Monday, November 29, 2010

What the Buffalo Bills can teach us about the U.S. economy + more Miami...

Economic lessons from the 2010 Buffalo Bills...

Here's a little-known secret that may irreparably damage my reputation for some readers:  I am a closet Buffalo Bills fan.  I don't want to be, believe me.  But I must be, because each Sunday I find myself just a bit more interested in the Bills score than the others.  I assume it's a remnant from my time growing up in Buffalo - a leftover feeling of camaraderie and hope from watching a horrible early 80's team (Joe Ferguson, really?) develop over time (#1 pick in '85: Bruce Smith, the addition of Jim Kelly at QB, the 2nd round pick of Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, etc.) into the early 90's juggernaut that, although it lost four straight Superbowls, still managed to get there each year.  I suppose there's a loyalty that is built up over time when you watch something grow and develop, as I watched the 1984 to 1994 Bills, and you find yourself emotionally involved.

This brings me to the present day Buffalo Bills.  They are 2-9.  Terrible by all accounts.  And, unlucky to boot - they've lost three overtime games this year already.  But do you know what?  I love this team.  I would pay money - if I still lived in Buffalo - to watch this scrappy bunch of no names take elite teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh to the brink.  They have chemistry, they have grit, and they have hunger...and if management was smart, they would build around those intangibles as a foundation for something real.  Keep Fitzpatrick as QB - the players love him, he's a gunslinger with balls and big heart - rather than give into the temptation to go for the glamor QB pick in the draft.  Don't touch the skill positions - high character and class act Fred Jackson should never have been on the bench at all this year, shame on management for essentially discriminating against a small school player in favor of a guy like Marshawn Lynch....and you are set with WRs Lee Evans, Steve Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, and RB CJ Spiller as potential game breakers.  Don't touch the secondary - there are some young, skilled studs back there.  Instead, focus on the foundational, no-headline-grabbing drafting of offensive and defensive around guys like Eric Wood and Kyle Williams and add depth to the core, trench areas that ultimately determine wins and losses. 

Ok, so how does any of this relate to the U.S. economy, you ask?  Last year's Bills - the 2009 version - were awful (just like the 2008-2009 U.S. economy), and it was clear to anyone objective that they needed line help (aka, nuts-and-bolts foundational jobs to the U.S. economy).  But instead, the Bills management (aka, the Federal Reserve?) made the decision to pursue a short-term "headline-grabbing" fix (aka, artificial stimulus) and signed wideout Terrell Owens in order to sell a few more season tickets rather than address their more important, long-term needs.  Owens, of course, proved to be not much more than a one-and-done bust, along with the very weak 2009 incumbent QB Trent Edwards (aka, Tim Geithner?  anyone, anyone...?)

So what's the lesson?  Well, the 2009 Bills got nothing out of their artificial stimulus injection (Owens), much like the true, underlying U.S. economy got from its injection.  This year, however, the analogy diverges.  The 2010 Bills cut their dead weight (Edwards) and decided to let their down cycle run its course (much like a recession should be allowed to run its natural course) and along the way have actually built character and chemistry through hard, gritty play and effort.  Conversely, the 2010 now-highly-politicized Federal Reserve decided to once again forgo addressing foundational issues in the U.S. economy (massive debt, jobs) and are going for the short-term, glamorous, headline-grabbing fix (aka, Quantitative Easing 2).  And much like last year's Bills artificial Owens injection, it's pretty clear to me that this year's Fed QE2 artificial injection will have similar one-and-done results.

In short, this year's Bills team is bouncing back from a rough patch all on its own - the spark is there, the chemistry is there.  It's palpable, and they should be applauded.

But this year's Federal Reserve is unfortunately going the way of the 2009 Bills - laden with an egotistical superstar (QE2) who distracts the mob from the real issues at hand for only a short while before they resurface again.  Caveat Emptor, folks.  The Fed could learn something valuable from this scrappy Bills team:  recession (aka, rebuilding) takes time and is not a dirty word to be avoided.  In fact, it can sow the seeds for greatness for years to come, just like the 1984-1985 Bills.  Are you listening, Bernanke?  It's Ryan Fitzpatrick on the line...and he's asking you to grow a pair. 

More Miami driving... 

My Dad taught me an important lesson about basketball referees when I was younger.  "Good refs or bad refs don't really matter much," he explained.  "It's the inconsistent refs who are most dangerous."  His point was that players can adjust to a referee who makes consistently good calls or consistently bad calls...and to the referee who makes consistently tight calls or instead lets the ticky-tack stuff go.  But a referee who is inconstent - good, then bad...tight, then loose - can ruin a game.

Which brings me to my most recent rant about Miami driving:  Miami drivers are notoriously inconsistent, and it drives me consistently crazy. 

Inconsistency #1:  On surface roads (local streets), Miami drivers routinely crawl along at a snail's pace.  No rush, no stress, clearly no friggin' job - or anything else important - to get to.  As I have written before, a Miami driver rarely goes at a green light until a count of "one-mississippi...two-mississippi" has passed.  90% of the time I will honk at the guy ahead of me at a green light because the person is busy texting, or talking on the phone, or finishing off that coffee, or actually (I am not kidding) reading the paper while driving.  So you could safely argue that Miami drivers are slow, sluggish, and unresponsive on surface roads.  However, please explain why those very same drivers become Evel-freakin-Knievel as soon at they enter the highway, especially I-95 (just named the most dangerous road in America, btw.)

Look, I am a pretty fast driver at times, but I am generally efficient and safe (knock wood!)  But I-95 scares the bejeezus out of me.  As soon as I slow to 70mph (from 75mph, let's say) behind a slow-moving truck or someone that I need to pass, people whizz around me on both sides at ~90mph so that I can't actually change lanes.  And usually, when these people buzz past (and they do "buzz" past - the lanes are notoriously narrow on I-95...hmmm, maybe there's a correlation between that fact and the mortality rate on this road, eh Miami?), they are also either on the phone or texting at the same time.  WTF?  Seriously, WTF?

So how can the same folks who fall asleep at green lights on surface roads also become speed-racing, texting psychopaths on the expressway?  Miami, pay attention please:  just like in basketball refereeing, inconsistency kills...

Inconsistency #2:  I have written about the innate laziness of the Miami driver before.  For example, it must simply be too taxing - too damn hard - for people to actually flick their wrist and click that turn signal to indicate that they are changing lanes or suddenly slamming on the brakes and making a turn.  I know, that seems like a lot to ask!  In the routine course of daily driving, people never seem to use turn signals when they would be of actual benefit to the broader public.  Instead, a level of "driving ESP' is required:  hmmm, is that guy pausing a touch...I dunno, I don't like the looks of his swerving....I think he's a sudden-turn candidate...CON-SONAR...CRAZY IVAN!  (Which way did he turn, Jonesy?  To the starboard, sir!!)  Anyway, the lack of turn-signaling leaves you constantly guessing on Miami roads.

Except for this amazing discovery...when a road naturally curves to the right or the left - meaning there is no choice on which way to go - do you know what Miami drivers will do?  Yes, they will put on their turn signal!!  WTF?  Aaaaarrrrrrghhhhh.  I mean, just shoot me.  Why the hell would you indicate that you are turning when we all know you are turning because the road is actually going that way and we are all turning too?!  Folks, if I sound a little distraught, it's because this stuff is enough to drive a person insane.  Or maybe it already has.  And bear in mind, I am not talking about one isolated incident here - I am telling you that I have seen it over and over and over.  And given that 70% of Miami is Hispanic, I really think someone with driving experience in Cuba or South America needs to tell me the origin of all this senseless inconsistency.  I just don't get it...

More Miami Heat...

Headed to the Heat-Wizards game tonight, and we'll see if anything has changed since my last visit (Heat-Celtics).  I wrote back in July that the Heat would start 10-10 on the year, and I think they are 9-7 to this point, so clearly I will be routing for the Wizards tonight!

I caught a Chris Bosh post-game interview the other night (I think it was after Friday night's Sixers game) and I have to admit I genuinely like Bosh.  I mean, who the hell ever knows the truth behind these things, but I get the sense that he's a good dude and a likable guy.  (Unlike Wade and LeBron, who I think are probably behind-the-scenes @ssholes, to be honest.) 

Anyway, despite my feelings for Bosh, he said something so colossally stupid that I thought someone should have been fired over it.  He told the sideline reporter (a ridiculous homer named Jason Jackson - just my opinion) that - and I am paraphrasing here - the Heat would be fine as long as he, Wade, and James just did the same stuff this year that they all did separately on different teams last year.  Something like "as long as we do what we each did last year, we'll be fine."  Whaaaaat?  Chris, how ignorant are you?  And how bad is Miami's coaching or managing if this message is being conveyed?  How bad must things be if Bosh is also speaking for his teammates, and if they really all feel that excelling individually just like last year is the ticket to Miami's success this year?  Folks, that's moronic.  He advocated the construct of three superstars playing like individuals and then expecting a team to sprout out of it.  Where is the team concept?  Where is the buy-in from the stars?  Where is the humility and the admission that these guys need to be flexible and feel each other out and even make some sacrifices along the way in order to arrive at something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?  (Pssst,'s a hint:  that's the definition of a team)

Look, I have beaten the Heat dead-horse enough at this point, but I have to say that if the message from Heat management down to Heat coaches and down to Heat stars and down to Heat players is "just do what you did as individuals last year and we'll be fine," then the Miami Heat are in much, much bigger trouble than anyone might have thought.  That attitude needs to be re-framed, in a big way.  When stars come together, sacrifices are needed - someone has to take the charges, someone has to make the extra pass, someone has to box out...and it can't just be the two other role players on the court at the time.

We'll see how it looks tonight, but after Bosh's comments the other day, I remain a non-believer... In fact, the Miami Tepid jokes are too obvious at this point.  Let's get classical instead and just go with the Miami Hubris.

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