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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Saturday, January 31, 2004

An Idle Keyshawn Is The Devil's Workshop

While Eagles fans have to spend Super Bowl week wondering, once again, what it would be like to have Donovan McNabb and Bobby Taylor mugging for cameras at Media Day and playing on football's biggest stage, at least they don't have to deal with Keyshawn Johnson's agitating antics. Me-shawn, who was unceremoniously shown the door midway through the Buccaneers' letdown of a season, has been busy harassing people other than the media, opponents, and his teammates.

If you're wondering what Keyshawn is up to lately with all his free time - since he's not on a team these days and obviously not in the playoffs - you can consult a certain John Mahannah Jr.'s voice mail.

Mahannah, who was recently involved with Keyshawn's ex-wife, recently filed a lawsuit against Johnson, claiming that the famously childish receiver left him threatening messages.

In one of those messages, Keyshawn, who apparently needs to find a hobby ASAP, told Mahannah, "I got a lot of free time on my hands now, and I'm going to hunt you down and beat you to a pulp."

If I were Mahannah, I'd consider naming the Bucs as defendants in that suit. After all, aren't they responsible for all of Keyshawn's free time? Besides, imagine Jon Gruden making his faces in a courtroom.

The story doesn't quite end there, though. Proving that karma is a very real concept, Keyshawn was mugged - on the same day that he was hit with Mahannah's lawsuit. Two men jacked him for $1,000, his watch, and some jewelry.

Does anyone feel sorry for the guy? It's a very small group, I'm sure.

***

There's a commercial that airs fairly frequently on ESPNEWS (and on other networks, I'm sure) for the frozen food company Hungry Man and their big, hearty meals, or something like that. Here's how the commercial goes. See if you can tell what's wrong with it.

Two large guys, wearing towels, and apparently just out of the shower, are in a locker room talking to each other. One guy, who looks like Steve from "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," asks the other guy what he had for dinner.

The second guy, who is blow-drying his hair, tells him, "A pound of beer-battered chicken strips and cheese fries. You?"

"Steve" responds, "A watercress tea sandwich."

At which point the second guy turns to him with a look of disbelief, points the blow dryer at him, and blows him clear over a row of lockers.

The impression it's supposed to leave is that Hungry Man is cranking out some pretty masculine meals, while "Steve's" choice of food is decidedly effeminate.

See the problem here?

If beer-battered chicken strip man is so damn macho, what the hell is he doing blow-drying his hair?

***

Disregard this section if Ivy League football does not interest you.

Cornell football finally announced the hiring of a new head coach, over two months after giving former coach Tim Pendergast the axe. The new boss man is Jim Knowles '87, a former All-Ivy defensive end with the Red.

Thumbs up on the choice from this Cornellian. AD J. Andy Noel flirted with a couple of big-name NFL coaches, lost them, and quickly moved on to a good backup plan. Knowles was an assistant at Cornell from '88-96, and has also worked at Western Michigan and, most recently, as linebackers coach at Ole Miss - excuse me, 10-3 Cotton Bowl champs Ole Miss.

Knowles is certainly a happy man to be back in Ithaca. He called the opportunity to coach the Red his "lifelong career ambition." When he was previously on the Cornell staff, the team won its only two Ivy championships in the past 32 years ('88 and '90).

One thing's for sure: He can't do much worse than Pendergast. Last season, the Red went 1-9, losing nine straight to finish the season and going winless in Ivy play.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Pudge Is To The Tigers As Samuel L. Jackson Is To ___?

Reports have free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez signing a four-year deal with the Detroit Tigers today, assuming all goes well in an exam of Rodriguez's troubled back on Thursday.

Rodriguez, who spent his entire career with the Texas Rangers before signing a one-year deal with the Marlins last season, led Florida to an unexpected World Series championship. The catcher is a sure Hall of Famer, and some even consider him the best catcher ever to play the game.

On the other hand, the Tigers set all-time futility marks last season, losing 119 games, an American League record. They fell one loss short of equaling the Major League record for losses in a season, set by the expansion '62 Mets. And the Tigers had to win five of their final six games of the season to escape that ignominy.

So if Pudge went to Detroit to help in their rebuilding, and managed even to help bring them back to .500, that would be quite an accomplishment. That's a 38-game swing, which no team even came close to last season. To put that in perspective, the Marlins, who seemingly came out of nowhere, improved just 12 games from the previous season.

Detroit is really that bad. And they are on the verge of getting one of the best ever at his position.

This brings up an interesting question: What would happen in other endeavors if we took one of the best individuals and threw them on a sinking ship?

For example, say we took Kiefer Sutherland, who does brilliant work on 24 as Jack Bauer, and put him on a terrible show, such as Frasier. Is it possible the only thing that can stop Jack Bauer is the snooty psychoanalysis of Niles? Will we find that he's been having an affair with Roz? Will the Salazars order him to cap Frasier? What kind of trouble will Kim get into in Seattle?

For the Tigers' sake, I hope signing I-Rod goes better than that would.

How about if we took a great singer like Bono and stuck him in a band like System of a Down? Would they be able to turn their guitars down enough to make his vocals audible? Would they even understand his lyrics? The Super Bowl certainly wouldn't be calling to book that act.

Maybe a better idea would be to try this with movies. Win A Date With Samuel L. Jackson, anybody? Watch as the seasoned movie vet goes to a small town to go on a date with a lucky contest winner...and creeps her out when he launches into his "Ezekiel 25:17 speech." By the time he gets to "And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee," the girl will be back in the arms of her friend.

I don't think Pudge will be sending Mike Maroth running back to whomever was the Tigers catcher last season, though. (It was Brandon Inge. You didn't know it offhand, either.) Maroth lost 21 games. And he was the best pitcher on that team.

Besides, I don't think it will be possible for anyone to make that team any worse. Unless, of course, they signed Ashton Kutcher to catch.

Hey, manager Alan Trammell, look over there...there's a camera...and Dmitri Young is wearing a microphone...you've been punk'd!

***

In some disturbing news, Virginia Tech QB Marcus Vick, Michael Vick's little brother, looks like he's getting into some serious trouble if reports out of Blacksburg are true. The 19-year old sophomore is accused of having sex with a 15-year old girl, whose two friends reported this to police.

The girls, according to the Roanoke Times, stated that they had been given vodka and rum by Vick and a teammate, and that they danced and stripped while the teammate took pictures.

Vick should know better than to go down this road and put himself in a situation like this, especially since he's an NFL prospect and has an older brother who is a superstar. But shouldn't the girls share some blame here? There is no indication that this wasn't consensual, and no indication that they were forced to do anything.

The girls were ages 14 and 15, and they're drinking in a college dorm room and stripping? It's understandably tough for Vick to stop the situation, especially when he has two teammates around. It's also difficult for the girls to put a stop to it. Once the wheels of this kind of thing are in motion, it's hard to put the brakes on. But it's a scenario that shouldn't have existed in the first place, and all parties are to blame for creating it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Word Is, He's Got A Nasty Backdoor Slider

Athletes seem to have a way about making headlines in a bad way through their promiscuity. Everyone from Shawn Kemp to Kobe Bryant has seen their name in the press in ways they don't want. The NFL's Darrell Russell was one of these notable cases. Russell, who was also suspended by the league for over a year for a drug violation, had charges dropped against him in 2002 regarding his videotaping two friends raping a woman.

Now another athlete is making headlines involving sex and videotape. It isn't nearly as serious as rape, although it's certainly bizarre. 23-year-old Kazuhito Tadano, a pitcher in the Indians' minor league system, apparently appeared in a gay porn video three years ago while he was a college student in Japan.

Like Mike Piazza's 2002 press conference to announce his heterosexuality, Tadano made a point to say, through an interpreter, "I'm not gay. I'd like to clear that fact up right now."

Unlike Piazza, though, Tadano has been bold enough to admit to engaging in homosexual activity on the tape, a revelation that will certainly ruffle some feathers as Tadano makes his way up the minor league ladder. There has never been an openly gay player in any of the four major professional sports, and while Tadano professes to be straight, the tale of the tape at least nudges the door a little closer to being opened by an athlete who is prepared to come out.

Tadano has apologized to his teammates twice in the minor leagues, and he has been received well by the Indians organization. That's a turnaround from the Japanese leagues, where the commissioner effectively blacklisted him from being drafted, despite the fact that Tadano was a good enough college pitcher to merit a first-round selection.

The video in question is apparently only available on the black market in Japan, although a Japanese tabloid did run stills from the video a month before the draft. Makes the Star and the Enquirer look a little more respectable...

Tadano has found a way to thank the Indians for taking a chance on him: by putting up solid pitching numbers. In all three levels of the minors last year, he posted a combined 6-2 record with a 1.55 ERA and three saves.

Yesterday's admission and apology from Tadano came after the Indians fielded so many requests to interview him that they felt it was necessary to get the issue out of the way before spring training. Among other things, Tadano said, "All of us have made mistakes in our lives. Hopefully, you learn from them and move on.

"I did participate in a video and I regret it very much. It was a one-time incident that showed bad judgment and will never be repeated. I was young, playing baseball, and going to college and my teammates and I needed money.

"Frankly, if I were more mature and had really thought about the implications of what I did, it never would have happened."

One problem that Tadano won't have to worry about that an American in his situation would is that of hecklers.

"I don't understand English, so it doesn't really matter."

***

Those of you who watched American Idol last night might have noticed one Matt Rogers, a big goateed dude who was the last person to audition on the first day of tryouts in Los Angeles.

Unlike most of the Idol hopefuls, the guy can sing. What sets him apart even further is that Rogers happens to sport a Rose Bowl championship ring. Dedicated college football fans might find it easier to recognize him if he had a helmet and a purple No. 77 jersey on. He was an offensive guard on the 2000 Washington team that won the Granddaddy of 'em all over Purdue.

On that team, Rogers was a senior transfer from Iowa who checked in at 6-5, 290. So it's a good thing that he made it to Hollywood. Otherwise he might have kicked Simon's ass.

Rogers, who sang James Ingram's "Just Once," played on an offensive line that was flanked by current NFLer Jerramy Stevens and helped protect another current NFLer, Marques Tuiasosopo. Wonder what they thought when they saw him belt out an operatic aria to celebrate his selection.

He probably won't win the competition, but here's hoping he goes far. The man could bench press three Clay Aikens and halve Ruben Studdard's time in the 40.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Believe In Miracle

Got to catch a pre-release screening of the upcoming movie Miracle, about arguably the most unforgettable moment in sports history, the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team's defeat of the Soviet Red Army team. Being a Disney employee has its perks. So, with thanks to Uncle Walt, here's what I thought of the movie.

First of all, it's the kind of story that would be far too cheesy to swallow were it not for the fact that it actually happened. Like The Rookie, another Disney true-story inspirational sports flick, Miracle's strength lies in the fact that the movie's plot hasn't been changed much from the events upon which it is based. It doesn't need to be.

The movie has another link to The Rookie - writer Mike Rich, who wrote the screenplay for The Rookie as well as having a hand in Eric Guggenheim's script for Miracle.

Kurt Russell does an excellent job as Herb Brooks, the no-nonsense head coach who took a group of college hockey players who were rivals and united them through pushing them mercilessly. He has you believing his character, with the exception of his Minnesota accent, which sometimes seems a little forced.

As for the players themselves, they are what really makes the movie work. All of them are no-name actors, and they all play their roles very well, particularly Patrick O'Brien Demsey (Mike Eruzione), Eddie Cahill (Jim Craig), and Michael Mantenuto (Jack O'Callahan). Although only it's only necessary to know a handful of them as far as their contributions to the plot go, each one brings more to the table than an extra would.

There are several good lines throughout the movie - in more ways than one. One scene that had the theater laughing was when Brooks decides to keep three skaters on a line together. The three skaters, who become known as the Coneheads, after the Saturday Night Live skits of the era, are kind of a toned-down version of the Hanson Brothers from the hockey classic Slap Shot.

Another good exchange comes between Brooks and Jim Craig, the goalie who has just had a rough outing. When Brooks threatens to put the backup in, Craig tells him, "That's my net!" To which Brooks responds, "They just scored 10 goals. It's everyone's net."

The hockey scenes themselves are done very convincingly, a trend that seems to be picking up in sports movies. The famous Olympic showdown with the Russians has tons of action footage, all very well-done. Even the minute details of the game are replicated, down to player substitutions and the shirt and jacket that Brooks wears on the bench.

There is also plenty of detail that can be appreciated by hardcore hockey fans, including players wearing their college teams' practice jerseys in the Olympic tryouts (Terriers, Gophers, UNH, and UMD are just some of the sweaters you'll see.)

Also, Al Michaels and Ken Dryden (Cornell '69), who called the game in 1980, lend their voices to the movie, complete with Michaels's famous call that inspired the title of the film. An added bonus is the national anthem before the U.S.S.R. game, sung brilliantly by Lauren Hart, whose voice Flyers fans will recognize. For my money, she sings the best anthem you'll hear anywhere.

I wondered how the filmmakers would handle the ending of the story, because the game against the Soviet Union was actually the semifinal, not the gold medal game. Without giving away too much, let's say that the ending does a good job of carrying the momentum from the win over the Russians through the movie's finish.

One part of the movie that was slightly unneccessary, although always a presence in these types of movies, was Brooks's strained relationship with his wife. The tension in the coach's family life doesn't play with the plot line of his hockey team, and could have been dropped altogether, although it wouldn't have left room for the standard Disney female romantic lead.

Overall, Miracle is a movie certainly worth seeing in the theater. It premieres on Friday, Feb. 6, but there is a sneak preview in theaters on Sat., Jan. 31. I'm sure the DVD, when it comes out, will be loaded with great bonus material on the actual story of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.

Is it my favorite movie of all time, like I predicted it would be? I won't say that it is - yet - although I can say there isn't any movie I'd like to see more than this one. It's a movie that makes you feel good, and is worth watching over and over again. Because of the inspirational story, Miracle will never get stale, no matter how many times you watch it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to look for Mike Eruzione replica jerseys on eBay.

Monday, January 26, 2004

...And Pitching, Batting In The Ninth Position...President David Palmer!

Props to 24 for winning a Golden Globe for best television drama. I didn't start watching regularly until this season, but it didn't take much to turn me into a loyal fan.

In honor of the win, here's the All-24 Team. Yes, some of them are stretches. Sue me. I'd like to see if you can come up with anything better.

Norm Sherry, C, 1959-63
Hap Myers, 1B, 1910-15
Chase Utley, 2B, 2003-
Rafael Almeida, 3B, 1911-13
Angel Salazar, SS, 1983-88
Hank Bauer, OF, 1948-61
Andy Kyle, OF, 1912
Pedro Cerrano, OF, 1989-98
David Palmer, SP, 1978-89
Byung-Hyun Kim, RP, 1999-

Side note: while I was trying to come up with names for this team, I stumbled across perhaps the most unfortunate name in the history of mankind: Tony Suck. Even worse, he changed his name...he was born Charles Anthony Zuck. Don't believe me? Look it up.

***

In yesterday's column, I wrote about Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun carpet F-bombing a reporter who asked about why he didn't sign local product Ryan Gomes to play for the Huskies. I wrote the column from memory of the ESPNEWS report, so here are the exact details of the eruption of Mt. Calhoun.

The reporter in question was Dave Solomon of the New Haven Register, who asked, "Recruiting is hardly an exact science. What does Gomes do that blows you away now that maybe no one saw?"

Calhoun's reply, in part: "I f---ed up. I didn't take Ryan Gomes. Does that make you happy?

"It took 18 months to sell the kid to Providence. It has been written about. It has been talked about - don't shake your f---ing head - you asked a question. I'm telling you how I feel about it. I took Emeka Okafor and Caron Butler. They're not bad. I can't get everyone.

"We have 13 scholarships. When I saw him he was 6-5, 265-270 pounds. When he graduated, we took Caron. He then waited to get his SAT scores. It took Wayne Simone 18 months to convince - I believe that's his quote - to convince Tim Welsh to take the kid.

"I'm tired of talking about Ryan. I just said he's one of the best players in our league and starting to look like one of the best players in the country. I don't know what else I can say. If you want me to say I f---ed up, I f---ed up. Write it. I don't know how else I can answer it. You want me to say I f---ed up. For the fifth time, I f---ed up. So print it five times."

Again...through that entire tirade, he kept precise count of how many times he said he f---ed up. If only he had paid that much attention to Ryan Gomes's potential.

Thanks to the Hartford Courant for the exact info.

***

One of the perks of being a Disney employee is that I get to see the upcoming movie Miracle 11 days before its release date. The movie, about the 1980 U.S.A. hockey team's stunning upset of the Soviet Red Army team at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, stars Kurt Russell as the late, great Herb Brooks.

Look for a review of the movie in tomorrow's column. But be warned: I'm already anticipating that this will be my favorite movie of all time.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

The Mad F-Bomber

The news that most of the sports world heard was pretty standard: 4th-ranked UConn was upset yesterday by Big East rival Providence. The Friars were led by a tremendous effort by forward Ryan Gomes, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The news that you only heard if you had the TV tuned to ESPNEWS, or you were listening to ESPN radio, was that of a sarcastic, expletive-riddled tirade by Huskies coach Jim Calhoun.

The problem started a while back, when Calhoun was recruiting this year's junior class. Gomes hails from Waterbury, CT, a town not too far from UConn, and of course someone raised the question of how such a productive player from the Huskies' backyard ended up in a different jersey. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun did not like the question.

I wish I could find his quote verbatim, because it's classic. Unfortunately, he only made this comment to an ESPN Radio reporter, so there is no video of it and it's not in the AP story.

Calhoun, who is clearly tired of being asked this question, went ballistic. "If---ed up," said the coach, very sarcastically. Calhoun then went on describing how he went with Emeka Okafor instead of Gomes, and that turned out pretty well, and that even Providence wasn't sold on Gomes for a long time, and that in high school, Gomes wasn't yet at his current 6-7 height and weighed just as much (245).

What was really funny about his tirade, though, was that Calhoun repeatedly said, "I f---ed up." He even went so far as to say, "Here, I'll say it again: If---ed up."

Calhoun, during his rant, apparently was keeping track of the number of times he dropped the F-bomb, because he concluded his speech by saying, "For the fifth time, I f---ed up. And you can put each one of those in the paper."

How precise. Calhoun is attentive enough, even while raging at a helpless reporter (whom he admonished, "Don't shake your head," during all this), to keep track exactly of how many times he "admitted" to f---ing up.

In the box score, to reward Calhoun's precision, maybe we'll see the following:

TEAM REBS: 5
TURNOVERS: 16 (B Gordon 5, T Brown 4, C Villanueva 2, S Tooles, E Okafor, R Anderson)
BLOCKED SHOTS: 5 (E Okafor 4, J Boone)
STEALS: 3 (S Tooles, B Gordon, E Okafor)
3-PT FGS: 2-12, .167 (D Brown 0-2, B Gordon 1-5, R Anderson 1-5)
I F---ED UP BY NOT GETTING RYAN GOMES: 5 (J Calhoun 5)

***

ESPNEWS Jinx update:

Is the ESPNEWS Jinx for real? We waited anxiously yesterday as Oklahoma tried to shake the curse. Well, they beat Kansas State for their first win in five tries since visiting the ESPNEWS studio. Head coach Kelvin Sampson, who traditionally wears a blue denim shirt on the sidelines, even ditched his look in favor of a sweater in hopes of reversing the team's fortunes. Is that what it takes to beat the jinx? A change of clothes?

But the jinx clearly is still alive and kicking in Norman: Forward Kevin Bookout, who was one of the Sooners who actually sat down on the set for an interview, announced today that he would be missing the rest of the season because he will undergo shoulder surgery next week.

No word on whether the other Sooner to be interviewed, Jabahri Brown, is trembling in fear.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Look Out, Patrick Ramsey

Yes, I know the first three installments of Just Off-Camera have been about hockey, the fourth "major" sport. Sadly, hockey got more attention on this website than it did at ESPNEWS the past week. That's an exaggeration, of course, but not by much. I'm somewhat savvy, though, so I'll pander to the masses and ditch my thoughts on Rick Nash (if you don't know who he is, he's 19 years old and leading the NHL in goals) for now. Ladies and gents, I present to you the first non-hockey column on this esteemed web site...

The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, the Campbell's Soup Jinx, and the Madden Cover Jinx have all become well-known bad omens in the world of sports. Witness Michael Vick, who appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2004 and went down in the preseason with a broken leg, Kurt Warner and Jerome Bettis, who shilled for Campbell's and saw their careers take a turn for the worse, or - most recently - Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb's appearance on the cover of two recent issues of SI, both of which directly preceded their teams' elimination from the playoffs.

Now, pay close attention. Not only does this column not deal with hockey, it is also a landmark because for the first time in Just Off-Camera history, I'm going to break news. There exists a new jinx whose powers have yet to be fully comprehended. I speak, of course, about the ESPNEWS Jinx.

Fear it.

On January 10, the Oklahoma men's basketball team, in the Nutmeg State for a game against Connecticut, visited the ESPNEWS studio. Head coach Kelvin Sampson, center Jabahri Brown, and forward Kevin Bookout were interviewed on the set, and the rest of the team looked on. Innocent enough, right?

The next day, the Sooners took their 10-0 record onto the Huskies' floor and got themselves smacked upside the head, 86-59. One loss, no big deal, right? It was to UConn, after all, and UConn's a pretty good team.

Oklahoma's troubles didn't stop there, though. They then started their Big 12 conference schedule with games against Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Texas Tech - and lost all three. They lost to State by 21, they lost at home to a Missouri team that has struggled to beat much lesser teams, and they lost to Bobby Knight's squad by 20. What in the name of Cindy Brunson is going on here?

I did a little background checking and asked about other teams that visited the studio and found out that the '97-98 Stanford team visited Bristol U. Guess how they followed up their visit? A 20-point trouncing at the hands of UConn. Of course, Stanford then only lost two more games the rest of the way, including an overtime defeat in the national semifinals...so that's kind of a wash.

Oklahoma will try to get the ESPNEWS monkey off its back today with a home game against Kansas State at 1:30 ET. Win or lose, the damage has been done by their visit.

So where does Patrick Ramsey come in? I heard that the Redskins' QB was in the house today, tempting the Jinx. Ramsey won't be in action for a while - it's still January, and as any football fan can tell you, the Ball Coach erased any chance the 'Skins might have had to play football in January. But keep an eye on Ramsey when the first minicamps roll around. If he blows out a knee, you'll know why...

***

Another note about working at ESPN: Our NHL guru gets off the phone earlier this evening sounding very disgruntled. When I asked him what was going on, he told me it was some guy calling him from a bar to settle a dispute.

Apparently, this happens fairly frequently. A couple buddies get together at their local pub, one guy says something incorrect about the sporting world (it's a fair bet that this guy is a Yankees fan), and another guy tries to correct him, and they get into an argument, which a third guy decides would be best resolved by calling the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

ESPN ain't the local library. But apparently it's possible to call information, get ESPN's number, ask to talk to someone in the research department, and then harass the staff. Don't do this. We don't like it.

However, the real question here is why didn't I ever think of this before ESPN hired me?

Friday, January 23, 2004

Enemy Territory?

A few weeks ago, seeing that the Flyers were coming to Madison Square Garden on one of my off-days, I went and picked up a pair of tickets on eBay. Going to see the Flyers play a road game isn't new for me. But seeing them at MSG is. You hear stories about New York fans.

I planned to wear my Flyers jersey, but I wanted to hear what some other people had to say about the idea.

The hockey expert at the ESPN research department: "Do not wear your jersey at MSG."

My boss: "I just want you to be able to come into work on Friday."

A friend: "Just because you haven't got your ass kicked before doesn't mean you won't get your ass kicked this time."

Another friend - a Rangers fan - whom I went to the game with: "The Rangers have been so bad the past few years, I don't think anybody will care."

One out of four ain't bad. I wore the jersey. Fortunately, the Rangers fan was right.

It was not a problem at all. From the moment I got out of my car in the garage to when I pulled out of the garage, I didn't get anything thrown at me besides a handful of snickering comments. Actually, I got more praise from fellow Flyers fans than derision from New Yorkers.

As it turned out, the section I had seats in was mostly Flyers fans, who were loud enough to start multiple "Let's go Flyers" chants and drown out the surrounding Rangers fans. It didn't hurt that the Flyers played superior hockey and won, 4-2.

When the Flyers scored their fourth goal just after the start of the third period, one Rangers fan who had been taunting the Flyers crowd for most of the game was serenaded with a chorus of "Ass....hole! Ass....hole!" I felt like I was back in Philly.

While I had worried whether or not wearing orange and black would get me in trouble, another Flyers near us had the opposite idea. He was wearing a Red Sox hat and a Princeton t-shirt, so I asked him how someone wearing that was a Flyers fan. He explained that he was from Center City Philly, and he had a Red Sox hat specifically to wear to sporting events in New York, "because this pisses them off." Next to this guy, my Brashear jersey might as well have been a white flag.

Since this was my first time at MSG, here are my impressions of the joint.

For a place that bills itself as "The World's Most Famous Arena," it was kind of dumpy. I know it's a few decades old, but how about some decent lighting? The ice had something of a yellowish tint to it, and I think it was because the lighting just wasn't very good.

Also, what's up with the color scheme? The lowest section of seats is purple, the rest are teal. What happened to blue? Both the teams that call MSG home wear blue, but apparently the designer was a Charlotte Hornets fan...

Two more gripes: get some decent music, please. It should be a federal law that at least one AC/DC song is played at every major sporting event. Whatever the MSG crew played was atrocious...it was a weird combination of several mediocre '80s rock songs mixed together to a techno beat. I guess the World's Most Famous Arena stole a couple DJs' CDs from an old East German nightclub.

Finally, hit the bathroom before you venture into the upper deck. I guess people didn't complain as much when MSG was built as they do now. In Philly, fans raised hell when they found out that waterfountains were left out of the Linc. At MSG, I guess nobody found it annoying that they had to go down one level to use the bathroom. Although, that might explain the occasional smell that drifted our way in the nosebleeds.

Before they address all that, though, they should work on putting a quality product on the ice. The Rangers played like a beaten team from the moment the Flyers scored their first goal. Down two goals with a minute and a half left, they didn't even pull their goalie when the had the opportunity. I agree with the Rangers fans who started the "Fire Sather" chant midway through the third. Maybe the Blueshirts should bring in Isiah Thomas to work on their team after he's done remodeling the Knicks. He couldn't bring the Rangers any further down in the division. Well, they are ahead of Pittsburgh. But I think even Isiah could keep the Rangers ahead of the Penguins.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Jeremy Roenick's Diary

Even guys making millions playing a game can have a bad month. Just take a look at some recent entries in Flyers star Jeremy Roenick's journal...


"Jan. 3: Dear Diary,"Today we got housed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning! And Fredrik Modin ripped off a hat trick on us! We've gotta pick it up, otherwise we'll slip away from first place in the Eastern Conference.

"Jan. 7: Dear Diary,"This morning, at practice, that dumbass Mark Recchi thought it would be a good idea to rip a slap shot at me when I wasn't looking. So he hits me right in the face, in the right cheek. It hurt like hell, but I'm tough. I'm a hockey player. The docs told me it wasn't broken, they put 26 stitches in my cheek, and I was good to go that night against the Sabres. But we played like crap. We had to settle for a tie tonight. Against Buffalo. The Sabres suck, but we can't beat them. At least we get another crack at them next week. I know I'll have a better game then...it's been three straight games now that I haven't even had a point in.

"Jan. 8: Dear Diary,"I thought we were going to pull one out tonight, but we lost in overtime to Florida. I scored a goal, but I actually played awfully...I was minus-2, and the point is, we let that point slip away. And we gave one to the Panthers. Dammit!

"Jan. 10: Dear Diary,"We got shut out by the Oilers tonight. This is getting really frustrating! I dropped another minus-2 tonight, and now we've gone four straight games without a win. But something good is going to happen soon. I can feel it.

"Jan. 12: Dear Diary,"Today sucked a fat one. We lost to the Penguins. Nobody loses to the Penguins. They're bankrupt, their leading scorer is a defenseman, they can't win unless their owner plays...how do we lose to a team like that??? And to top it all off, the media is all up in my grill because they think I called Coach a son of a bitch. Well, yeah, I said that, but they took it out of context...I meant that he's been treating us like dogs because we're not playing well, and he's a hardass in practice...at least you understand what I mean, Diary. The media never understands athletes like me.

"Jan. 13: Dear Diary,"God hates me. Today was the worst day ever. We lost to the Sabres. I thought for sure we were going to take them after that tie last week. And, to really make this day perfect, I got hit in the face with a high stick, and that douchebag ref Blaine Angus didn't call it, so there I am, bleeding profusely from the face, all pissed off, so I chucked a water bottle across the ice at the damn zebra, so he tosses me from the game. I hate refs and I hate the Sabres and I just wanna go to bed.

"Jan. 14: Dear Diary,"Okay, today was the worst day ever. That stupid suit Gary Bettman thinks he knows what he's doing and suspended me for Friday's game against the Maple Leafs. We need that game against the Leafs! So now I can't play, and not only that, I have to forfeit my game check, which is $90 Gs! That punk Bettman has it coming...

"Jan. 15: Dear Diary,"Today I let that bastard know-it-all Gary Bettman have it. I told him 'he forgot that the NHL merged with the WWF and we hide razor blades in our pockets and cut ourselves so we can get calls. I'm just surprised that you can get fined $91,000 for throwing a water bottle on the ice. It's like fining Gary Bettman for all those lies about the collective bargaining agreement coming. He throws those around like they're candy. The NHLPA should fine him for those.' Damn! He got told.

"Jan. 16: Dear Diary,"So I had to sit out tonight's game against the Leafs. At least we won. And tomorrow is my birthday, and we play the Leafs again, so things are looking up...

"Jan. 17: Dear Diary,"This was the worst birthday ever! Not only am I getting old (I'm 34), but I come back and I go to try and check Mats freakin' Sundin in the corner, and I miss, and I hit Eric Desjardins, and I broke his arm! He's going to be out something like eight weeks! All our defensemen are hurt, and we're not in first anymore, and my face is getting carved up every time I hit the ice, and I'm injuring my own teammates...I think I'm going to hibernate until the playoffs. Talk to you then.
"--J.R."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Not that anyone noticed, because not only is it the NHL, and not only is it a regular season NHL game, and not only is a team from Canada (the Canucks) playing, but the game ended after midnight ET, which means nobody saw it...but a guy named David Oliver scored the eventual winning goal for the Dallas Stars in their game in Vancouver last night.

Admit it. You'd never heard of David Oliver. It's ok, neither had I...or anyone else at ESPN last night. Even the first wire story ran his name as Darren Oliver. Darren Oliver is a pitcher with a career ERA over 5. But anyway...

The guy was an NCAA hockey stud. 205 points in 152 games for Michigan in the early '90s. After his college days, he played four seasons in the NHL. And then his career path regressed.

Seems Oliver hadn't scored an NHL goal since December 11, 1999, which would be four years, a month, and 8 days ago. Back then he played for the Coyotes. Since that day, Oliver has played in just 21 NHL games. What has he been doing with his time? Well, he's scored goals, they just weren't on the relatively big stage of the NHL. Oliver scored 14 goals in the 2000-01 season for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the now-defunct IHL. He spent '01-02 playing in the German Elite League for the Munich Barons, for whom he scored 20 goals. He's been in the AHL the past two seasons, scoring a total of 16 goals for the Utah Grizzlies. And now, he finally gets his name back in an NHL goals column.

I bet he would have loved to tell you about his goal last night, but he might have had some trouble choking out the words. Turns out that in the celebration following Oliver's goal, he took a shot to the throat, which forced him to leave the game after the second period. He was taken to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing.

The injury didn't seem too serious, fortunately. On the positive side, ain't hockey great? Every night you'll see at least one breathtaking goal...


Cornell hockey side note: There's a guy named David Oliver who's a teammate of Travis Bell '03 on the CHL's Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. Different David Oliver, although you never know what random hockey league these David Olivers will turn up in these days.