Monday, April 30, 2007

DRAFT GRADES ARE A JOKE!

Grading NFL drafts is a joke! To grade a draft the day after it is completed is like having a Texas Chili contest before the chili peppers arrive from South America. It’s like planting apples seeds and deeming the tree’s fruit to be delicious before the tree takes root.

Let’s face it – all this talk is frivolous right now. It’s filler banter that crowds websites, radio sports talk, NFL Network and ESPN. You just don’t know and you won’t know for a couple of years how the teams really fared this weekend.

Need proof? Look at some of these grades and comments from the highly paid, high profile writer for Sports Illustrated, Peter King after the 2000 NFL Draft (my comments follow in italics):

A-minus grade to Oakland: Now, I fault the Raiders for panicking and not dropping down once or twice 10 or so spots and getting an extra four, five or six while ensuring they'd still get their man, kicker Sebastian Janikowski. (A Seahawk mole tells me the Raids turned down a six from Seattle to move down two spots, from 17 to 19, and who knows what else they could have unearthed.) That having been said, this team went 8-8 last year, losing all eight by a touchdown or less. They missed 11 field goals. Janikowski is the best kicking weapon to come out of college football, maybe ever.


Perhaps one of the worst first round picks that wasn’t a quarterback in NFL history, in my opinion. I think Stover went to college, right?

B+ Grades

Buffalo: Pick 89 overall, Corey Moore, will be one of those classic Bills picks (they always get a very good player after the first round, every year), the kind of player GMs will regret passing on.


Uh...ok...go ahead and Google Corey Moore. Good luck finding what King predicted. Even Google barely remembers this 3 year journeyman.

New England: J.R. Redmond will be the every-down back by Oct. 1. Not bad for the 76th overall pick.


Redmond had 406 rushing yards as a rookie. Since then he’s “racked up” 270 yards – TOTAL! By the way, no mention by King of Tom Brady.


Pittsburgh: Here's one of my post-fourth-round exceptions: Love the pick of Tee Martin late in the fifth. Watch the games. He belongs in the NFL. Steelers got two big receivers (Plaxico Burress and Danny Farmer) and I have a sneaking feeling that Martin will be throwing to them in December, at the end of a lost Steelers season.


Apparently the NFL did not agree with King. He only had six more NFL completions than Brat Packer Dean Martin before meandering his way through the CFL and NFL Europe. He was drafted before Tom Brady.


B Grade: Cleveland. Courtney Brown is a draft.
With a draft like that you should close the window.


C Grade: Baltimore. I really like Chris Redman at 75 for the Ravens, but the 49ers were skeptical of the beating he's taken in college and the one he'll take as a pro. But the Ravens were dumb not to trade down from 5 for a bounty of picks. Shaun Alexander (who went 19th) will be a better pro than Jamal Lewis (fifth), by the way.


You thinking what I’m thinking?


C-Minus: Kansas City. I like Sylvester Morris. But I can't figure for the life of me why Carl Peterson, who is a smart man, didn't go out and spend a couple of picks to save his running game for years by dealing for Corey Dillon. Dumb, dumb, dumb.


Hello Peter...there's a call holding for you on the clue phone...I think the Chiefs’ running game did ok for years after this draft. Sylvester Morris did not. So who is dumb now?


The point here isn’t to pick on Peter King but rather the lunacy and the time wasted on playing teacher with the red pen and handing out grades when the meaningful term papers have yet to be turned in.


Last year draft website NFL Countdown among other things had this to say about the Ravens 2006 NFL Draft which they rated a B-:


With their third round pick the Ravens chose #2 rated sleeper in the entire draft, cornerback David Pittman of Northwestern St. With starter Will Demps leaving as a free agent, safety was one of the teams greatest areas of need yet they waited until the fifth round to address it. Landry, whose younger brother LaRon of L.S.U. will be one of the top senior safety prospects in 2007, is just not the answer that they needed at the position and leaves the starting spot opposite Ed Reed a major question mark at this point.


Have I made my point?

Look, scouts can size up players and GM’s can pick them based on how the scouting reports help shape draft boards. Collegiate talent is one thing. How that talent projects to the NFL is another. Many things affect how a successful college player performs in the NFL. What was the level of collegiate competition like? Can they improve physically or have they reached their physical peaks? How coachable are they and how good are the coaches that acquire them? How good is the acquiring team and are the skill sets a match for that team? How strong is their ambition to succeed, to work hard and to compete?

Who among these supposed draft graders knows the answers to such questions? Probably none!

Judging a draft today is a waste of time. It’s filler. It’s the noise before Van Halen’s version of You Really Got Me.

Yet we still look. If your team gets good grades then that publication is a good one. If your team grades poorly, well then that publication hasn’t a clue, right?

The truth be told, no one really has a clue, not yet anyway.

Come see me in about three years, then tell me.

One thing we do know, the Ravens since 1999, the Ravens have a significantly higher percentage of players still active in the NFL than any other team in the league. And with that in mind, I’ll trust Ozzie and Eric over any silly grades by Peter King or any other media member who thinks their grades aren’t dumb, dumb, dumb.

Friday, April 27, 2007

EXTENDING K. GREGG IS A WIN-WIN!


The Kelly Gregg extension was a winner in all ways. The organization rewards a player for his workmanlike approach to the game and sacrificing personal gain for the betterment of the team. This is a lunch pail player who Bart Scott described as the most important player on the league’s No. 1 defense.

The Ravens didn’t have to extend Gregg. He still had two years remaining on a relatively pedestrian contract. That would certainly have presented value to the team for the next two years anyway. Instead, they extended Gregg, gave him a fair $3.5 million in bonus money and probably squeezed some cap space out of the deal while buying goodwill.

Back in February I discussed this very type of extension with Eric DeCosta. I lauded teams like the Eagles and Patriots for moves like this and DeCosta said, “That’s what smart teams do.”

If you haven’t before, you can now consider the Ravens a smart team.

I would expect more of these types of deals from the club going forward. They make sense for players who are valuable, who have some remaining longevity in their careers and are good team guys. Bart Scott is another who fits that description and it would be no surprise if the Ravens do something similar with him.

I wonder if they wished they had taken this approach with Terrell Suggs back in 2005.

No worries there though in my opinion. Even if the Ravens pay Suggs $22 million in guarantees or somewhere thereabouts, it would not be too difficult to spread that out in a manageable way particularly when you consider that Suggs will only be 24 when the team kicks off the 2007 season in Cincinnati. A seven year deal for Suggs would not be out of the question.

Losing him should be!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRESS BOX



I remember when I first heard of the concept of Press Box I said to a colleague, “Now that is a blueprint for failure!” The Baltimore sports media had been down a similar path once before and it tanked. Why would Press Box be any different?

I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong. Baltimore needs Press Box. It is a nicely designed tabloid that covers the entire Baltimore sports scene in one read. During the course of its first year Press Box has been my lunch companion on many Thursdays down at John’s in Canton. It’s an enjoyable and easy read and includes the work of several engaging sports media personalities.

Even though one of those personalities claims to lose more football knowledge with each of his bowel movements than I’ll ever have, my intent today isn’t to pick any bone yards but rather to say congrats to Stan Charles, Larry Harris, John Coulson, Kevin Heitz, Rick Marsalek, Joe Platania, Matt Zenitz, Paul Mittermeier, Keith Mills, Jim Henneman, Rob Long and newcomer Amber Theoharis. May the past year be the first of many successful years for Press Box.

I look forward to many more lunch dates with my trusty companion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DRAFT BLUE LIGHT SPECIALS & OGDEN'S IMMINENT RETURN


The Ravens will be sitting and waiting and hoping for value to fall into their laps this Saturday. With each player picked before the Ravens are on the clock that is not part of Ozzie and Eric’s top 29 draft eligible players, a player that they have ranked higher than 29 will be available for the taking. The more that happens the happier the Ravens will be because such developments will open the door to more options and other opportunities.

It happens every year.

The Ravens could even trade back if someone comes calling when it’s Ozzie’s turn and maybe pick up that third round pick sacrificed in the McGahee trade or the fourth served up in the McNair trade. DeCosta does a lot of modeling and forecasting in the draft and he likes the value in Round 4 in the neighborhood of pick 110 to 115.

And if the Ravens have a few players that they like equally and they can trade back and still get their guy, why not? They might then only have to pay second round money to a player and pick up another. Hello blue light special!

DeCosta will often tell you, “I’m in the pick business.”

Meanwhile, there is still no definitive Jonathan Ogden update – at least not one that has been mentioned publicly. I would think that Ogden is loyal to the team and would not leave them dangling this long. The bet here is that he’s already informed the team that he’s returning and in order to let the mystery work to the Ravens’ advantage, they’ve chosen not to say anything.

Brian Billick visited Ogden in Las Vegas back in March prior to the owners’ meetings and if you take Billick’s words at face value, he knows no more than any of us as it relates to Ogden’s return.

“I think [J.O.] feels pretty good about himself, sounds like the toe is coming along very well,” Billick said. “He has started very aggressively to condition, which I think is a good sign. Outside of that, it would be conjecture at this point [whether or not Ogden is returning].”

C’mon coach. You flew into Vegas to say hello to J.O. and we’re supposed to believe that the only thing you discussed were his little piggies?

Please!

No. 75 will go at least one more year…

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pivotal Decisions Lie Ahead For Ravens


I have often labeled our city Smaltimore because if you’ve lived here your entire life, there’s a good chance that a stranger on the street shares some personal contact, some friend, some former date or some former teammate with you. In Smaltimore, everyone somehow seems connected to everyone else. Kevin Bacon had Six Degrees of Separation. Had that movie been shot in Baltimore, he may have saved himself three degrees.

Recently I took a little trip to the Bahamas. I’m not much of a book reader. Occasionally I’ll read a Grisham book but most of my in flight reading is somehow connected to sports, music or Maxim magazine. This time was different.

In my backpack that serves as my usual travel companion, I found a book that was recommended to me a while back yet somehow managed to hide for months in one of the too many pocket in that backpack, thus escaping my notice until last Thursday. The book was written by Mitch Albom and is entitled “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

It’s a rather short read which is perfectly suited to my toddler-like attention span. I won’t go into it other than to say that I recommend it, it gives you pause to consider your five people that you might meet while combining aspects of Smaltimore, Six Degrees and the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.

I pondered the choices that I’ve made when confronted with those proverbial forks in life’s road. Some are seemingly inconsequential when chosen yet they often have rippling effects, both good and bad.

This weekend, some NFL teams will make choices that will affect many, many lives. An average player on the right team could develop and have a long and rewarding career. A superior athlete caught in the wrong set of circumstances could end up a bust.

Think about some of the cause and effect situations that have involved the Ravens:

What if they had selected Lawrence Phillips instead of Jonathan Ogden? Would Phillips be serving time or might he be a Ring of Honor candidate and if so, perhaps Jamal Lewis never becomes a Raven. Might the Ravens have taken Walter Jones in 1997 instead of Peter Boulware if Ogden wasn’t a Raven?

This “what if” questioning could go on endlessly.

The picks this weekend will one day inspire similar what if questions.

We’ve all made pivotal decisions. We’ve probably all made pivotal decisions we regret. But none are under the microscope here in Smaltimore like those decisions made by Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta.

Let’s hope there are no regrets…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

RAVENS PRE-DRAFT LUNCHEON = LIARS' POKER


Just a few thoughts and observations from the Ravens pre-draft luncheon…

The tone of the post luncheon press conference was extremely upbeat with Ozzie, Brian Billick and Eric DeCosta sharing laughs, stories, tales, truths, half-truths, lies and anecdotes with the media.

Ozzie made it very clear that the Ravens are ready immediately if they were on the clock. They will again stay true to their board.

The Ravens have 29 players that they’ve ranked on their draft board and according to Ozzie the only certainty in the draft for the Ravens is that one of those 29 will be available for them to take. There is the possibility that they could move down in the draft and try to get back the third round pick they lost to Buffalo in the McGahee trade just as they did last year when they found a trading partner in the New York Giants to earn back the No. 3 they sacrificed in 2005 to move up and get Adam Terry.

As of this moment, no one has discussed trading up for the Ravens pick but the Ravens will wait as long as they can for their phone to ring to see if they have a trading partner should a player fall that another team(s) covets more than the Ravens do.

Ryan Kalil’s name seems to come up often in conferences involving Eric DeCosta and that might be an indication that the Ravens have no interest in Kalil at No. 29. But then again, that could be part of his style when playing the NFL’s version of liars’ poker. Ben Grubbs was mentioned as a solid interior lineman who could bring value at the bottom of Round 1. Justin Blalock was suspiciously not mentioned today. Perhaps that too is part of the game of draft deception.

In previous conversations with DeCosta, he mentioned how he finds the dynamic between player agents and the draft boards to be interesting. Agents will work the media to move their clients up boards and some will not be completely forthcoming when it comes to actual player visits. Some agents will tell members of the media that certain players they represent have visited teams when in fact they have not. For instance one player that will go unmentioned did not visit the Ravens yet an agent will claim that he did to create demand for his client.

An interesting nuance in this game of cat and mouse is that the Ravens will sit back and say nothing all the while being amused by the shenanigans. They won’t publicly refute the agents’ claims because the information and misinformation fuels the game of liars’ poker. Regardless of the gamesmanship, the Ravens say that none of it affects their board whatsoever.

Brian Billick was in much better spirits this year than he was last year and with good reason. An observation was presented to Billick about playoff teams and how a few employed the “tactic” of utilizing a tandem of running backs. I took this as a veiled attempt to ask, “Why wasn’t Mike Anderson used more?”

Billick responded, “Tactics are always dictated by personnel.”

And I took that as not such a great endorsement of the former Bronco and current Raven who in the court of public opinion was grossly underutilized.

Billick added that he sees Willis McGahee as a 300-350 carries per year kind of back.

The subject of Terrell Suggs was brought up and while Ozzie appears hopeful and confident that a deal could be struck, he cautioned about the dynamics of a more expensive free agent market and the uncertainties that it can sometimes bring. They are efforting but nothing is guaranteed until the ink on the new contract dries.

BLACKBIRDS COULD SOAR BUT NEED YOUR HELP


If you haven’t had a chance to go and see the Blackbirds then do yourself a favor, reach into your pocket for $15 and make your way down to First Mariner Arena. Folks I’m here to tell you that this game has potential here in Baltimore.

Now this team, is another story…but more on that in a bit.

This is football. Yes, it’s a slightly altered version of football, but the game is fast paced, takes a little over 2 hours to finish and offers some exciting twists to a game you know and love.

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME MORE FOOTBALL?

On Saturday, my guess is that there were about 1,000 fans that showed up. Interestingly enough, for such a small turnout (rivaled by an O’s game that shared the same start time) the crowd was extremely enthusiastic. I spoke to John Wolfe the Blackbirds GM during the game and he said that one of the referees said it was the loudest crowd he’s experienced.

Baltimore football fans have game, make NO mistake about it.

It’s almost shocking how few people even know about the Blackbirds. Admittedly at this point they seem like a novelty and unless they get some respect and put more fannies in the seats, they will be remembered as nothing more than a fleeting novelty. Yet they can be so much more.

I recall the glory days of The Blast. That arena would rock and it could again. Sure the venue is a dog. It’s a civic embarrassment. But look at it this way…if you support this team it could help pave the way for a new arena or it could attract a better and more established indoor football team or arena football team to the city.

Besides, what does $15 get you these days, a matinee for two? Happy Meals for three?

Here’s a real quick story that I’ll share with you from Saturday.

Unlike Camden Yards where it’s the equivalent of embezzlement if you move down from the less expensive seats to a vastly unoccupied part of the lower box seats, First Mariner and the Blackbirds are far more fan friendly. Then again, how could you not be…

I spotted Sports Steve, arguably the greatest Ravens’ fan on the planet down along the boards next to the field. I made my way down to say hello to him and his buddy “Bear”. As he always does, Sports Steve chronicles a sporting event with pictures and he asked me to pose for one with him.

As I did, a friend of mine who coincidentally sat one row behind SS exclaimed, “Tony, watch out!”

In a flashing moment, I turned to see that the Montgomery Bears QB had overthrown his intended receiver and the ball was heading straight for my head. It took all of the reflexive quickness I had to prevent the ball from nailing me in the forehead. I then double clutch in a manner similar to Travis Taylor and tried to actually catch the projectile that nearly ambushed me. After a couple of tips the ball fell on to the field of play where one of the players, watching the action, tipped the ball back up into the crowd much like a baseball player would.

You see fans can keep these footballs. Any overthrown pass is a keeper. Any kicked ball that goes into the stands on extra points, kickoffs or field goals is a keeper. And the kids love it! The adults do too as evidenced by the pile of humanity that dove atop my exposed legs when that player tossed my “drop” back into the stands.

The Blackbirds have a long way to go. They are a very bad football team. But things can change. I remember when the Ravens were a very bad football team with financial issues. Your support could make a difference. Take this exciting game and put it in a new Ed Hale venue in Canton and I’m telling you, this has the makings of a great pastime here in Baltimore and it can help to bridge a gap between one NFL season to the next.

To Ed Hale….if you build it, people will come. People will most definitely come Ed.

To all of you….to keep this exciting brand of football in town you need to head down to First Mariner Arena.

The next home game is Sunday April 29 at 4PM against the Gulf Coast Raiders.

Come on Baltimore…you were only waiting for this moment to arise…

Saturday, April 14, 2007

GOODELL TOO HARSH ON PACMAN?


"I think [the one year suspension] was a little bit harsh. I expected the suspension, but for a whole year for a guy that hadn't been charged with nothing? I really didn't agree with it. But for the most part, I'm taking it like a man. I'm going to appeal it. We'll see what the future brings."

That’s PacMan (I obviously have a fever) Jones.

A little harsh? How about slamming that stripper’s head into the stage. Might that have been a little harsh?

Jones was asked if he was being used as an example given the stern punishment from the Commish, Jones concurred. "Clearly -- you know, for a guy that hadn't been charged -- I'm clearly made to be the poster boy."

Well boo freakin' hoo!

Let me get this straight. Jones said he was expecting a suspension so the way I see it, that is an admission of guilt right? If you did something wrong, you expect punishment. If you did nothing wrong, then no punishment. Because he hasn’t been charged or found guilty YET, he thinks he’s being made into a poster child.

A poster child for what, the Ten Most Wanted at your friendly neighborhood post office?

So now he is going to appeal. Guess who will not only hear the appeal but decide on it? None other than Roger Goodell himself, the man who handed down the suspension.

For some reason, I’m reminded of a scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny:

Vinny: I object to this witness being called at this time. We've been given no prior notice he'd testify. No discovery of any tests he's conducted or reports he's prepared. And as the court is aware, the defense is entitled to advance notice of any witness who will testify, particularly those who will give scientific evidence, so that we may properly prepare for cross-examination, as well as give the defense an opportunity to have the witness's reports reviewed by a defense expert, who might then be in a position to contradict the veracity of his conclusions.

Judge Chamberlain Holler: Mr. Gambini?

Vinny: Yes sir?

Judge Chamberlain Holler: That is a lucid, intelligent, well-thought out objection.

Vinny: Thank you, your honor.

Judge Chamberlain Holler: Overruled.

Yesterday, Jones was all over ESPN and now he’s pulling out the God card. “I have a relationship with God.” I’m sure he does, just like Rosie O’Donnell has one with Donald Trump.

Look I don’t care if you work at McDonald’s, Legg Mason or if you are a State Senator. If you don’t represent well and you repeatedly fail to honor a decent and fair code of conduct, you will be fired. Jones wasn’t fired. He was suspended. He should feel lucky that he wasn’t banned from the league completely. Despite his thug behavior, he’ll still have the opportunity to play football and earn millions in 2008.

What could he possibly have Roger Goodell consider that he hasn’t already considered? What could Jones possibly say during the appeal? “Pretty please with sugar on top?”

And what if Goodell says no (which he will)? Will Jones bite him like he did to that Fayetteville, GA police officer?

Appeal….how laughable.

Wonder if Las Vegas has an under/over bet on how many months Jones will go before his next arrest.

Does anyone really think he can make it through until the start of the 2008 season without another encounter with the law? Well there’s always a chance.

Of course there’s always the chance that the Detroit Lions could win the Super Bowl too…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

OT: KEY WEST ON THE BRAIN


No trip to the Keys is complete without driving through them. We fly into Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International airport on Southwest Airlines (usually we get fares around $150 roundtrip) and rent a convertible (we have found that Dollar Rent A Car costs the fewest, well?dollars). We then head down to South Beach, sometimes for a night or two and sometimes just for lunch. Then it's off to the Keys. Driving Directions from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West


At first, the drive doesn't seem like any big deal after you go over the causeway outside of Miami Beach and see all of the beautiful homes and emerald waters...before long you are on the Florida Turnpike. About 35-40 minutes into your drive you will hit Florida City. That's where what we call, "the tunnel" begins as you approach Key Largo.


Soon you'll notice water to both sides of your convertible....at first it's a bit swamp like then gradually, you begin to see more of the ocean bays to your left and the Gulf to your right. The drive just continues to get more beautiful along the way....try and drive during the day...it is well worth it.


One of our favorite little stops is Papa Joe's Restaurant which is in Islamorada. The peeps are mostly local and very friendly. Great place for a sunset but you may want to push before it sets....there will be plenty of that in Key West.Islamorada is very laid back and if fishing is your thing, Islamorada is for you. Marathon Key is great...also laid back and they have these cool little house boats that you can rent that are unique and well worth it. Faro Blanco Marine Resort, Marathon Key, FloridaGet to the 7 mile bridge during daylight hours....Words do not do the drive justice. But the 3 1/2 hours from Miami are well worth it, especially if equipped with a little cooler (stop at Tom Thumb's and get a cheap styrofoam cooler), great tunes and the wind through your hair. A great place to stop for a cool dip is Bahia Honda State Park....it's beautiful...


Once in Key West, it's best to stay near Duval. Now there are certain places that are very nice down near Mallory Square and there are many bed and breakfasts that are very nice -- but very expensive. If you are going to do Key West right, you won't be in your room much at all. So get a place that is nice, is clean and convenient. We've discovered something that fits the bill on all counts -- Speakeasy Inn. Ask for Mark the inn's manager and let him know that Tony Lombardi recommended his inn. He'll then charge you double the rate. Mark will remember me as the guy who did the radio show from his front porch.The Speakeasy Inn is located at the less hectic end of Duval but convenient to everything! You can get a king bed, TV, AC, big bathroom with a huge shower, tastefully decorated and clean for less than $90/night IN SEASON...

To get a visual of some of the things in store for you, click on this
SNEAK PREVIEW


Some must do's in Key West and places to party/eat/check out: First and foremost....drop off your convertible at the Key West Airport and rent bikes. Get those cheap old ones....we usually pay about $6 per day per bike and rent the bikes from a place on Truman Ave just off Duval. Not only are bikes cheaper....they are less expensive and way more convenient. You don't have to worry about drinking and driving --parking...there's really no contest...and you get to see more of the island that way as well....


Things to do.....


1. Do a sunset/snorkel cruise.....well worth it! Try either Sunny Days or Sebago


2. If you like jet skis, there's a place next to the Walgreens on Roosevelt Blvd next to the Hampton Inn....rent them there. A similar tour is described here The Ultimate Jet Ski Tour (Key West, United States of America) Adventure Tour. We went on a tour around the island that lasted nearly 2 hours and we paid $90 per ski. Other places will charge $65/half hour and restrict you to a certain area


3. The Hemingway house tour on Whitehead is worthy and I'm not much on those tours...Hemingway was an interesting guy to say the least. He was a big fan of the Original Sloppy Joe?s which is now Captain Tony's. This is a nice thing to do if it's overcast or if you want to get out of the sun for a bit. HEMINGWAY HOME & MUSEUM


4. Sunsets at Mallory Square are fun...lots of Vaudeville-like acts there.... 5. Once when we took the kids we did a tour of the dolphin playground....they swim up next to the boat...that was very cool... For those that think Key West isn't for kids, I'm here to tell you that it can be if you want it to be.


Places to go to drink and be merry....


1. Irish Kevin's Bar....is a riot...acoustic guitar players that mix in some off color humor...and sing-a-longs...very fun place


2. Schooner Wharf Bar - Key "A Last Little Piece of Old Key West"...during the day....go and get a grouper sandwich...it rocks and the entertainment is usually Michael McCloud....he's mellow which is great in the sunshine while having a cocktail...he's also very funny....in an extremely dry sort of way.


3. SLOPPY JOE'S BAR.....a Key West institution that might put you in an institution of your own. And then of course there's the "Original" Sloppy Joe's, now known as Captain Tony's Saloon.


4. Other places on Duval we've enjoyed: , Hog's Breath Saloon, Bare Bottoms, Flying Monkeys, The Bull.... also check out The GREEN PARROT BAR....a locals' favorite on Whitehead Ave.


5. Have breakfast at the Banana Cafe. It's on Duval about 1 block from the Speakeasy Inn.


6. If you want to do a nice dinner, try Kellys Caribbean Bar and Grill (Kelly McGillis from Top Gun fame), Antonia's...nice Italian restaurant or Pepe's Cafe


7. For raw bar....check out Turtle Kraals down near Schooner's.....ask for Greg...he's from Baltimore and is a great bartender...he'll remember us....in fact, last time we saw him, he said "I heard you were coming down." When I asked how he heard, he said he read it on Ravens24x7....


Side note.....Margaritaville looks like it could be in any shopping mall....it's a real disappointment but you will undoubtedly check it out and then you will tell everyone else exactly what I'm telling you now.... Beaches..... Key West doesn't have a lot of great beaches....in fact they have no "great" beaches. You can always crash the small ones at the hotels near Mallory Square...no one really cares in Key West.....then there's Higgs Beach....or Ft. Zachary Taylor beach. ZT is a bit better but Higgs has a little restaurant nearby with friendly bartenders to "hydrate" your system....there's also a pool at the Southernmost Hotel/Inn near the end of Duval. It's open to the public for a daily fee of $5 or $6 and they have a bar there as well....


Going home....


We've always driven back as well but we will likely alter that by taking a puddle jumper back to Ft. Lauderdale.....last year, we missed our flight due to an accident on the 7 mile bridge. And early last year (we went twice in 2004) we really had to rush to get back on time. It's so hard to leave that we waited to the last possible minute. You might also consider South Beach for a couple of days after Key West. It takes the pressure off your flight schedule.Can you tell I like it there? I know you will too. We are probably going back in August or September. People ask why in the summer, it's so hot. But we say, it's hot here so what's the difference? Besides, it's more economical and less crowded then....Share your Florida Keys experiences with us and we?ll post them here. But some of what happens in the Keys, should stay in the Keys.


THOUGHTS FROM OTHER LOVERS OF THE KEYS

"We found a great place for breakfast this year. It's in Islamorada -
http://www.bobsbunz.com/ - click on the link on the left that says Islamorada Restaurant and Bakery. They had the best food ever!We also eat dinner at Hawk's Cay Resort in Marathon every year - Watersedge Restaurant - fine dining but very casual." ~ Dolores Pucher, Baltimore, MD

#######

Hello Tony,

I've read 24x7 for a while, my compliments for a terrific and informative Ravens website. I happened to stumble upon the link to your Key West suggestions just in time for our trip to Florida . I printed off your list and took it with us. We actually stayed in South Beach and drove down to Key West for a couple of days 6/6-7. The Speak Easy was full, however they recommended their sister hotel Casa 325 on Duval Street; very nice place and they have a pool - $140.00 per night. The location is close to "downtown" yet surprisingly quiet due to the location sitting off and behind other buildings on Duval Street - very clean and well maintained, my wife was pleased with the facility.

Other suggestions for consideration for your informational link and or next trip:

-We had to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (outdoors of course)

-Take the cheesy train tour ride around town (very informative and it will orient you to the town)

-Dinner at the Blue Heaven restaurant (very different - a memorable dinner)

-You have to stop in to have a margarita at the Margaritaville bar (ask for Sherry the bartender)

-Breakfast at Camille's located at Simonton & Catherine Streets (outstanding breakfast food)

-Lunch at Jack Flat's Cafe/Bar on Duval Street - about 495 Duval ??? (excellent food at reasonable prices - great friendly service)

and you were right...

-You must experience the sunset festival in Mallory Square (go early to reserve a seat at dock side or you will be standing). The street vendors, artists and vaudeville type acts are very entertaining. The sunset "main attraction" is incredible...

-At least one morning you have to get up early to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic ... a unique experience

Thanks for the tips...

I also listen to the radio show whenever my schedule permits. Good Luck with the show!

All the best...

Jack Moore

#######

Tony,

We have never met but I look at your website on a weekly basis to get updates on Ravens stuff and see what people are talking about. Then today I sign on and found your blog on Key West . Sounds like you have been there a lot. I have a surprise for you. I belong to an elite group of firefighters who crash Key West every year. This year will be our 10th anniversary of crashing Key West . We take anywhere between 80 to 100 people on our trip and it is a blast. We are down there for about 8 days and it is a hoot. We have been going down so long that we now have sponsors who get a shout out on our website in trade for their donations. We also march in the annual Conch Republic Parade host by the Vice General of the Conch Republic Peter Anderson. If you mention us he will most definitely set you up with a passport by mentioning our group.

If you have people who frequent Key West then you must at some point hook up with us as we have Key West to a science. We even have the fire department donate fire pumps for the Bloody Battle that we participate in every year. If you are not familiar this is where the Conch republic re-enacts the battle that took place for the succession of Key West from the U.S.A. Interesting reading.

Our group is known as The Castaway Travel Group and we are a travel group that has only managed to travel to Key West (talk about a state of mind). We fell in love with Key West and they did with us. We walk around Key West with tags on and day time prices on drinks and free cover to all the popular places. You need to check out our website
http://www.castawaytravelcrew.com/ and I am definitely going to shout out your website to them.

Your article sparked interest because a buddy and I are doing the exact thing you talked about and making the drive from Ft. Lauderdale . I am hopeful that your group and ours could possibly merge and really become and force in Key West ....

LONG LIVE THE CONCH REPUBLIC !!!!! GO RAVENS!!!!

Keep up the good work on your website?

Wasted away,

AL Brown
Castaway Travel Group
Ravens Fan

#######

Tony,

The wife and I just got back from Key West on Saturday. I wanted to say "thanks," we took your ideas to heart and drove down from South Beach . Here are some recommendations I have, if you want to post them on your site:

1. I can't recommend these two restaurants enough: Blue Heaven and Meteor Steakhouse. Blue Heaven is laid back, and has incredible breakfast and dinner selections. It's also off the beaten path a couple blocks off of Duval Street. The Meteor Steakhouse is even more laid back, and has amazing barbecue - they have an amazing "green beans" appetizer that you have to eat and see to believe.

2. We took a puddle jumper on Continental back to Fort Lauderdale to catch our flight home. I can't recommend that enough - it's $90 each for a 50 minute flight, but you fly over the Everglades and see the Keys as well. In addition, you avoid any traffic issues and stress on your way back to catching your flight.

3. Go to Tripadvisor.com for some Bed & Breakfast recommendations. We ended up staying at The Nassau House (www.nassauhouse.com). The owners were very nice, with an impressive breakfast spread each morning that they cooked themselves. It was a little far from Duval Street - 6 blocks up Fleming Street - but we rented a couple of bikes to make it a little easier. Next time we'll stay a little closer.

Thanks,

Darren Weagly

#######
"I too just got back from Key West and had a great time. I went to a restaurant for breakfast called Blue Heaven-- they had had the best pancakes and coffee and when leaving noticed the bricks (see attached). Baltimore is well represented.


We got to the Keys from Ft Myers on a two hour high speed boat ride. Ft Myers and the surrounding areas are a nice alternative to the East coast of Florida." ~ Bruce, Ellicott City

#######

Hey Tony,

Your article on the Keys inspired me! Heading down May 6-13. Flying into Miami , renting a Jeep Wrangler and doing the drive thing just like you suggested. Hope to hit some of your suggested places!

Jen Siler

Jen's Follow up


Hey Tony,

Had a great time in the Keys! Would definitely stay at the Speakeasy again, that place rocks! We recommended it to friends already who want to go to Key West in December.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Jen


*****


I know this is a lengthy blog entry, but I'm feeling a vacation and if you are, Key West isn't a destination, it's a state of mind -- one that you'll want to experience again and again. If you have any Key West experiences, bring it on!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

RAVENS TACKLE TOUGH SCHEDULE...WILL COMPLAINTS FOLLOW?


The Ravens 2007 schedule is brutal but we knew it would be going in. It seems a bit back loaded with tough games down the stretch beginning with the Chargers on the road on November 25 followed by New England and the Colts at home.

That said, the bye comes at an opportune time and the 3 west coast trips are a spaced out. I wish that the Seattle game fell on a different day, that would have been a nice trip but like Lefty said in the movie Donnie Brasco, fuggedaboutit!

Miami in December is sha-weeeeeeeet as is San Fran in October and San Diego in November.

It’s interesting that the Ravens will only play one home game (against the Rams) during a stretch following the 9/23 tilt with Arizona up to the rematch against the Bengals (Chris Henry’s first game back on the active roster following his 8 game suspension) on Nov. 11.

Personally I think the schedule makers were fair but I’m sure there are many who are proudly pulling out that inferiority complex chip and propping it up on their shoulders and beating their chests chanting, “The NFL hates Baltimore!”

So should we add Roger Goodell now to the list of Baltimore villains that already includes Paul Tagliabue, Robert Irsay and Peter Angelos?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

RAVENS UNLIKELY TO REACH FOR HOPEFUL STARS


Don’t expect the Ravens to reach for the stars in the 2007 NFL Draft. Teams have learned that in the salary cap era, the best way to remain competitive is to take the best players available. Well at least some teams have learned that.

And while the Ravens want to improve their offensive line, they will not take an offensive lineman at No. 29 if they’ve rated him lower than the 29th best player in the draft. They could move back in the draft and attempt to pick up another pick and then take a lineman provided he is then the best player on their board.

The Ravens believe that to pick for need is faulty and they regularly point to Todd Heap, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs as cases in point. None of those players was a need pick yet when it was their turn on the clock, the Ravens selected these players because they were the best on their board at the time. “Eventually”, as Eric DeCosta regularly points out, "those players become a need."

And as we’ve seen, each of those players picked on merit and not need have spent time in Hawaii representing the Baltimore Ravens.

Trading back is a strategy that DeCosta welcomes given the right set of circumstances and to determine the value of picks, many in the industry use Jimmy Johnson’s Trade Value Chart as a barometer to achieve equity in trades. Today, that chart seems flawed. In this salary cap era, picks are more valuable to teams than they were when Johnson created the chart. Especially to guys like DeCosta who proudly proclaim that they are in “the pick business.”

Monday, April 09, 2007

WNST GETS STIFF ARM FROM ANGELOS



WNST once called itself the station with balls. Today they are the station with no credentials.

People have been calling and writing to me today about the Orioles denying WNST press credentials. Most expect me to laugh given how Nestor Aparicio dissed us just prior to the start of training camp in ‘06 sending us into scramble mode to maintain the integrity of our show GAMETIME. Many expected us to viciously attack WNST when we were left high and dry. But why spend valuable time on a lost cause?

All of our complaining wouldn’t have changed a thing. We were fired. We were kicked to the curb -- knocked down from the blind side lying face down in the dirt.

So we did what I suppose you should do in such situations -- brush yourself off and move on with even greater determination.

I didn’t laugh at WNST upon hearing the news of the press cred denial. Truth be told, I think that it’s pretty pathetic on the part of the Orioles. They did to WNST what WNST did to us. While the cynic might say what goes around comes around, as a fan I feel cheated.

You see for all the criticism that WNST receives for things stemming from their ownership, they deliver local sports with a local flare arguably as good or better than any venue in town. To deny WNST access to the Orioles is to deny us another conduit to the team.

I’m not laughing.

I’m sad for Drew Forrester and Bob Haynie and Rob Long and Casey Willet.

Furthermore, this is another act by an owner who time and time again provides evidence to all of us that he just doesn’t get it.

While I would argue and have argued that the Free The Birds campaign with all of the extended versions of “The Moon” was in large part shameless self promotion including but not limited to the sexual conquests of its author/narrator, you can’t argue with the core of WNST’s beef with the Orioles. And that in my opinion is the careless and short-sighted way in which Angelos has “guided” the Orioles. Stevie Wonder could do better with an obstacle course.

To think that WNST could persuade Angelos to sell the team and that a rally of a thousand protestors could actually affect that desired outcome is just flat out silly. But to bring to the forefront the sad list of transgressions by the Orioles ownership is the right thing to do and for that we should commend WNST. Coming from people who actually love the team, WNST’s criticisms actually demonstrate objective journalism.

Where WNST crosses the line is that they beat that Free The Bird horse incessantly and eventually it comes off as whining, boring and self-fulfilling.

But that is no justification for this behavior and apparent decision by the Orioles -- a once proud franchise that is at best a sad franchise today and one that is apparently above reproach and accountability.

This move may force other stations that cover the Orioles to become apologists for the team. And that is exactly what we don’t want if we ever want the Orioles to improve. They must be held accountable.

Imagine a city full of sports journalists like Jim Hunter.

Imagine if Steve Bisciotti behaved like Peter Angelos.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MOCK DRAFT...LOL!



My colleague Dev Panchwagh did a nice piece the other day entitled Mocking The Mock. But Dev didn’t really mock the mocks. He just gave a thumbs up or thumbs down (yay or nay) to the projected pick for the Ravens by some well known “mockers.”

I’m about to mock the mocks!

Let’s call mocks what they really are -- filler.

You know, like the song Acrobat on U2’s Achtung Baby.

Mocks help to bridge the gap in NFL news between free agency and the draft. Of course Pacman Jones does his best to help as well.

Last year in their draft publication, Pro Football Weekly correctly predicted 2 of 32 first round picks. A blind-folded monkey with a dart could have been as “accurate.”

So enough of the monkey business…let’s get down to serious business…like where PFW predicted the Ravens' picks from 2006 to go in last year’s draft.

Haloti Ngata was predicted to go Buffalo with the eighth pick; he was the Ravens at No. 12

Chris Chester was predicted to go in round 2 and was said to have more upside than any offensive linemen; Ravens got him in Round 2 with Pick No. 56

David Pittman was rated as the 16th best corner prospect and was slated for round 3 or 4. He was compared to the Bears’ Nathan Vasher but more closely resembled a ghost named Casper during the '06 season. He was the No. 87 overall pick.

DeMetrius Williams was the fourth rated receiver by PFW and was projected as a second round pick. The Ravens brought him to B’more in round 4 with the 111th overall pick.

With the 132nd pick in the draft (their first compensatory) the Ravens grabbed P.J. Daniels. Daniels was rated as the ninth best back and according to PFW destined for Round 4. They were right.

Dawan Landry was the 15th ranked safety and projected between rounds 5 and 6. The Ravens said 5 with the overall 146th selection.

Ozzie’s favorite pick arrived with compensatory pick No. 2 and the 166th overall -- Quinn Sypniewski who PFW ranked as the 17th best TE in the 2006 draft and a late Day 2 choice.

Sam Koch didn’t show up on the radar screen of PFW. In Baltimore he had folks asking, “Zastudil who?”

Derrick Martin was taken in the sixth (overall No. 208). PFW said he was the 29th best corner and that while quick and fast he lacks size and plays small.

And last and not LaLeast the Ravens chose Syracuse Orangeman Ryan LaCasse who the Ravens LaPassed on to Indianapolis via trade. He was a 7th rounder and pick No. 219. PFW had him ranked as the ninth best DE and projected him as a first day pick.

Makes you LaWonder doesn’t it?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Here It Goes Again!


Here comes that rainy day feeling again...

As the water droplets pummeled the skylight in my home, I couldn’t help to think that a typical Baltimore spring had arrived -- you know the whole April showers bit. But really April is about 4 seasons in the same week. Have you looked at the forecast? Don’t put those winter coats away just yet.

With Spring there is newfound hope that the Orioles might change the direction of the team after 9 “rebuilding” seasons. The danger of a new season is when those high hopes meet the sobering thought of reality and your team opens 0-2 and a weekend series at Yankee Stadium looms as does the possibility of returning to Camden Yards 0-6 for the riveting home opener. Remember that Lost in Space robot? DANGER, DANGER!

Am I dating myself?

Let's hope they don't kill the season before it even starts.

Adam Loewen was one of the bright spots of Spring Training and he had quite a rhythm going. So what do the O’s decide to do? They've opted to keep him on ice until Friday in New York and put Jason Wright on the mound against a tough Twins lineup.

Speaking of lineups and granted, the beginning of a season always accentuates the positive and the negative, but the O’s lineup looks rather meek and unless the meek inherit some pop in their bats, they will place a heavy burden on the starting rotation.

What is it with Maryland teams and offense? There’s the Ravens, the Orioles, the Terps and even the Blackbirds all seem to be offensively challenged. The only thing offensive about Baltimore these days is the violent crime statistic.

Think I’ll go back to bed and listen to raindrops. Nothing offensive there and it's certainly not violent unless of course I forgot to take out the trash...


Hey, those raindrops are falling to the tune of Here It Goes Again!

Click on this link and listen if you don't believe me...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Remembering Ray's National Outburst...Was He Right?


Today in my column Lombardi’s Way, I revisited the scene at Owings Mills just about one year ago. What a difference a year can make.

Ray Lewis was hardly a happy camper and claimed the Ravens weren’t giving him the tools to be dominant. Many criticized him for abandoning the team and for criticizing the defensive line for not keeping him clean. On the heels of Steve Bisciotti’s public chastising of Brian Billick, the team and the locker room were on the brink. My column today suggests that while Ray was wrong in the way he delivered his message to the team, was he right? Did he have a point?

The evidence one year later, with the presence of Steve McNair in purple and Haloti Ngata eating up blockers suggests that Ray was right.

What do you think?
Bring it on!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bart Scott On a Mission



Yesterday during GAMETIME, Bart Scott joined us in studio for an hour which seemed more like 10 minutes. Up to then, I never had the opportunity to speak with Bart for such an extended period. I was a fan going into the interview and I left an even bigger fan.

Bart Scott is a perfect example of the American Dream. As a boy, he grew up in the Detroit area and aspired to become a professional athlete. He would go on to play football in college as a Southern Illinois Saluki and later as you all know, he would be signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent. In 2006 Bart was a Pro Bowler.

Bart is sincere, he’s personable, he’s humble, he’s devoted, he possesses an adolescent affinity for the game of football, he loves our community and he loves being a Baltimore Raven.

Our interview will be up on the GAMETIME archives later today and you can hear it commercial free in it’s entirety. One of my personal favorite segments of the interview was Bart’s response to my rock, paper, scissors question. If you recall NFL Network featured the Ravens v. Jets from 2004 in Giants Stadium. Ed Reed and Will Demps are seen doing rock, paper, scissors to determine which of the two would go on a blitz called by then defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

I asked Bart about that and he said that the Ravens do things like that all the time on defense. He said that he and Ray have done it before when both are tired and might lack that prerequisite burst needed to blitz effectively due to a bit of fatigue.

And while I found the story humorous in and of itself (especially when you consider the sophistication of a Rex Ryan defense), the look in Bart’s eye showed a true love of the game and an appreciation of where he is in his NFL career.

Off the air, we discussed several things, among them his potential as a radio show host. In my opinion, he is the perfect replacement for Adalius Thomas on Baltimore’s ESPN Radio. To my surprise, he didn’t appear very interested despite his obvious level of comfort on air. His reasoning drew me in and made perfect sense considering the journey he’s taken so far in his career.

Bart in so many words explained that to do a radio show, it would take several hours a month of his time when you factor in the on air time and the prep time for each show. He added that all those hours during a season would take away from his desire to improve his game and take it to what he described as the “next level.” The show he said would be fun, yet those hours dedicated to it would be better served refining his productivity as a player.

Here’s to my favorite Saluki getting to that desired next level.

How he gets there might be as simple as rock, paper, scissors.