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Under Further Review – December 8, 2020 – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and an assist from Jordan Moss, Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Blair Morrison. This week, the Seahawks serve up a stinker, the Canucks go all-in on the youth movement and the sad legacy of John Rocker 25 years later. 

A Sunday Stinker – Until Sunday, the entire NFC East did not have a single win against a team with a winning record. Of course, that all changed with the Giants shocking upset over the disjointed Seahawks. Kiss goodbye any hope of the number one seed in the conference.

For all the bouquets we have handed to Russell Wilson over the years, it’s time for some thorns. Wilson look confused and gun-shy on Sunday. Maybe it’s a carry-over from 10 turnovers over a recent 4-game stretch. Teams have been turning up the pass rush heat and Wilson is compounding the problem by hanging onto the ball far too long. When you get out-played by Colt McCoy, something is wrong. Wilson’s earlier struggles were blamed on the lack of a run game but the problems have persisted since Chris Carson returned.

The coaching staff needs to take some blame. The play-calling was mystifying. Where’s the balance when you have 22 rushing attempts and 43 pass attempts? Carson had 13 carries for 65 yards. Even if he’s still on a pitch count because of the foot sprain, why did Carlos Hyde have only two carries? Pound the rock and play smash-mouth football. Get some tempo back in the attack. The Seahawks went 4-for-13 on third down with two costly turnovers. It was sloppy and the coaching staff failed to make any adjustments. And don’t blame it on a short week.

The Seahawks seem incapable of taking what the defense is giving them. Take the check-downs and stop trying to push the ball down the field. Memo to Russ – get rid of the ball and avoid the negative plays. Wilson is intent on trying to hit DK Metcalf on deep routes instead of focusing on quick slants and crosses. Those patterns would allow Metcalf to rack up YAC (Yards after the Catch) yards because you know he is going to break tackles. Wilson was sacked 5 times by the Giants and has now been taken down 35 times this season and at least half of them are on him. The Seahawks heady 5-and-0 start seems ages ago. They are 3-and-4 since then. Wilson’s play has dropped off dramatically after being in the MVP conversation.

Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are the ‘Teflon Don’s’ of Seattle. They are treated like royalty and seldom come under any criticism. Can’t do that! The Seahawks waited until midway through the fourth quarter to switch to the no-huddle and up the tempo. Carroll’s play-calling on fourth downs has been laughable. When you are fourth and one and you have Chris Carson, what’s the problem? The Seahawks have lost their physicality on both sides of the ball. They no longer bully teams at the point of attack.

The Seahawks defense held the Giants to just 100 yards passing but surrendered 190 yards on the ground. When Seattle needed stops in the third quarter, they couldn’t get them. Jamal Adams had 11 tackles and added another sack. He now has 7.5 sacks on the year. One more and he will break the NFL record for sacks in a season by a defensive back. Not too shabby since he’s missed four games.

As sloppy a performance as it was, had DeeJay Dallas fallen on the ball in the endzone after the blocked kick late in the first half, we might still have had overtime. The play resulted in a safety instead of a touchdown, a five-point swing that proved to be the difference in the game.

Everyone said if the Hawks didn’t go 4-and-0 in this four-week stretch against the Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington, it would be disappointing. Well, welcome to disappointing. The Jets are next and anything short of a blow-out will be unacceptable to most fans. The Seahawks face Washington in two weeks, another team with a strong defensive front and lots to play for, so that game is suddenly no ‘gimme.’

NFL Notebook – The Pittsburgh Steelers fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Monday to a scrappy Washington Football Team. It should not be surprising. The Steelers have lost two All-Pro calibre kingpins on defense, Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, to season-ending injuries. It has to have an impact. Pittsburgh had been 78-and-1 at home when leading by 14 points or more.

Wide receiver Josh Gordon, whose NFL career has been one never-ending suspension, has been reinstated by the league…again. Gordon is eligible to return to the Seahawks lineup for the final two games of the season. It remains to be seen if he will be activated. Hey, it’s only the 8th time he’s been suspended for substance abuse. The Seahawks signed Gordon back in September despite another drug suspension and have been waiting for the NFL to mete out punishment. If the Seahawks do decide to get Gordon in the lineup, he should help on third down. Seattle third down efficiency has been dropping. He would also be useful in four receiver sets which the Seahawks have not been using.  In obvious passing downs, they have been using three receivers plus tight end Jacob Hollister.

Rule #1 when you are trying to build an NFL team – build a decent offensive line first. Forget about drafting a franchise quarterback before you have an offensive line to protect him. Case in point – the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts drafted and developed three All-Pro calibre offensive linemen in Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson and Anthony Castonzo and THEN convinced Philip Rivers to come and play quarterback. That’s no coincidence. Do you think Rivers would have gone to that outpost without having a good offensive line in front of him? The message is clear – protect your asset. So many NFL teams have failed to do that and there’s a long line of quarterback carcasses left behind. The Bungals, by the way, are 0-19-and-1 in their last 20 road games. They haven’t won a road game in over two and a half years.

It didn’t take long for the axe to fall on Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after the Jets final play collapse against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Jets gave up a game-winning 46-yard touchdown with five seconds left, handing the Raiders a wild 31-28 victory which kept the Jets winless at 0-and-12. Instead of having the Jets in a prevent-defense, Williams called a Cover-0 and rushed seven men. I would call it the Trevor Lawrence defense because it sure looked like the Jets wanted to lose.

Jets head coach Adam Gase is as good as gone at the end of the season, if not before then. Several other coaches are dead man walking. Chargers HC Anthony Lynn and Bears HC Mike Nagy are awaiting their fate. The Bears are 5-and-7 and have dropped six straight. The Chargers were humiliated by New England 45-0 on Sunday and the players have clearly packed it in.

Hockey Fans Start Your Engines – It looks now like a mid-January start to the NHL season is all but a sure bet along with a 56-game season. Training camps would open on January 2, right after the New Year. For the dregs who haven’t played since the league was suspended due to COVID-19 – and that includes the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Senators, Red Wings, Sabres and Devils – there will be a pre-camp that is slated to open in late this month.

Esteemed hockey source Brian Burke (Is my tongue lodged far enough into my cheek?) claims that NHL teams will lose an average of $60 million if the season is played and $15 million if the season is shut down. Franchise values would take a huge hit if the league were to shut down for the entire season. The motivation for the NHL to play out the season is a new TV contract. The NHL promises to finish the playoffs prior to the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo to appease NBC, the current rights holder. It’s pitiful to watch but expect the NHLPA to turtle to the NHL one more time and agree to a further deferral of salary in order to get the 2020-2021 season underway.

Youth Is Served – Make no mistake about it, the Canucks will be transitioning to a major youth movement this season. They have no choice thanks to Jim Benning’s negligent cap management. If the NHL allows for a taxi squad as expected due to the impacts of COVID-19, the Canucks will likely be have several players on the list including defenseman Jack Rathbone and forwards Kole Lind and Nils Hoglander. There is no way to predict how the AHL season will play out so the best way for some of the team’s best prospects to gain experience is to have them travelling and practicing with the big club.

You can see in advance how this season is going to play out for the Canucks. The best-case scenario is to hang around the playoff bar, sneak in, then see where the young legs take you when the post-season begins. Canucks GM Jim Benning has already gone on record as saying he expects Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin to play in the top-six on a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson come playoff time.

It’s not going to be a typical NHL regular season. If it’s a 56-game season and the Canucks are competing in an All-Canadian division, what is the incentive to be the #1 seed? Will there be fans in the stands come playoff time? Just make the playoffs and be battle ready. That’s the goal.

Fixing the Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have a stated goal to improve the team defensively this off-season. If that means putting shortstop Bo Bichette on notice, so be it. The Jays were statistically one of the worst defensive teams in baseball last season, and if you think that defense doesn’t matter, then you are not a baseball fan. Pitching and defense, baby!

The Jays have to improve up the middle if they want to become a serious World Series contender. Last season, they had Danny Jansen behind the plate, Bichette at short, Cavan Biggio at second and Randal Grichuk in center. Not exactly a collection of Gold Glovers.  Travis Shaw was at third and he’s been non-tendered. No wonder Jays’ brass wants to upgrade the middle infield defense.

While many fans and media types are clamoring for the Jays to sign free agent center-fielder George Springer, the biggest impact would be to sign free agent catcher JT Realmuto. He’s arguably the best catcher in baseball. Not only would he add an impact bat, Realmuto would make the pitching staff better with his pitching-calling, framing, and ability to block the plate. Signing Realmuto would be similar to the Jays signing Russell Martin several years ago. After signing Martin, the Jays became an instant contender. No doubt Springer would be a great add but Realmuto would be a huge difference-maker. Yes, the Jays already have five catchers on their 40-man roster. It’s a nice problem to have and would give them a huge leg up on the trade market.

Leftovers – Altogether now. Let’s all feel sorry for Paul George. He’ll be earning over $35 million in the upcoming NBA season. Yet, he felt compelled to shove now ex-Clipper coach Doc Rivers under the bus, blaming Rivers for the Clippers post-season demise.  According to George “he didn’t properly utilize my talents.” I guess it had nothing to do with the fact that George shot 5-for-14 in the Clippers post-season elimination game. The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets. Don’t you love how self-absorbed athletes find excuses when they should be looking in the mirror? Rivers wasn’t out of a job for long. He’s been hired as head coach of the equally-dysfunctional Philadelphia 76’ers. George now says he wants to be a “Clipper for life.”  If I am an NBA general manager, I wouldn’t acquire Paul George if you threw in John and Ringo.

When do we start to worry about Masai Ujiri’s future as Raptors President? He keeps downplaying his contract status in the final year of his contract but the longer it plays out, the more concerning it becomes. Top executives seldom go into the final year of their contracts without an extension. A lot of people believe that if Ujiri does leave the Raptors, it will be for something outside of basketball.

Why would you ever buy a season ticket to an NBA game? Your favourite team has no chance of winning an NBA title. If you are a fan in Atlanta or Memphis or Orlando, what hope do you have? The L.A. Lakers have loaded up and they are the betting choice to win another championship this season. Let’s play out an entire regular season to coronate the Lakers again! Players and agents are scheming together to place players in certain markets. The latest scuttlebutt is James Harden wants to be traded to Brooklyn so he can team up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Why would we want to have another NBA franchise in Vancouver? Don’t bother.

Could this be the year that the Gonzaga Bulldogs win an NCAA basketball championship? Gonzaga is ranked number one in the country and look like they may finally be ready to get over the hump. The Bulldogs have some Canadian content down in Spokane. Andrew Nembhard, from Aurora, Ontario, transferred from Florida and is settling in at point guard. The 6’5” junior had 19 points in a recent win over West Virginia. The Bulldogs have made it a priority to recruit players internationally. Gonzaga has players on the roster from Lithuania, Russia, Canada, France and Mali.

The Mouth That Roared – The more things change the more they stay the same. That often-used phrase keeps coming back to me. As much as we want to think that we have evolved and moved to a better place, we still keep seeing signs that nothing has really changed. For every Bill Peters, there’s someone coming in behind him.

Yes, we have some forward progress in professional sports. Women are rising in the coaching and management ranks. Blacks are getting more opportunities although in the NFL, they had to legislate in order for that to happen. Players have more power than ever before, maybe too much. But underneath all the perceived progress is still a dark cloud. There have been far too many instances over the past 25 years to think that racism and sexism and all the bigoted, xenophobic cavemen in sports have suddenly gone missing.

No one typifies this more than former Cincinnati Reds pitcher John Rocker. Back in 1999, he became instantly famous for comments made to Sports Illustrated during a feature article when he launched into a tirade against the city of New York and what it might be like playing there.

“I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7-Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing…The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

To this day, Rocker’s comments remain one of the most unabashed expressions of racism and prejudice by any athlete ever. All these years later, do you think Rocker has regrets? Think again. He’s alive on Twitter and has gained notoriety as a columnist for WorldNetDaily, an arch-conservative website. In one piece, Rocker insisted that the Holocaust could have been prevented had Germany not enforced gun control. Wrote Rocker:

“Absolute certainties are a rare thing in this life, but one I think can be collectively agreed upon is the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would have never taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defended themselves with those arms.”

All these years later, Rocker is still crude and juvenile and xenophobic.

In tribute to Rocker’s impressive shallowness, we offer some of the other memorable racist comments over the past 25 years.

Who can forget golfer Fuzzy Zoeller and his comments at the 1997 Masters? Undoubtedly jealous of the success and attention being afforded a young Tiger Woods, Zoeller speculated on Woods winning a Green Jacket.

“You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

Thankfully, there was immediate pushback.  Zoeller lost a couple sponsors, and had to issue a public apology for his insensitivity.

Of course, we must not forget the late Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder who claimed that black athletes were better because of slavery? This is how Snyder rationalized everything.

“The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade…the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.”

After 12 years with CBS’s NFL pre-game show, Jimmy’s rough-around-the-edges stint came to a screeching halt.

Koppel & Campanis – Of course, the poster boy for overt racism is Al Campanis. His small-mindedness came in 1987 on ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel. In paying tribute to Jackie Robinson for breaking the colour carrier in baseball, the producers invited Dodgers executive Al Campanis onto the show to discuss Robinson’s legacy.  Here’s the exchange that took place and the subsequent uproar it created.

KOPPEL: Mr. Campanis, it’s a legitimate question. You’re an old friend of Jackie Robinson’s, but it’s a tough question for you. You’re still in baseball. Why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, and no black owners?

CAMPANIS: Well, Mr. Koppel, there have been some black managers, but I really can’t answer that question directly. The only thing I can say is that you have to pay your dues when you become a manager. Generally, you have to go to minor leagues. There’s not very much pay involved, and some of the better known black players have been able to get into other fields and make a pretty good living in that way.

KOPPEL: Yeah, but you know in your heart of hearts — and we’re going to take a break for a commercial — you know that that’s a lot of baloney. I mean, there are a lot of black players, there are a lot of great black baseball men who would dearly love to be in managerial positions, and I guess what I’m really asking you is to, you know, peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why you think it is. Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?

CAMPANIS: No, I don’t believe its prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.

KOPPEL: Do you really believe that?

CAMPANIS: Well, I don’t say that all of them, but they certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?

KOPPEL: Yeah, but I mean, I gotta tell you, that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing 40 years ago about players, when they were saying, ”Aah, not really — not really cut out –” Remember the days, you know, hit a black football player in the knees, and you know, no –” That really sounds like garbage, if — if you’ll forgive me for saying so.”

CAMPANIS: No, it’s not — it’s not garbage, Mr. Koppel, because I played on a college team, and the center fielder was black, and the backfield at NYU, with a fullback who was black, never knew the difference, whether he was black or white, we were teammates. So, it just might just be — why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.

KOPPEL: Oh, I don’t — I don’t — it may just be that they don’t have access to all the country clubs and the pools. But I’ll tell you what, let’s take a break, and we’ll continue our discussion in a moment.

CAMPANIS: Well, I don’t have the crystal ball, Mr. Koppel, but I can only tell you that I think we’re progressing very well in the game of baseball. We have not stopped the black man from becoming an executive. They also have to have the desire, just as Jackie Robinson had the desire to become an outstanding ballplayer.

KOPPEL: Just as a matter of curiosity, Mr. Campanis, what is the percentage now of black ballplayers, for example, in your franchise?

CAMPANIS: I would say, I think Roger mentioned the fact that about a third of the players are black. That might be a pretty good number, and deservedly so, because they are outstanding athletes. They are gifted with great musculature and various other things, they’re fleet of foot, and this is why there are a lot of black major league ballplayers. Now, as far as having the background to become club presidents, or presidents of a bank, I don’t know. But I do know when I look at a black ballplayer, I am looking at him physically and whether he has the mental approach to play in the big leagues.

Campanis resigned from the Dodgers a few days later and never held another job in baseball.

If anyone thinks that things have changed in the decades since Al Campanis, give your head a shake. Some other Marge Schott or John Rocker or Al Campanis is sure to emerge one day soon.

Music Video of the Week – We thought we would introduce you to another under-the-radar singer-songwriter with a unique and beautiful voice. Gillian Welch performs with her musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings. Their music is Americana all the way with equal parts bluegrass, country and roots. They have collaborated on seven critically acclaimed albums. One of their most popular songs is entitled “Look at Miss Ohio.”

Here’s Gillian and David performing “The Way It Will Be.”

Here they are with the Punch Brothers doing an outstanding version of the classic tune “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

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