Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Keeping track of the elusive Barry Sanders

Ever see one of those Where’s Waldo books?
They are filled with all sorts of graphics of folks who slightly resemble that dude with the glasses and striped stocking hat.
Forget Waldo. The question that resonated in the late summer of 1999 was “Where’s Barry?”
That is when Barry Sanders shocked all by abruptly retiring from both the Detroit Lions and professional football.
There were sightings, but certainly not around the Motor City. He was allegedly seen at an airport. He supposedly went to Europe. He was working at the same Burger King in Kalamazoo as Elvis.
Barry Sanders was seemingly everywhere but where fans of the Lions wanted him – at training camp with the rest of the players.
Anybody catch the Pepsi advertisement featuring Barry Sanders that just came out?
Barry is at a barber shop getting a shave. There’s talk about his abrupt disappearance from football. The obvious question is why.
Just as Barry is about to reveal the real reason he retired, Poof! He vanishes in a puff of smoke and reappears in the living room of some guy playing the Madden NFL 25 video game.
Now you see him. Now you don’t. Where’s Waldo and was he hanging with Barry Sanders?
When he abruptly left the game, Sanders was just 1,457 yards short of the NFL rushing record.
I have been in this business a long time. It’s been a long time since I have been wide eyed. They started to narrow some probably the first time I walked into a professional locker room. Guys I had previously only read about or watched on television were suddenly lounging all around. They were not posters. They were real life. Some were great guys. Others weren’t so great. Mostly, they were just like you and me.
Only their job descriptions were different. They did not sell cars. They did not make cars. They played football. Or baseball. Or basketball. Or hockey.
Sanders, well, he was never like you and I. He got my eyes wide open again. His greatness superseded all comparisons. His running style was unique. He would charge into the line, be enveloped by guys a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, and jam the transmission into reverse. He would re-emerge and change directions and skitter 25 yards downfield. He could pivot on a dime and leave seven cents change. He had a sense of balance that even the Flying Wallendas marveled at.
But, on the eve of training camp in 1999, Sander had enough. He left the team and the game in the rearview mirror. He’d gotten tired of the organization’s ineptitude. The Lions had finished 5-11 in two of his final three seasons.
In a documentary by the NFL Network and NFL films, Sanders said that he struggled with the decision to retire all offseason, but in the end, had lost the “drive, determination and enjoyment” for the game.
"Over the next few years it looked like we would probably be rebuilding and we had gotten rid of some good players,” Sanders said. “I just felt like it was time to make a change.”

Over the years, my kids have never really paid much attention to what I do for a living; even in the earlier days when I was covering teams like the Tigers, Lions, Pistons and Red Wings. To them, it was just dad going to work at night. I might as well have been flipping pancakes at IHOP or worked in the pit at some oil change place.
But one Sunday, that magically changed. We were at Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills in the food court eating bourbon chicken or corn dogs or something like that. All of a sudden, Barry Sanders appears and walks to one of the nearby food counters. Since the mall was going to close in a few minutes, there weren’t many people around.
Barry glanced our way and waved to me. I gave him a quick wave in return.
“Dad, do you know Barry Sanders?” asked Breanna, our youngest daughter. “I can’t believe he just waved to you.”
He picked up his food and then he was gone. Poof he went. Just like in the Pepsi commercial. Just like in his career.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Dream Cruise doesn't rev my engine

I should probably sit down with a psychiatrist about this.
Preferably one wearing an STP jacket. And a Dale Earnhardt hat. With the keys to a ’68 Dodge Charger in his pocket.
On the weekend of the Woodward Dream Cruise this might be blasphemy, but I am just not a car guy.
There, I said it. I feel like the weight of a 426 Street Hemi is off my chest. Here we are on the cusp of the Motor City and there is absolutely nothing about the internal combustion engine that I understand.
Gas in the tank. Change the oil every 30,000 miles or so (or is it every 3,000 miles). Turn the key, flip on the radio and that is the extent of my knowledge.
And my interest, honestly.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the cars that are tooling up and down Woodward Avenue.
The engines that sound like somebody just stepped on a sabre tooth tiger's tail. The hot rods with the flame paint jobs and the racing slicks. The vintage Cadillacs that are the length of a French Open tennis court.
But, to be redundant, I am not a car guy.
I drive a '97 subcompact with more than 200,000 miles on its odometer. The driver's seat no longer adjusts. The driver's side window no longer rolls down. It is off the track, and there’s about an inch gap, so every time it rains I look like a contestant in a wet T-shirt contest. It has so many rattles it sounds like a break-in at the local Babies R Us outlet. But do you know what, there are no payments due and it still starts when I turn the key. And that is the end of the story.
Part of it is probably my upbringing. My dad had cars like the AMC Gremlin and the Ford Escort. Neither one exactly exuded sex appeal. He washed his cars every six months or so, whether they needed it or not.
He smoked cigars and pipes. It never seemed to bother dad that he frequently exceeded the capacity of the ash tray. He'd keep putting his spent cigars there, and tapping his pipe there, and more often than not, it looked like a mini version of Mt. Vesuvius.
I borrowed my parents' cars while my buddies drove vehicles  like Camaros (Rick) and Road Runners (Don). I did not even own my own car until after I had graduated from college and it was a used VW Beetle the color of a Sunkist orange.
This is nothing against the Dream Cruise. God bless all of those folks who are into cars. It is a hugely popular event and deservedly so. American iron is more than a product. It is a sense of pride.
My wife, Kim, and I like to go out to Woodward and watch the cars go by.
But after a couple of hours, it's all done. We hop either into my subcompact or her 2004 Taurus with the scrapes on the rear bumper from the garage door, and that is it.
Just like my lineage, there is not much spit shining being done at the Evans house. There is not a whole lot of Armor All being expended on any of our vehicles.
I am not proud of that. In fact, I am a little bit ashamed. Is there a doctor in the house? Preferably a shrink who is wearing a 2013 Woodward Dream Cruise T-shirt.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Here's a tip: Get off Drew Brees' back!

Man, I’m so glad I am a nobody.
Do you ever watch TMZ?
The entire television show is based on photographers hounding celebrities.
If Brad Pitt picks his nose, it’s national news. If anyone named Kardashian does anything at all, it is the stuff of headlines. If Justin Bieber does 36 miles per hour in a 35 zone, somebody in his neighborhood punches him.
And now here comes New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees, who is being blasted for leaving a $3 tip for a $74 takeout order last month in San Diego.
Now I would normally agree that three bucks for a $74 order is mighty paltry. The standard 20 percent puts the tip closer to $15.
But this was a takeout order. This was Brees parking his car, walking into the restaurant, paying and exiting with a bag of food. There were no white linen napkins involved. Nobody led him to a table, sat him down or served him. Nobody refilled his coffee or fetched ranch dressing for his fries. Nobody rolled out a dessert cart and asked if he’d like the éclair, the chocolate mousse or the deep fried Twinkie.
Someone brought a bag of food from the kitchen. Excuse me if I don’t think that deserves a 20 percent tip. When’s the last time you stuck a five dollar bill into the hand popping out of the Plexiglass in a drive thru line? Takeout, carryout or drive thru. It is basically the same concept. So hold the outrage, please.
According to ESPN, Brees was in the locker room at the Saints’ headquarters late last week when he noticed a discussion on a network morning show about tipping on takeout orders, referencing a photograph of his takeout receipt that was circulated online.
Brees said he figures the person who initially photographed the receipt did so innocently because he visits the San Diego-area restaurant regularly and poses for photos with staff.
The quarterback said he was disappointed "that it actually got spun and perceived as -- you immediately jump to the conclusion that he stiffed a waiter or waitress. That's the part that bothers me."
So that’s why I am glad I’m a nobody.
Not that I stiff anyone. I have nothing but compassion for waiters and waitresses and anyone else in the service industry. Those folks work mighty hard for their money, and if some jerk stiffs them, well shame on the jerk.
But Brees is getting a bad rap. I might throw a buck or two into the jar if I grab a pizza or some other carry out order. I might do likewise when I go to the ice cream place or the sub shop.
As hard-working as they might be, those folks are not waiters or waitresses. They do not do your bidding for an hour or more. They don’t fetch a couple of packets of strawberry jam or make sure there are no green peppers in the omelet. They do not take a tepid baked potato back to the kitchen to zap it in the microwave. They do not right a wrong like a steak ordered medium rare that comes out dripping blood like a vampire’s incisors.
Let’s get back to the TMZ mentality. Ambush Lindsay Lohan outside a bar to make sure she does not stumble. Wait at airports for Johnny Depp to see if he’s wearing a headdress or chamois pants. Do a Rorschach test on Amanda Bynes.
A lot of us are the same way. Whip out the cellphone. Take photos or a video. Check out this receipt from Drew Brees which shows he tipped $3 for a $74 order. That proves he is a cheapskate, right.
Wrong. It was a takeout order. Three bucks is just fine. Man, it feels good to be a nobody.