Wednesday, September 30, 2009

October Transition – Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey; Follow-Up to a Question Leads to Another

If, like me, you are a fan of just about all sports, this is an interesting transitional time of year. For example, today I will make my way to Nationals Park for the final home game of The Washington Nationals miserable season. As terrible as the Nats have been, the fact that Washington has had a baseball team for the last five years--after 33 years without one--makes life here better. There will be a chill in the air for a late afternoon start today and I'll feel a certain sense of melancholy that baseball's regular season is winding down but it will still be good to sit in the ballpark, keep score and look down at a baseball field. Any of us who can still remember the way it felt the first time they walked into a major league stadium--I was six and it was Yankee Stadium--should be able to take pleasure in watching a ballgame--any ballgame--while at the ballpark.

Of course there will still be a final weekend of the regular season and a month of postseason baseball ahead. I enjoy the postseason but the late starts once you get beyond the division series make it tough for me. I'm an early morning guy and I love 7 o'clock baseball games that are over by 10. Postseason not only starts later but takes longer because of added commercials and all the pitching changes. It's fun, but different.

At almost the same moment that 22 of baseball's 30 teams are packing up for the winter and their on-air pitchmen are trying to sell season ticket packages for next spring, hockey is starting its regular season and basketball is starting pre-season training camp. Not to mention that the alleged college basketball experts are making their predictions. (I saw one top 50 ranking this morning in which every team picked below, I don't know, fifth claimed it was getting, "no respect." With all due respect I'm sick and tired of athletes saying they get no respect.).

As I've said before, I really like hockey, especially when I'm in the building and even more so when the playoffs begin. I love the tension of almost every shift. And there are few things in sports better than an overtime playoff game because no one knows when the game is going to suddenly end. It is true sudden death (or victory) because it happens in an instant and often you don't see it coming.

Here in Washington the expectations for the Capitals are huge. The Caps played a great six game series against the Penguins last year but, unfortunately for them, there was a game seven for which they simply failed to show up. Pittsburgh went on to win The Stanley Cup, fulfilling the kind of promise the Caps appear to have with Alexander Ovechkin leading them along with hot young players like Mike Green, Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. Whether they can surpass the Penguins in the east remains to be seen but it should be fun to watch.

As it happens, I am one of about 12 people who still actually cares about the fate of The New York Islanders. The funny thing is of all the boyhood teams I cared about--the Islanders came into existence my senior year in high school and I immediately adopted them because I have always had an affinity for underdogs and expansion teams (often the same thing). I saw 25 of the 39 home games that year as the Islanders went 12-60-6 which at the time was a record for NHL futility. The Caps went 8-67-5 two years later. By then, the Islanders were good and actually came from 3-0 behind in playoff series twice that season--beating the Penguins in game seven; losing to the Flyers (damn that Kate Smith) in game seven.

I probably was hooked forever when I actually got to cover the team while they were winning their four straight Stanley Cups and found them a remarkably likeable group of men. I didn't have that same experience with my other boyhood teams--Mets, Jets, Knicks--which may explain why, as awful as the Islanders have been, I don't have the same affinity for them as for the Islanders. I pretty much gave up on the Knicks when Pat Riley was the coach because I didn't like him or the team's style of play. I'm still (sadly) a Mets fan even though the teams of the 90s were often difficult to root for and I've come back to the Jets this season not because they're 3-0 but because Rex Ryan is a friend dating to my experience writing about the Ravens five years ago.

The long-winded point is this: the end of one season in sports, disappointing as it may have been, always leads to the beginning of another season. Just when the Islanders are ending another lousy season next April (even with Jonathan Tavares they still aren't likely to make the playoffs) baseball will be starting again. The Final Four almost always is played the same weekend Major League Baseball begins. One of my favorite memories in sports is going to Opening Day in Kansas City in April of 1988 and then watching Kansas beat Oklahoma in the national championship game that night.

October is probably our busiest sports month. Postseason baseball; football in full swing; hockey underway and basketball warming up in the wings ready to crank up at almost the same moment--especially these days--that The World Series ends. I would love to make one more trip to Camden Yards this weekend even though it looks as if the Orioles are going to lose 100 games but I have Navy-Air Force on Saturday and my daughter's birthday party on Sunday. Priorities do come into play.

In the meantime, as much as I regret not having made more trips to the ballpark this summer, I'm looking forward to hockey and to college basketball. (Still tough to get me hooked on the NBA, I'll admit it). For now though, a trip to the ballpark this afternoon for an absolutely meaningless baseball game is something I can look forward to with zest. I consider myself extremely lucky that, even at my advanced age, all sports can give me so much pleasure. What's the old saying: a bad day at the ballpark is still better than most days. That's certainly be true for me going all the way back to that first time my mom took me to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees beat the Indians that day, 5-3.


I've been meaning since last week to respond to a note someone sent asking me if I had "reconsidered," my position on the Duke lacrosse fiasco, referencing a quote in my Wikipedia which says that, "The Duke players were guilty of something."

I do NOT want to re-open the entire Duke lacrosse debate but the mention of Wikipedia did bring up a somewhat sore subject. To begin with, what I said when all was said and done was, "I think those kids were probably guilty of everything BUT rape." What I meant was that, even though the case was handled inexcusably by the prosecutor (who was, correctly, fired and disbarred as a result) the notion that these kids were martyrs of some kind was ridiculous. This was a group of young men behaving badly who had a reputation for behaving badly. There WERE racial epithets directed at the two strippers according to people in the room and the e-mail subsequently sent out by one player (not one of the three accused) about what he'd like to see done to the two women was beyond horrific. Did Duke mishandle the situation from day one? Yes. Were the accusations proven absolutely false? Yes. Was Coach Mike Pressler's firing premature and unfair? Yes--and he received a hefty judgment as a result as did the three players. But the kids weren't Knights in Shining Armor accused of wrongdoing.

What bothered me most about the question being asked--which was a legitimate one to bring up if you read the Wikipedia--is Wikipedia. It is a helpful tool for someone like me looking for simple facts, but it can be quite misleading. If you read mine--and I'm sure this is true in a lot of cases--you'd think the two most significant things in my career were my, "rush to judgment," on Duke lacrosse and the profanity I used four years ago on a Navy broadcast. I know that's the way life works--ask Bill Buckner, who is a borderline Hall of Fame player remembered by most people for one booted ground ball. (And most people STILL think the Red Sox were winning the game at that moment). I get all that. But that doesn't make seeing things written about you that are wrong any less easy to see or to see more written about five seconds in your life than about 25 books. But, as I said, that's the way it works. And Buckner isn't the only other person who can attest to that.

In fact, let's make that a question for today: Name other athletes or coaches who are remembered for one bad moment who had otherwise sterling careers. Mitch Williams also comes to mind right away. Let's come up with some others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Long, Great Monday at ‘The Bruce’

I know I wrote last week about Bruce Edwards and the annual charity golf tournament--'The Bruce,' as everyone calls it--but we held our fifth one yesterday and I would be remiss if I didn't write about it today.

There are a lot of bad things going on in the world every day but when you get involved in an event like this one--and I'm sure anyone who has ever been involved in a charity event of any kind can attest to this--you really find out a lot about people. The most gratifying thing is that most of it is good.

Many people are aware of Tom Watson's tireless efforts to raise money for ALS research since Bruce was first diagnosed in January of 2003. I've said often that I honestly think Tom knows more about ALS and what's going on in that world than any non-doctor alive. But he's not the only one--by any stretch--who has worked to make this event a success. His pal Andy North always comes and plays a major role in what we do not just by playing but encouraging other guys to come and helping out in any way he can. Last night we had an auction item that was three flags in one frame--one from The Masters, one from the U.S. Open, one from The British Open. Tom had signed them all with the years he had won them.

Obviously Tom wasn't going to get up and tell people that this was--literally--a one of a kind item because there's nothing else like it in existence. Andy volunteered to do it and spoke warmly and emotionally about how proud he was of his friend during this year's British Open. Andy is what my mom always calls a mensch.

So is John Cook. Bruce worked for him a lot during weeks when Tom wasn't working and John, in his own quiet way, is as loyal to Bruce and his family as Tom has been. He's been to every 'Bruce,' regardless of his schedule and last night HE got up to talk about our other, 'Tom,' item: six framed Sports Illustrated covers after Tom won majors--all autographed too. Before handing the microphone back to the auctioneer John said quietly, "I'd like to start the bidding at $7,500--and I'm the bidder."

You could see that Tom was knocked back a little bit by that gesture.

Both those items were put together for us by Neil Oxman. You may have heard Neil's name during The British Open because he now caddies for Tom during odd-numbered years. The reason for that is that Neil is one of the top political consultants in the country and the even-numbered years he buried in work trying to get Democrats around the country elected--something Tom forgives him for. Talk about an odd couple. The two guys love one another and they agree on absolutely NOTHING politically.

It was Neil who first suggested to Bruce in 1973 in St. Louis that he see if Watson, carrying his bag into the clubhouse after returning from his honeymoon, might need a caddy for the week. The rest, as they say, is history. Neil was in law school then, caddying during the summer and he and Bruce had become friends. Bruce's other close friend early on tour was Bill Leahy, who, like Neil, went on to make a lot of money (at Smith-Barney) and now plays a huge role in 'the Bruce,' every year. No way does the event happen each year without Neil and Bill.

I really don't want to turn this into a list of 'thank-you's' because I know how boring they are but guys like Paul Goydos and Billy Andrade and Jim Calhoun and Gary Williams have been amazing. So has Steve Bisciotti--or as I like to call him, the anti-Dan Snyder--who has played every year and has always been the leader in the clubhouse during the auction. I have never met a truly wealthy person less impressed with the fact that he's wealthy than Steve. Like I said, the anti-Dan Snyder.

There's no doubt that putting on an event like this is really hard because there are always crises you can't anticipate. Guys drop out--some for very legitimate reasons like Jim Boeheim tearing ligaments in his ankle and breaking a rib (while playing golf!) and others who just drop out because they decide its too much work to get there. I'd honestly prefer if they just said no in the first place. Somehow, we make due every year and guys often have stepped up to help at the last minute.

The day always has funny moments--my favorite was the year when Gary Williams introduced Mike Krzyzewski as the dinner speaker. Mike's a non-golfer but came to speak anyway. "This is my dream come true," Gary said in his best deadpan tone. "Being the warm-up act for Coach K."

Mike came up and said, "As I was packing this morning my wife said, 'remind me again, where are you going tonight?' I told her, 'I'm going to a golf tournament and I'm being introduced by Gary Williams.' She said, 'no seriously, tell me where you're going.'"

Another year Gary and Roy Williams each agreed to auction off a seat on their benches for the Maryland-Carolina game in College Park. This was 2006, the year Roy had lost his top seven scorers after winning the national championship. "Now you understand," Roy said. "The seat we're auctioning off here is MINE. I'm going to go sit with Gary."

"You can have MY seat," Gary said, which wouldn't have done much good since he doesn't have a seat on the Maryland bench, which makes sense since he hasn't sat down yet in 30 years as a head coach.

The good news from last night is that even in a down economy we managed to raise about $350,000 which will go to The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. We're now closing in on $3 million after five years of doing this. The better news was that one of the scientists from Packard spoke to the group and told us that there is actually--FINALLY--the beginnings of hope that a cure will be found. You could hear a pin drop as she spoke even though most of us could actually understand maybe 20 percent of what was being explained to us. The day was a lot of fun but that news was really what it was all about.

Am I tired today? You bet. Am I proud to know all of these people (and others I didn't get a chance to mention)? You bet.

Monday, September 28, 2009

John's Monday Washington Post Article...

Here is my column today for The Washington Post ------

Remember back in school when you were doing footnotes for a term paper and you would simply write: "ibid," when you were referencing the same source material and didn't need to repeat that which you had already written.

That would probably work well today, re: Redskins, Washington and Terrapins, Maryland.

Except now full panic has broken out.

A week ago, the Redskins got booed en route to a less-than-impressive victory over the St. Louis Rams. The Terrapins received similar treatment while somehow losing for a second year in a row to Middle Tennessee.

Both coaches -- Jim Zorn, after 18 games, and Ralph Friedgen, after 103 -- were being questioned and doubted.

Click here for the rest of the story: Seasons of Discontent in Ashburn and College Park

Weddings, Swimming and the Redskins

My friend Jeff Roddin got married to Julie Oplinger yesterday in a lovely ceremony at The Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. Anyone who has ever called my cell phone knows who Jeff is because it is his voice on the tape saying, "Anyone who knows John knows he's no rocket scientist, but fortunately he knows me so he got me to put this message on his phone."

Jeff, as it happens IS a rocket scientist. He is also one hell of a swimmer which is how we met and got to be friends. All six guys in Jeff's wedding party yesterday were swimmers and I was, by far, the least accomplished. Clay Britt, the best man, was a three time NCAA champion at Texas and Wally Dicks, one of the groomsmen, was the oldest man in history to qualify for the Olympic Trials (he was 38) in 2000. Lucky for me I get to swim on relays with those guys and will again if I can ever get myself back in shape.

The wedding was in the afternoon so there were a number of people--including the best man--sneaking peaks at blackberries to track the progress of the Lions-Redskins game. As it happens, Jeff grew up in Michigan so I wasn't the only one in the room pulling for the Lions to end their losing streak although, needless to say, there was a fair bit of Redskins sentiment. What was interesting though was the even the most rabid Redskins fans admitted their disgust with Dan Snyder--not just for consistently putting together mediocre teams but for his demeanor and for the way he treats people. I felt the warmth of their dislike of Snyder bathing me as we stood in the sun while Jeff and Julie spoke their vows.

Once we sat down, I kept bugging Clay to check the score on his blackberry. (I am needless to say a non-blackberry person. It is amazing I can get my cell phone to work). Finally, it was time for him to give the best man's toast. "It's 19-14, Redskins are on the Lions 36 with eight seconds left," he said, standing up.

"WAIT!" I screamed. "Don't start until it's over!"

Everyone was waiting for him to start speaking. He got up and announced the score and said it looked like the Redskins were going to lose. I was convinced he had jinxed the outcome. Of course he didn't but if he had I would have never let him live it down. My only regret is that I couldn't be home at that moment to hear the absolute panic breaking loose once the game was over. Of course poor Jim Zorn will take the fall even though Snyder is the one--along with his henchman Vinny Cerrato--who put this team together and, for that matter, hired Zorn.

Back to more pleasant topics. I would like to make this point about swimming: although most people care about it only when it involves Michael Phelps, it is a very nice world to be small part of--and I do mean a SMALL part of--for me. If Ed Brennan, my high school coach, hadn't convinced me to give up my dream to play point guard for the Knicks because he saw some potential in me, I probably never would have gotten into college. Swimming was what drove me to get my grades up because I knew it would give me a shot to get into some places. It's not a coincidence that Ed and I--even though we fought like cats on occasion--remain close friends to this day.

I've written before that when the doctors told me I had seven blockages in my heart in June I asked them how that could possible when I had no symptoms and they said it was because I swam. "Your heart's strong," the doctor said. "Your arteries are a mess."

So, the case can easily be made that I'm alive today because of swimming. What's more, since I became a Masters swimmer 14 years ago, I've made great friends including Jeff and Wally and Clay and Jason Crist and Peter Ward and Doug Chestnut and Paul Doremus and Penny Bates and Mary Dowling and Mike Fell--among others. All except Mike were at the wedding yesterday.

That's why you will never hear me make fun of people who are totally into a sport that is not part of our popular culture--although if all those bikers would ride on the side of the road, especially on Sunday mornings when I'm on my way to the pool--I'd be grateful. It was an absolute riot yesterday just before we walked down the aisle to hear Clay and Wally talking about a set of 200s that Wally had done on Saturday. That's what swimmers do, the way runners talk about how far they ran or bikers talk about how far the biked--and no doubt how many cars they blocked on the road.

In fact, it was such a swim-oriented wedding that my fiancée Chris Bauch kept having people say to her, "So what stroke do you swim?"

But I think I can say I kept the day in perspective. Late in the afternoon I walked over to Jeff's dad, Hugh, who not only was a star swimmer at Maryland but has a pool names after him in Michigan--The Hugh J. Roddin Natatorium--and said, "Well Hugh, I know what a big day this is in your life...The Lions won a game."

He, of course, agreed completely.


A few notes from the past few days: I was convinced based on their un-convincing wins over lousy competition that Penn State was vastly overrated--said so on the radio so I'm not making it up now--and for once I was proven right on Saturday. Here's a question: is anyone in The Big Ten any good?...Of course the ACC had another awful day, rescued only slightly by North Carolina State's win over Pittsburgh. Florida State goes down to South Florida? With a freshman quarterback? At home? Maryland takes a dive against Rutgers? Miami, which was supposed to be back apparently isn't so back....

One of the regular posters was apparently upset because I kept bringing up Tiger Woods' presence on the sidelines last Monday night three days prior to The Tour Championship. I only brought it up because I was so sick and tired of The Tour's hyping the playoffs and the Tour Championship to death. Yes, it was raining in Atlanta, but if the tournament REALLY meant something, he'd have been there resting and waiting for the first chance to get on the golf course. I wasn't putting Tiger down in this case, just the tour's endless hype.

Quick exchange on Wednesday between Commissioner Tim Finchem (who I like a lot) and yours truly:

“Tim, how's it going."

"Great. Really excited about this week."

"Me too. Lot of big college football games coming up."

"You've written too many books on Navy."

"Good point."

Like I said, I like the guy.

Today is Yom Kippur. It is time for me to atone for my sins. I will now call my sister.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Maybe the Ole Ball Coach Isn’t Done; Responding to Your Suggestions

So it turns out the ole ball coach isn't quite done yet. I didn't get to watch most of the South Carolina-Mississippi game Thursday night because I was at dinner interviewing Shaun Micheel to wrap up the research for the book I'm doing on the '03 majors when two complete unknowns (Micheel and Ben Curtis); one little known (Mike Weir) and one well known (Jim Furyk) all won their first--and to date--only major titles. The book's about sudden fame and how it changes your life.

Shaun got a call towards the end of dinner from his wife, an LSU grad, saying that South Carolina was up 16-3. We wrapped soon after that and I caught the tail end of the game back in my hotel room.

Look, I like Steve Spurrier. I know a lot of people can't stand him because he's cocky and outspoken and thinks he's the smartest guy in just about any room he walks into. And I know there are people who will say I like him because he was the last Duke football coach to field a team worth watching. (Okay Duke fans remind me that Fred Goldsmith had one good year in '94. Was it two years later he was 0-11? I lose track of Duke's winless football seasons).

That's not why I like Spurrier although I did always chuckle when he would refer to Mack Brown as, "Mr. Football," when Brown was at North Carolina. "I just don't think I know enough about the game to compete with Mr. Football," he would say. He was 3-0 against Mr. Football at Duke and blatantly ran the score up in 1989. Then he left for Florida and Carolina has beaten Duke every single year but one since then. In fact, when Florida won the national title in 1996 I dropped Spurrier a note congratulating him and said, "Now if you were a real man you'd go back to Duke and take on a REAL challenge." Spurrier wrote back and said, "Nah, I don't think I could deal with the pressure of competing with Mr. Football again every year.”

What makes Spurrier SO different from other college coaches is that he'll say anything about anyone and not worry about what people think. That's bound to make people angry. To say that Spurrier is disliked at the University of Tennessee is like saying that Joe Wilson wouldn't be welcome in the Democratic caucus room on Capitol Hill. One year Spurrier made this comment: "You know you can't spell Citrus Bowl (where the SEC runner-up always played) without the letters, 'UT.' On another occasion he mentioned that he had driven by The Citrus Bowl and had seen a sign that said, "winter home of the Tennessee Volunteers."

Come on folks, that's FUNNY especially from a man in a profession where, "our team stepped up and gave 110 percent," passes for a one-liner. (For those of you who want to say that Lane Kiffin has done the same thing at Tennessee there's one difference: Spurrier had actually WON when he made those comments.

Remember a few years ago when there was talk Spurrier might go back to Florida after his disastrous stay with the Washington Dan Snyder? Apparently Florida AD Jeremy Foley brought up something about sending a resume. To which Spurrier reportedly responded, "Walk out to your trophy case and take a look at it. THAT'S my resume."

There is also a side to Spurrier not often seen. After his kids were grown, he and his wife Gerri adopted two infants and, after Spurrier had fled from the Redskins--leaving $15 million on the table rather than deal with Snyder for another year--Spurrier put his career on hold so his youngest son could finish high school without being uprooted.

The year after Florida won the national title I called Spurrier to see if I could get an autographed football for a charity auction. I called on Friday around lunchtime. The secretary told me the team was about to leave--I think, ironically enough, for South Carolina. She asked if Coach Spurrier could return the call on Monday. I said of course and left a message.

Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Spurrier.

"Isn't your team leaving like right now for South Carolina?" I said.

"You know," Spurrier answered, "last I looked I was the coach of this here ball club and I really don't think they're going to leave without me."

The ball arrived three days later.

So, I plead guilty. I like the ole ball coach. I tend to like characters--flawed or not. I've watched his ups and downs at South Carolina, sometimes averting my eyes--most notably in the bowl games last year when Iowa completely dominated his team and, for the first time I thought Spurrier looked old on the sidelines.

He didn't look so old at game's end last night. Of course the schedule is still rife with tough games because to quote Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, "This isn't ACC football, we play tough teams almost every night." This IS SEC football and Duke and Maryland and Virginia aren't anywhere on South Carolina's schedule.

But for now, the ole ball coach can spend a few days reveling in this upset. My guess is he'll have something interesting to say about it.


I have to tell everyone I loved some of the ideas that were thrown out for a book yesterday by posters, especially since several of them are ideas I've thought about in the past. Most notable among them is the notion of a Joe Paterno biography.
I can honestly tell you, I've tried.

Last winter I went up to Penn State and had lunch with my pal Malcolm Moran, who used to work at The New York Times and USA Today and is now some kind of distinguished professor at Penn State. Malcolm arranged for me to meet with a marketing guy who has become very close to Paterno in recent years. The point of the meeting was simple: get me in the door to talk to Paterno. Unlike Dean Smith, who I have known well for 30 years, I don't know Paterno well at all. I met him years ago while covering college football for The Washington Post. Back then, his SID, the great John Morris, used to invited media members to meet informally with Paterno on Friday nights and I attended a few of those get-togethers. I had also written to Paterno several years ago asking if I could come up and talk to him about a "season," book. It was the year they were ranked No. 1 for much of the year before being upset by Minnesota. That, as it turned out, started the four year spiral.

Anyway, I got a very nice letter back from Paterno saying he admired my work, listened to me on NPR but simply couldn't deal with the distraction of having someone around that way for an entire season. I was hoping to get into the room with him to explain that I had become pretty good at hanging around without being a distraction and tell him how it would work. I never got the chance.

I didn't get the chance this time either. After I had explained why I wanted to do a Paterno biography--for reasons similar to why I wanted to do a Dean Smith biography; Paterno's extraordinary legacy beyond the football field being key--his friend Guido D'Elia shook his head and said, "I agree with you a book like that needs to be done. But that's legacy stuff. Joe's not ready for legacy stuff yet."

To which I replied, "Has anyone told him that he's 82?"

The answer was direct: "No. We wouldn't dare."

I know that was true because earlier I had contacted Ernie Accorsi, the ex-Giants GM who had worked for Paterno early in his career. Ernie was all for the project and contacted George Welsh, the retired Virginia coach (who I know well) about helping me out. Welsh was Paterno's top assistant before becoming the coach at Navy. Ernie finally called back and said, "I don't think we can help you."

“Why not?" I asked.

"Because we're both scared if we tell Joe he should talk to you he might yell at us."

He was serious. Boy is Paterno a fascinating guy.

The other idea I love is the one about following athletes in different sports for a year. I wanted to do that once upon a time at Harvard. Frank Sullivan, the basketball coach, was a good friend. Tim Murphy, the football coach, runs a great underrated program and, at the time Harvard had a swimmer who had made the finals of the Olympic Trials in, I think, the 200 breastroke. I thought it would be great to follow six to eight athletes to see how you combine being really good at a sport while going to Harvard. I met with some folks in the athletic department. They loved the idea. They said they would talk it over, take it to the administration and be back in touch.

Much like the radio exec I mentioned the other day they still haven't called.

You can't say I'm not trying.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday's Radio Segment (UPDATED - Includes The Kornheiser Show and Seattle's The Gas Man Show)

I made an appearance on Tony Kornheiser's most recent new radio show this morning. Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment on a range of topics -- but mainly on the PGA Tour 'Playoffs' -- I discussed with Tony.

Click here to listen to the radio segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

I make regular appearances on Seattle's The Gas Man Show on Thursday evenings, and tonight we discussed the golf playoffs as well as John McEnroe and those athletes I enjoy spending time with the most.

Click here to listen to the radio segment: The Gas Man Show

The McEnroe Column that Ended with Me Being ‘Junior’; What Do You Want to See Written About?

My friend Tony Kornheiser is back on the radio which is a good thing for several reasons. First, there's something worth listening to in the morning when I'm the car in DC besides the incessant droning on about the Redskins. Second, I always enjoy going on with him once a week because the segments are usually different than your typical sports talk radio interviews. My regular spot, if anyone's interested, will be 11:05 on Thursday mornings.

This morning I had breakfast with Larry Dorman, the truly gifted golf writer for The New York Times--also a friend of Tony's--and we were discussing the nickname Tony hung on me almost 30 years ago: Junior. As luck would have it, Larry had just watched the tennis match that spawned the nickname (I get asked how it came about frequently) the 1980 U.S. Open final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. Larry had been amazed at how different tennis was in the wood racquet era. He asked if I had seen that match.

Actually, it was the first U.S. Open I covered and the first time I met McEnroe. What I remember about the match is that McEnroe won the first two sets, Borg the next two. When Borg won the fourth set, the entire crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium was on its feet screaming for Borg. "I'm in my hometown and 20,000 people are cheering against me for a guy from Sweden," McEnroe said later "It was not a good feeling."

McEnroe somehow regrouped and won the fifth set and the match. As it turned out, Borg would never beat him again in a tournament that mattered. My assignment that evening was to write a sidebar since Barry Lorge, then The Post's tennis writer, was doing the lead. Since I had some extra time I followed McEnroe back to the locker room. In those days, you could actually go in the locker room at the Open. Most of the other guys had gone upstairs to write and when I walked in McEnroe was sitting in front of his locker all by himself. I introduced myself and asked him how he had felt at the end of the fourth set.

He started talking. Then he kept talking. No one was a better talker once he got started than McEnroe. He talked about how much it hurt to be the bad guy, but he understood why people felt the way they did. He talked about how he was NOT going to lose to Borg again in five sets and how his feeling when the match was over was relief, not joy. When He finished, I raced back upstairs and wrote 35 inches. I was budgeted for 16. I pleaded with the editors to at least read what McEnroe had said before chopping the story to pieces.

For once, they did. Not only did they run the whole story, they put it on the sports front--very rare for a sidebar. The next day when I was back in the office a number of people were asking me how in the world I'd gotten McEnroe to talk that way. The answer was pretty simple: I was there. It wasn't exactly a brilliant line of questioning.

Kornheiser had come to The Post a year earlier and was working then for both sports and style. I was in awe of him then because I thought he was the best sports feature writer this side of Frank Deford in the world. Now, he walked into the conversation and heard people asking how I'd gotten McEnroe to talk.

"What's the big deal?" he said. "They're the same person. It was Junior talking to Junior."

McEnroe's nickname was Junior because he was John Patrick McEnroe Jr. and because he had arrived on the tennis scene as the enfant terrible at Wimbledon in 1977. We did have a good deal in common: both from New York, both left-handed, both temperamental (hard to believe, huh?) and one of us was a good tennis player.

Since I was the kid in the Post sports department at the time and DID have a temper and now (supposedly) a relationship with McEnroe, the nickname stuck. I didn't mind it back then. But that was a long, long time ago. I have asked Tony repeatedly to not use it on the radio for at least five years and he ignores me. I've given up. I do roll my eyes when strangers walk up and address me that way. I never call people I don't know by a nickname. When someone comes up and says, "Hey Junior!" I just say, "it's John," and usually keep on going. Most of the time they're well-intended and I know that but I'm over 50 for crying out loud and my son will be driving in a few months.

I'm not sure anyone even calls McEnroe by the nickname anymore.

Let me close with one more McEnroe story. Toward the end of his career I was doing a magazine piece on him and flew to Los Angeles to spend a day with him. This is when he was still married to Tatum O'Neil. We were sitting at the kitchen table in his house and I asked him if head any regrets about how his career had turned out.

He nodded his head. "I shouldn't have spent so much time arguing with the umpires and linesmen," he said. "I hurt myself with that in a lot of different ways, probably cost myself some matches because I got distracted or out of a rhythm and lost my focus." He mentioned The French Open final in 1984 when he had been up two sets on Ivan Lendl and started bickering with the officials and ended up losing in five sets. He also brought up the match in Australia where he had gotten himself defaulted when it looked as if he was playing better than anyone in the field.

After he had talked for awhile--he ALWAYS talked for awhile--I nodded my head and said, "yeah and the fact is, they probably had the calls right more often than not.”

"NO THEY DIDN'T!" He jumped to his feet. "THEY DID NOT GET THE CALLS RIGHT. THEY WERE WRONG! MY EYES WERE BETTER THAN THEIRS!" He sat down. "I just shouldn't have wasted all that energy on them."

You had to love the guy.


After the great response the other day when I raised the question about what people would like to see on the blog, I've decided to throw out an occasional question for people to digest and also to ask all of you to throw questions at me from time to time. I will answer them whenever I can. Here's today's question: Putting aside your natural biases what is a topic or a person in sports that you would like to see a book on that you think hasn't been written yet? Mine, as I think people now know, was Dean Smith and I'm thrilled to get the chance to write about him. But I'd love to hear other thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John's Radio Appearance on 'The Sports Reporters' Today

I made an appearance on 'The Sports Reporters' today with Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in my regular spot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment today which included talk around the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

Click here for the radio segment: The Sports Reporters podcast

Morning Thoughts from the Ridiculous to the Sublime---from the NCAA to Bruce Edwards

I have two things on my mind this morning: one sublime, the other ridiculous.

The ridiculous--surprise--is the NCAA. There was an item in the paper this morning about a study which shows that NCAA justice comes down a lot harder on smaller schools than power schools. Naturally, the NCAA says that simply isn't true, that the study is somehow flawed.

I don't know if the study is flawed or not but I do know this: the NCAA comes down a LOT harder on those who don't make TV money for them than on those who do. In fact, the best description I ever heard of NCAA justice--yes, Kentucky fans I've used this line before but this time it isn't directed at you--came when Jerry Tarkanian made the comment after the cash fell out of the Emory Air Express package en route to a Kentucky recruit's father that the NCAA was SO mad at Kentucky that it was going to put Cleveland State on probation for another three years.

Tark was one of those characters who was impossible not to like. Did he color outside the lines during his years at Nevada-Las Vegas? No doubt. And, ironically, it was Vegas that received a one year delay when the NCAA was about to impose postseason sanctions in 1991. Why? The Rebels were the defending national champions and the folks at CBS were having conniptions about not having them in the tournament with four starters back.

What I liked about Tark was that he didn't play silly games like, "I'm an educator first," with you. He was a basketball coach, paid to win games. Someone once asked him why he took so many transfers. "Because," he said, "their cars are already paid for."

In December of 1986, Navy played at Vegas in a national TV game. David Robinson was a senior and Navy was good. Vegas--which went on to win 37 games and lose in a wild game to Indiana in The Final Four--was a lot better. Tark could have named the score but he pulled his starters fairly early and the final margin was probably about 20. It could have been 40.

After the game, I was standing with Tark when his AD walked over. "That was a good thing you did taking the starters out," he said said in a very a serious tone. "The coach on the other bench is a Christian too."

Tark thanked him and he walked away. When he did, Tark looked at me and said, "Good thing for Pete (Herrmann, then the Navy coach) that he's not Jewish, huh?"

Funny thing was, I was thinking the exact same thing.

Here's the problem with the NCAA--and by the NCAA I mean the presidents and commissioners who control it--they're never wrong. Here's the quote from some NCAA flak according to USA Today. This is from an e-mail since I guess at the NCAA flaks don't speak directly to the media. According to the flak, the claims in the study "are based upon an inadequate explanation of the facts..." (Really, how does she know that?) "It should (also) be noted that...probationary periods are not designed to be punitive but rather remedial in nature."

Seriously, she said that. Apparently the non-powers need more "remedial," time than the powers and the historically black schools--who get nailed by a wider margin than anyone else, REALLY need it.

Why--WHY--can't someone at the NCAA say something like, "we need to take a look at this study. If there is merit to it, we should re-examine what we're doing."

No, they can't do it. We're right, you're wrong. It is no different than the BCS. Why does the BCS continue to exist? Because we (the presidents) say so. Everyone else is wrong, we're right because we're always right. Seriously, doesn't the self-righteousness of it all make you sick? Go back and read that statement. Remedial not punitive? In the words of John McEnroe, "you can NOT be serious."

The saddest part is that they are serious.

On to the sublime. I was asked this morning by the folks at Golf Channel to sit down and answer some questions for those "Top Ten," shows they do. I opted out of things like, "Tiger's greatest comebacks," and "Tiger's greatest celebrations," because there are plenty of media guys who will line up to sing Tiger's praises. I'm not needed for that.

One of the topics was caddy/player relationships. At the top of the list--as it should be--was Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards. Bruce was a good friend, which is why, when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2003 he asked if I would write a book about his struggle, about his relationship (30 years) with Watson and about his life as one of the first fulltime caddies on tour, I was reluctant at first because I knew what ALS was going to do to him, but eventually said yes and I'm grateful that I did. I learned so much from Bruce during that year about dealing with REAL adversity and about friendship and loyalty and about courage. (Courage is NOT making a 12-foot birdie putt or a jump shot with time running down).

Bruce died in April of 2004--on the first day of that year's Masters. Since then, along with Watson, I have put on a celebrity tournament in Bruce's name. We've raised about $2.5 million in four years--our fifth one is this coming Monday--but we are still SO far from a cure it can get very discouraging for everyone. The neurological diseases are the toughest for the scientists to figure out and ALS may be the most difficult one in the lot. Worst of all, it is an absolute death sentence. The only question is when. Bruce died 15 months after being diagnosed and I know he was happy that he didn't linger unable to walk, talk or move at all--which is what happens to those who do stay alive for longer periods.

I was re-telling one of my favorite Bruce/Tom stories when I started to choke up. It wasn't the one about the chip-in at the '82 Open--although the untold part of that story is Bruce's pep talk to Tom walking off the 17th tee after Tom said, "that's one's dead," when he saw the ball sail left of the green. This was another time at Pebble Beach when Tom wasn't playing very well and asked Bruce for layup yardage at a par-five (they were actually playing, I believe, Spyglass) over water.

“It's 237 to the hole," Bruce said.

"I want the layup yardage," Tom said.

"Yeah, I know, it's 237 to the hole. Hit the four wood."

"I want to layup."

At that point, Bruce took out the four wood and a five iron and threw them both on the ground. "It's 169 if you layup," he said. "But if you do, I don't even want to be seen with you because you're a -----."

And he stalked away. "He shamed me into hitting the four wood," Tom said later.

Bruce could do that because he knew Tom would understand why he was doing it and because they were friends. Other caddies would worry about getting fired--especially if the ball ended up in the water. (Which it didn't).

I miss Bruce all the time and I know Tom misses him more. But I take solace in something his dad, Jay, said to me during the first "Bruce," as we call the golf tournament. When Bruce had to tell his parents he had ALS they were, needless to say, devastated. They went to see their pastor that Sunday and he said to them, "I know this sounds impossible but something good will come of this."

Jay and Natalie have come to the 'Bruce,' every year. They usually get in a cart and drive around to say hello to everyone. At the end of the first one Jay took me aside and said, "I told Nat as we were driving around today that I know now what our pastor was saying. Something good did come of Bruce's illness."

I wish it hadn't. I wish Bruce was still here giving everyone--and I do mean everyone--a hard time. In the meantime my goal and Tom's goal remains the same: we want someday to tell all the people who have helped put on the 'Bruce," that we aren't holding the event anymore because the cure's been found.

Now THAT would truly be sublime.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Final Event of PGA Tour ‘Playoffs’---And My Suggestion; Yesterday’s Radio Hosting

One of the notes that came in yesterday about the blog--I try to read the posts every day and e-mail as often as possible--expressed some disappointment that I wasn't, "telling more stories." To be honest, I was a little surprised because I've wondered from time to time these past three months if I should focus more on the news and less on telling stories about my experiences past and present with some of those I've encountered along the road. I would be very curious to hear from more of you whether you prefer more news, more stories or blogs like yesterday where I combined writing about the weekend's news with a couple of anecdotes about my misadventures on the road to and from Pittsburgh.

I am not going to mimick Ken Beatrice, a long time sportstalk host in Boston and Washington who used to always say, "This is YOUR show." This is my blog but if I'm going to keep doing it you readers have to enjoy it. So, needless to say, input is welcomed.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog.

I watched some of The Monday Night Football game last night. I missed the finish because I just can't stay up that late and then get up at 7 to start getting my son ready for school. I noticed Tiger Woods on the Colts sideline. One thing that told me was just how important the upcoming Tour Championship in Atlanta this week is to him. I know he knows the golf course (East Lake) well and I'm not saying he won't win--to quote Lefty Driesell, "I may be dumb, but I ain't stupid,"--but if this FedEx Cup thing really mattered to him do you think he'd be standing on a sideline in Miami less than three days before he tees it up? Don't think so.

That's the problem with these so-called 'playoffs,' they concocted on The PGA Tour three years ago, mostly because Woods and Phil Mickelson told Commissioner Tim Finchem they weren't going to show up for the season ending event if it was still played in early November. It's kind of tough for golf to have a "climactic," event without Woods and Mickelson so Finchem managed to get FedEx to put up big money to sponsor the "FedEx Cup," and tried to create drama with the four tournament "playoffs."

There are problems with this that may be unsolvable because golf just doesn't lend itself to this sort of format. For one thing, how big a deal can 'playoffs,' be when 125 players make it? That makes the NBA and NHL playoffs look elite. No knock on Heath Slocum but he gets in at No. 124--his key points coming at a tournament played opposite a World Golf Championship event meaning none of the top guys were in the field--then wins the first playoff event and goes to number FIVE on the list?

If they want to shorten the season, that's fine. But just throwing more money at a bunch of rich guys in order to get them to tee it up a few extra times--during football season--isn't going to generate interest no matter how much you try to hype the thing, and God knows the tour has tried to hype it. My suggestion is this: Let the first three tournaments that are currently, 'playoff,' events be the last three events of the so-called regular season. Inch the points up as little--but not too much--and then send the top 32 guys to East Lake and have them play MATCH play.

The TV folks might have a heart attack at the thought of a Mark Leishman-Retief Goosen final (no offense to either guy) but the fact is their ratings are nowhere right now anyway. And, if some year you did get Tiger-Phil in the final or Tiger-Ernie Els or how about this: Tiger-Y.E. Yang this year in a PGA rematch, you might get a few people to watch. Plus, it would be far more dramatic.

That's my suggestion for the day. Oh, in case you were wondering why Woods was hanging out on the Colts sideline, it's because he's friendly with Peyton Manning. They played together in the pro-am this year in Charlotte. Like a lot of elite athletes, Manning loves to play golf and is a good player. I was the MC for the pro-am draw party for the tournament and ran into Manning before dinner started. I was curious about how things were going during the offseason with Tony Dungy gone and Jim Caldwell taking his place. Manning wanted to talk about golf--tour golf and his own golf. I got a detailed description of his off-season regimen--on the golf course.

Changing subjects...I hosted Jim Rome's radio show yesterday. I've been an occasional guest host for about 10 years now and Jim has always had me on whenever I have a book out. People have asked in the past how I became friends with Jim. It's a pretty simple story. Twenty (or more) years ago a friend of mine named Judy Carlough was running the new all sports station in San Diego. She called and told me she had a young overnight host she thought was talented and he was hoping I'd go on with him and that he could pre-tape before I went to bed so I wouldn't have to stay up half the night to be on.

I was happy to do it--I never could turn Judy down under any circumstances--and then the young host turned out to be very bright and asked very good questions. We hit it off. I became a semi-regular having no idea that Jim would end up not long after with national shows on radio and then TV. I know Jim can be an acquired taste. To be honest I could live without most of the "clone takes," and when I host I tell the call screeners to tell callers I'm looking for questions and discussion, not takes. Every once in a while someone starts in on a take and someone presses a button in LA and they're gone.

I enjoy hosting although I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to do three hours a day alone in a studio, five days a week. That's work. If I ever did radio on a regular basis I would want someone in studio with me--preferably someone I liked. In the past I've been approached on a number of occasions about hosting a show and the conversation usually goes something like this:

"We've heard you when you've hosted shows in the past and really like what you do."

"Thanks. It's fun, I just wouldn't want it to interfere with my writing because that's what I like to do the most."

"Oh, of course. We could work something around your schedule."


Things usually go well until the forbidden subject comes up: money. Most radio programming guys (not to mention my old friends at ESPN) always count on ego to get them past the money issue. As in: you'll have your own radio show (!!) so you don't need to be paid very much. (Or in the case of ESPN, 'you're on ESPN, that should be honor enough for you.'). I have as much ego as anybody but I also am lucky enough to have a very busy writing life for which I'm well paid. I don't NEED my own radio show (or to be on ESPN) although I'd do it under the right circumstances for reasonable money.

So, it always comes down to this. "We couldn't pay you very much--but you wouldn't be doing this for the money."

"Really? Why else would I do it?"

That usually brings negotiations to a screeching halt. One guy at a national radio network (no, NOT ESPN in fact) must have called me a half dozen times to discuss his philosophy of radio. I listened and listened and finally brought up the subject of money. He said he would get back to me, "within a week."

That was exactly a year ago.

Thank God I didn't sit and wait by the phone.

Monday, September 21, 2009

John's Monday Washington Post Article...

Here is my column today for The Washington Post ------

To paraphrase the great Keith Jackson, "there's a whole lot of booing going on around here."

Around here would be the Washington metropolitan area. The Redskins, whose fate is considered by most to be only slightly more important than the health care bill, actually won on Sunday and still got booed. It might have been their failure to beat the spread or -- more likely -- it was that the final score was 9-7 against the woeful St. Louis Rams.

The night before in College Park, the Maryland football team heard some serious booing after losing 32-31 to Middle Tennessee on a field goal as time expired. No, that's not Tennessee; it's Middle Tennessee -- a team Maryland lost to a year ago on the road. Terrapins fans no doubt would have left Byrd Stadium in a bad mood -- much like Redskins fans -- even if the final kick had somehow been blocked or sailed wide to allow the Terrapins to escape the way they did a week ago in overtime against James Madison.

Click here for the rest of the story: Area Football Fans Aren't Afraid to Say 'Boo'

John is on the Radio as Guest Host of the Jim Rome Show Today

I will be guest hosting the Rome Show today, so if you get a few minutes, you should check it out. It should be a lot of fun – guests include Joe Buck and Bob Watson, live from 9-12am PT.

For your local station, click the permalink, then Click Here for the Jungle Affiliate List

Panic Setting in for Some NFL Cities, Jets Not Among Them; Long Trip to Pittsburgh for Navy

The second weekend of the National Football League season is one of my favorites for one reason: it is when panic officially begins to set in for certain teams and cities. To a large degree, this is understandable. When I did my book on The Baltimore Ravens (Next Man Up) five years ago, I remember the mood at the team's training facility the day after a loss in the season opener at Cleveland.

Kevin Byrne, who I think was the franchise's public relations director under Paul Brown (a slight exaggeration I suppose) made an interesting point: "In this league one loss is the equivalent of a ten game losing streak in baseball."

He's right of course: a baseball season is 162 games, an NFL season is 16 games. Even I can do that math. Which means that 0-2 is the equivalent of starting a baseball season 0-20. There are numbers somewhere on the odds of an 0-2 team making the playoffs since the 16 game season began in 1978. It happens, but not very often.

So, here we sit two weeks in and the Tennessee Titans, who were 13-3 last season and the top seed in the AFC are 0-2. They lost in overtime on the road to The Super Bowl champion Steelers and then lost 34-31 Sunday to the Houston Texans, who were looking at some serious panic in their town if they started 0-2 after all the so-called experts were picking them as the "surprise," team during the offseason. How can you be a surprise team if everyone is saying you're going to be a surprise team?

(Let me pause here a minute to ask another question: how can USC repeatedly get trapped by trap games when everyone is saying, 'this is a trap game?' Oregon State last year was a little bit understandable but Washington? Sure, Steve Sarkisian is an ex-USC assistant and he's clearly brought a new attitude to Seattle but they were 0-12 last year. That's not a typo. All credit to the Huskies and it is pretty clear now why Pete Carroll freaked out when Mark Sanchez decided to turn pro but still, how does that keep happening?).

As they say on ESPN, "more on college football later with an exclusive interview in which Charlie Weis reveals why he's such a genius."

Speaking of Mark Sanchez, I'm not sure which statue is being built first in front of the new Meadowlands Stadium, Rex Ryan's or Sanchez's. The Jets are 2-0 and beat the hated Patriots Sunday at home for the first time since Weeb Eubank was coach and Joe Namath was quarterback. (Okay I'm in an exaggerating mood today). Having grown up a Jets fan I know how crazy they go up there when the Jets have any success at all. When the Jets won in Foxboro last year and then against Tennessee to be 8-3 there were actually stories in The New York Times--not the tabloids, The Times--about a Jets-Giants Super Bowl. Didn't quite work out.

Ryan though is the real deal. I got to know him well while doing the Ravens book. He has all of his father (Buddy's) football knowledge and understanding but he also has a terrific, self-deprecating sense of humor and connects with people--especially his players--as well as anyone I've met. Just to keep things interesting, Rex used to weigh in with his lineman every week--he'd usually show up at training camp weighing about 350 and try to work his way down--and there was always some kind of running bet on how much weight he could take off during the season. To say he kept things loose is an understatement.

Back to panic-towns. It seems pretty likely that fans in Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, St Louis and Charlotte are in for long seasons. In Detroit it can't possibly be as long a season as it was a year ago. At least there's a sliver of hope with a new coach and a rookie quarterback. The Lions WILL win this season--how's that for going out on a limb?

The Browns no doubt hired Eric Mangini on the theory that his ex-mentor, Bill Belichick ultimately failed in his first job (with the old Browns) before becoming a Hall of Fame coach in New England. Mangini, like Belichick, had an early playoff team with the Jets, then floundered. He's going to flounder this year but Belichick was, I believe, 5-11 his first year with the Patriots.

In every one of the above-mentioned cities there are quarterback issues. The most baffling one is in Charlotte where Jake Delhomme has all of a sudden become the Steve Blass of quarterbacks, seemingly losing his touch overnight. He was brutal in the playoff loss to the Cardinals, horrific in the opening loss to the Eagles. He was much better Sunday in Atlanta but threw a game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter. That made 12 in three games.

Maybe he'll bounce back. Maybe Matt Cassel will eventually be the answer in Kansas City. Then again, maybe not.

Here in Washington where I live the Redskins are 1-1 but the town is very much in a state of panic. The Redskins were fortunate to beat the god-awful Rams on Sunday and, even though they marched up and down the field never scored a touchdown. Their offense has one in two games--and that was against the Giants two minute defense when they were down 23-10 in the opener. Naturally the fingers are being pointed at Coach Jim Zorn and at quarterback Jason Campbell. Here's my question: who hired Zorn? Who drafted Campbell and all those wide receivers who haven't done a thing while the offensive line struggles, a year ago? It was, for those of you scoring at home, owner Daniel M. (call me Mr.) Snyder and his trusty henchman Vinny Cerrato. How they continue to duck criticism is mind-boggling.

Best story so far: the revived 49ers under Mike Singletary. I also got to know Singletary doing the Ravens book and I will freely admit I never envisioned him as a head coach. As great a linebacker as he was, he came across almost gentle as an assistant coach. He's was (and is) very devout, often read the bible in his office during down time and came across very quiet. I simply missed the boat. I remember Mike Nolan, who was the defensive coordinator, telling me he thought Singeltary WOULD make a great head coach. "When he talks to the players, you can hear a pin drop in the room," he said. "He doesn't have to raise his voice to get his message across."

Nolan took Singletary with him to San Francisco and Singletary got the job when Nolan got fired. That's the way sports works. Your friend gets fired, you get a chance. Nolan was right about Singletary. I was wrong.

Back to the colleges for a moment. The most stunning score to me on Saturday was Florida State-54, Brigham Young-28. The BYU defense which looked so good against Oklahoma (even before Sam Bradford was hurt) looked helpless. Maybe the ACC DOES have a few good teams: Miami and Virginia Tech (which play Saturday) also appear to be solid. We'll see. The bottom of the league still looks awful: Maryland lost for a second straight year to Middle Tennessee (talk about panic); Virginia is 0-3 and those revived Duke Blue Devils managed to stay within 28 of Kansas on Saturday.

One final note: Two weeks ago I wrote about what a great day I had when Navy went to Ohio State and almost beat the Buckeyes. This past Saturday was completely the opposite. The traffic getting to Pittsburgh (I drove up on Saturday for a 6 o'clock game) was horrible thanks to construction coming off The Pennsylvania Turnpike. That cost me close to an hour. Then there was construction at Heinz Field and, even though I knew exactly how to make a quick turn to get me to the parking lot I needed to get to, the not-so-helpful Pittsburgh police (where are the guys from Ohio when you need them?) not only wouldn't let me make the turn, one guy shouted at me, "get moving now or I'll arrest you."

Thanks for the courtesy. I barely made it inside to go on the air on time. Then the game began with Pitt fumbling the opening kickoff and Navy’s Ram Vela having a clear shot at scooping the ball at 20 yard line and running in four a touchdown. Vela, who may be the country's smallest linebacker at 5-9 and 193 pounds (seriously) couldn't quite pick the ball up. Pitt recovered, drove 89 yards for a touchdown and dominated most of the game. The Mids offense looked as bad as I've seen it since Paul Johnson put in the triple option in 2002. A long night.

On the way back, I was about 30 miles from home at 1 a.m. driving about 70 in a 65. I'm always careful late at night because I know there are cops with nothing better to do waiting to nail people who sneak up to 10 or more miles over the speed limit. Suddenly, a cop came up behind me, lights flashing, siren going. I thought he was going to swing past me but he came right up on my tail. He wanted me.

Surprised--and a little bit angry--I pulled over. He came up and, as I handed him my license and began searching for my registration he asked the usual opening question: "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

If I've learned nothing else in my old age it is that courtesy to a cop is usually key in how he (or she) deals with you. "Officer, I'll be honest, I really don't know," I said.

"You were going 71 in a 55 mile per hour zone," he said.

Oh God, I thought. I had missed the sign where the limit had gone from 65 to 55 going into Frederick and he'd been waiting. I apologized profusely, said I had missed the sign. In the meantime I was still trying to find my registration. My glove compartment is filled with media credentials, parking passes--you name it--because I know if I keep the stuff there I'm far less likely to lose it. (I am famous for losing credentials. Once I walked into a golf tournament wearing a three year old credential because I hadn't noticed that I pulled the wrong one out of the door. Fortunately, the security guard knew me--yes Tony Kornheiser, he knew who I was!--and it was okay).

The cop finally told me to keep looking while he went back to check my license. No doubt he looked at my plate and called that into the computer. I finally found it and--as instructed--held it out the window for the cop to see. He came back and handed me a warning.

"This is a warning for the speed and for failing to produce your registration in a timely manner," he said.

"For what?" I said, genuinely surprised.

"The law says if you fail to produce your registration in a timely manner you can be ticketed even if you have it," he said. "We're targets out here on the road you know."

I was tempted to say if you didn't pull people over at 1 o'clock in the morning on an empty road for not slowing down in an artificially marked down speed zone, you wouldn't be a target. But he WAS, in fact, cutting me a break so I just said, "I understand."

I must have been smiling because he said, "did I say something funny?"

I shook my head and told him what I was thinking at that moment. "The thought just occurred to me that I was convinced you were going to give me a ticket and that would have been the perfect end to a perfect day," I said. "You messed it up by giving me a break."

This time, he smiled. "I get it," he said. "Have a safe trip home."

I did. But before I did, I put my registration in a spot where I can find it easily in the future.

Friday, September 18, 2009

John's Appearance on The Tony Kornheiser Show

I made an appearance on Tony Kornheiser's most recent new radio show Thursday. Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment on a range of topics -- Myles Brand, my piece on Roger Goodell and this blog. Of course, listen to all you'd like, but I come on at the 15:30 mark.

Click here to listen to the radio segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Time to Get Lefty Driesell into the Hall of Fame

Lefty Driesell called me last night. He has called on a regular basis ever since my heart surgery to check up on me--a number of people have done this including my favorite basketball scout, Tom Konchalski who remains the only man I know who refuses to put any kind of answering machine on his phone or carry a cell phone.

Lefty didn't call last night about my health. He had just receive the form one has to fill out to be nominated for the basketball Hall of Fame and he asked me again if I could figure out how it was that he hasn't made it to the Hall yet.

I told him I simply couldn't figure it out.

Lefty won 786 games as a college coach, meaning he is currently, I believe, ninth on the all-time list. What's more, he won those games at four schools that were exactly nowhere when Lefty took the job. Davidson, a school which had 900 male students in 1960 when Lefty arrived, had averaged seven wins a year for the previous 10 seasons. Over the next ten it finished ranked in the top ten nationally four times and reached the final eight of the NCAA Tournament twice. Maryland was the dregs of the ACC when Lefty took over in 1969. It was a national power by 1973 and went to the tournament nine times while Lefty was there even though only one ACC team could go until 1975 and only two could go until 1980. He took over a down program at James Madison and became the dominant team in the CAA and then took Georgia State to the NCAA tournament in 2001, winning 29 games and beating Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament.

The man could build basketball programs like no else could.

And yet, he's not in the Hall of Fame. The excuse that he didn't make the Final Four doesn't carry water because there are other coaches--including, most recently Temple's John Chaney--who didn't make The Final Four who are in the Hall. Lou Carnesseca made one Final Four while spending his entire career coaching traditional power St. John's and won 260 games LESS than Lefty. He's in the Hall. No one is saying those guys don't deserve it but certainly Lefty should be there too.

Old rivals like Dean Smith and John Thompson have both said publicly that Lefty deserves to be in Springfield. Anyone who knows basketball would agree. But the secret society of 24 that votes hasn't picked Lefty. He's been a finalist twice--but not since 2003. He's retired and it is as if the alleged basketball experts who run the Hall of Fame have forgotten him.

There's really only one reason that Lefty's been left out and it is a bogus one: Len Bias. Since Bias's death in June of 1986 of a cocaine overdose all sorts of myths have grown surrounding his death. It reminds me, on a much different level of another seminal sports event in 1986: Billy Buckner's boot in game six of The World Series. To this day there are people who think the Red Sox were still ahead when Buckner made the error and would have won the game and the Series if he had fielded Mookie Wilson's ground ball cleanly. Not true. The game would have gone to the 11th inning.

In the Bias case there are lots of people who think his death led to Maryland's probation in the early 1990s. Indirectly, it did. Bias's death and the surrounding furor gave Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter an excuse to force Lefty out of the job. Slaughter was going to prove he was a great reformer and leader. He wanted to hire an African-American coach and did: yanking Bob Wade from the high school ranks even though Wade's reputation wasn't exactly sterling among college coaches. Sure enough, Wade broke NCAA rules, was caught lying by NCAA investigators and Maryland was nailed with a two year probation that included one year off of TV and two years out of postseason in 1991 and 1992.

Only in the sense that Bias's death allowed Slaughter to get rid of Lefty--with nine years left on his contract--did it have anything to do with Maryland's probation. Lefty was never once accused of violating NCAA rules. In fact, Maryland had to pay him every dollar of his remaining contract because the only way it could NOT pay was if Maryland was found guilty of a single rules violation under his watch. It was not.

And yet, the myth remains. There are still stories told about Lefty trying to cover up for Bias even though police investigations debunked those rumors years ago. There is no question that Bias's death shadowed Maryland for years--why the school retired his uniform when he never graduated and died the way he did remains a mystery. It's as if the uniform hangs there saying THIS is part of our legacy. But it has shadowed Lefty more than anyone. After 23 years it is time to give the myths a rest. Basketball people from Smith to Thompson to Mike Krzyzewski (who coaches at Lefty's alma mater and has a fair amount of influence) to Dick Vitale to Gary Williams should band together and DEMAND that Lefty get into the Hall of Fame RIGHT NOW. He's 78 and last I looked not getting any younger. While they're at it, they should also demand that the Hall stop being so secretive about its voting process. If you choose to vote for any Hall of Fame you should be publicly responsible for explaining your vote. If you don't want to do that, don't vote.

Look, I am (no pun intended) biased. I covered Lefty while at The Washington Post and came to like and respect him even though we did battle almost constantly when I was the beat write. He would frequently wake me up early in the morning to yell about something I'd written. He would swear never to speak to me again, then would come over to greet me at practice that day, usually by saying something like, "what's up son, you got a scoop?"

I have about a million Lefty stories, far too many of them relating to Dean Smith. Late in his career, when he was closing in on 800 wins I pointed out to Lefty that if he coached a few more years he might go by Dean's all time record of 879 wins.

"Never happen," he said.

"Why not?"

“'Cause if I ever got close, Dean would come back."

Probably true.

I've told this one many times but it bears repeating. In 1981, when Gerry Faust became Notre Dame's football coach I was sent to cover his first game. Faust was as outgoing and friendly as any football coach I've ever met and his story--devout Catholic who had coached at Moeller High School and been plucked for his dream job--was compelling. On game day he drove around campus in a golf cart greeting fans as they came in. "Gerry Faust--great to see you. Let's go whip LSU today!"

I wrote a glowing story after Notre Dame won easily about how everyone in South Bend was in love with the new coach whose personality was the polar opposite of predecessor Dan Devine. Sure enough, early Monday morning the phone rang.

"Wake up son, I gotta get on you.”

"In September? What can I possibly have done to make you mad in September?"

"Gerry Faust. He's won one damn game at Notre Dame. Dan Devine won a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP and you're writing that Faust is Knute Rockne."

He did have a way with words. "What have you got against Gerry Faust?" I asked.

"Nothing. But I got plenty against you."

Several years later with Notre Dame foundering and 'Oust Faust,' signs all over the Notre Dame campus, the phone rang again. "Hey Fahnsteen, ya buddy Faust still riding around out there in a golf cart or did he get himself an armored tank!"

One for the Lefthander.

Final story. I was doing a magazine piece on him and went on a recruiting visit (before the NCAA created what some call 'the Feinstein rule,'--seriously--and banned coaches from taking media members on home visits because it was an 'unfair advantage.') to the home of Sean Alvarado in southeast Washington, D.C. It was Halloween. As we got out of the car a group of about a dozen kids ran up screaming, 'Trick or Treat!'

"I ain't got any treats," Lefty said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his money clip and began tossing bills into the kids’ goody bags. He kept going until he ran out.

As they ran away, Lefty shook his head and said, "Damn. I hope I didn't have any big bills on there."

The man would give away his last dollar without checking to see how much he was giving away. He revived college basketball in Washington--revived BASKETBALL in Washington--and was a program builder wherever he went and did as much to grow the game in popularity as anyone who has ever coached.

He needs to be in the Hall of Fame. It is time for all of us who play any role in the game to right this wrong.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

NCAA President Myles Brand’s Passing; Interviewing Roger Goodell

I was in the car last night, en route home from New York where I had spent an interesting 90 minutes with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (for a piece I'm doing on him for Parade Magazine) when I heard the news that Myles Brand had died. It hardly came as a shock. Having lived through it three years ago with my father, I know what pancreatic cancer does to people. The difference is that my dad was almost 85 when he was diagnosed; Brand was 66 when he learned of his cancer a year ago.

I still remember the doctor at Georgetown hospital saying to my dad, "Martin, you're in a club no one wants to belong to." Truer words were never spoken.

I didn't know Myles Brand well at all. I think though that he was a good man who tried very hard to do the right things. He showed a lot of guts nine years ago when he fired Bob Knight. I've often thought that if Brand had been Indiana's President at the beginning of Knight's tenure rather than at the end that Knight's career and life might have been different. John Ryan, who was Indiana's President through most of Knight's time there had a lot of the right ideas about college athletics but he let Knight bully him the way he bullied almost everyone else in his life. When Knight threw the chair in 1985, Ryan more or less asked Knight for permission to suspend him. Knight threatened to quit if Ryan suspended him and Ryan backed down. It was then Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke who suspended Knight and even then it was only for one game.

I tend to think that Brand wouldn't have backed down. He would have said something in his soft-spoken way like, "Coach, we love you and we want you to be here because you stand for all the right things about the college game. But if I DON'T suspend you I will look weak and so will Indiana."

My guess is Knight wouldn't have resigned. He might have railed at Brand to his friends but he wouldn't have walked away from Indiana.

Of course we'll never know. What we DO know is that Knight was given a "zero tolerance," edict by Brand after the Neil Reed tape surfaced in the spring of 2000 showing Knight putting his hand on Reed's neck after Knight had categorically denied that any such incident had taken place. Knight went on ESPN to do one of the network's classic softball interviews and declared that 'zero tolerance,' would be absolutely no problem for him to deal with. He lasted three months, bringing about his own demise by grabbing a wise-guy student who made the mistake of saying, “Hey Knight, how's it going?" Even though Knight held a press conference in which he literally diagrammed how the incident had taken place, Brand stuck to his guns and fired him. There were student protests on the lawn of his home and Brand is still a despised figure to many in Indiana, but he was resolute.

His tenure at the NCAA, which began in 2003, had mixed results. Brand wanted more emphasis put on academic progress and he got it. Academic progress standards were enacted and more athletes are now graduating. But the major powers have continued to control the agenda: Brand never made any dent in the BCS system, more or less throwing up his hands and saying, "not my job," whenever the issue came up. And for all the talk about the new academic rules, no major school has faced any serious sanctions as a result of them.

But Brand really did try. He recognized that the NCAA was a bureaucratic nightmare and picked his battles carefully. He was far more accessible than past NCAA Presidents and, even if you disagreed with him he often (as I did) would always answer questions, always without rancor regardless of what had been said or written in the past. I dropped him a note a couple months ago to see how he was feeling and told him that my one real argument with him--other than the BCS--was his continuing insistence that everyone at the NCAA refer to players as "student-athletes," all the time. I mean, what the heck is wrong with being a player?

He wrote back a funny, upbeat note saying that the most important thing any NCAA President could do was try to make life a little better for the student-athletes. We agreed to disagree. I'm truly sorry that he died so young and that he got sick before he had a chance to see a lot of the good things he was trying to accomplish reach fruition.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­


On an entirely different subject I had a funny moment--several in fact--with Roger Goodell yesterday. As most people probably know he is the youngest son (of five) of former New York Senator Charles Goodell, who had the distinction of drafting the first piece of legislation (in 1969) calling for the end of the Vietnam War.

A year later, with President Nixon essentially having turned on him, Goodell was involved in a three-way race to try to keep his seat. Richard Ottinger, a liberal New York City Democrat was running from the left; James Buckley, brother of William F. Buckley, was running from the far right on the conservative ticket. Nixon's base, naturally, supported Buckley. Goodell was very much a moderate in the mode of Jacob Javits.

I remember that election because I remember my parents arguing about it. My dad, who had always voted for Javits, tried very hard to convince my mom to vote for Goodell on the grounds that Ottinger couldn't win, that Goodell was a moderate and a good man and that if Ottinger and Goodell split the moderate and left wing vote, Buckley would win. My mother wouldn't budge. "You know what Bernice," my father said. "You just won't vote for a Republican no matter what."

My mother insisted that wasn't true. "If I ever think a Republican is the best candidate, I'll vote for them," she said. "I vote for the best candidate, regardless of party."

She never once found a Republican who fit that profile.

I told Goodell the story and he laughed and said my dad's prediction had been right on. (Buckley won). Later I asked him where his politics stood. "Well," he said. "Like your mother I'd like to think I vote for whomever is the best candidate, regardless of party.

"But my mother was lying," I said.

He nodded, then admitted he had gotten in serious trouble with his wife's family (his father-in-law was Bush 1's Secretary of Transportation) for voting for Bill Clinton in '92. I didn't ask but my guess is he voted Republican until last year's election. I'll give him this: unlike my mother he HAS voted for candidates from both parties.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

John's Appearance on 'The Sports Reporters' Today

I made an appearance on 'The Sports Reporters' today with Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in my regular spot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment today which included pointed discussions on Serena Williams and Michael Jordan.

Click here for the radio segment: The Sports Reporters podcast

The Beauty of Baseball – a Year Without Pennant Races Still Gives Reasons to Listen

I was looking at the baseball standings this morning--as I do every morning throughout the season--and a lamenting the fact that there are no pennant races to speak of with two-and-a-half weeks left until the end of the season. Oh sure, someone might make a late run--less likely, I suppose since the Mets aren't leading a division--but it certainly looks as if the division winners will be the Yankees, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers with the Red Sox and Rockies as the wild cards.

That's a shame, because there is nothing quite like the day-to-day suspense of the last couple of weeks of a real pennant race, emotions sliding up and down the scale on an almost inning-by-inning basis. One of my most vivid baseball memories is being in Boston in 1978 on a vacation in mid-September while the Yankees and Red Sox were staging their historic race that culminated in the "Bucky bleeping Dent," game on my mother's birthday that October.

I was a year out of college and was the cops and courts reporter in Prince George's County, Maryland for The Post. I took a few days off to visit two friends who were in law school and business school in Boston. Every night we watched the Red Sox and found a radio to pick up the Yankees on the radio. On a Sunday afternoon we went sightseeing, driving up to see Salem and Gloucester. We listened to both games on the radio--I'm not exactly sure how we got the Yankees signal in the afternoon, but we did--switching back and forth constantly. My friends were both Red Sox fans. Being a Mets fan, I was just a spectator, but loved every second of it.

I also remember devouring the Boston papers every morning. There wasn't an aspect of the race that wasn't covered in great detail. When I got back to Washington I walked into George Solomon's office. He was the sports editor and I was still doing a lot of work for sports even though I was on the Metro staff. "You know what George," I said, still exhilarated by the week in Boston. "You just can't be a real sports town without a baseball team."

"Get out," Solomon said and went back to editing the seven "Skins prepare for Lions," stories the paper was running the next day.

I love college basketball, I love golf and I love football--preferably the college game. I'm a huge hockey fan and I still really like to watch tennis although covering it would make me nuts because the people involved in the sport--especially those who run it--are so completely clueless. As an old swimmer I enjoy watching swimming on almost any level and I can still get chills watching the Olympics on those rare moments when NBC isn't showing figure skating or gymnastics.

But there's nothing like baseball for me. My ex-wife once commented in a pejorative way that baseball was, "ubiquitous." That's exactly what I love about it. Tonight, I will be in my car driving back from New York. I do not have satellite radio simply because I'm too lazy to get around to having it put in my car. The other reason is that I know when I'm driving at night I can pick up the Mets, the Yankees, the Phillies, the Red Sox, the Orioles and, most nights, the White Sox on my radio if I'm anywhere on the east coast. If I venture into the midwest I can get the Pirates, the Indians, the Cardinals (who can sometimes be found on the east coast) the Tigers and the Cubs. Someone is always on.

And, even without serious pennant races, there's always good reason to listen. Two weekends ago, when I was in Ohio for the Navy-Ohio State game I listened to the Indians and Twins for a little while on Friday and for a long time on Saturday. My old friend Tom Hamilton does the Indians play-by-play and what was remarkable was that if you closed your eyes and just listened (not a great idea while driving) you'd have thought the Indians and Twins circa 2009 were the Yankees and Red Sox circa 1978. Tom was enthusiastic about the game itself, kept explaining why it was so important to the Twins and talked about the young players the Indians had in their lineup and what they hoped to see from them in 2010.

That's the other thing about baseball: even when the Indians are 18 games under .500, even when the Mets have collapsed, there is always the hope of spring training the next year. I know that's true of other sports but does anything feel quite like spring training. If you live, as most of us do, in a place where there is snow on the ground in February or at the very least it's damn cold, the site of baseball players pitching and catching in Florida and Arizona always makes us feel good. Our team is undefeated and warm weather can't be that far away if spring training has started.

Tonight I'll switch back and forth as I head down the New Jersey Turnpike. I'll listen to the Yankees for a while so that John Sterling can explain to me why A-Rod is really a good guy if you know him and so my old friend Suzyn Waldman can use the phrase, "our old friend," about 100 times. I'll switch over to the Mets and listen to Howie Rose subtly pick apart the team he and I both grew up loving and then I'll pick up the Phillies and the Orioles as I get closer to Washington. The trip--once I get out of Manhattan--will take about four hours. It won't feel nearly that long.

As I write this, Ernie Harwell has been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 92. No one ever broadcast baseball better than Ernie Harwell did--first with the Orioles long, long ago and then for years with the Tigers. Harwell always had that southern lilt to his voice and he knew exactly when to raise it and when not to. Unlike a lot of today's broadcasters he didn't scream about an RBI single in the first as if it was Kirk Gibson's home run in the '88 World Series.

He is also one of the nicest and most generous men I've ever met. When the Tigers management had the ridiculous notion that firing him after the 1991 season might be a good idea, Harwell never ripped the franchise publicly, even though he was hurt. It didn't take long--less than a season--for the Tigers to realize they'd made a mistake. That's no knock on Bob Rathbun and Rick Rizzs, his successors who were (and are) very solid baseball broadcasters. But there is only one Ernie Harwell and, fortunately, Tom Monaghan figured that out before the 1992 season was over.

I miss listening to Ernie. I still LOVE getting the chance to hear Vin Scully and I really miss Bob Murphy, who I grew up with as a Mets fan. Murph retired in, I think 2002, after doing Mets games for 40 years. On the night of his last broadcast I was giving a speech on the eastern shore of Maryland. When I was finished, I explained to the guy running the dinner that, while I'd like to stay and mingle, I HAD to get to my car and get home.

I was telling the truth--sort of. I had to get to my car so I could flip on WFAN and hear Murph's last call. The Mets lost 4-1 to the Pirates that night. I was on the Bay Bridge as the bottom of the ninth began. Murph's signature was always to say at the end of a Mets win, "we'll be back with the happy recap." It was pretty apparent there wasn't going to be a happy recap for Murph's final game. He knew it too. So, as the ninth began he said, "well, the Mets are going to need to rally here if there's going to be one last happy recap."

The Mets didn't rally. But I had a big smile on my face hearing Murph talk about the happy recap one last time.

And women wonder why all men cry when Kevin Costner says, "Hey dad...want to have a catch," at the end of "Field of Dreams."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Living in the Land of Never Wrong

I just don't understand why it is so difficult for people--especially famous ones--to say two little words: "I'm sorry."

Every single one of us makes mistakes in life. No one knows that better than I do. When you write as often as I do, you're going to make mistakes--sometimes from a faulty memory; sometimes from a pure mind block; sometimes from not doing enough research. The other day in this blog I somehow wrote that the Yankees last won a World Series in 2001. How that happened I don't know but it did. I'm sorry.

Four years ago, doing a Navy radio broadcast of a game at Duke I became so frustrated with the incompetence of the officials that, after a clear push-off by a Duke player on a two-point conversion try that tied the game I heard someone say, "------ referees!: There was no seven second delay and when I looked around the booth to see who had lost their composure and realized everyone was staring at me. What a sick feeling that was. I took myself off the air, told the Navy people what had happened and offered to resign on the spot. Both Chet Gladchuk and Eric Ruden--the athletic director and senior associate AD--said absolutely not. We agreed I would go back on and apologize. I remember Eric saying, "you're right to apologize. Do it and that will be the end of it."

"I'll apologize Eric," I said. "But I guarantee you that won't be the end of it."

I apologized--no, "if I offended anybody," clauses; nothing about how lousy the officiating had been (Paul Johnson, the WINNING coach in the game was so angry when it was over he chased the officials off the field) or anything like that. Just, "I'm sorry," which I was. There was no excuse for what had happened.

The Navy people were amazing about the whole thing. I was right that my apology wasn't the end of it. There were calls from the media all week. Would I be suspended? No, said Ruden to all callers. "John made a mistake. He took himself off the air and apologized instantly. That's enough."

I have now done Navy football games for 13 years. To this day I get cracks about, "did you get through the broadcast without using profanity this week?" I've written 25 books and there is more in my Wikipedia bio on the incident at Duke than on the books. The other day when Serena Williams lost her mind at the U.S. Open some clever guy e-mailed my friend Tony Kornheiser's radio show asking if I had given Serena lessons in how to use profanity. To be honest, the fact that Tony read it on the air annoys me. But you know what? It's my fault because I did it. No one else is responsible.

Which leads me back to Serena Williams. I have no idea what the lineswoman was thinking at such a crucial juncture when she called a foot-fault (and thus, a double-fault) on Williams when she was down a set and 5-6, 15-30 against Kim Clijsters in the U.S. Open semifinals Saturday night. The fact that the USTA is refusing to release her name is ridiculous. She's out there on court, she's being paid (not quite as much as the players) she should take responsibility for all her calls and explain what she was thinking--or not thinking--at that moment.

But that's not what's important. Williams' reaction to the call is what's important. She lost her mind. Look, bad calls happen in sports. You can argue, you can ask the umpire to overrule (in tennis) or to ask the lineswoman if she's absolutely sure or ask to play a let. But once you lose the argument you can NOT threaten the umpire while screaming profanities at her. You can't say ------ referees and you can't threaten to shove a tennis ball down someone's throat.

In fact, if the incident had happened earlier in the match the officials would have been justified in calling "gross misconduct," on Williams and defaulting her on the spot. As it was, they gave her a point penalty since it was her second violation of the match (smashed racquet earlier) and that meant game, set, match to Clijsters who was probably the most stunned person in the stadium.

Okay, Williams made a mistake. I can certainly relate. She's going to be subjected to replays of that moment forever. There's nothing she can do about it. But she could have made life a lot better for herself by coming in to the interview room and saying, "I don't know what happened out there. I just completely lost it for a moment and I'm truly sorry."

That would NOT have been the end of it--as I can attest--but it would have toned down the criticism quite a bit. Things do happen in the heat of the moment and we all blow it on occasion. But Williams pulled a LeBron James. On Saturday night she talked about how her "passion," for what she did had caused her to get so angry. No apology. The next day she issued a statement. Still no apology--much like James saying the day after his team's loss to the Orlando Magic that "winners," don't shake hands after losing. Dig the hole a little deeper.

Maybe if Williams' agent, Jill Smoller, hadn't been so busy trying to stick her hand in front of cameras on Saturday night, she would have had time to do her job and sit her client down and tell her, "you made a mistake--a bad one. Apologize, REALLY apologize right now."

It took until Monday for people to get to Williams and convince her to "amend," her apology. (Her word) It was an apology for the apology. Carefully written and worded, with all sorts of references to how great SHE is, Williams did finally apologize to everyone involved. When poor Patrick McEnroe asked her during the doubles award ceremony why she had amended her apology, HE was booed. What are people thinking? He was doing his job asking the exact right question. Venus Williams grabbed the mike and said, "let's just move on."

That's fine. But moving on--especially after botching the first two attempts to admit a mistake--isn't always that easy. There won't be any suspension for Serena--you think the USTA, CBS or ESPN want an Open next year without her?--and, fans being fans, it won't be her fault before all is said and done. Sort of like that chair back in 1985 that got what it deserved when Bob Knight tossed it across a court.

We seem to live in an era where no one is every responsible for their actions. Joe Wilson said he was sorry--sort of--for yelling 'you lied,' at The President of the United States during a joint session of Congress. In the same breath he claimed (incorrectly) that he was right about what was in the Health Care bill. No doubt Kanye West will be sorry for his reprehensible behavior at the country music awards but will note that Beyonce still should have won.

I call it living in the Land of Never Wrong. Famous people are constantly surrounded by enablers who tell them that they're never wrong regardless of what they do. The year I was working on "A Season on the Brink," I sat and listened to people rationalize Knight's behavior--including the chair throw--until it became laughable. One night, after a dramatic overtime win over Purdue, Knight walked into his postgame press conference and went on and on about how beautiful the day had been and how he had paused to try to put basketball into perspective that afternoon. Then he said he didn't have time for any questions and that the Indiana locker room was closed.

When I asked him a few minutes later why he had done that he said, "just my little victory." His friends thought that was really great--really nailed the media. Maybe it did. It also nailed all the Indiana fans who would have liked to have heard what Knight thought about the comeback and it nailed his players--especially Steve Alford, whose heroics pulled the game out and went largely ignored because Knight made himself the story (again) with his behavior. When I tried to point that out to Knight (pretty brave I thought) I was shouted down even before Knight could look at me and say, "aah, you're just one of them when it's all said and done."


And for that I do NOT apologize.