Friday, July 06, 2007

Quick Hits

Here are a few odd news items that caught my eye when snooping through the internet and newspapers.....

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the list of people who will present this year's class of new inductees.....Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones will present Michael Irvin; former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy will present Thurman Thomas; Hall of Famer and former teammate Mike Munchak will present Bruce Matthews; Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford will present Charlie Sanders; former Cleveland Browns teammate Bobby Franklin will present Gene Hickerson; and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson will present Roger Wehrli.....

One female sports journalist who does not get a lot of notice is NFL Network's Mary Strong (photo)....Strong provides updates during the NFL Now segment....she is a graduate of Loyola Marymount and played volleyball while in college....she later spent time on the beach volleyball circuit....

Former New York Knick and Georgetown Hoya star Patrick Ewing will be back on the bench this NBA season...Ewing agreed to be an assistant coach on Stan Van Gundy's staff in Orland.....looks like Dwight Howard will be getting great advice from the former center....

This was an interesting baseball nugget in Wednesday's Akron Beacon 1966, pitcher Tony Cloninger of the Atlanta Braves became the first National League player to hit two grand slams in a game....he also added a single for a total of nine RBIs in their 17-3 win over San Francisco....

The famous Copacabana in New York City closed this past Sunday....

David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes that the Bears front office has ordered two types of NFC Championship rings....
  • David Haugh

  • Sean McClelland of The Dayton Daily News reports there are rumors that former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher will be coaching the Cleveland Browns next season....
  • Sean McClelland
  • Thursday, July 05, 2007

    College Football at its Best - Oklahoma Sooner Football

    The Oklahoma Sooners are the third football power that I am featuring in the series "College Football at its Best".....Matt Hofeld of the blog Crimson and Cream took some time to respond to my questions about Sooner football....he is 33-years-old amd attended his first OU football game in 1983 as a kid and has been hooked since....he launched his first sports blog, My Opinion on Sports, in April of 2005 and became a part of SBN in August of 2006 with the launch of the Crimson and Cream Machine.....I want to thank Matt for his time - it is much appreciated....
  • Crimson and Cream

  • Q1. First question - Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops?
    A. Wow! What a question to start out with. Let me first say how fortunate the University of Oklahoma is to have the heritage of football coaches they do. Not just Barry and Bob but also put Bud Wilkinson as well. As for the question itself, as difficult as it is I would have to go with Switzer at this point with no shame or disgrace what so ever to Bob Stoops who has been nothing but fantastic since arriving in Norman. In his 16 years at Oklahoma Switzer won 3 national championships (1974,1975,1985) and 12 conference championships including consecutively from 1973 – 1980. Switzer also owned Nebraska and Texas. Some will argue that the trouble the team got into under Switzer’s watch would automatically place him under Stoops but I argue that it was a different era in college football and that kind of stuff was going on at campuses across the nation. Sure, we’re not proud of it and it probably was time for a change when Switzer stepped down after the 1988 season but that activity wasn’t exclusive to the Oklahoma campus. While Bob Stoops is certainly on his way by winning 4 conference championships and 1 national title in his first 8 seasons at OU he still has a way to go to catch the King.

    Q2. What is the greatest Oklahoma football game that you have seen - whether it be in-person or on television? Explain the game and why it was so great.
    A. I really had to think hard about this one because I’ve been to a lot of fun games but that doesn’t necessarily mean the best game. I was at all the slaughter games of the Stoops era, when OU beat Texas 63-14, 65-13, Texas A&M 77-0, and Oklahoma State 52-9. While those games were a lot of fun they really weren’t great games. A great game also doesn’t necessarily mean that the Sooners win. For example, the Fiesta Bowl in January was a great game. In spite of the fact that the Sooners were upset, it was still a fantastic game and by far the greatest of the 06 football season.

    I guess I would have to say that for me the greatest game I have ever witnessed was the Orange Bowl following the miracle 2000 season. OU beat Florida State 13-2 to claim their 7th national championship. Despite being undefeated going into the game the Sooners were still underdogs and no one thought that they had a chance to win including the radio broadcast crew for the Sooners. Not only did they win, they dominated Florida State that night. The 1985 Orange Bowl is close as well because it is the first time I actually saw OU win a national championship but the Sooners were so much better than Penn State that year that there really wasn’t any drama and the game wasn’t close.

    Q3. Who do you consider Oklahoma's biggest rival - Texas, Oklahoma State or Nebraska?
    A. This one is easy. Hands down it’s Texas followed by Nebraska and then Oklahoma State is a distant third. The winner of the OU/Texas game generally goes on to play for the Big 12 Championship, unless Texas just gives it up like they did last season, and in the old days of the Big 8 it was usually OU or Nebraska who won the conference. While the Cowboys are our instate rival they really aren’t a threat for winning the conference and recruits don’t sway between OU and OSU like they do with OU and Texas.

    Q4. Since 1970, who are the five greatest players to wear an Oklahoma uniform and why?
    A. I don’t want to totally balk at this question but we are running a feature in our countdown to kick-off that will highlight, in our opinion, the ten players who have had the most impact on the Sooner football program since the 1975 national championship. I’ll throw you a bone though. Here are a few of the candidates; Tinker Owens, Lee Roy Selmon (photo left), Joe Washington, Billy Sims (photo, lower right), Tony Casillas, Brian Bosworth, Keith Jackson, Danté Jones, Cedric Jones, Josh Heupel, Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, Tommie Harris, Mark Clayton, Jason White, Adrian Peterson.

    Q5. Make your case why Oklahoma football, as a whole, is the best football program in the country?
    A. There aren’t a lot of teams who can boast the winning tradition that Oklahoma has. The Sooners have won seven national championships and forty conference championships. Under Bob Stoops Oklahoma is winning a conference championship every other year and playing for a national championship about once every three years. What kind of kid wouldn’t want to play for a program like that?...

    On Monday, the Georgia Bulldogs will be the next football program featured...

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Joey Chestnut vs. Kobayashi

    The American Dream - Joey Chestnut vs. Six-Time Defending Champion - Kobayashi

    Takeru Kobayashi set a world record last year at the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest, only to see Joey Chestnut shatter his mark by eating 59½ earlier this year. Chestnut will make America proud on the Fourth of July. As Mills Lane would say - Let's Get it Ohnnnn!!!!

    Jerry Izenberg Unplugged - Thoughts about Vince Lombardi - Part II

    This is the second part of my interview with the legendary sports journalist Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger about his dealings with former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi....

    He (Lombardi) was a genius in terms of not asking too much (from his players). He had the smallest playbook in football. Forrest Gregg (photo) once told me, "we (Packers) would laugh when he ran our plays. We all but said that we are coming over left tackle - stop us if you can." Forrest Gregg was a wonderful story which tells you more about Lombardi. Gregg had mixed emotions about Lombardi when he first came. The Green Bay locker room was worse than what Forrest had at SMU. He was thinking of retiring because the previous coach had played favorites, and nobody worked. There was a boycott campaign in Green Bay about going to see the Packer games. He (Gregg) was like, "I don’t need this stuff anymore." Then Vince came and he talked to Forrest on the phone and Forrest said, "let me give this guy a try." So he goes out there and the first day Lombardi rips into Paul Hornung and Forrest thinks to himself, "I like this guy, I think I’m going to stick around." Later in that camp Vince is diagraming what would become the Green Bay sweep. So Forrest puts his hand up and says, "Coach I don’t mean to contradict you but you are asking me to pull behind the guard, get all the way around and make an impossible block." Vince looked at him and said, "Well Forrest it might be impossible for you so I will find someone who can." Forrest Gregg ended up making that block for years.

    Vince was a wonderful guy. He really was a funny guy. I remember one year I was stuck in Green Bay all by myself over Christmas. They had tied with the Baltimore Colts and they had an extra playoff game. So I go out to the compound to see him and he was sitting there with his first computer. And he's screaming at everybody because he didn’t know how to work it. He said, "I stayed up all last night asking questions to the computer." The kind of questions he was asking the computer were unanswerable because there was no software for it. He said, "I have come to the conclusion that the computer has told me anybody whose IQ is higher than 130 will not hit."

    I once had an argument with him that we carried on long distance over a book I wrote. It was a book called "Rivals" dealing with rivalries that moved all of America. Now Vince was a Dodger fan being he was Brooklyn. So he called me up and said, "Gee that is a great book you wrote." And I was like, "Thanks but it wasn’t that good. It was a nice book." So Vince is like, "I’m telling you it was a great book!" So now I ask him what the hell have you read (in the book) and he said to me, "Never mind, I read it. It is great!" And that was Vince, he always had to be right.

    I’ll tell you though, I liked him so much. You had to like him cause he kind of favored the New York area writers. When we would come out there (to Green Bay) he would ignore everybody else. He was really such a class guy. I’ll tell you something that a lot of people do not know, there was some maneuvering for Vince to come home and coach the Giants. And he really wanted to come. He wanted five percent of the team. And Helen Mara, who was Wellington Mara’s sister-in-law said, "we work so hard so I don’t see why we should give up anything." The Maras had 50 percent of the stock but nothing ever came of it. The Giants were horrible back then. They changed coaches like they changed socks.

    Izenberg then talked about covering the famous Ice Bowl game between the Packers and Cowboys. (photo)
    I will tell you two anecdotes that had nothing to do with football but will tell you how cold it was. There was no heat in the press box. It was an old wooden press box at Lambeau Field. It was freezing. In those days they had little heaters with motors that would throw heat. So they would start them up, but they had engines. Some genius decided to put one in the press box and after a while I started smelling something. Here is was emitting carbon monoxide. I told them, "shut that damn thing off."

    It was the only time in my entire life at a football game that I drank. It was so cold. As the game ends, some kid jumps on the field and has a saw. The goalpost back then were wooden. This enterprising little bastard is going to chop it up and sell pieces of it. So he is out there sawing. I go back to writing my story, shivering, and when I finish I look and the kid is still sawing. He was not able to cut off one piece because it was so frozen.

    Before the game Vince was bragging that some guy sold him a bill of goods to put electrical wiring underneath the turf this way it wouldn’t freeze. So you would put the tarp over it and you turn the electricity on and it keeps the field soft so when you take the tarp off the field will not be frozen. Well the only thing it didn’t calculate is how you get the tarp off because the tarp is frozen to the field. It took them like a half an hour to scrape up the tarp.

    Vince was a guy who reacted very viscerally. You know when they played down in Dallas in the game where the Packers intercepted in the end zone when Dallas was driving for the winning touchdown. They had some kind of a thing for the halftime show that went on and on and on. And they had floats on the field and were trying to get them off the field. All of a sudden I see this guy come running across the field banging on the side of one of the floats yelling, "get that fucking thing out of here." It was Lombardi.

    Lombardi was often worse when they won than when they lost because his head was still in the game. He was still playing the game and he would get very angry. He was easier to interview after a loss. In a game against the Rams, the Packers just won something like 6-3 and he knew they would have to play the Rams again in the playoffs. So he has them all in the locker room and he is tearing everybody a new asshole. He’s like, "you guys don’t deserve to be Packers." You have to remember, it was a very important thing for these players to be Packers for the pride as much as the playoff money was guaranteed. In those days they didn’t make any money. Now, Lombardi is going on and on and on and Willie Davis (photo) is sitting on a wooden folding chair in front of his cubicle. He was leaning back in his chair hoping Lombardi would not see him. So he is leaning back and leaning back. Then Vince yells, "does anybody here want to play Packer football?" And with that, the chair breaks and Willie goes onto the floor and jumps up and Lombardi looks at him and says, "now see, Willie Davis wants to play Packer football. Who else wants to play it?" I asked Willie if he ever told Lombardi the truth about what happened and he said, "are you nuts?"

    Before concluding the interview, I asked Izenberg how Lombardi would have been as a coach in today's NFL....
    I think he would have been great because he understood the players and the types of players there are. He understood the world he lived in. And I don’t think he would have had a Terrell Owens, but I think he would have understood today’s players.

    Once again I would like to thank Mr. Izenberg for his was very much appreciated!!...

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Jerry Izenberg Unplugged - Thoughts about Vince Lombardi

    On Monday, June 25th I had the honor to interview legendary sports journalist Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger....Izenberg has been reporting for 56 years and is one of only four reporters to cover every Super Bowl (the other three are Jerry Green of The Detroit News, Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald, and David Klein formerly of the Star-Ledger and now a writer for a pro football newsletter).....Izenberg still writes 20-25 columns a year and covers the Super Bowl and Triple Crown races....he has written numerous books including "No Medals for Trying" in which he spent a week with Bill Parcells and the New York Giants....another of his books is "The Greatest Game Ever Played" which detailed the epic game 6 NLCS battle between the Astros and Mets....

    At the beginning of the interviewed I asked Izenberg to discuss the most interesting person he interviewed when dealing with the NFL....he said there are so many that it was impossible to just focus on one I decided to ask him about Green Bay Packer head coach Vince Lombardi....for the next 30 minutes Izenberg told enthralling stories about the late great coach...I want to thank him for his time - it is much appreciated...below are his words and thoughts about Lombardi....I give you Jerry Izenberg - Unplugged....

    One of the great Lombardi quotes will tell you what has happened in pro football when he said, "is this a game for madmen and have I become one of them". I got to know him when he was a coach with the Giants which is where our friendship began even though I had known of him from St. Cecilia’s in Inglewood and when he coached up at West Point under Red Blaik. In those days we did not have coordinators, we had backfield coaches who really ran the offense and a defensive coach who ran the defense. On a remarkable staff, Vince and Tom Landry held those positions for the Giants.

    You have to remember how he was shaped. Vince was shaped by the fact that he was always trying to catch up and then suddenly he was way ahead of everybody else and that posed another set of problems because he wanted to stay there. When I said he was trying to catch up, you got to remember, this guy coached high school football as a mature man. He went back to Fordham as a freshman coach. (His classmate when he was student at Fordham was Wellington Mara.) He had done nothing at Fordham to make you think that he was going to go anywhere else. He was getting very impatient. He noticed that all the assistant coaches on Red Blaik’s staff turned over every two years because they got full-time jobs as head coaches. So he interviewed at West Point and Blaik took him. The first year he jumped on some cadet. I believe he was coaching the freshmen and Blaik called him aside and told him "We don’t do that here. And if you want to get anywhere in this business you better remember that and hang on to your temper." It is hard to believe that he did. Can you imagine what his temper used to be like? So he did temper it a little bit.

    The huge disappointment. Maybe the biggest disappointment of all came when other assistant coaches got different (head coaching) jobs. And Lombardi was a candidate for a job at Wake Forest. Now this is the south and we are going back to the late 40s early 50s. And you know that a lot of things are very slow to change. He interviewed and he was quite excited about it because other coaches from that staff (at Army) got jobs and he fully expected that he would get the Wake Forest job. A guy down there in North Carolina called him up and said. "Vince I have to tell you I don’t want you play out a charade. They had several number of people interview and you were one of them but they are not going to give this job to anybody whose name ends in a vowel." Now whether the guy was right or wrong, Vince had believed him, and he did not get the job. It was a tremendous blow to him. And years later it was the reason that he and (Green Bay Packer) Willie Davis were close. This is how that friendship started. Willie came to Vince and asked for the day off from practice which is like asking for instant canonization. You don’t get that from Lombardi. So Lombardi asked him why he wanted the day off. Davis said he had to go to Milwaukee to get a haircut. Vince said, "Mister you get a haircut here like everybody else." Davis told Vince that, "Emlen Tunnell and I do not get haircuts here. They guy won’t cut our hair." So Vince told Davis to come with him after practice. So he goes to the barber, and he has Willie with him, and they step into the barber shop. The barber is like, "hey coach, we gonna have a good team this year, blah, blah, blah. So what do you think, a light trim?" And Lombardi said, "Nah, I don’t think I need anything. Just cut this guy’s hair (referring to Davis)." And of course the guy did. And after that, the black players could get their hair cut in Green Bay. He later told Willie that all came about because his name did end in a vowel and what happened to him with the Wake Forest job. He said, "we had to be just a little bit better everybody else. Me in my time, and you in your time. You just got to deal with it and don’t let anybody take it away from you." That was just one little side of Lombardi. I’ll tell you about another side to Lombardi that people don’t know.

    Nelson Toburen played for Green Bay in the early Lombardi years and broke his neck in practice. Lombardi went to see him in the hospital and he said, "what you going to do, you can't give up?" And Toburen had a good attitude and said I think I want to be a lawyer. The story I got was that Vince had called someone at Marquette and got Nelson in on a free ride and never discussed it with anybody.

    Vince had that competitive fire in him. He's in the living room on the floor playing marbles with his grandson and Marie (his wife) is looking at him and the kid starts to cry. She asks what's the matter and he said "grandpa is winning all my marbles." So she mumbles very softly, "for Christ-sake let the kid win" and Vince said, "the world is not like that Marie."

    I want to give you a background of who he was. His father was an immigrant and Vince became the head of the family because his father was older and not too well. Well Vince's brother Joe Lombardi played guard for Vince at St. Cecilia's and the big game every year was Englewood High against St. Cecilia's - Thanksgiving Day - traditional. Vince had a curfew so he would go around to all the player's houses and they better be in bed at 10:00. So he gets to his mother's house and his brother is mopping the kitchen floor. Vince says, "what are you doing up?" Joe said, "well Mom said that tomorrow is your end of the season party and Mom told me to clean the kitchen floor." Vince said, "well I told you to be in bed." Joe later told me, "here I am mopping his mother's floor for his (Vince's) party and he tells me I am not playing tomorrow." I don't know if he finally let him in the game but he was harder on Joe than anybody else.

    So Vince had suffered, but he comes down to the Giants as the backfield coach which means he is the offensive coach. He tells the players he is going to put in a play that was very successful for him in college called the halfback option. All the Giants laughed. They said, "we don't need a college play." They weren't afraid of him yet. Anyway the halfback option turned out to be the play that became famous in New York because Frank Gifford threw the passes.

    He was a terrific organizer. He was hard as hell, but they (players) loved him. So Wellington Mara gets a call from Philadelphia saying they want to speak to Vince about the head coaching job. Wellington tells Philadelphia that Vince is not interested. Wellington then goes to Vince and tells him that he just turned down your permission to talk to Philadelphia. Vince was like, "why did you do that?" Wellington told him, "this is not the job for you. I'll tell you win to go. Believe me and I will help you." Three or four years later the Green Bay job opened up and Vince was cool to the idea. He was a Brooklyn guy and to go live in Green Bay, Wisconsin - he could not imagine that. But Wellington told him, "you better take the job. Believe me. The reason you got to take this job is that I know the guy who is the head of all the stockholders. And I told him about your temperament and he is going to let you call every shot." And that is how the Packers were born. In his second year, he got them to play Philly for the championship and they lost. I remember him telling me afterward, "this will never happen to me again."

    Tomorrow, part two of Izenberg's thoughts about Lombardi

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    The Sunday Baker's Dozen

    The Sunday Fact - This will be the third time the Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played in San Francisco. The game was played there in 1961 and 1984. The National League won both of those games.

    The Washington Post has a story of how Tiger Woods created the latest PGA Tour event and the person who helped get it going...."As the top-ranked golfer in the world explained how this tournament was the fulfillment of a dream shared with his late father, the man in charge of executing Woods's vision listened from a folding chair in the front row."
  • Washington Post

  • New York Daily News reporter Mark Feinsand got a rare interview with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner this week....George Steinbrenner will celebrate his 77th birthday on Wednesday, his 35th as the owner of the Yankees. With an assist from PR guru Howard Rubenstein, the Daily News conducted a Q&A with The Boss this past week, getting a closer look at Steinbrenner's three-plus decades at the helm of the most storied franchise in baseball.
  • Mark Feinsand - Steinbrenner Interview

  • New York Daily News reporter Mark Feinsand writes how Yankees catcher Jorge Posada lit into the team after their lackluster effort on Saturday...."I'm not talking about unlucky; luck comes when you go after it," the Yankee catcher said. "And it seems like at times we just go through the motions and today was one of those cases."
  • Mark Feinsand

  •'s Elizabeth Merrill writes about the behind-the-scenes story of Chris Benoit and his wife.... " . . . describing how rigormortis had set in by the time they found Nancy, whose skin was marbleized as she lay face-down on the floor. He's remembering his walk into Daniel's room -- the 7-year-old boy's body was gone, but posters of his dad still hung on the wall, and two toy wrestling belts sat on a shelf.
  • Elizabeth Merrill

  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Gary Washburn writes about the new era of Sonic basketball....The only certainty about the Sonics as Sunday's free agency period begins is that they are not a finished product. General manager Sam Presti is carefully adjusting his roster to match his goal of having a defensive-minded team that will provide matchup nightmares for opponents.
  • Gary Washburn

  • Detroit Free-Press columnist Mitch Albom writes about Detroit Tiger Magglio Ordonez and his quest for the batting title....As of Saturday morning, he was batting .375, which was 11 points ahead of the closest guy in the American League, and 27 points ahead of anyone in the National League.
  • Mitch Albom

  • New Orleans Times Picayune reporter Pierce W. Huff writes how even though the New Orleans Saints donated money to fix a city stadium, the reality is that it will not be ready until next summer....But less than two months before the start of the season, the stadium remains largely untouched and will not be used this fall. There is no electricity at the stadium. The grass field is in poor shape, covered in patches of dirt. The locker rooms and bathrooms don't work, and the scoreboard remains mangled.
  • Pierce W. Huff

  • Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock writes how the Kansas City Chiefs need to take care of stud running back Larry Johnson....Larry Johnson is a rebel. It's in his DNA — the mind that is always thinking, the comfort with confrontation, the desire to point out hypocrisy and the love of raw honesty.
  • Jason Whitlock

  • Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Dustin Dow writes how some former Cincinnati Bengal players did not get any help from the NFL when their career was over....Depending on the severity of their injuries, players may be eligible to receive disability checks when they finish playing. Otherwise, they have to make ends meet until retirement benefits kick in at age 45.
  • Dustin Dow

  • Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington writes how new Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green has had many men influence his career, but the one he misses most is his dad.....Less than a year before that blow, the Dolphins' new leader never got to say goodbye to his father. If only Green's soul -- for those 11 long, quiet minutes -- might have wandered to where his dad had gone while everyone else stayed behind to pray.
  • Jeff Darlington

  • Boston Globe reporter Michael Vega writes how NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is adjusting to age and fatherhood while trying to win a title....A first-time father at 36, Gordon, the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, is a man in full, flecks of gray in his sideburns notwithstanding.
  • Michael Vega

  • Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson writes about Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfield Rocco Baldelli and his constant battles with injuries....At the Naimoli Complex, where the Devil Rays send their injured players, there is only the dull repetition of rehabilitation followed by empty hours and a sense of detachment. Baldelli knows the routine far too well by now, having spent significant amounts of time on the disabled list. That's where he is now, for the fourth time since 2004.
  • Joe Henderson

  • The Arizona Republic is already previewing the college football season with stories about the Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats and their PAC-10 foes....
  • Arizona Republic