A series of Q&As with fans of teams opposing the Washington Nationals & Redskins. Mostly, it is a chance to look at the fandom associated with that team, as well as provide some insight on how they are playing and what to expect in the upcoming matchup.
Tonight the Washington Redskins host the San Francisco 49ers in really cold Raljon. I’ve invited Tom Bridge of welovedc.com to answer a Q&A about his Niners. Begin!
WFY: The San Francisco 49ers came so close to coming back in Super Bowl XLVII, but couldn’t get that sixth ring – how tough was it? Was it any tougher since they were playing a team kind of near where you currently live?
TB: You know what hurt more than losing the Super Bowl? Losing the NFC Championship the year before. Maybe that was proximity, as we were home in California for that one, but I minded losing that game to the Giants more than I minded losing to the Ravens. Maybe it was the overhyped Harbowl side of it, but I found myself less bummed at their loss in the big game than I did in the year before.
It wasn’t tougher since it was the Ravens. While I’m not a Ravens fan, one of my favorite folks in DC is a huge Ravens fan, and several of my clients are Ravens fans, and they were over the moon to get the title. I was happy for them, knowing that triumph from earlier in life. Thinking about it, though, we’re coming up on 20 years since a team that I back has won their respective championship. 2014 will mark 20 years for the 49ers, and 25 years for the Oakland A’s, my only two teams to ever have done it.
WFY: Are the 49ers experiencing a letdown following Super Bowl XLVII? Is Colin Kapernick having a sophomore slump or has the league adjusted to read option quarterbacks in general?
TB: This hasn’t been the greatest season for the Niners, but I think it has more to do with excellent intelligence on the part of opposing teams, and a weaker receiving corps in the red and gold. I wanted the Niners to make a move for a top name wideout, and instead we got a middle tier one in Manningham. Crabtree’s been hurt, which has limited Kap’s options, which makes defending against the formerly potent offense into a more containable challenge.
WFY: The 49ers prime coincided with the Raiders Los Angeles years, so I imagine the part of Northern California you were from was solidly scarlet and gold. Did the silver and black make inroads after the Raiders went home to Oakland?
TB: Absolutely, and in so doing, destroyed the Oakland Coliseum. Oakland always loved the Raiders – less after the move, doubtless – and their return to the East Bay was a homecoming despite it all. I knew a few die hard Raiders fans growing up, but the priests at St. James said prayers for Joe Montana, not Al Davis.
WFY: Tangentially related, do you want to see the Rams back in LA for the sake of the rivalry?
TB: Could care less.
WFY: Succinctly, you co-own and operate a web site called “We Love DC” and have adopted the local home teams save one – the Washington Redskins. Why not?
TB: Three reasons:
1) Dan Snyder strikes me as a comic book villain. The over-management, then the mis-management, and now the bewildering under-management of the front office has me wondering what it’s like in that squirrelly little head of his.
2) The racist name. My opposition to the Washington Football Team’s name is long-standing, and it’s absolutely because I consider their name an offensive slur. I’ve heard the history, I’ve heard the claims of “80 years of history” but it all seems to pale to the offensiveness of the name. I’m not a Washington football fan, nor will my son be one. He can root for my wife’s Steelers, my 49ers, or even the Jacksonville Jaguars, just not the local outfit. But, kids have a way of making their own path, and while I’ll do my best to steer him toward the Caps, United and Nationals, I won’t be making that effort when it comes to the NFL.
3) The rampant bizarro fandom the football team have. I’m fairly sure that RG3 could be caught with a live boy, a dead girl, a goat, pictures of him assaulting the President while mooning an old lady, and the local media would shrug it all off, and the talk radio circuit would praise RG3 for being open with his sexuality, happy he was standing up to power, and that the goat was really just asking for it. Football fandom in this town is cultish, weird, and not just a little bit upsetting when you think about the injury toll.
WFY: I will not suggest that there is a rivalry between tonight’s opponents, but there were some memorable playoff games during the first Joe Gibbs era. Which one sticks out the most? I remember the NFC Championship in 1984 pretty well — that was a bogus call against Ronnie Lott, but in a since deleted “America’s Greatest Games” video I watched, Bill Walsh said it propelled the 49ers to Super Bowl XIX.
TB: I honestly was 6 in 84, so I don’t remember much before, say, the 1988 season.
WFY: Speaking of head coaches, a friend of mine in San Francisco were discussing Jim Harbaugh and reached a consensus that his act could get pretty tired if the Niners are going 10-6 or 9-7 annually and not advancing. Am I onto something?
TB: Maybe? I think that after the late 90s and early 00s, where the Niners were a massive embarrassment to the state of California. There was the better part of 15 years when I had nothing to look forward to in the Fall after baseball was done, so I suspect that Harbaugh, as long as they keep going far in the playoffs, at least past the first round, will have a lengthy tenure. He will not nearly reach Walsh’s status, though, until he wins at least 2 Super Bowls, and probably not until he’s picked up 4. Walsh is revered as a genius, a hero, and a saint, something that Harbaugh will never get credit for, mostly because of his antics. We’ll see if he can win more than he freaks out.
WFY: Did you get to Candlestick Park for 49ers games much?
TB: Nope. I’ve never seen the 49ers play live. Candlestick was a real chore to get to if you lived in the Central Valley, because it’s all the way down the Peninsula toward SFO, which would’ve been 3-4 hours drive from Davis in the traffic. I remember a Giants game or two in 86, but after that we were pretty much A’s fans.
WFY: Are you happy with the 49ers fauxback uniforms? Should they have just gone completely throwback?
TB: I’d prefer total throwback, but I bought one of the fauxback Rice jerseys last year.
WFY: Was watching the game with “the radio turned up and the sound turned down” part of the 49ers fan experience?
TB: Not as much for football as for baseball. We did listen on the radio occasionally, but I usually watched with my Dad with the TV turned up.
WFY: What is your prediction for tonight’s game?
TB: Niners are going to smoke the local football club. If there’s any justice, it’ll be a 49-0 shutout, but I think the final will be more like 28-21 SF.
WFY: I think the Skins win, just to mess with everybody
Joining us again is @PancakeCatapult, the latest non de plume of someone whose internet celebrity far outshines my own. Shockingly, I don’t think Mr. Catapult is blogging anywhere right now, not even about Wilco — has he quit for good? Time will tell.
WFY: 5-5! Your Iggles are in the mix for the entire “SEC of the NFL” division. They looked great against the Skins in September, but have also had some games where they can’t score 10 points. What in the name of Mike Mamula is going on with them?
Mr. Catapult: Basically, Nick Foles got hurt and Matt Barkley happened for two games. Foles has generally been effective (and a little lucky) when healthy, and obviously gives Philly the best chance to win every week.
WFY: Nick Foles threw 7 touchdowns in one game. Is that more improbable than Matt McGloin being a starting quarterback in the NFL? Could Foles be the answer or is it just another case of somebody having the game of his life and seeing false conclusions drawn from it?
Mr. Catapult: Nothing is more improbable “Matt McGloin, Starting NFL Quarterback”. Nothing. Foles’ game against Oakland was insane, partially because of the final statistics, partially because Oakland covered absolutely nobody all day long. Chip Kelly felt no compulsion to stop the bludgeoning.
WFY: Tangentially related, seeing Terrell Pryor get blown out wasn’t disappointing, was it?
Mr. Catapult: Funny, before the Oakland game, former Pitt Panther Shady McCoy said “we couldn’t afford him” when asked about Pryor’s recruitment. No shade for Pryor from me anymore, though. He and Brandon Marshall were two guys that came forward in Jonathan Martin’s defense when that ridiculous scandal broke. Both of them had amazingly thoughtful responses to that situation.
WFY: Other than Foles, how is the Philly offensive attack?
Mr. Catapult: Stunningly effective on the ground with McCoy and occasional sprinkles of Bryce Brown. Riley Cooper has exploited some Second Team Practice Squad magic with Foles. DeSean Jackson is still dangerous as anything, and Zach Ertz is providing a second tight end option. It’s all happening!
WFY: Chip Kelly – innovator, mediocre or still not like enough like Buddy Ryan?
Mr. Catapult: I’m a fan. They lost Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn to ACL injuries in training camp. Their quarterback situation has been less than ideal for most of the season. There’s a lot of lemonade being produced from only a handful of lemons, and that’s a testament to Kelly and his staff. He’s done some really strange in-game stuff, but the quality of football has generally improved.
WFY: How is the Eagles defense? They gave up a lot of scores in garbage time in week 1.
Mr. Catapult: Improving, for sure. Bad, but improving.
WFY: What about undefeated in KC, Andy Reid? We wondered if the players quit on him last year, but did this diva actually quit on the players?
Mr. Catapult: Everybody was just done at the end of Reid’s tenure. We all know he’s a good coach, despite his tendency to ignore the running game and complete inability to use instant replay challenges properly. He provided a run of playoff appearances never seen before in Philly, but the team, coaches, fans, management, soft pretzel vendors — they were over it, and it showed. Reid’s success in Kansas City isn’t all that surprising to me.
Mr. Catapult: I’m all for breaking out the Kelly Green on occasion, but I’m losing enthusiasm for it. Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty awful shade of green. Hard to work with. We could use a little help on the uniform front these days.
Mr. Catapult: Not at all — the Linc is a sterile, gray dump of a new stadium. It’s terrible in just about every way.
WFY: So, the Eagles are totally going to break with tradition and win a home game, right? Not just in this series where the home team usually loses, but in general. Wasn’t Donovan McNabb the quarterback the last time the Eagles won at home? Your prediction!
Mr. Catapult: I’m fairly sure that the Redskins stink. The Eagles very well might be average. 34-31, Philly.
This Sunday’s interconference battle means more to San Diegan Jason Woodmansee, a displaced Washington Redskins, than any other person in the universe. He’s been throwing gasoline on the fire of this HUGE matchup.
Redskins-Chargers only happens every four years, like the Olympics. IT'S THAT BIG.
Woodmansee survived the Norv Turner experience on two different coasts and may have even survived being assaulted by him too. So, yeah, the importance of this game cannot be oversold.
WFY: How are the Chargers do this year and has San Diego noticed? I get the feeling they are emerging from their Norv Turner malaise but are in trouble because KC and Denver are doing so well.
JW: People are generally optimistic – they are genuinely excited about Norv leaving – and AJ Smith even more. Norv was a nice, incompetent coach, but AJ Smith was a jerk, which makes him less missed (And, as several Chargers fans have pointed out, AJ Smith is now a “consultant” to the Redskins, which means they’re doomed apparently). The expectations with a new coaching staff and a semi-gutted roster were pretty low, so fans are mostly happy. I think. People are generally happy anyway, so it’s hard to tell. I mean, it’s paradise out here.
WFY: Is Phillip Rivers liked, disliked or tolerated there?
JW: Liked, but not quite beloved. The most popular jersey worn by fans is probably still Tomlinson (who is second only to Tony Gwynn as Mr. San Diego) and then followed by Rivers and Gates. He’s definitely not perceived as the King Laser Face/Marmalard caricature that he’s branded with everywhere else.
WFY: Since you are a Skins fan, are you more surprised or disappointed by the season so far? What do they need to do better? How are you handling this season?
JW: I thought that they were on the verge of greatness, so I’m surprised AND disappointed. I had low expectations for RGIII’s rookie year, but it looks like they’re having those struggles this year instead. In short, I’m not handling it well.
WFY: The last time you these two teams met up was Jim Zorn’s last game. Do you want the same for Mike Shanahan?
Here is a photo my dad took the last time the Redskins played the Chargers. So stop complaining, people. pic.twitter.com/MECUxclW4P
JW: Shanny’s not perfect, but the only time you should use Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan in the same sentence is if it starts off like, “Unlike Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan…”
WFY: Is RGIII selling hawking Subway out there too?
JW: Yup – those are national ads. Along with adidas, Gatorade…
WFY: What’s the situation with the Chargers long-term home? Are they going to Los Angeles? I would rather see the Rams back there.
JW: The situation is uncertain. Qualcomm Stadium (full disclosure – I work for Qualcomm. Check out our processors at qualcomm.com/snapdragon!) is old and run down, and they definitely need a new stadium – but there’s no real plan to get one. The plan the Chargers supported on the waterfront was just overruled to expand the convention center instead, and no one really knows what will happen next. The city wants to keep them, but also doesn’t want to pay the usual ransom NFL teams charge. I honestly have no idea what will happen.
WFY: What’s the best time for a game on West Coast, 10 a.m. or 1:25 p.m.?
JW: It depends on your schedule. 10 AM games in my 20′s would have been a bummer, but now that I have kids, it’s great. Sunday night games at 5:30 are by far the best, though. Mondays & Thursdays at 5:30 stinks when it’s the Redskins, because it’s hard to get home in time to watch. But I was on the East coast last month and MNF was at halftime at 10:30PM – that’s crazy. I’m too old for that ish.
WFY: Have you ever voluntarily watched an entire Chargers game and cheered for them even a little bit?
JW: I usually go to 1-2 Chargers games per year – I rarely watch an entire game on TV unless it’s a primetime game. I went to the opening Monday Night game against the Texans and sat behind the world’s most obnoxious Texans fan – I was rooting hard for the Chargers that nice for sure. But mainly, the Chargers are harmless.
WFY: Bigger fanbase Chargers or Padres?
JW: C’mon. The NFL team wins in every city.
WFY: True or false: powder blue jerseys are overrated
JW: False. Why they haven’t made them the primary jersey, I have no idea.
WFY: The weekly pants update is a pretty big one, but they’ve gone only with gold of late. That’s fine for burgundy jerseys, but white white jerseys, they have to bring back the burgundy, right?
JW: I agree with you on this – never really got into the white jersey/gold pants look. I miss the white/burgundy look of the Gibbs era. Just don’t ever ever do the burgundy on burgundy monstrosity of the Zorn era.
WFY: Okay, who wins on Sunday?
JW: Redskins. They’re 0-3 against the Chargers since I moved to San Diego in 2001. That streak has got to end, right? Right? Please?
Game0 3 of the Washington Redskins 2013 season has the Detroit Lions coming to BeltwayLand, so I’m bringing back my friend in Michigna, JJ, for another guest prognosticator Q&A. You may remember him from his Tigers Q&A earlier this year and his Lions Q&A in 2010.
WFY: The Lions have over 55 years of futility, crappy expansion-team looking uniforms and play indoors in a city that’s seeing better days. What’s the upside of being a Lions fan?
JJ: Detroit is a great sports town and has seen its share of success with every other hometown team other than the lions. The 55 year streak ends Sunday!
WFY: From the playoffs in 2011 to 5-11 in 2012 – what in the name of Keith Dorney happened to the Detroit Lions?
JJ: The lions,like the city of Detroit have been run, my morons for as long as I can remember. I feel they are turning the corner and might even make the playoffs this year!
WFY: Last season Matt Stafford threw for 5,000 yards, but wasn’t a lot of that because the Lions were playing from behind? Not that Washington’s QB is on a similar pace or anything…
JJ: You have Calvin Johnson on ur team you will automatically throw for 5,000 yards. You could throw for 5,000 yards if you were the QB and had Calvin as a receiver!
WFY: What, besides Calvin Johnson, are the Lions strengths? What are their weaknesses?
JJ: Reggie Bush has been a pleasant surprise an will hopefully be back to full strength this week. The lions weakness continues to be their secondary. Take the over on the game Saturday !
WFY: Is Ndamukong Suh worth all the baggage he brings on and off the field?
JJ: He’s getting better w the local media and just needs to play smarter. Hell of a talent, but make too many stupid mistakes. Has there been any DC talk about sitting Griffin until he’s 100% and starting the Spartan ?
WFY: The Lions are something like 0-16 lifetime at Washington/Raljon/Landover, how can the end that streak dating back to 1937 and win this weekend?
JJ: I feel if the Lions can put up more points than the Redskins on Sunday … they have a solid chance of winning the game
WFY: Does Jim Schwartz have it in him to be the next Wayne Fontes? Was Fontes the best coach the Lions have had in the last 25 years?
JJ: I like The Schwartz and hope he succeeds. If he doesn’t make the playoffs year it’s probably going to be his last. Fontes was a character, but he had Barry …. and that’s why he lasted as long as he did.
WFY: This year, I’ve started asking “what’s the best book about your team?” I’m just assuming the answer is George Plimpton’s Paper Lion. Have you read it? Should the Lions officially retire his #0?
JJ: I have not had the chance to read this book, but will make sure to do so soon.
WFY: What is your favorite pop culture reference to the Lions?
JJ: I actually can’t think of any about the lions. I’m sure Kid Rock has a few, but they’re slipping my mind at the moment.
WFY: Going a little off-topic here, do you put ketchup on hot dogs? Do the Tigers look like they can win another pennant?
JJ: I do put ketchup on my hot dogs and was glad when the tigers fired the opera hot dog guy at Comerica. I found him to be annoying !
WFY: Back to football, who wins Sunday’s game and why?
JJ: I am going to take the lions 35-28 because of Calvin
Week 2 of the NFL season sends the Washington Redskins to Wisconsin for a matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Both teams are 0-1, so they should be pretty desperate. To talk about the Packers, I have invited Wisconsin expert/expatriate @LeavittDC. This is his 8th appearance as a guest prognosticator having discussed the Packers in 2010, the Brewers in 2013, 2012, 2011 and a bunch of Penn State – Wisconsin previews.
WFY: Intense tailgating, cheeseheads, cheese, beer, sausages, a publicly owned team that can never move, fantastic history, lots of Hall of Famers (including my fellow alumnus, Dave Robinson) classy uniforms, even a training camp tradition of riding kids bikes — is there any downside to being a Green Bay Packers fan?
@LeavittDC: Being a Packers fan is the greatest. Who doesn’t love that a small town has a community-owned NFL team with as much tradition and history as any other team in the league?
I grew up in the era of coaches duds Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante (a combined 102-154-4) — I know what suffering feels like as a fan. But of course we’ve* been spoiled with good teams lately. For example, the Packers have had only two starting quarterbacks in the last 21 years. We’ve gotten so complacent that we literally had only one QB on the 53-man roster as of two weeks ago (Pro Football Talk, NBC Sports).
Anyway, to answer your question in a shorter way: No.
WFY: Please be kind enough to briefly recap the 2012 Packers season. What should be the Pack’s strengths? What are you concerns? What about last week’s lost to the San Francisco 49ers?
@LeavittDC: In 2010, the Packers won the Super Bowl. In 2011, the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season. At that exact moment, things looked pretty good.
But then we got bounced from the playoffs. And the next season, 2012, we lost badly to the 49ers in the playoffs, giving up 579 total yards. In that game and generally over the course of the season, they simply could not stop anyone on defense and looked baffled by the pistol formation.**
Opening this season against the 49ers last week was a nice test to see if they’ve learned anything. And indeed they did a great job stopping the read-option but gave up over 400 yards through the air. Major concerns remain over the secondary. The strength of the team is Aaron Rodgers and his receivers. WR Greg Jennings left for the Vikings, but good riddance — the remaining WR corps of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones is just fine without Jennings. And while people say this every year, I really think TE Jermichael Finley is going to have a great season. We’re hoping that RB Eddie Lacey, the rookie from Alabama, makes the running game at least serviceable, which would be a huge upgrade over last season. So it all comes down to the defense, and if Week 1 is any indication then more specifically it comes down to the secondary.
WFY: 1995 Dallas Cowboys (twice). 2001 New England Patriots. 2011 New York Football Giants (twice). 2012 Baltimore Ravens. 2011 Green Bay Packers* — they all have something in common — they couldn’t beat the Skins. At this point, you are halfway to rooting for a loss, right?
Nice try. (But I think you mean the 2010 Packers.) WFY: Yup. Oops.
WFY: Since you are a long-established D.C. resident is there any temptation to at least my make the Skins your second NFL team?
@LeavittDC: I’ve tried several times — including during the Spurrier era and again after they drafted RGIII, who is electrifying and impossible to root against — but it just didn’t take. Part of it is Dan Snyder, which makes me I’m glad that as a community-owned team the Packers don’t have an abrasive owner in the public eye. Unrelated to my lack of fandom for the Redskins, the team name really bothers me. (Then again, as The Onion pointed out, the term “Redskins” is offensive only if you think about what it means.) But seriously, this is a term that dates back to when trappers would bring in Native American scalps so that the trading post had proof of killings to collect a bounty.
Okay, enough with my political rant and back to your question. I love so much how important the team is to this city, and that makes me want to root for them. I just haven’t been able to latch on for whatever reason.
WFY: So, when are the Packers going to throw back to their mid-1980s uniforms with the Dallas Cowboys-style numbers on the pants? Did you even notice the sleeve stripe changes in 1997?
@LeavittDC: Didn’t notice. A few years ago, the Packers went to helmets with metallic sparkle in them, though, which I don’t like. The Vikings have a matte helmet this year — I wonder if the Packers would consider something like that.
WFY: What is the gameday experience like at Lambeau Field and how has it changed? Did you ever see the Packers in Milwaukee or an exhibition game in Madison?
@LeavittDC: Yes, I’ve seen the Packers play in all three of those places. Playing in Milwaukee was a great way to include the whole state (and something the Buffalo Bills should be doing, given their problems selling tickets — why not barnstorm upstate New York and play in Syracuse and Rochester?) but ultimately I’m glad the Packers went back to playing all of their home games at Lambeau. Unlike every other NFL venue, at Lambeau it’s about the football. The team doesn’t even have cheerleaders. I doubt I’m offending Redskins fans to remark that FedEx Field could be any stadium in any city. Lambeau is special.
WFY: What is the best book about the Packers? Well, besides “When Pride Still Mattered” which was a little long in parts, but overall excellent and also including the Redskins of course. So, I guess I need to rephrase the question as “what’s the second best book about the Packers?”
@LeavittDC: Jerry Kramer, the hall of famer (WFY: Karmer is NOT a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) from the Lombardi teams, put out a best-selling book with Dick Schapp called “Instant Replay.” I greatly enjoyed that as a kid. His followup “Distant Replay” was less memorable, though
WFY: After reading “When Pride Still Mattered” I was half-disappointed that the Broadway play “Lombardi” wasn’t called “Shut Up, Marie!” Have you seen the play? Did you ever imagine that the cast of a play about Lombardi would have actors from 1980s ABC sitcoms as the leads?
@LeavittDC: Haven’t seen it. I really need to. Stop shaming me.
WFY: Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre are brahs again, right? Everything cool with old #4 again?
WFY: Better Mike – Sherman McCarthy or Mike Holmgren?
@LeavittDC: Easy call, and Holmgren’s got a street named after him in Green Bay as proof.
WFY: What is your favorite pop culture reference to the Packers?
@LeavittDC: It seemed like we were much more visible in maintream pop culture when Favre was around, as he was in “Something About Mary” and the inspiration in Jay-Z lyrics. I enjoy Aaron Rodgers in State Farm’s Discount Double Check ads. By the way, Rodgers doesn’t do his championship belt move very often the days — if he breaks it out, you know it’s a big moment.
WFY: I’m sorry, the correct answer is:
Too bad it came in a loss, @LeavittDC
WFY: Who wins on Sunday and why?
@LeavittDC: One of these teams is going to be 0-2, which is amazing given how much talent is on those rosters. I pick the Packers to win this one. With only one week to go on, it seems this will be a high-scoring game — neither defense looked impressive last week. As a Packers fans, I hope that home field makes the difference.
* Yes, I used the word “we.” Mock away. But we’re talking about a community-owned team, so there.
** When the team sucks, I reserve the right to revert back to calling them “they.”
WFY: I think the Skins bounce back, mostly because i want them too. 27-24.
The guest prognosticator series is changing with the seasons as the NFL starts up. For Monday nights Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles matchup, I’ve invited regular Philly sports contributor Kevin McGuire to answer some questions and offer a prediction. McGuire, who writes for College Football Talk on nbcsports.com and is a contributor to Yahoo’s Eagles coverage is back for yet another Q&A about his beloved Iggles. He’s been here before (for the Phillies too). We missed running into each at Springer’s in Stone Harbor by about 45 minutes last month.
WFY: Andy Reid is gone, as many of expected. It seems he got a better send off than Charlie Manuel. Nevertheless, do you have any final thoughts on Reid, in particular as it relates to the series with Redskins?
KMc: Charlie Manuel deserved to be honored in front of the Phillies fans for winning his 1,000th game as a manager, but I will leave that conversation for another time. As for Reid, the time had come for a change (I think That time came a year earlier but whatever). While the Reid era ultimately left this city without filling the biggest hole in the franchise’s history – a Super Bowl victory, or two – it would be silly to suggest he did not have a certain amount of success in town. I give him plenty of credit for turning the franchise around and taking a chance on Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. It was the most successful stint in franchise history in the Super Bowl era, but it came with a number of flaws that were never really fixed. Reid is a solid coach who can help build a foundation for winning, but after over a decade as head coach it was painfully clear he was not the type of coach that could get that team over the edge.
WFY: One of the keys to the Reid era was dominance within the NFC East. At the height of it all, the Eagles took advantage of wins against a weak NFC East, including a pile against the Redskins although I did not realize how many times Reid lost to the Redskins until looking up the numbers. I think the game that sticks out the most to me came on a Monday night early in the 2002 season. The game was played in FedEx Field and came at the time the Eagles were really starting to become the top threat in the NFC. If I recall correctly, at some point during the 37-7 road victory the TV cameras caught Steve Spurrier in a classic moment:
Can I say it again? Thank you RGIII for healing us
I wish Reid the best in Kansas City as he looks to turn that franchise around. I expect he will and it will not take too long either. That said, I am ready for this franchise to turn the page.
WFY: Please briefly recap the 2012 Eagles season for us.
KMc: Must I? Why must you be so cruel? In brief, the offensive line was decimated by injuries and it was only a matter of time before that led to injury to the often-injured Mike Vick. Throw in a defense that could not create turnovers or stop anything, thanks to having an offensive line coach taking over as defensive coordinator, it was a mess on top of a pile of trash. As the games went by, Reid lost the team and by the end of the year here was nothing to play for.
WFY: Back in the present, how do Chip Kelly’s Eagles look so far?
KMc: Different, at least to most people. You know I watch a lot of college football, so the new look offense looks a little more familiar to me than most in this area after having watched Kelly at Oregon over the last few years. The up-tempo offense is still a bit of a work in progress but I am sure Kelly has a few things to unveil during the regular season. The defense also looks a little more comfortable in a more traditional format, but is still showing plenty of room for improvement.
WFY: Michael Vick is going start week 1, but do you think he’ll still be the starter in week 11?
KMc: No. At some point in the season I suspect Vick will go down with an injury, which means Nick Foles will likely be the next man up under center. I have said before I would not be shocked to see Matt Barkley get a start before the end of the season, with the assumption being Vick is injured, Foles struggles and Kelly looks to see what he has in Barkley before entering the 2014 draft with his eyes set n Tajh Boyd or Teddy Bridgewater.
WFY: Can the Eagles defense stop anybody?
KMc: Not yet, but they stand a better chance than the defense did last season. Getting back to a more basic 3-4 defense should ensure players are in better positions this season, as opposed to the wide-9 used last year that spread everybody out and put everyone in poor positions. This defense still lacks talent overall, but the addition of Cary Williams from Baltimore and mixing in some new faces should help change the entire mindset, and I really feel that along with the new formation helps change the defensive production overall this season. They’ll still give up yards and points, but they will be better than last year and at least that is a start.
WFY: How do you feel the Eagles matchup this week? Do you have any additional concerns about them opening the season on Monday night on the road?
KMc: This Eagles team has some personalities that enjoy the spotlight, so opening on a Monday night does not necessarily serve as a concern for me, but doing so in Washington could be a very difficult spot. If Robert Griffin III is in good shape, the Eagles could be in trouble. I honestly feel that the Eagles deserve to be underdogs this weekend and they probably will in most of their games. Do the Eagles keep things close and maybe find a way to steal a game? Yeah, probably. I’m just not ready to count on it yet.
WFY: With the Phillies era coming to an end, have the Eagles reclaimed undisputed supremacy for the hearts and minds of Philly sports fans? How would your rank team popularity in the Delaware Valley? Do the Eagles really have the 17th most loyal fanbase, last in the NFC East? Does anybody say “Delaware Valley” other than television stations and the Pennsylvania Turnpike?
KMc: The football season could not have come soon enough for the local sports fans here. If the football season could have started in June, not many people around here would have complained. The Eagles, with a new head coach, have sparked the imagination of the fans and perhaps given them a false sense of optimism. Of course, right now we are just starving for something, anything to get excited about.
Right now, the Eagles remain on top of the local sports scene without question. I think the Phillies are still firmly in second despite the struggles of management and declining win total (and attendance). The Flyers right now are probably the third team in the pecking order with the Sixers dropping to fourth heading in to what many expect to be a dismal season in hopes of a high lottery pick.
I can’t think of any time I have heard anyone outside of TV refer to it as the Delaware Valley, but maybe others have.
WFY: No Philly team made the playoffs last year, are you noticing a difference amongst Philly sports fans overall? I’m probably not asking because that could happen here, no not at all.
KMc: Disgruntled is probably the best way to describe it. Nobody needs to be reminded it has now been over a calendar year since the last postseason game played here (sorry Union and Soul, but you do not count in this discussion). Then again, most Philly sports fans may be described as disgruntled anyway. It’s easy to see why though. All we want to do is celebrate a championship. The 2008 World Series was a nice release, but the droughts still continue for the Sixers (1983), Flyers (1975) and Eagles (1960, before the Super Bowl era). Now, all of a sudden, the five-year exemption for the Phillies has expired as well. Where did the time go?
WFY: What are the best book and movie you have ever read and seen about the Eagles?
KMc: I honestly have not read a whole ton of books specifically about the Eagles, although WIP radio personality Anthony Gargano’s story (A Sunday Pilgrimage) of the Super Bowl trip to Jacksonville was decent. I actually really enjoyed War Without Death by Mark Maske, which was more a look at the entire NFC East.
The easy answer for best movie is probably Invincible, but I still can’t get past the terrible representation of the inside of Veterans Stadium. The documentary about being an Eagles fan (E-A-G-L-E-S The Movie) was actually pretty solid. Were you expecting me to say Tony Danza as The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon? I will say that Silver Linings Playbook was a pretty good film as well. It felt pretty accurate as well.
You know what want to watch Tony Danza as an Iggles kicker, shot from a video camera in front of TV, the way it was meant to be seen
WFY: What is your favorite pop culture reference to the Eagles?
KMc: I’m a fan of the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I’m going to go with the episode where the gang all tries out for the team. I mean, it has the guy who played Elvin in The Cosby Show playing the role of a Donovan McNabb imposter, Green Man, and Dee trying to pass as a guy.
WFY: I understand the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie remarried. Do we know if the new Mrs. Lurie likes kelly green? I’m getting tired of having to watch midnight green/expansion like uniforms on an 80-year old NFC East team twice a season. You are probably tired of answering the question annually.
KMc: I wouldn’t hold your breath on the Kelly green, although many around here would love it. Chip Kelly, Kelly green, it just makes sense). I think at this point the best we can hope for is for the team to adopt an official alternate jersey that throws back to the Kelly green era. The uniforms they wore a few years ago, to me, were great. The silver wing on the helmet, simple Kelly green jerseys with traditional white block lettering just looks right.
WFY: Defend the lyric “fly on the road to victory” from the Eagles fight song. (Still better than almost everything Messrs Henly, Frey, et al. wrote)
KMc: I do not see much of an issue with this one. Have you ever used the phrase “I flew down the highway,” or something like that to describe how quickly you got form one place to another? Have you not watched Back to the Future, where Doc and Marty fly on a skyway thanks to a hover conversion on the DeLorean “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
In the history of music lyrics, I hardly think we need to quibble over this line in the official team fight song.
WFY: Who takes game 1? Who takes the season series? What do you think the Eagles and Skins records will be, respectively?
KMc: I think we are in store for a season split between the Eagles and Redskins, with the home team winning each time. I think the Eagles defense will get better as the season progresses, but this being the first game of the season means they are perhaps their most vulnerable. If RG3 is good to go, I expect to see the Eagles defense lagging at times. I think the Eagles put up some points, but think they give up a bunch as well in week one.
I think the Eagles have a low ceiling, with seven games perhaps being optimistic. The Redskins can probably get to 10 wins this season, but that is under the assumption RG3 stays healthy. I doubt either team keeps their opening day starting quarterback for a full 16-game schedule. I’ll put the Redskins down at nine wins.
The second half of the 2013 Washington Nationals season begins tonight with a four game series featuring the Milwaukee Brewers. I’ve asked Wisconsin native, @LeavittDC to contribute to another Q&A again, a record-breaking 7th time if you include those Penn State vs. Wisconsin previews back in the day. To the questions!
WFY: I ran into a family of Brewers fans this weekend on the Duquesne Incline – they were in Pittsburgh following the Brewers and are headed to DC this week (we were there for a wedding). They didn’t seem to excited about the 2013 Brewers. What’s going on with Brewers this year?
@LeavittDC: Blah, it’s no fun being in last place. I know a lot of Brewers fans who are getting itchy for football season to start.
WFY: How do you feel about the overall direction of the franchise? Did they max out with a couple of playoff appearances during Prince Fielder’s time with the team?
@LeavittDC:These questions are depressing me. There are some bright spots, but no team in baseball is further out of first place than the Brewers and it’s hard to see past that right now.
WFY: Do the Brewers put as much effort into their Racing Mascots as the Nats do? Do the sausages overshadow Bernie Brewer like the racing Presidents overshadow Screech. Why haven’t they come to DC yet? Are they afraid a half-smoke will show up and beat them?
@LeavittDC:That’s a clown question, bro. I mean, why haven’t the presidents come to Miller Park yet? Miller Park has pretty good beer options, like Spotted Cow from the New Glarus Brewing Company, which is a true gem. And evidently they just unveiled something called Bernie’s Barrelman Ale, which is made by Leinenkugels (a iller brand).
WFY: Milwaukee is one of the smallest MLB markets, yet the Brewres routinely draw in the top half of the NL, how do they do it?
@LeavittDC: Good question. I don’t know. But it’s clearly a credit to the stadium experience and the atmosphere that Mark Attanasio has brought to the team.
Since the two leagues were realigned to each have 15 teams this season, would you have preferred the Brewers go back to the AL instead of the Houston Astros? Do you miss fattening up the record on the Stros?
@LeavittDC: It was going to be weird either way, but the Brewers traditionally (if you can use that word for a team that is still pretty new in the context of baseball history, even if you include the one Seattle Pilot season) were in the AL so I had hoped they’d be the ones to switch.
WFY: Laverne or Shirley?
@LeavittDC:You brought up Lavern and Shirley last year, and seemed to sympathize with the fact that outsiders commonly fall back on that reference with Milwaukee. Now you’re turning on me? Editor’s note: Remember when I asked a similar question during my Twins Q&A? I was prepared to ask “Blanche, Dorothy, Rose or Sophia?” ifthe Marlins Q&A happened.
WFY: Apparently, the Brewers uniforms this year have included the following: home whites; road grays; home pinstriped throwbacks; home golds; home blues; road blues; Negro League throwbacks; minor league throwbacks (for a game in Minnesota); home whites with camouflage lettering; and home golds with Spanish-language “Cerveceros” lettering, red jerseys with Polish-langauage “Piwowarzy.” Are they overdoing it? Why did it take so long to get a Polish uniform? What about the YOUniform? I liked the jersey.
@LeavittDC: I wish teams had fewer uniforms. And of course I love the throwback glove ones for the Brewers. But I do like the Spanish- and Polish-language alternatives as a nod to the fanbase.
@LeavittDC: It always sucks to lose. But sometimes it’s truly just a great achievement to make the playoffs. Baseball isn’t like the NBA or NHL where half-way decent team makes the playoffs. I’m proud of the recent Brewers playoff teams. Sure, I’m proud of the 2012 Nats too, but they had a real chance at making a deep run — losing to the Cardinals was crushing. Also, I was in the stands for the Nats-Cards Game 5, which makes that one 900 times worse.
WFY: Who takes the series and why? Are you rooting for the Nats, who are still in contention, straight up?
@LeavittDC: Weather permitting, I’ll be in a suite tonight rooting for the Nats. #Natitude
WFY:Thanks, @LeavittDC, I’ll have better questions for the Skins vs. Packers this fall.
You may remember this week’s guest prognosticator, Vince Guerrieri, from the Redskins vs. Browns game last year. He’s still a newspaper editor in Northern Ohio as well as the author of Ohio Sports Trivia and the upcoming The Blue Streaks and Little Giants: More Than a Century of Sandusky and Fremont Ross Football.. Vince also contributed to Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers.
WFY: First off, you survived the Manny Acta experience, congratulations. Having been through it myself, I know what that is like, how did you cope? Should we make an “it gets better” video for the next fanbase to have Acta in the dugout? By the way, there are some Nats fans that LOVE Manny Acta and were really upset when he was canned. Did that happen in Cleveland?
VG: Last August, the Indians had the worst month in team history in almost 100 years. (I wrote at some length about that: Misery Loves Company: 1914 Team Lost 24 in a Month Too) After that, Acta’s firing was pretty much a done deal. But even prior to that, there was a sense of discontent with Manny, like he was going through the motions. There was that game against the Yankees when Acta didn’t even come out of the dugout to protest a call by an umpire (emphasis added by WFY) — when a foul pop wasn’t caught by the Yankees, but by a fan in the stands — that really aggravated a lot of Tribe fans.
The sad part is that he was still a marked improvement over Eric Wedge, who managed the 2005 team that played .700 ball after the All-Star break and then lost six of their last seven to finish a game back in the wild card, and the 2007 team that was up 3-1 over the Red Sox in the ALCS. Wedge, of course, was also the guy who couldn’t find a spot in the daily lineup for Brandon Phillips.
WFY: Terry Francona. Nick Swisher. Cheaper concessions! The 2013 Cleveland Indians had a good offseason. How has the season been going? Streaky?
VG: That’s a pretty good way of putting it. The Indians just took two of three from the Rangers to end an eight-game losing streak. The only saving grace is that they’re playing in the AL Central, which is probably the worst division, top to bottom, in the majors. It’s still the Tigers’ to lose, but they can’t get it together either. Verlander’s finally starting to pitch well, but the bullpen there appears to be the cause of more heart attacks than Detroit coney dogs.
WFY: When does Grady Sizemore get off the DL? More than a few Nats fans are currently terrified Bryce Harper is going down that road.
VG: When’s Grady get off the DL? Probably about the time Greg Oden starts for the Cavs. Seriously, Grady’s engaging in baseball activities, and could latch on somewhere after the break. I hope he does well. I’m not sure I’d compare him to Harper, though. Bryce Harper was all that and a bag of fries sine he was in high school. Grady was a throw-in in the deal that sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal. The big piece of that trade for the Indians was SUPPOSED to be Brandon Phillips.
WFY: How do you rate Jacobs Field? What was watching baseball in Municipal Stadium like? I know you went to Nationals Park (I’m sorry I that had other plans) but did you make it to RFK?
VG: I’ve been to nicer ballparks, but Jacobs (now Progressive) Field will always be my favorite. I was there the day it opened with Chuck (my father, to the uninitiated). I can remember coming into the ballpark, and my previous baseball experiences were the carpet at Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, and the cow pasture that Municipal Stadium had become. I can’t fully explain to you what a marked improvement it was over Municipal Stadium, which was enormous and decrepit. I saw a shimmering new stadium with lush green grass. And playing over the PA was Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside…” I was hooked. I’ve seen an All-Star game there. I’ve seen playoff games there, including a World Series game. I went with girls I thought I loved, the woman I do love, and the daughter that’s become the apple of my eye. I went with the gang from high school. I went with college buddies. I took a work field trip when they clinched the division in 2007. I’ve got so many memories there that it will always be the best ballpark to me.
I saw one game at RFK. It was a matinee the Giants. My wife, a Pittsburgh native, was deeply disappointed that she couldn’t boo Barry Bonds, because he wasn’t playing. We were sitting next to a couple women from San Francisco who went to see the game, and they said, “We think he’s an unfair scapegoat for steroids.” Shannon said, “I don’t care about steroids. I just think he’s an expletive deleted.” Shannon was also traumatized by the Presidents’ races there.
I thought RFK was a great experience. At the time the Nats were so bad that we bought tickets for below face value from a scalper. And the tailgate lots and the stadium’s location near 295 made it really easy to get in and out of.
I went to Nats Park once. It seemed like a good time, even though there was a two-hour rain delay. I’m just amazed at how they put a five-story parking deck between the stadium and a gorgeous skyline view. Well, money talks…
WFY: How are the Indians last in attendance?
VG: It’s a confluence of factors. (I wrote about this at some length too: Sellout Streaks A Thing Of The Past In Cleveland ) First, the economy isn’t doing so hot, and it’s particularly bleak in northern Ohio. You’ve got a shrinking city, one of the poorest in the country, and ballgames remain a luxury item.
Second, with the 455-game sellout streak and the run of success the team had in the 1990s, it’s really easy to forget that Cleveland’s had a fairly tenuous baseball history in the past 50 years or so. In the 1950s, there was talk of moving the team to Minneapolis (the Senators took that bullet) or Houston. In the 1960s, it was Seattle or New Orleans (there was actually a deal in place to play some home games in Big Easy in the 1960s, but the team changed owners, putting an end to that). Fay Vincent essentially came to Cleveland in the early 1990s and said, “Build Jacobs Field or the team moves.” So there’s a certain amount of fan apathy.
And that apathy has been in full force the past couple years. They’ve seen the team jump out of the gate and then flame out. Cleveland fans are going on 50 years without a title in any professional sport. We’re a cynical bunch. And it can be difficult to believe in the Indians. Here’s a stat for you: In 2011 and 2012, the Indians spent more time in first place in the AL Central than any other team in the division. And they had two below-.500 finishes to show for it.
WFY: What’s the quintessential Jacobs Field concession? I assume stadium mustard is involved. Can you get Great Lakes or any other local beer in the ballpark?
VG: Actually, at the Jake, it’s Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard. Stadium Mustard is the name of the product at Browns Stadium. At Gateway (the name given to Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena), it’s Bertman’s. But yes, a hot dog with Bertman’s is almost mandatory.
You can get Great Lakes at the ballpark. However, Great Lakes is just over the bridge from the ballpark, and they actually run a shuttle from the brewery to the ballpark (it’s biodiesel, so they call it the Fatty Wagon). One of the new concession stands (it opened in 2011) is Your Dad’s Beer. They have Stroh’s (the beer at the infamous 10-cent beer night: Ten Cent Beer Night, A Promotion Gone Terribly Wrong), Genesee and other choices based on who’s in town. When the Pirates came last year, they had Iron City, which I figured would amuse you based on your recent run-in with them. (True story: Chuck and I were at the All-Star Game in 1997, and some yinzer was INDIGNANT that they didn’t sell Iron City at Beers of the World.)
WFY: Where do the Indians rank in the Cleveland sports scene?
VG: The best they can hope for appears to be the silver. It’s really a Browns town first and foremost (it’s no coincidence that most of the sellout streak coincided with the Browns being on hiatus, or as I like to call it, the three years they went undefeated). In the late aughts, when LeBron was still in town, the Indians were third. Now they’re almost second by default.
WFY: We skipped this during our Redskins-Browns guest prognostication, but since the topic got pretty hot around here for a while/is never going away, what do you think of the team name and logo? I am ambivalent about the name, but the Chief Wahoo logo is awful. Plus, I like the block-serif C on the road caps, but I am a big believer in the city’s letter(s) on the cap. On the other hand, I’m in favor of changing the Redskins name, though the logo isn’t terrible. Would you be okay with Spiders becoming the team name again? That’s one of the best available nicknames not used in pro sports.
VG: The last team called the Spiders was probably the worst team in baseball history. In 1899, the Robison brothers, owners of the Spiders, bought the St. Louis baseball team, and essentially took everyone from Cleveland worth taking and put them on the Perfectos (later called the Cardinals). The Spiders became the sideshow, losing 134 games — including 101 on the road, because nobody wanted to travel to Cleveland, since attendance was so bad, they couldn’t recoup their travel costs. Mercifully, the team went out of existence after that year. So to me, naming a team the Spiders would be like Carnival naming its next cruise ship the Titanic.
If you’re going to rename the team, I’d go with the Naps, in honor of former player-manager Napoleon Lajoie, one of the stars of baseball in the first decade of the 20th century.
I guess I’m kind of ambivalent on the changing of the name. Most of the time, we didn’t call them the Indians. We called them the Tribe, which gave us a vested interest. Kind of like how we’re all in this together. But yeah, Chief Wahoo is a relic of a bygone, far less sensitive time. He should probably go. At least the Indians appear to be de-emphasizing him.
The part that gets lost in the shuffle over this is that Cleveland’s not a racially insensitive town. George Preston Marshall integrated the Redskins basically by federal order (with some help from Paul Brown, who traded them Bobby Mitchell for the rights to Ernie Davis). The Indians signed the first black player in the American League, and the Sporting News once said of Indians owner Bill Veeck that Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, but Bill Veeck gave ‘em all jobs in baseball. One of the reasons the Indians were so successful in the early 1950s was because they signed black and Latin players. Frank Robinson was the first black manager in the majors in Cleveland. This is a city that elected the first black mayor in the country, and people see a leering, grinning caricature as a baseball mascot.
WFY: On a lighter note, who are the greatest and your favorite Indians player of your lifetime?
VG: The greatest? Without a doubt, Albert Belle. He hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in a strike-shortened season, and was the one of the most feared players (in several senses of the word) in the major leagues. I believe if he was a little less of a bastard, he’d probably be in the Hall of Fame. Then again, if he was a little less of a offspring of parents who were married, he might not have been as good.
My favorite is Sandy Alomar. He was a tough sell. The Indians dealt Joe Carter for him, so he had a lot to live up to. And he did, for the most part. His 1997 season was a thing of beauty, and it was a real thrill to watch him homer in the All-Star Game that year.
WFY: How are the broadcasters? Do you miss Harry Doyle on the radio?
VG: The broadcasters leave A LOT to be desired. Actually, I miss Herb Score. He had all of the hilarity of Harry Doyle, but not of the bite. Joe Tait once said that Herb Score had seen more bad baseball than anyone in history.
Most of my memories of the Indians come from watching them on television. Growing up in Youngstown, we got Channel 43, the superstation out of Cleveland, and they carried the Tribe games. Good times.
However, there is a Facebook group that’s called “Tom Hamilton has the best home run call in all of baseball.” I think that says it all.
WFY: Are you aware that one of the most memorable Nats broadcasts was against Cleveland?
VG: I was not. If it was any consolation, since Borowski was pitching, I was probably at the office with my head between my knees or breathing into a paper bag.
WFY: What about the MSM coverage? In addition to DTTWLN, what are some other blogs covering the Tribe?
WFY: Are the Indians the #1 team in your hometown of Youngstown? What about where you live now in Northern Ohio, east of Toledo?
VG: Well, like I said in the Browns Q&A, Youngstown’s halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. So whoever rules the town is a question of who’s doing better, which means the Indians have won by default for the better part of the past two decades.
I’m in Tigers country here. It’s kind of funny, though: I was in college when the Indians were at their best in the 1990s. Bowling Green State University draws a lot of students from the Cleveland area (my man Mike Brandyberry, the brains of the operation at Did the Tribe Win Last Night, referred to it as Clearview West. Clearview’s a school in Lorain.), so there was no shortage of Tribe fans. The Tigers, on the other hand, might have been the worst team in baseball at the time. So all the Tigers fans kind of climbed into the woodwork, and all the Indians fans climbed out. Now, I’d say the opposite is true.
WFY: What is the best part of being an Indians fan? What is the worst?
VG: The worst part? The last time the team won a World Series, the U.S. Army was still segregated. All I can say is thank God for the Cubs, the only team that’s gone longer without winning a World Series.
The best part? Dollar dog night. Just kidding (although that is pretty cool). The team’s got an amazing history that people just don’t know about, but I get to appreciate.
WFY: Speaking of the Browns, since we talked about them last autumn, they’ve had some issues. Is Jimmy Halsam the worst Cleveland owner since Rachel Phelps? Is this a false flag operation by the Steelers?
VG: What you have to understand is that the bar is set almost impossibly high for bad owners in Cleveland. Art Modell (may that rat bastard cocksucker rest in peace) couldn’t make money owning an NFL team in Cleveland, and then to prove it wasn’t a fluke, couldn’t do it in Baltimore, either. Ted Stepien was so inept as the Cavs owner, the NBA actually told him he couldn’t make any more trades without league approval. And I told you about the Robisons.
Haslam’s in deep trouble. It’s entirely possible he’ll have to sell the team within a couple years if he gets convicted or even if he spends a ton of money on his legal defense (that’s why the league forced Modell to sell, he didn’t have enough cash flow, and how Haslam bought into the Steelers into the first place). So we’ll have to see if there’s another owner, and what crimes against humanity he’s committed.
WFY: Alright, enough with the references, what your take on Major League? I never saw the sequel(s) by the way, where they any good? What is your take on Randy Newman for that matter?
VG: I love “Major League.”I watched it when it premiered on HBO. The beginning of the movie – with miserable fans and poorly attended games – was a documentary (seriously; Mom laughed when they showed 750 people in the seats. Two days later, when we were watching an Indians game and it appeared that was no exaggeration for drama’s sake, she laughed harder). But the end seemed like science fiction.
I watched the Wild Thing come out of the bullpen and a stadium full of people descend into complete bedlam. I wondered if I’d ever see anything like that in Cleveland. As it turns out, I did, when the bullpen door swung open in the top of the ninth of Game Five of the 1995 World Series and Jose Mesa stepped out. I swear, it’s almost 20 years later, and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Major League II wasn’t terrible. I didn’t even watch Major League III.
Randy Newman scored “The Natural.” For that reason alone, he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
WFY: So, who takes the series an why?
VG: Indians take two of three. They’re getting good outings out of their starters, and the bats are really starting to come around. Swisher’s out of his slump, and Kipnis and Santana are tearing the cover off the ball.
The final American League team for the Washington Nationals to host is, strangely enough, the Minnesota Twins who were called the Washington Senators until Calvin Griffith moved them away. I don’t know much about Twin Cities baseball or Minnesota in general and in fact, prior to meeting this week’s guest prognosticator, I don’t know that I had ever met a Twins fan. These days, @Ball-Wonk is one of the most prolific old school Nats fan tweeters, but before that:
Former Twins superfan and Bat-Girl pinch-blogger BallWonk has been blogging and tweeting about the Nationals since 2004. Before moving to Washington in 1992, he grew up in Minnesota and attended key games of both the 1987 and 1991 World Series. He looks forward to seeing epic World Series victories in Washington one day soon. Furthermore, the Phillies must be destroyed.
WFY: The Minnesota Twins were a regular playoff team for much of the previous decade and the promise of a new ballpark and Joe Mauer sticking around made the future look fairly good. What happened?
BW: In the early Gardy era, the Twins must have been an infuriating team to root against. Pity the poor Tribe or Bitch Sox fans, because those darn Twinkies seemed to catch every break. In the same way that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, sufficiently consistent luck is indistinguishable from skill. Until it stops. So what happened? The Twins rode a string of luck of truly historic proportions, and then the law of averages caught up to them. You can’t go on forever relying on just the right guy having a career year every year, though as Twins fans know, it’s fun while it lasts.
As for Mauer, it seems like everybody knew from the beginning that playing C was going to sabotage his offensive production in the long run. Everyone, that is, except for one Joseph Patrick Mauer, who by all accounts loves the position and really, really wanted to stay there. The Mauer experience is why, for this one-time Twins superfan, the second-happiest moment in Nats history was the moment in the 2010 draft when the Nationals announced they were drafting “outfielder Bryce Harper.” Quality defensive catchers are dime a dozen, and no insult to messers Ramos and Zuk intended. However valuable the brain of a Mauer or a Harper is behind the plate, his knees as he stands in the batter’s box are worth more. To say nothing of the extra 40-plus off-days even the most resilient catcher needs compared to a left fielder or a DH. Remember all those World Series titles the Dodgers won when they built themselves around Mike Piazza? Neither does BallWonk. Same thing with Mauer.
WFY: How closely do you follow the Twins these days? Were you still closely following the Twins when they were suggested for contraction? Did you take the threats seriously?
BW: Today? Not closely enough. In part, this is due to distance. BallWonk doesn’t get to Minnesota nearly as much as he used to, and the Nats really do fill even a former Twins superfan’s baseball heart. (Alas, ye Washington baseball virgins, for ye know not what awaits ye. The Nats are a decidedly Twinkies-esque team.) And in part because nine seasons of NL ball with the Nats has made any team that plays with the DH just that much harder to care about. But the Twins remain BW’s team in the AL, and he wishes he saw more of their games. Really looking forward to this weekend’s series, when our Washington Senators return home for the first time since the Nats came to town. The Twins will be, inexplicably, the last AL team to come to Washington.
Oh yes, BallWonk closely followed the Twins at the time of contraction. Contraction surfaced just a couple of seasons after he and Ms. BallWonk were among the several hundred fans who showed up to a late-1990s Fan Fest, at which Ron Coomer was the star. True story: BallWonk asked Coomer to sign his copy of Malamud’s novel “The Natural.” Coomer gave a hearty laugh and signed away. You have to remember, this was the era when the Twins were effectively Major League Baseball’s first all-volunteer team, with something like 17 of 25 guys earning the league minimum wage. In years three though six of his four-year degree, BallWonk was eligible for $1 student tickets, and was often one of the several dozen paid fans in the Metrodome on any given night.
All of which should demonstrate that every Twins fan took contraction very seriously. The team was terrible! Nobody came to the games! The Metrodome sucked! Not just for the Twins, who made no scratch from the amenity-less facility, but for fans. Plus, we’d just lost the North Stars to Dallas.
Want to know what really made contraction a credible threat? It was that Bud Selig had stopped threatening Minnesota legislators and voters with relocating the Twins to Charlotte or Washington. Remember, MLB put a team in Tampa just a few years earlier, even though everybody knew Tampa can’t really support a team and the Trop is just the Metrodome re-imagined by and for Skynet’s android minions, solely because awarding an expansion team to Washington would mean the end of relocation-to-Washington blackmail to fund new stadiums for teams like the Twins. When Selig’s threats of relocation to Washington stopped, it was like having your child’s kidnappers stop making ransom demands. That doesn’t mean they’re about to give your child back; it means your baby is already dead. (You saw that Mel Gibson movie too, right?)
At the time, few had any faith that Bill Lester’s lawsuit on behalf of the Metrodome to force the Twins to play out their lease would save the team. But it did, along with Gov. Jesse Ventura’s work rounding up legislative support to fund what became Target Field. But the new stadium came later. Lester’s lawsuit in 2002 was a long shot, but it got the job done. And there ought to be a statue of Bill Lester in front of Nationals Park. In saving the Twins, Minnesotans saved the Expos, too. We have baseball again in Washington because a few people in Minnesota stood up to Bud Selig and, in the nicest possible Minnesota way, said “No you don’t.”
WFY: Is Denard Span’s performance similar to his time in Minnesota?
BW: For a fan, yes. He’s no Kirby Puckett, but his defensive play is almost good enough that if you squint, someone raised on Kirby’s ludicrously good CF play can see a comforting resemblance. As a hitter, he’s certainly closer to what the Nats have built their lineup to need in the 1 hole than anyone we’ve had before. Plus, as Doug Mientkiewicz proved in Boston in 2004, ex-Twins are good karma for a team.
WFY: What was the Metrodome like for baseball (and if applicable, football)? The whole “Hefty bag” wall made it more interesting on TV than most domes.
BW: Want to know what the Metrodome was like? Imagine watching a ballgame in your own living room on TV. It was just like that, except less comfortable the view was worse. The only times the Metrodome was less than a spirit-sucking hellhole of anti-baseball bad vibes were 1) When a tornado would roll through town and turn the roof green and 2) During a playoff sellout, when the decibel level would reach something like the sound of the Big Bang itself.
The Metrodome is actually a decent place to watch football. The seats all align nicely to see the 50-yard line. Which means that, for baseball, it was easy for fans to keep an eye on the left fielder during a no-doubles alignment. Watching the pitcher, batter, or bases? Not so much.
The Hefty bag was what you’d notice watching on TV, and honestly it was a fun feature. (Better than the ball rattling around the football seats folded vertically, high-school auditorium style, that the bag covered, anyway.) But in person, it was the roof that really made for memories. In the early years, the roof was the exact color of a baseball, so there was no such thing as an easy pop-up. In later years, the roof was the exact color of a baseball, with orange lights shining on it at the very edges. So there was still no such thing as an easy pop-up, only now the league didn’t care, and it gave the Twins a nice home-field advantage. Also, ground rules had to account for balls getting caught in the roof and not coming down.
WFY: How is Target Field? Does anybody miss the Metrodome at all?
BW: Target Field is exactly this: Nationals Park, with an extra $16 mil or so in owner money thrown into amenities and aesthetic upgrades. Very similar ballparks, but in almost every detail Target Field is a 9 to Nationals Park’s 7.
Nobody misses the Metrodome. Did you know that the University of Minnesota has a football team? It’s true. They pay in the Big Ten, and regularly win one or even two football games a year. And each and every member of the Minnesota Vikings roster would sell his children and take a bullet in his right knee to have a chance to play football for the Golden Gophers instead, since the Gophers no longer play in the Metrodome.
WFY: We’re both regular uni-watch readers, so how do you like the Twins uniforms of the present and the past?
BW: The Twins currently wear the uniforms of both the past and present. They’re a hot mess of alternates, throwbacks, and mismatched hodgepodge, which makes the Nats look all the better. We should be grateful the Twins exist, else people might think the Nats look like clowns.
The Twins had something close to perfect uniforms from 1986 until the late 1990s. Navy cap, pinstriped uniform, red jersey script. You saw that combo, home and away, and you always knew you were looking at the Twins. Now? The Twins wear Nats road uniforms, Braves road caps, and alternate jerseys handed down from a beer-league softball team. Keep the TC caps if they must, but otherwise bring back the unis they wore to championships in 1987 and 1991.
WFY: What is the signature food of Target Field? Is there a local beer (Hamms?) that you can pair it with or is it generally the same macrobrewed, multinational conglomerate stuff you get everywhere? Did the Metrodome have a memorable food or beer?
BW: As Minnesotans say, there’s a couple-three signature foods. Walleye or pork chop on a stick, for one, though both are really State Fair foods, so they’re aimed more at the tourist than the resident fan. For locals, there’s Kramarczuk’s sausage, Murray’s steaks, and fried cheese curds.
Of course most of the beer is some version of Miller/Bud/Coors/Whogivesashit, but seek out the Summit. It’s Minnesota’s answer to Yuengling, only better. Plus, the walleye is battered with Summit Pale, so it’s the perfect match.
WFY: Who is the greatest Twin of your lifetime? Is he the same as your favorite?
BW: It’s beyond argument that Kirby Puckett was the greatest Twin of BallWonk’s day. But as beloved as the Puck was, BallWonk has always been drawn more to the day-to-day grinders, the Dan Gladdens and Gary Gaettis and Ron Coomers and Doug Mientkiewiczes and Matt LeCroys of the world. All-time favorite Twin he’s seen play? Kent Hrbek.
WFY: Prior to baseball’s return to D.C., did you as a Twins fan give much thought to the Washington Senators? Do Minnesotans even think of the Senators? I curse Calvin Griffith (and Bob Short!) sometimes because I grew up here without a home team.
BW: Oh yeah, most Twins fans BallWonk knew growing up knew about the Senators, and Walter Johnson, and Goose’s record season for triples, and the 1924 Series. The Griffiths actually created a strong sense of continuity; the Twins were closer to the Dodgers moving to LA than to the Browns moving to Baltimore in that sense. But much of that continuity was negative: Cal Griffith mismicromanaged the team in Minnesota as much as his adopted father ever did in Washington, and by the end he was regularly threatening to screw us over and move the team on us, too.
WFY: Was it easy to transition to the Nationals as a fan? Did you feel like you were being a bad fan is switching your allegiance?
BW: Never had a problem, since they play in different leagues. Even with interleague play, BallWonk at first was able to adopt the approach of rooting for whoever needed the win more. These days, though, BallWonk wishes the Twins a good game, and God bless, but he’s rooting for the Nats all the way, every time. The other 159 games of the year, it’s Win! Twins! and Let’s Go Nats! But when he has to choose, the Nats have made the choice easy. Not by winning in 2012, but by being the hometown team. And by playing real baseball, where the pitcher bats.
For what it’s worth, BallWonk will be wearing his pinstriped 1960 Senators jersey to the games this weekend. Fan-biguity!
WFY: How are the Twins broadcasters now and in the past?
BW: BallWonk grew up watching Twins games from the WCCO radio booth behind home plate, so probably lacks perspective. What he wouldn’t give to hear longtime Twins play-by-play man and grandfatherly sweet guy Herb Carneal call a game again, with or without his later sidekick/straight man/color guy John Gordon. That said, today, the Nats have the better radio team – one of the best in the bigs, really. On TV, Bremer & Blyleven have a different vibe than Carp and FP. As a native Midwesterner, BallWonk prefers Carp’s style, but for most fans, the Twins will come out ahead on the TV broadcast.
WFY: Please rank the 4 pro teams in the Twin Cities for us – has it changed over the years?
BW: North Stars, Vikings, Twins, Wild, Lakers, Gophers hockey, T-Wolves.
Not BallWonk’s personal ranking, but that’d be about how they rank in the hearts of Minnesotans generally.
WFY: Which is the better city, Minneapolis or St. Paul?
BW: Minneapolis: One big shopping mall with nowhere to park. St. Paul: One big parking lot with nowhere to shop. The older you get, the more you appreciate St. Paul, and BallWonk is close enough to 40 that he probably should be a St. Paul guy. But Minneapolis still gets the edge. It’s the side of town where he grew up, where his family still lives, and where the Twins play. And there’s precious little of Minnesota between St. Paul and the Wisconsin border, whereas from Minneapolis you’ve got Minnesota for a hundred miles or more in every direction.
WFY: Mary or Rhoda?
BW: Sue Ann.
WFY: Though it would be impractical, would wearing red Chuck Taylors for a Prairie Home Companion tribute night be best/worst idea ever? Maybe just for batting practice? Is Garrison Keillor a divisive figure in the land of 10,000 lakes?
BW: Red cleats. Keillor wouldn’t want anyone to go to impractical lengths on his behalf. Like all true Minnesotans, he’s proud of his humility. It’d be a great gesture, and honestly the Twins would look great with red cleats full time. So would the Nats!
WFY: After Harmon Killebrew died, the Twins honored him throughout the season, but so did the Nats with a “Killebrew 3″ jersey in the dugout. Did the Nats overdo it since he never played for the franchise or was it an appropriate gesture?
BW: BallWonk has been lucky to meet many of his childhood and adolescent heroes. The list of the ones who weren’t kind of a let-down is Václav Havel, astronaut Pinky Nelson, and Harmon Killebrew. Killer was already a good player in Washington before the Twins relocated, so the history justified the gesture. But he was a baseball legend of such character that any team would have been justified hanging his jersey to mourn his passing. A gentle giant of the game.
WFY: Who takes the series and why?
BW: BallWonk has asked Minnesota radio legend Morgan Mundane for his prognostications, but hasn’t heard back. In the meantime, BallWonk has tickets for section 108 on Sunday and plans to bring a broom.
We’re almost ⅓ through the season and just now getting to the first Washington Nationals vs. Philadelphia Phillies series. As always, I’ve invited Kevin McGuire of Macho Row (and several other sites) to talk baseball. PREVIOUSLY: 2011 | 2012
WFY: Only a game separates the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies in the standings – just like we expected right? While there is some angst over being in second place a mere game over .500 in D.C., how is the Delaware Valley handing the Phils situation?
KMc: The people, they are not happy. This Phillies team is going to keep their heads slightly above water long enough to keep some of the most optimist of fans waiting for something to spark, but if you take a good hard and honest look at the team you can see the flaws in the roster. More importantly you can see the flaws in the management of the team, with a keen eye on the general manager. The problem with this Phillies team is they are consistently inconsistent. They can win two of three in San Francisco and make you think things have finally changed, and the next night they can putrid on offense and/or defense against the Marlins. This is why they enter the weekend just under .500. Even if they happen to leave D.C. this weekend with two or three wins, it will take more to convince anyone they have truly turned any corner.
WFY: What in the name of Tommy Greene is going on with the Phillies starting pitching? Roy Halladay is out, Cole Hamels has a mere win. Somebody must be picking up the slack if they are a game under .500.
KMc: Roy Halladay was hurt when he arrived in the spring, and probably when he was pitching last season. It was disappointing and painful to watch while he was on the mound this season, but at least there was a reason for his struggles. Cole Hamels is a totally different story. Hamels has not had command of his pitches this season and has shown how frustrated he can get when things are not going well. There does not seem to be any injury concern here so hopefully it is just something Hamels can change mentally with his approach. I would like to believe he will be able to do that if he can come out on the winning end of two or three games in a row. That said, he gets no run support either. If the Phillies could just be .500 in starts by Hamels, we would be talking about a second place team chasing the Atlanta Braves instead of a team struggling to reach the .500 mark.
So while Hamels struggles and Halladay’s season is placed in jeopardy, we have seen Kyle Kendrick put together a solid season and prospects Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd do enough to give the team a chance to win some games. Kendrick has adapted well in pressure situations but I’m not totally on board with believing it will be sustained for the entire season. Pettibone has been impressive with his approach on the mound as well, but I wonder how long it will be until opposing bats figure him out a little more, and how he responds to that. The Phillies have lost just once with him on the mound so he has certainly been a pleasant surprise since being called up to fill in. The jury is still out on Cloyd after two starts. I have a feeling he could be sent down for some other pitcher at some point but he has done his job admirably as well.
WFY: How weird was it seeing John Lannan in a Phillies uniform? When is he due back? Is his place in the rotation secure?
KMc: Very strange considering the history between he and the Phillies, notably Chase Utley. But once a player puts on your uniform all is forgotten or forgiven it seems. He was actually pretty solid in his Phillies debut but his season was quickly put on pause with an early injury. From what I have read it appears Lannan is beginning to get back to throwing but there is no real timeline for his return just yet. It’s not going to be any time too soon though, so right now it is anyone’s guess. I’ll have to wait and see how the rest of this rotation is playing before really assessing if his spot in the rotation is secure or not. Right now I would think his spot is secure, as he would replace one of the two extra spots currently filled by minor league pitchers Pettibone or (more likely) Cloyd. But if this rotation sees solid production out of their minor league arms and the Carlos Zambrano experiment pays off, Lannan could become a bullpen option. But that is a lot of ifs.
WFY: Is it safe to assume that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are battling injuries right now?
KMc: Yes. Utley underwent an MRI, which we are still waiting for the results a sI type this up, after being scratched from the lineup following batting practice the other day. Howard also underwent an MRI recently but he quickly returned to the lineup. You can tell Howard does not move as he once did, so there may still be some concerns there that he is battling back from.
WFY: Dominic Brown was supposed to be a big deal, but when I last checked in he had not put it together yet, has he? How about the rest of the outfielders?
KMc: He’s not there yet, but he has his moments. Brown’s at-bats will sometimes leave fans frustrated with early swings leading to easy outs and 32 strikeouts to just nine walks. His defense has led to some miscues in the field as well, but he also has his positive moments on offense and defense that show what he may be capable of. On a team that lacks power, Brown leads the team with eight home runs and he is just one RBI behind the team lead with 24 (Howard and Utley have 25 each), so he has some value on the club right now. The problem is we were led to expect so much more from Brown after the team traded away so many prospects the past few years but refused to move Brown. I do believe that giving him a full-time job this season though will pay off and show us whether or not he can be considered the real deal. I think it is too early to call him a bust, but he is certainly a long way from being compared to Bryce Harper or Mike Trout.
WFY: Around 2011 it looked like we might be headed for a great, two-sided Nats-Phillies rivalry, but then the Phillies seemed to get old quickly and the Nats ascending earlier than expected, so the two teams didn’t battle for divisional positioning like we expected. They wound up splitting the series though with the Phillies getting hot in the second half. Has the perspective changed up there? Where do the Nats rate as Phillies rivals these days?
KMc: It is a shame we couldn’t see these teams be good at the same time, but I think the games have still become more fun to watch now that the Nationals have gotten better. You’ll still find plenty of Phillies fan who will shrug aside the idea of Nattitude and feel that everything the Nats do is gimmicky or forced, but they are generally the Phillies fans who started acting like the Phillies are the best thing since sliced bread in 2007. I think right now, overall, the Nationals have earned a new level of respect. The Phillies saw their NL East streak ended at the expense of the Nationals, and that deserves a tip of the hat. In terms of rivalry, I think it would be fair to say the Nationals are currently second behind the Mets, if only because it’s always fun to beat up on the Mets. I would place the Nationals above the BRaves though, because there just aren’t enough Braves fans to fuel the rivalry.
WFY: Bryce Harper appeared to earn the respect of the Phillies (especially Hamels) last season, but what do the fans think of him?
KMc: Bryce Harper is the guy we love to watch, and love to hate. I think in Philadelphia we can respect any player who goes all out every time they take the field, and that is exactly what Harper does. Sure, he’s a punk and maybe feels a little entitled form time to time, but he brings it on the field and at the plate and for that he has our respect, or at least my respect. He also speaks his mind and has a good respect for the game. What is there not to like about that?
He’s the guy we hate now, but would take on our team in an instant. You guys don’t really deserve him. He’s a Philly kinda guy. Can we have him? We’ll give you John Lannan back…
WFY: Has there been much Jayson Werth talk up there this week? He’s on the DL now.
KMc: You don’t hear people talk about Jayson Werth much any more. I think that fun has died down a little bit. Now that we are in the third year post-Werth, the animosity has passed and now he is treated more like any other player from an opposing team. Yeah, he’ll get a few more boos and insults thrown his way when he does play against the Phillies, but that doesn’t mean he is considered public enemy number one or anything.
WFY: How has Phillies fandom changed in the last decade? When I went to the first Nats game in 2005, there seemed to be a lot of nostalgia for the 1980s teams (lots of powder blue jerseys) and not too much else. When I visit the Jersey Shore, I’d see a lot more Eagles stuff than any of the other teams. That shifted late in the last decade with the Phillies winning it all, but as of last year it had receded a bit. How are things now?
KMc: Ten years the Phillies were largely an afterthought, but there was some optimism for the future. Moving in to a new stadium after decades in cavernous Veterans Stadium and a team that looked to be trying to win some baseball games started changing that fan attitude regarding the baseball team. While the last year has been a rough stretch, the Phillies have built a larger fan base, or at least a larger and more vocal fan base. Fortunately for the Phillies they have been the most successful team over the last few years in this city, which has now gone a full calendar year without a single playoff game in any of the top four sports, and that has helped keep them near the top of the sports headlines.
This is an interesting time in Philadelphia’s sports though. With the Phillies have clearly taken a step back in progress in their sport, and the Eagles are once again the franchise generating the most buzz. With Chip Kelly in town doing things new and exciting in terms of running the team, he is a breath of fresh air for the fans and he is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports figures in town. The Eagles have always been the most popular team in the city overall, with the Phillies taking a brief lead in 2008 and 2009, and it appears they once again will be the clear winners in town in terms of popularity. Now, if they can just win some games…
WFY: Has Citizen’s Bank Park changed much since I was there? I was impressed by it, that’s a pretty good ballyard, especially since it is surrounded by parking. Do they still have that stupid sign blocking the skyline?
KMc: Not too much has changed at the ballpark over the years but if it has been a few years there are some changes you may want to take note of. There is a statue of our beloved and legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas in the open area of the concourse in left field that makes for a nice photo opportunity. As far as food is concerned, Chickie’s & Pete’s has expanded from a small concession stand on the edge of Ashburn Alley to a larger standalone concession area right across from where the stand was once occupied. This allows for longer but faster-paced lines for the top concession snack in the ballpark, crab fries. The old Chickie’s & Pete’s stand has been converted to a beer garden operated by The Alley Brewing Company with a variety of domestic, export and micro brews to choose from. They also have an exclusive lager available only in Citizens Bank Park. Also, Federal Donuts has arrived for a good, cost-effective snack.
Yes, that stupid and pointless sign is still there, blocking the view of the city skyline.
WFY: Who takes this series and the season series?
KMc: While I spoke highly of Kendrick, Pettibone and Cloyd and their performance on the mound this season, I just have a weird feeling about them this weekend against the Nationals. I know Washington has been struggling this season as well, but I would find it hard to believe Washington’s offense can out-underperform the Phillies this weekend. My guess is Washington takes two of three before shipping up to Boston for some inter-league play on Monday. As for the season series, I’ll take the Nationals by a small margin. I have more faith right now the Nationals will be able to get things fixed before the Phillies do as long as the roster in Philadelphia looks like this for the entire season.