Monthly Archives: January 2010

My interview with Butch Jones, part III

Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones’ office for a little question and answer session. I hadn’t met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here’s part III of III of my interview.

Josh Katzowitz: I saw a little Skyline Chili gift basket outside your office. Have you been to Skyline yet?

Butch Jones: Oh yeah, I’ve been to Skyline a number of times. You saw the basket? That’s one example of the support we’ve received since coming here.

Read the rest here.

My interview with Butch Jones, part II

Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones’ office for a little question and answer session. I hadn’t met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here’s part II of III of my interview.

Josh Katzowitz: Not many people have talked about this, but what kind of defense do you run?

Butch Jones: First of all, we’ll be real multiple with a four-down and three-down front. We’ll be very, very aggressive, but we’re going to be fundamentally sound. We’ll be a great, great tackling team. We’ll pride ourselves on playing with great fundamentals, not only on defense but on the other phases as well.

Read the rest here.

Walking down memory lane with Jasper Brinkley

Watching a little NFC conference championship game, and I’m listening to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman discuss rookie middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who’s played so well in place of the injured E.J. Henderson. I covered Brinkley – and his twin brother, the awesomely-named Casper – when they played at Thomson (Ga.) High School and I worked at the Augusta Chronicle.

I couldn’t remember how much I actually had written about the Brinkley’s. Thomson has been a powerful program for the last few decades, but it’s also one of the outlying schools in the Chronicle’s coverage area. We gave the school pretty good coverage and we attended many of the football games on Friday nights, but Thomson wasn’t one of our top priorities either.

So I googled “Josh Katzowitz” and “Jasper Brinkley” to see what would pop up and if I ever wrote anything significant about him. Before that, though,, I found this feature from last week about Brinkley in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The moral of the story: don’t make fun of Casper and Jasper.

The lede:

The kids in Thomson, Ga., used to give Jasper Brinkley and his twin brother, Casper, a hard time. They’d poke fun at them because, well, they were named Jasper and Casper.

“Oh yeah, all the time,” Brinkley said. “All the way through middle school.”

Then they stopped.

“We hit our growth spurt in high school,” Brinkley noted.

Nobody was foolish enough to mess around with Jap and Cap – their family nicknames – after that.

Good stuff. But then I found this story that I had written for the Feb. 6, 2003 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. And I groaned. Before I clicked on the link, I knew exactly what the story was – even though I haven’t thought about it in nearly seven years.

Since I was the paper’s main prep writer and since Feb. 5, 2003 was National Signing Day – where all the local prep stars ink their names on letters of intent for colleges big and small – I had to write the annual “This is what happened on Signing Day” story. Basically, it was me driving to a high school (or maybe, if I was really, really lucky, two or three high schools) where multiple players, in a press conference setting with TV cameras filming away, were filling out their letter of intent paperwork and putting on their collegiate hats and smiling big for the cameras and drinking the punch and eating the cookies that were brought into the library for the big event.

It was usually a pretty boring day. And usually a pretty boring story to write.

So, on this day, I decided to spice up it up a bit. This is the lede I wrote – which I say to this day is pretty decent.

By Josh Katzowitz/Staff Writer

Perhaps the festivities for National Signing Day were symbolized best by Thomson offensive lineman Brian Brinson.

In the school media center Wednesday morning, Brinson wore a light-blue short-sleeve dress shirt with a tie. It was half-untucked and didn’t quite go with his dark-blue slacks and brown Timberland sneakers.

He basically looked like the ultimate high school student, who doesn’t worry about fashion – or, for that matter, matching.

The best part of his outfit was the big goofy grin on his face. That was why Brinson – who with teammates Montrell Neal and Jasper Brinkley signed with Georgia Military College – looked like a million bucks.

I thought nothing of my story until the next morning where I caught heat from some readers. They said I had insulted Brinson; they said I had embarrassed him. They said I should think about how my words will affect others before I put them on the page. I hadn’t thought about that lede as insulting or embarrassing. After all, I pointed out, I said he looked like a million bucks. I wasn’t trying to insult him. I was trying to make a contrasting statement that would make an interesting and readable lede (I still maintain that I succeeded in that aspect).

I reread the story a few minutes ago, and I didn’t think it was too bad. But I can see the readers’ point. I probably had insulted him (by calling him sloppy and mismatched), and I probably had embarrassed him (by calling him goofy). It taught me a nice lesson, especially when dealing with and writing about high school students. To this day, I really try to think about what the words emanating from my laptop will mean to the person I’m writing about. Believe me, I thought about that a ton when writing the Rick Minter chapters for Bearcats Rising.

But I hate the fact that this kid probably can’t look at this story (if his parents, in fact, clipped it and put it into a scrapbook, though I can imagine why they, instead, would have burned every copy of the newspaper they could find) without remembering how he felt Feb. 6, 2003.

So, wherever you are, Brian Brinson: I’m sorry. I hope the embarrassment I might have caused has faded away. Hopefully, you can laugh about it today. Hopefully, you won’t send Jasper and Casper to find me.

An interview with Butch Jones, part I

Last week, I was invited into Butch Jones’ office for a little question and answer session. I hadn’t met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here’s part I of III of my interview.

Josh Katzowitz: So, you’ve been here a couple weeks. How’s everything going?

Butch Jones: The transition has been extremely smooth. We really benefitted from being here very early. Getting a head start on everything, a head start on recruiting. Being able to evaluate things, so all of a sudden after the Sugar Bowl, we’ve come in and hit the ground running.

Read the rest here.


In honor of Hal McCoy winning Ohio Sports Writer of the Year for the umpteenth time (hey, McCoy, how ’bout a little something for the rest of us?), I point you in the direction of a column I wrote about him for the November issue of Cincinnati Profile magazine.

This was a fun, little essay that came together at the last minute, as the Reds honored him last September for his beat writer-ship for the past four decades. It helps that McCoy is such a good dude.

Although I go a little heavy with the analogies that seem, in retrospect, a little unwieldy and awkward, this is one of my favorite pieces I wrote this past year.

Who’s your hero now?

Mark McGwire can’t be trusted. Neither can Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro lied to Congress and the baseball fans around the world with one wag of his finger. Alex Rodriguez lied before he told the truth. Our heroes have betrayed us.

Actually, I’m not particularly disappointed in the McGwire confession and apology. Pundits and writers have ripped him for his belief that the steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Only that it helped stave off injuries. And you know what? I do believe him. I really believe that he believes that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs. Of course, you’d have to be a fool to agree with McGwire that steroids didn’t actually have some impact in his 583 career homers. But I also don’t believe that a bearded carpenter (who’s complexion actually was probably closer to Osama bin Laden than anybody would want to admit) is the son of God, so who am I to piss on what somebody else thinks? McGwire wanted to clear his conscience, and I’m sure he feels like he did exactly that.

But I’ve been thinking the past couple days about why I’m not disappointed in McGwire. In part, it’s because his testimony in Congress might as well have been an admission of guilt. I don’t think anybody, save Tony La Russa*, believed McGwire was completely clean after his “I’m not interested in talking about the past” question and answer period.

*I also don’t believe that La Russa really believed this.

But it’s something else. It’s the cynical sports writer in me, and it’s why I’ll probably never be a big fan of anything or anybody again. I’m just not interested in the inevitable downfall of the people we cheer as heroes.

I grew up a huge Mark McGwire fan. Had the posters and the pictures pinned to my bedroom wall. His 49 home runs in 1987 convinced me he was the hero for me. I searched for his rookie baseball card (I only paid $15 dollars, can you believe it?). I cut out newspaper articles. I watched him in All-Star games. I suffered when he hit .201 in 1991. I thought he was the man. Because, with a little bit of help from a chemistry set, he was the man.

But I also never felt betrayed by him either – which, I think to myself, might be a little strange. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa were the heroes of a nation, but by that time, I was in college and I kept my hero worship to a minimum. I was starting a career in journalism, and I had been taught that we don’t cheer for the players on the field. I had already begun my own paradigm shift.

I had lost my hero worship. Not just of McGwire, but of any athlete. A slam-dunk artist? You’re not my hero. A quarterback who can fling it 50 yards with accuracy? You’re not my hero. A bearded red-headed giant of a man with forearms the size of Christmas hams and a conscience that was, let’s say, slightly smaller? You’re not my hero either.

Yet, what’s truly disturbing in this case is that, while nearly everybody has lied, denied and tried to weasel their way out the truth, only one guy can be trusted to speak it. One guy whose words have been proven true over and over again. One guy who’s been sleazy and money-hungry and who can’t be well-liked by, well, just about anybody. One guy who knows the insides of the game and is willing to expose it by slicing open its belly and exposing the undigested remnants of the past two decades. He is the hero in this story.

You know him as Jose Canseco, and he’s the new conscience of baseball.

To the people of Haiti

I just sent a $50 donation to the American Red Cross. It doesn’t feel like enough, but we have some major family changes coming in the next few months and we’re trying to watch our bottom line. Which, with what’s happened in Haiti, seems incredibly selfish. It’s a conundrum. How much can you give? How much should you give? How much should you weigh your own financial situation, and to answer that question with another question, how can you not? Does $50 make the guilt go away? $100? $1,000?

I don’t know, but I do know this: I wish the donation made me feel better. But, really, it doesn’t.

This is what we should do

A week ago, the Toronto Star wrote a story asking if we should be Israelifying our airports to make them safer.

The nut graf(s):

“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

“The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

There’s that. And then there’s this story from that ran in 2006. Describing the El Al (Israel’s national airline carrier) agents, Lisa Beyer writes, “They ask a lot of questions, don’t hesitate to take their time doing it, aren’t embarrassed about profiling fliers and are quick to take matters to a higher level of scrutiny.”

The idea of profiling in this country is met with discomfort – a pulling of the shirt collar that begins to constrict your neck. In Israel, though, the idea is to do exactly that. Not just profile the Arab-looking man or the guy with the long beard and the keffiyeh, but everybody. Maybe profile isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s practicing a different level of awareness. Security looks at who’s parking at the airport, who’s getting out of their car and walking through the automatic doors, who’s approaching the ticket counter. They look for suspicious characters.

Then, security asks questions – not just to the suspicious, but to everybody. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Why? The answers don’t necessarily matter. It’s how you answer. Are you nervous? Shifty? Calm? Making eye contact? Sweating?

This is why El Al hasn’t been attacked by terrorists in 30 years, and it’s why there’s never been a hijacking out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. The extra awareness – and asking of simple, basic questions – works.

An example: when my wife, some friends and I went on a group trip to Israel the summer after college graduation, we flew El Al from JFK Airport to Tel Aviv. Before we boarded the flight, the four of us were interrogated by El Al agents. They asked where we were going, why we were headed to Israel, if we knew anybody who lived there. They tried to ascertain whether we were Jewish. They wanted to see if our answers matched up. They wanted to see if they had a reason to be suspicious.

The questioning, from what I remember, lasted about 10 minutes, and you know what? We weren’t offended, and we weren’t inconvenienced.

We felt safe.

In the Toronto Star story, Rafi Sela, the president of a global transportation security consultation company, told of an old Israeli saying: It’s easier to look for a lost key under the light instead of searching in the darkness where you actually might have dropped it. In the US, we look under the light, because it’s easier. We don’t profile because people take offense. We don’t ask the questions we should. And we barely pay attention to the answers.

The people who want us dead stay in the dark.

If a different level of awareness keeps us as safe as El Al and Ben Gurion, then I’m all for it. We should Israelify our airports. We should profile. We should ask the basic questions and see how they respond. We should not let political correctness keep us unsafe. If Israel and its people don’t have a problem with it, neither should we.

We can’t be afraid to make the changes. In the end, it’s about being safe and not having to watch people die.

It’s about shining a flashlight into the darkness and seeing what’s out there.