Dancing On My Own

The trending topic within the global music industry this weekend is NOT Taylor Swift dropping a new album. More on that in a moment…

The Philadelphia Phillies were 22-29 on June 3rd when they fired their Manager, Joe Girardi. From September 15 thru October 1st, their record was 4-11 as they raced to the bottom of the National League Wild Card standings. If not for the Milwaukee Brewers working even harder to miss the playoffs, and if not for the fact Major League Baseball granted two Wild Card playoff berths this season, Philadelphia doesn’t make the post-season.

As well, if not for MLB bringing the designated hitter to the NL this year, Bryce Harper wouldn’t have played much baseball in 2022. He hurt his elbow in April. He broke his thumb in late June. Aside from the job interim Manager Rob Thomson did in letting the younger players play and develop more, as well as getting the entire team to just chill out and take one game at a time, I think Harper’s tenacity to overcome his physical issues and get back into the lineup is another reason for the playoff success they are enjoying now. He set a stellar example off-the-field with his work ethic, and raised the bar higher for his teammates to aspire to.

Of course, there is Harper’s pure talent. The joke has always been Bryce dropped out of high school to turn pro because no one would pitch to him. A Sports Illustrated story at that time referred to him as baseball’s youth version of LeBron James. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the Phillies have themselves a generational talent as their centerpiece, willing the team to winning the National League pennant yesterday.

Mind you, this team is still more beer-league bashers than polished diamonds on the diamond. Their defense is beyond atrocious at times. I close my eyes sometimes when an opponent puts the ball into play. If you get to the Philadelphia bullpen on the right day, the other team might never get to three outs.

Still, here we are. We’ll read and hear a bit in the days ahead about how these Phillies should have never qualified for the post-season. Their opponent in the upcoming World Series, the Houston Astros, still have never been sufficiently punished for their technology cheating during the 2017 season, winning a World Series title they’ve never been asked to give back. I suspect we’ll read and hear about that also.

These two franchises did meet in one of the greatest playoff series I’ve ever seen, the 1980 National League Championship. It was an electric, thrilling five game series which the Phils won 3-2. Four of those games went into extra innings, and that playoff series remains the only one in the history of the game to feature that many extra-inning games. I hope for all baseball fans this World Series turns out to be as exciting as that one was.

As improbable as the Phillies being in the 2022 World Series is, they’ve brought with them a playoff anthem I didn’t see coming either.

In April of 2010, Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn released a song called “Dancing On My Own.” It only peaked at #8 on the UK Singles Chart in its time, but in 2021 Rolling Stone claimed it was the 20th greatest song of all time. Calum Scott, who was auditioning for “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2015, offered up an acoustic version of the song. Scott’s version was later remixed and released by a Dutch DJ named Tiesto.

The original Robyn version apparently became one of the top “crying-in-the-club” songs of our time. From Sam Sanders of NPR in 2019…

“Dancing On My Own starts with one of the most visceral, propelling four-to-the-floor beats of the past few decades. The tempo is perfectly situated right around 118 beats per minute, pretty close to what scientists say is the preferred walking tempo for humans. The one-five-four chord progression is immediately familiar, like it’s been around since the beginning of time. Everything about it is meant to make you smile and move and dance. It could easily be a perfect teen pop song, especially considering Robyn got her start making just that.”

“But Dancing On My Own is more than that. When the lyrics start, you realize she’s tricked you, that it’s all one big bait and switch. This is a breakup song.”

A few players on the Boston Red Sox started grooving to the Scott/Tiesto version a couple of years back with one of the players – Kevin Plawecki – even using it as walk-up music. It became a huge hit with the Red Sox on their way to the playoffs, singing it together in the locker room after wins.

Garrett Stubbs, a catcher for the Phillies and designated DJ, put that version on the team’s locker room playlist earlier this year. It has now become such a hit with the Phillies (who also sing it after games) people are playing it all over the Philadelphia region.

Yes, a breakup song is an acceptable anthem for winning baseball clubs.

But…original music aficionados are offended because the Scott/Tiesto version is being featured once more instead of their all-time classic Robyn version.

In order to make amends to the worldwide music community…and especially to Robyn (even though all versions of her tune must be getting more downloads than Swift right now in Philadelphia)…we’ll close with her version.

Go Phillies. Keep. On. Dancing.

 

Picture Courtesy Major League Baseball

The Drop Shot

In honor of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament returning to New York City this week – one of my all-time favorite sporting events to watch – I thought I’d take this opportunity to post about a significant tennis moment in my life. The “anniversary” of this event is coming up, but it really feels like it only happened yesterday. Unfortunately.

My wife and I have not played tennis since.

The incident if ever recounted, is done so in hushed tones.

The wife and I were playing tennis at least once a week. Never in a competitive way, mind you. We simply went out for an hour or so sticking to the baselines, volleying back and forth.

That is…until “The Drop Shot.”

It was an early weeknight when we took to the court. The temperature was 70F. No wind to speak of. No one playing on the court next to us…although there were a couple of guys playing on the court one removed from where we were, so periodically we had to serve as ball persons for each other’s play. Otherwise, absolutely perfect conditions for twilight tennis on a well-kept, public court.

We were about a half-hour into play when it occurred. Mind you, we always kept score even though our shared goal was to extend points, get some good exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.

My wife, a pretty good field hockey player back in her day, was actually beating me in this particular game. She had just returned my shot from deep in her far corner when I executed “The Drop Shot.”

To this day, my wife insists it was because I was losing and consciously wanted to win the point by hitting my shot to land just over the net. My claim to this day is my competitive mind and muscles simply converged in the moment, and I subconsciously went for a winning shot. It was without a doubt the greatest drop shot I’ve ever hit.

It was also my last.

My wife, reacting to my shortened stroke and immediately setting aside our mutual goal to take things easy, attempted to sprint all the way from the back court in a spectacularly athletic yet predictably futile fashion to reach the ball in time.

Futile intersected with fall.

My wife went down several feet from the net in a full-on, concrete face plant.

I thought she was dead.

Mind you I was gratified to have won the point, but I decided to check on my wife first before retrieving the ball. As I got to her, she was rolling onto her side and making low, unintelligible sounds…which indicated she was, a) alive and, b) able to move.

“You OK? What hurts?

“My hand.”

“Just your hand. Great!”

“Great? No, not great. It hurts. A lot. I think I BROKE it.”

This is when I switched into ultra-positive mode. Knowing my wife as I do, it would be important to assure her she was OK, and that hand of hers would be fine with some rest and TLC. She’s as tough a trooper as I know, but in accident situations with anyone I always feel it is important to deflate any thoughts of potentially more serious injuries. Getting stressed about what may or may be wrong certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

It did seem like her hand did take the brunt of the impact with the court. This was a good thing, because her head was next in line if that hand had not been extended to break her fall. The question now…was the hand actually BROKEN?

I quickly got her to her feet and into our car so, if nothing else, to reassure those guys playing nearby a hearse would indeed not be required. There was some concern on my part they might have seen my wife’s plunge.

I drove her to a Wawa convenience store (one we don’t normally frequent) to get some much-needed ice for her injury. I left her in the car briefly, returning as quickly as I could with an ice-cold drink for her, ice for her hand…and a TV Guide.

“You thought about the TV Guide during THIS?”

“It’s next week’s edition. I got it early!”

Uh-oh. She’s not laughing anymore.

Moments later, as I was getting her cooled down and set-up in a more comfortable position for the drive home, I was trying to adjust the angle of her seat to make her a bit more comfortable…when I almost made her horizontal as the seat control got away from me.

She actually managed a laugh about that, watching me being flustered getting the seat corrected.

Good sign. Laughter really IS the best medicine.

Until the next day of course, when her hand looked like one of those cartoon character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Off to the doctor. Then the hospital. Multiple X-rays. No break. Bad sprain. Two weeks of rest.

Since then…conversations of “The Drop Shot” usually go like this:

“You know you hit that shot on purpose.”

“I did not. I just reacted in the moment. It was simply instinct. You were so far away, and the shot was there for the taking. I never thought you’d actually try to go get it. I didn’t mean to almost kill you.”

“Well, you almost did.”

“Again, I’m sorry. You know, I really thought you were dead for a second there. I’ll never forget that sight. It was awful.”

“I still can’t believe you bought that TV Guide.”

“I got it early!”

“Idiot.”

🎾

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Sounds Of NFL 2022

The above image is a copy of a newspaper ad for a concert I was fortunate enough to have attended back in 1978. The site of the concert, JFK Stadium, hosted many great artists over the years, including the American portion of Live Aid just seven summers after this event.

When I pulled in the image for this post, I noticed something I didn’t take note of back then. Sanford & Townsend is spelled incorrectly, instead reading as Townsand. Their big hit back then was “Smoke From A Distant Fire.” Perhaps someone was smoking “something” when they made that error. As I recall there was a LOT of smoking the day of the concert…

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Every time I hear it, I’m transported back in time. Which as we all know, is one of the most magical things about music. Time travel made easy.

On to the Chessboard’s NFL 2022 Power Rankings. The self-imposed rule here was to sum up each team’s outlook in conjunction with a song title off my heavy-rotation playlist. This way you get to see my expectations for each squad, as well as a sampling of my musical leanings.

(If you have any newly-released music you have on “repeat” these days please let me know. I’m always looking to sample sound suggestions…)

Buffalo Bills (1) – “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. QB Josh Allen’s offense and LB Von Miller’s defense should both be dynamite this season. This should be their year. With regards to their Super Bowl history, the fifth time is the charm for the Bills. Enough said.

Kansas City Chiefs (2) – “Levitating” by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby. Even without departed WR Tyreek Hill, QB Patrick Mahomes will once again be levitating above and around opposing defenses. The defense…we’ll see. With the Chiefs, that’s always a moving target…sometimes moving in the wrong direction. They are always a rollercoaster ride.

Green Bay Packers (3) – “Feeling Good” by Sofi Tukker. – QB Aaron Rodgers recently opened up about his use of a hallucinogenic drug, which supposedly had him feeling good and playing his very best football. Whatever, Aaron. Whatever. The Packers defense is really good. They do have to replace departed WR Davante Adams, which they should be able to do with a combined effort.

Baltimore Ravens (4) – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. QB Lamar Jackson is indeed “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy,” a lyric from this song. Yet, he must push his offense to score early and often to take more pressure off their D, especially the iffy secondary. The arrival of former Saints S Marcus Williams should help also. The Ravens defense just has to stay out of the trainer’s room this year.

Los Angeles Rams (5) – “Butter” by BTS. QB Matthew Stafford made the big move from Detroit as smooth as butter. WR Cooper Kupp had a season for the ages. And if the team doesn’t have a Super Bowl hangover and stays hungry, they could easily be back defending their crown. WR Allen Robinson arrived from the Bears, with LB Bobby Wagner in from the Seahawks. Two good pieces to add on to an already strong team. Their best move in the post-season…getting DT Aaron Donald to commit to two more seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers (6) – “Sooner Or Later” by The Grass Roots. Every year I think this team is going to take the next step. I often overrate them, and may be doing it again. Sooner or later I’m going to be right. The concern is a more competitive AFC West, but the Chargers defense might be able to rise to the occasion with former Bears LB Khalil Mack and Patriots CB J.C. Jackson. QB Justin Herbert should be better with another year of experience. Hopefully, HC Brandon Staley will also. His uber-aggressiveness last year was silly at times.

Cincinnati Bengals (7) – “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC. I always knock the Super Bowl runner-up’s down a few notches. That’s just how I shoot. However, QB Joe Burrow is a thrilling difference-maker with a lot of weapons. (When I saw he had a recent appendectomy, I admittedly started to think “Bengals Super Bowl loser curse” again). If the defense plays like last year, Cincinnati should be in good shape. Hopefully, Burrow will be also.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8) – “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. A toast is in order to QB Tom Brady as he continues his GOAT career. The Buccaneers look solid enough on both sides of the ball to keep him racking up more W’s than L’s. The defense will have to give the offense some time to recalibrate, especially if WR Chris Godwin isn’t fully recovered from last December’s torn ACL. Former Falcons WR Russell Gage is a solid add.

San Francisco 49ers (9) – “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister. QB Trey Lance will have the handcuffs removed and be handed the keys to this 49ers offense. I think his breakout stardom is not far off and if nothing else, just get the ball into WR Deebo Samuel’s hands. In Trey and Deebo I trust. The San Francisco defense looks rock-solid…except perhaps in the secondary.

Indianapolis Colts (10) – “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. RB Jonathan Taylor is as good as anyone at that position, and former Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be handing off quite a bit. It will be a run-first offense for the Colts as it should be. The Indianapolis defense will be more aggressive under new DC Gus Bradley. They were already pretty good to begin with.

Philadelphia Eagles (11) – “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty. If QB Jalen Hurts is running less and throwing accurately, the dream of him being the Eagles franchise quarterback will be realized. Former Titans WR A.J. Brown, WR DeVonta Smith, and TE Dallas Goedert are all ready to make this team pass-heavy…but they will run the ball well if Hurts struggles. Look for the Philadelphia defense to take huge strides led by former Panthers LB Haason Reddick rushing throws, with former Giants CB James Bradberry defending them.

New Orleans Saints (12) – “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. I just happen to think the Superdome looks like a UFO…I just do. Anyway…the Saints defense is the real deal. No issues there. The two offensive questions are, 1) Will RB Alvin Kamara be sidelined by his battery case?…and, 2) Will QB Jameis Winston continue the new-found momentum of throwing to his teammates rather than the other team?

Dallas Cowboys (13) – “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd. America’s Team always has those bright, blinding lights upon them, and this year certainly is no exception. If QB Dak Prescott is going to elevate the Cowboys to a higher level, WR CeeDee Lamb will need to be a catching machine. The Dallas defense, led by LB Micah Parsons and CB Trevon Diggs, will be just fine thank you. Then again, with HC Mike McCarthy likely being a dead man walking even if they win it all…who the hell knows?

New England Patriots (14) – “When You Were Young” by The Killers. HC Bill Belichick is still chasing trophies after all these years, but he looked old indeed when Buffalo pounded the Patriots defense in last year’s playoffs. QB Mac Jones will continue to improve if he gets to throw the ball more often this season…and he might have to if Bill’s running back by committee stuff doesn’t jell. The New England defense definitely must play like Belichick teams of old.

Denver Broncos (15) – “Better Now” by Collective Soul. QB Russell Wilson is now cookin’ in the Rockies, and he has some weapons at the skill positions making Denver a better squad. He may need to run for his life to get those throws off, but opposing team QB’s will be doing the same against a strong Denver D. The Broncos secondary led by Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and Justin Simmons is rockie-solid (see what I did there?).

Las Vegas Raiders (16) – “Caught Up In You” by 38 Special. Former Packers WR Davante Adams is the big catch everyone is talking about. It remains to be seen if new HC Josh McDaniels can chart the same success like he did as a coordinator in New England. Former Cardinals DE Chandler Jones will help make opposing QB’s miserable, teaming up with DE Maxx Crosby to provide a stellar pass rush…which the Raiders will need to stay in games.

Minnesota Vikings (17) – “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry. This team always seems to be operating either very hot or very cold. With new HC Kevin O’Connell’s arrival, his main focus will be to put QB Kirk Cousins in better position to get the ball to WR’s Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. If the aerial attack clicks, RB Dalvin Cook might just get through a whole year in one piece. The Vikings defense needs to stay healthy this season. They will also need that offense to be hitting on all cylinders.

Detroit Lions (18) – “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart. HBO’s current Hard Knocks team certainly looks inspired enough by unorthodox HC Dan Campbell to play like very big cats in 2022. They should definitely score more points as long as QB Jared Goff remains steady, but they will find themselves having to score a lot if the Lions defense doesn’t improve a ton. Rookie DE Aidan Hutchinson certainly is a step in the right direction.

Tennessee Titans (19) – “Breakdown Dead Ahead” by Boz Scaggs. RB Derrick Henry is inevitably gonna breakdown completely from all his usage, and opposing defenses now have even more reason to key on him with WR’s A.J. Brown and Julio Jones gone. QB Ryan Tannehill is on shaky ground, as he always is. The Titans defense will probably keep them in a few games, as will HC Mike Vrabel.

Miami Dolphins (20) – “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande. At some point in every game I see in Miami, it always seems to rain. QB Tua Tagovailoa is from Hawaii, so at least he’s used to the rain. He’ll be getting used to another address if he fails to impress this season with new acquisition WR Tyreek Hill on hand. This franchise had a good HC in Brian Flores but fired him nonetheless…likely because he would not throw games at the direction of shady Owner Stephen Ross, who also managed to lose the Dolphins’ first-round pick next season…so there’s that.

Pittsburgh Steelers (21) – “Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” by Meat Loaf. HC Mike Tomlin stayed with Big Ben Roethlisberger too long… and here we are. RB Najee Harris may be carrying the ball all four downs. LB T.J. Watt will head a Steelers defense that while good, will be under too much pressure if the offense can’t move the ball. Tomlin is a wizard, but I’m not sure he’s gonna work any magic with this team…this season.

Washington Commanders (22) – “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall & John Oates. Abusive Owner Dan Snyder doesn’t even deserve to still have a team, which also doesn’t deserve that nickname. This will be the last audition for QB Carson Wentz, but at least he has WR’s Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson to throw to. Star DE Chase Young will start the season on the injured list. That’s unfortunate, but the Washington defense should still have some merit if they play like they can…not play like last year’s group.

Arizona Cardinals (23) – “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. QB Tyler Murray wants to prepare for games his own way, which apparently is heavy on video games and light on film study. I am totally unimpressed with HC Kliff Kingsbury. WR DeAndre Hopkins will be out for the first six games. The Cardinals defense lost its best pass rusher (DE Chandler Jones) to free agency. Oops.

Carolina Panthers (24) – “Level Of Concern” by twenty one pilots. I still think HC Matt Rhule can coach winning football, but he better have a level of concern about his future in Carolina. We’ll see if the newly-acquired Baker Mayfield can help save his job. Will RB Christian McCaffrey be able to stay on the field? I don’t know, but I drafted him #1 on one of my fantasy teams last year and I still haven’t stopped cursing. The Panthers defense looks to very much be a work-in-progress.

Cleveland Browns (25) – “God Was Never On Your Side” by Motorhead. They went out and acquired QB Deshaun Watson. Everyone deserves a second chance. I strongly believe that. Twenty-four chances? Nope. I have a friend who is a big Cleveland sports fan. He was just getting over their baseball team being renamed the Guardians…and now this. The defense should be fine if they don’t have to stay out on the field all day. We’ll see about the offense, which surely will now be a run-first squad at least for the first half of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars (26) – “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I love new HC Doug Pederson, in no small part because he guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. He never should have been fired from here, and I hope he rocks out in J-Ville. That being said, he is living on a prayer down there in Year One. The prayer is QB Trevor Lawrence can become a top-notch signal caller. The Jaguars defensive outlook? Make that two prayers…

New York Jets (27) – “Used To The Darkness” by Des Rocs. This may be the most apt song title of all-time for Jets fans. Their QB is already on the injured list. Do I have to go on? Don’t make me, but I will say they are starting to get some pieces in place for…next year.

Seattle Seahawks (28) – “Long Way Down” by The Goo Goo Dolls. HC Pete Carroll should buckle his seat belt, because it is going to be a l-o-n-g way down for the Seahawks. This will be his last year, whether he wants it to be or not…and he very well may not even finish it.

New York Giants (29) – “Broken” by lovelytheband. Rookie DE Kayvon Thibodeaux already has a sprained MCL, and QB Daniel Jones just revealed he had off-season neck surgery. Um, ok. Toss in whether or not RB Saquon Barkley even makes it through a few games. The Giants appear to be already broken.

Chicago Bears (30) – “Dammit” by blink-182. I think it is safe to say the word “dammit” is in every Bears fan’s vocabulary, and is used quite often at that. QB Justin Fields will be running for his life again this season, which probably gives Chicago the best chance to win games…as long as no one catches up to him.

Houston Texans (31) – “Forget Me Too” by Machine Gun Kelly & Halsey. The Texans hosted the fiasco that became Deshaun Watson. Let’s not forget that. Newly-promoted HC Lovie Smith may have an easy first year if the marching orders are to win as few games as possible.

Atlanta Falcons (32) – “Doom And Gloom” by The Rolling Stones. When QB Matt Ryan flew off to Indianapolis I knew this song title would represent the Falcons this year. This franchise has endured one long Super Bowl runner-up’s hangover, as they have never been the same since they let the Patriots steal Super Bowl LI. That game was in Houston, and I do believe the Texans and the Falcons will be neck-and-neck this year when it comes to losing games.

 

Picture Courtesy Concert Archives

Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate

Conditionally Yours, Kyler Murray

For purposes of this post…let’s say after three years as a Purchasing Agent, you have just been promoted to the title of Purchasing Manager for your company. The company is a global organization consisting of many employees, and also has many suppliers providing you material as cheaply as you can possibly negotiate it for. In fact, all of your employees know deep down the financial success of your firm often comes down to just how well the Purchasing Manager and his team have negotiated costs with all of its suppliers on a regular, consistent basis.

The announcement of your promotion comes via a press release, sent not only to all your employees, but to all the suppliers as well. In it, there is also mention of a contract clause you agreed to which says as part of earning your new salary, you will commit to studying strategies of being a successful negotiator at least four hours a week outside of the company’s regular business hours. Furthermore, the addendum goes on to say you have agreed to the stipulation that your studying cannot be done while playing video games, watching television, or browsing the Internet.

Well, that would be humiliating, wouldn’t it? For you…and your company.

I present one Kyler Murray, who recently signed a five-year contract extension to continue as the quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. The new deal is valued at $230.5 million, with about $105 million guaranteed at signing.

Kyler’s status was the talk of the NFL when he deleted all references to the Cardinals on his social media back in February after the team’s awful playoff performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. With Murray entering the final year of his contract, his agent insinuated the Cardinals may not be that serious about winning, and that his client would now seek a new deal giving him the stability he wanted going forward.

Meanwhile, word leaked out that Arizona might have some concerns Murray was going to be their long-term solution at quarterback, worried about his total commitment to the sport, as well as his alleged lack of leadership.

After winning the Heisman Trophy while at Oklahoma, Kyler was the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and in his three seasons with the Cardinals was named to the Pro Bowl twice, while also improving his passer rating from season to season. However, Arizona has only made the playoffs once with Murray calling the shots…that awkward, ugly loss to the Rams last season. His body language during that game didn’t look very leader-like…and it was also reported Murray refused to go back onto the field to take the final snaps of that contest.

Several days ago, while both Murray and the team were basking in the glow of that contract extension, word leaked out regarding an almost unheard of addendum added to his contract…which I’ll paraphrase below based on media reports:

Murray will need to earn “credit” for studying film to prepare for each of the team’s games. Time in mandatory team meetings does not count, and he will study in good faith…which means he can’t be playing video games, watching television, or browsing the Internet.

It is certainly not unusual for teams to put adders in contracts dealing with weight or other tangibles, but we may have gone down a whole new road here on a clause speaking towards intangibles such as effort, attention to detail, and concentration. The clause is simply titled “Independent Study Addendum.”

Playing quarterback in the NFL is hard. There are only so many athletes who can do it really, really well. When you have invested a #1 overall pick, it’s admittedly hard for Arizona to walk away from Murray right now based on that fact alone. He’s performed fairly well in his three seasons, but the question is if he hasn’t been continuously trying to improve himself and his team…and you believe he does not have a leadership mentality…how do you let him keep the keys and drive the bus?

He could have played major league baseball if he so chose. Kyler is a tremendous athlete. I openly questioned his height (5-10) as he entered the pros but with his arm, and the ability to elude defenders and take off in any direction, I was open to the possibility he’d develop into a good if not great quarterback. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I am hopeful he can still become a star in the NFL. I’m rooting for him to succeed.

Murray turns 25 on August 7th. Looking back when I was that age, I didn’t always focus on the job at hand. No way. I was undisciplined at times. If you throw in all the entitlement Kyler has likely enjoyed throughout his high school and college experiences, I think we can see where he’d think he knows everything about life – and football – already.

He told the New York Times two years ago, “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team or that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”

I don’t know how the Cardinals plan to enforce this addendum to Murray’s contract, or if they’d get laughed out of court if they tried to hold back his pay. I do know this. If you are paying someone this kind of money, who because of their position is also likely the face of your franchise, you don’t do something so incredibly stupid as to put any of this in writing.

It remains to be seen if Arizona has also done something so incredibly stupid by extending Kyler Murray’s employment.

Curses on occasion can be intriguing…as long as you aren’t the cursed. Last January, before that playoff game with the Rams, the Cardinals’ Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury (who certainly is culpable in Murray’s apparent lack of maturity) made mention of the Pottsville (PA) Maroons. “I’m sure they’re very lovely people in Pottsville. I hope that they will rescind the curse very soon.”

That curse involves what fans of the Maroons claim is stolen property – the 1925 NFL Championship – which the then-Chicago Cardinals were gifted. Pottsville played an exhibition game against some Notre Dame players following the Maroons’ victory at Chicago, which was very much against the wishes of NFL Commissioner Joseph Carr. The title of NFL Champion was then stripped from Pottsville and awarded to the Cardinals.

Those Chicago Cardinals did win a more legitimate NFL title in 1947, but since then the franchise hasn’t won another. It’s been 75 years.

If Kyler Murray can pull off an NFL Championship after all of this contract nonsense, it will be unconditionally money well spent.

 

Picture Courtesy Athlon Sports