Friday, October 30, 2009

Yankees path to No. 27 won't be easy

As someone who has followed the Yankees since the M&M Boys and the great home run chase of 1961 (yes, I am ancient), I’m obviously pulling for the Bronx Bombers to win World Series No. 27. But, despite the angst it might cause, I’m also hoping this Series goes the full seven because I believe that would be good for baseball, which could use a little good news for a change.
I’d love to see class acts such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada win another ring in what may be their final shot at this. But, unlike many Yankee fans who believe World Series titles are a birthright, I have the utmost respect for the Phillies. They are a talented and scrappy bunch. I enjoy the way they play. It would be no shame to lose to them.
The Phillies showed their grit in the eighth and ninth innings of last night’s loss to the Yankees when they fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch against Rivera. They made the greatest closer in baseball history work extremely hard for his save, and that could pay dividends when the teams play three games in three nights in Philly. Rivera was forced to throw 39 pitches to seal up the 3-1 victory, making it unlikely he will be available for all three games in the City of Brotherly Love. That means Joe Girardi might have to call upon someone else to close the deal, and that’s not an inviting prospect, given the bruised psyches of Joba Chamberlain and Philip Hughes. The best scenario for the Yankees would be more long outings by their starters.
If I were Girardi, I would have allowed A.J. Burnett to pitch the 8th inning last night, and saved the 9th for Rivera. For a former catcher, Girardi sometimes baffles me the way he misuses pitchers. I think he totally screwed up Joba this season, and I’m afraid he might wind up doing the same with some of the other talented young arms on the team.
Of course, criticism can also be directed at Girardi’s counterpart. What was Charlie Manuel doing leaving Pedro Martinez in for another inning? He should have been grateful to get what he got from the wily veteran and allowed his bullpen to handle the rest.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of this plays out. Will Cliff Lee, who pitched brilliantly in Game One, be as sharp pitching on just three days rest for the first time in his career? Will A-Rod, who has looked horrible so far, with six strikeouts in two games, snap out of this funk? And will this series, heaven forbid, be decided by another bone-head call by the umpires? Stay tuned.

***

I feel for Michael Miller and my other friends who are Mets fans because this is the worst possible Series matchup for them. Think about it: they have to deal with their hated crosstown rivals and their hated divisional rivals playing for the championship.

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PERSONAL MATTERS: Congratulations to my good friend, Pat Grover, who will be feted as a community champion today at the Greater Rochester Awards luncheon. I’ve been privileged to work with Pat through my affiliation with the Rochester Press-Radio Club, and I can tell you that she is an incredibly giving person who has done a magnificent behind-the-scenes job to help make our charitable organization and our community a better place. Well done, my friend . . . Belated congrats to another friend, Rich Funke, who was roasted at the Saints and Sinners banquet Monday night. Most of you know him as a sports and newscaster, but Rich also is one of this city’s great humanitarians. He has emceed our Day of Champions dinners for more than two decades and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the club through the charity golf tournament he holds in memory of his late son, Rich Funke Jr. He’s also got a great sense of humor, and more than held his own at the banquet, which featured witty and occasionally profane roasters such as Brother Wease and Don Alhart . . . Happy birthday wishes to my brother, Russ, who turns – egads – 64 on Halloween. Our family is full of holiday birthdays. I was born on Easter Sunday, my other brother, Wayne, was born on Flag Day, and my son, Chris, was born on Earth Day . . . And, finally, belated Happy birthday wishes to Dr. Carl Devore, a good friend who along with his wife and fellow physician, Cindy, has been incredibly generous to me and Beth.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some observations on the World Series and the clueless commissioner of baseball

I felt sorry for Yankees manager Joe Girardi last night. Every reliever he brought in just poured more gasoline on the fire. Had the supposedly formidable New York bullpen done its job the Yankees might have had a chance at the end. I still think the Yankees win this in seven, but my belief in that prediction definitely was shaken by the Phillies performance last night.

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I wish foolish sportswriters and sportscasters would stop grouping World Series stats with post-season stats. The World Series is much more pressure-packed than the divisional and championship playoff series. This is as foolish as saying wildcard game stats are comparable to Super Bowl stats in football or that the numbers from the first round of the NHL playoffs are comparable to the numbers posted in a Stanley Cup finals.

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Speaking of ignorance, how inappropriate was it for Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig not only to allow steroid-user Mark McGwire back into the game as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach, but also to say that he was ‘delighted’ to have Mark back? Hello! Earth to Bud! Anybody home in that cranium of yours? Performance-enhancing drugs has been baseball’s scourge during your reign. You didn’t acknowledge that the game even had a problem until Congress got involved, and now you’re welcoming back one of the poster boys for cheating. How is this any different from your banishment of Pete Rose? Methinks there is a double-standard at work here. Of course, there have been a lot of double-standards at work during your ostrich-like commissionership.

***

Did you see where Bud made an appearance on Letterman last night? I turned it off before the Commish walked onto the Ed Sullivan Theater stage. With guests like that, Letterman soon will be joining Leno on the low-ratings road to comedic extinction.

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Should be a fun night at Yankee Stadium with former Red Sox villain Pedro Martinez on the hill tonight for the Phillies. You could probably start a bonfire with all the “Who’s Your Daddy?’’ posters on display.

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Does the fact that A-Rod went hitless and struck out three times means he and Kate are in a bad place?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Byrd part of the Bills defensive solution

Following Sunday’s 20-9 victory against Carolina Sunday, Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd told reporters: “I want to a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.’’
Not to worry, Jairus.
The past two weeks you’ve been a huge part of the solution. And, all of a sudden, there’s new life in a Bills season that just two weeks ago was on life support.
The second-round draft pick from the University of Oregon intercepted two passes for the second straight game. Both of his picks vs. beleaguered Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme led to scores as the Bills won their second consecutive road game and improved their record to 3-4.
Ah, if only Leodis McKelvin had taken a knee in New England and the Bills managed to score a touchdown vs. Cleveland, they’d be 5-2 and all by their lonesome atop the AFC East. But we digress.
A 3-4 record doesn’t look so bad after what they were looking at just two weeks ago following that miserable 6-3 loss to the bungling Browns. At that stage, the Bills season appeared hopeless. I and many others were in favor in blowing things up, and start preparing for the future.
But the Bills have shown us something these past two weeks. By no means am I saying they are going to take off and end their decade-long playoff drought. But with an upcoming schedule that features Houston at home, a bye, and road games in consecutive weeks against the reeling Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, things could become interesting.
Some other observations:
· The three interceptions today (George Wilson had the other) were impressive, but the key to the Bills victory was the job they did against the run. They entered the game dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed, but held the potent duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to 116 - 65 below Buffalo’s average yield and 202 fewer than the Jets managed a week ago. By holding Williams and Stewart in check, they forced Delhomme to beat them, and although he threw for 325 yards, he was picked thrice and failed to throw for a score, so the strategy worked.
· I thought Ryan Fitzpatrick did a decent job of managing the game. He was only 11-of-22 for 123 yards, but he did drill that touchdown pass between two defenders to Lee Evans. I also liked how he’s starting to get Evans more involved. The Bills top receiver this decade, Evans had 5 receptions for 75 yards, including a nicely thrown 50-yard bomb from Fitzpatrick.
· The special teams finally played like we’re accustomed to seeing. Brian Moorman averaged 45 yards on eight punts, and the Bills coverage was exceptional on both punts and kickoffs. Carolina began seven drives inside the 20, and Bills tight end Derek Fine recovered a botched Panthers punt return, setting up a fourth-quarter score.
· Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s unit gives up an awful lot of yards, but they’ve shown marked improvement in taking the ball away and keeping opponents out of the end zone. In Buffalo’s first four games, it has given up an average of 27.5. In the last three, the Bills have allowed just 9 points per contest.
· Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny looked really sharp in the middle. He finished with 11 tackles and did a good job of getting his teammates in the right position to make plays.
· What makes Byrd’s start even more remarkable is the fact he missed much of the off-season and camp recovering from a sports hernia operation and that he played corner in college and is now playing safety because of all the injuries in the Bills secondary.
· Buffalo’s offensive line has a long, long way to go. On that safety and several other plays, they were destroyed.
· Delhomme is an absolute mess. He has turned the ball over 15 times in six games – 13 picks and two fumbles.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mother Nature takes center stage in baseball's post-season

So, there's a good chance that heavy rains will force postponement of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series tonight in New York. Which, again, raises the question: Why are we still playing baseball this deep into October? The scary thing is that this might only get worse, weather-wise, as we prepare for a November World Series between teams from New York and Philadelphia, where it's been known to snow this time of the year.

Sadly, this is a situation that could be easily rectified by having teams play seven scheduled double-headers per year, just as they used to do. That would enable the regular season to end in late September and the post-season to end well before November, when weather can become a serious issue in more than half the big-league cities.

I know the union would grumble about unfair this would be to the players, but given what they're making I think they could suck it up a little. And you could placate the owners by designating these as day-night doubleheaders so they'd still be able to milk the fans for two gates each time the schedule-makers pulled an Ernie Banks and said "Let's play two.''

Of course, FOX and the other television networks would blanch at ending the post-season any sooner. And we know that they - and not the alleged commissioner of the game, Bud Selig - call the shots.

I can see it now. Terrible fall weather in the Northeast results in the World Series being pushed back all the way to Thanksgiving. And the brilliant Selig, as he did in that All-Star Game a few years ago, declares the Phillies and Yankees co-champions. Or maybe Bud Light could flip a coin or have the managers play a best-of-seven game of rock, paper scissors to determine the champ.

***

The Phillies obviously are rooting for the Angels to force a Game 7 because that means the Yankees would have to pitch C.C. Sabathia, and he would only be able to make two starts instead of three in the World Series if the Bronx Bombers advanced.

***

Despite the crankiness of my first item, I think a Phillies-Yankees World Series would be a dynamite matchup. And the atmosphere would be enhanced by two of the most passionate sets of fans in all of sports.

***

Syracuse resumes play today against the 1-5 Akron Zips in the Carrier Dome, and they should romp. Akron suspended its starting quarterback for violating team rules earlier this season, then lost its backup QB to an injury, prompting the Zips to take out an ad in the student newspaper asking any former high school QBs on campus to contact the football coaching staff for tryouts.

SU began the season in promising fashion, but things regressed as the Orange men started producing more turnovers than your local bakery once the Big East Conference schedule opened. Expect coach Doug Marrone to have a short leash with quarterback Greg Paulus this afternoon. The former Duke point guard has been a turnover machine in recent games, and if he throws a pick early, red-shirt freshman Ryan Nassib will be under center. Call it 'Cuse 34, Akron 16.

***

I wondered in my last blog if A-Rod's girlfriend Kate Hudson would receive a Series winner's share should the Yankees go the distance. That prompted reader Alana to wittily ask: "If Kate's next movie is a dud, does that mean it's an A-Bomb?''


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Opining on Hudson - the actress, not the river - and other matters

So if the Yankees win the World Series does A-Rod babe Kate Hudson get voted a winner’s share?
***
The rumor-mill was working overtime yesterday as the NFL’s trade deadline approached. The hottest piece of misinformation had the Bills dealing T.O. to the New England Patriots. Imagine that scenario, if true. Two former bad boys, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, trying to out-diva one another in Beantown.

***
I’ve long opposed the use of replays in baseball, but after watching the farcical umpiring during this post-season, I’ve changed my mind. I can understand a blown call here and there, but not several in one game, which happened in last night’s American League Championship Series matchup between the Yankees and Angels. I just don’t get it. They increase the crews from four to six in the postseason and the umps chosen are allegedly the cream of the crop, and they still screw up obvious calls. Come on guys, it’s not like you have to be in shape and race up and down a field or a hardwood court or a sheet of ice.
***

I heard a rumor that Don Mattingly might be considered for the Cleveland Indians managing job. I think that would be a very good match, and I think Donnie Baseball will do just fine as a manager. He was always a smart player and sitting next to Joe Torre the past several seasons has been a pretty good apprenticeship if you ask me.
***

The “I Love New York and Maybe Jersey, Too’’ Award goes to the New Orleans Saints, who own victories this season over Buffalo, the Jets and Giants.
***

A couple of readers suggested Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as the new head coach of the Bills. I’m all for it, if he brings Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre with him.
***

I get the feeling that even if Manny Ramirez robbed a bank or shot someone, we’d still heard the lame, clich├ęd excuse that it was “just Manny being Manny.’’
***

If Bills fans think they have it bad, they ought to take a walk in my son’s shoes and try rooting for the St. Louis Lambs. Talk about a test of loyalty. They are 0-6 this season, have lost 16 straight and 27 of their last 30. Chris started following them during their Super Bowl championship season 10 years ago, and it’s been all downhill since. Fortunately, for him, he’s been a lifelong Yankee fan, so this fall hasn’t been a total loss.
***

Mike Shanahan officially turned down the Washington Redskins job – for now. No accomplished coach is going to take over a mess like the ‘Skins, Bills, Lions, Bucs or Rams in mid-season. So, Shanahan may revisit Daniel Snyder’s offer once the season ends. Or maybe he really doesn’t want to work for a meddlesome owner like Snyder, who has turned Washington into a football coach’s graveyard. There’s talk that Snyder will can current coach Jim Zorn and put former Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray in there on an interim basis.
***

Here’s a positive historical Bills note: Buffalo’s .667 win percentage in overtime (18-9) is best in NFL history for teams with 10 or more OT appearances. And kicker Rian Lindell is now is 11-for-13 in game-deciding field goals after his 47-yarder vs. the Jets last week. Three of his winning kicks have come in overtime and five of his decisive boots have been from 42 yards or longer. Many of us in the media like to take shots at former Bills general manager Tom Donahoe, but his luring of Lindell from the Seattle Seahawks before the 2003 season was a brilliant move.
***

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PERSONAL MATTERS: Happy Birthday, a day late, to my boyhood sports hero, Mickey Mantle. The Mick would have been 78. And while we’re at it, Happy B-Day today to Mickey’s teammate, Whitey Ford, who turned 81, and my dear friend, Dr. Cindy Devore . . . Congratulations to another friend, Nan Hildebrandt, on her retirement as executive director of Geva Theater. Through the years Nan helped raise more than $20 million for Geva, one of Rochester’s true gems. And before coming to the theater, she did a marvelous job bolstering the coffers and reputation of the Rochester Philharmonic. Well done, Nan. Well done . . . Sadly, for the first time since Section III instititued the high school football playoffs in 1979, my alma mater, Rome Free Academy, failed to qualify for the postseason. That's a pretty remarkable run for the Black Knights - 30 consecutive years. Hey, what can I say? I'll always be true to my school and my little hometown . . . I’m happy to report that former newspaper colleague and longtime friend, Gene Duffey, is home following a long hospitalization for cardiac arrest. You can e-mail Gene at sythinman@aol.com. I know he’d love hearing from you .

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Finally, a Bills game where their worst fears weren't realized

Admit it Bills fans: Like me, you were expecting the worst. When Rian Lindell’s potential game-winning field goal attempt from 46 yards at the end of regulation sailed wide right (Is it just me, or are all the Bills misses in that direction?) and the Jets won the coin flip to receive the ball in overtime, you thought, “Un-Bill-lievable. Here they go again. Ready to lose another freaking game they should have won.”

But in a turn of events oh, so rare in recent years, the Bills gutted this one out. And Lindell, one of the NFL’s best-ever long-range kickers, redeemed himself. With just under three minutes remaining in the extra session of a game neither team seemed intent on winning, Lindell kicked one from 47 yards (yes, yes, the same distance as Scott Norwood’s infamous miss) and Buffalo beat the Jets, 16-13, to record its first victory against an AFC East opponent in 22 months.

And, good thing, too, because losing a game after intercepting six passes and limiting hot-shot New York rookie Mark Sanchez to just 10 completions in 29 attempts for a whopping 119 yards would have been hard to swallow a week after losing a game to the Cleveland Browns after allowing Derek Anderson just two completions in 17 tries.

Not only did the J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS! throw six picks, they also committed 14 penalties.

Still, they almost won in spite of their many errors, thanks to a magnificent run game propelled by Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Jones stunned the Bills defense with dashes of 64 and 71 yards and finished with a club-record 210 yards on just 22 carries. (My math’s not great, but I think that’s an average of a first-down nearly every carry.) And his backup, Leon Washington, was almost as dangerous, with 99 yards on 15 attempts.

It’s not too many times a team rushes for 318 yards as the Jets did, and winds up losing the game.

And it’s not too many times a team is pounded for 318 yards as the Bills were, and winds up winning.

“It was ugly out there at times,’’ said Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was forced into action after Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion. “But there’s never an ugly win.’’

No there’s not. Especially not during this decadent decade when the Bills have experienced but one winning season.

Fitzpatrick showed his rust out there, completing just 10-of-25 for 116 yards and one score – a bullet to Lee Evans on a slant that was good for a 37-yard touchdown. But he also showed some moxie. And he seemed to find his rhythm after misfiring on his first three passes and connecting on just two of his first nine throws. It was a decent performance, considering almost of his practice snaps since July have been with the scout team.

The Bills baby-faced offensive line did an OK job, allowing only one sack and opening some holes for Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Of course, it needs to be noted they received a big break when mountainous Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins left the game for good with a leg injury in the first half.

Although the Bills were not good against the run, they were excellent against the shaky Sanchez, who entered the game with five interceptions in five contests and left it with a total of 10. He clearly was adversely affected by not having two of his regular wideouts in the lineup because of injuries, but he also seemed to be as intimidated by the cold and windy conditions of Giants Stadium as he was by the Bills defenders. (I’m thinking the former SoCal QB better get used to challenging weather in a hurry because it’s not going to get any warmer when the schedule moves into November and December. And as far as I know the new stadium they're playing in next year isn't going to have a roof, so the winds will continue to blow off the Jersey swamplands.)

Sanchez made some atrocious throws and the Bills made him pay. Rookie defensive back Jarius Byrd picked off two passes, but the biggest Buffalo interception was made by linebacker Paul Posluzny at the Buffalo 42 with 6:25 remaining in OT. That set up the final drive, and this time Lindell had enough hook on his kick to bend it just inside the right upright.

Unfortunately, for the 2-4 Bills, this game was not without another spate of injuries. Besides Edwards, the infirmary list included safety Donte Whitner, who reinjured the ankle that sidelined him for several games; tackle Kyle Williams (shoulder), tight end Shane Nelson (concussion) and cornerback Terrence McGee (bruised chest).

Although no victory is ugly, this one needs to be kept in perspective. The Jets may not be as good as their vocal coach Rex Ryan and the New York media hype machine would have people believe. And the Bills still have many issues – porous run defense, erratic, mistake-riddled special teams, offensive line growing pains, a sputtering passing game and a head coach with just one winning season in nine seasons.

That said, you might as well savor this win, because you’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. And for a change, the worst didn’t happen.

Bills' misery should continue in Meadowlands

I think the Bills get buried like Jimmy Hoffa today at Giants Stadium. Call it J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS! 34, Buffalo 13.

***

I would have started Ryan Fitzpatrick today in place of Trent Edwards. I'm not saying Fitzpatrick is the answer by any means, but he certainly can't perform any worse than Edwards has in recent weeks. Besides, what does Dick Jauron have to lose any way, except his job, which already is a foregone conclusion? Those who argue that a benching would be the last straw for Edwards probably agreed with the way the Yankees babied Joba Chamberlain this season. I'm sorry, but the time for coddling Edwards should be over. If he wants to be an NFL quarterback he needs to rise to the occasion. Yes, his offensive line is as green as the fairways at Augusta, but at some point the great players rise above the obstacles and elevate the play of those around them.

***

If I hear Edwards tell us one more time that the Bills had a good week of practice, I'm going to scream. To heck with practice. Have a good game for a change.

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As if Bills fans needed any more to add to their misery, the report out of Philadelphia is that left tackle Jason Peters has yet to allow a sack.

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Further proof that the Bills are a poorly coached football team: Buffalo leads the NFL in penalties per game.

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That was one, terrific baseball playoff game at Yankee Stadium last night and early this morning. It's just too bad that it had to end on a throwing error. I'd much rather see a classic contest won by someone's heroics than lost by someone's mistake.

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I'm so happy to see former Rochester Red Wing Jerry Hairston Jr.'s perseverance rewarded. He drilled a single in his first post-season at-bat in the bottom of the 13th and wound up scoring the winning run on the error by Angels second baseman Macier Izturis.

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A loss by the Bills today would extend their AFC East losing streak to 9 and make Jauron 3-13 in his last 16 games.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let the rebuilding of the Bills begin now

Let’s be honest, this season isn’t salvageable, so the Bills should plunge themselves into a full-fledged, rebuilding mode. Besides jettisoning Dick Jauron, I would also find competent football personnel people to replace the underachieving Tom Modrak and John Guy. Of course, you first must hire a coach with a track record of success and allow him to bring in his people to run the scouting department. So, luring that new coach needs to be priority No. 1.

The other thing I would do is immediately begin stockpiling draft picks. Hey, if you aren’t going to use Terrell Owens, you might as well cut your losses and attempt to get something for him while you can. Unfortunately, Owens’ age (35) and declining production (he’s on pace to make 38 receptions for 740 yards and 3 TDs) means you probably aren’t going to get more than a mid-round pick for him.

I’d also look at dealing Roscoe Parrish. He’s no longer the dangerous punt returner he once was, having fumbled away two returns in recent weeks. At best, you’re probably looking at a later-round pick for him.

***

I know this doesn’t make the painful present any easier to stomach, but while researching and writing my fifth book relating to Buffalo Bills history, I’m reminded that this isn’t the franchise’s low point. That occurred from 1967-71 when the Bills went 13-55-2 and suffered two one-win seasons, and five 10-loss seasons in five years. That said, a case can be made that the 2000s have been the worst decade in the Bills’ half-century history. Buffalo has had only one winning campaign this decade and ZERO playoff appearances. (The Home Run Throwback loss in Tennessee on Jan. 8, 2000 was part of the 1999 season.)

***

There are rumors that Notre Dame will heavily court Jon Gruden should the Irish lose to the University of Southern California this Saturday. Though the Irish are off to a 4-1 start under Charlie Weis, they have lost six straight games to Top 10 teams and have been humiliated by the Trojans the past two seasons by a combined 76-3 score.

It’s not certain though if Gruden wants to go the college route, return to the NFL sidelines or stay in the ESPN Monday Night Football booth, where he’s doing a bang-up job as an analyst. Gruden’s one of the guys I’d love to see running the Bills, but other struggling NFL teams also covet him, including the Washington Redskins.

Although Skins owner Daniel Snyder can throw ridiculous money at Gruden, some coaches believe that Washington has become a coaching graveyard because Snyder is a control freak who loves to mettle.

The fact there are so many bad teams in the NFL right now should heighten the sense of urgency Ralph Wilson feels. The courtship of the next coach needs to begin now.

***

Belated Happy 99th Birthdays to two of the classiest people in sports – Bob Sheppard and John Wooden.

I miss hearing Sheppard’s elegant voice boom over the P.A. system at Yankee Stadium. While interviewing scores of players for my book about the old House That Ruth Built a few years back, I was struck by how important Sheppard’s voice was to the grand ballpark’s ambience. Both Yankees and opposing players said their names never sounded any better than it did when Sheppard announced it.

When I introduced myself to the Voice of Yankee Stadium and told him I was from Rochester, his eyes lit up. “Rochester, N.Y.,’’ he said in those unmistakable dulcet tones. “Home of my favorite orator of all-time – Bishop Fulton Sheen.’’

***

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more “alert’’ athlete than Derek Jeter. It’s amazing how the guy’s brain is always one step ahead of everyone else's on the diamond. It clearly isn’t coincidence why the Yankees shortstop is involved in so many crucial plays.

***

I’m rooting for an all-Joe World Series – Joe Torre’s Dodgers vs. Joe Girardi’s Yankees – but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies wind up playing for all the marbles.

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Love, like sports, can be a numbers game, too. I speak from experience. Three years ago, on Friday the 13th, my soul mate Beth and I went on our first date. My favorite number is 7 (after Mickey Mantle) and her favorite number is 6. Seven plus six equals a lucky 13.

As an aside, I spilled red wine on the restaurant’s table cloth while toasting Beth that evening. Fortunately, she didn’t notice what a klutz I was. Either that, or she was so kind she pretended not to notice.

***

I like the moxie I’ve seen from Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen this season. If he orchestrates an upset of USC he catapults himself into contention for the Heisman Trophy on my ballot.

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Looks like my heart got in the way of my head concerning my alma mater’s football team. I thought Greg Paulus might lead them to six wins this season, but things aren’t looking so good after his dreadful performances the past two weeks, in which he threw six interceptions. SU should beat Akron and Louisville. That would give them four wins. But I’m having a tough time finding two more wins from a schedule that features superior Big East opponents Cincinnati, Rutgers, UConn and Pitt.

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Betsy Wells’ latest update on former Times-Union sportswriter Gene Duffey is a good one. A month after suffering cardiac arrest, Gene us up and walking around the hospital and regaining his strength. His friends report that his trademark sense of humor is intact. Gene is being treated for a skin infection. Once that subsides, doctors will be able to insert a defibrillator into his chest and he’ll be ready to return home.

Gene says he really appreciates all the cards and letters he’s received from well-wishers. You can write him at: Select Specialty Hospital, 2130 W. Holcombe, Houston, TX 77030.

***

If professional hockey is going to survive in Rochester, Amerks ownership is going to need to find a way to mend the fences with Sabres owner Tom Golisano and renew the working relationship with Buffalo's NHL team. Drawing just over 4,000 for your home opener, then following it up with announced crowds of 2,000 your next two home games is a sign that the future of the Amerks here is on the thinnest of ice. Think about this: Rochester Institute of Technology drew 7,400 for its game last Saturday, nearly more in one game than the pros attracted in three games. Not good.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bills start is worse than we could have imagined with little hope in sight

ORCHARD PARK - I guess it’s somehow fitting the Bills were whistled for 9 – you read right – 9 false starts in a 6-3 loss to the equally inept Cleveland Browns Sunday at the Ralph because this season so far has been one, big false start for Buffalo.

And given the rash of injuries – they probably lost linebacker Kawika Mitchell for the year after he mangled his right leg on the first play of the second quarter – it’s extremely doubtful things are going to get better any time soon.

The Bills have now lost five defensive starters to injury, their woefully inexperienced O-line is a shambles, their quarterback is regressing faster than a QB chased by Bruce Smith in his prime and their head coach is on ice so thin it couldn’t hold a feather.

I didn't have great expectations about this team heading into the season, but I never expected it to be this bad.

Sadly, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 2001 at One Bills Drive. You might remember (or perhaps you’d rather forget) that was the season in which rookie head coach Gregg Williams led a gutted team to a 3-13 record and a last-place finish. There were guys on that team who would have had problems making a good team’s practice squad, let alone their 53-man roster . And in some instances they were starting for those Counterfeit Bills.

I wish I could report something positive, I really do, because it’s no fun covering a habitually mediocre football team. But I’d be grasping for straws.

I really can’t see how Ralph Wilson retains Dick Jauron as head coach any longer. He’s followed up three consecutive 7-9 seasons with a 1-4 start that surely will be 1-5 after the Jets pound them in the Jersey swamplands next week. As I wrote last week, a change has to be made, just to let the fans know that management is at least paying attention.

I suggested Bobby April, solely as an interim guy, but now I’m second-guessing myself on that one, given the sketchy play of a special teams unit that had been rated the NFL’s best in three of the past five seasons. (Roscoe Parrish’s fumbled punt with three minutes to go led to the winning field goal and marked the second botched return by him in three weeks.)

The sad thing is that the Bills are back to square one. Edwards is a head-case right now, battered and on the verge of becoming a shell-shocked Buffalo version of David Carr. The offensive line was thrown together haphazardly and may wind up becoming solid down the road, but right now the unit is as overmatched as a Pop Warner team vs. the varsity.

The courtship of a Bill Cowher, a Jon Gruden, a Mike Shanahan, a Mike Holmgrem, etc. needs to begin because there are several other NFL teams in dire need of leadership, too.

****

Wouldn’t you know it? The guy who recovered Parrish’ fumble to set up the winning field goal was Blake Contanzo, who led the Bills special teams in tackles last season with 26 and who now has three fumble recoveries in the Browns first five games.

****

The Browns last regular-season win came 11 months ago in a Monday night game here against the Bills.

****

Demetrius Bell, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers were flagged twice each for false starts. Gives new meaning to the term "triple-double.''

****

I still don’t understand how Lee Evans, who has more touchdown receptions of 70 yards or longer than any receiver in the NFL since the start of the decade, has become such a non-factor in the Bills offense this season. Especially when you’ve supposedly added a deep threat in Terrell Owens to take some of the coverage away from Evans. Unless Evans is hiding an injury from us, this all falls on the shoulders of Trent and the coaching staff.

****

I think Parrish used poor judgment in trying to field a rolling punt in the fourth quarter that resulted in the fumble and the winning three-pointer. But I understand why he felt compelled to try to force the issue and make a play because the Bills offense was so pathetic.

****

So if I told you before Sunday’s game that the Browns were going to beat the Bills even though quarterback Derek Anderson completed just 2-of-17 passes for 23 yards, you would have asked me what I had been drinking. But that’s what happened. Cleveland won, inspite of Anderson’s terrible stats and seven dropped passes by his receivers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bills need to stop the status woe

Before I get to my mail, just wanted to let you know that parodies about the Bills latest autumn of discontent have begun circulating.

Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEFXV8ogv3Y for a hilarious spoof song imploring quarterback Trent Edwards to stop being a wuss and throw the ball downfield. And Buffalo radio station WGR 550-AM has one on Dick Jauron.

Just two more indications that the citizens of Bills Nation are fed up with the status woe.

I’ve been covering this team since the mid-1980s and following it since the late 1960s, and I can’t recall too many periods where the fans were this frustrated. Yes, the Bills certainly have had teams worse than this one, but the franchise has never been through a longer stretch of dysfunction. The 2000s have been arguably the worst decade in Bills history, with just one winning season and no playoff appearances. (The Home Run Throwback game was part of the 1999 season.) Even the 1970s, where 10-loss seasons were the rule rather than the exception, Buffalo managed three winning records, and boasted exciting teams with O.J., Fergy and the Electric Co.

I believe Bills fans have been incredibly and patient and loyal. The cries for wholesale changes are justified. And long, long overdue.

My column the other day suggesting that Ralph Wilson should jettison Jauron and begin searching for a big-name coach like Bill Cowher obviously struck a chord and a nerve with my readers.

Some of my former colleagues in the newspaper business disagreed with my call for an immediate change, saying Ralph might as well wait till season’s end. They said it would be foolish to plug special teams coach Bobby April in there while the search begins.

With all due respect, they’re full of it. By making the move now, you are at least telling your angry fans that you are ticked off, too, and that you aren’t going to allow this culture of mediocrity and losing to continue. You are telling your paying customers that you are listening to them. I believe the fans are owed that much.

Plus, I believe time is of the essence. There is a good pool of available coaches out there with Super Bowl rings – Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Mike Holgrem, Tony Dungy come quickly to mind. But there also are a bunch of teams in the same leaky boat as the Bills. So the courting needs to begin soon. As I mentioned before, Ralph will need to be willing to relinquish considerable cash and control if he wants to stop the bleeding.

****

Every so often, I like to dip into my mail bag and let the fans have their say. Here’s the response to my call for Ralph to fire Jauron and get someone like Bill Cowher:

Doug McSorley says:
Hmm interesting thought Scott. Great idea. I wonder if he would choose another team that is closer to a superbowl team like Carolina for example. I agree with you though.. Something has to be done ASAP.

Steve Natarelli says:
Jon Gruden is also available... Somethig has to be done... But Wilson never wants to pay top dollar for a head coach... Then everyone else's players get better and the Bills players don't... Henne had never started an NFL game... But Edwards looked like the Rob Johnson only worse... Sad... I'm convinced the players have already given up on the season.

David Lewis says:
I couldn't have said it better myself. The current coach is a nice guy; but there are other nice guys who are able to inspire & motivate. Certainly, you shouldn't have to motivate professionals who get paid a lot more than we but this seems not to be the case here. Please Ralph, do it now before loyal fans (I've been one since 1959) suffer another embarrassing show. It may be only a game; but it's also a metaphor from which we can draw hope.

Kyle Kubera says:
Scott, are you OK. When has Ralph ever opened his pocketbook for a coach. Not even for Marv, who he took off the scrap heap.He won't even pay for players this year, which is why the Bills haven't signed an offensive lineman or linebacker who can help with all of the injuries.Sunday's game was the perfect window into both the Dolphins' and the Bills' organizations.Both teams need to win desperately, a division game. One team, the Dolphins, takes on the image of its coach (see team president Bill Parcells) and kicks the crap out of the other team. The Bills, on the other hand, take on the charateristics or their owner and the rest of the organization: a little senile, no direction, no fire, no passion and they get killed. And as long as people keep buying tickets and merchandise it will be that way...

Carolyn Miller says:
The only reasons the Bills spent any money in the late 1980s and 1990s is because Polian ran the show and people weren't buying tickets, so Ralph had to do something to make money.You see how Polian was rewarded, a ticket out the door because he wouldn't take Ralph's crap.And Ralph he sold the bill of goods that the team will have to move and he can't afford to stay in Buffalo, so people keep buying losing football. It is a shame.But they are not going to shell out money for Cowher, Gruden, Holmgren, et al.
I don't think we should leave Mike Shannahan out of this discussion - a Super Bowl winning coach....isn't he also available?!?

Kerry Gleason says:
I agree wholeheartedly that Jauron and his sunglasses should be packed off on the first bus outta Buffalo, and bring in somebody with some fire. Not sure Cowher would want the job, but he'd be a viable, albeit expensive, solution. Personally, I'm a Jim Haslett fan, and if Mr. Wilson could lure him away from Orlando in the UFL, I think you'd see a much better Bills' team that might win a few games.

Michael Moran says:
Never happen

John Spaulding says:
Honestly Scott, after having one eye on the Sabres and Bills this weekend, I have to say that I just don't care anymore. Its not the losing that hurts so bad, its the lack of effort.

Chris Sciarra says:
Cowher is waiting for the Carolina job to open up.

Michael Cunningham says:
Sadly, I just think they'll be going to Toronto, anyway. The NFL would love that.

Dave Smith says:
Nice article Scott!!

Jeff Chafitz says:
Looked up "pitiful" in the Dictionary Monday morning... saw a Bills Logo.

David Cortese says:
I agree Scott, but I don't think it will happen. Wilson is willing to spend his money on the field (except for offensive linemen, in spite of a weakness there for years), but not in the front office. Mediocre head coaches will continue to produce mediocre results, I'm afraid.

Anonymous says:
I agree! Almost any change would be a good one...they need to have lots more fire and passion!! When you cannot get the ball to your recievers and you don't have the game plan ...well the results are in plain sight!! The fish now eat buffalo!!!

Anonymous says:
Great article Scott, sending this one along! Thanks!

Andrew says:
I would love to see Bil Cowher on the Buffalo sidelines...he's got that personality you speak of that the Bills need. I think Cowher has been waiting out that Carolina job so not sure Buffalo has a shot. Regardless, they need to find out. If they can't get Cowher - go hard after Gruden. And please oh please, throw the ball down the field. PLEASE

Anonymous says:
While very exciting to speculate, Ralph felt burned after unsuccessfully turning over the keys to Donahoe. Do you really see him doing it again?His calculated risks now probably involve tapioca instead of jello.

Anonymous says:
It's always a mystery to me why the salary of the head coach is an issue, assuming he's not looking for Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning money. Top coaches salaries are rarely above $5,000,000/year. The Bills don't seem to have any trouble pissing it away on a has-been receiver like T.O., or never-was players like Losman, Rob Johnson, Mike Williams, etc. My contention has always been that if a $5,000,000 a year coach can get top-level production out of their second tier players, making higher paid prima-donnas expendable, he's more than earned his keep. Terrell Owens is making twice that of Mike Smith, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, and several other current successful NFL coaches. Hey Ralph -Replace T.O. next year and you'll have covered your head coach wages for 2 or 3 years and probably get more W's.

Anonymous says:
Scott, Ever heard of the Rooney Rule? The Bills cannot begin negotiating with Bill Cowher until after they have interviewed a minority candidate or 2. That means after the season for all intents & purposes. The NFL would slap the Bills pretty hard-loss of draft choices, fines or just voiding the contract, if they followed your recommendation. If the Bills want Cowher, or any other big name coach who isn't Tony Dungy, the best they can do is fire Jauron now, install a head coach for the rest of the season, and after the season ends, interview some minority candidates & Mr. Big Name and then choose the best candidate. Until those other interviews are done, negotiations with Cowher or anyone else can't begin.In the past the NFL voided a clause in Jim Haslett's contract last year saying he'd keep the Rams job with a certain number of wins & slapped the Lions for hiring Mariucci without considering minority candidates.

Chris DeMarco says:
It's a shame it probably won't, and also a shame the Jouaron wasted what could have been a talented qb like Edwards with his playing not to lose instead of win mentality

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Time for some Cowher Power in Buffalo

Enough already.

If I’m Bills owner Ralph Wilson, I pull the plug on Dick Jauron now. I put fiery special teams coach Bobby April in as interim head coach and immediately begin negotiations with Bill Cowher. And, yes, I prepare to turn over a king’s ransom and complete control of football operations because if I do otherwise neither Cowher nor Mike Shanahan nor Jon Gruden nor any other big-name coach will be coming to Orchard Park and the Bills will continue to be stuck in this quagmire of mediocrity that has stymied them for nearly a decade.

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This has nothing to do with Jauron the person. He’s an honorable guy and the players love him. But this is a hyper-competitive, just-win-baby business and Jauron’s body of work (one winning season in 8 seasons and change with two different teams) is proof positive that he doesn’t have what it takes to be an NFL head coach.

Jauron’s conservative approach doesn’t cut it any more in a league where offenses and defenses are constantly on the attack. Football teams do, in fact, assume the personalities of their coaches, which may explain Trent Edwards’ penchant for checking down and playing it safe too often instead of taking the chances the really good quarterbacks take.

I called for this change after Buffalo suffered through its third consecutive 7-9 campaign in ‘08. But the Bills had painted themselves into a corner by jumping the gun after their 5-1 start and signing Jauron to a 3-year extension. It was a panic move because they foolishly believed if they made the playoffs NFL teams would be lining up in droves to sign the guy.

Well, you get what you pay for. And what Buffalo has is a coach with a 22-30 record heading into Sunday’s game against the winless Cleveland Browns.

Ralph doesn’t have a history of firing coaches in-season. In fact, the last time he made an in-sseason change was 22 years ago when he replaced Hank Bullough with Marv Levy. He lucked out on that one. But the time for “hoping’ some guy works out is over. Bills fans have suffered long enough. They’ve supported this team despite a stretch that has seen them post just one winning season this decade. And should they fail to make the playoffs this year (a likely scenario) it will mark the first time in the franchise’s half-century existence they went an entire decade without making the postseason.

The one time Ralph did spend big, big bucks for a highly sought-after coach was in 1978 when he signed Chuck Knox, who was coming off five consecutive divisional titles with the Los Angeles Rams. That’s what he needs to do now.

Something bold.

It will take more than an armor-car-full of greenbacks to secure Cowher, who helped make the Pittsburgh Steelers into Super Bowl champions and perennial playoff participants. He’ll demand to bring in his own personnel people (see you later, Tom Modrak and John Guy). And he’ll demand a commitment from Ralph to sign the players he’ll need to in order to change the Bills culture of losing.

Ralph told me on several occasions through the years that one of the keys to his success as an entrepreneur was his willingness to take calculated risks. He always said he liked going for it on fourth down. Well, it’s fourth-and-long, and he needs a big catch right now, and that catch’s name is Bill Cowher.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A championship for some guys who really do play for the love the game


OK, before I deal the dirt on the Bills embarrassing 28-point loss this afternoon to the Miami Dolphins, I’d like to doff my cap to the 19th century baseball club I play for – the Excelsiors.

The word “excelsior’’ means “ever higher,” and Sunday afternoon we went as high as we can go in our vintage base ball league by winning the Mayor’s Cup with a 12-7 victory against a gritty Knickerbockers squad at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in beautiful Mumford.

I was fortunate to be the winning pitcher, but that never would have been possible without a lot of help from my teammates, who baled me out of a 6-0 crater after just two innings.

We received spectacular defensive plays from Jeff Piper, our behind (hey, that’s what they called catchers back in the day), second basetender Curt “The Barber’’ Kirchmaier, center fielder “Dangerous’’ Todd Draper and leftfielder Jose “All Day’’ Pagan. Jose, who can track down fly balls with the best of them, deserves particular praise because he was playing with a broken finger (a serious obstacle considering we don’t wear gloves.)

Piper also had a superb afternoon striking the ball, as did our whole club, really. Our bats awakened after a lethargic start, and although we didn’t match our output of the previous two matches (29 and 22 runs), we scored enough to secure our second Cup in the 9-year history of the league.

So please indulge yours truly, aka Scott the Scribe, as I thank our captain and hot-hitting shortstop, Ryan “Doc’’ Brecker, for his leadership in juggling a formidable lineup that rivals the modern-day Yankees as far as run production is concerned. Besides the aforementioned base ballists, our championship wouldn’t have been possible without the father-son power-hitting duo of Andy “Frenchy’’ Cardot and Andy “House’’ Cardot; hard-hitting, fleet-footed third base tender Steve “Bo Lightning’’ Ost; hurler Mike Gruschow, who limited the Knickerbockers to 1 run in four innings to pick up the save, and rightfielder Sean Pieken, who’s another stick to be reckoned with.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two guys who didn’t play Sunday, but who have been an integral part of our team for some time now – Max “Country Mile’’ Robertson, who was on the DL after recent foot surgery, and Scott Peters, who is serving our country in Iraq and to whom we dedicated this championship.

Thanks again, guys. As they said in the 19th century: “Huzzah!’’
***

No “huzzahs!’’ for the Bills after their uninspired effort in South Florida.
Their woefully inexperienced offensive line was exposed again, yielding six sacks and failing to launch a ground game. The return of fresh-legged Marshawn Lynch from his three-game suspension was supposed to give the offense a boost, but he managed just four yards on eight carries. Quarterback Trent Edwards regressed some more, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six for a Miami touchdown, as Buffalo converted just 1-of-11 third downs. And the Bills injury-depleted defense didn’t perform much better, allowing Ronnie Brown to run wild as the Dolphins racked up 250 yards rushing and controlled the clock for more than 37 minutes.
You would think that the Bills will be able to regroup against the winless Cleveland next week at the Ralph, but that game no longer can be viewed as a gimme because Buffalo is reeling while the Browns finally showed some signs of life in an overtime loss to Cincinnati.
Beleaguered and occasionally befuddled Bills coach Dick Jauron said he never considered yanking Trent Sunday and replacing him with Ryan Fitzpatrick. But calls for the backup quarterback are sure to grow louder this week, as will the calls for Jauron’s head. They lose to the Browns and things will get really ugly.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Daddy's little girl, Mr. October and predictions for the Cuse and da Bills


Before I get to the sports stuff, I just want to wish my daughter, Amy, a Happy Birthday. I’m still having problems believing she’s 23-years-old. How the heck did that happen? Seems like only yesterday (she’s going to be mortified by this) that I was changing her diapers and putting her on the school bus for the first time and going to those soccer games where she and her fellow 8-year-olds swarmed to the ball like bees to honey. The older I get, the faster time zips by. But no matter how much sand passes through the hour glass of our lives, she will always be my little girl.

***

OK, I’ll stop being sappy and move on to the wacky world of sports. Had the opportunity Thursday to attend the Compeer Luncheon at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, where Reggie Jackson was the headliner. I’ve interviewed him on several occasions, and there have been times when his massive but fragile ego has made him tough to deal with. (Think T.O. in Yankee pinstripes.)

But the Reggie I encountered yesterday was gracious and accommodating, especially with the kids there, who like their parents, were playing hooky. At the end of his speech and question-and-answer session, Reggie stunned the folks at Compeer, by saying he was going to donate the use of a 20-seat suite to Yankee Stadium for a game next season. That’s no small gesture because some of those suites have been auctioned off for $75,000.

A special advisor to the Yankees, Jackson discussed a number of baseball topics. The man known as Mr. October because of his World Series exploits said his two favorite Yankees are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (my favorites, too). The toughest pitcher he ever faced was his former Oakland A’s teammate Rollie Fingers. And he admitted that the dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium are smaller than the old one, which helps explain the home run barrage in the South Bronx this season.

Although the Yankees have won the most games (102) and have the highest payroll, Reggie isn’t predicting a cake-walk to the Bronx Bombers 27th world championship. He anticipates a tough challenge in their upcoming best-of-five playoff series against the Detroit Tigers and their pitching ace Justin Verlander. And he’s quick to point out that money can’t buy you love or a World Series.

“I always thought if you had a pile of money, you’ll wind up being the best,’’ he said. “It doesn’t work that way. No world champions since 2000 (the year the Yanks last won it all) have had the highest pay roll. I know, because we’ve had the highest payroll every year.’’
As far as a National League opponent should the Yankees make it to the Series, Jackson gives the nod to the St. Louis Cardinals, though he admits he’s biased, having played for current Birds’ skipper Tony LaRussa in Oakland.

All in all, it was an entertaining performance by Mr. October on the first day of the month that made him a legend.

***

I’m heading to the Carrier Dome tomorrow for homecoming at my alma mater, and I’m looking forward to seeing Greg Paulus live for the first time this season. South Florida might just be the most talented team Syracuse plays this season (though Cincinnati’s also very good, and Penn State is no slouch either, despite last week’s loss to arch nemesis Iowa.) In George Selvie, SoFlo boasts the best defensive end in the country, and their red-shirt freshman quarterback, B.J. Daniels, is coming off a game in which he shredded Florida State for 126 yards rushing. USF also features six receivers averaging at least 15 yards per catch and they’ll be going against a porous Orange secondary that has been toasted for 11 TDs so far. In other words, not a great matchup for the Cuse.

I’m wondering, though, if we are overrating South Florida just a tad. After all, their three opponents before the Seminoles were two Division IAA schools (Wofford and Charleston Southern) and Western Kentucky, whom they combined to outscore, 135-20.

For SU to have any chance, Paulus is going to have play super, the inexperienced SU offensive line is going to have to keep him upright and open some holes for Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey, and the special teams is going to have make a big play or two.

That’s asking an awful lot. Pressed for a prediction, I’m going to have to be untrue to my school and call it: South Florida 38, ‘Cuse 20.

***

Since we’re doing predictions, I might as well get my Bills pick out of the way, too. I wouldn’t be shocked if they went down to Miami and won, but I believe they have too many things going against them. Buffalo’s secondary has been decimated by injuries, and I hate picking against desperate teams – and at 0-3 the Dolphins definitely qualify as desperate. So, I’m going to call it, Miami 23, Bills 20.

***

If you love watching sports played by people who do it solely for the love of the game, may I suggest you check out the Mayor’s Cup 19th century base ball game at the Genesee Country Village and Museum Sunday at 1:30. My team, the Excelsiors, will be playing the Knickerbockers for the championship.

It should be a tightly contest match, and high-scoring if the past couple of games are any indication. We’ve piled up 29 and 22 runs the past two weekends, making us the New Orleans Saints of the Silver Park Base Ball league. We play according to 1864 rules, meaning we don’t use gloves. That helps explain the football like scores. But when we won the national Silver Ball Tournament six years ago, our victory was by a 1-0 margin, so defense, pitching, timely hitting and astute baserunning also comes into play.
Any way, it’s a lot of fun, and the musueum is going to be hopping with a ton of activities because this is the agricultural fair weekend, too. Love to see you there. Just make sure you root for the guys in the red socks and hats – the Excelsiors.

***

I'm happy to report that friend and former Times-Union colleague Gene Duffey is making a great recovery from cardiac arrest. If he continues to make progress, Gene will be getting out of the hospital very soon. He heard from hundreds of friends during his ordeal, and even received a visit from a member of the Houston Texans staff, who presented him with a game ball from head coach Gary Kubiak. It was a classy gesture for a classy reporter.

***

Congratulations to Pat Stark, the former Syracuse quarterback and assistant coach from Walworth, who will be among the members of the Orangemen's 1959 national championship team honored at halftime of tomorrow's SU-South Florida game. Pat's a wonderful gentleman whom I've gotten to know in my time as a newspaper reporter. Many also might remember him from his days as the head coach of the University of Rochester football team. Class act all the way.
***
I'm not surprised the Rio won the rights to host the 2016 Olympics. As I wrote the other day, South America has never hosted the Games, so it was long overdue. Chicago could give another push for the 2020 Olympics.