December 31, 2009

Each year Gene Collier, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, awards prizes for the worst clichés heard this year uttered by unconscious sports reporters. “As the calendar year expires faster than a 10-point Steelers lead in the fourth quarter, we are compelled by linguistic tradition not only to unload a year’s worth of scorn on the worst sports clichés of 2009, but to award the 26th annual Trite Trophy, live, right here, at the fabulous Post-Gazette Pavilion (East, 2nd floor, rear).
The Trite Trophy, in case you’ve successfully avoided it in the last quarter-century, and That’s A Big Play by you, dishonors the absolute worst of sportspeak, the sorriest construction available to the widest audience of defenseless consumers in the past 12 months. The Trite Trophy, as well as its elaborate year-end presentation (a mild-mannered sports column posing as an overwrought and yet somehow legitimate etymological commentary) persists, and persists, and persists in the hope that by singling out ubiquitous nonsense like Put Points On The Scoreboard (where the hell else would you put ’em?), we can rid the language of hapless, feckless, tedious usage.
Oh yeah, I’ve got problems.
We’ll start with a few clichés that might not be On The Short List, but are certainly In The Discussion.
In The Discussion, by the way, has emerged as not only a viable cliché, but as some ephemeral holding area for teams who probably aren’t going to win
anything, but can still be talked about without getting yourself mocked. The Steelers probably aren’t going to the playoffs, but yes, they’re In The Discussion, which could end by 4 p.m. today.
Right. End Of Discussion.
Take the twin sons of fumble, the ancient verb used to describe a ball carrier losing control of The Rock — He Coughs It Up, born three minutes before He Put It On The Ground. He Coughs It Up is a former Trite Trophy winner, but while no one outside of teenaged boys would want to see someone actually cough up a football, I would like to see someone Get To The Next Level Of The Defense, stop, and just bend over and put it on the ground.
But before the discussion Gets Too Far Down the Road, I’d like to Take A Moment (where?) to acknowledge some clichés which, were they eligible to win the Trite Trophy, would own this column like Tiger Woods owns the checkout line.
At the end of the day, At The End Of The Day might have won the past 10 of these things, almost from the minute it replaced When It’s All Said And Done
somewhere around the turn of the century. Alas, this column has standards, and low as they are, the Trite remains off limits to clichés that either do not spring from or are not specific to sports. The same sad fate has attached itself to Moving Forward, a ridiculous construction that has metastasized in formal and semi-formal speech and can be removed approximately 100 percent of the time without changing the meaning of any sentence.
“We’d like to add depth to our bench, moving forward.”
See? Just take those last two words off that sentence, and save everyone a few seconds.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is a big “moving forward” guy, but I guess when you’re running a franchise that’s so often moving sideways or moving backward, you’d better emphasize the intended direction.
Moving Forward would win Trites if I allowed it, and so would Not So Much. For pity’s sake, stop with the Not So Much, as in “George Washington was a
great president, Richard Nixon (slight pause), Not So Much.” But at the end of the day, At The End Of The Day is an Absolute Monster of a cliché, a
Five-Tool Player that never fails to annoy. Moving Forward (slight pause) Not So Much.
Critics might note that the only two-time winner of the Trite, the still hideously robust It Is What It Is, enjoys universal use, which is true. But in the nonexistent research department here at Trite hindquarters (which barely exists itself), they’re under the impression that It Is What It Is sprang from sports and thereby qualifies under that equally arbitrary guideline.
It Is What It Is, the Archie Griffin of the Trite Trophy, persists in its perfect uselessness despite the occasionally goofy attempt to alter its application, as when former New England Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison, explaining the dirty play that occurred in pileups during his career, recently told a radio host, “It Is What It Was.”
Many tremendously annoying clichés never make the coveted list of finalists despite their unquestioned stature, even if they have a Career Year (always
preferable to a Year Career). Another pervasive performance came in 2009 for The Big Tight End, despite the fact that you’ve got to go all the way back past freshman football to find The Small Tight End. There’s as much point in identifying the Big Tight End as saying The Big Tackle. Unless there’s a Little Tackle  that could be out there somewhere, shut up about it.
Ditto Flat Out.
Stop telling me that this guy can Flat Out Hit, or that guy can Flat Out Fly, or that guy can Flat Out Play center field. Until I see some construction like
Yo-Yo Ma can Flat Out Bow, cease and desist on all Flat Out references as they Flat Out Irritate.
The same for Went Yard. He homered, or he hit a homer, is fine, even He Went Downtown (not preferred, as it is confused with the place where people
Launch A 3), but please, he Went Yard? You know what Neil Armstrong did? He Went Moon.
We’ve Got To Get A Break In for our sponsors (none), but I don’t want to leave Rodney Harrison Twisting In The Wind as the purported only person all year
who said something comic enough to be included in this annual harangue. I’m not Throwing Him Under The Bus, nor am I Kicking Him To The Curb (the twin sons of Making Him A Scapegoat, or as a former Philadelphia Phillies manager once said, “Don’t make me your scrapgoat”). Plenty of people forced to talk for a living said plenty of ludicrous things in 2009, which Goes With The Territory.
NFL analyst and former coach Herm (You Play To Win The Game) Edwards said of Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzales, “He’s like Seven Eleven; he’s
never closed and he’s always open.” Uh-huh, that’s what “never closed” means — always open, and it’s not to be confused with Steelers safety Ty Carter, who
just never closes.
On a receiver, or for that matter, a ball-carrier. Get it? Is this thing on?
But while Edwards’ contribution was merely redundant, Clark Kellogg’s observation about then-Oklahoma stud Blake Griffin was practically metaphysical:
“That’s 250 pounds of muscle, which weighs more than 250 pounds of non-muscle.”
Man, that’s heavy.
Probably, 250 pounds of muscle weighs more than 250 pounds of non-anything.
As for mind-bending arithmetic, you couldn’t beat Dan Dierdorf’s “You can count the winning percentage of teams that lose the turnover battle on one hand.”
Still, for bent language no one will top Bruce Bernstein’s description of solid NBA defense on ESPN as “creating great shot contestment.”
This is generally the point in the big show where we award the annual mixologist medal, given the person who launches one cliché that lands in another, as when former Steeler Larry Foote once said of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, “It’s a chess match out there and he’s always ahead of the 8-ball.”
There was a refreshing paucity of mixology in 2009, so much so that the Mixologist Medal falls to the otherwise uber-articulate Randy Baumann of the ‘DVE Morning Show fame. It was Baumann, in a conversation with hockey analysts Phil Bourque (the old 2-niner, even though no one calls Marc-Andre Fleury the new 2-niner), who asked if the Penguins power play “has been the thorn in our heel.”
Thorn In The Side is a cliché, maybe even Thorn In The Paw, and definitely Achilles Heel has been a cliché going all the way back to Homer, and certainly predating Marge, Bart and Lisa. But Thorn In Our Heel (slight pause) Not So Much. The power play in question, technically, actually has a decent chance of become A Hatchet In Our Temple.
Now before we introduce our finalists and our 2009 Trite winner (please keep your seats!), we need to recognize some clichés that really Got The Job Done
this year; I mean They Took Care Of Business, and the many clichés who are Just Not Getting It Done, so many of whom are with us tonight:
Must Win had a great fall, and I think a lot of us came to realize that a Must Win game occurs not only in an Elimination Game or when you’re involved in
Major Bowl Implications, but when you’re playing the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders and/or the Cleveland Browns, as those are game you Must
Win if going to be In The Discussion Come Playoff Time.
Vertical, another great job. Teams trying to Stretch The Field Vertically or simply trying to Go Vertical were evident, even though lengthwise is the only
possible outcome. If you throw it straight up, you’ll only invite a Pick Six. Also, if you Go Vertical, you won’t likely Get To The Edge, much less The Perimeter, try as you might to Get Someone In Space. A lot of teams trying to Go Vertical are, in fact, Trying To Do Too Much.
Another fine performance as well by Signature Win, originally what teams who were On The Bubble for inclusion in the NCAA basketball tournament were so desperate to attain, but now just about any victory of even marginal significance is said to be a signature win. I tuned into the radio broadcast of Carolina’s Sunday night victory against Minnesota last week, only to find that Panthers coach John Fox had just gotten his signature win.
He’s 6-8.
That must be the NFL’s Poor Penmanship Division South.
Survived A Scare, always In The Hunt when it comes to the Trite, had an Off Year, probably because teams around here were more often Scared To Death, with the Steelers blowing fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses and Pitt surrendering a 31-10 lead on the way to a 45-44 loss at home to Cincinnati.
Good thing that wasn’t a Trap Game.
Finally a Shout Out to Nose For The Football, Clock It (formerly Spike It), Clock Management, Milk The Clock (and when making macaroni and cheese
from scratch, make sure you Clock The Milk), Upon Further Review (It’s only reviewed once, isn’t it? There’s no further review.), Dribble Drive, He Brings
A Lot To The Table (he’s 340 pounds, looks like He Takes A Lot From The Table), Wildcat Package, That’s Not Me (no, that was some other guy going
90 mph in a 35), Control Their Own Destiny, Great Hand-Eye Coordination (I guess soccer players have great foot-eye coordination), He Came In
Untouched, Under The Radar, Buy Some Time, Hometown Discount, Man Up, Body Of Work, Empty Set, Difference-Maker, and the world’s greatest living
cliché, Red Zone, once a modest cliché, eventually a deodorant, now a burgeoning cable channel, and soon to be a major motion picture.
OK then, without further Jet Blue (we’ll get sponsored around here yet), the finalists for the 2009 Trite Trophy, dishonoring the worst sports cliché of the year.
Our third runner-up: Shy Of The First Down.
First time as a finalist for ancient SOTFD, mostly because the broadcasters who’ll say that a play has ended short of the first down are now fewer than the
number of Pitt fans who have signed up for the Brake Job Classic. Again, there’s no need to be shy of the first down marker. He’s pretty oblivious, and
actually, I hear, a very nice guy.
Our second runner-up: It Depends On The Spot.
Always has, always will. If the ball comes up Shy Of The First Down, you can be pretty sure it’s not a first down. I’d love to hear an announcer say, just once, “The Spot Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With It!”
Our first runner-up: Take A Shot Down The Field.
This has somehow replaced Throw Long and/or Throw Deep and certainly obliterated The Long Bomb. Teams that are constantly throwing underneath the coverage have now annoyed broadcasters to the point where they almost say this explosively, “Bob, they’ve got to Take A Shot Down The Field.” I thought that was just in hunting.
And now for the moment several dozen of you have long awaited, I mean aside from the end of this column, (no flash photography), the winner of the 26th annual Trite Trophy: Dial Up A Blitz.
A minor nuisance when this football season started, Dial Up A Blitz seemingly Came From Nowhere to take the Trite with its utter pointlessness and tireless
placement by players, coaches, broadcasters, writers and fans alike. Somewhere, somehow, defensive coordinators lost the ability to just call a blitz, order a blitz, signal a blitz, send in a blitz or even just blitz. They suddenly were forced to Dial Up A Blitz.
It’s a beauty of a cliche, and it meets are ageless criteria: it’s meaningless, it’s everywhere, and I really, really hate it. It’s got multiple malignancies, such as the matter of when you do dial, whom do you call? Hello, Blitztown, Trevor speaking, is this for pick up or delivery? Second, who dials anything any more? I mean as of, like, 1990, my grandmother and the Yanomamo Tribe of deepest Venezuela were the only people that still had that technology.
I believe the Yanomamo are now texting frequently, if not tweeting, unless that’s the troupials, the national bird of Venezuela. You know what they say about troupials? They can flat-out fly.”


Tom Knott, of the DC Times saidthat, “It was the year of the gossip in sports, from the love interests of Alex Rodriguez to the same with Tiger Woods.
And Shaquille O’Neal, too.
Fueling the interest is the new media of the Internet.
Members of the new media can be anyone clutching a cell phone, as swimmer Michael Phelps learned to his embarrassment in February. The shot of Phelps taking a hit from a bong surfaced on the Internet before it spilled into the mainstream press and became an international incident.
That should be a lesson to those high-profile athletes who booze it up in strip clubs, attend wild parties or engage in behavior that would disappoint their
employers, family and fans.
Quarterback Matt Leinart, once the toast of college football, solidified his playboy reputation after photographs of him and four lovelies doing beer-bong hits in a hot tub were posted on the Internet last year.
It is an unruly, new media world, driven not by a public’s right to know but by the public’s desire to pry into the private lives of the rich and famous
That interest used to be limited to Hollywood types.
But as the tsunamilike fallout of Woods has shown, that interest is overtaking America’s sports figures.
Athletes always have engaged in unenviable activities, secure in the knowledge that those around them would look the other way.
The ink-stained wretches of yesteryear certainly did not bother to report on the late-night carousing of athletes.
That alliance contributed to the stunning success of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” which exposed the dirty linen of ballplayers in a way that never had been done.
The peek into Bouton’s 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros demythologized the so-called boys of summer.
These men had the same weaknesses as your neighbors, just better hand-eye coordination or stronger throwing arms.
Bouton, in a way, is the father of those who tap out the latest rumor, innuendo and celebrity coupling from the anonymity of their laptops.
It is not going away, this glut of the unseemly, not if the insatiable interest in the love conquests of Woods is an indication.
As news of Woods’ dalliances started to seep out, he became an instant search hit on Google.
And it was the Internet that packaged and shipped the story to the masses with a click.
A-Rod had a busy year as well, baseball being the least of it.
After being dumped by Madonna, the woman who contributed to the breakup of his marriage, A-Rod was linked to one of “The Real Housewives of New
York City” before landing in and out of the arms of Kate Hudson.
His next love interest no doubt will be chronicled in rich detail, in a way that reduces his occupation to a footnote.
The unmanageable dimension of the new media prompted a public-relations misstep from Nike, usually ever-savvy in marketing its brand.
The dustup came about after a no-name college player was caught on video dunking on LeBron during a pickup game at a skills camp sponsored by Nike last summer.
A Nike representative confiscated the videos, claiming it was company policy, but not before news of the dunk spread on the Internet, making both James and Nike look small.
Predictably enough, a video showing the dunk eventually made it to the Internet, only to disappoint viewers because of its pedestrian nature.
As it turns out, the dunk was far more compelling as an urban legend than in actuality. And that was made so in part by Nike’s heavy-handedness, which lent an importance to the play that was clearly overstated and no threat to the reputation of the sacred one.
That is the power of the new media. It is barreling down on us all.
There is another Internet shot of Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen holding hands.
They, of course, are being sued by two photographers who claim the couple’s bodyguards shot at them.”

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe is looking forward to the Patriots doing well in the playoffs.                                                                                                                        
 “Ten or 11 days from today, the Patriots will return to the NFL playoffs. It will be New England’s first postseason game since (gulp) . . . Feb. 3, 2008.
Glendale, Arizona.
Super Bowl XLII.
Weird, isn’t it? It feels like it’s been a million years since the pursuit of perfection and Arlen Specter.
So much has changed. When the Patriots last played a postseason game, the Red Sox were reigning world champs, Matt Cassel was making minimum NFL
wage, Plaxico Burress was a free man, and Bob Lobel was anchoring sports on Channel 4.
Hard to believe it’s been less than two years.
Now the Patriots are back in the tournament, and today I am going to engage in an activity that Bill Belichick hates.
I am going to look past this weekend’s meaningless game against the Houston Texans.
Worse, I am going to vault straight into the second round of the playoffs.
No one is allowed to say it, but we all know the Patriots are going to win Game 1 at home on Wild Card Weekend. The larger question is: Would you rather
go to Indianapolis or San Diego for Round 2?
Buoyed by a nifty turnaround against NFL punching bags (a lot of bad teams in the league this year, no?) some Patriots fans dare to dream about a return to the Super Bowl, and we all know that means winning back-to-back games at San Diego and Indy.
Week 1’s game is already in the bag – even if the Ravens come to town with David Tyree and his Velcro helmet. Winning cold playoff games is Gillette’s
January jones. The Patriots have won 11 consecutive playoff games at home, seven at Gillette. The one and only time New England lost a playoff game at
home was on New Year’s Eve 1978, when Bum Phillips and the Houston Oilers crushed the Patriots, 31-14. That was the year Patriots coach Chuck
Fairbanks was booted from the sideline by owner Billy Sullivan after it was learned Fairbanks had taken a job at the University of Colorado.
As a playoff tandem, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 14-3 overall, 8-0 at Foxborough, 7-0 at Gillette. This season, the Patriots went 8-0 at the Razor,
winning by an average of 18.4 points. Does anyone really think the New York Jets can come here and beat Belichick and Brady in January?
Not a chance.
So we look ahead and we wonder whether the Patriots are capable of winning at Indy or San Diego.
This is a strange Patriots team. They’ve been unable to close out games on the road. They’ve struggled to find an identity. They’ve only recently established a running game. They’ve endured uncharacteristic locker room grumbling (remember Adalius Thomas?) and they’ve worked overtime showering love and attention on Randy Moss.
But it’s all coming together at the right time, and every team out there suddenly looks vulnerable. The Saints don’t look like the Saints who thrashed the Patriots that Monday night in November. The Vikings can’t beat the Bears. The Chargers are smokin’ hot, but still not as good as the Chargers of ’06, who couldn’t beat the Patriots in San Diego in January. The Colts just gave themselves a new challenge. In the wake of Sunday’s fiasco, the Colts know they must win the Super Bowl now or they will be forever scorned. The Patriots already know they can beat the Ponies at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So we sit here waiting for the tournament draw and wonder whether the Patriots can make a run. Their postgame comportment was encouraging Sunday after clinching the pathetic AFC East yet again. None of the players sprayed champagne, wore a 12-pack box on their head, or danced to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.’’ The focus was on the future. They reminded us that the job is not done. It was all very Patriotlike.
We can’t begin to guess what the strategy will be at Reliant Stadium this weekend. Repeat after me: Belichick is “going to do what is best for his football team.’’
But deep down, the Hoodie knows what we all know, and that is this: The Patriots are wrapping up an uneven season that could have imploded under the weight of its own arrogance. But now things are coming together pretty nicely, and Kevin Garnett reminds us that “anything’s possible.’’
The 2009 Patriots have a chance to make a serious playoff run. They are not the best team – as they were in 2007 – but this time they might wind up being the team that nobody wants to play in January.”

Dick Heller of the DC Times isn’t unhappy seeing the New Year arrive. “Goodbyes of any sort can be painful, but not this one.
Get lost, 2009, and the sooner the better from a local sporting standpoint.
Pretty please.
This sicko year was almost an unmitigated disaster for those of us who pay attention, logically or otherwise, to the games people play.
The Redskins are 4-10 with two meaningless skirmishes left.
The Wizards were 19-63 for the 2008-09 season and stood, if that’s the word, at 10-17 through Christmas Day.
The Nationals, aka Gnats, were 59-103.
And I haven’t even mentioned Tiger Woods. I know he’s not local most of the time, but his “infidelities” could earn him a notorious seat alongside politicians in these parts who sometimes pay undue attention to voters of the opposite sex.
Sports journalists are supposed to be above such shenanigans – or so I thought until a columnist for another D.C. newspaper came clean, if that’s the word, this weekend about his past activities.
Hey, Wise guy, that’s more than we need to know.
The trend in print journalism these diminishing days runs toward analysis and commentary rather than the bare – oops, sorry – facts. But often the numbers themselves tell the story better than any amount of blathering.
So it is with Washington’s allegedly professional sports teams.
Failure, failure and more failure litter the landscape, which unfortunately is nothing new. Not hardly.
In regular-season play during the so-called oughts through Friday, the Redskins were 70-88 (a nonwinning percentage of .443), the Nationals 343-466 (.424) and the Wizards 318-447 (.416).
In other words, Loserville USA.
The Redskins haven’t won a Super Bowl since January 1992, the Senators/Nats a World Series since 1924 and the Bullets/Wizards an NBA championship since 1978.
OK, so the Capitals somehow have a winning regular-season record for the decade, but their total of Stanley Cup titles remains the same as Paris Hilton’s bag of Academy Awards. Besides, they play ice hockey, and if like me you didn’t grow up watching this sport, you’re not going to give a puck about it.
Or soccer, which means D.C. United’s collection of four Major League Soccer titles won’t exactly have you dancing in the streets.
So why bother to be a sports fan hereabouts?
Well, for one thing, it beats watching pols posture and lobbyists lobby – the other two major spectator sports in this capital of the western world.
And it’s more enjoyable than, say, paying taxes, visiting the dentist or watching businesses bite the dust.
In lieu of awaiting or expecting team success, we can always savor the exploits of our few superstars. It’s worth the price of admission, almost anyway, to see Ryan Zimmerman play third base, Alex Ovechkin skate toward a terrified goalkeeper or Gilbert Arenas drill a 3-pointer.
But what about the future? Well, we can always hope that…
Dan Snyder keeps his nose out of the way while Bruce Allen and possibly Mike Shanahan revive the Redskins.
The Lerners do the same while Nats president Stan Kasten, GM Mike Rizzo and Prospective Phenom Stephen Strasburg turn the Nats into a major league
Ted Leonsis, practically the prototype of an intelligent team owner, sees the Caps collect a Stanley Cup full of champagne and the Wizards return to
Don’t hold your breath, but it’s OK to cross your fingers.
In fact, you’d better.
Political slogans come and go, but hope springs eternal for Washington fandom. That’s why we keep our eyes peeled, pathetic past be damned.”

Dick then remembered a good man in the DC Times. “At RFK Stadium, the Washington Redskins bashed the hated Dallas Cowboys 26-3 to win the NFC
championship. At Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, the Miami Dolphins whipped the Steelers 21-17 to take the AFC title and run their seasonal record to 16-0.
Yet neither of these football showdowns was the most significant sports-related story on Dec. 31, 1972, at least from a national standpoint. Not even close.
About 9:23 p.m., as Redskins fans were beginning celebrations throughout the area, a plane carrying relief supplies for thousands of hurricane victims from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua crashed into the Atlantic Ocean minutes after taking off from San Juan.
Among the victims was Roberto Clemente, 38, a great baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates and just as great a humanitarian.
The right fielder’s numbers were the stuff of legend and Cooperstown. Over 18 seasons, he hit .317 with exactly 3,000 hits, was selected for the National
League All-Star team 12 times, won 12 Gold Gloves with the help of an incredible throwing arm, played on two World Series winners (1960, 1971) and collected four batting titles.
But above and beyond his skills between the white lines, Clemente was an extremely proud man who valued his life and those of others. Thus it was that he sprang into action – and toward death – that miserable December after a temblor killed thousands and left many more homeless and starving in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
Long involved in charitable endeavors, the ballplayer learned that aid packages on the first three relief flights had been diverted by the corrupt regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza. Bobby Clemente, as he was still called by some old-fashioned baseball writers, decided to accompany the fourth flight, hoping his presence would deter the grafters. But the plane he chartered had a history of mechanical problems and was overloaded by 5,000 pounds. These bad omens proved tragically omniscient.
Others aboard included plane owner Arthur Rivera, pilot Jerry Hill and two friends of Clemente’s who volunteered to help. None survived, nor were their
bodies ever recovered.
At 9:20, the plane was cleared for takeoff and lumbered into the air. One eyewitness was Juan Reyes, a security official at the San Juan airport.
“The plane didn’t seem to have the necessary speed to take off,” Reyes was quoted in “Clemente,” a 2006 biography by David Mariniss. “By the sound of the engine, it looked like it was making much effort.”
As the DC-7 struggled aloft, airport controller Gary Cleaveland noticed that the craft was no more than 200 feet above water as it banked to the left and over the ocean.
“Tower, this is 500 alpha echo coming back around,” pilot Hill’s voice sputtered weakly in Cleaveland’s headset.
Failing to understand the transmission, Cleaveland replied, “Say again.”
There was only silence. Then the plane’s image disappeared from the tower’s radar screen.
In San Juan and elsewhere, people who knew Clemente or knew of him soon went into shock at the news. Atop Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, lights blazed a sad message: “Adios, Amigo Roberto.” Mayor Peter Flaherty declared a week of mourning. In Puerto Rico, thousands of people clogged streets around the home of widow Vera Clemente and the couple’s three sons. Military police stood at attention near the doorway. Flags of the United States and Puerto Rico stood at half-staff.
The Hall of Fame subsequently waived its five-year waiting period for players whose careers had ended, and Clemente was inducted during the summer of
1974 – the first Latin American so honored. The Pirates retired his No. 21 uniform and erected a statue of him outside Three Rivers Stadium. Other honors accumulated for years to come.
“That night on which Roberto Clemente left us physically, his immortality began,” Puerto Rican writer Elliott Castro said, but thousands of countrymen refused to believe it. At the time, many waited on the shore of Pinones Beach near San Juan in the hours after the crash, expecting Roberto to come walking out of the sea.
It never happened, of course. A man so admired and revered by so many was gone forever.”


December 28, 2009

Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Boston Globe about all of the people who walked on the Fenway turf. “Joe Namath and Mick Jagger played Fenway Park. So did Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the E Street Band.
Oh, and that mop-top from Liverpool who used to be in a band known as the Beatles? Yes, Paul McCartney played Fenway, too.
It’s a very big deal, this Bruins-Flyers game at Fenway New Year’s Day. But it would be a mistake to think that the ballpark has been dedicated solely to hits, runs, and errors. Fenway was home of the Boston Patriots from 1963-68 and it has been a summer concert mecca since John Henry and friends welcomed “The Boss’’ in September 2003. Basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and boxing have also been featured in the lyric little bandbox.
Every New England school child knows that Fenway opened in 1912, just a few days after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. Boston Globe accounts of the first big-league game at the new ballpark were buried on Page One.
Religious and patriotic services, drawing as many as 20,000 people, were held at Fenway in 1916. Eamon de Valera, the future leader of Ireland, spoke to 40,000 followers in 1919.
World Wars I and II touched everything in America, and Fenway was no exception. Following the World War I armistice, a couple of months after Babe Ruth’s Red Sox won the 1918 World Series, there was a military Mass at Fenway honoring New England’s war dead. On Nov. 4, 1944, three days before his final election, President Roosevelt delivered a campaign speech in front of 40,000 supporters at Fenway, saying, “Today, in this war, our fine boys are fighting magnificently all over the world . . .’’
FDR’s warm-up acts included Orson Welles and Frank Sinatra. “Old Blue Eyes’’ (he was “Young Blue Eyes’’ back then) sang the national anthem and came back out to address the crowd after the president departed.
Roosevelt died five months later, one day after Jackie Robinson’s phony tryout at Fenway.
Long before anyone thought about playing NHL games in outdoor ballparks, Fenway served as a professional and collegiate gridiron. The NFL’s Boston
Redskins played home games at Fenway for four seasons in the mid 1930s. When the Redskins moved to Washington, the Boston Yanks played at Fenway from 1944-48. (The Yanks moved to New York, Dallas, and Baltimore before they became the Indianapolis Colts.)
College gridders also played on Jersey Street. Boston College and Holy Cross jousted 14 times at Fenway, including the Crusaders’ shocking 55-12 victory in 1942, hours before 492 people died at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in downtown Boston. Frank Leahy’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat Dartmouth,
64-0, before a crowd of 38,167 at Fenway in 1944. Iconic baseball broadcaster Vin Scully says his breakthrough gig was a bone-cold Fenway rooftop broadcast of Boston University – featuring Harry Agganis – against Maryland in November 1949.
Tom Yawkey banished football in the late ’50s and early ’60s because he wanted to protect the grass for baseball, but when Red Sox attendance plummeted, Yawkey welcomed the four-year-old Patriots to Fenway in 1963.
“We had played at BU and that was appreciated,’’ says Gino Cappelletti. “But once we got to Fenway Park, it immediately gave us a feeling of having arrived.’’
The Green Monster was not a friend to football. Fenway’s football configuration put one end zone on the third base line and the other in front of the bullpens.
Gil Santos called the games from a makeshift booth atop the first base grandstand and temporary stands were erected in front of the Monster. Both benches were initially situated in front of the temporary stands to avoid blocking the sightlines of fans sitting behind the first base dugout.
“Funny thing about those side-by-side benches,’’ says Cappelletti. “During the games, we would get closer and closer to the other team and start
eavesdropping. I remember one game when we heard [Chiefs coach] Hank Stram calling for a screen pass. The next year, they put us over on the first base side.’’
A receiver/placekicker, Cappelletti booted a lot of footballs into the Fenway stands.
“The bullpens in right were pretty close to the end zone so most of my extra points went over the bullpens and into the bleachers,’’ he recalls.
Fans were allowed to mingle with players on the field after games and it was on the Fenway diamond that Tip O’Neill cornered Buffalo quarterback Jack
Kemp and suggested Kemp run for political office. The Patriots left Fenway for BC’s Alumni Stadium in 1969.
There was lacrosse on the Fenway lawn almost 100 years ago. Joseph Lannin, who owned the Sox before the immortal Harry Frazee, was a lacrosse buff
and, according to Richard Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum at TD Garden, “Lannin played games with the Boston Lacrosse Club on the Fenway
diamond, using the same alignment that the Bruins are using for hockey at Fenway.’’
There was a New York-Boston soccer match at Fenway in 1931 and Yawkey allowed the Boston Beacons of the NASL to use Fenway as a home field in
According to Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani, the ballpark was home to boxing matches between 1919 and 1956. State auditor Joe DeNucci, once a highly ranked middleweight, remembers seeing Tony DeMarco beat Vince Martinez at Fenway in 1956.
“Fenway was great for boxing,’’ says DeNucci. “The way I remember it, the ring was between the pitching mound and second base and they put chairs out in the infield.’’
Steel-cage wrestling? It was staged at Fenway in 1968.
There’s no record of the Celtics playing at Fenway, but in 1954, the Harlem Globetrotters beat the George Mikan All-Stars, 61-41, in front of 13,344 at
Fenway Park. The Boston Whirlwinds beat the House of David, 47-46, in the undercard game.
Hundreds of artists and bands have performed at Fenway before Red Sox games. The Boston Pops played anthems there and during the recent championship run, Sox choreographer Charles Steinberg got into the Way-Back Machine and found the Cowsills and the Kingston Trio to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’
While the Sox were beating the Indians in the 2007 American League Championship Series, Dr. Charles famously featured the Dropkick Murphys and dozens of Irish step dancers in the center-field triangle.
Music without baseball is another matter. The Newport Jazz Festival was held at Fenway in 1973, but the Sox home field didn’t take hold as a concert venue
until Henry bought the team in 2002. Henry is a frustrated guitar man and quickly recognized Fenway’s draw as a rock theater (and another way to draw every dime possible out of the ballpark).
Bruce Springsteen was Henry’s leadoff hitter, playing two shows at Fenway in the summer of 2003. In subsequent seasons, The Boss was followed by Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Matthews Band, the Police, Neil Diamond, Phish, and Sir Paul. Phish followers created a predictable haze over the yard, but the Stones show made the greatest impression on the Fenway outfield. Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s stage was only slightly smaller than Logan’s Terminal A and the Sox had to re-sod the entire outfield after the Stones rolled out of Boston.
Now it’s ice time. We’ve already seen Bobby Orr, Milt Schmidt, and Ray Bourque gliding across the Fenway sheet and it’ll be hard to forget the sight of a Zamboni parked on the warning track in front of the Wall.”

Phil Rogers, of the ChiTrib, looked at some of the pitching staffs in MLB and rated them.
“Javier Vazquez’s return to New York brings with it a certain amount of intrigue. But it also underscores this point: The Yankees again will be the team to beat in 2010.

Good teams start with good starting pitching. And after trading for Vazquez and re-signing Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have more of it than any American
League team.

The group of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte and Vazquez matches up with the Giants’ top-heavy rotation led by Tim Lincecum, which last season held
hitters to a .234 average and struck out 8.2 per nine innings.

After the trades involving Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vazquez, I did a simple statistical analysis to rank the top rotations in the majors. I looked at only four starters per team, as few teams are set five across. They were rated off their 2009 performance on success (victories and ERA), durability (innings) and stuff (strikeouts per nine innings).

Here’s how the baker’s dozen of top rotations stacks up:

1. Yankees and Giants, tie: Vazquez’s transition back to the AL (and specifically to New York, where his ERA spiked to 4.91 in 2004) is a question. Injury risk is high, given an average age of 33.3 for Sabathia & Co. Lincecum and Matt Cain can challenge the Mariners’ tandem of Lee and Felix Hernandez and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter as the best in the majors. Rising prospect Madison Bumgarner could give the Giants a fierce top three once he arrives.

3. Phillies: Halladay should dominate in the National League. There’s depth but no clear-cut No. 2 among Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton. Hamels must shake off a disappointing 2009.

4. Cardinals and Rockies, tie: The key in St. Louis, as always, will be Carpenter’s health. Newcomer Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse provide depth. Can Jorge De La Rosa repeat his 2009 success for Colorado? That’s a key for a Rockies staff fronted by Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook.

6. Red Sox: If John Lackey pitches better than he did last year, the Red Sox could outperform all the teams listed ahead of them. They have an excellent 1-2 in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and depth in Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden.

7. Tigers: Max Scherzer nicely replaces Edwin Jackson, but the bottom of the rotation is a question mark. You also have to wonder how Justin Verlander will hold up after Jim Leyland used him like a modern-day Bob Gibson in 2009. But Verlander and Rick Porcello are a formidable 1-2.

8. Mariners and Cubs, tie: The Seattle outlook gets cloudy fast after Hernandez and Lee. Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith are keys. The Cubs are this high because Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells combined for a 3.40 ERA last season, but Lilly’s recovery from shoulder surgery is a flashing caution light.

10. Rays: Some see Tampa Bay as an also-ran because of the Yankees and Red Sox. Not true. In James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann and David Price,
the Rays have an upwardly mobile rotation. Those four average 26.3 years, making this the youngest collection of solid arms in the majors.

11. Braves: Atlanta is trying to win with pitching, as it did for so long behind the old Big Three. Tommy Hanson is as impressive as any baby-faced pitcher, and the Braves have depth, which was why they could trade Vazquez. But only Jair Jurrjens reached 200 innings last season.

12. White Sox: If Jake Peavy delivers 30 starts, this group should wind up better than this ranking. Few are mentally tougher than Mark Buehrle, and he sets the tone for John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Freddy Garcia is penciled in as the fifth starter, but Daniel Hudson could be an impact arm.

13. Angels: Lackey will be missed, but Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana are solid. Durability is a question; only Weaver and Saunders topped 150 innings.”

Steve Buckley, of the Boston Herald’s sports department, talked about how corny Doc Rivers was. “Doc Rivers remains the king of corny, old time
motivational techniques.
Remember, this is the man who, before the 2007-08 season, hired a Duck Boat to show Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen what happens in this town when you win a championship.
This is the man who introduced “ubuntu” as a modern-day version of Celtic Pride.
He is the man who trained a baby spotlight on a spare wall at the Celtics’ training facility in Waltham, the idea being that there was room on that wall for another championship banner.
Turns out the Celtics’ coach has another old time motivational technique, this one taking the form of a speech he delivers to his own kids. It involves Pierce, his captain, and a game that took place on Dec. 1, 2001, before Rivers was even coaching the Celtics.
“I use the players a lot when I speak to my kids about sports,” Rivers said. “And I always use Paul. I use the game, and I wasn’t here, when he had that game against New Jersey when he was 0-for-whatever and he ended up with 40 points.”
It was truly a spectacular game for Pierce that night at the Meadowlands to be specific, he was 1-for-16 in the first half for two points. And then came the
second half, and then overtime, with Pierce scoring 46 of his 48 points to power the Celtics to a 105-98 victory against the Nets.
Rivers loves to spin that game as an example of how a player can rise to the occasion . . . overcome adversity . . . dig a little deeper . . . go the distance. And so on.
But, really, you can just picture Doc’s kids rolling their eyes, right?
“I think they roll their eyes with all my speeches,” Rivers said.
But there’s an easy remedy to that problem: Instead of delivering the same old speech about that night in 2001, all Rivers has to do is come up with some new material.
He could use Pierce’s performance in the Celtics’ closer-than-it-should-have-been 103-94 victory against the Indiana Pacers last night at the Garden. On a
night when Kevin Garnett was a last-minute injury scratch, Pierce stumbled out of the gate to the tune of 0-for-10 shooting.
As Pierce would say, “The shots I was getting were good shots. I was just thinking it’s got to be a matter of time before they go in.”
The problem here is that Pierce was speaking those words to himself at halftime. And at the end of the third quarter. Incredibly, Pierce didn’t score a bucket until he rolled in a layup with 9:01 remaining in the fourth quarter
So what happens after that? Pierce gets hot, winds up with 21 points, and the Celtics win going away.
OK, so it’s not quite as dramatic as the 48-point game against the Nets after shooting 1-for-16 for two points in the first half.
Still, Pierce had a good enough comeback last night for it to serve as a reminder that Doc Rivers really has a nice touch for these cornball motivational speeches.
Kids everywhere take notice: If you’re down in the dumps, if you feel you just can’t get the job done, just look at what Paul Pierce did last night!!!
Really, folks, it’s pretty amazing.
“Shooters believe they can shoot,” Rivers said. “They can go 0-for-20 and they can think the odds are on their side. That’s the difference between an average player and a great player. The average player stops shooting and turns it into a bad game, and the great players are thinking after every miss the next one has to go in. It’s unshakeable confidence.”
For the record, Pierce, too, thinks about that 2001 game against the Nets.
The Jersey game.
“Now that,” said Pierce, “was unusual.”
OK, so last night’s effort gets the silver medal.
But Rivers gets fresh new material the next time he needs to make a speech to the kids.”

Phil Rogers, of the ChiTrib, is happy the Bradley is gone but is still in a “Cubbies Funk.” “How great of a game is baseball?

Nothing can kill it. Not a fixed World Series. Not mismanagement and neglect by generations of dilettante owners. Not recurring labor wars, even one that
wiped out a World Series. Not the NFL or MMA. Not even a trade such as the one the Cubs and Mariners made Friday.

Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva?

This deal isn’t even Broglio-for-Broglio, is it?

It’s a trade of one of the worst Cubs ever for the best batting practice pitcher in the game.

The 30-year-old Silva allowed opponent batting averages of .323 in 2009 and .331 in ’08. As the candid Jaime Navarro once said, surveying similar lines next to his name, “I’d be having a great year if I was a hitter.”

Jim Hendry, the architect of both Bradley’s $30 million signing and the trade that made his premature end to last season a permanent separation, was asked if it was a “relief” to have Bradley in the rear-view mirror.

He sounded like a guy who already had endured three root canals before being told the fourth would not be needed.

“You wish it would have worked out better,” Hendry said.

Hard to argue that point. But the question now is really how is this offseason going to work out for the Cubs?

With the Tom Ricketts ownership group in place and Bradley off the roster, it seems reasonable to expect an impact move or two to improve the team that
won 83 games and finished 7 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. But the reality appears different.

It doesn’t appear Ricketts will commit the cash to engineer a signature move so soon after laying out so much to acquire the team. That means that Hendry’s pedal-to-the-metal spending the last three years will hang over the Cubs for at least two more seasons, or at least until the Kosuke Fukudome and
Bradley/Silva contracts are off the books.

Hendry has had talks with Marlon Byrd about the vacancy in center field. He has been asking for Placido Polanco money — $6 million a year for three years.
The extra cash coming back from the Mariners in the Bradley deal (a net gain of $6 million) may be enough to allow a deal to come together before the
weekend’s over.

Like Bradley, Byrd heads into the free-agent market after a good season with the Rangers. Also like Bradley, he apparently has priced himself out of a return to the Rangers. And also like Bradley, he’s a veteran who has survived on a series of one-year contracts.

This isn’t to suggest he would be the second coming of Bradley. But it does point out that he would represent a risk in terms of his performance, if nothing else.

The addition of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, previously with the Rangers, is a definite plus for the potential Byrd-Cubs marriage. But, as Hendry himself
pointed out Friday, fans should look to holdover players, not an infusion of talent, for improvement.

Hendry mentions Carlos Zambrano, Soriano, Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot as players who need to rebound from bad seasons. He believes the same basic pieces can produce different results, especially if the Bradley trade does turn out to be addition by subtraction.

What else can he say?

The Cubs have 10 players signed to contracts that — including pro-rated signing bonuses and money paid to get rid of Aaron Miles and Luis Vizcaino — total almost $123 million. They have eight players eligible for arbitration for the first time, including Ryan Theriot and Carlos Marmol, and those guys could easily earn $12-15 million as a group. That does not leave Hendry much wiggle room, not given the budget he received from Ricketts.

“The payroll is approximately $140 million,” Hendry said. “No general manager should ever complain about that.”

Unfortunately, thanks to Bradley’s problems, the Cubs are spending $7.5 million of that on Silva, who was 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA the last two years.

Maybe the wind will blow in every time he pitches at Wrigley Field.”


December 26, 2009

I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and pass along a little diversion.

My grandkids are always asking me to tell them one of my stories. It seems that a distant relative of the basketball referee Mendy Rudolph was hired by a Russian agricultural school (he worked at Texas A & M) to teach proper crop rotations.

One Spring while they were in Siberia, there was a heavy hail storm
and everyone ran for cover except Rudolph. He was saying that rain water was essential for hydration.
From inside a building came the explanation in Russian that “Rudolph, the Red, knows rain Dear.”

Mike Bianchi writes for the Orlando Sentinel and said that he quit fantasy football. 

“I have an admission to make.

I have not been faithful.

I have committed infidelities.

I have cheated on my family.

Multiple times.

And here are the names of my seducers:

Matt Schaub, Maurice-Jones Drew, Ray Rice, Randy Moss and the entire defense of the Houston Texans.

These are players on my fantasy football team.

My last fantasy football team.

I am retiring.

For good.

My team — my carefully constructed juggernaut of a team — was ousted in the semifinals of the famed Bithlo Fantasy League on Sunday — a beautifully brisk Sunday when I should have been out Christmas shopping with the family or playing soccer with my daughters. Instead, I was locked to my laptop, constantly hitting the refresh button and getting updates to see if my last hope — Greg Olsen, the underachieving tight end for the Chicago Bears — would rally me to  victory.

He did not. The bum caught one pass for 8 yards Sunday. And that’s when I came to this epiphany: You should never, ever reach a point in your life where your mood is affected and your weekend ruined by Jay Cutler’s ineptitude. That realization was cemented when I went to bed and spent a restless night tossing and turning and torturing myself for starting Roddy White instead of Chris Chambers at wide receiver.

But it could be worse; I could be out of a job like the employee at an investment firm in Texas who was fired recently for using his office computer for fantasy football purposes. The fireable offense apparently came when one of the poor schlub’s fantasy football buddies sent him an e-mail about how badly Trent Edwards was playing. Trent Edwards — the only quarterback in NFL history to get Dick Jauron and an anonymous stockbroker in Fort Worth fired in the same season.

Now you see why I’m retiring … because I don’t want this addiction to ever reach that point. I knew had a problem a few weeks ago when I was in the
Jaguars locker room interviewing Jones-Drew. I didn’t want to know about his performance on the field; I wanted to know why he did what he did against the Jets.

Remember? With the game tied and the Jags near the Jets’ goal, the Jets intentionally tried to let Jones-Drew score so they could get the ball back with some time remaining. But Jones-Drew, as he was about to waltz into the end zone, smartly knelt on the 1-yard line to set up a game-winning field goal with no time remaining.

The Jags won their game, but thousands of Jones-Drew fantasy owners lost theirs. It was a great play by Jones-Drew, but I found myself cursing him at the time for costing me valuable fantasy points.

Sadly, fantasy football has so warped the way we watch the game, Jones-Drew even apologized to his fantasy owners afterward. You might laugh at what I
am about to say, but I believe fantasy football is quickly usurping the real version when it comes to generating fan interest in the game.

Why do you think Jones-Drew went out of his way to apologize? Because he knows fantasy football made him what he is today. He even admits it.

Nobody would know or care about Maurice-Jones Drew if he were just a really good running back for a mediocre, small-market team like the Jaguars. The reason he has become a household name among sports fans is because he has been a fantasy stud since his rookie season when he wasn’t even a starter.

“My rookie year nobody knew who I was and then I started scoring a lot of touchdowns late in the year and people were winning games because they had me on their fantasy teams,” Jones-Drew says. “That’s how I arrived on the scene.”

It’s also how the NFL has strengthened its stranglehold on the American sports fan. There was already more interest in the NFL than any other sport, but that popularity increased tenfold when the NFL became the first league to really embrace the fantasy version of its sport. Fantasy football creates massive revenue, it drives Web site traffic, merchandise sales and TV ratings. NFL fans used to only care about watching their team’s game on TV; now they want to see all the games.

Jags receiver Mike Sims-Walker, the former UCF and Orlando Edgewater star who has emerged as one of the top young players in the game, is amazed at
the power and allure of fantasy football.

“All I ever hear from fans is them thanking me for scoring so many fantasy points for them,” Sims-Walker says. “I guess you could say I’ve become a fantasy celebrity. It’s strange. They don’t even look at me as a football player; they just like me for my fantasy points.”

And, so, good luck to all of you fantasy owners who will be playing for the championship this weekend.

Good luck and goodbye.”

Fran Deford, of, spoke about Peyton Manning’s seeming ability to always be on TV. “It’s award time, and I know the season hasn’t ended yet, but firmly believe that Peyton Manning is better at what he does than anybody else.
For that matter, I’d say, there’s not an athlete in any sport who’s his match.
In fact, I think Peyton Manning is the best ever — any sport, all time.
What’s amazing about him, too, is that he’s also a pretty darn good quarterback.
But, hey, as a sports guy doing commercials he’s in a class by himself.
Manning is so good, he’s overexposed, but nobody seems to care. One Web site that picks his top five even refers to the fact that it’s out of a hundred
thousand Peyton Manning commercials. Certainly seems that way. For openers, he’s hustled MasterCard, DirecTV, Oreos, Gatorade, Xbox, Sprint, Sony and Lord knows what else. He works as a single or sometimes as a double, with his baby bother Eli — who’s not half-bad, either. Occasionally his daddy, Archie, and his momma, Olivia, are even part of the act. Most recently, he and Eli have also been using the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, as their straight women.
Stand-up or ensemble, always, it’s comedy.
In fact, traditionally, at least since 1973, when the Miller Lite Beer campaign started — “Tastes great! Less filling!” — humor has been the best way to use
athletes to sell a product. And the comedy works best when you go against type — take a big hero and let him make fun of himself. It’s the self-deprecation of the idol that makes him — and hopefully the product, too — appealing. A little boy throws a Nerf football further than Manning, and the superstar quarterback points out: “Mine was into the wind.”
But while all sorts of athletes have let themselves be laughed at in commercials, what sets Manning apart is, first and foremost, his deadpan expression. The guy is Buster Keaton in shoulder pads. Sure, Tom Brady is better looking, but he’s just another pretty face. Manning’s countenance is, to borrow a word from one of his products: priceless. Here, for the very first time is that Peyton Manning deadpan expression in print:
See, what did I tell you? Manning also possesses excellent timing, which is the sort of thing in comedy which is hardest to learn. Maybe he picked that up calling signals, checking off at the line of scrimmage, getting the play off just in time. And so, while the NFL regular season isn’t even finished yet, and it’s weeks away until the Super Bowl, this is a different time of year — ’tis the season to be jolly, so forget the quarterback, No. 18, and let us raise our egg nog to the number-one pitchman in the game. Joy to the world.”

The lack of integrity and sportsmanship in the world of “Big Time College Sports” is alarming. Here are two views from across the nation.
First is Bill Dwyer, from the LA Times. “’Tis the season to be jolly, so let’s have a giggle or two over big-time college sports.

What a joke.

We’ll dedicate our belly laughs to Joe McKnight’s Land Rover, only the most recent chuckle. Yuk yuk.

We can toss in Brian Kelly’s coaching departure from Cincinnati to Notre Dame, leaving an undefeated team to play in a major bowl with a bad taste in its mouth.

How about the rub-it-in play at the end of the USC-UCLA football game this year? Got a wound? Call in Pete Carroll’s salt-pouring specialists. Ha ha.

Then there is Ben Howland’s basketball Bruins. He is the Old Mother Hubbard of the Pacific 10 Conference this season. The cupboard is bare because
UCLA, like many other schools, has become mostly a farm system for the pros. What would Kevin Love be now? A junior? How about a soon-to-be
three-time All-American?

And the most hysterically funny of all. NCAA investigations.

Joe McKnight and his car? Get in line. There’s quite a backup in the possible-rules-violation line.

We are still waiting for answers to alleged past indiscretions, and the image is becoming clearer all the time: Reggie Bush being wheeled into a news conference, on his lunch break from the rest home for the elderly where he lives. O.J. Mayo in slippers and a cane, a resident of the same home, pushing Reggie’s wheelchair. A man in a sport coat with an NCAA logo on the pocket, intoning: “After a thorough investigation, we have found no wrongdoing. . . . ”

We will solve global warming faster than the NCAA will figure out whether Bush and Mayo got extra stuff. If the NCAA ran Ford, we’d still be driving
Model Ts.

The exercise in response to all this is simple.

The next time you are watching TV, or are at some dinner function, or sitting in your backyard with your neighbor, and somebody starts talking about the
character-building attributes of big-time college sports and how wholesome and amateur and refreshing it is, compared with the pros, fall to your knees and make gagging sounds.

The pros are greedy, win-at-all-costs organizations that do everything they can to get an edge and don’t deny that for one minute. Not pretty, but honest.

Colleges try to create the image in their big-time sports — football and men’s basketball — of coaches lecturing students, who have horn-rimmed glasses and arms full of chemistry textbooks, on the doctrine of teamwork, fair play and sportsmanship.

Character counts, we are told.

Then we see the keepers of that doctrine go for the long bomb against UCLA when the game is over and when a couple of handoffs would have not only
sufficed, but would have sent the message that winning is even sweeter when it is achieved with class and sportsmanship.

And then we see another keeper of that doctrine, the University of Notre Dame — which not only keeps it but flaunts it — making so sure it gets its new
football coach that Brian Kelly is pried out of Cincinnati with speed reminiscent of the Colts leaving Baltimore under cover of darkness.

If you are a fan or alum of Notre Dame, you want your team to win more. But at what cost and at what loss of perspective?

Was there not one priest in authority, with one moment to pause in his daily theological readings or in his morning sermon on goodness and holy behavior, to demand that Notre Dame do the right thing by insisting Kelly stay with his team for the bowl game?

This would all be helped by the NCAA making rules that decree that no coach can change schools until after his season is done, or limit recruiting pressures that seem to drive this. At last look, the NCAA had 4.27 million rules, but nothing on an area that really matters.

Without really meaning to, a writer at the New York Times captured nicely what is going on in big-time college sports. Wrote Richard Sandimor: “If Brian
Kelly resuscitates the Notre Dame football program, he will make NBC very happy.”

Money begets winning. More winning begets more money.

Another writer, Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote: “Almost no coach in quasi-amateur college sports finishes what he starts.”

Funny, these are the same coaches who preach loyalty and the need to play to the end, to sacrifice the parts for the betterment of the whole. Maybe they mean that their student-players should do what they say, not what they do.

None of this is going to change. Nor is this rant designed to bring any.

It may turn out that McKnight bought the car with proceeds from the sale of the novel he has been secretly writing in English class; that Kelly has spent his early days at Notre Dame lighting candles for world peace at the Grotto.

Maybe Carroll will tell his team before its bowl game that the rub-it-in pass against UCLA was wrong and they should all remember it and learn from it.
Maybe Howland will land three star recruits who will announce publicly they are staying for four years.

Maybe the NCAA will announce soon its findings in the Bush-Mayo case and admit it hasn’t done a very good job of timely sleuth work.

And maybe hell will freeze over.”

Then we hear from Tom Knott, of the DC Times. “Bob Knight understands all too well the motivation of the enablers who allow John Calipari to exist in
college basketball.
Money, money and money.
“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking, and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” Knight said at an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fundraising event last week. “You see, we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation, and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.”
The schools are UMass and Memphis, each of which advanced to the Final Four under Calipari, only to have each appearance vacated after wrongdoing was uncovered.
Integrity and college basketball long ago parted company, if they ever were an item.
The television money, the 24/7 hype machine that celebrates the season and the monster that is March Madness all have increased the win-at-all-costs mindset.
The riches are too great and the failures so absolute that coaches will do most anything to secure the next blue-chip recruit, even if he is only renting him for a season before the prodigy rushes to collect a fat paycheck from the NBA.
That was the case with point guard Derrick Rose, the basketball mercenary who found his way to Memphis from Chicago but only after someone passed the SAT for him.
Calipari, of course, hides behind the veneer of plausible deniability. He did not know that Rose gained admission into Memphis with the help of a fraudulent test.
And how was he to know that Marcus Camby was taking money from an agent while going through the student-athlete sham at UMass?
Calipari always has been able to stick to his see-no-evil gambit just enough to allow the next university president to gulp hard and nod in the affirmative on
employing him.
Calipari plays this flesh-peddling game because so many others do it. And how else could mid-level programs like UMass and Memphis get into the homes of athletes who otherwise would be scheduling visits from the brand-name programs featured on ESPN?
Calipari no longer has a need to lug around an inferiority complex. As soon as he landed at tradition-steeped Kentucky – just a step ahead of the NCAA
investigators descending on Memphis – he knew his days of having to perform gymnastics-like exercises to gain the attention of recruits were over.
Kentucky gives him a name-recognition value he did not have at UMass or Memphis. That is not to say Calipari will be able to resist the gray area in the
recruiting process. He won’t resist it because there is always another Calipari-like competitor looking to move up the coaching ranks and ignoring the rules.
That Knight pointed his glare at Calipari is hardly surprising, even if Knight is one of the many ex-coaches receiving a paycheck from ESPN, whose principal role during the college basketball season often seems to be applying the genius label to those who roam the sidelines.
Knight’s candor is refreshing, even if it is way too late to save a beautiful but corrupted game.
If Calipari ever lands in trouble at Kentucky – and you figure the chances are fairly favorable – he will be seen running into the arms of the next suitor. That is college basketball. A coach can always outrun his misdeeds because of a university’s unyielding desire to fill its coffers.
That is the ugly sight of a game that inevitability is saved by the passion and spectacle of game night. It is the sight of cheerleaders, bands, rowdy fans and Dick Vitale working himself into a feverish pitch.
It is a game that sold its soul to the highest bidder long ago. It is not going back to a time that mostly exists in only Knight’s mind.
So Knight is left to shout down from his principled mountaintop.
But no one is really listening.
Go, Wildcats.”

Dick Heller, in the DC Times, told us the way it was in 1926 when the Cards traded with the “Jints.” “New York Giants fans almost couldn’t believe what they read in Gotham’s afternoon newspapers on Dec. 20, 1926. The “Jints,” as they were called by many, had gotten Rogers Hornsby in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. Who needed or cared about Santa Claus?
True, the Giants had given up Frank Frisch, another future Hall of Fame second baseman, and pitcher Jimmy Ring. But Hornsby was the National League’s best hitter and biggest star, a worthy equal for Babe Ruth of the dratted Yankees. Light those victory cigars and slurp the bathtub gin.
The biggest trade in baseball history to that point came about because both principals were feuding with their bosses.
Hornsby had batted over .400 three times in five seasons, establishing the modern one-season mark of .424 in 1924, and then managed the Cardinals to a seven-game World Series victory over the Yankees in 1926 – all this without getting a raise in pay. The famously flinty Hornsby demanded a three-year contract at $30,000 a season, calling owner Sam Breadon every name he could think of when Breadon balked. That settled it. Megastar or not, Hornsby had to go.
Meanwhile, legendary Giants manager John McGraw had no choice but to unload Frisch, who had walked out on the team late in August. McGraw was a martinet who routinely reamed out his captain in front of teammates, and the proud Frisch had taken enough of it.
“Just look at him, the miserable yellow [bleep], the [bleeping] captain of my ballclub, the [double bleep],” McGraw ranted, according to author Frank Graham in his 1944 biography “McGraw of the Giants.”
So Frisch went AWOL and missed the last 19 games of the season. Later he met with McGraw at the Polo Grounds. Neither would discuss what happened, but everyone knew Frank would not start another season with New York.
So the stage was set, and soon the deal was done.
Hornsby signed a two-year contract with the Giants for $37,000 a season and said (or was reported to have said) all the right things: “I’m tickled to death. I’m glad to play ball in the greatest baseball town in the country for the greatest manager in the world.”
Yet this was a no-win situation. McGraw, ailing, frequently let Hornsby run the team in spring training, and Rog did not do it gently. Once he sharply reprimanded veteran third baseman Fred Lindstrom for making a play in what Hornsby considered the wrong way.
“That’s how the Old Man wants us to do it,” Lindstrom said.
Hornsby scowled. “When he’s here, do it that way. When he’s not, do it my way.”
Lindstrom’s temper flared. “Who do you think you are?” he said. “When you put down that bat, you’re no bargain.”
Now Hornsby got mad, too. “I’m not here to argue with you,” he snapped. “Go back to your position and shut up.”
Hornsby came to town as baseball’s greatest right-handed hitter, one whose ultimate average of .358 over 23 seasons remains the game’s second highest. But he lasted only one year with the Giants, batting .361 while turning off teammates, McGraw and owner Charles Stoneham with his abrasive manner. Then the slugger was shipped to the pathetic Boston Braves. All told, he played for five teams over his final 11 seasons.
Although a native New Yorker and a Fordham graduate, Frisch was so little-known when the Giants signed him that New York baseball writer Charles Dryden, upon first hearing his name, commented, “Hmm, sounds like something frying.” Yet the scrappy infielder batted over .300 every season as the Giants won a record four straight pennants in the early 1920s.
Frisch then found a home on the steamy shores of the Big Muddy, batting 337 in 1927 and topping .300 in each of the next four seasons before becoming manager of the Cardinals’ renowned Gas House Gang in 1934. That season he hit .305 while he and Dizzy Dean led the Redbirds to their fourth pennant in seven years.
During that period, it was mostly downhill for the Giants, with or without Hornsby. They didn’t win a pennant between 1924 and 1933, by which time McGraw had ended his 30-year run as manager and turned the team over to Bill Terry
Looking at the trade from a historical perspective, it’s obvious the Cardinals got the better of it. But during an era when baseball pretty much ruled the sporting scene, it was big, big news all across America.


December 22, 2009

Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, looked at Boston sports for an early review of this decade. “Presidential candidates love asking voters this question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?’’
But my question to you is this: As we approach the end of the decade (and what do you call the first 10 years of a century, anyway?), are you, the Boston sports fan, better off than you were 10 years ago?
The correct answer is yes. Six parades speak for themselves.
I’m not talking about ticket prices and the attendant cost of supporting our professional teams. That’s a sore spot for all of us. I’m simply talking about the psyche of the Boston/New England sports fan. Are you more fulfilled than you were when the 21st century began?
If you’re a Bruins fan, you’re probably saying, “What’s the difference?’’ What was then a 27-year Stanley Cup drought has now stretched to 37, and there
isn’t a hockey expert in the world who thinks the Bruins will be taking turns in the summer of 2010 lugging Lord Stanley’s cup to the ol’ home town for a
show-and-tell. It’s scary and downright depressing to think that you’d have to be approaching 45 to have any serious remembrance of what it was like when
Orr, Esposito, Bucyk, Sanderson, Hodge, Cheevers and Co., were a standard of hockey excellence, and, most of all, excitement.
The Bruins are ahead of where they were 10 years ago, but not much. The 2000-01 Bruins were spending their first full year without the beloved and hallowed Ray Bourque. The big names were Jason Allison, Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Don Sweeney and a 21-year-old named Joe Thornton, who, as he entered his fourth year, still had no idea how to please demanding coach Pat Burns. The goaltending duo was Byron Dafoe and John Grahame.
They would amass 88 points, good for fourth place in the Northeast Division, and they did not make the playoffs for the third time in five years. It was the
beginning of a largely blah decade, the low point of which was the complete shutdown of the NHL in 2004-05 – the greatest combined labor-management
blunder in North American sports history – and the high point of which was, well, you tell me. It may have been the stirring 5-4 victory over the hated
Canadiens in Game 6 of the first round of the 2007-08 playoffs.
So here we are, in late 2009, with the Bruins currently a good but not great team. They are a season removed from a 116-point season that produced a Vezina Trophy (Tim Thomas) and Norris Trophy (Zdeno Chara) winner. But they have great trouble scoring and they are not a serious Stanley Cup contender. We have been at this juncture many times since the last Cup triumph, eight presidents ago.
Contrast that to the state of the Celtics, who are in the same this-is-where-we-came-in posture they were in 1960, 1980 and, to a lesser extent, 1990. That is to say, the Celtics are in excellent position to win what would be their 18th championship.
Oh, but 10 years ago, what a mess. The Celtics were coming off a 35-47 season and were entering Year 5 of a six-year playoff absence. It would be another
lackluster season (36-46), with Rick Pitino resigning after 34 games and a 12-22 record (we’re still awaiting his promised explanatory news conference).
Antoine Walker was entering his fifth season, and Paul Pierce his third. Kenny Anderson was the point guard.
A year later the Celtics rode sensational 3-point shooting and the solid, no-nonsense coaching of Jim O’Brien to the Eastern Conference finals. But it was not a team built to last. Boston quickly reverted to being the irrelevant stop on the NBA trail it had become in the mid- and late-’90s until Danny Ainge, having compiled enough prospects and draft choices, magically transformed the team with two trades, the second made possible only because he had made the first.
We all know what happened. The 2007-08 edition was right up there with any team in Celtics history, and now they’re right back in it with a deeper, more
versatile team than that championship squad. As it has been for so many of the last 55 years, it’s a great time to be a Celtics fan.
Ten years ago the Red Sox were essentially about two people: Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. The former was coming off one of the great pitching
years anyone ever has had (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 Ks, 18 strike-out-the-side innings and only nine home runs, all solo). The latter had led the league with a .357 average in 1999 and was sitting on a .322 lifetime average after three full seasons.
The beginning of a euphoric journey that culminated in a second World Series sweep within a four-year period was a signature on a contract Dec. 19, 2000.
The name of the new hire was Manny Ramirez. Whatever else his failings, Dan Duquette never can be thanked enough by Red Sox fans for bringing Ramirez to Boston.
The other two key moves were orchestrated by Theo Epstein. On Jan. 22, 2003, he signed an intriguing 27-year-old power-hitting first baseman named David Ortiz, who the Minnesota Twins did not think was worthy of being paid approximately $1 million a year. And on Nov. 28, 2003, Epstein traded Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa and a player to be named (Michael Goss) for Curt Schilling.
But who’s responsible for Theo Epstein? That would be owner John Henry, and more to the point, team president/CEO Larry Lucchino, who nurtured the Brookline-bred lad in San Diego. Since this regime has come to power, the Red Sox have won two world championships and have been consistent contenders.
The Sox have had great success on the field and have become a business juggernaut beyond anything we could have imagined at the dawn of the 21st century.
All of which makes them the second-most successful local sports team of the decade.
Consider the New England Patriots in 2001. They played in an inadequate stadium. They were coming off a 5-11 season. They were a distant second, perhaps even third, in local affections.
You know why the Patriots would win three Super Bowls and wind up playing in a state of the art stadium before the decade was even half over? Well, sure
there were many reasons – Tom Brady’s development being one – but I suggest it was because they had the greatest offseason in NFL history following the 2000 season.
Start with the 2001 draft, which gave them Richard Seymour in the first round and Matt Light in the second.
Then look at the veteran free agent signings in that offseason: Mike Vrabel, Antowain Smith, Larry Izzo, Anthony Pleasant, David Patten, Marc Edwards, and Mike Compton. All nine started Super Bowl XXXVI (I’m counting Izzo as a special teams stalwart).
Everything that happened afterward has flowed from that haul.
They gave us three parades, and, even in an obvious state of decline, they always could rouse themselves come January to give us an additional thrill or two.
Better off than we were 10 years ago? You kidding? We’ve stockpiled enough memories to carry us to the nation’s tri-centennial. But it would be nice if the
Bruins could contribute a little something.”

John Hayden said in the DC Times, “Once upon a time, the World Cup was a tournament full of surprises. It was often the only time the world got to see different styles of soccer. The Germans would arrive with their disciplined game, the Italians came with their famous catenaccio “bolt-door” defenses, and the Brazilians and Argentines dazzled with their delightful Latin flair. Sometimes, a little-known Asian or African team would pull off an upset. Those days are long gone, and an argument could be made that there are no longer distinctive styles of soccer in the top flight of the game – there’s just what could be called “Champions League-style soccer.” Let’s face it: The rosters on the major national teams – Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, England, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, etc. – are filled with players who compete annually in the Champions League, the world’s premier club tournament. Soccer seems to have a universal style these days, and it’s hard to distinguish the play of the major world powers. Even England’s top players, who populate the cosmopolitan Premier League, have been converted to the “continental game,” with its more attractive possession-heavy style of play The days of “route one” soccer or the “long-ball” game are disappearing from the higher echelon of English soccer. Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick and Shawn-Wright Phillips – players the U.S. team likely will face at the World Cup – can hardly be classed as “kick-and-run” players, as many English players of yesterday were dubbed. The multinational Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are now the great levelers of world soccer. The world’s best players compete in those leagues, learn the style of play and become acutely acquainted with other international stars – often their own club teammates – whom they will face on the field at the World Cup. There are no longer any secrets. No team will arrive in South Africa next June with a box full of surprises. Not even the closeted North Koreans. There won’t be a repeat of 1966, when the unknown North Koreans stunned the world by beating Italy and nearly taking Portugal to the cleaners. Likewise, the U.S. team will be studied by opponents and taken seriously After downing Spain and giving Brazil a scare at the Confederations Cup, the U.S. team will never again be taken lightly. Landon Donovan may not yet play in a top European League, but he is well-respected after scoring 42 goals in 120 games for the U.S. team. Does the U.S. squad play a certain style? The Americans are certainly athletic, fast and composed on the ball and continue to produce excellent goalies, but as of now, there are no American superstars on the horizon. The U.S. team does not have a Didier Drogba like the Ivory Coast, and Freddy Adu’s rise and fall gives us all caution. That said, the Americans know they can play in the big games and fear no one. The U.S. team’s quarterfinal place in 2002 was inspired by a collection of players – the likes of Brad Friedel, Clint Mathis, Tony Sanneh, John O’Brien, DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan – all in peak form. The potential is there for the Americans to do it again next year, but it won’t be easy. Second-tier international teams in the same class as the U.S. squad now regularly reach the semifinals of the World Cup. South Korea and Turkey did it in 2002. Sweden and Bulgaria did it in 1994, and Croatia did so in 1998. However, there’s still a psychological hurdle for those second-tier powers to reach the World Cup final game. World Cup winners – Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Uruguay, England and France – are in an exclusive club. This time around, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Mexico and perhaps even an African team, such as Ghana or the Ivory Coast, will be looking to gate-crash that elite group. Now that would be a surprise.”

Bill Conlin lives in Philly and experienced this year’s pre-Christmas blizzard. “WHEN THE accumulated inconvenience from the Great Pre-Christmas Blizzard of 2009 reached 20 inches, I called it a Saturday night. Before retiring for a long winter’s nap, I watched the local sports wraps. All did live pieces, snow whirling eerily through the bright lights of Lincoln Financial Field, on the monumental task the Eagles had taken on to ensure yesterday’s pushed-back game with the 49ers could be played in an environment safe for both players and fans. It is one thing to clear an outdoor facility seating 67,000 fans after the storm is over. But the Eagles had scant wiggle room. The NFL views postponements as the worst possible kind of bummer. JFK was barely in his casket 2 days after his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, when commissioner Pete Rozelle’s league played its full slate of games. I covered the Bears and Steelers in Forbes Field with heavy heart. Eagles field operations manager Tony Leonard had a plan in place. The vigorous cyclone that formed in the western Gulf of Mexico at midweek and rode up the Appalachians on Friday, then reformed into an explosive Nor’easter off Cape Hatteras on Saturday had been better scouted than the 49ers team the Eagles defeated, 27-13, yesterday on a field drier than an Andy Reid injury report. A mob of 700 contract workers reported to the Linc at 10 a.m. Saturday. That was during the lightest period of the amazing storm that dropped a December-record 23.2 inches at the official airport measuring station. The Conlin property in Washington Township averaged 23 inches. Leonard’s full-time Linc crew got its marching orders at 6:30 a.m. They would supervise the delicate plowing of the tarpaulin covering the field. “It has to be done every 2 or 3 inches, when it’s most manageable,” Leonard said during the third quarter of another bravura performance by DeSean Jackson, who danced through the Niners like a whirling snowflake. “We have two tractors that sweep the tarp and load it into trucks.” When it became obvious the Eagles were dealing with one of the top winter weather events in city history, reinforcements were called in. By 2 p.m. there were 1,200 workers keeping warm and dry in the bowels of the Linc. “You have to wait until there’s a substantial amount of snow to remove,” Leonard said. Inside the stadium, the workers were shown Eagles highlight films and movies on the myriad of TV screens throughout the facility. And when the first group swung into action at 5:30 p.m. to begin serious shoveling, the giant TV boards behind the end zones blazed to light, showing more Eagles highlights while the sound system boomed music to shovel by. The Linc looked like a giant sports bar inside one of those snow globes you swirled as a kid. At the height of the storm, when snow was blasting South Philly at 2 inches an hour, 1,700 workers were rotating in three shifts. They worked through the night. And while they cleared the clogged aisles in a kind of bucket brigade involving giant rubber tubes that deposited the snow in trucks, a small army of snowplows and trucks cleared an Alp-ful of snow from the sprawling parking lots. And that was not an easy thing to do. “Remember, we had the Flyers in the afternoon and the Sixers at night to work around,” Leonard said. I walked into the Linc with Paul Domowitch about 1:30 yesterday. I expected to see Ice Station Lurie, a good try that Mother Nature buried in drifts. I was amazed to see the field looking as good as I have seen it, newly sodded between the painted yard markers after the Army-Navy game. “We’ve been working on some different things to keep it in better condition,” Leonard said. Crews were still working in the aisles right up to the 4:15 kickoff. And will be working a few more days. There was still enough snow under the seats for Knucklehead Nation to launch hundreds of snowballs – mostly fluffy and ineffective – as the game entered the fourth quarter. But it was nothing like the ice- ball pelting that marred a notorious Eagles-Cowboys game in Veterans Stadium and had Jimmy Johnson scurrying for safety. I came close to missing Operation Snow Eagle. In fact, I had e-mailed my boss that as late morning approached I was home alone with a tattered “No shoveling” note pinned to my chest and my son, Pete, snowbound at a friend’s house. I would not be making it to the Linc on a day when there were at least 15,000 no-shows. Then there was a knock on the door. It was Carlos, the original White Tornado. He cleans my house every other Saturday and when the storm began asked if he could come yesterday instead. I wrote him off when the snow reached double digits. But there he was, with a shovel leaning against my garage and carved a path to my door. “Clean today?” he smiled. “Hell, yes,” I said. Carlos beckoned to one of the women who assists him. While she went to work, he grabbed the shovel and headed back toward my pellicle-engorged paths. An hour later, I was on my way to the Linc. On my way to see the result of some of the greatest shoveling in NFL history, or at least since Buddy Ryan coached here.”