Impulsive Harbaugh goes all in unnecessarily


Impulsive Harbaugh goes all in unnecessarily

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated tells us that Jim Harbaugh has demoted Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick. He also tells us that Smith is trying to be the loyal soldier by backtracking on ESPNs Trent Dilfer.
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Well, all that means is that Smith doesnt feel comfortable fighting the power. It does mean, though, that Harbaugh has decided to roll the dice on Kaepernick, and if hes right, he has a Super Bowl trophy.And if hes not, he has created a mess out of which he cannot gobble his way to an escape.Harbaugh chose to tell Smith Wednesday that he was going with Kaepernick in New Orleans and beyond, concussion clearance or no concussion clearance. He decided that a so-so game against St. Louis and a big game against Chicago was evidence enough to put his championship plans in the hands of a neophyte.It is a gamblers move at a time when gambling isnt required. It is a move that declares the already shiny status quo to be null and void, and it is a move that tells every other player on the roster that yesterdays deeds do not equal todays hunch.And all Kaepernick has to do is win it all for Harbaugh to be beyond bulletproof. He will be Nick Saban, and Urban Meyer, and Chip Kelly, all rolled into one. Invulnerable, even in the face of any and all Yorks. And maybe thats how it should be in the NFL. In an amoral sport like football, in a soulless organization like the NFL, winning is the one reductive truth that trumps all other behaviors.But if hes wrong, if the 49ers arent a Super Bowl team after all, if Kaepernicks 1 games of work really are too small a sample size, he wont be able to gobble or jive his way out of this flightless bird. And we have no rooting interest either way. We dont care who wins the hand. We just know that he decided to go all-in trusting only his gut and the gods who handle the flop, turn and river.He has, in short, revealed his truest nature here. We make no value judgments, but we do know when a guy has decided to gamble on a longshot, and when he needs to do so. This was not that time, but Harbaugh couldnt wait. He didnt want people to talk about a quarterback controversy because he knows that it isnt who talks thats the problem, but who hears it.And Smith, based on sources, is not going to object to the change. Whether that makes him a good teammate or a natural-born follower is for others to deduce; psychology isnt what we do here.But Harbaughs gamble puts the entire team at risk, and it shows that while he is unafraid to make bold moves, it also shows that loyalty is a one-way street. Players suspect that of coaches and general managers all the time, but they file the information away from when the time comes to use it.And being 7-2-1, going into New Orleans, isnt that time.In short, Colin Kaepernick has been given the keys to the Lexus and told he can drive it like a Lamborghini Murcielago. If he wins the race, well, genius has been served. Winners by definition cannot lose.But if Kaepernick wraps it around a tree, or dunks into a lagoon, or gets hit the wrong way, the fault will not be his, but Harbaughs. The coach went all in when he didnt have to. He could have checked, even check-raised, but he pushed all his chips in because despite the fact that he didnt have to do it, he did it anyway. He surrendered to an impulse at a time when being impulsive wasnt really needed.And impulses sometimes cause scorch marks and scarring.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.