Friday, January 30, 2009

3 things I hate about the Super Bowl

Like most red-blooded Americans, I love the Super Bowl itself. But here are 3 things about football’s biggest game that I can’t stand:

1. All the pregame blather. The various Super Bowl pregame shows -- with all their fake laughter and ‘deep” analysis -- are where your fun Sunday afternoon goes to die. The real kickoff time for Pittsburgh-Arizona is Sunday at 6:28 p.m. Be smart. Turn on the TV at 6:27.

2. The Roman Numerals. They are so self-important. Does this really need to be Super Bowl XLIII? Can’t it just be Super Bowl 43?

3. The know-it-all. There’s one at every Super Bowl party. He’s the close-talker, the one expounding on Cover-2 defenses and mike linebackers while spilling beer all over your shoes. Keep the buffet table between yourself and this guy at all times.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

3 buzzer beaters in 1 night


James Johnson scissors between two Duke players for the game-winning layup Wednesday in Joel Coliseum -- one of 3 buzzer-beaters on the night involving local teams.


Wednesday night showcased again why it's a great thing to live in this state during college basketball season.

It was a cornucopia of hoops, including 3 buzzer beaters launched and hit by 3 teams that may go deep in the NCAA tournament in March.

In order of their importance:

1) Wake Forest forward James Johnson took a pass off a perfectly-executed inbounds play and hit the ensuing layup in traffic to beat Duke, 70-68, and knock off the No.1 Blue Devils.

2) North Carolina's Ty Lawson hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to break a tie with FSU and edge the Seminoles, 80-77.

3) Davidson's Stephen Curry slung one in from about 75 feet at the halftime buzzer in the Wildcats' 22-point win over Chattanooga. This one had the hardest degree of difficulty, but also mattered the least.

All that, and a new episode of "Lost," too. Quite a night. It just reminded me how good this time of year can be.

I once lived in Miami for four years. The weather was beatiful January through March, the college basketball buzz was next to nothing. College hoops there is treated about as well as we in N.C. treat, say, professional soccer. It's considered nothing more than a niche sport there with a cult following.

All in all, I'll take the colder weather -- and the hotter hoops.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If only Bobcats could play Lakers every night....

The Charlotte Bobcats and Boris Diaw beat the Los Angeles Lakers 117-110 in double overtime Tuesday, giving the team a dominating five wins in their past six games against L.A.


This has to be one of the most amazing stats in the NBA: The Charlotte Bobcats have now beaten the L.A. Lakers in five of their past six games. Here's Rick Bonnell's game story from the most recent Charlotte win -- the Bobcats' 117-110 victory that ended too late to make most of today's newspapers.

While Charlotte invariably seems to get creamed by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bobcats beat the NBA's other huge superstar -- Kobe Bryant -- time and again. I know many Bobcat fans still consider Charlotte's triple-overtime win over Kobe a couple of years back the singular highlight of the franchise. I was there, and it's the best I've ever seen a Bobcat crowd.

It's just a shame this current Charlotte team didn't start any better this season -- the results looked like Sam Vincent II there for a bit. But now Larry Brown and Michael Jordan have remade the squad. If the season re-started today and everyone was 0-0, I have no doubt Charlotte would finish in the Eastern Conference's top 8 and make the playoffs. (Although would anyone be there to see it? See today's Observer business story).

The best move the team has made: That trade of Jason Richardson for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. Diaw, in particular, has been huge for this squad. Couple Diaw and Bell with a decent core, and the Bobcats have a pretty good starting group. I'm far from sold on their bench, and Adam Morrison still seems lost too often, but it's nice to see the Bobcats start to come around. They're very much a longshot to make the playoffs this season. It's not impossible, but it's improbable.

But by 2010, you can pencil them in for it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

3 things I like about Meeks

It didn't take the Panthers long to hire a new defensive coordinator. John Fox jumped all over Indianapolis's Ron Meeks, who was the Colts' D-coordinator from 2002-08 and certainly has an easier name to pronounce than Mike Trgovac.

Who knows whether Meeks will ultimately get the job done or not? As I've written here before, players are far more important than coaches. So the importance of this hire shouldn't be overstated.

Also, I don't really think hiring Meeks is going to make much if any difference in Julius Peppers' desire to leave Carolina. I could be wrong about that, but I think Peppers in his own mind is finished with this place, and it's not like he has any previous connection to Meeks. I still think Peppers will be traded within the next three months (by or before Draft Day).

Anyway, here are 3 things I do like about Meeks:

1) He's got a Super Bowl ring. Very, very few people in Bank of America Stadium do. He knows what it takes to go all the way.

2) He let his stars do their thing. Meeks coached an NFL Defensive Player of the Year in S Bob Sanders and one of the league's most fearsome pass rushers in DE Dwight Freeney. I think he'll do well with an up-and-coming star like LB Jon Beason, and hopefully with his DB coaching experience get more out of players like CBs Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall.

3) He's consistent. When you look at the stats Meeks' defenses compiled, it's impressive how often they were in the top 25 percent in the NFL in the most important category (points allowed). Now part of that is having Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball, yes, but part of it is staying committed to your scheme (a 4-3 and a Cover-2, not much different from what Carolina plays now) and just doing it better.

Monday, January 26, 2009

100-0?? That's just wrong...

A girls' basketball coach at a Dallas private school was fired Sunday shortly after he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he wouldn't apologize for a game which his players won 100-0.

You can read more of the details here. But basically the school administration of the team that won 100-0 posted a statement on its website saying the 100-point win was "shameful" and "clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition." The coach disagreed in his e-mail and was later fired.

Now there are a lot of ways to get red-faced about this. Should a Christian school show mercy to a coach who apparently showed none? The opposing coach has said his team was still getting pressed at midcourt, even though already down 59-0 at halftime. But shouldn't a "Mercy Rule" be enacted in which the clock runs constantly or the game is simply stopped? (Some states have these, some don't -- Texas didn't in this case).

As a volunteer youth basketball and soccer coach, I've been on both sides of blowouts. They are like avalanches, and they make me cringe a little on either side of them.

But they can be slowed down -- although not stopped entirely -- by the coach of the stronger team. There are a variety of ways to do this -- playing only your benchwarmers, giving your team certain rules about how it can score for the rest of the game, etc.

None of these are perfect solutions, of course.

But beating a team 100-0 in girls' basketball -- that's just wrong. I'm glad this coach was fired.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some thoughts from a busy week

  • When I talked to Jake Delhomme this week, he sounded OK. More than that, he sounded determined that those five interceptions against Arizona won't be the final memory Panther fans have of him. I'd put the odds of Delhomme starting Carolina's season opener in September 2009 at 80 percent.
  • Want an example of a true Blue Devil? Bill Werber died in Charlotte at age 100 this past week.Werber was Duke's first basketball All-American and the oldest living former major leaguer (he once teamed with Babe Ruth). Werber was a fervent Duke basketball fan to the end, but in the final few weeks of his life he was too tired to watch the games on TV.When his children recapped the games for him, he'd nod and then invariably ask: “When's the Carolina game?”

Friday, January 23, 2009

More from Jake Delhomme 1-on-1 interview

As you may have seen in Friday's Charlotte Observer, I had an exclusive interview with Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme this week about how he was coping with his horrid six-turnover game in the Panthers' 33-13 playoff loss to Arizona.

That story is focused on that subject (and can also be seen by clicking here). But I also asked Delhomme about several other topics during the interview. I couldn't get them in the story due to space reasons, but here are Jake's thoughts on:

** The Julius Peppers situation.
Julius is a very private person, it’s hard for me to speculate on what’s going to happen. He’s certainly a great player. Hopefully everything will get worked out. I have so much respect for him. I have nothing bad to say about him.

** His friend Kurt Warner going to the Super Bowl.
I texted Kurt as soon as they won their first playoff game, back before I even knew we'd be playing them. Then we traded texts [this week]. It’s really good to see someone at his age, who's been written off at a couple of different places, be able to do this. I don't know if Arizona will win, but I'm sure they will play well. Pittsburgh is fantastic. It’s the Super Bowl, man. Strange things happen.

** His new QB coach, Rip Scherer [former QB coach Mike McCoy left to become offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos].
I’ve been very close to Mike McCoy for a long time. When you spend six years with somebody, you get close. I'm excited for Mike. He's got a great chance there.
As for Rip Scherer, I don’t know him, but I had a really good talk with him on the phone the other night. [Former NFL QB] Trent Dilfer called yesterday and had a glowing recommendation for him – they were together in Cleveland. Rip was the head coach at Memphis and coached against me. Trent recommending him so highly -- that meant a lot to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trgovac gone; what next??

Judging from the immediate online reaction to Mike Trgovac not returning in 2009 as Carolina's defensive coordinator, you would have thought the Carolina Panthers had just won that playoff game against Arizona.

Fans put such stock in coordinators -- too much stock, really. Coordinators are relatively important, but nowhere near as important as head coaches. I've written this many times before -- coordinators do basically what the boss tells them to do.

So Trgovac only blitzed 15 percent of the time on Arizona first-half pass plays in the Cardinals' 33-13 playoff win? I blame that on Trgovac and head coach John Fox in roughly equal doses.

Many Panther fans wanted to get rid of the "conservative" Dan Henning for years. Finally, Henning and Fox parted ways. Henning was the offensive coordinator at Miami this season, part of a Dolphins team that went from 1-15 to 11-5. He was lauded for his inventiveness and for taking the "Wildcat formation" further than anyone had in a long time. You know why? He had more freedom in Miami than he did here.

Players are so much more important than coordinators. Jeff Davidson's second season as Carolina's offensive coordinator worked out a lot better than his first. You know the two main reasons why? Jake Delhomme was healthy and DeAngelo Williams replaced DeShaun Foster as the lead running back.

Whoever gets the new coordinator job will undoubtedly blitz more, but it's not going to matter unless the blitzers can actually get there. The best schemes in the world can be undone by poor players messing up, and the worst ones can be fixed by great players.

So while this hire is important for Carolina -- and the Panthers' defense certainly needs a major reshuffling -- it's not as important as who the team gets to replace Julius Peppers (I think he's gone) and Ken Lucas (I think he is, too -- a salary-cap casualty), and about 4-5 other defensive-oriented personnel decisions that will be made in the next several months.

But hey, Panther fans, if you want to celebrate Trgovac's departure, go ahead. I know it's been a bad couple of weeks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What pick could Panthers get for Peppers?

The NFL just released an updated draft order, which you can see below. The Panthers would have picked 28th in the 2009 NFL draft had they not traded the pick away to Philadelphia in the deal to grab Jeff Otah on Draft Day 2008.

That trade looks very good now -- the Panthers got a starting OT out of it, and the pick they traded away turned out to be quite a low one.

As of now, though, I'll bet the Panthers will end up with a first-round pick in 2009 after all. Why? They'll trade Julius Peppers for one in a sign-and-trade deal. And Peppers can very much help dictate where he wants to go, because he can simply refuse to sign a long-term deal if he's not happy with the team, and no team is going to trade a bushel of draft picks for one year of service from No.90.

Peppers, as we know, wants to go to a team that has a 3-4 defense if possible. So I've marked all the teams that run a 3-4 below in bold, in case Panther fans want to dream a little.

If Carolina trades Peppers -- and even if they don't -- I think the first pick they make in the 2009 draft will be a defensive lineman.

2009 FIRST-ROUND DRAFT ORDER

1. Detroit
2. St. Louis
3. Kansas City
4. Seattle
5. Cleveland 3-4 D
6. Cincinnati
7. Oakland
8. Jacksonville
9. Green Bay (switching to 3-4 in 2009)
10. San Francisco
11. Buffalo
12. Denver (switching to 3-4 in 2009)
13. Washington
14. New Orleans
15. Houston
16. San Diego 3-4 D
17. New York Jets 3-4 D

18. Chicago
19. Tampa Bay
20. Detroit (from Dallas)
21. Philadelphia
22. Minnesota
23. New England 3-4 D
24. Atlanta
25. Miami 3-4 D
26. Baltimore 3-4 D

27. Indianapolis
28. Philadelphia (from Carolina)
29. New York Giants
30. Tennessee
31. Arizona or Pittsburgh (Super Bowl loser) Pittsburgh has a 3-4 D
32. Arizona or Pittsburgh (Super Bowl winner)


Note: The NFL Draft will be held on April 25-26 in New York City.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Off the court with Chas McFarland

I covered No.1 Wake Forest's game at Clemson Saturday and was impressed by the whole Deacon team. The Deacs have a Noah's Ark of a basketball team -- two of just about everything -- and they have a real intimidator in the middle in 7-footer Chas McFarland. He alters a whole lot of shots he doesn't block and helps make the Deacs a really good defensive team (something they rarely were under the late Skip Prosser).

McFarland went off the court twice in that game with notable results. Here's ESPN's footage (posted on YouTube) of a Clemson fan tackling McFarland after he saved a ball out of bounds and fell into Clemson's student section. (One Clemson student got escorted out of the section for this foolhardy little act).

Another time McFarland piled into press row, right between where The Observer's Ron Green Jr. and myself were sitting. I had brought a 12-ounce can of diet Coke and had it sitting at the table. McFarland knocked that over, right into us (mostly onto Ron, however -- life is unfair like that sometimes). It could have been worse -- McFarland would likely have destroyed our laptops if we had had them sitting courtside there, as we would have had it been a night game.

In any case, we had a good, messy reminder the rest of the game of how hard Wake plays -- and how big McFarland is.

Building a Sleet-man

"In the meadow we can build a sleetman..."

It just doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

I don't know about you, but where I live the Great Snowstorm of 2009 has now been officially classified as "A Total Rip-off" by my 10-year-old son and "The Most Horrible-est Day Ever" by my 5-year-old.

Many people today in America will remember today as a time of great hope -- Inauguration Day for Barack Obama. And maybe my 4 kids will get to that point eventually.

For now, though, they are just vividly disappointed in the lack of snowfall. We live in Lincoln County and unlike the schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg our boys' Lincoln Charter School isn't even closed today -- it's just delayed for two hours.

We try never to build the kids' hopes up on snow, since this is the way it works out so often in the Charlotte area. We keep away from the TV news -- Winter Storm Warning!! Winter Storm Warning!! -- when the snow may be approaching. We don't do milk-and-bread runs. Nevertheless, they hear about it somehow.

So this morning they jumped out of bed and started looking for their snowsuits, dreaming of making snow ice cream and snowballs. All that was on the ground here was a few miserable flecks of sleet, which dissuaded the other kids from going outside. No one wants sleet ice cream.

The 5-year-old wouldn't be deterred, though. He got dressed warmly, went outside and said maybe we could build "a little, tiny snowman" from the sleet. After realizing that the sleet wouldn't even stick together enough to build a snowman the size of 2 golf balls, he gave up and made his "Horrible-est Day" declaration.

There was an upside for the parents in all this, however. By 9:30 a.m., the kids were fighting. So we weren't too upset to send the school-bound ones onto their classes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You gotta be kidding!

My first reaction to the news about Julius Peppers wanting out -- and so badly! -- is pretty simple: You've gotta be kidding me.

Why that ungrateful, egocentric, leave-his-homestate-team-in-the-lurch loser... That's what you're thinking right now, isn't it?

But it's more complicated than that. This doesn't make anyone look good: Not Peppers, not defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac or coach John Fox (who have failed to make their best defensive player happy), not Peppers' agent Carl Carey... Nobody is going to come out of this one smelling like roses.

When Kris Jenkins wanted out last year, well, that one could be dismissed. Jenkins was talented, often unmotivated and downright strange at times. Peppers, on the other hand, is as quiet as a library but works hard and would be a far bigger loss than Jenkins.

What's his problem with Trgovac and Fox and the Panthers' system anyway? I'd guess it would be the fact the Panthers don't blitz very much and play soft zones so often -- we all know Fox often plays not to lose rather than to win -- but that'd just be a guess. Pepper's agent Carl Carey told The Observer's Charles Chandler that Peppers is intrigued with the idea of playing in a 3-4.

Certainly, you've got to parcel out some of the blame to the Panthers on this one, for sure, not only to Peppers -- who is generally as low-maintenance as they come.

So what now? The Panthers could be petty and say: "You're not going anywhere. It's us or nobody." Then they put the franchise tag on him and, if he wants, he can sit out the year for nothing (like Sean Gilbert and John Riggins did many years ago).

Or, cooler heads could prevail and Peppers could end up staying.

More likely, though, this will ultimately mean Peppers has played his last game for Carolina. The Panthers will work a trade with someone (probably in the AFC) -- the price Jared Allen commanded in Minnesota would be a good start. They may franchise Peppers first to protect their rights, then work a sign-and-trade.

No doubt about it, though: the kicks in the teeth just keep on coming for the Panthers over the past week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What was your first album??



This was the cover of the first album I ever bought with my own money... Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975. I was 12. I bought it at a Kmart in Spartanburg for $7.50. Don't ask me why I remember the price -- maybe because that felt like a lot of money when you were 12.

Anyway, to take a break from sports for this one blog post, I was wondering what your first album was, and if you had one memory to share about listening to that album. Whether it was in 1950 or 2008, I'm interested.

I'm thinking about this because I'm a big music fan and I just finished my first concert review for The Observer. This won't be a regular thing -- I know you are thankful for that -- but I wrote a review of the Eagles' Wednesday night concert in Charlotte that is now online and will be published in the newspaper Friday. Somebody told me John Fox was there, too -- not sure about that, but it makes sense as he (and I) both have a little more time on our hands this week than we expected.

I remember I bought this Eagles album at the behest of my slightly older cousin Glen, who always had good advice on music. When we got home, he insisted on singing me a couple of verses of every song before we got to put the vinyl record on this old turntable my parents had.

But it was great stuff. I'm glad my first album was something classic like this -- one of the biggest-selling albums ever -- instead of Captain and Tennille or something.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To blitz or not to blitz

As noted in my column today, the Panthers blitzed on only 15 percent of Arizona's pass plays (3 out of 20 times) in the first half of their playoff loss Saturday night.

That's way too few, obviously. Arizona's Kurt Warner picked the Panthers apart in the first half, completing 15 of 18 passes (not including a time-killing spike) for 200 yards and two TDs. By halftime, it was 27-7 Arizona, and it was basically over.

This points out the big problem in the inherent conservatism of head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, both of whom were way too vanilla and predictable with that defensive game plan. They both should receive a ton of criticism for it.

Fox likes to only rush four defenders so he can have 7 back to defend the pass, but that just doesn't work when your 4 defenders are generating only 1 sack and hardly any hurries. (Julius Peppers was absolutely no factor in this game, and what a time for Bad Julius and Bad Jake to show up on the same night).

But here's another problem: When the Panthers did blitz in the first half, it didn't work well at all.

Here's the breakdown: On 16 of 20 times Warner dropped back to pass (one turned into a scramble and one into a sack), Carolina rushed 4. In other words, Carolina was very predictable 80 percent of the time.

Once, Carolina rushed only 3. That worked well, actually, for a seven-yard loss on a screen. It gave Arizona a different look, and should have been used more often.

Three times, Carolina blitzed, rushing either 5 or 6. One caused Warner to hurry and throw the ball away on a third down -- a success.

But the other 2 blitzes were utter failures -- Warner lofted a ball to Larry Fitzgerald, who went over Ken Lucas and Charles Godfrey to get it for 41 yards; and Warner threw over the middle to Fitzgerald on a deep crossing route and he scored on a 29-yard TD.

So just saying "Blitz all the time" isn't the answer, either -- not when your defense is as bad as the Panthers' D was for most of the season's last 7 weeks. (Arizona didn't blitz that much, either, but consistently got in Delhomme's face with 4 rushers).

The 2-pronged solution for the Panthers: More blitzes, yes, as Carolina did in the second half (too late). But also, better players -- Carolina needs a far better pass rush and at least one more cornerback to replace Ken Lucas, who I think has played his last game as a Panther after getting torched so often in the season's last couple of months.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What might have been for Panthers

The Panthers got one last kick in the teeth Sunday when Philadelphia beat the New York Giants. That meant that -- IF Carolina had managed to beat Arizona Saturday night instead of getting destroyed, 33-13 -- the Panthers would have hosted the NFC Championship next Sunday for the first time ever. Here's my follow-up column in Monday's paper about that fact and others.

So it's Philadelphia at Arizona for the NFC title Sunday at 3 p.m., and who saw that one coming? Both teams had a mere nine wins in the regular season. Carolina had 12.

But what matters is the playoffs, and now it's guaranteed that the NFC will send a team with no more than nine wins in a full, regular season to the Super Bowl since the Los Angeles Rams went in 1979 (they lost to the Steelers).

As various pundits are noting, these playoffs have been for the Birds -- the Ravens, Eagles and Cardinals all were underdogs who won on the road this weekend. Only the Steelers survived at home, vs. San Diego.

I don't normally quote poets in this blog, but this one by John Greenleaf Whittier seems appropriate for the Panthers' sudden demise:

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been.'"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

33-13, Arizona: Shades of Seattle

It's over for Carolina -- the Panthers just lost in the NFC playoffs, 33-13, to Arizona.

This was an amazingly dominant performance by the Cardinals -- and an awful one by the Panthers, particularly QB Jake Delhomme.

Delhomme ended up with SIX turnovers, including a team-record five interceptions (the previous record had been four).

The game reminded me a whole lot of sitting in the press box at Seattle for the NFC Championship game in the 2005 season.

In that one, Carolina also lost by 20 points (34-14). Steve Smith was held to hardly any significant yardage but did score one meaningless TD (a punt return in Seattle, a score with less than a minute left in the 4th quarter here).

The defense was bad. John Fox's coaching was bad. And, of course, the biggest common denominator was Delhomme's awful performance (he had three interceptions in that one).

But this game takes the cake as Delhomme's worst ever. It's almost incomprehensible how horrible he was. For the more than 70,000 fans who showed it up -- and the 10,000 or so that stuck it out through the pouring rain that blasted the field toward the end of the game -- the Panthers owe you an apology.

33-7 Arizona: Delhomme has SIX turnovers

I never thought I'd see Bank of America stadium look like this tonight -- it's late in the fourth quarter now, and there are maybe 10,000 people left in here.

Who can blame people for leaving? Arizona just took an astounding 33-7 lead after Arizona's Neil Rackers kicked his fourth field goal. The Cardinals have scored 33 straight points after Carolina took that early 7-0 mirage of a lead.

Jake Delhomme now has a team-record five interceptions -- he's never, ever been worse. He looks lost. Add in the fumble and that's six turnovers for Jake, all of them on his 34th birthday.

Wow.

You talk about ending a season with a thud.

This is unbelievable.

30-7 Arizona: Delhomme now has 4 turnovers

It has turned fully into a nightmarish game for Jake Delhomme, whose third interception (and fourth overall turnover) just led to more points for Arizona. Neil Rackers' 30-yard field goal made it 30-7, Arizona, with 4:40 left in the third quarter.

Carolina actually had a bit of life defensively in the third quarter. Jon Beason intercepted Kurt Warner to give Carolina great field position in Arizona territory with it still 27-7.

The Panthers had to knock it in from there to make this a game. Instead, Delhomme faked a screen to Steve Smith and instead tried to throw a slant to him. But Arizona CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- who is having an incredible game -- recovered to tip the ball.

Smith touched it, too, but really had no chance, and Arizona's Antrel Rolle intercepted it and ran it back more than 40 yards to set up Rackers' FG.

27-7: Panthers blitzing more

Carolina at least has made a few halftime adjustments in a game where the Panthers have been badly out-coached and outplayed so far.

Arizona, ahead 27-7, got the second-half kickoff and made one first down, but the Panthers are blitzing Kurt Warner a lot more and it worked this time. They put more hits on Warner in that series than they did the entire first half, when he picked them apart for 200 yards passing.

So Arizona just punted, we're early in the third quarter, and Carolina still trails by 20 -- 27-7. Jake Delhomme just ran on the field full speed like he wants to put that first half far, far behind him. Let's see if he can.

27-7 Arizona: Boos everywhere

There are boos all over Bank of America Stadium -- showering all over Jake Delhomme and Carolina's defense.

Delhomme just had his third turnover of the first half -- throwing it right to a Cardinal linebacker.

Arizona immediately scored, as Carolina failed to cover the amazing Larry Fitzgerald yet again -- Kurt Warner quickly hit him for a 30-yard TD reception.

That made it 27-7, Arizona, and I'm starting to feel a lot like I did watching Carolina at Seattle in the 2005 NFC championship.

20-7 Arizona: Will Fitzgerald ever be stopped?

The Cardinals just went up 20-7 as Neil Rackers hit a 30-yard FG with 5:29 left in the second quarter.

Here's a key stat so far in this game: Larry Fitzgerald has 122 yards in receptions. Steve Smith has zero yards.

Yes, Smith did cause a 45-yard pass interference penalty. But he hasn't actually caught a ball yet. And Fitzgerald is KILLING Carolina -- left, right, long, short -- No.11 is everywhere. His 122 yards receiving is already a postseason record for the Cardinals (and they don't even have No.2 WR Anquan Boldin available).

Carolina's last 4 drives: 2 turnovers, 2 punts.

17-7 Arizona early in 2nd quarter

The Cardinals have now scored the last 17 points of this game -- and the last 10 after turnovers from Jake Delhomme (one fumble, one interception).

Delhomme isn't having much of a 34th birthday so far, but it's still early. Arizona's Neil Rackers just hit a 49-yard FG to extend the Cardinals lead -- there's still 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

The Panthers have got to get DeAngelo Williams back in this game -- I remain convinced the Cardinals can't stop him consistently.

Jake's 2nd turnover -- still 14-7, Arizona

We've just begun the second quarter, and Carolina just blew a big opportunity when Jake Delhomme threw a bad interception right at the Arizona goal line. So the Cardinals still lead, 14-7.

Carolina had gotten down into the red zone when Steve Smith drew a pass interference penalty of 45 yards on Arizona to get the ball to the Cardinals' 15. Smith got single coverage and would likely have scored if not interfered with.

But Delhomme, trying to find Smith again in the end zone (No.89 still has not officially caught a pass yet), instead got baited by rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and got picked. Delhomme had Muhsin Muhammad available for a shorter gain but threw it toward Smith instead.

Meanwhile, the rain keeps stopping and starting. It was coming down pretty hard five minutes ago, but now it's lightening up.

14-7 Arizona after Delhomme fumble

Arizona just scored its second TD in less than a minute following a Jake Delhomme fumble. Edgerrin James scored from 4 yards out to make it 14-7, Arizona, with 1:47 still left in the first quarter.

The momentum has changed big-time. On Carolina's third possession, Delhomme looked back and was holding the ball, looking for Steve Smith. But the Cardinals' Antonio Smith beat Carolina's Travelle Wharton on his rush, stripped the ball from Delhomme and recovered it at Carolina's 12.

From there, it was easy pickings for Arizona to score its second TD of the game.

7-7 as Arizona ties it up

Arizona just showed why it can be so dangerous. The Cardinals tied the game at 7 on Kurt Warner's 3-yard touchdown pass to Tim Hightower on a third-down play where it looked like Jon Beason was trying to get there but didn't.

The key play of the drive, though, was on a third-and-1 when Warner faked a handoff that totally fooled the Panthers, then hit Larry Fitzgerald for an acrobatic 40-yard catch. Fitzgerald -- the Cardinals' version of Steve Smith -- went right over Charles Godfrey and Ken Lucas on the play.

Defense also begins well

Carolina still leads 7-0 after each team has had a possession.

Arizona looked like it might duplicate the Panthers' score when Larry Fitzgerald snagged a 31-yard pass from Kurt Warner to pick up one third down.

But then, as the Cardinals had a first-and-10 from the Carolina 26, the Panther defense caused losses on 3 straight plays. Thomas Davis messed up a running play for minus-1, Warner got sacked by Damione Lewis and then Julius Peppers made an incredible play on a screen pass for minus-7.

All that took the Cardinals out of FG range and meant they had to punt.

7-0 Panthers after 3 minutes

Carolina just scored on a 9-yard run by Jonathan Stewart to cap a 5-play, 50-yard drive in only 3:04.

The game really couldn't have started any better for the Panthers, who had huge plays from 3 RBs on the first drive -- Stewart (the TD), DeAngelo Williams (a 31-yard run) and Brad Hoover (a hard pickup of a third-and-7 on a short pass).

Scalpers having a problem unloading

File this in the strange-but-true category:

I just walked around and into Bank of America Stadium, and there are far more tickets for sale outside than people buying them.

Yes, it's actually a buyer's market out there, not the seller's market you would expect a sold-out playoff game would generate. Maybe it's the on-and-off rain. Maybe it's the fact that not a lot of people in Charlotte are going to come uptown on a Saturday night without tickets.

Whatever the reason, though, the cry of "Who needs tickets?" is a lot more prevalent out there 90 minutes before kickoff than "Who has tickets to sell?" (If you're a risk-taker and read this before kickoff, you might want to give it a try if you're really hot to get into this game).

I saw one fan hesitantly say, "I need some," and he was literally rushed by two eager sellers. The second scalper to get there waved his hand disgustedly and walked away, muttering to himself: "There's a million tickets out here."

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Panthers-Cardinals prediction

Here are my thoughts going into Saturday night's Arizona-Cardinal playoff game:

I remember five years ago -- on Jan.10, 2004 -- when the Panthers played another Saturday playoff game. It was Jake Delhomme’s 29th birthday. It was Steve Smith’s coming-out party. It was Carolina 29, St. Louis 23, in double overtime.

** My most vivid memory of that day in St. Louis was Smith’s 69-yard touchdown catch. But I also clearly remember seeing Kurt Warner after the game – clean and untouched, since he hadn’t played. Marc Bulger started in front of Warner instead that day (now there’s a poor decision) and threw three interceptions.

** For the Panthers to have another memorable Jan.10 -- this time in 2009 -- they will need Smith and Delhomme to both play well. More than that, though, they will need their defensive secondary to make some plays. In particular, I think cornerback Chris Gamble has a lot of potential to make or break Warner today. He’s the best athlete Carolina has got in the secondary. If he gets burned constantly by the wondrous Larry Fitzgerald, that’s a very bad sign.

** Arizona’s defense can be very good – witness Michael Turner’s pitiful 42 yards rushing last week for Atlanta. Here's my first prediction: I think DeAngelo Williams will triple that figure (to 126) for Carolina Saturday. I expect him to break at least one run of over 30 yards, too.

** If the weather’s good, Panther fans, enjoy yourself if you've got tickets. If the weather’s bad, at least take some consolation in the fact that Arizona doesn’t play as well in inclement weather.

** My prediction: Carolina 34, Arizona 27.

Amsterdam's oddities

I didn't get quite everything I wanted to in today's story about the 3 months Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner spent together with the Amsterdam Admirals in the spring of 1998.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam yourself? I've been, and it's a fascinating place. Canals, great museums and... well... a lot of unique scenery.

If you have, you probably know that marijuana is sold there openly in coffee shops and that prostitution is regulated by the government and legalized. In fact, prostitutes in the red-light district literally sit or stand in windows, giving clients a chance to "window shop" before making their purchase.

Even for a guy who has Bourbon Street practically emblazoned in his DNA, as Delhomme does due to growing up in Louisiana and playing for years in New Orleans, Amsterdam blew Delhomme's mind a bit. Not that he partook of the drugs or sex available there; he didn't. He was just surprised, like most every American is, how open the culture was to both.

"I was in an internet cafĂ©," Delhomme remembered of Amsterdam. "Somebody lit up something [that would be illegal in America] right next to me and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ This is unbelievable."

Delhomme's future wife Keri Melancon visited him for a week in Amsterdam and he took her to the red-light district. This is a common thing to do -- tourists often walk by the prostitution windows and gawk a little. I did that, too, when I was there.

"Keri and I, we walked through it just to show her," Delhomme said. "You just have to laugh. I mean, the red-light district there is really a red-light district! They're in the windows. It's funny."

Delhomme did say it bothered him some that, because he was American, people kept trying to sell him drugs on the street. Warner, who has always been very public about his religious faith, said it was an odd place for him to live, too.

"It was weird for me," Warner said, "because of my faith and beliefs being in a place like that was so crazy."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jake, Kurt and Amsterdam in 1998


Know who that is? It's Jake Delhomme, in rare duty for the Amsterdam Admirals. For most of that 1998 season, Delhomme sat on the bench behind starter Kurt Warner.

In Friday's Charlotte Observer and on charlotteobserver.com, I'm going to take you back to 1998 in Amsterdam -- an "anything-goes" city where prostitution was legal, soccer was king and an NFL Europe franchise called the Amsterdam Admirals had two future starting QBs named Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme.

Those two -- who each made $16,000 the entire season -- had a fierce battle for the starting job that spring. Warner won it. Delhomme didn't like it, and still doesn't. But he got over it, and the two remain good friends. On Saturday night, they'll face off in Charlotte in an NFL playoff game.

There's a lot more to this story, and it's coming Friday. I just thought I'd give you a little taste of it today. Delhomme's memories of Amsterdam include people always trying to sell him drugs on the street, staying 2-to-a-room all season in a basic hotel, calling his then-girlfriend (and future wife) Keri back home in Louisiana constantly and the food.... well, I'll just let him tell you that in the story.

Believe me, though, if you've ever been to Amsterdam, it's a strange place -- and not a spot where you'd think 2 future NFL QBs would flourish. But it happened.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

3 Panther items you may not know....

Did you know this?

1) The Panthers are 6-3 all-time in the NFL playoffs, and that is actually tied for the BEST winning record by percentage among all current NFL teams at .667. Each time the Panthers have made the playoffs previously they have always won at least 1 game and advanced to at least the NFC championship game.

Carolina did hold the best-percentage mark alone until Baltimore (now also 6-3, but with a Super Bowl win in its history that the Panthers don't have) won a playoff game last week at Miami to tie Carolina. It's interesting to note that in the last dozen years, the Panthers have won six playoff games and the Dallas Cowboys have won zero.

2) Bill Rosinski, the former Panther announcer, will be back in the Bank of America pressbox Saturday night working the Arizona-Carolina game on the national radio broadcast for Westwood One. Rosinski has had that Westwood One NFL job for a long time now and always does a fine call -- he's well-deserving of what is a very high-profile gig.

3. In Wednesday's Charlotte Observer, I've made a list of the 10 Carolina Panther plays that have shaped this 12-4 season, counting them down from 10 to 1. I enlisted the help of Jake Delhomme, DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason to help with suggestions for the list, but ultimately made the cuts myself, so you can blame me for ranking your own favorites too low (they all agreed on what the No.1 play was, incidentally). If you've got any suggestions for changes, feel free to post them below.

I will tell you that several plays nearly made my 10 but didn't: Chris Harris's key fumble caused against Chicago was one of them and Jonathan Stewart's tone-setting first rush TD in the Monday Night Tampa game was another.

Will Panthers set attendance record Saturday?

Here's a tough Panther trivia question for you: What was Carolina's most-attended home game ever?? Here's a hint: It's a record that may never be broken.

If you guessed one of the two Dallas home playoff games in Charlotte, or the Monday Night game against Tampa Bay this year, or the MNF season opener against Green Bay in 2004, all those are close, but no cigar.

The record-holder came in 1995, when the Panthers played their first season in Clemson in a slightly bigger stadium. They generally averaged only about 55,000 that strange inaugural season at Death Valley, but on Dec.10, 1995, Carolina had 76,136 for a home game against San Francisco, which was the NFL's glamour team at the time.

Bank of America Stadium could never get more than a 74,200 turnstile count, and that would be with every star aligning perfectly and not a single no-show, Phil Youtsey, the Panthers' director of ticketing, told me this week. "And we always seem to get 1,000 no-shows no matter what," Youtsey said. "It's beyond me why people buy a ticket and it doesn't get used, but it happens."

But Saturday night's home playoff game against Arizona may break into the all-time top 4 in turnstile count for a Panthers game (not tickets distributed, but actual people who show up). Here's the current top 4:

1) San Francisco (at Clemson), 1995: 76,136
2) Dallas (home playoff game), 1996 season: 72,808
3) Washington, 1997 (season opener): 72,633
4) Green Bay, 2004 (season opener, MNF): 72,331

Incidentally, Carolina lost all of those games except No.2.

The highest turnstile count in 2008? Not surprisingly, it was the MNF game against Tampa Bay last month at 71,666.

If the weather is dry Saturday night, the Panthers will probably get in the 71-73,000 range for actual turnstile count. But if it's wet (and that's a possibility), it'll be more like 67,000-70,000, I would imagine. In any case, it will be quite a homefield advantage at the stadium where Carolina has gone 8-0 at home this season, what with all the white Growl Towels waving and the 8:15 p.m. start.

As Jake Delhomme says: "Night games are just a little bit different -- a little more electric."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Panthers in BLACK, stadium in WHITE Saturday

The Panthers will wear black jerseys Saturday night against Arizona. Jackie Miles, the team's equipment manager since their inception, notes its the first time Carolina has ever worn black for a playoff game.

Carolina generally wears white on the road. Its previous two home playoff games were against the Dallas Cowboys, and then the Panthers purposely wore white so as to make the Cowboys wear their "unlucky" blue jerseys. (It worked both times).

Bank of America Stadium will be a rolling sea of white, however, as a white Growl Towel about the size of a golf towel will be given away to everyone who comes through the turnstile. "Those towels really seem to show up better at night," said Phil Youtsey, the Panthers' ticket guru.

The Panthers are gently encouraging fans to wear black to match the team's jerseys and to contrast with the Growl Towels a bit better.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Arizona WANTS this rematch

Philadelphia's whipping of Minnesota Sunday means that Arizona comes to Charlotte for a rematch with Carolina at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

Here are 5 things to know about the Cardinals -- a story that was published in Monday's paper. As for a few details about what happened the first time around on a picture-perfect October afternoon in Charlotte -- Kurt Warner threw for 381 yards but Carolina won 27-23, with Steve Smith scoring twice and DeAngelo Williams once for the Panthers.

I thought you'd find interesting what Arizona Republic beat writer Kent Somers wrote in his Sunday's newspaper, before the Cardinals knew whether they were going to play at the New York Giants or at Carolina this coming weekend.

Wrote Somers: "The Cardinals aren't saying who they would like to play next, but it's the Panthers. They've been to Carolina this season and lost, 27-23, in a game they feel like they should have won."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Steph Curry turns ankle; should be OK for Duke

Davidson star guard Stephen Curry rolled his ankle late in the second half of Davidson's 76-55 home win over Samford Saturday, causing a collective gasp from the crowd as he hobbled off the court in obvious pain.

Afterward, however, both Curry and Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the injury appeared to be nothing serious and shouldn't hamper him much if at all in Davidson's next game -- a fierce road test Wednesday at Duke.

Curry, a junior, did score his 2,000th career point in the game -- only the third Davidson player ever to do so. He had a relatively quiet 21 points against overmatched Samford, mostly deferring to teammates. He also had eight assists.

I'm on an all-Curry, all-the-time mission today, going to Steph's game at 2 p.m. and then younger brother Seth's game at 7 p.m. Seth is the starting point guard for Liberty, which plays at Winthrop tonight. Look for a full story on what transpires in Sunday's Observer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

DeAngelo's hidden great stat

Happy New Year, everyone! I really appreciate all of you who check in on "Scott Says" and to The Charlotte Observer. This blog has been a lot of fun -- we only started it in September, if you remember -- and I really enjoy reading all your comments. I'm going to try and refer to more of them in the blog this coming year (you can also e-mail me directly at sfowler@charlotteobserver.com).

I got this e-mail from alert reader Jason Nark, who wrote: "I believe one of Deangelo’s most impressive accomplishments has gone unnoticed by the local and national media. I think he has the highest amount of single season rushing yards without a fumble. I’d take Deangelo’s 1500 yards and 0 fumbles over Adrian Peterson’s 1800 yards and 9 fumbles. Any day."

You know what? In this case, I would, too. Peterson led the NFL in both rushing yardage (1760) and fumbles (9). And of those 9 fumbles, 6 came in December! You think a few Philadelphia Eagles are going to try to strip him this weekend?

Of the 16 NFL rushers who gained more than 1,000 yards this season, only DeAngelo and LaDainian Tomlinson never fumbled on a rushing carry. Here's a list of the most notable fumblers who gained 1,000 yards:

1. Peterson (Min) 9 fumbles
2. Frank Gore (SF) 6
3. Steven Jackson (StL) 5
4. Ryan Grant (GB) 4

And the 1,000-yard rushers who fumbled least:

1. DeAngelo and LT.... 0
Tied for third: Jamal Lewis (CLE), Matt Forte (Chi) and Chris Johnson (Ten) 1

Note: Clinton Portis and Atlanta's Michael Turner, the other 2 RBs along with Peterson selected instead of DeAngelo to the Pro Bowl, each had 3 fumbles this season.

So thanks to Jason for pointing this tidbit out. If you want to take a closer look at the stats for all RBs in the league, try this link.