Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lions No Stranger To Droughts

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
RACINE, WI

By the time I compile the following Stats and Streaks, one would wonder why the Detroit Lions (11-4) should face the Green Bay Packers (11-4) in a contest that will decide the NFC North/Norris Division Title?

It's no secret that since the 2000 season, the Lions have struggled immensely.

There have been numerous coaches and the franchise suffered from the post Barry Sanders hangover.

Even the move to Ford Field didn't produce enough wins to sellout and avoid local blackouts.

Anyways, let's get started and you be the judge as to which ones are the worst.

* On September 12, 2004, Detroit ended a 24-game NFL record road losing streak with a win over the Chicago Bears, much to the relief of Coach Steve Mariucci and QB Joey Harrington. Chicago's coach was Lovie Smith, who is currently with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

* There is no question that the Worst Moment in Lions History was the Imperfect 0-16 season of 2008 that led to a 19-game franchise record losing streak. It was snapped on September 27, 2009 at Ford Field against the Washington Redskins as Detroit won 19-14. This was the second longest losing streak in NFL History behind the 1976-77 Tampa Bays, who lost 26 consecutive contests.

* On December 12, 2010, Lions Coach Jim Schwartz had another fire to put out and he did it against the beloved Green Bay Packers. Detroit won 7-3. It was the first time the Lions defeated Green Bay in 10 tries since 2005. It was the first division win since 2007, snapping a 19-game losing streak.

* I had the good fortune of attending the Detroit Lions vs Tampa Bay Bucs contest on December 18, 2010. Thanks to Dave Raymer's 34-yard FG with 9:51 remaining in OT, Detroit snapped it's own 26-game NFL Record Road Losing Streak, giving Schwartz one less set of questions to answer. A week later, on December 26, 2010, I saw the Lions win their second straight road game in Florida by defeating the Miami Dolphins 34-27. The Lions out scored the Dolphins 17-3 in the fourth quarter. Detroit finished the season with a three-game winning streak and a 6-10 mark.

* On September 23, 2013, Schwartz and company faced a task that had never happened in Lions History. They defeated the Washington Redskins 27-20 for the first time ever in Washington D.C. This streak covered 21 road meetings against the Redskins. They last beat the Redskins on the road in 1935 when the team resided in Boston.

Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell wasn't born then, but by defeating the Chicago Bears on Sunday 20-16 in the Windy City, he became the first Detroit coach in his first season with the club to win 11 games. Potsy Clark led the Portsmouth Spartans to an 11-3 record in 1931. By reaching 11 wins, Caldwell has tied Clark for the most wins by a head coach in his first year with the Lions.

Here are some More Insights as we approach Sunday's Winner Take All Divisional Showdown.

* If the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers, they'll clinch their first divisional title in 21-years, and receive a first round-bye before opening the playoffs at home.

* A loss and Detroit is the Wild Card Team and they'll likely face the Dallas Cowboys on the road.

* The last time the Lions won in Green Bay was on December 15, 1991--8,412 Days Ago. The Lions won 21-17 in below-zero, wind-chill temperatures on the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau Field. The turning point was Mel Gray's 78-yard punt return for a touchdown.

* One day earlier, Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy.

* Less than two months later, the Packers acquired Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons in a trade, which turned out to be a franchise move for both organizations. Undoubtedly, a costly one for the Falcons.

*The Lions have lost 23 consecutive road games to the Packers.

Caldwell, from Beloit, Wisconsin., will try to do what eight others have failed to do; win a game in Wisconsin. It started with Wayne Fontes (0-6), to Bobby Ross (0-3), Gary Moeller (0-1), Marty Mornhinweg (0-2), Steve Mariucci (0-2), Dick Jauron (0-1), Rod Marinelli (0-3) and Jim Schwartz (0-5).

Stafford was four years old when the Lions last victory in Green Bay occurred.

* The last time the Lions faced the Packers on December 28, was back in 2008 and it was a 1 PM EST start. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Lions lost 31-21 and finished 0-16. The following day on My Birthday, Marinelli was fired.

This years game was scheduled for the same time, however, the NFL used it's Flex Scheduling to move it to 4:25 PM EST because of it's Massive Playoff Implications.

* There will be some heavy hearts for Packers fans as on December 26, 2014, it marked the 10th Anniversary of Reggie White's Death.

The Packers are 7-0 at Home.

* The 288 points scored in seven games is already the sixth-highest total for a season in NFL History. Green Bay needs 42 points to break the record of 329 held by the 2011 New Orleans Saints.

* Green Bay has scored at least 40-points four times.

* In the last six, Green Bay has outscored opponents, 86-7 in the first quarter, and 175-23 in the first half.

* Aaron Rodgers has passed for 23 touchdowns and no interceptions, along with a league-best 132.6 passer rating. His last interception at home came nearly 400 pass attempts ago on December 23, 2012.

* Three weeks ago, however, the Packers allowed 37 points at Lambeau Field to the Atlanta Falcons.

As We Approach the Winner Take All, the Lions nearly had an opportunity to end their Lambeau Drought at the end of the 2011 season on January 1, 2012. This game, like Sunday's had Playoff Implications, but Green Bay had already won the division and Detroit was looking to secure a Higher Wild Card Seeding.

This contest was considered The Matt Bowl as Stafford faced Flynn. Flynn won this duel as he passed for Packers single game records of 480 yards and six TD's as the Packers prevailed 45-41. Green Bay finished 15-1 while Detroit had to travel to New Orleans with a 10-6 mark.

Flynn cashed in on his record setting day by signing a three-year $20.5 Million Deal with Seattle, with $9 Million Guaranteed. He would later lose the job to Russell Wilson.

Detroit would eventually get even with Flynn as the Lions revenge occurred on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2013 in a 40-10 thrashing at Ford Field. Detroit snapped a nine-game Thanksgiving losing streak to their beloved rivals.

Meanwhile, Flynn got hammered as he was 10-20, 139 yards, one interception, two fumbles, plus he was sacked seven times including one in the end zone for a safety.

With Rodgers nursing injuries all week, we'll see how effective he'll be against a Hungry Lions Team, looking to end their Lambeau Demons.

Or will the Lions knockout Rodgers and force Flynn to win the division title?

One thing is for certain is the Lions are definitely Playing the Biggest Game Ever in Green Bay in Franchise History with what's at stake.

Can they end any more droughts?

We'll see. I'm looking forward to taking the three hour drive to Green Bay and getting a Birds Eye View in The Press Box.

It's going to be one incredible atmosphere at the Frozen Tundra for this contest!

Who would have dreamed of this seven years ago when the Lions concluded their 0-16 season on this field the Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau and many other legends did battle?

But seven years later, Marinelli is a distant memory and it's safe to say that Caldwell won't be a part of the Infamous Black Monday December 29, as Head Coaches Get their Pink Slips on My 52 Birthday.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Basketball Thoughts

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

On December 5, 2014, My father celebrated his 74th birthday.

On this same day, The US Postal Service released The Wilt Chamberlain Forever Stamp. It was dedicated in a halftime ceremony during the Philadelphia 76'ers 103-91 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The stamps are just over two inches tall.

Chamberlain died in 1999 at the age of 63. Chamberlain has two NBA records which are amazing that still stand. He never fouled out in 1,205 regular season and playoff games.

He also holds the rebounding record with 23,924 and is the only NBA player to ever score 100 points in a game.

There are two stamps. One has Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform while the other is in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. Chamberlain scored 31,419 points in his career, but the record was broken in 1984 by Lakers Center Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Chamberlain starred in the NBA from 1959-1973 when he played for the Philadelphia (later San Francisco) Warriors, 76'ers and Lakers.

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Speaking of the Lakers, it was interesting to hear the reaction of Coach Byron Scott's answer to a question following a 118-111 loss On October 31, 2014, to the LA Clippers as to whether this was a true rivalry. At the time, the Clippers improved to 2-0 while the Lakers dropped to 0-3.

Scott responded, "It's just another game. The Lakers biggest rivalry has been the Boston Celtics. They've got 17 Championship Banners while we have 16. That's a rivalry."

I couldn't agree more. The Clippers have Never won a Conference Title and Never appeared in the NBA Finals. The only two division titles were in 2013 and 2014. This dates back to when the franchise was founded as the Buffalo Braves (1970-78), San Diego Clippers (1978-84) and LA Clippers (1984-Present).

Ironically, Scott was drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Clippers, who traded his rights to the Lakers in October of 1983 as part of a multi-player deal that send Norm Nixon a couple hours south near the Mexican Border. Scott went on to win three NBA titles with the Lakers.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have been one of the worst run franchises under former disgraced Owner Donald Sterling. As of this post, the Clippers are in second place in the Western Conference Pacific Division with a 15-5 mark. The Lakers are last with a 5-16 record and are in a transition period. I do believe they'll eventually turn things around.

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Finally, ESPN recently extended Dick Vitale's contract three years until 2017.

The 75-year old Hall of Fame Broadcaster will no longer do the networks prime-time contest on Saturday Nights.

I'm sure Vitale will have no problem with this since he can fly back to the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport early without having to take Red Eye Flights.

His routine on Sundays is to go to church, sign autographs at The Broken Egg Restaurant in Lakewood Ranch's Sarasota location. This is just minutes from his home.

He raises money through the " Jimmy V Foundation" for Cancer Research which is named after his late friend Jim Valvano.

Give me some of your Energy Dickie V, I can use it these days. I hope I live to 75 let alone have your energy at that age.

My colleague George Eichorn and I have a history with Dick that dates back to our days of working together at WXYZ Radio in
Detroit.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33.com.

Stan's Huge Challenge

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

I've never felt as bad for a coach or front office executive as I do for Stan Van Gundy.

Prior to accepting the challenge of turning the Detroit Pistons around, he had successful tenures with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic compiling a 371-208 record.

The 55-year old was hired as President of Basketball Operations and Coach on May 14, 2014.

Unfortunately for Stan, he inherited a situation where past Pistons President Joe Dumars made a trade that cost Detroit a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

He's had the dilemma of dealing with Greg Monroe's free agency at the conclusion of the season. 

Monroe was waiting to see if the Pistons would turn the corner to see if the team was headed towards being a contender. He's never made the playoffs in Detroit and the way things are going, it's apparent that he won't see the postseason playing in Auburn Hills, MI. 

It doesn't help that Monroe has played for numerous head coaches.

When you think of the moves that Dumars made in recent years, here are some of the players that have been productive elsewhere. 

It's hard to believe that back in the 2005 Draft, the Pistons selected Point Forward Amir Johnson out of high school in the second round, 56th overall. 

The 6-9, 240 pound native from LA has found a role with the Toronto Raptors. In his ninth year, Johnson is averaging 10.3 points-per game (PPG) and 5.2 rebounds-per-game (RPG). 

Toronto is currently 22-7.

All the kid needed in Detroit was a coach that believed in him and gave him a chance, which he's earned North Of The Border. At 27-years old, he's still in his prime.
Who got the best of the Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight/Khris Middleton trade with the Milwaukee Bucks?

The way things are looking now, the Milwaukee Bucks are looking like winners. 

In 2011, Detroit selected Knight with the eighth pick in the first round out of Kentucky, and he's performing well under Bucks Coach Jason Kidd. 

I wonder how Knight's 17.6 PPG, 5.8 assists-per-game (APG) and 4.7 RPG would look in the Pistons line-up. 

The 6-3, 189 pound point guard now gets to develop with Bucks rookie Jabari Parker, the second overall selection in the first round from Duke. 

They're the foundation of a franchise that has new owners, whom are trying to get a new stadium built to keep the franchise in Milwaukee. Last year the Bucks were 15-67 and already have 15 wins.

The departure of Point Forward Middleton has to sting Pistons fans because here is yet another second round pick that never got a chance. Like Knight, he's playing for a division rival. Middleton was the 39th pick overall from Texas A&M. He is 6-7, 225 pounds.

Under the Bucks first year coach Kidd, Middleton, is averaging 9.1 PPG, and 3.5 RPG.

Both of these kids are 23 years old.

I never did understand the benefit of trading Tayshaun Prince to the Memphis Grizzles on January 30, 2013 which landed Jose Calderon. 

The Grizzles have been to the playoffs twice with Prince while Calderon left Detroit that summer via free agency and signed with the Dallas Mavericks.

Add other mistakes like not selecting Carmelo Anthony in favor of Darko Milicic, trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, the 2009 free agent signings of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, to five year contracts worth $35 and $55 Million respectively. 

Gordon would get traded to the Charlotte Bobcats on June 26, 2012 for Corey Maggette and what turned out to be this years first round lottery pick for the renamed Charlotte Hornets. 

Villanueva is currently playing for former Pistons Coach Rick Carlisle in Dallas, Gordon is with the Orlando Magic while Maggette is a free agent.

After these moves, it's easy to understand why the Pistons are currently 3-18 and have lost 12-straight. I wonder how many hairs Van Gundy has pulled out of his head. 

Before long, he and his brother Jeff will have the same amount of hair. I actually wonder what advice Jeff has to offer Stan these days.

In the back of his mind, Stan has to wonder what life would be like with just a few of these players that have been moved that I listed above. 

How is he going to get the best out of Josh Smith, who appears to struggle at times on the front line?

I can only imagine what his conversations are like with Owner Tom Gores.

My dad recently suggested to me at dinner that Monroe's role with the Pistons would be better off as a sixth man. Van Gundy seems to be using him there.

Once upon a time, another No.10 for Detroit relished in his role as a sixth man. 

Remember Hall of Fame Forward Dennis Rodman? 

He's collected five championships through the years with Detroit and the Chicago Bulls.

In The Bad Boys Era, Rodman delivered Detroit two titles and was a great Spark Plug.

Unfortunately for Monroe at this stage, it doesn't seem like a trade is possible because he has control as to where he'll go. The only chance is at the trading deadline where Detroit would take less then what his perceived market value was last year. Monroe could be dealt to a contender.

At any rate, we have Kevin Love's Minnesota situation in Detroit. Only the Timberwolves were able to get a good package for him centering around No.1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins.

Detroit won't make out as well as they did when Grant Hill departed for Orlando in a sign and trade deal that enabled the Pistons to land Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins. 

That trade led to a 2004 title for Detroit while Hill, thinking he had no chance of winning a championship in Detroit, was derailed by injuries and never won a title going without a ring.

It will be interesting to see what Monroe's role will be for the rest of the season. Is he going to be a sixth man or go back to being a starter? 
Why would a coach use a guy who's going to pile up statistics to land a bigger contract elsewhere?

At this point, how many young players are going to be used to get experience and develop?

Aside from Center Andre Drummond, who are the real building blocks on this team?

Perhaps Detroit should look at all the players on their NBADL affiliate the Grand Rapids Drive and see if any of those are worth bringing to the Palace.

Obviously Van Gundy knows he has to blow this team up like the Philadelphia 76'ers are doing and start from scratch. 

The Pistons can thank the Minnesota Timberwolves for being the team that was the first to lose to Philadelphia that snapped a 17-game losing streak. Detroit was the 76'ers second win.

With play like this, Gores will be bothered should attendance figures go below 10,000 at The Palace.

I've heard comments in social media that the Pistons should move downtown.

Please people. Winning basketball will bring fans back to the Palace! Besides, the Pistons own their building. Why would they want to rent elsewhere?

It obviously appears that Monroe's departure is inevitable especially since it's likely the Pistons will once again miss the playoffs.

The only guarantee is once Monroe leaves, the No.10 will be permanently out of circulation and won't ever be seen again on the court. Rodman's number will be in the rafters with the other legends.

Meanwhile, the money that would be spent on Monroe will be utilized in attempting to acquire quality free agents or Van Gundy and company can use the financial flexibility in a trade to fit his system.

But one thing Van Gundy won't have to worry about is losing his lottery pick in 2015.

He'll have plenty of time to evaluate talent with his scouts.

In the meantime, what does Stan want for Christmas?

How about a few wins, less embarrassing losses and to avoid taking trips to the store, not having to purchase Tylenol, as well as avoiding Red Bull. I'm sure when Stan took the job that a 6-23 record was far what he expected at Christmas Time.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.  

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