Sunday, December 31, 2006

Remembering 2006

I used to love New Year's Eve. It was always the greatest night of the year. Now, every Dec. 31, I wonder in amazement how the last 12 months went by so quickly. At any rate, here's a quick look back at the year that has passed.

The top 10 UConn football stories of 2006.

1. Burton Complex and Shenkman Center open for business: The final piece of the puzzle? Yes, from a facilities standpoint. The opening of the multi-million dollar campus training facility completes UConn's transition to Division I-A status. The building was fully operational in September.

2. The emergence of Donald Brown. UConn found a star in Brown, a redshirt freshman tailback who got his first start at Rutgers on Oct. 29 due to an injury to Terry Caulley. Brown made the most of the opportunity, running for 199 yards and two TDs. The starting job was his the rest of the way, and Brown, who finished with 896 yards, was one of the top freshmen in the Big East.

3. Beergate. It was the beer run heard 'round the country. Five UConn players, all backups, were dismissed by Randy Edsall for a violation of team rules: purchasing beer at a gas station and smuggling it back to the hotel room the night before a game at South Florida. Ricky McCollum, Harold Stanback, Nollis Dewar, Todd Dorcellus and Carl Teague are booted. The story generated national attention.

4. UConn 46, Pitt 45 (2 OT). Just watch this highlight clip.

5. Terry Caulley goes out in style. A true UConn pioneer - his success as a freshman and sophomore helped legitimize the Huskies transition to Division I-A. Injuries slowed Caulley over his final two seasons, and he lost his job to Donald Brown at midseason. But Caulley still passed Wilbur Gilliard as the program's career rushing leader, became the first member of the 3,000-yard rusher's club, and, fittingly, scored a touchdown against Louisville on the final carry of his career.

6. The Marvin Taylor saga. Taylor, part of the pellet-gun posse in 2005, was arrested and charged with illegal use of a credit card. He was subsequently dismissed from the team. But it was Edsall's handling of the situation that made this story bigger than it should have been.

7. More merry-go-QB. Let's see. It was D.J. Then Bones. Then D.J., then Bones again. Inconsistency (and injury) was a major problem at the most important position. And while we're on the subject......

8. Tyler Lorenzen commits. The Junior College All-American quarterback from Iowa arrives at Storrs in January from Palomar College in California. Originally an Iowa State recruit, he threw for nearly 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and a mere three interceptions this season. Signed his national letter of intent earlier this month.

9. Not-so special teams. Place kicking and protection were enormous problems for the Huskies. Missed chip shots may have cost a victory against Wake Forest in September. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown may have done the same at Rutgers in October.

10. Injuries, injuries, injuries. The injury list was 30 players long at one point late in the season. Among the starters who went down with season-ending maladies were Cody Brown, Keith Gray, William Beatty, Larry Taylor, D.J. Hernandez, Mike Hicks, Jason Ward, Brandon McLean and Martin Bedard. Others, like Dan Murray, Darius Butler and Terry Caulley, missed significant time or were limited by their injuries.

Have a safe night and Happy New Year to you all.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The best you ever saw

The 75th edition of the Register's All-State football team will be released on Sunday. It's the oldest high school all-state team in Connecticut, and in the opinion of most coaches and players, the only one that matters. I remember an old Register reporter telling me of a meeting in the early 1990s with Bill Romanowski, a Vernon native who was a couple of years into his NFL career and a two-time Super Bowl champion at that point. Romo was at Giants Stadium for a game, and the reporter introduced himself as being from the New Haven Register. Romo, never known for his patience or relaxed demeanor, had a few choice words for the reporter about being left off the Register's All-State team, then walked away in a huff.

Hey, you can't win them all. Even the great Steve Young of Greenwich High only made second-team all-state behind Seymour's Tom Heffernan in 1979. Dave Solomon wrote a great column a couple of years ago on that and how Hefferman has gone through life as the man who beat out Steve Young for all-state quarterback. But it's about who's the better high school player, and it's a difficult task. The Register staff has done an outstanding job of nailing the teams for the past 75 years. It's always something to look forward to and reflect back upon.

The best second-team All-State quarterback ever.

Anyway, it seems like a good opportunity to open the discussion to you, the reader. Who was the best high school player you ever saw? The Runway readership extends well beyond our Connecticut borders, so let's hear from everyone.

I'll get the ball rolling. Having covered college football for the last eight years, I'm only afforded the opportunity to see one or two high school games a year, if that, these days. I've missed out on viewing some outstanding kids for the last decade or so. So my list isn't the best players, but some of the most memorable.

Greg Laugeni, Amity, TE/P: My oldest sister was a cheerleader at Amity in the early 80s, and I remember being dragged out one Saturday morning to go watch her cheer. That wasn't exactly the most thrilling pitch for an 8-year old who spent most Saturday mornings in front of the TV watching cartoons. But I was immediately sucked in by the high school football atmosphere, and amazed at the size of the players -- especially Laugeni, who was about 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. I had never seen a human being that large. Laugeni was an outstanding tight end, but he also murdered the football on punts. He still holds the state record for highest punt average in a season (45.8) and is second in career average (41.8). He went on to play TE at Holy Cross.

Scott Burrell, Hamden, QB: While at Amity, we had the occasional misfortune of trying to stop Burrell, who I first encountered at an 8th-grade basketball tournament in Branford. He broke loose on a fast break and dunked. The referees were so shocked they called a technical foul because, they said, dunking wasn't allowed. As if shattered backboards were a primary concern for 13-year olds. Burrell was a first-round draft pick in baseball as a flame-throwing pitcher and later in basketball after his storied UConn career. But not many remember Burrell was a strong-armed, if raw, quarterback who led Hamden to the Class LL state championship game as a junior. He could throw the ball a country mile -- I'm convinced he chucked one 75 yards in the air -- and was reportedly receiving interest from top schools like Miami to come play QB and baseball. But he gave up football before his senior year to concentrate on hoops and baseball.

Tarek Saleh, Notre Dame-West Haven, RB/LB: The Amity coaching staff was dismayed when Saleh, who lived in Woodbridge, decided to attend Notre Dame. He was first-team all-state as a junior at linebacker, then repeated the honor as a running back (along with New Britain's Tebucky Jones) his senior season. He ran over would-be tacklers for touchdown after touchdown, then flipped over to linebacker where he flattened everthing in sight. Went on to an All-American career as a defensive end at Wisconsin and spent five seasons in the NFL.

Jason Scheets, Foran-Milford, QB: My first job out of college was covering Foran High football for the old Milford Citizen. As luck would have it the Lions, a perennial lovable loser, produced their best team ever that year. They went on to beat Hand-Madison for the Class M state championship, the school's first and only football title. Foran had several outstanding players, but Scheets was at the controls of the offense. Didn't look like much of an athlete, but the strong-armed lefty never missed an open receiver and racked up TD passes. Went on to star for the University of New Haven baseball team.

Horace Dodd, Hamden, RB: A smooth runner whose feet didn't appear to be touching the ground as he raced for all those 90-yard touchdowns. Reminded me of a young Marcus Allen. Played at Penn State and Boston College.

James Glee, East Haven, RB: I had to cover the East Haven-Branford Thanksgiving Day game in an unrelenting downpour in 1998. This was at the old East Haven High field, well before the beautiful new field turf was installed, and it was a mud pit. It looked like Pimlico on a bad day. But Glee proved to be one tough mudder. He raced for 327 yards and four or five TDs. Went on to play defensive back at Hofstra.

Anttaj Hawthorne, Hamden, OL/DL: Hawthorne, now in his second season with the Oakland Raiders, is listed at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds. I swear he was that big the first time I saw him play as a high school freshman. Went on to Wisconsin, and hasn't missed a game for the Raiders this season.

Antajj was this big as a high school freshman.

Kory Sheets, Bloomfield, RB: I saw Sheets play once. I was assigned the Class SS semifinals against Notre Dame-Fairfield at Bloomfield. It was about 5 degrees, and the field was frozen solid into a slab of earth with the consistency of concrete. No matter. Sheets was like Superman. He had 323 yards rushing at halftime. The total was up to 403 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries when they pulled him with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. It's now the 7th-highest total in state history, but I'm willing to bet Sheets would have topped 650 yards if he played the final 17 minutes. Currently a touchdown machine at Purdue.

Who's the best you've seen? Let's hear it. "Comments" key below is open.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vacation's over

It's never easy to return to work after a vacation, especially an extended one that lasted two and a half weeks. What better way to ease back into the swing of things than with a little blogging?

  • I've never been so interested in the annual multitude of insignificant bowl games as I have this season. In past years I never even bothered to look at the results of most of the December bowl games. No doubt my interest has been sparked because this is the first time I've made published predictions on every game. It's been a lot of fun to follow thanks to the Runway Bowl Challenge. It also helped that I picked the first seven games correctly. If only the games themselves were as much fun to watch, but more on that later.

  • Of the nine games played so far, only one game has registered a pulse on the excitability scale: the Hawaii Bowl, and even that wound up being a blowout. Quarterback Colt Brennan, who turned down a scholarship offer from UConn while prepping at Worcester (Mass.) Academy, made it interesting by throwing for 559 yards (389 in the second half) and five touchdowns (all in the second half). You have to love those rare kids who put up ridiculous stats. I hope he returns to college simply to see him try and top 6,000 yards and 60 touchdowns next season.

  • How dull have the rest of the bowls been? Only one game was decided by less than 10 points, and that was because New Mexico got a touchdown with 30 seconds left to pull within 8 of San Jose State in the New Mexico Bowl. I still like the bowl concept, although the current BCS system needs to be revised into an 8-team national championship tournament.

  • Best moment of the bowl games so far -- watching crusty San Jose State coach Dick Tomey whip around and scream at his players after they dumped the Gatorade bucket on him. Absolutely classic. SJSU was up by two touchdowns with about a minute to play when Tomey, one of the few old-school coaches left in the game, got the ceremonial ice water bath. But New Mexico had the ball and was driving, so Tomey hollered at his team because he felt the game wasn't over yet. Guess what? He was right. New Mexico scored a few plays later to pull within 8 points, then recovered the ensuing onsides kick. Luckily for SJSU, an on-sides kick needs to go 10 yards before it's touched by the kicking team and New Mexico's player snagged it at nine yards. At any rate, Tomey is now my favorite coach.

  • If there was any question about Matt Grothe's importance to South Florida's success, all you had to do was watch the Bowl. The Bulls, behind Grothe's play at quarterback, took a 24-7 lead over East Carolina with 6:31 left in the first half. But Grothe was soon knocked out of the game after fracturing his shin, and South Florida essentially went into the football version of the four corners offense for the final 30 minutes. Final score: 24-7.

  • I recently Netflixed Invincible, the movie based on the life of Vince Papale, the 30-year old Philadelphia bartender who made the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 out of an open tryout. I truly enjoyed it, and thought Marky Mark was believable in his portrayal of Papale. At least, that is, until I watched the DVD's special features documentary about Papale, who seemed like he's nothing like the movie version. The real-life Papale came across as an excitable, intense yet likeable guy with a huge personality. But Marky Mark plays him like a quiet, laid-back guy with zero personality (kind of the way he portrays every character. The lesson: Marky Mark can't act) But the movie well done, the producers took only a few insignificant liberties with the football scenes and story, and the aforementioned DVD special feature was terrific.

  • Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Bitchin' Boxing Day. And I hope you didn't bring your child to the Trumbull Mall to see Santa Claus. A Norwalk family claimed Santa appeared sick while speaking with children last week. He then excused himself and vomitted into a nearby garbage can. He apparently had some sort of stomach virus, which he passed along to several kids who sat on his lap. Santa, I want a fire engine, a new football and a side order of your gastroenteritis, please! Happy Holidaze!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The 1st annual Runway Bowl Challenge

NOTE: Standings will be updated daily in the "comments" section.

I've been picking games all season, so what better way to kick off the holiday season than the first annual Runway Bowl. I've made picks on every one of the bowl games, from the Insignificant Bowl (there are several) to the BCS National Championship game. Check out my picks, and if you think you can do better you can enter your own picks. Instructions below.

12/19, Poinsetta Bowl (San Diego, Calif.): Texas Christian (-12) over Northern Illinois

12/21, Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas, Nev.): BYU (-4) over Oregon

12/22, New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans, La.): Troy (+6) over Rice

12/23, Papa John's Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.): South Florida (-3.5) over East Carolina

12/23, New Mexico Bowl (Alberquerque, N.M.): San Jose St. (+4.5) over New Mexico

12/23, Armed Forces Bowl (Ft. Worth, Texas): Utah (-2) over Tulsa

12/24, Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu, Hi.): Hawaii (-8) over Arizona State

12/26, Motor City Bowl (Detroit, Mich.): Middle Tenn. State (+10.5) over Central Michigan

12/27, Emerald Bowl (San Francisco, Calif.): UCLA (-5) over Florida State

12/28, Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.): Oklahoma State (-2) over Alabama

12/28, Texas Bowl (Houston, Texas): Rutgers (-7.5) over Kansas State

12/28, Holiday Bowl (San Diego, Calif.): Texas A&M (+5) over Cal

12/29, Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.): Clemson (-10) over Kentucky

12/29: Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Oregon State (-3.5) over Missouri

12/29, Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.): South Carolina (-6.5) over Houston

12/29, Insight Bowl (Phoenix, Ariz.): Texas Tech (-6.5) over Minnesota

12/29, Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, Fla.): Maryland (-2) over Purdue

12/30, Meineke Car Care Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.): Navy (+6) over Boston College

12/30, Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, Texas): Texas (-11) over Iowa

12/30, Peach Bowl (Atlanta, Ga.): Virginia Tech (-2.5) over Georgia

12/31, MPC Computers Bowl (Boise, Idaho): Miami-FL (-3) over Nevada-Reno

1/1, Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.): Tennessee (-4.5) over Penn State

1/1, Cotton Bowl (Dallas, Texas): Auburn (-3) over Nebraska

1/1, Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fla.): Wisconsin (+1.5) over Arkansas

1/1, Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.): West Virginia (-7) over Georgia Tech

1/1, Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.): Michigan (pick 'em) over USC

1/1, Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.): Boise State (+7.5) over Oklahoma

1/2, Orange Bowl (Miami, Fla.): Louisville (-10) over Wake Forest

1/3, Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.): LSU (-8.5) over Notre Dame

1/6, International Bowl (Toronto, Ont.): Cincinnati (-8) over Western Michigan

1/7, GMAC Bowl (Mobile, Ala.): Ohio (+6.5) over Southern Mississippi

1/8, BCS National Championship (Glendale, Ariz): Florida (+7.5) over Ohio State

Think you can do better? Sure you do. To enter your picks, click on the "comments" link below. There will be a template set up on the left to use as a guide as you enter your picks on the right. Should be fairly easy.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Team awards announced

The team banquet was held Sunday afternoon at the Rome Commons Ballroom on campus. Here's the team award winner list.

Team MVP: Fullback Deon Anderson. Named for his vigor and work ethic every practice even more than his performance on the field.

Offensive MVP: Tailback Donald Brown. Brown made quite an impression considering he didn't make his first start until the Oct. 29 game at Rutgers.

Defensive player of the year: Defensive tackle Rhema Fuller. Started every game, making 37 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses.

Special teams player of the year: Punter Chris Pavasaris. His 40.1 average ranks seventh all-time on the single-season list at UConn.

The second annual Joseph M. Giannelli Unsung Hero Award: Defensive tackle Ray Blagman and wide receiver Brandon Young. Blagman also started all 12 games, making 36 tackles. Young played through various injuries and was second on the team with 19 catches.

The John L. Toner Scholar Athlete Award was presented to both Fuller and Pavasaris. Fuller was a finalist for the Draddy Trophy, which carries an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship. Pavasaris was nominated for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and has a 3.89 GPA.

The Football Alumni Award went to senior cornerback Ernest Cole. The honor is bestowed upon the Husky who best exhibits leadership and dedication and is viewed as the ultimate team player.

The Kendall Madison Award was given to senior tailback Terry Caulley (Lusby, Md.) who was recognized for being a “strong team player who’s dedication, hard work and outstanding citizenship best exemplify the strong spirit of the UConn Huskies.

The Brian Kozlowski Award was shared by senior offensive lineman Matt Applebaum (Yardley, Pa.) and senior place kicker Matt Nuzie (Trumbull, Conn.) for being courageous, hard working and productive.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The first-annual Runway Awards.

Congrats to Donald Brown and Rhema Fuller, named second-team All-Big East today.

Since its postseason awards time, I figured what better time to unveil the first annual Runway Awards column. "The Runnies". .. or "The Runs", which may be more appropriate considering the author, is all done in good fun and should in no way be taken seriously. It's a look back at a season on the beat of the UConn football team. So let's get the show started.

Best campus: Indiana. Limestone buildings, green grass, lots of trees, people everywhere. It's exactly what I dreamed a college campus would be like when I was sound asleep in high school.

Most mysterious campus: South Florida. I never did find it, and I'm not sure it actually exists.

Least impressive campus: Syracuse. The campus kind of reminded me of a well-known tool manufacturing plant in New Britain. Of course, it was a rainy, gloomy November morning the day I was there.

Dullest coach: Jim Leavitt. Insurance seminars are more entertaining than a Leavitt press conference.

Sunniest coach: Jim Grobe. Listening to Grobe talk about playing UConn back in September, you'd think he was preparing to play the 1972 Dolphins.

Best player interview: Desi Cullen. The Kentucky Hammer gets more laughs in a 10-minute interview than Dane Cook during his entire "Tourgasm" series on HBO. Wait. That's not hard to do. But you get the point.

Worst player interview: Steve Slaton. The anti-Desi Cullen. Talking to Slaton was like interviewing someone just coming out of a heavy anesthetic...except Slaton had less to say.

Best press box: Syracuse. Instead of being 500 feet above the action, the Carrier Dome press box is set about 20 rows from the field. Incredible view to watch a game.

Worst press box: Indiana. Stripped down to the icy, cement walls. Like watching a game from a cellblock. Ironic that the least impressive campus had the best press box and the best campus had the worst press box.

Best college stadium: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Everything is new and the atmosphere is fantastic. Loved the Cards Walk and the Louisville mascot parachutting into the stadium. Way too nice to be named after a national restaurant that serves crappy pizza. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is nice, too. But it's an NFL stadium with no atmosphere for USF games.

Most excited fans: Rutgers. They were beside themselves in Piscataway for the Sunday night game against least until Donald Brown got them to quiet down by nearly leading the Huskies to the upset.

Best meal on the road: The buffalo wings I got at the Louisville Downtown Marriott restaurant were perhaps the best I've ever had. Mild but tasty and sprinkled with real bleu cheese. Mmmmmmm. The Connecticut media raved about the Dinosaur Grille in Syracuse, which reminded me of the Hungry Heifer restaurant that Norm Peterson loved so much on Cheers. It was pretty darn good considering I got about 6 pounds of ribs for $6.95. I also reccomend the Texas Roadhouse (I think that was the name) in Bloomington, Ind., which also got The Day of New London's Chuck Banning seal of approval.

Best player: West Virginia's Pat White. Apologies to Ray Rice, Steve Slaton and Brian Brohm, all of whom could be playing in the NFL. But White did it all against UConn. Nice to see he was recognized as the Big East's offensive player of the year despite being far behind the aforementioned three in the publicity machine.

Best freshman: Tie. UConn's Donald Brown and South Florida's Matt Grothe. Brown is something special. Imagine what he'll do with an experienced, healthy offensive line. I couldn't believe how Grothe handles himself as a freshman. Poised. In control. Tough. He was carried off with a foot injury against UConn, and the stadium went dead silent. Minutes later, Grothe was back in there running and throwing like nothing happened despite being in pain.

Toughest player: UConn's Donta Moore. Moore, a junior linebacker, broke his arm in the first half against Navy. He was back in the game by the second half. Played the final eight games in a balloon-sized cast. Not since the Rams' Jack Youngblood told trainers to tape up his broken leg because he wasn't coming out of the game has a player shown this level of toughness.

Worst coaching performance: Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati was in line to win the best coaching performance this season. That is until he left his team in a lurch to accept the job at Michigan State. I have no problem with him moving on if it's the best thing for him and his family. But couldn't the announcement have waited a few weeks? You'd think he owed it to the team to stick around long enough to coach them in their bowl game. What would coach Dantonio have thought if his star player decided to leave the team cold right before its biggest game to concentrate on training for the NFL Combine?

Best coaching performance: Greg Schiano. What I liked more than the incredible turnaround the program has made over the last three years is his commitment to the school and his players. He told Miami thanks, but no thanks: we have a lot more to accomplish here. Says a lot about the Big East that a coach would rather stay than go to almighty Miami. Rich Rodriguez should take note. Honorable mention to Jim Leavitt. Dull quote. Great coach.

Best game: So many to choose from, which speaks volumes about the quality of the conference this season. But it has to be the Louisville-Rutgers game. National ESPN audience on Thursday night. Rutgers Stadium in delirium. Louisville takes a 25-7 first half lead only to see the Scarlet Knights come storming back and win on a last-minute field goal for the biggest win in 140 years of football. Awesome.

Most mediocre football prognosticator: Myself. I went 4-5 last week to finish the season at 67-70-6. I guess that wasn't so bad considering I was usually better than most of the readers who entered their picks each weeks. Thanks to everyone for playing. I will have a bowl contest posted in the next couple of days.

Special thanks to everyone for taking an interest in the Runway blog. Since the blog was launched back in early August we've had over 28,000 visitors. Thanks to everyone who took the time to email, leave a comment or contribute to mailbags over the course of the season. I appreciated all the feedback, positive and negative. I'll keep updating the blog throughout the winter with any news that sprouts up, but expect things to heat up once again with spring practice in March. Thanks again to everyone. I've had a blast.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Edsall's final Sunday media call of 2006

Exhaustion. That's what I'm feeling. Not just from a day spent in airports and cramped on planes. It's been a long season. Eighteen weeks, to be exact. Eighteen weeks of two-and-a-half hour roundtrip drives to New Haven to Storrs, teleconferences, interviews, writing, airline travel and every other controversy (and there were a lot this season) that seemed to sprout up from nowhere. I'm just tired, and looking forward to two weeks of vacation starting a week from today.

But I'm not signing off from the blog just yet. I still plan to have a little fun this week before I take my break. And before I fall asleep tonight, let me give a quick recap of Randy Edsall's media call from this afternoon.

  1. Robert McClain and Robert Vaughn were the only true freshmen whose redshirts were burned because of injuries/suspensions/dismissals. Edsall said all the others who played would have done so no matter what.
  2. Edsall says the quarterback position is wide open. For now, presumably (see next note), that means its either D.J. or Dennis Brown starting at spring practice. Whether a Juco transfer enters the equation remains to be seen. Cody Endres won't join the fray until August. As a true frosh, its unlikely he'll challenge, but who knows? Edsall said the competition will be healthy, and said he expected more production out of the position this season. "We ran the ball well, but the passing game wasn't what we needed it to be."
  3. Edsall said two or three position changes have already been made, though he wouldn't elaborate. One man's guess: D.J. won't be moved. The Huskies can't afford it at this point with only two scholarship QBs. I would venture an offensive lineman or two has been volleyed over to help with the depleted defensive line i.e. defensive tackle. UConn will also be extremely deep at linebacker, and one of them could be moved somewhere.
  4. Edsall revealed how he voted in the poll...1. Ohio State. 2. Michigan. 3. Florida. 4. Louisville. 5. LSU. His reasoning? The Wolverines only lost by three to the No. 1 team. Personally, I like the Florida-OSU title matchup. Michigan already had a crack at the Buckeyes and lost. Let the SEC champs have at 'em.

That's all for now. But stay tuned. I'll be back with more posts and (perhaps) news this week.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Louisville Late Show

Jared Nuss emailed me his You Tube clip regarding the blown call this afternoon. UConn should have had a touchdown on a fumbled Louisville punt, but the referee ruled it a "muffed" punt because the return man never had possession of the ball. By rule, the Huskies couldn't advance the ball and were awarded possession where Terry Baltimore picked up the ball. What should have been a touchdown only wound up as three points. Probably didn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but UConn has been victim of some lousy officiating the last few weeks. I asked Randy Edsall about the "muff" call in the postgame press conference. He thought about it for a moment, looking like he really wanted to speak his mind, then said he would decline comment. Seeing this clip certainly won't ease his pain.

Jared, by the way, also made the outstanding highlight clip from the Pitt win. Great work. Keep 'em coming...well, for next season.

A few more thoughts before I get back to a great Rutgers/West Virginia game on the tube.

  • Doesn't anyone want to play Ohio State for the national championship? Louisville and Rutgers (along with about a half dozen others) must be kicking themselves at how close they were to playing for the title. If Rutgers doesn't lay an egg against Cincinnati, they could be playing for the spot tonight. I hate to say it, but it looks like it will be Michigan in a rematch unless Florida can put Arkansas away.

  • How much do Louisville fans want West Virginia to beat Rutgers tonight? They cranked a Mountaineer Stadium staple - John Denver's "Country Road" - at Papa John's Stadium immediately after the game today. It's roughly the equivalent of the Red Sox playing "New York, New York" in Fenway Park.

  • Two representatives from the Orange Bowl (looking inconspicuous in bright orange sports jackets) stopped outside the UConn locker room after the game to chat with Edsall, presumably to pick his brain about the Big East team that will likely be headed to Miami.

  • Edsall threw support behind Louisville for a BCS spot, even if the Cardinals don't win the Big East. Every UConn player I spoke with agreed Louisville was easily the best team they faced this season.

Saturday morning at Papa John's Stadium

Pulled into the parking lot at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium this morning, got out of my car and followed the Louisville marching band to the stadium. They were lining up for the Card Walk, a bit of pomp and cirsumstance where fans line the walkway and cheer on the players as they make their way into the stadium. Most college programs do it, but Louisville's was a tad more exciting than, say, Indiana, where it was the band and nobody else.

There was a few hundred fans dressed in Cardinal red lining the walkway, impressive considering it was 2 hours and 30 minutes before kickoff and it's pretty damn cold outside. I just missed snagging a free T-shirt. It hit me square in the hand and bounced to a teenager. Score it an error on me. The fat, 50-year old man dressed head-to-toe in Louisville garb sarcastically thanked me because the shirt was heading for him until I stuck my hand up. Rather than tell him the shirt probably would have been a little tight on him since it wasn't a size XXXXXXL, I just said at least it went to a kid. He sneered and waddled away. So much for Southern hospitality.

The stadium is impressive. Less than 10 years old with 40,000-plus seats that are all red plastic with chairbacks -- as opposed to the metal benches in most stadiums. They are planning to expand the place by about 20,000 soon. It'a way too nice a place to be named after a crappy pizza chain.

No surprises on the travel roster, aside from the fact that there's five kickers and punters and one true quarterback.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Greeting from Derby City

Woke up at 7 a.m. in Orange where it was cloudy and mild. Drove to Bradley Airport in a steady rain. Took a plane to Charlotte where it was sunny and 71 degrees. Jumped on my connecting flight to Louisville and arrived an hour later to freezing temperatures and blasts of what felt like an Arctic wind. Ahh, the wackiness of air travel.

I had planned to visit the Louisville Slugger museum right after I arrived this afternoon to take the tour. I understand you order a custom-made bat, then watch them craft it from a piece of wood right in front of your eyes, brand it with your name, where you can take it to an adjacent batting cage and take a few cuts. While I was only considering ordering my own bat, I was definitely looking forward to checking out the museum and factory, which is only a few steps from my hotel. But the place closes at 5 p.m., and after waiting out an hour flight delay in Charlotte I didn't get to the hotel until 4:30. Looks like I'm out of luck. Tommorrow's noon kickoff will keep me from getting a chance to see it in the morning, and my flight leaves on Sunday before the museum opens. Oh, well. Anyone, however, can place an order for a personalized Louisville Slugger bat through the internet for only $55. The race schedule at Churchill Downs is over for the season, and there's only simulcasting until the spring, so unfortunate timing there, too.

Haven't had a chance to check out the city, though I did drive past Papa John Stadium -- visible from the highway -- as well as the Muhammad Ali Center. I forgot "The Greatest" was born right here in Louisville. I'll probably get up a little earlier and walk around downtown a bit before heading over to campus. Right now, I need to eat dinner.