, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of people many Republicans think everyone should be.

The Democratic Party does not have a monopoly on union voters or households. They do have a 2-1, or in some cases a 3-2 advantage that can be neutralized 50-50 or even possibly reversed. Instead of reaching out to these people, Romney wants to point the finger at them and say that they're the problem. Well, they're not. They could have been your saving grace.

While it seems likely Romney will eventually win the Michigan primary, it's neither assured nor is it expected to be a landslide. Barring another economic collapse, I find it highly unlikely he'll be able to flip Michigan to the Republican column in November.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Goodbye Football, Pt. 2

I have a confession to make: I've had my fill of football. Once the Super Bowl ended, it was time to decompress. It's a great thing they moved the Pro Bowl to the week prior to the big game, only because it's not really a game at all, just a chance at watching a bunch football players not play actual football. No one is interested in the Pro Bowl. They should get rid of it.

But that's not why I've had my fill. After seven months, it's time to take my mind off the game. Okay, it's really about ten months, because I do get excited about the NFL Draft in April. But this year will be different. The Lions aren't picking first. Or second. They're not even picking in the Top 20. The Lions will be picking No. 23.

Why No. 23? Because they made the playoffs. No, they didn't go far, but they made the playoffs despite losing in the Wild Card. Their Wild Card appearance plus their record of 10-6 put them at 23. Great.

Enough with the draft, though. I've got more to say on that later.

There's three months in between the draft and training camp. With training camp comes the NFL Preseason. Four weeks later, it's Opening Kickoff.

It's a 16-game regular season. It's twenty if you count the preseason, and as many as 23/24 if you count preseason, regular season, and post season (if you play in the Wild Card, if not, subtract 1). Even if you're one of the lucky teams like the Patriots and Giants who got to play in the 24 total games, Tom Brady nor Eli Manning play in the final preseason game, and maybe not in the first one, either.

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell once again brought up the topic that worries me most: establishing an 18-game season. Remember, I've had my fill of football. It's February. The build up for the 2012 season starts after April and lasts all summer. I'm decompressing.

Unfortunately, Mr. Goodell wants more football. Well, not so much more football, but more regular season football. Two more regular season, and two less preseason. Why? Preseason games don't matter, and the fans don't like them.

Even if fans don't like the preseason, it's not clear their clamoring for two more regular season games. Mr. Goodell and his bosses (the NFL owners) are only half-listening to the fans. No matter how hard he pushes for an 18-game season, it should never, ever happen.

18-game seasons are dangerous. Most of your 1st-string plays sparingly in the preseason to give backups and younger players more playing time to develop or move up the depth chart. If your Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, or Matthew Staffords are playing for more games that count, the likelihood of injury doesn't go up significantly, but their loss to the team will be no matter how small the increase in chance.

Some have speculated that rule changes by the league designed to reduce the number of injuries is a way for Goodell to go back in a few years and say "Hey, we've reduced injuries - we're now moving to an 18-game season." Just look at their policies on player concussions. Or how now defenders can no longer hit a "defenseless receiver" attempting to make a catch in mid air. Or how horse collar tackles are now prohibited. Either way, I suspect this has less to do with extending the regular season to 18, and more to do with league liability as there is pending litigation on how the NFL has handled past concussion incidents.

But I do see 18 games as a way of exhausting fans' attention. The NFL won't make more money. They already charge regular season prices for preseason games, ahem, games that don't count.

An 18-game season will diminish the importance of many milestones and arbitrarily create new ones. When it was a 14-game format, a 1,000 yard rushing season was a big deal. A running back had to average just under 72 yards a game over that time frame to reach the milestone. Now, you only need average 62.5 over 16 games. But 18 games? You'll need to only average a ho-hum 55.6 yard game over an 18-game stretch to reach 1000 yards.

The same can be said for reaching other milestones like quarterbacks throwing 30+ touchdowns and 3,000+ yards. Wide receivers would need less than 6 receptions a game to reach 100 catches on the year.

Just think about how the NFL is now a passing league anyway. There were 4 quarterbacks who passed for more than 5,000 yards last year. Only 2 had accomplished this in the previous 27 seasons, and one of those 4, Drew Brees, was the second player who went over the 5,000 mark in 2009. All single-season NFL records will lose their luster, their magic gone. It'll be like baseball in the steroid era, only the only things juiced here are the rules.

So Mr. Goodell, if you're reading this (and most likely you're the one person on this planet who actually does), take my advice: cut the Preseason down to 2 games, and keep the regular season at 16. The league is already making money hand over fist. You've done a great job in terms of league profitability. Don't get greedy and your fans won't get bored with your product.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Proxy Baptisms Could Be Worse

Last week, I was reading the Washington Post when I stumbled upon this article about the Mormon Church issuing "proxy baptisms" to, among others, deceased Holocaust victims, as well as various non-Mormons, including many Christians. A "proxy baptism" is basically baptizing a non-Mormon posthumously in order to enter heaven.

Well, it isn't technically the Mormon Church, so they say, but rather someone acting outside the Church's authority. One might think this isn't much of a story right now, but because Mitt Romney is a Mormon, he was a lay leader, this can become a very sensitive topic to the Republican front runner.

Romney has admitted in a 2007 interview that he has participated in proxy baptisms in the past, but not recently. Exactly what is "recently," no one knows.

I can see how someone at first can find this unsettling. If you're Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or whatever, it violates your very covenant. The whole ritual reeks of intolerance.

It even sounds downright weird. What doesn't help Romney or his church is the fact that they are so secretive about their rituals. Romney has downplayed his religious views, to which I'm okay, because I'm not a fan of mixing religion with politics (in that regard, this makes Romney superior to a Rick Santorum any day).

But I can't really get offended. If you actually think about it, this does nothing. Posthumously baptizing Elie Wiesel, his parents, other Holocaust victims, or other non-Mormons, only makes them members of the LDS in the eyes of LDS members, no one else. Elie Wiesel isn't no longer Jewish because some people in Provo, Utah decides he's ready for a baptism by proxy.

Because I am quite irreligious, I can't find this act that offensive. Only weird. If they did this to me, so what? It won't change anything about me. I'm not a Christian because I don't believe in the teachings of the Bible. Period.

It's comparable to insulting me after I'm dead. I'll never hear the insult!

So while the Helen Radkeys of the world think that they're revealing something so dark and hideous, they're not doing anything much more than causing a PR snafu for the Mormon Church.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Goodbye Football, Pt. 1

And so the 2011 NFL Season concludes: the New York Giants are the best team in professional football. Super Bowl XLVI ended the same way Super Bowl XLII ended in two ways: Eli Manning leading a TD-scoring drive that included a spectacular catch by one of his wide receivers, and Tom Brady unable to lead the game winning drive.

It was a good game, and a good cap to a memorable season for a Lions' fan such as myself. My team won 10 games! We went to the playoffs. Well, "they" did. Ahh, who cares? We went to the playoffs!

My only interest in the game was to see Tom Brady notch his 4th Super Bowl victory and tie the likes of Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. To do so would make him the undisputed best QB of his generation (and then another win would make him the best of all time!). I'm a Brady fan because he's a Michigan QB. He's from California, but quarterbacked the team in the two years following the Michigan Wolverines' 1997 Championship season. While he didn't repeat a National Championship, he did play well enough to win a share of the Big Ten Championship in 1998, and two Bowl victories (Citrus Bowl over Arkansas and Orange Bowl over Alabama).

Brady is kind of a local sports "hero" around here. Michigan and Michigan State have proud football traditions, and it's always nice to see players from those schools succeed at the next level. But Brady is different because he's a quarterback. Michigan in the last three decades has had Brady, Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Chad Henne, Drew Henson, Todd Collins, and John Navarre all play the position in the NFL. Of those guys, only Harbaugh, Grbac, and Griese had respectable careers aside from Brady.

Michigan State hasn't had any real tangible starting quarterback in the NFL, despite sending a handful over the last couple of decades: Jim Miller, Tony Banks, Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton, and Brian Hoyer. None of them have made any significant impact in the NFL, although Miller, Banks, and maybe Stanton can qualify as journeymen, or quality backups.

Who's Ohio State got? Art Schlichter? Bobby Hoying? BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! No, really, who've they got? (Terrelle Pryor, it's all on you, baby!)

So Brady's been my de facto favorite quarterback while my Lions have wandered for decades in search of "the guy" (and from the looks of things, we've found him in Matt Stafford). While Matt Millen was "brainstorming" on how to put a football team together, I had to root for some team that could actually win, so it was easy to find the Patriots as a logical 2nd choice. They've got Brady, and he's good for the state.

Yesterday's loss doesn't sting as much as the 2007 (technically, 2008) loss. The Patriots were undefeated, they were oh-so-close to capping off the perfect season, and it ended harshly. Think yesterday's game, but with less time on the clock. But the Patriots weren't as heavily favored. Their defense was atrocious, and many predicted that's where the outcome of the game would lie.

I see that Brady's wife, Gisele, is under scrutiny for criticizing his receivers. Of course, she's right; had Wes Welker caught that one pass late in the 4th, they might've scored another TD and put the game out of reach. There were other drops after Welker's, but his was a clutch drop. Now Welker may be developing a reputation for hurting his team's chances when they need him most (he was benched for the opening series against the Jets in the 2010 Wild Card for making references to Jets' Coach Rex Ryan's alleged foot fetishes). Other receivers too, like Deion Branch, had their hands on the ball but were slightly out of position making the ball harder to catch than Welker's pass.

But I digress, Brady's 4th Super Bowl ring eludes him another year. I don't know if he'll get another shot. He's 33, and the Patriots need to retool the defense. Maybe it will become dominant again, but by the time it does, his skills may have regressed to where he's no longer "Tom Terrific."

As for Eli Manning, my hat's off to him. He now has his second Super Bowl victory, one more than big brother Peyton. And Eli won it in Peyton's house, Lucas Oil Stadium (that's home to the Indianapolis Colts to any non-football fan). I'm not a huge fan of the Mannings, but I have to admit: they are good for football. They're clean, they respect the game, and they've expanded the brand.

If there's one statistic that will stand out to me is the fact that Eli Manning has not one, but TWO Super Bowl rings in his first eight years. Peyton Manning didn't make it to his first Super Bowl until his ninth year. No matter how many MVPs, how many All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl invites, or other numerous awards and accomplishments, that will always stand out to me. Peyton won his first Super Bowl just in time for Eli to win his first.

As far as the debate between who's the better quarterback - Brady or Manning? I think the nod once again goes to Brady. For all Manning's statistics, and all his accolades, the game is about winning championships. Brady has three rings out of five appearances; Manning is one for two. Brady has a better playoff record, he does own some single-season records (like the TD pass), and he is catching up in the number of MVP awards.

Brady is a Michigan man. I'm sad he didn't win, but I'm glad he's the best quarterback in his generation.