Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ryder Cup is finally here - why I think the US will win; The good side of sportsmanship displayed by middle school coach

The Ryder Cup begins tomorrow—finally. I love The Ryder Cup. I love the drama, the nerves, the emotion that it brings out in players and (most of the time) fans. What I could live without is all the yammering that goes on prior to the matches beginning.

I mean, seriously, did anyone really think there was any chance Corey Pavin wasn’t going to pick Tiger Woods if he didn’t finish in the top eight in the points standings? The only way Woods wasn’t going to be chosen was if he didn’t WANT to be chosen and this was the one year when he actually needed to play. Why? Because he needs to wear ‘USA,’ on his back as part of his image-rehab. Because he’s had a horrible year (for him) and this is a way to salvage something—anything—from a lost year. Because he’s played on ONE winning Ryder Cup team and a lot of people have noticed that the only U.S. team to win in this century was the one (2008) that didn’t have Woods on the team.

So, Woods was going to be picked and he was going to play. All of Pavin’s Hamlet-like, ‘to pick him or not to pick him,’ was pure silliness. Of course he was going to pick him.

The Woods-Rory McIlroy thing is also much ado about little. McIlroy made the comment that he would love to face Woods in singles in mid-August shortly after the worst performance of Woods’ career (T-78 at Firestone; if there had been a cut he would have missed it). I know McIlroy a little bit and he’s not the kind of kid who goes around trying to sound cocky. He was just being honest basically saying, ‘right now the guy isn’t playing very well.’

Naturally the tabloid media in Great Britain wants to turn this into a cage match. Woods, who learned from Michael Jordan that you take anything resembling a slight and use it for motivation is smiling and saying he’d like to play McIlroy too as if he’s going to show him who is boss. Heck, he might very well do that. But let’s not act as if McIlroy is somehow trying to get into Woods face or his head. He was being honest. The more we (the media) take honest comments and try to make them into more than what they are, the less likely we are to continue to get honest comments.

Now that the matches are finally—Thank God—beginning we can all stop speculating on who is going to play with whom and on whether Woods and Phil Mickelson will be able to smile in one another’s presence. All I ask of the two of them is to NOT act as if their dislike of one another is some sort of media concoction. It’s not.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be part of a successful U.S. team. My feeling all along has been this notion that Europe is the favorite is crazy. YES, they have home court advantage and that’s a big deal. The U.S. has won in Europe ONCE since 1983 and that was in the 1993 when Tom Watson was captain and played a hunch on Saturday with his team about to get blown out and put John Cook and Chip Beck—who hadn’t played yet—out in the first four ball match of the afternoon against Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo. Cook and Beck won the match one-up and the U.S. ended up outscoring the Euros 11 and ½ to 5 and ½ from that point on to win, 15-13.

Pavin should keep Watson’s gamble in mind. He has spent a lot of time consulting with players and his various assistant captains—including my pal Paul Goydos (whose comment on the Lisa Pavin-created U.S. uniforms was, “Those outfits might look okay on Tiger and Dustin Johnson, I’m not so sure how they’ll look on me.”)—about who should play with whom and who should sit out and who shouldn’t sit out.

That’s all well and good. But you have to have a gut feeling for your players as the matches go on. Watson knew the combinations he was using in 1993 weren’t working. He sat both Fred Couples and Davis Love III that Saturday afternoon and played Cook and Beck because he felt Couples and Love were fighting themselves emotionally. In fact, while those matches were going on, Love took Couples aside and gave him a talking-to about getting down on himself that also proved to be critical to the final outcome.

There may come a moment when Pavin has to do something that doesn’t seem to make sense: sit Woods out perhaps if he isn’t playing well; put together a crazy pairing like Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson—something. But he better be ready when that moment comes because Colin Montgomerie most assuredly will be totally ready if it comes for him. You can say what you want about Monty—and most things have been said about him—but he has been a superb Ryder Cup player and he understands this competition as well as anyone. His players may not think he’s the greatest guy who ever lived but they will surely respect him and follow him with The Ryder Cup at stake.

You see the secret to European success dating back to 1985 (Europe is 7-4-1—retaining the cup in 1989 when the tie occurred) since then is simple: The Euros wanted to win more. They were willing to put aside personal difference to band together for one week every two years to prove that they were underrated—which they often were. What helped the U.S. in 2008 was two things: People pretty much assumed Europe would win because the only U.S. win since 1993 had been at Brookline in 1999 when Europe simply fell apart in the singles on Sunday and Paul Azinger didn’t have to deal with Woods. (This is the part where you JF doesn’t like Tiger-posters start typing).

Woods is 10-13-2 in Ryder Cup play. But that’s not been the real problem. Most U.S. players of this generation have mediocre to lousy Ryder Cup records. The problem is Woods never really wanted to be there and everyone knew it. That’s why he was so hard to find partners for until Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker stepped up and said, ‘hey, I’ll do it.’ Woods brings tension into every room he walks into. It is just who he is. As someone once said, ‘joy is not his thing.’ Even when he wins joy isn’t the emotion he really feels: relief, yes; enjoying beating the other guy, sure. But joy? No. He’s always onto the next thing—which is part of why he’s been so great.

Woods wasn’t there in 2008 because he was hurt. Azinger had a bunch of guys who just wanted to WIN to shut up all the people who kept asking why the U.S. never won anymore. This year’s team doesn’t have that but it SHOULD have a motivated Woods because of the past year of his life, his past Ryder Cup record AND what happened without him in 2008.

That’s why I think the U.S. will win. I also think Lee Westwood is playing hurt; Padraig Harrington is playing poorly and Europe has more rookies (six) than the U.S. (five). Of course Westwood and Harrington could shake off their troubles for three days and the Welsh crowd might roar Europe to victory. But I don’t think so. I think the U.S. wins by the same score it won by in 1993, 15-13. And if Europe wins, blame me for jinxing the U.S.


I often point out appalling behavior here because there is so much of it to point out in sports. But not always. On Wednesday I went to the volleyball game between middle schoolers from The McLean School and their counterparts from Holton Arms. As you might have guessed, my daughter Brigid plays for McLean. The teams split the first two games and the final game (played to 15) was tied at 10-10 when one of the McLean girls served into the net. That put Holton Arms up 11-10 and gave them the serve—a big advantage at this level because a successful serve often means a point won.

But as the ball was being rolled to the other end, the Holton Arms coach stopped the game and went to talk to the referee. He had been trying to substitute before the point started and the girl he was subbing in didn’t get onto the court in time. Thus, his team was a girl short when the ball was served. By rule that gave the point—and the serve—to McLean. The ref hadn’t noticed, neither had anyone else. The coach did and he called it—on himself and his team. McLean won, 15-13.

I made a point after the game of telling the coach, after asking him what had happened because I didn’t know either, how impressed I was. I then made a point of explaining to Brigid what had happened. Sometimes kids don’t get things like that. Brigid did. “There should be more coaches like him,” she said.

As usual, she was right.

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

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was my new young reader's book released earlier this week that was set around the Army-Navy game along the viability of a non-fiction book on the Ryder Cup. After the book talk, we talked a great deal the Ryder Cup -- from matchups, to history to sportsmanship potential.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also joined The Gas Man in the normal 8:25ET timeslot on Wednesday. This week we discussed the 5th book in the young reader's series that was released before moving onto more talk surrounding what's going on in sports this week.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


This week we switched my weekly appearance on the Tony Kornheiser Show to Wednesday, and it was another normal great discussion. Before the fireworks began we talked briefly about Tony picking up the check for dinner and my new young reader's book. After that, we spent the majority of the time discussing college football and the BCS -- you know my position, and Tony is a BCS apologist.

Click here to listen to the segment (my segment begins at the 14:30 mark): The Tony Kornheiser Show

Monday, September 27, 2010

Redskins' sense of entitlement leads to ‘overlooking’ the Rams -- gloom again in Snyder-ville

It is a cold, rainy and dreary Monday morning in Washington.

Which is perfect.

There is gloom again in the Snyder-ville. Do I sound a bit giddy? You bet. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: Dan Snyder can’t lose enough.

I really don’t have any issues with those who play for The Washington Redskins, other than perhaps Albert Haynesworth who had the nerve to tell a radio show last week that no matter how much money the Redskins paid him he didn’t have to be “a slave,”—his depiction of being asked to show up for offseason workouts like every other member of the team. Next thing you know Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be demanding that Haynesworth be freed from bondage.

Actually it is the Redskins who are stuck—with Haynesworth who not only has made a total of two tackles all season in return for the $21 million bonus he was paid in April but continues to act like a complete dope. In the same interview he goes on to say the team ‘can’t buy his loyalty.’ They didn’t pay him to be loyal, they paid him to get into shape and play well; he’s done neither. Then after the game Sunday he said the team had probably overlooked the Rams.

A team that was 4-12 a year ago can overlook someone? Anyone? The Redskins shouldn’t overlook The Fordham Rams right now much less the St. Louis Rams.

All of which gets to a very smart column written this morning by my colleague Tom Boswell in The Washington Post. I tease Boz often about his unabashed loyalty to all of Washington’s teams even though it is perfectly understandable. He grew up here, suffered through the 34 seasons without Major League Baseball and is especially thrilled when the Nationals do anything right.

His enthusiasm is part of what makes Boz great—especially when writing on baseball. It was perhaps best described back in 2005 when The Nationals, in their first year in DC, got off to a very surprising start and actually led the National League East into July. When Tony Kornheiser said to Barry Svrluga, then the Nats beat writer during a radio interview that, “Boz had high hopes for this team early in the season,” Svrluga replied, “Boz had high hopes for this team when the bunting drills went well in February.”

It takes a lot for Boz to truly get down on a local team. A week ago he saw the glass at least half full after the Redskins lost in overtime to Houston. Sure the loss was disappointing he said, but what the game showed was that Donovan McNabb was going to be a productive quarterback in Washington for years to come.

This morning he wasn’t quite as upbeat. And he cut right to the heart of the matter when he pointed out that there is a unique sense of entitlement that surrounds the Redskins; that players seem to think they’re special and fans always think the Redskins simply SHOULD be good because they’re the Redskins.

That’s been true since George Allen took over in Washington but it has gotten worse since Snyder bought the team 11 years ago. We’re talking about a guy who sends out invitations to sit in his box for a FOOTBALL game that look like they’re for a royal wedding. (No, I’ve never received one but I’ve SEEN one).

This off-season, Snyder finally got rid of his bully-boy flak, Karl Swanson, in large part because not enough people bought Snyder’s story that it wasn’t his fault that Jim Zorn bombed as coach. He hired a young guy named Tony Wyllie, whose job is apparently Snyder image-repair. (If this works out maybe Tiger can hire him. That’s my one line for all you Tiger-lovers today). Wyllie spent a lot of the offseason inviting media types to Snyder charity ribbon-cuttings where Snyder would deign to speak to them. This was pretty smart: Snyder speaks—and says almost nothing—and the cameras show or the reporters write something like, “Snyder, speaking at a school where he is contributing x-dollars for scholarships…”

Wyllie has also taken to calling reporters who haven’t bought into Snyder to have lunch with them. Sally Jenkins got a call during pre-season. I got my call a few weeks ago. When I did I said, “Tony, I’d be glad to have lunch with you but why waste your time on me? I don’t even cover the team on a regular basis. You have to have more important things to do than talk to me.”

“Well,” Wyllie said, “you may not cover the team regularly but you certainly don’t mind criticizing Mr. Snyder on Washington Post Live.”

True, I don’t. That’s a local show here in DC that I’m on once a week and I do criticize Snyder—someone has to do it. That particular week I’d criticized the Redskins for firing Zach Bolno, who worked one slot down from Wyllie and who was one of the few people in the Redskins organization universally respected by everyone who dealt with the team. Bolno is bright, hard-working and honest. Needless to say, he had to be fired. That may be just about what I said about the firing on WPL.

I was actually sort of impressed that Wyllie would even bother to call me and talk about breaking bread until he said this: “Have you ever even met Mr. Snyder?”

Come on Tony, at least do some homework before you pick up a phone. “Yes, I’ve met DAN,” I answered. “We’ve spoken on a number of different occasions.”

Long pause. He’d clearly been going for the Snyder, ‘you don’t know me well enough to criticize me,’ line but that wasn’t going to work. He’d come un-prepared. Never good.

“Okay,” he said. “Um, well, why are you so critical of Mr. Snyder?”

“Because I think he’s a terrible owner.”


“You still want to have lunch Tony?”

“Yes, sure I do. I’ll call you when we get back from Arizona.” (Last exhibition game).

Well, I know Wyllie got out of Arizona because I saw him standing almost on top of Clinton Portis last night making sure Portis didn’t say anything un-toward about his second half benching. Still no phone call. I guess that means I don’t have to buy.

I also don’t have any particular issues with Mike Shanahan. He comes from the secretive, humorless school of coaching and he was willing to give up about 47 seconds of his time to the media after the Redskins embarrassing 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. To me, he’s like most NFL coaches—except he does have a track record of success that makes it seem laughable that people here are already wringing their hands and claiming he’s another Zorn after three games.

That’s ridiculous of course. As Boz pointed out people forget how bad this team has been. The Redskins are now 7-20 since starting the 2008 season 6-2, under the now-hated by all Washington fans, Zorn. Shanahan hasn’t bowled anyone over yet—especially with four of his six draft picks getting cut—but you can’t judge any coach after three games. Not only is there a lot of this season left, but Shanahan has a five year contract and even Snyder isn’t going to be arrogant enough to not give a guy with his track record some time to get things turned around.

All of that said, how bad can a morning be when two of my local radio friends Andy Pollin and Kevin Sheehan, each an un-apologetic Redskins lover, play back audio of the opening kickoff in which Redskins kicker Graham Gano kicked the ball out-of-bounds.

“Maybe having to get ready to punt messed up his follow-through on the kickoff and he hooked it,” said play-by-play man/Snyder-Redskins Apologist No. 1 (that’s an official title) Larry Michael. Gano had to punt during the game because of a pre-game injury to the team’s punter. He had not yet actually punted except during those always grueling pre-game warmups.

“Oh come on Larry,” Pollin screamed. “You can’t start making excuses on the opening kickoff!”

Here in Washington you can and you do. Way to go Larry. You set a record that can be tied, but can't be broken.

Washington Post column - Nothing pretty about the BCS beauty contest

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

For all the propaganda about how wonderful the Bowl Championship Series is because it gives college football's regular season so much meaning, here's what the 2010 season may boil down to: style points.

Sort of like in figure skating. The judges may have to decide whether Boise State's triple lutz - Virginia Tech, Oregon State and Nevada - was more impressive than Ohio State landing a triple salchow - Miami, Wisconsin and Penn State - even though it might have missed a double axel somewhere along the line.
As Brent Musburger might say, "Seriously, folks, this is what it's all about."

The constant derision of Boise State's schedule has become laugh-out-loud funny. (More on the seemingly invisible Horned Frogs of TCU later). Let's pause here for a moment to review this past Saturday's schedule in the all-powerful Big Ten.

The league had an 8-2 record. Pretty impressive stuff. Here were the eight teams its teams beat: Ball State, Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Temple, Eastern Michigan, Akron, Northern Colorado and Austin Peay - which at last glance was best known for playing pretty good basketball and for producing the greatest student cheer in college sports history back in the glory days of high-flying forward James (Fly) Williams: "Fly is open - Let's go Peay!"

That aside, while the Big Ten rolled up six wins over teams from the Mid-American Conference, it also lost twice to teams from the MAC: Purdue to Toledo and Minnesota to Northern Illinois. So while those who work for the four-letter network cluck on about Boise State facing New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State later in the season, are we supposed to be impressed by a Murderer's Row that includes Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana? For that matter, does anyone think Penn State is really any good or that Northwestern would seriously challenge any sort of serious team?

Click here for the rest of the column: Nothing pretty about the BCS beauty contest

Friday, September 24, 2010

Attempting to be enthused about the Tour Championship; Jim Furyk on ‘The Furyk Rule’

Every year when I come to Atlanta for The Tour Championship I tell myself I am going to be more interested in the golf tournament. After all, it involved an elite field of 30 players on an excellent golf course and is supposed to bring some kind of climax to The PGA Tour season.

I just can’t do it. As most people know, the absence of Tiger Woods doesn’t make or break a golf tournament for me. In some ways his absence makes life easier: less security roaming the range or the locker room and a generally less uptight atmosphere around the event. Of course I know most fans could care less if there’s less security, they want to see Woods play. I get that.

My Tour Championship malaise isn’t even about the silly points system the tour keeps pushing on the public. Just to review for a second: If a player wins all four major championships in the same year he receives FEWER FedEx Cup points than a player who wins one of the three playoff events just prior to The Tour Championship. Or, to put it another way: Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman and Dustin Johnson each received 2,500 points for winning at Barclays, Boston and Chicago. If Phil Mickelson had followed his win at The Masters by winning the U.S. Open, The British Open and The PGA Championship, those four victories would have been worth a total of 2,400 points.

Seriously. And the tour tells us with a straight face that they think the playoff system is ‘starting to take hold.’ Take hold of what?

That said, that’s still not the problem for me. I like coming to Atlanta, especially since I can go swim in the pool at Georgia Tech—which was The Olympic pool in 1996 so you can imagine how nice it is—a few minutes from my hotel and most of the commuting is easy. The golf course isn’t far from downtown. It’s a good setup and there are very good players—obviously—in the field.

So what the heck is my problem? Why was I wandering around yesterday trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Did I want to go walk for a while, the thing I usually like to do the most at a golf tournament? Not really. For one thing, I’ve got a bad toe and it is just painful enough to make a serious walk difficult. For another it was HOT, like 94 degrees and humid hot. If it is August and it is a major and it is that hot you go walk anyway. If it is September and The Tour Championship not so much.

I spent some time with the rules officials, who always have stories to tell and went to the locker room and the range for a while. The highlight of the day was running into Jim Furyk after he had shot 67, which left him one shot out of the lead. I like Jim Furyk a lot. I first met him way back in 1993 at Qualifying School when he made it through for the first time and, as it turned out the last time, since he quickly became one of the best players on tour.

Furyk is bright and thoughtful and his wife, Tabitha, is one of the nicer people I’ve met covering golf. He’s made about a zillion dollars and won The U.S. Open in 2003. He’s been a big part of two of my golf books: ‘The Majors,’ when he was trying to break through in the big tournaments, finishing fourth that year (1998) at The Masters and The British Open. He was paired with Mark O’Meara that last day at The British Open and actually outplayed O’Meara tee-to-green most of the day. But he had a bad putting day and came off the course as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him, heading home while O’Meara went to playoff (and win) against Brian Watts.

More recently, Furyk was a big part of ‘Moment of Glory,’ since he won the Open in 2003, the year the book is based upon. He has always been patient, cooperative and thoughtful when we’ve talked. Even when I don’t need to interview him for any specific reason I make a point of talking to him when I see him because I like him. That was what happened yesterday.

Someone had asked him inside the interview room about how missing his tee time for the pro-am at Ridgewood could cost him The FedEx Cup. Jim, you might remember, arrived seven minutes late for his tee time on Wednesday because the batter ran out on his cell phone and his alarm didn’t go off. A week later the tour tweaked the rule on pro-am tee times, allowing the tournament director flexibility in a situation like that where the player has clearly made an effort to get there. Instead of disqualifying him from the tournament, the TD can put him on the golf course—in this case Furyk would have played 17 holes—and then have the player show up to do a corporate appearance or something extra during the week. It will be known on tour forevermore as, “The Furyk Rule.”

Furyk has never once made an excuse for what happened. He hasn’t complained about the rule or about how he should have been given seven minutes of slack or how his perfect record getting to pro-ams should have been taken into account. I talk and write all the time about athletes who make excuses for everything. Furyk makes excuses for nothing.

Yesterday was no different. When I saw him after his press conference I told him that Mike Cowen, his long-time caddy had joked that he was going to buy him an alarm clock. Furyk nodded and said, “From what I’ve heard I’m going to get about a dozen of those for Christmas.”

I asked how he felt about having a rule named (unofficially) after him. He laughed. “You know back in the day when they changed the NFL bump-and-run rules, they called it ‘the Steelers rule,’ (Furyk is a lifelong Steelers fan) because their defensive backs were so good at the bump-and-run. So they had a rule named after them because they were really good. I’m going to have a rule named after me because I was an idiot.”

I thought that was harsh. He’d made a mistake—like we all do—and he’d been unlucky that his battery died in the middle of the night. But that’s Furyk. He takes responsibility for what he does—good or bad. One other thing about him: when I was talking to the rules guys yesterday I brought up the incident. Slugger White was the tournament director at Ridgewood who Furyk raced into the locker room to find when he arrived at the golf course.

“After I told him he was disqualified, he said, ‘I understand,’ and started to walk away,” White said. “I really felt bad because we all know what a good guy he is and you hate to see that happen. Then he turned around and waved me to come over for a second. I thought, ‘okay, I’m going to get an earful, he’s got to vent at least a little bit.’ I walked over and he said, ‘hey, you might want to let the media guys know I’m going to be here for about another half hour and then I’m going to head home.’ Can you believe that?”

Knowing Jim Furyk, I believe it. But the number of athletes who in that situation, feeling embarrassed and angry, having just potentially cost themselves several MILLION dollars (he was third on the FedEx list going into Barclays) would stop to think that maybe the media might want to talk to him—AND be willing to talk.

So that’s my Jim Furyk story for the day.

I’m going to try to be more enthusiastic today but it’ll be hard. It’s going to be hot again and, to be honest, most people aren’t talking about who might or might not win The FedEx Cup. They’re talking about The Ryder Cup—which is next week. No one will have any trouble getting fired up for that. And, from what I hear, those going over to Wales will not have to worry about the weather being too hot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

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

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was coaches and the stress and health issue, Andy Reid's decision to go with Michael Vick over Kevin Kolb, the Ravens' Joe Flacco, and then switched to golf to talk about the Tour Championship, including FedEx's relationship with the PGA Tour.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


This morning, in my normal 11:05 am slot, I joined Tony Kornheiser in the newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  Today, we discussed Joe Torre's comments about the Mets, and then when into a lengthy discussion about the greatest reporter to ever live, Bob Woodward.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, Cashman, Steinbrenner and Torre thoughts; Playoff baseball coming up

I had a long car ride yesterday from DC to Atlanta (If a Tour Championship falls in the forest and Tiger isn’t playing it did it really happen?) and, as I always do I spent a lot of time on the phone before it got dark and I could begin to pick up ballgames on the radio.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: it is amazing how fast the time passes when I’m spinning the dial from game-to-game in the car; even if some of the games are meaningless (as in Mets-Marlins). Two of the games I picked up were very meaningful: Yankees-Rays and Braves-Phillies.

Listening to the Yankees is always entertaining. As I’ve said before I like both John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman personally and Suzyn works as hard as anyone in the business to try to know what is going on in the clubhouse she covers. That said, listen to the two of them wax poetic about George Steinbrenner and the ceremony unveiling his monument was almost fall down funny. (BTW, did anyone else notice that Steinbrenner’s plaque is about four times bigger than any of the others in Monument Park? Actually, I’m not sure why they need a monument at all, the new stadium IS the monument he built to himself).

So John and Suzyn are going on about how moving the ceremony was and how tastefully it was handled and how great it was to see Joe Torre and Don Mattingly back in Yankee Stadium. I wondered for a second if either of them had mentioned Torre’s name on the air since 2007 but then realized I was being silly. I think. Then I wondered this: If Joe Girardi decides at the end of the season that the Cubs really are his dream job—there are some around the Yankees who believe it will happen; others say absolutely no way—and goes to Chicago would Brian Cashman bring Torre back for a farewell tour?

I understand the chances are at least 100-to-one. Torre’s book (which Tom Verducci wrote and reported brilliantly) burned some serious bridges between himself and the Steinbrenner family. Or so it would seem. Yogi Berra didn’t set foot inside Yankee Stadium for close to 20 years. Steinbrenner was famous for firing people—most notably Billy Martin but others too—and then making up with them and bringing them back.

Brian Cashman isn’t Steinbrenner. My guess is he’s more of a grudge holder and he felt burned by Torre’s book. But he’s also pretty smart and, if Girardi decided to leave and there’s no other eye-popping candidate (is there?—certainly not on the coaching staff and if you think Bobby Valentine is a good idea you should, well, work for the Mets) maybe he would sit down with Torre?

Highly unlikely but still worth a thought or two as I-85 winds its way through South Carolina. As my mind was wandering I was brought back to reality by Suzyn, who was still going on about Steinbrenner.

“Do you know what Curtis Granderson said to me after the game last night?” she said to John in a hushed tone.

“What,” John prompted in an equally hushed tone.

“He said,” Suzyn said, pausing for dramatic effect, “’I wish I’d known him.’”

Okay, now I was almost into a tree driving off the road. Really? Curtis Granderson is a bright guy—if you listen to him for five minutes you’ll know that. Surely, if he thought about that, he might restate his position. If Steinbrenner was still running the Yankees now how do you think he would have reacted when Austin Jackson was hitting something like .350 in June and Granderson, who the Yankees traded Granderson to get, was hitting .200? It would have been great. “My baseball people said Granderson would hit 30 home runs, drive in 100 runs and steal 30 bases? What were they thinking?” Granderson might have been traded to Kansas City at the All-Star break for a middle relief pitcher.

Steinbrenner would have had George Costanza’s father on the phone screaming, “Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson, what were you thinking?!”

So let’s be real about Steinbrenner, okay? We’ve all heard the stories since his death about his acts of kindness and I don’t doubt them. When I hear them though I’m reminded of my first conversation with Dan Snyder, who called me years ago to tell me I shouldn’t be so critical of him.

This is how it went:

“Are you being critical of me because you have something against Children’s Hospital?”

“WHAT? What in the world are you talking about?”

“Well, you know, I’m on the board of Children’s Hospital and I raise a LOT of money for them so I thought maybe you had a problem with them so you’re turning that on me.”

(I swear to God I’m not making this up).

“First of all Dan, I think Children’s Hospital is a great place. My son had hernia surgery there and they were fabulous, start to finish. Second, if he hadn’t ever been there why in the world would I rip someone for raising money for a hospital—especially one devoted to kids?”

Long pause as he thinks of his next move.

“Well, you probably don’t know how much money I give to charity.”

“Dan, I honestly don’t CARE how much money you give to charity. You’re a rich guy, you SHOULD give a lot of money to charity and then NOT brag about it. Either way, it has nothing to do with what you do as an owner or how you treat people.”

I think I’d say the exact same thing about Steinbrenner. I’m not saying he’s Snyder; the major difference besides the fact that Steinbrenner did finally learn to let his baseball people actually run things after his second suspension from baseball, is that Steinbrenner did feel badly when he behaved badly and tried to do something about. Snyder still thinks he should be allowed to scream at people because he gives money to charity.

The Yankees won 7-3 which is good because I thought John and Suzyn were going to go down and lecture Phil Hughes right on the mound about handling an early 5-0 lead if he didn’t get his act together. The Phillies also won, leaving the Braves scuffling to try to get a wildcard berth. I truly hope they do even though I think the Padres are a great story because I’m a Bobby Cox fan and I’d like to see him go out with a playoff team, not a team that led most of the season and didn’t make it to postseason.

The problem right now is their starting pitching is either hurt or struggling. On the other hand if I had to pick one team I like in postseason it would be the Phils. They’ve been hurt all year and now they’re the hottest team in the game. The team I’d like to see win is the Twins. I love the way they run their team; I can’t wait to see the new ballpark in person someday soon and Joe Mauer is just SO good.

Here’s hoping his knee is okay. Oh, and here’s hoping the Yankees don’t hire Torre and the Mets do. They might even play a September game next season worth listening to if that happens.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Washington Post column -- College coaching can be hazardous to one's health

Tuesday's column for the Washington Post:

Like millions of others, Syracuse basketball Coach Jim Boeheim watched the extraordinary finish of the Michigan State-Notre Dame game Saturday night. After the Spartans had won 34-31 in overtime on an audacious fake field goal attempt that they turned into a touchdown, Boeheim kept his TV on to watch the postgame interview with Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio.

"I remember thinking as I watched, 'For a guy who just won an unbelievable game, he doesn't look too good,' " Boeheim said on Monday afternoon. "He almost looked a little bit sick."

As it turned out, Dantonio was sick. Several hours later, he was in the hospital, having surgery after suffering a heart attack. Michigan State is describing it as a "mild" heart attack. There is no such thing as a mild heart attack. Dantonio, 54, was very lucky.

"Sometimes you can be fit and in shape, and it happens to you anyway," South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said. "There are no guarantees in coaching except if you don't take care of yourself, you're almost guaranteed to have something happen. That's why I work out five days a week all year round. I've done it for as long as I've been coaching."

Coaching, especially on the so-called big-time level, is one of the more stressful jobs going, in part because there are limited opportunities each year to succeed (or fail) and in part because you are being judged by an unforgiving public every time your team goes out to compete. Coaches tend to keep crazy hours in-season. They often eat late at night, and they don't eat a lot of salads. 

Fifteen years ago Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams missed four games late in the season after being rushed to the hospital with pneumonia. As sick as he felt, he might not have gone if his trainer, J.J. Bush hadn't insisted on it.

Click here for the rest of the column: Coaching can be hazardous to one's health

Monday, September 20, 2010

Observations from the weekend – Cowboys, Redskins and the rest of the East, Brett Favre, Mark Dantonio, Notre Dame and yes, The Davis Cup

Some quick observations from the weekend:

--      Question one: Am I crazy or has Jerry Jones turned into Dan Snyder? The Cowboys appear to be a fantasy league football team: lots of names and apparent stars but a lousy team. They have a field goal kicker who has trouble, well, kicking field goals. They have a quarterback who puts up lovely stats and never seems to win a tough game. They have 43 running backs but no running game.

I’m not declaring them dead after two games. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat the Houston Texans next week because the Texans are coming off two emotional wins—the Colts and a come-from-behind overtime win in Washington—and have a pass defense that let Joey Galloway (who is 57-years-old) get behind it for a 62 yard catch on Sunday.

So here’s my question: Does Wade Phillips last the season? I mean seriously this guy has become Jerry Manuel: he’s just good enough to keep his job but is guaranteed to never win anything that matters—which used to what you were supposed to do in Dallas until Jones decided face-lifts, selling pizza and building a monument to his ego were the keys to success in life. How much do you think Jimmy Johnson has enjoyed these last 14 years?

--      Question two: Is anyone in the NFC East any good? The Colts made the Giants look like a UFL team Sunday night. That game needed The Little League mercy rule and should have been over at halftime. Not many people would have noticed since the first half took about nine hours to play. (What is it with NBC? Their Notre Dame games take forever and so do their Sunday night games. Maybe they need the extra time so Chris Collinsworth can tell us how great the fall lineup is).

The Giants beat a bad Carolina team last week at home, then got crushed by the Colts. I’m certainly not sold on them. The Eagles, even with Mike Vick’s gaudy numbers, were lucky to get out of Detroit alive even with Matthew Stafford injured. Shaun Hill-yes THE Shaun Hill—threw for 334 yards. Let’s be honest: with all the talk about the quarterback position, the Eagles defense has not been a shadow of its-former-self since Jim Johnson’s death.

And the Redskins? Well, they had the new Mayor planning a parade route at about 6:30 last night and then reverted to their old selves. The local apologists here today are going on about Donovan McNabb’s numbers and the 27-10 lead. Certainly, the team is better if only because it is COACHED and because for the moment Dan Snyder is entertaining all his various sycophants in the owners box and not trying to tell Mike Shanahan what to do. But the game was lost because a chip-shot field goal got blocked and because the defense couldn’t make a play late and because there was NO running game.

Can the Redskins make the playoffs? Sure. Because no one in the division is any good.

--      Question three: What is the over-under on Brett Favre’s next retirement? Favre looked bad, at home, on Sunday against the Dolphins. He and the Vikings may very well bounce back from 0-2 but I think they COULD lose to the Lions on Sunday. If that were to happen things will get chaotic in Minnesota if they aren’t already. The problem with being a great athlete is you never really know when it is time to go home. Favre had a wonderful year in 2009 and that’s why—along with the money—he’s back in 2010. But the margin for error is so small, especially in the violent world of the NFL, that you never know when you are going to step off the cliff. Favre may not be there yet but he can definitely see the posse coming up behind him. It may not matter if he can swim, the fall will kill him.

--      How sad is it that Mark Dantonio’s signature moment as a football coach came only a few hours before he landed in the hospital suffering from a heart attack.

First, thank goodness, he’s apparently okay and was smart enough not to mess around and got himself straight to the hospital. Again though, this makes you wonder about the pressures coaches put themselves under. Dantonio made one of the all-time gutsy calls when he called for a fake 46-yard field goal with his team down 31-28 to Notre Dame in overtime. It was what coaches refer to as a ‘hero-goat,’ call. You’re going to be one or the other, there is no in-between. Dantonio ended up a hero because his team executed the play perfectly and Notre Dame—not surprisingly—never saw the play coming.

The shame is that Dantonio can’t really glory in the moment right now. He’s got to worry about getting himself healthy again and his doctors have to make sure he doesn’t try to go back too soon. This is serious stuff—not Urban Meyer, I’ll resign for 15 minutes and then be back the next day stuff.

--      When will the national media stop moaning about how unlucky Notre Dame is? Someone actually wrote Sunday that Touchdown Jesus should be replaced with a statue of Job because Notre Dame has been so unlucky in recent seasons.

Are you kidding me? The Irish have EARNED their mediocrity with a series of bad coaching hires and some obvious recruiting mistakes. PLEASE do not buy the, ‘our academics are so tough,’ excuse. There may be a few kids Notre Dame can’t take but most of those kids probably don’t belong at Notre Dame anyway. Lou Holtz took some of them and look where that led.

Bob Davie couldn’t coach, Ty Willingham never really got a chance to coach, George O’Leary couldn’t tell the truth and Charlie Weis couldn’t get his ego out of the way for more than five minutes at a time. Brian Kelly may be the answer and he needs time before people judge him one way or the other. But this has nothing to do with bad luck. It has to do with running a bad football program at a place where it is almost impossible—given the money, the scheduling ‘flexibility,’ (as in a total of three road games this season) the tradition and the exposure—to be mediocre. Notre Dame has pulled that off for almost 20 years now. That’s not bad luck.

Finally: Am I the only person who noticed that Patrick McEnroe ended his run as Davis Cup captain with a win—a tough one at that. The U.S. had to go to Colombia this past weekend and play on slow red clay in order to retain its spot for 2011 in The World Group—the 16 teams that play to win the Davis Cup. A loss would have meant playing their way back through the relegation group in 2011 to have a chance to compete for the Cup again in 2012.

Without Andy Roddick, the U.S. won 3-1, Mardy Fish winning two singles matches (8-6 in the fifth to wrap it up Sunday) and the doubles with John Isner. Good for Patrick and the U.S. It’s a shame no one pays attention anymore.

By the way, Serbia plays France for the Cup the first weekend in December. A ratings bonanza no doubt for Tennis Channel.

Friday, September 17, 2010

*Updated w/information on locker room access* Media in the locker rooms -- we should be in there

The issue of the media and locker rooms has come up again this week because of the behavior of some New York Jets last week when a female reporter from a Mexican TV network showed up for an interview with Mark Sanchez dressed, according to many who were there, ‘provocatively.’

I put that word in quotes because it is subjective. Her explanation—and I really don’t remember her name and it isn’t especially germane to what I’m writing here so I’m not going to stop and look it up—was that she wanted to look nice for her viewers. Look, let’s be honest here: most (not all) TV reporters—male and female—are hired at least to some degree based on their looks. You can get away with NOT looking like a model if you are an ex-athlete, an ex-politician or an expert.

It is a fact of life in sports that this is more true for women than for men. Again, there are exceptions here and there, but most female sideline reporters and sports anchors could turn to swimsuit modeling if the sports thing didn’t work out. They know it, the people who hire them know it and the viewers know it. The woman in question in the Jets incident bills herself as, “the hottest sports TV anchor in Mexico,” or words to that affect and apparently shows up at The Super Bowl each year doing things like measuring the biceps of players at media day. Not exactly out of the Mike Wallace school of broadcasting.

When I was a young reporter at The Washington Post, Howard Simons, then the managing editor, asked me once why I wore blue jeans a lot of the time. I told him—and I wasn’t joking—that when dealing with young athletes, especially being young at the time myself, I thought I came across as less threatening if I dressed casually. I never wore torn jeans and I never wore a T-shirt. Simons found that answer acceptable.

Once, when I was still working as a police reporter, I had to find a guy who had been involved in a string of murders that involved The Prince George’s County police. He lived in Baltimore and I knocked on his door and told him why I needed to talk to him. I got him to agree to go out for something to eat so we could talk. He ended up agreeing to the interview and became a key source on the story. Much later he said to me, “that first day, when you showed up, you were wearing jeans and sneakers. I figured you couldn’t be too much of a scammer if you dressed like that.”

Casual is one thing, provocative is another. During that same period, The Post hired a summer intern who, again, could have become a model if she’d wanted to. For all I know she DID become a model. She was also assigned to the police reporting and, within days of her arrival, there was, shall we say, ‘buzz,’ about the new reporter on the beat.

One afternoon she walked into the newsroom wearing a sundress that just about brought the newsroom to a halt. Milton Coleman, who was the city editor at the time, walked over to her desk.

“What are you up to today?” he asked.

“Going to police headquarters,” she answered.

“Not dressed like that you’re not,” he said. “You represent The Washington Post. Go home and change.”

Look, it’s a FACT that in jock world being an attractive woman can be an advantage. Actually it’s a fact that in the world being attractive is an advantage—period. But it is even more true in a male-dominated world where it is almost impossible for a good-looking woman to not be noticed—especially when they dress to make sure they ARE noticed.

As recently as this past June, on the night Stephen Strasburg made his Major League debut, my colleague Barry Svrluga was trying to grab a few minutes with Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez before the game because he had an early deadline. Rodriguez is, by nature, very accommodating. That day was hectic though: he was coming off the Disabled List, he needed some treatment AND he was catching baseball’s newest phenom.

“I just don’t think I have any time,” he told Svrluga, who understood.

A few minutes later, Svrluga was standing outside the dugout when he saw Rodriguez doing an on-camera interview with a very attractive TV reporter. We looked at one another and laughed.

“You had no chance,” I said. “Complete mismatch.”

“Tell me about it,” he answered.

Of course the Jets incident has again raised the entire issue of media access to the locker room. I am, of course, an extremely biased source here because I KNOW from years of experience that I do my job a lot better when I can stand at a guy’s locker and talk to him than when I have to sit in an interview room and listen to him talk about giving 110 percent and stepping up in answer to some inane question asked by someone looking for a soundbite.

Here’s what you do in a locker room: You wait for the TV guys to ask their inane questions and hope you don’t get hit in the head by a camera. Then, when some space clears, you walk up and, if it is someone you know, you quietly ask the questions you’d like answered. Or, if it is someone you don’t know, you shake hands with them, look them in the eye to establish some kind of contact with them and ask your questions. (By the way, you ALMOST never do this before they’ve had a chance to put on some kind of clothing; trust me, the only ones who have less interest in that happening than the players are the reporters).

Are you guaranteed to get good answers in that situation? No. Some guys are better than others—which is why some are called, ‘go to,’ guys in a locker room because you know to go to them for good answers. But your chances of getting a good answer there are about 100 times better than in the antiseptic, stilted atmosphere of an interview room.

Of course the public doesn’t really get that anymore than it gets the fact that it isn’t always ‘greedy players,’ who are responsible for work stoppages. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone screaming about greedy players going on strike when in fact it was greedy owners locking them out, I could be a rich, greedy owner myself.

That said, I understand why many fans would see the media going into the locker room as some kind of invasion of the players privacy. It’s really not. Part of the job of being a professional athlete is talking to the public—the public that makes them rich, that buys the products they endorse—and the way they do that is through the media.

Most athletes accept dealing with the media in the locker room as part of the job—especially when they are accustomed to it. What’s more if they don’t want to talk to the media for some reason, there are off-limits places where they can hide out; something they often do. There’s also this: Although it may not appear that way, establishing relationships with the media—which often happen through locker room contact—is good for the athlete. As they grow more comfortable with the media, they come across better to the public. That can only help them in a dozen different ways.

That said, all of us who do go into locker room have a responsibility to act professionally. About 99 percent of the time that happens and postgame locker room interviews are a routine part of the job for both athletes and reporters. Unfortunately, especially in today’s world, the one percent of the time that isn’t the case, it becomes news and, inevitably, some people say, ‘what are they doing in there in the first place.’

We should be in there. But when we are, we should be like good officials: not noticed by the public, except if by some chance while reading a good story, they stop to think, ‘gee that guy really did a good job getting those quotes.’ There’s no need for the reader to do that but being in the locker room makes it possible for all of us to try to get those quotes. Unless you’d prefer hearing again how your team ‘stepped up,’ or ‘gave 110 percent.’


I normally only respond to posters every few days and usually try to answer a few at once. That said, I feel the need to respond right away to today's post from JJ because he is quite misinformed on locker room access, so I'm guessing many others are too.

As a matter of fact, many locker rooms are open before games. Baseball clubhouses are always open from three-and-one-half hours prior to the game until an hour prior to the game and most baseball writers do, I'd say 80 percent of their reporting work--both there and in the dugout--during that time. (Note my anecdote about Barry Svrluga, Pudge Rodriguez and the female TV reporter--who was NOT Lindsay Czarniak BTW). NBA locker rooms are open too and, only recently did the NHL take away total pre-game access; now if you want a player, you request him--the coach is almost always available. The exception in team sports is the NFL. My guess is the reason for that is that the fear level prior to a game in there is so high--and I've witnessed it so I know this is true--that guys wouldn't be able to get much done even if they did have access. As for golf, the locker room is ALWAYS open to the media as is the practice tee and the putting green. Most writers are savvy enough to know you don't try to talk to anyone at length just before they tee it up, but the locker room before they go out to warm-up? Routine--I do it all the time because JJ is right, that's a great time to get a feel for a player's emotions. For the record, Dustin Johnson DID stand in front of his locker and talk after the PGA--you can probably go to YouTube and see the video. At Winged Foot in 2006 after his 18th hole meltdown, Phil Mickelson spoke to the media in the 'flash area,' right behind the 18th green and then AGAIN in the locker room. In fact, this past year when he withdrew from The Players Championship during his Sunday round, Tiger Woods spoke to several reporters in the locker room before going to The Tour's fitness trailer for treatment on his neck.

While I'm at it, in response to Ed O's question: You're right, standards are totally different in Europe. Not only do journalists routinely bet on the events they cover, they tell their readers who they've bet on and--frequently--will start screaming at the TV if the guy they've bet on lets them down. They also routinely drink on the job--I'm not saying this as a putdown, it's just true. When I covered tennis, most of the media would drink a bottle of wine with lunch in Paris (can't really blame them can you?) and would be at the bar during the first break of any kind in the afternoon at Wimbledon. Here, that sort of thing could be a firing offense. There, it's routine. One last thing: the Mexican TV reporter was apparently harassed on the field but also in the locker room when she went in there to do her interview with Mark Sanchez...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

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

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was the Heisman situation with Reggie Bush handing back the trophy, possible expansion of the MLB playoffs, Ryder Cup news including Lee Westwood's injury and the format with potential matchups, and various other sports topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


This morning, in my normal 11:05 am slot, I joined Tony Kornheiser in the newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  Today, we had a lively debate on college football including touching on the BCS vs. a playoff scenario, on whether Tiger Woods or Rafael Nadal had the best shot at getting the record for major wins in their respective sports, and several other interesting topics.

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Golf Digest Column: Tour Needs To Zero In On Real Playoffs

The party line from the PGA Tour in recent weeks has been: The playoffs, now in their fourth year, are "starting to take hold." And, "Fans are beginning to understand how the system works."

Those are the phrases being repeated on-air by the tour's TV partners -- as commissioner Tim Finchem likes to call them. The players are using them, too, as if repeating the lines over and over makes them true.

Here is a slightly different take on the playoffs: They don't work. People do not understand them. The system is a joke. Wouldn't you just love to hear Jim Nantz or Johnny Miller say that?

They would be speaking the truth if they did.

Consider a few facts: If Phil Mickelson had followed his victory at the Masters by winning the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, he would have made history by winning the Grand Slam. He also would have accumulated a total of 2,400 FedEx Cup points for those four titles.

When Matt Kuchar won the Barclays, he received 2,500 FedEx Cup points.

That's right. Win all four majors, receive 2,400 points. Win one of the Playoff events, receive 100 points more.

Click here for the rest of the column: Tour needs to zero in on real playoffs

Mixed emotions for Ravens-Jets; Wrap up of the almost ESPN Classic - US Open

I almost never have mixed emotions watching any game or tournament or match on TV. There’s always a reason why I’m pulling for—or in the case of Dan Snyder’s team—against—someone.

Monday night though I was back and forth between two simultaneous events and had mixed emotions about both.

I have warm feelings for both the Ravens and the Jets. I grew up a Jets fan. Their win in Super Bowl III is one of my most vivid early sports memories. I might have told this story before, but, what the heck, I’ll tell it again.

On the afternoon of that game—all those years ago the Super Bowl was still an afternoon game—my parents went to a concert. As had become my custom that season, I paced up and down in front of the TV, coaching the Jets. I did everything but call plays.

My parents arrived home early in the fourth quarter and my dad came in to see how the game was going. The Jets were up 16-0. Even though he wasn’t into sports, he knew this was a huge surprise and how much it meant to me. So, he sat down to watch. I paced.

After a few minutes, the pacing got to him. “Stop pacing,” he said. “Sit down. Your team is going to win.”

“But dad, I always pace.”

“Sit,” he ordered.

If it hadn’t been 16-0, I would have argued. The lead felt safe. I sat. Johnny Unitas came in for Earl Morrall and promptly drove the Colts the length of the field to make it 16-7.

“Pace,” my dad said—which I did until the game was over.

Of course there haven’t been any moments close to that since then. In fact, the Jets haven’t been back to The Super Bowl since then—as all Jets fans know so well. Still, I’ve remained a Jets fan.

Of course the year I did my book on The Ravens (“Next Man Up.”) the Ravens played at the Jets. I’ll be honest, I had no mixed emotions that day: I wanted the Ravens to win. I liked the people I was working with and wanted to see the team do well, in part because of that but also—being honest—because it would make for a better book.

The Ravens won that day. I felt a little guilty for being happy about the Jets loss but that’s the way I felt. Time went on: Brian Billick was fired by the Ravens and replaced by John Harbaugh—who I also like. Then Rex Ryan got the Jets job.

Look, I like Rex Ryan a LOT. He takes his football seriously but doesn’t take himself seriously. He’s funny and he’s honest. He was great to work with during my season with the Ravens and we’ve stayed in touch since then. Now, he’s coaching my boyhood team. So how can I possibly root against him?

I can’t. But I also like to see the Ravens do well. Steve Bisciotti became a friend while I was writing the book and has stayed one and has done wonders to help ‘The Bruce Edwards Foundation,’ the last six years. A lot of the people I knew back in ’04 are gone, but a lot are still there.

So, I felt a little bit like I feel watching an Army-Navy game. I didn’t want either team to lose. I averted my eyes every time Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass, but boy that Ravens pass rush looked good.

While that game was going on, the U.S. Open men’s final was stretching into the night. It had been moved from CBS to ESPN 2 during a rain delay. The fact that it still wasn’t over and was going head-to-head with Monday Night Football is more proof of how incredibly dense the people running tennis are most of the time.

When the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic final was rained out on Sunday, the USTA should have started it at 1 o’clock on Monday. Look, the TV ratings were going to be lousy no matter what time of day the match began. The tennis geeks would get to Arthur Ashe Stadium and their TV sets. Everyone else would be waiting for the start of Jets-Ravens, regardless of the time the match began.

So what did the USTA (and CBS) do? They scheduled the start for 4 o’clock, even though an identical situation a year ago produced the embarrassing moment when Dick Enberg told Juan Martin Del Potro there was no time for him to talk to the crowd in Spanish because he needed to be presented a car—and so CBS could get off the air to its prime time lineup.

To make matters worse, the USTA decided to restart the women’s doubles final at 3 o’clock—meaning it was entirely possible the men wouldn’t start at 4 once the awards ceremony was over and the players got out to warm-up. Sure enough, it was close to 4:30 by the time Nadal-Djokovic, which was going to be a long match since neither player likes to volley on a hard court, finally began.

And then, surprise, at 4-all in the second set, it rained. Wow, I guess they don’t have radar or The Weather Channel at the US National Tennis Center do they? Couldn’t have anticipate that, could you? The thunder and lightning was bad enough that the start of the FOOTBALL game was delayed.

Nadal and Djokovic was a wonderful match and a great story—Nadal trying to finish off a career Grand Slam while Djokovic tried to beat Roger Federer and Nadal back-to-back to win his first Open and second career major. They played some amazing points.

It was on ESPN 2—against Monday Night Football. Are you kidding me? What’s more, if Nadal hadn’t finished the match off 6-2 in the fourth, do you know where it would have been televised as it ended, as Nadal, “made history,” to quote John McEnroe? ESPN Classic. Yup, ESPN Classic, the US Open final. That’s because at 10:15 ESPN 2 had to switch to the Chargers and Chiefs because Jets-Ravens was still going on over on ESPN.

What a joke. Give credit to the fans who stayed although the lower bowl was empty enough that McEnroe was pleading for the USTA to let people upstairs move downstairs to fill in the empty seats. When it was over, both players were gracious and sweet and Bill Macatee, clearly rushing to get the ceremony over before it switched to ESPN Classic, did it smoothly.

Of course there was the ridiculous sight of USTA President Lucy Garvin—I swear I don’t know where they find these people—saying, “you fans are what make this the greatest tennis event in the world.”

Please, I’m begging you, shut up. Have you ever heard of Wimbledon? I mean come on, just say the fans make the Open a great event even if we at the USTA do everything in our power to screw it up every year with matches that go into the middle of the night and a final that almost ends up on ESPN Classic. There’s an old saying that sometimes you should keep your mouth shut because if you do that people can only THINK you’re dumb. Lucy Garvin qualifies.

Anyway, to quote my old friend Hoops Weiss, “I felt vurry, vurry good for the Ravens and Rafa and vurry, vurry sad for the Jets and Novak.” (Hoops would then add, “they’re all vurry, vurry good friends of mine”).


One thank-you this morning to the poster who noted that Brad Nessler and Trent Dilfer, not the morning pitchmen were going to do Chargers-Chiefs. I guess there weren’t enough commercial reads in the broadcast to make it worthwhile for the pitchmen to make the trip to Kansas City.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Weekend football review (including the Calvin Johnson call, Steve Spurrier) along with tidbits on Tiger and USA Basketball

Some observations from the first full college/NFL weekend of the year:     
      --Clearly, God decided to punish Jerry Jones for agreeing to appear in a commercial with Dan Snyder. Just as clearly God was right.
      --All those people who have said for years Wade Phillips should not be a head coach are correct. How in the world do you stand there and do nothing when Jason Garrett—another of the world’s more overrated people—sends in a play that is ANYTHING but a kneel down with four seconds to go in the first half and your team on its own 36 yard line with four seconds left. If Jones wasn’t so busy doing pizza commercials he would have fired Phillips on the spot—regardless of the outcome of the game.
      --The NFL replay system has to be completely overhauled. The overrule on the Calvin Johnson touchdown in the Lions-Bears game was ridiculous. The guy caught the ball—period. But that’s not even close to the only problem. In the Giants-Panthers game, John Fox protested a spot after a fourth-and-inches play in which Eli Manning was stood up on the line of scrimmage—or inches past it. The officials took at least five minutes, then moved the ball back an inch, then measured. The Giants got the first down. The referee then said that even though the ball had been re-spotted, Carolina had lost a time out and a challenge. The challenge was on the spot, right? The ball was moved, right? Then how did they lose the challenge? Overall, it just takes too LONG. This whole thing with what Brian Billick used to call ‘the peep show,’ needs to go away. So do the red flags. Use the college rule: Replay official in the press box buzzes downstairs if he sees something he wants to look at. He then has 90 seconds—no more—to overrule the call on the field. (That’s not in the college rule but it should be). If he can’t figure it out in that time, the call stands. Period. Move on. Life is too short.
      --Those experts who were so in love with the 49ers in pre-season, um, have you noticed that Joe Montana is no longer playing quarterback in San Francisco?
      --If the ESPN morning show pitchmen are doing the Chiefs and Chargers tonight, does that mean that 72 percent of the game will be devoted to them reading commercials? (One of the great lines EVER from a poster last week: “The first four words you hear in hell are, ‘hey Golic; hey Greenie.’” I wish I’d said that).

On to the colleges:
      --It’s a shame that the ACC football season always ends in September isn’t it? I got a release a little while ago from the ACC office naming their players-of-the-week? Huh? Who’d they pick: Sonny Jurgensen? Boomer Esiason? Don McCauley? Here’s a stat for you: The ACC has won FOUR games so far against Division 1-A teams. It has ONE win over a BCS conference school: That would be Wake Forest beating Duke (Did you know that Duke’s season tickets are sold out? Do you know why? Because Alabama fans bought season tickets—which cost about the same as one-game tickets to Bryant-Denny Stadium, which you can’t get most of the time anyway—so they could see Alabama at Duke this Saturday. My guess is that maybe one-third of the crowd will be Duke fans).
      --Army’s loss to Hawaii on Saturday was about as bad as any I’ve seen in years. The Cadets—sorry Army marketing people—are driving for a potential game-winning field goal with a third down on the Hawaii 23, under a minute to go and the score tied at 28. Then the following happened: A delay-of-game penalty—out of a time out!—a fumble; a completed Hawaii pass; another completed Hawaii pass; a crucial late hit against Army and a Hawaii field goal to win the game. It just doesn’t get worse than that. Army has North Texas at home this week. It should have been 3-0 going to Duke. Brutal.
       --Great win for Steve Spurrier on Saturday—The Old Ball Coach was 1-4 at South Carolina against Georgia. I always pull for Spurrier because he is that rarest of football coaches: a guy who can win AND still retain a sense of humor. The anti-Nick Saban so to speak…Speaking of which, did anyone see Saban with Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden before the game Saturday night? Bowden looked to be in a very good mood. Apparently he had heard the final score from Norman by then: Oklahoma—47, Florida State-17. You know, dadgumit, I believe FSU could have given Ole Bobby that one more year and probably not lost that game by any more than 30. Just a thought.
      --Worst loss of the week: Marshall. The Thundering Herd was on the verge of its first win EVER against West Virginia. They were driving inside the 10-yard-line with a 21-6 lead and under nine minutes to go. Then they fumbled. Then West Virginia marched the length of the field TWICE and tied the game just before the buzzer on a two-point conversion. Of course the Mountaineers won in overtime because that’s the way these games happen. If you’re the underdog and you’ve got the favorite down you MUST put them away or they will find a way to win. Really sad for Marshall, especially considering the fact that November 14th is the 40th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that wiped out the football team. The irony, of course, is that Bowden, then at West Virginia, went out of his way the next year to help Jack Lengyel put in the veer when he came in to try to rebuild Marshall. Oh, if you haven’t seen, ‘We Are Marshall,’ you should. Like all movies it blends some fiction with the facts but the basics are all true.

Okay, a couple of other quick things: Tiger Woods doesn’t make it to Atlanta for the Tour Championship. Think about this: If he had finished in the top five ONCE in the three ‘playoff,’ events he would have made it. His best finish was a tie for 11th at Boston. This week, with the pressure on—I think he really wanted to make it—he put himself in trouble right away on the first day (double-bogey on his first hole of the tournament) and could only get back to a tie for 15th. I still believe Woods will be back but what a brutal year he has had—and I’m ONLY talking about golf here.

Finally: A number of people asked about Mike Krzyzewski coaching The U.S. to its first win in The World Basketball Championships since 1994. My buddy Keith Drum, who has been an NBA scout for 20 years and knows a lot more about international basketball than I do, says this was a much tougher feat to pull off than winning The Olympics because NONE of the Olympic team members were on this team AND because the teams that made The World Championships were a lot better than those that made The Olympics. Plus, the final was a road game—At Turkey. Of course having Kevin Durant didn’t hurt. All that said, that’s a pretty good triple for Krzyzewski: Olympic gold medal in ’08; national title in ’10; world championship in ’10.

No doubt he couldn’t have done it without getting all the calls. I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say he’s a pretty good coach.

Washington Post: ACC football: Six years after league's expansion, its shadow grows no longer

It may not have appeared that way, but there was good news for ACC fans Saturday.

Now that the football season has ended early, they can focus on the fall sport that actually matters to them: basketball recruiting.

Remember all that talk this summer about how this was going to be the year when the fruits of the ill-fated football expansion finally began to pay dividends? Five ACC teams appeared in the pre-season polls. What's more, the first two weeks of the season would present multiple opportunities to make some serious noise against highly ranked teams. So how have things worked out?

Virginia Tech's virtual home game against Boise State? Loss.

North Carolina against LSU in Atlanta? Loss.

Miami's visit to Ohio State? Loss.

Florida State's trip to Oklahoma? Loss.

Virginia at USC? Loss.

Five potential statement games. Five losses.

Of course, those were not the worst results of the first two weeks for the Already Can't Compete league. Defending champion Georgia Tech went to Kansas to play a team coming off a loss to division I-AA North Dakota State, a team booed by its own fans during that 6-3 loss.

Click here for the rest of the column: ACC football: Six years after league's expansion, its shadow grows no longer

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tennis’s downfall amid the current dearth of American stars; Shame on me for tuning to ESPN Radio this morning

Two days ago I was getting ready to make my weekly appearance on “Washington Post Live,” which airs locally on Comcast SportsNet.

I enjoy doing the show and like the people I work with on it—both in front of and behind the camera. My only complaint—as with just about all media outlets in Washington—is the Redskins obsession. Every day of the year—not the season, the YEAR, there is a required, sponsored (of course) Redskins segment.

On Tuesday, Ivan Carter who hosts the show was going through the show rundown with me and with Charlie Casserly, who was the other guest that day. Since it was the day after Maryland-Navy and Boise State-Virginia Tech, there was a segment on those games. There was, of course, the Redskins segment and another on the NFL and a separate segment (God help us all) on Albert Haynseworth. Finally, Ivan brought up the last segment, which is called, ‘leftovers,’ quick items, quick comments on each.

One was that day’s Ryder Cup selections. There were two other football issues that were relevant. Finally, he said, “And Randy Moss is unhappy because he doesn’t think the Patriots are going to offer him a new deal at the end of the year.”

Really? Randy Moss is unhappy? Randy Moss wants a new contract? Has he left camp? No. Is he threatening to leave camp? No. He just says he doesn’t think the Patriots want him back. Well, that’s film at-11-stuff isn’t it? Moss is 33 and wants one last big contract AT THE END OF THE YEAR and this is news?

Of course it isn’t. So, I suggested instead we talk briefly about Patrick McEnroe stepping down as Davis Cup captain after 10 years and the fact that—in my opinion—Jim Courier should succeed him.

Ivan looked at me blankly. “You’re kidding? You think anyone cares about that?”

Casserly shook his head and said, “John, I work for CBS and they televise the (U.S.) Open but seriously, it’s TENNIS.”

I knew they weren’t wrong. I argued briefly that the show was already full of football and what was wrong with talking about tennis for THIRTY SECONDS?

I lost the argument.

Which, of course, gets back to what I keep saying over and over again: tennis has become nothing more than a niche sport. Even with the hours and hours of airtime ESPN is giving the Open, I’m not sure anyone other than Bud Collins and my friend Tom Ross is paying any attention. As I said last week, I’m SURE the USTA will announce record attendance and there will be all sorts of happy talk about how great the sport is doing but if anyone inside the sport every poked their head into Comcast Sports Net—or almost anywhere else—for a minute, they might be in for a rude awakening.

I am now firmly convinced that while some of this has to do with the sport’s complete mismanagement at the top—the people who run tennis remind me of something Lefty Driesell once said about one of this athletic directors: ‘the man could screw up a one-car funeral,’—it also has a LOT to do with the current dearth of American stars.

Oh sure, there are the Williams sisters on the women’s side but they simply don’t move the meter outside the tennis bubble. I once thought some of this might be racial but Tiger Woods has proven me wrong on that. We are (Thank God) finally at the point where most people don’t care what color you are as long as you can play and you can entertain them.

What’s more, the Williams’s have been around a long time now. People are always looking for the next thing, which is why there was so much swooning last year when Melanie Oudin made the quarterfinals. There’s also the grunting factor—especially with Venus. This may reflect a personal bias but the grunting/screaming makes me crazy. It is why, even though she can play and she’s gorgeous, I can’t watch Maria Sharapova play unless it is on TV and I can hit the mute button.

It may also have something to do with the fact that neither Williams sister has ever given an opponent credit after a loss.

Who knows? On the men’s side, there’s no one close to being as good as Venus or Serena. The current crop of American men have won ONE major—Andy Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open. Roddick is now 28 and looks like he’s beginning to fade. James Blake, who never made it out of a quarterfinal at a major, has been beaten up by injuries. Mardy Fish has bloomed late into a top 20 player but no one thinks he’s going to win anything big and Sam Querrey has shown some promise but blew a serious chance to make the Open quarters. The new hot kid is Ryan Harrison, who won his first round match at the Open before blowing three match points and losing a fifth set tiebreak in the second round.

Then he walked off without signing any autographs for any kids or acknowledging the crowd which had cheered him on every point. Sounds like he’ll fit right in as a tennis player.

The point is this: The sport needs American stars. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are great champions and, apparently, pretty good guys. (I always believe Mary Carillo on these matters). But they don’t push the non-tennis-geek meter at all the way Tiger pushes the non-golf-geek meter off the charts or even a little bit. There have to be U.S. stars—real STARS—in both tennis and golf. Golf has plenty of them, tennis, right now, has none.

I’m not saying an American star would fix the ills of the game and the way it’s run but it would be a big step in the right direction. It might even get the sport 30 seconds of time on ‘Washington Post Live.’


I know I am a broken record not just sometimes but often on certain subjects—one being just how bad ESPN can be. It can also be good—like whenever anyone named McEnroe is talking about tennis or when Mike Tirico or Mike Patrick are doing play-by-play. And I like PTI whether I’m fighting with the hosts or not fighting with the hosts.

But the radio stuff is brutal—so shame on me for ever listening. That said, this morning I was en route to the pool when The Junkies went to a fantasy segment (I’d drive into a tree before I’d listen to that) and my two music stations were doing traffic and weather. I took a deep breath and turned to ESPN’s morning pitchmen (seriously, is there ANYTHING they don’t sell?).

They were trying to be funny. I should have gotten out while I still could. After they had made their NFL picks—or some of them, I really don’t know—they announced that next they were going to share with us the picks of their producer’s mother. This has become fairly common shtick on sports talk radio, having mothers or grandmothers or nuns make picks. It peaked four years ago when Tony Kornheiser’s producer’s mother picked George Mason to make The Final Four—and the Patriots made it.

What allegedly made THIS funny is that the producer is British—as is his mother. So, they played back tape of her picking The Browns in the AFC North—“I’ve never heard of them so why not?” (wow is THAT funny or what?) and asking her son if picking a 15-9 score in the Super Bowl was okay.

It was cringe-worthy and un-funny. That’s fine—that’s pretty much what that show is. I would love to hear though how smart the two pitchmen would sound if, say, someone called and asked them to analyze the cases The Supreme Court is going to take on when it goes into session this fall or make state-by-state predictions on the upcoming midterm elections.

That aside though, THIS is what killed me. “She’s WAY into the Jack Daniels at this time of the morning,” one said. “Oh yeah, the other said, probably on her second fifth.”

Really? First, she didn’t sound drunk at all to me. She just sounded like someone who didn’t know football and played along with a joke for her son’s sake. Second, if she WAS drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning or ANY morning (as they implied she was) that’s funny? Seriously? Making fun of someone’s clothes merits a two-week suspension but calling someone a drunk on the air, that’s funny.

Boy do I not get ESPN. Thank God for that.

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

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was the Reggie Bush Heisman Trophy news, the Navy football team, the future of the Navy-Md series, and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also, I joined The Gas Man show on Wednesday evening in my normal 8:25 ET spot. In this segment we discussed the Navy-Maryland game, Boise State-Virginia Tech  and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


This morning, in my normal 11:05 am slot, I joined Tony Kornheiser in the newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  Today, we spoke about the football games from Monday, the US Ryder Cup team picks including discussing the Corey Pavin-Jim Gray issue from last month and the pick of Rickie Fowler, and various other topics that came up.

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here we go on the BCS - the Broncos are the horse we’re riding right now; Courier should be Davis Cup captain, Beretta is best call for Army AD

I’m not going to write here in any detail about Monday’s Maryland-Navy game because I wrote about it in today’s Washington Post. The column was posted here a short while ago. I sum the game up this way: Maryland deserved to win. Navy deserved to lose. You will not see the name Ricky Dobbs in the same sentence with the words Heisman Trophy at any point in the future.

The most important game of the college football weekend was the last one played (and played and played and played; my God is it time to do something about the length of college football games). That was the one between Boise State and Virginia Tech. I believe many people who went to the game will be reading this shortly after they arrive home at about noon today. Nothing quite like the parking lots at FedEx Field—especially at midnight on a school/work night when you are an angry Virginia Tech fan I would imagine.

Virginia Tech is a very good football team. It is well coached and resilient as it proved when it rallied from an early 17-0 hole to lead on several occasions in the second half. My guess is the Hokies—if they don’t get too down about this loss—will win the ACC for the fourth time since they joined the league. I’m still not sold on the Miami comeback thing or on Jimbo Fisher although we’ll have to see.

The point is this: We now know that Boise State is the real deal—if there was any doubt before Monday night. The Broncos traveled across the country, went into a hostile stadium and bolted to an early lead. Then, when the home team, led by a talented senior quarterback rallied and took the lead, they didn’t get frazzled. When they had to drive the length of the field late in the game to win, they did exactly that.

You fans at Alabama and Texas and Ohio State and Florida who are screaming that your team would whip the Broncos, that’s fine. Like I said last week—play them. (Note to the poster who pointed out that LSU HAS scheduled some very good teams home-and-home in recent years and on future schedules: you’re right—but they’re all from BCS Conferences).

If Monday night’s game had been played in Seattle, Washington instead of suburban Washington, Boise State wins by at least 10. The setting played a critical role in Virginia Tech’s comeback. Would Boise State beat those top-ranked teams on a neutral site? I don’t know, but I’d love to see them get the chance.

And now, like it or not BCS apologists (that means you Kornheiser) there’s a possibility they might. If Boise State can beat Oregon State at home on September 25th, there’s a good chance it will run the table—just as it did last year when the BCS hypocrites stuck them and an equally undefeated (I know there’s no such thing) TCU team in the Fiesta Bowl to ensure that neither would get the chance to beat someone like Georgia Tech or Iowa or Cincinnati in one of the BCS games—which they surely would have.

The best-case scenario for the BCSA (BCS apologists) now is that two of their schools go undefeated. Then they can use the, “tougher schedule,” excuse to leave Boise State out of the championship game. If, however, there’s only one unbeaten or even worse if no one goes undefeated, the BCS has a problem. Because if Boise State is left out of the championship game in favor of a one-loss BCS school, there are going to be a lot of voices a lot louder and more influential than mine screaming fraud. Because that’s exactly what it will be.

Don’t get me wrong, the problems with this system go well beyond Boise State. Unbeaten teams from Utah and Hawaii and TCU have also been denied the chance to play for the national championship. In 1998 Tulane went unbeaten and didn’t even get to play in a BCS Bowl. That was before Congress began throwing the term, “cartel,” around and all of a sudden a formula was found to “allow,” non-BCS schools access to the BCS Bowls (read money) though not—as yet—to the title game.

If you go unbeaten in any sport, you should get to compete for a championship. Period. That’s why some form of playoff should have been in place years ago. That’s why Boise State’s win Monday night was important because even though it isn’t going to bring down the BCS, it is another brick in the wall. This is sort of like the plagues of Moses. It took ten to get to Pharaoh but he eventually had to capitulate. Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT advocating the death of the first born of All BCS, just extreme discomfort for all who defend it. I think watching ‘Around the Horn,’ on a non-stop loop forever might be appropriate.

Or maybe listening to Colin Cowherd too. (This is a new one for me. I’ve always thought the guy was just kind of a clown, another ESPN guy made a star by ESPN promoting him non-stop, but Monday when I heard him blaming the people who went bankrupt and lost their homes for the fall of the economy, that was it for me.)

My favorite BCS team for the rest of the season will be Virginia Tech. Because the more the Hokies win, the better it is for Boise State. And if you believe at all in what is right and good for America, you are a Boise State fan. And a TCU fan. Throw in Utah while you’re at it if you want. But the Broncos are the horse we’re riding right now.


Completely different subject: Patrick McEnroe stepped down as Davis Cup captain yesterday. He’s got three kids and a lot on his plate and figured that ten years was enough.

The leading candidates to replace him are Jim Courier and Todd Martin. This is a no-brainer. Martin is a good guy who was a solid player but Courier is a four-time major champion who was a Davis Cup stalwart. He’s also very bright and wants the job for all the right reasons. The USTA should put Martin on hold, keep him involved with the work McEnroe is doing with young players and name Courier as the captain. It’s an easy call.

One other easy call: Bob Beretta should be the next Athletic Director at Army, replacing Kevin Anderson who left for Maryland. Beretta has been at Army for 20 years and gets the place. He’s smart, he’s been Anderson’s right hand for six years and can hit the ground running. What’s more, he won’t see the job as a stepping stone to a bigger job the way Anderson did and the way Rick Greenspan did—even though Indiana’s decision to hire Greenspan was right up there with New Coke when it comes to disasters. In fact, Army STILL hasn’t completely recovered from Greenspan’s Reign of Error. (See Berry, Todd for details).

Beretta is an easy choice and the right choice. My concern is that Army will conduct a ‘nationwide search,’ hired one of those God-Awful headhunting firms and screws it up—as it did with Greenspan.

Washington Post Column - Navy football doesn't live up to the hype against Maryland

BALTIMORE - It ended exactly as Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo might have drawn it up - the quarterback sneaking for one final yard as the offensive line surged to help him get there.

There was just one problem as far as Niumatalolo was concerned. The quarterback with the football was Maryland's Jamarr Robinson, not Navy's Ricky Dobbs. It was the unheralded junior making his third college start, not the senior whose name has been mentioned throughout the preseason in the same sentence with the words "Heisman Trophy."

And that was exactly the right ending for this game. Maryland earned its 17-14 victory at M&T Bank Stadium Monday afternoon. Navy earned the defeat.

In a sense, this game was a perfect setup for Maryland. All the Terrapins heard throughout preseason was that their coach's job was on the line, that the bottom had dropped out on Ralph Friedgen during a disastrous 2-10 season a year ago and that incoming athletic director Kevin Anderson's first crucial decision was going to come in November when, the pundits said, he would need to fire Fridgen.

They also heard and read that Dobbs wasn't just a Heisman candidate; he would someday be a candidate for president - of the United States. They were told that Navy was talking about going undefeated and playing in a BCS bowl. Dobbs may well run for president someday but he isn't going to win the Heisman Trophy. And, as of right now, Navy's biggest goal this season is to be 1-1 after Saturday's game against Georgia Southern.

Click here for the rest of the article: Mids don't live up to hype

Friday, September 3, 2010

US Open – Patrick McEnroe, Roddick’s 2nd round exit; Mike Wise twitter incident, Mitch Albom in 2005

I have a number of different thoughts today on a wide variety of topics.

The first is tennis, which I wrote about Monday prior to my annual trip to the U.S. Open. The main purpose of my trip was to run down a number of ex-players who I had covered extensively during my days on the tennis beat to set up interviews for the new book project. I won’t bore you with a lot of the details because most of those conversations were routine but I couldn’t help but laugh about my brief encounter with Patrick McEnroe.

Patrick is the youngest of the three McEnroe brothers. The best description I ever heard of Patrick came from Richard Evans, the longtime tennis observer—Richard’s been a writer, a TV guy, a PR guy, so I’ll generalize and call him an observer—who once said: “You have to give the parents credit. They got it right the third time.”

Everyone knows about John and his temper. Fewer people know about Mark, the middle brother. I think I may have met him once or twice and he seemed (like John) to be a good guy. Apparently his temper was a lot closer to John’s than to Patrick’s. In fact, until John was defaulted during The Australian Open in 1990, John McEnroe Sr. in his frequent defenses of his eldest son often said, “I’ve only had one son defaulted during a match and it was Mark.”

Patrick has all the McEnroe smarts and humor but not the angst. Ironically, it was a lot easier for me to track down John on Monday than Patrick. That’s probably because John was doing one thing—TV. Patrick was doing TV; a book-signing; his USTA development thing and his Davis Cup captain thing.

I finally found him sitting on an ESPN set, cell phone in his ear. I wasn’t going to just walk onto the set—especially given my relationship with ESPN even though Mary Carillo had slipped me an ESPN wristband so I could get into the booth upstairs while tracking John—so I waved to get his attention.

Without missing a beat, Patrick put down his phone, smiled and said, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”


“Golf sucks.”

Patrick and I have argued often the last several years about where tennis has gone and is going. Naturally, he defends his sport—as he should.

I laughed. “Maybe,” I said. “But, to quote Chico Escuela, golf been berra, berra good to me.” (For the record I think most people know I don’t think golf sucks. While we’re on the subject let’s pretend this is the point in the column where I take a shot at Tiger Woods so those of you who live to write, ‘Feinstein, you don’t like Tiger,’—no kidding, how’d you figure THAT out?’—can fire up your computers).

Patrick held up his phone. “I’m about to do radio. You need me?”

“Just your cell number,” I said. “I lost it again.”

Quick story about me and my penchant for losing phone numbers: About 10 or 12 years ago, I got a call from a woman who said she worked at Disney. I’m not sure her title but it sounded pretty high up and she apparently was involved in developing films ideas.

“I’m a big fan,” she said. “I really like your work. I just wanted you to know that anytime you have an idea for a movie or if you think one of your books would make a good movie you call me. We’ll fly you out and I’ll have you in a pitch meeting the next day.”

Wow, I thought, that’s pretty cool. I’d never even been in a pitch meeting so just being in one would be an experience. I wrote her name and number down on a scrap of paper right near the phone. And lost it. I couldn’t remember her name. Friends suggested I just call Disney and ask for anything like the ‘film development,’ department. I was too embarrassed to even try. Now of course, you can put numbers in your phone and not lose them. Except I don’t know how to do it. I have one number in my phone—Paul Goydos’s because he got so mad at me for constantly losing his number that he grabbed my phone on the range one day and put the number into it.

Anyway, I’ve got Patrick’s number in this computer now so I hope I won’t lose it again. I’m looking forward to explaining to him why golf doesn’t suck.

Andy Roddick is a tennis player I don’t know the way I knew some of the older guys. But I like him. I’ve liked the way he has handled himself most of the time in his career. The other night he lost in the second round of the Open and there were all sorts of stories about his ‘meltdown,’ over a foot fault call. You would have thought he was almost in Serena-world the way it was reported.

Roddick certainly blew up. He got frustrated because the line-judge told him he had foot-faulted with his right foot—almost impossible for a righty server—when it was his left. She had the call correct but Roddick, who was losing badly at the time, went off. There was no profanity, just a lot of wise cracks about the quality of officiating.

After the match Roddick made a point of saying that the call and the incident had ZERO affect on the outcome. “If anything I played with a little more emotion after that,” he said. He made the point repeatedly that Janko Tipsarevic, his opponent, had outplayed him. In fact, he and Tipsarevic both told the story about Roddick reminding Tipsarevic at the net that, after he had beaten him at Wimbledon, he had lost his next match. “Don’t do that again,” Roddick said.

This is a bad guy?

Completely different subject: a lot of people have asked me in the last few days how I feel about the Mike Wise twitter incident. Let me say first that Wise is both a colleague and a friend—we’re not close but we’re certainly friends. A few years ago he loaned me a jacket for a ‘Sports Reporters,’ appearance because the Final Four hotel in Atlanta had lost my jacket. (It was found eventually but too late for the show).

Mike was wrong and has said so. He made up a story that Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension would be chopped from six games to five and put it out on twitter. He did it to make a point about the internet and the social media and how almost anything gets picked up and is treated seriously. That wasn’t the way to do it. Heck, all he had to do was cite ESPN’s 409 Brett Favre ‘scoops,’ of the last two years as proof. If you are a journalist, you don’t make stuff up EVER. Mike’s been suspended by The Washington Post for a month and the entire staff has been reminded about the simple fact that you report what you know to be true—regardless of the venue: newspaper, internet, twitter, facebook.

To his credit, Mike hasn’t blamed anyone but himself for his mistake. I DO find it ironic that he has been nailed so heavily on this while Mitch Albom basically skated five years ago when he LIED in a column. Albom described how two Michigan State players looked from the stands during a Final Four game and how he felt during that Final Four game. The only problem was he wrote the column on Friday and the game was played on Saturday—and the two players in question, who had told Mitch they’d be at the game didn’t show up. Whoops. Tony Kornheiser calls what Albom did a “mistake of tense.” I call it a lie.

Let me pause HERE to say Mitch and I are not friends. We did Sports Reporters together for a long time. We never exchanged any angry words that I remember but we were never friends. I thought what he did back in 2005 was awful and said so. I thought the column he wrote when he came back from a two week, ‘vacation,’ from The Detroit Free Press was worse. It began—I’m paraphrasing but only slightly—“I don’t often talk to God. But lately I’ve been asking him to give me the grace to forgive those who have been jealous of me.”

Oh please. How about just saying, ‘Man did I screw up. I got carried away with myself and violated tenet one of journalism. I’m so sorry.’ Instead he said people had criticized him because they were jealous of his success.

Believe me when I tell you I’m not jealous of Mitch. I’m very happy with my career and my life—the Mets aside. But I thought what he did was much worse than what Wise did—a firing offense to me—and the editor of the Free Press basically gave him a free pass because he was her biggest star.

This past summer the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) awarded Mitch its highest honor: The Red Smith Award. Some very distinguished people have won this award. It’s a big deal. I thought they demeaned the award and the past winners by giving someone caught in an out-and-out lie the award. Of course the APSE is made up of a bunch of editors, it is extremely political—some very UN-distinguished people have also won the award—so it isn’t that big a deal. Except that Mitch came in and gave an acceptance speech on the subject of ethics in journalism.

As my mom used to say, oy vay.