Saturday, December 29, 2012

Here's what's going to happen in the sports world in 2013

’Tis the season to make predictions for the coming year. So, in honor of that slovenly, disheveled patron saint of sportswriters – Oscar Madison – I’ve put on a ratty, old sweatshirt and cleaned the mustard and pizza-sauce stains off of  my crystal baseball, football, basketball, golf ball and hockey puck in order to get a clearer view of the future.

 Please be forewarned that my tongue has been planted firmly in my cheek for many of these prognostications.

 And, by all means, do NOT – I repeat – do NOT bet any of your hard-earned money on Nostra-Scottie’s feeble attempts at clairvoyance. Otherwise, you’ll risk going over the fiscal cliff.

·         The Buffalo Bills clean house – new general manager, new coach, new starting quarterback. David Caldwell, the Atlanta Falcons’ director of player personnel and a Buffalo native, replaces Buddy Nix as GM.

·         Wake up the echoes! Manti Te’o intercepts a pass in the end zone as time expires, preserving Notre Dame’s 23-22 victory over Alabama in college football’s national championship game.

·         Voters fail to elect steroid-users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but each player garners a surprisingly high 40 percent of the vote.

·         The Green Bay Packers defeat the New England Patriots, 48-44, in the highest scoring Super Bowl ever as quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady combine for more than 1,000 passing yards.

·         Brett Favre creates quite a stir when he tells a Buffalo radio station he would love to make a comeback with the Bills. The team instead opts to sign Michael Vick to a two-year, incentive-laden contract and drafts Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib in the second round.

·         A day after attending an “Art of the Compromise” seminar hosted by Congressional and Senate leaders in Washington, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and player’s association president Donald Fehr hold separate news conferences announcing that the entire season has been put on ice.

·         Syracuse is eliminated in the Elite Eight. After leading the nation in assists, Michael Carter-Williams declares early for the NBA draft and is chosen in the first round.

·         Michigan nips Duke to win the NCAA basketball championship.

·         Magic Johnson, upset that the jillion dollars he spent on players’ contracts isn’t resulting in more wins, fires Don Mattingly in mid-season and takes over as manager of the Dodgers.

·         Kevin Durant wins the MVP award as the Oklahoma City Thunder de-throne Lebron James and the Miami Heat as NBA kings.

·         Ralph Wilson sells the Bills to a consortium headed by former quarterback Jim Kelly and former Sabres owner Tom Golisano, who immediately announce that the team will be staying in Buffalo FOREVER. The Ralph is renamed Paychex Park.

·         Jim Boeheim announces he will return for a 38th season as SU’s head basketball coach.

·         Rory McElroy wins the 2013 PGA at Oak Hill Country Club. Hamstrung by the famed course’s narrow fairways and treacherous rough, Tiger Woods misses the cut and refuses to talk to the media afterward.

·         Neither the Yankees nor Red Sox make the playoffs.

·         The Pittsburgh Pirates snap North America’s longest post-season drought by earning an NL wildcard berth.

·         The Bills sign Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter Usain Bolt to a free agent contract as a wide receiver.

·         Mariano Rivera retires after recording 35 saves for the Yankees. But the news is overshadowed by Hal Steinbrenner’s house-cleaning. Taking a page from his late father, Hal announces he is replacing manager Joe Girardi with Billy Martin and threatens to trade Derek Jeter to the Montreal Expos.  

·          Bryce Harper wins the National League MVP and Stephen Strasburg the Cy Young Award as the Washington Nationals defeat the Toronto Blue Jays in seven games in the World Series.

·         The Big East Conference says it will be adding several junior colleges.

·         Ryan Nassib replaces injury- and turnover-prone Michael Vick and fires a 99-yard touchdown pass to Bolt – now known as “Insane Usain” – to beat the New England Patriots and clinch a wildcard spot. The goal posts are razed by delirious fans at the stadium formerly known as the Ralph and new cereals in honor of Nassib and Usain hit the grocery store shelves the following week.

·         Butler basketball whiz kid Brad Stevens takes over as the new head coach at UCLA.

·         Tim Tebow helps Jacksonville beat former employers, the Broncos and Jets, to clinch a playoff spot.

·         Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr attend another “Art of the Compromise” seminar in Washington and announce in separate press conferences that the NHL is canceling the 2013-14 season.

·         After an 0-4 start in which fans and media call for Tom Coughlin’s firing and Eli Manning’s benching, the Giants reel off 12 consecutive victories to win the NFC East.

·         Andrew Luck becomes the first quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards and Robert Griffin III becomes the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 and rush for 2,000.

·         C.J. Spiller rushes for 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Bills. Buffalo media complains that Usain Bolt isn’t getting enough touches.

·         Owners and players throughout the sports world agree to pay cuts and reduced profits so they can offer tens of thousands of free and deeply discounted tickets to fans. (And if you believe that one, I have some “Art of the Compromise” seminar tickets for you.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

At first glance, new Bills stadium lease appears fair to team and taxpayers

                The Buffalo Bills reportedly have reached an agreement with the state and county that will keep the team in Orchard Park for another decade. The 10-year deal calls for $130 million in stadium renovations, with the team footing $35 million of the cost and the taxpayers of the county and state the rest of the bill. A source says that any owner wishing to relocate the franchise would have to pay a $400-million fee to Erie County and New York state. That’s roughly half of what the franchise is valued at.

                The agreement also contains a one-time out clause, meaning the ownership group that succeeds 94-year-old Ralph Wilson would be able to move the team after seven years without having to pay the relocation penalty. The clause apparently is good only after that seventh year for just one year. After that, the relocation fee kicks back in.

                I believe this is a fair deal because it locks the Bills in for at least seven more years. My big concern during these negotiations, and one clearly shared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Erie County officials, was that the taxpayers would renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium then be stuck with a white elephant a few years down the road if the team were allowed to move.

                This hefty relocation fee precludes that from happening, at least until 2020, when hopefully the franchise will be on firmer ground.

                Any owner who succeeds Wilson – who has said the team will go to the highest bidder after his death – will not want to shell out close to a half-a-billion dollars to move the team.

                The Ralph clearly needs renovation. The concourses are way too narrow, there aren’t enough rest rooms and concession stands and there needs to be better pedestrian flow into and out of the stadium. These improvements are necessary to make for a better fan experience.

                The sight lines at the stadium are among the best in the NFL, so the seating bowl will remain as is. And the “bones” or foundation and structure of the edifice remain strong 40 years later.

                Interestingly, the lead architect on the renovation project is Scott Radecic, the former Bills linebacker who studied architectural engineering at Penn State. I recently interviewed Scott for a “Where are they now?” freelance feature, and he said the renovations to the stadium wouldn’t result in “a new Ralph, but 
a noticeably better Ralph.”

                Again, my initial reaction is a positive one. The stadium needed to be fixed, but the taxpayers needed to be protected. And from the sounds of things, both sides will win in this deal.

                Now, if the team could just complete its renovation project with its roster . . .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My take on the Bronx Geezers, Ryan Nassib's rising stock and "Beast Mode" vs. his old team

The New York Yankees love to celebrate their past with Oldtimers Day each season. But the way their roster is shaping up, every day could be Oldtimers Day for the Bronx Bombers in 2013. It’s conceivable they could field a lineup featuring 34-year-old Kevin Youkilis at third, 38-year-old Derek Jeter at short, 33-year-old Mark Teixeira at first, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki in right field, 32-year-old Curtis Granderson in center, 40-year-old Andy Pettitte starting on the mound and 43-year-old Mariano Rivera coming in to close.

And don’t forget this: Jeter is coming off a serious ankle injury; Rivera had knee surgery; Youkilis and Teixeira’s stats in recent years have been trending down, and Suzuki and Pettitte, though still good players, clearly are in the twilight of extraordinary careers.

So, as I peruse this Geezer’s Gulch of a lineup, I can’t help but ask, “What in the world happened to your scouting and player development departments?” The latest chapter of the Yankees dynasty was written by home-grown talent – Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Where are the reinforcements, the new blood, the next generation of Pinstripers?
Magic Johnson clearly has been as generous spending the Dodgers owners’ cash as he once was distributing the basketball. Los Angeles clearly has surpassed the Yankees as the best team money can buy. And I don’t know if they’ve necessarily spent it wisely. 
I was happy to learn that Syracuse University quarterback Ryan Nassib was named first-team All-America by Pro Football Weekly, but I also was quite surprised. The respected weekly determines it selections based on extensive evaluation and considerable feedback from NFL talent evaluators. Although Nassib’s stock is climbing rapidly, most mock drafts still have him going in the second or third rounds and have West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley rated as much better pro prospects.

I do think the strong-armed Nassib has plenty of upside and has shown steady improvement, particularly in the latter half of this season, when he led the Orange to a Pinstripe Bowl berth. Interestingly, there have been only three SU quarterbacks drafted by NFL teams since 1945 – my friend Pat Stark was the first in 1952, Don McPherson the second in 1988 and Donovan McNabb in 1999. (There were other SU QBs drafted, but for other positions.)
Marshawn Lynch clearly has it going in Seattle. He’s coming off an 11-carry, 128-yard, 3-TD rushing performance in last week’s 58-0 annihilation of Arizona and now has 1,266 yards and 9 scores this season. And Bills fans no-doubt are bracing themselves for “Beast Mode” to run wild again Sunday when Buffalo hosts the Seattle Seahawks in Toronto. For the record, in return for Lynch, Buffalo received a 2011 fourth-rounder (Chris Hairston) and a 2012 fifth-rounder (Tank Carder). Hairston has been an OK offensive lineman for the Bills, while Carder was cut and is now playing for Cleveland.
Longtime Bills fans may remember that current Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll began his NFL coaching career as Buffalo’s defensive backfield coach in 1984.
SHAMELESS PLUG: I will be signing copies of my books this Saturday at the Greece Barnes & Noble from 2-4 and at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble from 5-7. There will be copies of my Jim Boeheim biography (updated and in paperback), my Johnny Antonelli collaboration, several of my Bills books and my Yankee Stadium book. So, if you haven’t completed your holiday shopping . . .  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Opining on the bungling Bills, Syracuse sensation Michael Carter-Williams and Yuk to the Yanks

The harsh reality of the yet another underachieving Bills season is this: Had safety George Wilson held onto a sure interception in a one-point loss to Tennessee two months ago and one of two balls he got his hands on during yesterday's ugly 15-12 loss to St. Louis, Buffalo would be 7-6 instead of 5-8 and in good shape to end its franchise-record and NFL-long streak of 12 seasons without a playoff appearance.

I feel badly for Wilson, one of the classier guys on the Bills roster. But when things have been going south for as long as they have for this cursed franchise, even the good guys start making bad plays. Losing definitely is contagious.

Adding to the pain of Wilson wearing the goat horns is the fact he came up as a wide receiver who was converted to defensive back. So you would expect he wouldn't, like many DBs, have hands of stone.


I don't understand the rationale among some Bills observers who argue against coaching, general manager and quarterback changes because the franchise has endured a revolving-door's worth of change this past decade. What makes people think that Chan Gailey is going to suddenly morph into a good head coach or that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to become a playoff quarterback or that Buddy Nix's masterplan is working?

Hey, I, too, am dizzy from watching the revolving door spin at break-neck speed. But the body of work shows that things aren't much different from the Dick Jauron, Mike Mularkey, Greg Williams, Rob Johnson, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Tom Donahoe eras. (You can read more about my take on the Bills fortunes at


Enjoy the Michael Carter-Williams assist-fest at the Carrier Dome while you can because the Syracuse sophomore guard is going to be making his passes in NBA arenas next winter.

After spending most of last season as a spectator behind Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche, MCW is now running the show as the Orange point guard. And he's doing so in spectacular fashion. He's leading the nation in assists, with 10.4 per game, but there's much more to this gangly, 6-foot-6 guard's game than just distribution.

He's also a great driver, and can score when needed, as evidenced by his 12.4 points per game. With a wing-span reaching nearly 7 feet, he has established himself as a dogged defender, ranking among the nation's leaders in steals (3.8 spg.). Additionally, he's a superior rebounding guard (5.6 pg) and is averaging one block per contest.

The only weakness in his game is his outside shooting - he's hit just 22 percent of his 3-pointers.

But he has everything else that NBA coaches look for in a point guard, and should flourish in the pros.

MCW has been rapidly climbing in the 2013 mock drafts, going as high as 9th in one of the projections I perused. And if he continues dishing the way he has so far, his stock will only continue the soar the way Waiters did a year ago.


I just don't understand why the Yankees would throw a one-year $12-million contract at the steadily declining Kevin Youkilis. Here's a guy who will be 34 on Opening Day and is coming off two seasons in which he's hit .235 and .258, respectively. I understand there is a void left by A-Rod's absence, but I'd rather take my chances on a young, untested player. The Yankees profess they want to drastically cut payroll, but this looks like a poor investment to me. This team needs to get younger, not more decrepit.


Josh Hamilton taking aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch is a scary proposition. He might hit 60, assuming he adjusted to the pressures of playing in New York and didn't succumb to addiction problems again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Coaches: Doug Marrone & Chan Gailey

                Today’s topic deals with two Upstate coaches’ efforts to resuscitate moribund football programs, and how they compare to their predecessors.
                In the case of Syracuse University’s Doug Marrone, progress is being made.
                In the case of Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey, the rebuilding project continues to be stuck in reverse.
                Marrone’s Orange men are 7-5 and heading to their second bowl game in three years. His four-season mark is still a sub-.500 24-25, but what he’s done has been very impressive when you consider the mess he inherited. His predecessor, Greg Robinson, turned in the worst four-year record in the school’s storied history, winning just 10 of 47 games. Twice, Robinson’s teams lost 10 games, marking the only double-digit-loss seasons in Syracuse football annals.
                Marrone’s rebuilding job compares favorably with the first four years of two of SU’s Hall-of-Fame coaches – Ben Schwartwalder and Dick MacPherson. Ol’ Ben went 21-17 in his initial autumns at SU, leading the Orange to a 7-3 record and an Orange Bowl berth in season No. 4. Coach Mac was only 25-30-1 during his initial stretch and didn’t take Cuse to a bowl game until his fifth season when they went 7-5 with a Cherry Bowl victory.
                All three of the aforementioned Syracuse coaches’ starts were dwarfed by Paul Pasqualoni, who went 33-12-1 with two bowl victories and two 10-win seasons in his first four years. Of course, Coach P inherited a powerhouse from Coach Mac, so we aren’t comparing apples and oranges here.
                  Sadly, little progress has been made, record-wise, farther west, at One Bills Drive. Late into his third season, Gailey is 14-29. Dick Jauron, the man he succeeded, was 24-33 in three-and-a-half seasons. Mike Mularkey, who returns to the Ralph this Sunday as Jacksonville’s head coach, was a more respectable 14-18 in his two seasons, which included a 9-7 season, the Bills only winning record of the past decade. Mularkey’s predecessor, Gregg Williams, kicked off this mediocre stretch with a 17-31 mark in three seasons.
                Syracuse football still hasn’t completely turned the corner, but the job Marrone is doing is encouraging. And it's a lot more difficult to rebuild in college, where you can't rely on a draft or free agency.
                The job Gailey has done with Buffalo is much more discouraging. The Bills are headed to their 13th consecutive year without a playoff appearance – not an easy thing to do in a league predicated on parity and helping the weak become strong in a hurry.