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Flashbacks

Bo Jackson is still a draw

  December 10, 2012 01:27 PM

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It probably should not come as a surprise that the documentary on Bo Jackson, which debuted Saturday, is the highest-rated film yet in ESPN's superb "30 for 30'' series, earning a 2.3 rating in major markets. "You Don't Know Bo'' was a perfect marriage and near-perfect execution of subject and format. I'm not sure which I've looked forward to more this week -- that film, or Monday's Patriots-Texans game. Both had the anticipatory vibe of major events.

The "30 for 30'' series, originally conceived by Bill Simmons as a way for ESPN to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2009 by celebrating stories, moments, and personalities that shaped the sports landscape along the way, is an extraordinary ongoing success and now includes more than 50 films under its own or the "ESPN Presents" umbrella.

My personal rating of "You Don't Know Bo," which was directed by Michael Bonfiglio, among "30 for 30" films more or less corresponds with the Nielsen ratings. My four previous favorites are "The Best That Never Was" (directed by Jonathan Hock, on former Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree), "The Two Escobars" (Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist), "Into the Wind" (directed by Steve Nash and Ezra Holland, on Terry Fox) and "The Announcement" (Nelson George). Bo makes five. Organize them any way you see fit.

You almost wonder why Bo, whose did-he-really-just-do-that? athletic feats as an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals and as a running back/hobbyist for the Los Angeles Raiders made him a legend in his own, unfortunately abbreviated, time, wasn't a topic sooner. He's one of the first names I thought of when the project was announced. His 50th birthday was last week -- yeah, it was that long ago -- so this is as appropriate a time as any to pay proper homage.

Of course, you knew the legend of Bo. At least, I hope you did, and Saturday's film served as an entertaining, damn-they-got-this-right reminder rather than an introduction. He was an understated, matter-of-fact but engaging interview, clearly proud of his accomplishments but not defined by them. We were awed, but his shrug-and-a-smile tenor suggests that's who he always was, and thus expected to be.

I supposed I had some minor -- well, they aren't even big enough to be gripes. Call them observations of a trained nitpicker. I would have liked to have heard from football/baseball combo athletes who attempted the same crossover move, such as Brian Jordan or Deion Sanders, and yes, that's the only time I'll ever say I want to hear from Deion Sanders. Mark Gubicza and Marcellus Wiley were perhaps too prominent at the expense of more anecdotal voices, and there was redundancy in some talking heads' praise of his physical talent. Perhaps some more former teammates (though George Brett, who admitted he put off going to the bathroom to watch Bo hit, was tremendous) or a contemporary running back who marveled at Bo like the rest of us could have added more nuance.

And I disagree that he was a mythical figure in part because of a smaller media universe -- there was "SportsCenter'' to provide every amazing highlight no matter the season. The difference is that there was no Skip and Stephen A. to boil up some fake outrage the next morning. We saw what we needed and wanted to see with Bo -- the public trampling of Brian Bosworth on "Monday Night Football,'' the home run off Rick Reuschel in the '89 All-Star game -- without all of the ancillary noise.

But as I get older and farther away from Bo's late-'80s and early-'90s heyday as a sports and cultural icon, I've sometimes wondered whether the generations of sports fans that followed thought we were doing the "back in my day ...'' old guy's routine, that he couldn't have been the impossibly superheroic meteor we fans of a certain age reminisce about. You had to see Gale Sayers or Tony C. yourself, like your dad or granddad did, you know?

But he's one athlete whose highlights render hyperbole ineffective, and whether it was a former coach pointing out where he hit a home run that may or may not have ever landed, or footage of him running full speed up a wall while wearing spikes or leaving the Seattle Seahawks defense in his vapors, it was pleasant reaffirmation that Bo Jackson still resonates. Perhaps best of all is the coda at the end, when he hangs out in what he calls his man cave -- middle-aged Bo isn't above middle-aged-man jargon -- while carving arrows after growing bored watching football with his wife. There is no discernible regret that it ended so fast, no lament to be found. And you realize that Bo always knew and stayed true to the real Bo, even when the rest of us were reveling in the whirlwind.

Curtis Martin: The one who got away

  February 4, 2012 07:14 PM

Originally wrote this in 2001, just as the Patriots were emerging but old friend Curtis Martin was habitually haunting them with those smooth cutback moves. Seems appropriate to repost today given all that's happening this weekend. Congrats, No. 28. It's all worked out beautifully for the Patriots, of course, but they never should have let you get away.

* * *

martincurtisfinnnnnn.jpgHe is the Ghost of Patriots Past, a twice-a-season apparition. He is a reminder of those hopeful, happy days of the mid-'90s, when Drew Bledsoe was the Golden Boy QB, Terry Glenn suffered injuries instead of faked them, and visions of Super Bowl victories danced in our heads.

He's the one that got away from the Pats - and he's been getting away ever since.

Hello again, Curtis Martin. Back to haunt us once more, we presume?

Today, the New England Patriots, 6-5 and breathing again, take on the first-place, 7-3 New York Jets in what's shaping up to be a season-defining showdown. It's certain to be another compelling chapter in this rich, raucous rivalry.

And so, for the eighth time since Bill Parcells lured the beloved Pro Bowl running back away with a six-year, $36 million contract in February of '98, the Pats will have to confront Martin, their friend-turned-foe.

It's never easy. It's almost four full seasons later, and only now are the Pats recovering from Martin's devastating Foxboro farewell. It's not an exaggeration to say that this single transaction - by far Parcells's most productive trip to the grocery store - impacted the balance of power in the AFC East for a half-decade.

How has Martin tortured us? Let us count the ways.

First, the stat sheet: Martin has run for 100-plus yards in five of the seven games against New England. He has scored a touchdown in four of the seven. Considering that four of the teams' last five meetings have been decided by seven points or less, you could safely say he has been the difference. Naturally, Martin scored the lone touchdown in the Jets' 10-3 victory in Week 2 this season.

Then, the standings: In Martin's three years in New England, the Pats regularly beat up the Jets at recess and took their lunch money, winning five of six. Since he left, they are 1-6. In other words, the team that has Martin in its backfield is 11-2 in this suddenly lopsided rivalry.

All these numbers paint a pretty convincing case for his value. Yet Pats fans know Martin's worth can't be judged solely by columns of digits on a scoreboard page. There's no category for all that he means to a football team.

Martin is equal parts style and substance, a shifty, instinctive runner whose grace belies uncommon determination and grit. He is the rarest breed: a superstar whose humility and class appeal to Average Joe football fan.

Martin's name is in lights. It should be stitched across the breast of his shirt. It's no wonder you still see the occasional well-worn, red, white and blue "Martin 28" jersey in the Foxboro stands.

How it frustrates us that he's no longer wearing the jersey himself. He is missed, still.

I'll spare you the painful rehash of his utterly unnecessary departure. Just allow me to note that if Pats owner Bob Kraft hadn't insinuated Martin would have a short shelf-life, if Kraft hadn't spent much of the '97 season gloating about what cheap labor Martin was, if Kraft hadn't paid turnstiles Todd Rucci and Max Lane a combined $22 million before offering a single peso to Martin, if Kraft had remembered Parcells often called Martin one of his three favorite players he'd ever coached, well, then maybe the Pats wouldn't have had to spend three high draft picks in failed attempts to replace him.

Yeah, I'll spare you the painful rehash. Just let me note that Kraft bungled the situation with such complete and total incompetence, you have to believe Dan Duquette was giving him management tips.

Martin should have been a Patriot for life, which is why it's hard to fathom that he now has more service time as a Jet. This is Martin's seventh NFL season, his fourth in New York. He ran for 3,799 yards for the Pats; he's run for 4,938 for the Jets.

There's no use denying it: When his portrait hangs in the halls of Canton, the dominant colors will be green and white.

Martin's contributions considered, it's hardly a news flash that the green-and-white has dominated the rivalry. But perhaps, starting today, these new and improved Pats will show their true colors, and the balance of power will shift again.

For the first time since Martin left, there is a feeling of genuine hope in Foxboro, a sense that happy days are indeed here again. Maybe it's because of the exciting emergence of the new Golden Boy QB, Tom Brady, or perhaps it's because Antowain Smith has reminded us of the benefits of a powerful running game.

Probably, though, it's because Coach/No-Nonsense Head Honcho Bill Belichick has molded the team in his image. The Pats are tough and disciplined and they take no crap, and if you are skeptical, just watch Bryan Cox running around out there on a broken leg today, then try telling me these are still Pete Carroll's Patsies.

This, Pats fans, is a team you can root for. You even might say it's a team Martin would enjoy playing for.

By 4 p.m. this afternoon, we should have a pretty clear idea if we'll be rooting for them later into the winter than we had imagined. The Pats win today, and we can start wondering if doomed old Foxboro Stadium might get a stay of execution for at least one more game.

Before we dare speak of the playoffs, though, the Pats must do their part. They must exorcise those green-and-white demons. They must tackle a galloping ghost.

To beat the Jets, they must stop Curtis Martin.

And prove that four seasons after he moved on, they finally have, too.

The book on Brady

  April 5, 2011 03:57 PM

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Hey, what say we take a break from wondering whether Josh Beckett can find happiness, fulfillment, and six decent innings with budding scapegoat Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate rather than his binky Tek and enjoy a brief football interlude instead?

Too bad. I'm doing it anyway.

The NFL draft begins Thursday, April 28, a little more than than three weeks away. Over on our Extra Points blog, beat writer Shalise Manza Young is profiling a prospect each weekday who may appeal to the Patriots. The draft is one of my favorite events on the sports calendar, though I've finally smartened up and realized that it's better to keep my post-draft opinion to myself. Turns out calling Bethel Johnson "can't-miss" will cause one to question his draftnik cred.

Back when I worked on the Globe sports desk, we always used one guide to get our information: Joel Buchsbaum's annual production in cahoots with Pro Football Weekly. It was incredibly detailed, and more important, accurate. Eccentric wouldn't begin to describe Buchsbaum, as detailed engagingly in this 2003 award-winning feature by Juliet Macur, but his knowledge of draft prospects won over the most accomplished of coaches, personnel experts, and skeptics.

"I tried to hire him as a scout with the [Cleveland] Browns every year," Bill Belichick told Macur. "But he always said he'd rather work for all 32 teams. There's a thousand people out there that write draft books, and they aren't worth the paper they're written on. But Joel? He was something special."

When Buchsbaum died in December 2002, Belichick and Scott Pioli drove from Foxborough to New Jersey for the funeral. They had never met the man.

Remembering this, I was curious what Buchsbaum had to say about a certain skinny Michigan quarterback back eligible for the 2000 draft. Turns out we still had that year's edition in our files, and Tom Brady was rated sixth among quarterbacks that year. Chad Pennington was first, followed by Chris Redman, Tee Martin, epic bust Giovanni Carmazzi, and Tim Rattay.

Here's Buchsbaum's pre-draft analysis of Brady, who you surely know was chosen 199th overall, the greatest draft-day steal in league history:

Positives: Good height to see the field. Very poised and composed. Smart and alert. Can read coverages. Good accuracy and touch. Produces in big spots and big games. Has some Brian Griese in him and is a gamer. Generally plays within himself. Team leader.

Negatives: Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Ended the '99 season weighing 195 pounds and still looks like a rail at 211. Looks a little frail and lacks great physical stature and strength. Can get pushed down more easily than you'd like. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can't drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own.

Summary: Is not what you're looking for in terms of physical stature, strength, arm strength, and mobility but he has the intangibles and production and showed great Griese-like improvement as a senior. Could make it in the right system but is not for everyone.

Well, the list of strengths certainly sounds like Brady, though I'd be really impressed with Buchsbaum's breakdown had he written: Has a chance to eventually marry a Victoria's Secret model. Possibly Gisele, who is also very skinny and narrow.

And I think we're all glad he exorcised those comparisons to Brian Griese (his former Michigan teammate and a decent NFL quarterback for 11 years) a long time ago. Beats being compared to Drew Henson, I suppose.

More than anything else, though, I think what stands out about this is how much it reinforces our awareness of the work he put in to become one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks. Look at that list of weaknesses again:

TOM-BRADY-PIC-2.jpgLacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Well, yes, he's still dirt-train slow, but he has an uncanny knack for feeling the rush (his most recent game excluded, maddeningly) that we're beginning to wonder if it's not an instinct but something he was taught -- or taught himself -- to do.

Lacks a really strong arm. Can't drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. How would it read now? Try the opposite: Has a strong arm. Can drive the ball down field (50 TD passes in 2007, 23 to Randy Moss). Throws a tight spiral. To put it another way: Bet he's made Tom Martinez, his personal passing guru, one of the highest-paid gurus on the personal guru circuit.

One last thought: The draft is a blast, and evaluating how your team did in the immediate aftermath is even more fun. As silly as the business of judging players who haven't played a down of professional football may be, it's reassuring when Mayock or Kiper or McShay gives the Patriots an A on that day-after report card.

But we also know better around here. We know that Kiper's bewilderment that Belichick would choose, say, Logan Mankins in the first round when Kiper had a third-round grade on him is not necessarily a bad thing.

We know, this year anyway, not to whine and blow up Twitter if the first attribute mentioned about a young cornerback is his special teams proficiency.

We know that instant analysis is really just a slightly educated guess, that picking Laurence Maroney, Chad Jackson and David Thomas does not guarantee Brady has all the weapons he needs for the next half-dozen years, and that maybe, just maybe, Bethel Johnson won't make it.

We know we won't learn anything meaningful about these players about to become Patriots until Belichick confirms that they are doing something right by putting them on the field.

With an occasional assist from Mo Lewis.

D.J.'s sweetest music

  February 1, 2011 01:35 PM

1985celtsfinn.jpgJust a quick link here to a fun (well, for me; I suppose it could be excruciating for you) thing me and my Boston.com colleagues pulled together in acknowledgment of a promotion the Celtics are running asking fans to tell them about their favorite game.

In our little three-pointer about our favorite games, Steve Silva chose the legendary and wild Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Celtics and Suns. Resident Celtics guru Gary Dzen went with, let's see, I believe it's formally called Ray Allen Makes Sasha Vujacic Cry. And I went with Bird's steal and feed to DJ for the winning bucket in Game 5 of the '87 Eastern Conference Finals against the loathsome Pistons.

Three games, three eras in Celtics history -- if only we'd had Bob Ryan throw some Bill Russell wisdom our way, we'd be complete. As much as admire the current Celtics -- and I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say I might trade the rights to a fourth Lombardi Trophy for the Pats and a Red Sox World Series title to be named later for the chance to see KG, Pierce, Allen, Rondo, Perk, and Shaq slay the Lakers this year -- I consider myself blessed as a sports fan to have been able to watch the '80s Celtics a couple of nights a week on SportsChannel throughout my youth.

Larry requires no further explanation -- he was a legend and a god, and that's presuming there are other legends and gods who could throw blind over-the-shoulder passes to a cutting big man. I dreamed of (and worked hopelessly toward) having McHale's post moves, which is funny, because all these years later, all I have left is the Chief's shuffle-the-feet baseline jumper. I admired the range of Ainge, Max's close-range radar, and later, Bill Walton's joyous mastery of the game's geometry, from always boxing out to his unparalleled post passing to throwing those quick and accurate outlet passes.

JohnsonDennisfinn.jpgBut my favorite Celtic of that era was D.J., Dennis Johnson, and that includes Larry. As Bob Ryan has testified in print on D.J.'s behalf many times, particularly when he was shamefully shortchanged by the Hall of Fame for a couple of years, there has never been a player who resembled him, and we're not just talking about that weird freckles-and-red-hair combo.

With his deceptive athleticism (he didn't look the part in his Celtics years, but he was an outstanding shot blocker for a guard), defensive toughness and intelligence (Doc Rivers still insists he knew the dead spots on the Garden floor and used them to his advantage for late-game steals), and his knack for nailing the big shot, he was the perfect complement not only to Bird, but to Ainge in the backcourt.

Like Rajon Rondo, he could be a royal-pain-in-the-enigma -- sometimes he just wasn't interested in going all-out in that late February game in Sacramento, and the rest of the Celtics knew to account for that. But to watch him on a consistent basis was to admire his game and his guts unabashedly. And I did. Much to my mom's chagrin, one of those caricature t-shirts that were popular in the late '80s worked its way into my regular school-clothes rotation when I was a sophomore in high school in '86. Kinda wish I still had it, though I suspect it would look like a sausage casing on me now.

Anyway, I'm getting carried away for what's supposed to be a two-line link here. It's just that it's always nice to reminisce about those Celtics, particularly the late, great D.J., who passed away before he got his due in Springfield. I'm glad I got to do so here, as well as on our Best Games project today.

Prospecting, part 2

  April 24, 2008 02:51 PM

While lounging here watching the Sox bullpen take gasoline and a match to what should have been Justin Masterson's victorious debut, I figured I'd post this long-promised sequel to my look back at the 2002 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. The first part, including a capsule retrospective of the Sox's top prospects from six years ago, can be found here. And yes, Kevin Youkilis really was ranked 28 spots below someone named Seung Song.

The number in parenthesis is that player's rank within his own organization's top 30 prospects, according to BA. Let's restart this with a fun one, and if there are other teams you'd like to see, well, I suppose I do take requests . . .

NEW YORK YANKEES
Phenoms:
None. And somewhere, Hank Steinbrenner read this, rattled off a string of expletives, and drop-kicked an intern. He's the best.

Flops: 3B/QB Drew Henson (1), LHP Brandon Claussen (3), OF John-Ford Griffin (4), RHP Adrian Hernandez (13)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: 1B Nick Johnson (2), OF Juan Rivera (5), LHP Sean Henn (6), OF Marcus Thames (7), C Dioner Navarro (19), LHP Chase Wright (24)

Six years later: Ah, Henson, the rich man's Chad Hutchinson . . . One of the most touted prep athletes ever, I suspect he would have made it had he picked one sport (football, probably) and stuck with it . . . I'd love Lloyd Carr's honest assessment on who he thought would be the better quarterback when Henson and Tom Brady were sharing the Michigan QB job eight years ago . . . Hernandez, a Cuban defector, was supposed to be the next El Duque. He turned out to be the next Ariel Prieto . . . Rivera and Thames are basically the same player, a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder with above-average power and not many other attributes . . . Johnson was a very good hitter before his limbs started falling off . . . Navarro, now on his third team (the Rays), may still make it. He's only 24 and hit .285 with eight homers in the second half last season . . . Chase Wright looks like he may become the closest thing in Yankees' lore to Bobby Sprowl.

OAKLAND A'S
Phenoms:
1B Carlos Pena (1), RHP Aaron Harang (16), RHP Rich Harden (21)

Flops: RHP Chad Harville (3)

. . . and those lingering somewhere in between: OF Eric Byrnes (2), 2B Esteban German (4), SS Bobby Crosby (5), 2B Mark Ellis (6), RHP Jeremy Bonderman (7), LHP Neal Cotts (14)

Six years later: Harden just blew out an eyelid while reading this. May need reconstructive surgery, out 4 to 6 weeks . . . Sadly, the same lame joke could be made for Crosby. Both have looked like stars when they are healthy - Crosby was the '04 AL Rookie of the Year, and Harden may have the best stuff of any starter in the league, as the Sox saw in Japan - but neither one of them can stay on the field. Crosby hasn't played more than 96 games since his rookie season . . . Was Pena's improbable 46-homer breakthrough for the (Devil) Rays last season for real? Actually, I tend to think it was. He was more productive in Detroit than he got credit for, sometimes it takes some players longer to grow into their ability, and no one's ever questioned his desire. He'll never hit for a high average, but 35-40 homers in '08 seems realistic . . . Harang is a fantasy baseball bargain and a workhorse for the Reds, winning 32 games for a lousy team the past two seasons and taking the NL strikeout title in '06 . . . I haven't read "Moneyball" in a few years, but I seem to remember Billy Beane having a fit after the A's took Bonderman in the first round in '01, and the A's dealt him (along with Pena) to the Tigers barely a year after he was drafted. He has the reputation as being a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he's not: his career ERA+ is 93, and he's had an ERA below the league average just once in six years . . . Few seem to notice, but Ellis is a darned good player, an excellent defender with some pop (he hit 19 homers last year) . . . Byrnes is baseball's version of Jeff Spicoli - actually, scratch that; he'll never out-dude the Weaver brothers - but he's turned into a pretty productive everyday player after spending most of his 20s performing like a big-boy version of Darren Bragg.

FULL ENTRY

Prospecting

  April 5, 2008 02:58 AM

Well, at least they got the cover right.

That was my reaction after taking an impromptu spin through the 2002 Baseball America Prospect Handbook the other night while avoiding any real work in my home office. The cover boy, as you might have noticed, happens to be the Red Sox' starting pitcher this afternoon. Josh Beckett* not only was rated the top prospect in the Marlins' system, but he was also the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

* - Stealing a Pozterisk yet again, here are two snippets from Beckett's writeup that jumped out at me:

1. "[Beckett] had a serious scare with two tours on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis in 2000. Offseason tests diagnosed two tears in his labrum, fraying in his rotator cuff, biceps tendinitis, and an impingement. Dr. James Andrews advised against surgery. Beckett worked hard to rehabilitate his shoulder in the winter, and came out firing." I think we now know why the Sox were terrified of his MRI before trading for him.

2. "He has a maturity beyond his years, easily trading barbs with older players, writers, and club officials and always looking people in the eye. He's good, knows he's good, and never would think of shrinking from his apparent destiny." Sure sounds like Beckett to me.

Anyway, back on point . . . you don't need a copy of Beckett's baseball resume to know he has justified every word of hype that preceded him to the majors. But check out these names that were ranked in the top 25 of one writer's top 100 prospects list:

Joe Borchard. Ryan Anderson. Nick Neugebauer. Corwin Malone. Dennis Tankersley. Ty Howington. Wilson Betemit.

Betemit, a former hotshot Braves farmhand, is the most successful big leaguer from that crew of who's-hes? and never-weres. He currently serves as A-Rod's rarely utilized stunt double in the Bronx.

Now, I don't mean to bust on Baseball America. I've been a faithful reader of their magazine since I was in college, I own every Prospect Handbook since 2002, and I genuinely respect the work they do and the insight they impart. It's because of their hard work that we fans (and nitwit bloggers) can be informed of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the likes of Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury (and Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson and . . . ) before they ever set cleat in Fenway.

It's just that I have this theory about evaluating and ranking baseball prospects, and while it is rather rudimentary and probably even obvious, I do believe it's the whole truth:

I think it's fairly easy to spot the superstars-to-be, the Becketts, Miguel Cabreras, and Joe Mauers, but forecasting the future for anyone other than the truly elite is a feat not even the most sharp-eyed scout, adept numbers-cruncher, or clued-in Baseball America columnist can accomplish with any consistency. And that's before you factor in injuries, which seem to derail a couple of top pitching prospects for every one that makes it. In other words: There's just no foolproof way of knowing how good a 20-year-old kid will be at baseball when he's 25. It's a virtually impossible pursuit.

All of that considered, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of individual teams' Top 30 prospect lists from that 2002 Handbook. After all, six years later, we should have a pretty accurate picture of how things panned out . . . or, in most cases, didn't pan out. In parentheses is the player's rating within his own organization. I'll probably add a few more teams in the coming days - it's not like we can pass up the chance to remind Yankees fans that 3B/QB Drew Henson was once their Next Big Thing. (Snicker.)

As for today's offerings . . . enjoy, my fellow nerds:

FULL ENTRY

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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