Archive | April, 2010

The Myth of Draft Experts and Pundits

28 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After sitting through the three days of  the sports media masterbation known as the NFL Draft last week, I’ve listened to all the experts and soothsayers from ESPN, the NFL Network as well as local sports talk radio geeks jabber on about the latest class of college players they’ve slated to be the NFL’s next big thing on Sundays.

Some of these players are making their first step to the Hall of Fame while others will be going professional in something other than sports. Of course, figuring out which ones will be the most successful is a lot easier for some talking head on TV to predict and pontificate than what will actually happen in these players careers.

And up until this season year, I, myself, have camped out at Radio City Music Hall in New York City with my own set of assorted mock drafts pontificating over who was going to be the next league superstar.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we Mr. Know-It-All experts on TV and radio are as clueless as the average Joe Six-Pack Fan watching the draft from his suburban home in South Jersey, the D.C. Suburbs or whatever metropolitan area or village you call home.

What really bothers me is the pronouncement of a player’s success or failure by people like Mel Kiper Jr. who has never played, coached and worked in a front office of an NFL franchise. Those “experts” base their opinions upon the player’s college careers and from meaningless activities such as the NFL Scouting Combines which gives you little indication of what a player is going to do in a live game.

I’ve never seen Adrian Peterson get tackled by shuttle hurdles or have to jump in the air to touch an apparatus on the ceiling during the course of an NFL game.

The bottom-line is that while a player’s talent will ultimately rise to the top how that talent is nurtured and developed by the player and his coach is the trump card to all the pundits draft-day projections.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is full of guys who didn’t fit all the prescribed formulas of what an NFL player at whatever position should look like. The list is too numerous of players who were too small, didn’t play at a big-time school, too slow or too something who had solid careers even if they didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame.

As much as these college kids are dissected through endless film study, background checks and shuttle hurdles, a player’s success or failure in the league is determined by his own work ethic, his heart, how well he is prepared by his coaches. You can’t quantitatively measure heart or motivation.

The subject of this year’s punditry was Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos ahead of Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Texas’ Colt McCoy. The word on Tebow by the experts and a number of people is that his game doesn’t translate to the pro game. The biggest problem is that his delivery is too slow. Some also pointed to his poor performance in the Senior Bowl.

According to all that Tebow, who has not played a snap in the NFL or worked with an NFL coach, is not going to be a good NFL quarterback. But do we really know that? Can we let the guy go through the rigors of learning the playbook, film study, and work with his mechanics before we say he’s not going to make it?

When Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young was coming out of Texas, the pundit class said he was a running quarterback and that his sidearm delivery wouldn’t make it in the NFL. Folks also pointed to his poor showing on the Wonderlic Test—something that has absolutely nothing to do with the game on the field.

In four years  in the league, Young is still in the NFL and has a 26-13 record as a starter and has completed 57 percent of passes. He has 11-game winning drives and seven fourth quarter comebacks-including a 99-yard game winning drive to beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. Last season, he bounced back from being benched in 2008 and nearly took the Titans to the playoffs in 2009. While his passing numbers aren’t by any means the prettiest in world (more interceptions than TD passes), Young has proven that he can win at this level. If he gets some better receivers and continues to work on his game, his passing numbers will improve.

According to the NFL’s prescribed formula of the ideal quarterback at 6-4 with a big arm, a Drew Brees at just 6-feet tall wasn’t supposed to make it in the NFL, but all he’s done is put up big numbers and win a Super Bowl.

But that mentality has also been used by the draftniks and NFL scouts to not  give guys a shot at all. Former University of Florida quarterback Chris Leak was a drop-back passer who excelled under three different offensive schemes and won a national championship. The fact that he was 6-feet tall scared off the scouts and the talking heads.

Leak got a brief look with the Chicago Bears, a team that allowed a lesser quarterback like Rex Grossman have a job and toss interceptions all over the place. Leak is probably one of the best quarterbacks who never really got a chance to show what he can do in the NFL.

Another little formula that media folks like to look at is level of competition at the collegiate level. According to that notion, players out of Div. I-AA, Div. II or III are theoretically not good enough to beat out the players from the major Div. I programs.

To hear all these guys talk over years, guys like Brian Westbrook who came out of Villanova, Andre Reid from Kutztown, Jahrie Evans (New Orleans Saints) out of Bloomsburg, or Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts) who played at Howard University are not supposed to hang with the kids from Ohio State or Michigan, right? Reid is arguably a Hall of Famer while those other four have had solid careers in the league. There are examples too numerous for this column.

I often wonder if the ESPN or the sports talk radio of today existed during the  1970s what would those guys have said about Phil Simms out of Morehead State or Walter Payton out of Jackson State. They have would have said they didn’t play against the best competition and therefore they aren’t good enough to play in the NFL.

Here’s the deal—if you can play football at the pro level, then you can play. Scouting combines, size formulas, where a guy went school really doesn’t matter if he’s a good football player. Projecting a guy’s future success based on the stuff you see on all TV radio shows is like to trying to figure out the weather forecast March. You never what you’re going to get until get it.

Remember this weak-armed quarterback drafted in the third round back in 1979 by the San Francisco 49ers, some guy named Joe Montana, who went on to win….Well you know the rest of the story.

Rising R&B star Leela James proves that good soul is timeless

27 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Photo by Devin Dehaven

“Hey Nineteen, that’s Aretha Franklin. She don’t remember the queen of soul. It’s hard times befallen soul survivors.”

– Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan.

If hard times have befallen soul survivors as the ’70s pop band, Steely Dan, once suggested in the song, “Hey Nineteen,” you would never know it if you heard the soulful sounds of rising rhythm and blues singer Leela James.

Having grown up in Los Angeles in the midst of hardcore hip-hop and pre-packaged, video-driven popular music, James is a refreshing reminder that the soulful sounds of divas like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Mavis Staples stretch beyond the mere boundaries of time.

“With her Southern personality and her real soulful, gutsy way of expression in terms of articulation of expression of the song is very refreshing and her attitude to see her on stage is a pleasure ,” said WDAS radio personality Mimi Brown.

In other words, James definitely remembers the “queens of soul.”

“I’m definitely influence by the real singers I call them. The folks that have meat on their voices,” James said. “I love the Aretha Franklins, the Gladys Knights. I loved the gospels sounding voices because I was raised in the church. I’m used to folks that can sing. I like good down home kind of singers.”

Even James record label is a throwback to the old days ’70s soul—Stax Records (a division of Concord Music Group), which once included the likes of Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and Rufus Thomas, produced her newest album, “My Soul,” which is scheduled to be released on May 25. She said this album is more reflective of her and her own experiences.

“I just want to people to take me on in the way that they have taken my other music,” James said. “A lot of this music is definitely apart of me that’s why it’s called, “My Soul.” I didn’t have the restrictions that I had in the past. I had more choice on this album.”

While her voice can range from being soft and sweet to the gritty down to the gut spiritual soul reminiscent of singers like Betty Wright, Etta James, Angela Bofill and oddly enough Janis Joplin (albeit with a lot more polish), James has the ability to make her audience a part of the show as well.

As the opening act for Angie Stone at a recent show (April 16) at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, James turned her time on the stage into an old school backyard cookout sans the barbecue grill with people from their 20s to their 40s dancing on the stage with the 26-year-old songstress as she belted out tunes from back in the day with a little help from her band and a DJ on stage.

And for good measure, James kicked off her high heel shoes and turned her show into a summertime family reunion on what was a cold spring night outdoors.

“Every show is not going to be the same,” James said. ” I feel the soul and the energy of the audience and the spirit of what’s going on at that time. It’s not scripted. (At the Keswick), we didn’t rehearse or plan none of that. It just happened.

“It’s whatever I’m feeling at that moment in time. I just like to have a good time when I perform. I want people to feel the music. They spent their money to see a show. I try my best to give them a show.”

Maintaining a busy schedule which involves constant touring, James has thrilled audiences all of the world from South Africa to the Netherlands with her soulful performances.

James said she likes to perform and record music with the combination of a live band and a DJ. What ever manifestation of the music, James wants the sound to be authentic in her own unique way of keeping it real.

“I love instruments, I have a band. (In Philadelphia) I brought out a DJ. I love combining the sounds,” James said. “But I love coming out ultimately with something that still sounds raw and not contrived or everything computerized. I love combining the music.”

Brown said James’ music and her live performance is an effort to uplift the spirits of people in hard times in the way that Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Marvin Gaye did when they dominated the music scene.

“(James) wants to embrace her audience with music that makes them feel good,” Brown said. “Music that takes the worry away or the music that’s real about what life is and it has the expressions of love and also the expression of enjoying life and having fun and dancing.

“She wants everybody to be apart of her music. In other words, she’s not singing at you, she’s singing to you and everybody is apart of the celebration of music.”

Since 2005, James has recorded three other albums—”A Change is Gonna Come” and “Let’s Do it Again.” James also recorded a live album, “Live From New Orleans.” She was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and a Soul Train Music Award in 2008. The website soulsingers.com named her their Female Vocalist of the Year in 2009.

But James is not necessarily a household name just yet in a time when more popular singers of lesser ability are commanding the airwaves more so through the use of well-choreographed music videos.

James said while she wants to maintain the integrity of her music, she would definitely like to reach as wide an audience as a possible.

“All of it goes hand-in-hand in my opinion,” James said. “You want people to respect your work first and foremost and hopefully as a result of that will come the notoriety and that comes with the exposure. It’s like the song that I performed (at the Keswick Theatre) called, ‘I Want it All.’ I think all of it can work together if it’s done right.”

As much as James reveres the old school singers, she said she is a fan of her contemporaries in the neo-soul movement like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Angie Stone.

Getting James brand of music out to that wider audience is a task easier said than done, especially in the tightly formatted, corporate-owned radio stations. She said she would like to see radio stations expose young people to differents types of music and artists.

“I think that radio plays a major part where music is,” James said. “That is really making things go round and round. Until the rotation is slightly altered to show more variety then I think you’re going to get what you get today and young people are only going to know one or two artists. They’re not going to know about songs by people like Womack and Womack because it’s not something they heard. The old school moment section of the radio is only in the mix.”

James, like many of today’s neo-soul artists, has to be a bit of a self-promoter. There was no rest off stage or aftershow party. Shortly after her show in Glenside, James was in the lobby of the Keswick Theatre signing autographs, selling the single from her CD, and posing for pictures with her fans.

Brown said with the downsizing of the music industry, artists have to take an active role in promoting themselves. She said what bodes well for James is that she has the ability to reach people from a variety of age ranges.

“I think that the variety of age groups from 20s to 40s and 50s,” Brown said. “She’s covering a big band of audience. I think she needs to continue to do what she’s doing and people will catch on to who Leela James is. She’s a person and a voice that’s going to stand out in the crowd.”

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Eagles Management Failed to Put McNabb in a Good Position to Win a Super Bowl

8 Apr

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Now that Donovan McNabb has been traded to the Washington Redskins, the most common thing that you’ll hear from local media types about his legacy in Philadelphia is that he failed to produce a Super Bowl win for the franchise during his 11-year tenure.

Some will say that he choked in four out of those five NFC Championship games and in the Eagles’ lone Super Bowl appearance during his tenure in Philadelphia.

The idea that McNabb’s legacy in Philadelphia is his failure to win a Super Bowl ring is as myopic and irrational as it is actually far from the truth. It is absolutely silly for fans and the sports talk radio crowd to blame McNabb for the Eagles not having a Super Bowl title.

That failure goes on the ledger of the Eagles as an organization because they did not do enough to put a team on the field that was good enough to win a Super Bowl. Because the personnel decisions that the Eagles made weren’t good enough to attract top talent, it ultimately affected what they did on the field. Without such things as a game breaking wide receiver and a stubborn unwillingness to truly commit to a running game, the Eagles postseason failures overs the years were inevitable.

Eagles team president Joe Banner’s cost-cutting measures of keeping the team under the salary cap and not bringing in big-time players that could have helped McNabb over the years is not the fault of the former Syracuse star. McNabb was not the one making the front office decisions for the Birds for the past 11 years.

When the Eagles brought in wide receiver Terrell Owens in 2004, the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl and McNabb had the best statistical year of his career, completing a career-high 64 percent of his passes with 31 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

But that marriage didn’t last long. T.O.’s unceremonious departure from the Eagles was a combination of Owens publicly criticizing McNabb and Eagles management’s poor handling of that situation. On one hand, it didn’t help that Owens’ agent Drew Rosenhaus tried to strong arm the Eagles organization to pay his client more money.

On the flip side of the coin, the Eagles could have recognized Owens value to the offense, renegotiated his contract and given him the money, knowing that they could alter the terms of the contract any time they wanted—which is management’s right to do under the current collective bargaining agreement.

After Owens left, Banner and company would never again bring a receiver of Owens’ caliber. Instead, they drafted guys like Reggie Brown, who turned out to be a dud and Kevin Curtis, who was merely good enough to be a No. 2 receiver. When former Eagles Donte Stallworth developed some chemistry with McNabb during the 2007 season, the Eagles refused to re-sign him.

Through all of the booing on draft day, racist comments by Rush Limbaugh and the constant derision from Eagles fans and the sports talk radio community, McNabb won 65 percent of his games as the Birds starting quarterback.

McNabb’s tenure in Philadelphia gave the Eagles it’s most successful 11-year stretch in the history of the franchise. He led the Birds to the playoffs in eight of his 11 years which included five division titles, five appearances in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl appearance.

McNabb managed to pull this off with the few weapons he had in his arsenal. The only other quarterback in franchise history that got so much with absolutely no help on offense was former Eagles signal caller Randall Cunningham., who had no offensive line and no running game.

Unfortunately, fans in this town arent’ going to see it that way. Back in 1999, Philly fans were upset that the organization drafted McNabb ahead of former University of Texas star running back and Heisman Trophy winner Rickey Williams.

As it turned out, McNabb was by far the best choice. I don’t think you could have said the same thing about Williams, who has been a chronic head case throughout his career. He has spent most of career being suspended for marijuana use. McNabb has been a great player and a model citizen

If anything, McNabb’s legacy in the City of Brotherly Love can be best described as an old James Ingram song that said, “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.”

Thats’ true, but it wasn’t all his fault. The thing that Eagles fans fail to see through all their emotion of not having won a championship since 1960 and their constant scapegoating of McNabb is that their team was not well equipped with the players they needed on both sides of the ball to win a Super Bowl.

For all of Banner’s maneuvering of the salary cap and getting players on the cheap, it has not translated into building a team capable of winning the Super Bowl.

One superstar athlete isn’t enough to win a championship. It’s something that Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson found out playing with the 76ers. The same goes for Cunningham during his time with the Eagles, who had even fewer weapons than McNabb.

What has to be maddening for McNabb is that new Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb is going to have all the weapons he didn’t have during his time with the Eagles. He will have emerging stars in wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as well as tight end Brent Celek and he will have a running game with LeSean McCoy.

In Washington, McNabb will have a head coach in Mike Shanahan that will surround him with good receivers and will be committed to having a running game to keep teams off balance. More importantly, McNabb will be playing in front of a more knowledgeable fan base in the D.C area that will actually appreciate his efforts.

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