Friday, February 26, 2010

Would U.S. Olympic hockey success affect the NHL ratings?; More ‘comments’ talk

The other day one of the posters on the blog expressed surprise—and I guess a little bit of delight—that I still spend time in the car flipping around on the AM radio to find different stations and different games.

It’s true. I know I should have satellite radio but I should also probably have a blackberry and I don’t have one of those either. I can text if I have absolutely need to but I’m more likely to just dial the phone because it’s a lot easier.

The radio has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid and the Mets or Yankees played late at night on the west coast, I’d take my transistor, put it under my pillow and listen to the game until I fell asleep. There was only one FM radio in my parent’s apartment and, as I mentioned yesterday, I’d use it frequently to listen to college basketball games—especially when my parents were out at night and I could sit on the bed with pretzel sticks and a coke while I listened. That was heaven—until my dad found the crumbs.

My car radio is always set—even during the offseason—on stations that I know carry baseball teams. At night, more often than not, I can pick up the Mets and Yankees; the Red Sox; the Phillies; the Indians; the White Sox and, on a clear night, the Cubs and Cardinals. I used to be able to pick up the Orioles and Tigers but they moved away from the clear AM channels they were on in recent years.

Even though I listen to hockey on the radio—bringing back boyhood memories of Marv Albert doing Ranger games—it isn’t the same as baseball. Even college basketball isn’t the same as listening to a baseball game. Life in the car just wouldn’t be the same if I could pick up every single baseball game for a price. I have the baseball package on TV; love the baseball package, especially because it saves me from having to watch the Nationals and Orioles every night (one can only take hearing Rob Dibble call the Nats, “we, us and our guys,” while complaining about every ball and strike call for so long) but there will always be a part of me that misses my boyhood when the NBC game of the week on Saturday was a big deal because it gave you a chance to see teams from other cities play.

All of this is a lead up to talking about hockey. The other day—evening actually—I was in the car and picked up WFAN coming out of New York which has as strong a 50,000 watt signal as any station in the country. I have, at times, picked it up loud and clear in Florida.

Mike Francesa was on. I’ve said before that there is a lot I don’t like about Francesa. He’s arrogant beyond belief, frequently rude to his callers, can’t interview anyone without interrupting and screams at anyone who has the nerve to disagree with him on any subject.

That said, he’s good radio a lot of the time. Because of WFAN’s power, he gets good guests, aided by the fact that the station pays so many coaches and athletes to make regular appearances. He’s also bright, though not nearly as bright as he thinks he is.

The subject was Olympic hockey. A caller brought up the fact that the U.S.-Canada game Sunday night had gotten huge cable ratings and that if the U.S. makes the gold medal game, especially if it plays Canada (he mentioned Russia too at the time) the ratings should go through the roof. My guess is NBC will find a way to show a figure skating exhibition between periods, but so be it.

The caller wondered if the NHL would get a boost from the success the U.S. was having and because the hockey was drawing viewers it doesn’t normally draw. Francesa immediately cut him off (surprise) and said the success of the hockey wouldn’t help the NHL’s ratings on NBC one bit and that Olympic hockey, including 1980, had never helped ratings.

In fact he’s wrong about that. Interest in hockey soared after Lake Placid. Youth hockey grew tremendously, attendance went up in non-original six cities where it had been lagging and the NHL actually over-expanded because it was so encouraged by what it was seeing. There was also a spike after the U.S. played well in the 1994 Olympics, so much so that Sports Illustrated ran a cover story labeling hockey as the next ‘it,’ sport. Then the owners locked the players out at the start of the next season and hockey ceased to be ‘it,’ pretty much before it got started.

It is hard to say how the American success in Vancouver will manifest itself going forward. Hockey is always going to be a tough TV sport. Even if you’ve watched the game all your life, it can be difficult to keep track of the puck, especially in the scrums around the net. Someone takes a shot from the point, the puck ends up in a gaggle of bodies and you aren’t sure if the goalie has it, it’s in the net or it’s gone wide or high. Often it takes replay to see what actually happened on a goal.

What’s more, the NHL’s national package on weeknights is on Versus, which still isn’t in enough homes to make much of a ratings dent. Still, I’ll bet there will be progress, particularly with NBC games on the weekends. The NHL has two superstars: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. For some reason, when their teams, the Capitals and Penguins, met in the conference semifinals last year, NBC made no attempt to get their games on the network. I’m betting that doesn’t happen this year if they meet again. You can also be sure the Buffalo Sabres will see a lot of air time, especially if Ryan Miller proves to be the key guy (as he surely will be) if the U.S. wins any medal, but especially if it’s the gold.

Most people will tell you this: If you go to a hockey game, especially a playoff game, you’re hooked. Hockey in person is as good as it gets and I’m not sure there’s anything more dramatic in sports than a playoff game that goes to overtime—especially a seventh game. The tension is amazing.

But the game is always going to be something of a niche sport on TV. That doesn’t mean it can’t grow. In fact, hockey ratings have improved on NBC since the new rules that were put in place after the lockout and since the arrival (at the same time) of Ovechkin and Crosby. The now-annual outdoor game on New Year’s Day has also brought in new viewers. Even ESPN, which basically sent the NHL packing several years ago, is now talking about wanting to bring it back to the network.

The Olympics will help hockey and the sport will become more popular. It isn’t going to become baseball, football or basketball—no one is claiming that. But to brush it off as some know-it-alls will do, is just silly. And if you DON’T take a look at the game—even with its TV weaknesses—then you’re missing out.


Some of you may have noticed that a post from yesterday was removed by the guys who run the site for me. The removal had nothing to do with it being critical of me—that’s fine as everyone who reads the blog and posts on it or e-mails knows, I have no problem with people disagreeing or critiquing or correcting my mistakes; in fact I enjoy almost all of it. Profanity though, whether directed at me or anyone else, is off-limits here. Because I write books for kids, I know a fair number of kids read the blog. So, we’re going to keep this, as Ben Bradlee might say, a family blog. We've only had to remove posts a couple of times in eight months which speaks to the quality, I think, of those who take the time to post.

As for the non-profane specifics of that post (and I’m pretty sure I know who the poster was) the claim was made that when I said it was, “a matter of record,” that Georgetown was responsible for there being only one scheduled game with Maryland in more than 30 years (there have been a couple of pre-season and postseason tournament games) I was wrong. He said there had been no game because Gary Williams insisted Georgetown return the 1993 game played at Capital Centre to College Park.

In fact, that’s not true. Here’s how I know: I’ve talked to Gary about it in my role as the scheduler for the BB+T Classic. (I’m on the board of the children’s charities foundation that runs the tournament). As long as Verizon Center was set up the way it is set up for the tournament—tickets divided among the teams—he was okay with playing Georgetown. That’s a FACT my angry Georgetown-loving friend. What’s also a FACT is that it was John Thompson (the elder’s) decision to divide the tickets up for the Cap Centre game so that his pal Russ Potts would run the game and the ticket and corporate sales. If you have an issue with that decision, ask Big John about it.

I’ll say it one more time: Georgetown’s absence from an event that has raised more than $8 million for kids at risk in the DC area in 15 years is something that should make anyone associated with Georgetown ANGRY because it’s embarrassing to the school. And if you want to take cheap, profane shots at me for saying that, so be it. I’m quite comfortable with what I’ve said and what I’ve done through the years.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New York City college basketball, Hall of Fame; Going over comments on Georgetown, others

Last night I hosted a radio show that will continue through The Final Four. It is being syndicated by WFAN in New York and it is strictly a college basketball show. Having grown up in New York, I find it dismaying what a wasteland the city has become for college hoops.

When I was a kid, believe it or not, Columbia had good teams. NYU and Manhattan were also pretty good and played doubleheaders in Madison Square Garden a couple of times a month. St. John’s wasn’t a national power but Lou Carnesecca had very good teams. Rutgers and Army were good too. Fordham was almost always competitive and had that one spectacular season under Digger Phelps when it beat Notre Dame in the Garden, lost in overtime to No. 1 ranked Marquette (both in front of sellout crowds) and eventually reached the sweet sixteen.

Yup, Fordham. I like to tease Digger sometimes by saying, “You know Digger, you were a great coach…at Fordham.”

If you liked college hoops there was plenty to watch—and listen to. I was such a junkie that I would LISTEN to games on the student radio stations: WKCR for Columbia; WSOU for Seton Hall; WFUV for Fordham.

Now, as with all things, it’s a lot different. St. John’s has played a majority of its home games at the Garden instead of Alumni Hall in Queens for years now. NYU dropped basketball and then came back as a Division 3 school. Manhattan has had some blips, most recently under Bobby Gonzales, but never plays in the Garden anymore. Fordham has changed leagues twice and is currently buried at the bottom of The Atlantic-10 (winless in league play, two wins all season) and Columbia was last good when, well, when I was a kid. Rutgers and Seton Hall are in The Big East. At least the Pirates are showing progress this season and have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament. Army has had ONE winning season since Mike Krzyzewski left to coach at Duke THIRTY years ago. Ouch.

As a result, especially since the city’s signature team—St. John’s—has been down for 10 years now—I wondered if the show would get ANY calls—since the only place it was broadcast live last night was in New York. (Other cities like DC and Boston for example aired it on tape-delay). When I listen to WFAN, which I often do especially in the car at night and when Steve Somers—easily their best and most entertaining host—is on, I NEVER hear a college hoops call. I mean never.

One of the reasons I enjoy the station is because I can tune it in driving through a snowstorm in January and hear a solid hour of debate on the Mets. Or the Yankees. I can live without the Knicks talk and enjoy the hockey talk—99 percent of it Rangers—and the pro football talk is fine too. There is also ZERO college football talk because New York simply doesn’t have college football, even if you count Rutgers, which is an hour from the city (with no traffic) and people just aren’t going to get that fired up by trips to The St. Petersburg Bowl. Army last had a winning season in football in 1996.

And yet, the phones were lit up throughout the show and there was a good range of questions from the predictable, ‘how far can the ‘Cuse go,’ to people responding to my thoughts on a 96 team tournament to questions about how to fix the one-and-done rule which currently afflicts the sport.

Sadly, no calls about Columbia or Army. There was one about St. John’s. The caller said Lou Carnesecca was under-appreciated. I pointed out that Lou is in the basketball Hall of Fame and was about as beloved as any coach I’ve ever known.

In all, it was fun although the short segments (LOTS of commercials) made me feel rushed at times.

I had two guests: Dan Bonner, who in my opinion is the most underrated college hoops analyst going. Bonner, who played at Virginia under Terry Holland, really gets basketball because he was one of those guys who had to work very hard and learn to understand the game in order to be any good. He’s bright, works extremely hard to prepare and has a great feel for the ebb and flow of a game. (Yes, we’re good friends but if I didn’t think this I’d just keep my mouth shut). The only thing that keeps Dan from being a big star is he doesn’t have shtick. He doesn’t make up words (Clark Kellogg) or scream like a maniac (you-know-who) or repeat the same pet phrases over-and-over (Bill Raftery). He’s just good. Billy Packer without the edge.

My second guest was Mike Krzyzewski. Did I ask him to come on because I’m a Duke grad? No, I asked him to come on because he coaches Duke. (This is a take off on a Jim Valvano line: “Did I recruit Vinny Del Negro because he’s Italian. No, I recruited him because I’M Italian).

Actually I asked Krzyzewski to come on because his team was off last night, because he’s the winningest active Division 1 coach out there and because his opinions are always interesting—whether we agree or disagree.

One subject we got on to was the Hall of Fame. Krzyzewski has been instrumental in setting up a College Basketball Hall of Fame the last five years and yesterday, Christian Laettner, the best player he ever coached, was voted into the new Hall of Fame. That raised the issue—at least with me—about the Naismith Hall of Fame, the one in Springfield.

The politics of the Hall of Fame are shameful. The names of the 24 voters are kept secret, ostensibly because the Hall doesn’t want them lobbied---if you’re qualified to vote for a Hall of Fame you should be able to withstand lobbying—but really because the Hall doesn’t want them to have to stand behind their votes. What a joke.

Ironically, Mike brought up Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams as two people who should be in the Hall of Fame who aren’t. I agree on both and my opinions on Lefty not being in there have been made clear on numerous occasions. It’s a joke. The irony, of course, is that Mike brought up two Maryland coaches and Maryland people absolutely revile him. Trust me when Duke plays at Maryland next Wednesday it will not be a pretty sight. (The game may be great, the fans not so much).

The next show is Tuesday night. I may open it by ripping the Hall of Fame (again) for its ridiculous voting procedures and for keeping Lefty out. He won’t be going in this year either: none of the nominees are college coaches. That’s because the NBA now controls the Hall. Lefty, Gary, Jim Phalen, Herb Magee (who just broke Bob Knight’s all-time record for NCAA coaching victories on Tuesday with his 903d win at Philadelphia University) all come to mind right away.

What a joke. Seventeen days to Selection Sunday.


A couple of notes from yesterday’s posts—many of which were both smart and fascinating.
To my old buddy Poncho: You’re right, I did take shots a couple of Northwestern guys. But you, being the smart Northwestern guy you are know they were NOT cheap shots, just shots…

To the guy who hacked into my Wikipedia—usually something my teen-age son likes to do to mention how cool he is—to claim I applied to Georgetown and didn’t get in and that’s why I have a bias against Georgetown: If I had applied to Georgetown I might not have gotten in; it’s a great school. But I didn’t apply.

I have one problem with Georgetown. It is not John Thompson the elder, with whom I had many battles but always respected and get along fine with now. It isn’t John the third, who I’ve known since he was at Princeton as a player. I like him and think he’s a terrific coach. My problem is simply this: Georgetown has consistently refused to play in a local charity basketball tournament for 15 years that raises an average of $500,000 a year that goes to kids at risk in the D.C. area.

We (the board of directors of the charity) have tried everything to get Georgetown to play: we’ve offered them potential opponents ranging from Maryland (a game that should be played every year in my opinion) to Texas to Holy Cross—with plenty of others in-between. John the elder wouldn’t meet with us at all. Craig Esherick did meet with us but his first demand was that we throw George Washington, which has been involved since day one, out of the event. John the third has met with us and keeps coming up with different reasons not to do it.

So yes, I’m guilty, I have a bias there. But that has NOTHING to do with my AP ballot this week. I’ve had Georgetown as high as, I think, seventh during the course of the season. Until their win at Louisville Wednesday they had gone through a stretch where they lost to an awful Rutgers team; a mediocre South Florida team (at home) and were lucky to beat Providence. Their best wins—Duke and Villanova—were at home. So, for one week when they weren’t playing very well, I gave some smaller schools a nod because I always do that when given the chance. Since my vote—and the polls in general—has absolutely no affect on who gets into the tournament or where they’re seeded—I see no reason not to throw a vote to Cornell or consistently underrated teams like Old Dominion (which, as you recall beat Georgetown in December) or some of the teams in the Atlantic-10 or Missouri Valley Conference. I had a total of TWO ACC teams in the poll last week (I think Maryland is a lot better than people know) and four Big East teams in the top 13.

Here’s my advice: Get over it. And tell the powers-that-be at Georgetown you want your school in The BB+T Classic.

Finally: Thanks to the poster who caught my slip on the GAG line with the Rangers. Brad Park obviously played defense. (I was such a sick fan as a kid I sometimes argued he was as good as Bobby Orr. Okay, fine, I know better now. But Park was great). The GAG line was, of course, Hadfield, Ratelle and Gilbert. I still haven’t completely recovered from Ratelle and Park being traded to the hated Bruins.

This week's radio segments

Yesterday I joined The Sports Reporters' Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment.  In addition to dancing around the ESPN saga, we discussed Bobby Knight and the anniversary of the chair throwing, Stephen Strasburg hype, Maryland basketball and more.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ESPN punished Tony for being Tony –- what complete hypocrites

Okay, let’s start this morning with the disclaimer: Most people know that I like Tony Kornheiser and I don’t like ESPN. So, when I discuss Tony’s two week suspension from the network, specifically from Pardon The Interruption, I do so being fully aware of the biases I bring to the table.

Tony and I have been friends for 30 years. I began reading him while in college when he was still at The New York Times and thought he was about as good a writer as anyone going. When he came to The Washington Post we became friends quickly: both of us were (and are) wise-guy New Yorkers and Tony became someone I sought out when I needed advice or guidance. When the idea of trying to do a book on Bob Knight came to me in 1985, Tony was the very first person who said, “you should absolutely do this. It can be a great book.”

He was pretty close to a lone voice (there were a handful of others) because most of my friends and family thought I was crazy to take a leave of absence from The Post to do the book. Fortunately for me I followed my gut instinct and Tony’s advice.

We’ve been through lots of ups and downs. We’ve had periods where we didn’t speak to one another over fights I swear to God I can’t remember anymore. Tony can be an absolute pain-in-the-butt (as can I)—which may be one reason why we’re still friends. He’s lectured me on my behavior and decision-making at times and I’ve done the same to him.

Now, there are some people who love Tony’s work, in print and on-air and think he’s the funniest, smartest guy going. There are others who think he’s a whining curmudgeon and can’t understand why anyone would want to listen to him, much less hire him.

I can tell you one entity that loves Tony’s work: ESPN. That’s why the network bought his local radio show years ago and took it national. (For the record it was Tony who opted to go back to local radio because he got tired of having dull ex-jock, ESPN-talent shoved down his throat as guests). That’s why it built PTI around him and Mike Wilbon. That’s why it chose to put him on Monday Night Football, it’s FLAGSHIP property for three years. ESPN pays Tony a lot of money because it likes who he is on-air. YOU might hate him. ESPN loves him.

Part of what makes Tony Tony is the fact that he’s constantly making fun of people. God knows he makes fun of me all the time, whether about my clothes, my waist-size (still 36 but not with much margin these days) the stupid nickname he stuck on me when I was 23-years-old or my opinions, which often differ from his.

That’s Tony. It is who he is. When he trashed Marv Albert years ago during Albert’s troubles, I said to him, “how can you do that, you’ve been friends with him for years.” Tony shrugged and said, “it’s what I do. It’s my job.”

We disagreed on that one. We often disagree. He defended Mitch Albom when Mitch made up the column about the two Michigan State players at The Final Four five years ago. I thought it was a disgrace and that Mitch’s reaction to the whole thing was worse than that.

Part of what Tony does on the radio is sit and watch TV monitors during the show and make comments about what he’s seeing or sometimes hearing. He kills Ann Curry from The Today show regularly. A few weeks ago he talked about the fact that Jim Nantz had put on weight. Actually that’s not what he said. He said Nantz had gotten fat. It’s worth remembering that Tony refers to himself often as, “bald, fat and old.” The e-mail address for his show is: This Show Stinks. That’s Tony.

ESPN certainly didn’t mind Tony trashing Ann Curry or Jim Nantz or me. But criticizing ESPN is simply not allowed. Remember last summer when all ESPN affiliates were banned from discussing the networks’ unpardonable decision to not mention that Ben Roethlisberger was being sued in a civil suit for assault? The affiliates were told they could NOT bring up the case or ESPN’s decision not to report the law suit.

The last time anyone tried to exert control like this was the old Soviet Union. Misbehave at ESPN and they send you to the Gulag. That’s why I’m not on Sports Reporters anymore. I made a crack to a reporter about ESPN’s desire to own and operate all of sports—and the fact that it appeared to be succeeding. That was it, I was sent to The Gulag, where life has been fine actually. People ask me if I miss The Sports Reporters and my answer is this: I miss the people I worked with on the show. I do NOT miss dealing with ESPN even a little bit.

Tony’s been given a two week Gulag sentence—suspension—because he made a couple of wise cracks about Hannah Storm’s outfit on sportscenter last Thursday. Let’s not even get into the question of whether the outfit was or was not tasteful. It IS ridiculous that people constantly judge women on TV based on their looks and what they’re wearing. Tony does it but he also does it to guys. He’s not trying to be sexist, he’s trying to be funny.

So let’s say he swung and missed on this one. I didn’t see the outfit but even if I did, I’m willing to accept that the comment about looking as if she was “wrapped in a sausage,” was over the line. I’m not even entirely sure what that means.

When Tony started getting nailed on the internet for the line, ESPN, ever-vigilant, sprung into action. Tony instantly agreed to apologize to Storm and did—on the phone and on his show the next day. That should have been the end of it.

Look, I have some experience with this. When I uttered my infamous profanity during the Navy-Duke game five years ago, I apologized right away on the air after first offering to resign. The Navy people, specifically Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk and Eric Ruden, who oversees the radio network both said the same thing: “You made a mistake, you acknowledged the mistake, you apologized. We’re done. See you next week for the Air Force game.”

Most people took the same approach: apology accepted. To this day I still have clever people occasionally say to me, “think you can get through the broadcast without saying ----- today?” That’s the price you pay. Just as a guy came up to me at a basketball game last night and said, “Hey, how’s your pal Bobby Knight?”

To quote Tiger Woods and Peppermint Patty, I blame the media.

The TWO apologies should have been enough. But ESPN couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to let people know that it is America’s great defender of women. That’s because in the past it has been anything but that. So, after Tony apologized to Storm both privately and publicly, he was told he was going to be suspended. At first it was going to be three days but clearly someone up high decided this was a great time to REALLY jump on a high horse so the suspension became 10 days. Then there were predictable self-righteous statements from Bristol about how the network simply couldn’t allow this.

Oh please.

ESPN is, for the most part, a celebration of mediocrity. I was reminded of that this morning when I heard the various taped paeans from sports people to ‘Mike and Mike’s,’ 10th anniversary. (Question: Does Greenberg think that every single coach or manager alive is named, ‘coach or skip?’ Question: Is Golic capable of asking a single non-football question not written for him by a producer?)

There are exceptions to the mediocrity rule, some people who are very good and some shows (notably PTI) that are smart and funny. Actually, now that I think of it, PTI is the ONLY daily show on TV or radio (unless you are an insomniac and listen to Bob Valvano which I do when driving home very late at night) that is consistently smart and funny. Take Tony off the show and it becomes a less loud version of ‘Around The Horn.’ That show is occasionally saved by the presence of Bob Ryan (or at least made less unbearable) and Wilbon, when he isn’t sucking up to famous athletes, brings smarts and experience to PTI. But there’s no show without Tony.

So here’s what ESPN did: It subjected Tony to public humiliation so it could take a phony bow and claim to be a great defender of women. It did this to punish Tony for being Tony. The guy they hired because they liked who he was. What complete hypocrites.

Then again, this is about as surprising as Dick Vitale screaming or the NCAA making a grab for money. It is who ESPN is. And, no doubt, always will be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Possibility of Ovechkin vs. USA, will fans of the Capitals be torn at all?; Rooting for individuals vs. laundry

I was making my weekly appearance yesterday on “Washington Post Live,”—which is a pretty good show except for the fact that there has to be a Redskins segment EVERY DAY—when this question popped into my head: If the United States makes the gold medal game in Olympic hockey (which is now distinctly possible after the remarkable 5-3 upset of Canada on Sunday) and it faces Russia, will fans of The Washington Capitals be torn at all?

After all, Alexander Ovechkin may be the most popular non-Redskin in the history of the town. The only person I can think of who might have been as beloved as Ovechkin is Wes Unseld. Frank Howard was certainly popular years ago with the Senators but they were a bad team throughout his years in Washington.

You can’t walk 100 yards in downtown DC right now without encountering someone wearing an Ovechkin jersey. People here are firmly convinced the Caps are going to win The Stanley Cup this spring and if they do Ovechkin is going to be the main reason. It can be argued that Ovechkin is the first athlete to represent Washington since, I don’t know, Sammy Baugh? Who was THE best player in his sport. (Save your Sidney Crosby argument for another day. The point is he is 1 or 1-A at worst).

So, I wondered aloud on the air if Ovechkin—and fellow Cap Alexander Semin—are out there representing Russia, do Caps fans root for their guys or for their country?

Based on text messages sent to the station the verdict was overwhelming: USA-USA-USA. Naturally some people wondered if I was “crazy,” for even thinking there was a debate.

All of which reminded me how doing what I do gives you a different perspective than most people. When I was a kid I rooted ardently for the Mets, the Jets, the Knicks, the Rangers and, after I had bought my first car and could drive to Long Island as a high school senior, the expansion Islanders. I even rooted for the Nets while they were in the ABA and never hated the Yankees or the Giants. My instinct has always been to pull for underdogs so I was drawn to the expansion Mets. With the Jets it was more basic: I could get into the games.

I loved my teams. Like any fan there were individuals I picked out as my favorites: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee with the Mets; Joe Namath, Matt Snell and Verlon Biggs with the Jets; Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave Debusschere and Bill Bradley with the Knicks; Brad Park and the GAG (Goal-a-game) line with the Rangers: Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and, later, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Brian Trottier and Mike Bossy with the Islanders although I always had a warm spot for Billy Harris even though he was traded before the team started winning Stanley Cups.

But in the end, I was a typical fan. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, I rooted for laundry.

I was furious with the Mets when they traded Seaver in 1977 and never stopped being a Seaver fan. In fact, one of my great thrills was covering the game in Yankee Stadium in 1983 when he won his 300th game while pitching for the White Sox.

But I was still a Mets fan—even after the Seaver trade.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped rooting for laundry and started rooting for individuals. It might have been while standing in the Red Sox clubhouse in 1986 watching Bill Buckner answer question after question without blinking or complaining after his infamous boot of Mookie Wilson’s ground ball in game six of The World Series. As a Mets fan, I was thrilled with the way they had come back to win the game. Watching Buckner handle the situation with such grace made me feel awful for him. During game seven, even as I rooted ardently for the Mets, I couldn’t help but think about what this would do to Buckner.

To this day, when that World Series comes up, I point out to people—many of whom don’t remember—that the score was already tied when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. He did NOT lose the World Series for the Red Sox.

When Pat Riley became the coach of the Knicks, I stopped being a Knicks fan. I just didn’t like him and I hated his style of play. I’ve never gone back to the Knicks. In fact, I became a Celtics fan—a team I DESPISED as a kid—because of my friendship with Red Auerbach.

Other than being consistently lousy, the Jets never did anything to make me dislike them but when I did my book on the Ravens in 2004, I couldn’t help but want to see the Ravens do well since I got to know almost everyone in the organization. As luck would have it, the Ravens and Jets played that season, in the Meadowlands.

Darin Kerns, who was one of the Ravens equipment managers, had mentioned to the Jets equipment guys that I had grown up a Jets fan. So, before the game, Darin marched me to the Jets locker room where the Jets guys gave me a box of equipment—most of it for my kids. I walked back to the Ravens locker room carrying the box. When I walked in, Brian Billick said, “what’s that?”

“It’s a box full of Jets gear.”

“So let me get this straight, you’re in our locker room, you’re on our sideline, you’re in our meetings and you’re carrying a box of Jets gear around to take home to your kids.”


“Okay. Just so I’m clear on where you stand.”

Billick knew where I stood which was why he gave me a hard time about it. Now that Rex Ryan, who was an assistant on that Ravens team, is running the Jets I find myself pulling for the Jets again. If the Jets and Ravens played today, especially since a lot of the guys I knew back in ’04 are gone, I’m honestly not sure whose side I’d be on. I’d probably root for the team that needed to win the game more.

I AM still an Islanders fan. I covered the team in the 80s when they were still great and was thrilled to find that the players I’d loved watching play were, almost to a man, really good guys. (Of course hockey players in general are good guys). Al Arbour, the coach, was terrific to be around and, in addition to the big names, guys like Bob Bourne, Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies (who was actually a pretty big name) and Ken Morrow, made the job easy and fun. Even though the team has been mostly awful since it last played in The Stanley Cup Finals in 1984, I still have warm memories of that group that make me occasionally shout at the TV when the current team, still very young but (finally) with some potential, blows a 3-1 lead in the third period the way it did in the last game before the Olympics.

As for Duke, my alma mater, I’ve discussed my relationship with the school here in the past. I still pull for Mike Krzyzewski, because he’s been a friend for a long time but so have a lot of coaches including Gary Williams and Roy Williams and Oliver Purnell and Leonard Hamilton—just to name a few guys in the ACC. The games I get most into these days usually involve Patriot League teams. In fact, I think the most emotional I’ve been watching a game in recent years was the night Bucknell stunned Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. I still get chills thinking about that game. George Mason beating Connecticut to go to the Final Four in 2006 is right up there too, not because I don’t like Jim Calhoun (I do) but because it was one of the great underdog stories EVER and I got to cover it.

When Jim Larranaga raced over to where I was standing shortly after that game had ended and said, “I can’t wait to see (Jim) Nantz and (Billy) Packer in Indy,”—both had dissed the committee for putting Mason in the tournament—it was a truly sublime moment.

As luck would have it, I was having dinner in St. Elmo’s, the great steak house in Indy on Wednesday night that week when Nantz and Packer walked in. I’d already run into Larranaga because he and his team were eating in a private room in the back of the restaurant. When Jim and Billy stopped to say hello, I couldn’t resist.

“The George Mason kids are eating in a room in the back,” I said. “They can’t wait to see you guys.”

Nantz immediately headed back there to deliver his official apology. Packer never moved. “You aren’t going to apologize?” I said to him.

“I don’t have anything to apologize for,” Packer said.

That’s one reason I loved Billy—he always stuck to his guns even when they were empty.

So, if the U.S. does play Russia in the gold medal game, I’ll be no different than most Americans, I’ll be pulling for the U.S. But it will have more to do with my affection for underdogs than with the letters on the front of the sweater.

Monday, February 22, 2010

This weekend's Bobby Cremins article for the Post; AP basketball poll vote

Here is this weekend's column on Bobby Cremins for The Washington Post ------------

Bobby Cremins looked like his head was on a swivel. His College of Charleston basketball team was about to meet Saturday morning in a hotel conference room to go over the scouting report for the game it would play against George Mason at Patriot Center, and Cremins wanted to make sure everyone had a place to sit.

"Carolyn, take my chair, I'll get another one," he said to his wife, even while someone was grabbing a chair for Carolyn Cremins.

He looked around again and pointed to another chair nearby that Athletic Director Joe Hull could use. He waved a couple more people into the room, looking more like a cruise director than a coach with 537 victories on his coaching résumé before Saturday night's 85-83 win at George Mason. He clearly was completely at home, doing what coaching friends call the "Bobby Cremins thing."

Only Bobby Cremins can do the Bobby Cremins thing. He's done it successfully now for 29 years -- including a six-year break after he left Georgia Tech, where the court is named for him -- in a manner that may be unique in the pantheon of big-time coaches: He's never made an enemy.

Click here for the rest of the column: Bobby Cremins is still doing his thing at College of Charleston


The following is my ballot for this week's Associated Press Top 25 Poll:

1           Kansas
2           Kentucky
3           Syracuse
4           Purdue
5           Duke
6           Kansas State
7           West Virginia
8           Ohio State
9           Villanova
10         New Mexico
11         BYU
12         Butler
13         Pittsburgh
14         Michigan State
15         Temple
16         Tennessee
17         Northern Iowa
18         Gonzaga
19         Wisconsin
20         Maryland
21         Richmond
22         Vanderbilt
23         Texas
24         UTEP
25         Cornell

Weekend reaction - talking about the commentary on, and my experience of, Tiger Woods

I feel torn this morning because there is a lot of cool stuff to write about: Bode Miller’s redemption and his remarkable slalom run yesterday—which I still haven’t seen because every single time I try to turn on NBC they are showing figure skating. I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME. There’s also the U.S.’s stunning hockey win over Canada—which you COULD watch on MSNBC while the dopey ice dancing was going on. Two months ago, George McPhee, the general manager of The Washington Capitals told me he thought the U.S. had a chance in Vancouver for one reason: Ryan Miller. So far he looks pretty smart.

(Note to anyone who is going to get offended because I think figure skating is ridiculous: I’m NOT saying the skaters aren’t remarkable athletes. But so are ballet dancers and I don’t think ballet dancing should be an Olympic sport either. Enough about that.)

There is also plenty of college hoops to talk about right now with Selection Sunday—perhaps the last one that will really matter if the NCAA goes Dialing for Dollars this summer as I suspect it will—less than three weeks away.

But I can’t seem to escape Tiger Woods. The more times I see a replay of the farce he staged on Friday and then hear people self-righteously defending him, I get a little bit angrier although perhaps not as angry as the poster who ripped me on Friday for being willing to write all about John Daly’s genitals in a book and then for criticizing Tiger. Thanks to whomever posted right below her and pointed out that RICK REILLY wrote that book. How do you confuse me with Rick Reilly? What are the chances I’d ever be caught dead wearing a white suit? Or any suit for that matter.

Here’s what I find most interesting about the various commentaries I’ve seen, heard and read since Friday. Most of those who have actually spent time around Tiger—notice I didn’t say KNOW Tiger because I agree with my friend Sally Jenkins who wrote that Tiger won’t let anyone really know him—saw what took place on Friday as a performance. I’m not just talking about the fact that the whole thing had clearly been rehearsed and the fact that he literally READ the words, “Good morning.”

I’m not even talking about the ridiculous scene we saw with Tiger’s “friends and colleagues,” (many of whom are his employees) sitting up straight in their chairs at rapt attention as if the President was addressing the nation in the midst of some kind of crisis. I’m surprised they didn’t all stand when Tiger entered and exited the room.

I’m not even talking about his refusal to answer questions and the comic attempt by his agent Mark Steinberg to handpick a group of reporters to be “allowed,” to sit in the room at the feet of The Great Man.

What made this so clearly a performance is something raised by the Tiger-defenders: “He doesn’t have to apologize to anyone except his family,” is a bleat I’ve heard repeated often—especially on ESPN where I wonder if the Bristol Boys are writing the same script for everyone in the desperate hope that Tiger will grant them (pant-pant) a sit-down with one of their softball questioners in the future. (Stephen A. Smith was the notable exception but he’s no longer a rising star at the network and they can just tell Team Tiger, ‘we didn’t know he was going to, you know, tell the truth. We apologize’).

Okay then folks, if he didn’t need to apologize to anyone but his family what was he doing out there apologizing to anyone and everyone including all the children in the world? Here’s the answer: This was step one, not of the 12 steps to recovery for addicts, but in the however-many-steps-it-takes to recovery for fallen icons. Tiger wants his sponsors back—or new sponsors to take their place. He wants to be beloved again. He wants people to think he’s “changed.” What he was doing Friday is no different than a beer company ad that urges you to “drink responsibly,” after pitching its product. Tiger wants people to think he CARES about them now.

Look, I know a lot of you will say I just don’t like Tiger. In truth, I don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him. I’m awed by his talent as a golfer and I’m always disappointed when I watch him blow off kids asking for autographs and I think he’s disdainful of most people. I think he’s smart as hell and I see his arrogance as one of the reasons he’s the golfer that he is. I agree with people who say that if he’d ever let his guard down he’d probably be a good guy to have a beer with. I also think—as I have always thought—that he’s been a victim of his father, not a product of his father, for a long, long time. The fact that I’ve written that and said that since he first came on tour is a major reason why Tiger doesn’t like ME. Which is fine. Lots of people don’t like me. It comes with the job.

But the notion that I sit back and lob bombs at Tiger or anyone based on personal biases is silly. We all have biases and the key as reporters is being aware of them. I don’t know, for example, Nick Saban but everything I’ve ever seen of him or read about him or been told about him by those who do know him, indicates to me I wouldn’t like him at all. But the guy is a GREAT college football coach. Period. I don’t really know Joe Paterno very well but everything I’ve seen of him, read about him and been told about him indicates to me that I WOULD like him. He is also a GREAT college football coach.

So my reaction to Tiger on Friday isn’t personal. It’s based on what I know from watching him in action on and off golf courses for 14 years. If he comes back to the game and learns to behave on the golf course—and makes his vigilante caddy behave—terrific. I will applaud him for that. If he repairs his marriage, that’s his business just as if he doesn’t, that’s his business too. I’d like to see him sign more autographs; play in some of the tournaments that gave him sponsor exemptions when he first turned pro (and in the Bob Hope Classic which could use the boost) and just be a little nicer to people who aren’t paying him to be nice. I hold out little if no hope that he’ll be kinder and gentler with the media and, honestly, I don’t care.

That said, I found his lecturing of the media Friday amazing. He screams and yells about his wife and kids being followed to school. He knows full well that none of the media who have covered him regularly (and most treated him as a God-life figure) followed anyone to school. He also knows that it was HIS behavior that brought the tabloids into the life of his family.

As for his rant about how unfair it was for people to say Elin attacked him on Thanksgiving night, fine, I’ll take him at his word. Except for one thing: If Elin didn’t attack or threaten you in some way, how the hell did you end up in your car at 2:30 in the morning in a T-shirt, shorts and bare feet, clearly in no condition to drive but driving anyway—right into a fire hydrant outside your house? None of us needs to hear about conversations inside the house—Tiger is very good at saying he won’t answer questions few of us want to ask—but as a public figure who set in motion a series of extraordinarily public events by getting into the car, he DOES need to explain how he got there. Don’t call people liars if you aren’t prepared to provide them with the truth.

Here’s the worst part of the whole thing: Tiger Woods has now become one of the most polarizing public figures on the planet. Other than what HE did—not the tabloid media—to his family, that’s the saddest part of this whole thing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturday's Washington Post column - 'Tiger Woods's half-apology'

One of the things that make an athlete great is extraordinary arrogance. The best of the best always believe they will find a way to overcome adversity, to pull off the shot that can't be pulled off, to find a way to win when losing appears inevitable. No one has defined that arrogance more clearly over the past 14 years than Tiger Woods, who has dominated golf since he turned pro in 1996.

On Friday morning, Woods came out of hiding. Exactly 12 weeks after the early-morning accident that led to revelations that he had repeatedly been involved in extramarital affairs, Woods appeared in public for the first time to say he was sorry.

He apologized to almost everyone he had ever crossed paths with. He looked sad and choked up at times. He said that he had learned from his mistakes and is still learning after spending 45 days in a rehabilitation center -- though he never specifically mentioned where he had gone seeking help. He tried very hard to sound humbled.

He didn't pull it off.

Click here for the rest of the story: Tiger Woods's half-apology

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiger Woods and his televised press release

So Tiger Woods is coming down from the mountain to speak to us.

Sort of.

Unless he changes his mind at the last minute, Woods isn’t going to take any questions when he shows up inside the clubhouse of The TPC Sawgrass on Friday morning. He will deliver a statement and that will be it. He and his agent Mark Steinberg and the rest of ‘Team Tiger,’ have invited some, “friends and colleagues,” and, for reasons I don’t completely understand, six members of the print media.

What I don’t understand is why any of us would need to be there. This isn’t a press conference, it is a televised press release. The invited writers shouldn’t even go. They should tell Steinberg and Woods that if the guy isn’t going to answer questions, there’s no reason to attend. In fact, everyone associated with this sham should be ashamed for taking part in it.

The PGA Tour, by giving Woods and company access to the TPC clubhouse (and thus use of a gated facility complete with security) is throwing one of its sponsors, Accenture, right under the bus. You remember Accenture? It was the first corporation to drop Woods after the November 27th car accident that led to all the revelations about his personal life.

If you think for ONE second that the timing of this appearance isn’t connected to the fact that The Accenture World Match Play Championship is going on this week I have some ocean front land in Nebraska I’d like to sell you. Tiger is one of the world’s most vindictive people, someone who can hold a grudge with the best of them. (I say this as someone who holds grudges and can be pretty vindictive myself. I’m trying to get better is about my only defense).

So when Woods, Steinberg and company go to the tour and say, ‘we’re doing this on Friday,' the tour’s answer should be, ‘we can’t stop you but we’re sure as hell not helping you.”

Now, what you’ll say in answer to that is that Tim Finchem can’t afford to have Tiger mad at him because he’s bigger than the game. You’d be right. Except at some point as commissioner of ALL the players in the game you have to draw a line. You have to say, ‘look Tiger, sorry if this upsets you but Accenture is still one of OUR sponsors and we have 64 of the world’s best players in the event this week. We wish you’d wait till next week to do this but if you won’t, you’re on your own.’

If Tiger stalks off to play The European Tour over that, then fine. First of all, he doesn’t want to play in Europe on a regular basis. Second, he looks like a petulant little baby if he does and everyone would know why he was doing it. Finchem should have stood up and said no.

So should The Golf Writers Association of America—of which I am a member. It should have said to Steinberg, “hang on here pal. If you’re holding an alleged press conference, any legitimate member of the golf media (let’s not get into the tabloid question here) should be able to attend. We don’t accept you not only limiting how many people can come but WHO can come.’ Steinberg informed the GWAA that three wire services—AP, Reuters and Bloomberg—were invited and that GWAA President Vartan Kupelian could ‘designate,’ three writers but of course Steinberg could veto his choices.

As in, if Vartan had named, say, ME (God Forbid I wouldn’t be caught dead there) he would have said, ‘no way.’ So, Vartan named himself (fine if he wants to go); Bob Harig from (same thing, fine if poor Bob wants to do it) and Mark Soltau. Look, I like Mark and he’s a good writer. But he WORKS for Tiger—writes for his website. Are you kidding me?

[Update: I'm happy to say the golf writers voted Thursday afternoon to boycott the Tiger-fraud, but that doesn't mean those designated to go might not still go. I hope they don't.]

The problem is this: People are STILL intimidated by Tiger—the commissioner of the tour; a lot of golf writers; a lot of players too. One reason I’d never get in the room is that they know I’d stand up and say, ‘Hang on Tiger, I know there are some people who simply want to see you play golf again and don’t give a damn what you’ve done. That’s fine. That’s their right. They can tune in whenever you’re playing (I still believe it’ll be Doral or Bay Hill although some are theorizing he wants to go play Phoenix next week to have 60,000 drunks screaming his name to remind people that he's still adored). But there are a LOT of people who feel very letdown by you. They feel you lied to them, by talking about how important family was to you while you were doing what you were doing. You made millions because they bought products you endorsed and they gave a lot of money to your foundation. Don’t you owe them the answers to some questions?’

Of course I’d be dragged out by security and accused of grandstanding so it’s better I’m not there.

The sad irony in this is that Tiger is once again being badly advised and is making the wrong decision. If he walked into the room, read his statement and then said, ‘okay fellas (to ANY legitimate media who wanted to show up, not just invited cheerleaders) I’m going to sit here and answer every question you’ve got. Once I’m done and I walk out of this room, I’m done. I’m going to do this once to get it over with so I can move on with my life. Fire away.”

And then, an hour later or whenever it was over, he’d be done. If someone raised the issue again he could legitimately say, “I answered every question I was asked back in February.”

Now, it’s just more of the same stonewalling. Maybe the next step is Oprah and some crocodile tears but I’m not sure that many people will buy that at this point.

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the announcement that Tiger was going to speak, I was on Jim Rome’s radio show. Jim asked me if I thought Tiger might come back to the tour a different guy than when he left. I said I didn’t think he’d be even a little bit different, that (if possible) he’d be more closed and more defensive with the media.

So far, unfortunately, I’m right. Maybe he’ll reconsider this morning when he gets in front of the (one) camera allowed in the room. I doubt it. I know his defenders will say he doesn’t owe people anything except spectacular golf. I don’t happen to think that’s true. I’ll watch this thing because my job requires me to watch it but honestly, if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

I’m pretty damn sure I know exactly what he’s going to say. And I’m just as sure all of you do too.

This week's radio segments

Yesterday I joined The Sports Reporters' Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment. With the Tiger Woods announcement of the orchestrated event that is happening Friday morning, that was the topic of the day.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also made my regular appearance on The Gas Man at 5:25 PT on Wednesday. In this segment, we spent the majority of the time discussing the Tiger event coming up on Friday.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


This week on the newest The Tony Kornheiser Show I was on during the ten o'clock hour, and as expected we spent the majority of the time discussing our opinions on the upcoming televised Tiger press statement.  This week, we had differing opinions on much of the matter.

Click here to listen to the segment (starts at approximately the 28:50 mark): The Tony Kornheiser Show

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ups and downs of Lindsey Jacobellis

I really want to feel sorry for Lindsey Jacobellis this morning. Most of you probably don’t know who she is unless you are watching a lot more of The Winter Olympics than I am.

So here’s a little background: Four years ago when snowboarding was introduced as an Olympic sport, Jacobellis had a chance to become a star—at least in the way most Winter Olympians become stars. She wasn’t going to be Shaun White, who I guess has become some kind of snowboarding icon or Lindsey Vonn, who has yet to win an Olympic medal but is now being treated by the American media as if she’s Peyton Manning with a sprained ankle on the eve of The Super Bowl.

Update: Lindsey stepped in and out of the shower this morning pain free. Her husband, the ever-present Thomas Vonn, reports that if the women’s downhill is delayed until June—as now seems likely—Lindsey should be ready to ski pain free. Unless she’s not. More in about 15 minutes.

Four years ago in Turin, Jacobellis was leading an event called the snowboard cross, which is, essentially, a race down the mountain on snowboards with various gates and jumps along the way. Watching it can be very entertaining and there’s no doubting the remarkable skill of the competitors. She was cruising in the four-woman final when she came to the last jump. Whether out of excitement or ebullience or cockiness, she came out of the jump and did what other boarders (they’re not skiers right?) described as a hot-dog move, leaning forward to grab the front of her board as she came off the jump.

If you’re out for a romp on a mountain and you’re good, there’s nothing wrong with such a move. When you are competing for an Olympic Gold Medal, it probably isn’t such a good idea because it’s not easy to do and, well, the goal at that moment is to get to the finish line, not look cool. If you want to really look cool you stand on a medal stand with gold around your neck and hear your national anthem played. Now THAT’s cool.

Jacobellis fell. By the time she scrambled to her feet the only remaining boarder who hadn’t fallen yet, Tanja Frieden, whooshed by her. Since no one else was following her, Jacobellis got up, stumbled across the finish line and won the silver medal.

Look, an Olympic silver medal is an amazing accomplishment. I’ve had the chance to HOLD Olympic medals won by others and that’s as close as I’ll ever come to an Olympic medal. I would be thrilled right now to win a medal in a Masters swimming meet. But when you are the best in the world at an Olympic sport and all you have to do is not screw around for another five seconds and you opt to screw around and you turn gold into silver, that’s just foolish.

What Jacobellis did was the competitive equivalent of Michael Phelps thinking his lead in the 200 freestyle at the Beijing Olympics was so huge (which it was) that he could flip on his back and backstroke to the wall. Except he miscalculated and someone passed him on the last stroke.
Jacobellis—and a lot of snowboarders—didn’t see it that way. Her reaction was, basically, “whatever, it happens. I was having fun.”

Old people like me weren’t so much horrified as stunned. You train like crazy in a sport where the only event anyone but friends and family care about is the Olympics and decide to “have fun,” a few yards from a gold medal? The flip side were people who said, “hey, the snowboarders and X-games types were brought in to breathe new life into the Games. This is what you get.”

Okay, we’re all different. And, since all Olympic athletes are pros nowadays, Jacobellis would—barring injury—get another shot in four years. Well, her shot came on Tuesday. She didn’t make the final. On what was apparently a slushy and difficult course, she boarded (is that what you say?) off the course during the semifinals, missing a gate. That disqualified her.

Here’s where I have trouble feeling sorry for her—which I want to do, the way I feel for Tod Lodwick, the Nordic skier who JUST missed a medal on Sunday in the Nordic combined, finishing in fourth place in his fifth and almost certainly last Olympics. There’s nothing worse than finishing fourth in the Olympics. It’s much worse than finishing second. You “win,” silver. No one ever says you “win,” fourth. Lodwick’s got one more shot in the relay next Tuesday. I, for one, will be pulling for him and the American team big-time.

Jacobellis has apparently been complaining about the condition of the course all week. She’s apparently not wrong but, last I looked, everyone was boarding on the same course. Then, Tuesday, after her flame-out she walked past reporters in what’s called the “mixed zone,” which is where reporters can lean over a barrier and try to talk to the athletes as they walk by—if the athletes decide to and stop and talk. To this day, working a “mixed zone,” may be the most humiliating thing I’ve done as a reporter. Jacobellis just kept going when reporters tried to get her to stop and talk.

Whatever happened to, “I’m just having fun,” or “it happens?” Maybe it’s a good sign that she was upset about her performance. Maybe she figured out that the Olympics are, in fact, a competition. Or maybe she’s another spoiled athlete who can go stand in line with most of the world’s tennis players.

Either way, it’s too bad. As I said last week, what I like about the Winter Olympics is that most of the athletes aren’t hyper-marketed stars who we learn to dislike almost as soon as we get to know them a little. (Figure skaters, of course, are the exception. We’ll go back to the figure-skating competition in a minute, but first we have another update from Thomas Vonn: Lindsey ate breakfast with no visible discomfort. She’s planning to eat lunch. We aren’t ready to commit to dinner yet. More to come after Bob Costas introduces the next four hours of figure skating).

Lindsey Jacobellis had one chance to win a gold medal and blew it. She got a second chance and was unlucky. The first time around she shrugged it off. This time she was clearly upset.

Maybe that’s progress. Maybe she’ll get another chance in four years. Or maybe she’ll spend the rest of her life staring at that silver medal and saying to herself, “what was I thinking?”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Racing, Olympics and ESPN-ABC Announcers; Goydos keeps his sense of humor

I apologize for not having written a blog yesterday. On my way home Sunday from the Holy Cross-Bucknell game I kept having to pull over because there were potholes on Rte. 15 that I was afraid to go through at 200 miles per hour.

Sorry stock car fans, couldn’t resist. But seriously, the biggest event in racing delayed for more than two hours because the track has potholes in it? Who was in charge of track maintenance, the NCAA? Look, I know nothing about auto racing—I covered the Indy 500 once; thought the start was about the most thrilling thing I’d ever seen and then had little idea what was going on for the rest of the race. To be fair, that was the year when officials had to go back and look at the tape to figure out who finished second to Rick Mears. So it wasn’t just me.

But I don’t think you have to be a racing fan to understand that two delays caused by potholes is not exactly great theater nor is having the race finish when it is already dinnertime in the east. Apparently Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. Where was Danica Patrick? Oh, that’s right she was in the race Saturday that only the real racing geeks pay any attention to at all. She’s the biggest star in the sport—at least based on how often she’s on TV—and she runs in the equivalent of the NBA rookie game.

She got more attention for finishing 32nd in that race than all the other drivers combined did for the entire week. Gee, I wonder why. Couldn’t have anything to do with her looks could it?

Meanwhile, back at sports I know something about…(which means there isn’t going to be too much talk about the Olympics although I got a kick out of Bode Miller caring enough to win a bronze medal in the downhill and an American with a great name—Johnny Spillane--winning the first U.S. medal in Nordic skiing since Bill Koch in 1976. Seeing Koch’s name reminded me that when he won his medal (a silver in the 30 kilometer cross country race) I was in college and avidly reading The Washington Post. One American writer had thought to show up for the race—Lenny Shapiro from The Post—who was my hero then as he is now. He talked to Koch and wrote a great story about him and his solitary quest to be a Nordic skier in a country that had zero interest in Nordic skiing.

I swear I’d watch more of the Olympics but every time I switch over it seems that NBC is either in commercial or Bob Costas is saying, “let’s return now to figure skating….” Bring back Janet Lynn and I’ll return to figure skating. I finally figured out last night as I clicked back to college hoops as two more figure skaters graced my screen why I simply can’t stand it anymore: it’s not a sport, it’s a reality show. All it lacks are early tryouts with people who can’t stay up on their skates and Simon Cowell telling them that they suck).

Okay, now you are looking live at today’s blog. Sorry, I spent some of last night listening to Brent Musburger and Bob Knight. Talk about memories. Brent is now 70 and Knight is 69 but they both clearly love being in places like College Station, Texas doing a game on a Monday night in February. Hey, good for them. I wish I had that kind of energy sometimes.

Brent sometimes sounds like he’s doing an imitation of Brent but who cares? If ABC-ESPN gets the NCAA Tournament contract this summer, there’s going to be a battle royale over there about who gets The Final Four games. Dick Vitale HAS to do color because he’s Dick Vitale and he’s been waiting more than 30 years to go to The Final Four and not sell pizzas all week. I’d pair him with Knight because Knight’s sarcastic presence might tone Dick down a little and they could be the sort of Odd Couple that Al McGuire and Billy Packer became.

The smart betting on play-by-play would have to be Dan Schulman, who is the company’s rising play-by-play star and works most of the time with Vitale. Nothing against Schulman but I’d stick Brent right there in-between Vitale and Knight. It would be the climax to a comeback that began 20 years ago when CBS unceremoniously fired him on the eve of the 1990 national title game. And the guy still gets it done when the red light goes on.

Okay, I’m rambling. Some day I’ll tell the story about Brent and I almost getting into a fight about 10 minutes before the national championship telecast went on in the air in 1989 in Seattle. Billy Packer was standing there preparing, as he said later, to open the telecast himself. The whole thing has a happy ending. Brent and I have gotten along fine for years now.

The downer of the weekend for me was my buddy Paul Goydos coughing up the lead on the back nine at Pebble Beach. Anyone who knows me at all knows that Goydos and I have been friends since 1993 when I first began researching “A Good Walk Spoiled.”

I was at the Buick Open on the first day killing time in the afternoon before going to meet Billy Andrade for dinner. Larry Mize had shot 64 in the morning and the only player in the afternoon wave who had gone low at all was a rookie named Goydos, who had shot 66. After a lengthy debate, Chuck Adams and Mark Mitchell, the two on-site PGA Tour PR guys, decided to bring Goydos into the interview room.

“There’s no one else to bring in this afternoon,” Mitchell said. “Plus, it’ll be good experience for Paul.”

With nothing else to do, I wandered into the back of the interview room to see if there was any reason at all to listen. The first thing I heard Goydos say was, “I’m sure none of you have ever heard of me. There’s a reason for that: I’ve never done anything.”

Hang on, I thought, this guy might be worth listening to for a few minutes. He launched into a 10-minute monologue that was supposed to be a recap of his round but was more like a standup routine. “At 17 I hit 7-iron. When I’m playing well it’s because I get my slice going. I know if you’re on the PGA Tour you’re supposed to call it a fade but when you hit a 7-iron and it goes 20 yards to the right, that’s a slice.”

I needed to meet this guy. I introduced myself as he was walking out, said I was doing a book on life on tour and wondered if we could talk at some point. “Sure, I’ll talk to you all you want,” he said. “But you’re wasting your time writing a book on the tour. No one’s going to buy it.”

Fortunately Paul is better at golf than predicting book sales. He became the character in the book few people had heard of but continued to follow long after it was published. We became good friends. He’s won twice on tour and pieced together a pretty good career for someone who likes to describe himself as, “the worst player in the history of the PGA Tour.”

He had a great chance to win on Sunday, but came undone on the back nine with a couple of bogeys and then, disastrously, a quadruple-bogey nine that sent him spiraling to a disappointed tie for fifth. Talk about hitting a pothole.

On Monday I sent him an e-mail offering condolences. Typical Paul, this was the answer I got back: “Well, when I made my back-nine 9 on Sunday at The Hope it was on a par-three. This time it was on a par-5. I guess that’s progress.”

You have to love a guy who NEVER loses his sense of humor. There aren’t many people you can say that about.

Gotta go. I think Costas is about to introduce some more figure skating.

Monday, February 15, 2010

AP Top 25 College Basketball ballot

While individual voter selections for the weekly AP Top 25 College Basketball Poll are published on various sites, they aren't often easy to find. And with it being that the ballots are a hot discussion topic from time to time, I thought I'd share mine here.  We'll attempt to remember to make this a weekly occurrence if it's of interest.

My AP Top 25 ballot (2/15/10 poll)

1 Kansas
2 Kentucky
3 Villanova
4 Purdue
5 Syracuse
6 Duke
7 Kansas State
8 Ohio State
9 West Virginia
10 Gonzaga
11 Michigan State
12 Butler
13 New Mexico
14 Temple
15 Vanderbilt
16 Georgetown
17 BYU
18 Texas
19 Baylor
20 Wisconsin
21 Richmond
22 Pittsburgh
23 Wake Forest
24 Northern Iowa
25 Old Dominion

Click here to see the official AP Top 25 published today:  AP Top 25

Cornell basketball gets an 'A' in chemistry

My hope is everyone is off for this President's Day, though all the recent snow may have changed everyone's holiday plans (school snow days?!?). For me, I'm in the throws of finishing a few large projects. In the meantime, here is a column on Cornell basketball, who went 1-1 over the weekend.


Basketball coaches talk all the time about the importance of team chemistry. When a team is winning, it is always about work ethic and great kids and desire and, of course, team chemistry. Players on winning teams love one another. Players on losing teams transfer or, in the NBA, demand to be traded.

Cornell Coach Steve Donahue doesn't have to talk about team chemistry. His players live team chemistry. "If you tried to get your players to do this, ordered them to do it, no way would it happen," he said this week. "Our guys just did it. It was their idea. That's why it works."

Their idea, hatched two years ago, was to live together. All of them. In one house -- 14 college basketball players under one roof in an old house near the Cornell campus.

"The good news is it's a really big house," starting center Jeff Foote said. "We've all got our own rooms. Even so, the place does get pretty dirty a fair amount of the time."

No doubt. Donahue really doesn't care that much about his players' skills as housekeepers, though, especially given the results they've produced as basketball players the last three seasons. The Big Red has won back-to-back Ivy League titles and was 21-4 after Saturday night's 48-45 win over Princeton. It has road or neutral-site wins over Alabama, St. John's, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph's, Toledo, Davidson and La Salle. And its losses were to Seton Hall, at Pennsylvania in a slip-up Friday night, and at Kansas and Syracuse -- currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation.

The final score of the Kansas game was 71-66, and it was closer than that. Cornell led most of the game and leading scorer Ryan Wittman had a crack at a three-point shot in the final seconds that could have tied the score.

"Because of who we were playing and where we were playing and the fact that the last six or seven minutes were on national TV [ESPN switched to the game], I think I've had more feedback on that game than on all the other games I've coached here combined," Donahue said. "I think it surprised some people to see how good we are."

Cornell is good, even though it doesn't have a single national TV appearance scheduled this season. But no one is going to call the Big Red or Donahue an overnight success. This was a long time coming.

Donahue came to Cornell in the fall of 2000 after 10 seasons as an assistant coach under Fran Dunphy at Penn. The popular thinking then, as it has been throughout most of the Ivy League's history, was that third place was about as good as any Ivy League team not named Penn or Princeton could hope for most years. Columbia shared the league title with Princeton in 1968, Brown won it in 1986 and Cornell won it in 1988. In the other 37 seasons from Columbia's co-title through 2007, Princeton or Penn won or shared each championship.

"I knew in a place like this you don't build quickly," Donahue said. "You have to get kids who fit Cornell, not just kids with talent, because if they don't like the place, their talent isn't going to matter. We were lucky we got some kids to come who went out and convinced better kids to follow them, and they convinced better kids than that to come. By the time we got this senior class [high school class of 2006] we thought we had something going.

"And then we got Foote."

The key player in that 2006 recruiting class was Wittman, the son of former Indiana star and NBA player Randy Wittman. "I liked everything about the place when I visited," he said.

It was during that season that Foote transferred from St. Bonaventure. He was not, in any way, a typical transfer. Donahue had seen him play briefly in a high school tournament at Cornell. "He was probably 6-9 or 6-10 and might have weighed 170," he said. "I remember thinking he could pass the ball but he was so gangly and awkward. There were D-3 coaches watching him that day and none of them thought he was good enough for them." 

For the rest of the article from the The Washington Post site: Cornell basketball gets an 'A' in chemistry

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Olympics -– I still buy into the notion of the Games

The Winter Olympics begin tonight with the Opening Ceremonies, which I assume will last about eight hours on NBC.

I hate to sound jaded, but to be honest, once you’ve seen one Opening Ceremony you’ve seen them all. The ONLY thing that matters is the entrance of the athletes. The rest is fluff, time-filler and, frankly, boring. If I think about it, I’ll try to tune in near the end when the Canadian team walks in. Seeing the host country’s athletes walk into the stadium is usually a chill-producing moment.

As it happens, I’m one of those guys who still buys in to the notion of the Olympics—especially the winter games where so few of the athletes are stars in the marketing world. More likely, they’ll have 15 minutes of fame if they medal or produce a remarkable performance. Lindsey Vonn, if she can get down the mountain on her injured shin and win a couple of gold medals will be selling a lot of products in the near future, but she may be the list. There are no figure skating stars (at least going in) who are likely to follow in the footsteps of Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn (still my all-time heart-throb) Dorothy Hamill, Katerina Witt or even the infamous duo of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

NBC will certainly try to create stars. It will spend a lot of time focusing on the snowboarders because they’re trying to pull in a younger audience and the U.S. is very good at snowboarding. We’ll see a lot of skiing and a fair bit of speedskating although there aren’t as many U.S. medal contenders—particularly on the women’s side—as in past years. Of course you never know. Someone could come up with the performance of a lifetime.

Most of my favorite Olympic moments—the U.S. hockey team in Lake Placid aside—involve athletes most people have never heard of or might vaguely remember. When Brian Shimer won a bronze medal in bobsledding in his fifth and final Olympics—his first Olympic medal ever—in 2002, I thought that was a very cool story. I had the pleasure of being there in 1984 when Jeff Blatnick, having beaten cancer, won the superheavyweight gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling and wept on the mat when it was over.

I remember a lot of swimming moments because of my background as a never-was swimmer. I remember all of Mark Spitz’s swims in 1972 but my most vivid memory is of his last race: the 100 freestyle. There was a Russian swimmer in the lane next to him (I can’t remember his name anymore) who came out of the pack in the last 10 meters to get the bronze medal. At that point in time he might have been the first Russian man to medal in swimming but in any event, no one had expected him to medal and he did. He was so thrilled that he held up three fingers to Spitz, “going ‘three, three, I finished three,’ while Spitz just kind of looked at him as if to say, ‘yeah so what, I’m Mark Spitz and you’re not.’ I thought the guy being that excited was great.

I remember seeing Bobby Hackett, who I’d known a little from local meets around New York (we were in different age groups so I never actually had the chance to get my butt kicked by him) winning a silver medal that same year and being awed that a kid from Gator Swim Club could do something like that. Like everyone, I remember Michael Phelps in Beijing but my most vivid memory is Jason Lezak’s amazing anchor leg in the 400x100 freestyle relay that allowed Phelps’s quests for the eight gold medals to stay alive. THAT was thrilling.

The Olympics have changed completely since I first began watching them as a kid and even covering them as a young adult. Everyone who takes part now is a pro, the old Avery Brundage myth of “amateurism,” having been put away years ago. That’s good in the sense that you don’t have Soviet athletes who are allegedly factory workers when their fulltime job is clearly playing hockey or figure skating or running track. But there’s also a loss of some innocence there: The Miracle on Ice can never happen again because the hockey tournament is an NHL tournament, the players divided by countries instead of by cities. I remember when Dr. Gary Hall was considered a marvel when he qualified for his third Olympics as a swimmer in 1976 because once you finished college in those days you had to go get a job.

Now, swimming is a job for anyone who is world class, which is why Phelps will swim in his fourth Olympics in London in 2012 and that won’t make him unusual at all. Swimmers are like all other professional athletes now: they keep going until they aren’t good enough to get paid anymore.

All of which is fine. And I will still think it is cool if U.S. bobsledder John Napier, whose Army unit deployed to Afghanistan this month (he may follow them next month) can win a medal. If, as people say, this is the year the Americans can add a second Nordic skiing medal to the silver Bill Koch won in 1976, that will be a good story. I’ll watch a lot of the skiing because it is fun to watch the skiers charge down the mountain on the brink of disaster at any given moment.

One thing I do have trouble with is NBC’s approach to the Olympics. Even in Vancouver, where the Pacific Time zone should make it possible to televise a lot of events live in prime time, a majority of the coverage will be taped. You can bet you won’t see Vonn or Bode Miller skiing much before 11 o’clock Eastern Time most nights and it will be on tape. Great sports moments should be LIVE, you should sit there not knowing who won or who lost or what will happen in the next instant.

Even if you do the, ‘don’t tell me who won,’ thing, most of the time you can figure out from the timing who won and who lost while you’re watching. Plus, in today’s world especially, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to find out who won. So, I’ll watch a lot, but the fact that much of it will be on tape will take some of the enjoyment out of it for me—and for others.

The Olympics are still two weeks I look forward to whenever they take place. I’ve had various ideas for books that would have involved the Olympics but never gone through with any, mostly because the books I’d like to do on Olympic athletes would be decidedly un-commercial. I wouldn’t be caught dead writing about figure skating. Speedskating or bobsledding or luge would be more up my alley.

Cue the syrupy music, it’s time for Bob Costas to tell us how spectacular the Opening Ceremonies are. Of course that’ll be live—the one thing that doesn’t need to be live. I’ll check in on Saturday when the competition begins.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Duke wins the game it had to; Explaining my respect for Ryan Bucchianeri

I guess I have to start this morning with Duke-North Carolina because it is always a game people talk about and because of my obvious connections to the rivalry that date back more than 30 years to my undergraduate days at Duke.

Let’s put aside last night’s outcome for a minute except to say this: It was a game Duke had to win. Carolina is down this year and when your arch-rival is down—especially when it is usually very good to excellent—you have to take advantage. What’s more, the Tar Heels had won three in a row; five-of-seven and seven-of-ten against Duke. The game was anything but pretty, Duke finally pulling away in the last five minutes to win 64-54 in a matchup that certainly won’t be an instant classic anywhere. The Blue Devils were no doubt glad to get out of Chapel Hill with a road win and now face a very tough game Saturday against what will be a rested Maryland team—the Terrapins taking the day off Wednesday after the latest Washington blizzard postponed their game with Virginia until Monday.

All that said and with my usual admission of an anti-ESPN bias, I really am sick of the way the network acts as if every Duke-Carolina game is the next coming of the U.S.-Soviet hockey game of 1980. ESPN hypes everything it televises but it goes to new levels with Duke-Carolina. A lot of it starts with Dick Vitale, who just can’t help himself. To be fair, if Dick was doing Bucknell-American (which I’ll be doing tonight if I can get out of my driveway) he would think IT was the greatest thing he’d ever seen in his life.

At least his hype is genuine.

And look, Duke-Carolina has been a wonderful rivalry through the years. Carolina has had three of the all-time great coaches work at the school in the last 60 years: Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Roy Williams. Bill Guthridge never got the credit he deserved going to two Final Fours in three seasons. Matt Doherty was a failure—although he DID recruit the key players on Williams’ first championship team in 2005. Duke has also had three superb coaches: Vic Bubas, who made Duke a national power in the 60s; Bill Foster, who rebuilt the program after it had fallen apart in the 70s and, of course, Mike Krzyzewski who won his 853d game Wednesday—putting him 26 behind Smith and 49 behind his old coach Bob Knight for the all-time record.

There have also been truly great players (interestingly there is not ONE Duke player in the basketball Hall of Fame; Carolina has, I believe, 15) and great games and great moments.

So what did ESPN show prior to the game to prove how great the rivalry is?; fights. Instead of showing Walter Davis’s miracle shot in 1974, it showed Doherty and Chris Collins yelling at one another. Oh please. Instead of showing Gene Banks’ buzzer-beater in 1981 it showed a bloodied Tyler Hansbrough. THIS is what makes a great rivalry: coaches yelling at each other and elbows to the mouth?

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: I think the rivalry has been hyped to the point that fans on both sides act stupid. The Duke students lost their spontaneity and humor years ago. All they want to do is paint their faces and get on TV talking on their cell phones. Carolina people are obsessed with Krzyzewski’s success because they feel it somehow diminishes Smith’s accomplishments—which is completely ludicrous. Nothing can diminish what Dean did—on and off the court.

Last year a friend if mine from Carolina grabbed me in a press room and said, “you’ve got to see the FUNNIEST video ever made.” The video was basically some Carolina kids mocking all white Duke point guards and saying they were gay. Maybe I’m just old. I didn’t think it was even a little bit funny—just dumb to tell you the truth.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I respect Dean and Roy (and Bill Guthridge too, one of the best men I’ve ever met) and Mike. I like all of them a lot and think they’ve all done great work building model programs with (for the most part) good kids who graduate. Of course whenever I say something good about Krzyzewski it is because I’m a Dukie. When I say something good about Roy it is because I’m a traitor.

Gee, I wonder why I don’t like being around the rivalry very much. When HBO asked me to be part of their Duke-Carolina documentary I said no. It was a no-win for me. Unfortunately I thought they leaned on some very bad sources—particularly a couple of people on the Carolina side who claim to be journalists but hate Krzyzewski with a passion that defies reason.

So, like I said, it was a good win for a Duke team that I think is far from special and another tough loss in a down year for Carolina. It didn’t come close to being worthy of the hype. But then few things on ESPN can live up to that sort of hype.

By the way, what exactly is Rivalry Week? Other than Pitt-West Virginia on Friday I can’t find a single real ‘rivalry,’ game other than Duke-Carolina on their schedule. Clemson-Florida State? That’s a big rivalry? Georgetown-Providence? Syracuse-Connecticut MAYBE but they don’t even play home-and-home every year anymore because of the silly Big East schedule. You have to love the way the network marketing geeks just make stuff up and throw it out there. Maybe they can have, “Hype Everything Week.” Oh wait, that’s every week.


I got a call yesterday from Ryan Bucchianeri. If you read ‘A Civil War,’ you will know the name right away. If you are a football fan, you will know who he is when I remind you. Ryan was a kicker at Navy. He missed an 18-yard field goal as a freshman that would have won The Army-Navy game. The field was soaked, the game was played in a driving rain—there were plenty of excuses available for Ryan after the game.

He took none of them. He just took the blame. “I missed the kick, that’s all there is to it,” he said repeatedly.

For taking responsibility and not making excuses Ryan became something of a national hero. Sports Illustrated did a long piece on him the following fall. Early in the next year’s Army-Navy game he missed another makeable kick. It was the last field goal he ever attempted at Navy.

Many of Ryan’s teammates resented the fact that he was made into a hero—even though he never asked for that status. They thought (correctly) that in accepting blame he had simply done what they are all taught to do: No Excuse Sir is a mantra at both Army and Navy.

I wrote ‘A Civil War,’ during Ryan’s junior season. There was a new coaching staff that basically wanted no part of him. Too many bad memories. He was shunted down to fourth string and got into two games all year—both times to kickoff. He became almost a pariah within The Brigade of Midshipmen and was badly treated—very badly treated—at times. Writing the book, I reported all this. I liked Ryan a lot and appreciated his willingness to talk to me about all that had happened. I thought my version of events was sympathetic to him, which it was meant to be.

Apparently not everyone read the book that way.

Ryan is now running for Congress after a distinguished career in the Navy. He was running in The Democratic Primary in Pennsylvania’s 12th district (that’s in Western Pennsylvania where Ryan grew up) against 19-term incumbent John Murtha. You may know the name: Murtha was well-known for a number of reasons: A marine veteran who served in Vietnam, he came out against the war in Iraq in 2005 after initially voting to support it in 2002. But he also became known as, “The King of Pork,” and was famous for ear-marking bills to give companies whose lobbyists had contributed big money to his campaigns contracts that benefited the companies and, frequently, his district in Pennsylvania. He has been investigated for possible ethics violations more than once.

Ryan’s campaign was a long shot given Murtha’s time in Congress, his contacts and his campaign war chest. On Sunday, Murtha, who was 77, died after complications from gall bladder surgery. Suddenly, Ryan’s campaign isn’t a long shot anymore.

I had seen Ryan in September when he was campaigning outside Heinz Field before the Navy-Pittsburgh game. He still looks 21 even though he’s now 35. The reason for his call was direct: there were people writing and saying that if you read, ‘A Civil War,’ it was apparent that the author (me) didn’t think very much of him.

If so, that was bad writing on my part. I have great respect for Ryan Bucchianeri and it isn’t because he’s a Democrat or that we agree on most issues. He’s just a good PERSON, who has served his country overseas and who I am SURE will work like crazy if he gets to Congress. So, if anyone has any doubts about how I feel about him because of the book, that’s on me. Did his teammates view him as a loner? Yes. A lot of kickers are viewed that way and Ryan took one emotional hit after another and kept coming back.

If you want to know how his teammates REALLY felt about him, I’d read the scene I witnessed in the locker room after the Notre Dame game that year when Andrew Thompson, the team’s defensive captain, told Bucchianeri how much he respected his un-willingness to give up when it seemed everyone at Navy wanted him to give up. Thompson, by the way, is still serving in the marines today and is as tough a guy as I’ve ever met.

So, if you want to know more about Ryan and his campaign, click on: I’m not writing this for any reason except that I like and respect the guy and I feel badly if anyone read ‘A Civil War,’ and didn’t come away knowing that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This week's radio segments

Today I joined The Sports Reporters' Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment. This week we spent a great deal of time talking about the Duke-UNC game, as well as the overall state of the Duke program.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

I also made my regular appearance on Tony Kornheiser's newest radio show during my regular segment at 11:05am.  This week we discussed the weather, of course, before moving on to college basketball, including the Duke-UNC game.

Click here to listen to the segment (starts within the 1st minute): Tony Kornheiser Show

Stranded at home; Lesson from Bob Woodward on using the description of weather in stories

This snow thing is now officially out of control. As I sit here the conditions outside my window are pretty close to a white-out. The snow is falling hard and fast and the wind is blowing it all over the place. How long the power holds out is anybody’s guess. Yesterday, when I tried to run errands, I had the sense that people were preparing for the Apocalypse. (the snow-palypse?)

Parking was close to impossible since there weren’t that many spaces to begin with because of piled up snow from the weekend and the whole world was out trying to get any supplies available. What was interesting was that no one was fighting over spaces or over food or even over batteries. It was as if a calm had come over everyone, a quiet acceptance that the next few days (at least) were going to be miserable and all anyone could do was hope for the best.

I’ve lived in Washington for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen anything even close to this. If you live in Buffalo you may have a sense of what this is like (except that snow belt places are far better prepared to deal with this sort of weather than we are) but otherwise you can’t imagine it. I certainly couldn’t.

Last weekend I escaped the first storm by leaving town Friday afternoon to drive to West Point so I could do the Army-Colgate game on TV on Sunday. That turned out to be a wise decision. There wasn’t a drop of snow up there and I saw a bunch of my Army friends and stayed in the Thayer Hotel where there was plenty of heat, plenty of food and no snow to be found. My trip home was a breeze—until I hit Baltimore.

Only then did I have a real sense of what had happened. The interstate was closed because abandoned cars (there had been a trailer-truck accident in the middle of the storm Saturday) were still being removed. I zigged over to The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which was down to one, snow and ice-covered lane. The rest of the trip home was a nightmare.

We’re being told it will snow all day today. Given that travel was still very difficult yesterday three days after the weekend storm had ended, I can’t see the area being close to dug out before the weekend. It will, of course, be much more difficult this time because there is already so much snow piled up from plowing.

I would have loved to have gone to the VCU-George Mason game last night, which turned out to be a great game—Mason coming from 15 points down to win in overtime. I would have gone to tonight’s Virginia-Maryland game except there is no Virginia-Maryland game because it was postponed by the snow. Now, among other issues, I have to figure out a column for Sunday’s Post since one of those two games would have supplied me with a column of some kind. I’m supposed to do Bucknell-American on TV tomorrow night. Normally, AU is a 15-minute drive from here. I have no idea if the game will be played or, if it is played, if I’ll be able to get out of my driveway, off my street and to the campus. I just have no idea.

Back in 1985, the first time I covered The British Open, Bob Woodward dropped me a note when I got home. I still have it someplace. (I’ve kept any and all notes I’ve ever received from people I admire and Bob is at the top of the list). The note said something like this: “Great job on the British Open. Best thing you did all week was make people understand what the weather was like and how it affected everyone. You can never write too much about the weather: it affects us all and we can’t control it.”

Just as when Woodward told me a few years earlier that the key to any investigative story and most stories of any kind was, “getting the documents,” I remembered what he said. In fact, a year later, when I wrote ‘A Season on the Brink,” I almost always described the weather on a given day. If you go back and look, the first sentence of the book describes the weather.

Jeff Neuman, the editor who (after five rejections from other publishers) who bought my proposal for the book for McMillan and Company, kept trying to get me to take out all the weather references. “People don’t need to know what the weather was every single day you were there,” he said.

“Yes they do,” I said. “Bob Woodward says they do.”

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of snow.

I know people romanticize it all the time, “winter wonderlands et al,” and if you watch movies like, “White Christmas,” you’d think there’s nothing better than snow. I just don’t see it that way. It may look pretty on TV and, I’m like everyone else, I remember sledding as a kid (In Riverside Park, right near the 79th street boat basin there was a great hill) and loving it. Now, snow is a nuisance at best and frightening at worst.

I don’t mind cold. The two mornings I was at West Point I happily got up in the morning and walked around the post for an hour in temperatures that never got much above 20 degrees. That’s fine. I also know there are people who will say, ‘hey, what’s wrong with a couple of days at home, sitting in front of a fire, taking it easy.

When I hear stuff like that I think of something Gary Williams said to me a few years ago. Maryland had ended its season with an embarrassing first round loss in the NIT at home against Manhattan. I called Gary that night just to see how he was doing. The next day he called me back.

“Hey, sorry I just got your message,” he said. “I drove right to my beach house (in Delaware) after the game to get away.”

“Good idea,” I said. “A few days just walking on the beach will do you some good.”

“John,” he said. “There are only so many days you can walk on the damn beach before you lose your mind.”

He’d been there 24 hours.

To be honest, I’m the same way. Sitting at home in front of a fire at night watching the Islanders (they finally won a game last night!) is fine. But one night in a row—maybe two—is enough for me. There are games to go to, work to be done, places to go.

I won’t be going anyplace for the next couple of days. No games, no work, nothing. I can’t stand it. And I still need a Sunday column.