Ratto: Harbaugh's impending departure simply physics

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Ratto: Harbaugh's impending departure simply physics

Jan. 2, 2011RATTO ARCHIVESTANFORD PAGE ORANGE BOWL PREVIEWRay RattoCSNBayArea.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. -- In about a week, this will be one of Stanford footballs darkest days, for one and only one reason.Starting over stinks. Especially when the finish is this good.In about a week, Jim Harbaugh will have a new job that pays twice asmuch as Stanford has ever offered any coach, and where he goes dependsentirely upon whom you ask at any given time. Michigan? Carolina? BestSupporting Actor? Secretary of the Interior? He's been kissed by God,and other than the agony of choice, his world is as good as it willever be.Shortly thereafter, Andrew Luck will declare for the NFL Draft, becausefrankly, he has to. While his future and Harbaughs are not necessarilylinked in and of themselves, Luck cannot be helped by starting overwith a new coach who will not have Harbaughs sense of simpatico, andstarting over means less fun and lots less money.But finally, this is the Stanford Football Experience in a nutshell --brief flares of pyrotechnic glory behind a charismatic and technicallyfluent coach who doesnt hit himself in the face with a wrench everytime he gets a call from Admissions, interspersed with long stretchesof ennui, frustrations and fleeting dreams of the Sun Bowl.Now you shouldnt start getting antsy yet. You have two more days tolove the Stanford football ideal as interpreted by J.J. Harbaugh of allpeople. He did everything the school could want except fill thebuilding, and that is entirely the fault of Stanfords traditionalnotion of come-see-but-dont-stay marketing.But this was the best Harbaugh could do, and the best Stanford willever do. A big-money bowl game and a single-digit ranking against anational power, a quarterback who in two years made people think interms of Plunkett and Elway and Plunkett and Brodie and Albert inthree, or sometimes four.In all, more than anyone in their right mind could ever have thought possible, and absolutely worth a round for the house.But like we said, in a week the glass slipper becomes an iron bootagain and the carriage a push cart. It has to. There is no continuum inthe Harbaugh line, no second Harbaugh just waiting to be found. He wasan exceptional moment in this football programs history, and he stayedone year longer than anyone had a right to think he would, be itthrough success or failure.After Toby Gerhart, his name was job-hot, but he hit on 17 and caught afour. He knew Luck was sensational, and he gambled that there would bea better job than the ones being floated a year ago. He was right, andnow he is a 5-6 million man with a ticket to a program that hasnt hadan empty seat in a million skillion years. Or a pro job with theconcomitant glories that result with victory.Either way, he paid Stanford back in full and will leave not with theschools disapproval but with thanks for staying as long as he did, andpulling the keys to a new Maserati out of am envelope that looked likea Visa gift card.But its a leased Maserati, and Stanford cant afford to renew thecontract. Harbaugh outgrew Stanfords philosophical ability to pay byabout three million bucks, and thats just the way it goes. Nocomplaining, no whining. Its a law of physics.Athletic director Bob Bowlsby now must apply his unique brand ofpersonal magnetism to finding someone who is closer to Harbaugh than toWalt Harris or Buddy Teevens. We would say his career depends on it,but to be honest, were just not that invested in his future one way oranother.But we are interested to see how he reinvents the wheel. Harbaugh is,and about to be was, a charming, effervescent, self-confident, andlets be honest here, borderline smug man who could peer inside youngmens souls and make them want to do things they never dreamedthemselves capable. Thats coaching with a capital Well, Ill Be Damned.And now its about to end. Harbaugh will go to Michigan, or the NFL,and it will be far more lucrative and adrenal for him while probablynot reaching the improbable heights he and the Cardinal reached here.This is a singular moment that Stanford traditionally achieves everydecade to decade and a half, and by mid-week we suspect the Cardinalwill be entering another one of those long interregnums. Not becauseStanford cant sustain this, but because it never has before, not inthe modern era anyway.And were just playing the percentages. In the meantime, enjoy this forall its worth. You are part of the greater college football worldwithout any of that messyfathers-selling-playersplayers-cheatingcoaches-committing-feloniesstuff that often makes this sport a high-powered guilty pleasure.
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Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.