Saturday, November 25, 2006

University of Delaware Football 2006

Please see the archives section to the right to review all postings that Tom Byrne and I wrote from last season.


Bill Komissaroff

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The SideByrne: Winding Down, Starting Up.

by Tom Byrne

Football season is winding down and basketball season is starting up. This week, I have thoughts on both.

We’ll start on the gridiron. Last week, I talked about a different vibe with the UD football program as they faced the same situation as last season, 4-5 with two left to play and needing wins over William & Mary and Villanova to avoid a losing season. I didn’t feel the same energy surrounded the team and there was a sense of playing for next season as much as this season. Well, that lack of energy was evident at the Tub Saturday, but not from the players. The announced crowd of 20,655 didn’t seem to bring much energy. It was a very different vibe standing on the sidelines last Saturday, not at all like the electric atmosphere of previous games, especially New Hampshire. So, hats off to the players for motivating themselves and delivering a win.

Certainly, the return of Omar Cuff had something to do with the victory. Not only did Cuff post 93 yards rushing and a TD and 2 catches for 17 yards, he also brought his trademark passion and intensity (and some nice blitz pick-ups). I was on the fence about bringing him back this season, risking further injury to his ankle. Cuff took me off the fence Saturday. After the game, he pointed out that it was good for him to get a chance to prove to himself that his ankle was fine and the work he put into rehab was paying off. I’m sure he and the rest of Blue Hen nation will feel better going into the off-season if Cuff can put up another good game Saturday against ‘Nova and come out healthy.

And speaking of Saturday’s game against Villanova, expect a good one. There’s no playoff berth or conference titles on the line for either team, but the fact that both are 5-5 should be enough to heat up this long-time rivalry. One team will walk off the field with a winning season and one will not. That should be enough to have both sides ready to go.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve dismissed DSU’s chances of making the playoffs for the first time in team history. I still feel they will miss out, even with a win at Howard and a 9-2 finish likely. The Hornets, now ranked #23 in the “Sports Network” top 25, still need help to get in. Other teams with 3 and even 4 losses could argue they more deserving based on their schedule and who they’ve beaten. Having said that, head coach Al Lavan and crew deserve a lot of credit for making post-season talk realistic in the final week. Last week, Del State lost its starting quarterback Vashon Winton to a broken ankle (his season is over) and didn’t miss a beat when little used senior back-up Kurt Elden stepped in. Elden, a transfer from Minnesota Tech, isn’t thrilled with the way he got on the field, but told me it is “kind of a fairy tale” that he gets to close his career playing in games that have so much meaning. It’s also great for the rest of senior class that went through so much turmoil before Al Lavan arrived.

Wesley College did secure its first undefeated regular season last Saturday with a win over Morrisville (NY). They also secured the top seed in the South region for the NCAA Division II playoffs and have a chance to play at home much of the Division III playoffs, if they keep winning. The big issue for Mike Drass and his staff this week is getting his team to take it up a notch after winning its final two in blow-out fashion against some lightweight competition. There are no pushovers like Chowan or Morrisville from here on out. Dickinson, Wesley’s first round opponent, is 8-2 and won its conference. The good news is the Centennial isn’t that strong and the Red Devils haven’t really seen anyone of the Wolverines’ caliber this season, with the possible exception of Hobart. Wesley should advance with relative ease Saturday, avenging their loss to Dickson in an ECAC Bowl game in Dover back in 1998. In that one, Wesley gave up 2 touchdowns in the final 7 minutes to lose. That won’t happen again against this edition of the Wesley “D”.

Some quick thoughts on the start of college basketball season locally.

Monte Ross didn’t win his first game against Marist Tuesday, and his team may not win many over the course of this season, but a corner has been turned. First, there was much more energy and intensity shown by the Hens in that opener than at almost anytime last season. Second, the initial Ross recruits seem different from players brought in by David Henderson. Henderson seemed to take chances on great athletes or guys with size, hoping to make them basketball players. The freshman Johnsons, Brian and Darrell, seem to have athleticism AND a good basketball IQ. That gives them a chance to help now and grow even better later. And third, it was nice in post-game interviews to hear the players say they didn’t get it done and the coach say he needs to do better. Everyone is apparently accountable for themselves under the Ross regime and that should help the team get through what will likely be a bumpy first season.

Tina Martin’s women’s squad at Delaware is definitely worth keeping an eye on this season. A win over Villanova at home Sunday and a narrow loss at Boston College Tuesday show this squad can compete at a high level. If they avoid injury, imagine how good they may be by the end of the season as they grow as a group.

At DSU, an odd start to the season. First, their opener against Division II Saint Paul’s was not going to count. Now, it does. It’s stuff like that, an inability to dot “i’s” and cross “t’s”, that often hurts DSU’s credibility as they try to build the program and the athletics at the school. Plus, they paid Saint Paul’s a 25 thousand dollar guarantee to come up for the game. I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of sense. Now, the Hornets are playing 14 in a row away from home, a run of games that started with a 67-50 loss at 4th ranked Pitt Tuesday. The big question for me is can this team retain Greg Jackson’s commitment to defense now that they’ve put together a roster that has some serious scoring punch, including MEAC “Player of the year” Jahsha Bluntt and Roy Bright. Pulling off an upset against an N.C. State, Marquette or Wisconsin during this tough run would certainly show this group is still buying into Jackson’s methods.

Finally, a thought on high school football. Glasgow High players really got the short end of it when the Dragons were forced to forfeit all of their wins and a trip to the playoffs when it was discovered the team had used an ineligible player. What a shame. As usual, the players, who had nothing to do with the violation, bare the brunt of the punishment. You see this in college sports too. When a coach commits a violation, he can leave and get another job with no restrictions, while the players are left to deal with the fall out (post-season bans, the loss of scholarships, etc). Players can transfer, but have to sit a year, or in football, sit a year or drop to a level. How is that fair? The Glasgow situation also feels pretty unfair. Glasgow players didn’t fail to keep the ineligible player off the field, yet they suffer serious consequences. DIAA executive director Kevin Charles says it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure players are eligible. True, but it’s not the players’ responsibility. In fairness to DIAA, it made the right call because this is punishment that is currently in place according to the rules. There was no choice. Is there another way? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it should be explored. High school athletes deserve at least that much those that police the games they play.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The SideByrne: Deja Vu

by Tom Byrne

There is a little sense of déjà vu for the Blue Hens heading into this week’s game at William and Mary. Just like last season, Delaware is 4-5 and needs to win its last two against William and Mary and Villanova to avoid its first losing season since 2001. The Hens turned the trick last season, but this year may be different, even though the final two games are at home in 2006 rather than on the road.

There’s just a very different vibe surrounding this team this season, and it starts at the top. Looking back at the stories I wrote around this time last season, K.C. Keeler vowed to stay with his older players and do what had to be done to win in the here and now, rather than look at young players and build for the future. This year, Keeler has already inserted younger players in the line-up for reasons beyond injuries (i.e.- the secondary last week). His weekly press conference Monday, the day before Election Day, was the closest thing to a concession speech you’ll ever get out of Keeler. He talked this week about a young team playing for “the present and the future”. He also noted the defense had lost confidence, which to me says, “We’ve tried everything there is to try and it hasn’t worked and it probably isn’t going to change in these last two weeks.” Don’t get me wrong, he also had positive things to say about his team and there was no sense they won’t show up the next two weeks, but just about every defeated candidate talks about all the hard work the campaign workers put in and vows to run again.

That defense is huge worry. Other than the return of Matt Marcorelle from injury next season, what is there to make you feel things will be better on that side of the ball in 2007? Coach Keeler talked about being “difference-makers” away from being good, but Marcorelle isn’t THAT much of a difference maker. Yes, you can bring in transfers to help immediately, but getting them on the defensive line, where the Hens need is the greatest, is difficult. Shawn Johnson is the exception, not the rule. Most schools use line rotations now. That means there’s fewer disgruntled defensive lineman not getting playing time at I-A schools ready to move to find it.

Bill Komissaroff talked about the fans’ patience in his commentary this week. It will likely be tested again next season.

There are some good things to talk about this week, and they come from downstate. I’m not sure Dover is now the college football “hotbed” that last Friday’s News Journal piece suggested its become, but football in the state capital is more interesting football in Newark right now.

Delaware State missed jumping into the Sports Network top 25 by a mere five votes, edged out by Delaware’s Atlantic 10 rival Richmond. I was tempted to call the K-Man and ask about his how he had the two teams ranked, but realized that’s probably still a sensitive area after the great JMU-New Hampshire controversy earlier this year. Having seen Richmond up close, and watched plenty of DSU tape, I think the Hornets, if the two played right now, could take the Spiders. Neither team is great, but the Hornets have a few things going in their favor. They lead I-AA in turnover margin at +13 this season. Their defense makes plays, scoring touchdowns or giving their average offense great field position.. Their special teams unit also makes plays. DSU has blocked 6 kicks this season, getting touchdowns and safeties off a number of blocked punts. And the offense, while average, has learned to run the ball (185 yards per game) and has a legitimate game breaker Shaheer McBride (see last week’s commentary) . The Hornets’ only problem would be their smallish defense matching up with Richmond’s rushing attack. Teams with size, like Hampton and Northwestern State, can push Del State around, but Delaware’s defense held the Spiders to 24 points. I can’t imagine Del State could not do the same or better and ride a couple of big plays to a 20-14 victory.

I still think DSU is a long shot to make the playoffs if Hampton doesn’t cough up the MEAC title with a loss this week to Florida A&M, but the Hornets’ at-large candidacy gets stronger every time a team like Towson loses, and DSU does not, as happened last week.

And a quick pat on the back to Wesley College. The 9-0 Wolverines should beat Morrisville (NY) this week and secure their first winning season since 1976 when they were still in the junior college ranks. More importantly, a win locks up the top seed in the South and a chance to play at home much of the Division III playoffs. The brackets for the DIII playoffs are announced Sunday. Sadly, my Ithaca College Bombers will likely miss the NCAA playoffs after last week’s loss to Alfred (NY). That ends my dream of a Wesley-Ithaca showdown. Covering the Hens keeps me from getting to see my Bombers in person. I was hoping a game with the Wolverines would give me a chance to see them and getting paid in the process. No such luck.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Want The World And We Want It... Now.

Patience may be a virtue, but it is not a trait of your typical college sports fan. And for the supporters of the University of Delaware’s teams, I imagine that any patience they may have had is starting to wear thin.

The 2003 National Championship is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror of the football team which, for the second straight year, is faced with the prospect of having to win its final two games just to salvage a winning record. And at the same time, the basketball team is facing a complete reconstruction after closing the chapter on its long national nightmare known as the Henderson Era. As a result, the fans have not had a whole lot to cheer about lately on South College Avenue.

When David Henderson became the head basketball coach prior to the 2000 season, he had never been head coach before. Henderson’s predecessor, Mike Brey, had never been a head coach either, but had seemingly spent his entire post-college life preparing to be one. When his playing days were over at George Washington, Brey went back to his high school alma mater and began his coaching career under the guidance of Hall of Famer Morgan Wooten at one of the nation’s top basketball schools, DeMatha. After five successful years, he landed one of the top college jobs in the country sitting on Mike Krzyzewski’s bench at Duke eventually working his way up the ladder to become the top assistant. When Delaware came calling prior to the 1995 season, Brey was more than ready to become a head coach. During his five-year tenure he would guide Delaware to three consecutive twenty win seasons, three conference championships, two NCAA Tournament appearances, and one NIT appearance.

Unlike Brey, Henderson spent most of his basketball career as a player. He was part of Krzyzewski’s first recruiting class at Duke and played there for four years before embarking on an eleven-year professional career. When his playing days were over, he called Krzyzewski who, perhaps out of loyalty, gave him a job on his staff.

After just three seasons as a lower level assistant at Duke, Henderson, with Krzyzewski’s endorsement, became a lead candidate for the Delaware head coaching job when Bill Gutheridge surprisingly retired from North Carolina starting a coaching carousel that saw Matt Dougherty leave Notre Dame to replace Gutheridge and then Brey leave Delaware to replace Dougherty.

As Delaware fans would eventually find out, there is a big difference between being a player and a coach, there is a bigger difference between being an assistant and a head coach, and there is a huge difference between being Mike Krzyzewski’s third assistant and being Mike Krzyzewski.

The basketball program floundered during Henderson’s six-years at the helm never once making the post season. In Henderson’s defense, unexpectedly he did have to oversee the transition from the America East conference into the much more difficult CAA after just one season. A task that would have been a challenge for even a more seasoned coach. Finally, however, after back-to-back twenty loss seasons and a steady drop in attendance and “buzz”, Delaware fired Henderson with two years left on a contract extension.

The misfortunes of the football team trace back to the 2004 quarter-final playoff game at William and Mary. Delaware was one quarter away from advancing to the semi-finals where a win would give them the chance to defend their National Championship as they led William and Mary by a score of 31-10. On the first play of the fourth quarter, William and Mary’s Stephen Cason stepped in front of a Sonny Riccio pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. The Delaware offense stalled with two consecutive three and outs as William and Mary staged an incredible comeback scoring twenty-one unanswered fourth quarter points to tie the game at 31 before winning it in double overtime 44-38.

Since that game, KC Keeler’s team has posted an un-remarkable record of 10 and 10 including home and away losses to Towson, a homecoming loss last year to Hofstra, and a home non-conference loss earlier this year to Albany.

In addition to the losses, the program has had to endure several other embarrassing incidents. Last year the team had to forfeit a home game and move it to Richmond when the field at Delaware Stadium became unplayable after the administration failed to address a known problem while hoping to “squeeze” just one more season out of a dying field. During the off-season two players with high expectations ended up in prison after a botched armed robbery attempt allegedly involving money and steroids. And a couple of days prior to this year’s opener the newly named defensive coordinator resigned after a late-night drunk driving incident.

On top of everything else, over this two-year period the team has experienced an inordinate number of injuries last season mainly impacting the offense while this year decimating the defense.

On the bright side, the football team should be much better next year. Quarterback Joe Flacco is the real deal and the team will benefit from the experience young players like John Higginson, Justin Johnson, Ray Jones, Charles Graves, Anthony Bratton, Ken Hale, Mark Duncan, and Jared Bradley are getting this year.

As for the basketball team, new coach Monté Ross certainly has his work cut out for him; it will not be easy to turn this team into a winner in the ultra-competitive CAA where George Mason’s Final Four run last year has helped to set the bar very high.

Ross like his two predecessors had no prior experience as a head coach before his hiring. Only time will tell whether his tenure will be Brey-like or Henderson-esque.

We already know how patient the fans will be while the jury is still out.

Bill Komissaroff

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Hit Parade

It was not a good day for the University of Delaware Football Team on Saturday, as Towson torched them to a tune of 49-35 at home on Tubby’s Tundra. But even the most hardcore Delaware fan, as they were stewing in their seat, had to be somewhat impressed by the performance of Towson quarterback Sean Schaefer. The twenty year old from Dunkirk, Maryland was brilliant. What a moment it must have been for him to walk off that field after carving apart the Delaware defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, and then watching as 22,000 left the table disappointed as if denied any white meat.

Watching Schaefer I had two thoughts. First, that since my own athletic prowess seemed to peak around the tenth grade that I do not have too many of my own experiences to compare what he must have felt like to. Second, I have been fortunate to witness either as a spectator or as a broadcaster some incredible moments, achievements, and games.

So what follows is a partial list of some of the greatest sports moments that I have ever witnessed either as a participant, a spectator, or as a broadcaster.

Mets-Braves, Shea Stadium, September 21, 2001.

This was the first sporting event of any kind in New York City after 9-11. My friend Adam who is also a long-suffering Mets fan and I trekked up to New York in the afternoon for this Friday Night game. I had bought tickets on EBay that day. It was a last minute decision to go, but both of us felt like we just had to be in the house that night. We trained into Manhattan and went down to a pub on 18th Street which was about as far downtown as you could get at that point before catching the famous Number Seven Train out to Shea. I will never forget the glazed look on some of the people walking the streets and sitting at the bar where we had lunch.

The feeling at Shea before the game was eerie. At first people weren’t sure how to react. Was it okay to cheer? Was it okay to boo while the World Trade Center site was still smoldering? You knew it was not a normal night in Queens when Met fans actually cheered Chipper “Larry, Larry” Jones as he saluted them with a doff of the cap.

It was a close game. The Braves were up 2-1 as the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox went to his bullpen and brought in the hard throwing Steve Karsay. The first batter up was Matt Laughton who struck out on a 101 mph fastball. The next hitter, Edgardo Alfonso, walked which brought up Mike Piazza.

Karsay had gone to a 1-2 count on both previous hitters using the exact same pitch sequence: fastball, fastball, and curve before throwing a blazing 100+ mph heater on 1-2. As Karsay showed the same sequence to Piazza, I turned to Adam just prior to what I knew would be a 1-2 fastball and said, “Watch this,” as I felt like I knew exactly what was about to happen.

As Karsay released the pitch, time seemed to slow down. The exploding sound as the bat hit the ball resonated throughout the stadium. The crowd watched in silence as the ball traveled farther and more majestically than any I have ever seen waiting as it disappeared deep into the New York City night before erupting into the loudest and most incredibly emotional ovation I have ever felt. The sound was deafening as 55,000 people leaped, screamed, and cheered. What a moment for Piazza and the city I thought as I hugged everyone around me.

The Mets would win 3-2 and afterward Chipper Jones, confirming the surreal nature of the evening, would concede that he was happy that the Mets won. Sports made a difference that night as it helped ever so slightly the healing process for some while providing a brief distraction from reality for others. I was proud to be there.

Drexel-Delaware, January 27, 1999.

The Hen Hoopsters were off to one of their best starts ever after winning their first eight games of the season but had come across a rough stretch losing two in a row and then three out of five including a one-point loss at Vermont and a two-point loss at Hofstra. I was the PA announcer at the Bob Carpenter Center that night as Coach Bill Herrion brought his dreaded Drexel Dragons to town led by “Joey, Joey” Linderman: the Dragon that Delaware fans loved to hate the most.

Kestutis Marciulonis is one of my all-time favorite Delaware athletes. He was a PA announcer’s dream. He was the perfect storm: His name is long and drawn out; he shot the long ball; and he had a great sense of the “moment” hitting big shots at big times.

“That’s a THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! KA-STU-TIS MARSHHHH-A-LON-ISSS!!!!,” I loved to spout over the Bob’s loudspeakers.

And on this night, he was playing with a chip on his shoulder because he had to sit out the previous two games while the NCAA investigated his amateur status.

Properly exonerated, Marciulonis came off Mike Brey’s bench and scored a career high 33 points as John Gordon hit a three point shot in the last seconds of regulation for Delaware to send the game into overtime where the Hens would win 99-91.

The Bob was rocking hard that night as an incredible game was elevated even higher because it was against an archrival, and it would help propel the Hens to a thirteen game winning streak including another win over Drexel in the America East Conference Championship game. The streak would finally end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Tennessee ending one of Delaware’s best seasons ever with a record of 26-5.

Tower Hill JV Baseball Circa Spring 1981.

I don’t remember whom we were playing, but for the purpose of this exercise let’s just say it was Friends who is to Tower Hill what Drexel is to Delaware. I also do not remember the exact circumstance, but let’s say it was the bottom of the ninth inning with the game on the line. I do remember that the bases were loaded and there were no outs as Tower Hill was trying to hold on to a slim one-run lead.

I was catching. Dean Eliason was pitching and Mike Morris was playing first base. The batter hit the ball back to Eliason who threw it me. I tagged home for the first out and threw it to Morris who tagged first for the second out. The runner on second never stopped running and was coming home hard. Morris threw it back to me. The ball arrived at the same moment the base runner did and a collision ensued. When the dust settled it was a garden-variety 1-2-3-2 triple play to end the game. Pretty cool, eh?

Phillies-Padres, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1993.

I was the radio producer. After six hours of rain delays, game one finally ended at 1:10am. Amazingly game two started at 1:35am (curfew anyone?), and of course went into extra innings and did not end until pitcher Mitch Williams drove in Pete Incaviglia with a hit off Padre closer Trevor Hoffman at 4:40 in the morning. Harry Kalas who always understands the “moment” called it on the radio, “the Phils win it in the tenth on base hit by Mitchy Poooo!”

After producing a full post-game show (an edict from Scott Graham who in retrospect was correct, but at the time…), I finally left the Vet at 5:45am. Not quite “done” my day yet, I had to go to another radio station in Wilmington to do my only shift of the week, which was Saturday mornings from 6:00am to 11:00am. And from there right back out to the Vet for Saturday Night’s game.

A couple of days later the Phillies and Dodgers would play for six hours and ten minutes at the Vet in the midst of a July Philadelphia heat wave. This time Mitchy Poo would blow the save in top of the ninth, Poo indeed, before Lenny Dykstra would drive in Jim Eisenreich with the winning run in the bottom of the twentieth inning.

I will never forget the shot of Dodger broadcaster Vin Skully on the Phanavision screen doing play-by-play shirtless from his booth on the hot, late summer night. (Mike Corey don’t get any ideas!)

Broad Street Run, May 4, 2003.

A simple ten-mile run straight down Broad Street in Philadelphia made a bit more complicated by the fact that I was watching G-Love and Special Sauce until 5:30am the night before at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Despite the “extra curricular” activities, I only missed my goal of one hour and forty minutes, which would be a ten minute per mile pace, by forty-three seconds. A small price to pay for the fun that is New Orleans!

This might be my personal crowning athletic achievement if it were not for the ping-pong round robin at Roommate Reunion Weekend, Dewey Beach, Delaware, Summer, 2006; but that my friends is another story for another time!

Delaware Football.

I started broadcasting the UD games in 1999, and during that time, I can easily pick my two favorites. The game at the Naval Academy on October 25, 2003, and then a couple of weeks later the triple overtime game vs. Massachusetts on November 15, 2003 .

What I remember most about the UMass game, other than the post-game recap that might be the longest on record, is some of the incredible individual performances that took place on the field, but also the amazing team cohesiveness that each squad demonstrated in one of the most physically and mentally grueling games I have ever seen. Delaware would eventually persevere 51-45 in 3OT.

A few weeks prior, it was a beautiful Fall day in Annapolis and the game had a perfect start for Coach Paul Johnson’s Middies on Navy’s Homecoming. Navy scored two touchdowns before Delaware could even register a first down scoring first on a ten-play drive and then, after a Delaware three and out, airing it out on one 66-yard play-action pass play from Craig Candeto to Eric Roberts.

It was desperation time for Delaware on their next possession facing a potential drive killing fourth and two from their own forty yard-line. Needing a spark, Delaware head coach KC Keeler called for a fake punt. Sean Blieler, the upback in the formation, took the direct snap and ripped off a twenty-four yard run extending the drive. After a collective exhale, Delaware realized that they could play with Navy, and finished the drive with a touchdown and would go on to win 21-17 after Dave Camburn knocked down a Navy pass in the end zone on the last play of the game.

Those were great times for the Delaware Football team and hopefully better times lay ahead when it is not opponents like Sean Schaefer who inspire the reflections but Delaware’s own.

Bill Komissaroff

Another SideByrne

by Tom Byrne

I want to give a well deserved “well-done” to one of my Delaware football pre-game show compadres, the News Journal’s Kevin Tresolini, for his excellent piece last week on Delaware’s struggles in CAA. Great story and, in case some people missed them, terrific online stats and information to supplement much of what he discussed in the paper.

I wonder if some of the same commitment issues Kevin discussed might also eventually apply to football. That possibility never seems far from head coach K.C. Keeler’s mind. On Wednesday night’s “K.C. Keeler show” on the River 94.7, the coach again talked about the arms race recruiting has become and Delaware’s need to upgrade facilities. He says a consulting firm is coming in to assess where Delaware stands and what it should do. Hopefully, it will lead to some action… soon. You have to keep building and improving on what you have or you will eventually fall behind. Continuing commitment is necessary. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews made a critical point in his conference call with UD media this week. When talking about what JMU’s facility upgrades have meant to recruiting, Matthews said he’d forgotten (from his days at Georgia) the power showing a recruit top-notch facilities can have. Delaware has solid facilities, but they need to start getting ahead of the curve. They need to be proactive, not reactive (like with the field situation last year). I realize there’s only so much money to go around and plenty needs (athletics and otherwise), but it is wise to get the balling rolling on things sooner rather than later. Yes, Delaware will always have its tradition and his large fan base to fall back on in the recruiting wars (as Coach Keeler points out regularly), but I believe those things tip the scale when all other things are equal. If the other guy has you beat with facilities, tradition and a full stadium may not be enough to sway a player.

I’ll give you an example from down the road at DSU. I admit it’s an “apples and oranges” comparison, but bear with me. The Hornets were successful under head coach Bill Collick up until the early 90’s as Collick and his crew did “more with less”. I wish I had a dime for every time Coach Collick would pull into another school, bemoan the differences in what he called “amenities”, and then go win anyway. But the school seemed to feel that if Collick could win with less, why spend more? Well, that caught up with Del State in the mid to late 1990’s and we know what happened. Now, they are just starting to recover on the field and are still trying (and usually failing) to address their meager facilities. If they had made a commitment when the team was doing well, even just incrementally, they might have avoided 0-11 in 1998 and 1-10 in 2003. Clearly, the two schools are different animals on any number of levels. Certainly, Delaware will never fall off to the extent DSU did, but the expectations at UD are also a significantly higher and fans will not suffer quietly though even a small dip in success. You don’t want to lose those fans. Remember, that full stadium is one of your recruiting advantages.

Another example can be found at Wesley, the emerging Division III powerhouse in Dover. As the program there got stronger in the mid to late 1990’s, the Wolverines, led by the astute Mike Drass, started doing little things each year to build the program’s infrastructure. It culminated a couple of years ago with the instillation of field turf at Wolverine Stadium. You may not know, but Wesley not lost at home since that turf was laid, going to the NCAA semifinals last year (thanks to a couple of home wins). This year, the Wolverines are undefeated and ranked 4th nationally. They’re also a good bet to have the top seed in the South region come playoff time, which means, you guessed it, a bunch of home games in the D-III tourney. Again, comparing Wesley and UD is definitely a case of apples and oranges, but I believe idea of commitment does translate. You’ll be better off if you keep building as you go and make the occasional big splash, rather than waiting until you have to make major changes. That leaves you behind the curve and usually with a bigger bill to pay.

One other quick hit this week… a pat on the back to DSU coach Al Lavan and his staff. I had a chance to watch a tape of their game against South Carolina State we shot for TV 12. Here’s what jumped out to me. Trailing 9-7 in the fourth quarter and seemingly stagnant offensively, they went to their “go-to-guy”, wide receiver Shaheer Mc Bride. On the 13 play, 66 yard drive that led to the go-ahead field goal, six plays were designed to go to McBride, including a nifty middle screen that netted 29 yards and a pair of reverses that totaled 21 yards. In all, McBride accounted 62 yards on that drive. Lavan and his staff deserve credit for finding way to get their best player the ball when it counted the most. It keeps their MEAC title hopes alive for at least another week or so.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Rushmore Test

In the movie Diner, which is set in the late 1950's, Steve Guttenberg's character Eddie gives his fiancée, Elyse, a football trivia test, which she must pass prior to the wedding or he will call the whole thing off. It is not going well for young Elyse whose face goes unseen throughout the entire film brilliantly symbolizing the “boys” true feelings towards the girls in the movie. At one point, she incorrectly answers L.G. Dupre when Eddie asks her who the former Heisman Trophy winner who originally signed with the Baltimore Colts before bolting for Canada only to return later back to the Colts was. The correct answer, of course, is Billy Vessels out of Oklahoma. She also does not know the name of the "other" league that the Cleveland Browns were in prior to joining the NFL. To her credit, however, she does know that it was Buddy Young who originally played for the New York Yankees Football team which, by 1959, no longer existed, and she also knew that the Colts' original colors were green and gray prior to the franchise folding and the City of Baltimore getting a new one from Dallas.

The test goes down to the wire. It could go either way when Eddie asks what the longest run from scrimmage was by a rookie in his first ever game. Excited actually to know one of the answers, Eddie's buddy Shrevie shouts out "Alan Ameche!" whilst eavesdropping on the test from the next room. Unfortunately, for Elyse, Eddie hears this and disqualifies the question despite her knowing the answer, "I knew that! 79-yard run. Opening day 1955!” Elyse protested to Eddie’s deaf ears. Because of the Ameche question disqualification, Elyse scores a 63, which is just shy of passing. Eddie comes out of the room and declares, “The marriage is off!”

Later in the film, Eddie does relinquish his disqualification of the Ameche question and the marriage does in fact take place with the wedding hall “tastefully” decorated in the blue and white colors of the “new” Baltimore Colts. Poor Elyse. The point is that Eddie has set the bar so ridiculously high with his football trivia test that even most of his hardcore football fan buddies would not pass let alone his “girl”.

I will concede that sometimes I am guilty of this in my coverage of the University of Delaware Football team, and I suspect that many fans may also be guilty of this as well. Sometimes I think I can set the bar so high that I can be overly critical of what I am seeing on the field, and I think it is partly because I expect so much from Delaware. I always want and expect them to be the top program; I always want and expect them to win the right way. And when things don’t go so well, I think my disappointment can sometimes come across on the air while I am broadcasting.

For example, a couple of weeks ago during the Delaware-Hofstra game, I felt like the Hens were fortunate to win. After making what I considered to be two crucial fourth quarter mistakes, a fumble on Hofstra’s goal line and allowing a forty plus yard pass play on third down and nineteen, I thought that Delaware was the beneficiary of a bad call by the officials. Hofstra was facing fourth and one when quarterback Anton Clarkson attempted to sneak the ball up the middle. I thought his second effort gave him enough for a first down, but the officials did not, spotting the ball short of the marker thus giving it back to Delaware after the fourth down turnover. Delaware would then run out the clock and secure the Homecoming victory.

Two days later, Delaware head coach KC Keeler received a phone call from a friend of his who listened to the broadcast and thought that it sounded like I was overzealously “rooting” for Hofstra and sounded genuinely disappointed that Delaware won. Coach Keeler called me and told me about the call.

After our conversation, I went back and listened to the tape of the broadcast. While I do not think I was rooting for Hofstra, I will concede that my analysis might have come across as too harsh regarding the Delaware mistakes, and overly critical of the referees regarding the spot of the ball on the fourth down play when I could have just as easily given credit to the Delaware defense for coming up and making a big play.

While it is not part of my job to root for anyone, I understand that my audience is a Delaware audience and I try to frame everything with that in mind. When the University first hired me prior to the 1999 season, Athletic Director Edgar Johnson told me that he was not looking for a “homer”. I try to be as objective as I can be, but I never want to be one of those guys in the booth who come across as a glorified cheerleader. But at the same time, I think I can probably cut Delaware a bit more slack in some situations and try not to be overly critical just because of my familiarity with the team and the coaches.

I don’t think I was cheerleading this past weekend when Delaware went on the road and came back with their best win of the season: an impressive 28-24 fourth quarter comeback against the Spiders of the University of Richmond. The Hens jumped out to an early 14-0 first half lead, but Richmond would score 24 straight points forcing Delaware to dig down deep and fight back against one of the stingiest defenses in entire country.

Playing with a sore knee that limited his mobility, which in retrospect may have been a blessing in disguise, Cool Joe Flacco fired the ball all over the place hitting eight different receivers en route to his best game ever as a Hen. His favorite target Saturday night in Richmond was Aaron Love who was also battling injuries. Perhaps they reacquainted themselves with each other while putting in the extra time together early mornings during the week in the trainer’s room.

Love was nothing short of spectacular and borderline heroic getting open downfield making big catch after big catch despite a shoulder injury and a rib injury that was obviously hurting him more and more as the game wore on.

Because of the injury to Flacco, the Hens were forced to scrap their option game (perhaps another blessing) and without Omar Cuff available at all in the second half there was a lot of extra pressure on Flacco to make accurate throws and on the offensive line to give him the time and protection he needed to let his receivers get open. Flacco handled the extra pressure just like he seemingly handles everything: He took it in stride. When I spoke to Delaware offensive lineman Keon Hendricks after the game, he said that the line knew they would have to step up and keep Richmond’s talented defense away from the Delaware quarterback. Mission accomplished. It resulted in a great win for Delaware against a good team on the road, which is never an easy task in the Atlantic-10 Conference.

Just like Eddie and his test, my expectations for the Hens may be unrealistically high, but after a game like the Richmond game, it is easy to see why the bar is set so high for the University of Delaware Football Program. And more often than not they do seem to clear it.

The movie Diner has always been one of my favorites. During my senior year in college, it was in the constant rotation of movies, along with Repo Man, Annie Hall, and Stop Making Sense, that my roommates and I watched over and over and over and over again.

A couple of years back I had my own version of Eddie’s football trivia test. It involved the movie Rushmore. I was thirty-eight years old and still single and for some reason I thought that any potential mate would have to understand and “get” Rushmore, which I considered one of the greatest American comedies of all-time, for her to ever possibly understand and “get” me. That along with a healthy respect and understanding of baseball and more specifically the New York Mets would certainly also help.

I had been seeing a woman, who we shall call Roz, for not quite a year and it was time for the big night. We were going to hang out at my house on a Friday and watch Rushmore. I had hinted to her how much I liked it, but she had no idea how important the night was going to be. Like Elyse in Diner, Roz failed. She fell asleep during the movie and then afterwards uttered the phrase, “it was okay” when asked about it. Ouch.

Unlike Eddie in Diner, I did not waiver. Roz and I split up a couple of months later, and while there were plenty of other issues with our relationship, I always pinpoint that night as the beginning of the end.

Now that I am a few years older and much, much more mature, I realize that a good relationship better be built on more than just a solid knowledge of football trivia or appreciation for a movie.

It is okay to set the bar high. Just not so high, that it is unattainable whether in a relationship with a potential significant other or in a relationship with your favorite college football team.

Bill Komissaroff

Another SideByrne (Post Richmond)

by Tom Byrne

A lot of little things on my mind this week…

Watching the Delaware-Richmond game back as I prepared for my Tuesday TV12 sports segment just reinforced some of the feelings I had after watching the game from the field Saturday.

Joe Flacco can make throws most QB’s at this level can’t and has the confidence to try them. He’s also becoming a real leader. I think everyone can agree on those points. But I also have to admit I may agree with some who are wondering aloud if Flacco’s “tweaked” knee might be the best thing to happen to him and this team. Look, I don’t hate the option like some (including the voice of the Hens’ Mike Corey). I grew up with it at Ithaca under the late, great Jim Butterfield. But, it may be a good idea to “let Flacco be Flacco”. When he talked about picking teams apart from the pocket with me post-game, he had a pretty big smile on his face.

Aaron Love is one tough dude. You could tell he was in pain late in the game, yet kept coming up with big catch after big catch. But he will drive a sideline reporter, like me, nuts. “Guys, it looks like he’s really hurt. Trainers are checking him out. No wait, he’s headed back to the offensive huddle. No, now he’s getting his padding adjusted. Now, he’s ready.” His status changes five times before the crew can get me on the air. But Saturday, he wound up out there one way or another.

And anyone who doesn’t like those one year transfers needs to look at Ben Patrick and Garrett Schultz. Schultz’s play on Josh Vaughn Saturday was an unbelievable, and Patrick’s numbers (and Hula Bowl selection) speak for themselves. But it goes well beyond the field. These two bring heart and leadership to this team. Schultz came from Temple with no promise of starting, then earned his way on the field. Patrick didn’t let a preseason injury keep him from learning the offense and putting up a monster year. Th example these guys set for younger players is invaluable, and not just for the remainder of this year. I can’t imagine the way these two go about their business won’t rub off on some of these guys as they move forward. The bottom line is… if you choose wisely, having this type of transfer, even for just one season, can be a real benefit.

Last week, Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler mentioned on more than occasion that Delaware was one of the few places where the media and fans ask about the playoffs when a team is 3-3. Personally, I wasn’t thinking playoffs last week and I don’t believe one question at a post-game press conference and an unsolicited quote from a player about needing to win out to make the post-season constitutes a playoff frenzy. Actually, I think by making his references to the playoffs, Coach Keeler wound up mentioning the post-season more than anyone else. But anyway, both Delaware and Delaware State did give media and fans reason to at least entertain playoff thoughts with their wins last week. Well, I’m here to squash all such thoughts. It’s just a tease. (Hope this helps, coach)

First off, both have to win out. That means the Hens winning at JMU November 4th and the Hornets topping South Carolina State at home this week. Hardly locks.

If somehow UD and DSU do win out, Delaware would be 8-3 and Del State 9-2, but even then both need some serious help to get it. At 8-3, Delaware will likely be trying to be the fourth team in from the Atlantic 10. Tough sell with losses to Albany and Northeastern, and a win over DII West Chester. As for DSU, 9-2 looks nice, but unless first place Hampton loses again, giving DSU the MEAC automatic bid, I don’t see Del State getting an at-large spot. Even at 9-2, their only quality win would be against a still unranked South Carolina State, and their wins over St. Francis and Concord (the West Virginia college, not the Delaware high school) aren’t going to bolster their resume.

The funny thing is one or the other could have been helped if, on Saturday night, September 9th, the Hens and Hornets were playing a night game against each other rather than notching ho-hum non-conference wins against West Chester and St. Francis. One team would now have a potentially difference making quality win. Instead, UD and DSU could, if everything works out for both, wind up battling each other, and a bunch of other teams, in the front of the Selection Committee for the last at-large berth. Can you imagine if one gets in and the other doesn’t?

And one thought on basketball. The CAA preseason polls are out and how weird is it to see Delaware DEAD LAST on the men’s side? New head coach Monte Ross has his work cut out for him, but at least with such low expectations, he should be given time to get it right. He’s already made strides with fans, media and in recruiting.

Almost as interesting is the women’s poll, where Delaware is third behind Old Dominion and James Madison. I know ODU is great and deserves to be the preseason favorite until someone knocks the 15 time defending champ off, but putting the Hens behind JMU is a mistake in my book. When are people going to realize how good a coach Tina Martin is? Perhaps this year when she has arguably her most talent group and the CAA tourney at the Bob.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Straw Poll

“Vote: The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.”
-Ambrose Bierce

“You can milk a cow the wrong way once and still be a farmer, but vote the wrong way… and you can be in trouble.”
-John F. Kennedy

It started innocently enough for me with a brief conversation in the press box of Delaware Stadium before Delaware’s semi-final playoff game against Georgia Southern during the 2000 season. Tony Moss, then the head of I-AA Football for the website The Sports Network asked me prior to the kickoff if I wanted to be a voter in the I-AA Top 25 poll the following year. I told him that outside of Delaware and their A-10 Conference brethren, I wasn’t that much of an authority on I-AA football adding that he could probably find many a Delaware fan to question my credentials regarding even the Hens and the A-10. Moss didn’t seem to care stating that few people who did vote in the poll paid a whole lot of attention to what went on outside of their own little piece of the I-AA world and to that regard I would fit right in.

So, since the start of the 2001 season, I have been an active voter in the poll. I receive an e-mail every Sunday afternoon with the results and records of the current Top 25 from Matt Dougherty who took over for Tony Moss a couple of years ago at The Sports Network. I examine the results, “re-shuffle” the deck, and submit my new Top 25 by noon the following day. Easy enough, right?

While I will freely admit that my methods are far from scientific and sometimes not always completely logical, I do have a system that I try to adhere to when casting my vote. One thing I always just assumed (insert joke here about assuming) was that my vote was privileged information and up to me to decide whether to disclose to others either privately or publicly, but more on that later.

I have never been issued a handbook on how to vote, but typically, I try to take into account a team’s record, head-to-head competition with other teams vying for spots in the Top 25, and strength of schedule, which is not always easy. Quick, who has a tougher schedule: Tennessee-Martin or Cal Poly? Portland State or Stephen F. Austin? Coastal Carolina or Eastern Washington? I also try and give more weight to teams that I have actually seen or teams that have at least played teams that I have seen.

Since it is my job to cover Delaware, I tend take special note of the Blue Hens and their A-10 opponents, although this has not always translated well for Delaware. Their have been plenty of times when the rest of the voters around the country have rated Delaware much higher than I have based on Delaware’s reputation as opposed to their actual play. An example of this would be earlier this year when Delaware lost to Albany in the second game of the year they were still ranked 18th in the country even though I did not have them in my Top 25 poll at all.

There have been times when outside forces having nothing to do with a team’s merits on the field of play have influenced my judgment. For example, back in 2003 Wofford College, (the tiny team that could!) was having one of their best seasons ever. After losing their opener to I-A opponent Air Force, who if I remember correctly spent some time in the big boy Top 25 that year, Wofford reeled off ten consecutive regular season victories including impressive wins at home over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, and on the road at Furman. They finished the regular season 10-1 and received an automatic bid to the I-AA playoffs where their season ended at Delaware Stadium with a 24-9 semi-final loss to the eventual National Champion Blue Hens.

About mid-way through the season, I started receiving “propaganda” e-mails each week from Wofford’s Ministry of Information “encouraging” me to include them as high as possible in my Top 25 implying that they were somehow more deserving than others were. It seemed to me too much like a lawyer who advertises, “Been injured in an accident? Then call the firm of Sleazy, Sleazy, and Sleazy!” So as a result, I penalized Wofford and did not vote them as high as perhaps I should have.

In retrospect, I admit that I did not handle the situation well. I should have ignored Wofford’s spam and just voted them where I thought they really belonged. Live and learn.

The biggest flaw with the Top 25, other than having grudge holding clods like me vote, is the carry-over effect. The first Top 25 of the season comes out before the first games and inevitably is a rehash of the previous season’s final Top 25. This is completely ridiculous. For example, there is no way that anyone will convince me that at the start of the 2004 season Delaware, minus Andy Hall, Germaine Bennett, Sean Johnson et al, was the best team in the country, but there they were ranked number one based solely on their National Championship from the previous year. It should be an even playing field at the start of each season. Teams that had success the previous year get an unfair advantage. It would be better to wait until after three or four games before releasing the first poll of the season. But that wouldn’t sell papers or more accurately generate web hits.

So there I was earlier this week on Monday sitting at my desk doing some work and enjoying an afternoon coffee when I receive the e-mail with the new Top 25, which includes the total points accrued and the exact number of first place votes for each team. I was not surprised to see that New Hampshire had dropped out of the number one slot after losing at home to James Madison over the weekend but I was a bit surprised to see that they fell all the way down to number seven. It was after all still only their first loss and no team ahead of them was undefeated. It was also obvious that I was the only one in the whole country that thought New Hampshire still deserved to be number one since they only received one first place vote and I knew that it was from me.

About ten minutes after getting the poll, I received a call from Mike Barber who is a reporter for the Daily News Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia the hometown paper of James Madison University. He demanded that I justify my top vote for New Hampshire adding that it was my vote that kept James Madison, who moved up from thirteen to eight, from leapfrogging over New Hampshire.

My first reaction, of course, was, “Who are you? How did you get my number? And more importantly how the hell did you know how I voted?”

He told me that when he saw there was still one first place vote for New Hampshire, he called up Matt Dougherty at The Sports Network who like a dime-bag holding skel being pressed by Detective Andy Sipowitz from TV's NYPD Blue immediately flipped and gave me up.

So much for the sanctity of the ballot box.

The good news is that all this is just fodder for newspapers, message boards, and blogs. Thank goodness that there is a playoff system in I-AA football and the polls, if you believe the selection committee, have no bearing.

If only everything in college football was so sensible.

Bill Komissaroff

Poll Dancing?

by Tom Byrne

I read Bill’s entry on “The Great Komissaroff Poll Scandal of 2006” and feel obliged to chime in with my own two cents.I’ll start by telling you that I do NOT agree with Bill voting New Hampshire number one this week.

I am a little concerned about the possibility this faux pas by the K-Man will provide bulletin board material for JMU when it plays the Blue Hens in a couple of weeks. Can you imagine the scene in the Dukes locker room:

JMU coach Mickey Matthews: "Boys, we need to show that Bill Komissaroff what JMU football is all about!!!!!"

Players: "Yeah!!!! Wait, who?"

I’m sure the UD radio crew will need a police escort to get in and out Bridgeforth Stadium on November 4th.But I digress.Bill is right on a couple of counts and I figured he could use a little back up.First, he should not have been “outed” by ‘The Sports Network’s” Matt Dougherty. I know there has been a push for more transparency in polls, by listing who’s voting, or actually telling you how someone voted (remember earlier this year when Jim Tressel told the media that he voted Texas #1 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, but the paper revealed he actually voted for Ohio State.), but unless the voters agree to that level of transparency beforehand, they should be left alone.

Dougherty could have called Bill first, said there were media inquiries about his vote, and asked if he was willing to address them.Bill is also right that the polls are very arbitrary. And not just because voters can’t possibly see all the teams they are evaluating, or because of what Bill called the “carry-over’ effect at the start of the season, or because of “reputation” votes. There is also who votes. I do not vote in the “Sports Network” I-AA poll, despite my tenure as DSU’s play-by-play voice (until 3 years ago) while covering Delaware. You would think that would make me an “ideal” voter, with knowledge of two conferences. Nope. But oddly, I DO vote for things like the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award. Make any sense to you?As an aside: I am not angling for a vote in the Sports Network poll. I have enough to do already, including my research on this year’s Heisman favorites.

Then, there are the coaches’ polls. Most coaches do not vote themselves, leaving it to an assistant or Sports Information director. Which, of course, defeats the purpose of having a coaches’ poll, where the premise is the voters are REALLY plugged in and know what they’re talking about.You get the picture.

So, enjoy checking out the polls each week. I’ll continue reporting on them, because they are nice fillers and conversation starters. But, keep it in perspective. Things usually come out in the wash on the field.Meanwhile, I’ve got to make sure I’m not rooming with Bill on the JMU trip.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dumb Comment?

The following is contributed by Tom Byrne.

Post-game interviews when a team loses are never fun, for the person asking questions or the person answering them. Take last Saturday’s Blue Hen loss at Northeastern where one comment from head coach K.C. Keeler set off a minor controversy.

I interview Coach Keeler first after every game, live on The River. At one point in Saturday’s interview, Keeler said “I told the kids, I said, we are probably the dumbest team in America… and I’m not taking a shot at them. I’m taking a shot at us also, as coaches. Where we just need to find a way, you know, to keep on trying to make things simpler for them. The number of times that we are out of position on things we’ve gone over, over and over is ridiculous.”

As the only person right there with the coach as he said it, my sense was he was simply frustrated, looking for the right thing to say. Understandably, he went right to what he had just said to the players in the locker room. There is a reason why most sideline reporters, faced with interviewing a coach losing at halftime or after a loss, go to that old chestnut “What did you tell the guys in the locker room?”

And this time it yielded dividends. As he said it, I thought “this is the sound bite I’ll be using in my story for WILM Newsradio”. From my perspective as a reporter, it was a fairly candid comment that summed everything up and provided a little insight into what happened in the locker room after the game.

Apparently, others who heard it, then related it to those who didn’t on the internet, saw it differently.

To my surprise, some “freelance internet commentators” saw the “dumbest team in America” comment as throwing the players under the bus, and some even suggested it was bad enough to justify firing the coach.

Talk about going overboard.

I will grant you that it probably wasn’t the smartest comment for K.C to make. Not because of what he said, but because, even though he IMMEDIATELY included the coaching staff in that characterization, some people will only hear “I told the kids they are the dumbest team in America”.

The fact that I did not see a similar quote in newspaper stories the next day tells me K.C. probably had already figured that out between the time he walked away from me and walked up to the rest of the reporters covering the game.

The fact that he made an unsolicited effort to clarify the comment at his weekly press conference Monday is even further proof that he realized how easily it could be misconstrued.

It’s a shame he felt such a clarification was necessary. What he said was clear enough the first time.

In an age where candor in interviews, in sports or elsewhere, is rare, I hate to see someone get put on the defensive for being candid. We may not get that kind of candor the next time. Instead, we’ll be treated to “taking them one at a time” and every other clichéd response Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham” tried to teach Tim Robbins’ rookie pitcher. Or worse yet, we’ll get Andy Reid’s list of injuries and non-answers once ‘the time is yours”.

Would that make anyone happier? I know it would make my job a little more difficult and what you hear and read a little less interesting.

Luckily, I don’t see K.C. Keeler’s style changing just because of this incident. But I might not be able to use “What did you say to the guys in the locker room?” for a little while. Damn, what do I ask this week?
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Day to Forget

Unfortunately for the University of Delaware Football team it was another one of “those” days again this weekend at Northeastern. The defense gave up two big plays early and quickly put the team in a 10-0 hole. To their credit, Delaware fought back to actually take a 17-10 lead into the locker room at halftime, but in the second half quickly found themselves trailing again mainly due to mental cramps, turnovers, and the continued inability to stop their opponents on third and long.

Quarterback Joe Flacco engineered a late fourth quarter touchdown drive hitting his favorite receiver Big Ben Patrick in the end zone with exactly 1:00 left on the clock, but after a squib kick that squeaked out of bounds, Northeastern back-up quarterback John Sperrazza, jammed fingers and all, led his team down field putting his freshman kicker Mat Johnson in a position to hit a 35-yard field goal as the clock expired giving Northeastern a 27-24 win.

Prior to Saturday, Northeastern had yet to play a home game this year; they were on the longest road trip in College Football including three separate visits to the Commonwealth of Virginia and one to the State of North Dakota, and I am sure at some point they must have clicked their collective cleats together and thought, “There is no place like home,” even if that home is Parsons Field a tough place to play and perhaps the worst place in all of sports to broadcast.

A trip to Northeastern University’s Parsons Field reminds me of going to my Grandma Sophie’s house for dinner when I was a kid. I knew it is going to be bad, but at least wouldn’t last too long. That was the case this weekend for the Delaware Football team and the Delaware Broadcast team as we trekked to that quaint neighborhood just outside the Boston city limits known as Brookline, Mass.

Like a date at Parsons, a trip to my grandparent’s house, back in the day, could be so uninviting. First off, I knew Grandma Sophie would try to kiss me as soon as I walked through the door with those lips that felt like a cat’s tongue wearing lipstick seemingly applied during the Eisenhower Administration. Then for dinner, I knew I would have to eat some horrible concoction of boiled meat, beets, and who-knows-what disguised as a family “delicacy” as my Papa Dave would ramble on about how bad the bread was; and then after the meal my Uncle Benny would be there with both of his teeth, cigar butt dangling from his fingers shouting at me over and over again loud enough for the whole block to hear mocking my proclivity toward the girls of my third grade class.

“Got your eye on any pretty ones? Eh Billy? Eh? Any pretty ones, Billy? C’mon, you can tell your Uncle Benny! Right? Ha!” he would say to me, which of course in retrospect seems quite creepy.

Not exactly the stuff of Norman Rockwell, I know.

And for Delaware fans, it has been just as ugly in recent years each time that their team has had to make the trip to Northeastern’s equivalent of Grandma Sophie's house: Parsons Field.

During the 1999 season, it took a last second field goal by Delaware’s Garon Sizemore to tie the game before Delaware would eventually win in Overtime against a Northeastern team that had never before beaten Delaware and, up to that point, was winless.

In 2001, Northeastern’s defense was one of the worst in the country, but Delaware could still only muster a meager 56 yards of total offense, the lowest output in the program’s 100-plus year history en route to an embarrassing 20-7 loss.

KC Keeler’s first ever trip to Parsons Field came in 2003 his second season as Delaware’s head coach. That year he would guide Delaware all the way to the I-AA National Championship with a near perfect 15-1 record the only blemish coming on November 8 in a 24-14 loss to Northeastern on the road at Parsons.

The early returns are in, and while no one will confuse this year’s Delaware team with the Championship edition of 2003, their performance this past weekend in Boston, even taking into account the incredible high number of injuries, was at best uninspiring.

As hard as it is to play at Parsons with its sparse crowds, short bleachers, and hodgepodge locker facilities forcing teams to divide into several separate tiny rooms put together in what Keeler calls a “renovated row house”, it is even a harder to try and do a broadcast.

First off, the tiny “press box” is so small that my radio partner Mike Corey and I just might be considered legally married in the State of Massachusetts after spending three plus hours so close to each other. Plus it is only about ten feet off the ground sitting atop of five rows of aluminum style bleachers. I hope this doesn’t come across as sour grapes, but it is impossible to call a football game from this vantage point. We are perched so low that unless the action is right in front of us at mid-field, you just can’t see what is going on including who has the ball, what the play is, who makes the tackle, or on what yard line the action is taking place. Also, you have to hope that no one in the fifth row of stands directly in front of you and within an arm’s reach decides to stand up to cheer or go to the bathroom.

“C’mon you can hold it until a time out!” I found myself thinking as fans were getting up in front of me and obstructing my view.

Mark Vandermeer, the radio voice of the NFL’s Houston Texans and former play-by-play voice for the University of Massachusetts Minutemen and a veteran of many a broadcast at Parsons, is a friend and confidant of Mike Corey. He and Corey have a little ritual they go through on the phone each time Corey and I find our selves at Northeastern on the Friday before a Saturday broadcast to set up the equipment. After I feign an asthma attack and pull out my inhaler for comic relief after bounding up the five “difficult” rows of bleachers, Corey calls Vandermeer and they always have the exact same conversation.

“Mark, its Corey. Hey guess where I am?”

“Where?” Vandermeer plays along.

“Parsons Field! Brookline, Mass!” To which Vandermeer always says,

“Ohhhhhhh Noooooooo!”

After the last four games at Parsons Field, I can imagine a similar reaction coming from Delaware players, coaches, fans, and broadcasters. Oh no indeed.

Bill Komissaroff

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Night to Remember

Sometimes wanting it more is not enough, then again, sometimes maybe it is.

Not many people thought Delaware’s Football Team had much of a chance going into their game with the University of New Hampshire at Delaware Stadium on Saturday Night. The Hens, despite their 2-1 record and their Number 17 Ranking, hadn’t looked real sharp for a whole game yet during the 2006 season. Even during their victory at Rhode Island the previous week the defense looked shaky at times, giving up too many big plays against the Rams triple option attack while the offense took just about the entire third quarter off before deciding to start moving the ball and scoring points again in the fourth.

New Hampshire meanwhile had cruised through their first three ballgames en route to the Nation’s top 1-AA ranking putting up gaudy numbers against little sisters Stoney Brook and Dartmouth while also posting an impressive win over Big Ten Power-Mouse Northwestern.

Joe Flacco wanted it. Perhaps more than anyone else on the Delaware Sidelines. Even though the Delaware quarterback had certainly played well in the first three games of the season the offense still looked, as News-Journal Reporter Kevin Tresolini jotted down in his notebook during the Rhode Island game, “deliberate” at times. The Junior Transfer from Pitt, no doubt already wondering when the “Transfer from Pitt” part will be dropped from his title, played at his best against UNH firing with patience, precision, and accuracy while, surprise surprise, his receivers even made some catches.

Ben Patrick also wanted it. Patrick, trying to do for Duke tight-ends what Shawn Johnson did for Duke defensive-ends three years ago, came to Delaware with the hope of winning some ballgames for a change and maybe getting a fresh look from the NFL scouts before next year's draft. It didn’t matter where he lined up on the field tight, slot, or split, the result was usually the same as Patrick caught more footballs than anyone in the stadium Saturday Night including New Hampshire’s, not-quite-in-the-record-book-just-yet, David Ball.

Rashad Woodard wanted it. Woodard tracked down the aforementioned Ball on a pass play on the game’s opening drive by running across the entire field and somehow catching up to the Speedy receiver and at the last second knocking him out of bounds at the one yard line preventing him from scoring his record 51st career touchdown. Then late in the fourth quarter after New Hampshire had gone up 45-34 Woodard, barely able to muster the energy from his exhausted body to get back on the field, snapped off a 76-yard kick-off return giving Delaware a ray of hope to try and pull off a miracle at the end of the game.

Of course, Omar Cuff wanted it because, well, Omar always wants it. The Legend continues to grow with each game. At one point he actually rebuked the Training Staff who wanted him go back into the locker room for x-rays after injuring his foot.

“I know my body,” he told us on the radio after the game, “I knew I could get back into that game. I knew I needed to be out there.”

Ken Hale wanted it, making play after play on Special Teams. Garrett Schultz, who has not so quietly made himself a force in the Delaware Defensive Secondary, surely wanted it. As did Keon Hendricks, Mike Byrne and the rest of the offensive line. Head Coach KC Keeler wanted it especially after being out coached two weeks previously during the Albany game.

There is little doubt that the Delaware players, the coaches, and the twenty thousand plus fans all wanted it for their team on Saturday Night at Delaware Stadium. All rose to the occasion and showed their best.

Unfortunately, for those players, those coaches, and those fans University of New Hampshire Quarterback Ricky Santos wanted it just a little bit more.

Bill Komissaroff

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
–George Bernard Shaw

“See, the thing about the old days -- they the old days.”
-Slim Charles (from HBO’s The Wire.)

The University of Delaware will try and defend its home field this week when the top ranked team in the country comes to town, The University of New Hampshire Wildcats, and depending on how you look at it, Delaware will try to either reverse history, repeat it, or choose to forget it.

Back in 2000 Delaware was riding high. Ranked 2nd in the country coming into Week 9 of the season, everything had gone perfectly for the Hens as their 8-0 record reflected. They were coming off three impressive yet difficult wins at Richmond who was ranked 16th at the time, at William and Mary, and James Madison who was ranked 15th. The Hens featured one of their most potent offensive squads in years led by Matt Nagy and Jamin Elliot, and a hard-hitting intimidating defense featuring the likes of Brian McKenna, Bashawn Dixon, Mike Cecere, and Los Hermanos Pinckney.

New Hampshire wasn’t really even on their radar that year. Why should they be? The Cats were 5-3 losing three of their last four ballgames two of them to teams, James Madison and Richmond, who Delaware had just defeated. Besides, Delaware had history on its side. Sure New Hampshire had some success against Delaware in the late eighties and early nineties, but the Hens had won four in a row verses New Hampshire by a combined score of 114-49.

The 2000 game started out as expected with Delaware jumping out to an early advantage leading 21-3 at the half. Delaware padded its lead at the start of the second half on a 60-yard scoring strike from Nagy to Craig Cummings and on their next possession added a 40-yard field goal from Scott Collins, which seemingly iced it. The Hens led 31-3 midway through the 3rd Quarter as many fans started heading back out to the lots to celebrate. Those who left early missed a remarkable UNH comeback sparked by Quarterback Ryan Day’s 426 passing yards en route to a stunning 45-44 Overtime victory. The loss, Delaware’s only during the regular season, would cost the Hens a chance to grab the top seed in the I-AA Tourney which would go to Montana, and would force Delaware into the same bracket as defending national champion Georgia Southern who Delaware would have to face in the Semi-Finals where Delaware’s bid for a title that year would end.

“There is no way they are going to lose to NEW HAMPSHIRE,” WRDX play-by-play man Mike Corey told me prior to the start of the 2004 season, “not again”. The Hens were opening up the 2004 campaign as the defending national champs and the top-ranked team in the land, and New Hampshire was, well, New Hampshire. No way, indeed.

Mr. Corey was obviously no student of history because lose Delaware did and once again in stunning fashion.

Before the start of the season opener that year no had ever heard of New Hampshire Quarterback Ricky Santos except maybe Mr. and Mrs. Santos and I am not even so sure about that. Santos was so deep on the UNH depth chart that he practically had to leap frog over Five Guys Named Moe just to get to the number two spot. Mike Granieri, a three-year starter and widely considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, blew out his knee and his career midway through the second quarter of the game. Hasan Noble, the second-stringer, was also injured which left second year head coach Sean McDonnell little choice but to reach down his bench for an untested Santos. I remember the panic in the press box that night at Delaware Stadium as everyone was scrambling to try and figure out who the heck was playing QB for UNH since Santos’ name was no where to be found in any of the game notes or in the UNH Media Guide.

Unfortunately for Delaware fans we learned a lot about Ricky Santos that night as he came in and coolly completed 10 of 11 passes including a 44-yard touchdown dagger to then Sophomore David Ball leading the Wildcats to a fourth quarter come from behind 24-21 win at Delaware Stadium. Proving it was no fluke, Santos, the following week, threw five touchdown passes at Rutgers, and the legend was born.

Which brings us to Week 4 of the 2006 season, and how the tables have turned. It is New Hampshire that is riding high coming into this match-up at Delaware Stadium. It is New Hampshire that is ranked Number One in the polls. It is New Hampshire Quarterback Ricky Santos, now a Junior, that is poised to become one of the great I-AA players of all-time. It is New Hampshire Receiver David Ball, now a Senior, that will this week likely break Jerry Rice’s I-AA record of 50 career touchdown catches.

Yes, the tables have indeed turned because this year it is Delaware that is coming into this game with an unheralded squad which is young, thin at many positions, banged up and un-proven.

Will Delaware learn from the lessons of the recent past and come out ready to play unlike the Albany game two weeks ago? Will history repeat itself and once again let the underdog prevail in this series? The difference of course this year is that the underdog on their own field is Delaware. How will the Hens react under the lights against a veteran team that clearly is ready for primetime?

I can’t wait to find out.

Bill Komissaroff

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Big Chicken Lays an Egg

On the first play from scrimmage Saturday Night, Delaware Quarterback Joe Flacco looked down field and found his wide receiver Kervin Michaud for a 17-yard gain. Unfortunately for the Delaware Faithful, that play would be one of only two plays all night that would gain more than fifteen yards for the Blue Hen offense and represent one of the few bright spots in what would turn out to be on of the worst nights ever at Delaware Stadium.

Everyone just knew that the Delaware Football Team would start the 2006 campaign with a 2-0 record. Everyone just knew that there was no way that either West Chester or Albany was going to come to Delaware Stadium and give Delaware a real challenge under the lights. Everyone just knew that the Hens would clean up the second half sloppiness they showed against West Chester and, as the t-shirts say, “FINISH” the game against the Great Danes of Albany. Everyone, that is, except Bob Ford and his Albany players.

Part of my pre-game ritual is to sit down with the opposing team’s radio broadcasters and talk some shop. We go over each other’s charts and help with name pronunciations, scouting reports, and exchange information that typically is not part of the game notes released by either team’s Ministry of Information. During the game, I felt a bit embarrassed and very stupid recalling my pre-game conversation with Roger Wyland and Greg Tobben of WOFX-AM in Albany when I told them of my prediction of a 42-0 Delaware win. I, like many, did truly believe that there was no way that Delaware was going to lose to an Albany team that seemed to have so many problems, particularly with their offense, coming into the game. Shame on me.

At this point, I cannot help but wonder if many of the Delaware players and coaches had the same feelings I had going into the game. We are Delaware and they are Albany. Simple math, right?

On Monday, after the game, Head Coach KC Keeler told me that he was “embarrassed by the way the team came out and played in the first half”, and that he felt like he got their attention at halftime, but unfortunately at that point it was too late since they already let Albany think “they were Michigan.”

Coach Keeler also said that moving forward to prepare for the next opponent, Rhode Island; he was not as concerned with winning and losing as much as he was how the team comes out and plays. Okay, I can understand that, but with the Albany loss, the post-season math just became a lot more difficult. It went from simple multiplication tables to advanced algebra in an instant with one flee-flicker pass from Albany Quarterback Dan Bocanegra to Wide Receiver Josh Furnas.

If the assumption is that it will take eight wins to make the post-season, then Delaware must figure out a way to win seven ballgames out of their next nine. An extremely daunting task when you look at the remaining schedule and see the likes of New Hampshire, Richmond, James Madison et al coming down the road. It is probably silly to even be thinking about the playoffs at this point (Where is Jim Mora when you need him?), but as Delaware fans that is what we do.

The challenge for Delaware this week will be for them to re-group, re-focus, and re-define themselves; and they must do it on the road against a team, Rhode Island, that runs an offense that, like the old Wing-T, is very difficult to prepare to play against.

Oh and by the way, the following week? New Hampshire comes to town, and the last time I checked, they were a pretty good football team. So after the next two weeks, one way or the other, the math should get a bit easier.

Bill Komissaroff

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rivalry Week!

You have been clamoring for it. You demanded it happen. You thought the Governor should have ordered that they play. After all of these years and all the accusations that Delaware was dodging the game and all of the conspiracy theories that came along, this week it will finally happen. Delaware will once and for all settle it on the field of play when they face off against…Albany?

I have never been a big proponent of the yet to happen University of Delaware vs. Delaware State match-up. It just never seemed like a big deal to me and I never thought that Delaware State was good enough to warrant the game, but when I look at Delaware’s schedule and I see schools like Holy Cross (last year), Albany (this year), Monmouth (next year), and West Chester (every year) and I see Delaware State start this season off with a to 2-0 record I begin to wonder if maybe it is time to reconsider.

Over the past several years, Delaware residents and fans have argued that the Hens should end the West Chester series and start playing Delaware State. As I have stated before, I do not like the West Chester game although I understand why it is a good business decision for the Hens to keep this so-called rivalry going, but I never thought that Delaware State was a great idea either. I always thought that Delaware should play either a traditional I-AA powerhouse like a Georgia Southern, Montana, Youngstown, or McNeese; or a regional I-A game like a Rutgers, Temple, Navy, or Maryland. And to Delaware’s credit Navy is on Delaware’s schedule again next year and Maryland is tentatively on the schedule to open the 2008 season.

The only advantage, it seemed, to replacing West Chester with Delaware State was that at least Delaware State was a I-AA school where as West Chester was Division II school so Delaware would not be penalized by playing Delaware State like they are by playing West Chester in the eyes of the I-AA Playoff Selection Committee. But from a competitive standpoint, the potential match-up just seemed like a yawner to me. But all of that may be changing.

Delaware State has already surpassed Delaware in Men’s Basketball with two consecutive post-season appearances including that thriller against Duke on national television in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago and a first round NIT victory last year while Delaware suffered through two consecutive twenty-loss seasons and had to fire their coach.

Although, in football, Delaware State will never be able to match the long and storied history and tradition of the University of Delaware, they have certainly taken some baby steps in the last couple of years to improve their program including one of their best ever starts this year with wins over conference foe Florida A&M in front of close to 30,000 at the Detroit Football Classic and a 63-28 drubbing over St Francis (Pa.) in the first ever night game to be held at Delaware State’s Alumni Stadium. Last week’s win was Delaware State’s sixth in a row at home.

I have no idea why these two schools have never met in football. I do know that they have played in most other sports, but I also know that football is different than any other sport. I also have no idea what is involved in developing a football schedule or whether there have been any conversations between the two schools to explore the possibility of playing the game and if so how far those conversations have gone.

I do wonder, however, if Delaware, when working on their schedule and coming up with the likes of Holy Cross, Albany, and Monmouth, even considered talking to Delaware State? I do know that if Delaware State continues its recent winning ways and continues to improve that the NCAA may be able to do something that neither the Governor nor the fans have been able to do and that is force Delaware to play Delaware State in a football game albeit a I-AA Playoff Football game.

And wouldn’t that be something?

Bill Komissaroff

Friday, September 08, 2006

Delaware Football Inc.

The Delaware-West Chester Game: It may be good for Delaware Football Inc., but it is bad for Joe Delaware Football Fan.

Like the sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the Delaware-West Chester game. You know the numbers: Forty Delaware wins in Forty-Seven all-time meetings including twelve wins in a row by a combined score of 516 to 243 highlighted by the infamous 84-0 game in 2000.

Why does Delaware continue to play a game where the competitive balance is obviously so far out of whack that it has become not just Davey versus Goliath but davey versus GODZILLA? And consequently, why does West Chester continue to subject itself to a game that it has as much of a chance winning as Patrick Swayze had of catching the 50-year storm in the movie Point Break? It is very simple, and I am sure that most already know the answer: Money. Surprise! After all Delaware Football Inc. is a business.

So, for Delaware Football Inc. it is a no-brainer. In fact when I asked head coach KC Keeler earlier this week to finish this sentence: Delaware should be playing West Chester in football “blank”, he said “forever”. He also said, “It just makes sense.”

Think of it this way. It is a guaranteed home game because Delaware will never have to go to West Chester to play. This year Delaware has seven regular season dates in Newark while only having to travel four times. Coincidentally the last time Delaware played seven regular season home games was 2003 and we all remember how that worked out. (There were supposed to be seven home games last year, but one of those games somehow ended up in Richmond because of the dreaded FieldGate scandal of 05.)

In addition to the home cooking I suspect, although I have no confirmation of this, that Delaware does not have to pay West Chester as much as it would to a top I-AA program to come here to play like Georgia Southern, Montana, or McNeese. Also, I doubt one of those schools would play here without the Hens reciprocating.

As for West Chester, I imagine, again no confirmation, that the payday is pretty healthy for making the short trip down 202 and I-95 and probably significantly healthier than playing at the likes of Clarion, Kutztown, or Bloomsburg. And when the 50-year storm does hit and they do actually win, I am sure the little hamlet of West Chester explodes and the line to get into The Rat loops around the block. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am fairly certain that The Rat closed its doors long ago, but maybe if the Rams win it would induce a Rat Reunion and wouldn’t that make it all worth while!)

So as a businessperson, I understand why Delaware Football Inc. feels the need to play West Chester every year. But I am also a football broadcaster and a fan, and as such, I must admit that I don’t like it. As a broadcaster, I admit that my motives are purely selfish. It is much harder to broadcast a blowout than it is a close game. Does anyone really need to hear me wax poetic about whatever it is I am going to be waxing poetic about come the fourth quarter when the third team squad is on the field and there is no end to the game in sight? Don’t get me wrong, I like Mike Corey but I can get just as sick of hearing his voice as you can as Delaware marches down the field for the umpteenth time.

But there is more to it than that. As fans of football and of Sports in general don’t we want some competition for our team? If Mike Adams scores a touchdown on a 103-yard interception return at the end of an 84-0 drubbing does anyone really care? Did it really happen?

I also think there is a real downside to playing West Chester especially if your stated goal is to win the Division I-AA National Championship. West Chester plays in Division II and the I-AA selection committee has clearly stated that when considering at-large berths into the playoffs that they will look at all Division I wins that a team has that year, in essence penalizing I-AA teams that play Division II teams.

This almost came up and bit Delaware in the you-know-where in 1999. Delaware had no chance of winning the A-10 Championship and the automatic bid that went along with it and had to hope for an at-large bid in order to make the playoffs. The Hens were 7-3 going into the last game of the season against Villanova. Usually eight wins would be enough to get Delaware into the playoffs but had they beat Villanova in that last game (they lost 51-45 in Overtime), I don’t think the Hens would have made it that year and the main reason would have been that one of their wins was against a Division II team, West Chester.

When I brought this scenario up this week to Coach Keeler, he brushed it off by saying that, “everyone plays a D-II team now.” But looking at the schedules he should note that, at least this year, that is not the case. Several teams that Delaware could be competing against for an at-large bid are not playing D-II schools. Some of those include Villanova, Richmond, New Hampshire, William and Mary, and UMass.

So Joe Delaware Football Fan go out there and root for an A-10 Championship and the automatic bid that comes along with it, but if that does not happen this year and the Hens must rely on the committee to grant them an at-large bid and they are on the bubble but don’t get it, you know where to lay the blame: Delaware Football Inc.

Bill Komissaroff