Sports

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pitarresi: Football at the Dome: Be there

Be at the Carrier Dome Friday.

 

New Hartford versus Whitesboro – for seemingly the 30th time in the last 10 years – and Westmoreland against Weedsport.

 

These are going to be terrific high school football games, and they’re for Section III championships. All three of the local teams are high energy and fun to watch. They play tough, smart, well-coached football, and it will be well worth the $5 or whatever it is to get into the Dome.

 

I’d be there even if I had to pay! Yes, I get in for free, but, remember, Ron Moshier, Anne Delaney have to work the whole time, slaving over hot notebooks, and while you can sit there, eat Dome Dogs – although I’d advise against that – and nachos and drink, well, I don’t’ think beer at high school games, but something.

 

Seriously, this is going to be terrific, highly competitive high school football. Be there.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pitarresi: "Frillies" too much for Yankees

I wonder what the New York Post thinks of the “Frillies” now?

 

Tuesday, the cover of the Post going into the World Series screamed “GOTHAM TREMBLES The Frillies are coming to town!” and carried a doctored photo of Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino in a skirt. Pretty funny.

 

Inside, several trash-talk stories excoriated the Phillies and Philadelphia from every possible angle. In one, Yankee fans dumped on their City of Brotherly Love counterparts for numerous sins, the chief of which seemed to be throwing beer. Yankee fans, apparently, don’t do that. A chart comparing the two municipalities marked Philly down in every category, including sandwiches, Philly cheesesteak against with a barely printable reference to Derek Jeter’s superior love life. They dragged the Phillie Phanatic through the dirt, too. Not very nice.

 

It was hilarious, really, even if it is 7th grade humor. It read like an edition of the World Weekly News, which I used to love to read. That checkout line rag ran outlandish stories, like the one about Adolf Hitler coming back from South America at age 100 to help Saddam Hussein fight the United States; or the lady who was kidnapped by a sasquatch on a camping trip and ended up liking him so much she refused to go back with her husband when he came to rescue her, or “Attila the Honey,” which claimed, at a time that women in combat and gays in the military were big issues, that the conqueror of Rome really was a girl.

 

I think Vince McNamara was jealous, and I’m sure publisher Rupert Murdoch was proud. The problem is, Cliff Lee and Chase Utley led the "Frillies" to a 6-1 victory in the opening game.

 

So what Yankee will the Post put a skirt on tomorrow morning?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pitarresi: Marrone backs off, SU builds confidence

I don’t know how much Syracuse’s 28-14 football victory Saturday over Akron means.

 

The Zips are a struggling team with a freshman quarterback, and it was clear that the Orange had more athletes. Maybe not a lot more, but more.

 

A win was badly needed, however, over anyone, especially with fifth-ranked Cincinnati, playing perhaps the best football in its history, coming to the Carrier Dome next Saturday. It is something to build on, for sure, and it least gives the Orange some confidence and belief.

 

The most interesting thing about the game was how SU coach Doug Marrone changed his offensive style. He wouldn’t say he did, but it was apparent that, with Delone Carter running 30 times (for 170 yards), and Greg Paulus and part-time quarterback Ryan Nassib taking few chances downfield, he was looking for strong, fundamental, low-risk football. The suspension of wide receiver Mike Williams had something to do with that, and it was especially true after Ryan Bartholomew, a starting guard who is filling in at center for injured Jim McKenzie, unleashed several incredibly bad snaps when SU lined up in the spread or shotgun or whatever you want to call. And Paulus, an artful dodger on the field and also of probing questions, obviously was under orders to not take chances, although he would never say that.

 

The Orange played it safe, going downfield only when the coaches determined that the situation was perfect.

 

Will that approach work against Cincinnati? Probably not, especially if the Orange let up a long return or two, as they did against the Zips, like Dashan Miller’s 98-yard TD sprint with the second half kickoff. Or if they drop another punt, as Mike Jones did in the first quarter.

 

However, it’s a win. It’s a positive. The guys are up. They believe a little more in themselves. So Marrone’s dial-back was a good idea.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pitarresi: Honesty not always the best policy

 

We all were told, when we were little kids, that honesty is the best policy.

 

Well, that isn’t true. Not all the time.

 

We all know the proof of that. It’s starts with the question, “Do I look fat in this dress?”

 

I don’t know if Magic Johnson is being honest in the new book he wrote with Larry Bird and Jackie McMullan, especially the parts where he derides Isaiah Thomas. Supposedly peeved because Thomas raised questions about Johnson’s sexual orientation after he revealed he had HIV in 1991, Johnson says in “When the Game Was Ours,” that nobody on the 1992 Olympic team – Michael Jordan, Bird, Karl Malone, Scotty Pippen – wanted to play with Thomas.

 

Thomas was left off that team, which was perhaps the greatest collection of basketball talent ever. That had to hurt, and now Johnson has made it worse.

 

These guys were among the greatest ever to play the game, but their day is long since past, which probably is one reason for the book. Some fans might regard it as a honest look at an exciting era of basketball, but it might just be a grab for cash and publicity. I guess it is morbidly interesting that all the big stars hated Thomas, but that isn’t exactly news.

 

I don’t think you have to lay everything on the line, especially if it hurts someone else, even if you don’t like the other guy. There are such things as decorum and compassion, which sometimes are as important as honesty.

 

I’d feel a lot better about it if Johnson had said what he had to say to Thomas’ face before it came out in a book. That would have been honest.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pitarresi: Willis, Motley got there first

Very knowledgeable sports fan Billy Richards wrote recently to say that Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference, and not Woody Strode and Kenny Washington of the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League, was the guy who broke pro football color line in 1946.

 

I wrote about Strode and Washington earlier this month after reading Alexander Wolff’s story on them in Sports Illustrated.

 

It looks as if Richards is right, at least about Willis. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Washington and Strode signed with the Rams in the spring of 1946. Willis and then Marion Motley signed with the Browns that summer. However, the Browns played their first game Sept. 6, 1946 and had three games under their belts by the time the Rams opened their season Sept. 29, 1946. Willis and Motley both played 13 of the 14 games, so one or the other or both played in one of the first two games. That means one or the other or both were the first blacks to play an official game after World War II. I’d credit all four – Washington, Strode, Willis, and Motley – with being pioneers, for sure.

 

The next year, by the way, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball since the 1890s. He might not have been able to if those guys hadn’t paved the way.

 

And if you don’t think the All-America Football Conference was big league, well, maybe not, but Paul Brown’s innovative team won the AAFC championship all four years of the league’s existence, then joined the NFL in 1950, reached the championship game six straight years and won the title three times. They were perhaps the most dominant team in pro football history.

 

The history of blacks in pro football goes back to the early days of the 20th century. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first documented black pro was Charles W. Follis, a former College of Wooster player who played for the Shelbyville (Ohio) Athletic Club from 1902 through 1906. There were others through the years as the NFL developed, the most famous being Fritz Pollard, who played for and coached the Akron Pros, and Paul Robeson, the entertainer, social activist and former Rutgers All-American.

 

There were no blacks in the NFL after 1933, however. It took Willis and Motley and Strode and Washington to change that in 1946.

 

 

 

 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pitarresi: Bearcats are scary

I was watching Cincinnati defeat South Florida Thursday night, doing some scouting for SU coach Doug Marrone – not really, because he hasn’t shown any interest in anything I have to say so far this season – and I became very, very frightened. The Bearcats are scary.

 

The Orange already have lost to USF this season, thanks in part to seven turnovers, and now they are looking at a Halloween date with the Bearcats, a team that once had very little impact on the big time college football scene and now is ranked No. 8. That’s after, of course, SU plays Oct. 24 against Akron, a team that gets little respect except that it beat the Orange 42-28 last season.

 

I was frightened because Cincinnati lost its terrific quarterback, Tony Pike, to a wrist injury early in the second half, leading 17-10. So in comes unimposing looking sophomore Zach Collaros, who almost immediately runs 75 yards for a touchdown, showing both speed and some shake. Then Collaros – who is from Steubenville, Ohio, which I think is where Dean Martin was from, although I’m pretty sure Dean didn’t play football – throws for a long gain to his tight end, Ben Guidugli, then overcomes a Guidugli penalty to score on a 3-yard run. The kid just has a great all-around game, and pretty soon it is obvious why the Bearcats are ranked so high, and why the No. 21 Bulls aren’t going to beat them. They have just as much or more talent, all over the place, and win 37-17. This is a very good football team.

 

SU hasn’t beaten Cincinnati since 2004. It will take a big effort to break that string Oct. 31.

 

Reader “Tony Soprano,” apparently unaware that he was breaking his own code of silence, chastised me the other day because he read about the subject of a recent blog onWoody Strode in Sports Illustrated first. Of course he did. The blog was written because I always liked Woody Strode and enjoyed the story about him and Kenny Washington. I did credit SI writer Alexander Wolff, although “Tony” didn’t seem to notice.

 

Tbat Strode and Washington broke the NFL color line in 1946 was something I knew about only vaguely. I’m sure most SI and O-D readers knew absolutely nothing about it, and I wanted to call attention to it. Yes, Wolff wrote the story. I commented on the story. It happens all the time.

 

See ya around some time, Tony.

  

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pitarresi: Rodriguez popularity might grow

 

Alex Rodriguez might be the least sympathetic sports superstar since Barry Bonds.

 

Even less. There are a lot of people who like Barry Bonds, despite his acidic personality. Rodriguez seems to get little affection even from most Yankee fans.

 

 There are reasons for that:

 

The incredible amount of money he makes. The comments he made about Derek Jeter before they became teammates. His former wife’s rude T-shirt messages. His fascination with celebrity, including his real or imagined dalliance with Madonna, and his current romance with Kate Hudson. And the impression he gives, intentionally or not, that it’s his world and the rest of it are here to bring him his coffee.

 

Then there is his mediocre record in post-season play. That’s where you make your reputation, which is why it seems about half the guys in the Baseball Hall of Fame are Yankees. Or maybe it’s because those guys were so good they were always in the World Series.

 

Well, Rodriguez is now making his reputation. It is difficult to argue that he is not supremely gifted, but in 39 post-season games with the Seattle Mariners and Yankees prior to this month, he had just six home runs, drove in 17 runs, and hit .261. In this week’s divisional series victory over the Twins, he had two home runs, six RBIs, hit .500, and had a 1.000 slugging percentage.

 

And, in Sunday’s clincher, he came up with the biggest hit of the game, ruining Carl Pavano’s night – and attempt to rescue his own damaged reputation – with his home run way over the right field wall to tie things at 1-1.

 

Two things there. The Yankees, even with the Twins’ bad base running and other failures, needed that home run very, very badly. And, not too many guys would have driven that high, outside strike out of there in right center Rodriguez, with his strength, reach, eyesight and coordination, could and did.

 

If he continues to deliver, sympathy will grow, no matter his past failures and all the other baggage.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pitarresi: Woody Strode, NFL Pioneer

   

The late Woody Strode was one of my favorite character actors.

 

He played the black gladiator who defeats Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus” and was one of the outlaws blown away by Charles Bronson in the atmospheric opening scene in “Once Upon a Time in the West.” I remember him best for two of his roles the John Ford films “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Sgt. Rutledge.” In the first he plays John Wayne’s hired hand - the movie is terrific, by the way, and Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance is one of the most imposing film villains of all time – and in the second, he is a black cavalryman who is unjustly accused of rape and murder. It’s one of the very first and very few Westerns in which a black man is the hero.

 

Way before that, however, Strode, of mixed black and Native American heritage, was an outstanding decathlete and great football player at UCLA. He, Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson started in the Bruin backfield in 1939. Everyone knows Robinson broke baseball’s color line in 1947. What almost no one remembers is that Strode and Washington, past their primes, broke football’s color line in 1946. By what some say was a silent agreement, no blacks had played in the National Football League since 1933.

 

Alexander Wolff has a terrific story in the current Sports Illustrated on the topic, mostly centered on Washington, but with plenty of stuff on Strode, too. Be assured, being the first black players in the league in 13 years wasn’t easy.

 

“Integrating the NFL was the low point of my life,” Strode once said. “If I have to integrate heaven, I don’t want to go.”

 

Strode died in 1994 at age 80. I have no idea if he did get to heaven – I hope so – and I sure hope he didn’t have to integrate it.

 

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pitarresi: Covering golf tournament was a pleasure

I covered the Turning Stone Resort Championship for six days, and I had a great time.

 

For one thing, I got to walk in inside the ropes, which is one of the perks of being a sportswriter, except it isn’t much of a perk because you are only like two inches closer to the action. I don’t even know how far you’re allowed to stray inside the ropes, so I didn’t. A couple of other guys would run over to the fairway now and then to check yardages on sprinkler heads, but I didn’t want to get hollered at. I remember the first time I covered a PGA tournament was at the B.C. Open. I was following Wayne Levi, standing right behind his caddy, looking in his bag. An official came over and told me I wasn't supposed to be there. Geez, I was embarrassed.

 

But, I’ve got to tell you, while covering Turning Stone is a lot of work – that’s what I told one guy who said he’d love to have my job – it’s a terrific time, too, and not just because the food in the press tent is excellent. I enjoy the banter and cooperation with my colleagues from the Observer-Dispatch, and trading barbs with Nick Sardina and Mike Doherty from cnygolfhome.com, Chris Wagner and Mike Waters from the Syracuse Post-Standard, John Kekis from the Associated Press, Marilu Lopez-Fretts from the Oneida Indian Nation and a few other people who don't understand my sense of humor. Everyone worked hard, and everyone- well, some of us - goofed around a little, too.

 

The Atunyote Golf Club is just sensational and terrifically maintained, even in terrible weather, by Matt Falvo and his crew – just ask the players – and the Oneida Nation staff and the people from the PGA Tour are extremely helpful. The amount of information the PGA provides – Mark Williams and Mark Stevens were on site - for each round could fill a sport section every day, and they always have an answer to your questions.

 

And the golfers? Terrific. Whether any of them are Top 30 money winners or not, they are  incredibly gifted, tremendously professional and almost universally good-natured. The guys in the playoff, Vaughn Taylor and Matt Kuchar, were exceptionally cordial – maybe I would be, too, if I had a chance to win more than $1 million and knew if I lost I’d still get $648,000. Kuchar, who looks like a tall 16-year-old, was like an extremely polite kid next door. And it was great to see how much he loves to play, rain, cold or whatever. He had an almost constant smile on his face for 78 holes, and that grin went ear to ear after he won.

 

Let's hope the tournament does get moved to a better date, or pray that the first week in October will be sunny and pleasant for the next 100 years. This is a very classy production, and, yes, it is a great thing for Turning Stone, but it is a great thing for the Central New York Community in general.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pitarresi: Point guard to the rescue

Hamilton College's Lance Wilson pulled a Division III Greg Paulus act Saturday, at least for a day, making the transition from basketball point guard to football quarterback.

 

The 5-11, 200-pound junior from Plymouth Meeting, Pa., came into Saturday's game with Wesleyan with the Continentals down 14-6 midway through the second quarter, after starter Dan Peters took a hard hit.

 

Wilson, strong and agile, made a slew of big plays, completed 22 of 33 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns, and rallied the Continentals to a 26-14 victory.

 

He averaged 8.5 points and 3.2 assists last winter for the 18-7 Hamilton basketball team.

 

 Of course, Paulus, the former Duke point guard, had a horrifying day Saturday with five interceptions - not all his fault, but that's bad enough - in Syracuse's 34-20 loss to South Florida. Lance won't want to imitate Greg to that degree.


Colgate's football team is for real, again.

 

The Raiders rolled up 334 yards on the ground, with Nate Eachus  back at tailback, backed up by Jordan McCord, and 561 in all in downing Cornell.

 

The 5-0 Raiders play at Princeton at 7 p.m. Saturday, and will be favored, especially after the Tigers' 30-0 loss to Columbia Saturday.

You can't count on anything in college football, but it looks more and more that the Patriot League championship at the Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth that goes with it will come down to the Colgate-Holy Cross game Oct. 24 in Worcester, Mass.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pitarresi: Learn from the best

I am occasional golfer.

And not a good one.

I love to play, but it's often a battle between my desire to hit the little white ball, my desire to catch a 20-inch brown trout, my need to go to work and earn a paycheck, and my responsibility to mow the lawn, wash the dishes and all that other stuff.

Anyway, I do want to improve my golf game - I could hit it further and more accurately at age 17 than I can now - so I try to pay attention to what some of the best players in the world at doing this week at the Turning Stone Resort Championship.

You can pick up all kinds of things, of course, many of which won't work for you because these guys are blessed with singular talent. However, there are some basics, and here are three that havejumped out at me this week and, really, the past few years.

1. All these guys keep the left arm very straight - or the right arm, in the case of southpaws. Everyone is told this when they first start out, but many casual golfers violate the rule somewhat and some make a shambles of it.

2. The body and the head are very still. Yes, most of the pros have a big turn, but the body does not sway, and the head remains steady throughout. As with the arm thing, it's a lot easier to hit the ball square if you at wandering all over the place.

3. The club head speed is tremendous. Obviously, that's a big part of getting distance.

You can train yourself to keep that arm straight, and to be still, although you might have to watch tapes of yourself or have a friend observe you to see how you're doing. Club head speed? Not so easy, but you can find ways to get stronger and improve your coordination, and you also can think about it - accelerate as the club head nears the ball.

The next time I play, I'm going to continue to work on all those things. I'll never get into the Turning Stone Resort Championship, but I can get better, and so can you.