What they said in 2012: Quotes tell tale of year in sports media

Part 1:

I’m a big quote guy, as evidenced by the quote I run at the top of this site.

While going through my review of sports media in 2012, I came across so many relevant quotes from my reporting and elsewhere, I decided to share them. Some are insightful; some are funny; some are just plain stupid. Yet they all tell a tale of what occurred on this beat.

I had so many, I decided to split them into two posts. Part 1 covers the beginning of the site in April through early August.

Frank Deford on current state of sportswriting: “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten swamped by the numbers. People have gotten buried under the numbers. Statistics. That has become everything. Pitch count is more interesting than what the guy is made of. I think that’s a shame because so much of sports is drama.”

Keith Olbermman tweet: “Mickey Mantle debuted in NY in an exhibition vs Dodgers 1951. Bryce Harper debuts vs Dodgers tonight. Announcer then and now? Vin Scully.”

Adam Schefter on taking heat for tweeting during the NFL draft: “I approach the draft just like any other NFL news story. When I learn informaton, it’s my job to report it. I didn’t report every pick; I was more interested in the trades, actually. But if someone felt it detracted from their experience, they could have unfollowed me or not paid attention to Twitter.”

Ohio State president Gordon Gee (a true goof): “‘Sporting News,’ ‘Sports Illustrated,’ a lot of them I don’t read. It’s bad journalism. And, so, why buy them?”

David Feherty on Hank Haney’s book on Tiger Woods: “The fact that Hank wrote the book – I wouldn’t have written the book. I just don’t think it has any class to it at all.”

SI’s Richard Deitsch on Chris Berman: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain, and  it’s forever accompanied by outdated references (“Mel Kiper, to quote Stan  Laurel, ‘Here’s another mess you have gotten me into, Ollie.’ “) and long-winded  intros that last nearly as long as a Presidential campaign. Mostly, there is  Chris Berman simply talking and talking and talking.”

Chris Berman:  “I just talk to people everyday walking down the street. That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

ESPN exec John Wildhack defending Chris Berman: “It seems that at times, criticizing Chris has become a pastime for some, as opposed to presenting an actual review of the work he does. What’s important is he works hard, he’s prepared, he’s extremely passionate about it and he is a huge sports fan which allows him to connect with the sports fans we serve.”

Bill Simmons in a tweet on Grantland being denied a credential to a NHL playoff game: “Still laughing that the Blues denied @katiebakes for a media credential last week. The NHL is the best. DON’T COVER US!!! STAY AWAY!”

Dave Kindred on the late Furman Bisher: “One time, two years ago, his glorious wife, Linda, called him in the Augusta  press room and Furman became a high school kid in love. “I just finished,  honey,” he said. “It wasn’t much. I keep trying. I’ll do that perfect column  someday.”

Saints owner Tom Benson on demise of the New Orleans Times-Picuyane: “It is hard for me to imagine no Times-Picayune on Monday, February 4, 2013, the day after our city hosts Super Bowl XLVII.”

Veteran sportswriter Tom Pedulla on being fired from USA Today: “If you think someone’s job was in jeopardy, you’d want to do it face-to-face to make the best possible decision. I never got a face-to-face interview to keep a job I had for 31 years.”

Former Fox Sports chairman David Hill on the future of sports TV:  “The next big development for all of us is the second-screen experience. I don’t believe that has been explored in terms of potential as it should be. If you look at multi-tasking that is going on, a valid second screen experience (people watching a second screen in addition to the primary screen) – which could be American Idol – is going to be a huge development down the road.”

Tiger Woods on new media: “You’ve got to be able to stand out somehow to get eyes going to your site or to your media, and I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s the criticism that there is. I was looking at it the other day, if LeBron didn’t have a good game, then the Heat are done and he should retire.  I’m like, geez, guys, he just won MVP.  But I think that’s just the nature of the volatility of the new media in which we are involved in now.”

Phil Mushnick controversial column on Jay-Z: “As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their  marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team  colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have  him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?

“Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The  cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with  hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”

Michelle Beadle on rampant speculation about her future: “I find it ridiculous. It’s a little stupid. I’ve changed jobs a couple dozen times since I started in an amusement park at 16. … I got a little sick of myself. It’s been an odd situation. Hopefully, it will come and go and everybody will get back to their business. Very weird. Who knew?”

Ozzie Guillen on Twitter: “Yeah, I hate Twitter. Everybody following me can (expletive) his pants. You can quote me on that one. … Don’t follow me anymore. Twitter is a stupid thing. I never make money out of that. When you speak Spanish, you speak Spanish. When you speak English, you don’t know how to spell ‘English.’ Get a real job, get a life. I don’t make money out of that. I’m done.”

Colin Cowherd on hockey writers: “Hockey doesn’t get the cream of the crop in our business…What do you think I’m giving the kid out of Fordham? The New York Islanders. He’s cheap, he’s bright, and his brother used to play hockey.”

John Skipper on NBC Sports Network: “We’ve been doing this for 32 years and I do think  there’s a little too much respect paid to the great brand names. Everybody sort  of assumes, ‘Oh, my gosh, NBC is going to a 24/7 network and it’s a two-horse  race.” But they don’t look like we look. You guys saw all the stuff today –  mobile, Internet. We have more viewers in an average minute on ESPN mobile than  they have on NBC Sports Network.”

NBC Sports response: “The NBC Sports Group brands are among the most powerful brands in sports. We don’t look like anyone else and we’re very proud of that fact. They’ve been at this a long time and at a significantly higher cost to consumers. Our audience and market share are increasing as evidenced by the NHL playoffs and at great value to our viewers.”

CBC’s Ron McLean invoking images of 9/11 in open to a NHL playoff game: “From the capital of the U.S. of A., it’s New York and Washington. The economic and political engines of America, united in the birth of the country, they’re also linked in tragedy. They were the twin targets of the coordinated attacks on 9/11. It’s crazy to compare what the emergency responders did during that time, but a spirit has to start somewhere. And as you enjoy this series between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals — Game 6 comin’ up, 3-2 New York.”

Dan Jenkins: “Who is the best the sportswriter who wore shorts? I keep trying to envision Grantland Rice or John Lardner in shorts. It never occurred to me to wear shorts. I’d look too silly to wear shorts.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria on hockey: “It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.”

Donna  de Varona on 40th anniversary of Title IX: “My work in Title IX gave me a voice I wanted to have as a broadcaster. But there was a lot of pushback. My visibility was often threatened. I often got comments about my activism being an issue, forcing me to make choices. That did two things for me: It made me fight harder and stay at ABC, and also to work on Capitol Hill.”

Darren Rovell announcing in a tweet (what else?) that he is jumping to ESPN: “I’m thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle with ESPN. No matter how others bash it, Bristol is truly a magical place.”

APSE president Michael A. Anastasi in speech to sports editors: “Many of you have heard me say this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. With so much change, so much challenge, so much new, this is exactly the wrong time for editors to stop talking to each other.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria: “If social networking never existed, we wouldn’t miss it. We wouldn’t know it ever existed. We wouldn’t feel our life was impaired in any way. We lived without e-mail. How did we operate without it?”

Geoff Ogilvy’s wife, Julie, on Twitter: “How does Johnny Miller have a job when he speaks such nonsense???”

Phil Mushnick: “Allowing ESPN’s Chris Berman to call golf’s U.S. Open is like giving the Class Clown a jumbo can of Silly String.”

Skip Bayless: “Miami was the heavy favorite to win it all and I’m not backing off. I’m not writing them off. I’m sticking with them in seven games, because they’re still the Miami Heat.”

Ken Harrelson after over-the-top criticism of an umpire: “I talked to Bud Selig yesterday. We had a talk. Actually, Bud talked and I listened. If it was a prize fight, they would have stopped it in the first round.”

Bob Costas on slain Israeli athletes not being honored at Olympics: “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request. Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

BTN president Mark Silverman on his network not covering important Penn State press conference: “We wanted to have covered it. Frankly, it was human error. There was an internal communications issue. We regret not having shown that press conference.”

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertham on Joe Posnanski’s Paterno book: “The great lesson that Paterno may have taught (a player) pales in comparison to the cover-up. People who read the book will say they don’t care about (his great deeds). I worry this will be the literary version of the Matt Millen fiasco.”

Joe Buck on Tim McCarver going into Hall of Fame: “When I had him sitting to my right and I had him seconding an opinion of mine, it gave me instant credibility. I owe him a lot and I’ll be there, the proudest one there not at the podium when he goes in on Saturday.”

Tim McCarver: “If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honor, I’d say no way. For three years, I couldn’t even break into the Phillies broadcast booth. I was just hoping to make it, much less be mentioned as a Ford Frick winner. Believe me, when I started out, this award wasn’t even close to being on the radar.”

Bob Costas on turning 60: “It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that the word irreverent seemed affixed to my name. ‘Irreverant newcomer.’ I went from irreverent to venerable in what seems to me like the blink of an eye.”









Top newsmakers for 2012: No denying that everyone talked about Skip Bayless

When I launched ShermanReport on April 16, I had some initial concerns that there might not be enough fresh content to do a daily site.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

There’s so much territory to cover, it can be overwhelming at times. For a solo performer, it is a challenge to keep up. It’s never dull, that’s for sure.

As 2012 nears a close, I’m going to reflect on the year in sports media this week. Today, I begin with newsmakers. My criteria is people who were interesting, intriguing, controversial, and generally seemed to be in the news cycle, for better or worse.

Here we go:

Skip Bayless: Yes, Skip Bayless. I can see your eyes rolling, but name me someone who has generated more sports media talk?

I know he is extremely polarizing, and he routinely gets obliterated from the critics. Twitter nearly exploded when he got nominated for a Sports Emmy.

This isn’t to say that Bayless and First Take rank as the best in 2012. The latest episode involving Rob Parker off-mark comments about Robert Griffin III are an example why many people feel the show is a stain on ESPN. A blow to its credibility.

However, whenever the topic is sports media in a podcast or elsewhere, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when the discussion didn’t include Bayless and First Take. My former Chicago Tribune colleague receives a remarkable amount of attention for a mid-morning show on ESPN2. Not exactly prime time. Love him or hate him, people tune in to hear Bayless’ and Stephen A. Smith’s views. The show continues to do a strong rating and Bayless has nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, up from 550,000 in April.

More so, athletes react over what he has to say. Kevin Durant, Jalen Rose, Charles Barkley, and Terrell Suggs, to name a few. Again, somebody must be listening.

In a Q/A I did with Bayless in April, I asked if he saw himself wearing the black hat. He said: “The thrust of our show is people trying to take me down. They just want to see me lose. That’s why they love Stephen A (Smith). He calls me Skip “Baseless.” Fine. Then I quickly prove to the audience that I’m not baseless and win the argument from him, using live ammo, real facts that he can’t refute.”

Will Bayless be at the top of the list again in 2013? I wouldn’t bet against him.

Bob Costas: Costas hit a milestone birthday, turning 60. While it’s just a number, he continued to define his status as perhaps the sportscaster of his generation in 2012. He tied it all together in hosting yet another Olympics for NBC. Even more so, he stepped out on controversial issues: The failure to do a memorial of the slain Israeli athletes at the Olympics and his anti-gun commentary during halftime of a Sunday night game. If sports has a social conscience and voice, it is Costas.

Mark Lazarus: Unlike his predecessor Dick Ebersol, the NBC Sports president took a low profile in being at the helm for his first Olympics. While the tape delay issue had viewers screaming, they still watched in record numbers. Bottom line: The Games even turned an unexpected profit for NBC. Lazarus didn’t have to say much more than that.

John Skipper: The ESPN president oversaw the network’s buying spree in 2012, locking in important long-term rights deals. Skipper also is refreshingly frank. He earned plaudits for admitting that ESPN went overboard with its Tim Tebow coverage.

Joe Posnanski: No sportswriter faced a more intense spotlight than Posnanski. His much-anticipated book Paterno was roundly criticized. The response was so extreme, Posnanski did limited interviews and virtually no public appearances. As a result, his move from Sports Illustrated to being the signature name for the SportsOnEarth site received little fanfare.

Clearly, Posnanski’s book was hurt by a deadline that was moved up to cash in on the timeliness of the story. But even worse, he appeared too close to Paterno and his family to write an objective book that this subject required.

Michelle Beadle: After several months of over-the-top speculation about her future, Beadle bolted ESPN for a package at NBC. She shined in a hosting role at the Olympics. Always entertaining, Beadle will add a new show at NBC Sports Network in 2013.

Erin Andrews: Speaking of over-the-top, Andrews also left ESPN and signed on at Fox Sports. The big lure was a chance to host a primetime college football studio show in advance of Fox’s Saturday night game. Alas, Andrews and the show generally got panned. Look for some changes in a second attempt in 2013.

Chris Berman: Speaking of polarizing figures, it’s often target practice on Berman. His act, once unique and fun in another decade, now is viewed as old and tired. It’s almost as if he has become a characterization of himself. If only he listened to the many people who have to be begging him to tone it down.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch blew him up several times. Following Berman hosting the NFL draft, he wrote: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain.”

Of the critics, Berman told Michael Hiestand of USA Today: ”I just talk to people everyday walking down the street,” he says. “That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

That is quite true. He is not anywhere close to comparing his situation to Ted Williams’.

As for ESPN making any changes with Berman? Don’t count on it. He signed a long-term deal in 2012.

Jim Rome: Another escapee from ESPN, Rome took his act to CBS, where he was given many platforms. His daily show on CBS Sports Network reaches a limited audience simply because the network still doesn’t register in the mind of most sports viewers. He recently launched a weekly show on Showtime. We’ll see how that goes. In a few weeks, he will take his radio show to the new CBS Sports Radio Network.

The biggest Rome news occurred when he got in a flap with NBA Commissioner David Stern. It stemmed from a poorly-worded question about whether the draft was fixed.

The move to CBS clearly is a work in process for Rome. He knew it would take some time. However, he will want to see some progress in 2013.

Jeff Van Gundy: Van Gundy has emerged as a star for his blunt, honest analysis of the NBA for ESPN. You have to listen closely because he is capable of saying anything at any given moment. He wasn’t shy about criticizing the network when it backed out of a deal to hire his brother, Stan. He’s become one of my favorites.

Bill Simmons: ESPN’s franchise man on so many different platforms was given another toy by being added to NBA Countdown. The studio show is a work in progress, but Simmons’ addition has made for a different feel. A basketball junkie, he has a unique and at times quirky perspective on the game. I have found myself listening to hear what Simmons has to say.

Tim McCarver. The announcer called his 23rd World Series, a record. He also received the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, an honor that was long overdue.

John Clayton: Who knew that the 58-year NFL analyst wore a ponytail, worshipped Slayer, and lived with his mother? The cult of John Clayton grew with one of the year’s best commercials. It even received a tweet from LeBron James.

Darren Rovell: Hey, somebody actually jumps to ESPN. What a concept. Rovell left a gig at CNBC where he was the big fish in a little sports pond. Now he’s swimming among fish of all sizes in the ESPN ocean that is the Pacific. The move has some risks, but Rovell felt when ESPN calls (a second time for him), you dive in.

Frank Deford and Vin Scully: Let’s finish with two legends who still are going strong. Deford wrote his memoirs in a terrific book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. As you would expect from Deford, it was entertaining and insightful, covering more than a generation of sports writing. At age 74, Deford still goes strong with his commentaries for NPR and work on Real Sports for HBO.

What can you say about Scully, the ageless wonder? Now 85, he gave us the best gift possible by deciding to return for yet another year in 2013. Remarkable.










How much longer will new Sports Illustrated editor actually put out a magazine?

Last night, my bedtime reading was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated. Not on my Ipad, but the actual magazine.

With the news that Newsweek is ceasing to publish in a magazine format, it made me wonder how long that also would be the case for SI?

I think we’re still years away from SI becoming completely digital. Then again, this week’s edition felt thin and the magazine recently made some cuts in staff. Also, new initiatives seem to be geared toward the online experience.

SI seemed to say as much by appointing Paul Fichtenbaum, who for eight years ran Sports Illustrated’s Web site, as the new editor of the Time Inc. Sports Group. He replaces Terry McDonell.

Fichtenbaum told Richard Sandomir of the New York Times:

“Everything going forward has to have a digital overlay to it because that’s where the industry is going,” Mr. Fichtenbaum said in a telephone interview. “We have a really strong print product, a lot of subscribers — more than three million who love the magazine — and what we need to do is make sure they love SI in whatever form the world takes us. Our magazine is rock solid.”

Later, Sandomir wrote:

Mr. Fichtenbaum said that the print magazine would further extend its efforts in enterprise journalism, while letting SI.com handle daily sports news. “That’s one of the things we can do to differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” he said. “The magazine can do those interesting, unique stories that are hard to come by.”

I hope the magazine remains viable. Call me old-school, but the pictures look better in print. And I like the feel of a magazine in my hands.

Yes, it is hard to imagine SI disappearing as a magazine. Then again, 10 years ago, who would have thought Newsweek as a magazine would be on its way out in 2012?


Cover story: Sports Illustrated stands by reporting in Mathieu story; Nelson suit against SI dismissed

Update: A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Reeves Nelson against SI. Details below.


Tyrann Mathieu is on cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. However, it is not exactly the way he envisioned.

piece written by Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel focuses on the personal problems that have the LSU star on the sidelines this year. It contains some allegations that Mathieu might have broken some NCAA rules. It could derail a return to LSU next year.

The most interesting part of the piece is that it includes quotes from his father, who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.

Mathieu declined to be interviewed in the story and claims SI harrassed him. From Fox 8 in New Orleans:

Sheila Mathieu calls the article “unfortunate” and says she can’t understand why Sports Illustrated would respond so viciously to a family’s decision to keep private matters private.

“They twisted things and cobbled together details from past articles because we wouldn’t sit down with them,” she told FOX 8 Sports.  “We have always believed in being a tight-knit family. God first, family second, work and school third. That’s what Tyrann is doing now, and he’s on an avenue to success, making good grades and putting his life in order.”

A Mathieu family lawyer wrote SI, asking the magazine to leave him alone.

Demand is made that you cease and desist from any attempts at making contact with Mr. Mathieu or any member of his family.

There also are allegations that Sports Illustrated tried to bribe a promoter to get damaging material about Mathieu. Knowing SI, I have to say that notion is ridiculous.

Here’s Sports Illustrated’s response:

Sports Illustrated stands behind the reporting and the facts of the story. These absurd allegations are completely fabricated and with obvious motive.

Thamel did a podcast with SI’s Richard Deitsch. Thamel said that even though Mathieu isn’t playing, he still is “the most interesting player in college football.”

“People are fascinated by Tyrann Mathieu,” Thamel said.

Thamel didn’t discuss the allegations by Mathieu in the podcast. He said he and Evans covered the story through interviews and by using their sources at LSU.


Meanwhile, in other legal news involving the magazine, Nelson won’t get his day in court against SI. From the San Marino Tribune:

A judge today tossed a defamation lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball player Reeves Nelson against Time Inc., the parent company of Sports Illustrated, and a reporter concerning an article critical of the player and the Bruin program.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy agreed with attorneys for the media conglomerate and reporter George Dohrmann that the complaint concerning the Sports Illustrated story “Not the UCLA Way” infringed on their clients’ right to free speech. She also found that Dohrmann had numerous sources to back up the facts in his article.

“This man spent a lot of time and talked to a lot of people,” Murphy said.

Nelson’s attorney, Olaf Muller, declined to comment outside the courtroom. He argued during the hearing that Murphy was incorrect in her finding that Nelson, although a college athlete at the time, was nonetheless a limited public figure who had to demonstrate that Sports Illustrated and Dohrmann acted with malice toward him.

Muller said Nelson was an amateur who did not even have a publicist.

Defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli also declined to comment.











Author Q/A: SI’s Mark Beech’s book on Army’s last great team and legendary coach Red Blaik

It’s been a long time since Army was relevant in college football beyond its annual game with Navy. As in basically, my entire lifetime. Army’s last great season was 1958. I was born in 1959.

However, back in the ’40s, Army was Alabama and Red Blaik was Nick Saban; Blaik even helped groom a young assistant named Vince Lombardi.

The Black Knights ruled the game. Then after sliding a bit in the early 50s, Army and Blaik had a final blast of glory.

Sports Illustrated’s Mark Beech documents it all in a new book When Saturday Mattered Most: The Last Golden Season of Army Football. Army went 8-0-1 in 1958 with Pete Dawkins winning the Heisman Trophy, and “The Lonesome End” becoming the stuff of legend.

Blaik is at the centerpiece of this story. A confidant of  Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the coach was a complex man. He ultimately decided to retire after the ’58 season. Army never reached those heights again.

Beech captures all the layers of the coach and what it was like to play football for Army in his excellent new book. He was gracious enough to do a Q/A.

How did you get the idea for the book?

I have had this idea banging around in my head for years. My father graduated from West Point in 1959—he was classmates with the seniors on Army’s 1958 team, which was the last in West Point history to go undefeated and boast a Heisman-Trophy winner. It was really a magical year. I went to West Point myself, class of 1991, and the idea seemed to be sitting out there calling to me. I’m very lucky that there was a great untold story right in front of my face. Not every writer gets that.

My fascination with this team stems from the time I would spend as a kid poring over the pages in my father’s West Point yearbook, The Howitzer. This was in the 1970s, when Army football was mired in an especially unsuccessful period, and it was amazing to me that the Black Knights had been not just good when my father was a cadet, but truly great.

How big was Army football during the 50s?

It was still big, though not as much of a powerhouse as it was in the 1940s, when coach Red Blaik led the Cadets to five undefeated seasons, two outright national championships and a disputed third title. In the ’50s, Army was regularly ranked, but usually around the margins of the top 10, at best. By 1958 it had been a long time since they had been undefeated and a contender for the national championship.

Red Blaik was a complex guy. And he had this relationship with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. How would you describe him for people who haven’t heard of him?

Complex is a pretty good start. He was austere and aloof. He rarely ever spoke to his players, and when he did, he almost always addressed them by their last names.

He was a beast at preparation and practice. The cadets on his team were only available for drills two hours out of every day, so Blaik kept his sessions tightly organized and very detailed. The Army playbook was not big. Blaik chose to rely on a small number of highly effective plays that he would practice to perfection. He was also passionately devoted to film study, breaking down game footage with his assistants endlessly, searching for any advantage. It’s fair to say he won most of his games before Army ever took the field on Saturday.

He was also a coach of coaches. Twenty-two men who worked for him at West Point went on to lead programs at the collegiate and professional level, including Sid Gillman and Vince Lombardi, two men who were integral in shaping the modern NFL. Lombardi, in particular, was an acolyte of “the colonel’s,” and rarely missed an opportunity to tell people that all he knew about organizing and preparing a team to win he learned from Red Blaik. The influence on Lombardi is especially evident in the way the Packers used to endlessly drill the famous Packers Sweep.

Blaik was also controversial—a fact that remains true even today. Rightly or wrongly, he was blamed by many at West Point for the 1951 cheating scandal, which the evidence shows probably began within his own team. Among the 90 cadets who were expelled from West Point in the wake of the scandal were 37 members of Blaik’s varsity team, including his own son, Bob, due to be the Black Knights’ starting quarterback that fall. The incident remained a bitter pill for Blaik for the rest of his long life, and he only stayed on as the coach at West Point at the urging of his idol, Douglas MacArthur, who told him, “Don’t leave under fire.” Blaik didn’t, and with the 1958 season, he restored Army to what he saw as its rightful place atop the college football heap. He retired after that season, but the acrimony and bitterness remained. Even today, there is controversy at the academy any time there is a move to honor his legacy at West Point.

Would he be able to succeed in today’s environment?

Without question. Blaik was not an innovator—his exploits with the Lonely End offense in 1958 aside—but he was thoroughly aware of movements and trends within the game. He never counted himself a great game coach, and there is some evidence to back up that assessment, but his devotion to preparation and study would ensure his success. I don’t have any doubts on this point.

What was it like talking to some of the former players, many of whom went on to lead interesting lives? How did playing for Army and Blaik shape them?

Bill Carpenter, the Lonely End himself, said that every important lesson he learned at West Point, he learned out on the football field. Carpenter is a fascinating character, a genuine hero and a soldier’s soldier. He’s really worthy of a biography himself, though he told me several times during our interview that if I was trying to undertake such project, our communications would be terminated. He lives at a far remove from most of the rest of his teammates, in a log cabin in Whitefish, Montana, where he retired after he left the army in 1992. He dubbed his house, “The Lonesome End,” and it really fits.

Pete Dawkins, the halfback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1958, has never stopped living a life of remarkable achievement. There’s been so much written about him that when we met for an interview two summers ago I told him that I only wanted to talk to him about football—there were more than enough resources to help me reconstruct his life story! Like the rest of his teammates, he was devoted to Red Blaik. The coach valued Dawkins not just for his abilities as a receiver (he averaged over 30 yards a catch in ’58!) and his determined running, but also for his ability to see the whole field and dissect the game as it was happening. Dawkins, a Rhodes Scholar, is extremely smart and perceptive, and it’s no surprise that he is the one who called audibles at crucial moment during the victories over both Notre Dame and Rice. Talking football with him was one of the most fascinating conversations of my life.

Will we ever see another Army team like the one in ’58?

Unfortunately for myself and other old grads, no. Current Army coach Rich Ellerson has said that his goal for the Black Knights is to be consistently good and occasionally great. And I think that is a very realistic and ideal goal. He’s talking about finishing above .500 most years, and maybe someday winning 10 games or more. If Army does reach something like 10 or even 11 wins, the best ranking I think they could hope to achieve is something around the margins of the top 20. They’ll never again be No. 1, as they were for about three weeks after they beat the Fighting Irish in 1958. Those days are gone. The same kind of guy still goes to West Point to play football at Army as in 1958—a driven, duty-conscious kid who’s interested in a challenge and in being part of something bigger than just a football team. But because of the pull of professional football, the same kind of athlete does not go to West Point, which requires five years of service in the army after graduation.

Anything else?

Only other thing I can think to add is what a sensation the Lonely End was in 1958. Beyond the mystery of why Carpenter never returned to the huddle and how he knew what play to run, it was just a devastatingly effective weapon. Army transformed from a ground-and-pound team—columnist Red Smith described Red Blaik as “the high priest of the overland game”— into a air-raiding juggernaut. The Black Knights actually led the country in passing offense in 1958. Though the offense never again caught on, we can see its lasting influence today in a defensive adjustment that has become a major part of pro football: the inverted safety. Essentially, an inverted safety is one who plays in the flat, just off the line of scrimmage and between the offensive line and the wide receivers. Think Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who has made a living playing in the flat and either dropping into coverage or rushing into the backfield for a sack. Before Bill Carpenter split wide in 1958, nobody had ever seen that.


To here more from Beech, here’s the link to a podcast he did with SI’s Richard Deitsch.



Payton book in paperback: Author hopes for a second chance in Chicago

Jeff Pearlman hopes release of his Walter Payton biography in paperback this week will help right a wrong, especially in Chicago.

When excerpts of Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton ran in Sports Illustrated last fall, Pearlman was vilified. It couldn’t have been worse if he dressed in green and gold and staged a Green Bay Packers rally on Michigan Ave.

The excerpt detailed Payton’s troubled life after football; addiction to painkillers, issues with depression, affairs and a non-existent marriage. It hardly was the picture Bears fans saw of the valiant warrior during a spectacular 13-year career.

Reaction was harsh in Chicago. Mike Ditka said he would “spit” on the book. Everyone follows “Da Coach” here and you could have filled Lake Michigan with all the saliva. Not a pretty image.

“To me, it was crushing,” Pearlman said.

Pearlman tried to do damage control. He did numerous interviews in Chicago, pleading with people to read the entire book. He said there was much more than the SI excerpts.

Indeed, the book is meticulously reported, detailing with the incredible highs and lows of Payton’s entire life. Once people read the book, it received rave reviews and landed on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Now with the paperback edition coming out, Pearlman hopes the critics in Chicago will give the book a second chance. Here’s my Q/A.

How did you feel about the initial reaction to the book in Chicago?

To be honest, I thought I was treated unfairly in Chicago. One anchor on the news did a report and then literally shook her head and said, ‘Shameful, shameful.’

(Chicago Tribune columnist) John Kass became my least favorite media figure in Chicago. I felt like he was another guy who didn’t read the book. I called and emailed him to see if he ever read the book. I offered to send him a copy of the book. He never responded.

I think Michael Wilbon is great, excellent. But he questioned my motives. He said it was all about money.

Nobody read the book (beyond the SI excerpts). In today’s media world, we need to turn it around really quick. ‘What’s your take on this?’ People just read the excerpt and said, ‘How dare he?’ To me, it was crushing.

What kind of reaction did you get once people read the book?

I received a number of apologies over Twitter and Email. I had never experienced anything like it before.

When the book first came out, I got a lot of ‘To hell with you,’ and much more vulgar stuff that I won’t get into.

About a month later, I got a number of notes that said, ‘You know what, I owe you an apology. I was wrong. That was a great book.’

Many people think SI’s choice of excerpts hurt you and the book. What do you think?

I used to think something different, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I thought the excerpts showed a fascinating part of his life. I thought the depression he suffered was pretty telling, especially with what we know now (about concussions). If I was editor of Sports Illustrated, I would have gone with the same excerpts too.

You have said that you came to love Walter Payton more after writing the book. Yet for many of us in Chicago, your details of how he treated some people and other issues made us love him less. Please explain your view.

Walter was aware of his shortcomings. He wanted to be righteous, but he didn’t know how to go about it.

He knew what he meant to people in Chicago. It was very important for them to view him in a positive light. He never wanted people to know about his depression.

You always think, ‘If I could have this guy’s life, that would be awesome. What does he have to complain about?’

Walter had a lot to complain about. I had sympathy for him. I realize it wasn’t easy being him.

Now that it is out in paperback, what do you say to Payton’s fans who initially passed on buying the hardcover edition?

I understand that people want their heroes to be heroes, or that they care only about what happens on the field.

But this guy had an amazingly fascinating life beyond football. There was a lot to him. Just because somebody had hard times doesn’t mean you still can’t appreciate him. It doesn’t mean you should change your perception of him.

For more with Pearlman, here is an interview he did with Steven Bennett on last week’s edition of the Sports-Casters. The interview begins at the 1:40 mark.








New Sports Illustrated TV program to debut tonight; Writers go on air to tell stories

As the lines continue to blur in the new media world, Sports Illustrated is taking its writers to television.

A new show, simply named Sports Illustrated, is set to debut tonight at 9:00 p.m. (ET) on NBC Sports Network.

Here’s the promo:

The program doesn’t have a host or narrator. Instead, the first installment uses SI writers Tom Verducci, John Wertheim, Jack McCallum and Sarah Kwak lending commentary and context with the subjects telling the story. Also, unlike HBO’s Real Sports, the SI writers aren’t shown doing the interviews.

From the release:

“Sports Illustrated” Presented by Lexus is, a monthly, hour-long sports magazine TV show produced by NBC Sports and Sports Illustrated. The show will deliver the magazine’s DNA of award-winning storytelling through feature segments, original reporting and commentary from SI’s trusted journalists. Emmy Award-winning Red Line Films has been tapped to produce the show.

I have to say there’s an ESPN E:60 feel to the show. The SI writers are shown in black-and-white with the camera moving in that new age way.

Obviously, the stories are wonderfully shot. You wouldn’t expect anything less from SI. However, I found it curious that they didn’t do at least one of the segments on a well-known superstar for its first show. Maybe a little LeBron, Michael Phelps, or dare I say, Tebow?

Not all that much star power here, with the exception of McCallum’s flashback piece on the ’92 Dream Team.

In an interview with Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily, John Ourand talks with Time Sports Group president Mark Ford about the show.

It includes this passage:

Q: It sounds like it will look a lot like ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and HBO’s “Real Sports.”

Ford: You never try to duplicate what someone else is doing. We have a lot of respect for HBO and “Real Sports.” What we’re going to do is what we do well. We’re not patterning ourselves after anybody. We are patterning ourselves behind what our brand is about. We want to maintain that integrity. It won’t be a documentary. It will be storytelling, and we hope it will be interesting and exciting. Everything I’ve seen to date looks pretty good.

Here’s another video clip and a rundown of the show:


War and Peace in Jackson’s Gym: The soul of one of America’s fastest-rising sports can be found in a desert octagon where mysticism mingles with disciplined mayhem. Mike Winklejohn, a former kickboxing champion and Muay Thai champ, plays the heavy while Greg Jackson, the son of pacifists, embraces a less strident approach to teaching. Together, they have produced some of the MMA’s biggest stars. Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Jon Wertheim has the story.

The Bundy Project: The development of prized Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is quite extraordinary. He squats 500 lbs. throws a 100-mph fastball, drinks broccoli-and-barley smoothies… while under the watch of pitching guru Rick Peterson. Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Tom Verducci reports.

The Story of Alex Meyer: Training at historic Walden Pond, Meyer has overcome personal obstacles and the death of friend and former champion, Fran Crippen, to make the 10K open-water U.S. Men’s Olympic team competing in the London Olympic Games. Sports Illustrated Writer-Reporter Sarah Kwak reports.

The Point After: The Greatest Game Nobody Saw: An impromptu scrimmage ahead of the Olympics pitted Michael Jordan’s team against Magic Johnson’s in a grudge match where agendas and ego were given their fullest expression. No journalist was closer to the Dream Team than Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum, and he explores “The Greatest Game That Nobody Saw.”





Sports Illustrated makes staff cuts; hockey writer Farber to be special contributor

As Sports Illustrated gears up for the Olympics, among the most exciting periods for the magazine, it is cutting back.

SI and its related publications will cut 16 staffers in the effort to reduce costs and streamline operations. It had 13 staffers take a voluntary buyout and 3 layoffs. The reductions will take place over a nine-month period.

Among the writers, NFL and golf writer Damon Hack took the buyout and decided to join the Golf Channel. Hockey writer Michael Farber will stay at the magazine as a special contributor.

The cuts come as SI puts out its Olympics extravaganza. The coverage checks in at 66 pages. From the release:

Sports Illustrated previews the 2012 London Games in the July 23, 2012 issue, on newsstands now. This week’s issue features the U.S. women’s gymnastics team on the cover, 66 pages of Olympic preview coverage and SI’s medal picks—gold, silver and bronze—for all 302 events. Sports Illustrated Olympics staff writer Brian Cazeneuve (@BrianCaz)projects that Team USA will retain the overall medal crown, but believes China will finish first in gold medals won (49), four more than the U.S. Considering its strength across dozens of different events, China will likely do the same for many summer Games to come.

Thanks to five young, relatively inexperienced, but technically strong gymnasts, the United States could win its first Olympic all-round gymnastics title in 16 years. The last time women’s gymnastics appeared on SI’s cover was when Mary Lou Retton was on the Aug. 13, 1984, cover.

Leading the pack is 17-year old Jordyn Weiber, the current world champion, and two-time U.S national champion. Weiber was born a gymnast. Her talent is obvious to anyone who watches her perform, but it’s her work ethic and drive that make her a favorite to win the all-around gold. John Geddert, who has coached Weiber for 14 years said, “I’ve seen other kids with her talent, but Jordyn’s hunger to work separates her.”

 Joining Weiber in London is Gabby Douglas, a 16-year old who won the 2012 Olympic trials over Wieber by a 10th of a point. McKayala Maroney, the world champion on vault, floor specialist Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross join Weiber and Douglas on the team (page 70).


Posnanski video promo for new Paterno book now seems off base; ‘Humanitarian’?

The countdown is on for the most anticipated sports book of the year: Joe Posnanski’s biography Paterno.

Published by Simon & Schuster, the 416-page book is due out on Aug. 21. The former Sports Illustrated writer spent a year in State College with the initial intention of trying to encapsulate the coach’s life and career.

Then of course, it all blew up last November. Then it even exploded more last week.

Here a video preview Posnanski did for the book prior to the news of the Freeh Commission. It now seems terribly outdated, doesn’t it?

The video has a graphic with a header that reads: “Joe Paterno: Educator. Coach. Humanitarian.”

I’ve heard Paterno called many things in the past week, but “humanitarian” isn’t one of them. There’s also a picture of the statue that many people now want to tear down.

In the video, Posnanski acknowledges the scandal and says, “I hope to get somewhere closer to the truth.”

Yet I wonder how people will accept Posnanski’s version of the truth? Consider the following statement on the video:

He was a fascinating, deep, not flawless, but generally decent person who tried to do a lot in his life…To me, the one thing Joe Paterno stood for was making an impact. An impact in people’s lives, an impact on community, an impact on a college. That’s what is most significant about him.

Keep in mind, this video with Posnanski was released before the Freeh Commission came out last week. However, you have to think with a publish date coming up in five weeks, this book is mostly in the can. I’m sure Posnanski will have some quick reaction to the Freeh Report, but I doubt it will change the scope of the entire book.

From listening to Posnanski’s interview, it certainly appears as if the book will have a somewhat sympathetic tone towards Paterno. He spent considerable time with the coach and was there with the family when he died in January. Definitely bonds were formed.

Simon & Schuster’s preview of the book concludes with this positive theme:

Written with unprecedented access, Paterno gets inside the mind of one of America’s most brilliant and charismatic coaches.

Considering the outrage against Paterno, I don’t think people are in the mood to read about a “brilliant and charismatic” coach, about lessons taught to his players by the great teacher. An impact? Let’s talk about the impact Paterno’s actions had on the lives of the young boys who were subjected to the horrors of Jerry Sandusky.

People are so angry, all the records and other good deeds seem so insignificant right now.

Posnanski has a popular blog. His last entry came Tuesday from the All-Star Game. He didn’t write about post about the Freeh Commission. His only comment was a tweet:

I dedicated myself to write the most honest book I could about Joe Paterno. Everything I have to say about his life is in it.

Posnanski is a terrific writer, and he may pull off this high wire act in his book. However, if I’m Posnanski and Simon & Schuster, I would update that promo video.







Damon Hack leaves Sports Illustrated to join Golf Channel

Damon Hack had a great gig. It doesn’t get much better than covering the NFL and golf for Sports Illustrated.

However despite a professional career as a sportswriter, Hack always wanted to get back to the broadcast side. Monday, the Golf Channel offered him the opportunity.

From the network:

He will serve as a “Golf Channel Insider” for the network’s news programming, including Morning Drive and Golf Central, and as a senior writer for GolfChannel.com. He also will be seen occasionally on NBC Sports Network, reporting golf.

I covered a few golf tournaments with Hack during the day. So naturally, I had to give him Monday grief when he mentioned he had “a broadcast agent.” Don’t get too big, big guy.

Actually, the Golf Channel opportunity came somewhat out of the blue. A few weeks ago, he served as a substitute host for Morning Drive. Apparently, he did a good job.

A subsequent GC offer coincided with Sports Illustrated looking for staff to take buyouts. So Hack even got a nice going-away prize.

“When it all came together, we thought, ‘Maybe this is a sign we should do something different,'” Hack said.

Even though Hack has spent 18 years as a sportswriter, he studied broadcasting as an undergrad at UCLA.

“I wanted to be the next Chick Hearn or Vin Scully,” he said. “I always had a quiet dream to do broadcasting, and golf is my favorite sport to cover. It couldn’t work out any better.”

Hack said his exact TV role has yet to be defined. The GC still hasn’t named a permanent co-host to join Gary Williams for Morning Drive.

Would Hack be interested?

“Definitely,” he said. “That would be great. I had a lot of fun doing the show. I think the plan for now is to get me down there and see where I fit.”

The GC also hired Ryan Burr from ESPN as an anchor for Golf Central.