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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

Green Bay Packers: Romo To The Rescue

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What would be the fun of a march to the playoffs if it didn't involve a few setbacks, a little uncertainty? But even the staunchest Packer fans must have had their fill of anxiety by now.

They've watched six full games without the superstar quarterback; an agonizing tie game that should have been won; a Thanksgiving Day turkey of a performance; an 11-point halftime deficit that turned into a one-point win. And then the ultimate low: down by 23 points at the half in Dallas!

But toughness and talent and luck turned things around again, and after the 37-36 marvel Chicago and Detroit are still there to be caught and a great season is still possible.

Frank gave Artie about 15 minutes to settle down, but somehow he knew what he'd hear first...

 

A: Point made!

F: You don't mean the margin of victory. You mean...

A: Yes, you've heard me say this before, but Tony Romo is not a very good quarterback.

F: There used to be no “very” there. Is your judgment softening?

A: Well, it's nothing personal toward the lad from Burlington, Wis.; he seems like a nice guy and a smart guy. And it's not that he's unskilled. It's just that he plays for the dang Cowboys, which makes him as overrated as the team. And there's just something goofy with him, especially in December when Big D does the big fade.

F: Not to lessen the Packers' achievement, but Romo's two interceptions in the waning minutes were typical. He ducked away from a rush, then sidearmed a throw behind the receiver just enough for Sam Shields to make a great recovery and pick. Then when a field goal could win it for Dallas, Romo and his receiver were out of sync just enough for Tramon Williams to make a great fingertip grab.

A: It's just so odd about Romo. Maybe if he got away from Dallas and playing for Jerry Jones... Whatever it is, he's just always falling short.

F: So are the Cowboys, who've gone to the post-season only seven times since they won their last Super Bowl in January of '96. Part of that 2-7 record is the game in Seattle when Romo fumbled the snap on what could have been a game-winning, chip-shot field goal.

A: Another one-point loss, ain'a?

F: Yup, 21-20. But I'll tell you what I thought was Romo's worst miscue in the game. A little before Shields' interception, when Dallas led by five and could have put the game away, Romo had Dez Bryant open down the left sideline. But as I saw it, Romo tried to “place” the throw instead of airing it out for Bryant to run under. As Troy Aikman said, Shields has terrific “recovery speed,” but the ball was simply underthrown.

A: Seems like Bryant felt the same way. He stomped up the tunnel before the game ended, showing a lot of class.

F: He may have been thinking of another near-miss with Romo. In the first half Bryant was wide open in the right side of the end zone but Romo overthrew him by just a hair, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal.

A: One of several times they could have truly buried the Pack. At halftime I thought I'd just keep the game on in the background while I did some light housekeeping. But when Eddie Lacy ripped off that 60-yard run to start the third quarter it seemed like there was a whole different momentum. And from the crowd noise the rest of the way, "America's Team" was playing in Lambeau South. 

F: Lacy and Matt Flynn were great but I'd nominate Jordy Nelson as the Packers' top hero. If he hadn't made that amazing grab over the defender in the end zone, that first possession of the second half would have ended with an interception and, perhaps, complete deflation.

A: I know I would have gone back to my housework.

F: Romo will get a lot of blame again in Dallas, but there was plenty of dumb stuff going on. Joe Buck kept asking why they didn't stick with the running game in the second half...

A: And he was right. DeMarco Murray was killing the Pack! I still don't know where their rushing defense has gone.

F: But just take this sequence after the Packers made it 29-17. The kickoff goes eight yards deep in the end zone but the Cowboy runs it out and gets nailed at the 15. On first down Romo throws a short pass to Murray, who I think would have beaten A.J. Hawk to the sideline for a nice gain—and Murray drops the ball. If he gets a first down and some breathing space, maybe the Cowboys do go to the run. As it was, they punted, the Packers quickly scored again and Dallas seemed to become desperate.

A: And “desperate” is not something Tony does well. “Oh Romo, Romo, wherefore art thou throwing that pigskin in the wrong spot?”

 

NOT QUITE BOWLED OVER

F: The college bowl season begins Saturday, so it's time for our annual tally of crummy records in these supposedly epic displays of quality football.

A: Please tell me the Beef O'Brady's Bowl is still in the lineup.

F: Dec. 23 in St. Petersburg, matching East Carolina and Ohio.

A: At, like, 6 a.m. on a channel no one can get?

F: Nope, 1 p.m. Central time on ESPN, which of course will televise anything. So here are the bowl numbers: Overall there are 35 post-season games including the BCS championship. Among the 70 teams, eight have six losses and 14 have five losses, for a total of 30% of all teams. There are seven teams that are the essence of mediocrity at 6-6.

A: Boy, let me at that prime viewing!

F: Actually, this year's data are a little better than last year's. In the 2012-'13 bowl season 27 out of the 70 teams had either five or six losses, and there was even one team, Georgia Tech, that entered the Sun Bowl at 6-7. Amazingly, they beat USC. So overall, last year 40% of bowl teams had at least five losses.

A: Talk about improvement! But who cares, really, when most bowl games are just excuses to put rich alumni in a warm place to spend money.

F: It turns out that I'll be seeing one of the 6-6 teams. The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium—make that the New Era Pinstripe Bowl— pits 6-6 Rutgers against 8-4 Notre Dame. And since my brother's younger son is a Golden Domer, we'll be in the Bronx for it.

A: Last time I checked, Yankee Stadium was still open-air, ain'a?

F: You betcha. So Dec. 28 could be quite an interesting day for us.

A: Better wear your Touchdown Jesus long johns and pray for the miracle of turning water into hot toddies.

 

MR. HART DEPARTS

F: Well, how about Corey Hart's departure for Seattle?

A: Now I'm just waiting for the Brewers to announce the signing of Lyle Overbay, or rather Lyle Over-the-Hill.

F: Well, the former Brewer s first baseman, who IS a free agent, will be 37 in January. And he didn't have much of a season for the Yankees this year—.240 hitting, .295 on-base percentage, 14 homers and 59 RBIs in 445 at-bats. But he did much better than the other New York first baseman the Brewers are looking at. The Mets' Ike Davis hit .205 with 9 homers and 33 RBIs in 317 at-bats and got sent back to the minors for a while.

A: Davis' numbers sound like what the Brew Crew got out of first base from that mob of on-the-job trainees they used in Hart's absence.

F: James Loney was another name that came up, but he probably was out of the Brewers' price range considering the three-year, $21 million deal he got to stay with Tampa Bay.

A: There was something odd about Hart's departure. It sounded to me like the Brewers thought they had the inside track because Hart talked about perhaps taking less money to stay here. I have the feeling Doug Melvin tried to do some nickel-and-diming there.

F: Seattle reportedly gave Hart a $6 million base salary and incentives that could bring the total to $13 million. The Brewers reportedly offered a $4 million base and incentives up to $6.5 million. So Hart will almost make in guaranteed money what he would have had to work real hard for here.

A: Well, now that they've saved some on Corey, Melvin and Mark Attanasio have some dough to sign one or two past-their-prime relievers.

F: Ever the optimist.

A: You know how at Miller Park the scoreboard updates ERAs batter by batter? With some of the Crew's guys they should click the ERAs up with every step they take toward the mound.

F: I'm sure you've noticed that John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez haven't been snapped up by anybody.

A: Axford and “snapped up” do not go together.

F: I did see him strike out the side for St. Louis in the World Series...

A: What was that, the Little League World Series?

F: The real one, although it was in a game the Red Sox had already put away. But still, he looked good.

A: Because he was mopping up and not wearing a Brewers uniform.

 

A DOUBLE STANDARD?

F: Speaking of the Cardinals, I'm sure you were thrilled that Tony La Russa was elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee along with fellow managers Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. I wonder if La Russa's plaque will hang next to a video of him making four pitching changes in an inning, to honor his role in slowing the game to a snail's pace?

A: What I'd like to know is how does he get a pass and a green light on the steroid issue when the writers are essentially boycotting his main man, Mark McGwire, as well as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

F: La Russa was McGwire's skipper in both his major-league stops, Oakland and St. Louis.

A: But he expects us to believe that he had no idea Big Mac and Jose Canseco may have been “using” in Oakland, or McGwire during his Cardinal power binges in '98 and '99?

F: Both men have admitted they took performance-enhancing drugs.

A: But Tony, who saw them every stinkin' day, was oblivious to it? I guess the guy who always preached to the rest of baseball about doing things “the right way” was a master of turning a blind eye the right way.

 

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS

F: In case anyone was wondering who has the biggest clout at Marquette, the answer came last week when Larry Williams resigned as athletic director after just two years.

A: Using the time-honored smokescreen of wanting to “pursue other interests.”

F: Such as not working with Buzz Williams anymore. Michael Hunt's story in the Journal Sentinel made clear that the Williams boys were not like brothers, and now the basketball coach has prevailed.

A: Larry Williams lost his patron when Father Scott Pilarz, the guy who hired him, resigned as MU's president in September. Father Robert Wild returned as president, and he's the guy who promoted Buzz after Tom Crean bolted in April of '08.

F: Hunt implied that the one-game suspension of Todd Mayo for the Wisconsin game might have been the breaking point for Larry Williams. Hunt suggested that some people at MU would have liked a tougher punishment, given Mayo's history of disciplinary issues.

A: Anyway, it's no surprise that Buzz comes out the top dog. He's the highest-paid employee at MU, and who can really argue with three straight Sweet Sixteens and last year's Elite Eight?

 

MUCH MORE THAN ONE BUILDING

F: It looks like the Waukesha County Board will vote this week to oppose any regional tax to finance a new arena in Milwaukee.

A: Joining Racine and Ozaukee counties in saying, “Hell no, we won't pay.”

F: But that's not the same as, “Hell no, we won't go.” I doubt anyone from the 'burbs would refrain from USING a new arena despite not having contributed to its funding. Which prompted James E. Causey to write a pointed opinion piece a few weeks back headlined, “Bring Your ID to New Arena.”

A: It would be fun to see some rich folks from the “Lake Country” get turned away at the turnstiles because they don't have an acceptable address. Or paying an out-of-town surcharge for their seats.

F: Let's be clear about this. We do NOT want public money going to the funding of a new arena. We think the fat cats who would benefit most from all the fancy suites and club seats and fancy restaurants that the NBA demands should pay for 'em. But if public funding winds up being passed, the plan should be regional, involving all the counties whose people would use the facility most.

A: I suppose the politicians might try to finesse the issue by extending the tax that helped build Miller Park.

F: It's one-tenth of a cent per dollar, now expected to keep going until 2018, but extending it for a new purpose apparently would require the state Legislature to approve. And that would conjure up memories of Tommy Thompson back in the '90s, urging that taxpayer funding for Miller Park be limited to this region instead of being statewide. But Thompson sure didn't hesitate to put his name and image on the plaque taking credit for the stadium.

A: And I daresay a few folks from, say, Green Bay or Eau Claire or La Crosse have found their way to Miller Park over the years.

F: But again, we do NOT want public money going to a new arena.

A: Let the folks who'll be sitting in the fancy seats and eating the fancy food do the paying.

F: Of course a new arena wouldn't be used just for the Bucks. There'd be Marquette basketball, Admirals hockey, concerts...

A: Not to mention tractor pulls and ridiculous wrestling spectacles.

F: And the context of the arena issue also includes the needs of many other Milwaukee County attractions. That's why a 48-member body called the Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force began meeting last week.

A: Quite a title for that bunch!

F: Probably the biggest news coming out last week was a report by the Public Policy Forum saying there are huge financial needs for all sorts of recreational and cultural facilities besides the Bradley Center.

A: Things like the zoo, the convention center, the U.S. Cellular Arena and the whole parks program—which, holy cow, also get used by folks who don't live in Milwaukee County.

F: And then there are little things like schools, public safety and infrastructure. So one big question is whether a new arena is the No. 1 priority? Last week Bradley Center officials told the Journal Sentinel that capital repairs at the 25-year-old building would total “over the next five to 10 years, $25 million to $40 million.”

A: But building a new arena would cost at least $400 million.

F: It's true that a new arena would serve other functions than 41 NBA games a year, but I don't think anyone denies that the Bucks are the top reason for even considering a new building.

A: The NBA is clear about what it wants. But is that enough to make it worth doing?

 

LIFTING OUT A SECRET?

A: Hey, one last thing out of Sunday's game. I was noticing some of the screen shots of Dallas coach Jason Garrett. He's somewhere in his 40s, ain'a?

F: Let's look him up on the Web...Yup, he's 47.

A: Well, to me he looks like he's had some work done. And I am absolutely positive that Jerry Jones has had stuff done, like a facelift or three. You can tell around the eyes.

F: For the record, Jones is 71. And your point?

A: Just that Garrett, for a guy who's outdoors as much as he is, his eyes look stretched and fixed. He's got Joan Rivers eyes. And I'm wondering: Between the owner and the coach, who's trying to look like whom? There's something goofy going on.

F: Um, I don't think I have a comment.

A: I may be the only one who sees this.

F: With that I agree.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has no desire to see Dallas.