Forget performance. Don’t think about the intangibles. If you want to know why the Cardinals are jettisoning their quarterback, the one-time golden boy, Matt Leinart, then look to the usual scenario. Follow the money.
Leinart’s contract is far too expensive for value anitcipated or received. That’s how the Cardinals no doubt look at it. He signed on for $50.8 million over six years in 2006, and has played little and inconsistently and shown himself to be injury prone. Derek Anderson, who was promoted to first team last week, signed a 2-year deal in March for only $7.25 million. From the beginning Leinart had to prove himself vastly superior to Anderson to save himself and his big-money deal. If anything, in camp and in preseason, Leinart was seen only as slightly better by head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves.
Imagine this conversation last winter between Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt, filtered down from the mouth of Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, whose family owns the team.
Graves: Ken, this is very important. I want you to listen closely.
Graves: You need to be really sure, no doubts, that Matt can not only be the starter next season, but that he is going to get us to the playoffs. Nothing else will do. That’s why we’re going to bring in another veteran quarterback to compete with Matt, someone you feel good about. Like Charlie Whitehurst or Derek Anderson. Or if you have someone else in mind let me know. Matt has to be much better than the new guy or else. I think you can read between the lines, know where I’m coming from.
Whisenhunt: I can tell you right now that Matt isn’t that kind of a quarterback. He isn’t going to be a difference maker for us. Either Whitehurst or Anderson will push him, it will be very close.
Graves: Good. That’s how I see it too. Just keep me informed how practices are going. We’ve got some time here. Still on for golf at 2?
And so Matt will go away now, his big, big paydays likely gone forever. That’s life in the NFL.
We certainly have our problems out here in the arid lands of Arizona. Illegal immigration, joblessness, sagging home sales and overall bad economy, not to mention a battle royal between “the toughest sheriff in America” and his supervisors, each suing the other. That’s just to name a few.
But the hottest topic during these dogs days of August is this: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Cardinals, our NFL team?
It was assumed with the retirement earlier this year of the hallowed Kurt Warner that the heir apparent, Matt Leinart, would step in to those cleats behind center and life would go on. But Leinart, the California golden boy, USC, Heisman Trophy and all that, hit a snag last week after mostly standing in the wings for three seasons. The Cardinals head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, demoted Leinart to second team in favor of newcomer Derek Anderson, who played at Cleveland last season.
That’s when all hell broke loose among Cardinals’ fandom.
It seems that while the handsome Leinart, with his image of Hollywood party-guy, lazed on the sidelines holding on with both hands to his shoulder pads, he was developing a deep sense of love and loyalty from spectators while doing next to nothing on the field. In what can only be described as a mass emotional breakdown of irrationality and hysteria, the Leinart supporters have gone digitally ballistic with their posts on the Arizona Republic website. Some are even going against the coach, Whisenhunt, who has done nothing but good in his previous three years here. Some posters in the past have given him the adoring titles of Wiz, the Whiz and Dr. Whiz. “In Whiz We Trust,” is a god-like motto once banded about before the controversy.
Whisenhunt, who had been an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, took one of the NFL’s softest and most bumbling franchises to the Super Bowl two seasons ago and deep into the playoffs in 2009. Not to say he has proven himself to all for he, like the entire Cardinals organization, sailed along on Warner’s magical wings for several years. What Whisenhunt will do without Warner will be closely watched.
Caught in the middle is the innocent Anderson, who may yet watch Leinart soar to the front. Whisenhunt has not officially named the starter for the season opener September 12 in St. Louis. But many see that “indecision” as gamesmanship, to force the Rams to dilute practice time and game-planning for both quarterbacks, not just one.
The controversy is reminiscent of another heated debate among Cardinals fans two years ago over the starting running back, Edgerrin James, the future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career, or the newcomer Tim Hightower. It differed from the current controversy in character and intensity. Many Cardinals fans hated Edge more than they felt strongly about Hightower. Eventually James was traded to Seattle and has since retired.
Fans, like political debaters, snap at each other from distant corners. Conservatives go for Leinart. He is the more accurate passer. But his passes are often short ones and he has had trouble moving the offense downfield in one start last year and in the current preseason. His fans tend to like continuity. He is seen as the safe choice, someone who has been treated unfairly by the coach and not given a real chance. Detractors question his leadership abilities and toughness. He has sustained two debilitating shoulder injuries since joining the Cardinals as their No. 1 draft pick in 2006.
Anderson, at 6-6 and an inch taller than Leinart, draws from the liberal base, a crowd more accepting of change. Compared to Leinart, Anderson is a riverboat gambler. He has a bazooka for an arm and is not afraid to use it, thinking at times he can overpower heavy coverage of his receivers. To be sure, he has not developed Warner’s fine touch, some of his laser shots at close range too hot to handle. But he can move the offense downfield, as he did in his first start last week in Chicago. Some see him as tougher than Leinart, bold in stepping into the pocket and delivering a zinger downfield. Despite a Pro-Bowl season in 2007, detractors say he was over-rated that year, that his 29 touchdown passes and 3,787 yards were offset by 19 interceptions and numerous sacks. They fear, no predict, he is a mistake machine waiting to happen.
In an ongoing poll on the Republic website with more than 7,500 responders, Leinart at one point today had 41.8 % in his camp, Anderson 35.2 % in his and 23.1 % with no preference. That is probably good news for Anderson since almost 60 percent are with him or have an open mind. Stranglely, a feverish debate surfaced over the No. 3 and 4 quarterbacks. Who should the Cardinals keep, the draftee John Skelton, from Fordham, or the free agent Max Hall, from Brigham Young? The more delirious posters suggest Hall should even be the starter, period.
The Cardinals play their last preseason game Thursday at home. It will mark the first time since the quarterback controversy erupted last week that Leinart and Anderson will confront their fans. It is hard to know what the reaction will be. Or, for that matter, which quarterback will start. One thing is for sure. The usually blah fourth game of preseason now has taken on a zesty life of its own.
This is Saturday. It’s about noon and I am walking again to the corner coffee shop. And here in the dreary disarray of Dog Alley I discover a colorful flowerbed of seven books. They are neatly layed out beside a trash barrel in the baking sun. Six paperback novels and a hardback, “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf.”
The novels, all written by bestselling authors, are lined up in two rows with the Penick slightly canted on the right. On the top row, from left are John Grisham’s “The King of Torts,” “The Innocent Man” and “The Broker” with Robin Cook’s “Chromosome 6” on the far right.
The second row starts with James Patterson’s “The Big Bad Wolf,” then Cook’s “Vital Signs.”
I wonder who has placed the books out here in such an intelligent order. Is it someone from one of the residences on the south? Or perhaps someone on the north in the offices of a big PR firm? Or was it a book-loving homeless person who was searching the trash? It could be almost anyone. Or any number of people. Maybe one person set out the books and another came by and put them in a design.
Man or woman, I have only a slender clue. The woman’s purse with the ugly chartreuse trim resting nearby, I know, may tell me nothing at all. I lean to the theory the books belonged to a man only because I think mysteries and golf are more of a man’s province. Even then, it could have been a woman who took her husband’s discards and placed them in the alley.
And why the design, this book-garden of blues, blacks and reds? Surely not for the colors themselves. What else though than to show book smarts, an act of an anonymous ego? In any case, this garden of books is the most interesting thing I’ve seen in Dog Alley for a long time.
USA Today, the country’s second largest newspaper in terms of circulation, seems headed into uncharted and scary waters. It announced yesterday that it would reorganize. The paper plans to chop 130 jobs and refocus from print journalism to its digital version. That in itself is no big deal. A paper with losing circulation has to do something.
But this is the scary part.
USA today, as part of its redo, will bring in “a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce,” according to an article in the New York Times.
In other words the longtime rivals within a newspaper, advertising and journalism, will apparently become a lot more friendly. And that is not good for readers. And that is not good for America.
The bane of good journalism has always been its advertising. The journalist’s goal of producing meaningful, unbiased news stories is often met by an irate advertiser who threatens to pull his ads. The bigger and more important the advertiser, the more sensitive the publisher becomes to the complaint. If substantial, the publisher will make his displeasure with the story known. It will trickle down as hear-say to editors and eventually to reporters. In most cases, fearful reporters will censor themselves without an official edict from above. They do not want to either lose their jobs or be handed a less desirable assignment.
It will be interesting to see how USA Today handles this difficult balancing act, or “conflict of interest concerns,” as the Times story called it.
All this divided country needs right now is to have advertisers of Big Business weighing in even more on the kind of news we read. More propaganda, more pap. Democracy can not thrive in such a suffocating environment. Hopefully, USA Today will maintain a stout firewall between ad-selling and news content.
Whatever it means, it’s coming Arizona’s way. The parent company of USA Today, the Gannett Corporation, also owns the Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state. Gannett executives have scheduled a mandatory meeting with Republic staffers on September 9 at the downtown Convention Center. Staffers from out-lying bureaus will be bused in. The meeting, it is assumed, will discuss this plan of blending sales and news content. Stay tuned. Most assuredly, though, it will be bad news for good journalism whatever it is.
Almost every day I walk to the corner coffee shop along Dog Alley. It is a slender piece of land, only a block in length and maybe 15 feet wide. It rests in the heart of Phoenix. It is mostly hidden from the rest of the world as most alleys are. It is trashy and unkempt. Some might call it ugly. But whatever it is, Dog Alley tells me more about the city I live in than the pretentious dwellings and offices on its flanks. And I think it tells me a lot about this country we call America.
I began calling it Dog Alley about a year ago. There are four or five dogs along the way that used to go berserk every time I passed. They barked frantically and one or two even growled. Perhaps I flatter myself in saying they are no longer my enemies. It’s the music. I whistle every time they come to the fence. Tweet, tweet, tweet, TWEET, or something like that. This morning when I passed in the sultry air of 90 degree heat and heard nothing, I wondered if it was my training that led to the silence. Or was it just too hot to bark?
The Alley is an eyesore for sure. Utility poles and hanging wires. The paved surface is dotted with holes and unseemly patches. And some days it smells of rotting food. Trash barrels line one side for weekly pickup by the noisy, dust-belching garbage trucks. Blue lids for recyclables, black for sacked food and other junk. Most are dented from tough-love by the trucks. Gang graffiti covers some barrels and the walls beside them. Weeds grow a foot high on one side. They struggle for life amid wind-blown cardboard boxes.
The historic neighborhood that lies to the south complains about the alleys as pathways for crime and vandalism . Burglaries frequent the area. Residents stew over the constant drift of dumpster-divers, mostly homeless people trying to survive in this land of desert sunshine and Republican cold hearts.
Not long ago there was talk in this neighborhood of doing away with Dog Alley and all the others. The City, which owns the alleys, would seal them off from public use. But, alas, residents would be asked to set the garbage barrels in front of their houses once a week. This did not go over well. It would look awful. And think of those smelly garbage trucks rumbling down the street! So Dog Alley survived. Property values and image were more important than crime.
Dog Alley could be a neighborhood shortcut to the coffee shop and nearby restaurants. But it is a lonely place, this alley. In the months I’ve traveled it, I have seen only nine people there and rarely a vehicle.
I was encouraged when a wary family of four walked in from the west. A man, a woman and two children. But that was a long time ago. I saw three giggling young girls recently coming through with dogs on leashes. Then there was the dumpster-diver earlier in the summer. I said, hi, but he did not reply. And just this week, two male office workers followed me down toward the coffee shop at noon hour. Both were talking into mobile phones, neither visually taking in this unusual environment.
Dog Alley, I predict, will not change soon. The reasons are clear. Fear and an aversion to exercise. Most Americans will drive a block rather than walk it. And many Americans are afraid of their shadows. They want scripted lives. The unexpected makes them shiver. You never know who or what will turn up in an alley.
I hope to write more about Dog Alley from time to time. It seems almost a natural world, a world left to its own devices. No one cares what happens in the hidden corners. Out of sight, out of mind. Yet Dog Alley is a litmus test. Like toilets in a restaurant. Dirty urinal, dirty kitchen.
I have a dream of my own. I see a day when Dog Alley will be a parkway with trees, a curving path lined with tall sunflowers. No poles and underground electrical wiring. A place where friendly neighbors pass in the evenings. And a place where dogs are a lot less frightened and angry.
I am walking the still-damp streets of Shrewsbury in late morning. I am searching for the first stop on the self-guided tour through town on what is officially called “The Darwin Town Trail.”
It was here in this western England city of 71,000 that the great naturalist and so-called Father of Evolution, Charles Darwin, was born in 1809. It is said he spent the first 27 years of his life in Shrewsbury but that does not account for his college years in such places as Cambridge and Edinburgh. The “Trail” loosely touches those early days before Darwin left in 1831 on his famous trip around the world on the Beagle.
Although it is late July, the air is cool, 65 F. The clouds have lifted and taken with them the pre-dawn showers. Sunlight bursts through the cumulus. In my light jacket, I already begin to feel warm as I walk at a leisurely pace.
I am using a Trail guide and map picked up the day before at the cozy, two-person Visitor Information Centre off Barker Street, uphill a piece from the Welsh Bridge. The Centre is loaded with Darwin material. Books by Darwin and about him abound. Strange to me, this very churchly city not only accepts Darwin but celebrates him. Unlike in America, where he and his generally-accepted evolutionary ideas are attacked by the wild-eyed Creationists.
Coming down Pride Hill, the bustling pedestrian street with numerous shops and restaurants, including a two-floor mall, the Darwin Centre, I reach stop No. 1 at the intersection with Mardol Head.
I had passed yesterday under the stop, Darwin Gate, but had not noticed it as we hustled along in the rain looking for our night’s lodging at the Old Post Office, a pub off High Street.
Darwin Gate is a modern tribute to the scientist. Three poles within a circle, topped by facing metal “claws,” 15-20 feet high. The guide says the design was inspired by elements from St. Mary’s Church where Darwin attended: “As night falls, (diffused) light shines through the columns suggesting stained glass windows and the tops of posts mimic ecclesiastical arches.” Underneath it sits a man on a bench smoking a cigarette, seemingly unaware of what some might call hallowed ground.
While I want to finish the Walk if possible, my interest is trained on the old Darwin house, The Mount House, to the west across the River Severn. Why it is not one of the Walk’s eight stops I do not know. This is my last day in town, and I do not want to miss it.
I head out on Mardol, a narrow street whose name means “devil’s boundary” then amble across the Welsh Bridge. The Severn is muddy and moving steadily as I look down. It is England’s longest stream at 220 miles, starting high in Welsh mountains and discharging into the Bristol Channel far to the south. Shrewsbury itself is called “Gateway to Wales,” and is only nine miles from the border.
The way to Mount House is not marked. The guide is not clear. I begin to feel its location is a secret. A middle-aged couple, on the way home with groceries, direct me up the Mount toward the Darwin home. At a driveway, the woman looks back at me, smiling, and points. “It’s in there,” she says and moves on up the hill.
There are two small signs in front. Without them you would not know this was the house. “The Mount,” it says. “Charles Darwin was born here 12th February 1809.” The one on the right is more detailed regarding Darwin’s career and his fame.
Another sign says The Mount is now the office of Shrewsbury’s District Valuer.
I am relieved to see as I mosey up the drivewaythere are no tour buses, no clusters of bug-eyed tourists and their 8-year-olds shooting dozens of digital photos as fast as you can say “evolution.”
A large two-story Georgian building greets me. Red brick, lots of windows, a small portico supported by four columns. Home to a wealthy person once. Darwin’s father was a physician. A large green lawn, towering trees, a few cars parked here and there. I try to imagine what it was like up here two centuries ago. A commanding view of Shrewsbury and the Severn is blighted by rows of townhouses. The woods that once surrounded the place are long gone, chopped up into subdivisions. I shoot a couple of photos and leave satisfied that I’d made the effort.
Back across the bridge in town, Stop No. 2 of the Walk awaits. The Bellstone. First, I stop at a Subway to get a Coke. The jaunt up the Mount has left me thirsty. Across the street is a smooth granite boulder called the Bellstone. It’s about 30 inches in length and standing maybe two feet. A glacier transferred it here from far off Cumbria, the sign says. The rock rests at the far end of a courtyard at the entrance to Morris Hall Yard and, from a Mr. Scott, Darwin was introduced to the Bellstone, and it is assumed, geology. Enthusiasts meet here in the courtyard every year on Darwin’s birthday to celebrate him with a toast.
At 13 Claremont Hill is No. 3, a privately-owned house where Darwin was tutored by a Reverend Case prior to attending Shrewsbury School.
On up the hill is the high-steepled, time-stained St. Chad’s Church, No. 4, where Darwin was christened in 1809.
I walk across the street, not suspecting the huge surprise that awaits in No. 5, The Dingle. Quarry Park is spacious, lined with trees and virtually empty this day if it weren’t for workers putting up tents for a regional flower show later in the summer. I see an attractive arch to the left, the entrance to The Dingle. It was here, in the pond, “whilst studying with the Reverend Case, the young Charles Darwin would often fish for newts.”
The Dingle may sound obscene but it is anything but. As I walk through the arch and down a paved path, a world of beautiful color opens up. It is startling at first. The landscaped gardens with manicured grass rests ahead with a pond, fountains and statuary on the right. Along the paths are nicely-kept wooden benches. Enough for a few hundred people at least. But I count only a half-dozen in the park. An elderly man, seated up at the far end, seems lost in contemplation. It is quiet except for the burbling fountains and chirps of birds.
The Lion Hotel is No. 6. I passed it yesterday exploring the inner city. On hearing he had a chance to sail with Captain Fitzroy on the Beagle, “Darwin raced across Shrewsbury to the Lion Hotel,” the guide said, “to catch the next coach to London hoping that Fitzroy hadn’t offered his place to . . . another.”
I had already been inside No. 7, the Library, to use a computer and access the Internet. A large dark statue erected in 1897 of an elderly Darwin seated and looking out on Castle Road rests in front of the building. The library was the former Shrewsbury School that the young Darwin attended.
I may have passed No. 8 at some time but do not remember it. It was at the Unitarian Church where Darwin worshipped with his mother until she died when he was 8.
It was late afternoon when I finished the tour. The sun was shining, and I felt good. I like harmony, and that this medieval city has embraced Darwin — even though his evolutionary ideas of slow geologic change fly in the face of the Bible and Genesis’s story that God created the world in six days — gives me hope that at some point soon America will become a less discordant, less irrational place.
Best English Breakfast: At Kenilworth Guest House, Windermere. Eggs (to your specification), bacon, sausage, mushrooms, stewed tomato, toast and jams, cereals, fruit, juices, coffee, tea, milk, all served in a friendly atmosphere with other guests from around the world.
Best Hotel English Breakfast: The Royal National, London. The best organized and staffed to handle the large numbers of guests.
Best dessert: Blackberry Crumble, at a Grasmere cafe whose name we failed to note.
Most refreshing moment: Watching cattle graze on lush, green pasture grass, like they used to do in the U.S. before the sickening, inhumane mammoth cattle lots.
Best Lodging: Tavistock Hotel, London. One of the Imperial Hotels chain that dominates the lodging scene in Bloomsbury. Clean with good service and a modest price of 91 pounds ($135 US per night). Centrally located and across the street from Tavistock Square Gardens, a quiet park with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the middle of a beautiful flower bed. The English Breakfast is only a slight notch lower than the Royal National’s and inconsequential. We separated it out from our other lodging mainly because it has reliable Internet connections.
Internet Service: Most hotels charge exorbitant prices for use in the rooms. The Royal National charges 5 pounds an hour. But you can access the Net for free in hotel lobbies. We had a favorite place at the Tavi Bar at the Tavistock, with a high table and stool, an electrical outlet, by a window looking out on the street and across into the park. Of the two B&Bs where we stayed, one had no Internet connection and the other was unreliable. (We were able to reach the inn’s network but not the Internet no matter where we positioned the laptop). If I had it to do over, I would leave my computer at home and use Internet cafes, especially in London. The cost is as little as 2 pounds an hour and most have printer connections.
The pounding of the pound: The exchange rate of the US dollar is $1.50 to the pound at least. That said, you can still find relatively cheap lodging at B&Bs. We had two very nice ones. A small but adequate room in The Kenilworth at Windermere, for instance, was only $105 a night, with breakfast, much more affordable than many places in America.
Asian women: A real plus for a country not known for its good-looking people. Europe like the U.S. is changing demographically. A year ago, we noticed Italy had many Africans, especially in Rome and the South.
Who does the menial work: Apparently it is largely East Indians. They are what Hispanics are in the Arid Lands of Arizona. The English Breakfasts at the two hotels we stayed were serviced strictly by Asians, many who do not speak English well.
What is a sunny day? In London, it is a day when the sun breaks cloud for a second or two. In Windermere and the Lake District, there apparently is no such thing.
Best train trip: From Birmingham to Shrewsbury. I don’t believe there is a single ugly place in all of Shropshire. At least we didn’t see one.
Setting your clock: If a train is scheduled to leave at 10:43 you can fine tune your clock by it. We did not experience a single late train. They were always on time, always waiting for us to board. But when we related our experiences to a retired electrical engineer in a Cambridge book shop, he shook his head, unbelieving.
Women’s dress styles: Tight and short, especially if you’re under 25. Many though wear the minis with jeans underneath and high heels. Many like the “wave,” dresses that do not have straight hemlines. They are usually worn with the short side in front, baring the knees.
Best restaurants: Loch Fyne (seafood), in Shrewsbury, Lazy Daisy’s and Francine’s in Windermere and, far back, Prezzo, in London.
Worst experience: A Sunday 11-hour bus tour to the Cotswolds. The weekend crowds, the many tour buses and cheap tourist shops destroy the beauty and the moment. To visit the region, try the fall or spring.
Don’t do what I did: Trying to decipher what an East Indian railway agent was telling me, I stupidly purchase a year’s senior pass for 26 pounds. It knocks off 1 pound on each trip. We made only six trips by rail and could have saved 20 pounds. Unless you’re staying for a long time in England and plan to travel extensively by rail, forget the senior pass. It’s a rip-off.
Most shocking: In our 19 full days in England, we did not see a single cat. Plenty of dogs though. That we have more cats in our house, two, than we saw in all of England is amazing.
The Poet, Playwright, Scientist Industries: Tourism is greatly enhanced by those who come to touch the celebrated past. In Stratford Upon Avon, of course, there is the grave and various sites connected to the bard, William Shakespeare. In Shrewsbury, it’s the “home-boy”, Charles Darwin, the so-called Father of Evolution, who is the big attraction. See the home of his birthplace on The Mount, take “The Darwin Walk” around town or visit the large two-floor Darwin Shopping Centre. In the Lake Country it is the poet, William Wordsworth, who has drawing power. Visit one of his homes near Grasmere, like Dove Cottage, and the museum, or stay at the Wordsworth Hotel. There are maps showing the many walks Wordsworth took in the fells and around the lakes of Cumbria.
The Best “My gosh” Site: The Dingle in Shrewsbury. A world-class flower garden amid a manicured lawn, a pond with fountains and numerous benches to sit, relax and reflect among statuary. I discovered this idyllic spot below St. Chad’s Church by accident while doing “The Darwin Walk.” It staggered me to walk down a path into it and suddenly see this unexpected beauty emerge.