Chiklis on When the Game Stands Tall
By TERRY LYONS (Special to Digital Sports Desk)
During these past few lazy days of summer, there's been a lot going on in the New England sports scene. The New England Patriots are firing up their preseason engines with coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady leading the way. The Boston Bruins and Celtics are scouring the earth for some added scoring, as each approach the 2014-15 season on opposite ends of the projected ladder. Over on Yawkey Way, Ben Cherington, the GM of the Boston Red Sox orchestrated a midseason coup, trading pitching ace Jon Lester and a slew of role-playing World Champions for some hope and home runs as a strategic first step in the re-engineering of the BoSox. One of Cherington's bosses, Tom Werner, is on the short list for consideration as Major League Baseball's new Commissioner. And, speaking of Commissioners, over in the western portion of the Commonwealth, the Basketball Hall of Fame is staging its annual tribute and the inductee of honor is former NBA Commissioner David Stern.
With all of that going on, I thought it was time to step back, maybe escape a bit from the reality that I won't be watching late October baseball at Fenway. So, with that in mind, there was one reliable ole' friend I could reach out to, in order to set my mind on a clear path from the Mass Pike of the depressing local sporting news, so I could look toward the future.
My inside source to all things sports - historical and soon-to-be imagined - provided some fan-friendly perspective as a real New Englander, one with appreciation of the past and the ability to see the future. Fittingly, like Stern, he was someone who had the credentials of a Commissioner but, they were mixed with the passion of a sports fan.
I needed to speak with Michael Chiklis, the actor.
Chiklis was born in Lowell, Mass, and gained wide notoriety as an actor when, from 1991-96, he played Tony Scali - 'The Commish.' Since that career-breaking role, he went on to star in "The Shield," and even played Curly in "The Three Stooges.” More recently, Chiklis starred in "The Fantastic Four" and he is currently filing FXs "American Horror Story: The Freak" in New Orleans. However, it was Chiklis' previous casting that was the more appropriate subject of discussion when we spoke by phone this past weekend, catching up as though we were old friends sitting in my West Village studio watching his "Commish" reruns, but talking about his soon-to-be-released film role, the portrayal of Terry Eidson an assistant coach to Bob Ladouceur in the true story of (Concord, California’s) De La Salle High School's 151-game winning streak, the backdrop for “When The Game Stands Tall,” a SONY Pictures release, hitting theatres nationwide on August 22.
First, Chiklis was sure to set the record straight when I brazenly asked if he continued to have ample time to follow sports, and in particular, Boston sports while he was so busy with life as a famous actor and jaunts between New Orleans and Los Angeles.
"I still am, and will always be, -- until my last breath -- an avid Boston sports fan," said Chiklis with an emphasis that might've been taught in drama class by Kurt Douglas. "I think one of the single greatest things about my celebrity is that it’s gained me access to my beloved Boston teams."
Where you at Fenway last fall, I asked?
"I was there. I was at Game 6. My wife and I went with my dear friend and his wife. We were there for the celebration, and we ended up going to the owner’s box after the game and had the greatest time in the world. It’s been wonderful. And, one of the most special things was that I lived out a "Jimmy Fallon moment" (noting the motion picture, Fever Pitch) when Curt Schilling brought me out onto the field right after we won in ’07 in Colorado. I was right on the field right after the win. To be that close in proximity to those guys, right there. I was standing there, literally, right with Mike Lowell’s brother while they gave him the MVP trophy on the field, I mean that’s incredibly special, it was insane. You’re right there, it’s historic stuff that’s happening, and you’re privy to it."
Chiklis then opined on the sport of football, being that the role of assistant coach Eidson was fresh in his mind. What is it about football, anything with the Patriots that made you particularly insightful to your role in the movie?
"Look," Chilkis said. "I’ve always grown up with the mentality that I’d rather be a good player on a championship team than the "franchise" player on a lousy team. When you see the way Coach B (his nickname for Belichick) coaches the team and the way he picks players, he’s never been about stars. One of the goose-bump moments of my life as a Patriots fan was in 2001 at the Superbowl when they introduced the (St. Louis Rams) 'Greatest Show on Turf' player by player. And then, after all of that fanfare, they went 'introducing the New England Patriots.' and they came out just as the Pats team. Every hair on my body stood up and I thought, 'we are winning this game.' Something about being a New Englander, we love the idea of a team, as opposed to the individual.
"We don’t like blow hards much."
"It’s about the way we’re raised, I guess," he continued. "In New England, if you get too far ahead of yourself, you’re going to get brought down to earth really quickly. When I was growing up, it was really instilled in me that it’s just a better experience in life to be yourself and not be a narcissist, but rather to be a part of a community. And our teams are like that. You look right and left of you and you feel that bond between the people. It’s an incredibly special thing, and you’ll get a feel for it in this movie, When The Game Stands Tall. You’ll see that camaraderie, that brotherhood that happens on a team. And you can see that in real life with the Patriots and Belichick when he speaks to the players coming into this team he says, 'You want to succeed? You want a ring on your finger? Then, you’re gonna plug into this system, we’ll all pull our weight, we’ll all do this together.'"
Chiklis was quick to put two-and-two together.
"Of course, superstars have emerged (in the New England Patriots' system) due to their level of commitment and play," said the actor. "Tom Brady couldn’t be a better example of a guy who’s all class, who never would say disparaging words about another player. But, it’s not about the other guy. It’s about his personal execution as it relates to the guys right and left of him and his commitment to them as a team. He knows that they can be relied upon. These guys can rely upon each other. They have each other’s backs. And that’s the kind of thing that makes your chest swell when you’re watching this movie. You can see that in the context of the picture.
"When you’re watching movies like 'Remember the Titans' or 'Rudy' or 'Miracle,' you’re always threatened by that fine line between 'too corny' and something that doesn’t make a mark. But, what I love about this movie is that it's not about the cliché version of 'two seconds left on the clock and he scores and the game’s over and we win.' The film we're so proud of doesn’t take it from that place. The De La Salle high school football team won 151 games in a row in twelve years which for anybody who knows sports, that’s ridiculous. It just doesn’t happen.
"There’s a reason why their formula was successful and they kept winning," noted Chiklis. "Sure they want to win their games, but the onus and the focus wasn't on winning games. It’s on making these boys into young men. They are conscionable, responsible, credible human beings and you rely upon them.
"I’m very passionate about the movie, I’m a supporting player in this movie, When the Game Stands Tall, but I love what it says."
You will too.
It's Pretty Simple, Join Us.
By TERRY LYONS
Special to Digital Sports Desk
NEWTON, Massachusetts, April 21, 2014 -- The measurements of sports are etched in our memories so deeply and clearly, we don't need to look them up.
In football, there are three feet to a yard and ten yards for a first down. In basketball, it’s ten feet to the rim and a 15-foot shot for a free throw. The best has to be baseball, where they measure sixty feet, six inches from the pitcher's mound to the back of the plate and 90 feet between the bases.
We just love to measure and compare, so the phrase "sixty feet, six inches" seems so perfect, it would be unimaginable to suggest a change.
However, let us behold the metric system, far older and far wiser than we care to admit. So, as the screwed up Americans we truly are, we tend to split the differences and try to make it up as we go along.
If we're at the Pub, we're a-okay with a pint of Guinness. That's 16 ounces of cool suds. Hey, that's still "our way." Grab that quart, half-gallon or gallon of milk at the local Tedeschi's and you are all set, but ask for a liter of Coca-Cola or seek directions from the barkeeper or counterman north of the border and you’ll hear about a few meters of distance instead of a country mile and be baffled to the point when out comes the calculator with our smart phone conversion tables.
So with that in mind, today, I present to you - the Marathon.
You see, in 490 BC or before, good old Philippides took off with a message in his hand. He travelled on foot, we believe, from Marathon to Athens and, as fate would have it, old Philly was a very dependable courier and in pretty good shape as he swiftly covered some 42 kilometers of rough, rocky terrain to convey a message that would now be delivered in an e-mail instant. To pay tribute to the noble feat many years later, in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the founding fathers of the Modern Olympic games memorialized the great run when they staged the very first "marathon" where runners would travel the full 42 km to win a race.
It beats bobbing for apples, I guess?
As fans of the Olympics, we brought out our calculators and did the math, figuring the distance to be a hefty sum of twenty-six miles three hundred eighty five yards.
About a year later, in 1897, our forefathers in the great city of Boston took out their maps and drew a line out to the small town of Hopkinton, then turned around and ran to Boston. In doing so, they created The Boston Marathon, what is now the oldest, most famous and most prestigious athletic competition in American sport. The race is a test of an athlete's training, determination and endurance. It is run on the third Monday in April, so the conditions can vary greatly from one year and one minute to another. It is a glorious and wonderful event where everyday runners compete on the same playing field as the elite. That is the beauty of the marathon - any marathon, yes - but Boston is special.
If Madison Square Garden is the "Mecca" for hoops, then the streets of Boston are paradise for the long-distance runner. The great Amby Burfoot, the 1968 winner of Boston, called it "the Carnegie Hall" of races, mainly because of the people who line the streets, the legions of fans, the knowledgeable spectators, the enthusiastic collegians, the families who gather all along the fifty-two plus miles of sidewalk to cheer and encourage the runners. That is what makes the Boston Marathon just a little bit different than any other road race of rodeo.
It's the people. The difference between Boston and all the other races is in the crowds of fans and volunteers at the starting line way out past I495, it's the small-town New England charm of Ashland, Framingham and Natick where families dust-off the patio furniture and cart it to the curbsides, or the co-eds at Wellesley College, celebrating another Patriots' Day holiday with their better-than-Bill-Raftery 'kiss and signs that light up the faces and spirits of the runners, even though they're only 20 km or barely halfway through the race. It's the front yard and backyard parties all along Commonwealth Ave. in Newton where the down slope from Wellesley turns into a series of four gradual elevations that are truly heartbreaking. It’s the hope gained by the runners when they see Boston College in Chestnut Hill and begin the quad-pounding downhill to bucolic Brookline towards Kenmore Square. The big city is a small community.
How do the runners endure?
One example is a 54-year old runner, John Caron, the proprietor of West End Johnnie's of Boston who was running and raising money for the Boston Bruins foundation. He felt he needed to do something for his community for his city. So, today he found a way to endure a little more pain as a friend of some 20-plus years sought him out to provide some support. So the friend took out his calculator and figured the miles and kilometers from Hopkinton, past the 5K-mark, then the 10K mark, then consulted the tracker online, calculated the average splits per mile, rather than per kilometer, tossed them all into the old brain, then bee-lined it up to Commonwealth. I intersected with Johnnie with five minutes to spare as my buddy neared the statue of Olympian Johnny Kelley who once ran a record 61 Boston marathons. The smile on my friend’s face was priceless, the hug of encouragement passed from one to another worth even more.
"Do you need some sun lotion," I asked?
"Nahh, I'm alright."
"How's the calf muscle," noting the strain I learned about when John was fiddling around with a downed tree just last week in his backyard.
Silence. Then. "We're gonna need to shoot it up tomorrow."
Then, he was off.
"Take it nice and easy, man. You're doing great and you're going to finish. You've got this."
He vanished, first with a few steps walking, then into a nice trot.
A little ways further up Heartbreak Hill, the crowds were out on their front yards, shouting more and more encouragement.
Calling out to Johnny, one fan simply shouted, "You can do it Bruins!"
To a fund-raising runner, "Hey there Children's Hospital, you're going to finish the Boston marathon! How does that sound?"
If there were 36,000 runners, this one fan had to connect with 10,000 athletes just by her self. That's pretty strong.
Then, I stopped in my tracks and did the math. There were over a million spectators lining the course, so every runner in the race had an average of 27.7 fans. Or maybe, like Johnny, they had connected directly with somewhere between one and a million fans.
That is what the Boston marathon was all about in 2014.
It wasn’t about a slogan that makes some people feel a little uneasy. It wasn’t about justice being served up to two crazed idiots who victimized our town a year ago. It was about coming to terms with the fact they killed a little 8-year old boy, a son and brother. It was about mourning, still, for a wonderful Boston-bred friend and colleague to many. It was remembering that they killed a promising young student who hailed from China and came to our democracy and our schools to study. It was realizing once again, they murdered a brave MIT security man and loyal first responder, on duty as he put in his time and trained to be a police officer in Somerville. The criminals fled to our neighboring town and hid cowardly in our backyards, bringing the crime from our favorite sporting event right into our driveways as we were told to shelter in place.
A million spectators and 36,000 runners today turned the page and brought some closure to this terrible tragedy which lives on in our hearts and souls and comes forth through our tears and broken voices.
Tomorrow, little Jane Richard will fasten prosthesis to the portion of her leg not lost to the shrapnel of the bomb. Jane, and hundreds of other survivors of a cowardly and senseless act of a year ago will start fresh again tomorrow when the sun rises again.
We'll mark the dates and measure the progress as the survivors carry on as we count another 365 days in a year.
Is it possible to heal?
Yes. It's time to move on, carry-on and continue to support our neighbors and fellow Bostonians, all lifetime residents of a wonderful city we love. It's a small-town community and you’re all are welcome to participate in any way you choose.
We proudly call this movement, this gradual and important healing process, "Boston Strong."
You are more than welcome to join us, as long as you can add it up.
The NCAA Is Under Attack
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief, Digital Sports Desk
Like no time in its long history, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is under attack.
Criticism has rained down upon the NCAA many times before and the organization is frequently claiming it is under self-imposed reform, yet, in the sports world that is 2013, the NCAA is under more serious scrutiny than ever before and the criticism and action is coming from every possible direction.
One of the most notable is a new sports documentary film entitled "SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports," which will bring much of the NCAA's method of operation under closer public scrutiny as the film premiers Wednesday, October 16th on EPIX, an online multimedia platform.
So, just how is the NCAA under such scrutiny of late?
Let us count the ways.
1. The O'Bannon Case: Most importantly, the NCAA is under legal attack from an antitrust lawsuit filed by lawyers representing Ed O'Bannon and a host of other players who contend the NCAA has violated their rights vai illegal use of their names and likenesses. As recently as October 8, the Chronicle of Higher Learning and numerous media outlets reported the NCAA was willing to discuss a settlement. Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney for O'Bannon and the players is seeking restitution and the NCAA surrendering of all profits from the prior use of the player likenesses. Under the nation's antitrust laws, the damages would be tripled.
"There are a lot of shortfalls in the present NCAA system's relationship of athletes to the association, schools and conferences," said Hausfeld recently. "Any possible settlement would "address all of these shortfalls and suggest a balancing of that relationship." He also noted his legal efforts would seek "a voice, like athletes in other sports leagues, in the operation of the sport."
2. Jeffrey Kessler: Directly related to the legal process, Jeffrey Kessler, a highly-experiencd sports labor attorney and a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, has begun a division within his firm to represent non-professional athletes who help generate some $16 billion in television revenue alone for collegiate athletics. The involvement or even threat of involvement by Kessler, as recently reported by Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick, is the NCAA's worst nightmare. Kessler was largely responsible for player representation against the NFL and NBA and his hardline approach and legal positioning caused the NBA to lose nearly half of the 1998-99 season.
3. EA Sports: EA Sports, the popular video game maker, recently settled its own case just as it was "caught in the middle" between the O'Bannon and NCAA legal battle. EA Sports chose to settle for a reported $40 million dollars to avoid potentially larger figures if the O'Bannon case goes to trial and is classified as a "class Action" suit.
4. The Media: Dating back to a watershed 2011 article in "The Atlantic" by civil rights historian and writer-reporter Taylor Branch, the media who cover collegiate athletics are largely influencing public opinion and creating awareness of the NCAA's past and present operating discretions. Branch went so far as to liken the NCAA to "The Cartel" and said on numerous occasions that the more in-depth his reporting became, the more injustices he became aware of to the point of utter disbelief.
Jay Bilas, a former basketball player at Duke University and Duke Law doctorate holder, is a highly respected and recognized television commentator for ESPN where he has covered college basketball at the highest of levels since 1995. Bilas has remained very outspoken in his criticism of the NCAA and its practices governing "student-athletes," a term ridiculed by many but carefully chosen by former NCAA executive director Walter Byers who served from 1951 through 1988.
5. The Industry: A large part of the "old boy" network, highly prevalent in NCAA sports, marches on, all constituents except the players represented and all hoping not to upset the decades-old applecart that pays high salaries to administrators, coaches and insiders who benefit greatly from well-heeled sponsors and growing television packages. Yet, many of the power-brokers in sports are turning up the heat on the NCAA at its most untenable time. One of those dialing-up the temperature and rhetoric is NBA Commissioner David Stern who recently took exception to the NCAA's constant finger-pointing at the professional ranks to deflect criticism of its own shortcomings.
Stern was recently conducting a press conference in Manila, The Philippines and was asked about Jeremy Lin, the star guard of the Houston Rockets who was playing in the NBA exhibition game. The conversation turned to Lin's miraculous NBA debut, his play in the NBA D-League and the NCAA criticism of an NBA rule to allow collegians to play one year of NCAA basketball, then enter the NBA Draft.
"You know, the system works," said Stern as he readied his salvo. "Jeremy Lin was overlooked. Some people think it was because he was Asian and others think it was because he went to Harvard. The thing I'm actually proud of and its importance will emerge in the future years as the discussions of the NCAA and its relationship with the NBA heat up, (Is that we have) a full-fledged development league.
"I'm proud of the development league," said the out-going NBA Commissioner at a packed press conference. "It's working. The march is continuing. The drum-beats I hear about colleges not liking to what they refer to as "one and done. We now have a league in the NBA Development League that will accept the players that are 18 and will do a better job of educating them than the college programs in which they are. Take that," noted Stern as he realized he would be making US headlines on the NCAA remarks from his pulpit in the Far East.
6. The Documentary: SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports puts it all together. The film features poignant interviews with Domonique Foxworth, a former colleagite player and now president of the NFL Players Association, O'Bannon, the former NBA and UCLA star forward, Arian Foster an All-American at Tennessee and ALl-Pro running back with the Houston Texans along with Devon Ramsay, a North Carolina fullback whose trials after his injury status as he competed at UNC became one of the most controversial cases in recent NCAA history. In all cases stemming from the interviews, the NCAA and its current executive director Mark Emmert come under severe attack and criticism.
The film lays out the facts, plain and simple. It's goal, according to Foxworth, was to simply state the facts, bring awareness to the situation and create the conduit for public discussion, added awareness and focus on the archaic operating fashion of the NCAA as it relates to its players. For the NCAA, it is another mind-boggling, headline producing attack. For the film's producers, a job very well done as SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports is a must see, especially if your name is Mark Emmert.
Also see: The Atlantic: Taylor Branch "The Shame of College Sports"
A-Rod, Thanks for Nothing
By TERRY LYONS, Editor in Chief, Digital Sports Desk
NEW YORK, AUGUST 6, 2013 - The revolving door of the Chicago hotel rotated like the very best precision timepiece and out strode Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. While teammates pivoted to their left towards the team bus, Rodriguez turned to his right to a private livery vehicle awaiting to transport the multi-million dollar baseball star to 333 West 35th Street at the corner of 35th and Shields Avenue, undoubtedly taking a short-cut from the hotel to the South Side of Chicago, the baddest part of town.
Rodriguez. the centerpiece of Major League Baseball's endless attempt to rid itself of the stigma of its very own superstars cheating their way to the upper echelons of on-field statistical success, was finally sentenced to 211 games of suspension from his sport, without pay. The suspension was levied on the darkest day in Baseball's long history of very dark days. On Monday evening, August 5, 2013, the Black Sox scandal of 1919 took its place as the second most gruesome scab on a sport often referred to as the national pastime, an accurate statement as the sport is truly past its time and certainly long past its prime.
Coincidentally, Rodriguez decided to appeal the 211-game wrist slap levied upon him by Commissioner Bud Selig and the lords of baseball just as the MLB schedule-makers and New York Yankees traveling secretaries sent him to play in Chicago, the home of Al Capone, The Untouchables, The Sting and Risky Business. Rodriguez's decision to appeal was contrary to the decisions made by a dozen players who accepted 50-game suspensions for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent evidence uncovered to prove violations and obstruction of Major League Baseball's joint drug prevention and treatment program. The 13 suspensions announced Monday were in addition to the highly publicized 65-game suspension handed down July 22. Braun was the National League's most valuable player in 2011 while three of the MLB players suspended Monday, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres and Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers were among the 2013 All-Stars, recently feted at the annual MLB All-Star Mid-Summer Classic.
Since that event which celebrated the very best baseball has to offer - underlined by Yoenis Cespedes' memorable performance in the Home Run Derby and veteran relief pitcher Mariano Rivera's MVP performance in the All-Star game itself - Major League Baseball went from the highest of highs to the lowest depths, arguably in the sport's history and maybe in all of sports history, as only Lance Armstrong's decades-long escapade of performance enhancing drug abuse in the Tour de France could be compared.
While the Tour de France and bicycling might have world appeal with a stranglehold in Europe, only Baseball has its place as the American Pastime, a sport woven so heavily into the American sportsman's psyche, that patrons recount story upon story of how the summer game played its role deep into family lore in nearly every household in the United States. Baseball's influence remains equally and deeply rooted in the Latin American sports world. Of the 14 players suspended in 2013, only Braun and Rodriguez were born in the United States while the 11 others hailed from either Nicaragua, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez, born in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights in New York, moved the the island with his family when he was four years old and was reared in the DR and later in Miami, Florida.
But Baseball's black eye from the steroid era seems to have no ethnic nor socio-economic boundaries. Monday's suspensions were levied on minor leaguers, journeymen, role players, utility infielders, All-Stars and superstars. Recent history and subsequent Congressional testimony by MLB All-Stars such as Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmiero, Curt Shilling and Rodriguez, held on March 17, 2005 revealed deep-seeded troubles as it cast the spotlight of guilt and lack of credibility upon an entire generation of ballplayers, many now record holders on the all-time MLB home run hitting list. Throughout all the speculation and innuendo, Baseball attempted to coax Congress and a much smarter sports-loving public audience into the notion that the institution was addressing its issues of drug and steroid abuse in the sport. All the while, Baseball was not thoroughly prepared to investigate nor properly investigate doping programs such as BALCO and Biogenesis which were uncovered through investigative journalists, not by MLB's hierarchy seated in the commissioner's office or at the powerful player's association lobby.
What has become increasingly clear is that baseball has only itself to blame. Commissioner Bud Selig touted the league's joint anti-drug and treatment program as the best in the land, yet inexplicably allowed the tail to wag the dog as Rodriguez made mockery of the system while selfishly distracting his teammates and the New York Yankees organization that pays him some $200 million dollar, albeit reluctantly. Baseball's Commissioner could've easily proclaimed an "indefinite" suspension for Rodriguez, citing his "best interests of the game" authority, thus allowing the season to play on without the spotlights on "A-Rod" and the issue of PEDs. Instead, Baseball has botched the handling of the PED suspensions to epic proportions, dragging them out, dragging the sport through a two-week hell, and thoroughly ruining an entire season of baseball.
Why didn't baseball consolidate all of the suspensions into one announcement to suspend Braun, Rodriguez and the others all at the same time?
Why didn't baseball, badgered by the cloud of steroid and PED usage, signal a date in November 2013 for all to be reckoned with and all to be announced?
With only a baker's dozen suspended, how - on earth - is a curious public or an investigative reporter expected to believe that Selig is dealing with the issue of drug abuse in major League Baseball "once and for all?"
The "what could've been a great season of 2013" with the valiant efforts of players from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and LA Dodgers now wasted away in Drugville, the high-water mark of Mariano Rivera's All-Star Weekend and the subsequent tributesto his career, like the standing ovation and show of support from the Red Sox Nation at a packed Fenway Park - in a game-deciding, save situation, no less - has now dictated the sorry facts of life to all involved. The 2013 MLB season has become such a farce and such a colossal Public Relations blunder for Baseball, that it has left this reporter with nothing but an empty feeling of disdain for a sport so deeply loved, it actually hurts as the final period is written on this obituary for MLB 2013.
Boston 2013: End of Innocence
By TERRY LYONS (Editor-in-Chief, Digital Sports Desk)
BOSTON, April 16, 2013 -- I am sick of giving my thoughts and prayers. I am sick of standing for a moment of silence. I am sick of it all. Whether it was the catastrophic events of September 11, 2011 or the lone-wolf criminal acts of Oklahoma City in April of 1995 or bombing of Centennial Park in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics, I'm just sick and tired of it all.
When I feel like this, my writing always comes up empty, because I just can't reach for my feelings. It hurts too much.
It hurt too much this past December 14th, as a senseless act took the lives of 20 young children and six brave adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, a town I literally drove through that very morning when returning from my native New York to my new hometown of Boston. That crime hurt so much because of the little children robbed of their lives and taken from this earth in the years of their absolute innocence.
Now, here in Boston, we mourn again. We were enjoying a wonderful holiday in the Commonwealth and we were all celebrating in a day where the Boston Marathon weaves its way from Hopkinton through Wellesley and up the hills of Newton right on through Brookline and into Boston. The day was aptly described by weathermen everywhere as "perfect."
The elites ran off at 9am for the women, leading some 11,000 fellow females on to one of the most challenging marathon courses a runner will ever see. The elite men ran off at 10:00am and they chased the women and the physically challenged runners all the way toward Copley Square, some 26.2 miles away on a glorious spring day when the very best of Boston was on display under a clear blue sky.
Out in Lexington and Concord, tributes were paid to the men and women who fought for the American Revolution. They are the Patriots we hold forth and celebrate each year on Patriots' Day in Massachusetts and even though I'm only a newfound Bostonian, Patriots' Day is in my blood. I wake and I feel it every year. It is part of the fabric of the Boston community and put simply, you just can NOT feel it.
And talk about fabric, like non-other, the Boston Red Sox are this community and the Red Sox toss the ball out at 11:00am on Patriots' Day every year and it is the toughest ticket in town, especially on a glorious spring day when the temperature pushes 55-degrees fahrenheit and the Sox are off to a great start. To be at Fenway on Patriots' Day is as good as it gets, unless you have a front row seat for the Boston Marathon.
And guess what?
We ALL have that!
Whether you make your way out to Hopkinton, as I like to do, or you take your lawn chairs up the block to Commonwealth, as I have done many a time, or you head downtown to take in the sights along Mass Ave or in Brookline, it just doesn't get any better than cheering on the runners. Runners like 66-year old Amby Burfoot who I had the pleasure of working with all this past week as he prepped for the 45th anniversary run of his 1968 Boston Marathon victory. Amby - nobody calls him Burfoot or Mr. Burfoot - was quite the story this year and he made the rounds on all the radio and TV circuits, he spent time with the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe and he was a gracious guest on all of the shows, inviting the average guy, the average runner to join him and his family as they ran the race with two things in mind - to have fun and to finish healthy.
Amby was stopped short of that goal on Mass Avenue in Boston because there was a terrible disturbance in the force, the force that guides all runners and marathoners, the force that guides most of us. The force of sportsmanship, competitiveness and the force of reaching deep into the human spirit was ransacked by a cowardly criminal act. As some of the thousands of runners were crossing the finish line at Copley, two bombs detonated and the world changed again, sadly to the extreme far opposite side of righteousness and into the depths of hell where the cowards will exist in the afterworld.
The terror was extreme and the death toll rose from two to three souls overnight, as the police and authorities worked every waking hour to try their very best to restore order and to track down the criminals responsible for this act, but overnight the worst of the worst of the worst news surfaced.
The face of this criminal act is that of an innocent eight-year old boy and his family.
At this early point in the criminal investigation, we do not know why. We lash out against why, we try to figure out why, but we just don't know why. The anger is not healthy, but, we must recognize that it exists.
Runners and fans, athletes and their families are as far away from political figures as you can get. They compete and they entertain us. They are sportsmen and, ever increasingly, sports women. They are global citizens, especially at a world class marathon where people from all over the world come to celebrate their sport and test their endurance in a race where they must qualify to do so. Boston is history, it's the Wimbledon of running. It is classy and it is beautiful, even on a 96-degree day like last year or a 32-degree day like so many before.
Hundreds of innocent people stood in Copley Square, many smiling and celebrating as their loved ones crossed the finish line. Then, like New York in 1993 and 2001, like Atlanta in 1996, like countless other cities and towns - in the USA and worldwide - we experienced the cowardice of crime and terrorism that was inserted, once again, into our daily lives.
That is the question my little girl looked up and asked of me yesterday afternoon when she didn't know an 8-year old was murdered. Now, today, with the news that this crime has the name and face of an 8-year old, that is the question every parent is being asked again, many by a youngster who will relate to the late Martin Richard.
None of us have an answer and unfortunately, there's a good chance we never will.
Where Have All the Kricksteins Gone?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
-- Pete Seeger
By TERRY LYONS (Special to DigitalSportsDesk)
NEW YORK, MARCH 4, 2013 -- With all due respect, let's take a shot at this just as the tennis world is about to celebrate "Tennis Night" in Hong Kong and at New York's Madison Square Garden where Rafael Nadal will headline a night of exhibitions along with Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro on the men's side while Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka square-off on the women's side right in the big top of New York City's spotlight.
Where have all the Aaron Krickstein's gone?
Long time passing shots,
Where have all the Aaron Kricktein's gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the Andre Agassi's gone?
Charming personality for everyone,
Where have all the Andre Agassi's gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the Michael Chang's gone?
He's won Roland Garros for Hoboken,
Where have all the Michael Chang's gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the Paul Annacone's gone?
Wimbledon quarters and coaching a ton,
Where have all the Paul Annacone's gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the Andy Roddick's gone?
A U.S. Open Champion,
Where have all the Andy's Roddick's gone?
Long time ago.
During my lifetime, I had the great pleasure to witness the glory years of several sports and sports franchises. It's been well documented that I worked my way through the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson era of NBA basketball, arguably the greatest time period in league history. I was also lucky enough to see the New York Mets win their "Miracle Mets" world championship in 1969, the New York Knicks in their most glorious era where Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the Red Holzman-led Knickerbockers played a team-oriented, pleasing brand of basketball that forged two NBA titles and created a legion of "make the extra pass" basketball fans that grew-up with "The City Game" and a "Hit the Open Man" mentality.
I was hand-delivered a New York Islanders franchise that struggled mightily as an expansion franchise but soon after upset their New York Rangers rivals ('75) and went on to win four consecutive NHL Stanley Cup championships when Bryan Trottier personified the perfect two-way player maker, Denis Potvin took a lesson from the NHL's all-time greatest defenseman, Bobby Orr of the Bruins, to mold the NYI team around his very intimidating defensive presence while he quarterbacked the offense and power play to perfection. The Isles, with super-sniper Mike Bossy (50-in-50 was the norm), Clark Gillies and a host of muckers and fan-favorites, like Bobby Nystrom, Butch Goring, John Tonelli, complemented by rock-solid goal-keeping by Billy Smith. Not bad fort a high school sophomore, eh?
Them there was tennis.
On the women's side, every summer at the U.S. Open, we were there to witness Chrissy Evert going up against the greatest tennis player of all time in Martina Navratilova, a singles, doubles and mixed doubles ultra-champion and 18-time Grand Slam title winner. On the men's front, the list is ridiculous and I'll rip through it in no particular order ...
We were there to watch John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Pete Sampras - all American-born and bred. Meanwhile, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Roger Federer, Rod Laver, Boris Becker and Mats Wilander were the international opponents, to name just a few.
Undoubtedly, it was the greatest era of tennis in history and it might never ever be duplicated.
So what happened?
Where did all the tennis players go? And, specifically, where are the American tennis players?
Let's ask Johnny Mac?
"Andy Roddick's now gone and we haven't won any slams in 10 years since Pete Sampras quit other than Roddick's one (2003 U.S. Open), so obviously there's some concern here. There's a lot of work to do and I think people remember the old days a bit," said McEnroe to a media contingent assembled to see the John McEnroe Tennis Academy housed at Sportime at three different locations in New York and its suburbs. "It was a great time for me and it was sort of a golden era for American tennis -- Jimmy Connors and myself, then Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier.
"So, yes, there's something that's missing and hopefully we can fill that niche and maybe inspire some younger kids as well."
What happened to the talent pool? Did the kids all start playing basketball and lacrosse, because they're certainly not playing baseball and (American/NFL-style) football. Ask President Barack Obama about that, eh?
"I've seen them all," McEnroe chimed in. " What Billie Jean King has done for the game and the way she played was more like how I played, Then, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert won a billion tournaments, Steffi Graf. And, when Serena (Williams) is on, she's the best I've ever seen play. She has the whole package as far as what she can bring to the table.
"Hopefully for us, (meaning American tennis), we're wondering where the next American guy is? For the next American woman, we're still looking pretty sharp. Hopefully this will inspire some other people to get out there," noted McEnroe.
And, he's backing up his wish with a venture sure to create a few new stars, right from the New York metropolitan area because McEnroe's academies help train more than 300 young prospects, who get first-hand training from Douglaston's favorite son, along with his brother, mark, and Peter Fleming - Mac's longtime doubles partner who heads up a gaggle of 30 of the top tennis coaches in the country, all packed into facilities on Randall's Island, Westchester County and out on Long Island. Because of Johnny Mac's heavy travels and TV commentary gig, his academy is managed by his brother after it was created by New York entrepreneur Claude Okin.
So where's the beef? Where's the next American champion?
"You look at John Isner, he's big and athletic and he played four years of college tennis," said McEnroe. "That's the type of kid, an athlete, that will become the future of tennis and I think, here, in a city like New York, we can find those type of kids."
Six Degrees of Harbaugh
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief Digital Sports Desk
It's Super Bowl Sunday and all is well in the world of sports today.
Two weeks have passed since the NFL's best weekend of the year, the AFC and NFC championship weekend where the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots for the right to meet in New Orleans today for all the gumbo the NFL coffers have to offer. Since that Sunday a fortnight ago, much has been written and said about the Super Bowl coaching match-up today, featuring San Francisco 49ers coach John Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh, the first brother-combo to ever coach against each other in the biggest game of them all. The stories often focus on the football environment the two coaches grew up in as the sons of father, Jack Harbaugh, a career football man.
The father has been asked a million times who he will root for in the big game. Just this morning, in the Boston Globe and its online mega media outlet, Boston.com, columnist Dan Shaughnessy stepped away from his column for a second to be a parent, something we all must do now and then, if we are fortunate enough to be graced by the hands of a higher being and to be lucky enough to be the "Mom's and Dad's of our children.
"You’re only as happy as your saddest child.’’ Jack Harbaugh — the dad of John and Jim — spoke to this adage last week when he said, “All the millions and millions that are parents ; they know that our thoughts will go to the one who comes up a little short.’’
Shaughnessy then wrote, a few lines later, "There it is. The dad of the Super Bowl coaches is telling you that if Jim and the 49ers win the Super Bowl, the first instinct of the Harbaugh parents will be to feel bad for disappointed John. You are only as happy as your saddest child.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to learn a little bit about the father, not the sons, so I asked the one person in the world that I know that would know. I reached out to Mike Broeker of Marquette University in Milwaukee.
"I had the great fortune to work with Jack for five years and although I didn't realize it then, each time we talked he left me with a takeaway to consider regarding leadership," said Mike Broeker, a Harbaugh family insider by way of (former) Marquette head coach and current Indiana Coach Tom Crean. Said Broeker, one of the up & coming college administrators in the land from his hotel room in Louisville where the Golden Eagles will take on Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals, "I certainly can't speak to Jim and John's football acumen, but having myself been influenced as a leader by Jack, it doesn't surprise me in the least his two sons have LED their franchises to the Super Bowl."
That's LED... as in led, marched to the finish line, dragged on their backs.
So the six degrees of separation are as interesting as the Super Bowl story line. Broeker is to Crean as Crean is to Joani Harbaugh as Joanie is to Jim and John and as Joani, Jim and John are to Jack. You see, Crean is married to Joani Harbaugh and the two met while Crean was an assistant coach to Ralph Willard while at Western Kentucky University. The couple met through a mutual friend when Ms. Harbaugh was an aerobics instructor while her father, Jack Harbaugh, was the head football coach at Western Kentucky. Crean's coaching led Marquette to the 2003 NCAA Final Four as Dwyane Wade's head coach. He has since moved on to Bloomington, Indiana where he is the coach of the No. 1 ranked Indiana Hoosiers, winners over previous numero uno, Michigan just last night. Crean and his wife are the parents of three children, Jack Harbaugh's grandchildren Megan, Riley and Ainsley.
Jack Harbaugh was an Associate Athletic Director at Marquette from 2002-08 when his son-in-law was putting the once proud Marquette basketball program back on the map in a big way.
So, why is this important on this Super Bowl Sunday?
Well, I count four different sports programs now considered and proven to be ultra successful because of the tutelage of one Jack Harbaugh. Yes, the Baltimore Ravens, the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL and the Marquette Golden Eagles (Warriors to most of us) and the Indiana Hoosiers, once led but then wrecked by a fould-mouthed bully named Bobby Knight who stayed on too long but now watches from afar in awe of a program resurrected by coach Tom Crean.
The stories today are all about Jim and John, of course and as they should be. And, as I noted, they touch upon Jack Harbaugh the family patriarch, but rarely do they go deeper to mention the former Jacqueline "Jackie" Capiti (Harbaugh), mother of the two NFL coaches and a woman universally known in the collegiate world as the wonderful wife of Jack. The parents must be proud of their two sons and they're proud of their son-in-law and his wife who have brought the religious experience of collegiate basketball back to the midwestern roots it must thrive in for all to be right in this world. They are proud parents and grandparents in a life blessed by good family, good friends and, frankly, some good luck, too, which is all to often forgotten in the world of sports.
My guess, is the family will all be happier later this week when the Super Bowl is in the books and they can all focus on the Indiana Hoosiers. That'll be until the Hoosiers meet up against the Marquette Warriors and the six degrees of separation branch out to one of Jack's other proteges. And that is where this column was going all along.
Here's to Mike Broeker, a loyal front office man in the Marquette Golden Eagles athletic department. If I had to put all my eggs in one basket to save the NCAA from itself. I'd make one phone call, to the guy influenced by Jack Harbaugh.
2012: YEAR of the ATHLETES of U.K.
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief & Founder of Digitial Sports Desk with a fitting tribute to our friends in Great Britain as 2012 turns to 2013 and we hope for a great year ahead
BOSTON, DECEMBER 31, 2012 -- They were down and out, a nation of hard-working people delving deeper into recession. Yet the Diamond Jubilee was to be staged and it culminated in events on June 5, 2012, marking the 60th year of reign for Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of King George VI and his bride, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mum. Yes, way back on February 6, 1952, Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne of England's monarchy, and she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953 with the 900-year old tradition of coronation at Westminster Abbey.
Now what does that have to do with Digital Sports Desk's Sports Story on the Year?
Read on, sportsmen and sportswomen, read on.
The Jubilee, as it's known to most, jumpstarted a series of events, continuing a feel-good era for Britain that began with Adele's six-Grammy grab for her hit album, "21" and its smash-hit song of the year, "Rolling in the Deep," among others. The monumental year for the United Kingdom continued into the realm of international intrigue as James Bond celebrated his 50th anniversary since Sean Connery took to the big screen as Agent 007 in the film "Dr. No," created in 1962. British "hits" continued as 1962, an epic year in Britain, was to be celebrated properly, especially because of the July '62 debut of The Rolling Stones, one of the top three rock 'n roll bands of all-time.
The 50th anniversary of that monumental time in entertainment history might've crept up on the American movie goer, music fan or royal family enthusiast, but one thing is for sure; as the hits kept coming, the momentum for the people of Great Britain built to a new and wonderful crescendo. It was August and time for the Games of the XXX Olympiad, the Summer Olympics in London.
It seemed as though it were yesterday, but the Beijing Olympics of 2008 gave way to London with a vivid memory, as we recalled Jacques Rogge stating:
"And now, in accordance with tradition, I declare the Games of the XXIX (29th) Olympiad closed, and I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in London to celebrate the Games of the XXX Olympiad."
Fast-forward a full four years later, the London Olympic Games finished and with the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, the world stopped and paid tribute because it had just been treated to the very best that Britain had to offer.
With that as the headliner and dozens of supporting facts to serve as back-up, the DigitalSportsDesk and its online site, DigitalSportsDesk.com have named the People of Great Britain, the Athletes of Great Britain, the Volunteers of the London Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games as Sports Person(s) of the Year 2012.
This past August, Sebastian Coe, head of the organizing committee and athlete extraordinaire himself, rightfully said, "We lit the flame and we lit up the world. For the third time, for the third time in its history, London was granted the trust of the Olympic movement, and once again, we have shown ourselves worthy of that trust."
You're damn straight!
The sheer excellence not only was apparent at the London Olympics, where the athletes of Britain stepped up in 2012 like never before. In fact, they stepped up BIG-TIME! (Note the fact Brit rock star Peter Gabriel celebrated his 25th anniversary of the multi-platinum album "So," this summer).
So, fact-seekers, let us count the ways: 2012: The Year of the United Kingdom:
2012 Summer Olympics - London
- The volunteers of the London Olympics and Paralympics Games
- The participation in athletics by the British, a 750,000 person increase in regular weekly sports participation
2012 Ryder Cup - Seven from the U.K. anchor victorious European Team
- Luke Donald - England
- Paul Lawrie - Scotland
- Graeme McDowell - Northern Ireland
- Rory McIlroy - Northern Ireland
- Ian Poulter - England
- Justin Rose - England
- Lee Westwood- England
Rory McIlroy - Northern Ireland - PGA Champion; PGA Player of the year and leading money winner on Tour.
Andy Murray - U.S. Open tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist
David Beckham - Retires from MLS soccer with a Cup for LA Galaxy
Athletes of the UK - 65 Olympic Medals, including 29 Gold Medals
- Men's super heavyweight boxing
- 7 golds in cycling
- 4 golds in rowing
- Chris Finch and Great Britain Olympic basketball qualified for the Men's Olympic tournament
- Strong showing, including games by Luol Deng
- The only Olympic team to represent all of Great Britain
- Leeds Rhinos Win Rugby Super Challenge
- Chelsea FC claimed the 2012 UEFA Champions League Cup
The Grande Finale:
- The crowning moment – Sir Bradley Wiggins, knighted this weekend, was the winner of the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) Sports Personality of the Year as Britain’s first-ever Tour de France winner and its most decorated athlete of all-time, winner of seven Olympic medals, including gold at London 2012.
So-says the Editor-in-Chief of DigitalSportsDesk: “When the year was complete, many Brits couldn’t believe their very own eyes. The success was astounding, and the applause came from a truly global audience who witnessed the Olympics and Paralympics being staged at a level of expertise unfathomable to the sporting public. The timing was perfect, and it came as the Games opened to such splendor only days after American presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, head of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, decided to lob a rather unpleasant stink-bomb into the planning cycle of his Olympic brethren.
"The Olympic Games were followed by outstanding performances on a global stage, including Andy Murray winning the 2012 U.S. Open tennis championship and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy becoming, well, the best damn golfer in the world,” said Terry Lyons, the founder and head of DigitalSportsDesk.com and the journalists of the world agreed."
“Brits tend to be quite insecure as far as sports concerned, especially internationally” said longtime Brit journalist Ian Whittell, one of the most widely respected and knowledgeable reporters on the planet. “Our soccer team disappoints in every major tournament as we’re still waiting for our first World Cup win since 1966, as you know.
“Like the United States, the country is struggling from the recession, times are hard, and there was a genuine feeling of foreboding about the Olympics from a long way out. The critics claimed, ‘stuff wouldn't be ready, the infrastructure wouldn't cope, we'd bankrupt ourselves, we wouldn't win enough (gold) or any medals.
“That criticism intensified the week before, when the private security company hired to do the security for the Games admitted they had screwed up and weren't ready. (Editor’s note: Whittell did not mention Mr. Romney’s comments). Whitell continued, “But the mood changed dramatically with that incredible opening ceremony that graphically reminded people of why we're Great Britain. He noted, eloquently, “From day one, everything was fantastic. Our public transport ran without a hitch, the volunteers were amazing, everything worked and was on time. The TV coverage was superb and, after a couple of minor disappointments, we had our best ever Olympics. For a country used to so many shortcomings in international sport, the seemingly never-ending list of successes went beyond anyone's wildest dreams.”
The most skeptic critic of the Olympic movement or the most analytical curmudgeon of a journalist could not find a single thing wrong with the Games of the XXXth Olympiad. And, from the list of both Olympic and non-Olympic accolades, one must be singled out to conclude this tribute to the People of Great Britain.
That is the fact that Chris Finch, the coach of the British Olympic basketball team, gathered a group of basketball wannabes, folded them into a single unit complete with a few NBA stars (Loul Deng), current and future prospects to represent the entire United Kingdom as one. For that, Sir Finch, you deserve special mention.
So, to the People of the U.K., to the Queen and to William and Kate (Godspeed, Kate!), to the entertainers, the sportsmen, the Olympians and Paralympians, to the tremendous passion of the volunteers for both Games, to Mick, Sir Paul, Roger & Pete - the rock stars, to the .007 Spies fueled by the imagination of Ian Fleming. And, lastly, to the collection of British Rock ‘n Roll bands who descended upon New York’s Madison Square Garden for the culminating moment of 2012 – the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief, we simply say, “Thank you.”
U.K. OLYMPIANS IN NEW YEAR HONOURS
Knighthood: Ben Ainslie - sailing, Bradley Wiggins - cycling
CBE: Katherine Grainger - rowing, Jessica Ennis - athletics, Mo Farah - athletics, Victoria Pendleton - cycling
OBE: Charlotte Dujardin - equestrian, Jason Kenny - cycling, Andy Murray - tennis, Laura Trott - cycling
MBE: Nicola Adams - boxing, Tim Baillie - canoeing, Laura Bechtolsheimer - equestrian, Scott Brash - equestrian, Alistair Brownlee - triathlon, Steven Burke - cycling, Luke Campbell - boxing, Peter Charles - equestrian, Katherine Copeland - rowing, Helen Glover - rowing, Alex Gregory - rowing, Carl Hester - equestrian, Philip Hindes - cycling, Sophie Hosking - rowing, Jade Jones - taekwondo, Anthony Joshua - boxing, Peter Kennaugh - cycling, Dani King - cycling, Mary King - equestrian, Ben Maher - equestrian, Ed McKeever - canoeing, Joanna Rowsell - cycling, Greg Rutherford - athletics, Louis Smith - gymnastics, Heather Stanning - rowing, Etienne Stott - canoeing, Anna Watkins - rowing, Peter Wilson - shooting.