Thursday, May 16, 2013

Opining on sport's rich and famous, Bills GM Buddy Nix's legacy, Donovan McNabb's jersey retirement and more

Spraying opinions to all fields:
·         Sports Illustrated’s “Fortunate 50” list of the highest-paid American athletes is out and the leader is boxer Floyd Mayweather at close to $90 mil. Very surprising, considering the Sweet Science’s dramatic decline in popularity. There apparently still are big bucks to be made in close-circuit TV contracts – which explains where the lion’s share of Mayweather’s money came from. He didn’t earn a single dollar in endorsements, which, again, speaks to boxing’s precipitous decline.

Rounding out the Top 10 were LeBron James, Drew Brees, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson, Derrick Rose, Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez and Zack Greinke.

The Top 50 featured 25 baseball players – including four Yankees – 13 NBA players and only eight NFL players, despite the fact pro football is by far the most popular sport in the land.

Given Tiger’s rebound from his personal problems I wouldn’t be surprised to see him regain the No. 1 spot he’s had a strangle-hold on for several years.

The Bills have a representative on the list. Defensive end Mario Williams ranks No. 18 with his $50-million signing bonus. Who says the Bills are cheap?

Interestingly, to make this exclusive fraternity you had to earn – and I use that word “earn” loosely in dishonor of A-Rod – at least $18,2000,000 – which is what Cubs slugger Alfonso Soriano pocketed last year.

·         As evidenced by the hiring of coach Chan Gailey, the foolish contract extension of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, some big whiffs in the draft and free agency and a 16-32 won-lost record, Buddy Nix’s legacy as the Bills general manager is pretty underwhelming. But final grades can’t be issued for another couple of years. The old scout’s brief tenure as the man in charge of Buffalo’s football operations could receive a big boost if quarterback EJ Manuel and coach Doug Marrone pan out. Of course, those are big “if’s.”

·         I think it’s great that Syracuse University is going to retire the No. 5 football jersey worn by Donovan McNabb, the greatest quarterback in Orange history. His number will be hung from the rafters along with the 44 of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, the 39 of fullback Larry Csonka and the 88 of tight end John Mackey. I hope someday No. 47 also will be retired. It was worn with distinction by Little Joe Morris, who remains the all-time leading rusher in the school’s storied history.

·         We were supposed to tape an interview with Rochester Red Wings first baseman Chris Colabello yesterday for the baseball radio show I co-host on WYSL, but some extra hitting practice prevented that from happening. Chris is a class act who called later to apologize. The additional BP obviously paid huge dividends as Chris clubbed his 9th and 10th home runs of the season. The Wings are struggling with just 15 wins in their first 40 games, but Colabello has been a bright spot, and one of the true feel-good stories of minor-league baseball. Here is a guy who is 29 years old and toiled in the independent leagues for seven seasons. He could have given up on the dream many times in recent years, but persevered and now is looking at a possible promotion to the Minnesota Twins. I love these kind of stories and will be rooting for him to make it to big leagues.

·         Just in case you want to start filling out your 2014 NCAA basketball brackets early, Joe Lunardi has the SU basketball team as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest.     

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Behind the book-writing process with rock legend Lou Gramm

As I mentioned on my Facebook post this morning, my right wrist is sore from signing so many books last night at the launch of Lou Gramm’s “Juke Box Hero” at the Monroe Community College Theatre. Like another rocker once sang, “It hurts so good.”

                I’ve been blessed to do many booksignings in my time, but none as successful as this one. It clearly speaks to the popularity of Rochester’s own “Juke Box Hero” and the lasting impact of his music. The love for Lou was palpable in that Theatre and it crossed generations as parents who rocked to Lou’s music three decades ago were accompanied by children who have just discovered his classic rock.

                I’ve also been blessed to collaborate with good people in some of my recent books. Although they rose to the top of different professions, Lou, major league baseball star Johnny Antonelli and Buffalo Bills legend Steve Tasker took somewhat similar paths. Despite their fame and fortune, they remained true to their humble, small-town roots. They may have left their old neighborhoods, but their old neighborhoods never left them. They never forgot the people nor places that helped them realize their dreams.

                I’ve always been fascinated about people’s journeys. I’m intrigued by the circumstances and people that shaped them – for better and worse – along the way. I equate being a ghost writer to being the Sherpa that leads the mountain climbers to the summit and safely back down to base camp.

                It’s been about two years since I took Lou to lunch and convinced him that he had a powerful story to tell and that the timing for telling it was right. We’d meet once a week for a few hours and I would ask him to recount specific events and people. Some of the sessions were emotional as I probed difficult subjects. Ultimately, I wanted the book to be an honest recounting of Lou’s life and fortunately Lou agreed.

                The goal was not to be one of these salacious, sensational tell-alls, like too many rock memoirs. We definitely delved into the trappings of wealth and fame that can overwhelm a person at a young age. And how life as a rock star isn’t always as glamorous as it might look from the outside. But to have told this in the manner of say a Keith Richards would have been inaccurate and disingenuous. It would not have been true to Lou.

                The best compliment I’ve received about the Gramm and Antonelli books is that they are conversational, that the reader feels as if the subject has pulled up a chair and is speaking to them one-on-one. “Here, let me tell you my story.”

                 People ask me about capturing voice and it is a difficult thing to explain. I think it’s something you develop from hours upon hours of interviewing a person and truly listening to not only what they are saying but how they say it. You learn their phraseology, their personal story-telling technique, and you attempt to tell it in their words, not yours.

                I’m proud of the finished product. I’m biased but I think it is a candid, compelling story that Lou tells. Hopefully, it takes readers behind the scenes and into the head of one of rock’s great singers and songwriters.

                Ultimately, I see it as a story of dreams and nightmares and redemption. 

                I’m thankful that it has risen to the third bestselling rock book on and that our publisher has just ordered a second printing.

                And I’m grateful that Lou trusted me to help him bare his soul and recount a life journey that wound up being inspiring on several levels.