Monthly Archives: October 2009

UC-Syracuse preview

Brian Kelly sees the similarities between Syracuse and UC. He can think back to 2007, his first year at the helm of the Bearcats squad, and he can compare it to this season’s Syracuse squad – in its first year under coach Doug Marrone.

He comes to this conclusion: the Orange of 2009 and the Bearcats of 2007 are more similar than you might think.

“The first thing that stands out is Doug Marrone has done a great job of getting players to play hard for four quarters,” Kelly said. “I told our team this is the first time I’ve seen some similarities to our team in the first year in terms of playing hard. Everybody has been focused on Syracuse’s quarterback situation. (Greg) Paulus did a good job of coming into this year and adding some maturity and stability to the offense.”

Read the rest here.

This should be cool

Bearcats Rising signing, Colerain, LaRosa’s Pizzeria, Kerry Coombs. With Lonnie Wheeler and John Baskin, who collaborated on Cincinnati Schoolboy Legends. Coombs will sign both books.

Seriously, what could be better? Thursday, Nov. 5, 7-9 p.m.

Come out and meet Coombs in his element. Here. Should be a good time.

A presser about Pike (mostly)

Naturally, the topic of the day at the weekly presser was the health of Tony Pike and what would happen if he can’t play Saturday vs. Louisville. The big news was that Pike underwent a procedure this morning on his left arm to repair the plate that was inserted last season and was damaged again last Thursday in the third quarter of the South Florida game.

Pike won’t practice today or Wednesday, and from there, his status for the Louisville game on Saturday is unclear.

“We have to get the swelling out of there first,” Brian Kelly said. “It’s something we have to manage day to day.

Read the rest here.

The bravery of a man

A day after Cincinnati beat Baltimore to move to the top of the AFC North Division, a day after showering defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer with hugs and support, the Bengals opened their hearts and talked about family. And about love. And about courage. Hardly anybody talked about football.

Mostly, us reporters asked – and the players talked – about Vikki Zimmer, Mike Zimmer’s 50-year-old wife who died suddenly Thursday. She was a woman who made them cookies on the Mondays after they won a game. She was the mother figure who made newcomer Roy Williams so much more comfortable in his first days in Dallas. She was the one who loved the players and the one who soaked in the gratitude they held for her.

A sampling of the comments from today:

“If you ever did anything nice for her, she wanted to, right away in turn, do something nice for you, which a lot of people don’t do,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “She wanted to always reciprocate right away. I think that’s what we’ll all remember about her.”

“(When I first got here), I remember coach Zim caught me and said, ‘My wife really wants to meet you. She said you’re her new favorite player,'” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “She was a sweetheart. Every Monday after a win, we’d come in to watch the film, and she’d make us cookies and snacks. She loved the team so much.”

“She was family,” Williams said. “She was like a mother figure to me. She was always sending me notes, making sure I was OK. She will be missed. I really feel like she was the rock of that family, holding them together. I’m not saying they’re going to fall apart now, but she was the bright spot in Zim’s life.”

That last point is tremendous. She was the bright spot in his life, the mother of his children, the one who made the brownies with the marshmallow frosting that Williams would have to sneak after Zimmer left the room. She died on Thursday. He coached on Sunday. How did he do it? How did he summon the strength to call defensive plays? How did he keep his emotions in check on the sideline? How did he not break down in tears?

When the Bengals discovered the death, they let Zimmer decide his next step, his next path. “I don’t want to be a distraction,” he told Lewis. The Bengals coach assured his friend that he wouldn’t, that he could fly to Baltimore with the team, or later Saturday, or Sunday, or not at all. But a distraction? No. His players love him too much to cast him in that light.

The CBS cameras managed to catch Zimmer a few times on the sideline Sundsay, speaking words into his headset. Vikki, I’m sure, was somewhere in his mind that was trying to process the football game taking place in front of him. At the end of the game, with the Bengals win assured, the cameras zoomed in on him again. He was eaten alive by his team’s hugs, by players saying they had won the game for him and for his family.

“He needed us,” defensive end Jonathan Fanene said. “But we needed him too.”

Then, in the locker room after the game, Lewis awarded him the team ball. For courage, for the inspiration he gave to his players, for the performance of his unit. For, most of all, being braver than most anybody could hope to be.

I still don’t know how he did it.

The Boys of Summer

I completely forgot I had it, gathering dust and nearly hidden on my bookshelf. It was a book I bought a long time ago, a book I never read.

Not that you could tell from looking at it. The front cover is torn in the middle and masking tape covers the spine of the book. Without it, the cover and the back would have been lost many years ago. About one-third of the back cover is gone, revealing, on page 402, the final words of the epilogue.

The book is “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn, who is still considered by many to be one of the best living sports writers today. The story is fascinating. Kahn, in his mid-20s, was tapped to cover the early 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers as they played in front of adoring crowds at the long-departed Ebbets Field. Quotes and stories from players like Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Erskine litter the inside of the book, as Kahn sets upon his journey to cover the team that first captured his love when he was a child.

That’s the first half of the story. The second half features Kahn, as a wiser, more worldly man, traveling across the country nearly 20 years later to meet those old ballplayers and discover how their lives had twisted and turned after they hung up their glove and cleats for the final time.

I acquired the book about the same time I took possession of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and Sparky Lyle’s “The Bronx Zoo.” I’d never read Kahn’s tome. I tried several times to start, but the book was dense and the history of the author didn’t interest me. Not true for “Ball Four” and “The Bronx Zoo.” Those books were lighter and funnier, and though many years would pass before I could appreciate many of the jokes in those words, I had reread and reread those works a dozen times or two.

About a month ago, I was in the basement, looking through my bookshelf, when my eyes ran across “The Boys of Summer.” I thought I’d give the dog-eared book a read. And you know what? It was really good. And you know what else? I’m glad it took me so long to discover.

First, a quick sampling on page 158 of “The Boys of Summer” with Kahn talking about buying World Series tickets for his friends:

I bought a pair for each game, at $6 a ticket, spending a total of $84, which was $12 more than my weekly salary. Then I offered the tickets to friends who had not called. Both strips were gone in a day. All Brooklyn panted for my tickets, but as it did, I made a modest economic discovery. Once $84 is removed from a checking account, to be repaid in multiples of $6, it is gone. Friends gave me cash and
checks, but the small installments always dissipated. It was months before my account recovered. Whatever the arithmetic, $6 times 14 never equals $84.

And in a similar, two paragraphs from Bearcats Rising (though my editor added part of it – the good stuff), talking about former UC quarterback Ben Mauk, who had applied to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility:

Mauk, though, wasn’t finished. He had one more stratagem. Unbeknownst to the NCAA – or anybody at UC – Mauk had badly injured himself as a high school freshman. He was going to argue that an old injury had prevented him from playing as a true freshman at Wake Forest … Like the 2006 season, an injury had cost him 2003 as well.

It was simple. Two plus two equals six. Two injuries, two lost seasons, which equaled a sixth year of eligibility. That was Mauk’s ultimate logic. If some were suspicious of an old injury, well, all’s fair in love and litigation. <

Anyway, if I had read the book when I was 10, I wouldn't have appreciated Kahn's writing, his stories, his journey. I would have brushed off the historical perspective, read it to learn about Robinson and Reese and probably never perused – or thought about – it again.

But I, like Kahn, am wiser and more worldly, 20 years after I first put the book on my shelf. My life has turned in directions I couldn't have imagined, much like the players Kahn covered. I can appreciate the way Kahn wrote, the way he did his job at a time when newspapers were THE information source for people smart and dumb, the way his journey into middle age reflected in his writing.

I'm glad I found the book a month ago, and I'm glad I read it. I'm glad I took the book with me from Marietta to Athens to Augusta to Cincinnati. Even if it takes me another 20 years to reread the work – if I ever do – I'm glad that I saved it all that time. I can appreciate now what Kahn was trying to say.

Before, I wouldn't have understood.

Boys of Summer (front)