Monday, November 13, 2017

Here Are 3 Great NFL-Related Odd Couple Episodes

Happy Odd Couple Day!

That’s right, you know what we’re talking about:

“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence… That request came from his wife.”

There have been many iterations of The Odd Couple, from stage to screen to television. The movie version with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau was a classic, but it’s hard to top the original TV series that aired on ABC from 1970-75, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.

As the show gained popularity, it featured some notable guest appearances. And having one of the main characters be a successful sportswriter made it easy to incorporate big names from the sports world into storylines.

There was the episode where they tried to set up Oscar’s secretary, Myrna (Penny Marshall). One of the potential suitors is a European placekicker played by former Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian. Appropriately, the only English word he speaks is “Kick!”

In “That Was No Lady,” Felix falls for a woman he thinks is single. Turns out she’s married to a jealous pro linebacker played by Alex Karras. This was three years after Karras retired from the NFL and one year before his memorable turn as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.” (Karras, of course, went on to play a not-so-tough guy as the dad in ‘80s sitcom “Webster.”)

Howard Cosell appeared twice in the series. In the final season, Oscar hired real-life comedian Jack Carter to write him some good Cosell insults (thus the episode title, “Your Mother Wears Army Boots”). But it was Cosell’s first appearance, in 1972, that was among the best Odd Couple episodes ever.

In fact, three episodes with NFL cameos are among the best in the series. Here they are:

“Big Mouth” (air date, Sept. 22, 1972) – The first of two appearances by “Monday Night Football” play-by-play man Howard Cosell. This one establishes the feud between Cosell and Oscar, and it also features a cameo – at least in highlight form – from Roger Staubach.

The episode includes two visits to the “Monday Night Football” booth. The first time, Felix suggests to Cosell that there are some things he can do to fix his nasal twang, to which Cosell fires back: “That nasal twang is the single most identifiable voice in broadcasting!”

The second visit comes during a Cowboys-Giants game, and Cosell aims to embarrass Oscar by handing him the mike to call a play. When Oscar freezes, Felix grabs the mike and pretends to be Oscar, proceeding to make one of the greatest play-by-play calls in football history:

“Staubach takes the snap from center. He fakes a handoff to Duane Thomas elegantly and fades back to pass. He’s looking for a receiver. He can’t find one. He’s scrambling… He’s scrambling with the dexterity of a lizard. … And now he looks to run with it himself. And he’s stopped cold at the line of scrimmage. No gain on the play! … No gain, but a lesson for us all. And what is that lesson? It is the lesson that is the message of all sports. Try, try again. For all men, no matter what their race, creed or color (looking at an African-American in the booth), no matter who they are, more than money is the love of fair play… And speaking of fair play, this is Oscar Madison signing off and reminding you that a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

Cosell then takes back the mike and says, “Ladies and gentleman, I’ll recap the three plays you just missed right after this announcement.”

Here’s the full episode (skip to the 22-minute mark to see Felix’s play-by-play)


“Felix’s First Commercial” (Nov. 3, 1972) – Felix gets to direct a commercial, but only if Oscar can get his friend, NFL star Deacon Jones, to be in it. And Deacon will only do it if Oscar can be in the commercial with him.

(Full disclosure: I once interviewed Jones for NFL.com, I think around 2002 or so. When I got him on the phone, I prefaced the interview by telling him that I was a big Odd Couple fan and his appearance on the show was one of my favorites. “Goddamit!” said Deacon. “I’m in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the most feared pass rushers in football history, and all anyone wants to talk to me about is when I was on the Odd Couple and the Brady Bunch.” I think he was half-kidding, not sure. My instinct was to say I didn’t really want to talk about his appearance on the Brady Bunch, but instead I skipped the whole thing and went straight into football questions.)


“Take My Furniture, Please” (March 9, 1973) – Felix sets out to redecorate the apartment. The whole episode is so great that Bubba Smith’s cameo is almost an afterthought. Smith, playing himself, is in Oscar’s office for an interview when Felix shows up seeking Oscar’s approval on samples of their new drapes. As a precursor to his future comedic work in the “Police Academy” movies, Smith is great as football-star-turned-interior-decorator -- “I’ve tackled that color before,” he says.

When asked about his formal dining area, Smith deadpans, “I just did mine in blue and white, trimmed in gold. Looks great and the chicks love it.”

Here’s the full episode (go to the 9-minute mark to see Bubba’s part)





Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sad State of Web Editing

It was a Friday morning, and I was putting the finishing touches on a manuscript about NBA star Kevin Durant. This was for a youth publication -- 9,000 or so well-crafted words geared toward high school-aged kids.

It was for a series of books being written about the Golden State Warriors’ triumphant 2016-17 season, in which they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA Championship. Durant’s story was of particular interest. He was already an established superstar last summer when he signed a free-agent contract to join the Warriors, who had already been to two straight NBA Finals without him, winning it all in 2015.

Durant received plenty of criticism for signing with Golden State, but he played through it, helped his new team recapture the title, and was named MVP of the Finals.

Anyway, I was just browsing the web in search of some information for one last sidebar when I came across the following headline:

Kevin Durant recants Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video

Wait, what?

The longest chapter in my manuscript is all about “that championship season.” All that work I put into detailing the events that led to winning the title … Durant is disavowing it?

How was this not front-page news?

Of course, a quick perusal of the article confirmed what I really thought: The person who wrote that headline doesn’t know what “recant” means.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Recant: to withdraw or repudiate (a statement or belief) formally and publicly

The Warriors’ season and title run doesn’t qualify as a statement or belief, so the headline wouldn’t make sense even if there were some weird, negative angle. No, it was simply a story about this video in which Durant was looking back on last season.

Reflecting.

Reminiscing.

Recounting.

Yes, that’s what the headline was supposed to be: Kevin Durant recounts Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video.

Should we give the editor the benefit of the doubt? Maybe he or she meant to write “recounts” but misspelled it. Autocorrect -- not having any context -- changed it to “recants.” Of course, then it’s just a terrible editing job.

I know what you’re thinking… It’s way too easy to pick on digital media outlets for their shabby writing and editing skills. But there are two aspects of this egregious error that really stick out:

For starters, this likely wasn’t just a careless typo or bad grammar. It wasn’t a millennial who thinks text shorthand – like thru instead of through -- is okay for headlines. No, this was a vocabulary-related offense. It was just ironic that the wrongly used word completely reversed the intended meaning of the headline.

On top of that, it should be noted that this story was originally published on a major media site that actually employs writers and editors. Because my intent is not to shame any particular source, there’s no need to call them out here. But make no mistake, the headline was not written by a blogger in a basement.

That said, you can easily find the source by dropping that headline into your browser. And therein lies another problem. If you Google that headline you’ll find the original source – plus a dozen other blogs and/or newsfeeds that picked it up. Some are clearly feeds that automatically pick up the original headline, but a few are blogs created by humans who lazily re-ran the original headline and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. And it’s not simply a matter of us grumpy old journalism school grads making too big a deal out of grammar and spelling (and vocabulary, for crying out loud).

Last week, I was talking to a buddy of mine who is an NFL reporter for a major sports website. His work is read by millions. Recently, his boss asked him to add a new person to the distribution list when he emails stories to the desk. It was the new editorial intern, he was told, and there’s a chance the intern might be the one editing your story.

Good for the intern, I guess. At most major sports sites, the editorial intern might get to edit wire stories or game recaps. But the only set of eyes on the NFL insider’s news stories?

I repeat, It’s a sad state of affairs.

And that is a statement I will not recant.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Gil Brandt for the Hall of Fame

Well, that was depressing... On the one hand, I'm glad that when Peter King invited his readers to submit their 250-word essays on why their candidate should be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two people saw fit to write essays about the great Gil Brandt.

The MMQB published the best essays here, and one of the Brandt essays made the cut. Sadly, and shamefully, it wasn't mine.

Yup, I took the time to submit an essay. Brandt may never make it to the Hall -- as an inductee, at least -- but he deserves to be recognized for his tremendous achievements and contributions. Not only to the Dallas Cowboys but to the National Football League as a whole.

So anyway, nothing against Henry Martinez of Ennis, Texas (I'm glad he and I share our affinity for Gil), but I'm just a little bummed MMQB didn't run my essay.

So, of course, I'm happy to share it with you here...

The case for Gil Brandt



Die-hard Dallas Cowboys fans know and appreciate Gil Brandt for his role as the architect of what became known as America’s Team. But Brandt did more than just scout and draft the likes of Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes and Randy White. As a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame under the “Contributor” category, Brandt fits that description better than anyone.

Owners and GMs “contribute” to the game in fairly specific ways, but Brandt blazed a path that did not exist before he joined the Cowboys in 1960. The scouting methods and strategies that he implemented have become commonplace throughout the NFL.

Whether it was paying closer attention to the small schools and historically black colleges, recognizing that track stars and basketball players might succeed playing football, projecting the ability of a player to switch positions, or being the first NFL organization to incorporate the use of computers into its scouting process, Brandt was ahead of his time.

Brandt was an important part of the triumvirate, along with Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, that made the Cowboys what they were. Landry and Schramm are both in the Hall. Brandt’s relevancy cannot be denied. Even after his days with the Cowboys, the NFL has employed him to identify the college prospects they invite to New York for the draft every year.

Can the history of the NFL be written without Gil Brandt? Probably, but it would be very different, in many ways.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This week's ultimate fantasy sleeper


How's this for a ballsy pick in daily fantasy football: Seahawks backup RB Robert Turbin gets the start!

Why not? In my weekly "Value Picks" article for DFSEdge.com, I undertake the following exercise: Build a roster each week that includes the most expensive QB, RB, WR and TE ... and then try to fill in the rest of my roster with underpriced guys so I'm still under the salary cap.

Of course, that means my lineup includes Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and either Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning every single week. I can live with that.

Depending on the daily site being used, there are different combinations of rosters. I prefer sites like FantasyAces.com, since they have spots for two quarterbacks. So after you splurge on the highest-priced guy, you can still find a nice value pick to select.

Anyway, after doing pretty well last week by picking Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (who had 10 carries for 3 yards the previous week), I decided to really push the envelope in Week 3 -- taking a chance that Seattle will give backup RB Robert Turbin a good chunk of action this week against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's the line of thinking: Marshawn Lynch was a true beast last week, carrying the ball 28 times against the physical 49ers defense in a divisional grudge match on national TV. Next week, the Seahawks travel to Houston for a marquee matchup -- Super Bowl preview? -- against the Texans.

So a home game against the worst team in the NFL is a perfect opportunity to give Lynch a breather and let Turbin -- who had six carries for 30 yards himself last week -- have a chance to shine.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Sure, it's a little risky, but I love the potential here.

For all my value picks this week, check out my DFSEdge.com article.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Countdown to Kaepernick injury

Peter King had a note in MMQB a few weeks ago about how Colin Kaepernick was working with a speed trainer during the offseason. This was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses. More likely, defensive coordinators are saying to themselves, “Bring it on.”

Speed wasn’t exactly a weakness for Kaepernick, already one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL. He took over the starting gig for the San Francisco 49ers midway through the 2012 season and led them to the Super Bowl by making big plays with both his arm and his feet. He earned a place among the league’s exciting new breed of QB, alongside Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, running the read option and pistol, and whatever else you want to call it.

Problem is, Kaepernick's time would have been better spent studying opposing defenses or working out with his receivers. I’m not saying he didn’t do that, but it should have been a much greater focus than speed training.

Because unless Kaepernick runs out of bounds or scores a touchdown every time he ventures out of the pocket, he will certainly get hit more than the average NFL quarterback. And he WILL get injured this season.

For all of Robert Griffin III’s exciting play as a rookie last season, he didn’t make it all the way through. Close, but not close enough. Kaepernick made it, but he didn’t become the starter in San Francisco until Week 11.

In his seven regular-season starts last year, Kaepernick averaged six rushing attempts per game and overall for the season he finished with 31.9 rushing yards per game. That was good for fourth among quarterbacks. Two of the three QBs who rushed for more yards per game – RGIII and Michael Vick – missed some playing time due to injury. The third was Cam Newton, who’s got 15 pounds on Kaepernick.

Maybe Kaepernick would have been better served building muscle mass during the offseason as opposed to working on his speed.

It will certainly be interesting to see how offenses evolve this season after last year’s success with the read option and pistol. No doubt, defensive coordinators have been working hard throughout the offseason to devise a plan to stop the spread of the passing attacks that have moved rapidly from the college landscape to the pros.

The one thing they know they can do: When the QB is out of the pocket, hit him. New rules that protect ball carriers will not prevent running quarterbacks from being hit hard by linebackers who smell blood.

Will the extra speed make a difference for Kaepernick? At times, absolutely. There will be occasions when his added speed and quickness helps him buy more time – in or out of the pocket – to find an open receiver and make a big play. There will be times when he is forced to scramble and that extra burst helps him elude a defender and make a big run.

Kaepernick is certainly a rising star in the league. And he is a strong passer. The concern isn’t his skill set – it’s his mind set. Great quarterbacks – all great players, for that matter – constantly strive to get better.

Kaepernick is already good but there’s always room for improvement. Alas, speed was not an area he needed to improve upon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Deacon Jones was a force of nature on and off the field

Deacon Jones passed away Monday night. The NFL has lost a legendary player and a legendary character.

I remember the first time I spoke to Deacon Jones. As a fanatical fan of “The Odd Couple” – every sportswriter’s favorite TV show – I was compelled to tell Jones how much I enjoyed the episode in which he played himself and helped Oscar and Felix film a TV commercial.

“Goddammit!” Jones shouted through the phone. “I’m in the goddam Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the only thing people want to talk about is 'The Odd Couple' and 'The Brady Bunch!'”

Of course, that’s not entirely true. The reason I was talking to him in the first place was for a story about the Hall of Fame. Plus, I really didn't care about his turn on "The Brady Bunch."

The irony of Jones’ stellar appearance on “The Odd Couple” is that he was portrayed as a stoic figure, a man of very few words. And as everyone who knew Deacon Jones could attest, the Hall of Fame defensive end was anything but stoic.

After Jones takes control of the Multiblade commercial that Felix is directing in the show, Felix congratulates him on his performance by exclaiming, “That’s speakin’, Deacon!”

When it came to “speakin’,” Jones was an all-star. In fact, the only thing he was better at doing was terrorizing NFL quarterbacks as a member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome." In addition to coining the term “sack,” he remains the unofficial career leader in that category – a stat that was not kept when he played. The bottom line: Few defensive players could disrupt an opposing offense like Deacon Jones.

What made Jones so great? He certainly had the skill and the physical ability. I once got to see Deacon personally demonstrate his patented head slap – a move so devastating it became illegal in today’s NFL.

But probably what made Jones a dominant force on the football field, more than physical talent and technique, was what made him such a dominant force in life: his passion. Listening to Jones speak, it was easy to understand what drove him in everything he did.

It’s that passion that made him a fixture in Canton, Ohio, when Hall of Famers gathered every summer to welcome a new class of enshrinees. Along with the late Ray Nitschke – another fiery defensive stalwart whose character led him to be a hit in TV and movie cameos – Jones was among the most vocal Hall of Famers. Nitschke and Jones were the driving forces of the Friday luncheon during Enshrinement Weekend, where they would hammer home to the new HOF class what it meant to be part of the Hall.

According to Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, it was Jones who first talked to his fellow members about how being a part of the Hall of Fame meant you were now a member of the only team from which you can never be cut – even when you die.

Indeed, Deacon Jones will be missed… but he can rest in peace knowing that he will always be a member of the greatest football team of all-time.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Curious Case of Rams WR Chris Givens


St. Louis Rams wide receiver Chris Givens turned in one heck of a bizarre statistical anomaly last season.

While doing some research for a stat-based feature in the 2013 Lindy’s Fantasy Football preview magazine, I came across the record-tying stretch that Givens enjoyed during his rookie season in the NFL. The record is impressive enough. Upon further review, however, it’s remarkable because of what he did the rest of the season.

After being drafted in the fourth round last year out of Wake Forest, Givens began his rookie season quietly, catching two passes for nine yards in his first three games. Then, in Week 4, he caught a 52-yard pass in the Rams’ upset win over the Seahawks.

That long haul was the first of a five-week run in which he caught a pass of at least 50 yards in each game. The five straight games with a 50-yard catch tied a record that had been set by one-time Olympics sprinter Willie Gault with the Bears.

Here’s the anomaly: If a receiver has one catch for 50 yards or more, you’d think that’s a good foundation to produce a 100-yard game. And yet, Givens did not have a single 100-yard game in this stretch. The most yards he had in any of those five games was 85, in a Week 6 loss at Miami. Givens had a 65-yard catch in that game, but only had two other receptions for a total of 20 yards.

Over that five-game stretch, Givens caught 11 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. While five of those catches accounted for 274 yards, the other six receptions produced a paltry 50 yards.

Adding to the question over whether Givens is a budding big-play star or a flash in the pan: After that wacky five-game stretch, he fell off the map.

Givens had amassed 324 yards in that five-game run. After the bye week, he missed the next game with a toe injury, then started the last seven games of the season. But he only had 29 catches for 365 yards in those seven contests.

From Weeks 4-8, Givens averaged 29.5 yards per catch.

From Weeks 11-17, he averaged 12.6 yards per catch.

So which Chris Givens will we see in 2013?