Ever since Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged that his “gut” ultimately decided the fate of former head coach Brian Billick, I’ve been trying to listen to my instincts a little more closely. After all, if someone as successful as Bisciotti can trust the feeling in the pit of his stomach to guide a public entity like an NFL team — even as his decisions fly in the face of conventional wisdom — shouldn’t we all put a little more stock in the amazing organ that is the human gut? Heck, one day Bisciotti’s stomach could be bronzed and displayed proudly in Canton, alongside Johnny U’s high-top cleats and Tom Matte’s wristband. That is, once those items are removed from the Indianapolis Colts’ display and put in their rightful place, which should happen any day now with Bisciotti and equally powerful right-hand-man Dick Cass so chummy with the NFL brass.
So in the spirit of “going with my gut,” I’ll share with you my midsection’s thoughts on some (hopefully) relevant sporting matters…
Conventional wisdom says: The Ravens front office, including “capologist” Pat Moriarity, is beyond reproach. In fact, Bruce Cunningham has frequently forbidden callers to WNST’s Saturday Ravens Report from criticizing Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
My gut says: The Ravens have now found themselves in salary cap hell two times within the past seven seasons (2002 and 2008), while failing to win a playoff game or signing a top-tier free agent during that period. Somebody needs to answer for this predicament, even if the local media no longer feels comfortable asking tough questions without Billick around to take all the bullets for the organization.
Conventional wisdom says: Nick Markakis’ recent “raise” of $55,000 from the Orioles, which will result in a $455,000 salary in 2008, was a fair contract for a player with Markakis’ tenure in the league, and certainly within the club’s rights.
My gut says: Former Raven Will Demps just signed a two-year contract worth $4.2 million with the Houston Texans, a team without a playoff appearance during its existence. I remember when playing right field for a six-time World Series participant was a lot more glamorous — and lucrative — than being a mediocre NFL safety.
Conventional wisdom says: The final straw for Billick was losing to the Dolphins in Miami in Week 15.
My gut says: That’s not nearly the embarrassment people made it out to be. The Dolphins had lost seven games by three points or less prior to their win over the Ravens, who lost Ray Lewis and Kyle Boller to season-ending injuries during the game. In a professional sport with a salary cap, there’s really no shame in having your 3rd-stringers lose on the road to a previously winless team.
Conventional wisdom says: The Patriots gained no real advantage by video-taping their opponents’ signals and (allegedly) the St. Louis Rams’ walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, so we should all brush this little mess under the rug as swiftly as possible and get on with enjoying the new American pastime.
My gut says: This story is a lot bigger than the vast majority of NFL “journalists” or fans have been willing to admit. The new stricter penalties proposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for teams that are caught cheating in the “innocent” manner in which the Pats were, prove that the league is taking this matter very seriously. Maybe we all should, and rethink New England’s place in recent NFL history.
Conventional wisdom says: The Cleveland Browns made the loudest noise during the first week of free agency by adding Donte’ Stallworth to an already potent offense, securing new contracts with Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis, and bolstering their defensive line with the signings of Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.
My gut says: The team who may have improved even more than the Browns this off-season is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who added Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson to their receiving corps. The Jags already had a top defense and a potent running game, and made it to the AFC’s Final Four with the incredibly efficient David Garrard throwing to a mediocre group of receivers. With Porter and Williamson now in the fold, this team will be mighty tough in 2008.
Conventional wisdom says: Professional golf’s Grand Slam is impossible to win because the feat requires beating the entire field in all four majors (around 150 players in each tournament, except for the Masters, which usually has 90-95 entrants). So all it takes is one guy out of 150 to have the week of his life on the greens and your hopes for history are quickly dashed.
My gut says: Tiger Woods pulls it off this year. He’s playing better than ever (if that’s possible) and no other player on tour has both the game and the guts to take him down. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what baseball great Hank Aaron had to say about Woods: “As great as Jim Brown was, and as great as Michael Jordan was, and as great as anybody you’d want to keep mentioning, I don’t know of anybody who was as great at his sport as this man is now.”
Conventional wisdom says: Tom Coughlin was rewarded for leading the Giants to a Super Bowl title with a four-year, $21 million contract, only a few months after Giants fans and the ruthless New York media was calling for the coach’s head.
My gut says: The Giants learned that sticking with an established coach, even in the midst of a supposed player upheaval, can pay dividends. Should the Giants stumble in 2008, I highly doubt that the Mara-Tisch ownership team will panic, send Coughlin packing and eat the majority of his contract. But maybe that’s just because they have yet to learn the value of listening to their guts.