Commentary From the Mile High City

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Joshua Sharf

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April 1, 2009

Trade of the Century

The Broncos just played their first pre-season game against the Bears.  They lost.

The Jay Cutler agonistes saga came to an end today as the Broncos sent him to the Chicago Bears for a placeholder and bunch of draft picks.

Orton's a decent guy who won't kill you with mistakes, but he's the classic Bears quarterback of the last quarter-century who can't get the ball past the first down marker.  During a goal-line stand.  As for the picks, they're above-average but not much more that Orton is.  I mean, it's not Herschel Walker or Ricky Williams-type stuff here, it's two firsts and a third from a middling team.  The only upside to this is that the new GM can't possibly be worse than Shanahan was at the draft.

The Broncos needed two things out of this deal - a quarterback who can play a little while Chris Sims matures and defensive help.  Yes, I'm completely in the tank for the Redskins, but Jason Campbell - who's better than Orton - wasn't taking them to the promised land, and they were loaded with linebackers.

This is what happens when you've either convinced yourself that it's rebuilding time, or you've set a deadline for yesterday to do the deal.  When you put yourself under that kind of pressure, people take advantage.

What's remarkable is how quickly the Broncos have gone from class act to grease fire.  The new coach made a rookie mistake that's snowballed into a situation that could deflate and alienate all the win-now veterans they brought in.  The owner seemed powerless to stop the deterioration, which doesn't bode well for the future.

Look, maybe they have us all fooled.  Maybe this is the first leg of a three-way deal that we're all going to be calling brilliant in November.  So far, though, not so much.

December 30, 2008

Bronco Bustin'

Fourteen years is a long time at any job, but especially as an NFL head coach. Mike Shanahan hadn't replicated the great success of his two Super Bowl wins of the late 90s, hadn't even come close in a long time. And just when he seemed a cinch to put the team in the playoffs for the first time in 3 years, he pulled a Norv Turner, his team crashing and burning in spectacular fashion on Sunday night.

Denver, like Washington, is a football town. I remember in 1989, the season after the Redskins beat Denver in the Super Bowl, a Redskins pre-season game won it's time slot in what the WaPo,'s TV critic dubbed, "The Redskins devour everything in their path." Denver's pretty much the same way. The town put up with B+ teams for a decade only because of those two Lombardi trophies.

Coaches with total control, who double as GMs rarely do well. It's almost impossible to be both good cop and bad cop at the same time to the same player. Instead of working with what they have, they have to divide their attention with getting more. They'll fall in love with personnel decisions that are a mistake. (Some of Joe Gibbs's biggest blunders came when he demanded particular players. Almost certainly his success the 2nd time around was limited by the lack of a strong GM like Charley Casserly or Bobby Beathard.)

Still, those two Super Bowl wins, numerous playoff appearances, they count for a lot. Towns with winning teams tend to forget how hard it is to get there, and how long it can be between successes. Shanahan's time was probably up. But we should appreciate what he did while he was here.

December 2, 2008

Junior Strikes Out

I've been a fan of John Feinstein's sports writing for years. Not so much of his political writing. Today's Washington Post carries a sterling example of the latter, masquerading as the former.

As some of you may have heard, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress carried an unlicensed handgun into a New York nightclub (is there any other kind of handgun for a private citizen in New York?), and put himself on the disabled list by shooting himself in the leg.

This is the latest in a series of gun-related, ah, fumbles by NFL players in recent months, and Feinstein uses it as an excuse to call for repeal of the 2nd Amendment, and to launch a broadside at those who might disagree:

Now, let's not start screaming about the Second Amendment. To begin with, the amendment should be abolished -- a sensible interpretation of the amendment is that it was written to allow the people to raise a militia for protection and to hunt for food. Clearly no one needs to raise a militia these days, and those who hunt for a living can be licensed to do so.

It would be nice if President-elect Obama had the time to focus his energies on repeal of the Second Amendment, but he first has to deal with a broken economy and the incredibly wrong-headed war started by his predecessor. What's more, the issue of gun rights causes almost as much screaming from the right as abortion rights, the irony being that those yelling the loudest about the right to life are usually those yelling almost as loud about their right to carry weapons that kill.

Barring that, he says, the NFL should make it a condition of employment that no player can own a handgun. This, because protection even in their own homes is something that NFL players apparently can't be trusted with. To get there, he has to revisit the death of Sean Taylor, who had gotten himself on the straight and narrow just in time to be killed in his own house by what I would presume to be

It's not worth arguing the 2nd Amendment with someone who lives near DC but who evidently hasn't bothered to read or understand the Heller case. But the juvenalia on display in the second paragraph could have appeared, word for word, in the Cavalier Daily 25 years ago when I was in school. And probably did.

Imagine a conservative sportswriter writing a column about the evils of McCain-Feingold, the abuses of Title IX (coming to a physics department near you), or the joys of limited government, and in the bargain, questioning man-made climate change and accusing Obama of socialist tendencies. I'm sure it happens every once in a long while, and when politics creeps into sports talk radio, it does tend to be from both sides. But for some reason, the print guys tend to think their columns are a license to shill for the Left.

November 17, 2008

Worst Bailout Excuse Yet

On Friday, driving to Aspen for the weekend, I happened to hear Lou from Littleton (a host, not a caller, on KOA, who's actually from Detroit), argue for the automakers' bailout. His case? That attendance at the Lions games was so bad that the NFL was considering lifting its blackout policy there.

So instead of spending $25 billion to keep the UAW afloat for a few more years, how about the Lions just lower the ticket prices? Oh, right. Probably because then they wouldn't be able to put that quality product on the field that the people of Detroit have come to expect over the last 50 years.

October 25, 2008


It was a beautiful fall Saturday in the Shennandoah Mountains. What a shame to ruin it with Virginia football.

That was from 1978, when Navy beat U.Va. 32-0. My whole family went to Virginia, and I grew up with a tradition of winning basketball and losing football. See for yourself.

So when they started out this year losing to USC, Connecticut(!), and Duke(!!) by 128-20, it looked as though the good old days of the 70s were back in style.

But tonight, behind Cedric Peerman's running, the Cavaliers beat No. 18 Georgia Tech in Atlanta, 24-17. This comes after a 16-13 win over then-No. 18 North Carolina last week, and a 31-0 win over Maryland that got things rolling 4 weeks ago. Virginia's now 3-1 in conference, and in 1st place in the ACC's Coastal Division. They're not going to be playing for the national title any time soon, but it's a welcome change.

What happened? They found a quarterback and hurt running back Peerman returned to the team. The starting QB is off the team for academic reasons, and his replacement got caught violating probation by drinking (drinking? At Virginia? Say it isn't so!), so the red-shirt freshman Verica needed some time to adjust to playing actual defenses.

The team still has four games to go, including the season-closer in Blacksburg against Va. Tech. But ya never know...

February 4, 2008

Super Bowl XLII: Hagler vs. Leonard

Well, that's what it was, wasn't it? Hagler vs. Leonard. Bad boy Bellichek Hagler, the heavy favorite, trying to cap a brilliant career, where he had defeated both Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. For the fan darling and underdog New York Giants Sugar Ray Leonard, written off earlier in the year (having retired), it was as much about beating New England Hagler as it was about the belts.

And we all know how that one turned out....

February 3, 2008

Substitute for Achievement

Arlen Specter is the reason some people will vote for Ron Paul on Tuesday. Well, that and the belief that the Civil War was optional and that we turned lower Manhattan into a set for Capricorn One so that we could pay Halliburton to visit the apocalypse on Baghdad.

But today, Arlen Specter is the poster boy for the claim that, "Politicians need activity; it's their substitute for achievement." And that too often that activity comes at the expense of our liberty, time, and money, and at the expense of important things like the defense of the realm.

First of all, Specter is just wrong, wrong, wrong when he claims that football has an anti-trust exemption. It doesn't. Competing leagues come up from time to time, and the USFL won an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. (For damages of $1; tripled to $3; would that John Edwards had been the plaintiffs' attorney on that one. Maybe he could have used his cut to go Dutch at Goodwill with Mark Steyn on that coat.)

Secondly, any taping was a violation of a league rule, not a law. Sure, we all saw Joel Fleischman take down "Twenty-One," but that was actual fraud, misrepresentation of cheating as competition. This isn't the Black Sox or even Pete Rose putting down bets on the Reds. And nobody's claiming that the league fed the Rams' game plan to the Patriots or gave them a wiretap on Mike Martz's line to the booth. I don't recall Specter convening hearings when the NBA ref was found betting on games, although maybe someone in Congress did.

Specter claims that the public has the right to be sure that the games aren't being compromised by cheating. Oh, please. Someone ought to hog-tie him and use him for a fumble drill out at Redskins' Park and he'll see what cheating looks like.

Still, it's sad that Roger Goodell thinks that the fact that NFL discovered and investigated these rules violations on its own is any sort of help at all. The Army discovered and investigated the Abu Ghraib abuses itself. That didn't stop the New York Times and certain Soros-funded arms of the Clinton Campaign (or is it the other way around? Hard to know who you're campaigning against sometimes, as Obama might say.) from turning it into a bludgeon to undermine support for the war, the troops, and the administration, in some order of importance.

Good grief. Has the Senator no respect for our most important national holiday?

December 6, 2007

ESPN's Full-Court Press

Probably the worst thing that could happen to any of the ESPN commentators is for the NCAA Division I presidents to adopt a playoff system, because at that point, they'd actually have to talk about the games. With the exception of John Saunders and Colin Cowherd, there's been a relentless drumbeat pouring forth, designed to browbeat us into submission and to accept the inevitability of a playoff in Division I.

In the aftermath of last weekend's games, you heard one talking head after another proclaim that now, now!, we'd finally spend time talking about how to adopt a playoff. As though they hadn't been doing that since before Appalachian State took Michigan out to the woodshed behind the Big House. On Sunday mornings, when John Saunders led off whichever segment it was asking about that week's upsets, the only over-under that mattered was how many words it would take Lupica to start whining about not having a playoff.

What garbage.

I loathe the thought of a playoff. I like the bowl system. I like the idea that volunteers spend weeks pasting certified organic material on chicken-wire, and then get up at 4:00 in the morning on the only cold day of the year in southern California to send their creations off down Colorado Blvd., giving free advertising that the people at the Norton Simon museum could only dream of, just to promote their fair city of Pasadena, and that they cap off the day's festivities with a football game.

I like the idea that New Orleans, and Miami, and Orlando, and Boise(!) all do the same thing. American civic boosterism is as old as the advertising brochures for Jamestown, and God love it.

I like the idea that every game matters, and that there's at least one sport in the country where we end the year with an argument rather than a coronation, which some years, the winning team doesn't really deserve, anyway. When Golic, who knows as much about college football now as George Washington would know about modern campaign fundraising, says that not every game matters. that LSU-Tennessee sure wasn't going to matter, because we all knew that once Oklahoma beat Missouri, it was going to be West Virginia - Ohio State, and wouldn't that be a tragedy.

The fact is, these guys just like to gripe, but they've been doing it so long, they've lost the tune, even though they still know the words. When they didn't like the polls, they pushed for computer rankings. When the computer took LSU and someone else over #1-voted USC a few years ago, they screamed about that. Now that he polls matter more again, they're off about how the pollsters don't know what to do. As I said above, if the college presidents actually devised a system, half these guys wouldn't know what to talk about.

I am not a fan of the BCS, but only because the current system robs the New Year's bowls of their meaning. If we're going to bow to the idea of a national championship, then go to what's been called a "Plus-One" system, where the two finalists are chosen after New Year's. I mean, hell, they're playing the title game on January 7th, anyway. Make it the first Monday night after the 7th, and then the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl mean something again. (The Cotton Bowl? Oh right, well, look, when your conference goes out of business, even all those New Year's memories of Keith Jackson can't save you.)

The old system wasn't perfect, and there's a reason things changed. BYU won a national title by going 13-0, playing absolutely nobody, beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl on Christmas, and being the only undefeated. Virginia got a Sugar Bowl bid in October and then lost 3 of their last 4 games.

Shabbat makes following college football hard. At least it did until ESPN and ABC started grabbing every week's big game and puitting on in prime time Saturday night/ They never would have done that with a playoff, because at least one of the teams playing would be going to the tournament regardless of the outcome. Have a tournament, and the Bowl games shrivel away, which would make Stephen A. Smith happy, but then you'd never see Boise State run a jaw-droppingly perfect hook-and-lateral against Oklahoma, or see Hawaii beat Georgia.

Tournaments are for small minds. Bowl games are for New Year's.

November 27, 2006

College Football Is A Playoff

Look, I like college football the way it is. Except for this hangup about playing almost all the games on Shabbat, of course. The regular-season rivalries have value precisely because there's no playoff. Leave aside the money-grubbing college presidents and the uncertainty-phobic sports punditocracy.

The same people complaining about the computers today were complaining about the polls yesterday. The BCS was instituted in part to keep repeats of a 13-0 BYU squad beating a 6-5 Michigan team and ending up #1. I remember when Virginia (yes, Virginia) started out ranked #15 and kept winning while teams just ahead of it kept losing in the right order. By midyear, U.Va. was ridiculously over-ranked at #1, accepted a Sugar Bowl bid, and then promptly lost 3 out of 4 games and became the post-child for over-eager bowl committees.

This year's Ohio St.-Michigan game proves the point. Michigan knew what it needed to do - win - and it couldn't do it. If everyone had gone into the game knowing that Michigan knew what it needed to do - keep it close - would the game have mattered as much? The question answers itself. In fact, while Ann Arbor and Columbus would have been just as enthralled, the rest of the country would only have cared if it were a blowout, knocking one of the teams out of title contention. In other words, the game would only have been interesting at a national level if it were unwatchable. Instead, we got the next round of the playoff Saturday night, known as USC-Notre Dame.

As for those who want the OhioSt.-Michigan rematch, comparing to Ali-Frazier, consider that such a three-match actually could happen if the two teams in question were from the SEC or the Big 12.

The only team with a beef right now might be Florida. But not a single poll and not a single computer has them ahead of USC, and only two computers (and no polls) have them ahead of Michigan. And one more late, cheap touchdown against FSU wouldn'thave made any difference. (Poor Urban Meyer had this happen to his 12-0 Utah team, too, but did anyone really think Utah belonged in the title game any more than Boise St. does this year?)

Everyone knows the rules - if you lose, lose early, not to your big rival on the last week of the season. So relax, people, and just enjoy the season and the games for what they are.

December 21, 2005

Great Teams Aren't Always Great

Since Sunday, when the Bolts beat the Colts in Indy, people have been asking whether or not Indianapolis needs to be worried. Are they suddenly vulnerable?


As a Redskin fan during the first Gibbs Administration, er, era, I got to see a couple of truly great teams up close, every week. The 1983 team never got its due, because Riggo's Rangers swaggered into the Super Bowl like they didn't have to practice, and got their heads handed to them by the Raiders.

But the 1991 team was special. They went 14-2, and if they had needed that last game in Philly, they would have won it. Even they lost one meaningful game, to the Cowboys in Week 12. Michael Irvin was open all day against the legendary Darrell Green, and the next year, the Cowboy dynasty would begin. They Cowboys were good, they just weren't ready yet, and the Skins were a buzzsaw.

The game everyone forgets is a 16-13 overtime win against woeful Houston at RFK. The only reason they got a chance to win in overtime was that Houston missed an extra point in the last minutes of regulation. It was a close scare at home against a lousy team. And not a single playoff game was in doubt.

Now, the one difference between those Skins and these Colts is that Gibbs's teams had won before. As in, won Super Bowls. But the quarterback was average (he'd fold like a cheap suit the next year when the offensive line was held together with duct tape). The receivers were old. And a lot of the linebacking corps and offensive backfield hadn't been on the 1988 team that won. They picked it up from the veterans. It shows the durability of a winning corporate culture, and subsequent years have show how hard one is to build.

So yes, Indianapolis can beat themselves, but they're still the class of the league.

October 15, 2005


Well, it only took them 10 years, but Virginia finally beat Florida State again, this time 26-21 in Charlottesville. In 1995, U.Va. (!) became the first ACC team to beat FSU in conference play, 33-28, and apparently the team made a big deal out of it for this game. Seems to have inspired the troops.

I don't normally blog much about Virginia sports, and there's a reason for that. Big wins are rare, and usually followed by big losses, making gloating an exercise in tempting fate. (The exception is the lacrosse team, which has won 3 national titles over the years.) But this game is an exception, since conference losses to BC and Maryland have left Virginia out of the conference picture, anyway.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud