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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Gettleman's plan isn't really a plan after all

From the minute that Dave Gettleman took over as the general manager of the New York Football Giants, he said that he had a plan.

Gettleman asked everyone to be patient; that rebuilding a team with such a historic ledger of success would take some time. But Gettleman assured us that he indeed had a plan moving forward.

So that plan included trading the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the league for a fifth round pick and shipping off a former first-round cover cornerback for a seventh rounder.

The plan obviously included trading the team’s best pass rusher for an offensive guard, allowing the team’s best safety to walk away free and clear with getting nothing in return and then, the best move of all, trading the franchise’s best player and top receiver, one of the best pass catchers to ever play the game, for a package of draft picks and a player who was already declared a bust in his former place of employment.

So trading Snacks Harrison and Eli Apple, getting rid of Olivier Vernon and Landon Collins and finally jettisoning Odell Beckham, Jr. aside, Gettleman headed into this week’s critical NFL Draft with 12 picks, the highest total of any team in the league. This was going to be a make-or-break draft for Gettleman. This was going to be the draft that would set him above everyone as an elite executive in the NFL.

So what does Gettleman do with his crucial draft, with the No. 6 pick overall? He takes a quarterback that no one had on their radar going that high.

We don’t know whether or not Daniel Jones is going to be a good signal caller in the NFL. He might be the second coming of Peyton Manning or even Eli Manning for that matter. We have no idea.

But it looks as if Gettleman has no idea either. And that’s what is scary.

Why in God’s good football-loving name would you take a quarterback at No. 6, a guy who you have declared as being a “franchise quarterback,” when you just agreed in principle to pay the heir apparent in the QB role, namely the aforementioned Eli Manning, the absurd total of $26 million to play this season for the Giants? If you were intent with taking a quarterback that high in the draft, then why give Manning the $5 million signing bonus you handed him last month? Why not just cut Manning free and turn the team over to Jones?

That is, if he’s truly the “franchise quarterback” you proclaim him to be. If he’s that good, then let Jones play right from the outset and let Eli find another job elsewhere.
The whole thing makes absolutely no sense. But then again, neither did the trades of Harrison and Apple for less than their value, neither did getting rid of Vernon when everyone knows he’s more talented than the rest of the pass rushers out there and certainly neither did getting rid of the franchise’s best player in OBJ for two draft picks and Jabrill Peppers, who you believe can actually play strong safety in the NFL, but you may be alone in those thoughts.

If Gettleman has a plan like he says he does, it would be nice to clue the rest of the world in on it. Because if he does have a plan, then why does he sign a slot receiver like Golden Tate to a ridiculously overpriced contract when you have a great slot receiver already in Sterling Shepard? And then, you make matters worse by giving Shepard an inflated contract, which means you now have two slot receivers making $10 million a year. Unless you’re bringing Mouse Davis out of retirement and installing the old “run and shoot” offense for Eli to run this season or for that matter Daniel Jones, then spending $20 mill on two slot receivers is frankly asinine.

But let’s get back to the source of this rant: Why in the world would you take a quarterback at No. 6 when you have so many other glaring needs? I mean, Josh Allen of Kentucky and Ed Oliver of Houston, two defensive studs who have graded out to be future All-Pros, were available to the Giants when they picked at No. 6. I firmly believe Oliver will be the second coming of Aaron Donald. I think Oliver is a superstar and the Buffalo Bills fleeced the rest of that league with that pick.

However, I also said that Olivier Vernon would become the second-best defensive player to ever play for the Giants and I kind of got that one wrong. Hey, I was right about LT being the best one. So give me some credit.

But I absolutely love Ed Oliver as a player and I think Josh Allen is a sure-fire stud as well. Gettleman doesn’t think so, because he took a quarterback that no one had that high on the draft board. No team was taking a quarterback in this draft. It was a weak draft for quarterbacks.

Notice that the next team to take a QB was Washington and they took Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State with the No. 15 pick. And the Redskins had a desperate need to take a quarterback because they don’t have a healthy one on their entire roster.

Still, there’s a big difference between No. 6 and No. 15, besides nine draft slots. Gettleman had to take a look at what the other teams needed and play the draft. After all, Gettleman had another first round pick at No. 17, you know, the pick they got for getting rid of OBJ. So Gettleman could have picked either Oliver or Allen with the No. 6 pick, then waited to see what happened. If he still wanted Jones, more than likely, he was going to be there at No. 17.

Then if Gettleman took Jones, even though he didn’t have a dire need for a QB, at No. 17, he could have taken the stud defensive player and a quarterback and everyone would have applauded, although it still didn’t make sense to pay Eli all that cash if you were intent on drafting his eventual replacement.

The Giants were 5-11 last season for a reason. They weren’t very good. In fact, they haven’t been very good for a long time now. So they obviously had some glaring holes to address all over the field. One of those holes wasn’t quarterback.

Because despite what some people may think, Eli Manning wasn’t the cause of the Giants’ woes last season. When he had time to step into the pocket and throw the ball, he was still like the Eli of old. He just struggled when the rush got too ferocious and the boys in front of him were not blocking like they were paid to protect.

And obviously, both Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur believed that Manning had a lot left in the tank, otherwise they would have sent him packing during last offseason and would have selected a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick last year instead of taking Saquon Barkley.

Barkley turned out to be a brilliant pick, because he instantly became the best running back in the history of the Giants’ franchise, rushing for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns (new rookie records for the Giants), catching 91 passes for an additional 721 yards and four more TDs while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

No one is questioning Gettleman’s decision to take Barkley over a quarterback like Sam Darnold, who turned out to be a blessing for the New York Jets.

But the reason why Gettleman decided to take Barkley over a quarterback last year was because he was certain that Eli Manning was still a more than serviceable signal caller.

So if Manning was okay in his Gettleman’s last year, why is he not this year? After all, Manning had a great year last season, despite having an offensive line in front of him that was in total disarray. Manning threw for 4,299 yards and 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions last year and posted a QB rating of 92.4, higher than his career average of 84.1. For all intents and purposes, Manning had a sensational year in 2018, one that showed a lot of promise once the Giants found out what to do with their mismanaged line.

Again, the whole “plan” that Gettleman seemed to have in rebuilding the Giants doesn’t look like much of a plan at all. It appears as if the affable Gettleman is flying by the seat of his pants and making moves at a whim.

This draft was supposed to be Dave Gettleman’s shining moment. But frankly, he’s not shining anything any time soon.

For many years, the Giants were the New York franchise that we could all count on, the most stable, the most professional. The franchise that made smart moves, like drafting Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor and Mark Bavaro, like bringing in Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin to run the show, just doing the right thing over and over again. We never had to worry about the Giants. They were the old reliable franchise in a Big Apple overrun with sporting buffoons.

No more. The Giants have joined the club. Move over Knicks and Mets. You need to make room for the latest tomfool of clods. Welcome, the New York Football Giants, who have returned to their status of the late 1960s and throughout the 70s, a collective mess that’s not going to clean up anytime soon. What’s the joke: You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Bingo, New York Football Giants. Oink, oink.

Please keep the great Granelli family in your prayers this weekend. Elizabeth Granelli, the wife of legendary St. Peter’s College women’s basketball and soccer coach Mike Granelli, passed away Friday night after a lengthy illness. Elizabeth’s five children were at her side, as was her beloved husband of more than 50 years.

The Granelli family is a great sports family. Since his days as a young coach at the Hoboken YMCA, then later Hoboken High and finally St. Peter’s, Mike Granelli has looked after thousands of kids, some of whom turned out to be excellent citizens and role models in their adulthood. It’s too hard to mention all the people Mike Granelli has touched and helped over the years. But there are plenty. And through it all, Elizabeth Granelli was right there. She was the rock of the family, much tougher than Mike ever was.

Elizabeth Granelli was a great lady, a spectacular wife, a perfect mother and grandmother. I ache today for my friend Mike, who now has to live without that rock of the family. Please think good thoughts of Elizabeth in your hearts this weekend and keep her in your prayers.

You can read more of my work at and and follow me on Twitter @ogsmar

Monday, April 22, 2019

Westbrook and George: Just bad news against sportswriters

There’s no doubting the basketball talents of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. They are without question among the top 10 players in the NBA, with Westbrook among the top five and easily the league’s best point guard.

Westbrook and George are teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are on the verge of being eliminated from the NBA Western Conference playoffs by the Portland Trailblazers. The Thunder trails the Blazers, 3-1. The season is almost over.

For the last four years, Westbrook has endured a cantankerous relationship with Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel. No one knows exactly when the relationship soured between Tramel and Westbrook, but the two don’t get along at all.

To Tramel’s credit, he continues to try to do his job. So Sunday, after the Thunder dropped a 111-98 decision to the Blazers to go down 3-1 in the series, Tramel asked both players legitimate questions.

And the response from both Westbrook and George were the same as they were all season.

“Next question,” is all that Westbrook and George had to say to Tramel, just like the response has been for the last four years, even before George got there. That’s all the players had to say. Next question. Over and over again.

It’s not like Tramel is asking personal questions. Every single time, Tramel is restricted to ask basketball related and themed questions. But the answers are always the same. Next question.

Frankly, it’s downright rude, extremely arrogant and egotistical and it’s wrong. Tramel, one of the best sports columnists in the Midwest for 40 years, deserves to have the questions answered like civilized adults instead of spoiled rotten children.

And the “next question” approach is now annoying. There are some sports outlets, like radio and television shows and internet spots that are finding Westbrook’s answers are hysterical.

But as a sportswriter, I am so totally angered by Westbrook and George.

Just answer the questions. Fans want to know what their stars are thinking, especially when their beloved team is on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook and Paul George should be forced to answer the questions. The NBA should levy serious fines against the players if they continue to sit in the post-game press conferences and answer the questions from Tramel the same way. Like serious fines, not just a slap of the wrist. If the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver slapped Westbrook with a $200,000 fine, you can be guaranteed that the “next question” crap would become a slice of history.

I mean, the NBA’s assistant commissioner Kiki Vandeweghe, a former NBA All-Star, slapped Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks $25,000 for entering the official’s locker room after Game 4 of the Nets-Sixers series to complain about calls. And Marks isn’t making the kind of cash that Westbrook makes.

If Silver stepped in and hit Westbrook with a major fine for being a nuisance, you can be rest assured that this circus would become history.

It has to stop. It’s setting a bad precedence that could permeate throughout the entire league, or better yet, professional sports on a whole. If an athlete doesn’t like a reporter, the answers might be the same. Next question. And sportswriters would never be able to get their jobs done.

It’s bad enough that newspapers are drying up and folding left and right. Now, we’re getting prima donna  athletes deciding to sit at post-game pressers and act like total jackasses. Next question.
I keep getting asked whether the football Giants made a good trade with the Cleveland Browns, whether they got enough in return for the incredibly talented Odell Beckham, Jr.

I remember vividly seeing OBJ at the first rookie training camp, running crisp routes, jumping high for passes and more incredibly catching passes with one hand and telling anyone who wanted to listen that the Giants got the steal of the draft, that they had acquired what I called “the second coming of Jerry Rice.”

I sincerely thought that OBJ was clearly the best receiver I’d ever seen live and that he was destined to become a Hall of Famer – all in one day’s workout.

And I believed that OBJ was destined for greatness.

But then, all of the other crap started, like making like a dog after scoring a touchdown and simulating peeing in the end zone in Philly or proposing marriage to the kicking net to to saying what teams he wanted to get traded to.

The Giants had enough faith in Beckham that they gave him the max contract, the $95 million bonanza last summer. It was a contract filled with incentive clauses and signing bonuses. OBJ became a very rich man courtesy of John Mara and the Giants organization.

And when OBJ said a few weeks ago that there were two teams that he wanted to get traded to – the Browns and the 49ers – Mara had heard enough and told Gettleman to get rid of OBJ.

So the Giants got a middle of the round 1st round pick (17th overall), a third rounder and a former first rounder in New Jersey native Jabrill Peppers, who has been less than stellar in his tenure with the Browns.

Is that fair trade value for a guy who I once thought was going to be the best receiver in the history of the game? There’s no way. The Giants did not get fair value for OBJ. But they did get two serviceable picks and a player who the Giants organization feels will be a solid strong safety, replacing the All-Pro in Landon Collins who they didn’t re-sign and let walk free to the Redskins.

So I don’t think the Giants got fair value for OBJ. I think the Browns made out in the trade. But the Giants didn’t exactly get fleeced.

And as for the draft, I don’t think the Giants are taking a quarterback. I think the Giants are going to take a defensive playmaker, like an edge rusher.

And as for the Jets, I think they will also go defensive and take someone like Josh Allen from Kentucky. But I think the best defensive player in the draft is Ed Oliver of Houston, who is the second coming of Aaron Donald of the Rams. Oliver has the same kind of motor and has the same explosive ability to get off the ball. If either the Jets or the Giants are able to take Oliver, they should. He’s that good.
In all my years, I’ve never seen a team get devastated with injuries like the way the Yankees have been ravaged this year.

With the injury to Aaron Judge, an oblique injury that may keep Judge out of action for the better part of the next two months, the Yankees have 14 players on the injured list. That’s a correct number – 14. It’s absurd.

Are the injuries enough to send the Bronx Bombers reeling for the rest of 2019? Sure, it’s early yet, but it’s surely possible that the Yankees could be in serious trouble. Did anyone catch the lineup they fielded Sunday against a bad Kansas City team? There were a bunch of nobodies in pinstripes on the field masquerading as Yankees.

Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela. Are they the New Kids on the Block? Or the New York Yankees? “Tyler, Mikey, Gio and Mike, if I like the girl, who cares who you like? You got to cool it down, now. You’re gonna lose control.” Sounds like a 90s tune.
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Sunday, April 7, 2019

The baseball gods gained another soul

For the longest time, they were rivals coaching baseball at the two premier universities in New Jersey, namely Rutgers and Seton Hall.

Fred Hill, Sr. and Mike Sheppard, Sr. were institutions at their respective schools -- Hill at Rutgers and Sheppard at Seton Hall. They were identified with their schools. If you thought of Rutgers, your first thought was of the guy they called Moose. If you thought of Seton Hall, you immediately pictured Shep.

They were living legends, guys that personified class, grace and dignity. They were baseball royalty, not just in New Jersey, but throughout the country. In their baseball coaching careers, Hill and Sheppard won almost 2,000 games between them. Think about that for a second. Two thousand wins in a sport that doesn't play 162 times like they do in the big leagues. There are a lot of times that a college baseball game gets rained out (imagine that in northern New Jersey in April and May?) and never gets rescheduled.

If you went to a high school baseball game and either Moose or Shep was in attendance, then you knew it was a place of importance. There must have been a player or two that they were interested in recruiting, so if you spotted them, you knew that it was the place to be, no matter how cold and damp the day was.

I was very fortunate and blessed to have been able to call both men friends of mine.

And now, after hearing word this morning that Shep had passed away, I realized that both coaching titans were now gone. We lost both in the matter of weeks.

How brutally ironic is that? They were coaching rivals, but they were also friends, basically because they were cut from the same cloth, from the same area. They both were born and raised in Essex County, cut their baseball teeth on the fields of Newark, learned their craft right around the same time in the same circles.

Their respective families all had ties with each other and both had excellent athletic families. The Moose gave the world a son, Fred, Jr., who got into coaching and was the head basketball coach at Rutgers and then served as an assistant at Seton Hall. Fred's brother, Brian, was a long-time respected coach who later became a head coach in the NBA with the Orlando Magic.

As for the Sheppard family, well, we could go on for hours. His three sons all went on to follow in their father's footsteps and became highly respected baseball coaches-- Mike, Jr. has been the head coach at Seton Hall Prep for three decades. Rob Sheppard immediately replaced his father after an illness and became the head baseball coach at Seton Hall University. And John has been the head coach at Morristown-Beard for the last 20 years, earning his own place of prominence in the coaching circles.

The Sheppard family ties in coaching go further than just the immediate circle. Shep's brother-in-law is my good friend Ted Fiore, who I had the absolute pleasure of working with for six years at St. Peter's College. His nephews are Tim and Vin Byron, who have been involved with coaching high school and college baseball for almost 30 years. His son-in-law is Ed Blankmeyer, who worked with Shep at Seton Hall before becoming the head coach at St. John's University, carving his own niche as one of the best collegiate baseball coaches in the nation.

So coaching is a major part of both the Hill and Sheppard families. It's beyond a bloodline or a lifeline. It's called tradition.

I cannot fathom the idea that both legends are gone in the matter of weeks.

I will always treasure the hearty handshakes, great smiles and laughs I shared with Shep over the years. He was a good friend, a loyal friend, someone who always looked out for me and vice versa. I know that there are thousands of other people who feel the same way that I do this morning, the feeling of absolute loss and sorrow that Shep is gone.

I know that his health was failing over the last few months, so maybe his passing is a blessing that his suffering is now over. Phyllis and her family can get on with their lives now and not have that immense burden of worrying about and caring for Shep the way the family did over the last few months. That had to be such a tough chore for all of them, considering how incredibly close the family was.

Maybe there's a baseball field in the great beyond, a field that has pristine green grass with no dandelions and weeds. Maybe that field has two incredibly fierce rivals that are playing in bright sunshine and warm summer breezes and wooden bats and clean white baseballs.

And maybe, just maybe, the two are together again, coaching against each other like always, putting their genius masterminds together to outsmart the other.

The state of New Jersey baseball will never see two characters like Fred Hill and Mike Sheppard ever again. Shep and the Moose, two legends who are now unfortunately gone. It's the bottom of the ninth and there's no one coming in from the bullpen.

Maybe the state of New Jersey can do something to honor these two titans together for perpetuity, build a new baseball park somewhere in Essex County and name it the Fred Hill-Mike Sheppard Baseball Complex. We need something to forever remember Shep and the Moose.

I know I will definitely remember them both fondly and forever. They were both major parts of my athletic life and I know they were so incredibly influential to everyone who got the chance to know them.

It's really a sad day in New Jersey sports circles. Shep has joined Moose on that diamond in the sky. Play ball.

Now, as for the ending of the Virginia-Auburn game Saturday in the Final Four, there's no way no how that the call should have been made.

I know that rules are rules and it was a foul, that there was contact on the play and all that. I understand that as well as anyone.

But an official should NEVER decide the outcome of a game on his own, whether it's a Biddy game or the NCAA National Semifinals. And yes, that official, James Breeding, decided the game by calling the foul on Samir Doughty that gave Kyle Guy the three free throws that enabled Virginia to win the game 63-62.

I've seen the replay about 35 times. The foul takes place after Guy released the ball. The foul did not impede Guy's ability to take the shot. The foul occurred when Guy was trying to land after taking the shot.

Yes, by the law of the land, it's a foul. Rules state that a player has the right to land and Doughty did not give Guy the chance to land after taking the shot. So in that respect, it was indeed a foul.

But in that case, you have to swallow the whistle. It would have been a fine no-call and no one would have complained. Guy had the opportunity to take the shot. He missed the shot. Game over. Auburn wins.
But James Breeding will be forever remembered as the guy who decided the outcome of the Auburn-Virginia game. Not the players. The official decided it. And that's just wrong.

I know this is a discussion that will go on and on for months, maybe years. Who knows when Auburn will ever get another chance like that? They might have won a national title. We will never know.

I just know that I feel bad for Auburn's players because they were denied the chance to play for the national title. I can't say that they were cheated out of a chance to win. But James Breeding decided the game, not the players. And that's just way wrong in my eyes. Way wrong.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Harper really worth $330 million? Really? Really?!?!???

The news came down this afternoon that the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper for 13 years and an astounding $330 million has sent shockwaves through the entire world of sports.

It’s a contract that just doesn’t make any sense. I understand that Harper is only 26 years old and the majority of his career is obviously ahead of him. I also understand that he has star quality and gets treated like a superstar.

But is Harper that good? Good enough to get the biggest contract in the history of professional sports?

The answer is simple: Hell no.

Here’s proof. As they say, numbers don’t lie, especially when it comes to baseball statistics.

2012: .270 batting average with 22 HR and 59 RBI, but was named the National League Rookie of the Year.

2013: .274 batting average with 20 HR and 58 RBI

2014: .273 with 13 HR and 32 RBI

2015: breakout MVP season, where he batted .330 with 42 HR, 99 RBI, a league best 118 runs scored, .460 on base percentage and .649 slugging percentage.

2016: .243 with 24 HR and 86 RBI

2017: .319 with 29 HR and 87 RBI

2018: .249 with 34 HR and 100 RBI

For Harper’s seven-year MLB career, he’s managed a .279 career batting average with 184 homers and 521 RBI.

Now, are those numbers deserving of that contract he signed today? There’s no way anyone could admit to that, even the most loyal of phucking Phillies phans.

Today’s contract makes you wonder. If Bryce Harper can wrangle out a deal like that, then what in God’s holy name is a player like Mike Trout worth? Or Mookie Betts? Francisco Lindor? You get the drift. 

You might as well just load up the armored cars with cash and back them into the driveways of those guys’ homes. I can’t even begin to fathom the contract that Trout could command. I know one thing’s for sure. It would have a whole mess of zeroes at the end of the total.

And of course, the so-called geniuses that have nothing better to do than complain about what the Mets do or don’t do were at full force on the call-in radio stations today, lambasting new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen  for not making a solid offer to Harper and for allowing the Phillies to sign him.

Like this signing was the end of the world for the Mets. How could the Mets let Harper go? How could the Mets be so stupid to let him go to the Phillies? The Mets were being cheap once again.

On and on, the complaints rained down, much like they did when the Mets didn’t re-sign Daniel Murphy.

I wasn’t so livid as most when the Mets let Murphy walk. He had a great playoff run for the Mets in 2015, helping the orange and blue bring home their fifth National League pennant. But Murphy was basically a flawed position player with bad baseball instincts. No one could have ever predicted that Murphy would become such a dominant hitter, not even the Nationals who signed him.

But in this case, not making a legitimate offer to Harper, I say “Bravo.” In fact, I might have to set off Roman candles and skyrockets in celebration, because he’s perhaps the most overrated baseball player of my lifetime. There isn’t an aspect to the game of baseball that Bryce Harper is excellent at, except for taking off his batting helmet and tossing his head back so his hair doesn’t get all sloppy.

Bryce Harper might make the Phillies slightly better. And I say slightly. I don’t think he makes them 330 million times better, that’s for sure.

Can Harper hit 50 homers there? Potentially, there’s a chance, if he stays healthy. But that’s a big if, because in his seven-year career, he’s made nine trips to the disabled list. His only two injury-free years were 2015 and last year.

Let’s see what happens. I could be wrong. Hell, I could be wrong. As everyone who knows me well enough to know one fact about me – I’m wrong and I’m wrong a lot.

So let’s see if I’m wrong about the Mets, about Harper, about everything. Right now, I think it’s a signing that will help the Phillies sell a lot more tickets, a signing that will fuel the fire of the feud between the Nats and Phils and will do nothing to help the causes of the top teams in the NL East. The Mets had done a good enough job improving the team overall before sticking their toes into the waters of the shark infested Bryce Harper ocean.

In closing, it’s an insanely ridiculous contract, overpaying for a player who has been more hype than production. And now he gets a chance to produce more hype in the City of Brotherly Love for the next 13 years. With $330 million, he can buy a ton of Pat’s Cheesesteaks, perhaps one for every strikeout he registers over the next 13 years.

The other piece of sports news that came down Thursday was a little less powerful, but still a bit noteworthy.

Jason Witten, without question one of the best tight ends to ever play pro football and a sure-fire lock to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton sometime whenever his playing days are done, delayed that inevitable a little longer when he announced that he was leaving the safe comforts of the Monday Night Football booth to make a return to the Dallas Cowboys for the 2019 season, signing a one-year contract worth $3.5 million that could increase to $5 million with incentives.

The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said in a statement released by the Cowboys. This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”

Witten, who will turn 37 years old in May, will come back to the Cowboys after sitting out the entire 2018 campaign, a year where he made a complete mess of himself in the broadcast booth, helping to turn one of the most reputable and respected broadcasts in all of pro sports into a total laughingstock.

Almost on a weekly basis, Witten was caught with his pants down, being so totally unprepared, firing off mixed metaphors and malaprops with the same level of ferocity that he did as a dominant pass catcher.

Witten caught 1,152 passes for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns during his 15-year career. He ranks fourth all-time in pass receptions and was named to the Pro Bowl team 11 times. Four times, Witten went over 1,000 yards in receiving yardage and four times, he caught enough 90 or more receptions.  In 2012, Witten caught an astounding 110 passes for 1,029 yards, earning overall All-Pro honors. No one will ever question his talents on the field.

But without any prior training or announcing experience, Witten was so totally overmatched. The pairing of former players Witten and Booger McFarland with veteran ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore was a disgrace, with McFarland sitting on a elevated cart that moved along the sideline and Witten offering up comments from the booth that rarely made sense to football fans and novice football followers alike.

In fact, some media pundits and columnists were already predicting Witten’s demise from the MNF broadcast team with some reports hinting ESPN trying to lure Peyton Manning into the fold (even though the elder brother has vowed his intentions of staying away from broadcasting while Eli was still playing for the Giants).

Perhaps Witten saw the handwriting on the wall about his status with the MNF crew and decided to jump the gun a little by making a comeback before ESPN dropped the bomb on him.

It’s going to be extremely difficult for Witten to make a comeback at his age, especially after sitting out an entire year away from the constant hitting and pounding an NFL tight end has to endure. Witten knows it’s a challenge, but he’s ready to take on the challenge the same way he jumped into the broadcast booth last year. We will have to see if the comeback will be a successful one – something that was obviously not the case with his short-lived broadcasting stint.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

The real reason for the affection for the Rams

This weekend, the Super Bowl will be played in Atlanta. And it just happens to be that my beloved favorite football team is getting a chance to avenge the loss that they suffered to the New England Patriots back in 2002.

Over the years, I’ve been asked thousands of times how someone from Jersey City ends up rooting for the Los Angeles, then St. Louis, then back to Los Angeles Rams as a favorite team.

Just last week, sportswriter supreme Dave Caldwell, a friend and colleague for many years and someone who I admire as a brilliant hard working wordsmith in our rapidly dying chosen field of work, reminded me that not a lot of people know the real reason why I became a Rams fan as a little boy. And it’s a good story, one that deserves to be told this week as the Rams prepare to lock horns with the Hoodie Genius and Joey Cleft Chin in Atlanta.

It was the summer of 1972 that I put my horns up for good. And I had good reason to do so.
On New Year’s Eve of 1971, I lost my father, Jack Hague, to cancer. He was sick, then diagnosed with stomach cancer, operated on and died in the span of three weeks. He was 54 years old. I was 10.

Still to this day, losing my father at such an early age was the most traumatic and devastating event that happened to my family.  He was my everything. He was a friend, a coach, a teacher, a mentor. He was funny and entertaining and loving and respected by everyone.

In fact, my father was so well respected by the neighborhood that he was the long-time Democratic committeeman for my neighborhood. If someone needed a turkey on Thanksgiving, then Jack Hague received a call. If someone needed to have their sidewalk shoveled after a snowstorm, Jack Hague was called. If an elderly person needed a trip to the grocery store, they called Jack. A ride to the doctor’s appointment? If Jack was home, he was driving Miss Daisy, minus the cap.

So with his passing, the Greenville neighborhood and St. Paul’s Parish didn’t know where they would go to call. In fact, no one was tabbed to replace my father with the Democratic Party committee for almost a full year.

But someone wanted to do something to honor Jack and what he did for the neighborhood. So money was raised in order to send Jack Hague’s young son to the National Football League Players’ Association Camp that was held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

It was an expensive gathering of about 50 of the NFL’s top players, who served as instructors and clinicians. I have no idea what the cost was, but I’m willing to guess that it was at least $2,000, probably more. It was a time where the players could really use the extra cash that came with the work at the camp. In the early 1970s, NFL players weren’t getting seven-figure contracts, so it they received $5,000 or so for the week in Easton, it was quickly gathered.

I never found out who was behind the fundraising efforts, but I have strong beliefs that the mastermind behind the efforts was my grammar school football coach Bill DeFazio. As I grew older and the relationship between Billy and I morphed into a very close friendship.

Billy had the ability to squeeze money out of a beggar on Kennedy Boulevard, so if he saw a chance to get the neighborhood together and raise some cash to pay tribute to a pillar of the parish, a devoted Little League coach and daily St. Paul’s Courtyard monitor during the hours before the first bell and during lunchtime while helping develop one of his learning and burgeoning football players, then he was going to do it.

I asked him many times before he died in November of 2010 whether he was behind the fundraising efforts to send me to the NFL Players Camp that summer and he never did admit to it. He would just smile, tilt his head to the side like he always did and shrug his shoulders like a little boy who had his hand caught in the cookie jar. Billy must have made a pact with the Devil not to spill the beans, because he never truly did. But I think he was the one who did it. And if someone knows for sure, they haven’t told me in all these years since.

So in any case, I was handed all the information to go to the camp. There was only one problem. My mother didn’t drive. She had my father’s pristine Chevrolet Impala, but no driver’s license. She eventually got her license later that year after failing the driver’s test an astounding four times. If anyone saw my mother drive, it wasn’t hard to figure out why she failed four times. She was clearly the worst driver to ever grace the roads of New Jersey. I never could understand how she was able to pass the test in the first place.

To get me to Bethlehem, my mother went with me on the No. 99S bus to Port Authority and watched as I climbed aboard a bus to Bethlehem. When I got to the bus station in Easton, there was a shuttle bus for campers going to the camp.

It was the first time I was away from home without one of my parents. Later that summer, I went on a trip to 
Lake George, N.Y. with Father George, the chaplain at St. Ann’s Home near my house. I got to know Father George from being an altar boy. He also liked my father and took me and another altar boy to Lake George for the week.

Can you imagine something like that happening now? I can also assure you that Father George Mader did not touch me or try anything with me. I think Father George was fine with the other altar boy who went on the trip with us.

I know all the signs were there. I was an impressionable 11-year-old going on a week’s vacation with a priest. I had just lost my father. So did the other altar boy, who will remain nameless here. All I can say was that I had a fantastic time on this trip. I learned how to fish in a fresh water stream, even baiting the hook with a worm, and caught a pretty reasonable sized bass that I brought home for the Polish lady who lived next door to us to clean and cook. There was nothing felonious taking place on this trip. It was fishing and baseball and laughter.

Father George died last year. I saw him a couple of times when he was teaching and coordinating campus ministry at Ramapo College and another time when he was teaching at Paramus Catholic. He was a wonderful man and I couldn’t thank him enough for taking me on that memorable vacation.

Okay, back to football camp. At first, my mother was a little reluctant to send me to this camp, but someone (probably DeFazio) told my mother it was the chance of a lifetime and that I should go. So off I went on the first journey without her. I let go of the apron strings long enough to allow the Mama’s boy to go to play football with legends.

When I first got off the bus, there were people instructing the kids to quickly break into groups separated by positions.

“OK, running backs go over there and receivers go in that line,” someone bellowed. “Linebackers over here, quarterbacks over here, linemen over here...”

Believe it or not, the first position I played when I was in organized tackle football was quarterback. I kid you not. When I was from the ages of eight through 10, I was a quarterback. The growth spurt didn’t come until way later. At age 10, I was skinny, fairly scrawny and average height. I was not gargantuan by any means.

So when the campers were heading off in different directions, I was all set to take my rightful place with my fellow brethren signal callers. Or so I thought.

“You’re a lineman, son,” the counselor who obviously had impeccable foresight said. “You go with the linemen.”

I tried to explain that I was a quarterback and I was all set to graduate from the Pee-Wees to the big boy team later that fall. I was groomed to be a quarterback. I dreamed I was going to be the next Johnny Unitas. I practiced throwing, signal calling and watching Unitas, idolizing every movement, every step the man with the flattop haircut and high top shoes made.

But those words fell on deaf ears.

“Son, you’re a lineman,” the man insisted. “Get with the linemen.”

So the really big kids set off to one dormitory and the sleek skilled kids (trust me, I was never ever sleek) went to another dorm.

“But I’m a quarterback,” I reiterated. “I’m honestly a quarterback back home.”

“Well, you’re a lineman here,” he said. “So get with the linemen.”

I’m now 90 miles away from home for the very first time in my life. I certainly can’t call my mother, because honestly, what was she going to do? I thought about calling my brother, who lived in Hackettstown, which was about 45 minutes away from Bethlehem. I knew my brother would come get me if I really needed him.

Tears were flowing like a river. Trust me, I cried an awful lot back then. I cry a lot now for someone 57 years old, but when I was 11, especially within six months or so after losing the most important human being in my lifetime, I cried all the time. Something would trigger a memory of my father and the water works would just flow.

Now, I’m facing the most emotional moment of my life since Dad’s passing and I really don’t know how to handle it. What should I do? Should I call Jackie and have him come get me? Or should I suck it up and become a lineman? I didn’t know a thing about blocking. I knew how to be Unitas, the short choppy steps dropping back to pass, the release at three-quarter arm’s length, not directly over the top, the two-minute drill. Yes, I was 10 and practicing the two-minute drill, like what plays I’d call for Tom Matte and John Mackey. I was nuts, but I was a quarterback through and through.

Until that day, when that counselor told me for the last time in a high-pitched shrill, “Son, I told you 37 times already. You are a lineman. Now hurry up and get going with the linemen.”

More tears. Half Pint on Little House of the Prairie (perhaps a little foreshadowing here?) didn’t cry as much as I did that day. Ricky Schroeder in “The Champ” had nothing on me. Tom Hanks could have said, 
“There’s no crying in football,” but I didn’t care. The emotion poured down my red cheeks and the sniffles were too ferocious to be stopped by a Kleenex.

I was so upset that I meandered over to an area away from all the activities, buses or not. I was like Eric Carmen doing “All By Myself,” but the song wasn’t released until three years later. As the sun began to set in Easton, I sat myself on a log that was used to corner off the buses. I was sure I didn’t want to be a lineman (more foreshadowing), but I thought about it over and over about what my next line of defense would be.

I knew that the people of my neighborhood pooled their money together to send me to this camp. How could I leave after a half hour? What a disappointment I would be. I couldn’t show my face to those caring people ever again.  To my football coach DeFazio, who I feared tremendously, but who I admired and respected immensely. I knew it would be a gigantic disappointment to him. If I called my brother, he would have come to get me, but it would have been a colossal embarrassment to him that I cried my way out of a football camp.

The emotions were flowing, no doubt. So I just sat on the log and cried.

At that time, I heard a booming voice that changed my life forever.

“Son, I heard you don’t want to be a lineman,” the hulking man said. “Get up, I’m going to teach you how to be a lineman.”

I had to look up at him, but couldn’t see a face because of the setting sun. The sun was so bright that I couldn’t make out the face, just the immense frame. He put out his humongous hand to help me up. I put my hand in his and got to my feet. As I stood up, I recognized the face right away. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Merlin Olsen.

Yes, it was Merlin Olsen, yes, that Merlin Olsen, arguably the best defensive tackle in the game, the upteen time All-Pro defensive lineman from the Los Angeles Rams. MERLIN OLSEN JUST PICKED ME UP FROM A LOG AND HELPED ME TO MY FEET. MERLIN OLSEN!!!!! THE GUY ON LITTLE HOUSE OF THE PRAIRIE AND THE GUY WHO BECAME FATHER MURPHY SELLING FTD FLOWERS ON TELEVISION!!! THE GUY ANNOUNCING GAMES ON NBC!!!! THAT MERLIN OLSEN!!!

Olsen then brought me over to the side and gave me some quick pointers, like the three-point stance.

“I’m going to watch you all week to make sure you learn the position,” Olsen said.

He not only taught me how to be a defensive lineman, but he also taught me the basics of being a good offensive lineman. He brought his brother, Phil, who also played for the Rams, over to work with me as well.

Every single day of the six days, Olsen took the time to personally work with me.

“I’m going to make sure you are a good lineman, James,” Olsen said.

The week was tremendous. Some of the other NFL stars in the camp included John Mendenhall of the Giants, Rich Caster of the Jets, as well as Harold Carmichael of the Philadelphia Eagles, Phil Villapiano of the Oakland Raiders, Bruce Taylor of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Kiick of the Miami Dolphins,  Ted Hendricks of the Baltimore Colts, Pete and Charley Gogolak, who were placekicker brothers, John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts. It was a great collection of players.

The dormitory counselors were prominent college players. The guy who ran my bunk was Steve Davis, the quarterback at Oklahoma at the time. At the end of the week, Steve and I became very close. He was teaching me all the intricacies of the Wishbone offense. Because of my association with Davis, I became a Sooner fan in college football. Davis had a great career at OU, posting a 32-1 record as a starter from 1973 through 1975 and was the MVP of the 1976 Orange Bowl, capping the Sooners’ national championship that year.

Unfortunately, Davis, who became a respected broadcaster, died in a plane crash outside Notre Dame in 2013.

Steve and I were close throughout the week and then after. He asked for my address, which of course I gave to him. I’ll never forget about two weeks after the camp, my mother came around the corner to where I was playing to tell me that I received a package from UPS. So I raced home to find this huge box and it was filled with Oklahoma gear like pennants, hats, bumper stickers, an autographed football from then superstars Joe Washington and Billy Sims and the Sooners. I was hooked for life.

The same goes for my association with the Rams, all because of that fateful day in Easton in July of 1972. If Merlin Olsen didn’t extend his hand to me and teach me how to be a lineman, who knows who I would be rooting for in the NFL? Maybe the Indianapolis Colts, because of my obsession with Unitas.

But that’s not the case. I’m a Rams fan, right to the core, right down to the blue and white of Roman Gabriel days to the blue and gold days of Eric Dickerson and Jack Youngblood. Of course, Merlin wore both uniforms. Unfortunately, we lost Merlin to cancer in 2010. So he’s the reason why I root for the Rams for the last 47 years and will root Sunday when they play in the Super Bowl. I’m proud to say this is the fourth time the Rams have played in the Super Bowl since I’ve been a fan. We lost to the Steelers in 1980, beat the Tennessee Titans in 2000, lost to you know who in 2002 and now this. And as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, you know the rest of the story. Good day.”

And one last thing: GO RAMS!!!!!

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

A damp meeting between a bus boy and a future President

George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, died three weeks ago at the age of 94, the longest living President in U.S. history.

President Bush 41 had a remarkable career as a public servant, going from U.S. Congressman to Ambassador to the United Nations to the chairman of the Republican Party to the Director of the CIA to Vice President and eventually becoming the President of the United States in 1989, succeeding Ronald Reagan, the man he served under as Vice President.

Long before he was ever elected to public office, George H.W. Bush served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and fought for this country in World War II, serving as a fighter pilot, conducting 58 assorted air raids with hundreds of successful hits on enemy planes. Once, his plane was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and he spent hours floating on an inflatable raft, wondering whether he would ever be rescued. He eventually received several awards for his military service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Presidential Unit Citation.

When you collect all the pieces of Bush 41’s service to this country, he just might have the most storied and distinguished career of any U.S. President.

And he just might be the only U.S. President to ever have had a pitcher of water spilled on him. Well, he wasn’t the President yet, just the Vice President. 

But it remains the story of how the future President of the United States got doused with a pitcher of water -- by none other than yours truly.

You see, it was the summer of 1981. Bush 41 was just sworn in as the Vice President earlier that year, on the same day that Reagan became the 40th President of the United States.

At that time, I was a student at Marquette University, but during the summer break, I had a job that I loved, serving as a bus boy at the Stadium Club in Giants Stadium, working for the Harry M. Stevens Corporation.

I initially got the job as a bus boy in 1979 because I had a host of friends who worked as bus boys at the Pegasus Restaurant at the Meadowlands Racetrack. I was all set to join my buddies as a bus boy at the track. The paperwork was taken care of. I was interviewed by the hierarchy. They liked me and hired me. However, there was only one problem. They didn’t have a uniform jacket big enough to fit me.

I was just about ready to be sent out the door with no job, when someone mentioned that they needed bus boys at the Stadium Club. I was asked if I would be willing to work there instead of the track.

As it turned out, it was probably a blessing, because if I stayed at the track, the compulsive gambler and harness racing diehard in me would have plunked all my earnings on the No. 6 horse in the fifth race on a nightly basis.

Instead, I got shipped over to the Stadium Club, where I couldn’t do any damage. Or so I thought.

Eventually, I became comfortable at the Stadium Club. I was well liked by the waitresses, the kitchen staff, the maitre d, the entire organization. I was a hard worker and moved up the ranks, eventually becoming the supervisor of bus boys and porters.

I even knew the most important words to work as a supervisor of bus boys and porters, which were “limpios platos,” meaning clean dishes in Spanish, and “sucios platos,” which of course meant dirty dishes.

I worked all the big events at Giants Stadium, especially at the time, soccer games. The New York Cosmos were the biggest draw at Giants Stadium back then, so I worked all the Cosmos games. People who went to the Cosmos games wanted to eat and drink before and after, so they came to the Stadium Club, where we would have thousands of patrons before and after each match.

Sometimes, the players would come in, so I got to take care of superstars like Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Ricky Davis, Carlos Alberto and the coach, Prof. Julio Mazzei, who was instrumental in bringing Pele to the Cosmos and who led the Cosmos to the North American Soccer League championship in what was dubbed “The Soccer Bowl” in 1982.

The Professor loved me to no end and greeted me after every game with a huge hug. He was a wonderful man and I enjoyed seeing him at the Stadium Club all the time.

So I was a fixture at the Stadium Club for a long time, even after my disastrous association with the future President of the United States in July, 1981.

There was a huge political fundraising dinner held at the Stadium Club for the Republican Party of New Jersey and for Tom Kean, the Republican candidate for Governor. Kean eventually won the election in November of 1981, defeating Jim Florio in the closest gubernatorial election in New Jersey history. Kean won by less than 2,000 votes.

People paid hundreds of dollars per ticket for a chance to hear the Vice President and former U.S. President Gerald Ford speak. Kean and Ford were close friends, especially since Kean once served as the campaign chairman in New Jersey when Ford ran for President unsuccessfully in 1976.

So here was this big fundraiser with all the major political people on hand. I was a 20-year-old college student, of course already having Democratic ties, being a Hague from Jersey City.

Like I had a choice in that matter. My father was a popular Democratic committeeman in Jersey City for over 30 years and was instrumental in helping to bring John F. Kennedy to make a campaign stop in Jersey City in the fall of 1960, before Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. There were the Democratic ties by being a Hague from Jersey City and long-time Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, a distant relative.

Prior to this huge fundraising dinner, I was screened by the Secret Service, asking me questions about whether I had any problems with either former President Ford or Vice President Bush. I replied that I did not and just wanted to my job to the best of my ability, like every time I put on the blue jacket to lead my bus boys and porters. When I worked at the Stadium Club, I had no favorite teams or political affiliations. I was more concerned with sucios platos and limpios platos and whether or not water was poured in every glass at the tables prior to the customers’ arrival.

Since I was the head honcho of the bus boy patrol, I was the one who took care of the head dais and poured all the water and cleared away all the dirty dishes. I had three years experience prior to this dinner and I never had a single incident.

But lo and behold, disaster reared its ugly head on this fateful July evening.
As Vice President Bush went to take his seat at the head dais, the bus boy in charge proceeded to pour water all over his lap.

And when I say all over, I mean all over. It was probably close to 24 ounces of water that ended up in the future President of the United States’ lap, all on his suit pants and even got some on his suit jacket.

Right away, the Secret Service whisked me away and brought me to the bowels of the stadium, away from the dinner. I never got the opportunity to offer my apologies for my disaster. I wanted to meet the man, perhaps shake his hand. After all, this was royalty at this head dais, the former President, the future President and the future Governor all within a few seats of each other.

And I screwed it all up by not paying attention to what I was doing and dousing the Vice President with a pitcher of water. It was an embarrassing disaster.

The Secret Service asked me if I did it on purpose and if I had any political motivation to throw water on the Vice President. I honestly did not. I just wanted to do my job.

For more than 200 events working for Harry M. Stevens, I did my job and obviously did it well. I eventually moved on to become a security person/bodyguard at the Brendan Byrne Arena for concerts. 

I worked for people like John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Styx and REO Speedwagon. I drove John Denver over to the Meadowlands Racetrack in 1982 to watch the harness racing in the pouring rain before his concert on Saturday night. We stood together and watched a few races and no one noticed that it was him.

So I did my job well during my days at the Stadium Club. Except for that one fateful evening when I inadvertently dumped a pitcher of water on Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was more than gracious after getting doused.

In fact, Bush sought me out after I was taken away quickly by the Secret Service. Luckily, Bush was given another suit that he changed into. He wanted to talk to me and let me know that he understood it was an accident. He asked me what I did most of the time. I told him I went to Marquette and his response was, “Oh, that’s a good school. Don’t worry about this, young man. We all make mistakes.”

I didn’t give much thought to that evening until George H.W. Bush finally passed away three weeks ago. I watched most of the funeral proceedings on television and heard the eulogies, especially the one delivered by his son, the 43rd President. I then realized what a remarkable life he had, how much service he gave to this country. And how wet I made the man that night – and he didn’t hold it against me.
The college basketball season is only a few weeks old and there’s a lot that can be said about the current No. 1 team in the land, the Duke Blue Devils, with their much heralded freshman class of R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish and of course, the freakishly talented Zion Williamson, who is already earning rock star status and drawing big crowds wherever he plays.

No question, Duke is extremely talented. The Blue Devils have more talent than any college basketball team in recent history. Probably the only team that draws any comparison would be the 1990 Running Rebels of UNLV.

But there’s something about this Duke team that I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it and maybe I’m wrong.

They play out of control most of the time. They are not running any sort of offense. It’s all transition, up and down the floor, firing up the first 3-pointer they see. They are playing AAU-style basketball. Will it work? Sure, for most of the season, it probably will. It will make crowds explode in excitement.

But the basketball purist in me thinks that Coach Mike Krzyzewski might have lost control of this team and is letting the inmates run the asylum. It just appears that way. If the Blue Devils run one half-court offensive set any time soon, then maybe I’ll change my mind. It’s also hard to argue with success, when you’re the No. 1 team in the land.

However, there have been a lot of No. 1 teams that have fallen by the wayside en route to the NCAA Championship, including the aforementioned Running Rebels, who lost in the NCAA semifinals that year to – oh yeah – Duke and All-American players Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and fellow Jersey City-ite Bobby Hurley.

Maybe, just maybe, this Duke team will prove me wrong. But the jury is still out, despite the team’s early success.

I will state one thing: Zion Williamson is the most all-around talented creature I’ve seen in college basketball since Anthony Davis was a freshman at Kentucky. Before that, it was when Shaquille O’Neal was a freshman at LSU.

Williamson is scary good and does everything. I’ve never seen anyone of his size (6-foot-7 and 285 pounds) who can handle the ball, run the floor, block shots, rebound and shoot like him. And that includes the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers, namely LeBron James. We all know that LeBron never played college ball. I think Williamson does more at this age than LeBron did.

We have to see what happens with this Duke team. There’s just something missing there.

You can read more of my work on and Both publications will soon have the Top 10 Stories of the Year for each circulation area. Both year-end stories are interesting and fun reads. Check them out.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Please don't blame Eli for all of Giants' woes

Unless you’ve been living in a deep dark cave and the wireless connections in the cave are poor and your I-Phone 26 wasn’t sufficiently charged for three days and after you jumped into the pool to continue your workouts for the American Ninja Warrior tournament, you didn’t put the phone in a box of uncooked Minute Rice for a week to dry it out, you don’t know that the New York Football Giants – yeah, those guys – currently own a 1-5 record and appear to be a bunch of dead men walking.
And yes, if all of those factors have played a part in not understanding that Big Blue could actually be so damn dismal and piss poor this season, then you didn’t hear all the theorists offer their incredible expertise as to the reasons why the Giants are dead in the water.
Most of the finger pointing has been directed at one man – Eli Manning.
And we know that Eli is the easy target. After all, he’s been the signal caller, the head honcho, the main man, since 2004. He’s survived the purge of Coughlin, the ascent and subsequent dismissal of that fiery genius Ben McAdoo and the first six games of new head coach Pat Shurmur and like Sir Elton John once warbled, “He’s still standing after all this time.”
Sure, Eli has slowed down considerably since his Super Bowl MVP days and he’s not nearly the signal caller he once was. That’s totally understandable and verifiable.
But to think that Eli is the main reason why the Giants are so awful right now is ridiculous.
Sure, he’s the easy target. He’s the face of the team (well, he should be, but really isn’t now) and he’s the one taking every snap, so it would make sense to blame him for the mess that the Giants have become.
Honestly, Eli may be somewhat at fault. But he’s not the main reason. Not by a long shot.
If I’m doing finger pointing here (and that’s why I get paid the REALLY big bucks to write this blog), I will start with people not even in uniform.
I have to start my blame with general manager Dave Gettleman.
Now, I know it’s pretty low of me to slap a man when he’s down. Gettleman is battling cancer these days and that should be his main concern. I applaud Gettleman’s courage in facing the hideous disease head on, the way anyone who gets that kind of diagnosis should. Gettleman has been steadfast and strong since he was diagnosed and that approach deserves all the credit in the world.
However, Gettleman didn’t fully address the main problem the Giants had – namely a weak offensive line. More on that later.
So Gettleman decides that the best way to address the problem is to move the brutally awful Ereck Flowers from left tackle to right tackle, to sign former New England Patriot standout Nate Solder to a gigantic $62 million contract with $35 million guaranteed (I definitely missed my calling) and then draft the highly regarded Will Hernandez to play left guard. It all looked good on paper.
Well, it’s been a disaster. Solder has not been as good as advertised, Hernandez is really not as good as anticipated and Flowers has been released, only to be signed by Jacksonville, where incredibly he may start this weekend.
So there’s the reason I blame Gettleman. He knew that the offensive line was the biggest area of concern and he really didn’t fix it, because every time Eli drops back to pass, he’s running for his life.
Now, the second layer of blame has to fall on the new head coach.
Shurmur is already better than McAdoo, no doubt, but he’s made his share of mistakes thus far. His clock management skills leave a lot to be desired. His recognition of down-and-distance is sometimes mind boggling.
Off the field, Shurmur seems to be on the defensive ever y time he’s asked a question by anyone. It’s taken him all of two months to become as paranoid as McAdoo was. That approach doesn’t work. To be successful as a head coach of any sport in New York, you have to have the same even keel, the same demeanor win or lose. It took Tom Coughlin almost two full years to realize that. The same can be said for Terry Collins with the Mets. If you think the media is the enemy, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble here, because as it has been proven over the years, the media can be blood thirsty villains.
I can’t say that I’m one of those, because I don’t have the same avenues as others. But the pressures of coaching in New York can swallow you like Orca if you allow them to. Shurmur arrived with the positive approach. It has disintegrated with the first five losses he has endured here as the Giants head coach.
I have to include the bleach-blond media superstar as someone else who deserves blame. Odell Beckham Jr. now has a gigantic contract, to the tune of $95 million, some $65 million of it guaranteed, in his back pocket. He got his money. His talents were rewarded, even after some of his ridiculous antics like making it look like he was peeing in the end zone after a touchdown in Philly and proposing marriage to the kicking net on the sidelines.
So now Beckham has been rewarded and he will be here for a while, so he should do one thing right now. Shut up!
There’s no room for him to air out his grievances with a reporter (with the rapper Lil Wayne sitting alongside nodding his head in affirmation the whole time) on national television. There’s no room for him to throw his quarterback under the bus by saying that he’s just no good anymore.
You see, the last time I checked, to be a successful receiver in the NFL, you have to have the quarterback throw you the damn ball. You can’t go get the ball on your own. You need that quarterback that you’re blasting.
So the whole interview that Beckham did with Josina Anderson of ESPN made no sense. He then tried to say it was done to fire up his team and make them play better. Well, if Beckham wanted to inspire his teammates, he should have found a better venue than national television. It would have been more efficient to go into the locker room and lock the door behind him, making it players only. Or do it during lunch time in the cafeteria. But not airing out your problems on national TV.
I said from the first time I laid eyes on the kid in rookie training camp after he was drafted four years ago. I came away from that first time, saying that the Giants drafted Jerry Rice. I knew right away he was that talented.
But here’s my gripe. Never in his storied career as the best receiver in the history of the game did you hear Jerry Rice ever throw his quarterback under the bus like that. Never. Jerry went about his business catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young and every other Schmeldrake that threw him the ball and never said a peep. Beckham goes on national TV. There lies the difference.
Now, I’m not saying Eli is guilt free here. He’s obviously not the same player he was 14 years ago when he was drafted. He’s also not the same player he was when he led the Giants to the two Super Bowl victories.
But anybody and everybody thinks that  Eli is the biggest reason for the Giants’ dismal 1-5 record. Hey, even Eli’s numbers support my stand. He’s completed 68 percent of his passes, has more than 1,600 yards passing with six TDs and four INTs. He had a nearly perfect game in their lone win against Houston.  If he’s given the time, Eli could still be a very effective QB.
The Giants did not do the wrong thing in drafting Saquon Barkley. The kid is the most gifted combination back I’ve ever seen in terms of running and pass catching. People want to coronate Todd Gurley right now as being the best. I’m convinced Barkley is better. The kid has it all.
But there’s no way all the blame has to be thrown at the feet of Eli Manning. Giants fans cannot second guess drafting Barkley ahead of Sam Darnold. As good as Darnold has looked with the Jets, Barkley is a better player.
The Giants screwed up by overvaluing Solder and Hernandez and thinking they could solve all of the offensive line’s woes.  That’s where the blame has to fall before Eli gets the short stick.
If you’re a movie fan, run, don’t walk, to the theater to go see “A Star Is Born,” with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
If you haven’t seen it already, the movie is tremendous and it will be an Oscar winner. I can’t say it will win Oscars for Best Picture or even for Best Actor/Director for Cooper and Best Actress for Gaga. It wouldn’t shock me if nominations come for them in all categories. Their performances are that worthy, especially Gaga as an actress and Cooper as a first-time director.
Cooper’s attention to detail as a director is incredible, like camera angles on emotional scenes and concert footage. Cooper did a masterful job and is definitely worthy of earning an Oscar nomination in his first movie, much like people like Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson did as rookies before him. Not joking here at all, but the late and great Jerry Lewis was a genius when it came to being a director and that side of his talent is so grossly overlooked. Redford’s work in “Ordinary People” was astounding and earned him the Best Director Oscar. Same for Costner with “Dances With Wolves” and Gibson with “Braveheart.”
But where “A Star Is Born” is a lock to win an Oscar is with the Best Original Song. Pick one, but there are three that will get nominated and one of the three will most definitely earn Gaga her Oscar as the singer/songwriter.
If we’re giving out four stars for a movie’s excellence, well, this one gets five stars. It’s that powerful of a movie and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
On the TV scene this season, I’m already hooked on “God Friended Me” on CBS on Sundays and “A Million Little Things” on ABC on Wednesdays. Both series are beyond excellent and have joined “This Is Us” on my must-watch list every week.
I’m still watching “New Amsterdam” on NBC, but not totally crazy about it like the other two.  It’s good, not great.
As for the “Murphy Brown” reboot, I say “Eh.” I was excited to see if it had the same juice as the “Will and Grace” and “Roseanne” reboots, but it’s really not the same. I still watch “Will and Grace” but I’m not experiencing the same belly laughs that I used to have. Maybe because there’s a lot less belly these days. I watched “The Conners” the other day and I will give it a few more tries, but it’s really hard to watch that show without Roseanne. As stupid as what she Tweeted was, she still was the lifeline of that show and without her, it’s going to take some getting used to.
OK, I know, here come the darts at me. Hey, Hague, stick to sports. I get it.
Two things about Hudson County high school football: One, if you get a chance to catch the exploits of Jamar Casey of Lincoln play, do so. Go to and watch some of the kid’s highlights. He’s electric when he touches the ball. He’s not the biggest kid in the world, but he does some amazing things with the ball in his hands. And he’s one of the most respectful and considerate young men I’ve ever interviewed. He’s a credit to Robert Hampton and the Lincoln coaching staff, but he’s more of a credit to his parents for raising him the right way. He has excellent grades and it’s hard to determine if he’s a better student or a better football player.
And I’m telling you this: Jamar Casey is one of the most electrifying football players I’ve ever seen in my nearly 40 years of covering high school football.
Secondly, kudos go out to Union City and head coach Wilber Valdez, who now own a 6-1 record after manhandling North Bergen, 49-7, Friday night in what was dubbed as “The Battle for the Boulevard.”
Well, thanks to standout running back Jean Alvarez, who scored an incredible five touchdowns, the Soaring Eagles soared their way to the top of their divisional standings in the New Jersey Super Football Conference (please don’t make me look up which division it is – OK, it’s the Liberty White Division) and have pretty much sealed the deal on a divisional title.
The Soaring Eagles lost a lot of players that went all the way to MetLife Stadium for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group V championship game last year, so one might have thought that this would be a rebuilding year for Valdez and his team.
But the Soaring Eagles are right in the hunt for another push towards MetLife in December and that’s a credit to Valdez, who has done an absolute masterful job this season.

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