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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: What I'll remember

The calendar year of 2011 is rapidly winding down, much like the year did itself. As I get older, I find time just flies by, the days, the months, the years.

I see little children grow almost before my eyes. I marvel at how big my own 14-year-old nephew Jonathan has grown, almost as tall as I am, and wonder how did that cute little baby become almost a man overnight.

I see my friends' children go off to college, reach their 20's and try to figure out how that happened, when just yesterday, I swear I was just in my 20's myself.

I recently went through the litany of pictured Christmas cards and in each picture, I was stunned on how much my friends' kids had grown. It's all a sign of how it flies by.

So as I reflect on 2011, the year that I turned 50, a fact that I can't seem to fathom either, I'll think of all the things that transpired in the past year.

I'll think of the tremendous triumphs and achievements I witnessed as a sportswriter, including the national championship won by St. Anthony in basketball and the state championship won by North Bergen in football, coached by legends like Bob Hurley and Vinnie Ascolese, two icons who I am fortunate enough to consider as friends.

St. Anthony won the battle of the titans at Rutgers, defeating the then-No. 1 team in the nation, St. Patrick of Elizabeth, a team that was already destined to be crowned the best high school basketball team of all-time until coach Hurley unleashed the best surprise attack since Pearl Harbor, a device called the "amoeba defense" that left St. Patrick and coach Kevin Boyle in a state of shock and panic. It turned the entire HBO documentary production about a championship made in heaven into a total afterthought.

If you wanted real drama, nothing was better than North Bergen. Nothing. First, coach Ascolese announced his retirement after 50 years of coaching. This would be his swan song.

The Bruins then managed to qualify for the state tournament, after turning their starting tight end into their starting quarterback. They won two state playoff games in overtime, with the coach's grandson scoring the game-winning touchdown in one and a little-used kicker making an improbable field goal in the other.

The Bruins then headed to MetLife Stadium for the North 1, Group IV state title game to face a Montclair team that was the top-ranked public school in the state, a team that had won 10 straight games by 34 points or more, yet somehow came away with a 14-13 victory on the game's final play. Does it get any better than that?

In sports, there were the horrendous child molestation cases in Penn State and then Syracuse and then involving sportswriter Bill Conlin. It used to be that sports pages were covered with sports stories, but over the last 25 years or so, there's more about court cases and arrests and now graphic sexual assault that makes me -- yes, even me -- want to turn the page.

There was another thrilling NCAA Tournament and in my eyes, there's nothing better to watch and be a part of. There was another baseball season, filled with trips to CitiField, to watch my beloved Mets become a laughingstock.

There were glorious days spent in the sun, watching high school sporting events, even October days spent in unexpected blizzards, yes, watching high school sports, where I was so thankful to realize that I was indeed getting paid to cover those games and events.

There were countless people to see along the way, friendly faces who somehow never forget, but sometimes I do. The smiles, the handshakes, the hugs, go a long way, knowing all those relationships I've acquired over the years through my career as a sportswriter, all the wonderful people I've met and got to know.

But in 2011, I had to say goodbye to so many people I loved and cared for, more than any other year in my life. Someone told me that it's because I'm getting older and that I know too many people. And yes, people do die.

In many cases, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to my friends and comrades. I didn't want to make another appearance at a funeral home or a funeral Mass. It wasn't time.

I paid farewell to both of my mother's best friends, the beloved twins, Alice Stark and Ann Doyle, both of whom died only months apart this year. It was sort of fitting that the twin sisters would only be away from each other for a short time. Now, I bet they're tooling around the afterlife with my mother. Those two took their lives into their hands every time they got in a car with Helaine, the worst driver known to man. I hope they have personal taxi services in Heaven.

I said goodbye to Mickey McLaughlin, who always treated me like I was her own while I dated her daughter, Meg. I was never just a guy who happened to go out with her daughter. I was a member of the family and I am forever grateful.

I said so long to countless Hudson County sports figures who I was close to, people I considered friends. I never greeted Roddy Maffia, the long-time Dickinson athletic director, with anything other than a kiss on the cheek. I used to capture every word that came out of Danny Waddleton's mouth with awe, because every single tale was something to behold and a complete belly-laugh. He was one of the best storytellers ever.

I developed a strong bond with both of the state's top two winningest baseball coaches in Harry Shatel and Tony Ferrainolo, both of whom died this year. Shatel, the Morristown legend, held the record when he died in May. Ferrainolo, the Memorial of West New York icon, broke the record a week after Shatel passed, then he lost his battle with lymphoma in October, taking the record with him as he went.

I lost my close personal friend Ed "The Faa" Ford in April, ending a 35-year relationship that I still have trouble finding words to describe. We were combative, argumentative, bombastic and at some occasions over those years, vowed never to speak to each other again. But I know one thing for sure. I loved him and he loved me. We told that to each other on the day before his life ended. And still it's almost surreal for me to believe he's gone.

But the hardest loss of all I suffered this year was the loss of my beautiful and wonderful friend Patti Crocco Gardner, who was introduced to me 15 years ago as my friend Glenn's new girlfriend, then became his wife and mother to his two boys.

Over the last decade or so, Patti and I became as good of friends as I am with her husband. Thanks to the computer, we chatted almost every single day. We spoke on the telephone about all different kinds of topics, ranging from reality TV to music to the Mets.

Patti wasn't just my friend's wife. She was my friend. She battled leukemia with an electric smile to the very end, to the last time I talked to her on the phone on Mother's Day. A day later, she slipped into a coma. Three days later, she was gone at age 45.

There was a game this year at CitiField where someone was heckling Patti's beloved Met, Jose Reyes. I went after the guy, saying that "I have a friend who loves Reyes and if she was here right now, she'd tell you how she felt." And I had to catch myself, totally forgetting that Patti was gone from all of us.

Maybe in a way it's fitting that Reyes is no longer a Met, then I don't have to worry about defending Patti's honor at CitiField. Hell, I'm not re-upping my season tickets anyway. Another loss in 2011, thanks to the hideous Met management.

So unfortunately, that's what I'll remember most about 2011, the people I lost in the year. They might be gone, but will never be forgotten, especially people like Patti and the Faa, who live with me still every single day.

Here's to hoping that there will be less suffering in the year to come, not just by me, but for everyone. In that respect, then it will truly be a Happy New Year.


You can read more of my work at, and The Hudson Reporter has the Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year for 2011. Maybe there was a hint as to the top two already in this blog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The reason why both local grid teams won't go to the playoffs

It's supposed to be a big game on Christmas Eve and for all intents and purposes, it is.

After all, the Giants will face the Jets in a do-or-die for both teams. Win and the season remains alive. Lose and you're going home early.

So Saturday's game is exactly what everyone wanted -- a playoff game before the playoffs.

However, it could actually serve as a precursor to what may take place in two weeks, with both teams actually out of the playoffs. No one alive would have imagined that scenario when the season began in a rush last August. There were high hopes and expectations in both training camps.

A lot of things can still take place between now and New Year's Day. There could be some miraculous way they both get in, but it's unlikely.

However, before the Giants' ownership begins to put the blame on Tom Coughlin and the Jets' brass points fingers at the brash Rex Ryan, they should take a deep look and point the fingers at the real reason why the teams have struggled this season.

Ready? It's themselves. They should blame themselves, first and foremost. They should take a long look in the mirror and like Bill Parcells used to say all the time, blame the man in the glass.

Because it's the greed and avarice of both ownerships that have caused this upcoming mess. The greed to get as much money as possible in terms of Personal Seat Licenses and luxury boxes and higher priced tickets and money and money and money.

Both the Giants and the Jets owners believed that they had to have a new stadium, that Giants Stadium had outlived its purpose -- even if the place still hadn't been fully paid for by New Jersey taxpayers.

Nope, they needed a new home. So the Jets flirted with the West Side of Manhattan, but they knew that really couldn't work. The Giants desperately needed more luxury boxes than they needed defensive backs. Thus, the billion dollar edifice now known as MetLife Stadium was born.

And with the building of the new stadium and the destruction of the old, both teams lost any home field advantage they once enjoyed.

True, the Jets never had a chance to call Giants Stadium their very own. They were rentors and were the second-class residents.

But the Giants certainly owned a home field advantage after they became relevant again under Ray Perkins, becoming a playoff team once again in 1981.

Need proof? How about the NFC championship game against the Redskins that sent the Giants to their first Super Bowl? The wind was swirling like a cyclone that far exceeded the funnel that sent Dorothy Gale's house spinning towards Oz. Jay Schroeder was slapped silly that day and had no chance of calling out a play because the fans were in a complete frenzy.

How about the day the Giants destroyed the Vikings in another NFC championship game? The fans were so amped up on Kerry Collins and Greg Canella, of all people, scored a touchdown. The Giants won, 41-0, and that place rocked.

Whenever the Giants' opponents got third-and-long in Giants Stadium, the crowd would spring to their feet and you couldn't hear yourself think.

Even the Jets enjoyed a feeling of home advantage, when Fireman Ed would get on someone's shoulders and lead the chants in the lower deck at the 25-yard line.

Now? It's a country club mentality. There's no home field advantage. The people who go to the games now are more content with their wine and bree in the parking lot instead of making noise. Oh, there's a game today? Pass the poupon.

It has really destroyed the home base at Giants' games. Need proof? The Giants have dropped home games this year to Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, all teams that entered the pretty new building with losing records.

In the old days, Lawrence Taylor would have eaten those teams for lunch. Hell, even Michael Strahan would have feasted on the also-rans.

If you're an elite team in the NFL, you don't lose at home, no matter who the opponent is. You win your home games, try to go .500 on the road and go to the playoffs. Simple as that.

And you win the games against the inferior teams. The Giants haven't done that this year _ and it's their own fault for getting rid of their most avid fans with the ridiculous and greed-based PSLs and for building a new stadium when the old one was perfectly fine.

For years, the NFL has been a license to print money for the league's owners. Money flowed like the Nile. Merchandising, TV revenues were in the millions before a single ticket was sold.

Now, there's all the other crap like PSLs and luxury boxes and it has killed the Giants' loyal fan base. The same can be said for the Jets as well.

So congratulations. You have a new stadium. It's pretty. It's a little absurd to get to your seat once you get inside and you can park in Carlstadt unless you have a PSL-preferred parking spot. But it's new.

However, there's no home field advantage at all. None. And that's the biggest reason why both teams might be standing on the outside, gaping in at the upcoming playoffs.

Sure, some may blame the coaches. In this corner, I blame the greedy owners who wanted more money than they know what to do with.


It's almost unfathomable that there are all these cases of child predators in the sports world, the latest being Hall of Fame baseball writer Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Conlin abruptly retired Tuesday after it was learned that a story was about to come out how Conlin, who was also a big part of ESPN's Sports Reporters for ages, sexually assaulted four youngsters, two of whom were his own nieces, in the 1970s.

The story has now come to light because of the Jerry Sandusky story in Penn State and the Bernie Fine case in Syracuse. The victims told the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that they couldn't keep silent any longer after hearing the details of the other incidents.

So they revealed their past with the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, who did a masterful job in reporting a very tough issue. Conlin was presented with the news of the story and immediately retired.

It's just a little unsettling that these stories are now the commonplace reads in general sports sections.


Merry Christmas to all....enjoy the holidays

You can read more of my work at, and In this week's editions of the Reporter, there's the incredible comeback story of North Bergen basketball coach Kevin Bianco, who has endured two battles with leukemia.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Anyone want to buy a Met season ticket?

As any of my closest friends will attest, I am not the greatest mathematician. When figuring out statistics or filling out vouchers, I always have to have a calculator handy. Adding 8+7 is a chore for me.

However, after I received official confirmation that my beloved Jose Reyes had signed with the Miami Marlins for a boat load of cash, I started to do some computations.

I've been at least a partial season ticket holder for the New York Mets since the 1989 season. In the beginning, it was a six-game "Six Pack," but for the last 10 years, it's been a 15-game or over the last three years at CitiField, a 20-game package.

So I've figured out that I've spent more than $40,000 in Met tickets over the last 22 years. That's enough to buy a new Buick.

Well, that ends today. I have decided to not renew my Met season ticket plan.

If the Mets don't care about what product they put on the field, then why should I care about what they do?

I mean, I'll never stop being a Met fan. No way, no how. It's not like I'm going to take all 74 of my Met shirts and 39 of my Met hats and burn them in some gigantic bonfire over not re-signing their 28-year-old franchise shortstop.

I'll still follow them. I'll still care.

But to go there and spend my hard-earned money on that team? Sorry, not happening.

There was no way in hell that they were even going to try to bring Reyes back. It was all a complete charade. The idiotic owners, namely Freddie Coupon and Coupon Jr. once again lied to all of us Met fans, like for the 2,378th time, when they said they were going to make every effort to bring Reyes back.

Now we learn today that Reyes never received an official offer from them. What do they think we are? Totally stupid? I may drink the blue and orange Kool-Aid from time to time, but do not dare to insult my intelligence.

If you didn't even try to sign Reyes, that proves you don't care what is on the field in 2012.

And if you don't care, then why, as someone who forks over $3,500 of my money on tickets _ and that's before I even try to compute the cost of parking, beer, hot dogs (yes, I eat), you name it _ should I care? Why should I care what they do if the damned owners of the team don't care?

Gee, they're offering a discount on their tickets this year. Big whoop-de-damn-doo as Derrick Coleman once said. Discount to see a totally inferior product. Sorry, but Ruben Tejada, as nice of a player he seems to be, does not excite the masses. No one excited Met fans more than Reyes beating out a triple. Only Mookie Wilson's basepaths exploits were more enjoyable.

If they weren't going to re-sign Reyes or even make an attempt to do so, then they should have traded him last season. No, they knew they couldn't get fair value so they sat on him, gave some Met fans hope, then let him walk away without even an offer.

Why stop here? Let's trade David Wright now while we're at it. What the hell? Get rid of everyone.

I love reading the posts and quips today that said that the Mets are better off without Reyes.

"Hey, they didn't win with him."

"He's not worth it."

"He's only going to get hurt."

The whole "win with him'' thing irks me. Did the Red Sox win with Ted Williams? How about the Cubs with Ernie Banks? It didn't mean those teams got rid of those players because the team didn't win.

Not worth it? Not worth six years? Reyes is 27, going to be 28. He's in the prime of his career. At the end of his contract, he'll be 33. Is that an old man?

Did the team across the East River kick their franchise to the curb when he was 33? No, I don't think so.

The ''going to get hurt'' excuse is also laughable. Sure, Reyes has been injured a few times over the last four years...but look at his numbers when he's healthy. It's scary. No one in the National League put up the all-around numbers he did. NO ONE!

Need proof? Here goes:

2005: 99 runs scored, 190 hits, 7 HR, 58 RBI, .273 BA, 60 SB
2006: 122 runs scored, 194 hits, 19 HR, 81 RBI, .300 BA, 64 SB
2007: 119 runs scored, 191 hits, 12 HR, 57 RBI, .280 BA, 78 SB
2008: 113 runs scored, 204 hits, 16 HR, 68 RBI, .297 BA, 56 SB
2009: injured, 36 games
2010: 11 HR, 54 RBI, .282, 30 SB
2011: 101 runs scored, 181 hits, 7 HR, 44 RBI, .337, 39 SB

Pujols doesn't produce those overall numbers.

How can the Mets be better off without him? Better yet, who dares to be the leadoff hitter now?

So to the Mets' ownership (morons one and all), I bid's season ticket ownership is finished.

Come next April, when I used to have to sit in hours of traffic to go watch the Mets, I'll be doing creative needlepoint at the local YMCA or perhaps catching up on my classical music collection or maybe even taking a class to enhance my horrendous math skills.

Anything but going to Flushing and see the Mets. Thanks to the liars who run that asylum, I won't be going.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Doing the right thing in Wayne, Matawan

It might have taken a few weeks, but the powers-that-be in Wayne got it right when they reinstated the suspension of the nine Wayne Hills football players who were involved in the altercation with two Wayne Valley students that caused serious injuries.

Wayne Hills will have to face Old Tappan for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III championship tomorrow night at MetLife Stadium without the nine suspended players _ and deservedly so.

The Wayne Hills nine (sounds like an old baseball team) were first suspended by the Board of Education, then reinstated after a disgraceful public display at a Board hearing, then re-suspended by the Superintendent, then finally after a legal appeal process from some attorneys represented the suspended players, they were ruled ineligible by a state Administrative Law judge and finally upheld by the state Commissioner of Education.

It was a lengthy, costly process where there were no winners. The bottom line was that those teenagers lost all right to play football once they were arrested.

These legal eagles tried twist the fate a little by stating in their appeals that the players didn't deserve to be suspended for reasons such as:

1.) There was no proof that three of the accused nine were present at the time of the incident.
2.) They are being prosecuted by the court of public opinion and their reputations are forever tarnished because of the suspensions and that the general public will know the identities of the nine (excluding the adult charged, Andrew Monaghan) by figuring out which ones are missing at the game Saturday by looking at the roster.
3.) That they are being punished before they get their day in court.
4.) That the incident did not take place during school hours or during a school activity, so therefore the school district has no right to enforce any punishment against them.

All of that is hogwash. They lost every right to be Wayne Hills football players the minute they were arrested. Guilty or not in the court of law, they relinquished their privilege rights once they were carted to the police precinct and booked. End of subject.

If they play another sport at the school, the same thing should apply. They should not be eligible to participate in athletics until they have had their day in court and they are then exonerated. Without that, they are done. Plain and simple.

But there were a lot of people in Wayne who wanted to circumvent the laws and who didn't want to do the right thing by keeping those kids on the sidelines. Well, that didn't work and the right thing was done _ ironically in a court of law with attorneys fighting tooth and nail, using every excuse in the book except common sense, in the process.

They're out and bravo on that.

About 60 miles south of Wayne, there was another incident that involved suspensions of football players who didn't do the right thing. Only this case wasn't highly publicized. There were no arrests. There were no court appearances, appeals, public meetings with teams in full uniform. Nothing.

Matawan will play at Rutgers Stadium Saturday night against Rumson-Fair Haven for the Central Jersey Group II championship. Matawan will be a little shorthanded, because five players were suspended by head football coach Joe Martucci, who also serves as the school's athletic director, because they did something really stupid.

Nothing criminal, nothing that required police, just plain stupid teenage idiocy. But Martucci, knowing that the kids deserved to be punished, followed the school policy and suspended the five gridders for two weeks. It happens to include the state championship game.

There was no fanfare, no controversy, no press conferences. Just a football coach and administrator doing the right thing and punishing kids for inappropriate behavior.

Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi did a fine job in reporting the Matawan incident in today's column.

Here's the link:

Why Wayne Hills couldn't do the same thing in the first place is beyond me.

Bravo to Martucci who had to make a tough decision, one that may hurt his team's chances to win a state title. But in education, what's right is right. Martucci knows that.

For the wizards out there who think that you can equate the Penn State-Sandusky case with the Syracuse-Fine case, here's something to chew on:

1. No one has been arrested in the Syracuse case yet. There have been no handcuffs, no federal indictments, no perp walks, nothing. Crimes took place in Happy Valley. Those were criminal acts.
2. There are legitimate witnesses who saw Sandusky with the little boys. It's documented in an indictment report. There is graphic proof that has been presented in a court of law.
3. There is also allegations of heinous acts against the little boys in Pennsylvania. In Syracuse, it appears that we have two disgruntled stepbrothers and one illusional child molester who can't seem to tell the truth.
4. So until someone gets arrested in Syracuse, this is just allegations and speculation. Penn State, there have been arrests.

Now, my two cents on the Bernie Fine case. It seems to be more of a bizarre, whacked out marriage gone wrong. To think that this Bobby Davis was molested and fondled by Fine for years, then he ends up in bed with his wife? She felt bad that the boy was fondled, so she decided to have some of him herself?
And if Davis was so mortified and bothered by the molestation for years, then why did he go back for more at age 26? At age 26, then it's not child molestation. It's called a gay affair.
The Tomaselli kid, who is apparently another victim, is another piece of work. He is up on child molestation charges in Maine and decides to tell the authorities about Fine to lessen the charges against himself? His story about going on the team bus to Pittsburgh holds no credence, because they didn't travel by bus. His own father said that the kid is lying and then Tomaselli counters by saying his father molested him. Ugh.
But ESPN, the high and almighty sports phenomenon, which only reports the truth, continues to parade these people on air to tell stories that they can't really confirm.
And for anyone to think that the Syracuse's problem is just as bad as Penn State's, do yourself a favor. Google the Sandusky indictment report. It's online. It's a legal document. After you reach for the Pepto for being sick to your stomach, come back and tell me it's the same thing as a disgruntled adult, who had sex with the accused's wife of all things, coming forth and saying he was touched inappropriately.
The two are not the same by any means, other than they accuse a college assistant coach of child molestation.
Penn State's case is legitimized in the court of law. Syracuse's case right now is speculation and accustation.

One final note. Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is the most imposing, most impressive college basketball player I've seen since an 18-year-old manchild named Shaquille O'Neal arrived at LSU in 1990.
The 6-foot-11 Davis has arms longer than Lindsay Lohan's stays in rehab. He blocks nearly every shot in sight. He runs the floor like a gazelle and he has soft hands to catch and shoot. He's the total package.
I read last night where one NBA scout was quoted as saying that Davis' "upside is tremendous." That's an understatement. The kid in three years could become the next Bill Russell. He's that good.


You can read more of my work at (great piece on SPC point guard Brandon Hall upcoming this Sunday), and, where I will be all over the Morris County teams in the NJSIAA state sectional finals.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wayne Hills football situation: Much like Steven Seagal

Wayne Hills won another NJSIAA North 1, Group III state playoff game the other night, defeating Paramus in convincing fashion. It's something that the school has done practically a gazillion times over the last 30 years. Winning is an annual ritual at Wayne Hills.

But so is the actions of their head coach and athletic director Chris Olsen, who continues to act like he's part of a Steven Seagal movie, you know "Above the Law."

Nine of Olsen's players were allegedly involved in a brutal beating of two players from neighboring Wayne Valley a few weeks ago, one beaten unconscious and dragged to the curb like the weekend trash. There are reports that the victims were not only beaten, but then kicked and stomped while lying on the ground. Yeah, real Boy Scouts, true credits to their school and program.

However, instead of facing punishment for what they did _ and one, a beautiful young man named Andrew Monaghan, who is supposed to be an adult now because he's 18 years old _ Olsen used his massive influence to have his entire team wear their football jerseys and appear at a Wayne Board of Education meeting convened to determine the bastions of goodness' eligibility to play.

So the Board of Ed, feeling the immense presence of Olsen and the gigantic pressure of winning at all and any cost, said that there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove that three of the alleged geniuses were actually there at the incident, so therefore, they should all play.

Now, that's one of the greatest rulings of all time. If we go on that premise, then several of the Manson family _ including Good Time Charlie himself _ should have never been charged in the horrific Tate-LoBianca murders, because, hey, they weren't there.

There is no way in the world that these kids should have been anywhere near that football field Friday night. None.

There are a lot of issues to address here.

First, let's start with the least culpible people, the members of the Wayne Board of Education, who allowed these wonderful role models to get on the field.

They first made a ruling, declaring the nine kids ineligible to play. Perfect. Smart move. But then they reconvene after some legal eagles step in and provided "evidence" that three of them weren't present during the attack. So there was another vote, one with 60 or so other Wayne Hills players present wearing their football jerseys (gee, you think that was organized on their own?) and allowed the nine to play.

"Because it is a criminal investigation, the attorneys were reluctant to give us everything they had," Board of Education trustee Allan Mordkoff told the Record of Hackensack.

"It wasn't a full-blown trial," Mordkoff said. "But we wanted to give it another look because what we were presented wouldn't let us sustain a suspension."

Perhaps the victim's medical records or photos of his battered face would have been enough proof.

Another lawyer, who apparently represents six of the nine accused Wayne Hills players, said that there was no proof of a "beating or stomping."

Again, the suggestion is an interview of the victim or perhaps the Wayne police members investigating the case.

So to these Board of Education members, who were elected by the citizens of Wayne, elected to represent the needs of their constituents, the question remains: What about the victims? After all, they are students in your own district. Sure, it's a rival school, but their parents are Wayne taxpayers all the same. Are you turning a blind eye for the good of the almighty Wayne Hills football program? What do you say to those parents who had to endure their children's hospitalization and recovery?

That's a disgrace. Wayne Valley has always been the ugly stepsister in the eyes of the Wayne Board of Education, that everyone always catered to the needs of Wayne Hills first and foremost. Well, here's proof.

Now, to address Coach Olsen.

I want to say that Chris Olsen is someone I've known for almost 30 years. He's someone who I respect as a football coach and unlike other members of the media, who despise him, I personally like him. He's always been very good with me. He's invited me to his home on several occasions. I've written many stories about him, his team, his sons. I've been fortunate to say I've never had an issue with Chris whatsoever. In that respect, I am of the minority, because he's had issues with a lot of others.

And now, honestly, this is just another case of Coach Olsen truly believing that he's like Steven Seagal, namely above the law.

It was that way when he was the coach of Paterson Eastside, brought in to turn around the Ghosts' program by the immortal educator Joe "Lean on Me" Clark, a man who realized how important football was to the overall discipline of his students.

Olsen eventually wore out his welcome at Eastside, eventually even alienating maybe his lone ally in Clark, simply because Olsen only wanted to coach football and nothing else. Olsen didn't see the situation like everyone else did and he resigned, because he simply couldn't get his way.

Olsen has moved on to Wayne Hills and the controversy has continued. About 15 years ago, Olsen was allegedly involved _ and later legally embroiled _ in a fistfight with one of his assistant coaches. It was a case that lingered for almost two years, with accusations and allegations flying about. It was so much a "cloak-and-dagger" case that I had several meetings with people involved in the altercation, but only in secluded, out of the way places, because they didn't want to be seen or spotted saying anything negative about Olsen.

Olsen maintained that he did nothing wrong in the incident with his assistant coach and he couldn't believe that news of the fight was leaked to the police and later the media.

Olsen was also involved with another controversial incident, one that Olsen couldn't avoid a suspension, even though he truly believed he did nothing wrong. Again, above the law.

Olsen used his then 12-year-old seventh grade son in a scrimmage. The NJSIAA got wind of this case and suspended Olsen for four games at the start of the season. Olsen insisted that he put his son into the scrimmage to prove a point, a learning lesson so to speak, to the rest of his Patriot players that being the quarterback wasn't that difficult, because his grammar school aged son could do it.

Olsen truly believed then that he did nothing wrong. When asked if he thought he put his pre-teen son in physical danger, he said that he was the boy's father and knew what was best for him.

Now, this case. It's a bad pattern.

Chris Olsen should have used better common sense in all of the aforementioned incidents, including this latest slice of controversy.

Is he a good football coach? Absolutely. I also believe he's a decent man, a good father. But Olsen wears blinders that prohibits him from seeing the whole picture.

If it's about winning at all cost, his team more than likely would have still defeated Paramus on Friday night without the nine players. It throws salt into the wounds of Paramus _ and the victims of the "physical incident" _ that Monaghan, the only 18-year-old charged in the crime, scored a touchdown.

And yes, it has to be called a "physical incident," because after all, the legal eagles say it wasn't a "beating or a stomping." Yeah, the victim was unconscious on his own, left in the gutter to bleed on his own.

And to actually organize the remaining players to show up at the Board of Ed meeting wearing their jerseys? There's no way in hell that these kids did this on their own. They were coached.

Chris Olsen is once again guilty of thinking that he is truly above the law, that he should determine what's good and right and just.


Those kids should not have played. The suspensions should have stuck.

And for those who believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, yes, I agree. In the court of law. That's where it applies. These kids are indeed innocent until they face the charges in court.

However, high school athletics is not the court of law. It's not life. It's a privilege.

A high school kid is privileged to be able to participate in athletics. It's not a state-mandarted requirement, like English and math are. It's not something that has to be provided by the Board of Education. It's a reward for hard work, discipline, teamwork, getting good grades.

And once you get arrested of a crime _ yes, aggravated assault is a crime _ then you lose all of those privileges, until it is proven in the court of law that you are innocent. You relinquish those privileges. Plain and simple.

I've had this argument with several coaches over the last few years, after local athletes were arrested for similar crimes. I'm steadfast with that belief. You get arrested of a crime, you're done until you're proven innocent in the court of law. End of privilege.

If you allow an arrested kid a chance to play, what message does it send to everyone else? "Hey, he beat someone to a pulp and can play. Why can't I?" It's an awful message. And what lesson, punishment is provided to those who were involved? None? Aren't we in the business of education?

But hey, some said that since the incident didn't take place during school hours, it should not relate to the athletic fields of play. Yeah, right. If you're an athlete, you represent your school. You get arrested, you disgrace your school.

So Wayne Hills will move on to the Group III state championship game and a rematch with Old Tappan and the state's best quarterback, Devon Fuller. No harm, no foul, right?

Try saying that to the two kids from Wayne Valley who were beaten, stomped, dragged, whatever way you want to slice it.


ESPN should be totally ashamed of itself for running with this "Behind the Lines" segment, implicating Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine.

It looks like the network, which also believes it is the pinnacle of everything in the world, is racing to put this sensationalistic slice of shiite on the tube without any justification.

We're going to get a slew of these stories now after the disgusting Penn State saga, but this one, without a legitimate police report, arrest and simply the allegations of two men (who happen to be brothers of all things), is just wrong.

You can read more of my work at (Athlete of the Week story this week is a Hollywood script), and

So these Wayne Hills kids will remain eligible and pay

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Smokin' Joe and the Electric Slide

The news that came down early this morning that former heavyweight boxing champion "Smokin'" Joe Frazier was under hospice care, nearing the end of a battle with liver cancer, certainly hit close to home for a multitude of reasons.

For one, Frazier was my favorite boxer as a little kid. He was a relentless warrior in the ring, a man who defied the odds. He was considered too small to become the heavyweight champ, but he managed to overcome that stereotype to win the title in the early 1970s.

I also vividly remember Monday, March 8, 1971. I was a fourth grader, but already a huge sports fan. My father knew that and encouraged by love of sports at every opportunity. If he was still around today, he would have totally enjoyed the fact that I basically have a poor-paying hobby as a sportswriter and not a real job so to speak.

Anyway, on that day, my father was insistent that I had to get my homework done. I never asked why, but he was on top of it all day. My father worked for the city of Jersey City in the automotive department and had the night shift, working from 4 p.m. to midnight. He always had dinner with us, but went back to work and came home long after I was in bed.

So that day, I asked him why he was so intent on me getting my homework done. He said, ``Well, isn't that fight tonight?" He was referring to the first of the trilogy of wars between Frazier and Muhammad Ali that was set for that night at Madison Square Garden.

I told my father that I planned on listening to the fight on my little transistor radio that I used to put under my pillow. That little transistor allowed me to envision Madison Square Garden in my head, thanks to the voice of Marv Albert. Marvelous Marv allowed me to dream of the Knicks, the days of DeBusschere, Bradley, Reed and Clyde, when I loved the NBA. Now, it's like root canal. Better yet, what is the NBA?

My father said, ``Good, I just want to make sure you get your homework done."

I always did my homework, so I didn't know why he was so insistent.

He then came home from work and told me that we were going for a ride. I never missed a chance to go anywhere with my father, so I just grabbed my coat and headed for the car.

We started driving and I asked him where we were going.

``Don't ask so many questions,'' he said.

We headed for the Holland Tunnel. I asked why we were going to New York. I also said I wanted to be home in time for the fight.

``Don't worry,'' he said. We kept driving and we were close to the Garden. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out two tickets to the fight.

Sure, it's not the most conventional sporting event for a 10-year-old, but I was with my father. The place was packed and we were sitting in the general vicinity of big celebrities, like Frank Sinatra and Soupy Sales./ Hey, at that time, Soupy was a legend in my eyes.

Well, my man Joe Frazier won the fight, knocked down Ali in an epic battle. It is one of my fondest memories of being with my father, who was sick, dead and gone from cancer some eight months later.

I followed Frazier throughout the many storied moments. I went to the Stanley Theater in Jersey City and paid $20 to see the closed circuit viewing of Ali-Frazier III, the fight known as "The Thriller in Manila." I was about 13 or 14 then and was alone in a theater with a packed audience of rabid adults. But it was my money and I wanted to see it. I remember scoring the fight on a notebook in the dark (the sportswriter in me was already in full bloom) and thinking Frazier had the fight won if he could last the 15th round.

Battered, his eyes almost closed shut, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch called an end to the fight and Ali won via technical knockout after 14 rounds. It was a fight that took years off the lives of both boxers. It was a brutal, physical, epic war.

There were other memorable moments, like Frazier showing off his lack of swimming skills during ABC's Superstars competition, his fight with George Foreman with Howard Cosell's memorable call of "Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier," and his return to boxingn managing son Marvis' career.

Joe Frazier was always someone I followed and admired.

Flash forward to 1994. Tracey Tullock, a girl who I coached when she was in grammar school at my alma mater St. Paul's of Greenville in Jersey City, was in need of a costly heart operation in St. Louis. Her father asked me if I could help organize a fundraiser to help defray the cost of the surgery.

So I agreed to help and decided to see if I could get some assistance in raising money. I called my friend, the late Willie Wolfe, who was one of the most generous people I've ever known.

Whenever I needed anything, Willie was always there. He had a lot of connections in the sports world, including several members of the 1969 Miracle Mets, some former Giants and a bunch of boxers.

When I told Willie I was helping with the fundraiser for Tracey, he told me I could have anything I wanted. The next day, he arrived at my front door with a garbage bag full of memorabilia to raffle off. There were autographed pictures galore from the Mets, the Giants, and boxers. There were at least fiven boxing gloves autographed by both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Willie had a close relationship with the former champ Smokin' Joe.

When he arrived at my door with that bag, I was flabbergasted with the generosity. He asked me if there was anything else he could do. Willie had already been his generous giving self.

"How about if I bring Smokin' Joe to the event?" Willie said.

I was amazed. The former heavyweight champion of the world was going to a fundraiser for a Jersey City girl he never even met.

Sure enough, Frazier arrived with Wolfe at the Jersey City Moose Lodge to sign autographs. All of the proceeds of his appearance went to help Tracey.

And Frazier had a great time, signing autographs and mingling with the people. He even got up to dance and did the Electric Slide with young Tracey and myself. Yes, I danced the Electric Slide with Joe Frazier.

Tracey had the surgery. She's doing well, healthy and living life with her children.

So when I heard Frazier was nearing the end of his life today, I remembered what he meant to me as a young sports fan and what he meant to a young girl who needed medical help.

For that, Joe Frazier will always remain a major part of my life. If the Lord calls him home, then Frazier goes to the Lord with knowledge that he was a generous, giving soul, just like his friend, Willie Wolfe, who is so sorely missed.


You can read more of my work at, and

The Hudson Reporter this week features a tribute to my good friend Vinnie Ascolese, who announced that he is retiring as the head football coach at North Bergen at the end of the season. Ascolese was honored tonight, when the township renamed Bruins Stadium after him. I wish I could have been there, but other commitments kept me away.

It's a tribute that was a long time coming, but I'm glad that North Bergen decided to honor Vinnie while he's still here to enjoy it.

I'll have more on my relationship with Ascolese in a blog to follow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering a great Met moment a quarter century ago

As everyone under the sun knows, I am a diehard Met fan. I'm a long-time season ticket holder who bleeds orange and blue. I try to evolve historical moments in my life and tie them to some sort of Mets moment.

Well, a great moment took place 25 years ago today. In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Oct. 25, 1986, the Mets staged perhaps the most dramatic comeback in the history of baseball, scoring three runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat the Boston Red Sox and stave off the Red Sox capturing the World Series. Two days later, the Mets won the Series.

But on this date, as I've heard Vin Scully say thousands of times over the last 25 years: "slow roller up the first base line...behind the gets by comes Knight and the Mets win it."

I was just listening to Mike Francesa on WFAN with Darryl Strawberry, talking about that night. Francesa said that everyone remembers exactly where they were the night that Mookie Wilson's little dribbler got past Bill Buckner.

I will never forget that night.

Earlier that Saturday, my good friend from high school, Dave Viggiano, called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to watch the game together and have a few beers. But Vigg had one request.

"Hague, you can't wear any of your Met shit," he said. Vigg was a Yankee fan and hated the Mets. "I want you to get somewhat dressed up and we'll go to have a few, then go somewhere else after. So get dressed."

That included wearing shoes. Now, as anyone who knows me, I don't wear shoes. I'm sneakers 365. Unless it's a really formal affair, like a wedding or a funeral (even that's not a given), I don't for the life of me wear dress shoes.

And yes, to my friends in the Midwest, they are sneakers, not tennies. One of those quirks about my time in Milwaukee that I never understood, like ''pop" instead of soda, and ''bubbler" of all things instead of a drinking fountain.

So anyway, I put on a pair of nice slacks, a collared dress shirt, a new sweater and yes, shoes to go out that night with Vigg. Why? Because he asked me. No Met hats, T-shirts, wristbands, underwear, nothing. I left my Met allegiance and paraphernalia home on the night of the most important game of the 1986 season.

I met Vigg in a place in Secaucus called El Torito, a Mexican restaurant/cantina that had great tap beer, good snacks, TVs all over the place. It was a fun place. It's now Red Lobster in Secaucus, for historical purposes. But El Torito was a popular stop back then. It didn't hurt that two of my friends bartended there and gave me excellent drink prices. I won't dime them out, but they were giving away the joint and I wasn't a pretty girl.

The beers were fine. Vigg and I started talking to two pretty girls. The cost was perfect, like zero. It was the start of a good night and no reason to go anywhere else.

As the game was about to begin, some clown wearing a T-shirt that stated "American League Supremacy: Three Years in a Row" came up to me.

"Your team is going down tonight, fat boy...they're going down....going down."

I have no idea how this moron knew I was a Met fan, because I hadn't cheered a lick at all. I didn't want to piss off Vigg and I certainly had no idea what team the pretty girl I was trying to hit on (unsuccessfully of course) was rooting for. But he came up to me of all people and issued his taunt.

The game is going on. Dwight Gooden looked like crap and was getting knocked around. He was in a cold soaking sweat and it was like 35 degrees out. It was also the second inning. It was the first time that there was some question about him doing cocaine. It was a totally unfathomable idea at that point. I mean, he was Dr. K, the greatest pitcher in the game. Cocaine? No way, I thought. Naive? Oh, yeah, as I'd find out only a couple days later.

So we're losing, come back to tie the game at 3-3, then Rick Aguilera
gives up a homer to Dave Henderson and another run and we're now losing heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, 5-3. The Red Sox are three outs away from their first World Series championship since before World War I and the Mets were on the verge of being a team with 108 wins and nothing to show for it.

Wally Backman pops out for the first out. Keith Hernandez flies out for the second out. We're doomed. The people are preparing the Red Sox clubhouse for a champagne celebration. Marv Albert is standing outside the clubhouse to interview Series MVP Bruce Hurst. Even "Congratulations, Boston Red Sox, World Series Champs" appears on the Diamond Vision scoreboard.

With that, my friend with the T-shirt rears his ugly head once again. He proceeds to pour his beer on my head. Don't forget, I'm dressed nice.

"It's not champagne, fat boy, but it will have to do," he said.

That was it. I grabbed the guy, threw him to the ground, put my knee in his chest, ripped that T-shirt off his body and blew my nose in it as I had my fat knee still embedded in his chest. I threw the shirt in his face, then turned to the TV screen and pointed at my beloved team.

"You guys won 108 games this year," I yelled. "Don't you dare go down without a fucking whimper."

The crowd at El Torito's roared in approval. Sorry, Vigg, it was time for me to be what I did best, be a Met fan.

With that, Gary Carter lined a single. There was life. Kevin Mitchell lined another single, moving Carter to second. More life. Ray Knight, who would become the REAL Series MVP, singled home Carter to make it 5-4 and moved Mitchell to third.

With that, Red Sox manager John McNamara took out beleaguered closer and former Met Calvin Schiraldi and brought in Kearny native Bob Stanley to face Mookie Wilson.

One of Stanley's first deliveries almost hit Wilson, went to the backstop and the wild pitch scored Mitchell with the tying run and moved Knight to second base.

What ensued was baseball history. Wilson fought off pitch after pitch from Stanley, in some instances swinging like an old lady with a fly swatter at a summer picnic. But Mookie stayed alive, fouling seven different Stanley offerings and sending those foul balls all over the place.

Wilson then managed to get wood on another Stanley sinker and hit a slow roller to first base. I still believe to this day that even if Buckner fielded the ball cleanly, Wilson would have beaten him to the bag to keep the rally alive.

But we'll never know. As we do know, Buckner booted the ball and it rolled into short right field. Knight raced home and the Mets had the improbable, impossible 6-5 victory, sending the World Series to a seventh game and sending the Red Sox into a complete state of shock.

Back in El Torito, there was bedlam. In my dress shoes, I don't think I ever jumped higher. White men can't jump. Fat white men can't jump even worse. But I certainly got up there as Knight was racing home.

I turned to look for Vigg. He was gone. He left without even saying goodbye.

As for the guy with the T-shirt, he was getting absolutely pummeled by about seven Met fans. One asked me if I wanted to get in a punch. There was no need. I was celebrating too much to want to get involved with that.

Beer was flying all over the place. The place felt like it was shaking. The management had to announce that the place was closing, strictly for safety purposes. It was a madhouse.

I then headed to my home away from home, the Park Tavern, to continue the revelry. Two of my best friends joined me there. Glenn Gardner and John Matsikoudis were at a party in Bayonne, but once the Mets won, they headed to the PT to partake in the joy.

Two nights later, all three of us celebrated winning the World Series together.

And incredibly, 25 years after the fact, we've never enjoyed that kind of celebration since. There were close calls in 1988, 2000 and 2006, but nothing like what we had in 1986.

So when Francesa said most people remember where they were on this night 25 years ago, there's my memory. And it won't go away anytime soon, especially now since the Mets are a mere shell of what they were 25 years ago. It's a great memory that will never diminish and will stay with me until the Mets get another World Series trophy, if that ever happens.


You can read more of my stuff at, and I promise you it's not as entertaining as writing this blog was.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another tough loss to swallow in a year of sadness

The last time I spoke with my friend Tony Ferrainolo, the all-time winningest coach in the history of New Jersey high school baseball, was in mid-August.

I received word that Ferrainolo had taken a turn for the worse in his battle with lymphoma and that he wasn't doing well. So I reached out to call Ferrainolo on his cell to see how he was handling everything.

"I'm doing alright, Jimmy," he said. "Why don't you come up and we'll have lunch. Call whenever you can. You're a true friend."

In reality, I wasn't that good of a friend, because Tony passed away this morning after battling cancer for a little over a year. He was 66 years old.

Tony Ferrainolo was your quintessential West New York athletic legend. He was a football and baseball star during his playing days at Memorial High School. He went from Memorial to Villanova University and played both sports there.

After a fine career in college, Ferrainolo knew where he belonged and returned to his native West New York to become a teacher, a coach, an administrator.

He became the Memorial baseball coach at a very young age and then became the head football coach as well. While Ferrainolo enjoyed some success as a football coach, it couldn't scratch the surface of what he did as a baseball coach, leading the Tigers to umpteen HCIAA titles, winning several state sectional titles and capturing the overall NJSIAA Group IV title in 1988. In the process, the Tigers won the mythical national championship that year, a feat that will never be duplicated in Hudson County baseball.

It was a glorious season, one that I had the fortune to watch and cover many times that year. I was there when the Tigers defeated Elizabeth in the Group IV semifinals and was given permission by Ferrainolo to travel on the bus with the team to Princeton to watch a guy named Ralph Perdomo hit a three-run homer into the sunset at Princeton to clinch the state and national title.

It was also the beginning of a good friendship that I enjoyed with Ferrainolo over the years, a friendship that lasted more than 25 years. It wasn't just reporter-to-coach. It was friend-to-friend. We talked about everything over the last two decades.

He also opened up to me about being diagnosed with lymphoma, like he was a little over a year ago. He told me that he was going to beat it, that it wasn't that serious.

Apparently, that wasn't the case.

I wanted to write a good tribute here tonight. I wanted to give him his proper due. After all, he's the all-time leader in New Jersey high school baseball coaching victories.

The man he passed this season was also a friend, a great coach from Morristown named Harry Shatel. Harry passed away in early May. Now Ferrainolo is gone. I have said goodbye to too many close friends this year, people I truly loved.

It's almost like I'm burned out from writing about friends who have died.

I feel awful that I didn't get the chance to spend time with Tony like he wanted. We never had that lunch. Life got too busy for me to take the time to spend time with a friend who was dying.

Shame on me.

I will write a better tribute to Tony in the morning. I'm too sad right now to even concentrate on giving him his proper due.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Moneyball hits a home run

I want to start this by stating one clear fact:

Most movies based on true sports stories are generally awful.

There, I said it. For some reason, Hollywood puts its spin on things and make the movies less than factual. As a sportswriter, it really irks me. It makes me feel like I know too much for my own good or that the moviemakers are just plain idiotic.

For example, in "Cinderella Man," a topic I happen to know a little about, Ron Howard , yes the Oscar-winning Opie Cunningham that we all grew to love, made James J. Braddock's son 9 years old for some reason and had a scene where the kid stole a salami and Braddock made the kid return the salami to the store owner from where he stole it. Only problem was that when Braddock shocked the world and beat Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world, Braddock's three children were 4, 2 and an infant. No 4-year-old, not even Baby Face Finster, is stealing a salami.

They also had Mae Braddock traveling from North Bergen, N.J. to Long Island City, N.Y. to give her husband encouragement before the fight. Well, how did she get there? Motor car? Subway? Taxi? She wasn't there the night of the fight, especially with three toddlers at home. In fact, she hated to watch her husband get beat up and hardly ever saw him fight in person. Especially after Baer bragged in the pre-fight hype that he was going to send the "Cinderella Man'' home in a body bag. She was truly worried about the well being of her husband and was not present for the big fight. Besides, she had no way of getting there.

There are other examples. In the recent "Secretariat" movie, it made it look as if Peggy Chenery put everything she owned into the horse and if the horse failed, the family would lose the farm. No such thing. The year before Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the Chenery family owned Riva Ridge, who merely won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. How could they overlook that major point?

There are others, like two hideously poor Babe Ruth movies, the first one with William Bendix and the second one with John Goodman. Neither looked like a baseball player at all, nevermind the greatest player to ever live.

There are other awful biopics that are too painful to list. A litany of disappointment, one after another.

So when I saw the advertisements for "Moneyball", I have to say that I was very skeptical. And the commercials were so diverse. Some showed the movie as a comedy and others portrayed it as a heart-warming drama. And then there was Brad Pitt, who never impressed me at all with his acting skills. He was a pretty boy, but certainly no DeNiro, Pacino or even Leonardo DiCaprio.

Needless to say, I had absolutely no hope or expectations for the movie. But as a sportswriter and a baseball fan in the truest sense, I felt obligated to go see it.

And all I can say is "WOW!" I was blown away. I was captivated by Brad Pitt's portrauyal of Billy Beane, who I've had the chance to interview a few times and he's even more eccentric and out there than Pitt played him to be. I came away with a better appreciation of Pitt as an actor. He was brilliant.

As for the movie, I was amazed at the precise, almost fanatical sticking to the details that director Bennett Miller worked into the movie. I mean, he had to teach some actor how to pitch with the bizarre, submarine style of Chad Bradford, to the point where I sat around to watch the credits to see if the players actually portrayed themselves.

In most sports movies, the opponents are complete afterthoughts with the names on the backs of their jerseys not synching with the real names. Not the case here. Miller even had an actor playing Twins reliever Eddie Guardado who pitched exactly like Guardado.

It was so totally uncanny for a sports movie and so true to life.

I'm not going to give away anything else, other than go see "Moneyball."
It already climbs into my list of the best sports movies of all-time. Pitt is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination in a role that he obviously thought he was fit to play, considering he admittedly said he knows nothing about baseball, yet served as the movie's executive producer, sinking his own cash into the project.

It's definitely a ''must-see" and it's the best movie I've seen since "The King's Speech," which swept last year's Oscars. Take my advice. Go see it as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed.

You can read more of my work at, and The Observer this week has articles about the Kearny-Harrison soccer matches at Red Bull Arena. I also did an interesting piece for the Daily Record about Madison football players who double in the marching band. Check them out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reyes: The pursuit of a batting title vs. avid fans

It was the final Met game of the season and the last of my 20-game ticket plan, a season ticket plan that I have purchased for at least the last decade, maybe longer.

Even though I am a sportswriter for a living, I am also a diehard Met fan. Purchasing that ticket plan and going to as many games as possible during the summer represents my vacation, my solace, my release.

On Wednesday, I debated whether I should go to the final game of the year. I was going alone. The weather looked grim at best. I almost bagged it entirely.

But then I remembered one thing. Not only was it the final game of the season, but it was also going to be the last game that one of my favorite Mets of all time, Jose Reyes, was going to be in a Met uniform.

Sure, there's still hope that Reyes will re-sign with the team, but the reality of the situation points to the talented All-Star shortstop playing somewhere else in 2012.

The Mets organization keep saying that they would love to have Reyes come back, but GM Sandy Alderson is also saying that the team will operate with a smaller payroll next year, probably in the $100 million range.

Well, the team is already on the hook for $25 million for Johan Santana and $16 million for Jason Bay. I'm no math wizard, but it doesn't leave a lot left over for the remaining 23 players and Reyes is going to demand $20 mill a year, there's even less. It seems to me that the Mets are grooming Ruben Tejada to be Reyes' low-priced permanent replacement.

So this could very well have been Reyes' last game as a Met. I then decided to go to the game and cheer for Reyes at every chance, every at-bat, every appearance.

When they announced the starting lineup, I loudly started the "Jose, Jose, Jose" chant and did so for the first inning, as he went out onto the field, as he made his first plate appearance.

And then, Reyes gets a bunt single, reaches first base and was quickly replaced for a pinch-runner. So much for the cheering him at every at-bat. He had one.

Immediately, I didn't know who made the decision to take Reyes out of the game. At first, I thought it was manager Terry Collins' decision. As much as I adore Collins as a manager (only the fourth real manager the franchise has ever enjoyed), I was livid that he took Reyes out.

I mean, it ruined the team's chances to compete that day. The lineup already resembled something that would be unaccepted at Class AAA Buffalo and now the leader of the team was out before the game even started.

And I was mad at Collins for denying the diehard Met fans (like me) a chance to cheer for Reyes as many times as possible.

But as I drove home from CitiField, I heard the post-game press conferences and realized it was Reyes who asked to come out, because he wanted the batting title.

And then, I got mad at Reyes. Because the batting title obviously meant more to him than giving the diehard Met fans one last chance to give him adoration.

I got mad because in pursuit of a batting title, Reyes forgot about his teammates, his manager and more importantly, the fans who came to see him and wanted to see his team end a disappointing season with a victory.

And I wondered whether Reyes was truly worthy of the adoration he received from fans, especially if he never thought about them when he opted out of the last game.

When Reyes was at his best, there was no more electrifying player in the game. There was nothing better than watching him dash around the bases in pursuit of a triple, then getting up and doing ''The Claw" in appreciation. Reyes got everyone going with a stolen base, a diving grab deep in the hole at short. His energy and level of excitement when he was not at the plate or in the field was also a joy, high jumping into a teammate, inventing a new greeting and handshake.

I loved the old "Profesor Reyes" clips on the scoreboard, teaching everyone how to speak Spanish. How else would I have known that "La tortuga es muy lenta," which translated means, "The turtle is very slow."

He was a joy to watch and I was so happy he was mine.

But now, I have a different feel, like I just sipped a glass of sour milk. I don't know what to think. I know Reyes doesn't think he did anything wrong and that's the main reason why I'm so pissed.

He shortchanged his team by being selfish and he stuck it to the fans that totally adored him for not playing for them.

It would be like Richard Kiley leaving his last performance of "Man of La Mancha" without singing "Impossible Dream." Or like Billy Joel stepping off stage at a concert after singing "Piano Man."

Jose Reyes gave us nine seasons, some of which were injury-plagued, but he left us with a lot of solid memories. I was there for his first home game in 2003 and I was there for his last game in 2011.

But if that's the way we're left to remember Reyes, then that's sad. Congrats, you got a batting title, the first Met to ever do so. But you disappointed a lot of people in the process, including perhaps literally the biggest fan he had. Literally, of course.

And just by the way Alderson is talking, I have to believe Reyes is going elsewhere and we're left to cheering for Ruben Tejada. He's a good player. But he's no Jose Reyes.


I cannot believe how fickle the Boston Red Sox are. They collapse down the stretch and they make Terry Francona the scapegoat? Fire Francona for what happened? Do you not remember that he was the guy who brought you a World Series title for the first time since like 1900-something and he then backed it up with another three years later?

I'm not a Red Sox fan by any means. Their pompous ''we're better than you'' attitude, which permeates from the front office to the players and definitely the fans, is downright annoying and sickening.

But Francona was the epitome of grace and class, no matter what was happening around him. He was someone you could root for among the "Red Sox Nation" madness. Now, they show him the door.

Well, he wasn't the one who signed John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Daisuke Matsusaka to ridiculous contract. He didn't break Kevin Youkilis' back and pull his groin. He didn't hurt Buckholtz. He didn't choke. The players did.

Just goes to show you how fickle people can be. Francona will land on his feet somewhere. As for the Red Sox, we all know how teams that blow huge leads in September fare after they blow it. Need proof? Look how good the Mets have been since the collapses in 2007 and 2008. They've been super.

The idea that Kobe Bryant announcing he would play in Italy would actually help the idiotic owners and players solve the ridiculous NBA lockout is just insane. One doesn't have anything to do with the other.

I had hopes that the Rams would be a playoff contender this year. Well, three weeks into the new season and so much for that. When do the pitchers and catchers report for spring training anyway? I shouldn't feel that way, because Wednesday night was the most thrilling night of baseball I've ever seen, but now, as the playoffs begin, there's really nothing to get excited about.

Well, maybe there is. My adopted home away from home, Milwaukee, is buzzing with Brewer fever, the first time since I was there as a student at Marquette in 1981 and 1982, with "Harvey's Wallbangers."

So, with that in mind, GO BREWERS!!!!


You can read more of my work at, and

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The blame for the college conference confusion? GREED

Every day recently, the sports pages have been filled with more stories of colleges jumping ship, leaving their long-standing associations with their respective conferences and heading for greener pastures and new leagues.

It's actually too confusing to keep up with. Syracuse and Pitt leaving the Big East for the ACC. Missouri leaving the crumbling Big 12 for the SEC. Teams in the Big 12 looking to head to the Pac-12, which has now decided against expansion. Other teams rumored to go to a host of different conferences. It's really a mass exodus.

Quite honestly, if you want to know the main reason for all of this mess, it's as simple as this. It's $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

The colleges all want a little slice of the American dollar. It has nothing to do with geographic locations or educational affiliations. Nope. This is all about the greenback.

And who started the money train rolling along? None other than the almighty ESPN, which claims to be biggest and best supporter of college athletics. Sure, they started ESPNU and televise more college football and basketball games than anyone.

However, ESPN has to begin to take the fault for this ridiculous trend of schools leaving their respective conferences.

And it began when ESPN agreed to help start and defray the start-up costs for Texas to launch their now-controversial Longhorn television network.

It's a network that will now enable Texas to collect as much as $30 million in added revenue every year, money that does not have to be shared with the remaining members of the floundering Big 12.

So schools like Nebraska and Texas A&M saw this trend and realized it was an unfair advantage for Texas. Not only were they getting revenues that the others were not able to attain, but having these programs televised all the time on this network represented an unfair recruiting advantage as well, something that Texas really didn't need in the first place.

So Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten and a good slice of the highly successful Big Ten Network's television cash. Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. The Big 12 has been decimated by these departures and apparently, it's not over.

And it's led to a trickle down effect to the other leagues. The Big East made a ridiculous move in their marketing of a televison package for football and that bungling has led to the exits of Syracuse and Pitt.

Instead of getting a guarantee of a little under $5 million from the Big East, the two schools now stand to get as much as $17 million from the ACC.

Now, I can fully understand Pitt wanting to leave the Big East for a more viable football conference, because Pitt has a solid program in both sports.

But Syracuse? The school hasn't been relevant in football in ages. Sure, it's still a basketball giant, but football? I can't even remember the last time Syracuse was a bowl team.

And who is going to care about some of those ACC basketball games? Syracuse-Clemson doesn't exactly excite the masses. Nor does Syracuse-Maryland, or Syracuse-Georgia Tech or Syracuse-Wake Forest.

Sure, it's going to be great to face Duke and North Carolina, but that's only two games. Does anyone think the Carrier Dome is going to sell out for Virginia Tech or Miami?

You're losing some big time rivalries. Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova. UConn, although UConn is looking to join Syracuse in the ACC. Those were exciting basketball showdowns. It wasn't called "Big Monday" for nothing.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was on with Mike Francesa the other day and he said that he would hope to continue to play Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova in independent games. Hey, if I'm any of those other schools, do you think I'm going to be nice and throw a bone to Syracuse now? Hell, no. I'm giving the Orange the finger and tell them to go play with their dirty money, like Bugs Bunny said to Baby Face Finster.

Now, to try to save face, the Big East has extended invitations to places like East Carolina, Central Florida, Navy and Air Force. Wow, I can't wait for that Rutgers-Central Florida game at the RAC or East Carolina-Seton Hall at the Rock. Woooo, hooo...

It's college sports. It's not supposed to be about greed and avarice. But it sure has become that way.

So when you're about to begin pointing fingers at the mess that college sports is in right now, look no further than the forerunner and so-called leader of college sports, ESPN. They started it all. Now, who is going to clean up the mess?


Why did Facebook tinker with a good thing? You know the old saying, ''If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'' It didn't need fixing.

You can read more of my work at, and

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gatti's death ruled a homicide, like we all knew it was

There was a press conference held last Wednesday at the Global Boxing Gym in North Bergen, with a host of investigators, medical experts, forensic scientists and even former FBI agents who all came to one conclusion that a lot of people knew two years ago.

That local boxing hero Arturo Gatti didn't take his own life and that he simply didn't die. The two-time world champion, who lived most of his life in Jersey City and Hoboken, was murdered in Brazil in July of 2009.

Gatti's manager, Pat Lynch of Union City, helped to pay for the investigation that took 10 months to complete.

But in reality, everyone who ever met Gatti knew that he didn't commit suicide.

In fact, I stumbled across three articles that pretty much proved the fact, two after his passing in 2009 and one after his last fight in July of 2007 in Atlantic City.

I thought I would share all three in light of the results of the investigation.

The first was printed in the Hudson Reporter in the days after Gatti's death.

HUDSON REPORTER, July 14, 2009

It was only an hour or so after the news broke that Arturo Gatti – the former Jersey City and Hoboken resident who electrified boxing crowds with his never-say-die style – was found dead in a Brazil hotel room, when someone very close to Gatti predicted what might have happened in a cryptic phone call.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if his wife did it,” said the caller, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons. “People are going to think it was an overdose or something, but I truly think his wife had something to do with it.”

Sure enough, that call turned out to be prophetic.

Two days later, Brazilian police took Gatti’s wife, 23-year-old Amanda Rodrigues, who used to live in Union City and worked as a dancer/stripper at the Squeeze Lounge in Weehawken, and officially charged her with Gatti’s murder.

Gatti was found dead at the age of 37 and police allege that his wife used a purse strap to strangle a drunken Gatti, then allege that she hit him over the head with a blunt object. Gatti was in Brazil with his wife and his 10-month-old son, reportedly on a second honeymoon. Gatti and his wife had an extremely volatile relationship since they were married in October of 2007 and twice he sought advice to file for divorce.

Just two months ago, Gatti received 10 stitches in the head after Amanda allegedly threw a lamp at him in a hotel room in Hawaii.

His violent death ends what was truly a remarkable fairytale story in professional boxing.

Gatti, a native of Canada, came to the United States at age 17 and settled in Jersey City with his older brother, Joe, and became a professional boxer soon after. His first job in the United States was as a hamburger flipper at the famed White Mana Restaurant on Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City, across the street from the Ringside Lounge, where Gatti was first introduced to boxing locally.

Gatti fought his entire pro career for Main Events Promotions, which ironically held a prime-time boxing card Saturday night featuring their latest star, another Jersey City resident named Tomasz Adamek, the IBF cruiserweight champion of the world. Adamek won his fight with a fourth-round technical knockout and dedicated his victory to the memory of Gatti.

“He wasn’t just important to me, but to all of boxing,” Adamek said after his win. “I met him at my manager [Ziggy Rozalski]’s daughter’s birthday party. He was a legend in boxing. This is a sad day for everyone who loves boxing. I’m going to miss him forever.”

After turning professional in 1991, Gatti worked his way up the ranks. He fought in a lot of local shows and in small venues, making a name for himself. In 1997, Gatti won his first world crown, capturing the IBF super featherweight championship of the world, defeating Tracy Harris Patterson in Madison Square Garden.

In the coming years, Gatti became a fan favorite in Atlantic City and especially on cable network HBO, which televised several of Gatti’s bouts, including the famed trilogy with Micky Ward from May, 2002 through June, 2003. Gatti lost the first fight to Ward, then came back to win the next two. He won the second fight despite fighting most of the bout with a severely broken right hand.

“He became a cult figure,” said Carl Moretti, who was the matchmaker for all of Gatti’s fights with Main Events. “He made the most appearances on HBO, and that made it all sweeter. People always looked forward to see him fight. There were 12,000 people there to see him. I doubt if we’ll ever see that again in these parts. People were just entertained by him. They knew that at the end of the day that Arturo was going to give then a great value for their entertainment dollar. I think they could relate to the effort he was giving every time he got into the ring. He attracted people of all colors, creeds, backgrounds. People who didn’t like boxing still loved Arturo Gatti. They just loved watching him perform. They fell in love with him.”

After a few tough losses, Gatti managed to make comeback and after comeback, much like he did in practically every fight.

Gatti eventually came back to win the WBC light welterweight championship over Jesse James Lejia in January of 2005, his second world crown, but lost the title to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. later that year.

Gatti’s last win came over Thomas Damgaard in Atlantic City in 2006, but suffered losses to Carlos Manuel Baldomir for the WBC welterweight title, losing a chance to capture his third world belt, and then his final fight, almost two years to the date of his untimely passing, on July 14, 2007, when he lost to Alfonso Gomez in Atlantic City.

Ironically, it was that fight when then-girlfriend Rodrigues tried to climb into the ring, screaming uncontrollably, wanting the fight to stop. She screamed at referee Randy Neumann that a very badly beaten Gatti “was close to death.”

“Stop this fight,” she yelled. “This is murder. If he dies, then the blood will be on your hands.”

After the loss to Gomez, Gatti retired.

“He didn’t handle retirement well,” Moretti said. “He wasn’t disciplined enough to handle it. I never expected him to live a long life and I wasn’t going to be totally shocked if something happened to him. But this way? It’s almost surreal in a way. The part that his wife was allegedly involved is shocking and the way he died is almost ironic. He was as tough as they come in the ring and he dies this way.”

Jersey City’s Mike Skowronski was perhaps Gatti’s best friend. Skowronski, now a respected boxing trainer and manager, worked in Gatti’s corner since his pro debut and the two were inseparable, especially in social circles.

“He used to come to my door and wake me up at 4 a.m.,” Skowronski recalled. “He used to do it just to bust my chops and wake me up. He did it almost every night. That’s just the way he was. That was Arturo. I’d give anything to have him do it again, but it’s never going to happen.”

Skowronski said that he hadn’t spoken to Gatti for three days prior to his death.

“I knew something was wrong, because every time I tried to call him, I got a weird busy signal,” Skowronski said. “In my heart, I felt something was wrong. I miss my friend already. He made me popular in Jersey City. I was so lucky to be part of his life for the last 20 years.”

Moretti was asked how he was going to best remember his friend.

“I don’t think it will be boxing related,” Moretti said. “I’m going to remember when we weren’t in the ring, when we were doing different things, like going to Coach [Bob] Hurley’s golf outing every year and playing golf there. It was always a great day. Or going out to dinner and just laughing. It didn’t have to involve boxing. Of course, I will remember the fights as well.”

Moretti said that Gatti was so beloved by millions, but the boxer never truly appreciated the idol worship he had.

“He never grasped just how big he was,” Moretti said. “Not just in this area, but around the world. People would see me all over the place and tell me that their favorite fighter was Arturo Gatti. It didn’t matter where they were. But Arturo always stayed true to his roots. He loved being here. Maybe he didn’t want to be bigger than he was. He’d rather hang out with his local friends.”

“He never understood why people loved him so much,” Skowronski said. “There were millions of people on HBO who loved him, but there were the others who lived here, where he lived.”

Referee Neumann said that Gatti was a rare breed.

“I never saw a crowd show so much love for someone like the way that the crowds flocked to Arturo’s fights in Atlantic City,” Neumann said. “I mean, they were so into him and the crowds were electric. He just fought his heart out every fight.”

Neumann said that it was tough for him to stop Gatti’s last fight, simply because of Gatti’s incredible ability to come back in fights.

“I couldn’t stop that fight, simply because he was Arturo Gatti,” Neumann said. “He was much more dignified to go out that way. He had to be counted out. When he fought, you never knew if he could come back. He looked beaten and still came back.”

Don Elbaum has been a veteran of the boxing game for more than 40 years. Now working for Main Events, Elbaum vividly recalled Gatti’s intensity.

“In boxing, nothing ever surprises me, and with Arturo, he lived a fast life, but you just didn’t expect it,” Elbaum said. “As a fighter, if you looked up ‘heart’ in the dictionary, you’d see Arturo’s picture. I always used him as a prime example. I have young fighters coming up and I tell them that if they want to be a champ, if they wanted to be a contender, then they had to have the heart of Arturo Gatti. I always used him.”

Main Events president Kathy Duva was saddened by the loss of her company’s No. 1 attraction.

“People said that going to one of his fights in Atlantic City was like going to see a Grateful Dead concert,” Duva said. “It wasn’t a fight. It was an event. You would see the same people coming all the time, like they were old friends. There was a certain electricity when he fought in Atlantic City and we’ll never see that again. He was really entertaining, but it was a lot more than that.”

Added Duva, “This is an unspeakable horror and there are no words to express this tragedy. He grew up with us. He fought every one of his professional fights with us. He was so unassuming and I don’t think he ever understood just how much people loved him. Other people loved him more than he loved himself.”

Pound4Pound Promotions’ John Lynch of Union City, who was Gatti’s personal attorney for more than a decade, was devastated by the news of Gatti’s passing.

“This is a huge loss for the boxing community,” Lynch said. “He epitomized heart. That’s exactly what he was. The boxer with the biggest heart. Nothing was going to stop him. It’s a tragedy, because I feel he had a lot more to give to boxing. He would have been a great analyst for television. He was so well loved. He could have given back to the sport. He would have been great for the sport. I don’t know what it was about him, but he was so beloved. He fought hard and lived hard.”

And unfortunately, died hard as well – at an age where people aren’t supposed to die.

“I knew he wasn’t going to be the guy who lived until he was 90,” Skowronski said. “He lived a fast life in everything he did. But I didn’t expect he would be gone at 37 and gone this way. They don’t make them like him anymore. That’s my buddy, the one I’ll miss. I’ll miss everything he did. His heart, his determination stood out. He wasn’t overly skilled, but he made up for it with hard work. He’s just gone too soon. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.”

Apparently, his best friend wasn’t alone with those sentiments. Funeral services are still pending and more than likely will take place in Gatti’s native Canada, but whenever a service is held locally, you can be rest assured that people from all walks of life will come back and pay tribute to one of their own.

Arturo Gatti might not have been born in Hudson County, but he certainly was one of us. And Gatti will forever will be that way, one of us, one of Hudson County’s shining stars. He put professional boxing back on the local map and for that we all have to be forever grateful.

The next one comes days after a memorial service in Jersey City, on the very same day that Brazilian police ruled the incident a suicide. HUDSON REPORTER, AUG. 1, 2009

The boxing community has always been a very tight one, much closer than people might imagine.

One might think that the world of pugilism would only encourage antagonistic and ballistic feelings. But it’s so far from the case.

Boxers always come to the defense of fellow boxers. Trainers, promoters, managers, even writers, they’re all part of the boxing family. You enter the boxing family, you’re a member for life. It’s the way it is.

In 2005, this reporter got to learn first-hand just how close and compassionate the members of the boxing family are for one another after the book, “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man,” was published.

It was quite evident how everyone in the local boxing community truly cared for one another, by the way they all embraced the author and welcomed him into their homes, their lives, their families.

Before the book was published, I was a sportswriter who every so often wrote about boxing. After the book was released, the boxing family opened its collective arms, from the old-timers to the up-and-comers, and presented a warm, lasting embrace.

That was the obvious sentiment and predominant aura of the memorial Mass that was held last Thursday night in Jersey City for fallen local boxing hero Arturo Gatti.

More than 1,000 people filled St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church on Kennedy Blvd. in Jersey City to attend the local services for the former two-time world boxing champion.

Some of the people in attendance included Academy Award-nominated actor Mickey Rourke, famed actor-stunt man Chuck Zito and a host of famed former boxing champions, including Chuck Wepner, Mark Breland, Bobby Czyz, and current IBF world cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek, who resides in Jersey City.

Incredibly, the memorial mass was held on the same day that Brazilian authorities ruled that Gatti’s death on July 11 was officially determined to be a suicide.

According to Associated Press, Brazilian police said Thursday that an investigation determined that Gatti hung himself. A Brazilian judge then ordered the release of Amanda Rodrigues, Gatti’s 23-year-old wife, who was being held until Thursday on charges that she killed her 37-year-old husband, who had called Hoboken, Weehawken and mostly Jersey City his home during his boxing heyday.

The news that Gatti’s death was ruled a suicide did not sit well with the people who attended the services.

“Arturo Gatti lived with passion and fought with passion,” said Lou DiBella, a boxing promoter and matchmaker who helped to arrange some of Gatti’s best bouts. DiBella was one of three speakers who delivered eulogies after the services were completed.

“Arturo Gatti loved life and everyone here knows that he loved life,” DiBella said. “He never quit once in his life and he didn’t quit in Brazil either. We can hope and pray that justice will prevail and we can find out the truth of what really happened to our friend.”

Czyz, a New Jersey native and three-time former world champ, also disputed the reports of Gatti’s alleged suicide.

“I think you can tell by the way he fought that he wasn’t one who was going to ever quit,” Czyz said. “Suffice it to say that I don’t believe what I heard today. It’s very difficult to believe, especially by the way Arturo lived and the way he fought. I know he wouldn’t have ended it that way. No way is it true.”

In bizarre turn of events, the Brazilian police initially said that Gatti was allegedly drunk and was found dead face down in bed with marks on his neck and a wound to the back of the head, probably caused by a blunt object.

The Brazilian police believed that Rodrigues, a native of Brazil who lived in Union City and worked as an exotic dancer at the Squeeze Lounge in Weehawken when she met the local boxing hero, allegedly strangled Gatti to death by using the strap of her purse.

However, that story changed dramatically Thursday – on the same day of his local solemn tribute.

On Thursday, the police released a statement that said Gatti was in fact found “suspended and hanged” seven feet off the ground, from a staircase.

Police issued no other details of the death last Thursday, making the strange series of events even murkier and darker.

Mike Skowronski was perhaps Gatti’s closest friend. The Jersey City native worked in Gatti’s corner for many of his fights and the two were inseparable.

“I heard the news that it was being called a suicide before it got out to the press,” Skowronski said. “And I think it’s disgusting. It’s just a shame. I know Arturo, and suicide was the last thing in his mind. I feel sorry for the people who truly loved him, like his Mom, his brother and sisters. It’s just so sad.

Added Skowronski, “Arturo is the kind of guy who would be fighting until the end, not the guy who would have given in. It’s just not him. Suicide is so far from the truth. It’s unthinkable that a fighter like him would have committed suicide.”

Maybe Gatti really didn’t kill himself...

Finally, the third article comes from July of 2007, right after Gatti lost his final fight in Atlantic City, a fight I witnessed like I did about 15 ohter times during Gatti's incredible career.

It wasn't supposed to end like this. We weren't supposed to see Arturo Gatti on his hands and knees, struggling to get to his feet against a nondescript hand-picked opponent like Alfonso Gomez, straight off the set of the TV reality show, "The Contender."

After all, this was Arturo Gatti, the local hero with residences in Jersey City and Hoboken, the boxing star who had the nickname of "Thunder" and provided thousands of thrilling moments during his championship career.

Gatti was supposed to thrill his faithful followers one more time, the ones who flocked to Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall last Saturday night to witness the fan favorite pulverize an opponent again. Gatti was expected to take a few punches along the way, then rally to a majestic victory in front of all the beloved fans who adored him for the last 15 years.

Even the next big payday was already lined up. After Gatti disposed of Gomez, there was a showdown planned with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. some time in November, back in Atlantic City where the local boxing fans migrated like the swallows flocked to San Juan Capistrano.

So this return to the ring represented simply a tune-up for Gatti, a chance to shake out the cobwebs from nearly a year's absence from the ring and the opportunity to line up another million-dollar paycheck.

There was only one problem. Gomez was not privy to any of those pre-arranged plans. He wasn't going to stand for the idea that he was a walkover, that he represented nothing more than a workout for the extremely popular Gatti.

All along, Gomez was certain that he could win the fight. He wasn't overly cocky, just confident. He watched tapes of recent Gatti losses to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Carlos Baldimir and realized that despite his less-than-stellar 16-3-2 record, Gomez had a height and reach advantage, not to mention an age advantage as well. "I was real comfortable with having him as an opponent," Gomez said after the fight. "I was real comfortable having him within my distance."

And Gomez, nine years Gatti's junior, displayed every ounce of being in control from the outset. He was the aggressor; he was the one with the fresh legs and faster jabs; he was the one who was going to send the local hero into retirement.

Gomez won the first round easily, despite the crowd chanting, "Gatti, Gatti, Gatti," throughout the opening round. Gatti rallied somewhat to take the second round, especially nailing one upper cut that seemed to hurt Gomez. But by the third round, the night belonged to Gomez. He landed two hard rights to start the third round, snapping Gatti's head back each time. Another stiff left jab seemed to hurt Gatti toward the end of the round. In the fourth round, Gomez took complete control, pounding Gatti several times with combinations. A series of right hands stunned Gatti and he had the appearance that he was going down. But Gatti had shown similar unsteadiness several times before in his career and managed to rally each time. The 9,348 in attendance were sensing a similar comeback, like their native son had done time and time again.

The fourth round ended with Gomez connecting three straight right hands to Gatti's head. It was Gomez's round in a big way.

Fear and hope

At that point, Gatti's wife ran out of the arena.

"I'm not watching any more of this," she said as Gatti's manager Pat Lynch tried to stop her from leaving. She didn't stop.

It was painful to watch someone so beloved and so brilliant for so long getting destroyed by a journeyman. It was almost like watching Willie Mays trying to chase after a fly ball for the Mets in the 1973 World Series or Patrick Ewing clanking his patented fade-away jumper while wearing an Orlando Magic pinstriped uniform.

But this was different to everyone in attendance, because no one thought this day would actually happen. Sure, everything has to come to an end, especially in professional sports, but when it came to Arturo Gatti, you just expected another comeback.

In the fifth round, Gatti gave the hometown crowd some hope. He connected with a stiff left that moved Gomez, then countered with one overhand right and three upper cuts. Gomez didn't seem to be really hurt by the flurry. He hit the two-time former world champ twice and silenced the crowd sensing the comeback.

Gatti hit Gomez with a left that ended the round and perhaps gave a glimmer of hope to the local hero.

In the sixth round, Gomez fired off eight straight punches of all varieties - and none connected. Gomez hit air on all eight, which caused Gatti to do a mini-shuffle, a la Muhammad Ali, and raise his arm in jubilation, much to the delight of the crowd. It was the last time they would cheer.

Right before the end of the sixth round, Gomez pummeled Gatti hard on three straight punches - two rights and a left - that staggered the weary champ and sent him back to the corner, knowing full well that he needed a knockout to win the fight.

It wasn't coming. The seventh round began with Gomez on the attack, sensing the victory. He continued to pummel the 35-year-old Gatti into frightening submission, hitting him seven straight times without Gatti retaliating. The barrage continued, with Gomez pounding one after another in downright scary succession. Sixteen, 17, 18, 19 times, Gomez blasted Gatti with not a hint of a punch coming in return.

Gatti couldn't even raise his arms to defend himself. The barrage reached 21 straight punches - which was six more punches than what Benny "Kid" Paret withstood in his fatal fight with Emile Griffith some 40 years ago.

All totaled, Gomez connected on 40 of 62 power punches thrown in the seventh round alone. It was brutality, witnessed on national television.

Onlookers really feared for Gatti's life, because finally, there was no fight left in the kid who never quit. There was nothing left. Nothing.

People at ringside were yelling at respected referee Randy Neumann to stop the fight.

"I didn't think he was concussed," Neumann said after the fight. "I thought he was fighting back. I've seen him come back before. He always had a puncher's shot. I couldn't take that away from him."

When Gatti finally went down, the count began, counting down the brilliant Gatti's career. One, two, three...Gatti struggled to get to his hands and knees, but nothing more. Larry Hazzard, the New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner and a former referee, climbed into the ring and ran to Gatti's aid, stopping the fight at the 2:12 mark of the seventh round.

In that instant, boxing in Hudson County, as we knew it, died.

While Gomez climbed on the ropes celebrating his victory, medical professionals rushed to Gatti to see if he was fine. After a few seconds, he got to his feet and in true competitive, warrior-like fashion, wanted to continue fighting. Just like any other professional athlete, Arturo Gatti didn't want it to be over.

Nor did anyone else inside Boardwalk Hall. Frankly, nor did anyone else - period. Even the man who sent Gatti into retirement.

"I do feel bad for him," Gomez said after the fight. "This loss pretty much propels him into retirement. He's one of my all-time idols, with his heart, with the way he kept coming back. He helped to keep boxing alive. But I can't say I beat a stronger guy. He said he was going to box me, but I was the one who set him up with jabs. I hit him downstairs, I hit him upstairs, and it was just a matter of time before it ended. I really thought he was going to be a lot stronger."

Added Gomez, "This is the fight that every boxer dreams of and looks for. This makes me more of a contender. I now have a chance to get a title."

Gatti was nowhere to be found after the fight. He was taken to Atlantic City Hospital to have his lip stitched and to get examined for any possible concussion. He told HBO that he was officially announcing his retirement, and that if he was coming back, "It would be as a spectator."

A legend

Main Events president Kathy Duva addressed the media after the fight.

"We spoke with Arturo and he has decided to hang them up," Duva said, with tears visible in her eyes. "We support that decision 1,000 percent. His legend will live on forever. All good things come to an end, and we're sad to see this legend's career end."

However, in the minutes after, the boxing promotion group was celebrating the victory of up-and-comer Kermit Cintron , a victor earlier in the evening. Cintron represents Main Events' big paydays now. The changing of the guard took place rather rapidly, without much fanfare. Gatti was out the door and Cintron was in.

But an entire county saw its professional boxing hopes die with Gatti's career, because in reality, there isn't a real local contender on the horizon. Sure, there may be a rising star in the amateur ranks, but the number of local pro boxers is miniscule and the number of true contenders is non-existent.

That's why there was such finality when Gatti struggled to get to his feet. It represented an end of an era. Not only did it represent the end of Gatti's brilliant career, but it also represented the end of the influx, the injection of adrenalin, that pro boxing desperately needed in Hudson County - an area with a rich, storied and historic boxing tradition. Here's to hoping that some warrior picks up the torch from Arturo Gatti and continues with the same drive, determination and fervor. It won't be easy to recreate.

Now, is that a man that would have ended his own life?

As we thought all along, Gatti got into yet another drunken altercation with his wife. He apparently knocked her down in the lobby of the apartment complex they were staying in, then she came back to the room where he was hit in the back of the head with a blunt object, a blow that caused him to bleed profusely, and then strangled to death.

I have to believe that Amanda Rodrigues had to have help to strangle Gatti to death, regardless of how drunk he was. But she did it, she was involved and she was the culprit, not his own hands. Like we always knew from the very beginning, from the minutes after he was found dead.

I attended that press conference last week, but I already had a preconceived notion in my head that he was killed and she was involved. What bothered me so much was seeing the graphic pictures of Gatti's dead body surrounded in blood.

I want to remember the vibrant Gatti, the one who captivated sports fans _ and sportswriters _ for many years, the one who brought excitement back to New Jersey and Hudson County boxing.

I didn't want to see Gatti like that, but if it's done to reiterate a point, then so be it.

But there really wasn't anything different that I learned Wednesday that I either already didn't know or at least I summized.

Here's to hoping that justice is served in this case and that Rodrigues will face the music for what we all knew she did two years ago.