Friday, May 28, 2010

The Naval Academy and the ongoing controversy

I was going to write today about Memorial Day weekend—what it is now and what it used to be when I was a kid and you could count on doubleheaders on the holiday.

But I think I need to say something about the ongoing controversy at The Naval Academy that centers on a professor named Bruce Fleming—someone I’ve never met but who I feel I know because I have met academics like him throughout my life.

Let me begin by saying a couple of things. I have been, at least technically, a college professor. I taught journalism—not sports journalism; journalism—at Duke for three years. I think my title was ‘visiting professor.’ I told my students to call me John because (among other reasons) I figured if Ben Bradlee wanted me to call him Ben when I was a 21-year-old intern at The Washington Post, there was no reason for anyone to call me anything other than John.

I enjoyed teaching. I really enjoyed the kids and I’m proud of what many of them have accomplished in journalism since graduating. I stopped teaching for two reasons: After the birth of my first child the extra travel became an issue and the leadership at The Duke School of Communications changed. The guy who took over—honestly I don’t remember his name and don’t know if he is still there—told a student of mine, Beth Krodel, that he wanted to get rid of me because I was influencing too many students to go into journalism instead of advertising.

Gee, I feel bad about that.

I’d like to teach again someday if I can do it locally here in Washington. The closest I came to that was several years ago when Bob Chernak, a vice president at George Washington, asked me if I had any interest in teaching there. I told him I would love to teach at GW: my mom had once been a professor there (music history) and I had taken two summer school courses in journalism there once upon a time since Duke (then as perhaps now for all I know) didn’t offer any journalism classes.

Bob said he would talk to the head of the journalism department and be in touch. Two weeks later he called back. “This is a little embarrassing,” he said. “The head of our journalism department has never heard of you. But she says you can submit a resume if you want.”

Actually I’ve never had a resume since I got hired by The Post right out of college. Plus, if the woman had never heard of me my guess was that my resume if it existed wouldn’t impress her.

There are lots of great teachers at the college level. I certainly encountered many of them as an undergraduate and have met many others through the years. There are also those who think that anyone who is involved in sports in any way is stupid. Every school has them: professors who object to athletes missing a class to play in a game or swim in a meet or do anything jock-related. They resent the attention successful coaches receive. They clamor all the time about academic standards being lowered for athletes.

You know what? They’re right: EVERY school lowers its standards for athletes from Harvard to the lowest-ranked D-3 school you can find. The military academies do it too. The rationale given by the schools is that athletes make the student body more “diverse.” That’s garbage. Athletes with lower grades and SATs are admitted for one reason: they help teams win games.

The question isn’t lowering standards it is HOW MUCH do you lower standards relative to the rest of the student body. To me the test has always been simple: If you start admitting athletes who simply can’t do the work and have no chance to graduate, you’ve gone too far. What’s more, if you bring in too many athletes who get into trouble—whether it’s through cheating or getting arrested or, worst case scenario, committing acts of violence—you have gone too far.

Professor Fleming, who has taught at Navy for 23 years, has been hammering the school publicly (he’s tenured) for years now. His main complaint (although there are others) is this: the school lowers its academic standards for athletes, especially football players, too frequently.

Let me pause to give my disclaimer here: Most people know I’m about to enter my 14th season as color commentator on the Navy radio network. I wrote a book in 1996 called, “A Civil War,” about the uniqueness of the Army-Navy football rivalry and how special the kids who play football at the academies have to be to play Division 1 football and graduate (which almost all of them do) from schools that are as difficult academically and militarily as West Point and Annapolis. I feel the same way, even though I don’t know people there the way I do at Army and Navy, about the Air Force Academy. So, I’m biased.

But the reason I’m biased is the quality of person I’ve met on the football teams at the two schools. Are there bad eggs? Of course. There have been Navy football players caught cheating and I disagreed this past winter with Admiral Jeffrey Fowler (the outgoing superintendent) when he did not follow the recommendation of his commandant, Matt Klunder, in the case of Marcus Curry.

Curry was a sophomore and easily the most talented returning slotback on the football team. He tested positive for marijuana during a periodic drug test that all Midshipmen take. His excuse was that he’d been given a cigar at a party laced with marijuana. (The dog ate my homework). The academy’s policy on all drug use is zero tolerance. Even if one believed Curry’s story, policy said he should be separated (expelled). Fowler let him off the hook.

Everyone connected to the academy knew Curry wasn’t going to be back for his junior year one way or the other (he was later tossed from the football team for an un-related offense and ‘resigned,’ from the academy and has transferred to Texas State) and Fowler just gave critics like Fleming a chance to pile on. In fact, when Fleming was criticized for having his piece—which suggested that all the military academies have become so mediocre they should perhaps be shut down—run in The New York Times a week before graduation, his defense was that he had been “shopping,” the piece since March—right after the Curry incident became public.

Shopping is an appropriate word. Fleming has been shopping his writing as the anti-Navy-establishment guy for years. He’s written at least one book and likes to tell people he has another one coming out.

I don’t think Fleming is anti-football or anti-jock (He uses one player, Craig Schaefer, as proof that he likes football players) or anti-Navy. I think he’s pro-Fleming. He knows he can’t be fired and if anyone at the academy says boo to him he can scream, ‘they’re out to get me because I criticized them.’

There’s nothing wrong with fair criticism. I think there have been times when Navy has pushed athletes along who had to cut too many corners to stay in school. Kyle Eckel’s dismissal from The Navy (he DID graduate) has never really been explained and just recently two more football players who graduated (including another star fullback, Adam Ballard) were thrown out of the Marines for cheating on an officer-training test.

Navy needs to look at all of these cases and figure out where it went wrong and try to do better. Let me say this though: I have met lots of Navy football players through the years. Almost all are exactly the type of person you would want representing your country and defending your country. They’re bright and tough and I would put them up against the football players from anyplace as human beings—forget the wins over Notre Dame.

It’s easy to find a couple of jock failures at any school and harp on them as proof the school is going down the tubes because of the evils of jockdom. If Fleming really wanted to make Navy a better place, I’d respect him for that. Every college in the country has weaknesses and could use some improvement.

I don’t think that’s what Fleming is about. I think he’s about calling attention to himself and making a few bucks while he’s at it. We all try to make money. To do it by publicly attacking the kids who play football at Navy is not—in my mind—an honorable way to go about it.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about 'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The World Cup, we’re still awaiting the soccer revolution in US; Answering a few comments

They announced the United States World Cup soccer team yesterday. This was a big deal on ESPN, which has decided to try to convince Americans to see in soccer what the rest of the world sees and in The New York Times and The Washington Post, each of which carried two major stories on the naming of the 23-man roster. One thing I couldn't help but notice in looking at the roster: Only FOUR of the 23 players on the U.S. roster are currently playing professionally in this country on teams that compete in The Major Soccer League. That's just not enough.

I have said this before and I will say this again: I am not one of those people who rip soccer just because there are times when it seems that no one ever scores. In fact, I watched a chunk of the U.S.'s game--or 'friendly,' as these exhibitions are called--against the Czech Republic and there were plenty of goals to watch in the Americans' 4-2 loss. On the other hand I am not someone who is going to sit here and claim there is nothing like the artistry of a 0-0 tie that has 14 corner kicks or that those who don't see the beauty in the game simply don't understand the game.

I will certainly watch The World Cup. Whether I will watch very many entire games is another question although the U.S. opener against England on June 12th is one I'm curious about on several levels: England should be one of the better teams in the tournament so we'll probably find out a lot about the U.S. in that first game. Beyond that, I've probably watched more World Cup soccer FROM England than anyplace else, dating back to the long-ago days when I spent a lot of time there every summer covering Wimbledon and The British Open.

In fact, I was in a London pub with my friend Tom Ross--who in spite of being an agent is a good guy--for Maradona's infamous Hand of God goal. The reaction to the goal and to its being allowed and to Argentina winning the game is one of my most vivid sports memories. If you were in that pub that night you would never again call The World Cup boring.

As I've mentioned here before soccer was my first beat at The Washington Post when I started there as a summer intern 100 years ago (okay, 1977). In fact it was soccer that allowed me to meet Bob Woodward for the first time. I was covering The Washington Diplomats, then Washington's team in The North American Soccer League. I had taken over the beat from Donald Huff, who was going on vacation and the first two games I covered the Dips--as they were called--were shut out. That made three straight games without a goal.

As I was leaving RFK Stadium that night I said to Terry Hanson, then the Dips PR director, "geez, I wonder if Dennis (Viollet who was then the coach) might be in trouble." Hanson, who has now been my friend for more than 30 years, looked at me and said, "If I were covering the team I'd make some phone calls tomorrow."

Eager young intern, I did just that. No one would take my calls, a pretty good clue something was up since normally soccer people would come to your house to get publicity. Finally, I got Steve Danzansky, the team president on the phone at about 9 o'clock at night. Even though I didn't know Danzansky well I had found him to be extremely outgoing and friendly. When he picked up the phone that night the first thing he said was, "you've got a lot of nerve calling my house at this hour."

Now I KNEW something was up. I apologized for the intrusion and said I wondered if Viollet might be in any kind of trouble given the team's goal drought. "Well," Danzansky said, "he isn't exactly a candidate for coach of the year right now is he?"

Whoops. By the time I hung up the phone with Danzansky I knew Viollet was done. Soon afterwards I reached him on the phone and he told me there was a press conference the next morning and that assistant coach Alan Spavin would be there--without him. I had enough to write.

George Solomon, the sports editor, stripped the story across the top of the sports page because it was late June and nothing else was going on. Washington had no baseball team and the Redskins hadn't opened training camp yet. The next morning I was sitting at my desk--which, as luck would have it, was only a few yards away from Woodward's desk. Being in The Post's newsroom was a thrill for me at that point in my life; being a few yards from Bob Woodward made me feel slightly faint. This was not long after "All The President's Men," had come out in theaters. I had read the book and had gone to see the movie three times--in one day.

So, when Woodward approached me with a smile on his face, I wondered if he had me confused with someone else.

"Hi John," he said. "I'm Bob Woodward. (no kidding). Great job this morning on the soccer coach."

If I had been able to find my voice to say something other than, "t-t-t-t-thank you, it's g-g-g-g-great to meet you," I might have said, "yeah thanks. Nice job on Watergate."

Soccer coach, Watergate--about the same thing, right?

Anyway, covering soccer was great for me. The players were always cooperative and Steve Danzansky apologized for barking at me on the phone and we became good friends. I've always had a warm spot for the sport and whenever Steve Goff and I cover a basketball game together I ask him about D.C. United and about the MLS.

Here's the bottom line though: You can't FORCE people to like soccer just by telling them they should like it. You can't sit back and hope the U.S. gets the World Cup again in 2018 or 2022. And you can't have your best players playing overseas all the time. Imagine if the best college basketball players all played in Europe. What would that do for the NBA--and basketball is OUR sport, it isn't a game in which we are learning as we go.

So if people like my friend George Vecsey, who has written so enthusiastically on soccer in The New York Times for so many years, really want to see the game grow here--and I don't mean grow to NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball levels--they should focus on telling the people who run MLS that they MUST invest in keeping American stars at home. Freddy Adu bombed in Washington and Landon Donovan DOES play in L.A. There needs to be more effort to keep the top Americans home--PAY them to stay home.

Build the MLS rather than telling us we must watch the MLS. The same with The World Cup. The niche fans will want to watch England and Italy and The Ivory Coast. The mainstream fan wants to see the Americans compete. And they want to see the best Americans playing regularly on American soil in an American-based league.

So, let's look forward to the World Cup and let's see how this U.S. team does. But as we do so remember this: back in the days when I covered the Dips and the NASL the league's motto was this: "Soccer, the sport of the 80s." That was thirty years ago. We're still waiting for the revolution to take place.


Answers to a couple of questions from recent days: My name is pronounced Feinsteen--since my family was from the Ukraine it is not pronounced Feinstine, which is usually the way it is pronounced for those with a Germanic background...I have NO intention of attempting the Bay Swim, I will leave that to my much braver swimming friends. I get nervous DRIVING the 4.4 miles across that bridge much less swimming under it...And to the poster from yesterday who referred to the "shoddy reporting," of the Detroit Free Press, two points: That reporting led to the Michigan investigation which MICHIGAN now says uncovered rules violations and in the blog yesterday most of my references were to the Michigan report--not to the Free Press...


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about 'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

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

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 from this week. This week, we spoke a great deal about the golf, including the possible hazards in from of the younger generation.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


This morning, I was once again on Tony Kornheiser's newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my weekly spot at 11:05am. This week, much of the time was dedicated to discussing Jack Nicklaus' comments on the ability of Tiger Woods to break his record of most majors won.

Click here to listen to the segment: Tony Kornheiser Show

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NCAA issues – Michigan concludes its investigation; Why Washington won’t get Super Bowl

One of the more recent trends in college athletics is the quaint notion of schools accused of rules violations, “self-reporting,” their indiscretions and then doling out punishment to themselves. This is a little bit like someone caught robbing a bank coming into court to describe to a judge or jury what he did and then saying, “Yup, I did it, but I don’t think it was THAT big a deal so I’m giving myself two years probation and banning myself from that bank for five years.”

The judge and jury nod accordingly and the guy who robbed the bank goes back to planning his next robbery.

The NCAA copout usually goes something like this: “The school cooperated in every way and thoroughly investigated these violations.” Often they will even add that the notion to levy harsher penalties has been bypassed BECAUSE the school undertook its own investigation.

In short, once caught red-handed, the school said it was really, really sorry…for getting caught.

That brings us to today’s revelation that the University of Michigan has concluded its investigation into its football program and Coach Rich Rodriguez. Last fall when the Detroit Free Press quoted former players as saying that Rodriguez and his staff routinely violated NCAA rules on the amount of time players could spend on football related activities, everyone at the school rushed in to issue denials and defend Rodriguez. Now the school is saying that, yes, there were violations both in terms of hours players spent on football and the number of coaches on staff. It is proposing to slap itself on the hand by cutting back on its auxiliary staff and (gasp) not letting some of them attend meetings. It is also proposing a two-year probation—with no sanctions attached to that probation.

The first thing you might say—especially if you’re a Michigan fan—is what is the big deal in any of these violations? No one bought players; no one cheated on a test. That’s true. And no one is saying here that Michigan should receive the death penalty or anything like that in this case.

That said, the rules limiting practice and workout time exist to protect players from over-zealous coaches. We all know they’re out there in every sport but especially in football where a lot of coaches think the road to success leads through hundreds of hours in the weight room. A number of rules changes have been made through the years to limit coach’s ability to punish players for poor performance.

One favorite, especially of basketball coaches, was to make players practice immediately after a poor performance in a game. Nowadays, a team can’t stage a practice the same day as a game. There are still coaches who will make their players come back after midnight to practice but it’s rare if only because the extra few hours often gives the coach a chance to cool down a little.

What’s a little bit chilling in the Michigan case is the attitude of the school and the athletic director. The report itself denies the charge of coaches ‘abusing’ players by making them work extra hours—clearly that’s a subjective term—but goes on to say “in start contrast to media reports.” Those reports came from ex-players. My suggestion to Michigan would be to shut up on this issue.

Then there are the quotes from Athletic Director David Brandon, who, according to the AP, ‘bristled,’ when it was suggested that Michigan cheated in breaking the rules it is admitting to breaking. “Bad word, inaccurate word,” he said. “We made mistakes and where I come from, a mistake is different from cheating.”

Wow. Talk about splitting hairs. Where I come from you break a rule that everyone knows is a rule, you knowingly do it and then you initially deny it, it is called cheating. Let’s be clear, this isn’t going 65 in a 55, this is—at the very least—reckless driving. If Rodriguez told his coaches to break the rules or knew they were breaking them he screwed up. If he didn’t know the rules or didn’t know they were being broken, he screwed up. Last I looked the Michigan job isn’t Rodriguez’s first rodeo. He knows the rules and so does his staff. If they don’t, they should probably be fired for incompetence.

So let’s not jump on a high horse here Mr. Brandon, and get bent out of shape if someone says breaking the rules is cheating. Michigan also denied an NCAA allegation that Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program. “We think that is overly harsh,” Brandon said. “We do believe that there were things that could’ve been done better and Rich would be the first to agree that details he delegated shouldn’t have been in retrospect.”

Aah those pesky delegation details. This is the part where assistants get thrown under the bus. One staffer was fired according to Michigan’s report. Question: If Rodriguez did a bad job of delegating in the compliance area doesn’t that mean he did a pretty lousy job of promoting an atmosphere of compliance? Just asking.

Rodriguez is 8-16 in two years as Michigan’s coach. If the Wolverines don’t show marked improvement this year, he’s going to be fired. Of course it won’t be because he and his staff broke rules it will be because he and his staff didn’t win enough games. Judging by Michigan’s response to the NCAA’s accusations—which were brought on by statements made by former players—losing is the only crime anyone in charge at Michigan is really concerned about.

Which probably doesn’t make Michigan different than anyone else playing big time college football. One other thing that’s a good bet: The NCAA will go along with at least 90 percent of the Michigan report. Do you think it is going to make Michigan ineligible for postseason or take it off TV? Central Michigan maybe. Eastern Michigan perhaps. But Michigan? Not going to happen.


In the wake of the announcement yesterday that New York-New Jersey has been awarded the 2014 Super Bowl, there’s a big headline in today’s Washington Post that says, “Why not Washington?”

Here’s why not: The stadium is one of the worst in the NFL, complete with obstructed seats, terrible roads in and out and an owner who literally gags his fans if they want to express opinions about the team inside the stadium or, in some cases, if they want to send a shout-out to a relative serving overseas.

The NFL should reward any of THAT with a Super Bowl? Please.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about 'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reporting rumors, trial balloons and ‘back channel’ agendas --- Jackson-Bulls report is another

I had to be in the car very early this morning to go downtown to a TV interview promoting ‘Moment of Glory.’ I promise this isn’t going to be another rant on the quality of sports talk radio although I continued to be amazed by the hourly rate of commercials, sponsor-drop-ins and self-promos that go on in four letter land.

What got my attention was a ‘story,’ that Phil Jackson has been contacted—indirectly of course—by the Chicago Bulls about perhaps going back there to coach and bringing LeBron James along with him to try to rekindle the glory years of the 90s in Chicago.

Oh please.

Look, all of us in the news business know there are times when people are using us to get a message of some kind out. Most leaks are extremely intentional which is why they are often referred to as trial balloons. You throw an idea up in the air and see if it is allowed to float or if someone sticks a pin in it.

I frequently get phone calls from people which start with the words, “I hear.” My next question is usually, “who did you hear this from?” If I think a source is credible I will try to get him on the record—as in putting his name to the story—rather than allow him to hide behind the ‘I hear,’ anonymity.

Of course there are times when a reporter has to grant a source anonymity. The most important news story ever broken was Watergate and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to rely on anonymous sources because you just don’t go on the record and say, ‘The President is a crook,’ especially if you are still on that president’s payroll (okay, technically the government’s payroll).

Nowadays though, anonymous sources have become the norm. In fact, in the blogosphere, people will pretty much throw out any rumor they hear and see if anything happens to stick. It’s a different world than the one in which Woodward and Bernstein never wrote anything unless at least two sources had separately confirmed the information they had.

The so-called Jackson, ‘report,’ is a perfect example of what would loosely be called journalism in 2010. Everyone knows Jackson’s contract is up at the end of this season. Everyone knows he wants to stay with the Lakers but wants to be paid in the style--$12 million a year—to which he has become accustomed. Apparently, even though Jackson has been romantically involved with Jeanie Buss, daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, for a number of years, Buss is balking at the $12 million price tag.

So Jackson is floating stories he might go elsewhere. Maybe he’ll go back to his roots in New York and coach the Knicks—forgetting the fact that the Knicks currently have a coach. Maybe he’ll got Cleveland and convince LeBron to stay. And now the Chicago rumor. If you were to lend credence to any of the ‘stories,’ being floated Jackson could wind up coaching about six teams next season.

So what do you do if you’re a reporter and someone anonymously whispers in your ear that someone from the Bulls has contacted Jackson through the infamous ‘back channels.’ What if that someone happens to be Jackson or someone really close to Jackson? Unfortunately, in today’s world, you go with it because if you don’t, someone else will. Plus, if it turns out to be wrong—as this almost surely will be—you just shrug and say, ‘well I had a source tell me it was true.’ Which no doubt you did.

Last week I had a source—one that I might have thought was in position to know—tell me that a prominent college basketball coach was about to retire. I grilled the guy, demanding to know what kind of evidence he had and he insisted that someone close to the coach had told him this was about to happen. When I asked how soon he said, “Forty-eight to a week—maximum.”

Trust me this would have been a big story. I could easily have put it out there and said I had a credible source who said it was about to happen. Fortunately, I know the coach pretty well so I picked up a phone and called him. To say that he denied the story would be a vast understatement. “Why don’t you tell this guy to show up the first day of practice and see if I’m there,” he said finally. “How does stuff like this get started?”

It usually gets started because someone has an agenda. Let’s look at Jackson for a moment. What’s his agenda? That’s pretty easy: He wants Buss to believe there are other teams willing to pay him the $12 million if Buss balks. No doubt there are teams willing to do that, especially if any of them believe that hiring him might entice James to sign on the dotted line.

Here’s the thing: Jackson isn’t going to spend a winter in Chicago, Cleveland or New York. He has enough difficulty getting his battered 65-year-old body on and off of airplanes and living in a cold weather environment isn’t going to make him feel any better. He’s got Kobe Bryant in LA; he’s got Jeanie Buss in LA and he’s got warm weather in LA. If he’s coaching next year—which he almost certainly will be—he’ll be coaching in LA.

That’s why all the talk this morning in response to the ‘report,’ that Chicago might be interested in him was such an incredible waste of time. It ranked right up there with actually reporting that the Cavaliers were ‘studying,’ Mike Brown’s coaching record the last two weeks. Here is what mattered about Brown’s coaching record: He didn’t win the NBA title the last two seasons. Period. He was getting fired unless James said he didn’t want him fired—which he wasn’t going to say.

I realize a lot of what we do these days is fill time and space but the Jackson ‘report,’ this morning was kind of a low water mark. But Jackson got what he wanted: word out in public someone else might want him and people—allegedly credible people—discussing it. Somewhere Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein must cringe on a regular basis.

Then again, they’re both too smart to pay much attention to any of this.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about 'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Even through tough times, I haven’t given up on Islanders – 30th anniversary of first Stanly Cup victory

There was a very good story in this morning’s New York Times about the fact that today is the 30th anniversary of The New York Islanders first Stanley Cup victory. (Note: Click here for NY Times article) A lot of the piece focused on the fact that many hockey fans don’t credit the Islanders enough for their four straight Stanley Cup wins from 1980 to 1983 or the fact that they won 19 straight playoff series—a record that still stands.

I give the Islanders lots of credit since—as I’ve mentioned here before—I was one of their first fans. In fact, that day 30 years ago remains an indelible memory for me. I was in a hotel room in Atlanta, getting ready to cover a North American Soccer League game that night between The Washington Diplomats and The Atlanta Chiefs when Bobby Nystrom scored the winning goal on a cross-ice pass from John Tonelli at 7:11 of overtime to beat the Philadelphia Flyers. For those of you who might not remember, it was Lorne Henning who started the play, feeding Tonelli as he steamed down the right side.

That was a fun period in my life. I was a young reporter at The Washington Post which happened to have a sports staff that only had one other person who had much interest in covering hockey: That was Bob Fachet, who had been the beat writer for the Capitals from day one of their existence. The approach taken by the rest of the staff when it came to hockey was best summed up by something Ken Denlinger, who along with Dave Kindred, split the column-writing at the time. After being sent kicking and screaming to a hockey game one winter night, Ken walked into the newsroom and announced, “I have built an insurmountable 1-0 season lead on Kindred in hockey columns.”

Turned out he was right.

Every April I would come home from The Final Four and would be sent to cover the hockey playoffs as the second guy, backing up Fachet on Caps games and often covering whatever series Bob wasn’t covering once the Caps were eliminated. Sadly for me, the paper only sent one guy to the finals in 1980—Bob—leaving me to cover what was my true second beat in those days, the Dips. That’s why I was in Atlanta and not on Long Island 30 years ago today.

It didn’t really matter. As soon as Nystrom poked the puck past Pete Peeters, I leaped off the bed, arms in the air and began celebrating. My greatest moments as a sports fan had all come within 16 months of one another: The Jets in January of 1969; The Mets in October of 1969 and the Knicks in May of 1970. So, it had been a while. It is worth remembering that in my college years Duke’s best record in football was 6-5 (turned out those were the golden years) and its best record in basketball (I swear I’m not making this up) was 14-13—and that was my senior year. So, I hadn’t done a lot of celebrating.

The Islanders had come into existence during my senior year in high school—shortly after I’d bought my first car. Since I had always been a fan of expansion teams (in one form or another) I was already a Mets, Jets and Nets fan. Since the Nets were still in the ABA in those days I could also be a Knicks fan. (If you don’t believe I was a Nets fan quick tell me who did their radio broadcasts during their first year of existence when they were the New Jersey Americans and played in the Teaneck Armory. Answer: Spencer Ross. If you got that one right here’s a bonus question: How did the Americans miss the playoffs that year? Answer: They tied for the last playoff spot with (I think, not 100 percent sure) the Pittsburgh Pipers and were designated the home team for a play-in game for the last spot. But the Armory was rented to the circus the night of the game and the Americans had to forfeit. Seriously).

So, with my new (very old) car I decided to make the trip to the brand new Nassau Coliseum to see both the Nets and Islanders on a regular basis during that first Islanders season. As luck would have it the Islanders went 12-60-6, the worst record in NHL history. Al Albert, younger brother of Marv, did the games on radio.

I stuck with the Islanders and they got better fast—making the playoffs in 1975 and upsetting the Rangers in a best-of-three mini-series in the first round when J.P. Parise scored 11 seconds into overtime in the third game. They went on from there to come from 3-0 down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and then came from 3-0 down to tie the Flyers at 3-3 before The Flyers brought out their (not so) secret weapon, Kate Smith for game seven. Flyers-5, Islanders-2.

The next few years, the Islanders were good, but not good enough, the low point being a loss in the semifinals to the Rangers in 1979. But the next spring made up for all that had come before. The Islanders were the No. 5 seed but blew into the finals to play the Flyers, who earlier that season had set a record by going 28 games without a loss. I covered the game in which they broke the old record (I think it had been 23) in The Boston Garden.

Of course Nystrom’s goal was just the beginning for the Islanders. They won the Cup again the next three years and I got to cover them quite a bit during that time. What made it so cool for me was that they were a fun group of people to be around: Al Arbour, the coach, was a wonderful story-teller. The superstars were all cooperative: Denis Potvin, Brian Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith but the best guys were Nystrom and Tonelli and Bob Bourne (still perhaps my all-time favorite person among the athletes I’ve met through the years) and Clark Gillies.

Those were innocent times when you’d show up at practice on an off-day or at a morning skate and just wander into the locker room and talk to whomever you needed to talk to. I remember going to the old ice rink where the Islanders practiced on off-days during the playoffs and walking into the locker room without so much as showing anyone a pass of any kind. Even though I was from Washington and never covered the team during the regular season a lot of the players knew me (and most of the guys who covered the team at all) by name.

The streak ended in the finals in 1984 when The Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-Grant Fuhr Edmonton Oilers started THEIR run (five Cups in seven years) by beating the Islanders in the finals in five games. There hasn’t been much glory since then—the last real run was 1993 when the Islanders upset the then two-time champion Penguins in the conference semis before losing to the Canadiens in the conference final.

Still, unlike with a lot of the New York teams, I’ve never wavered from the Islanders. I pay for the hockey package mostly to watch them. There was some hope this past year, especially with the young players, but the Rick DiPietro contract continues to haunt the franchise as does the lack of a viable arena with no sign of an agreement between the town of Hempstead and team owner Charles Wang anywhere in sight.

But I still haven’t given up. And I still have a lot of fond memories—both as a fan and as a reporter. That Saturday afternoon 30 years ago is still vivid in my memory. Which, in the end, is what makes being a sports fan worthwhile, right? I’m sure every person reading this has a memory just as vivid. Good for all of us.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about 'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Friday, May 21, 2010

PED’s back in the forefront -- Tiger, Armstrong, Moss –- and no one can be certain of the truth

During my weekly appearance on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show yesterday, Tony asked me if I thought Tiger Woods had used performance enhancing drugs. My answer was direct: “I don’t know.”

I’m well aware of the circumstantial evidence, or as some people call it, the “PED checklist,” that seems to fit Woods in many ways. I’m also aware of his categorical denials and the fact that he was one of the more outspoken golfers in favor of drug-testing when the subject first became an issue on The PGA Tour. Since neither Woods nor anyone in his inner circle confides in me very often the only honest answer was that I simply don’t know.

After I’d finished my segment, Tony, as he was going to break, said dismissively: “’I don’t know,’ that’s a really good radio answer.”

That, to be honest, annoyed me. Tony and I make fun of one another all the time and it is almost always good-spirited. I called him during the break and asked him if he would have preferred I pretend to have inside information or that I just rip Tiger and declare him guilty of all sins—something I’ve been accused of doing (incorrectly in my humble opinion) by Tony and others in the past. Tony conceded the point and that was that.

Maybe I was sensitive to the situation because the night before, while watching TV, I heard a golf writer say this: “I know Tiger pretty good and I’m sure he never took PED’s.”

Really? If there’s one thing we know for sure about Tiger since November 27th it is that those who thought they, ‘knew him pretty good,’ were fooling themselves. I used to joke about it when Tiger would call guys by nicknames during press conferences—Tiger’s like a hockey player, he loves adding Y’s to people’s names or shortening them—and you could almost see the guys blow up with pride at the recognition.

No one—let me repeat this NO ONE—in the media knows Tiger, ‘pretty good,’ and none of us have a clue as to whether he has used PED’s or not.

All of which brings me in a long-winded way to today’s drug-accusations: Floyd Landis, four years after being stripped of his Tour de France title and vehemently denying he did any blood-doping, now says he systematically doped his blood for at least four years. He also says that Lance Armstrong and just about every American who ever rode a bike—and I think Paul Revere in prepping for his midnight ride on a horse—was involved in blood doping.

There’s also the story about Santana Moss of The Washington Redskins receiving HGH from Dr. HGH himself, Anthony Galea—who also treated Woods in this six degrees of Everyone’s on Drugs World—and everyone here in Washington being in a tizzy over that.

You know what: Santana Moss doesn’t matter. Oh he matters to the Redskins and their fans who want him on the field September 13th against the Cowboys but there’s no moral issue here for most people. The only real question on Moss isn’t so much did he do it but if he did it how big a penalty will Commissioner Roger Goodell slap on him for the transgression. Moss issued a non-denial, denial a couple days ago—a weak one at that—and Coach Mike Shanahan reverted to the, “just because he saw a doctor (who hands out HGH like jelly beans) doesn’t mean he’s guilty.”

Fine. As with all athletes in team sports, Moss may be an HGH user but he’s WASHINGTON’s HGH user and people will stand behind him—as long as they believe he can get deep on the Cowboys secondary.

Lance Armstrong is an entirely different story. Armstrong is a genuine American hero: a guy who not only recovered from cancer to win The Tour de France seven times, but has used his fame to raise millions and millions of dollars for cancer research. You can call him cocky and arrogant and a lousy husband/boyfriend or any other name you want but there’s no getting away from what the guy has done and from the people he has inspired.

On Thursday, the fifth graders at my daughter’s school put on a ‘wax museum,’ exhibition in which each kid picked an American hero and dressed up like them as if they were part of a wax museum. You pressed a button on the kid and they read you that person’s biography. My daughter was Lance Armstrong.

Which is yet another reason on a long list why I don’t want to believe Armstrong was a cheater. Landis has now become another voice claiming he was, giving details about—among other things—storing blood for Armstrong in an apartment in 2002. Armstrong has already pointed out that the race Landis claims he was in while this was going on took place in 2001, that Landis doesn’t even have his dates correct and has denied Landis’s charges. So have the other American riders accused by Landis. We’re still waiting for comment from Paul Revere.

I am skeptical of just about every person accused of using PED’s who denies using them because history shows that in almost all cases, the denier becomes the confessor at some point in time. How much would you like to bet that some time in the future Barry Bonds will write a book copping to everything, saying the pressure got to him after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke all the home run records in 1998.

Of course there’s a big difference between being skeptical and KNOWING. I can’t have it both ways can I? I can’t say, yeah, Moss is probably guilty because I don’t have any feelings for him at all and he plays for a team owned by a bad guy and then turn around and say that Armstrong is innocent because he’s a truly heroic figure and my daughter chose him as her subject for the wax museum exhibition.

If only life were that easy. If only I could sit on a TV set somewhere and say, ‘I know (fill-in-the-blank) pretty good and he would never use PED’s.’ I knew Mark McGwire, if not pretty good at least a little bit and I didn’t know he was using steroids. I wondered, but I didn’t know. I DO know a lot of college basketball coaches pretty good and I can’t swear to you that any of them cheat or any of them don’t cheat. I have my suspicions but, as with Armstrong and Moss and Paul Revere, I certainly don’t know one way or the other.

What’s saddest about this is that, know-it-alls aside, none of us DOES know and therefore we end up having to wonder about just about everyone. That’s really a terrible way to have to approach sports isn’t it?

Here’s the one and only thing I THINK I know for sure about sports right now: When they run The Presidents Race tonight at Nationals Park after the top of the fourth inning, Teddy Roosevelt will lose. Then again, someone said to me last night that word is Teddy’s going to break his five year losing streak the night Stephen Strasburg makes his debut.

If that happens then there is NOTHING I know for certain about sports.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Ed -- the case can be made that the reason I’m alive is because I swim, the reason I swim is Ed Brennan

I am going to write today about someone who has nothing to do with mainstream sports. You have never seen his name in a headline and you probably never will, unless you live in Tampa, Florida.

Ed Brennan was my high school swim coach. Today is his birthday. I’ll call him tonight to wish him a Happy Birthday. While I’m at it I may thank him for allowing me to be here to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Last June, when the doctors told me I had seven blockages in my heart I was stunned on a number of levels, not the least of which was the fact that I had no symptoms: no chest pains, no shortness of breath—nothing. In fact, I was in halfway decent swimming shape and had worked out the day before the angiogram that uncovered the blockages.

“Your heart’s strong because you swim,” the doctor said to me. “Your arteries are a mess. But your heart has overcome the blockages until now. If you didn’t swim, well, you probably would have had a Tim Russert episode by now.”

Those were his exact words: Tim Russert episode.

So, the case can be made that the reason I’m alive is because I swim. The reason I swim is Ed Brennan.

When I was a high school freshman I still harbored fantasies of becoming a basketball player. I had been a reasonably good junior high school player—I could shoot and I knew how to play passing lanes in a two-three zone—and I probably would have been good enough to start as a sophomore when I was eligible for the varsity. Of course at that point I was about 5-3 and the thought was beginning to cross my mind that if I wasn’t the BEST player on my high school team there was probably a good chance I wasn’t going to end up playing point guard for the Knicks.

Enter Ed Brennan.

He took me aside one day after a swim class in September and said, ‘you need to try out for my team.’ He was brand new at the school, just 22-years-old and about to become a father for the first time. The swim team at the school I went to at the time, McBurney, on the west side of Manhattan, was awful. I had no idea how awful it was and I didn’t care. I wanted to play basketball.

That’s what I told Ed. He kept after me saying I should at least come to the week-long tryouts and he would be honest with me about my potential and if I didn’t want to swim or he didn’t want me to swim, there was still plenty of time to play on the freshman basketball team.

He was a good salesman. I liked him. I decided to try it. I figured he was singling me out and I liked that.

Of course I hated the tryouts. He wasn’t singling me out. He had made essentially the same pitch to every kid in the school who could float. He put us through a grueling week—or so it seemed to us—of workouts. None of us were in any kind of swimming shape and none of us had goggles. We came out of the water each day crawling with exhaustion, our eyes red from the chlorine. I’m still not sure why I didn’t quit halfway through. At some point it became a challenge because Ed had said only 15 of us would make the team and there were about 40 guys at the tryouts.

I made the team. Okay, I proved myself, time to go back to basketball. Ed laughed when I told him my plan. “That’s fine,” he said. “But you aren’t getting into college because of basketball. You COULD get into college because of swimming.”

Now I KNEW he was conning me. Except something was gnawing at me: I knew he was probably right about basketball. My dad was 5-9 and my mom was 5-3. How tall was I going to be? I’d been the only white starter on my junior high school team and my teammates liked to tell me I was good, “for a white boy.” I had played enough schoolyard ball to know my limitations.

Still…”Try swimming for a year,” Ed said. “You’ll be on the varsity because there’s no freshman team. You can still try out for the varsity basketball team next year.”

Somewhere I changed my mind. To make a long story short, after he FORCED me to start swimming butterfly midway through the season—we only had one other guy who could finish a 100 fly and I could BARELY do it—I began to understand that swimming was where my future was going to be. Ed got hired at a much better swimming school, Columbia Grammar, and took me with him there. The presence of girls in the classroom—McBurney was all boys—forced me to pay attention and do my work because I didn’t want to look like a dope in front of the girls.

I never became a great swimmer, but I became a pretty good one—good enough to be recruited and good enough, in the end, to get into a good college with grades and SAT’s that were good but hardly to die for. I went to Duke because of Ed Brennan. In many ways the path my life took was because of Ed Brennan.

And, when a doctor told me in my late 30s that I HAD to start exercising again if I wanted to see my kids grow up, I went back to swimming because Ed Brennan had talked me into being a swimmer 25 years earlier. I’ve been a Masters swimmer for 15 years now and it has been as much fun as anything I’ve done this side of being a father.

Ed became the swim coach at the University of Tampa almost 30 years ago. When I’m struggling in the water, I still call him for advice. When I’m in Tampa—or near it—I go to his pool and work out. He laughs at how pathetic my workouts are and tells me I’ll never be any good if I don’t get tougher. It’s the same thing he told me as a teen-ager when he threw kickboards at all of us if we weren’t on time to start practice.

“If you’re in the water, the kickboard won’t hit you,” he used to say.

Thank God I was in the water. Thank God I became a swimmer and I’m still a swimmer—regardless of how pathetic my workouts might be.

Happy Birthday Ed. And thanks for convincing me to swim all those years ago.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

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 from this week. Today, we spoke a great deal about the Wizards choices with the #1 pick, including my view of what they should do, and talked a little bit of Tiger on the news of the Dr. Galea indictment.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wall and Arenas together? Wizards have options; Kobe great, but not in same sentence with Jordan

Let’s give the NBA this much: The league has a certain flair for the dramatic. I mean seriously, did anyone think the New Jersey Nets and their new Russian multi-billionaire owner were going to get the first pick in the draft lottery last night?

Did anyone really think the league was going to turn away Irene Pollin, the widow of long-time Washington Bullets/Wizards Abe Pollin as she stood there wearing her husband’s 1978 NBA championship ring and give the top pick to the towering, scowling Mikhail Prokhorov? No way. Maybe if Prokhorov had sent one of the Russian tennis players/super models to represent him he might have had a shot.

No, I’m not one of those conspiracy nut jobs who thinks the first lottery in 1985 was fixed so that the Knicks would get Patrick Ewing. (It was awfully convenient for the league though wasn’t it?). And no, I don’t think David Stern ordered that the ping-pong balls bounce the Wizards way on Tuesday night. I just knew the Nets and Prokhorov weren’t getting the pick. Maybe it was just the odds—which were three-to-one against the Nets in spite of their 12-70 record. Forget about checking the ping pong balls, re-check the system.

All that said, what exactly did the Wizards win? According to ESPN, they won John Wall—no ifs, ands or buts. Within seconds of the Wizards being awarded the top pick, ESPN was on a satellite hook-up with Wall asking him what he was going to do next season to fit in with Washington.

Does ESPN now do the actual drafting for teams? Has the network informed Ted Leonsis, the new owner and Ernie Grunfeld, the current general manager, that the team is taking Wall? The interview with Wall was conducted from his home in California—at least that’s what I thought Mark Jones said—so I guess he’s taking a break from his post-graduate studies at Kentucky (if you listen to John Calipari talk Wall must be on the verge of getting his Masters and his PhD).

Here’s my question: Do the Wizards really want to draft Wall—ESPN’s expertise notwithstanding? Gilbert Arenas is still on the roster and he’s still owed $80 million by the team. IF the Wizards can convince someone to take Arenas, his contract, his guns and his baggage, then I would absolutely take Wall, who has unlimited potential at what I still think is the most important position in the game—even at the NBA level.

But Wall and Arenas together? Is the NBA going to pass a rule allowing teams to use two basketballs? There are some people who think Arenas can play the two-guard spot fulltime because he shoots the ball well enough to play there. Really? Have you been around the guy the last few years? Do you think he’s going to move without the basketball and hope the guy with the ball (Wall) decides to find him? I don’t think so. And who is he going to guard?

Time will tell of course. The Wizards have options now, thanks to Mrs. Pollin and the anti-Prokhorov karma that went on last night. Maybe they can trade down, get a starter from someone AND a high pick. They gutted their roster after the whole Arenas guns debacle this past season so there shouldn’t be anyone on the team who is untouchable. Leonsis has to decide whether he wants to keep Grunfeld around and then let him go to work. If he’s going to fire Grunfeld he needs to do it NOW, not after the draft. This is a critical time for a long woebegone franchise and, now that they have won the lottery, they can’t afford to go down the Kwame Brown road they went down nine years ago.

On the subject of the playoffs: You have to be impressed with the Celtics and, to be honest, unimpressed with the Magic. Orlando handled the end-game last night like a team that had never been in a close game. There were too many mistakes to count, topped by J.J. Redick’s mind-block with the basketball on the last possession. I can hear the, ‘not very smart for a Duke guy,’ jokes coming out of Chapel Hill and College Park right now.

Those jokes would be accurate.

The only thing that would come close to a LeBron-Kobe Finals for the league would be Celtics-Lakers, maybe the only NBA matchup left in which the TEAMS are as significant to the plot as the superstars. The Celtics don’t have a superstar, just four very good players, which may be why they’ve become so tough to beat. That and the fact that they’re all smart enough to know that this is probably the last roundup, that they aren’t likely to be this healthy this late in the season again anytime soon.

The Lakers of course, have Kobe Bryant and I keep hearing people ask if he belongs in the same sentence as Michael Jordan if the Lakers win and he gets a fifth championship ring. The answer is simple: NO. Bryant’s a great player, certainly a better, tougher and more clutch player right now than LeBron James, but let’s not get carried away. I will say this one more time: There was ONE Jordan. All these comparisons get out of hand. I still remember years ago hearing a TV announcer who will go un-named (but you can look at him live) compare North Carolina freshman guard Jeff Lebo to Jerry West. Seriously.

Let’s get over that. Championship rings ARE important in terms of measuring a superstar but they aren’t the be all and end all. If they were, Robert Horry and Steve Kerr would be Hall-of-Famers. So, if Kobe does win a fifth ring, more power to him and let’s move him up another notch in the category of special players.

But in the same sentence with Jordan? No.

Here’s the list of players who can be put in the same sentence with Jordan, regardless of position: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson. I’m not saying any are better, I’m just saying you can put them in the same breath with Jordan and maybe—MAYBE—make the argument they were as valuable or more valuable at the peak of their skills.

And, in case you’re interested, there’s NO ONE in this year’s draft who is going to end up in that sentence. That doesn’t mean there aren’t very good players but those guys are once-in-a-generation, not once a year.


One thing about yesterday’s blog: I didn’t want to imply there is NO good sports talk anywhere in the country. Someone mentioned Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert in San Francisco—yup, good radio guys and good interviewers. My pal Mike Gastineau in Seattle is also very good and, yes, his colleague Mitch Levy who is on mornings on KJR is a very good interviewer. Mitch just happens to have an ego that makes mine look non-existent and doesn’t know the difference between funny and insulting. Tony Kornheiser is obviously unique and also my friend as everyone knows. And Mark Patrick in Indianapolis, whose son happens to be new Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen, also does very good and very smart work. Chris Myers does a long-form interview show on Fox sports radio that’s also an excellent listen. There are others I know I’m leaving out but those guys come to mind quickly.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sportstalk radio -- where is the line drawn between inane and insane these days?

I have long ago copped to the fact that I listen to sportstalk radio even though it is the entertainment equivalent of eating high caloric food that tastes bad—and doing it on a continuing basis.

Most mornings, after I drop my son off at school, I drive to the health club where I work out to try to get in a swim. That’s not so easy these days since I’m usually in-between book promo interviews most of the day and night. My family pretty much hates me right now. (Swimming update for my Masters friends: I’m a LOT better than when I started back but still months away from even thinking about a meet. The good news is I MIGHT be able to finish a 100 fly off the blocks at this point but I can’t swear to it). I always turn on the radio and go back and forth between the two local sports talk shows available in the DC area in the morning.

I like The Sports Junkies. I like them personally and I’ve been on with them often, most recently on Monday to talk about, ‘Moment of Glory.’ If they’re talking sports, I listen to them. If they’re interviewing an actor I’ve never heard of—as they were this morning—or talking about their next trip to Atlantic City, I usually move on. Which leaves me with the morning guys who work for the four-letter network.

I’ve never met Mike Golic and get tired quickly of his, ‘when I played the game…’ act or the incredibly worn-out jokes about how much he likes to eat. In fact that’s pretty much what the show is: worn-out jokes between the two hosts (Mike Greenberg is a perfectly pleasant guy); a non-stop raft of commercials and drop-ins for nine million sponsors and interviews with big names (ESPN can get the big names as we all know) in which the toughest question is usually something like, ‘skip, are you concerned about having lost two in a row?’

This morning though, was a new low—and a new low for me because it took me a solid five minutes to decide this was a morning to listen to music. Greenberg and Golic were actually debating whether it was wrong for the Celtics Rasheed Wallace to wear a Philadelphia Flyers cap in public since he’s a Philly guy now playing in Boston.

I honestly don’t know if Greenberg was serious about thinking this was somehow wrong or if it was just an unbelievably slow news day. Maybe they had already dealt with Phil Jackson’s silly, ‘I may retire,’ talk or there just weren’t enough NFL mini-camps going on this week. Maybe there’s a 40-hour weekly limit on talking about LeBron. My theory is that he’s going to give up basketball to become Tiger Woods’ swing coach. Put that one on the internet and see how quickly someone reports it as fact.

Seriously folks, where is the line drawn between inane and insane these days? Last Friday I co-hosted a local show here in Washington with Steve Czaban, a very nice guy who is—by his own admission—a creation of the 21st century talk-show world. Czaban does not try to pass himself off as a journalist on any level—although the show he co-hosts is called, “The Sports Reporters,”—which is clearly an oxymoron—and he’ll pretty much take a swing at any topic if he thinks it will generate interest among listeners.

Maybe Greenberg thought Rasheed Wallace’s cap would interest listeners. All I can tell you is if Golic is the voice or reason in an argument you’re in trouble.

Anyway, during the show last Friday—my main purpose in being there was to flack, ‘Moment of Glory,’ if truth be told—I suggested we talk about the Nationals. They were on a pretty good roll and the question I wanted to address was how good they might become this summer when Stephen Strasburg arrives. Could they maintain the pace they were played at for the first five weeks and be a legitimate postseason contender?

Czaban wanted to talk more LeBron even though we had talked about him at length in the first hour. “The Nats are playing well, things are going well, there’s nothing to discuss,” he said. “Sportstalk radio is built on controversy, on things going wrong, on ripping people who are failing.”

You know what, he’s probably right. When I listen to WFAN nothing generates emotional phone calls like the Mets because the Mets are constantly screwing up. (I’m not even bringing up the Wilpons AGAIN passing on the chance to fire Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel in Atlanta last night. My God, are they waiting for Casey Stengel to become available?).

In Washington nothing generates interest like the Redskins—12 months a year—especially when they’re losing games in the fall. People want to vent and everyone has a solution for whatever is wrong with the team. Even when a team is winning, most fans want to talk about the next game or the next problem or even the next season. I think I’ve said this before but my most vivid memory from the night Maryland won the national championship in 2002 was that of Maryland fans behind me screaming at Chris Wilcox that he HAD to come back for his junior year. When Duke won the national championship this year, their fans chanted at Kyle Singler, “one more year!”

One national championship from the kid wasn’t worth, you know, 15 minutes of celebration?

That is the way of jock world though, no doubt. It is certainly the way of sportstalk radio and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Here’s my answer to Greenberg’s question this morning: My guess is 99 percent of the fans in Boston could care less what Rasheed Wallace wears on his head as long as he helps the Celtics win. And if they don’t win, he can wear a cap with the logos of all four of Boston’s teams and no one will care about that either.

My God, let’s go to a break Mike. It’s been at least seven minutes since the last nine-minute break so it must be time. It is also time for me to get satellite radio. Not to mention a life.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Starsia, UVA and The Washington Post; Kudos to those who ran The Gaithersburg Book Festival

The stories this weekend about the University of Virginia’s victories in the NCAA lacrosse tournaments—men’s and women’s—were all touching and entirely believable. The grief still being felt by those involved with the two teams and at the school is clearly genuine and, especially when watching the women, one can’t help but feel sick about what happened to Yeardley Love.

That said, there was a story this past weekend in The Charlottesville Daily Progress that is disturbing. It has nothing to do with any of the kids currently playing on either team. It’s about, really, the behavior of the administration at Virginia.

As I said before, I have mixed emotions about the men’s team playing in the NCAA Tournament but I’m willing to buy into the idea that the other players on the team, even if they did know that George Huguely was an absolute jerk, had no way of knowing he was capable of doing what he did. We all knew bullies who drank too much when we were in college (and since college) but we didn’t think, ‘that guy is going to kill someone.’ We just thought he was someone worth steering clear of, especially when he was drinking.

According to The Daily Progress (Note: article found here), Virginia has issued a report in which it says that Coach Dom Starsia did nothing wrong in handling a situation that occurred in 2009 when Huguely slugged a sleeping teammate for committing the crime of kissing Love—apparently a chaste between-friends kiss, but enough to set Huguely off.

This story was initially reported by The Washington Post. Everyone knows I am a contributor to The Post and have been associated with the paper for more than 30 years. So, if you want, call me biased. I don’t think that’s the case. UVA at first demanded a correction of The Post story, saying it implied that Starsia somehow ‘covered-up,’ the incident when he didn’t. When outgoing UVA President John Casteen (who no doubt wishes he retired a year ago) was asked about the story a week ago, he called it, ‘hearsay.’

Apparently not. According to the UVA report, Huguely and the un-named teammate went to see Starsia after the incident. They said there’d been a scuffle but everything was okay. Starsia—still according to the report—asked the kid who had gotten slugged to stay after Huguely had left and asked him what had really happened. The kid told Starsia there was nothing more to tell and Starsia let it go.

Okay, I’m not here to say Starsia failing to pursue it was a firing offense or the tragedy would have been avoided if he had pursued it. Let’s be clear on that.

But let’s go back a minute and be Starsia. Two kids walk in, one of them sporting a shiner. They tell you they scuffled. It is pretty clear one kid is a lot worse off post-scuffle than the other. They HAD to come and talk to you because you’re going to notice the injury at practice so let’s not give them any brownie points for, ‘coming forward.’

Starsia asked the kid who is injured to tell him what happened—alone. Did he do this because he thought the kid was intimidated by Huguely’s presence? Did he, after three years of coaching Huguely have a sense that Huguely had a violent streak in him? He sensed SOMETHING but didn’t pursue it.

What SHOULD he have done? There’s one thing athletes respond to: the threat of lost playing time. “Look, I’m not going to necessarily do anything but I want to know what happened. If you want to play this weekend, tell me.”

If the kid refuses, bench both players until they tell you the truth. In the meantime, maybe you check and see if Huguely has been in trouble you didn’t know about before? Maybe you ask the UVA police to run a check to see if he’s had any problems with the police before? (Which would have turned up the incident in Lexington that no one at Virginia knew about before Love’s murder.)

Is all of this a second-guess? Yes. But it isn’t as if Starsia had never had kids in trouble before. It isn’t as if SOMETHING in his gut didn’t tell him there was more to the incident than they were telling him. But he didn’t pursue it. Can we at least agree that was a mistake? Again, no one is saying it was a life-and-death decision.

That said, it takes a lot of nerve on the part of UVA’s officials to demand a correction from The Post. The story is right: the incident took place and Starsia didn’t pursue it. That’s the crux of it and the important part of it. Virginia should apologize to The Post and should probably NOT be going around on a high horse about this.

Starsia is walking a very fine line when he claims on the one hand that he didn’t talk to his team about the incident but seems to remember talking to them about not fighting and the importance of, ‘being a family.’ There’s also the Virginia spokeswoman who says if Starsia HAD known the specifics of the incident he would have handled it in an “entirely different way.” Well, whose fault is it that Starsia didn’t know the specifics. He just took the two players at their word—even though he was clearly concerned something untoward had taken place—and never tried to pursue the truth.

There’s a big gap between making a mistake you wish you could correct and criminal negligence. Being innocent of criminal negligence doesn’t mean you handled a situation correctly. The people at Virginia need to understand something: THEY aren’t the victims in this any more than they are the perpetrators. Yeardley Love was the victim. Her family and friends were the victims. Dom Starsia sure as hell wasn’t the victim. The people he’s working for need to understand that.


I wanted to throw some kudos today in the direction of the people who ran The Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday. I am always leery of book festivals and book fairs, in part because there is no guarantee anyone will show up, in part because they often are very poorly organized.

This one—first time out of the box—was run with precision timing; lots of volunteers who knew what they were doing and good crowds—helped no doubt by a perfect weather day. The audience I spoke to had plenty of people and enthusiasm, which was terrific.

It was a little different than my first book fair experience—which was in Miami in 1988. When I showed up I was directed to, “The Children’s Alley.” The guy said, “yeah, sports book, we put you there.”

So, I sat down to do a book signing with six other authors alongside—each having written a book on about the same level as, “Good Night Moon.” Along came various moms and their four-year-olds, none especially interested in a book about college basketball. Thirty minutes went by; I had signed zero books.

Finally—FINALLY—a guy came up and said, “Hey, are you John Feinstein?” Thank God, I thought, at least I’ll sell one book. Maybe I can get this guy to stand here and talk to me for the next 20 minutes.

“Yes, I am,” I said gratefully.

He looked at his program then looked at me. “So you’re the Miami Heat mascot?”


“Right here in the program, it says, ‘4 o’clock—John Feinstein, Miami Heat Mascot.’”

He showed me the program. That’s exactly what it said. Apparently I was speaking at the same time the Miami Heat mascot was performing. But the program made it look like I WAS the Miami Heat mascot.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not the Miami Heat mascot.”

“Too bad,” he said—and left.

Never did sell a book that day.

Saturday was a LOT better. Not a mascot in sight.


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

Friday, May 14, 2010

If LeBron leaves Cleveland, this series will certainly be part of his legacy

At least LeBron James has learned a little bit in the last year about how to lose. After The Boston Celtics ended his season and quite possibly his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he stuck around to congratulate the Celtics with handshakes and a couple of hugs and then came into the interview room to talk about the NBA playoffs and—at least in broad terms—what his future may hold for him this summer.

That’s an improvement from a year ago when he bolted the building as soon as the Orlando Magic had finished off his team and then was un-apologetic about his wounded-diva act the following day. “Winners don’t congratulate people when they beat them,” he said.

Actually, that’s exactly what winners do. That’s one reason why the hockey tradition of the handshake line at the end of a playoff series is one of the great traditions in sports. Do you think it was painful for Alexander Ovechkin two weeks ago and Sidney Crosby two nights ago to line up and shake the hands of the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens after each had lost a seventh game at home to Les Habitants? (I love that nickname). Of course it was. But it would never occur to either star to NOT line up and shake hands.

At least James has learned that much about losing. But he still has a long, long way to go. His pre-game ramblings before game six about his performance in game five made little if no sense. At one point he claimed he had played three bad games in seven years. At another point he said that losing this series would have no affect at all on his legacy and acted as if he was a rookie playing his first postseason rather than a seven year veteran who may be getting ready to leave town for another team.

What’s clear when James talked is that, like so many athletes—especially Nike athletes—the carefully concocted marketing image is very different than the reality. James can certainly sell product. Talking off the top of his head, especially when faced with an on-court crisis, he’s not nearly as smooth.

That’s okay too. There’s no rule that says every great athlete has to be Arthur Ashe or Bill Bradley or Arnold Palmer. James is light years ahead of, say Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals pitching phenom, who is so media-shy the team protects him as if he’s The President. When Strasburg gets to Washington the Nationals are going to have to bring the young reliever Drew Storen with him as both his designated closer and designated spokesman.

Back to James. The apologists will point out that he had a triple-double in game six and can’t be blamed for the lackluster play of his older teammates, notably Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal. The bashers will note the nine turnovers (a ridiculous number) and his unwillingness to try to take over the game. At 78-74, after he had FINALLY made a couple of threes, the opportunity for him to win the game for the Cavaliers was there. Instead, he literally handed it to Rajon Rondo, who outplayed him and everyone else throughout the series.

Let’s be fair about one thing: the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan—many the fault of Nike and his various marketing arms—are unfair and silly. There was ONE Jordan. There is no NEXT Jordan—not James, not Kobe Bryant, not the next eighth grader being over-publicized as we speak. Jordan wasn’t just a once-in-a-generation talent, he was a once-in-a-generation competitor.

He was never surrounded by great players and won six championships. Scottie Pippen became great because he had Jordan next to him. Everyone else was good enough to get Jordan to the fourth quarter and let Jordan win the game from there. That’s about what the Cavaliers are right now. They have a very good guard in Mo Williams and they tried to bring in experience and guys who could take some burden off James with O’Neal and Jamison. They won 65 games in the regular season, which makes them good—but apparently not good enough.

People will correctly point out that Jordan was in his seventh year when he won his first title. That’s true. James has just finished his seventh year. He also didn’t have three years in college under Dean Smith to learn the game the way Jordan did. Even so, he’s not Jordan. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to win titles, I suspect he will. But his willingness to accept defeat and then to EXCUSE defeat makes him a lot different than Jordan.

Will he leave Cleveland? Probably. “Me and my team will make good decisions this summer,” isn’t likely to fill fans in that long-suffering city with confidence that he’s returning. He’s always been non-committal on his commitment to Cleveland. Some people are even writing and saying this morning that he needs to leave Cleveland because the burden of bringing a title there (the last championship team there was the old Browns in 1964) is just too much and he needs to get out.

Are you kidding? There’s less pressure in NEW YORK where the Knicks last won a title in 1973 and where they will start planning the parade the day he signs? There’s less pressure in Chicago where he can walk past Jordan’s statue every time he plays in The United Center? There’s less pressure in Miami where he’d have to fight Dwayne Wade for the basketball AND deal with Pat Riley’s ego?

In truth, he belongs in Cleveland. He can still be the (almost) hometown kid who brought a championship to the city. The Cavaliers would need to make changes around him: they probably need a new coach (I’d go get Jeff Van Gundy) and O’Neal is certainly done. But with James in town they can get players to surround him who can win a title. They aren’t there, but they aren’t that far away either.

This notion that he needs to go to New York to market himself is incredibly dumb. At James’s level it doesn’t matter where you play. Is Peyton Manning lacking for endorsement deals in Indianapolis?

WINNING makes you a billionaire not clever commercials. What’s more the RIGHT thing to do for James is to stay in Cleveland. It may be a quaint and outdated notion to say that an athlete owes something to a city but James owes Cleveland more than cutting-and-running the first chance he gets. It isn’t as if he’s going to suffer or be underpaid by staying there or he’s with an organization that won’t try to build a championship team around him.

James insisted on Wednesday that his legacy wasn’t at stake in this series. If he leaves Cleveland now his failures the last two years will very much be part of his legacy. And they will be HIS failures because the star gets credit so he must also take the blame. He still has a chance to change that legacy in Cleveland. But he can’t do it playing in New York.


I want to take a second here to thank my friends at “The Bob and Tom Show.” They have been my first interview on every book I’ve done starting with “A Season on the Brink,” and, without fail the interview gives the book a running start. It did so again yesterday with “Moment of Glory,” and I don’t want any of the folks there to think I’m not grateful because I am. So thanks to Bob, Tom, Dean, Kristie, Chic and Joni for all their help through the years.

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview, please click the play button below:


John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Today is the official publication date for “Moment of Glory” -- I sincerely hope that people will enjoy reading it

Today is the official publication date for my new book, “Moment of Glory—The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors.”

Pub date—as it is called in the book business—is always nerve-wracking for me, even though this is my 26th book. There’s always a lot of work to do—radio and TV interviews—working with the publicist to figure out where you should go and when you should go to different cities, but beyond that there’s one very simple thing: you want people to like the book.

I’m not talking about reviewers; you want good reviews of course but after a while you get used to the vagaries of reviews. I’m talking about people who go out and buy the book. I still have every single letter I’ve ever been sent about any of the books I’ve written. Most are very nice and complimentary. Occasionally you get one that is complimentary but points out things you might have missed or even mistakes (I’ve never written a perfect book as hard as I have tried) that you’ve made. Every once in a while someone writes to tell you they hated the book. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I guess the most mail I’ve ever received on a book was my first one, “A Season on the Brink,”—a lot of it from fans of Bob Knight and Indiana wondering why in the world Knight was so angry that I’d left his profanity in the book—as if that had ever been a secret. A close second was, “A Civil War,” and, after that, the mysteries I’ve written for 11-and-up young adult readers. The letters from kids who have read and liked the books may be the most gratifying of all.

That said, 15 years after it was published, I still get mail regularly about, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” which was my first golf book. I’m surprised (though pleased) when people write that they’ve just bought it and read it. Sometimes I get a follow-up note from people who have gone on to read the other golf books saying that they enjoyed those too. The letters that most often make me cry are about, “Caddy For Life,” the book I wrote on my friend Bruce Edwards, who was Tom Watson’s caddy for most of 30 years before dying of ALS in 2004. Many are from people who have been touched by ALS—which is as awful a disease as have ever existed.

That was, by far, the most intensely emotional book I’ve ever been involved in because I was watching a friend die while researching and writing the book. Next month, The Golf Channel is going to air a documentary based on ‘Caddy,’ that I had the chance to work on with Watson and Bruce’s family and many of the same people I interviewed while doing the book. The documentary (which first airs June 14th the week of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the site of Tom and Bruce’s most famous moment at the ’82 Open when Tom chipped in on 17 to beat Jack Nicklaus) stirred a lot of the old emotions. There were—as you will see—plenty of tears during the taping of the interviews.

‘Moment of Glory,’ is a book I’m really proud of for a number of reasons. To begin with, I really like the IDEA, which first came to me walking down the 10th fairway at Augusta during the Mike Weir-Len Mattiace playoff at The Masters in 2003. I knew both men and liked them both a lot and was having a good deal of trouble deciding who I wanted to see win.

It occurred to me as I walked down the hill—the 10th at August slopes downward by about 100 feet from tee to green—to where they had hit their tee shots, that in the next few minutes their lives were going to go in very different directions. One would be a Masters champion and that would be part of his life and his legacy. As Weir said to me later, “it almost becomes part of your name: ‘Masters champion Mike Weir.’ The other would be left to wonder ‘what-if,’ perhaps for the rest of his life. Both men were good players but they weren’t Tiger Woods, they weren’t guys who could just assume that they would have another chance at this sort of moment.

So, when Weir won I was thrilled for him, but saddened for Mattiace, especially when he broke down and cried talking to the media—not so much about losing but about the entire experience; the notion of shooting 65 on Sunday at Augusta, arguably your greatest day in golf, but not winning. Kristen Mattiace, Len’s wife, pulled up in a cart while Len was talking and saw her husband turning in to a puddle. “It didn’t surprise me,” she said later. “Len’s Italian. Everything makes him cry. But I knew this was different.”

I tucked the idea that there was a story in the divergent routes of Weir and Mattiace in the back of mind and then watched in surprise the way the rest of that year unfolded: Jim Furyk winning the U.S. Open was no shock since he’d been a good player who had contended in majors for a while, but it was nice to see him win because I’d worked closely with him on, “The Majors,” and knew how much he wanted to get over that hump. Quick, can you name the runner-up that year? How about Stephen Leaney, an Australian—really nice guy—who saw the second place finish as his chance to get onto the U.S. Tour.

Then there was Ben Curtis at The British. A year earlier, Curtis had been playing on The Hooters Tour. He had finally made it through Q-School the previous December and was playing in his first major championship ever. Quick, give me the list of guys who won the first time they ever teed it up in a major. How about Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis? That’s the list.

The night before The British began, Curtis and his then-fiancĂ©e Candace Beatty were eating dinner at a house IMG (the agency that represents half the world’s golfers) had rented for the week. Weir sat down across from them. Curtis introduced himself and Candace and congratulated him on his win at Augusta.

“Oh thanks a lot,” Weir said. “So what brings you guys over here?”

“Um, I’m playing in the tournament,” Curtis said.

Weir was horrified. “I was so embarrassed,” he said. “But I had no idea who he was. Four days later he won The British Open.”

Talk about a change of life. Curtis went from un-recognized by another golfer to appearing on Letterman in a period of six days.

Shaun Micheel’s win the next month at The PGA wasn’t quite as shocking but it was close. He had never won a PGA Tour event, his highest finish had been a tie for third at The B.C. Open. He had only gone through one year on tour where he had played well enough to keep his playing rights for the next year. And then he hit one of the great shots in golf history—a 7-iron to two inches on the 18th hole at Oak Hill with a one shot lead over Chad Campbell—to become a major champion.

He hasn’t won a tournament since. In fact, in 2010 he isn’t even a fully exempt player on the tour having battled injuries (shoulder surgery); issues with the tour over a drug he needed to take and personal problems—his mom is battling cancer. All the players involved in those majors in 2003, with the possible exception of Furyk, have been through issues on and off the golf course; all have had to deal with sudden fame radically changing their lives and none has won another major.

That’s really what the book is about. To me it’s a little bit, “A Good Walk Spoiled,”—what life is like on tour—a little bit, “The Majors,”—for obvious reasons—and a little bit, “Tales From Q-School,”—since everyone involved except for Furyk made more than one trip to Q-School and one of them (Micheel) has been back SINCE winning a major.

Ironically, the book begins with Tiger Woods firing a swing coach: His firing of Butch Harmon at The British Open in 2002 led to a two-and-a-half year slump during which he didn’t win a major (after winning seven of the previous 11). That opened the door for these guys and others to have their chance to make history.

I really enjoyed doing the book because the guys involved were good guys with very good stories to tell and all (wives included) were very honest about all that went on. I’m grateful to them for their patience. This book had some fits and starts getting done: it was first delayed when Rocco Mediate asked me to do a book on his 2008 U.S. Open experience and delayed again by my heart surgery last summer. But it is finished now and it is out there and I am really happy I had the chance to report it, write and complete it. I sincerely hope that people will enjoy reading it.

If the reviewers like it, all the better. But, as I said, they’re not the readers I care about most.

John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

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

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 that discussed the book luncheon at the Hay-Adams along with my book release, Hank Haney's departure from Tiger Woods and who the most prominent golf teacher is on Tour today. (Note: I will be guest host on Friday's show for 3 hours).

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also made my weekly appearance with The Gas Man on Seattle's 950 KJR on Wednesday night at 8:25 ET. This week we spent a great deal of talking about the Griffey falling asleep story and freeze out of Larry LaRue, how difficult it is for athletes to step away, and we discussed the book released today 'Moment of Glory.'

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


On Thursday, I made my regular appearance on Tony Kornheiser's newest The Tony Kornheiser Show at 100:05 ET. This week we discussed Tony's introduction of me at an author even at The Hay-Adams Hotel, my book release today, along with some discussion of Tiger Woods and Hank Haney.

Click here to listen to the segment (starts at the 4:30 mark) : Tony Kornheiser Show

John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and will be in bookstores nationwide May 13th. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases