Bills again settle for mediocity

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive my father.

No, not for the manner in which he raised me. He was excellent in that regard, to the point where I could thank him every minute of every day for the rest of his life, and it wouldn’t do the man justice. No, where my father went wrong — horrifically, unforgivably wrong — was raising me as a Buffalo Bills fan.

And I guess it’s not entirely his fault. My father was born in Buffalo and spent over half his life making a living there. I was also born in Buffalo. Loving the Bills is just par for the course.

FAILED THERE

But in the past 15 years, par for the course has turned into one triple-bogey after another.

The latest such triple-bogey is the Bills’ hiring of Chan Gailey as their new head coach. This, more than Wade Philips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron is a hiring that defies logic. In all former cases, the Bills hiring was due to exemplary performance by an offensive or defensive coordinator (Philips, Williams, Mularkey) or recent success by a head coach (Jauron in his 13-3 season with Chicago).

Gailey, on the other hand, has left a trail of ineptitude at almost every stop in the past 12 years. His lone saving grace was helping Miami’s offense push the team to consecutive 11-5 records in the early 2000’s. A look at his other positions paints a much bleaker picture.

In his two seasons as a head coach in Dallas, Gailey guided the team to the playoffs. In his two seasons as a head coach in Dallas, his Cowboys suffered lopsided losses, and after the second of those — a 27-10 beating at the hands of the Vikings — he was unceremoniously dismissed. His next coaching stop was the NCAA, where his Georgia Tech squads were a picture of mediocrity. Never did Gailey achieve better than a 9-5 record, and his 2-4 record in bowl games doesn’t speak well of his ability to coach players up for the seasons’s most important contests. Combine that with his NFL playoff record, and Gailey is a miserable 2-6.

Buffalo is hedging its bets on 2-6.

FAILED THERE TOO

If that wasn’t bad enough, Gailey’s last job was as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his two-year tenure, Kansas City achieved — and I mean “achieved” as derisively as possible — 2-14 and 4-12 records. Those tie for the two worst records in the history of the Chiefs franchise. And in case you were wondering what the Chiefs ranked offensively in those two years, hold on to your butts. Twenty-fourth in 2008, twenty-fifth in 2009.

Sure sounds like a great hire for a team that has finished in the bottom seven in total offense each of the past six seasons.

And that’s what this hire comes down to; a team that ignores its needs. A team that is content to put out a middling, uninspired product every year.

Fans all across New York are terrified at the prospect of this Bills team moving to Toronto or Los Angeles, and another three (or however many) years of non-winning football will not do anything to quell that fear. Small markets are becoming increasingly unviable as a financial entity, and with Ralph Wilson getting older every year, the pieces are unfortunately in place for the Bills to be the next team stripped from its fan base and sold to a city that won’t give a damn about it.

Winning football changes that. There’s a reason the Green Bay Packers are never talked about as a team that could move cross-country. There’s a reason the New Orleans Saints are never talked about as a team that would be uprooted and shipped to the City of Angels. That reason, in both cases, is winning football.

Without it — as the Bills surely will be until they get a quarterback and a proven coach — the reasons for the team to stay in Buffalo get lesser by the year.

YOU GUESSED IT, FAILED THERE TOO

I’m not sure that Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier or any of the other potential candidates could have turned this Bills team around. The fact is, Bills fans aren’t getting the chance to find out, and that’s what hurts the most. Again, Bills fans are given a coach that doesn’t fit the team and a coach without a winning pedigree and without a past full of successes to lean on.

Thanks for nothing, dad. Thanks for nothing.

– Jordan Rogowski

Rex Ryan: Master of discretion

Sports fans often talk about how they want more personality from their favorite players. From coaches. From owners and general managers. And while that sounds great in theory, in practice, personality can be a pretty ugly thing.

Just ask Rex Ryan.

Actually, don’t ask Rex Ryan. Ask one of the NFL players he’s publicly slandered this year. Ask Miami Dolphins defensive back Will Allen about Ryan. Back in October, Ryan was asked during a conference call with South Florida journalists what he felt about Allen being lost for the season due to injury, and this is how he replied:

“I don’t care about that,” Ryan said. “We lost a Pro Bowl nose tackle and a Pro Bowl running back. So boo hoo hoo.”

As if that wasn’t crass enough, the always-opinionated Ryan offered this:

“No disrespect to Will Allen, but I don’t think he’s going to make a Pro Bowl anytime soon. He’s a decent player, but whatever.”

If not disrespect, what exactly was Ryan going for? Ryan is a lot of things — crass, opinionated and tactless all come to mind — but stupid isn’t one of them. He knew just what he was saying, and he knew there was no respect offered in asserting that an opposing player isn’t good enough to make a Pro Bowl. That he thinks so is one thing, that he would think nothing of saying it to the national media is another entirely.

And Ryan wasn’t done there.

More recently, the outspoken coach appeared perturbed at a recent press conference after learning of Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers being selected as NFL Defensive Player of the Year. When asked what he thought of Woodson winning the award, Ryan was, as usual, not at a loss for words:

“A number that I think would be interesting is eight,” said Ryan. “And no that’s not the amount of touchdown passes Green Bay gave up against Arizona.”

Not content to speak ill of  just of individual players, Ryan decided to be more inclusive and take pot-shots at an entire team. The idea, seemingly, was to imply Woodson is less deserving because of the Packers’ defensive performance in last weekend’s Wild Card game. It was as much an implication that had Darrelle Revis donned the green-and-gold, such a performance would not have taken place.

“It is unfortunate that you can’t get a higher individual award than that award,” Ryan added.

If it was just Ryan lobbying for his player, that would be one thing. Admirable, even. There’s not a player in the NFL who wouldn’t love a coach going to bat for him. A coach that speaks at length about his players’ merits and achievements. But that’s not the case with Ryan, and it hasn’t been all season. Rather than engage the media positively, he has opted for cynicism, condescension and disrespect.

Ryan is supposed to be above that level of youthful braggadocio. He’s supposed to be the figurehead of an organization that lets its on-field play do all of the talking.

Instead, Ryan lets his mouth run. It outruns Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. It outruns even the most basic level of prudence.

Ryan better hope he keeps winning, or it’s going to run him straight out of town.

– Jordan Rogowski

UFC 108: The weigh-ins

After a warm and inspired welcome from Joe Rogan, the crowd amassed at MGM Grand Garden Arena this afternoon was treated to introductions of the usuals: Dana, Lorenzo, Bruce Buffer, et al. Before the applause could even decay in the slightest, Rogan began a rapid-fire run of fighter weigh-ins and introductions, beginning with the undercard, moving onto the Spike broadcast fights, and then into the PPV card.

Everyone cut successfully, save for a naked Paul Daley, who came in at two pounds over and was immediately met with boos from the onlookers. Tough crowd.

Additionally, all fighters were overly cordial and respectful of their opponents, as bro-hugs outnumbered cold stare-downs at a ratio of 9:1. That one exception? Dan Lauzon and Cole Miller. Tension rose from the second D-Lau hit the stage and culminated in Dana White having to push both fighters apart after extended unpleasantries became physical. It was readily apparent that these combatants are looking to rip each others arm’s off in less than 24 hours.

GASB is very comfortable in supposing that D. Lauzon vs. Cole Miller will garner either “Fight of the Night” or “Submission of the Night.” Be sure to catch this one on Spike before the PPV hits air.

Following the Lauzon/Miller flare-up, Martin Kampmann and Jacob Volkmann took the stage. Volkmann looked like he didn’t need to cut much to make 170, yet Kampmann clearly had to cut quite a bit. Expect Kampmann to come into the cage the bigger fighter.

The biggest pops of the afternoon came for introductions of former Pride star Gilbert Yvel to the UFC (clearly a lot of well-versed fans in the crowd), his opponent Junior dos Santos (as Rogan put it “expect nothing short of fireworks from these two”), and Sam Stout (perhaps a lot of Canadians flew down for this?).

The boo-birds were out in force for Rashad. GASB is going to guesstimate a 50-50 love/hate ratio from Friday’s crowd. Meanwhile, hardly any in attendance seemed familiar with Dustin Hazelette or Duane Ludwig. Thiago Silva commanded respect from all in attendance, though GASB had hoped for a pantomimed throat slice to really seal the deal.

Following the rather quick formalities, GASB filed out into MGM Grand common areas, running into a good number of non-card fighters milling about. Of note: a very gaunt-looking Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Clearly the staph still had a hold on him and most fans were afraid to even approach for signatures and the usual fare. Those that did were asked politely by Big Nog’s handlers to give the legendary fighter space before eventually whisking him quickly out of sight.

GASB was delighted to encounter Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in good spirits. As many reading know, his last appearance resulted in a loss (choke) to Josh Koscheck. Rumble looked to be in great spirits and at peace around the UFC faithful. More importantly, it was visibly apparent that getting caught in the last fight inspired even more work in the gym for Johnson, as he appeared clearly ready for whatever Zuffa has in store for him next.

We are now less than 24 hours away from the live event. Stay tuned!

GASB at UFC 108

Undeterred by two lost bags and nerve-rattling connection delays, GASB landed safe and sound yesterday in Las Vegas for the equally cursed UFC 108.

In spite of over 330,000 other human beings wanting to be in town to ring in 2010, the crowds so far have completely manageable and the overall reception quite warm for this East-coaster.

The staff at the brand new Vdara resort saw fit to assign GASB to a corner suite 41 floors up, which provided the optimal vantage point for Aria’s midnight New Year’s fireworks display. It was completely fantastic and GASB highly recommends the Vdara for your next journey to the desert.

Weigh-ins start in about an hour. Stay tuned for coverage throughout the weekend.

George Michael R.I.P.

Legendary Washington, D.C. sportscaster George Michael has passed under complications from his chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

GASB would like to extend warm condolences to George’s family and fans worldwide, as we surely consider ourselves part of the latter.

In many ways, George Michael’s life and innovative approach to sports journalism served as massive catalysts for change, changes that arguably shaped the current landscape of sports media. It is believed by many that the syndicated The George Michael Sports Machine weekly highlight show was the precursor and inspiration behind ESPN’s SportsCenter. Michael was also the first to hire female sportscasters (such as Bonnie Bernstein) for both his radio and television endeavors.

Pardon the Interruption co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon both got their starts under the wing of Michael and many former players (Joe Theismann, Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins) successfully transitioned into broadcasting with George’s guiding hand at the front end.

NASCAR, pro bull-riding, and even the WWF/WWE got equal attention from Michael’s radio and television shows when literally NO OTHER “legitimate” sports broadcast would touch any with 10-foot pole. In his own words, Michael instantly recognized the broad and largely hidden appeal of such sporting and sport-entertainment endeavors and felt an obligation to break barriers in order to cover both the traditional, mainstream brands (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) and the more “blue-collar” brands completely shunned elsewhere at the time.

Beyond the influence, George Michael was a magnanimous human being.

When management at a radio station he directed informed him that staff would have to be cut, Michael voluntarily quit in order to free up salary, enabling lower-level employees to keep their jobs. He repeated this action at NBC in 2006, voluntarily ending his syndicated show in order to keep the dreams of younger sportscasters on staff alive and keep them employed.

It was also not uncommon for Michael to lead off or stop the flow of his programs in order to extend injured players and their families well-wishes, whether home team players, rivals, or otherwise. And when former co-workers or figures in the community would pass or hit a patch of illness, George Michael was the first person on the phone, in the hospital, or at the funeral home, routinely checking in with all involved.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any disparaging or negative accounts from anyone who ever crossed paths with George Michael. He shaped an industry and expanded our definition of “sport” many times over, all while being an exemplary leader in his community and at home.

We should all strive to be as bold and hard-working as George Michael, as he will truly be missed.

UFC 107 preview

The time has come for another UFC major card. I must say that I am impressed with the UFC’s roster size and ability to put forth so many events so quickly. This card is littered with former champions and title contenders facing off against one another in what promises to be an exciting main card.

THE MAIN EVENT:

B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez:

I believe that this is a wonderful main event.

B.J. Penn has proven to be an excellent lightweight champion ever since he got over his delusions of weight-jumping grandeur and decided to settle on his own weight class. Diego is as worthy a challenger as any who had much success at welterweight and has come down the 155lb class on a four-fight win streak.

I consider B.J. Penn to be one of the most complete fighters mixed martial arts has ever seen.

PENN AND KILLER

His excellent boxing coupled with his insane flexibility and Jiu-jitsu pedigree gives any potential challenger nightmares. To top it all off, the man has a chin that appears to be made out of concrete. At this point in his career he has beaten strikers, wrestlers and Jiu-jitsu Blackbelts of all shapes and sizes. His only recent stumblings have come against the truly elite fighters in higher weight classes.

However, there is a type of fighter that inhabits the lightweight division that he has not yet fought. I refer to these types as “scramblers.” Guys like Clay Guida, Gil Melendez, Frankie Edgar. Guys that attempt to grind out victories, but at a much faster pace than a Matt Hughes or a Gray Maynard. Among scramblers, Diego Sanchez is king.

Diego makes this fight interesting for a number of reasons.

He has never been finished in 23 fights, He has an endless supply of stamina, and he has improved every time he steps into the cage. In his first five-round fight I believe he will make this match interesting.

B.J.’s most difficult opponent in any fight is his own gas tank. We watched him basically hand Matt Hughes a victory in their rematch, and we also watched him all but throw in the towel in his first fight with Georges St. Pierre and then literally throw in the towel in their rematch. His win over Kenny Florian was impressive, but Kenny did not push a pace anywhere near the one that Diego will.

I believe Diego’s best chance at victory is to attempt to merely outpoint Penn for the first three or four rounds without over-committing.

Since B.J. relies solely on his boxing, leg kicks and body kicks with an attack and retreat style are his best option. As Penn’s strength fades he should slowly turn up the juice on his strikes until the final bell sounds. Engaging Penn on the ground is a dicey affair and while I think Diego’s ground striking ability is solid I don’t think he will be able to maintain top position long enough in the opening rounds to land meaningful strikes, that is if he even managed to thwart Penn’s legendary takedown defense.

RISE AND SANCHEZ

All that aside, I don’t see Diego being the man to dethrone Penn.

My crystal ball shows Penn landing the more meaningful strikes until Sanchez shoots for a leg. I then see B.J. sweeping, hopping on his back and securing the rear naked choke in the third round.

THE UNDERCARD:

Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo:

While Kongo is a very gigantic, very serious kick boxer, he also has takedown defense akin to an NFL quarterback. While Mir loves talking about how he is going to keep the fight standing like a “warrior” we all know how this one ends. Mir clinches against the cage, lands some weak punches and then sweeps Kongo onto his back. From there he wonders momentarily about which of Kongo’s appendages he will grab before securing a submission.

Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce:

(See Jon Fitch vs. everyone not named Georges St. Pierre.)

Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida:

This fight will be exciting.

"NAH, I'M GOOD. SERIOUSLY. NO, PUT THE STITCHES AWAY."

I see Guida pushing a pace that Florian can’t handle for three rounds en route to an upset unanimous decision victory. I don’t think that Kenny will be able to fend off all of Guida’s takedowns nor do I think that he will be able to sweep him. He could, however, prove me wrong.

Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve:

This is what I like to see: a giant, one-dimensional fighter vs. even-bigger, one-dimensional fighter. Struve certainly has potential given his size and his age, but I think that Buentello has been around too long to fall for anything Stefan throws at him. Look for Struve to get chin checked several times leading to a TKO early in round 2.

That does it for UFC 107 see you next time for what may come be known as UFC 108: Injuries are a pain in the ass.

– Tony Silipigno

English Premier League Preview: Gameweek 16

Stoke City vs. Wigan:
The inconsistency of Wigan should leave the door open for Tony Pulis and the Potters to grab all three points.

Prediction: 1-0

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Birmingham vs. West Ham:
Birmingham are playing really good football right now.

They haven’t been letting too many in at the back and that gives you the confidence to put them in at the other end. West Ham are the opposite struggling up front with the absence of Carlton Cole and conceding too many at the back.

Prediction: 2-0

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Bolton vs. Man City:
Bolton have taken four points from their last five games and are currently one of the worst teams in the league. They don’t contain any real goal scoring threats and that makes winning games difficult.

Man City are coming off a big win last week against league leaders Chelsea and will look solidify that win and their position with three more points.

Prediction: 0-3

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Burnley vs. Fulham:
Fulham are on a great run of form. Solid at the back and creative up front. They are streaky away from home and Burnley have been their best on their own turf. This should be a battle from the start, and should Fulham have just enough to knick this one.

Prediction: 0-1

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Chelsea vs. Everton:
Chelsea are dealing with a few injuries, but have more than enough depth that it shouldn’t be a problem. They have struggled a bit for the past couple matches, but they just have too much quality for that continue. Everton will put up a fight, but I don’t see it working out for them.

Prediction: 2-0

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Hull City vs. Blackburn:
Hull suffered an injury to the back bone of their midfield, Bullard last weekend. Blackburn can put up a fight when they want to. This game will probably be a dud though.

Prediction: 0-0

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Sunderland vs. Portsmouth:
Sunderland started the season off strong but have really struggled as of late, and well, Portsmouth have struggled all season, on and off the pitch. The financial situation of the club has to be such a distraction to the players. This will probably be the game Sunderland get out of their current rut.

Prediction: 2-0

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Tottenham vs Wolves:
Spurs let one slip away last week and will look to hit back with a vengeance this week against a Wolves side who are dreadful in the back. It’s not really a matter of who will win as much as how many can Tottenham score.

Prediction: 3-0

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Manchester United vs. Aston Villa:
United are really struggling with injuries right now, especially in the back. Midfielders as makeshift defenders, yet still able to get the result. I guess you shouldn’t expect any less from a Sir Alex side. This means they are ripe for the picking against a Villa side who have looked good as of late. Expect them to hit United on the counter.

Prediction: 2-2

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Liverpool vs. Arsenal:
When two of the Big Four meet it is always a good match. Torres should be back and Gerrard is hitting some form. And Arsenal have some injury problems up front. Liverpool have something to prove, and now would be the time to do that. I think the Reds will fancy their chances against a Gunners side that lacks that goal-scoring threat.

Prediction: 1-0

-Brent Lakes