Monthly Archives: September 2014

Boardwalk Empire’s Sad Limp to the Finish Line

When Boardwalk Empire debuted with a captivating Martin Scorsese directed episode, it seemed the show was destined to become one of the truly great cable dramas, inhabiting the same rarefied air of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. During football season, no matter who was playing on Sunday night football, I would always switch over to Boardwalk Empire for an hour. I had a PVR but there was no way I could wait a day to watch the show. The show ruled my fall Sunday evening viewing habits for two years. Then they killed off Jimmy Darmody.

Jimmy Darmody’s death was the disappointing character departure of any show I have ever cared about. It wasn’t that I was so emotionally attached to the character, but rather that the first two years had been built around then relationship between Jimmy and Nucky. When Michael Pitt’s character was written out of the show I found myself wondering “What is this show going to be about now?” Sadly, it seems the writers were probably asking themselves the same question.

In season 3, we were introduced to a cartoonish villain named Gyp Rossetti. Though Bobby Cannavale did a marvelous job portraying the character, it was clear from the beginning that he was destined to fail in his battle against Nucky and would be killed off at the end of the season. This was in stark contrast to the Jimmy Darmody character whose entire life had been intertwined with Nucky. The two decade background with Nucky and Jimmy allowed the writers to give much more depth and complexity to their relationship. The Gyp Rosetti character, though entertaining, was purely superficial. With the Jimmy plot line, there was a sense that the show was building towards something; when Gyp Rosetti came on the scene the show began simply treading water. To be fair, this season did deliver the best line in the show’s history when Van Alden/Mueller’s wife says to him “I’ll hold his legs. Husband!”

Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller is perhaps my favourite character in the show, but while I always craved more scenes with him, his moving to Chicago helped exacerbate an overly sprawling story line and gave the impression that the writers had perhaps bitten off more than they could chew. By the fourth season, Nucky seemed to have been reduced to a supporting character as much of the storyline was focused on the rivalry between Chaulky and Narcisse.

There may well have been some grand plan to neatly tie all of these unwieldy story-lines together, but the show’s appeal had declined so much in seasons 3 and 4 that it appears as if HBO simply gave up on the show and told the writers to simply clue things up. Such as their apparent displeasure with the show that they were only willing to grant 8 episodes to tie all of these loose ends together. Bizarrely, even with such little time left, the writers have decided to waste almost half of the final season with flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood. These flashbacks do absolutely nothing to advance the plot and have somehow failed to provide any meaningful insight into Nucky’s character. Thus far, they have simply served to waste valuable time and confirm what we already knew; Nucky was poor, his father was a jerk, and the Dabney Coleman took him under his wing.

With only 4 episodes left, it is difficult to see how the writers can bring this series to anything remotely resembling a satisfying conclusion. When you step back, there aren’t really any big questions left to be answered in the show. Most of the characters are historical figures, so we know what will happen to them; the only question is whether Chaulky White manages to exact some sort of revenge on Narcisse. All of the other fictional characters seem to have been killed off by this point. This is a sad end to what could have been an all-time great show.

Toronto Maple Leafs Worst Organization in Professional Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the curious distinction of being both the worst run yet also one of the richest franchises in all of sports. They have all of the money of the New York Yankees with the competitive performance of the Cleveland Browns.

That they are rich is not a matter for debate; Forbes routinely lists them as the NHL’s most valuable franchise and despite the highest ticket prices in the league, their games have been continuously sold out for several generations. Both the Ontario Teachers Union Pension Plan and scalpers owe their comfortable future retirements to the money making machine that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though not even the most die-hard Leafs fan would argue that the Leafs have been a great team, many would argue that calling them the worst team in sports would be an exaggeration, and that they are merely one of many not very good teams. They might say that a lot of the negativity directed at the Leafs is a result of jealousy that the Leafs are always on Hockey Night in Canada and receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. It is no doubt true that much of the negativity directed at the Maple Leafs is purely due to rivalries and jealousies, but if you step back and look at the facts, it is clear that even their critics do not appreciate just how awful this team has been for over a generation.

Great organizations like the Detroit Red Wings generally build their teams by making smart draft picks over time and developing their prospects. Teams that draft well don’t just have a smart GM; they have talented and hard working scouting and minor league coaching staff that follow strategic and methodical system of identifying and developing young talent. While any one pick could turn out to be a bust, in the long run a team with a solid system will outperform. The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand have displayed a shocking inability to either draft or develop prospects.

In the last 28 NHL drafts, the Leafs have not drafted and developed a single star with a first round pick. The first round picks by the Leafs in the last 28 NHL drafts have scored a cumulative total of 284 goals for the team. Not a single first round pick in that timeframe scored more than 30 goals for the team. More players have scored less than 20 goals in their Leaf careers than have scored 20 in a season in a Toronto uniform.

In fairness, Toronto traded their first round picks in several of those draft years. One year they traded their pick to New Jersey and they picked Scott Niedermeyer. Another year they traded a pick to Florida and they picked Roberto Luongo. A couple of years they picked a goalie. One of them was Eric Fichaud, who never made the NHL, and the other was Tukka Rask. Rask was then traded to Boston, where he went on to win the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender.

To put things in perspective, Nik Andropov has more than twice as many career goals (113) as a Leaf than any other player picked in those 28 years. You think that sounds bad? Luke Schenn is in fourth place with 14 career goals. A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a draft board would literally have produced better results than Toronto has managed over the past 28 years.

The reason why the Maple Leafs have been so awful for so long at drafting suggests the team is suffering from some fundamental organizational deficiencies. This is no doubt due to being lulled into complacency from being the only NHL team in a city filled with affluent and rabid hockey fans. Toronto simply never really needed to build a top notch organization, because they knew that they knew no matter how terrible a team they put on the ice they could still continue to raise ticket prices every year and still sell out. As long as the fans keep forking over money to watch an awful hockey team, the Leafs will continue to be an awful organization.

Ten Thoughts from Week 2 of the NFL

  1. I have finally become a believer in the Madden Curse.
  2. All those people who have been saying for the last fifteen years that Andy Reid is an awful clock manager are correct.
  3. If any Raiders fans can see light at the end of the tunnel, it is most likely a locomotive.
  4. The Broncos offense failing to score a point in the second half and their defense repeatedly jumping offside late in the game may look like foreshadowing come playoff time.
  5. The Washington Redskins look like they will be the first team in history with a 4 year long quarterback controversy.
  6. Neither the Packers nor the Saints remotely resemble Super Bowl contenders.
  7. Having a fourth down, game tying touchdown negated by an assistant coach calling a last second time out could only happen to the New York Jets. It’s impossible to imagine something like that happening with New England.
  8. The 49ers looked rattled against the Bears. If they lose to the Cardinals next week they could be in trouble.
  9. I loved the way Phillip Rivers went after Richard Sherman and shut him up. Really put an exclamation point on an impressive victory.
  10. The ugliest loss of the week by far belonged to the Bucs. Lovie Smith is off to a rough start in Tampa.

Seeing is Feeling – How Video Shapes Public Opinion

Ray Rice was caught on video assaulting his fiancé and has since been cut by his team, suspended indefinitely, and become a pariah. Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in July and he is quietly playing football with the Carolina Panthers as if nothing happened. Donald Sterling, due to a number of lawsuits and allegations over the years, was widely believed to be a racist, but he managed to be an owner for 30 years with virtually no complaints from any of the players or NBA executives. But when he was caught on tape telling his girlfriend that he did not want her going to games with black people, the NBA and the general public were outraged and he was forced to sell his team.

We always knew that Ray Rice knocked out his fiancé in that elevator, which was why there was a negative reaction to the original 2 game suspension. The NFL, after listening to all the criticism over the 2 game suspension, changed its policy so that in the future, a player would receive a six game suspension for domestic abuse. Then when the second Ray Rice video was released showing us exactly what we already knew, the NFL then suspended Rice indefinitely. Many have pointed out that it seems the real reason why Rice’s suspension is so long is that he happened to be caught on tape.

Leaving aside the discussion of what would have been an appropriate punishment for Ray Rice, it is intriguing how much more outrage the public feels when they actually see the incident with their own eyes. It is important to keep in mind that this is not a case where the video clarified guilt or innocence; we always knew that Rice assaulted his fiancé in that elevator and then dragged her out like a sack of potatoes. It was seeing it that caused the outrage.

The lesson I take from all of this is not simply that people are hypocrites, but rather that people may need to something with their own eyes before they truly know their opinion of it. Maybe people should hold off on forming strong opinions on something until they have seen it with their own eyes. How many supporters of the death penalty would have the same position if they had to watch prisoners being executed? On the flipside, how many people who typically favor leniency and early parole for convicts would feel the same way if they were forced to watch the actual violent crimes that were committed?

The same people that are now outraged over Ray Rice’s original two game suspension and calling for Roger Goodell’s head never batted an eye over the years as one player after another was convicted of domestic abuse and didn’t face a single game suspension. Those stories just faded into the background just like all those nightly stories on Ebola outbreaks, civil wars, famines, and child poverty reports. We hear the stories, conceptually we agree they are terrible, and then we clean up the dishes.

Over the past year we heard stories about this group in Syria that were so violent even Al Qaeda disowned them, but collectively we just shrugged off the thousands of deaths until we saw a video of a hostage being barbarically beheaded. Now we are going to war with them. If ISIS had massacred an entire village of 10,000 people that day instead of posting the video footage of killing that journalist, they would not be the target airstrikes right now. If Greg Hardy’s assault had been videotaped instead of Ray Rice’s, Hardy would be suspended and Rice would be playing football this weekend. Seeing isn’t just believing, seeing is feeling.

Ray Rice Fiasco Highlights Widespread Phoniness in Professional Sports

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly did we learn with the release of the video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancé in that Atlantic City elevator? We knew they were alone in the elevator. We knew that she was conscious when she stepped into the elevator. We knew that Ray Rice knocked her unconscious in the elevator. Nobody was suggesting that the woman fainted or slipped on a banana peel. Rice was after all charged with domestic abuse. Keep in mind that the original video did not show Janay Rice staggering out of the elevator clutching her face, it showed her completely motionless and unconscious on the floor.

Did people think that he merely pushed her away to ward off her violent attack? This is a person whose job it is to get violently tackled 25 times a game by 250+ pound men. Often 2-3 such men combine to tackle him, and intelligent people supposedly believed that he couldn’t withstand the onslaught from his fiancé for the 20 seconds it would have taken for the door to open? If Ray Rice’s fiancé was trying to beat him to death he could have held her off with one hand and drank a cup of hot coffee with the other without spilling a drop.

Before the second video, many sports commentators stated that Rice’s two game suspension was about right, though some publicly wondered if the penalty might have even been too harsh. Adam Schefter even posed the unfortunate question of whether the NFL was “lenient enough”. Now that the second video has been released the media is coming at the NFL and Roger Goodell with torches and pitchforks. It’s as if sports commentators had no idea that knocking a woman unconscious could look so distasteful until they saw that second video.

The reality is that members of the sports media, like most human beings, still have an instinct to stick with the herd. When the critical mass of public opinion began reacting with outrage to the second video, everyone sprinted off the front of the mob. The Ravens organization, which had the cluelessness to tweet about Janay Rice accepting her responsibility for the incident, promptly cut Rice and all the commentators who were once so quick to move on to the next story were all over the TV and radio voicing their outrage.

This is much the same as what happened with Donald Sterling. For years people had accused Sterling of discriminating against minorities and actually settled a huge lawsuit related to housing discrimination. Despite Sterling’s reputation, he carried on as an owner for decades and even had the league block a trade of Chris Paul to his team’s biggest rival, thus allowing Sterling to make his own trade for Paul. But when social media exploded over the leak of tape where he was caught telling his mistress he didn’t want her going to games with black people, everyone in the sports world was suddenly outraged and Sterling was forced from the league.

The phoniest people of all in this story is the top brass of the NFL, particularly Roger Goodell himself. In the span of just a few weeks he has adjusted his position on domestic abuse three times. First he felt a two game suspension for knocking your fiancé unconscious was sufficient. Then when many people voiced their anger that two games for domestic abuse was woefully inadequate given he had just suspended someone a year for smoking marijuana, he told us that he had reconsidered and that in the future players would get a 6 game suspension for domestic abuse but that they would not change Ray Rice’s original suspension. Then when everybody went crazy over the second video, he changed his mind again and said that Rice would be suspended indefinitely. Some might argue that this is uncharted territory for the NFL and they have now learned their lesson on the seriousness of domestic violence. That argument might hold some water if not for the fact that the most famous murder trial in the country’s history involved a star running back who abused his wife.

10 Predictions for the 2014 NFL Season

  1. The Denver Broncos will have a fantastic regular season and suffer a heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.
  2. The Cowboys will be the same old Cowboys only more so this year and Jason Garrett will be fired.
  3. Michael Sam will play a regular season game. That will be the only positive news the Cowboys will generate this year.
  4. San Francisco will take a step back this year and not make the playoffs.
  5. The Bills will miss the playoffs again. CJ Spiller will average over 5 yards a carry and have about 12 rushes per game.
  6. Blake Bortles will play and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be a surprisingly respectable team.
  7. Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel will both play for the Browns and the Browns will continue to be the same old Browns. The only difference is that this year people will actually pay attention to them.
  8. The NFL and the player’s union will agree on HGH testing in exchange for softening the penalties for marijuana use.
  9. The Jets will be a circus again. Geno Smith will be replaced by Michael Vick at some point and for the second straight year the Jets will miraculously avoid posting a losing record.
  10. The Bengals will win their division again and actually win a playoff game.

Jeff Fisher’s Charmed Existence

Despite not given much chance of contending in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, the St. Louis Rams have received as much attention as any team in the NFL this preseason. All this attention is due to a pair of Sams, Sam Bradford and Michael Sam, neither of whom, it turns out, will play a single snap for the team this year. It is understandable that the loss of a starting quarterback for the year in pre-season and the drafting of a gay player would generate headlines, but I believe the media has been overlooking a much more fascinating Rams-related story, which is how Jeff Fisher has maintained his status as one of the most respected head coaches in the NFL.

Jeff Fisher is about to start his 20th year as an NFL head coach. In his time as a head coach his teams have had a winning record 6 times. When he was fired by the Titans after a 6-10 season, Jeff Fisher didn’t just have an easy time finding a new job, he actually had teams fighting over him. When he finally decided to accept the Rams’ offer, the media acted as if the team had just won the lottery. To put this in perspective, Marty Shottenheimer was fired after going 14-2 with the San Diego Charger, and never got a single job offer. That 14 win season was his 15th with a winning record.

The St. Louis Rams have had losing seasons in Fisher’s first two years as head coach. During that time the presumptive franchise quarterback he inherited has been frequently injured and mediocre when he has gotten on the field. Despite the lack of production at QB, he has consistently maintained that Sam Bradford is the guy they want to build around and has not drafted any potential competitors at quarterback even though they have had a wealth of draft picks thanks to trading the 2nd overall pick to the Redskins. Now that Sam Bradford has torn his ACL for the second straight year, Fisher will be playing in the toughest division in all of football with journeyman Shawn Hill as their quarterback. In fairness, I should point out that Hill has a better record as a starter than Bradford.

I don’t dispute that Jeff Fisher is a competent coach who knows how to run a team. There are no doubt much worse coaches in the league than him, but what cannot be disputed is that coaches this much better track records routinely find themselves fired or on the hot seat. Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls and he always seems to be a game away from being fired. There was speculation of his during both of his Super Bowl years. But here is Jeff Fisher who has produced a winning season less than a third of the time during his coaching career, soaking up the adulation as one of the most respected and valued coaches in the game.