Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Duke-Butler: My ideal final (and CBS's, too)

I wrote my column today about why Duke-Butler would be the ideal Monday night final for this 2010 NCAA championship, and why CBS undoubtedly thinks so, too.

In terms of ratings, that would be a bonanza -- Butler, a No.5 seed, an underdog and basically a home team from Indianapolis that would snatch up thousands of tickets sold by the two losing teams after Saturday's games; vs. the great and powerful Duke, which has one of those national reputations like the Dallas Cowboys that networks absolutely love. No one is neutral about Duke, and people tune in because of that.

On the other hand, West Virginia vs. Michigan State? I'm sure Bob Huggins and Tom Izzo would love it, and certainly both teams have had fantastic seasons. But that matchup doesn't exactly make most hearts around the country go pitty-pat.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Keep losing, Bobcats (but just enough)

I wasn't at all unhappy to see that the Charlotte Bobcats blew a home game Monday night against Toronto, 103-101.

Why? Because I am hoping that the Bobcats end up in the playoffs as the No.8 seed, and that loss made it a little more likely that they would do just that. The Bobcats still lead Toronto by two games with nine to go in the current NBA standings for the No.7 spot, but if the two teams tie, Toronto now would win the tiebreaker.

Here's my reasoning for why eight is great. First of all, I think it would be fun for the Bobcats to make the playoffs -- as a sports columnist, it gives me more to write about. And I would like their first-round playoff series to be competitive. That would be most likely, I believe, if a No.8 Bobcats team faced the best team in the Eastern Conference -- Cleveland, which will be the No.1 seed.

Plus, there's the LeBron James factor. LeBron is so magnetic that the series would be elevated another couple of notches just because of his presence. I'm not sure a Hawks-Bobcats playoff game would sell out around here, but two LeBron-Bobcats playoff games in uptown Charlotte (and there would be at least two) would bring the scalpers out in droves.

If the Bobcats make it, they would play one of four teams in the playoffs -- Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta or Boston. Courtesy of the Bobcats' fine PR staff, here is how the Bobcats have done against those four teams this season and in Larry Brown's two seasons as Charlotte's coach.

1. Cleveland: Charlotte is a stunning 3-1 vs. the Cavs this season (and 3-4 overall under Brown). Charlotte is the only team to have beaten Cleveland more than once in the Eastern Conference this season. It's weird, but it isn't a fluke. Charlotte knows how to play the Cavs.

2. Orlando (the most likely current opponent for Charlotte): 1-3 vs. Orlando this season and 1-7 overall under Larry Brown. The Bobcats did just win the teams' most recent matchup two weeks ago in Orlando, but facing Dwight Howard for a whole series?! Ouch.

3. Boston: 0-3 vs. the Celtics this season and 1-5 overall under Brown. The Bobcats have lost four straight to the Celtics. Like Orlando, the Celtics seem to be a really bad matchup for Charlotte.

4. Atlanta: 1-2 vs. the Hawks this season (with one game left); 2-5 overall under Larry Brown.

So bring on the Cavs. Obviously, the Bobcats won't lose on purpose over the final two weeks of the regular season -- once you get on that sort of roll, you might never stop, and Charlotte could get passed entirely by Chicago (currently three games behind the Bobcats) for the No.8 spot.

But if the roulette wheel stops on a 1-8 matchup pitting Cleveland and Charlotte starting in mid-April, I think we're in for a great time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If the NBA playoffs began today....

If the playoffs began today, the Charlotte Bobcats would play a best-of-7 first-round series against Orlando. Here are the current NBA standings. Charlotte is four games ahead of Chicago, with 10 to go, for the final playoff berth. Right now the Bobcats would be a No.7 seed, but they are a half-game out of sixth (where a matchup against Boston or Atlanta would await).

My column today explores how unusual this April will be for the Bobcats -- for once, it will actually matter. It has been eight years since the city of Charlotte has hosted NBA playoff games, but it's going to happen in a couple of weeks barring a total collapse by the hometown team. That'll be fun.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday Night Futbol

This tackle by a security guard -- who hit a wayward Mexican spectator who wildly ran onto the field just before the second half began -- was one of the highlights of the night. (Photo courtesy of Steven Limentani).

I just watched Mexico and Iceland play to a scoreless tie in an exhibition soccer game in Charlotte. Sounds mundane, doesn't it? But it wasn't -- because more than 63,000 people showed up to watch it, turning the game into quite a fiesta.

I've written a full column about the game that you can find here and is also in Thursday's Charlotte Observer, but a few quick notes about Wednesday Night Futbol at Bank of America Stadium:

-- When Mexico's national team came out for warmups for the first time, I was sitting in the stands. In terms of sheer decibel level, the roar surpassed what you hear for 95 percent of Carolina Panther touchdowns ever scored in this stadium.

-- Best tackle of the night came via an alert security guard who was on the sideline at halftime. A Mexican fan jumped onto the field just before the second half began and started running around wildly, waving the Mexican flag. He touched at least one player, juked away from a couple of officials... and then got pulverized by this tall, lanky security guard, who executed a textbook tackle and got up smiling (a picture of the hit is above). It reminded me of those "Office Linebacker" commercials.

-- Iceland couldn't qualify for the 2010 World Cup (Mexico did), but it gave "El Tri" quite a fight. In the frenzied final minutes, Iceland held off Mexican charges again and again and was obviously playing for the tie late -- kicking the ball out of bounds, etc.

-- Too bad Mexico couldn't score at least one goal -- I would have liked to have heard the roar that set off in the stands, just for curiosity's sake.

-- I'm not sure I've ever smelled better tailgate food than I did on the way to the game.

-- The announced attendance was 63,227. As I guessed in the column, I think that broke down about like this in terms of fan support: 7 for Iceland, 63,220 for Mexico.

Steve Smith calls it like it is (sorta)

It took the other kind of "futbol" to get Steve Smith's comments on the Carolina Panthers' dizzying array of moves this offseason.

Smith hadn't commented publicly since the team released Jake Delhomme and a slew of other 30-something players in the Purge of 2010. He said what a lot of people are thinking but haven't been saying Tuesday, to our David Scott: "If the season started today, we would be down. We don't have a potential third-string quarterback or a bona fide backup quarterback. We don't have a guy we're considering for [Muhsin Muhammad's starting) spot. There's a lot of areas we're missing. So now, we're an unfinished product."

Smith said that before a Mexican soccer team practice at Bank of America Stadium Tuesday. No.89 has long been a fan of the game and has children who are active in the sport.

You can read more of the interview here if you scroll down to the March 23 entries, but I thought in general Smith was on his best behavior in the interview. He's getting a little more politically adept, as you would expect of the team's union leader. Smith simply said "I lost some friends" about all the Panthers' personnel moves, noting: "One day, I'm going to be released as well. It's part of the game."

Meanwhile, John Fox talked down in Florida this morning to our Charles Chandler and others at the NFL's March meetings. There were no huge screaming headlines out of that, it sounds like, but some tidbits of news (including the fact Fox likes Tim Tebow). You can read more of Fox's comments in the "Inside the Panthers" blog here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Mexico, Iceland and Keith Larson

I just came from a packed press conference that seemed straight out of the Olympics. It was conducted almost entirely in a foreign language, with a helpful interpreter translating it into English for the three of us who were there and didn't speak Spanish.

The press conference was to promote the Mexico-Iceland exhibition soccer game that will be played in Bank of America Stadium Wednesday starting at 8 p.m. I'm somewhat amazed that more than 60,000 people are going to show up for this, but obviously I don't know my "futbol" well enough. Mexico's national team, nicknamed "El Tri," is a massive draw.

Mexico is like the Harlem Globetrotters in this game. Iceland is the Washington Generals, there only to provide a sparring partner. You can bet there won't be a lot of fans making the trek from Reykjavik.

I'll be one of those 60,000-plus, covering the game and the atmosphere for The Observer -- we're going to cover the game with gusto for both our English and our Spanish sites.

On another topic, I got roasted on Keith Larson's morning radio show on WBT Monday. Keith thought my blog entry advocating that Michael Jordan should leverage his celebrity to help save Charlotte's libraries missed the mark entirely.

What I admire about Keith is that while he criticized my post to high heaven, he also read it on-air and gave me a chance on-air to defend it.

Some radio hosts, both in this market and nationally, love nothing more than to rip somebody for hours without ever making a phone call asking if they'd like to respond. (Rush Limbaugh once did this to me for a column I wrote about Tiger Woods, but that's another story). Newspaper columnists aren't immune to this, either -- it's easy to simply read something and rip it.

Keith, though, tries to get newsmakers on his show and hears them out, even though he may loudly berate them and disagree with them. That's why I agree to go on his show pretty much every time he asks. I don't get paid for the appearances and they can take a chunk of time out of your day, but I respect the way he works.

I haven't changed my mind about why I think it would be a good idea for MJ to step in on the library issue. I'm sure Keith won't change his mind, either. But our on-air argument, I think, was pretty good radio.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Save the libraries, MJ

Michael Jordan talked a lot Thursday about how he would be the face of the Charlotte Bobcats' franchise, and that part of his focus would be working with city and community groups to help Charlotte be a better place to live.

As several of my colleagues have pointed out to me today, there could hardly be a better place to start than Charlotte's public library system. It is in dire straits, as this Observer story details -- 12 of the 24 branches are set to close.

With those 12 closings will come 148 layoffs. And pretty much everyone gets affected by this, as the branches that will close April 3 are all over the county.

So help save the libraries, Michael. It's a very good cause, and talk about some serious bang for the civic buck -- this would do it. If I were Jordan, I'd get out in front of this issue quickly. (And I don't mean he should write a check for the entire amount himself. I mean he should make sure the Bobcats organization makes a sizeable contribution. He should encourage some of the players to do the same. He should possibly do a public-service announcement for the library system. He should help raise awareness of a serious issue, in other words, by using his celebrity).

And for those Charlotte residents who haven't seen the list of libraries that will be closing yet, they are: the urban branches of Beatties Ford Road, Belmont, Scaleybark and South Tryon; Sugar Creek to the north and Independence to the east; Myers Park, Carmel and Morrison on the affluent southside; and suburban outlets in Cornelius, Hickory Grove and Mint Hill.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hooray! Jordan open to changing Bobcats' nickname

I just asked new Bobcats owner Michael Jordan a question and liked the answer I got -- he said he's open to changing the nickname of the Charlotte NBA franchise he just bought if enough people think that should happen.

Jordan said this after his big press conference Thursday, in a smaller interview session with five local print reporters, including both myself and The Observer's Bobcat beat writer, Rick Bonnell.

I've been advocating a name change this month in my column which Jordan said he had read. So when I asked him about a possible name change, he teased: "How did I know you were going to ask that?"

Then Jordan this, word-for-word: "The thing is that I’m open for anything. It’s a commitment. We have to go through the league. It’s a process. It’s a financial commitment.

"Am I willing to look at that and say can we go down that road? Yeah. If I get the understanding from the community, from the public, that we need it and it signifies change, yeah, I would do that.

"But once again, it’s a process. It’s a $3-million to $10-million investment to do that. I’m not afraid of that, as long as at the backside of that, the public is going to be happy about that, that it’s going to be great for the organization. I think it [could be] a new beginning. Yeah, I would do that. I would consider that."

Any possible nickname change would be a couple of years away due to NBA rules, but it's nice to see that Jordan will think hard about it. A new nickname would signify a lot to a certain segment of the population that thinks -- rightly or wrongly -- of the Bobcats' brand as tainted.

Panthers: Win now vs. rebuild now

I wrote my column for today on the Panthers' two competing philosophies: The "win-now" approach of Coach John Fox (who certainly needs to be that way because he's in the final year of his contract) vs. the "rebuild-now" approach of the Panthers, who have been cutting players over 30 left and right.

I think those two philosophies are at cross-purposes, although certainly there's a chance the Panthers can rebuild on the fly and still win if Matt Moore has a huge 2010, the running backs go crazy, a new pass rusher emerges, etc. But it'll be tough -- some of the arrows have certainly been taken out of Fox's quiver.

One update: after the story went to press, the Panthers signed 2009 starting DE Tyler Brayton. This is a positive move and means that Carolina now at least has one starter on the defensive front four back for 2010 (it had been zero until late Wednesday).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Will Jordan be visionary?

The fact that today the NBA's Board of Governors unanimously approved the purchase of the Bobcats by Michael Jordan is a "no-duh" sort of story that sounds bigger than it really is. This approval has been a given for weeks since Jordan exercised his right of first refusal and bought the team from Bob Johnson in February -- NBA Commissioner David Stern and many others basically said so long before this happened today.

What is going to be very interesting now, though, is that the sale becoming official means that Jordan will now unveil his vision for a team that he owns. After his Hall of Fame career, Jordan now is the first former player to become the majority owner of an NBA team.

I think he's going to be a fine owner as long as he's "all-in," as I wrote in this column last month.

Jordan will hold a press conference at 6 p.m. Thursday -- a press conference that should be very interesting because MJ has had a long time to think about what he wants to say.

The Bobcats as a team already have Jordan's stamp imprinted upon them -- most notably because he was the one who got Larry Brown to coach this group. But what will the Bobcats as a business do differently? And now that Jordan is basically on the hook for $275 million -- the discount purchase price of a team that originally cost $300 million -- what will he do differently?

So Thursday should be an enlightening day, Bobcats-wise. Meanwhile, the Bobcats themselves play a home game tonight, against Oklahoma City, as they try to stay inside the NBA playoff bubble.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiger returns to golf -- and so will viewers

Tiger Woods announced Tuesday that he will return to competitive golf at The Masters in April 8-11.

Want a little side dish of hyperbole to go along with that bit of news? Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports and News, told Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch in this story that Woods' return would be "the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years."

McManus (whose CBS network holds the TV rights to The Masters) said that even before Tuesday's announcement. He based his claim on the fact that Tiger's 13-minute apology for his sex scandal generated enormous interest and live coverage by multiple outlets.

I say there's no way this is No.2. That's way too high. Second to Obama's inauguration?! C'mon, Sean.

If you stick simply to the sports side of things, I'd say about half the Super Bowls over the past 10 years, the 2008 Olympics' opening ceremonies in Beijing and several other things I haven't thought of all will eclipse Woods' return to golf at Augusta, Ga., after his embarrassing exile.

Nevertheless, this will elevate The Masters, which doesn't really need the boost, but will certainly take it.

Will Woods win? His game has always been uniquely suited for that course, where he burst on the scene with a 12-stroke victory in 1997. But I'd say no, not this time. I think Tiger will be in contention long enough, though, for CBS to squeeze every bit of ratings juice it can out of Woods' return, and I'm going to pencil him in for a Top-10 finish.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lutz deserved one last shot

I would have given Bobby Lutz one more year.

But I will readily admit that the Charlotte 49ers’ shocking and painful collapse in the past month would make a lot of people think about firing Lutz as Charlotte 49ers’ head coach, as happened today.

I wrote a lighthearted column about Lutz and the good-luck mustache he had re-grown at UNCC students' behest a month ago, back when all was right in Lutz’s world. At the time, the 49ers were 8-2 in the Atlantic 10 and 18-6 overall. They were entering a big three-game homestand. It didn’t seem to be a question of whether they would make the NCAA tournament so much as where they would be seeded. Many tourney projections had them as high as a No.7 or 8 seed.

Little did I know that those 49ers had already begun falling off the cliff.

Charlotte lost its way, lost seven of its final eight games and, now, has lost its coach. In the 49ers’ last game – a conference tournament loss to Massachusetts at Halton Arena – the 49ers drew an embarrassing home attendance of 1,941. At one point, Lutz and his staff put six players on the court, resulting in a crucial technical foul.

Lutz got fired Monday. That’ll be expensive for a university trying to add football and watching its pennies – he was under contract through 2014.

Lutz was much better when the 49ers were in Conference USA, which was easier to recruit into and gave the 49ers some marquee home games. If you know how many teams are actually in the Atlantic 10, you’re a fairly serious college basketball junkie.

Then again, results are what matter when you’re a college basketball coach, no matter where or whom you’re playing. Given that Lutz’s 49ers hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2005 and that the NIT is not even a sure thing any longer, either, I’m sure he knew he was in danger.

Although I would have let Lutz have the 2010-11 season to turn it around and try one last time, I’m sure the 49ers administration would argue that they did that already, after last season’s 11-20 debacle.

This is a tough one. Lutz, athletic director Judy Rose and UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois are all good, smart people. I like all of them. But – barring there is some bombshell out there we don’t know about, and given that this is Bobby Lutz we’re talking about I very much doubt there is – I think Lutz deserved one last shot.

Lutz released a classy statement Monday afternoon that said in part: “Our fans, especially the students who are dear to my heart, have been tremendous and a source of inspiration for me. They deserve the best and that is my hope for them…. Lastly, I've enjoyed the love and support of my family and we have wonderful memories of our times at Charlotte. In closing, it has been a privilege and pleasure to coach at UNC Charlotte, my alma mater. I have been truly blessed and will forever bleed green.”

Although the impact will be felt only regionally instead of nationally in this case, the whole thing reminds me of Jake Delhomme’s recent departure. Delhomme was the face of the Panthers; Lutz the face of the 49ers. Both had some great times, but both had awful final seasons, and both ultimately got fired by the employers they were so loyal to for so long.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

3 things I liked about Bobcats' win over Orlando

The Charlotte Bobcats won their sixth straight game Sunday night and the degree of difficulty on this one may have been the highest of the six: No Gerald Wallace. On the road. Against Orlando, a team that generally cleans the Bobcats' clock.

Yet Charlotte took it, 96-89, and -- as of now -- is a scant .001 ahead of Miami and sits in sixth place in the NBA playoff standings at 34-31. If the playoffs began today, Charlotte would face No.3 seed Atlanta in a first-round series.

I wasn't in Orlando, but watched a good bit of this one on TV, listening to Steve Martin and Dell Curry. Here are 3 things I really liked about the Bobcats' performance:

1) Stephen Jackson, Alpha male. Sometimes, the Bobcats need Jackson to turn down the testosterone a bit. Not Sunday. Without Wallace's high-flying antics, Charlotte needed all the Jack it could get. Jackson always looks like he thinks he's the best player on the court. And even though he isn't a lot of the time, his belief that Charlotte should win games really helps.

2) Defending Dwight. Although Dwight Howard got his -- 12-of-14 for 27 points -- the Bobcats' Theo Ratliff and Tyson Chandler played him well enough that the rest of the Magic really didn't get theirs. And they rebounded well enough against Howard that he didn't just dominate the glass and alter every other Bobcat shot, as Howard is prone to do (Rick Bonnell writes more about this in his fine game story).

3) Boris Diaw. A very effective game for Diaw, who had a relatively quiet 10 points but hit a huge shot in the fourth quarter, went 4-for-5 from the field and had 4 rebounds and 4 assists. The Bobcats were plus-13 when Diaw was on the court.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jake to Cleveland; good for him

Good for Jake Delhomme, who has signed a deal with the Cleveland Browns. I'll predict right now Delhomme will be Cleveland's starter on Opening Day 2010.

Browns team president Mike Holmgren told The Cleveland Plain Dealer Friday that while Delhomme wouldn't necessarily be the starter for the Browns if he signed that Delhomme certainly had the "potential" to fill that slot for the Browns.

And what about Brady Quinn, Cleveland's incumbent? My guess is he will be traded (UPDATE QUINN WAS TRADED SUNDAY, TO DENVER). If you read between the lines, it doesn't seem like Holmgren likes him much. Quinn has gone 3-9 as a starter in Cleveland. Delhomme is 58-40 as a starter in his career.

Delhomme's main competition will probably come from former Seattle backup QB Seneca Wallace, who is more familiar with the offense Holmgren wants to run, having played for Holmgren when Holmgren was coaching in Seattle instead of running the front office in Cleveland. Cleveland, like the Panthers, also may draft a quarterback in April.

As I wrote in this blog earlier this week: I don't think 2010 is going to be a repeat of 2009 for the 35-year-old Delhomme. I think he's still got a little juice left. If only the Browns could get LeBron James to play tight end for them in the offseason, their offense might get a little better. Cleveland was dead last in the NFL in total yards per game in 2009.

That's the problem with his new employer -- the Browns don't have many weapons to surround Delhomme with. But at least Delhomme has already landed on his feet. I still think it was a mistake for the Panthers to let him go. If the Panthers are going to sign a veteran to back up and/or even compete with Matt Moore, as it sounds like they are going to do, well, hey, they already had that guy in their employment. He wore No.17. He won five playoff games here.

But what's done is done. I wish Jake the best in Cleveland.

An ESPN documentary worth watching

I just previewed "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks," which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN and will be shown a number of times after that (you can see the schedule here).

It's a heckuva documentary about the mid-1990s battles between the trash-talking Miller and his Indiana Pacers and the bullying Knicks, led by Patrick Ewing, John Starks and (from the sideline) brash director/Miller antagonist Spike Lee.

Filmmaker Dan Klores is one of the best in the business, and he has put together another show-stopper here. You may remember Klores' equally riveting "Black Magic," which chronicled basketball at America's historically black colleges.

While "Black Magic" resonated with more historical weight, "Winning Time" is just plain fun. If you've forgotten some of Miller's shooting heroics in these multiple playoff series -- as well as Lee's front-row histrionics, Ewing's crucial missed layup and all the rest -- this brings them back in stark detail.

Current Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown has a couple of nice cameos, too -- he was the Pacers' coach at the time. Miller has a good line about how the Pacers always respected Brown but couldn't stand him Brown at times because of his demanding nature. Miller calls Brown "a perfectionist coach in an imperfect game."

I've never been a huge fan of either Miller or the Knicks, but I enjoyed the documentary anyway and highly recommend it for your viewing pleasure after Sunday's Selection Show and its accompanying hysteria.

"Winning Time" is the second really good sports documentary I've seen in the past month, following HBO's Magic/Bird doc called "A Courtship of Rivals" that was very entertaining as well. If you've ever seen another good sports documentary you'd highly recommend -- not a fictional movie, but a true-story-documentary -- post it either in the comments section of this blog or e-mail it to me at I'm always on the lookout for high-quality sports journalism in whatever form it takes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And the Delhomme//Panther book winners are....

Thanks to all who entered my contest for a signed, free copy of a Panther book I wrote back during the Jake Delhomme glory days.

To enter, you had to write a comment on my previous blog entry you can see here about Jake Delhomme, and those comments taken in sum provide quite a tribute from fans of No.17. If you haven't seen them already, the comments alone are worth a look.

The winners, drawn randomly from all those who followed the instructions correctly, were: Bailey Carter, Daniel Torres, David Swaim, Shane Triplett and George Bass. I am sorry I did not post these winners earlier -- I've had some unexpected things going on in my life today.

Thanks to everyone else for entering. In case you're interested, the great memories most often cited by fans were:

1) Delhomme's first game ever as a Panther -- the comeback vs. Jacksonville in 2003.

2) The touchdown pass to Steve Smith that won the double-overtime playoff game against St. Louis.

3) Delhomme's last-second TD pass to Dante Rosario after coming off Tommy John surgery that won a road game at San Diego in 2008.

4) "Up close and personal" stories from the many fans who had met Jake and experienced his warmth as he endlessly signed autographs, posed for pictures or simply chatted.

5) Some aspect of the Super Bowl.

6) The bootleg run in which Delhomme overpowered DeAngelo Hall and clinched a win over the Redskins.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jake would start for Browns

With Jake Delhomme visiting the Cleveland Browns in search of another job, the question is not whether he'll get one. Delhomme will be working somewhere in 2010 in the NFL.

The question is whether he will be a starter.

There are very few places you could say yes, but I would bet you Cleveland is one. The Browns' QB situation is a mess, as this article from the Cleveland paper notes. Noted QB guru Mike Holmgren is now the Browns team president and is going to overhaul the QB position. He already has started, in fact, releasing Derek Anderson and trading for former Seattle backup QB Seneca Wallace.

Brady Quinn is the embattled incumbent, but he may be on the trading block and is 3-9 in 12 career starts. Of course, Quinn has had very little help. But Jake in any year other than 2009 is better than Brady Quinn or Wallace, and I don't think 2010 is going to be a repeat of 2009 for the 35-year-old Delhomme. I think he's still got a little juice left. If only the Browns could get LeBron James to play tight end for them in the offseason, their offense might get a little better. Cleveland was dead last in the NFL in total yards per game in 2009.

Incidentally, my "Free Panthers//Delhomme book contest" remains open until Friday at 11 a.m. Read this blog entry for details if you want to enter.

The referee who openly cheers

Here's my column today -- a high-school story with a neat twist. The Monroe Redhawks, who were the victim of a terrible call in a football playoff game in November, now have a shot at winning a basketball 1A state championship with much the same cast (including the same coach, Johnny Sowell).

The official who made that call is openly cheering for Monroe to win the state title. As he told me in our interview: "I'm hoping like heck Monroe wins it all. I think it will help the school get over some of the misery that I caused them."

Now this official -- who didn't want his name used because he still fears angry reprisals due to his football error -- doesn't officiate basketball games. He's a football and lacrosse guy only. So no conspiracy theories, please.

This official is just watching from a distance, hoping Monroe's players get the chance to win the state title that they might have won in football (although then again, they might not have) had he correctly given them the touchdown that they earned.

Anyway, it was a cool story to work on, and I owe Observer deputy sports editor Harry Pickett one for suggesting it to me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Want a FREE Delhomme/Panthers book?

Jake Delhomme was the cover boy of my "Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline" book from 2004.

I wrote the book above six years ago, back when Jake Delhomme held the Carolinas in the palm of his hand.

The Panthers had just reached the Super Bowl in Delhomme’s first year as a starter here, and Delhomme had thrown for an NFL-record 211 yards in the fourth quarter alone of the Panthers’ heartbreaking 32-29 Super Bowl loss to New England.

Six years later, Delhomme recently got fired by the Panthers – a move that brought a storm of emotion from everywhere, including Delhomme himself.

For a moment, let’s take a pause during this harried Panther offseason. I want you to recall happier times about Delhomme. He deserves that.

This book may help. I’m going to randomly give away FIVE free hardback copies of my Panthers book with Delhomme on the cover.

If you win one, I will sign your book to you or whomever else you like and then mail it to you. I will randomly pick five names Friday at noon from all the entries to my “Free Delhomme Book” contest.

Here’s how to enter: Write a comment below recalling your favorite Delhomme memory. On the field, off the field, wherever. It can be a sentence, a paragraph – whatever. We’re not judging these on the writing quality – the drawing will be random. The comments can be anonymous or with your name attached.

Then, YOU MUST ALSO cut and paste that very same comment into an e-mail and send it to me at, ALONG WITH your name, address and a valid phone number. (Don’t put your address and phone number on the blog comment, of course – put that only in your private e-mail).

If you don’t take BOTH these steps – 1) posting your comment on this blog and then 2) e-mailing it to me with your personal information added -- your entry will not be eligible.

Let’s limit it to one entry per person, please, although members of the same family can all enter individually.

I’ll leave this contest open until Friday at 11 a.m. and then RANDOMLY draw out the winners’ names. Winners will be contacted by me via e-mail no later than Friday, March 12 at noon, and I’ll also post their names on this blog that same day by 1 p.m.

Carl Edwards' slap on the wrist

I wrote my column today about NASCAR's lenient response to Carl Edwards intentionally wrecking the car of Brad Keselowski Sunday in Atlanta. I think Edwards should have been parked for a race -- most other sports wouldn't have stood for something like this.

But NASCAR is trying to go with its "Boys, have at it" theme this season to increase the side-by-side competitive racing (and the TV racing and ticket sales as well). This is the dark side of that credo.

Here's our own Jim Utter's news story about the incident, as well as an online poll where you can vote as to whether you think Edwards' punishment (officially, a 3-race probation) was correct or incorrect.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'm sorry the "Hoooov" got the ax

The Carolina Panthers have confirmed today that they have released veteran fullback Brad Hoover, one of the team's most well-liked citizens and a heckuva blocking back for the past 10 years.

The "Hoov" had one of the great Panther names in history -- it was so easy to yell "Hoooooooooov!" whenever he got one of his rare carries or ran over somebody on a short pass for a first down. The Western Carolina product and Thomasville native was an undrafted rookie free agent a decade ago and made a great career for himself. Stop me if you've heard this before, though: The Panthers are going to go younger and cheaper at the position.

Panther coach John Fox said last week that football "was a young man's game," and the team seems to have taken that message to heart. They remind me of that old 1960s adage "Never trust anyone over 30" -- the Panthers barely have a player over 30 on the roster anymore.

I will always remember Hoover, 33, for that "Monday Night Football" performance against Green Bay in 2000. As a rookie pressed into duty as a feature back, he rushed for 117 yards in 24 carries on "MNF" and scored a TD. It was a great moment, and for 10 years those 117 yards remained his career high.

Far more often, Hoover did the dirty work -- the "running-into-a-garage-door" 40 times a day that is required of most NFL fullbacks. It's no coincidence that Stephen Davis, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all had 1,000-yard rushing seasons with Hoover road-grading the way.

I'll miss the "Hoov," and I bet you will, too. He was one of those players who really didn't inspire a pro and con side, like Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers did.

Hoov was just Hoov. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say an unkind word about him, and I'm not about to start now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kobe Bryant angry after 15-point loss to Bobcats

A few notes in the aftermath of the Bobcats' 98-83 win over the L.A. Lakers Friday night before a sellout crowd of 19,568 in Charlotte:

-- Kobe Bryant was very angry after this one. He had a venomous scowl on his face in the visitor's locker room postgame and promised he was going to be having a talk with his teammates very soon about their lack of energy. Would it be a nice talk? "What do you think?" Bryant growled.

Kobe is the subject of my column for Saturday's paper, which you can find here. He did have one magnificent play among his 26 points Friday -- seemingly getting trapped, then apparently passing the ball off the backboard to himself (officially, a rebound) and scoring.

-- Charlotte has now gone 7-2 against the Lakers in the two teams' last nine games. That's just outright bizarre.

-- Former Bobcat Adam Morrison played three minutes and 32 seconds against his former teammates and earned a huge round of boos when he came into the game. Morrison, formerly the Bobcats' No.3 overall pick, said he understood the boos because he didn't play well in Charlotte and was quite pleasant in a postgame interview. He also said he was still trying to sell his house in Charlotte since being traded to L.A.

-- The Lakers didn't get into bed until about 4 a.m. Friday, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, because they played Thursday night in Miami and then flew to Charlotte afterward. If they lose at Orlando Sunday, the Lakers will lose 3 straight games for the first time since they acquired Pau Gasol.

Jake: The emotional torrent unleashed

Say what you want about Jake Delhomme – and people certainly are today -- but the guy sure can inspire a lot of emotion. So far today I’ve seen and heard tears, utter joy, and some just plain meanness as Panther fans celebrate with each other or commiserate about Delhomme’s release from the Panthers.

As for Delhomme, he had an extremely hard time getting through his Friday afternoon news conference at the beginning -- crying, wiping his eyes and looking down repeatedly. As tears streamed down his face, he said something I think we all knew: "I wear my heart on his sleeve. And this is me."

Delhomme said he was "blindsided" by Carolina's move to release him Thursday but that he also held "no animosity whatsoever" toward the team. He originally thought the "You're fired" call that came from the Panthers Thursday was simply to tell him he would start the season as No.2 to Matt Moore, not that he was gone.

On a Charlotte radio station today, a talk-show host talked about how much he loved this day and had longed for it. He said it felt like a national holiday and urged listeners to call in with song requests to say goodbye. His request was “Hit the Road, Jack,” which he gleefully modified to “Hit the Road, Jake.” Meanwhile, a national columnist for CBS Sportsline resurrected the "Jake the Fake" nickname he once bestowed on Delhomme before rescinding it several years ago.

Panther head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney both choked up when talking about how much Delhomme meant to them and how difficult a decision this was – although they were also the ones who fired him.

No one sits on the fence about Jake, which is something you can say about just about every interesting person you run into in this life.

There’s pro-Jake (I’ve long been in that corner in an overall way, although I did call for him to be benched very early last season, after Carolina started 0-3). There’s anti-Jake. There's no neutral-Jake.

"Not every script you write is going to have a happy ending," Delhomme said Friday. "That's life."

Yes, it is. I believe the Panthers just made a big mistake jettisoning Jake and should have kept him around for 2010 as a reliable backup to Matt Moore, as I wrote in this earlier blog post. But judging from the online polls, most fans think this was the right move and I’m dead wrong. We’ll see.

The anti-Jake crowd may well be right, and I respect your opinion. We'll have to agree to disagree. But it’s amazing to me how many people are so concerned for the Panthers about saving theoretical money for a salary cap that doesn’t even exist right now.

As for Delhomme himself, once he was able to start talking, he handled himself classily in his Friday afternoon press conference. You knew he would.

Too bad others delighting in his firing -- so openly reveling in his misery, both online and on the radio and everywhere else -- can't do the same thing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Releasing Jake was big mistake

Wow. Talk about a blindside hit on the quarterback.
The Carolina Panthers’ move to release veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme Thursday night was a stunner (see the story here).

I know Delhomme would have cost a lot of money to retain. I know he had his worst season ever in 2009 after getting a huge contract extension. But I still believe the Panthers just made a big mistake.

The Panthers can spin this one all they like – and certainly they will. That it was a difficult decision but it had to be made for financial reasons. That they love Jake and they didn’t want to do it, but that they simply had to because of the young nucleus of players that is going to be clamoring for contract extensions soon.

But you know what? This decision really didn’t have to be made. Not now. The NFL just entered new territory – a 2010 season with no salary cap. Any “salary-cap reasons” for this move are utterly hypothetical, because right now there is no salary cap.

No, I don’t necessarily think Delhomme should have started in 2010. But are the Panthers really ready to hand the keys to the offense over to Matt Moore on a permanent basis?

Panther head coach John Fox did everything he could possibly think of to keep Moore out of the starting lineup last season until Delhomme’s broken finger finally forced Fox’s hand and Moore went 4-1 as a starter.

So now, suddenly, Moore is the savior? Hey, maybe he is. But what if Moore gets hurt? Who plays then? (This obviously means the Panthers are going to have to sign another QB or, more likely, draft one).

I’m all for the Panthers keeping Moore. The high “tender” they placed on him this week was a good move that will just about guarantee the restricted free agent will still be a Panther in 2010.

But Delhomme, 35, should have been kept around as the ultimate, gold-plated insurance policy. We all know how great a leader he is in the locker room. We all know how smart he is and what he means to the franchise. You don’t fire a guy like that if you don’t have to.

This dismissal will please a certain faction of Panther fans, of course. The “Jake haters,” as they came to be known, have wanted Delhomme to be benched or fired for years.

But until calendar year 2009 -- which Delhomme began with an awful six-turnover game against Arizona from which he never recovered – No.17 was the best quarterback in Panther history. He won five playoff games here. He had a dozen game-winning drives in the final two minutes or in overtime. He would have been the MVP of the 2003 season’s Super Bowl had Carolina’s defense been able to stop Tom Brady.

This reminds me a lot of another March day, when Carolina coach George Seifert abruptly released Steve Beuerlein in 2001. That was an even more ridiculous decision, because Seifert picked Jeff Lewis over Beuerlein.

Moore is a lot better than Lewis. But I’m still wondering why you would do this.
Carolina has done it now, though. Delhomme is gone – and a part of all that loyalty claptrap the Panthers talk about constantly just walked out the door with him.

A 562 percent raise for Matt Moore -- and well worth it

Hey, times are tough all over. Our company's raise and bonus pool is really down. We're sorry, but the only thing we can offer you is a 562 percent raise.

That's what the Panthers did for QB Matt Moore Wednesday. He made $460,000 last season and just got tendered a one-year, $3.043 million offer for 2010, which works out to a staggering 562 percent raise. Not 5.62 percent, but 562 percent. Moore said he was "thrilled," and that's no big surprise to you, I'm sure.

That also means no other team is going to touch Moore, because they'd have to give up a first- and third-round draft pick as compensation to do so. This "maximum tender" offer from the Panthers finally gives us an indication that Carolina really does value Moore and will give him a legit chance to start in 2010, despite coach John Fox's longtime love of Jake Delhomme. (UPDATE: The Panthers released Delhomme unexpectedly the day after signing Moore, so I guess they don't love him that much anymore!)

The Panthers put their money where their mouth is on this one, as well they should. To me, the starting job should be Moore's to lose when he comes into Spartanburg for training camp this summer -- you just can't argue with a 4-1 record as a starter and an 8/1 TD/interception ratio during those starts.

So this was a good move by the Panthers and added a little football spice to a week that basketball will otherwise dominate -- here's my column on how much great hoops is going to go on in the Queen City this weekend.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Michael Vick should NOT be a Panther

It is the rumor that simply won't die -- that Michael Vick will one day end up as a Carolina Panther.

Can we derail this one, please? It shouldn't happen, and you shouldn't want it to happen. Vick is just not that good anymore. I'm not even talking about the whole ethics thing, the illegal dogfighting enterprise, the jail time, all of that.

I'm talking about simply on the football field -- we'll leave his character issues aside for the purposes of this blog post. And it's on the field where I don't think Vick would do the Panthers much -- if any -- good.

Vick restarted the rumor this time by saying on a weekend radio appearance that if he could choose to play for any team in the NFL, it would be the Carolina Panthers. You may not usually expect NFL news to be started on a program called Gangsta Grillz with a host named DJ Drama, but there you go. Vick said: “If I could play for any team in the league, it would probably be two teams if I had to pick one, it would probably be the Carolina Panthers."

Why Carolina? Vick responded: "Well, you know, it’s close to home. I like the uniforms. You get to play against Atlanta twice a year. Ain’t nothing better than playing against your former team, right? So, yeah, that would be a good look, it would be a good look."

OK, so let's take a good look at some context here. Vick is officially still a Philadelphia Eagle. On Friday, the Eagles have to decide whether they pick up a $1.5-million option on his contract. This would obligate the Eagles to pay Vick at least $2.5 million overall this season if they can't trade him, which it appears is what they may most want to do. (They originally signed Vick to a two-year deal in August 2009, but only the first year was guaranteed).

If the Eagles don't pick up the option -- and they appear committed to starting Donovan McNabb once again in 2010 -- Vick is free. But there have been various reports that they probably will pick it up. And in that case, Vick is still Eagles property but probably on the market for a mid-round draft pick.

Now if you're playing biggest-name-out-there fantasy football (Bill Polian used to always warn against this when he was Carolina's general manager), that sounds great, right? Michael Vick for a fourth-round pick? Maybe he'll beat out both Jake Delhomme and Matt Moore and start! What a bargain!

No, I don't think so. Vick looked like nowhere near the same player to me last year. I know he had limited action for the Eagles. But even in his best years, his accuracy was suspect, and the reason he was so good was that he was practically a running back who could also play QB (he rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006).

I don't think he's that fast anymore. Not nearly that fast. The statistics from last season bear it out. And he throws the ball inaccurately enough that I can safely tell you that Matt Moore (for sure) and Jake Delhomme (pre-2009) both would hit a lot more targets in the chest in 100 throws than Vick would.

Bottom line: Not worth it. I'd rather the Panthers choose another QB via the draft in April, let DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart take whatever "Wildcat" snaps are available in 2010 and leave Vick to go tease some other team somewhere else.

What the "Charlotte Flight" NBA logo might look like

Local graphic designer Ryan Powers put together a "just-for-fun" logo for the "Charlotte Flight" -- one of the formerly proposed names for Charlotte's NBA franchise. Thanks to Ryan for letting us show it here.

I've gotten a lot of suggestions for what the Charlotte Bobcats' new nickname "should" be (I advocated that the Bobcats change their nickname in this column in Tuesday's newspaper and online).

I also received the logo above, which I thought was pretty cool. Ryan Powers, a local graphic designer, did this just for fun and sent it along. Charlotte Flight, if you remember, was the preferred choice of many when the Bobcats narrowed their original nickname list to 3 in 2003: Bobcats, Flight or Dragons.

This is all pie-in-the-sky hypothetical stuff, of course -- the Bobcats have made no apparent effort to change their nickname as of yet. Anything like that wouldn't happen until Michael Jordan officially owned the team (he hasn't been approved as the owner as of yet, although that is expected to be an easy process).

But if you have any comments on this logo and/or a proposed "Charlotte Flight" nickname -- which would also play off of Jordan's longtime association with air, jumping and so on -- post them below. And if you've got a better idea, feel free to post that, too.

Want your voice to be heard? Take our survey on the name change and other Bobcats issues.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

If Bobcats do change name, it may take years

My column today touches on a hot topic: Should the Charlotte Bobcats change their nickname now that Michael Jordan is in as controlling owner and Bob Johnson is out?

I advocate that it should be changed. Thousands of readers do as well -- our online poll has been running about 3-to-1 in favor of a name change.

However, it sounds like there's no way the Bobcats could change their name before the 2010-11 season, which is what I would prefer. I didn't have this information until my column started making the rounds this morning, but I now have heard from a source with knowledge of the situation. The source says that if the Bobcats did want to change the name (and there's no indication as yet that they have made such a plea), they would have to apply over TWO YEARS in advance of the change, and the change would also have to be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors.

Could an exception be granted to the "two-year-waiting-period" guideline? Well, I would imagine the NBA's Board of Governors can do whatever it wants to do in such matters. But given this new information, I would think it would be extremely difficult to get anything done for the 2010-11 season, and maybe not even for a season or two after that. Remember, Jordan isn't even officially approved as owner yet, although that should happen in a few weeks.

Bottom line: Sounds like the team is stuck with the name "Bobcats" for awhile. But Michael Jordan has been known to move mountains in the NBA, and if he wants a name change to happen, I think it will happen.

(2 p.m. Tuesday UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader Steve Simonetti for posting this really interesting article from several years ago regarding the way the Bobcats came up with the logo in the first place. Steve has also placed the link down below in the comments section, but I thought I'd paste it here as well -- check out the hilarious, rejected Bobcat logos as well).

One side note: I'd like to have a dollar for every reader who has, tongue-in-cheek, suggested the nickname "Jordanaires" to me (as a play on Bob Johnson naming the team "Bobcats).

For those who don't know -- and I didn't -- The Jordanaires have been around more than 50 years in various incarnations as a singing group. They are most well-known for singing backup harmonies on a number of Elvis Presley songs.

Monday, March 1, 2010

NFL reconsiders OT rules and it's about time

In case you missed it during the onslaught of news last week, the NFL is considering a change in its overtime format -- for playoff games only.

It's about time, I'd say. Past time, really. The league's "sudden-death" format has long been too dependent on a coin toss and also ensures that most overtime games are decided by a field-goal kicker, which is very anti-climactic compared to a touchdown. This was demonstrated most recently when Brett Favre never touched the ball in overtime in New Orleans' 31-28 win over Minnesota in the NFC championship game -- a fact that prompted me to hammer the NFL in a "Scott Says" blog post back in January.

Here's the Associated Press version of the "possible OT change" story:

An NFL spokesman says the league could change its overtime format for playoff games at a meeting next month.

Greg Aiello said Saturday that under the new format, both teams would get the ball at least once unless the first team with the ball scores a touchdown. If the first team with the ball makes a field goal and the other team ties the game, action would continue until a team scores again.

Under the current rules, the first team to score wins.

The competition committee will discuss the new concept with teams and players at league meetings March 21-24 in Orlando, Fla., when it could come to a vote. At least two-thirds of the teams would need to agree to the changes for new rules to be adopted.

The competition committee met with the players' union and players Thursday during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Discussion continued when the competition committee met with a general managers' advisory committee Friday.

The debate about the rule gained steam after the NFC Championship Game, when New Orleans beat Minnesota 31-28 in overtime and Brett Favre's Vikings never got the ball in the extra period. Under the proposed rule, Minnesota would have had another possession because it didn't allow a touchdown.

Overtime was adopted for regular-season games in 1974, and the sudden-death format allowed games to end in a tie if neither team scored in 15 minutes. Overtime for playoff games always has been sudden death.

I think the simpler way to say and do this would be to say: "First team to score six points in overtime wins."

If you win the coin toss and score a touchdown, fine. Game over. Or two field goals -- that's OK, too, because at least the other team gets a chance that way. But please, not another one of these "Go drive the ball 30 yards, bring out the kicker for the 40-yard field goal, and let's all go home."

I would also advocate having this as the rule for ALL NFL games, not just for playoff games. (Ultimately, I also think this rule unfortunately won't be in place for playoff games or any other NFL games 2010 -- the league's teams are notoriously resistant to change, and the 2/3 majority is always a sticking point. But we can always hope).