Liking Mike Pettine

Okay, I know it is just the second week of the NFL, and I know the thrilling last-minute win over the Saints today is just one win. I know that it is a long season and, the Browns being the Browns, many bad things — horrible things, unspeakable things, impossible things — can and inevitably will happen.  I haven’t totally lost touch with reality (I think).

But, I’m willing to declare this:  I’m liking what I’m seeing of Mike Pettine, the Browns’ new head coach, so far.

I liked the way Pettine handled last week’s first half debacle against the Steelers, and the way the and his staff got the team turned around and ready to play the second half.  When the Browns came roaring back he kept his cool, and he maintained his composure even when the team lost a heartbreaker.  That’s not easy, but it’s essential in pro football.  The coach has to keep a level head, and Pettine looks like he has that ability.  Today we saw more of that.

We also saw one other crucial thing:  players making key plays at critical moments.  In pro football, the margin for error is so slim that one play can be dispositive.  Today the key play was a third down sack that kept the Saints out of field goal position and gave the Browns a chance to come back.  In past years, for whatever reason, that play doesn’t get made.  This year it did, and the Browns then didn’t implode in the two-minute offense.  I credit the coaches for the team’s ability to execute when the chips were down.

Pettine not only keeps his cool, he looks cool, with the shaved head and shades.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he might finally be the head coach we’ve needed.

Is Baseball Doomed?

On our drive back to Columbus today, we listened to satellite radio because the Virginia and West Virginia mountains interfere with decent reception on FM and AM channels.  We turned to ESPN radio to catch reaction to the Buckeyes’ big win last night and listened to its programming for about three hours straight.

As you would expect, there was discussion of last night’s NCAA Tournament games and also of today’s games, but to my surprise there was at least an equal amount of spirited discussion of . . . the NFL.  This, even though the Super Bowl was played more than a month ago, the draft isn’t for weeks yet, and even “pre-season” games won’t occur for months.  Although we are into the off-season for the NFL — to the extent there is an NFL off-season anymore — the talking heads wanted to yak about the trade of Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, the punishment meted out for “bounty-gate,” and the move of Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos, among other topics.

In contrast, there was no discussion of Major League Baseball, even though spring training is winding down and the start of the season is right around the corner.  What does it tell you about the popularity and financial health of a sport if even a 24-hour sports channel doesn’t talk about it on the eve of a new season?

Baseball used to be the most popular sport in the land, but it has long since been passed by college and professional football — and now the NFL is pushing Major League Baseball ever farther into the back of the bus.  If I were the owner of a pro baseball franchise, saddled with huge player contracts and long-term leases and looking at declining TV ratings, I’d be very concerned, indeed.

Bounty (And Headline) Hunting

I’m sure Members of Congress are scratching their heads about why their approval ratings in opinion polls are flirting with the single digits.  “We are public servants who work hard,” they no doubt rationalize.  “Why can’t the American people see that and appreciate what we do for them?”

Here’s a partial answer to that question. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat and the assistant majority leader in the Senate, has announced he’s going to hold hearings on the “bounty” issue in the NFL in order to decide whether bribery laws should be expanded to include professional sports bounties.  For those of you whose attention was distracted from that topic of crucial national importance by minor issues like skyrocketing gas prices, crushing federal debt, and the continued crappy economy, the NFL recently disciplined members of the New Orleans Saints for running a “bounty” pool in which players were paid if they put a hit on key players for the opposing team and knocked them out of the game.

Such bounties are cheap and dirty stuff, of course, and aren’t consistent with time-honored concepts of sportsmanship, but it’s silly to think they should command even one instant of Congress’ time.  This isn’t a federal issue, it’s an effort by another of our political leaders to grab some headlines and on-camera time with grandstanding about an issue that isn’t of any material significance.  No doubt some staffer in Senator Durbin’s office, whose salary is paid by tax dollars, decided that hearings about NFL bounties would be a way to get the Senator some face time with big stars and boost his recognition ratings — and I’m sure other Senators will be perfectly happy to join in.

As a country, we’ve got a lot of problems that our politicians should be addressing.  Sports bounties aren’t one of them.  Instead, they’re just a distraction that politicians invent to keep people from focusing on the fact that they aren’t doing their jobs.  The problem for Congress is that people aren’t distracted — they’re paying attention, and they are sick and tired of these stupid political games that continue to be played while the frightening, fundamental problems go unaddressed.