Monday, March 29, 2010

The Wow of Steve

By Tony Mangia

ST.JOHN'S LOOKS TO LAVIN

Last call is being bellowed at that basketball dance club called the Red Storm and the pickings are getting slim. Coaches who seemed available just two drinks ago are sticking by their comely, significant others--Billy Donovan with Florida and Paul Hewitt leaving with his sweetheart Georgia Tech. Now, that all the hotties are gone, St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch will have to concentrate on buying shots for the "they're not so bads" and the "butterfaces." He could be left standing by himself in the parking lot.

St. John's went through this whole "don't go home alone" waltz when they fired the disgraced Mike Jarvis and let Hewitt slip through their fingers seven years ago. Norm Roberts was the consolation prize. Roberts cleaned house but, in six years, didn't exactly lead the program to it's high expectations. Why hasn't the university learned from it's past mistakes? Hewitt declined coming to Queens because his family likes it in Georgia and Donovan refused their offer because he wasn't really even available. Shouldn't Monasch and his experts pre-screen applicants before sending out high and mighty smoke signals. Their speed dating style of hiring makes the university seem almost as desperate than it actually is. Pretty paramours sense this despair in a person and it's not attractive.

What is attractive is cash. St. John's boosters have dangled a three million dollar carrot at Donovan; so the money is there for the right person. The transition should be pretty easy too. The Red Storm bring back five starters from this season's NIT team and it gets to play in Madison Square Garden--even though visiting fans seem to outnumber Johnnie loyalists at every game. Even the Garden is getting a little impatient with St. John's box office appeal.

The list of coaching suspects has dwindled through attrition and lack of star power. Fran McCaffrey has signed with Iowa and Seth Greenberg has signed a new pact with Viginia Tech. Boston College's Al Skinner's name keeps popping up but whose name hasn't. There's Rhode Island's Jim Baron and Harvard's Tommy Ammaker as well as all the usual coaching suspects. Skinner is a similar version of Roberts, only with a couple of modest trips to the NCAAs, but he is from the Big East and doesn't stand out like a Donovan or even Hewitt. But now comes the emergence of back burner Steve Lavin into the mix. Monasch has been meeting with Lavin and local New York papers have reported that Lavin has expressed interest in the job. Who knew?

Lavin is currently on ESPN as a basketball analyst. He would bring big name wattage to the St. John's program. Oh yeah, in case you forgot, he coached at UCLA--the Mecca of college hoops. I think the guy can withstand the bright lights of the New York Media. Wooden, Alcindor and Walton are just a few of the names he followed. In seven years, Lavin led the Bruins to six 20-plus wins, six NCAA Tournaments and five Sweet 16s. He runs a clean program and put players like Baron Davis and many others into the NBA. That's a pretty impressive resume.

The two major knocks against Lavin are that he has been out of the game as coach since 2003 and, secondly, he has no New York ties. Two important considerations although the first complaint is bogus because Lavin has his hands on the college game as an ESPN analyst and he is young enough (46) for the game to not pass him by. The second hurdle is over-analyzed. The name of the game is recruiting and nothing says "come to St. John's" like having a coach boasting a successful career at Pauley Pavilion. Lavin did have some local ties--he talked with a recruits Lamar Odom and Andre Barrett while he coached--and there is talk he could persuade old friend Barry Rohrssen from his coaching perch at Manhattan. Rohrssen, the recruiter who basically ran a direct subway line of blue-chippers to Pitt, would be a Red Storm dream. Think about how many great city players he lured to Pittsburgh at poor Norm Roberts expense. Think about all those New York and New Jersey kids coming to the Jamaica campus and actually committing.

A few other determining factors surround Lavin. Does he fit the St. John's profile? What, the losing that has become synonymous with Alumni Hall? Any one who is hired will always be compared to the basically incomparable Louie Carnesseca. Get over it! Tight shorts, traveling calls and twenty five years have gone the wayside. Alumni are tired of hearing about the "glory days." DePaul, another big-time program on the ropes, has been sending flowers and chocolate to Lavin but, I'm sure, the white lights of Broadway are probably the only beacons that can compare with the premiere kliegs of Hollywood. Lavin's slicked-back hair, starched shirts and L.A. smile will be as welcome as Louie's garish sweaters were back in the '80's.

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE BIG HOUSE?

Nice to see Dwight "Doc" Gooden keeping on the straight and narrow. Has a player ever tumbled so low? Maybe Darryl Strawberry. Last week the ex-Met and ex-Yankee was snagged in New Jersey for a DUI--driving under the influence of drugs. This time he crashed with his kid in the car. Maybe he was hanging out with Texas Ranger coach Ron Washington who tested positive for cocaine in a random drug test. It was "my first time," explained the 57 year-old coach. He should have claimed, "a coked up girl in a nightclub kissed me" excuse European tennis players seem to get away with. There is no excuse for Gooden. This time 'Doc' will probably do time in the pen--and I don't mean the bullpen.

DANCING WITH THE BIGGEST LOSER

The New York Jets football team has signed up for 'Hard Knocks' on HBO. Just what the team needs--more controversy. If I was HBO, I would break down their weekly sports program into mini-reality shows. First, you have the "The Biggest Loser" starring the stomach stapled coach Rex Ryan. Every week fans can watch him shrink in size and blow up at his press conferences. Next you could do a version of 'The Apprentice' starring Mark Sanchez. Let's see if his rookie year was an illusion or if he'll be "fired." Braylon Edwards would be perfect for 'Dancing with the Stars.' I mean, he's a receiver, right? Finally, you could have Antonio Cromartie, the 'Octodad', in "Wife Swap." Imagine the hijinks of a single father scrounging up cash for child support payments and play dates for his nine kids by eight different moms? That's enough for a paternity suit trial every Sunday night.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Big Least, Big Red and little Pingping

By Tony Mangia

Nicest weather in five months and I'm stuck in bed all weekend with a chest cold. At least I had the NCAA brackets to tide me over and what a wild ride it was! I'm still holding on to seven teams in the Sweet Sixteen--amazingly I'm in a better position than most of my friends!

The Northern Iowa/Kansas regional was a classic Davis and Goliath match-up although the Iowans almost choked at the end. Forty percent of the ESPN Tournament Challenge had Kansas in the finals, so I guess there was a lot of hair pulling in the office pools. Speaking of Goliath; didn't a few of those Northern Iowa players resemble the 40 year-old men who played for the Soviet bloc Olympic teams of the seventies? It looked like half of them were balding and covered with facial and body hair that no teenager I ever knew had. Maybe it's that Midwestern, corn-fed farm-boy thing. Rural life makes a young man grow up strong, fast and hirsute. The Panthers really are a good team--"big, strong like yak," as Sergei would probably say. And some those Kansas players; where'd they get all the money for those $200 custom tattoos? One kid was covered with about 10 grand worth of body art. I guess those summer landscaping jobs pay well. Too bad the Jayhawks players didn't ink instructions on how to block out and hit three pointers on their forearms--it would have made the team booster's money well spent.

I'll make my comments on the mighty Big East Conference's NCAA Tournament brief: even shorter than Tiger Woods' Thanksgiving night explanations. Four teams went down in the first round--three of them to way-lower seeds! Funny how some people were griping that two or three more teams from that conference should have gotten in. Some pundits claim it's because the teams beat the hell out each other during the season and, by the 12th round (tournament time), they are out of steam. What, the other conferences play 'Dancing with the Stars?" I think they should let in more Ivy League schools anyway--less body art and furry guys.

The media--especially CBS's exasperated announcers-- make a big fuss about the 'Cinderella' teams. Everyone loves the underdog and upset teams like Northern Iowa, St. Mary's, and the Big Red of Cornell are about as rare as tourists in Times Square after the first round but, this year, with many of the top seeds already punched out, the little guys stand a chance of getting into the Final Four. Parity and neutral playing sites play big factors in affording mid-major conference teams their shots at glory and at least make the emo-end-of-night video recaps on CBS more heartwarming.

Speaking of the little guys, I was sorry to hear about the passing of He Pingping last week at the ripe age of 21. At 29 inches, the Chinese He was named the world's shortest man according to the Guinness Book of World Records--even though Khagendra Thapa Magar, 18, of Nepal has whined that at 20 inches, he is the rightful title owner. That's what set Pingping apart. He was who He was. Who could forget the little man hustling gawkers for cigarettes in exchange for a photo of himself or He checking out the ladies from the knees up.

TYSON MAY FACE TOUGHEST FOE

PETA, the animal rights group, is trying to clip the wings on Mike Tyson's upcoming pigeon-racing show on Animal Planet. PETA claims there are wages placed on the races and it violates New York's anti-gambling laws. The group has sent a letter to the Brooklyn DA in protest and claims it "disturbs the birds." I bet Tyson treats his rats-with-wings better than he once did a Robin--Robin Givens, that is. PETA should petition that Aqueduct Racetrack gambling quagmire, also known as racino, instead. Wonder if any of the PETA people have the guts to splash red paint on the ex-heavyweight champ?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

PUT A TIGER IN YOUR SKANK

By Tony Mangia

The media is already comparing 'it' to the inauguration of President Obama--claiming 'it' will be the most anticipated broadcast in the past decade--maybe bigger than O.J.'s trial. Wow! A news scroll actually crept across the bottom of New York 1 News announcing 'it'--the station that prides itself on covering New York City and the city alone. 'It' is Tiger Woods proclamation that he will return to playing golf at this year's Masters Golf Tournament in April. Finally, the world can sigh and get back to the treadmill once again.

The Masters in Augusta, Georgia--what a perfect place for a man to hide. Home of the Green Blazer, protocol and a boy's club attitude. Remember how Martha Burk protested the "Men Only" membership policy and camped outside the gates of the famed club in protest a few years ago. Maybe some women's group will pitch a tent outside the hallowed venue this year. I don't get riled up about any club's right to legally adhere to outdated policies--no matter how biased they may seem--but Tiger sure picked the right place to make a comeback. Woods, once again, gets to be sheltered, pampered and privileged. Nothing has changed.

Augusta's tight security, closed practices, limited press, and kindergarten-type gallery rules--no running etc.--make it easy for Woods' public relations doctors to repair his image without the burden of answering the questions people want answered. The course is a spectator's gulag within 18 lush greens. Poor Tiger. First, he gets the kid gloves treatment after allegedly driving under the influence of Ambien--not even a blood test! Imagine if Tiger Shmo was in that situation? Now the high-browed principles of Augusta apply to everyone except Woods. What hypocrisy! If I hear anyone use the word 'hero' or 'courage' used in a sentence with his name, I'll leave this country like Alec Baldwin did when Bush got re-elected. Oh, he didn't? Well, maybe I'll just boycott Nike.

Golf, the gentleman's game; except how Tiger Woods plays it. Cursing and tossing clubs: that's says Mister Manners to me. Don't forget his caddy, Steve Williams, loudly scolding gallery members about cameras and noise--under the guise of protecting Woods--and now brashly promising to lay out anyone who dares to address his boss as a horn dog, "sex-addict" or some other anti-Tiger designation. Williams, you're a high-paid caddy not Furio on the Sopranos.

Tiger Woods has Augusta and CBS wrapped around his ring finger--next to his gold symbol of empty wedding vows. They should rename the tournament "The Master." Augusta is willing to soil its own name because the tournament and golf, in general, is so desperate for an audience that a single player can bring--and what a Nielson they will get. I understand it, ratings and money carry more clout than a player's reputation. Sports is not religion--except football in the SEC. I just hope the dignified members at Augusta remember Woods' disgraced wife and children back at home while checking out the leader board. I bet professional golf is hoping for a fairy tale ending. I'm leaning more towards the "South Park" finale. I still remember Woods' own mom at his press 'statement' last month--rarely did she raise her eyes to look up at him. Too bad millions of raised eyes will be closely watching Woods in a few weeks; but not too closely if his caddy and the Masters bigwigs have their way.

KICKAPOOS AND KICKFLIPS

If you get a chance, get down to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian at One Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan. The exhibit, "A Song for the Horse Nation" runs until July 7. It's a wonderful look at the horse and its influence on Native Americans combined with an interesting side gallery that looks at skate boarding in the modern Native American Nation.

Artifacts include a 110 year-old Iroquois lacrosse stick to a turn of the century (1900) North Dakota Sioux child's sled made from giant buffalo rib bones. A fringed and beaded (made from seeds) Pawnee coat from 1910 with the name 'Lone Wolf" sewn across the back shoulders resembles the colors worn by the Hell's Angels. You can envision these bands of emblazoned horsemen stampeding across the plains like a gang of bikers rolling down the flats of I-80. Whether used for hunting, sport or warfare, this exhibit extols the horsemanship of the tribes and the virtues of the horse on the native people

If you like tail-slides and goofy foots mixed with an underdog story, check out the skateboarding exhibit. It recounts how the sport has grown throughout Native American reservations throughout the west. One of the first competitions was a tiny gathering in an dusty Apache reservation at Whitewater, Arizona and has grown into a tour event. Native Americans are now some of the best half-pipers and a 4-wheel Warpony Company spokesperson says proudly that it is the only board making outfit run solely by Apaches. Check out the photos and crude wood boards from the '70's. The museum is open 7 days and is one of New York's great bargains--it's free!.

SHORT JABS

Nomar Garciaparra has announced his retirement. Whatever happened to comparing the big four shortstops 10 years ago--Jeter, A-Rod, Tejeda and Garciaparra? They all have good numbers but Jeter's five rings are what sets him apart. I don't think Nomar is a Hall of Fame caliber player--good but not great.

I hope Mike Tyson's new pigeon raising reality show isn't on the Food Channel.

Jet's Rex Ryan had stomach-clamping surgery to lose weight. Good for him. I hope he had surgery for his giant-sized head too. After his body shrinks, we could be looking a life-sized bobblehead doll in the future. By the way, the Giants should open the new arena and it will always be known as Giants Stadium! Coin toss or not.

How come there aren't any cheese items on a Chinese menu? No General Tso's chicken parmigiana or spring roll nachos. Just curious.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Into the Buzzsaw

PACQUIAO BATTERS CLOTTEY
By Tony Mangia


On Saturday night, 50 thousand sets of eyes glared at Cowboys Stadium's immense Jumbo screen expecting a good boxing match. What they got was a showcase reel of the the best fighter out there today. Manny Pacquiao totally dominated the bigger and stronger Joshua Clottey; hence turning Clottey into a human heavy bag.

Pacquiao's Energizer Bunny style had Clottey covering up and taking a consistant barrage of punches--over 1200 were thrown by the champion and he landed 256--but it's the amazing blitzkrieg of rights and lefts that's jaw dropping--and jaw-breaking. "When you're in the buzzsaw," said Pacman's trainer, Freddie Roach, "It's very difficult to do anything." That's an understatement. Clottey turtled up throughout the whole fight--rarely throwing a punch. Even Clottey's trainer, Lenny DeJesus, couldn't endorse the Ghandian's calmer, more defensive style. "He was reluctant to punch, " said the disappointed DeJesus. Pacquiao has amazing stamina and wears down opponents. He loses no speed when he goes up in weight class and the power is always there. Pacquiao didn't knock out Clottey--like his last four challengers--but he has the stuff to floor an opponent who doesn't cover up. Hear that Floyd Mayweather Jr?!

The champion's busier, quicker style could be a disaster to Mayweather's showboating shtick but, that's the fight everyone wants. Pacquiao is the face of boxing today. Undefeated Mayweather is the previous poster boy. Imagine the audience for that bout? People would burst the doors and swing from the giant TV at the 100K capacity stadium in Texas--never mind the millions watching on pay-per-view. Roach claims Mayweather is ducking his fighter. " Why doesn't he just get in the ring and fight us?," asks the trainer of the Filipino.

If everything goes according to plan the fight of the year could come by November, according to Top Rank's promoter, Bob Arum. Pacquiao's humble beginnings from living in a cardboard house in Manila and his assent to boxing royalty has turned him into the most visible man in his homeland. He plans to run for congress in a few weeks. This is no pipe dream either. A wealthy politician is the foe in the close contest but, Pacquiao's recent victories have sent his profile skyrocketing. Pacquiao could put one of his old jockstraps on the election ballot and it could win in a first round knockout!

Political aspirations are the first roadblock to the big fight. Secondly, Mayweather's got an upcoming fight against a fading--but still formidable--Shane Mosley in May and, finally; both boxer's teams have to reach an agreement regarding testing blood from the fighters. Mayweather's homeboys insist Pacquiao is juicing. Roach has said his fighter will comply with any legalities for testing within the state they fight--nothing more. Eight months, charges of ducking and doping are all that stand in the way of the biggest and most anticipated fight in years. The fight should be in the ring between the fighters--not outside between lawyers. 'Congressman' Pacquiao vs. 'Pretty Boy' Mayweather has a nice ring to it.

IF 6(4) TURNED OUT TO BE 9(6), I WOULD MIND

Still can' get pumped up for the NCAA's without a strong St. John's team. Hey we made the NIT. Yea! Now they have a chance to continue playing, win, and become the "65th best team." This gets me to the talk about expanding the field to 96 teams--what a stupid idea! Even that silly 'play-in' game is a joke. Those two teams are like...the 200th best teams in the country. The NIT gets no respect as it is and who wants anymore .500 teams clogging up the field? I know it's CBS's way of getting another 'greatest weekend of sports' (executive speak: more ad revenue) but it takes the fun out of selection Sunday and screaming matches about the 'bubble' teams. Think about it, is more air time with the exuberant Dick Vitale worth it? If there were 96 teams this year; The Big East would have 13 teams competing. Maybe they could just re-name it the Big East Tournament? The upper echelon teams would have to cool their heels an extra week and by the time it's over, they'll probably have to call it "May Madness."

Anyway, if anyone cares, my dark horses are BYU and New Mexico. Final Four picks are Big East-3 (Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia) Kansas-1. Jayhawks defeat Bob Huggin's squeaky clean (say that once without laughing) Mountaineers in the final.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MARCH SADNESS

THE GOOD GUY GETS THE HURL
By Tony Mangia


The first couple of weeks March used to bring the excitement of the Big East Tournament and the Sunday Selection Show on CBS onto my television screen but, for the past few years, I have paid no attention to these broadcasts. I am a St. John's alum. Since the early nineties, our March basketball memories have been barren as a Red Storm home game at the Garden. Combined with the lowly Knicks--who's management seems to run the team as well as politicians run the senate in Albany--basketball is dead in this city. Don't even get me started on the Nets and their pathetic belief that Jay Z is bringing Lebron James to Newark. New York basketball fans have little to cheer or even look forward to--I repeat, LeBron is not coming!

As a St. John's fan, the worst thing that could have happened against Connecticut in a first round tournament game occurred, the Johnnies won. The most die hard fan had to wince at the upset victory--even if it was against our number one nemesis, Jim Calhoun. Calhoun, the captain who rights the crooked ship that is the Huskies basketball team. Calhoun, the father-figure who suspends wayward players for the season only to reinstate them just in time for the Big East season opener. Calhoun, the coach who allegedly sends his assistant coaches to hang around verbally-committed high schoolers to re-direct them up to Storrs. This victory buys time for St.John's coach Norm Roberts, but, for how long?

Don't get me wrong, Roberts is a decent man. You hear him described like that a lot. He took over from New York basketball xenophobe, Mike Jarvis. Jarvis, who never met a local AAU player he liked, famously ran the program into the ground with player payoffs ($300 to a second rate center) and the infamous Pittsburgh stripper extortion plot--thank god for video phones! Roberts deserves better than to be canned--but he must go. How do fire a quiet, hard-working company man just for not keeping up with a grand tradition. How do you pink slip a New York guy with four returning senior starters? Jim Calhoun (whom Roberts hated for an alleged tampering violation) praised Roberts after the Huskies lost--probably because he knows he can raid the city high schools for prospects right from under Roberts' nose. It's a tough call.

Experts say Norm Roberts couldn't recruit. He did a pretty good job at Illinois and Kansas under Bill Self. Now he seems to lose two or three local blue chippers every year. St. John's is on nearly every highly recruited city school boy's wish list with other top basketball schools, i.e. Duke, Kentucky and the reviled Connecticut, only to fall out of contention. Every year fans would wait on bated breath until announcement day and then reality set in--no blue chipper would be destined to the Queens school. Maybe it wasn't all Robert's fault. The Jamaica campus isn't a destination college. They've rebuilt the training, dorm and gyms and it offers a 30 minute train ride to Manhattan and the shrine of basketball, Madison Square Garden. All nice enticements, but it's a commuter university first and doesn't have the dorm life of let's say Syracuse. Most of all, St. John's has lost it's tradition. It still lives through the old 'Redmen' teams of Mullin, Berry and Jackson. Ex- coach, Fran Fraschilla, was a great recruiter (Artest and Omar Cook come to mind) and he coached his teams into the tournament but he was run out of town for his aggressive style (allegedly pulling his pants down to motivate his team). He's a peach pie compared to Jarvis. No one has pulled in a blue chip athlete since Fraschilla's reign. Jarvis' success was based on Fraschilla's core players.

Norm Roberts had a tough challenge when he started. "We were at rock bottom," is how he modestly described the situation. The Vincentian fathers at St. John's needed an honest man with integrity and, in the back of their minds, local basketball ties but, after six years, his profile is still so low, I doubt most college basketball fans know his name--not even in media crazy New York. Legendary coach, Louie Carnesecca, still gets more camera time when he shows up at the games.

Roberts was never the best strategic coach, yet he proudly guided his team through two NCAA probationary seasons without complaint. One would like to say if the games were only one half long, the 2010 team would be 28-4. Roberts' team could go 20 minutes with anyone but the games are 40 minutes. This, sadly in Roberts' case, comes down to coaching.

At this writing, the wind is blowing towards Roberts' dismissal. The Big East Tournament is in it's quarterfinal rounds and the NIT teams haven't been announced. I don't want to see the coach flapping in that breeze. This year's team deserves to participate in the NIT at the Garden, but six years of 'wait until next season' won't do. St. John's University's basketball program is the cherry on top of New York's college teams. Fordham, Iona, and Manhattan all have history but without the prestige of a St. John's. College basketball survives without the Johnnies but, being in the country's largest market, it couldn't hurt to have a good, broadcast-worthy New York City team? I wish Norm Roberts the best and hope the next coach does as well as the # 17 St. John's women's team is doing. Go Redmen...oops go Red Storm!

WHY IS THIS WOMAN STILL IN OUR COUNTRY?

Naomi Campbell--who James Cameron must have based the bodies of the Na'vi in Avatar on-- is still roaming the streets of New York. She allegedly slapped another underling who ignored one of her majesty's creeds. So how are those anger management classes working out for her? I thought she was on the "No Fly" list and had to submit to those new body scanning machines at the airport--looking for cell phones, i-pods and other high-tech weapons she can throw. Here's a reason to keep her for a while: put her on the under card of the 'in the works' Tyson-Holyfield fight. She could battle that Baylor women's basketball player, Brittney Griner, who punched an opposing player last week. Imagine that, 13 feet of women slugging it out and not an electronic device inside the ring.

Monday, March 8, 2010

FILMS WITH BALLS

By Tony Mangia

Caught the Oscars last night and was glad to see Jeff Bridges earn a statue for his portrayal of a down and out country singer, Otis 'Bad' Blake, in 'Crazy Heart.' I was happy Bridges earned the award and wasn't accused of getting it as a 'lifetime acheivement'reward ala Paul Newman for 'The Color of Money' and Al Pacino for 'Scent of a Woman.' Both of them should have had locked up the Oscar for their respective roles in films like 'The Hustler,' 'The Verdict,' 'Serpico,' and 'Dog Day Afternoon.'

At the ceremony, Mo'Nique's abusive mom in 'Precious' definitely deserved the Best Supporting Actress Award but, I gotta admit, her acceptance speech sounded eerily like her character. It was a little scary. Sandra Bullock pulled in an Academy Award for her role in a sports movie, 'The Blind Side'--the true story of the underprivileged teen who becomes an NFL player. It won't rank up there with some of the great sports films but isn't "The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh'or any sports satire starring Will Ferrell. Ferrell has gotten a case of 'John Candyitis'--an affliction where actors are funnier in smaller doses as supporting roles.

Sports movies come in all styles; comedic, nostalgic, gritty and based-in-truth. First criteria to determine if its a sport; if you can eat a hot dog while participating, it ain't a sport. This eliminates all chess films and, sorry Minnesota Fats fans, any billiards films. Darts and softball are out too. Golf movies have, let's say, a five handicap with these rules but we'll get to that later.

Good baseball films usually satisfy the purists and traditionalists. 'The Natural' and 'Field of Dreams' sate the intellect and remind diamond fans of summers past--thinking man's films. 'Bull Durham' could technically be called a 'chick flick.' Hell, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are making a movie about the '70's wife-swapping Yankee teammates Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. Wonder what angle those Red Sox lovers will take on that storyline? Where's the sport in that? 'Hoosiers' and 'Rudy' celebrate the underdog in all of us. To rise up and conquer--a great premise but usually has more sap than a maple tree. These types of film will not make my list of greatest sports films. Watch these with your father or grand dad if you need a good cry. A top-notch sports flick has some angst and realism but is tinged with raucous humor.

First, a good sports movie has to have a flawed hero with a going-against-the grain morality. Burt Reynolds in 'The Longest Yard' (not the unbelievably lame remake--come on...really... Adam Sandler?) and Paul Newman in 'Slapshot' succeed on these criterias. They both drink, whore and live on past glory. Reynolds as Paul 'Wrecking' Crewe steals his girlfriend's car and drunkenly hits a cop--not to mention he has been banned from the NFL for shaving points! Incredibly, we are on his side at the end of the film. Newman's Reggie Dunlop is one of sports films great characters just because he drives a GTO muscle car and can actually look cool in leather bell-bottoms and a fur coat. Derek Sanderson was the only hockey player (or any white athlete) who could pull off that look without cringing. The whole film seems organic--grown out of the most prolific era (1967-77) of studio-backed, character based productions. "Puttin' on the foil, coach," has to be one of the greatest lines for any sports fan and from three of the wildest teammates--the Hanson brothers--ever created. Whether they were kicking the cans out of a soda machine or those of their opponents during the national anthem, they were three of filmdom's truest hellraisers--even when childishly arguing over slot cars. 'Slapshot' is even more impressive because, as one of the great guy's movies, the profane script was written by a woman (Nancy Dowd)!

Boxing has no problem lending itself to great themes like drama and corruption. Rod Serling's (an amateur boxer)'Requiem for a Heavyweight' is one of the good ones but must throw in the towel to two of the best characterizations in film history. They belong to Sylvester Stallone as the simple overachiever Rocky Balboa in Best Picture winner "Rocky" and Robert DeNiro's adapted portrayal of corrupted pugilist Jake LaMotta in "The Raging Bull." Inside the ring, both men are similar with their animalistic brute force fighting style but, outside the ropes their lives sit in opposite corners. Who can forget the leg-breaker, Rocky, showing sympathy to one of his intended victims or him mumbling sweet nothings to his pet turtles; while LaMotta smacks his young wife around and, later, ends up in a jail cell bashing his own bloated head against the wall--a victim of his wasted life. Micheal Chapman's black and white photography and action shots in 'Raging Bull' has never been duplicated. Watch it and it takes you back to the golden age of boxing.

Looking at the short list of honorable mentions, one cannot ignore the merits of "The Wrestler." Pro wrestling is more entertainment than sport, but the sport, New Jersey, and a broken athlete have never looked sadder, darker and more real. Best Picture nominee, "Breaking Away" was a fine look at aimless young men finding purpose and overcoming odds with a comedic edge and a bike race in the finale. This all leads to a slippery slope. Forget what I said earlier about golf. It's got a ball so it's a sport. I guess I would have to include "Kingpin" as a good film under these terms too--so...I pulled a 'munson.' This means 'Caddyshack'--the mother of all sports comedies--has to be included on this list. How many great lines--"You wanna make 14 dollars the hard way" and "Will you loofah my stretch marks?"--have been repeated from this movie. Bill Murray--at his finest- as Carl Spackler teeing off the flowers or fantasizing about the gelatinous thighs of Mrs. Crane. Rodney Dangerfield's, "Who sat on a duck?" and his razzing of the pompous Judge Smails, wonderfully played by the incomparable Ted Knight. Good sports films don't have to make you cry or think. Films are an escape. How about a Fresca!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Fighter is a Lonely Hunter


By Tony Mangia

Pop! Pop! Silence. Pop, pop! A man's feet shuffle to his left on the blue, blood speckled canvas. Pop! Pop! Sixteen ounce gloves slap the padded hands of his handler accompanied by low grunts. The 30-second bell beeps. The fighter weaves and ducks under the slow, sweeping pad of the trainer. Dozens of cameras capture the action through the ropes. Reporters and analysts stare at the fighter--inspecting him like he was a prize dairy cow at a farm auction. Two more pops. Multiple dings emphatically signal the end of the round. Joshua Clottey drops his gloves and heads to the red corner. He curses about something under his breath--a mis-fired punch, maybe? No one at ringside could tell. He looked sharp, sounded sharp. "Take it easy," the manager, Vincent Scolpino, quietly urges. Clottey's face tightens. Clottey is a man on a mission--he is fighting the World Welterweight Champion in eight days. He has something to prove.

Clottey's skin is beaded with sweat. The manager squirts water into Clottey's mouth and towels the perspiration from his face. Nothing is said. Clottey breaks away and paces the ring. Camera flashes burst and Clottey has the presence of mind to give everyone surrounding the ring a frontal shot. He doesn't smile or frown. His sweatpants and three layers of tee-shirts are soaked through. There is nothing flashy or phony about about this 32 year-old fighter who has 38 pro bouts under his belt--including a world championship.

What drives a man to step into the ring--millions of dollars now--but what compels him to step into for the first time? Respect, vengeance or maybe necessity? Joshua Clottey's story begins as a member of the "Ga" tribe in Accra,Ghana. The streets (or dirt roads) of Ghana have produced top-ranked boxers like Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey. They trained in Bukom and that's where Clottey laced up his first gloves. Ghanian fighters are known to fight in a patient, methodical manner, knowing how and when to attack. Clottey epitomizes this style and says,"Ghanians are by nature, proud and polite. They perform their tasks neatly, down to woman carrying a car battery on her head." Don't let this analogy fool you. Clottey has an agressive style and good movement. He is strong, has punching power, and can wear you down in the late rounds.

Clottey's opponent is Manny Pacquiao, 31, of the Philippines, widely considered the best 'pound for pound' boxer in the world. The Boxing Writer's Association of America recently called Pacquiao the 'Fighter of the Decade, 2000-2009.' Not bad credentials considering that Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. come from that same era.

Clottey may be concentrating on Pacquiao now but, possibly, in the back of his head is his fight with Miguel Cotto last June at Madison Square Garden. Many felt that the Puerto Rican, Cotto, won a favorable home crowd split decision against Clottey by hanging on for the final three rounds, which were pretty much dominated by the Ghanian. Clottey, now a Bronx resident, was on the cusp of superstardom in the fight world. Now he is only known as a good fighter. If that match was still on his mind, Clottey didn't show it while running on the treadmill. Clottey, surrounded by cameras and tape recorders at Kingsway Gym in mid-town Manhattan, ran at a steady gait and gave curt answers. "It's past," and "I'm fine," he answered reporters in his African accent. Still, he never cracked a smile or a pained face. "Done," was all he said as he hopped off the treadmill and got laced up by his trainers. No posse, loud music or theatrics. Clottey's small team is all business.

Is it respect that Clottey seeks? Maybe it is vengeance or necessity. It's hard to know. Joshua Clottey is a pro. He is also a heavy underdog in Dallas on March 13. A long shot maybe, but could that be what drives him? For the next 8 days the media's glare will surround him in a sport that is yearning right now to secure big name bouts. Boxing needs this fight. Clottey needs this fight. Even with the spotlight on 'The Event", boxing is still a one on one sport. No ball, no bat, no racket and no teammates--just two single men on a canvas floor. Forty thousand people will be in Cowboys Stadium and millions will be watching worldwide, still, Clottey will be hunting alone-- one man in the loneliest sport.

Monday, March 1, 2010

From Shamu to Sashimi

By Tony Mangia

The tragic death of a whale trainer in Florida last week has brought out animal activists in droves and --in this case--I have to agree with these paint-throwing fanatics. Tillikum, an orca, drowned experienced Sea World employee, Dawn Brancheau, by dragging her down by her hair, according to experts. Why is this so hard to comprehend? This whale had a rap sheet. He apparently killed two others since 1991. He was the Plaxico/Vick of water worlds. A six ton creature who lives in pods and dines on people shaped seals shouldn't be put in solitary confinement and expected to co-habitat with food-sized humans or perform like a friendly dolphin. These trainers are entertainers, as well as athletes, but the whales are natural hunters, migratory mammals with wild feral tendencies in their spouted heads. They're called killer whales for a reason! I don't know if you can free 'Tilly' without complications but he and the other orcas belong in the wild. He shouldn't end up as a special on the local sushi bar either.

Down on the Farm

Know how I know Spring is around the corner? Lupica has pulled out his Red Sox pom-poms and is getting ready to skewer the Yankees for another season. Every time he writes about human growth hormones and steroids, Lupica is fast to mention Mark McGwire and A-Rod. He never mentions his boy, Big Papi! Isn't Ortiz the guy who two seasons ago said anyone caught using performance enhancing drugs should be 'banned for life!' Ortiz made his tear-filled admission last year and he's still in uniform. McGwire and A-Rod lied and didn't initially admit using but, at least, they aren't hypocrites. Speaking of McGwire, how about his brother Jay ratting him out in a new book. He's Fredo to Mark's Michael in The Godfather. Who said blood is thicker than the juice?
Notice how A-Rod is slowly morphing into Jeter. Loss of weight, same haircut and more likable personality...oh yeah, clutch hitting in the playoffs too. Think Damon will grow back his "idiot' hair and beard in secession from the Yankees?

E-Sex-PN

Tony Kornheiser's remark about Hannah Storm's outfit should not start the fire storm (no pun intended) it has. I find his off-color remarks captured 'off-guard' during PTI's commercial breaks more offensive. Storm is a looker but the outfit was just a few notches down from some Lady GaGa design. Kornheiser is spit-flying annoying even for ESPN network's 'in your face' boy's club edict. Many women in broadcasting, i.e. The View, seem to get away with reverse sexism and innuendo while some probably get their jobs because of their attractiveness (NOT The View) and nothing more. One of Tiger Woods mistresses, Rachel Uchitel, booked a correspondent position on a national entertainment show while hooker Ashley Dupre has parlayed a romp with Eliot Spitzer into a relationship advice column in the New York Post. Think ESPN's'sex-addict' Steve Phillips will ever get a Dear Abby forum for himself? He shouldn't either. Storm and ESPN should have played it like they do Barry Melrose's mullet or Mike Golic's girth--just breaking chops-- and if they are really serious about sexism they would get rid of the Victoria's Secret models at the Espys.

SNOW DAZE


CURLING, YOU HAD ME AT HARDER!
By Tony Mangia

Have to admit the 2010 Winter Games ended with a bang. The men's hockey final lived up to all the hype and women's hockey became more popular due to the cigars and Molson's episode on Saturday. Is there a 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor' law in British Columbia? Who knew the Finnish men's goalie would yank himself out of the game faster than Governor Paterson would pull himself out of his reelection bid. I think the Gov got the hint when more media showed up for his quitting press conference than his running for office speech. Canada won the big one--the hockey gold. I'm sure America will recover. I had self-denying friends in Quebec who didn't answer their phones for two days after last week's preliminary round loss to the U.S.. Think Sidney Crosby will ever have to pay for a Canadian beer ever again. The United States padded it's medal totals with meaningless bronze and silvers. The Canucks total of 14 gold means they have 14 winter game champions while America has a paltry 9--even with 270 million more people. Heck, Germany had 10 golds.
Don't know who was more dejected this weekend, the cable news networks for wasting three hours of air time waiting for the tsunami to hit the coast of Hawaii or the brass at NBC for over-hyping Lindsey Vonn for the past three months. Does one gold and a bronze with 3 DNF's merit a Wheatie's box or a cover of Maxim.
A couple of suggestions to spice up the games next time--one, get rid of all the DQ's in short track skating. Put the competitors in body armor and turn it into human demolition derby--like Rollerball on ice. Second, combine luge with curling. Call it 'lurling' or 'cuge'. Human rocks slide off a track into the oval. Sweepers would have to move fast. Think of it-- the danger of luge combined with the strategy of curling--X-sports at its best.
Finally, the closing ceremonies didn't disappoint. They eventually brought out the big guns Canada is known for--comedians. I am still waiting for the McKenzie Brothers though, eh? The festivities included all our northern brothers are sadly known for--Mounties, moose and maple leaves. What, they forgot the all-nude bars in Toronto? Oh wait, they also brought out some giant beaver balloons.