Friday, January 30, 2009


AMERICA’S economy is shrinking and unemployment rising. But some things can survive, even in the toughest climate, and it appears the Super Bowl is one of them.

Last year’s Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots attracted an average audience of 97.5 million and was the second-most watched TV program in U.S. history (the final episode of MASH in 1983 had an average of 106 million viewers).

It’s unlikely Super Bowl XLIII will quite reach those heights, but it appears that despite the recession, host broadcaster NBC will sell all of its advertising slots.

NBC has allocated 33.5 minutes of commercial airtime. At around $3 million per 30 seconds, that will generate revenue close to $200 million. Not bad for one night’s work!

Expect a hard-sell approach to this year’s ads. “Any advertisers that are going to spend $2 million to $3 million for a spot, their shareholders and chief executives will want to see a return on that,” says Mark Chmiel, chief marketing officer for Denny’s.

Sometimes the commercials are more exciting than the game itself. But not last year, when Eli Manning led the Giants to a thrilling upset win over the previously unbeaten Pats.

Underdogs can turn up the heat in Tampa

This year, the Arizona Cardinals are cast in the role of underdog against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In stark contrast to the Steelers, who have won the Vince Lombardi Trophy five times, the Cardinals are making their Super Bowl debut in Tampa.

They have been the surprise team throughout the playoffs, beating the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.

In Larry Fitzgerald, they have one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. The question is whether 37-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner, MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV when he played for the St Louis Rams, can get the ball to him against one of the best defenses in the league.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Willie Parker and wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are the key men in the Steelers offense. But perhaps their biggest weapon will be safety Troy Polamalu.

If the Cardinals fail to give Fitzgerald sufficient protection, he could see more of Polamalu than is good for either him or the Cards.

In the Cardinals favor is the fact that the temperature in Tampa will be considerably higher than it is Pittsburgh, who have been ideally suited by the recent frigid conditions.

If they can turn it into a high-scoring game, there’s every chance that Cardinals can copy the Giants and spring the upset.

Either way, it should be a great occasion – and one that proves that even if bleak times, America still knows how to party!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


EUROPE’S reluctance to give the Ryder Cup captaincy to the same person twice may well cost them the chance of regaining the trophy in 2010.

There is no debate about Colin Montgomerie’s playing record in golf’s premier team competition. He never lost in any of his eight singles matches and won 23.5 points, putting him just 1.5 points behind the record held by Nick Faldo, the losing European captain at Valhalla, Kentucky, last year.

But if the European Tour tournament committee’s sole aim was to win back the cup at Celtic Manor in Wales next year, then surely they would have given the job to Ian Woosnam.

Woosnam not only led the Europeans to a crushing 18.5-9.5 victory over the USA in 2006 but he also happens to be a Welshman.

So who better to whip up the crowd and unite the players than “Woosie,” who played in eight Ryder Cups himself between 1983 and 1997?

In the end, it appears it came down to a straight choice between Montgomerie and Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal – two stalwarts of the European Tour for the past 20 years or so.

And Monty, who has won the European Tour Order or Merit eight times and the Ryder Cup five times, got the nod.

Monty is a popular figure with golf fans throughout Britain and designed one of the courses at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales, for billionaire owner Sir Terry Matthews.

Mrs. Doubtfire to lead Europe in 2010 

Thomas Bjorn, chairman of Europe’s 15-man Ryder Cup tournament committee, said: “There was no vote involved. We went around the table and everyone seemed to back Monty. A very hard and difficult meeting turned out to be a fairly easy one.

“I spoke to Jose, to Woosie and to Sandy (Lyle), all three in person. All Jose said was that he thinks Monty will be a great captain.”

The committee clearly believes it is only fair to rotate the job, meaning Olazabal and Lyle will be leading contenders in 2012 (Illinois) and 2014 (Scotland). 

You might have thought that Scot Monty, still only 45, would have been better held in reserve for Gleneagles in five years’ time.

Monty’s assets are his passion, determination and in-depth knowledge of the game. But his detractors will also point to the fact that he never won a Major, can be extremely selfish at times and has a fiery temper. He has a love-hate relationship with the media, who once dubbed him Mrs. Doubtfire.

Like Faldo, he was very single-minded as a player, and that doesn’t always translate well to leading a team over three days of intense competition.

The good news is that the 2010 Ryder Cup is being played on British soil…American golf fans have been known to get under Monty’s skin. 

It’s not as though Montgomerie is a bad appointment. It’s just that Woosnam would have been a better one if Europe is to wrest the cup back from Corey Pavin and his star-spangled U.S. team.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


WHEN THE MOON hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.

AC Milan has fallen in love with David Beckham and anyway you slice it, the England midfielder should still be playing his football in Europe rather than the United States.

Beckham has proved a much bigger hit in Italy than the USA since joining Milan on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The 33-year-old has played in all three of Milan’s Serie A games this year and scored his first goal for the club in their 4-1 rout of Bologna on Sunday.

Not only has he proved a hit with the fans but his contribution has also been recognized by his teammates.

Kaka, Milan’s star striker from Brazil, said: “The first matches showed quite clearly what his qualities are along with his passing ability and his capacity to play well.

“Perhaps these first two months will lead to six months or to one year, to more contracts. I certainly would like to play more with him.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, who said: “Beckham knows what our wish is. We all hope that he can stay with us.”

Beckham’s three-month loan period expires on March 9, the date he is due to return to the Galaxy and prepare for his second season in Major League Soccer.

After investing a reported $250 million to secure Beckham’s services for five years, the Galaxy are hardly likely to let him go after only one year – unless, of course, some financial settlement could be reached.

AC Milan officials plan to meet with Beckham’s agents shortly to see if anything can be done.

Milan keen to keep England midfielder

Adriano Galliani, the Milan vice president, is quoted as saying: “If Beckham reaches an agreement with the Galaxy, we are prepared to pay a fee.

“If he decides to free himself and wants to stay, we will welcome him with open arms, but he belongs to another club and we’ve got to thank them because they were very kind to us.”

Quite clearly, Beckham has failed to make the impact on US soccer that both the Galaxy and MLS were hoping for.

LA failed to make the playoffs last season, thus enabling Beckham to join Milan on loan.

The simple truth is that Beckham is not a player who can win games single-handed. He’s not a Pele or a Franz Beckenbauer 

He can’t head, he can’t tackle, but what he can do is pass with amazing accuracy and deliver the perfect ball into the box from set pieces.

His abilities are far better suited to a team containing other superstars than one wanting to make him the focal figure.

In other words, he is of far more use to Milan than he is to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Beckham is just one game short of becoming the second most-capped player in English football history. He currently has 107 behind Bobby Moore (108) and Peter Shilton (125).

He has a far better chance of adding to that list while he’s playing for Milan rather than the Galaxy.

That’s why it would make sense for both Beckham and the LA Galaxy to cut their losses now and let him make a permanent return to European football.

Monday, January 26, 2009


BESTSELLER or one of the worst decisions of his baseball career? Joe Torre’s memoirs of 12 years as manager in the Bronx are sure to boost his bank balance, but will they tarnish his image as a New York Yankees legend?

That’s the debate raging among baseball fans following the leak of excerpts from “The Yankee Years”, due to be released on February 3.

In the book, written in conjunction with Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, Torre claims he was betrayed by general manager Brian Cashman and says that Alex Rodriguez was often referred to by his teammates as “A-Fraud”.

With the Super Bowl still a week away, and only basketball to report on, books like this are a godsend to tabloid newspapers.

Cashman says he has already spoken to Torre about the book and claims he is “very comfortable” about his relationship with the former Yankees skipper. Others, A-Rod included, are unlikely to be so understanding.

We all know Torre was bitter about his departure from the Yankees and feels that the offer of a one-year, $5 million contract plus incentives (a cut of $2 million) was an insult.

At the time, many Yankees fans sympathized with him, agreeing that he deserved better treatment from the Steinbrenner family after 12 years of loyal service.

But that was 15 months ago so it’s a little surprising that Torre has chosen now to open up old wounds.

Torre takes a shot at Cashman and "A-Fraud"

It’s even more surprising that he has taken a shot at Alex Rodriguez. For all his failings in the post-season, A-Rod was named American League MVP in two of the four seasons he played under Torre.

And he certainly isn’t the main reason why the Yanks have failed to win a World Championship since 2000.

By publicly criticizing A-Rod, Torre has gone against the unwritten code of conduct among sportsmen.

It’s one thing to tell all when you’ve retired but to do so while you’re still managing is out of order.

Torre may well have an axe to grind with the Yankees. But let’s not forget that they paid him around $45 million over 12 years and it’s not as though he’s fallen on hard times since leaving them.

He is entering the second year of a $13 million, three-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Torre will no doubt attempt to distance himself from some of the comments, claiming they were taken out of context and that he did not directly write the book.

But at a time when many hard-working Americans are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, some greedy people clearly don’t realize just how lucky they are.

Friday, January 23, 2009


THERE’S AN OLD ENGLISH expression: “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.” What it means is don’t risk failure of a large project by trying to economize on trivial things.

Having already invested $423 million in new players this winter, it’s hard to believe the New York Yankees are willing to go into the 2009 MLB season without a proven fifth starting pitcher.

The Yanks are already gambling in a number of positions. They’re banking on Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera returning fully fit from shoulder surgery; a combination of Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner being good enough to patrol center field; and Brian Bruney and Dámaso Marte building a strong enough bridge to the closer.

CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain (providing he stays healthy) give them an awesome-looking front four.

But they don’t have the strength in depth of the Boston Red Sox, who added John Smoltz and Brad Penny to a staff already boasting Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz.

That’s why it’s a little puzzling to hear Yankees general manager Brian Cashman talk about a competition for the fifth starting role between Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Alfredo Aceves.

Hughes and Kennedy failed to win a game between them last season and although Hughes somewhat redeemed himself in the Arizona League this winter, the jury is still out on whether he is going to make it at the highest level.

Why Yankees must sign fifth starter

As the saying goes, you can never have enough starting pitching, and the Yankees still look a little light in this department.

It’s all gone quiet on the Andy Pettitte front. Pettitte, it appears, won’t sign for $10 million, and the Yankees seem unwilling to increase their offer.

If Cashman and Pettitte can’t reach agreement, then surely the Yanks need to make a move now for the talented Ben Sheets, who went 13-9 for the Milwaukee Brewers last season with an ERA of 3.09.

Sheets is the best free agent pitcher on the market and although he has spent long periods of his career on the disabled list, he would probably come cheaper than Pettitte.

Cashman and the Yankees have been criticized by all and sundry for their level of spending at a time when the country is in recession.

But as they start a new era in a new stadium, it’s worth remembering that’s it’s now nine years since they were world champions and they have to overtake both the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East next season.

So having spent big money on ordering the meatiest entrée, there's no point in Cashman trying to save on his starter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


THIS SURE can be a depressing time of year. Football is over for all but the fans of Arizona and Pittsburgh. And if you’re not into basketball, which I’m not, the baseball season still seems a long way off.

I’ve already had enough of shoveling the snow from my drive and I’m still mad at myself for locking in the price of my heating oil at more than $3 a gallon.

I can’t say I’m too excited either about the World Baseball Classic, a competition featuring such fearsome ball-playing nations as Australia, Italy and the Netherlands.

But one piece of news did cheer me up yesterday, namely that Bernie Williams is returning to the diamond to represent his country of birth, Puerto Rico.

We can’t really say he’s coming out of retirement because Bernie, now 40, never actually retired. His contract with the New York Yankees expired at the end of the 2006 season and he declined an invitation to attend spring training in 2007 as a non-roster invitee.

Yankees great makes Classic return

Since then, Bernie – a classically trained guitarist – has been developing a musical career. He played on stage with Bruce Springsteen last November and is due to release his second CD, entitled Moving Forward, in April.

Still bitter about the way his split with the Yanks was handled, Bernie didn’t return to the Stadium until the official closing ceremony on September 21 last year. But when he finally did, what a reception he received from the fans.

Now, the good news is that he’s back in training for the World Baseball Classic, which takes place in March with the semi-finals and final being staged at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, from the 21st to the 23rd.

Bernie has missed baseball and baseball has missed Bernie. Few players have enjoyed such a rapport with the paying public. He was/is one of the gentle giants of the game.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was an eight-year-old. I miss that competitive edge that all athletes have,” he says.

If Puerto Rico should qualify and Bernie shows he can still hit a line drive or two, what chance Dodgers manager Joe Torre signing him up for the season? In truth, probably little, but in these cold winter months, we can but dream.

Friday, January 16, 2009


MONEYBAGS English Premier League club Manchester City have stunned world football by making a bid for a player that, if accepted, will more than double the world record transfer fee.

The record is currently held by Frenchman Zinedine Zidane, who moved from Italian club Juventus to Spanish giants Real Madrid for £46 million in 2001.

Now Manchester City, purchased by a consortium from the oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi last September, have offered AC Milan £108 million ($150 million) for their Brazilian striker Kaka.

City have spent most of the last 130 years living in the shadow of their more glamorous neighbors Manchester United. But no longer.

They signaled their intention to compete with the big boys by paying £32.5 million for another Brazilian, Robinho, last year.

And now that the transfer window has reopened, they are determined to prove that every player has a price by luring Kaka from a club standing third in Italy’s Serie A to one lying 15th in the Barclays Premier League and fighting against relegation.

The early indications were that both AC Milan and the player himself would reject City’s overtures.

Now, it seems that even a club of Milan’s stature will be unable to turn down such a huge transfer fee and that Kaka will succumb to a net weekly wage of £255,000 (close to $400,000).

English club bids $150 million for Brazilian

To put the deal in perspective, compare it with baseball’s highest earners. The New York Yankees recently agreed to pay first baseman Mark Teixeira $180,000 million over eight years. That works out at $22.5 million a year or ($430,000 a week) BEFORE tax.

City have been champions of England two times, compared to United’s 17. They have never won the Premier League title while United have done so 10 times in the last 16 years.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, admitted to being “shocked and surprised” by the offer.

“I find it hard to get my head round this to be honest,” he said. “Football is football. From time to time you get shocks and surprises. But this is surprising everyone.”

Just as some Americans fear baseball is no longer a game for the average Joe, so some of those involved in English football fear for the future.

Steve Bruce, manager of Wigan and a former Manchester United captain, said: “The beauty of our game is that it means more to the average man in the street than anybody. I know the average man in the street now finds it very difficult to find £40-45 to go and watch a game.

“We are all staggered by the news. It is quite unbelievable when you are talking about a credit crunch throughout the world. But it just shows you what the Premier League is all about.

“I think this year people thought the situation with finances would be a little more sensible. But then along come the owners of Manchester City who want to have the best players in the world at their club.”

Only time will tell if City succeed in signing Kaka. If they don’t, there are plenty more fish in the ocean for them to catch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


THE BASEBALL Writers' Association should be applauded for refusing to let any Tom, Dick or Barry who swung a bat or hurled a ball into the National Hall of Fame.

It should be castigated for taking 15 years to induct former Boston Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice.

Rice, it seems, had few friends among the media during his playing days. That can be the only reason why he’s had to wait so long because this eight-time All Star selection had 382 home runs, 2,452 hits and 1,451 RBIs in 16 seasons for a batting average of .298.

To be elected to the Hall of Fame, players require 75 per cent of the vote from members of the Association. In Rice’s 15th and final year on the ballot, he received 76.4 per cent or 412 votes from the 539 ballots cast.

Rickey Henderson, an automatic first-year pick if ever there was one, was still snubbed by 28 of the writers who have a vote.

While you can understand the reluctance of the baseball scribes to vote for players suspected of using steroids, Rice’s exclusion was harder to fathom.

Bonds could be kept out of Cooperstown

Now 55, he made his last appearance for the Red Sox back in August, 1989, and could be forgiven for feeling a little bitter about his long wait.

“If you look at some of the people in the Hall of Fame, my numbers are compatible,” said Rice. “Why it took so long I don’t know. The only thing I can say is that I’m glad it’s over with. I’m not going to badmouth any writers or what have you. I’m just looking forward to things to come.”

Rice and Henderson will be inducted on July 26th in Cooperstown along with the late New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, who was elected by the Veterans Committee last December.

The chances of Mark McGwire joining them any time soon look remote as his support dropped from 23.6% to 21.9%. That doesn’t augur well for Barry Bonds either when he becomes eligible.

I’m all for the baseball writers keeping out the cheats, but surely votes should be based on statistics rather than personalities.

Monday, January 12, 2009


THE BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE has earned a reputation for being the best soccer league in the world. It attracts the top players, it’s watched by fans on every continent and creates the most revenue.

Money talks. That’s why, since its formation in 1992, only four clubs have won it – Manchester United (10 times), Arsenal (3), Chelsea (2) and Blackburn Rovers (1).

Year in, year out, the league is dominated by these first three clubs, plus current leaders Liverpool.

The “Big Four”, particularly United and Chelsea, spend huge sums on upgrading their first team squad each and every season.

Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich has spent roughly £600,000 million ($900,000 million) on the club since buying Chelsea in 2003.

His millions helped Chelsea win back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. But while money can attract the best footballing foreigners, the contract doesn’t say anything about loyalty to the shirt or commitment to the cause.

Anyone who watched Manchester United thrash Chelsea 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday will testify to that.

United played with pride and passion. Chelsea looked as though they were going through the motions.

A midfield containing two England internationals (Frank Lampard and Joe Cole), Portuguese star (Deco) and the captain of Germany (Michael Ballack) were played off the park by their Red Devil counterparts.

And if ever there was a player picking up a huge paycheck under false pretences then it’s Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba.

Chelsea stars going through the motions

Drogba, who cost the Blues £23.8 million from Olympique Marseille in July 2004, has long been rumored to be unhappy at Stamford Bridge. He is constantly linked by the British tabloids to a reunion with his former boss, José Mourinho, now in charge of Inter Milan.

It was under the Portuguese coach Mourinho that Chelsea enjoyed their greatest success, although his negative style of play did not please everyone.

Ironically, the man dubbed by the media as “The Special One” was among the Old Trafford crowd as his Inter team face United in the last 16 of the Champions League next month.

Former Brazilian national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was brought in last summer with a remit to win with style. Chelsea may only be four points behind United but in recent weeks, they’ve hardly been winning and when they do, it’s certainly not in style.

They’ve collected maximum points from just two of their last seven Premier League matches and were far from impressive in qualifying in second place from their UEFA Champions League group.

Big Phil’s coaching skills are not in question. He led Brazil to victory in the 2002 World Cup.

But when it comes to motivating his mercenaries, you have to doubt whether he’s in the same league as tough-talking Scot Sir Alex Ferguson.

Fergie, now in his 23rd year as United manager, is famous – or infamous – for handing out the “hairdryer treatment” when he feels he’s being let down by his players.

No one is immune to his tongue-lashing. David Beckham required several stitches in a cut above his left eye after being struck by a stray boot during a dressing-room rant by Ferguson.

Perhaps that fear factor is why you rarely see any United player – even the sometimes moody FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo – giving anything less than 100 percent.

So the message to Scolari is crystal clear. Forget about signing another big name player from abroad. Go out and buy yourself a hairdryer!


THIS WAS the year the New York Giants should have won the Super Bowl.

The fact that they won it a year early against all the odds was of scant consolation after yesterday’s meltdown at the Meadowlands.

So much for a Giants v Jets showdown in Tampa next month. The only thing the two New York teams have in common now is that they both lost four of their last five matches.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, momentum plays a big part in sports, and it was most definitely with the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles – just as it was for the underdog Giants a year ago.

The Giants had to take it away for them and for a few minutes, it looked as though they could. An impressive drive from the kick-off resulted in a field goal and they then returned the ball close to the halfway line.

Two needless penalties and an Eli Manning interception later, the Eagles were 7-3 ahead and in control of the game. In truth, it was a grip that they never really relinquished.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and his defensive counterpart Steve Spagnuolo have worked wonders over the past 12 months. But, collectively, they got it wrong on Sunday.

What was the point of kicking a field goal towards the end of the second quarter if they were then going to sit back and let Donovan McNabb effortlessly march his team straight back down the field in the remaining 93 seconds to regain the lead? They might as well have gone for it on fourth and inches.

Throughout the game, the Giants’ play calls lacked variety and invention. They ran the ball when they should have passed it and vice versa.

Perhaps this was due to the fact that Manning couldn’t control the velocity or spiral of the ball in the swirling wind. Neither, for that matter, could kicker John Carney, who missed from 46 and 47 yards.

Why did the Giants even bother to dress a second kicker, Laurence Tynes, who has a longer range than Carney?

Giants coaches choose wrong game plan

In the end, it probably didn’t matter. The Giants couldn’t come up with any big plays on third and fourth down. And if you don’t score one touchdown in 60 minutes then you don’t really deserve to win.

So where and when did it all go wrong? Try a nightclub in Manhattan on the night of November 28. I guess most will point to the Plaxico Burress shooting incident as the turning point in the Giants’ season, both physically and mentally.

The Giants seemed to lose their spark after that. Certainly, Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress on that fateful night, completely lost his focus.

The absence of 6ft 5in Burress seriously limited Manning’s passing options. Judging by yesterday’s game plan, neither Manning nor the coaching staff had faith in Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Armani Toomer or Sinorice Moss being able to make a big catch at a vital time.

Instead, they preferred to use Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward as battering rams…and the Eagles defense was equal to the task.

We’ll never know what would have happened had Burress playede. If he doesn’t return, the Giants are going to need to sign a dominant wide receiver to take his place.

Spagnuolo is in line for a head coaching position, possibly with the Jets, and deservedly so on his achievements in making the Giants defense one of the most feared in football, especially after the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending injury to defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

On Sunday, however, the Giants couldn’t bring any pressure to bear on McNabb, failing to sack him once, although they did manage a safety.

It was the same story in the previous two meetings between the teams this season, although on this occasion, they did at least limit the damage done by Brian Westbrook.

The Eagles visited Giants Stadium twice and left victorious on both occasions so there can be little argument that they deserve their place in the NFC Championship game in Arizona.

For the Giants, there are only regrets that they lost the plot after going 11-1. In a year when there is no one outstanding team, they had a great chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The belligerent Burress has a lot to do with the fact that they won't.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


QUESTION: What do you get for going 23-25 in three seasons and failing to make the playoffs from a position of 8 and 3?

ANSWER: The sack, swiftly followed by a four-year contract from another team.

New York Jets fans are still in mourning after another season that promised so much yet ended in failure.

So they might not exactly be rejoicing at the news that coach Eric Mangini was out of work for precisely nine days.

There were those who thought Mangini might struggle to land another head coaching position, particularly after he “shopped” his mentor, Bill Belichick, during the videotaping scandal known as Spygate in 2007.

Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner was not among them. Lerner interviewed Mangini the day after he was fired by the Jets and was so impressed by what the 37-year-old had to say that he soon became the front-runner for the job.

On Wednesday, Mangini, who began his NFL career with Cleveland 15 years ago as an intern in the PR department, was introduced as the Browns' new head coach.

Only time will tell whether it’s a good appointment. Once dubbed “Mangenius” in New York, the former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots was found wanting as the Jets lost four of their last five games.

But what I can tell you right now is that Lerner is nobody’s fool. The one-time investment analyst also happens to be chairman of English Premier League soccer club Aston Villa.

Mangini gets second chance in Cleveland

Villa, European Cup winners in 1982, had fallen on hard times in subsequent years. But, shortly after taking over the Midlands club in 2006, Lerner lured one of Britain’s brightest coaches – Martin O’Neill – to Villa Park.

Now, less than three years later, O’Neill’s team occupies fourth place in the table and is threatening to break the stranglehold on the top four positions by Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Mangini led the Jets to the playoffs in his first season in charge. If he can repeat the feat with the Browns this year, then he will be hailed a hero.

After going 10-6 in 2007, the Browns were a big disappointment in 2008, ending up 4-12, despite upsetting reigning Super Bowl champions the New York Giants 35-14 in week 6.

They finished the season with six straight losses, so it was no surprise then when head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage were both fired.

Ironically, after a season in which he had a quarterback – Brett Favre – thrust on him by the Jets’ owners and management, Mangini has another issue to resolve: who starts in that position for the Browns in 2009.

The Browns used four starting quarterbacks last year: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski.

Anderson, who signed a new three-year contract in February, 2008, started the season as first choice in the position.

But on November 3, the Browns announced that he would be benched in favor of Quinn, the 22nd overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

Quinn sustained a season-ending finger injury after just two games as No. 1 quarterback. Now Mangini must decide whether to go with youth or experience.
Lerner clearly has faith in him making the right decision. Why else would he award him a four-year deal?

And after being ridiculed for his coaching by many Jets fans on the New York talk radio shows, Mangini may yet find redemption in Cleveland.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


NO DOUBT about who has been spending the big bucks in baseball this winter. But just how much stronger will the New York Yankees be in 2009?

After finishing eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and two adrift of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East last year, they need to show improvement.

That’s why Brian Cashman has been by far the busiest general manager this off-season, and why the sport’s richest club has invested more than $423 million in signing three of the top four free agents – Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett.

There’s no question that Cashman has acquired the best players on the market. Manny Ramirez might have better numbers in the short term than Teixeira, but the latter is undoubtedly a sounder long-term investment and a better fit in the clubhouse.

The Yanks have also acquired Nick Swisher in a trade with the Chicago White Sox so how much difference will these four players make?

If you base it on statistics alone, the answer is not a lot.

Sabathia (17) and Burnett (18) won 35 games between them last season. That’s just one more than the retired Mike Mussina (20) and possibly departing Andy Pettitte (14).

Pettitte has sullied his reputation as one of the Yankees’ all-time great pitchers by rejecting a more than reasonable offer of $10 million for one year’s work.

Teixeira (121 and 33) and Swisher (69 and 24) produced a combined total of 190 RBIs last season, including 57 home runs.

Compare that to the 196 RBIs and 52 home runs hit by Bobby Abreu (100 and 20) and Jason Giambi (96 and 32).

GM Cashman lives up to his name

Of course, the game isn’t all about statistics. Teixiera and Swisher should improve the team defensively and there are many other factors to be taken into consideration.

The Yanks will have Xavier Nady for a full season, Robinson Cano will surely improve on last year’s figures and a healthy Hideki Matsui would be an added bonus.

Chien-Ming Wang’s return from a foot injury gives the Bronx Bombers a scary-looking rotation, no matter who their fifth starter is.

Hopefully, Mariano Rivera will return as good as ever from surgery on his sore right shoulder and players like Phil Coke will continue to make progress in the bullpen.

But perhaps the key to just how good a year the Yanks have is whether catcher Jorge Posada returns as good as new from his shoulder surgery.

Switch-hitter Posada gives the batting lineup immense depth, but he has to be able to throw out runners too.

All this and we haven’t even mentioned A-Rod, who still managed to hit 103 RBIs and 35 home runs in a sub-standard year.

A little more from Alex Rodriguez, especially in clutch situations, and the Yanks will have a real chance of marking the first season in their new stadium with their 27th World Championship.

To do that, they will have to finish ahead of one – if not two – of the Rays and Red Sox in the regular season.

That will be no easy task. The Rays have added the experienced Pat Burrell to a lineup packed with emerging young talent and don’t expect the Red Sox to stand still this winter.

Whatever the outcome, Yankees fans have a lot to look forward to in 2009. It could just be a big year.

Monday, January 5, 2009


THEY'RE THE TEAM the New York Giants least wanted to face. But if the Giants are to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they must first find a way past the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m sure most Giants fans were rooting for a Minnesota Vikings victory on Sunday so Big Blue could avoid playing the Green Machine and a divisional rival in their first post-season game.

In truth, it was never going to happen. Despite keeping it close for the first three quarters, the Vikings were overmatched, especially at quarterback. Donovan McNabb v Tarvaris Jackson was no contest.

With seven minutes remaining, Brian Westbrook took a screen pass from McNabb and zigzagged 71 yards for a touchdown. It was Westbrook’s first significant contribution of the game. It was also decisive.

It means that this Sunday (1pm), Andy Reid’s Eagles will visit the Meadowlands for the second time in little more than a month.

And we all know what happened the last time they were in New Jersey on December 7. They outplayed the Giants for much of the game and were far from flattered by their 20-14 victory.

In the Giants’ favor, they have home advantage and an extra week’s rest. But momentum plays a huge part in sports and that’s definitely with the Eagles.

Since McNabb was benched at halftime in a 36-7 mauling in Baltimore, the Eagles have won five of their last six games.

In-form Eagles pose a major threat

They’re the form team in the NFL. McNabb is playing with confidence while Westbrook has often been a thorn in the Giants’ side.

In contrast, the Giants have lost a little of their aura since the Plaxico Burress shooting incident, as well as three of their last four games.

At one point in the season, they looked invincible. No longer. Now the $64,000 question is can they regain that momentum?

“I think the Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL right now,” concedes Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “They may be the sixth seed but they sure aren’t playing like it.

“We know them well, which is a good thing, but they know us too. I’m glad this game is going to be at home because I know our fans will be into it. It’s going to be the tough NFC battle you’d expect, and we are really looking forward to it.”

The Giants and Eagles have met three times before in the post-season. The Giants lead 2-1 but lost their last meeting in Philadelphia two years ago when a 38-yard field goal from David Akers gave the Eagles a 23-20 victory.

It’s 1-1 this season, the Giants winning 36-31 in Philly in November before losing the rematch.

History, both ancient and recent, suggests it’s going to be close. Much of the pre-game focus will no doubt be on the match-up between McNabb and Eli Manning.

But, for me, the key is going to be how long the Giants can maintain possession and how Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw run the ball. 

If they have to rely too much on the pass, then the Eagles could well take another step toward emulating another team from the City of Brotherly Love – the baseball World Series-winning Phillies.