Let’s start today with the big news of the weekend: The Islanders, after blowing a three goal lead on Saturday night, won a shootout against the Atlanta Thrashers to pick up two critical points.
Okay, just kidding. But I love having the NHL center ice package even though watching the Islanders some nights is about as much fun as listening to Mark Jones say that one of Navy’s football players will be reporting to “Quan-TEE-co,” this spring. Several people pointed out to me on Friday that I forgot to mention that one. I’m also told that Jones and his partner Bob Davie showed up in the TV booth not long before kickoff and didn’t have time to go through the usual ritual of having the SID’s (at least the Navy SID) make sure they knew how to pronounce all the players names.
Thus Davie managed to mispronounce the name of (his words) “the greatest captain in Navy football history,” Ross Posposil. Or, as Davie called him, “Poposil.”
Oh, one more thing: a friend who is a Missouri fan tells me they botched a number of Missouri players’ names too so let’s give them points for consistency. Then, during The Alamo Bowl, Davie kept going on about the “passion,” of the Texas Tech fans because they’re all so angry about Mike Leach being fired. What I heard directed at Adam James didn’t exactly sound like passion.
Okay, let’s move on to a review of the first three days of the New Year.
And, for a moment, let’s stay with hockey.
When the NHL started the “Winter Classic,” in 2008 I thought it was terrific. The whole spectacle worked. I also thought that by the third year or the fourth year the uniqueness would wear off and it would become an over-hyped regular season hockey game.
At least for me, it hasn’t happened yet.
Friday afternoon I kept wanting to hit the remote and switch back to Penn State-LSU or Florida State-West Virginia because both those games certainly had intriguing story lines and, in the case of Penn State-LSU a dramatic ending. But the setting—hockey in Fenway Park!—was just irresistible. The NHL and NBC have gotten lucky with the weather each year: cold enough to make it really feel like a game on a rink somewhere in Canada but not so much snow that you couldn’t play.
That said, the whole concept just works. Even though I can’t help but curse the day Mike Milbury decided to draft Rick DiPietro with the No. 1 pick, seeing him skate over to Bob Costas and talk about playing outdoors as a kid was cool. There was also the added bonus of a very good game between the Flyers and Bruins. Word is next year’s game will be between The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, probably in Pittsburgh because the risk of warm weather in DC is too great (not this year that’s for sure). If it is at all possible, I’m going.
Switching to the football games, the highlight of Penn State-LSU was hearing Joe Paterno screaming at Erin Andrews, “come on, let’s go, let’s go,” when Brad Nessler was a tad slow throwing it down to her for the mandatory (dull) halftime interview. That’s one thing about Joe, he is almost ALWAYS in curmudgeon mode.
A friend of mine tells a story about being at a dinner with Joe one night a couple of years ago. The appetizer was some kind of bruschetta and when the teen-age waitress—thinking Joe was finished—started to clear his plate he screamed at her, “What do you think you’re doing! I’m not finished here yet!” Poor kid apparently almost fainted.
Flashing forward to the end of the game: I am really tired of officials not using common sense and then falling back on the letter of the law (or the rules) as an excuse. Down 19-17, LSU had moved the ball to midfield with about 20 seconds remaining—maybe it was 25, I don’t remember exactly—and one of the Penn State players was doing exactly what he should do in that situation: lying on top of the ball for as long as he could to keep the clock running. One of the LSU linemen tried to move him off the ball and got nailed with a 15-yard penalty that, for all intents and purposes, ended the game.
Basically, the officials made LSU pay for their not taking control at that moment. As soon as they saw the Penn State kid clearly not getting off the ball, they should have stopped the clock, gotten him up and then re-started the clock right away. No penalty either way, let the kids decide who wins. It would still have been a long shot for LSU to get into position for a field goal, get their field goal unit on the field (with no time outs left) and get a kick off in the mud to win. But there was a CHANCE and the officials, basically being lazy, took it away from them.
That said, I was glad to see both old coaches—Paterno and Bobby Bowden—win.
Bowden, as you might expect, was all class all day. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the people running Florida State who kicked him out the door and couldn’t bring themselves to give him one more season as if he hasn’t done enough for the school to merit that. The spear toss was magical and Bowden’s wife Ann coming into his press conference to say, “it’s time to go honey,” was almost a perfect metaphor: Bobby Bowden always had time for everybody.
Back to field goal kickers for a moment. I really felt for the Northwestern kid who missed the three field goals in The Outback Bowl (is it over yet?) but much worse for Ben Hartman, the kicker from East Carolina. He had two chances from 39 yards to win The Liberty Bowl for his team in the final 67 seconds of regulation and then missed a 35-yarder in overtime opening the door for Arkansas to win the game, 20-17.
Hartman was a very good kicker at ECU but there’s no doubt it is going to be hard for him to forget the last game of his college career. I really feel for kickers at moments like that. I still vividly remember Ryan Bucchianeri, who as a Navy freshman in 1993 missed an 18-yarder at the buzzer that would have won the Army-Navy game. Even though Bucchianeri talked to the media afterwards and took full responsibility for the miss—it was a very wet field and a tough angle—but his response was simply, “I have to make that kick,” the miss haunted him during his entire time as a Midshipman.
I noticed in the Sunday paper that Hartman had not spoken to the media afterwards. I was curious who made the call: did the kid simply not want to do it? Did Skip Holtz, his coach make the decision? I dropped a note to Tom McLellan, the associate AD in charge of PR at East Carolina and asked him the question.
Tom not only got right back to me, he took the hit for the decision. He said he had made a judgment on the spot that Hartman was in no condition—emotionally—to speak to the media at that moment. I don’t disagree with Tom at all. His first job is to protect the players UNLESS they’ve done something really wrong like cheating on a test or getting arrested. This wasn’t close to that: he missed three kicks. No crime was committed.
Having said that, as I said to Tom later, I actually think Hartman might have benefited if he’d talked. Even if he broke down and cried, people would have respected him for giving it a shot. I’m also frequently amazed by athletes’ ability to handle themselves with grace under that kind of pressure. More often it is college athletes who do well in those moments because they haven’t been nearly as spoiled or over-protected as the pros (See James, Lebron).
Bottom line in it all is this: I had no vested interest in who won the game but my heart goes out to Ben Hartman.
One basketball note for the day: Did anyone see the 70-foot shot that Chandler Parsons hit at the buzzer to give Florida a 62-61 overtime win over North Carolina State? I happened to be watching, in part because State Coach Sidney Lowe was doing exactly what I would have done in that situation: fouling with a three point lead in the final 10 seconds and not letting Florida get off a tying three point shot. (Two hours later Xavier would allow Wake Forest to take a three in the last 12 seconds of overtime and would get burned by the decision).
Unfortunately, because Parsons threw in a miracle shot—which was RIGHT on line all the way and was, naturally, his only field goal of the game—coaches will now cite that as a reason not to foul. They’ll be wrong. Lowe got it right. He—and his players—just got amazingly unlucky.
There is so much more to talk about: the Redskins firing (at 4 o’clock in the morning) of Jim Zorn and their hiring (no doubt) of Mike Shanahan; the team formerly known as the Bullets and gun play; Kansas’ remarkable performance on Saturday at Temple and—did I mention the Islanders won in a shootout out?
More on that—okay, not the Islanders—tomorrow.