Friday, November 28, 2008


WHAT'S been the best American soap opera of the last decade: General Hospital or the New York Knickerbockers?

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without some sex scandal, row story or off-the-court controversy emerging from Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks are rarely off the front or back pages of the New York newspapers. They are a constant topic of conversation on talk radio shows. Sadly, from their loyal fans’ point of view, it’s hardly ever for their achievements in the National Basketball Association.

You have to go back to 1973 to find the last time they won the NBA Championship. And they haven’t captured an Eastern Conference title since 1999.

The Patrick Ewing era is a distant memory. Since then, a succession of high-profile coaches and players have come and gone, none of them managing to bring back the glory days to one of the most famous franchises in basketball.

Worse still, they have plunged the Knicks deeper and deeper into the abyss, saddling the organization with long-terms contracts that have left it with little or no room for maneuver within the salary cap.

Larry Brown’s much-heralded arrival ended with an $18.5 million buyout of his five-year contract. The decision to let Isiah Thomas take over the day-to-day running of the team had even more disastrous effects.

Not only did the Knicks stink under clueless coach Thomas but he then landed them with a sexual harassment lawsuit that resulted in a jury awarding $11.6 million in punitive damages against MSG.

All this has been presided over by owner James Dolan, chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Madison Square Garden corporation.

Still some weeding to be done at the Garden

Dolan’s latest move has been to appoint former Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh as team president and ex-Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni as head coach.

Walsh and D’Antoni are now attempting to clear away the wreckage left by ten years of mismanagement…and it’s proving no easy task.

Not surprisingly, there is no quick fix. That’s been the underlying problem of the past decade: too many quick fixes aimed at achieving overnight success.

D’Antoni has cleared out the cupboard to such an extent that the current team is now playing short-handed. In other words, the Knicks don’t have enough bench players.

This has been accentuated by the fact that the Knicks last remaining star player, Stephon Marbury, refuses to play for the team. D’Antoni has made it clear that Marbury has no future in New York and Marbury has made it clear he has no intention of accepting a bit part.

Marbury, who is owed $21.9 million in wages this season, seems content to sit at home and wait for one of two things to happen: a contract buyout or a trade. Whichever happens, Dolan’s wallet is going to take another big hit.

Once Marbury has gone, D’Antoni and Walsh can begin planning for the future, namely the summer of 2010, when four of the biggest names in basketball become free agents: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and Amare Stoudemire of the Suns.

It’s no secret that James is the man most wanted. Rumor has it that his sponsor, Nike, will pay him $100 million if he joins a big-market team so James could well be attracted by the bright lights of the Big Apple, where he would become an instant hero (if he isn’t already).

New York fans actually cheered James when he played for the Cavaliers against the Knicks at MSG last week. Well, they’ve had little to cheer from their own team.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Knicks will land LeBron or any other of the “Big Four.” In the meantime, they’re going to be a sub .500 team for at least another two years.

That’s something long-suffering Knickerbockers supporters will be willing to put up with…just as long as no one turns off the light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, November 24, 2008


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1st. Save the date because we could be watching the first ever Subway Super Bowl.

Of course, things rarely go according to plan. Just ask the 18-1 New England Patriots. But, on current form, New York boasts the two best teams in football.

The 8-3 Jets have won five games in a row after ending the unbeaten record of the Tennessee Titans with an emphatic 34-13 victory. The 10-1 Giants are on a six-game winning streak after overcoming the Arizona Cardinals 37-29.

Big Apple football fans have never had it so good. But while the reigning Super Bowl champions have been good from day one, the transformation in the Jets has been nothing short of remarkable.

When they lost 16-13 in Oakland on October 19th, there were serious doubts being raised about the wisdom of acquiring legendary quarterback Brett Favre…and rightly so after he had thrown 11 interceptions in seven games.

Now, it seems Favre can do no wrong. He’s turned from gunslinger to sheriff, ensuring the gospel according to coach Eric Mangini is carried out to the letter of the law.

With the Jets successfully stopping the run, and running the ball themselves, there has been no need for Favre to take risks – and he’s been near perfect in orchestrating wins in New England and now Tennessee.

Linebacker David Bowens summed up the mood in the Gang Green camp. “I’ve never been on a team that has been on this kind of a roll. It’s euphoric. It’s like we have an attitude that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

With home games against Denver, Buffalo and Miami, and road trips to struggling San Francisco and Seattle, it’s not inconceivable that the Jets could finish the regular season 13-3, which could well be good enough to win the AFC.

Giants and Jets on course to meet in Tampa

The Giants remain on course to win the NFC, although their run-in looks a lot tougher than the Jets. They still have to go to Washington, Dallas and Minnesota, with home games against Philadelphia and Carolina.

Mind you, no problem seems insurmountable for coach Tom Coughlin and his brilliant defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo.

Many expected the Giants to struggle when Tiki Barber called it a day and Jeremy Shockey broke his leg. Then, when Michael Strahan retired and defensive end Osi Umenyiora injured his knee in a pre-season game, they were dismissed as realistic contenders to retain their title.

Yesterday, they returned to the University of Phoenix Stadium – scene of their Super Bowl XLII triumph ¬– to take on the high-flying Cardinals without star running back Brandon Jacobs and their best wide receiver, Plaxico Burress.

It made little or no difference. Such is the strength in depth on the Giants roster that Domenik Hixon, Burress’s replacement, made six catches, ran three kickoff returns for 180 yards and finished the game with 269 all-purpose yards.

Eli Manning completed 26 of 33 passes and, as Coughlin said afterwards: “He just continues to do whatever has to be done to win the game.”

Football is such a ferocious sport that it’s unwise to look any further ahead than next week. Injuries play a key part and you can be sure that Favre and Manning will now be marked men.

Let’s hope both teams stay healthy. Wouldn’t it be great if on February 1st, 2009, in Tampa Florida, the Jets made their first Super Bowl appearance for 40 years and the Giants their first for 12 months! 

Thursday, November 20, 2008


HE NEVER won a Cy Young award or a World Series ring. In fact, only once did he win 20 games in a season.

Yet if, as reports suggest, Mike Mussina decides to walk away from baseball later this week, I believe that he should be walking into the Hall of Fame.

Mussina, who turns 40 next month, has decided to go out on a high. Not for the first time in his career, he proved the critics wrong in 2008, bouncing back from a disappointing year to keep the struggling New York Yankees the right side of .500.

“Moose” went 11-10 in 2007 with an ERA of 5.15. When he began 2008 with a 1-3 record, many (myself included) were calling for him to removed from the starting rotation.

Hank Steinbrenner, Senior Vice President of the Yankees, publicly criticized him for not daring to pitch inside like Philadelphia Philllies veteran Jamie Moyer.

Moose, however, has always done things his own way. Never one to overpower the hitters, he spent his career relying on finesse and an acute ability to paint the corners of the plate.

What he did do was improve his strikes-to-balls ratio, cutting down on the walks and challenging the hitters to make contact.

Veteran pitcher set to retire on 270 wins

In a season when “young guns” Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy failed to win one game between them, Andy Pettitte pitched poorly and Chien-Ming Wang was injured, Mussina became the mainstay of the Yanks rotation. 

He recorded his 20th win of the season – and 270th of his career – at Fenway Park on September 28th, finishing the year 20-9 with an ERA of 3.37.

The dilemma facing Moose this off-season has been whether to carry on pitching and go for 300 wins, or slip away gracefully to spend time with his wife, Jana, and their three children.

Family man Mike has always been concerned about his children growing up without really kowing their father. He was probably also concerned about being able to reproduce last season’s form should he decide to return.

Most baseball pundits agree that Mussina is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But they seem to be split right down the middle on whether he should eventually make it into Cooperstown.

In my view, he should. Not only did pitch all 18 seasons in the American League, he pitched them all in the unforgiving American League East.

Johnny Damon, his Yankees team-mate, told the New York Times: “His legacy is going to be one of the best pitchers to ever put on a uniform, a guy who was able to do it in the American League East his whole career.”

His first 10 seasons were spent with the Baltimore Orioles at batter-friendly Camden Yards. Yet he still ended up with a career ERA of 3.68, recording 270 wins against 153 losses.

Mussina pitched in the steroid era so you can also argue that he was at unfair advantage up against juiced-up sluggers. Although he never managed a no-hitter, he had now fewer than six one-hit games.

Moose, who earned an economics degree at Stanford University, was the thinking man’s pitcher. Now the Yankees have to think of a way to replace a 20-game winner and the heartbeat of their rotation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


MLS FANS will be tuned into ABC at 3.30pm this Sunday to watch the New York Red Bulls take on the Columbus Crew in the championship game.

I may watch the first half but at 4.15pm, I’ll probably be switching to FOX for the Giants game in Arizona.

When I moved from England to the United States four years ago, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that football – or what Americans term as football – would take precedence over soccer or association football.

I still enjoy viewing the live Premier League game on the Fox Soccer Channel on Saturday morning. I even take in the occasional Serie A match from Italy on a Sunday.

But when it comes to the MLS, well, quite frankly, I’ve had more fun watching paint dry.

There’s simply no comparison to the standard of play or level of entertainment produced by the leagues in England, France, Germany, Italy or Spain.

Average players, sometimes performing on pitches marked for American football, produce too many boring, low-scoring games.

At least, that was my view after enduring the 0-0 draw between the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire in the Conference semi-finals, first leg.

So much for David Beckham changing the face of American soccer. His arrival in the USA was greeted by a huge media fanfare.

New York Red Bulls go for upset win

But, less than two years on, his Los Angeles Galaxy team once again failed to qualify for the playoffs and instead of gracing TV screens in the USA, he’s joined Italian giants AC Milan on a four-month loan spell.

How MLS could use Beckham now. When I watched the Red Bulls beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 in front of a 20,000 crowd on Sunday, the only player I recognized on either side was former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel.

The Red Bulls scraped into the eight-team playoffs, despite losing more games in the regular season than they actually won.

Lady Luck was smiling on them again on Sunday, Real Salt Lake hitting the post on new fewer than four occasions.

The only goal of the game was scored in the 28th minute by Dutchman Dave van den Bergh, who made 12 appearances for Ajax Amsterdam at the end of the 1990s.

No doubt the Red Bulls will be underdogs again this weekend as they are up against the Eastern Conference champions, Columbus.

Juan Carlos Osorio, their Colombian coach, is happy to have it that way. “For a team like us that snuck into the playoffs, it’s a fresh start,” he said.

MLS are expecting their 13th title game to sell out, even though for some reason it’s being played in Carson, California. That’s convenient for fans of teams from New York and Ohio!

Call me cynical if you like but it’s going to take a lot more goalmouth action on Sunday to stop me changing channels.

Monday, November 17, 2008


A CRAZY Sunday in football left fans and bettors alike feeling disgruntled and dissatisfied.

It also raised the question: should the tie still exist in the National Football League?

After a futile three hours and 46 minutes, including overtime, Philadelphia and Cincinnati were still locked at 13-13 – the first tie in the NFL since 2002.

In soccer, the tie or draw is a common event, the two teams each receiving one point (compared to three for a win). But in US sports, it’s almost unheard of.

That can’t happen in the NFL, where the number of wins achieved in 16 games decides a team’s position. The tie leaves both the Eagles (five wins) and Bengals (one) in last place in their respective divisions.

For the Bengals, you could argue that the result – or lack of one – doesn’t really matter. But, for the Eagles, it could ultimately cost them a playoff place.

It was Cincinnati who had the only scoring chance in OT, Shayne Graham missing a 47-yard field goal attempt.

Blown call leaves bettors fuming

In snowy Pittsburgh, there were even more bizarre goings-on as the Steelers became the first team in NFL history to win by an 11-10 scoreline, against the San Diego Chargers.

History should have remained unchanged. The Steelers and Troy Polamalu should have been awarded a touchdown in the final seconds as the Chargers tried to keep the game alive with laterals.

Umpire Scott Green, who initially upheld the ruling of touchdown on the field before changing his mind, admitted afterwards that he got it wrong.

There was even some suggestion that Green may have been put under pressure to come up with a quick decision as the game had gone beyond its scheduled running time, delaying 60 Minutes.

His admission of guilt will come as no consolation to those who decided to place their hard-earned cash on the Steelers to cover a 4.5-point spread. Around $10 million is wagered on every NFL game and although the spread is set to promote a balanced book, apparently the ratio of bets taken on Pittsburgh v San Diego was 4-1 in favor of the Steelers.

In England, when the officials make a score-changing mistake like this, some magnanimous bookmakers agree to pay out on both results.

Somehow, I can’t see them being so benevolent in Vegas.

Friday, November 14, 2008


NO DOUBT Eric Mangini and his New York Jets players had to pinch themselves when they woke up this morning. 

Such has been the dominance of the New England Patriots over their East Coast rivals that any Jets win – particularly one on the road – is almost worthy of a ticker-tape parade.

After all, before last night’s emotional 34-31 overtime victory, the Jets had lost 11 of their last 12 meetings with the Pats.

Having already lost at home to the Patriots, defeat would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East division and left them scrapping it out for a playoff position.

Instead, they’re in pole position at 7-3 and, suddenly, New York has not one but two genuine Super Bowl contenders.

So what are the Jets feeling most today…euphoria or a sense of a relief? I suspect a mixture of both.

Elation at knowing the balance of power has finally shifted. But, hopefully, also a realization that although they won the Battle of Foxborough, they’ve yet to win the war.

Brett Favre, who played with a reckless abandon at the start of the season, was simply immense when it really mattered.

His pass selection, judgment and self-discipline gave the Jets the upper hand. And, after they had blown a 24-6 lead, he kept his composure to lead them down the field again for what should have been the game-winning touchdown.

When will coaches ever learn? Prevent defense may take time off the clock but it also allows your opponents to get easy downs and, on this occasion, one last shot at the end zone.

Euphoria and relief after "massive" victory

It’s not in the Jets nature to do things the easy way. Randy Moss should never have been given the opportunity to make a fingertip catch from Matt Cassel’s pinpoint pass with one second remaining.

Mangini and his team looked shell-shocked. Their eyes were glazed. How could this be happening to us…again?

It was imperative that they won the toss and were able to receive in OT. I, for one, wouldn’t have fancied their chances had the coin landed heads instead of tails.

The mood in the Jets camp today would have been more than somber had the heroic efforts of Favre, Leon Washington and Kris Jenkins counted for nought.

Instead, they can enjoy a well-earned weekend off before they start preparing for another huge game at the unbeaten Tennessee Titans on Sunday week. The Pats, meanwhile, face a “must win” game against another divisional rival, the Miami Dolphins.

For Pats coach Bill Belichick, a perfect 7-0 in OT games up until last night, the good news is that he no longer has to worry about the quarterback position.

Matt Cassel threw for 400 yards in a losing effort and has proved a more than capable deputy for the injured Tom Brady.

And before Jets fans get too carried away, let’s remember that as well as Brady, the Pats were without safety Rodney Harrison, running back Laurence Maroney, linebacker Adalius Thomas and defensive end Ty Warren.

But when people look back on this result in years to come, the record books won’t show that the Jets were facing a much-depleted Patriots team.

I wonder whether they’ll also look back on it as the night that Mangini’s Jets came of age.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


PERHAPS baseball is not immune to the economic recession after all.

For the first time in 14 seasons, the Boston Red Sox are not raising ticket prices for 2009. And, according to reports, the New York Yankees are still looking for buyers for seven luxury suites at their new stadium.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and an expert on sports economics, tells The New York Times today that this is a sign of tough times ahead.

“It means than even with a wildly popular team, the anticipated economic condition next spring and summer is so weak that it will not sustain further increases in ticket prices.”

Maybe so, but let’s keep it real here. While most of us are having to tighten our belts, the fat cats of Major League Baseball will still get their cream.

According to market research, the Red Sox had the highest average ticket price ($48.80) in 2008, which represented an increase of 10.1 percent on 2007. The Chicago Cubs were second at $42.49 and the Yankees third at $36.58.

Crowds and wages still sky high

The Red Sox hardly need worry about falling demand. The last 469 games at Fenway Park have been sell-outs, a run dating back to May 15, 2003.

They will increase revenue in 2009 by squeezing in another 560 seats at baseball’s smallest ballpark, increasing its capacity to 36,108.

The new Yankee Stadium will have a lower capacity than the old stadium (52,235 compared to 56,886) and while you can still buy a seat in the bleachers for $12, you’ll have to pay between $500 and $2,500 to sit anywhere near home plate.

At these times of economic gloom and doom, us sports fans need to escape to our fantasy world more than ever. Baseball takes us away from our problems. For a few hours, we can forget reality.

Only when two things happen will I believe that baseball is facing the same problems as Joe Public: Attendances start to fall and the players lower their wage demands.

There is no indication of either happening anytime soon, at least not to the glamour teams. I’m sure the Red Sox and Yankees will have no trouble filling their stadiums once again next season.

Manny Ramirez will get more than the $25 million a year the Los Angeles Dodgers are currently offering and someone – probably the Yanks – will give CC Sabathia an insane, long-term contract. Hard times, indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


RETIREMENT is a word boxers use liberally. But it seems that Joe Calzaghe is serious when he says he is unlikely to step into the ring again.

The 36-year-old Welshman is being hailed as one Britain’s greatest post-war fighters after his convincing points win over Roy Jones Jr. at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

In retaining his Ring magazine light-heavyweight world title, Calzaghe extended his unbeaten record to 46 bouts.

He is not going to make any rush decisions, but the lack of future big-name opponents could convince him to hang up his gloves.

“Am I tempted to carry on? Not really,” he says. “I am going to go away with my family, chill out and make a decision in a few weeks.

“I love boxing; my dad [Enzo] has got a great gym. I want to help out with that. I’ve got a promoter’s license, so I’ll stay involved in a different way.”

“There’s no one left to fight”

Having beaten two American legends – Jones and Bernard Hopkins – in his last two fights, Calzaghe believes he has nothing left to prove.

“To beat Mikkel Kessler to be undisputed [WBO super-middleweight] champion in front or more than 50,000 fans in Cardiff was great, so I stepped up to light-heavyweight just to do something different,” he explained.

Calzaghe is neither interested in a rematch with Jones nor a fight against another American, Chad Dawson, the IBF light-heavyweight champion.

“Chad is a good young boxer who has won a couple of fights, but what’s the point? There’s no one left for me to fight,” he added.

“I always had this drive to be world champion. I trained like a pro every day since I was 13 or 14. Talent doesn’t make a great fighter; you need dedication, too.”

There has been no one more dedicated to his art than Calzaghe.


GENUINE Super Bowl candidates are thin on the ground this season, the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants currently standing head and shoulders above their rivals.

But when it comes to the title of “worst team in football,” there are plenty of contenders.

No fewer than seven teams stand at 2-7 or worse. Three of them – the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams – play in the same division (NFC West).

After watching the Rams concede 40 points inside the first 30 minutes to the Jets on Sunday, it’s hard to imagine there’s a team more incompetent in the NFL.

However, fans of the Oakland Raiders (2-7), Kansas City Chiefs (1-8), Cincinnati Bengals (1-8) and Detroit Lions (0-9) may well think otherwise.

With apologies to the residents of Oakland and Cincinnati, you’re not even close.

The Chiefs may not actually be the worst team, but when it comes to coughing up a lead in the closing stages, nobody does it better.

As one leading pundit said on radio a few weeks ago, former Jets head coach Herm Edwards is a past master at playing not to lose.

Detroit on course to finish year 0-16

Last Sunday in San Diego, Edwards played to win…and still ended up losing.

The Chiefs failed in their attempt at a two-point conversion, going down 20-19. It was the third week running that Kansas had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

They had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-3, only to lose to a field goal in overtime. The week before that, they were 24-21 up on the Jets before conceding a late touchdown.

But at least the Chiefs have managed to win one game this year (against the Denver Broncos). The Lions have lost all nine.

The closest they’ve come is 12-10 against the Minnesota Vikings and 27-23 at the Chicago Bears.

Of course, Lions fans have become used to failure. Their team has stunk for the past decade. 1999 was the last year they reached the playoffs and the 2007 season proved yet another false dawn, the Lions going 6-2 in the first half only to end up 7-9.

Bad ownership, bad management, bad draft picks; they’re all to blame. But now that Matt Millen has finally been axed from his post in charge of football operations, there is at least a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Only trouble is it’s a mighty long tunnel.

The Lions next five opponents all have a winning percentage of over .500 and their last two – the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers – are still in playoff contention at 4-5.

The New England Patriots were a perfect 16-0 last season. It’s not hard to envisage dreadful Detroit going 0-16 and ending with the worst season record in NFL history.

Monday, November 10, 2008


AWFUL in Oakland. Unconvincing against Kansas. Better in Buffalo. Rampant against the Rams. Which New York Jets team is going to show up in New England this Thursday night?

It had better be the one that crushed St. Louis 47-3 yesterday because make no mistake, this game is going to be pivotal in deciding the AFC East Division.

If the 6-3 Jets can beat the 6-3 Patriots, they will be in sole possession of first place and masters of their own destiny.

Should they lose, they will have no better chance of winning the division than the 5-4 Dolphins and Bills.

In so many ways, this is the acid test for Eric Mangini as he approaches the end of his third year as Jets head coach.

Once again, he goes up against his mentor, Bill Belichick. Hartford-born Mangini spent five years under Belichick in New England, first as defensive backs coach and then as defensive coordinator.

It was Belichick who gave Mangini his chance in football after he spotted him working in the PR department for the Cleveland Browns.

Those are distant memories now. These days, there seems to be no love lost between the two as they vie for supremacy in the East.

And Mangini has a score to settle after the Pats left New York with a morale-sapping 19-10 victory in September.

Jets must beat Brady-less bunch this time

At least the Jets won’t have to face Tom Brady. However, they should be aware that in 26-year-old Matt Cassel, the Patriots have a maturing and developing quarterback.

Cassel knows the importance of Thursday’s game to both teams. “We’re in first place in the division and that’s where we want to be,” he says.

“We’ve got a big ballgame coming up this week, and we’ve got a quick turnaround. Everybody is excited about it. We’re always excited to play the Jets. It should be a big challenge for us. We’ll be up for the challenge, I’m sure.”

The Pats have lost just once in Foxborough this season (to the Dolphins) but have not been as dominant a force as they were this time last year, when they were winning games by landslide margins.

On the opposite side of the coin, they have tightened up their defense, allowing an average of just 12.8 points in their last four games.

Already seriously handicapped by the loss of Brady, safety Rodney Harrison and running back Laurence Maroney, they must now cope without linebacker Adalius Thomas, who is reported to have broken his left arm during yesterday’s 20-10 win over Buffalo.

If Brett Favre and the Jets harbor serious ambitions of not just making the playoffs but going deep, then this is a game they must win.

+++The Giants remain in charge of the NFC East after their 36-31 win in Philadelphia…but the game was much closer than it should have been.

They controlled the ball for close to 40 minutes but an Eli Manning interception and two fumbles by the otherwise enormous Brandon Jacobs kept the Eagles in the game.

Tom Coughlin’s team will bid to extend their record to 9-1 when the Baltimore Ravens, also on a four-game winning streak, visit the Meadowlands on Sunday (1pm).

Friday, November 7, 2008


I’M SURE New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck won’t be losing any sleep over being fined $7,500 by the National Football League.

But I’m glad to hear that Tuck will be appealing the punishment handed out for his “foul” on Dallas Cowboys’ back-up quarterback Brooks Bollinger last Sunday as he should never have been penalized in the first place.

According to an NFL spokesman, Tuck was fined because “he unnecessarily drove the opposing quarterback to the ground.”

The NFL is taking a tough stance these days on what the organization deems to be “illegal and dangerous hits.” Some say they are making football soft.

Sometimes, there is a thin dividing line between a hard but fair tackle and unnecessary roughness.

To my mind, Tuck’s tackle was within the rules. Replays showed that he hit Bollinger just as he threw the ball. He party released his grasp as they were on the way down and it was only sheer momentum that resulted in his 274 lbs, 6ft 5 in-frame ending up on top of the unfortunate Bollinger.

It was exactly what Tuck is paid to do…get to the quarterback. I’m all for stamping out dirty play, but this was not a premeditated act and is a prime example of the rules having gone crazy.

Tuck fined for doing his job too well

Football is a contact sport, yet as Tuck says about the modern-day quarterback: “You can’t hit him in the head, you can’t hit him below the knees. Obviously, you can’t hit him hard either.”

Giants coach Tom Coughlin did not think the play should have penalized at the time. “The guy was attacking the quarterback. He doesn’t have a checklist that he goes through.”

Many football players – both past and present – believe the NFL has gone too far in protecting the players.

Only last month, Troy Polamalu, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four-time Pro Bowl safety, said: “It’s becoming more and more flag football, two-hand touch.

“We’ve really lost the essence of what real American Football is about. They’re not really concerned about safety, because people have been doing this for quite a few decades.

“You’ve got to figure out how to tackle people a new way…and it’s too much.”

Tuck, Coughlin and most Giants fans would no doubt agree.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


TO NEW YORK sports fans, Madison Square Garden is home to the Rangers (NHL), Knicks (NBA) and Liberty (WNBA).

But to the rest of the world, and particularly Great Britain, MSG is famous for being a boxing venue.

Every great fighter – John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali to name but a few – has graced the Garden at some stage in their careers.

To top the bill at the Garden is acknowledgement that you are among the elite.

Only a handful of British fighters have had this honor. Scotland’s Ken Buchanan, who lost his WBA world lightweight crown to Roberto Duran there in 1972, said: “From a boxer’s point of view, once you have boxed at the Garden you can die in peace.”

This Saturday, Welshman Joe Calzaghe joins this special group of Brits when he takes on Roy Jones Jr. for the Ring Magazine Light-Heavyweight Championship.

For many years, Jones was regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. But, at 39, you have to wonder whether he is past his prime.

He has won his last three fights, all by unanimous decisions. But, before that, he had lost three in a row, getting knocked out in two of them.

Undefeated Welshman favorite to beat Jones

Calzaghe, in contrast, remains unbeaten in 45 contests, 32 of which he has won by way of knockout. He dominated the Super Middleweight division before switching to Light Heavyweight. Now 36, he turned professional in 1993 and has undoubtedly been the best British boxer of the last decade. Better than Ricky Hatton, who was well beaten by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas last December. 

Such is his popularity in Britain that he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2007 ahead of Formula One motor racing world champion Lewis Hamilton and Hatton.

British bookmakers believe Calzaghe will prove victorious. They make him a 1-3 shot with Jones 9-4 against.

Whatever happens, “The Pride of Wales” says this will be his last fight; that only this sort of challenge can motivate him any more.

“For years and years I’ve been fighting guys I’ve never heard of with names I couldn’t even spell,” he says.

“I’ve always said I’ve got more chance of losing against fighters I’ve never heard of than the ones I have.

“We’re not robots. It takes a lot to get tuned up and get yourself in a certain zone. If you’re not in that zone you don’t perform. You get caught with punches you’re not supposed to get caught with.”

For that reason, Calzaghe has distanced himself from his opponent after they had formed a friendship while promoting the fight.

"It's going to be one hell of a fight"

“I haven’t spoken to Roy in six weeks. We know this is what we get paid to do,” he said.

“Make no mistake about it, I respect the guy. But now he’s in my way and he’s trying to stop something that I’ve worked for all my life. I’m not going to allow that.

“That’s why I am going to go in there and leave everything in the ring and make sure I do my best to knock him out.”

Confident words from Calzaghe, but he remains wary of Jones and his record.

“Roy says he’s in the best condition he’s been in for years. I believe that. I’m in the best condition I’ve been in for years so it’s going to be one hell of a fight,” he added.

“I was one of those guys that wrote him off, but he’s come back and had three good wins. He’s Roy Jones Jr. The guy’s a legend; an even bigger legend than Hopkins.”

Calzaghe struggled to a split decision over Bernard Hopkins in his last fight in April after being dropped by a right-hander in the first round. Jones, meanwhile, gained an easy points decision over Felix Trinidad in January.

Both men have enjoyed illustrious careers. Neither wants to go out on a low note so those willing to splash out around $50 to watch it on HBO pay-per-view should get their money’s worth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


BARACK OBAMA’S victory in the general election could be bad news for baseball players. But never fear – Scott Boras is here.

Boras, a man who has brokered more big-money deals than Jerry Maguire, is already thinking of ways that his clients can avoid the near-5 percent rise in the top federal income tax proposed by America’s President-elect.

On a day when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig warned of the effects the recession could have on his sport, the top agents were more concerned by the tax implications of a shift in power.

Obama’s election campaign included a proposal to increase federal income tax from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for households bringing in more than $250,000 annually.

That includes every Major League player as the minimum wage is $400,000. But for a free agent such as Manny Ramirez or Mark Teixeira, who are likely to earn around $20 million in 2009, their taxes could increase by more than $900,000.

Boras, who represents both Ramirez and Teixiera, is reportedly considering counteracting this by asking for a bigger signing bonus. 

If the bonus was paid before January 1, it would likely be subject to the current rate of taxation. 

New President could hit baseball

“There's some consideration to be had with the impact of the election,” Boras is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

As I said in yesterday’s column, Boras’s job is to get the best deal for his client…and nobody does it better.

He bases his negotiations on numbers crunched by his 40-strong staff at high-tech offices in Newport Beach, California.

Whether Boras is such good news for the average baseball fan wanting to purchase a season ticket and a Derek Jeter shirt is another matter.

Spiraling salaries are pricing the Average Joe out of the market to watch live games, particularly here in New York.

So are we really going to be concerned that A-Rod and Manny may have to stump up another million in taxes? At $25 million a year, that’s some hardship!

There are those who believe that, thanks to television, baseball and its mega-rich superstars will always be recession-proof. 

They may well be right. But just remember the story about the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


FOOD PRICES are rising, stocks are down, the housing market has crashed and our 401k retirement plans are up the swanny.

So isn’t it good to know that one area remains 100 percent recession-proof: Sports, and in particular, baseball.

As we struggle to pay the mortgage and keep our heads above water, baseball players and their agents (take a bow Mr. Boras) are rubbing their hands with glee.

It’s time to fire up the hot stove. Out-of-contract players are filing for free agency and testing the market to see how high their value will go.

The more clubs interested the merrier. And the bidding war for the marquee players such as Manny Ramirez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira is sure to be intense.

Estimates for the deal pitching ace Sabathia can expect range from five years at $125 million to a high of six years at $180 million.

Remember, only last winter the New York Yankees agreed to pay Alex Rodriguez $275 million over a ten-year period.

“The price of gasoline is up, so I’m up too,” Ramirez joked with reporters after his “loan team” the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs.

Gas prices have actually been falling in recent weeks, but don’t expect Manny to settle for a regular deal.

Ramirez is 36…he will be 37 in May. Yet such is his stock that his agent, Scott Boras, will no doubt be looking for a five-year contract. 

Baseball players play Oliver Twist with owners

Wherever he goes, you can bet he’ll earn more than the $20 million a year he received in his last free-agent deal with the Boston Red Sox in 2000.

Of course, you know who ends up paying these inflated salaries in the long run? You and I. The fans.

And just as long as we’re prepared to do it, baseball players – like Oliver Twist – will continue to ask for more.

The American obsession with its favorite pastime shows no sign of waning. Attendance figures at Yankee Stadium were up for the fifth successive year in 2008. Total attendance amounted to 4,298,655 at an average of 53,070 a game.

Virtually every game is a sell-out, which is why the Yankees can charge between $500 and $2,500 for the best seats close to home plate at the new Yankee Stadium. At least they have opted against introducing Personal Seat Licences, a move that has angered many supporters of the Giants and Jets.

Of course, a career in sports can be short, especially for a football player. Baseball is a little less physically demanding.

You can’t blame the athletes for maximizing their earning potential. But you can blame the owners for agreeing to meet their demands.

I don’t want to be hypocritical. I’m a Yankees fan and I would love to see us sign Sabathia to improve our shaky starting rotation.

But the Tampa Bay Rays proved this year that you don’t have to have a $200 million-plus annual payroll to reach the World Series.

And at a time when decent people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, please spare me the stories about greedy baseball players and their excessive wage demands. 

Monday, November 3, 2008


PRESSURE. It’s an overused word in modern-day sport. But its usage was, for once, appropriate when England played a West Indies XI in a cricket match over the weekend.

The winners took home $20 million. The losers left with nothing. That was the winner-take-all prize put up by Sir Allen Stanford, a billionaire financier born in Texas but now a citizen of Antigua and Barbados.

Stanford has a passion for cricket. Earlier this year, he agreed a deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to stage five Twenty20 internationals between England and the West Indies.

Twenty20 is the short-form version of a sport that still has matches lasting five days in duration.

The $20 million is the largest prize ever offered to a team for winning a single tournament.

The Stanford series was not without controversy, especially after the 58-year-old was pictured in the British tabloids balancing the wife of the England wicketkeeper on his knee.

Not only that, the cricket purists claimed that the ECB has sold their soul to the devil. This competition wasn’t about the glory of the game; it was about money, pure and simple. Correct!

England players can’t handle the pressure

The merits of the match clearly got to the England players. They were bowled out for just 99 runs and the Stanford Superstars did not lose a wicket in successfully reaching their target. In baseball parlance, it was akin to a 10-0 defeat.

England captain Kevin Pietersen was magnanimous in defeat, admitting the West Indies players needed the money more than his team.

“I looked at the faces of players who basically have nothing and it brought a smile to my face,” he said.

“It was absolutely fantastic to see a guy fall over crying at the end with a million dollars in his bank account.

“I’m a human being and these guys are fellow professionals. Quite a few of them are a lot less privileged than I am and our lads are. To see them so happy is wonderful.”

West Indies batsman Chris Gayle will be spending part of his winnings on hospital treatment for his brother, who has a heart problem, and his father, who is also ill in Jamaica.

At least some of the money from this ill-advised competition will be spent on a good cause.