The Butler Did It


Jimmy Butler is the latest professional athlete to join the recent trend of demanding a trade, or new contract, before Torie current deal has expired. The trend which really came to the forefront last summer with Kyrie Irving and Paul George, in the last year has picked up malcontents LeVeon Bell and Earl Thomas. I understand the players are treating the situation like a business, just as the teams are, but there is one main problem; they are under contract.

That is what I find annoying. Let’s look at Jimmy Butlers case. He is in the final year of his five year, $92 million deal. He wants to control where he goes. But guess what, he will have that option. It’s called free agency and he will reach that after this year when his contract HE SIGNED expires. Oh but he claims to be unhappy because all he wants to do is win. So what teams does he want to be traded to? The Brooklyn Nets, LA Clippers, or New York Knicks. So if he just wants to win why do all three teams he wants to be traded to have worse records than his current team Minnesota? And it’s not even close, the Knicks and Nets failed to reach 30 wins while his Timberwolves team finished with 47 wins last season. Maybe it isn’t winning, maybe it’s you Jimmy. Maybe you are the problem and reason the organization is in discontent. Let’s not forget the Bulls traded the four time All-Star Butler just two years ago because they felt he could not be the face of the franchise. Teams don’t just get rid of young All-Star players for no reason. There is a common denominator and its Jimmy Butler. 

Now let’s head over to the NFL, where two of the biggest storylines this season have involved Earl Thomas and LeVeon Bell. Bell has held out all summer, refusing to sign the franchise tag offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the second year he received the tag, which pays him an average of top five salary earner at your position or 120 percent of the players previous salary. For Bell this means he earned over $12 million last season and this year’s contract would have nearly doubled his five career earnings at $15 million. Yet he continues to hold out because he wants to be paid “his worth”; seeking quarterback type money in the $25-30 million range. The problem is Bell likely will not receive that type of contract and will most likely never make up the $15 million he is forgoing this year. NFL teams no longer value the running back, had Bell signed the deal this year he would have been the highest paid running back. Other top earners at the position are Jerick McKinnon ($10 million), LeSean McCoy ($9 million), and Ezekial Ellitott ($7 million). No one is even close to the range Bell is seeking. Even the biggest contract signed by a running back, Todd Gurley which begins in two years, will only pay him $15 million per season. The SAME amount Bell could have earned this year. Bell instead is throwing away the highest earning salary in a season for any player at his position and losing a year of playing time in his career. I know he states he is saving his work load for when he is paid but age is not something you can pause. The hard truth is he is losing a year while in his prime and he will not get that back. Instead he is single handedly trying to ruin a whole team’s season by not reporting until week seven, putting his desires first. 

Earl Thomas was in a similar situation as Bell and Butler. Thomas was in his final year of his contract he signed – four year deal that paid him $10 million per season. He held out of summer camp before finally returning to the Seattle Seahawks to join the team. Then he suffered a season ending injury and people rushed to claim this is why he should have held out. But again I’m sorry. He signed a deal. He had time still on his contract. The team was under no obligation to extend the deal. And this shows why. An injury can happen at any moment and in particular a team is not going to extend a 30 year old safety for that reason. He should find another team to play for next year but it won’t be the same amount of money I’m sure. This is a business and he states he understands that yet he decides to flip of his own sideline after the injury. 

This is professional athletics. Players do not give their money back when they have a down year. So teams are under no obligation to restructure a player’s contract just because the player has a stand out season. Honor your contracts. If you are still valuable at the end of them you will get your worth. But when these players are putting themseleves before their own team like Bell, or purposely causing problems for the organization lile Butler, or disrespecting an entire fan base like Thomas that is enough for me. Grow up. It’s a business. 

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Coach vs. Star, Chicken or Egg

chickenoreggIn the sports world every now and then a story comes up pitting the head coach of a team at odds against the team’s star player. We have seen it from Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen to Tony LaRussa and Ozzie Smith or Mike Keenan and Brett Hull. The coach vs. player feud is a long-running occurrence in sports. One recent supposed feud (Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) got me thinking about another long-time sports debate, does a team’s success hinge on the coach or the players? It is essentially the chicken or the egg question for sports.

I am not going to delve into the Belichick/Brady situation but do want to give some background to the supposed feud that led me to my pondering of coach or player. Supposedly in-house the two most famous Patriots are at odds with each other over who is more responsible for the team’s sustained success over the last near two decades. Belichick, widely considered the best NFL coach, feels it is his system and schemes that have created the team’s dynasty. Meanwhile, Brady feels overlooked, within his own team, and that he is not receiving the respect that he has earned for leading the Patriots to five Super Bowls.

So who is right? Is it Belichick or is it Brady? Who is the man responsible for creating the sports only modern era dynasty? This is what led me down my path of trying to think who is more important to a team’s success. Is it the coach or is the player?

A coach is responsible for instituting the plays, the schemes, developing practices so players are ready for the game, for scouting opponents, for creating a culture, for developing the talent on the team. A player meanwhile must execute those plays, understand the schemes, learn, study, lead, and have a work ethic.

It is human nature to want to be recognized for their effort and given credit when credit is due. However, we have seen teams and organizations destroy themselves when they create such in-house drama. Pitting sides against each other, letting egos get in the way of success.

The bare bones truth of the question, coach or player, is that it is a mixture. In most instances neither can succeed without the other. There are exceptions, most recently in basketball where we have seen LeBron James put entire teams on his shoulders and carry them to success.

But a coach, no matter how genius they are, is unable to succeed without players. We saw this with Belichick when he was with the Browns. Conversely, a player must be in the right situation to succeed. We have seen this many times with players that go to a new team or play for a new coach and suddenly reach their potential.

A coach can have a great mind but must have a great player to execute those ideas. Players can have all of the talent in the world but need a coach to guide them and bring out that talent.

Because we are human though, and because coaches and players are continuously worshipped and put on tv, feeding their egos; the sports world will never rid itself of coach vs. player feuds. Which is a shame because the answer is clear. Coaches and players must work together to create success and that is truly the only way to attain success. The sports ‘chicken or the egg’ question will always remain, but it is clear that success comes from both. There is only one way to make a great omelet right? You need the chicken (coach) AND the egg (player).

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Why We Love Sports, the Dirty Thirty 


The last week gave us two perfect examples of why we love sports. Two 30-year old faces of their professional franchises rallied around injuries and carried their teams to unlikely victories. 

Eight days ago it was 34-year old Aaron Rodgers returning to the field after being carted off with a knee injury to bring the Green Bay Packers back from a 20-3 deficit entering the fourth quarter to a 24-23 win in their 2018 season opener. Then last night it was 37-year old Adam Wainwright making his second start after a long hiatus due to injuries to pick up his first win in nearly five months in a key game for the St. Louis Cardinals. 
Rodgers was clearly limited with his knee injury but gutted it out in a time when the NFL is penalizing players for simply being near a quarterback. It was the first game of the season, nothing on the line, yet Rodgers returned to the field slinging balls to receivers despite his limited mobility (one of his main attributes). He led the Packers to the largest fourth quarter comeback in franchise history. Why? Because he wanted to win, even if it was just game one of the season. He wanted to beat his divisional rival, the Chicago Bears. A team that was the darling of the offseason and picked up even more media hype after the trade for Khalil Mack. Rodgers didn’t allow any room for questions about the end of his reign. He showed that despite the flaws of the Packers, any time he is under center the team is capable of walking off the field with a win. 

Meanwhile a week later it was Wainwright rising to the occasion for the Cardinals. After missing four months with arm issues Wainwright was making his second start since returning from the DL. He came into Sunday’s game with fans and media questioning his ability after a lackluster debut six days earlier in which he allowed four runs, including two home runs, over just five innings. The Cardinals were in a dire situation, having lost a season worst four straight games including the first three games of a series against the team they were directly in competition with for the wild card, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wainwright showed his resolve and worked six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine. Completely shutting down the Dodgers who had one day earlier beat up the Cardinals for a 17-4 win that gave the Dodgers the lead in the wild card race. The win was not only important for Wainwrights future, to show he is still a viable option in the rotation, but was a pivotal win for the Cardinals; snapping their losing streak and drawing them even once again with the Dodgers for the playoffs. 

That is why we watch sports. To see the unlikely, the unexpected occur. To watch men battle physically and mentally on the playing field. Rising above their limitations and playing with heart. It is those moments that fans remember and talk about long after the season or the player’s career. In a sports world that is always debating the next great player and focusing on the young stars; Rodgers and Wainwright brought attention back to the veterans. As Wainwright said after last night’s game ” old guys can still play”. That is what makes sports so great. Whether it a rookie coming up big or a veteran past his prime still coming through, the hero can be anyone at any moment. 

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Get Up! Get Up! For A 20 Year Old Big Mac

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Twenty Years. That’s a long-time. A full generation. Yet I am still thinking about a Big Mac and what a treat it was. So why am I still thinking of a Big Mac after 20 years? Because this Big Mac is Mark McGwire. Twenty years ago this weekend Mark McGwire broke the most storied record in all of professional sports, the single season home run record.

On September 8, 1998 McGwire sent a line-drive just over the left-field wall in Busch Stadium for his 62nd home run of the season. It was a night that had been building since his arrival to the Cardinals mid-way through the 1997 season. After being traded to the Cardinals Big Mac would hit 24 home runs in just 51 games for the Cardinals to close out the season. Fans and media immediately began questioning, could he?

Then the season of 1998 arrived. From the season’s first pitch it was a barrage of home runs, not just from McGwire’s bat but also from Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. Many forget about Griffey’s season, finishing with 56 home runs that year (his second straight season with that total). Instead they remember the one-on-one battle of McGwire and Sosa. The two battled each other down the stretch, trading home run leader status on a weekly if not daily basis. But in the end it was McGwire reaching the milestone first and doing so in front of Sosa as the Chicago Cubs visited Busch Stadium on that monumental night.

Television stations had been cutting into program for a week covering McGwire’s record-breaking attack. The previous night he tied the mark with his 61st home run. Then on a Tuesday night with fall creeping in, McGwire delivered the moment. In the fourth inning, trailing the Cubs 2-0, McGwire hit a two-out home run that cut the Cubs lead to one. It would be two more home runs, from Ray Lankford and Ron Gant, in the 6th inning that would give the Cardinals the lead in the game before Juan Acevedo came on to close out the win for St. Louis.

But all anyone would remember is the 4th inning, with the fans on their feet and all of the sports world watching. Seeing this 6’5″ behemoth hit his shortest home run of the season for the record-breaking highlight. Seeing McGwire round the bases, receiving high fives from opponents, a hug from his record challenger Sosa, and crossing home plate to embrace and lift up his son. The game coming to a halt as McGwire acknowledged the moment with the fans, his teammates, and the Maris family who was in attendance.

It is a moment that I will never forget. Sitting in my college apartment and watching the broadcast. I’ve seen the Cardinals win World Series. I saw the St. Louis Rams rise from ashes for one of the most improbable Super Bowl wins in NFL history. I have cheered on the Missouri Tigers to historical upsets over Nebraska and rival Kansas. But this moment, with the world watching was something special.

It wasn’t just for one night. It wasn’t a spectacular series that takes place over one week. Not this accomplishment was a ride that last six months and brought an entire city and fan base together. The daily question every morning was what did McGwire do? All tv’s were tuned in any time the Cardinals played. And the national sports fans and media directed their attention from the coasts to the Midwest.

Since the season of 1998 the game has changed. Information has come out in regards to steroids. People try to act like this changes things. But it doesn’t. The context can be changed but the feelings can not. And I don’t want it to change. I enjoyed that season, maybe more so than any other season. It was a moment that I would not trade. So yes you can listen to others trying to put a new spin on the 1998 season and McGwire. But I will always Get Up! Get Up! for McGwire and the 1998 record-breaking season.

 

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Kicking Off College Football

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Cooler fully stocked, fresh remote batteries, gas tanks full on the RV, grill ready to go…this past weekend marked the first full schedule of college football. So while we still have four months of full Saturdays here are some early thoughts on the opening weekend.

  • Nick Saban is still an A** – After a complete demolition of Louisville, the Alabama head coach was asked by sideline reporter Maria Taylor about the only storyline that was still in question after the 51-14 win…assessing the performance of his two quarterbacks in the game. That was the question. For those of you not aware the entire offseason has been about whether Saban would go with Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts. The back-up quarterback debate is probably the longest running debate in all of sports. And when it occurs on a championship winning team with two contrasting style quarterbacks, it is newsworthy. Especially when the coach won’t comment. Taylor’s question wasn’t even about comparing the pair but on their performances as a whole. Saban responded by saying “Why are you continuing to try to get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them. I am not going to so quit asking.” Just because he is the preeminent college football coach doesn’t mean he should be able to harshly respond to a reporter doing their job. But people tend to give coaches that win more leeway, look at the NFL where Bill Belichick gets away with the same attitude while Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson has been ridiculed during HBO’s Hard Knocks.
  • Don’t schedule Appalachian State in your opener – If you are a Big Ten football program opening your season on September 1st, you probably shouldn’t schedule the FCS Moutaineers. Back in 2007 Appalachian State knocked off #5 ranked Michigan 34-32 for one of the biggest upsets in college football history. This year Appalachian State put a scare into #10 ranked Penn State, taking them to overtime before coming up short 45-38.
  • Don’t Believe In Orange – Two historic programs, which both have orange as their base colors; Texas and Tennessee were darlings this offseason. And both programs showed on Saturday that you shouldn’t believe in them quite yet. Texas has hot-shot coach Tom Herman and was ranked #23 in the preseason poll. Tennessee meanwhile had a roller coaster ride of trying to find a new head coach, finally settling on “their first choice all along” Jeremy Pruitt and fans were quick to believe the Vols finally were on the upswing. Well after a 34-29 loss to Maryland, their second straight season losing to the Terps, Texas showed it should not have been ranked and a 40-14 loss by Tennessee to #17 West Virginia showed there is a long way to go in Knoxville.
  • Watching an Auburn game is like watching a Villanova basketball game – Both programs win and are abundantly successful within their sports. But watching both teams play is also BORING. It is a slow it down, ugly type of game both on the football field or basketball court. I thought Washington would win because I always feel like Auburn is overrated. And the fact that the Huskies were still in the game despite getting just three points off four second-half drives inside the Auburn 40-yard line shows that maybe the Huskies should have won. But still in the end, Auburn also finds a way to pull a win out; no matter how ugly.
  • There is nothing like a fall Saturday – You can take your Sundays full of fantasy football. To me College Football Saturdays are where the entertainment is. The traditions, the excitement on campuses, the big upsets, and the abundance of games. You can sit on your couch from 11 in the morning until late at night and flip between just about any game you want to watch. College Football season is here!
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Mizzou Lock-s It Up

lockYesterday I sat down to watch the Missouri Tigers make their 2018 football debut, taking on Tennessee-Martin, and came away pleasantly excited. Why you may ask am I excited after watching the Tigers manhandle an FCS team that was a 35-point underdog. I am excited for that simple reason, they manhandled a team they were supposed to manhandle.

Over the last few seasons Tiger fans have not had the luxury of siting back and watching 2nd and 3rd string players play for the majority of the second-half. Even dating back to the last time the Tigers won double-digit games, 11 wins in 2014, the Tigers have struggled in openers and against “lesser” teams.

In 2014 they opened against #10 FCS ranked South Dakota State. After jumping out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter the Tigers saw the visitors close to within 21-18 early in the third quarter. Finally the Tigers put their opponent away with 17 straight points, sparked by a 100-yard Marcus Murphy kickoff return.

The next year Mizzou eased to a 34-3 win, which at first glance may seem like a strong start. However when the game was against Southeast Missouri State and you are ranked nationally entering the game the fact that you put up just 407 total yards of offense, running for just 88 yards, and going 5-of-14 on third down conversions is a bit alarming. People at the time said, oh it was just first-game jitters, but it should have been a preview of troubles. The Tigers followed that with a lackluster 27-20 win over Arkansas State and  a 9-6 non-thriller against Connecticut. A loss the following week to Kentucky finally exposed the Tigers as they dropped out of the rankings and closed the season with a 5-7 record in Gary Pinkel’s final year.

2016 saw the Tigers step up their level of competition, facing West Virginia in Barry Odom’s coaching debut. The end result was a 26-11 loss in which the Tigers, despite sticking with the Mountaineers in total yardage, were never in the game; falling behind 13-0 in the second quarter.

And last year’s opener, against Missouri State, was a game in which summed up the Tigers season in 2017. The Tigers offense could not be stopped but also the Tigers defense was thrashed. Mizzou won the game 72-43 but exemplified the Tigers troubles. The Tigers offense last season was unstoppable against teams with losing records, putting up over 50-points per game. But against stronger opponents they managed just 18 points per game. Meanwhile the defense was rolled over by Missouri State, starting a stretch of five straight games allowing 30 or more points, before finally righting itself towards the end of the year.

All of this is to say that Tigers finally did what they were expected to do in their 2018 opener against Tennessee-Martin. The offense was efficient and already clicking and the defense was stout, allowing just one play breakdown the entire game. Penalties were few and the Tigers committed no turnovers. They controlled the game from the start and that is something positive to take away.

There is still plenty to be seen against tougher competition. The offensive line needs to continue to give the Tigers a ground attack; and with one of the best running back tandems in the league the smallest of spaces can be enough for Crockett and Rountree. Although it was just one game (technically a little over one half) Drew Lock appears to have improved. He has always had a strong-arm but his decisions and reads were much better. He will need to show that some poise against the faster, bigger, stronger defenses in the SEC if he wants to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft next spring. And for the first time in years the talk of the Tiger wide receivers after yesterday’s games was not about drops but about actual acrobatic catches a pair of freshmen made. The Tiger defense was probably most impressive to me in that they made tackles. Too often in the past they would miss tackles which led to some of those frustrating games in previous season openers.

We still don’t know what we have in this year’s Missouri football team but if week one is looked at in a vacuum, there is plenty of hope we can lean on. We won’t truly know until the Tigers are tested by one of the big boys, which happens on September 22nd against Georgia. But the next two weeks still offer the Tigers goals to shoot for before then. Can they repeat their strong performance in week one by dominating Wyoming next Saturday. And on September 15th the Tigers will most assuredly be fired up for a revenge game against Purdue. There are only two games on the Tigers schedule that I see are definite losses, Georgia and Alabama. The rest of the schedule allows for the Tigers to be a sleeper team this year. If Mizzou can get two of three games from the group of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida; it should be a fun year for the Tiger faithful.

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Tee It Up St. Louis

1018047782.jpg.0Last weekend St. Louis held the 2018 PGA Championship. The final major of the year for professional golf and an event that returned to St. Louis for the first time since 1992. It was the first golf major of any kind since 2013, when the Senior PGA came to the Gateway City. Coming in there were plenty of concerns.

Was the course notable enough to host the 100th PGA Championship? Would the crowds support the tournament? What happens if Tiger falters and doesn’t make the cut? What will the players think of the course? How will the weather affect the players? Despite all of these concerns and questions by the time Brooks Koepka hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy all anyone could do was rave about the weekend in St. Louis.

And that is what I want to talk about today. Not the event per se but everything around it and what it means for St. Louis. St. Louis has taken some hard hits over the last few years. From the Rams leaving town to Ferguson and stagnant population growth with a city/county divide. Nationally St. Louis is not viewed in the best of light right now. Heck even within our region, St. Louis is not viewed in kindness. But this weekend shows what St. Louis is.

I don’t like when people compare St. Louis to other cities and say why can’t we be like Nashville or Indianapolis. I don’t like when people talk about the good old days in the context of making it seem like today’s region is so much worse. And I certainly don’t like it when most of these comments and believes come out of the mouths of St. Louisans. Yes St. Louis has issues but St. Louis also has some major pluses and that is what the community needs to focus on.

St. Louis does big events right. Whether it is the PGA Championship, a World Series run by the Cardinals, the Blues chasing that franchise long dream, hosting a NCAA Basketball regional, or a NCAA wrestling event, actually any NCAA athletic event. From corporate sponsors to attendance, the St. Louis community supports the events. And many times, just like this past weekend, it is the atmosphere that leaves a lasting impression.

And that atmosphere is created by the fans. The fans coming in town but also those from St. Louis in attendance help push these events to the top. All the fans together, cheering for entertainment. It is a positive mindset that everyone in attendance has. And this past weekend you saw, and heard, first hand what that means to the athletes performing at the events. They feel the difference. We, the fans, are the difference.

So why is there such a disconnect once the events leave town? The St. Louis community immediately goes back to, oh we aren’t good enough, they would never come here, we can’t host that, etc. We let our self-doubts rise to the top of the conversation.

Again I am not saying that St. Louis does not have problems that need to be addressed. Safety downtown for starters, especially with the great resurgence of residential living down there. A solution for the city/county and truly becoming a REGION working together and not several municipalities fighting against each other. But these are concerns any city has.

The local media has taken the charge from last weekend and started asking questions. But now is the time for the political and community leaders to join the discussion. The PGA Championship brought in an estimated $70-million to the St. Louis community. That is the type of influx in the economy the area needs. And with the positive reviews from the PGA Championship now is the time to continue to build upon that.  The leaders need to be real LEADERS and work together. How can we get on a rotating schedule for a PGA major? How can we bring more events to town?

What the St. Louis community can do is start changing the way they think. Don’t look backwards, think forward. We have seen numerous times major events come to St. Louis and go off successfully, the PGA Championship was just the latest. So St. Louis stop thinking of yourself as lesser-than and start working towards being better than. Come together with a plan, put it on a tee, and hit like Koepka straight and long.

 

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