Archive Page 2

07
Jul
10

Miami Twice?

Miami Hurricanes Head Coach Randy Shannon and Seantrel Henderson (Photo by Vince Muzik)

Much to my surprise, USC released Seantrel Henderson from his letter of intent today. I thought they’d fight harder, but I think the decision will serve bother parties well. Based on what I know, I’m not sure Miami wasn’t Seantrel’s first choice to begin with. And here’s why:

Between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. CST on National Signing Day, Feb. 3, a PIPOL (person in a position of leadership) at Cretin-Derham Hall High School (CDH) got a text from Trel. He was in New York waiting to announce his college selection on Tom Lemming’s TV show. The message? “Miami.” The PIPOL at CDH texted him back for confirmation: Miami? “Yes, Miami,” Trel said. That person went on to show a bunch of other employees at CDH Trel’s message. (I can name a bunch of them who saw it.) I don’t think it was a coincidence the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran that information on their web site around 2:30 p.m. Except it turned out to be wrong.

At 4:30 p.m. CST when Seantrel made his announcement, he picked USC. Either Seantrel had a change of heart or he was just being a prankster, just to tug at the chain of his superior. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer to that one. However, I do know something.

The visit the Miami Hurricanes got from Seantrel that last weekend in January, the NFL Pro Bowl Weekend as it turned out to be, was the visit Oklahoma was supposed to get. Heading into December, the schools on Trel’s list were “the Big 5 plus one.” The Big 5 were USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida and Oklahoma. The “plus one” was Minnesota, the local school. Two other schools were on the periphery, Iowa and Miami. Oklahoma had tried to arrange a time for Trel to visit, but things just didn’t work out. Keep in mind, Seantrel’s high school football team played until the last Friday in November when they won the state championship. After that, basketball season started and the Christmas holiday wasn’t too far past that. The available weekends for visits withered away. When Oklahoma faded, Miami became appealing and got him to visit. From everything I heard, he had a great time meeting the brotherhood of Miami Hurricanes. It does pay to persevere, doesn’t it?

01
Jul
10

News Flash: Seantrel Henderson is not at USC

All the boys from So Cal: The Kiffins (Monte and Lane) along with James Cregg and Ed Orgeron.

It sure didn’t take long for the word to get out about Seantrel Henderson not showing up at USC last week. Yesterday afternoon I got a call from someone from the west coast who had a source at USC tell him not only was Seantrel not coming, but that USC wasn’t going to let him out of his letter of intent (LOI). Interesting. Seems to me the athletic department at USC leaks information like my bathtub faucet leaks water.

I couldn’t help the guy. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell anyone let alone a sportwriter. (Duh!)  But I know enough that if I were a betting man, I would wager where there’s smoke there’s fire. (Actually, the Star Tribune did a good little piece on this scenario.) Something isn’t quite right here that much I can tell. Seantrel’s a neat kid with immense talent who deserves some sort of closure on this chapter of his life. I just want to see him playing ball this fall for somebody’s school, and I want the best for him.

16
Jun
10

Two Minutes in the Box at the Air Force Academy

Online websites are the great equalizer in college recruiting these days. Would you take a job without looking at a company’s site to see what they are about? Of course not! Recruits are doing the same thing. This idea I’m profiling here is so original my friend the Nike marketer Andy Pawlowski over at the Digital Hoops Blast blog is absolutely going to love it.

One of the best recruiting tools any school has is their own student/athletes. If they like the experience they are having, they’ll be more than happy to spread the word. One of the best features I’ve seen in this regard is “Two Minutes in the Box,” a short, two-minute or so interview show done by Cadet Jeff Hajner, a hockey player at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Hajner really did his homework for the show which consisted of interviews with various members of the Air Force Academy staff and students. In the first part of the show, he asked questions about various things from a guest’s bio. The second part consisted of a five-question quiz against the clock. Fun stuff considering Hajner got most of the top-ranked officers who run the academy to be on his show: Brig. Gen. Samuel Cox, Commandant of the Cadets; Brig. Gen. Dana Born, Dean of the Faculty, and Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Superintendent of the Academy (he’s the top dog!).  These are some pretty accomplished people, and they all walked out on the ice to get into the penalty box to be interviewed by Cadet Hajner.

Hajner had to love it, too. In his interview with Lt. Gen. Gould, the last question he asked on the quiz part was open-ended: “Lemon jello or chocolate pudding?” The head honcho of the U.S. Air Force Academy picked chocolate pudding, which, according to Hajner was the wrong answer. I guarantee you this is probably the only time a cadet at the academy could tell a general he was wrong!

So, what does this tell me about playing at the Air Force Academy? These people obviously take their jobs seriously. (Since they are part of defending our nation, let’s hope so.) However, they are not above having fun with what they are doing without making it a joke. Anyone who can handle the academic load at the academy will undoubtedly get a great education. But it’s obvious they are about more than the serious business of the military. They have a personality and it definitely comes out through “Two Minutes in the Box.”

01
Jun
10

“Broad Street Bullies”: A Review

HBO hit the timing bulls-eye when it debuted it’s latest documentary film, “Broad Street Bullies,” a film about the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers teams in the 1970s, on May 4. The current version of the Flyers are now playing in the Stanley Cup Finals (against the Chicago Blackhawks) and would certainly make the guys from that era proud. I grew up watching those teams as a little boy growing up in Southern Minnesota. This was before ESPN and countless sports programming was available. When you saw your team on TV, it was truly an event. And the Flyers were an event you didn’t forget. When I was in college one of my biggest mentors, Ron Woodey, was a scout for the Flyers and he taught me a lot about their philosophy. Seeing this documentary brought back a lot of memories.

Before I saw the film, I read the New York Times review of the film which basically described it as a love story between a city and their team. The Flyers won two back-to-back titles in the mid-70s when Philadelphia was going through tough times. (It was about that time a film about an average boxer named Rocky Balboa debuted at the box office and captured the heart of a nation.) True to the review, the film chronicled the times in which the franchise was born, in 1967 when the NHL’s original six were joined by another six teams (one of which was the ill-fated Minnesota North Stars). After its first six seasons — mediocre ones to be sure — the team started winning and never looked back. The film credits the arrival of Dave “the Hammer” Schultz in 1973 with transforming the team into what Philadelphia writer Jack Chevallier called the “Broad Street Bullies.” Schultz was a tough customer, known for fighting. In his first year he run up 259 penalty minutes. (That’s a little more than four games sitting in the box.) He “infected the team” said Bob Kelly, who along with Moose Dupont, Don Saleski, and Schultz changed the nature of the NHL brand of hockey. It certainly expanded the NHL rule book. But keep in mind one thing: While they had more than 600 more penalty minutes in 1973-74 than the next team, the NHL never disciplined the Flyers for their style of play. Not once!

Bobby Clarke

The Flyers are credited with using fighting as a tactic, winning through intimidation. I think that’s a fair argument. However, the documentary spent more time chronicling that than emphasizing some of the great achievements the Flyers organization has accomplished. Yes, I think the physical style of play changed the team; it opened up things for the world class players the Flyers had at the time. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Bernie Parent — these were some great players in their day. Their coach, Fred Shero, was a genius. He knew he had a team that liked to fight so he let them do so. Shero was also a student of Eastern bloc training methods and Soviet hockey. Aside from coaching the Flyers to two Stanley Cups (1974, 1975), Shero orchestrated one of the most memorable games in NHL history when his team defeated the Soviet union’s superpower Red Army hockey team, 4-1, on Jan. 11, 1976.

There’s an old saying that goes “It starts at the top.” For the Flyers it started with their founder and owner, Ed Snider. He pooled an investor group together and paid $2(m) for the expansion franchise in ’67. Mr. Woodey always told me about the personal touches Snider did for the people in his organization. Start with the fact he knew every employee’s name and go from there: The Flyers were the first to offer career counseling and voluntarily renegotiated contracts. They were the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, a full-time goaltending coach and a full-time strength and conditioning coach (Pat Croce). They helped their players find housing when they came to Philadelphia and any special needs a player might have away from the rink. People didn’t show up to watch just one of the Flyers like people would pay to see one guy play like Wayne Gretzky; people showed up to see the whole team. Talk about brand name recognition! Ed Snider provided the leadership to make it happen.

They have always had a consistent philosophy: They want players with good work habits! “We look for overachievers,” Mr. Woodey would tell me. Even if you were a talented player, Flyers scouts were instructed to find out how you went about your work. If you were lazy, forget it. And they have always wanted big (no one under six feet tall), aggressive players. The size thing has cost them some players in the past who would’ve made great Flyers (Theo Fluery, Gary Suter), but you always knew what a prototypical Philadelphia Flyer was. Anybody remember what a prototypical Minnesota North Star was? Neither do I — because there wasn’t any!

It would have been great to see how the Broad Street Bullies legacy carries onto today’s Flyers, but the doc didn’t go there. Nevertheless, the “Broad Street Bullies” is a fun tale cast into a 60 minute piece. It’s definitely worth the time.

24
May
10

Welcome to the Brave New World

I’m not a fan of the Hugh Laurie show “House,” but the last show of this season was worth watching on a TV-sized screen. The reason? The last episode — yes, the whole episode — was shot using a 35mm digital SLR camera (DSLR), the Canon 5D MKII, which you can buy at your local camera store for around $2500.00. Pretty amazing, eh?

This is nothing short of a landmark event in communications history: A multi-million dollar TV network show done on a 35mm camera. Imagine how this opens up opportunities to produce video on an elite level for people who do not have a major motion picture budget? Those of us in the business have known about the capabilities of the Canon 5D for several years now, mainly through the work of former New York Times photographer Vincent LaForet. He really showed the potential of the camera through his two-minute short film “Reverie” produced in 2008:

To date, my conclusion is that the Canon 5D MKII and HDDSLRS in general offer an incredible entry into filmmaking for a wide variety of individuals that would otherwise never have access to similar tools that would allow them to obtain the ‘professional film’ look. The economic barrier that has been around for so long (in terms of the incredibly high cost of cinema equipment) is being chipped away in part to the low cost of these camera bodies.

Canon 5D MKII all "rigged" up

Adding video capabilities to 35mm cameras is something relatively new. Unfortunately, one cannot get major production quality out of a camera like the 5D just by whipping it out of the box. The camera is just the start. Once you get it you need to build a “rig” to stabilize the camera and provide a way to get sharp focus. Plus, good lighting is essential no matter what sort of photography you are doing. Having the knowledge to recognize dramatic lighting and, if necessary, make it on your own with lights is no small skill. And you have to be able to edit, putting good images together that communicate a story. In reality, none of it is particularly easy.

Nevertheless, this breakthrough will forever change the way TV and film  is produced.

19
May
10

Joe Mauer… college football quarterback?

Joe and Me at the Vikings-Giants Monday night game in 2001. And he drove! (Photo by Carlos Gonzales)

If you live in Minnesota, you are prone to fanciful thinking these days. After all, who could have ever envisioned the Minnesota Vikings chief rival, Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, ever leaving the Packers in the first place and then winding up with the Vikings — and coming within an overtime field goal from leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl appearance? Never in a million years! Or so we thought.

So, I read with some amusement Michael Rand’s blog piece from a couple weeks ago wondering if it might be possible — just possible! — Joe Mauer could ever wind up playing college football after he calls it a baseball career in a feat similar to what Heisman winner and fellow Cretin-Derham Hall alum Chris Weinke did. This time, Mauer, whose current deal ends in 2018, would stay home — hear that, Seantrel! — and play quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the ripe old age of 35 years old. Rand called the University of Minnesota compliance office and got the low down from Andrea Smith, the assistant director of compliance (with a specialty in eligibility). Her verdict: “There wouldn’t be anything preventing someone like that from competing.”

Well, that got me to thinking… how on earth could Joe ever be a college student in the first place? He’s arguably the most famous person in Minnesota. He couldn’t walk across campus without being hounded for autographs or pictures or propositions of some sort or another. Could he be a full-time online student and play ball as well?

Seeking to get a few answers, I called my “anonymous source” contact within the Minnesota Golden Gophers football program. “The first thing I’d want to know is can he be a good quarterback. Brett Favre honed his craft playing almost 20 years in the NFL. Joe hasn’t payed football in a while. And how is he physically after playing a demanding position like catcher for so many years? Could he hold up at QB? Those are the first things I’d want to know,” anonymous told me.

As far as school goes, the university could make special arrangements for Joe to be on campus if he wanted to get his degree — and play football. “If Joe wanted to play, we’d welcome him,” anonymous said. “He’s such a gifted athlete we wouldn’t turn him down. Would you?”

12
May
10

Sid vs. Ovi: A Picture is Worth a 50 Goal Scorer!

Kudos to NHL.com for running this data point chart to illustrate the difference in the style of play between the NHL’s lone 50 goal scorers this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin.  These charts illustrate in a compelling manner where each player scored their goals from during the regular season and are evidence of each guy’s style of play: Crosby is a “puck holder” (a playmaker) and Ovechkin is a “puck mover” (a shooter). Both players are great and you’d want them on your team if you had a chance to get them. However, in this case the argument goes, Ovechkin, whose team was eliminated in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, was the easier player to defend because he shoots a lot from the high slot (i.e., farther away from the net) where as Crosby waits and waits and moves closer to the net before shooting. Crosby and his teammates are facing a decisive seventh game versus the Montreal Canadiens tonight in Pittsburgh, and he has been limited to only one goal in this series. Nevertheless, the charts do a great job of giving a visual picture to the way each guy plays the game.

Why don’t we see more of this? Clear, concise use of the English language is the foundation for effective communication. However, in the time I’ve spent using new media over the past year I’ve noticed a lot of people lack the ability to illustrate their message visually. In the age where we are inundated with information on a daily basis, I believe the ability to get your point across with a photograph or a chart can be a difference maker like an Ovechkin slap shot in communicating your message.

While thinking about this recently, I stumbled across Amy Mengel’s blog posting on this very subject. Her words sum up my thoughts succintly:

“Written pieces certainly have their place and purpose, but an eye-catching chart, infographic, or photo set may convey your message more memorably and in less time. Presenting information graphically forces us to trim away the superfluous details that can clutter our writing… Often it doesn’t occur to us to present information in a different format.”

Perhaps the father of modern visual communication is Professor Edward Tufte. Just recently I started reading two of his works, Visual Explanations: Images and Quanities, Evidence and Narrative and Beautiful Evidence. He’s a very “rich” writer, meaning I think you need to read his stuff more than once to really get it. And he absolutely hates Microsoft PowerPoint, by the way. But he is tremendously insightful on how to use visual information in modern communication.

I don’t know if Tufte prefers Crosby over Ovechkin, but he’d love the chart.

08
May
10

Another Bust Bites the Dust: Raiders Fire Russell

Photo: Associated Press

This just kills me. Sports Illustrated online columnist on Don Banks, a former Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote a post-mortem piece today on the Oakland Raiders releasing, i.e., firing, their starting quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick from 2007, JaMarcus Russell. The apparent cause was a lack of motivation and work ethic by Young Mr. Russell. I’ve heard this before: A player liked the trappings being a pro athlete gave him more than he loved the challenge of excelling at the game which game him the lifestyle in the first place. Now he’s done.

The Raiders committed $39.6(m) for Russell’s first contract, but according to Banks’ piece, the money might as well have been spent in Vegas. As one of his sources said:

“[The Raiders] knew the question about his self-motivation going into the 2007 draft. They gambled, and they lost. I just think he doesn’t really want to be an NFL player. He was a great college football player, but he didn’t want it in the NFL.”

There’s an accompanying photo gallery featuring some superb photos (none are mine, however) of Russell from his college days at LSU and as a pro along with comments from 12 football experts giving their prognosis on his skills and his future as an NFL QB.  Only one of the experts wondered about his work ethic. One. “It (his pre-draft work out) just blew me away. If I had the first, second, third, fourth, fifth pick in that draft, I would be tearing apart his personal life trying to figure out whether or not I could trust this kid with $10-million …,” said NFL Networks analyst Mike Maycock.

Apparently, the Raiders didn’t do enough homework. Now here’s my point: If you were spending that kind of money on a rookie, wouldn’t you want to be sold on his work ethic and leadership abilities? I would. It goes without saying that you can have the most talent in the world, but if you have little work ethic or are a high maintenance person (needing a lot of attention to get you going), you won’t amount to much. One of my mentors as a young guy was Ron Woodey, general manager of the St. Paul Vulcans and a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Mr. Woodey always wanted to know whether a player was an “overachiever.” Whether for the Vulcans or the Flyers, a player’s work ethic was a question he wanted to have answered sufficiently. Years later, that has stuck with me.

Good luck, JaMarcus Russell. I hope you saved your money.

01
May
10

Yahoo! says former Lions player a bust. Really?!

Photo by Vince Muzik

Left over thoughts from the NFL Draft. Yahoo! sports blogger Doug Farrar wrote this in his Shutdown Corner column “Draft Busts of the 2000s: Where are they now?”

LB Ernie Sims, Florida State: Recently traded to the Eagles, Sims was yet another (former Lions GM) Matt Millen overdraft – he was taken ninth overall despite serious concussion issues in college. So far, he’s been most noted in the NFL as a rangy but undisciplined player who tends to whiff mightily in space.

Click the link to Ernie Sims stats and you’ll notice he’s listed as six feet tall. Ernie Sims is NOT six feet tall! If he is six feet tall, I am Michael Jackson.

Back in 2007, I covered a Lions game at Ford Field. At one point as I was standing on the sideline, I found myself standing only a few feet away from Sims. I’m not particularly tall, and Sims was shorter than I am. He’s about 5-foot-8 (at the most). Scouts will often show up to see a player and give him the “eye ball test.” In other words they’ll show up to see the guy in person just to make sure they really are as advertised. Sims should have flunked the test. Combine that with his concussion issues, and it’s likely Sims should have never been rated a first rounder by anyone.

As former Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry used to say, “Big fast people beat little fast people.” The constant in Fry’s equation is the word fast, i.e., speed. Being 6-foot4, 220 lbs. doesn’t automatically make one an athlete. There’s more to it than that. You must be able to move. And if a guy has a head for the game and he can play, then he’s a player no matter his height.

Sims a “Millen overdraft”? As a first rounder, yes. Sims is a terrific athlete, and he still could blossom into the next Sam Mills, another “short” linebacker who had tremendous success in the NFL. But taking a guy who’s undersized that much leaves you open for heaps of criticism if the guy flops. I liken it to what famous Fidelity Fund manager Peter Lynch once said about picking stocks: If you buy IBM and it goes down, people wonder, “What’s wrong with IBM?” If you buy a small growth stock of a company few have ever of before (like Pep Boys Manny, Moe and Jack) and it goes down, people will say, “What’s the matter with YOU!” Same applies here.

Ernie Sims has been well compensated financially for whatever trauma there was to being an “overdraft.” Hopefully, things will work for him in Philly.

 

29
Apr
10

U.S. Army General: “PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid”

The PowerPoint slide shown to US commanders shows security, economic and political conditions in Afghanistan.

Can’t help but comment on this because it strikes a chord with me. The Daily Mail of London brings us this story on how U.S. in Afghanistan has come to loathe the Microsoft software known as PowerPoint. The article quotes Brigadier General H.R. McMaster who “banned the presentation package when he led an offensive in Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005.” The General is quoted telling the New York Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control… Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

General James N. Mattis, the Joint Forces Commander, was even more demonstrative: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

My favorite quote on PowerPoint came from someone at Padilla Speer Beardsley, a Minneapolis-based PR  firm I interned at several years ago. It’s a truism I live by: Stories are compelling; PowerPoint presentations aren’t. If you have something to say, wrap it up in a story to illustrate your point. If you recite a bunch of facts listed in bullet point fashion, people won’t remember it nearly as well — if at all. Think about it.