Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You gotta be kidding -- the Bobcats lose again

This really shouldn't be a great surprise to anyone, but what a downer. The Charlotte Bobcats lost out on the Anthony Davis sweepstakes Wednesday night, as New Orleans beat the odds and got the No.1 pick.

The Bobcats will choose No.2, but the sick look on general manager Rich Cho's face when Charlotte was announced on ESPN as runnerup instead of winner of the NBA lottery told the story. Pick No.1 -- Davis -- was the place everyone desperately wanted to be. No.2, No.3, No.4 -- and those were the Bobcats' only other possibilities -- are all a bit of a crapshoot.

But this is why it shouldn't be a surprise -- even with the worst record by percentage in NBA history and a 7-59 record, Charlotte only had a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. That was better than anyone else's chances, but it still left a 75 percent chance of no No.1 in Charlotte.

And to lose to New Orleans? That's tough. That's where the original Charlotte Hornets moved to begin with, that's the city that holds the best team in the NFC South (the New Orleans Saints), and that's the team that won three times more games (21, and in a harder conference) than Charlotte did last season.

Was the fix in? Did the NBA want to give the No.1 pick to New Orleans? Was that part of the deal when new owner Tom Benson -- who already owns the Saints -- bought the team from the league?

Well, I don't believe in conspiracy theories. So I think not. But this will certainly fuel the ones who like to ponder grassy knolls. And the NBA did make a bad PR move by having Adam Silver do this rather than David Stern -- you want Stern to be there, just to give the conspiracy theorists a bit less to chew on.

So who to pick at No.2? Without studying it a whole lot, I'd say the Bobcats should choose Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, which would mean you insert him in the lineup immediately and try to develop Bismack Biyombo as a center instead of a power forward. I love Robinson's toughness and relentlessness. But I reserve the right to change my mind on that between now and June 28th, when the real draft happens.

In the meantime, though, the Bobcats' coaching job just got less attractive (the team will have a new coach in place before the actual draft). Owner Michael Jordan has to feel like he just lost Game 7 of an NBA Final.

And Bobcat fans, once again, are stuck feeling like the big one got away. This could have been a transformative night for the Bobcats.

Instead, it was a colossal disappointment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Daughter of Dale Earnhardt gets married

Taylor Earnhardt and her husband, Brandon Putnam, at their wedding Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Christian Oth Studios).

I received an interesting email tonight from a New York PR firm that represents Taylor Earnhardt, the youngest of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr's four children.

Taylor Nicole Earnhardt -- the only child Dale Sr. had with his third wife Teresa Earnhardt -- got married Saturday in the Mooresville area. See above for the picture the PR firm sent out and below for the text of the wedding annnouncement. Her father, Dale, died in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. Taylor, who has always loved horses and is an excellent rodeo competitor, was 12 at the time.

Taylor Nicole Earnhardt and Brandon Samuel Putnam were married on the 26th of May, 2012 at the Earnhardt Estate in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Earnhardt, 23, is a professional rodeo competitor and devotes herself to supporting the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, a charitable organization that is dedicated to children, education and wildlife preservation. She is also the Director of Equestrian Development for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. She is currently studying in equine business, reproduction and training to use in her future endeavors.

She is the daughter of Dale and Teresa Earnhardt of Mooresville, North Carolina. Her father, seven-time NASCAR Champion Dale Earnhardt, was the co-founder of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. Her mother Teresa is the co-founder and current CEO of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated based in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Putnam, 25, is the owner of Hi Tech Incorporated, a grading and trucking company in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also competes in rodeo professionally and is an avid hunter. He graduated from Central Piedmont Community College and received a degree in Fire Science. He is the son of Sam and Julie Putnam of Charlotte, North Carolina. His father Sam is a retired landscape and grading company owner and CEO, and his mother Julie is an accountant and financial manager for several grading and land care companies in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The PR firm later sent out more details about the ceremony, if you're into that sort of thing (i.e. men, pass this along to the females in your family, because it's not exactly a Cam Newton-vs-Alex-Smith feud -- see previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about). Here's the second PR release that followed, presented without comment:

Taylor Nicole Earnhardt, daughter of Teresa Earnhardt and 7-time NASCAR Champion, Dale Earnhardt was married on Saturday evening to Mr. Brandon Samuel Putnam in Mooresville, North Carolina.

The southern elegance inspired wedding was designed by celebrity event planner David Tutera and took place at the Earnhardt’s private estate. The couple exchanged their vows in a romantic outdoor evening ceremony, in a lakeside arbor nestled under the trees with stained glass panels suspended from surrounding trees.

The bride arrived at the ceremony in a horse-drawn carriage that was a gift from her father when she was a little girl. Taylor wore a customized lace wedding gown by Rivini and walked down the aisle to “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts, performed by an eight-piece string ensemble. After saying their “I Do’s,” the couple rode to their reception in a vintage 1946 cherry red pickup truck that was from Dale Earnhardt's Classic Car Collection.

Taylor and Brandon’s guests were escorted by horse and carriage to the reception space on the estate, where they celebrated under a rustic open air pavilion that had been constructed especially for the wedding.

Guests were treated to hand-rolled cigars, a fine whiskey tasting bar and a bespoke perfume bar, along with entertainment by country artist Jared Ashley.

The custom pavilion where the reception was held is now available to the public to rent for weddings and other special events. The unique space has a rustic, southern elegant feel, adorned with specially-commissioned antiqued stained glass windows by local artists, vaulted ceilings, custom woodwork and crystal chandeliers. The newly constructed space opens up to a back terrace overlooking a lake and is the only open air structure of its kind that includes heated flooring, so guests can dance the night away no matter the weather.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cam Newton better than Alex Smith and Smith has to know it

I've been entertained this week with the sniping going on between the Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.

It began with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith saying this:

"I could absolutely care less on yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what, you're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That's great. You're not winning, though."

OK, we'll take that point by point in a minute. But Smith's quote inspired this from Panther linebacker Jon Beason as he defended his quarterback on Twitter:

"Alex smith, don't hate on Cam (because) your stats would've gotten u cut if Peyton decided to come 2 San Fran. Truth b told. That's after a 13-3 yr.”

And then this from San Francisco LB Patrick Willis, also via Twitter: "Wins are Wins I stand with My Qb Alex Smith and all my teammates. I can't wait for the season.”

All right, back to Smith. He had a fine 2011 season as the 49ers went 13-3 and beat New Orleans in the playoffs before losing. He threw an NFL-low five interceptions. He accounted for a total of 19 TDs (17 pass, two rush).

Newton, meanwhile, accounted for 35 TDs (21 pass, 14 rush). He also threw 17 interceptions -- that's the one stat he really must improve in 2012.

The obvious: Smith didn't have to throw much, especially in the second half, because the 49ers' defense was fearsome. Newton did. But it wasn't like he was in the "no-huddle" in the second half every game -- with a few exceptions, most Panther losses were close and the Panthers were running their regular offense until late in the fourth quarter. Newton, in fact, only threw for about 55 yards per game more than Smith on average in 2011.

Smith, 28, obviously is sensitive about his reputation as a "game manager" type quarterback, but that's what he is. He did a nice job of it in 2011. But if you polled 30 GMS (outside of SF's and Carolina's) which player they'd want to build a team right now, I bet at least 90 percent of them would go with Newton.

Newton does so many more things than Smith. He only had three 300-yard passing games last season, actually, not a "lot," as Smith proclaimed, but he also makes so many more plays with his feet. Give Cam the 49ers defense and he would go 13-3, too -- or better.

The only thing I believe Smith does better than Newton right now is avoid the interception. But that hasn't been the case throughout his career -- in the six years he has played, he has a modest TD/interception ratio of 68/58. (Here are Smith's stats).

As for Beason's Peyton Manning reference, he's right on (although Smith wouldn't have been cut, as he was a free agent at the time -- he just wouldn't have been a 49er anymore). It's not close which one of those guys is better. And Manning is better than Newton, too, assuming he's healthy again. Manning is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer tonight; Newton has many more productive years to go before he gets to that point.

So pity the oversensitive Smith, who unnecessarily brought Newton into this fray to bolster his own argument.

To paraphrase that old quote from a political debate: We know Cam Newton in the Carolinas, Alex. And you're no Cam Newton.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Hall of Fame picks were very Rusty

In Wednesday's newspaper and online, I advocated five driving pioneers of NASCAR to comprise the fourth class at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

Then the Hall of Fame voters went out and did what they wanted to, which was to induct only one of my favorite five (Herb Thomas) although, to be fair, they also did put in my honorable-mention choice (Buck Baker).

My other four choices, were not selected. They were Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Wendell Scott and Tim Flock. The Hall of Fame panel instead went with Rusty Wallace, Leonard Wood and Cotton Owens to join Thomas and Baker. Fireball lost a tiebreaker to Baker for the fifth and final spot, so that at least means it is almost certain Roberts will go in with Class No.5 a year from now.

I have no argument with Wallace, Owens and Wood going in at some point. They are all Hall-worthy. Now I do wish the Wood brothers had been a joint entry and had both gone in as a team last year (when Glen Wood got the nod). The brothers who revolutionized the pit stop have always been linked together, and it made little sense to separate these two fine owners last year.

As for Owens, he was a fine driver and owner. And it's hard to criticize someone from my hometown of Spartanburg (he's the third from Sparkle City in the 20-man Hall now, joining David Pearson and Bud Moore). And Wallace certainly deserved entry -- although I wouldn't have put him in this year -- with 55 wins in NASCAR's premier series and the 1989 series title.

But my point was this, and I stand by it: NASCAR's hall of fame continues to be under-represented in drivers from its earliest, wildest era.

Turner, Roberts and Flock were great characters and great winners. Scott deserves entry for persevering through all he had to deal with as NASCAR's first -- and still only -- African-American winner at the highest level.

Thomas and Baker certainly address that under-representation to a degree. Thomas had the highest winning percentage in NASCAR history. Baker won two series championships. They both were stars of the 1950s.

But there are so many more driving trailblazers still on the outside looking in: Fred Lorenzen and Red Byron, to name a couple more. NASCAR was built upon the backs of its earliest drivers. I just wish more of them from the old days would be honored sooner rather than later.

Hansbrough does a Henderson on D-Wade

Did you see the wild, swiping foul former UNC star Tyler Hansbrough committed on Miami's Dwyane Wade Tuesday night? The parallels with the foul current Bobcat Gerald Henderson committed on Hansbrough in a Duke-UNC game were striking. In both cases, blood was involved and contact with the face, too, although at least D-Wade didn't get his nose broken.

Hansbrough and Miami big man Udonis Haslem both deserve a fine for their flagrant fouls but I wouldn't suspend either of them for Game 6, which is sure to be very rough too after Larry Bird called the Pacers "soft" in a postgame interview.

(UPDATE: Hansbrough was not suspended for his foul; Haslem was. Haslem's was clearly retaliatory, but I thought in impact no worse than Hansbrough's. That's why I wouldn't have suspended either one. See what you think by viewing videos below. As for commenters who note that Hansbrough was at least going for the ball on the play, I'd agree that he was, but it also appeared to me that his hand raked across Wade's face longer than necessary. And you could make the argument Henderson was "going for the ball" too -- albeit recklessly. In any case, it is true that Henderson was ejected and Hansbrough, although assessed a flagrant foul, has been cleared to play Game 6.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Does Brandon LaFell really symbolize Panthers? Rivera thinks so

The Observer's Joseph Person had a very interesting, one-on-one interview with Panther coach Ron Rivera last week that he split into two parts and has published it here and here.

After reading it all, the most unusual analogy I thought Rivera made was when he said: "I guess, to me, Brandon LaFell encapsulates who we are."

Brandon LaFell? The Panthers' No.2 receiver? The one who holds the team record with a 91-yard touchdown reception but who also had nine games last season in which he had two or fewer catches?

That's the Panthers' symbol? Not Cam Newton? Not Jon Beason? Not Double Trouble or Jordan Gross or Ryan Kalil or any other more high-profile Panther?

When you think about it, though, the analogy does make some sense. Rivera used it after saying earlier in the interview of LaFell: "I didn't want him to feel like he's arrived." I think the thing that Brandon has to always keep in front of him is the big picture and that is his continual growth."

Of the Panthers, Rivera later said: "We've got to keep the carrot in front of us."
In other words, keep working. Stay hungry. Rivera said he doesn't "give a crap" that some people are picking the Panthers to win the NFC South over controversy-ridden New Orleans this season.

And he's right. This team does have some stars. But it's the middle third of the roster -- say, players No.10-35 on the roster -- that probably really needs to get better for it to go from 6-10 in 2011 to a playoff team in 2012.

LaFell is a truer indication of the team's roster than an athletic outlier like Newton.

It's players like LaFell (who had 36 catches for 613 yards in 2011 as a parttime starter but who needs to show he can make more tough catches over the middle this season and improve his blocking).

And it's whoever the No.2 cornerback turns out to be. And veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards, returning from injury. And punt returner Joe Adams. And new utility back Mike Tolbert and Luke Kuechly and second tight end Gary Barnidge so on and so on.

Those are the guys who will play such a large part in making or breaking the season -- the guys who will be given opportunities to make plays when the other team tries to take away Newton, Steve Smith, Beason, Double Trouble, Greg Olsen and so on.

So while I had never thought of it that way -- the Panthers being symbolized by LaFell -- I'm now somewhat enamored with Rivera's analogy. It's going to make me track his progress more closely this season, and see whether it really does mirror the team's performance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Panther notes on Cam, Kuechly and Beason

Some mid-May thoughts about the Carolina Panthers:

-- I think Panther coach Ron Rivera just about had to let Jon Beason play where he wants -- which is obviously middle linebacker, based on his past statements -- after drafting Luke Kuechly in the first round.

Beason has played in multiple Pro Bowls. Kuechly, for all his gaudy tackle stats at Boston College, is a rookie. So you have to put Beason in the middle to start and Kuechly at weakside linebacker. That's not only the right football move, it's the right move in terms of team chemistry.

Will it stay that way? No way to tell. Kuechly is learning the middle spot, too, and Beason already knows the weakside spot. Who's to know where it goes as the season progresses and injuries factor in. But you can't just tell Beason -- coming off a long injury rehab and a prideful man, just as most every successful NFL player is -- to move outside for the rookie. Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, knows that.

With Thomas Davis, it's trickier. The odds are ultimately against Davis coming back from a third ACL surgery on the same knee, and both the Panthers and Davis know that. So do you start Davis over Kuechly automatically (I'm assuming here Beason and James Anderson will both start)?

That's a decision you have to take the Fifth on for now if you're Rivera -- just let it play out. It will be obvious by late August, if not earlier, what to do there.

-- Talk about some athletic respect. Cam Newton finished fifth in a poll of 146 NBA players, taken by Sports Illustrated, about which athlete of today could play in the NBA right now if he wasn't doing something else.

The NBA players' list went like this:

1. Calvin Johnson, Lions WR 16%
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints TE 10%
3. Terrell Owens, Free-Agent WR 7%
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers TE 7%
5. Cam Newton, Panthers QB 6%
6. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons TE 5%

My vote would have been for Gates, who had by far the best college basketball career of that group (Graham and Gonzalez also played college hoops). Newton? He's a phenomenal athlete, yes. But in the NBA he'd be a "tweener" -- an undersized power forward or a small forward who would have to guard extremely quick "threes." And he has no big-time basketball background to speak of. Still, it's an interesting thought, isn't it?

-- Speaking of Newton: Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films and one of the best deep thinkers among media types in today's game, recently wrote an interesting blog post about Newton and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Cosell re-watched every snap Newton took in 2011 and came to the conclusion that Newton has become such a good quarterback not because he's a great runner, but because he's such a poised passer. Here's an excerpt of the story from Cosell, who is the nephew of famous broadcaster Howard Cosell and a longtime executive producer:

"Newton did not have a record-setting rookie season because he’s a great athlete. Certainly, his touchdown run against the Bucs late in the season was spectacular, and few quarterbacks have that kind of breathtaking running ability. But no one becomes a great quarterback in the NFL because of the way they run.

"I watched every Newton snap in 2011, and the reality was he played exceptionally well from the pocket. He was poised and composed, decisive and accurate. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the eye of the storm. He made difficult throws into tight coverage. He did not run unless it was the last and only option or it was a designed play call. What was so extraordinary about Newton’s season was that he transitioned to the NFL in a manner that was unexpected and unforeseen based on his college résumé. He was primarily a run/option quarterback at Auburn. While the big arm and occasional NFL throw were there, Newton was not often asked to display the attributes necessary to thrive on Sundays.

"Two early-season plays really stood out last fall, and previewed Newton’s exceptional season. His first NFL touchdown pass, 77 yards to Steve Smith on the opening Sunday, featured a change in protection against a blitz. The ability to recognize and then adjust before the snap is an increasingly necessary attribute to play at a high level in this league, and Newton demonstrated it in Week 1. Three weeks later against the Bears, on a 26-yard completion to Smith, Newton showed the kind of progression reading and pocket toughness that are two hallmarks of top quarterback play. The initial read was to his left, but it was taken away by the Bears coverage. With the pocket collapsing, Newton came backside to Smith on a dig route. It was as good as it gets. And that was his fourth NFL start."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Krzyzewski going back to Olympic well one more time in 2012

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is in Dallas today, talking up the 2012 men’s Olympic basketball team that he will coach again with hundreds of media types at the Olympic Media Summit. The 65-year-old coach made a bit of news by saying he would not coach the Olympic team again in 2016 -- he has been the national team's men's coach since 2006, and the team has gone 49-1 since then.

"I think this is the last time," Coach K said. "Hopefully we can win the gold medal."

I’m in Dallas, too, and will have a full column on Coach K and why he’s doing this again after directing the U.S. to a gold medal in 2008. But here are a few highlights from what he has said today:

-- He considers coaching the U.S. men’s national team the “ultimate honor” of his career – and remember, this is a man who has won multiple national championships as a college coach and is in basketball’s hall of fame. “As good as I thought it was, it’s better,” Krzyzewski said. “The best honor of my coaching career has been to be the United States national coach.”

-- As mentioned above, he won’t coach the U.S. team in 2016, so this is his last go-around at the Olympics (Coach K also was an assistant for the “Dream Team” Olympic team of 1992).

-- Krzyzewski agreed to shoulder the Olympic coaching load again when Jerry Colangelo, the national team’s director, asked him to do so late one night in Chicago over pizza and wine following the success of 2008. “I’m a cheap date,” Coach K joked. “Get me after midnight and I’ll say anything.”

-- Anthony Davis is the only player without NBA experience in the 18-man pool that will be cut on July 7th to the 12-man Olympic team. So it’s possible that Davis – who the Charlotte Bobcats have a 1-in-4 chance of getting in the next NBA draft, depending on how the Ping Pong balls roll in the NBA draft lottery May 30th – will be both a Bobcat and an Olympian. The biggest concern for the U.S. is that it may not have enough big men, particularly since Dwight Howard is injured and won’t be able to play.

“He’s an outstanding athlete,” Coach K said of Davis, adding that he liked the fact Davis didn't need the ball to be effective. “His defensive ability is what separates him.”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Phelps finishes second -- again -- in his final Charlotte race

Michael Phelps’ swan song in Charlotte ended with another second-place finish Saturday night.

But two swimmers who train locally – Josh Schneider and Nick Thoman – both won individual gold medals at the Charlotte UltraSwim in the same events in which they hope to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in six weeks.

It was a banner night for swimming at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, which was packed to the gills once again for an evening headlined by Phelps’ final appearance (assuming the 14-time Olympic gold medalist keeps his promise to retire after the London Olympics).

“The fans have gotten more and more involved over the last couple of years and you see that,” Phelps said of his last Charlotte competition. “There weren’t too many empty seats in the house, if any… You do get kind of worked up. I heard the crowd every single stroke of the way. It was definitely a cool way to swim my last race.”

Phelps was second in the 200-meter butterfly to China's Wu Peng.

In the past four UltraSwims, Phelps has entered 15 individual events and won six of them (40 percent). He finished second in both his events at the 2012 UltraSwim. It’s obvious he doesn’t try to peak for the events in Charlotte. Nor does Ryan Lochte, who is now considered just as good a swimmer as Phelps but who is in the middle of a brutal training period and keeps finishing back in the pack at the UltraSwim.

Schneider, meanwhile, was very sharp Saturday. A playful sprinter and fine athlete who swims for SwimMAC Carolina’s Charlotte-based Team Elite, Schneider won the 50-meter freestyle in 22.1 seconds.

Schneider did it without taking a single breath, which is his usual strategy for swimming’s quickest race. Afterward, the former football player from Cincinnati sounded extremely confident.

“I think I’ve got a ton in the tank,” Schneider said. “I think I’m going to shock a lot of people in the 50 free [at the Olympic Trials].”

Schneider’s teammate Cullen Jones – an Olympic gold medalist in 2008 – was sixth. Nick Brunelli, also a SwimMAC Team Elite member, was fourth.

The 100 backstroke is Thoman’s best event and he won it in 53.77 seconds. His teammate, Eugene Godsoe, was third as he continues to have an excellent meet. Ryan Lochte, who is expected to be a major factor in the race at the Olympic Trials, was eighth.

“It was a good swim,” Thoman said. “I took it out the way I wanted to and tried not to die too hard at the end. That’s kind of the way I want to race it in Omaha at the Olympic Trials."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Berens beats Phelps to thrill hometown Charlotte crowd

With 50 meters to go in the 200-meter freestyle at the Charlotte UltraSwim Friday night, Charlotte’s Ricky Berens was clinging to a lead of about half a body length over 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.

As they grew closer to the finish, Phelps pulled closer. “With 15 or 20 meters to go, I kind of felt I was reeling him in a little bit,” Phelps said.

If you watched any of the 2008 Olympics, you probably would guess that what happens next is that Phelps would out-touch Berens at the wall.

But he didn’t. Instead, Berens found one last reservoir of energy and finished off the best swimmer in Olympic history, edging Phelps for the victory in front of a sellout hometown crowd of about 1,500 at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.

“He is the greatest swimmer in the world,” Berens said. “To go toe-to-toe with him is always fun.”

Berens’ strategy – to lead from start to finish – worked perfectly. “I’ve kind of realized I like being ahead,” Berens said. “It’s a lot easier to stay ahead than it is to try and run down Michael Phelps.”

The win once again served notice that Berens, 24, is a threat to win multiple medals at the London Olympics later this summer. The South Mecklenburg graduate likely will make the men’s 4x200 freestyle relay team – he did that in 2008 and won a gold medal with Phelps as a teammate. To win an individual spot in the 200 free, however, he will have to finish in the top two.

“I have one of the hardest events in the country,” Berens said. “In the 200 freestyle, you’ve got Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who are the two fastest guys in the world.”

On Friday, though, Berens beat them both. Lochte, in the midst of a difficult training period, was not a factor and finished sixth.

(More to come on this story in Saturday's Charlotte Observer).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Phelps to swim for last time in Charlotte

Michael Phelps, the 14-time gold medalist swimmer, is in town. It's the last time he will swim in Charlotte, he said Thursday -- Phelps reiterated that he plans to retire after the London Olympics this summer.

"this is the last time I’ll swim in this pool," Phelps said Thursday. "Definitely played a big role in my career -- I’ve had a lot of great swims here. Sort of closing another chapter. Something that’s very special."

Phelps' mother and sister will come down from the Baltimore area, where the family lives, for the weekend Charlotte UltraSwim meet. His mother said in a "60 Minutes" piece on Phelps that ran Sunday that she would like him to stick around and swim in the 2016 Olympics, but the 26-year-old swimmer said that's not happening and so did his longtime coach, Bob Bowman.

"Enough is enough," Bowman said.

Phelps will only swim two events in Charlotte -- the 200-meter freestyle on Friday and the 200 butterfly on Saturday. (Both those nights are sold out). He will miss the final day of the meet, on Sunday, because he is due in Dallas to speak to several hundred media types at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit.

It's a fairly light schedule for Phelps, who has swum in Charlotte for each of the past three years. His record at the UltraSwim has been very good, but nothing like his perfect 8-events-8-gold-medal run in Beijing in 2008.

In 13 events at the UltraSwim over the past three years, Phelps has had six first-place finishes, four second-place finishes, one sixth-place finish and two events that he has withdrawn from after the morning preliminary swims. So in terms of wins per event entered, he's actually slightly less than 50 percent in Charlotte from 2009-2011 (six-for-13).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Has anyone seen my orange pants?

Has anyone seen my orange pants?

I'm looking for them so I can wear them in tribute to my younger brother, Rickie Fowler, in celebration of his win at the Wells Fargo Championship.

No, he's not really my younger brother. We're not kin. But I've sure been asked that a few times over the past few days, as the name "Fowler" kept staying on or near the top of the leaderboard at Quail Hollow.

Maybe you've had this happen before. Does your first and last name -- or both? -- remind people of a famous person? I've got a buddy whose name is David Stern (not the NBA commissioner -- this one is a heckuva tennis player). When I was in elementary school and a peanut farmer from Georgia became president, there was a kid in the fourth grade who was also named Jimmy Carter.

But it hasn't happened much to me. There is a professional wrestler named Scott Fowler (his nickname is "The Solution," which I love). And a baritone singer who got to the "Wikipedia" Scott Fowler entry first. And a few others, scattered here and there. But you don't see the name very often in the sports world, especially among competitive athletes.

That's why I've always kinda cheered for Rickie Fowler, just because of the last name. It's hard to cheer for an athletic director, you know, like former N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler. It's even hard to cheer for an Olympic-level volleyball player, like Tom Sorensen (yes, there was one, and he competed in the 1996 Olympics).

But it's not hard to cheer for Rickie Fowler, who everyone says has great manners and wears that so-ridiculous-it's-cool, orange-on-orange combo to honor his Oklahoma State alma mater every Sunday. So well done, Rickie -- I'm glad Charlotte was your first PGA Tour win.

P.S. If you have a story about your own name being mistaken for that of another more famous person -- whether that person is in the sports world or not -- share it with me. Email me at with the story. The best entries get a free signed copy of one of my books (your choice as to which one).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bad news for Saints = good news for Panthers?

Bad news for the New Orleans Saints may end up as slightly good news for the Carolina Panthers – two of the Saints’ prominent defenders have been suspended and will be out for the Panthers’ home opener against New Orleans Sept.16 unless they win their appeal.

The NFL announced today that Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire season without pay due to his role in the bounty scandal. Defensive end Will Smith is suspended for four games.

The Panthers’ already powerful offense will thus face a Saints defense missing a couple of its key players. However, the Saints knew something like this was coming (and it certainly could have been worse). They signed a new linebacker, Curtis Lofton, who will likely take Vilma’s spot. And they have enough depth at defensive line that the Panthers’ offensive line still won’t be able to rest easy. Given that all the Saints’ suspensions have now apparently been handed down, I would still consider them as the NFC South’s favorites (assuming they re-sign Drew Brees) until proven otherwise.

Two other players were also suspended, but both are now with different teams: Scott Fujita (Cleveland) for three games and Anthony Hargrove (Green Bay) for eight games.

All of the players can appeal and are expected to, but given that their appeal will be heard by the same man who punished them (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) I doubt there will be much change. There wasn’t for the administrators who previously appealed their own penalties.

The Saints already have lost head coach Sean Payton for the season due to the same scandal, which involved the Saints’ defense ponying up money that would be paid out if certain opposing players were injured during the game. The program was administered by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is suspended indefinitely and who I think shouldn’t ever coach in the NFL again.

Panther quarterback Cam Newton was one of the players targeted by the Saints, although the Saints were unsuccessful in knocking him out of the game in their two 2011 wins over Carolina.

While there were close to 20 more players who actually participated in the bounty program, apparently only these four players will be punished. The NFL release on the matter included this paragraph:

“Commissioner Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints’ non-player employees, that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level, Commissioner Goodell noted.”