$1.5 billion, $1.2 billion, zero common sense

I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about construction. I’m lucky I can construct two screws into their proper slots in the process of putting together something like a TV stand. But nothing I build is going to cost $1.5 billion, like the new Yankee Stadium, or $1.2 billion, like the new Cowboys Stadium. Hell, if anyone gives me $1.50 or $1.20, they’re seriously wasting their money.

But I’d like to think that the higher-ups at my two favorite teams used some of the billions of dollars they spent on new ballparks to hire people who actually had clues about what they were doing. Yet evidence points to the contrary.

Video board in new Cowboys Stadium

Video board in new Cowboys Stadium

Let me address the more recent fiasco first. During last Friday night’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, an average-looking punt by the visitors’ A.J. Trapasso hit the massive new video board. The video board is 90 feet above the playing field, which, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has repeatedly pointed out, is five feet higher than the league minimum.

Are you seriously going to tell me that $1.2 billion didn’t buy someone who might have raised their hand and suggested that this board was too low? First of all, punters are a lot stronger than they were when the 85-foot rule was adopted. Second, it’s just pure common sense. Trapasso’s punt wasn’t even that well-struck. What happens when Shane Lechler of the Raiders comes to town on Thanksgiving and crushes what would be a 70-yard punt, only to have it ricochet off the video board? Hell, even the Cowboys’ own punter, Mat McBriar, will likely bounce the pigskin off the video board, even though he claims that the team’s strategy is to aim for the sidelines.

I just find it amazing that this issue wasn’t raised at some point before board-zilla was raised to the rafters at Cowboys Stadium. I guess $1.2 billion doesn’t buy good help these days.

Right field in the new Yankee Stadium

Right field in the new Yankee Stadium

Speaking of the lack of good help, let’s move to the Bronx, shall we? Again, not to sound like a broken record, but couldn’t a few bills from the $1.5 billion spent on the ballpark have gone toward a study of what the open design of the Stadium would do to fly balls? Straight-away right field at the new Yankee Stadium is a sick joke. Almost every pop fly hit in that direction somehow ends up in the stands.

Yes, I know, it’s already been proven that the fence in right field is more of a straight line to accommodate the manual scoreboard, making the distance a few feet shorter than in the old ballpark, and the fence is also a couple of feet shorter. But having gone to roughly the same number of games during both the last season in the old Stadium and the first season in the new Stadium, the only way those theories would explain the home-run boom would be if tons of balls were hit to the warning track last season. They weren’t.

And I can tell you from personal experience, as someone who goes to enough games and has gotten pretty good at judging home-run balls, I have been fooled by more balls that I judged as harmless fly balls ending up in the seats this year than in the previous 10 seasons combined.

Maybe it’s just me, because I will never see $1 billion (unless someone out there knows something I don’t), but I’d like to think if I were in charge of building something that cost that amount of money, I’d research every potential problem to make sure they didn’t occur.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to punt a football off a video board, then hit a harmless pop-up to right field and circle the bases.

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Terrell Owens: North America’s problem

My reaction to the Dallas Cowboys’ release of Terrell Owens was, to put it simply: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Terrell Owens popping painkillers

Terrell Owens popping painkillers

At first, I was puzzled that the Buffalo Bills signed him. But now it’s starting to make sense. It’s all part of the plan to have T.O. hate go global.

Just about everyone in the United States already hates him. Most of Mexico hates him, too, as the Cowboys are the most popular team in Mexico and any Cowboys fan whose head isn’t buried in the sand knows releasing him was the right move.

Now, by playing for the Bills, who have a huge fan base in Canada, fans in that country will begin to hate him, too.

And the Bills are just the sort of up-and-coming NFL team that the league likes to feature in its overseas games, so somewhere down the line, fans in Europe and/or Asia will embrace the joy of hating Terrell Owens’ guts, too.

Global T.O. hate: It’s a wonderful thing!

Farewell, Roy Williams

Lost among the headlines over the Cowboys finally getting rid of Terrell Owens, who never should have been on the God-damned team in the first place, was the fact that Dallas also released safety Roy Williams.

Roy Williams

Roy Williams

The move makes perfect sense for both sides. Williams was never good at coverage and became a serious liability in his last full season (2007), but he’s still a nasty hitter. He’s young (28) and skilled, and will, hopefully, find a team with a scheme that’s more suited to his talents.

Unlike pompous bastard T.O., I tip my hat and wish Roy all the best.

Although I agree with the move, it reminds me of one of the worst things about being a sports fan: seeing your favorite players leave your favorite team. It’s part of the business and, in many cases, like this one, it makes perfect sense. But that doesn’t make it suck any less.

As I said earlier, it got to the point where Williams and the Cowboys weren’t a good fit. As much as I like the guy, the fact that he made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement after the 2007 season was an utter and complete joke. I watched almost every snap of every Dallas game that season, and Williams was nowhere near Pro Bowl-caliber.

But all that being said, watching him play for another team will be strange and painful. He was one of my favorite players throughout the team’s improvement from three consecutive 5-11 seasons to a steady playoff contender, and I just loved watching him hit. And the two No. 31 jerseys in my closet are now obsolete (although they were last season, too, as he switched to No. 38 before getting hurt and missing most of the season).

I would love to see Williams catch on with a decent team, in a defense where his abilities can be used, and enjoy success for the rest of his NFL career.

Terrell Owens, on the other hand, can go get bent.

The 2008 Dallas Cowboys: A bigger mess than I thought

Thanks to a good friend of mine, I’ve become a regular reader of ProFootballTalk.com, which I’ve found to be an outstanding source of breaking football news and rumors.

Cowboys in trouble

Cowboys in trouble

While browsing the site this morning, I saw a headline that made me shake my head and yell out, “Duh!” — “Report: Cowboys Need Discipline .” Well, no shit! But after reading the story, my hopes for this team are dimmer than ever.

According to the post — which quotes a story by Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News — team owner Jerry Jones may be far more at fault for the Cowboys’ lack of discipline than head coach Wade Phillips.

The team apparently suffered from chronic lateness, delaying not only the start of meetings, but the departures of charter flights to road games. Are you kidding me? And Watkins reported that while former head coach Bill Parcells would fine players $5,000 for being late to meetings, Jones capped Phillips’ fines at $100. Fining Terrell Owens $100 is like fining me a quarter. Come on, now.

I can’t sum this up any better than ProFootballTalk.com’s Aaron Wilson did: “All of this information leads to one admittedly simple conclusion: Why doesn’t Jerry Jones clean house, including the coaching staff, and bring in someone tough enough to command respect and end the era of permissiveness and pampering? Answer: Jones simply got tired of Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson telling him ‘No’ when they were in Dallas, and Jones enjoys running the Cowboys as his personal fantasy football team. Stronger leadership has to start at the top.”

Hey, Jerry, did you forget that Jimmy Johnson put together a team that won three Super Bowls in four years (sorry, but Barry Switzer gets no credit from me), and that Bill Parcells took a team that had finished 5-11 three straight years and made them respectable? Do you know why? Because they know football and you don’t.

For the good of the team, please hire some good football people and stay in the background, or a team with more than enough talent to win a Super Bowl will never do so.

Wade Phillips must go

Amazingly, despite two painful losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens over the past three weeks, the Dallas Cowboys still control their playoff destiny. Win Sunday’s game at the hated rival Philadelphia Eagles and they clinch a playoff spot. The season ends with a loss.

Wade Phillips

Wade Phillips

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the only way Wade Phillips should be the head coach next year is if the Cowboys go on a run like last year’s Giants or the Steelers a few years back and win the Super Bowl as a wild card. Anything short of a Lombardi Trophy and he absolutely has to go.

This squad is, for all intents and purposes, the same team that went 13-3 last season and featured 13 Pro Bowl players. There is no excuse to go 10-6 or 9-7, depending on Sunday’s outcome.

Granted, not all 13 of the Pro Bowl bids were deserved. As much as I personally like the guy, Roy Williams (the safety, not the recently acquired wide receiver) belonged in the Pro Bowl last year about as much as my fat ass did. But that’s not the point.

The same frustrating, unnecessary mistakes have continued to dog this team all season, along with a shocking lack of discipline.

Being among the league leaders in penalties is inexcusable. Even more inexcusable: the number of completely avoidable and silly penalties — false starts, lining up offsides, illegal formations. This team has zero discipline, and the finger must be pointed squarely at the head coach.

There is clearly zero accountability on this team. I’m not saying the head coach has to explode at every little mistake. But when you have one guy, Flozell Adams, averaging one penalty per game over two seasons, something is very, very wrong. There is absolutely no fear of reprisal.

I’m also not saying the head coach has to berate officials after every call that goes against his team. As the old saying goes, the refs aren’t going to change the call. But how about showing some emotion and letting your players see that you have their back? There was a highly, highly questionable personal foul call in Saturday night’s game against Baltimore that kept a Ravens drive alive, and when the camera focused on Wade, he was just standing there, completely passive, with no fight or emotion whatsoever. Absolutely inexcusable.

Injuries are no excuse, either. Sure, the Cowboys lost Tony Romo for three games and only had explosive rookie running back Felix Jones for a handful of contests, but the Cowboys’ injury issues were no worse than those of any other team.

The bottom line is that this was a Super Bowl-caliber team crippled by mistakes, and the finger (specifically the one in the middle) must be pointed at one man if this squad doesn’t rally and win the Lombardi Trophy.

Unprofessional professional football players

One of the great things about the National Football League is that with every single season, week or game, you have a chance to see something you never thought would happen.

This past week was no exception, and I’m still shaking my head.

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, didn’t know the NFL’s overtime rules.

Donovan McNabb, who is paid handsomely to be the field general for a team that’s been in steady contention for several seasons, didn’t know the rules.

I personally agree with McNabb that ties are lame, and I favor something along the lines of the overtime process in college football, where each team gets the ball at least once and, no matter how many possessions it takes, a winner eventually emerges.

Regardless of how McNabb or I feel about the NFL rules, though, rules are rules. And as the leader of the offense in a sport that has become a full-time job, how do you not know such an important rule?

If I were an Eagles fan (and thank God I’m not), I’d have to wonder if the offense would have operated a little more efficiently if McNabb knew the rule. I didn’t watch this game, so I can’t pick out any examples, but is it possible that the Eagles took their time in the huddle and didn’t urgently get back to the huddle after plays because they assumed the game would go on once the “fifth” quarter ended?

I’m obviously not saying the Eagles weren’t trying to score. The aim of every offensive possession is to score. And in an overtime situation against a weaker team, the last thing you want to do is give that weaker team an opportunity to end the game with one play.

I’m just baffled that the quarterback of an NFL team was completely clueless regarding the overtime rule. How is that possible?

(By the way, for two hilarious pictures making fun of McNabb, courtesy of ProFootballTalk.com, click here and scroll down a little bit.)

And before you think I’m picking on a team I hate, my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, won a huge divisional game at the Washington Redskins but still continued to make the types of mistakes that make me want to heave a beer bottle through the television.

As I said in a previous blog (I’m allowed to plagiarize myself, aren’t I?): The days of NFL players using training camp to get into shape are long gone. Now there are mini-camps, passing camps, organized team activities and countless other opportunities for players to work with their teammates. By this stage of the NFL season, teammates have worked together so much that everything should be running like a finely tuned machine.

So why is it that a huge first down by the Cowboys was wiped away by an illegal-formation penalty? How many times was this play worked on in practice? And the wide receivers still didn’t know that they had to line up behind the line of scrimmage, and not on the line of scrimmage?

And don’t even get me started on the constant false-start penalties.

To quote a good friend and fellow Cowboys fan: “This is NOT a hobby … this is what you do for a LIVING.”

I sometimes think the eight-on-eight rough-touch bar-league team I played on for years was more disciplined than some of these NFL teams. We paid to play on the bar team, unlike these stooges, who get paid millions upon millions of dollars. And the Eagles and Cowboys are supposedly upper-echelon squads — hell, the Cowboys were Super Bowl favorites in a lot of national publications.

I guess they can’t fit getting a clue under the salary cap.

The 2008 Dallas Cowboys: False start

The National Football League has changed a great deal since I became old enough to appreciate it in the mid- to late 1970s. And one of the most significant changes is that being an NFL player is now a full-time job.

The days of NFL players using training camp to get into shape are long gone. Now there are mini-camps, passing camps, organized team activities and countless other opportunities for players to work with their teammates.

By the time week seven of the NFL season is reached, teammates have worked together so much that everything should be running like a finely tuned machine.

Penalty flag

Penalty flag

So why can’t the Dallas Cowboys, an alleged Super Bowl contender, master the simple task of not moving until the football is snapped?

Obviously, false starts are far from the only problem dragging Dallas down. But in Sunday’s debacle loss to the St. Louis Rams, every time the Cowboys’ offense started to gain the slightest bit of momentum, down came the yellow flag. And all of the calls were correct.

An offense that was already struggling without starting quarterback Tony Romo could ill afford seeing third-and-one becoming third-and-six and, even worse, fourth-and-one in a situation where they were about to try for the first down becoming fourth-and-six and yet another field-goal attempt.

But what’s the answer?

Another dramatic change in the NFL — players’ salaries — has taken away any fear of reprisal. Is a team supposed to bench its multimillion-dollar starting tackle in favor of a backup when the starter can’t pay attention to the snap count? Fines aren’t even worth considering, both due to the strength of the players’ union and the fact that $10,000 to an NFL player is roughly equivalent to $5 to a common person. Will making the players run more in practice after mistakes solve anything? I doubt it.

I really wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t.