Archive for December, 2011

In praise of Smitty, the best coach the Falcons have ever had

Take care of yourself, Smitty. (AP photo)

For everyone's sake: Take care of yourself, Coach. (AP photo)

To borrow from Dr. Johnson, nothing concentrates the mind like being rushed to the hospital with chest pains. To those of us who follow the Falcons, news that Mike Smith’s team had returned from Charlotte without its coach had a different concentrating effect. It made us ponder a sobering question: If the Falcons were to be without Smitty for however long, how would they be?

Answer: Not nearly as good.

Because Mike Smith works so diligently to take no credit, we forget how much credit is due. He isn’t just the best coach in Falcons history — he’s the best coach in Falcons history by the width of Grady Jackson.

If we don’t count the assorted interims and we count Marion Campbell only once — although we do list Grover Cleveland as both the 22nd and 24th President of these United States — the Falcons have had 11 head coaches in their 46 seasons. Only three of those have compiled a winning record while based here: …

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Heat Check: Falcons and seedings, Hawks and retreads

The Hawks' Jeff Teague amuses himself and others at Media Day. (Photo by David Tulis)

The Hawks' Jeff Teague amuses himself and others at Media Day. (Photo by David Tulis)

Our weekly Heat Check returns after, er, a week off. (Why the week off? Because I’ve again reached the point when I realize I have more vacation days remaining than there are workdays left in the calendar year.) So we’re playing catch-up hotness, as it were.

The Atlanta Falcons: They staged a huge rally in Charlotte to get to 8-5. On Thursday they play a Jacksonville team that has already dumped its coach. If the playoffs began tomorrow, they’d be the NFC’s No. 5 seed, which would mean they’d miss having to play in New Orleans twice in a 14-day span. Instead they’d get the winner of the NFC East in Round 1, and that winner will be the Giants or the Cowboys or maybe even the Eagles. Heat Index: No. 5 would suit this team just fine.

The Atlanta Hawks: They’re back at work. They’ve added Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse and Vladimir Radmanovic, none of whom is as good as he used to be but two of …

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My cosmic dilemma: To root against Lane Kiffin or Jim Mora?

Greg Knapp and Jim Mora, shown thinking really hard. (AJC file photo)

Greg Knapp and Jim Mora think really hard. (AJC file photo)

For some reason, UCLA has decided to make Jim Mora its football coach, and the reason might well be that he was the only one who’d take the job. (Boise State’s Chris Petersen turned it down, and apparently so did Kevin Sumlin, who just left Houston to coach Texas A&M.) But enough about process. My issue today is more visceral.

There are two major football-playing colleges in Los Angeles. One is now headed by Little Jimmy Mora. The other is Southern Cal, which is helmed (and I use the term loosely) by Lane Kiffin, whom I’ve previously described as the most hated man in sports. And this leaves me with what we Cold War Kids used to consider the ultimate dilemma: Namely, if the Soviet Union got into it with China, which side would we root against?

Kiffin is a smug little weasel who thinks the football world owes him a living because his daddy was a coach. Kiffin hasn’t been anywhere long enough for anyone to know if he …

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Thirteen years later, another Falcons coach has a heart scare

The best post-bypass regimen? Do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

The recommended post-bypass regimen? Win the NFC title, do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

UPDATED AT 8:45 P.M.

Flowery Branch – Twenty-four hours earlier, Mike Smith had been in a Charlotte hospital being examined after experiencing chest pains in the wake of a frazzling game. On Monday night he finished a walk-through practice and met the media and, being the self-effacing Mike Smith, said it was “kind of embarrassing to be talking about it.”

He shouldn’t be embarrassed. Far better to feel sheepish after not having a heart attack than to do the strong silent act and keel over. Smith and the Falcons’ doctors did the right thing, and if any organization has cause to know what the right course is, it’s this.

Earlier Monday, a man who once held Smith’s job recalled his warning signs that occurred almost 13 years ago to the day. “I just looked at my iPhone to make sure of the date,” Dan Reeves said. “The game [in New Orleans] was Dec. 13 [1998]. I had surgery on the 14th.”

As he …

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Yet another BCS whiff: Alabama’s brand burns the Cowboys

Maybe there'll be a touchdown scored the second time around. (AP photo)

Maybe there'll be a touchdown scored the second time around. Then again … (AP photo)

Nobody ever said the BCS made sense, and this year it makes less sense than … well, can you make less sense than zero? Alabama did not win its division and did not win its conference but could well be the national champion in a sport where we’re told Every Game Counts.

Actually, what this year’s serving of BCS glop tells us is that it’s good to have an aura. Nick Saban has an aura, albeit one of fire and brimstone, which means Alabama has an aura, which means Alabama got a nod it didn’t deserve.

Bama played its two toughest conference games — LSU and Arkansas — at home. It didn’t play either Georgia or South Carolina, the best teams in the SEC East. It played five teams that finished with a winning record, and one was Georgia Southern. The Tide beat three teams that finished the Top 25 of the BCS standings.

Oklahoma State played four such teams and won all four games. It played seven teams …

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Even after another Dome drubbing, UGA’s progress is clear

Two reasons to be cheerful: Alec Ogletree, Todd Grantham. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Reasons to be cheerful: Alec Ogletree, Todd Grantham. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It ended as it began:  A massive Georgia contingent arrived at the Dome for a hugely anticipated game against a brand-name opponent, and the folks wearing red went home early. On Sept. 3 the Bulldogs led Boise State 7-0 and lost by two touchdowns; on Dec. 3 they led LSU by 10 points and lost by 32. And now you’re asking: This is progress?

Absolutely. The Boise game was a function of scheduling: Georgia’s choices were either to play or forfeit. The LSU game was for the championship of the nation’s best conference, and the Bulldogs had to win their way there. For the first time since 2005, the Bulldogs graced the big December game in the big city, and to qualify they had to rise from a 6-7 season and a Liberty Bowl to, ahem, Central Florida.

Another way in which the Boise loss wasn’t the LSU loss: Georgia was outfought and out-thought against the Broncos. As tight end Orson Charles admitted not …

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A mark of LSU greatness: Stink for a half, win by 32 points

That's a pretty darn strong football team, folks. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Ladies and gents, that's a darn strong football team. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

After the Arkansas game, Lenn Robbins of the New York Post asked LSU coach Les Miles if he believed his team might be the greatest in collegiate football history. Eight days later, the Tigers laid sole claim to another superlative:

Worst first half ever authored by the offense of a team this great.

How bad was it? Well, LSU tied a record that can never be broken — fewest first downs in the first two quarters. And this goose egg wasn’t laid by Podunk State against Almighty A&M. This was the championship game of the nation’s best conference, and this monstrosity had been concocted by a team considered the nation’s finest by such a distance it was believed LSU could lose to Georgia and still play for the BCS title. But would an aggregation that couldn’t manage one crummy first down on such a stage deserve a mulligan?

First-half numbers: LSU had 12 total yards, 123 fewer than Georgia, and had …

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SI.com wonders: Does Matt Ryan still have room to grow?

"Hey, Roddy. Do I look mature to you?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matty Ice asks Harry D.: "Do I look mature to you?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

After Sunday’s nervous victory over Minnesota, Falcons coach Mike Smith spoke of Matt Ryan — who’d had his best game of the season — and the “maturation process.” Which sounded a bit odd, given that we around here have, fairly or not, never considered Ryan anything less than mature. He was a starter from Game 1 of Year 1, and he’s 26 now. Speaking of which …

Jim Trotter of SI.com offers a look at four NFL quarterbacks — all of whom were drafted in Round 1 in 2008 or 2009, all of whom had almost immediate success, none of whom are having a noteworthy statistical season in 2011. The four: Mark Sanchez of the Jets, Joe Flacco of the Raves, Josh Freeman of the Bucs … and Matt Ryan.

Trotter makes the case that, because more collegiate quarterbacks are playing in pro-style offenses, more quarterback draftees enter the NFL ready to play from Game 1 of Year 1. But he also writes:

It also could mean that …

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UGA versus LSU, as the mighty Munson might have called it

Could the Dogs hook just one more big fish for the Munster? (AJC photo by Joey Ivansco)

Could Georgia hook just one more big fish for the Munster? (AJC file)

Georgia plays top-ranked LSU on Saturday. Were the radio man Larry Munson, who died Nov. 20 at age 89, around to call the game, it might sound a bit like this:

Munson: “Get the picture: We’re wearing red jerseys and silver britches, going left to right on your radio dial. And we have NO CHANCE. They’ve got 12 guys who make Big Jonathan Jenkins look like Tom Thumb. And such SPEED. Even Vandy didn’t have speed like this …

“We kick off to them. Their guy runs right through 10 of our guys — look at that speed! — and gets all the way out to their 25. We have NO CHANCE. But Jarvis Jones breaks through and knocks the quarterback down! They have to punt! Whaddaya know about that? …

“Crowell in the ‘I’ and we give it to him and he goes five, TEN, FIFTEEN yards! He ran right through those monsters! Looked like that professor in ‘Jurassic Park’! And now Murray fakes it and throws it and … we catch it! Over their …

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