Sports Outside the Beltway

Cincy A Bunch of Winning Moral Reprobates

That’s the gist of this ESPN article in the Cincinnati Bengals:

On Sept. 20, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had visited the Bengals and spoken about the responsibility of being professional football players. Five days later, just hours after Cincinnati improved to 3-0 with a 28-20 win in Pittsburgh, the team’s leading tackler last season, linebacker Odell Thurman, was arrested by Cincinnati police for DUI. This was Thurman’s third violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy and it would result in a yearlong suspension. As if that weren’t bad enough, Bengals wideout Chris Henry had been seen vomiting out the side window of Thurman’s SUV. Henry, meanwhile, was just two weeks removed from pleading guilty to a gun charge in Florida. In January 2006, while in Orlando, police there say, he stepped from a limo wearing his own black-and-orange Bengals replica jersey and pointed a 9mm Luger into a crowd.

Yet when asked that cold and rainy September day how these off-field issues might be affecting the Bengals’ performance, Lewis threw up his hands in frustration and began to stomp away. At the door of his team’s locker room, he stopped and pointed inside. “It has not made one bit of difference to them,” Lewis said. “To the guys in there, the coverage is almost comical. The most important thing to me when you say the word character is the locker room. The problem is, there’s no way for the outside world to evaluate the kind of character that’s important to players.”

Take Henry, for example. Outside Paul Brown Stadium, he has been nothing short of a basket case since Cincy drafted him out of West Virginia in the third round of the 2005 draft. In addition to the gun charge, he has also pleaded guilty to — and was benched one game in December 2005 for — marijuana possession, was arrested again in June for allegedly providing alcohol to three underage females in a hotel room (the trial is in January) and served a two-game suspension this season for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy.

But inside the Bengals’ locker room, Henry is regarded as a model teammate. And therein lies the difference between the kind of character that matters to teams and that which matters to fans. Henry’s coaches and teammates say he shows up on time, pays attention in meetings and goes about his football business as quietly as a mouse. When he does speak, Henry addresses coaches with barely audible “Yes, sirs” and “No, sirs.” He works hard in practice, has played through injuries and has quickly developed into the Bengals’ No. 3 receiver, with 29 catches for 451 yards (15.6 ypc) and 7 TDs, the same number as Chad Johnson. “These guys couldn’t have been better,” says Henry of his teammates’ support. “They are all good at taking a young guy under their wing to help him learn.”

Wow. This makes any dramas with TO seem like child’s play.

Now in my book, good play hardly excuses Henry’s off field behavior. This sort of reminds me of the “but he was such a quiet kid!” defense you hear from the friends of someone who just did something awful, like kill their family.

This does bring up an interesting point though: as long as you are a good teammate, you will succeed in today’s NFL. Gone are the days when being in trouble like this would immediately disqualify you from respect in the locker room.

If anything, “poor character” has actually helped Cincy. When Lewis took over in 2003, the Bengals had gone 12 straight seasons without a winning record. Three years later, they were AFC North champs. Lewis got them there in part by drafting and signing explosive, eye-popping, first-round-caliber talent for bargain-basement prices.

Well, that is one way to rebuild a team, and it explains a lot about the Bengals. Also, the article makes the point that Lewis has to go on the record as one of the most lenient coaches in NFL history – better than any reputed player’s coach.

At 8-5 heading into Monday night’s game against the Colts, the Bengals are poised for a second straight postseason appearance. They’re also threatening to obliterate what was thought to be a fundamental NFL truth: that moral fiber, at least as defined in conventional terms, relates to on-field success, and that there is no difference between the kind of character that matters to teams and the kind that matters to their fans.

That is the long and the short of it on this one. We may say we want character, but in the end, what fans really want is for their team to win football games – whatever it takes. Sure, we’d prefer the straight shooters, but if we are winning with those who are doing less than savory things, we’ll take it.


Why Would Cowher Leave? WHY???

OK, a bit of hyperbole there. However, in this piece, James wondered why Cowher would leave that nice job in Pittsburgh. There would be two reasons:

1. To coach or become the athletic director at his alma mater, NC State. The coaching position is no longer available, so that would seem to point away from this. However, I have heard rumors that Cowher had wanted that job, but that the Rooneys told him no. If that’s the case, then there might be some bad blood generated there. Also, NC State alums are furious at the current AD, Lee Fowler, for botching the basketball coaching search as badly as he did (although, there seem to be signs that this may actually work out). They wouldn’t mind seeing a change.

2. To retire, at least for a while. I could see that. He doesn’t seem as passionate this year as he has in the past.

I am of the opinion that Cowher is as good as gone. His conduct has not that of someone who is thinking about staying. He talks with the Charlotte, NC area media about how he’s going to have to have a meeting for the future, but doesn’t let the Pittsburgh media ask. He is coy about his contract. As I mentioned above, he seems to lack the fire that used to animate him on the sidelines. I do have to wonder what happened with that NC State job – Cowher was in the running in the rumor mill, but he never officially got on the bandwagon. When asked about it when the job was open, he didn’t say “I never considered that job”, which would have at least signaled that the reason he wasn’t interviewing was a lack of interest on HIS part. He said something to the effect of “I am not a candidate for that position.” This indicated to me that he wanted it, and that either NC State hadn’t offered the job, or the Steelers were preventing him from getting an offer. I am currently inclined to think the latter, although we will surely see in time.


Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawks – Porn Stars?


Earlier this year, when Dr. Tony Atwater announced that Indiana University of Pennsylvania was changing the nickname of its athletic teams, he said the new nickname needed to be unique and easily identifiable as a way of putting forth the best possible image of the university.


Sounds like something requiring a lot of research. At least it should be researched.

So before the university went ahead and adopted the Crimson Hawk as the new nickname – as it did Friday at the board of trustees meeting – you’d think at least one person in John Sutton Hall would have taken the initiative to find out what exactly a Crimson Hawk is.

I did.

You know, with the Internet these days, a lot of information is at our fingertips. Good and bad.

A quick Google search leads one to find something rather, um, unique, when you type “Crimson Hawk” into the search box.

The first link you come to is for a Web site of an adults-only cartoon starring a blonde, busty woman named Crimson Hawk. The site claims to be the home of “the world’s sexiest, most powerful and most frequently defeated, humiliated and ravished superheroine.”
No joke. IUP’s student-athletes now share the same name as an adults-only cartoon. Not only that, it’s a cartoon of a “superhero” who is usually embarrassed by the opposition.

Good choice, IUP.

That’s my alma mater – now laughingstock of the blogosphere. It would have been nice if they had taken some time to research this. Of course, now the article pointing this out is the SECOND most popular result on Google, so at least there’s an explanation.

I had personally hoped for the Miners – it has local flavor, and who can’t root for a miner? The powers that be thought differently . . . and now look at what happened. Its the age of the internet – when you can actually check for problems like this beforehand with the investment of five seconds of your time. Could we please just be the Miners?

I’m just glad that chances are good that this will blow over in a few weeks. Still, it’d be nice to check on these things.


Rodriguez staying at WVU

Not a done deal after all, apparantly (link to previous OTB coverage).

Rich Rodriguez is not taking that Alabama job after all.

Rich Rodriguez will remain the head coach at West Virginia, a team source confirmed to’s Pat Forde.

Rodriguez met with his team at 3 p.m. ET to inform them of the decision.

Rodriguez was a top candidate for the vacant job in Alabama, meeting with school officials this week. Alabama athletic director Mal Moore also confirmed that Rodriguez had removed himself from consideration for that job.

Wow. I thought the last word had been written on this one. I, for one, am glad to keep Rodriguez at WVU: I like him being in the Big East with Pittsburgh.

An article from a local paper titled Rodriguez Stays explains further:

Rich Rodriguez has spurned a multi-million dollar offer from the University of Alabama and will remain the head football coach at West Virginia University. Rodriguez made the announcement during a team meeting this afternoon. Players roared in approval upon hearing the news.

Numerous media outlets, including ESPN and many in Alabama, had stories over the past 18 hours citing sources within the Crimson Tide athletic department that claimed a verbal agreement had been reach between Rodriguez and Alabama officials to become the new coach at UA. But WVU officials made a counter offer to Rodriguez, who holds a 49-24 record in his six seasons leading the Mountaineers, and the 43-year-old from Grant Town, W.Va., agreed to the new extension on Friday. Details for the new contract were not yet revealed. A press conference will take place at the Puskar Center at 5:30 p.m.

Rodriguez reportedly had received a seven-year contract offer from the University of Alabama in the neighborhood of $2.1 million per year.

I’d hate to be a Crimson Tide fan right now – that’s got to be worse than someone turning you down. I was suprised that Coach Rodriguez had taken the job myself – it just didn’t seem like a good fit for him. My guess is that he used the ‘Bama offer to coax WVU into giving him a better offer. I think that he’d rather be at WVU, since he has a track record there, and is less likely to be fired like Mike Shula was.

So the Alabama coach search continues, and West Virginia fans can rejoice that they are not losing their highly successful coach.

One wonders how the media got this one so wrong – there must have been something to the rumors of Rodriguez signing, but it must not have been as finished as they said. I know I was shocked when I read the headlines about Rodriguez staying, wondering at first if they were old news that had been superceeded by the Alabama hiring job. I haven’t seen them get it this wrong in a while.

One wonders about the damage this may do to his reputation, though. Rodriguez told his team he wasn’t leaving, and then negotiated with another program. While he is ultimately staying, I wonder if he will lose any respect because of this.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Brandon apparently found the story right before I did; we both wound up posting the ESPN story. The substantive comments from my post:

A shame for Alabama but quite likely the right move by Rodriguez. I always think coaches who leave jobs at big-time programs they came up in, like Steve Spurrier and Florida, wind up regretting the move.

There are plenty of great candidates out there and, with Miami having stayed in house, Alabama will have its pick.

I should note, for those coming to this page without context, that I’m an Alabama graduate (PhD, 1995) and a big fan. But I’d be just as happy with Navy’s Paul Johnson or Wake’s Jim Grobe as with Rodriguez. And neither of them would be leaving their home to take the job.


Pirates Pursuing Jeff Suppan – Wait, WHAT? The PIRATES?!?

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports:

The Pirates are among a dozen teams pursuing free agent Jeff Suppan, the St. Louis Cardinals’ best pitcher during their run to the World Series.

“There are a lot of teams reaching out, a tremendous amount of interest in Jeff,” Suppan’s agent, Scott Leventhal, said yesterday. “And Pittsburgh is one of those teams.”

That might surprise some, given that Suppan should command an annual salary in the range of $8 million-$9 million over a span of three or four years. But the Pirates have roughly $14 million to spend this off season, a figure that would rise to $17 million if they sever ties with Shawn Chacon, another right-handed starter.

Yes, that DOES surprise me. This is the first good free agent I’ve heard the Pirates name associated with in YEARS. Pittsburgh just hasn’t gone after any big names at all: the only money they have spent has been on some of their home grown talent (i.e. Jason Bay). However, this may signal a good change in the front office – the willingness to spend money to make the team better. A good farm system is vital, but that needs to be augmented with a good free agent on occasion – you just aren’t going to develop everything you will need.

Is this a sign that the Pirates are finally developing a team to be competitive? I sure hope so.


Jerome Bettis’ Father Johnie Dies of Heart Attack

Via Yahoo News:

Johnnie Bettis, the father of retired NFL running back Jerome Bettis, died Tuesday at a suburban Detroit hospital of an apparent heart attack, police said.

Johnnie Bettis, 61, of Detroit, was stricken while driving in a suburb north of the city around noon, police Lt. Carl Fuhs said.

“He apparently felt it coming on,” Fuhs said. “He was able to pull his vehicle off to the side of the road and stop it, which probably saved injury if not another person’s death. That’s a very busy two-lane road.”

Sad – he brought up a good kid. Shame he won’t be around to see Bettis make the Hall of Fame.

I particularly like this detail about the Bettis family:

When their son offered to buy them a new home, the Bettises spurned the suburbs and moved about six miles to a house on the city’s west side, trying to lead a normal life.

“When Jerome found out we were going to the laundromat, he said that wasn’t acceptable and told us to go get a new washer and dryer,” Johnnie Bettis said a few days before the Super Bowl. “But I kind of liked the laundromat because you get to meet so many interesting people.”

I love these down to earth types of people. With a father like that, you can see why Jerome Bettis was among the better guys in the NFL.


Rutgers Stuns Louisville 28-25

Where the heck did these two teams come from again? Rutgers has always been a bad program. After winning the first college football game ever 6-4 over Princeton, (November 6, 1869, actually, meaning that the anniversary was this past week), they seemingly lost every game since until a couple of years ago.

Now, they are national title contenders.

I love teams like Rutgers. They show the BCS to be the farce that it is. They are at a huge disadvantage in the polls, because voters are less likely to promote them. They came into this week ranked behind the one less West Virginia, which had just lost to Louisville.

It is going to be interesting to see where the BCS puts them.

Louisville is a great story in its own right. A second tier football program until the past few years, Louisville itself would have shaken up the BCS. Louisville doesn’t have the tradition that the other top programs have, and the fact that they were number 3 this late says a lot.

Rutgers has yet to play West Virginia, which could be a tough game. If they run the table, it will make for a VERY INTERESTING decision process for the BCS title game.


Sound Effects Potential? Are You Kidding Me?

My Division II alma mater, when it isn’t losing on national TV (CSTV covered them this week, and as they always do in the national spotlight, IUP lost), is one of the NCAA teams forced to change their mascot from a Native American themed name to something else. I have always found this policy a bit ridiculous, but felt resigned to it because I figured that IUP was going to succumb sooner or later. However, the only reason I write about this small team here is the following:

Following the link above gets you to the IUP mascot choosing website. The three choices are Crimson Thunder, Crimson Hawks, and Gray Wolves. All three, in my opinion, are lame. I fear we are going to see a rash of lame school nicknames in the wake of this decision by the NCAA.

Crimson Thunder? How do you represent THAT? Hawks and Wolves have been overdone. In my opinion, you should only do a mascot that has been done before if you can show its connection to your area. For example, the Miners had been suggested for IUP, which would make sense considering Western Pennsylvania’s heritage in that area. I would have loved to be the Miners. However, Hawks, despite the claim by the naming committee, have no real connection to the area – they just live there. Wolves have been gone for a long time: much longer than Mountain Lions had been gone since Penn State named their sports teams. (Nittany also is a local mountain and refers to the region.)

Seriously, guys, this is lame. I’m going to try to keep an eye on what other schools name themselves in the wake of the NCAA’s decision. We’ve already seen strange things happen: Syracuse went from the Orangemen to the Orange, which is weak. Marquette went from the Golden Warriors to the Golden Eagles, which is a bit weak, especially considering that there are no golden eagles near Marquette. I could tolerate that one, though. However, that was much better than their recent move to screw everyone by just calling their teams “The Golden”.

I’m probably overreacting, but I was hoping IUP could come up with a good mascot. However, I knew from the start that I was hoping for too much. I’ll try to keep you posted on mascot changes throughout the NCAA.


Steelers Post Mortem

OK, we can see the writing on the wall for these guys. They’ve been put into an oven for half a season, and are now DONE.

I can’t believe I’m saying this. Although I didn’t think the Steelers were the hands down favorite to win the next Super Bowl, I would have at least figured that they would be a playoff team that COULD make another good run.

So, now the question is “what the heck went wrong”? Also, “How on God’s green earth did the Steelers lose to OAKLAND?” has also been pondered. Here’s the main reason:


Its as simple as that. The Steelers have turned the ball over at the worst times. On kick returns and in the red zone. They are either about to score, and cough up the ball, or they are about to get the ball back, and give it up, killing any possible offensive momentum.

The team is very productive on offense, but cannot score. We’ve out-gained many of the teams we have played. We also lost to them, because we give up great field position on turnovers. It is frustrating to see your team gained almost 500 yards in offense . . . and still lost.

Who is to blame? I have no idea, really. The whole team is dropping the balls. The defense is doing an OK job at stopping the other team, really. They could be better, but I really have no beef with them. The offense is playing horrible football. Big Ben is throwing way too many interceptions, and I wonder if that is because we are asking him to throw too much. Roethlisberger seems to do best when the running game is firing on all cylinders, which it is not. Which, of course, brings us to the run game. Willie Parker is doing OK, but he cannot grind out the yardage in the way Bettis could. We need someone who can grind out yardage, although I understand we are not going to get another Bettis – we need a back to fill that role, and the Steelers don’t seem to be doing a good job of getting running backs to try out for this position.

All in all, this is an extremely disappointing season. With the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7-4-1, I may just have to try to follow hockey for the first time in years. Also, a columnist pointed out that the Pittsburgh Pirates were no longer the worst team in Pittsburgh – they have a better winning percentage than the Steelers. Ouch.


Revenge of the Nittany Lions?

Note: this preview is being done without the benefit of seeing any highlights from the Minnesota game, solely relying on my pessimistic Dad’s assessment of what happened during that scare. I had quite a busy weekend and had to miss the game (and if I had stayed in Maryland, I probably wouldn’t have seen it anyway.) So it is possible that I am missing something here.

Penn State’s biggest game left in the season is coming up this week. Michigan comes to Happy Valley Saturday to play in the second largest stadium in the country (second, of course, to Michigan Stadium).

Last year at this time, Penn State was unexpectedly doing well. They were unbeaten. They had beaten Ohio State. The hardest game left was Michigan, which was struggling that year with questions at quarterback. Penn State had a senior QB who was phenomenal. They went into the Big House and played a battle for the ages. After the last Penn State touchdown, I called a fellow Penn State fan in this area who had to miss the game to tell him that we were up, and that with one minute left, I figured they had won. We were both very excited, as the prospect of an unbeaten season was going to be much easier with Michigan out of the way.

Then Chad Henne came on the field and lead the game winning drive (with the help of seconds added onto the clock by the refs, which I still disagree with). Henne did an excellent job, and forced me to make a second, much more depressing phone call.

Anyway, this year, the situation looks reversed. Penn State has the questionable quarterback that could be a year away from greatness (although that is far from assured). Michigan has the senior who looks phenomenal. Michigan is coming into Beaver Stadium. They have defeated Notre Dame, a game they were expected to lose. The only big difference is that this isn’t the biggest game left for them, as Michigan was for Penn State last year – Michigan has yet to face Ohio State. I foresee a good game. Penn State will want revenge. They would love to take Michigan out of the national title picture by giving them a loss. Can it happen? I think it can, although I think it is going to be hard. Here’s what is going for Penn State.

1. Lack of Mario Manningham on Michigan. The Manningham/Henne pairing has been quite productive. Taking Manningham away because of injury is going to hurt Henne and the offenses ability to make plays.
2. Defense. Other than the Notre Dame game, Penn State’s defense has done an excellent job keeping the team in the game. Paul Posluszny finally seems to be back in form.
3. Tony Hunt. This running back seems to be the real deal.
4. Wideouts. Penn State has good ones. If they get the ball, watch out.

The main concern is opening up the passing game. Anthony Morelli has not been doing a great job with that so far. He has struggled all season. Penn State fans certainly hope that he can have a game like Chad Henne had last year (without the added second, of course). I can’t remember if Henne was particularly good the whole game, but he did do well when it counted, and that’s what Penn State is going to need. They are playing in Beaver Stadium (a stadium I finally got to see last weekend, although it was empty. From the outside, it is an ugly stadium). This is going to help tremendously – Penn State has great fans. This should be a fun game to watch, unless Michigan opens it up early and takes the crowd out.

Finally, if Penn State wins, and then Michigan beats Ohio State at the end of the season, and all three teams win out, we face the nightmare scenario for the Big Ten Championship. Each team will have beat one of the three top teams, and each team will have lost to the other. I’m not sure what tie breakers apply after that, but since the Big Ten doesn’t have a championship game, it will be fun to watch if that does happen. So Fight On State!


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