Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pat Tillman. My Small Story.

Today, Tuesday April 22nd 2014, marks the 10 Year Anniversary of the death of former ASU linebacker/Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman.  Most people remember Pat the football player and a guy who spoke his mind, which may be the biggest thing I admire about him.  Others remember Pat Tillman the Army Ranger.  You don't see celebrities/athletes give up a big money contract to do something he thought was the right thing to do: fight for your country.  I've had discussions with friends on if Pat had the ability to be a Hall of Famer, or go down as one of the best football players of all time.  At ASU, absolutely, the guy was a machine.  He was always around the football.  In the pros, probably not, but he made sure he was around the football whenever he could.  Which brings me to my story about Pat.  Unlike others, I didn't have a lot of chances to talk to Pat and get to know him.  Once a week I went out to the Cardinals practice facility in Tempe to get weekly preview audio for work.  Through a mutual friend I got to know quarterback Chris Greisen, who's a good guy.  While shooting the bull one day with Chris, Pat sat down at his locker to eat some lunch.

For those of you who remember this moment, this talk I was about to have with Pat was the week after kicker Billy Gramatica tore his ACL by celebrating an extra point.  At that time, punter Scott Player had a hamstring injury so he couldn't kick.  Coach Mac was wondering who he had to kick and of course, Pat says he would do it.  He kicked off a couple of times and did pretty good.  So, when Pat was done eating I went over to him and this was our conversation.

Me: "Ready to kick again this week Pat."
Pat: (smiling) "Do you see those guys out there the team brought in to kick this week."
Me: (laughing) "Yeah, I thought they brought them in to motivate you to kick better this week."
Pat: (still smiling) 'Yeah, that's it"
Me: "it looked like you had a blast though."
Pat: "Oh man I did, it's probably the most fun I've had playing football since high school."
Me: "Oh really?  It beats playing in the Rose Bowl or now on Sunday's"
Pat: "Absolutely.  Don't get me wrong all of those are great memories, but dammit, that was a blast on Sunday."
(Quarterback Jake Plummer comes into the locker room after working out, claiming he had the biggest arms in the locker room.)
Pat: "Jake, stop being a dumbass.  You've been doing it for years."
(the locker room laughs, Jake just keeps walking."

I thanked Pat for talking with me and wished him luck.  He said "thanks man, good talking to you."

At that time, it was cool because as an ASU fan I just talked to one of the key guys who dominated in 1996 and 97 and a guy I admired a great deal then.  Ever since he died, I think of that moment a lot and I think how lucky I was to have that conversation, as goofy and meaningless it really was.  I'm happy I have that memory of Pat and the legacy he leaves behind.  He was a great man, a great leader and a damn good football player.



Friday, April 11, 2014

What's Next For The Arizona Coyotes

At the time of this blog, they still are the Phoenix Coyotes, but that will go away for good after the buzzer sounds on Sunday and the Arizona Coyotes will be born.  It's still going to take some getting used to, but it's a new chapter to this franchise that has seen it's ups and downs since moving here from W..Win...up there.

With new ownership in place, I am positive these guys want this non-playoff thing to be short-lived and will do anything to fix what needs fixing.  So, what needs fixing? Here are my thoughts.

I've seen some fans mention that Dave Tippett and/or Don Maloney need to go. Settle down people, that's not going to happen.  They will be back.  Now IF this happens again next year, then you can put one or both on the hot seat.

There are a few things this team lacked severely this year.

1. A strong defensive effort from everyone involved.  There were WAY too many turnovers, especially in the defensive zone.  Pretty much Merry Christmas for the opposing team at least once a game.  What's missing was one or two stay at home defenders that are physical.  Rusty Klesla was that guy, until his career change after a cheap shot from the Kings Nolan that went unpunished for whatever reason.  Rusty was never the same and hasn't been the same since.  What's nice to see is Chris Summers upping his game since returning from Portland, but he's a UFA and I would like to see him resign here, on a one-way contract.  I think the kid has earned it.  I like the improvement of both Connor Murphy and Brandon Gormley.  Murphy could grow into that stay at home roll, but needs to play bigger and be bigger.  Still, I think a veteran stay-at-home dman, or two, is needed on the blue line.

2. No physical play.  When Paul Bissonnette is your only physical player, that's a problem because his all around game isn't good enough to be an everyday player.  Anyone see Kyle Chipchura or Rob Klinkhammer this year?  Me neither.  This is a VERY big need for this team and I think this is one of the overhaul phases of this team.  Most of the time I am in the visiting locker room post game.  Trust me, when teams came into Jobing.com Arena, they knew they weren't going to be pushed around much.  That HAS to change.

3. Scoring.  They need more scoring punch.  We'd obviously like to see more out of Erat and Ribeiro next season, but in Ribs' case they need to upgrade the wings to make him want to get involved.  As we saw, when he can't get something going, he tends to cash it in for the game.  BTW, those who want Ribs out on the first train smoking won't get their wish.  No one will take his contract and ownership won't eat it.  He will be back, like it or not.  Erat has another year and could be an interesting piece at the trade deadline next year.  I'm intrigued on what Max Domi can do.  Another year in juniors was the right move and he had another monster year.  Added confidence and another year older will only help the kid.  

4. Protect the net better.  This falls under the physical play category.  Too may teams took runs at Mike Smith and one team succeeded to injury him, that being the New York Rangers.  Also, not a surprise. Teams know what they can and can't do to teams and video shows, when you do some fly-bys and take shots at Smitty, there is very little backup and you get in his head.  Again, another area that needs to change.

5. FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE GET MORE GUYS IN FRONT OF THE OPPOSING GOALTENDER.  It's a simple thing that takes commitment.  Martin Hanzal can't be the ONLY guy that does that could he?  Don't answer that, we know that's a yes.  When he gets hurt, well there goes a losing streak and a scoring slump.  Some may like to bag on Hanzal, but his butt in front of the net led to quite a few goals.  We need more guys that can do just that.

I've been asked who do I think we go after in free agency.  I've looked at the prospective list and I can tell you, I have no clue.  One name that will come up again is Ales Hemskey.  I don't think Ottawa will resign him and if he enters the market, expect the Coyotes to be interested.  As for the rest, I simply don't know.  Expect a trade or two as well, which leads me to fans biggest argument. Keith Yandle.  Let me just say, I'm not a Yandle hater at all.  I like what he brings to the room and on the PP and offensively.  But, his turnovers at times were deadly. It's there in broad daylight.  Is he the only one who does it? Nope, even OEL has those games.  Yandle still is a movable piece on a friendly contract, and would bring back a nice return.  But, that's the only way I trade Yandle, if the return is too much to say no.  I know Shane Doan loves the guy and for good reason, but to make this team better, maybe it's time.

I don't know what's going to happen in the coming months, but I do know this.  IceArizona, Don Maloney and Dave Tippett will do everything in their power in the offseason to make this team better and to makes sure seasons like this one are few.  I know not making the playoffs stings Coyotes fans, but there are better days ahead I believe.  Keep the faith, lord knows we've been through worse.