Friday, January 28, 2011

Opining on Bills draft, Scott Norwood's helmet, sports tweets and Syracuse hoops

This kind of puts Jeff Fisher's longevity as Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans coach in perspective: Since Fisher became coach during the 1994 season, the Bills have had six different head coaches. (Marv Levy, Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey) How's that for stability and instability?


I’ve been perusing a lot of different mock drafts lately and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about whom the Bills will take with the third pick this April, if there is a draft.

Given their pathetic run defense, I would like to see Buffalo choose space-eating Auburn tackle Nick Fairley to clog up the middle. But some have Fairley going No. 1 overall to Carolina. However, if the Panthers decide to pick Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Fairley could drop into the Bills laps.

Interestingly, some mocks also have the Bills taking Gabbert, who gets the nod in most scouts’ eyes over Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Gabbert is 6-foot-5, 235 pounds with a howitzer arm and good mobility. But it will take time for him to make the transition from Missouri’s spread offense to the pro-style attack. The nice thing, of course, is that the Bills already have a stop-gap QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gabbert won’t have to be rushed.

My only concern is that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey have to be dead certain Gilbert is going to be a franchise quarterback. The Bills can ill afford another wasted first-round pick as was the case with rob Johnson and J.P. Losman. If they aren’t absolutely certain about Gabbert, they need to take a defensive stud like Fairley or Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers or trade down a few spots and add picks.


Yesterday, of course, was the 20th anniversary of one of the most compelling events I’ve ever covered – Super Bowl XXV between the Bills and Giants in Tampa. I wrote a detailed remembrance of it for the Messenger-Post newspapers (Check out this Sunday’s Canandaigua Messenger sports section.)

The game got me to thinking about Greg Tranter, the Jim Kelly of Bills memorabilia collectors. Among his prized possessions is the helmet worn by Scott Norwood when he missed the potential game-winning field goal in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XXV. The red helmet includes the kicker’s autograph, career statistics and the two most painful words in Bills history – “Wide Right.” Tranter says it is the only time Norwood has inscribed that phrase on anything.

The Massachusetts resident paid $5,000 in an auction for the helmet. Most Bills fans would like to take a sledge hammer to it because they see it as a symbol of the most difficult moment in Buffalo sports history. Tranter understands those emotions, but the self-proclaimed history buff also realizes that the helmet is one of the most important artifacts in team annals.

His dream is to open a Buffalo sports history museum – a dream he’s actively pursuing with Michael Weekes. And that is why when Tranter learned that Norwood’s helmet was up for grabs this spring, he was compelled to aggressively pursue it.
“Yes, it represents a painful moment, but if you are to tell the true history of Buffalo sports, you just have to have it,’’ he says. “It represents not just one of the most significant moments in Bills history, but in the history of the NFL. (Adam) Vinatieri’s kicks were to win or tie – if he missed, the game goes into overtime. If Jim O’Brien misses his kick in Super Bowl V, the game goes into overtime. But Norwood’s kick was a win-or-lose situation. Unfortunately for us, it was a lose-situation.”


I can appreciate why Jim Boeheim would be upset with people saying his Orange men “quit” in their 22-point blowout loss to a mediocre Seton Hall club in the Dome the other night.

“Quit” like “choke” is one of those fighting words no competitor wants to hear. But regardless the description you choose, Syracuse certainly didn’t look very inspired and that was very disappointing considering it was coming off consecutive losses to Pitt and Nova and needed to get off the schneid.

Jimmy B’s going to need to do some serious coaching to get his team out of this mid-season funk or an NCAA tournament bid might wind up going down the drain after an 18-0 start. (For more on SU, check out my weekly column on


It’s going to be interesting to see how professional sports leagues handle the perils of Twitter down the road. Freedom of speech could be severely tested.

Two separate incidents this week showed how crazy the social networking device can be. First, there were the flurry of tweets from NFL players past and present questioning the manhood of Jay Cutler when the Chicago Bears quarterback didn’t play on in the NFC Championship Game after spraining the MCL of his left knee. Then, a few days later, Seattle Seahawks quarterback and union alternate Matt Hasselbeck wondered in a tweet if Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie even knew what CBA (collective bargaining agreement) stood for. An angered Cromartie fired back with a tweet informing Hasselbeck he “will smash ur face in.”

Many college programs prohibit their athletes from tweeting about anything relating to their team or sport. I’m sure as more of these bizarre incidents occur in the pros, you are going to see teams or the leagues respond with fines or suspensions.

Although I have a Twitter account, I only use it to plug things like newly posted columns or booksignings. I’ve never understood how people can waste so much time on Twitter. What’s really silly is when people spend an entire game tweeting. Whatever happened to just watching the freaking game?

I could care less that Joe Schmoe thinks John Doe is a jerk because he just threw an interception. Watch the game and then try something old school – you know, like having a conversation with somebody face-to-face. Sheesh!


While we’re on the topic of Twitter and tweets, can you imagine the implosion that would have occurred with the Bickering Bills of 1989 or the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the late-1970s had this stuff existed? Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner would have had serious Twitter battles.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

JFK, SU hoops and my NFL Super Bowl picks

I listened to it live in my first-grade class at Bell Road Elementary School in Rome, N.Y. on this day in 1961. And a half-century later, John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech still resonates with me. The oratory was beautifully written and beautifully delivered. And I believe the messages, particularly the famous and oft-repeated “Ask not what your country can do for you’’ line continue to be relevant. If you get a chance, call it up on YouTube. It’s worth listening to again.
JFK’s speech got me to thinking about great sports speeches I’ve heard through the years. I guess it’s no different than politics in that I’ve heard a lot more long-winded, sleep-inducing bad ones than inspiring good ones. Here are a few of the more memorable ones I’ve was privileged to be on hand for:

Buck O’Neil, the former Negro League star who became famous for the tales he spun on Ken Burns’ Baseball series, was spell-binding and funny during a 20-minute speech he delivered during one of the Rochester Press-Radio Club dinners back in the 1990s. Despite being denied an opportunity to play in the segregated Major Leagues because of his skin color, he spoke about the gratitude he felt for all the opportunities he did have. He also spun wonderful yarns about fellow Negro Leaguers such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. Great stuff.

Great, too, was the speech Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy delivered in Canton when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had us laughing and crying and feeling the gratitude he felt for a life well-lived.

One other sports speech that sticks out was given by boxer Ruben Hurricane Carter, who was unjustly imprisoned for nearly two decades for a double-murder he didn’t commit. Longtime boxing promoter and all-around good guy Jim Cassidy and I saw Carter speak to a high school assembly outside of Toronto. He talked about not allowing himself to feel bitter about the time he lost because to do so would be tantamount to still being jailed.

And, one I didn’t hear live (no, I’m not that old) was Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. It’s been correctly called baseball’s “Gettysburg Address.”
A week after his head thumped against the hardwood, SU leading scorer Kris Joseph is hoping to return to action Saturday against Villanova in the Carrier Dome. The junior forward is anxious to get back because his absence clearly was felt in the Orange men’s first loss of the season, Monday night at Pitt. Plus, he wants to be on the floor Saturday because it appears the Orange faithful are going to break the on-campus basketball record established at the Dome last year when 34,616 fans showed up for these same two teams. The game tips off at noon, and Syracuse officials are urging fans to arrive early because there could be one, humdinger of a traffic jam. (For more on SU hoops, check out my weekly column at ***

Thanks to my friend, Erik Brady of USA Today, for the great print and web story and Q-and-A about my latest book, “Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award.” Here’s the link if you want to check it out:

There is no truth to the rumor that I have applied for the Mayor of Rochester vacancy. But after seeing three different people hold the office in the past three weeks, I seriously considered it. I heard it pays a lot more than freelance writing does, and the benefits can't be beat.

This tidbit, courtesy of one of the most respected journalists I know (my wife, Beth): Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will undergo therapy at the same Houston hospital where Kevin Everett rehabbed. Here’s praying she has as miraculous a recovery as the former Buffalo Bills tight end had after suffering temporary paralysis.
Now that the Russian owner of the New Jersey Nets has said nyet to the Carmelo Anthony trade will the Melo-drama finally see the former Syracuse star wind up with the New York Knicks? I think so, even though Knick management has played coy throughout this never-ending soap opera. Let’s just hope for everybody’s sake that this doesn’t drag on for the 35 days still remaining before the NBA trading deadline.
Good to see my friend and former colleague, Bob Matthews, back in the newspaper and on the air. He graciously asked me to be his guest tonight from 7-8 on WHAM 1180-AM. Give us a buzz at 585-222-1180 to talk sports of all sorts.
My picks for this week’s NFL Final Four (6-2 past two weeks, but I didn’t pick the Jets over New England): Pittsburgh over the Jets, 23-16 and Green Bay over Da Bears, 31-24.
One final shameless plug (hey, it’s my cyberspace ;-): Check out Sunday’s Canandaigua Messenger-Post for my second of three installments looking back on the 20th anniversary of the Bills first trip to the Super Bowl. It’s been fun, especially given the last 10 years of mediocrity, to relive those special times.

Monday, January 17, 2011

They say it ain’t bragging if you can back it up

I guess it’s somewhat fitting that we celebrate Muhammad Ali’s 69th birthday around the same time the Jets ran off at the mouth and away with one of the biggest victories in franchise history.

After all, for better or worse, Ali invented the art of trash talking with boastful, poetic lines such as “they all must fall in the round I call.” The Jets, led by their bombastic coach, Rex Ryan, clearly followed the brash former heavyweight champion’s lead this past week dissing their opponent, the New England Patriots, with enough verbal rubbish to fill a stadium.

Fortunately for Ryan – whom the world recently learned has a foot fetish – his cocky players didn’t put their feet in their mouths. For all the babble, it still comes down to actions being louder than words, and in the end the outspoken J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! out-played and out-coached Tom Brady’s bunch.

Brady, who was sacked five times, had serious problems finding an open man, thanks to the Jets two-coats-of-paint coverage. Interestingly, Ryan dressed 11 defensive backs for the game, and used every last one of them to take the Patriots’ receivers out of the game. Time after time, Brady went through all four of his progressions to no avail. In addition to coverage sacks, the result was a lot of incompletions and a lot of inconsequential completions. Interestingly, two of the sacks were made by Shaun Ellis, the man the Jets drafted in 2000 with the pick they received from the Patriots when Bill Belichick vacated the Jets head coaching position after just a few days to take a similar job in New England.

Ryan clearly is a character – nothing wrong with that in a league where few coaches have any personality and can’t give you an answer without reviewing the game film. But, in addition to being a wind bag, the guy also is proving to be a damn good football coach. He is 24-13 coaching the Jets and 4-1 in the postseason.

The Pats, meanwhile, are 0-3 in their last three playoffs games – two of the losses coming at home – and have averaged just 16.3 points in that winless stretch.

Should the Jets defeat Pittsburgh and its starting QB Ben Roethlisberger this Sunday and go on to win the Super Bowl, they will have completed one of the most remarkable post-season romps in NFL history. Imagine beating Peyton Manning, Brady and Big Ben – three future Hall-of-Famers – in a row on the road. Not saying that’s going to happen, but if it did . . .

Neither Brett Favre nor Bart Starr ever had a playoff performance the statistical equal of Aaron Rodgers’ showing in Saturday’s trouncing of the Seattle Seahawks. The Green Bay Packers emerging legend completed 31-of-36 passes (86 percent) for 366 yards and three scores for a rating of 136.8. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when the Cheese Heads wanted to run coach Mike McCarthy out of town for deciding to bid Favre adieu and move forward with Rodgers. Imagine where the Pack would be right now had Favre stayed put?

New England has gone seven years without a Super Bowl championship. The Steelers meanwhile are in their fifth conference championship game in the past 10 years. Brady will be 34 by the start of next season – if there is a next season – and is coming off an MVP year. Still plenty of good football left. But the Patriots really need to get him a deep threat and some help on defense in order to get back to the big game.


Pitt clearly has had SU's number, winning 12 of the last 15 meetings in the series. And without Kris Joseph, who suffered a head injury Saturday, it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Orange men to buck that trend tonight. But I do like the depth of this year’s club, and if James Southerland, C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo can step it up a tad, a win in Pittsburgh is not out of the question.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I’m baaaaaaaaaack!

Please forgive the long hiatus. Between several freelance writing assignments, my Jim Boeheim biography manuscript being due, weekly WROC-TV blogs about the Bills and SU hoops, book signings up the wahzoo and holiday time with the family, it’s been a crazy few weeks. That said, it’s time to play some catch-up and look ahead:

• My NFL Elite Eight picks (and if you’re wise, you won’t wager any of your hard-earned money on these): Pittsburgh edging Baltimore in a true slugfest; the New England Bradys silencing a garrulous Jets team; red-hot Green Bay nipping Atlanta, and Da Bears smothering the Seahawks.

• That was indeed a beastly run by former Bill Marshawn Lynch, but it wouldn’t have been possible without some of the most pathetic tackling I’ve ever seen in an NFL game. No wonder the Saints won’t be defending their Super Bowl title.

• I love what Carmelo Anthony did for Syracuse University, both in helping the Orange men win the national championship and donating $3 million to build a state-of-the-art basketball practice facility on campus. But I’m growing tired of this never-ending Melo-drama regarding his potential trade to the Nets.

• Had a whale of a time with my son and friends watching Syracuse defeat Kansas State, 36-34, in the Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago. Great back-and-forth action, with lots of big plays. It was strange, though, seeing all that snow piled up behind home plate and in the bullpens. And it was no fun being gouged $40 by the Steinbrenner clan to park your car in the safety of their garages.

• Glad to see Bills wide receiver Andre Reed make the cut to the final 15 nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I covered his entire career with the Bills and he definitely deserves a bust in Canton. Here’s hoping it’s this year.

• I have a funny feeling that SU’s unbeaten basketball run is going to end next Monday at Pitt.

• With all due respect to Jack Kemp and others associated with the Bills of the 1960s, the late Cookie Gilchrist was not as good as the incomparable Jim Brown. He was, however, the Bills first big star, and one of Buffalo’s most irrepressible characters. At 6-foot-2, 250-pounds with a 52-inch chest and a 34-inch waist, Gilchrist was a true freak of nature – a human bowling ball who earned AFL Most Valuable Player honors in 1963 and played a pivotal role in Bills first league title a year later. The thing about Cookie is that he always was looking for ways to supplement his income, and many of his get-rich-quick schemes backfired. Gilchrist, whose real first name was Carlton, ran a maid service called, “Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.” He once purchased thousands of ear muffs he planned to have sold at the ’64 championship game, but the Toronto resident couldn’t get them through customs. He also reportedly once purchased a tract of land in Canada, only to discover that it was at the bottom of a lake. And he offered to play both running back and linebacker if Ralph Wilson doubled his salary – and offer the Bills owner refused.

• I still can’t believe that my dad would have been 98 years old this past Sunday.

• It’s got to be the genes rather than the shoes. Marcus Jordan, son of his Airness, is having a pretty good sophomore season for Central Florida, averaging 16.3 points and 3.1 assists per game.

• I’m still wondering why Gil Hodges and Buck O’Neill aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

• I’m no Jack Garner, but I believe The Social Network beats The King’s Speech for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards.