Friday, April 29, 2011

Should Clausen give Newton No.2?

Say what you want about Jimmy Clausen's deficiencies -- and we all have done that -- but politeness isn't one of them. I thought it was classy of Clausen to welcome Newton both in private conversations and publicly via Twitter. His Twitter message: "Congrats to Cam Newton. Welcome to the Panthers."

While Clausen can’t be happy about the situation, Clausen is determined to be a good teammate. Now whether that goes as far as giving up the No.2 jersey that Clausen holds and has rights to as a veteran but Newton wants (Newton said as much in Charlotte Friday, hoping he could get his college number in the NFL).

If I were Clausen, I probably wouldn’t let Newton have it without some compensation.

I wouldn’t give No.2 away, for sure. That seems a bit emasculating to me, given that the two will be involved in a head-to-head competition for the starting job. I might sell it to Newton, though (and then give the money to charity, an idea first suggested to me by my quick-witted colleague David Scott).

In that case, Newton would get what he wants, Clausen could save some face and a worthwhile charity could benefit with a check for what should at least cost a few thousand dollars. A win-win for everyone.

In other news, the Panthers drafted two defensive tackles you probably have never heard of unless you are a real draft junkie with their third-round picks Friday night. But South Florida's Terrell McClain and Stanford's Sione Fua fulfill a major need for an interior D-line that got pushed around too often in 2010. That was a major need for Carolina, so Friday was very much a "smashmouth" day for the Panthers after the splashy first day with the Cam Newton pick.

While McClain is a bit more athletic than Fua, who is mostly a run-stuffer, both are "space-eaters," said Panther coach Ron Rivera. He had a little hint of glee in his voice when he said it, too.

Kurt Warner doesn't like Newton and other notes

Here are seven firsthand notes from New York after I watched the NFL draft’s first round live from Radio City Music Hall (and here's the column I wrote from the Big Apple, too):

1. Cam Newton turned on the charm Thursday night in every interview and said all the right things after being drafted No.1 by Carolina. After not talking to me Wednesday, he answered my question and everyone else’s Thursday. Newton used the line about wanting to take the Panthers from “worst to first” in several different interviews, and he said repeatedly that his first priority was to get to Charlotte and get to work.
The Panthers sure need him – Newton accounted for 50 total TDs last season (30 pass, 20 run). That’s almost three times more than the Panthers, who scored an NFL-low total of 17 TDs last year.

2. It was a great day for Newton and his family – I met some of them in New York and they seem very close. What Newton will have to prove to everyone is how he’s going to do long-term. He knows that, saying of his critics Thursday: “I understand that everybody is not just going to stop and just say, ‘That’s Cam. He’s the No.1 pick. And we can leave him alone.’ If anything, the floodgates have opened officially.”
I still wonder how Cam will react the first time he throws three interceptions and loses a game – we haven’t seen that reaction from him yet in college, because he never lost at Auburn. But it’s coming, and how he reacts to adversity is going to be very important.

3. One of those Newton critics will be Kurt Warner, who said on the NFL Network Thursday night that he wasn’t sure Newton would be “effective” as a pro. Warner said that while the Auburn quarterback was “dynamic” that Newton had “a lot of work to do” and that he wasn’t at all sure Newton could win a championship.
“Franchise quarterbacks have to be able to play in the pocket,” said Warner, who ran the ball about once a season himself. “He’s a long way from that right now.”
Another critic? ESPN's Gene Wojo (well, that's what we in the media call him), who said the Panthers "overreached" by choosing Newton but that they just don't know it yet.

4. I used this quote from former NFL great Eddie George in my column from the draft that was published in Friday's newspaper, but it’s worth repeating. George told me this in New York about Newton Thursday, several hours before Newton became the No.1 pick: “Cam is a beast. He’s got that Magic Johnson smile, and his athleticism speaks for itself. But now the biggest test comes, because everybody is going to want to ride his coattails, to be in his entourage. How will he handle that? Is he studying film, or is he out in the clubs? Because if he focuses on his craft and hones his skills, he could one day be the best quarterback in the NFL.”

5. I was surprised by the utter venom directed toward NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by fans at the draft. Before announcing any picks, Goodell came out to hold a moment of silence for the tornado tragedy in the South.
Goodell couldn’t get to that moment for several minutes, though, as fans booed him over and over and then struck up a “We Want Football! We Want Football!” chant.
“I hear you,” Goodell said repeatedly. Then he tried, “Me, too.” Then he finally asked them to quiet down, and it didn’t work at first. Finally, it did. But it had to send a pretty good message to the commissioner about how angry fervent fans are that a new collective bargaining agreement has yet to be reached.

6. Denver coach John Fox is really going to like Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, whom the Broncos took at No.2 overall. Miller is not only a superb player, but seems like a really standup guy – Fox’s sort of person.

7. I guess it was a smart move by former Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers not to attend the draft, or else it would have been pretty awkward for him. Bowers, who was once considered a potential No.1 pick but has an injury concern (a knee), wasn’t picked at all in the 32-pick first round. Neither was Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. UNC defensive end Robert Quinn (picked No.14 by St. Louis) wasn’t in New York, either.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Panthers make big news in Big Apple

It's relatively calm today in New York, as the NFL prepares for tonight's 8 p.m. draft and everyone finds different ways to wait around.

I took a walk through the streets of New York -- have long loved the place, like so many others. And in Times Square, you know where they have the huge news crawls that have letters about 10 feet high?

Two of them were scrolling simultaneously in one place -- one with news, one with sports. On the top it said: "Storms kill more than 200 in the South."

At the same time, scrolling across the bottom, it read: "Sources: Panthers narrow possible No.1 draft picks to four."

I'm not equating the news value of those two items by any means, but I did find it startling that they were scrolling across the board at the same time. The Panthers, for once, are big news in New York by virtue of holding that No.1 pick.

As for Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus (the four finalists, although I still think it will be Newton) and the rest of the 20 or so NFL draft prospects here, some have visited a children's hospital today. Many will enjoy an early reception at the NFL Players Association headquarters hotel with their families from 2-4 p.m.

Then they start drifting into Radio City Music Hall around 6 p.m. or so, walking he "red carpet" along with some former NFL greats like Barry Sanders and Jim Taylor.

The draft itself is scheduled to start at 8 p.m., and the Panthers' No.1 pick will be made shortly after that -- unless, of course, they trade it. Most media members in and out of New York still expect them to pick Newton, who was the subject of my somewhat controversial blog post yesterday.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cam, Cecil Newton and Deion in the Big Apple

I have spent an interesting “Day before the Draft” in New York so far, talking with Cecil Newton and Deion Sanders about Cam Newton but not talking to Newton himself – who strangely turned an NFL “media availability” session into a “media unavailability” session. (My full column about the day is here).

Let me explain that a little. My alarm went off at 3:45 this morning so I could pack and catch a 6:15 a.m. flight from Charlotte to New York. My goal: go to an NFL event featuring about a dozen of the top draft prospects, who were going to play flag football and promote physical activity with a bunch of New York public-school youngsters before submitting to questions from the media.

All went well in terms of the travel, and I arrived before the event began at 9:45 a.m. at Chelsea Waterside Park in Manhattan. Then Newton got there and some other big-time draft prospects like Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Newton, though, was the star. The kids followed him around like the Pied Piper. He delighted them by playing quarterback for both sides in their touch football game, making sure to spread the ball around to everyone. He threw the football some with his 12-year-old brother, who was participating in the clinic and has quite an arm, too.

While the clinic was going on, I spotted Cecil Newton in the crowd. Cam’s controversial father couldn’t have been nicer once he found out I was from Charlotte – he was curious about our city, as I was about his family – but steadfastly refused to discuss the ongoing NCAA probe involving himself and his son.
Fair enough. We talked for 10 minutes or so about Cam’s charismatic personality, his work ethic (“He can squeeze 10 hours of work into an eight-hour day,” Cecil Newton said) and his readiness for being the No.1 pick if that’s what happens Thursday (not surprisingly, Cecil said his son was very ready).

Then it came time for the “media availability” session. I’ve been to several of these before, and the NFL always makes whomever it invites to the draft available to reporters and broadcasters for about 20-30 minutes.

Every other draft prospect I saw stuck around and patiently answered questions – except Cam. He bolted toward an exit after signing a few autographs. I ran him down, told him I was from The Charlotte Observer and asked him to answer just a couple of questions. (The excellent broadcaster Mike Solarte from News 14, who is also here reporting on the draft, was right behind me with a cameraman in tow).

Cam said quickly, “I’m not doing any interviews.” Then he hopped in the backseat of a car that was revved up and ready to go.

Hmmm. It was very odd. I talked to one reporter who’s been going to these “Day Before the Draft” NFL media availabilities for about 15 years, and he said Newton is the only guy he remembers blowing off interviews.

(AFTERNOON UPDATE: I talked to an NFL source, who says that Cam Newton and his family did not accept any money or airline tickets from the NFL -- as a number of prospects have not this year, instead preferring to let the NFLPA pay for their trips in a show of solidarity. So Newton did not feel compelled to play by the NFL "rules" in terms of doing interviews Wednesday, the source said. On the other hand, he was apparently the only one of the top draft prospects who did not accept a nickel from the NFL who came out and played with the kids -- and you can bet those kids loved seeing him there and didn't care whether he did interviews or not).

Not that Newton needs to talk to me to prove anything – he’s already made his case for the Panthers. But it does make you wonder what he will be like in the NFL when he just threw three interceptions and it’s time to face the music. I still believe Carolina should pick him at No.1, but it was somewhat jarring.

In any case, then I found Deion Sanders, who has counseled Newton some during the past several months. Neon Deion said he believed Newton had been unfairly “ridiculed” and that the “hate” exhibited toward him had hurt him. He also said quarterbacks in general are “fragile dudes.”

But Deion also said he believed Newton would eventually win a Super Bowl as an NFL QB and that the Panthers will draft him at No.1, in part because Newton “puts butts in seats,” as Deion termed it.

I’ll have more from my interviews with Deion Sanders and Cecil Newton in Thursday’s newspaper and online, but wanted you to get a little flavor of it here.

AP Photo:  Cam Newton, right, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell participate in an NFL predraft event, in New York, Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Parcells likes Newton "very much"

Bill Parcells added his name to the growing number of Cam Newton fans Tuesday night in an ESPN draft special, calling Newton the best of the QB bunch in this year's draft and saying he liked Newton "very much."

Parcells noted, however, that less than 10 percent of the more than 60 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the past 30 NFL drafts had become "blue chip" QBs (by his definition). And, he said, more than half had washed out after "totally nondescript" careers.

I wrote my column for Wednesday's newspaper and online about the pressure on rookie Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, who will forever be linked with whatever the Panthers do with the No.1 pick in Thursday's draft. (I want them to pick Newton, as I've already written).

Parcells said something apropos about that pressure on Rivera, GM Marty Hurney and others in the draft room Thursday when he noted about any team that picks a QB early:

"You're going to have to give the guy a chance, and you're going to have to live with the result. And if it's no good, probably someone else is going to get to live with the next result. It probably won't be you."

Note to readers: Watch for my on-location draft reports from New York starting Wednesday online and starting Thursday in the Charlotte Observer. I will be posting observations and news both on this blog and occasionally on Twitter (@Scott_Fowler), and of course we will have much more draft coverage from Charlotte (don't miss the Observer's annual "Top 100" Thursday).

Monday, April 25, 2011

A lesson from '98 NFL draft

I had to move from one desk to another one way across the newsroom a couple of months ago, and in doing so I did some housecleaning and threw away a lot of stuff. For some reason, though, I kept “Mel Kiper Jr’s 1998 draft report.” I wanted to thumb through it, 13 years later, on the eve of this 2011 draft and see how it stacked up.

After looking at it awhile, I realized again why NFL GMS and others who draft players for a living have such a tough job. Just like the upcoming 2011 draft will be, the one in 1998 was littered with both busts and breakout players.

Kiper had Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth graded the highest overall in that draft, ahead of Peyton Manning (No.3). Wadsworth was plagued by injuries and never made the Pro Bowl; Manning is in the discussion as the best NFL quarterback ever.

Kiper’s top RB that year? Curtis Enis of Penn State (who retired at age 24 due to injuries and never had a 1,000-yard season) was No.1, well ahead of players like Fred Taylor and Ahman Green.

Randy Moss (who the Panthers could have drafted but instead took DE Jason Peter, another huge bust) was only Kiper’s 24th-highest rated player (behind WR Kevin Dyson at the position). Moss was taken No.21. Kiper was more accurate on Peter, whom the Panthers took at No.14 in a major mistake but whom Kiper had rated as only the 41st-best player in the 1998 NFL draft.

The point of all this? Kiper’s board generally is not far off most NFL teams’ draft boards. You are taking huge risks in any NFL draft, but especially when you have to make a very high draft pick.

Cam Newton is a monstrous risk, yes, but so is anyone else the Panthers would pick at No.1. Because if your No.1 pick is not a multiple Pro Bowler, you messed up. He can’t just be a good player. He has to be great.

Again, I am advocating the Panthers pick Newton – I think the upside is so high that the enormous risk is worth taking. He could be Ryan Leaf (No.4 overall in Kiper’s 1998 book), or he could be Manning, or far more likely, he will be somewhere in between those two. But because Newton has so much potential, it would be a mistake not to draft him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Panthers' schedule: Of course it's hard

I have gotten a kick out of the folks I've heard complaining that the Carolina Panthers' 2011 schedule (if it is ever played) looks hard.

Of course it looks hard! The Panthers went 2-14 in 2010! They were the worst team in the NFL!

So unless the Panthers somehow had gotten an exception and had gotten to schedule a few college teams (too bad the Charlotte 49ers don't start until 2013), this was going to be a difficult schedule, because everyone was better than the Panthers.

That said, I think it could have been worse. The Panthers actually will have a chance in Week 1 (at Arizona) to start 1-0 under new coach Ron Rivera. Then they've got a couple of home games in a row (Green Bay and Jacksonville). So if they just have one good week out of three, they at least might be able to start 1-2 before an admittedly brutal October kicks in.

And hey, if it all goes south, at least they're home for Christmas (Tampa, Dec.24th) and in New Orleans for New Year's Eve (the season finale is Jan.1 at New Orleans).

Woody! Woody! Woody!

Woody Durham, the beloved announcer of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 40 years, officially retired Wednesday at a press conference in Chapel Hill. The sport – and Tar Heel nation -- is poorer for it.

Like a regional version of Madonna or Prince, Woody has long been known by only one name by Tar Heel fans. His first year as “Voice of the Tar Heels” came in 1971, and the first UNC basketball team he did the play-by-play for went to the Final Four on the coattails of Bob McAdoo.

Tar Heel fans have long known – and sometimes gently mimicked – Woody’s vocal style. Woody loved working in the names of athletes’ hometowns, once telling me the reason he always said someone was “a soph-o-more from Waynesboro” or a “junior from Staunton, Va.” was because someone in Waynesboro or Staunton was listening and it would make them feel proud all over again of their hometown.

Meticulously prepared, Woody was a joy to listen to for both football and basketball. It was comforting to hear his voice on the radio -- it felt like a constant, like a little something that was OK in the world no matter what else was going wrong.

Woody was also a walking UNC Wikipedia. I once asked him to write a foreword for a book I wrote on the history of Tar Heel basketball, along with 30 more minutes of his time to help me along with several of the chapters I was writing.

I called Woody at the appointed time. He had notes at the ready, and we ended up talking for two hours and 15 minutes. He also wrote and revised his first-person foreword carefully, and it ended up being the best part of that book. It started like this: “I admit it. I am extremely fortunate. In the spring of 1971, I got an opportunity to do something that would define my career in broadcasting.”

Woody has done things like that for journalism students, reporters and countless others just wanting “a couple of minutes of his time” over 40 years. He has emceed countless charity events. My father-in-law, along with countless other Carolina fans, has long kept the TV sound down and Woody turned up in his living room for UNC games.

Woody certainly he deserves to leave whenever he wants to, on his own terms. And I'm glad he's doing that. But I sure will miss him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A sure 2012 title for UNC? Well, no

Harrison Barnes' decision to return to UNC today certainly makes the Tar Heels the consensus No.1 choice in the early polls for the 2011-12 season. Barnes joined Tyler Zeller and John Henson in skipping out on the NBA for at least one more year, meaning the Tar Heels' entire starting 5 will return from a Final Eight team. And UNC will add James McAdoo, who had 26 points in the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game in Charlotte Saturday night and would start for 95 percent of all college teams right now.

Does all that assure a national title? Of course not. But it certainly makes it more likely -- this does feel a lot like early 2008, when Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green all came back for another run at a title and got one a year later.

But remember, UNC also had a team in 1984 that included Michael Jordan (in his final year), as well as Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and Kenny Smith, and that team didn't win it all. In the NCAA's one-and-done postseason format, anything can happen. And other teams aren't standing still, either -- Kentucky had four players in that all-star game in Charlotte Saturday night, and several will contribute immediately.

Still, this was great news for all Tar Heel fans. The UNC second string for 2011-12 would be quite a team in itself, and Roy Williams is going to have a nice problem trying to distribute minutes fairly for this bunch. A friend of mine suggests that the next Tar Heel team may have as much talent as any team in the state since the 1992 Duke Blue Devils -- and he might be right.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rivers, McAdoo and the rest

I covered the Jordan Brand Classic high school all-star game Saturday in Charlotte and enjoyed most of it, although the lack of defense could get a little annoying at times.

This column contains my impressions of Duke signee Austin Rivers, UNC signee James McAdoo (the game's co-MVP, with 26 points and 14 rebounds) and a few other notables.

I am out of the office until April 25th so won't be contributing to this blog much during that time... Thanks, as always, for reading.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A peek at UNC's basketball future

I wrote my column today on James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, who are supposed to be the two jewels in the next UNC basketball recruiting class.

Both could have a significant impact next season -- McAdoo inside as a backup for John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Hairston outside as a guy who can stretch the defense. Roy Williams has compared McAdoo to a Marvin Williams type -- Williams played only one year for Carolina, the 2005 championship season, before going pro and becoming a top-5 NBA pick.

How much of a dent Hairston makes will partly be determined by whether Harrison Barnes comes back to school or not. If he doesn't, the Tar Heels will have a serious need for another 3-point shooter. Even if Barnes does, Hairston will play some right away.

I'll be posting more thoughts on those two, as well as on Duke signee Austin Rivers and several others, after tonight's 8 p.m. Jordan Brand Classic game.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The most interesting thing MJ said was....

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan said a lot of things Wednesday in an hour-long session with Observer reporters and editors. Some of it he had said previously -- he's committed to Charlotte, he thinks he can lure a top-flight free agent here and he's willing to spend whatever money it takes to make Charlotte one of the Eastern Conference's better teams.

All of that sounds good and I certainly believe Jordan believes it. But of course the proof will be in the pudding, and that's awhile away.

What I found most interesting in Jordan's comments? The fact that he thinks Gerald Henderson can "very well be an All-Star in two years."

Now MJ has a tendency to get optimistic about the Bobcats -- remember, he said before the season he thought the 2010-11 team could go "deep" into the playoffs. But Jordan certainly knows shooting guards, and Henderson had a real burst in the second half of this season.

I still remember watching Henderson score the final seven points of the game to beat Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, and he had 32 points in another game recently. He has been scoring close to 20 regularly. Henderson has improved his outside shot dramatically, and the days when Larry Brown buried him deep on the bench seem a long way away. And he can get to the basket with impunity.

Still, an all-star? Here's some of what MJ said about Henderson:

"I think his confidence, in terms of taking a game-winning shot, is a plus. You can't teach that... He has the skill level. You see the explosiveness. You see the signs. Now he has to show that desire to improve and work at it and we as an orgranization have to provide the motivation to do that. He could very well be an All-Star in two years. Not now, but he could be."

So if MJ is right... Let's say Henderson becomes one of the best shooting guards in the East. And MJ also is able to lure one top-flight free agent in the next couple of years (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, someone of that caliber).

Well, then you've got something. Then, you've got a championship contender.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CP3 and MJ? Now that would be a pair

Point guard Chris Paul can't opt out of his contract with the New Orleans Hornets for another year -- and there's no guarantee CP3 would do so even then.

But the North Carolina native will provoke a whole new flurry of rumors after what he said today in a phone interview with The Associated Press when asked if he might like to play for Michael Jordan and his Charlotte Bobcats.

To quote the AP story, which you can find in full here:

"It would definitely be something to think about," the New Orleans guard said Tuesday when asked about the potential to sign with the Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats in 2012. "But right now it's all about trying to win a championship here with the Hornets."

In a phone interview with The Associated Press to promote the Jordan Brand Classic high school basketball All-Star game on Saturday in Charlotte, Paul alternated praise for Jordan while stressing that his immediate concern is the Hornets' impending first-round playoff series.

Paul has had some issues with the Hornets -- mostly related to how serious they are about winning -- but those came before New Orleans' run to the playoff this season. Paul allegedly said in a wedding toast last summer that it'd be great if he, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire all ended up as New York Knicks (and now the other 2 are already there).

But Paul coming to Charlotte? And as a free agent, so the team didn't have to mortgage the future to trade for him? Now that would be the best of all possible worlds for Jordan, whose regime so far has been marked by cost-cutting, not by big-time free agent signing.

I'd love to see it, and it sounds like Paul is not adverse to the idea. A whole lot would have to happen between now and the summer of 2012 for it to actually occur, but for Bobcat fans disappointed with this season that ends Wednesday night with a meaningless home game against Atlanta, it's a nice dream.

Panthers should take Cam Newton

I wrote my column today on why Carolina should use its No.1 overall draft choice on Cam Newton.

I started thinking seriously about this No.1 pick about three months ago, when The Observer sent me to the Orange Bowl to take a firsthand look at Stanford QB Andrew Luck (who then was thought to be the likely No.1 pick as long as he came out of Stanford early, which of course he didn't). I loved Luck, and I still think he has Peyton Manning potential. That would have been Carolina's ideal scenario, but he stayed in school. Good for him, bad for Carolina.

After that, I bounced around. I had fallen in love with the idea of Luck coming to Carolina, and so I wasn't really sure what the Panthers should do next when that option was taken away. I used to think Newton's teammate, DT Nick Fairley, would be the best selection. I went through a time where I thought trading down might be the best option for Carolina (and this certainly remains a viable one).

But I've finally settled on Newton, because he plays the most important position on the field, I don't think Jimmy Clausen is the answer, Newton is incredibly athletic and I see Michael Vick's (on-field) potential in him.

That's where I'd go with this pick. Best player, most important position, Heisman Trophy winner, national championship winner. It doesn't seem that complicated, does it?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Howard in Charlotte? And other notes

The Observer's Rick Bonnell has a very interesting blog today about an incident last night with Orlando center Dwight Howard, who apparently (in a teasing way, but still) referred to the possibility of him becoming a Bobcat one day.

Now wouldn't that be something? I wonder if Michael Jordan would spend what it takes to get him. Howard is the best center in the game right now -- he was chosen with the No.1 overall pick in 2004, right before the Bobcats picked Emeka Okafor at No.2. Surround him with a bunch of complementary players and one really good one and you've got a title contender every year.

So it's worth exploring, for sure, and I'd love to see it. Howard sounds like he was just messing around last night, but behind a lot of jokes there's a grain of truth. I don't see him spending his entire career in Orlando -- that just doesn't happen much anymore.

A couple of other notes:

-- The Bobcats are officially out of the playoff hunt now after losing to Orlando (but much more respectably than those horrid losses to Washington and Cleveland).

-- Gerald Henderson has looked more and more like a player over the past month. It was only a matter of time before he had a breakout game like his 32-point performance Wednesday.

-- My colleague Tom Sorensen is at the Masters this weekend. Watch for his reports from there, as long as those from the legendary Greens (Ron Jr. and Ron Sr.), who are two of the best golf writers in America. I love reading all their stuff.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Greatest sports moment in NC history is....

I wrote a column about the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame trying to determine what the best sports moment in N.C. history is. (They want your vote at

It's an admirable effort, although somewhat awkward since they don't differentiate between team and individual performances (or even a meeting, in one case). But a panel of experts did narrow an original list of 22 down to five, and you're voting (once each, please) on the final five.

Here's the original list of 22 moments (which also left out some great stuff, of course, including Michael Jordan's shot to beat Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA title game and Duke's 2010 thrilling win over Butler in the NCAA final).

I have put in bold-face the 5 finalists that the hall of fame named. Most of them can be found on YouTube, of course, including Jim Beatty's four-minute mile in 1962 and highlights of the various basketball games.

What do you think is the best moment of these? Or would you pick something else not even on the list?

The N.C. Sports Hall of Fame's list of 22 greatest sports moments in the state's history (the five finalists are bold-faced)

October 16, 1895: College football’s first forward pass, thrown by North Carolina in a game against Georgia.
January 1, 1942: The Rose Bowl football game is played in Durham less than a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Oregon State defeated Duke, 12-7.
July 1, 1946: N.C. State hires Everett Case, the driving force behind the Tobacco Road basketball phenomenon.
September 26, 1948: North Carolina defeats Texas, considered the nation’s best college football team, with Choo-Choo Justice playing a prominent role.
May 8, 1953: The Atlantic Coast Conference is voted into existence with seven original institutional members.
March 8, 1957: North Carolina maintained its perfect record with a controversial win over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
March 23, 1957: North Carolina defeated Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain to win the NCAA basketball championship with a 32-0 record.
February 10, 1962: North Carolina’s Jim Beatty became the first man to break the 4-minute indoor mile (3:58.9) in Los Angeles.
March 2, 1974: North Carolina’s basketball team trailed Duke by 8 with 17 seconds left, and won dramatically in overtime, 96-92.
March 9, 1974: No. 1-ranked N.C. State defeated Maryland in “the greatest college basketball game ever played” for an NCAA berth.
March 23, 1974: N.C. State snapped UCLA’s 38-game post-season streak in double overtime to advance to the national title game.
April 4, 1983: In what some regard as the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, N.C. State beat Houston for the national title.
July 4, 1984: Richard Petty won his 200th and final automobile race beating Cale Yarborough by one foot at the finish line at Daytona.
March 30, 1991: Duke upset UNLV en route to the NCAA crown the year after losing to the Runnin’ Rebels by 30 points in the title game.
March 28, 1992: Christian Laettner hit a dramatic turn-around shot just before the buzzer and Duke beat Kentucky, 104-103, in the East finals.
March 15, 1997: Dean Smith passed Adolph Rupp for his 877th career victory, beating Colorado in the East Region in Winston-Salem.
January 18, 2004: Just two seasons after a 1-15 record, the Carolina Panthers defeated Philadelphia and advanced to the Super Bowl
February 13, 2006: Greensboro’s Joey Cheek became one of North Carolina’s most unlikely heroes winning the gold in Olympic speed skating.
June 19, 2006: The Carolina Hurricanes beat Edmonton, 3-1, in a dramatic seventh game in Raleigh to bring the Stanley Cup to the state.
March 24, 2007: Anthony Atkinson scored 10 points in 39 seconds to lead Barton College to the NCAA Division II basketball crown.
September 1, 2007: Appalachian State shocked the college football world with a 34-32 victory over fifth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor.
April 6, 2009: North Carolina’s basketball team won its fifth national championship beating Michigan State, 89-72, in Detroit.

Worst title game I've ever seen

Don't know about you, but I wish I had a couple of hours of my life back after watching that Connecticut-Butler cringe-fest Monday night.

Congrats to UConn -- I guess -- after surviving, 53-41, to win the NCAA men's title. But what an ugly, awful game. To watch Butler shoot the ball last night was to watch Roseanne Barr butcher the national anthem. Or like watching a 0-0 soccer game or a 3-0 NFL game with 14 turnovers.

Basketball is predicated on making shots. Neither team could make them in the first half, and only UConn could in the second. The fact that Butler didn't score a single point inside the paint for the game's first 33 minutes still blows my mind.

UConn's defense was great, and it got the Bulldogs panicking after about blocked shot No.6. But geez... 53-41? I've seen a lot of first halves where that was the score.

This game was a giant letdown in a lot of ways, and I didn't really have a dog in the fight. I would have liked to have seen Butler win just because I'd like to see a mid-major win one at some point, but more than that, I would have liked to have seen a game on the order of the Duke-Butler thriller from 2010.

No such luck. At one point, Butler was 8-for-50 from the field. The Bulldogs' story no longer felt like "Hoosiers." It felt like a bad horror film.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bobcats blow one, and I think they're done in playoff chase

The Charlotte Bobcats' playoff hopes are still technically alive, but I believe they officially ended Sunday night with a 97-91 home loss to a pretty terrible Washington team.

Washington entered the game 2-35 on the road this season -- 2-35!! -- and yet now has its third win courtesy of a Bobcats team that couldn't keep the Wizards out of the paint. Washington outscored Charlotte 58-36 in the paint, which allowed the Bobcats to waste good performances by D.J. Augustin (21 points, seven assists) and Matt Carroll (a season-high 26, including 17 in a dazzling fourth quarter for him and a bad fourth quarter for everyone else). Washington big man Andray Blatche (25 points, 17 rebounds) absolutely destroyed the Bobcats.

This isn't a huge surprise, of course -- Charlotte handcuffed itself this season with the Gerald Wallace trade. But to lose to the Wizards?! Charlotte had a great chance to gain a game on Indiana Sunday (the Pacers lost to New Orleans) but instead stayed two behind with six Bobcat games to go (and four for Indiana).

I write in my column for Monday's newspaper that the Bobcats would need to go 5-1 or 6-0 to surpass the Pacers (who also hold the tiebreaker over Charlotte), but that it ain't going to happen. No way this team can go on a run like that, not with games against Orlando and Miami remaining. They would need a near-total collapse by the Pacers and some sustained great play over the next nine days -- it's just too much to ask.

No, this loss sealed it in my opinion. There's realistic way to catch Indiana now. Charlotte might make it close for a couple of days and get a few more wins -- especially if Stephen Jackson returns from his hamstring injury this week as he hopes to -- but it's just too much ground to make up.