Friday, July 30, 2004

J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets

The football season began this morning. If the Jets have to be out in the humidity today, the least I can do is be there, too. Here's what happened:

7:01 a.m. – Grant Hill’s wife wakes me up for the start of football season. Sadly, Tamia's sultry R&B voice sings through my low-budget alarm clock and nowhere closer.

7:08 – Method Man kicks in after a quick seven-minute snooze. Why does football have to start so early? Don’t they know I work nights?

7:15 – Oh, hell no!

8:08 – Uh, oopsies. Perhaps I should wake up now.

8:23 – Out the door after shower and sufficient hair-gel preparation.. Breakfast simply isn’t an option.

8:44 – Arrive at Hofstra after driving like I live my life a quarter-mile at a time.

8:46 – Try talking my way past a security guard/traffic director. He’s steadfast in his denial. He is wasted on asphalt. Put this guy on the defensive line because nothing gets past him.

8:54 – Walk to practice field, get first visual and audio of Herm Edwards. Everything seems OK after that; further convinced that if Herm walked into a room and I had no arms, I’d still find a way to hug the guy.

8:57 – First official J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! chant comes from young children shouting out bus windows.

9:12 – Jonathan Vilma, in minimal upper-body padding, puts a hit on Muneer Moore during return drills that is heard across the training complex.

9:23 – Chat with another reporter centers around the impending hype and excitement of The Guise Classic, a golf outing in Connecticut.

9:35 – Wayne Chrebet catches a pass near the sideline and is ridden out of bounds by Ray Mickens. Chrebet jogs back to the huddle, unconcussed. Impressive. The Jersey Jet is back!

9:42 – Dump-off drills bring back harsh memories of 3-yard passes on third-and-4, 2-yard draws on third-and-3 and general Paul Hacket play calling; sky is gray for a reason.

9:48 – Lawyer friend and longtime suffering Jet fan Steve calls the cellie looking for a Pennington report, and autographed Herm Edwards photo. I ask for stock tips in exchange. No deal is consummated.

9:52 – New defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson shouts instructions at his players; appears he’ll be a good influence on the Jets, but Teddy Cottrell’s spouting of outrageous statistics will be missed.

10:01 – Pennington beautifully places a ball in between two defensive backs and into the hands of Jonathan Carter along the left sideline

10:17 – Upon retirement in 40 years, I will become a training camp referee. What a great job to have! Stand around, drink free water and Gatorade, throw a flag without being yelled at by coaches. Few things seem this mindless.

10:25 – Hummer appears to replace the Cadillac Escolade as SUV of choice among these athletes

10:28 – “Good job, fella” is Pennington’s response to the contract Peyton Manning signed in the offseason

10:29 – “It’s weird not seeing #16 out here. It’s different, it’s very different,” Pennington says about new Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Different is good.

10:34 – Curtis Martin’s advice to the rookies in camp: “Just shut up and focus.”

10:39 – Anthony Becht looks like Vinny Testaverde’s brother.

10:40 – John Abraham stands next to his olive green Hummer H2 and it’s hard to tell the difference between the piece of the steel used to get Abraham from place to place and the piece of steel that is Abraham.

10:41 – Did John Abraham get trap implants, or was he always that huge?

11:05 – Herm Edwards walks to the podium and the humidity no longer matters, nor does that stench coming from near the tent that serves as a makeshift media room.

11:07 – “You get mad at your wife one day and come home, you don’t want to change your wife. If you do, something’s wrong,” Edwards said in response to questions about his “new” personality and attitude.

11:09 – “We gotta make plays.” Yes! Thanks, Herm. There it is, the first official “We gotta make plays” quote of the season. Over/under on usage of that phrase by NFL players this year is 4,329. Note to self: call the boys in Antigua and bet max on the over.

11:16 – “If we start running Curtin in the A-gap ahead of Lamont, you guys are gonna look at me like I’m the man on the moon.” Another solid moment from Herm.

11:17 – My morning is complete. Time for breakfast.

They might be Giants

I, for one, have never been opposed to starting over. There's nothing like a clean sheet after a few years of intolerable disappointment.

So hiring a new coach, bringing in some new players, implementing a new system... all that stuff is fine by me.

But the Giants are walking a dangerous line this year. They seem caught in between the rebuilding movement they say they're making, and the Super Bowl-contending team that they nearly were two years ago.

Many of the established stars are still here -- Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer -- and yet many of the team's best supporting players are gone -- Mike Barrow, Dhani Jones, Cornelius Griffin.

And there is the bizarre situation at quarterback. Kerry Collins is out, Kurt Warner is in... but Eli Manning is also there, and the Giants just gave him $54 million over the next six years. So who's the boss?

Many say the smart money is on Warner, who is an established vet with big credentials and a lot of talent. But no one has mentioned his history of concussions, his chronic fumbling problems, and his complete immobility in the pocket. No one's questioning his arm strength or his vision... but how much of an upgrade will he really be over Kerry Collins? We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, the Giants will be trying to cobble together offensive and defensive lines, which have been completely dismantled. Let's hope those get put back together before September 12, or it could be a long season for the Big Blues.

Oh, and there's that whole superstar-hates-the-coach problem. Strahan has already been outspoken about his dislike for some of Tom Coughlin's new rules, and he was no doubt among the group of players who rallied to have a fine imposed on the Giants for forcing them spend too much time in the workout room this summer.

And then there's the ol' special teams. Does anyone know who their field goal kicker will be? Does anyone care? Will it matter? Anyone seen Brian Mitchell lately?

The 2004 Giants are a talented team, no doubt. They are also a rebuilding team. We'll have to wait and see which emerges as the season goes on.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ready to rumble

Once upon a time, a fierce and fearsome man sprinted from a corner of a squared structure they called a ring and demolished whatever got in his way.

Now, Mike Tyson fights on a Friday night. In Kentucky.

Friday!!!?

Kentucky!!!?

If a fight isn’t on Saturday at a major casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, did the fight really happen?

But here comes “Ironed” Mike Tyson, fighting out of necessity because he let $300 million slip from his fingers. He’s bankrupt and the debt collectors are making him answer the bell. If Tyson wins, he fights again, makes more money, pays off another debt, fights again, pays off another debt.

And so on and so on until Tyson is solvent. He’s basically fighting for his life, making this particular set-up, er, boxing match, intriguing beyond the “Tyson Principle,” which states anything can happen when Mike Tyson is involved so shell out $44.95 and give Don King more air time because this is the original king of reality television.

I will support Tyson in his bid for financial solvency, even if that means Sallie Mae will have to wait an extra week to cash my student loan check. (Damn, I wish I could throw hands against someone to pay off that 400-pound gorilla on my back. Any takers?)

I do this because I hope. I hope to see the most dominating heavyweight fighter of my generation return for at least one more night. Putting aside the sideshow that has become Ironed Mike, putting aside his rape conviction, just give me a few more minutes of fleeting visual glory — a crazed but controlled man mauling a cowarding palooka with Joe Glass’s jaw and Don Flamenco’s IQ and Piston Honda’s weak abdomen.

Danny Williams is no Soda Popinski or even Mr. Sandman. His name is about as fearsome as an eclair with sprinkles. Geez, this palooka even admits to crying in his dressing room before fights.

And I don’t care how inept his resume and his skills are. Just get in the ring and give the millions watching around the world what they want: Iron Mike Tyson.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Another one's treasure

"We have now entered extended garb-age time"

Those words, immortalized by legendary former Knicks broadcaster Marv Albert, symbolize something you don't often see in sports. A chance for the players, managers, coaches, and fans to let loose as a contest winds towards its inevitable conclusion.

Garbage time can lead to some pretty entertaining memories, even if the game itself is a wash. So I thought I'd share some of my favorite garbage time moments.

How do you spell relief? Z-E-I-L-E, if you watched Monday's Mets game. Some of the most enjoyable, if not artistic, moments in baseball are born out of the blowout, when frustrated managers with exhausted bullpens use position players to work an inning of relief.

The most entertaining mound cameo was performed by veteran Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace. With his team way behind, Grace took to the mound armed with a 65-mph fastball and a well-honed impression of teammate Mike Fetters. Grace's caricatured spoof of Fetters -- complete with puffed cheeks, bulging eyes and head swivel -- had both dugouts rolling.

The 12th man The crowd cheers as he unsnaps his warm-ups, tosses his practice robe and dashes onto the court. He is the 12th man. The most beloved 12th man in the history of sports: Knicks center Herb Williams, or, simply: "HERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRB!"

Particularly in his final years as a Knick, when he was more valuable for his experience and leadership off the court than his play on it, Madison Square Garden's faithful made him a cult hero. With a big lead and the seconds ticking away, faint groans... "HERRRRRRRRB!" They'd grow louder and louder until finally the coach had little choice but to put him in the game. When Williams finally touched the ball, the shouts reached a thunderous echo in the half-empty Garden. And if by some miracle of God he happened to score, 5,000 fans erupted in rapturous applause. This is for a man who averaged 2.8 points per game in his Knicks career.

Box-score blowouts: The NHL's tempers run hotter than those in any sport, so when your opponent's skated over and through you all night -- garbage time means revenge time. Better clear out those WNBA transactions, because your hockey box scores are about get a Canseco-sized injection of game misconducts.

Philadelphia and Ottawa engaged in one of hockey's most memorable donnybrooks last season, setting an NHL record for penalty minutes in a game. In a 32-second span, the two teams were whistled for 55 penalties, including 13 ejections and 21 fighting majors. Anyone who saw the game knows that the wild screaming fans at the Wachovia Center were not among those trying to get fighting banned from hockey.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Waiting for the 'Big' one

Four more days. That's all we have left for baseball trading. Sad, really, because there doesn't appear to be much excitement over available players, with exception to the Big Ugly in Arizona. Did Bud Selig get a deal on ambien and pass it around to the GMs at the All-Star Game?

Once the Big Ugly gets traded, the rest will fall into place. If he goes to Anaheim, expect the Yankees to scramble for the next best thing. And if he goes to the Red Sox, Steinbrenner will collapse again, and from the hospital, he will summons Wells and Clemens back to New York to be by his championship bedside.

And after the dealing of the Big Ugly, what other legitimate excitement is there? Nomar Garciaparra won't go anywhere because the Red Sox need his bat to win this year. Kris Benson was great in college, average ever since. Carlos Delgado appears to be as dumb as his team is bad and has kindly invoked his no-trade clause to block getting out of Canada. Strange, eh?

The rest of the names being circulated are marginal at best. A middle reliever never put anyone in the seats, except for Mike Stanton, who puts fans in their car seats once he comes into the game. A backup infielder or fifth outfielder can win a game or two, but that's about it. Ooooooh, exciting stuff.


So, it all comes down to the Big Ugly. And when he gets dealt -- and he WILL get dealt -- the other teams will scramble for trash. Only Anaheim owner Arte Moreno will be happy with the dealings because he's the guy getting the Big Ugly. What are the chances Moreno pulls out another famous line by a West-Coaster and text-messages Brian Cashman's cellie with "Domino, m---- -----!"

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ricky's gone? Too bad

Yes, sports fans, it's true. Ricky Williams is gone. He traded in the wedding dress, the dreads, the funny cigarettes and the shtick for a one-way ticket to Asia.

It's a tremendous loss for the city of Miami, the NFL, and the poor, broken-hearted Dolphins fans. But in thousands of households across the nation, millions of people slept a little easier last night, grateful that Williams is gone and hopeful that it's for good.

You see, there is a game people play -- a game called fantasy football -- where the real-life comings and goings of NFLers can make or break you. When a superstar like Williams hangs up the cleats in the prime of his career, it can destroy a team anchored by his prodigious running and his prolific touchdowns. And when you are one of the owners lucky enough not to have His Hairness on your team, you really can't help but feel giddy over your opponent's misfortune.

To the ill-fated owners whose hopes have been waylaid, we offer this: Boo hoo. "That's a bummer," in the words of noted empath Steve Mariucci.

Good luck trying to rebuild your sorry teams. In the meantime, try not to think too much about what might have been. We promise to buy you some Kleenex just as soon as our first-place check clears.

More from Newsday.com:

  • Ricky Williams retires. Read more
  • Bob Glauber's NFL rumblings. Read more
  • Ricky, don't lose that spirit

    So much for the theory that only the Internet IPO people of the late 1990s are allowed to retire rich and young.

    Ricky Williams burst through that notion like it was the A-gap created by his former teammates on the offensive line.

    Ricky, congratulations. You've accomplished something that every hater of your decision dreams of -- quitting a job before 30 with a bankroll that could choke a hippo.

    The "fans" and the FFFs -- Fantasy Football Freaks -- will flood the talk radio shows and their corresponding e-mail inboxes with none-too-pretty comments about Williams. You're all schmucks. How many of you, if presented with the chance to quit your job and travel the world and do whatever without any financial care, would still wake up and catch that early train to the office each morning?

    Raise your hands. I'll wait.



    There, that didn't take too long. The answer is zero. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And any other word you associate with nothingness.

    Much props to Williams for his decision. A few years ago, I toyed with the idea of walking into a bank, asking for a $2 million loan, then going out and living life for a while. Why the heck not? I'd have the rest of my life to work and pay it off. What good is driving a Mercedes convertible when you're 57 and waiting for AARP's monthly newsletter? But the only collateral I had at that time was my 1984 Marcus Allen home jersey, a copy of "Fletch" on VHS and a few gift certificates to Tower Records.

    Williams worked for five years, made his loot and can now experience life any way he sees fit. Ricky, if you're reading this, I sit in awe of you this morning.

    And just a little bit jealous. Got any room on the floor? I promise not to snore.



    Friday, July 23, 2004

    No one's immune to this drug

    Lance Armstrong. Marion Jones. Barry Bonds. Three people with a lot in common.

    They're superstars, first of all, each in his or her own sport. They have overcome obstacles, succeeding in ways no one thought possible. And now they are united in a new challenge, vastly different from any they have encountered before.

    With the specter of possible steroid use looming perilously above, one of the most fascinating aspects of the scandal is just how deeply each of these athletes have been affected, and how they've each dealt with the criticism in different ways.

    Armstrong, a virtual shoe-in to win his sixth straight Tour de France, last week lashed out at the French media, whom he claimed were attempting to raid his hotel room in a search for evidence of steroid use.

    "It's scandalous," Armstrong said of the alleged incident, later opining that "in France, they're after us."

    He also fired back at criticism from three-time Tour winner Greg Lamond, a fellow American who suggested that Armstrong "would do anything to keep his secret."

    Friday, during the Tour's 18th stage, he doggedly chased after Italian rider Filippo Simeoni, who has testified against a controversial sports doctor with whom Armstrong has ties

    Jones, considered by many to be the fastest woman alive, has attempted to maintain her squeaky-clean image by addressing accusations head-on in the media and taking a polygraph test last month.

    It will be interesting to see whether she can keep up a brave face, especially as her former coach, ex-husband, and current boyfriend are all investigated regarding their involvement in the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative steroid scandal.

    In stark contrast to Jones' approach, Bonds has been notably quiet, declining to discuss the BALCO case as he inches closer to Hank Aaron's career home run mark of 755.

    While controversy continues to swirl around Bonds and the legitimacy of his quest to become the greatest slugger of all-time, his strategy of silence appears to be working. He has managed to steer clear of any major media firestorms this season, although that is at least partially due to the sudden attention surrounding Jones and Armstrong.

    Armstrong. Jones. Bonds. Three athletes of similar stature with the same problem, dealing with it in different ways. Each hoping -- whether he or she is guilty or not -- that what they say (or don't say) will be enough to exonerate them. Unfortunately, that ingores the sad truth about the BALCO case: Everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

    Too little, too late

    Over the last four months, the Mets have played some surprisingly good baseball at times. Leaving behind the torpid legacy of overpaid, underperforming laggards (Mo and Robbie, we hardly knew ye), they've managed to assemble a group of dedicated, hard-working players who compete harder on the field than they do in contract negotiations.

    Wednesday night's debut of 21-year-old third baseman David Wright was another breath of fresh air for the Mets, who are already relying heavily upon another neophyte, Jose Reyes, to lift them to contending status.

    Yet with all the talk and media attention on the positive storylines of the Mets' youngsters, there is an equally large spotlight shining on the team's NL East playoff race. The story goes that the Mets' starting pitching, held together by duct tape and melted Skittles, needs a boost to keep the team in the hunt.

    So along come the rumors about Kris Benson. Fans, energized by pennant fever, soon begin tossing out names like Scott Kazmir and Ty Wigginton as possible trade bait. They know that this annual time of madness in baseball can provide the lift a team needs to win a pennant.

    But the Mets are 47-48. They are locked in a race against three teams that are all probably better than they are. They have a shaky pitching staff and a shakier bullpen. That's hardly something that can fixed by a band-aid.

    Kris Benson, a good pitcher and no doubt a fine gentleman, is not the caliber of performer to patch up the Mets' shortcomings. Agonizing as it may be, the Mets are a young team learning how to win by losing in some pretty excruciating ways. There's no reason to believe that that will change with the addition of one decent starting pitcher from Pittsburgh.

    Slowly, guys like Wright, Kazmir, and Reyes have the potential to be the backbone of something exciting at Shea. But first, a little patience would serve the Mets well.

    Now is not the time to panic; now is the the time to watch the youngsters rise and fall and rise again. Now is not the time to dump homegrown talent in favor of hired guns; now is the time to make sure the Mets fans have a reason to come back next season.

    Read more on David Wright's debut: Click here.
    Newsday's Jon Heyman on the Mets: Click here.
    Photos from Wright's debut: Click here.
    Ask Newsday's Bob Herzog for his thoughts: Click here.

    Thursday, July 22, 2004

    Stanco Franco

    Had $20 on the Mets today, laying 1 1/2 runs. My logic was simple: a) I figured Tommy Glavine's streak would end. He's due for a win and maybe David Wright would do something worthy of his hype; b) the money line wouldn't pay out enough, so I played the spread, hoping for that retirement-inducing financial windfall; c) I'm not the smartest man in town.

    It was a commercial on the Yankees game, another El Duque masterpiece by the way, so I flicked over to the Mets game. I saw John Franco on the mound for the Mets in a 1-1 game. Within seconds, "Rounders" was on my screen. Teddy KGB just flipped over pocket aces and Mike McD was done. McD went all in and he was soon all out.

    Did I hit the DVD remote? Did my television give birth to picture-in-picture technology overnight?

    Sadly, no. It was still the Mets game, Franco still on the mound. But I knew before the cards were turned over. Franco would blow it, I'd be out $20 and my Vegas pipe dream needed Liquid Plumbr AND some Drano.

    Not raising Arizona

    The prospect of the Yankees landing the Big Unit does not make me feel Randy.

    I'm a real Yankee fan -- that is to say I witnessed Dave Winfield's 300th career homer at the Stadium and I know Don Mattingly wore No. 46 before switching to No. 23 -- and I don't want Randy Johnson anywhere near the Bronx.

    Call me crazy, or worse if you so desire, but here's my reasoning. Enough is enough. Acquiring the Unit will render the playoffs as meaningless as the regular season. Yes, the object is to win, but let's take a flyer on the rotation the way it is now.

    Remember 1996? You never knew how a Yankee pitcher would fair in a game, and it made every one exciting. Before Pettitte earned his big-game status in Game 5, he got crushed in Game 1 by 19-year-old Andruw Jones. Coney's arm could have fallen off his body at any point like he was Simon from "Airplane 2." Jimmy Key was older than any Cuban defector. And then there was the Gambler, Kenny Rogers, who never met a lead he couldn't surrender. But the Yanks won every game the Gambler started. That was some real excitement.

    Now we have the surgically repaired El Duque, the strikeout-challenged Lieber, a parasitic Kevin Brown, the enigmatic Contreras, homer-happy Vazquez and grumpy pants Mussina. Just the motley sort of miscreants I want heading into the postseason. A group that can make any game interesting.

    So keep the Bitter Unit out of the Bronx. Besides, mullets are forbidden on Steinbrenner's teams.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2004

    Meet the Keyboard Quarterbacks

    Welcome to Keyboard Quarterbacks, Newsday.com Sports' daily updated web log designed to tackle the quirky, offbeat, and controversial issues. Our goal is to debate, delight, annoy and, occasionally, inform.

    You're probably asking yourself "Who are these Quarterbacks of the Keys? These Monsters of the Mousepad?" We're glad you asked...

    Mark La Monica, a former high school writer for Newsday, recently joined the staff of Newsday.com as the evening sports news manager. He rarely wakes up before noon.

    Mike Casey is the morning sports news manager who has previously worked at the Baltimore Sun. He occasionally makes it into the office on time.

    Just get it done

    Embarrassing. What else do you call a major professional league getting undercut by a rogue outfit, out of business for 25 years?   
      
    In a gaunt attempt for publicity Saturday, the World Hockey Association, defunct since it went bankrupt in 1979, delivered a hard slash to the NHL’s credibility by conducting a free agent draft in which all professional hockey players, including those already under NHL contracts, were up for grabs. The Boston Bruins’ Joe Thornton and former Ranger Eric Lindros were among the lucky chaps selected in the first round. The WHA’s hope is that the current NHL labor impasse will drag on and eliminate the upcoming NHL season, clearing the way for the WHA to sign some of hockey’s biggest stars.
     
    But even with a few big names under contract, it’s hard to believe that a league that boasts a homeless team named the "founders franchise" would do much long-term harm to hockey's aristocracy. The boys at the NHL possess too much international credibility and the fierce loyalty of millions of hockey-mad Canadians to be seriously affected.
     
    For the NHL, the biggest problem is already rising to the surface: Intense criticism from fans and pundits alike has slammed the league for an increasing lack of credibility as one of the four major American sports. In addition to being in serious danger of entering the 2004-05 season without a network television contract, the league faces the erosion of a loyal fan base exhausted after years of unsuccessful rule tinkering meant to increase scoring. As the league spins towards a seemingly inevitable work stoppage, "Are you out of your minds?" seems like the only real question left to ask.
     
    Players and owners need to take a look at the pro sports landscape, recognize that their long-term success (and survival) is contingent upon the lucrative American market, and stop gnawing at the hand that feeds them.
     
    Get a deal done, NHL, or risk slipping even further from the consciousness of the average American sports fan.
     
    Read about the WHA draft
    here.




    Sleep deprived or just plain dumb

    For reasons unavailable at type time, I lifted my ban on ESPN's SportsCenter. Boy, what a lucky night for me because I witnessed the "Total Sports Network" once again make a total mockery of itself.

    The hype to start the show surrounded the Dream Job champion's debut on SportsCenter. Not Eddie George's decision to ask for his release from the Titans and not the Cardinals-Cubs fiasco with Jim Edmonds and Carlos Zambrano. I had to wait until Linda Cohn congratulated the Dream Job champion (name withheld, since he got enough free pub on the show), who in turn had a few quick snippets of what at least one person perceived as comedic input. I was not that person, but I was hoping for Steve Berthiume to run out onto the set and scream "Say hello to my little friend!!!!!!!"

    SportsCenter has become what it once tried to change. It's a joke of a sports show, with every anchor trying to find a schtick that makes them the most imitated sportscaster in the local dive bar. It's sad, really, to watch this once-bright beacon of sports fade away into an ignominious well of despair. It's like watching Evander Holyfield try to box now -- funny, but at some point, you start to feel bad and have no choice but to unplug the television.

    ESPN is in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary. Perhaps the honchos up there in Bristol should take a look back at what made the program so successful. Boo-yah!