Ndamukong Suh Big-Timing Detroit Media: OUTRAGE?

>> 6.10.2011

NFL Network showed up to film the Lions’ player-led workouts today, and for the first time, Ndamukong Suh showed up to participate. I’ll let the various reporters’ Twitter feeds break it down from there:Twitter reactions from Chris McCosky, Paula Pasche, Dave Birkett, and Tom Kowalski after Ndamukong Suh blew off Detroit media on the heels of an NFL Network interview.

Several fans, including longtime friends of TLiW @jacoblrussell and @Dustin_aka_D, were taken aback by this news. Was Ndamukong Suh big-timing the local media? Was he making a phony show of being a great teammate for the national media? Is his “awesome guy” persona just that—a thin fa├žade  covering a monstrous ego?

As if the lockout weren’t reminder enough, there are two words in the phrase “professional football,” and the first word means it’s their job. These men are paid to do a job, the same as you. Some players see talking to the media as an essential part of that job. Some see it as an annoyance. Some see it as a necessary evil. Some see it as an opportunity to get their face in front of your eyes, when they play a game where everyone’s head is covered. Most see it as some combination of the above, varying by circumstances and mood.

Chris McCosky, Paula Pasche, Dave Birkett, and Tom Kowalski are professionals, too. It’s their job to cover the Lions, to come up with fresh angles, to get good quotes, to keep us informed, to tell good stories, and keep us coming back for more. In the midst of a lockout, such stories have been incredibly difficult to come by—and Ndamukong Suh showing up to the voluntary workouts is, relatively speaking, compelling stuff. Add in a decent quote or two, and that’s a real actual football story they can write, and we can read. To get blown off after doing on the heels spot for the national media . . . it’s understandably upsetting.

It's tempting, as fans, to overreact to this, and assign all sorts of motivation and blame to Ndamukong Suh and his handlers—just like we assigned all sorts of motivation and blame when Suh didn’t immediately sign and report to camp. Remember all that hullabaloo? How Suh went from being the Best Guy Ever to a no-good spoiled money-grubber in a matter of hours? How a few missed days of would leave him scrambling to catch up? How falling behind in his rookie year would set his development back months—or maybe years?  How Lions fans took to Twitter and started hurling invective at Ndamukong and his sister, Ngum?

How’d that turn out?

The mild grumpiness I saw on Twitter about this incident wasn’t out-of-line. I thought it was a little out-of-character for Suh, too. But remember—part of what we love so much about Suh is his intelligence, his personality, his self-awareness, his selflessness, his engineering degree, his marketability, and his ability to be represent the franchise. He’s so much more than a monster between the hash marks; that’s what makes him special. He realizes that people across the nation associate him with the Lions, and the Lions with him—and he needs to maintain that relationship in our minds. He’s taking care of himself and his family first—and c’mon. We all know he’ll be ready for football when football happens, whether he’s pumping iron in Detroit or Lincoln or Portland or Belgrade.

So, don’t crucify Suh for this. It’s one little tiny spot on an otherwise spotless record so far. This doesn’t make him a prima donna or a problem child or Just Like Big Baby or any of that. It’s just another day at the office.

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USMNT 2–0 Canada: Gold Cup win at Ford Field

>> 6.08.2011

Excitement was building, quickly. Tension hung in the air. Some cheers, a burst of applause—then 28,205 people gasping in expectation as Jozy Altidore put it on net. Canadian goalie Lars Hirschfeld stumbled, and Ford Field exploded as the USMNT went up 1-0. Meanwhile, the other four people in attendance had just arrived, and were going up the escalator to the club level.

Yes, we were a little late. Fortunately, we caught the replay on the monitors:

The American Outlaws were in full voice as we took what we thought were our seats. We had an excellent view all by ourselves in the club level, relaxing in the gray leather-ish seats. With nobody else nearby, we got some great time just watching and dissecting the action.

detroit_USMNT_canada_ford_field_gold_cup

It’s true that the crowd wasn’t quite up to anticipated levels. However, given the cost of the tickets (minimum with Ticketmaster fees was nearly $30; they ranged up into the triple digits), the total lack of TV/radio promotion (that I saw), and the fact that it was a late Tuesday night during the school year, it’s actually pretty impressive. In fact, the Ford Field crowd last was the largest to attend a Gold Cup group-stage match since 2003! A loud, excited soccer crowd 28k strong, with two vibrant supporter sections might not look impressive spread out over a 60,000-seat stadium . . .

Crowd at Ford Field in Detroit for the USMNT vs. Canada Gold Cup match

. . . but they certainly sounded great. USMNT head coach Bob Bradley picked an excellent lineup, with a nice blend of youth and experience. Several players whose form had been in question looked fantastic in the first half—Altidore, for one, and midfielder Michael Bradley in particular. It’d be an exaggeration to say the US did to Canada what Spain did to the US this past weekend—but the US controlled the midfield, the ball, and the game for the first half, and much of the second.

My only criticism of the USMNT’s play was that it was almost too “beautiful.” Often, there’d be a sequence of linked passes dancing around the box, and several opportunities would open up—but while waiting for the perfect opening, they’d eventually miss a pass, or a defender would get a toe on the ball, and the whole possesion would go to waste. When the opposing keeper is struggling with routine shots, just shoot the ball on net!

At the half, we made the trek from section 214 to 241, our actual seats. There was a mix of excitement and trepidation; a 45-minute throttling is great, but coming away with a 1-0 lead left no margin for error. If the Yanks hadn’t picked up where they left off, all if it could have been for naught. Fortunately, when play resumed, the US offensive pressure continued.

A little way in, Clint Dempsey showed exactly why he’s my favorite player on the planet. As a deflected ball came across the middle, Clint tried a very rare “scorpion kick,” something so crazy that I didn’t know there was a name for it—and actually, neither did he:

People ask me why I got so hooked on soccer so fast, and it’s moments like this: pure physical creativity. Incredible feats that stretch the bounds of human reaction time, athleticism, and coordination. When it happened I looked over at my still-soccer-skeptical wife, like “Did you see . . . ?” and was already shooting me a sly grin while slowly nodding her head.

At full speed, it looked like the kick just missed—but look at the third replay on the clip there. The shot was on-frame, and the goalie was out of position; it just bounced off the face of a Canadian defender. The miss was spectacular enough to draw an ovation; I can only imagine what would have happened if the shot weren’t blocked. Actually, I can imagine it, because Clint struck home just minutes later:

We had an amazing view of this goal—the same angle as the scorpion kick—and it was all I could have hoped for. Going to an international soccer match wanting desperately to see the guy you came to see score . . . it’s kind of a longshot. Yet, I’m thrilled to be 2-for-2, lifetime. Me, my wife, my kids and I all came to see the USMNT win convincingly, and maybe see Deuce put one in net. They did, and he did.

Though the US wisely switched some youth and offense out for experience and defense across the end of the second half, they put it a little too far into the cooler. Canada got some great looks in the last fifteen minutes or so, and elite US goalie Tim Howard had to come up with a couple of stunning saves, each bringing the crowd to their feet.

Speaking of which, I have to hand it to the American Outlaws, and the Motor City Supporters. The US supporters’ section brought it, hard, all game long. Songs, chants, cheers, thunderous foot-stomping . . . it was really an awesome display. We could hear them clear as a bell when we were over on the Canadian side of the stadium. Speaking of which, I tip my hat to the Canadian supporters’ section, too:

Canadian supporters' section at USMNT vs. CANMNT, Gold Cup, Ford Field, Detroit

Though our friends from just across the river didn’t turn out in droves, they did turn out in spirit. They cheered hard for 90 minutes, and endured “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU *clap* *clap* *clap clap clap*” taunts from the Yankee fans. One of the coolest moments of the night came after the game: some Canadian players slowly walked over to that section, and the fans went crazy cheering for them after a tough loss. Good show by the Voyageurs.

After the game ended, I tried to photoblog the corridors and mezzanines of Ford Field, but it was all too much. There was lots of cheering, lots of singing, and lots of clapping. Many thanks to anyone and everyone who turned out. On the day Triple Sports and Entertainment submitted Metro Detroit’s bid for an MLS franchise, every single fan in the stands made an impact. Honestly, though—as much as I hope the crowd last night impressed upon MLS just how much they’re missing out on by not being in this market, I hope last night proved to some non-soccer-loving Michiganders they’re missing out on an incredible experience.

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Tinderbox: Promises, Promises

Okay, my epic writeup/match review of last night’s 2-0 USMNT victory over Canada is on the way. In the meantime, no I have not forgotten that this is a Detroit Lions blog; the Nick Fairley Meet the Cubs is still in the works, plus I have some thoughts on the DCD practices. Stay tuned! 

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In Living Color(s): Supporting The USMNT In Detroit

>> 6.07.2011

Tickets to the USMNT vs. Canada CONCACAF Gold Cup match in Ford Field, Detroit

A a kid, I didn’t get to go to many games. My mother truly enjoys watching sports, but attending them has never been her thing. Despite my burning passion for the Lions, I didn’t go to a game until I was old enough to get to the Silverdome myself. I turn 30 this year—but as a committed father of three with a 90-minute drive to Detroit, season tickets aren’t yet within my grasp. I make it to a just couple of Lions and Tigers games a year, plus a smattering of Michigan State contests. So, there’s still a special excitement, a zinging flutter, that comes with buying tickets, with holding tickets, with waking up on a gameday morning and knowing I’ll be there.

Today, my nerves are electrified. Me, my wife, and our two elder kids are going to see the USMNT play a real live game that matters tonight, live and in person, and I can hardly believe it. All of my favorite soccer reporters and bloggers are in the Motor City today. All of the usual match previews I devour are tinged with Detroit flavor—and knowing I’ll actually be seeing the game they’re previewing live, not my laptop, not tape-delayed, not in Spanish, and not on ESPN 8: The Ocho or Fox Soccer Channel Plus .TV—makes them doubly delicious.

One of the very best soccer blogs, The Shin Guardian, laid out the Xs and Os of the “Motown Showdown” beautifully. The Yanks Are Coming, a USMNT blog, also put out a top notch preview piece called—what else?—"Detroit Rock City: Everybody’s Gonna Leave Their Seat." Ives Galarcep, Fox Soccer commentator and author of Soccer By Ives, Tweeted last night that Slows BBQ is "OFFICIAL." The Free Beer Movement, an awesome site dedicated to building American soccer through the gift of free beer, assembled an expert panel (Michigan native Alexi Lalas included) to assign a Gold Cup beer to each competing team.

The crazy thing is, at this time last year, I didn’t care. I’d been vaguely aware of the USMNT’s incredible run to the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, including an incredible 2-0 defeat of Spain, the best team in the world. I sensed a lot of buzz building around last year’s World Cup, and I discovered that many of the sports bloggers I admire most—Brian Cook of MGoBlog, Spencer Hall of EDSBS, Dan Levy of On the DL Podcast—are huge USMNT fans (all of those links go to exceptional content, especially Hall’s piece on the meaning of being a USMNT supporter. Click them).

So . . . I tuned in. I watched. I found that much of what I loved the most about hockey—the winding and unwinding of tension, the cat-and-mouse game of possession, the desperate anxiety of a centering pass, the anguish of a whiffed opportunity, the relief of an amazing save, the physics-defying feats that leave your eyes wide and jaw slack—it was all there in soccer, too. Soon, I cared. I really cared. I found myself wrapped up more and more in the success and failure of our national team—and with this moment, I was inexorably hooked:

After the end of the World Cup, I posted a piece called “Time Wonderfully Wasted,” the story of my WC2010 experience, and my blossoming soccer fandom. It had lain dormant within me, a seed planted when I attended a World Cup match as a child. I’d supported Italy throughout that tournament—partly because I come from an Italian-American family, and partly because in the soccer world, Italy was totally way awesomer than America. Those reasons weren’t really reasons, and my support of Italy lasted only as long as that tournament did.

“Choosing” a team to root for has never felt right to me; I’ve been a true-blue Lions fan since before I can remember. “Deciding” to care about a team I haven’t always lived and died with seemed impossible. But the USMNT? Their support was literally my birthright, and donning red, white, and blue once felt like always.

Tonight, my wife and kids will be wearing their colors, too. We’ll be in the Ford Field stands at 8 o’clock tonight, supporting our national team live for the very first time. The American Outlaws will be there, the Motor City Supporters will be there, and if you snag some tickets you can be there, too [Ed.: use promo code “GC11”]. I hope it’ll be an amazing experience, one that will plant a seed of fandom inside them . . . and maybe, just maybe, they won’t have to wait sixteen years for for it to sprout.

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Tinderbox: Ford Field and the Gold Cup

>> 6.06.2011

2011-gold-cupI got my tickets for the USA-Canada Gold Cup match tomorrow night, and preparations are apace. There’s been a steady stream of interesting pre-match tidbits trickling out.

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