Saturday, February 28, 2009

3 sports things you NEED to do

This is far from a complete list -- just stuff that's on my mind due to events of this week:

1) Go to the CIAA tournament. I don't mean this year -- if you haven't been already, it's a little late for that unless you get in the car right about now to go see if J.C. Smith can win either or both of the men's and women's 2009 finals. But the tournament returns to Charlotte in 2010 and 2011. It's got a definite charm (here's my column about Friday night's action there).

2) Watch Stephen Curry play. In person. He can't be totally appreciated until you see the quickness firsthand. Everyone knows Curry can shoot, but what people don't always understand is that whenever there's a 50-50 ball on the court, he invariably comes up with it. His overall quickness is amazing, and congrats to Curry for surpassing John Gerdy's all-time Davidson scoring record today with 34 against Ga. Southern.

3) Read Jon Beason's blog (which you can do here). He's got a newsy item up there right now about his recent shoulder surgery, but scroll back a little bit, too, and read the Pro Bowl stuff. You can tell this is actually a blog that the athlete writes, not one of those that is "ghostwritten" by a bunch of image consultants. It sounds like Beason, and it's fascinating.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What were YOU thinking?!?!

I had another live chat on today, addressing such topics from readers as what the Panthers might get for Ken Lucas or Julius Peppers in a trade, why the Charlotte Bobcats can't get a full embrace (or even a one-armed hug) from the city of Charlotte and why my hair has gone so gray.

It's always a pleasure to hear what's on your mind. For the answer to these and other questions, check out the replay here.

Panthers catch a break (and live chat reminder)

Note to readers: I'm going to do a live chat on from noon to 1 p.m. today (Friday). So if you've got a few minutes to spare at lunchtime, stop by. It's always a lively discussion. We'll talk Panthers, NFL free agency, college hoops and whatever else is on your mind.

The NFC South team that is going to undergo the most seismic change this offseason is Tampa Bay -- which already fired coach Jon Gruden and jettisoned a bunch of its well-known but aging players (Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks among them).

The Bucs could be dangerously good -- or dangerously bad -- in 2009. I consider Tampa Bay the Panthers' biggest rival.

Since the Panthers basically have to stand on the sideline during the big-money time of free agency, they can only hope that a lot of great players don't migrate to the NFC South. That's why they caught a break in the wee hours Friday morning, when former Tennessee DT Albert Haynesworth picked Washington over Tampa Bay in the first huge move of the NFL free-agency period.

Haynesworth has had some problems in his past, but I believe he was the best DT in football last season. You stick Haynesworth in the middle of Tampa's defense and you're not going to see DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart bust out for nearly 300 yards like they did in that signature Monday night win over Tampa Bay in December.

Of course, Washington is still in the NFC, but that's not the same as being in the same division. Carolina got a little lucky with this one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lucas, free agency and the cap

Note to readers: I'm going to do a live chat on from noon to 1 p.m. Friday. So if you've got a few minutes to spare at lunchtime, stop by. It's always a lively discussion. We'll talk Panthers, NFL free agency, college hoops and whatever else is on your mind.

A few thoughts on the eve of NFL's free-agency period:

-- So Carolina's (soon-to-be former?) CB Ken Lucas turned down a trade to the Detroit Lions?! Hey, wouldn't you?

-- I keep getting distracted when I hear that "Brooks & Dunn" got released by Tampa Bay this week. What, were those supposed to sing a country version of the Star-Spangled Banner on Opening Day or something?

-- On a more serious note, Tampa Bay has really positioned itself to make some quick free-agency strikes. That makes them a major NFC South contender yet again. It's just the opposite of the Panthers, who are just trying to get their financial heads above water after the Peppers/Gross Twin Towers of salary-cap strapping deals.

Here's an interesting chart from the NFL Network's Adam Schefter, who is a trustworthy guy. Having been around the NFL for 20 years now as a reporter and columnist, I'd rank Schefter as one of the top NFL information men in the business, along with The Observer's own Charles Chandler who writes a lot of our popular "Inside the Panthers" blog, Sports Illustrated's Peter King and ESPN's Chris Mortensen and John Clayton. There are more really good NFL reporters out there, those are just the 5 names that come to me right away. If one of those 5 print it, you can generally count on it. Anyway, this comes directly from Schefter's blog:

(From's Adam Schefter)
"On the eve of free agency, some teams are positioned too well, and others not so well. Based on numbers gathered Thursday — and these are fluid, changing with each roster move that each team makes — here are the teams with the most and least salary-cap room heading into the start of free agency."

Tampa Bay — $61 million
Kansas City — $57 million
Philadelphia — $48 million
Denver — $37 million
Green Bay — $34 million

Carolina — $1.9 million
New England — $3.2 million
Indianapolis — $6.6 million
Pittsburgh — $7.4 million
Washington — $8.1 million

(Note: Washington managed to sign DT Albert Haynesworth in a huge free-agency deal Friday, which just goes to show you how elastic the salary cap is if you massage it enough with extensions, cuts, etc.)

So that leads us to this list, from's Pat Kirwan, of the top 50 free agents expected to be available at 12:01 a.m. Friday. As for the Panthers and this list, as Howard Jones once sang: "You can look at the menu, but you just can't eat..."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'll miss Goings but not Hackett, Bridges

The first wave of the Panthers' salary-cap related cuts has washed up ashore. The wave surprisingly did not carry Ken Lucas with it -- at least not yet -- but it did include RB Nick Goings, WR D.J. Hackett and OT Jeremy Bridges.

They all got fired Wednesday, and there will be more. The huge ramifications of committing nearly 16.7 million to Julius Peppers next season -- and the Panthers have to commit it at the moment, even though a trade may happen -- are only beginning to be felt.

Of the 3, I'll only miss Goings. He was a quiet, fine warrior for the Panthers. He made the team in 2001 as a free agent and stuck around for eight years -- an eternity for an NFL RB -- because he made himself so valuable. The season everyone remembers is 2004, when Goings finally got the call as the starting RB after 5 other players had gotten injured or performed poorly. He responded with 4 straight 100-yard games, including a 3-TD game against Arizona that included a 57-yard TD run.

Goings never had another year anywhere near that one, but he was tough and versatile and he'll be missed.

Some Panthers will also miss Jeremy Bridges, who had a good run as a starter here for awhile. I won't. What I'll mainly remember about Bridges is his off-field problems, including the one during the 2008 season when he sprayed Dom Perignon over some patrons at a fancy restaurant. I mean, c'mon -- in this economy?? That's a double slap in the face.

As for Hackett, what a washout that guy was! Hackett was supposed to compete with Muhsin Muhammad for the No.2 receiving role. Instead, Moose left him in the dust. Hackett didn't score a touchdown ALL YEAR, an embarrassment for someone who is supposed to use speed as their primary weapon. He only had 13 catches for 181 yards and was frequently inactive. Good riddance to him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phelps in Charlotte -- again

It's a big deal for Charlotte's biggest swim meet -- the UltraSwim in uptown Charlotte -- that golden boy Michael Phelps has decided to compete here again this year.

It's not the first time Phelps has participated in the meet -- he's been here several times for it before. The UltraSwim has established a superb reputation in its 25-year history and has hosted more than 100 Olympians, including Phelps most recently in 2006.

This appearance in the May 14-17 meet will generate a lot more interest, though. Back in '06, Phelps hadn't won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, nor had he been photographed with a marijuana pipe in his hand, which is why he is currently serving a 3-month suspension from USA Swimming. (That photo was taken in Columbia, S.C., only about 90 minutes from where Phelps will be staying here -- but I'll bet he won't be taking any side trips to Gamecock-land this time).

I'm glad Phelps plans will make his 2009 debut here, although I don't know where they're going to put everybody. The Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center gets very crowded for the UltraSwim already, what with the hundreds of swimmers who compete and their entourages. If Phelps draws even a few hundred more people, the place could be seriously overrun. It's going to be quite a logistical challenge.

One final note: I was looking back at a story I wrote in 2006 when Phelps swam here at the same event. It included these paragraphs.

(From my 2006 Charlotte Observer story)

In November 2004, Phelps got pulled over in Maryland and was arrested for drunken driving. He would eventually plead guilty and be sentenced to 18 months of probation.

"I made a mistake and I admitted to it," Phelps said Friday after he swam one of his early morning heats. "I know what I did wasn't the right thing. But it's a part of my life now and something I have to accept. Hopefully, I can teach other kids not to make the same mistake that I did."

Phelps has made a number of speeches to youth groups since, urging them not to drink and drive. His sponsors have stuck by him.

Sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it?

Monday, February 23, 2009

HBO's Duke-UNC documentary

Count me among the fans of HBO's Duke-Carolina basketball documentary, which makes its debut tonight (Monday, Feb.23) at 9 p.m. on HBO and will be shown numerous times after that for the next month. Click here for more listings and info from the network.

We've already reviewed the show -- twice! -- in The Observer, with both Langston Wertz and TV critic Mark Washburn weighing in with extremely positive reviews.

I'll give you my 2 cents worth but first, a full disclosure: I'm in the 60-minute show for maybe 45 seconds or so, talking about Charlie Scott and a couple of other subjects germane to the rivalry. The show's producer, award-winning documentary filmmaker George Roy, asked me to be on the show due to my newspaper work for The Charlotte Observer on UNC-Duke and the fact that I've written a couple of books on the history of UNC basketball. My part is very brief and I always think I look silly on TV, so I will wager you're not going to enjoy those 45 seconds very much.

That said, though, the rest of the film is excellent. Several people I've talked to who have seen advance copies agree that the footage of Larry Brown and Art Heyman involved in the famous UNC-Duke on-court brawl from the early 1960s is something few people have seen before. The "8-point-in-17-seconds" UNC comeback is another highlight treasure trove. I particularly enjoyed the comments from Mike Krzyzewski, Michael Jordan, J.J. Redick, Eric Montross and Jay Bilas -- they all had some uncommon insight into the rivalry.

A couple of quibbles? Sure. The documentary could have been longer -- two hours instead of one, easily, or at least 90 minutes rather than 60. Sometimes it's unclear who is speaking and what their relation is to the schools, particularly when fans are interviewed. The most recent 10 years of the rivalry doesn't get much play. Overall, though, HBO did a superb job with this, and it's well worth an hour of your time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Great sports books

Hi, everyone. I got a question in my Friday noontime live chat on about what sports books I would recommend. Among my all-time favorites would be: "Friday Night Lights" by Buzz Bissinger; "A Season on the Brink" by John Feinstein and both of Gary Smith's collections (most of those stories were originally published in Sports Illustrated).

In recent years I have also have really enjoyed Gary Pomerantz's excellent "Wilt, 1962" -- about Wilt Chamberlain -- and Dave Kindred's book about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell and their intertwined lives called "Sound and Fury."

"Game of Shadows,
" about the steroid controversy, was superb. So was Art Chansky's "Blue Blood," about the UNC-Duke college hoops rivalry. "Seabiscuit" has to be the best book about horse racing ever written. "Into Thin Air" makes you feel like you're stuck in a snowstorm on Mt. Everest.

And there are literally dozens of other great ones out there, written by folks like Sally Jenkins, David Halberstam and Roger Kahn. Having authored or co-authored four sports books myself -- and believe me, none of them would make any of my "best of" lists -- I know firsthand how difficult it is to produce a really compelling sports book.

For more "great sports book" suggestions, check out this list Sports Illustrated published in 2002 of the 100 greatest sports books of all time. And if you guys have any others you think are great that I'm missing, feel free to post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Ol' Roy should do now

So I watched the video clip of Roy Williams' F-bomb, issued after UNC's win over N.C. State Wednesday, and it looked pretty harmless. Williams sounded like he was halfway joking, although he was obviously angry about his team's pressure defense and double-teaming.

Here's what I would do if I were Williams. Issue a statement that apologized to everyone who heard the comment on live radio on the UNC and N.C. State radio networks. Then I'd say I was going to donate at least $10,000 apiece to a charity of those radio networks' choice as a goodwill gesture.

Ol' Roy is just lucky he's not in NASCAR, where in recent years both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart were penalized 25 driver points and fined $25,000 for cursing on their interviews on live TV. I thought those penalties were both too strict. The fine, sure, that's OK. But taking away driver points, too? That's way too much.

There's no doubt, though, that Ol' Roy saying the "F" word at a press conference being broadcast live around much of the state would qualify as inappropriate. It's nowhere close to a hanging offense, but it's not something I'd have wanted my 4 kids to hear, either, had they been listening.

No matter whether the ACC penalizes Ol' Roy with some sort of slap on the wrist or not for this, Williams should get in front of this one, apologize and make a charitable contribution. Then the Tar Heel coach should just watch his mouth a little more closely, if only to make sure the word "frickin'" comes out when he intends it to.

BTW, I'll be on a live chat on from noon to 1 p.m. on FRIDAY, to talk about this issue and anything else you might have on your mind.

Now that's just Gross

Sounds like Jordan Gross can be his own one-man stimulus package -- spreading his wealth all over Charlotte -- if he cares to now that he has signed this monster deal with the Panthers.

Are the Panthers overpaying for Gross? Absolutely. But in the fantasy world of the NFL -- where teams lay off regular employees making $40K a year but still spend every million they possibly can on the on-field product -- somebody was going to overpay the guy.

It might as well be Carolina.

So the Panthers' love-hate triangle -- with Carolina, Gross and Julius Peppers at the points -- has worked out about the way most folks assumed it would. Carolina keeps Gross and has plopped a franchise tag on Peppers. Now the Panthers will strive to ultimately trade Julius in the next two months in Part 2 of this scenario. (Maybe to one of his 4 preferred teams, but I have an idea that list is more etched in oatmeal then set in stone).

BTW, I will be on a live chat on from noon to 1 p.m. FRIDAY to talk about Gross, Peppers and whatever else is on your mind. Please click on by if you have a minute.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peppers-Gross weirdness

You know what’s weird about this whole Julius Peppers-Jordan Gross thing? Neither one of them ever touches the ball.

The amount of money and time and newspaper ink and computer blogs devoted to these two guys has been nothing short of amazing ever since Carolina’s season ended, and there’s no end in sight (read Tom Sorensen's "Tom Talks" blog here about the fact that Peppers only will accept a trade to 4 unnamed teams).

Even if Carolina does franchise star defensive end Peppers as expected by 4 p.m. Thursday – and I certainly would, no matter what happens with Gross – that doesn’t mean it’s over. It only means that we’ve entered another phase of the “Let’s Trade Julius” sweepstakes, which isn't going to be any easy matter given all the issues involved and the limited playing field Peppers will accept. The Panthers must have Peppers' help in negotiating the trade because he would have to negotiate a contract with the new team -- his old one expires later this month.

So, all this attention (which I certainly admit adding to) for two guys who never gained an actual yard in 2008. Not that they aren't Pro Bowlers -- they are -- but it's just amazing the amount of attention a good lineman can generate given the NFL vacuum of news these days.

Did you realize that Peppers had neither an interception nor a fumble recovery in 2008? Hilee Taylor recovered a fumble for Carolina in 2008. So did Tyler Brayton. So did Adam Seward and Dante Wesley (twice). Not Peppers.

Peppers did have five forced fumbles and 14.5 sacks, but I defy you to name more than 2-3 of them. They weren't particularly memorable. And the best-known play in which Peppers actually ran with the ball in the NFL came so long ago that the quarterback Peppers stole it from (Michael Vick) is now in jail. Carolina long ago stopped trying to throw the ball to him on offense -- an interesting experiment that failed.

And Gross? The only time the genial offensive tackle ever touches the ball is when Jake Delhomme fumbles it. He’s one of those anonymous linemen who is bemoaned by fans during the year for his occasional false starts and then praised lavishly in the offseason, to the point where paying him $8 million a year would suddenly seem like a bargain to many.

The NFL is a fantasy world, of course. The Panthers organization laid off 20 people this week, but the contracts Gross and Peppers will sign sometime in the next few days or months will undoubtedly surpass the salaries of those 20 people combined.

And, like Peppers and Gross, none of those people who got fired gained a single yard last season, either.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts on A-Rod's apology

3 quick thoughts on Alex Rodriguez's media-circus apology today for admittedly using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003:

1. Did anyone else find it ironic that A-Rod said during this press conference about who injected what to whom that "I'm here to take my medicine"?

2. How would you like to be A-Rod's unnamed cousin -- the one who injected him illegal PEDs? How would you like to be one of A-Rod's unnamed cousins -- I assume he has more than one -- who had nothing to do with this whole mess?

3. I give A-Rod some credit for holding this news conference at all and at least being less ambiguous than many of his Steroid Era predecessors were when caught in The Big Lie. (Mark McGwire certainly could have taken a lesson here).
But given A-Rod's previous lies on this subject -- i.e. to Katie Couric on "60 Minutes," when he said he had never even been "tempted" to use PEDs -- why should we believe he's telling the total truth this time?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Peppers' most interesting quote

Of the 22-minute teleconference Julius Peppers held with several reporters Saturday, I thought his most interesting quote was this one.

Said Peppers, in response to a question about what he would tell the many fans who bought No.90 jerseys and have cheered him for years:

"If you were being held back at your job and you fulfilled your contract and all the obligations you had, and played or worked seven years on a contract and it was time for that contact to expire, and you wanted to do something different and you were told, ‘I know you did all of that and you've fulfilled what you're supposed to do, but you've still got to stay,' I don't think people would be willing to live under those same standards they want to place on me,” said Peppers. “I just don't.”

“So what I say is (to) put yourself in my shoes and look at my situation instead of being emotional about it.”

I wasn't on the teleconference, but I thought this quote was the most insightful one Peppers offered in trying to explain why he wants to bolt Carolina. Look closely at 3 parts of the quote.

1) "If you were being held back at your job...." So, obviously, Peppers believes he has been held back here -- although he refuses to go into specifics. No love lost, though, I don't think from reading this, between Peppers and coach John Fox.

2) 'You've fulfilled what you're supposed to do, but you've still got to stay.' Here's where Peppers was appealing to the common man. Who hasn't had a job they have wanted to leave -- ASAP? Of course, if someone is going to pay you millions to stay -- perhaps even over $16 million for just one more year -- you might have a change of heart. Peppers wisely left out the money part.

3) "Put yourself in my shoes and look at my situation instead of being emotional about it." One thing you can say about Peppers -- he's very rarely emotional. Hardly ever. It's the sort of attitude that can be a blessing or a curse in life and in sports. He never punches teammates, but he also rarely inspires anyone to follow him anywhere.

I'm glad Peppers talked about all this Saturday himself -- he needed to do that. I didn't learn a lot about him from his quotes, however, except this -- he's gone. He hasn't made this decision in a hurry, and he's not going to stray from it.

If the Panthers franchise him, I would bet you anything Peppers won't show up for minicamps, for training camp, for workouts at the stadium... nothing. He's determined to leave. And he doesn't want to be "emotional" about it -- although he's not going to stop thousands of other people from being that way, no matter how hard he tries.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Danica, Curry and McEnroe

It's been a busy weekend -- and I'm writing this even before the Daytona 500 has concluded -- so let's get right to it:

1. Danica Patrick in Charlotte? This Associated Press report says it could happen, as the F1 team that plans to base itself in Charlotte in 2010 is looking at trying to hire Danica (as well as other drivers). Now wouldn't that be something? I'd love to see Danica -- who these days makes an annual appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as well as competing well in the IndyCar series -- make her home base here.

2. Good to see that Stephen Curry didn't do something more serious to his ankle than roll it in the Furman game Saturday. X-rays were negative, Davidson reported Sunday, and Curry is day-to-day.

If Curry had torn something and been out the rest of the season, that would have put a huge damper on Davidson's season. The Wildcats might have still made the NCAA tournament, but it would have been no beter than a 50-50 proposition. As it is, I'm sure Davidson coach Bob McKillop will be careful with Curry and perhaps sit him out Wednesday vs. The Citadel (a surprising team that could give Davidson fits without Curry). But if I were a betting man, I'd bet Curry will play Saturday in a huge non-conference home game against nationally-ranked Butler.

3. Want to feel old? John McEnroe turns 50 Monday. Happy birthday to Johnny Mac, one of the best things to ever happen to tennis despite his temper tantrums. McEnroe who celebrated his last day as a 49-year-old by playing in the finals of a 30-and-over seniors tournament for former champions in Boston -- he beat Jim Courier soundly to get there. McEnroe barely lost the final, 7-6, 6-4, to 37-year-old Pete Sampras.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Could Curry ever score 100??

OK, hear me out on this one.

It was 55 years ago today when Furman's Frank Selvy scored an astounding 100 points in a Furman win over Newberry. Selvy was an awesome college player and a solid NBA one, too, but he needed a lot of help to do it.

For instance: Furman's coach declared it to be "Frank Selvy Day" and catered to Selvy heavily for this one game. When it became obvious Selvy was very hot, the coach pulled out the rest of Furman's starters and instructed Selvy to shoot every time he had the ball. Selvy ended up with 68 attempts.

Newberry helped a lot, too, by shooting every 10-15 seconds or so. I've seen a tape of that game (won by Furman 149-95), and Newberry played pretty terrible defense. Selvy drove to the basket almost anytime he wanted.

OK, so how many could Davidson's Stephen Curry -- the nation's leading scorer in Division I-A and back on track after scoring 39 against Wofford Thursday night -- score under similar circumstances?

That's the subject of what will be my column in Saturday's paper. So here's the scenario I presented Curry and others with -- the closest I could come to what happened with Selvy.

1) Davidson plays VMI (which it doesn't this season, but use your imagination). VMI is renowned for its shoot-first approach, and it routinely plays games where both teams score 90 or 100 points. At least.

2) For one game, Davidson coach Bob McKillop declares it to be "Stephen Curry Day" and lets go of his team-first approach. Instead, Curry shoots constantly -- everyone works for him to get at least 50-60 shots instead of his normal 20-25 attempts. I know McKillop would never do this either, but work with me here, folks.

When I asked Curry about this, he started off by saying: "Well, that'd be a lot of fun, wouldn't it?"

Yes, it would be. Read more about what Stephen Curry, Selvy, McKillop and Dell Curry believe would happen in such a scenario in Saturday's Observer and online.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More than you could possibly want...

I usually try to keep this blog no more than a few paragraphs, knowing you don't have all day to read it (and I don't have all day to write it).

However, today I did a live chat with Observer readers, and it's amazing how much typing can go on in an hour. So here's a link to more than you could possibly want of my opinions on Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Kyle Singler's elbow and so on.

Have fun skimming it. If you read the whole thing, well, thanks, but that's really not necessary.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Memo to Favre: Stay retired this time

New York Jets QB Brett Favre has said -- again -- he plans to retire.

This time, he needs to stick to it.

I've always been a Favre fan, but my memory of him will be sullied by this past season. Favre's un-retirement had a bit too much of a "drama queen" feel to it. Then, with the New York Jets, Favre made the team better but ultimately threw an NFL-high 22 interceptions and couldn't get the Jets to the playoffs. I never could get used to him in that Jet green uniform either -- Favre belonged in Packers gold forever.

So now he's leaving the game again, this time without the tearful public ceremony. He leaves a Jets team that is terribly strapped for salary-cap room and has all sorts of questions about who will replace him at QB.

That's sports -- it's very difficult for even the most elite athletes to know when to let go. Favre stayed a year too long -- he needs to make sure not to make it two.

My 2 favorite Duke-UNC moments

As UNC and Duke have played more than 200 times, everyone has their favorite games. I've been lucky enough to cover maybe 20 of these contests over the years for a couple of different newspapers (mostly The Observer), and so these are my 2 favorite games from those I've seen in person:

1) March 2, 1986: Duke 82, UNC 74 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. This was my first trip ever to Cameron, and for basketball junkies, that's almost a religious experience. It's one of those places that doesn't disappoint you when you get there -- I'd put the Eiffel Tower, Lambeau Field and the Great Wall of China on that same list.

This was the game that UNC's Steve Hale sat out due to a collapsed lung, which led to one of the Cameron Crazies' more inspired chants ever as Hale watched the game in streetclothes:
"In-Hale! Ex-Hale! In-Hale! Ex-Hale!"

2) March 6, 2005: UNC 75, Duke 73 in the Smith Center. On the way to the national title, UNC scored the final 11 points of this game to edge the Blue Devils. Roy Williams has said since that the Smith Center never got louder than in this game, particularly, when Marvin Williams converted a 3-point play for the winning points. I'd agree with that.

Raymond Felton once told me about that game that it felt like the Smith Center floor was actually vibrating in the final minutes. "At the end, when we were taking the lead, I actually thought the wood was about to come up off the floor," Felton said.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Peppers sale: Everything must go!!!!!

This is kind of funny: The Panthers' official website has put a ton of its Julius Peppers merchandise on sale. Click the link here, or, if it isn't working, check out

The "New Markdowns" section of the Panther website lists dozens of Peppers-related items, from a Julius bobblehead (once $25, now $15.99) to a Julius action figure (once $10, now $7.99) to various No.90 Peppers jerseys, all marked down "up to 50 percent off," as the website breathlessly proclaims.

OK, some advice here. Do you really want an adult-sized Peppers jersey -- even one for the low, low price of $59.99 -- when Peppers is dead set on not being here next season? That, of course, has to be one of the main reasons for this sale.

If you've got to have a jersey, at least invest in somebody who's going to be here awhile, like DeAngelo Williams.

Also on sale on the website, incidentally: A Ken Lucas jersey. I wouldn't buy that one, either. Lucas played so inconsistently late in the season -- and has such a huge salary-cap figure for next season -- that I seriously doubt he'll be here in 2009, either. (And the Panther website is also trying to off-load some old Keyshawn Johnson and David Carr jerseys with this sale -- good luck on that!)

On Peppers, Gross and franchising

The Pro Bowl is over, and Julius Peppers looked in that game like the girl who once dumped you and then you see her at a party. She looks better than ever, and everyone's watching her dance, and you start channeling the J. Geils Band and screaming at the top of your lungs: "Love stinks, yeah yeah, Love stinks."

OK, maybe that was just something that happened to me one time.

As for Peppers -- one sack (above), one interception and a co-starring role in the NFC's Pro Bowl win Sunday -- that's actually a good thing. Panther fans needed him to look good in that one, because he's about to be gone, and that will be the most recent impression many GMs and coaches have of him as he's dangled as trade bait. (And of course, he's gone -- that awkward sideline TV interview with Tiki Barber should have removed any lingering doubt).

So the Panthers need to get Jordan Gross's contract deal worked out -- and soon -- so they can franchise Peppers without losing the rights to Gross. Gross now holds a full house in this poker game, as he knows that Carolina MUST franchise Peppers and so therefore is obligated to set him totally free on the open market in a few weeks if that's the way he wants it.

I still am betting Gross and the Panthers get a deal done within the next 10 days and that Peppers gets the franchise tag and that the Panthers then trade Peppers on or before draft day in April. That would certainly be the Panthers' plan, if they would admit to it publicly (and understandably, they won't).

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans... Gross has an Opie demeanor, but if he ends up playing hardball, then Carolina may be over a barrel and end up losing both of these Pro Bowl players for 2009 instead of just one.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Morrison exits with a whimper

The Charlotte Bobcats first put Adam Morrison in the deep discount rack and as of today shipped him to the L.A. Lakers in return for Vladimir Radmanovic.

If you can pronounce "Radmanovic," you're a lot more of an NBA junkie than I am, but whether you can or not you have to agree that if the Bobcats can get much of anything out of Radmanovic, it'll be more than they've been getting out of Morrison.

Morrison has been a mess for most of his career with Charlotte -- his high point was getting drafted No.3 overall, and it's been mostly downhill from there. He has looked nothing like the player he was at Gonzaga -- more timid, even worse defensively and, lately, far less hair.

Morrison turned out to be a major draft mistake. The Bobcats have at least cut their losses by getting rid of him, but Radmanovic (see his career stats and bio here) is hardly the sort of player you want the No.3 overall pick to turn into. At best, he's a reserve who gives the Bobcats some frontcourt help. If you're starting this guy, you're probably in trouble (although they may have to until Gerald Wallace returns).

But I give this trade a grudging thumbs-up because Radmanovic just can't be much worse than Morrison. This was a case of Michael Jordan and the Bobcats 'fessing up to a mistake and not throwing any more good money after bad. Maybe Morrison will be better on the West Coast, although I don't really see it happening. Certainly, he'll get more open shots because of all the attention paid to Kobe Bryant, but I don't know if Phil Jackson will play him much because Morrison is such a defensive liability.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More from Vitale and McKillop

A 20-minute interview with Dick Vitale yielded a lot more than can fit in a standard-length column (I wrote one on Vitale’s first-ever appearance at Davidson Saturday for the 6 p.m. ESPN2 home game against Charleston).

So here’s a 3-pointer I couldn’t get into that column -- a couple more things that Vitale had to say, along with something from Davidson coach Bob McKillop.
1. Vitale thinks three All-American spots are basically set already for the host of teams that will be declared following the season: Davidson’s Stephen Curry, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. The other two are up for grabs.

2. Vitale is trying to help raise a million dollars for “The V Foundation” charity, and in part he’s doing that by promoting his new book. It’s called “Dick Vitale’s Fabulous 50 Players & Moments in College Basketball” and signed copies are available here from Vitale's personal website. Proceeds go to the V Foundation, which supports cancer research.

Vitale said in the book he has ranked Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing as the best college player he’s ever seen in 30 years of broadcasting for ESPN, with Christian Laettner No.2, Ralph Sampson No.3 and Michael Jordan No.4.

3. I asked McKillop – whose focus at courtside is legendary at Davidson -- if he ever even noticed the announcers at the game. He said he did once, in 1998, when Davidson played an NCAA tournament game in Atlanta against Michigan and Jim Nantz and Billy Packer called it.
Said McKillop: “I was a little bit awe-struck by Nantz and Packer courtside at the shoot-around for that game against Michigan and Tractor Traylor. But we’ve been in that sort of position so many times in recent years that it doesn’t really affect me anymore.”

What were you thinking?! Part 2

For those who want a shorter version, here's an excerpt from my chat today from noon to 1 p.m. with readers at (You can read the full transcript by clicking here).

Kevin: What is your gut feeling on (Julius) Peppers leaving (the Panthers)? Is it really because of (coach John) Fox?
Scott Fowler: I don’t think it’s because of Fox. I don’t think if Fox got fired tomorrow – and he won’t – that Peppers would somehow say “Oh, OK, thanks! I’m good now. Sign me up.” I think Peppers thinks he’s somewhat misused, and yes, that’s partly Fox’s fault, but I honestly think there’s some wanderlust in this, too. I think the guy has lived his whole life in NC and wants to go somewhere else. He’s always been socially awkward, and that’s part of the reason this split seems awkward, too. And it’s a split, for sure -- no way this marriage can be saved.

Rachel: Scott, what are your thoughts on the (Michael) Phelps controversy? SF: I saw a lot of Phelps in Beijing and, like everyone, was awfully impressed with him in and out of the pool. So this was a shocker to me. I just didn’t think Phelps would do something that dumb. I think he disappointed thousands of people with that photo of him holding the pot pipe, and given his previous DUI, I didn’t think he would make such an obvious mistake again. As for ultimate fallout: I don’t think it’s going to ruin his swim career or anything. He’ll be back in London in 2012, winning another bushel of gold medals.

Dave: Do you think the Panthers will address the quarterback position this off season via the draft or free agency or wait another year when there will be a deeper pool?
SF: My guess is they will address it. (Jake) Delhomme is 34 and in the last year of his contract (although I think they will eventually re-sign him). Moore and McCown – that’s kinda scary should No.17 get hurt. I think they’ll pick someone up in April in the draft rather than via free agency – a mid-round pick would be my guess (after D-line gaping hole is addressed).

Jaybird: Give us an early-call on Duke-Carolina next week….
SF: Given that it’s in Durham, I think Duke wins by 4.

Roger: (Will Bobby) Lutz at UNCC next year or fired?
SF: I think he’ll be back. UNCC would have to write a big check to get rid of him and the school needs to concentrate financially on football right now.

Jeff: Do you think Fox’s conservative playcalling and his play not to lose philsophy is part of the reason some players feel they can’t reach their potential and do you think we really have a chance at a Super Bowl with his coaching style?
SF: I think Fox is a Top 10 NFL coach. But I don’t think he’s a top 5 NFL coach due to this paralyzing conservatism that sometimes sets in with him. The Panthers went for it on fourth down fewer times (8) than any other team in NFL this season. That’s not a category you want to lead.

Ryan: ESPN has been going a series on Mt. Rushmores, the four greatest sports figures from each state. They did North Carolina the other day. Which four faces would you put on North Carolina’s Mt. Rushmore?
SF: Without thinking about it much, I’d go Michael Jordan, Coach K, Dean Smith and Dale Earnhardt, which may well be what ESPN did, according to someone else here who saw it. Hard to leave off Richard Petty, David Thompson and a bunch of others.

Cliff: Do you think Charlotte gets an MLB team in the near future?
SF: I not only don’t think Charlotte will get a team in the near future, I don’t think Charlotte will get an MLB team in my lifetime.

What were you thinking?!

I just finished my first live chat for can click here to read what transpired.

The questions were really good. It was interesting to see what you, the sports fan, were thinking. I answered 36 questions in 60 minutes, so there's not a lot of long answers there, but we got into a lot of subjects: from Jordan Gross to Michael Jordan, from Julius Peppers to Oliver Purnell, from downtown baseball to Bobby Lutz.

I will be doing these chats on a semi-regular basis, so hope to see you at one of them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Let's you and me talk

I'm doing my first live online chat for on THIS FRIDAY, FEB.6 from NOON-1 P.M.

If you go to the homepage, you'll find the place to go for this chat when it happens. I'll answer as many questions as I can get to. For those of you who remember the old "Scott Fowler Q and A" on our website -- a labor of love for which I answered over 4,000 reader questions over a period of many months -- I expect these chats to be something like that, but faster-paced.

I expect there will be some questions about Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, John Fox, Larry Brown (who I had a long talk with Thursday -- look for a column on Brown in Friday's paper and online), Dick Vitale (coming to Davidson Saturday for the first time), ACC hoops, Stephen Curry, UNCC football and so on. But I hope to be surprised a few times as well. Some of the best questions in that old Q and A (which was replaced by this blog, as it was too time-consuming to do both that as well as this blog) were questions that no one else had ever asked me.

Hope to see you right here -- in a digital sort of way -- Friday from noon to 1 p.m.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

3 fun college hoops dates in February

When it's not snowing or something, February can be a little blah. So here are 3 college-basketball related events I'm looking forward to in the next 3 weeks:

1) Sat., Feb.7, 6 p.m. Charleston at Davidson (ESPN2). The Wildcats face another challenge to that amazing Southern Conference win streak. And Dick Vitale, who's called nearly 1,000 games, makes his first-ever appearance at a Davidson home game.
I talked to Vitale today for a column that will appear in Saturday's Charlotte Observer and on "I'm really enthused," he said. "I'm usually doing Carolina or Duke or Kentucky or Connecticut -- I've been to all those places so many times. And don't get me wrong, I like to do those games. But this Davidson game is really going to be refreshing."

2) Wed., Feb.11, 9 p.m. UNC at Duke. No explanation needed.

3) Mon., Feb.23, 9 p.m. If you've got HBO, you'll want to check out "Battle for Tobacco Road," a new HBO documentary on the Duke-UNC rivalry. They've interviewed a host of greats on both sides for this one and I know firsthand the HBO folks are well-prepared on the subject -- I sat down for an interview for this documentary myself and heard their questions. I haven't seen the one-hour film yet so I can't tell you how good or bad it is, but if it's up to the usual HBO standards, you know it's going to be enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Computer declares Fox way too conservative

On Super Bowl Sunday, The New York Times published an interesting series of stories and charts based on the work of a computer program called Zeus. It's complicated stuff, and if you want to get more into it, check out the site or else this FAQ that was in the Times.

An alert reader named Larry -- a former resident of N.C., currently of Tampa and still, he says, a PSL holder -- pointed it out to me.

After running through millions of scenarios, Zeus decided among other things that teams should go for it far more often on fourth down, because a good offense generally can convert that from short distances and that the onside kick is severely under-utilized. It advocates aggressiveness in play-calling -- not just because of a gut feeling, but because of science.

So how does Panthers coach John Fox rate on this scale?

You probably won't be surprised that Zeus judged Fox to be dead last -- No.32 out of 32 -- on how often he made a decision that would agree with what the Zeus computer program would have said he should do. Zeus's rankings aren't far off the NFL's 2008 stats for teams that went for it on fourth down most vs. least often -- Carolina went for it the fewest times (8) and Jacksonville the most (24).

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio finished first in Zeus's rankings -- he's notoriously aggressive on play-calling -- and yet the Jaguars didn't make the playoffs. (Zeus would likely say this is because the human execution part of the play-call cannot be accounted for). Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl champion, was 10th.

Of course, the Panthers still managed to go 12-4, secure a first-round bye and finish 7th in the NFL in scoring. So it's way, way off the mark for any human (or computer program) to call Fox the No.32 coach in the NFL. For all his flaws, I'd label him a top 10 NFL head coach.

But this does back up a lot of anecdotal evidence I've gathered over the years: Fox may well be the most conservative coach in the entire NFL. If Fox could just curb that conservative impulse a bit, he might turn into a Top 5 NFL coach and the Panthers might well win a Super Bowl one day.

But as I've written a number of times, Fox said in our first long interview way back in 2002 shortly after he was hired: "A punt is not a bad play." And, for better and for worse, the coach has never strayed far from that philosophy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Panthers' Super Bowl odds for 2010

It's never too early to think about the next NFL season, right? So here are some very early odds, courtesy of online gambling site, on who will win the 44th Super Bowl one year from now. The Panthers, as you can see, are 18-1 -- less of a long shot than defending NFC champ Arizona, which is 30-1. New England and Dallas are the favorites, for whatever that's worth.

Odds to win the 2010 Super Bowl XLIV

New England Patriots 8/1
Dallas Cowboys 9/1
New York Giants 10/1
Pittsburgh Steelers 10/1
Indianapolis Colts 12/1
San Diego Chargers 12/1
Baltimore Ravens 14/1
Tennessee Titans 16/1
Carolina Panthers 18/1
Philadelphia Eagles 18/1
New Orleans Saints 20/1
Atlanta Falcons 25/1
Denver Broncos 25/1
Green Bay Packers 25/1
Jacksonville Jaguars 25/1
Minnesota Vikings 25/1
New York Jets 25/1
Arizona Cardinals 30/1
Chicago Bears 30/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30/1
Buffalo Bills 35/1
Houston Texans 35/1
Miami Dolphins 35/1
Washington Redskins 35/1
Seattle Seahawks 50/1
Cleveland Browns 55/1
Cincinnati Bengals 60/1
San Francisco 49ers 60/1
Oakland Raiders 75/1
St. Louis Rams 75/1
Detroit Lions 100/1
Kansas City Chiefs 100/1

Rating the Super Bowl commercials: Top 5

Other than the Pittsburgh Steelers, I thought Pepsi was the biggest winner Sunday night at the Super Bowl. Pepsi ads took two of the three spots in my “Best Super Bowl Commercials” list, as well as an honorable mention. Here are the five Super Bowl commercials I enjoyed the most Sunday night.

1. Pepsi Max: “I’m Good.” More laughs per second than any other ad, as men kept accidentally hurting other men (my favorite was the bowling-ball bit). Then the hurt men, in obvious pain, would proclaim: “I’m Good.” Not sure what it has to do with the taste of a soft drink, but it sure is funny.

2. Conan’s Swedish Ad: Conan O’Brien, playing himself, gets suckered into a Bud Light beer commercial that he is told will air only in Sweden. Instead, of course, it goes everywhere. Conan is always good at making fun of himself.

3. Pepsuber: I’m already partial to the “Saturday Night Live” sketch this ad is drawn from, where a character named “MacGruber” routinely gets himself blown up in ridiculous ways. This time, MacGruber changes his name to “Pepsuber” to promote his new endorsement and, once again, incorrectly defuses a bomb with awful results.

4. Denny’s “Thugs” ad:
As a bunch of Mafia types discuss what sounds like a hit over breakfast, a busybody waitress keeps decorating their pancakes with whipped cream. This spot also had the best information encased in an ad: Anyone who shows up at a Denny’s between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday gets a free Grand Slam breakfast.

5. Doritos – Power of the Crunch: A guy realizes he can crunch a Dorito and make an ATM spit out money or a girl lose almost all of her clothes. His luck runs out when he runs out of Doritos and gets hit by a bus.

Honorable mention: E-trade’s talking babies (“Take these broken wings …”); Castrol’s “grease” monkeys; Pepsi’s “Refresh Anthem” starring Bob Dylan.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Best Super Bowl ever? Yes

After all the hype, the mini-concerts and the endless pregame shows, they finally played a football game Sunday night.

And what an unbelievable Super Bowl it was -- ultimately won by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who now stand alone with six Super Bowl wins in franchise history.

That was a mesmerizing game and an incredible fourth quarter, when Arizona leaped from 20-7 down to 23-20 ahead, only to lose 27-23 when Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes tapped his toes in the corner of the end zone to score the game-winning TD with 35 seconds left.

I thought NBC's Al Michaels showed some nice restraint in the final moments saying only that "this was in the same neighborhood" compared to last year's New England-N.Y. Giants thriller, but I'll go a bit further.

To me, this one was the best. I had no dog in the hunt and didn't care who won, but the game felt big and well-played and had a great final hour. I always favor a game that ends with a TD, not a FG, for the winning points (unlike Carolina's dramatic Super Bowl loss to New England 5 years ago).

So here's my list of the half-dozen most entertaining Super Bowls ever, counting them down from 6 to 1.

6. Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31... 1978 season. Bradshaw throws 4 TDs, Bleier recovers late Dallas onside kick to seal it.

5. New England 20, St. Louis 17... 2001 season. The Greatest Show on Turf goes down and the Patriots' dynasty begins.

4. N.Y. Giants 17, New England 14.... 2007 season. David Tyree catches the ball off his helmet and the Giants ruin the Patriots' season of perfection.

3. San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16... 1988 season. Montana begins the 92-yard drive to win it by off-handedly noticing that actor John Candy was in the stands.

2. New England 32, Carolina 29... 2003 season. You know all about this one, but the 37 total points scored in the fourth quarter still amazes me.

1. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23... 2008 season. Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner shredded the Steel Curtain in the 4th quarter and the Steelers still pull it off. Amazing stuff.