Sunday, October 31, 2010

Syracuse now Top 25 candidate, and Marrone's deserving of coach-of-the-year honors

I was optimistic that Doug Marrone would return Syracuse football to prominence. But I never expected him to resurrect the program this quickly.
With yesterday’s easy 31-7 victory against two-time defending Big East champ Cincinnati on the road, SU is now 6-2 and could crack the weekly Top 25 for the first time in a decade. The Orange men clearly deserve to be ranked, given their record, which includes four impressive road wins.
And Marrone, a former Syracuse player who spent his post-playing career preparing to land the head job at his alma mater, merits strong consideration for national coach-of-the-year honors.
Yes, I know, the Big East is extremely week this season, but the national experts knew that going in and they still didn’t predict any marked improvement by the Orange.
And don’t forget what Marrone inherited from Greg Robinson – a program in total dysfunction; a program that had posted two 10-loss seasons in four years. The first double-digit, loss seasons, we might add, in the 121-year history of SU football.
With one victory in their remaining four regular-season games, SU becomes bowl eligible. Three of the Orange men’s final four games are in the Carrier Dome and Rutgers is the only remaining opponent with a winning record (4-3). So, it’s not inconceivable that Syracuse could run the table against Louisville (4-4), Rutgers, Connecticut (4-4) and Boston College (3-5) to finish 10-2 as they did in 2001. If they do that and Pitt stumbles in a few Big East games (a distinct possibility given the Panthers history of inconsistency under coach Dave Wannstedt), SU could – I’m not making this up – play in a BCS bowl this January.
I’m not saying that Syracuse suddenly is a national football power. They’re still two solid recruiting classes away from that status. But they’ve made remarkable strides under Marrone in a short period of time.
I think it’s about time SU fans jump on the bandwagon. Fill the Dome this Saturday for the game aganst Louisville. You will be witness to the victory that will return SU to the post-season.

Although I think Ryan Fitztpatrick will again put up impressive numbers, I can’t see the Bills pulling one out against the Chiefs in Kansas City this afternoon. I believe Thomas Jones and the Chiefs will run roughshod against the league’s worst run defense. Call it KC 33, Buffalo 26, as the Bills drop to 0-7.
Happy Birthday to my older brother, Russ. I won't tell you how old he is, but it has something to do with the speed limit on the Thurway. ;-)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Surprsing Fitz scoring points with Bills

If you want to win a few water cooler bets today, ask your colleagues to name the second highest-rated quarterback in the NFL this season.

Here’s a clue: The top-rated passer is future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning and the runner-up isn’t Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Philip Rivers or Eli Manning or Tony Romo or Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick.

Here’s another clue: The current No. 2 went to Harvard and claims that he isn’t even the best athlete in his household – those honors going to his wife, Liza, who was an All-American soccer player for the Crimson.

If you answered, “Ryan Fitzpatrick,” you deserve a huge pat on the back.

And you’re undoubtedly a die-hard Bills fan.

The man known as Fitz checks in this morning with a 102.0 rating, just 1.4 points behind the vaunted Manning. In his four starts since replacing the woeful Trent Edwards, Fitzpatrick has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 969 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has thrown just four interceptions. He is averaging more yards per game than Brady and has more TD tosses in two fewer starts than Romo.

Although, he is win-less in those starts, Fitzpatrick has helped Buffalo score 34, 26, 14 and 30 points – meaning he has put his team in position to win three of those games. Sadly, he and the Bills have been undermined by a generous defense that has yielded 37, 36, 38 and 38 during that stretch.

At the very least, Fitz has made these 0-6 Bills entertaining. Despite possessing one of the weaker arms in the league, he hasn’t been afraid to take chances and throw downfield – a refreshing change from Edwards’ “Captain Checkdown’’ approach.

I just want to caution folks from getting too giddy. I still believe the Bills need to draft their quarterback of the future in April – “Andrew Luck, welcome to Buffalo” – but I would start Fitz until Luck is ready and would love having a situation where the 27-year-old veteran is my backup, emergency starter and mentor to the young guy.

He keeps playing like he did yesterday when he threw for 364 yards and four scores against a miserly Baltimore Ravens defense, and the Bills are sure to win a few games this season.

For more on the Bills, please check out my column and video report for Channel 8 and Fox at

If you aren’t doing anything tomorrow at noon, please stop by the Downtown library. I’m going to be doing a review of George Wills’ baseball book, “Men at Work” as part of the Books Sandwiched In program.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Big win means 'Cuse in good shape to go bowling

After being bowled over last week by Pitt at the Carrier Dome, some people were griping that Syracuse University football under Doug Marrone wasn’t much better than Syracuse University football had been under his predecessor, Greg Robinson.
Well, I wonder what those negative nabobs have to say the day after the Orange men manhandled 20th-ranked West Virginia, 19-14, to spoil the Mountaineers’ homecoming.
Yes, the Big East is more like the Big Least this season, but this was the marquee win, in a hostile environment, that the rebounding SU program needed.
Does this mean the Orange men have officially turned the corner? No, but it does mean that with a 5-2 record for the first time in a decade the talk of a bowl game is no longer a pipe dream. And that was the goal in year two of the Marrone reconstruction program – seven wins and a bowl invitation.
There might be some more missteps along the way, but SU clearly is moving in the right direction and, we, might add, a lot more rapidly than most expected. The West Virginia win is further proof that Marrone’s plan is working.
After a road game in Cincinnati next Saturday, the Orange returns home to host Louisville. It’s about time fickle Syracuse fans pack the Carrier Dome and start backing Doug’s rebuilding efforts. Anything less than a fullhouse on Nov. 6 would be a disgrace.

I'd like to see Syracuse play in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl game at Yankee Stadium. SU has been re-establishing itself as a presence in the Big Apple and that certainly would help with recruiting. And I'm sure it would be a pretty emotional moment for Marrone, who was born and bred in the Bronx and grew up a huge Yankees fan.

While Syracuse makes strides, the Bills continue to slide deeper into the abyss. And there’s no reason to believe Buffalo will snap out of it today in Baltimore against a Ravens team that’s sure to be ornery a week after squandering a double-digit lead in losing to the Patriots in New England. I think Ray Lewis & Co. will beat up on the punch-less Bills, 34-9. Please check out my post-game column at and watch my analysis on FOX Channel 7 at 10 and WROC TV-8 during the 11 o’clock news.

Few people are more knowledgeable about baseball - and a lot of other things, for that matter - than my good friend and former colleague Frank Bilovsky. While chatting with him a few weeks ago, he told me to keep an eye on the San Francisco Giants, and he was right.

With Cliff Lee pitching like Whitey Ford, I like the Texas Rangers to beat the Giants in seven games in the World Series.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A radical way of saying thank you to Bills fans for sticking with us

From time to time, Beth and I like to play the hypothetical game. You know, “What if you inherited a million dollars out of the blue?” or “What if you had the ability to fly?” or “What if you could meet any person in history?”
Well, yesterday my better half asked me what would be the first thing I would do if Ralph Wilson decided to give me the Buffalo Bills. And I told her I immediately would announce to the fans that I was lowering ticket prices across the board as a thank you for enduring the rotten football of the past 11 years.
I bring this up because later in the day I saw that Ralph had spoken to The Associated Press and accepted blame for the general manager and coaching carousel and lousy drafting of the past 10 years. That was commendable. But I didn’t like his response when asked what message he had for the fans. “Two words,’’ he responded. “Pain and patience. P and P.”
Bills fans who have paid their hard-earned money for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade and is off to an 0-5 start this season have been more than patient. And they know all about pain.
They are smart enough to realize that there is no quick fix, that it will take a few more years, at least, to climb out of the abyss.
I think as a show of good faith, Ralph should do something unprecedented. I believe he should take a hit in the wallet and buy up the unsold tickets for the remaining home games (Detroit, Cleveland, New England) and distribute them to fans in Buffalo, Rochester and southern Ontario. The first people I’d offer the freebies to are the 13,000 who decided not to renew their season tickets this season.
I know this is radical thinking and would be quite costly. But it would ensure that those games would not be blacked out and also send a message to the fan base that we’re sorry for having subjected you to this sub-standard product and we appreciate your loyalty and hope you stick with us.
I know it’s a pipe dream. But something dramatic needs to be done.

Speaking of dreamers, congratulations to my friend, Tony Liccione, for reviving the Hickok Belt award, which from 1950 through 1976 was the most prestigious individual honor in professional sports We have a press conference with Mayor Robert Duffy today at City Hall to announce the return of the award to Rochester after a 29-year hiatus. (The last five years of its existence, it was presented outside of Rochester.) It also will be an opportunity for me to plug my new book, Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award, which will be published by RIT Press on October 25.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Opining on Billy Crystal, Doc Halladay's no-no and the Buffalo Bills

Beth and I had a chance to hobnob with Billy Crystal and Bob Costas last Friday night at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Crystal had donated a number of items from 61*, his wonderful film about the riveting home run duel between Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and the ghost of Babe Ruth in 1961, and was on hand for a talk and movie screening. Costas, a Syracuse classmate of mine, moderated a panel discussion that included Crystal, Thomas Jane ( the actor who played Mantle in the movie) and the producer and screenwriter who conceived the idea for HBO. It was a fabulous night in which I was reminded again of Crystal’s genius as a comedian and director and Costas’ brilliance as an interviewer.

One of the memorable stories told that evening was how Mantle hadn’t seen his plaque hanging in the Hall of Fame until Crystal brought him back to film a comedy skit in 1985, 11 years after Mickey’s induction. Crystal said that Mantle, haunted by feelings that he had not done everything he should have to fulfill his enormous potential, confided to the comedian that he felt he really didn’t belong in the Hall. Believe me, anybody who ever saw him play, will tell you he definitely belonged – near the front of the class. Still, it was a poignant revelation into the soul of a player who was a tortured genius.

As an aside, you’ll notice in that picture of Billy C and me, I’m holding a copy of my book, Memories of Yankee Stadium, which includes an essay I wrote about Crystal’s life-long love affair with Mantle and the Yankees. I had sent him a copy of the book two years ago when it first came out and he said he enjoyed it. We authors love those kind of endorsements. Thanks to my friend, Chris Sciria from Auburn, for snapping the shot.


There are few baseball dramas more compelling than the final outs of a no-hitter. I had no idea that Roy Halladay was working on one until I flipped the channel to TBS at the start of the top of the ninth last evening. I was nervous watching him work through those final hitters, and was rooting for him because even though I’m not a Phillies fan, I’m a fan of history-making events. Even Beth, who doesn’t follow baseball, was getting into it a little.


Interestingly, Doc Halladay’s no-hitter occurred just two days short of the anniversary of the only other post-season no-hitter – Don Larsen’s perfecto for the Yankees vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Think about that: Baseball’s playoffs now begin near the time World Series ended back in the day. If this year’s Fall Classic goes the distance, Game 7 will be played on Nov. 7. Way to go, Bud.

I told Beth the other day that I’m going to grow a beard and not shave it off until the Bills win a game, and she had a sarcastic two-word response: “Rip VanWinkle.”
Actually, I think I’d be able to pull out the razor Sunday because I believe these counterfeit Bills will upset the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of a two-thirds filled Ralph. Call it Buffalo 23, Jags 17, and look for a big game by running back Fred Jackson, who should have been playing all along but lost playing time during the four-game Marshawn Lynch trade audition.


The next best chance for a Buffalo victory will come on November 14 at home against the perennially weak Detroit Lions.
This Sunday’s game will be blacked out, and you can also expect the Lions, Browns (Dec. 12) and Patriots (Dec. 26) games won’t be televised either, as the Bills sink deeper into irrelevancy.


If you are going to Sunday’s game, stop by the field house, where I’ll be signing copies of my new book, Buffalo Bills Football Vault: The First 50 Seasons from 10-noon. Hey, the book takes you back in time, and isn’t the past a better place to be than the present as far as the Bills are concerned?


Saw the movie, Social Network, about the founding of Facebook last week. Highly recommend it. Great story, great acting. Can see why it is receiving Oscar buzz.