The advantage of doing this job is you get a chance to see people for who they really are, or at least who they want you to think they are, or maybe who they are in the daylight, which is not to say who they are when the sun goes down, like my friend, The Count. Take Bobby Bowden. Several years ago I was in Tallahassee working on some Florida State story and sitting in Bowden’s office. It was the let’s-just-chat portion of the interview, which not every coach makes time for but is a regular practice for Bowden. We talked sports and family and he asked me about my son, Josh, who at the time was very young. The next thing I know, he reaches into a bottom desk drawer, pulls out a Florida State hat, and signs it, “To Josh. Bobby Bowden.” It was a nice gesture, even if my son didn’t know a Seminole from a purple dinosaur at the time. It was the type of move that has led several media members to allow themselves to go easy on Bowden every time an FSU player was, say, caught getting free shoes and cheating in an online music history class. Which leads me to this week’s Countdown kickoff. Take it, Count …
The NCAA found that 61 FSU student-athletes in 10 sports were involved in an elaborate cheating scheme in two online courses in 2006 and 2007. As a result, all wins by teams using those athletes must be vacated.
That includes 14 wins by the football team, and therefore 14 wins by Bowden, who has been locked in a coach-until-you-drop battle for most wins with fellow Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast bud Joe Paterno. Bowden apologists believe this is unfair. OK, I only got a hat. What did they get?
Some media members have taken up for Bowden, as has FSU athletic director Randy Spetman, who called the NCAA’s order to vacate wins unfair. Unfair? “The vacation of records is a very controversial issue with us right now,” he said. One of the arguments for allowing Bowden to keep the record is there’s no way he could have known about his players taking the course. That might be true. One look at the Noles’ offense in those years told us Bowden barely knew what was going on in the huddle. But it kinda misses the point, doesn’t it?
You don’t have to be such a blatant dirtbag as Jim Harrick and have your son teach a class, “The Principles of Basketball,” to be wrong. It’s Bowden’s program. He’s responsible. Not knowing can be just as bad as knowing and lying about it, and who’s to say he hasn’t done that, too? These are kids he recruited, he coached and, to some degree, he raised. Ask the mothers what he said to them when he sat in their living rooms.
Can a coach know everything and be at all places at all times? No. But that goes with the job. And let’s face it, FSU has had its share of players run afoul under Bowden. The man has had a great career and I certainly won’t put him in the low rent class of Lou Holtz and Jackie Sherrill. But he’s also built his record in part by being soft on crime, having players run steps rather than miss games of significance or be kicked off the team. Sorry. This happened on his watch. His watch, his players, his program. His punishment. He may just have to settle for second place on the all-time wins list. Hat or no hat.
I think Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was supposed to make people forget Phil Fulmer — not miss him. The goofball did it again. Alshon Jeffrey, a wide receiver from South Carolina, told ESPN.com that when Kiffin was trying to recruit him to Tennessee, he told him not to go to South Carolina unless he wanted to wind up working at a gas station for the rest of his life — like all of the other Gamecocks. “He said it, but it’s not worth talking about,” Jeffrey said. OK. So it was just a stupid shot said in the heat and desperation of the moment. But since Kiffin brought it up, a question: Since when do all Tennessee recruits go on to work at NASA?
The Yankees spent $423.5 million on three free agents this winter (Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett). They have built a $1.5 billion stadium that includes a steak house, a martini bar and luxury, outdoor and party suites. So what’s the worst possible thing that could go wrong (I mean, other than all that A-Rod stuff)? They’re having trouble selling the most absurdly priced tickets. All together now: Awww. The New York Times, under the headline, “Yankee Stadium Seats With Everything, Except Fans,” says the team is struggling to sell the premium field level seats at $325 per game and “Legend Suite” seats in the first few rows ($2,500 per game). The Yankees have taken out huge ads in the Times in hopes of moving inventory. But they’re apparently resigned to the fact that they won’t be able to sell out full-season packages and now are willing to sell smaller multi-game packs. On a related note, karma’s a … wow, look at the time!
In case you missed it, Michael Vick’s $3.2 million mansion — which has a “7″ embroidered in the carpet in an entry hall — did not sell at auction Tuesday. There wasn’t even an offer. There wasn’t even a crowd. Two “bidders” showed up but neither made a qualifying bid, which included a cashiers check for $160,000. It’s Vick’s supreme hope that this was merely a statement on the real estate market and not his own marketability because two non-qualifying bidders for his NFL services isn’t going to help bankruptcy proceedings. But the $160,000 — he might take that about now. Meanwhile, NFL.com reported that Vick plans to do work for Habitat for Humanity as part of his work release program back in Newport News, Va. The trick will be making sure that the homes are not plain barn-like structures painted black and set back in the woods. Because, like, that wouldn’t be good.
Do you believe how good Barbie looks for 50? You just know that girl has had some work done. But here at The Countdown, we do not praise individuals who only excel at accessorizing. Which brings us to this week’s top athletes. To the left, for the ladies, we have three unidentified members of the 1962 Packers. This rare play illustrates how Vince Lombardi was one of the game’s great innovators. To the right, we give you Elena Dementieva, who is 5-foot-11 and, unlike Barbie, I’m pretty sure doesn’t have a little sister back in Moscow named Skipper. Dementieva is ranked No. 4 in the world (in tennis) and is 21-3 this season. However, she lost in the finals of the French Open to Amelie Mauresmo, because, I’m pretty sure, the French cheat.
Well. That didn’t take long. Chipper Jones suffered a strained oblique in the World Baseball Crock, but he’s playing the role of good soldier and patriotic American by saying he could have crumbled just as easily in spring training with the Braves. Well, that may be true. But here’s the problem: If a player gets hurt in spring training in Florida, it’s bad luck. If a player gets hurt playing a meaningless exhibition game 1,300 miles away in Toronto because Major League Baseball wants to sell hats and T-shirts in Venezuela, it’s bad luck AND could’ve been avoided. But fear not. Bud Selig will design commemorative arm slings before this is over.
According to Bizjournals, which apparently has a lot of time on its hands, Atlanta’s pro sports franchises don’t measure up well among the 122 teams in the four leagues. The publication ranked teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for the 2008 calendar year, primarily on two criteria: wins and earnings. The top five overall finishers: 1) Boston Celtics (NBA); 2) New York Giants (NFL); 3) L.A. Lakers (NBA); 4) Montreal Canadiens (NHL); 5) Boston Red Sox (MLB). The Falcons were the highest-ranked Atlanta team at only 67th (22nd among 32 NFL franchises). The Hawks were 69th (17th of 30 in NBA), the Braves 91st (20th of 30 in baseball) and the Thrashers 119th (29 of 30 in NHL). They ranked ahead of only the Memphis Grizzlies, the New York Islanders and the Detroit Lions, who just completed an 0-16 season.
Remember that planned “protest” night against the Thrashers’ ownership, the Atlanta Spirit, last Friday night against Montreal? It didn’t go so well. The Thrashers had to go and ruin everything and win. According to Joe Harris, one of the unofficial organizers, only three fans wore bags and several others never put their’s on because the team played well, and won, 2-0, over Montreal (which went over so well in Quebec that the Canadiens fired their head coach three days later). Harris said he bought a pair of tickets on eBay totaling $16 — and sat 10 rows off the glass. He said he saw dozen fans with signs that took shots at the Spirit, but mostly termed the protest “horrible. Embarrassing. I figured once Montreal scored, everybody would put their bag on. But they never scored.” Maybe he could pre-plan 30 protest nights next year, and make the team a legitimate playoff threat.