Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 9:39 pm

“Ice up. And mow my lawn.” — Steve Smith

Filed under: Panthers,That's gonna leave a mark — Lex @ 9:39 pm
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Well, that’s not the exact quote, but it captures the spirit. Steve Smith, a well-known trash talker when he played for the Carolina Panthers, had to have something to say when his new team played the one that cast him off, and it finally has surfaced:

youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3BfM4etR50

For the few people who don’t follow the Panthers, Smith torched them last Sunday for 100+ yards and two TDs.

As a Panthers fan, I don’t blame him. Yeah, ex-general manager Marty Hurney created a huge salary cap problem for the Panthers, but Smith hasn’t struck me as a guy who’s completely all about the money. I think he’d have taken a below-market contract to stay in Charlotte.

The problem, as I read between the lines, is that Steve Smith was the locker-room leader that Panthers management didn’t want. They wanted the Panthers to be quarterback Cam Newton’s team, and I get that. But you need to think hard before throwing out a combination of skill and leadership, and it is becoming increasingly clear in hindsight that the Panthers, and in particular general manager Dave Gettleman, didn’t think hard enough. A quarter of the way through the season, Smith is on pace for more than 1,700 receiving yards, which would put him in about the Top 5 in single-season NFL receiving leaders … ever. And this is a guy who was thought too old to play the game at a high level again.

So, yeah, maybe Gettleman or team owner Jerry Richardson should mow Smith’s lawn. He sure mowed the Panthers down last Sunday.

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 7:56 am

Sweat it to get it

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 7:56 am
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I’m not a fan of commercials in general, but as a Panther fan, this Gatorade ad featuring Cam Newton had me chuckling.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:02 pm

How the NFL just got on my sh*t list; or, America: NOT a meritocracy

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 1:02 pm
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I understand that the Panthers are 6-9, already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and now playing only for pride. I get that. (Indeed, if you don’t know me, you may have no idea just how painfully I get it.)

But among the team’s few bright spots this year has been Luke Kuechly, this year’s first-round draft pick. Projected as an outside linebacker, he began playing in the middle — the spot he played in college — after an early, season-ending injury to starter Jon Beason.

And all he has done in that spot is lead the league in tackles.

Players are chosen to the Pro Bowl by fans, coaches and players themselves, each group’s votes counting an equal amount. I can understand the fans being ignorant of who, exactly, is leading the league in tackles. I can even understand fans being “homers,” people who vote only for players on their home team. And, of course, I understand that the Charlotte market is nowhere near as big as the New York or Washington or Boston or Houston or Dallas markets. But coaches are going to know the stats for sure, and the players probably will as well. So: really? Really? The guy who leads the league in tackles doesn’t get to the Pro Bowl?

Someone please explain this to me: How does a guy who leads the league in tackles not make it to the Pro Bowl?

Just to put this in perspective, absent serious off-field problems, would any guy who led the league in TD passes, rushing yards, receiving yards or field goals NOT be named to the Pro Bowl?

Yeah. I thought not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:07 pm

Should Randy Moss become a Panther?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:07 pm
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Tom Sorensen at the Charlotte O makes an interesting, but by no means compelling, case.

The upside is that at his best, Moss has been among the best WRs  ever to play his position, and the Panthers’ need for a receiver who can stretch the field the way Steve Smith does AND take double-teams off Smith could be a boon for the offense and a blessing for Cam Newton.

The downside, though, is formidable. Moss is 35 and didn’t play in 2011. His performance in 2010 was subpar. He has a history of off-field problems and fomenting locker-room discontent. The Panthers think WR Brandon LaFell may be about to blossom, and they have WR David Gettis coming back from injury, and they have WR Legedu Naanee, who performed well in 2011 but whose contract is up. They’ve also got the best pair of tight ends in the league in Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, although Shockey, too, is aging and will need a new contract. And the contracts matter, because the team has damned little wiggle room under the salary cap.

The Panthers have a history of overpaying past-their-prime superstars (**cough ReggieWhite cough**), true. But that history is mostly in the last century. In this one, the past-their-prime stars have been people like Stephen Davis and Jeremy Shockey, big upgrades at their position. Even Keyshawn Johnson wasn’t awful, just mediocre. And although owner Jerry Richardson shied away from problem children after the Rae Carruth disaster, his measured gambles on Cam Newton and Shockey have come up big. (That said, although I was skeptical of Newton’s ability to play in the NFL, I generally thought his father was a much bigger off-field problem than he  himself was.)

My guess is that the salary cap alone means this won’t happen; Moss is nowhere near enough of a sure thing to make the Panthers go through the hassle of restructuring several other players’ contracts. They’ll be doing enough of that anyway, plus cutting or not re-signing some good people, as it is.

But if it were up to me, and in the absence of any better affordable options in the draft or free-agent market, I might do what Sorensen suggests: Bring Moss in for an interview, and if Moss can convince me that he’s going to give me body and soul on every down he plays and keep his behavior between the white lines in the locker room and after hours, offer him a one-year contract heavily weighted toward back-end incentives on both health and performance, some of them unlikely enough not to count against the salary cap. If he takes it, great. If he doesn’t, no hard feelings. If he takes it and underperforms, you’re not out a ton of money, and if he takes it and greatly exceeds expectations, he’ll be worth the money without being a huge hit against the cap.

Cam Newton needs weapons. If — and that’s a big if — the Randy Moss of old returned for even a single season, the fireworks those two would create could light the division’s entire geographic footprint.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:25 am

Yes, we Cam

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:25 am
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Was curious about whether Cam Newton really got snubbed for the Pro Bowl, so I checked NFL.COM stats. I learned that through Week 16, his NFC ranking was:

- 9th in QB rating (which factors in a lot of affirmative stats as well as how well you avoid mistakes)
– 10th in completion percentage
– 7th in passing yards
– 7th in passing touchdowns

So, no, I don’t think you can say he was snubbed.

However, he did accomplish some remarkable things. In addition to the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a QB and passing yards by a rookie QB, he also ranks 20th overall, and 2nd among QBs behind Vick, in rushing yards per game, and 2nd overall in rushing TDs with 14.

One other interesting fact: In Newton, Williams and Stewart, the Panthers had three backs who each carried the ball 100+ times and averaged more than 5 yards per carry. If any other NFC team did that this year, I missed it. In fact, I may be wrong, but that might be a first in NFL history. Anyone know? That speaks not only to the talent of those backs but also to the hard work of the offensive line, only one of whose members, Ryan Kalil, is going to the Pro Bowl.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:18 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:18 pm
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Emptywheel, in her new digs, on the pending settlement of the NFL lockout:

This is all proof, I guess, that Eric Cantor is a bigger [expletive] than even Jerry Jones.

Which I would have said violated the principles of simple Newtonian physics, but there we are: Football! Which is, of course, far from the same thing as the Panthers’ having a decent season, but at least the No. 1 overall draft pick is likely to be under contract when camp opens.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2011 6:11 pm

Screwed, blued and tattooed

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:11 pm

In a little while, the Carolina Panthers will do … something with the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft. And as Han Solo famously said, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

I may not have any idea what the Panthers do at the time. My cable is screwed up. Cable guy is supposed to be coming to fix it between 7:30 and 8:30. If you’ve ever waited on a cable guy, you know how that movie is likely to end. I can get NFL Network on my phone, but that tends to work best over wi-fi, and if my Internet is interrupted by the cable repair, well, there goes that, too.

The Panthers had the league’s worst record in 2010 and one of the worst performances from the QB position in league history. So, in a vacuum, simple logic would dictate that they draft the best available QB and not lose any sleep.

But drafting NFL players, particularly quarterbacks, is not a subject that submits willingly to simple logic. There often is no discernible connection between a player’s performance at the college level (and, thus, how high he goes in the draft) and in the NFL, where all the players are bigger, stronger, smarter and, above all, faster. (Malcolm Gladwell, in an article that isn’t really about the NFL at all, discusses this subject in some detail here.) Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who has thrown for 261 TDs and almost 35,000 yards in a career that may last several more years, was drafted in the 6th of seven rounds in 2000.

Moreover, the best college QB of 2010, the only potential draft pick at the position considered anything close to a lock to succeed in the NFL, is Andrew Luck of Stanford, and he, a rising senior, opted not to turn pro early.

That leaves Auburn’s Cam Newton as the best of the rest, which isn’t saying much. He is much more of a question mark, performance-wise, than Luck and has potential character issues to boot. That’s a problem with any potential pick, but given the amount of money a No. 1 overall pick can command, it’s a huge problem for the Panthers. Even QBs who do well eventually in the NFL may suck at the start, meaning the Panthers may have to give Newton big money for five or six years but even under the best of circumstances get only three or four big years out of him before he hits the free-agent market.

So the Panthers, with needs in addition to quarterback and, like all teams, facing an uncertain financial future until the issues behind the current lockout are resolved, may have to tie up a lot of money in one player of unproven worth and unproven dedication for years to come. I’ve suggested before that trading down for more picks to fill more needs might even be the wisest use of the pick. I don’t actually believe that, but if I knew where my next starting QB was coming from, or were more confident that Jimmy Clausen can turn into something approaching a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, I’d do it and not think twice.

In a perfect world, were I the Panthers’ GM, I might draft Newton but try to sign him to a backloaded contract heavy on incentives. Unfortunately, here in the real world, the market won’t let me do that with a No. 1 overall pick, and to the extent I have any sympathy at all for the owners in the lockout dispute, which isn’t much, that is why.

There’s an old saying in the NFL: Only three things can happen when you attempt a forward pass, and two of them are bad. But when you’re trailing late, it’s often your only option. Given last year’s record and the horrendous problems they have at QB, that’s pretty much where the Panthers seem to find themselves right now. The problem, of course, is that, like the Panthers late in so many of last year’s games, the Panthers brain trust seems to have no option tonight but to drop back, throw deep and hope for the best.

I’ve got to be home to let the cable guy in tonight. But under these circumstances, I’d much rather be watching the draft in a bar — and not just because my cable is out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:13 pm

Will everyone in Charlotte please leave in orderly fashion via the closest available exit?

Filed under: Fun,Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 8:13 pm
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Miami Herald:

“Panthers and orchids are sentinels,” Richardson said. “They are not guards; they are watchdogs of the environment. We should be watching them just as closely. When they decide to leave, we should too.’

Currently, the Panthers are last in the league in points and yards and next-to-last in passing yards. I think it’s pretty clear they’ve decided to leave.

Sunday, September 26, 2010 1:00 pm

What my Sundays will be like if the Panthers don’t start winning

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 1:00 pm
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Sunday, September 19, 2010 5:44 pm

By the jet exhausts’ red glare

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:44 pm
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Jet fighter flyover before Bucs-Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, 19 Sept 2010. I still get goosebumps during these things. Also, I forget her name, but the 11-year-old girl from Raleigh who did the national anthem was excellent.

Unfortunately for the Panthers and their fans, this was pretty much the high point of the afternoon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:52 pm

The 2010 Panthers …

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:52 pm
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… are gonna suck eggs, if you believe the NFL’s stable of prognosticators. The best anyone predicts is 8-8 and 3rd in the conference, several say 6-10 and one says 5-11.

Me? I think a defense as good as the Panthers’ D has looked in the preseason will take you places. The big question mark was the D-line, and it has played well against the run and gotten a serious pass rush on. It sucks that MLB Jon Beason had to move outside to replace the injured Thomas Davis, but 1) Beason is gonna get tackles no matter what position he plays, and 2) Davis apparently may yet play this year.

Special teams appear solid, with John Kasay and Jason Baker quite reliable and the kick/punt coverage appearing to be significantly improved from last year. But kick/punt returns are still a big question mark.

The problem is that the offense, which the team didn’t do a lot to revamp in the off-season,  has serious problems: Not only can Matt Moore not find a receiver, but nobody, nobody has emerged as a viable alternative to Steve Smith. (For yet another year.) Worst of all, the O-line, which was thought to have enough spot-for-spot talent to match up with anyone in the league, appears to be having serious problems playing as a team.

Based on what I’ve seen this preseason, this team is not going to score many points. And the best defense in the league can’t help you all that much if it’s on the field too much. Against a dramatically improved division, that spells trouble.

So: If Steve Smith says healthy, I predict 8-8, which may not be good enough to keep the Panthers out of the NFC South cellar.

Monday, June 21, 2010 2:57 pm

Can anyone reading this in Charlotte please do me a favor …

Filed under: Panthers,We're so screwed — Lex @ 2:57 pm
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… and go slap Steve Smith upside the head?

Thank you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010 3:55 pm

Crud

Filed under: Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 3:55 pm
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I would appreciate it if the Carolina Panthers could actually make it into their first training camp session of 2010 before losing key players for the season to injury. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:12 pm

Hey, Google Calendar!

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:12 pm
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The NFL released its 2010 schedule 42 whole minutes ago. Why aren’t the Panthers’ games on my calendar yet, you slackards??

Monday, March 8, 2010 10:00 pm

So what, exactly, makes him think he’ll fit in?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:00 pm
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Ex-Panther Julius Peppers on his new employer, the Chicago Bears: “I always liked [Coach Lovie Smith's] demeanor, how his teams played,” said Peppers. “They always played hard, they always give it their all.”

Friday, March 5, 2010 5:38 am

Call me stunned but delighted

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:38 am
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The Panthers have cut Jake Delhomme after seven seasons, numerous thrilling fourth-quarter comebacks and a Super Bowl. I’d thought since the end of the season it would be the right thing to do, but after they put the franchise tag on Peppers last year I also thought they wouldn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, particularly since they will still owe Jake roughly $12M this year. I guess the lack of a salary cap can be a freeing thing. Still, it became a lot more likely after they gave Matt Moore the $3M+ tender offer earlier this week. (Getting Matt and LB Thomas Davis re-signed are both very good ideas.)

They also cut DL Damione Lewis, although that appears to have been more to save money than anything else — he’d have cost $5M this year. But the loss of Peppers and Lewis leaves them thin on the D-line, which was thin to begin with and then, as they say, riddled with injuries last year. Tyler Brayton and Hollis Thomas also are unrestricted free agents, and Brayton, in particular, is sure to be picked up by someone else if we don’t make him a good offer pretty quickly.

Still, management is acting as if they understand what the problems are and are making good-faith efforts to fix them. This is a good sign.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ‘em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

Monday, December 28, 2009 11:14 pm

In baseball, a .375 career might land you in the Hall of Fame

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:14 pm
Tags: ,

But John Fox has the misfortune to work in the NFL, where, as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he has taken his team to the playoffs just three times in eight years, never two years in a row. So the news today that he still has a job for 2010 if he wants it (ditto general manager Marty Hurney) needs to be understood as the good news/bad news it is.

The good news, for Fox, is that he still has a job. Earlier in the season, when a team that had been expected to compete for the Super Bowl went winless in preseason, lost its first three in the regular season and then hit 5-8 without ever reaching .500, a lot of people, including me, were calling for his head. And the fact that Bill Cowher, who won multiple Super Bowl titles in Pittsburgh, is currently out of football and living just down the road in Raleigh, was positively tantalizing.

The bad news for Fox is that although he has only one year left on his contract, owner Jerry Richardson apparently hasn’t said a word about negotiating an extension. If Fox’s job were truly secure, that extension likely already would have been inked.

Fox had a near-death experience with Richardson after the disappointing 2007 season, and he and the team responded in ’08 by going 12-4 and winning the NFC South and a first-round bye. But QB Jake Delhomme gave the divisional playoff game against Arizona away in a flood of turnovers, and his turnover problems continued until he broke a finger in this season’s Miami game, ending his season and quite possibly his Panthers career.

No one knows how differently things might have turned out this year if Fox had benched Delhomme sooner. But the fact that Fox still has a job indicates that Richardson believes this team’s problems didn’t start or stop with Fox and Delhomme.

From the outside looking in, I’d have to say that’s true. All the money tied up in making Julius Peppers the franchise player for ’09 left the team little room under the salary cap to address problems in the return game, the lack of a second wideout fast enough to free Steve Smith from double-teams, and depth issues — particularly on the D-line, where the Panthers scrambled for healthy players well into midseason after putting four defensive tackles on injured reserve.

And the fact is that of Carolina’s eight losses so far, only one, the season opener, was an embarrassment (38-10 to the Eagles) and only one other, to the Cowboys in Week 3, was by more than 10 points. Since Matt Moore took over for Delhomme, the team has gone 3-2. The defense had played well for most of the year, but since the Miami game it has stepped up, allowing an average of only 7.6 points a game. The offense, which had struggled all year, finally started to gel, running up big numbers against heavily favored Minnesota and New York in the past two weeks. The offensive line, so often a problem in this team’s history, has delivered outstanding play despite the loss of both starting tackles, one of them a Pro Bowler.

Whether the Panthers beat New Orleans this Sunday or not probably won’t decide anyone’s future, nor should it. Steve Smith broke his arm against the Giants and won’t play. A solid performance by Moore probably makes him the starter going into the ’10 minicamps. I don’t recall enough about the details of Delhomme’s contract (if in fact I ever knew enough of them) to know whether Carolina would do better under the salary cap by keeping him or cutting him, but I do know that the new contract he signed last year is paying him starter’s money at a time when he probably ain’t the starter anymore.

The rest of the offense? Steve Smith and his healed arm should be back and fine by minicamp. The offensive line should be fine for next year if — always a crapshoot — it can avoid injuries. In particular, if he stays healthy, look for Jon Otah to make his first Pro Bowl. In Dante Rosario and Jeff King, the Panthers have the best pair of tight ends in the league: Neither is a Tony Gonzalez, but both, particularly Rosario, are dangerous targets. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the best pair of RBs in the league and are capably backed by Tyrell Sutton (5.7 ypa, 10.3 ypc in limited action). Brad Hoover remains one of the league’s better blocking fullbacks as well as a pass-catching threat. The ageless Muhsin Muhammad is still a capable possession receiver and one of the league’s best blocking wideouts — a factor in big gains by Williams and Stewart. All that remains, as has been the case for several years now, is a wideout credible enough as a deep threat to take the double-teams off Steve Smith.

On the defense, the biggest question, for the second straight year, is Julius Peppers. After playing part of the season with a broken hand, he has still amassed 10.5 sacks (his best is 14.5, in ’08) and has forced five fumbles, tying his season best, despite frequent double-teams. He so dominated Minnesota’s offense on national TV Dec. 20 that Vikings coach Brad Childress apparently tried to take QB Brett Favre out of the game for his own protection in the third quarter, while the Vikings were still winning 7-6. But this past year has made clear that Peppers’ inconsistency — the longtime knock on him — isn’t going to bring him the megadeal he apparently seeks, particularly from one of the few teams that use the kind of scheme he wants to play in. Carolina can put the franchise tag on him again in 2010, but doing so would mean paying him about $20 million, which it simply cannot afford. Peppers either takes a huge pay cut or he’s gone, and I hope the front office won’t agonize long over this because it simply has too much else to do.

Elsewhere on the defense, it’ll be a huge boost if Kemoeatu is able to return, but hope is not a plan and putting four DTs on IR in one year should already have gotten the front office’s attention. The linebackers lost starter Thomas Davis and his replacement, Landon Johnson, to injury, but both should return. All six corners have played well. Strong safety Chris Harris continues to impress, and at free safety, rookie Quinton Teal played well enough in relief of the injured Charles Godfrey to make a lot of people, including me, wonder whether he shouldn’t have gotten the starting job permanently. At any rate, I don’t think the Panthers need to be in the DB market this year with so many other pressing needs.

The players themselves are saying publicly that Richardson shouldn’t clean house. And I don’t think he intends to. But for this team to have a shot at the Super Bowl, Matt Moore has to be the quarterback he has appeared to be for the past two weeks — a guy who can manage a running offense efficiently and use play-action deep passes opportunistically. In addition, one way or another (or both), the team is going to have to clear enough salary room to firm up the D-line, provide depth, find a second deep threat at last and improve its patchy kick and punt coverage. That list is formidable, but the team can do it — if it shows Jake and Julius the door. After that, I think Fox either takes the team to the conference championship game, at the least, or he’s gone. I see no way Jerry Richardson — who, remember, fired both his sons this year — gives Fox a third stay of execution.

Odds and ends for 12/27

Hmm, what else can we screw up in a way that screws poor people worst? Hey, I know! The estate tax!

John Fox can have another year if he wants: So say the Panthers, although they’re not talking any kind of contract extension with him now (he has a year left). I have mixed feelings about this, upon which I’ll elaborate in a separate post.

Utterly un-self-aware: Jonah Goldberg presumes to pass judgment on someone else’s competence.

Utterly un-self-aware, cont.: Before Republicans criticize Democrats on national-security issues, they need to take a few history lessons, starting with the 9/11 commission report.

Related memo to Joe Lieberman, on the off-chance that he can read: How ’bout before we start a third war, let’s take a minute and figure out how this would-be airplane bomber got a visa? (Newsweek offers the strong beginning of an explanation.) Because the purview of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you chair does not extend to foreign policy or strategic (let alone tactical) military planning. You ass.

At least one legitimate criticism can be leveled at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Cole levels it.

One thing liberals applaud Obama on: Tightening restrictions not only on lobbying, but also on when and how ex-industry officials can go to work for the government, so that agencies aren’t “captured” by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Watch that change get undone the second a Republican retakes the White House.

Which is fine, except that I haven’t heard them come up with an alternative solution to the problem: Blue Dogs Bayh, Landrieu and Conrad say cap ‘n’ trade is DOA. Relatedly, chemicals from power plants in their states are killing trees in the mountains of mine.

Your tax dollars at work: Despite the recent removal of caps on taxpayer assistance to Fannie and Freddie, which already totals $111 billion, they’re resuming foreclosures next week. You’re welcome, guys.

Not just no, but, hell, no: Not content to throw women’s rights under the health-care bus, the evangelistas are now trying to get the failed policy of abstinence-only sex education incorporated into health-care reform. Guys, we tried your flavor of Teh Stoopid once already and got a big jump in unwed pregnancy to show for it. Go. Away.

Tremors: The last time Iran got this shaky, the Shah was ousted. That may or may not mean the current regime will fall. But it almost certainly means blood in the streets, much of it likely innocent. Great.

Antiterrorism 101, which means most current and former government officials probably haven’t read it: Spencer Ackerman: “It’s never sufficient just to observe that a terrorist group has a presence in Country X. We have to ask ourselves: what are the conditions that allowed for said terrorist group to take root? If we don’t, we simply can’t devise an effective strategy against the terrorist group; and we come close to guaranteeing that we’ll flail and make the situation worse.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:15 pm

More bell-ringing

I blogged two months ago about Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage among NFL players who have suffered concussions. Since that article, the co-chairs of the league’s committee on brain injuries have resigned (read: “resigned”) after players said they’d lost faith in the committee’s objectivity.

The committee has been in denial on this, a fact the New Yorker article touched on. That fact is examined in more detail in this article by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ (h/t: DivaGeek, via e-mail). As with Gladwell’s article, it’s a bit lengthy but well worth your time … and likely to prompt some serious reflection from fans about what our sports heroes endure for our entertainment.

Of special note to Panthers fans is the brief mention of former Panthers center Curtis Whitley, “just 39 when he was found facedown in the bathroom of a rented trailer in West Texas, shirtless, shoeless, wearing blue warm-up pants. [Dr. Bennet]  Omalu got his brain, examined it, and found CTE.” Whitley’s case was the 17th Dr. Omalu had identified, an incredibly high number compared with what one would expect to find in a similarly sized random sample of the population at large. Whitley’s mom shows up in the article comments and leaves he e-mail address for those who’d like to pass on their condolences.

GQ emphasizes more heavily than the New Yorker the possible contribution of steroids to the problem, but neither article claims evidence of a definitive link.

Both articles also make relatively clear that if this problem is to be solved, equipment will not be the answer. The problem is not necessarily how hard your head hits something, it’s how hard your brain hits the inside of your skull and whether there is any sideways motion that can lead to tearing.

A reckoning is coming, for the NFL and perhaps for all of football, down to youth leagues. Players, their parents and fans likely will soon have some significant, and grim, new information to incorporate into their calculations of and tolerance for risk. I love this game, but not so much that I want to see people die or suffer brain damage to the point of dementia for my entertainment.

Saturday, December 19, 2009 3:19 pm

Odds and ends for 12/19

The GOP’s 2010 narrative, courtesy of non-GOP Eli at Firedoglake: “Look, we were the ones who voted against giving Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars, who voted against that tool at the Fed who doesn’t care about your job, who voted against forcing you to spend your hard-earned money on junk insurance you can’t afford to use.  Obama and the Democrats are screwing you over to funnel money to corporate fatcats, and we’re trying to stop them.” I bet it works, too.

Global-warming conspiracy theoristsat the Pentagon.

The health of the commercial banking industry, as summarized by Peterr: If you’re the FDIC putting your budget together for 2010, “you don’t double your receivership budget if you think bank failures are slowing down.” Fun fact: The figure being doubled was itself almost doubled in mid-year 2009 from what it was set at at the beginning of the year, because of the growth in bank failures.

Glenn Beck, cracked: When I was a kid, Cracked was the less nuanced competitor to Mad magazine. But in the Internet age, Cracked has found its footing. Consider this unpacking of the Glenn Beck phenomenon, which includes this gem: “The difference between a Glenn Beck conspiracy and the coronation scene in Carrie is Carrie didn’t overreact as hysterically.”

Different standards: Can you imagine the media hissy fit if Democrats were to try to filibuster an Iraq-Afghanistan spending bill just to delay some other legislation that was part of the GOP agenda? But when Republicans do it to try to delay health-care legislation, it’s perfectly OK, or at least unremarkable.

Blech: I started off my Christmas break with sinuses stuffy AND running AND hurting, and a lot of chest congestion. I’ve hit the Neilmed bottle twice, and it has helped a little but not as much as I had hoped.  Rather than playing in the snow with Hooper and Victoria, which is what I wanted to do, I’ve spent most of the day in bed. On the bright side, the streets appear navigable, so I should be able to run to the store tomorrow for the appropriate junk food to consume during Panthers/Vikings.

Speaking of which, I am probably deriving far more amusement than I should from the thought that the teams will be playing tomorrow night on the frozen tundra of Bank of America Stadium because the Vikes are now an indoor team. But I’m not under any illusions about who’s going to win, just as I hope John Fox is not under any illusions that Jerry Richardson is going to keep him on.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/15

A way to balance the budget?: For the second straight month, the U.S. Treasury auctioned 1-month T-bills at 0.0% interest. The national budget gets significantly smaller if you whack out interest on the national debt, y’know.

All I want for Christmas is a repeal of Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

BOHICA: As part of “paying off” its multi-billion-dollar loan from the taxpayers, technically insolvent bank holding company Citigroup gets to keep $38 billion in tax credits that regulations normally would require it to give up. That figure will easily overshadow any profit the taxpayers may get from selling Citigroup shares. Merry. Freaking. Christmas.

But maybe Christmas is coming early; or, Who are you and what have you done with Sen. Jim Bunning?: Remember those 15 questions that the Cunning Realist suggested should be asked of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke during his reconfirmation hearings? Unbelievably, a senator asked them. Even more unbelievably, the senator in question was Jim Bunning, heretofore a leading candidate for the title of Biggest Waste of Carbon in the U.S. Capitol.

You may now kiss the D.C. City Council: The District of Columbia has legalized gay marriage. Congress, per the Constitution, gets 30 legislative days to review the law once D.C.’s mayor has signed it, but the Democratic leadership will keep that puppy bottled up until the deadline has safely passed.

No room to talk: Panthers defensive backs Chris Harris and Chris Gamble need to STFU about Patriots WR Randy Moss. While they are having good years, and they did shut Moss down on Sunday, they apparently chose to ignore Wes Welker’s presence on the field. And what really matters is that yet again, the Panthers have failed to achieve consecutive winning seasons, while the Pats almost certainly are going to the playoffs.

Wardrobe police: Is Roy Williams gonna have me thrown out of North Carolina for wearing a Panthers jersey in Chapel Hill?

Shorter Janet Tavakoli: Except for Paul Volcker, the bankers don’t get it.

Brother can you spare your Visa card?: The Miami Herald, which recently laid off 199 people, is now attaching to each article a link through which people can contribute money online … to the paper, not the laid-off employees. The last time I can remember anything like this happening was when I was a kid and Ted Turner went on the air in Charlotte to ask people to send him money to keep Channel 36 on the air. (Yes, that’s Turner Broadcasting’s Ted Turner, and, yes, he repaid it.)

CBS Sports: “If any of our announcers talk about Tiger Woods, we’ll shoot this dog fire them.”

Best banking idea I’ve heard in a while: If Barney Frank has his way, only retail banks will be able to borrow from the discount window. At worst, this gets some banksters off the federal teat. It may even significantly ease the current credit crunch.

Quote of the day: “You’re either part of the solution or you’re a tool of ACORN.” — Conservative Brown, Boy Detective, by Tom Tomorrow.

Smarter Washington Post, please: The Post publishes a bunch of contextually challenged nonsense regarding the national debt. Economist Dean Baker rips them a new one. Yes, the national debt is too high and rising, but the bigger and more urgent problem is joblessness. The Post wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare but just doesn’t have the stones to say so.

Smarter Washington Post, please, cont.: Charles Lane criticizes colleague Ezra Klein’s criticism of Joe Lieberman … while also conceding that Klein’s factual claim is correct. Idiot. All you need to know about Lane is that he was Stephen Glass‘s editor. All you need to know about Klein is that Joe Lieberman finds him bothersome. (But here’s useful background on the contretemps.) Also, I posted the one-word comment “FAIL” on Lane’s blog post earlier; as of 10:30 p.m., it had been deleted, which fact I shortly thereafter commented upon. We’ll see if the 2nd comment stays up.

Smarter judges, please: U.S. District Judge William Duffey tells two Muslim defendants at a sentencing, “I’ll say this, our Gods are very different.” Uh, no, infidel; Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

If you like what Joe Lieberman is doing to health-care reform, wait’ll you see what he has planned for Social Security and Medicare.

Terminated; or, Cue the Limbaugh smears in 3 … 2… 1 …: Arnold Schwarzenegger throws Sarah Palin under the (hybrid?) bus.

Jerome “Swiftboat” Corsi asks,”Could it be that President Obama intends to bankrupt the USA in order to destroy free-enterprise capitalism itself?” Sounds like fun! Let’s play! Could it be that Jerome Corsi is a paranoid psychotic? Could it be that Jerome Corsi wouldn’t recognize the destruction of free-enterprise capitalism THAT’S NOW GOING ON, LED BY INVESTMENT BANKS, if it bit him in the ass? Could it be that Jerome Corsi has a financial motivation to misrepresent what the president is trying to do? Hey, this is fun! I could do this all day!

Paying for your wars: The Greatest Generation, so revered by conservatives, had no problem with this concept; indeed, they inculcated it in their children. So why do today’s Congressional leaders have such a problem?

Why is private health insurance such a bad idea? Let me the Main Street Alliance draw you a picture:

Back from the dead and ready to incriminate?: Some 22 million White House e-mails from the first Bush 43 administration have been “found,” four years and change after they “went missing.” In a perfect world, Karl Rove will be going to prison as a result for having 1) outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame and 2) obstructed a criminal investigation into the outing thereof. In the world we live in, we’ll probably find out that the missing $12 trillion in U.S. wealth, much of it sucked out of the home values and retirement savings of the middle class, is now in some Nigerian barrister’s bank account.

Math: About fifteen times as many people die in the U.S. every year as a result of lack of health insurance as died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

No methaqualone for you, says the Methaqualone Nazi!: The new Republican Party-sponsored Web-link shortener, GOP.am, includes this in its terms of use: “If you use it for spamming, illegal purposes or to promote lude content, your GOP.AM URL will be disabled.” Earlier, bloggers and commenters for Balloon Juice were using the site to provide links to bondage sites. Hee.

Sunday, November 29, 2009 10:00 pm

Jets 17, Panthers 6

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:00 pm
Tags:

I suppose the Panthers’ game against the Jets today could have been uglier, but it was a double-bagger just as it was.

Jake Delhomme couldn’t keep his roster spot for next year now if he threw 4 TDs and no picks every game for the rest of the season, except for one thing (besides his contract): The Panthers have no one with whom to replace him and no first-round draft pick in 2010. He could still be gone, but getting rid of him and getting a replacement in will both be expensive.

Is Coach John Fox gone? I’m guessing probably so. He had a near-death experience after 2007 and responded by taking essentially the same team, plus Jonathan Stewart, to the playoffs in ’08. The problem is that owner Jerry Richardson expects the team to be a perennial contender — owners are funny like that — and this franchise, which has been to the playoffs three times under Fox, has yet to make the playoffs in consecutive years. It is mathematically possible that the Panthers could make the playoffs this year if they won out and got help, but a far likelier scenario is that they don’t win another game and finish 4-12. Realistically? I think they can beat Tampa Bay and maybe the Giants, but they could easily lose by 20+ to New England, Minnesota and New Orleans. Barring a miracle, I think they finish 5-11.

For sure, key injuries have played a huge role, and the team’s decision to give Julius Peppers the franchise tag, and the accompanying $16.67 million salary, meant there was no room under the salary cap to address the obvious depth problems at a number of positions. I’m sure Fox had input into that decision, but it was the responsibility of team management. It would be unfair of them to hold Fox responsible for the consequences, but the NFL ain’t always about fair.

Besides, this Panther team has the best running-back tandem in the league, one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league, a cohesive offensive line (until Jordan Gross’s season-ending injury) two former Pro Bowl wideouts and, in Dante Rosario, an up-and-coming pass-catching tight end. Even without Delhomme, it should have been able to score more than it has. And the blame for that does, in fact, belong at Fox’s feet. If Richardson hasn’t already called Bill Cowher, I’d be stunned.

Next year figures to suck as well: The team is even less likely to find a taker for Peppers if it puts the franchise tag on him again, and doing so would suck up money that’s badly needed to fill gaps elsewhere, including elsewhere on the D-line. And that’s to say nothing of what a quality QB would cost, whether obtained through the draft or via free agency.

So we’ll likely be looking at a team next year with a caretaker QB (Delhomme or otherwise), no first-round draft pick and a new coach with a new system. This team does have experience with consecutive losing seasons, and my guess is it’s going to get some more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009 8:53 pm

Good news, bad news

Filed under: Fun,Hooper,Panthers,Wizards — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , ,

First, the good news: Hooper finally scored a goal today in a real game. And he did it with authority. He got passed the ball while all alone out on the right wing, a good 20+ feet from the goal. The keeper edged over toward him, and he unleashed one about two inches over the grass that found the far back corner of the net like it had eyes.

So V., Hooper and I had milkshakes to celebrate.

The bad news: The Panthers are done. If your offense can’t score but one TD against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, you are in bad, bad shape. And this is the easy part of the 2009 schedule. After Arizona next week, the Panthers start playing real teams again, and they were going to have to be 4-3 at that point to have a shot at a playoff spot the way New Orleans is playing. Now they’re 2-4.

So what are the problems?

Well, they certainly start with Jake Delhomme. Thirteen interceptions in six games is a killer. Neither of today’s was run back for a TD, but they gave the Bills a short field with which to work. Carolina had 20 first downs to Buffalo’s 9 and 425 yars of total offense to 167 for Buffalo, but when you start on your opponent’s 12, how good does your offense have to be?

But the problems do not end with Delhomme. For one thing, we’ve known since at least 2005 that pretty much every opponent will double-team Steve Smith pretty much all the time. And yet in the intervening years, the Panthers have never found another receiver who could make opponents pay for that double-team. The announcers said today that the Panthers’ O-line is better at run-blocking than at pass-blocking; that’s both true and unimportant. What’s important is that NO line can protect a QB forever when the receivers are covered. And no Panther besides Smith has demonstrated a consistent ability to get free.

Special teams also are killing us. Kenneth Moore’s muffed punt was just today’s most horrendous example. The team does not have a capable returner, and its coverage of kickoff and punt returns is lame. Coach John Fox pays attention to field position for a reason. And while I don’t mean to criticize John Kasay personally, I do have to ask: When was the last time Kasay missed two field goals from inside 45 yards in the same game?

This game will end up being the one for John Fox that the ’98 game in which Kerry Collins took himself out was for Dom Capers: the last straw for Jerry Richardson. John Fox is gone. And as nice as it would be to think that Delhomme would be gone with him, the fact is that the Panthers have no 1st-round pick in 2010 and, at least as of now, very little room under the salary cap to go after a quality free-agent QB, should one even be available. So we could be stuck with Jake for at least another year.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 10:56 pm

The toll of the bell(-ringing)

This week’s New Yorker has an article in it by Malcolm Gladwell that, apparently prompted by the return of QB Michael Vick to the NFL after his prison term for dogfighting, asks how similar football and dogfighting are.

He argues that they are similar in that both dogs trained to fight and NFL players are “selected for gameness” (along with Marines and physicians) — their respective systems weed out those unwilling to continue trying to persevere even in the face of great pain and suffering. The dogs do it out of love for and devotion to their owners, which is why during dogfights, the owners maneuver around the pit to stay within their dogs’ fields of vision. The players do it for more complicated reasons — a mix of love of the game itself, camaraderie, money and a long list of other enticements, tangible and intangible.

The difference, of course, is that NFL players 1) have a choice and 2) are highly compensated — even those making the league minimum are making substantially more money than most Americans.

Until recently, or at least so we thought, there was one other difference: No dog, no matter how aggressive and well-trained, will live forever. Sooner or later, it will age or slow or just catch a bit of bad luck and go down to another dog. NFL players, on the other hand, almost all walk away from the game relatively intact, or so most fans think. (The less glamorous reality, which the NFL doesn’t talk much about, is that a large percentage of NFL players who play in the league any length of time leave with some sort of permanent injury or disability.)

And although there’s no conclusive proof, Gladwell writes, there is some disturbing evidence that NFL players as a group may be at far greater risk than the general population for a form of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) because of the pounding their heads take during the course of a career. C.T.E. presents, as the doctors say, a lot like Alzheimer’s, but it’s caused by brain injury and the brain cells of its victims look different from those of Alzheimer’s patients. It gets worse over time. And as with Alzheimer’s, there’s no cure.

Two neuropathologists are looking at this particular question. One is Dr. Ann McKee, who is doing the neuropathology research associated with the long-running Framingham heart-disease study, which has been following a large group of patients for decades. She also is involved with the New England Centenarian Study, which looks at the brains of people who lived an extraordinarily long time. (“I’m looking at brains constantly,” McKee says.) In the course of her work, she has run across close to two dozen brains of former athletes — mostly football players, a couple of boxers.

The other is Dr. Bennet Omalu, who has found cases of C.T.E. in several former NFL players. Both are disturbed by their findings, although both also say they haven’t seen enough cases yet to decide anything.

The league also has been looking, and what it has found is disturbing:

… late last month the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the findings of an N.F.L.-funded phone survey of just over a thousand randomly selected retired N.F.L. players—all of whom had played in the league for at least three seasons. Self-reported studies are notoriously unreliable instruments, but, even so, the results were alarming. Of those players who were older than fifty, 6.1 per cent reported that they had received a diagnosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.” That’s five times higher than the national average for that age group. For players between the ages of thirty and forty-nine, the reported rate was nineteen times the national average. …

“A long time ago, someone suggested that the [C.T.E. rate] in boxers was twenty per cent,” McKee told me. “I think it’s probably higher than that among boxers, and I also suspect that it’s going to end up being higher than that among football players as well. Why? Because every brain I’ve seen has this [damage]. To get this number in a sample this small is really unusual, and the findings are so far out of the norm. I only can say that because I have looked at thousands of brains for a long time. This isn’t something that you just see. I did the same exact thing for all the individuals from the Framingham heart study. We study them until they die. I run these exact same proteins, make these same slides—and we never see this.”

McKee’s laboratory occupies a warren of rooms, in what looks like an old officers’ quarters on the V.A. campus. In one of the rooms, there is an enormous refrigerator, filled with brains packed away in hundreds of plastic containers. Nearby is a tray with small piles of brain slices. They look just like the ginger shavings that come with an order of sushi. Now McKee went to the room next to her office, sat down behind a microscope, and inserted one of the immunostained slides under the lens.

“This is Tom McHale,” she said. “He started out playing for Cornell. Then he went to Tampa Bay. He was the man who died of substance abuse at the age of forty-five. I only got fragments of the brain. But it’s just showing huge accumulations of tau [a protein that damages brain cells, found in both Alzheimer's and C.T.E. patients and detectable only at autopsy -- Lex] for a forty-five-year-old—ridiculously abnormal.”

She placed another slide under the microscope. “This individual was forty-nine years old. A football player. Cognitively intact. He never had any rage behavior. He had the distinctive abnormalities. Look at the hypothalamus.” It was dark with tau. She put another slide in. “This guy was in his mid-sixties,” she said. “He died of an unrelated medical condition. His name is Walter Hilgenberg. Look at the hippocampus. It’s wall-to-wall tangles. Even in a bad case of Alzheimer’s, you don’t see that.” The brown pigment of the tau stain ran around the edge of the tissue sample in a thick, dark band. “It’s like a big river.”

McKee got up and walked across the corridor, back to her office. “There’s one last thing,” she said. She pulled out a large photographic blowup of a brain-tissue sample. “This is a kid. I’m not allowed to talk about how he died. He was a good student. This is his brain. He’s eighteen years old. He played football. He’d been playing football for a couple of years.” She pointed to a series of dark spots on the image, where the stain had marked the presence of something abnormal. “He’s got all this tau. This is frontal and this is insular. Very close to insular. Those same vulnerable regions.” This was a teen-ager, and already his brain showed the kind of decay that is usually associated with old age. “This is completely inappropriate,” she said. “You don’t see tau like this in an eighteen-year-old. You don’t see tau like this in a fifty-year-old.”

McKee is a longtime football fan. She is from Wisconsin. She had two statuettes of Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback, on her bookshelf. On the wall was a picture of a robust young man. It was McKee’s son—nineteen years old, six feet three. If he had a chance to join the N.F.L., I asked her, what would she advise him? “I’d say, ‘Don’t. Not if you want to have a life after football.’ ”

At the core of the C.T.E. research is a critical question: is the kind of injury being uncovered by McKee and Omalu incidental to the game of football or inherent in it?

(I should point out that both researchers say that other factors, such as genetics and steroid use, may well figure into this phenomenon — neither is drawing any straight-line conclusions at this point.)

As it happens, I read this article just last night, so it was still very much on my mind as I watched today’s Panthers-Buccaneers game.

Just seconds before halftime, the Panthers punted, and the Bucs’ returner, Clifton Smith, signaled for a fair catch. When a punt returner signals for a fair catch, that means he’s supposed to be allowed to catch the ball, and then his team starts its next play from that spot — he doesn’t run with it once he catches it. In return for his not running, not only is the punting team not allowed to tackle that returner, for the past few years they haven’t even been allowed within a 3-yard “halo” around such a returner.

But on this play, the Panthers’ Dante Wesley, the “gunner” (first guy to sprint downfield on punts to try to tackle the returner), launched himself into Clifton Smith, who, having signaled for a fair catch, was watching the ball coming down out of the sky and had no idea what Wesley was doing. Wesley slammed into him at full speed, appearing to catch him under the chin with his shoulder pad and knocking him out cold. (You can see the play here.)

Smith suffered a concussion — he “got his bell rung,” as the players sometimes say — and did not return. Wesley was ejected and likely will be fined by the league. For such a blatant and excessive hit — not only running into Smith, but also leaving his feet to do so, an additional violation of the rules — he might even be suspended. (I hope he is. What he did came as close to assault with a deadly weapon as an unarmed man is ever likely to come without martial-arts training.)

Now, you might suppose that it’s hits like that that cause the kind of brain trauma these researchers are finding. And they can. But research just down the road in Chapel Hill suggests a more disturbing problem for those of us who play and/or love football:

Take the experience of a young defensive lineman for the University of North Carolina football team, who suffered two concussions during the 2004 season. His case is one of a number studied by Kevin Guskiewicz, who runs the university’s Sports Concussion Research Program. For the past five seasons, Guskiewicz and his team have tracked every one of the football team’s practices and games using a system called HITS, in which six sensors are placed inside the helmet of every player on the field, measuring the force and location of every blow he receives to the head. Using the HITS data, Guskiewicz was able to reconstruct precisely what happened each time the player was injured.

“The first concussion was during preseason. The team was doing two-a-days,” he said, referring to the habit of practicing in both the morning and the evening in the preseason. “It was August 9th, 9:55 A.M. He has an 80-g hit to the front of his head. About ten minutes later, he has a 98-g acceleration to the front of his head.” To put those numbers in perspective, Guskiewicz explained, if you drove your car into a wall at twenty-five miles per hour and you weren’t wearing your seat belt, the force of your head hitting the windshield would be around 100 gs: in effect, the player had two car accidents that morning. He survived both without incident. “In the evening session, he experiences this 64-g hit to the same spot, the front of the head. Still not reporting anything. And then this happens.” On his laptop, Guskiewicz ran the video from the practice session. It was a simple drill: the lineman squaring off against an offensive player who wore the number 76. The other player ran toward the lineman and brushed past him, while delivering a glancing blow to the defender’s helmet. “Seventy-six does a little quick elbow. It’s 63 gs, the lowest of the four, but he sustains a concussion.”

“The second injury was nine weeks later,” Guskiewicz continued. “He’s now recovered from the initial injury. It’s a game out in Utah. In warmups, he takes a 76-g blow to the front of his head. Then, on the very first play of the game, on kickoff, he gets popped in the earhole. It’s a 102-g impact. He’s part of the wedge.” He pointed to the screen, where the player was blocking on a kickoff: “Right here.” The player stumbled toward the sideline. “His symptoms were significantly worse than the first injury.” Two days later, during an evaluation in Guskiewicz’s clinic, he had to have a towel put over his head because he couldn’t stand the light. He also had difficulty staying awake. He was sidelined for sixteen days.

When we think about football, we worry about the dangers posed by the heat and the fury of competition. Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. We also tend to focus on the dramatic helmet-to-helmet hits that signal an aggressive and reckless style of play. Those kinds of hits can be policed. But what sidelined the U.N.C. player, the first time around, was an accidental and seemingly innocuous elbow, and none of the blows he suffered that day would have been flagged by a referee as illegal. Most important, though, is what Guskiewicz found when he reviewed all the data for the lineman on that first day in training camp. He didn’t just suffer those four big blows. He was hit in the head thirty-one times that day. What seems to have caused his concussion, in other words, was his cumulative exposure. And why was the second concussion—in the game at Utah—so much more serious than the first? It’s not because that hit to the side of the head was especially dramatic; it was that it came after the 76-g blow in warmup, which, in turn, followed the concussion in August, which was itself the consequence of the thirty prior hits that day, and the hits the day before that, and the day before that, and on and on, perhaps back to his high-school playing days.

In technological terms, C.T.E. ain’t a bug, it’s a feature.

What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game.“Let’s assume that Dr. Omalu and the others are right,” Ira Casson, who co-chairs an N.F.L. committee on brain injury, said. “What should we be doing differently? We asked Dr. McKee this when she came down. And she was honest, and said, ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’ No one has any suggestions—assuming that you aren’t saying no more football, because, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen.”

I hope we fans — and I am definitely including myself when I say “we” because I love pro football, ran a fantasy-league team for 18 years and am probably overly invested in how well the Panthers do — are going to be able to live with the knowledge I expect we’ll be getting as this research progresses. Because based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re likely to come to two conclusions: The players we love to watch will be at substantially, if not hugely, increased risk for dementia as they age, and the damage won’t stop until we stop paying to watch what causes it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:21 pm

Bad talk-radio host. No NFL team for you.

ROTFLMAO, I am. A certain flaccid radio gasbag’s bid to own the St. Louis Rams apparently is going nowhere:

In the wake of today’s stinging comments from respected Indianapolis Colts owner, Jim Irsay, my guess is that Limbaugh’s chances of successfully bidding to become an owner of the St. Louis Ram are close to nil. The idea that the controversy-averse NFL would go forward over the increasingly loud objections to Limbaugh’s proposed bid just doesn’t fly, especially since, at least out front, Limbaugh appears to have no powerful NFL allies in his corner pushing for the deal to happen.

And make no mistake, this story is playing out as a very public rejection of Limbaugh and what he stands for.

The only question is who the talker will blame when he ultimately is forced to withdraw his ownership bid and he commences with his full-time victimhood shtick. In truth, it looks like Limbaugh will have only himself, and his incendiary rhetoric to blame. And in terms of who’s actually driving Limbaugh off the playing field, it’s millionaire NFL players and owners.

Good luck portraying them as part of some vast left-wing conspiracy.

The NFL team owners are a cozy bunch. They’re very rich, and when, as has happened on a few occasions in the past 30 or so years, they’ve expanded their numbers, they have done so by adding to the group people very much like themselves — very rich, almost uniformly low-profile. (And before you hold Al Davis up as an exception, ask yourself what he has done in the past five years to draw attention to himself — certainly not field a decent team.)

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got where he got– and this is an incredible simplification of a complex process that took many years — by 1) playing in the NFL himself for several years, 2) taking his bonus from the Baltimore Colts’ 1958 league championship and investing it in a business that grew into a hugely successful restaurant chain; 3) using his business success to help him cultivate personal relationships with existing owners, in addition to basically inventing the permanent seat license as a funding mechanism for stadium construction — something else that obviously would be attractive to current owners, all of whom would someday need new stadiums themselves.

Now, you can say whatever negative you want about the clubbiness and homogeneity of such a group, and in most contexts I’d probably agree. But Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” doesn’t even come close to the level of damage Rush Limbaugh as a team owner could do to the NFL, the most successful major-league sport in America. (And it ain’t just the owners who oppose him, although they’re the only ones whose opinions matter.)

This is a very public, very personal rejection of him by some of the most admired people in America, and I relish the thought that Limbaugh will take it personally and, almost certainly, try to find a way to make himself the victim.

UPDATE: Right on time.

You know, I don’t so much mind what Limbaugh says, although lies and racism do tend to tick me off, as I mind the fact that he REFUSES TO OWN what he says. He’s a coward, pure and simple.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 12:11 am

Attention, any/all Raleigh-area Panther fans

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:11 am
Tags: ,

Would someone please go drag Bill Cowher out of bed RIGHT NOW, drive him to Bank of America Stadium and install him in John Fox’s office before the team flight gets in from Dallas?

Thank you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009 3:50 pm

Help a band out

If you’re going to tonight’s Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium, stop by the Wendy’s booth on the upper level, Booth #528. It’s being run by the band boosters at my old high school, South Mecklenburg. Besides, you WANT one of those bacon/blue-cheese burgers. You KNOW you do. OK, well, maybe that’s just me. But still.

Monday, January 19, 2009 2:17 pm

Sadly, it’s believable

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , ,

From The Onion, but still:

CHARLOTTE, NC—Claiming that he felt “rushed,” Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme failed to connect on a 5-foot pass to his Capital Grille restaurant valet Sunday, instead sending his car keys into the hands of the wrong parking attendant. “It’s frustrating, because I knew as soon as I let go of the keys that the throw was off target,” said Delhomme, adding that he should not have been throwing off his back foot.

Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:18 pm

Heart of a Panther

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

That’d be his physical heart. The real heart of this man, who parlayed NFL championship money into a thriving business and then, against all odds, willed himself into the position of owner of an expansion franchise, remains healthy beyond doubt.

My prayers — and, I’m sure, those of Panther Nation — go out to him and his family.

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