Monday, May 25, 2009

May Is Ladies Month

     By Scott Morganroth
     This year's Preakness Stakes on May 16 showed me how little I know about Horse Racing. 
     I've always assumed that the winning  jockey of the Kentucky Derby would automatically race in the Preakness Stakes and go after the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
     Boy, was I wrong!
     Instead of riding Kentucky Derby Winner Mine That Bird, Jockey Calvin Borel chose to saddle up 1,095 pound filly Rachel Alexandra in the 134th Preakness Stakes, and for the 11th time in Horse Racing History, a filly won a Triple Crown race.
     Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes since 1924 and the first to win from the 13th position. For a days work, she earned a first prize payday of $660,000 from a gross purse of $1.1 Million.
     But for Horse Racing fans, the Triple Crown drought continues at 31 years. Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1978. The only Triple Crown left is for Borel, who has not decided what horse he'll ride, on June 6 at the 1.5 mile Belmont Stakes.
     Mine That Bird is still an option for Borel but the Owners remain non committal about Rachel Alexandra's participation.
     On May 2, in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and Preakness, Mine That Bird started back in the pack and finished strong. Had the Preakness Stakes been a little longer, we could be looking at a Triple Crown accomplishment since Mine That Bird was a close second losing by a length in Baltimore.
     I believe that if Borel rides Mine That Bird at the Belmont Stakes, in Elmont, NY, then a genius cap would be the next attire for him to wear if he pulls off this unique Triple Crown.
     On Sunday May 24th, another female named Danica Patrick, who weighs 1/10 of Rachel Alexandra, was my sentimental favorite to win the 93rd Indianapolis 500.
     Patrick put on an outstanding performance by finishing third which was the best finish ever for a female driver at the Indy 500, in front of 250,000 fans in Indiana. As a rookie in 2005, Patrick finished the Indy 500 in fourth place.
     Even though Patrick didn't get to drink the milk in the winners circle, this young lady, who has led laps at the Indy 500 in the past, has turned out to be a great inspiration for her gender competing at the highest level in one of the most dangerous sports. 
     Last season, Patrick did win a race in Japan topping the guys but her performances at the historic Brickyard are something she can feel proud of and a building block for her career.
     So May Is Ladies Month and the theme is speed with gallant finishes along with dramatic & historical story lines.
     Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com 
     

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Days Sports TV Viewer's Dream

     BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
     There are certain times of the year that are more exciting in sports than others.
During the holidays, there is the bowl season, NFL playoff races along with college basketball, the NHL and NBA.
     Who can forget the September pennant races leading to the World Series in October? I enjoy this time of the year because Major League Baseball jams its post-season into 30 days, therefore it gets everybody fired up about the World Series.
     March Madness drives this country into hysteria because a lot of people participate in office pools and have a favorite university to follow as we anticipate upsets from the underdogs defeating the bigger schools in the 65-team NCAA Tournament.
     But the time of the year which is the most exciting is Memorial Day Weekend. I have been fortunate enough to have attended two Indianapolis 500s back in 1994 and 1995.
     My Detroit Monitor colleague George Eichorn and I went to our first in 1994. We went to the parade downtown and it just so happened that the Indiana Pacers were in the Eastern Conference Finals facing the NY Knicks. We walked over to Market Square Arena and we managed to get into the game by purchasing two stadium passes from an outside worker enabling us to watch the second half of an 88-68 Pacers victory.
     Indy 500 Day was a long one. We drove to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from our hotel at 5:00 a.m. It took 50 minutes to arrive. Watching Jim Nabors sing “Back Home in Indiana” and Florence Henderson (Carol, the mother on the Brady Bunch) be part of the weekend festivities, waving to the crowd at the parade was a sight worth watching. But until you've watched and listened to the late Mary Holman say “Gentleman Start Your Engines” you know that you're at one of the biggest spectacles in sports.
     When we departed back to Detroit on Memorial Day, we knew that the basketball/racing weekend was a blast and Indianapolis, Indiana., was the sports capital of the world.
     The Indy 500 experience was so fun that, I met my college buddy Stuart Bloom the following year in 1995. Bloom drove down from Minnesota and we did have a hotel 10 minutes from the track. We just went to nightclubs and interacted with die hard racing fans.
     This turned out to be a good move because in 1996, the open-wheel series split as CART and the Indy Racing League went their own ways. Eichorn and I covered the Inaugural US 500 at the Michigan International Speedway in the beautiful Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI.
     Last year, the open-wheel series did merge and the top competitors are back in the same 33-car field. It would be monumental if Danica Patrick, who has led the Indy 500 in past races, does win the biggest race on the planet. It would be a marketing bonanza for the Indy Racing League.
     In the late 1980s, the Detroit Pistons played on Memorial Day Weekends. In 1989-90, I bought a ticket outside Chicago Stadium and watched Detroit lose 99-97 to Michael Jordan's Bulls. The energy and electricity at the cozy Chicago Stadium brought chills down my spine.
The following day I covered a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field where I wrote a story on the late Harry Carey.
     The Detroit Red Wings lead the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. If NBC gets it's wish, this years finals could be a dandy because it will have an "Original Six" team in Detroit that has won 11 Stanley Cups, facing Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby in a rematch of last years finals. This would be the first time since the early 1970's that the NHL Finals had a rematch dating back to when the Boston Bruins faced the Montreal Canadiens.
     The Red Wings Penguins rematch could be an entertaining series to watch over Memorial Day Weekend because current Red Wings Marian Hossa and back-up goalie Ty Conklin played with Pittsburgh last year and left for Detroit because they felt they had a better chance to win a championship in Motown.
     Finally, who could forget the Coca Cola 600 from Charlotte, NC? The longest race of the schedule starts late afternoon and ends under the lights.
     I've enjoyed watching on TV Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon drive in this race and the Indy 500. It would be unbelievable to see one of these guys or anyone else wins both races.
     What makes Memorial Day weekend fun is even if you watch a lot of sports on Saturday and Sunday, there is still Monday to spend time with family, friends and to barbecue plus watch an NBA game. Nowadays, with Tivos and DVR's, no sports fan will miss anything including the MLB Game of the Week's on FOX and ESPN.
     I challenge any fan out here to tell me there is a more action packed Weekend in Sports than this one. The only one that comes close to matching it is Thanksgiving with the three NFL games featuring the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and the late contest, plus major college football match-ups, in addition to NBA and NHL action. But none of these games have championship implications.
     Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hockey's Spring Madness

     By Scott Morganroth
     While other sports post-season's are fun to watch, it's still hard to match the excitement of the NHL Playoffs.
     This is a tournament where at crunch time the officials call fewer penalties and swallow the whistle. If there is a penalty, it's going to have to be an obvious one because that one power play could be the decisive blow to a team's quest to put their name on the famed Stanley Cup Trophy.
     How about those marathon contests when the goaltenders show how valuable they are and make the Boston & New York City Marathons look like the 40-yard dash. We've seen premature whistles that can cost a team a goal when the official didn't see the puck with players scrambling in front of the net to jam the biscuit and put it in the basket. Those tired legs for the rest of the players remind me of jello in the grocery store. 
     How many other sports have each team shaking the other's ones hands when their series are complete? Sportsmanship is a great message to send to the youngsters watching.
     The NHL was fortunate to have three Game 7's for the first time since 2001, as the three conference semifinals went the distance. That's the good news. The bad news is, how many people actually saw these games on Versus? Not as many as there would be if any of the ESPN Networks or the Turner Stations had the television rights, or perhaps NBC would have added a game or two.
     So while NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman can be proud that he had outstanding match-ups and competition, the exposure could have been much better!
     But now the Frozen Four does consist of four USA based teams.
      Two of them are original six teams that are meeting for the first time since the 1995 Western Conference Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings series figures to do be a dandy with cities which have storied traditions. While there will be no Gordie Howe against Bobby Hull on the frozen pond, the goaltending match up features Detroit's Chris Osgood, who has won three Stanley Cups against Nikolai Khabibulin, the net minder who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the promised land.
     Khabibulin posted his 41st career shutout on April 12 blanking the defending champs 3-0 in Chicago. The Blackhawks also defeated Detroit on April 11, 4-2 however the Red Wings were without Marian Hossa and Kris Draper for both games and Nicklas Lidstrom for the finale.
     The upstart Blackhawks did an outstanding job winning two hard fought series in Western Canada against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. There is no doubt that Coach Joel Quenneville is telling his team to not become too over confident because his team swept the Red Wings during the final weekend of the season.
     What few people realize is the one thing these two cities have in common is Chicago is the home of the original comedy club called "The Second City" while Detroit added a "Second City" downtown.
     The Red Wings Game 7 heroics came with three minutes left as Daniel Cleary scored the game winning goal battling for the puck in front of the net for a 4-3 triumph.
     The NHL got a break when the Boston Bruins versus Carolina Hurricanes series went into overtime. These games started 30 minutes apart so the country didn't see all of both games. Bettman should have moved one of these games to Friday May 15 because as it turned out, there were no NHL or NBA Playoff Games on any network and hockey would have had the big stage all to itself.
     However, it didn't but as I just mentioned, overtime saved the NHL as Scott Walker scored the game winning goal 18:46 into the extra period to lift Carolina to the next round. It turned out to be Walker's first goal in is 25th playoff appearance.
     Boston was trying to accomplish what no other Bruins team has ever done and that's win a series when it trailed 3-1 but that was not meant to be as they dropped to 0-21 with two of those series reaching seven games.
     NBC had it's dream match-up a year ago when the Red Wings faced the Pittsburgh Penguins.      Can you imagine what the ratings would be if the Blackhawks or Red Wings faced the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals with these original six teams in large media markets?
     It's still hard to believe that the Bruins haven't won a championship since the early 1970's when Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Bobby Orr, Gerry Cheevers, Wayne Cashman to name a handful were fun to watch. 
     With the recent championship runs of the Red Sox, Celtics and New England Patriots, it's hard to believe that the Bruins have the longest drought in one of the best sports towns in the country. But the Bruins will once again have to wait until next year.
      Maybe by the time we see an original six finals, the national television contract will be greatly improved.
     While the final Game 7 didn't match the other's, the series between the Penguins and Washington Capitals was a classic. Washington's Alex Ovechkin outscored Sidney Crosby 14-13 in points but it didn't matter in the clinching game as the Capitals dropped a 6-2 decision.
     Crosby's first Game 7 of his career showed poise and no nervousness as he scored a pair of goals to raise his NHL leading playoff goal total to 12. In the Capitals series, Crosby has eight goals and five assists for 13 points while Ovechkin had 14 points. But Ovechkin will be trading his hockey stick for a golf club this summer.
     As we move forward, NBC still has a rematch of Detroit against Pittsburgh to look forward to and ironically, on February 1st, the Peacock Network watched the Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43 in Tampa. The only thing we won't see with this possible match up is Al Michaels and John Madden calling the action. 
     Yet how many Americans would be disappointed if Al Michaels and Ken Dryden called this series as they did the Miracle on Ice in 1980. But there is no doubt that Mike "Doc" Emerick and Ed Olczyk will do a fine job. The only thing they'll do differently in the Red Wings and Penguins sequel is that Hossa and Red Wings backup Ty Conklin have switched from the Gold and Black to the Red and White uniforms.
      But I'm looking forward to more intense hockey, officials swallowing their whistles letting the stars play, overtimes, etc. as all four teams have eight wins but there are eight more to go to reach 16 in their quest to raise the most prestigious trophy in all of sports.
     Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com 


     

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lions Running Back Charles Pierre

     By Scott Morganroth
     FAU running back Charles Pierre is a member of the Lions, but not the ones in Detroit. He'll be playing for the British Columbia Lions in the CFL.
     On Dec 26, 2008, Detroit fans had a chance to see a No. 20 at Ford Field in FAU's 24-21 win over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. 
     No. 20 in Detroit has been out of circulation with the Lions but has been proudly worn by Billy Sims and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
     I am surprised that the 0-16 Lions didn't give Pierre a tryout with the worst case scenerio being that the 5-9, 210 pound native of Orlando, could play on special teams. This is always a great way to make it in the NFL.
     I'll never forget when the Miami Dolphins selected quarterback Jim "Crash" Jensen as a second day draft choice out of Boston University. All Jensen did was play 12 seasons with the Dolphins as a quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, holder, and punt snapper.
     From 1984-1991, Jensen turned 229 receptions into 132 first downs. From 1984-1988, he recorded a reception in 55 of 63 games.
     I thought for sure when Jensen was drafted, he'd never make it through the summer since he played behind the late David Woodley and Don Strock. But Coach Don Shula liked Jensen's hands and versatility that he became a good blocker on special teams. Jensen would later become a weapon for Hall of Famer Dan Marino as well as an emergency signal caller.
     But Pierre could prosper in the CFL. Warren Moon led the Edmonton Eskimos to five consecutive Grey Cup Championships from 1978-82. Moon is ranked fifth on a list of the CFL's 50 greatest players.
     Doug Flutie was regarded as too small by scouts to play in the NFL because his 5-10, 180 pound frame would be a liability for him to see over defenders. However, after three Grey Cup Championships in an eight-year CFL career that enabled him to become the first non-Canadian inductee into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame on May 8, 2007, Flutie proved his doubters wrong and eventually worked his way to the NFL.
     Both Moon and Flutie took advantage of the wider and longer field and Pierre figures to benefit as well since there is no 55-yard line in the NFL with his breakaway style. Pierre will likely be the recipient of passes and could become a productive receiver out of the backfield. 
     In 1990, Flutie began his career with the British Columbia Lions. The only things that haven't changed from 1990-2009 is the fact that Pierre will need some heavier clothes, the passion that the city of Vancouver has for NHL's Canucks and Stanley Park reminds me a lot of Sea World in his hometown of Orlando.
     Vancouver is one of the prettiest cities I've ever visited. If  Charles performs well, and he is allowed to wear the BC Lions No. 20, these people would even wear it at Canucks games. But like Sims and Sanders, Pierre will still have the benefit of climate controlled dome conditions at BC Place which holds 59, 841 for football, slightly smaller than Ford Field's 65,000.
     But this will be a good stepping stone for Pierre to begin his mission to prove all NFL teams wrong by not giving him a shot to show his skills in the NFL. Now at least he can realize that Moon and Flutie did fine North of the Border.
     Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com





FAU Football's Business Plan

     By Scott Morganroth
     We all know how much college football is big business because the NCAA doesn't have a playoff system due to the revenues of the bowl season.
     In my two year association with FAU, I've spoken to Owls President Frank T. Brogan and Athletic Director Craig Angelos about the need to schedule guarantee revenue games to build the athletic department.
     Over the past few years, FAU has endured lopsided losses to Texas, Oklahoma State, Florida, South Carolina, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota and the University of South Florida to gain the extra revenue. This season, Nebraska and South Carolina will be on the schedule.
     Coach Howard Schnellenbger has watched his hair and mustache turn white and silver with these routs but has felt that these "Advance Training" contests have built character in his players to perform against the best competition in order to become better football players.
     That philosophy has worked because now FAU is sending players to NFL and CFL teams.
     Despite being the whipping boys to these national powers, FAU was won back-to-back bowl games.
     The Owls defeated Memphis in the 2007 Now Orleans Bowl 44-27 on Dec 21 and nipped Central Michigan 24-21 on Dec 26 in the 2008 Motor City Bowl. The carry over effect as to what transpired in Detroit occurred on Saturday April 18, as a record crowd of 2,011 fans watched a Spring Practice Game at the Oxley Center to get a glimpse of the 2009 squad.
     Because of FAU's success of building a program, former University of Miami Hurricanes Coach Larry Coker, 60, has contacted Schnellenberger to gain advice for his latest challenge at the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, who begin play at the Alamo Dome in 2011.
     There is one avenue Schnellenberger didn't use to build a program and that's the one which the Delaware State University Hornets are utilizing. The Hornets, a Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) team out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, has forfeited its Oct 17 contest against North Carolina A & T, to accept a $500,000 payout to face the University of Michigan (U-M) Wolverines at the "Big House" for the opportunity to play in front of 100,000 plus.
     Whether Delaware State can duplicate the success of what transpired on Sept 1, 2007 when Appalachian State University (ASU) pulled off the biggest upset in college football 34-32, remains to be seen. But the Hornets don't mind going into the season 0-1 facing a U-M program coming off it's worst season in it's 100 years plus history with a 3-9 record.
     But if the Hornets do pull off the win, one thing is guaranteed and that Coach Rich Rodriguez job status would place him on the hot seat. You can rest assure that the Wolverines and their fans will not take Delaware State lightly. There will be plenty of cardiologists at Michigan Stadium if the Hornets sting the Maize & Blue due to the rash amount of heart attacks that another monumental upset could create.
     As the NCAA has added that 12th game which leads to another non-conference game, it will be interesting to see if FAU and Michigan do meet. The Wolverines do know about the Owls since FAU lost a 17-0 decision to rival Michigan State in East Lansing on Sept 13, 2008.
     The Owls can thank Michigan's poor season which prevented the Wolverines from reaching their 34th straight bowl game. FAU's spot in the Motor City Bowl would have been taken by Michigan and there is no doubt that 65,000 would have packed Ford Field.
     I do know that the payouts for a guarantee game start at $500,000 and go even higher depending on the opponent. But the price of exposure especially if a team faces let alone wins against the all-time winningest program on college football history is priceless.
     Just ask ASU.
     Nevertheless, FAU's business plan with an old school architect coach is still sound even if some teams still take somewhat different paths where a loss before the season is a financial win at the end of the fiscal year.
     Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chuck Daly & I in Richfield, Ohio

By Scott Morganroth
When I was covering the Detroit Pistons on a regular basis, I'd occasionally take a nearby road trip.
There is one road trip I'll never forget in the early 1990's and that's when I saw the Pistons face the Cleveland Cavaliers in a nationally televised contest on a Sunday afternoon at the old Richfield Coliseum.
The Richfield Coliseum was located at 2923 Streetsboro Road, Richfield, OH 44286. The Coliseum was located between Cleveland and Akron.
The arena was torn down by a wrecking ball from 3/99 to 5/99. It was transferred to the National Park Service which runs the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. Now instead of basketball players roaming the court, the land is home to the deer and rabbits who run and roam the wild.
What made this trip so special were a couple things.
The Saturday night before the game, I stayed at the Pistons team hotel and went to dinner with Detroit's Assistant Coaches Brenden Malone & Brenden Suhr at Whitey's Restaurant.
We were watching a couple of NBA games on separate televisions. They were scouting other opponents while I was subdued and asked them basketball questions during commercials. It was a great time! These guys were class acts.
Twelve hours later, I had lunch with another Pistons Coach. His name was Chuck Daly. We sat in the Media Cafeteria and just talked. I asked Daly lots of questions off the record about his team but more importantly slipped a few in about life. He was nice enough to answer them, pat me on the back and shook my hand when the meal was over.
Daly told me the key to his squad's success is that he got his players to buy into the team first approach and not worry about individual statistics. He said this approach works well in life as well and thanks to his wisdom I've learned 18 years later, he is truly correct. He said he'd use his distribution of minutes to get his point across and the players knew he was in charge and respected what he was doing.
One of the things we joked about was the fact that in the Richfield Coliseum, he was 9-32 as coach of the Cavaliers in his first coaching job. He admitted that this was a learning experience but when Cleveland fired him, he always enjoyed coming back with a division rival and letting his former employer know they made a mistake by not giving him enough time to incorporate his system. But he told me that when he was dismissed, he was determined to turn a negative into a positive.
Did he ever.
It's hard to believe that Daly's first Pistons contract was a three-year deal for about $125,000 per season. He had a three-year contract at Cleveland in 1981-82 worth $500,000. But he took lesser money to come to Detroit and erase that blemish for another shot to become a successful NBA head coach which he undoubtedly did building a dynasty with the Bad Boys that led to a pair of championships.
Dealing with personalities like Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Rick Mahorn, role players such as James Edwards, Vinnie Johnson along with his stars Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and juggling their minutes made Daly look like Albert Einstein with his success.
He worked the same magic with the 1992 Olympic Dream Team which won the Gold Medal by dealing with more superstars. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, etc... turned out to be the icing on the cake for his Hall of Fame Career.
But when you think of all the success he had, it's still hard to believe that once upon a time, Daly like all of us had some tough challenges in the pros to overcome dating back to his days at the Richfield Coliseum.
It's also very ironic that by the end of June, the Cavaliers are considered the odds on favorites, led by LeBron James to win their first NBA title and Daly will not be alive to see it. Perhaps, deep down inside, he doesn't care, but we'll never know.
To date, he's still the all-time winningest coach in Pistons history. Detroit retired the No. 2 to honor his pair of titles. There is no doubt that late Pistons Owner Bill Davidson made sure his future contracts were much, much higher as his stature with organization and his influences are alive and well with the people he touched the most.
When I saw Pistons Vice President, Public Relations Matt Dobek and Dumars in town to see Detroit face the Miami Heat on April 15, there is no doubt that they went to Jupiter, Fla., on this trip to visit with Daly.
On the day that Daly died, Detroit News Columnist Terry Foster was correct when he said that it's been a tough period for the Pistons by mentioning that longtime scout and Hall of Fame Coach Will Robinson died last year and Davidson died earlier this year.
As much as I think of the great times I've spent with Daly especially in Richfield, Ohio., it's ironic that I was in Jupiter, where he lived and died on May 9, at the age of 78 of Pancreatic Cancer. I was in Jupiter picking up my friend Melissa. When I first heard of Daly's death, Melissa, who isn't knowledgeable about sports, was fantastic and listened to my great memories of Daly.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

Monday, May 11, 2009

Detroit Lions, Oklahoma State Irony

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
When Detroit Lions Coach Jim Schwartz accepted the challenge of taking on the first NFL team to ever go 0-16, the major thing he knew about the job was the team needed a quarterback.
Schwartz is confident he addressed that need when the Lions snapped up Georgia Bulldogs signal caller Matt Stafford with the first selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25.
It's well documented that Stafford attended the same high school as Lions legend Bobby Layne, who was the last quarterback to lead Detroit to an NFL Championship long before many of us were born in 1957. Stafford has also been getting mentored by Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman.
With Detroit's second first round selection, Schwartz got another Lions history lesson whether he realizes it or not.
During the 1989 NFL Draft, Detroit selected Oklahoma State Cowboys Running Back Barry Sanders in the first round, third overall. Sanders, 5-8 frame wouldn't hinder him in the pros as he was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, gained 15,269 rushing and 2,921 receiving yards for a total of 18, 190 from scrimmage. Sanders rushed for 99 touchdowns and added 10 more receiving for 109. These numbers don't reflect how many knee injuries and careers he ended with his dynamic breakaway ability.
Sanders holds 10 Lions team records and was a two time NFL offensive player of the year.
The former Heisman Trophy winner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 8, 2004 in the same class as Denver Broncos legend John Elway.
On draft day 2009, the Lions went back to Oklahoma State for help thanks to a trade made last season with the Dallas Cowboys which sent Wide Receiver Roy Williams home to Texas.
With the 20th selection overall in the first round, Detroit selected Tight End Brandon Pettigrew to give Stafford a blocker and another target.
Now we have the ultimate irony.
The 20th selection, 20 years later playing for a team where the last player to wear the No. 20 was a fellow alumnus, in Barry Sanders.
Stafford has his long threat in Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson formerly of Georgia Tech.
It's highly unlikely that Pettigrew will ever post numbers even close to Barry Sanders especially at his position. But with the help of another Lions Hall of Fame Tight End Charlie Sanders, if Pettigrew can be a major factor in Stafford's ability to lead Detroit back to a contender, regular playoff participant, finally reaching a Super Bowl and championship status, Detroiters would be thrilled if all of the above occurred.
The 6-6, 263 pound native from Tyler, Texas., receiving numbers will mean much less as long as the Lions sack totals decrease.
Pettigrew doesn't have to be a Hall of Fame performer as Barry Sanders turned out to be. Lions fans would be happy if he isn't in the Hall of Shame and that he doesn't become another draft mistake which places the bust label on him.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Manny Ramirez The Example

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Just as I was ready to write Manny Ramirez in as a future Hall of Famer for a future blog, news broke that he was suspended 50 games for violating MLB's drug policy for using a women's fertility drug hCG.

For Manny's sake, I hope he doesn't take the same reputation beating that Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc... have taken for using performance enhancing drugs. After all, he was the major reason the Boston Red Sox have won two world championships and have erased the curse of Babe Ruth.

Ramirez is the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers won a playoff series last year for the first time in 20 years since their 1988 World Series title over the Oakland A's ousting the Chicago Cubs.

Despite his liabilities defensively, off the wall antics on the field, and bitter departure from the Red Sox, to his credit, he's still fun to watch. What baseball needs is characters between the lines to compliment those managers like Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox.

A few weeks ago, the death of former Detroit Tigers Pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a major loss for the grand old game.

The absence of Ramirez will not only be a void for Dodgers fans, but those around baseball that bought advance tickets to see him. The Dodgers invested into billboards to market "The Character" and I wouldn't doubt if Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully had a few more one-liners to share with fans.

One thing this suspension will do is send a message to all players that this drug policy will cost them in the checkbook both short and long term. Ramirez, who is expected to return on July 3, will lose $7.4 million for this mistake, which is more than many of us will make in our lifetimes.

More importantly, it could hinder the Dodgers chances of reaching the post-season and the extra money that not only he loses, but his teammates and the organization. You can't put a dollar figure on a championship ring. Just ask former Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, who played on a lot of bad teams, and what he'd give to win that valuable piece of jewelry.

Ramirez is definitely the biggest name to be punished and he won't be the last because someone else will be dumb enough to try to buck the system.

Ramirez is now going to be the player that MLB will use as "The Example" and this is one poster boy tag no player covets. Regardless of your name, you're going to sit and pay in more ways than one especially the reputation hit that labels you a cheater.

Take notice players. Be aware that random drug testing works.

Union Director Donald Fehr and the players association won't be able to bail you out of this jackpot because the last thing they want to do is to once again face Congress. I wouldn't be surprised that when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated, that the penalties will get even tougher than they are now. Even if baseball has to cancel another World Series between this issue and the eventual creation of a salary cap.

While the country is in a major recession, now Manny is on recess. This would be a good time for Manny and his agent Scott Boras to use this recess and huddle up to find away and rehabilitate his image.

A great way to accomplish this is by speaking to youth groups about the negative effects of performance enhancing drugs, sign so many autographs until his hand falls off and get advice from Dodgers legendary Manager Tommy Lasorda about giving public speeches.

Being in the second largest city in the country and one that appears to have warmed up to you, I do believe that once you eaten humble pie, start hitting homers and the Dodgers win more games with you in the lineup, Los Angeles will forgive you Manny for making this mistake providing you've learned from it.

If San Francisco is going to embrace a disliked figure like a home run king fraud like Bonds, Los Angeles fans will have no problem bonding to your like able personality and will gladly sit back in your newly named section Mannywood.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Toronto Second NHL Team?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
Does Toronto deserve a second NHL team and could the city support one? The answer to both questions are a definite yes!
Toronto has done a great job supporting the Maple Leafs over the years.
The Blue Jays have delivered the city two world championships and judging by their early 18-10 start could be postseason contenders under the same manager who led them to those titles Cito Gaston. They play in the Skydome which is a masterpiece and a great place to watch a baseball game.
The Toronto Raptors, who play in the Air Canada Centre have held their own and the CFL has done fine. Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame Owner Ralph Wilson Jr. has decided to expand his market and is now playing preseason and regular season games at the Skydome.
So this jewel of a city is a full-fledged major league sports town with all four major sports.
If Toronto were to land a second NHL team, where would they play? The Maple Leafs and Raptors occupy the premium dates excluding other events like concerts, ice shows, etc... Yet in Los Angeles, the Staples Center is the home to the NBA's Lakers, Clippers and NHL's Kings, so it's very possible to make room for another NHL team.
But even if there is a shortage of dates available for a second NHL team, there is always Maple Leaf Gardens located on the northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street in Toronto's Garden District. This famed landmark was the home of the Maple Leafs from 1931-1999 and they won all 11 of their Stanley Cup Titles in this building. Maple Leaf Gardens has been used seldom since the Maple Leafs moved.
A second Toronto franchise would have to be placed in the Western Conference which would rekindle a rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings, plus cut down on some of the travel for the men that wear Red and White.
Now the question remains, will Toronto get a second NHL team? NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said no for the time being. Who knows if that will change in the future.
But here are some reasons as to why I don't think Toronto will get another team.
Bettman knows that in order to pass Geography 101, he needs to eventually move the Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference because they are the lone franchises who qualify for the most frequent flyer miles by constantly switching time zones.
Bettman also realizes that Detroit and Columbus have to play a large portion of their west coast road games between 9:30-11:00 p.m. therefore, it makes it difficult for their fans to watch televised games in prime time especially the youngsters who have to go to school in the morning.
This is inevitable.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins were struggling to get a new stadium, Kansas City offered them a sweet deal to move to the newly constructed $276 Million, 18,000 plus capacity Sprint Center for $1 per-game.
The Penguins can only thank Mario Lemieux for saving hockey in Steeltown. I do believe that Kansas City is going to land another NHL team down the line to create a Missouri rivalry with the St. Louis Blues similar to what's going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Since losing their NBA team to Oklahoma City, if Seattle gets a state of the art stadium, Bettman a former colleague to David Stern would snap at the chance to place a team in this market with no winter sports franchise. It could set-up a nice rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks.
Speaking of in state rivalry's Houston would be a natural for the Dallas Stars. How many people know that Hall of Famer Gordie Howe played for the World Hockey Association's (WHA) Aeros? The Aeros are back in business in the American Hockey League (AHL).
It's just a matter of time before one of the major sports leagues takes a gamble on Las Vegas once the city builds a new stadium and works out issues on whether betters can place wagers on the local team. This city is too big not to have a team.
So don't take it personal Toronto, but the numbers and politics are the only thing preventing your city from getting another team. But keep supporting your Maple Leafs because it's inevitable you'll win a championship. Long droughts do come to an end, just ask the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in major league baseball. Just don't get frustrated like the Chicago Cubs because you're a long ways away from the century mark.
As much as I've enjoyed visiting your city, players would clamor to want to make a living there.
One of my biggest thrills in sports was in 1982 when I spent my 20th birthday watching the Maple Leafs face the Canadiens in their lone visit to Toronto. When I told a scalper it was my birthday, he was nice enough to sell me a ticket at face value so I could experience the thrill of seeing a game at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Habs Inside/Out....

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
Over the past few days, I've spent several hours reading hundreds of e-mails from passionate Montrealers that voiced their opinion to my blog titled "Montreal Morons" about my objection to booing "The Star Spangled Banner" prior to a playoff game at the Bell Centre against the Boston Bruins.
The only thing which bothered me about these e-mails is that the Habs sponsored website "Habs Inside/Out" powered by The Gazette used a gang mentality to flood me with e-mails and personal threats because of my patriotic position towards being proud of my country.
These were the same sad fans that sent several hundreds of letters to CBC demanding they show more Canadiens games or they would seek another provider.
The only reason I removed the blog is it was becoming too time consuming reading these militant individuals who made such absurd remarks that aren't worth repeating. There were some nice people who did show some decency and I had no problem responding back.
So now it's my turn to point my finger at the "Culprits" of this e-mail barrage and specify the "Real Montreal Morons" in this national anthem saga and that's "Habs Inside/Out."
First of all "Habs Inside/Out, if you can't handle criticism from what some of your fans are calling me a "Scrub Writer" then you folks are "Scum Bags."
I dare you to attack FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and CNN about their criticism about booing the national anthem as you came at me.
These people are smart enough and would delete or spam your comments.
Your fans that called me a "Scrub Writer" probably don't know what deadline pressure is at a major newspaper.
They probably haven't had to compile their own statistics at a high school football game and write a story within 15-30 minutes from conclusion with breaking down the quotes, stats totaled and included. This assignment would give the best of us big headaches.
Have any of these responders to my blog had a tape recorder break in the middle of a major assignment and had to think fast enough to meet their deadline?
I'd like to see how well they would respond if they attempted to send two stories and couldn't get them to the newspaper because the stadium was new thus making it impossible to transmit them on time to make Sunday's paper. I had to deal with this dilemma when I was covering the Florida State League All-Star Game in Kissimmee, Florida., home of the Houston Astros, in 1985, and thankfully my Editor Rick Nelson of the Tampa Tribune managed to get a 20 minute extension and I had to dictate both stories over the phone which I sent five times apiece.
I doubt you people could handle these problems!
My advice to you folks at Habs Inside/Out is to analyze what's wrong with your team. Find out what they need to do to break their 16-year championship drought.
I found it amazing that one of your people brought up the Detroit Red Wings 42-year championship drought and while it was frustrating for us to deal with it for four decades, they've done fine the past 11 years winning four Stanley Cup Titles playing in the Western Conference, where travel expenses run $2 Million per-year, not $500,000 per-season if they were in the Eastern Conference. I'd like to see how the Canadiens would handle that amount of travel. The last time the Red Wings played in a playoff series in the Eastern Time Zone prior to this season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, was when the Toronto Maple Leafs resided in the Western Conference.
Red Wings fans can't watch a portion of their games in prime time because they start at 9:30 and 10:30 PM.
But for those that know me in the media and in the sports world, they understand I'm fair and objective with all of my assignments. I think long and hard before I put something in print or on the air because I know my words can trigger emotions and reactions. I've always remained objective and that will never change.
With that said, I do agree that with all of the information I've gained that it's not fair to judge a Metropolitan Area of 2 Million people by the actions of 3-5000 Bad Apples!
The only e-mails I responded to were the folks that were civil, had intelligent and meaningful opinions.
I'm sure there are lots of great people in Montreal!
I don't care if you Montreal fans boo your coach, players or even your own national anthem, just don't boo mine!
I realize the rivalry between the Canadiens and Boston Bruins now goes deeper than the "Ice Rink" and there is no love loss between these original six rivals. I understand that both towns boo each other's national anthems and if that's what you're doing, it is what it is.
But "The Star Spangled Banner" represents the USA.
I do feel bad for fans who had to listen and felt embarrassed by what transpired in a game that drew 21, 273, therefore, I won't lump those individuals again that were respectful and polite.
I wouldn't doubt that the Montreal Canadiens have a passionate fan base! They should because they've been around for over 100 years, own 24 Stanley Cup Championships and have amassed over 3,000 wins. Any hockey fan in the USA realizes that the Canadiens can be compared to the New York Yankees and they do have drawing power south of the border being an original six storied franchise.
But I encourage the passionate Montreal fan base to use their passports to travel to Lexington, KY., and see a Kentucky Wildcats basketball game. You'll be impressed!
Other passionate places to view a sporting event include: The Boston Red Sox & Celtics, Chicago Cubs, Portland Trail Blazers, Green Bay Packers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Duke Blue Devils, New Mexico Lobos and Indiana Hoosiers in college basketball. Until the tough economy hit Detroit, the Red Wings fans were boisterous and for you Montreal fans that want to criticize Motown, you need them to thrive to keep a huge fan interest in the USA.
By no means do I feel booing a national anthem is acceptable behavior in the USA.
There was no excuse for St. Louis fans to boo the Canadian National Anthem before a Blues VS Vancouver Canucks playoff game. The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the best and most loyal fan bases in major league baseball.
The fans in Detroit were out of line when they booed the Toronto Raptors in 2002. I'm sure there are other incidents that I haven't mentioned that you people will bring to my attention but there is no need to elaborate because my point is made.
For those Jerks at Habs Inside/Out, I'm not afraid to mention these incidents because they were wrong and took place. You can't ignore the truth.
But there is a national perception that French Canadians have an Anti-American attitude.
Maybe we should bring back Richard Dawson to get in the middle of the Bruins/Canadiens "Family Feud."
Are there any solutions to this national anthem fiasco?
Perhaps Canadian teams should only play theirs at home and their USA counterparts should do the same.
Otherwise, just eliminate them altogether and not mix politics and sports.
You can't boo what you don't hear.
But, we know that will never happen.
The next time I see a backlash of e-mails from Habs Inside/Out, the delete & spam buttons will be real busy because now I know who are the real "Culprits and Scum Bags."
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com.

Thanks For The Memories Hot Rod

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Attention ABC, ESPN and TNT. If you want a great way to bolster your announcing crew, there is a legendary voice who just retired that might keep an open mind about doing some part-time work.
Back in 1974, Pat Summerall worked with Rick Barry and Hot Rod Hundley calling the 1974 NBA Finals on CBS which featured Hall of Famers John Havlicek, Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics along with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks.
When the Utah Jazz were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, Hundley retired. Hundley, 74, played six seasons for the Lakers before he retired in 1963. He would begin a broadcasting career where he worked four seasons apiece with the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.
He was an announcer for five years with CBS where he called four All-Star Games.
The former star at West Virginia University has been broadcasting Jazz games since they were an expansion team playing in New Orleans in 1974. He made the move to Utah with the rest of the club in 1979.
Hundley has been covering NBA games for 42 seasons. He was elected to the Utah Broadcast Hall of Fame in June 2004.
Since Utah fans have appreciated his talent for 30-years, the NBA fans across the USA could only hope to see a doubleheader featuring Hundley and 75-year old Hall of Famer Hubie Brown.
It would be impossible for NBA fans to not learn anything from Hundley and Brown.
Even though Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls prevented Hundley from wearing a pair of NBA championship rings, there is no doubt Salt Lake City fans should purchase him a couple rings as a retirement gift.
If we don't see Hundley again, all the best of health and happiness "Hot Rod."
You've given NBA fans plenty to cheer about and now it's time to sit back and relax with your family. They can be proud of the fact that in 2003 that you received the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the only former professional player to achieve such an honor.
But once again, I hope the networks either call, send a few e-mails or text messages to get you to reconsider.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com.

FAU'S FRANTZ JOSEPH OAKLAND RAIDERS HIDDEN GEM

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
As the FAU Football program develops with two bowl victories over Memphis and Central Michigan giving the Owls a 2-0 record in the post-season, there is one area which the school hasn't broken through.

The 2009 NFL Draft on April 25-26 had the potential to possibly see an Owl get selected but once again the school was shutout at the podium. Prior to the draft, ESPN aired a feature on FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph. It mentioned that Joseph accepted a scholarship to Boston College but was forced to drop out and he returned to South Florida to help out his family financially.

After becoming FAU's all-time single season and career tackles leader, it appeared as though Joseph would be the Owls best chance at getting drafted especially after having his own pro day in front of 19 scouts and 16 teams on February 25.

But this didn't happen. The most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL signed Joseph to a two-year $700,000 free agent contract a couple hours after the draft.

Over the years, the Oakland Raiders have gained a reputation for taking other players whom other teams have kicked to the curb and found a way to win with them. The best example was former Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett, who was the top selection in the 1971 NFL Draft by New England and he played for the Patriots from 1971-75. Plunkett played for the San Francisco 49'ers from 1976-77 before joining the Raiders in 1978-86 where he would lead this franchise to a pair of Super Bowl titles when the team was located in Oakland and Los Angeles.

In 1980, Plunkett was named the MVP in the Raiders 27-10 Win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV. In 1983, Plunkett was the Raiders back-up signal caller but an injury to Marc Wilson thrust him back into a starting role and he proceeded to lead the Raiders to a 38-9 waxing over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

But Plunkett is just one of many examples about how the Raiders and Owner Al Davis find away to give players and coaches opportunities to revitalize or start their careers.

If the NFL Draft would have been longer than seven rounds, then Joseph's name would have been called. What's interesting about the Raiders 2009 draft class is that Oakland was ripped in the media for some of it's early selections.

Top pick wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was the seventh overall pick out of Maryland. He was projected by draft experts as a late first round pick. Oakland's second round choice was safety Michael Mitchell out of Ohio University, the 47th pick overall. He was projected as a second day selection.

Oakland finished the 2008 season with a 5-11 record. In 2007, the Raiders were 4-12 while in 2006 they finished 2-14. The 2005 season saw Oakland compile a 4-12 mark, in 2004, the Raiders were 5-11 and in 2003 they were 4-12. The last winning season for the Silver and Black was in 2002 when they finished 11-5 and lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs in the Super Bowl 48-21 on Jan 27, 2003.

Can Joseph help the Raiders out? Judging by the Raiders poor results since their last Super Bowl, he's definitely in the right place with a team that desperately needs him.

During the 2007 New Orleans Bowl, Joseph recorded 10 tackles including six solo and two tackles for a loss of five yards. In 2008, Joseph was named to the All-Sun Belt Team after recording a school-record 154 tackles. In 2007, Joseph had 131 tackles in 13 games and in 2006, Joseph amassed 61 in 11 games.

The scouts who saw Joseph were aware that Joseph returned an interception for 26 yards and a fumble for 32 yards in an All-Star Game with the Nation versus Texas to set up scores giving the National Team a 27-24 win over Texas on Jan 31 in El Paso before 37,054 at the Sun Bowl.

While scouting departments are expected to get the higher selections correct, the hidden gems are found on the second day of the draft as well as un-drafted free agents. These are the players that have the most motivation to prove their doubters wrong. Now Joseph is in the right place to do this.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

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