Thursday, December 30, 2010

Washington Post column - Mike Krzyzewski: 880 wins won't dampen his drive and respect for Dean Smith

Today's article for The Washington Post -------

GREENSBORO, N.C. - A little more than 24 hours before he went past Dean Smith on the all-time wins list for college basketball coaches, Mike Krzyzewski threw his team out of practice.

"I didn't just get angry," he said that afternoon. "I worked my way up to being really angry."

All of which may explain, at least in part, why Duke's 108-62 rout of UNC Greensboro on Wednesday night was Krzyzewski's 880th career victory - one more than Smith and 22 fewer than Bob Knight.

Soon after telling his players they were soft and spoiled and nowhere close to being ready to play in the ACC, Krzyzewski got on a private plane and flew to Washington to watch a high school junior play. That night he was back on the practice court, giving his players a chance to show him they weren't as soft and spoiled as he had told them they were.

At 63, Krzyzewski still gets angry and he's still relentless. He completely understood the significance - especially in the state of North Carolina - of his 880th win because of his respect for Smith and because of how his career at Duke began.

Click here for the rest of the column: Mike Krzyzewski: 880 wins won't dampen his drive and respect for Dean Smith

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This week's AP ballot:

Hope everyone had a good holiday is my ballot for this week's AP poll...

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Connecticut
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Syracuse
6)                  Villanova
7)                  San Diego St.
8)                  Pittsburgh
9)                  Purdue
10)              Texas
11)              Georgetown
12)              Missouri
13)              Kentucky
14)              Minnesota
15)              Notre Dame
16)              Louisville
17)              BYU
18)              Texas A&M
19)              Temple
20)              UCF
21)              Butler
22)              Cincinnati
23)              Boston College
24)              Vanderbilt
25)              Wichita St.

Friday, December 24, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.
Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show. This weeks, we spoke of Maryland and Ralph Friedgen, among other topics.
Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Washington Post column -- Firing Ralph Friedgen is wrong, but Maryland hopes it will generate dollars

The following is this week's article for The Washington Post ------------

The stunning and seemingly sudden decision by Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson to fire Ralph Friedgen as football coach makes absolute sense.

After all, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has the potential to bring a passion to the school's football program not seen since Friedgen's first season 10 years ago.

Maryland won eight games this season, statistically the second-best turnaround in college football. Almost no one cared. Fans failed to fill Byrd Stadium, one of the ACC's smaller venues, even once. When 48,000 showed up on a perfect November night for a game against Florida State with the Terrapins still contending for the division title, Maryland officials acted as if they had set a new attendance mark.

That's why Maryland is playing in the low-level Military Bowl. A trip to frigid Washington, D.C., to play in a decrepit stadium on a weekday afternoon in December? Most football people consider that to be more punishment than reward.

Anderson did what he had to do when he had the opportunity to do it. He's absolutely right to force out Friedgen before Leach lands someplace else.

He also could not be more wrong. This has the feel of a professional lynching.

Click here for the rest of the column: Firing Ralph Friedgen is wrong, but Maryland hopes it will generate dollars

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

The following is my week 7 ballot….

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Connecticut
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Syracuse
6)                  Villanova
7)                  Pittsburgh
8)                  San Diego St.
9)                  Purdue
10)              Texas A&M
11)              Georgetown
12)              Missouri
13)              Baylor
14)              Kentucky
15)              Kansas St.
16)              Minnesota
17)              Texas
18)              Notre Dame
19)              Temple
20)              UCF
21)              Florida
22)              Michigan St.
23)              BYU
24)              Northwestern
25)              Drexel

Monday, December 20, 2010

Redskins, Wizards, Capitals and Maryland all make noise this week

You certainly can’t say that living in Washington is boring these days—and I’m not talking about the repeal of, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Think about the events of the last week:

--The much ballyhooed coach who was hired last January to (again) bring back the glory days of The Washington Redskins—remember the ‘are you in?’ marketing campaign—benches the much ballyhooed quarterback he brought in last April to lead those who decided they were in. He does so in favor of the immortal Rex Grossman who will be 31 by the time next season starts and is not exactly an untested rookie.

Grossman throws two interceptions and fumbles the ball away once in Dallas on Sunday. But he also throws four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback from 30-14 down to a 30-all tie before the Redskins (naturally) find a way to lose against a bad team that has also shown a knack for losing close games all season. These teams are basically mirror images of one another: Run by egomaniacal owners who have screwed up once-proud franchises almost beyond recognition.

So now, the Washington media is PRAISING Mike and Kyle Shanahan for benching McNabb in favor of Grossman. Really? Seriously? Did I miss the part where the Redskins won the game? Did I miss the part where they were playing the 12-2 Patriots and not the (now) 5-9 Cowboys? Does anyone in their right mind think that REX GROSSMAN is going to lead the Redskins to anywhere but (maybe) 8-8 if he’s the starting quarterback next year? Is that the goal now?

Here’s what the Shanahans and their out of control egos have done: They’ve taken away their flexibility to wait a year or two to draft a quarterback or sign one as a free agent. Now they’ve got to make a move right away. They’ve only got six draft picks as it is and now—when they probably need at least three offensive linemen—they’re going to have to spend one on a quarterback.

Brilliant. Still, what’s even better are the fawning media who think this was a good move. The only GOOD thing about Sunday for the Redskins was that they lost the game. Winning can only hurt them now since it moves them down in the draft.

--The man who was once the most popular athlete in town is gone. And almost no one is sorry to see him go.

With barely a whimper, Gilbert Arenas packed his bags on Saturday and left for Orlando. It is to the credit of Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld that he was able to find someone—anyone—to take on Arenas’s contract, which calls for him to be paid more than $60 million through the 2014 season. In return the Wizards got back Rashard Lewis, who was a very good player once upon a time but seems to be fading into the NBA sunset at the age of 31. No matter. His contract will go off the books a year sooner than Arenas’s and could save the team as much as $30 million in cap space.

Arenas was once the biggest part of the Wizards solution. Ultimately though, he became the biggest problem they had.

He led the team to the playoffs for three straight seasons and was the key component in the only playoff series they have won since the 1980s. Then he started getting hurt—a lot. The Wizards managed to make the playoffs a fourth straight year but went downhill quickly after that. They hit rock bottom a year ago when Arenas brought guns into The Verizon Center locker room to settle some kind of disagreement that had sprung up during a card game on a chartered airplane with equally knuckleheaded teammate Javaris Crittendon. Arenas managed to make the situation worse by not understanding how serious it was and thinking he could laugh it off and joke about it.

That was pretty much the end for him in Washington even though he came back this season to play reasonably well—although he played his best when star rookie John Wall was hurt; not a good sign for the future.

My friend Tony Kornheiser coined the phrase, ‘curse of Les Boulez,’ years ago to describe the constant syndrome of injuries, bad draft picks and trades that seemed to follow the franchise. The curse appears to still be alive and well with Wall already missing multiple games with injuries and the team a train wreck yet again at 6-19. Losing by 100 to Orlando on opening night was probably not a good sign. Not having won a road game with Christmas looming is also probably not a good sign.

Arenas is gone. The curse of Les Boulez lives on.

--Ralph Friedgen is fired as Maryland’s football coach a little more than a month after it was announced he would return for at least one more season. What is it Lee Corso says?—not so fast my friend. When Athletic Director Kevin Anderson saw a chance to get Mike Leach and jump start interest in his football program, he pushed Friedgen out the door about as fast as you can push someone the Fridge’s size out any door.

A year ago, then Athletic Director Debby Yow wanted to fire Friedgen—who she had once taken so many bows for hiring her back must have been sore. She couldn’t come up with the $4 million it would have required—not to mention the extra $1 million she would have needed to buy out ‘coach-in-waiting,’ James Franklin who she inexplicably put in that position a year earlier.

Actually, there was an explanation: Yow was trying to get the Fridge gone without actually firing him. Fridge didn’t take the hint and told people HE would decide when he would retire. The 2-10 record in 2009 changed that and put him on the hot seat. The 8-4 record in 2010 seemed to put him back in control.

Then two things happened: Franklin got the Vanderbilt job, removing the $1 million Yow-created albatross from Anderson’s neck and he found out that Leach could be had as his next coach. Baggage or no baggage, Leach can coach AND he can sell tickets, something Friedgen simply couldn’t do anymore.

Out with the Fridge, in with the Pirate.

Look, the move makes sense. It is also pretty damn cold but college athletics is a cold world. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Friedgen ride off into the sunset under his own terms but I’m not responsible for the athletic budget at Maryland.

The irony in all this is that, in the end, Yow probably got Friedgen fired. It was her decision to push for an expanded stadium and over-priced luxury boxes that put so much pressure on Friedgen. For years, when Byrd Stadium seated 45,000 people, winning eight games and going to a second tier bowl was just fine for the football team. Most Maryland fans were just waiting for basketball season to start anyway.

But with the expanded stadium and all those empty boxes, people—notably potential recruits—noticed that Maryland football fever wasn’t exactly a contagious disease. Anderson is new to Maryland and has no reason to be loyal to Friedgen—Maryland grad or not. His loyalty is to the bottom line. Leach can probably make that look better.

--And finally: The Winter Classic is now 10 days away and part 2 of the HBO 24/7 four part series on the Capitals and Penguins airs Wednesday night. I saw the first part and I thought it was excellent. What strikes me about all the HBO documentaries is how well written they are. Sure, they have plenty of access but ESPN gets all sorts of access (did you see any of that truly AWFUL stuff on Duke’s pre-season; My God I WENT to Duke and it made me gag, I can imagine how other people felt) and never knows what to do with it. HBO knows what it’s doing.

Of course some people here in Washington were upset with all the f-bombs that were picked up coming out of Coach Bruce Boudreau’s mouth. What do people expect when a team is losing 8 straight? Hearts and flowers? My friend, Post columnist Mike Wise, decided HBO was making the Caps into the bad guys, the Penguins into the good guys. Um Mike: The Penguins had won 12 straight—who did you expect to come off as the happier-go-lucky team at this point? In fact, the end of part 1 makes the point about the rhythms of a season, the ups and downs that are part of it. Exactly right. I can’t wait to see part 2. Don’t worry DC fans it will be better: The Caps WON on Sunday night.

And Alex Ovechkin isn’t being traded, benched or fired anytime soon. Hallelujah.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We started out talking about the Washington Capitals before moving on to other topics, including Ralph Friedgen and the Maryland football coaching situation.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

This morning at 11:05 ET I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week we talked about musicals, the Washington Capitals, Michael Wilbon and several other topics as we usual do.

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favre’s act has overshadowed what may be the most remarkable iron man streak in sports history; Comments on the comments

Here’s what is really a shame about the way Brett Favre’s extraordinary streak of 297 consecutive starts ended on Monday: It was greeted by a lot of yawns. Part of that is because of the way this season has gone for Favre: Bad team, all the questions about his text messages to the former Jets hostess; the firing of his coach; the interceptions.

But it goes beyond that. I said on a TV show on Monday about an hour before it was announced that Favre was going to be inactive that I thought he’d play. Why? Because how many times has he cried wolf before? How many times has ESPN ‘learned,’ that Favre doesn’t think he’ll play on Sunday. Or that he’s going to retire? Or that he’s REALLY going to retire?

All the drama queen stuff just got old for everyone and people almost stopped paying attention. Did you hear Favre may not play on Sunday? Oh wait, here’s another scoop, the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow.

By sheer coincidence I was at Camden Yards the night Cal Ripken Jr. finally ended his streak. After playing 2,632 games in a row and breaking—by a wide margin—what many people considered the most unbreakable record there was in sports—Ripken just decided it was time. On the last Sunday night of the 1998 season with the Orioles playing their last home game, Ripken walked into manager Ray Miller’s office and just said, “it’s time.” Miller wrote Ryan Minor’s name into the lineup at third base and The Streak came to an end.

Ripken didn’t whisper to anyone in the media that he was thinking about ending the streak or that he was hurt or that he might or might not play on a given night. In fact, Ripken was just the opposite. He preferred to NEVER talk about the streak. I still remember in 1992 when I was working on my first baseball book, I had breakfast with Ripken one morning in Milwaukee. Ripken was, I thought, very open and honest with me that season. But when I started a sentence by saying, “you know, if you stay healthy you would get to 2,130 in 1995…” he literally clapped his hands over his ears.

“Please,” he said. “I’m really superstitious. If you talk about it too much it may never happen.”

Of course it did and the night Ripken broke the record, September 6, 1995 is still one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had in a ballpark. The night he ended the streak wasn’t as dramatic—no presidents in attendance; no 22 minute pause in the game for Ripken to take a victory lap; no speeches afterwards. But I will always remember the sight of the entire ballpark coming to its feet after the first out of the game when it became official that Ripken wasn’t in the lineup to applaud for him. And I’ll never forget the sight of the Yankees all coming out of their dugout to join the ovation and pay tribute to Ripken.

Ripken always wanted the streak to end quietly. Favre wanted to MAKE SURE EVERYONE WAS PAYING ATTENTION. Of course it will be interesting to see now how the NFL handles the whole texting issue now that the streak is over. You can bet no one was more relieved than Commissioner Roger Goodell that he now doesn’t have to worry about being the one to end Favre’s streak with a suspension or be concerned that if he doesn’t see fit to suspend Favre that people will say he’s ruling that way to keep the streak intact.

The saddest part of Favre’s whole act is that it has overshadowed what may be the most remarkable iron man streak in sports history. I know you can make arguments for Ripken’s because it was over so many years and he had to go out there day after day. He never continued the streak by playing one inning or coming up once and then coming out of the game. In fact, throughout most of the streak he never missed an INNING.

That said, to play almost 19 years as an NFL quarterback without missing a game—and most of the time Favre played the entire game—is amazing. There’s some luck involved certainly, but the number of times Favre hobbled out there on days when standing up to walk out of the locker room was probably a challenge, is almost uncountable. I know from my experience spending a season with an NFL team that EVERYONE on an NFL team is hurting the last half of the season. The way Favre put himself out there and took the pounding he did time after time, year after year is a stunning feat of toughness and grit.

And yet, he will end his career more as a punch-line than as an icon. That’s not the way it should be. But it is of his own doing. He’s all but replaced ‘Hamlet,’ as the all-time ‘to be or not to be,’ character. Good night tough quarterback.

I only wish you’d given yourself a better ending.


A couple of notes to a few of my big fans…First, Caps fans: Look, I understand about hockey fans (soccer fans too). On the one hand, you get upset because your team and your sport doesn’t get enough attention. On the other hand you get apoplectic when someone who doesn’t go to 82 games every season, writes or says something about your beloved team and sport. Many of you think I’m a moron for saying the Caps could use an experienced goalie. Many of you said the EXACT same thing a year ago when I wondered if Jose Theodore was good enough to win a Stanley Cup. How’d that work out? I did NOT say that Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov will never be good, very good or even great goalies in the NHL. The question I raised was this: Are they good enough to win a Cup THIS YEAR? That’s what George McPhee must decide.

This notion that other teams have ‘figured out,’ the Caps based on last year’s Montreal series is ridiculous—with all due respect to my colleagues at The Washington Post. Check the shots-on-goal in that series. Check the serious scoring chances the Caps had vs. the serious scoring chances the Canadiens had. Those of you who said, “Hey did (Jaroslav) Halak take the Canadiens to the Cup?” the answer is no, he didn’t, just through the Caps to the conference finals as a No. 8 seed. Those who pointed out that the goalies for the Blackhawks and Flyers weren’t exactly immortals are right too. But folks, you don’t need a great goalie to win the Cup, you need a goalie playing great.

I’m old enough to remember Ken Dryden against the Bruins in 1970. A great goalie doesn’t mean you win, but it sure as hell enhances your chances. Sure, another defensemen or center would help the Caps. But to be dismissive of the notion that maybe they don’t have the goalie in place to win THIS YEAR is short-sighted—no matter how defensive Bruce Boudreau gets on the subject.

And finally, my friends who love their Hoyas: Look, I’m really not going to engage in a debate with you about why Georgetown is where it is (or isn’t) week-to-week in my poll. I will say this: Obviously, as with other voters, my view of Temple changed after it lost both California and Texas A+M in Orlando. (BTW, I wasn’t the only one who liked them pre-season; one entire POLL had them No. 8—CBS Sportsline). If anything, Temple fans might have a case I’m biased against THEM since I still had them behind Georgetown this week after they beat the Hoyas. Maybe San Diego State fans think I hate them too since I ranked them three spots beneath where they are in this week’s poll.

Here’s the larger point Hoya fans: Rather than spending time obsessing about where I (or anyone else) voted your team in a meaningless poll—Thank God, unlike in football the polls mean nothing—you should spend all that time writing to the people running Georgetown asking them how it is possible their school has categorically refused to participate in a local charity basketball tournament that in 16 years has raised more than $9 million for kids at risk in the DC area. Ask them why they have not only refused to play Maryland (yes, Gary Williams said he would play on Georgetown’s home floor as long as the building wasn’t set up ticket-wise as if it was a Georgetown home game) but at least a half-dozen other opponents including HOLY CROSS for crying out loud, that they have been offered.

Rather than spending your time ranting at me about my vote in a stupid poll (for the record, I’ve always like JT III and get along fine these days with JT Jr. we just all disagree on the charity tournament issue) you should spend your time demanding that your beloved school stop embarrassing YOU with its refusal to step up to the plate for charity in its hometown the way Maryland, George Washington, Navy, American, George Mason and Howard all have done in the past—16 straight years for Maryland and GW. You might also point out that Maryland has gone 2-8 in its last BB+T games and Gary still has his job and Maryland, last I looked, was still playing college hoops.

That is an issue that matters, not the AP basketball poll.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Washington Post column -- Slumping Washington Caps need to trade for a goalie for Stanley Cup run

The following is this week's article for The Washington Post ---

Woe are the Washington Capitals.

Things are so bad in Caps-land these days that there's more talk about the next time the Caps play the hapless New York Islanders (Jan. 20) than there is about the Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day.

Okay, just kidding.

The state of the Capitals really isn't that bad. You want bad, go back to Washington's inaugural season 36 years ago when the team won eight games. That was bad. What's going on right now is frustrating - illustrated perfectly by Alex Ovechkin's second-period fight with Brandon Dubinsky in New York on Sunday night - and it is concerning for a team whose season can't be a success unless it ends with a parade.

That's a new kind of pressure for this team, this organization and, in fact, this town. The last D.C. area team that entered a season expecting to win a championship was Maryland's men's basketball team nine years ago. The last professional team that had those sort of expectations was the last team of Joe Gibbs I, which entered 1992 as the defending Super Bowl champions and barely made the playoffs.

The last time the Caps were in this position was . . . never.

Click here for the rest of the column: Time for Caps to trade for a goalie

Monday, December 13, 2010

This week's AP ballot

The following is my ballot for this week's (week 6) AP college basketball poll, out today (click here for the published poll).  All feedback is welcomed and considered:

1) Duke
2) Ohio St.
3) Kansas
4) Connecticut
5) Syracuse
6) Tennessee
7) Baylor
8) Kansas St.
9) BYU
10) Pittsburgh
11) Villanova
12) Illinois
13) Missouri
14) San Diego St.
15) Louisville
16) Michigan St.
17) Purdue
18) Kentucky
19) Texas A&M
20) Georgetown
21) Notre Dame
22) Memphis
23) Minnesota
24) Temple
25) Cleveland St.

Army-Navy – the joy, the heartache and the reality

It never fails. Every year when I go to Army-Navy I wonder if THIS is going to be the year when the alma maters don’t get to me, when I don’t turn into a whimpering puddle when they play those two songs. After all, I’ve witnessed the scene 21 times now. The last really close game was in 2000—when Bill Clinton for crying out loud was still the President.

And yet, it doesn’t matter. Saturday’s game WAS more competitive. It could have been a classic if things hadn’t turned upside down on one play at the end of the first half. Trailing 17-7 (after being down 17-0 early) Army drove to the Navy three-yard line after a Ricky Dobbs fumble and had a first and goal with the clock ticking towards a minute to go. An Army touchdown just before halftime would have given the Cadets all the momentum starting the third quarter—especially since they were receiving the second half kickoff.

Quarterback Trent Steelman, who I think is going to be a star the next two years, ran right and tried to push his way forward to reach the end zone. He was stopped at the one and as he struggled for extra yardage—which is an instinct but often a mistake on the goal line if you don’t have the ball covered up—Navy linebackers Jerry Hauberger and Tyler Simmons punched at it. It popped loose into the arms of Wyatt Middleton. Middleton was in full stride when he found himself with the ball and no one was going to catch him. He went 98 yards. Suddenly, shockingly it was 24-7 when Army had been a yard from cutting the margin to 17-14.

In my mind, it was appropriate that Middleton made the biggest play of the game—with help from his linebackers—because he has been Navy’s most consistent player all season. Dobbs is the most spectacular and he has gotten BY FAR the most publicity—as happens with quarterbacks, especially when they say they want to run for President someday—but Dobbs has also been mistake-prone at times. Saturday he turned the ball over four times—twice when he fumbled; once when he and Alex Teich (again) couldn’t get their timing down on the quarterback/fullback mesh and once on an interception on a ball he never should have thrown.

Middleton just makes plays. He’s the best pure tackler I’ve seen in a long time. His touchdown put Navy in control and, even though Army hung in and battled to the end the outcome was never in serious doubt. That made nine in a row for Navy—the previous record streak before this one on either side was FIVE—which is simply remarkable.

You just don’t expect either of these schools to dominate the other. They’re too much alike. But Navy has put together a wonderful program since Paul Johnson took over in 2002 and then handed the reins to Kenny Niumatalolo three years ago. During that same period Army made more mistakes than The Washington Redskins—if that’s possible. They finally have hired the right coach in Rich Ellerson but it looks like they’re going to botch their search for a new athletic director by letting a search firm control who gets final interviews. That will be a huge mistake.

Saturday night, after I got home from the game, a note was waiting for me from Andrew Thompson, who was the defensive captain at Navy in 1995, the year I wrote, ‘A Civil War.’ That team actually began a turnaround at Navy, going 5-5-1 and losing the Army-Navy game, 14-13 when Army drove 99 yards late in the game—converting a fourth-and-24 along the way—to pull the game out. A year later the Mids were 9-3 and went to their first bowl game in 15 years.

The last line of Drew’s note—after talking about how happy he was for Navy, said this: “I feel, I really do feel, for those Army seniors.”

Thompson, who is now a marine and has been deployed to Iraq, KNOWS what it feels like to stand there for the playing of the alma maters after losing Army-Navy as a senior. The only difference is he and his teammates lost in absolutely heartbreaking fashion. In the case of these Army seniors it was simply heartbreaking for them to lose and know they will never have a chance to beat Navy. They knew they had improved the last two years, that they had been part of turning the Army program back in the right direction but that they still weren’t as good as Navy.

That hurts.

That’s what got to me during the alma maters. I love seeing the joy on the faces of the winners after this game, but it always breaks my heart to see the faces of the losers. I’ve had the chance to be on the field when they play the alma maters and when you see those tears close up, it gets to you—it has to.

It gets to me in the radio booth too. I don’t just look at the players, I look at the cadets and the midshipmen in the stands—all at attention while they play those songs. There’s a photo in ‘A Civil War,’ of the two team doctors, Bob Arciero and Eddie McDevitt, standing next to one another. Both men have their hands on their hearts while the Army alma mater is being played. That’s why I always tell Bob Socci, who has been my partner in the Navy radio booth for 14 years now (Omar Nelson joined us eight years ago) not to ask me a question when the alma maters are over because I’m not going to be able to answer at that moment.

Saturday was a long hectic day. Having been a bit sleep-deprived the last few weeks, I felt a little worn out during the game after arriving at the stadium four hours before kickoff because I had made quite a few pre-game commitments. I literally had to sprint through the crowds to get from the CBS College Tailgate set at one end of the stadium to the press box elevator at the other end of the stadium so I could arrive in the radio booth with a good 30 seconds to spare before we went on the air.

So maybe, I thought, it won’t get to me this time, I’ll just be too tired; I made it about halfway through ‘Alma Mater,’—the Army song. For some reason I spotted the Navy cheerleaders, lined up, standing at rigid attention for the Army song. That’s when my eyes starting getting wet. I remember thinking I liked the old noon kickoffs because the game would end with the sun still up at about 3 o’clock and I had an excuse to keep my eyes covered with sunglasses.

Then the players and coaches crossed the field. They started, ‘Blue-and-Gold.’ Understand this: ‘Blue-and-Gold,’ can make me cry standing in the shower. It is a hauntingly beautiful song. (I always say that Navy has the better alma mater; Army the better fight song. ‘Alma Mater,’ is wonderful, especially those last few notes and ‘Anchors Aweigh,’ is terrific but you just don’t top ‘Blue-and-Gold,’ or ‘On Brave Old Army Team.’) So there I am—again—the tears running down my face, again remembering who all these kids are—not just the players, all 8,000 of them—and where they may be going. I’m thinking, as I always do, of Kevin Norman, who was Jim Cantelupe’s roommate the year I did ‘Civil War.’ Cantelupe was Army’s defensive captain that year. He was in the stadium Saturday and I know he was thinking about Kevin too. Kevin died overseas when he crashed his helicopter into a bridge after maneuvering it in his final seconds so it wouldn’t crash into a heavily-populated civilian area.

Kevin Norman is who all those kids are, the ones wearing the football uniforms on Saturday, the ones wearing the cadet and midshipmen uniforms. Damn right I cried. And no doubt, a year from now, when many of those kids will be in harm’s way, I will cry again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. .

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET, I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week was our normal wide-ranging conversation.

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

Here is this week's submission for the AP always, feedback and comments are welcome:

1) Duke
2) Ohio St.
3) Pittsburgh
4) Kansas
5) Connecticut
6) Kansas St.
7) Syracuse
8) Michigan St.
9) Georgetown
10) Tennessee
11) Baylor
12) Villanova
13) Memphis
14) Illinois
15) San Diego St.
16) Purdue
17) BYU
18) Missouri
19) Notre Dame
20) Louisville
21) Washington
22) UNLV
23) Temple
24) Kentucky
25) Cleveland St. 25

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tip of the hat to E. Gordon Gee; NCAA ruling on Cam Newton puts me on the same side with Delany and Vaccaro, opens Pandora’s Box

I’m a big believer in giving credit where it is due. So today, I tip my hat—if not my bowtie—to E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State. I was one of many people who ripped Gee in the last week after he ridiculously claimed that neither TCU nor Boise State was worthy of playing for a national title even if they finished undefeated. In what struck me—and others—as a blatant attempt to make sure the 66 BCS schools kept as much of the power, money and control as possible in college football, Gee came out with some blather about how teams in the BCS Conferences play a murderer’s row schedule and don’t play The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Actually, many of them do. And they all play them at home.

I wrote a column ripping Gee and making fun of him for being pretentious. Others did the same thing. Here’s how Gee responded: He told the Columbus Dispatch he never should have opened his mouth on the subject, that he didn’t know what he was talking about and that he was going to have his foot surgically removed from his mouth. He also said he had sent a contribution to The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Good for him. How often have you heard a college president not only admit he was wrong about something but say it in such a self-deprecating way. If this was a PR move it was a good one. If it is genuine, all the better.

Gee went at least one step further. Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from him in which he basically repeated what he had told The Dispatch. It included the words, “Lesson learned.” He then went on to say he was an admirer of my work and would love to sit down and talk to me at some point in the future. First of all the guy clearly has good taste in writing. More important though, the fact that he would write to me at all is remarkable: I hammered him, made fun of his first name and wrote that he needed to shut up. He writes back that I’m right and wants to get together.

This is not exactly the way Tiger Woods or Bob Knight react to criticism. (Tiger fans: there’s your Tiger shot for the day; enjoy).

I wrote back to Gee and thanked him for the note and told him I’d be happy to get together with him. Then I said this: “I would love to be able to convince you to open your mouth again—but this time in favor of a playoff which would be good for the young men who play college football; good for everyone financially and, yes, good for the players in their roles as students.”

No, I’m not holding my breath on getting that done but if Gee is willing to listen I’m (surprise) willing to talk.

Now, on to another college football topic: The Cam Newton ruling is scary on a lot of levels. Let me say this first: I recognize, as most of us do, how colleges exploit players and make millions off of stars like Newton. I’ve said for years there should be some kind of trust fund set up for players on ANY team that makes a school money and players should be able to withdraw their share—which over four or five years could be fairly substantial—the day they graduate. Yes, graduate. Those who leave school early to make NFL or NBA millions don’t need the money; those who aren’t going to be football or basketball superstars do need it and this would be a decent incentive to graduate.

That’s another issue for another day. Today’s issue is the Newton ruling. Here’s what scares me most about it: I find myself reading quotes from Big Ten commission Jim (Voldemort) Delany and long-time shoe salesman/player broker Sonny Vaccaro and nodding my head and saying, ‘uh-huh, they’re right.”

The day I agree with Jim Delany and Sonny Vaccaro the apocalypse truly is upon us. Delany, who used to work in the NCAA enforcement office, points out that rules on eligibility make it clear that if someone acting on behalf of an athlete breaks rules, the athlete can—and probably should—be held accountable. The NCAA reinstatement committee chose to take the narrowest view possible on this: the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son.

In principle that sounds nice but as Vaccaro points out, this opens an unbelievably deep Pandora’s Box. From this day forward, all anyone—father, mother, coach, street-agent, sister, cousin, aunt—need do is say to a star athlete, “you decide where you want to go and we’ll take care of the rest.” As long as the athlete can claim he didn’t know what’s going on, he’s free and clear. The minute the NCAA rules in the future that someone is ineligible because someone asked for money on their behalf, there’s going to be a lawsuit based on, ‘The Cam Newton Rule.’

If the NCAA is going to take this view, it might just as well throw the towel in and say, ‘pay ‘em all.’ Now some of you out there will say that’s great, that’s the way to go anyway. Only it’s not that simple. If you think college athletics is an arms race now, imagine what will happen if the doors are opened to having players go to the highest bidder.

You think Butler will play in the national championship game anytime soon? You think Boise State will ever have a top ten team again? No. College athletics will simply be about who can get the most money out of wealthy boosters to pay players. Heck, it is already that way to some extent but you let all those folks out of the closet with no deterrent at all for paying players and you can kiss that lovely first weekend of the NCAA Tournament when Winthrop beats Notre Dame and VCU beats Duke goodbye.

The NCAA didn’t want Newton to sit out the SEC Championship game because, in spite of its claims to the contrary, it IS in cahoots with the BCS and it doesn’t want TCU in the championship game. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden (correctly) asks why Reggie Bush got nailed and Newton did not. The answer is simple: Bush is no longer of any value to the NCAA. Newton is. Don’t be stunned if sometime in the next year or two the NCAA comes back and says, ‘wait, we now believe Cam Newton knew what his dad was up to—return all the trophies.’

That’s NCAA justice: it twists and bends the way it needs to twist and bend. Newton and Auburn are fortunate the NCAA needs Newton playing—at least for the moment.

I’m also baffled by my friend Bill Rhoden’s column in today’s New York Times. Bill argues that even though Cecil Newton put his son up for sale, he’s still a good man, just one who used poor judgment. To me, trying to turn your kid into a human ATM machine—whether he knows you’re doing it or not—goes way beyond poor judgment.

In this case, it has done the impossible: put Jim Delany, Sonny Vaccaro and me on the same side of an issue. I’m not sure which of the three of us finds that most frightening.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We briefly discussed the BB&T Classic that is upcoming this weekend before moving on to Ralph Friedgen's situation at Maryland and how it influences the future of the program, conference realignment for TCU  and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

This morning at 11:05 ET, I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week we talked about the teams that are playing in the BB&T tournament this weekend, Bob Huggins, the Duke basketball team, the BCS and various other topics including the NCAA ruling on Cam Newton.

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Washington Post column -- An open letter to Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President, The Ohio State University

Here is this week's article for The Washington Post -------------------

Dear Elwood:

I've gone ahead and used your first name and dispensed with that E. Gordon stuff. Likewise with your title, which - unless you're practicing medicine when we're not looking - is about as pretentious as your bow tie.
However, all that is the least of your problems right now, Doc.

Last week, you put your foot so far in your mouth that it may never be seen again. You went public with what you and the other 65 Bowl Championship Series presidents really think about college football: You want all the money and all the power and you do not want anyone to intrude on you while you count your money and pat yourselves on the back for being such smart and powerful people. Anyone who questions you on any level just isn't as smart .

Here, translated into English, is what you said: Schools such as Boise State or TCU should be thrilled to play occasionally in one of our lucrative, but meaningless, BCS bowls; how dare they suggest they deserve a chance to compete for a championship. Forget the fact that they're undefeated; forget the fact that they're basically willing to play any BCS team that will play them and have beaten our teams pretty consistently in recent years when given a chance to play them.

So what if Utah, a team from TCU's league, beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago? Meaningless. Exhibition game. Alabama really didn't care even though it had almost a month to prepare.

Who cares that Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl a few years back? A fluke. The Broncos' wins over Oregon two years in a row? Those were, um, early in the season. And their win over Virginia Tech, by far the best team in the ACC this year, in a virtual road game? That deserves an asterisk because no one is sure what the ACC is. (This last point may have some merit.)

Your best remark, the one you will be remembered for long after you hang up your bow ties, was that unlike TCU and Boise, teams in the "power conferences" aren't beating up on "the Little Sisters of the Poor." Seriously, that's comedy worthy of my favorite Elwood, Jake's brother. He was on a mission from God. You are on a mission from God knows who.

Click here for the rest of the column: An open letter to Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President, The Ohio State University

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Thanksgiving weekend of games; Catching up on comments and Wilbon move; The BB+T Classic Benefiting The Children's Charities Foundation

I spent a lot of time this weekend watching games. To me, that’s the best way to spend Thanksgiving weekend: Avoid the roads (and certainly the airports) and watch a lot of ball in-between spending time with your family. I also watched Christmas movies. I LOVE Christmas movies. ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’—the 1947 version—is about as good as it gets. I also really like ‘Elf,’—Ed Asner as Santa?; Bob Newhart as ‘Papa Elf?’ Brilliant stuff. I haven’t seen ‘White Christmas,’ yet this year but I will.

I won’t get too far into the BCS (you can read my Washington Post column on that if you want) but let me say this: Friday was a tough day. All credit to Auburn for coming back but it would have been great had Alabama won. First—and probably last—time I pulled for a Nick Saban-coached team and they blew it. They should have been up 35-0. Boise State’s loss was even more disappointing even if it did once again disprove Elwood (that’s his first name) Gee’s various ridiculous theories about schedule strength. Check out some of The Big Ten (and others) non-conference schedules. Oh, and the rumor that The Little Sisters of the Poor have been invited to join both The Big East and the ACC are true. I’m already picking them ahead of Duke if they’re in the ACC next year.

Note to my Duke friends who keep saying it’s ‘insane,’ to propose Duke leave the ACC in football. Really? How’s this for a stat: 1-20. That’s Duke’s record since Steve Spurrier left against alleged arch-rival North Carolina. When is a rivalry not a rivalry anymore? And it’s not like Carolina has been a superpower the last 21 years. Duke has also lost ELEVEN in a row to Wake Forest. That’s eleven—not a typo.

Let’s send out congratulations also to Notre Dame for finishing its season by winning three straight games. Beating Utah was semi-impressive even if the Utes failed to show up. It’s still a win over a good team. But all the screaming that, ‘Navy was an aberration,’ since the wins over Army and (very mediocre) USC smack of ‘I think they doth protest too much.’ The only real surprise for me is that the BCS apologists aren’t claiming Notre Dame should be ahead of TCU in the polls. Did anyone watch that ludicrous show Sunday night? If you believe the so-called ESPN experts, TCU is lucky to be in Division 1-A. One guy had them ranked SIXTH. Chris Fowler gets a nod as the only ESPN on-air guy with the guts to at least rank the Frogs third. You would think the panic button would be turned down over there with Boise State out of the picture but now they’re all freaking out that Oregon or Auburn might lose Saturday. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen.

Oh, one other Notre Dame note: a couple of posters accused both me and The Chicago Tribune of being unfair to dear old Notre Dame on the subject of the awful suicide story broken by The Tribune two Sundays ago. The reason is that the St. Joseph’s County police changed their story after The Tribune story broke and said they HAD been informed by the Notre Dame police about the sexual assault charge. The detective in charge, ‘forgot,’ to tell his boss about it. Really? Seriously? Ever see ‘A Few Good Men?” Remember the transfer order? Notre Dame is so busy hiding behind The Buckley Amendment and trying to make everyone else out to be the bad guy it makes a lot of people queasy.

A few other notes about posts that I finally had a chance to catch up on over the weekend. I want to thank the guy who called me a ‘shameless self promoter,’ for—among other things—not mentioning when I compliment Mary Carillo that she’s my wife. There’s a reason for that: she’s NOT my wife. My wife Christine is in the other room right now with our one-month old daughter who has her blue eyes and is quite adorable, thank you very much. Mary Carillo has been a good friend for 25 years—which, I believe, is exactly how I identify her when I write about her.

On the subject of not paying attention: Hey Hokie fans, come on down! Some of you wrote angrily about how wonderfully supportive you are of your football team. Yes, you are. In fact, what my column said—go back and read it if you’d like—is that Virginia Tech is the ONLY ACC school that sold out all its home games this season (sorry N.C. State fans, that’s according to the ACC so take it up with them if you have a dispute). I DID say they haven’t won a game that truly mattered outside the ACC in recent years, which has nothing to do with their level of support.

Some of you wondered how I would feel about Mike Wilbon leaving The Washington Post for ESPN and if that somehow proved that the fact that I would prefer (by a lot) being at The Post over ESPN was wrong. All it proves is this: ESPN threw a LOT of money at Mike’s feet. I’m glad for him. I’m sad to see him leave The Post because it was his home for 32 years and the paper was, I think he would be the first to tell you, great to him. I have no issues with someone—anyone—being swayed by a huge pay raise (ESPN, in true ESPN fashion told Mike he could only have that kind of money if he left The Post. Personally, if I’d been Mike, I’d have called their bluff. You think they would dump him? He’s actually GOOD on TV, unlike, say my close friend Rick Reilly). And, for the record, I never criticized Reilly for leaving Sports Illustrated, I simply said that I didn’t think ESPN The Magazine was in the same league with SI. I’ll stand by that statement until the end of time.

As for the guy who noted that I’m not Woodward or Bernstein: no kidding. But I’m VERY proud to work at and to have been part of (in a small way) their newspaper and the newspaper of The Graham family; Ben Bradlee; Howard Simons; Leonard Downie; Dave Kindred; Ken Denlinger; David Maraniss; Tom Boswell; Tony Kornheiser; Mike Wilbon and Herblock—among many others. Yes, I’ll take that list over Chris Berman, Bob Knight and Andy Katz without apology.

Okay, I think I’m caught up now. If you live in the Washington area, let me make a shameless plea to you to consider buying tickets to the BB+T Classic on Sunday. The first game begins at 2:30. It is Florida vs. American. Then comes Navy vs. George Washington and at 8 o’clock in what should be really good game, Temple vs. Maryland. The Terrapins are considerably better than people around here think. The hoops should be good; the Redskins game, if you HAVE to watch, is over by 4 o’clock and God knows the cause is good. The Children’s Charities Foundation, which runs the event has turned nearly $10 million over to kids at risk in 15 years. Just for comparison purposes: with a one-day event and NO NCAA exemption (as in the games not counting against the maximum you can play and no national TV contract) that’s more than TWICE what the Coaches vs. Cancer event, which is now a 16 team-event has turned over to charity in 16 years even though it has all the above-mentioned advantages. Tickets are very inexpensive in today’s market: $45 top for a tripleheader. You can get more information from Ticketmaster or at Children's Charities Foundation. At least give it some thought.

Week 4 AP Basketball Poll vote

After the holiday week games, there are obviously some changes. Here is how I voted this week - opinions are welcome:

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Pittsburgh
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Connecticut
6)                  Michigan St.
7)                  Kansas St.
8)                  Syracuse
9)                  Tennessee
10)              Missouri
11)              Georgetown
12)              Baylor
13)              Memphis
14)              Minnesota
15)              San Diego St.
16)              Kentucky
17)              Illinois
18)              BYU
19)              Texas
20)              Villanova
21)              Notre Dame
22)              Louisville
23)              Florida
24)              Va. Commonwealth
25)              Richmond

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

Like last year, I’ll start posting my AP ballot weekly. As always, discussion and comments are welcome. Here is my top 25 for week 3 ----

1) Michigan St.
2) Kansas St.
3) Duke
4) Pittsburgh
5) Ohio St.
6) Kansas
7) Villanova
8) Temple
9) Syracuse
10) Kentucky 
11) Missouri 
12) Baylor
13) Purdue
14) Washington
15) San Diego St.
16) Texas
17) BYU
18) Illinois
19) Memphis
20) Georgetown
21) Minnesota
22) Saint Mary's, Calif.
23) Gonzaga
24) Louisville
25) VMI

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday rundown – Notre Dame stonewalling again, Tiger Woods, McNabb, ESPN-BCS apologists, banning bloggers and Jane awaits an Islanders win

Since there is no blowaway, got to talk about it story going on in sports right now, I thought I would touch on a number of different items today.

ITEM: Notre Dame could be in serious trouble again. This story could become a very important one if people at Notre Dame don’t come up with a very good explanation for what The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday. According to the Tribune, a freshman at St. Mary’s College (an all girls school across the street from Notre Dame) committed suicide on September 10th—10 days after filing a complaint with the Notre Dame campus police that she had been sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.

Obviously there is no tangible way to connect her death to the alleged assault. She had a history of depression issues prior to enrolling at St. Mary’s and none of us will ever know what led her to take her own life. But what The Tribune is reporting is extremely damning: That the Notre Dame police didn’t contact the St. Joseph’s County police department (which conducted the investigation of the suicide) to let it know that the victim had filed a sexual assault complaint 10 days before her death. The Tribune also said that the campus police department had refused a request for documents from its investigation, claiming it was not subject to Indiana sunshine laws that affect public police departments. It also refused to allow football coach Brian Kelly, athletic director Jack Swarbrick or anyone in the administration to comment AND the player—who The Tribune says it has contacted and also received no response from—is still playing.

Wow. Maybe there is an explanation but right now no one at Notre Dame is supplying one because the school is busy stonewalling. If you add this to the awful way Notre Dame handled Declan Sullivan’s death a few weeks ago with Swarbrick speaking in so much non-committal legalese that the school president, The Reverend John L. Jenkins, FINALLY had to send out an e-mail saying, yes, we let the young man down and didn’t protect him, this looks very bad for Notre Dame.

This is so serious I’m not going to even get into some of the ridiculous things Kelly said after the win over Army on Saturday night (calling the loss to Navy ‘an anomaly,’ among other things). Let’s hope Father Jenkins steps forward soon to explain exactly what happened. Until then, everyone’s job—including his—can be and should be in jeopardy.

ITEM: Tiger Woods unveils another ‘new,’ Tiger Woods. This is for those of you disappointed because it has been a while since I’ve criticized Woods. Honestly, I find this completely un-interesting. It is clearly just another image-rehab attempt by Woods and his sycophants to try to win back corporate money and fans—the fans being important because their support leads to corporate money. It is no coincidence that the latest blitz comes a couple of weeks prior to Woods’ 18-man exhibition event in California which he hasn’t played in for two years. (First year injury; second year, um, injury so to speak). He’s trying to keep his sponsor on board after two disastrous years and unveiling the latest version of his new self all at once.

Do I believe Woods when he says he’s learned the joys of giving his son a bath in the last year? Maybe. But if it is so joyful and SO important to him why was he in Australia chasing appearance money a couple of weeks ago when he could have been playing a couple of miles from his house at Disney? Why is he going to Dubai early next year to chase more appearance money?

This is more of the same stuff we heard in February at The Tiger and Pony show; more of what he heard in the tightly controlled TV interviews in March and more of what we heard at The Augusta press conference in April. Here’s when I’ll start to think Woods has changed at all: when he stops chasing appearance fees all over the world; when he changes his schedule to support some of the events on his home tour that are struggling just because it is the right thing to do; when he tells PGA Tour officials he wants for them to arrange for him to sign autographs for at least 30 minutes (ala his good friend Phil Mickelson who does it most days for 45) after every round he plays; when he stops playing all his pro-am rounds at 6:30 in the morning so that more people—many of whom only have Wednesday tickets—can get a chance to watch him play.

Enough with the mea culpas. We’ve heard them all. Enough with being a new Tiger. DO something tangible. How about being interviewed by someone who won’t throw you one softball after another like the ESPN morning pitchmen?

I’m available. When I get that phone call THEN I’ll believe you’ve changed.

ITEM: Donovan McNabb has somehow figured out the Redskins two-minute offense. Wow, must be great coaching. Now, if he can just get into cardiovascular shape…

ITEM: Craig James, the lead pony (get it) among the ESPN BCS-apologists said this on Sunday night: “I know Boise State beat Fresno State 51-0 on Friday night but that’s what I expected. Fresno doesn’t have any really impressive wins on its resume.”

Really? Does Fresno have any other 51-0 losses on its resume? What was the Oregon-Cal score again? My God when does this garbage stop?

ITEM: Since the birth of my daughter—now almost one month ago—The New York Islanders have not won ONE game. That’s zero—13 straight losses during which they have picked up two points for overtime losses. They HAVE fired a coach during that period and banned a blogger.

Seriously. Chris Botta, who was once the Islanders PR guy, writes a very informative blog (yes, I read it) called Islanders Point Blank. Chris is hardly a killer. He has pointed out that a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993 and has finished 26th-30th and 26th in the overall standings the last three years is, um, not all that good. He did point out what every sane Islanders fan (I know, all 14 of us) was thinking last summer when the team fired Billy Jaffe as its TV color guy apparently for being too negative: Billy Jaffe was anything but negative: he was honest but always looking for silver linings on the rare occasions when they appeared.

He was also very good. As opposed to Butch Goring, who was a GREAT Islander but is an awful color commentator. If the Islanders are down 6-1 and they get a shot on goal, Butch will tell you the Islanders are showing great life. I have no doubt he’s a great guy and the trade Bill Torrey made to bring him to New York in 1980 changed the history of the franchise. But he’s brutal.

Apparently general manager Garth Snow can’t stand ANY criticism at all. He stopped talking to Botta a year ago and the day after he fired Scott Gordon as coach and Botta pointed out that Gordon probably wasn’t the one responsible for the current state of the franchise, Botta was told his credentials were being lifted. Are you kidding? They ought to make Botta the GM, spend some money to hire people to work in the front office and make me the coach.

I mean could they be any worse if they did that? Jane awaits a win…

And Finally: On the subject of banned bloggers, the Miami Heat last week banned a very talented writer named Scott Raab who works for Esquire and blogs on their website. Raab had really gone after LeBron James, very profanely at times, and The Heat said he couldn’t come to games or practices anymore. Rabb, understandably upset, said (among other things): “If my name was Feinstein or Halberstam this would not happen.”

My name in the same sentence with David Halberstam in any way, shape or form? I love Scott Raab.

Washington Post Column - Football fans aren't buying what ACC is selling

Here is Monday's article for The Washington Post --------------

There were two ACC football games played on Saturday that were critically important to the postseason hopes of the teams involved: Virginia Tech at Miami and Florida State at Maryland. The Hokies went south looking to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title, while Miami tried to stay alive in the division race. The Seminoles traveled north to play the Terrapins in a game that would keep only the winner still in the running to win the ACC Atlantic.

On a perfect fall night, a crowd of 48,115 showed up at Byrd Stadium- easily the best of the season, but well short of the building's capacity of more than 54,000. The attendance at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, now the home of what was once the vaunted "U," had far more empty seats with a crowd of 40,101 spaced out comfortably in the 75,000-seat stadium.

ACC football isn't exactly a hot ticket these days-to put it mildly.

Consider this: On the same day that Maryland people were giddy about a crowd of 48,000 showing up to see a team that has already won five more games than it did a year ago, a crowd of 78,790 gathered a few miles down the Beltway at virtually impossible-to-get-to FedEx Field to watch a game between a bad Big Ten team (Indiana) and a slightly-better-than-mediocre Big Ten team (Penn State).

In short: an unattractive Big Ten game played in an NFL stadium hundreds of miles from either campus drew 10,000 fans fewer than two key ACC games combined.


Click here for the rest of the story: Football fans aren't buying what ACC is selling

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

I also joined The Gas Man Wednesday evening in my normal timeslot.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


On Thursday morning, I joined Tony Kornheiser on his newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my normal 11:05 ET timeslot. 

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good for McNabb; Athletic Director hire is critical at Army – Bob Beretta is the right person for the job

I am only going to waste a little bit more time on The Redskins and L’Affaire Shanahan-McNabb and some of your responses to the whole thing today for the simple reason that I have something far more important that I need to get on the record.

I want to say one more time that I REALLY appreciate the number of people who have taken the time to read and listen to exactly what I actually wrote and actually said and comment on it. Some of you agreed; some didn’t but that’s fine—we’re talking opinions here. Yes, I still think Shanahan should be fired and that what he did was despicable. And, now that the real figures on the new McNabb contract have come out, here’s what I think: Dan Snyder basically gave him $3.5 million in hush money to not go public with how he honestly about the whole thing the rest of the season. While I think signing McNabb for two more years is the right way to go—if not McNabb at quarterback then who? I think leaving the whole question of whether the Redskins will actually commit $13 million to McNabb next year up in the air leaves all the same doubts lingering as were lingering a week ago. Getting his name on that contract was nothing more than a PR move by a PR obsessed owner and coach.

McNabb is in a win-win: he gets $3.5 million for doing nothing except not talking and if he and Shanahan continue to feud, he’ll probably be a free agent next year. If not, he’s got big bucks guaranteed. Good for him.

And last on my pal Rick Reilly: If you are a fan of his, that’s just fine. But seriously to the couple of you who think I’d like his job—are you serious? I had more chances to go to work for ESPN than I’ve had chances to over-eat. The Washington Post vs. ESPN? Are you kidding me? As for my books, well, I’m okay with how they’ve done and been received through the years. I’m currently working on my 28th book so I guess a few people have bought them. As one person wrote: ‘Let’s see, ‘Caddy For Life,’ vs. ‘Who’s Your Caddy?’—which would you rather have on your resume?’

I’ll leave it at that.

Now for something that really matters to me. Army is looking for a new athletic director right now. As anyone who has ever read this blog knows I care deeply about both Army and Navy and the people—especially the athletes—who are part of the two schools.

I have watched in horror for most of 15 years now as Army has made one horrific mistake after another. The 0-13 football season a few years back wasn’t an accident. Nor are the eight straight losses—all of them one-sided---to Navy. Army FINALLY got something right two years ago when then-Athletic Director Kevin Anderson hired Rich Ellerson as football coach. Here’s what Anderson did: he put together a search committee that consisted almost wholly of ex-Army football players and coaches. People who knew Army and understood Army. Almost everyone given serious consideration for the job had an Army background—including Ellerson, whose father and uncle went to Army; the latter being captain of the 1962 football team.

Back in 1995, when I was researching ‘A Civil War,’ I was asked my opinion on Army possibly joining Conference-USA. I remember my first reaction when asked because it was while standing on the practice field on a cold November afternoon with then-Athletic Director Al Vanderbush (one of the best men I’ve ever known). When Al brought it up I looked at him and said, “You’re joking right?”

No one at Army was joking. They joined the conference and it was a disaster. Then, when Vanderbush retired, I pleaded with then superintendent Dan Christman (also a wonderful guy) to hire my friend Tom Mickle. Tom was a close friend but I brought him up only because he was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known in college athletics. At my request, Mike Krzyzewski, who knew Mickle well, called on Tom’s behalf. He never got interviewed.

Instead, on the recommendation of a headhunter, Rick Greenspan was hired. That hiring worked out about as well as Custer’s decision to take on the Indians at Little Big Horn. Greenspan—who also destroyed Indiana basketball with his foolish, arrogant hiring of Kelvin Sampson—came in having already decided to fire Bob Sutton, who was struggling because Army simply couldn’t compete in Conference-USA. (To be fair, Sutton had also favored that move but learned quickly it was a mistake) Greenspan had also already decided to hire Todd Berry, who had been his football coach at Illinois State to replace Sutton—which he did one year after getting the job. Two people who were interested in the job back then who Greenspan had no interest in were Jim Tressel and Paul Johnson.

How did THAT move work out? Berry went 5-45, including the fabulous 0-13 (he was fired in midseason but he did the work that led to it) in 2003. After Army had lost to Navy 58-10 to end 2002 and Berry had thrown his players completely under the bus after the game, I pleaded with anyone who would listen—actually I pleaded mostly with people who wouldn’t listen—to get him out of there; that the senior class of 2003 deserved someone who would actually support them, regardless of record. Of course no one listened and Greenspan and I had a shouting match about it.

“Did you really say I should fire Todd after the Navy game?” he asked me.

“Actually no Rick, I said he should resign to show some dignity and YOU should be fired for hiring him.”

Greenspan was glad I cleared THAT up. He had to fire Berry the next season because the losses were SO lopsided. Then he hired Bobby Ross—a great coach who wasn’t the right fit for Army at that point in his career. Ross quit three years later in February leaving Anderson (by then the AD) with no choice but to hire offensive line coach Stan Brock, who was, well, a good offensive line coach. FINALLY after two more awful years, Anderson got it right when he fired Brock at the end of the ’08 season and hired Ellerson.

Here’s my point in all this: Anderson left early in the fall to take the Maryland job. Army MUST get the AD hiring right to continue in the right direction. As usual, the school has gone out and hired a headhunter. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Here’s how headhunters work: If you already work at the school, you have no chance to get hired because then they can’t claim, “We FOUND Joe Blow for Army.”

That’s how Greenspan got hired and Army is still climbing out of that hole. This time the choice is easy if the people at Army want to get it right: Senior Associate Athletic Director Bob Beretta. I know I mentioned this briefly a couple months ago but now the interview process is about to begin. Beretta has been at Army for 20 years. As with Ellerson, as with the search committee that hired Ellerson, he GETS Army and loves Army. Anderson is a bright guy; I guarantee you he will tell you it took him at least two years to begin to understand what he was dealing with at West Point. Beretta won’t need a learning curve. He’s already been given great responsibility by Anderson the last couple of years.

Army needs the right AD, one who understands Army RIGHT NOW. It doesn’t need another Rick Greenspan (God Forbid) or even someone who has to come in and figure the place out—even if he’s a good guy. It doesn’t need a headhunter who knows ZIP about the academy telling it who is right for the academy. So this is a public plea to anyone who cares about Army: Write to Superintendent David Huntoon and tell him to go through whatever hoops he has to in order to make the search look ‘national,’ but hire Beretta. This is important.

Army-Navy is like no other rivalry in sports. The two schools should matter to all of us because of their missions. Army has gotten so much wrong in recent years. It needs to get this hire right. And it isn’t even HARD. Make sure the superintendent understands that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Washington Post Column-- Tale of two Auburns isn't the only story out there

Here is today's column for the Washington Post --------

The drama that has played out on and off the college football field in Auburn, Ala., this season is worthy of Charles Dickens.

Auburn, picked to be a reasonably good team but nothing more prior to the season, is 11-0, ranked No. 2 in the country and on the doorstep of playing for the national championship. The Tigers have been led by quarterback Cam Newton, who left Florida two years ago, played a year of junior college ball, and has emerged to become the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

But in the past two weeks, there have been accusations that Newton and his father sought payoffs during his recruitment a year ago and reports that Newton was found guilty of cheating academically while at Florida. Every day, it seems, brings a new revelation of some kind.

The best of times and the worst of times indeed.

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik reacted with outrage initially but has gone the "I only want to talk about football" route since. Newton has said nothing and wasn't even allowed to speak to the media after Auburn's win over Georgia on Saturday. That's right: After leading his team to 49 points to clinch a spot in the SEC title game, the best player in the country was kept from speaking publicly.

Click here for the rest of the column: Tale of two Auburns isn't the only story out there

The Rick Reilly Column

I wrote the blog on Thursday in the hope that a more detailed explanation of what I was trying to say about the Mike Shanahan-Donovan McNabb issue would put an end to it—or at least my involvement in it.

To a large degree it did. The posts and e-mails that came in were close to what I expected: Some people didn’t really read what I said; they just had a knee-jerk reaction to even raising the specter of race. (BTW, James Brown, Tom Jackson and Michael Wilbon have all raised it too but because they are African American people tend to not pay attention or say, ‘so what?’ They’re ignored when they bring it up because they’re black; I’m pilloried—by some— for bringing it up because I’m white). What was gratifying though was the fact that quite a few people completely understood the point I was making: that Shanahan raising issues about McNabb’s intelligence brings back some bad memories for a lot of people about the racial stereotyping that went on for years when it came to African Americans playing the quarterback position. That was why I found it unforgivable. A lot of people got that.

Of course some people—many in the media—didn’t or chose not to. Rick Reilly absolutely torched me in his ESPN column. What was upsetting about the column wasn’t that Reilly disagreed with me. I’m perfectly comfortable being on the opposite side from Reilly on almost any issue. What did bother me—as I said in a note I sent him on Friday—was that he accused me of committing a crime I didn’t commit and then ripped me for it. If you read Reilly, he goes on about how ridiculous it is to think Shanahan’s benching of McNabb was racially motivated.

He’s right. Of course I never said it was. Like most people I saw it as a coaching temper tantrum after McNabb made a bad play. The issue came up after the game, first with the ‘he didn’t know the terminology,’ comments; then with the ‘cardiovascular,’ comments—that was about his conditioning not his intelligence—and finally with the Chris Mortensen, ‘sources,’ story that the poor Shanahans had to cut their playbook in half to accommodate their dumb African-American quarterback.

One argument being made is that the Shanahans might not have been Mortensens’s source. I don’t buy that for a second but let’s play along here for a moment and pretend they weren’t. If Mortensen is half the reporter I think he is and someone whispers that to him what’s his next move? I would think it is to call Mike Shanahan, who you can bet is on his speed dial and say, “someone just said this.” And Shanahan, UNLESS he wants his quarterback lying in the road with tire tracks on his back, says something like: “Come on Mort, the guy is a six-time Pro Bowler, of course he knows the playbook.” If Shanahan doesn’t say that then he’s guilty of not protecting his quarterback—even if there’s truth in the leak, which I’m not buying either. If Shanahan did say that I don’t believe Mortensen would still go with the story.

Anyway, Reilly pilloried me for saying McNabb was benched because Shanahan’s a racist. One example he cited as proof that Shanahan’s not a racist is that Shanahan cried on the phone when he learned one of his African American players had died. Wow, what a humanitarian! Even so, the argument’s moot because I don’t think Shanahan’s a racist. I do think he’s absolutely capable of throwing out racial stereotypes to defend an indefensible decision he made. Which is what I said and what I wrote. Reilly, in his return note to me, asked me if I really thought Shanahan could be that Machiavellian. Are you kidding? I think Machiavelli studied Shanahan somewhere along the way.

Two points here: Reilly and I aren’t friends but I’ve never considered him an enemy. We’ve known each other a long time and I thought he should have picked up a phone and called me before he hammered me—especially since he might have gotten his facts straight had he done so. Then again, that might not have suited his purposes. Rick defended not calling me by pointing out that I publicly nailed him twice in the past. Once was seven years ago when we appeared on Bob Costas’s old HBO show together and, in discussing the Riggs-King match, he said that Riggs had only had one serve and King had been allowed to play the doubles alleys. He was wrong. I said he was wrong and he insisted he was right. I offered to bet him $100 and he took the bet. To his credit he sent me a check when he found that he—or his researcher—had it wrong. According to Rick I went, ‘three stops past the exit,’ that night. Really?

My second crime was different. When Rick left Sports Illustrated for ESPN, someone asked me if I was surprised. I said I wasn’t; that I knew ESPN had thrown a lot of money on the table but to me leaving SI for ESPN was a little bit like, “checking out of a Ritz-Carlton to move over to a Hampton Inn.”

Yup, it was a shot—at ESPN. Rick apparently took it as a shot at him even though I said I understood he’d been offered a lot of money. As I said in my return of his return note: “I’m guessing now you might think what I said was probably right—but I certainly don’t expect you to confide in me about THAT.” And I don’t. All I know is the guy was a GREAT take out writer at Sports Illustrated and now he’s hosting 2 a.m. sportscenters with some fourth string talking head at ESPN. Yes, that was a shot.

In all though, I’ve been gratified by the number of people whose opinions I respect who have understood what I said and why I said it. I also have a little clearer understanding of why REAL public figures (I consider myself a semi-public figure) get frustrated when they say something and it morphs into something completely different. But hey, that’s life.

There was one thing though that really did upset me. On Thursday night Rich Eisen described me on the NFL Network as the, “venerable Washington Post columnist.”

Venerable? Now THAT hurts.