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October 5, 2009 10:31 PM

Rickey Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame

By LES EAST

Rickey Jackson belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s as simple as that.

Jackson was one of the key members of the New Orleans Saints’ “Dome Patrol” defense of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That defense featured arguably the best linebacking group of all time – Jackson, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, and Vaughan Johnson.

At the end of his career Jackson went to San Francisco for two seasons and won his only Super Bowl ring. In all, Jackson played 15 seasons, was selected to six Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro five times, made 136 sacks, and recovered 28 fumbles (second most all time).

So far Jackson hasn’t gotten even cursory consideration from Hall of Fame voters, and that’s ridiculous. He was one of the very best defenders of his era.

Jackson’s case is hampered by him playing on mostly bad teams for his first six seasons before Jim Finks and Jim Mora arrived in New Orleans and introduced pro football respectability to the Crescent City.

The linebackers thrived under Mora and defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell and were the centerpiece of four playoff teams (1987, 1990, 1991, and 1992), though none managed to win a game in the post-season.

Jackson’s case is further hampered by playing mostly in a small market and for a franchise of little distinction. No one whose career was spent primarily with the Saints has ever made the pro Football Hall of Fame. Finks, Hank Stram, Doug Atkins, Jimmy Taylor, and Earl Campbell are Saints alumni in the Hall of Fame, but none reached Canton because of their tenure in New Orleans.

Presumably a player whose career was best-defined by their time as a Saint will get into the Hall eventually now that Willie Roaf and Morten Andersen are eligible.

But Jackson should get there first. The selection of the 2010 class is looming. The current list of 131 candidates will be whittled to 25 semifinalists then 15 finalists, whose ultimate fate will be determined during Super Bowl week.

It’s time for the voters to take a good, long look at Jackson’s credentials because they are Hall-worthy.

If you think Jackson belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there is an online petition designed to help his cause (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/RickyForTheHall).

September 9, 2009 3:17 AM

BYU should be No. 1 -- period

By LES EAST

If the people voting in the coaches poll were interested in rewarding performance on the football field, their rankings would look much different than they do.

As I’ve written before – and, like it or not, will write again – the coaches poll – one-third of the formula used to determine who gets to play for the BCS championship – is hopelessly tainted by preseason polls.

Each subsequent poll, beginning with the one released Tuesday after the first weekend of play, is merely a tweaking of worthless preseason expectations rather than a fair-minded evaluation of performance and performance only.

If voters had watched the first weekend of games with an open mind, their rankings would look something like this:

1.BYU – Come on, no one can match the Cougars’ performance against the preseason No. 3. Don’t diminish what they did because of Sam Bradford’s injury; they played the Sooners toe-to-toe for the near half that Bradford was in the game. Let’s not overlook the fact that OU’s rebuilt offensive line clearly demonstrated that the No. 3 ranking was way too lofty. Let’s deal with what teams are at the time we vote, not what we thought they would be, or what we expect they’ll be in three months. The voters have BYU ninth. Might voters from BCS leagues, concerned that OU represented the most serious threat to an undefeated Cougars season (even though they have several other tough opponents), might have an incentive to hold back the team from a non-BCS league. I’m just sayin’.

2.Alabama – The Crimson Tide, ranked fourth, played outstanding defense and showed a lot of heart while rallying around a first-time starter at quarterback who grew up quite a bit in the span of four quarters to beat Virginia Tech in as good an opening-week game as you’ll see.

3.Oklahoma State – The Cowboys, ranked fifth, showed that they might be able to play a little defense after all in shutting down Georgia, though the Bulldogs’ offense is a work in progress.

4. Missouri – The Tigers, despite losing numerous key players from last year’s very talented team, dismantled a very talented Illinois team, but are ranked just 25th.

5.Miami – The Hurricanes, ranked 20th, showed some guts in rallying on the road in the fourth quarter to edge their bitter rival, Florida State.

6.California – The Bears, ranked 10th, looked good on both sides of the ball in dismantling an admittedly flawed Maryland team.

7.Cincinnati – Bearcats, ranked 23rd, went on the road and dismantled a solid Rutgers program.

8. Boise State – The Broncos, ranked 12th, continued to show their more of a defense-oriented group than the one that used a lot of memorable gimmicks against the Sooners a few years ago.

After this you start running into powerhouses who beat up on teams that weren’t in their league.

I understand Florida, the defending national champion, being No. 1, but it’s still not right. This year is this year, and these Gators will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves against better challengers than Charlestown Southern. (The same is basically true of Texas, USC, Ole Miss, and Penn State).

Finally, how can we continue to live with a system in which Ohio State’s four-point victory against Navy (the Buckeyes are No. 8) is valued more than BYU’s upset of last year’s national runner-up?

August 28, 2009 4:06 PM

Saints, Hornets symbolize New Orleans’ comeback

By LES EAST

It’s hard not to notice the irony of the New Orleans Saints playing a preseason game in Oakland this particular weekend.

The last time the Saints played a preseason game in Oakland, they didn’t make it back to the New Orleans for more than four months. They, and the city, haven’t been the same since.

It was four years ago this weekend that the Saints left early for their game against the Raiders because a hurricane named Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans. By the time the game had been played, three levees around New Orleans had failed and wind and water had severely damaged the Superdome.

Despite “a heck of a job” by FEMA, New Orleans was pretty much in ruins.

The Saints were stranded on the West Coast briefly before setting up shop in San Antonio, where they would wind up playing four of their “home games.” The first “home game” was played in the Meadowlands against the Giants. The other three were played on the LSU campus, 90 miles from the ailing Superdome.

It was possible the Saints and New Orleans’ other major professional franchise, the Hornets, who relocated to Oklahoma City, would never play another game in the Crescent City.

Well, four years later, both franchises are much healthier than they were before the storm, and have recovered much faster than the city itself.

Saints owner Tom Benson seriously flirted with the possibility of permanently relocating to San Antonio before then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue dragged him, practically kicking and screaming, back to the city where he was born.

NBA Commissioner David Stern had to act similarly with Hornets owner George Shinn, who was only slightly less reluctant than Benson to return.

I wonder if each has thought to thank their benefactor. Probably not.

Remarkably, in their first 12 months back in New Orleans, the Saints hired Sean Payton as head coach, signed Drew Brees, drafted Reggie Bush and Marques Colston, sold out on season tickets for the first time, returned to the Superdome, which was rebuilt faster than the team, which was 3-13 a year earlier, won the NFC South, and advanced to the
NFC Championship for the first time.

The Hornets didn’t make it back to New Orleans full-time until a year later because the repopulating city wasn’t quite up to handling both franchises just yet. The basketball team’s 2007-08 season was a lot like the football team’s 2006 season.

Chris Paul, who had been a rookie No. 1 draft choice who barely got a glimpse of pre-K New Orleans before it was changed forever, blossomed into an MVP finalist, the team won a franchise-record 56 games, captured its first division title, prevailed in a best-of-seven series for the first time, and came within one victory of the Western Conference finals.

(Speaking of changes, an ancillary one is that Seattle’s NBA franchise has relocated to Oklahoma City, something that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if the Hornets’ relocation hadn’t given OKC the opportunity to show it could support NBA basketball.)

Back to New Orleans. Since those magical runs, the Saints and Hornets have been a little less magical, but both remain playoff contenders and borderline championship contenders. Both are more firmly entrenched in New Orleans than ever before.

The Saints, who have tens of thousands of names on a list on people who want to buy season tickets, and the state of Louisiana recently agreed on a new lease that will keep the team in New Orleans for 17 more seasons. The Super Bowl returns to New Orleans in 2013, for the first time since 2001.

The Hornets, who struggled at the box office when they first returned, have easily surpassed attendance benchmarks that would have allowed them to void their lease if they had not been reached.

Unfortunately, the overall recovery is on a slower pace than that of the two franchises, but the city and the region are moving forward, and the stability and competitiveness of the two franchises make life a little more enjoyable as the rebuilding continues.

The Superdome was a symbol of New Orleans’ status as a world-class sporting community and tourist destination. In 2005, it became a symbol of the devastation to the city.

It has since become a symbol of the city’s revival, as have the Saints and Hornets. Sports franchises are major components of cities’ identities, and rarely has that been demonstrated more clearly than in New Orleans post-K.

The fourth anniversary of this epic man-made disaster (not natural disaster because nearly all of the really bad stuff happened, not because of Katrina, but because of the failure of the federal government-built and maintained levees), passes as the Gulf of Mexico is unusually calm for late August (knock on wood).

So, now is a good time for us to note the potential that sports has to unify a community and provide much-needed catharsis from much weightier issues. Thanks, Saints. Thanks, Hornets.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize that it’s also a good time to acknowledge the countless good people in countless communities around the United States, and the world, really, whose generosity and caring have been indispensable in getting New Orleans back to where it is.

Most of all, thank you.

August 25, 2009 5:03 PM

Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame

By LES EAST

It has been 20 years since Pete Rose was kicked out of Major League Baseball for betting on it.

Rose got a fair hearing on the allegations that he bet on baseball, and he was rightly found guilty of doing so. But his worthiness for induction into the Hall of Fame has not – and cannot – receive a fair hearing because his punishment for gambling – excommunication from Baseball – prohibits his consideration.

That needs to change.

The ban agreed to by Rose and then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 prohibits Rose from being employed in Major League Baseball or from taking part in on-field activities, though a notable exception was made for the honoring of the All-Century Team, to which Rose was chosen, at the 1999 World Series.

Cooperstown has a rule (adopted not coincidentally 20 years ago) that says it will not consider for induction anyone who is permanently banned from the game. So Cooperstown can’t weigh in on this unless current Commissioner Bud Selig lifts the ban. Lift it, Bud.

Let’s get a few things clear:

Rose did a very bad thing by betting on baseball games.

Rose thumbed his nose at the game, its hierarchy, and its fans by stubbornly lying and denying for 15 years that he bet on baseball.

Rose made things even worse by saving his long-awaited confession for a book he wrote, making money off of his long-overdue admission.

Those are some serious blemishes on Rose’s resume, but they don’t change the facts, the most notable of which are:

The most hits ever;

The most games played;

A career .303 batting average;

An average of .300 or better in 15 seasons;

Three World Series titles;

Selection to 17 All-Star Games at a record five different positions.

But those credentials can’t receive the rubber stamp they warrant because Rose is ineligible for consideration.

Rose’s induction into the Hall of Fame would be in no way inconsistent with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission.

Its mission statement says it exists for the “honoring, by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers.”

In that regard, Rose is a no-brainer as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Sure, his enshrinement would require some sort of acknowledgment of his misdeeds – a scarlet letter on his bust, hanging his bust upside down, displaying his bust next to one of those “Got a gambling problem?” signs, whatever.

Fine.

This saga has drawn out for so long that Rose is no longer eligible for Hall of Fame consideration by the baseball writers. He would have to be considered by the Veterans Committee, consisting of the 65 living members of the Hall of Fame, and need to receive 75 percent of their votes to be enshrined.

Good.

The 65 living Hall of Famers understand, better than anyone else, who belongs among them in Cooperstown.

Let them sit in judgment of whether the most prolific hit-maker in the history of the game belongs in a place created to recognize the most prolific players in the history of the game.

August 24, 2009 2:56 PM

BCS rankings hopelessly tainted already

By LES EAST

The first college football game is still more than a week away and already the BCS is off track.

The BCS, of course, is a formula that is supposed to bring together the two most deserving teams to play for the college football national championship at the end of the season.

The BCS-vs.-playoff debate continues to smolder, but there’s no point in rehashing it here because the BCS isn’t going anywhere as long as the current contracts with the bowls and networks are in place (through 2014).

But we can look at a way to improve the system we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future.

A major component (one-third) of the BCS rankings consists of the coaches poll. Subjectivity really should have no role to play in which teams get to play for a championship, but since it does, let’s try and deal with it as fairly as we can.

The BCS rankings for the 2009 season, which won’t start being formulated until a month or so into the season, are already irretrievably tainted, thanks to the preseason coaches poll.

Every team in the country already has an inherent advantage or disadvantage based on what some guys, and perhaps gals, think they will do this season.

Go ahead and run the table and see if that’s good enough to overcome preseason thoughts. Ask last year’s Utah team if winning every game you play is sufficient to get you a shot at the title, or the 2004 Auburn team.

Could the Utes, who blasted Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country until the final poll before the bowls, in the Sugar Bowl, have beaten Florida in the BCS championship? I don’t know, and no one will ever know because that game wasn’t played.

The modest preseason expectations that pollsters had for Utah essentially eliminated the Utes from the BCS race while they were conducting preseason practice.

Five years ago, Auburn had the unfortunate circumstance of being one of three undefeated teams from BCS conferences. Were the Tigers (No. 18 in the preseason poll) more deserving of a shot at the title than USC or Oklahoma (Nos. 1 and 2)?

I don’t know. But I do know that they were the odd team out, based at least in part, on the fact that pollsters thought they would be the weaker of those three teams. It turns out their fate was determined in August, not September-December.

Preseason polls are the single biggest flaw in the flawed BCS system. I’ve accepted the fact that we’re stuck with the BCS system and a subjective way of choosing who gets to play for the national championship.

But let’s at least make the best of the flawed system. The BCS rankings don’t start coming out enough games have been played so each team has a body of work of some depth.

But the coaches poll – one-third of those rankings – starting being formulated before anybody played a game. Let’s ditch the preseason polls and not allow anyone to vote on any poll in the BCS until the first set of BCS rankings.

It’ll make a screwed-up system a little less screwed up.

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