Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mike Vrabel

Mike Vrabel's career with the New England Patriots, which ended yesterday, can be summed up in the following statistic. He is a linebacker with two career Super Bowl touchdown pass receptions.

To put that in perspective, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who appeared in three Super Bowls to Vrabel's four, also has two TD catches. Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield also appeared in three Super Bowls, and never caught a TD pass in any of them. Jay Novacek of the '90s Cowboys is the only tight end EVER withh as many career TD Super catches as Vrabel.

Vrabel was the living symbol of the jack-of-all-trades versatility and case method game plans that were the hallmark of the Pats' dynasty of this decade. It's a cold business, better to trade guys when they still have value, etc., etc. I know all that. I believe all that.

I also believe this. When an institution starts losing its symbols, it is an institution with serious work to do.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Steroid Confession-Guaranteed Less Bathos Than A-Rod's

I didn't take steroids, mind you. How would they enhance a sportswriter's performance? Make it easier to take the laptop out of the bag at the airport security station?

But I was a sportswriter who more than occasionally covered baseball in the 1990s, in the midst of what everyone acknowledged was an explosion of home run totals bordering on the ridiculous. To the best of my recollection, Senator, I didn't write anything about steroids in baseball at that time, and didn't write too much about it after the BALCO case and Jose Canseco brought some fact/charges into the public domain after 2000. If, as I believe, the Steroid Era was a systemic failure on the part of the society of baseball, I failed, too. I was part of the system, albeit a teeny tiny part, more of a nanoparticle.

But how did I feel? And, more importantly, why?

I did not, I believe, willfully ignore signs of steroid use among major league players. Yes, they more muscles than in the early 1980s. So did all other athletes. Watched TV yesterday, and Phil Mickelson has muscle tone for God's sake. I have been watching British sports news of Fox Soccer Channel, and cricket players had better be peeing in cups. They're all ripped like linebackers.

As a reporter, I did something almost as bad as ignoring news. I missed it.

I had covered the NFL in the 1980s, and college football, when steroid use was not rare, and I arrogantly felt I knew the tells, acne on the back and all the rest of it. Silly me. Didn't I know science marches on? When steroids came to baseball, there had been progress. Their use was more scientifically (not the right word, but I can't think of a better) employed. It probably helped that big stars making big dough were involved. Those chaps could hire, or refer to, the personal trainers who souped up sprinters like Formula One racing cars.

Then again, suppose I had had my suspicions in the summer of 1998, when the glorious pursuit of Roger Maris' record was making all of baseball feel young again, and according to that prize chump Mark McGwire, making all America forget Monica Lewinsky. A columnist is supposed to offer opinions, but ideally, those opinions are based on at least one fact. In 1998, accusing baseball of rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs would have come to this fact: Some reporter found a legal, over-the-counter diet supplement in McGwire's locker that had been banned by the International Olympic Committee.

Good enough for me! Print it on page one, boss! Had I extrapolated what is known today from that one fact, I would have had no credibility, and should not have had any, either.

Should I have investigated Jose Canseco's charges more carefully? Yes. I did not find him credible, because on our brief acquaintance when he was a Red Sox, Canseco struck me as a cheerful, attention-craving knucklehead. I did not find him credible. My bad. Less than credible witnesses make up the bulk of many a criminal case, and just because somebody's kind of from outer space doesn't mean they're lying.

Finally, of course, Barry Bonds. It was taken for granted Bonds was doing extremely weird science in his megalomaniacal pursuit of baseball accomplishment. San Francisco is far away, and in Boston most days, the National League might as well be in another galaxy as far as baseball fans are concerned. More to the point, the collective bargaining agreement of 2002 pretty much ended my interest in the steroid era. Baseball's warring parties, players and owners, had mutually recognized steroids were something they wished to address and come up with a plan for doing so, one that is still in place. The plan can be faulted for this reason or another, but there it is.

Since there is a plan, I treat baseball the same as I do all the other sports. If a player gets caught breaking a rule and is punished, that's news. If some nasty piece of work leaks sealed court documents that some player failed a drug test in 2003, that's not news. It's voyeurism mixed with our society's massive hypocrisy about drug use, and baseball's mass self-reverence as a cornerstone of the American Way of Life equal if not superior to the Constitution.

Both of those sentiments are hooey that make me gag. Banning performance-enhancing drugs is a good idea, because the evidence shows they are unfair. The better the player who uses them (Bonds is Exhibit A), the more advantage he receives. It's like an upper-class tax cut for slugging percentage.

But there is a major difference between making rules in the interest of fair play and conducting a post-facto witch hunt for players who sought an unfair competitive advantage when the system was set up to reward them for doing so. However nice it is to think that ballplayers took steroids because they were morally weak, the truth is, baseball made it easy for 'em. That includes me.

Now, it's not easy. We either have to assume that the system will detect performance-enhancers, or treat the entire sport with pointless suspicion. Here's the double-whammy created by that attitude. You can hear it on any talk show. Player A is old and never gets hurt. That means he's on the juice. Player B gets hurt a lot. Proves he's on the juice, too.

We have to move on. Otherwise, baseball fandom and commentary will consist of bear-baiting any player whose accomplishments rise above the norm. There's plenty of other human activities which offer more fun than that.

Missing a big story hurts. I haven't been a sportswriter for going on four years now, and missing the steroid era still gnaws. Always will. But I can't bring back the '90s, nor would I want to. Nor should anyone want to. Accept our mistake, and move on.

Use the Google. Read carefully. Some of the most ferocious criticism of A-Rod and drug use in baseball today comes from sportswriters who composed some of the most horribly overwrought would-be prose poems during the McGwire-Sosa home run duel.

Overcompensation is flawed human nature, just like looking for the competitive edge.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Context Is Everything

If Boston College had merely beaten Duke and North Carolina this basketball season, the proper response would be, "Congratulations. And I should care why?"

But to beat North Carolina and Duke AND lose to Harvard in the same season? Now I'm prepared to follow you with interest. We have escaped the banality of NCAA regular season results and moved into true weirdness.

Good luck gang. Especially you, Coach Skinner. I know you're calm and all, but this bunch has got to be taking a toll.

Thunder Road to Chapter 11

Today is the Daytona 500. NASCAR is the only sport that arranges itself so that its best-known and most important contest is also Opening Day.

This bizarre bit of marketing management, of course, ranks about 127th on the list of stock car racing's business problems. No.1? Well, that would be, "who's gonna make the cars NEXT YEAR?"

The ancient slogan that has guided NASCAR to where it is today is "win on Sunday, sell on Monday." It has a new meaning now. "Sell on Monday" doesn't refer to automobiles, but to the companies which build them.

I look forward to the scene at the podium of the 2010 Daytona 500, in which winning driver Kyle Busch says, "all the credit has to go to the team of our Birkenstock Roquefort Socialized Medicine Volvo."

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Public's Right to Know Trivia Is a Sacred Trust

I was a sportswriter for more than 25 years. Alex Rodriguez's admission he used steroids is as big as a sports story gets. But you know, a sports story only gets SO big.

Were I still working, and I had the opportunity to ask the President of the United States one on-the-record question at a press conference, asking him his freakin' opinion on A-Rod taking steroids would never have occured to me, not for a nanosecond. Like, we didn't hire the guy to do sports talk radio. I want to know what he's doing about the grown-up stuff.

That is just what some guy named Michael Fletcher did at Obama's first press conference as President. Fletcher works for the Washington Post. The Washington Post!!! I hope Ben Bradlee knows real shame right now.

Know why people call newspapers irrelevant? All too often, they act like it.

A Baseball History Reverie

Had they only been invented, Ty Cobb totally would have done anabolic steroids, all he could get his hands on. Human growth hormone, too. And while Ty probably would have told Katie Couric and/or a federal grand jury to go fuck themselves, he'd never have bothered to lie to either one.

In fact, the only drawback performance-enhancing drugs would have posed for the Georgia Peach is that taking them would have caused his stolen base totals to decline. Cobb couldn't have sharpened his spikes due to the equilibrium issues caused by running the bases with a head supporting a size 19 7/8ths baseball cap.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Further Dynastic Research

Time hangs heavy on a football fan's hands the week after the Super Bowl. Maybe that's why I took the time to complete the following study.

Great pro teams are almost always rated by their accomplishments over a period of time, not for a single season. Nobody rates the 1972 Dolphins as history's finest team except themselves. Indeed, there's an overreaction against that Miami team. Their ability is not given its due. In the three years they went to Super Bowls VI-VII-VIII, the Dolphins had a combined won-loss record of 44-6-1. That's some serious dominance.

What follows are the won-loss records, playoffs included, of what are considered history's powerhouses since World War II. They should put to rest any deluded claims the Pittsburgh Steelers are the team of this decade.

Methodology: I have given the team's won-loss records for each season from their first NFL championship to their last, except for the Pats, who I consider a work in progress, and in two other cases. I started the 1970s Steelers in 1972, the Immaculate Reception year, because that's when they went from lousy to good, and to keep the dynastic periods as even in time as possible. The other? Well, that must be explained when we get to that team.

Teams are listed in order of present to past, not rated.

New England Patriots, 2001-2008: 110-34
San Francisco 49ers, 1981-1989: 111-41-1
Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972-1979: 102-33-1
Green Bay Packers, 1960-1967: 91-25-4
Cleveland Browns, well it depends.

Here's where history gets tricky. The NFL does not recognize the records of the defunct All-American Football Conference to which the Browns belonged from 1946-1949. It recognizes AFL records, but there you go.

If we accept the NFL standard, the Browns record from 1950-1955 is 62-16-1. Pretty damn good. If we throw in their four years of utter dominance of the AAFC, the Browns' record improves to 109-20-4, which is the best of the bunch. In fact, their NFL-only winning percentage is the highest of the bunch, too.

That is irrelevant. What is of interest is that the parameters of true greatness seem to be mathematically established. Historical dominance seems to consist of these elements. 1. Winning at least three NFL titles. That's first and foremost. 2. Maintaining a winning percentage of over .730 (the lowest figure, which is San Francisco's) while winning those titles AND for at least six seasons total. That last qualification croaks the '90s Cowboys, who hit the wall very quickly after three titles in four years.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of 2005-? have at least one more Super Bowl and one hell of a lot more other games to win before they are part of this conversation.

History Never Absolves Anybody

If Alex Rodriguez is really smart and really tough, and the evidence suggests he is neither, he will go muter than a Trappist and go to work. There's nothing like a five-homer week to drive a scandal from the public consciousness.

The anonymous sources who stated that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 will remain just that. There will be no official confirmation unless A-Rod is dumb enough to provide it. There can't be. The leakers of this story violated either the terms of the billion-dollar Basic Agreement, their contract as employees of a drug testing lab (the most likely scenario), or their oaths as lawyers and officers of the court. They will go to desperate lengths to remain nameless. I suspect Barry Bonds' legal team will go to equal lengths to unmask them, but that's another story.

At least A-Rod can abandon his quest to become universally beloved. All it ever brought him was misery, anyway. Perhaps, as a "scandal-dogged" figure, Rodriguez will rediscover his own personality by picking and choosing his human interactions. Perhaps.

I interviewed Rodriguez his first week in the big leagues, as a certified teenage phenom with the Seattle Mariners shortly before the strike of 1994. Even then, it was apparent Rodriguez had created a false front for public consumption. No teenager who ever lived was as bland as A-Rod wanted outsiders to believe he was. It was sad.

A-Rod has always been a sad figure. Poor little rich kid. Whatever he tries to find happiness, it's always blown up in his face, leaving him more unhappy and unloved than ever. You've got to be a seriously bereft human being to seek friendship, sexual or otherwise, with Madonna.

Now that he will self-righteously hated by the glorious guardians of baseball good, Rodriguez is free to forget love and concentrate on, well, self-knowledge might be a place to start as far as spiritual discovery goes. But I recommend time in the batting cage. A big year, a big, big year, and this revelation will fade. Lying to Katie Couric is not a federal crime. Jason Giambi is a member in good standing of the baseball community. Fans don't even boo him too much anymore.

As for the rest of us, it's time to make a decision about the Steroid Era. The evidence mounts that everybody, or most everybody, did it. Their heroes, our heroes, you name 'em. We can accept this unhappy fact, meld it in to our understanding of the game, and move on. Or we can reject baseball altogether. Any choice besides those two is intellectually and morally dishonest.

Baseball, in its historical problem solving pattern of lengthy denial followed by VERY slow and haphazard efforts to cope, has created a testing program with sanctions, just like the other sports. The NFL's drug testing policy, let alone that of track and field, has not ended performance-enhancing drug use. But it has normalized it. It's against the rules, and if you're caught, it's your ass. It is not a moral dilemma that calls for endless editorializing. It's a rule, like all the other rules.

Drug testing doesn't catch all drug users. In point of cold fact, sports science is moving into areas that make steroids look like medieval blood-letting. There will be, if there aren't already, genetically engineered jocks. You tell me how Bud Selig is supposed to catch them.

But drug testing works to the extent it says, "we're trying." We don't want our athletes to be scientifically enhanced. It is a good faith effort. Fans can accept it in that spirit, or they can reject it.

The case of Alex Rodriguez shows it is time for limited amnesty for the Steroid Era. The users of those times should be evaluated on the following terms. "You fucked up, and did something of which we disapprove. But it's over. Sin no more. We REALLY mean that last sentence." The accomplishments of said athletes will be prorated downwards in our minds according to that formula yet to be created I mentioned in my last post. A home run or strikeout in 2009 will be considered to be legit until proven otherwise.

This would require maturity and compassion that American society doesn't possess. Hypocritical self-righteous moralizing and freaking out over any topic are what we do best, and the word "drugs" brings out those unlovely traits like no other.

Baseball fans and commentators, and there will be plenty of them, who will use this story as a platform to suspect every 6-3 grounder as the product of a corrupt system, and to suspect every player of drug use without a hint of proof, are as dishonest as A-Rod was. If that's how they really feel about the game, they should have the guts to stop watching.

They won't. Pontificating and booing are more fun than honesty ever is.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Calling All Sabermetricians-Again

Spring training and Barry Bonds' perjury trial will be getting underway very soon, which reminds me to offer a serious plea for help to baseball's quantitative researchers. Please leave off inventing new statistics with acronyms taken from the U.S. Department of Defense and put your admittedly good brains to a task that will serve humanity, or at least that subsection of humanity with a vote for the Hall of Fame.

We know that home run totals from somewhere in the early '90s to somewhere in the early 2000s (peak period: 1994-2002) were artificially inflated by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. We also know that other, less chemical factors contributed to the increase in homers, the most notable being expansion, which equals more lousy pitchers, and the rise of the Camden Yards-style bandbox ballyards. We also know that pitchers were taking performance-enhancing drugs, too-albeit to less striking effect.

So, my plea is this. Can you guys sort all that out for me? That is, can mathematical analysis figure out exactly, or even approximately, how much steroids helped hitters, especially prominent ones? Just what percentage of homers hit in the Steroid Era WERE artificial, anyhow?

Expansion, having happened several times before the 1990s, should be a quantifiable factor. I know ballparks are. That leaves the drugs. Surely, this issue cannot be beyond the reach of science.

So far, I've been using the following metric for home runs totals of the period. I cut them by 20 percent. This reduces, to take a not entirely random example, Mark McGwire's career homer total from 583 to a steroid-adjusted 460 or so, which I think is a rough estimate of just how good a slugger McGwire was-damn good but not unearthly.

Barry Bonds ruins my guessing method. Subtract 20 percent from 73 homers in a season, and you still get almost 60, far more than the pre-1998 Bonds ever came close to hitting. It would appear that drugs had a value-added effect. The better the player who took them, the more his performance improved.

So further study is needed. You numbercrunchers are always telling us old farts that guesstimates are no substitute for exact data, and you're right. So help a brother out here. This is about the most pressing issue in baseball historical research right now, and as the Hall-eligible classes of players roll on, it'll become even more pressing.

I regret I do not have any large grants to fund this project. I wouldn't bother calling the Hall of Fame, because it wants to pretend the 1990s never happened, and let us voters sort out this sticky problem for it.

Does Bill Gates like baseball?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sports Dynasties: A Leading Cause of Intellectual Hemophilia

The 21st century school of sports history runs as follows. Whatever happened yesterday, or even better, an hour ago, is the greatest thing that ever happened. Whatever happened before yesterday did not, in fact, happen at all.

So it is that the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-23 win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII is being hailed as the most amazing Super contest of all time, and the Steelers lauded as the pro football team of the decade, or all time, depending on the degree of mental challenge the commentator faces on a daily basis. Commentators, you really have to get a handle on this Google thing. Persons irked with your claims about the Steelers are apt to look up your comments on the New England Patriots the week before LAST year's Super Bowl, when, of course, the Pats were the all-time dynasty, albeit one with dark if vague ethical questions.

Super Bowl LXIII was a terrific football game. As a guy I know, more a baseball than football fan, said, "all I ask of a game is that one team have the ball with five minutes or less left to play and they need a score to win. And that happened three times in this game."

Best ever? I don't think so, but who cares? All teams need to do is win, and all games need to do is entertain. Rating them is what I call a lazy off-day column. Why fans do it on their own time baffles me.

Rating teams of the same era is even more pointless. They play each other. There's no need for debate. We can look it up and print the results in agate type.

The results show that since 2001, pro football has seen three clubs one cut above the remaining 29, the Pats, Steelers, and Colts. They have won 6 of 8 Super Bowls and appeared in seven. They combined for 11 of 16 possible AFC championship game appearances, playing each other in four of 'em. They only missed the playoffs a combined five times. As a group, they are impossible to fault on performance.

The results also show that the Pats won three Super Bowls, the Steelers two, and the Colts one. The Steelers haven't beaten the Pats in the playoffs, either, which the Colts have. But letting arithmetic be our guide, honest folk rate these powers 1. Pats, 2. Steelers, 3. Colts.

And then, having done so, honest folk throw the rating out the freakin' window and appreciate these teams for themselves and their own accomplishments. People who can't appreciate the work of Peyton Manning or Wes Welker or Troy Polamalu because they are so insecure in their fanhood have my profound sympathy as long as they never attempt to communicate with me.

Is Bill Belichick a better coach than Tony Dungy? He won more Super Bowls with his team than Dungy did with his. Then again, they both coached two teams, and Dungy's both won more than they lost, while Belichick's did not. The point is, hire either guy, and you're going to have a Hall of Fame coach working down the hall from your office. The idea of sports is that there's winning and losing, success and failure. The idea of DEGREES of success is a secondary, no, tertiary, no quadrupiary, (a word I just made up) issue.

Think back to the 1980s. From 1982 through 1991, the 49ers, Giants, and Redskins won 9 of 11 Super Bowls and never lost one. They were six cuts above their rivals. They played each other a lot, being in the same conference, and New York and Washington being in the same division. They all beat each other, and they all got beat, especially in the playoffs.

The 49ers won four Super Bowls, and are regarded as the (sigh) Team of the Decade. Nobody argues about it any more, although these clubs and their fans shared a healthy mutual loathing at the time. Giants fans acknowledge that the 49ers rank first among the great teams of that era. 49er fans acknowledge their rivals were great teams in their own right. Hell, even BILL PARCELLS acknowledges, if not in so many words, that Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs were, maybe, just maybe, more successful football coaches than he was.

Insecure fans and instant history bore me. Indignation is a quality best reserved for matters of more import than sports. And I can't help remember one thing about the people who actually participated in the games that start the stupid arguments.

When Hall of Famers meet, no matter how bitter their contests of yesteryear, they see each other as equals.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Guess It Really Is a Big Game

So I'm watching Super Bowl pregame hype on the NFL Network, and the crawl underneath the talking heads presents the following report.

Tampa, Florida: Tonight's Weather: Mostly Sunny.

Dudes, stop talking about Larry Fitzgerald! You're burying your lede!!!

No Computer Was Ever Hung in Effigy

There is a small but vigorous branch of the scientific community dedicated to the proposition that pro football coaches ought to get fired more often.

About five years ago, an economist wrote a study stating that teams would be better off going for it on fourth and goal and fourth and short inside the red zone instead of kicking field goals. The math was impressive. The psychology, not so much.

Yours truly ran that one past Bill Belichick at a press conference. Belichick, of course, had seen the professor's work, and had enough respect for science not to sneer. He did, however, note that three birds (points) in the hand were worth six in the bush of probabilities, and that the economist may not have factored in the morale elements of a successful goal-line stand.

NFL Films picked up on the article shortly thereafter, and the other coaches they interviewed did not delve into football theory. They had a personal take on the consequences of coming up on the wrong side of the egghead's equations, to wit, a coach who takes points off the scoreboard and loses a game moves a big step closer to losing his job.

The prof's theory remains just that. Teams take the points unless they have NO alternative, and will be doing so long after we're all watching games on the Celestial HDTV. But in their own way, scientists are as persistent as coaches. Today's "New York Times" contains their next salvo in their war on the fuddy-duddys wearing headsets and ugly Reebok apparel.

An astrophysicist and a backgammon champion combined their mathematical skills to create a computer program modestly called Zeus to evaluate game decisions made by NFL coaches in the 2008 season. The program's conclusion: Coaches are wimps, gutless wonders who fail to see how the biggest gambles in the game are actually the safest bets they can make.

Their very first conclusion was that coaches should almost always go for it on 4th and 1. I'm glad they got that brainstorm published in the Times, because that means Tom Coughlin probably read it.

Coughlin went for it on 4th and 1 twice against the Eagles in the fourth quarter of their playoff game last month. The Giants were stuffed both times, and lost. The exigencies of time management and being down ten points made going for it an easy call, but the fact remains that after the second 4th and 1 failure, New York was down 13 points.

This shows us what Zeus cannot. The immediate downside risk of failure on 4th down is so dire, coaches almost always prefer the 35-40 yard shift in field position of a punt. Even Belichick, who goes for it on 4th and short more than most coaches, makes sure he places that bet when the Pats are in opposition territory, that is, when he is playing with house money.

Zeus's second conclusion "not all points are created equal" is both true and false. Touchdowns are far preferable to field goals. But a goose egg in the red zone is a catastrophe unless one is giving the opponent the ball on about their own six-inch line. A successful goal line stand is one of the most exhilarating experiences a football team can have. It makes them feel invincible. This is not a mindset the opposing coach wants to encourage.

Zeus bright idea three is to use the onside kick more often. This is hilarilously foolish. Mathematics does not account for the element of surprise, but onside kicks do. The coach who used this idea in a game likely would have success with it. The next game? No.

I will give the scientist and the gambler credit for intellectual honesty. They published a chart of their findings for each team, and made a point of drawing attention to its most obvious factor. The percentage of "correct" decisions made by coaches according to their formula had no relationship to the success of the teams involved in terms of wins and losses.

The six teams who had the highest percentage of game decisions rated as the right move by Zeus were, in order, the Jaguars, Texans, Rams, Bengals, Cowboys and Chiefs. Combined 2008 record: 30-65-1

The six pusillanimous teams who ignored the computer's sage advice and most frequently did mathematically ill-advised things like punting were, from 27th to 32nd were, in order, the Titans, Dolphins, Broncos, Falcons, Eagles and Panthers. Combined 2008 record: 64-31-1.

The average fan, not to mention the average coach, might leap to the conclusion that doing the OPPOSITE of what Zeus recommends is the best way to formulate in-game decisions. But science has the answer. It's insight? "A coach's ability to make decision is independent of player talent."

No it isn't. A coach's decisions are, or ought to be, ENTIRELY dependent on player talent. What can my guys do best and worst? What can their guys do? As Bill Parcells has said many times, "the coach's job is to put his players in the best position to win the game." To do that, he must start with the players themselves, not formulas. Belichick's special genius is his abhorrence of all formulas, recognizing that in a game of violent chaos, the requirements of victory shift week to week, quarter to quarter, and play to play.

Logic, if not mathematical logic, suggests that the teams who took the most computer-recommended gambles did so because their coaches knew they weren't good enough to win without gambling, and that the conservative teams played that way because their coaches knew that all things being equal, their teams were more likely to win, and that the point of game management was not to give away any inequalities or big breaks.

Fans and sportswriters have been urging football coaches to take more chances since the legalization of the forward pass, and coaches have just as stubbornly refused to take their advice. Now machines have joined the chorus. Science is no more likely to change coaches' minds than were generations of boos, and according to the evidence, it shouldn't.

Here's what baffles me. The world's entire economy is on the skids because a bunch of mathematically gifted people came up with the bright idea that financial risk could be quantified, and that the quantification indicated investors ought to take on much, much more risk than in the past. Now we're supposed to take that idea into football?

Football coaches as a class are among the most risk-averse managers in our society. You'd think we'd be honoring them for it.