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Thursday, April 10, 2014

NCAA title game, Julie Hermann's idiocy and other stuff

The NCAA men's basketball tournament lived up to its nickname as always. It's not called "March Madness" by mistake, because it truly is pure bedlam, unpredictability and excitement throughout.


But the title game proved to be the NCAA's biggest nightmare, pitting a program in Connecticut that the holier-than-thou, money-grubbing institution wanted to damage by leveling a probation against it versus a Kentucky program that basically laughs in the face of the NCAA with its "one-and-done" philosophy.


Neither UConn nor Kentucky embody what the NCAA wants from its universities. They're far from being the clean cut, bookworm nerds that the NCAA would love to have. In fact, those two programs are the exact opposite of what the NCAA strongly desires.


Before we go any further, kudos to the performance of UConn's brilliant guard Shabazz Napier, who was clearly the best overall player in the entire tournament.


I told some of my colleagues that I would have voted for Napier as the tourney's Most Outstanding Player win or lose Monday night. He was that good. Napier dominated play more than any March Madness performer since the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. When the ball was in Napier's hands, the game was totally in control. You didn't even notice the other nine players on the floor.


However, Napier had his chance to shine after the game and totally flubbed it. Standing next to Jim Nantz in the post-game celebratory confetti, Napier grabbed the mike away from Nantz and asked for everyone's attention _ both inside the "Palace outside Dallas" and the millions still glued to their televisions at home.


"Can I have your attention?" Napier asked. Seriously, I was anticipating him saying something about his mother, who raised Shabazz and his two brothers on her own with a strict, yet soft hand. Nope, that wasn't it. He went off on a very wrong tangent.


Napier said that "you guys put a ban on us and that made us hungry for two years. We were a hungry bunch."


Oh, really? Let's put the blame on the NCAA for the probation and postseason ban. Shame on the bad NCAA for trying to hurt poor old UConn.


In my opinion, the NCAA went too soft on UConn with the one-year probation for the program's failure to live up to the NCAA's new academic performance quotient for graduation.


It was actually part of a three-year probation penalty that the NCAA placed on UConn in 2011 for a ton of recruiting violations, including monetary gifts, free airplane tickets, illegal phone calls, and according to the NCAA's own release "a failure to monitor, by the university, and promote an atmosphere for compliance by the head coach (Jim Calhoun)," as well as "unethical conduct and some secondary violations."


It's a program that has seen its basketball players commit serious crimes while at the school, including sexual assault, theft, you name it.


So Napier blames the NCAA for the ban? Sorry, try blaming UConn for the ban, cheating, lying, stealing, doing whatever it could to get ahead. It started with the administrators who turned a blind eye to the problem child players, went down to the coaches who were doing all the illegal recruiting and continued on down to the players who were stealing laptops and beating up women with no fear of any recourse.


UConn did all those hideous things _ top to bottom _ and deserved a much stiffer penalty from the NCAA. The one-year ban was nothing, because it didn't really hurt the program, considering that the Huskies managed to win the whole thing just a year later.

And are we ever going to find out what the school did under the table to keep people like Napier and Ryan Boatwright at UConn when the sanction was imposed? What would make a kid want to stay when kids nowadays transfer because a girl looked differently at him or he didn't like his philosophy teaching assistant? Something was extremely fishy about those kids remaining there. You can't say it was to get an almighty UConn degree.


So please, Shabazz, if you felt cheated about missing the NCAA Tourney last year, blame the real villains that are still bouncing around Storrs or glorified in retirement like Calhoun. UConn is the main reason why UConn was banned from the 2013 March Madness. Not the NCAA.


And as long as the NCAA enables players to leave after one year of college to apply for the NBA Draft, then coaches like John Calipari will continue to recruit players with the "one-and-done" mentality. And sorry, that's just not good for collegiate athletics, promoting the idea that kids can leave after just one year of school.


Let's face facts. Julius Randle has already left Lexington. There's no need to go back to take final exams. In fact, the future NBA star is a Dallas native. He might have just stayed there after the loss to UConn.


Randle knew he was coming out after one year before the year began. Heck, Andrew Wiggins announced before the Big 12 Tourney that he was not returning to Kansas after his one year. These kids are getting lured by big-time NBA money even if they're not at all ready to play in the NBA.


So those six top Kentucky players all knew they were "one-and-done." Is that college sports? It's certainly not what the NCAA wants to promote.


In that respect, then the March Madness finale was not what the NCAA could have imagined, pitting two of the worse examples of college basketball programs. Maybe the money-hungry, greedy NCAA got what it truly deserved.


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Julie Hermann really did it now.


First, the embattled Rutgers athletic director didn't remember being part of her assistant coach's wedding party, the same woman who she threatened to fire at Louisville if the coach managed to get pregnant (the coach did and was fired by Hermann).


Then Hermann said that she didn't know anything about a letter that was signed by the entire Louisville volleyball team, criticizing Hermann's behavior toward the players, using derogatory terms.


Hermann then didn't remember if she spoke to the actual parent of a disgruntled Rutgers football player, who was reportedly bullied and harassed by an assistant coach. She said that she actually spoke to the kid's father _ and those claims were denied by the father. She said it was a "problem in communication."

But there were no problems with Hermann's communication skills last week, when she spoke to a Rutgers Media Ethics and Law class and told them that the world would be a better place if the Newark Star-Ledger would die.


Here's an excerpt of what Hermann told the class:


"If they're not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they're not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann said. "And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I'm going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”


It would be great if the Star-Ledger, the state's largest newspaper, would die. This comes on the heels of the Ledger having to lay off 167 employees, 40 of which were reporters, some of whom are good friends. Yes, it's real great when newspapers die, Julie.


I have had the misfortune of working for some newspapers when they folded, namely the old Hudson Dispatch in 1991 and the Daily Journal of Elizabeth in 1992. It's not fun. In fact, the feeling is beyond funereal. You walk out of the building for the last time, carrying a box of your belongings and a slice of history with you.


Without question, the newspaper industry is struggling. A lot of papers are now working on shoestring budgets. Since she was hired in controversial fashion by Rutgers last year, Julie Hermann has angered so many people with her words and actions. She certainly hasn't made many friends, especially in the media business.


Simply put, Hermann deserves to be shown the door, but there's no chance she's going anywhere soon, because Rutgers would have to pay her a lot to go away. This was a mistake from the start and it just keeps getting to be even more of a disaster every time she opens her mouth. She must like the taste of her own toes.


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Dean Anna hit a home run tonight for the Yankees. I have one question. What's a Dean Anna? I know Dean Martin. Dean Jones, sure. But Dean Anna? That's a new one.


The Mets opened the 2014 season in fine fashion by losing. It's certainly a trend that we're bound to see often this year. GM Sandy Alderson said the team would win 90 games. One scout in Sports Illustrated said they would win 63 games. I tend to think it's somewhere in between there, probably closer to 63 than 90.


Have to give former St. Patrick's of Elizabeth guard Derrick Gordon credit for becoming the first NCAA basketball player to admit that he is gay. Gordon was first at Western Kentucky, then transferred to UMass last year and came out earlier this week. It comes on the heels of Jason Collins of the Nets and future NFL player Michael Sam coming out within the last year. There will be a day when an athlete's sexual preference is not newsworthy. The more that people like Gordon make their feelings public, then perhaps the general public will become more acceptable.


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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.










Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking back at Sochi and other things

Now that the 2014 Olympics in Sochi are over, there are a few things to review.


First, NBC has to be extremely proud of its wide-spread and extensive coverage. The network made sure that everything was covered on all the different venues on all hours of the day and night, on all different channels.


The ratings proved that NBC did a fantastic job, even through Bob Costas' battle with pink eye. It was the first time in ages where the Peacock flew above the other networks in the ratings, so it proved that America loved NBC's coverage as well.


Now, for the Games themselves. The hockey was definitely exciting with Team USA's thrilling shootout victory over Russia, but the air came out of the balloon with the semifinal loss to Canada and then the inexplicable shutout loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.


Hockey fans certainly took to the Olympics, evidenced by the sale of team sweaters, not just Team USA, but Canada as well. So is it worth it for the NHL to shut down operations for three weeks, then pick things back up again?


Only time will tell what kind of hockey we will see in the coming weeks, but you can be rest assured that the NHL applauds the Olympics, because it helps the sport to be more mainstreamed than it is regularly. More people _ especially women _ watched hockey over the past two weeks than they did during the course of the regular season.


Some hockey purists are pushing for the Olympics to make hockey a sport in the Summer Olympics, so this way it doesn't interrupt the regular season like it does now. That's just not going to happen. There's not a lot of ice to be found in July and August. And the NHL isn't going to let that happen, because the league's popularity is at all-time high right now, after the outdoor games and now the Olympics.


Now, I'm not exactly an expert on the other sports in the Winter Olympics, like curling, which is still too bizarre for words, or the biathlon, which combines skiing and rifle marksmanship, neither of which I know anything about.


But I found one Olympic sport to be especially exciting. That was snowboard cross, which was basically like motocross on snowboards. Five guys streaming down a ski slope on a snowboard at the same time. There were collisions galore, even one time where a competitor actually leaped over the other.


I was totally mesmerized by the entire thing. The event was breathtaking.


I can't believe I actually just wrote that about the Winter Olympics. Before this year, my memories of the Winter Olympics included Bob Beattie screaming Franz Klammer's name and Dick Button blubbering and crying over the "travesty of Tai and Randy," namely the skating pair of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, after Gardner was injured and couldn't skate. I also felt bad when Dan Jansen kept falling and falling.


Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan. Sure, I still get choked up by the sight of Mike Eruzione standing on the podium and waving his USA hockey teammates to join him after the Miracle on Ice in 1980.


But there isn't much more.


Give me some snowboard cross any day of the week. If there was a snowboard cross league, I'd be watching it regularly. It's the biggest novelty since the XFL. You could even give me a network of snowboard cross. Heck, there are already enough sports networks on the air now. I can watch virtually every single sport that the Big Ten can offer right now, including gymnastics and ping pong. I can handle the snowboard cross network.


So we can put Sochi in the memory banks now. Hopefully, Costas' eyes have recovered and he can continue to spew his ridiculous venom about how the American Indians are persecuted by the name Washington Redskins.
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One last thing: Now that the Winter Olympics are over, can Tonya Harding crawl back to the trailer park she rolled out from and go away forever? Does anyone in the world believe that she had nothing to do with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan?


Just give the girl a couple packs of Parliament, a couple bottles of Boone's Farm and some beef jerky and let her disappear. I cannot believe a word she says. Bottom line is that after 20 years, does anyone really care? Especially since Kerrigan went from being the nation's sweetheart to a pariah in the matter of a few months.
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I applaud athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out and revealing that they are gay. The world of sports should be more accepting of those who are gay and lesbian and not shun them.


And yes, for now, stories like that should be atop the fold of the sports section, because they have come out and proudly and bravely proclaimed their sexual preferences.


However, there should be a time when this is not newsworthy, when it becomes commonplace. Everyone should be more accepting of gays and lesbians. Chances are that we've all had friends that are gay and couldn't handle the scorn that comes with it, so they remained private.


I've been a sportswriter for 32 years now. I've heard stories of professional athletes, some big name players, being gay, but would never dream of reporting it. More than likely, there have been others who were _ and kept their lives private.


More than likely, I've had teammates over the years who were gay and no one knew. We didn't worry about what would be said in the locker rooms. Honestly, no one paid that much attention to it.


So yes, it's a brave world that Jason Collins and Michael Sam have entered. They deserve credit for their courage to come out in the macho world of professional sports. But in reality, it shouldn't be a big deal at all, because it's just part of real life.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com



Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering the great Ralph Kiner

I was born a Mets fan.


At least, I think I was.


I mean, the Mets were born right after me. We entered the world almost together. I entered the world in 1961, the Mets a year later.


I don't remember consciously making a choice to be a Mets fan. My first baseball game came in 1965, when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets. My father was a baseball historian to the utmost degree. He taught me about all the legends, about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and his all-time favorite Ted Williams.


So when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets, he kept reminding me how great Koufax was and that I should always remember how great he was. Only one problem. On that day in August, 1965, the Mets beat Sandy Koufax. So I was hooked.


But I truly think my love for the Mets started before that day in 1965. It was an inane gift, something always in me.


So with that in mind, my childhood always centered around the Mets. I remember sprinting out of third grade to go home to watch the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series. I remember sneaking a transistor radio into seventh grade to listen to the 1973 World Series.


My early childhood was filled with days of Seaver and Koosman and Harrelson and Agee and Grote and Shamsky and Swoboda and Cleon Jones. They were my life back then. I lived and breathed the Mets. Those were my heroes. I don't know if anything else ever existed back then.


And those days were also filled with Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.


They painted the picture of the ballpark when they were on the radio, doing the games for WHN. They made the grass greener and the lights brighter. That trio also did the games on WOR Channel 9, although back then, not every game was televised.


When a game was on, I was glued to the set, hanging on every single pitch.


And those games were produced to me by Nelson, Murphy and Kiner.


Ralph Kiner had even a bigger role. He was the host of the post-game show, the popular Kiner's Korner. If the Mets won, you wanted to hear your heroes talk. This was long before every word was recorded on video like it is now.


The only way we would get to hear Seaver or Koosman would be after a Met win with Ralph. They would sit with their warm-up jacket on, a towel around their necks and a cup of Rheingold, the extra dry beer.


So in that way, Ralph Kiner was a huge part of my upbringing. My Dad was dead and gone in 1971, but Ralph continued to bring me Met games and Kiner's Korner every year.


I remember Kiner's Korner when Benny Ayala was a hero rookie, hitting a homer in his first major league at-bat. Benny was a guest on Kiner's Korner, but there was a problem, because Benny couldn't speak English, so Felix Millan was on as well as an interpreter.


Another time, Roy Staiger was on, after his three-run homer gave the Mets a win, but since Seaver was on, Staiger never got a chance to talk except for the pitch he hit for the homer. "It was a curveball, Ralph."

I religiously watched Kiner's Korner, even all those times when the Mets lost (and there were plenty of those nights) and the guest was someone on the opposing team.


After many years, after I was a sportswriter, I used to take "my annual baseball sojourn," to Chicago and then Milwaukee to see the Mets play six games. I made that trip for about seven straight years. It was a blast to go back to where I went to school and see the Mets play.


In 2000, the Mets were supposed to play the Brewers, but there were thunderstorms all day. I stayed in the same hotel, the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, with the Mets.


I thought it would be a nice thing for my two-year-old nephew to get him a baseball signed by the two greatest Mets, namely Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, considering they were staying in the same hotel with me.


So I went to a sporting goods store, bought a baseball, and approached Seaver with a pen and the ball.


"Would you sign the ball for my nephew?" I asked.


Seaver went bananas.


"I'm not signing that shit. That's what they have card shows and autograph shows for. I'm not signing. And don't you guys sign it either."


Seaver was sitting in the lobby with Kiner and Al Leiter.


I was devastated. I took the ball and went to the hotel bar.


Soon after, Kiner walked into the bar. He ordered a bratwurst and a beer. He looked over at me sitting there.


"He can be like that sometimes," Kiner said about Seaver.


Kiner then asked me to slide over and sit with him. We spent about an hour talking about baseball, Milwaukee, Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock, about good meals, anything and everything, as the rain continued to pour down. There wasn't going to be a game that day, so we sat and had beers and brats at the hotel bar.


We were later joined by Met players Todd Zeile and Mike Hampton.


It really was a wonderful afternoon, thanks to the friendly gesture of Ralph Kiner.


About three years ago, I was at a Met game and as I came down to the front entrance, Ralph Kiner was sitting there in a wheelchair, waiting to be escorted home.


I approached Kiner and said, "Mr. Kiner, I don't know if you remember me, but..."


"Milwaukee, the hotel bar," he said in amazement. "How could I forget someone your size?"


He had a good point.


I asked if he wouldn't mind posing for a picture with me. His handler obliged. The picture was taken. I have that picture to treasure forever.


Ralph Kiner died last week at the age of 91. He lived a fruitful life, announcing games right until his final year on the planet.


He was such a huge part of my childhood, my adolescence, my adulthood. Ralph Kiner helped to carry me through those years _ and then became an absolute joy in one chance encounter, right after my childhood hero treated me like a piece of trash.


I will treasure those memories, those childhood days of Kiner's Korner, the day that I met him and the day I saw him again.


Through all his malaprops, like calling Gary Carter "Gary Cooper," and failing to say Candy Maldonado after three tries, or saying that the Dodger pitcher was born in Valenzuela, he was still Ralph and we loved him.


Ralph Kiner was a part of the Mets since they were born, since I was born. Now, another piece of my childhood is gone, like my father, like my mother. I'll remember them all fondly.
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Derek Jeter announced that he will retire at the end of this season and he will get the same farewell tour that Mariano Rivera had last year.


And the Yankee captain deserves it. Over the last two decades, no one handled being a superstar better than Jeter. He understood his importance from the beginning and was the ultimate role model for young kids. In an era where our children need positive role models, you needed to look no further than Jeter.


Who knows how many games he will be able to play this year after missing most of the last 17 months with bad ankles? Instead of bemoaning the fact that Jeter announced his retirement before the season, we should applaud him and treasure him, because players, people like Derek Jeter don't come around often.


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As for my health, I'm coming along, slowly but surely. I've been announcing games at Rutgers-Newark and NJIT and covering some indoor track meets. I'm still hobbled, relying on a cane and sometimes a walker, but I'm getting better. I'm still going to physical therapy three times a week, working hard, like I learned at Kessler Institute, to get better, to walk freely again without any assistance.


I'm not there yet. In fact, I'm not close. My doctors said that it would take months and guess what, it's taking months, but I am getting better.


Like they say, it's one day at a time. Today, regardless of the piles of snow outside, it's a good day. I love the good days. The doctors say that there will be some bad days _ and I have those _ but lately, the good ones outweigh the bad. And that's a good sign.


Thanks for the love and concern.


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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com, and www.dailyrecord.com.





Sunday, January 19, 2014

Maybe because they're free?

There's one burning question I cannot seem to have answered. It's almost as bad as these: What did Barney Rubble do for a living? And who was Sweet Pea's biological father on the Popeye cartoons?


Now, don't give me that Barney worked at the quarry with Fred Flintstone. Not true. They drove to work together in the morning and Fred would drop Barney off before Fred went on to punch the triceratops at the quarry.


And neither Popeye nor Brutus (or Bluto in some episodes) could lay claim to fathering that baby. Maybe it was Wimpy's kid. Who knows?


Anyway, my question is this: What in the world is the incredible fascination and almost fanatical obsession the general public has with trying to procure a T-shirt at sporting events?


I mean, it's absolutely comical and I can't for the life of me find out the answer.


You go to any sporting event these days and people go absolutely bonkers over the chance to get a free T-shirt. It doesn't matter what size it is. It doesn't matter what's on the T-shirt. They're poised to lose life and limb over a silly T-shirt.


Grown men diving over little kids to get the damn thing. Some sprawl themselves over rows of others to try to snatch one. It doesn't matter who is in front of them or behind them. They yell and scream and jump up and down and literally lose their minds for a shirt that obviously won't fit them.


The ones doing the most damage in these T-shirt tosses are the guys who need 4XL shirts _ and we all know that these shirts are more than likely mediums.


Some teams now have these ridiculous rocket launchers to send the cotton cloths high into the stands to see grown men in the third deck go spread eagle over others. Little kids get their hopes up, thinking they have a shot to get a shirt, but not a chance when there's some so-called grownup going bananas, pushing, shoving, trampling kids all in an attempt to get a T-shirt.


Oh, sure, these T-shirts probably have their favorite team's logo on it, but you can be guaranteed that some advertiser has plastered its company name, address and phone on it as well.


Honestly, I just don't get it. Maybe it's because that damn shirt never has a chance to fit me, but I think even if I was truly svelte, I would not be knocking over a little kid just to get a shirt. If I wanted a shirt that badly, I would buy one. It's that simple.


But the idea that fans at sporting events totally lose their minds when the T-shirt rocket launcher comes out befuddles me. Why? What's the fascination? What's the lure?


Is it because the damn thing is free? Is that the reason? Or is there a competition involved? Hey, look at me, I plucked a T-shirt out of the air. Put the video camera on me. I'll jump up and down more.


It's no way like catching a foul ball at a baseball game. There's a sense of major pride getting a ball. That's a reason to be proud.


But a T-shirt that will eventually end up in the rag bucket that you use to wash your car doesn't make an ounce of sense to me.


Yet, every game on practically every level _ college and pro _ features some sort of a free T-shirt giveaway, with or without the high-powered rocket launcher. And every game features some really overweight guy knocking over a woman and a little kid in order to get a shirt.


It's become a regular ritual at sporting events and frankly, it's just one of those unanswerable questions. Now, if someone has an idea why there is a fanatical obsession, please share. You can also share answers to Barney Rubble and Sweet Pea as well.
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There's a great piece in today's Star-Ledger, written by friend and colleague Brendan Prunty, that features Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson making regular weekly visits to Seattle Children's Hospital.


It's wonderfully written by Prunty, who has done a great job over the last few years covering college basketball for the Ledger. It's an article that makes a sportswriter like me jealous that I didn't write it. That's how good  of a piece it is.


But in today's day and age, the article provides a great reason to like Wilson, to root for him and hope he does well. When Wilson got drafted by the Seahawks, he went to the hospital on his own, wanting to visit patients to lift their hopes and spirits. The hospital officials were a little skeptical that maybe Wilson might be an attention-grabber, a one-and-done kind of athlete.


However, it's not the case. Wilson has religiously gone to the hospital, spending at least an hour with the patients every single Tuesday. He takes the time to get to know the kids, not just sign an autograph, pose for a picture and leave. He becomes involved.


And Wilson did this all on his own, unprovoked, unannounced. He wanted to do something to honor his late father and now, even though Wilson is a budding superstar, he still goes to the hospital (along with his wife) every single Tuesday.


Mitch Albom had "Tuesdays with Morrie." Seattle Children's Hospital has Tuesdays with Russell.


So today, I'm rooting for the Seahawks because of Russell Wilson and I have my friend Brendan Prunty to thank for it. If you get a chance, go to www.nj.com and look for Prunty's phenomenal article. It's a sensational read.
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If there is one thing that truly bothers me about the Super Bowl coming to the Meadowlands, it's the fact that most of the local football fans won't be in attendance for the game.


The majority of the ticket base for both the Giants and Jets _ with the ridiculously priced PSLs and all _ did not get the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Big Game.


I know one doctor from northern New Jersey, a guy who has eight season tickets with PSLs and all, who didn't get a chance to buy tickets. This is someone who has spent more than $200,000 in tickets over the past decade and he's not going to be there for the Super Bowl.


That's just one example. There are countless others.


Sure, it's a huge thing for the area and the neighboring towns are counting on a major spike in the local economy because fans from all over the country will be flocking to New Jersey for the Super Bowl.


But the majority of the fans in attendance will not be from the area.


It's unknown how many tickets for the game were made available to the general public. One report stated that of the 80,000 or so tickets for the game, only 10,000 were available to the public.


And of those 10,000, how many were made available to the season ticket holders of the Giants and Jets? Who knows?


So yes, hosting the Super Bowl is nice for the area. It's a good accomplishment. But I think hosting the game comes at the expense of the people who should matter the most, namely the local diehard football fan.


Hey, maybe the Giants and Jets can offer those fans who didn't get a ticket a free T-shirt.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com. The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week this week is Austin White of St. Peter's Prep, who has enjoyed a great start to the season.








Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New year, hope for better results


OK, sure, we celebrated the champagne and confetti two weeks ago already, but this is the first time I've had a chance to sit down and reflect on 2013, turn the page on the year and move on to what has to be a much better 2014.



As you may know, 2013 was clearly the most difficult year for me, both emotionally and physically.



For most of the year, I battled issues with my legs. It started with the inability to simply get out of a chair, continued with a horrific and embarrassing array of falls all over New Jersey and ended with a month-long stay at the remarkable and sensational Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange.



Suddenly, "the hardest working sportswriter in New Jersey," as I was once called by my friend Mike Moretti, lost a lot of his assignments. And just like that, I wasn't exactly as hard working. It's impossible to get to events when you can't walk and there's a constant fear of falling.



But thanks to the incredible people at Kessler, I improved tremendously. I regained a lot of the strength in my right leg. I regained the ability to walk again, albeit with the help of my trusty custom-made walker, built for someone who stands 6-8 _ and still has to hover somewhat with the contraption,



With that, the emotions began to perk up a bit and hope for a full recovery continues. I'm far from that. I realized that last week in a brief trip to the Prudential Center to interview Jaromir Jagr that I'm not ready just yet to cover events.



But I have returned to the wonderful people at Rutgers-Newark to serve as the public address announcer for the Scarlet Raiders men's and women's home games at the Golden Dome. Last Saturday, I made a triumphant return to NJIT to announce the Highlanders' women's games, the first of three this week.



Throughout the journey, I've received hundreds of well wishes and greetings on Facebook and Twitter. I have received hundreds of e-mails from caring and concerned friends. Phone calls, texts, you name it, people by the hundreds have shown their love for me and I'm so grateful for their warmth.



I had a bunch of people pay visit at Kessler, friends, administrators, coaches, you name it. I shared laughs with old friends. I recalled great memories with Montclair State head coach Ted Fiore, who worked with me during my days at St. Peter's College. Incredibly, my friend Glenn Gardner found the 1989 SPC men's basketball media guide as he was cleaning his home. He brought it to me at Kessler (among other items that were downright hysterical, including letters to each other from college days 30-plus years ago).



A few days later, Fiore comes to Kessler and I just happened to have the media guide in my drawer. It was a great cover, featuring three players (Kenny Parker, Phil Morrison and the late Willie Haynes) wearing Jersey City Police Department uniforms and Fiore in a trench coat raincoat holding a ball in front of the old Jersey City jail, with the banner headline, "Take No Prisoners." It was a classic photo, my finest creation.



Well, Fiore said that he hadn't seen that book in years and didn't think he had one. So I gave it to him. He needed it more for his own self adulation.



I've been home from Kessler since Thanksgiving. I tried to cook on Turkey Day, but for the first time in my life, after some 40 successful turkeys, I screwed this year's up by putting the bird into the oven upside down and didn't realize it until I went to carve the back instead of the breast.



I've had some great guests at home, the best being the lunch visit I had with legendary Associated Press basketball writer Jim O'Connell, former MAAC do-everything Jay Williams and former Atlantic 10 do-everything Ray Cella. OC bought the sandwiches from some deli in Queens and of course, he got lost coming to Kearny. Jay-Bird and Aldo told great stories, but OC held court as well he should. It was the visit of a lifetime as my friends got to see the new mechanical chair in its glory.



Since then, there have been few mishaps at home. I'm getting better every day. I go to the Institute of Physical Therapy in North Arlington three days a week with the wonderful Sue Manley bending me, twisting me and shaping me, but working wonders. I'm walking more without any apparatus in the confines of my home and will venture from time to time outside the house with just the cane.



I'm getting there, slowly but surely. My doctors have all told me that I will eventually make a complete recovery. When I asked a time frame, my neurologist simply said, "Months." So that really didn't answer the questions, but still gives me hope with patience.



My goal is to be able to get around by the time the NCAA Tournament starts, so I can make the trip to Buffalo for the first round, then the big trip to the Big D for the Final Four with my great friends at Maguire University.



So until then, I'm working my tail off to get healthy. It's all part of the process. I don't know why this happened. But if this was a test of my faith and my intestinal fortitude at age 52, then it's happened and I've survived.



================================================================

Now, to the real world. I'll start with the never-ending saga involving A-Rod. It's safe to say that now, Rodriguez's career is finished. No matter how much he is keeping a stiff upper lip, maintaining his innocence and vowing to fight his cause until the cows come home, it's a useless cause now.



No federal judge is going to want to get in the middle of this mess. The arbitrator was brought in to decide a final punishment. He's now decided it's the full year and that's it. Rodriguez maintains that he's never done steroids or performance-enhancing drugs this time around, only when he was with the Texas Rangers in 2003, like that matters. A-Rod maintains that he’s never failed a steroid test. Big deal.



But this greasy, slimy Anthony Bosch goes on "60 Minutes" Sunday and sings like a caged songbird about all the things he gave to A-Rod, like giving the needles himself and providing testosterone gummies to A-Rod on game days, because apparently the gummies don’t show up in post-game urine tests. Wonder if that’s the case with Flintstone gummies as well?



Whether you believe Bosch’s song is one thing. Personally, I hate when guys like Bosch and BALCO whore Victor Conte come singing after their worlds have already crashed down around them and they’re headed for a state penitentiary, so they sing instead. But Bosch had details that had to have some sense of truth to it. I am not like Mike Francesa, A-Rod’s new best friend, who believes that this smear campaign was done to ruin Rodriguez alone and to give Bud Selig a sense of a legacy as he retires, like Bud’s lasting legacy was as the guy who brought down A-Rod.



The Biogenesis findings brought down 13 players and 12 have already paid the price with suspensions and fines. Their reputations and images will never be the same, but they’re back playing already. That slime ball Ryan Braun has completed his suspension and will head to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training camp next month, under a microscope for sure, but he’ll be there. Jhonny Peralta got a $52 million contract from the St. Louis Cardinals. Obviously, the Cards have forgotten about his suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis.



The one who has yet to face his penalty just received his fate and now the cornered A-Rod is blaming everyone. He’s saying that he never did the steroids. He’s suing everyone and their mother, including the Major League Baseball Players Association, which stood behind him all the way until the arbitrator’s ruling Saturday. He claims he never failed a steroid test and he’s being treated unfairly. Boo freaking hoo.



The bottom line is this: Rodriguez will not play MLB this season. He’s 39 years old. His skills were already in decline. When he came back at the end of the 2013 season, he didn’t exactly tear it up, batting .244 with seven homers and 19 RBI. What will he be like at 40 with a full year off?



And there’s no way that he ever plays again for the Yankees. Either the Yankees will buy him out, offer some sort of a settlement or go to court and try to find a way to void the $61 million that is still owed to him on that ridiculous contract. He’s done.



It’s at the point where everyone just wants A-Rod to go away. It’s a tale that we’ve all heard so many times already and frankly, we’re sick of hearing it over and over. Just go away. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be an option, as A-Rod continues to fight the fruitless fight.

 



As the college basketball season continues, there are a few things I’ve noticed.



One, my alma mater, Marquette, is not very good and will not make it four straight appearances in the NCAA Tourney Sweet 16. As everyone knows, a basketball team is only as good as your point guard and the Golden Eagle Warriors are getting zero play from their point guard position.



Makes you realize just how important Junior Cadougan was for the Golden Eagles in each of the three runs in the NCAAs (two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight). Cadougan wasn’t the flashiest point guard around, but he kept that team together and made them more than competitive. How could Buzz Williams think he could actually contend for an NCAA Tourney berth without a true point guard?



And how stupid was Vander Blue to go pro when he really wasn’t considered a draft pick. Blue was cut as an undrafted free agent, went to Israel to play pro ball there and has already been released. If he stayed for another year at Marquette, who knows what might have happened to the kid? Someone gave him horrific advice.



Another point is that the new Big East Conference isn’t that good at all. Sure, Villanova has had a nice run and the Wildcats can certainly shoot the ball, but they don’t scare anyone. Creighton’s first year in the league has been surprising and the play of Doug McDermott has been impressive. He’s been what Wally Szczerbiak was to Miami of Ohio nearly 20 years ago, a similar kind of a player.



But the rest of the league has been bland and drab.



Some of the perennial powers have been less than impressive. Duke and Kansas, two schools thought to be national title contenders with larger-than-life incoming freshmen, have been major disappointments.



I like the intensity and style of Michigan State, not to mention that they play about seven seniors. In today’s game of college basketball, who has that many seniors? I am impressed with Syracuse’s balance. I watched Arizona beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion the other night, but is that really the No. 1 team in the country? It’s really been a weird year in college basketball. Here’s another question. If the NBA Draft was held tomorrow, who would be the top pick? Is there a true frontrunner? Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins’ stock have dipped since the turn of the New Year. They were hyped as sure-fire 1-2 draft picks. Now, who really knows?



One thing is for sure: A lot will take place over the next eight weeks to determine who is the best team in college basketball.



There’s no question that Colin Kaepernick is a highly talented quarterback with his entire future in front of him. He can run, throw, lead, do it all.



However, was there any need for him to make fun of Cam Newton after scoring Sunday? Kaepernick did Newton’s Superman pose, then zipped it up after scoring. Some might find the move as funny. I found it to be stupid and disrespectful.



Then, in the post-game interviews, Kaepernick appears at the podium with a baseball hat on backwards and sideways, with the back of the hat pulled over his forehead, almost covering his eyes. C’mon now. On national TV?





The other quarterbacks who will play in the conference finals this Sunday approach the podium in shirts and ties. You’d never see Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or even Russell Wilson come in front of the cameras looking like that.



Kaepernick has to realize that there are millions of impressionable youngsters looking up to him and they might want to wear their hat like their hero. So if Kaepernick was smart and realized his importance, he would wear the hat the right way and stop dressing like a clown.



You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nets, Knicks a total mess


They were supposed to be battling for supremacy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, a full-fledged Streets of New York donnybrook. The Knicks were poised to take a step up from the solid playoff run of a year ago. The Nets made the blockbuster trade of the offseason, getting two Hall of Fame players to go along with the Hall of Fame point guard selected to coach them.

In fact, most of the talk in the offseason centered on which New York team was better, the Knicks or the Nets? It was the hot topic for the tabloids and the sports talk radio stations. The debate went on and on.

Now, a month into the NBA season and the question is: Which team is worse?

It’s really hard to determine, because right now, they are both God-awful. The Knicks are 3-8 overall, 1-6 at the Garden. They’ve lost four straight and show no signs of improving anytime soon. The Nets are one loss worse at 3-9, also having lost four straight, including last night’s 111-81 embarrassing debacle against that world power known as the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s actually hard to believe that both teams are so bad.

I mean, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony. I know he’s very limited as a player and he’s a shoot-first, take-names-later kind of player who does not make everyone around him better, but he’s still among the top 10 talents in the league.

Losing Tyson Chandler to a broken leg is a huge blow, but with Andrea Bargnani, they should have been able to recover, right? Hardly. They are a severely disjointed team right now with no true leadership. The Knick faithful are already calling for coach Mike Woodson’s head, even after he led them to 53 wins and a win over the Celtics in the playoffs last year.

The Nets are a total mess. As it looks right now, they’re the ones who got fleeced in that trade with the Celtics. Those draft picks are looking pretty good now.

Kevin Garnett aged faster than Shoeless Joe Hardy did at the end of “Damn Yankees.” I don’t remember a player disintegrating over one summer like he has. Willie Mays played centerfield for the Mets better in the 1973 World Series. KG is totally shot. He’s averaging 6.7 points per game. Hell, he used to get that in the first quarter.

Paul Pierce isn’t much better. That patented fade away jumper keeps clunking off the rim. He’s shooting 36 percent from the floor, averaging 12.5 points per game. He’s said and done all the right things, but if he can’t make a shot, he’s useless.

Speaking of useless, Deron Williams is supposed to be the floor general of this team, but once again, he can’t stay healthy. Ever since he came from Utah, he’s been injured in some capacity and he’s been a sullen, moody clod.

And as for the rookie head coach? Jason Kidd has looked totally lost at times, like not knowing the team’s rotation and who to substitute for whom. Sure, he has a capable Lawrence Frank on his bench to guide him along, but there are times that he just sits there, wide-eyed, not showing any fire, any emotion. As a coach, he’s not the same intense person he was as a player.

And to think, the Nets got rid of P.J. Carlesimo for this? The former Seton Hall coach, who was masterful turning the Nets around last year, was shown the door in favor of an unproven Kidd. How’s that working out right now?

So forget the talk of which New York team is better. Right now, the topic should be which one is worse. And the answer is anyone’s guess.

Has there ever been a bigger train wreck than what’s going on at Rutgers now? I had a friend, a Rutgers alum, who said, “They can’t f*ck up enough.”

The school just can’t stay out of the headlines, no matter how hard it tries.

There was the entire Dave Cohen-Jevon Tyree bullying mess that came to a head last week. The beleaguered athletic director, Julie Hermann, tried to defuse the mess by holding a long overdue meeting with the kid’s parents last week, as a courtesy to a family friend and respected clergyman Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries.

Hermann claimed that she spoke with Tyree’s father, then after the father said that he never received a phone call, Hermann said that she must have been duped by an imposter claiming to be Tyree’s father. Where is Capt. Jenks these days? Did Howard Stern put him up to call Hermann?

At least now, Hermann can say she actually spoke with them. The lying can finally cease.

My friend, Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi, wrote yesterday that if Hermann truly lied about trying to contact the Tyree family, then she deserves to be fired. Hell, she didn’t deserve to be hired in the first place _ or at least shown the door before she entered the Hale Center, after it was proven she lied about her activity at the University of Tennessee years ago.

Hermann only became a candidate for the position as a favor to one of the people on the search committee, who was very friendly with Hermann. Just like that, she got the job _ and just like Carlesimo, Rutgers got rid of Tim Pernetti for this??

Pernetti got the school to build an extension to Rutgers Stadium, then got a sponsor to underwrite the thing, then pulled off the biggest coup since Dillinger by getting the Big Ten Conference to actually think Rutgers was a good fit and pried some of the Big Ten’s billions to go to the banks of the old Raritan. What has Hermann done, except for not f*cking up enough?

As for the football team, it’s really a sad, sad state. A month ago, the Scarlet Knights were 4-1 and talking about a possible bowl berth. Now, they’re 5-5 and have not been competitive one iota over the last four games, losing by more than 30 points three times. People now wonder if head coach Kyle Flood can keep his job and that’s a shame, because he’s a great guy and a good football coach. But he’s lost this team. They’re uninspired and listless. They don’t seem to care.

The basketball team just lost to Drexel in the preseason NIT. It was almost a given that the Scarlet Knights would head to the Big Apple. Nope. And this is a program that is going to the Big Ten? Who’s kidding whom? They’re not ready _ except ready to cash the paychecks.

As Stan Laurel used to say, “Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” This isn’t even a fine mess. It’s an unmitigated disaster that even Irwin Allen couldn’t create.

Here’s to four high school football programs I know pretty well who punched their respective tickets to the NJSIAA state finals Friday night.

Parsippany Hills shocked previously undefeated West Essex to get to the North 2, Group III title game. That’s great news for Dave Albano and the Vikings. There isn’t a classier, nicer guy in the game than Albano. This is his fifth try at a state title and he deserves to get one.

Mendham upset sister school West Morris to get to the North 2, Group IV title game. The Minutemen won two games the last two years and now get back to the state title game for the first time since 2004. It’s a credit to head coach Bill Carpluk, who came back to coach the Minutemen this season after a seven-year hiatus. After this year, they should rename streets and buildings in Mendham after him.

Hoboken defeated New Providence to get to the North 2, Group I championship game for a second straight year. The Red Wings (or Redwings, the debate continues) have battled through injuries all season, including one to head coach Lou Taglieri, who came out of his hospital bed last week to coach the team. It’s amazing how they have managed to keep winning through the adversity.

And the alma mater, St. Peter’s Prep, will get another crack at winning the Non-Public Group 4 title after defeating St. Augustine Prep last night. The Marauders haven’t won the state title since 2005 and they’ll get a chance to rid some demons, facing either Don Bosco Prep or Paramus Catholic in the finals at MetLife Stadium in two weeks. The Marauders haven’t won a big game against the Bergen County powers since that win in 2005. Maybe this is the year.

Anyway, it’s an exciting time for local high school football. It’s a shame that it’s all passing me by. I hope and pray to be at some of the finals in two weeks.

You can read some of my other work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com

 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Update from Kessler and update about Rutgers


 

Before I start on my sports rant of the day, I wanted to give everyone an update on my medical condition. I’m still a patient at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, with this being day 11 of my stay.

And I can wholeheartedly say that I am improving with every passing day. I’m getting a lot of the strength and mobility back again in my right leg. My left leg is almost 100 percent and my right leg was at 43 percent the other day in a stationary bicycle machine. I’m doing anything and everything that the wonderful staff here at Kessler tells me to do. I have yet to miss a therapy session and listening to my great pair of physical therapists, namely Marissa (mornings) and Ivana (afternoons), and what they’re telling me to do.

I again am amazed at the strength and dedication of the fellow patients here, most of whom have conditions that are far worse than mine. There’s a woman, a quadriplegic, who is full of life and energy. She moves her body to the music that plays and talks of the days when she ran marathons and did triathlons. On Friday, with the assistance of three therapists, she took her first steps since her arrival. Her face beamed like a child on Christmas morning. I applauded as she took her steps.

I have a new roommate and ironically, he’s a Hudson County guy as well. Jeff is from Bayonne and until recently, he was an English teacher at Bayonne High School. A few months ago, Jeff lost use of his legs, almost like me, and couldn’t walk. He’s been back and forth from Bayonne Hospital to Kessler three times since August and is having a real tough time.

I cannot applaud the people of Kessler more, none more than rehabilitation assistant Harold Shaw, who is an absolute gift from God. Harold takes the time to make sure I have what I need. He has to watch while I shower just so I don’t fall. He provides towels, dry floors, clean sheets and more importantly, support. He’s a huge sports fan who somehow has four favorite NFL teams, the Steelers, the Packers, the Texans and the Raiders. He thinks that it’s good to root for four teams. I have a tough time with just the Rams.

So Harold has taken a special liking to me because he knows I’m a sportswriter and wants to spend time talking sports. Friday night, we went through the entire NFL schedule and picked our games, like we were doing Kessler’s version of “Inside the NFL.”

You cannot put a price tag on what Harold has provided for me during my stay here. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

So I’m getting better. There’s still no timetable for my release or when I can get back to my normal routine. But I am improving and that’s a good sign, thanks to the wonderful people of Kessler.

 

Now, back to the sports world.

It’s absolutely mind boggling that Rutgers is in the headlines once again for another imbecilic incident. You would have thought by now, with all that has transpired over the last two years, that the people on the banks of the old Raritan would have gotten it all down pat.

Yeah, right.

There are reports now of Rutgers assistant football coach and defensive coordinator Dave Cohen verbally abusing, threatening and “bullying” former player Jevon Tyree to the point where Tyree eventually quit the team. Cohen apparently called Tyree homophobic slurs, spit in his face and berated him time and time again.

When Tyree’s family brought the incident to the attention of head football coach Kyle Flood, he assured the family that the incident would be taken care of. The family also wanted to speak with beleaguered athletic director Julie Hermann about the incident.

Saturday, Rutgers released a statement which said that the athletic department was aware of the incident. Here’s the statement:

The situation between Jevon Tyree and Dave Cohen took place in the spring and was dealt with immediately.

Cohen apologized the following day for his participation in the escalation of banter, which resulted in the use of inappropriate language. Kyle Flood reprimanded Cohen and addressed the situation immediately with the entire coaching staff.

This was an isolated incident. At no time was there any threat of physical violence, which was verified by an academic counselor, who was present in the room.

Six months later, Tyree’s father contacted Director of Athletics Julie Hermann to discuss Jevon’s role on the team and how coaching decisions were made. During the conversation with Hermann, Tyree’s father reintroduced the March situation.

Since the situation occurred prior to Hermann’s arrival, she immediately contacted Flood, who apprised her of the situation and how it was addressed.

To be sure, Flood initiated an additional meeting with Tyree and his parents to address their concerns and his future with the team. The following morning, September 17, Tyree informed Flood of his intention to remain with the program.

Hermann spoke to Tyree’s father following the meeting with Flood and confirmed that the matter was resolved to his satisfaction.

There’s only one problem. Tyree’s father told NJ.com reporter Dan Duggan that he never spoke to Hermann. Ever. He called the statement, “insane.”

“I never talked to her. That is insane,” Tyree’s father  told NJ.com. “My mother has passed and I would put my hand on a stack of Bibles in her goodness. That’s ridiculous that she would even say that. That’s scary.”

So who do we believe? The father of a disgruntled player or the embattled AD, who has lied several times in the past, about that fateful wedding video, about the letter written by her former players at Tennessee and then the claims of athletes being abused at Louisville and Hermann turning a blind eye?

Incredibly, my friend, Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi found Hermann yesterday, asked her a series of questions about the Tyree-Cohen incident and how the school handled it.

Well, Hermann danced around Politi’s questions better than Ginger Rogers and Kirstie Alley. She actually went as far as to say that she actually spoke to “somebody.”

 “Yeah. Somebody – if it’s not him, who calls me and informs me of it?” Hermann told Politi. “Otherwise I wouldn’t know about it. So I’m not trying to call – I’m not trying to use big words like the words he’s using, but I’m informed by him, to my knowledge. If it’s not him, who’s calling me?"

Excuse me??? You have no idea who you’re talking to? This Hermann woman has now swung and missed for the third time. Strike three and you’re out. Well, that’s the case in baseball, but certainly not at Rutgers.

Rutgers also said that Cohen apologized to Tyree the day after the incident took place. However, the family doesn’t say anything about an apology.

There’s no question that the allegations are enough to have Cohen removed as an assistant coach. Hell, the performance of his team’s defense is enough to get him canned. The 52-17 loss to Cincinnati Saturday is proof. The Scarlet Knights were not competitive at all defensively. It also was a case where the Scarlet Knights appeared to quit, which is not a good sign at all.

I am a huge fan of Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood and have been since he was promoted to head coach. I want him to succeed more than any other coach in New Jersey. Flood is a great man, a knowledgeable football man. If given the opportunity, I know Flood would do an incredible job.

But it’s not a good sign when your team is not competitive. They were not competitive against Houston and weren’t competitive against Cincy on Saturday. Maybe the Scarlet Knights can find some internal moxie and mettle to improve and play better over the next few weeks. If not, Flood could lose his job as well.

Hey, Greg Schiano appears headed for the door in Tampa Bay. Maybe this mess called Rutgers would want to bring back that true bastion of truth. Because after all, it’s proven that the athletic boss certainly doesn’t know what the truth means.

You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com, and www.dailyrecord.com