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