Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager


Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager

This will always be remembered as Alex Smiths breakout game, the one where he finally brought the football world to its knees, the one where he finally changed the term game manager into a profanity.Nonsense. He is still a game manager, and game manager is not an insult at all. In fact, he managed it better than ever, which is why the San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the second bye in the NFC playoffs.The 49ers 27-20 win over the New York Giants in an electrifying game at La Candeliere advanced them to 8-1, and reduced the number of ways this could go horribly wrong by one weekend.But this was Smiths day more than anyone elses more than Carlos Rogers, or Justin Smiths, or Vernon Davis, or Jim Harbaughs for one very important reason.

Smith didnt have any tall buildings to shade him.Frank Gore was bottled up early, and then injured his knee. The defense bent, and came within the J. Smith pass-block of Eli Mannings last throw with 34 seconds left of blowing a two-score lead with 12 minutes left. This game needed lots of moments, but it also needed a central character.Alexander David Smith was it. On the big stage. With the nation watching and trying to stifle laughter from his painful resume of years past. And he slapped sense into everyone.If there was a moment that crystallized Smiths emergence from national scorn to national discovery, though, it wasnt even a pass. It was two runs, five plays apart in the second quarter, when he was flushed from the safety of the pocket, and attacked what was available to him with a confidence he never exuded quite so forcefully.The first came on a third-and-17 from the Giant 33 with two minutes left in the half. Smith had just been sacked by Linval Joseph, a sure sign that bad times were coming with the next play or so. Only Smith broke from the pocket on the next play and ran with a jut-jawed purpose for 12 yards to set up David Akers go-ahead field goal.His next initiative-seizing moment came after Eli Mannings first interception with 1:26 left in the half when, again muscled from the pocket, he took off for a 14-yard scramble and slide to the Giant 24. And even though that drive died when Ted Ginn bobbled a pass into the hands of Giant cornerback Corey Webster, Smith established the following things:1. That this was his game to win.
2. That he was ready to seize it.
3. That he would not let go once he had.By that time, Gore had already been driven from the game, and Smith understood that managing this game meant controlling it himself.So he did, and with the country watching. He tried to front it all off by saying it didnt matter to him how he was described Harbaugh had already seeded the ground by using game manager as the insult it really isnt but he did describe with understated glee the gathering of the national media, including Foxs No. 1 broadcast crew (which frankly, had really come more for the Giants and Manning than for the 49ers and him).Thats fun, he said. Its nice to have the national stage. But mostly it feels good to be 8-1.No, it feels good to be 8-1 with the national stage, and to find out that Alex Smith is now an NFL brand name a slow-acting but surprisingly effective product that can do everything from clean your grout to shampoo your rugs to change the oil in your crankcase.He is about to get the full NFL myth-makeover, because nobody in decades has done what he has done toil in abject humiliation for almost twice the length of the average NFL career and then suddenly come up aces and kings.And while hell still have the earnest inflections and sincere eyes and aw-shucks demeanor, a little bit of the I-told-you-so will leak out here and there. He has a lot of I-told-you-sos saved up, and now that his allegedly small hands have a firm grip on the second best team in football, he will let them slip out here and there. He has this coming to him, and whatever else between now and late January, he will remember this as the day that he managed not only a game, but his way into the national discussion as a quarterback other teams would like very much to have.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.

Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman


Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman

Officials are a pet cause of mine, since they are uniquely hired and set up for daily failure as a condition of having the job at all. They are given a supervisory role against a group of mesomorphs running, jumping, colliding and athletick-ing all over the place, only so that they can interpret a rulebook written in Cambodian script in such a way that he or she angers everyone involved, and is supported by none of the people who gave him the rulebook to defend.

But sometimes, despite all this, officials need to be left alone to apply common sense in direct defiance of the dictates of the bloated swine who made the rulebook a tool of the socially ignorant.

And no, I am not talking about Doc Rivers snapping like a stretched bobblehead the other night after Ken Mauer tossed him from the Los Angeles Clippers-Brooklyn Nets game for being geographically inappropriate with fellow official Lauren Holtkamp (he crossed the midcourt line, and curb your dirty minds). Screw him. He had it coming.

No, this is about Frank Schneider, who refereed the otherwise unremarkable Paris Saint Germain-Angers match in Ligue 1, the top division of French soccer, and felt compelled to yellow-card PSG goalscorer Edinson Cavani for doing this.

For you link-averse weenies, Cavani scored a goal and then took off his shirt to reveal an undershirt that read “ACE FUERZA” in support of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, the team involved in the plane wreck that killed 77 of 81 passengers, including all but a few of the team’s players and staff en route to the championship match of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia against Atletico Nacional.

It was a thoughtful gesture, one we want our athletes to produce to show that they are not just mercenaries with expensively shod feet. It was a credit to Cavani, who is Uruguayan and who knew none of the players involved. He did it to be a human being.

And Schneider knew that. But the rules say he had to give Cavani a yellow card for removing his shirt as an act of celebration or in this case, sympathy, and if Schneider had ignored it, his supervisors would have punished him knowing full well that ignoring it was exactly the correct and decent thing to do.

This right here is one more reason why people hate officials, even more than they used to. They are not allowed to apply their own common sense to a situation that demands it, and if honoring fellow athletes who died in an accident doesn’t demand the common sense of saying, “Heartwarming thought there, Scooter. You’re a good lad. Run and frolic with the other woodland creatures, unconcerned with any notion of punitive action.”

Maybe Schneider walked up to him as he presented the card and said, “Listen, this is crap. You know it and I know it, and I will back your play in the game report, but I have to do this. Please find it in your heart to forgive my bureaucratic obligations.”

That’s not the zenith of understanding as we would wish it, but it would be a way to try and shield Cavani from the withered arm of the law.

Or maybe Schneider said, “I give this card to you in my role as a strident and iron-willed defender of mindless regulations. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid wolf.”

I don’t know. All I know is, Schneider ends up looking stupid for carding Cavani for supporting his soccer-playing brethren, and officials across the globe cry out as one, “You put him in a ridiculous position, you suit-wearing filth. Where is your compassion? Where is your dignity? Why can’t we line up in an orderly fashion and kick you squarely in the groin 30 to 70 times?”

And a decent human instinct is stamped out as though it were caught stealing office supplies.

You can extend this lesson as far as you wish, including the No Fun League’s old-white-guys fetishistic ban on post-touchdown self-expression, but right here is where that sort of mockable nonsense starts. People died, some of them soccer players. A fellow soccer player honored them on the field of play without disrupting the game itself. He was sanctioned. This is idiocy.

But Doc Rivers getting flipped in Brooklyn? Sorry. There’s only so far we can go with this, and in this case, well, to quote the old philosopher, “Nice tantrum, Glenn.”