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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New year, hope for better results

OK, sure, we celebrated the champagne and confetti two weeks ago already, but this is the first time I've had a chance to sit down and reflect on 2013, turn the page on the year and move on to what has to be a much better 2014.

As you may know, 2013 was clearly the most difficult year for me, both emotionally and physically.

For most of the year, I battled issues with my legs. It started with the inability to simply get out of a chair, continued with a horrific and embarrassing array of falls all over New Jersey and ended with a month-long stay at the remarkable and sensational Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange.

Suddenly, "the hardest working sportswriter in New Jersey," as I was once called by my friend Mike Moretti, lost a lot of his assignments. And just like that, I wasn't exactly as hard working. It's impossible to get to events when you can't walk and there's a constant fear of falling.

But thanks to the incredible people at Kessler, I improved tremendously. I regained a lot of the strength in my right leg. I regained the ability to walk again, albeit with the help of my trusty custom-made walker, built for someone who stands 6-8 _ and still has to hover somewhat with the contraption,

With that, the emotions began to perk up a bit and hope for a full recovery continues. I'm far from that. I realized that last week in a brief trip to the Prudential Center to interview Jaromir Jagr that I'm not ready just yet to cover events.

But I have returned to the wonderful people at Rutgers-Newark to serve as the public address announcer for the Scarlet Raiders men's and women's home games at the Golden Dome. Last Saturday, I made a triumphant return to NJIT to announce the Highlanders' women's games, the first of three this week.

Throughout the journey, I've received hundreds of well wishes and greetings on Facebook and Twitter. I have received hundreds of e-mails from caring and concerned friends. Phone calls, texts, you name it, people by the hundreds have shown their love for me and I'm so grateful for their warmth.

I had a bunch of people pay visit at Kessler, friends, administrators, coaches, you name it. I shared laughs with old friends. I recalled great memories with Montclair State head coach Ted Fiore, who worked with me during my days at St. Peter's College. Incredibly, my friend Glenn Gardner found the 1989 SPC men's basketball media guide as he was cleaning his home. He brought it to me at Kessler (among other items that were downright hysterical, including letters to each other from college days 30-plus years ago).

A few days later, Fiore comes to Kessler and I just happened to have the media guide in my drawer. It was a great cover, featuring three players (Kenny Parker, Phil Morrison and the late Willie Haynes) wearing Jersey City Police Department uniforms and Fiore in a trench coat raincoat holding a ball in front of the old Jersey City jail, with the banner headline, "Take No Prisoners." It was a classic photo, my finest creation.

Well, Fiore said that he hadn't seen that book in years and didn't think he had one. So I gave it to him. He needed it more for his own self adulation.

I've been home from Kessler since Thanksgiving. I tried to cook on Turkey Day, but for the first time in my life, after some 40 successful turkeys, I screwed this year's up by putting the bird into the oven upside down and didn't realize it until I went to carve the back instead of the breast.

I've had some great guests at home, the best being the lunch visit I had with legendary Associated Press basketball writer Jim O'Connell, former MAAC do-everything Jay Williams and former Atlantic 10 do-everything Ray Cella. OC bought the sandwiches from some deli in Queens and of course, he got lost coming to Kearny. Jay-Bird and Aldo told great stories, but OC held court as well he should. It was the visit of a lifetime as my friends got to see the new mechanical chair in its glory.

Since then, there have been few mishaps at home. I'm getting better every day. I go to the Institute of Physical Therapy in North Arlington three days a week with the wonderful Sue Manley bending me, twisting me and shaping me, but working wonders. I'm walking more without any apparatus in the confines of my home and will venture from time to time outside the house with just the cane.

I'm getting there, slowly but surely. My doctors have all told me that I will eventually make a complete recovery. When I asked a time frame, my neurologist simply said, "Months." So that really didn't answer the questions, but still gives me hope with patience.

My goal is to be able to get around by the time the NCAA Tournament starts, so I can make the trip to Buffalo for the first round, then the big trip to the Big D for the Final Four with my great friends at Maguire University.

So until then, I'm working my tail off to get healthy. It's all part of the process. I don't know why this happened. But if this was a test of my faith and my intestinal fortitude at age 52, then it's happened and I've survived.


Now, to the real world. I'll start with the never-ending saga involving A-Rod. It's safe to say that now, Rodriguez's career is finished. No matter how much he is keeping a stiff upper lip, maintaining his innocence and vowing to fight his cause until the cows come home, it's a useless cause now.

No federal judge is going to want to get in the middle of this mess. The arbitrator was brought in to decide a final punishment. He's now decided it's the full year and that's it. Rodriguez maintains that he's never done steroids or performance-enhancing drugs this time around, only when he was with the Texas Rangers in 2003, like that matters. A-Rod maintains that he’s never failed a steroid test. Big deal.

But this greasy, slimy Anthony Bosch goes on "60 Minutes" Sunday and sings like a caged songbird about all the things he gave to A-Rod, like giving the needles himself and providing testosterone gummies to A-Rod on game days, because apparently the gummies don’t show up in post-game urine tests. Wonder if that’s the case with Flintstone gummies as well?

Whether you believe Bosch’s song is one thing. Personally, I hate when guys like Bosch and BALCO whore Victor Conte come singing after their worlds have already crashed down around them and they’re headed for a state penitentiary, so they sing instead. But Bosch had details that had to have some sense of truth to it. I am not like Mike Francesa, A-Rod’s new best friend, who believes that this smear campaign was done to ruin Rodriguez alone and to give Bud Selig a sense of a legacy as he retires, like Bud’s lasting legacy was as the guy who brought down A-Rod.

The Biogenesis findings brought down 13 players and 12 have already paid the price with suspensions and fines. Their reputations and images will never be the same, but they’re back playing already. That slime ball Ryan Braun has completed his suspension and will head to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training camp next month, under a microscope for sure, but he’ll be there. Jhonny Peralta got a $52 million contract from the St. Louis Cardinals. Obviously, the Cards have forgotten about his suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis.

The one who has yet to face his penalty just received his fate and now the cornered A-Rod is blaming everyone. He’s saying that he never did the steroids. He’s suing everyone and their mother, including the Major League Baseball Players Association, which stood behind him all the way until the arbitrator’s ruling Saturday. He claims he never failed a steroid test and he’s being treated unfairly. Boo freaking hoo.

The bottom line is this: Rodriguez will not play MLB this season. He’s 39 years old. His skills were already in decline. When he came back at the end of the 2013 season, he didn’t exactly tear it up, batting .244 with seven homers and 19 RBI. What will he be like at 40 with a full year off?

And there’s no way that he ever plays again for the Yankees. Either the Yankees will buy him out, offer some sort of a settlement or go to court and try to find a way to void the $61 million that is still owed to him on that ridiculous contract. He’s done.

It’s at the point where everyone just wants A-Rod to go away. It’s a tale that we’ve all heard so many times already and frankly, we’re sick of hearing it over and over. Just go away. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be an option, as A-Rod continues to fight the fruitless fight.


As the college basketball season continues, there are a few things I’ve noticed.

One, my alma mater, Marquette, is not very good and will not make it four straight appearances in the NCAA Tourney Sweet 16. As everyone knows, a basketball team is only as good as your point guard and the Golden Eagle Warriors are getting zero play from their point guard position.

Makes you realize just how important Junior Cadougan was for the Golden Eagles in each of the three runs in the NCAAs (two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight). Cadougan wasn’t the flashiest point guard around, but he kept that team together and made them more than competitive. How could Buzz Williams think he could actually contend for an NCAA Tourney berth without a true point guard?

And how stupid was Vander Blue to go pro when he really wasn’t considered a draft pick. Blue was cut as an undrafted free agent, went to Israel to play pro ball there and has already been released. If he stayed for another year at Marquette, who knows what might have happened to the kid? Someone gave him horrific advice.

Another point is that the new Big East Conference isn’t that good at all. Sure, Villanova has had a nice run and the Wildcats can certainly shoot the ball, but they don’t scare anyone. Creighton’s first year in the league has been surprising and the play of Doug McDermott has been impressive. He’s been what Wally Szczerbiak was to Miami of Ohio nearly 20 years ago, a similar kind of a player.

But the rest of the league has been bland and drab.

Some of the perennial powers have been less than impressive. Duke and Kansas, two schools thought to be national title contenders with larger-than-life incoming freshmen, have been major disappointments.

I like the intensity and style of Michigan State, not to mention that they play about seven seniors. In today’s game of college basketball, who has that many seniors? I am impressed with Syracuse’s balance. I watched Arizona beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion the other night, but is that really the No. 1 team in the country? It’s really been a weird year in college basketball. Here’s another question. If the NBA Draft was held tomorrow, who would be the top pick? Is there a true frontrunner? Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins’ stock have dipped since the turn of the New Year. They were hyped as sure-fire 1-2 draft picks. Now, who really knows?

One thing is for sure: A lot will take place over the next eight weeks to determine who is the best team in college basketball.

There’s no question that Colin Kaepernick is a highly talented quarterback with his entire future in front of him. He can run, throw, lead, do it all.

However, was there any need for him to make fun of Cam Newton after scoring Sunday? Kaepernick did Newton’s Superman pose, then zipped it up after scoring. Some might find the move as funny. I found it to be stupid and disrespectful.

Then, in the post-game interviews, Kaepernick appears at the podium with a baseball hat on backwards and sideways, with the back of the hat pulled over his forehead, almost covering his eyes. C’mon now. On national TV?

The other quarterbacks who will play in the conference finals this Sunday approach the podium in shirts and ties. You’d never see Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or even Russell Wilson come in front of the cameras looking like that.

Kaepernick has to realize that there are millions of impressionable youngsters looking up to him and they might want to wear their hat like their hero. So if Kaepernick was smart and realized his importance, he would wear the hat the right way and stop dressing like a clown.

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