Ask Boswell: Mark McGwire and steroids, Mike Shanahan, Redskins, NFL playoffs and more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Jan. 14, at 11:00 a.m. ET to take your questions about Mark McGwire's steroids admission, the hiring of Mike Shanahan as Redskins head coach, the team's offseason plans, Gilbert Arenas's suspension, the MLB offseason and the NFL playoffs.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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Washington, D.C.: Bos,

I love your columns, but I've got a bone to pick with your most recent on DC and sports misery. Actually, this is something that has bugged me for awhile now. Why you and other columnists at the Post are so soft on Joe Gibbs 2.0? In many of your columns and chats RE: the Redskins, you always go out of your way to say the Gibbs era was kind of oasis of sanity during Snyder's tenure. Yes, there was one good year--2005--and one mediocre year--2007--but the rest was disastrous. Remember, it was Gibbs, so we're led to believe, who brought in Portis. It was Gibbs, so we're lead to believe, who brought in Archuleta, Al Saunders, and traded those draft picks for Brandon Lloyd, Jason Taylor, etc. Why do you give him a free pass? And why are you giving the Shanahan experiment the benefit of the doubt? On paper it sounds great, but so did Marty, and Gibbs, and Zorn. Snyder's done nothing to prove he's changed his ways and will stay in the background. The way he treated Zorn and the Rooney Rule was an embarrassment. I hope Shanahan works out, but I have absolutely no faith that it will. Should I?

Tom Boswell: You're right that Gibbs 2.0 made plenty of mistakes. Not Saunders, in my book. But some of the others. As I pointed out the day Mike was hired, I think he's just Dan's Famous Coach Savior 3.0. He has about the same chance at Marty Schottenheimer and Gibbs 2.0. of turning things around. Many people seem to miss the fact that Marty, Joe and now Mike were all brought in for the same exact reason: To restore order after Snyder tuned the whole Redskin operation into a dsyfunctional semi-madhouse. Just getting rid of the craziness and in-fight at the end of the Turner-Spurrier-and-Zorn periods is a plus.

However, the free pass that's been given -- for far too long -- in this town is to the Wizards.

While doing that column on bad Washington teams I hit a stat that startled me so much that I didn't use it because I knew 'd just go off on a rant that would spoil the general teme of the story.

Everybody uses the Nats as the standard of "bad" in town. And they are really bad. Their W-L percent in the five years since they came to DC is .424.

So, what do you think the Wizards W-L percentage is for the last 31 seasons? That's t-h-i-r-t-y o-n-e seasons going back to the '70's.

The Wizards have a W-L percentage over the last 31 seasons of .423!

They're 1,043-1423. That's 381 games under .500. They had a 6-year period ('89-'95) when they were 186 games under .500, then another six year period ('98-'04) when they were 130 games under .500. Are they back at it -- 56 games under .500 the last two years?

This franchise has really been a disgrace. The Wiz have only won one (1) playoff series since 1982. What's just as bad is that, while the Wiz are frequently awful, they have never given the town even one really good team in those 31 years. Not one team with even a .550 record. The best was one year of 45-37 (.549).

So, I went back to find out just how bad that is. In the last 10 years EVERY TEAM IN THE NBA, even the Clippers, has had a season with at least 47 wins! Except the Wiz, of course. They haven't had more than 45 wins in 31 years. Incredible.

(The Bobcats are only in their sixth season, so they don't count.)

Here's the list of NBA teams that existed in '79 and how many times they have won MORE than 45 games since then -- in other words, better than any Bullet-Wiz season.

Hawks (10), Celtics (16), Bulls (13), Cavs (9), Mavs (12, actually born in '80), Nuggets (7), Pistons (18), Warriors (3), Rockets (14), Pacers (7), Clippers (1), Lakers (23), Bucks (11), Nets (5), Knicks (11), Thunder (12, ex-Seattle), 76ers (12), Suns (19), Trailblazers (16), Kings (6), Spurs (21), Jazz (17).

Teams that are only about 20 years old have plenty of seasons above .550. Heat (6), Timberwolves (5), Hornets (8), Magic (5).

Why do the Wiz escape being even more of a national and local joke than they are? The answer, I suspect: The Clippers. Except for their one 47-win season, they've been even worse than the Wiz and by quite a bit. They are supernatuarlly bad. So, the Wiz never make the radar. And expansion teams arrive; they're ultra bad for a few years.

The recent four-year "streak" of .500-or-better has taken some of the heat off the team. But, in the last two seasons, they're b-a-a-a-a-c-k. And if they have to "rebuild," this could ...

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Boz... thanks for keeping the pressure on ownership of the Redskins - and other D.C. pro franchises. Your comments ar insightful and cut right to the heart of the issues. Don't give up!

Tom Boswell: Thanks very much.

I was having an on-line conversation with a reader this a.m. who said he thought that Zorn was actually as good a coach as the Shanahan of recent years (24-24). It was nice that someone somewhere thought that Zorn's record was unlucky, that he'd been undermined so much and had a team with so many injuries that his record wasn't a fair reflection of his coaching ability. But I still disagreed. However, he got me thinking. So here's my answer.

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The site pro-football-reference.com, which is a lot of fun, uses the Redskins point differential to get "Expected W-L." Just like baseball. Over periods of several years, it's always right. The Skins "should" have ben 7.0-9.0 in '08 and 5.8-10.2 in '09. So call it 7-9 and 6-10 = 13-19. So, Jim was probably only one game "unlucky" over the two years combined.

He had the usual Snyder-Cerrato anchor, which is large. But I don't think he's remotely as good as Shanahan who was 91-69 without Elway in Denver. To be fair to Mike, I think you have to say that with a great QB, he was 47-17 (which is fabulous) and with fair-to-crummy QBs he still averaged 9-7 for 10 years after Elway retired.

Just my guess, but, after blowing up the roster in '10 -- just as Marty, Spurrier, Gibbs and Zorn all blew it up before -- I think he'll get the Skins back to 9-7 in '11. But that's not exactly heroic. It's getting to 10-or-more wins that's going to be hard because, just as they fix their obvious holes now, by '12 they'll also have to replace Fletcher, Moss, Griffin, Carter, Portis, Sellers, Rabach, maybe Dockery, Smoot, Betts, etc., if they aren't already gone.

Money and a good coaching staff gets you back to 8-9 wins. But this organization has been broken for a long time and is far from young. Oh, and another thing, they need a much better QB to be a real threat. Can Campbell improve that much? If they nail a good QB in the draft and develop him, that could change '12 a lot. Otherwise, Shanahan's five years here could look a lot like his first 5 yrs in Denver after Elway left: 6-10,11-5, 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 with an 0-2 record in playoffs.

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Potomac, Md.: Hi Boz,

Who is more likely to have played their last game in a Washington D.C. uniform: Clinton Portis or Gilbert Arenas?

Tom Boswell: Portis has more chance to be back.

The Redskins have so many holes to fill that I think Shanahan will try to give Portis one last chance to prove that age and NFL combat haven't turned him into Clinton Tortoise. I assume he'll be told to come back to camp in the best shape of his life and never to miss practice unless he is injured enough that anybody else on the team would also be allowed to miss work. And, like any fading diva, he has to be told that he can't run his mouth anymore, play the superstar with his costumes, etc. It happens to 'em all. You can be outrageous when you're on top. On the way down, you have to conform -- at least to a degree.

Actually, I think Portis has a far better sense of how the world works -- and what his place is in it -- than Arenas. I think Portis will get the message and will want to play in the same Shanahan system where he had the most success.

Second problem: If Campbell is the QB, even if you draft a QB at No. 4, can they get along? Actually, I think they can because Jason really blew CP up -- an act of team leadership that teammates will appreciate. If Clinton says, "We both said what we had to say. We're cool," it should work. besides, where is Campbell going to find anybody who picks up blitzers better than Portis -- well, at least when he practices enough to know who it is that he's supposed to block.

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Washington, D.C.: If Gilbert Arenas is given jail time, do you think the judge will send him to juvenile detention until he turns 16 so that he can begin his prison sentence afterwards?

I mean, Gol Lee!!!

How can a man standing to make about $161 mil at least in salary ($111 mil + 50 mil from his first contract), with 3 kids, and a fiance still call himself "goofy" with a straight face?

Tom Boswell: When you use words like "juvenille" and "goofy," it reminds me that we are all trying to find the one word that helps us understand Gilbert. How about this one?

Is Gilbert Aerenas a fool? In fact, is it possible that he is the definition of a fool?

You decide. Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary definition of "fool" is:

1 a: person lacking in judgment or prudence.

2 a: a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble.

3 a : a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.

4 A cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with...oh, okay, Agent Zero isn't that one.

But I think we're getting very warm!

Off the court, Gilbert is a perfect example of someone who "plays the fool" so that he can say to the king -- or the GM, his teammates or the public -- whatever the hell he feels like saying, but then he gets to hide behind, "Oh, you know I'm just kidding. I'm a goofball." The modern term for fool?

I certainly don't think Gil is a cold dessert or harmlessly deranged either. There wasn't too much that was "harmless" about the gun incident. And he's always seemed perfectly lucid -- in fact, I'd say he's smart, quick, the opposite of deranged -- when I've talked to him. But the second half of the definition is on target: somewhere along the way in his trek from child prodigy to $100-million superstar, he certainly seems to have lost his "common powers of understanding." That is where The Photo comes into play.

The reason he's in trouble is bringing his guns to town for the "pick one" stunt. But the reason he is in SO MUCH trouble is all his tweeting, his I-did-nothing-wrong nonsense and, above all, "The Photo." Without that picture with his finger-guns -- which was a consciously planned insult to his entire industry, his team and everybody who's ever supported him -- everybody, including me, would be working their way around to saying, "Well, so many people have done so many things that were so much worse than Goofy Gilbert that we shouldn't over-react when he's punished."

I'd say that the NBA should give him a second chance -- but starting next season. And the Wizards should try to void his contract (they probably can't) or trade him (eating a ton of that salary). But whatever they do, he needs to play his next game in some other town. Whatever you have to do to shed him, I don't think you can ever build a true winning team around a star player once he's shown that he's three kinds of fool.

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Germantown, Md.: How legit are the rumors regarding the Nats signing Orlando Hudson? Also, any movement on another starting arm? Have heard Pinero and Doug Davis rumors of late.

Tom Boswell: The Nats would like to sign Hudson, but only at about half the price ($4-5M) he now seems to be asking (a ridiculous $9M after losing his job in September to Ronnie Belliard!)

The Nats, who have leaked very little this winter, have put it out there that they have interest in Oakland's Adam Kennedy who was a Series hero when the Angels won it all. Kennedy has hit .280 and .289 the last two years. He's a solid, slightly better than average MLB second baseman who makes far fewer errors than last year's dismal crew.

However, Kennedy (.721 career OPS)-vs.-Hudson (career .778 OPS) is a good example of how hard it is to use current defensive stats to get any sane view on an infielder. Hudson has won four Gold Gloves, Kennedy none. Yet Hudson's "UZR" rating was negative in two of those four GG seasons and, for his whole career is only +2.6 per 150 games. Kennedy has a career UZR at 2nd base of +8.2 per 150 games.

What this means is, probably, that 1) Kennedy is at least an average fielder and maybe better than more people think and 2) UZR isn't to be trusted very much.

I've heard that, within the last week, the Nats thought they were close had a trade for a major-league ready pitcher of Jordan Zimmermann quality but it feel through when the other team backed out. My guess, and that's all it is, is that it was one of those Willingham-plus-somebody-for-a-young-pitcher deals that everybody knows the Nats are looking at.

All this means is that Rizzo is breathing. If he's awake he's working on something. The Nats are far from done this winter, imo. Quite a few weeks ago ownership and the front office signed off on a general plan for the off-season tat was brought forward, I assume, by Rizzo, Kasten and the Brain Trust of Thousands -- okay, call it Plan 3.0 or Plan 4.0 -- but everybody over there is enthusiastic. They got the go ahead. The moves we've seen so far, including the semi-near miss on Chapman, is all part of it.

I'm learning a new lesson about the Nats. Don't underestimate them anymore. Aim one knotch higher instead of, as in the past, at least one knotchlwer. Pudge was a level up from what I expected. Marquis was one jump better. Capps and Brenley, same thing. And the bid -- close to $25M for Chapman -- was WAY better than I thought. In fact, last week in the chat I said the Nats were not in it for Chapman. Wrong. (Sound the "gong.") Shows how much more serious they are now and much better at running silnet.

Now, free agents are trying to talk themselves INTO getting an offer from the Nats. Doug Davis, a real solid (boring) lefty who's averaged 196 IP the last six years and has a career ERA of 4.31 -- about the MLB average -- has been saying that he'd LIKE to pitch in Washington, but, gosh, he's hearing that the Nats spent a lot on Marquis, so he'll have to wait until they get some other stuff done -- like 2nd base -- before he hears back from them.

This guy pitched 203 innings with a 4.12 ERA last year -- very similar to (a 34-year-old) Lannan and he's saying, "Please make me an offer to be a Nat."

The nats are just aiming higher these days. Livan or Davis isn't good enough for them, unless that's all they can get. They want a Chapman or another Zimmermann-quality prospect in trade. And if they made that kind of deal involving Willngham, then they'd probably so after a free agent OF.

I've learned my lesson. I'm still waiting to see if they produce or not. But I'm not longer thinking of them as a team that aims low but one that -- for the right opportunities (Strasburg, Teixeira, Chapman, Marquis) -- will pay the freight.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Tom, McGwire's admission reminds me again how much of a standup guy Ken Griffey Jr. is. He joined the 600-hr club during the steroid era without ever being linked in the mess, and while it was frustrating for fans (and himself) that he was hurt a lot, he aged like a normal person. Griffey Sr. taught his son very well (unlike Bobby Bonds). It would not surprise me if Junior is the first to receive 100 percent of the HOF vote.

Tom Boswell: Junior is the perfect example of why we shouldn't throw open the doors of Cooperstown to all the cheaters. "Oh, everybody did it, so I don't want to keep anybody out, so I'll vote like there was no Steroid Age." What kind of Amoral Dumber-Than-A-Rock logic is that. The world is complicated. Deal with it. If you have a HOF vote, do your best to figure out who cheated -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- and don't vote for 'em. But vote for the others. It's not perfect. But it's better than "I give up."

Unfortunately, nobody has ever gotten 100 percent. But there are now only about half as many voters as there used to be as the newspaper inductry has imploded. So, maybe somebody gets 100 percentsomeday. Just so we don't get to "0" total votes.

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Re. Cooperstown: Instead of having each sportswriter decide if the steroid era players are worthy of HOF induction, shouldn't Major League Baseball have a standard, such as they have done for Pete Rose and gambling? And by the way, isn't it a conflict of interest for the voting sportswriters to create news rather just report on it?

Tom Boswell: That's why the Post hasn't allowed us to vote for the HOF for about the last 10 years. Former sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz figured that out. He was ahead of his time, which has generally turned out to be the rule in his case. (I never say anything nice about 'em until they're gone.)

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Woodbridge, Va.: What do you think of Lane Kiffin and why did Pete Carroll go to Seattle, when it didn't work out in New England?

Tom Boswell: Read Sally Jenkins on Kiffin this a.m. I love it when she just hates somebody and knows she's right. After that column, I wouldn't let the guy step on my property. I'd have a "Welcome" mat made for my front door that said: "Welcome (Except Lane Kiffin)."

Carroll really stunk it up at USC this year. Dirty laundry due to arrive at his door fairly soon? Need a place to land?

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Arlington, Va.: How responsible is MLB for the Steroids Era by pimping the home run derby in the '90s after the strike?

Tom Boswell: I'd give MLB 49 per cent of the credit and leave the other 51 per cent for the union.

How do you NOT see vast steroid use as a safety in the workplace issue? Okay, I know all the reasons why and have written them many times. It still stinks.

This is where McGwire really looked bad the other day. The Steroid Era didn't go viral until AFTER '98 when he and Sosa had their Maris chase. Then, everybody said, "Okay, I'm gonna do it, too." McGwire is just a total fake when he says that he's sorry he was ever played in the steroid era. Part of it? Give me a break. He defined it. He was the world's biggest walking ad for steroids after he hit 70, even bigger than Canseco 10 years before. Mac was a lot sneakier than Jose, who was the soul of indiscretion about his cheating. Nobody ever got the goods on Mac. But he really needs to rethink this nonsense about PEDs not helping him hit more home runs.

His position: Those performance enhacing drugs never enhanced my performance.

Even with 'roids, McGwire's career numbers aren't that wonderful. He needed every needle. Take away the steroid boost to his numbers and he'd never make the Hall. This is a no-brainer.

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Potomac, Md.: Hi Boz,

Maryland basketball is currently 10-5 (1-1 ACC) with over half of their remaining games against ranked opponents. Do they make the tournament this year? If not that is the third time in four years that Gary has missed the tournament. Is the game passing him by?

Tom Boswell: I expected Gary to pull out a coaching win at Wake the other night. That was the kind he usually lives for. Didn't happen. I thought Vasquez was too unselfish in the last seconds of regulation and needed to take the last shot himself. BTW, he's going to make a fine NBA player. His game suits the pro game perfectly. The right size, shoots the lights out, can penetrate, tough.

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Potomac, Md.: Hi Boz,

Mike Shanahan has hired his son Kyle to be the offensive coordinator for the Redskins. I did some research and found that in his two years of experience as an offensive coordinator with Houston, he has a record of 17-15 but their offense has seen a dramatic improvement in rank during his tenure ranking:

28th in 2006

14th in 2007

3rd in 2008 (Shanahan)

4th in 2009 (Shanahan)

Was this a result of the fact that Houston plays in a relatively weak division or should we be excited?

Tom Boswell: Kyle has a very good reputation and would have been a fine choice if his name was Hanrahan.

Remember when Marty Schottenheimer brought in his son Brian as a Redskin assistant. He's proved he's legit, too.

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Hot Stove, Maine: So why wouldn't you give Ian Desmond a shot at SS, rather than fly in a mid-level "name" veteran? The kid showed late last summer that he can hit, and he's an above-average fielder. But he is, most importantly, a Nat. A hired gun is a hired gun. If Desmond works out, it's an inspiration, in the dugout and among the fans.

Tom Boswell: This is a tough call. Desmond hit poorly in winter ball. In the minors, he made a ton of errors. But no worse than Jeter, Tejada and several others in the minors. But still, when he throws it away, we duck in the press box. And that's six levels up.

Rizzo really likes Ian's range and his ability to make the spectacular play. "He'll make 20 errors, but he'll also make a lot of range plays (that Guzman probably wouldn't)."

But would he make 40 errors? He made 34 errors in 118 games at all levels last year. That's 47 in 162 games.

Is our improved pitching staff ready for 30-35-40 errors in 150 games at SS? I think he's better than that. But, once again, a tough call. Maybe the deciding factor is: Don't you have to find out what you're holding?

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Potomac, Md.: Hi Boz,

Alex Gibbs, who is a wiz when it comes to offensive line zone blocking and has over 25 years of NFL experience, decided to go to Seattle instead of reuniting with Shanahan. Will this have an impact or is Shanahan that good where he can find someone else and still create a great offensive line?

Tom Boswell: Shanahan is Mr. Offensive Line. So the fine line coaches will be lined up to work with him to replace Buges.

The more interesting question is whether the Skins are hiring coaches who'll put in the 3-4 defense. Carter didn't like playing it in SF under Nolan. That puts Orakpo in a lot of pass coverage. Why would you want to find out if a 34-year-Fletcher is as superb at inside backer as he is at MLB? Where does Albert fit? Does he want to "eat blockers" for a living? Would he be happy or unhappy?

Or let me "invert." What current Redskin would clearly be better suited to the 3-4 than he currently is in the 4-3 -- the scheme for which the Redskins acquired every one of these guys.

But then the Skins blow up the roster and put in a whole new system -- usually one that is antithetical to what they "built" the previous team for -- in EVERY ONE of their previous coaching changes.

We'll see. But very interesting. Nobody knows football much better than Shanahan. Hard t believe he hasn't thought this through already.

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Aren, AS: Good luck with that Gilbert trade. You can't "eat salary" in the NBA like in baseball. You can throw in up to $3 million in cash in a trade, but the salaries of the traded players still have to match. I doubt $3 million is going to make Gilbert's long, expensive contract much more enticing to any other team.

In my opinion the Wiz are going to have Gil for at least another year or two.

Also your Wiz math proves something that we fans have known for a while: Abe Pollin (RIP) was a shrewd businessman, a very nice man, and a great philanthropist ... and a lousy franchise owner. Still, in the balance sheet of life he did great.

Tom Boswell: All good points. Sorry about the "eat salary." I was talking to Wise the other day, trying to figure out where Gil could go and how it could be done. Tough to do. I said, "Maybe the Wiz are just stuck with him." If so, that .423 for 31 years can keep right on going.

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It's not all bad: I'm with you Boz! The Wizards are - gasp - even worse than the Nats, and the Redskins can only seem to win daytime emmys.

So why aren't we talking about the Caps? This team is incredibly exciting - they are literally never out of a game, and can apparently beat teams even when they show up for only a period.

Or how about the Hoyas on Saturday. I was at the game and never thought they could come back from that deficit.

I know you're a baseball fanatic - and I'm great with talking about it all summer. But can we please not blow the whole winter talking about the Redskins and Wizards. There are better stories!

Tom Boswell: The Caps game was a blast last night. Down 4-1, pull Michal Nuevirth -- boy, did his face look stunned -- then come back to tie, 4-4, with Theodore flopping everywhere for big saves. Then, in OT, Jose stops TWO break aways, one by Horton that might as well have been a penalty shot.

And the shoot out was the best. First six shots miss, then Morrison and Laich both make goals to keep the Caps alive before Fleischmann wins it! How come Ovie is so poor in shoot outs? The goal he scored in the 3P was amazing -- just flicked it on the bounce off the ice in the middle of four defenders. Most players wouldn't even have known the puck had come free in front of them. We're talking ClarkKent reflexes.

Hockey's biggest problem -- I don't care how many years you've watched it, and I've been doing it for 35 years since they came to town -- you can't really see what's happening unless you watch it in slow motion! Then the skill level is almost unbelievable. But watching at full speed you don't see nearly as much of what is "really" hapening as you do in the three (more) major sports. IOW, it's not just that it's hard to see the puck. It's that the important aspects of the game -- the basic skills -- take place at a speed, and in a welter of action, that is just too tough for most people's eyes to decode.

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Leesburg, Va.: Hi Tom, how about those Caps? What to you think of the Clark trade? Do you think it has affected team chemistry? Even though they pulled it out last night, they don't seem to be playing as well as they did before the trade.

Tom Boswell: Well, Jason Chimera had a "triple" last night: a goal, an assist and a good fight.

When they were down 4-1, after the 7-4 loss, it was a moment when you wondered if a portion of the season -- not the whole season, but a chunk of it -- would go in the wrong direction. But they have so much talent, they are so deep and explosive on offense and Ovechkin is such a game changer -- like the goal to make it 4-3 in the first minute of the 3rd -- that they just shrugged it all off and won a game that may be a momentum builder.

They are going to make the next few months a lot of fun.

Oh, a previous poster mentioned the Hoyas big comeback win against UConn. Now THAT was vintage GU. Greg Monroe is still too unselfish. He just has to demand the ball more and take more shots. Everybody knows it; but somebody still has to make it happen. But Austin Freeman's 33 were a wonderful clutch performance. He almost outscored UConn by hinmself in the 2nd half -- 27-28. Chris Wright is impressive, too. They look like that No. 2 seed in the NCAAs is a reasonable goal.

My son prefers Maryland. I keep telling him, "Both, enjoy both." Just like the Nats and O's, and the Skins and Ravens. I just don't get this "pick one" syndrome. (Oh, sorry, that's Gil's game.)

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Silver Spring, Maryland: "Even with 'roids, McGwire's career numbers aren't that wonderful. He needed every needle. Take away the steroid boost to his numbers and he'd never make the Hall. This is a no-brainer." Thank you for saying this. McGwire's entire career and persona is a fraud. That's why he isn't even qualified to be a hitting coach. Bonds had a hall of fame career before he took steroids and in a twisted way only started taking them in a jealous rage over the attention McGwire and Sosa received during their home run chase.

Tom Boswell: You're spot on about Bonds' New Body being a direct reaction to being surpassed by McGwire-Sosa in '98. He and Griffey faced the same life-defining choice. They took different paths. As the man said, "And that has made all the difference."

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Baltimore: I'll only begin to take sportswriters chest-beating about steroids seriously when they go after the "legends" of the post-war years, a substantial number of who used/abused greenies, which also enhanced performance albeit in a different manner.

Why not the round condemnation of such abuse?

Tom Boswell: Yawn.

I started covering in the days when they still kept "reds" and greenies in a BOWL in the center of the clubhouse.

They were just as bad for you then as now. But the risks (probably) weren't as well understood. Everybody had equal access to them. It was a level (unhealthy) playing field.

The O's had a pitcher, a 20-game winner, who used to say, "I was never out-pitched, just out-greenied."

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A Non-Peds McGwire: Tom,

You don't think Big Mac had the goods absent the steroids? I remember his '87 rookie season where he hit 49. That McGwire was a tall, thin, redheaded powerhouse. I think he power was legit -- just such a shame he threw it all away. You think he was just a flash in the pan without the drugs?

Tom Boswell: No, I think he was one player -- a good one, but a guy that the league "learned" to a degree after the 49-homer year -- for his first eight years. Then at 31, his HR #s per at bat go to the moon. Maybe now we know why.

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Arlington: Hey Tom.

It looks like in his 12th season of coaching, Norv may have a bona fide contender. Goody for him.

But when will he be held to account for his performance here? Locals, including the media, praise Norv and condemn Snyder for canning Norv with 3 games to go in 2000, and most say Norv was fired 3 games too soon.

I on the other hand believe Norv was actually fired 5 years too late. I think very little of Snyder, but the one good thing he did was can Norv.

Norv actually had the nerve in 2007 to say that he thought he was "finally turning things around" in his 7th season in DC, when in fact the team only needed to recover from his early incompetence.

In a recent Post article, John Kent Cooke echoed the sentiment.

I will never forget that YOU in a 2000 column called Norv mediocre, if you don't count his first 2 seasons. Why would you give him or anyone 2 NFL mulligans? He was the head coach and was therefore responsible for his performance. After breaking the franchise record for losses (13) in 1994, and after 2 consecutive 10-loss seasons, he most certainly earned his walking papers. By the way, until then, no Redskins coach had EVER been asked back to coach the team after 1 10-loss season, much less 2.

People forget that the 25-year period immediately prior to Norv's arrival, the Redskins were 1 of the top 3 teams in the league.

Snyder deserves all the criticism he gets, but the real beginning of this mess is when the organization decided to start rewarding mediocrity (or incompetence) by retaining Norv for a third season.

Tom Boswell: Glad you pointed out the "mediocre" evaluation. I wrote, more than once, that his teams did not execute as well, did not have the mental alertness, did not avoid killing stupid mistakes, as well as the top high school teams I had covered in DC for six years with the Post. And I asked him about it one day in his office. I said (approximately), "Norv, I covered DeMatha and Carroll's teams when Maus Collins was their coach and Annadale when Bob Hardige had state champions there and Gaithersburg in Maryland with Harvill's state champions. And I played for Sleepy Thompson who had 29 winning seasons in 32 years. And ALL of those teams were more disciplined, more alert, than any of yours. You're guys can't even stay on sides. They take dumb penalties. And it's their JOB. So, tell me I'm wrong before I write it."

Norv said, "You're right."

And you wonder why people liked him.

Glad he's winning now.

Thanks for all the great questions, including about 50 that deserve answers but no time. See you all next week.

_______________________

Reston, Va.: What are your picks for this weekend's NFL playoff games?

Tom Boswell: My picks would be worth what you are paying for them here. I'll be rooting for the Ravens, Saints, Vikings and Chargers.

_______________________

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