Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pitarresi: Biddle a boon for Colgate

Dick Biddle will be the Colgate University football coach through at least 2012.

That’s good news.

My enduring image of Biddle is of him on the sideline during a 2003 NCAA I-AA playoff game against Massachusetts, hatless and – if I remember correctly – wearing a sweatshirt on a bitterly cold, windy, snowy day at Andy Kerr Stadium. The UMass players huddled by the heaters near the benches whenever they came off the field. The Raiders, perhaps taking a hint from their coach, ignored the weather, played football, won the game, and went all the way to the title game, losing to perennially powerful Delaware and finishing 15-1.

That was a remarkable season, but Biddle’s reputation has been built on consistent excellence. He’s 113-51 in 14 seasons, with six Patriot League championships, four league coach of the year awards, and one national coach of the year honor.

More than that, he rescued Colgate from football mediocrity, or worse. After many years of fair to good and sometimes poor teams, the Raiders enjoyed an outstanding run under Fred Dunlap from 1976 through 1987. After Dunlap retired, the Raiders went 27-60-1 in eight seasons, including 0-11 in 1995. Biddle took over, went 6-5 the next year, and the Colgate has pretty much been on a roll ever since.

An outstanding, perhaps great, college player himself, still remembered with awe by old-timers at Duke, Biddle is a big man and a tough guy. He's a pretty serious person, and some find him intimidating. Whatever he has to offer – and he gives plenty of credit to his assistants, several of whom, like offensive coordinator Dan Hunt, are long-timers – the players obviously respond to it.

So, again, Biddle at Colgate three more years? That’s good news.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pitarresi: Ultimate Fighting is brutal


I used to be a boxing fan.


I go back to the days of Rockie Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith, and Carmen Basilio. I watched dozens of fights, scores of them, with my grandfather when I was a little kid. My favorite boxer was Holley Mims, a journeyman welterweight who always was full of action for all six or eight rounds. I’ve covered a lot of boxing, too, and I maintain you haven’t lived until you’ve spent an evening right at the apron of the ring getting splattered by blood, sweat and snot. You want to get close to the action, that’s what you get.


I’m not much of a fight fan anymore, largely because I have seen the game at very, very close range in the ring and out, and, I think, also because so many fights are outright mismatches. I still admire the courage, skills, sacrifice, and preparation it takes to get in there, and I value physical and mental toughness, but, gosh, it is brutal.


Not as brutal, however, as Ultimate Fighting.


I nearly puked the other night watching Jon Jones sitting on top of Utica’s Matt Hamill and rocketing elbow after elbow into Matt’s face during their Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale showdown. I had to turn away a couple of times. No one ever should ever have to take that kind of beating. Hamill was totally helpless until Jones was given a warning for an illegal blow. You can throw elbows, believe it or not, but they have to be from 3 o’clock down, not from the top, or 12 o’clock. If it hadn’t been for the illegal blow, I guess the referee was going to allow Jones to continue until he was out of gas or Hamill was unconscious or dead.


Hamill won by disqualification, but who needs that kind of victory?


Matt Hamill is a tough kid, and he’s worked hard to make himself a national name, but look at the price he paid that night. Ridiculous.  


This was beyond brutal. It was nightmarish. Michael Vick and dog fighting? This was worse. I do not see the entertainment value. I wish it would go away.    

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pitarresi: Stay in your seat!

Friday night, the Utica College hockey team was trailing Hobart 6-4 in the third period.


The Pioneers had led 4-2 in the second, but the Statesmen scored three quick goals early in the third, then added another. 


However, with 1:57 to play, Hobart was penalized. UC coach Gary Heenan pulled goalie Anthony Luckow to give the Pioneers a two-man advantage with a faceoff in the offensive zone.


And, at that point, scores of fans were seen filing out of the stands and leaving the Utica Memorial Auditorium.




Yeah, it was unlikely that the Pioneers were going to tie the game, but not that unlikely. They get a goal going 6-on-4, and now it is a one-goal game, which means the issue is in doubt till the final horn. It didn’t happen, but it could have. You’ve seen it happen in hockey games more than once. I’ve seen teams score at the end of a period off a faceoff with under two seconds to play. Where were those people going?


I don’t understand that at all. It happens all the time at Syracuse University football games, and it happened even during the Orange’s win over Akron this year. You paid the money, you made a time commitment. Why would you take off, either with your team headed for a victory, no matter the opponent, or still having a chance for an upset win? You’ve got a hot date? Okay, maybe. Otherwise, even if you’re late for work, stay in your seat.


The classic example occurred in a 2002 football game at the Carrier Dome. SU, 3-6 at the time, and 8th-ranked Virginia Tech were tied at the end of regulation. On the first possession of overtime – it might have been the first play – SU’s Troy Nunes threw an interception. In an instant, thousands of “fans” began sprinting to the exits as if they were fleeing the Johnstown Flood.


I remember hollering down to people I knew from the open press box, “Where are you going?” They just shook their heads.


The problem was, the game went on for another half hour, with a couple of dozen plays and tons of excitement. And guess what? SU won, 50-42, a notable upset of a team that was regarded as one of the very best in the nation. The announced crowd of 48,239 was the largest of the season at the Dome. Not half of those people were there when the game ended. Too bad for them.


I’ve been going to games since I was four years old. I'm pretty sure I’ve ever left one early. I hope I never will.




Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pitarresi: Tiger in Trouble; Rautins is terrific

I would love to have won 14 major championships, and more than 80 golf tournaments all told, and be a multi-milliionaire with a beautiful wife.

All those things.

But I wouldn't want to be Tiger Woods this week.

Tiger's misadventure Friday night has made him a laughingstock. His explanation of his car crash just doesn't hold a drop of water - his wife's heroic rescue of him, smashing a back window and pulling him out of his SUV after he hit a fire hydrant and tree, is hilariously preposterous - but there might be no good way to handle this. A fairy tale might serve as well as anything else.

I always have loved Tiger Woods - his great talent, work ethic, and the way he has handled his fame. However, that very fame has made it so he can't just be a regular guy, and because of that he has insulated himself in many ways. Such insulation can lead to arrogance, a terribly unattractive quality, and Tiger is in danger of being perceived as an arrogant man. He has been guilty a few times in the past, especially when things haven't gone his way, blowing off the media or giving terse, less than candid answers after a poor performance. It has to be very difficult to be personable and amiable 24 hours a day, but ... Arnold Palmer managed it, most of the time. Jack Nicklaus, a much cooler personality, didn't for most of his career, which is why, though on the record Nicklaus was the more accomplished golfer, Arnold was the one most fans loved.

Does Tiger owe the public an explanation of what happened that night? He might owe some kind of explanation to the authorities, but, no, he doesn't owe anything to us. However, his image is going to change to some degree among a huge number of fans, and not for the better.

You can say Tiger can laugh it off, or that the world is his oyster no matter what the fallout from this incident, but I'm not trading places with him.

On Rautins:

Syracuse University seems headed for a big season on the basketball court.

This is a very, very talented team, and Jim Boeheim's statement last spring that his team would be well off despite the defections of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris has been prophetic. I thought he was nuts at the time. I'm waiting till the Big East season starts to see how good the Orange really are, but ... they're good!

A couple of reasons: a zone defense that is so extensive and intensive that most opponents are getting very few good looks, the addition of the supremely talented, smooth-as-glass Wes Johnson - even better than the SU people said he was going to be - and the leadership of Andy Rautins.

Rautins was an all-state player at Jamesville-DeWitt, but wasn't highly recruited. It was assumed Boeheim offered him a scholarship at least partly because his father had been a big star at SU. Boeheim doesn't do such things. He wasn't sure that Rautins would develop into the player he is now, but he bet that he'd be pretty good.

He was right. Rautins is a white guard, which equals "standstill shooter" in the minds of many fans and a lot of coaches. He is much more than that. His natural talent and size, his work ethic, and his experience playing for the Canadian national team against some of the best players in the world have made him into a difference maker. He can shoot, of course, but he also can pass and play defense and run the court.

More than anything, Rautins has developed into a very mature, very smart, exemplary player. There is no question who the leader of that team is. Sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously, Rautins encourages his teammates, calms them down, assesses situations, takes responsibility. That's the biggest thing. Taking responsibility.

SU is rolling right now, but the Big East will be a savage dog fight. The Orange will be ready for it, at least in part because of the leadership of Andy Rautins.