There are times in the television business when you realize that there are people at play that are a lot bigger than you- or anyone else around you for that matter. It can come across in a simple gesture, or in a gesture of many acting as one. The power is the same from either source.
And the story will stay with you always…
The first time I met Chris Johnson was when he was a Sophomore at Northside High School. Depending on what part of the state of Georgia you live in, it’s either “Northside” or “Northside-Warner Robins.” You get in to the semantics of geography since there is more than one city that holds the title.
Chris was in street clothes for the state championship game in Statesboro in December of 2005.
He wouldn’t be playing, and I knew why.
He couldn’t play football.
He had a higher set of priorities and worries.
He was fighting leukemia.
He seemed like every normal 15-year-old- hat slightly off-center, over-sized, striped, collared shirt, and baggy blue jean shorts. He was quiet on the sidelines for the game in Statesboro and just kind of took everything in. I asked him how he was. He said he was “all right.” I told him that I hoped he would get well quickly, and I went on working that sideline for the night. I admit, now, that I would look over at him every now and then. I would wonder what he and his family were going through. I had a good guess, and it’s never a pretty one.
He kept on fighting, and I kept on working.
For the 2006 season, I visited Warner Robins a few times for games. Once was for their in-town rival game where Northside would play Warner Robins. Chris went through the banner as football players do. But he did it in a wheelchair this time around. His mother, “Miss Pat” as she is known, was driving him through the paper and grass over to the sideline. She did it again for the state title game against The Marist School. During the season it became crystal clear that the Johnsons were spending the standard “boatload” of money for their son’s care. The Northside community started a “Quarters for Chris” campaign at home games, and asked anyone with change to spare to donate it to help fray the costs.
It helped some, and Northside won their first state title for head Coach Conrad Nix at home that night last year. Twenty years of work at the school, in two different shifts, and Nix got his first ring.
Chris still fought, and I still worked.
That is, until June…
Chris lost his battle, but the team never forgot.
The number “96” was emblazoned everywhere on campus. Football players had the number placed on their jerseys over their hearts as a memorial. When the home turf was decorated, the team asked the number be painted in the endzone. The offensive linemen would gather in a circle and pray around his number before games. There were “96” stickers on every helmet without fail.
And what a lot of people outside of middle Georgia don’t know is- the quiet kid came out of his shell. He became a spokesman for bone marrow donation in his community. He would encourage others, old and young, through their cancer treatments as he persevered through his own at the children’s hospital. It didn’t matter what you looked like. It didn’t matter if you were a fan of some other school. He unified an entire community that is normally divided in their allegiances by the road that bisects Warner Robins at its mid-section. In a military town, it was the football player who stood ramrod straight in the face of a disease and gave it his best shot.
All this from a kid who didn’t even make it to the age of 18 like his teammates and classmates did.
Which left this nationally-ranked team in an emotional void for what would have been Chris’ senior season.
A community, a school, friends, and family all needed closure. But how does something like that come for someone who has left such a mark on those he touched…?
The team marched through the regular season, at one point losing their star quarterback to a broken bone in his leg, and steam-rolled people in the first three rounds of the playoffs. No points allowed… which gave them the chance to play a suburban-Atlanta school, Tucker High School, in the state semi-finals. Tucker’s speed seemed to get to the Eagles in the first half as they broke out to a 28-7 lead.
But then the world tilted…
The injured QB, Marquez Ivory, returned to start the second half. It was common knowledge that he would play- ahead of schedule- but no one knew how much. Ivory found receivers all second half long. He completed 11 out of 16 for 305 yards and three scores. Two of those TD passes were to Kevyn Cooper for 69 and 82 yards. After the game, Kevyn was asked about it. He said that there was no doubt in his mind that Chris was there helping him catch those passes.
You see… Kevyn, Marquez, and Chris were best of friends.
A field goal with 12 seconds left gave Northside the win to advance to the state finals.
The way the state finals worked was, that if both teams were top seeded in their region, it would come down to a coin flip to decide where the game would be played. Ware County High School Head Coach Dan Ragle won the toss, and got to host the game three hours away from Warner Robins- in Waycross.
Tickets were at such a premium that people were driving from Waycross to Warner Robins to see if they could get in that way. The coaches told me, at their mid-week radio show, that something special was planned for the entrance onto the field.
A photo of Chris from the year before, smiling and flashing a “peace” sign, was reproduced and placed in the middle of the banner. The cheerleaders holding the banner aloft seemed confused as the Eagles walked AROUND it, escorting a poster of Chris in his uniform from his 9th-grade year at the front of the procession.
They played, understandably, with too much emotion for the first half… the first three quarters, really… and they trailed the underdog Gators 16-13. The 4,000 fans that made the trip were given a piece of poster board with that “96” on it. They were asked to hold it aloft as a show of support- telling the world that Chris was their “12th Man.”
I’m not normally distracted by the atmosphere of my job. But when those signs were held in the air as we headed to commercial, I got goose bumps. I understood. And so did the kids on the field.
A play that the Eagles hadn’t used since a pre-season scrimmage, a half-back option pass, got the team the win and back-to-back titles- 20-16.
Head Coach Conrad Nix told the Johnsons, Chris’ father Ovie and “Miss Pat,” that if there was something- anything- he could do to give them closure where Chris was concerned he would do his best. Ovie rode the team bus down to Waycross for the title game, and was on the sidelines for as many games as I could count. He gave a pre-game speech at the pre-game meal before the championship, and even went as far as telling the team he wanted some gator-skin boots.
Chris was the only player on the roster in all capital letters. He was at the top of the tackle charts, and he was never far away from everyone.
And there was a lot of karma at play- if you believe in that stuff…
Going into the title game, I’ll give you one guess as to how many points the team had given up…
Going into the semi-finals, I’ll give you one guess as to how many minutes were left in the team’s season.
And, after that school week had been completed, I’ll give you one guess as to how many school days were left in the calendar year.
And, since he was the “12th Man,” I’ll give you one guess as to what number is evenly-divisible by 12.
For all the rallying, for all the chanting of a number that meant so much to so many people, and for all the pain that one family has gone through losing someone so young, you can only hope that the championship brought some kind of closure to the family in some small way.
Chris loved football. And an entire football team and town loved him back…
They still do.
And I have a good feeling that he saw the whole thing unfold right in front of him…
Play it safe everyone, I’ll talk to you soon…
Friday, December 21, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Knowing incoming Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long’s track record of hiring head football coaches, I figured the Long would hire a washed up former NFL head coach to lead the Razorbacks. This is the same guy who hired the Wanstache while AD at Pittsburgh. I had prepared myself for Norv Turner, Cam Cameron and when current Oakland Raiders Head Coach Lane Kiffen was on the initial list, I wasn’t shocked. It made perfect sense. There was the flirtation with Tommy Bowden and Jim Grobe but they like life in the ACC. Then Bobby Petrino emerged and Tuesday night said the hell with the Atlanta Falcons and came to the Ozarks as the new Head Football Coach at Arkansas.
If you are going to hire a washed up NFL head coach this is the guy. Petrino took Louisville to unprecedented heights, 2 conference titles and a BCS Bowl. However, Petrino doesn’t like to stay bogged down at one place. What are the odds Petrino remains at Arkansas for the 5 years of his contract?
By the way, I know Arthur Blank is worth billions of dollars but after the year he has had as owner of the Atlanta Falcons, I wouldn’t blame Blank for going on an all night drinking binge in fact, I would buy the first round. But king Arthur would probably want the $500 bottle of single malt scotch and that is a little out of my price range.
Back to Petrino, at Louisville he worked with Chris Redman and Brian Brohm on the college level at quarterback. Who does he inherit at Arkansas? Casey Dick. If Petrino can turn Dick into Clint Stoerner or even Barry Lunney, Jr. he’s earned his 7-figure income.
Darren McFadden will go pro. Petrino now must convince Felix Jones to return for his senior year. That will be like selling ice to the Eskimos. Without Jones, who are your offensive weapons?
I sound like a grumpy Razorback fan. I, as someone who bleeds Razorback Red, like the hire. I just hope he doesn’t have U-Haul on his Fav-5 list.
That's it, I'm spent.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
What seems to be the longest, death march of a record-setting chase is finally over. It took entirely too long to come to fruition. But now it finally has.
Thank ((insert divine being here))!!!!!
And counting, I'm sure. We all know that the gentleman wants to get 3,000 hits before his, ahem, esteemed career comes to a close.
And I've been over the whole thing for quite some time...
I'm not a big Major League Baseball fan, anymore. I kind of grew out of the sport after the strike in the mid-1990's. Guys complaining about money and self-worth. Owners complaining that there isn't enough money to go around.
"Whatever to the both of you! And a pox on both your houses!" I said at the time.
I keep a casual interest in the sport, just to the idea that I "have" to know what's going on at any given moment. The same thing applies for professional wrestling these days with me. And you know what? Both activities are strangely similar. And I still wish a pox on both your houses.
Before you go and complain... sit down for a second...
It's either everyone's fault, or no one's fault. I choose to look at the former.
I choose not to look at Bonds, who is without a doubt, the poster child for this drug-induced assault on the history books. But I'm looking at an entire era of athletes that have taken advantage of a system set in place ((or, probably to be more accurate- not set at all)) for their own personal, financial and statistical benefit. I look at Ken Caminiti, Brady Anderson, Eric Gagne, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa just as much as I do a player like "25."
I look at John Rocker, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and all the owners and Commissioners that have passed through any turnstile or business office just as much as I do our current homerun champ.
The whole process is disgusting...as was the turning of that phrase that ended the last paragraph.
Players take advantage of a system. Owners and personnel turn their heads and cough.
All of them have not only soiled the very game we all grew up idolizing ((and all the records that were accomplished within)), but have soiled themselves in the process. We all need to shower and grab a change of clothes.
It's only fitting that the record was set in "25's" home stadium. The response he got in Los Angeles was nothing short of expected. San Diegans wanted to boo- and to cheer- simultaneously. The easy-going ones wanted it both ways. Boo until he gets to the plate. Cheer when he makes an out. Cheer louder when he hits 755 off Clay Hensley ((himself server of a steroid suspension in the minors)). Boo their own pitchers when they choose to pitch around him. Greg Maddux being the only savior in the weekend. "Doggie" played with Bonds' mind saying he'd walk him so as not to get tagged with the 755 moniker. What does he do? Challenge him and send "25" home- going oh-fer-four.
Chicks may dig the longball, but I dig the artistry of the backwards "k" in the scorebook just as much.
San Franciscans have chosen to wear the rose-colored glasses the entire time. And that's their prerogative. If they choose not to see the extremes a truly talented player went to to make himself better than those before him instead of believing in his God-given abilities- it's his fault for not having faith in himself, but having the hubris of a hundred men to want to see his name in every history book from now until Doomsday- asterisk be damned.
Would "25" have been a Hall of Famer without enhancement- still unproven, but alleged from every mountaintop? Absolutely.
But the greed of wanting that "little extra" turned into "a lot extra." And I don't think that one of the most surly stars of this generation could give a tinker's damn about what the rest of us think one way or the other about him.
Included, godfather Willie Mays, who seemed ignored by "25" when they were on the field together after 756. And you know... you KNOW... Hank Aaron will collect some big favor someday for reading the cue card and prepared statement of congratulations after the fact. The heart-felt love and appreciation shown by "25" to the big screen almost reminded me of a bad buddy movie, I-love-you-man moment that sends the release straight to DVD shelves and cable television.
What do we get instead in all of this?
We get Bud Selig, hands in pockets, fishing for car keys and the closest exit while "25" circled the bases after 755. We get Jimmy Lee Solomon from the league office to represent The Game. Or was it Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio? Mary Stuart Masterson? Joe Don Looney? Joe Don Baker?
Jimmy Crack Corn... you know the rest...
But what they say about karma may return to the ballpark one day. It always gets a hand stamp. I'm still waiting for it to tap David Stern and Gary Bettman on the shoulder.
I don't think any one of us could root for Alex Rodriguez any harder or any faster these days.
I can't believe I just volunteered that information, either.
And where was "Commissioner" Selig? Meeting with George Mitchell and his toothless committee results trying to determine which major leaguer he could blackmail into testifying next.
Will people remember the names Clay Hensley and Mike Bacsik? Maybe as much as Jack Billingsley and Al Downing...
Will people remember the "chase?" Probably.
Will people remember the sunken feeling in the pits of their stomach around the country after the chase ended?
One can only hope... this wasn't fun to watch at all.
Play it safe, everyone... I'll talk to you soon...
It was approximately a half an hour before show time Thursday night when a chorus of 'Holy #@&(@!' and 'Oh my god!' swept through the newsroom. Those of us who were busy preparing for Connected ran over to the television screen where a number of people had gathered to see what the heck was going on. We soon saw a replay of one of the most horrific spills I'd ever seen that had just occurred during the Big Air Skateboarding event at the X-Games in Los Angeles.
After pulling off a difficult 720 rotation, skateboarder Jake Brown lost control on the quarterpipe, and plunged more than 40 feet onto the wooden ramp below. His limp body was not moving. ESPN quickly cut out of their coverage and went to alternate programming… a move that had us all convinced Brown had died. A decision was immediately made to take the X-Games skateboarding highlights out of our show in case the worst had happened.
But wait! After laying motionless on the ramp for almost five minutes… Brown miraculously got up and walked away from the spill without being scooped off the halfpipe with a shovel! ESPN went back to the X-Games live to show the good news and video of the nasty fall was quickly re-inserted into our show. That decision just about as quickly launched a huge debate in the newsroom.
Why had we taken the video out of the show in the first place? Should we not have shown the video of the accident regardless of Brown walking away from the scene or not? If someone was paralyzed or killed during a sporting event, wouldn't it now become news? Should we not show that? Someone made the point that showing the video would have reinforced to kids that skateboarding and extreme sports are dangerous stuff. Not a bad argument.
It also made some of us wonder why ESPN bailed out of their coverage? Should they not have stayed with it? Think about how often we've seen horrific hits in hockey where a player goes down on the ice unconscious only to be carried off in a stretcher. Does the TV station airing the game cut out of the game and show poker until they know for sure the player is OK? Of course not.
That being said, how many times have you seen Greg Moore's fatal car crash or Alex Zanardi's racecar being sliced in half? I'm guessing not very often, if at all since those separate accidents. Many television stations have chosen not to replay the horrific tragedies.
Play sports director for a moment. What do you think viewers should see? Should we have shown Brown's skateboarding crash even if he had not walked away from the fall? Or do you hold off until more details come in? The decision is about as hard as Brown's fall…who for the record suffered only a slight concussion and a bruised liver
(This blog republished with permission from its author)
Friday, August 3, 2007
OK, I’m pissed. Big surprise, I know.
When Michael Irvin is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, one of the biggest travesties in football history will have taken place.
I’m not saying this as a Washington Redskins fan; I’m saying this as a football fan.
"ELECT ART MONK!"
Art has more receptions than Michael (940 vs. 750), more total yards (12,721 vs. 11,904), and more touchdowns (68 vs. 65). Michael, however, does have a higher yard-per-reception average (15.9 vs. 13.5).
Both receivers won three Super Bowls, and both went to multiple Pro Bowls.
Also, Art Monk has NEVER been arrested on drug possession charges. Art has NEVER been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Charlotte, with a gun to her head, while videotaping the whole sordid affair.
Art Monk is a true philanthropist in the Washington area, creating the Art Monk Football Camp that has graduated over 14,000 athletes. A big section of those athletes have gone on to play college ball.
Art also joined up with former Redskin defensive end Charles Mann to form the Good Samaritan Foundation, whereas Irvin can’t even spell the word “samaritan.”
OK, Hall voters…you tell me. Compare the two men, and tell me WHY IN THE HELL did Irvin get in, and Monk has not?
Hell, Andre Reed should have gotten in long before Michael Irvin.
People say, “But he was ‘The Playmaker.” Big f**king deal. Just because you’re flashy, that doesn’t overshadow productivity and class.
Some have said, “Art wasn’t the friendliest player to the media when he was with Washington, so they’re not going to vote him in.” OK, being in the media, I can say that how a player deals with us on a day-to-day basis does have something to do with how we cover him. But, come the hell on, you want to keep a man like Monk out of Canton because he didn’t have a bubbly personality? WTF?!?
Look at what Hall of Fame cornerback Ronnie Lott said about Art Monk:
"You have a Hall of Fame for all it represents. I know he represents all that it's about," said Lott. "Integrity, love and passion for the game, community, what he gave back. Look how he conducted himself. Nobody I know deserves it more."
What has Irvin given back to the game? Bad suits? Stupid laugh? An arrest record?
MSNBC columnist Bill Williamson penned a column today, saying Irvin was lucky to get into the HOF when he did. Here's an excerpt:
"NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to sit through Michael Irvin’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. You got to know what’s going to be zipping through No-Tolerance Rog’s mind as Irvin pontificates on his greatness in the sticky summer afternoon heat. 'This wouldn’t be happening on my watch.'"
Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Loverro had this to say about Monk:
"He embodied the old school, and for that alone he should be enshrined so that when a father takes his son through the Hall of Fame, he can say, 'Son, here is a man who once caught 106 passes in a season when no one was catching 100 passes. Here was a man who caught a pass in 183 straight games. And not once did he ever pull a cell phone out to make a call after any of those catches.'"
The HOF voters need to pull their heads out of their asses, and do the right thing. So what if 2 out of the “Dallas Triplets” are now in the HOF (Aikman, Irvin)? People forget about the ORIGINAL Triplets in Washington – Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders (none of whom are in the HOF).
They were the beginning. They were the real deal. They were doing their thing long before Troy Aikman ever stepped foot on a UCLA football field. When Aikman accepted a scholarship to play for Barry Switzer at OU in 1984, Monk was catching 106 passes in his fifth season in the NFL. NO ONE was catching over 100 passes in a season back then.
Quit placating the Dallas Cowboys. Quit stroking Michael’s over-extended ego.
Give credit where credit is f**king due.
"ELECT ART MONK!"
I’m not usually this deep, just deep in it. Trust me.
--John V. Wood
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Okay, so now we have moved on to Stage 2 of the Continuing Saga of the Summer of Seven. Stage 1, like most problems, is admitting that there is a problem. That part got taken care of when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Richmond took the information they had to a grand jury and that Grand Jury issued indictments based on that information.
Just Stay Away...
So, here we are a week after the indictment and the second act begins. It begins with the NFL handing down a letter to Mr. Michael Vick stating, "Do not attend training camp until we’ve had a chance to further review your situation" (that may be a paraphrase—but you get the gist of it).
This part of the story from multiple published reports was born out of Mr. Vick deciding that he didn’t think he needed to skip camp (this isn’t a joke). The NFL, the NFLPA and the Atlanta Falcons all felt that yes, he did need to skip camp. That, at least temporarily, created a bit of an impasse.
That impasse was resolved when the Commissioner of the NFL (and by the way...what a crappy time to be a pro-sports commissioner right now) Roger Goodell came down with the "Letter."
Why a Letter?
The Jolly Roger came up with this letter according again to "Published Reports" because the Falcons were going to just "Suspend Vick for 4 Games."
That would have been a disaster. The NFLPA would have been forced to contest the suspension, it would have ended up in the hands of an arbitrator and all the while, Mr. Vick would have been able to play.
I had the chance to attend the Atlanta Falcons Press Conference regarding Mr. Vick this past Tuesday. Roughly 20 or so cameras, 40-50 reporters, and a couple of protestors outside the building attended the presser.
I do have to compliment the Falcons on this—they have tried to be as upfront as they can be considering the legal ramifications of what is going on (they can’t officially say much). Despite this, they have to try and explain why they don't want the face/highest-paid player/starting quarterback to be around the team right now. Team Owner Arthur Blank went as far as to say, "Mike should consider sitting out and getting his house in order right now."
That is what it boils down to—getting his house in order. You can talk all you want about how "He has to be guilty," "He’s done," "He should be locked up for what he's done," etc. The fact is, as of right now, it hasn’t been proven that he has done any of the things he’s accused of. Even Michael Vick is innocent until proven guilty, that is still how things are supposed to work here in the U.S.
How will they cope?
That will be Act 3. The Falcons will survive. A certain part of their fan base will be disappointed because they probably will not have a "great" season this year. They’ll blame it on not having their Quarterback.
That won’t have anything to do with it. The fact of the matter is that they are a team in the beginning stages of a complete overhaul and won’t be good for another year or two. They will eventually be a good football team, but it more than likely will not be with Michael Vick at the helm. That isn’t to say that he is going to be convicted in court or not, but rather that he’s played his last game as an Atlanta Falcon and quite possibly his last game in the NFL.
“The Time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time- Pink Floyd
Thursday, July 19, 2007
In baseball, like most sports, numbers are a big part of the game. Hoy many homers did Barry Juiced hit last night? How many RBI’s does Alex Rodriguez have? It was just yesterday that the Phillies recorded their 10,000 loss as a franchise. Numbers, in baseball, are important.
For Josh Hamilton, life and baseball, are ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS.
Take, for instance, the number 1999. That’s the year Josh graduated high school from Athens Drive in Raleigh, NC and was named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
Number 1 - the Devil Rays first draft pick in 1999.
The number .302 was Josh’s batting average in 2000, his first as professional. 13 was the number of homers Josh hit that year. He was also the youngest player in the All-Star futures game that year where he went 3-4.
2/28/2001 is another number that is important. That’s the day that Josh was in a motorcycle accident in Bradenton, Florida. It’s also that day he that led to him becoming addicted to pain killers and A LOT more…
2/18/2004 - that’s the day that Josh was suspended from Major League Baseball for violating the league’s joint drug treatment and prevention program.
The number 15 is the number of baseball games Josh played in 2004-2006, because of failed drug tests. Baseball has counted him out. He was down to his last strike. Two outs, bottom of the ninth.
But then, more numbers…
10/2005 - Josh’s first week of sobriety in 5 years.
3 - the number of times a day Josh begins working out.
12/2006 - Josh is picked up by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 draft and the traded to the Reds.
.400 - Josh’s batting average in spring training this year.
4/2/2007 - Josh makes his Major League Debut…about six years later than he had originally expected.
5/6 - Josh hits two homers against the Rockies.
26 - Josh’s age, pretty old for a major league rookie.
26 is also the number of tattoos Josh acquired in the those five drug-filled years, reminders of a life gone all too wrong for a guy with such promise. But, now josh is fulfilling those promises and proving everyone wrong who said he would never make it back.
2 and 6 - the ages of Josh’s daughters, Sierra and Julia.
.279, 14, and 30 - batting average, HR’s , and RBI’s for Josh this year.
And 1 - truly remarkable story of a guy who had it all, lost it all, found God, found his way back to the majors, and found his way back to the top of his game.
And 1 is also the number of new fans he has, after knowing more about his story.
756 may be the number that captures Baseball’s imagination in the second half of the season, but 33 has captured mine. That’s Josh Hamilton’s jersey number.
Friday, June 1, 2007
If momentum ever builds for a college football playoff in Division 1-A, don’t be surprised if that comes from the SEC Offices in Birmingham. The SEC has so much talent spread across the league that every game is a war and teams end up beating the you-know-what out of each other. The way the BCS sets up it really benefits the conferences that are not as balanced. Even if an SEC team goes unbeaten, it doesn’t guarantee a BCS Title game berth. Remember Auburn ran the table 3 years ago and was the odd team out as Oklahoma and USC battled for the National Title. The SEC is the most powerful conference in college football. Should this trend keep up don’t be surprised if the league says enough is enough and uses its clout to make some changes in the way a National Champion is crowned.
Well …a college football playoff is on the table this week at the annual SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida.
University of Florida President Bernie Machen has asked for time to speak in front of league officials about supporting a college football playoff system. Machen’s believes that a playoff system would likely generate in excess of $100 million. That kind of sick money might sway some college presidents and conferences but getting all 12 SEC member institutions to write off on a playoff proposal and be united will be a tough sell. Don’t expect a definitive plan to come of this year’s meetings but a first step has been taken on this subject.
Of course that might change again when another great SEC team is left out of the BCS Championship Game.
Monday, May 14, 2007
If you are a follower of golf, you’ve probably never heard of MacKinzie Kline. Hopefully, after this you will remember the name.
MacKinzie is 15, has been playing golf for almost a decade and last year she was ranked the number 1 female golfer IN THE WORLD for her age.
What’s more impressive is the 750,000 dollars she has raised for the Children’s Heart Foundation since she became their national spokesperson at the age of 10. Why? Because MacKinzie Kline suffers from a disease called Heterotaxy syndrome, in which she is missing the right ventricle of her heart.
As a result, she doesn’t have as much oxygen flowing to her blood as a normal 15 yr. year old so, when she plays golf or does any other form of activity, it’s as though she’s exercising at an altitude equivalent to the Rocky Mountains, always struggling to breathe.
That’s why, on the course, she is allowed to ride a cart and to take oxygen after almost EVERY shot. She has had three heart surgeries, the latest almost eight months ago, but looks forward to the day she is able to play competitively on the LPGA Tour. She is not playing junior events anymore and has no college plans.
You see, according to doctors, no single-ventricle patient has played competitive sports through their teen years and she technically has a seriously shortened life expectancy. There is no long-term data on anyone with this type of disease living beyond 20 or 30 years of age. Patients can live that long but, according to doctors, they are not sure she will be able to continue her dreams at that point.
So, she perseveres, arising everyday at 5:30, at her tutor’s by 6:15, practicing for hours on her golf game afterwards, dreaming, hoping for that chance to realize her dreams, before they are gone. And, despite all this, she wants to be known for her talent and hard work on the golf course, not as “the Heart Girl.”
MacKinzie, I’m sorry, but your story is ALL ABOUT HEART.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Why is it that professional athletes - not all of them, but most - seem to do things during their off seasons that make them look like complete and utter idiots?
I’m talking about gun possession, drug possession, driving while intoxicated and in one case being, at least at this point, involved with Dog Fighting.
I Don’t Get It...
Okay, now suppose for a minute…just a minute, that your job pays you oh...say $13 Million Dollars a year to play football. That job requires you to be at work for oh...say 7 months out of the year.
That means that you have 5 months to pretty much do, well very little. Most of us would probably take fancy vacations or buy ourselves nice stuff. Maybe we would treat ourselves to a new car...you know, the tangible stuff, things that probably would not get you in trouble.
Seven is as Seven Does...
No, I’m not talking about the lame-ass character that appeared in the Married With Children TV Show for a few episodes, I’m talking about none other than Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick.
I’ve gotta say that Vick, probably more than any other athlete that I’ve covered or spent time with, doesn’t make sense. What I mean by that is he’s kind of a contradiction. His personality doesn’t always seem to jive with the things that he does. I’ve spent enough time covering him and observing how he handles himself with the Media, most Fans and his teammates to see that he comes across in person as basically a quiet, low-key, sometimes almost shy person.
But, the contradiction is that he is all of these things, he apparently hasn’t been told “NO” by a whole lot of people. He hasn’t been told that he has to live by the same general rules all of us “Regular Folks” do.
Talk, Talk, Talk...
We’ve talked ad nauseum about the Adventures of one Michael Vick on OSG Sports Radio and more often than not, I’ve been the one who’s sort of defended him. But after the stretch that he’s endured the past couple of months...there is no defense, for any of it. Dude, it’s just plain STUPID. I mean, come on! “ARE YOU THE DUMBEST ATHLETE WHO’S EVER LIVED OR WHAT!”
Yeah, apparently Vick’s nephew/cousin or whoever who lived on property that Vick owned, not far from his hometown, had 40+ Dogs on the property with evidence that there may have been Dog Fighting at some point in time.
Okay, if true, not only is it morally wrong...it’s a Federal Crime. Not a local crime or a state crime, to which you might get a slap on the wrist, it’s a federal crime...one that if you are proven guilty of, will probably result in jail time.
Yes, I know that Vick hasn’t been charged and hasn’t been directly connected to it. He even showed up on ESPN during the NFL Draft to say that he needs to clean up his life, and change the people around him. To that I say it’s a long time coming...but it may be too late. Stories from around the Virginia area are surfacing that despite denying he’s ever been there, Vick has been seen around the house. Stories saying that the Nephew/Cousin didn’t have a “real job” with income. Stories that the Humane Society and PETA already had these guys on a watch list of suspected Dog Fighters.
A Bad Week...
And yes, this is after the “Airport Incident” and in fact, it's in the same week that Vick was supposed to appear in front of Congress to talk about Child Reading Initiatives. The problem with appearing before Congress, he decided it wasn’t worth the effort to get there. He was in Tampa the day before playing golf, his plane was late leaving and he missed his connection. Yes, that does suck, and he was flying AirTran, who’s notoriously unconcerned with overloading planes. Because he was late, the next 2 flights to DC were - you guessed it - oversold, so he would have had to wait for a 3rd. Instead, he just went home.
All I can say about this and the other string of incidents is “Good Luck.” It’s one thing just to do ignorant, stupid things like get your water bottle past an airport screener. That is just dumb. Being involved...directly or indirectly with a Dog Fighting Operation...well let’s just say that I hope you’ve saved your money and invested well. ‘Cause you’re going to need a good lawyer - and as we all know - Lawyers ain’t cheap!
“The Time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time- Pink Floyd
Monday, April 9, 2007
So...I’ve spent the past couple days and at some point pretty much a whole week, in Augusta, Georgia...covering the Masters Golf Tournament.
The Golf Fans out there are probably saying holy crap...that’s like the greatest thing ever. He’s on Holy Ground. Well, it sort of is like that...but really it is like setting foot in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Everything about the place is “Old School,” it is almost like they’ve built a little protective bubble around here that keeps everything stuck in a time warp. It’s kind of like stepping back into 1978 all over again.
What most of you have heard is true. The place is immaculate - all the time. There is an armada of people whose sole job is to walk around and pick things up. And yes, they do stay busy doing that.
This is probably the one place in the world where all the so-called “Official Types” as they call them here...members will always be walking around in Green Jackets. It is tradition. The jackets...well, they aren’t the most attractive things ever made...but they are the tradition. These are folks who aren’t known by there first names, only Mr. So and So.
The food is probably the most old school thing ever. You basically have a choice if you want to eat here. Egg Salad, Pimento Cheese, Ham and Cheese and Turkey and Cheese...that is pretty much it. The good part of it, it isn’t expensive, around $1.25. The bad part, if you are here for more than a day, it gets really old - really fast.
The cool thing for me was on Wednesday. Wednesday is Par 3 day where most of the players and some of the legends of the game come out and have a little fun on the Par 3 course. Easily the highlight this year...the “Big 3” - Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, playing together and pretty much receiving a continuous standing ovation.
If you walk around the course here (not an easy trick...it’s crowded, hilly and very long), chances are you’ll run into someone famous. Sometimes it’s a basketball or football coach, sometimes a celebrity and sometimes you just walk into some really strange people.
How cool is it?
This year marks my 8th Masters as a member of the Media. I do enjoy getting to come out and cover the event even though it is a lot of work. I don’t get to see large parts of the tournament, but usually walk out on the course on Sunday just to check things out.
It is a long week, Masters week, but one that is usually a lot of fun. There are always stories to find and interesting people to meet. It has gotten a little more difficult every year to do my job out here, because slowly...and I mean slowly, they are squeezing access out to people who do what I do. By that I mean they are limiting the amount of things you can shoot on the course once the tournament starts. In that way, they are stepping into the 21st Century and becoming just like every other “Big Sporting Event.”
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Friday, March 16, 2007
17 hours. That’s how long it takes to drive to Winston Salem from Raleigh, sit through four NCAA tournament games and drive back home. It’s 11:30 on Friday morning and I’m just waking up. I’m exhausted. I could sleep for two or three more hours. But it’s 11:30. I have to eat before the games start again. Today, instead of being in the LJVM Coliseum, I’ll be in the Eaves’ living room. I’m tired, but I’m ready for more.
For me, it’s been this way as long as I can remember. You can’t live in the Triangle region of North Carolina and NOT follow basketball. If you can, you didn’t grow up here. Yesterday, like the first day of the ACC tournament, was a holiday. People call in sick to work, take two hours lunches, and just HAVE to pick their kids up early from daycare. There’s BASKETBALL ON FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
Needless to say, yesterday was fantastic. Picture Bobby Knight, not throwing chairs, but consoling a player after his team lost to Boston College in the first round. Picture Tyrese Rice, who had to be one of the most dazzling players yesterday scoring 28 points, breathing a small sigh of relief as the time wound down in their defeat over the Red Raiders.
Now, picture Belmont, the musically-inclined college from Nashville, Tennessee, entering the Coliseum yesterday to thunderous one-handed, high-flying dunks by the Georgetown Hoyas. They were meant to intimidate the Bruins. It didn’t work...for the first four minutes.
Hear the thunderous applause in your head? That was the ENTIRE crowd, minus the Hoya fans, cheering for Belmont at the first TV time-out as they led 11-4. The energy was so thick you could feel it in the air. This Belmont team has a shot.
Fast-forward to the next TV timeout. The energy…GONE. Tie game…11-11. End of the road for the Bruins. But it was fun, even for only four minutes.
Then, it got REAL fun. The night session, after an overpriced order of chicken fingers and fries from a bar across the street, was a mere ten minutes from starting. But, the scoreboard was on and Duke had fallen behind early. I heard the cheers as we walked to our seats, but I didn’t see the score.
I asked our neighbors in the seats beside us, “What was that all about?” “Duke’s losing early,” he said.
“Hope they're losing in an hour-and-a-half,” someone replied from two rows back.
OK, on to the next game. Marquette-Michigan State. U-G-L-Y. I have NEVER seen, nor heard, of a team not making a two-point shot, for an entire half…at least, not in the modern era of college basketball. I WATCHED IT WITH MY OWN EYES LAST NIGHT! The Golden Eagles fell behind 11-0, trailed 30-18 at the half, made 4 3’s and six free throws. No two-point shots. AMAZING!!
Needless to say, this game was over. Back to the scoreboard. Time is winding down. They flash the Duke score again. Duke down 1. And the largest applause of the day comes from the crowd. After all, with the exception of the first 30 minutes of the Boston College/Texas Tech contest, we hadn’t seen, nor heard, of a close game in about 7 hours.
Ten seconds later, the score changes. Duke UP 1. The crowd boos…ANGRILY. 14,000 people in Winston Salem are mesmerized by a scoreboard as much as my two-year old is mesmerized by Elmo. There is a break in the action as the Marquette/Michigan State game has finally ended after about ten very unnecessary fouls by Marquette. A Golden Eagles fans scream from a few rows back after the fourth foul, “COME ON!! WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!!”
Again, back to the scoreboard. The score shows VCU 77, Duke 77 for about two minutes.
Then the PA announcer...
“FINAL SCORE FROM BUFFALO...VCU 79, Duke 77."
I thought for a moment the roof was going to blow off the place. The loudest roar of the night was saved for a game from played around 1,000 miles away.
But wait...North Carolina plays in ten minutes. We’re not done yet. UNC jumps out to a 36-13 lead over Eastern Kentucky in the first 11 minutes. The Colonels are extra crispy. Done. Game, set, match.
Back-door cuts start to be more precise. Threes start falling. Turnovers become more frequent for UNC.
16 minutes to go…TV timeout. UNC 48, EKU 44.
Could a number one-seed lose? Really? Come on. I didn’t wait my whole life to buy NCAA tickets to see my team make history in the worst way, did I?
I didn’t. UNC, sparked by senior Reyshawn Terry, opened up another 23 point lead and finally sent the Colonels home 86-65. It was one of the very few times I’ve seen a team have to beat another twice to get only one win out of it.
“Survive and advance,” Jimmy V said a thousand times.
I did, but I’m ready for more. It’s 12:10 now. Pizza (“It’s not delivery…”) is done. Game starts in ten minutes.
I’ve survived. Now, I’ll advance. To my couch.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Right now, NCAA Bracket pools are being filled out by friends and co-workers alike. Many sheets of paper are wasted printing out brackets and carefully studying which teams will make the Final Four and most importantly, who will be this year’s George Mason. If you know that, it could score major bucks for you in your office pool.
The sexy picks to play Cinderella are Davidson, Winthrop and perhaps George Mason’s Colonial Athletic Association rival Virginia Commonwealth. Good solid picks and all low seed from Mid-Majors. My mid-major pick to go to the Elite Eight and perhaps pull a George Mason is the Salukis of Southern Illinois.
Yes, I know the Egyptian Dogs have been nationally ranked and are a 4 seed out of the West Region. Technically they don’t qualify for Cinderella status but the Salukis have a legitimate shot in not only reaching the Elite Eight, but going to Atlanta and the Final Four. SIU doesn’t score a lot however, their defense is stifling only allowing 56 points per game that’s good for 3rd in the nation. Another thing the Salukis have going for them is their top players are upperclassman. Senior Jamaal Tatum leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game, good for 5th in the Missouri Valley Conference. Junior Randal Falker averages double figures in points (12.5) and 3rd in the MVC in rebounding grabbing 7 boards per game. SIU has talent and experience which might be the way to San Jose for the West Regionals and possibly carry the Salukis to Atlanta.
OTHER NCAA TOURNAMENT NOTES:
My Arkansas Razorbacks was one of the last to get in the NCAA Tournament and I like their draw. The Hogs are a hot team and can get by Southern California and could reach the sweet 16 though getting by Texas with all-world Kevin Durant would be a tall order. One things is certain, getting the in the Big Dance saved Stan Heath’s job.
Winthrop will beat Notre Dame and head coach Gregg Marshall will parlay that win into a job in a major conference. Perhaps one in South Carolina if it opens up.
The other budding head coaching star to come out of this tournament is Oral Roberts’ Scott Sutton. He has the bloodlines, his dad is Eddie Sutton and his brother is Sean Sutton. Scott’s turn at a major school is coming soon plus ORU should win a game or 2 at the NCAA’s.
The East sets up great for Georgetown to reach the Final Four. If Ohio State’s talented freshman withstand the pressure of March Madness their in. Florida is on a mission to repeat and to me they are the best “TEAM” in the NCAA Tournament. I would like to see Ohio State and Florida (Just like the BCS Title Game in Football) to meet for the title at the Georgia Dome. Unfortunately Buckeye fans, the might Gators will win this, too.That's it...I'm spent.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Despite his recent statements about possibly staying in college another year, the facts and the money are clear: without the NBA mandate that a player be at least one-year removed from college before he can drafted, Greg Oden never would have stepped foot on a college campus in a basketball uniform. But, we are the lucky ones. We are seeing the emergence of one of the most dominant big men in the last twenty years.
While struggling with a wrist injury that forced him to miss Ohio State’s first ten games or so, as hard as it is to believe, Oden actually improved his shooting touch. He practiced only with his left hand and, as a result, has become even more dominating offensively. He is ALREADY the best defensive center since Ewing.
The Buckeyes open their tournament title hopes with Central Connecticut State. The Blue Devils tallest player is 6-7. Oden is 7-0. Any questions?
Texas A&M is one of the nation’s best defensive teams and their guard tandem of Acie Law and Josh Carter are as good as any tow you can find in the country. Law can single-handedly take over a game and Carter is the nation’s best 3-point shooter at a 52 percent clip from long range. They are sixth in assists in the country and, as a team, average a sizzling 42 % from three-point land.
Memphis has won 22 consecutive games. That would normally be very impressive. But, the Tigers play in Conference USA. I think Brother J-Dub, Phil, Jon, Wilkie, and I could beat ECU twice a year. Memphis is also 1-3 against top-tier teams with losses to Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Arizona. Their play will depend on the play forward Chris Douglas-Roberts and guard Antonio Anderson. Their play will be the difference in a Final Four run or a second round exit to Nevada or Creighton.
A five seed has defeated a number 12 seed six years in a row in the NCAA’s. I’ve predicted one twelve seed (Old Dominion) to advance already. Make it two.
Tennessee has shown a tendency this season to play to the level of their competition. The do have one of the nation’s best players in Chris Lofton (20.6 ppg, 42% 3-FG) but the Vols ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense and only shoot around 65 percent form the foul line.
Long Beach State, on the other hand, runs a 3-guard offense and has 4 players averaging 13 points a game. They are fast and, if taken lightly, can pull off the upset. Tennessee has defeated Florida and Memphis this season…at home. Surely they can beat Long Beach State. Right? RIGHT?
BYU and Xavier come into the tournament starting three seniors apiece. Find me ten major conference teams that can make the same claim. BYU shoots about 50 percent from the field on the year and 40 percent from behind the arc. Xavier has five players that average 10 points a game but, at times, this team can really go cold from deep. Xavier has an excellent chance to pull of the mid upset, if the threes are falling.
Don’t overlook the Stanford Cardinal against Louisville, either. Stanford has the 7 foot twin towers (they REALLY are twins) Brooke and Robin Lopez and Louisville has shown a tendency to struggle with size this year. But, for the first time all year, Louisville is healthy. They’ll be led by forward Juan Palacios and Terrence Williams, a freshman averaging almost 13 a contest. Even though the Cardinal-s are healthy, I see Stanford asserting that size down low and dominating on the boards. The singular Cardinal gets the upset in this one.
Despite their recent struggles, I see Virginia easily advancing over Albany. A lot of people think this could be an upset in the making, but I’m just not buying into that argument. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds can knock it down from anywhere inside half-court when they’re hot and they get decent enough play from their frontcourt to dispatch of Albany in the first round. One stat to watch, however, is turnovers; the Cavaliers average more turnovers than assists. Should they start giving the ball away, the Great Danes could have a chance. As a 16 seed last year, they led Connecticut by 12 in the second half, so they won’t be intimidated.
I like Nevada in the 7/10 game. Nick Fazekas is an All-American who averages 21 and 10 a night and guard Marcelus Kemp lights it at a 41% clip from 3-point range. Their three-guard offense will be just potent enough to survive a Creighton team that allows a mere 60 points a game but also ranked last in the MVC in field goal percentage.
There are only two teams in my mind that have a legitimate shot at Atlanta in two and a half weeks: Texas A&M and Ohio State. The regional final will be played in San Antonio. I’ll give the home court advantage to the Aggies as Texas A&M rounds out my Final Four picks.
We hope these looks at the brackets have provided you enough information to win the office pool and, if you feel so inclined, we’ll be glad to take ten percent. Enjoy the games. I certainly will as I will be headed to my very first tournament games. Should anything Madness-worthy happen in Winston Salem, I’ll be there to tell you all about it.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The “home cooking” in this bracket starts with the top 2 seeds…North Carolina and Georgetown. The Tar Heels open up play in Winston Salem, a mere 80 or so miles from the Chapel Hill campus. Georgetown will also play in Winston Salem and, should they advance to the Sweet 16, play in the Meadowlands where they are sure to be heavily represented with a Hoyas contingent.
Plain and simple, this bracket is LOADED. The fourth seeded Texas Longhorns could easily have been a number 3 or even a 2 seed and not many people would have cried foul. Soon to be national Player of the Year Kevin Durant leads a four freshmen, one sophomore starting five that averages over 80 points a game. One concern for the Longhorns will be defense; they allow over 70 points a game. An off-shooting night could lead to an early tourney exit. One early exit is a lock…Durant will take his talents to the NBA next year.
North Carolina has all the tools to make it to Atlanta and win it all. Three freshmen, led by ACC Rookie of the Year Brandan Wright, and All-Amercian candidate Tyler Hansborough seemingly found their early season form in the ACC tournament. Questions still remain about this team’s toughness but, make no mistake, no one in powder blue will answer any more “tough” questions if they make it out of this region. By far the most arduous trail to the Final Four runs along the eastern seaboard.
UPSETS A PLENTY?
Outside of North Carolina, Georgetown, and Texas, every team with a higher seed in this bracket could be out after one round.
The most compelling match-up of all in the first round lies with Marquette and Michigan State. Teacher-Student. Tom-Tom. Crean-Izzo. These two have almost identical styles (go figure), almost identical teams, and almost identical stats to back it up. Marquette enters the NCAA’s losing five of eight and Michigan State, as with any Tom Izoo-led team, has saved its best basketball for late in the season, knocking off Wisconsin twice in less than two weeks. Marquette has done a better job of rebounding throughout the course of the season but you can NEVER count out Izzo, who has sent his Spartans to the Final Four4 times since 1999. If Drew Neitzel has a big day for the Spartans, it’s an early exit for Marquette.
Boston College gets great senior leadership from ACC player of the year Jared Dudley yet, at times, seems to only play well when they’re down 10-12 points. Tyrese Rice, a sophomore, averages almost 18 points per contest, and, hung 32 on Miami in the second round of the ACC tournament. They will miss the inside play of Sean Williams, who was dismissed from the team in January. If this team comes in focused and ready for a game-one challenge from Texas Tech, they should live to play on Saturday. If they play like they did in the ACC tournament, Bobby Knight and his long-range shooters (42% - 3FG, 4th in the country) could send the Eagles soaring home quickly. The one question for the Red Raiders: rebounding. They currently rank 285 in rebounding margin…OUCH!
USC advanced to the finals of the PAC-10 tournament, only to get shellacked by Oregon. The Trojans find themselves with a moniker they may have never seen: overachievers. This season was supposed to happen next season when highly-touted recruit OJ Mayo hits campus (if he can stay out of trouble). Freshman Taj Gibson, who shoots almost 60 percent from the field, will try to prevent the first round exit as they face an Arkansas team that comes into the tournament with 5 wins in six outings and start four juniors, making them one of the most experienced teams in the region. This will be a close, competitive contest but, I’ll take the Trojans based on the play of Lodrick Stewart. A big three by Stewart late in the game will, send Coach Tim Floyd on to face Texas in the second round. Careful what you wish for, USC fans.
It all comes down to the play of two men for Oral Roberts if they’re to pull off the biggest upset of the tourney this year…Caleb Green and Ken Tutt. Green is averaging almost 21 points a game and Green lights up the scoreboard for 16 a contest. Washington will try a more balanced attack. All five starters for the Cougars drop in at least 8 points per game. The Cougars finished second in the PAC-10 and they led the league in turnover margin. A lot of experts think that Oral Roberts could pull off the upset, and I’m in that pack. The Golden Eagles will not be intimidated by their surroundings (they beat Kansas earlier this year). If they continue their hot shooting, Cinderella has wings this year. And, I think they could also beat Vanderbilt or George Washington.
It’s hard for me not to take North Carolina to the Final Four but, with the best player in the country standing in the way, I just can’t do it. Texas will climb on the shoulders of Kevin Durant, narrowly escape over Georgetown in the Elite 8, and move on to Atlanta.
Monday, March 12, 2007
The first thing that stands out when you look at the West bracket is UCLA essentially staying at home until the Final Four, provided they do their job and win. Their first two games will be played Sacramento and the regional matchups, should they advance, will be held in San Jose. UCLA will never have to leave the state of California if they advance to the Final Four. Not bad for a team that lost their last two games.
Kansas comes into the tournament on a high after winning the Big 12 Tournament against Texas over the weekend. Let’s remember, however that Kansas has exited the big dance in the first round the last two years. Certainly, a third exit that early would be historic as no number one seed has ever lost in the first round and it’s not happening here either. Kansas does have an interesting second round match-up with Kentucky or Villanova.
Tubby Smith is on the proverbial “hot seat” in Lexington, but just yesterday we learned that it will be up to Tubby to decide if want to return to the pressure cooker that is Kentucky basketball. For Wildcats fans, anything less than a Final Four appearance in any year is considered a disappointment.
Another interesting team is Duke, losers of six of their last 10 games, placed as a 6 seed in the West? A 6 SEED? Talk about riding your reputation into a higher seed. This Blue Devil team is no better than an eight seed, at best, and a Sweet 16 appearance would be a miracle.
It’s hard to think of Gonzaga again as an underdog with their successes the last years. Nevertheless, they find themselves in that position when they take on Indiana. Coach Mark Few has said that is team is better without Josh Heytvelt. Now’s his chance to prove it and I believe they will. They are better shooters than Indiana, better rebounders, better free-throw shooters, and turn the ball over less. Additionally, Indiana really struggles away from Assembly Hall. The Bulldogs will upset the Hoosiers and get ANOTHER shot at UCLA over the weekend.
A trendy upset from other sources seems to be Illinois over Virginia Tech. Quite simply, I’m not buying it. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and free throw percentage this year, not good stats when it comes to advancing in March. I like the senior leadership that the Hokies bring to the floor with Coleman Collins and All-ACC section Zabian Dowdell. And Deron Washington is a human highlight reel…just do a search for him on YouTube and enjoy.
Another potential first round upset brewing is VCU over Duke. Everyone in the country is aware of Duke’s recent struggles and, unless they can give a better defensive performance, they WILL be out in the first round of the tournament. VCU is ranked 12th nationally in 3-point percentage but they do lack depth. I don’t think that will be a big factor in this game, though, as Duke never plays more than seven players. Whether Duke lives to the weekend will rest on the shoulders of Greg Paulus. Usually, as he goes, Duke goes. At most, however, it’s a one-win tournament for either team as a stellar Pittsburgh team will await the winner.
REST OF THE WEST
While it could be considered a mild upset, an 8/9 match-up is usually a toss-up. The battle of the Wildcats will be determined by the senior leadership of Villanova. Seniors Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi, and Will Sheridan are the backbone of this team. Nardi has recently been suffering through a left ankle injury and his health is key to this game. If he’s healthy and “on,” Villanova’s Wildcats should take care of the Kentucky Wildcats without a problem. Kentucky comes into the tournament having lost 6 of 9 and haven’t defeated a ranked team all year. Villanova finished the season ranked 14th in the RPI index. Kentucky's string of 16 straight opening round victories in the NCAA tournament is in serious jeopardy.
Southern Illinois should have no problem with Holy Cross as long as long it stays a half-court game…and it will. The Salukis are the fourth best defensive team in the country, allowing opponents a paltry 56.2 points per game. And, like many mid-majors, Southern Illinois starts four upperclassmen.
Another heavily experienced squad that will have no problem in the first round is Pittsburgh. Three seniors starts for the Panthers and that, combined with all-Big East center Aaron Gray is enough to get Pittsburgh to the Sweet 16 without a problem.
They had championship weekend to rest and re-focus and they’ll never leave home until they take a charter to the Phoenix city. UCLA is my pick to advance out of the West region and advance to the Final Four.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
When Florida lost three of four games a few weeks ago, many people (including myself) thought this team had peaked early and were in for an early exit in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. But, let’s remember Florida did this last year, too, dropping 3 straight in mid-February before running the table to claim last year’s National Championship.
The big question now is: Can they be the first team since Duke to repeat?
Looking at the Midwest bracket, ANYTHING short of the Final Four would be a HUGE disappointment.
The number two seed in the region is Wisconsin, who will be without the services of Brian Butch due to an elbow injury. Granted, the Badgers still have Alando Tucker, one of the nation’s best players, but without Butch, I don’t see this team making a serious run in the tournament. Ohio State exploited that interior weakness in the Big Ten finals and I expect each team they play to continue that trend. In fact, I believe the winner of the Georgia Tech/UNLV game will have a serious shot at knocking off Wisconsin in the second round.
Two upsets are a possibility as I see it in the Midwest…first let’s take a look at the Winthrop/Notre Dame contest.
Notre Dame comes into the dance winners of six of their last seven contests, the sole defeat by tow-points to Georgetown. The Irish can put up points in bunches like Oregon, shooting almost 40 percent from behind the arc for the season. They are also eighth in the country in scoring at 81.3 points per contest.
Winthrop, earning the automatic bid by winning the Big South Tournament, has never won a NCAA tournament game. But, they’ve never had this much talent. Big men Phillip Williams and Craig Bradshaw provide excellent post-play for the Eagles allowing all-conference guard Michael Jenkins to really bring the heat from the outside (15.4 ppg, 47.3 FG%, 42.6 3-pt.%).
The bottom line is this Winthrop team knows how to win and I believe if they can slow down the Irish from behind the arc, we’ll all be singing the praises of Winthrop by the weekend.Also, watch out for the Davidson Wildcats over the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland has played some outstanding basketball down the stretch, particularly DJ Strawberry and PG Greivis Vasquez. They beat Duke twice and UNC down the stretch but, off their home floor, they really struggle (losing to Miami in the opening round of the ACC tournament).
Davidson really hasn’t beaten anyone to write home about this year but watch the play of guard Stephen Curry in this game. He’s the son of former NBA star Del Curry and, like pops, can turn on the afterburners from 3-point range, averaging 21 points per game and shooting an amazing 45% from the land of the three. Also, Davidson shoots around 75% from the free throw line as a team, which is always important come tourney-time.
The play of DJ Strawberry will be key in this one. If he is on, Maryland should advance. If he struggles, the Wildcats could live to play another day.
THE REST OF THE MIDWEST...
In the other matchups, a dangerous Arizona team takes on Purdue team that brings a 1-2 punch with guard David Teague and Forward Carl Landry. Arizona is not that deep, but the five they start have enough firepower to take down Purdue.Butler and Old Dominion give us a match-up of two mid-major at-large teams. Butler, with junior AJ Graves, will win or lose with their defense, ranked sixth nationally. Old Dominion brings a veteran lineup into the tournament and a deep one, too. Ten players average almost ten minutes a game and they start three seniors and two juniors. Don’t knock experienced “teams” when it comes to March (remember George Mason?).
Georgia Tech comes into the tournament winners of seven of its last nine games. But, like their ACC counterparts Maryland, struggles mightily away from the home cookin’.
UNLV and GT are very similar in athleticism but Georgia Tech shoots the ball a little better overall. UNLV will force some turnovers in this game against a freshmen-laden team. An intriguing match-up here, but I’ll give a slight edge to the Yellow Jackets.
FINAL FOUR BOUND
Overall, I believe that Gators are overwhelming favorites to advance out of the Midwest and make it to Atlanta. If Florida should stumble along the way, I’ll take the Oregon Ducks to advance to the Final Four.
Friday, February 23, 2007
For anyone who thinks that professional athletes are spoiled, bitter, jaded and not fun...you should spend some time at the Walt Disney Sports Complex with the Atlanta Braves.
I realize that some people...including Brother Jon and Brother J-Dub, bristle at the mention of the Braves, but I grew up a Braves fan...and now I get to cover them.
It’s a Mindset...
Maybe it is...and who knows, maybe it’s the reason the Braves got the reputation for not being able to win the "Big One." But, for selfish reasons, it makes things a whole lot easier when you are dealing with a "Laid-Back group of guys..in town to practice baseball...and to have a little fun."
Most successful teams...or for that matter businesses tend to take on the personality of their leaders. Good, bad, uptight or laid-back...look closely at the place you work...or think about the teams that you love...its true...you know that it is.
The Braves take on the personality of Bobby Cox. Cox treats his players very simply. If you are in camp you are expected to take care of your business. Be ready to play when asked and stay out of trouble when you aren’t playing. Those are pretty much his only rules.
Braves Spring Training is a simple ritual. Arrive around 9. Some players will already be there working out on their own. A little before 10, the team will make its way to the dugout...shortly thereafter they’ll hit the field. They run a lap...stretch, throw, take infield, the pitchers go and pitch...the fielders all take turns hitting, they run in the outfield after hitting and the day is done.
Maybe its just me, but I don’t think so. The Braves locker room is a good group of guys. Most hang out together, play golf, fish or do something else outdoorsy during the afternoon and generally go to dinner afterwards. You can tell when around these guys that they like each other.
From John Smoltz’ continuous ripping on Jeff Francouer to Chipper and Andruw Jones messing with every and anyone who walks by...everyone is laughing most all the time.
On Wednesday evening...we had a Local Atlanta TV Media Dinner at a Cuban Restaurant near Disney World. While we were all sitting there cutting up, we hear a familiar “What the hell? You guys actually like each other?” It’s Francoeur eating dinner with Brian McCann and Pitcher Mike Hampton.
Not Like it Used to Be...
It used to be that TV Crews and Newspaper guys would spend Spring Training with the teams for the whole time they were there. Not any more...now they do it like us: Come in for 2 and a half days, get as many stories as you can and get out. Strangely, that makes sense to me. No, you aren’t there if someone gets hurt...but chances are there is a camera of some sorts there. It’s harder to build relationships, but at the same time, you see most of the guys over the course of the year...so its not a total loss.
Spring Training now is nothing like Spring Training used to be. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing...the ideological pining for the youth of a forgotten time isn’t there, but there still is the fun of being around a group of people playing a kids game...and still acting like kids themselves.
“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)
Thursday, February 22, 2007
On February 21, 2007, I got the pleasure of meeting a 5th Grade Student from Peachtree City, Georgia who really put things in perspective.
Cami Kelly is her name is she traveled to Orlando with her mom, her cousins and brother. They came because Cami is special, she is mildly autistic and has an incredible talent. She can name each player on the Braves team, their birthday and the name of their pets.
Cami and her mom, Jenny decided on this trip they would let the Braves know that they were there. They stayed up late on Tuesday night creating a sign, a sign wishing Brian McCann and Ryan Langerhans a Happy Belated Birthday.
They arrived at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex early on Wednesday, we met them around 8:30am. They were hanging out down the first baseline, just sitting, waiting for the team to take the field. Sign in hand and held at various times by Mom, Aunt, Cousin and Brothers, they finally got their first wish around 10, when the team finally took the field.
Cami, like any other kid was fidgeting all morning long. She and her cousins moved from behind the dugout, to right field, to first base and back again…the whole time waiting, waiting for McCann and Langerhans to see their sign.
A Little Help...
Sports Anchor Mark Harmon and I had already talked to Cami, spoken to her mom and had decided to do a feature on them for the day. We also had to do our other work of the day... stockpiling stories on the team, the players and what to expect this year…just like we do every year.
One of the players we spoke to was McCann. McCann, one of the “Baby Braves,” is also one of the nicest, down to earth 22-year old Major League Baseball players that you will ever meet. When Mark and I got finished talking to Brian, we told him Cami’s story and he said he saw the sign earlier in the day. He told us “That’s cool, I’ll go over there after we are finished.”
True to his Word...
It took awhile…this being the first day of Spring Training, the Braves practiced a little longer than normal. They finally finished around 1pm.
No sooner had they finished when Mark pointed down the 1st Base Line, where McCann was signing autographs. I quickly ran over there and got there about the time that Cami did. She held true, stood her ground and when McCann got over to her, she shyly handed him the small bat that she had been holding all day long. Brian looked up, smiled, signed the bat and handed it back to a beaming Cami.
The look on her face was priceless; she grinned ear to ear. I saw her walking away, down towards the right field corner. I don’t know if she realized it, but she looked right at me…smiled real big, then turned and kept walking. I couldn’t help but smile back…seeing the look on her face makes you really think about things, think about what you do, why you do it and what makes you happy.
Meeting people like that, making them happy does nothing but make you even happier. It really made me think back to my days as a kid, think back to what it meant to be around your heroes and to have them acknowledge you - that moment will live forever.
“The time has come, my song is over…thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)
Monday, February 19, 2007
For those of you who care -- and, apparently many in the market I work in (Atlanta) do care -- the sale of the Atlanta Braves has finally been agreed upon. Forgive my narcissism about this, but the negotiating has been going on for over a year and half…ever since the mega-conglomerate Time Warner decided they wanted to sell.
Is This Significant?
Uh...yeah, in a way, it is significant. If agreed upon by the Gods of Major League Baseball…it would represent the first time that no cash was involved in the sale of one of their teams.
To try and boil this down, Time Warner is essentially trading the team to Liberty Media for mostly Stock Options. They are doing this, surprise, because they can get out of paying taxes on the transaction this way.Gosh, I would hate for companies whose profits are oh…in the Billions, to avoid paying a little tax money to Uncle Sam. But, nowadays if you are mega-rich…you can get away with it.
The catch to all this is MLB’s approval. It probably will happen, but it isn’t a sure thing. One thing that Baseball and most of the other Pro Sports teams encourage is local ownership. This ain’t local ownership. Liberty is based out of Colorado…oh…a thousand miles or so from Atlanta. The other caveat is…and this is just my opinion…Liberty will sell the Braves in oh…2 or 3 years. They will sell it for cash…all cash that they pocket.
Will it affect the team?
No, it won’t. Actually, it will pretty much be status quo for the Braves. They won’t be able to spend much, if anything more than they do now on payroll. They will get to keep current management. And, more importantly, still won’t be able to keep up with the rest of the “Big Boys” in baseball.
Don’t get me wrong; I still despise the idea of escalating salaries in Pro Sports. However, it’s pretty much now a fact of life. Teams will over-pay more and more for players and will pass those costs off to you and me. Liberty Media won’t dig deeper into their pockets for it…they don’t have to.
“The Time has Come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say...” Time (Pink Floyd)
Curious Case of The Schottenheimer
Okay, anyone who thinks that the owner and the General Manager of the San Diego Chargers are idiots, please raise their hands. They just fired, well after the “Coaching Carousel” came to a halt, a head coach who basically rebuilt a struggling, moribund franchise and made it one of the most exciting in football.
I’ll grant you “Marty’s Curse” otherwise known as the playoffs, probably factored into things but come on…this just reeks of stupid. This was done after roughly 65% of the Coaching Staff found other jobs. Charger Owner Dean Spanos blamed that as a “Primary” reason for the change. Come on “DEAN”…are you really that stupid? Did you ever think that the coaches left…because they got better opportunities? Gosh, maybe Cam Cameron or Wade Phillips would stay out of the kindness of their hearts instead of…oh…taking Head Coaching jobs. Come to think of it…Rob Chudzinski and most of the others got promotions too. But no…in Dean’s world that meant that his coach (Marty) had problems.
Another part of this apparently was the team General Manager…A.J. Smith. Apparently, he felt, the rebuilt Chargers were all his doing. He and Schottenheimer feuded…sometimes publicly on personnel and other issues. Okay, great – it’s not like that doesn’t happen with other teams. But apparently, he couldn’t exist with someone who didn’t think he could be “The Man.”
Act Like Grownups…
Never let it be said that those in Football management always act like adults. They don’t. With these folks, you are dealing with egos that sometimes are too big for the stadiums that they play in. They truly believe if they’ve had “any” success…that it was from their genius. Yeah…right.
The Curious Case of the Schottenheimer boils down to this: Ego. In the long run…Marty will be fine, in fact, probably better off. The Chargers…not so much. Sure, they’ll find someone to coach LaDanian Tomlinson and their other stars, but I’m betting they won’t be as successful. I mean come on…who’s left to Coach these guys…Norv Turner? (Webmaster's Note: This was written on February 13. I've been swamped and haven't posted it. Phil is our resident Carnak.)
“The Time has Come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time- (Pink Floyd)
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Thursday, February 1, 2007
OK, this is flippin' hilarious, and you have GOT to listen to this...
Actor and Chicago Bears' fan Michael Clarke Duncan (left) and sports reporter Skip Bayless get into a heated fight about Duncan's love and knowledge of the Chicago Bears, on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza."
My favorite line of the whole rant was from Skip: "Michael, if you're a Bear superfan, then Ricky Bobby was a genius."Shake and bake, baby!
--John V. Wood
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
For those who have never attended or covered a Super Bowl, those are the only fitting words that come to mind for those of us who have been there.
Having covered SuperBowl XXXIV in 2000 here in Atlanta (Brother Nelson has been to XXVIII, XXXIII and XXXIV), it is the most bizarre, crazy, rollercoaster ride of a week that you could ever imagine.
Welcome All and None...
The first thing that you have to understand about the “Super Bowl,” the Championship Game of Championship games, is that is not for the general public to attend.
Sure, the NFL would love your money if you can find a way to get a ticket, but those tickets are not available to very many people. The only shot you’ve got, a ticket broker, and if you do that, you are going to be paying a lot of money.
You see the game is mostly for Corporate Sponsors and for VIP’s. Why else do you think that you see shots of various assorted celebrities from the network covering the game. Unless you are a volunteer, an Event Staff person or a vendor, good luck getting in.
Yeah, it is a Circus, so to speak. But it is mostly due to the fact that every so-called TV Network, alleged Newspaper, magazine and/or radio station feels compelled to say they covered the game.
Most of them, they don’t even see the field on Game Day. Sure, they are right there with MTV and the Weather Channel and Entertainment Tonight on Media Day, but when it comes down to game time, they are in a room somewhere away from it all, watching on TV.
Speaking of “Media Day,” it is the only thing that it could accurately be described as a gigantic “ClusterF*ck”. You may, if you are lucky, get to talk to the player that you are there for, but more than likely, you’ll get the guy least crowded. Why you ask? Because like I said before, every “National” media outlet will be there…they will be there with what will seem like a small army of people, armed with Fishpole mics, long, extended camera lenses and probably a ladder, for the camera people to get any kind of shot.
What is truly sad is that most of the media there…do stories on the other media there. Why is this? I really don’t know. Do any of you care that we have a camera and reporter at a game? Or for that matter, do you really want to see what the slovenly, poorly dressed writer/radio host looks like when he’s covering the “Big Story?”
Me, when I covered SuperBowl XXXIV, the best I could do was a “Concourse Pass.” That meant I could roam the concourse level of the Georgia Dome with my reporter, but couldn’t go into the stands or stand somewhere and actually watch the game. Believe it or not, there were curtains at the top of each stairway leading into the stands that effectively blocked any clear view of the field.
But Everyone Watches...
Every year, this is the most watched Event on Television. To be totally honest with you, that is the best place to see it - on Television. On TV, you at least get to see the ads, which most of the time are better than the game. But here is a suggestion, watch the game without the volume on. Do you really want to listen to the announcers anyway? Or for that matter, do you really want to subject yourself to possibly the most annoying thing about pro football today - THE PRE-GAME SHOW? After all, coverage starts right at noon and continues - and continues - throughout the day.
For you and me, to come down to a “Super Bowl” means that you’ll be standing in ungodly long lines, watching the rich and famous go into parties, events and the game that you want to see. If that is for you, then great - have fun, and enjoy yourself. Make sure you bring your checkbook.
“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)