Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bills should make play for McNabb

Now that Andy Reid has officially put Donovan McNabb on the trading block, I'd take a very serious look at him if I'm the Bills.

The Philadelphia Eagles reportedly want a first-round pick in exchange for McNabb, and as much as I like the former Syracuse star, I think parting with a No. 9 overall pick for a 33-year-old quarterback is a little steep.

Instead, I'd propose a package deal - say, this year's first-rounder and a conditional 2011 pick based on McNabb's performance this season in exchange for McNabb and Philly's first-rounder (24th overall this year).

This would allow the Bills to solve their quarterback problem for several years and still be able to pick up a left offensive tackle or a defensive lineman or linebacker with the lower first-round pick.

As I've stated previously, I don't think this is totally similar to the Drew Bledsoe trade last decade. Bledsoe had little left his tank and was coming off a serious injury and a season in which he had lost his job to New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady. McNabb's performance last year and in the previous seasons indicate a quarterback still near the top of his game.

He also would give the Bills something to market, which they don't have right now.

Critics will claim that this would set back the Bills rebuilding program, to which I say - "The hell with rebuilding. This is a win-now league and Buffalo's been in a freaking rebuilding mode for a decade.'' McNabb would help them become a winner a lot sooner. And, in next year's draft, you could look for your quarterback of the future and not have to force him into action right away.

* PERSONAL MEANDERINGS: Attended my friend Tom Hildebrandt's 60th birthday party/roast Saturday night, and if that's what awaits me on my 60th, I think I might sneak out of the country for a few days to avoid being torched . . . Birthday greetings today to Patti Aman and Dave "Smitty'' Smith, and tomorrow to my Bills Bro John DiTullio.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Could Wes Johnson be 2010's Carmelo?

I didn’t think Syracuse could win it all without Arinze Onuaku, but after watching Wesley Johnson toy with Gonzaga Sunday, I’m thinking otherwise. If he continues to play like that, he just might be able to pull a Carmelo Anthony and carry the depth-challenged Orange men to the national championship.

Of course, it will require more than a one-man show. Just as Anthony had Gerry McNamara, Johnson has Andy Rautins – two sharp-shooting, hard-nosed, intelligent, big-game players. It won’t come easy, especially Thursday night when the Orange face a Butler team riding a 22-game win streak. But it should be fun watching this next chapter unfold.

* Glad to see the national-coach-of-the-year honors continue to pour in for Jim Boeheim. Hard to believe it took 34 years for this to happen, but if ever there was a season the Syracuse basketball legend deserved it, it was this one.

* I’m also looking forward to Cornell’s Carrier Dome matchup vs. Kentucky. The Big Red obviously doesn’t match up, talent-wise, but they are more experienced and play tremendous team basketball. And they should have the crowd behind them, though it will sound strange hearing chants of “Let’s Go Red’’ instead of “Let’s Go Orange.’’

* Toto, we're not going with Kansas any more. I guess I wasn't alone in watching my brackets go up in smoke when the Jayhawks went down. Oh, well, I wisely, didn't wager any money on it.

* I’m glad to see the NFL adopt the new overtime rule, where the team that wins the coin toss can no longer win the game on a cheap field goal. But I don’t understand why the rule isn’t being used during the regular season. This is kind of like baseball, where one league has the designated hitter and the other doesn’t.

* Kudos to the Red Wings for their decision to immortalize Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball,’’ Joe Altobelli, with a life-sized statue this summer. Alto is one of the nicest and classiest people I’ve dealt with in my 37 years in the sports journalism business. Just a fabulous, down-to-earth guy. As far as Rochester baseball is concerned, he has done everything but mow the grass at Frontier Field.

* Today marks the 56th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in sports history – Roger Bannister’s breaking of the 4-minute barrier in the mile. We take sub-four-minute miles for granted these days, but in 1954, it was a ground-breaking achievement that made folks think about the possibilities rather than restrictions.

* GETTING PERSONAL: Please keep the following friends in your thoughts and prayers:
• Kathy Robertson, a beloved Brockport elementary school teacher who will be undergoing surgery Thursday;
• Tony Liccione and his mom, who suffered a series of strokes earlier this week, and
• Blaise Lamphier, whose dad, a gifted Connecticut newspaper cartoonist, recently passed away.

On a happier note, I’d like to wish my Rome, N.Y. paisan, David Smith – better known as “Smitty” – a Happy 55th Birthday tomorrow. Where did the time go, my friend? Seems like only yesterday we were playing Little League baseball on a diamond on the banks of the Mohawk River. And on Friday, say Happy Birthday to my Bills Brother, John DiTullio.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

And the national champion is . . .

Don’t mean to rain on anyone’s March Madness parade, but the odds of someone filling out a perfect NCAA bracket sheet are nine quintillion-to-one. Math never was my strong suit, but I can count, and I discovered that there are 19 digits in a quintillion. Never mind picking every game correctly. I’d be happy if I could just predict the right national champion for a change.

With those daunting odds in mind, I’ve finished my bracket. I wound up being partially true to my school, penciling in my alma mater, Syracuse, for a Final Four trip. But I’d feel a lot better about that pick if I knew more about Arinze Onuaku’s injured right knee. If he’s healthy, I feel good about the Orange men making it to Indianapolis, and I could see them winning the national championship if they are playing at the top of their game. But if A.O. isn’t A.O.K., I think Kansas State will emerge from the West Region.

My final Final Four has Kansas beating Syracuse and West Virginia beating Villanova. And I like Kansas to win it all, say by a 74-70 score. My early-round upsets have 13th seed Siena knocking off No. 4 Purdue and 13th seed Murray State upsetting fourth-seed Vanderbilt. Let me know who you like?

*The thing I like about the Bills recent free agent signings of linebacker Andra Davis and defensive lineman Dwan Edwards is that they are big men with experience in the 3-4 defense. At 251 pounds, Davis gives Buffalo the size they need at the inside linebacker spot, and Edwards checks in at 290. Both have been productive players, and although neither is a game-changer, they represent a start in the right direction as the Bills transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

*Tickets for the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic, featuring legends such as Bob Feller, Goose Gossage, Harmon Killebrew and Gary Carter, go on sale Saturday morning at 9 at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. The game will be played at Doubleday Field on Father’s Day, June 20, and if it’s anything like last year’s contest, it will be a real treat. In that game, the 90-year-old Feller – the oldest living Hall-of-Famer took the mound and delivered several pitches. Talk about a priceless moment. Should tickets remain after Saturday, they will be offered via the phone and Internet at 9 a.m. March 29. For more information, call 607-547-0397 or visit .

*Finally, I’d like to wish a Happy 90th Birthday to Teresa Peluso from my hometown of Rome, N.Y. “Tre,’’ as she’s known to everyone, has been like a second mother to me through the years. Nobody – and, I mean, nobody – makes better home-made sauce or meatballs than “Tre.’’ Have a great day, my friend, and here's wishing you many more birthday celebrations to come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Syracuse fares well on Selection Sunday

This bracketologist likes the hand Syracuse has been dealt. A No. 1 seed in a weak-by-comparison West region, plus the potential of two games at home-away-from-home HSBC Arena in Buffalo should get the Orange into the Sweet 16. And by that time, injured center Arinze Onuaku might be healthy enough to be a factor again.

It also doesn't hurt that the NCAA basketball selection committee has SU opening against a Vermont program that bounced the Orange men from the tournament in the first round in 2005.

Even without Onuaku - his strained right knee makes him doubtful for Friday's opener - Syracuse has an excellent shot of beating the 16th-seeded Catamounts. And I like the Cuse's chances against the winner of Gonzaga and Florida State in Sunday's second-round game because of the havoc SU's 2-3 zone can wreak against teams more familiar with man-to-man defenses. Remember the problems the Orange zone caused those Big 12 Conference teams during SU's march to the national championship in '03? The same could be true in this tournament.

It could, though, get interesting should Big East rivals SU and Pitt meet in the regional finals. The Panthers did an excellent job dissecting the Orange defense in a victory against the Cuse at the Dome earlier this season. Syracuse definitely will need Onuaku back and functioning well in order to beat Pitt and advance to the Final Four.

I agree with the selection committee's choice of Kansas as the top overall seed, but the bracketologists certainly didn't give the Jayhawks an easy path to Indianapolis. The Midwest appears to be the stacked region, with Michigan State, Georgetown and Ohio State all potential roadblocks between Kansas and the Final Four.

At first glance, I believe Duke has the easiest path to Indy of the top seeds.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Syracuse needs A.O. to be OK in order to contend for national championship

Never mind Selection Sunday and the decision about where the Syracuse University Orange men will play and be seeded. The real suspense plays out today as we await the results of Arinze Onuaku’s MRI.

If the news is good and it's just a sprained right kniee, there will be a collective sigh of relief in Orange Nation.

But if the test results determine that the SU center is done or severely limited, then the Cuse can kiss its national championship quest goodbye. Without A.O., I see SU advancing to the Sweet 16, but probably no farther. The Orange men would lose their major defensive presence in the back of that 2-3 zone, and would have to go with a six-man rotation, which won’t work when they begin playing the higher seeds and fouls and fatigue become an issue.

It would be extremely disappointing to see such an enjoyable season end on such a sour note. But sports and life aren't always fair.

* I was saddened to hear of Merlin Olsen’s passing. A 14-time Pro Bowl selection with the Los Angeles Rams, Olsen was as good a defensive tackle as I've ever seen. Marv Levy, a one-time assistant with the Rams, concurs. And he also told me that Olsen’s gentle giant persona off the field was the real deal. Many fans remember the big guy solely for his acting in "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy" and for his work as a pitchman for FTD flowers.

* After watching Mark McGwire tell us straight-faced that steroids played no role in his dramatic spike in home runs, we discovered that former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was the puppeteer behind the disgraced slugger’s ridiculous claim.

Now we learn that after that bang-up public relations job by Fleischer and McGwire, Tiger Woods has hired him to be his spin doctor. This ought to be interesting, seeing what foolish strategy Ari concocts for Woods sexual escapades.

* Speaking of sexual escapades, how dumb and arrogant is Ben Roethlisberger? I don’t claim to know if the two sexual assault claims against the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback are true, but he clearly is guilty of poor judgment. Wouldn't you learn after the first incident not to put yourself in these situations?