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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day memory---Courtesy of the movie Field of Dreams

This column was first printed in the pages of the now-defunct Hudson Dispatch on June 29, 1989. It ended up winning several different awards from the New Jersey Press Association, the North Jersey Press Club and the Garden State Society of Journalists. It was also reprinted in Reader’s Digest later that year (although I never got credit, the paper did).
For several years, the clipping sat in an old Avon box in my basement. We had a major flood two years ago that ruined a lot of my old clippings, including several of the old Dispatch articles. But somehow, this one survived. It’s very weather beaten and faded, but it survived.
I’m re-typing it today and posting it, because after all, it’s Fathers’ Day.

I ventured to the movie theater the other day. No, not to see “Batman” or even “Ghostbusters II.” I’m not a trendy type of guy. In fact, I’m a little behind the times. I saw “Field of Dreams.”
OK, so the rest of the western world has already plunked down the cash to see “Field of Dreams.” We’re in the midst of a blockbuster movie season. “Field of Dreams” is old news to movie freaks. After all, it was only released nine weeks ago.
But “Field of Dreams” is about baseball _ sort of. And besides, “Batman” is not about Don Mattingly. I am a sportswriter _ at last check. And I’m a movie fan. Just a tardy movie fan, that’s all. I had to go see it. Who cares if I’m late?
I heard so many things about the movie. It was supposed to be the best thing ever to happen to baseball movies _ which wouldn’t be a hard feat, considering that most baseball flicks flounder.
I went with an open mind, waiting to be disappointed. I left feeling wonderful, feeling alive, feeling good. “Field of Dreams” touched me more than any other movie. It was clearly the best picture I’ve ever witnessed.
And my strong feelings about “Field of Dreams” had nothing to do with baseball. It had to do with life. Or, for that matter, afterlife.
For those who have not had the chance to see “Field of Dreams” _ like all seven of you _ you can stop reading here. Take my word for it, the movie is excellent. It’s the best thing you’ll see all year.
Now, for you other fortunate folk.
Let’s face it. “Field of Dreams” has its flaws. I mean, Shoeless Joe Jackson batted left-handed in real life and threw right. In this movie, the exact opposite. He batted right and threw left.
Brings up a good question. Do your extremities become mirror images after death? Only Elvis can answer that one. Remind me to ask him the next time the King is spotted at a 7-11 in Michigan. Elvis probably shoots at TVs with his left these days.
Gil Hodges is mentioned to be on the “Field of Dreams.” But there were no Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms to be found.
Still, this movie was absolute perfection to me, because it was able to touch me in a way that some people can relate to _ but hopefully not many.
Because of one movie, I got in touch with the huge vacancy that has been dominating my life for the last 18 years _ namely the absence of my father.
I was 10 when cancer snuffed Jack Hague away from me. He was sick, dead and gone within one month’s time in 1971. He was my everything. He was my inspiration, my motivation, my life. He was my Little League manager, my friend. He taught me so much about life in 10 short years _ and then he was gone.
It left me with a brother who was 60 miles away with his own family, a sister who was maturing rapidly _ and a loving mother, who had to be both parents from that point on. It was not easy.
Especially because of my obsession with sports _ something I shared with my Dad. We would watch ball games together, talk baseball constantly, play catch in my backyard.
With no father, those times came to an abrupt halt. I longed for the days of playing catch in the yard. They were long gone.
“Stop throwing like a girl, James,” I could hear him saying. “Step and throw.”
There were so many times in 1972, the first year after my father’s death, that I would stand in the yard, hoping he would come back. I just kept standing there, smacking the ball into my empty glove.
Little League was no longer fun without my Dad. It was a struggle to play for some other manager.
That summer, my mother bought me a “Pitch-Back,” the net that snapped the ball back to you after you tossed it. However, the damn thing never offered advice. It never told me what I was doing wrong. It just stood there.
And the “Pitch-Back” could never tell me what I was doing wrong in life. Of course, my mother did _ and worked hard at it. But living with two women and no man’s view of life certainly was no breeze for a moody kid who found his only release through sports.
As time went on, I tended to forget about my Dad. Not entirely, but enough that he wasn’t a major part of my life anymore. I lost his set of values, his standards. I forgot what Jack Hague stood for. I wanted to be independent, my own person. I couldn’t fill the shoes of a memory.
Sure, sports remained my one constant _ and still is today. Without it, I would be lost. But most of all the other values I thought I had disappeared.
People think I’ve lived a good life, an exciting life. But it’s been fairly shallow. I never realized that until recently _ and never more so until I saw “Field of Dreams.”
It was a total awakening for me. I knew how important my father was _ and still is. Sure, my father was gone, but I should never let him stop being my parent. I should have left his values live on in my life instead of being pigheaded and stubborn and wanting to be something and someone else.
“Field of Dreams” touched me so much that I wanted to build a field in my backyard, albeit a small patch of brown grass nestled in Jersey City. And all the greats of yesteryear who are now departed could come back. They wouldn’t even need an invitation.
Gil Hodges would wear a Met uniform and run the show. Thurman Munson would be behind the plate. Satchel Paige on the mound, Lou Gehrig at first _ and Jackie Robinson stealing bases all night.
And the players would leave a little spot where right field would be, just enough for a grey-haired man with a three-finger glove could throw some high hard ones to his son.
“Field of Dreams” did what it was supposed to do _ make us all dream. It made me dream _ of the days when my father taught me about baseball and life.
I almost took those days for granted. I look back now and cherish. I never realized how much I truly missed my father.
So this is somewhat of an open call to all our readers. Stop, take time out and realize how important your father is.
Sure, there may be some differences and there may be some strife, but the day may come when your father is suddenly not there _ and that vacant feeling of his loss almost gets a stranglehold of you.
I know what that feeling is like. I knew it 18 years ago _ and I rediscovered that huge gap 11 days ago. Yes, Fathers’ Day, the day I saw “Field of Dreams.” I had totally forgotten it was Fathers’ Day. It was so totally ironic I saw the movie on that day.
I’ll never forget Fathers’ Day again. That’s why I love the movies so much _ and why “Field of Dreams” is the best movie I’ve ever seen. I found my Dad. I’m grateful for Hollywood for that.
That’s why I’m asking all of you to find your fathers, too. While he’s still around.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Stick a fork in them. The Mets are dead

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”– Winston Churchill

Obviously, the legendary prime minister from Great Britain never saw the New York Mets play baseball.

Well, Churchill died in 1965, so it was long before the Mets even conceived thoughts of being somewhat decent. In 1965, they were still the laughingstocks of the Great American Pastime.

But if Churchill was alive today, he would have very little to be optimistic about with the Mets.
Because as they prepare to face the cross-river rival Yankees tonight, the Mets are deader than Churchill ever was. Paraphrasing another great Brit John Cleese, the Mets are deceased, they’ve expired, they have moved on to meet their maker, they’re pushing up daisies, they cease to be, they are no longer, they are an ex-team.

Don’t give me that line about that it’s only June 8 and that there are 103 games left in the schedule. Don’t sell me a line that they are only 7.5 games out of first place in the NL East standings.  Don’t tell me that they’re going to improve immensely now that Yoenis Cespedes is closer to returning (is he really?) and that Todd Frazier is back. Don’t be like the moron we hired as a manager and spew crap that the pitching has been really good over the last couple of weeks.

Don’t do any of that, because the Mets are dead. They’re a dead team, a dead franchise, a dead organization from top to bottom. They’re also cursed, but that’s another matter for perhaps another day.

Right now, as the latest version of the Subway Series is only a few hours from beginning, can there be more of an unmitigated mismatch than what will transpire this weekend?

The Yankees are absolutely rolling along. They have a young, vibrant, alive roster filled with this generation’s superstars. How can anyone not get excited by seeing Gleyber Torres play second base for that team? The kid has it all. He hits and hits for power. He runs. He fields his position and plays with a smile on his face. Torres is the real deal and then some.

And then there are the other youngsters. Miguel Andujar is getting miggy with it on the hot corner (I can’t say I invented that one—it was a John Sterling creation that almost made me spit out my Arnold Palmer Zero the other night when I heard it). We all know what Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez can do. Greg Bird is back at first and if he stays healthy (which is a big IF right now), he’s scary. Austin Romine is hitting .373. Tyler Austin is a stud. We haven’t even mentioned Clint Frazier – because he’s in Scranton. There’s no room in the Bronx for his talents right now.

All of those aforementioned guys are under the age of 26 years old. All of them! They’re all good and they’re all superstars in the making.

And the Yankees are flirting on a daily basis with the Red Sox for both first place in the AL East standings and the best record overall in baseball.

The Mets? They currently have 11 players on the disabled list and that number was increased today, when Jeurys Familia was added to the DL with some sort of shoulder woes. Who do the Mets have as a closer right now? Who knows?

The old players on the Mets appear to have become even older as I write this. Someone obviously kidnapped Jay Bruce, because this is not the same guy who hit 36 homers and drove in 101 runs last year. I applauded the Mets for bringing Bruce back. I thought it might turn out to be as brilliant as what the Yankees did to get Gleyber and then bring back Chapman. But there’s only one problem with that. Bruce, owner of a $39 million contract, has three homers and 15 RBI and is hitting .220. It’s the second week of June and Bruce has 15 RBI. Are you kidding me?

We can go on. I understand Michael Conforto had major reconstructive surgery to his shoulder after hurting it last year on a swing. But Conforto has 16 RBI and is hitting .228 this season. He had 27 homers, 70 RBI and hit .280 in 109 games last year, earning a spot on the NL All-Star team. Tell me if you didn’t think this kid was our version of Judge. There was a tabloid backpage feature last year that compared the two. Can that even be considered now? No way.

The Mets thought they had the shortstop of the future with Amed Rosario. But the moron we hired as a manager (I can’t even mention his name, because I may start to laugh and cry simultaneously) continues to bat Rosario ninth and the pitcher eighth. Abner Doubleday is chuckling at the big ballpark in the sky with this daily disaster. Rosario is hitting .251 with three homers and 18 RBI. Yes, he has more RBI than Bruce and Conforto.

Need we go on? OK, let’s. Adrian Gonzalez was a pickup from the waste basket. You know when you walk by a garbage can and see a Bic ballpoint that has some life left in it, so you pick it out of the trash and give it a try. That’s what the Mets did with Gonzalez, once one of the most feared hitters in the game. Well, Gonzalez, who finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting three times in BOTH leagues, seemed to have a little bit of life in him and they weren’t paying his $22 million contract (the Atlanta Braves are), so it was worth the chance.

But lately, the Bic pen is not writing anymore and Gonzalez looks absolutely feeble. He’s hitting .244 with six homers and 26 RBI, but he didn’t get the ball out of the infield in two losses to the dreadful Orioles this week (yes, the Orioles with the worst record in the game beat the Mets twice, albeit 2-1 and 1-0).

The Mets did the same reclamation attempt with Jose Reyes after his domestic violence arrest and subsequent release by the Colorado Rockies. But the once-exciting Reyes has been relegated to a bench player and even there, Reyes can’t do a thing, batting a hideous .141 with one homer and three RBI. He appears finished, much like Gonzalez, but he’s not costing the Mets much, so he remains.

The Mets also scooped up another former All-Star in Jose Bautista, after Joey Bats was given the boot by the Atlanta Braves. Bautista isn’t costing the Mets hardly anything as well, as his $18 million contract is being paid by the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s another player who has finished among the top eight in the AL MVP voting four times in his life, but his career is also being held together with Elmer’s glue and rubber bands. Bautista has not been bad with the Mets, batting .280 with three RBI in 32 at-bats. But again, here’s a 37-year-old reclamation project.

The Yankees have youth, vim and vigor. The Mets basically have a dead roster.

We didn’t address the pitching situation, because in honesty, the pitching hasn’t been too bad. Jacob deGrom, tonight’s starter, has been lights out, pitching to a 4-0 record and a 1.54 ERA, after he hurt his pitching elbow swinging the bat. Steven Matz has a 2-4 record, but his ERA is a manageable 3.54 and has looked good in recent starts. Noah Syndergaard, who is currently on the DL like everyone else, but is scheduled to face the Yankees Sunday night, has a 4-1 record with a 3.06 ERA. But Thor really hasn’t been the dominating force that he was before he got hurt last year.

Zack Wheeler has a 2-4 record with a 4.57 ERA and he has also looked good in recent outings. He pitched seven scoreless innings Wednesday against the Orioles and appeared dominant. But the Mets once again failed to score for Zack and they lost 1-0 on a run fueled by Rosario’s fielding miscue.

Jason Vargas (2-4, 7.71 ERA) has been a disaster signing. He got $18 million for two years. That may be the biggest heist since the Lufthansa theft at JFK in the 1970s. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have been solid. One of those two has to be the closer now that Familia is gone. Maybe it’s Anthony Swarzak. Who knows?

But at this point, who cares? Because Churchill, this team is dead in the water. They started off like gangbusters, posting an 11-1 record to start the year. It looked as if they were going to run away and hide from the rest of the division.

However, since that time, they are 16-31 and plummeting faster than Roseanne Barr’s approval ratings. Can they turn it around? Sure, they’ve proven me wrong before. I thought they were so totally dead in July of 2015, but they miraculously turned it all around, won the division and the National League pennant. God, that feels like so long ago.

But can they turn it around and win this time? It’s highly unlikely. I’m not one that says the Mets have to trade off their desirable commodities. In fact, I want them to lock up deGrom and Thor long term. I’d even throw Matz a contract and see if he bites. Will it happen? Not the way they operate. They allow the market dictate how they sign contracts. If some other team offers a solid contract, then the Mets might counter offer. They are never the aggressors. They allow the market determine how they approach contracts, which is a stupid approach.

I don’t think Sandy Alderson has been a bad general manager. His hands have been tied by the financial restraints laid down by the stingy ownership. But Alderson had a chance to make this team better in the offseason and really wasn’t aggressive enough to address the team’s needs, like depth in the bullpen.
But Alderson’s biggest blunder was hiring a new manager. I know it’s only 59 games, but Mickey Calloway (there, I finally got to him) is the biggest disaster the organization has ever made – and they’ve had their fair share of loser managers.

In fact, they haven’t had a decent manager since Bobby Valentine. I was never a Terry Collins fan at all, but the Gray Fox is light years ahead of Moron Mickey, who continues to make moves that make me scratch my head and shake that head faster than a Taylor Swift song.

I can’t even begin to put together the words to describe Moron Mickey, but he was supposed to be a pitcher’s manager and obviously the strength of the team was going to be pitching. But Calloway has no idea how to handle the pitching staff, taking out starters too soon, bringing in the wrong relievers, having a short leash on all of the pitchers. He parades Jerry Blevins out there regularly and he can’t get anyone out. The same for the atrocious Paul Sewald. I have always been a Hansel Robles fan, but he’s pitched 15 innings this year and given up six homers. Who does that?

And Calloway’s game strategy is just scary. It’s like he’s never watched a baseball game in his life. That Kumbaya attitude he displayed at his first press conference, when he was going to get everyone together in a group hug, is long gone. His ability to manage this team doesn’t exist.

So there we have it. First pitch awaits and we have two teams in the same Big Apple going in opposite directions. Do I dare say “Play Ball?”


Thursday, April 26, 2018

A blast from the past: "Just wondering"

For the longest time, I used to write a regular column that would be titled, “Just Wondering,” where I would fire off a bunch of different ideas that would pop into my noggin.

Last week, I received a tweet from someone who said that it was time for another “Just Wondering” piece. I realized that I hadn’t written one in such a very long time. In this era of “reboots” like Will & Grace and Roseanne, it’s time for a sports reboot, another version of “Just Wondering,” a little long time in the coming.

JUST WONDERING what the two New York teams will do in tonight’s NFL Draft.  The months of speculation are now down to a few precious hours. Will the Giants and Jets keep their picks and take players that will help change the face of the franchise? Will they trade their picks for other picks down the road?

It has certainly led to some great fodder for the sports talk shows since the Jets traded up to get the No. 3 from the Colts.

Now it’s all down to today.

I think Sam Darnold goes No. 1 to the Browns and in my opinion, Darnold is a no-brainer. I still believe he’s the best QB prospect the NFL has seen in 20 years, probably going back to Peyton Manning. He’s going to be a flat out stud. How Phil Simms said that Darnold was going to drop to No. 17 overall is downright wack-a-doodle.

So that puts the Giants on the clock and from every little snippet I have read or heard since Dave Gettleman became the Giants’ GM, I think they’re going to take Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick.
Running backs that weigh 235 pounds and run a 4.4 40-yard dash don’t come around every day. Barkley is the kind of player who can turn around an entire franchise, never mind just make the team better.

Barkley is sold on being the best player in the game, not just the best running back. There was a piece on him on the NFL Network the other day where Barkley was talking about being a brand name, a one-named superstar in the same way that Michael and Kobe were and LeBron is.

I know it sounds like some bold statements for someone who hasn’t played a down in the league, but it certainly has an air of confidence about it.

Sure, running backs generally have a short shelf life in the NFL, around five years. But Barkley has the physical tools that make you believe he’s going to be around for a while and that he’s going to be a special player. I think the idea of Barkley being an every down back and Odell Beckham, Jr. being healthy and catching passes from a rejuvenated Eli Manning gives the Giants’ faithful reason to be excited.

After the G-Men take Barkley, the Jets are on the clock. And I think before the clock even ticks down to the precious few seconds, I think the Jets are going to take Josh Allen with their selection at No. 3.

I know everyone is clamoring for Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at No. 3, but I think the Jets are going to take the Wyoming signal caller instead. You can’t teach 6-foot-6 and an arm strength that can throw the ball 80 yards without a hitch. You also can’t teach that kind of mental makeup. I think Allen will be able to handle the pressure of being the Jets’ quarterback down the road. I don’t think he takes a snap this season. I think if he’s healthy, then Teddy Bridgewater is the Jets’ starter at QB, even over Josh McCown, who had a marvelous season last year for the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets.

But Allen represents the Jets’ future and he will change the face of the franchise. Let’s face facts. Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan is staking his reputation, his career, his football life on this pick. If Allen is a bust, then Maccagnan slinks away into the list of abysmal Jets general managers. If Allen shows some promise as being the Jets’ future, then he gets to stick around for a while. If there’s anyone who feels a ton of pressure on his shoulders, chest and head tonight, it’s Maccagnan.

So I think it’s Darnold, Barkley and Allen in that order. I’ve been wrong before.

JUST WONDERING if anyone else agrees with me. It’s not easy to do, you know.

JUST WONDERING if anyone else agrees with me and is glad that the draft is actually over after Saturday. All this talk and speculation and rumors have driven me completely nuts, especially since my Rams don’t have a pick until No. 87 overall in the third round. That’s a lot of waiting around to get excited about a backup offensive tackle.

JUST WONDERING what in the world Ereck Flowers is thinking about when he doesn’t show up for the Giants’ mini-camp this week? I mean, if you’re Anthony Munoz, you can get away with such crap. But Flowers may be the biggest bust in the history of the Giants and he thinks he’s entitled to the starting left tackle position for life, even if you, er, totally suck. If the Giants can trade Flowers for a roll of adhesive tape and an old Jane Fonda workout video, then I’d do it just to get his fat, lazy, miserable ass out of here.

JUST WONDERING when spring is going to arrive in the Northeast. Enough is enough with this cold weather. I don’t want to see 50 degrees again until November.

JUST WONDERING when all this hype about Shohei Otani will die down? I mean, it’s great that he can hit and pitch and all that. But he’s mentioned every single second I turn on ESPN. Once again, the mothership, as Dan Patrick calls the brilliant people of Bristol, has found a new fangled hero to beat with a stick. Shohei went to the bathroom today. Let’s mention that. Shohei went shopping for shoes. Let’s lead SportsCenter with that. It’s annoying.

JUST WONDERING what Mike Francesa was thinking when he spent nine months retiring, had every sports celebrity under the sun praise him to the high heavens when he retired, then four months later, he decides to come back and everyone is supposed to just accept it? What was the Sports Pope thinking? Does Mongo Nation just accept him back? Francesa’s credibility takes a huge hit with this move, even if his inflated ego doesn’t think so. One thing is for sure: You can be rest assured I’ll listen, because the drive-time has not been the same without him.

JUST WONDERING where the Knicks and Rangers are going to go for their new coaches. It’s safe to say that MSG and especially owner James Dolan has no idea what he’s doing. I am in the minority here, but I didn’t think Alain Vignault deserved to lose his job. The Rangers have one bad year and then he’s gone? In the case of Jeff Hornacek, he was a bad hire in the first place. But in the case of the Knicks, it’s been one bad hire after another.

JUST WONDERING if the Mets will be a contender all summer long. I tend to think they will be. They’re very good. I also think the Yankees are also very good. I think it’s going to be great baseball summer locally. I mean, it could evolve into the best baseball summer of my life.


You can read more of my stuff at www.hudsonreporter.com and www.theobserver.com

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's all this fuss about the Winter Olympics? I don't get it


OK, it’s been over a week of wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of the Winter Olympics on all 20 or so of NBC’s networks and I have now finally come to one realization.

I personally don’t get the Winter Olympics at all.

I mean, I tried this time. I really tried hard. But I’m missing something that I guess the rest of the globe understands.

What’s all the fuss about? Where’s the excitement in it? There have been times _ like all of them _ over the last 11 days of the gripping wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage that I find myself totally bored out of my wits and longing for anything to grab my attention. Like anything.

First, let’s start with the name of the area in South Korea where this frozen display of international bad fashion is taking place. It’s being held in Pyeongchang County. It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue like Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey does. Couldn’t we just rename the place “Cleveland” for a few weeks to avoid confusion and trying to learn to spell it or even say it? I’m not going to charm school to learn how to say Pyeongchang. I think it rhymes with Young Chang, which sounds like an Asian rap star.

I found myself watching the figure skating _ I don’t know which one, long form, short form, ice dancing, pairs ice dancing, team pairs ice dancing, free fall _ the other night just waiting to see what Johnny Weir was wearing.

Terry Gannon, the former N.C. State basketball player on Jim Valvano’s “Survive and Advance” NCAA champs, is actually announcing the figure skating with the over-the-top flamboyant Weir and his sidekick Tara Lupinski, who from what I gather won some sort of medal in some form of figure skating a while back.

Bring me back to the days of Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, please. I’ll even take the drama of trailer queen Tonya Harding and that big-toothed phony Nancy Kerrigan over what is going on now.

Apparently, one young lady attempted a triple something or other the other night, which had never been done in Olympic competition. And yeah, sure, right, Terry Gannon knew exactly what that move was. It was definitely not the run and jump defense or the pick-and-roll offense, if you catch my drift.

Sure, it was nice to see that American brother/sister combo from Connecticut or Boston or Michigan (my head was spinning trying to keep up with where they actually live) Maia and Alex Shibutani, who were dubbed with the catchy nickname “The Shib Sibs.” But I was confused because most of the other competitors were also Asian and the crowds were going nuts for the Koreans and I had no idea whether they were American or Korean, but I did find out that they were huge fans of the Korean Pop band BTS, whose big hit is entitled “DNA.” Got all that?

So the figure skating had me losing whatever little mind I had left. Don’t ask me who won or who lost. There was no Dick Button to ramble about the “humanity” of another famous ice pair Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, when one of those two or both got hurt in the middle of their Olympic performance somewhere.

Let’s move on to another gripping Winter Olympic event. There was the awesome activity called curling, which I really want to know how it was invented in the first place. There had to be some drunks sitting around in some frozen tundra pounding down some brewskis _ on a frozen pond, of course _ who grabbed a frying pan filled with snow, slid it across the frozen pond and another of the malooks grabbed a broom to sweep away the excess snow and ice that might be a deterrent to the frying pan filled with snow.

How curling is a sport is beyond my comprehension. If I think about it too much, my eyes will explode out of the sockets. Taking that weighed pot (called a stone, now I know) and slide it gently across the ice while two other people with brooms feverishly brush the ice so the stone gets as close to the center as possible. And the ice is painted to look like an archery board. Just thinking about the people who actually dreamed up this mistake on ice is comical to me. And there are men’s and women’s curling and of course, team curling, which is just as gripping.

Is anyone as excited as I am so far? We’ll continue.

We’ll move on to the International Sliding Station (kid you not) for two more events, namely bobsled and luge.

There’s a two-man bobsled and the four-man bobsled (which was made famous in that great Disney movie “Cool Runnings” with John Candy about the Jamaican bobsled team). See, if you wait long enough, there is always a reference to Disney. It just pops up. Like Oprah and Justin Bieber.

There’s actually strategy involved with the bobsled and how they run real fast, then systematically jump into the moving contraption as it makes its way down the ice in the International Sliding Station. It’s a sight to behold. There are little clocks that appear at the right hand bottom of the screen, but they keep spinning over and over like the tote board in the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

In luge, there aren’t two-man teams. That would get too funky. But these people run, dive on the box that is not much bigger than a trash can lid and slide down flat on their back. Some travel feet first and other daredevils travel head first. There’s a different name for that kind of luge. Again, it’s just something to confuse the crap out of me.

Again, there are people who really get into these events, but since I’m clueless, I watch for a few spins of that clock-like thing in the corner of the screen and move on.

Well, there’s skiing as well. Now, how can anyone screw around with the sport that is so popular as a form of recreation in the winter? Trust me. They can.

There is Nordic Alpine and Super G (isn’t that the weatherman on Channel 11?) and slalom and giant slalom and cross country (hey, there’s a term I’m familiar with, but that’s running on grass, twigs and hills in October and November). There are all these different races going on every single day, just enough to confuse the living hell out of me.

I do remember Franz Klammer doing the downhill at the Winter Olympics when I was a kid and Bob Beattie and Frank Gifford going bonkers as the German was completely airborne for most of his gold-medal winning run. That was exciting.

But the only thing I got out of the skiing was that Lindsay Vonn is still a very pretty woman and that the gold medal winner in one of the races sounded like she was from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The other thing I got was that people scream unintelligible things when the skier comes out of the opening gate. It doesn’t sound like a genuine language, just utter yelps like when Grandma’s rocking chair rocked back onto the family cat’s tail. I never understood the “Get in the hole” screams at golf tournaments when the golfer is some 500 yards away from the pin. And I don’t understand whatever it was that these ski mavens were barking at the start of every run.

It didn’t matter what country the skier was from. The yelling seemed to be universal and seemed to show no purpose whatsoever.

Then there’s the biathlon, where skiers cross country ski for miles, toting a rifle along for good measure in case there’s a stray moose on the course, then get down into the snow and shoot at targets while lying in the snow, then get up and race more cross country skiing. Again, who dreamed up that one? Ski for miles, then lay in the snow, shoot a rifle, get up and ski some more. The thrill of victory and the agony of my feet.

To capitalize on the popularity of the Winter X Games, a creation for television by ESPN years ago, the International Olympic Committee voted to include many of those trick-based, stunt driven events like snowboarding and half-pipe and full pipe and crack pipe and ski jumping with tricks on the halfpipe as actual Olympic sports. Now, isn’t that special?

Ah, hockey. Now, there’s something I can relate to. However, the National Hockey League ruled this year that they were not going to put the league on a three-week delay to benefit the Olympics, so if you were under contract with an NHL team, you were not allowed to participate in the Olympics.

So Team USA was comprised of a bunch of older hockey veterans no longer talented enough to play in the NHL, some minor leaguers and some college players. It wasn’t like the days of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, which was meticulously selected from the college ranks. This was a conglomeration of misfits thrown together with USA across their sweaters. The team didn’t stand a chance and they were eliminated early.

In recent years, each of the top teams featured the NHL stars, so there was some national pride going on with the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, you have it. This year, it was more of an “eh.”

On the women’s side, there was Team USA battling Team Canada for the gold medal, a game that went into overtime and eventually the shootout. Perhaps that was the most dramatic moment of the games.

And then there was the coverage of these events from a broadcasting point of view. Long gone are the days of the immortal Jim McKay, who always had us captivated with his “Up Close and Personal” features on the athletes, both American and foreign, and those little vignettes really made you have more of an interest and created rooting flavor.

Now, we have Mike Tirico, who stands there looking completely out of place and definitely creepy. And what’s with the set, when he’s sitting behind what is supposed to be some sort of desk, but it’s actually carved out to look like an ice sculpture? What brilliant NBC mind thought up that design? I’d take Bob Costas and his pink eye anytime.

I have to say that I was impressed with the announcing skills of former US ski champ Bode Miller, who while he was competing sounded like he was Jeff Spicoli’s long lost brother from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Back then, Miller was looking to catch some bitchin’ hills and make some frosty moves around the awesome pilons. Now as a mature responsible announcer, Miller sounds professional and true, even speaking bluntly about the powdery conditions of the courses. Miller stood out in my eyes.

But when we had Chris Schenkel and Dick Button doing the figure skating for ABC back then, they captured the drama and the essence and importance of the Olympics. NBC has Weir wearing hats that Carol Channing disposed of from the set of “Hello, Dolly,” and Weir and Lipinski practically cheering and saying, “You go, girlfriend.” Ugh!

So I tried this year. I really tried. As you can see with the verbal rant, I certainly watched enough to come away with these observations. I just didn’t have to like it. Because basically, I have no idea what in the world I was watching in the first place.

Here’s the best news of all. The first spring training baseball games are scheduled for Friday. Adrian Gonzalez says that he’s healthy and ready to have a big year for the Mets. Yankee fans are predicting 80 homers each for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and about 75 homers for Gary Sanchez (who still cannot speak English for some reason) and 50 homers for Greg Bird.

Baseball is a sport that I understand. The stuff from Pyeongchang? Not so much.
The college basketball season is winding its way down to the last few regular season games. Believe it or not, the postseason tournaments will tip off in two weeks and March Madness is only three weeks away from beginning. The season has flown by.

When the season began, I truly believed that Seton Hall was a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. I was predicting that they were an Elite Eight team and could perhaps head to the Final Four with a little luck. They were talented and had enough good senior leadership and talent to do it.

But now, for some reason, the Pirates are floundering again. They were teetering on the possibility of not even making the NCAAs, but I think they’ve rebounded with two wins over DePaul and Providence to secure their place in March Madness.

Can they make a run at the Big East title? They did so two years ago when they shocked Villanova in the championship game of 2016, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

However, something happened with this team to make things turn sour as bad as they did.  They have a 19-9 record overall and an 8-7 record in the Big East after defeating Providence Thursday in a game that started Wednesday night and ended Thursday due to unsafe floor conditions caused by the condensation in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after Wednesday’s unseasonably warm temperatures.

It’s really hard to put a finger on what transpired with the Pirates. It’s not a team with riddled with dissention like when they collapsed in 2015. This team generally gets along well and plays well together. So their poor play is a mystery.

The Pirates need their senior leaders like Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeem Carrington to step up and play like four-year college basketball veterans. With the ever-changing world of college basketball teams, kids transferring from school to school in rapid fashion, the Pirates should have an advantage by having three kids who have played together for four years with more than 110 games of experience together. 
There aren’t a lot of college teams that can lay claim to that fact.

So the Pirates need to have those three make the final weeks of their collegiate careers memorable or they would have to be considered a major failure. Could it be rectified in time? Of course. All they need to do is look at what they did two years ago, when they shocked the world and won the Big East championship. It can happen again _ but they better get their acts in gear right now before the Big East Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden beginning March 3.
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com and www.theobserver.com

  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hague the movie critic: Go see 'The Post'



When I was encouraged seven years ago by my niece Jackie to start writing a blog, I was a little worried and extremely apprehensive that there was an audience for it.
After all, I write so much as it is that I wondered if anyone would want to read other things that don’t appear in the newspapers and wire services that I either worked for or still currently work for.
I was also a bit skeptical that anyone would want to read something that was outside of the sports world. At times, I do like to try to be humorous. I do come across matters that move me emotionally or force me to think for hours on end.
Well, one of my passions is my love for movies. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been a huge fan of movies of all kinds.
I think I inherited the love of movies from my father, who was a big movie fan as well. When she was around, I relied upon my mother as one of my best movie dates. My sister has always been a big fan of movies and fueled my interest as a kid, watching countless movies together over the years. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with my beloved Mary. We try to get to as many movies together as possible, probably close to 25 every year.
So Sunday morning, we made it to see “The Post,” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. I floated a blurb on Facebook, saying that it was the best movie I’ve seen in about 20 years, going back to “Field of Dreams” and “Forrest Gump,” perhaps the two best movies I’ve seen ever.
I encouraged the people who follow me on Facebook to go to the theater and see “The Post,” telling them that it was like I said, the best movie I’ve seen in 20 years or so.
And that simple idea encouraged some of my friends, like fellow Prep Class of ’79 member Dave “Ikey Boy” Isaacson and my editor-in-chief at the Hudson Reporter, famed Carrie Pilby author Caren Lissner, and once again, my niece Jackie, to tell me that I should write a full review of “The Post” on my blog. They all said that if I liked the movie that much, that I should write something here.
So here goes:
“The Post” is a precisely crafted gem, with Spielberg being a stickler to detail as he always is. Spielberg, probably the best director of this generation, re-created the old way that newspapers were run in 1971, with copy being produced on typewriters and then sent to typesetters, who had to meticulously put the plates in the proper setting, then being placed in order to have the printing presses churn out the paper. Just that process is overlooked in today’s fast-paced digital way of producing the print copy.
And like he always does, Spielberg paints a perfect picture in creating the atmosphere of the early 1970s, with the way men ruled the world and women were supposed to be the dutiful subservient to their spouses. The wardrobes, hair styles, smoke-filled newsrooms, bars and restaurants were all done to complete perfection. Spielberg wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now for the story line: If anyone doesn’t know what the movie is about, it’s about the Washington Post getting hold of the Pentagon Papers, the classified in-depth report dating back to the Truman administration that stated our top officials knew that it was a losing proposition being involved in the Vietnam War and did nothing about getting our troops home, leaving approximately 59,000 young men and women to lose their lives in the war and another 155,000 being wounded in action. The Pentagon Papers revealed that U.S. military brass knew that our troops were basically caught in a losing proposition and did nothing to prevent the gigantic loss of life that it involved.
So the movie centers on the Washington Post’s dilemma whether to print the Pentagon Papers or not. It features Streep portraying Katherine “Kay” Graham, the paper’s majority owner and publisher and Hanks portraying Ben Bradlee, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
At this point in their respective careers, there should be no doubting the talents of both Streep (recipient of three Academy Awards) and Hanks (a two-time Oscar winner). Those two (who incredibly never worked together before) could read the Manhattan phone book and get nominated for an Oscar.
They are once again brilliant in this movie, although the movie is more of a Streep vehicle as it is a movie featuring Hanks. Streep steals the movie as a woman who inherited the role of being the Post’s publisher after her husband committed suicide a few years prior. Hanks is good as Bradlee, who had a reputation of being a hard drinking, chain smoking womanizer, but was a brilliant editor who knew how to get the most out of his reporters.
The movie centers on the decision whether to publish the reports once the reporter got his hands on them. He actually flew with a box of papers first class from Boston to Washington and then went back to Bradlee’s house to weed through the 4,000 pages of reports.
And through it all, Kay Graham wrestles with the idea of whether she wants to publish the reports, because she’s personal friends with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his wife. It was at a time when newspaper people and politicians mingled regularly and socialized together. In fact, Bradlee was a close personal friend of President John F. Kennedy before he ever ran for President and spent a lot of time with Kennedy in social circles.
So the drama is definitely there and it’s all so well put together by the master of film Spielberg, who hasn’t made a clunker since “1941” almost 40 years ago.
Streep will unquestionably be nominated for another Oscar for this role. The reports are that Frances McDormand’s performance in “Three Billboards” is Oscar worthy, but in my opinion, this was Streep’s best performance in ages.
Hanks will probably earn a nomination on reputation alone. He wasn’t over the top great like he was in his Oscar-winning roles in “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” but he was good enough to earn a nomination and the reason to get all dressed up in a tux come the middle of March.
And no doubt, Spielberg will get a nod for Best Director and the movie will without question earn a Best Picture nomination. Whether Hollywood decides to vote for “The Post” as Best Picture just two years after giving another newspaper flick “Spotlight” the Best Picture award remains to be seen.
But “The Post” is definitely worthy. It’s Best Picture material for certain. It’s a perfect motion picture with no flaws. It’s perfectly acted, perfectly cast, perfectly directed. Not much else left to be said.
OK, so does Gene Shalit and Rex Reed get to keep their jobs? Do I have a future as a movie critic? There are some who think I don’t have a future as a sportswriter, so to each their own.

Now, back to sports. I just had to briefly address the idea of the rising cost of admission for high school basketball games. There was a recent tournament/classic/hoop gathering where the organizers were charging $15 a head.
The Metro Holiday Classic, held at Gill St. Bernard’s in Peapack-Gladstone, put a $15 price tag on admission. Now that’s totally absurd.
The organizer, a good hearted man named Preyia Roy, said that the ticket price was for three games and the cost was to offset money spent for insurance, travel for the teams and other accommodations.
But what really bothered me was that a Jesuit priest was asked to pay full admission. Now that’s beyond ridiculous. Roy said he did not know that a priest was charged full price and has even agreed to send a donation to the school in question as a gesture of good faith.
Still, in my opinion, charging $15 for a high school sporting event is beyond wrong. The organizer disagrees. We’ll agree to disagree on this one.
I’m still struggling with what took place on the final play of the game between the Vikings and the Saints Sunday. I don’t understand how the Saints didn’t have two safeties lined up at the 15-yard line to protect against the home run Hail Mary bomb that the Vikings connected on and won the game. Because if Stefon Diggs catches the ball and turns up field and there’s a tackler waiting for him, the game is over with no chance to kick the field goal.
And what was Marcus Williams doing on that play? It looks as if he ducked as the ball was in the air, then buckled his legs as Diggs caught the ball. How can you duck? You’re a defensive back. Make the play. Defend the receiver, knock the ball down, knock Diggs down for an interference penalty, do anything but duck underneath and allow him to catch the ball and dance into the end zone.
I don’t know how Saints fans can live with themselves after that loss. I would be so furious at Williams first, then at Sean Payton for now having the proper Hail Mary defensive formation on the field.
Oh, well
I have to go now. There are more movies to watch and write reviews on. My new life as a movie critic.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Giants have become a disgrace

In recent years, the New York Giants were considered a franchise that operated with class and dignity.

The Giants enjoyed a lot of success, winning four Super Bowl championships over the last 30 years. They won two in Bill Parcells' regime and two more under the guidance of Tom Coughlin. It was a lot for fans to sing the Giants' fight song, "Proud to Be a New York Giant."

But no more. That class and dignity has disappeared this year. It started when prima donna receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. made like a dog and acted like he was peeing on the turf in Philadelphia. It continued when almost the entire secondary was either suspended or reprimanded for bad behavior.

Some of those secondary members, like the well-paid Janoris Jenkins, and the misguided former first round pick Eli Apple, appeared to stop playing in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a team that was winless before Big Blue came calling. Both Jenkins and Apple looked like they didn't want to make tackles during that loss. On one play, Apple was out of bounds when 49er quarterback C.J. Beathard ran by for a touchdown. He was standing out of bounds. I had never seen that in a football play on any level, even Pop Warner.

Apple was apparently called out for that play and others, like running away from Robert Woods on a touchdown the Los Angeles Rams receiver scored on a play where it was third-and-33. Apple's poor play was pointed out in a film session and he was so angered by it that he considered walking out. But he thought better and returned, but he has not played in a game since.

All of the aforementioned things are bad enough, but the way that beleaguered head coach Ben McAdoo treated his future Hall of Fame quarterback Eli Manning this week took the cake and placed the entire franchise in a state of disgrace.

I just happened to be covering Giants' practice for Associated Press a few weeks ago, when McAdoo first hinted the idea that he might sit Manning, even though Manning hadn't missed a start in his entire career, dating back to 2004.

When reporters asked Eli about McAdoo floated the idea of sitting Manning down, Eli, like he has done many times in his career, handled the questions like a true professional.

"I'm happy to be out there," Manning said. "I'm able to play through injuries. It's important for me to be out there for my team. I want to play. I play quarterback. I play football. I understand I have a job to do. It's no fun losing games. We're going through a tough time, but we have eight more games and an opportunity to fix it."

Even after the loss to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving night, I took part in a conference call that featured Manning.

"It's definitely been a frustrating year," Manning said. "It's not the style of football I'm used to playing. It is frustrating and it is tough. We have to find ways why we're not able to do things. I've missed some throws. Everyone is contributing to our lack of success. I have to make plays. It's been a tough year, but we have five games left and now it's all about pride."

You know, proud to be a New York Giant.

McAdoo was on the same conference call last Friday.

"We're disappointed in the way our offense looked," McAdoo said. "We had a lot of unforced errors. We're going to take a look at it and see what adjustments we can make."

But there was no talk of any quarterback change.

However, three days later, McAdoo announces that the Giants were sending Manning to the bench in favor of Geno Smith, stating that "Geno gives us the best chance to win right now."

And this was done on Tuesday, which is always scheduled as Manning's day to speak to the media. Coincidence? I don't think so.

So then Manning was left to twist in the wind and deal with the issue of the benching head on. Which, by the way, Eli did and did magnificently, like he always has over the last 14 years.

My problem with the whole thing is this: First of all, if McAdoo really wanted to bench Manning, like he hinted at doing three weeks ago, then why didn't he do it then? Why wait until now?

I'd understand it even more if McAdoo said, "We have five games left and we want to see what Davis Webb can do." But no, he chooses to say that Geno Smith _ yes, that same Geno Smith who was a total flame out with the Jets _ gives the Giants a better chance to win than the two-time Super Bowl MVP. Now, how insane is that?

We all know what Geno Smith is capable of. I covered a game a few years ago against the Buffalo Bills that Smith threw three interceptions among his first four passes. He threw the ball to the other team three times in his first four passes. Right there and then, we all knew that Geno Smith was not a good quarterback. But now, McAdoo believes that Geno gives the Giants a better chance to win than the guy who brought two silver trophies to the East Rutherford facility. There's no logic in that whatsoever.

Here's the deal. If McAdoo wanted to make the change, there were better ways of doing it than letting the future Hall of Famer twist in front of his locker Tuesday. I still believe that it was calculated to happen on Eli's talk day with the media. It would have made more sense on the conference call. Did McAdoo just decide on Tuesday that he was going to make the change? Not if he hinted about it three weeks prior.

There's no way that Eli Manning is the source of the problem with the 2-9 Giants. He didn't put that ridiculous offensive line in front of him. That falls in GM Jerry Reese's lap. He's the one who knew last year that Ereck Flowers couldn't block and John Jerry couldn't move laterally, but he thought that if they worked out all during the off-season, they would magically get better. Or that Justin Pugh could play every single position on the line.

Eli Manning wasn't the cause of the injuries to receivers Brandon Marshall and Beckham. Manning wasn't the reason why the rushing attack simply isn't there. Manning didn't instruct the secondary to act like complete lazy jackasses and refuse to tackle people with the ball.

But on Tuesday, McAdoo chose to single out Manning as the reason why the team smells like bad fish.

Manning was the one who went out there and took every single snap, despite being so grossly undermanned. But now, he's the reason.

So now Giants fans are left with Geno Smith? Are you kidding me? That's like going out on a date with Charlize Theron and coming home with Phyllis Diller.

I'm also stunned and shocked that John Mara told sportswriters Wednesday that he was on board with the decision. Here's Mara's quote:

"I had had a conversation with Jerry (Reese) a week or two ago about – and I normally don’t speak to the coach directly about which players are playing and which players are not playing. I’ll have the conversation with Jerry. I mentioned to him a week or two ago – ‘don’t you think it’s time that we start to get a look at these other quarterbacks at some point during the games’ and he agreed. Said he had already had a conversation with Ben (McAdoo) about that. Jerry called me on Monday afternoon, I was at a family function in Virginia, to tell me that Ben was going to be speaking to Eli to let him know that he was going to continue to start the game. He’s going to start the game on Sunday, but that at some point Geno (Smith) would come into the game. Tuesday morning, Jerry called me and said that Eli had informed Ben that ‘if you’re going to play Geno in the second half, you may as well just start him. It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to me and I think that would be the best decision going forward.’ And, he also wanted us to put out a statement announcing that. So, that’s what we did."

UGH! 

So after all that Manning has done for the Giants, the franchise throws him under the bus. Just like that. Thanks for the memories, but you're done here.

If the Giants were classy, like they once were, they would have released Manning and let him go elsewhere to play right now. You can be rest assured that Coughlin (who was first told to retire by the Giants, but in reality was fired) would take him in Jacksonville in a heartbeat.

But the Giants, the ones who let Beckham pee and let Jenkins and Apple whiff on tackles, decided to let their two-time Super Bowl MVP to twist and then handle his benching.

This is now a disgraceful franchise, top to bottom. I never would have thought that of Mara, who is a disciple of his father, Wellington, one of the most respected men in the history of the NFL.

As for the coach, he's a complete clown. The general manager has to go, because he constructed this mess. They decided to get rid of Coughlin for some reason and now the team that Coughlin oversees is in first place and the Giants are dead last.

I don't know where the Giants go from here. I was at the game in 1978 when a plane flew over Giants Stadium that said, "Fifteen years of lousy football, we've had enough."

Well, the Giants have reverted back to those days in one single year. They are a laughingstock. And it's only going to get worse Sunday in Oakland, with Geno Smith calling the signals. What a joke!

=====================================================================

On Thanksgiving morning, I attended the final high school football game between Madison and Millburn, ending a tradition that lasted 86 years.

I covered 13 of those Turkey Day contests for the Daily Record of Morristown. I first covered the games when the legendary Ted Monica was on the sidelines for the Dodgers and I was overjoyed to see him there with the countless other former Dodger and Miller players that were on the field at halftime. I cherish the times I spent talking football with Monica when I was just starting out in the business and he remembers many of those chats to this day.

I also experienced current coach Chris Kubik's genius over the years, winning five state championships and posting three undefeated campaigns. He's one of the finest football coaches in the state and a credit to the Madison athletic department.

I spoke with my friend, current Madison athletic director Sean Dowling about the demise of the long-standing rivalry.

"The North Jersey Super Football Conference has encouraged us to discontinue the game to give us more flexibility and create more competitive crossover games. We're also looking to pass a new playoff structure. To wait around for 2 1/2 to 3 weeks to play this game is not good. Madison and Millburn really don't have a rivalry in other sports anymore. It's time to end this and move on. It was a great rivalry, but we understand that it's time."

It makes sense, but it still stinks that a long-standing tradition that stood the test of time for 86 years is gone. It was the last Thanksgiving Day game in Morris County and now it's over.

There was something special about seeing football on Thanksgiving morning, then going home to have dinner with the family. I remember the old St. Peter's Prep-Dickinson Turkey Day games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, memories I shared with my late father.

So Madison-Millburn ended with Madison winning 14-7.

I understand the move, but it doesn't mean that I'm applauding it. I wish there was a way to keep the tradition. That's all.

=====================================================================

You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com and www.theobserver.com


Friday, November 3, 2017

Protesting officials had to go; Verona's treatment of grid coach Racioppe unacceptable



High school sports and political beliefs should never be intermixed. They have to be separate. There’s no room for one with the other.

But that’s what took place recently at the Monroe-Colts Neck football game, when a few members of the Monroe team, taking the lead of their National Football League gridiron brethren, decided to take a knee during the National Anthem, forcing two officials slated to work the game to walk off in protest.

Ernie Lunardelli and his son, Anthony, decided that they didn’t want to work the game after the Monroe team protested, so they walked off soon after and decided they were not going to work the game.

Ernie Lunardelli was reached by NJ Advance Media after the incident and gave his reasons for doing what he did.

“I’m not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces,” Ernie Lunardelli told NJ Advance Media. “What they’re protesting has nothing to do with the national anthem and I’m against it, so I decided to protest for them kneeling and that’s what I did.”

Lunardelli continued with his words and reasons for his protest.

“Whoever is disrespecting that flag and the national anthem, that’s who I have a problem with,” Lunardelli said. “That’s my protest. I don’t care if it’s a baby, if it’s an 80-year-old man, anybody. I don’t care. Any race, color, I don’t care who it is. It’s not the way I was brought up and it pisses me off that people are doing that.”

But the sickening part took place even before the game. Apparently, the elder Lunardelli was yelling at the Monroe players before the game and had to be physically restrained from going after the players by other officials.

And get this: The elder Lunardelli apparently informed officials from the Greater Middlesex Conference that he was indeed going to walk away from officiating if such a protest took place. He gave the GMC officials warning of his protest _ and lived up to it.

And it gets better: Both Lunardellis posted comments on social media that were derogatory toward race and religion.

Well, I personally don’t care what our beloved father and son do on their own free time. They can protest the NFL actions or high school actions all they want away from the high school gridiron. But once they put on that black and white striped shirt, they have a job to do as an official. How can players and coaches actually take them seriously if they act in such an antagonizing fashion before kickoff?

There’s no room for such behavior in high school sports. Adults have to set the tone for the adolescents. Even when the teenagers are making a political statement of their own, there’s no room for the so-called adults to react to it, especially when they are there to do a job as football officials.

And then, to make matters worse, this father-and-son combo is bragging about their exploits before the incident takes place? And they’re dishing racial and religious epitaphs on social media to boot?

The NJSIAA did the right thing by informing these clowns that they have relinquished their rights to serve as football officials for the rest of their lives. Good riddance.

Mind you, I’m not fond of the NFL players disrespecting the flag and our servicemen by kneeling and sitting for the National Anthem. If you can’t stand for two minutes and 10 seconds, then you don’t deserve the right to play a little boys’ game for a whole lot of spending cash. If the NFL players want to make a statement, do so on your own time at the venue of your choice, not one where people are spending hundreds of dollars to see you play a little boys’ game.

That being said, I find it ludicrous for high school kids to be kneeling and sitting. What kind of lesson are they being taught by kneeling?

But it’s far worse for paid officials (who get paid pretty well to referee games) to walk off and not do their jobs simply because they disagree with the stance the football players were making.
Shame on the powers-that-be in the Verona Board of Education for electing to oust long-time head football coach Lou Racioppe last week.

The Verona BOE decided that Racioppe, the head coach at Verona for the last 20 years, was worthy of losing his job in the middle of a season for apparently raising his voice and barking expletives at some of his players.

How ridiculous is that? Football coaches have been yelling at kids and using profane language since the turn of the century. Amos Alonzo Stagg probably berated his players. Knute Rockne more than likely cursed once or twice.

But Verona decided to can a good man and an even better football coach like Racioppe in the middle of the season. They couldn’t wait until the season was over? They had to disgrace him and humiliate him now? 

What about all the good Racioppe did during his career, like winning four state sectional championships and producing superstar players like Anthony Fasano and Carlo Calabrese? Does all that simply get forgotten?

Apparently so, because if the Verona BOE did some revisionist history and realized that Racioppe did more good for Verona than could possibly be ever bad, then they would realize they made a colossal mistake.

If a move like this was made during the offseason, it still wouldn’t make much sense, but it would make more sense than showing the man the unceremonious door In the middle of the season.

The Verona BOE has not publicly stated the reasons for Racioppe’s dismissal, but it was rumored that some parents and members of the BOE was not happy with his behavior toward his players.

The school board conducted an investigation into Racioppe’s behavior three weeks ago and determined after interviewing players, coaches and parents that Racioppe was to be placed on administrative leave.

Then the BOE determined last week that Racioppe should be terminated immediately.

Now, if Racioppe did something criminal, like lay his hands on a player, then he deserved to be fired. But for yelling at kids and cursing?

"If this is the case for his termination, then every coach in the state of New Jersey and around the country shouldn't be able to coach," one parent said. “He did nothing immoral, it's just really a shame and a shame on the administration for doing this."

Bingo. Shame on the administration.  

Once again, a Board of Education gets angered by some harsh words from a disgruntled parent _ usually a parent whose kid is lacking in playing time _ and then runs with the accusations like they’re fact. It happens way too many times in high school sports. Frankly, I don’t know why any college kid would aspire to be a coach in New Jersey because there are far too many instances such as this.


Prayers go out to retired New Providence football coach Frank Bottone, who fell ill earlier this week. 

Bottone is one of the rare members of the 300-win club in New Jersey, but more importantly, Bottone is one of the pure gentlemen in the sport. He is always an absolute joy to run into at different events and was a pleasure to cover during my early days at the Daily Record and then later the Elizabeth Daily Journal and Star-Ledger. 

I adore Frank Bottone and I urge you to hit the knees and ask God to love him as much as the entire football community certainly does.
 
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com and www.theobserver.com