Sports

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pitarresi: Belichick decision not that dumb

Ordinarily, I say punt.

 

Bud Wilkinson, the old Oklahoma, winner of 46 in a row, once said he could never remember a time he was sorry he punted, and but could recall several times he was sorry he didn’t. I fall on that side of the line, especially when you are deep in your own territory.

 

That said, I am not sure New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is as much of an idiot as he’s being made out to be today, after trying to convert a 4th-and-2 from his own 29 with just over two minutes to play while protecting a six-point lead against the Indianapolis Colts.

 

Was it dumb to do that? Yeah. It didn’t work. But had the Patriots converted – and they nearly did – Belichick would be being celebrated as a gutsy genius. Had Tom Brady been able to hold the ball a split second longer, had Kevin Faulk been able to get a couple of steps deeper, had Faulk not bobbled the ball, the Patriots would have won.

 

Belichick, not the most simpatico guy in the world to begin with and a target of a lot of envy because of his success, is being pilloried today. One angle is that he sent a message hat he had no confidence that his defense would be able to stop Peyton Manning on a 70-plus yard drive, which is probably how far the Colts would have to go had New England punted.

 

Maybe, but you could also argue that he had plenty of confidence in his defense. The Colts still had to score. Yes, there is a huge difference between 29 yards and 70 yards, and you are playing against one of the great quarterbacks of all time, but the Patriots had a chance to stop them.

 

So, the Patriots lose an opportunity for home field throughout the playoffs. Again had I been the coach, I would have punted, but I don’t think Belichick’s call was quite as dumb as it is being made out to be. Have a yard more, and today he’d be an even bigger genius than he usually is made out to be.

 

 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pitarresi: Setting the record straight

After LeMoyne College defeated Syracuse University's basketball team in an exhibition game a couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this space that the Orange hadn't lost to a New York State team since 1957.

That's not true, of course, and at least a couple of readers took me to task for my clumsy attempt at hyperbole and my lack of precision.

What I wanted to convey was that it has been a long time since SU has lost to another team from the state, AT HOME. Obviously, I did a poor job. I picked 1957 out of the air because I mistakenly thought it was sufficiently remote that everyone would realize it was an exaggeration. I should have written "1906" or "since Jim Boeheim was in diapers," but those might not have worked, either, given the eagerness with which readers rush to be offended. Or correct dim-witted sportswriters. And I did not qualify the statement with "at home." No excuse there.

However, I am fully aware that SU has lost many games to New York teams since 1957. I have written many times, for example, that Colgate last beat the Orange in 1962. I'm pretty good at math, and I calculate that was at least five years after 1957. I also grew up a Niagara University basketball fan, and I know the Purple Eagles won four out of five from the Orange from 1968 through 1970, with Calvin Murphy contributing games 68 and 50 points. After the 68-pointer, Roy Danforth was asked what he thought of Murphy. Always good for a laugh, Danforth replied that, "He doesn't go to his left very well." In 1976, in Danforth's last season as head coach, SU lost to St. John's and Niagara in a span of four days. Since Boeheim took over the next season, however, losses to Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure have been rare to nonexistent. St. John's is another matter. Boeheim has won 36 of 56 games against St. John's, so - and here's the math thing again - that's at least 20 in-state defeats. St. John's is located in Queens, which is part of New York City, which is still part of New York State, until further notice.

Some readers became very irritated by that blog. One wrote - you can check back below - that it was "another worthless article by a frivolous writer." I first thought he wrote "priceless" and "marvelous," but, no, that was just another error on my part. Worthless? Yeah, I guess. After all, it's on-line and it's free! And you're not required by law to read it. Frivolous? I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means, or there is going to be a fight.

To set the record straight, St. John's defeated SU 64-60 on Jan. 21, 2007 in New York. That's the last Orange loss to a New York State team. If you took my statement literally, I'd only be off by half a century. St. John's defeated the Orange 75-70 on Jan. 27, 1999 at the Carrier Dome. I've triple checked that, and it appears to be the last Syracuse loss to a New York State team at home. I still had a lot of dark hair back then.

I hope that makes everyone happy now, but I seriously doubt it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pitarresi: Agassi impresses

I’m not a big tennis guy, but I like the game.

 

One thing I don’t like about it is all the drama, and over-the-top, self-absorbed personalities. Andre Agassi was one guy who sometimes annoyed me, although not as much as some, but he’s won me over.

 

Agassi’s new book, “Open,” which details his trials as a player and person, has drawn a lot of reaction, much of it negative. He criticized by Marat Safin and Martina Navratilova, for example. I haven’t read the book, but I have heard Agassi interviewed, and he comes across as a truly thoughtful, candid, sincere man who has battled and is battling a lot of demons, and is doing a good job of it.

 

Why write the book, as Safin asked? Part of the reason is that Agassi thinks his story is a cautionary tale, which it certainly is. I didn’t see him on “60 Minutes” Sundaydid listen to Dan Patrick interview him today, and it was sensational. One of the greatest things that can happen to a journalist is to have someone truly bare his or her soul to you.  Patrick asked good questions, Agassi gave great answers, and the result was a terrific, close-to-the-bone look at one of the most accomplished athletes of our time.

 

Trying to sell books? Okay, fine, that doesn’t the diminish the sincerity or the power of the story.

 

One last thing:

 

Today, give a thought and maybe say a prayer all our veterans, men and women, many of whom gave their all, all of whom gave us plenty. They cannot be over praised.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pitarresi: Tough guy Evashevski started at Hamilton

 

 

Forest Evashevski died the other day. Evashevski was a savage blocking back for Tommy Harmon and captain at Michigan. He began his coaching career at Hamilton College in 1941, then gained famed for winning two Rose Bowls at Iowa in the 1950s. His best known player probably was Alex Karas, who went on to a great career with the Lions, then was as a Monday Night Football commentator and actor. Evashevski and Karras had an all-out fistfight when Karras played for the Hawkeyes. Not too long ago Evashevski said he got a call from Karras apologizing for his behavior – like 50 years after the fact. Which sounds just like Alex Karras.

 

Waterville’s Milt Jannone, Hamilton’s first All-American, played for Evashevski, and so when Jannone was inducted into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, I called Evashevski in Florida to get his recollections  He told me that Jannone, a great all-around athlete, was better than any back he had at Iowa. Jannone pooh-poohed that, but it was a great compliment.

 

Evashevski had a reputation as a very tough guy, a stern taskmaster who many players hated, but he also was revered by many as a builder of men and father figure. I know when I spoke to him – he was 81 or so at the time – he was as pleasant and as engaging as could be.

 

Evashevski’s College Football Hall of Fame plaque, by the way, rests in the trophy case in the lobby of the Hamilton gym. I imagine there are very few people at the college who have any idea who he was. He’s was there just one year before going into the Navy, but I guess he liked the place, which is nice to know.

 

Pitarresi: Kudos to the Evans family

Everyone seems stunned by LeMoyne’s 82-79 exhibition basketball victory over Syracuse Tuesday.

 

Some SU fans see it as the end of the world, others just toss it off.

 

My thoughts? Congratulations to Rome’s Steve Evans, the Dolphins’ coach – and his dad, Stan “Buddy” Evans – for their victory. I think it is great. LeMoyne gets some good ink, air time, and a lot of confidence, and SU isn’t really hurt much, unless ….

 

Unless the Orange get off to a slow start in the regular season, in which case everybody is going to remember this game and Jim Boeheim and his players will never hear the end of it.

 

At the other end, Steve Evans downplayed the win, saying it was just an exhibition and that SU would be just fine. Probably so, and a smart and classy move by Steve, but he has to be walking on air. No New York State team had beaten SU in a game, exhibition game or - I'm assuming - scrimmage since about 1957.

 

One thing the game did was set off an eruption of comments on syracuse.com. I check in there every now and then when I want to get thoroughly depressed about the state of civility and the level of intelligence in our society, or if I want a good laugh. Today, I got a good laugh, thanks to the people discussing why LeMoyne is known as the Dolphins (a Christian symbol) and SU is known as the Orange (supposedly based on Protestant King William of Orange, although now I’m having trouble verifying that.)

 

Someone wrote that that there are no dolphins around Syracuse, so another guy writes that there are no oranges, either. Then another writes that SU has that name because the nickname used to be “Orangemen,” which, he claims, is another name for American Indians. What!?!? And I don't think the guy was horsing around.

 

 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pitarresi: Williams' departure hurts SU

 

Mike Williams has quit the Syracuse football team.

 

I’m not sure what his reason was, but I’ll bet you’ll read about it in the national media. For years now, every time there is a controversy involving an SU football or basketball player, the local media get stony silence from the coaches and administrators, and then someone blabs to ESPN or Sports Illustrated.

 

But …

 

I don’t care why Mike quit. I just know this is not a smart move for him and it’s a big blow to the team. Williams is SU’s biggest talent, and I think he would have been no worse than a second-round selection in next year’s NFL draft. I’m not sure what his quitting does to those prospects, but I’m certain it can’t be good. Meanwhile, the Orange are robbed of their most explosive player and the only one who has shown he can stretch a defense vertically.

 

Williams has been an obvious talent since he arrived from the mean streets of Buffalo in 2006. He can run, jump, catch and block. Without him, SU is much less dynamic. Maybe one of the other receivers can take up the slack, but SU has seldom has shown the desire to go deep even with Williams in the lineup. Without him, I think they might be condemned to the low-risk football that won the Akron game but is unlikely to work against Pittsburgh and the remaining Big East teams on the schedule.

 

I don’t know what this is all about with Williams. He was out of school last year because of academic issues. When I spoke to him in the spring, he seemed a much more mature young man, someone who learned his lesson, and knew what the score was. He said he had grown up, and it really seemed like it. And he was having a really good season until he was suspended for the Akron game last week for violating team rules. Maybe one thing led to another and he didn’t want to deal with school or discipline any more.

 

The bottom line is the decision is bad for Mike Williams, and worse for the SU football team.