Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Heartaches by the number

It’s said that figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Indeed, the sports world is full of stat-spewing BS artists. Ex-Browns coach Butch Davis, one of the most egregious number-crunching spin-meisters in football, infamously pooh-poohed Jamal Lewis’s 295-yard rushing performance against his team by claiming his defense held Lewis in check, minus a few measly little long touchdown runs, of course.

Still, when framed honestly, numbers can be instructive and even eye-opening. Below are a handful of figures from the local sports scene to sink your brain into as you finish off that leftover Butterball this week:


2- Coach Mangini's job may have been saved (for now) by two feet last Sunday. Did you see his stony, emotionless face after Carolina’s game-ending field goal attempt clanged off the left upright? The man famous for rarely cracking a smile had no reason to celebrate after the Browns eked out an underwhelming win against the 1-9 Panthers, and he knew it. That kick drifts a little to the right and the hot seat Mangini’s already sitting on gets cranked up to “flame-broil.”

59- Just a tick under a minute to go in a game the Browns are leading by a single point, the Panthers are on their own four-yard-line, have no timeouts, and a rookie QB under center. May as well turn off the ol’ Philco, ‘cause this one’s all but over, right pa? You ain’t been watching this team long enough, ma. The Browns, not content with making things easy against a bad team, give up yet another long pass play to a running back and come within a sharp intake of the sellout crowd’s breath from an inexcusable loss.

131- Another huge ground game for Peyton Hillis. The man runs like a tank –one of those fast Abrams ones – and boasts some surprising athleticism to boot. Get another solid back in here (Montario Hardesty?) to spell the should-be 2010 Pro Bowler and the Browns could open 2011 with a sick one-two backfield punch.

3– The Browns’ trio of quarterbacks has been fitted for a self-same set of matching walking boots this season. The prospect of a recently de-booted Jake Delhomme starting the next few games has me utterly uninspired. Get well soon, Gunslinger McCoy.

4-7– As an old friend of CST was once heard to remark, “It is what it is, dude.” Maybe with a few plays turning in their favor, the Browns’ record could be 6-5 or 7-4. The grim reality, however, is another playoff-starved season on the lakefront. Holmgren/Heckert had a very good draft, but there’s still a glaring talent/depth deficiency on this roster that’s been further exposed by the recent rash of injuries. The off-season will hopefully bring that much-needed second infusion of playmakers. Whether Mangini and his crew will be here to coach up that talent remains to be seen.


28- The Cavaliers rank near the bottom of the league in scoring (94.9 points per contest), a disappointment even in light of a roster carrying no real impact players. Coach Scott’s up-tempo style is not going to bear fruit until he gets a guy not named Mo who can create his own shot. Otherwise, after a few nice wins early in the year, the Cavs are shaping up to be the mediocre 35-win-team predicted by most NBA analysts.

5- With the glaring roster hole created by That Guy in Miami, there was some hope that JJ Hickson would serve as the All Star-caliber foundation for a rebuilding franchise. That hasn’t exactly happened yet, as Hickson’s decidedly average numbers (12 points, 5 rebounds) per game have been further eroded by single-digit scoring efforts in five of his last six outings. Early on at least, the young forward appears to be a JAG (Just Another Guy) on a roster already full of them.

7:08- This was the approximate time left in the second quarter when the bar I was handing out Watchtower Society tracts at last week finally decided to turn on the Cavs-Bucks game. Not surprising that the Cavs are no longer appointment TV for many Clevelanders, but annoying nonetheless.

12/2- The same watering hole that ignored the actually pretty exciting Cavs-Bucks tilt will no doubt have every available HD flat screen blaring for That Guy’s return to Cleveland on Thursday. If schadenfreude must be the basis of our fandom this basketball season, then it will give me great “shameful joy” to watch the Cavs send the bickering Heat back to South Beach with yet another doubt-inducing loss.


5 (again)- General admission cost for “Snow Days,” a month-long promotion at Progressive Field that includes such family-friendly activities as snow tubing and ice skating. The logical part of my brain says this is a nice idea that will bring people downtown. But logic is soon overridden by grinchy, cynical thoughts of a bad franchise that needs to cobble together gimmicky promotions to distract from an unwatchable core product. For most Tribe fans, I imagine taking their kids to see good baseball in the summer would be preferable to skating around the outfield for a few weeks this winter.

$50-$59 million- Such is the projected payroll for the Indians in 2011, according to team CEO Paul Dolan. He delivered this season ticket-selling bit of news during last month’s general mangers/owners meetings in Orlando, further stating that the club has no plans on bidding on any impact free agents this winter.

And here I thought the Tribe was going to give Cliff Lee $20M per to come back to Cleveland. OK, so Dolan’s statement is no surprise. Baseball’s financial system is grossly unbalanced, etc. Unfortunately, the average ticket-buying fan will view Dolan’s words as just another excuse from a cheapskate, ambitionless franchise complacent with contending once every five years. That’s the other reality that ownership must deal with. If they think fans don’t care about the team now, just wait until next season when even less bodies are projected to be pushing through Progressive Field’s turnstiles.

If the team wants to go with its current model of putting revenue into scouting and draft prospects, fine, but if a handful of those prospects grow into All Stars, the front office must step up and pay at least one of those guys, or the cycle of fan cynicism and empty seats will continue ad infinitum.


100-24- It’s supposed to be fun when Ohio State beats Michigan, but check out that lopsided aggregate score from the last three contests. Beating Michigan these days is akin to the annual mid-October dismantling of a Minnesota or Indiana, and feels almost as hollow. I’m one of those annoying people who actually want Michigan to be good again for the sake of The Rivalry and the conference. Rich Rodriguez getting fired and Jim Harbaugh coming in would be the start of getting me truly pumped again for that last game of the season.

10- The amount of socks it would take for “haters” to fill the shoes of Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor, according to the man himself via his Twitter feed following the game against Iowa. The tweet was soon taken down, and replaced this week with another mature observation: “Damn I must be the worst Qb/ player. I might quit football.”

Maybe I’m taking these remarks out of context, but it seems Pryor is chafing against disparagement from pundits and some fans. Whether the criticism is fair or not, Pryor is a high-profile athlete leading one of the most storied programs in college football. He already had a “punk” reputation coming out of high school, and tweeting idiotic remarks will only further fuel that standing as well as critics’ ire. And who still says “hater,” anyway? What year is this, 2003? Unless you’re a character in a movie about crunk dancing or competitive cheerleading, nobody should ever use that word, ever.