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A Jolting Story For All Parents
by Andy Pollin
Jun 27, 2015 -- 10:49am
ESPN 980

The headline in the Metro section of Saturday’s Washington Post reads:

 

“2 Md. Teens killed when car smashes into tree”

 

Sub headlines:

 

POLICE:  GROUP WAS AT DRINKING PARTY

Speed, alcohol believed to be contributing factors

 

Take out the reference to Maryland and you can place those same headlines in dozens of newspapers across the country – especially at this time of year.  Teen drinking and driving sometimes leads to tragedy and it has once again.

 

As the Post story points out, “The crash is emblematic of what AAA considers a disturbing and persistent phenomenon:  Teen drivers, especially when they are out of school for the summer, are involved in frequent fatal crashes.  The driver advocacy organization released a report last month calling for the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day the “100 Deadliest Days,” a reference to the fact that teen fatalities typically climb during that period.”

 

This one really hits home for me and not just because if happened only a few miles from my home.  The two 18-year-olds who died were from the recently graduated class of 2015 at Wootton High School.  So was the driver, who’s hospitalized in critical condition and the front-seat passenger who escaped with minor injuries.  As you may know, both of my kids went to Wootton.  And as hard as I tried to point them in the right direction, I’m not naïve enough to think they never put themselves in a dangerous position involving cars and alcohol.  I know I did and was damn lucky not to have anything terrible happen.  And I believe there’s some luck involved in both of my kids growing up to be healthy adults.

 

When I was growing up, the drinking age was 18 and I, like most of my friends, still didn’t wait.  We were underage drinkers and sometimes, irresponsible drivers and passengers.  What happened just before midnight on Thursday in North Potomac could have happened to me as a teenager – maybe it could have happened to you.

 

Police say the group of four had been at a party where there had been underage drinking.  Going what was described as “very fast” in a 30-mph zone, the Post reported, “In one fleeting moment, the 18-year old driver lost control of the vehicle.  It veered into a driveway, vaulting into the air and thudding into a tree.  It struck another tree and a fence and overturned by the time it came to rest in a homeowner’s side driveway, according to authorities.”  A few cans of beer were found in the car’s wreckage.

 

The front-seat passenger who suffered the minor injuries is identified as being 17-years-old and because of his age, has not been named.  The two back-seat passengers who died were Alexander Murk and Calvin Jia-Xing Li, both 18 and both former football teammates of the driver – Samuel Joseph Ellis, who the story identifies as, “the school’s star quarterback.”

 

I saw Sam Ellis play at Wootton in the fall of 2013 when he was a junior.  Wootton ran a pass-oriented spread offense with speedy receivers including Trayvon Diggs, the younger brother of former Maryland star Stefon Diggs.  In fact, Stefon walked the sidelines in the game I attended.  Later that season, Ellis broke the Maryland state record with 557 passing yards in a game against Rockville.  At that level, he was a star.  Ellis looked like he could have played college football, maybe even Division 1.

 

Obviously an athlete of that level in the insular world of a suburban high school was considered a leader.  It’s likely he felt invincible and his former teammates followed his leadership that fateful night – as misguided as it was. 

 

In the time it took for his speeding car to leave the road and hit the tree  - an instant - he forever changed the lives of the families of the two victims and his own.  Speeding with passengers and alcohol in the car may have been the only big mistake Sam Ellis ever made in his young life, but it was a mistake that will last forever.

 

The story says he was accepted to the University of South Carolina.  It doesn’t say if he planned to play football.  Whatever the case, a lawyer friend tells me Ellis is more likely to spend time behind bars than in a Columbia, South Carolina bar.

 

I don’t have solutions to this tragic problem.  I said what many parents say to their teenage kids, “Don’t ever get into a car with someone who’s been drinking.  If you’re in a position where you need a ride home, call at any time of the night and I’ll come get you with no questions asked.  And if you’re at a home and you’ve been drinking, it’s best to spend the night there.”

 

I don’t know if they always followed those rules, but at least they were never arrested and are alive and well today in their mid 20’s.  I wish they would have waited until their 21st birthdays to start drinking, but I also knew about the fake ID’s they took to college.  If you’re a parent you know there are no easy answers here.  You just pray for the best.

 

This crash has left two dead, one slightly injured and one with life threatening injuries, who will carry the burden of this tragedy, if he survives, for the rest of his life.  The story does not say if Ellis was driving drunk, so we don’t yet know the full truth.  But we do know the consequences and they are devastating. 

 

 


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Silencing the "Sportsradio" Song of Summer
by Andy Pollin
Jun 22, 2015 -- 4:08pm
ESPN 980

What we call “sportsradio” was invented July 1, 1987 with the debut of WFAN in New York City.  Which means that for 28 years some of us have been yakking about sports all day and all night on the radio.  And for 26 of those years, there has been what I call “the sportsradio song of summer” – the sure-to-fill the phones question, “should Pete Rose get in the Hall of Fame?”

 

This question usually gets tossed out during that six -week period between the end of the NBA Finals and the opening of NFL training camps when you need a go-to topic.  Rose and the Hall of Fame always fills the bill.  There are clear-cut sides to take and everybody seems to have an opinion. 

 

Rose, as you know, was banned from baseball for life in the summer of 1989 by then Commissioner Bart Giamatti.  And though Rose wasn’t allowed to have any involvement in the game, the Hall of Fame door was not closed at the time.  I attended the Giamatti news conference to announce the banishment and I recall the commissioner being asked about the Hall of Fame.  Giamatti, addressing the Hall of Fame voters, many of whom were there, said he’d be interested to see how they voted once Rose Became eligible.  At the time, Rose had been retired as a player for less than three years. It would be another two years before he could even be considered. 

 

A month later, Giamatti died of a heart attack and a year later the Hall of Fame passed a new rule that anybody who was banned from the game couldn’t be considered for induction.  It took the bat out of the voter’s hands.  Bummer for the voters, gold for us sportsradio guys.  We now had a hot-button topic available at any time on slow days. 

 

Over the years, my position never changed.  Rose should be in.  Even after he admitted in 2004 that he’d bet on baseball, he said he did so only as a manager – never as a player.  As recently as April, on ESPN’s New York affiliate, he told host Michael Kay, “Never bet as a player.  That’s a fact.”

 

My feeling was that Rose should be considered only as a player and collecting more hits than anybody in the history of the game made him worthy of the Hall of Fame.  Banish him from working in the game – yes.  Banish him from the Hall of Fame – no.

 

Well, now it looks like my argument and Pete’s argument no longer holds water.  Thanks to more of the usual great reporting from ESPN’s TJ Quinn and Willie Weinbaum, documents have been uncovered that show Rose bet extensively on baseball and his team, the Reds, when he was still an active player in 1986.  Oops.

 

That was a piece of the puzzle that was missing from John Dowd’s investigation of  Rose’s gambling activities for Major League Baseball.  Said Dowd to ESPN, “This does it.  This closes the door.”

 

The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini.  The pages clearly show Bertolini placing bets for Rose.  The notebook was taken as part of a mail fraud investigation unrelated to gambling.  Dowd tried to get a hold of that notebook, but was unable to.  He says it would have proven that Rose was betting with mob-connected bookmakers in New York. 

 

And the notebook shows that Rose was in deep.  From March through July, Rose bet on at least one major league team on 30 different days.  And he gambled on games he played in.  Even if he never bet against his team, the implications are awful.  As Dowd says, “The mob had a mortgage on Pete while he was a player and a manager.”

 

The timing of this ESPN report is interesting.  In March, Rose applied to new Commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement.  Manfred said he would consider it and with the All Star game being played this year in Cincinnati, it was reasonable to think that Manfred could use the occasion to deliver some feel-good news to Reds fans.  Now forget it.  And there goes our sportsradio song of summer.

 

As Dowd says, “This closes the door.”  And as the late Bart Giamatti said 26 summers ago, “Pete Rose has stained the game.”

 

It now appears that stain is permanent.

 

 


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A Fond Farewell to a Community Friend
by Andy Pollin
Jun 13, 2015 -- 1:18pm
ESPN 980

Read it and weep:

 

“The Gazette newspaper in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties will print their final edition June 18 after 55 years of publishing.”

 

Those two lines appeared in a story in the Washington Post on Saturday – or maybe Friday.  Everything comes out online first, so you don’t really know anymore.  And more and more everything is being read online only anyway, which is another reason the end came for the Gazette.

 

The Post actually owned the paper and tried to sell it, but couldn’t make it happen.  These are not good days for any newspaper, much less one that is delivered for free.  The print advertising the Gazette relied on has gone mostly to social media.  Financially it just didn’t make sense anymore to keep it running.

 

Maybe for you, the Gazette was just something you had to pick up on your driveway every Wednesday.  Perhaps it went directly to the recycling bin.  I read it.  Not page by page, but there was always something that caught my eye that I couldn’t get anywhere else.  And it gave me something that’s hard to find when you live in a large metropolitan area – a sense of community. 

 

The Gazette didn’t just cover the counties of Montgomery and PG, it was divided up into papers that covered the towns of the counties.  I received the “Rockville Gazette.”  Even after my kids had long graduated from Wootton High School, it still made me feel good seeing a photo of an athlete from Wootton or a story about one of it’s students achieving something great.  I’ve often said on the air that there are weeks where I never leave Rockville.  I’ve liked having a newspaper that covers an area where I spend most of my time.

 

The closing of the paper will cost 70 people their jobs, including Kent Zakour, who covered Montgomery County sports for a decade.  On finding out his fate, he tweeted, “We are all out of a job.  Such is the life of journalism.”

 

He’s right about that, I can tell you firsthand.  More than 30 years ago, I was called to a meeting with 35 of my co-workers to be told that the radio station we worked for that did news and talk was changing formats to oldies and we were all out of a job.  But there were other stations on the dial doing what we were doing.  Listeners who liked news and talk had other places to go.  The Gazette is not replaceable.  

 

Six years ago, Kent did a story on my son’s youth league baseball team.  At that time, he and his teammates were getting ready to graduate high school.  What made their team a story was that they had been together since they had played tee ball together in first grade.  With very little turnover, essentially the same group of kids played fall and spring seasons together the entire time they were growing up – over a decade.  On top of that, the same dad, who had twin sons on the team, coached every single game.  It was a nice feel-good story and it was local.  For the final team party, we had the article framed with pictures of the team through the years surrounding it and presented it to the coach.  Unlike some Internet story that floats away into cyberspace, that will endure forever.

 

Yes you can call me an old fart.  There he goes again, railing about how things aren’t as good as they used to be.  Okay, but consider the words of a 29-year-old journalist, who’s plenty upset about this. 

 

Brian Stetler, who grew up in Damascus (that’s mentioned on his Wikipedia page, right after his date of birth), is the senior media correspondent for CNN and host of “Reliable Sources.”  He previously covered media for the New York Times. Stetler got his start in high school at the Gazette and wrote on his CNN blog:

 

“By writing for it, the Gazette helped make me into a real reporter; by reading it every week, the paper deepened my affection for the town where I grew up.  It didn’t matter that the newspaper only reached 5,000 readers.  What mattered is they were the right 5,000 – the business owners, the teachers, the pastors and the townsfolk who made Damascus a place, not just a pit stop on the way to Mount Airy or Gaithersburg.”

 

Everybody and everything is replaceable.  Just about everything.  After next week the Gazette will be gone, taking with it more than just a free newspaper.

 

 


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"Strasmas" Five Years Later
by Andy Pollin
Jun 04, 2015 -- 1:56pm
ESPN 980

June 8th is the fifth anniversary of what Sports Illustrated called, “The most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen.”  Stephen Strasburg pitched his first game for the Washington Nationals and the entire sports world watched with it’s mouth open in awe..

 

Hard to believe just five years later the pitcher who gave us visions of greats like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens now sits on the disabled list with a record of 3-5 and a disturbing 6.55 ERA.  What was supposed to be the Nats ace of the next decade is now very much a question mark.

 

And it’s not like he’s been a bust, or even an RGIII-like flash in the pan.  Strasburg’s career numbers are quite good:  119 starts, a 46-35 record and a very good ERA of 3.25.  It’s just that the immortal greatness that flashed on that June night at three-year old Nationals Park hasn’t been there as often as some of us as Nats fans might have hoped for.  And like RGIII, it’s makes you wonder if we’ve already seen the best of Strasburg.  Will Strasmas ever return?

 

To take you back to that Strasmas night – June 8, 2010, I’ll rely on the accounts of two great baseball writers – Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post and Jayson Stark of ESPN.  Both were there that night.

 

ESPN TV had spent the entire day outside the ballpark with Tim Kirkjian setting the scene hour after hour.  Sheinin called it, “A spectacular collision of two of the most powerful forces today, a once-in-a-generation baseball phenom and the assembled might of the media hype machine in the Internet age.”  He added this:

 

Never had the nation's capital, or perhaps the nation itself, seen a professional athlete debut with so much hype and media saturation. The team handed out more than 200 media credentials -- equivalent to a late-October playoff game -- as an otherwise pedestrian early-June game was transformed into the most singular sort of Washington event.

Longtime District residents were comparing the anticipation for Strasburg's debut to that of a presidential inauguration. Longtime sports fans were searching their memories for comparable events: Perhaps Michael Jordan's debut with the Washington Wizards in 2001? The return of Coach Joe Gibbs to the Redskins in 2004? Maybe even the Redskins' last Super Bowl team in 1991?

"The attention rivals anything I've ever seen in sports," said Nationals team president Stan Kasten, who has been running sports franchises since 1979. "For us, this is as big as it gets. We've got a World Series-sized media contingent here for a Tuesday game against the Pirates."

 

It was going to take a spectacular performance to live up to that kind of hype.  Well on that magical night, Strasburg not only lived up to the hype – he over-delivered on it. 

 

By the time his night was over, Strasburg had gone seven innings against the Pirates with two earned runs allowed, no walks and an incredible 14 strikeouts including the last seven Pittsburgh batters he faced.  Brooklyn’s Karl Spooner (1954) and Houston’s JR Richard (1971) each had 15 strikeouts in his debut, but each went nine innings.

 

It led Stark, who’d been covering baseball for more than 30 years to wonder if he had not seen the greatest debut by any pitcher in history and write this:

 

“14 strikeouts and no walks?  No pitcher who ever lived has done THAT in a major league debut.  And that, let’s remember, is 15 seasons worth of major league debuts by something in the neighborhood of 1.87 billion pitchers.”

 

Yes Stark exaggerated the size of the neighborhood, but it shows you how far the performance put a veteran scribe over the edge. 

 

Sheinin called it the most significant moment in the history of the Washington Nationals.  And at that point, he was absolutely right.  The team had lost 103 games the season before which had put them in position to draft Bryce Harper number one overall the day before.  It really felt like the dawning of a new age.

 

Stark wrote, “There’s nothing but pure dominance in Strasburg’s rearview mirror.  And there’s no reason to think there won’t be a whole lot more goose bump evenings like this one ahead.”

 

Strasburg would take the mound 11 more times in that 2010 season, drawing sellout crowds home and on the road.  He landed on the cover of SI and his jersey became the number one seller in baseball.  His numbers were everything you could have hoped for from a rookie pitcher.  In 12 starts he went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and an incredible 92 strikeouts in 68 innings.

 

And just like that it was over.

 

In late August, the Nationals announced that Strasburg would undergo Tommy John elbow surgery, putting him out for at least a year.  Boom goes the dynamite!

 

Strasburg would return late in 2011 and looked almost as good as new in 2012, which only ramped up the nationwide baseball debate.  The Nationals put the recovery plan of the Tommy John surgery at two years.  No matter what happened that season, Strasburg would be shut down in September.  Period.  General Manager Mike Rizzo held his ground and said the plan wouldn’t change. 

 

Strasburg had his best year, going 15-6 with an ERA of 3.16, but was a spectator as the Nats went down in five games to St. Louis in the NLCS.  He followed with an 8-9 year in 2013, but didn’t get much support.  His 3.00 ERA was 5th best in the National League.  And last year he made every start and led the league in strikeouts with 242 to go with a 14-11 record and a 3.14 ERA.  His one start in the postseason lasted only five innings, he gave up eight hits, but only one earned run and took the loss.

 

It all adds up to very good, but not the fireworks we envisioned five Junes ago.  Strasmas?  As Stark put it, “pure dominance” is in Strasburg’s rearview mirror, the question now is, is it in the front windshield?

 

 

 

 


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Emmitt vs Barry - A Man Cave Debate
by Andy Pollin
May 29, 2015 -- 2:23pm
ESPN 980

I’m not exactly sure how Jason Reid and I stumbled into the argument, but it began off the air.  He was talking about Barry Sanders and I said, as I always do when Sanders name comes up, that I’d take Emmitt Smith over Sanders a hundred times out of a hundred.  Jason obviously disagreed and before we knew it, egged on by Chris Paul, we were going at it on the air. 

 

Jason stands firmly behind Sanders’ numbers, which are great.  Over the course of his 10-year career, Sanders became the fourth all time leading rusher with 15,269 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry, which ties him for the second-best average of all time.  And the line he played behind was admittedly not as good as the one Emmitt played behind. 

 

But I go by the eye test.  And my eyes tell me that while Sanders had some of the most amazing skills ever seen on the football field, his constant attempt to hit the home run rather than take the hole that was open for four yards was sometimes a detriment to his team.  I compared him to – and this made Jason nuts – Dave Kingman.  Over the course of a 16-year major league career in a variety of places, Kingman hit 442 home runs, an average of 37 a year.  But he was a career .236 hitter.  It seemed like every time Kingman came to the plate, he was swinging for the fences.  Not surprisingly, he never won a ring.

 

And since Jason likes numbers so much, here are two – 336 carries for losses totaling 952 yards, both NFL records, both owned by Barry Sanders.

 

In my mind’s eye when I think of Sanders, I think of the game the Lions played here in 1997.  Sanders ripped off a 51-yard touchdown run so spectacular, that it’s still played on NFL Films highlight reels.  For the rest of the game, however, Sanders totaled 54 yards on 14 more carries – an average of 3.1 yards a carry.  And oh by the way, the Lions lost the game 30-7 to a Redskin team that failed to make the playoffs. 

 

And when Sanders and the Lions got to the playoffs, including that year, they usually lost.  His career playoff stats read like this: 4.2 yards a carry, one touchdown and a 1-5 record.  In a Wild Card Game at Green Bay in 1994, Sanders ran for -1 yard on 13 carries.  The Lions lost 16-12.  I would be willing to bet there is no other Hall of Fame back who ever ran for negative yardage in a playoff game.

 

Yes Emmitt was able to outgain Sanders by more than three thousand yards by playing five years longer.  That’s why I don’t base my selection of Emmitt over Barry on stats alone.  The name of the game in football is to keep the chains moving.  Sustained drives keeps your defense off the field and nobody kept drives going better than Emmitt.  The first hit almost never brought him down and he almost never got caught in the backfield scrambling around the in backfield – unlike you know who.

 

Jason is of course quick to explain the ring differential – three for Emmitt, zero for Barry by saying Emmitt played on better teams.  That’s true, but Emmitt was a huge part of that success.  Prime example – after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl after the 1992 season, Emmitt held out for a new contract.  Jerry Jones decided to play hardball and the Cowboys started out 0-2, including a 35-16 loss to a Redskin team that finished 4-12.  When Jerry finally caved, the Cowboys wound up going back to the Super Bowl with Emmitt’s second half performance being the difference in a comeback win.

 

So, where does Barry rank relative to Emmitt?  Here is the list I came up with as the best running backs of all time:

 

  1. Jim Brown, 1957-65, 12,312 yards, 5.2 yards per carry – He’s the one on my list who I never saw play.  But those who did, swear he was the best and what I’ve seen on NFL Films backs that up.  Realize Brown spent the first half of his career playing only 12 games a season and walked away from the game after only nine years as the MVP of the league.

 

  1. Emmitt Smith, 1990-4, 18,355 yards, 4.2 yards per carry – The leading rusher of all time, who was at his best in the biggest games. 

 

  1. Walter Payton, 1975-87, 16,726 yards, 4.4 yards per carry – Was the first to break Brown’s record, which had stood for 20 years.  He also caught 492 passes and threw – THREW! 8 touchdown passes!

 

  1. Gayle Sayers, 1965-71, 4,956 yards, 5.0 yards per carry – Sayers played in only 68 games and was healthy for only four of his seven years in the pros.  But those four years produced some of the most spectacular highlights in the history of the game.  After primitive knee surgery, he came back to lead the league in rushing in 1969.  Close observers said he did it on one leg.

 

  1. Earl Campbell, 1978-85, 9,407 yards, 4.3 yards per carry – Only one player combined the power and speed of this man.  See number one on this list for that comparison.  The career numbers don’t’ tell the whole story, although he likely would have been one of a handful to rush for 2,0000 yards in a season. In 1980, Campbell ran for 1,934 yards in 15 games.

 

  1. John Riggins, 1971-85, 11,352 yards, 3.9 yards per carry – His average per carry is the lowest on the list, but when you score on a 1-yard touchdown run, you get credit for only 1 yard.  In 1983 he had 24 of those touchdown runs.  And if you needed one yard, he would almost always get it for you, including Super Bowl XVII when he ran all the way for the clinching touchdown in what has been called the greatest play in Redskins history.

 

  1. Marshall Faulk, 1994-05, 12,279 yards, 4.3 yards per carry – The amazing thing is, you could throw out those rushing yards and he’d still get a Hall of Fame look.  Faulk retired with 767 receptions, more than a slew of Hall of Fame receivers, including James Lofton, who finished his career the year before Faulk came into the league.

 

  1. Tony Dorsett, 1977-88, 12,739 yards, 4.3 yards per carry – With another coach, the numbers might have been greater.  The ever-controlling Tom Landry liked to limit Dorsett’s carries.  He was always a threat to bust a big one, including his 99-yard touchdown run at Minnesota.

 

  1. OJ Simpson, 1969-79, 11,236 yards, 4.7 yards per carry – Remember we’re talking ON the field only here.  “The Juice” had cutting ability like Sayers with world-class speed.  His teams never had much success, but he was the first to rush for over 2,000 yards and did it in a 14-game season.

 

  1.  Adrian Peterson, 07-?, 10,190 yards, 5.0 yards per carry – Certainly he’s the greatest runner of this era and could wind up being considered the best of all time. 

 

  1. Eric Dickerson, 1983-93, 13,259 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and Barry Sanders – I’m making this one a tie, because I think they belong together.  While their running styles were different, I think of them in the same way.  They were both spectacular to watch, both rang up gaudy numbers, but in the end each was without a Super Bowl appearance.  In a basketball sense, these guys were like Dominique Wilkins and Emmitt was like Magic Johnson. 

 

Sorry Jason, I call it as I see it.

 

 

 

 


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Did Mitch Kupchak Steal a Page From Darrell Green's Playbook?
by Andy Pollin
May 24, 2015 -- 12:35pm
ESPN 980

They are linked by the ownership of championship rings earned while playing for Washington teams.  Mitch Kupchak was the sixth man on the Bullets 1978 title team and Darrell Green starred at cornerback on the Redskins 1987 and 1991 Super Bowl champion teams.  But it’s possible they’ve never even met.  Kupchak left town for a free agent deal with the Lakers in 1981 and Green didn’t  arrive until two years later when he was the last pick of the first round of the draft.

 

 

Is it possible though, that Kupchak stole Green’s move with comments he made about Kobe Bryant this past week?  The move?

 

Speaking on Sirius XM Radio this week, Kupchak, the longtime Lakers GM said about Kobe, “He has indicated to me that this is it.  He’s on the last year of a deal.  There have been no discussions about anything going forward and I don’t think there will be.”

 

You could say Kupchak was just answering a question honestly, but why didn’t he just stop with, “He’s in the last year of a deal.”?  Could it be that Kupchak wants to make sure this is Kobe’s last year and doesn’t want to leave any opening for him to squeeze out another expensive contract?

 

Remember a year ago, the Lakers gave Kobe a two-year extension worth $48 million coming off a season that ended after six games because of a knee injury.  This past season, Kobe injured his shoulder and was done after 35 games.  He turns 37 in August and has 19 NBA seasons worth of a wear and tear on his body.  Yes he’s a legend and had delivered five championships, but you can’t keep shelling out salary cap crushing contracts to an old player who can’t stay healthy. 

 

By closing the door on the possibility of a contract extension for Kobe, perhaps Kupchak has, as Barney Fife would say, “Nipped it in the bud.”  And here’s where the Darrell Green comparison comes in.

 

In 2001, as Green was entering his 19th year in the NFL, Marty Schottenheimer arrived with a John Wayne-swagger.  He was the new head coach and from his first day on the job, let everybody know who was boss.  Never mind the Hall of Fame-bound Green had already achieved living legend status, Marty was in charge and he wasn’t going to let anybody stand in his way – no matter who he was.

 

It started in training camp with Schottenheimer chewing out his 41-year-old, highly decorated star during a practice that was open to the media.  Later asked about Green’s ability at such an advanced age, Schottenheimer said, “As you become older and your skills diminish -  and I’m just speaking in general terms – then you better be really good fundamentally.  If you try to rely on your skills alone, for a period of time you may be successful.  But, ultimately it will get you.”

 

Asked about that comment, Green said, “My technique and Marty’s technique are two different things.”

Later, Schottenheimer was seen teaching Green the proper technique to field a punt, which was kind like showing Picasso how to properly hold a paintbrush.  It had become clear that Schottenheimer was trying to pressure Green into retiring before he might have had to cut him. 

 

That’s when Green pulled his shrewd move.  About a week before final cuts were due, he called a news conference and announced his retirement – effective at the END of the season.  Green was saying to Schottenheimer, “You wouldn’t dare cut me now.”

 

He actually said, “I’m not being run out of the league.  I could play 20 years.  I could play 22 years.  But you know what?  My time is now.”

 

Well it wasn’t quite his time.  In what Schottenheimer says is the best coaching job of his career, he turned an 0-5 start into 5-5 and playoff contention before winding up with a solid 8-8 finish. And as things got better with the team, his relationship with Green improved greatly.  And late in the season, the ageless wonder announced he would return for a 20th season.  Only Jason Hanson, who spent 21 years with the Detroit Lions played longer with one team – and he was kicker.  And it turned out Green lasted longer than Marty.  A week after the 2001 season ended, Schottenheimer was fired when he refused to give back some of the power owner Dan Snyder had given him.

 

While Kupchak’s strategy may be to end and Green’s strategy was to extend, each used the power of the media to make his move.  And each made his strike a season in advance. 

 

Will this work for Kupchak?  So far all we’ve heard from Kobe on the matter is a tweet:

 

My thoughts on next season being my last season are the same as the last time the media asked me last season.  #nadanews.

 

The contract says Kobe won’t be in a Laker uniform for the start of the 2016-17 season, but a lot can happen between now and then.  Just ask Darrell Green.

 


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