Ivy League Football Is Here

September 15, 2018

While other conferences chase money and post-season glory, the Ivy League remains steadfast with its values.

by John Furgele (The Intellectual 228)

If you looked at my high school transcript, you would have concluded that a lightning strike was more probable than seeing me accepted at one of the 8 Ivy League institutions.  But, for some reason, I have always been enamored with Ivy League schools and Ivy League sports.  I sometimes close my eyes and see myself walking to class with a cup of coffee in my left hand and the hand of a beautiful co-ed in my right.  Being there in the fall when the leaves change, reading Thoreau on a bench overlooking a stream; it just sounds like university doesn’t it?

That said, I used to celebrate grades over 75 in high school, so the Ancient 8 was not on my radar back in the day.  But, just to note, I used to tell my Dad that a 75 meant that I was correct three out of every four times.  That’s pretty good, right?

That’s what dreams are for, I suppose, and that above scenario is far from reality.  But, for some reason, I do hold a special reverence for Ivy League sports.  I probably shouldn’t, because they have had their share of scandals, issues and problems just like any other institution that corrals young adults that are within the ages of 17 and 23.  But, for the most part, they consider sports as part of the college experience, not the college experience.

College basketball is an example of how “out of hand,” college athletics have gotten.  At the beginning of the year, colleges send their teams to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and all over the place to play basketball.  You might see Seton Hall play Syracuse in Maui.  Why they can’t play in Syracuse or South Orange, NJ bewilders me.  Because of this, students miss tons of class time as the schools seek exposure and the almighty dollar.

Ivy League schools like money too, and for proof, check out their endowments.  But, in basketball, Ivy League games are played on Friday and Saturday nights, so the “kids” can attend classes Monday thru Thursday. Ivy League schools also participate in the NCAA playoffs for every sport, meaning that they, too, are away from the lecture halls during the academic year.  There is one sport that is different and that is football.

College football is a beast.  It is the moneymaker in college athletics. Saturdays are huge deals and as you know, coaches are paid millions of dollars to coach 12 games per year and satisfy alums who want to win national titles.  The bowl system used to be the money maker and for years, college presidents refused to change it for a playoff.  Eventually, an actuary (probably with an Ivy League degree) did the math and said that there is more money out there by staging a 4-team playoff.  In a few years, somebody will conclude that an 8-team playoff would be more lucrative than what is currently in place now.

The Ivy League schools play at the FCS level; a level that has a 24-team playoff, yet they do not participate in it.  Some call this Ivy arrogance; others say that they are keeping sports, and in this case, football in its proper perspective.  Sure, LSU makes money in college football, but Louisiana is ranked at the bottom for public school education.  Teachers are grossly underpaid yet the football coach makes $3 million per season.

The Ivy League uses its own model.  Games do not begin until the third Saturday in September.  This gives the students time to move in to their dorms, attend some classes, do some studying and then play live games.  They only play 10 games as opposed to 11 for FCS schools and 12 for FBS ones; they play those 10 games in 10 consecutive weeks and the season ends on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  That means the players can go home and eat Thanksgiving turkey with their families and meet up with their high school buddies over the long weekend.

And, Ivy League schools won’t use a tiebreaker to determine its champion.  If Brown and Penn both finish at 6-1 in conference play, they’re both declared champions.  It doesn’t matter if Brown won the head-to-head matchup 49-7, both teams get rings.  Perhaps if they were sending their camp to the FCS playoffs things would be different, but they’re not, so two champions it is.

For those of you who think Ivy League football is glorified Division III ball, think again.  ESPN just outbid NBCSN to broadcast Ivy League games.  If the product was sub-par, that wouldn’t happen.  Most games will air on ESPN Plus, a streaming service that costs $4.99 per month, but enough games will be on ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNU and ESPN News for you and I to get a feel. The Ivy League, which insisted on Saturday only games for decades, did relent by agreeing to take some money to play on Friday nights.  As I stated before, Ivy League schools like money, too.

The Big Game remains Harvard and Yale and that game is set for Saturday, November 17 at Fenway Park of all places and will be on ESPN, so in that regard, the conference does have some clout on the big stage.

Ivy League football is here.  It’s different, but it’s also the same.  Check out a game and enjoy.

 

 

 

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Buffalo Hoping 2018 is Year of the Bulls

August 29, 2018

Can Bulls keep making strides and gain a foothold in pro sports town?

by John Furgele (The No-Bull 228)

Expectations are high for the University at Buffalo football team.  Last year’s edition finished on a three-game winning streak to finish at 6-6 and despite being eligible for a bowl game, they were not selected.

There is plenty of optimism on the Amherst campus for 2018.  Last year, the Bulls lost to Northern Illinois by one point, Akron by one point, Army by four and who can forget their epic 71-68 loss to Western Michigan in seven overtimes.  The Bulls also beat Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic and were very competitive in a 17-7 loss at Minnesota.  Their other loss was 24-14 to the Miami Redhawks.

The Bulls have three bonafide stars in quarterback Tyree Jackson, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Khalil Hodge.  By the end of last year, nobody could stop the Jackson-Johnson duo and MAC coaches will be losing sleep trying to game plan for them this season.

Before optimism runs amok, the Bulls have to take care of FCS opponent Delaware State in the season opener.  The Hornets play out of the MEAC and truth be told are bottom feeders in that league.  It is a no-win scenario for the Bulls.  They are supposed to win and win big and even a hiccup or two will have Buffalo fans reeling with self-doubt.

Week 2 features a matchup with the Temple Owls in Philadelphia.  Temple, like Buffalo came on late last year to finish 6-6, and, unlike Buffalo, the Owls played in a bowl game, where they routed Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl.  The Owls play in the higher rated American Athletic Conference, but there is no reason why the Bulls shouldn’t be in this game.  It might not be a 50-50 game, but it’s a game the Bulls can win.

Game 3 is at home against Eastern Michigan.  The Eagles, once the doormat of the MAC have improved greatly over the last two years and this is what we call a tester.  Game 4 is the Bulls annual cash a check game when they travel to New Jersey to take on Power 5 foe Rutgers.  To be fair, Rutgers is one of the worst Power 5 schools in the land, but if Buffalo could beat the Scarlet Knights, they would receive some national attention.  It’s a game where one would expect the Knights to be the heavy favorite, but something tells me that might not be the case.  I won’t calculate the Bulls chances to win here; it’s certainly not a 50-50 game, but it’s a not 10-90 one either.

Game 5 to me, the Game of the Year, The Army Black Knights return to Buffalo on Saturday, September 29.  In 2016, Buffalo defeated Army in overtime and last year, the Knights returned the favor with a 21-17 win at Michie Stadium.  These two New York schools have potential to become rivals.  The key is for both institutions to keep scheduling one another.

The Knights are an independent, so they certainly have enough scheduling flexibility to keep Buffalo on its schedule.  And, for Buffalo, it really is a no-brainer.  Army may not be Notre Dame, but the Black Knights are a national brand.  All of their home games are televised by CBS Sports Network, which would guarantee the Bulls exposure on TV (not just the internet) every other year.

Army and Buffalo won’t play each other in 2019, but the Bulls do travel to West Point in October, 2020.  What surprises me is that Army plays two FCS opponents this year in Colgate and Lafayette and two more next year—VMI and Morgan State.  I understand the uniqueness of Army football and truth be told, if any FBS team should be allowed to schedule FCS teams, its Army, but four teams in two years?

Of course, seeing FBS teams schedule FCS teams is nothing new and if you ask 25 people, you might get 25 different opinions.  Some will argue that since there is no pre-season (thank goodness) in college football, FBS-FCS games are good for both teams.  The FBS team should win and get lots of players into the game, and the FCS team can test itself against the highest level in preparation for future opponents.

FCS teams also cash nice checks, called guarantees.  Why does Wagner travel to BYU?  For $900,000 that’s why.  When Delaware State comes to Buffalo, they get two things:  a probable beating and anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000.  For schools like DSU, that keeps the athletic department swimming and perhaps saves a sport or allows one to travel somewhere exotic.

Some of the Power 5 conferences strongly discourage these matchups.  West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was on record as saying that these matchups should cease, but his Mountaineers played Delaware State last year, face Youngstown State this year, James Madison next year and Eastern Kentucky in 2020. I’d like to hear Dana’s explanation for this.

The Big Ten banned FCS schools altogether and then made an exception.  Because teams play a nine-game conference schedule, that means that in some years, teams only play four conference games at home.  When that’s the case, teams are allowed to play a FCS team to get the extra home game.  Purdue wasted no time by booking a home date with Indiana State in 2022.

Because I like FCS football, I don’t mind the games, but here’s the rub.  Last week, Duquesne played at UMass and was drubbed while Buffalo prepares to host Delaware State on Saturday.  The best scenario would see Buffalo play UMass and Duquesne face Delaware State.   But, as we know, when money is involved, things are done with that in mind.  Duquesne and Delaware State would rather have that money than play in Dover or Pittsburgh before 1,500 fans.  And, Buffalo and UMass want the win over what would be a pick’em game.  That’s the business of sports.

Back to Buffalo football.  After Army, the Bulls return to MAC play for the rest of the season with games at Central Michigan, Akron, @Toledo, Miami, Kent State, @Ohio and @Bowling Green on Black Friday.

The team is good enough to contend for the East Division title and with that, a spot in the MAC Championship Game.  Street & Smith’s College Football magazine picked the Bulls to finish third in the East behind Ohio and Miami, with a bid to the Potato Bowl.

Projecting wins and losses, to me, is futile, but everybody loves to do it.  The first five games will set the table.  They’ll beat Delaware State, but the next four are tough.  On paper, they will be underdogs at Temple.  A win there against a team from a better conference would look good.  Eastern Michigan is no slouch; Street & Smith’s has them going to the Bahamas Bowl and even though Rutgers struggles, they’re a Big Ten team and that’s the one game they probably won’t win.  Army has turned things around under Jeff Monken and they have done so in quick manner.  To make things even harder, the Black Knights run the triple-option offense and if they throw the ball more than five times in the game, that would be a story.

When you look at the five games, the Bulls could be 1-4, but they could be 4-1..  One would think that as long as they have two wins, they should be okay, but the goal should be at least 3-2 going into the All-MAC rest of the schedule.

If you ask the coaches, they’ll say that the goal is to be 12-0, win the MAC title game and represent the Group of 5 in a New Year’s Six bowl, but what is realistic for Buffalo?  I would think that 7-5 is the minimum requirement; anything less than that would be disappointing for a program that looks like it made significant progress last season.

An 8-4 record is not unrealistic, nor is 9-3.  You can’t get too far ahead of yourself here, but if you ask head coach Lance Leipold in a dark alley what his realistic goal is;  I believe he would say that 8-4 is the minimum. That wouldn’t make him jump up and down with joy, but he would—secretly—accept it.  But, in his mind, he is thinking more than 8.

If the Bulls play 2018 like they did over the final three games in 2017, it should be a good year, and heck, maybe people will notice.  We all know that apathy reigns supreme in Western New York for college sports.  It is so consumed with the Buffalo Bills and Sabres that it often forgets about the big university in the epicenter of Western New York.

The Bulls know what they need to do.  They need to create a buzz and get the papers, the radios, the TVs, the internet and the people talking.  This could be a special year and by the end of September, we should know just how special.

 

 

 

The Program Lives On: There’s a Game on September 1

August 25, 2018

Courtney Smith never had a chance against The Program

by John Furgele (The Far From Surprised 228)

The Program remains intact; did we really think that the Ohio State trustees were going to tear The Program down?  You can badger Urban Meyer for his poor performance at Wednesday night’s “presser,” but deep down, who really cares about that.  After a 16-day investigation, it was concluded that nothing is more important than The Program—the football program at Ohio State University.

In today’s society, we want somebody’s head.  There are those who wanted Urban Meyer to be fired from the outset, facts be damned.  Those people are disappointed.  There were those who said that Meyer can’t be blamed for the actions of another grown adult.  Those people are less disappointed.  For as it stands, Meyer can coach the team at practice starting September 2, but can’t be on the sidelines until the Buckeyes’ fourth game of the 2018 season.

It was clear that the committee was formed to do one thing:  find enough evidence to retain Meyer.  The man has won many games; he is 73-8 since taking over in 2014.  There are reports that say that Ohio State, if valued like an NFL franchise is worth $1.4 or $1.5 billion.  Meyer oversees this operation; the committee and most at the school wanted to retain him to keep The Program; hell; the Empire intact.

I stated in my pre-investigation piece, The Program is the most important thing in college sports.  Football is not the only sport that has a program.  Other examples include UConn women’s basketball, Oregon cross county/track and field and so on and so forth.  Take Geno Auriemma away from the UConn ladies, The Program crumbles.  Some programs might be bulletproof.  Duke is such a name in college basketball, that when Coach K retires, The Program likely lives on.

When Syracuse basketball was hit with sanctions, many thought Jim Boeheim should go, but Boeheim built The Program and those in charge knew that canning Boeheim would likely kill The Program.  Boeheim stayed and Syracuse made the Sweet Sixteen last spring.

Let’s get back to Meyer.  How much did he know?  When did he know it?  And, what did he do when he knew about it?  We may never get those answers and Meyer seemed more irritated at the Wednesday presser than he was contrite.  It was clear that Meyer made it known that any attempt to remove him would be met with heavy resistance and likely legal action, so there he was, clearly agitated that he had to account for himself Wednesday evening.

What do we make of all this.  It seems like Meyer did his mentor, Earle Bruce a favor by hiring his grandson, Zach Smith, as an assistant coach.  Smith seemed to be one of those guys that liked being a coach because it sounds cool when trying to pick up women.  We’ve seen these guys a million times.  In short, they’re meatheads, but they use their cool title to lure women in.

Smith and his wife Courtney had a rough marriage.  They argued often and apparently things got physical.  In addition to Zach assaulting Courtney, there were probably some instances where Courtney attacked Zach.  One can easily see Zach coming home late, Courtney angry and all hell would soon break loose.  We all know that a man should never hit a women—ever, ut nobody—not even Meyer—knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Coaches are a tight knit family.  There is no way that Urban Meyer didn’t know that Zach and Courtney were having problems; that Zach was promiscuous and truth be told, not a great football coach.  Because, if he were, wouldn’t he have been promoted?  Most guys that are hired as a wide receiver coach move up the chain.  In coaching terms, a WR coach is sort of like an entry level position.  The goal of most coaches is to become a highly paid offensive or defensive coordinator and then, if they’re really good, a head coach.

That never happened with Zach Smith.  He remained a WR coach from 2009 until his firing in the summer of 2018.  It appears that Meyer was hiding this guy as a favor to Grandpa Earle Bruce, who was dying of Alzheimer’s and sadly, didn’t know what was going on anyway.

For Meyer, firing Smith would indicate that The Program was leaking oil.  I’ll assume that Smith was a great recruiter; there had to be another reason for keeping him besides the fact that he was the grandson of the man that succeeded Woody Hayes.  If The Program leaks oil than your rivals can pounce on that opportunity to bring it down.

If Meyer was coming off a 9-4 season or an 8-5 season, he likely would have been fired because The Program has to win big.  I do chuckle at the sudden affection for “legendary” Earle Bruce. Bruce coached the Buckeyes for nine seasons.  After going 11-1 in 1979, Ohio State went 9-3 for six consecutive seasons.  Those are “nice records,” but the pressure was mounting.  The so-called Buckeye Nation was wondering aloud if Bruce could sustain The Program.  In the 1980s, nobody thought of Bruce as legendary; they believed he was underachieving.

Now, don’t misinterpret here.  When teams go 9-3 every year and the coach get fired, it shows just how out of whack college athletics has become.

In 1987, the Bucks were 5-4-1 and the week before the Michigan game, trustees announced that Bruce could coach the finale, but would be terminated at season’s end.  In an emotional game, Ohio State beat Michigan to finish 6-4-1.  Bruce, with an 81-26-1 record was gone.

In 1986, Bruce’s Buckeyes were 10-3; one bad season later and out the door he went.  Meyer was fortunate.  His 2017 team went 12-2, so there was no performance pressure to fire him.  Had he done a 1987 Earle Bruce last year, he’d likely be on the sidelines.

So, for now, The Program lives on.  It has a black eye, but black eyes heal and so too, will The Program at Ohio State University.  On September 1, the Oregon State Beavers will come to town to get throttled before 105,000 at Ohio Stadium.  When the Scarlet and Gray run out of the tunnel, the crowd will rise and yell at the top of their lungs in approval for their beloved Buckeyes.  That’s how it is in sports.  Ray Lewis, despite all his troubles, was always cheered in Baltimore; the same went for Barry Bonds in San Francisco.

They will cheer, they will yell and the I will be dotted by the marching band.  The Courtney Smiths of the world will be forgotten, because The Program has a game to play and money to make.  The Beavers will try their best to deliver a blow to The Program, but they will likely head back to Corvallis beaten and bruised.

All will be right in the world.

 

In College Football, Nothing Is More Important Than The Program

August 13, 2018

Will Ohio State let a WR coach bring it down?

by John Furgele (The One and Only 228)

College football is about The Program.  The Program is the most important thing to establish.  In pro sports, athletes get old, sign with other teams and things change and change quickly.  I offer the Kansas City Royals as an example.  They made the World Series in 2014, won it in 2015, but this year, just three years later they might lose 110 games.

In college, it doesn’t matter who the players are.  What matters is finding the right coach who can establish The Program.  The Program is bigger than any player, any All-America, any Heisman trophy player.

Look at little Baylor.  For years, they struggled until Art Briles came in and established The Program.  The Program did well.  They won lots of games and even produced a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III.

But, sometimes, you have to cut some corners to get The Program up and running.  You know what I mean; admitting kids who have no right being in college; overlooking some arrest records; blaming that sexual assault charge on youthful indiscretion.  If your team has 100 choir boys, the police blotter will show a zero, but so too, will the win column.

At Baylor, some of the players took it upon themselves to assault women.  When Art Briles caught wind of this, he worked with police and prosecutors to sweep it under the rug.  The players stayed and the team kept winning.  But, like most cover-ups, eventually things are exposed and now Baylor is back to being little old Baylor and Briles is mulling an offer to coach football in of all places, Italy.

When a player gets arrested, the cops call the coach in an attempt to remedy things before the media finds out.  The coach promises to talk to the player, telling him that he is not bigger than The Program.  If the player is average, he will be dismissed; if he is great, he will stay on the team and will continue light it up on Saturdays.

Coaches lie in order to protect The Program.  Jim Tressel did it during his tenure at Ohio State and was dismissed.  Joe Paterno, for years, did it at Penn State.  When rumors began flying about the deviance of Jerry Sandusky, Paterno had a football team to coach; a Program to protect.  There was a game to prepare for, young boys be damned.

We now live in sensitive times.  No longer can bad things go undetected.  Women can no longer be shamed into not coming forward to allege assault.  But, that hurts The Program. The Program can’t ever be off the rails and when a woman accuses one inside The Program of assault, it throws everything off.  And, as we found out, it’s not only the players, but coaches, too.

When Ohio State fired Jim Tressel, they did it reluctantly.  They had to because he lied, but they feared that The Program would crumble.  A 4-8 season, or worse a 7-5 one with a berth in the Liberty Bowl; that hurts The Program.  That’s irrelevant in college football for schools that have The Program.  The only way to keep The Program going was to find another coach who can build and maintain it.

They found the guy in Urban Meyer.  He built Programs everywhere—Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.  There was no doubt that the Ohio native would build another in Columbus.

Meyer came in and The Program was built in days.  The Program captured the 2014 CFP Championship and has been a perennial power each and every year since.  When Ohio State goes 12-1 and wins the Fiesta Bowl—and misses the CFP—it’s considered a disappointing season.

The Program means teams go 10-2 at the worst each year.  A 9-3 season is unacceptable; too many get you fired—ask Mark Richt.

As we said, The Program almost requires some bad seeds to be included.  At Ohio State, that bad seed was a coach—Zach Smith.  Smith got married, but unfortunately, his marriage was rocky.  He and his wife Courtney fought and apparently, fought often.  In 2009, he was investigated for assault while he was a part of Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida.  Smith stayed and The Program stayed intact.  In addition to Smith’s indiscretions, 31 Gators were arrested during Meyer’s tenure there.  But, good guy Tim Tebow was there and because he was the poster boy for Florida football as well as morality, things were swept under the rug.

When Meyer moved to Columbus, he brought Smith with him—an alleged woman beater.  In 2015, Smith allegedly assaulted Courtney Smith again, but again, was not dismissed from the staff.  Meyer did not want The Program to show any weaknesses, especially with Jim Harbaugh threatening to re-establish The Program at Michigan, the chief rival of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  And, to make things even dicier, it appears there might be Programs being established at Penn State and Michigan State and heck, even Wisconsin.

At first, Meyer lied, saying he knew nothing of the 2015 allegations against Smith, even though it appears that Courtney Smith told Shelley Meyer (the wife of Urban) about the assaults.  Urban then backtracked and is now on paid administrative leave while an investigation takes place.

If Ohio State can fire Tressel over lying about free tattoos, they can certainly fire Meyer over covering up physical assault by a husband against his then-wife.  But, things are different. Because of the money and the CFP, it’s more important than ever to have The Program.  The Program brings in more money, more donations, better coaches and of course, the best players.  Who wants to play for the 9-3 teams when they can play for The Program and go 12-1 each year?

The bizarre thing is that Urban Meyer might lose his job because he covered up for a WR coach.  Yes, a WR coach, perhaps the least respected coaching position in college football.  This wasn’t Tom Osborne covering for Lawrence Phillips, nor was it Jimbo Fisher covering for Jamesis Winston.  This was a WR coach, the most ordinary, obscure and unimportant positon on a college football coaching staff that might be Meyer’s undoing.

When Woody Hayes punched Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl, he had to go.  But, that was easy; Hayes was old and The Program was crumbling.  If that was 11-0 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl…….?

Gary Moeller coached Michigan.  In 1995, he got drunk at a local restaurant and was shown the door.  Of course, Moeller didn’t have Michigan at the current level of Meyer and Ohio State, but still, they decided that The Program had to be representative and that started at the top.

I’m not sure what will happen at The Ohio State University.  With all the attention focused on assaults against women, how can a person who likely covered up a transgression by one of his coaches remain on his job?  The #MeToo movement, the allegations against Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein and others are way too sensitive to ignore, aren’t they?

That said The Program could be in jeopardy if Meyer is forced out.  The fear of losing The Program will make many people at the university very, very nervous.  The Buckeyes got lucky; they didn’t have to suffer for long after Tressel left.  They found Meyer and within two years, The Program was back and better than ever.

So, who will win out?  Logic or The Program?  If Meyer really cared about protecting women, he would resign and devote time to helping women or teaching men that striking women is wrong.

But, I think Meyer cares more about The Program and his coaching legacy.  The fact that he seems to be fighting for his job indicates this.  It’s worrisome because if Ohio State was coming off an 8-5 season (like rival Michigan is), Meyer likely would have been gone already.  When The Program is down, easy to fire; when The Program is up, hard to fire.

This decision will leave its mark on college football one way or the other.  I hope it’s the right way.

 

While Chicago Kills Itself, Let’s Worry About Terrell Owens, Kneeling and Jerry Jones

August 8, 2018

America has its priorities in order, doesn’t it?

by John Furgele (The I’ll Never Get It 228)

Love him or hate him, Terrell Owens should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer.  The fact that he had to wait three years was simple:  the media didn’t like him.  As we have seen in baseball and now football, those that write about the game have far too much power.  I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have voting privileges, but they need to have some terms dictated to them.  Right now, they want to be the dictators despite the fact that they never played the game of football, at least professionally.

To add to the absurd, now the writers and the Hall of Fame want to mandate that if a player gets voted into the Hall, he must promise to show up in Canton for enshrinement.  This is yet another example of the society we are becoming.  Do it our way, or else!

We are supposed to be a nation that respects the opinions of others, but sadly, this isn’t the case anymore.  If we don’t like your views, we yell, scream and exclude.  Somewhere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and even Lyndon Johnson are rolling over in their graves.

Was Owens a me guy?  Sure.  Was he the only me guy to ever play in the NFL?  Of course not, but they want to make an example of somebody and Owens fits the bill.  What about Lawrence Taylor?  Was he a team guy?  Sure he was, because he won two Super Bowls and was ferocious on Sundays, but what about the drinking, the cocaine, the crack, hanging out with prostitutes and showing up to charter airplanes in flip flops, no shirt and a sports jacket?  That’s not selfish is it?

And, then there is Ray Lewis, another gem of a human being.  Sure, he preaches the good word now, but what about his checkered past?  Did we forget that he was indirectly responsible for the murders of two individuals?  That he plead guilty to obstructing justice so he wouldn’t have to face murder charges? That he has six children with four different women?  Nah, that’s water under the bridge now.  He won two Super Bowls and bringing that up would interfere with erecting a statue of him outside M&T Stadium in Baltimore.

Owens had every right to skip the enshrinement ceremony.  It is his right—as a free American—to politely decline or accept an invitation to make a speech in Canton.  He chose to be in Chattanooga and to me, that’s fine.  Yes, it might be Owens being a “me” guy, but when he played in the Super Bowl on a broken ankle that wasn’t fully healed all he did was grab 9 passes for 122 yards; he also made one of the greatest clutch catches in playoff history when he somehow held onto to a ball thrown by Steve Young in a Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers that won the game in the final seconds. We will forget that because…how dare he show up the NFL, the writers and the Hall of Fame ceremony!

Speaking of the NFL, Jerry Jones continues to be a laughingstock and a fraud.  The outspoken owner who wants to please President Trump and more importantly NFL advertisers says he will forbid any of his players to kneel before the national anthem.  Yet, this was a guy who led the players to midfield and knelt before the national anthem in a game against Arizona.  Is that the same thing as kneeling during the anthem?  No, but to me it is nothing but hypocritical.  He sympathized with the players then because he supported their cause, but when Anheuser Busch got nervous, so too, did Jerry Jones.  His about face in one word—–astonishing.

I cringe when I hear pundits say that kneeling during the anthem is an insult to veterans.  What about all Americans?  Why are veterans always spoken of first?  Most veterans fought to preserve the rights of all Americans.  Many died in doing so.  Kneeling during the anthem never had anything to do with veterans or the military; it was to bring attention to cops shooting and profiling black men, as well as other injustices they face.  But, somewhere along the way, it got turned into hatred against the military and those that served.

What really should be discussed and dealt with is the tragedy—or should I say carnage–that is taking place in Chicago.  Last weekend, 71 people were shot and 12 died, most being black men shot by other black men.  Where is the outrage here?  Why isn’t this being protested?  Is it because it doesn’t fit the narrative; the narrative being whites shooting blacks?  When that happens, it is front page news and dominates the air and radio waves.  When blacks shoot and kill other blacks, it’s just another violent weekend in a violent section of town.

The facts are simple; a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than shot by a cop. Furthermore, most black men are shot and killed by other black men.  The figures don’t lie and Chicago is further proof of these sad and awful numbers.  This is what our leaders should address. Instead, we worry too much about Don Lemon, LeBron James and President Trump throwing verbal barbs at one another while the inner city of Chicago teeters on anarchy.

Maybe all the NFL players should head to Chicago, go to its most violent section and kneel to show solidarity and unity in a place that could use some of it.

Instead, we’ll worry about making sure another Terrell Owens won’t embarrass the Pro Football Hall of Fame and those great writers who were insulted by his no-show status.

Wonder Gadot: History or Glory?

July 27, 2018

by John Furgele (The Nostalgic 228)

For the second time this year, a Triple Crown is on the line!   That’s right! We already saw Justify take Triple Crown honors when he captured the Belmont Stakes way back in June.  Now, Wonder Gadot has a chance to capture the Canadian Triple Crown.

The filly seems to be hitting her form at the right time.  She had not yet won a race this year when she ran against the boys in the 159th Queen’s Plate, Canada’s biggest race.  She breezed there and then, on Tuesday, she captured the second leg when she cruised through the slop to win the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.

The Canadian Triple Crown is similar and different than the American version.  The Queen’s Plate, like the Kentucky Derby is run at 1 1/4 miles.  The Prince of Wales, like the Preakness is contested at 1 3/16 miles and the Breeders Stakes, like the Belmont is 1 1/2 miles.

The difference is the racing surfaces.  The Plate is run on tapeta, a synthetic surface that many US tracks tried before changing back to dirt.  The Prince of Wales is run on the traditional dirt and the Breeders Stakes is on the turf.  Both the Plate and the Breeders Stakes are run at Woodbine.

In most cases, the natural move would be to run Wonder Gadot in the Breeders, but both the owner and trainer have said all along that they were going to use the Prince of Wales to prepare for the Grade 1 Alabama States which will be run on Saturday, August 17 at Saratoga.  The $600,000 race is run on dirt at 1 1/4 miles, a distance rarely contested in  filly-only races.  And, we know Wonder Gadot can handle it based on her dominant performance in the Plate.

What do we root for here?  Trainer Mark Casse wants this talented filly to earn Filly of the Year honors, but to do that, he knows that she has to impress in the States and would likely have to beat Monomoy Girl in the Breeders Cup Distaff.

A win in the Alabama would set the stage.  Monomoy Girl recently dominated four others in the Coaching Club American Oaks, but it looks like she will skip the Alabama for the Cotillion at Parx in mid-September.

For Wonder Gadot to earn Filly of the Year, she has to win the Alabama, hope Monomoy Girl falters in the Cotillion and then has to beat her in the Distaff.  To me, the odds of that happening are not good–not good at all.

The Alabama certainly has more sex appeal than the Breeders.  The race is at Saratoga, will be televised by NBC and will have over 40,000 fans in attendance.  If she wins, the NBC crew of Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey will fawn over her and assess her potential against Monomoy Girl–and the others–in the Distaff.  The advantages are many for this excellent filly.

But, there is another side, a historical side.  Maybe because I majored in history, I lean towards historical events and traditions.  How many Triple Crown winners are there?  The answer–not many.  We know that there have been 13 in the United States and even though we have seen two in three years, it is still an amazing and rare feat.

North of the border, there have been 12 winners; the last being Wando in 2003. Of course, a Canadian Triple Crown winner will not get the attention that a Justify or American Pharoah did, but still, when the history is written, those 12, 13, 14, or 20 horses will be cited forever.  That should count for something.

Wonder Gadot would also have to start training on turf for the August 17 race.  While some may fret at that, I do not.  Horses are great animals; they can adapt and adapt quickly and I have no doubt that this filly could run and win on grass.

Casse may use this as a reason for shipping to Saratoga and running the Alabama and as the trainer, he is far more qualified to know what’s best for his horse.  The Alabama offers more money and allows her to run against the best fillies in North America.

The Breeders Stakes is a restricted race.  Only Canadian bred horses can enter and even though she will face the boys again, she has already toyed with and beaten them twice. We all know that where a horse is born is irrelevant when it comes to quality, but still, most believe that Canadian horses are not as good as those bred in the USA.  Maybe if more of them tackled the American classics we would feel differently.  Northern Dancer was pretty good, right?

She would be a prohibitive favorite and if she loses, it certainly would knock a few petals off her rose.  She could still run in the Distaff, but her chances of capturing Filly of the Year would be over.

The signs say Alabama, but to me, I think history should be tackled and the Breeders should be next.  If she wins there, it will be expected, but it would cement her as a Triple Crown champion; one of just 26 in North America thoroughbred racing.

 

 

In Tennis, Championship Anxiety is Real

July 18, 2018

by John Furgele (The Dejected 228)

It happens every time. The upstart pulls some upsets, plays an epic match and reaches a Grand Slam final.

Then……wilts.

Now, before you go crazy, let’s give kudos to Kevin Anderson.  He played six great matches, beat the King of Grass, Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, survived a 50-game final set marathon against John Isner in the semifinals before bowing to the now 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic.  He certainly has nothing to hang his head over.

But, we see this all the time in tennis.  The upstart gets to the final and then gets boat raced.  Yes, Anderson had plenty of opportunities to win the third set, but he didn’t and sure, he had to be exhausted after his match on Friday.  Anybody who works out knows that you feel better the day after the major exertion.   Two days later is when the stiffness really sets in.  That said, Djokovic had less recovery time after his 5-hour plus semifinal win over Rafa Nadal that finished on Saturday.

How many times have we seen a Miloslav Mecir, a Cedric Pioline or a Mal Washington play brilliant tennis through the semifinals only to get creamed in the final?  Look, we know that these unheralded guys aren’t supposed to beat the Lendls, Federers, Djokovics and Nadals of the world, but when you see them play so well for six matches and then so mediocre in the final, it makes you sad.

Bjorn Borg won five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976-1980.  He was tested in all five matches; twice by Jimmy Connors and once each by John McEnroe and Illie Nastase.  In 1979, he played the semi-unheralded Roscoe Tanner—that match went five sets.  In the end, Tanner lost, but he scared the bejesus out of the guy who had won three straight times.

Why does this happen?  Most would say nerves; I say anxiety.  The anxiety of being so close to winning a major championship overwhelms guys like Anderson, Pioline and Mecir.

Mecir might take the cake.  En route to the 1986 final, he beat some great players and then in the final against Lendl, he lost 6-4, 6-2 and then 6-0.  That really shouldn’t happen in a final.  Why?  Because players like Mecir played—and won—six matches prior to reaching the championship match.  For six matches, momentum is gathered and then in the ultimate match, the player shrivels up like a prune.

Anderson had anxiety for sets one and two and it showed as he was throttled 6-2, 6-2.  In the third, figuring he had no chance to win, he relaxed and truth be told, should have won the set.  He squandered numerous break chances against the superior Djokovic.  If Anderson wins the third set, who knows what happens, but “championship anxiety,” entered the psyche and before you could blink—game, set and championship to The Joker.

Fans love to root for the underdog.  But, the savvy fans don’t do this.  If you have a final four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and say Sam Querrey, the last thing the fan wants is Querrey in the final.  If he wins his semi, the fans, commentators and writers will use words like courageous and gritty, but that same courage and grit turns mushy in the final.

The fans would rather see a Djokovic-Nadal final because they know that there will be no anxiety between the two combatants in that title match.  This year, once there was Isner and Anderson in one semi, most fans knew that the real championship match was the Nadal-Djokovic semifinal.

Many will give Anderson a pass because he had to play a 6 hour 36 minute semi against Isner.  I am not one of them.  As endless and draining as that match was, the points were not very long as the match was dominated by serving.  And, let’s not forget that Nadal and Djokovic played over 5 hours—albeit over two days—in their semifinal.  Not only were they out there for a long time, there were more rallies than the power semi that preceded them.  Anderson didn’t lose because of fatigue; he lost because of that championship anxiety.

Anderson seems to be a likeable guy and has a very solid game.  He serves well, has a good forehand and battles.  Like Isner, his return of serve is suspect, but he has reached two Grand Slam finals and has lost them both.  In the 2017 US Open final, he was routed by Nadal in three sets. Nadal played well, but Anderson was far from sharp.

Unfortunately, Anderson has twice suffered from championship anxiety, but he is not alone.  It has happened to many players over the years and the next time an upstart reaches a slam final, it is likely to happen again.

There’s a reason why three guys—Federer, Nadal and Djokovic— have 60 Grand Slam titles between them.  Sure, they beat each other, but when they face guys like Anderson, Berdych, Gonzalez and Baghdatis, they make quick work of them because they’re great and because the other guys have that anxiety.  There are a couple of guys in Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka that seem to keep their anxiety in check.  That is evidenced by both men having three Grand Slam titles.  Let”s chew on that stat:  66 titles split between five guys.

Upsets are great along the way.  Most sports fans like to see them when watching, but be careful.  Once we get into the deep end of the pool, the anxiety too often rears its ugly head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for Tennis to Make a Change

July 14, 2018

Playing on and on is no longer sexy or fair to all involved.

by John Furgele (The Tired from Watching 228)

The world is pressed for time.  More than ever.  Of course, we created this monster.  We used to take our time, we used to relax.  Remember the Country Time Lemonade commercials?  They used to show people sitting on their porches drinking the tart, lemony taste of Country Time, a lemonade that you had to scoop into a pitcher and fill with water.  No longer is there time for that.  Today, we go to the convenience store and buy a bottle that is already prepared for us and gulp it down in the checkout line or in our vehicle.

There was a time when you called your insurance agent, sat down with him/her and discussed options.  Today, you call Geico and in 15 minutes, you just might save 15 percent –or more—on car insurance.

We are addicted to our phones, struggle to pay attention to our loved ones when they’re talking and for the most part, feel rushed every minute of every day.

In sports, we have seen baseball fall off.  The game has always been slow, but today, it is slower than ever; so slow that talk show hosts—people who are paid to watch and talk sports—don’t watch the games.  If you listen to national sports talk, there is nary a mention of what used to be the national pastime.  That’s because, simply, the hosts are not watching.

We like football because the action is sporadic.  It comes in quick and short bursts, but it comes.  There’s a play, then a break, a play and then a break.  We can program ourselves for it.  It plays to our very short and small attention spans.  Because of this, we love football, the new national pastime.  And, football is not immune to the struggles of the American person.  Ratings dipped in 2017 for many reasons—players kneeling, Trump criticism, sloppy play, poor officiating and yes—games that went on too long.

Every sport is trying to come up with ways to speed its games up.  They don’t really want to, but they know that anybody below the age of 35 will not devote four hours to most sporting events.  Does baseball commissioner Rob Manfred really want to put tacky pitch clocks in ballparks?  Of course not, but he can’t have 3 ½ hour ball games on a daily basis either.

Fast forward to tennis, specifically the Wimbledon semifinal between the South African, Kevin Anderson and the American, John Isner.  We knew coming in that chances were strong that the match would be full of tiebreaks.  When one guy serves 140 MPH and the other 128, it is very hard to break serve.  We were protected for the first four sets.  Once players win six games each, they play a first to seven by two tiebreak.  And, in three of the first four sets we got tie breaks.  Isner won two of the three and then Anderson took the fourth set, 6-4.

Like many, I had things to do on Friday, July 13, 2018.  The joy of Wimbledon—for Americans—is that you can watch tennis in the morning while your kids are sleeping and before the chauffeuring begins.  Because Isner served first in the final set, my hope was that he would take the lead at say, 6-5 or 8-7 and then break Anderson and advance to the final.  But, soon it was apparent that it wasn’t going to happen.  Finally, at 17-17, I bailed because I promised two of my kids a trip to the beach on the final day of my vacation.  I gave Wimbledon almost five hours of my time.  I could not give anymore.  In fact, I should have left after the fourth set.

The World Cup soccer final is Sunday.  The teams will play a 90-minute game.  If the scored is tied after 90 minutes, they will play 30 minutes of extra time.  If it is still tied, they will decide the game with penalty kicks.  While some loathe this, it is wise.  You can’t just keep playing.  There HAS to be some sort of time limit.

Tennis disagrees.  Except for the US Open, there are no fifth set tiebreaks at the other three Grand Slams; play continues until somebody has a two game margin.  On Friday, Anderson finally pulled it out, 26-24 in the final set.  It was not riveting tennis in the end; just two robots pumping out aces and service winners time and time again.  The fans, though respectful, tired of the spectacle for even they want a finish line.  Every match can be long, but with tiebreaks, you know that once a set reaches 6-6, the set will end sooner than later.

There have been epic tiebreaks.  If you were born in 1972 or earlier, you remember the “Battle of 18-16,” when John McEnroe beat Bjorn Borg in a fourth set tiebreak to even the 1980 Wimbledon final at two sets apiece.  Ironically, the fifth set was tied 6-6, but Borg won the next two games to claim his fifth straight—and last—Wimbledon title.

There is no beauty in 26-24 sets or for that matter, the 70-68 fifth set in 2010 when John Isner defeated Nicholas Mahut.  If soccer can end the World Cup using penalty kicks to break a tie, surely tennis could use a tiebreak in the fifth sets at Wimbledon, the French and Australian Opens.

What we saw on Friday was not fair to all involved.  It is not fair to the players and in particular, Anderson, who has to somehow find the resolve to play the championship match on Sunday.  It isn’t fair to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who had to wait and wait and wait for their match to begin.  And, because of the wait, their match was suspended after three sets and has to resume on Saturday.  How is this fair?  Their match will now precede the Ladies’ Final, meaning that this 50-game final set has affected the Ladies final.  What if Nadal and Djokovic play an 18-16 fifth set?  What effect does that have on Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber?

And, what about injuries to the players?  If you follow tennis enough, you will notice that many matches end when one player retires due to injury.  We all know that when you play tired, injuries are more likely to happen.  A fifth set tiebreak has to help here.

Not only is it not fair to the fans, it is cruel to them as well.  Tennis isn’t like football, baseball and hockey where you can get up at any time to walk around, visit the latrine, buy a snack or make a phone call.  There is etiquette that has to be followed.  Asking fans to sit for 6 hours and 36 minutes and then stick around for another match?  Not fair and not right.

It’s time to make a change.  It would be great for the three Slams to follow the US Open and play tiebreaks in all five sets (and all three for the women).  But, the leaders of tennis are staid and set in their ways, especially those at the All England Club.  They would never bow to a country that broke away from them some 242 years ago.

So why not compromise?  Why not play a fifth set tiebreak when the score reaches 10-10, 11-11 or 12-12?  And, to distinguish things, maybe it could be a first to nine points.  Or 11.

My suggestion is once the score hits 6-6 in the fifth play a first to 11 points by two tiebreak.  In this way, you are honoring the past by making the players face some attrition, but you’re also telling your fans, both live and watching at home, that there is an ending point.  We know that there will be tiebreaks that end up 25-23, 29-27, or who knows, maybe 51-49, but eventually they will end and end in a reasonable time.  When a fifth set tiebreak comes, we all know that the end is coming, ala penalty kicks in soccer.  That’s the fair and right thing to do.

We understand why there haven’t been fifth set tiebreaks.  Sometimes, tiebreaks are decided by net cords, lucky shots and one particular point.  When you play on and on, you’re making the player win eight points to win that set—four on his serve and four on the other’s serve.  The thinking here is that the better player will win most of the time.  But, today, it was a battle to see which player wilted.

Times have changed.  The world is moving; faster than it ever has and it will continue to do so. In fact, it will move even faster.  Remember Dial-Up internet?  In some ways, tennis is still there, using AOL and Prodigy while the other sports are using lightning fast operations.

Let’s hope that this match is not remembered fondly for its 50-game final set, but rather, as the catalyst for change—a change that can benefit everybody that likes or is associated with tennis.

 

 

Nadal and Federer: Beating Father Time Or Inferior Competition?

July 10, 2018

by John Furgele (The Pondering 228)

What is wrong with tennis, specifically, men’s tennis?  As Wimbledon nears the deep end of the pool, the usual suspects remain.  It looks like Novak Djokovic has found both his game and his passion, but here again, remain the two men that have dominated the game for more than 15 years—Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

We all love athletes and teams who dominate.  We may not root for them, but we love them.  When the New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983, they either received your appreciation or your scorn.  The same went for the Edmonton Oilers from 1984-1990, the Jordan Bulls 1991-1998, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (2000-2002) and of course, the current Golden State Warriors.

It’s tougher in individual sports.  I was in the minority when I rooted against Lance Armstrong as he won the Tour de France year after year.  I didn’t like his arrogance and personally believed that he was doping.  I took a lot of criticism because I was rooting against an American—a cancer survivor no less–in an international event.

My answer was simple—if finishers 2-50 were testing positive for PEDs, how can the winner be clean?  If Armstrong had finished 25th every year, I would have believed that he was competing cleanly.  And, we all know how things turned out.  I’m not looking for apologies, but because he was so good, I rooted against him, and even if he was clean, I still would have rooted against him.

I also rooted against Tiger Woods; not because I don’t like him, but I tend to root against the dominant athlete/team.  Others go the other way; they like to see dominance and truth be told, time helps their cause.  I never liked the 1996-2000 Yankees, but now, 22 years later, I’m glad I got to see that dominance.  It’s something to tell the kids, something to file in your history folder.

The current state of tennis is a head scratcher.  How can the 36-year old Federer and the 32-year old Nadal keep winning and winning?  As Joe McGrath said so beautifully in SlapShot, “Where are the new boys?”  You hear of them, but they never win; moreover, the never pull an upset of the Big Two at any of the Grand Slam tournaments.  At this year’s Australian Open, Federer won, beating Marian Cilic 6-1 in the fifth set.  Nadal was there, but retired due to injury in the quarterfinals.

At the French Open, the only reason Federer didn’t make the final was because he didn’t play there.  Nadal cruised to his 11th title in Paris, hardly breaking a sweat in the process.  Now, as the Wimbledon fortnight nears its conclusion, here we are with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and five others.

We hear great things about guys like Milos Raonic, Dominic Theim, and Alexander Zverev, but most of the time; these players are out before we reach the semifinals.

You never want to be that guy who says things were better “in my day,” but during the Pete Sampras Era (1990-2003), other players stepped up and won majors.  We all know Agassi won eight himself and off the top of my head, there was two for Lleyton Hewitt, two for Marat Safin, four for Jim Courier, three for Gustavo Kuerten, two for Pat Rafter, one for Thomas Muster, one for Petr Korda, two for Sergi Bruguera, two for Yevgeny Kafelnikov and even one for Andres Gomez.

Heck, even Boris Becker won the Australian Open in 1996 at age 28, and two of his six came after 1990.  We also have Stefan Edberg who won six Grand Slams, including three in the Sampras Era when he won Wimbledon in 1990 and the US Open in 1991 and 1992.

Cilic, Carlos Moya, Gaston Gaudio, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Albert Costa, Thomas Johansson, Richard Kraijcek, Michael Stich, Goran Ivanisevic and Andy Roddick join the Muster, Korda and Gomez camp of one slam win.

In today’s era, the only others that have slipped through have been Andy Murray (three titles) and Stan Wawrinka (also three).

Defenders of tennis will say that having five players—Murray, Wawrinka, and Djokovic– prove that the game is healthy.  But, look at the numbers—

Federer:              20 titles

Nadal:                   17 titles

Djokovic:             12 titles

Murray:                3 titles

Wawrinka:          3 titles.

I don’t agree.  The game needs an injection of youth, the next guy, the person to take the torch away from the greats to the point where they force the giants into retirement.  Connors had Borg, Borg had McEnroe, McEnroe had Lendl, Becker had Sampras and Agassi and so on.

When Nadal and Federer, and yes, Djokovic are done, I will miss them and so, too will the sport.  But, when you look at the others left in this year’s draw, do we think one of them can win?

Juan Martin del Potro is a great story.  He has one slam, but like Andy Roddick  (one Slam title), he can’t beat the Big Three in the big spot.  Isner has the big serve, but unlike Goran Ivanisevic (one Slam), is unlikely to even reach a Slam final.

Guys like Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, an admitted tennis lover will root for a classic Nadal-Federer final come Sunday.  And, yes, that’s what everybody probably wants to see.  There won’t be any nerves like there was last year when Federer dispatched Marian Cilic in three boring and uneventful sets.  They last played in the Wimbledon final back in 2008, yet here they are, on a collision course ten years later.  Now, a lot can happen in the quarters and semis, but the fact that 10 years later, we’re talking about the same two guys is an indictment not on the game, but the other guys that play the game.

There were defining moments that proved the torch was about to be passed.  I remember Safat destroying Sampras in the 2000 US Open final and the Hewitt doing the same to Pete in the 2001 edition.  Sure, Sampras would come back and win the US Open in his last ever match, but even Pete knew that his time was over.  I remember seeing McEnroe being blitzed in 4th rounds and he knew his time was over.  We saw Andre Agassi limping around against Benjamin Becker knowing that his time was also over.  But, for some reason, nobody is stepping up to tell Federer and Nadal that their time is over.

Eventually Father Time calls and usually the legends are pounded into submission.  It hasn’t happened yet and I wonder if it will?  Could Federer win Wimbledon at age 40 and decide to retire on top?  Could Nadal do the same at age 35 or 38 at the French?  Or, will somebody finally step up to tell these warriors that their time is up!

The most puzzled of all—Father Time.  Even he must be scratching his head.

Are the Wilpons Hurting the Mets?

June 27, 2018

by John Furgele (The Wondering Aloud 228)

Is it time?  Is it time for the Wilpons to sell the New York Mets? We all know that they certainly don’t have to do this; they own the team, they can keep the Mets as long as they see fit –and the probably will.  Far be it from me to tell a wildly successful family what to do with something they own.  That said…….

Owning a sports team is much different than developing real estate, which is how Fred Wilpon made his billions.  Investing money into IRAs, stocks and mutual funds is different that owning a baseball team.  You can make mistakes in real estate, but the next deal could be the big deal.  We can use Donald Trump as an example.  He supposedly lost it all, but had the capital to keep investing and eventually, it paid off.

The Wilpons made mistakes off the field.  They trusted Bernie Madoff and depending on which reports you believe, the Wilpons lost anywhere from $200 to $700 million dollars.  Are the Mets suffering from a Bernie Madoff Curse?

Wilpon bought one percent of the Mets in 1980 and when Nelson Doubleday tried to sell the team, Wilpon exercised a right to purchase and both he and Doubleday assumed 50 percent ownership.  It was an uneasy relationship, but it came at a time when the Mets were hot.  From 1984-1988, no team had more star power, more drama, and more excitement than the team that played in Queens.  They owned Broadway; probably the only time in history that they were more popular than the Bronx Bombers.  Save the 1969 rhetoric; that was a one-year run that came out of nowhere.  The ’68 Mets were 73-89 and the ’70 Mets were 83-79.

The Mets have played ball since 1962.  They were loved for their ineptitude, adored for the 1969 season of magic and caught America’s fancy in 1973, when the “Ya Gotta Believe Gang,” rallied to win the NL East at 82-79, beat the Mighty Reds in the NLCS and took the on-their-way-to-a-dynasty A’s to seven games in the World Series.

From 1974-1983, they were bad and the ‘77-‘83 editions were beyond that. That’s not all on Wilpon, but some of it is of course.  Think about this—the Mets are in their 57th season and have won two titles; the maligned daily Marlins are in their 26th season and like the Mets, have two titles.

The recent Mets have been hampered by the Wilpon ownership.  They assemble great pitchers, but they all get hurt and worse, they can’t heal.  They trade for Yoenis Cespesdes; he leads them to the 2015 World Series and he hasn’t played a full-season since.  David Wright, their heart and soul will end up retiring because of a career ending injury.

Is this Wilpon’s fault; of course not, but the buck has to stop with both he and son, Jeff.  As fortunate and successful as they have been in business, they have been equally unfortunate and unsuccessful as Met owners.  The 1986 championship is still revered by Mets fans and that happened 32 years ago.  32!  Meanwhile, the Yankee fan can’t remember if Derek Jeter’s backhand shuffle play came in 1999, 2000 or 2001 and they struggle to remember if Robinson Cano played on the 2009 title team.  Met fans can tell you the complete rosters of both the ’69 and the ’86 teams because that’s all they have.  Sure, that’s more than Cleveland, Seattle, the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs and the Nationals, who haven’t even played in a Fall Classic, but this is big-market New York.  And, speaking of that, it is Wilpon who complains of the costs associated with running a baseball team.  Fred doesn’t like the high salaries, gets mad when the Yankees trade for guys like A-Rod and Giancarlo Stanton and really doesn’t like opening up the checkbook.  He’s the guy that let Darryl Strawberry go in 1990, but the same guy who resigned the oft-injured Cespesdes.  Is he a guy that buys the kids dinner and when he sees the bill wishes he had cooked spaghetti at home?

We know Wilpon won’t sell the team.  In fact, he recently bought the Syracuse Triple A team and next year will have his Double A affiliate in Binghamton and the Triple A team in Syracuse, easy flights for call-ups and of course, rehab assignments.

What do the Mets fans think?  Are they sick of the Wilpons?  Before Yankee fans laugh, remember, you wanted George Steinbrenner out, but by the end of his time on earth, you loved him.  Could that happen with Fred Wilpon?  It doesn’t look like it will, but maybe they can catch lightning in a bottle one more time like they did in 1969, so the now 81-year old chairman can ride off into the sunset and eventually Heaven.

Sometimes, the game can you pass you by.  Art Modell had to sell the Ravens because he just didn’t have the billions required to stay as an owner.  The Davis family continues to hunt for revenues by moving from Oakland to LA back to Oakland and eventually to Las Vegas.  Eventually, they, too, will have to clear out.

I’m not sure to what to think with Fred/Jeff Wilpon.  They probably have a few billion, but one of the reasons they get and stay rich is by minimizing expenses.  Some guys can write the checks and not worry about it.  Others cringe when they buy new desks for the office.  It seems like Wilpon is of the latter variety.  One thing is for sure—his beloved Mets seemed jinxed and appear to be going nowhere fast.  If this was Kansas City, few would care; they would simply be happy to have an owner keeping a team in their city.  But this is New York and simply put, the Mets, under the Wilpons are not getting it done.