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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.