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According to Carp

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Archive for August, 2007

All aboard for Rutgers

August
29

The Rutgers bandwagon starts rolling again tonight against Buffalo in the first game of a home season that is entirely sold out, a scalper’s paradise.

The metropolitan New York area hasn’t had a big-time college football power in decades. Fordham was one, known for the “Seven Blocks of Granite� offensive line that included Vince Lombardi and Alex Wojciehowicz in 1936 and 1937.

Army was another, winning national championships in 1944 and 1945, and a share of national titles in 1914 and 1946, and boasting three Heisman winners — Felix “Doc� Blanchard (‘45), Glenn Davis (’46) and Pete Dawkins (‘58). The Cadets were top-25 poll material as recently as the mid-1980s and played in bowl games as recently as 1988 and 1996.

How about Rutgers? How about a laughingstock until last season?

Its previous claim to football fame is that Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in the first college football game, Nov. 6, 1869, and it has a very cool statue of a wool-cap-wearing runner outside the stadium to commemorate that moment.

But last year everything clicked. There was the football-earth-shaking home win over Louisville, one of the great sporting events ever played in this area, and if not for a slip-up against Cincinnati and a loss to a very powerful West Virginia, the Knights might have been in the BCS playoffs instead of the Texas Bowl, which they won going away.

So expectations are soaring, as much as the Scarlet Knights’ popularity. They have been adopted by a four-state area starved for college football.

“I think the New Jersey-New York-Philadelphia metropolitan areas are event-driven areas,� Schiano said. “So when your event becomes the event to be at, not only do they embrace it but it almost becomes ‘gotta have it.’ And for somenthing to be ‘gotta have it’ it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be winning, it’s got to be all those things.�
It’s always easy to jump aboard a winner. But this team has some extra qualities. It is easy to root for Rutgers.

For one, how can you not like Ray Rice, the undersized superstar who remains humble and team-oriented and fiercely loyal to his family and his New Ro roots? Rutgers has a Heisman Web site dedicated to him (SeeRayRun.com).

How do you not admire a guy like Schiano, who stayed when the U. of Miami came calling?

Or a guy like the graduated Brian Leonard, who planted seeds here? Although NFL-bound himself, he accepted a lesser role as a blocker and pass-catcher when Rice emerged as the featured back.

They also play the right way.

Schiano said that if he weren’t coach, that’s what would make him a fan of this team.

“What I’d like is the way we carry ourselves, the way we play the game,� he said. “It’s not about individuals. It’s about the team. You don’t see any showboating. People hand the ball to the officials. That kind of stuff. I think that’s the way the game’s supposed to be played, so I think there’s a lot of people out there who enjoy that. In a day and age when it’s only about ‘me’ this team is really not about ‘me.’ It’s about the team, and that’s neat.�

Posted by Carp on Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 at 9:12 pm |
| | 52 Comments »

Tiger and the trio

August
26

Phil Mickelson made the point today that one of the best parts of The Barclays and the FedEx Cup playoffs is the grouping of players according to points. He played the first two days with Singh and Jim Furyk, as the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 players in the field in points. Then Nos. 4, 5 and 6 played togehter, and so on.

So next week we can expect to see Tiger, Mickelson and Singh as a threesome for two days. Wow! Maybe these playoffs aren’t so dumb afterall.

So FedEx, et al, must be commended at least for bringing the quality and depth of the field to Westchester Country Club. Everybody but you-know-who was here, and it seemed like a Who’s Who Else on the leaderboard on the back nine of the final round.

The winner was probably the closest thing to a no-name up there. If you’ve been paying attention at all, though, you know that Steve Stricker is no no-name, that his six-year drought was on the verge of ending for a good chunk of the season, that lately he’s been about as good as anybody but you-know-who.

So after balling his eyes out like Mark Messier or Dick Vermeil, Stricker picked up the $1.26 million winner’s check AND the 9,000 FedEx points, which most of golf’s authorities would have you believe are worth more than the $1.26 million.

Stricker’s swollen red eyes and his repeatedly crackling voice tell a totally different story. In fact, the points came in third, the money second, and the trophy first. These Guys are Good, but these guys are also rich, and while nobody turns up a nose at $1.26 million, these guys care more about winning. About beating their peers in a four-day stress-test. About being able to handle all that winning demands, to short-memory the bogeys, to not sweat the bounces and the lip-outs, and to erase all other thoughts while focusing only on the next shot.

It takes a special mind-set to win.

You can’t do that while calculating points and standings.

So to the players here, especially to Stricker — who now leads the FedEx standings — this was a tournament first. Not a playoff.

CBS’s Peter Kostis honestly stepped over the company line in his greenside interview with Stricker, noting that he’s atop the FedEx standings, but “more importantly� he’s a tour winner again.

Rich Beem needed to do what he did to get into next week’s event. He moved to 113th? So he’s among the 120 going to Boston. I guarantee you, on the back nine and very much in contention, Beem wasn’t thinking playoffs.

“I wasn’t out there thinking about the FedEx Cup points,� Stricker said later. “I mean, obviously, winning the toutrnament is foremost. Everything that comes after that is icing on the cake.

“But, yeah, I’m in a good position now. There’s still a long way to go, and we all know who is coming back next week.�

Posted by Carp on Sunday, August 26th, 2007 at 8:29 pm |
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Big game Hunter

August
25

When a player goes eight tournaments without making a cut — and has done something similar to that in every one of his five PGA Tour seasons — and suddenly does what Hunter Mahan has done, you wonder “What happened?”

Mahan knows what happened. And the results have been stunning.

While playing in a qualifier for the U.S. Open. His friend and sports psychologist Neale Smith happened to be with him, as his caddie, that week. The story goes that he shot 73, the light went on in his conversations with Smith, and then he shot 63.

“Yeah, I was extremely negative and I just beat myself up usually after every single shot whether it’s good or bad and just felt like whatever I did, a bad thing was going to happen because of it,â€? Mahan said today. “Even if I didn’t make a good swing or hit a good shot, I just felt like I had such a negative attitude about my game and about myself; there’s just no way to succeed. You have to think that you’re going to hit a good shot this time, and no matter what happens, I’m going to find a way to get the ball in the hole.

“The more you think like that, good things are going to happen, no matter how you swing it. If you believe in yourself and what you can do, good things are going to happen.�

Good things have been happening since.

He tied for 13th at the Open, won the Travelers, had three straight top 10s at the AT&T, the British and the Canadian Opens and a top 20 at the PGA, after which he was selected by Jack Nicklaus to play on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.

Nice, huh?

Today the good things kept coming. Mahan shot a course-record-tying 62 in the third round of The Barclays, vaulting himself onto the leaderboard. He trails leader Steve Stricker by two and K.J. Choi by one entering the final round today.

The record (as a par-71 layout) had been set by former local pro Jimmy Wright, then of Fenway Golf Club, in 1976.

I just finished a column about Mahan’s turnaround for The Journal News and LoHud.com tomorrow. He’s a guy worth watching in the final round.

Posted by Carp on Saturday, August 25th, 2007 at 8:12 pm |
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Roaring Rory

August
24

Had the chance to talk to Rory Sabbatini today, and found out — in a small dose — that what most of his colleagues on the PGA Tour say is true.

He’s a good guy who speaks his mind.

Sabbatini is one of a kind — brash, bold, brutally honest — and particularly so unique among the vanilla set that makes up most of the PGA Tour. Those things that everybody else is thinking but won’t say … Sabbatini says them.

Those things that nobody else would dare say about Tiger Woods, in particular … Sabbatini says them, too.

Hey, more power to him.

There’s no room for trash talk in golf, no room for verbally stomping on a guy or even showing him up. But there is nothing wrong, at all, with being confident that you can beat a certain golf deity, even if you have yet to do so.

OK, maybe it’s not the smartest thing to get Tiger ticked. Surely Steven Ames knows that, and Vijay Singh, too. You don’t pull on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind.

Sabbatini tugs, though. He had the guts to suggest Tiger was letting down the FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour by skipping this week, while Els and Phil Mickelson would only joke about sitting out a playoff week.

But to believe Tiger’s beatable sometimes — and there are weeks when he’s not beatable by anyone currently walking the earth — well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t part of the whole broad-brush criticism of the Tour’s players that they go out there knowing they can’t beat him? That he beats them all in his red shirt by putting his tee in the ground on Sunday?

Sabbatini doesn’t think that way, like the rest of the lambs. Has he paid for annoying Woods? Yeah, he has. The theory is that pretty much everybody else has paid for his ramblings, too, because when Tiger has added incentive, they are all so many bugs on his windshield.

Regrets? Nope.

“The thing is, you can’t live life regretting stuff,� Sabbatini said. “You just gotta look at what’s occurred and learn from it. That’s about all you can do. I don’t think I regret anything ever. The situation is, you just kind of have to take what happens and try and learn and become a better person for it.�

Posted by Carp on Friday, August 24th, 2007 at 6:34 pm |
| | 6 Comments »

Phil’s back in Westchester

August
23

For the first time since you-know-when, Phil Mickelson played a competitive round of golf in Westchester today.

Now he just deflects questions that contain the words “Winged Foot� into positive-spin answers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There should be a statute of limitations on those torturous queries, shouldn’t there? The guy has played five majors since then. He’s won Tour events since then. He’s been hurt. He’s battled back.

Like Bill Buckner, though, it’s never going completely away. If and when Mickelson ever wins another major, every story line will be how he shrugged off the debacle at Winged Foot, exorcised that demon. You know, all those easy cliche lines.

Until then …

I asked him, with innocence intended, if anybody in the large galleries had offered any comments about Winged Foot. After all, surely many followers were there last year, too.

“No, I haven’t heard that,â€? he said. “Winged Foot, Bethpage, are very memorable — some better than others. But one of these days I’m going to break through and win a tournament up here. I actually guess Baltusrol (in Springfield, N.J., where he won the ’05 PGA) is close enough, but you can’t really count it if it’s not in the state.â€?

He meant New York State, not his state of mind. Memorable would be an understatement. For one thing, he has played plentiful U.S. Opens in New York — Shinnecock twice, where he had a chance to win both times; Bethpage, where he lost to Tiger Woods and where he really developed an indescribable relationship as the favorite of New York golf fans, and sports fans; Winged Foot, obviously.

The Opens are special, too, because his birthday falls in that week, and so he is serenaded with song, and because Open Sundays fall on Father’s Day for this first-and-foremost family man. But it’s about the area, too (the Open will return to Bethpage in 2009).

I asked him about returning to the scene, here. Again, he spun it positively. Good for him.

“I love coming here,� Mickelson said. “I have really always enjoyed playing in the New York area. I love talking football with a lot of people here because everybody’s so knowledgeable about sports. It’s been really fun. I love that we have a lot of majors here.

“I have started to add this tournament (to his schedule) more than in the past and I’m excited that this is part of the FedEx Cup series because now we get such strong fields. And the people in this area deserve to have strong fields in these tournaments.�

This is the first time he’s ever played at Westchester Country Club in consecutive years, although he seemed more than a tad distracted the last time he was here. You might remember that. He had won two consecutive majors, and everybody was talking about the Mickel-Slam, and Phil was talking about nothing but Winged Foot, while dashing off to the Foot for practice rounds.

You know what happened the following week.

Posted by Carp on Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 at 7:21 pm |
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And the Barclays winner is …

August
22

I’m taking the easy way out and going with The Big Easy.

I just think Ernie Els has been really grinding toward getting back to where he once was — which was pretty darn good; easily one of the best three players on the planet.

And I think he’s been getting really close lately, especially at the Open Championship where he tied for fourth and at the PGA, where he started the final round six behind Tiger Woods and made a run before finishing three back.

Plus he’s got a track record here at Westchester. In one four-year stretch in the late 1990s, 14 of Els’ 16 rounds were in the 60s. It’s almost incomprehensible.

Of course, going just by track record, he’s got competition. Vijay Singh, another guy looking to get back to where he once was, is the only three-time champ in tournament history. Sergio Garcia has won here twice. Padraig Harrington won here two years ago. Jim Furyk has played well here.

My column for The Journal News and LoHud.com tomorrow is on Els and Singh, and how just a little while ago they were both seemingly headed for career Grand Slams. Now they’re both late in their careers and still only halfway there.

But this is a great opportunity, on a favorite track, for both to take a step that is not quite a major, but is clearly bigger than an average PGA stop — the first tournament in the first FedEx Cup playoffs.

I’ll stick with Ernie. I like Furyk and Singh and Garcia to contend, along with Kenny Perry, Jerry Kelly and maybe Geoff Ogilvy.

And I’m sure, as is always the case at the Barclays, somebody like Andrew Buckle or Jeff Quinney will lead after the first round.

Posted by Carp on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007 at 4:52 pm |
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Bending on Beckham

August
18

I am a little embarrassed to tell you that in the span of about 30 hours I’ve become a big David Beckham fan.

Can he save soccer in America? Despite drawing 66,000-plus to Giants Stadium for a 5-4 thrilla of a loss by the L.A. Galaxy to the Red Bulls, no, I don’t think he can. There’s too much precedence of soccer getting its big bump, it’s grand opportunity, only to have it nosedive back to the rear of sports consciousness.

But the game was terrific — “I haven’t been involved in a game like that since I was 9 or 10 years old,” Beckham said — so maybe some of them will come back.

And Beckham, still hobbling at about 70 percent on a left ankle sprain, was fairly fabulous with two of his bending passes being knocked in for goals.

Mostly, though, I’m impressed by Beckham the mega-star, the mega-celebrity. At first, having only read about him and seen his smarmy photo poses, and his celeb wife Posh, or Victoria, or whatever her real name is, and seeing him in those tight suits and in states of undress, and scowling like a model — well, to say I didn’t care for him would be an understatement. I don’t care for people who are famous just for being famous, which is what he is to a degree, and his wife, too.

But having seen two of his press conferences over two days in the New York area, this kid is smart, charming, polite, enjoyable, engaging, and polite (I purposely said that twice; and he said that’s the way he was brought up and that’s how he’ll raise his kids).

This is a gazillionaire who has everything, and who has a schedule that includes a game tonight at the Meadowlands, a flight to England tomorrow, a game for the English national team against Germany at Wembley Stadium Wednesday and a game at Los Angeles Thursday. And yet a highlight of his week was a clinic he gave for kids in Harlem Friday, a clinic designed not so much to teach and coach, but to let a lot of kids run around and kick a ball and have fun, regardless of ability.

I don’t know. I just liked him. I think he’s more than hype. I think he gets it.

Posted by Carp on Saturday, August 18th, 2007 at 11:06 pm |
| | 2 Comments »

Jilted by Tiger

August
17

Is it possible that, by not playing at the Barclays this week at Westchester Country Club — in the first event of the first-ever FedEx Cup playoffs — Tiger Woods is spelling doom for the tournament at WCC?

It has potential, if not likely, repercussions. Such as … the Barclays moving elsewhere not just in 2009, as planned, but permanently.

The PGA Tour stop at Westchester, which has been around for more than 40 years, might go poof. Why? Because Woods has gotten so big and powerful, because he drives the whole bus, that if he’s not on board, it could be over.

All you need for proof and reference material is The International, which was a favored (by the players) Tour stop outside of Denver. It folded this year.

When it did, Jack Vickers, the oil tycoon who ran it, said he shut it down because Tiger’s absence since 1999 had turned it into a second-rate event in terms of TV ratings and sponsors’ desire to stay aboard.

“You’ve got a one-man show out there right now,� Vickers said at the time.
Sure enough, the event which replaced the International on the PGA Tour schedule became Tiger’s own invitational in the Washington, D.C. area. Also sure enough, the second stop for the FedEx playoffs is in Boston and benefits Tiger’s charity.

Tiger is that powerful. He could fold the Westchester tour stop by not playing here. The tour stop that survived when Jack Nicklaus stopped coming, might not survive Tiger’s absence.

Posted by Carp on Friday, August 17th, 2007 at 9:09 pm |
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Smilin’ Sheff

August
16

Say this for Gary Sheffield: He’s accomodating. He says what he thinks. He does so sometimes with a glare sometimes with a smile.

And he believes everything that comes out of his mouth.

Today, in his first visit to Yankee Stadium since his trade to Detroit, and since he dropped verbal bombs on Joe Torre a month ago on HBO’s Real Sports, Sheffield, typically, didn’t back off anything he had said.

Torre continued to ride the high road and did not discuss Sheffield’s comments. A reporter told Sheffield that Torre had said a day earlier he probably would not shake Sheffield’s hand before the game.

“Well, probably not,� Sheffield said, then, about whether he’d shake Torre’s hand.

“For what? I don’t need to clear up nothing. I meant what I said, said what I said, and I stand by what I said. Simple as that.�

The two did not cross paths on the field.

He was asked if he could have played another season for Torre.

“I don’t play for the manager,� Sheffield said. “I don’t play for him.�

During the HBO show he was asked about Derek Jeter, who is Torre’s captain and who has a tremendous relationship with the manager. Jeter’s dad is black, his mom white, which brought Sheffield to say he “ain’t all the way black.”

Sheffield said he meant nothing against Jeter when he said that, and noted that he has a son who is also half black, half white.

Sheffield was asked if he felt the statement about Torre was validated when African American players such as Kenny Lofton and Shawn Chacon agreed with him.

“It was validated when I said it,â€? he said. “The bottom line … let me explain it to you guys. When I have an issue with somebody within the Yankees organization, or the Yankees, what you guys try to do is include Jeter in that conversation to distort what I’m talking about because Jeter’s an icon here. Jeter’s not going to get the same treatment as Shawn Chacon, Gary Sheffield, nobody else, because he’s bigger than Cashman, he’s bigger than Joe Torre, he’s this organization. That’s why he don’t get he same treatment, simple as that.â€?

And Sheffield was angry about Darryl Strawberry coming to Torre’s defense in the press.

“For them to use Darryl Strawberry for 15 seconds or whatever to validate, he don’t have a clue what went on when I was here,� Sheffield said. “Just because me and him were close, you guys used him for that moment. And he took the bait.�

I wrote a column for The Journal News and LoHud.com tomorrow, about Sheffield, who was booed before each of his trips to the plate as the Tigers DH tonight.

Posted by Carp on Thursday, August 16th, 2007 at 9:37 pm |
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Panic attacks … again

August
15

The best part, or the worst — depending on your point of view — of having the Yankees lose an afternoon game on YES, as they did today, is that you get the instant feedback from the radio call-in rock-heads right after the postgame show, when Mike and the Mad Dog is simulcast on YES.

So here it was, maybe a half an hour after Mariano Rivera was rocked, and here came the opinions, the reactionary, over-the-top, panic-striken opinions of people who should know better but don’t.

1) Why didn’t Joe Torre use Joba Chamberlain instead of Mariano? Are you kidding me? Is this serious? You want to use an unproven rookie in a pennant race over the greatest closer of all-time? What do you think the reaction might have been if Torre went to Chamberlain instead of Rivera and Chamberlain had thrown away the game in the 10th? My God.

2) Rivera should not be cut any more slack. Hello? Granted the guy gets hit sometimes, even gives up a run now and then, and, yes, blows a save. He had just racked up 19 in a row until he blew two in a row this week. But he shouldn’t be cut any more slack. Is this a real take? Or was this somebody want to hear his own voice on radio and couldn’t come up with a topic? The same guy, or another guy, I don’t remember for sure, said he’s not so sure about whether the Yankees should re-sign Rivera. Yeah, and watch the teams — like the Mets and Red Sox — line up to sign him.

3) Then you get Francesa himself practically starting an argument with Sweeny Murti that if kids like Phil Hughes are going to be pitching in the pennant race, then they can’t use the excuse that they’re rookies if they fail. How stupid is that? Hughes is here because he’s the best fifth starter the Yankees have in the organization, and if he fails it might be because he’s a rookie. There’s no mutual exclusivity on this. The kid is here to win, to produce. If he fails, or gets knocked around, what’s the difference what the reason is? You’re not going to send him back to the minors just because the excuse, legitimate as it may be, if he fails, is that he’s inexperienced. Murti wasn’t following Francesa’s point, and frankly neither was I. But Mike wanted to make his point and argue over it, for some reason.

The Yankees have now lost two in a row, and that’s not terrible. It’s going to happen. But the hole they dug early on made losing streaks something they cannot afford. They are going to have a losing streak or two in these last six or seven weeks. If they’re short, maybe they can survive. If they have a long one, four or five games, it could be fatal … because of where they’re coming from.

That’s why I believed, before the all-star break, that the Yankees would get into position to contend, but that they wouldn’t make the playoffs in the end — because they’re not good enough to avoid another slump, and they can’t afford one. They’ve done better than I thought they would, while the pitching has improved, four key starters have found their bats, and Brian Cashman has somehow built a much better bench. Are they good enough to keep it up? I don’t know.

Posted by Carp on Wednesday, August 15th, 2007 at 10:00 pm |
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About this blog
Rick Carpiniello is a sports columnist for The Journal News and LoHud.com. His blog will encompass the world of sports, from Pee Wees to the Super Bowl in a style that can be serious, sarcastic or even silly, and on which encourages feedback from its readers on any and all sports-related topics.
About the author
Rick CarpinielloRick Carpiniello For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002. READ MORE

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