Thursday, January 31, 2019

The GCR and the Super Bowl

With only two teams left standing, it is time for the final Grandstander Confidence Rankings (GCR) of the season.

Here you go:
  1. Patriots
  2. Rams
As you might be able to guess, I am picking the Patriots to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

There are lots of reasons why the Rams might win this game. To name a few: bright and innovative young coach Sean McVey, emerging star QB Jared Goff, MVP-caliber RB Todd Gurley, dominating defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.  All of those are balanced off and canceled out by two words: Tom Brady. Yeah, I know the Pats have actually lost three Super Bowls with Brady at the helm, but I just can't bring myself to bet against him.  Literally.  In Las Vegas two weeks ago, a week before the AFC Championship Game, I placed a bet on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

In the next day or two, I plan on writing another post that will explain why, separate and apart from my $15 bet on them, I  will actually be rooting for the Patriots this coming Sunday.  Not a popular position to take outside of New England, I realize, but that's how I'm going, and I'll tell you why in a that future post.

By the way, and speaking of Aaron Donald, back in the earlier years of this decade, I watched Aaron Donald ply his trade for the University of Pittsburgh.  You knew at the time that he was a really good player, certainly the best player on those Pitt teams, but no one among my ticket group would have been willing to bet the mortgage payment that he would one day turn out to be the best defensive player in the NFL.  That's why I made a living as an insurance professional and not as a football scout.

To Absent Friends - Reggie Young

Reggie Young

Until I learned of his death on a Podcast earlier in the week, I, like I suspect many of you, had never heard of Reggie Young, who died last week at the age of 82, but after looking up and reading his obituary, I can definitely say that I had definitely heard Reggie Young many, many times over the course of my life.

Young was a session and back up musician out of Memphis who recorded with and backed up numerous well known recording artists over the course of his lifetime.  Here are just a few of the many, many familiar recordings that featured Reggie Young on guitar:

Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley
Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield
The Letter by The Boxtops
Skinny Legs by Joe Tex
Drift Away by Dobie Gray
Hooked On A Feeling by BJ Thomas
Luckenbach, Texas by Waylon Jennings
You Were Always On My Mind by Willie Nelson

You get the idea.  Reggie Young was never a "star" in the conventional sense of the word, but there are a lot of stars out there in the music world who wouldn't be where they are today without people like Reggie Young.

RIP Reggie Young.

 That's Young, third from right with arms crossed,
in a studio recording session.  You might recognize the
guy seated on the stool in the middle.

In 1964, Young, second from right in back row, 
toured with The Beatles in America.  The story is that a 
young George Harrison sought and received
guitar playing tips from Reggie Young.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"I'll Take Quarterbacks for Five Hundred, Alex."

The Answer is Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spurgeon Wynn.

The Question is, and you probably already know where I'm going with this, Who were the six quarterbacks drafted ahead of Michigan's Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL Draft?

Here is a look at how those guys went way back in 2000:

Pick #

SchoolSelected by
18Chad PenningtonMarshallJets
65Giovanni CarmazziHofstra49’ers
75Chris RedmanLouisvilleRavens
163Tee MartinTennesseeSteelers
165Marc BulgerWest VirginiaSaints
183Spurgeon WynnMinnesotaBrowns
199Ton BradyMichiganPatriots

Writing about this is not exactly an original idea.  Google "QB's drafted ahead of Tom Brady", and you'll get a zillion hits.  Still, it is worth revisiting because we know that to this day, Tom Brady still fuels himself with anger over being snubbed in that draft as he was.   Maybe he should be over it by now, but that particular motivational tool has worked pretty well for him over this last nineteen years.

I remember that the Steelers had drafted Tee Martin way back when, but didn't realize that it was in this particular draft class.  This was in the QB Era of Mike Tomczak-Kordell Stewart-Tommy Maddox for the Steelers.  They obviously felt the need to draft a QB at the time, and chose Martin.  Would love to ask Bill Cowher what the thinking was at the time.  Was Brady even on their radar? (Obviously not.)  Also, was this at the time when Tom Donahue was still calling the personnel shots for the Steelers (I'm too lazy to look it up right now)?  One wonders what might have happened had the Steelers decided on the kid from Michigan for that 163rd pick.

Martin lasted four seasons in the NFL with a couple of different teams, so he'll be able to collect an NFL pension, so good for him.  He has also fashioned a decent coaching career on the collegiate level, returning to his alma mater Tennessee as Assistant Head Coach for 2019.

Also, because it's always fun to pick on the Browns....Spurgeon Wynn instead of Tom Brady?????

Pennington, who spent his entire eleven year career competing in the same division as Brady and the Patriots, and Bulger (Central Catholic grad, by the way) had good careers in the NFL, and Redman earned a Super Bowl Ring as a back-up with the Ravens.  Carmazzi, never panned out at all, and, irony of ironies, was beaten out for a job with the 49'ers by a guy who was drafted after Brady in that same draft.

Yes, there were five other quarterbacks drafted by NFL teams after Tom Brady in 2000.

Pick #

SchoolSelected by
202Todd HusakStanfordRedskins
205Ja’Juan SeiderFlorida A&MChargers
212Tim RattayLouisiana Tech49’ers
214Jarious JacksonNotre DameBroncos
234Joe HamiltonGeorgia TechBucs

The only things to note about these guys is that fact that Rattay, who beat out Carmazzi for a spot on the 49'ers squad that year, had the longest career, eight seasons, and he passed for over 5,000 yards.  The other Fun Fact here is that in his first ever start for Notre Dame in 1998, Jarious Jackson led the Irish to an upset win over a Michigan team that was led by....Tom Brady.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

"The Old Man & The Gun"

At some point last year, we started seeing trailers for "The Old Man & The Gun", and it seemed intriguing.  However, when it was released it only lasted about an hour and a half in the theaters, so it took until last night for us to watch this one via the magic of Amazon Prime Video.

Eighty-two year old Robert Redford, appropriately, plays the old man of the title, a gentlemanly bank robber who just can't help himself, despite spending numerous sentences in prisons from which he always seems to be able to escape.  I give Redford credit.  In his prime, there was no better looking leading man in all of Hollywood, and he has allowed himself to age gracefully, never, it seems, giving way to the knives of Beverly Hills' numerous plastic surgeons.  Yes, he's old and craggy now, but still pretty damn good looking guy, and still capable of giving a great performance in a not so great role.

Also, starring in this movie is 69 year old Sissy Spacek.  She, too, is a Hollywood star who has allowed herself to age gracefully, and I thought she was just terrific as Redford's semi-love interest in this one.  She also appears to have spurned cosmetic surgery over the years, and I thought she looked great.  

Also featured in this movie is Casey Affleck, playing the police detective who doggedly pursues Redford and his "over the hill gang".  Affleck basically portrays the same character that he did in "Manchester By The Sea" as he broods and mumbles his way through the movie.  To use a sports metaphor, Casey Affleck, despite that Oscar on his resume, couldn't carry Robert Redford's jock, not in this movie or in anything else he's ever done or, most likely, in anything he ever will do.

In summary, this movie won't be the greatest thing you'll ever see, but it's only 93 minutes long, so it won't take up much of your time.  It has also been reported and Redford himself has hinted that this movie might well be last on screen role.  That alone might make it worth seeing.  And there is that very nice performance by Sissy Spacek.

(By the way, Spacek also had a great role as Julia Roberts' mother in the Amazon series "Homecoming".  2018 was a good year for her.)

Two stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, January 25, 2019

To Absent Friends - Tony Mendez

Tony Mendez
1940 - 2019

It was only through the magic of podcasting that I learned of the death this past Saturday of Tony Mendez at the age of 78.

Who was Tony Mendez, you might ask, and the chances are that if you DID know who he was, it is only because of Hollywood.  Mendez was the CIA Agent who, in 1980, entered the country of Iran posing as a Canadian film director, ostensibly to scout locations for an adventure film that he was planning on making.  The real reason he was there was to "exfiltrate", to use CIA spy jargon, six American citizens who had taken refuge in the Canadian Embassy, while Iranian revolutionaries had taken 52 Americans hostage in the American Embassy.  

The mission was a success, and a clandestine one as far as the US government and the CIA was concerned.  At the time these six Americans were returned home, all credit was given to the Canadians.   The story might never have become known had not the CIA, suffering from a series of public failures, chose to reveal some of its "success stories" on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary in 1997.  The story of Mendez and his successful covert operation in Iran was one of the ones that became public.

If all this rings a bell to you, it is no doubt because of the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Argo", directed and starring Ben Affleck.

Affleck and Mendez

Since "Argo" was a movie and not a documentary, some dramatic license was taken in telling the story (most notably a chase on the airport tarmac in Tehran that didn't actually happen), but the fact is there WERE American citizens holed up in the Canadian Embassy in Iran, there WAS a secret and dangerous CIA operation to spirit them back to the United States, that operation WAS successful, and Tony Mendez was the guy who pulled it off.

I leave you with these final paragraphs from the New York Times' obituary for Tony Mendez:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former C.I.A. director, called him “an extraordinarily gifted intelligence officer.” Mr. Affleck said that Mr. Mendez “never sought the spotlight for his actions, he merely sought to serve his country.”
Some of the six State Department employees whom Mr. Mendez had escorted to safety, euphemistically called “houseguests,” said in emails to his wife that he was the bravest man they had ever known.
“Not a surprise that Tony slipped away quietly,” two of them, Mark Lijek and Cora Amburn-Lijek, wrote. “What else would you expect from the master of disguise?”

RIP Tony Mendez.

p.s. - Perhaps you should watch the movie "Argo" at some point in the next few days in Tony Mendez' honor.  There really are heroes among us.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The New Class at Cooperstown

Martinez, Mussina, Rivera

Two nights ago the newest induction class to the Baseball of Fame in Cooperstown was announced: Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, and Edgar Martinez.  Congratulations to them all, and I have no beef with any of them being enshrined.

The results of the balloting also showed that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are stalled in the voting, receiving in the neighborhood of 55-58 percent of the vote.  Seventy-five percent of the vote is needed and they each have, I believe, three years of eligibility left to be voted upon by the Baseball Writers.  Those who know me and read this blog, know my affinity for the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the charming little Village of Cooperstown.  However, with each passing year, the institution is diminished, I believe, due to the fact that neither Bonds nor Clemens is enshrined. We all know the sins that were committed by these two players.  We also know that they were, quite simply, the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher of their era, and, possibly, among the top five or ten players ever.  They need to be included in the Hall of Fame.  Organized Baseball and the Hall of Fame should be capable of understanding that the fans of baseball and visitors to the Hall are intelligent enough to know the circumstances and controversies that surrounded their careers.

Plus, rest assured that there are players already with plaques on the wall in Cooperstown who made use of Performance Enhancing Drugs, and if we were to enhance the definition of PED's to include amphetamines, aka, "greenies", then that would include, well, just about any member who played in the post WW II era.

And perhaps the biggest bit of hypocrisy here is that fact that Bud Selig is in the Hall of Fame.  As Commissioner of Baseball during the "steroids era", Selig and his employers, the team owners, were more than happy to look the other way when guys like McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were banging out home runs in record numbers and making the turnstiles spin.  They only got religion on the matter when Congress  got interested and threatened their precious Anti-Trust Exemption.

At least the "Museum" part of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum doesn't look the other way.  Go through that part of the institution and the accomplishments and records of Clemens, Bonds, McGwire and others are recognized.  So are the records of Pete Rose and Joe Jackson.

Come to think of it, the "Museum" part of the institution is probably far more interesting that the "Hall of Fame" part is.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Green Book"

We made it out to the movie theater for the first time in 2019 yesterday to take in "Green Book" starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali and directed by Peter Farrelly.  It tells the story of classical and jazz pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Ali) who undertakes an eight week tour of the deep south in 1962.  To serve as his driver/bodyguard for the trip, he hires Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Mortensen), a quasi-hood from the Bronx.  This becomes a different sort of "buddy road trip" movie as the erudite "Negro" musician and the racist Italian-American set off on this tour.  Neither guy is perfect, but both learn a lot from each other. 

Both the movie itself and Mortensen and Ali have garnered lots of Oscar buzz and deservedly so.  Interestingly, the film has been criticized by members of the African-American community (filmmaker Spike Lee, for example) and members of the Shirley family.  A most interesting defense of the movie comes from basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and is worth reading:

We both loved the movie and highly recommend it.  It gets  a full Four Star rating from The Grandstander.

Ali and Mortensen
Donald Shirley and Tony Lip

Steve Blass Retires

The big news on the Pirates front while I was on vacation was the announcement that broadcaster Steve Blass will be hanging up his microphone at the conclusion of the 2019 season and retiring.  At the age of 76, this year will mark the sixtieth year of Blass' association with the Pirates.  

Blass has been a part of the Pirates broadcast team since the 1980's and if you listened to those broadcasts, you know all the stories, as Steve tended to repeat himself as the years went on.  One thing that you could never deny is that Steve Blass loved the Pirates, loved the game of baseball, and he knew the game of baseball.  When he would drop the act of playing "Steve Blass" he was and is still capable of bringing insight to the game that you are watching.  

One can say that Blass hung around five or so years too long in the booth, and those thoughts aren't wrong, but I give him credit for walking away from the booth.  In a town where being a play-by-play and/or color announcer is like being a Supreme Court Justice or the Queen of England, I would hope that Blass' move would be an example to a couple of other sports broadcast "institutions" in this town.

Several years ago when I was chairman of the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter, I was able to get Steve Blass to come and speak to the group.  I found him to be a sincere and amiable guy with whom to deal.  When I sent him a thank you note after that meeting, I was surprised to receive a phone call from him a few days later thanking me for sending him a thank you note.  Who does that?

Coming from a genuine World Series Hero, I found that to be a humble and genuine thing from the guy.

To Absent Friends - Carol Channing

Carol Channing

The first Absent Friend of 2019 is legendary Broadway actress Carol Channing, who died earlier this week at the age of 97.

Channing became a star on Broadway in 1949 when she starred as flapper Lorelei Lee in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes", but she cemented her status as a certified and bona fide Legend when she starred as matchmaker Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly" in 1964.  The show won ten Tony Awards, including one for Channing as Best Actress in  Musical, and she went on to perform the role on national and international tours, and in three separate Broadway revivals in 1977, 1982, and 1994 when she was well into her seventies.  By her own account, she formed the role of Dolly Levi over 5,000 times.  Perhaps no performer is associated with one particular role as is Channing with Dolly Levi.

Ironically, Channing's movie career never really took off, and her two most famous roles, Lorelei and Dolly, were performed on screen by other actresses, Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand.  Fun Fact:  When Channing won that Tony Award for "Hello, Dolly", one of the actresses she beat out was Barbra Streisand from "Funny Girl".

They dimmed the lights on Broadway earlier this week in Channing's honor.  It was well deserved.

RIP Carol Channing.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The GCR and Conference Championship Predictions

This coming Sunday is one of my favorite sports days of the year, the double header of the AFC and NFC Championship Games that will determine the Super Bowl participants.  The match-ups feature the Number One and Two seeds from each conference, so it promises to be a terrific afternoon and evening of football watching.

The Grandstander Confidence Rankings (GCR) as put forth in this space on January 7 held true throughout last week's four divisional playoff games with one exception: the #5 Patriots defeat of the #3 Chargers, but when it came time to make my predictions, I went against my own rankings and called for a Patriots win, so I believe I had that, along with the other three games of last week (Chiefs, Rams, and Saints).  So I brings a 6-2 prediction record into Championship Weekend, but first, the GCR as it stands today:
  1. Saints
  2. Patriots
  3. Chiefs
  4. Rams
My predictions will hold to this ranking:
  • Saints over Rams
  • Patriots over Chiefs
I especially look forward to the Chiefs - Pats game, and the Pat Mahomes - Tom Brady match up.  You could no doubt give me a sleeve length list of reasons as to why the Chiefs should win this game, and I probably could not make a reasonable argument against you.  However, I've seen the Belichick-Brady-Patriots movie too many times over the years, and I just can't bring myself to pick against them.

It's going to be a New Orleans - New England Super Bowl.  As always, watch, but don't bet.

One more thing in The Grandstander Owns Up To His Screw Ups Department.

Since it was played I have not written at all about last week's College Football Playoffs Championship Game, but let me refresh your memories as to what I wrote about it in the aforementioned January 7 Grandstander post:

Well, if it (an Alabama-Clemson match-up) is repetitive, we are assured of one thing -  a competitive and exciting game, as each of their meetings in the past three years' CFP games have been.  

I am calling for an Alabama win, but I have discarded my usual "watch, but don't bet" advice.  While at the Rivers Casino last week, I visited the new sports book and  placed a $15 wager on Clemson getting +5.5 against the Tide.

Final score: Clemson 44 - Alabama 16.  Competitive?  I believe that I didn't have that.  On the other hand, I will be able to cash that winning ticket on Clemson the next time I visit The Rivers!

A Tale of Three Quarterbacks

Pro football fans will all remember the 2004 NFL Draft when three quarterbacks were selected within the first eleven picks of the first round:  Eli Manning by the Chargers-and-then-to-the-Giants, Phillip Rivers by the Giants-and-then-to-the-Chargers, and Ben Roethlisberger by the Steelers.  Each of them lived up to their billing, and each of them achieved success in their NFL careers.  Each of them will probably,  eventually become Hall of Famers.

The circumstances of that particular convergence of QB talent in one draft was discussed much this past season when (a) it seemed that Eli Manning was struggling with the Giants over the past two seasons and may well be washed up,  (b) when Phillip Rivers led the Chargers to a double digit win season and the playoffs, and (c) when Ben Roethlisberger piled up impressive statistics while also throwing a lot of interceptions as the Steelers had a late season collapse.

So, of those three QB's, who was/is the best?  Which one did the most for his team?  Which one would you pick today if for your team if each was in his prime?  Such questions just screamed for a Grandstander Spreadsheet, so here you go (all stats are according to

Ben RoethlisbergerEli ManningPhillip Rivers
Games Played216232212
Games Started214230208
Completion %64.460.364.5
Total Passing Yards56,19455,98154,656
TD Passes363360374
TD Pass %
Int. %
QB Record144-69-1116-114118-90
Winning %0.6750.5040.567
QB Rating94.284.195.6


Completion %62.460.559.4
TD Passes301814
Winning %0.6120.6670.455
Super Bowl Record2-12-00-0

Like most sets of statistics, you can bend these numbers any way you'd like to make a case for one guy over the other two. Rivers has more TD passes and a higher QB rating, but a losing record in the playoffs, Manning has a perfect record in Super Bowls, Roethlisberger has more passing yards, has won more games, has a higher winning percentage, and has played in and won more playoff games.  All things considered, I'm glad that the team for whom I root, the Steelers, had Roethlisberger over these last fifteen seasons that either of the other two.

Oh, and just for shits and giggles, I thought that I would add one more name to the spreadsheet, that of a guy who is a contemporary of that 2004 triumvirate, albeit he has played nineteen seasons as opposed to the fifteen seasons of Ben/Eli/Phillip.

Ben RoethlisbergerEli ManningPhillip RiversTom Brady
Games Played216232212269
Games Started214230208267
Completion %64.460.364.564.0
Total Passing Yards56,19455,98154,65670,514
TD Passes363360374517
TD Pass %
Int. %
QB Record144-69-1116-114118-90207-60
Winning %0.6750.5040.5670.775
QB Rating94.284.195.697.6


Completion %62.460.559.463.3
TD Passes30181472
Winning %0.6120.6670.4550.737
Super Bowl Record2-12-00-05-3

Is there any doubt who the greatest quarterback of this century, if not of all time, is?  Brady has led his team to EIGHT SUPER BOWLS (and has a good chance of making in nine in another couple of days).  Let that sink in.  That is just an unbelievable fact, and I doubt that it will ever happen again.  Ever.

Oh, also shows figure for "Comebacks" and "Game Winning Drives", although it didn't mention how they define the two stats.  Regardless, and given some intuitive thinking of what those terms mean, you may find those numbers of interest as well.

Game Winning Drives44423730

If you believe that a quarterback really and truly earns his keep late in the game, when your team is down, when their back is to the wall, and any other cliche you care to use, then you see that Roethlisberger, given four fewer seasons in the league, is right there with Brady in these particular categories.  However, we all know what the Brady-Ben record is when these two guys have gone head to head over the years, and it is pretty one sided in Brady's favor.

Just some numbers for you to chew on to make the case for your favorite quarterback, or a case against a guy you might not like.