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WHAT I'M THANKFUL FOR


It's time for another Thanksgiving.  It's my 47th Thanksgiving on this planet.  


It is a time of tradition, but also a time of reflection.  A time to think deeply about things that you are thankful for in this crazy life we have.  I realized that I have never done that before, so I thought I would foray into all the things that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.


--First of all, I am thankful for the bounteous feast that my wife and I are about to have.  A twelve pound turkey for just the two of us and our animals, plus all the fixin's.  My wife's world famous stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce (the good kind--from a can--that makes a "splush" when you pour it out), and topped off by apple pie and whipped cream.  Can smell it now and can hardly wait.


--I am thankful for having a loving wife in my life.  My beautiful wife Michelle came into my life late in 2006, moved here to be with me in July of 2007, and married me in May of 2010.  She has brought love, stability and for the most part, happiness into my life.  She is my angel who has helped me get through the loss of both of my parents, rapidly declining vision and recently, my beloved chihuahua Chico.  I don't know where I would be without her.


--I am thankful for our wonderful brood of animals that share our house.  Our border collie/Australian shepherd mix Gypsy, wiener dogs Leroy and Koko, and our three cats, Mikey, Shadow and Sammy.  The companionship, love and laughter that they bring to both of us is immeasurable.


I am thankful for the remaining vision that I have left.  I am slowly going blind due to a congenital eye disease called Choroideremia. Each passing month, week and day, more and more photo receptor cells in my retina die off, and getting around on my own becomes more of a challenge.  I pray every day that a treatment or cure can be found, and I will have some usable vision for the rest of my life.  In the meantime, I am thankful for being able to look into my wife's eyes, watch the antics of our animals, see the snow fall, sun shine and leaves turn color.


--I am thankful for Dr. Jean Bennett, Dr. Ian McDonald, Dr. Miguel Seabra and all the other eye doctors and researchers around the world who are putting in long hours trying to race against time and beat the clock, hopefully saving my sight and that of all my blind brethren.


--I am thankful for sports, being a needed diversion in my life, and providing excitement to all of us who watch the games.


--I am thankful for all the good friends I have in my life.  Scott, Ducky, Rob, Erik.  Bob, Tim, Todd, Kevin, Don, Bob, Todd and all my fantasy football and baseball buddies.  All the good friends from my past like Dr. Jeff, Todd, Dan, Craig, Bren and Scott.  They all have made a huge difference in my life, and I know I can count on each and every one of them if I am in need.


--I am thankful for the wonderful family I have married into.  My father and mother in law, Kip and Jan have taken me into their lives and treated me like the son they never had.  My sister in law, Connie and her husband Bryant have also been loving and accepting and I look forward to the day that we can move to Denver and share many many more memories together.


--I am thankful for the smell of the ballpark.  Going to a baseball game, and smelling the field, as well as the combination of popcorn popping, hots and hamburgers cooking, and vendor yelling.


--I am thankful for the smell in the air at dawn.  The dew on the grass, and the birds chirping at sunrise when you first wake up, or often in our case, just before we go to bed.


I am thankful for all the fond memories of my youth.  Going to ball games with my dad.  Going back to school shopping with mom.  Christmases and Thanksgivings together.  All the vacations we took together once a year to Florida.  I'm thankful for the memories of the most beautiful beach in the world at Siesta Key--the whitest, softest sand in the world.


--I'm thankful for having the parents that I had.  For teaching me right from wrong.  Teaching me to be kind and respectful.  Showing me how to treat a woman.  I appreciate them both for everything that I am and willl be, and I miss them terribly every day.


I am thankful that we have less than three years left of Obama's presidency, unless as I predicted, he finds a way to remove term limits and gets re-elected again by the same disillusioned mass of followers that re-elected him last time.


--I am thankful for the extended family I have left.  My aunt Norma and Uncle Jack in Clevelend and their kids and grandkids, my cousin Rich in Texas, my other cousins John and Wilma here in Rochester and their kids Bill, Suzanne and Bonnie.  Also my cousin Dave in Georgia and all my other family members.  I wish we had more time (and/or different circumstances) to spend with all of them


--And finally, I am thankful for making it to age 47, and other than the blindness, being in relatively good health.  I pray that continues for a long, long time.


Most of all, I am thankful for you reading my column here.  I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a very happy holiday season.


 


FLACCO FALLS FLACCID FOLLOWING FLATULANT FEEDBACK ON FORMATION


Now how's that for alliteration?  Gotta admit, I am darn near pulling a muscle reaching around to pat myself on the back for my creativity writing that headline.


Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, stood in front of microphones today, and as Flacco often does when standing in front of microphones, said something stupid. 


Flacco admitted his distaste for the Ravens running the "wildcat formation" for a half dozen plays last Sunday in their win over the Jets.


''I don't like that stuff,'' Flacco said Tuesday. ''I think it makes you look like a high school offense. That's just my opinion.''


Flacco then went on, saying:

 

'I don't care how we use it in the game, I'm just not a huge fan of it,'' he said. ''I'm the quarterback. I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, I want to be taking the snaps. That's really the only thing. I don't necessarily take it personally.

''I just think it makes us look like not an NFL team.''


There has always been something that I don't like about Joe Flacco.  It is hard to put my finger on exactly what that is either.  There is just something about him, what he says to the media and how he says it.  These latest comments just add to how I feel.


There is something so annoying about someone who can't tell you enough how unappreciated they feel, especially when they are already in such a gilded position like a starting quarterback in the National Football League.  


There are 32 such jobs in the world, and Joe Flacco has one of them.  You'd think that would be enough for him, but nooo, it never seems to be.  Flacco spent most of his career telling anyone and everyone who would listen that he feels he should be considered among the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.  That he should be perceived by the fans as one of the "elite" QB's in the league.


He had a very good year last season, culminating in a Super Bowl victory, in which he was named the game's MVP.  In the offseason, Flacco signed a new contract extension that paid him $120 million over six years, or $20 million dollars a year.  You'd think that would be enough to make him happy, but it still doesn't seem to be.


Now because the Ravens are trying to use backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the wildcat to juice up their pitiful running game, it is not "all about Joe", so he is unhappy.


I'd like to infuse Mr. Flacco with a little dose of reality.  Joe, you are completing an average 59.1% of your passes this year, thrown 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a QB rating of 76.9.  Only Chad Henne and Eli Manning have lower ratings of QB's who have started most of their teams games.  Your teams running backs have rushed for only 899 yards in 11 games, with an average of 2.9 yards per carry, which is near the bottom of the league.  Why is this?  Part of the reason is that teams don't fear you Joe.  That, combined with a pitiful offensive line and below average receivers.


My bottom line is that if Flacco was such an elite quarterback, he would find a way to rise above that and get the job done, like Tom Brady has in New England, or Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay before his injury.


Joe Flacco should be happy he has a job as a starting quarterback in the NFL, with no quarterback controversy to worry about and a nice hefty paycheck.  


As for the rest, he should listen to his coaching staff, shut his big yapper and just play ball.  Maybe then, he'd be more appreciated. 




MY FANTASY LIFE


I have got a problem.  Fantasy football has taken over my life.


No, not in some little, joking way either.  I mean in a  "waking, sleeping, eating, every decision I make revolves around it" type way.


I realized this was becoming a problem when I woke from a dream this morning.  I was dreaming about Jerrett Boykin of the Green Bay Packers only getting six point five points this coming week, and wondering if that would be enough to offset the 4.7 points that Danny Amendola got in order to be good enough to get the win in this weeks matchup.


In this dream, I was looking at a spreadsheet I had made up for the weeks matchup, and I also had three others of my other three matchups scattered around the one.  As I looked at each, my brow furrowed more and more, sweat started pouring out of every orifice and my pulse quickened.


You see, I am involved in FOUR different fantasy football leagues this year, which is an all-time high for me.  One of them is my league, the RAFFL (Rochester Area Fantasy Football League), which I formed way back in 1990, and has gone on every year, uninterrupted, since then.  It is a yardage league, which makes it different.  You get one point for every ten yards rushing and receiving, and one point for every 15 yards passing, but you get NOTHING for a touchdown.  Current owners love the fact that this is very different from typical leagues, and I always have 12 good owners.


My second league, the BAFFL (Bay Area Fantasy Football League) is an offshoot of my league.  A guy I used to work with, Bob Baker, was in my league for a year, and decided to start his own league in 1998, which is more typical and uses touchdowns and yards.  


I used to dominate the BAFFL, back in the days before computers and websites doing everyone's research for them.  I won the league once and had the best regular season record and points total two of the first three years of that league I believe, and won again in 2002 or 3.  Since then though, with the fantasy playing field being evened by computers and websites, I haven't won it, and have only made the playoffs a couple other times.  The worst thing about it is that I have been getting trash talked on the message boards for two years now--about how the once mighty Schaller is a fantasy shell of what he once was.  


I would never tell them that, but it bothered me, and I came into this year with a steely resolve--to get back to my former glory of BAFFL dominance.  I wanted that league more than ever, and due to my June unemployment, work was put in.  


I looked at fantasy football drafts like my new job this year.  Finallly, I had the time to put in the extra work it took to give me the edge again, and it is paying off.  Tied for 2nd in my league and tied for 2nd in the BAFFL along with the 2nd most points scored.  But those are just half of my leagues.


Since my wife and I vacationed in Denver in late July/early August, we decided to start a "Franz Family Fantasy League", and the triple F league was born.  An eight team league, with my wife and I, my sister and brother in law, father in law, and brother in law''s father and his wife.  That is only seven, so we had to have a "dummy" team that we each made picks for.


My brother in law Bryant and I were the obvious favorites, each having an extensive fantasy football background.  Not to mention everyone in the family knows I have been a longtime sports broadcaster and a sports writer, so suddenly, even though this is only a small $25 bucks, winner take all league, I feel immense pressure.  I am SUPPOSED TO BE the guy to beat.  If I don't do well, or even the best, I feel like I lose credibility WITH MY OWN FAMILY!!!  I'm not supposed to lose to, say...my sister in law.  But I did!


We knew my brother in law would be good, and he is.  The thing nobody counted on, except her, is that my wife and her raging honey badgers would be 9-2 and leading all of us!


I knew my wife was lucky--I mean, remember, she married me, but I never could have dreamed she was THIS lucky.  She's got the third most points scored, but the fewest points scored against her.  It seems, no matter who she plays has a louusy week against her.  Also, her 3rd and 4th picks after Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson were CJ Spiller and Steven Jackson--two of the biggest fantasy busts of the year.  Her 3rd running back was Darren 

McFadden.  She has proven that none of this matters when you have Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson.


It also seems that no matter who she starts, they do well.  If she picks someone up off the waiver wire, they do well.  I don't have that kind of luck.


I needed a wide receiver this week, with my top two--DeSean Jackson and AJ Green--on a bye.  I looked at every matchup, checked the histories of all possible pickups against this weeks matchups.  Checked weather reports, injury lists, defensive secondary matchups, horoscope reports...I spend two days going over this crap, putting together spreadsheets, deciphering results and so on.  I finally decide on Marques Colston against Atlanta's pitiful secondary.  First of all, it's hard to believe the #1 receiver on the NFC's best offense would be on the waiver wire, but Colston is 100% healthy now, had a touchdown in the week one matchup against Atlanta, and has a great history against the Falcons.  He is playing in a dome, against the team who has given up the third most points to wide receivers all season.


So, what happens?  FOUR STINKIN' LOUSY POINTS!!!  No touchdowns.  Zero second half catches on zero second half targets.  My wife could pick up Buffalo's TJ Graham going against the Seahawks in a blizzard, and he'd get 28 points.  I spend 58 hours deciding to pick up Colston, and I get four points.  That's my kind of luck friends.


Anyways, now I need the rest of my team to pick up the slack, playing against my brother in law and his 2nd place team that leads the league in points, and beat me in the first matchup.  I need a win desperately and can't afford to fall back to .500 and 6-6 with a loss.


Meanwhile, in my final league, the O'Loughlin's pub league, I need a win to get back to that same /500 mark.  That would keep us in the hunt.  See, I co-own that team with my friend Rob.  We split the entry fee and will split the winnings if there are any.  I drafted the team but we share most key decisions.  


We have had terrible luck this year in this league.  Despite scoring the 3rd most points in the league, we are 5-6 and in third in our own division.  The good news is the division leader is only 7-4.  We win out, and there is still hope.


So, wonder what I've been doing since losing my job?  Well, there you have it.  Other than looking for a new job that is.  


Well, I gotta go.  Gotta figure out a creative way to get Bobby Rainey into two of my lineups this week.


 


THE CALL HEARD ROUND THE WORLD



It's the penalty flag that just won't go away.  It's become laundry you just can't wash.  Everybody is still talking about the final play of the Monday night football game.


I'm sure you remember what happened, but just in case, I'll remind you.  


With just a couple of seconds left on the clock, and the Patriots needing a touchdown from the 18 yard line, it was obviously the final play of the game.  It would be either a touchdown and a Pats win, or anything else--a Carolina Panthers win.  It should be pointed out, the game was in Carolina.  Tom Brady dropped back from the shotgun and fired a pass into the endzone intended for Rob Gronkowski.  As Gronk made his cut, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed Gronkowski as if he was hoping for a slow dance, and the pass was intercepted in the endzone.


The refs threw a flag.  It seemed obvious that they should have.  However, after a zebra huddle, in which they had to be deciding how they were going to get out of Bank of America stadium with all their limbs intact if they call something on Carolina's defense, announced to the masses that there was no pass interference because the ball was uncatchable, and picked the flag up.  Game over--Panthers win.


It was a blown call.  I don't care what the explanation was, it was a blown call.  


Here is why:  even if it wasn't "pass interference", there was contact between Kuechly and Gronkowski.  There is no way anyone in the NFL offices can dispute that.  That being said, it was also contact in the endzone.  Since the snap was from the 18 yard line, the contact had to be beyond five yards with a receiver, which is a penalty in every other NFL game in every other situation.


In that case, the game can't end on a defensive foul.  As the NFL rule book states in Rule 8, Section 4, Article 3, Illegal contact beyond the 5 yard zone results in a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down.  Since this was the final play of the game, the ball should have been moved to the 13 yard line and the Patriots should have had one final play from there to try to win it.


That is if you call illegal contact outside of the five yard zone, which is what I believe the call should have been.  I think an argument still could have been made for whether or not the pass was catchable, and in that case, it could have been called "pass interference", which should have resulted in one final play for New England from the ONE yard line.


Either way, there should have been SOMETHING called.  The fact that there was not, was unfair to New England.  Perhaps, in either case, the Panthers may have stopped the Patriots anyways and still won the game.  It is a shame for both teams that they never got that chance.


What truly bothers me is the arrogance of the NFL in the whole matter.  The fact that everyone in the NFL offices backed the officials and said it was the proper call, is ridiculous in my book, but we have come to be used to that from them, haven't we?


I'm not a Patriots fan by any means, but it would be a travesty of justice if that non call makes a big difference down the road for tham, when it comes to playoff seeding.


I'm afraid it will.




PROTECTING NFL'S CHINA DOLLS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS


It happened again on Sunday.  It is happening on most Sundays.  "It" is a referee's flag, sometimes at very inopportune times, for a personal foul for "roughing the quarterback", or "contact with the quarterbacks head", or "hitting the quarterback low" or something of that ilk.


Might as well add "tickling the quarterback" or "patting the quarterback on his butt".


It is getting ridiculous!  


This past Sunday, the Saints were driving for a possible game winning touchdown to beat the 49ers in a key  NFC conference matchup.  One that could have home field playoff implications for the two teams.  Drew Brees dropped back to pass on that final drive, was hit with a forearm across the sternum by Niners linebacker Ahmad Brooks, fumbled the ball, and the 49ers recovered.  Should be time for the victory formation and a huge 49er victory on the road, right?  


No.  Instead, the flag came out for a "hit to the quarterbacks head or neck area".  15 yards, and the Saints were able to continue that drive, which ultimately ended up with the Saints winning the game.


Brooks, understandably, was quoted as saying the call was "bullshit".  I have to agree, and I was rooting for the Saints to win.


You've seen things like that happening all year long.  A quarterback throws the ball, and a flag is thrown if a pass rushers pinkie finger happens to touch the QB's helmet.  I've seen pash rushers be blocked, fall down and accidentally roll onto a quarterbacks feet as he throws, and they call a personal foul for hitting the quarterback low.  I've seen quarterbacks throw the ball under a fierce rush, then the pass rusher grab him by the midsection and gently bring him to the turf, and they call a personal foul for "roughing the passer".


So, let me get this straight...you can't hit the quarterback in the head, you can't hit the quarterback in the legs, and you can't hit the quarterback in the middle of his body?  


Why don't we just put skirts on every quarterback and the only way you can tackle them is by pulling their skirts down over their hips, like flag football?


That's what it is coming down to!


I understand the reasons for it and what the NFL is trying to do.  The passing game is what the NFL is all about right now.  It is what brings fans to sit in front of their big screens every Sunday, Monday and Thursday.  The star quarterback is the league's meal ticket and it knows it.  Still, protecting them like little china dolls ruins the league's credibility.


It is also hypocritical.  The NFL prides itself on its physical nature.  It is a game where the goal is to tackle the guy with the ball, yet this apparently does not apply to quarterbacks.  You can't have one definition for one guy, and another for the other ten guys.  Yet that is what the NFL is doing right now.


The problem is, as long as viewership remains high, and the outcry remains low, nothing is going to change.  So grab your makeup kit, and straighten up your doiles and throw pillows ladies....and enjoy your new NFL!




FINALLY!!!


It's about time!  The Buffalo Sabres and owner Terry Pegula finally saw the light and fired General Manager Darcy Regier!


It was only about...ohhhhh....FOUR YEARS TOO LATE.


Regier should have been let go three or four years ago, when it was obvious that his core of players that won the Presidents Cup in 2007 were not going to bring the team to those lofty heights anymore.


Regier should have been fired after the 2011 season when it was obvious that all of his prized off-season acquisitions in free agency like Ville Leino, Christian Erhoff and Robin Regehr did not produce the proper chemistry to be successful.


Regier should have most definitely been fired last season when longtime head coach Lindy Ruff was made to be the fall guy and given his walking papers.


Finally, Regier should no doubt have been fired at the end of last season, ehen it was obvious that the team was in the beginning of a full rebuild, and since Regier was the main reason for this, should not have been the man to take charge of a new rebuilding process.


Finally, after the Sabres started off the year an NHL worst 4-15-1, Pegula sent Regier packing.  


Regier had become the Rasputin of NHL GM's.  He had so many chances that it was purely amazing.  One could lose most of their hair scratching their heads as to why Regier still had the job of NHL General Manager.  About the only explanation I could think of was that Regier had pictures of Pegula being intimate with a farm animal.   


Now finally, he is gone, and Sabres fans have to hear harps playing, the sun being a little brighter, and have a little extra step in their giddyup.


Pegula has finally teken steps in the right direction.  Sabres legend Pat LaFontaine has been named the Sabres Director of Hockey Operations.  It is an excellent choice.  LaFontaine knows the game and has a ton of contacts, as well as a great name that players should love playing for.  


Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan was brought back to be the interim head coach.  I think that is another excellent choice.  Nolan has the chops to get the job done, and must be respected by the current players, which is something that newly fired coach Ron Rolston never had.  


LaFontaine will be interviewing potential GM's now, and Nolan is a good enough company man to step aside quietly if that new GM wants to bring in his own coach.  He is also a good enough coach with enough of a track record that it wouldn't be a bad thing if that GM keeps him on and removes the interim tag.


The shakeup was needed in every way, and everyone involved comes out a winner.


Except for Ron Rolston.


I feel bad for Rolston, who is a class individual who deserved better.  Rolston was brought into the organization to coach the Rochester Americans.  He had an extensively successful track record of working with young players, and was getting the most out of the Amerks.  When Ruff was fired, Rolston was brought up to coach the parent Sabres and it was obvious from the start that he was in over his head.


Rolston never really had the locker room, and never gained the respect of the veteran players.  Ideally, 


Rolston should have been sent back  to coach the Amerks again after last season, and another head coach brought in to work with the Sabres.  That didn't happen and things continued to get worse for Rolston.  When he benched the top line for the Sabres a couple games ago, he lost what was left of the locker room.


Now he is looking for another job.  You can look at it as collateral damage to moves that just had to be made though.  Other than that, the future is looking much brighter today for the Buffalo Sabres.



NFL MID-SEASON AWARDS 2013


It's the midway point of the NFL season.  Well actually, it is a little more than that, but it's time for me to look back on the first half of everyone's favorite sports season and give my grades on things.  Let's start with.....


MVP:  Payton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos


My dear Lord!  What can you say about the year Peyton is having?  Perhaps the best first half of a season any player who ever played the game has had?  I'd go that far.  Manning leads the league in every positive catagory and is posting a record setting 121 quarterback rating.  He is on pace to blow away every esteemed passing record in the books for a single season.  He has led the Broncos to an 8-1 record and their offense is on pace to score the most points in NFL history.  Recent injury concerns are the only thing casting a pall over this amazing year he is having.


Runner up:  Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints


He is second to Peyton in every major catagory, and his Saints are 6-2 and an early favorite to win the NFC.


Honorable mention:  


Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs


725 yards rushing and another 389 yards receiving to go along with 8 total TD's.  Charles is the engine that makes the unbeaten Chiefs go.  He touches the ball more than any other Chief and is the main reason for their unblemished record.


Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks.


Same can be said about Lynch that was said about Charles.  871 yards rushing and another 212 receiving.  A 4.6 average.  8 TD's.  With Russell Wilson having a bit of a sophomore slump, Lynch has more than picked up the slack.


Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers


Rivers is 5th in yards, 3rd in QB rating and has had an amazing bounce back year for the Bolts.  He is the main reason his team is alive for a wild card spot in the AFC.


LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles.  


McCoy has proven himself to be the perfect back for Chip Kelly's uptempo system in Philly.  He is leading the NFL in yards rushing and rushing average as well as yards per game.


BEST TEAM:  Denver Broncos


Yes I know Kansas City is 9-0 and the Broncos are 8-1.  Thing is, Denver has scored 155 points more than KC through those 9 games!  That's neartly two touchdowns and a field goal per game more than the Chiefs!  I may have egg on my face come next Sunday night around 11:30 pm if the Chiefs beat the Broncs, but I doubt it.


Honorable mention:  Seattle Seahawks.  Seattle has been outstanding defensively, and is 9-1.  Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs have been better than anticipated offensively and great defensively.  No team is more opportunistic as well.  New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are 7-2 and still have that high octane offense and a better than average defense now with Rob Ryan there.


COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:  Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers


I have never been a big fan of this award, because that usually means you were bad the year before, but Rivers should be the winner.  No one expected him to do what he is doing with an unknown supporting cast.


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:  Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers.


An easy choice, with 669 yards rushing and 4 TD's for the Pack.  Keenan Allen, the wide receiver from the 



Chargers could catch him though.  He has 468 yards receiving so far for the Bolts, along with 3 TD's


MOST SURPRISING PLAYER:  Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos


Thomas isn't a rookie, but you could name on one hand how many serious fans had ever even heard of him before this year.  Now, the Broncos tight end is on pace for over a thousand yards and 15 touchdowns.


BIGGEST BUST:  Eli Manning and Hakeen Nicks


I can't choose between these two Giants, so I will give it to both of them.  The "other" Manning is a polar opposite to his brother this year.  He is last in the league among all quarterbacks who have started all their teams games with a 55% completion mark, and he leads the league in interceptions.  Nicks has just over 550 yards receiving, but STILL hasn't found the end zone--almost impossible for a starting receiver, even on a bad team.


DISHONORABLE MENTION:  Maurice Jones-Drew (it's not all his fault, playing for the woeful Jags), Rashad Mendenhall, Colin Kaepernick, Ray Rice (2.5 yards per carry...WHAT???), Lamar Miller and finally, CJ Spiller.


TEAM MOST LIKELY TO IMPROVE IN THE 2ND HALF:  Baltimore Ravens, who are much better than their 4-5 record would indivate.  I can also see the Giants and Redskins getting better, as well as the Steelers, Texans and Buccaneers.


TEAM MOST LIKELY TO FALL ON THEIR FACE IN THE 2ND HALF:  Kansas City Chiefs.  They will make the playoffs, but I think a loss to the Broncos this week will send them back to reality and may start them questioning themselves.  I could see a 3-4 type finish coming.  Other teams that may fall off a bit include the Jets, Panthers and Cardinals


TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR THE MOST IN THE 2ND HALF:  New England Patriots.  With Tom Brady getting Shane Vereen back soon and all his wideouts healthy again, Bill Belechick and his boys may come out from under everyones radar really quickly.  It's amazing how this team has a 7-2 record right now.  I could see the Pats finishing very strong with perhaps only one more loss the rest of the way.




NFL BULLYING NO LONGER INCOGNITO


Since I wrote my previous column, we have learned more about the Jonathan Martin situation in Miami.  Most of it has not been good.


We learned that there was one person at the heart of the issue.  That person should not be a surprise to anybody.  Reportedly, it is Richie Incognito.  Incognito is a self-admitted troubled guy, who has not been a stranger to being in trouble while in the National Football League.


Incognito has been a bad dude for many years.  He was suspended way back in college numerous times for violating team rules and fighting at Nebraska.  He then transferred to Oregon but then-coach Mike Bellotti kicked him off the team a week later, because Incognito didn't live up to his part of the transfer agreement.  


Despite being labeled as "undraftable" by many NFL GM's due to character concerns, it was on to the NFL in 2005 for Incognito--drafted in the 3rd round by the Rams. 


Once in the NFL, Incognito showed talent, but also problems.  Reported partying led to injuries for him off the field.  Drug and alcohol problems led to fights and problems as well.  Incognito was also recognized by his fellow players for being a wackjob:  he was voted the NFL's dirtiest player in 2009--a club that he became a charter member in.


The Rams had enough in 2009 and cut ties with Incognito.     He was claimed on waivers in December by the Buffalo Bills, of all teams.  He started the final three games of 2009 on the Bills, but they didn't bring him back in 2010.  He signed on instead with the Dolphins, where he is today.  


Incognito won't be there much longer.  The Miami Herald is reporting that according to sources, it is only a matter of time before the Dolphins cut ties with Incognito as well.  I can't say that I blame them.  It will be hard for Incognito to get another job in the league after this, mainly due to his track record.


As for what he did, you have heard the voicemail.  You have heard the text quote.  You have read the tweets.  I am not going to go into them.  I will just say that it was disgusting.  You don't say that to any other human being, jokingly or seriously.  It's not right and he deserves to have repercussions.  That is not what's bothering me here.  


What is ticking me off the most in this case, is the lack of support for Jonathan Martin.


This poor kid.  


Martin had Richie Incognito as a bullying ringleader.  Incognito is a bully, only in this case, he is also a veteran NFL lineman, who was completely capable of intimidating other young, big men, both black and white, and getting them on his side.  They all in turn, began to make poor Jonathan Martin's life a living hell under the guise of "hazing".


What else can we believe at this point?  At least that is what I glean from it.  What is truly surprising to me is that it seems that everyone you are hearing from keeps saying what a great guy Richie Incognito is.  How well liked he is and has been by other offensive linemen, players on the team and Dolphin coaches.  Nobody seems to be condemning him.  No one seems to be saying how badly they feel for Jonathan Martin.


If anything, I get the feeling that most Dolphins are going to BLAME Jonathan Martin in this.  They may not say it to the media, but I bet behind closed doors, they are saying to each other that Martin is a total pusscake.  They are saying how weak minded he is.  They are probably saying he doesn't have a backbone.  They are also probably saying how they don't want to ever line up next to him on their team anymore.


That is the real tragedy here.  Incognito's days as a Miami Dolphin are most likely over.  His NFL career may follow.  I'm afraid that the career of Jonathan Martin may be over as well because of this.  That is sad.


The media is also playing up the racial aspect of this, because of Incognito's use of the N-word against Martin.  From what I gather, that doesn't mean jack squat.  Race had little to do with this.  Black teammates are supporting Incognito as much or more than his white teammates.  No, this is a simple case of bullying, which is proving that bullying doesn't end on the schoolyards.


It should not be tolerated in any profession.


I don't know how this is going to end, or what the final ramifications will be here.  All I know is that I have a new guy to root for in professional sports, and that is Jonathan Martin.  




CHILDISH IMMATURITY IN THE NFL


The NFL recently proved that immaturity doesn't end at adolescence.  Members of the Miami Dolphins proved that 20 and 30-somethings can still act like grade schoolers.  


I read the story about Jonathan Martin a couple of days ago.  What I read really distressed me.  It also showed me that grown men are still capable of harsh humiliation usually only reserved for schoolyard bullies.


Jonathan Martin is an offensive lineman for the Dolphins.  He is a young man at age 24.  He is also a smart man, who was born in Pennsylvania but was intelligent enough to go to Stanford and play on a football scholarship.  He is also a talented man, who is thought of highly enough by the Miami Dolphins to have made him a starter on their offensive line for the first seven games of the current season.  


You'd think that with all of that going for him, Martin would be a happy and contented young man.  You'd be wrong.


I don't know Jonathan Martin personally.  Chances are, you don't either.  We are left to speculate, but I'm guessing Martin has some interesting personality traits.  I base that on the fact that he has a nickname.  I learned that many of his Dolphins teammates call him "the big weirdo".  


Generally, a person doesn't get a nickname like that unless there is something a bit offputting about you.  That kind of nickname can be taken two ways though.  If it is applied in a joking fashion, as in the people calling him that don't really mean it and are just kidding around, it can be funny.  If it is applied to the individual behind his back, and used to poke fun at the individual without his knowledge, it is cruel.  I'm guessing from what I know now, it is the latter in this case.


This past Monday, Martin's teammates took their derision of Martin to another level.  Reportedly, a group of players called Martin over to their table in the cafeteria.  They urged Martin to "come, come sit with us."


I'm guessing Martin had to be thrilled by this.  As an outcast on his own team, a group of fellow players opening their arms to him--asking HIM to actually join THEM, must have been heartwarming to big Jonathan.


When Martin got over to the table with his tray, all the members of the team who urged him over, all grabbed their trays and got up and walked away, probably giggling like scchoolgirls at their planned goof on Martin.


Jonathan reportedly slammed his tray down, banged his big hands down on some tables, and had an anger fueled fit.  It was completely understandable.


After his outburst, Martin reportedly drove himself straight to a mental hospital in the Miami area to check himself in.  Media reports are saying that Jonathan Martin had an "emotional breakdown"  It would be completely understandable.


Imagine that you are Jonathan Martin.  I don't know this, but I'm guessing Martin has been big all of his life.  I'm guessing perhaps he has been teased by school classmates, friends and maybe even family, about his weight and size all of his life.  When so many people poke fun and tease for such a long period of time, it has to be balanced by support and love for that person.  In many cases, perhaps like Martin's, it wasn't.  


This is the result.


Now Jonathan Martin has been placed on the "non-football illness" list, and have set no timetable for his return to the team.  Many of his teammates have clamored for his return, apologizing and saying how they need him and want him to return.  


After what has happened, Jonathan Martin wouldn't be blamed if he thought that was just another trick.


As of right now, it is too early to say what will happen in this case.  We don't know how badly Martin has been affected by this incident.  There is a chance that Martin just throws his hands up and says "I'm through with football!"  There is also a chance that Martin comes back to his team, the team and coaches realize the error of their ways and how their childish actions impact others, and there is a very happy ending for everyone involved.  


Either way, I am praying for the young man.  Jonathan Martin deserves happiness and acceptance from the 


people in his life.  Heck, we all do!


I'm also praying for those Dolphin players whose prank caused all of this.  I'm hoping that it is a learning experience for all of them.  Hopefully, it is a learning experience for the rest of the league as well.  


Bullying doesn't help anyone. 



 



BAN THE BEARD!


I hate when I have to be the arbiter of good taste in sports, but there is a problem brewing in Beantown.


The Boston Red Sox have taken the hockey tradition of "playoff beards" and boosted it to a new, even hairier level.  It ain't pretty.


Hey, I should know!  Remember?  My namesake, Craig Schaller from Houston, accused me of being "disheveled" and was apparently embarrassed by my looks.  If anyone can speak about being disheveled then, it would be me.  It takes one to know one and believe me, the Red Sox look mighty disheveled.


"Disheveled" actually is a complement to these Sox beards.  Most of these guys look like they were holding up "will work for food" signs at exits on the Mass turnpike that afternoon, before someone on Yawkey way picked 'em up, gave 'em uniforms, and sent them out on the field.


It really is an embarrassment.  To the Red Sox.  To baseball.  To good taste.


Where the hell did this crap start anyways?  Was it Brian Wilson and his San Francisco Giants bullpen mates in two of the last three World Series?  I honestly don't remember it being a "tradition" before that.  Oh sure, there have been beards that have come, and gone, over the years.  I remember the Oakland A's of '72-74, and a few stragglers over the years, but the Giants seem to be the real culprits who started this.


Whatever.  No matter who started it, it's time to stop this insanity now!  How can anyone enjoy watching the World Series when one of the two teams (and a few guys on the other) look like the Hebrew National traveling team.


The history and tradition of the "playoff beard" in baseball is sketchy at best.  It goes back about three years.  Before that, ballplayers were relatively well groomed.  Every now and then a wackjob like Johnny Damon, who looked like a speedy caveman, would come along, but for the most part, everyone looked presentable.  Then a few yars ago, the Giants thought it would be funny to steal the playoff beard tradition from hockey.  


I get it, and understand why they would do that.  The playoff beard is a rich traditionn in the sport of hockey.  It works in that sport.  Hockey is a rugged game, played by rugged men who have few teeth and like to collide into each other on skates.  It works there!  Baseball is pastural.  It is a sport that was loosely taken from cricket, is played on a field or diamond in a park.  Doesn't exactly scream "rugged" now does it?


Can something be done about it?  Of course.  It would be up to our friend Bud.  A mandate from the Commisioner's office stating that facial hair must be neat and manageable, or even mandating none at all would do the trick.  Heck, the Yankees have had that policy for decades, so why can't every team?


It would make watching the sport on television much more acceptable.  It is hard to enjoy watching this series when you can tell what a pitcher had for dinner before the game because pieces of it are on his face.  


This beard thing isn't helping the sport, which already needs an umage makeover.   Now, it looks like many of


the players look like they should be planning a terrorist event, instead of turning a double play.


If you disagree with me, well, enjoy the final five games of the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Boston Amish farmers.  


I'll be watching football




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