An ongoing discussion of politics, law, pop culture, and fine draperies.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's Frickin' Cold Out There

The Associated Press sticks its neck out on
this one. I guess it hit minus-teens in the County, but I have no reservation complaining about the single-digit negative readings we're seeing around Penobscot Bay. In shortest terms available, as this site notes., it's "(-1)" and "feels like (-20)."

The Village Soup's Holly Anderson helps us out with the
details and some nice frost photos.

When I defrost, maybe I'll post something about
the Brent Pitcher trial, and perhaps some commentary on why this story is a fine piece of trial coverage, and why the reporting and writing quality of this story causes me to rethink the value of my subscription to the Courier-Gazette.

We'll see.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Before I proceed with a more traditional sports event-related post, let me begin by marking for posterity the following back-and-forth I enjoyed with a good friend of mine who is probably the most ardent Colts fan I had the pleasure to know during my tenure in Indianapolis. Call him BigSlick.

He sent along an
article appearing at CBS Sportsline dot com, that … well … disparages the character of a particular NFL Quarterback while trumpeting the supremacy of another. The article's author appears to be that CBS Sportsline's answer to ESPN's BostonSportsGuy, who tends to be loved by Boston sports fans and disdained by everyone else. Incidentally, Sportsguy provides a nice piece which appears to account for Mr. Travis' recent work, asking When Did Hate Take Over Sports?

Back to Travis, though. He thinks it necessary to lump together every anti-Tom Brady rant ever published – i.e. metrosexual, overrated, hip facial hair-donning poseur, etc. – and adds a few new ones that most Patriots fans would be surprised to know were out there, i.e. that Brady runs "effortlessly" as some kinda mobile quarterback type.

The author, some guy from Tennessee named Clay Travis, proceeds to cast all Patriots' fans as "those extremely deadly vampires from Coppola's Dracula," which will not die until you "climb into the casket, chop off their heads and burn their bodies while chanting incantations." In doing so, he establishes this asinine Red State Blue State analogy, hinting that Peyton Manning is the savior of Republican America.

The author also apparently misses the irony of his own claims to being some standard bearer for
The American Redneck. This from 1) a writer, 2) who employs the communist-sounding/Frenchie term "apropos of nothing," 3) talks knowingly about Cashmere sweaters, and 4) himself, muses ponderously about irony. Sounds like somebody has something to work out on his own before he starts casting stones from the heartland.

But I disgress …

The article put a little jaunt in my step, inspiring me to respond with a minor diatribe of sorts to my Colts Fan buddy. Because it includes so much of the stuff that I would otherwise be forced to distill and/or condense, and that means work, I figured it might be more appropriate merely to post it as a Point Counterpoint – a model employed so well by The Onion that it's long been a favorite of mine in that austere publication.

One more tangent. The Onion provided two fine pieces this week related to the
Colts versus Patriots match-up. The Manning hatchet job is pretty predictable, but the shot at Belichick was truly solid – "So-Called Genius Bill Belichick Stumped By Non-Football-Related Question." For instance, this bit about a non-football question throwing the coach off balance:
… Belichick, obviously attempting to dodge the question in what onlookers called a "humiliating moment of mere mortality for the acknowledged genius."

"I don't know if Keynesian theory is what I want here, but … A football game is a service, I guess, in terms of Keynesian market concepts … No, wait, I think I'm thinking of Thorstein Veblen. You know what? Any questions on how we're planning for the Colts' passing game?"


Now then, in the words of
Mr Doggy Dogg sayeth, back to the lecture at hand

1. Initial Salvo – BigSlick represents:

Here is something that is really getting under my skin, and I would like to hear your take. I do not dispute that Brady has the ability to perform well under pressure, that he has been involved in a remarkable number of playoff wins and that he is the leader of a team that is on the type of dominating run that wasn’t supposed to be possible after the salary cap. However, the guy has a horrible game over the weekend and was extremely lucky that, among other things, one of his interceptions was fumbled to set up a Patriots score (not mentioning all the other SD turnovers, the foolish challenge by Marty, the foolish 3 yard pass by Rivers with about 40 seconds left and no timeouts, and ultimately a missed kick by SD), yet all I hear on TV is how Brady always finds a way to win, and what a great clutch player he is.

Then you have Manning who goes 30 of 38 against KC for 300 yards and plays an extremely patient and conservative (some would say smart) game, but throws 3 interceptions (2 of which were clear miscommunications between Manning and Harrison, and Ron Jaworski and Chris Collinsworth both say that after watching the film it was Harrison that made the wrong read), yet the Colts win "despite another poor playoff performance from Manning." Again this week against Baltimore, I must admit Manning looked as bad as I have seen him in the last 2 years, but he has 2 interceptions to Brady’s 3 and he made big plays to get Indy from their own 1 all the way to field goal range, and also to keep a drive alive that basically sealed the game. Yet there is no talk about doing enough to win, making key plays at important times, consistently moving the ball against the best defense in the NFL, etc.

I know you have to win big games to be considered a big game QB and Brady has earned that.
It just sickens me that not only does Brady always get a free pass, but is actually glorified every time the Pats win, even when it was in spite of him and not because of him. I don’t know if sportswriters are just so intent on developing story lines, or if they are just lazy and only interpret new information in a way that is consistent with their prior perceptions or what, but it is amazing how differently they report similar performances.

To a large extent I wouldn’t care, but not only does it annoy me, but I think Peyton may get caught up in it a little bit. I am very concerned that he is going to be so scared to make a mistake that he plays too conservatively and gives up the chance to make big plays. I am the first to tip my hat at what our defense has done the last 2 games, but I am the last to feel comfortable calling a conservative game and relying on them to win a third for us!

2. Response – Rikki kinda agrees

I agree with you, and most discerning fans do too. Your only mistake is listening to national pundits. Everyone out here has been writing and saying what you said -- that Brady had a sketchy game yet fortune shined on him and his team. And moreover, the smarter talkees up here maintain that Manning is the most gifted and most explosive quarterback in the game. The only positive that remains attached to Brady, despite the picks and the average numbers, is that he performed on the most important drives of the game. For some reason, he has this uncanny knack for closing out every first half he plays in with a touchdown. Read the box scores. I haven't but I feel confident saying that he wins every key game in which he leads his team to a score in the waning seconds of the first half. And then, he does the same thing -- performs best -- during the last 7 minutes of the game.

And let's not forget to take this weekend's performances by both QBs with a grain of salt. Peyton played the number 1 ranked defense while Brady played the number 2 (I think). Moreover, how much worse would both be if they didn't play behind such great offensive lines? But for Matt Light (hold for Boilermakers to "Boiler-up" as it were), Brady would have suffered countless sacks on Sunday. With Light, Shawn Merriman became an afterthought.

What's my point? I almost wish the Pats will lose this weekend just because it kills me to hear this all the time from other Colts fans who don't think their way through it the way you do and just knee jerk, "Brady sucks," etc. Stop comparing Manning to Brady. He's better pure player in so many ways, and comparable in all of the glorified ones. Just so happens that the details of certain games happened to favor the other team.

And ESPN only writes that crap because they're too lazy to write good Xs and Os stuff. Other than Jaworski, those clowns are mailing it in and will continue to mail it in. The easiest piece to mail-in is the same one that's been written to death -- who's the better QB?

That said, I
blogged some of these same thoughts the other day. Brady's history is rife with game where he seems to be underperforming as the game goes along – INTs, 3 and outs, etc. Yet, as I typed, "he seemingly always drives to a touchdown in the waning minutes/seconds of the first half, leads to 1-2 key touchdowns in the middle of the second half, and takes advantage of golden opportunities teed-up by the opposing side.

True to form, Brady threw two picks as the clock ticked-along, missed Ben Watson on a sure score opportunity, and seemed unable to get anything going for long stretches, while Philip Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson seemed to be moving the ball continuously. All the while, the Patriots' defense bent without breaking. A few scores eeked through, but all while San Diego appeared to lose all of the composure they displayed in amassing 14 regular season wins.

3. Upping the Ante – BigSlick Forwards Hatchet-Job Article

Since you have spent so much time in Indy, you will definitely appreciate this.

4. Return of the Rikki or The Rikki Gripes Back (in three movements)

You know, the thing that makes me shake my head while reading this is that every Pats fan I know – all of whom do indeed think that Brady walks on water – think that Manning is pretty damned good, too. I don't know anyone who rips him. They only say that, if given the choice, they'd take Brady because he continues to pull rabbits out of hats and you never turn down a sure thing.

Ask the Yankees and their fans if they still think Jason Giambi, A-Rod, and Randy Johnson are better performers than Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, and Andy Pettite. Bottom line is they haven't won since they dispatched the latter three in favor of the former three.

Granted, I'm the extreme exception ... as I continue to proclaim that "I root for the Colts in every situation where they aren't playing the Patriots."

But I am not alone among Pats fans – including the northern rednecks heavily populating my area – who, while they wouldn't give up Brady for anybody, think Peyton Manning is both an amazing quarterback and likely as good of a guy as somebody could be while earning crazy cash and being as good on the field as he is.

I was even listening to Boston's nitwit radio – WEEI, 850 am – the other day and all but the most asinine of the four guys who host the most asinine of the station's call-in shows agreed that Peyton is something special, and the only reason he has failed in the past is because of some weird cocktail of Belichick scheming and Peyton's lack of a supporting cast.

And don't EVER suggest that a Pats fan would EVER rip Adam Vinatieri. That guy will always own the hearts of NE fans. Kinda like when Bobby Orr played his last season, constantly limping, in a Chicago Blackhawks uniform. When the hawks played the Garden, Orr was reportedly cheered more loudly than any Bruin on the ice or off the ice.

Oh yeah ... according to the Tennessee writer, Peyton fans probably don't understand what this means because it involves ice skating. Just take it on faith. No one in New England, with the sad exception of the Connecticut residents who were dumb enough to be born to New York leaning fans, would ever or will ever do anything but cheer Adam Vinatieri.

And I like the Manning commercials ... except the one where he wears the dumb wig and p0rno mustache. That's got to go . . .

Incidentally, the more I think about this the more I suspect this is one of those blue state/red state arguments -- just dumb, and probably ignores the 45% in applicable states who strongly resent being lumped into the category of those who make up the opposite 55%. Read: the comment in the article about people from Ann Arbor. He might as well have added "Bloomington, Madison, Champaign-Urbana, Minneapolis-St. Paul," and ...god forbid, "Chicago."

Then again, I'm not sure why rednecks would rip Brady. Because he wears weird clothes sometimes and (shares lovemaking moments with) movie stars and models? (you see the Giselle thing? Nice upgrade, eh?)

What does that have to do with how he performs on the field? He's tough as hell, never avoids a hit when he can pick up extra yards, and performs as an on-field leader by leading by example (i.e. don't rip your boys in the media, dish off credit when you can, and take the blame when you can). This seems like exactly the kind of ideal that redneck guys would find creditworthy, i.e. "guyish"

I guess the bottom line is the very thing the article's author is trying to incite – the idea that, if you think Peyton Manning is cool, then you have to hate Tom Brady. And that's stupid.

Both players are the kind of athletes who play the game right, who take care of their teammates, and avoid doing all the kinds of things that put their teams' ability to win at risk. There is no rational reason to rip Brady if you respect Manning for these reasons. And maybe that's the crux of it -- it's irrational. It's about fan resentment . . . which, I'd bet if you asked Peyton, he'd say was stupid and to get over it. . . .

Oh yeah, and just to feed into the guy's characterization of Brady … here's his
new girlfriend. I find it hard to question his taste, or her tastes for that matter.

5. BigSlick Recoils or Finding Common Ground

Truthfully, I only skimmed the article. I thought you would mostly find some of
the Manning fan stereotypes funny… like that they obviously never pay more than $10 for a haircut.

I think I am in the majority in the way Colts fans feel about Brady. We all acknowledge that he is definitely a great QB, and I think most of us really appreciate anyone who approaches the game the way he does.

The few thuggish Colts or Pacers there have been are quickly run out of town. Brady always says the right thing, prepares and works hard, and doesn’t appear to have a huge ego. If I [held the hand of] even one as hot as his typical woman, or if I had even one Super Bowl ring, I would probably be so full of myself that even my Mother would hate me…so we all do recognize that.

The reason we seem so bitter and hateful is because Brady and company have won 3 Super Bowls that we think we could have won. I won’t even go as far as to say that the Patriots weren’t the better TEAM in those years. However, I think the teams were much more evenly matched than history and the media remember it, and that if we switched defenses then Manning has the rings. I firmly believe that in 2 of those years the Colts would have won if playing in the Dome instead of on a snowy, windy field.
I also recognize that the Pats EARNED that right to play at home (even if one was because the Colts couldn’t score on first and goal from the 2, and Fat Willie faked an injury to stop the clock and get the D settled). That said, it isn’t that we are truly bitter and hateful of Brady, it is more frustration and jealousy. The pathetic fools in the media really add fuel to our fires with all of their extreme statements and worship of Brady. I also realize that we are hyper-sensitive to criticism of Manning, but to hear endless babble about how Manning can’t win the big game (even at Tennessee, who will never have the recruiting advantages that Florida has), it was Peyton’s fault because HE couldn’t win the big game against Florida.

Football is truly more of a team sport than basketball or baseball, yet everyone wants to put all of the blame or credit on one or a few individuals, typically on the offensive side of the ball.

I think a good analogy is if some nice, likeable guy "steals" your girlfriend. Although it isn’t truly rational, it takes a huge man not to have bitter feelings toward that guy, and not to project bad characteristics on that guy. It is easier to think bad thoughts about the ex, or the guy that stole her than it is to look in the mirror and realize that there were probably many opportunities to have listened more, been more concerned with her needs and desires, or to have done countless other things that would have prevented her from going to a guy who likely did nothing wrong toward you.

Similarly, it takes a unique Colts fan to admit that the Patriots have continually made more plays than us. They have adjusted to the way the game is being called, the elements, the other teams’ game plan, etc. better than we have. Further, the Pats took care of business better than we did during those regular seasons and didn’t think the better team could automatically show up and win.

Being rational, I know the Patriots and Brady deserve all of those rings and deserve to get the increased adulation and the benefits of all doubts that come with being the Champion. I get very frustrated by the media and on the record, I will continue to say that Brady gets more credit than he deserves and that there are 20 QB’s that could have done what he has done. But then again the SOB has stole many of my girlfriends and has consistently whacked the Colts!!!!

6. Afterthought

As I told BigSlick, soon after I shipped off my three missives last night, I opened some spam from a fool up this way named Fuggaboski. It was a dumb-arsed joke about Peyton that deserves to be ignored. Anyway, sufficed to say, I spoke too soon in saying that everyone up here respects his ability. Let me revise that to "everyone except the dummies" thinks that Peyton is pretty damned good, too.

Ultimately, it's fair to assume that whoever wins Sunday, it won't quell the urge of writers like Tennessee Clay to write things like the CBS Sportsline piece. After all. the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory hasn't done a thing to cut into the Red Sox writing cottage industry. Let's just hope that what follows is an improvement over Tennessee Clay's output.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Trimming the fat or
cutting out the heart?

Snazzy headline, eh? Permit me the hyperbole and an opportunity to break-up the sports-obsession for a bit, whilst I notch a measure of back self-scratchery for a moment …

The Rockland Courier-Gazette, of which I am a subscriber, published
this story last week about Governor Baldacci's proposal to pare the State's bloated district level administration bureaucracy as a means of cutting state spending.

Anyway, I got a furrow in my brow and submitted a letter to the editor, which the Courier was gracious enough to publish
here. The letter follows below, but first …

The Courier has since followed up with this
lead editorial and this authored column by Editor and reporter of the original story Stephen Betts. Both pieces more plainly addressed the guts of the Governor's proposal and Mr. Betts' recalcitrance toward the plan than a non-critical eye might have detected from the first go-round.

A bit of background on the proposal and the whatnot: The Rockland Free Press provides a compilation of the press releases
here. The Portland Press Herald provided many stories, of which one lies here. And, here lies a Lewiston Sun Journal's overview story, mixed with a bit of analysis.

The Portland Press Herald reported Sunday that Two Other Consolidation Plans are brewing in the Legislature. The Bangor Daily News provided this editorial on the Re-redistricting here, and this opinion column reflected on previous experience with public resistance to school consolidation. Also of note, syndicated statehouse reporter Victoria Wallack reports the same here. The story notes, of the two plans:
One calls for using the 26 districts referenced in Baldacci’s proposal — currently the state’s vocational/technical school regions — as planning districts, where locals can come together and propose what school administrative functions should be consolidated.

The other calls for collapsing the current 290 districts, with their 290 school committees and 152 superintendents, into slightly fewer than 65 districts, with 3,000 to 4,000 students each. Districts currently about that size would be left alone.
Here are one, two, and three weekend Press Herald opinion pieces on the topic, the last of which being Saturday's lead editorial.

But all this sort of gives away the story I tried to provide to Courier readers who might have been confused by reading that only superintendents had worthy opinions on the Governor's plan. Long story short, here was my letter to the Courier:

To the editor:

I eagerly read your Jan. 9 lead story, focusing on Gov. Baldacci's plan to consolidate Maine's 152 school districts into 26. Yet, I found the story's narrow scope troubling. You quoted nobody but area superintendents and school board chairs. In the first major debate over taxes and public spending since the Taxpayer Bill of Rights failed, readers require a far broader view of the debate.

Any school administration cuts that result will surely impact the folks you quoted. But what about the other obvious stakeholders? Where were the voices of teachers? Students? Other taxpayers?

You quoted SAD 50 Superintendent Judy Harvey's feeling that "it just seems too extreme" to consolidate Maine's 152 school districts into 26.

There is a stunner.

Ms. Harvey's job stands to be one of the first eliminated. It's no doubt she finds it "too extreme" to give-up her $105,000 salary and then compete to head-up one of the newly consolidated school districts.

What about the purported benefits of the plan, or reasons it was generated? The governor's proposal tracks the findings of three 2006 studies. The Maine Children's Alliance, the Maine Board of Education, and the Brookings Institute each explored ways Maine can trim taxes, while maintaining programs that protect cherished resources.

All three studies reached the same conclusion: Maine pays too many school district-level administrators too much money, pays its teachers too little and taxes its citizens too much.

The Brookings report, "Charting Maine's Future," spelled-out how Maine policymakers can pare administration costs without hurting student achievement. The report is available free at

Maine citizens generally tout their high per-student payout (higher than all but 10 states) and similarly high-ranked 1:11 teacher-to-student ratio. But how proud are we to pay our teachers salaries so poorly that the average ranks 35th among states? Or how we pay one administrator per 11 underpaid teachers, the ninth slimmest ratio in the nation?

The Brookings report mused that, "Maine is at least as much “Administrationland” as “Vacationland,” given the large number of especially state and school district administrative personnel that seem to populate the state's expensive bureaucracies."

Now, would you expect a superintendent to happily agree with this conclusion? How about three of them?

The governor announced in January that, "The Brookings study has given us not just a blueprint to improve our economy, but a way to lift the extensive pessimism that permeates this state."

Yet, I read nothing about Brookings' research in The Courier's story. I read nothing from teachers, students, parents or their neighbors about how it's about time to more wisely fund education. Instead, I read only about superintendents who want to keep their jobs and their budgets.

The Courier-Gazette regularly honors its duty to describe in good faith how deeply state decisions impact our lives. The risk of a half-told story is that it feeds pessimism, like that which the governor claims his plan will help abate. Strive to breed optimism among your readers by consistently providing the broadest possible perspective on our most challenging policy issues.


I lifted this from the Rockland Free Press, but wanted to permanently post it as the FP doesn't archive its material … or I haven't figured out how it does so.

The reason: because its two parts -- the Gov's inaugural address on the budget and the following press release by the Dept. of Education provide some background for my next post.

Inaugural Address
Governor John Baldacci
January 3, 2007

“After all, this is my last Inaugural Address and the last elective office I will hold.”

…As we gather here, 365 Maine men and women of the National Guard are serving their state and nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. I call your attention to the vacant row of seats to my right in honor of their absence. We remember and honor their families who sacrifice so much while their loved ones are deployed. We pause to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and their families.

This Inauguration of Maine’s Governor signifies the end of a long campaign that highlighted many of Maine’s challenges. It also signifies the beginning of a term in which all of us, together, must get to work and address those challenges and improve the quality of life for Maine’s children and families.

First, though, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to the people of Maine for having faith in me to finish the job I started four years ago.
Thank you to my opponents — and there were many of them — for waging a spirited but principled campaign of issues and ideas. While we disagreed on many things, we all agree on working to make Maine a better place than it already is. This goal has brought us here tonight and will guide us in the days ahead.

I’ve learned a lot in the last four years — about government, about Maine people, and about Maine’s place in the world.

Maine has become a very different place than it was when I began serving on the Bangor City Council or representing the Second District in Washington.

Maine remains a beautiful place to live, work and raise a family — the best place in the world!

But Maine, like many areas of the country, is more and more influenced by outside forces that have given way to a different brand of politics than we’re used to — more partisan, more divisive and, ultimately, more detrimental to our democracy.

We recently witnessed this divisive atmosphere in the lengthy and expensive campaign over the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a property-tax reform proposal that had its origins outside of Maine.

Maine voters rejected this idea.

But I’ve heard what Maine people are saying — loud and clear — and the debate over property taxes won’t end there.

The time has come to enact a property-tax relief policy that is by Maine people for Maine people!

But before I talk more about that, there are a few other things I want to say. After all, this is my last Inaugural Address and the last elective office I will hold.

The political campaigns that were just completed served many important purposes, the most important of which is giving the voters clear choices on how their state will be governed and managed in the years ahead.

But in the age of 10-second sound-bytes and carefully crafted TV commercials, these campaigns have a downside. All you hear are claims about what’s wrong with Maine. You hear about its high tax burden, its ailing economy. You hear about out-of-control government spending, about young people leaving Maine in droves, about Maine’s inability to compete with other states and other countries. All of this has the effect of making us more pessimistic about our future. It zaps our can-do spirit and makes Maine seem a much gloomier place than it really is.

I know this may shock you, but not everything you hear in a political campaign is 100% accurate.

This was clear from the recently completed independent Brookings Institution report that exploded many myths about Maine. The Brookings study has given us not just a blueprint to improve our economy, but a way to lift the extensive pessimism that permeates this state.

You might have heard that people are leaving Maine, but in fact we have the fifth-highest rate of any state in the country of people moving into our state. Who are these people moving to Maine? Many are highly educated, upper-income individuals looking for all the things that Maine has to offer that they can’t find anywhere else. And where are they coming from? More than half of them are coming from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, two states that are often held up as states Maine needs to emulate.

But if that’s true, why are so many people leaving those states and choosing to come to Maine? Because Maine has what the world wants: quality of life; a “gold standard” workforce. And we can compete globally.

We are the eighth-fastest growing state in exports in the United States. Foreign Direct Investment magazine ranked Maine’s quality of life as the best in the nation. And Inc. Magazine included Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor in its listing of the top cities for doing business and attracting entrepreneurs in America.

Large international companies competing on a global scale have located here and are thriving. TD Banknorth, National Semiconductor, and others employ thousands of hard-working Mainers. Their entrepreneurial spirit is mirrored in our home-grown small businesses criss-crossing the state: Oxford Aviation in Sanford; Sea Run Holdings of Eastport; and Maine Mutual Insurance Group of Presque Isle.

You’ve heard about Maine’s high tax burden — the amount of taxes Maine people pay relative to their incomes. But you probably didn’t hear that Maine’s tax burden is coming down while incomes are on the way up. In fact, Maine’s average income is at an all-time high, and our goal is to keep it going higher. If we can raise the average Maine income just a few thousand dollars while keeping taxes in check, our tax burden will fall to somewhere in the middle of the 50 states, and we wouldn’t be having this debate at all.

So it’s not enough to simply address our high taxes. We’re going to have to address growing our incomes, too. I’ll discuss how we intend to do both in a minute.

You might have heard that state spending is out of control. But in fact, over the past four years, we have established the lowest average spending rate increase in the last 30 years. We’ve capped government spending at all levels. We’ve put $140 million in our rainy-day fund and paid off a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar credit line.

You might have heard that we sorely lag behind in jobs, but resident employment has grown by 32,000 workers in the past four years. There are more Maine people working now than ever in our state’s history.

You may have heard that there is no strategic plan for growing Maine’s jobs, but we recently competed for and won a $15 million federal grant to support and expand Maine’s leadership in the boat-building industry, adding over 2,000 jobs in seven years.

Does all of this mean that we really don’t have to worry about taxes and spending, or the state of our economy? Absolutely not! But it doesn’t mean that everything is bad, or that we’re not doing anything right. The fact is we are doing a lot of things right. But we must do more. And Maine can do it.

To accomplish this will take our coordinated efforts. I look to work with the people of Maine to help us along our path. I recently reached out to the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Dana Connors, and its members to work together to promote Maine businesses, workers and job growth. Thank you, Dana, for your help and commitment. Together, we will succeed in bringing more business to Maine, and in putting more quality Maine workers in good-paying jobs.

Maine can do it. We can solve our problems and face our challenges. We need to celebrate our accomplishments, celebrate our achievements. We need to lift the cloud of pessimism that hangs over our state.

Maine is a leader once again on energy. Businesses are now flocking to Maine to harness our clean renewable energy resources: our wind, our tides, and our wood and wood wastes. Development of these energy resources will put money into the pockets of Mainers rather than exporting them out-of-state and overseas. We have come a long way on the road to energy independence, and I will continue to move us in that direction.

We’ve protected our environment. This year we completed the vision of Percival Baxter by adding Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park. We continue to protect traditional land uses — like hunting and fishing — and have added three-quarters of a million acres of land to preserve Maine’s way of life for the future.

When we in Maine look back at the first years of this new century — an era driven by technology and innovation and a knowledge-based economy — one critically important action will stand out: the creation of Maine’s Community College System. In just four years, thousands of citizens — hardworking Maine people displaced from traditional manufacturing jobs, young high school graduates unsure of their future, underemployed adults struggling to make ends meet — have flooded our community colleges. Enrollment has soared by 47%. Our community colleges are building new skills for a new economy, and a brighter economic future for our entire state.

The University of Maine system enrolls 34,000 students. The vast majority of these are Maine people: your sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors. Most of these students build their careers in Maine. By focusing on quality education, and pursuing R&D to create private-sector jobs, the University has an important impact on Maine’s future.

And the fact is we’ve provided property-tax relief to over 200,000 Maine households by doubling the individual Property Tax and Rent Refund Program, and tax relief to all Maine homeowners by increasing the homestead exempt valuation up to $13,000. And we increased the amount of state aid to education by replacing local property-tax dollars with $800 million in new state funding and putting spending caps on state, county and local government. But more must be done.

The people of Maine have spoken again and again of our collective need to stop the skyrocketing costs of property taxes.

At the state level, we can — and we must — do something. It must be bold and it must send a strong signal that we cannot continue doing business as usual.

We must support excellence in education, not excess administration. Maine has twice the number of school district officials per student than the national average. We spend $2,000 more per student than the national average, and pay our teachers $7,000 less. We can and we will do better.

My plan will reduce the number of superintendents from 152 to 26, establishing 26 regional centers similar to the technology centers that now serve the state. We will save a quarter of a billion dollars in the first three years of operation alone.

With the budget I will be submitting Friday, the State will have met the commitment that the people of Maine voted for — to have the State pay 55% of local education costs.

But this year I am going to insist that the savings available from increased funding be directly passed on to taxpayers for immediate property-tax relief. If it’s not guaranteed, I will veto the legislation.

But I believe that’s still not enough.

After listening to thousands of people all over the state, I am insisting that we move forward to freeze property valuations on homes of permanent Maine residents for tax purposes. This must be done to prevent people from being tax valued out of their homes. Permanent Maine residents will have their property-tax valuations frozen until such time as they sell their property, then the valuations on that property can and should rise.

This freeze is a vital component of our overall tax and spending priorities.

Of course there will be opposition to this. I expect it. I welcome it.

Change is always threatening but it is time we put the needs of permanent Maine residents ahead of all the special-interest groups and ahead of those who benefit from the ever-rising property-tax burden.

Enough is enough.

Here is where I stand. I ask Maine people to stand with me if they believe, as I do, that we need to look out for year-round permanent Maine residents.

The people of Maine require a bold initiative, and the package I am presenting — reducing state and school administrative costs; fulfilling the promise of state funding of local education to 55%; guaranteeing savings be passed along to residents; and freezing permanent residents’ property valuations for tax purposes — achieves this. We cannot continue the status quo, and I won’t stand for it!

But we can’t stop there.

We must raise the average income of Mainers to reduce the tax burden, too. It takes both sides of the ledger.

We will raise incomes by making investments in key areas to prepare Maine people for good-paying private-sector jobs. I want to thank Karen Gordon Mills for chairing the Council on Jobs, Innovation and the Economy and jump-starting this effort. Our people can compete anywhere in the world, but we need to build our capacity and our competitive edge in the global marketplace. We will do this by committing to investments in innovation and research and development that fuel private-sector jobs and economic growth.

We will expand Pine Tree Zones, enabling companies in Maine to have a level playing field and attract new business to this state.

We will do this by making commitments in education through 50% tuition reimbursement, at community-college rates, for those students who couldn’t afford to go on otherwise and who attend a state college or university. We will open the doors to higher education wider than ever before, so students are ready to learn and ready to succeed here in Maine.

We must change the status-quo in Augusta. We must look at things from a different perspective. And tonight I want to challenge Maine people to have the courage to change as well, in your own communities, whether that means partnering with other communities, sharing services, or joint purchasing. We have to use our God-given Yankee ingenuity — something no one else possesses, to accomplish this change.

Maine is truly at a crossroads.

Our people are experiencing the transition from an old economy to a new one. In the past our economy relied heavily on manufacturing to create wealth. Today we are moving to a new focus on innovative products and knowledge-based services. This change has brought pain and dislocation but it also heralds the possibility of a prosperous future for all Mainers.

In this new economy, Maine stands head and shoulders above any state in the nation. Our good people and strong communities, along with our natural beauty and small-town character, have become scarce resources in a crowded world. The Maine brand represents quality, pride, integrity, innovation and craftsmanship — things that the world today needs and wants more of. These are Maine’s competitive assets in the new 21st-century economy.

If we preserve and enhance these unique assets, if we can develop and attract the right kinds of businesses — from biotechnology to alternative energy, from new forest products to specialty foods — it will offer a truly sustainable prosperity.

This means high-quality, high-paying jobs for our generation and the next. It means a thriving and innovative business climate, so that our young people want to stay here and raise their own families. It means that if we make the right choices, the 21st century is Maine’s century. It means: Our time has come.

God bless Maine, and may her and your spirit together provide the light around the world for a brighter future for all.

Governor’s Budget Includes Plan to Consolidate School Districts

On Monday, January 8, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron outlined the details of Governor Baldacci’s proposal to reduce the number of school administrative units and central offices in Maine from 152 to 26. The proposal is part of a broad effort by the governor to reorganize central office administration to save money, gain efficiencies and to improve education at local schools.

The Local Schools, Regional Support (LSRS) Initiative, unveiled by Baldacci last Friday, is a comprehensive education funding and reform package that includes more than $170 million in direct tax relief in the first two years, as well as a quarter-billion dollars in state and local savings in the first three years of implementation, starting July 1, 2008.

According to Gendron, the LSRS Initiative would close no schools and result in no teacher layoffs. Rather, its focus is on streamlining central office administration.

“We are talking about shifting resources from central office administration to the classroom to achieve excellence in education for every student in every classroom in every local school,” Gendron said.

Gendron said the LSRS Initiative is the culmination of years of reports and commissions, including the Brookings Institution report and one from the Maine Children’s Alliance, that have hit home with the same recurring theme: Maine’s educational system is top-heavy with administration due in large part to the multiple small school districts throughout the state.

Several of those commissions, including the Governor’s Task Force on Increasing Efficiency and Equality in the Use of K-12 Resources created by Baldacci in 2003, and the more recent Select Panel created by the State Board of Education, included membership representing all the key stakeholders: school administrators, municipal officials, business people, parents, and others.

“I don’t think the people of Maine want to wait any longer; I don’t think they want another study commission,” Gendron said. “They’ve spoken loudly about reducing spending, and they’ve spoken loudly about the need for improved outcomes in the classroom.”

“This is one of those times when spending less will actually get us more,” she added. Gendron said more centralized administration will result in a more cohesive and consistent approach to instructional methods and understanding of the Maine Learning Results standards. It will allow a smaller group of superintendents to meet regularly with the commissioner and better coordinate efforts like professional development.

In addition to local property-tax relief, the savings generated by the administrative restructuring will allow for reinvestment in students and teachers, says Gendron. The laptop program in grades 7 and 8 would be expanded through to 12th grade; professional development will be better coordinated; and more than 15,000 students over four years who are eligible for Pell grants will now receive an additional scholarship, averaging $2,000, to any public college or other post-secondary school in Maine.

Speaking to the new governance structure, Gendron said regional school boards that look a lot like existing School Administrative District boards would oversee educational policy in each of the 26 regions. The existing 290 school boards across the state would remain for a transition period in an advisory capacity. Each region would determine a structure for local advisory councils, either at the existing school board level, or at each school, to serve in a supporting role for education at each school, and as a voice for school-specific concerns.

According to Gendron’s office, the LSRS Initiative includes two significant sources of savings. The first is more than $170 million of new state money in the next two years going to local education in order to achieve the 55-percent goal for the state’s share of local education costs. Baldacci has pledged to veto any legislation that does not include a requirement for that money to go back to local property taxpayers as was originally intended with the passage of the Property Tax Reduction Law (LD1) two years ago.

The second source of savings is the administrative restructuring itself. Those savings would start in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2008, when the new regional centers would be up and running. In the first three years of implementation, the restructuring is expected to save almost a quarter billion dollars — $109 million in local savings and $132 million in state savings, representing the locals’ 45-percent share of education costs and the state’s 55-percent share.

Some of the state savings would be rolled into programs such as the laptops expansion and the post-secondary tuition scholarships. Local savings would be expected to go back to taxpayers.

Another feature of the LSRS Initiative is an increase in the student:teacher ratio at middle schools and high schools to 17:1 to match the existing elementary-school ratio. That shift would result in the loss of about 650 teaching positions, but no teacher layoffs. That’s because roughly 1,500 teachers are lost each year to voluntary attrition.

“Districts will hire fewer new teachers in the first year of the initiative, but no layoffs will be necessary,” Gendron said.

Under Baldacci’s plan, the three Regional Administrative Centers in the midcoast would include the following towns:

Region # 11 Belfast: Troy, Thorndike, Jackson, Monroe, Frankfort, Knox, Brooks, Freedom, Montville, Waldo, Searsport, Stockton Springs, Belfast, Swanville, Liberty, Morrill, Searsmont, Belmont, Northport, Unity.

Region # 12 Rockland: Washington, Appleton, Hope, Lincolnville, Islesboro, Camden, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Waldoboro, Warren, Union, Rockport, Rockland, Cushing, Thomaston, Owls Head, Friendship, Saint George, Matinicus Isle Plt., Criehaven Twp., Monhegan Island Plt., South Thomaston.

Region # 16 Bath: Dresden, Alna, Nobleboro, Damariscotta, Bremen, Bristol, Edgecomb, Wiscasset, Woolwich, South Bristol, Bath, West Bath, Arrowsic, Newcastle, Phippsburg, Georgetown, Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Southport, Westport, Monhegan Plt.

As of now Maine has 152 district administrations and nearly twice that many school districts. Governor Baldacci wants to consolidate school administration in Maine into 26 “Regional Centers,” each with one superintendent and one regional school board supporting schools in several cities and towns.

Why the consolidation of administration?

In brief, this is how the Maine Department of Education explains the Why:

The State of Maine spends more per student than the national average, while paying the lowest teacher salaries in New England. Meanwhile, student achievement, while above national averages, can be even better.

Around the state, we have seen examples of school districts working together to find efficiencies — sharing a specialist, making joint supply purchases to save money, jointly hiring a superintendent.

The Local School, Regional Support (LSRS) Initiative does that on a much larger scale by creating substantial regional efficiencies, and saves approximately $250 million in the first three years of implementation, while focusing on strengthening local leadership of local schools.

The LSRS Initiative centralizes administration, but does not consolidate schools. Education funding continues under the same formula, only with a smaller amount for administration, and larger amounts for various instructional services, including increased teacher salaries to attract the best teachers, laptops in grades 7 through 12, and college tuition scholarships for many students.

Transitioning to this new model will require us to move beyond our traditional view of focusing on town-by-town school governance and instead recognize that we all have a responsibility to provide excellence in education for all children in our state and provide them with the best opportunities and classroom experiences. Together, we can achieve equity of opportunity in every school in every classroom for every student.

How it works—

And, in brief, this is how the Maine Department of Education explains the How:

• Close no schools.

• Maine has 152 district administrations and nearly twice that many districts.

• The Local Schools, Regional Support Initiative merges those into 26 Regional Centers, each with one superintendent and one regional school board supporting schools in several cities and towns. The boards will be governed by representatives from the communities they serve, guaranteeing every parent, teacher and community member a voice in how their schools are governed.

• Streamline purchasing, back office functions, curriculum coordination, transportation, and other administrative duties at existing school districts into 26 Regional Centers (those centers are being based on the geography of the existing Career Technical Centers, which were designed for easy commutability).

• Determine the organizational structure that works best for each region through regional decision-making by a regional school board. Each superintendent will report to a regional board with representatives from member communities.

• Support principals with a local advisory council that includes parents and community members. Retain existing school boards during a transition period to work with schools on creating an advisory structure to strengthen community participation in local schools.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dis-Charged? Re-Patri-ated? Etc.

Wow. What a game. I'm still shaking my head when I recall the give and take … a bit more take, from the Pats' point of view, thankfully. So many subplots that will surely be parsed out, dissected, and hyper-analyzed today … until the heads pick back-up on the Belichick v. Peyton Manning thread. So much so that I find myself stuck coming up with adequate headlines for today's posting. I ask for your forgiveness on this day of days.

Peter King, from SI dot com, apparently
feels the same way today. While I won't provide an even 20 reasons why the Patriots won, I have plenty of thoughts now that I'm beginning to gather my wits.

For one, Tom Brady had one of those games that come to define his career … the stats appear to paint the performance as borderline-poor as the game goes along, buttressed by a couple of turnovers and many 4-and-outs. Yet, he seemingly always drives to a touchdown in the waning minutes/seconds of the first half, leads to 1-2 key touchdowns in the middle of the second half, and takes advantage of golden opportunities teed-up by the opposing side.

True to form, Brady threw two picks as the clock ticked-along, missed Ben Watson on a sure score opportunity, and seemed unable to get anything going for long stretches, while Philip Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson seemed to be moving the ball continuously. All the while, the Patriots' defense bent without breaking. A few scores eeked through, but all while San Diego appeared to lose all of the composure they displayed in amassing 14 regular season wins.

The game was remarkably lean on penalties, but San Diego seemed to be called for a large number of personal fouls all the same.

And for every play like punt returner Eric Parker's botched fair-catch, coach Marty Schottenheimer provided an equally botched coaching decision.
The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian took note, but suggested this loss was about more than the failures of MartyBall.

Yet, it's hard to ignore a single decision when trying to locate the game's fulcrum. Nick Kaeding missed a game-tying field goal with mere seconds on the clock. That was a 54-yard try – no gimme by any stretch. Rivers completed a pass over the middle that pushed the Chargers close to the Patriots' 40 yard line, only to realize he didn't have time to get Kaeding any closer. Why not? Coach Marty wasted the Chargers' last time-out challenging a fumble-call that stood no change of being overturned. Do you wholly blame a kicker for missing a 54 yarder?

And when the Chargers had a chance to break it open, they fell a few steps short of executing the death blow.
For instance, receiver Vincent Jackson beat Ellis Hobbs on a deep route but Rivers underthrew it just enough. Hobbs was able to save face after getting beat by batting down the underthrown pass on the goalline. A bit more ummph on the pass, however, and it's a different story altogether. A quarter or so later, Jackson beat Artrell Hawkins on a similar pattern, but River led him a bit too far for Jackson to make the catch and get too feet down.

In contrast, a game's worth of offensive futility disappeared as Brady hit a streaking Reche Caldwell for 49 yards late in the fourth quarter.

And then there was the play the Herald aptly deems the
play of the game:
Trailing 21-13 with 6:25 to play in the game last night, the Patriots decided to go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Chargers’ 41-yard line. Attempting to connect with wide receiver Reche Caldwell , Pats quarterback Tom Brady instead was picked off by safety Marlon McCree at the Chargers’ 31, apparently sealing the team’s fate. Remarkably, Pats veteran Troy Brown effectively picked up the first down anyway.

Transformed from receiver to defender, Brown locked on to McCree and forced a fumble by stripping the ball from him. Caldwell subsequently fell on the loose ball for what turned out to be a 9-yard New England gain, giving the Pats a first down at the San Diego 32.

Five plays later, Brady connected with Caldwell on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The Pats followed that up with a Kevin Faulk [stats] conversion rush, tying the score at 21, and paving the way for Stephen Gostowski’s game-winning field goal a few minutes later.
That serves as prelude to the media circus that's likely to ensue on Tuesday. Patriots' rookie kicker Gostkowski lined-up for the go-ahead 31-yard field goal with barely a minute left – the kind of kick made seemingly every time his predecessor, Adam Vinitieri, lined-up to clinch victory for the Patriots in previous years' playoff runs. Fortune shined, and a region collectively let out a huge sigh as the ball sailed through the uprights. The Boston Herald's Tony Mazz starts the circus today by dubbing Gostkowski the new king of clutch, noting:
Eighteen weeks, 58 minutes and 55 seconds.

That was the precise time required for Stephen Gostkowski to come of age.
Like I said, hard to believe.

Here's what the other usual commentators are saying:

Boston Globe's Bob Ryan says of the Patriots,
In Brady We Trust. The Herald's Steve Buckley echoes the sentiment.

The Lawrence Eagle Tribune's Hector Longo writes that
the Patriots outhit and outwit the Chargers. Ron Borges says of the Xs and Os, It Was Quite a Display, while Michael Felger simplies it further: "The Patriots did the things winners do. The Chargers did the things losers do. It’s why the Pats are on their way to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship Game."

That's pretty much the same conclusion Peter King
reached too:
There's a reason New England has been a feared Super Bowl contender for the last
six years. You know what it is? The little things. All the little things. Not
just the greatness of Tom Brady and the brain of Bill Belichick. In football,
the Patriots have made all the little things add up to some very big things. In
this case, a stunning 24-21 win over the AFC's No. 1 seed, San Diego, at
Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

Mike Reiss excerpted Belichick's opening at his Press Conference, which led off with Wow, what a game. I’m really speechless. The Herald's Karen Guregian comments on what ticked LT off. California writer Kevin Modesti leans hard on the lack of class accusation, noting:
Patriots stomped on the lightning-bolt helmet at the 50-yard line at Qualcomm Stadium. Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin flashed the choke sign toward the home sideline. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork imitated Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman's "Lights Out" dance. A few players pointed up at the scoreboard, which registered the 24-21 final score that meant the Chargers are one-and-done in the NFL playoffs and Coach Marty Schottenheimer's hard luck continues.

Last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick celebrated a win over the New York Jets in the wild-card round by yanking a photographer out of his way by the throat.
Now, his players, supposedly the models of professionalism as the franchise has won three of the past five Super Bowls, thumb their noses at the old rule about end-zone manners, which says to behave as if you've been there before and expect to be back.

Probably some good points in there. I suppose it's a matter of degree, but this isn't too different than Terrell Owens prancing out to the middle of Texas Stadium's star and rubbing in a 49er victory. I didn't see it, but I wish whatever happened hadn't happened. It rubs exactly the way the California guy wrote it.

Anyway. Colts are next. But that's for tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Case for Jim Rice

I'm going to break my own rule here and discuss baseball when the NFL playoffs should stand alone in the spotlight. I had to rush to get this one in under the wire today, as I didn't realize until this morning that baseball writers were voting today on the next class of players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Another year, another snub for former Red Sox star Jim Rice. The slugger failed to reach the 75% target for yet another year, leaving just two more shots at Hall entry through the traditional door before he's bumped from eligibility.

The chorus of Rice supporters continues to chime loudly, this year taking on some new timbre, as described in this Nick Cafardo piece in Today's Globe written in advance of today's vote.

The gist is that this year's ballot, and all of its furor surrounding
the first time eligible Mark McGwire, raised new prospects for the steroid-free Rice's candidacy. Jeff Horrigan described the same movement in light of the anti-Mark McGwire mob, noting:
Rice hit 382 home runs, and maintained a .298 career batting average over 14-plus seasons. However, his status as one of baseball's most feared power hitters really dried-up after his MVP-worthy 1986 season. 31 home runs over his last three seasons, while he struggled to keep a batting average over .270.
Other Rice factors:
-Won A.L. MVP in 1978, hitting 46 home runs, 139 RBI, and .315 avg.
- Eight All Star appearances in 14 seasons
- finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year and 3rd in MVP balloting in 1975, losing out on both to teammate Fred Lynn. He hit 22 HR, 102 RBI, .309 AVG.
- Finished 3rd in MVP balloting in 1986 (39 HR, 110 RBI, .324 AVG)
- Finished 4th in MVP balloting in 1977 (39 HR, 114 RBI, .320 AVG) and 1983 (39 HR, 126 RBI, .305 AVG)
- Finished 5th in MVP balloting in 1979 (39 HR, 130 RBI, .329 AVG)
Cafardo wrote hopefully of Rice's chances this year, despite the sentiment of most writers that the hitters' best shot was last year when he stood as tall as any of the other average candidates in the field. Alas, no 75% came his way. With a 2007 ballot that included the likes of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, 2007 didn't look quite as promising at the outset. However, some observed a buzz generating in favor of Rice due to the slugger's eminence in an era far more free of steroids and before expansion brought in far thinner pitching staffs. Cafardo noted:
Rice, though his candidacy has picked up steam, is still struggling for the elusive honor, which might came today when the latest voting results are announced, though competing with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken might prolong his wait another year.

A reason Rice is picking up steam is that this is the first year voters are faced with an otherwise strong candidate suspected of using steroids, Mark McGwire. Rice might have gotten votes that would have gone to McGwire. Polls by ESPN and the Associated Press indicate McGwire won't garner more than 25-30 percent, far short of the 75 percent required for induction.
Interestingly, Rice submitted to Cafardo, "If you cheated, you don't belong in the Hall of Fame."

If Rice doesn’t garner the necessary support of 75% of the writers, he’ll have two more years before he is pushed into the Veterans Committee, which considers the worthiness of snubbed players every other year.

Describing their votes, Sports Illustrated's
Tom Verducci gives Ripken and Gwynn backrubs; some guy from Chicago apparently submitted an entirely blank ballot in protest or something; NY Daily News Bill Madden focuses on the McGwire matter. Washington Post's Dave Sheinin gives one more rubdown to Ripken while chiding the steroid users. Regular Ripken fellator Thomas Boswell was good enough to spare us one more act of service, focusing instead on his McGwire snub.

Apparently, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman was among the converted on Rice, as he observed here:
The one player I've changed my mind on. His six top-five MVP finishes reflect that he was one of the game's best players for a decade. He was fairly one dimensional and didn't play long enough to crack 400 home runs, but I'll give him a "yes" for the second time.
ESPN's Jayson Stark also backed Rice, as well as his equivalent in the pitching world, Jack Morris. Stark observed:
This is about more than just Game 7, 1991. Jack Morris pitched a no-hitter. He started three All-Star Games. He was a huge figure on three World Series pitching staffs. He always started Opening Day. And consider this: From 1979 to '92, when Morris and Nolan Ryan were both doing their thing, Morris had 65 more wins than Ryan (233-168). I've voted for him eight years in a row, and never once felt I'd overinflated what he was in his day.
Of Rice, Stark is "grateful to all the readers who did so much research on this guy to help me see the light on him," adding:
The biggest reason I vote for him: The fear factor. In the 11 seasons from 1975 to '85, American League pitchers would have been happier to see Jack the Ripper heading up their driveway than Jim Rice heading toward home plate.

In those 11 seasons, Rice led the AL in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging and extra-base hits. And the only hitter even in the same neighborhood in most of those departments was George Brett.
I yield that Morris is even more deserving than Rice, largely due to his seminal performance and anchor roles in helping deliver three World Series crowns. Yet, another year has passed and neither will be called to the Hall.

FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal also lined up in
favor of Rice, a position he fully explained in 2006. If it were only up to the national writers, like Rosenthal and the ESPN staff, it appeared that Rice would make it this year.

Not to be, I guess.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Footing the Bill

The Playoffs have arrived and that's got to be worth a mention. I'll try to start with some arguably thoughtful football coverage, but today won't stray too far from the football topic.

CBS Sportsline's Clark Judge opines on the
Coach of the Year candidates, and dares to include within the deserving a few that the mainstream seems all too bored to consider, namely, Philadelphia's Andy Reid and Bill Belichick – both of whom have taken the honor in past seasons. Of Belichick's merit in 2006, he notes:
… All I know about Belichick is that he lost offensive and defensive coordinators, offensive linemen, wide receivers and defensive backs ... yet continued to dominate the AFC East. In fact, until this season he hadn't lost consecutive regular-season games in nearly four years. Magnificent. So is this: He knocked off Chicago. He hammered Jacksonville in Jacksonville. He buried Cincinnati in Cincinnati. OK, so this isn't his best record. So the schedule isn't his most demanding, either. But this isn't his deepest or most talented team – not by a long shot – and Belichick has it behind only Chicago, San Diego and Baltimore in overall record. That tells you the job he's done.
Well, the likely to-be-ignored New England head coach has gotten plenty of media attention this week – particularly in the Boston and New York media markets – as he prepares to square-off against the New York Jets, coached by his former defensive coordinator and protégé Eric Mangini.

First, though, here's one more
thoughtful piece. ESPN's Len Pasquarelli attempts to identify the locus of the AFC's continuing dominance over the NFC. He quotes several sources who observe that they cannot pinpoint the reason, but finally observes:
But here are two potential reasons for the superiority: Statistics aside, the AFC has the better quarterbacks, in terms of performance and longevity. Second, even in an era when the shelf life for head coaches has been reduced, the sideline bosses in the AFC enjoy more tenure.
Seems reasonable enough. As much as any other argument. All I know is that it is so. One need look no further than the 2006 Bears, whose arse Dennis Green implored you to crown in October, but which lost their glossy sheen once they started playing AFC teams.

Dennis Green provides the You Tube moment of the season

The NFC's best teams are good teams, but the second tier is a significant drop-off. The AFC's 3rd and 4th tiers are better than the NFC's top tier, and the AFC's 2nd tier teams are often just as good as the best the NFC can offer. Witness every Super Bowl since the Rams beat the Titans. It ain't even worth arguing.

Anyway, Pasquarelli's nerdy ESPN colleague
John Clayton tries to augment the QB experience argument by counting up wins, noting:
There is virtually no playoff experience in the NFC. Rex Grossman of the Bears, Drew Brees of the Saints and Eli Manning of the Giants are each 0-1 in playoff games. Who would have ever thought Jeff Garcia of the Eagles would be the second-most experienced playoff quarterback in the NFC? He's won one of three playoff games. Tony Romo of the Cowboys will be seeing his first playoff action. The most experienced and most dangerous quarterback in the NFC is Matt Hasselbeck of the Seahawks. He's 2-3 in the postseason, including a trip to the Super Bowl last year.

The AFC is loaded at quarterback. Philip Rivers of the Chargers is the only AFC quarterback making his playoff debut. Tom Brady is 10-1 in the playoffs. Steve McNair has a 5-4 postseason record. Peyton Manning is 3-6. Chad Pennington is 2-2. Trent Green is 0-1. The AFC has a clear edge at quarterback.
Hmm … insightful (?) SI dot com's Peter King does better. Of the Patriots-Jets match-up on Sunday, in Foxborough, King says:
The Jets' 17-14 win in Foxboro on Nov. 12 caused the Patriots to install FieldTurf at Gillette Stadium because the field was all muck. Will that matter much here? It could – for the Jets as well as New England. Leon Washington, who has emerged as a Dave Meggettish threat for the Jets, carried it only 10 times against the Patriots this season, but he could be New York's mystery key in Revenge Bowl III on the fast track of the FieldTurf. The Patriots scored only 38 points in eight quarters against the Jets this year and will need to do better here. Luckily for them, Tom Brady is getting in sync with his receivers and seems poised to have a strong postseason.
Right ... the Sunday Pats v. Jets game ….

A friend of mine who tends to visit
Las Vegas a few times a year asked me what I thought about the Pats' third bout of the season against their increasingly un-liked division rival to the south. Presently, the boys in Vegas have the Pats giving 8 ½ points to the Jets, which to me sounds way too big of a spread. Still, I told said buddy that I wouldn't touch this game if the spread was a field goal. While I hope and expect that the Pats will show up, the Jets are always a risk.

Classic Belichick was in force this week, as Newsday reported in a Thursday story headlined
Taking high road: Feud? What feud? Belichick and Mangini exchange compliments. After responding coldly to his former protégé in the division rivals' two regular season match-ups, Belichick said on Monday of his former defensive protégé:
"I think Eric and his staff have done a great job down there," Belichick said. "They've got them playing very well. It's one of the best teams in football. They're very hot right now."
NY Daily News Jets beat writer Rich Cimini puts an exclamation point on the first name gesture, with the lead: "Eric. Eric. Eric. Eric. There, Bill Belichick said it. He said it four times, in fact."

Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews
suggests that there was little sincerity to Belichick's gesture, and that the Pats coach's refusal to further elucidate his feelings about Mangini's departure is merely one more affirmation of his status as a "sniveling rat." Thank the Cosmos for the New York media … and especially the grumps out on Long Island. As for New York proper, the NY Post's Mark Cannizzaro sheds more light on Belichick's Wednesday conference call:

So on yesterday's conference call there was a clear-and-present agenda to Belichick's madness.

It was a call that Belichick seemingly prepared for with the same verve that he uses when putting together his infamous Sunday defensive gameplans. He came to the phone as prepped as he would have been standing on the sidelines to face Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Belichick was universally ridiculed for the way he disrespected Mangini in that November conference call and in his "dead-fish" postgame handshake after the Jets beat the Patriots, including raising the ire of some of his own players who like and respect Mangini.

So yesterday, in beginning the conference call with a rare opening statement, he quickly referred to Mangini as "Eric" with some bland praise.

From there, Belichick called Mangini by name four times during the call.

Most of his praise was phrased like this: "Eric and his staff have done a great job with their team."

When asked specifically where his relationship with Mangini "soured," there was such a long pause that reporters could have left the room, cooked a three-course meal, done the dishes and returned in time to hear the answer.

"I made comments about Eric when he was hired and I still feel that way; nothing has changed there," Belichick said after the interminable pause. "This game is about these two teams this week playing to keep their season alive. That's really what my focus is and that's what our team's focus is."

Asked why he was so cold to Mangini during the postgame handshake in November, Belichick repeated three times, "I never said anything negative."

True, he never said anything negative. The man don't lie.

Dan Shaughnessy brings out one of his patented
cutesy columns, including among other eye-rollers:
The animosity was obvious when the rivals met twice during the 2006 regular season. Getting Belichick to say Mangini's name became a parlor game with media members in Boston and New York. The perfunctory postgame handshakes were downright hilarious. Remember the look on the face of German Chancellor Angela Merkel when President Bush gave her an impromptu back-rub? Remember Nancy Kerrigan on the podium with Oksana Baiul? That's what Belichick looked like when he shook Mangini's hand. The soundtrack for that video should be Dylan's "Positively 4th Street."

"You say, 'How are you? Good luck.' But you don't mean it."
Actually Dan, I don't remember Nancy Kerrigan on the podium with Oksana Baiul … but … anyway … For reference sake, I send you to BYOB who apparently knows what the Curly Haired Boyfriend is typing about … But I still don't get the Dylan reference ... Sooo ... moving on.

Not to be outdone by CHB, the Herald's
Gerry Callahan cross references Animal House and Seinfeld in his Mangini story.

Believe it or not, some writers are actually focusing on the game itself … you know, with the players who run around the field and such. NY Post's Mike Vaccaro focuses the
importance of Jets QB Chad Pennington. Cannizarro wrote about former Jet, present Pat cornerback Ray Mickensyesterday. The Globe's Mike Reiss provides this compendium of views of other coaches on both sides of the ball.

Globe columnist Jackie MacMullen focuses on the
absence of Patriot safety Rodney Harrison, who was declared "out" for Sunday after suffering a knee injury against the Titans last Sunday. NYDN columnist Mike Lupica tells the story of the Sunday playoff match-up in the "My buddy, the GM, told me …" formula.

Herald beat writer John Tomase looks at Tom Brady and observes that the QB has been closely analyzing the Jets'
defensive success in the second regular season game between the two teams. Comparing them to the Dolphins, who beat up on Brady "when his offensive line was overwhelmed by the physical skills of defensive end Jason Taylor," Tomase observes:

The Jets did it not with athleticism, but their game plan. On the simplest level, they disguised their intentions, holding their ground while Brady made protection calls at the line of scrimmage, then shifting at the snap.

Whatever blocking adjustments the Patriots had made were suddenly moot and blitzers like safety Kerry Rhodes consistently came free. Every team aims for such defensive subterfuge, but the Jets actually pulled it off. It’s the approach the Patriots themselves used with so much success against Peyton Manning during their Super Bowl run.

One last thing Patriots

Patriots back-up QB Vinnie Testaverde, with friends

Whoever says Belichick isn't a softy needs to rethink the proposition after last week's decision to substitute Vinnie Testaverde for number-two QB Matt Cassel late in the Fourth Quarter. Testaverde stood poised to end his streak of successive seasons in which he threw a touchdown pass at 19 seasons. So, with the Patriots handily in front on the Titans, Belichick inserted the veteran QB, who took all of five plays before finding Troy Brown in the end zone for his first touchdown in this, his 20th straight season with one.

It harkened back almost exactly one year ago, when Belichick inexplicably removed Cassel in favor of Doug Flutie, in what was likely going to be his last NFL game. On fourth down, the 43 year old QB assumed a regular shotgun formation, but just before the snap, retreated several more steps, caught the ball, bounced it into the grass and nailed the first dropkick extra point in the NFL since 1940, thus ending his career on a memorable note. NuttyaboutSportsBlog makes the same observation here.

Nothing wrong with a little sentimentality, now.