Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Washington Post column -- An open letter to Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President, The Ohio State University

Here is this week's article for The Washington Post -------------------

Dear Elwood:

I've gone ahead and used your first name and dispensed with that E. Gordon stuff. Likewise with your title, which - unless you're practicing medicine when we're not looking - is about as pretentious as your bow tie.
However, all that is the least of your problems right now, Doc.

Last week, you put your foot so far in your mouth that it may never be seen again. You went public with what you and the other 65 Bowl Championship Series presidents really think about college football: You want all the money and all the power and you do not want anyone to intrude on you while you count your money and pat yourselves on the back for being such smart and powerful people. Anyone who questions you on any level just isn't as smart .

Here, translated into English, is what you said: Schools such as Boise State or TCU should be thrilled to play occasionally in one of our lucrative, but meaningless, BCS bowls; how dare they suggest they deserve a chance to compete for a championship. Forget the fact that they're undefeated; forget the fact that they're basically willing to play any BCS team that will play them and have beaten our teams pretty consistently in recent years when given a chance to play them.

So what if Utah, a team from TCU's league, beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago? Meaningless. Exhibition game. Alabama really didn't care even though it had almost a month to prepare.

Who cares that Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl a few years back? A fluke. The Broncos' wins over Oregon two years in a row? Those were, um, early in the season. And their win over Virginia Tech, by far the best team in the ACC this year, in a virtual road game? That deserves an asterisk because no one is sure what the ACC is. (This last point may have some merit.)

Your best remark, the one you will be remembered for long after you hang up your bow ties, was that unlike TCU and Boise, teams in the "power conferences" aren't beating up on "the Little Sisters of the Poor." Seriously, that's comedy worthy of my favorite Elwood, Jake's brother. He was on a mission from God. You are on a mission from God knows who.

Click here for the rest of the column: An open letter to Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President, The Ohio State University

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Thanksgiving weekend of games; Catching up on comments and Wilbon move; The BB+T Classic Benefiting The Children's Charities Foundation

I spent a lot of time this weekend watching games. To me, that’s the best way to spend Thanksgiving weekend: Avoid the roads (and certainly the airports) and watch a lot of ball in-between spending time with your family. I also watched Christmas movies. I LOVE Christmas movies. ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’—the 1947 version—is about as good as it gets. I also really like ‘Elf,’—Ed Asner as Santa?; Bob Newhart as ‘Papa Elf?’ Brilliant stuff. I haven’t seen ‘White Christmas,’ yet this year but I will.

I won’t get too far into the BCS (you can read my Washington Post column on that if you want) but let me say this: Friday was a tough day. All credit to Auburn for coming back but it would have been great had Alabama won. First—and probably last—time I pulled for a Nick Saban-coached team and they blew it. They should have been up 35-0. Boise State’s loss was even more disappointing even if it did once again disprove Elwood (that’s his first name) Gee’s various ridiculous theories about schedule strength. Check out some of The Big Ten (and others) non-conference schedules. Oh, and the rumor that The Little Sisters of the Poor have been invited to join both The Big East and the ACC are true. I’m already picking them ahead of Duke if they’re in the ACC next year.

Note to my Duke friends who keep saying it’s ‘insane,’ to propose Duke leave the ACC in football. Really? How’s this for a stat: 1-20. That’s Duke’s record since Steve Spurrier left against alleged arch-rival North Carolina. When is a rivalry not a rivalry anymore? And it’s not like Carolina has been a superpower the last 21 years. Duke has also lost ELEVEN in a row to Wake Forest. That’s eleven—not a typo.

Let’s send out congratulations also to Notre Dame for finishing its season by winning three straight games. Beating Utah was semi-impressive even if the Utes failed to show up. It’s still a win over a good team. But all the screaming that, ‘Navy was an aberration,’ since the wins over Army and (very mediocre) USC smack of ‘I think they doth protest too much.’ The only real surprise for me is that the BCS apologists aren’t claiming Notre Dame should be ahead of TCU in the polls. Did anyone watch that ludicrous show Sunday night? If you believe the so-called ESPN experts, TCU is lucky to be in Division 1-A. One guy had them ranked SIXTH. Chris Fowler gets a nod as the only ESPN on-air guy with the guts to at least rank the Frogs third. You would think the panic button would be turned down over there with Boise State out of the picture but now they’re all freaking out that Oregon or Auburn might lose Saturday. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen.

Oh, one other Notre Dame note: a couple of posters accused both me and The Chicago Tribune of being unfair to dear old Notre Dame on the subject of the awful suicide story broken by The Tribune two Sundays ago. The reason is that the St. Joseph’s County police changed their story after The Tribune story broke and said they HAD been informed by the Notre Dame police about the sexual assault charge. The detective in charge, ‘forgot,’ to tell his boss about it. Really? Seriously? Ever see ‘A Few Good Men?” Remember the transfer order? Notre Dame is so busy hiding behind The Buckley Amendment and trying to make everyone else out to be the bad guy it makes a lot of people queasy.

A few other notes about posts that I finally had a chance to catch up on over the weekend. I want to thank the guy who called me a ‘shameless self promoter,’ for—among other things—not mentioning when I compliment Mary Carillo that she’s my wife. There’s a reason for that: she’s NOT my wife. My wife Christine is in the other room right now with our one-month old daughter who has her blue eyes and is quite adorable, thank you very much. Mary Carillo has been a good friend for 25 years—which, I believe, is exactly how I identify her when I write about her.

On the subject of not paying attention: Hey Hokie fans, come on down! Some of you wrote angrily about how wonderfully supportive you are of your football team. Yes, you are. In fact, what my column said—go back and read it if you’d like—is that Virginia Tech is the ONLY ACC school that sold out all its home games this season (sorry N.C. State fans, that’s according to the ACC so take it up with them if you have a dispute). I DID say they haven’t won a game that truly mattered outside the ACC in recent years, which has nothing to do with their level of support.

Some of you wondered how I would feel about Mike Wilbon leaving The Washington Post for ESPN and if that somehow proved that the fact that I would prefer (by a lot) being at The Post over ESPN was wrong. All it proves is this: ESPN threw a LOT of money at Mike’s feet. I’m glad for him. I’m sad to see him leave The Post because it was his home for 32 years and the paper was, I think he would be the first to tell you, great to him. I have no issues with someone—anyone—being swayed by a huge pay raise (ESPN, in true ESPN fashion told Mike he could only have that kind of money if he left The Post. Personally, if I’d been Mike, I’d have called their bluff. You think they would dump him? He’s actually GOOD on TV, unlike, say my close friend Rick Reilly). And, for the record, I never criticized Reilly for leaving Sports Illustrated, I simply said that I didn’t think ESPN The Magazine was in the same league with SI. I’ll stand by that statement until the end of time.

As for the guy who noted that I’m not Woodward or Bernstein: no kidding. But I’m VERY proud to work at and to have been part of (in a small way) their newspaper and the newspaper of The Graham family; Ben Bradlee; Howard Simons; Leonard Downie; Dave Kindred; Ken Denlinger; David Maraniss; Tom Boswell; Tony Kornheiser; Mike Wilbon and Herblock—among many others. Yes, I’ll take that list over Chris Berman, Bob Knight and Andy Katz without apology.

Okay, I think I’m caught up now. If you live in the Washington area, let me make a shameless plea to you to consider buying tickets to the BB+T Classic on Sunday. The first game begins at 2:30. It is Florida vs. American. Then comes Navy vs. George Washington and at 8 o’clock in what should be really good game, Temple vs. Maryland. The Terrapins are considerably better than people around here think. The hoops should be good; the Redskins game, if you HAVE to watch, is over by 4 o’clock and God knows the cause is good. The Children’s Charities Foundation, which runs the event has turned nearly $10 million over to kids at risk in 15 years. Just for comparison purposes: with a one-day event and NO NCAA exemption (as in the games not counting against the maximum you can play and no national TV contract) that’s more than TWICE what the Coaches vs. Cancer event, which is now a 16 team-event has turned over to charity in 16 years even though it has all the above-mentioned advantages. Tickets are very inexpensive in today’s market: $45 top for a tripleheader. You can get more information from Ticketmaster or at Children's Charities Foundation. At least give it some thought.

Week 4 AP Basketball Poll vote

After the holiday week games, there are obviously some changes. Here is how I voted this week - opinions are welcome:

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Pittsburgh
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Connecticut
6)                  Michigan St.
7)                  Kansas St.
8)                  Syracuse
9)                  Tennessee
10)              Missouri
11)              Georgetown
12)              Baylor
13)              Memphis
14)              Minnesota
15)              San Diego St.
16)              Kentucky
17)              Illinois
18)              BYU
19)              Texas
20)              Villanova
21)              Notre Dame
22)              Louisville
23)              Florida
24)              Va. Commonwealth
25)              Richmond

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

Like last year, I’ll start posting my AP ballot weekly. As always, discussion and comments are welcome. Here is my top 25 for week 3 ----

1) Michigan St.
2) Kansas St.
3) Duke
4) Pittsburgh
5) Ohio St.
6) Kansas
7) Villanova
8) Temple
9) Syracuse
10) Kentucky 
11) Missouri 
12) Baylor
13) Purdue
14) Washington
15) San Diego St.
16) Texas
17) BYU
18) Illinois
19) Memphis
20) Georgetown
21) Minnesota
22) Saint Mary's, Calif.
23) Gonzaga
24) Louisville
25) VMI

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday rundown – Notre Dame stonewalling again, Tiger Woods, McNabb, ESPN-BCS apologists, banning bloggers and Jane awaits an Islanders win

Since there is no blowaway, got to talk about it story going on in sports right now, I thought I would touch on a number of different items today.

ITEM: Notre Dame could be in serious trouble again. This story could become a very important one if people at Notre Dame don’t come up with a very good explanation for what The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday. According to the Tribune, a freshman at St. Mary’s College (an all girls school across the street from Notre Dame) committed suicide on September 10th—10 days after filing a complaint with the Notre Dame campus police that she had been sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.

Obviously there is no tangible way to connect her death to the alleged assault. She had a history of depression issues prior to enrolling at St. Mary’s and none of us will ever know what led her to take her own life. But what The Tribune is reporting is extremely damning: That the Notre Dame police didn’t contact the St. Joseph’s County police department (which conducted the investigation of the suicide) to let it know that the victim had filed a sexual assault complaint 10 days before her death. The Tribune also said that the campus police department had refused a request for documents from its investigation, claiming it was not subject to Indiana sunshine laws that affect public police departments. It also refused to allow football coach Brian Kelly, athletic director Jack Swarbrick or anyone in the administration to comment AND the player—who The Tribune says it has contacted and also received no response from—is still playing.

Wow. Maybe there is an explanation but right now no one at Notre Dame is supplying one because the school is busy stonewalling. If you add this to the awful way Notre Dame handled Declan Sullivan’s death a few weeks ago with Swarbrick speaking in so much non-committal legalese that the school president, The Reverend John L. Jenkins, FINALLY had to send out an e-mail saying, yes, we let the young man down and didn’t protect him, this looks very bad for Notre Dame.

This is so serious I’m not going to even get into some of the ridiculous things Kelly said after the win over Army on Saturday night (calling the loss to Navy ‘an anomaly,’ among other things). Let’s hope Father Jenkins steps forward soon to explain exactly what happened. Until then, everyone’s job—including his—can be and should be in jeopardy.

ITEM: Tiger Woods unveils another ‘new,’ Tiger Woods. This is for those of you disappointed because it has been a while since I’ve criticized Woods. Honestly, I find this completely un-interesting. It is clearly just another image-rehab attempt by Woods and his sycophants to try to win back corporate money and fans—the fans being important because their support leads to corporate money. It is no coincidence that the latest blitz comes a couple of weeks prior to Woods’ 18-man exhibition event in California which he hasn’t played in for two years. (First year injury; second year, um, injury so to speak). He’s trying to keep his sponsor on board after two disastrous years and unveiling the latest version of his new self all at once.

Do I believe Woods when he says he’s learned the joys of giving his son a bath in the last year? Maybe. But if it is so joyful and SO important to him why was he in Australia chasing appearance money a couple of weeks ago when he could have been playing a couple of miles from his house at Disney? Why is he going to Dubai early next year to chase more appearance money?

This is more of the same stuff we heard in February at The Tiger and Pony show; more of what he heard in the tightly controlled TV interviews in March and more of what we heard at The Augusta press conference in April. Here’s when I’ll start to think Woods has changed at all: when he stops chasing appearance fees all over the world; when he changes his schedule to support some of the events on his home tour that are struggling just because it is the right thing to do; when he tells PGA Tour officials he wants for them to arrange for him to sign autographs for at least 30 minutes (ala his good friend Phil Mickelson who does it most days for 45) after every round he plays; when he stops playing all his pro-am rounds at 6:30 in the morning so that more people—many of whom only have Wednesday tickets—can get a chance to watch him play.

Enough with the mea culpas. We’ve heard them all. Enough with being a new Tiger. DO something tangible. How about being interviewed by someone who won’t throw you one softball after another like the ESPN morning pitchmen?

I’m available. When I get that phone call THEN I’ll believe you’ve changed.

ITEM: Donovan McNabb has somehow figured out the Redskins two-minute offense. Wow, must be great coaching. Now, if he can just get into cardiovascular shape…

ITEM: Craig James, the lead pony (get it) among the ESPN BCS-apologists said this on Sunday night: “I know Boise State beat Fresno State 51-0 on Friday night but that’s what I expected. Fresno doesn’t have any really impressive wins on its resume.”

Really? Does Fresno have any other 51-0 losses on its resume? What was the Oregon-Cal score again? My God when does this garbage stop?

ITEM: Since the birth of my daughter—now almost one month ago—The New York Islanders have not won ONE game. That’s zero—13 straight losses during which they have picked up two points for overtime losses. They HAVE fired a coach during that period and banned a blogger.

Seriously. Chris Botta, who was once the Islanders PR guy, writes a very informative blog (yes, I read it) called Islanders Point Blank. Chris is hardly a killer. He has pointed out that a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993 and has finished 26th-30th and 26th in the overall standings the last three years is, um, not all that good. He did point out what every sane Islanders fan (I know, all 14 of us) was thinking last summer when the team fired Billy Jaffe as its TV color guy apparently for being too negative: Billy Jaffe was anything but negative: he was honest but always looking for silver linings on the rare occasions when they appeared.

He was also very good. As opposed to Butch Goring, who was a GREAT Islander but is an awful color commentator. If the Islanders are down 6-1 and they get a shot on goal, Butch will tell you the Islanders are showing great life. I have no doubt he’s a great guy and the trade Bill Torrey made to bring him to New York in 1980 changed the history of the franchise. But he’s brutal.

Apparently general manager Garth Snow can’t stand ANY criticism at all. He stopped talking to Botta a year ago and the day after he fired Scott Gordon as coach and Botta pointed out that Gordon probably wasn’t the one responsible for the current state of the franchise, Botta was told his credentials were being lifted. Are you kidding? They ought to make Botta the GM, spend some money to hire people to work in the front office and make me the coach.

I mean could they be any worse if they did that? Jane awaits a win…

And Finally: On the subject of banned bloggers, the Miami Heat last week banned a very talented writer named Scott Raab who works for Esquire and blogs on their website. Raab had really gone after LeBron James, very profanely at times, and The Heat said he couldn’t come to games or practices anymore. Rabb, understandably upset, said (among other things): “If my name was Feinstein or Halberstam this would not happen.”

My name in the same sentence with David Halberstam in any way, shape or form? I love Scott Raab.

Washington Post Column - Football fans aren't buying what ACC is selling

Here is Monday's article for The Washington Post --------------

There were two ACC football games played on Saturday that were critically important to the postseason hopes of the teams involved: Virginia Tech at Miami and Florida State at Maryland. The Hokies went south looking to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title, while Miami tried to stay alive in the division race. The Seminoles traveled north to play the Terrapins in a game that would keep only the winner still in the running to win the ACC Atlantic.

On a perfect fall night, a crowd of 48,115 showed up at Byrd Stadium- easily the best of the season, but well short of the building's capacity of more than 54,000. The attendance at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, now the home of what was once the vaunted "U," had far more empty seats with a crowd of 40,101 spaced out comfortably in the 75,000-seat stadium.

ACC football isn't exactly a hot ticket these days-to put it mildly.

Consider this: On the same day that Maryland people were giddy about a crowd of 48,000 showing up to see a team that has already won five more games than it did a year ago, a crowd of 78,790 gathered a few miles down the Beltway at virtually impossible-to-get-to FedEx Field to watch a game between a bad Big Ten team (Indiana) and a slightly-better-than-mediocre Big Ten team (Penn State).

In short: an unattractive Big Ten game played in an NFL stadium hundreds of miles from either campus drew 10,000 fans fewer than two key ACC games combined.


Click here for the rest of the story: Football fans aren't buying what ACC is selling

Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

I also joined The Gas Man Wednesday evening in my normal timeslot.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


On Thursday morning, I joined Tony Kornheiser on his newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my normal 11:05 ET timeslot. 

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good for McNabb; Athletic Director hire is critical at Army – Bob Beretta is the right person for the job

I am only going to waste a little bit more time on The Redskins and L’Affaire Shanahan-McNabb and some of your responses to the whole thing today for the simple reason that I have something far more important that I need to get on the record.

I want to say one more time that I REALLY appreciate the number of people who have taken the time to read and listen to exactly what I actually wrote and actually said and comment on it. Some of you agreed; some didn’t but that’s fine—we’re talking opinions here. Yes, I still think Shanahan should be fired and that what he did was despicable. And, now that the real figures on the new McNabb contract have come out, here’s what I think: Dan Snyder basically gave him $3.5 million in hush money to not go public with how he honestly about the whole thing the rest of the season. While I think signing McNabb for two more years is the right way to go—if not McNabb at quarterback then who? I think leaving the whole question of whether the Redskins will actually commit $13 million to McNabb next year up in the air leaves all the same doubts lingering as were lingering a week ago. Getting his name on that contract was nothing more than a PR move by a PR obsessed owner and coach.

McNabb is in a win-win: he gets $3.5 million for doing nothing except not talking and if he and Shanahan continue to feud, he’ll probably be a free agent next year. If not, he’s got big bucks guaranteed. Good for him.

And last on my pal Rick Reilly: If you are a fan of his, that’s just fine. But seriously to the couple of you who think I’d like his job—are you serious? I had more chances to go to work for ESPN than I’ve had chances to over-eat. The Washington Post vs. ESPN? Are you kidding me? As for my books, well, I’m okay with how they’ve done and been received through the years. I’m currently working on my 28th book so I guess a few people have bought them. As one person wrote: ‘Let’s see, ‘Caddy For Life,’ vs. ‘Who’s Your Caddy?’—which would you rather have on your resume?’

I’ll leave it at that.

Now for something that really matters to me. Army is looking for a new athletic director right now. As anyone who has ever read this blog knows I care deeply about both Army and Navy and the people—especially the athletes—who are part of the two schools.

I have watched in horror for most of 15 years now as Army has made one horrific mistake after another. The 0-13 football season a few years back wasn’t an accident. Nor are the eight straight losses—all of them one-sided---to Navy. Army FINALLY got something right two years ago when then-Athletic Director Kevin Anderson hired Rich Ellerson as football coach. Here’s what Anderson did: he put together a search committee that consisted almost wholly of ex-Army football players and coaches. People who knew Army and understood Army. Almost everyone given serious consideration for the job had an Army background—including Ellerson, whose father and uncle went to Army; the latter being captain of the 1962 football team.

Back in 1995, when I was researching ‘A Civil War,’ I was asked my opinion on Army possibly joining Conference-USA. I remember my first reaction when asked because it was while standing on the practice field on a cold November afternoon with then-Athletic Director Al Vanderbush (one of the best men I’ve ever known). When Al brought it up I looked at him and said, “You’re joking right?”

No one at Army was joking. They joined the conference and it was a disaster. Then, when Vanderbush retired, I pleaded with then superintendent Dan Christman (also a wonderful guy) to hire my friend Tom Mickle. Tom was a close friend but I brought him up only because he was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known in college athletics. At my request, Mike Krzyzewski, who knew Mickle well, called on Tom’s behalf. He never got interviewed.

Instead, on the recommendation of a headhunter, Rick Greenspan was hired. That hiring worked out about as well as Custer’s decision to take on the Indians at Little Big Horn. Greenspan—who also destroyed Indiana basketball with his foolish, arrogant hiring of Kelvin Sampson—came in having already decided to fire Bob Sutton, who was struggling because Army simply couldn’t compete in Conference-USA. (To be fair, Sutton had also favored that move but learned quickly it was a mistake) Greenspan had also already decided to hire Todd Berry, who had been his football coach at Illinois State to replace Sutton—which he did one year after getting the job. Two people who were interested in the job back then who Greenspan had no interest in were Jim Tressel and Paul Johnson.

How did THAT move work out? Berry went 5-45, including the fabulous 0-13 (he was fired in midseason but he did the work that led to it) in 2003. After Army had lost to Navy 58-10 to end 2002 and Berry had thrown his players completely under the bus after the game, I pleaded with anyone who would listen—actually I pleaded mostly with people who wouldn’t listen—to get him out of there; that the senior class of 2003 deserved someone who would actually support them, regardless of record. Of course no one listened and Greenspan and I had a shouting match about it.

“Did you really say I should fire Todd after the Navy game?” he asked me.

“Actually no Rick, I said he should resign to show some dignity and YOU should be fired for hiring him.”

Greenspan was glad I cleared THAT up. He had to fire Berry the next season because the losses were SO lopsided. Then he hired Bobby Ross—a great coach who wasn’t the right fit for Army at that point in his career. Ross quit three years later in February leaving Anderson (by then the AD) with no choice but to hire offensive line coach Stan Brock, who was, well, a good offensive line coach. FINALLY after two more awful years, Anderson got it right when he fired Brock at the end of the ’08 season and hired Ellerson.

Here’s my point in all this: Anderson left early in the fall to take the Maryland job. Army MUST get the AD hiring right to continue in the right direction. As usual, the school has gone out and hired a headhunter. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Here’s how headhunters work: If you already work at the school, you have no chance to get hired because then they can’t claim, “We FOUND Joe Blow for Army.”

That’s how Greenspan got hired and Army is still climbing out of that hole. This time the choice is easy if the people at Army want to get it right: Senior Associate Athletic Director Bob Beretta. I know I mentioned this briefly a couple months ago but now the interview process is about to begin. Beretta has been at Army for 20 years. As with Ellerson, as with the search committee that hired Ellerson, he GETS Army and loves Army. Anderson is a bright guy; I guarantee you he will tell you it took him at least two years to begin to understand what he was dealing with at West Point. Beretta won’t need a learning curve. He’s already been given great responsibility by Anderson the last couple of years.

Army needs the right AD, one who understands Army RIGHT NOW. It doesn’t need another Rick Greenspan (God Forbid) or even someone who has to come in and figure the place out—even if he’s a good guy. It doesn’t need a headhunter who knows ZIP about the academy telling it who is right for the academy. So this is a public plea to anyone who cares about Army: Write to Superintendent David Huntoon and tell him to go through whatever hoops he has to in order to make the search look ‘national,’ but hire Beretta. This is important.

Army-Navy is like no other rivalry in sports. The two schools should matter to all of us because of their missions. Army has gotten so much wrong in recent years. It needs to get this hire right. And it isn’t even HARD. Make sure the superintendent understands that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Washington Post Column-- Tale of two Auburns isn't the only story out there

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

The drama that has played out on and off the college football field in Auburn, Ala., this season is worthy of Charles Dickens.

Auburn, picked to be a reasonably good team but nothing more prior to the season, is 11-0, ranked No. 2 in the country and on the doorstep of playing for the national championship. The Tigers have been led by quarterback Cam Newton, who left Florida two years ago, played a year of junior college ball, and has emerged to become the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

But in the past two weeks, there have been accusations that Newton and his father sought payoffs during his recruitment a year ago and reports that Newton was found guilty of cheating academically while at Florida. Every day, it seems, brings a new revelation of some kind.

The best of times and the worst of times indeed.

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik reacted with outrage initially but has gone the "I only want to talk about football" route since. Newton has said nothing and wasn't even allowed to speak to the media after Auburn's win over Georgia on Saturday. That's right: After leading his team to 49 points to clinch a spot in the SEC title game, the best player in the country was kept from speaking publicly.

Click here for the rest of the column: Tale of two Auburns isn't the only story out there

The Rick Reilly Column

I wrote the blog on Thursday in the hope that a more detailed explanation of what I was trying to say about the Mike Shanahan-Donovan McNabb issue would put an end to it—or at least my involvement in it.

To a large degree it did. The posts and e-mails that came in were close to what I expected: Some people didn’t really read what I said; they just had a knee-jerk reaction to even raising the specter of race. (BTW, James Brown, Tom Jackson and Michael Wilbon have all raised it too but because they are African American people tend to not pay attention or say, ‘so what?’ They’re ignored when they bring it up because they’re black; I’m pilloried—by some— for bringing it up because I’m white). What was gratifying though was the fact that quite a few people completely understood the point I was making: that Shanahan raising issues about McNabb’s intelligence brings back some bad memories for a lot of people about the racial stereotyping that went on for years when it came to African Americans playing the quarterback position. That was why I found it unforgivable. A lot of people got that.

Of course some people—many in the media—didn’t or chose not to. Rick Reilly absolutely torched me in his ESPN column. What was upsetting about the column wasn’t that Reilly disagreed with me. I’m perfectly comfortable being on the opposite side from Reilly on almost any issue. What did bother me—as I said in a note I sent him on Friday—was that he accused me of committing a crime I didn’t commit and then ripped me for it. If you read Reilly, he goes on about how ridiculous it is to think Shanahan’s benching of McNabb was racially motivated.

He’s right. Of course I never said it was. Like most people I saw it as a coaching temper tantrum after McNabb made a bad play. The issue came up after the game, first with the ‘he didn’t know the terminology,’ comments; then with the ‘cardiovascular,’ comments—that was about his conditioning not his intelligence—and finally with the Chris Mortensen, ‘sources,’ story that the poor Shanahans had to cut their playbook in half to accommodate their dumb African-American quarterback.

One argument being made is that the Shanahans might not have been Mortensens’s source. I don’t buy that for a second but let’s play along here for a moment and pretend they weren’t. If Mortensen is half the reporter I think he is and someone whispers that to him what’s his next move? I would think it is to call Mike Shanahan, who you can bet is on his speed dial and say, “someone just said this.” And Shanahan, UNLESS he wants his quarterback lying in the road with tire tracks on his back, says something like: “Come on Mort, the guy is a six-time Pro Bowler, of course he knows the playbook.” If Shanahan doesn’t say that then he’s guilty of not protecting his quarterback—even if there’s truth in the leak, which I’m not buying either. If Shanahan did say that I don’t believe Mortensen would still go with the story.

Anyway, Reilly pilloried me for saying McNabb was benched because Shanahan’s a racist. One example he cited as proof that Shanahan’s not a racist is that Shanahan cried on the phone when he learned one of his African American players had died. Wow, what a humanitarian! Even so, the argument’s moot because I don’t think Shanahan’s a racist. I do think he’s absolutely capable of throwing out racial stereotypes to defend an indefensible decision he made. Which is what I said and what I wrote. Reilly, in his return note to me, asked me if I really thought Shanahan could be that Machiavellian. Are you kidding? I think Machiavelli studied Shanahan somewhere along the way.

Two points here: Reilly and I aren’t friends but I’ve never considered him an enemy. We’ve known each other a long time and I thought he should have picked up a phone and called me before he hammered me—especially since he might have gotten his facts straight had he done so. Then again, that might not have suited his purposes. Rick defended not calling me by pointing out that I publicly nailed him twice in the past. Once was seven years ago when we appeared on Bob Costas’s old HBO show together and, in discussing the Riggs-King match, he said that Riggs had only had one serve and King had been allowed to play the doubles alleys. He was wrong. I said he was wrong and he insisted he was right. I offered to bet him $100 and he took the bet. To his credit he sent me a check when he found that he—or his researcher—had it wrong. According to Rick I went, ‘three stops past the exit,’ that night. Really?

My second crime was different. When Rick left Sports Illustrated for ESPN, someone asked me if I was surprised. I said I wasn’t; that I knew ESPN had thrown a lot of money on the table but to me leaving SI for ESPN was a little bit like, “checking out of a Ritz-Carlton to move over to a Hampton Inn.”

Yup, it was a shot—at ESPN. Rick apparently took it as a shot at him even though I said I understood he’d been offered a lot of money. As I said in my return of his return note: “I’m guessing now you might think what I said was probably right—but I certainly don’t expect you to confide in me about THAT.” And I don’t. All I know is the guy was a GREAT take out writer at Sports Illustrated and now he’s hosting 2 a.m. sportscenters with some fourth string talking head at ESPN. Yes, that was a shot.

In all though, I’ve been gratified by the number of people whose opinions I respect who have understood what I said and why I said it. I also have a little clearer understanding of why REAL public figures (I consider myself a semi-public figure) get frustrated when they say something and it morphs into something completely different. But hey, that’s life.

There was one thing though that really did upset me. On Thursday night Rich Eisen described me on the NFL Network as the, “venerable Washington Post columnist.”

Venerable? Now THAT hurts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My thoughts on McNabb and the Shanahan explanations

The incident began, as the police like to say, when ESPN came out with one of its patented, ‘sources say,’ reports last Sunday. This one came from Chris Mortensen, someone I’ve known for years and someone who has absolute credibility when it comes to reporting what he’s been told. Mortensen reported that sources had told him that Mike and Kyle Shanahan had been forced to cut their playbook in half for Donovan McNabb.

That’s when I really got angry.

This came one week after the Shanahans had benched McNabb with 1:45 left in the Redskins game at Detroit with Washington trailing 31-25. They brought Rex Grossman into the game in McNabb’s place. Grossman hadn’t taken a single snap from center all season and isn’t exactly known for his mobility. In fact, McNabb had been dodging Lions all day because the Redskins STILL haven’t fixed their problems on the offensive line.

On his first snap, Grossman got sacked, fumbled and the Lions picked the ball up and ran into the end zone to end any chance the Redskins had to win the game.

Once it became clear that McNabb wasn’t hurt, that the Shanahans had simply decided to bench him, it was just as clear they had made a mistake. Check the results.

But that’s really not that big a deal. Coaches make mistakes all the time, just like players, officials and writers make mistakes. Here’s what you do when you make a mistake: You say, “I made a mistake,” and you move on. If Mike Shanahan had done that it would have been a one-day story.

But football coaches have more trouble saying the words “I made a mistake,” than any group of humans on earth this side of the BCS Presidents. So, instead of coming in after the game and saying, “Hey, I got mad at Donovan for a poor decision on an interception and played a hunch with Rex and it didn’t work,” Shanahan came in with some sort of hooey (a kind word) about McNabb not knowing the ‘two minute terminology.’ As if two minute terminology appears in the playbook in Swahili. I’ve read NFL playbooks. They are NOT that complicated in spite of what coaches try to tell you.

No one bought that story. So, the next day Shanahan tried something different. This time he said he was worried because McNabb had been hurt going into the game—he was the Redskins leading rusher in the game and had a 36-yard run at one point—and (I love this one) he was worried about his ‘cardiovascular,’ because he might have to call two plays in the huddle at once.

My first thought at that moment was that Shanahan must think the average IQ of people in Washington is about 12.

But okay, I wrote it off to Shanahan being one of those God-like football coaches who will do anything to avoid admitting a mistake. He’s like Fonzi in ‘Happy Days,’ when he used to try to say, ‘I’m ssssssssssssssssssssssorry.’

Then I saw Mortensen’s ‘report.’ That’s when I went on Washington Post Live and accused Shanahan of racial coding because I believe if he was Mortensen’s source that is absolutely what he was doing. In the last few days people have suggested to me that there are many, many people who could have fed Mort the information on McNabb’s alleged playbook inadequacies. In theory, I guess that’s true. I don’t buy it. Shanahan (Mike) has a direct pipeline to ESPN through Adam Schefter, who WROTE HIS BOOK. He negotiated with the Redskins through Schefter all of last fall: “ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Buffalo Bills will offer him ONE BILLION DOLLARS.’ That sort of thing. Drive up the price, make it look as if everyone is after you. If someone told Schefter, ‘exclusively,’ that the moon was made of swiss cheese, he’d report it. Maybe that’s why the Shanahans didn’t go to Schefter this time. Mort certainly has far more credibility in general and especially in a Shanahan-related story. So, someone whispered to Mort that McNabb couldn’t learn the playbook.

I don’t think it was a player and I don’t think it was another assistant—unless he was acting under orders. I believe it was someone named Shanahan.

And if it was, Shanahan is a despicable human being and, yes, I think he’s using racial coding and yes I think he should be fired. If anyone wants to disagree with me about that; fine, just don’t give me the Steve Czaban (WTEM) copout that I’ve, ‘lost my mind.’

Really? Remember this was a week later. It wasn’t postgame frustration or even trying to cover yourself the next day. Shanahan had time to think about it and he decided that rather than continue to listen to people rip him not so much for making the move (everyone agrees he had an absolute right to bench his quarterback if saw fit) but for his ridiculous explanations as to why he made the move. So, somehow, someway, he got word to Mortensen that McNabb couldn’t learn the playbook. If someone was going under the bus it was going to be McNabb.

Now, I have serious problems with ‘according to sources,’ stories that simply allow one guy to rip another. The only time to use a blind quote as far as I’m concerned is if someone’s safety or job would be endangered by going on the record. Check my history you won’t see a lot of blind quotes. If I had a dollar for every time a coach told me NOT FOR ATTRIBUTION that someone was a cheat, I wouldn’t be writing this blog; I’d be sitting on my estate someplace warm deciding whether to start my day with a swim, a round of golf or by sitting by my pool reading a book.

But the way of the world today is ‘sources say.’ If the Shanahans were NOT the source—which I don’t believe—Mort should have called them to say, ‘true or not true?’ If they denied it, there’s no story. If they ‘no commented,’ and you HAD to go with the story—ESPN puts ridiculous pressure on these guys to produce alleged ‘news,’ all the time—you quote Mike Shanahan as saying ‘no comment.’ And then you call Donovan McNabb for a comment or a no comment. (His comment to the media when he came back after the bye week was that the notion that he couldn’t learn the entire playbook was, ‘hilarious.’)

But this isn’t about Mortensen. He’s a damn good reporter almost all the time. I’d like to have his batting average. This is about Shanahan. And if he did what I think he did it means, after giving it a week of thought, he was willing to have it put out there that his African-American quarterback wasn’t smart enough to learn the playbook. One week after FIRST calling him too dumb to learn the two-minute terminology he goes back to the same well.


And please don’t tell me he could have said the same thing about a white quarterback. He didn’t. Even in 2010 there are people who are going to instantly buy into the ridiculous stereotype. In fact, many of the e-mails I’ve gotten have been saying, ‘well what if he didn’t know the playbook?’ Let me tell you something: Donovan McNabb hasn’t had a borderline Hall of Fame career because he’s stupid. Let me tell you something else: before he traded a second and third round draft pick for McNabb, Mike Shanahan looked at tape of him running the Eagles offense; running their two minute drill and making decisions. He also talked to people about McNabb and what he could or could not do. And THEN he traded for him. So if McNabb is so damn stupid he can’t learn the playbook, how stupid is Shanahan for trading for him?

The funny thing about all this is Redskins fans will forgive Shanahan for this despicable behavior if McNabb performs well the second half of the season and the Redskins make the playoffs. Of course if McNabb DOESN’T perform well people will say Shanahan was right all along. In a sense, Shanahan can’t lose on this one. And I think he knew that even before Mortensen ‘broke,’ his story.

Trust me, I don’t think he's stupid. But I do think he's a very bad guy.


One note: I've been behind reading posts because of baby-duties (Jane, for those who asked was just a name my wife and I liked and I was a big Blythe Danner fan years ago and thought the two names combined were cool) but someone reading my BCS column asked why I don't rip my colleague in the AP for being a part of the BCS conspiracy: Here's the problem: The AP dropped out of the BCS several years ago BECAUSE it didn't want to be part of the system anymore, believing it should not have any influence on the national championship. That said, I DID plead with my colleagues publicly before the final vote last January to vote for Boise State to send a message to the BCS that they don't completely control the sport. I think Boise State got two votes. Ouch.

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.  We started out the discussion on Navy's big win at East Carolina, then followed it up with a lot of talk on Shanahan-McNabb-Mortensen and all things Redskins.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

On Thursday morning, I joined Tony Kornheiser on his newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my normal 11:05 ET timeslot. This week we talked about Tony finding ESPNU on his TV to watch College of Charleston vs. Maryland, discussed the upcoming BB&T Classic triple-header and other aspects in college basketball before finishing with the Cam Newton situation.

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

Monday, November 8, 2010

Washington Post Column - College basketball is far from perfect, but still worth following

The following is this weeks column for The Washington Post on the start of the college basketball season -----

Gary Williams has been around the college basketball block long enough to know that preseason polls are about as valuable as Confederate war bonds. Yet when his Maryland team didn't receive a single vote last month, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"Let's see, we tied for first in the ACC last season with the team that won the national championship," he said. "I know we lost three seniors and one of them was a first-round draft pick. But not a single vote? I look at some of the other teams that are ranked, and I honestly wonder if the guys voting even know who's on their teams."

The way college basketball is these days, it's entirely possible they don't. At least one panel of experts picked North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes as a first-team all-American before he has played a college game. Of course, some folks who follow prep basketball nationally are asserting that the five best players in the country this season might be freshmen.

That's what one-and-done has done to the college game. Great players flash through college gyms so fast that if you blink you miss them. Hey, Kentucky fans, did you enjoy John Wall? Does anyone realize that, in a different era, Derrick Rose would be a Memphis senior this season?

Williams's disgust with the preseason polls makes absolute sense. People aren't voting anymore on what they know or what they've seen; they're voting on what they've heard. John Calipari, the same coach who recruited Rose to Memphis and Wall to Kentucky, has another freshman class full of guys who likely will be in the NBA at this time next year. How good are they? Who knows?

In the meantime, the college hoops season begins Monday night. Maryland is one of four teams hosting games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This event has become part of a disturbing trend in early-season hoops in which four teams are actually designated to play in the so-called "semifinals" even if they lose. Why? TV, of course. These events are much more marketable when the big-name teams are playing. The only way to guarantee that: Win and you advance; lose and you still advance (just as Texas will do, even if it falls to Navy on Monday night).

Click here for the rest of the column:  College basketball is far from perfect, but still worth following

ESPN continues the spin for the benefit of itself and its partner, the BCS

Well, here we go again with the BCS Apologists.

Last week Alabama was their savior. Now, it has become a potential scourge. What a difference one trip to LSU can make.

Prior to the Crimson Tide’s trip to Baton Rouge, the BCS-A thinking went like this: “If Alabama wins out, it should play in the national championship game—even with one loss.”

Why? Well, Alabama would have a win at LSU and would have finished its season by beating Auburn and winning the SEC Championship game. Thus, even if TCU and Boise State finished unbeaten, Alabama would be picked—SHOULD be picked—to play presumably unbeaten Oregon in the national championship game. TCU and Boise State would get another pat on the head from the BCS boys and be sent to play in yet another lucrative, but meaningless BCS bowl.

The campaign actually began a week ago Saturday when ESPN showed ‘projected bowl matchups,’ with Oregon and Auburn in the title game. In the ‘projections,’ Boise State was being sent to The Rose Bowl. “You know Herbie,” (or is it Herby?) Brent Musburger said to Kirk Herbstreit, “The Rose Bowl is a pretty nice consolation prize for the Broncos.”

Sure it is Brent. A team with a 26 game winning streak over two seasons should be handed a consolation prize.

That’s the way it works though in BCS-A/ESPN-world. This isn’t about fairness or doing what’s right. It’s about money, ratings and taking care of the big boys and the BCS Presidents who the ESPN suits do business with nowadays. That’s why it was no surprise last week when the ESPN talking heads began promoting the notion that if Alabama won out—which would, of course, mean knocking Auburn from the unbeaten ranks—IT would deserve a spot in the championship game.

Herbstreit explained it carefully one night on sportscenter. On Friday night, during the Central Florida-Houston game Rece Davis brought it up as pretty much a done deal. “Alabama looks to stay on track for the BCS Championship game,” was Davis’s throwaway comment at halftime as if he was saying, “tomorrow is Saturday.”

It is worth remembering that ESPN currently OWNS the BCS for all intents and purposes because of the money it is paying over the next four seasons. That means it will do just about anything to create the matchups it thinks best for the network and its partners in crime. Pounding away, as the pundits were last week, establishes in the minds of those who vote in the coach’s poll and The Harris Poll—which make up a large chunk of the BCS formula, the notion that what is being said on ESPN is what must be true.

Now though, there’s a problem: Alabama lost. So much for establishing the Tide as the alternative to Auburn should the Tigers lose. That means if Alabama beats Auburn later this month the BCS has a serious problem: Even if Oregon goes on and wins out (at California; Arizona; at Oregon State) the Ducks would then be the only team from a BCS conference that would be undefeated. That would make it almost impossible not to put either TCU or Boise State in the championship game.

Can you hear drumbeats for Wisconsin or LSU in the distance? How about Stanford or even Nebraska?

The larger question if Oregon is the only BCS unbeaten is how in the world do you choose between TCU and Boise State. The Horned Frogs certainly made a strong case for themselves when they waltzed into Utah Saturday and hammered the Utes 47-7 in a game that Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said wasn’t even THAT close. Boise State has beaten Virginia Tech and Oregon State and destroyed a good (7-2) Hawaii team, 42-7 on Saturday.

Both teams have done everything they have been asked to do for two seasons now. Boise State’s last loss was in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl—to TCU. TCU’s only loss the last two seasons was in last January’s Fiesta Bowl. If the college football postseason was even semi-legitimate and had a FOUR team playoff you could have two great semifinals, leading to the title game. But no, why decide who the best team is on the field when you can leave it to pundits who will tell us why going to The Rose Bowl is a nice consolation prize for a team on a 26 game winning streak.

TCU Coach Gary Patterson was asked how he would feel if TCU and Boise State ended up playing one another for a third consecutive season in a non-championship game. “It doesn’t really matter how I feel,” said Patterson, who always tries to be politically correct when such questions come up. “But I do know this: It wouldn’t be good for college football.”

Of course it wouldn’t. A championship game between the two schools WOULD be good for college football although ESPN and the BCS-A’s would be apoplectic about it. Of course a championship game between one of those two schools and either Oregon or Auburn wouldn’t make them happy either but would also be good for college football. How though, do you think Boise Coach Chris Petersen might react if TCU—a team he beat in a bowl game last year with almost all of his current starters—played Oregon, a team he beat the last TWO years while he was sent to Pasadena.

Do you think he’d think that was a pretty nice consolation prize?

Naturally, the ESPN boys—with the notable exception of Chris Fowler—were spinning like crazy Sunday night and Monday morning. First they told us that Utah was overrated and that the 47-7 TCU win really wasn’t THAT impressive. Craig James went on for a while about how much he liked Patterson and how good they’d looked but then added, “you know the linebackers in these non-AQ conferences are 5-10 or 5-11 and run 4.6 40s. The linebackers in the SEC are 6-3 and run 4.4’s.”

To which Fowler (God Bless him) said, “Craig have you looked at TCU’s linebackers?”

Herbstreit chipped in with how strong the SEC is and Davis went on about how great it was that TCU and Boise State after beating two teams this weekend with a combined record of 16-2 by a combined 75 points were really in good shape at No. 3 and No. 4 in the poll. Oh please. Monday morning, in the name of piling on one of the morning pitchmen bemoaned the notion of an Oregon-TCU championship game as one no one would care about. (If you want to guess which one, hum the Notre Dame fight song). This noted Notre Dame apologist probably would love to see a championship game between his beloved Irish and Texas—combined record at the moment 8-10, but they’re NAMES. Maybe the Cowboys should play in The Super Bowl, right?

In the meantime, if you want to talk about consolation prizes, how about whomever wins the SEC East or the ACC Atlantic. South Carolina, which had control of the SEC East, was embarrassed at home by Arkansas on Saturday. That means that the three loss Gamecocks now face three loss Florida this Saturday to decide who will play in the SEC title game. The ACC Atlantic is even worse: All three so-called ‘contenders,’ lost on Saturday: Maryland to a fourth string quarterback at Miami; Florida State at home to North Carolina and North Carolina State to mediocre Clemson. Unfortunately, someone in that group has to show up in Charlotte—in front of a crowd that will probably number well into the dozens—to play Virginia Tech on the first Saturday in December.

Of course The ENTIRE Big East isn’t any better. But the award for most surprising truly bad season has to go to Texas. In the last nine seasons, the Longhorns have won at least 10 games every year and had a combined record of 101-16. They are now 4-5 after an embarrassing loss Saturday at Kansas State.

That means no one at ESPN will be trying to convince people they belong in the BCS title game picture.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Touching on the elections, Shanahan-McNabb, Randy Moss and Tiger Woods before moving to the sad news on Sparky Anderson

I had all sorts of topics to write on this morning ranging from the elections—I know some of you don’t like it when I write about politics but, what the heck, you can take the day off and it is MY blog—to the continuing Mike Shanahan/Donovan McNabb fiasco to (yawn) Randy Moss to how remarkably un-important Tiger Woods losing the number one ranking to Lee Westwood truly is.

Then I saw an item in this morning’s New York Times—if it was in The Washington Post I missed it. It said that Sparky Anderson had been placed in a hospice by his family. It also said that he was suffering from dementia at the age of 76.

Reading that made me think the other subjects weren’t quite as important. NOT that the election is un-important. It is and I happen to believe as disturbing as some of the results are and as tough as it is to listen to the crowing of my Republican friends, this will be a good thing for President Obama, much the way getting beaten up in midterm elections helped Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I’m also one of those who thinks that history shows the country runs better when the parties share power. I happen to think this is especially true now since The Republicans can no longer sit back and blame President Obama for everything that has gone wrong dating back to The French and Indian War. And good luck to the Republican leadership controlling those tea party types who got elected. They will be more trouble for The Republicans than for The Democrats when all is said and done.

That ends today’s political message. As for Shanahan and McNabb, well, I’m actually not completely finished with politics because Shanahan really does sound like Richard Nixon when he tries to explain benching his quarterback with under two minutes to play on Sunday in Detroit.

Shanahan is a very good football coach and, in fact, the Redskins are clearly better this year in large part because of his presence. They’re also better because of McNabb’s presence; PLEASE don’t cite statistics to me. McNabb’s a player. Is he an elite quarterback ala Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Brett Favre when healthy and not sending text messages he shouldn’t be sending? No. Those are first ballot, no-brainer Hall of Fame guys. Drew Brees may get there or he may not. McNabb is a full level down but he’s been very good and he’s still in the top half of NFL quarterbacks—which is why I thought Andy Reid was nuts to trade him within the division. It’s already cost him one game and may cost him another a week from Monday.

Shanahan took McNabb out because he was angry that he’d made a poor decision when throwing an interception and he was hoping Rex Grossman might, somehow (having not taken a snap all season) get lucky and put together a drive so Shanahan would look like a genius. Instead, he looked like a dope because the immobile Grossman was instantly sacked, fumbled and gave up a game-clinching touchdown. One play, end of story.

All Shanahan had to do afterwards was say, “I got upset with Donovan, I took a gamble and it backfired. I made a mistake.”

If he says that it’s a one-day story. Coaches make mistakes in the heat of the game all the time just like players do and officials do. They’re human. But Shanahan isn’t built to admit mistakes. He’s MIKE SHANAHAN and he’s never wrong. So, he first came out with some hoo-ha about McNabb not knowing the two minute terminology. No one bought that for a second. The next day it was about his cardiovascular ability to call two plays at once. Oh, and he was injured too; might not have played Sunday. Except he’d spent 58 minutes dodging the Lions rush because the Redskins offensive line STILL isn’t any good and all of a sudden he was injured? Please. Shanahan did everything but say, “I am not a crook.”

He’s not. But he IS a liar and a raging egomaniac. That said, if McNabb plays well enough for the Redskins to beat the Eagles, everyone in Washington will forgive him. If I’m McNabb, regardless of what happens the rest of the season, I’m on the first bus (okay, chartered airplane) out of town when the season’s over.

Moss doesn’t really deserve any space here because he’s a jerk and, at this point in time, he’s not that good a football player anymore. That’s why Bill Belichick was willing to let him go—talk about a steal, he got a third round pick for him and the Vikings got an embarrassing tirade aimed at some poor guy feeding the team in return—and why the Vikings didn’t put up with his insufferable behavior.

What got me this morning was hearing Chris Carter—or “CC,” as he’s known to the morning pitchmen—saying this: “Randy Moss is a man of principal.” Really, seriously? Here’s what’s more accurate: He’s a jerk who once upon a time could REALLY play. “CC,” also said Moss just can’t tolerate coaches who are ‘wishy-washy,’ and ‘don’t take responsibility when things go bad.’ You can say anything you want about Bill Belichick but wishy-washy? Doesn’t step up when things go bad? One of the morning PM’s (guess which one) acted like Carter had just found a cure for cancer after this, ‘analysis.’ My God. While I’m at my ESPN-bashing it was amazing to see one of the Hasselbeck’s (Elizabeth perhaps?) actually claiming that ‘the Shanahan’s,’ weren’t happy with McNabb’s practice habits. Gee, wonder where he heard that—as if it is at all relevant. Is there ANYONE in the NFL these ESPN guys won’t be apologists for?

And, briefly on Tiger Woods and number one: It REALLY doesn’t matter. The World Rankings are bogus the way they’re calculated and all that matters is when Woods wins his next major. If he wins in Malaysia this week and goes back to No. 1, that’s fine. There should also be a rule that you can’t be No. 1 in the world unless you’ve won at least one major.

Last, but certainly not least: Sparky Anderson. I won’t claim to know him well but I spent a lot of time with him in 1992 when I was writing my first baseball book, “Play Ball.” Sparky was a modern-day Casey Stengel: a great manager; he won World Series in both leagues and managed two of the great teams of the last 50 years: the ’75 and ’76 Reds and the ’84 Tigers who started 35-5 and never looked back.

Sparky loved to tell stories, one of the things that makes it even sadder that he’s dealing with dementia at the age of 76. He was funny and he loved having people sit around his office so he could entertain them. In that sense he was a bit like Tommy Lasorda but Lasorda had a mean streak Sparky never had. In fact, Sparky liked going out of his way to point out good things about people.

Early in the ’92 season the Tigers came to Baltimore for a four game series and got swept, which turned out to be the beginning of an awful season. I had met Sparky during spring training and we had agreed to get together that weekend. When I walked in to his office Friday night, I wondered if he’d remember. He did. “How about two o’clock tomorrow,” he said. That early for a 7 o’clock game I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “You said you wanted some time, right?”

He was there right on the dot of 2 o’clock and talked for almost three hours. One person he brought up during the conversation was Johnny Oates, who was managing the Orioles.

“That kid, (Sparky called almost everyone kid) is a hell of a manager and a hell of a guy,” he said. “He had us way down last night. He’s got a young team, they probably want to pile it on. He wouldn’t do it. He’s up 8-1, he’s not running anybody, he’s just playing to get the game over. That’s a pro. He’s one of the good ones.”

I was lucky enough to get to know Johnny Oates quite well that season. He WAS a hell of a guy. And a good manager. Sparky was also a hell of a manager and one of the true good guys.

*Updated* This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man, 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.  This week the topics included the Redskins situation, including Shanahan's Nixonian posturing along with what happens next with McNabb, then we moved on to Ralph Friedgen and the circumstances at Maryland, before finishing with brief talk on the Duke-Navy football game last Saturday.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also joined The Gas Man in the normal 8:25 ET timeslot on Wednesday.  This week we discussed The World Series, the state of baseball in America including how the start times dictate how many kids watch the games, this weekends golf tournament in Shanghai including Tiger Woods, and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


On Thursday morning, I joined Tony Kornheiser on his newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my normal 11:05 ET timeslot. This week we talked family, Ralph Friedgen's job status, the Notre Dame situations and Tiger Woods at this weeks tournament in Shanghai.

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

A week of joy and tragedy keeps all in perspective

Last week was one of those times in my life where I was reminded—again—that getting all wound up about the horrors of The BCS or Dan Snyder or ESPN or even NPR—is perfectly okay as long as all of us (myself included) remember that none of them are life and death issues.

I saw new life up close and personal last week and it was an extraordinary experience as any parent can certainly attest.

One day later I read in detail about the death of a 20-year-old Notre Dame junior and, even as the details continue to trickle out very slowly, remain stunned and shocked by how Declan Sullivan died.

I also learned of the death of a good friend, another needless death that leaves me with a feeling of terrible sadness.

The incomparably good news, of course, was the birth of Jane Blythe Feinstein late on Tuesday night. Men always joke about lucky we are to not have to give birth but it really isn’t a joke. I think I’m a fairly self-aware person and I know for SURE I could not have gone through what my wife Christine went through last Tuesday. Of course, as she so eloquently said on Wednesday morning, “I’d go through it 1,000 more times if this (Jane) was the final result.”

The best line of the brutally long day—16 hours of labor before the c-section—came from Chris’s doctor, Dena Kleinerman, who looked at me when it was becoming apparent a c-section was going to be necessary and said: “You need to go eat something. I’m not saying this because I care about you but because I don’t need you passing out in the delivery room.”

Jane came into the world with a full head of light brown hair—almost exactly like I did. In fact, my father’s first comment when he saw me was, “he needs a haircut.” One of his last comments to me was, “you need a haircut.” Some things really DO never change. Jane arrived kicking her legs and waving her arms. Truly her father’s daughter.

There’s no happier moment in a parent’s life than the birth of a child. I’ve been fortunate enough to have three now and, as with all parents, I fell completely in love with each of my children the instant I first saw them. Which is one of many reasons why I can’t think of Declan Sullivan without thinking about his parents. I can’t even imagine what that phone call was like. I wonder who at Notre Dame made the call and what in the world they said. “I’m terribly sorry, your son is dead because no one thought to get him out of a hydraulic lift in winds gusting to 50 miles per hour?”

I have no desire to pick on Notre Dame right now. I can’t imagine what the players are feeling or how the student body feels. When I was in college a good friend’s girlfriend was murdered and I can remember the entire campus being engulfed in an almost indescribable feeling of grief. I’m sure it is very much like that at Notre Dame this week.

That said, the questions are unavoidable. It is clear from his tweets that Sullivan was aware before he went up on the lift to tape football practice that the winds were frighteningly high. Once he got up there he was, to use his word, ‘terrified,’ clearly beyond belief given the ‘holy ----, holy ----,’ that he repeated in his tweet just a few minutes before he died.

Did Sullivan ask anyone about not going up there in the wind? If he did and someone told him to go up anyway, this is a tragedy that goes beyond being a horrible accident. Even if he didn’t, even if he felt he had to suck it up and go up there, where were the adults? Apparently the scissor-lift is not supposed to be operated in winds over 28 miles per hour. That’s a pretty specific number that one would guess is based on testing. It is pretty clear that this wasn’t a borderline call since there had been serious wind warnings posted throughout the Midwest that day.

There were also reports that the team continued to practice after the accident. When he finally spoke about what happened on Saturday evening after Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa, Coach Brian Kelly said practice had continued—for a while. His explanation was he wanted to keep the players away from the accident and he left assistants in charge while he went to see how badly Sullivan had been hurt. He said when he returned, he called the team to midfield, told them what had occurred and sent them inside.

I’m willing to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt if only because he IS the father of three kids and I’m sure when he got there, he was told right away how serious the situation was. I know enough about good trainers and EMT’s to know that they almost certainly told Kelly that Sullivan wasn’t likely to survive. I can’t imagine ANYONE not being brought up short by something like that. I would feel better if Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick hadn’t gone right away into lawyer mode in making himself the school’s spokesman for the next three days. As far as I know, Tim Collins, the video coordinator at Notre Dame for the past 20 years hasn’t spoken publicly about this yet. No doubt he’s being kept under wraps by Swarbrick and Notre Dame’s lawyers.

Other video coordinators around the country have talked about how respected Collins is within their community. On Saturday, John McGuire, Navy’s long-time video coordinator, who I trust implicitly, said the same thing. “He’s a good guy and a responsible guy,” McGuire said.

He didn’t need to complete the thought for me to wonder if that was so how did Sullivan end up on that scissor-lift? Of course Collins is the only one who can really answer that question. The BEST case scenario for Collins and Notre Dame is that Sullivan just went up there on his own (even though terrified) and no one thought to stop him. That is a pretty awful best case scenario.

There is no best-case scenario for what happened to my friend Bill Shannon. Unless you are part of The New York baseball community or sportswriting fraternity, you probably don’t know Bill. He worked for UPI for years and was also one of the most respected official scorers in baseball, working games at both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium and then Citi Field. Beyond that, Bill was the classic hale fellow well met. He always had a kind—and often funny word—for everyone and was very good at everything he did.

He was also his 92-year-old mother’s caretaker and lived with her in New Jersey. Bill’s mom had dementia. Last week, she got up early one morning and sat down in a chair and lit a cigarette. Then she apparently forgot about it. Bill, who was upstairs sleeping (he worked most nights) never got out of the house as it burned down. His mom did.

I heard someone on a radio show this morning refer to the Redskins loss in Detroit on Sunday as, “tragic.” I almost drove off the road. Tragedy is Declan Sullivan and Bill Shannon. Pure joy is the birth of your child.

Washington Post article -- Terps may have saved Ralph Friedgen's job, if Maryland fans care to notice

Here is my column that's running at The Washington Post --------

College football seasons seem to fly by in instants. One minute teams are sweating in the August heat; seemingly the next, they are wondering about wind chill factors.

Eight weeks ago, on a warm Labor Day afternoon in Baltimore, the Maryland football team ran through the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium surrounded by questions. After a horrific 2-10 season put Coach Ralph Friedgen's future in serious jeopardy last fall, Terrapins football fans (a rapidly dwindling number, it seems) wondered if Friedgen would still be the coach at his alma mater when the snow began flying this winter.

That question seems to have been answered: Friedgen isn't going anywhere. His team is 6-2 and has clinched a bowl berth. They are actually contending in the ACC's Atlantic Division, which may not be the same as contending in the SEC West or the Big 12 South but is nonetheless a step forward. The Terrapins began their season with little clue about how much better they would be.

They won that Labor Day game against Navy, 17-14 in spite of giving up 485 yards. Since then, their improvement has been steady though not spectacular. Navy is still the only team with a winning record Maryland has beaten. The other five victims - Morgan State (a truly bad division I-AA team); Florida International; Duke; Boston College and Wake Forest - are a combined 13-26. West Virginia and Clemson, the teams the Terrapins have lost to, haven't exactly been world-beaters: they're a combined 9-7.

For this group of players and coaches though, none of that matters. After humiliating the Demon Deacons 62-14, Maryland can now focus on achieving goals almost no one thought possible when the season began

Click here for the rest of the column: Terps may have saved Ralph Friedgen's job, if Maryland fans care to notice