Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's time for Bills to force the issue and go deep

I've grown tired listening to Trent Edwards and Lee Evans and Dick Jauron and everybody else at One Bills Drive drone on about the limited number of opportunities they've had to throw the ball deep. Hey, sometimes you have to make your own opportunities and do the dictating rather than allowing the defense to dictate what you do. Both Evans and Terrell Owens are receiving a king's ransom to be playmakers. So chuck the freaking football down the field a few more times a game and see if they can make plays the way other receivers in this league do.


At this anemic pace, the Bills not-so-dynamic-duo of Owens and Evans will finish with a combined total of 70 receptions for 992 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Contrast that with last season when T.O. had 69 receptions for 1,052 yards and 10 scores for the Dallas Cowboys, while Evans had 63 receptions for 1,017 yards and 3 TDs for Buffalo.


I get the feeling that the volcano that is Owens isn't going to remain dormant much longer. Another reception-less game might just result in a sea of lava-like invective - either in the post-game news conference or on Twitter.


If I were Owens, I would have been ticked to see my consecutive-games receiving streak end the way it did last week. And how dumb was that of Trent to say he wasn't aware of the streak? There's obviously little chemistry between these two.


Could someone please tell me why Jauron decided to punt on fourth down with less than a minute to go and his team trailing the Chargers by 20? You can't tell me punter Brian Moorman needed the work.


I love Chicago and would love to see the 2016 Olympics staged in the Windy City, but I think Rio de Janeiro should be awarded the Games. After all, South America has never hosted the Olympics, and we have numerous times. The rings on the Olympic flag symbolize the continents, so I think it's about time the southern hemisphere gets to strut its stuff.


I thought that was really cool of the Lions' players to return to the field and high-five their long-suffering fans after ending their 19-game losing streak.


I'm not making this up: Several members of the Nippon Hamfighters of the Japanese Baseball League have come down with the swine flu.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bills offense regresses in loss to the Saints

You know it’s not a great day when your only score comes on a pass from your punter to one of your defensive ends. And so it went for the Bills during Sunday’s 27-7 loss to New Orleans. On a fake field goal early in the second quarter, Brian Moorman tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Denney to tie the game at 7.

The Bills defense played well against the league’s most prolific offense until the fourth quarter when the Saints scored 17 points to put the game away.

The gallant effort by the “D’’ was wasted by the Bills offense, which struggled against a decent but not great Saints defense. Quarterback Drew Brees had entered the game with 9 TD passes in two outings, but was held without a scoring toss in the Ralph. He completed just 16-of-29 attempts for 172 yards, but the New Orleans running game (222 yards) and defense (four sacks, 14 quarterback hits) took up the slack.

Through three games, Buffalo’s dynamic duo of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans hasn’t been very dynamic. The two deep threats have managed a combined 13 receptions for 186 yards and two scores. There are two dozen receivers in the NFL this season who have more receiving yardage individually than Owens and Evans have combined. This has to change, and change in a hurry, or this Bills season is going to unravel before the leaves change colors.

Owens’ streak of 185 consecutive games with a reception – third longest in NFL history – came to an ignominious end vs. the Saints. Edwards threw to T.O. five times without a connection. He overthrew Owens in the fourth quarter on a fly pattern down the sideline that would have been a touchdown and also forced a ball to him that resulted in a deflection and interception by Will Smith.

Edwards clearly took a step backwards Sunday. He reverted to his Captain Checkdown mode where too many of his passes were of the short and medium range. Of course, he often was running for his life as the Saints defensive front exploited the Bills youthful offensive line.

Credit former Bills head coach, now Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for making their lives miserable. He threw an array of blitzes at the Bills and neither their offensive line nor Edwards could handle them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Syracuse football taking baby steps along road to respectability

Some thoughts on the 'Cuse, Tebow's injury and the Bills as I prepare to travel west down I-90 to the Ralph this afternoon:

The glass-is-half-full view of Syracuse's 41-24 victory against pesky Maine Saturday night is this: Unlike last year's half-hearted effort in a 14-point loss to Akron in the Dome, the 'Cuse woke up in the second half and played the way it should have from the start against a game, but inferior opponent.

The glass-half-empty view of the victory is this: SU's special teams were totally out-played and out-coached, and its defense is about as resistant as butter vs. the proverbial hot knife without NFL-bound tackle Arthur Jones in the lineup. Jones left early Saturday night with an upper leg injury. He was walking on it along the sidelines, which leads me to believe it wasn't serious and that Doug Marrone was being extra cautious because he knows if the Orange are to have any chance of beating South Florida in the Big East opener this Saturday, he's going to need a healthy Jones on the field.


I think the progress Greg Paulus has made in his rookie season of college football after not playing the game for four years is nothing short of remarkable. The former Duke point guard had another solid outing vs. Maine, completing 21-of-28 passes (he would have had 23 completions were it not for two drops) for 270 yards and two scores. He has great vision and great poise. It makes you wonder just how good he would be if he had chosen football over basketball.


Just when it appeared as if SU and the rest of the Big East might have caught a break when South Florida's senior quarterback Matt Grothe was lost for the season to injury, a freshman QB has shown that reports of the Bulls' demise were premature. B.J. Daniels looked marvelous in South Florida's 17-7 upset of No. 18 Florida State Saturday. The Bulls remain loaded with talent, and have surpassed both Florida State and Miami and now trail only Florida as the best college football team in the football-mad Sunshine State.


The hit that sent Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to the hospital with a concussion obviously could happen on any play during a football game. But the fact it occurred late in the third quarter with the Gators cruising by 24 points against overmatched Kentucky and the fact it happened while Tebow was battling some sort of stomach virus raises questions about why the heck he was still in the game. Methinks Florida coach Urban Meyer was getting a little greedy, trying to impress the voters with as lopsided a score as possible. Shame on him.


I feel badly for my friend, John DiTullio, and all my other buddies who root for Penn State. I don't know what the heck it is about Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have owned the Nittany Lions in recent years.


Looking forward to getting a look at the New Orleans Saints and their blazing hot quarterback Drew Brees today at the Ralph. The Bills will need another work-horse performance by the versatile Fred Jackson - the only NFL running back with more than 200 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving this season. Buffalo can't get involved in a shootout vs. the high-powered Saints. But they also can't become too conservative vs. a Saints defense that can be exploited. New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has to find a way to get T.O. and Lee Evans more involved than they've been in the first two games for the Bills to have a chance. Call it Saints 31, Bills 23 in an entertaining game.

I'll be in Orchard Park to cover the game, so please check out my post-game column here this evening.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More leftovers from the Bills home opener

A couple of other tidbits from the Bills victory Sunday:
  • It was nice to see safety Donte Whitner finally make a big play with that 76-yard interception return for a touchdown. Those are the types of plays you expect from a guy who was drafted eighth overall, and it's been a long-time coming (he's in his fourth season.) He needs to make more plays like that to justify his high selection.
  • The Bills All-Time Team ceremony at halftime was nice, but it would have been a lot better had Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Steve Tasker taken part. Tasker was out of town working an NFL game as an announcer for CBS, and Kelly reportedly was on vacation. And Bruce? Who knows?
  • Some people are already wondering if there is going to be a running back controversy when Marshawn Lynch returns from his suspension following Sunday's game against New Orleans. I really don't think there is going to be a problem. You can alternate him and Fred Jackson and have two fresh backs with complementary skills. Jackson had a surperb all-around game yesterday, generating 188 yards on 34 touches. But he's not built to carry that kind of load every week. Divide the chores up, and you'll have even better results. And I can see times when Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt gets creative and has both backs out there at the same time.
  • Speaking of being creative, I liked the Bills throwing a lateral on a kickoff (netted them an additional 16 yards) and using T.O. on a reverse (good for 14 yards). Who would have thought we'd see such razzle-dazzle from the ultra-conservative Dick Jauron?

Don't look now, but there could be a pennant race in the AL East after all. The Yankees lead Boston by five games as we head into the final weeks of the season and are in Anaheim for a 3-game set against the Angels, who have won 16 of their last 19 games against the Bronx Bombers in SoCal. Then, New York returns east to play the Red Sox in a 3-game series that could make things very interesting.


The Yankees have totally mishandled Joba Chamberlain with these foolish pitch-count restrictions they've placed on him. I said all along that he should have stayed in the bullpen, where he could have been used as a set-up guy while being groomed to succeed Mariano Rivera down the road. Someone in the Yankees organization - be it the Steinbrenner boys, Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi - insisted he become a starter, but apparently not the kind of starter who can give you at least five or six good innings. In his first three starts after the All-Star break, Joba went 3-0 with a 0.83 earned run average, while yielding just 8 hits in 21 2-3s innings. Since the imposition of even more restrictive pitch counts, he's gone 1-4 with an 8.25 ERA, 50 hits and 21 walks in 36 innings.


SOME PERSONAL NOTES: It was great seeing my friend Erik Brady, the gifted sportswriter from USA Today in the press box at the Ralph Sunday. Erik is a Buffalo native who returns to his hometown every chance he gets. He's also a fantastic person, whose loyalty to his roots reminds me of another Buffalonian, the late Tim Russert . . . While on the subject of newspaper buddies, please keep former Rochester Times-Union scribe Gene Duffey in your thoughts and prayers. Gene is recuperating from cardiac arrest at a hospital in Houston. Like Erik, Gene is a wonderful, kind-hearted person . . . In regards to the aforementioned topic of pitch counts, we have no such restrictions in the 19th century base ball league I play in at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford. I went eight innings and change the other day in our 29-27 victory against the Knickerbockers at Silver Base Ball Park, and although no one charted my pitches, I'm sure I delivered well over 300. Despite that workload (easily six games worth for Joba, who's 32 years my junior), I experienced no arm or shoulder pain the next day. To be fair, I deliver the ball underhand at about 25 mph, while Chamberlain fires it in overhand at 90-plus mph. And, if you wondering, why the game was so high-scoring, I should point out that we don't wear gloves, the sun got in our eyes and the ball doesn't always wind up where we want it to. But it sure is a heck of a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mulling over the Bills first win

Some quick observations on the Bills 33-20 victory against Tampa Bay at the Ralph Sunday:
· It was a good bounce-back victory after Monday’s heartbreaking loss in New England. There could have been an emotional letdown, but there wasn’t. And unlike the Patriots game, the Bills didn’t fritter this one away in the fourth quarter. That said, let’s keep things in perspective – the Buccaneers are not a very good football team.
· I think rookie offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has done a good job of calling plays these first two games, especially considering he wasn’t handed the keys to the offense until just 10 days before the season kicked off. Even more impressive than his play-calling has been the job he’s done restoring Trent Edwards’s confidence. The Bills QB had another solid outing, completing 21-of-31 passes for 230 yards and two scores. Through two games, he’s 36-for-56 for 442 and four touchdowns with one interception.
· Injuries are making a Bills team already thin on talent even thinner. The knee injury to right tackle Brad Butler means Buffalo now has an offensive line featuring no starters who were here last year. They also lost tight ends Derek Schouman and Shawn Nelson to injuries yesterday. I’m surprised they didn’t ask Kent Hull and Pete Metzelaars to come out of retirement after they attended halftime ceremonies honoring the Bills 50th Anniversary team.
· Good to see T.O. get his first touchdown reception, on a 43-yarder, in the fourth quarter. And it was nice to see the reaction of the fans and his teammates. But we media members are getting a little tired of him blowing us off after games. And you fans should be, too. I’m sure people would have liked to have read and heard his take on what it felt like to score his first touchdown as a Bill. If I’m not mistaken, he’s contractually required to speak to the media. I gave him a pass after Monday night’s loss, but there wasn’t any reason for the repeat performance. And I think the fans get cheated if all he’s going to do is give them a Tweet here and a Tweet there.
· If I’m a Bills fan, I’m worried about New Orleans and their point-a-minute attack coming to town this week. Drew Brees is en fuego.
· Just think about it, the Bills are one point away from being 2-0, and the Patriots are one point away from being 0-2. Could be a crazy season.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Delinquent behavior in Billsland

The story of those juvenile delinquents vandalizing Leodis McKelvin's lawn with spray paint after the Bills cornerback committed that crucial fumble Monday night brought back memories of another Buffalo player who was victimized by overzealous teenages.

Early, during the 1966 season, Bills kicker Booth Lusteg missed a 23-yard field goal attempt in the waning moments of a game and Buffalo had to settle for a 17-17 tie with the San Diego Chargers. While walking from War Memorial Stadium to his apartment following the game, Lusteg was beaten up by several teenagers who had snuck up on him. The kicker refused to press charges, and through the years the story has taken on a lighter, more humorous tone. Asked why he didn't want the kids arrested, Lusteg supposedly replied: "Because I deserved the beating after the way I've performed.''


My "talking-Bills-fans-off-the-ledge'' column after that heartbreaking 25-24 loss to the Patriots in New England the other night elicited scores of responses on Facebook, Twitter and my e-mail box. My feeble attempt at psychiatry apparently worked for some, but not for all. Here is an interesting stream of responses I received that kind of sum things up:

Well said, if we play as well as we did last night, every game, I will be happy I invested in season tickets. Go Bills.
-Laura O'Brien

Yeah, but I still felt like I was watching the ball roll through Buckner's legs again... High "maybe this time" hopes followed by the witch doctor once again pulling your heart from your chest as you watch its final beats as hope expires... but I'm not bitter :(
-Jeff Chafitz

True but this wasn't the 1986 World Series, it was game 1 of the season. Yes, I believe we share a similar but incomparable curse as a team.. Or city for that matter. The Buffalo Sabres have been known to break hearts.- Laura O'Brien

Good stuff (as always), Scott. - Lori Chase

As a Patriots fan (born in Buffalo by the way) I am happy for the outcome of Monday night's game. Yet I will say that the Bills impressed me with the way they played. They would have won that game had that fumble not occured.
- Mark Giardina

In perspective, the Bills did so much better than I expected and I'm pleased. But after so many "wide right" moments, it would be nice to find some balance in my sport fan life.
- David Lewis

Yes...the glass is half full Scribe! I have them going undefeated the rest of the way. (It was a 64 oz. glass and it was filled to the top with Wodka...before I chugged half of it.) Still think they're goin'...ALL...THE...WAY!

- Max Robertson

That explains your logic!
- Brad Cupples

(EDITOR'S NOTE: My predictions probably could use a little vodka - or wodka - as Max wrote.)

And this separaItalicte e-mail from Gary Wagner another long-suffering Bills fan (By the way is there any other kind?):

I, too, am encouraged. My prediction for Monday's game was 42-0, and that N. E. would score on their first possession. The final result made it a lot less painful for me. Like my heart was only broken, not ripped out of my chest.


In an effort to cheer up Bills fans, let me say this: At least you don't root for the Pittsburgh Pirates. You think you have it rough, well, how about those poor Pirate fans. They just set a record for most consecutive losing seasons by a North American sports team (17). Pirate fans, though, do have a few sporting championship distractions going for them that Bills fans don't - the Steelers are coming off a record-setting 5th Super Bowl victory and the Pittsburgh Penguins won last season's Stanley Cup.


As this oldtimer prepares to head down to the Genesee Country Village and Museum to play 19th century base ball on this beautiful autumnal afternoon, it's time for a few predictions:

Syracuse, after decent performances vs. Minnesota and Penn State, will break into the win column tonight against Northwestern (if receiver Mike Williams holds onto the ball). Call it, Cuse 27-20.

And the Bills will break into the win column Sunday in their home opener vs. Tampa Bay by a 27-17 score as T.O. catches his first TD pass for Buffalo.

You read it hear first. And please check out this cyeberspace tomorrow for a post-game column on the Bills game. I've also been doing some work as a correspondent for Bills Insider, so feel free to check that stuff out, too.


Congratulations to former Olympians Iris and Felicia Zimmermann on their purchase and re-opening of the Rochester Fencing Center. I couldn't think of two better or more qualified people to run the place. I wish them nothing but success. And belated congrats to Terri and Herb Ross on their 55th wedding anniversary. Fantastic people.


One final note: Instead of posting your comments on Facebook and Twitter, please press on the blue word "comment'' just beneath this offering. I'll be glad to respond, and, hopefully, so will others. Thanks for reading and come back often.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bills fans, it's time to look on the bright side

Hey Bills fans, I know it was a heart-breaking loss, and I know it brought back those harrowing memories of “Wide Right” and “Home-Run Throwback” and that last-second loss to the Dallas Cowboys by the exact same score on a Monday Night Football Game two years ago. But you need to come down off the ledge and focus on the positive things that occurred in that 25-24 loss in New England last night.

Let’s be honest, now, most of you went into that game, like me, thinking doom-and-gloom. All the ingredients were there for a rout of monumental proportions. Tom Brady’s triumphant return. The Bills dearth of NFL experience and cohesiveness along the offensive line. Trent Edwards’ crisis of confidence. Genius Bill Belichick matching wits with a guy incredibly lucky to still have a head coaching job after three straight 7-9 seasons.

Everything was against the Bills, and they came out and gave a whale of an effort. Yes, I know, true to their history, they found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why didn’t Leodis McKelvin protect the ball and the lead and go down immediately when hit instead of foolishly trying to be a hero and thinking he could break one? And what’s with all the penalties, especially at crucial times.

But let’s look at the positive things.

Edwards showed poise, leadership and intelligence out there. He looked a lot like the quarterback with great potential that we saw early last season. The offensive line, boasting three guys who had never played in a real NFL game before, did a fair job of protecting Edwards and opening up some holes for Fred Jackson while going up against one of the stoutest D-lines in football. Terrell Owens may have only caught two passes, but he still played a major-role as a decoy, attracting extra attention from the New England defense.

And thanks to healthy veteran Aaron Schobel and high-energy newcomer Aaron Maybin, the Bills were able to get some pressure on Brady, which the Giants showed two Super Bowls ago, is the only way you’re going to have any chance of stopping the Patriots high-octane attack.
Look, I’m not naïve enough to think the Bills have turned the corner on the basis of one inspiring performance. There remain a ton of questions with this team, and the injuries to linebacker Paul Posluszny and Jackson, are losses a team this thin in talent can ill afford.

But Bills fans should remember what their mind-set was a few minutes before kickoff last night. Admit it, you weren’t merely thinking rout, you were thinking a lost season. You had written off 2009 and were looking ahead to the possibility of drafting Colt McKoy or Tim Tebow as your next quarterback-of-the-future candidate.

Monday’s loss was indeed gut-wrenching, but it also provided hope that this season might turn out a lot better than most of us thought.

Monday, September 14, 2009

At least for one night, the Bills made this prognosticator look foolish

I've often said that my football predictions should come with one of those surgeon-general type warnings that you see on packages of cigarettes and cans of beer. WARNING: BETTING MONEY BASED ON PITONIAK'S PICKS CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO ONE'S WALLET.

Consider my take going into Monday night's Bills game. Buffalo was going to New England with what essentially amounted to an entirely new offensive line and they were attempting to beat a team they hadn't beaten in 11 straight tries on a night when one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game was returning after missing virtually all of last season. I figured Tom Brady's bunch would win in a walk. 38-13, I believe, is the score I settled on.

So what happens? The Bills, led by a rejuvenated Trent Edwards, play their keisters off and shoulda, coulda, woulda won had Leodis McKelvin not fumbled away that damn kickoff late in the game.

I'm not big on moral victories or morale victories for that matter, but given the confused state of this organization in recent weeks - new offensive coordinator, new left tackle just before the season kicks off - you have to be impressed with a 25-24 loss to Bill Belichick's boys on opening night on national television.

A heart-breaker? To be sure, along the lines of a similar loss to the Dallas Cowboys on MNF two years ago. But there were so many encouraging signs, particularly from Edwards, who threw two touchdown passes and showed a lot of moxie in a hostile environment. It also was good to see Aaron Schobel return to form, and who would have thought that undersized linebacker Keith Ellison was capable of a 15-tackle performance.

Considering the short notice, I thought Alex Van Pelt called a pretty fair game in his debut as an NFL offensive coordinator.

Yes, a loss is a loss is a loss, and you don't get any style points in this league. But the Bills showed some fight against a team that usually doesn't have to break a sweat against them.

I hate to jinx them, but I really believe they should win their home opener against a not-so-great Tampa Bay team this Sunday. (I just ask that you don't put any money on the game based on my pick.)


What more can you say about Brady? Neither he nor his receivers looked particularly sharp for almost three quarters, but the quarterback was his usual cool, calm, collected self when the pressure was the greatest and the Patriots needed two scores in a hurry. He's this generation's Joe Montana.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Yankees provided post-9/11 New York with something to feel good about

Sports seemed irrelevant to me in the aftermath of 9/11. I had no interest discussing whether the Yankees were going to hold off the Red Sox in the American League East. I could care less if Rob Johnson was ever going to resemble an NFL quarterback.

But in the weeks following the terrorist attacks, I witnessed first-hand how sports could be relevant during a troubled time, how it could have a galvanizing effect on a wounded city. I saw how the 2001 World Series provided New Yorkers with a brief respite from the awful realities at Ground Zero, gave them something to cheer about, something positive to rally around.
At my son Christopher's urging, we journeyed to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the Series, the first of three contests to be played in The House That Ruth Built that autumn. As we honor the eighth anniversary of an event that changed America forever, I’m re-running the essay I wrote about the experience a father and son shared on a poignant late October night in the South Bronx that seems like only yesterday.

A night at the World Series won't be forgotten (Nov. 1, 2001)

NEW YORK - My son Christopher greeted the purchase of two World Series tickets with a gleeful leap that would have made Derek Jeter proud.

My wife wasn't nearly as gung-ho.

With the warning that a new wave of terrorist attacks might occur at any time, she was deeply concerned, as was I, that Tuesday's World Series game at packed Yankee Stadium before a national television audience would be a prime target.

It was only after
Christopher, a sometimes wise-beyond-his-years 11-year-old, convinced us not to give into fear that she reluctantly agreed to let us go.

As we drove from Rochester to the south Bronx on Tuesday, I felt many emotions. A part of me was euphoric because I realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience - one of those unforgettable moments between a father and a son. I wanted so much for it to be like one of those MasterCard commercials: priceless.

But a part of me also was a tad apprehensive. Was I doing the right thing? Or was I jeopardizing the welfare of my child and myself?

The longer I drove, the better I felt. I knew that with President Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and with security at the stadium and above it beefed up, the old ballpark at the corner of 161st and River Avenue might just be the safest place in America.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into New York, I pointed to the Empire State Building in midtown, then to the tip of Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood.
Christopher’s eyes were transfixed. After parking in the Yankee Stadium garage, we took the No. 4 train to Wall Street, just blocks from Ground Zero.

The subway cars were stuffed with workers and students, and that was good to see, because it told Christopher
and me that, despite the atrocities of Sept. 11, New Yorkers were forging on as best they could.

Emerging from the subway tunnel, we were greeted by an indescribable odor and a dusty haze that seared our nostrils and made our eyes watery and red. The area within four blocks of the crumpled skyscrapers was cordoned off, but we could hear the roar of cranes, dump trucks and bulldozers.
After walking the streets for about 30 minutes, we boarded the No. 4 uptown to Yankee Stadium.

I doubt either of us will ever forget that pungent odor. As one of the subway passengers told us: “That was the smell of death.’’

The atmosphere at the Stadium was slightly more subdued than for previous World Series games I had attended. There seemed to be as many cops as fans, but that was OK with me.

I bought my son a sweatshirt and a program, and we tailgated at our car, before walking through metal detectors and heading for our seats near the top row of the upper deck on the first-base side.
The game was tightly contested and quite entertaining. To my son's delight, Roger Clemens pitched brilliantly and the slumping Scott Brosius delivered a clutch hit to lead the Yankees to a 2-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But those won't be the lasting memories. Years from now, I'll remember seeing President George Bush throw out the first pitch to thundering chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" I'll remember joining 56,000 other spectators in the singing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. I'll remember my eyes welling as Yankee Stadium played host to the world's biggest choir. I'll remember how the tears were not caused by the frigid wind.

Driving across the GW Bridge on the way home, I stole a glance at the Empire State Building, which had been lighted in Yankees blue, and at my son, who was asleep in the back seat. I thanked God for keeping us safe and for giving us the opportunity to share this special time.
I recalled a sign I had seen at the Stadium. It read: THE USA WILL NOT GIVE INTO FEAR - PLAY BALL!

It sounded like something my occasionally wise-beyond-his-years son would have told me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jeter ties Gehrig for hits and class

I’m glad Derek Jeter listened to his parents and is taking some time to savor the magnitude of tying the iconic Lou Gehrig for most hits by a Yankee.
“I know a lot about the history,’’ Jeter told the Associated Press, after equaling the Iron Horse's hit total with three base knocks Wednesday night. “What he stood for, being a captain, he’s probably one of the classiest people to ever play the game.’’
The same can be said for Jeter, who, unlike too many big-name athletes and celebrities, has exhibited grace and dignity on and off the diamond.
Whether you like the Yankees or hate them, you can’t help but respect the way Jeter plays the game and comports himself.


I’m OK with the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and left tackle Langston Walker. I just wish the moves had been made at the end of last season and not a week before the Bills play their season opener in Foxboro against the New England Patriots.

How about Schonert criticizing his former boss, Dick Jauron, for running a "Pop Warner" offense? I think Schonert should apologize – not to Jauron, but to Pop Warner football teams across America. Heck, comparing them to an NFL unit that produced just three points in 15 possessions this summer is a terrible insult.

I don’t care if Tom Brady is rustier than an old Lackawanna steel mill, how are the Bills going to compete Monday night with three offensive line starters who’ve never taken a regular-season NFL snap? Tell me Bill "The Genius'' Belichick isn't licking his chops while preparing for this one.

Now that Trent Edwards has gotten his way and gotten rid of his offensive coordinator, I think it’s high time he mans up and shows us he has the stuff it takes to be an NFL quarterback.

Although Greg Paulus threw an interception that cost Syracuse a shot at a win last Saturday against Minnesota, I was thoroughly impressed with his command on the field. It’s pretty obvious his confidence was contagious as the Orange men played with more fire than we’ve seen in some time.
Even Joe Paterno, whose Penn State team hosts SU Saturday, noticed the difference.
“Paulus helped them tremendously,’’ Joe Pa said of the former Duke point guard. “He’s a guy who’s used to winning, who likes to compete. He has them believing they can play with anybody.’’
That said, I still think the Nittany Lions roll the Orange this week. But I don’t believe it’s going to be as bad as last year in the Dome when Penn State eviscerated them, 55-13.


I was kind of surprised that former Syracuse forward Paul Harris was invited to the Utah Jazz training camp. Don't get me wrong, he’s a great athlete, but at 6-3 and change, he’s not big enough to be a forward and he doesn’t have the jump shot to be a guard.
I still think he would have made a fabulous tight end, but he told me long ago that football never appealed to him because he doesn’t like to get hit.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A healthy Paulus could mean 6 wins for Syracuse this fall

I’m not ready to go out and buy one of those “The Devil Wears Orange’’ T-shirts in honor of Duke Blue Devil-point-guard-turned-Syracuse-Orange-quarterback Greg Paulus, but I am looking forward to an SU football season for the first time in ages.

And I’m not alone.

A crowd of about 45,000 – nearly 13,000 above last year’s paltry average – is anticipated for Saturday’s season-opener against the Minnesota Gophers in the Carrier Dome.

And the national media will be there, too – as they have been all summer - to chronicle this fascinating story of the prodigal son returning home after a four-year hiatus to Tobacco Road.
Perhaps, I’m a little caught up in the “Pauluspalooza,’’ but based on what I’ve seen from the young man recently and what I saw from him five years ago on the football fields at Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy, I think this experiment is going to be successful.

While throwing for 11,763 yards and 152 touchdowns as a four-year starter at CBA, Paulus was recruited by every major football program in America. College recruiting guru Tom Lemming went so far as to compare him to Joe Montana.

Yes, that was long ago, and the college game is a quantum leap from high school. But I can’t believe Paulus has somehow forgotten the football instincts and lost the physical skills that made him Gatorade’s National High School Football Player of the Year five years ago.

Sure, there’s going to be rust. But Paulus is a very bright athlete with great field vision. He already has developed a firm grasp of the spread offense SU will employ and has demonstrated during preseason practices that he has the arm to make all the throws.

My biggest concerns: how he will handle the physical pounding and whether his questionable supporting cast be able to do their fair share.

I know Paulus is used to handling pressure from his experiences as Mike Krzyzewski’s coach-on-the-floor during his four seasons playing basketball at Duke. But even those bloody basketbrawl games against North Carolina in Chapel Hill can’t compare to having your body pancaked against the turf by a 300-pound defensive lineman.

Quarterbacks at most levels of football aren’t allowed to be hit during practice, and that was the case during this Syracuse preseason, so it will be interesting to see how Paulus responds after that first hit.

Maybe I’m snowed. Maybe I’m so starved to see something resembling a Division I football program return to the Dome that I’m not viewing the situation clearly.
But I saw this kid play football several times in high school and I was wowed.
I’m not delirious enough to think he’s going to ride into his hometown and make the Orange big winners over night. But I believe he will make the ‘Cuse much more competitive and entertaining than they’ve been in a long, long time. If he stays healthy, I can see the Orange winning six games against a schedule that isn’t all that daunting.


It still baffles me why Dick Jauron didn’t play Trent Edwards and his first-team offense for at least a quarter against the Detroit Lions. How does one field goal in 15 series earn you a day off in the exhibition finale? Trent doesn’t play, yet established quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Kurt Warner do. No wonder citizens of Bills Nation are so down on Jauron.


I was saddened to hear that Hall-of-Fame baseball broadcaster and Hall-of-Fame person Ernie Harwell has incurable cancer. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my “Memories of Yankee Stadium’’ book two years ago, and he was just like he was on the air – a gracious, kind-hearted gentleman.


I don't think this was what the American Football Coaches Association had in mind when they launched their new sportsmanship initiative.

It start out OK with the players from Boise State and Oregon exchanging handshakes before kickoff Thursday night. But then a player from Oregon sucker-punched a player from Boise just before the game ended, and had to be dragged off the field by his teammates, coaches and security.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Put me down for a save. Just Joshing

The retrospective on Rochester Red Wing broadcasters by my good friend, Jim Mandelaro, earlier this week in the Democrat and Chronicle brought back some fond memories, particularly of a young Josh Lewin, the current play-by-play man for both the Texas Rangers and San Diego Chargers.

I vividly remember giving him rides home from old Silver Stadium to Brighton after filing my stories for the newspaper in the mid-1980s. Josh was a young teenager at the time. He usually had his tape recorder with him, and he would tell me how he had practiced broadcasting that night's Wings game from the stands.

Back then, he had an audience of one.

Now, he has an audience in the hundreds of thousands. I’m not surprised he made it to the big-time, given his talent and work ethic.

I had nothing to do with the advancement of his broadcasting career, but I like to joke that I once saved his life.

The press box at old Silver was on the roof overlooking home plate and foul balls into the cramped room were a fairly common occurrence. One night, Josh was working as an intern, passing out press releases when a foul ball came zooming our way. Fortunately, I was paying attention to the game (yeah, I know, one of the few times) and I screamed for him to duck. The speeding spheroid barely missed his head and wound up splintering the wood panel façade in front of the second row of seats.

I joked to official scorer Len Lustik that I wanted credit for a save in that night’s boxscore.

This ink-stained wretch also had an opportunity to do color one fall with Josh on University of Rochester football broadcasts. Somehow Josh's career survived the ordeal of having to carry me. Seriously, though, it was a lot of fun working with him. Good kid. Great to see his hard work rewarded.


Probably won’t happen, but given the Bills offensive woes (three points in 15 possessions this preseason), I’d like to see the first-string out there long enough to at least produce a touchdown tonight against the Detroit Lions.


Bills fans disappointed in Trent Edwards’ indecisiveness have begun calling him: Hesi-Trent.


I thought the beleaguered and often gruff Charlie Weis had a good comeback when asked about that South Bend billboard reading: “BEST WISHES TO CHARLIE WEIS IN THE FIFTH YEAR OS HIS COLLEGE COACHING INTERNSHIP.

“Every thing was great until the last word,’’ the Notre Dame football coach quipped when asked about the advertisement.


It’s impressive that the Bronx Bombers could have eight guys in their lineup finish with 20 or more home runs, but it’s still going to come down to pitching, defense and clutch hitting come October. That said, I think this team has the makeup to go the distance.


I’d like to know who came up with these new Joba Rules for Joba Chamberlain. The guy is 23 years old and a horse at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, but the Yankees brass still wants to baby him by limiting him to just three innings for the remainder of his regular-season starts. Jeez! Give me a break.