Here's to you, Steve!

Here's to you, Steve!

During the past few weeks, network news stations and talk radio has spent much of its time discussing the recent string of deaths among our celebrities. Several famous people have passed on, most notably Michael Jackson.

But none are as tragic as the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair and the sordid details that are constantly emerging on a daily basis.

Not too demean the other deaths, but they weren’t quite as shocking. Whereas the others died of old age, cancer or drug overdoses, McNair was shot to death by his mistress in the dead of night as he slept in his recliner. Soon after, his mistress took her own life. The circumstances surrounding McNair’s untimely demise are still quite unknown, but the facts seem to be that he was running around behind his wife and the killings were a murder-suicide.

From all accounts, McNair was a stand-up guy who gave back to his community. He was raised in small-town Mississippi and attended Alcorn State, a traditionally African-American school. During his time there, his football talents earned him the nickname “Air McNair” and the media flocked to his games to witness his awesome athletic ability. In doing so, he also did a lot for coverage of black colleges.

Throughout his NFL career, McNair was nothing short of the consummate teammate. He showed up early and left late during practice, was a leader by example and was the true definition of a warrior, often playing in games with several injuries. His only concern was to be on the playing field with his teammates, and not on the sidelines watching. He may have not been the sharpest passer or most elusive runner or the coolest cat on the turf, but players acrossed the league said there wasn’t a better teammate. His playing days were probably most defined by his late-game performance in the 2000 Super Bowl where he drove the Tennessee Titans to within one yard of the game-tying touchdown as time expired.

Off the field, McNair was a well-known personality in his small-town community and in Nashville as well. He loaded trucks full of relief items for Hurricane Katrina victims in 2004. Despite his recent indiscretions, he was known as a good family man who loved his four sons dearly. He was all about kids. He founded the Steve McNair Foundation (www.officialstevemcnair.com) with the mission for community awareness and helping local youth, and just this year solely funded three separate football camps. Since his retirement in 2008, McNair was working on plans to start a large farm just north of Nashville that concentrated on eco-friendly harvesting tactics and healthy food for children.

Of course the media chooses to dwell on the darker side of the story. Sex and murder sell, not community involvement.

Not to say McNair was perfect, as the details prove so. Theories behind the murder-suicide were that McNair was involved with another woman besides his mistress and his wife. Who knows if there was more to it besides a lover’s quarrel? No one will ever know the whole story. To me that’s a good thing.

But the fact of the matter is America lost another of its heroes in a tragic way.

R.I.P. Air McNair.

Justin Verlander has become one of the top pitchers in the league

Justin Verlander has become one of the top pitchers in the league

Last season at this time, the Detroit Tigers were playing .500 baseball and stuck in the middle of the pack of the AL Central. Fast forward one year, and Detroit is leading the division by three games, with Chicago and Minnesota both trailing and tied for second in the standings. With a three-game series at Minnesota over the weekend, the Tigers are setup to make a huge statement as far as their postseason hopes are concerned.

The Tigers have currently played 10 more games on the road than they have at home. The confines of Comerica have been much more friendly to them than opposing ball parks, but a 20-24 record away from Detroit is nothing to scoff at. That said, if the Tigers can sweep the Twins this weekend, that would put them in great position to distance themselves from their division rivals. Many experts have the Twins winning the division when all is said and done, but the Tigers have been a pleasant surprise all season long and have led the AL Central for much of the season so far. After the three-game series at the Metrodome, the Tigers have two series at home against Kansas City and lowly Cleveland, two key homestands that they should definitely win. Heading into the All-Star break, the Tigers will have played more than half their games on the road, which means a softer home schedule in the second half of the season.

But sweeping the Twins will not be easy. The Tigers bats have fell silent in road swings in Houston and Oakland, and reliable starters like Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello have been uncharacteristically mediocre as of late. The offense needs to pick up the pace and not get behind on pitch counts early for them to have a chance. The fact that Detroit just got dominated by subpar lefty pitching over the past week does not bode well for what’s to come. No one is pushing the panic button just yet, but maybe the front office needs to go after one more left-handed hitter. Or just one more hitter in general. Matt Holiday is a name that has been thrown around. With the decline of Magglio Ordonez, and the disappearance of Carlos Guillen to the DL, only a handful of Tigers have done their part with swinging the stick. Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson have great power numbers, but both are hitting below .270 right now. The only one in the lineup batting over .300 is Miggy Cabrera, who might be the most under-appreciated hitter in the majors right now.

The pitching will be solid at best from here on out. We can expect quality starts from Verlander, Porcello and Edwin Jackson (who might have been a trade steal of the year) every day, and even Armando Gallaraga has come around as of late. Offense is the main question mark now. If the Tigers can find some consistentency there, it could make for an entertaining and thrilling summer.

"If you need help finding your local unemployment office, maybe I can help you Mike..."

"If you need help finding your local unemployment office, maybe I can help you Mike..."

On the eve of the beginning of the NBA’s free agency period, the Detroit Pistons were the first ones to make some noise. But all the hoopla wasn’t about a player.

The Pistons fired first-year coach Michael Curry after a tumultous season that saw them end the regular season below .500 for the first time in nearly a decade and get swept in the first round of the playoffs. The knock on Curry, who spent a season as an assistant under also-pink slipped Flip Saunders, was that he could not garner the same respect that other head coaches around the league too. Curry really lost his squad after he benched Rip Hamilton for Allen Iverson, a move that not only alienated his players, but also the Detroit fanbase. The trade for AI was already heavily criticized, and the benching of Hamilton, who helped lead the Pistons to six straight conference championships, only made the whole deal worse.

So now, heading into the signing period, the Pistons not only need to find some talented free agents, but also someone that can lead the team. Former Detroit coach Doug Collins, who has been a studio analyst for some time now, seems to be a logical choice. Ex-Dallas coach Avery Johnson and Bill Laimbeer, who previously coached the Detroit Shock of the WNBA, are also names that are being thrown around. Either way, the Pistons would be well-served to find someone with a little more head coaching experience, someone that can harness the attention and respect of the players, but also make them feel comfortable.

And now with the free agents. Sources league-wide agree that Iverson and headcase Rasheed Wallace will be shown the door, and the chances of re-signing Antonio McDyess seems unlikely. The Pistons need to focus on signing a viable big man. Most pundits say that Ben Gordon is Dumars’ top target, but I’d rather see some frontcourt help. Gordon is a lights-out shooter and a scorer in the clutch, but will he be happy coming off the bench behind Hamilton? Or will Hamilton be benched again in favor of the new guy? We already know that will not go over well. Plus, Gordon lacks the defensive effort that goes with the Pistons’ blue-collar work ethic.

Another good candidate would be Hedo Turkoglu, who most likely helped put a big chunk of change in his pocket by showing off an array of skills during this season’s NBA playoffs. As a big man, Turk can stretch defenses with a solid outside shot and can also run some point-forward. Other options might be Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, Portland forward Channing Frye and … Houston forward Ron Artest.

Ha…for those of you out there who feel that Dumars has lost his ‘midas touch’ constructing the Pistons team, signing Artest would be the feather in your cap, wouldn’t it? Can you imagine? The villain of the Malice at the Palace, one of the biggest headcases in league history?? I don’t think so.

Either way, this should be an interesting summer for the Pistons organization. I have always stood steadfast that Dumars has a plan for all this, even after a lackluster draft last week. Let’s hope I am right…

June 29, 2009

Is this a date or a job interview?

Is this a date or a job interview?

To me, it seems as though being single and being unemployed are pretty much two birds of the same feather.

If you think about it, the job search is much like the quest for the perfect mate. Your resume’ is like your initial appearance. As much information you can squeeze in on one, two or even three pages of a resume does not tell the whole story of your skills, talents and primary objectives. Same with how you appear to the girl (or guy) you might be after. You can dress down, or dress up, or just simply undress, but there is only so much one can say with that. Whereas they both convey general ideas of what you are about, it’s not quite like getting to know a person, where you can really dig deep into their personality and character and decide whether this person is someone you can see yourself with for an extended period of time.

Or if they are a disgusting creep that needs to be locked up.

(In my experiences, it is usually the latter more often than the former…)

During my job search in the past two weeks, I have sent out dozens of cover letters and resumes to potential ‘suitors’ across the city of Chicago. But no matter how many big words or action statements I can think of, how can anyone really know who I am by written word? Even if I am lucky enough to get a face-to-face interview, I feel as though I am on a first date with a woman. You get dressed up, drive to a strange location, greet the secretary and wait for your hopeful employer to call on you for the meeting, all the while the employees in the office give you the stink eye and stare like you are about to break into their homes and steal their dog.  Much like a date, the employer usually keeps you waiting for a few minutes, similar to sitting by yourself at the table while you wait for your companion to arrive.

(Is that guy eating by himself at this nice restaurant? What a loser…)

Once the meeting begins, you struggle to come up with the right thing to say to some of the most mundane and/or general questions, all the while questioning yourself with every reply. You order a steak, medium-rare. She tells you she is a vegetarian. Oh No!….Your heart races, your hands tremble, your back sweats…

Was that the right thing to say? Am I smiling enough? Is she interested at all?

Should I tell her that I like to collect garbage pail kids??

After your time is up, it is now time for the awkward goodbye. You’re not quite sure if you have made the impression you hoped to make, but you have to make do with the events that have just transpired. Do you get a second interview (date)? Most likely not. She is smiling at you but you can’t tell if its genuine or forced. You say your goodbyes and you get the awkward hug with the ass out and the friend-pat on the back. Ugh…

“We’ll call you if we would like to set up another interview…”

It looks like it’s back to the old drawing board.

Most American people don’t bat an eye at the sport of soccer. Aside from a random game on ESPN 2, the sport gets minmal coverage here. But to the rest of the world, soccer is a way of life. It is easily the most popular and important sport on the ont the planet, where fans riot on behalf of their teams and world leaders jail their country’s soccer stars if they do not meet expectations in regional and global competitions. Whereas the United States dominates, or is at least excessively competitive, in most sports, the Americans are regarded as an after-thought when it comes to soccer. Even after a soild showing during the 1994 World Cup, the first ever Cup hosted in the U.S., we still were yet to be taken seriously by the rest of the world. However, the United States notched an improbable and decisive victory Wednesday by defeating No.-1 ranked Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. It marked the first time the Spanish team was defeated since November 2006. You can also look at this way – it was the first time Spain had been scored on in 451 minutes, since April 1st. Spain was in the midst of an international record 15-game win streak, and had a streak of 35 games without a defeat, tied with Brazil for most ever. The win for the Americans was huge on a global scale. It ranks up there among the greatest wins ever for the team, right along victories in the 1994 World Cup over Colombia and in 2002 against the Brazilians in the 2002 CONCACAF.

As a child, I grew up in a small town that was all but obsessed with soccer. Young kids grew up playing in leagues that fed into strong high school programs. Our high school made it to three straight state championship games, winning one, and most of our town traveled many miles to see the games during the state playoffs. I’m not gonna sit there and tell you I am the biggest fan of the game in a professional sense, but I do take notice and feel pride when the American soccer team does something to help earn its stripes in world competition. A win like this can be compared to a gold medal at the Olympics, and all of us in the U.S. should take notice and feel a sense of entitlement when something like this happens. Up next for the American will most likely be Brazil, which faces host South Africa in Sunday’s other semifinal, a team that beat them in the opening round and will be highly favored. Maybe we can hope for one more red, white and blue miracle victory.

The Windy City in all its glory

The Windy City in all its glory

Life is full of hard decisions. From what to wear, and what to eat, to whether or not you think Stan Van Gundy might in fact actually be Ron Jeremy, every day is filled with constant conundrums. This past week, I made one of the toughest choices of my life when I decided to leave Charleston for Chicago. After spending nearly five years in the Holy City, the itch to move on to attempt to better my life got the best of me and I was forced to scratch it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time in Charleston or that I wasn’t happy with my surroundings. It’s clearly the class of the South, from its thriving tourism industry,endless history and amazing dining and nighlife, to its beaches, swamps, golf courses and of course, women as hot as train smoke. But what made Charleston so tough to leave behind was the amazing people that I encountered and bonded with during my time there. The city itself can be a little closed-minded about certain individuals from certain northern areas of the country and it did take me a few months to crack the shell and get into the inner circles, but once I made connections, I found out how truly wonderful the city and its citizens can be. Being a mecca for the aforementioned traits, people from all over the country flock to this city and make it their home. Its a virtual cornocupia of personalities and characters. I was immediately drawn to that wandering soul spirit that I saw in many of the people I came across in my time there. But as I grew older and started to ‘settle down’, I realized the city lacked any type of career that I might be interested in or would suit me for my near and distant future. Aside from lawyers, doctors, real estate agents and professional f and b’ers, there wasn’t really much to offer the single mid-20s male as far as employment was concerned. I turned my attention back to the North and the thriving metropolis of Chicago. Having grown up in Michigan, I also thought of Chicago as a second home. I can remember my first trip into the Windy City as a young man and being instantly swept up by the constant bustle of activity, the breathtaking skyscrapers and the ability to have whatever you want right at your doorstep. I’ve wanted to live here ever since then, and this seemed to be the time to make that dream happen. With my time in Charleston coming to a close like a sunset over Lake Michigan, and the lure of several family members and close friends who have made Chicago their home offering me their support, it was an easy choice to make. But it also proved to be an extremely difficult one to follow through with. It took me four days just to get the stones to turn in my letter of resignation at work. Leaving was extremely rough both mentally and emotionally, but as I have spent the last 24 hours here in my new home, I feel that the right choice was made, even if it wasn’t the easiest. Many friends and colleagues extended well-wishes and kind thoughts before my departure, but I told most of them this: This is not a good-bye, this is a see you later. So to all my brethern in Charleston I left behind (and to those hot, hot women), take care, God Bless….and….see you later.

Mo Williams can now have a career as one of those "money-back guarantee" guys on the infomercials.

Mo Williams can now have a career as one of those "money-back guarantee" guys on the infomercials.

After Cleveland’s Game 4 loss at Orlando to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, Cavs guard Mo Williams guaranteed his team would win the series and move on to play in the Finals. Well, after last night, the dream matchup of Kobe vs. Lebron is just that…a dream. And Mo Williams looks like a fool. It’s never a good idea to guarantee anything in sports. There are only a few  certain guarantees in all of life, two of them being death and taxes. How often does a certain individual make a guarantee and how often does he or she actually come through? All it does is create more pressure on you and your teammates. This year’s Cavs squad seemed a like a tightly-knit bunch, clowning for the cameras during pregame activities and proclaiming their cohesiveness in interviews. But to make a guarantee of that magnitude is a selfish gesture that does not put the team first. More often than not, the promises go empty and the fans and media will jump all over you. Granted, the Cavs did come out focused in Game 5 on their home floor to force a Game 6, riding King James in the fourth quarter. But, as they have done all series, the Magic refocused and trounced the Cavs to put the finishing touches on a series that they for the most part dominated. Granted, LeBron had one of the best playoff series performances of  all-time, averaging nearly 39 points per game, while dishing out eight assists and pulling down eight rebounds. All while continually being double, triple and quadruple-teamed in clutch situations. No one will soon forget his last-second heave in Game 2 that won the game and had him mobbed by his teammates at half-court. But that’s pretty much the only bright spot for the Cavs in the series. After sweeping through the first two rounds against Detroit and Atlanta, the Cavs found themselves in a real battle with an Orlando unit that had found its flow against Boston in the second round. King James got no help from his teammates, and Williams actually hurt his team by making those outlandish comments. I remember in 2004 when Rasheed Wallace guaranteed a victory in the playoffs and Detroit ended up winning and eventually taking the whole thing. He looked like a total genius and was a genuine hero in Motown after. But rarely does this happen. Everyone remembers Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna famously pontificating that the Lions would win 10 games in the 2007 season. After starting the season 6-2, it looked like Kitna was a sports prophet and would be a hometown hero as well, but the Lions finished 1-7 down the stretch and failed to live up to the promise. In 1997, New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing famously said “See you in Chicago” before his Game 7 with the Miami Heat, insinuating that the Knicks would advance to the conference finals against the Bulls. Ewing missed his final six shots in the fourth quarter and the Heat went on to win and face the Bulls. Failure stories like this are more common than the opposite. Moral of the story is this: Keep your damned mouth and let your play do the talking. Otherwise, you’ll just like like a fool. See ya next year, Mo…

Michael Vick still has those elusive moves, doesn't he?

Michael Vick still has those elusive moves, doesn't he?

Sports outlets around the country are a twitter with the news of embattled ex-NFLer Michael Vick’s release from federal prison this week. Unless you care nothing about sports or have lived under a rock for the past two years, you already know that Vick spent the previous 19 months in Leavenworth, Kansas as part of a sentence for federal dogfighting crimes. You already know the scope of these crimes, from the thousands of dollars funneled over state lines to finance the fights, to the brutality of the fights themselves and the ‘unconventional’ methods used to breed the dogs and put them down if they did not meet battle standards. You already know that Vick went from media darling to one of the most despised sports figures in the country. But that’s all in the past. The issue now is whether Vick should be allowed to play in the NFL again. And the answer is an unequivocal yes.

The argument here is not whether Vick is a good person or not. He is definitely not a role model. But what he is is a gifted athelete who can still help out several NFL teams. He worked his whole life to get to where he was and, unfortunately, his bad decisions and seedy friends he kept undermined his achievements. Even Atlanta Falcons Arthur Blank, who probably felt the sting of this whole incident more than most, agreed that Vick should be able to see the playing field once again.

“It goes beyond, ‘Has he paid his debt to society?’ Because I think that from a legal standpoint and financially and personally, he has,”  Blank said Wednesday at the NFL owners’ meeting in Florida.

Vick will serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement and working for a local construction company for ten dollars an hour. He also has spend many hours working with the Humane Society as a volunteer. Vick’s main goal is to get back into the league and attempt to untarnish his image. Is he remorseful for what he has done? Who knows? Maybe the man is just a bad guy, but the fact of the matter remains that he has done his time and paid his debts. His life is in financial and social shambles. His one chance to get some of it back is to return to the league. Just because he has committed a crime does not mean he should not be able to work ever again, correct? The NFL is battling an image problem, but if you are going to let PacMan Jones or Ray Lewis back in the league after they committed felonies, why is Vick any different. Granted, if he plays for my team, the Detroit Lions, I will not be cheering for them or him. I can rest easily knowing that the Lions drafted a quarterback, Matt Stafford from Georgia, with the number one pick. Signing Michael Vick doesn’t seem like an option for them.  For some reason, I can see Vick playing for the Oakland Raiders. How fitting would that be??

Tonight’s game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals in Detroit between the Red Wings and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks has all the makings of a classic. The Ducks staved off elimination Tuesday night in Anaheim with a physical style of play, leading to a 2-1 win to force a final game and an all-out brawl at the horn that saw even Pavel Datsyuk in the middle of the scrum. Throughout the series, which features the last two Stanley Cup champions, the Wings have dominated the Ducks in most aspects of play, but Anaheim have held their own by steady goaltending by Jonas Hiller and capitalizing off of Detroit miscues. Easy scores have come off of turnovers or miscommunications, and the Detroit penalty-kill, ranked 24th in the regular season, has been an achilles’ heel for the team. Both goals in game 6 came off of short-handed situations for the Wings, and even then they had opportunities at the end for an equalizer with Datsyuk’s wide-open look with just a few seconds left.

Tonight, I look for the Wings to come out focused, determined and somewhat angry. Aside from the obvious retaliation for the Ducks constantly getting after Datsyuk, the Wings will be skating and hitting hard. Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary had this to say about the Ducks’ “physical” play:

“I felt that some guys took liberties on certain players unknown to fight so we just have to see Thursday.”

Seems like ominous words to me.

The Wings will have to use what the Ducks have used against them by making the most of their scoring situations and also by limiting the mistakes. Chris Osgood is a solid goaltender, but even he can’t bail the Wings defense out by himself. Someone will need to get after Ryan Getzlaf to knock the Ducks off their offensive game and Detroit will need to score the first goal early to get the crowd fired up. The home team has won 63 percent of Game 7s in the NHL playoffs, and I look for trend to continue tonight. Then, its all about the Chicago Blackhawks…

Mothers across the country will be the focus of their families’ attention today. It’s Mother’s Day! The day that we honor, cherish and love our moms and thank them for doing what they do, mainly giving life to all of us and then putting up with us every day afterward. My mother is one of the greatest people I know. Smart, savvy, beautiful and caring, Mom is always there for me with a good word of advice or a solid shoulder to lean on. Mom always pushes me to be a better person, a harder worker and a more responsible adult. She nurtured me to become the man I am today, yet knew when to hold back and let me figure things out on my own, so that I could become an independent person. She is also my hero. Battling a dehabilitating disease while raising two wily sons must have been the hardest thing she has ever done in her life, yet she managed to accomplish this task, and she did it well to say the least. A son or daughter is usually a direct reflection of how a mother raised her children, and anyone who has met my older brother Shawn or I can tell you a lot about our mother without ever knowing her. People who I work for and who have never met her ask about her well-being, a testament to her character. She loves cats, and card games, Jeopardy and Dr. Phil. She has traveled the world, and met my father in Amsterdam during her travels. She lived there for several years and gave birth to her sons there. She still speaks Dutch when phoning old friends and family back in the Netherlands, something where I should probably follow her lead. She enjoys watching the Red Wings with my stepfather, and likes to call or text me after my favorite sports teams suffer a loss so she can harass me and get a rise out of me…and it usually works. She knows how to push my buttons, and vice versa. When she is happy, I am happy. When she is sad, I am sad. The worst thing I can ever do is ‘disappoint’ her, which I have done on several occasions. Luckily she doesn’t hold grudges….right Mom??? She loves homemade salads and back in her day she was quite a cook herself, probably something she learned from her mother, who made the most delicious family meals during the holidays. I see a lot of my mother in my grandmother. Two great ladies, may the elder rest in peace.

So here is to mothers across the nation. To their sons and daughters, husbands and partners, thank and love them, not just today, but every day of the year. Mother’s Day is there to remind us of how special moms are and to reflect on what they do for us.  A wise older man told me once “cherish your mother, because you only get one in life…” No truer words can be spoken. Mom, I love you very much and I hope you enjoy your special day!