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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No bigger goat horns in sports than Bernier

I was very interested this morning to read the words of some of my colleagues who believe that New Jersey Devils forward Steve Bernier should not receive attack and anger from Devils fans for receiving the five-minute major boarding call that put the Stanley Cup on a platter and handed it to Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings.

They're saying that Bernier is paying the price enough, that sitting in the Devils' dressing room after his ejection and hearing the horns inside the Staples Center blare three times as soon as he sat down was his lifelong penalty. That there should be sympathy for Bernier, because he works right around the NHL veteran's minimum of $525,000 and he has a pregnant wife to worry about.

And that Bernier's gaffe was nothing worse than what Bill Buckner did when he let the ball roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series or when Ralph Branca gave up the homer to Bobby Thomson for the 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Bernier can never be forgiven for his idiotic and moronic penalty that eliminated any chance of the Devils being even competitive in Game 6.

You can be rest assured that Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello isn't going to buy it either. Lamoriello has been known to send players packing because they didn't live up to team policies about facial hair and dress code. Do you think he's going to forgive Bernier for this?
As the Kings were beginning to gain momentum in the first period and getting the most of the scoring chances, Bernier took it upon himself to make perhaps the stupidest play I've ever witnessed in a hockey game. Considering the circumstances and the magnitude of the game, it is definitely the worst mistake a professional player has made in any sport.

Bernier skated a good 80, maybe 100 feet to bear down on a defenseless Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, who made a move to get rid of the puck. Bernier then exploded into a check that fired Scuderi face first into the boards, then followed the check to turn Scuderi into a pressed Panini sandwich. The check caused a cut above Scuderi's nose and mouth and we all know the NHL's recent policy about drawing blood.

The referee handed Bernier the much-deserved five-minute major, the Kings scored three times during those five minutes and Game 6 and the Stanley Cup Final was over, just like that.

It's incomprehensible what Bernier did. Comparing it to Buckner, who made a physical error, or Branca, who threw a pitch that Thomson may or may not have known was coming (depending upon whether or not the story that the Giants' bullpen catcher Sal Yvars was stealing signs is true), is just wrong. Those were errors while playing the game.

Bernier's complete brain freeze makes no sense whatsoever, considering the way the game was going. The Kings were getting the better of the play. Would the Devils have won anyway with the way they were playing early on? Probably not. But Bernier eliminated any and all chance on his own.

So should Bernier be held responsible? Hell, yeah. There was no call for his actions. The play made no sense at all. Yes, he's the one who has to look in the mirror for his idiotic actions. I don't know how he got on the plane to come home with his soon-to-be former teammates.

People like coach Peter DeBoer and Martin Brodeur didn't publicly hold Bernier responsible for the loss. But would they? Would anyone publicly blame him for what he did?

But Bernier's play was so ridiculous that the Kings should actually consider having his name engraved in the Cup, because his play was more beneficial to the Kings than the contribution of some of their players. He definitely gave them the win in Game 6 and in that matter, gave them the Cup.

Live with that forever? He has to, because it could very well be the last game he ever plays in the NHL.

I'm a big fan of boxing and horse racing. Maybe I come from a different era, when both sports were considered among the sports of kings, but I've always liked both.

Last Saturday, both sports received yet another black eye. Boxing got slammed once again for the ridiculous decision rendered in the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight and horse racing raised another cloud of controversy when I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes.

First, let's address the boxing matter. Where are these judges coming from? What are their qualifications and backgrounds, because it's safe to say that both Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles would have seen that Pacquiao clearly won the fight.

How one-sided was it? So bad that right after the fight was over, Bradley went to promoter Bob Arum and apologized for not giving a better effort. He was overheard as saying that he didn't think he won. But here come the judges' cards and Bradley somehow wins by a split decision. It wasn't that close. I had it Pacquiao nine rounds to one. It was a blowout.

When you then hear that the decision came to set up a rematch, then that's just wrong for every single fool who plopped down $60 to watch the fight on pay-per-view. It's all about the moola and that's not how a legitimate sport should choose to operate.

Now, the I'll Have Another fiasco. Let's not lose sight that the horse's trainer, Doug O'Neill, has been a three-time proven cheater in the sport, pumping a bunch of different things into his horses to make them run faster from Alka Seltzer to carbon dioxide. His horse has a chance to make history and then all of a sudden, the horse has tendinitis and has to retire?

We will never know what really happened. Maybe O'Neill was worried that his cheating would come to light with this horse and that the horse's place in history would be tarnished forever, that winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness States were done by cheating as well.

Because horses don't retire from tendinitis. They take weeks off to heal and then come back when ready. There are some major stakes races ahead, like the Travers, like the Breeders' Cup. If the horse had a broken leg, that's understandable. But tendinitis?

The whole thing sure sounds and looks iffy, especially if O'Neill is now talking that perhaps his horse will indeed come back later this season. Sure, he'll be back, because his breeding stock is not as high as it would be if he was Horse of the Year. Let the controversy die down and perhaps I'll Have Another will come back. Who knows?

It certainly raises questions and controversy for a sport that doesn't need more. Boxing and horse racing needs to establish some national guidelines to follow to prevent the travesties that took place last weekend from happening again.

Warner Fusselle, my good friend and baseball buddy, died yesterday at the age of 68 from a heart attack. For many years, the good-hearted and gently natured Warner was the voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones. He was also the play-by-play voice of Seton Hall basketball, before getting replaced by Mets announcer Gary Cohen a few years ago.

But Warner came into prominence as being the voice of Phoenix Communications, a New Jersey-based organization that produced the popular "This Week in Baseball," before Fox took over production a few years ago.

Warner worked with the legendary Mel Allen on the show for years, then replaced Allen as the primary announcer after Allen passed away. Fusselle was also the narrator for several different highlight videos that Phoenix made for all of Major League Baseball.

A Southern gentleman of the truest sense, Fusselle loved baseball more than any other sport, but he gave his true professionalism in everything he did.

Incredibly, he was an avid follower of my writing long before I ever met him. I can remember the day going to Phoenix's home base in Moonachie to do a story about "This Week in Baseball," because a lot of the production staff lived in Hoboken. When I was introduced to Warner, he instantly knew who I was and rolled off about eight or nine articles I had written in the past. He was as excited to meet me as I was to meet him and we remained friends ever since.

I looked forward to seeing him at Seton Hall games. I was his halftime guest about 15 times over the years and it would always end up talking about baseball instead of the Pirates. He also came to visit me at Newark Bears games over the years.

I saw him last at CitiField last year, just walking outside the ballpark. We met with a huge hug and embrace. It was so good to see him. I didn't realize it would be the last time I would see him.

Warner was beloved by everyone who knew him. I don't know if there was a single person in the world who didn't totally adore him. We've lost so many good people in the media circles over the last few years that it's too many to count, but Warner was a big loss to everyone.

I can still hear him saying, "BOTTOM" when a Seton Hall player made a shot. He was a wonderful man and he will be sorely missed.

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