Category Archives: Stanford

How Will the Te’o Madness End?

TeoI have no idea how this Manti Te’o madness will end. Right now, all I know is that I feel as if I’m being duped. I don’t know by whom, or by everyone (including my sportswriter colleagues who are no doubt enduring some serous career soul-searching tonight).

There are still soooo many questions, too many to even articulate. And the answers we’ve received, well, at least for me, don’t quite complete the most bizarre puzzle I may have ever witnessed in this profession.

Of course, the biggest question may be the simplest one: Why?

If Te’o is truly the victim, then why would someone go such machinations to perpetrate this hoax. Is this what passes for fun in the digital age? Is this what our kids have to look forward to, or be wary of? As a friend of mine often says, Who does that?!

If he’s not the victim, then why?

He seems like a fine young man, a spiritual young man–and he’s a terrific football player. He captured our consciousness for his play on the field, for his leadership. And he should have a solid future playing on Sundays.

So why?!

It has been reported that Te’o will speak soon, perhaps has early as Thursday. He must, and he must soon.

Because right now, only he can stop the madness.

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Hottest Seat in the NFL? Hey, Jim Caldwell, Take a Load Off…

Most of the participants–peripheral or not–are pretty clear about their desires.

If you’re a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, you want the Colts to lose on New Year’s Day to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That way you’ll lock up what many feel is the next great once-in-a-generation QB, Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

If you’re a Colts player, you want to win. Period. That was never more clear than last night when the Colts came back to defeat the bound-for-the-playoffs Houston Texans 19-16 for their second win of the season. To players, Luck has nothing to do with it. These guys are playing for their suppers.

And then there’s Jim Caldwell, the Colts head coach.

Like any coach, he’d like nothing better than to coach a team with a great (or at least potentially great) quarterback. And Luck’s that guy. Lose and you ensure yourself of going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, with just a little bit of Dan Orlovsky.

Win?

Beating the Jags would put Luck in play, with the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams also in the running for the top pick.

And should the Colts lose Luck to one of those team, well, that New Year’s Day win in Jacksonville might go down in infamy in Colts lore.

That said, a Colts win might also allow Caldwell to keep his job.

Might being the operative word.

Had the Colts run the table–or more appropriately, had the table run over them–Caldwell would have almost certainly been fired. Though his record was a sterling 24-8 coming into this season, the stink of 0-16 (along with the still-bitter memory of the Colts failing to “go for” undefeated in 2009, Caldwell’s first season; and losing to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, where the general consensus was that he was outcoached) would have been too much to survive.

That said, owner Jim Irsay doesn’t seem to be the type who over-reacts to short-term aberrations. After all, he paid Manning his full $26 million for this season, even though he didn’t play a down. And he looks to be willing to pay the 35-year-old Future Hall of Famer his $28 million option in March (which would) engage the final four years of his current five-year, $90 million-contract), even though he’s coming off a neck injury that would make his comeback a damn-near a miracle.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if Irsay had retained Caldwell, even if the Colts had gone oh-for’11. Especially since the team would be selecting Luck, giving the coach the kind of gem he should have the chance to coach after enduring this kind of hell.

It also wouldn’t have surprised me if Caldwell had been canned. In fact, he reportedly expected to be fired if the Colts had gone 0-16. It’s the nature of the business–win or go to the television studio.

But the Colts won’t go winless. In fact, they’re one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Okay, not really but after all they’ve been through the deserve to stick their chests out a bit.

But right now I’m not sure if Caldwell feels he’s done enough to save his job. More important, does Irsay believe his head coach deserves at least another year on the sideline?

A victory on New Year’s Day might be enough to help Caldwell retain his headset–but it also might cost him and the franchise dearly.

To paraphrase Dirty Harry: How Lucky you feelin’, Jim?

Great Win, Colts! Or Bad Luck…?

Good for the Colts.

No team should go oh-fer. No matter how bad they may be (and the Colts were never considered one of the NFL’s bad teams), no team deserves that fate. Players are professional, and most of them had pride. Winning the Super Bowl is tough, but every team should at least one game.

Indianapolis finally got it’s win–defeating the mediocre (7-7) Tennessee Titans today, 27-13.

Good for them, but did it hurt them in the long-range, big-picture Andrew Luck derby?

There’s been some “debate” over whether the Stanford quarterback (full disclosure: I’m a Cardinal alum and though Luck should have won the Heisman) should still be the No. 1 pick. But that debate doesn’t include anyone in the NFL, where Luck remains the hands-down No. 1.

All that said, did the Colts, in winning, lose their grip on the young man many believe to be the game’s next once-in-a-generation franchise QB?

Let’s see:

The Colts two remaining games are against Houston and Jacksonville. Both are winnable, given the Texans having clinched the playoffs and that the Jaguars, well, stink. But let’s say the Clots go 1-1, giving them two wins for the season.

There are two other two-win teams–St. Louis and Minnesota.

The Rams will lose their final two games. Write it down. In ink. They play Pittsburgh and San Francisco. So the Rams will finish with two wins.

The Vikings finish the season against Washington and Chicago. They should win at least one of them but could lost both. Just for the fun of it, let’s say they do lose both and finish with two wins, as well.

Now, I’m not going to go through the various Matrix-like machinations that could deliniate the various tie-break scenarios. For the sake of sanity let’s just assume all finish 2-14.

If the Rams Pick, No. 1, they’re not likely to choose Luck because they already have a talented young QB in Sam Bradford, who’s only in his second year. Or would they? How much would Bradford be worth on the trade market–to teams like Kansas City, Seattle or Washington. GIven how woeful the Rams have been I would not be surprised if they hit reset and start over with Luck.

The Vikings? Please. They’d pick Luck faster than Mel Kiper could comb his hair.

So good for the Colts. But until today it seemed clear that the franchise had its heir to Peyton Manning.

Now? Well, it should make the last two weeks of the season very interesting.

Step back, Jack? Not quite. But Tiger Woods is Finally Ready to Win Again

I’ve gone on record saying Tiger Woods will not surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major golf championships. He’s got 14, as almost every golf fan knows. But he’ll be 36 years old at the end of this month, and to topple Jack he’ll have to win five more majors at an age when time is more foe than friendly.

Indeed throughout golf history only 17 other men have won as many as five majors in their entire careers–and Phil Michelson, considered maybe the second-best golfer of this era, isn’t among them. Lefty has four.

I’m not ready to back down from my Tiger-won’t-jack-Jack prediction just yet, but I will say this: Tiger is ready to win again.

In fact, I think he’ll win at least one major in 2012. And if it’s The Masters in April (the most tiger-friendly major), he just may win two next year.

And if he does that, well, check back with me then.

Tiger won a tournament on Sunday, his first victory (in damn near anything, really) for the first time in 749 days and about 356,567 moments that probably sucked.

He won the Chevron World Challenge, his own personal outing, of sorts. With only 17 participants it wasn’t very worldly, which some have used to diminish the triumph.

But to me it wasn’t simply that he won. Indeed had he won handily it would have been a nice story and little more.

It was how he won–with klutch birdie puts on Nos. 17 and 18 to overcome a one-shot deficit to another Masters champion, Zach Johnson.

Suddenly, we were all watching again–switching even from compelling NFl games (I was working the remote on Green Bay-Giants) to watch Tiger stare, pace, crouch, focus, stare, pace, address the ball and …

Even as Johnson watched Tiger’s final birdie roll towards and into the cup (launching a Tiger roar the likes of which I don’t think we’ve ever seen/heard), the expression on his face simply said, Yeah, he’s back.

For the first time in what seems like a lifetime, an opponent seemed to know an important putt by Tiger Woods was going dead into the cup.

Woods won’t likely become dominant again. He’ll have more bad days, bad tournaments.

Gone are the days when merely stepping onto the first tee was worth three to five strokes against a field intimidated by his presence.

That Tiger is done.

But this Tiger is healthy. And seemingly confident again.

This Tiger can win. And will.

Here We Go Again: Why College Football in Dumbest Major Sport

Yes, the BCS blew it. The rematch between LSU and Alabama for the now very mythical national championship is absurd. LSU should be facing Oklahoma State (which trailed ‘Bama in the computer rankings by about a nose hair) on January 9th. Pure. Simple.

Instead, the Cowboys will play a thrilling matchup with Stanford on January 2, a game I venture will have a larger national following than the Repeat Bowl.

I’m really tired of arguing that college football should have a playoff. I don;t even feel like I’m arguing against anyone anymore. Even those die-hards who say the regular season is a playoff are mute now since it seems that game between LSU and ‘Bama a few weeks ago was a non-playoff playoff game. If it was a playoff game, the Tide would be rolling to, say, the Fiesta Bowl to meet Andrew Luck and the Cardinal.

No one is being served by the current state of college football – but the BCS and the SEC.

And that’s a shame.

Tiger Woods > Rory McIlroy

Rory is special, but he has a long way to go before he becomes golf's Tiger

Sorry folks, Rory McIlroy is no Tiger Woods. I love the kid. Was rooting for him as he treated Congressional like it was a weak muni course.
But he’s no Tiger Woods.
And not just because he’s not American (though that’s part of it).
He’s no Tiger because, well, he’s simply no Tiger. By the time Woods won his first major–the ’97 Masters, at the age of 21–he was already a national phenomenon. Even a global one.
We’d known him since he was a tyke appearing on the Mike Douglas Show. We watched him make us care about the national amateurs (name someone who’s won it since).
Then we watched him. And watched him. We watched him live up to the hype at every level. We watched him chase a bar set so high (Jacks’s 18 majors) it seemed ludicrous–except it was Tiger. So we got on board. We bought into the ludicrous and thought it possible.
We watched him become the next Michael Jordan–a straight-up global icon who attracted fans, TV ratings and corporate dollars as if they were lollipops at the reception desk.
We watched him hit shots we still remember. We watched him become the first jacked golfer.
We watched him change the game.
Of course, we also watched him fall. Perhaps the most precipitous fall we’ve ever seen among sports icons.
That’s why so many have been so quick to anoint Rory as the next…
I get it. The sport needs him. Badly.
Since Woods’ fall, golf has become, well, just golf again. Not even part of the discussion when it comes to games that capture those who care little about the game itself, but are captivated by the likes of Woods and…maybe Rory.
And maybe even soon.
But not yet.

Someone Must Die (So College Sports May Live)

Shutting down a vaunted program will send a much-needed message: No cheaters allowed!

I was heartened by what I heard coming out of last week’s annual gathering of athletic directors and rising star assistant coaches known as the Villa 7 conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. In an age when college sports is dissolving into a backwash of lies, cheating and other sordid scandals, the men and women who hope to be head coaches say they want no part of it and would like the NCAA to issue stiffer sanctions to those programs caught afoul of the rules.

VCU coach Shaka Smart’s vivid quote in The New York Times has been widely viewed as the kind of bold stance college sports’ next generation of coaches seems willing to embrace in order to avoid falling into the same mud hole that is swallowing so many of their predecessors:

“To me, there’s a way to dissuade people from violating the rules,” he said. “It’s to penalize more. In some cultures, if you steal, they cut your hand off. They probably have a lot less theft.”

Allow me to Shaka-it-up even more: In order to truly begin cleansing college sports, the NCAA must revive the death penalty.

More correctly, the organization must be willing to use it again.

The death penalty is, of course, the NCAA’s ultimate sanction: shutting down a program for at least an entire season. No more games. Cue the crickets.

It was most famously levied against SMU’s football program in 1986 when, while already on probation for major recruiting violations, the Mustangs were found to be paying players through an elaborate subterfuge aided and abetted by athletic department officials and an arrogant booster. (That’s redundant, I know.)

The NCAA shuttered the program for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. It was the first use of the new “repeat violator” rule, which allowed the NCAA to shut down a sport for one or two seasons if an institution committed a second major violation in five years.

Not surprisingly, the move devastated the Mustangs program, which had been widely respected and among the most successful in the nation. Hence the catchier “death penalty” moniker was born. Only just now, after nearly a quarter century, is SMU football beginning to hold its head high again.

The deep and sobering impact the death penalty had on SMU has seemed to make the NCAA skittish about levying it ever since.

But it has done so — sort of.

In 2003, the NCAA squashed historically black Morehouse College’s soccer team and banned it until 2006 after discovering recruiting violations involving two Nigerian players and a “lack of institutional control.” (Allegedly, some school officials didn’t even know the school had a soccer team!) Today, soccer at Morehouse is an intramural sport. Division III MacMurray College lost its 2006 and 2007 seasons after the school was found to have provided scholarships to 10 international players. The violation? Division III schools are not allow to offer athletic scholarships.

So while the NCAA has swung its big stick, it hasn’t come close to the big fat piñatas hanging in the middle the room — the ones plastered with names such as Auburn, UConn, North Carolina, Ohio State, USC, Tennessee and myriad other major universities with recent or future appointments with the NCAA.

And in the meantime, many of those schools have thrived on the field. Added Smart: “I think it’s pretty clear to a lot of people in this business that a lot of people who have broken the rules or bent the rules have prospered.”

No school feels any threat that its money-printing and money-burning machines — uh, programs, rather — might be deleted for something as trivial as, say, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a street agent or family member for delivering a star player or “money handshake” or lying to NCAA investigators.

That’s why, in part, we are where we are — cringing at the daily headlines of impropriety run amok.

Until coaches, administrators and boosters do know their precious games can be eliminated, until they truly believe the NCAA will recast the hell of oblivion experienced by Mustangs football upon any institution that spits upon the rules, college sports will sink deeper and deeper into the mud hole.

And too, more and more coaches with stellar dossiers — icons such as Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and the once-celebrated (now exiled) former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl — will reek of the stench of impropriety. Or be out of a job.

It’s no mystery why a few “new” schools were widely cheered over the last year for more than their success on the football field or basketball court. Stanford (disclosure: it’s my alma mater), Butler and VCU were among those institutions lauded not only for winning but also for doing so “the right way.”

Translation: They didn’t cheat. At least not that we know.

Sure, we all root for our schools. And the more they win, the closer they get to a championship of any sort, the easier it is to cheer for them, no matter which “way” they got there.

But my tolerance is waning. Fast.

And, thankfully, the next generation of coaches doesn’t seem to walk in the same muddy trails. Nor are they afraid to say so.

This fall, Ohio State and Auburn will be among the institutions that open their seasons beneath the cloud of an NCAA investigation that could affect their records in recent seasons.

Now is the time for the NCAA to let them, and all schools, know that their misdeeds will cost them, dearly. Perhaps for illegally texting a recruit … off with their thumbs!

Nicklaus > Tiger

All pain and no gains might cost Tiger his most coveted goal.

Tiger Woods walked off the course today after shooting a 42 (quell horror!) on the front nine at The Players Championships. He blamed not so much the score but the pain in his surgically repaired knee, upon which he was limping badly.
Can’t help but wonder now if Woods’ chance of catching Jack Nicklaus’ majors record is crippled, as well. Perhaps irreparably.
The gap is just too wide and the greatest golfer of our generation is showing me nothing that says he’ll be capable of closing it.
Okay, maybe not “nothing,” He’s shown the fire, the spirit and the competitiveness to do it.
But while the heart might be willing, the body (whether the swing or age is the primary culprit) just doesn’t seem capable of following.
Interesting, if Woods does not break the record, will history blame the inevitable effects of age and injuries-or will the self-inflicted wounds of scandal be charged for his falling short?

Tiger’s Next Swing Should Be On the First Tee.

This may sound strange coming from a journalist, but I hope the next sound I hear coming from Tiger Woods is the thwack of his driver against a Nike golf ball on the first tee of a PGA Tour tournament.
I don’t want to hear any more apologies.
No more sorrys.
No Oprah, Costas or anyone. If Mark Steinberg called me and said Tiger wanted to talk to me tomorrow, I’d say, “No!” (Okay, no I wouldn’t, but you get my point.)
Like many others I criticized Tiger et al for refusing to answer questions last Friday. But his near 19-minute statement, I, frankly, don’t want to know anything else except when he’s going to tee it up again.
I don’t care why he did what he did. I don’t need to hear his dissect his soul.
I don’t even care anymore what happened that night inside the house.
And I believe most reasonable people don’t care either.
This was not a crime (Vick, etc.), nor did Tiger compromise or insult his sport (A-Rod, McGwire, etc.) What happened then and now, and what happens tomorrow, is between the Woods.
None of my business.
And none of yours.
So complete your rehab, Tiger, get back in the gym, hit the practice range, tee it up and smack it right down the fairway.
That’s all I want to see.

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Tiger: The Most Clutch Athlete Ever

Thought he didn't win the Masters, he remains Mr. Clutch

Thought he didn't win the Masters, he remains Mr. Clutch

Tiger Woods did not win the Masters. But If he’d been Kenny Payne, he would have. If he had to make the shots Payne needed to make on the final two holes in order to win the coveted green jacket, he would have.

Greg Norman agrees. “Tiger Woods, to me, is the best clutch putter I’ve ever seen in the game of golf,” he said earlier this week.

It’s easy to say that, given the gallery of fist-pumping highlights Woods has produced on 18th greens all over the world, including his most recent: the 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill to beat Sean O’Hair.

Quite frankly, as I watched the moment with a group of very loud friends, I didn’t think he’d make it. It was too late in the day and there was barely enough sunlight to see, let alone to accurately assess the contour of the green. And it was too soon. It was only Woods’ third tournament after a long layoff and knee surgery. Too soon.

“He won’t make it,” I said as he prepared to putt.

I’ll never say those words again.

Putts like that are why Norman and others say he’s the best clutch putter ever, but they don’t go far enough. He’s also the best clutch golfer ever. His putts often overshadow the shots he makes in order to set up the winning putt.

At Bay Hill, for instance, few talked about the 164-yard approach shot Woods made to within 12 feet. He could have hit an 8-iron that distance. But Woods assesses each shot like a NASA scientist and a fighting wind was a clear factor.

The golf gods tell you to take more club that you need in thess conditions but when your mind knows you might hit the ball 20 yards over the green, your body goes cartoonish on you and you swing like a 46-handicapper.

But you’re not Tiger Woods. He pulled out a 5 iron, a club he easily hits 200 yards. The downside was huge: a slight mis-hit would have ended up in the water near the green, a full-on clean shot might have sailed the flag into the bunker behind the green.

But Tiger lasered the ball into Mother Nature’s teeth; it landed where he needed it to be to give him a chance. And that’s all he needs. Birdie. Win.

But even declaring Woods the best clutch golfer ever doesn’t go far enough. He’s the best clutch athlete ever. Ever.

More than any other athlete, in any sport, if winning comes down to a single play, a singular convergence of mind, body and moment, Woods will come through.

Many great athletes are also clutch, but not always. And many athletes who’ve never been called great by anyone outside their own family were extremely clutch. Greatness is about talent and dominance. Clutch is about execution when the eyes of the world are upon you.

Here’s my list of the 10 most clutch athletes ever:

1. Tiger Woods

2. Michael Jordan

3. Joe Montana

4. Reggie Jackson

5. Jimmy Connors

6. Michael Phelps

7. Jesse Owens

8. Robert Horry

9. Florence Griffith Joyner

10. Reggie Miller

No doubt there are others – from eras I did not witness and sports I don’t pretend to be an expert in. (Hockey fans, who should be on this list? Gordie Howe? Bobby Orr? Patrick Roy?) And there’s no boxer on the list because fights rarely come down to “moments.”

I also struggled for a pitcher, though Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale made noise.

And I pondered Babe Didrikson, Bo Jackson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Jim Brown.

But I only had ten slots. And each of the athletes on my list created memorable moments I could see, images I could recall as if they occurred this afternoon. (Even if those images are grainy flip clips, as with Owens).

And at least one of them will likely create many more, beginning next Sunday.