Sports Outside the Beltway

Al Downing Has No Regrets Over 715

The AJC has a feature on Al Downing, the former big league pitcher and baseball announcer best known for giving up Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run.

Dodgers pitcher Al Downing watches as Hank Aaron, trailed by two fans, runs out homer No. 715.

[I]n an instant on April 8, 1974, Downing became forever linked with Hank Aaron. The Atlanta slugger hit his historic 715th home run off Downing, who was on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although 310 pitchers gave up home runs to Aaron, Downing is the Jeopardy question, the clue in the crossword puzzle, the answer in a Trivial Pursuit game.

Al Downing Has No Regrets Over 715 “I think people have a tendency to look at me as if that moment defines my career,” said Downing, 66, who retired in 1977 after winning 123 games in 17 years in the major leagues. “I always tell them, ‘That moment was Henry’s moment. It wasn’t my moment. It could have been anybody on that mound giving up that home run. Henry was the common denominator.’ ”

Now the numbers are adding up for Barry Bonds. Very soon an unwitting pitcher — who will it be? — will serve up No. 756 and find his name inextricably tied to Bonds. Downing will empathize with the man on the mound, but he won’t feel sorry for him. “Why should you feel sorry for a guy who’s doing what he loves?” he said. “He’s playing baseball. Very few people get an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues.”


After Tom Glavine gave up Bonds’ 11th homer of the season on May 8, the former Braves pitcher said that if the Mets had to face Bonds again before he got the record, “I can assure you I wouldn’t want to be the guy who gave up the home run.” Downing didn’t have that attitude when he was playing. “You can say, ‘I hope it’s not me,’ but that’s like saying, ‘I hope I don’t have to pitch in a big game,’ ” said Downing, who pitched in three World Series, was the first black starting pitcher in Yankees history and once was compared favorably with Sandy Koufax. “You live for a big game; you live for moments like that.”


Dodgers manager Walter Alston chose Downing to pitch after Aaron had hit No. 714 two games earlier. “He didn’t know I’d give up a home run,” Downing said. “But he said, ‘You’ve pitched in World Series, All-Star Games. … You’re a veteran.’ I was almost 33. He said, ‘I know that you can handle the pressure of that moment.’ ”


Downing is offended by people who say, “You must have grooved the pitch.”

“They’re the people who don’t know much about the sport,” he said. “I say that’s an insult to Hank Aaron. … It’s like saying somebody let Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points on him. He did it because he could; they didn’t let him.”

Downing, who lives in Valencia, Calif., and has retired as a broadcaster, said Aaron has always been gracious about their shared history. When they saw each other at the 25th anniversary celebration in 1999, Aaron asked, “How many home runs did I hit off of you?” Downing answered, “Three,” which, by the way, was 14 fewer than Aaron hit off Don Drysdale. “He [Aaron] said, ‘I wasn’t sure if it was two or three.’ People always act as if I hit 30 home runs off you. I say, ‘No, Al Downing was a good pitcher.’ “

And seemingly a decent, well-adjusted man. He’s absolutely right about one thing: Whoever gives up Bonds’ 756th home run will be some guy doing what he loves. It could be a kid up for his one cup of coffee in the Bigs or a future Hall of Famer. Bonds is a superstar; he can hit number 756 off of anyone. And, certainly, it’s no disgrace to be the victim of one of the best to ever play the game.


Selected list of pitchers surrendering momentous hits or home runs:

1927: Tom Zachary, Washington Senators — Babe Ruth’s 60th homer of the season

1951: Ralph Branca, Brooklyn Dodgers — Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer

1961: Tracy Stallard, Boston Red Sox — Roger Maris’ 61st homer of the season

1974: Al Downing, L.A. Dodgers — Hank Aaron’s 715th homer of his career

1985: Eric Show, San Diego Padres — Pete Rose’s 4,192nd hit of his career

1998: Steve Trachsel, Chicago Cubs — Mark McGwire’s 62nd homer of the season

2001: Chan Ho Park, L.A. Dodgers — Barry Bonds’ 71st homer of the season

No Hall of Famers in that bunch but several very good pitchers, certainly including Al Downing.


Willie Harris Goes 6-for-6, Ties Braves Record

Atlanta Braves left fielder Willie Harris tied an Atlanta Braves record with six hits in last night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the first Brave to reach that mark in 26 years.

Photo Willie Harris Goes 6-for-6, Ties Braves Record On a perfectly pleasant night, in front of a regular season-record 53,953 fans turning Turner Field claustrophobic, the Braves and Willie Harris played up to the atmosphere Saturday night. How else to explain the outpouring of offense in a 14-6 pounding of the Cardinals, featuring Harris going 6-for-6? To run out the Cardinals fans?

NASCAR Night became ego-stroking night as the Braves crawled all over each other for the limelight. The scrappy Harris reached the top with six of the Braves’ 19 hits. The kid from Cairo singled four times, tripled twice, scored four runs and drove in six runs. He became the seventh player in franchise history to reach six hits in a game, the second to do it since the team moved to Atlanta. The other was Felix Millan in 1970.


Harris set career highs with his six hits, two triples and six RBIs. And he moved to center field in the late innings, so his left-field platoon mate Matt Diaz could get some at-bats, too.

Impressive, indeed.


Roy Williams Moving to Linebacker?

Mickey Spagnola says the key to any defense is 3rd down, when teams go into their nickel formation, bringing in an extra defensive back for a linebacker. That’s where the Cowboys D fell apart down the stretch last year and new coach Wade Phillips seems to have some ideas for fixing it.

Roy Williams Moving to Linebacker?A great third-down defense will give up first downs just less than 30 percent of the time. If your third-down efficiency is in the 30-35-percent range, you are doing well. But once your efficiency percentage starts climbing into the 40 range, your nickel is pretty wooden.

And last year, the Cowboys struggled on third down, and that’s being polite. They finished with a 43.9-percent third-down efficiency. Only Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis and San Francisco finished with a higher percentage. In fact, the Cowboys finished five points higher than the league average (38.9).

That’s not good, and a reason why new head coach Wade Phillips, along with his new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, plan on shaking up the personnel when the Cowboys trot out their nickel squad in 2007. The biggest switch might be moving safety Roy Williams up into a nickel linebacker spot, if he can handle the responsibilities there.

There also likely will be a shakeup on the four-man defensive line, Phillips doing all he can to put his four best pass rushers up front, and if that’s the case, then three of them should be DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis and first-round draft choice Anthony Spencer. And don’t be surprised if the other linebacker changes, too, since the Cowboys have some athletic guys in Kevin Burnett and Bobby Carpenter to choose from if a lighter Bradie James isn’t the continued answer in the middle.

While moving a Pro Bowl strong safety to linebacker seems like heresy, it really makes sense. Williams’ weakness, as everyone knows by now, is in coverage. Since linebackers are mostly rushing the passer on 3rd down, why not move him up to do just that, while bringing in a coverage specialist?

The only problem I see with that is that linebacker seems to be the Cowboys’ strength. They’ve already got Marcus Ware, Greg Ellis, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, and a bevy of talented others at the position.

Here’s how Spags sees the lineup progressing, assuming there are no injuries or other surprises in training camp (which starts Tuesday):

Projected Starters

Terence Newman (Slot) — Will continue to man the toughest position on the nickel, taking the slot receiver.

Aaron Glenn (CB) — Still coming in for Newman to take his spot at left cornerback.

Anthony Henry (CB) — His aggressive play at right corner will be a huge asset if the pass-rush pressure increases.

Ken Hamlin (S) — Must become the take-charge guy back there and make sure everything stays in front of him.

Pat Watkins (S) — Will play with more confidence his second season, and is penciled in as the nickel safety.

Roy Williams (LB) — Moving up from safety to linebacker does not absolve him from coverage responsibilities. He can’t blitz all the time.

Bradie James (LB) — Has dropped 20 pounds in the off-season, which should help him in coverage.

DeMarcus Ware (DE) — Led team last year with 11½ sacks, and might total even more this year with a legitimate, 16-game threat on the other side.

Anthony Spencer (DE) — If he does nothing else as a rookie, he must become a pass-rushing threat at defensive end on this unit.

Greg Ellis (DT) — The thought of rushing from inside on third down doesn’t thrill Ellis, but he’s such a team player he will warm to the idea.

Jay Ratliff (DT — Ended up tied for third on the team with four sacks and tied for the lead in QB pressures with seven, all mostly recorded when playing inside on the nickel.

Solid Backups:

Keith Davis (LB) – Has been working behind Roy Williams at the nickel linebacker spot.

Kevin Burnett (LB) – Don’t be surprised if he mounts a serious challenge to grab a nickel linebacker spot.

Nate Jones (CB) – Don’t forget the Cowboys utilized him as a cover guy in the slot toward the end of last season, playing the opposite side from Newman.

Bobby Carpenter (LB) – Will be the nickel utility man, able to play one of the linebacker spots but might line up as a pass-rush defensive end at times, too.

Jason Hatcher (DE/DT) – Can play either spot, and might be able to push Ratliff for playing time in the middle.

Junior Glymph (DE) – His pass-rush skills might earn him some snaps on the nickel if someone needs a rest.

The Cowboys have stockpiled perhaps too much talent up front for a salary cap league. Spending three consecutive first round picks at linebacker and several other high picks on the defensive line leaves the team a little weak elsewhere, notably the offensive line. And it wouldn’t hurt to have some wide receivers in their 20s, either.

Still, this defense is so loaded, it’s scary. They’ve underachieved the last two years. We’ll see if Phillips can get them playing to potential.


How Good is Tony Romo?

Mickey Spagnola says that, for all the talk of finally finding a free safety that can cover, Wade Phillips’ 3-4, and even the lack of depth at backup nose tackle, the 2007 Cowboys will be exactly as good as Tony Romo.

[A]ll these questions pale in the face of the big un’ – that one which blinks in glowing red neon lights: Is . . . Tony . . . Romo . . . the . . . real . . . deal . . . at . . . quarterback?

Because if he isn’t, struggling at backup nose tackle won’t make one bit of difference. If he isn’t, then even an improved defense won’t save this team. If he isn’t, then what will it matter if the top nub of Terrell Owens’ ring finger is dysfunctional or not? If he isn’t, all the pass-rush pressure in the world from the team’s first-round draft choice won’t amount to a hill of beans.

Coaches can out-coach a linebacker deficiency. They can out-coach a problem at running back, and for sure at backup nose tackle. But they just can’t out-coach a problem at quarterback, and I don’t care if your backup is a guy with 15 years of NFL experience and a Super Bowl ring on his finger.

Now this is not to suggest Antonio Ramiro Romo can’t play quarterback in the NFL. Not at all. The 27-year-old from Eastern Illinois University proved over 10 games last year that an undrafted quarterback from a Division I-AA school who had not taken even one snap during his first three years in the league definitely can in the face of such long odds, giving hope to every Matt Moore and Richard Bartell out there.


And while all the right people seem convinced Romo can do the deal, although some of that might stem from shear desperation for him to do so at the most important position on an NFL team, you can’t will his success. He must prove it – again – passing the NFL test of consistency, the one factor which separates Steve Pelluer from Troy Aikman.

Now then, Parcells, the guy who staked the final games of his NFL coaching career to Romo, definitely believes Romo can be successful in this league. But as always with Parcells, there was a trailing “but” he expressed during one of the last conversations we had at The Ranch before his departure. “But he has to take care of a few things, and I’ve told him what they were,” said Parcells, who then stopped short of saying what he told Romo.

Well here, let me guess.

One, keep your shoulder up when throwing the ball. Former quarterbacks coach David Lee worked endlessly with Romo during his three seasons behind the scenes getting him out of the habit of dropping his elbow down when throwing the football. That’s a recipe for disaster (sorry, a little bit of Bill still is here) for 6-2 quarterbacks. Romo seemingly broke the habit at the outset until reverting back to some of his old habits late in the season and when under increased pocket pressure.

Two, stay with the play as long as possible. In other words, don’t get happy feet back there at the first sign of danger. While fans fall in love with scrambling quarterbacks and guys who make something out of nothing, sometimes their decisions to bail make something at the expense of forfeiting the opportunity to make something bigger. No NFL quarterback has achieved success without being willing to stand in the pocket long enough to get a pass off while taking a hit in return. It’s part of the job description. Improv is for comedy clubs not NFL stadiums.

Three, impulse control. What has the potential to make Romo great also has the potential to send him back to Burlington, Wis. Romo will take chances, and successful NFL quarterbacks require such chutzpah. But the chances need to be calculated. He must stay with his reads and at times check down to safer alternatives rather than trying to be super-hero marksman. That Lucky Charm won’t always be riding on your shoulder as it seemed to be for Romo on some of those what’s-he-doing passes he got away with early in last year’s 10-game stretch.

So, while there is great optimism surrounding Romo, and really, well there should be, and you root for a guy who is trying to defy all the odds confronting short, undrafted quarterbacks from small schools, he is not out of the redwoods yet.

Nope, not at all. If he turns out to be the real deal, though, this team should be pretty doggone good.


Mark Cuban Defends NBA in Ref Scandal

Iconoclastic Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responds to the NBA referee scandal with some perspective.

Every company of any size has had a problem(s) that its CEO and stakeholders have lost sleep over. Its the law of big numbers. If enough things go on, something is going to go wrong.

Products get recalled or are tampered with. There are workplace disasters. There is corruption. No industry is immune. Churches, consumer products, law enforcement, cars, planes, trains and plenty more. No profession is immune. From the CEO who misrepresents corporate numbers or events at the expense of shareholders, to the doorman who tips himself from the cover charge at the expense of the club owner, people of every profession make bad decisions.


As bad as the allegations facing the NBA today are, its also an opportunity to face every allegation that has ever been directed towards the NBA and its officials and pre empt them from ever occuring in the future.


The NBA took a hit today. Behind that hit is a catalyst and opportunity for significant change that could make the NBA stronger than it ever has been. Its a chance to proactively put in place people, processes and transparency that will forever silence those who will question the NBA’s integrity.

I have complete confidence that David Stern and Adam Silver will do just that and the NBA and our officiating will be all the stronger for it.

Let us hope. I’m at best a casual fan of the NBA. Still, the integrity of the league and, indeed, American professional sports, is important. If the NBA can figure out how to get better quality control over its refs, the other leagues can learn from them and improve, too.


Royals Week in Review – 7/20/07

After sticking it to the Red Sox, the Kansas City Royals prepare for a showdown with evil next week. But, before the Yankees come to Kauffman stadium, the boys in blue must first vanquish the front-running Detroit Tigers in the Motor City.

Ivan Rodriguez’s ninth inning homer must be avenged!

Month by Month
Thanks to the hard work of people like Sean Forman, hacks like me can find stats like this almost instantly:

       W   L   RS   RA   WP
April  8   18  99   132  .308
May    11  17  112  159  .393
June   15  12  145  117  .556
July   7   6   74   56   .538
Courtesy of

God, I love the internet.

As you can see, the Royals have turned into a winning ball club over the last two months. The results for July are difficult to judge, as the team hit a lucky stretch playing in Boston against two of the Beantowner’s lesser pitchers.

Playing on the road against the division leaders and then against a New York team that smells blood in the water should be a truer test of the progress the team has made.

Trading Deadline
Thanks to the internet age, pretty much every major leaguer can count on his name coming up in a trade rumor about this time of year. Both of my dead grandmothers have been linked to talks with the Cubs about a mid-level prospect.

The fact is, only Octavio Dotel is likely to get any serious scratch back for the Royals this season.

Dotel has a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings with the team this year, and it looks like bringing him back is not an option. If Dayton Moore can flip the Dominican for some top-level farm help, then his one-year contract will have been worth the gamble.

Future Stars
A quick refresher on some common stats I use.

AVG – Batting Average. Most people are familiar with this metric.
OBP – On Base Percentage. This takes into account walks and hit-by-pitches to give a better look at ability to get on base.
SLG – Slugging Average. This accounts for a player’s power by giving credit for each base reached with a hit. 1 for a single, 2 for a double, etc.

Currently, the American League is batting 269/340/419 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

Here is how some of the young players on the Royals stack up:

Billy Butler – 348/400/580 since being called up June 20th
Alex Gordon – 303/358/434 since the first of June
Mark Teahen – 366/487/548 with runners in scoring position
Joey Gathright – 315/390/370 before being sent down when Reggie Sanders came of the disabled list

Reggie Sanders is 377/450/623 on the season. AVAILABLE NOW!!! DIRT CHEAP!!!

Of course, Reginald is a career 267/343/489 hitter, which is nothing to sneeze at, but lends one to believe his current numbers may not hold up.

On the pitching side, there are several players to be excited about.

Brian Bannister – 3.87 ERA Ambriorix Burgos, whom the Royals traded straight-up for Bannister before the season, has put up decent numbers with the Mets as a reliever, but is currently on the disabled list.

Joakim Soria – 1.98 ERA Don’t forget, this guy through a perfect game in winter ball. Here’s hoping he won’t be relegated to the bullpen forever.

Jimmy Gobble – 2.67 ERA It’s easy to forget that Gobble is only 25 years old. His splits are heavily favored against left handed batters, but there’s something to be said for finding a role for a player who failed to meet expectations with regularity over the last four years.


Sergio Leads, Tiger 7 Back, Phil Misses Cut

Halfway through the 2007 British Open, Sergio Garcia looks primed to claim his first Major, two-time defending champ Tiger Woods is 7 strokes back, and Phil Mickelson has missed the cut for his second straight Major.

Instead of charging, Tiger Woods got in trouble on his first swing of the day at the British Open. Woods yanked his opening shot into the Barry Burn, looking on in disbelief as the ball dribbled into the meandering stream. He limped home with a 3-over-par 74 that left a daunting seven-shot gap between him and leader Sergio Garcia. The world’s best player had plenty of work to do if he wants to become the first in more than a half-century to win a third straight Open championship.

Garcia followed a brilliant 6-under 65 with a workmanlike 71, sinking the sort of testy putts that have bedeviled him through his career. “I managed to not make many mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t play as well as yesterday, but I was quite consistent.”


Phil Mickelson seemed destined to miss the cut in his second straight major after slumping to an ugly 77 for a 148 total. “I thought I was playing a lot better than this,” moaned Phil Mickelson, who has only one top-10 finish at the Open. He had to take a one-stroke penalty at No. 2 after his ball plugged into the soggy turf. On the PGA Tour, he could have taken relief for an imbedded lie, but not under the Royal & Ancient rules. At the 18th, Mickelson lost two more strokes. He drove into the Barry Burn, wound up missing a 3-foot putt and took double bogey.

Garcia hasn’t made those sort of mistakes.

Golf is a bizarre, humbling game. And that’s doubly true in Scotland.


NBA Referee being investigated by the FBI

Murray Weiss at the New York Post writes just that.

July 20, 2007 — THE FBI is investigating an NBA referee who allegedly was betting on basketball games – including ones he was officiating during the past two seasons – as part of an organized-crime probe in the Big Apple, The Post has learned.

The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he — and the hoods who had their hooks in him — cashed in on large bets.

A law enforcement official told the AP on the condition of anonymity that the referee was aware of the investigation and was planning to surrender next week.

The official said the bets involved thousands of dollars and were made on games during the 2005-2006 and the 2006-2007 seasons.

The NBA issued a brief statement: “We have been asked by the FBI, with whom we are working closely, not to comment on this matter at this time.”

Federal agents are set to arrest the referee and a cadre of mobsters and their associates who lined their pockets, sources said.

Shocking but I’m surprised there haven’t been more sports related gambling scandals over the years, that resulted in games being fixed. The Chicago Black Sox scandal is most famous of all, there was point shaving at City College in the early 1950′s. More recently we had Pete Rose and Rick Tocchet. The NBA is probably taking action quietly. A sport doesn’t ever need its integrity questioned.

A joke I heard long ago was about the famous baseball manager Casey Stengel going to heaven. As soon as Casey arrives, God calls. God asks Casey to organize a baseball team. Casey looks around and there’s Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson etc. Within minutes Casey organizes what he thinks will be the greatest team ever.

Then the Devil calls. He wants to play a baseball game against Casey’s team.

Casey- “You’ll never win. I have all the great baseball players.”
The Devil- “True but I have all the umpires.”

Hat tip- Betsy


NFL Won’t Suspend Michael Vick

As everyone knows by now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted for various federal charges related to dog fighting. It may take a year or more for all this to play out in court but there’s not much dispute that Vick lied to the commissioner and that he’s seriously involved in the dog fighting, which took place on his property.

The Associated Press reports that “the NFL has decided to let Michael Vick play football for the ‘foreseeable future’ as the legal process determines the facts.”

That’s a shame. We know enough to know that Vick is a thug, a liar, and a disgrace to the National Football League. Many sportswriters are urging Roger Goodell to suspend Vick now, rather than allowing him to tarnish the league’s reputation while this all plays out. I’m 100 percent behind them.

Jennifer Floyd Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Falcons QB Michael Vick is allegedly a vicious, disgusting criminal who murders dogs by hanging, drowning, electrocuting and body slamming them to death. That allegedly gets kind of lost, huh?

What is not lost is his employer, the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, or the ugly. He has linked his employers to heinous and abominable acts. And as established by “The Pacman Precedent,” the NFL has to discipline him as a result.

So suspend him, Roger. Right now. Immediately.

Prove that your tough-on-crime policy applies to everybody — even players who sell more jerseys than everybody else, who are sponsored by Nike, who are franchise quarterbacks.

Vick’s conduct certainly has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon himself, his club and the NFL and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league — or exactly the wording you used when explaining to Adam “Pacman” Jones and Chris Henry what led to their lengthy suspensions.

Jean-Jacques Taylor, Dallas Morning News:

It took no courage for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to give Pacman Jones, Chris Henry and Tank Johnson the lengthy suspensions they deserved for disgracing the NFL on a regular basis. Henry and Johnson were hardly household names, and Jones’ notorious off-the-field escapades made him an easy target because the court of public opinion wanted him punished.

It will take courage and conviction to suspend Michael Vick, one of the league’s stars.

But if we’re going to take Goodell’s tough stance on player conduct seriously, that’s exactly what the commissioner must do after federal authorities handed out an 19-page indictment Tuesday that charged Vick with competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

Terry Frei, Denver Post:

I tend to be a contrarian, and I tried not to join the bandwagon on this one. Among many other things, I was going to ask: Didn’t the Duke lacrosse mess remind us that charges in a grand jury indictment aren’t automatically true? In a market in which many of us justifiably excoriate Barry Bonds as a disgrace, yet many fans and (even more disgracefully) newspaper writers still portray Bill Romanowski as a charming rogue, can’t we at least wonder about our adjustable standards?

Those still are points to ponder. But the disturbing information in the federal grand jury indictment against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three others is overwhelming.Those still are points to ponder. But the disturbing information in the federal grand jury indictment against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three others is overwhelming. Vick is convincingly linked to the horrific dogfighting operation on his property in rural Virginia, mocking his “Who, me?” claims of innocence.

This is not a dishonorable district attorney taking advantage of a malleable local grand jury. It stems from a careful federal proceeding, and the paucity of leaks was such that there were erroneous reports in recent days that Vick wouldn’t be indicted.

Nancy Armour, Associated Press:

Way to go, Michael Vick.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re innocent or guilty of those federal dogfighting charges, you’ve just trashed your reputation. From now on, when people see you, they’re going to think of electrocuted puppies.

The NFL affords you fame and riches galore. In return, you have certain responsibilities — to your teammates, to your organization, to the league and, most important to the fans, the people who make your charmed life possible.

Nothing too oppressive. Just that you behave like the law-abiding citizen you should be anyway. That you’re not on a first-name basis with the local D.A.

Meanwhile, the NFL and the Falcons are hedging their bets.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Thursday the team is “exploring our options” in the wake of Michael Vick’s federal indictment on dogfighting charges. “We know you’re anxious to hear more from us regarding the indictment of Michael Vick and its implications to the Falcons,” Blank said in his first public comment on the matter, issued as a “statement to fans.”

“Please be assured that we are working diligently on exploring our options and getting the right people involved in this situation,” Blank said in the statement. “This is an emotionally charged and complicated matter. There are a wide range of interests and legal issues that need to be carefully considered as we move ahead, including our need to respect the due process that Michael is entitled to. Also, this situation affects everyone – our club, our players and associates, our sponsors, our fans and the Atlanta community among them – so we must consider all of our customers in making any decisions.

“Given the differing perspectives and strong feelings around this issue, we probably won’t make everyone happy, but we are committed to doing the right thing. As the owner of this club that’s, ultimately, my responsibility,” Blank said.

“In the meantime, know that I’m saddened and distressed about this – not for myself, but for our fans and community who have been so loyal to us. We will do our very best to continue to earn your support,” he concluded.

Then disassociate yourself from this dirtbag.

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Marcus Spears In Shape, Ready for Fresh Start

Mac Engel reports that Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears has put himself through grueling workouts and lost weight this offseason. And he’s become the latest Cowboy to say he’s glad for a change in the coaching staff.

After spending the off-season pondering how his football life will be different without coach Bill Parcells, who drafted him and grilled him, Spears is ready for training camp to start. “It’s uncontrollable,” Spears said Wednesday during an appearance at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children where he signed autographs for patients. “I can’t wait.”

Spears would not go so far as to agree with teammate Patrick Crayton that the Cowboys are better off without Parcells. But Spears’ relationship with the former coach strained in the final two months of the season, and he eagerly awaits a new start with Wade Phillips.

Parcells leaned on Spears for more production. The former first-round pick from LSU wasn’t bothered until the coach essentially said late in the 2006 season that his playing time might be taken away. “When you go and do that to the media and you have no idea it’s coming… I lost a little respect for him that way,” Spears said.

Spears wants everyone to know he is glad he had the experience of playing for Parcells. And that he doesn’t dislike him as a person. He does, however, admit that playing football under Parcells was what he called “a grind.”

When Phillips told his players to invite their families to Valley Ranch, the gesture and ensuing activity were greatly appreciated. “When Wade did that, it meant a lot to a lot of players,” said Spears, whose foundation works with kids in Dallas and Baton Rouge. “There hadn’t been that connection before.”

And clearly he’s thrilled about the prospects of playing under Phillips, and specifically his 3-4 defense. “This is what I was used to, and this is getting back to what made me successful,” Spears said.

Let’s hope Spears makes the move to become stand-out player we all expected he would be when he was picked in the first round. We’ll soon see if Parcells’ conservative play-calling and tough guy approach was the problem or whether it was the groceries that he bought (i.e., the players) that were they problem.


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