March 3, 2008

Much like Maryland ... see you later

Looks like I picked a great week to put the Steele Press on hiatus.

If ever there was a week, or a morning, to crank out a blog entry and sit back and let the comments flow in, this is the one. Clemson 73, Maryland 70. I got a text message after the game (to be precise, after leaving Comcast Center, thanks to the lousy cell reception in there) from an alumnus and regular attendee who wasn't at the game, but watched at home, and it read, simply, "NIT it is.''

Got a call this morning from another alumnus, and a regular blog contributor, who turned the game off when Maryland was up by 20, and thus wasn't sure what all the agony and forehead-slapping he was hearing and seeing this morning was about.

In the comments section of my column this morning, blame is being spread among Gary Williams, Greivis Vasquez, all the other players and the program in general. This is one of the uglier days in Terps men's basketball history - not up there with the ultimate, undisputable ugliest day (June 19, 1986), but a lot of folks are really ticked off.

(One thought that just crossed my mind: if your graduation rate is 0 percent, you'd better be coasting into the tournament every year. If you're neither educating the kids nor making the field of 65, then what's the point of any of this?)

Over on "Tracking the Terps,'' beat writer Don Markus is asking if this is the worst home loss in Maryland history, and invokes the Duke game in 2001. That, in the long run, didn't cost Maryland anything except some national embarrassment. This one is less national embarrassment, more postseason impact.

In the midst of all that, though, I say goodbye, for now.

Catching a bug immediately after the Super Bowl and being laid out for two weeks did the traffic on Steele Press no favors, and neither, in general, does the fact that knocking out columns all week and dropping blog items daily, or multiple times daily, is a hard pace to keep up. Not that I ever disrespected bloggers as too many of my colleagues in the business have - how can you make a living writing and scoff at others who do the same thing for no pay? - my respect level has increased from the amount of copy they've got to produce.

Still, this blog will be re-worked and re-imagined (maybe even re-named) in the next month or so and, hopefully, started up again, because when I'm not expelling massive quantities of phlegm, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity blogging provides me to expand on topics I feel strongly about which can't be contained in three or four columns a week. And, believe it or not, I enjoy the feedback, even the nasty, mean-spirited, racist type.

Thanks to everybody for hanging in there and fueling the fire, and I'm sorry I couldn't keep it going the way I'd hoped. I'll still be in the paper, of course. I'll also still be on WNST's Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester at 9 every Tuesday (possibly moving to Wednesdays, but I'll let you know), and on The Sports Groove with Mark Gray on WOL every Thursday at 8:37 p.m.

And (one final, important plug), you can still buy Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith in hardcover; it comes out in paperback sometime in May.

But for what's now called the Steele Press, it's off to hibernation. I'll do better next time.

Maybe Maryland will, too.


January 28, 2008

Ravens on the right track?

Thanks for hanging in there while my fingers thawed from my trip to Green Bay last week. I will be posting occasionally on my own blog this week while I'm in Phoenix for the Super Bowl, and posting regularly on our Sports Special Events blog, too. It's better this way, because it's not like the world stopped spinning everywhere else but here this week.

Particularly back home. A glance at a media credential with "Baltimore'' on it here means a conversation, short or long, about what's going on with the Ravens. Last week at the NFC championship, the weekend John Harbaugh was hired, the questions came steady: "John Harbaugh? Where did that come from?''

This week, similar requests, particularly about why Rex Ryan didn't get a serious look by the Ravens and Falcons. Many found it interesting that Ryan acknowledged that he might have turned the Falcons off in his interview. Many also believe that keeping Ryan and bringing Cam Cameron into run the offense reflects well on Harbaugh, for making experience and now continuity a priority with his coordinators.

Then again, one observer pointed out that this entire week might have a different vibe about it but for one huge moment in the regular season. The Patriots, it was pointed out, might not be perfect right now had Ryan not called that infamous time-out on fourth down in the Monday Night game at M&T Bank Stadium.



January 18, 2008

The former Mrs. Rosenbloom

It's amazing how far back you have to go to know why the death of Georgia Frontiere earlier today has relevance in Baltimore. It pretty much illustrates the damage done by the Colts moving. But this isn't the time or place to rehash that story, especially on the day of her passing, and on one of the most significant days in Ravens history.

OK, maybe it is the time and place.

Georgia Frontiere owned the St. Louis Rams. She moved the Rams from Los Angeles in 1995. She became owner of the Rams in 1979 when her husband drowned. Her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, who she married in 1966, became owner of the Rams in 1972 ...

... when Rosenbloom - original owner of the Colts team that became the legends, owner during the Unitas glory years, the '58 and '59 championship years, even the excruciating Super Bowl III year - traded franchises with Bob Irsay. You know the rest of the story.

It's convoluted, but Georgia Frontiere is part of the story. Check this out from 2005, from Tony Lombardi, creator of the Ravens 24x7 website, who threw out this theory, probably not the first to think of it: if that one act, Rosenbloom swapping with Irsay Colts-for-Rams, hadn't happened, the Colts might still be here, maybe playing in a different stadium, and owned by ... Georgia Frontiere.


Rest in peace.


Undesirable location

Good afternoon from Green Bay, where it was 3 degrees when I woke up this morning. Of course, it's warmed up a lot since then -- to 8. Which is still tropical compared to what they're talking about for Sunday's 5:42 p.m. CT kickoff.

More pressing matter are going on back home, apparently. Clearly, if the stories from around the country are any indication, the Ravens' job is being lumped in with the Falcons' gig as ones that should be avoided like it comes with a daily injection of ebola. How did that happen? It can't be because Jason Garrett used the Ravens to get his pay jacked up to head-coaching level without having to take on the actual responsibilities of the job, and to stay in his nice, warm cocoon and remain the people's choice in Dallas every time the Cowboys lose and the heat turns up on Wade Phillips.

That makes the Ravens a bad organization to coach for? That reflects more on Garrett than on the Ravens, I think. And lobbing in the other candidates who declined to be considered can't possibly count against them. This is a poor excuse for a franchise because Bill Cowher passed (he passed on everybody)? Kirk Ferentz (same thing)? Rod Chudzinski? At least he didn't lead Bisciotti and Co. along, like certain golden-child candidates we know.

And this is not to come off like some kind of purple and black shill. It's more about how Garrett played two franchises for his own gain. He gets rewarded for his selfishness and insincerity, but the Ravens get the bad national rep. They sure shouldn't be put in the same category as the Falcons, who really are a sad sack, with an owner who appears more clueless by the day.

My guess? The Ravens don't have a coach yet because they haven't interviewed the right people yet. Just one very wrong one.

Anyway ...

* Still no progress on Rex Ryan's quest to be a head coach somewhere. Now you have to wonder what the problem really is.

* Is it possible to send a more mixed message about what kind of coach, and team, the Ravens want than to consider John Harbaugh and Marty Schottenheimer?

* The two coaches here at the frozen tundra are proof positive that you just never know when or how good candidates can surface. For three years and well into this season, Tom Coughlin came off as the wrong man in the wrong place, and when the Giants caught fire, it was perceived by many that his hard-line, gruff approach was finally justified. Wrong -- according to this week's Sports Illustrated, Coughlin softened his stance considerably, made himself more approachable to his players, and is now reaping the rewards. Kind of reminds us of Brian Billick's owner-ordered alterations last year, which worked -- last year. Meanwhile, few candidates looked worse two years ago than Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator for the 49ers, who were last in the NFL in offense that season. The Packers' offense isn't the worst in the league now, it's safe to say, and it ain't just because Brett Favre has risen from the dead. In fact, it's more the other way around, the offense has revived him.

* Long item to short. What if this time, it really isn't Randy Moss' fault? Of course, this is not to take sides or present every aspect of his case with the woman in Florida, but here is Moss' side, from his agent, sent to the Boston Globe. Not flattering to the accuser. But it is only one side.

January 16, 2008

Barry, Roger, Fiddy

There's plenty of time to get to the Ravens' coaching search. So before we do ... how did this story get past everybody?

The same Albany, N.Y., police investigation that uncovered the Signature Pharmacy performance-enhancing drug scandal that caught Jay Gibbons, Rick Ankeil, Rodney Harrison and other athletes, reportedly has also unveiled involvement by ... big-name musicians and other performers. Including 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige.

It sounds absolutely insane, even ridiculous. The image of a Brian McNamee-type sticking a needle in the rear end of, say, Tyler Perry (who name is also mentioned), is a bit much to digest this early in the morning.

But read enough into the story, reported in the Albany Times-Union Sunday, and you realize that we, as the public, have become conditioned to think that steroids are for athletes only. Well, the sports-loving public has, and we're routinely guilty of being totally clueless about the rest of the world. Apparently, this is common knowledge outside of our little cocoon, the one that still can't think past Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, that still believes baseball is the national pastime and that still believes that there are no "role models'' in our society except famous athletes.

But think about it: way more people, especially young ones, are familiar with 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige than with A-Rod and Derek Jeter. Relate to them more, Get more wrapped up in their lives. Invest more of their time, money and emotion in them. Probably try to mimic their lives, since a lot more people think they can sing than know they can play pro ball. There's a reason "American Idol'' is an institution and "American Baseball Tryout'' isn't.

If some kid thinks that the difference between hitting the big time in music and crashing before anyone ever hears about him is taking hGH, like the rapper he looks up to who came from his same circumstances, then what do you think he'll do? The same thing the young ballplayer trying to stay in this country from the Dominican Republic might do. Heck, apparently the star entertainers use the stuff for much the same reason ballplayers do: to extend their careers, to feel younger, to handle the rigors of the business, to make more money for a longer time. This isn't exactly an idea restricted solely to one group of performers in one sport. As the story reminds us, Sylvester Stallone got busted for trying to get hGH through customs last year.

More than that, there are constantly stories coming out about youngsters who don't play sports (or sing or act) but who use steroids anyway, because it makes them look good and boosts their self-esteem. There's evidence all over the place that baseball and its so-called sacred records are the tiniest, most minute part of the steroid problem.

You'd think this all is something Congress would be aware of, and might consider adding those names to the list of witnesses in the next round of steroid hearings. Which means that seeing a parade of stars from that business, or the company execs and agents and the rest of that crowd, on Capitol Hill might be a lot more interesting and, in the long run, more beneficial, than seeing Bud Selig and Donald Fehr every six months. In fact, you'd figure that Congress might appreciate being hoodwinked by a different crowd every once in a while.

The sheer entertainment value of having 50 Cent speaking to Congress would be worth it. Or, to take it to the Selig-Fehr level, Simon Cowell, or the head of some record label or the CEO of Disney or Time Warner, or Carson Daly or whoever hosts the big MTV shows these days.

As for the fans, do they take the next step and start bringing asterisk signs to concerts? Big banners saying how Run-DMC and Doug E. Fresh did it clean? Do the music writers get on TV and insist that they'll never vote them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Does Mike Wallace grill one of them on 60 Minutes and ask him, "Swear?'' Will we see Mary J. standing on a courthouse steps weeping and admitting that she betrayed her country?

And, last but not least, is George Mitchell ready for another in-depth report?


January 15, 2008

Palmeiro, Clemens and the hearings

The two most interesting moments at the Congressional hearings on the Mitchell report so far (and so far, Sen. George Mitchell, the first witness, is still speaking):

* Some 20 minutes ago - nearly two hours into the hearing - D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton finally addressed the elephant in the room, Roger Clemens. She asked, basically, a two-part question: what was the process of assuring the accuracy of the testimony Mitchell got before naming names, and why did he feel comfortable believing trainer/accuser Brian McNamee? From here, it appeared Mitchell gave a good answer, and the most clear, concise one we've heard from him so far. He explained the whole agreement McNamee had with the feds and broke down how many times they talked to him, who was present, the penalties for him lying to them, and how, just before releasing the report, they went back to him to run everything by him one more time and remind him again of the punishment for lying. He had no "incentive'' to lie, Mitchell said. That, of course, doesn't mean McNamee didn't lie and run the risk of going to jail for a long, long time - but it sure supports his claim to credibility.

* Earlier - and, full disclosure, during a time I was only listening and not watching - a Congressman grilled Mitchell on an interesting absence in the report: the timing of Rafael Palmeiro's 2005 positive drug test as it related to his 3,000th hit. The Congressman did keep referring to him as "Palmeri,'' but he also kept pressing on a critical but long-forgotten question: did baseball cover up the test result until after the historic hit? Very significantly, Mitchell did not know, acknowledging that it wasn't covered in the report - but also that, yes, the positive test came before the hit. Which raises this question: wasn't that part of the reason the report was done in the first place, for information exactly like that, to see how and when Major League Baseball was complicit in enabling the steroid problem for its own benefit? Unfortunately, the questioner's time ran out before Mitchell could hem and haw some more. And, not being highly-qualified journalists, none of the questioners since has asked a follow-up, sticking to their own issues (or making their own speeches, or their own lame jokes, like the one by the Congressman from Kentucky calling the Louisville Slugger a "performance-enhancer'') instead.

More later, maybe. Apparently, things are buzzing up at the Castle with Jason Garrett. Meanwhile, ESPN is blogging live from Capitol Hill (and others surely are, too).


January 14, 2008

How 'bout them Cowboys?

It seems that this morning's column about what a letdown it is to have the Chargers, instead of the Colts, face the Patriots next weekend touched a few nerves. Before making a few final points about last weekend's NFL playoff games, I feel that I should clarify some things from that column in case anything in it was misunderstood:

The Chargers aren't that damn good. They have no chance of beating New England, outside of a severe intestinal flu running through the Patriots' locker room Sunday morning. (See, Kelly Tilghman, that's how you tell a there's-no-way-he-can-lose joke. Stupid.) They have even less of a chance if LT, Gates and Phillip Rivers can't play or aren't at full strength. The Patriots aren't going to look past them, they're not going to get rattled by late scores or backups playing over their heads or adrenaline rushes or anything else. The matchup of Bill Belichick and Norv Turner actually makes me physically ill. Indy should be ashamed to have lost to them. This is depressing. I don't even expect a competitive game. I have visions of that 51-7 game from the early '90s, Buffalo over the Raiders. They might have to put a "TV-MA'' ratings bug in the corner of the screen.

Hope that clears things up a little. Anyway ...

Bill Ordine beat me to the thought, that maybe we heard a little too much about what a genius Jason Garrett was and how he was such a sure thing to be a brilliant young head coach. That leads to a bigger-picture thought about the Cowboys. Granted, they earned the title "America's Team'' long ago, but they've been riding on fumes for a long time, with the whole business of not having won a playoff game in 11 years. They had a great regular season, but long before it was over, hype swallowed them up, and yesterday brought the predictable results. One of these days, we'll all learn that regular-season reps and results are one thing, postseason is another.

There was actually a debate late in the year about whether Bill Parcells should be getting more credit for "building'' the powerhouse we were now viewing, before quitting on it after last season. Anybody want to fight for credit today?

Think about the rewards being flung around: Garrett being moved to the top of virtually every coaching wish list, yet his offense scored all of 17 points at home against a Giants team it had beaten twice already.

Tony Sparano, assistant head coach, line coach and heir-apparent in Miami with Parcells ready to plug him in, even though his line not only couldn't protect the quarterback in the fourth quarter yesterday, it couldn't even snap the ball cleanly to him.

And, of course, Tony Romo himself. Certain bye-week getaways are of absolutely no concern here. What is of concern is the rush to anoint. A Pro Bowl berth last season even though he hadn't even started the entire season. A $67.5-million contract extension last October, even though he had barely reached a full season's worth of starts and had yet to win a playoff game. And now, 0-2 in the playoffs, ending those games with, respectively, a fumbled field-goal snap and an end-zone interception in situations where the Cowboys could have tied or won.

At least Michael Vick had played full seasons and won playoff games before he got his outrageous deal. In fact, if you compare the public perception and actual meaningful productivity of both - this is, of course, before anyone knew about the dogfighting - you'd be confused as to who was who.

In fact, if any of this underachieving were going on someplace besides Dallas, it's very likely none of this would be happening - the overhyping of the QB, the grasping for credit for departed coaches, the gushing over assistants. It's all very Yankee-like. In fact, in hindsight, it's not surprising that ESPN has led its reports since last night not with the loss by the defending Super Bowl champs, but by the Cowboys' defeat. See, it's not just an East Coast thing.

But don't listen to me. Listen to the Dallas Morning News' Jean-Jacque Taylor, who rightly calls this an "abject failure.'' And who calls out Wade Phillips, who also is winless in the postseason in his coaching career. Dallas is entitled to get bent out of shape over this one, but honestly, given all the aforementioned aspects of it, why is the rest of America so caught up in it?

Finally, I don't even want to get into T.O. crying. Except: once he saw T.O. bawling in defense of his quarterback and his team, Donovan McNabb must have busted out in tears, too.


January 8, 2008

Joe Gibbs and the tale of the tape

I've got a little more time off coming, with plans to return this weekend, but how can anyone pass up a news flash like this: Joe Gibbs Retires?

Especially since now, there are two NFL head-coaching openings 40 miles apart. This is the first time the Ravens and Redskins have had to hire head coaches at the same time. Both are extremely high-profile franchises and attractive jobs for any candidate -- in fact, out of the four openings, these are the two juiciest, definitely better than Atlanta and several notches higher than Miami, which, let's not forget, just went 1-15, might be up for sale and has career nomad Bill Parcells running it.

Which is the better gig, though? And how do you judge it? If you're a big-time coach -- say, the ones the Ravens are interested in, and a few who are still in the public discussion, like Bill Cowher -- for whom would you rather work, and why?

Do you go based on the owner - Steve Bisciotti or Dan Snyder?

The management team and structure -- Ozzie Newsome or ... uh ... Vinny Cerrato, Snyder and Gibbs, in some combination?

The team you inherit -- a playoff team that was 10 minutes away from reaching the second round, or a team that lost nine in a row, including one to aforementioned Miami?

The quarterback you inherit -- two goods ones in D.C., or maybe one good one in Baltimore if you put all three of them together?

The facilities -- Redskins Park in Ashburn (pretty top-notch) and FedEx Field (a dump), or The Castle (top-notch) and M&T Bank (also top-notch)?

The fan base -- the one in place for 75 years and off-the-chain crazy, or the one that's crazy but bitterly divided in its loyalties, to this team, to the old Colts, to the idea that not bleeding purple and black 24 hours a day will force the Ravens to abandon the city the way the Colts did?

The city itself -- not even gonna touch that one.

The deciding factor, of course, will be what it always is: the money. Snyder and Bisciotti both have plenty. Or it might all become a moot point if the Redskins simply promote defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

But besides that ... which is the better job?

See you in a few days. But I do want to leave with this parting thought: Roger Clemens is a weasel.

December 31, 2007

Next man up

As of this posting, eight hours have passed since news broke of Brian Billick's firing, and it's about time we started indiscriminately and irresponsibly throwing names around as potential replacements.

Well, not all irresponsibly. Not to scoop my own column in tomorrow's paper, but I voted for Rex Ryan.

Other names tossed around in various venues include:

* Bill Cowher

* Marty Schottenheimer

* Jason Garrett

* Mike Singletary

* Kirk Ferentz

* Charlie Weis - ha ha! Just kidding.

Seriously, throw your own suggestions in. Or say who you prefer from the names mentioned above.

Have a happy and safe new year. See you and the Ravens' new coach in 2008.


December 27, 2007

Hey, where's my refund?

Before we commence this tirade about the NFL Network, let's pause to be thankful that on days like this, with world leaders being assassinated and tigers mauling people at the zoo (the zoo across town from where I'm staying for the Emerald Bowl), we can go on tirades about safe, relatively trivial subjects like the NFL Network.

Now ... do we DirecTV customers get refunds for Saturday's Patriots-Giants game?

That didn't cross my mind until this morning, but it's a worthwhile question. Believe me, I didn't get DirecTV because I enjoy watching a screen that's completely blank except for the notation "Searching for signal ...'' whenever a storm blows through, which has happened way too often in the past year. (Note to Verizon Fios: what's the deal with not having NBA League Pass? You're losing a customer on that one.) I didn't necessarily get it for the NFL Network, either, but that was a nice perk.

I could look at it as the NFL's version of the free Showtime weekends, planned specifically to attract possible subscribers, and the NFL is trying to spin it in much that way. However, there are plenty of other movie channels I could choose to pay for. There is only one place you can get that slate of NFL games every season. You make the sacrifice, whatever sacrifice it might be, to get the network, and then they give it away for free at the last second, giving away the exclusivity we grudgingly pay for, whether it's financially in paying for a higher sports tier, or getting a satellite that can be unreliable, and that doesn't have On Demand, which killed any chance for me to catch up on last season's The Wire.

Not that everybody shouldn't have regular access to the games. The NFL shouldn't be forcing its fans to make those kinds of choices. It was a stupid, arrogant plan to begin with, albeit perfectly suited to what's still the most arrogant sports league around (amazing with the continued existence of Major League Baseball). If the NFL wants to make people jump through hoops for its programming the rest of the year, fine. If you're that much of a fanatic that you'll pay a premium for combine coverage and live minicamps and, you know, cheerleading competitions, then you ought to be able to. NBA fans do it, with both NBA TV and League Pass. They know what they're getting, they know what they're paying for, they've made a conscious choice.

But this whole idea of withholding a product that was smartly and fairly distributed for the last several decades - yes, including to ESPN, which has been on basic cable forever and has blocked out a far, far smaller percentage of the audience - and try to flip the blame onto the cable companies and tell the fans to leave them alone and go complain to Comcast or whoever? That's so brazen, so obnoxious, so greedy, that the NFL deserves to pay mightily and for a long time for trying it.

That includes not only caving in and giving the game away to two major networks (wonder why Fox was left out - possibly because Fox and DirecTV are both owned by the same company) but also refunding whatever extra subscribers to all the systems carrying the game had to pay for the network strictly to see the restricted games.

I got holiday bills to pay. I expect my refund check ASAP.


About the blogger

David Steele joined the Sun in September 2004 as a sports columnist, after nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle. Before becoming a columnist, he spent 11 years covering the NBA, at the Chronicle, Newsday, the National Sports Daily and the New York Post. Over more than two decades in newspapers, he has covered every major sport and several minor ones, and has won awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Florida Sports Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the California News Publishers Association.

He also has co-authored two books, including Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith, which was nominated for a 2008 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Biography/Autobiography.

A native of Washington, D.C., he graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park in 1985.

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