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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: December 2005

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Friday, December 30, 2005

LeBron's 21st Birthday Gift List

Cleveland Cavalier power forward LeBron James turns 21 today.
With unparalleled success at both levels that he has played, what do you get a 21-year old NBA millionaire?
LeBron won at the high school level with his St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School (Ohio) squad, he was the number one pick of the NBA draft. The 6-foot 8-inch phenom earned the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and became the youngest player to ever reach the 1,000-career point level last year. I’m sure if at all possible, NBA commissioner David Stern would, if at all possible, contrive to bring an NBA title to Cleveland.
While Stern’s wishes may never be fulfilled, here’s what is rumored to be next to the ice sculptures at another one of King James’s celebrations.
 A trip to Atlantic City with Michael Jordan for a weekend of gambling and reservations in his Airnesses private high roller suite.
 A sizeable gift card from Harry Winston Jewelers from his Laker's pal, Kobe Bryant.
 Golf lessons from same-day birthday pal Tiger Woods.
 Anger management classes from Indiana Pacers resident hot head Ron Artest.
 A copy of “Zen for Dummies” from Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
 A gold member card to The Cheetah Club from former New York Knicks big man Patrick Ewing.
 Pre-paid marriage counseling advice from Allen Iverson
 Legal services gratis from Jayson Williams and his legal team led by Joseph Hayden, Jr.
 A pair of gold dipped Zoom LeBron III sneakers from Nike founder Phil Knight.
 Acting lessons from Shaquille O'Neil and a co-starring role in the upcoming movie, Kazaam II.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hudy's Hardcovers: Feinstein fumbles football tome

Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL
By John Feinstein
Little, Brown and Company
502 pages
Best selling author John Feinstein has taken time off from the golf course and his lunches with Red Auerbach to publish his second book on football, spending a year with the Baltimore Ravens in his latest work, “Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL.”
Feinstein’s only previous football work was his best-selling “A Civil War: A Year Inside College Football’s Purest Rivalry,” nine years ago. His year spent with the two service academies, through practices, classes and their culminating meeting is ranked by this reviewer as my greatest read to date.
His second football work did not.
While Feinstein continues to be one of my favorite sports authors of all time, in “Next Man Up” the reader may be under the impression that the author fell victim to the contract demons. Did he need to write something to have on the shelves for the 2005 holiday season? Did he need to fulfill a final book for this contract? Did he need the money? Would he receive a bonus if he mustered more than 500 words about a team that didn’t make the playoffs?
In the NFL’s proverbial Red Zone, Feinstein failed to get the job done.
With 32 teams competing each week in the NFL, Feinstein, with the cooperation of the league had numerous options to write his book about the players who are waiting for the opportunity to step onto the field. Whether they came from the practice squad, the free agent market, or the depth chart, there is always someone looking to take the place of the current numbered player on the gridiron.
The author gives his reasoning of why he didn’t utilize numerous teams for his latest tome, but as they are listed, they all point to several key factors, none of which should rush a reader to their favorite book store.
First, the Baltimore Ravens and their practice facility were close to home for the author. Who would want to spend 25 weeks in far away places with teams like Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas or compete with the media in New York. Feinstein could drive up to practice, watch the team, sit in on some meetings and still be home for dinner with his family.
Next, Feinstein needed a coach, owner and staff that would be accessible to him. A challenge since it is just now, after 20 years that former Indiana Hoosier coach Bobby Knight can use the author’s name without an expletive attached to it.
Who better than one of the NFL’s biggest egomaniacs, Brian Billick, who has already opened up his practices, meetings and NFL draft war rooms to the media. Billick became an obvious choice, he is willing to share his greatness, his motivation techniques and of course, had much higher hopes than just 16 weeks of football when the project was agreed upon.
With everything working for the author, the burden falls upon the reader to make it through the entire 502 pages without putting the work down and forgetting to pick it back up.
Feinstein has been the victim of his own success in his previous golf and college basketball works. By treating the reader as a first-timer, he reiterates information he has already provided earlier. The background information in “The Majors” is regurgitated in “Open,” his history of college basketball seems redundant to the reader of “A March to Madness” and “The Last Amateurs.”
In “Next Man Up,” it wasn’t the author’s previous footwork that spoils the first 200 pages of his work, but HBO’s behind the scenes look into the NFL with their series “Hard Knocks” in 2001 when the cable network followed the team after winning its first Super Bowl.
If the reader didn’t subscribe to cable in 2001, isn’t familiar with Art Model and his family and has never been fortunate enough to have a Sports Illustrated gift subscription for the holidays along with the football phone that goes with it, the first 200 pages are a necessary read.
One convincing point of the work is that Feinstein is part of the team. He is at practices, in meetings and privy to the language used in meetings that decide if a player will play, be cut or offered a new contract. All the while, the author never provides an opinion on his host organization, allowing his facts to allow the reader to make their decision.
The NFL, on the other hand, is a different story.
Feinstein pokes fun at the NFL’s uniform rules and fine system, pointing out the uniform enforcers are referred to as “NFL’s clothes Nazis”. He also sides with the NFL teams with the number of players they can carry officially, 53 players on a roster, but each team can only suit up 45 each week. The author, unlike the HBO special, gives insight to the NFL’s ability to monitor teams during the week and their vigilance over each squad’s injury list. His written work also provides detailed information about how an NFL player’s non-guaranteed contract is structured and often settled after an injury.
Once the book turns to the four exhibition contests and 16 regular season contests, Feinstein, concisely writes of the plays that led to a Baltimore victory or a loss, including must-win games at the end of the season.
Throughout the 500-plus pages, the author doesn’t disappoint with his detailed writings of each character mentioned in the book. Whether it is a practice squad player, an owner, a new owner, a long-snapper or a coordinator the reader can enjoy a full history of the success of each member of the squad.
Feinstein also provides an even hand when covering the team, not letting the book become dominated to the NFL’s stars such as Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis and Deion Sanders. He does devote necessary pages to Billick, his staff, as well as the team’s quarterback, Kyle Boller.
Once done with the obvious histories of the Baltimore Ravens, team operations and other minutia, the weekly ups, downs, injuries and game-time decisions make the latter 300 pages palatable.
With incredible works under his name, like “Let Me Tell You a Story,”, “Caddy for Life” and “A Civil War,” Feinstein has proven time and time again that his capable of greatness. Let’s hope that his “Next Book Up,” accomplishes what his current work on the bookshelves didn’t, a work that embraces the subject and the reader, even if it causes the author some of his own personal sacrifices along the way.

Two out of Five Hudy Heads

Hudy's Hardcovers: Romonowski: NFL's Jekyll and Hyde

Romo
My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons
By Bill Romanowski with Adam Schefter and Phil Towle
314 pages
William Morrow Publishing

The are two people inhabiting the body of Bill Romanowski.
There is “Romo” the 16-year NFL linebacker who wrecked havoc on backfields for four different teams. The Romo who spent $1 million on vitamins and supplements over the course of his career and who admits using the drug THG prior to the NFL placing it on the illegal substance list. The same Romo who spit in J. J. Stokes's face, fractured Kerry Collins's jaw as well as Marcus William’s orbital bone.
Also sharing space in the body is Bill Romanowski, the good looking, soft spoken, sparkling, smile guy hawking his book across TV and radio talk shows and appearing in films like “The Longest Yard” and the upcoming flick, “Benchwarmers.”
Both men share their experiences, joys and sorrows in his book “Romo: My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons.”
The first-person voice of Romanowski fills all 314 pages, telling the reader the story of how he created the Romo persona, rising up to become a star with Boston College and eventually, finally, being drafted 80th overall by the San Francisco 49ers.
The hard working linebacker that teammates questioned why he worked so hard and partied so little in college, the Cotton Bowl and Hall of Fame Bowl Defensive MVP was going to the NFL.
During his 16 seasons in the NFL playing for San Francisco, Philadelphia, Denver and Oakland Romanowski made millions by abusing his body on the field while doing everything he could to repair, preserve and enhance it off the field.
His livelihood depended on his performance and for the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker, there wasn’t a method, a mineral, a therapy or a supplement that he wouldn’t take if would help his body.
No where in the 314 pages does Romanowski admit to taking steroids, but several of the items he did consume eventually were added to the NFL’s banned substance list. Romanowski writes that if a substance were to be on the banned list or added to it, it would not enter his body.
Even with his desire to play within the rules, the reality of Romanowski’s supplement regime can seem staggering to the average reader.
The author writes that he would carry around a compartmentalized fishing tackle box filled with more than 500 pills, vitamins, minerals and supplements to keep him in top, superior physical shape. He also writes of the positive effects of acupuncture, chiropractic care, time in a hyperbolic chamber, herb therapy as well as ingestion of sterilized bovine stem cells.
Romanowski was linked to BALCO founder Victor Conte and his vice-president James Valente in 2003 and testified with full immunity to a federal grand jury.
It wasn’t his first run-in with the law.
He was placed on trial for illegally obtaining the prescription appetite suppressant Phentermine which had an amphetamine-like effect on players prior to game time. The drug was banned in 2001, shortly after Romanowski’s trial concluded.
Due to his history of concussions, the drug was found to help him recover mentally after the jarring his brain suffered during each game over his 16-year career. To keep the media and his team from knowing about the effects from his concussions his wife, Julie and a friend (unnamed), had the prescriptions filled out in their names. The DEA went forward with a secret investigation that culminated with a team of agents busting into Romanowski’s home after the friend went to pick up a prescription.
After two-years of litigation and refusing the opportunity to plead guilty to lesser charges, Romanowski was cleared.
The former NFL linebacker didn’t rely just on the medical industry to keep him in the line-up for 243 consecutive games, he worked as hard off the field as he did on it to keep him at his optimum. His workouts, his dedication to his craft were at times obsessive, near-impossible, but paid off for Romanowski.
Throughout the work, the reader is reminded that this is a book about football, by a football player and what he went through on a day-to-day basis to become the best he could be and the four Super Bowl rings he earned along the way.
“Romo” takes the reader into the most intimate levels of Bill Romanowski’s mind as well as his body. It is his work with performance coach Phil Towle, one of the books co-authors, that has helped Romanowski come to terms with starting the journey to find his inner peace.
While the author begins a new journey outside of football, it is hard to take the years of ingestible nutrition out of the player. In the two appendixes, the first is Romanowski’s recommendations for a basic program to obtain four training goals, including a nutritional and supplemental outline. His second appendix is a listing of his injuries throughout his 16 years of playing in the NFL.
The cover of “Romo: My Life on the Edge” and its photo by Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr., showing the intensive stare that Bill Romanowski held is just the tip of the iceberg of the story of a warriors life in the NFL.
While “Romo: My Life on the Edge” is not a tell-all, it is a revealing work about one man’s journey in the NFL and the lengths he took to continue his career in the sport that he loved.

Four Hudy Heads

Hudy's Hardcovers: A revealing look into Mel Allen

How About That!
The Life of Mel Allen
By Stephen Borelli
244 pages
Sports Publishing, L.L.C.
To a younger generation he was the voice of the weekly television program, “This Week in Baseball,” and to another he was “The Voice of the Yankees” from 1939-1964.
Whether you were a youngster brought up in front of a black and white television or took in your baseball games nightly in front of a radio, the phrases “Going, going gone,” “How About That?” and “Hello There, Everybody” is synonymous to the voice of the late Mel Allen.
Author Stephen Borelli recounts the history of Melvin Allen Israel, from his childhood days born the son of immigrants in the deep south, to his rise as a broadcaster while enrolled at the University of Alabama and his fortunate break in the Big Apple.
Borelli conveys Allen’s desire to always be at his best, along with his ability to make any listener feel as if they are at the game.
Advancing through high school and college at a rapid rate based on his intellect, Allen was often too small to compete with his current classmates. Still in love with sports, he put his intellect and early on, his pen to work, writing for the University of Alabama’s collegiate newspaper, The Crimson-White. He took his public address announcer duties seriously and was called upon in a pinch to broadcast the Alabama and Auburn football games in 1935.
A voice was born.
Allen turned a leisurely trip to New York City into an audition and found himself broadcasting for CBS. Not only had the sultry-sounding announcer earned a job, but also a new name. Melvin Allen, the name he submitted to CBS, was quickly changed to Mel Allen. It would be a name heard by millions across the nation and the world.
When not in a broadcast booth for CBS or NBC, Allen took a five-cent subway ride into the Bronx where he fell in love, not with anyone special, but the place, Yankee Stadium.
To the younger readers, baseball was not always broadcast in the Big Apple on a daily basis, it was reserved for opening day and the World Series. All three New York teams decided that broadcasting games on radio would hurt attendance. The freeze between the three teams, Yankees, Giants and Dodgers eventually melted in 1939.
Along with watching Yankee legends, Allen had the right rhythm to recall balls and strikes along with the sponsor’s product throughout a broadcast.
It was Allen’s work broadcasting the New York Yankees and Giants home contests that vaulted him to new heights nationwide.
His work would put him behind the microphone for the World Series, the All-Star Games, Rose Bowl Games, heavyweight title fights, the Kentucky Derby and more.
Like many professional athletes during the 1940s, Allen too was called to serve his country.
In another twist of fate, Allen hoped to transfer to the Air Force and join Glenn Miller and his band travel around Europe to entertain the troops. An Army general found out about Allen’s wishes, and would not allow any upstart to think he could get out of infantry duty and sent Allen to Camp Croft. His meeting with Miller never occurred and he was on the ground, not in the air when Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel in December, 1944.
His talents weren’t wasted in the Army. Allen would find himself narrating the “Army Hour” informing listeners at home about new technology designed to win the war.
When the war was over, despite Allen’s concerns about not having a job to return to, he returned to the top of the broadcast heap.
Along the way, Allen worked and helped mold the best in the business. He worked, traded barbs and shared air time with Red Barber. He shared a microphone with youngsters like Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola as well as former players like Phil Rizzuto.
Allen, the son of a garment salesman and proprietor, always dressed to impress. His handsome face and dapper suits made him quite a ladies man and placed him on the most eligible bachelors list along with hundreds of women looking to become Mrs. Mel Allen.
It would never happen.
The broadcaster was devoted to his mother and father along with his siblings and their family, preferring to play the role of Uncle Mel.
Allen was a workaholic and was one of the first frequent flyers, crisscrossing the nation weekly, if not sometimes, daily. Sports Illustrated wrote in 1960 that he had traveled two million miles during his career and was still broadcasting more than 600 hours a year.
As television took a firmer hold on the national pastime, radio became a second-class citizen and the Yankees changed hands, Allen found himself passed on. His contract was not renewed after the 1964 season.
After a hiatus from daily work in the broadcast booth, a young group of upstarts, Ed Sabol and his son, Steve, found a new medium for football fans and quickly established NFL films. Baseball would soon enter the fray courtesy of a ¾-inch wide video tape machine soon to be called the VHS. Joseph Reichler, an executive with MLB Promotions Corp. decided to take a voice from the past to promote his television show of the future.
With remote television trucks at all 26 stadiums, tapes were flown to New York for the studio to edit, produce scripts and Allen to narrate. “This Week in Baseball was born.”
“How About That!” may disappoint many younger readers with only 21 pages dedicated to Allen’s work on “This Week in Baseball” and the prior 200-plus pages dedicated to his earlier days and career in radio. The wait is worth it for the avid fan and the history of a voice I personally grew up with on Saturday afternoon’s refreshing and informative.
The sports shows of today and their fast talking, cliché dropping and slick innuendo-touting heads owe their notoriety and their paychecks to the smooth, sultry, always respectful Mel Allen.
How About That.
3 1/2 Hudy Heads

Hudy's Hardcovers: First in Thirst a Winner

First in Thirst
How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon
By Darren Rovell
American Management Association
243 pages
You’ve seen it on the sidelines of football, basketball, baseball and soccer. It comes in big orange coolers and in little green paper cups. It has been drunk, spit out and often poured over a coach. Along the way, millions of people have had a drink of that green colored sport drink.
Now, ESPN.com’s business reporter Darren Rovell takes the reader into the laboratory, along the sidelines and into the board room of the sports drink juggernaut Gatorade and how it claimed an 80 percent share of the sports drink industry.
In his introduction, Rovell writes that more than 60 Division I-A schools are under contract to use the brand and 28 of the 30 NBA teams have it on their sidelines. The beverage will be drunk and dumped over coaches in the NFL through the 2011 season courtesy of a $45 million per year agreement.
That is only the first drip of nourishment contained in “First in Thirst.”
It was Dr. Robert Cade at the University of Florida who became the father of Gatorade when he looked to address why the Gator players were suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. His idea was to take his current research in regulating the sodium levels in rats to the next level.
The University of Florida freshman team would be his guinea pigs. Players would wear rubber gloves that ran up their arms and collected sweat during their workouts. They would be dumped into a container and analyzed. The doctors also collected the player’s urine and blood levels samples, before and after workouts.
What seems common today, the replacement of electrolytes, was unheard of in an era where something as simple as water was often withheld from players to make them “tougher.”
The first batches of Gatorade were properly deemed as “swill”, often better to be poured over a players head versus being forced to drink it. The doctors were focused on the ingredients, not the final effect on the palate.
The addition of more than 20 lemons in a 20 liter batch made the magic elixir at least drinkable.
It was the success of the freshman squad versus the varsity B team along with their abilities in the second half that allowed the new drink to reside on the sidelines for the Gators.
Gatorade, began its march to the top of the sports drink world in 1966, the year that Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier led the Gators to the Orange Bowl and when the press picked up on the drink that helped the University of Florida to stay strong in the second half of games.
The product was eventually bought by Stokely-Van Camp who took the product to new levels, flavors, sizes, as well as profitability.
Rovell covers the monetary controversy between the inventors, the University of Florida and Stokely-Van Camp. What was turned down by the Gator establishment was the same one they eventually signed, 20 percent of the royalties of the product. To date, that amount exceeds $87 million.
What made the green drink begin to jump off the shelves was its product placement, placement and placement and it is not forgotten in Rovell’s work.
While the large orange coolers were easy to spot on the sidelines of football games, a marketing intern was almost fired for ordering 50,000 wax paper cups with the Gatorade logo on them to be sent gratis to teams who placed orders. The idea survived, is more noticeable than the coolers in the athletes hands and the intern was safe.
The Gatorade bath, is credited to the New York Giants Jim Burt who dumped the concoction over head coach Bill Parcells in 1985. Teammate Harry Carson joined in on the act the following week and was the most intent on soaking his coach.
The Giants won the Super Bowl that year over the Denver Broncos, Parcells got his bath, along with a check.
While Gatorade has never paid an athlete to exploit their product, Parcells did receive a generous gift certificate to Brooks Brothers from the company to help replace many of his ruined sweaters. So did Carson.
In the 1990s everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike” but it was Gatorade who put the jingle, the video and the drink in the hands of millions. It was the first time Gatorade settled on a single athlete to endorse its product.
Simply put, it worked.
Gatorade is a beverage and that can only mean a war in the making. Rovell ensures that the reader has both sides of the conflict, documenting the battles between Gatorade, Coke and Pepsi on both the soft drink and sport beverage fronts. Gatorade has won many, lost few and been disappointed with even fewer attempts.
“First in Thirst” is an excellent story of marketing, innovation and business savvy, but the book does drag when Rovell, possibly feeling obligated, includes the nine business tenants of Gatorade.
The 38 pages are filled with marketing strategy, past wins and losses and history, but within the nine tenants gets lost and seems forced as an inclusion into the work.
Rovell rebounds by balancing the next chapters with the Gatorade critics, who include the drinks inventor, along with the brands that continue to attempt to chip away at its market share.
You’ve seen the product in the hands of your sports heros, you’ve had gulps of it during your own sports activities, now you owe it to yourself to read the story behind the product.
Four Hudy Heads

Cry for me non-NFL playoff teams

What does a millionaire dry his eyes with?
I certainly don’t know, so we’ll have to ask the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs who could be shut out of this year’s NFL playoff scenario.
Carolina already has a 10-5 record going into NFL week 18, and the Cowboys and Chiefs could also win over the weekend, end up with 10 wins for the season and still be watching from their homes when the playoffs start next week.
This isn’t the “8-8 should you be in the playoffs” argument, this is about three teams that have proven that they are more than average. This is after three teams total have missed the gig since they expanded the playoff format 15 years ago.
Panthers, Cowboys and Chiefs, oh my, what to do?
The answer for these three malcontents is apparently to change the system with the idea of adding two more playoff spots for these winning teams.
But remember that this year’s fix is next year’s misery.
Sure, the Panthers, Cowboys and Chiefs may have a valid argument, but next year do we really want to see an 8-8 Minnesota Viking, Atlanta Falcon or Miami Dolphin team become fodder for a truly successful NFL squad?
This isn’t local high sports with an open playoff system so “the kids” get a few extra games in before their season finally ends.
These are paid professionals on the field and the sidelines and the NFL is the only professional product that can bag about parity, successful small markets and a true champion.
What is wrong with a 10-6 team not making the playoffs, ask the 2001 San Francisco Giants (90-72), the 2002 Boston Red Sox (93-69) or the 2003 Seattle Mariners (93-69), they all got shut out of the MLB playoffs and even owner’s puppet commissioner Bud Selig hasn’t offered to place eight or 10 teams in the playoffs…yet.
Bottom line, win your games against Buffalo (Kansas City), Oakland Raiders (Dallas) and for New Orleans (Carolina). Like the man in black says, “just win baby,” and the playoffs would take care of themselves.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wouldn’t dream of expanding the playoffs so a .500 team down the road in say a market like, say, Los Angeles could make an appearance and the owners and league fill its pockets for a possibly meaningless game.
Isn’t that what those four full-priced exhibition games are for anyway?