Fun While it Lasted…

22 Jan

via syracuse.com

20-0 was great.  21-0 was supposed to be next, and most thought with relative ease baring any unforeseen circumstances or an incredibly hot night from Notre Dame and an uncharacteristically cold night for the Orange.  Well all three of those happened Saturday in South Bend.

I woke up this morning to the news that Fab Melo did not make the trip with the team to Notre Dame because of what we would later find out to be an unresolved academic issue.  This is where it began.  Then the game started, and before you knew it, SU was down 11-2.  Exactly the start that they needed to avoid.  The crowd was going crazy and Notre Dame was feeding off of it.  Notre Dame also started the game on fire, hitting their first four field goals, three of them being from three.  Normally, this would be expected from a Notre Dame team.  Growing up, all the Notre Dame teams were great outside shooting teams, but this year that was not the case.  When Jerian Grant banked in a three late in the first half, I just knew it was going to be one of those nights.  This continued throughout the game as Scott Martin who coming into the game was shooting 8%, yes 8%, from three in Big East play was 2-2 from three.

The Orange didn’t help themselves at all either shooting a season worse 34% from the field.  Their patented transition game put up a big goose egg, and they continued to get crushed on the boards.  From the get go, something just felt off in this game.  I have to go back to not having Fab Melo.  This was a huge key in Notre Dame success because the Irish dominated down low.  Also, a lot of Fab’s blocks will lead to transition buckets for the Orange and he also is known to draw a charge or two each game.  There is also the mental fact of losing a teammate and having to put that in the rearview mirror and stay focused on the game.  This is not easy to do for some of the players on the team, and it showed tonight.

This team has been real fun to watch all year, tonight they were far from it.  Now I don’t want to overreact to just one game, also a game where we were missing our starting center and a game where Tim Higgins was in the building.  The game at Cincinnati on Monday night will be an even tougher one than this, but again, we can not overreact even if we were to go out and lose again Monday.  I really hope this Fab Melo thing gets straightened out and he is back on the court a week from today against West Virginia.  If not, SU will have to start making adjustments.  I have some ideas on that, but I would rather wait until I’m in full blown panic mode and I know what the situation is with Fab.  So let’s just chalk this up to a one, maybe two game thing, and hope this team gets back to wowing us with its play.  A nine point loss on the road to a decent team that played above average and a game where you played your worst game of the season means you are still a pretty damn good team.  So take is easy Cusenation, we will be fine. 20-1 doesn’t sound as great as 21-0, but its still a hell of a start to what we hope turns out to be a championship season.

DDL

Is Super Bowl Sunday the Best Day of Football?

21 Jan

The Super Bowl.  It’s like the guy in high school who no longer had to try to get all the girls.  They just flocked to him.  The Super Bowl is the mecca of football.  The glitz and glam that is lead by a 500 hour pre-game show and the anticipation of all the great commercials, makes this the ideal day for even the casual football fan.  The Halftime show, and all the Super Bowl parties are just a couple other things that make Super Bowl Sunday so big.  While all of this is fun, Super Bowl Sunday is completely overrated.

Let me preface this with my incredibly large bias against ESPN.  For all of the great things ESPN does, most of it I really can’t stand.  The hype that leads up to the Super Bowl is just ridiculous.  The best day in football is Championship Sunday.  This Sunday, when the Raven play the Patriots and the Giants travel to play the 49ers, will make for the dream day for any football fan.  Think about it, the Super Bowl is given all this hype for two weeks, and all you get is one football game that usually doesn’t even feel like a football game until after halftime, once each team has finally settled down.

Championship Sunday gives you two great match-ups.  Show me any football fan that would rather see one over hyped game over two games with so much on the line.  To me, the answer is simple.  I would take the two great games over watching ESPN employees over analyze every aspect of the Super Bowl for two weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Super Bowl is great.  I don’t want to have people think that I am anti-Super Bowl.  My argument is only that I do not believe that Super Bowl Sunday is the best day in NFL football.  Championship Sunday takes the crown.

DDL

The Shame of the Hall of Fame

19 Jan

Baseball is, of course, America’s pastime. It’s a sport with fabled legends and stories that have stood the test of time.

Cooperstown is home to the baseball heroes of the past. It is a town that looks like it came straight from a movie set. My last visit there was in July 2011, and even my buddy’s girlfriend who knew nothing about baseball fell in love with the town.

The little shops line the streets that are filled with family’s who walk them. The pier waters glistens in the summer sunsets. Doubleday Field has just as much history as the old Yankee Stadium. Then there is the mothership: The Hall of Fame building – a place where legends call home.

Cooperstown has always been a special place to me, from the countless games I played at Doubleday, to shopping in my favorite store “Mickey’s Place”, to eating pizza at the local shop with my teammates.

I hope that some day I can pass that love on to my children. It scares me to think I may not be able to do so.

After last weeks voting results saw Barry Larkin as the newest member of the Hall, I began to think about the elephant in the room: performance enhancing drugs. Let the record show that I do not hold the same grudges as the majority of people for players who allegedly took PED’s. I’m going to try and attempt to explain why:

I grew up as most children do. Tossing a baseball with my dad as early as I can remember, swinging the bat in the backyard with him yelling at me “not to chop wood”. I collected a countless number of baseball cards – all of which I still have. I started tee-ball when I was five, and I continued playing all the way through college.

Baseball was always that special bond for me that I could fall back on during the growing pains of adolescent-hood. It was my escape, a place I always felt comfortable and a game I always had fun playing. It is a child’s game, more than any other sport.

A lot of my love for the game came from my dad. It started in the backyard and continued with stories from his playing days. My dad is a southpaw, and he pitched a no-hitter in teener league but lost the game 2-1. He would tell me stories of how he and his teammates would walk home after practice or games and my grandma would make them all pasta at their house. A Pennsylvania native, he was cut by the Pittsburgh Pirates at an open tryout after working his way to the third-string first baseman.

He was, in short, my first true hero. I wanted to be just like him and experience the same things he did.

Then there were the stories about his heroes. Not only were these stories about heroes, they were stories about Hall of Famers. My dad saw Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford play for the New York Yankees. On Sundays the Yankees used to always have doubleheaders. My dad and grandpa would drive from Scranton to New York for games all the time at the original Yankee Stadium. My dad told me about the story where they once had to ask an usher for a new seat because they got stuck behind a beam holding the third-tier roof up at the stadium.

When my dad was out in California during the 1980’s he watched Reggie Jackson play for the Angels. On his way back from a game with my mom, Reggie pulled up next to them in his convertible at a stop light. My mom snapped a picture. They still have it for validity to the story.

My dad grew up during a great era of baseball. But then again, so have I. It saddens me to think that the stories I will have to tell my children won’t mean as much to them because they players won’t be Hall of Famers.

Like the story of the first time I saw Alex Rodriguez play. He was still a Texas Ranger at the time, and it was a rainy day at the old Yankee Stadium. My youngest brother, Timmy, and I loved watching him so much that we actually wore two hats to the game to show our love for the Yanks and A-Rod. I remember he was awesome that game. He hit a homerun in his first at bat, and later doubled off the wall as the Rangers beat my Yankees. But I went back home with a smile because I had just witness a great game from one of the game’s greatest players of all-time.

I remember an opening day game in 1997 where Mark McGwire hit a 9th inning homerun off of Mariano River. The ball was hit so hard and got out so fast. It went into the black seats in centerfield. I have never before or since heard the stadium so quiet like it was after that homerun.

In 2007 Roger Clemens was attempting another comeback. He signed with the Yankees and was in Scranton on Memorial Day as he worked to get his pitch-count up for his first major league start in June. I went to the game with my brothers, Danny and Timmy, and my dad. It may seem crazy to the outside fan, but this was Roger Clemens, “The Rocket”.

What do all of these players and my stories have in common? Sadly, all these players have been accused of using PED’s. I say sadly not because it upsets me that they did, I say sadly because I’m not sure if the excitement these moments gave me can be translated to my children like my dad’s stories were to me.

That is the shame of the Hall of Fame. Great players, who did great things, and made millions of people smile, will be left out of the Hall because they competed. They wanted to be the best that they could so they did what they had to to get that extra edge. Where is the real crime there?

I can’t wait for the time to come when the everyday human being will be taking PED’s to increase the longevity of their own lives. It’s an inevitability, the science is there, it’s just the results that are pending at the moment. Then what will the writers and critics of alleged steroid users have to say?

“The steroid era” as it is often referred to, was a GREAT time in baseball history. I don’t think anyone would disagree. It was the great Renaissance following the 1994 MLBPA’s strike.

Just take a minute and think about the excitement of that era, steroid related or not:

– McGwire with 70 and Sammy Sosa 66 homeruns in 1998.

– The record setting 1998 Yankees and 2001 Seattle Mariners, and also, Ichiro and Matsui.

– The Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series title.

– Barry Bonds 73 homeruns in 2001.

– Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and A-Rod changing the shortstop position.

– The Florida Marlins improbable World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.

– The Yankees and Atlanta Braves dynasties.

These are just a few examples that come to mind as I write this article. There is more. There was more.

It was a special time to grow up watching baseball. Why are we degrading the era, the accomplishments and the players all because of PED’s?

Baseball “cleaned” up their act, shouldn’t that be enough for now. Why does the BBWAA feel the need to punish the players and their fans even further? They’ve already been embarrassed enough.

The long-term effects of keeping players like McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens out of the Hall can become much more detrimental than this short-term “fix” the league and writers are attempting to do.

No longer will I have stories to tell my children of fabled legends of the past.

The games were played, the events happened, the effects were felt. Let’s not take away from our future because we are scared of our past.

CJC

Big Blue Beginning to Smell Blood

18 Jan

It’s ironic, isn’t it?

They are only three seasons removed from that magical Super Bowl run. They beat  Jeff Garcia and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They beat Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowgirls. They beat the mighty Brett Favre and his Green Bay Packers. Then they beat previously undefeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Then there was the Plaxico Burress gun “incident”. What followed that day made even the most die-hard fans of this team upset. The first round exit as defending champs. Two years of dismal second half regular seasons leading to zero postseason appearances.

DeSean Jackson.

Who is this team? “They” are the New York Football Giants, and they are at it once again for another magical run at a championship. But to get there they still remain two wins away.

It can be argued that had the Giants not botched that punt return with Jackson last season, the Packers would have never made the playoffs last season. The Packers would have never won the Super Bowl.

But, as we all know, that is exactly what happened. And for almost three years now Big Blue has been looking for that signature win to put them back into the class of champions. They got it on Sunday at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the defending champion Packers, and now the Giants are beginning to smell blood.

When you smell blood, you go for the kill. Two more wins will do that for New York. Two more victories and the core of the Super Bowl XLII champions will finally get their chance at redemption, and a well-deserved second title

It’s not going to be easy by any means. To get those two elusive left-siders the Giants will have to potentially get through two daunting defenses – Baltimore (288) and San Fransisco (308) ranked fourth and fifth in the NFL respectively in regards to total yards allowed per game during 2011-12 – or the overlooked (for much of the season) Patriots.

What is one of the key things that can help put New York over the top no matter who the opponent is? Well, that’s simple. Having a guy named Tom Coughlin by your side. That is proving to be the Giants organizations best move yet.

Giants owner John Mara has always stood by his head coach – and let the record show that I always supported TC too – even when the relentless New York media was calling for his head at multiple points since the Super Bowl victory.

Coughlin is a great coach. He is disciplined, he understands and has relationships with his players, and is the most successful coach in New York since a man named Joe Torre. Torre was another widely unpopular manager for the Yankees at certain points early in his career, even after a World Series title in his first season at the helm.

I have already noted that things haven’t always been easy for Coughlin and his Giants, but then again, when is it ever really easy? Isn’t that what ownership looks for in their head coach? Someone who can “weather the storm” and keep the team intact in hopes of better things when the storm passes?

Right now it’s fun to be a Giants fan.

Eli Manning – again, let the record show that I’ve always supported him as well – is proving to his critics that he is ELIte. His improved pocket presence makes him so dangerous because he can hit the big play receiver on the run. That is something Manning wasn’t able to do in the past. His leadership: invaluable. He is often soft-spoken, and it reminds me of another very successful New Yorker by the name of Derek Jeter.

Hakeem Nicks is peaking at the most opportune time. Teams have been so worried about @TeamVic (Victor Cruz) – who I do predict will get to do his first salsa dance on Sunday in San Fran – that Nicks has been left one-on-one more times than not. So far he has made the Atlanta Falcons and Packers pay. He is New York’s leading receiver in the playoffs with 13 receptions for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The defense has also stepped up and enormous amount in past weeks. the D-line is getting great pushes on just about every play, which means a lot of getting to the quarterback no matter who he is. The secondary has also held its ground nicely. They aren’t the best or most popular players (Yes, Aaron Ross, I’m talking to you), but they also haven’t been five steps behind any opposing receiver at in point yet in the playoffs.

A win Sunday at San Francisco and one  more on February 5 in Indianapolis will catapult Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and Co. into legendary status. With two more victories the New York Football Giants will have completed another improbable run. In doing so, they will show once again that patience and great leadership have gotten them to the top once , and it can do it again.

The irony of another Super Bowl title will never be sweeter. Go for the kill and Big Blue can enjoy one of the world’s greatest sports spectacles: a ticker-ticket victory parade in New York City.

CJC

Syracuse’s Fantasy Impact

17 Jan

Here is a link to a story I wrote for a site called dailyfantasysports.org.  This site is dedicated to allowing people an opportunity to play fantasy college basketball on a daily basis.  This article is on the Syracuse basketball team and how they fair in the fantasy basketball world.  Give their website a look.

http://dailyfantasysports.org/2012/01/syracuse-oranges-daily-fantasy-impact/

DDL

Record Setting Night

17 Jan

The Syracuse men’s basketball team is 20-0.  That is the best start that any Syracuse basketball team has ever had.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We are truly watching something special here, folks.  No matter how this season finishes out, it will go down in the record books.

Syracuse beat Pitt 71-63 in front of 24,826 orange clad fans.  Although Pitt came into the game on a six game losing streak, in the eyes of Orange fans, this was still going to be a tough game.  This is the first time Syracuse has beaten Pitt since the 2006 Big East Tournament, and the first time they’ve beaten Pitt at home since 2003.  Hopefully that will be an omen for things to come.

Syracuse didn’t play their best game overall, but they sure got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 13-0 lead.  Pitt did its usual Pitt thing, and by that I mean foul every possession and never get called for them, and they clawed back into the game.  It took a little run by SU to gain a nine point lead heading into half time, 35-26.  The second half was a back and forth affair, and Pitt had Orange fans sweating a little bit, but big shots by Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph on back to back possessions put the game away for the Orange.

Syracuse’s defense has been unbelievable all season long, and that continued tonight.  Syracuse forced 14 turnovers, had 11 blocks, and had 8 steals.  The defense had some lapses in the second half, but was able to get key stops when they needed them most.  Syracuse also needs to start rebounding better.  I know this is tough to do when you’re playing a 2-3 zone, but there are some balls that they need to start getting to.  I don’t believe that this will have a huge effect on this team moving forward, and I’m probably just knit picking.

Dion Waiter lead the Orange with 16 points, Scoop, Brandon Triche, and Kris Joseph all had 12, and Scoop added 10 assists. Fab Melo also recorded a double double with 10 points and 10 boards.  Fab also added 6 blocks to his stat line.  Like I said earlier, this team is special.  We should all make sure we really start to realize just what we’re watching and don’t take it for granted.

A trip to Notre Dame Saturday night is next for the #1 team in the country, followed by a Monday night date at Cincinnati.  These will be two tough games and expect these teams to challenge the orange, even if “challenge” means keeping the game in single digits.  On to the next one…

DDL

Perspectives from a Penn State fan, and Syracuse native

15 Jan

When it comes to the allegations facing Penn State football and Syracuse basketball I have one question: what exactly are we talking about? Since I bleed blue and white, but inherited the bleeding of Orange fans, I thought I would take the time and opportunity to try to properly answer this question.

I am, as the title of my article cleverly states, first – and most importantly – a Penn State football fan. Second, I am Syracuse native. For the first twenty-two years of my life there have been only two men leading the programs in question: Joe Paterno of Penn State football, and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse basketball.

I don’t believe that I can answer my question with one single answer. There are just too many different aspects to cover – the alleged victims and their alleged abusers, victim abuse panels, fans of each team, supporters of both head coaches, and haters of Jerry Sandusky, Mike McQueary and Bernie Fine.

Honestly, the list can just go on – and on – and on. That’s what I think makes things surrounding these situations so complicated. Who can we believe?

I will be the first to admit that the time period since November 2011 has been one of the most disturbing in my short life. With that said, I only expect it to get worse in the months ahead. That doesn’t seem to be a great omen for either Nittany Lion or Orange fans.

We as Americans live in a knee-jerk reaction society that is filled with social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. I have an account for both, so I am part of that culture. Add to that the “media” who can blog faster than they can write a well, articulated article, and a lot of what has been written over the past couple of months has been written out of pure emotion.

What’s wrong with the media being emotional when it comes to these allegations? It does not allow for impartial judgment. Without impartial judgment, which is part of the media’s j-o-b, things can quickly get a bit out of hand.

Isn’t it funny how much of an effect the media can have? They can break down superstars just as fast as they built them up. In the case of Paterno and Boeheim, they can ruin foundations that have been built for decades.

Since day one I have not advocated for Boeheim to be fired because Paterno already has been. However, since the allegations at Syracuse University came out, I have been consistent in saying that if someone wanted to make the argument that Boeheim should be fired because the actions occurred “under his watch”, then I wouldn’t argue that. Both programs were the responsibility of each respective coach, and both failed to uphold the integrity of their programs that they have had for so many years now.

For a time I believed that, eventually, Boeheim would be rendered the same verdict as Paterno. I believed that both men would have been fired now for different reasons – but to serve the same purpose. I no longer believe that Boeheim is going to be fired – more on this later.

Now, I’m not starting some kind of conspiracy against either coach. What I’m saying is all based on the facts that every person in the world has available to them. Some day soon there may be others, and the process may begin all over again. I hope it doesn’t. But it very well could. Until then, these are the two men we have to focus on in order to change the culture.

This is one of my observations: Syracuse fans want the Bernie Fine allegations to be unfounded, or for there to be no disciplinary actions against Jim Boeheim. Or they want there to be a combination of both, because they want to separate themselves from the Penn State scandal. Penn State fans want the complete opposite because they don’t want to feel like they are alone.

These thoughts and actions lead to the media degrading, except for two incidents, great universities. For example, Michelle Beadle, a co-anchor for SportsNation on ESPN2, tweeted in November about the disappointment she had in the two “esteemed” universities. I immediately was taken by surprise by this comment. How could she imply that either institution had been degraded because of the actions of a couple sick men?

After I thought about it a little while, I realized she may be right. It goes back to what I was saying before. Obviously, it is unfair to say that these universities are no longer “esteemed” because they produce countless, and I mean countless, men and women who do great things for our society. But without changing the culture in which these esteemed universities are held, then producing the same type of results may not be possible in the future.

Back to Paterno and Boeheim.

It’s clear to me, and to many others, that neither Paterno nor Boeheim will ever be mistaken for the other. I think that’s where the major difference arises in both media and public opinion.

Joe Paterno has always been a father – and more recently, grandfather – figure to so many people throughout his life. He was a football coach, but he was also an educator, and maybe most importantly, a humanitarian – meaning he is subject to the same cruelties of life that we all are. The media believes Paterno should have “done more” because of his track record. The public says, “Yes, look at his track record, and understand he is human.” It may be fair to say that it is the public’s job to keep the peace throughout the world more-so than it is the media’s.

Jim Boeheim is one of those people that rubs many the wrong way mainly because he doesn’t care what you and I think about him. There isn’t anything wrong with that – it’s actually one of my personal philosophies in life. His success as a coach in basketball matches that of Paterno’s in football. Boeheim, much like Paterno, has produced hundreds of professional athletes, many who would be considered even greater individuals with the qualities in life we all aspire to have. The media knew how Boeheim would react to the allegations surrounding his basketball program and longtime associate (Paterno and Sandusky were not close friends either) – with fury and passion. He didn’t disappoint. He even went as far as to initially call the alleged victims liars. The public then became outraged with his behavior when the allegations were found to be more fact than fiction.

That is the blue-print difference between the two situations. As a result of these allegations, there are things both men can do to change both their media and public perceptions.

As long as Joe Paterno is physically well enough to do so, he should continue to do what he has done for so many people over the years. He should continue to inspire. What has happened is done. Not even Joe can change that. Let the record show that Joe Paterno did come down hard in a number of situations. But in the biggest moment of his career, he failed in judgment, and that got him canned.

Side note: the whole process about how the University went about firing JoePa is a different topic for a different time.

Joe Paterno has a statue outside of Beaver Stadium. His impact on people has always been immeasurable, and I think that was clearly seen amidst the Jerry Sandusky allegations. He can still impact people’s lives in a positive way, and knowing Joe’s track record, I think he will be more than happy to accept that responsibility.

Back in November, Penn State held a candlelight vigil – that I was a part of – for the alleged victims outside of campus at Old Main. They have already raised half a million dollars to donate towards child abuse awareness programs in the state of Pennsylvania. The University Joe Paterno helped grow to what it is today, has already taken the lead – it’s up to him if he wants to follow or not.

Jim Boeheim should think about doing the same. Whether he continues to coach at Syracuse or not, he has the ability to influence a great amount of people. Basketball, in the wake of Bernie Fine’s allegations, should be far from his main focus.

Boeheim is a smart man. He is – again, like every single one of us – human, and subject to the cruelties of life. Syracuse University has already fired Bernie Fine, and has taken the initiative to be more competent when it comes to surveillance of the institution as a whole. I believe that Boeheim would be happy to accept the responsibility to help change the culture that has become college institutions, and make them safer for everyone.

Before I finish up, I’d like us all to remember one thing while we also try to grow and better our society.

We are not perfect.

So don’t try and tell me you would have done “more” if you were Joe Paterno. Don’t try and tell me that you would have handled the Bernie Fine allegations with more “class” if you were Jim Boeheim.

The fact is you are not either man. What you are is another non-perfect human being, whether you like it or not.

Given the circumstances that have arisen over the past several weeks, I am proud of the way both Penn State and Syracuse University have handled their respective situations, and how they have already implemented more competent plans for safety of children and teenagers moving forward.

Hopefully, both schools can help build a society throughout the world that makes everyone safer and brings more awareness to child molestation. It begins with the institutions, and continues with Joe Paterno and Jim Boeheim.

Both men inherited different situations, but can serve the same purpose. They can both show the courage that the alleged victims already have, and continue to stand up and fight for changing this monstrous culture.

We can only hope that both men will take the responsibility to be what we all are – human, and subject to the cruelties of life.

CJC

UPDATE: Joe Paterno speaks to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post – his first public interview since being fired as Penn State’s head football coach on the evening of November 9, 2011.