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