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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Here's another version of ''You can't make it up''

Today, I had another reminder why I went to journalism school to become a sportswriter.

I covered the Colombia-Honduras soccer match at Red Bull Arena. Yes, this is the reason why I get paid the big bucks. I cover soccer games where I was clearly the lone English-speaking sportswriter in the building.

Anyway, I was amazed with the energy in Red Bull Arena. It was buzzing with excitement from followers of both teams. It was hard to tell who had more fans and they were definitely loud. Maybe it's because Red Bull Arena is a smaller venue with a rounded, confined roof. I don't know. But this crowd was far louder than any MLS game there.

The game ends in a 2-0 win for Colombia. I'm now sitting in the press room, waiting for the post-game interviews, when I realized I had one big problem.

I had no idea the names of the coaches for both teams. Not a clue. And I couldn't ask anyone, because I was the lone one to speak English.

Thank God for the IPhone, which is clearly the best invention next to toilet paper and grape soda.

I Google the name of the Honduran coach and find that. Easy enough.

I then Google this term "Colombian national soccer coach."

What popped up totally amazed me.

Apparently, the long-time coach, named Hernan Dario Gomez, nicknamed "El Bolillo," was removed from his duties as the Colombian head coach Aug. 9 because he apparently punched a drunken woman in the face "repeatedly" in a Bogota bar, after the woman apparently accosted the coach.

When we say repeatedly, El Bolillo bopped this woman a total of five times. Once to knock her down and four times when she was on the ground.

I got this all from a simple Google search, mind you. I'm sitting there waiting for the press conference to begin and I get this pearl of journalistic information.

This is what Gomez had to say after the incident became public:

"To confront the incident that happened last Saturday, that I have been tormented by since, I want to publicly announce that I am deeply sorry for what happened and the fact that I lost control in the way that I did....
Believe me, that this has made me very worried, and that I will take every and all measures necessary to make sure that this never happens again. As you know, I have always been in defense of women, whom I admire and respect. What I have done makes me ashamed because of my mother, my wife, and each and every one of the women in my family and in my country.

I'm still stunned by it.

So the press conference begins and I ask the interim coach, Leonel Alvarez, through an interpreter of course, how he felt taking over the team in such difficult times. The coach told me, "Buena pregunta," which meant it was a good question. Hey, inquiring minds always want to know.

He then told me that "El Bolillo" was the heart and soul of the Colombian team and that they dedicated the win to him. Sanchez, who was a great player during his heyday, said that it was "an honor to coach the team replacing El Bolillo."

Sure, it's always good to replace someone after they punch a woman in the mug five times.

You can imagine my surprise as this is all unfolding. If I didn't have to look up the coach's names, it never would have happened.

Here's what I wrote:

HARRISON, N.J. (AP)—Teofilo Gutierrez scored two goals, one on penalty kick in the first half and the other with his team down a man in the second, leading Colombia to a 2-0 victory over Honduras in an international friendly Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.

“This is the first step toward qualifying for the World Cup in 2014,” interim coach Leonel Alvarez said. “We’re building a team with good soccer players, but also good human beings. It’s a dream of mine to take this team further. It’s in the hands of the federation to decide who coaches. We’re just continuing the process.”

Alvarez took over the team after Hernan Dario Gomez, nicknamed “El Bolillo,” was removed from his coaching duties after he admitted punching a female fan in the face repeatedly in a bar.

“To take over the coaching position under those circumstances is never good,” Alvarez said. “El Bolillo is the heart of this team and we dedicated this game to him. There was no bigger honor to coach with him. On behalf of him and the entire country, we intend to move forward now.”

Gomez stepped down Aug. 8.

“He asked me to take it over,” Alvarez said. “He had a dream to take this team to the World Cup and when he sees this young team, he can see the passion and the hard work it will take to get it done.”

In the 24th minute, Gutierrez was pulled down from behind in the box by defender Victor Bermudez and referee Jorge Gonzalez called for the penalty kick. Gutierrez took the attempt and faked right, but touched it left and it went past goalkeeper Noel Valladares.

In the 72nd minute, after Colombia lost a player to a red-card disqualification, Gutierrez alertly knocked in a rebound off a shot by Dayro Moreno.

Colombia dominated play from the outset and had many more scoring chances than Honduras and twice hit the left post with shots in the first half. Honduras had two good chances in the 37th minute, but one attempt slid wide right of the goal and Maynor Figueroa fired a shot from close range over the crossbar after avoiding three Colombian defenders in the process.

Figueroa was fouled hard from behind in the 55th minute by Colombian forward Adrian Ramos, causing Gonzalez to issue a red card against Ramos. Colombia played the remainder of the game down a man.

Colombian goalkeeper David Opsina made only two saves in the second half to gain the shutout.

“We have to start a game a little more aggressively than this,” Honduran coach Luis Fernando Suarez said. “We allowed them to keep the ball way more than we wanted them to. We respected the opponent way too much tonight and that was the bottom line.”

It gets better. Apparently, there is a member of the Colombian team who earlier this season saw the mascot of an opposing team, a live owl, make its way onto a field and the player kicked the owl to death.

I kid you not. There is video of this bastion of the Audubon Society booting the bird to kingdom come.

Now, my thoughts were immediately: Can you imagine if one of our major managers of coaches punched a woman in the face repeatedly?

Not saying that they would, but can you comprehend if say Joe Girardi or Rex Ryan did something like that? I just can't. It's too much to fathom.

I mean, Rex Ryan's wife posed for some racy pictures and it was revealed that he had a foot fetish and it was all over the papers. With his wife. Can you comprehend if any cold-cocked a woman, drunken or otherwise, FIVE times??

And then how about the bird thing? Dave Winfield inadvertently killed a seagull once in Toronto and it was the end of the world. I just can't picture that one either.

I have written some crazy crap over the last 30 years, but I don't know if it gets any crazier than this one tonight. And I have my lack of international soccer knowledge and Google to thank for it.

There's nothing better than the first day of college football season. I used to love the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands, because that was for me the official kickoff to the college season for many years.

But still, it was pretty exciting to see Utah State almost knock off the defending national champion Auburn. It was great to see my Oklahoma Sooners win in convincing fashion. It was football.

But did we really need to have two storm-related delays in the Notre Dame game against South Florida, totaling almost three hours? NBC must be pulling its collective hairs out with those delays.

And the much-ballyhooed Irish fall flat at home. It's not a good sign. They get back into the national rankings and then stink up the joint. Touchdown Jesus was even holding his nose before the deluge began.

But it was a good thing to see college football back and playing. Today, there were no hints of the Ohio State or University of Miami scandals. There were no talk of illegal payments and tattoos and hookers and paid abortions. Nope, today was strictly about the gridiron and that was very refreshing and long awaited.

There can't be a better story out there than Mark Herzlich actually earning a roster spot with the New York Giants, just two years after he was told he would never play football again and might lose a leg due to cancer.

When he first signed as a free agent, I really thought it was done as a nice gesture by Giants owner John Mara, as a favor to the kid for what he's been through. I never dreamed he could actually make the team. Maybe the practice squad, but never the final roster.

It was obviously more than a gesture, because Herzlich has proven he can play. It's the best feel good story of the young NFL season and has to give anyone who has ever had the awful news of being diagnosed with cancer hope that anything is possible.

God bless Herzlich and his determination. He's an inspiration to everyone.

This marks my 29th year of writing high school football previews. I have to make nearly a 100 phone calls to talk to coaches and write about their respective teams for papers all over the state.

I seriously don't understand the coaches who fail to return phone calls in a timely fashion. No matter what it is, it's publicity for your team, your players, your program. And at this point in the season, everyone has the same record. Everyone starts fresh, 0-0.

I had a handful of coaches this year not call me back to get the preview done. One coach had to be called 12 times!!!! C'mon guys, it's for your kids. Not you. Just listen to the messages and return the call. It's ridiculous the effort that had to go into doing this year's previews.

Sad to hear the news that former St. Peter's Prep standout Rashawn Jackson was released by the Carolina Panthers over the weekend. Jackson spent most of last season on the Panthers' practice squad and was activated for the last two games of the season as a fullback. The hope was that Jackson would stick with the Panthers for the entire season, but that hope ended Saturday.

You can read more of my work at (football previews of course), (football previews of course) and (football previews coming at the end of this week)...

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