Thursday, October 28, 2010

Great news --

John's wife Chris gave birth to their daughter Jane Blythe Feinstein Tuesday night at 11:34PM. She was born at 8 lbs. and 1 oz. and both Chris and baby are doing great.

Along with this wonderful news, John wanted to let readers know that he will be back on Monday with new content for the blog as he will be taking time to spend with the family.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Notre Dame’s real ‘headaches' vs. Navy: outplayed, outcoached, outworked and outfought

Oh My God, the whining coming from Notre Dame people has become completely deafening. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be hysterically funny.

Let me say this to start: I honestly didn’t think I would live to see the day Navy beat Notre Dame. Most years, the Midshipmen had no chance to win the game because the Irish were just too big, too strong and too fast for them to compete. On those rare occasions when Navy did keep the game close something always happened: a great play by a future NFL player from Notre Dame; a missed play at a critical moment by a Navy player; a strange call from an official. It was always something.

Then in 2007, in SPITE of a strange call (to put it politely; let me quote NBC’s Pat Haden at that moment: “You can’t make that call.” Except they did) from an official in the third overtime, Navy finally ended its epic 43 game losing streak to Notre Dame. If the Mids had never beaten Notre Dame again I could at least say I saw it happen once. Then it happened again last year and Saturday, it not only happened a third time but it wasn’t even close. Navy beat Notre Dame 35-17 in the new Meadowlands Stadium and the game really wasn’t even THAT close.

This is where the whining comes in.

For years, while Notre Dame was routinely beating the Mids, all you heard from Notre Dame people was how great it was that the two schools played every year and how much they LOVED Navy. After all, Navy had come to Notre Dame’s rescue during World War 2 when the school was in financial crisis. That was why Notre Dame was happy to ‘repay,’ Navy every year by guaranteeing them a big payday. The Irish had so much respect for Navy; for the quality of the players; for the coaches; for the mission they were on; for their work ethic and their sportsmanship. It was just one big love fest.

Now, Navy plays dirty football. The coaches coach dirty football. Navy is dangerous to play against because it ‘chop,’ blocks all the time.

Hmmm. What has happened in the last three years to cause such a change? Let me think about that one for a second. It couldn’t possibly be three losses in four games could it? Notre Dame—Mensch University if you ever watch a game on NBC (or just about anywhere else come to think of it)—couldn’t possibly be, you know, bad losers?

Let’s deal with the ‘chop,’ block issue first. A chop block is, in fact, an illegal block. It is a 15-yard penalty and it is called when an official believes that a second blocker makes contact with a defender below the waist when he is ALREADY ENGAGED with another blocker. This makes sense because if a defender is already being blocked, he has no chance to avoid the second block or to use his hands to prevent the second blocker from getting his legs. It is a dangerous play that should be—and is—illegal.

During Saturday’s game Navy was called for—wait for it—ZERO chop blocks. In fact, it was called for ZERO penalties. Here was one headline in Sunday’s South Bend Tribune: “Chop Blocks a Headache for Irish.” Really?

Here’s what was a headache for the Irish: Being outplayed, outcoached, outworked and outfought by a group of kids who have absolutely no right to not only beat Notre Dame, but hammer Notre Dame.

The block that the Notre Dame people are referring to is a ‘cut,’ block. Cut blocks are legal. They are often difficult to defend against—just like the option offense—because defenses don’t see them that often. Teams that run normal pro-style offenses or spread offenses don’t cut block that often. Teams that run the option—Army, Navy Air Force—all cut block at least in part because their blockers are generally smaller than those of other teams and this is one way to take advantage of quickness, speed and, well, skill.

Navy has run an option offense for 14 of the last 16 seasons, dating back to 1995. Until recently, Notre Dame and its apologists in the media didn’t seem to be bothered by the option or by cut blocking. Now, cut blocks are suddenly dangerous AND dirty. Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said this last week: “I’m not sure if they’re legal but we have to be ready for them.”

I’m sorry, you’re not sure if they’re legal? Read the rulebook coach. And, while you’re at it, check out the game tape and show me (or anyone else) exactly where and when Navy started running the veer, as you claimed during your halftime interview on CBS. The veer? What were you watching? Navy ran the exact same offense it has run all year, except for going to a heavy alignment on the goal line, adding an extra tackle. Really tough stuff to figure out.

There was nothing—as Kelly claimed—that they’d been ‘holding back.’ As for the adjustments Kelly said he and his coaches had made, um, they didn’t really work that well did they? Navy went 77 yards for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half and 73 for a touchdown on the second drive.

I’m also wondering if these dirty cut blocks had anything to do with the Notre Dame offense scoring 10 points the first 54 minutes of the game before getting a consolation score when the game was over and Navy had gone to a prevent defense. Did Notre Dame move the ball? Sure did. And just like last year—just like Buddy Green’s defense does to teams all the time—they rolled up yards but not points. Navy got a critical stop on the goal line on the game’s first series and Dayne Crist threw two key interceptions. Was that those dirty cut blocks too?

It was completely ludicrous a year ago when Charlie Weis’s defensive coordinator—I forget his name and he’s not worth looking up—whined about dirty play after Navy’s victory. He cited one play in which a Navy player, Nick Henderson, made a STUPID play, going after a Notre Dame defender after the whistle. Then he claimed Kenny Niumatalolo coached his players to try to hurt opponents.

I’m sorry have you ever MET Kenny Niumatalolo? Forget about how good a coach he is (23-12 since taking over for Paul Johnson when a lot of people thought the program would tank without Johnson) you just won’t meet a better man in any walk of life than Niumatalolo. Am I biased? Sure. But the reason I’m biased is I know the guy and I can tell you without any hesitation he would no more coach one of his players to play dirty than he would try to coach someone to hurt his own players. It’s just not who he is.

Here’s the bottom line: Navy should NEVER beat Notre Dame. The advantages Notre Dame has over Navy or any of the academies are uncountable. You can start with the fact that Navy NEVER gets to play Notre Dame at home. They go to South Bend one year; to a ‘neutral,’ site the next year where the majority of the crowd is almost always pro-Notre Dame. (Oh, and please don’t talk to me about how much money Navy makes. The PLAYERS make none of that money and they have to actually PLAY the games).

Notre Dame has been poorly coached most of the time since Lou Holtz left. Holtz is a bad guy—Saturday night on ESPN he literally refused to even discuss Navy’s win when Mark May brought it up; how about giving SOME credit there coach—but he was a superb coach.

That hasn’t been true of Bob Davie, Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis. The jury is still out on Kelly who has a great resume and is clearly a bright guy but was completely overmatched on Saturday. If Kelly does what he should be able to do: go out and get great players (note to Irish fans: Navy’s academic standards are probably tougher than Notre Dame’s and there is also that little matter of military duty after graduating so don’t buy into that excuse from your school) Notre Dame should be able to start beating Navy regularly again.

Whining isn’t going to get it done. All it does is make you look like what you are: bad losers. It’s one thing to complain about Miami when you can’t compete with them but Navy? Seriously, Navy? Give those kids some credit for being tougher, smarter and better prepared. And THEN thank them for what they’re going to do after they graduate.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams and NPR: Juan had the right to be wrong

There isn’t going to be a lot of sports in the blog today. The subject for the morning is Juan Williams, who was fired Wednesday by National Public Radio for saying to Bill O’Reilly on FoxNews that when he gets on an airplane and sees someone dressed in Muslim garb it makes him nervous.

Let me start here with a fairly lengthy double disclaimer. Juan Williams and I have been friends since 1977. We were kid reporters together on The Metro staff of The Washington Post. In fact, I succeeded Juan as the night police reporter when he moved up to write the features for The Metro staff that vaulted him into stardom. We became close. In fact, I’m godfather to Juan’s first child, Antonio.

Lives change and people go in different directions and we don’t see each other that often anymore. But we have the kind of long-standing friendship that if we go a year without getting together and then sit down to have dinner, we pretty much pick up exactly where we left off.

Juan and I frequently disagree on politics. In fact I find it laughable that Roger Ailes refers to him as a liberal. I guess that’s a relative word. He is considerably more liberal than most of the regular commentators on Ailes’s network. He’s also a lot less liberal than a lot of people—myself included.

That said, Juan is my friend—period.

The flip side is National Public Radio. I worked as a sports commentator for NPR for 21 years. To be honest, I stuck with it for that long for two reasons: I loved working with Bob Edwards, the host of Morning Edition and the exposure was great for me. People who listen to NPR are book-buyers. Beyond that, I reached a specific audience very important to an author: women. They do a majority of the book-buying in this country. I can’t tell you the number of women who came up to me through the years and said to me, “I’m not a sports fan but I love listening to you on NPR,” but it was a lot. Many told me that when they needed to buy a book for their sports-loving husband or father or son, they just checked on what I had written most recently and bought it.

Those two things made putting up with people who knew NOTHING about sports worth the annoyances that came with doing it. One example that is not a-typical: On the day Bob Knight was fired I called the desk and said to the editor working that Sunday afternoon, “Hi, it’s John. Look, Bob Knight just got fired so we’re going to need to find some space in the show in the morning to talk about it.”

“Bob Knight? Who’s Bob Knight?”

“Look, trust me on this. He’s the most famous college basketball coach alive for reasons good and bad. Bob (Edwards) can explain it to you when he gets in if you want.”

“Oh did he coach Michael Jordan or something?”

“Yes, he coached Michael Jordan.”(Olympics 1984).

It was like that a lot. Once, after I had talked in a pre-U.S. Open discussion in 2001 about how extraordinary Tiger Woods’ four straight victories in major championships was, I got a call from another editor who said: “Is there anything I can do to convince you to stop sucking up to Tiger Woods and talking all the time about how great he is?”

I laughed and said: “Do me a favor. Call Tiger or if you can’t reach him his agent and repeat to them what you just said to me.”

There was only one another time when I got a call about something I’d said on-air. I had commented that the presidents of the BCS colleges were, “about as corrupt as the mafia, although that may be unfair to the mafia.”

Apparently a couple of presidents took umbrage to those comments and sent Luca Brasi to talk to the senior editor of Morning Edition. Rather than sleep with the fishes she called to say the comment was, “out of line.” I told her I’d apologize to the mafia on-air if she wanted. She didn’t laugh.

I quit NPR this past March. It never felt the same to me after they fired Bob Edwards, who was only the best talk show host in history. What’s more, he was the ONLY person there who knew anything about sports and he was my friend. I got along fine with the new hosts but it was never the same.

Beyond that, because the regime that fired Bob never thought of me as ‘their,’ guy, I had already been marginalized. Getting on the air became more and more difficult. I actually had to FIGHT to get a piece on after the Tiger Woods accident. The editors weren’t really sure it was a story. (Maybe they were afraid I was going to suck up to him).

When I was told this past March that someone named Mike Pesca was going to be ‘their,’ guy for the NCAA Tournament instead of me, that was the breaking point. If they actually believed Mike Pesca would bring more to the table for their listeners than I would, it was time to go. So I went. What was funny was when I sent e-mails to the two top editors of the show saying that I really believed after 21 years that the show was better with me talking college hoops than Mike Pesca the response I got was basically this: “It’s really unfair of you to put down Mike Pesca this way.”

Okay, guilty. I think I’m better than Mike Pesca.

So, now that everyone knows where I’m coming from on this, let me tell you what I think: I completely disagree with what Juan said. I think stereotyping is one of the biggest problems we have in this country. Everyone wants to label everyone else. If someone had gone on FoxNews and said, “When I walk down the street if I see a black teen-ager walking in my direction, I get nervous,” Juan would have (correctly) called that a racist comment. If someone said, “I don’t do business with Jews because I don’t trust them,” a LOT of people would have an issue with that—again, correctly.

But I wonder this: If Juan had said to Bill O’Reilly something like this: “I’m tired of stereotyping in this country. I’m tired of right wing Republicans like you trying to blame everything that’s gone wrong in the history of this country on President Obama,” do you think NPR would have fired him?

I don’t. FoxNews might have but NPR would not have. Look, I don’t think NPR is nearly as liberal as conservatives like to think. There are plenty of moderate and conservative voices on NPR’s air—Juan among them until Wednesday. But for NPR to say Juan had to be fired for voicing an opinion that might be distasteful is ridiculous. Every time someone voices an opinion it is distasteful to someone. This was an absolute cave-in by NPR management. I said things ALL THE TIME on NPR that lots of people disagreed with—it’s just that most weren’t college presidents or the leaders of political groups whose agenda most of the time is to be outraged by anyone who disagrees with them on any level.

It is also worth noting what Juan said right after his comment about being nervous: “We don’t want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy.”

NPR is claiming that because Juan was not listed as a “commentator,”—his title was “senior news analyst,”—that he was required to be ‘impartial.’ These people simply don’t live in the real world. (I know this because I’ve spent time in their world). Does anyone think this was the first opinion to come out of Juan’s mouth on FoxNews; on NPR or on the op-ed page of The Washington Post? They wanted to find an excuse to fire him and this was it. By doing so, they have now opened themselves up to a new wave of attacks from the right. Nice going folks.

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “I may think you’re wrong but I will fight to the death your right to be wrong.”

Juan had the right to be wrong. NPR has the right to have people on the air who will say he was wrong and explain why he was wrong. But firing him for being wrong?

Please. Get over yourselves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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

This week I joined Tony Kornheiser's newest The Tony Kornheiser Show Wednesday morning at 11:05am. Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. This week we started off talking about the BCS before moving onto the week's hottest topic, the 'kill shot' issue in football, before going back to coaching talk in college football, including situations at Minnesota and Florida.

Click here for the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

I was back in the normal 5:25pm slot with The Sports Reporters this week. We started out with discussion about Albert Haynesworth prior to moving on to other topics on the NFL and college.

Click here for the segment: The Sports Reporters


Wednesday evening I joined The Gas Man in the normal timeslot (8:25 ET on Wednesday's).

Click here for the segment: The Gas Ma

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NFL cracking down on the ‘kill shot’ - fines mean nothing, suspensions mean everything; Quick correction from Monday

So now the National Football League has sent a message to its players: If you don’t stop trying to hurt one another, we’re going to get really angry. After three hits in games this past weekend that could have resulted in serious injury—to EITHER player—the NFL announced major fines for the three players and wagged its finger and said, ‘do this again and you will be severely punished.’

Has Roger Goodell hired the NCAA Enforcement Committee as consultants? Fines, even one as high as $75,000, mean little to the players these days. The glory they get from being thought of as tough guys by fans and the fawning media more than makes up for any financial loss they might suffer. As Rodney Harrison, the ex-Patriot now working for NBC said last week, “fines mean nothing.”

Suspensions mean something. They can cost a team games and that upsets the owner, the general manager, the coach and the other players. If you do something that might jeopardize your team’s ability to make the playoffs or get home field advantage in the playoffs, that gets everyone’s attention.

So let’s see what the NFL does with the next ‘kill shot,’ as Tony Kornheiser eloquently called them on his radio show today. (I wonder if he’ll be allowed to use that phrase on ‘PTI.’).

There’s a much more urgent issue though than whether the next guy who launches himself at someone like a human missile gets suspended. It is this ridiculous macho notion that if the league puts a stop to this sort of thing it will take the violence and anger and emotion out of football that players and fans love—and that the league and TV networks have spent years promoting.

Already players and a lot of the ex-jock talking heads are screaming that you might as well rename the league the NFFL (National Flag Football League) if they crack down on this sort of violence.

What garbage.

The fact is that, more often than not, the sort of tackle that we’re talking about here—one where a player launches himself at another player—is BAD FOOTBALL. A good tackle is usually made by not leaving your feet; by wrapping a player up and by gaining control of his legs. Sometimes you aren’t in position to do that, so you dive or lunge at a player. But when you’re close enough to someone that by launching yourself at him you’re going to hit him in the head or up high, that’s just lousy tackling. More often than not, when a player does that he either misses the tackle completely or the ball carrier bounces off him because he sees him coming and moves in such a way that the tackler doesn’t get a clean shot at him.

No one is saying you can’t go after the guy with the ball. You do it the way Ray Lewis does it, driving your body—arms first—into the player while running at him at full speed. On the college level, Navy has a safety named Wyatt Middleton. He’s been a four year starter. I promise you I can count on my hands the number of times he has left his feet to make a tackle. I have never seen him make a tackle where he drives his head into someone and jumps up celebrating because his victim is lying on the ground in pain.

I’ve also almost never seen him miss a tackle. He is as good a one-on-one tackler as I’ve seen in college football in years. He doesn’t have great speed or size, he just knows how to play the game and that’s what’s made him a great player.

The flip side to that is a game Navy played against Maryland five years ago. Late in the game, Maryland had a fourth-and-ten on a last-chance drive. The Terrapins were forced into a swing pass and Navy had TWO tacklers waiting for the runner. All they had to do was stay on their feet, line up the runner and bring him down and the game was over. Both wanted to be heroes—I’m not protecting them by not naming them I just don’t remember who they were—so they dove at the runner. He side-stepped them both, went down the sideline and picked up the first down. Maryland won the game.

Have you ever been to an NFL practice? I have. And I promise you I have never heard or seen a coach teaching players how to tackle that way. Just the opposite in fact. Now, I know there are bad coaches on the lower levels of the game who might encourage that sort of play but they do it because they think it is somehow cool or because they think the kids will like it.

They are idiots. Not only are they teaching their players how to play the game dangerously, they are NOT teaching them how to play the game well. I have never heard a coach I respect say anything like, “let’s go out there and knock someone’s head off; let’s hurt someone.” What I have heard is, “be sure on your tackles, get low whenever you can and WRAP UP.” The other thing they repeat over and over is, “do not put your head down making a tackle.”

Not only is that a good way to miss a tackle, it can lead to tragedy. On Saturday, Eric LeGrand, a good and experienced Rutgers football player, for some reason put his head down trying to make a tackle on a kickoff. He ended up on his back not moving and has not moved since. In an instant, his entire life changed. We should all be focusing a lot more attention on what he is going through than screeching about how unfair it might be to try to put a stop to helmet-first tackling.

So let’s stop all the hand-wringing and whining about how the game won’t be the same if these sorts of hits are treated more harshly in the future. We aren’t talking about rules changes—the rules governing these hits already exist. Let’s not talk about the good old days because in the good old days we didn’t know what we know today about head injuries.

Might there be times when officials go too far and call what could be a clean hit a penalty? Sure. No rule is going to be perfect or enforced perfectly. But I’d rather see them err on the side of caution and good health than go the other way. And if the league looks at the hit on tape on Monday and decides it was clean, then the only bad thing that has happened is a 15-yard penalty that shouldn’t have been called. Those happen all the time. If an official is CERTAIN a player was trying to hurt another one he should have the ability to go to replay (heck, they do it on half the plays nowadays anyway) and make a decision on ejection. That’s what they do now with fights in basketball.

The NFL is very publicity conscious. That’s why it is clucking this week about how concerned it is about what happened on Sunday even though—Thank God—no one was seriously hurt. But it needs to take this issue very seriously. And it needs to NOT listen to players; NOT listen to fans and NOT listen to the macho ex-jock media brigade. It SHOULD listen to one ex-player—Steve Young who said, “I don’t want to see someone die during a game.”

None of us do. So let’s teach everyone at every level how to play hard, tough and GOOD football and leave the ‘kill shots,’ where they belong: in the past.


My pal Tom O’Toole, who is the colleges editor at USA Today, called yesterday to make a correction to something I wrote Monday: Apparently after announcing that the final coaches balloting would be secret this year, the coaches—under some pressure from USA Today and others—reversed themselves. Their ballots will be available for public scrutiny—which might make it tougher to keep Boise State or TCU out of the national title game. Which is good. Good for them and USA Today for un-doing a poorly thought out decision.

Note: Click here to share on Twitter

Monday, October 18, 2010

If you are sick of anti-BCS or ESPN opinions, you are hereby forewarned of today’s topics

I know I pick on ESPN a lot and I know people get sick of hearing me complain about the BCS. If you fall into either of those camps this is a warning: Don’t read any further today. Come on back another day when I’m not quite so cranky.

I turned on the BCS poll show—or whatever ESPN calls it—Sunday night for only one reason: I was scheduled to call TCU Coach Gary Patterson to talk to him for my Washington Post column as soon as he finished talking to ESPN after the first poll was breathlessly released. So, I had to watch to know when Patterson was finished since ESPN is never on time.

The first thing I heard Rece Davis say was, “welcome to the most exciting regular season in sports.”

Oh please. Look, Davis seems like a perfectly pleasant guy and he’s fine at what he does. In fact, anyone who can sit next to Lou Holtz all fall and not completely lose his mind must be reasonably intelligent. (on Thursday Holtz declared West Virginia, ‘a great team,’ at halftime of the Mountaineers game against his son’s South Florida team. WVU was up 17-3 at that point only because USF’s quarterback made a boneheaded throw in the last minute of the half. Next thing you know Holtz will be campaigning for Notre Dame to play in a BCS game because it beat Pittsburgh).

So Davis begins the show by pimping for college football’s regular season which, last I looked, is the only one where OPINIONS not RESULTS decide the outcome. While I’m on that topic I have a question for my friends at USA Today: How can you continue to participate in the coaches’ poll when they have again decided to keep their final ballots secret? If ESPN wants to be compromised that way fine, but you guys are better than that.

Okay, so we’ve established the tone of the show: The BCS is great and grand and we’re here to talk about how great and grand it is. Fine. ESPN has a lot of money invested in the thing. I remember when I was still doing Sports Reporters a few years back and the BCS was on Fox, John Saunders used to rip it almost as regularly as I did. Being honest, I don’t ever see the show these days, not because I boycott it or anything (I’m still friends with the people connected to the show itself) but because I’m almost always swimming on Sunday mornings. That said, I wonder if John has been told to muzzle his BCS comments now that ESPN owns the rights. Maybe someone can let me know the answer to that question.

Now, while we’re ‘waiting,’ for the poll—can’t ESPN ever do ANYTHING without stalling? (see, James, LeBron—is Stuart Scott STILL screeching?)—Craig James and Robert Smith weigh in, acting as if they don’t actually know what the poll is going to show.

James goes on at length about how the losses suffered by Alabama and Ohio State the last two weeks really prove how tough these ‘AQ,” (that’s Automatic Qualifier) conferences are? Really Craig? Have you watched an ACC game or a Big East game recently? Not only should The Mountain West get an automatic bid before the ACC or The Big East, so should the WAC. For that matter so should the CAA, which if you are really paying attention, is the best-balanced and most fun conference to watch in the country at any level.

Once James finished his paean to the “AQ’s,” Smith weighed in, thoughtfully, ‘wondering,’ how Nevada’s loss to Hawaii and Air Force’s loss to San Diego State (a game in which the Falcons lost their best running back and their best receiver) might affect the status of Boise State and TCU in the minds of the voters.

So, let’s be sure I have this straight: if the No. 1 team in The Big Ten or The SEC loses, it’s a sign of how strong those conferences must be. If the No. 2 team in the WAC or the No. 3 team in the Mountain West lose to opponents IN the conference it must be a sign that the No. 1 teams aren’t that good.


In other words, if Wright State loses a game in conference play this basketball season, that should affect how people feel about Butler since they’re both in The Horizon League.

Look, I’m not trying to say the WAC or The Mountain West are as strong top-to-bottom as The SEC. They probably aren’t as strong as The Big 12 or The Pac-10 or (maybe) The Big Ten. That misses the point. Again, use The Butler analogy: Was the Horizon League as strong or as deep as the ACC last season? No. But was Butler good enough to beat anyone in the ACC—or any other conference in the country? Yes. That’s why it missed winning the national title by two inches.

Oh, there’s one other reason Butler almost won the national title: it had the chance to PLAY for the national title. TCU and Boise State may both go undefeated in the regular season—Boise for a third straight season; TCU for a second straight season. Neither team has lost to anyone except one another since 2008. And yet, you can bet that James and Smith and Davis and all the other ESPN big conference apologists will carefully explain to us why they just haven’t done enough to merit a shot at the national title.

If two “AQ,” teams finished undefeated, there’s no way either team gets a shot. Last year it was considered a given that Alabama and Texas were better unbeatens than TCU and Boise State were. Maybe. But how did Alabama do the year before in The Sugar Bowl against Utah? Are you SURE that Texas would have beaten either TCU or Boise State on a neutral site?

I’m not and you shouldn’t be either. Let them play and prove they’re better. That way we don’t have to roll our eyes when the ESPN boys shamelessly promote the big money conferences. Why do they do that?—because they are business partners with all of them. And, even if Gary Patterson at TCU and Chris Petersen at Boise State sit and roll their eyes every time they hear all the talk about resumes and strength of schedule (even though almost none of the power teams will play either school. The caveat to that is that Patterson says he can occasionally get a power team to come to Fort Worth because Texas is such a recruiting-rich state. The same can’t be said for Boise) when ESPN calls, they have to come running because they can’t turn down that kind of exposure.

The four letter boys do wield a lot of power, which is important when (I repeat myself) opinions are deciding championships instead of results.

Again, please don’t misunderstand me those of you who love The SEC or The Big 12 or fans in Oklahoma and Oregon. I’m not claiming that TCU or Boise State would beat your schools. I’m saying they deserve the chance to try.

Washington Post column -- Business as usual for BCS

TCU football coach Gary Patterson was in the shower Sunday night when this year's first Bowl Championship Series poll was released. He was scheduled to appear on ESPN a few minutes after all the smoke and mirrors and double-talk ended to discuss how he felt about his Horned Frogs being ranked fifth in the poll.

Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the initial BCS poll allegedly on the basis of schedule: The Sooners beat a Texas team that has a home loss to UCLA on its schedule; barely beat Air Force at home and barely beat Cincinnati - a mediocre team in a less than mediocre Big East. Oregon, a team that lost in 2008 and 2009 to a Boise State team that returned virtually all its starters from a year ago, is ranked No. 2 (and No. 1 in both human polls) with Boise State No. 3. Then comes Auburn and TCU.

"If we go 12-0, then we can make our case," Patterson said when the subject of playing in the national championship game came up. "That's down the road. Right now we have to beat Air Force and in a few weeks we're going to have to play at Utah [which is also undefeated]. That's enough to worry about without all this soap-opera stuff."

Patterson first brought up the notion of the BCS as soap opera Saturday after his team had beaten Brigham Young 31-3, opting not to try to score again late to run up style points for the voters. BYU's field goal marked the first time in three games an opponent had scored against the Horned Frogs.

Click here for the rest of the article: Business as usual for the BCS

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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

This morning I joined Tony Kornheiser's newest The Tony Kornheiser Show morning at 11:05am. Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Today, we discussed a couple of interesting topics, including David Duvall and things I learned during my interview of him - his insights on what happened in his career, Tiger's place in terms of talent, etc. - before moving on to the agent paying players article written about on Wednesday. This led to great talk on what to do to help stop the problem, and in what manner to possibly compensate college players.

Click here for the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Wednesday evening I joined The Gas Man in the normal timeslot (8:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click here for the segment: The Gas Man 


(Note on The Sports Reporters appearance -- as a commenter mentioned, I was in studio for 2 hrs Wednesday, but we don't have a link for that time period. If we get it, we'll post it)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No innocents in the story of the ex-agent paying college football players; Prediction on Goodell’s outcome of Favre investigation

There are two stories going on today in sports that can only be categorized as sad—though neither is all that surprising.

The first involves the former agent, Josh Luchs, who in a Sports Illustrated story this week put together by George Dohrmann, one of the magazine’s truly gifted reporters, goes into painful detail about his years paying college football players. What makes the story credible is that Luchs names names—lots of them. He doesn’t portray himself as some kind of victim of the rules or a do-gooder. He simply explains how he got into the business and how he started paying players. Then he explains how he STOPPED paying players when he went to work for Gary Wichard, whose name has become a part of the ongoing debacle at North Carolina.

Is it a shock to anyone that there are dozens of guys like Luchs out there, working either on their own or for agents, who are giving money to players? No. What makes the story important is the detail. Luchs not only names the players he paid, he describes how he did it and how much he paid them. He also names players who turned down money when he offered it to them. Some players have confirmed the story; most have either refused to comment or ducked calls from the magazine. Ryan Leaf, a centerpiece in the tale, admits knowing Luchs and hanging out with him but doesn’t remember taking any money for him. Read the story and decide who you believe on that one.

A lot of agents and the NFL and the NFLPA are going to claim that Luchs is tainted because he was suspended for turning a check from a player over to his lawyer rather than to Wichard, who he was in a dispute with at the time. The check was for a little more than $5,000 and Luchs quit being an agent after his suspension because he thought the incident tainted him in a way that would make it impossible for him to recruit players in the future. He makes the point that he was never investigated or suspended or disciplined in any way for paying college players but was suspended for putting a check into trust with his lawyer during a legal dispute.

At the end of the piece Luchs says he came clean because he has two daughters and when they go on line and read about him in the future he doesn’t want them to only find the stories about his suspension. That may sound like a stretch. I believe him. I believe every word of the story. It has an absolute ring of truth to it.

One small part of the piece is Luchs describing a pre-arranged phone call with Mel Kiper Jr. in which Kiper just happened to call while Wichard and Luchs were sitting in their office with a big-time college player.

“Hey Viper,” Wichard said, according to Luchs. “I’m sitting here with the best defensive end in the country.”

“Well,” Kiper said, “That must be (I forget the guy’s name).

The player signed with Wichard and Luchs.

Kiper’s defense is that being friends with agents helps him get to know players. Here’s my question, why does someone who is supposed to be analyzing players need to know them? And, if Kiper wants to taIk to a player for some reason, you’re telling me they won’t talk to him? They all think he’s a star, a very important guy. That’s a complete copout. He doesn’t NEED agents to do his job.

I’m a reporter, I NEED to know players. I do everything I can to avoid dealing with agents. In fact, sometimes when a player tells me I have to talk to his agent in order to talk to him, I say thanks, but no thanks.

In 1993, when Wayne Grady was still an important player—having won the 1990 PGA—I approached him about talking to him for ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ Grady was very pleasant and polite but said, “I’ll need you to talk to my manager.”

For Jack Nicklaus I might talk to an agent. Not for Wayne Grady. On the rare occasions when I have taken a deep breath and dealt with an agent, it has led me to—nowhere. I was interested a couple years ago in doing a hockey book involving Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. I made the mistake, on the advice of Gary Bettman, of talking to Crosby’s agent. (I should have just walked into a locker room and introduced myself to Crosby and taken my chances that way. In the past when I’ve done that I’ve succeeded even with guys I don’t know about 90 percent of the time). The agent and I talked back and forth several times about setting up a meeting for me with Crosby. It never happened. “Sidney doesn’t want another distraction this season,” he said.

The point of the meeting was to explain how I could do the book without being a distraction—which I could have. I’ve done it before. Agents are paid to say no 99 percent of the time unless someone is paying—then the answer might be yes.

Of course the apologists are already coming out of the woodwork to attack Luchs. The morning pitchmen on ESPN had Luchs on today. Throughout the morning they referred to him constantly as, “this guy,” or “this agent.” They wondered if he was a snitch. Then Chris Mortensen came on and said, “this guy was decertified by the NFLPA.” No he wasn’t. He chose to leave the profession after the suspension. You may say that’s a technical point but Mort throwing it out as absolute fact—almost casually—sums up what the establishment’s approach to Luchs is going to be.

During the interview Greenberg asked Luchs if he felt badly about, “throwing people under the bus.”


These players knowingly took money, in many cases asked for money. They knew they were breaking the rules just like Luchs knew he was breaking the rules. There are no innocents in all this—including Luchs. The difference now is Luchs isn’t claiming to be innocent.

After Luchs, Kiper came on and blustered about how important it was to know players and how, “we all do it,” (become friends with agents). Actually Mel, we don’t. Do I know some agents? Of course. I get along with some better than others but I sure as hell don’t ever talk to them while they’re recruiting a player. Luchs makes the point that Kiper never said, “Hey, you should sign with Gary Wichard.” What he did was give Wichard an extra level of credibility because college football players DO know Mel Kiper and what he does.

The one guy who stood up for Luchs was Kirk Herbstreit. Good for him.

Some are comparing Luchs to Jose Canseco—whose charges in his book on steroids in baseball ended up being 99 percent verified when all was said and done. Here’s the difference: Luchs wasn’t paid for this story. He didn’t do it to make money. He says he did it for his daughters. I believe him.

On to Brett Favre. The NFL is ‘investigating,’ charges that Favre sent texts and phone messages and pictures of himself—not ones you would want your kids to see—to a former employee of the Jets while he was playing with them. Favre has refused to talk about the story, which makes him APPEAR guilty. It doesn’t make him guilty but even the apologists are having trouble wrestling that one to the ground.

Here’s one prediction: Roger Goodell is not going to be the one to end Favre’s consecutive games streak. If the charges prove true he may reprimand him, he may fine him. He isn’t going to suspend him. He will point out—correctly—that Favre has never been in trouble with the league before. If guilty, Favre will pay a heavy price. You can bet he won’t be seen in too many jeans commercials down the road and it might even affect Favre’s ability to get a network TV job—at least for a year or two—if he ever does retire. Oh wait, silly me, ESPN is still in business. Forget that last thought.

All of which is fine with me. If he did this, he’s a boor and he’s stupid. That said, I don’t think it quite makes him Tiger Woods. Or is that my anti-Tiger bias? Or is it racial? My friend Michael Wilbon apparently thinks it’s racial. Here’s what he wrote in today’s Washington Post:

“We’ll see if the hypercritical morality police officers who sentenced Woods to damnation for his philandering ways are as heavy-handed with a fair-haired quarterback and the face of America’s favorite sport…or if Tiger’s transgressions are deemed to be somehow, ‘different.’ We’ll see.”

Look, Wilbon and I have been down this road before. He likes Woods, I don’t. But seriously? What Favre is accused of doing somehow falls into the same category as what Woods has admitted to doing? “Hypercritical morality officers?” One had to be hypercritical to think Woods was, you know, not exactly the best guy in the world to do what he did?

Favre has been lampooned (correctly) time and again for his Hamlet act on retirement. Everyone—even ESPN—is reporting this story as it moves along. So how does race or people being ‘hypercritical,’ factor in here? Seriously Mike, I know you consider Tiger a friend, but the time to start claiming he’s been unfairly treated hasn’t arrived yet.

And probably never will.

(Note: Click here for George Dohrmann's article-- Confessions of an agent)

Monday, October 11, 2010

“How did the other team feel?”

Among the many great ‘Peanuts,’ strip drawn by the immortal Charles Schulz, one of my favorites is the one in which Linus is telling Charlie Brown about the ending of a football game. I’m paraphrasing, but he says something like: “It was amazing Charlie Brown, our team was behind with one second left in the game and we were on the one-yard line and the quarterback threw a pass all the way down the field and the receiver caught it and ran in for a touchdown. Everyone was screaming and yelling and celebrating. You should have seen it!”

At that point Charlie Brown looks at Linus and says: “How did the other team feel?”

That strip ran through my head right after the final play of Navy’s 28-27 victory over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Saturday night. Needless to say I was thrilled for Navy and enjoyed watching the players and coaches pour onto the field to celebrate after Wake’s final pass had fallen incomplete ending a wildly entertaining (and, for the record, poorly officiated) football game.

Then I looked at the Wake players, some sitting on the field in shock, others walking slowly across the field to congratulate the Midshipmen. I felt it even more when the Demon Deacons followed the Mids to the far corner of the field to stand at attention for the playing of the Navy alma mater. Wake’s always been a class school and Jim Grobe is a class coach. My guess is his players are the same way. This was their second consecutive loss when the opponent scored in the game’s last 30 seconds.

And so I thought of Linus and Charlie Brown.

Of course endings like that take place in sports all the time. For every Mookie Wilson, there’s a Bill Buckner and for every Bobby Thompson, there’s a Ralph Branca. You feel it more acutely though for non-pros—which might eliminate some big-time college football and basketball programs from the mix. I certainly felt it in Indianapolis last April when Gordon Hayward’s last second shot rolled off the rim and Butler missed beating Duke in the national championship game by exactly that much.

Sure, I was happy for my alma mater and happier for Mike Krzyzewski—my feelings about my alma mater as most people know are decidedly mixed—but watching the Butler players and thinking about what a victory for them would have meant in the basketball and sports pantheon, I couldn’t help but feel some disappointment.

But that’s what makes sports so compelling. We all feel terrible for Brooks Conrad—even a San Francisco Giants fan has to feel badly for him even if he’s happy his team won on Sunday—but the way Conrad got to that moment is a dramatic story in itself. Almost every day and certainly ever week, stories play out across the country and the world that we should care about even if no one involved is going to any Hall of Fame. Athletes who are worthy of our attention, our support and, in some cases, our sympathy when they come up just short, compete because they love to compete; because they want to win but also because they understand that losing may hurt but it isn’t—shouldn’t be—the end of the world.

Maybe that’s why I get so angry at the rich and famous who never take responsibility for their actions—on or off the playing fields. I’m a sucker for underdogs and for those who try like hell even when they know they have virtually no chance of winning. We all are to some degree. Even in Masters swimming, when one of the older swimmers comes chugging in at the end of a long race well behind everyone else, everyone in the pool gives them a round of applause.

Many swimmers call it, ‘the dreaded sympathy clap.’ I got one the first time I tried to swim a 200 butterfly as a Masters swimmer. I almost didn’t finish. My stroke was so bad the final length of the pool that a friend of mine, seeing the stroke and turn judge eyeing me closely said, “he’s still legal.” The stroke and turn judge said to him, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to DQ him, he’s already suffered enough.”

God knows that was true.

So please don’t ask me to lose any sleep over the fact that the SEC might not get a team to the national championship game this year. I might feel some sympathy for the players, but certainly not for the coaches, the administrators or the fans. I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for any of the so-called big-time schools. Alabama losing to South Carolina isn’t a whole lot different than the choking dog Green Bay Packers losing to the Washington Redskins. (Am I bitter? You bet).

Other than the celebrity photos from each of the six Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classics, I have one photo in my office with an athlete in it. It’s from the 1995 Army-Navy game. That was the year that I researched ‘A Civil War,’ and it was taken right after the playing of the two alma maters. In the photo, Andrew Thompson, Navy’s defensive captain that year, is crying on my shoulder. A few minutes later, he cried on the shoulder of Jim Cantelupe—who was Army’s defensive captain that year.

Just in case you think that Thompson wasn’t a tough guy because he shed a lot of tears after Army drove 99 yards to win that game, 14-13, you should know that he is currently a major in The Marine Corps who has served in Iraq. Believe me, you’d want him on your side in any sort of fight. You would also be proud to call him a friend.

My point is this: We all celebrate victories—our own and those of individuals we root for and teams we root for. God knows I will celebrate if the Islanders ever win another Stanley Cup or the Mets ever win another World Series. (Not holding my breath on either). But when we celebrate—especially when the competition involves kids—we should all pause to think about what Charlie Brown said to Linus. On Saturday night, as happy as I was for Navy, I couldn't help but wonder how the other team felt.

Monday's Washington Post Column -- Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks might have knocked SEC out of national title picture

South Carolina football Coach Steve Spurrier is not an e-mail guy. Those who wish to write to him about something need to use the United States Postal Service.

Spurrier may need to hire some extra help to open all his fan mail this week, after the Gamecocks beat a top-ranked football team for the first time in history Saturday, dominating Alabama from the start en route to a 35-21 victory.

There also might be a note or two from the lovely folks at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, who no doubt were not thrilled when Spurrier, in a postgame interview, made mention of the fact that his team was "only a 61/2- or 7-point underdog" in trying to emphasize that his team's victory wasn't completely surprising. Point spreads, as we all know, do not exist in NCAA World.

Last, but certainly not least, Spurrier might get a note from Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive. There may be a congratulations buried in there somewhere, but the real message will be this: "What in the world are you doing to my league, Ol' Ball Coach?"

The OBC and his team changed the tenor and tone of the entire college football season with their victory Saturday. Alabama's droning, seemingly inexorable march to a second straight national championship is over. The Crimson Tide are going to need a lot of help to get back to the national championship game, and that may very well mean the end of the SEC's four-year run of consecutive national champions.

Auburn and LSU are still undefeated - although how LSU has managed to go 6-0 defies all logic unless you believe, as many do, that Les Miles has made some kind of deal with the devil. Both teams can't go unbeaten, because they play one another in a couple of weeks. Both also have to play Alabama and LSU has a game with Arkansas. What that means is this: The likelihood of anyone coming out of the SEC undefeated is somewhere between slim and none.

Click here for the rest of the article: Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks might have knocked SEC out of national title picture

Friday, October 8, 2010

I’m jinxed at Sea Island, ridiculous pitching to start these playoffs – Halladay and Pettitte talk – and the Islanders are undefeated for at least a day or two

Okay, let’s deal with the accident first because I’ve been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls about it since, unfortunately, I was talking on a radio show here in Washington when it occurred.

I’m fine, everyone is fine. It was a two-car fender-bender. More than anything it was annoying and, without going into boring details, let’s just say that getting into an accident when you live in Washington, DC and have a New York accent in Brunswick, Georgia is probably not a great idea.

I was en route to interview David Duval at the golf tournament on Sea Island for the new book I’m writing keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on The Brink,’ which is next November.

(God, Sea Island is gorgeous place but for me it is jinxed: I’ve been there three times now: The first time turned out to be the last time Bruce Edwards ever caddied; the second my car broke down and now the accident. I think God is telling me something).

I’ve always liked Duval. I know he’s been prickly with the media at times through the years but he’s bright and he’s thoughtful. The fact that we agree on political issues more often than we disagree is NOT the reason I think that—Tom Watson and I couldn’t disagree more and I think he’s bright and thoughtful too and YOU BET he’s one of ‘my guys.’ For the record, I think Tiger Woods is bright too. Thoughtful is a different issue.

Anyway, I had an excellent session with Duval and we ended up watching the end of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter together. Seriously, how good is Halladay? How ridiculous has the pitching been the first two days of the playoffs? Cliff Lee gives up one run in seven innings and strikes out ten and his performance is no better than third best in the six games played, behind Halladay and Tim Lincecum and maybe ahead of C.J. Wilson. Think about this for a second: In four of the six games played so far the losing team was shut out three times and scored one run in a fourth game. Only the Twins have scored any runs at all—six in two games—in losing.

I feel for the Twins. It is amazing to look at what they’ve become after being targeted by baseball for ‘contraction,’ as they call it less than ten years ago. They rebuilt themselves as a small market franchise and now with the arrival of Target Field, they can actually afford to spend some money to compete. Five years ago, Joe Mauer would have become a free agent and signed with the Yankees. Not now.

But the Yankees clearly have something going on mentally with them. When the Twins got up 3-0 on C.C. Sabathia on Wednesday, they HAD to finish that game off; had to get a 1-0 lead and put even more pressure on Andy Pettitte in game two. Of course Pettitte thrives on pressure like perhaps no other pitcher of his generation. You can start with the 1-0 gem he threw in game five of the 1996 World Series and work forward from there. Is he a Hall of Famer? Yes and no.

The yes is his numbers: It is true that 240 wins—even 250 assuming he gets there next year which he will if healthy—doesn’t make you a Hall of Famer, especially pitching on winning teams your whole career. But how about 19 postseason wins? Yes, he’s had lots of chances, but he’s come through time and again, especially when the Yankees have been down 1-0 in series and he’s pitched game two. I think it is fair to count a postseason win as two wins on a player’s resume. That would mean Pettitte would be in the 300 range if he got to 250 in the regular season.

All that said, I wouldn’t vote for him because of the steroid use. Although he handled it better than 99 percent of the players involved through the years, he still did it and I, for one, don’t buy the story that it was just once when he was injured. That is pretty much never the way it happens. Even if you DO buy the story: he cheated and knew he was cheating in a way not accepted by baseball. This isn’t loading up the baseball or stealing a sign.

So, as much as I admire Pettitte, I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer. I would love having him on my side in a battle though, that’s for sure.

It will be interesting to see where Halladay ends up in the pantheon when he’s done. He’s 33 now and has 169 career wins. Let’s say he can pitch well for five more years and average 17 wins a year. That would put him over 250 with no steroid blot on his record. It may come down to how often the Phillies make postseason the rest of the way and if he continues to pitch well in those crucible moments. I’d say he got off to a pretty good start on Wednesday. One other interesting stat: Halladay is often referred to as a ‘complete game machine’, which is not unfair because he completes more games and pitches more innings most years than anyone.

At this moment he has pitched 58 complete games—the same number as lock Hall of Famer Tom Glavine pitched. Bert Blyleven, who is not in the Hall of Fame pitched 60—SHUTOUTS. He also pitched 134 complete games. Different times I know but it isn’t as if Blyleven pitched when Cy Young and Christy Mathewson pitched. I have no axe to grind one-way or the other with Blyleven. I just think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. You can talk about how many games he lost; Nolan Ryan lost a lot of games too—like Blyleven he pitched on a number of mediocre teams. He was—deservedly—a first ballot Hall of Famer. I’m not saying Blyleven is Ryan by any stretch but I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.

And in hockey news…The season began on Thursday. Hallelujah! I am going to enjoy the next 48 hours because the Islanders, at this moment, are undefeated. (0-0). I’m guessing it won’t last long. Kyle Okposo is already hurt (out three months) and Sports Illustrated picks the Isles 14th in the Eastern Division. Sigh.

There is good news though: The Hartford Wolf Pack has renamed itself The Connecticut Whale. I have got to get to a game on The Mall sometime, somehow this season and buy a coffee mug to go with the Hartford Whalers mug I bought in 1982 when I was up there working on a piece for Sports Illustrated on Blaine Stoughton.

Stoughton’s wife Cindi, a former Playboy bunny, gave me one of the great quotes of my career for that piece. Maybe I’ll save it for the book…

Thursday, October 7, 2010

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

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. This week we obviously focused on the Ryder Cup and discussed issues from the great finish, the format, Monday finish and clothing mishaps.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also joined The Gas Man in the normal 8:25ET timeslot on Wednesday. This week we discussed the Washington Huskies big win, the Ryder Cup and Colin Montgomerie, then moved on to baseball and the issues of how payroll effects the ability to win.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Montgomerie puts all the right pieces together, McDowell is worldwide player-of-the-year; Remembering Maury Allen

The obvious topic for today is The Ryder Cup, which finally ended on Monday in Wales. At least I think it ended. David Feherty, who was the (fall down funny) dinner speaker last night at our sixth annual Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic isn’t sure that it was actually played.

“I lost track of it completely with all the stops and starts,” he said. “Didn’t watch a minute of the singles so now I’m going to go write a column about it.”

If anyone can do it, Feherty can.

The matches themselves—when finally played—were, as always, great theater. The U.S. grabbed the lead; Europe roared back and appeared headed for a comfortable win and then the U.S. rallied late, forcing Graeme McDowell to make one of the all-time big moment birdies you will ever see to finally wrap things up for Europe, 14 and ½ to 13 and ½. Remember if Hunter Mahan had been able to pull out a TIE in that final match with McDowell, the U.S. would have retained the Cup. Mahan closed to within one down after birdieing the 15th hole only to have McDowell, with the pressure of an entire continent riding on his shoulders, roll in a birdie putt at the 16th that put him in control, two-up with two to play.

Jim Furyk will win the PGA Tour’s player-of-the-year award. Great guy and good for him. But it says here that McDowell is the player-of-the-year worldwide: He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, won another tournament in Europe (at Celtic Manor as a matter of fact) and then won the clinching point of The Ryder Cup. Game, set, match right there.

The most important thing at any Ryder Cup of course is which TEAM wins. That result becomes a part of each captain’s golf legacy. Corey Pavin didn’t do a bad job running the U.S. team—other than letting his wife run amok in the run-up to the matches—but Colin Montgomerie did a better job for Europe.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like Colin Montgomerie. He can be whiny, prickly and difficult. His personal life is, from what I can tell as an outsider, a mess. That doesn’t exactly make him unique in golf right now, does it? But he’s also disarmingly honest; lives up to his mistakes when asked about them; has a very sharp sense of humor and, in my experiences with him has gone out of his way to answer questions honestly and with humor.

So, if you hate him, fine. If you want to call him Mrs. Doubtfire—which Feherty put on him years ago—fine. I like the guy. This was a very big weekend in his life. With all the rumors swirling around his personal life—you think Tiger Woods has had it bad, try living in Great Britain in the midst of a personal crisis—and with Europe playing at home and favored (not by me I picked the U.S. to win) the pressure on Monty to win the Cup back was huge. Throw in the fact that his non-buddy Nick Faldo failed to win the Cup in 2008 and you have another reason he wanted to win so badly. (Monty was asked once years ago why he and Faldo were paired together so often in Ryder Cup. He smiled and said: “because no one else wants to play with either one of us.”)

Down 6-4 after two sessions and lengthy rain delays, Monty put all the right pieces in place for the third session and Europe won 5 and ½ of 6 points over two days. That decided this Ryder Cup. As is almost always the case, the U.S. won the singles, just not by enough. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, MIA during four-ball play, showed up and won their matches. Tiger Woods, who had been good but not great, got on a roll and dusted Francesco Molinari (I think it was Francesco, I know it was a Molinari for sure) and Steve Stricker and Jeff Overton—the most pleasant U.S. surprise of the weekend—closed out really strong weeks with wins.

When Rickie Fowler finished with four straight birdies to steal a halve from the other Molinari—I think it was Eduardo—the U.S. suddenly had a chance. McDowell saw to it that those chances and hopes were dashed. Still, the case can be made that this was the best U.S. performance in Europe since Tom Watson’s team went to The Belfry in 1993 and won.

Watson was also at The Bruce Edwards event yesterday as he is every year. He remembered telling his players on the eve of that Ryder Cup the following: “I know you’re going to be nervous on the first tee tomorrow. Your legs may shake. That’s what this event does to guys. Remember this though: their legs are going to be shaking too.”

He also famously put as his thought for the day on the Americans schedule for that first morning: “Remember, everything they invented, we perfected.” The players liked that.

One other Watson note: He was asked during a Q+A if he thought Tiger Woods would come back and he said yes, he thought he would, that he would still break Jack Nicklaus’s record by winning at least 19 majors. Then he said this: “His swing still isn’t there right now. Of course if he came to my farm in Kansas I could fix him in about 15 minutes.”

Obviously he thinks he sees something in Woods’ swing that can be corrected quickly. I didn’t ask for details because that wasn’t what interested me. Instead I said, “how much would you charge for a lesson like that?”

Watson paused for a moment and then said: “I’d ask him to give $1 million to ALS research.”

Okay all you Woods supporters, get the word out: Watson will fix Tiger’s swing in return for a $1 million contribution to ALS research. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Back to The Ryder Cup: Kudos to Europe and to Montgomerie for coming through in the heat and winning. But, even though it’s a cliché, Pavin was right when he said the U.S. had nothing to be ashamed of when all was said and done. Except maybe his wife’ choice of rain gear.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here the death of Maury Allen. If you are from New York, you probably know the name and you’ve almost certainly read him at some point. Maury was a long-time reporter and columnist for The New York Post and, later, the Gannett Westchester papers. He wrote at least 30 books, most of them on baseball. One of the first books I ever read was a book Maury wrote called, “Now Wait a Minute Casey,” which was a chronicle of the Mets first three (horrific) seasons.

Even as a kid, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a wonderful read and reading it may have been the first time it crossed my mind that sportswriting might be a fun thing to do someday. Of course back then I was planning to PLAY for the Mets, not cover them.

When I came up just a tad shy of The Major Leagues—I did start in high school so I guess I JUST missed—and ended up as a sportswriter, I had the chance to meet and get to know Maury. You will never meet a nicer or more generous person. I still remember where and when I first met him: It was the day before the U.S. Open began in 1981. It was my first Open as the lead reporter for The Post and I showed up a day early to see if anyone was around I could write about.

Sure enough, John McEnroe, fresh off his win over Bjorn Borg in The Wimbledon final—not the classic 1980 match, the one a year later that McEnroe won—was practicing on the empty grandstand court with Peter Fleming, his doubles partner. I walked in there and saw Maury standing there watching. I introduced myself.

“Ever met McEnroe?” he asked. I hadn’t.

When McEnroe and Fleming took a break, Maury walked over with me in tow. “Hey Maury,” McEnroe shouted. “Did they kick you off baseball forever during the strike?”

“John, the Mets are so bad they sent me to cover you,” Maury answered.

Then he said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. You should give him a few minutes when you’re finished.”

Maury and I had been friends at that point for five minutes. McEnroe talked to me when he was finished and, of course, wrote my entire story for me. He and I went on to have a very good relationship. Maury Allen and I stayed friends until he passed away over the weekend. I will miss him but I will never forget his work, his laugh or his generosity.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Washington Post column -- Navy offense can't get out of neutral close to finish line

Here is Monday's Washington Post column ---------------

Every once in a while, the tone of a football season - good or bad - can be set very early. That appears to be the case for Navy this season.

In the Midshipmen's opening game against Maryland on Labor Day, the they drove up and down the field at M&T Bank Stadium all day long - and lost, 17-14, because five drives inside the Terrapins 20-yard-line failed to produce any points.

The Midshipmen managed to win their next two games against mediocre opposition, but it wasn't easy: They failed to score a point in the second half and had to hold on to beat division I-AA Georgia Southern, 13-7. Then, they had to come back to beat Louisiana Tech.

Still, a win over Air Force would have cured a lot of ills. Navy had beaten its most despised rival - the Midshipmen can't stand losing to Army but respect the Cadets; they aren't quite so touchy-feely about Air Force - seven straight years and won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy all seven times. The Falcons had become as obsessed with the Mids as the Mids had been with the Falcons when Air Force dominated between 1982 and 2002.

Click here for the rest of the article: Navy offense can't get out of neutral close to finish line