Archive for September, 2009

Live from New England, and the Dirty Bird is in the house!

Traffic at 9:39 a.m. That's D-Led's hand on the wheel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Traffic at 9:39 a.m. That's D-Led's steady hand on the wheel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Foxborough, Mass. — Before I make this sound like a Peter King coffee nerd post, let me stipulate: I do not drink coffee. As a rule, I do not go to Starbucks. But I went this morning because I was given a $10 SBUX gift card by the nice folks at the Marriott at Copley Square. So I used it on green tea, a low-fat slice of bread and a banana. And when I turned to leave, I saw …

Dan Reeves.

I said hello. I also said, “I remember covering one of your teams up here. I also remember you personally inventing the Dirty Bird that day.”

He laughed. “Long time ago,” he said. And it was.

It was Nov. 8, 1998. The Falcons came to New England 6-2 but still largely unloved back in the A-T-L and largely unproven in the eyes of the national media. They came to the old stadium off  Route 1 and won 41-10, and O.J. Santiago — not Dan Reeves — unveiled the Dirty Bird in the end zone that afternoon.

And I remember …

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Bobby Cox a bad tactician? Because of Puckett? Come on

It’s unfortunate the long and meritorious career of a Hall of Fame manager can, at least in the minds of many locals, be boiled down to one at-bat on Oct. 26, 1991. It’s unfortunate because the move that has come to be seen as wrong-headed was made for sound reasons.

Bobby Cox brought Charlie Leibrandt, a left-handed pitcher who’d been a starter all his career, in to face the righthander Kirby Puckett with the Braves and Twins tied in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 6 of the World Series. Puckett hit a home run. The Braves would lose the Series the next night, also in extra innings. Those looking to justify the oft-voiced claim — “Cox has always been a bad tactician” — start there.

But look close: Leibrandt had faced Puckett twice in that World Series, striking him out both times. In 1991, Leibrandt had retired righthanders at a higher rate than lefties. (Righties hit .237 off Leibrandt in 1991; lefties hit .274.) And when you’re tied as a visitor in extra innings, you …

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Matt Ryan: The absolute right man at the absolute right time

Matty Ice showed up, and everything around him changed. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matty Ice showed up, and everything around him changed. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind you of what you already know. On Sunday I was talking with Charles Chandler of the Charlotte Observer, and he said, “It’s amazing what these guys have done.”

He meant the Falcons, and it is. And we around here saw it firsthand last season, the rise to 11-5 one year after the agony and indignity of Petrino/Vick. And now we watch as the Falcons head to Foxborough 2-0 and only a 4 1/2-point underdog against the gold standard of professional football, and we dare to ask: Might they win?

And about now, we should take three steps back and try to see the landscape, as opposed, say, to the hair on Michael Turner’s chinny-chin-chin. We should take a moment to reflect, not for the first time but maybe for the first time in a while, just what has transpired.

In the span of two offseasons, a franchise has gone from being both mocked and pitied to being hailed as …

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Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons look down on the Patriots

This is a clip-and-save moment: The Falcons head to New England ranked ahead — repeat, ahead — of the Patriots. And that’s not a minority opinion. It’s nigh-unanimous.

Don Banks of SI.com has the Falcons No. 7 to the Patriots’ No. 9 in his power rankings. Adrian Hasenmayer of FoxSports has the Falcons No. 3 — No. 3! — to New England’s No. 8, and so does Pete Prisco of CBSsports.com, who covered the Falcons’ game against Carolina.

ESPN.com has the Falcons No. 4 to the Pats’ No. 10 in its overall survey. Diving deeper, we note that all four of ESPN’s participating analysts have the Falcons ahead of New England, and Paul Kuharsky has them No. 2 overall — No. 2! — behind the Giants.

And then we move to NFL.com, where seven of eight experts have the Falcons ranked ahead of New England. Pat Kirwan and Joe Theismann have them No. 3, which is the high. The low comes from Michael Lombardi, who has the Falcons No. 11 to the Pats’ No. 5.

Seeing as how the NFL named a trophy after Michael …

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Hot Button: Have Falcons found their Cox and Schuerholz?

The way it is. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

The way it is: Smitty and TD. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

We stipulate by saying this is way, way premature. Under Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, the Falcons haven’t yet won a division title, let alone 14 in succession. That said …

Those of us who were here in 1990 and 1991 can recognize some of the characteristics and more than a hint of the same overall feeling. The Braves were terrible. Then they hired John Schuerholz from Kansas City to be general manager and left Bobby Cox, who’d been the GM, in the dugout. And they finished first over each of the next 14 completed seasons, a run unprecedented and apt to be unmatched in North American professional sports.

The Falcons were terrible. Then they hired Thomas Dimitroff as GM on the strength of a webcam interview, and he hired Mike Smith as coach on the strength of long discussions at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Falcons were 11-5 last season and are 2-0 now.

The question, then: Have the Falcons found their Cox and …

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Bobby Cox: “Everything is fine. [Wren] has been outstanding”

Bobby Cox responded this morning to  a Yahoo! Sports report of discord between him and Braves GM Frank Wren. Said Cox, speaking via iPhone from New York: “Everything is fine. Frank has been outstanding … I couldn’t believe it when I [learned of the report].”

Gordon Edes reported Tuesday that Cox had been so angry over the handling of John Smoltz’s departure and the failure to be included in personnel discussions he packed his bag and had to be talked out of leaving spring training by a Braves coach. Asked if that had indeed happened, Cox said, “No.”

Reached last night, Wren described the Yahoo! report as “inaccurate.” Asked if he wanted Cox to continue as manager, Wren said: “Sure, absolutely.” And also: “We’ll sit down and talk, and we’ll have an announcement at the appropriate time.”

Asked this morning about his status — Cox, who’s 68, is not under contract beyond this season and hasn’t said whether he’ll return for the 2010 season — Cox said: “We’ll probably have an …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Is there tension between Cox and Wren?

Esteemed former colleague Gordon Edes writes on Yahoo! Sports that a rift may have developed between Bobby Cox and Frank Wren. From Edes’ report:

“Another situation that bears watching is in Atlanta, where manager Bobby Cox has been hedging about whether he will be back. According to a major league source, the relationship between Cox and GM Frank Wren deteriorated during the spring to the point that Cox packed his bag and climbed into his car to drive home from spring training until dissuaded from doing so by one of his coaches.

“Cox was unhappy at the way the John Smoltz issue had been handled, the source said, and because he had not been kept up to speed on other personnel decisions. The relationship appears to have been patched up, although the parting with Tom Glavine was another strained episode, and the expectation is that Cox will be back because he’s excited that the Braves have another core of young talent developing. Stay tuned.”

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Wren …

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Paul Johnson: “We’re not really good at anything right now”

There’s a reason Georgia Tech fans love Paul Johnson. Actually, there are two, and the second one is a no-brainer: He beat Georgia. But Tech fans loved PJ long before that rainy day in Athens, and they love him because he says what every single fan wishes his/her coach would say.

He doesn’t sugarcoat. Except for the boilerplate assertion that his stylized offense is never as bad as it might look, he doesn’t seek to cover his assets. (And you can almost excuse that excess, seeing as how he invented the offense.) When his team stinks, he doesn’t remind you of his career record or of what might have happened four years ago. He says, “We stunk.” Only he says it in richer detail.

Like this: “Miami is an outstanding football team, but it wouldn’t have had to be the way we played.”

Also:  “The way we played, the way we coached, it was a group effort.”

And: “We’re not really good at anything right now.”

These are snippets from Johnson’s Tuesday press briefing, which was as blunt as …

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5 reasons Georgia needs to demote Willie Martinez ASAP

1. Georgia is 97th among 120 Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense, 108th in scoring defense. The Bulldogs rank last among 12 SEC schools in both categories. Simple question: Do you believe Georgia — with Rennie Curran, Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens, Justin Houston, Kade Weston, Demarcus Dobbs, Darryl Gamble, Bryan Evans, Reshad Jones, Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith — has the worst defensive talent in the SEC?

2. Georgia has one interception, one fumble recovery and four sacks in three games. It ranks 76th (tied) in sacks, 116th in turnover margin. Simple question: Does anyone think the Bulldogs’ personnel ranks in the nation’s lower tier in terms of speed, strength and level of aggression?

3. Over the past nine games, Georgia opponents have averaged — averaged — 33 points. In 42 games under Brian VanGorder, whom Martinez succeeded as defensive coordinator, one opponent scored more than 30 points, and that was the 2003 BCS champion.

4. Georgia opponents have scored 102 points in …

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5 candidates to take over the Braves after Bobby Cox

Earlier today we offered 5 reasons Bobby Cox should step aside. Some of you then asked the logical follow-up: OK, genius, who would you hire to replace him? Here, presented in order of preference, is my short list:

1. Brad Mills, Red Sox bench coach: He has apprenticed beside Terry Francona, who’s  the second-best manager in baseball — Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire is the best — and who was Mills’ college roommate. He’s steeped in the Sox system of  numbers-crunching, which would surely delight the stat geeks on DOB’s blog, and has been known to use the word “sabermetrics” in conversation.

2. Jose Oquendo, Cardinals third base coach: He’s considered the first choice to succeed Tony La Russa in St. Louis, but nobody’s sure when La Russa will leave. Oquendo is a key player liaison, having built an alliance with the taciturn Albert Pujols. (Ah, but you’re asking: Could he get along with Yunel Escobar? Probably.)

3. Dave Duncan, Cardinals pitching coach: There’s a spotty history for …

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