Sunday, December 07, 2008

Views from the Press Box

Commander-in-Chief – President George Bush attended the 109th Army Navy game. Navy is 7-1 in the Army-Navy game while President Bush has been in office. Their only loss came in his first year, 2001. President George W. Bush made an appearance prior to the game that awards a trophy in his name as the head of the nation’s armed forces. The Commander-in-Chief’s trophy is awarded to the winner of the round robin competition involving Army, Navy, and Air Force. President Bush circled the field prior to the game and greeted the Cadets and Mids. He was also was present for the opening coin toss. The President sat on the Army side of the field for the first half and moved to sit with the Midshipmen during the second frame.

Nice change in a great tradition – Army and Navy both sported new uniforms for this game. Nike showed off their new “Enforcer” uniforms for each team.

Building off the strong and unique look that the U.S. Military Academy has traditionally displayed, Army’s football team wore a helmet and pant with a digital print camouflage pattern. The pant featured the name “West Point” along the right side. “Boots on the Ground,” Army’s slogan, ran along the left side of the pant.

In place of the name plate, “Duty, Honor, Country” was displayed on the back of each player’s jersey.

Navy football players wore their traditional helmet. Their jerseys had the United States Marines “globe and anchor” logo, which calls out the connection between the Marine Corps and the Navy. Also, included in the jersey are the shoulder boards, Navy with Gold trim, which depicts the wings of the Blue Angel plane.

Navy wore a replica of the Marine Corps Elegant Dress Pants with the fold and red officer blood stripe running down each pant leg.

I wonder – I wonder if the Mids like playing on a neutral field where they don’t have to do pushups after every Navy score.

Welcome Back – Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada played and started in his first game since the Temple game on November 1. He has been battling a hamstring injury since the preseason.

Coach Green’s D – The Navy defense earned their second straight shutout. The last time Navy had two consecutive shutouts was 1978. That was also the last time that either team was shut out in the Army Navy game. Navy won that year 28-0.

Heavy hearts – It was announced prior to the game that
senior cornerback Rashawn King would not be playing in the game due to the sudden death of his father, Drexel, who suffered a heart attack Thursday night. The team wore a sticker on the back of their helmets with the initials DK inside of a black crown.

Navy Claims Sixth Consecutive Commander in Chief's Trophy

Philadelphia, PA – The 109th installment of the Army Navy game was played in front of a capacity crowd of over 69,000 at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday. Navy, behind an explosive running game and a swarming defense shut out the Black Knights 34-0.

This was the first shutout in an Army Navy game since Navy beat Army 28-0 in 1978.
President George W. Bush made an appearance prior to the game that awards a trophy in his name as the head of the nation’s armed forces.

Shun White got Navy on the board first and set the tone for the rest of the game. Army received the opening kickoff and couldn’t gain a first down. Navy worked to establish their running game early. Eric Kettani and Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada each carried on the first drive and Navy faced a 3rd and 2 from their own 35. On the next play, White took a pitch from Kaheaku-Enhada and raced down the sideline for 65 yards and the game’s first score.

"It settled us down. At the start of the game both sides are really tight," noted head coach Ken Niumatalolo. "There is so much that goes into this game. When you come as a Plebe, the first thing you learn is Go Navy, Beat Army. So you are so tight at the start of the game. That play let us settle down."

Two series later, the Midshipmen got on the board again, this time off the foot of kicker Matt Harmon. Navy started the drive on their own 15 yard line following an Army punt. Kaheaku-Enhada hit Tyree Barnes with a 34 yard pass and Kettani carried five times for 35 yards to put the Mids on the Army six yard line. Harmon split the uprights from 23 yards out to give Navy the 10-0 lead.

White capped off a 13 play, 80 yard drive midway through the second quarter with his second TD of the game. After running the ball 10 of their previous 11 plays, Kaheaku-Enhada hooked up with White for an 18 yard TD giving the Mids a 17-0 lead going into the half.

White, who finished the game with 168 total yards including 148 on the ground, ended the regular season with 1,021 yards. He was the first Midshipman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since Kyle Eckel in 2004.

White was pleased with the offense's execution. "That's a big thing that coach talks about in practice. If everyone executes their assignments, our offense cannot be stopped. Today was a good showing."

On their first drive of the second half, the Navy running machine came out hot. Five different ball carriers helped move the ball inside the Army 10 yard line. On the fourteenth play of the drive, Kettani pounded the ball in from the five yard line.

Kettani finished the game with 125 yards on 24 carries. It was the first time this season that Navy had two ball carriers with over 100 yards.

Ram Vela came up big for the Navy defense when he picked off a Chip Bowden pass late in the game and returned it 68 yards for a TD to set the final at 34-0.

Defensive coordinator Buddy Green was pleased with his defense's effort.

"I think it started up front. I thought Nate (Frazier) stepped up. It all starts up front and Nate got some movement and that gave us the chance to have a good day. A lot of guys played well"
"It's fun. It's all to these guys. I didn't play any snaps. It is a tribute to the guys who wear the uniforms. They mad plays, big plays."

Navy next faces a team from the ACC to be determined at the Eagle Bank Bowl in Washington, D.C. on December 20.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Notre Dame Outlasts Navy

Baltimore, MD – Navy (6-3) came into Saturday afternoon’s contest at M&T Stadium looking to increase their winning streak over Notre Dame (5-4) to two games. Charlie Weis was looking to get his Fighting Irish back into the national spotlight by taking over the play-calling duties.

After their opening two drives ended in turnovers while being able to move the ball nearly at will, the Notre Dame defense put the Irish on the board first. Mike Anello blocked a Kyle Delahooke punt and Toryan Smith recovered and returned the ball 14 yards for the go ahead score.

Late in the second quarter Cory Finnerty capped off a five-play 58 yard drive for the Midshipmen with a 22 yard TD run. Following an excellent block by TJ Thiel, Finnerty got to the outside and found the end zone for the first time in his career.

Notre Dame got its running attack going in the third quarter and scored on the ground on two drives. Armondo Allen scored on an 11 yard run and Robert Hughes punched one in from seven yards out. At the end of the third quarter, Notre Dame had a commanding24-7 lead.

The fourth quarter belonged to Navy as it has several times this season. After giving up a 36 yard field goal that gave the Irish a 20 point lead, Ricky Dobbs led the Mids offense to a near comeback.

The Navy defense held Notre Dame on a fourth down and took over with 2:30 remaining in the game. A Dobb’s run and pass completion to Tyree Barnes set up a Shun White 24 yard TD run.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we were going to win” reminisced Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “I told the guys we were going to win this game 28-27.”

On the ensuing kickoff the Irish were called for an illegal batting penalty. On Navy’s second try, Corey Johnson recovered the on-side kick at the Notre Dame 41. On the next play, Dobbs hit Barnes on a 40 yard pass play to the Notre Dame one yard line. Two plays later Dobbs punched it in over the left guard.

Notre Dame was called with a roughing the kicker on the extra point. The 15 yard penalty set up the Mids with great field position as Johnson recovered his second on-side kick of the game.

“Once we got the second one I felt in my heart we were going to win,” noted Johnson. “It was almost as if we were meant to score.”

Navy was unable to pull off the miracle win, however as the offense was unable to score on the final drive. Notre Dame held Navy on a 4-13 to seal the win 27-21.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Texas Tech Jumps Penn State in BCS Rankings

Did someone spot Joe Paterno doing the Texas Tech "Guns Up" salute during the Red Raiders' upset of Texas?

OK, it's only my imagination. But Paterno had to love seeing the Longhorns go down on Graham Harrell's 28-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree with one second left. If Paterno doesn't understand how that result benefits his team, savvy Penn State fans certainly do.

Yes, Texas Tech jumped Penn State in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings. And the Red Raiders showed they're a three-dimensional team with a defense that swarmed Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and a running game that chewed the clock.

Still, for the Red Raiders to stay above Penn State, they will have to beat both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma — and then avoid an upset in the Big 12 title game. Good luck with that.

So although Penn State, at No. 3, is on the proverbial outside, the Nittany Lions can look in on two teams that few believe will run the table.

A breakdown of the BCS' Top 7:

1. Alabama (9-0)

Case for: The only undefeated team in the Southeastern Conference, a league Southerners think is stronger than the NFC East.

Case against: Best victories came over recently exposed Clemson and Georgia. Barely beat Kentucky and Ole Miss at home.

What's next: A Saturday date with No. 15 LSU in Baton Rouge. A season-ender against Auburn. And an SEC title game throwdown with, we assume, Florida.

2. Texas Tech (9-0)

Case for: An instant classic, 39-33 victory over Texas (seriously, ESPN Classic will replay it at 6 p.m. Tuesday) and the nation's No. 1 passing offense (418.4 ypg).

Case against: Has played one Top 20 opponent. Shameful non-conference slate featured two non-Division I teams.

What's next: Will host equally explosive Oklahoma State on Saturday, then visit Oklahoma after a week off. A possible Big 12 title game with Missouri or Kansas.

3. Penn State (9-0)

Case for: Undefeated with an average victory margin of 30.7 ppg. Took the billy club to Oregon State, which beat USC. Maybe a sympathy vote for Paterno, whose five undefeated teams have yielded just two national titles.

Case against: Membership in the Big Ten. Fair or not—and largely because of Ohio State's BCS title game flameouts—the conference lacks cred.

What's next: A Saturday trip to Iowa, which ranks fifth nationally in points allowed per game (11.5). A season finale against Michigan State, which likely will be 9-2 and coming off an idle week.

4. Texas (8-1)

Case for: Was one play away—how did Blake Gideon drop that interception at Texas Tech?—from being undefeated against the nation's toughest schedule.

Case against: Texas Tech loss.

What's next: Dates with three decent foes: Baylor, Kansas and Texas A & M.

5. Florida (7-1)

Case for: Throttled preseason No. 1 Georgia behind five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing) from Tim Tebow. Beat LSU by 30. Defense has allowed 10 points or fewer in six games.

Case against: Home loss to Ole Miss.

What's next: Tough road games Saturday at Vanderbilt and Nov. 29 at Florida State, plus a visit from South Carolina. A probable date with Alabama for the SEC title.

6. Oklahoma (8-1)

Case for: Eight breezy victories, thanks to the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (48.3 ppg). A Top-20 caliber schedule.

Case against: Blew a fourth-quarter lead to Texas in a 45-35 thriller.

What's next: A trip to Texas A & M, then dates with touchdown factories Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Needs to win out to play in the Big 12 title game.

7. USC (7-1)

Case for: Six blowout victories, respect for scheduling a non-league slate of Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

Case against: A loss at Oregon State. Pac-10 has just one other ranked team, No. 21 Cal. Victories over feeble Washington and Washington State barely count.

What's next: Hosts 6-2 Cal on Saturday night. Closes against Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA.,0,5497139.column

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Midshipmen fall to Pitt 42-21

Annapolis, MD – The 23rd ranked Pitt Panthers (4-1) visited Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon looking to avenge last season’s nationally televised double-OT loss to the Midshipmen (4-2).

Pitt dominated in every aspect of the game and racked up nearly 500 yards of offense (244 rushing and 255 passing). Scott McKillop and Pitt’s defense held the vaunted Navy rushing attack to just 194 yards and 12 first downs handing the Panthers the big win 42-21. McKillop finished the game with nine tackles.

Navy coach Ken Niumatololo was not happy with his team’s performance.

“We got our butts whipped. I did a bad job of getting us ready. They (Pitt coaches) did a good job of getting their players ready. We had a week to prepare; they had a week to prepare. They played better than we did. That starts with me.”

The Panthers took the opening drive and marched methodically down the field for 70 yards with LaRod Stephens hitting pay dirt from six yards out with just five minutes off the clock.

Navy answered on their ensuing possession when Shun White took a pitch from Jarod Bryant and rushed 40 yards to the end zone.

LeSean McCoy took over on the next drive. The sophomore carried four times including a two yard TD run to give the Panthers the lead 14-7.

Bryant was sacked and fumbled on Navy’s next offensive play and Pitt recovered on the Navy 17. Three running plays later, LaRod Stephens pounded the ball in from nine yards out to give Pitt the lead, 21-7.

Early in the second quarter, Rashawn King picked off Bill Stull at the one yard line and returned the INT 91 yards. On the next play, Bryant called his own number and ran it in from eight yards to cut Pitt’s lead to 21-14.

Once again Navy was unable to stop Pitt’s offense and the Panthers were able to pound in another touchdown on the ground. McCoy carried three consecutive plays with the final one a TD from 11 yards.

The Panthers took over once again following a Navy punt. With 1:16 remaining in the half, Pitt called McCoy’s number and he didn’t disappoint. McCoy rambled 58 yards to the end zone giving the Panthers a 35-14 lead at the half. McCoy finished the game with 156 yards and three TDs.

Bill Stull hooked up with freshman split end Jonathyn Baldwin for 60 yards and the score to give Pitt a 42-14 lead with 14:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. Baldwin finished the game with three catches for 101 yards.

Navy sophomore QB Ricky Dobbs came into the game late in the fourth quarter to spark the Navy offense. Dobbs completed a pass to Mario Washington for 39 yards to the Pitt 4 yard line. On the next play Dobbs carried the ball in himself (his first collegiate touchdown) to set the final at 42-21.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Two acts playing out in Happy Valley drama

The 2008 season dawned ripe with drama at Penn State, and it had little to do with the success of the football team, of which not much was expected. The Nittany Lions again had the look of a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team.

The drama of the season was supposed to be all about coach Joe Paterno, 81, and his desire to retire on his own terms and not at the end of this season. It was supposed to be about a contest of wills between Paterno, who maintains massive support from appreciative alumni who know and understand what he has done for the school, and high-ranking university administrators, who had failed to give him a contract extension and, by most accounts, were trying to gather the necessary strength to force him out of the job he has held since 1966.

But midway through the season, much has changed and the drama will play out on two fronts:

• The Lions are not an ordinary team. They're 6-0 and ranked sixth in the nation. The championship of the Big Ten, a conference that looks to be substandard this season, is within reach and with that comes the possibility of playing for the national title.

• Paterno's physical health has declined to the point where it could cause him to do something no one expected: retire of his own accord.

The Lions begin the most crucial part of their season this week when on successive Saturdays they play at Wisconsin, at Beaver Stadium against Michigan and at Ohio State.

Sadly, Paterno will probably be watching some or all of those games from the press box instead of the sidelines. There is some mystery about the exact condition of Paterno's right knee, but he is hobbling badly and looked like a man who will be 82 in two months when he made a brief appearance on the field before the game Saturday against Purdue.

The injury is said to have occurred three days before the season opener when Paterno was demonstrating a kicking technique. It appears to be getting worse instead of better, not all that surprising for someone his age. Some have speculated he has a ligament injury that will require surgery. A more authoritative source has said the problem is with his hip and that Paterno will require hip-replacement surgery after the season.

Paterno was on a golf cart at practice this week, a further indication that he is not getting better.
Having the head coach missing from the sidelines would be a critical issue for some teams, but it does not figure to much affect Penn State.

The Penn State players are used to Paterno not being around. He missed games in 2006 when he was injured in a sideline collision with two players in a game against Wisconsin. The accident broke a bone in his left leg and tore two ligaments in the knee.

Beyond that, Paterno often works from home during the week and doesn't have the presence with his players that most head coaches do. He delegates much of his decision-making power to assistant coaches.

Where it would be unfathomable to expect some teams to proceed without so much as a blip with their head coach absent, that would not be the case at Penn State.

Paterno is a proud man. He is understandably proud of his accomplishments on and off the football field and proud that he was still fit to lead a football team in his 80s, when most people have retired. He also prided himself in running onto the field with the team, something he did after recovering from the injury at Wisconsin but something he can do no more.

If there is anything that can make him walk away from the job he loves, it's being seen as a man not physically capable of doing his job. He denied accusations he was not mentally up to the challenge of coaching.

He laughed when people suggested the game had passed him by. But physically the evidence is there for all to see: He's a coach who's not coaching.

For a long time it seemed Paterno would lose out to Bobby Bowden in their ongoing contest to be the winningest major college coach in football history. When Paterno was going 21-26 from 2001-04 and Bowden was 36-15 in those same seasons, the contest looked over. But in the succeeding four seasons, Paterno is 35-9 and Bowden, under considerable pressure to step down at Florida State, 25-18.

Paterno has one more win than Bowden.

Paterno deserves this record because all his wins came at Penn State, a major-college program. Bowden's first 31 wins came at Howard College, now Stamford University, against teams such as Mississippi Delta, Millsaps (twice), Maryville, Memphis Navy, Louisiana College and National University of Mexico. Under incredibly stupid NCAA rules, those wins count.

What could be the perfect ending is advancing. It goes like this:

Penn State finished the season in glory -- Big Ten champions, maybe national champion, and with Paterno the all-time leader in wins and Bowden retiring. The stage is set and Paterno agrees to resign, reluctantly but proudly, amid a massive outpouring of congratulations. His once-tarnished image has been repaired by his final four seasons.

It could end that way. It should end that way.

Bob Smizik can be reached at

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Penn State basketball players go where nobody knows their names

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Walking down Curtin Road on a Penn State campus just beginning to clog with football fans, the proud alum practically spun around on his heel as he grabbed his wife and daughter, and yelled:

"Hey, what's your name?''

"Jamelle,'' the student replied.

"Right," the alum grinned with knowing satisfaction. "Good luck tomorrow against Illinois.''
Jamelle Cornley shrugged and smiled.

If four years in Happy Valley has done anything, it has inured to the anonymity of Penn State men's basketball. Playing literally in the shadows of the nearly 110,000-seat beast that is Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions who play hoops have long suffered as second-class citizens.

While powerhouse football and basketball happily coexist on other campuses -- Texas, Oklahoma, Florida to name a few -- State College is all about gridiron gluttony. The tiny town swells to the third-largest metropolis in the state on home football weekends, with fans happily reserving $300-a-night hotel rooms a year in advance.

Even in the lean years, from 2000 to 2004, when the Lions suffered four losing seasons in five years and people called for the head of long-deified Joe Paterno, the fans still came. Beaver Stadium's average attendance for the season dipped below capacity in 2003 and 2004 when Penn State was 3-9 and 4-7, respectively. Of course, below capacity meant 105,629 and 103,111 on average, off the sellout mark of 107,282.

In four years, Cornley has never played in front of a home sellout crowd.

"If we could just get a quarter of what they have -- wow," the forward said, nodding to the stadium in the distance.

It would seem easy enough: major university, big-time conference, captive audience, deep-pocketed and rabidly loyal alums. Yet the Lions haven't finished with a winning season since 2001 and have been to the NCAA tournament just twice in the past 17 years.

Were it not for the chronic futility of Northwestern hoops, Penn State would own the Big Ten basement.

"If I had the answer, we would have fixed it by now," athletic director Tim Curley said. "I can't pinpoint why it hasn't happened. We have all the pieces to be successful. I think we're close -- very, very close.''

But building a basketball program alongside one as firmly entrenched as Penn State football only makes the job more difficult. It's not just about diagramming a decent offense.

It's about changing a culture, about convincing outsiders and even insiders that Penn State isn't just a football school.

It's a task that on many days seems almost Sisyphusian.

In the midst of a football tailgate, a fan asked what brought to town. Told it was for a basketball story, the fan (a card-carrying alum) scrunched up his face and asked, "Why?"
Three years ago, a professor giddily accosted Cornley outside of the student center. It was the Monday after a big football game and the professor practically shouted in Cornley's face.

"He said, 'I saw that play you made when you ran across the field. I told my son you're my new favorite player. How's the knee?'' Cornley remembered. "I kept thinking, 'Who does he think I am?' That night I got an e-mail. He apologized to me. He thought I was Jerome Hayes.

"Sure, it bothers me,'' he continued. "Everyone wants their own identity.''

If Beaver Stadium is the house that Joe built, the Lasch Building is the coach's ivory tower.
It is a building in homage to a team that owns a campus, a football-only complex that includes a practice field, a 13,000-square-foot weight room, a video room sweeter than your neighborhood Cineplex, a players' lounge complete with leather sofas and pool tables and, of course, a spacious office for the man whose craggy face long has personified the university.

When Ed DeChellis, an alum and former assistant, returned to Penn State as head basketball coach five years ago, he and his coaches shared a 1,600-square-foot space tucked in a nondescript corner of the Bryce Jordan Center. There were no pictures or artwork telling you that this was the basketball section of the building, just prison-cell-cinderblock white walls leading to a space just down the hall from the softball team.

With no designated spaces, coaches stuffed envelopes in the hallway and broke down film in a space akin to a small walk-in closet. Without a video room or player lounge, the team watched film in the locker room.

The team had its own private practice court, a bright and airy space that looked like it could have been at the local Y. Neither the floor nor the walls were painted with Penn State logos.
The whole thing screamed afterthought.

"You take them over to see Coach [Paterno] and it was, 'Wow,'" said DeChellis, who frequently bypassed his own office space when giving recruits campus tours. "Then you brought kids here and it cemented the image you knew the other teams were giving kids -- 'Don't go to Penn State. They don't care about basketball.' That's exactly how it looked."

DeChellis didn't fault the administration. It wasn't that no one cared. It's simply that before him, no one asked. There was no alumni champion of college basketball arguing that the team needed upgrades, no one on the previous coaching staffs begging for renovations in a building built only in 1996.

Heck, the team didn't even have a director of basketball operations or video coordinator on staff.
But to DeChellis, the insufficient facilities only compounded what was already an uphill battle.
Of the Big 10 schools, five have national championship trophies in their cases. Indiana lays claim to eight Final Four appearances, Michigan State six.

Tradition for Nittany Lions basketball begins with its 1954 Final Four appearance, blips through two quick tourney appearances in 1955 and 1965, and endures 26 lean years until a stunning first-round upset of UCLA in 1991, followed by a crash-and-burn first-round loss as a No. 5 seed in 1996, and finally the unexpected Sweet 16 finish in 2001.

So when you can't counter tradition with the excesses of modernity, what can you offer? The answer at least partially explains the preponderance of lean years.

"It sends a message about the commitment to the program," Curley said. "It's the visual that recruits get to see that shows you're committed and willing to stay up with the changing times, that you're committed to giving your coaches and student-athletes everything they need to maximize themselves and their experience."

Three years ago, Penn State redid the locker room, replacing the cheesy, pressed-wood lockers with cherry wood, converting an unused space into a lounge complete with flat-screen TVs, and carving a video room in what was previously a visiting locker room.

And the last weekend in September, DeChellis and his staff moved into 4,000 square feet of office spaces that include a kitchenette, mailing/copying/faxing center, private conference room and separate area to host recruits.

The office space anchors what is now a Penn State basketball wing (the women's team has the same space in the building).

DeChellis believes the upgrades have helped the Lions lure players who otherwise wouldn't have visited, let alone committed. Sophomore point guard Talor Battle was ranked among the top 100 recruits coming out of high school, and Louisville native Jeff Brooks was a Mr. Basketball finalist in Kentucky as well as another top-100 player.

"People used to ask me, 'What have you been doing?'" DeChellis said. "This is what I've been doing. I finally feel like we're on an even playing field.''

It's 11:30 a.m. on the Saturday of the Illinois game. Kickoff is still eight-plus hours away.
All around Beaver Stadium is bedlam. Fans dressed in everything from Penn State Hawaiian shirts to Joe Paterno masks (which are as frightening as they sound) teeter on the edge of sobriety in the parking lots on the East end of campus.

A few wander inside the All-Sports Museum attached to the stadium, where DeChellis is seated at a table for a radio chat. No one gives more than a passing glance toward him.

Five hours later, it's much the same inside the Jordan Center when the team plays a pickup game/scrimmage before TailGreat, the pregame tradition featuring the Penn State Blue Band and cheerleaders.

There are people in the stands, but outside of a pair of rowdy students in goofy wigs who hoot and holler for big dunks, no one makes much noise. Some read the newspaper while others wander to the end-line area to play putting contests for prizes.

The average age is well on the high side of 40, with few young alums or students choosing to abandon their tailgates.

It would be insulting were it not for the cold reality of the situation: For there to be juice, there needs to be something to get juiced about, and the Lions simply haven't supplied it.

Penn State finished 15-16 last season and 7-11 in the Big Ten, its best conference finish in eight years despite losing its best player, Geary Claxton, to a torn ACL.

But aside from an NIT run and 15-15 finish in 2006, there hasn't been much to celebrate. In 2007, the Lions lost 14 of their final 15; in 2005, their last 12. The surprise Sweet 16 run of 2001 was followed up by consecutive 7-21 seasons.

"I used to ask myself, 'Would I come? Would I give up my night and come to watch a team lose by 30?' That's no fun," Cornley said.

Cornley knew what he was getting into when he signed with Penn State. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, another town that you might say has a decent college football following.
He knew his team would be the understudy to a high-voltage star and that he'd swallow a lot of pride before ever getting the chance to puff out his chest.

"I ask recruits all the time, 'Do you have the mental toughness for this?'" Cornley said. "There's always the football issue. You've got guys on that team, not many but some, that walk around with the [Superman] 'S' on the chest and they don't even play. But people don't care. They're football players."

So why bother? Why did Cornley take all of this on?

He came, in part, because the Lions wanted him -- many teams weren't willing to take a flyer on a 6-foot-5 undersized power forward -- but more because he wanted to change things.
Cornley wanted to be the guy who turned the team around, who made Penn State basketball resonate as loudly as Penn State football.

There are days, of course, when he feels like he's pounding his head against a ceiling that's as hard as the steel that makes up Beaver Stadium.

But at the end of each day is the tantalizing dream that keeps him going. Cornley sees himself in the waning seconds of the Big Ten tournament championship as the final clocks tick off and Penn State begins to celebrate. The cameras find him on the court crying tears of joy.

A year later, Cornley is playing professionally somewhere. It's Selection Sunday, and once again Penn State's name is on the screen. The Lions are no longer a one-hit wonder.

They're rolling, rolling out irrelevance and squeezing into the spotlight.

"I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it," Cornley grinned. "Sure, it all can be frustrating. We get up at 6 a.m. We practice just as hard. We work just as hard. You fight through injuries and people say, 'Penn State is a football school.' But we're the only ones who can change that.

"I think we're close. Very close."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Petruzelli cuts through Slice in less than a round

For the first time in his professional mixed martial arts career, heavyweight Kimbo Slice tasted defeat. The loss, however, did not come against the man he was originally scheduled to face.

Ken Shamrock was unable to fight due to a cut over his left eye sustained during a workout earlier in the day. When Shamrock was deemed unfit to fight, Seth Petruzelli stepped in to replace him.

The decision turned out to be the right one for Petruzelli, who needed just 14 seconds to put a blemish on Slice's record. Petruzelli was scheduled to fight light heavyweight Aaron Rosa, but quickly accepted the shot at Slice.

"It was an opportunity to step up," Petruzelli said. "This is something I wanted all my life."
Tipping the scale Thursday at 205½, Petruzelli was outweighed by more than 19 pounds. The weight difference would not come into play.

Petruzelli looked comfortable standing with the hard-hitting Slice. He did not run away and was able to land a right hand that clipped Slice on the jaw.

The punch was hard enough to stun Slice, who stumbled forward and fell to his knees. Once on the ground, Petruzelli delivered several lefts and rights that caught a defenseless Slice.

Clearly hurt, Slice was wide open. His inability to stop the onslaught gave referee Troy Waugh no choice but to step in and call the fight off.

The sellout crowd of 9,414 mostly Slice supporters was stunned. But the enormity of the event had the majority of fans cheering.

Slice took the loss in stride.

"It's all good," said Slice, who fell to 3-1. "It was unexpected, but it's all good."

The loss likely ends any chance of a bout between Slice and Brett Rogers. The men exchanged harsh words in May during an EliteXC card in Newark, N.J.

While Slice looks to rebound and continue to improve, more opportunities are sure to open up for Petruzelli.

With the win Petruzelli improved to 10-4. More importantly, he instantly becomes a well-known fighter.

Slice was prepared to face Shamrock. There was a lot of bad blood between the two and each man vowed to punish the other last night at BankAtlantic Center.

But their battle will have to wait. Shamrock suffered a cut over his left eye during a practice session yesterday afternoon. Hours before the bout the Florida State Athletic Commission determined that Shamrock was unfit to fight.

"It appears that he was warming up as he stated, rolling over and received a head butt, which resulted in a laceration over his eye," Dr. Allan Fields of the Florida State Athletic Commission. "He received six sutures in the eyebrow.

"He explained that he wanted to fight; however, for his safety, we have rules. Anyone with a recent laceration cannot go participate in a fight."

The hostility between Slice and Shamrock reached the boiling point during Thursday's weigh-in. While posing for the traditional stare down, Slice turned his back to Shamrock.

Angered by the gesture, Shamrock shoved Slice and the fighters nearly came to blows. All that prevented a full-scale brawl was the quick action of each fighter's entourage, many of whom jumped between the two powerful men.

"He turned his back to me at the weigh-in," Shamrock said. "That's disrespectful. I hope they put this fight together again. He deserves to get a beating and I want to give it to him."

With Shamrock unable to perform, Petruzelli stepped in and accepted to fight on short notice. He made the most of it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bonds HR ball ends up in the HOF

NEW YORK -- Now branded with an asterisk, the ball Barry Bonds launched for his record 756th home run nearly a year ago landed Tuesday night in the Hall of Fame.

The souvenir arrived in Cooperstown, N.Y., after a strange day of back-and-forth statements between its owner, fashion designer Marc Ecko, and the shrine.

"We are very happy to receive the baseball as a donation, and not as a loan," Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. "We look forward to adding this ball to our permanent collections."

A driver walked up the front steps of the Hall, handing over the ball and a letter from Ecko saying it was an unconditional donation. Horn said the ball will be displayed after the museum documents it -- that process usually takes weeks, rather than months.

Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career homer record on Aug. 7. Yet not since Boston first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the last out of the 2004 World Series had a Hall-bound ball caused so much commotion.

Ecko paid $752,467 for the prize in an online auction in September. Soon after, he asked fans to vote in an Internet poll on what he should do with the ball.

The winner: Brand it with an asterisk, to reflect the steroid allegations surrounding Bonds, and give it to the Hall.

The ball indeed was marked, with the five-pronged asterisk dye-cut into the cowhide, from stitch-to-stitch where "Major League Baseball" is printed.

Bonds called Ecko an "idiot" when the designer announced plans to hold the vote. The slugger later said he would boycott the Hall if it displayed the ball with an asterisk.

After months of discussions, the Hall said earlier Tuesday that talks with Ecko had "unfortunately reached an impasse."

"The owner's previous commitment to unconditionally donate the baseball has changed to a loan. As a result, the Hall of Fame will not be able to accept the baseball," the Hall said.
Ecko later responded.

"I am surprised that the Hall issued a statement that said they would no longer accept the Barry Bonds' 756th home run baseball. We had been in communication with them just this morning and the Hall did not mention that they would change their position and no longer accept the ball," he said.

"Based on the Hall of Fame's previous statements that they would both accept and display the ball, the only open issue we were talking about was the Hall's recent indication of discomfort in displaying it and addressing the controversy surrounding the record."

Nearly all of the Hall's 35,000-plus artifacts were given on a permanent basis. The Hall does make exceptions, especially when it has nothing else to illustrate a story -- Willie Mays loaned the glove he used to make his famous, over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.

Bonds donated the batting helmets he wore when he hit his 755th and 756th home runs.

Bonds finished the season with 762 home runs. The San Francisco Giants did not offer him a contract for this year, and he hasn't gotten an offer to play for another team.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Two down, two to go

Dan Shaughnessy

Is Basketball America ready to Go Green? Just like in the old days?

Playing the blood-and-thunder game that marked their Bill Russell-Larry Bird glory years, the Celtics last night bolted to a 24-point fourth-quarter lead and hung on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 108-102, at the New Garden to take a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.

In the midst of a championship banner drought that has spanned both Bush Administrations, the Celtics are two wins from a long-awaited 17th NBA title as they resume play at Staples Center in Los Angeles tomorrow night.

It's premature to be lighting cigars, but the possibility exists the Celtics have played their final game in Boston this year. The Red Auerbach Celtics won championships in Los Angeles in 1963, '68, and '69 and are slated to play three games (if needed) in California before bringing the series - or the trophy - back to Boston.

"It's nice to be up, 2-0," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We've done what we should do. We took care of home, and that's what we should have done. Now we have to go on the road for us to keep attacking."

Certainly the Lakers will be happy to be playing 3,000 miles west of the Causeway Street gym. The high-flying Western Conference champs dissolved early in the second half of Game 2, falling behind by 24 before a furious rally pulled them within 2 in the final minute. Favored by most experts across the land, the Lakers are in a giant sinkhole as they head home.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson is trying to pass Auerbach by winning a 10th championship and sounded much like Boston's favorite redhead after watching his team take only 10 free throws compared with Boston's 38.

"I'm struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play," he said. "I've never seen a game like that in all the years I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable. I think my players got fouled. I have no question about the fact that my players got fouled but didn't get to the line."

The unheralded Powe attempted 13 free throws and shredded the Lakers under the basket, scoring 21 points, many on dunks. Paul Pierce scored 28 points with eight assists in 41 minutes. Kevin Garnett added 14 rebounds and Rajon Rondo had 16 assists for the winners.

Kobe Bryant scored 30 for the losers, but he did little damage until the final quarter. Bryant made only 9 of 26 shots in Los Angeles's 10-point loss in Game 1 and got off to a slow start last night before recovering with 13 in the fourth.

It was well over 90 degrees yesterday, with a heat index registering north of 100. Had the game been played in the Old Garden in the 1980s, when the Celtics and Lakers last met (back when the fans sweated as much as the players), certainly the West Coast team would have required oxygen at courtside.

Keith Lockhart and friends performed the national anthem before Game 2. The Los Angeles arts community no doubt will be hard-pressed to top the Pops.

Celebrity sightings were plentiful, including Kevin Millar, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Lowell, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour. Big lug Curt Schilling, attired in a vintage Larry Bird jersey, sat next to the Lakers' bench. Not sure if Schill was carrying his Kevin McHale lunchbox.

Bryant canned only 1 of 4 attempts in the first quarter. Despite the slow start by their megastar, the Lakers had a 22-20 lead at the end of one. There were four lead changes in the first 12 minutes.

A 3-pointer by Pierce completed a 10-0 Boston run at the start of the second quarter and thrust the Celtics into a 30-22 lead. Jackson called time in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Bryant scored after the pause to get the Lakers back on message.

With 5:50 to go in the first half, Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester, a cancer survivor and no-hit perpetrator, was introduced as the nightly "Hero Among Us." He waved to the standing masses while the public address system played "Glory Days." Nice touch.

The Lakers cut the lead to 4 before Pierce and Ray Allen hit back-to-back threes to make it 47-37. Jackson called a 20-second timeout and the crowd chanted "Beat LA!" Bryant picked up his third foul late in the half and Boston led, 54-42, at intermission.

A Pierce trey gave the Celtics a 62-46 lead in the fourth minute of the third quarter. Bryant and Pau Gasol got hot and closed the deficit to 9, but the Celtics had an answer for every punch and went up by 22 when Powe dunked three times (two off passes from Pierce) at the end of the third quarter.

It was the Powe show again at the start of the fourth. Boston led, 95-71, with fewer than eight minutes to play when the Lakers went to work.

Los Angeles cut the lead to 104-102 on a pair of free throws by Bryant with 38.4 seconds left. The Celtics came back and iced the game on free throws by Pierce and James Posey.

"I was a little disappointed in our play in the last six minutes of the game," said Pierce. "There was definitely a lesson to be learned in that last stretch. I'm happy that we won, but we definitely learned a valuable lesson in the fourth quarter."

"I just wasn't very happy with the way we played," said Rivers. "I thought the first quarter was awful and the fourth quarter was awful. Thank God for the second and third quarters."
"We played as poorly as we can possibly play for 2 1/2 quarters," countered Jackson. "Basketball is about momentum."

The Lakers finished fast, but Boston takes all the momentum to California.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obituary: Ernie Holmes / Rugged member of Steelers' Steel Curtain

Ernie Holmes played next to Joe Greene as the two defensive tackles in the famed Steel Curtain defense, and some believe he was his equal.
"Ernie was a tremendous football player," said Dwight White, who played right defensive end, next to Mr. Holmes. "Not taking anything away from Joe -- we know where he is -- Ernie was as good, and, in some cases, even better."
Mr. Holmes, who died at age 59 Thursday night in a one-vehicle wreck in his native Texas, made only two Pro Bowls and never was a serious candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But those who played with him for the Steelers of the 1970s knew how good he was.
"Joe Greene got a lot of attention and rightfully so,'' said Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, "but Ernie was a great football player. We all knew it on the team. Our teammates knew how important he was to the team and maybe didn't get the recognition he deserved."
Mr. Holmes, known affectionately as "Fats" because of his tremendous size for the times, was driving alone Thursday night when his SUV left the road and rolled several times near Lumberton, about 80 miles from Houston, a Texas Department of Public Safety dispatcher said. He was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car and pronounced dead at the scene, the department said. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said yesterday he was told Mr. Holmes fell asleep at the wheel.
Mr. Holmes, an ordained minister, lived on a ranch in Wiergate in Southeast Texas.
Mr. Greene, selected as the best player in franchise history as part of the Steelers' 75th anniversary season celebration last year, remained friends with Mr. Holmes and talked to him often, as did other teammates. Mr. Holmes last appeared publicly in Pittsburgh when he served as an honorary co-captain for the team's Nov. 11 game against Cleveland at Heinz Field.
"We're going to miss ol' Ernie," said a somber Mr. Greene, now a scout for the Steelers who lives in the Dallas area. "We'll miss him a lot."
Mr. Holmes was an eighth-round draft choice from Texas Southern in 1971 as part of what many consider the Steelers' second-best draft in their history, one that included Mr. Ham, Mr. White, Larry Brown, Frank Lewis, Mike Wagner and Gerry Mullins.
He helped form the most famous front four in pro football history -- L.C. Greenwood at left end, Mr. Greene at left tackle, Mr. Holmes at right tackle and Mr. White at right end.
That group dominated Oakland in the 1974 AFC championship, holding the Raiders to 29 yards rushing. In Super Bowl IX two weeks later, they limited the Minnesota Vikings to 17 yards rushing.
"That run we had in '74 and through the playoffs and our first Super Bowl, he just had a dominating performance, especially against Gene Upshaw and the Raiders in Oakland in the AFC championship game," Mr. Ham said. "I think they rushed for 29 yards in that game. It was the most dominating performance against a great offensive line. He's a big reason why we ended up winning that game.
"And what they did against Minnesota, the entire front four!"
The Raiders, with two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mr. Upshaw, a guard, and tackle Art Shell, were heavy favorites to beat the Steelers in Oakland in that title game of '74.
How good was Mr. Holmes that day?
"Ask Gene Upshaw, and Gene was good,'' said Mr. White, also a Texas native. "I had Shell, he had Upshaw and he made a long afternoon for Gene and that made it a much easier afternoon for me."
Mr. Holmes was listed at 6-3, 260 pounds, but really weighed much more. He constantly was trying to lose weight in training camps at a time in which there was little organized offseason training in pro football.
"He was really a good guy, played extremely well for us," said Dan Rooney. "He was one of those guys who really was important to the team and the Steel Curtain. He played in the middle and was really tough to get out of there, which gave Joe a chance and the other guys to get to the quarterback."
Mr. Holmes played through the 1977 season with the Steelers, earning two Super Bowl rings, but was released when his play fell off because of weight and other physical problems. He played for New England in 1978.
During his time with the Steelers, he developed a reputation for being "stone crazy," he told Time magazine in 1975. That came partly from a case early in his career when he pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon following a bizarre episode in which he fired a pistol at trucks and a police helicopter in nearby Ohio. He was sentenced to five years' probation.
He later was declared not guilty of possessing cocaine in a trial in Texas. During the 1974 season, he shaved his head in the form of an arrow before the Steelers played a game at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. He kept it that way and told people it was to remind everyone to go forward toward the Super Bowl.
Mr. Rooney said yesterday that Mr. Holmes was out of sorts during the incident in Ohio because he took high doses of caffeine.
"He was hallucinating,'' Mr. Rooney said. "He was taking those No Doze pills and didn't even know where he was. He was released in my custody. I got him into a hospital, and he spent a number of weeks there. He came out OK."
Mr. Rooney and Mr. Holmes' teammates say that's precisely how his life turned out as well. They say he stopped drinking years ago, lost weight and was devoted to his ministry in a Baptist church.
"Ernie came through a lot of struggles, and it looked like he was out ahead of it and living the way he wanted to live his life," Mr. Greene said.
"Ever since I've known him, Ernie always was a guy who read the Bible and wanted to be close to God. In lieu of all of his actions that we've experienced with him, Ernie was always a good man.
"He overcame a lot of those life struggles. Just last year he had a knee replacement and was coming along good with that. He lost a lot of weight and looking good and feeling good about it."
Opponents and sometimes his own teammates feared him.
"Oh, Ernie was definitely an enforcer,'' Mr. Greene said. "I suspect that a lot of guys were kind of afraid of him, not so much what he did on the field but what they read about him off the field. He'd probably do anything to win."
Mr. Holmes, though, was mostly mild-mannered and thoughtful off the field.
"I just wish he could have gotten more recognition for the job he did,'' Mr. White said. "The positives far outweigh the negatives of Ernie Holmes. For all the things and stories and antics that went on 30 years ago, Ernie ended up being a very, very inspiring person, one you could respect and admire."
Mr. Greene remembers one Steelers Christmas party in which, on his own, Mr. Holmes bought presents for the kids, dressed up like Santa Claus and handed out the gifts while the kids sat on his lap.
"Everybody has an Ernie Holmes story,'' Mr. White said. "Obviously, Ernie was a very colorful person back in the day. He did have what I call distractions. But there's an old Texas saying, it's all about where you end up. I can honestly say over the last few years, Ernie made major changes in his life."

Bobby Fischer dies at 64

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) -- "Chess," Bobby Fischer once said, "is life."
It was the chess master's tragedy that the messy, tawdry details of his life often overshadowed the sublime genius of his game.
Fischer, who has died at the age of 64, was a child prodigy, a teenage grandmaster and -- before age 30 -- a world champion who triumphed in a Cold War showdown with Soviet champion Boris Spassky.
But the last three decades of his life were spent in seclusion, broken periodically by erratic and often anti-Semitic comments and by an absurd legal battle with his homeland, the United States.
"He was the pride and sorrow of chess," said Raymond Keene, a British grandmaster and chess correspondent for The Times of London. "It's tragic that such a great man descended into madness and anti-Semitism."
Fischer died Thursday of kidney failure in Reykjavik after a long illness, friend and spokesman Gardar Sverrisson said Friday.
"A giant of the chess world is gone," said Fridrik Olafsson, an Icelandic grandmaster and former president of the World Chess Federation.
Noted French chess expert Olivier Tridon: "Bobby Fischer has died at age 64. Like the 64 squares of a chess board."
In another bit of symmetry, his death occurred in the city where he had his greatest triumph -- the historic encounter with Spassky.
Chicago-born and Brooklyn-bred, Fischer moved to Iceland in 2005 in a bid to avoid extradition to the U.S., where he was wanted for playing a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in defiance of international sanctions.
At his peak, Fischer was a figure of mystery and glamour who drew millions of new fans to chess.
Russian former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said Fischer's ascent of the chess world in the 1960s was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game.
"The tragedy is that he left this world too early, and his extravagant life and scandalous statements did not contribute to the popularity of chess," Kasparov told The Associated Press.
Rival and friend Spassky, reached at his home in France, said in a brief telephone interview that he was "very sorry" to hear of Fischer's death.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation, called Fischer "a phenomenon and an epoch in chess history, and an intellectual giant I would rank next to Newton and Einstein."
An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer vanquished Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Reykjavik to become the first officially recognized world champion born in the United States.
The Fischer-Spassky match, at the height of the Cold War, took on mythic dimensions as a clash between the world's two superpowers.
It was a myth Fischer was happy to fuel. "It's really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians," he said.
But Fischer's reputation as a chess genius was eclipsed, in the eyes of many, by his volatility and often bizarre behavior.
He lost his world title in 1975 after refusing to defend it against Anatoly Karpov. He dropped out of competitive chess and largely out of view, spending time in Hungary and the Philippines and emerging occasionally to make outspoken and often outrageous comments.
He praised the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying, "I want to see the U.S. wiped out," and described Jews as "thieving, lying bastards." Fischer's mother was Jewish.
In 2004, Fischer was arrested at Japan's Narita airport for traveling on a revoked U.S. passport. He was threatened with extradition to the United States to face charges of violating sanctions imposed to punish Slobodan Milosevic, then leader of Yugoslavia, by playing a 1992 rematch against Spassky in the country.
Fischer renounced his U.S. citizenship and spent nine months in custody before the dispute was resolved when Iceland -- a chess-mad nation of 300,000 -- granted him citizenship.
"They talk about the 'axis of evil,"' Fischer said when he arrived in Iceland. "What about the allies of evil ... the United States, England, Japan, Australia? These are the evildoers."
In his final years, Fischer railed against the chess establishment, claiming that the outcomes of many top-level chess matches were decided in advance.
Instead, he championed his concept of "Fischerandom," or random chess, in which pieces are shuffled at the beginning of each match in a bid to reinvigorate the game.
"I don't play the old chess," he told reporters when he arrived in Iceland in 2005. "But obviously if I did, I would be the best."
Born in Chicago on March 9, 1943, Robert James Fischer was a child prodigy, playing competitively from age 8.
At 13, he became the youngest player to win the United States Junior Championship. At 14, he won the United States Open Championship for the first of eight times.
At 15, he became an international grand master, the youngest person to hold the title.
Tall and striking-looking, he was a chess star -- but already gaining a reputation for erratic behavior.
He turned up late for tournaments, walked out of matches, refused to play unless the lighting suited him and was intolerant of photographers and cartoonists. He was convinced of his own superiority and called the Soviets "commie cheats."
"Chess is war on a board," he once said. "The object is to crush the other man's mind."
His behavior often unsettled opponents -- to Fischer's advantage.
This was seen most famously in the championship match with Spassky in Reykjavik between July and September 1972. Having agreed to play Spassky in Yugoslavia, Fischer raised one objection after another to the arrangements and they wound up playing in Iceland.
Fischer then demanded more money and, urged by no less than Henry Kissinger, he went to Iceland after a British financier, Jim Slater, enriched the prize pot.
"Fischer is known to be graceless, rude, possibly insane. I really don't worry about that, because I didn't do it for that reason," Slater has said.
"I did it because he was going to challenge the Russian supremacy, and it was good for chess," he added.
When play got under way, days late, Fischer lost the first game with an elementary blunder after discovering that the TV cameras he had reluctantly accepted were not unseen and unheard, but right behind the players' chairs.
He boycotted the second game and the referee awarded the point to Spassky, putting the Russian ahead 2-0.
But then Spassky agreed to Fischer's demand that the games be played in a back room away from cameras. Fischer went on to beat Spassky, 12.5 points to 8.5 points in 21 games.
In the recent book "White King and Red Queen," British author Daniel Johnson said the match was "an abstract antagonism on an abstract battleground using abstract weapons ... yet their struggle embraced all human life."
"In Spassky's submission to his fate and Fischer's fierce exultant triumph, the Cold War's denouement was already foreshadowed."
Funeral details were not immediately available. Fischer moved to Iceland with his longtime companion, Japanese chess player Miyoko Watai. She survives him.

Jones sentenced to six months in prison

White Plains, New York (Sports Network) - Disgraced Olympic track and field star Marion Jones was sentenced to six months in prison Friday for lying to federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas handed down the sentence after Jones pleaded guilty to two charges last October. The second charge is in connection with her knowledge of a check-fraud scam involving her ex- boyfriend, former sprinter Tim Montgomery. . Jones, 32, was sentenced to six months for lying about her steroid use, and two months for the check-fraud case. Judge Karas allowed Jones to serve the sentences concurrently.
"As everyone could imagine, I am extremely disappointed today, but as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today, I stand for what is right," Jones said in a statement outside the courthouse after her sentencing. "I respect the judge's orders and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes. Thank you for your time."
The sentence completes a fall from grace for Jones, who was once regarded as one of the greatest female athletes in the world. She must report to prison by March 11, and also has two years of probation and 400 hours of community service tacked on to her prison term.
"Today's sentencing is illustrative of just how far-reaching and serious the consequences of cheating can be," United States Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr. "The fact that an athlete with so much talent and promise, who so many people looked up to, made the decision to cheat is a terrible disappointment. This unfortunate situation does, however, offer a lesson to young people about the importance of making good choices and honoring the value of clean competition."
In the past, Jones denied the use of any steroids, including to federal prosecutors when questioned in 2003. However, she finally admitted last October, in an emotional and tearful public statement to her family, friends, and fans, to using the steroid "the clear," produced by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative -- also known as BALCO -- that was given to her by her trainer Trevor Graham.
Jones admitted to taking the steroids leading up the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Jones was named Athlete of the Year by several organizations in 2000 for her accomplishments at the Sydney Games when she became the only female track and field athlete to win five medals -- three of them gold -- at a single Olympics. She has been stripped of all of those medals as a result of her admitted steroid use.
"Today's sentencing concludes a sad series of events," USA Track & Field president Bill Roe and CEO Craig Masback said in a joint statement. "The revelation that one of the sport's biggest stars took performance-enhancing drugs and repeatedly lied about it, in addition to being a party to fraud, has no silver lining.
"But, it is a vivid morality play that graphically illustrates the wages of cheating in any facet of life, on or off the track. We hope that all Americans will take to heart those lessons. The sport of track and field in the United States has moved on since Marion Jones competed, reaching even higher levels of success, as a team, than when she was at her peak. No one wanted to see this happen, and we hope that Marion and her family can move on as well."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Minnesota 76, Penn State 73

UNIVERSITY PARK — Tubby Smith added insult to injury without even realizing it. Minnesota’s basketball coach peered at the stat sheet, his eyes drifting from Penn State’s free-throw column to Minnesota’s free-throw column, which showed 19 Golden Gopher makes in 25 attempts.
“This is the best I think we’ve shot maybe this year,” he said, glancing up at Minnesota’s sports information director for confirmation and receiving a nod in return.
Minnesota’s proficiency at the line only underscored how bad the Nittany Lions were there during the Golden Gophers’ 76-73 win Saturday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State (10-5, 2-1 Big Ten) let a 16-point lead slip away by missing 13 of its 21 free-throw attempts in the second half, including nine of its final 10. The Nittany Lions, who have struggled all season from the free-throw line, were 17-of-36 (47.2 percent) for the afternoon in a game that threatened to throw a promising season off-course.
“It’s a mental thing,” said star forward Geary Claxton, who made only five of his 12 free-throw attempts and is now shooting 55 percent from the line on the season. “We’ve just got to go up there and shoot em. That’s it.”

The bricks at the line were just about the only mistakes made Saturday by the 6-foot-5 senior, who finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists against a defense that doubled him for the majority of his 36 minutes. The other came in the final seconds, with the score locked at 73-73.
Penn State wanted to get the ball to Claxton in the low post, and did, but the Golden Gophers (12-3, 3-1) swarmed him and he passed the ball out toward the elbow and cutting forward Jamelle Cornley (11 points, seven rebounds). But Minnesota’s freshman point guard, Al Nolen, read the play and picked it off. Cornley grabbed Nolen’s jersey as he broke into the open court and was whistled for an intentional foul.
Nolen calmly made both shots, then one of two on the extra possession with just under five seconds left. Penn State’s Talor Battle's desperation three in time to beat the buzzer was well short.
With his former high school team sitting among a crowd of more than 10,000 fans, Battle played the best game of his three-month Penn State career.
The 5-11 point guard scored a career-high 19 points and had just one turnover in 36 minutes against a bouncy Minnesota defense that forced 16 other turnovers. But, after making four of his first five free throws Saturday, Battle missed his final two during a wild sequence in the final seconds.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top 10 College Football Moments Of 2007

By Chris Dufresne
Los Angeles Times

From A (Appalachian State) to Z (Zook, Ron), the 2007 college football season will be remembered as the year everything happened. So many things,in fact, that when Times reporter Chris Dufresne compiled his top 10moments, some great ones didn't make the final cut, including Kansas' rise from a hayseed program to Orange Bowl glory and Trinity University's 15-lateral, miracle win over Millsaps College.

Dufresne's list:

1. The Appalachian upset: The boys from Boone, N.C., kicked off the season Sept. 1 with an almost inexplicable, 34-32 victory over No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor. The stunner was sealed when Corey Lynch blocked a 37-yard field-goal attempt on the final play. Appalachian State became the first lower division team to beat atop 10 team and the shock waves set the tone for a season of unexpected twists and turns. The win prompted the Associated Press to change its rules and allow pollsters to cast votes for lower-division schools.

2. Stanford 24, USC 23: Date: Oct. 6. Backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard's 10-yard scoring pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left at the Coliseum lifted Stanford to a win that matched Appalachian State's on the improbability meter. News of the upset nearly stopped play miles away at the Rose Bowl, where USC rivals UCLA and Notre Dame were playing. For the second straight year, a loss to an inferior team kept USC from playing for the national championship. In 2006, UCLA shocked USC, 13-9, at the Rose Bowl, which denied USC a title-game match up against Ohio State.

3. Louisiana State wins: LSU spotted Ohio State an early 10-0 lead and then scored the next 31 points on its way to a 38-24 win in the Bowl Championship Series title game. LSU became the first school to win two BCS national titles and the first two-loss team to do it. LSU and Ohio State were the last teams standing Dec. 2 after a wild weekend that saw No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia lose. Ohio State moved from No. 3 to No. 1 and LSU jumped from No. 7 to No. 2.

4. Hell meets almost Heaven: Almost as shocking as Appalachian State over Michigan and Stanford over USC:West Virginia, a 28-point favorite, needed only to beat lowly Pittsburgh at home Dec. 1 to earn a trip to the national title game. But the Panthers prevailed, 13-9 (what is it about shocking upsets, USC, and that score?).That started a chain reaction that led to Coach Rich Rodriguez leaving Morgantown for Michigan. Bill Stewart was named West Virginia's interim coach and led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, after which Stewart was named head coach.

5. Dennis Dixon's injury: One-loss Oregon's very real chances of winning the national title and crowning its first Heisman Trophy winner were crushed Nov. 15 in Tucson when superstar quarterback Dennis Dixon was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. Dixon, a senior, had injured his knee in Oregon's previous game against Arizona State, but he asked the school to keep the news secret in an effort to continue playing. Despite wearing a knee brace, Dixon's left knee buckled when he made a cut with 6:01 left in the first quarter. Oregon finished 9-4.

6. Flynn to Byrd: It may have been the play that best defined the tenuous nature of this year's race to the national title. Louisiana State needed only a field goal to beat Auburn on Oct. 20 in Baton Rouge but tempted fate (and the clock)with a bold, if not insane, call in which Matt Flynn hit receiver Demetrius Byrd for the game-winning touchdown pass with one second left. Had Flynn not been able to get off the pass in time, or taken a sack, LSU would have lost and never played in the national title game.

7. Navy beats Notre Dame: Well, it couldn't last forever. Notre Dame had defeated Navy an NCAA-record43 straight times before the Midshipmen righted the ship with a triple-overtime win over the Irish in South Bend on Nov. 3. How long had it been? Roger Staubach, in 1963, was the Navy quarterback the last time Navy had prevailed. The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-8. Navy had a winning season again under Paul Johnson, who was hired to succeed Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech.

8. Hawai'i arrives; Jones leaves: Hawai'i spent the whole season trying to prove it was worthy of a BCS bidand earned it by finishing the regular season as the nation's only unbeaten team. The Warriors finished 12-0 and No. 10 in the final BCS standings toearn a Sugar Bowl bid, but the fun ended there. Georgia crushed Hawai'i, 41-10, in New Orleans and then Coach June Jones crushed Hawai'i fans by taking the job at Southern Methodist.

9. UCLA fires and hires: This was supposed to be Karl Dorrell's statement year, as the Bruins returned 20 starters on a squad that was ranked No. 14 in the AP preseason poll. But ugly losses to Utah and Notre Dame, plus a rash of injuries, ledto a 6-6 finish and Dorrell's firing Dec. 3. After an extended search, UCLA hired Rick Neuheisel, who once threw passes to Dorrell when they were Bruins teammates in Westwood.

10. Sophomore wins the Heisman: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win college football's most coveted award after a season in which he became the first major college player to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns. Tebow then became the third straight Heisman winner to lose his bowl game, following Reggie Bush in 2005 and Troy Smith in 2006.

Bail Revoked for O.J. Simpson

In his latest dumb stunt, O.J. Simpson bought himself a ticket back to jail by trying to contact a co-defendant in the Las Vegas armed robbery case, prosecutors said.
The disgraced football great was taken into custody Friday by his bail bondsman in Miami for allegedly violating the terms of his release.
The pair then flew to Sin City, where cops took Simpson in handcuffs from the airport to the Clark County Detention Center.
Police said Simpson, 60, would be kept apart from the other 3,300 inmates until a hearing Wednesday, when District Attorney David Roger plans to ask a judge to revoke Simpson's $125,000 bail and keep him in jail until the trial starts in April.
Prosecutors described in court papers how Simpson flagrantly violated his bail terms by reaching out to accused accomplice Clarence (C.J.) Stewart.
In a secretly recorded voicemail message, the Juice spewed profanity as he seemingly urged the bondsman, Miguel Pereira to get a message to Stewart.
"Hey Miguel, it's me - I just want C.J. to know that the whole thing all the time he was tellin' me that [stuff], ya know, I hope he was telling me the truth," Simpson supposedly said.
"Don't be tryin' to change the [expletives] now . . . but I'm tired of this . . . fed up with [expletive] changing what they told me. All right?"
Prosecutors claim that Simpson's goal was to dissuade Stewart from "testifying and cooperating with law enforcement" as some suspects in the case have.
Simpson refused to comment on the charges before he boarded a westbound plane.
"I can't talk to you guys. I cannot talk to you guys," he said.
News cameras captured Simpson as he walked through the Miami airport - looking considerably less relaxed than he did in his old ads for Hertz rental cars.
Wearing a golf shirt and visor, he chatted on a cell phone and asked for directions with agitation, at one point elbowing a young woman out of his way.
Simpson is charged with robbery and kidnapping in connection with the Sept. 13 gunpoint raid on two sports memorabilia dealers at a casino hotel. He has pleaded not guilty.
After he posted bond, he promised a judge he would have no contact with his co-defendants or witnesses - even through a third party or a "carrier pigeon."
Two days after a preliminary hearing - which ended with a judge ruling that he should stand trial - Simpson violated the court order, authorities said.
It was unclear if Pereira, who runs You Ring We Spring Bail Bonds, played any role in tipping off investigators to the call.
Pereira chauffeured Simpson and his relatives to court dates - and said he was confident the athlete wouldn't skip out.
"He's not a flight risk. I have a gut feeling and I'm good at my job," Pereira told reporters after O.J.'s release in September.
Simpson, who was acquitted in the 1994 murder of his wife and her friend, faces up to life in prison if convicted in the heist case.
Three buddies who said they burst in on the memorabilia dealers at the Palace Station have cut deals to testify against Simpson.
Stewart and Charles Ehrlich didn't flip and are still slated to face trial with him.

Garnett drops 20 as Celtics race to 30th win - Match Best Start in Franchise History

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Boston Celtics' big three all had big nights against the New Jersey Nets.
In the end, it was the Celtics' reserves that came up big in the fourth quarter in Boston's 86-77 win, the 30th of the season for the NBA's top team.
"We got down on the road and our starters needed some rest," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The bench was able to dig it out and get us the win. They were huge for us. Every game, we try to get our big guys rest because its a long season and were trying to give the bench more confidence."
Kevin Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce added 18 points and Ray Allen scored 16 as Boston (30-4) matched the 1959-60 champion Celtics for the best start in franchise history.
Boston scored 13 consecutive points without Garnett or Pierce on the floor to take a 76-70 lead with 6:12 remaining. The Celtics went ahead for good at 71-70 on a fast-break layup by Glen Davis with 7:55 left. Following a Nets turnover on their possession, Eddie House had another fastbreak basket and Allen followed with a 3-pointer to close out the run.
"The defense started the offense and we did a good job all around," Davis said. "Our bench brought up the tempo in the fourth quarter and pumped up the energy. It was really big. Some nights, the big players are real factors and other nights, we have to step it up. Thats what the bench is for. We were able to get the lead with the other guys not on the floor. We stepped up at the right time."
Richard Jefferson led the Nets with 17 points, Vince Carter had 16 and Josh Boone added 14 and a career-high 16 rebounds. Jason Kidd just missed another triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
The Nets left a lot of points on the free-throw line where they were 9-for-24. New Jersey also struggled from the floor in the final quarter, going 3-for-19. Boston outscored New Jersey 23-9 in the fourth.
"We kept it close and we had a chance of winning," Carter said. "We just couldn't get anything going. We were right there in the fourth. We've got to get it done against the good teams. There are no excuses."
Nets coach Lawrence Frank felt his team simply ran out of steam.

"It was a combination of their defense and our shots that we couldn't make," Frank said. "There were a couple of poor possessions. We wore down. We exerted a lot of energy in the game."
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Celtics routed the Nets 91-69 on Nov. 14 in Boston. New Jersey, determined to put that embarrassment behind them, started strong, leading 30-22 after one period. Kidd was the dominant force in the period with six points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Nets extended their lead to 39-30 in the second before the Celtics started to find the offensive range. Boston closed out the half on a 17-5 run for a 47-44 advantage. Garnett paced the attack with nine points as Boston was 10-for-13 from the field in the quarter while the Nets made only 5-of-19.
The Nets hung tough with the NBA's top team, taking a 68-63 lead after three quarters. New Jersey got key 3-pointers late in the period from Carter and Nachbar.

Marion Jones Sentenced to Prison

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Marion Jones said she was scared. She said she was sorry. With a catch in her voice, she said her young sons needed her.
"I ask you to be as merciful as a human being can be," she implored the judge.
To no avail.
The former Olympic track gold medalist was sentenced to six months in prison Friday for lying to investigators about using performance-enhancing drugs and her role in a check-fraud scam.
And so ended a long fall from grace for the one-time fastest woman on earth.
She leaned over the courtroom railing and softly cried into her husband's shoulder.
Jones' speed, along with a dazzling smile, pleasant personality and unmatched style, made her an international superstar even before she won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The medals and her riches are gone now, and she has been "put through humiliation with great fanfare," said U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, who sentenced her.
He said Jones damaged two federal investigations with lies that came years apart, so "I don't think the criminal conduct can be written off as a momentary lapse of judgment or a one-time mistake, but instead a repetition of an attempt to break the law."
The check-fraud scheme was a major crime and the wide use of steroids "affects the integrity of athletic competition," he said. If Jones had told the truth from the start, he said, it would have been a great help to the ongoing BALCO investigation.
Later Friday, the judge sentenced Jones' former coach, Olympic champion Steve Riddick, to 5 years and 3 months in prison for his role in the check-fraud scam. Riddick also was given three years' probation and must pay back $375,000.
Riddick's lawyer, Bryan Hoss, said Riddick would appeal.
Jones pleaded with the judge not to separate her from her sons "even for a short period of time," saying she was still nursing the younger one. Although she is happily married now to Olympic sprinter Obadele Thompson, she said she knew from experience the problems of bringing up children in a one-parent household.
Karas acknowledged the children were victims, but said criminals "have to realize the consequences of their actions on others."
"We wouldn't be here today talking about the possibility of incarceration if Ms. Jones-Thompson had told the truth," he said.
A prison sentence, he said, might make others "think twice before lying. It might make them realize that no one is above the obligation to tell the truth."
The judge said he stayed within the six-month maximum suggested by prosecutors because of Jones' sons, her eventual acceptance of responsibility and the good she "can do to debunk the worldwide lie" perpetrated by performance-enhancing drugs.
He said 400 hours of community service in each of the two years following her release would "take advantage of Ms. Jones-Thompson's eloquence, strength and her ability to work with kids." He suggested she teach children that "it's wrong to cheat and to lie about the cheating."
Karas sentenced Jones to six months on the steroids case and two months on the check fraud case but said the sentences could be served at the same time. He imposed no fine, he said, because Jones can't afford to pay one.
After long denying she ever had used performance-enhancing drugs, Jones admitted last October she lied to federal investigators in November 2003, acknowledging she took the designer steroid "the clear" from September 2000 to July 2001. "The clear" has been linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the lab at the center of the steroids scandal in professional sports.
She also admitted lying about her knowledge of the involvement of Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of her older son, in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks. Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that scam.
Karas said he was still not sure Jones was telling the truth when she said she was unaware she had been taking steroids until she stopped. An athlete of her caliber knows "the razor-thin difference" between being good and being great, and she would have noticed right away, he suggested.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs "sends all the wrong messages to all who follow the athlete's every move," Karas said. "Athletes in society have an elevated status. They entertain, they inspire and perhaps most important they serve as role models."
BALCO founder Victor Conte, who served four months in prison after pleading guilty to operating a steroids distribution ring, said Jones "did make some very poor choices, and she does deserve serious consequences. I certainly don't condone her repeated lies."
USA Track & Field president Bill Roe and CEO Craig Masback called the Jones saga "a vivid morality play that graphically illustrates the wages of cheating in any facet of life, on or off the track."
John Fahey, the new president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said "it is an example of how the work of WADA is making it more likely than ever that those who cheat in sport will be caught."
Jones expressed an interest in beginning her sentence as soon as possible. Karas gave her until March 11 to surrender. Her lawyers asked that she be sent to a prison near her Austin, Texas, home.
"I'm very disappointed today," Jones told reporters outside court. "But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today. I stand for what is right. I respect the judge's order and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One team doesn't define Gossage

NEW YORK -- Rich "Goose" Gossage will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the New York Yankees, it was revealed at a press conference to introduce Gossage as a member of baseball's most elite fraternity on Wednesday.
And just to accentuate the point, Hall officials produced a plastic, long-necked white goose wearing a Hall of Fame jersey. Jane Forbes Clark, the chairman of the Hall, topped it off with a mini dark-blue Yankees batting helmet, replete with the silver interlocking NY on the front.
The stunt was the brainchild of Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communications, Clark said.
"I've never gotten so many instructions," Clark added with a laugh after the 33-minute presser had ended. "Put the helmet on straight. Get the strap under the chin just right."
Clark executed the directions to perfection, leaving a beaming Gossage at the podium, where he was then joined by former Yankees teammate Reggie Jackson, circa 1978-81.
Gossage played for nine teams, including the Yankees twice. But even though the argument can be made that he had more of an impact in San Diego, where he took a formally moribund franchise to respectability during his four years playing for the Padres (1984-87), Goose said he was tickled to join the even more select fraternity of players in the Hall who have played at least part of their careers in the Bronx.
Seventeen players now, including Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, sport Yankees caps on their Hall of Fame plaques. Thirty-three former Yankees are in the Hall, including Yogi Berra, who is not wearing a cap. Twenty-five of them, like Gossage, played at least some significant portion of their careers for the Yankees.
These are all Hall records for the most players inducted from any single franchise.
"This is from my heart," said Gossage, now 56, who was elected with nearly 86 percent of the vote on his ninth attempt on the ballot. "I had the privilege and the honor to play for nine different teams in the big leagues, and I loved every moment on every team. Playing in San Diego and turning around baseball in that city for the first time holds a warm spot in my heart. We turned that city on.
"But I grew up in Colorado and [members of] my family were huge Yankees fans. And then getting to play for the Yankees was kind of an out-of-body experience. Putting on the pinstripes did something for me that no other team did. I don't mean to take anything at all away from all the other ballclubs, but getting to play for them and the success we enjoyed there both personally and as a team [was outstanding]."
Gossage signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 1978, and he spent six seasons there in his first tour. He came back late in the '89 season for 11 cameo appearances.
For a number of years now, Hall officials have chosen the cap an inductee will wear on his plaque. Last month, when Dick Williams was elected to the Hall by a Veterans Committee reviewing managers and umpires, it was determined that Williams would go in representing the Oakland A's.
Williams and Gossage were on the 1984 Padres team that won the first National League pennant in franchise history. And Williams managed the 1967 Red Sox team that won the American League pennant on the final day of the regular season to make their first World Series visit since 1946. But neither of those teams won the Fall Classic.
Williams won the World Series with the A's in 1972 and '73, thus it was a no-brainer to put him in the Hall wearing his Oakland cap.
Likewise, Gossage won the World Series with the Yankees over the Dodgers in 1978, winning Game 4 after closing the regular-season-ending one-game playoff for the AL East title at Boston's Fenway Park with a very shaky 2 2/3 innings. He was back in the World Series against the Dodgers in 1981, but that fall, his performance was marred when he hit Ron Cey in the head with a pitch during a critical Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won that series in six games.
Along the way, Gossage served up a critical homer in Game 3 of the 1980 AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium to Kansas City's George Brett. The upper-deck shot iced the game and the Royals' first pennant.
That season, too, Gossage recorded a personal, career single-season high of 33 saves. Along with his six victories, Gossage made a major contribution to the team's 103-win campaign.
In all, Gossage recorded 151 of his 310 saves and 518 of his 1,502 strikeouts for the Yankees. This despite missing about half of the 1979 season after hurting his thumb in a shower-room scuffle with teammate Cliff Johnson and a good portion of the '81 season because of the players' strike.
"This is a wonderful day for everyone who is close to Goose," said Jackson, who was a first-time electee in 1993. "I remember from his early days with the White Sox. You'd stand in the on-deck circle, talking to the guy hitting behind you and say, 'I'd rather eat flies than hit off this guy.' That's how ugly it was. It was a great time [playing together with the Yankees]. It was a great experience."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.