Ray Frager

You love to watch the NFL, even an exhibition

I’m put in mind of the great Rolling Stones song “Out of Time” — You don’t know what’s going on/You’ve been away for far too long …
You’re out of touch, my baby.

That would be me. Again.

Just days after I wrote about my disregard for the NFL preseason, NBC’s telecast of the Hall of Fame Game between the Bills and Titans crushed ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball featuring the sport’s premier matchup of the Yankees and Red Sox. Though the baseball game scored well for ESPN with a 3.0 rating and 4.7 million viewers, the Bills-Titans drew a 4.9 rating and 7.9 million.

With the public’s affection for even an exhibition taste of the NFL, you’d think the least Terrell Owens could have done was play more than one series.


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NFL works of Art

Baltimore-centric note: I happened to catch a few minutes of the Scott and Anita chat-fest from 105.7 the Fan via MASN today. A caller made an interesting point in light of how Rod Woodson’s championing Art Modell’s Hall of Fame candidacy was roundly booed at the ceremony in Canton Saturday.

The caller noted how Steelers iconic owner Art Rooney was voted into the Hall in 1964, when his team’s history was mostly one of failure. Scott Garceau agreed with the caller, though the host didn’t elaborate on how Rooney obviously was voted into the Hall — and rightly so — for playing a key role from the NFL’s earliest days. It could be noted, however, that at the point Rooney was elected, his teams had posted seven winning seasons out of 31 and been in one playoff game. On the other hand, Modell’s Cleveland teams made 15 playoff appearances in 35 years, including one NFL championship, and his Ravens won a Super Bowl.

Yes, the Steelers went on to become an NFL powerhouse, but that didn’t happen until after Rooney had made the Hall. The point is to compare the relative merits of two owners at the point of election. One was beloved and a rock upon which the league was built, but also the owner of a franchise known for its futility on the field. The other helped launch the league into the modern television age that made everyone richer and pro football even more popular while also fielding teams that had long runs of success. Of course, Modell’s resume comes with the stain of his move from Cleveland to Baltimore. The booing in Canton tells you that stain has yet to fade.

Then again, Al Davis, an original AFL mover and shaker — and quite literally a mover — made it into the Hall in the ’90s.

All of which might have bogged down the talk show a bit.

Anti-social (media) in the NFL

A day after we read about how the Dolphins don’t want anyone — media or fans — using Twitter at training camp, Twitter was shut down today for hours by some kind of hack attack. You don’t mess with Bill Parcells.

Twitter has been very much in the sports news lately. The Dolphins story comes on the heels of a little brouhaha over ESPN’s directives regarding its employees’ use of social media. (For the record, I agree with our esteemed site host, Keith, on this matter.)

To avoid disturbing golfers with ringing and calls, tournaments make spectators surrender cell phones before entering a course, but this is an entirely different matter. An NFL team making sure you can’t tweet from the stands while it runs through drills is the height of football paranoia. If what happens on the field is that super secret, why are the practices and scrimmages open to the public?

Hope I didn’t risk having this site shut down by expressing that opinion.

NFL preseason? I’ll pass

The NFL preseason begins with NBC’s telecast of the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night, which means it’s time for me once again to begin my annual boycott of exhibition games.

I enjoy watching the NFL as much as the next couch-indenting dude, but only real games. These ridiculous exhibitions are usually devoid of front-line players by the second half — if not sooner — and often notable only for resulting in injuries, but nonetheless they fill our TV screens each August. It’s bad enough clubs make season-ticket holders pay for the games, but we apparently are so football-starved that many among us will watch.

I just think it’s a collossal waste of everyone’s time — from the teams to the networks — to stage these exhibitions. It’s so different from baseball’s spring training games, which don’t take place in the regular stadiums and are such laid-back affairs that pitchers run along the outfield walls during play. The NFL preseason is somehow mounted as if the games have significance — such as how NBC is touting the appearance of Terrell Owens as a new Buffalo Bill. Whether Owens catches two touchdown passes or drops five balls, what does it matter?

I say don’t play any preseason at all. Let the teams scrimmage each other to get ready. Shouldn’t a few scrimmages along with normal training camp be enough for coaches to make their personnel decisions?

I’ve never understood why college teams can start right up with no preseason but the pros can’t. Presumably, the older, more experienced NFL players would need less preparation than the college guys.

Go from four exhibitions to zero, then add a game or two to the regular season. Those games I’ll watch.

(Showing some restraint, I refrained from using images of either Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium or the album cover from Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures at an Exhibition.)

Full o’ Buster

Buster PoindexterAs I watch ESPN’s promos for the tireless work of baseball reporter Buster Olney — constantly taking phone calls, talking in Japanese to Ichiro, passing himself as he walks out of a building — I sometimes pause to consider how improbable this would have seemed in the ’90s.

I worked with Buster when he covered the Orioles for The Sun in 1995 and 1996. In fact, it was a running joke with one of my former bosses that Buster was “my hire.” In actuality, I was one of the sports department managers who was involved in reviewing candidates and I kind of favored another writer over Buster — yet another example of my poor judgment.

Of course, Buster turned out to be a terrific baseball beat guy — smart, plugged-in, insightful. He wrote great game stories that focused on the pivotal moments and key decisions. And no one outworked him as a reporter. He was hypercompetitive. In fact, his relationship with one of his Sun baseball colleagues was strained by the fact that this reporter was very friendly with The Washington Post‘s Orioles writer, back when The Sun and Post competed on the beat.

The thing is, I never would have pegged Buster as a future TV personality. I used to wonder whether he ever even smiled. That same guy who was always so serious every time we spoke now can sit in and crack wise on Mike & Mike in the Morning?

Then again, maybe Buster always was funny, but I wasn’t sharp enough to realize it.

You don’t care about steroids, right?

Drip, drip, drip … two more names from the infamous 2003 positive drug-test list — Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Given Ramirez’s suspension this year, his appearance in The New York Times report can’t be too much of a surprise. Ortiz, on the other hand, had said in February that players testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs should get a one-year ban from baseball.

But I mention today’s report not to open a debate on whether the Red Sox’s 2004 world championship was tainted, but rather to point out something you hear quite a bit whenever a new steroid-related report hits. The argument, particularly on sports radio, is how the media are obsessed with steroids in baseball while hardly any fans care. The media continue to report on steroids only because, the argument goes, it attracts attention and thus sells papers, adds to the broadcast audience or drives up page views.

What I don’t quite understand about that take is how, on one hand, you can say nobody cares about steroids, then, on the other, say the media report about performance-enhancing drugs only to draw more attention. If nobody cares, then how can the media be benefiting by running stories about the issue?

See, this is yet another reason why I could never be any good on radio.

From press box to front office

Mets general manager Omar Minaya went into full blame-the-messenger mode after the club fired team executive Tony Bernazard, whose bizarre behavior first was reported by the New York Daily News‘ Adam Rubin. After Minaya basically said Rubin wrote the stories in some kind of effort to get himself a front-office job, Mets chief Jeff Wilpon said Tuesday his GM messed up and should apologize to Rubin.

Rubin acknowledged he had spoken with Wilpon in general terms about how to approach landing a job in baseball. It’s not unprecedented for a sportswriter to end up with a top position in a club’s front office. A long time ago, I covered Philadelphia Flyers games with Ned Colletti, now GM of the Dodgers. The late GM Harry Dalton began his career writing sports before he moved on to build baseball teams. Former NFL executive Ernie Accorsi wrote for a few newspapers, and while with The Philadelphia Inquirer, got the scoop on the 76ers’ trade of Wilt Chamberlain. Jim Miller, also an NFL executive, mostly with the Saints, covered sports for a couple of newspapers, including Baltimore’s Evening Sun, which once employed Accorsi, too.

And if any team is interested, I’m available.