Monday, May 9, 2011

I'm back after a much too long hiatus

Sorry for the absence folks, but between writing the Jim Boeheim biography, working on two other books, churning out several magazine pieces, contributing to Channel 8’s NFL draft coverage, checking things off of my bride’s mile-long, honey-do list, mowing my daughter’s lawn weekly, doing plenty of charity work and surviving an unexpected kidney stone attack, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for blogging.

And if you ran out of oxygen just reading that sentence, imagine how I felt writing it. ;-)

So let me play a little catch-up in the world of sports and other matters:

• I thought the Bills did a good job addressing needs in the draft. I especially like the selection of Marcell Dareus. He’ll instantly make Buffalo’s run defense stouter, and, as his 11 sacks with Alabama attest, he’s an underrated pass rusher.

• Regarding the jettisoning of Tom Modrak from the Bills front office, I’m just wondering why it took so long. When Tom Donahoe was sent packing several seasons ago, why was Modrak, his top lieutenant, retained?

• One last positive Bills item: I think Buddy Nix’s luring of Doug Whaley away from the Pittsburgh Steelers 15 months ago may wind up being the general manager’s best free agent signing ever. Whaley was known for his ability to discover great defensive talent in the draft (Troy Polamulu, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are just some of his finds.) And Whaley also did a superb job of scouting and game-planing upcoming opponents. The 38-year-old was part of seven playoff teams and two Super Bowl championships during his 12 seasons in the Steel City, and is the heir apparent to the Bills GM position when the 70-year-old Nix retires.

• A recent reader poll in The Buffalo News asked who should be the next person to go up on the Ralph Wilson Stadium Wall of Fame. Linebacker Cornelius Bennett topped the voting with 28 percent, followed by coach Lou Saban (24 percent) and running back Cookie Gilchrist (17 percent). Sadly, Wilson still holds a grudge against Saban, who quit on him twice, and Gilchrist isn’t eligible because he only played three seasons with the Bills and the rules stipulate you need to play at least five. As someone who has studied the team’s history thoroughly and written five books about the Bills, I think it’s a glaring omission not to have both Saban and Gilchrist on the Wall, given the impact each had on the franchise.

• The last two games of Phil Jackson’s illustrious NBA coaching career reminded me of an aged Willie Mays stumbling after a fly ball in a New York Mets uniform near the end of his career. Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even show up in Game 3, then compounded matters by resorting to thug-ball in Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

• So after Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers threw the second no-hitter of his career the other day, a sportswriter suggested that he has a shot at Nolan Ryan’s major-league record of seven no-no’s. Really?

* Kudos to Syracuse athletics director Daryl Gross for hiring former Orange football great Floyd Little to help with fund-raising and other matters. Floyd remains one of the classiest and most accomplished athletes ever to come out of Syracuse. In addition to his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos, Little earned a law degree and became immensely successful in the automobile business. At one point, he owned several dealerships in the Los Angeles and Seattle areas.
• Everybody talks about Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. But I believe Johnny Unitas’ record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games is even more impressive.

• I think it’s pretty cool that my alma mater, Syracuse, has a basketball coaching staff filled with alums. There’s, of course, Jim Boeheim (1966), at head coach; Bernie Fine (’67) at assistant head coach; Mike Hopkins (’93) as the lead assistant and newly hired Adrian Autry (’94) as the third assistant. And don’t forget Gerry McNamara (’06), who’s a graduate assistant. SU is the only Division I school in the country with an all-alumni staff.

• Belated 90th birthday wishes to my friend and newspaper pioneer Jean Giambrone. She’s a remarkable lady who was among the first female sportswriters in America. And she did it for 41 years at the old Rochester Times-Union.

• One of the great things about being involved with the Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities group is the opportunity to give money away to deserving organizations and take part in their special events. We had just such an occasion the other day at the School of the Holy Childhood in Henrietta. The best part of the morning was seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when they came up to receive their awards and the hugs they gave us after the assembly.

* I liked the idea of a commemorative bobble-head chosen by Rochester Red Wings fans to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Frontier Field. But if I had my choice, I would have led a write-in campaign for Zippy Chippy, the lovable thoroughbred loser who wound up winning two of the Man vs. Beast races at Frontier. It still remains one of the best minor-league baseball promotions.

• Still can’t believe that both my children are now over 21. The years really do zip by like a Nolan Ryan fastball.

• Speaking of flying time, I’m going to play in a Tuesday morning softball league for guys 55 and older. Better stock up on the Ibuprofen.

• Finally, my bride and I had the pleasure of attending the local New York State Athletic Administrators Association luncheon today. It was good catching up with Werner Kleeman, Jim Zumbo and Dennis Fries – each of whom has had profound influences on the lives of student-athletes in our area. And I was especially thrilled to see my good friend, Dr. Cynthia Devore, receive the Distinguished Service Award. It would take me several blogs to extol the virtues of her work on behalf of students, coaches and administrators in our area and beyond. Suffice it to say, her impact has been every bit as great if not greater than that of any coach or AD in our region. Congrats, my friend, on a job well-done.

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