Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the Tunney Side of the Street, #226, April 27, 2009

After Further Review … John Madden’s recent retirement from NFL broadcasting recalls his quote from the foreword of my book Impartial Judgment: “I never thought that was possible. I mean, who are these guys? Ever hear of a kid growing up wanting to be a referee? Or going to college to be one? Then, all of a sudden, boom! There they are telling you what to do?” Madden retired from on-field coaching in 1979 after 10 years as Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders with a record of 100 victories. The Raiders were the winningest T.E.A.M. in the 70s. He’s now retired from broadcasting as the “best there ever was.”

I had the privilege of refereeing in the NFL every year Madden was the Raiders Coach. The Raiders were a no-holds-barred group of renegades. They played all-out, every play, every down. As a referee, it was challenging! As successful a coach as Madden was, he said later that he “finally” became well-known when, after his retirement, he did a Miller’s Lite beer commercial by busting through a fence. His 30-year career as a broadcaster has taken that fame to the pinnacle. He was always a coach; but as a sportscaster, he coached audiences, not players.

Madden lessons stand out. Lesson #1 – Following their Super Bowl XI victory over the Minnesota Vikings, which I refereed, the Raiders started the 1977 pre-season against the Seattle Seahawks in the King Dome. Before that Seahawks game, which I was assigned to referee, I talked with Coach Madden on the field before the game and noticed his diamond-filled Super Bowl ring. I said, “John, that’s a beautiful ring, but I don’t understand; you were the coach in Super Bowl XI and I was the referee. We were both on the field for the same 3+ hours; you got that beautiful ring and all I got was this (inexpensive) watch that the League gave me. How come – what’s the difference?” Madden smiled and said, “Because you don’t care who wins!” Profound.

Lesson #2 – After Coach Madden retired, he became a sportscaster on CBS for NFL games. His partner was Pat Summerall. Madden said he and Summerall would ask each other before EVERY game, “Is your bucket full?” Meaning, did you do your homework on the players, coaches, formations and strategies so that you could help the viewer better understand the game they were about to see. That lesson on preparation remains paramount with me today. I will miss John Madden.

Will you miss the “Maddenism” that you have heard from the Coach for the last 3 decades?

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Tunney Side of the Street #225, April 20, 2009

After Further Review ..."You play to win the game," we say in my book "It's the Will, Not the Skill." This means you play within the rules and with respect for your opponents. So, then will someone provide an explanation why the game of ice hockey, especially at the professional (NHL) level, permits fighting (i.e. pugilism, fisticuffs)? I mean, a better explanation than, "Well, that's hockey!"

Not being much of a hockey fan - never played it, don't much watch it - I'm sure hockey enthusiasts will say, "He just doesn't understand the game." Perhaps. However, when you stop to think about it, with all the protective gear - helmets, pads, gloves, etc. - how much damage can be caused by hitting an opponent with one's fists? NHL rules say fighting is ok UNTIL the combatants fall to the ice, then the official steps in and breaks it up. Huh? What does fighting have to do with "playing to win the game?" Last time I looked, the T.E.A.M. that wins is the one who scores the most goals - not the number of knock downs. Let's see how that works in the upcoming NHL playoffs.

A bigger concern is the role model issue. Young players, who may aspire to play in the big leagues, tend to emulate the pros. "Be like Mike" is true in all sports. What about lacrosse, field hockey and soccer? Those are contact sports, yet fighting is not permitted - doing so calls for expulsion. Why shouldn't fighting be allowed in all sports?

In the NFL - it doesn't get more physical than that - fighting is subject to expulsion. NFL officials are quick to step-in to stop any pushing or shoving (after the play), which would lead to fisticuffs. When a fight does happen, NFL teammates want to protect their brother, and then what follows is a brawl - not football Fighting detracts from the purpose of the game. In the NBA, if players begin fighting, they are ejected. Further, if their teammates leave the bench and go onto the court, they are fined by the League.

Each sport has its own mindset and the mindset of hockey is "fighting is part of the game." I don't see it. If we want our young players to emulate their professional role models, we need to change that mindset.

Will you watch hockey for the players' athleticism, or for their pugilistic abilities?

For more information about Jim Tunney, please visit his website:, or if you would like to respond to this message, please send your email to

Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Tunney Side of the Street #224, April 13, 2009

After Further Review … March Madness concluded last week with the University of North Carolina easily defeating Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. A record crowd of 72,000+ attended. For a number of college basketball fans, they wished the season would go on and on and on!

For others, they now move on to the National Basketball Association playoffs ending in a couple of months. NBA games are played (almost) every day of the week and with players moving from team to team, player fan base and team loyalty is dubious. Some have suggested that a pro basketball game really doesn’t start until the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter – meaning that NBA players don’t play at their top pro level ability until then.

The reason for the above mention of the pro game is because it has influenced the college game – in the wrong direction. Today’s college game has few seniors. If you are unfamiliar with the meaning of “one and done” in relation to college basketball, read on. Most top college players leave school after their junior year, some after their sophomore year and a few even after their freshman year – thus “one and done.”

As you watch the style of play in today’s college game, you’ll notice how much it emulates the pro game of violent collisions – e.g. charging/blocking, hard contact on a shooting player, etc. Player size has created constant contact. One can’t legislate size, but size has brought bruteness, which seems to bring about the lack of finesse, legal screens, pick & roll, etc. Today, it’s all about slam dunks.

However, what is even more bothersome is the palming of the ball (carrying) and the permissiveness of traveling. Watching the final four, as well as the entire March madness, I couldn’t help but think how much greater Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird could have been in their college playing days, if they could “carry” and “travel” with the ball as players do today.

I have played, coached, and officiated basketball over 4 decades, but with the pros influencing the college players and they, in turn, influencing the kids’ game, I am disappointed that the game of basketball is not played as it was intended. Change doesn’t always bring growth for betterment.

Will you agree that today’s basketball should be about agility, speed and finesse and not about brute force?

For more information about Jim Tunney, please visit his website:, or if you would like to respond to this message, please send your email to

On the Tunney Side of the Street, #223, April 6, 2009

After Further Review … The National Football League is tightening its physical contact rules which begs the question: Are other professional sports also concerned about player safety? With the National Hockey League playoffs about to get underway will aggressive or overaggressive player behavior escalate? The Chicago Blackhawks have a good shot at being in the playoffs, but their power forward was suspended for three games for a “blow to the head of an unsuspecting player” during a recent game. My concern is the unnecessary roughness in the sport of hockey. Let’s be clear about hockey – I am not a fan. Growing up in southern California, winter time was devoted to football – then basketball, baseball and some “kick the can.” Not many ponds or lakes in So. California froze over.

One has to admire the adeptness of a hockey player who can carry a stick and hit a puck at full speed, let alone guide it toward the opponent’s goal to score. Gordy Howe, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretsky – all in the NHL Hall of Fame - are to be admired; Gretsky, especially, with his ability to move to where the puck was “going to be” – not where it was. You gotta love that anticipation.

The trouble I have with hockey is the unnecessary contact. Many may argue that the word unnecessary is an unnecessary word, because hockey is very much a contact sport. Agreed. Physicality and aggressiveness are important in hockey. While excessive play in the NFL, NBA and MSL is important as well, there are rules that prohibit a player from smashing into an opponent from behind. In hockey, from the NHL on down, ‘boarding,” although not permitted by rule, seems to be admired! How does one rank finesse, speed and agility in hockey among the physical skills needed to be successful (read: to win)? Should there be some sense of fair play in that type of contact?

Hockey rules, at all levels, legislate against “high-sticking, slashing, tripping” but don’t seem to enforce a hard block in the back of an opponent (boarding). Although that player may know he may get “blasted,” he has little way to protect himself. All of this style of play and over-aggressive behavior finds its way into the style of play of our younger generations.

Will you watch hockey for its aggressiveness or for the speed and finesse used by the best of players?