Blogs > The Back Page

The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Monday, September 24, 2012

DirecTV mission control crashes and burns on Lions Hail Mary pass vs. Titans

If you're a Lions fan in Metro Detroit, you've likely seen Sunday's Hail Mary catch a number of times already. But, according to Pro Football Talk, some viewers weren't so lucky. Apparently, some DirecTV customers watching the game on Sunday Ticket were sent to a commercial break rather than the spectacular play.

"I don’t have all the details, but it was our error. We sincerely apologize to you and all the viewers who missed the TD," DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer told Pro Football Talk.
PFT says games on Direct Ticket often veer toward advertisements when they shouldn't. The service from DirecTV costs between $200-$300.
Some are already comparing it to the infamous NBC "Heidi" game, but since the Lions didn't go for the 2-point conversion to win the game, it didn't quite reach those proportions.
PFT commenter "z0inks" clarifies: "In fairness to DirecTV, viewers did get to see most of the play, and we got to see the ball being caught…but they cut to commercial just as the receiver went to the ground.
"So viewers had a pretty good idea what had happened….but until they cut back to the game feed, we didn’t know for sure whether he had maintained control."
Some other entertaining comments on PFT:
freshnsoclean: What do you expect? They need to scrounge up all the chump change they can get competing against cable.
genaro1331: Well…. a commercial would be more entertaining than the dreck being televised in that game.
awm7353: There is a lot of human intervention on live events and mistakes can be easily made. A very stressful low paying job with no appreciation when things go right, but all heck to catch when things go bad.
thegonz13: Wonder if Deion and Peyton will mention this can happen the next time they dress up as fairies…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

British humor finally translates to Americans in 'Dr. Who' leak

It's unclear whether the producers of the BBC drama "Dr. Who" are trying their hand at prognosticating or if they think it's funny to predict the Detroit Lions to win the Super Bowl.
The series was recently seen filming on location in New York City's Central Park when one of its characters was spotted reading the "New York Record" with the main headline: "Detroit Lions win Superbowl."
The science-fiction program delves in time travel, so the paper could be referring to a season far in the future. 
Notice the way the NFL's championship game is spelled in the one-word version commonly used by those unaware or unconcerned with accurate spelling — and commercial businesses.
The league, which currently isn't even paying for its usual referees, doesn't take kindly to other entities, real or otherwise, using its signature game for their own gain.
The hallowed game is spelled "Super Bowl," and that's presumably why supermarkets and other businesses use the one-word iteration in a half-hearted attempt to avoid litigation. 
Also, there are several newspapers in New York City, but no sign of a New York Record current or past. Maybe the Brits are ensuring the paper completely circumvents any trace of similarity?
Any guesses what year this scene could be set in? (Definitely not this season.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Effects of NHL lockout on Pistons could be hard to measure

The NHL lockout could be resolved any day, but probably won't be. We've seen players' and owners' reluctance to bargain as recently as 2005, when an entire NHL season was wiped out. The Pistons did very well for themselves attendance-wise that season, as noted by fellow Oakland alum Ryan Hegedus on Life On Dumars.
Coming off a championship season in 2004, the Pistons led the NBA in attendance in 2004-05, a feat they reached numerous times this past decade. But conditions are much different this time around.
"After seeing their attendance plummet to 28th (out of 30 teams) in the league last season, it would seem that the latest NHL lockout could only help the team. With a young, exciting core of players led by Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, the Pistons have a marketable team once again."
It will be difficult to measure just how many fans shed their Steve Yzerman jerseys for "Thunder Sticks" and Ben Wallace afros whatever Pistons fans wear these days, because they're a constantly improving team. And really, they can't do much worse than last season, despite countless pathetic attempts to lure fans with concerts featuring novelty acts and other has-beens.  
Hegedus notes the Pistons have already sold more season ticket packages than last season, but that figure was also likely stunted by the NBA's own lockout last season, which pushed the beginning of the season into late-December. 
An unheralded attraction could be the approximately $15 million Palace renovation undertaken this summer, which includes the conversion of more than a dozen suites into everyman standing-room only areas and the addition of "fan-friendly" (no word on the cost) Wi-Fi.
And, as usual, it will be the fans and all the employees who count on man-child millionaires to make a living, who pay the price.

'Honoring' 5-year-old boy at Michigan Stadium a bit too much

Very few have escaped the news of 5-year-old Cooper Barton, the Oklahoma City kindergarten student accused of violating his school's dress code by wearing a Michigan shirt. 
Argument about the dress code aside, it's cute that Michigan athletic director David Brandon reached out to the family, sending them care packages of Go Blue merchandise and inviting the family to visit for Saturday's romp over UMass. But inviting the kid and his family on the field during a first-quarter timeout? Isn't that an honor reserved for actual heroes and others who have overcome incredible tragedy or physical limitations?
What was Barton "honored" for exactly? Overcoming the prejudice facing out-of-state college football fans in the South?
Sure. This is a feel-good story. But the kid is 5! He's barely going to remember the generosity of the Michigan family.  There's probably 1,000 other Michigan fans who deserve that kind of treatment who will never see the light of the media hype machine. These kinds of shenanigans detract from the debt of gratitude owed to military heroes and other do-gooders of every age. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Goof at ESPN-ABC Mission Control ruins ending to Michigan-Air Force game

Technical difficulties derailed ABC-ESPN's coverage Saturday
With nearly three minutes left in Saturday's Michigan-Air Force game and the Falcons, trailing 31-25, driving with a chance to upset the No. 19 Wolverines, ESPN's broadcast on ABC inadvertently cut away from a play review to its studio anchors.
At first, it seemed the glitch would be minor, but quickly after leaving the game, the image above was flashed, effectively raising the "Technical Difficulties" flag. What ensued was a brief snippet of what sounded like mono-channel play by play coverage before viewers were mercifully transferred to the studio crew.
And with no quick fix, the anchors tossed to the USC-Syracuse game, which had been delayed by weather.
Finally, when ABC returned to the Michigan game, it had all but been decided.
Fans took notice on Twitter in what seemed like an eternity in crucial late-game situation, but was likely only two or three minutes.  
Just a week earlier, ABC-ESPN was guilty of a brief fake-out, airing live coverage from another game rather than switching to the Michigan-Alabama pregame show at the top of the 8 o'clock hour. The flub was quickly repaired, and from that point, Michigan was the only source of technical difficulties. 
These moments are quick reminders how smooth multi-feed broadcasts typically are with networks regularly switching among regional coverage on a whim. But we've come to expect perfection in an era when the four-letter network airs a dozen college football games among its umbrella networks at any given time. Anomalies like these make traditionally vanilla broadcast into something worth talking about.

Re-imagined logo paints Lions as Rabid animals

The good folks at Grantland recently recreated logos for the NFL's teams with hilarious results. The Lions' is essentially untouched, except for the addition of what appears to be foam around the mouth of the Lion, possibly an effect of Rabies, with the words "Rage issues" where the insignia once read "Lions."
The unchecked aggression the Lions became known for last season showed again Sunday, as wide receiver Titus Young took a personal foul penalty in the first half.
Some other highlights include the New Orleans Saints, which now says "Goodell's examples;" the Patriots' "Pure evil;" and the Giants' "Just sneak in."
What do you think of the Lions' "new logo?"

Friday, September 07, 2012

SUMMER READING: Sparky Anderson recollective makes weak first impression of legendary manager

(This review still qualifies for the Summer Reading series because I finished before the season, and summer, technically, ended)
"Sparky and Me," released in May and written by long-time Sparky Anderson friend, manager and co-author Dan Ewald, is another reminder Sparky was possibly the greatest human being ever. Kind and generous to everyone from all walks of life. But whoever designed the cover of this book, 336 pages in length, must have missed the memo. Even a static image of the legendary manager sitting in the dugout or one of the dozen or so photos inside the book would've been better.
That's not to say this isn't a good book, but Ewald has written about Sparky several times before and it feels like you're reading a rehashing of the previous works.
The premise is: Ewald and Sparky are best friends. Ewald visits Sparky near the end of Anderson's life in 2010 and recounts a series of stories amassed (and likely retold in other books, though I've never read) over their decades together with and without the Detroit Tigers.
And while this book wasn't the page-turner of my previous reviews of books chronicling Rich Rodriguez's brief tenure at Michigan and the wild life of former Red Wings enforcer Bob Probert, it's a good read. Sparky seemed to live a modest life and cared about everyone as much or more than himself. But that isn't always as exciting as controversy. 
Sparky's blue collar, everyman ethos are something to admire and are likely lost on today's players and some managers. My favorite story about his time with the Tigers was buried in the book and could've been called "Sparky's Last Stand." The tale centers around the three-time World Series manager and eventual hall of famer taking a moral objection into the dugout, refusing to manage replacement players in spring training of the 1995 season, which came on the heels of a strike-shortened '94 campaign.
As the legend goes, Anderson took the ground of baseball preservationist, essentially concluding: "What if one of these also-rans who hasn't played since high school breaks a significant record?"
I had never heard that argument before, but it is an exceptional point -- What if the scabs hired to replace egocentric multi-millionaires outperform their overpaid counterparts?! Here I was, as a pre-teen in the middle of Mike Ilitch's lost decade as Tigers owner, worried that the Tigers' replacements were going to be even worse than the real players!
Sparky was thinking as a baseball purist, not just refusing to cross the picket line out of allegiance to the players. The book says he often wondered why he was the only one with the courage enough to sit out. His determination could have also come from his soured relationship with Ilitch, with whom Anderson had not bothered to enter contract negotiations for the next season.
It's been hypothesized this ethical stand also stood between Anderson and his number retirement, which didn't take place until last summer, nearly a year after his death.
The spring training protest came roughly three years after Ilitch purchased the team and the Tigers' previous owner had jettisoned long-time general manager Jim Campbell and team president Bo Schembechler, who was hard at work turning the Tigers into a powerhouse similar to the one he had left at the University of Michigan.
(Ilitch did rehire legendary Tigers voice Ernie Harwell, whom Schembechler had been scapegoated for "firing.")
Sparky felt he should've left with them, but insisted on finishing his contract.
And that's Sparky in a nutshell. A man unafraid to stand by his convictions. It would have been good for the publisher to take any of this into consideration before shipping an apparently rushed cover. A more astute first impression would've been more befitting of a baseball lifer who gave his life to everyone else.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Winter Classic logo neglects Red Wings' Detroit roots — just like the game itself

While the players and owners are hard at work trying to save the upcoming NHL season, the Detroit Red Wings' disillusioned Instagram operator was busy hyping fans for the upcoming Winter Classic.
The Red Wings "leaked" the logo for the 2013 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, which, according to features the same font as the 2009 event at Wrigley Field, which was the last time the Original Six franchise partook in New Year's Day festivities.
What's different about this year's logo is the fact the previous versions at least featured a characteristic of the host city. The famed Wrigley Field marquee appeared in 2009, while prominent landmarks and features of Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia have been incorporated in previous versions. 
What's more, the main feature of the logo is the Big House. Not exactly synonymous with Downtown Detroit. Granted, the big game will be played in Ann Arbor, some 45 minutes from Detroit, but the logo designers have abandoned the Detroit skyline entirely.
The game was already moved more than 40 miles away from the friendly confines of Comerica Park, where many of the associated events, including the alumni game, are being held. Then, to strip the main logo of any Detroit reference whatsoever?
Well, it remains to be seen if the two most important entities in this game, players and the fine folks who sign their paychecks, even allow an NHL season to take place. Recently, Crain's Detroit reported the Winter Classic could be cancelled up to the day of the game if a potential lockout isn't resolved. Sept. 15 is the planned deadline to make an agreement. The two sides have played this game of chicken as recently as 2005, when the entire 2004-05 season was scrapped because of a disagreement. So don't be surprised if fans are again caught in the middle.
By the way, the Winter Classic is expected to have a $75 million impact on Southeast Michigan, according to Yahoo's Puck Daddy Blog. 
Michigan athletic director David Brandon recently said he hoped the NHL would again select Red Wings to host the game. Presumably, the NHL would again be willing to fork over the reported $3 million it would be paying to rent the Big House rather than Comerica Park.
Remember, hockey can also be played inside Ford Field. The venue hosted the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four and set attendance records with 37,592, which I highly doubt was full capacity at a place that has a reported basketball capacity of nearly 80,000. And that college hockey event couldn't match 2010's Big Chill at Michigan Stadium (113,411), it saw nearly as many fans as the Winter Classic at Fenway Park (38,112) earlier that year. 
Don't forget, Winter Classic attendance has fallen off precipitously after a 71,217 crowd in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The average attendance since the inaugural event has been 48,502, with a high of 68,111 at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field in 2011.
The NHL shunned the CoPa (and Ford Field) in Downtown Detroit, which has a baseball capacity of 41,255 and is also owned by the proprietor of one of the Original Six franchises participating in the game, for a chance at infamy in Ann Arbor.
And it will likely be the best-attended Winter Classic, but is that worth abandoning Detroit — a loyal NHL outpost through thick and very thin ice.
It's a sad indictment of the loyalty stirring inside Original Six fans, that if this season and Winter Classic fall through, the NHL can expect another 100,000 or more fans at Michigan Stadium Jan. 1, 2014. What it should really do in the case of a lockout this season, is move the event to Detroit.
Just remember, wherever and whenever the next Bridgestone Winter Classic is held, it's not about tradition. It's about money — the same factor that has the upcoming NHL season in jeopardy.