Monday, October 5, 2009

So Much to Write About On Monday Mornings

Monday is always the toughest--and easiest--blog day because there are so many different things to write about. If the Redskins had somehow lost to the horrid Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday I'm pretty sure I would have been ripping Danny Snyder for firing Jim Zorn instead of firing himself. It's amazing to read The Washington Post this morning where the reaction to the 16-13 win would make you think the Redskins had come from 10-0 down at halftime to beat the Steelers or the Cowboys.

Speaking of my newspaper--and it will always be my newspaper for better or worse--there were THREE stories on Sunday about Maryland's win over Clemson. THREE. Forget that Maryland's bad and Clemson's mediocre or that half the crowd was from Clemson because few people in the area seriously care about Maryland football, the fact is it was an ACC football game between two mediocre teams. Most ACC football games are between two mediocre teams, the exception being Virginia Tech-Duke on Saturday which was between a good team and a bad team even if Duke kept the final score close.

While The Post was obsessing about Maryland (I won't even get into the Redskins obsession this morning) the paper all but missed a truly wonderful game in Annapolis between Navy and Air Force. (I know my editor Matt Rennie will point out that the Navy game story was played right next to Maryland's but the Maryland SIDEBAR was longer than the one Navy story). You pretty much have to be in the stadium--which was packed unlike Byrd Stadium where they keep pumping up their alleged attendance figures--to feel the intensity of a game like this one. After Saturday's 16-13 overtime win, Navy has now beaten Air Force seven times in a row by a total of 36 points, 11 of those coming in the game two years ago when Navy scored very late to stretch the final margin. That means six games decided by 25 points. Do the math.

Both defenses were brilliant in this game. You could feel the energy on both sidelines from the radio booth and, no doubt, everywhere else in the stadium. It took a god-awful call--a phantom roughing the passer penalty on a play in which Navy made what should have been a game-clinching interception--to put the game into overtime. (If you think this is my Navy bias talking, check the replay or check Air Force coach Troy Calhoun's quote on the play. He called it, "a gift.") Navy kicker Joe Buckley, who lost his job a week ago and then got it back, made three field goals including a 38-yarder in overtime. Air Force kicker Erik Soderberg, who had made a 33-yarder at the buzzer to tie the game (after the brutal call) missed wide left from 31-yards and Navy had won again.

As happy as I was for Navy, I couldn't help but feel for Soderberg, who not surprisingly was completely stand-up about the miss putting the blame on himself (this is what service academy kids do) and for all the Air Force players who gave heart and soul to winning the game and now must wait 12 months to try again--except for their seniors who will never beat Navy. As many times as I have seen it, the playing of the alma maters after a service academy game still gets to me, the teams standing in front of their respective bands and student bodies--first the losers, then the winners--for the songs. You never see any of the losers sneak out or fail to cross the field after their song has been played to show respect for the winners. It's just a very cool thing. I can't count the number of times I've seen it and I still get chills.

One other football score absolutely jumped off the page at me Saturday. It was NOT UTEP over Houston or Michigan State (yawn) over Michigan or even Notre Dame lucking out again. It was this: Columbia-38, Princeton-0 at Princeton. Look, I know Columbia football. I grew up going to games in Baker Field and watching the Lions roll up one losing season after another even with some guys on the team--Marty Domres, George Starke, Marcellus Wiley (later) who went on to play in the NFL. I don't know the exact numbers but I think Columbia has had (maybe) three winning seasons in forty years. The Lions almost never beat Princeton much less KILL the Tigers. That score is as stunning as any you will see in college football this year.

Back now to our regularly scheduled blog.

As soon as the alma maters had been played and Bob Socci threw our broadcast to a break, I had to race to my car. I was giving a speech at George Mason and the overtime cost me 20 minutes. I HAD to get out before the traffic backed up. As I ran the 200 yards or so from the press box elevator to my car I noticed two things: I wasn't breathing very hard at all and I didn't notice the incisions from heart surgery until I got in the car and realized I hadn't noticed them. Progress. Now I need to lose 20 pounds and get in swimming shape.

I beat the traffic and got to Mason in time. It is amazing what that school has done in the time since I've been in Washington. The Final Four appearance in 2006 was the centerpiece of what has become a truly admirable athletic program. The dinner was packed. (Must have been the speaker). I joked that if I HAD been late they could have had Jim Larranaga introduce me because that would have killed at least an hour. Jim is a reporter's dream unless you're on a tight deadline. Ask him about someone make him a jump shot and he will tell you about James Naismith teaching his players the set shot and move on from there before arriving back in 2009. By the way, the Patriots will be very good this year.

With all the football going on Sunday I was really focused--once I got home from my daughter's birthday party--on one event: The Senior Players Championship in Baltimore. If not for Brigid's party I would have driven up there because Tom Watson had a four shot lead. Watson just couldn't get going on Sunday. Jay Haas did, shooting 66 to beat him by one shot with a brilliant birdie on 18, hitting a 6-iron to two feet on a hole almost no one had even hit the green (23 percent of the field) on all day. Haas is one of the truly good guys in all of sports. Several years ago he was awarded the Golf Writer's Association's annual Jim Murray Award for cooperating with the media. His opening line was, "I guess this should be called the, 'Curtis blew us off so let's go talk to Jay,' Award." For years golf writers never knew what they were going to get when approaching Jay's old Wake Forest teammate Curtis Strange. They always knew what they'd get with Jay.

In his entire career on the two tours--33 years and counting--Jay has been fined once. It happened in Milwaukee about 10 years ago when he was struggling with his game. He managed to play well the first two rounds but was awful on Saturday, shooting something like 77 which on that golf course is like shooting 85. Disgusted, he managed to hit his second shot on the par-five 18th just off the back of the green. He caught a really bad lie though and plunked his third all the way to the other side of the green. As he walked to his ball, steam coming out of his ears, some guy yelled out, "you really suck Haas!" Jay just couldn't take it anymore. "F---- you!" He yelled back.

The next morning, Wade Cagle, the rules official who was running the tournament, called Haas into his office. "Jay someone filed a complaint against you yesterday," he said, looking a little bit pale. "Says here that you said, 'f---- you,' to a fan. I'm sure they misheard. I'm sure you said 'THANK-you.'

Haas shook his head. "Nope," he said. "Guy's got it right; How much (fine money) do I owe you?"

I digress. As much as I like Jay, Watson losing was painful. Think how close he has come to an absolutely historic year: he just missed becoming the oldest man by ELEVEN years to win a major at The British Open and if he had won yesterday he would have been the oldest man to win a major on The Champions Tour. What a double THAT would have been. In fact, had he pulled both wins off I would have made the case that, adding in the remarkable work he has done to raise money for ALS Research, he should be Sportsman of the Year. Now, even though Tom should still be considered, it almost certainly will go to Roger Federer--who is deserving but not as inspiring as Watson on any level in my (biased) view.

Life is never perfect. Especially on a weekend when Dan Snyder and Charlie Weis eek out wins. Then again, Navy-Air Force made up for it--in spades. Not because Navy won but because being in that stadium on a perfect October afternoon was so


Gunnar said...

Great blog. Funny to hear about Haas' comment about his college teammate Curtis Strange. I have a family friend that was paired with Curtis Strange at the Bob Hope Desert Classic a half dozen years ago. It is a four day pro-am format(a different pro each day), with the fifth day a post cut, pros only day. He said on the first tee Curtis Strange shook his hand and said, "Let's get the foursome picture, and that will be the last time I speak to you guys". It was the last time our friend paid $10,000 to be in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. He said he almost walked off the 1st tee right there.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone out there publish the list of fines from the PGA Tour, or have any idea how big the fines are? Its amazing no one really knows, its a hidden truth.

Anonymous said...

Gunnar: Are you sure that was not
Bobby Wadkins or JC Snead instead of Curtis Strange. Those two guys have that reputation and up until your post, I had never heard that Strange ever behaved in that fashion. Not call you out, by any means; just asking. Sammy

Yanger said...


At what point do you think MD is gonna stop ducking Navy and play a home and home or neutral site game. Pretty sad the mighty turtle is turtling on this.