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Some thoughts on Gordie Howe

I never saw Gordie Howe play. I never heard that many stories about him to be honest. That’s not to say I don’t know him. I grew up playing hockey in Michigan. The Howe family influence is everywhere. Because of that, you learn the story of Gordie through osmosis.

He was physical, he could score, he knew how to get in a cheap shot when he had too, he played into his 50s, he won a handful of Stanley Cups, he played on The Production Line. It’s all history to me. I can look at the black-and-white and grainy tape of the young man with his hair parted and know that’s Gordie Howe, but that’s not the Gordie I know.

When I was growing up, Howe already had his flock of pure white hair. Outside of television pieces, the only interactions I had with him was a hockey training video where he talked about hanging on to your dreams, this SportsCenter commercial, one time when he was signing autographs at an ice arena I was playing a tournament at* and the one shift he played for the Vipers when I was seven and he was almost 70.

That distance between me and Gordie’s glory days enhanced the legend. With his tough reputation and hockey ability you could tell me almost anything about Gordie’s on-ice behavior and I would believe it. He fractured his skull then came back the next year to score 86 points and win the scoring title? OK. He returned after eight years of NHL retirement to play in all 80 games for the Hartford Whalers at age 51? If you say so. He once clocked someone in the face with a punch so hard that he broke his hand, then scored a goal with the injury on the same shift? Seems right.

(By the way, only the last one was made up.)

To me (and I assume many of those who don’t know him and didn’t see him play regularly) Howe is less of a human and more of a folk hero. So when I first heard he had a stroke, I was sad because I intrinsically feel sad when you hear bad news, but it didn’t really register.

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Chasing Zeros: Thanks to the Raiders, the 2008 Lions might not be alone much longer


Midway through the season the race to the bottom has become a distinctly Raiders journey.

A month after we first mentioned the possibly that the 2008 Lions could be dethroned as the worst team in NFL history, it’s only the Raiders that have the opportunity to do so, sitting at 0-8. The Jaguars withdrew their consideration after a 24-6 win over the Browns in week seven. Oakland, meanwhile, remains winless and with its next three games against the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs, there’s a very good possibility it’ll remain that waywhen we check back in on their quest in four weeks. There are already numerous articles trying to predict just how likely the Raiders are to go 0-16 and tie the 2008 Lions in ineptitude, but they probably won’t be worse.

At our last meeting, we laid out the criteria on how a team could be worse than the Lions. Here it is again:

  • Go 0-16
  • Have  worse scoring ratio (points scored / (points scored + opponent points scored)) than the Lions’ 0.341. This measures the amount to which a team was blown out, while adjusting for changes in the league through the years like increased scoring due to rule changes and pass-happy offenses.
  • Have an offense that falls further below the league’s median rate of yards gained per game than the 2008 Lions. That year, the Lions’ 268.3 yards per game were 63 below the league median. (We’re using below median for the same reason we’re using scoring ratio: to adjust for changes in the league through six years.)
  • Have a defense that falls further above the league median in yards allowed per game than the 2008 Lions. That year, the Lions allowed 404.4 per game, 74.25 more than the league median.
  • Have a worse all-encapsulating moment than this.

The results:

Scoring ratio

2008 Lions: 0.341

2014 Raiders: 0.379

The Raiders had a five-point loss to the Jets in Week 1, a three-point loss to the Chargers in Week 6 and a six-point loss to the Seahawks last week. Those helped give them a slight edge over the 2008 Lions, who had three losses of less than seven points the entire season.

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ first segment: What’s been the reason for their fast start?



After 11 games, the Red Wings have accomplished something they didn’t do all of last season: gain 15 points in a segment.

Last year, I started breaking down the Red Wings by 10-game (or in the case of the first and last, 11-game) segments, just like Red Berenson had taught me. 

To do that I looked at their record, goals for and goals against in different situations and created the Goal Responsibility Metric, a.k.a. GRM. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, you can find more info here.)

Through eight segments of a season that resulted in the Red Wings sneaking into the playoffs, Detroit never managed to accumulate more than 13 points. This year they’ve started 6-2-3, which is good enough for 15 points. They sit two points out of first place in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand on boht teams ahead of them in the standing.

What’s been the difference this year? A table will explain part of it:

2013-14 Averages Segment 1
GF 27.1 29
GA 27.6 22
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15
PPG 6.1 5
OPP PPG 5.9 3

(*The splits don’t add up to the total because I didn’t include empty-net goals, short-handed goals, 6-on-5 goals, etc. on the chart. Also, any goals that came seconds after a power play ends, I count as a PP/PK goal, since the player out of the box hasn’t had time to get back into the play.)

The defense has been better, but that’s only a partial solution. While 22 goals against and 15 5-on-5 goals against is on the low end, it’s not the absolute lowest. In two separate segments last year Detroit allowed 22 and 21 total goals, including 12 and 12 five-on-five goals. In the third segment last year The Red Wings allowed 22 and scored 31, giving them two more goals for than this iteration.

The rest of the answer to the Red Wings’ success depends on how you want to view it. They might be getting lucky, with two 6-on-5 goals and 2-1 overtime record (although they’re 0-2 in the shootout). Or they might be a better team and that’s manifesting by having would-be one-goal losses pushed into overtime more often — thus earning themselves more loser’s points. They’ve lost in regulation just twice this season.

As for individuals, it’s pretty clear to see whose leading the way.

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Red Wings rumor roundup: Daniel Alfredsson update; More on Jeff Petry, Tyler Myers

• Ken Holland told the Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan that Daniel Alfredsson could still return to the Red Wings. He’d have to skate with the team for two or three weeks before Detroit signs him.

• SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that between the Flyers, Red Wings, possibly the Ducks and maybe a couple other teams, there’s “nice little market” for Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry.

• MLive’s Ansar Khan says Anthony Mantha probably won’t spend much if any time with the Red Wings this season after fracturing his tibia before the season.

• If you’re still trying to put together trade packages for Tyler Myers, Khan doubts the Sabres would be interested in acquiring Andrej Nestrasil.


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A JMMA football update: The journey is over for the Detroit Lions’ George Johnson, in a good way

George Johnson

Flashback Friday: When George was just a pup.

Every week, George Johnson provides anybody who’s paying attention just how far he’s come.

Sometimes it’s loud and in your face, other times it’s subtle. But every week for the past eight, Johnson has made at least one solo tackle. He’s consistently contributing in the NFL, which is something no other JMMA winner can claim.

George Johnson has gone from Camp Body No. 68 to rotational defensive end. He’s gone from more transactions (12) than career tackles (7) to four sacks in eight games, the second highest on the team, a mere 0.5 behind Ezekiel Ansah, who was a No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He’s gone from anonymous to JMMA winner.

I’m just not sure where he goes from here. His story seems done. He had his low period. He had his turning point in training camp and rise through the preseason. He had his rousing Lions debut, with 1.5 sacks against the Giants. He likely reached his climax. Facing one of his former teams, the Vikings, he had 1.5 sacks, six total tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

If that’s not the pinnacle, then December 7 against his other former team, the Buccaneers, will be. I guess a big play in the playoffs or Super Bowl is possible, but a lot of things out of his control would have to go right.

Barring those latter two scenarios, we’ve reached the black screen with the white text: “Johnson played every game for the Lions in the 2014 season. He finished with XX sacks the X most on the team.”

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Golden Tate is part golden boy, part mean guy; You should love him because of it


One time, an editor sent me out to a charity basketball game to interview Von Miller. I got there and didn’t spot him. After scouring the benches, there were a couple that kind of looked like him but I wasn’t sure. Then a 6-foot-3 dude walked through the door with his pectorals bulging out of his shirt and long arms that were thicker than my head.

It’s like that with almost NFL player. You can identify them as soon as they walk through the door. They’re taller and wider than everyone around them, yet have complete control of their bodies. It’s amazing. At times I can’t stop thinking to myself, ‘Holy crap. This guy is huge.’

I’ve never stood around Golden Tate, but I can guarantee he’s an exception. He’s listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds. He’s not tall. Muscular, yes, but not cartoonish. Yet, the man belongs on a football field.

The dirty truth of sports is that the players don’t care as much as you do. Some don’t care at all and play just because they’re good at it. Others care but not as much. Others care in a different way. Peyton Manning wants to be the best at his position. Tom Brady wants to win.

Golden Tate wants to destroy you.

I’ve experienced half a season of Golden Tate. On his own he doesn’t seem all that spectacular. He runs some routes and catches some balls just like every other receiver. In press conference videos he’s incredibly well-spoken and gives solid answers. He seems nice. But get somebody in his face, make the game seem out of reach, challenge him in any sort of way, and a monster emerges.

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A long drive and a Detroit Lions team that burps rainbows


As teams from Michigan and Georgia played a game in London, I listened to it in a radio station in Texas.

Sunday morning I drove three hours from Houston to Dallas. I didn’t see Golden Tate use his invisibility cloak or Theo Riddick’s one-handed catch or Matt Prater’s kick cut immediately left, only to wobble back down the middle until hours later. No, it was just me, cruise control and two national radio announcers whose names I don’t remember — and I didn’t discover them until the end of the first quarter.

The Lions were already down 14-0. Midway through the second, the station cut out. The audio came through intermittently until I re-discovered civilization right around the time the Lions scored their first touchdown.

At that point the play-by-play announcer was getting really excited about anything the Falcons did while the color analyst just kind of made fun of Matt Stafford for 20 minutes.

“Another overthrow by Matthew Stafford there. He just chucked it well over Golden Tate’s head.”

“Golden Tate even turned and looked at Stafford like, ‘was that to me?’ (fake laughter). Again, Stafford has really struggled to find his open receivers all day.”

When the comeback became for real, the play-by-play guy babbled about Tate and Theo Riddick. The color guy just shut up. It was the appropriate response.

The Lions are 6-2. They are not good. These things are somehow not mutually exclusive.

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