Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lions Losing Streaks Falling

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When the Detroit Lions snapped their 26-game road losing streak to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on December 19, it marked the second straight week that they ended a futile drought.

On December 12 at Ford Field, a 7-3 win over the Green Bay Packers halted a 19-game losing streak to NFC North opponents.

During the Lions Post-Game Press Conference in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium after Detroit removed a Gorilla off it's back against the Bucs, Head Coach Jim Schwartz candidly told the Media that We'll find another streak to create.

So out of respect to Schwartz, I found three streaks for the coach that would either continue or also come to an end.

1) The Miami Dolphins are 7-2 in the all-time series, but have won five straight games dating back to 1994. On November 23, 2006, former quarterback Joey Harrington led the Dolphins to a 27-10 win on Thanksgiving Day.

2) The Miami Dolphins are 4-0 at home in two stadiums starting with the now demolished Orange Bowl and their current home Joe Robbie Stadium.

3) In this series, the month of December hasn't been kind to the Lions.

Miami rolled to a 34-7 win on December 15, 1973 at the Orange Bowl.

Six years later, the Dolphins whipped the Lions 28-10 on December 9, 1979 at the Pontiac Silverdome.

On December 25, 1994, Miami came away with a Christmas Night Prime-Time 27-20 victory at Joe Robbie Stadium.

Finally, the Dolphins improved to 4-0 in December as they defeated the Lions 33-30, on 12-7-97 at Joe Robbie Stadium.

So what was going to give as the Lions made another Christmas time appearance on December 26, 2010 wearing their blue home jerseys facing former U-M Wolverines QB Chad Henne and Left Tackle Jake Long?

The Dolphins (7-7) were 1-6 at home going into their Joe Robbie Stadium Finale. Their lone win occurred on November 14 as they defeated the Tennessee Titans 29-17.

When the contest was over, the Lions received a belated Christmas Gift from Henne. Going into the contest, the former Wolverines signal caller was 266-430 for 2,952 yards with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. By the end of the afternoon, went 29-44 for 278 yards with two more interceptions and one touchdown.

Both interceptions occurred in the fourth quarter. The first was picked off by Nathan Vasher at the 3:48 mark and four plays later led to a 47-yard field goal by Dave Rayner which tied the game at 27-27 with 2:44 remaining in the game.

With 2:25 left, Henne's pass short in the middle that was intended for Davone Bess was intercepted by DeAndre Levy at the Miami 30-yard line and returned for a touchdown. Demonstrating a little showmanship, Levy took a 30-yard run and worked his way to the middle of the field and it looked like a 50-yard run. Yet the end result turned out to be Detroit 34-27 win over the Dolphins. As the clock read 2:11, the Dolphins fans were totally stunned. The only word you'd hear in the Press Box was "Wow."

Levy said the team scouted Henne's tendencies and knew he has a history of making mistakes late in games.

"We knew he had some shaky numbers," Levy said. "A lot of people from the outside look at that and say that's the reason they struggle with so many play makers. But we never want to underestimate a guy. We've had second, third string quarterbacks that, you know, people may not expect much out of come in and win games. We never overlook anybody. We want to come in and execute and do what we're supposed to do."

After both interceptions, 66,731 fans were booing Henne out of the stadium.

Yet when the contest was over, Lions Coach Jim Schwartz didn't know about the three streaks written here in Miami. Just the three-game winning streak the team has and winning a pair in Florida in consecutive weeks against teams that were playoff contenders leading Detroit's development throughout the year.

"Going back if you look at our losses, I don't know if there was a common vein in any of them in any of them," Schwartz said. Each one was a little different. It is a credit to the team. We learned from those. We have not gotten beaten the same way twice. We are used to playing in close games. We are playing with quarterbacks like Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton even though they are second and third stringers this year that have a lot of experience this year. So it is not new for any of these guys."

Now the Miami Dolphins find themselves 7-8 and finished the season 1-7 at home.

The Lions improved to 5-10 and 2-6 on the road. There is no doubt that the next opponent they scout will be live as the Minnesota Vikings contest against the Philadelphia Eagles has been postponed to Tuesday night at 8 pm due to a Snow Storm in Pennsylvania.

It's not hard to figure out which team will be tired as they Lions now have a built in advantage with the extra rest as they look hope to finish the season with a 6-10 record and four-game winning streak.

In addition to the three historical notes listed above, Lions Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh racked up his ninth sack of the season which tied Jerry Ball for the third most at his position in Detroit history.

Suh said the team is playing with heart not being a playoff contender and, "It's more of an understanding in the locker room we all understand that we're not going to the playoffs. We have our own schedule we need to work on for and work at, finish the season out and get ready for next year."

Before Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson injured his ankle, he had four receptions for 52 yards. Johnson endured the Lions 0-16, 2-14 seasons and has watched the team progress to five victories with one more game to go.

Was a pleased at the outcome of the contest?

"Three wins-in-a-row man, we hadn't really seen that since I've been here. I might have seen it in my first year, I'm not positive," Johnson said. "I don't really remember. But we put some good things together, good December. And these things will carry over. I think it's guys just focused in and we're not killing ourselves with mistakes. That's what we were doing most of the season. We'd been in all the games, the games were close and draw some penalties and stuff like that. These last few weeks, it hasn't been the same thing."

Hill was 14-26 222 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was a 53-yard strike to Running Back Jahvid Best in the fourth quarter which saw Miami's lead shrink to 27-24.

What did Hill see in the Dolphins coverage which enabled his running back shock the crowd at Joe Robbie Stadium?

"They were playing two man, he came out on the weak side of the formation and they were pre-occupied with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettegrew, " Hill said. "He just came out there free and took off."

When the Lions airplane took off from South Florida, it did with the team improving to 7-3 all-time against the Dolphins. There was no more five game losing streak to Miami. In the eyes of the late Ernie Harwell it was "Long Gone."

Detroit did it despite yielding the second highest rushing total to the Dolphins with 154 yards.

They left the Sunshine State with a 2-0 record in successive weeks.

In this very building on November 27, I watched the Miami Hurricanes lose 23-20 in overtime to the University of South Florida. Later that night, the Hurricanes fired Head Coach Randy Shannon.

For some reason, I have a feeling that Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano will experience the same fate. The team's final game is Sunday January 2nd in New England against the 13-2 Patriots. The Patriots currently have a seven game winning streak.

If the Dolphins lose, Miami will finish with a 7-9 season. On October 4, the Patriots drilled the Dolphins 41-14 in a Nationally Televised contest on ESPN.

Miami's only chance at an 8-8 season is if the Patriots rest some of their players now that they have clinched home field advantage in the AFC throughout the playoffs.

Miami experienced another National Embarrassment when the Chicago Bears blanked the Dolphins 16-0 in Prime-Time on the NFL Network on Thursday November 18.

When the NFL schedule was released in April, who would have thought that when the 2010 season was over that the records of these two teams could be potentially so close? But should Detroit conclude its season 6-10 and Miami 7-9, that's what we're potentially looking at.

Regardless, there are no more Ghosts in the Lions closet in South Florida.

Yet before the game, since 1970, the Miami Dolphins still owned the second best record in the NFL with a 379-249-2 mark, yet that seems like a distant reality since they have two Super Bowl titles to show for their efforts. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the best team with a 382-246-2 mark and six Super Bowl titles.

Judging by the Lions recent futility and Miami's overall success, one would think these two teams didn't need to be mentioned in the same sentence. Miami was 7-9 in 2009 and Detroit 2-14. Now they're much closer to one another in the standings.

On December 26, 2010, none of the streaks or records mattered. Three were snapped.

The only things that mattered was Detroit's win total is 2 1/2 times more than last year and with a Sunday win against the Vikings, there could be an improvement of three times last years totals.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

NBA's Christmas Grinch

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When it comes to athletes and coaches whom are earning millions of dollars whining, please accept my decision that I'm not going to feel sorry for them.

When I heard that Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra and Heat forward LeBron James were complaining about playing games on Christmas and were disappointed that they couldn't spend time with their families, I nearly gagged!

For years, every sport plays on a major holiday. These fans pay lots of money so these players and coaches, etc... can make an Exceptional Living.

In baseball, long before James was ever born, fans have watched games on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

I've seen the NHL have games on Christmas and Jan 1st and if a team is lucky enough to make the playoffs, they'll play on Memorial Day. The NHL has even smartened up that the league has started a new tradition by staging "The Winter Classic" and showcases its marquee teams playing an outdoor game in snowy, wintery conditions. Please tell me a player that ever complained about entertaining fans at Chicago's Wrigley Field or Boston's Fenway Park.

For years, the NFL has played games on Labor Day, occasionally on Christmas, and thanks to the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, there is the annual Thanksgiving Game. The Lions took the game when nobody wanted it in the 1930's and should keep the game until the end of time. I've been very fortunate enough to cover several Lions Games at the Pontiac Silverdome. I never saw Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders complain about eating his meal later in the day. The Cowboys do a nice job with the second contest.

I'm glad that the NFL Network has added the third prime time game. This will enable other cities to host the event and allow fans to enjoy the tradition that those in Detroit and Dallas have for years.

The NFL can at least claim that it owns Thanksgiving Day.

When people think of Memorial Day Weekend, they think of Motor Sports.

I've been to two Indianapolis 500's in Indiana and to see 250,000-300,000 fans tailgate, wear their favorite drivers numbers, outside the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a blast in the morning.

NASCAR's longest race of the year in Charlotte, NC., is the Coca Cola 600 and it starts in late afternoon and carries over into prime time as races could last until 11-Midnight depending on accidents.

I don't see John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon complaining about racing on Memorial Day Weekend. These drivers put their lives on the line and have had the guts to race in both events.

We all know that the NBA plays its playoff games on Memorial Day Weekend, but is there a person that really cares about the sport in the months of October, November and early December? If there is, please let me know who that individual is and I'll shake their hand.

The NBA's coming out party is on Christmas Day. Several years ago, I covered a Detroit Pistons vs Orlando Magic contest at the Amway Arena. It was a blast. I ate lunch with my broadcasting idol Brent Musberger and enjoyed speaking with Hall of Fame player Rick Barry, whose son Jon played for the Pistons.

When I was with the Hallandale Digest back in the 1980's, I wrote a story on Barry, who was interested in becoming a head basketball coach for Barry University, a private school in Miami.

But the national attention in downtown Orlando surrounding the event was enjoyable and the electricity in the building was memorable.

When James was in diapers, and Spoelstra was in grade school, NBA Commissioner David Stern inherited a league that was practically bankrupt. The NBA Finals Games were on tape delay on CBS and the NBA consisted of the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76'ers and Los Angeles Lakers.

When Larry Bird joined the Boston Celtics, and Magic Johnson landed in Los Angeles for the 1979-80 season, these two players made the league worthwhile entertainment.

I have no desire to take any shots at Jackson because, I can't see him coaching in many more holiday games. My gut feeling is when he wins the NBA title next spring, he'll retire in Montana with 12 NBA Championships under his belt.

Jackson's teams in Chicago with Michael Jordan and the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant which resulted in 11 championships, have continued to add to the legacy that Bird and Johnson created.

Back to James. This hasn't been a good year for the Akron, Ohio native from a public relations standpoint.

It started with his television show "The Decision" where he embarrassed himself and the League by making a Clown out of himself by announcing his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and "Taking his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat."

Now he's complaining about playing on Christmas Day and not spending time with his family. To make matters worse, he has the nerve to say that the NBA should contract/eliminate financially troubled teams.

Listen LeBron, we'll let Stern handle The League's business matters. Who knows, maybe next year at this time, if The League proceeds to lock you overpaid players out, you'll get your wish and can forfeit millions of dollars then spend Christmas Day with your family.

There will be sports on Christmas Day whether you're on television or not.

The NHL could step-up and take advantage of an opportunity and snatch a game or two. The networks can always turn to college basketball and perhaps one or two of the bowl games could schedule a game.

These outlets would be glad to play on Christmas and showcase their respective sports. I can't imagine the television networks having much trouble selling advertising since it is a big sports viewing day and has been for years.

My best advice to you Mr. LeBron James is to take your shoe and insert it directly into your mouth so no other stupid comments come out and spare us the public from listening to them! Despite the fact that you're an exceptionally talented player, you do now live in the same city of another title-less Miami legend, Dan Marino.

When you win a title, you'll have my respect. In the meantime, lace up the sneakers and be thankful you have a job the pays real well and you can make a living. Keep your mouth shut! Your shoes should be on the floor, not in your mouth!

The people that work these games at the arenas on Christmas and all of the other holidays which host events can at least make money to support themselves.

Today's NBA games will be held in New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Golden State. The cities visiting for the holidays are Chicago, Boston, Miami, Denver and Portland. Five teams apiece from each conference and a lot of people that will benefit economically.

That's what we should be looking forward to today. Not some title-less Clown who always seems to make "The Wrong Decisions" when he talks.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jewish Heritage Night

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

I've seen a lot of interesting pre-game festivities and national anthem singers, but what I saw on Wednesday Dec 1, 2010 was a first.

This was the first time that I've seen a Rabbi sing the national anthem before any sporting event. But there was a good reason for this.

The Detroit Pistons vs Miami Heat contest at the American Airlines Arena (AAA) was the first day of Hanukkah. Being Jewish myself, it's a strange way to find out about this holiday and with my busy schedule lately, it slipped my mind and I never gave it much thought.

So now here in the year 2010, I'll know where I spent the 1st Day of Hanukkah, at an NBA Basketball Game in Downtown Miami.

To this day though, Karen Newman of the Detroit Red Wings is still the best national anthem singer I've ever seen having been to many arenas around the country and a few in Canada! Hands down!

During the pre-game shoot-around at the AAA Rabbi Yossi Lebovics was rehearsing and I admit, the Cantor was pretty good. He was even better when it mattered just before tip-off.

But I have to give the Miami Heat credit, they played up this night quite well. To honor the Jewish faith on this night was a Class Act!

They handed out 1st Day of Hanukkah T-Shirts to their fans. There was a Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the East Plaza Outside, the only part of the building where the fans can re-enter the building where there are special events.

This night made me realize some things.

1) There is a large Jewish Population in South Florida and on one occasion, I went to South Beach to a place to pay tribute to my late Grandma Dorothy Caplan with a cousin.

2) It was the first time that I was at the AAA since April of 2009 and that was the last time that I saw my good friend, former Pistons Vice President of Public Relations Matt Dobek. The more I reminisced with former Miami Heat & Washington Bullets Public Relations Director Mark Pray, I continued to think about the great memories with Matt!

Pray and everyone that knew Matt realized that his death has left a tremendous void in all of our lives. Dobek came down to see former Pistons Coach Chuck Daly, who died on May 9, 2009 at the age of 78 due to Cancer.

3) Sitting in the Upper Press gave me a good overview on the Heat's Big Three of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James and what they did for attendance. There were a lot of empty seats and even though Detroit entered the game with a 6-12 mark, therefore, the odds of the Pistons winning let alone being competitive seemed remote, I still thought we'd see a sellout. I was wrong. One thing will always remain consistent. If you don't win in South Florida, the fans won't show up. The Heat were 10-8 going into the game but 1-7 against teams above .500.

4) I had as much desire to interview Wade, Bosh and James as I did Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants after the 2003 NLDS when the Marlins went on to win the World Series. No Desire!

When these three clowns win an NBA Championship, "I'll take My Digital Tape Recorder To South Beach." To this day, I get sick to my stomach when I think of what James said, though if he was smart, he should trademark the absurd saying, "I'll take My Talents To South Beach." I didn't care that he left the Cleveland Cavaliers because an old fashioned press conference has always been the way things are done. Not some stupid staged circus. I was concerned that I couldn't refrain myself from telling himself this, though he's heard it zillions of times, therefore, the Pistons locker room was my safest place.

What I will take from the first day of Hanukkah is the Miami Heat Media Guide with these three clowns is a good collectors item.

Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars may have finally made a good decision by drafting Georgetown Center Greg Monroe (6-11, 250). The rookie played nearly 31 minutes and scored 15 points and added eight rebounds in the Detroit's 97-72 loss.

I realize that it will take some time for the three clowns to develop some team chemistry. But I will admit that this trip to the AAA didn't compare to those days when the Pistons/Heat were battling to be the best in the Eastern Conference. This arena was rocking when Shaq O' Neill was in the building and the Heat played like a real team with less hype.

But Mozel Tov to the Heat and Rabbi Lebovics for a job well done on Jewish Heritage Night, the first day of Hanukkah.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Worth The Drive

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

There would be very few games which would cause me to cut short a Thanksgiving Weekend in Detroit with My Aunt Tina Caplan.

But the one which did was on Saturday November 27, when the Miami Hurricanes hosted My Alma-mater the University of South Florida Bulls scheduled at noon at Joe Robbie Stadium.

I drove directly for 28 hours including the normal gas, food, cat nap and regular rest area stops to see a team I used to cover in Miami during the Howard Schnellenberger era in 1982-83, facing a university that never had football in the 1980's.

Football for USF was a mere pipe dream and homecoming would occur at the Sun Dome during college basketball season. Back then, USF was a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Miami was a National Independent. Today, USF plays in the Hurricanes former conference the Big East as Miami moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

On this Saturday afternoon, USF trailed the series 2-0, losing to Miami in 2005 at the Orange Bowl 27-7. In 2009, the Hurricanes stormed past the Bulls 31-10 at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.

The first half of Saturday's contest set football back to the Stone Ages as USF led 3-0 at halftime.

I substituted Diet Pepsi and loaded up big time on Mountain Dew to stay awake. I wish Joe Robbie Stadium had Vault or Sun Drop. In the Carolina's, where Sun Drop is made, this drink is so potent it would give Jolt or Red Bull a run for its money. Vault and Sun Drop would give a person a blood pressure reading off the charts.

In the second half, the 26,369 fans saw a football game.

Both teams switched quarterbacks as walk on freshman Bobby Eveld took over for injured B.J. Daniels. He sparked the Bulls by rushing for a touchdown and completing 8-15 for 120 yards and zero interceptions. Despite not throwing for any touchdowns, Eveld made clutch completions when he had to.

USF running back Moise Plancher had 24 carries for 103 yards while Demetris Murray had 13 rushes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Joel Miller, who is known as the player former USF Coach Jim Leavitt made physical contact with that led to the coaches firing, made a nice contribution with four receptions for 60 yards. Dotavia Bogan added three catches for 56 yards.

Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris entered the game in the third quarter by going 12-18-110 yards and one interception along with getting sacked once.

Leonard Hankerson had nine receptions for 127 yards.

The big story in this contest for Miami came by true freshman running back Storm Johnson, whose third carry of the season resulted in an impressive 71-yard touchdown run. Johnson would have five carries this afternoon for 75-yards and Hurricanes fans are going to love this kid!

Miami would take a 17-10 lead until USF discovered its vertical passing game led by Eveld, who would tie the game 17-17 with a nine play, 81-yard drive that took 2:54 capped by a one-yard run by Eveld with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

This sent the game into overtime where Miami would kick a 38-yard field goal, but Murray scored the decisive touchdown earning USF a huge monumental in state victory.

Little would anyone know what transpired a couple hours later.

The Hurricanes fired Coach Randy Shannon after he compiled a 28-22 record in four seasons. He was 0-2 in bowl games and 16-16 in ACC Conference Contests, with zero conference titles. Since the start of the 2007 season, 47 teams have more wins than Miami including four from the State of Florida.

Miami's largest winning streak under Shannon was five games during 2008. Three of those wins occurred against teams that finished with losing records. The Hurricanes went 1-7 away from home against ranked teams since the start of 2007.

The only win over a Top-10 team was last season when Miami defeated Oklahoma 21-20 at Joe Robbie Stadium, a game where the Sooners played without their Heisman Trophy Quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out with a shoulder injury. Bradford was selected as the top pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.

Meanwhile, USF has had to overcome a coaching change of its own by terminating the fiery Leavitt and replacing him with the mild-mannered, upbeat Skip Holtz. This move has paid dividends for USF as Holtz has made the Bulls bowl eligible in his first year and the program is headed in the right direction with a 7-4 mark.

The Hurricanes are awaiting their bowl invitation but currently own a 7-5 record. But I do have a feeling that Miami's next hire could give the team a jolt especially if the Hurricanes regain their tenacious air attack that led them to five national championships beginning with Schnellenberger's run.

As I write this story, I just wonder why Bobby Eveld (6-5, 200) wasn't recruited by anyone and made the Bulls roster as a "Preferred Walk On."

Even Schnellenberger and his FAU Owls, which do a good job recruiting in Tampa, missed out on this kid. I know FAU does have other quarterbacks that will compete for the job in the next couple years, but this is one position where its good to have an abundance of depth.

After seeing Eveld, he reminds me of Schnellenberger's former Owls Quarterback Rusty Smith, now with the Tennessee Titans. Eveld is smart, is a book rat and studies hard. He seems committed to becoming the cornerstone of USF's future success. He couldn't have started off in a better manner than beating the highly touted Hurricanes.

I drove 28 hours to see:

1) A future Star QB Is Born.

2) A coach got his $1.5 Million Buyout Pink Slip.

While the 26,369 fans drove fewer than 28 hours to see a Thanksgiving Weekend Match up with two programs heading in different directions, it was interesting to see how many USF followers live in the South Florida area while others took the trek down I-75 South to see historical events for each university.

I certainly enjoyed taking the drive down I-75 several hours to see a game that ultimately turned out to be a classic.

It will be interesting to see how this new rivalry develops with Holtz and the next Miami Hurricanes coach.

The only real similarities between these schools now is they play their home games in NFL Stadiums.

For Miami, Saturday's game was the smallest home crowd since Larry Coker's last home game in 2006. Joe Robbie Stadium holds 76,000 and on this day, there was no shortage of good seats. For Shannon, with banners flying over the stadium calling for his termination, the lackluster attendance certainly attributed to the end of his first head coaching position.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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