Gene Upshaw Remembered

August 23, 2008

The sports world lost a true giant this week with the death of Gene Upshaw. The 63 year old Upshaw died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. He only learned he had one of the most devastating forms of cancer this past Sunday. Gene Upshaw helped shape the current NFL both as a Hall of Fame offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders and later as the long time executive director of the NFL Players Association.

Under Upshaw’s leadership NFL players salaries skyrocketed and the league became more successful and profitable than ever. His dignified manner and tough negotiating posture made him formidable at the bargaining table but also allowed him the perspective to understand that the players and the owners were indeed partners in the success of the NFL.

Upshaw will be hard to replace, he helmed the NFLPA for 25 years. He was hailed during his life as a trailblazer for players and the league in general. Was he universally popular? Not always. But he was respected across the board.

Gene Upshaw, the Hall of Fame player, was every bit a Hall of Fame executive. He made a difference. He will be missed.


Martyball: More Than Wins and Losses

January 18, 2007

For the record I’m a longtime Marty Schottenheimer fan, so I am pleased that he did not take the fall for coaching yet another losing playoff game last weekend. Still, the outcry for his ouster has been loud and long. While I’m not Marty’s apologist, maybe I should be.

There has been a lot of crazy talk this week about Chargers owner Alex Spanos firing the NFL’s winningest active coach after the Chargers lost to the Patriots. But yesterday Spanos granted Schottenheimer a reprieve. Schottenheimer’s Chargers finished a league best 14 – 2 during the regular season. But his latest post-season loss drops an already very poor career playoff record to just 5 wins and 13 losses. The naysayers and critics say Marty was coaching a team that was supposed to not just go to the Super Bowl but win it. Instead the Chargers lost and it just had to be Marty’s fault.

It’s been more than 30 years since Marty last put on shoulder pads and actually played a game in the NFL. Which is why Marty was on the sideline looking on helplessly when several of his players made a couple of horrendously costly – and stupid – mistakes on the field Sunday. There is only so much a coach can do. It is a players game. The coach can’t make the tackles, blocks, passes, runs or kicks that are the essential elements of the game. The coach can only watch and hope that his coaching sticks somehow. Kind of like parenting.

Marty’s coaching style is honest, straightforward and quintessentially old-school. His uncompromising, no excuses character also leaves him virtually unprotected from the vultures who try to feast on him when the going gets tough and the playoff losses mount. Most coaches these days don’t leave that much ass exposed – covering it early and often. But Marty’s unique (say honest) approach to coaching is exactly what makes Marty Schottenheimer special and vulnerable.

At no point did Marty beg for his job or point to his record. He didn’t because he shouldn’t have to. No, he hasn’t won very many playoff games or the Super Bowl and maybe he never will. But a lot of coaches and players have never won the big game either. That doesn’t make them or Marty losers. He knows perhaps too well that all you can do is work hard to prepare your team and let the players play the game. And in the end if the owner wants to fire you then so be it. In Washington a few years ago Marty Schottenheimer was fired for being Marty after just one year. But the Redskins have never quite recovered from Schottenheimer’s honorable year as coach. For this year at least the owner wasn’t so stupid as to let one of football’s best coaches go because the players failed on the field. Martyball is definately more than wins and losses.

Tyson in Freefall: We’re No Longer Watching

January 4, 2007

mike-tysonIn the beginning we watched a former juvenile delinquent named Mike Tyson with awe and amazement. He was a little – big man with a never before witnessed combination of speed and ferocious power. While most of his fights were sensationally brief and abrupt we were nontheless completely entertained.

It wasn’t long before we could see the cracks and the flaws. But we were still entertained. He was a “true” reality show character, before there was a TV format for it. Tyson, the monster-manchild would even go on to marry a Hollywood starlet named Robin Givens. It really was beauty and the beast. And we couldn’t take our eyes off of them – especially him.

We watched even more when the beauty betrayed the beast on national television, accusing him of abuse while he sat passively beside her. It was real-life theater playing out before our eyes and we loved it and surprisingly loved him even more.

We watched when the completely unknown Buster Douglas knocked Tyson out. We watched when he was charged with rape and went to prison. We watched Tyson come out of incarceration three years later arm in arm with Don King who not suprisingly was wearing a multi-million dollar smile. We watched in horrified facination when Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Tyson was pure box office. Our watching and fawning helped earn Tyson more than $300 million dollars. He was the most entertainingly flawed boxer of all time.

But when he threatened to eat Lennox Lewis’ unborn children, the Tyson channel started to get some static. Lewis would violently knock out Tyson for that transgression. By the time Tyson literally had his face tattoed he was broke. And another unknown fighter would viciously knock him out. A fight that could be barely found on TV. Tyson was no longer entertaining. And we moved on to the Flavor of Love and Bobby and Whitney.

When Mike Tyson was arrested in Arizona the other day for drug possession, alledgedly admitting to cocaine addiction, most people weren’t shocked and didn’t care. Furthermore we weren’t watching at all. The Tyson Show had been cancelled.

Memo to T.O. – Just Shut Up and Play Football

December 16, 2006

At some point we will all get it. Eventually we’ll have no doubts that T.O. is poison. But in the meantime we still hope its not as bad as it seems. But here’s the latest.

As the Cowboys fight to make the playoffs Terrell Owens insists that the spotlight shine on him. In his most recent lunatic utterance T.O. laments that someone inside the Cowboys is a “snitch” for disclosing his behind the scenes foolishness, which he suggests has contributed to the passes he’s dropped and his overall lack of focus. He also says that he doesn’t pay attention to what Coach Bill Parcels is saying. And on and on and on. I usually wonder what the hell T.O. is talking about. I also question why I’m even listening. But I do listen and I do look. T.O. is the ultimate human car wreck.

Everywhere Terrell Owens goes he complains and whines as if someone owes him something. I say all the Cowboys owe T.O. is his multi-million dollar contract. What Owens owes the Cowboys is an adult and professional attitude – something he has seemingly yet to comprehend. Why such a gifted athlete needs to act out this way is a mystery. I doubt even he knows what’s troubling him.

Why should we care? I’m having a tough time justifying that myself. Despite his poisonous actions and foolish talk I still believe most fans, myself included, want to appreciate Owens’ unique skills. But we also want him to just shut up and play football.