Monday, December 15, 2014

Au Revoir, Craig Ferguson: Why Is Late Night's Funniest Host Leaving?

The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson answers another call
Am I the only person in America who'll miss The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when it ends its ten-year run on CBS this Friday? Ferguson is a blast of fresh night air. Yes, he can be a bit aloof. He even borders on arrogance now and again. And he flirts a little too much with the starlets who appear on his show. But he is generally harmless, and is easily the funniest host on late-night television. And he's an underrated interviewer.

Deceptively smart, Ferguson can be utterly silly one minute, then surprise you with an eloquent discourse on abstract artist Jackson Pollock or playwright/poet Samuel Beckett the next. He never relies on predictable pre-interview topics. Instead, he takes his guests and his viewers on spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness journeys no other host would even attempt. But most importantly, he's just funny as hell. No one on TV, at any hour, makes me laugh harder.

Ferguson's unscripted, improvisational back-and-forths each night after the monologue with Geoff Peterson, his gay robot skeleton sidekick, are genius. The animatronic Peterson is voiced and operated by Josh Robert Thompson, a reliably weird and hilarious comic actor.

Each night when Thompson places random phone calls to Ferguson in various voices and dialects, he makes Ferguson, the studio audience, and me, laugh out loud. The "callers," all voiced by Thompson, include everyone from an old-lady stalker to Morgan Freeman to Liam Neeson. There's nothing else like this on television.

The Oddest Couple: Geoff the gay robot skeleton, and Ferguson
A postmodern spin on Bob Newhart's classic telephone routine, the calls, which take wildly unpredictable turns, are the funniest thing on late-night TV since the early days of Letterman's NBC show. 

They're funnier than anything you'll see from Jimmy Kimmell or Jimmy Fallon or even the sometimes still-funny and also soon-to-depart Letterman. And they're much funnier than what you get from Ferguson's direct competition, Seth Meyers, whose smart but smarmy college humor gets tired fast.

Only Conan O'Brien (sometimes) makes me laugh as hard as Ferguson, who's already begun hosting a syndicated game show called Celebrity Name Game based on the board game Identity Crisis

It should be called Celebrity Lame Game. It's harmless fun, I guess, but it's precisely the kind of thing Ferguson, who is genuinely subversive and regularly refers to himself as a "late-night douche," would relentlessly satirize after dark.

Ferguson, a recovering alcoholic who's also worked as an actor, author, punk-rock drummer and bartender, has clearly decided to coast. If only Spy magazine, which deftly lampooned show business coasters, were still around to put him in his place. 

I don't generally respect coasters. But in Ferguson's semi-defense, he did host his irreverent show for a decade. He worked hard to make it fresh and funny.

It was certainly leaps and bounds better than the show of the same name hosted by his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, the former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and original host of The Daily Show who was snarky and cocky without ever being very funny.

Now it appears Ferguson will be doing some standup comedy, but has otherwise decided to kick back and enjoy his wealth. Like his former co-star Drew Carey. Ferguson got his biggest break when Carey hired him t0 play his boss on The Drew Carey Show. That's when Carey was a chubby, funny standup comic. Carey is still likable, but now he's a svelte and rather unfunny host of The Price is Right.

Ferguson and Secretariat, the cocaine-loving pantomime horse
Ferguson wasn't built for daytime. He's too edgy, talented and funny to waste his time on a banal game show. A ground-breaker, Ferguson is the only network talk show host to employ a dancing, cocaine-sniffing pantomime horse named Secretariat.

But the existential Scottsman apparently never really wanted the gig in the first place. When asked if he ever wanted to replace David Letterman, Ferguson told PEOPLE that he "never wanted to be a late night host. I did it because it was fun, entertaining and engaging."

The guest on this Friday's final episode will be Jay Leno. But the unsentimental Ferguson apparently doesn't have any big plans for this final week.

"I don't really make plans," he told PEOPLE. "The show is organic. I'll have people that I would like to make sure to fit in. But I'm not retiring. I'll probably talk to them again in some form. Doing something very big and grand at the end doesn't really seem [to be] in the spirit of the show." 

I'm not sure about Ferguson's replacement, stage and film actor James Corden. He's also a Brit and is a reasonably funny and likable fellow. But I fear his version of The Late Late Show could be a bit more, um, polite. 

Will Corden's show be nauseatingly civil? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping it retains some of the slightly cantankerous, anything-can-happen spirit of Ferguson's show, which was more in the mold of Monty Python's Flying Circus than The David Frost Show

Ferguson and his gang created a bizarre and genuinely fun universe on The Late Late Show, which described itself as "not like any other late night show." Indeed, it wasn't. I'll miss it. But I'll be keeping an eye on the hopefully ascending career of Thompson (who plays the robot skeleton). He has a quick and gifted comedy mind.  

But what, pray tell, will happen to the cocaine-sniffing horse!?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Doctor Working at Scripps Memorial Charging Cancer Patients $400 an Hour, Insurance Rarely Accepted

The $400-an-hour pain doctor
Readers of this news blog know that I'm a cancer patient and global patient advocate and that I don't take crap from corporations, doctors and others who gouge and take advantage of cancer patients and others who are sick and/or in pain. Readers of this blog also know that I've been in chronic, massive pain for several years.

On that note, I called a doctor in San Diego today who specializes in pain. Her office is at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She is Dr. Nancy Sajben. I found her by simply Googling "San Diego" and "pain." 

She calls herself a "pain management specialist." At Scripps, she sees cancer patients and others who have chronic pain. She says she can treat the difficult cases. I was eager to tell her a bit about my case and see if she could help me and what she has done for others.

To my surprise, she answered the phone directly. It was a cell phone. She was in her car, I could hear the traffic. I briefly told her my cancer story and that I had chronic pain, and that I was a journalist.

She listened, then said she could help me. For $400 an hour. Yes, $400 an hour. She added that she accepts no insurance -- at least not a PPO, or an HMO, which is what I told her I have. 

After my momentary shock, I told her that charging cancer patients in chronic pain -- or anyone for that matter -- $400 an hour was absolutely outrageous. I said her prices were prohibitively, insanely high. 

I told her that as a working journalist and family man, I don't have that kind of money. I basically told her off. She has clearly heard this beef before. She calmly but smugly told me that she used to be poor. She said she helps people. She said she studied for many years. 

I said that even if all that is true, she only helps wealthy folks who can afford $400 an hour. Others are left out in the cold. Is that what she was taught during her many years of training?

I told her how I felt. Now I'm asking you: please contact this woman and tell her to stop charging so much money to cancer patients and others who are in pain and desperate for help. Her number is 858-622-0500.

Hell, she could charge half of that, even a quarter of that, and still make a very good living. This woman has no shame, no scruples, no compassion and no clue. Hippocratic Oath? What's that?

And please also join me in telling Scripps, which rightly touts the many positive things it does for cancer patients, to take more responsibility for the doctors they house in their own hospitals. 

When I contacted the public relations staff at Scripps and told them about my exchange with Sajben, this is what one of their representatives said to me:

"This [Sajben] is an independent doctor who has her office on the Scripps Memorial Hospital campus (as do a lot of doctors), as well as having privileges at Scripps La Jolla (as do a lot of doctors). She’s not a 'Scripps doctor' in the sense that she’s not part of our Medical Foundation. I’m sorry you’re in pain and hope you find the help you need." 

I then respectfully asked the PR person if Scripps was really comfortable being associated with someone who charges this much to ailing cancer patients, and she said, "She is not our physician. She leases space on our property." 

I then respectfully pointed out to her that Sajben's care is administered inside a Scripps hospital and that this is a tacit (at the very least) endorsement of her care. 

She responded, "She's in private practice." 

Then, finally, she said, "I understand your frustration. It’s not an issue Scripps can speak to because we don’t have any influence over what an independent doctor (whether leasing space in a medical office building on our campus or elsewhere) charges in their private practice."

OK, Scripps. We get it. You take no responsibility whatsoever for the fact that this woman is working in your hospital and paying rent to you, and you have no comment or judgement whatsoever on what this woman is doing while on your grounds. 

She is not an official Scripps physician. Understood. But do patients who see her and see that she is located at Scripps really make that distinction? Of course not. Sajben is located at Scripps and she says so on her website. She administers her care at a Scripps hospital. 

Is Scripps that amoral? Does the hospital really have no comment or opinion on the fact that a doctor working in its hospital charges $400 an hour to suffering cancer patients who are in chronic pain?

By the way, Scripps apparently also accepts patients from Sajben.

Scripps can't set her prices, of course, because while what she charges is surely recognized to anyone with any common decency as immoral and unethical, it is not illegal. And she is technically not a Scripps employee. But they can certainly choose not to let her do business in their hospital.

Sorry, Scripps. You can't dismiss this and just say casually that she is not one of your doctors. You are taking her money and she's hanging out her shingle in your hospital. Own it. Do the right thing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stay Classy, New England: Bill Belichick Brings His Darkness To San Diego This Week

"Get off my lawn!" - Patriots Coach Bill Belichick's happiest pose

If you're wondering why some folks are a bit nauseous and cranky as they motor around typically sunny, happy San Diego this week, I've got the answer: New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is in town. Belichick brought his Patriots team here a week early to prepare for the much-anticipated Sunday Night Football match-up against the San Diego Chargers. 

And he's about as welcome here as the Grinch was in Whoville. 

If only the Patriots' practices this week, which were reportedly moved from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to the University of San Diego (USD), were open to the public. It'd be worth every Charger fan's while to stand out in this uncommon rain storm and heckle the heck out of Belichick. Why? Because he's a jerk. He's Darth Vader, without the charm.

I don't like the guy. Sue me. Yes, he has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He knows how to coach football teams. So what! He's mean. He's angry. He cheats. He pushes photographers. He accosts referees. He treats professional journalists like they're children. He's one of the more unpleasant and unsavory people in professional sports.

And, much worse, he's beaten the Chargers in two playoff games that San Diego could and should have won. Now are you beginning to get my drift? I mean, how many reasons does one guy need to dislike another guy?

Belichick, who makes Bobby Knight look like Jimmy Fallon, is a perpetually surly man who's evidently brought his gloomy Boston weather with him this week. It's supposed to rain for much of the week in typically sunny San Diego, America's Finest City. But I'm hoping the clouds symbolically part on Sunday afternoon and the Chargers, who'll be wearing their legendary powder blue uniforms, see the light and send Bill and Co. home unhappy.

An unapologetic Charger fan, I desperately want San Diego to win this football game. More than any football game I can remember. The Patriots are a damn good team. Tom Brady is still a great quarterback. Rob Gronkowski is a beast. Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. And Belichick will obviously have some tricks up his sleeve.

But this Charger roster is undaunted. This team, largely because of its never-say-die quarterback Philip Rivers, who has miraculously led his squad to eight wins while playing with five different centers this season, is loaded with confidence after a thrilling comeback road win against the Baltimore Ravens. 

The Chargers have a rare opportunity here to erase some painful memories for Charger fans. A win would be sweet revenge for those two Charger playoff losses. Only a couple players remain from the team that played in the AFC Championship against the Patriots after the 2007 season (January 2008). But the fans remember it all too well.

That was probably the best Charger team of all time. And it was arguably better that year than the allegedly unbeatable Patriots. But San Diego's three best offensive players - LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates -- were each injured that day. Rivers bravely tried to play on one one leg. Literally. But LT couldn't go, and Gates was hobbled. The Bolts lost. It's still heartbreaking to think what might have been that season.

Even more than that AFC Championship, though, it is the Divisional Playoff between the Chargers and the Patriots two years before that -- after the 2006 season (January 2007) -- that sticks in so many Bolt believers' craw. Yes, another Patriots game San Diego coulda-shoulda-woulda won, until Charger safety Marlon McCree disastrously fumbled after making what would have probably been the game-winning interception. Ugh. Somehow, Belichick is to blame for that fumble, right?

But here's where it got ugly. Here is where it went from football to personal. San Diego players were ready to accept that crushing home loss with class and shake hands. But what transpired on the field after the clock ticked to zero demonstrated just how classless a Belichick-coached team can be. 

If you're a Charger fan I don’t have to remind you what happened. For the rest of you, a recap: After the Patriots narrowly won, several New England players strutted to midfield and started dancing and stomping on the Charger logo. They had every right to be excited over the victory over a very good Charger team, but they were rubbing it in the Charger players and coaches' faces by mocking the manic celebration dance of then-Charger linebacker Shawne Merriman. 

It was weak. It was bush. It was disrespectful. And some Charger players had seen enough.

When he saw Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs and other Patriot players acting like total buffoons, Tomlinson, the Chargers' star running back who ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the game, went ballistic. He refused to shake hands with the opponent, and called out the team and its coach.

"They showed no class," Tomlinson said. "Maybe it comes from the head coach."

LT nailed it. He apologized later because he's a class guy. But that post-game dance did reflect the coach. It always starts at the top. Belichick is a sore loser and a sore winner. 
He may be nice to his wife. He may be nice to his dog, if one will have him. But I just can't imagine him being too nice. To anyone. Just doesn't seem to be in his DNA. Even when he's happy, he seems pissed. 

And he's an admitted cheater. In September 2007, less than a year after his players’ moronic incident in San Diego, Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for videotaping an opponent's defensive signals.

Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella reportedly got caught videotaping the New York Jets during New England's 38-14 win at Giants Stadium. Belichick's Patriots had reportedly gotten caught the previous November doing the same thing during their 35-0 victory in Green Bay. 

The NFL never got to the bottom of that so-called Spygate scandal. The league never investigated it thoroughly. Belichick's team reportedly had more tapes that mysteriously disappeared. Toothless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who should have suspended Belichick for a year or longer, didn't suspend him at all. But he said at the time, "This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field."  

Former Patriots lineman Ross Tucker said Belichick also used players on injured reserve in practices, which goes against NFL rules. Tucker said Belichick would "do anything" to gain an advantage, including violating NFL rules.

Tucker wrote in Sports Illustrated, "I had heard the Patriots did this before I signed with them in 2005 and I saw it firsthand during my time there. I asked veteran receiver Troy Brown about it one time and he responded, 'Every team in the league does that.' I quickly let him know none of the three teams I played for previously had done so.

Tucker added, "Basically, the Patriots would put a player on IR, knowing it meant he couldn't play in a game or practice with the team for the remainder of the season. By skirting the rules and practicing him anyway, it allowed them to develop his skills during the year. A side benefit is that they were also able to give some of the older players less repetitions and, therefore, additional rest."

Belichick also pushed photographer Damian Strohmeyer following the 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship. And in 2012 he angrily accosted a replacement official on the field after his team lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens. 

Even one of Belichick's best players said Belichick is not a great guy. When he played with the Jets in 2012, Revis told ESPN's Sportscenter that he thought Belichick was a jerk because of "some of the comments he says about the Jets."

According to the New York Post, After a 37-16 Patriots win over the Jets in 2011, Belichick said, "Thirty-seven points on the best defense in the league, suck my d***!"

Real classy, Bill. Said Revis at the time, "Maybe some people think he's a good, collected guy off the field, but then why say such things? It's degrading. Suck my what? Say it to my face. That's not great character."

Maybe Belichick just needs a hug. Regardless, because he's won Super Bowls, he is evidently beyond reproach. In the end, I guess winning really is all that matters. Being a decent human being isn't even a close second. 

That's why Sunday's game is so huge. It represents an epic opportunity for the current Charger lineup to humble the insufferable coach and give long-suffering Charger fans like me something to really smile about. 

Not many current Chargers even know about the bitter Pats-Bolts rivalry. But there's one guy who does. There's one guy who played in both of those playoff games against New England and is undoubtedly hungry as all get-out to lead his team to victory on Sunday.

You can probably guess who it is. Here's a clue: he is the team's undisputed leader, he wears #17, and, unlike Belichick, he never cusses and has lots of class. 

Bolt up, Charger fans!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Can the San Diego Chargers Stand Up to the St. Louis Rams, the NFL's New Thugs on the Block?

The importance of the San Diego Chargers game today against the surging St. Louis Rams can not be overstated. A win will put the Bolts right back in the conversation as a legit AFC contender -- especially if Miami can beat Denver. A Charger loss, however, will pretty much remove San Diego from serious playoff contention. 

To beat the Rams, who dominated the Denver Broncos last week, San Diego's offensive line needs to get its act together and play with a lot more nasty. The guys up front need to hit the field with a chip on their shoulder. They need to play as if they have something to prove. And they do. 

Anything less, and the Rams will steamroll through this Charger line and put quarterback Philip Rivers on his back.

If football is about match-ups and momentum, this game looks like a win for the Rams, who have a punishing and increasingly confident defensive front. Meanwhile, the Chargers' O line has played poorly the last four games. They can't run block, they can't pass protect. They put fear into no one. Can they rebound? It's now or never.

This game could get seriously ugly. Rams coach Jeff Fisher is a goon, according to numerous accounts. Sports journalists as well as football players I know and respect say Fisher was a dirty coach long before Bountygate happened in New Orleans. 

When he was coaching the defense for Buddy Ryan's Philadelphia Eagles, Fisher reportedly had a bounty on opposing players. Don't act so shocked. Under-the-table payments to players who injure opposing players was more common than the NFL public relations types would have you believe. It still likely goes on.

Fisher reportedly carried on this dirty tradition when he was named head coach of the Tennessee Titans, where, according to Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman and CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, Fisher's teams "played through the whistle -- and then some."

And guess who runs Fisher's defense now that he's landed in St Louis? You guessed it, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended for a year for paying his New Orleans Saints players to physically harm opponents. 

A real class act, Williams should've been booted out of the NFL for life. He had a bounty on Peyton Manning when Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints, according to former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Of course, Fisher defended Williams when the Bountygate scandal broke and criticized the league for suspending him.

Before Williams was paying his Saints players to hurt opponents, he worked for Fisher with the Oilers and then the Titans. No surprise that from 2001-2010, the Titans led the league in most personal foul penalties with 163, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The second-highest teams on the list for most personal fouls were the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, both with 137.

Now Williams and Fisher are reunited in St. Louis, and you saw the result last week against Denver. It looked pretty clear to me that the Rams were headhunting against the Broncos. If you watched that game and don't agree, you must be a Rams fan and/or you need new glasses. 

I suspect the Rams will be be similarly geeked for this game and will be looking to take Rivers out. He's already playing hurt, but to what degree the pathologically secretive Charger coach Mike McCoy won't say.

The Rams knocked Arizona QB Carson Palmer out for the season two weeks ago. They also sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick eight times, Seattle's Russell Wilson three times, and Peyton Manning twice last week.

The Chargers offensive line has to play its angriest and best game of the year against the Rams, or Rivers really will have a broken rib. But if San Diego's offensive line steps up, holds up, and creates a few openings for Charger running back Ryan Mathews, who is as tough a back when healthy as anyone in the league, I like the Chargers chances to beat St. Louis in a close one. 

What some perhaps don't know is that while the Rams' front seven is menacing, their secondary is weak. And the Chargers obviously have the better quarterback.

There will be plenty of heated individual battles along the line of scrimmage in this football game. There will be blood. My only hope is that the good guys win the war.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Is San Diego Chargers Coach Mike McCoy So Ticked Off?

Mike McCoy flashing his best press conference smile -

There's an unfortunate trend developing at San Diego Chargers headquarters. Mike McCoy, the team's second-year head coach, is becoming demonstrably more hostile toward the journalists that cover his team. And in so doing, he is shooting himself and his image in the foot. It's got to stop. Now.

McCoy has become positively Bill Belichick-like in his disdain for the local press. It's been like this all season, but this week it has degenerated into a genuine thing after a relatively harmless comment made by Chargers future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates after Sunday's game that Charger quarterback Philip Rivers had a "severe rib injury." 

This news came as a big surprise to the media and to Charger fans. Gates was just supporting his teammate and friend. Rivers, one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever play this game, apparently has been playing in considerable pain, but McCoy had not listed him as injured. Until after Gates made the comment.

McCoy is treating the Gates comment like Watergate II. He's battened down the hatches on this so-called leak. He's become even more evasive and tight-lipped. Preposterously so. He's damn near mute now. And the local sports scribes have had enough of this nonsense. 

I guarantee you, if the Chargers don't win a crucial home game this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the media will really turn against McCoy, and probably rightly so.

The former offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, McCoy is by all accounts a truly decent man. He's a guy who consistently emphasizes the importance of family. But my patience is thinning. For whatever reason, Mike just can't handle the process of talking to the media. He can't stand the fourth estate. And that sentiment is becoming increasingly mutual.

Nick Canepa, the acclaimed sports columnist for UT San Diego, said it best. "McCoy is SoCoy," Nick wrote. "He’s like an old spokesman for TASS — furtive, calculating, cautious, the deliverer of … well, not always misinformation, but of little or no information. You know, coy. And for what? Because he’s one of those football coaches who looks under his oatmeal in the morning to make sure it’s not bugged." 

McCoy isn't just paranoid, he's also a bit of a snob. He seems to think he's smarter than the people who cover him. He's not. In his presser this week, he laughably labeled the Chargers ugly 13-6 win over the Raiders on Sunday an “outstanding team performance.” Please, Mike. Who are you trying to kid here?

While the defense had its moments against Oakland, the offense was awful. The offensive line, specifically, played poorly. It has for the last four games. Does McCoy think we aren't paying attention?

This coach has every reason to be happy. He's making about $4 million a year and living and working in San Diego, the best city in the world. And his 6-4 Chargers are still in it. 

McCoy's squad is just one game behind the first-place Denver Broncos in the AFC West and just a half-game behind the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite suffering a boatload of injuries to key players this season, the Chargers still have a shot at the division title. But instead of giddy, we get surly. McCoy is downright nasty at times.

Is it a lack of maturity? After all, McCoy, 42, is the youngest head coach in the league. When the cameras go on and the microphones are placed in front of his face, he becomes Mr Hyde. This is a trait that can very quickly lead you to ruin as a head coach. 

McCoy has a good football mind and, importantly, still has the locker room in his corner. Charger players clearly still believe in his ability to lead. And by all accounts he is a compassionate man who agonizes over the player cuts he has to make.

So where is that guy at his press conferences? They're cringe-worthy. And it didn't just start this week. It's been going on all year. Even when the Chargers were sitting pretty at 3-1 and in first place, when I watched McCoy address the media he appeared perturbed every time he was asked even the most basic, harmless question by a professional journalist.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco needs to tell McCoy to lighten up. He may be the only person to whom McCoy will listen.

I'm sure that talking to sometimes-cranky sportswriters isn't always a joy. But it's an integral part of the job description for a head coach. And it's the best and often the only way to communicate directly with the fans, who are ultimately responsible for paying McCoy's generous salary. It doesn't serve anyone's purpose if you are belligerent and hostile.

If there has been a specific incident that has soured McCoy on the local or national media, that may be a different story. But I'm not aware of any such incident. I don't know of any situation in which McCoy was burned by a reporter or egregiously misquoted or unfairly criticized.

If McCoy thinks the San Diego media are rough, he should thank his freaking stars he's not in New York, Philly or Boston. The media jackals in those markets would be eating him alive by now.

Telesco, also a relative youngster in his second year as GM, has talked often about how open this new Charger regime is to the public. How it embraces a family atmosphere. That's reflected by the fact that more assistant coaches are now sometimes talking to reporters now than they did in the A.J. Smith regime.

But those assistant coaches are far more effusive than McCoy, who is stepping into odious Belichick territory here. And he just hasn't earned the right to do this. Win a few Super Bowls, then you can get away with being a jackass. 

Belichick, the undeniably successful coach of the New England Patriots, is one of the worst humans in sports. A dismal guy. I shudder to think that McCoy is headed in that direction.

We all know that sportswriters can at times be a pushy and sometimes even obnoxious bunch. But the vast majority of reporters I know who cover the Chargers - both print and broadcast -- are professional and fair. They've given McCoy no reason to be so hard.

So here's my advice, Mike: Just chill out! You got the job. And you know how to coach. Last year you should have been in more conversations for the NFL Coach of the Year. Is that it? Is that why you seem angry all the time when the camera and recorders are on?

Just try smiling now and then. It doesn't hurt. Talk to the media. Joke with them. Answer a question honestly. I know you don't like to talk about team injuries. But now and then you can, and should, and must.

You're a pretty nice guy when the cameras turn off, virtually everyone says so. Just remind yourself that members of the media are men and women with families, too, just like you. They have an important job to do, just like you. And remind yourself that whatever vibe you give off at a press conference is how the public sees you, too.

Above all else, coaching is about leadership and the ability to handle pressure and adversity and set the standard for a team. If you can't stand the heat, Mike, you're in the wrong job.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chargers Beat The Raiders... But Can They Make The Playoffs?

San Diego Charger outside linebacker Dwight Freeney harasses Raiders' QB David Carr  -

The San Diego Chargers eked out a 13-6 win over the hapless Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium in what some are calling a gritty defensive battle. But let's get real, folks. This game was not so much a defensive battle as it was an offensive debacle. 

The Charger defenders made some plays, give them credit. Especially the defensive backs. But the offense was mostly awful. Quarterback Philip Rivers made one spectacular throw early to wide receiver Malcolm Floyd, who made a brilliant catch in the end zone for a touchdown. And running back Ryan Mathews ran hard and well after being out for two months. 

But beyond that, the Chargers' offense stunk up the Q. Why? Because the big uglies have evidently forgotten how to block. Shades of the Chargers in 2012. Yeesh. This increasingly leaky offensive line needs help fast, because the Chargers' schedule doesn't get any easier.

Charger RB Ryan Mathews impresses in return -
Despite the feeble showing by the beleaguered O line, the win raised the team's record to 6-4, which means the Bolts still have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. 

But for that to happen, the O line needs to quickly improve its run blocking and pass blocking, and the D line needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks whose teams are not based in Oakland. 

Chargers coaches and players better know that Sunday's home game against St. Louis is another must-win against a vastly underrated Rams team that has beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos and still has eyes on the playoffs. 

A loss would drop the Chargers to 6-5 and throw them into a pile of mediocre AFC climbers trying desperately to reach the Wild Card summit.

The good news? San Diego is just one game behind Denver and Kansas City in the AFC West race. Yep, the division title is within reach. But San Diego's remaining schedule is probably the toughest in the league:

San Diego's remaining schedule: St. Louis, at Baltimore, New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City.

Denver's remaining schedule: Miami, at Kansas City, Buffalo, at San Diego, at Bengals, Raiders.

Kansas City's remaining schedule: at Raiders, Denver, at Arizona, Raiders, at Pittsburgh, San Diego.

As you can see, all three AFC West playoff contenders have three remaining home games, and three remaining away games. But San Diego has the toughest slog. It's brutal. Kansas City still gets to play the lowly Raiders twice. 

Charger WR Malcolm Floyd's touchdown vs. Raiders -
The Chargers must beat Denver at home and Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium to have any chance. That won't be easy. But it can happen. San Diego went into Denver last year during the regular season and beat the Broncos. 

Up until a few weeks ago, Denver had looked better than it was last year when it made it to the Super Bowl. But that's now up for debate after Denver's two losses in the last three games. 

San Diego, however, is clearly a better team than it was last year, despite its O line troubles and all its well-publicized injuries to key players.

One good sign for the Bolts as they reach the stretch run is that their defense enjoyed a minor resurgence Sunday, albeit against the Raiders, who dropped to 0-10. The DBs did their job, namely Shareece Wright. 

It certainly helped to have outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu back on the field after injuries sidelined both for most of the season. Their presence demonstrably improved the pass rush, which has been sorely lacking the last several games, and allowed veteran backer Dwight Freeney to get some in-game rest between spurts.

If Ingram and Attaochu can both stay healthy for the last six games, and that's a man-sized if, their presence will complement Freeney and backer Jarrett Johnson and make it much tougher on opponents' passing games. 

Chargers gang tackle Raiders -
But will it be enough to give the Chargers' gritty but inconsistent defensive unit the playmakers they need as the team heads into rougher December waters? Rookie cornerback Jason Verrett, who's had a hugely positive impact already on this defense, is out for the season.

Meanwhile, San Diego's offense, which is typically the team's pillar of strength, is inexplicably wobbly. The once-potent group of red zone hogs was out of sync and stalled Sunday after coming off a bye week. 

Rivers was burdened again by a consistently collapsing pocket and by receivers, tight ends and running backs who made a few great catches but could not create enough separation from Oakland's defensive backs and linebackers. No one was open.

The return of Mathews from injury made a difference. He made the best of what few holes he was given, and the running game was better than in the previous week. But overall the offense couldn't get out of its own way.

San Diego must somehow fix its broken offensive line this week in practice and get the receivers back in unison with Rivers. It'll take a much better offensive effort to beat the Rams than it took to beat the Raiders. 

Make no mistake: The St. Louis game will determine whether the Chargers' season is still on track, or off the rails. 

But as we speak, Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC West. Denver is still good, but Charger fans all know -- and now Rams rushers know, too -- that Peyton Manning is vulnerable when he's properly pressured and doesn't have multiple Pro Bowlers to throw to. KC is on a roll. 

But don't count out San Diego just yet. You can never dismiss a team led by Rivers, an elite warrior who's reportedly been playing with severe rib pain for weeks and now has knee pain to go with it. Where there's a will, there's a Rivers, who does more with less than any other NFL quarterback I've seen.

If the offensive linemen can figure it out, if they can hold back a stout Rams' D line on Sunday and give Rivers just a little more time to throw the ball -- even an extra second -- the Chargers will win and move to 7-4. 

And that'll get people talking about the Chargers again as contenders, and give this team the confidence it needs to make a legitimate playoff run in these final six games.

A win Sunday and San Diego will pretty much control its own destiny, because so many AFC teams vying for a playoff spot will be playing each other, and beating each other.

While San Diego hosts the Rams this Sunday, the Lions play the Patriots, the Jets play the Bills, Miami plays Denver, and the Ravens play at New Orleans.

Next week, while San Diego plays at Baltimore, the Browns play at Buffalo, the Saints play the Steelers, the Patriots play at Green Bay, the Broncos play at Kansas City, and the Dolphins play at the Jets.

Then in week 14, while San Diego hosts the Patriots, the Steelers play the Bengals in Cincy, the Ravens play at Miami, the Bills play at Denver, and the Chiefs play at Arizona, which could be a Super Bowl preview. 

Then in week 15, while San Diego hosts the Broncos, the Dolphins play at New England, the Packers play at Buffalo, and the Bengals play at Cleveland.

If San Diego beats the Rams on Sunday and heads to Baltimore next week with a 7-4 record, and wins that game, which granted will be tough, the Chargers will be 8-4 and right in the mix for a Wild Card berth and perhaps even a share of the AFC West division title. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Young Americans Didn't Vote, Latino Americans Didn't Vote, And You’re Calling This A Mandate?

Big winner: Sen. Mitch "The Turtle" McConnell & wife Elaina Chao

As many of you know, I’m a moderate Democrat with some rather conservative beliefs compared to my more liberal friends. Maybe that’s why about half of my closest pals are Republican. Actually, come to think of it, perhaps a little more than half of my friends are Republican. Now before you start psychoanalyzing me, I bring this up only because of what happened last night. You know, the election? Not surprisingly, my Republican friends are dizzily happily today about the results.

It was a big night for the Grand Old Party, obviously. Some people I know are calling it a “tidal wave," and some are even calling it a "mandate." They note the net pickup of nine seats in the Senate and the larger majority now in the House. And they keep reminding me about the several states that replaced Democratic governors last night with Republicans. 

That’s a story, for sure. It's huge. There is certainly a palpable rebuke of President Obama here, regardless of whether it is based on anything substantive or fair. But while I'm perfectly happy to congratulate my buddies and their party for the big victory, y'all need to turn down the giddy just a bit. 

Here's the cold fact: only one-third of the country’s eligible voters cast a ballot last night. You can’t call an election a national mandate when two-thirds of eligible voters stayed home. Young Americans and Latino Americans, specifically, sat this one out.

Overall, last night was a fairly typical midterm election for a president in his second term. There were a lot of angry voters who don't like this President, and there were huge chunks of the American electorate that didn’t vote at all. Now I’m not defending that by any means. I wish everyone would vote in these midterms. But let’s talk after the 2016 election. We’ll see then how much of a national mandate last night really was.

Republicans will still control the Senate after 2016, probably, but they will not win back the White House. And Democrats will still have a hard time winning midterms. These two facts will likely not change any time in the near future.

The key point my Republican friends should remind themselves while they jump for joy today is that when more Americans vote, more Democrats win (except, of course, in those preposterously gerrymandered House districts). Generally speaking, the fewer the voters, the more successful the Republicans. That is antithetical to anything resembling a "mandate." And it's certainly not something of which any of my Republican friends should be proud.

Just as a quick reminder: President Obama is just slightly more popular right now than was George W. Bush in his sixth year in office. Obama’s approval rate is about 41, while W’s was 37. Which is to say, neither guy was much beloved their last two years in Washington.

The crushing blow to those who think this election shows that the Republican Party is the Party of America's Future is the fact that young people barely showed up last night, and the ones who did voted mostly for Democrats.

According to CIRCLE, a nonpartisan academic research center at Tufts University that studies young people in politics, just 21.3 percent of voters ages 18-29 cast a ballot Tuesday across the country. “In terms of both youth turnout and vote choice, 2014 looks like a typical midterm election year as far as youth are concerned," said Peter Levine, Associate Dean of the Tisch College at Tufts. "Young people made up a similar proportion of voters in 2010."

In the national exit poll data on House races, 18-29 year-olds preferred Democratic candidates by 54 percent to 43 percent. In many close senatorial and gubernatorial races, too, young Americans preferred Democrats.

And then there's the Hispanic vote. NBC News reported this morning that Latinos made up only eight percent of voters last night. In Florida, Hispanics made up only 13 percent of the electorate, which helped keep the state seeing red.

Before the election, NBC reporter Sandra Lilley noted, voter groups were hoping the growing numbers of Latino voters in Florida - especially Puerto Rican voters who are U.S. citizens - would boost the numbers. But turnout was not as big as expected.

But virtually every observer of this election agrees that young Americans and Latino Americans will vote in far greater numbers in the next presidential election in two years. That's likely when most of my good Republican friends will stop dancing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Cancer Made Me A Better Writer

The original version of my first book, "Hope Begins in the Dark"
It’s weird, but I do not remember being bald. I know, I lost every hair on my head while undergoing chemotherapy for stage IV cancer. But I don’t recall ever looking in the mirror and seeing a bald guy. I must have just blocked it out. 

What I do recall is sitting in that cold chemo infusion room, shaking and scared shitless. And I remember my ghoulish chemo nurse, who took demonstrable pleasure in seeing me and my fellow chemo guinea pigs suffer. 

A dismal, humorless Eastern European woman, she had no business working in the medical profession or in any profession that involved interaction with sick, vulnerable humans. 

I'm not exaggerating. She was pure evil. I recall her Cruella de Vil half-smile as she administered the slow drip of that vile red liquid, the most toxic drug in the cocktail of meds they gave me to kill my cancer. It totally creeped me out the way she so gleefully put that nasty liquid into my veins.

Thankfully, most of the nurses and doctors with whom I've dealt during my 18-year cancer journey have been just fine. But when you get a bad one, it shakes your world. 

Like most people, I guess, I was a deer in the headlights when I was first diagnosed with cancer. I was 35 years old, very healthy, successful, engaged to the girl of my dreams, and living on the beach. I had the world by the tail. Or so I thought. Then suddenly someone in a white lab coat is telling me I have an incurable type of cancer and that I may die just because of a stupid little lump on my neck. 

I was petrified. But that frightened buck was soon replaced by a very different kind of animal. One with passion, strength and resolve. I was not going to let my diagnosis, or that nasty nurse, destroy my spirit. I remained hopeful and optimistic. And I took charge of my own healthcare. 

During my chemo, I conducted as best I could a pre-Google search for a book about lymphoma survivors who’d been through this darkness and made it to the other side. I desperately wanted to read about their strategies for survival, their treatment options, diet, supplement choices and how lymphoma had changed them as people. But sadly that book didn’t exist. 

Time to Preach From the Bully Pulpit

A few years after my initial chemo and after my subsequent clinical trial with an experimental radio-immunotherapy treatment gave me a second remission, I realized that if I wasn't going to write that book for and about lymphoma survivors, no one would. I knew that as a journalist I had a bully pulpit, and I thought to myself, "It looks like I’m going to be here a while after all. It’s time I start giving something back to my fellow cancer patients. It's time I did something to make a real difference in their lives."

When you face death, and more specifically when you beat death, your priorities change. Everything changes. As a journalist, I'd had several opportunities over the years to write a book. I've covered dozens of stories that would have made interesting books. Topics ranged from war to politics to sports to popular music. I even had a New York book agent. But I never stopped being a journalist long enough to propose any of those books, let alone write them. I loved my day job too much. 

But I knew what I had to do. I was ready now to become a real writer, as they say. Yes, I know, journalists are of course real writers. But there's just something about being a published author that makes you feel like you've entered a rather exclusive club. And this was an important book that countless people told me I was supposed to write. A calling, some said. I just knew it was something I had to do.

Still, I knew it would not be easy. Unlike a story in a magazine or newspaper, a book is a more daunting proposition. But I jumped in, head first. I just went for it. The book's working title was Hope Begins in the Dark: Lymphoma Survivors Tell Their Exclusive Life Stories. I wasn't sure if that title would stick. But it did. Through several editions.

I approached that first book project as if each of the chapters was an individual feature story. That made it a little less intimidating and a little more familiar for me. I had met literally thousands of lymphoma patients since I was diagnosed. But for the book I tried to narrow it down to the best cross-section of survivors representing a range of Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma types and a wide range of treatments. 

I recruited celebrities, seniors, kids, authors, homemakers, doctors, comedians, farmers, soldiers, athletes, CEOs, teachers. They are all happy to share their story in the hope that it would inform and inspire someone who had just been diagnosed. I think that sharing their stories helped the survivors I profiled nearly as much as it hopefully helps people who read the book. I know it has helped me profoundly.

In the book, I also share my own cancer experience. And that has been cathartic. Not that it’s ever been difficult for me to discuss my story in public. I’ll talk about my cancer to strangers in elevators! I want the world to know that I am winning this fight and that you can, too.

With the publication of the first edition of Hope, I set out to encourage cancer patients to be involved and fully informed. You have to become your own best advocate, even if you love your doctor. And especially if you don't. You have to explore and consider all of your treatment options, and take charge of your own healthcare and your own life. 

And you have to be pushy, at times. That’s a common thread among survivors I’ve met. They’re not angry, but they fight. They don't take any crap. They ask questions and do their own research. They take in all of the information not just from their doctors but from a variety of sources, and then make their own decisions. Sometimes it's hard, especially if you are really sick. It can be overwhelming. But your life is worth fighting for.

When I finally finished the first book, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment. As a reporter I’ve covered everything from 9/11 to the war in Iraq to presidential elections, but anything and everything I write that has to do with cancer that potentially helps patients and their families now ranks at the top of the list in terms of what I think is most important.

That first book and its subsequent editions have been read by tens of thousands of cancer patients and their loved ones around the world. 

The newest editions of the Hope book include a foreword by Michael Werner, a CEO and family man from Chicago who also happens to be a director of the Lymphoma Research Foundation. Michael is a lymphoma survivor and a fine writer and dynamic leader in the nationwide lymphoma community. He is determined to find a cure for this disease. Michael is also a guy to whom I sometimes turn for inspiration, guidance and friendship.

An All-New Edition of Hope 

Because of the Hope books, I now get between 10 to 15 emails a day from lymphoma patients and their loved ones all over the world. It’s more gratifying than I can express in words. 

And now I've begun a brand new journey. I've begun to write an all-new edition of Hope Begins in the Dark that will include stories of lymphoma patients who have embraced an entirely new generation of treatments that did not exist when I was diagnosed. 

This is a very exciting time for lymphoma research. There are many new treatments now available -- some FDA-approved, others still in clinical trials. My new edition of Hope will reflect all of that.

This new edition is by far our most ambitious to date. I am just about to get started. And I am eager to show it to you when it is finished.

Since I was diagnosed with cancer, I've proudly become an advocate for cancer patients and their families. It's a responsibility I take seriously and welcome. Still, there are admittedly times when I want to just walk away from the cancer thing completely. 

I don’t want to think about the ‘C’ word every day. I don’t always want to think of myself as a cancer survivor. Sometimes I just want to live my life and not think about it. Sometimes I just want to be.

But I'm so happy when I am able help another patient find the right treatment and/or the right mindset to negotiate the maze.

And for the record, I am still a cancer patient. I have cancer in my abdomen. Yes, currently. There are several small lymph nodes in there, which technically means I am no longer in remission. But since those lymph nodes were discovered more than three years ago in a CT scan during an ER visit for something unrelated to cancer, they have not grown. At all. And I have had no lymphoma symptoms. 

So life is good. I am in what we call watch and wait. Or watchful waiting. Or waitful watching? 

Whatever. If my cancer does start to grow and spread, and I start feeling other symptoms, it will be back in the front of my mind again and I’ll deal with it. Probably with any one of those many new lymphoma treatments I mentioned above.

Meantime, I'm living my life as normally and joyfully as I possibly can. The fear that my cancer could flare up is not something I think about every minute of every day. But I still feel my neck for lumps every morning. I instinctively put my hand under my chin and feel for lymph nodes. But I don’t think about cancer 24-7. I just can’t. 

There are activities during which I don’t think about cancer at all, like when I see a movie or watch my daughter play on her high school tennis team. But the fear is always there on a subconscious level. And it certainly has had an impact on my family.

My daughter has always lived with the possibility that her Dad could get sick again. I tell her she’s a big part of the reason why I’m still alive and why I’ll always fight cancer with every ounce of strength I have. We’ve talked at length about what it means to live every day to the fullest, to enjoy life and really appreciate the gifts we have been given. 

Snowman on the Pitcher's Mound

My daughter is the inspiration for my other book, a novel called Snowman on the Pitcher’s Mound, which is based largely on conversations she and I have had. Kids are often the forgotten victims when a young parent gets cancer. They are sometimes unfairly neglected. They are scared, too, and confused, but a sick parent isn't always there to help them in the way a parent would if he or she were healthy. 

When an adult is diagnosed with cancer, he or she often reverts to feeling helpless and vulnerable, like a child. It is a daily challenge to be a good father or mother when you are sick and facing your own mortality.

Snowman on the Pitcher's Mound tells the life story of Tyler Paulson, a 10-year-old boy whose young mom is diagnosed with cancer. The story is told in the boy's voice. The book is not a downer at all. It is very positive and, I hope, funny and entertaining. But it does deal with an obviously serious topic.

Snowman is part of a forthcoming national program that helps kids when a parent or loved one is diagnosed with cancer. I’m hoping it will help, inspire and inform families that are coping with cancer. Both the kids and their parents.

My daughter and I used to read together every night before bed, and I asked her if she wanted to read Snowman after I finished writing the book, and she said yes. She read it to my wife and me. It was an emotional but very positive experience for all of us. She doesn't talk about it much, but I think and hope that she understood why I wrote the book.

Today when I look in the mirror, I see the same person I always have. But every morning when I wake up there’s a moment in which I get a little butterfly in my stomach, a split second in which my brain reminds my heart that I’m a cancer survivor. And when that happens I just can’t help but smile. 

I look back on my cancer journey, which began 18 years ago this month, and just shake my head. I remember so many highs and lows. But mostly I just remember the people who have been there for me. My family. My friends. And my fellow survivors. I remember you all. But I still can't remember being bald. I guess there are some things you just don't want to remember. Believe me: a little bit of denial is an important weapon in every cancer patient's arsenal.