Saturday, March 23, 2019

Calling B.S. on the Pitt Athletic Department

Since being named Athletic Director at Pitt in 2017, Heather Lyke has pretty much distinguished herself in that role, but a development this past week has caused me to call "bulls----" on the Pitt athletic department, and since the buck stops with her, well, sorry about that, Ms. Lyke.

I am speaking about the decision that Pitt has made to not play against Duquesne in the annual City Game basketball game next season.  "We just can't fit it on to our schedule next year" seems to be the word coming from Oakland.  Are you kidding me?  How many basketball games will be on Pitt's non-conference schedule next year? How many of them will be cream puff guaranteed wins against schools like East Overshoe State? 

Duquesne sits a few miles down Forbes Street from Pitt.  Duquesne is willing to play at the Peterson Center if PPG Paints Arena is somehow not available (which I find it hard to believe).  And Pitt can't see their way to playing this game?

I give credit to Pitt for agreeing to play Robert Morris next season in Moon Township for the opening of RMU's new on campus arena, but if they are using the scheduling of THAT game as an excuse NOT to find a way to play Duquesne, well, like I say....bull----!

All this is even more incomprehensible when one considers how the Pitt administration seems to be willing to crawl on its knees to schedule football games with Penn State, and then allows its fan base to bellyache and moan about Penn State's arrogance in not wanting to include the Panthers on its football schedule.  Looks like Pitt has learned a lesson from PSU and is doing the same thing to Duquesne in this instance.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

More on Mehno

The recent death of John Mehno, noted in this space six days ago, prompted me to head to my book shelves and retrieve this little volume:

This book was written by John and was published in 2007.  It is great book chock full of fun little argument starters like.....
  • What were the Steelers five most memorable games?
  • Jack Ham or Jack Lambert?
  • Were the 1979 Pirates really a "family"?
  • How did the Pirates go from powerhouse to laughingstock?
  • Do Al Oliver and Dave Parker deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? (Die hard Bucco fans might not like his answer to this one,)
  • What were the Pirates worst signings?
  • Was Barry Bonds really that bad a guy?
  • Who was the Penguins best player before Mario Lemieux?
  • Was Forbes Field really that great?
  • Was Three Rivers Stadium really that bad?
  • Who were the best Pittsburgh teams that didn't win championships?
You get the idea, and there are 100 of these little gems in this book.  I'm not even sure if this book is still in print, but it really is a must for Pittsburgh sports fans.  Like I said, it is now a twelve year old book.  How great it would have been to have had John write a second volume that would include topics that have popped up on the 'Burgh Sports Scene since 2007.  He could probably have done whole thirty or forty questions on Neal Huntington and Pitt football coaches alone!

I treasure my copy of this book, which I got John to sign for me when he spoke to the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter back in 2012.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Mary Queen of Scots"

For the second time in a week, I delved into a cinematic look at female British Monarchs ("l'll take female British Monarchs for a thousand, Alex") from long, long ago last night.  Last week it was "The Favourite", which told about Queen Anne in 1706.  Last night it was "Mary Queen of Scots", the story of the titular Queen and her, not sure what you would call it - her battles, rivalry, intramural tussles? - with Elizabeth I.  It starred Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth.  This one took place back in the 1580's or thereabouts.

I'll be brief with my takeaways on this movie:
  1. It starred Saoirse Ronan, rapidly becoming one of my very favorite (as opposed to "favourite") actresses.  She alone makes a movie worth seeing, and she is the sole reason I watched this one. 
  2. The filmmakers managed to do the impossible:  They made Margot Robbie look unattractive.
  3. It was better than "The Favourite", but, that, admittedly, is setting a very low bar in this particular grandstand.
One and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A College Football Time Capsule

When writing about the death of Dan Jenkins in this space ten days ago, I made mention of the book you see pictured here, "Saturday's America".  It was an updated collection of long form articles that Jenkins wrote when he was covering college football for Sports Illustrated.  It was published in 1970, and I read the book when I was in college.   Jenkins' death prompted memories of that book, so I went to the library, checked it out and re-read it last week.

1970.  This book truly is a time capsule for college football fans.  To give you an idea of just how long ago 1970 was, College Football-wise, consider the following:

In 1970, Joe Paterno was in only his fifth year as head coach at Penn State.  In fact, at one point in the book, Jenkins referred to him as "the young head coach at Penn State".  When was the last time you thought of Joe Paterno being young?

In 1970, Nick Saban was playing defensive back at Kent State University.

In 1970, Pat Narduzzi was celebrating his fourth birthday, and Dabo Swinney was celebrating his first birthday. 

You get the idea.

Anyway, the book covers some great stories from throughout college football's first 100 years, with primary emphasis on the 1960's.  Here are some of the highlights covered in separate chapters of the book:
  • The arrival of Ara Parseghian in South Bend, and how he revived the storied Notre Dame football traditions after the moribund coaching tenures of Joe Kuharich and Terry Brennan.  Also prominent in this chapter was a young QB out of Butler, PA, Terry Hanratty.
  • Stories of a various college whiz kids of the era such as Tommy Nobis, Dick Butkus, Joe Namath, and O.J. Simpson.
  • A great chapter about the "Game of the Decade" - the 1966 game between Notre Dame and Michigan State that ended in a 10-10 tie. The game where, as Jenkins put it,  Ara "tied one for the Gipper".
  • "Pursuit of a Blue Chipper", a story about college recruiting that focused on the pursuit of a  high school QB out of Abilene, Texas, Jack Mildren.  If anything, recruiting has no doubt become even more of a blood sport fifty years later than it was back in the 1960's.  Mildren eventually ended up at Oklahoma where he was the main cog in OU's wishbone offense.  I remembered being at the game when Mildren and his Sooners - Greg Pruitt was the featured running back - blasted Pitt out of Pitt Stadium with that wishbone attack in 1971.  The final score was 55-29 (I had to look that up), and Pitt was never in the game.
  • A story about the history of the Heisman Trophy.  This chapter seems remarkably quaint here in the 21st century ever since the Heisman Trophy was co-opted by ESPN and Nissan.
  • An entire chapter about Woody Hayes, many years before he punched that kid from Clemson on national television.  He still came across as a complete and total horse's ass.
There's lots more, and if you are a fan of college football and it's history, it would be worth your while to seek out this one, although you can probably only find it in libraries and on dusty shelves in used book stores these days.  

If I had one criticism, it's the fact that Jenkins often resorts to folksy, Texas dialect when writing.  You know, quoting guys  who say "dadgummit" in every other sentence and refer to the game as "fooball".    That's okay in the occasional magazine article, but it gets old when your bludgeoned with it for 290 pages in a book.

A Three Star rating from The Grandstander.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lady Colonials Reign Supreme Once Again

On his sunny St. Patrick's Day afternoon,  Marilyn and I toddled on out to Moon Township to the campus of Robert Morris University to take in the Championship Game of the Northeast Conference Women's Basketball Tournament.  We were rewarded with a 65-54 victory by the Lady Colonials over St. Francis University of PA.  It was the eighth NEC championship for the RMU women in their history and the fourth such championship in the last six years. 

The North Athletics Complex on campus was packed and loud and it was a great atmosphere for the game which made for a fun afternoon.

Some scenes from the day....

The Colonials take the court!

Is there a spookier mascot in all of college sports?

Nina Augustin
A point guard from Helsinki, Finland.
She might have been our favorite player on the team.  She is one of seven international players on the RMU squad.  The others include 2 from Spain, 2 from Canada, 1 from England, and 1 from Japan.

They stormed the court when it was all over.  
We declined to participate.

The final score.

Getting ready to cut down the nets.

For various reasons, mainly the reconstruction of the Sewall Center into the sparkling new UPMC Events Center, which will be the Colonials new home beginning next season, we have not been on campus for several years, and being there today made us realize that we have missed it.  I am thinking that it just might be time come next fall to rejoin the ranks of RMU season ticket holders.

As has been the case, the NEC winner will probably get a #16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so their reward for today will no doubt be a match up with some power like UConn or Notre Dame.  Somehow, I think that the young women we saw today will welcome such a challenge, and that the inevitable outcome of such a game won't detract one bit from the luster of today's win.

Oh, and by the way.the RMU roster has only two seniors on it, so there is no reason the think that the run of NEC dominance for the ladies won't continue into next season.

Friday, March 15, 2019

To Absent Friends - John Mehno

John Mehno

Sad news was delivered today with the death of Pittsburgh area sportswriter John Mehno.  He was 64 years old.

Mehno wrote for various organizations over the years - Beaver County Times, Altoona Mirror, Associated Press, Sporting News.  In recent years he would do twice weekly columns that would appear online.  They were among the more trenchant and humorous pieces of sports writing that you would find here in the tri-state area.

I first became aware of John Mehno when he would sometimes substitute for various sports talk show hosts on the old WTAE 1250.  Many years ago, I asked him to speak at one of the Pittsburgh SABR meetings, and he gave a most informative and entertaining summary of his history with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I ran into him on several occasions over the years since then and he was always a friendly a gracious guy with whom to have a conversation.

He was also a Facebook friend, and would always respond to your comments and posts.  I can say with great pride that he once referred me by name when quoting from "The Grandstander" in one of his columns a few years back.  Coming from a REAL sportswriter, that was a real compliment.  His observations on the Pittsburgh sports scene will be greatly missed.

RIP John Mehno.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Final Word on Le’Veon Bell

So, Le'Veon Bell signs a four year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets.  Last year, he turned down a five year, $70 million contract with the Steelers.  I attempted to read an article on Deadspin that purported to detail how much money was guaranteed in each contract, but halfway through it, my eyes started watering and my head started to hurt, so I quit.  I mean, who cares?

I will say this for Bell, he took a principled stand and sat out a year in order to get what he felt he was worth, so good for him.  That he acted like knucklehead during his holdout with tweets from jet-skis and strip clubs, sort of takes some of the Sam Gompers/Curt Flood like aura away from him, but still, you got to hand it to a guy who passed on 14.5 million bucks.  I am sure that the Steelers never thought it would go that far, and that, if they had it to do over, they would have traded him last summer for whatever they could have gotten (2nd round pick? 3rd round pick? a carton of jock straps?).   And don't you think that the Steelers might have used some of that $14.5 mil of cap space last year to have helped the team during the season?  Oh, well.

As it is, it certainly appears that Bell lost on the bet he made on himself.  Of course, when you sort through what the guaranteed dough was from the Steelers and is from the Jets, maybe he didn't, but I am pretty sure that he will never recover that fourteen point five large he DIDN'T get paid by the Steelers last year.

I was going to say a "Final Word" on Antonio Brown, but, really, I am just tired of that subject.  Instead, I will refer you to Joe Starkey's column in today's Post-Gazette.  Says it all:

Yes, the Steelers have lost a couple of major talents in Bell and Brown, but they did play last season without Bell, and James Conner, notwithstanding a couple of devastating fumbles in key situations, pretty much replaced him without a beat.  Brown's talents may be more difficult to replace, but let us all remember a critical number:

0 - The number of Super Bowls won by the Steelers with Bell and Brown in the lineup.

On another Steelers note, I was sorry to see that TE Jesse James has elected to sign as a free agent with Detroit.  I know that the Steelers will move on from this, but I always liked James, and thought he was an asset to the team.  I wish him well, and I hope that Vance McDonald can stay healthy for sixteen games next year.

Yes, this really WAS a catch!