Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Don't We Do It On The Road?

The look on Delaware head coach KC Keeler’s face said it all. As he was waiting in the small terminal at the Marion County Regional Airport in Carbondale, Illinois late on Saturday night watching his team make their way through the makeshift security line, he looked completely spent. And understandably so. For the second week in a row, his team had just pulled off an improbable win in hostile territory; this time it was a 20-17 squeaker over the fourth seeded Southern Illinois Salukis to advance to the National Championship Game Friday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

He may have been exhausted from all of the hours that he and his staff had already logged to get the team to this point or just knowing the prospect of all of the hours that were still ahead of them.

Regardless of how this season ends, however, the 2007 University of Delaware Football team is already officially a huge success, as it is now on the precipice of winning a second National Championship in just five years with only two-time defending National Champion Appalachian State in their way. For those of you scoring at home (or even if you are alone), we are talking about the same App State that started their season with that incredible win over Michigan in the Big House and the same App State that went through Richmond last week like a Ginsu through a tomato.

To make matters worse for Delaware, they will be playing on the road for a third straight week; and even though the Championship in supposed to be at a neutral site, App State’s close proximity to Chattanooga combined with Delaware’s horrible handling of the ticket allotment means that Hen fans might be outnumbered four or five to one.

Sounds like the Hens have them right where they want them.

Back in 2003 Delaware steamed rolled through the playoffs making short work of each opponent including a 40-0 drubbing of Colgate in a final game that was over at halftime. That year Delaware players were able to sleep in their own beds and play on their own field for the first three weeks of playoffs before heading down to Chattanooga where they played in front of a huge contingent of their own fans who showed up in droves like it was Mug Night at the old Stone Balloon.

This year has been a bit different. For the past two weeks, Delaware has had to fight, scratch, kick, and crawl for every yard, for every first down, and for every point along the way battling everything from Mother Nature, to the T.S.A., to two very talented football teams in Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois en route to two of the most satisfying wins in the program’s storied history.

One thing that this year’s team does have in common with its 2003 brethren, however, is that it seems to be peaking just at the right time.

Keeler is quick to deflect credit for the success to his team and to his staff, but this is Keeler’s team. They are a group of players that take everything thrown at them in stride and are as cool as their Oakley sunglasses wearing coach.

Nothing seems to faze them.

After the Southern Illinois win on Saturday, Keeler said something to the effect that his team may not be the best team in the country, but that they were one of only two teams still alive due to their incredible perseverance.

That may be true, but if they are able to muster the strength to overcome all of the obstacles that still lay ahead of them, thanks to the beauty that is the I-AA playoff system, the best team in the country is exactly what they will be.

Besides, what’s a little sleep and comfort when you have a memory like that for the rest of your life?

Bill Komissaroff

(Reporting this week from the beach in beautiful Bucerias, Mexico!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Can't Find My Way Home

"Is this heaven?" "No, it's Iowa."
-Shoeless Joe and Ray Kinsella from A Field of Dreams.

"It's hard on the road, man."
-G Love.

The trip took a turn into the realm of the surreal on Sunday morning when word circulated that one of the three buses carrying the University of Delaware football team and its entourage including coaches, trainers, cheerleaders, support staff, and radio crew had crashed. We were en route from the Waterloo Regional Airport to a Bonanza Steak House somewhere in the middle of Iowa after waiting five plus hours for them to unsuccessfully de-ice our plane.

Fortunately word came back quickly that it was just a minor accident and no one was hurt. Whew. All I could think was, "Thank God this is all coming after a win," as the team was supposed to leave on a charter flight right after their quarterfinal playoff game in the UNI Dome on Saturday night against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers. However, the ice storm that blanketed the state and much of the Midwest took care of that. Although we were told to hang tight because there was still a chance to depart late night but after a couple of hours, those plans were scuttled, and we were hunkering down for the night.

Sunday was a long day of hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait starting with a 5:45 am wake-up call and ending late at night in the same room in the same hotel where we started. It was like the movie Groundhog Day meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

By the time Monday morning rolled around, it was back on the buses and back to the airport to try again. I half expected to see running back Omar Cuff and linebacker Eric Johnson on top of the fuselage de-icing the plane themselves and quarterback Joe Flacco in cockpit preparing for takeoff. Why not? They did everything else to ensure a successful Delaware weekend in Iowa. A weekend highlighted by an improbable 39-27 win over the top seeded Panthers in the most hostile environment that I have ever seen in college football.

And what a win it was. An instant classic whose lore will only grow with time because of the ice storm and all of the travel related tribulations afterwards.

At the outset it certainly did not seem like it was going to be Delaware's day. In fact after the first quarter, it looked like the Hens were in danger of getting blown out of the dome. On the opening possession, Delaware's offense suffered two false starts, a burned time-out, an injury to left guard Corey Nicholson, and a sack. All to the delight of the huge deafening UNI Dome crowd. Once on defense, the Hens allowed UNI to march down the field in five plays and score a touchdown in just 1:54. At the end of the first quarter Delaware trailed 10-0.

And then something happened.

It wasn't as dramatic as the Navy game back in 2003 when the Hens trailed 14-0 but seemingly turned the momentum completely around on one fake punt play. It was more subtle than that: a ten yard pass from Flacco to Mark Duncan for a first down, a ten yard pass to Aaron Love and another first down, three plays in a row to Cuff for ten more yards, and then a seven yard laser to Duncan for a score. Delaware had adjusted to the speed of the game and was on the board. The defense, who also adjusted and began to take some more risks, would then force a Panther three and out and the momentum had slowly begun to shift.

Later in the first half Flacco would orchestrate a twelve play 80-yard scoring drive hitting four different receivers along the way highlighted by a 21-yard strike to Duncan and culminating with a touchdown dart to tight end Rob Agnone on third down. On the second play of the ensuing UNI possession, Delaware linebacker Eric Johnson would scoop up a fumble and rumble 55-yards for a defensive touchdown.

In the second half several Delaware players would step up and make big plays including kicker Jon Striefsky who kicked the two longest field goals of his career after UNI blocked two extra points in the first half; Kervin Michaud who had a 40-yard kickoff return and a 33-yard reception on Delaware's last scoring drive late in the fourth quarter; Matt Marorelle who had a sack and a forced fumble and recovery single handily thwarting two UNI attempts to get back into the game; and Omar Cuff who became only the second runner all year to rush for 100-yards against the stingy UNI defense.

The biggest play of all, however, came about midway through the third quarter with Delaware clinging to a two point lead. The Hens were facing a third and thirteen from their own 25-yard line when Joe Flacco hit Mark Duncan on an incredible pitch and catch 44-yards down the field. Flacco narrowly avoiding the sack by rolling all the way to the sideline and Duncan somehow coming down with the catch that completely deflated the Panthers and silenced the 17,000 in the dome.

With the win, Delaware advances to the semifinals next Saturday at Southern Illinois and are now just one game away from playing for another National Championship.

Coincidentally, it was Northern Iowa who had weather related travel issues before their playoff game with Delaware in Newark back in 2003 that led to their demise. Hopefully being stuck in Iowa for an extra couple of days won't have a negative effect on Delaware next week. I don't think it it will. In fact, I think it will have a positive effect. This team bonded through the adversity and became even closer then it was before.

When the plane finally landed today at New Castle County Airport after five days in Iowa everybody cheered. We were home. We weren't going to wake up in the same bed in the same hotel room in icy Iowa again.

But for the players the jubilation was short lived because they also knew that once we touched down, it was time for them to get back to work, for it will be a quick turnaround for everyone as we head back out on the road to Southern Illinois on Thursday.

And no matter the forecast for Carbondale, I'll be sure to pack an extra couple of pairs of boxers this time. Just in case.

Bill Komissaroff

Saturday, November 24, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Rarely do sporting events live up to the hype (ask Ohio State fans about last year's BCS Championship Game), but in the case of the first ever football game between the University of Delaware Blue Hens and Delaware State Hornets, with all of the talk and expectations, who would have thought that this one would have been over before it even started with, of all things, the flip of a coin.

Delaware won the coin toss and elected to defer their decision to the second half meaning that Delaware State head coach Al Lavan had to decide whether to take the ball or defend a side. He took the ball forcing his team to navigate directly into the teeth of an eighteen-mile an hour wind to start the game. It would turn out to be a mistake.

On the first play from scrimmage, Hornet quarterback Vashon Winton tried a deep play-action pass downfield to his pro-prospect receiver Shaheer McBride. McBride ran passed Blue Hen corner Fred Andrew who had stumbled while backtracking, and was wide open near the fifty-yard line. Winton's pass, however, was knocked down by the wind forcing McBride to slow down and allowing safety Charles Graves and Andrew to catch up to him. In traffic, McBride would drop the ball (although the replay may have showed otherwise) and thwart Delaware State's hope of surprising Delaware and jumping out to an early lead. The Hornets would go three and out putting their punter, Josh Brite, in the precarious position of having to kick into the wind from his own ten-yard line. Brite would shank the punt giving Delaware the ball on the Del State forty-four yard line.

Four plays later, Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco would scramble and hit his tight end and roommate Robbie Agnone for a thirty-two yard touchdown. The Hens would never look back.

By the time Delaware State had the wind at their back in the second quarter, Delaware had already scored three touchdowns and led the game 20-0. It was 30-0 by halftime.

In the second quarter Delaware neutralized the wind by keeping it on the ground with their all-world running back Omar Cuff. It was Omar, Omar, Omar. Left, right, and up the middle. It just did not matter because the highly touted Delaware State defense could barely slow him down. It seemed like every time Omar touched the ball another record would fall. He would end the day with a UD single game record 288 yards and another four touchdowns giving him thirty-three this year and sixty-eight in his incredible career.

The final score was 44-7, but it could have been much worse for Del State had Delaware not called off their attack early in the second half.

After the game, Del State head coach Al Lavan who exudes dignity and class succinctly summed up the day's experience when he said, "Being here shows us how far we have come, but also how far we have to go." Unfortunately not all of the Del State players took their cues from their coach. On the game's last play, an inconsequential kneel down by the Delaware back-ups, Del State's Ryan Spinner leveled a horrendous cheap shot on the Delaware third-string center. Way to go Ryan; you really showed him. Spinner then refused to get in line and shake hands when it was over.

Spinner's thuggish act aside, the game went off without a hitch. The huge crowd really seemed to enjoy themselves despite the lopsided outcome. Before the game, it was great to see the two sets of fans co-mingle in the parking lots trading good-natured barbs back and forth.

Yes this was the first meeting ever between the state's lone Division I schools, but the way everyone is talking it surely will not be the last. It was a great day for the State of Delaware even if it was eighty-three years in the making, and in retrospect it would have been difficult, no matter how it went, for the game to live up to the hype.

It just would have been nice if it lasted a little longer then coin toss.

Bill Komissaroff

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Higher Learning

At the end of her show each week, Sarah Silverman always asks her dog, "What did we learn today, Doug?" After a crazy day in college football, I am sitting in my kitchen on Sunday morning drinking a cup of coffee wishing I had a dog named Doug. (Or a girl named Sarah!)

One thing we learned is that statistics don't always tell the full story. Back in 2004 Delaware ran up and down the field and dominated in their game at James Madison. The Hens out gained JMU 466-166 in total offense that day, but JMU prevailed 20-13 ruining the debut of a then unheard of Delaware running back named Omar Cuff. It was the type of game that championship teams find a way to win which is exactly what James Madison was that year finishing the season with a record of 13-2 and winning the I-AA National Championship.

Yesterday at Delaware Stadium it was JMU that was able to run it up and down the field. The Dukes compiled 403 yards rushing, the fourth most ever against a Delaware defense, including touchdown runs of 86, 48, and 55 yards; but it was Delaware who persevered this time defeating JMU 37-34. It was the type of game that championship teams find a way to win.

Another thing we learned yesterday was to play until you hear the whistle. On James Madison's second possession of the game running back Scott Noble ran what appeared to be a garden variety 2-yard run up the middle. As the pile was holding him up, Noble and several other players anticipated the whistle and stopped playing. One player who did not stop was Delaware defensive end Matt Marcorelle who ripped the ball away from Noble and started sprinting in the other direction commencing a 20-minute tirade/hissy fit on the field and up and down the sidelines by JMU head coach Mickey Matthews disputing the call.

We also learned that Delaware's defense needs both of its ends Marcorelle and Ronald Talley healthy. Marcorelle did not return to the game after injuring his shoulder on a touchdown saving tackle by JMU quarterback Rodney Landers on the aforementioned strip. Talley sprained his ankle in the first half of the Navy game last week and hasn't played since. After the game, Delaware head coach KC Keeler told us on the radio that he was certain that both would be fine and ready to go next week which I am pretty sure is what he told us last week about Talley. Delaware fans better hope so. Without either of the two playing during the second half yesterday the Dukes were able to compile 339-yards and score 28 points.

After the Delaware game, I had a chance to watch the Hens next opponent, the Richmond Spiders and their Big Daddy Long-Legs Tim Hightower take apart Villanova 35-27. You don't need a degree in Arachnology to realize that these Spiders are pretty scary. Hightower rushed for 187-yards, a touchdown, and caught 3 passes increasing his rushing yards per game average up to 154. These Spiders are far from a one-legged team however. Their quarterback Eric Ward keeps getting better. Yesterday he completed 70% of his passes, threw a score, and ran for one. Richmond also has an outstanding offensive line, a good group of receivers, a stingy defense that allows less than 20 points per game, and a young coach in Dave Clawson that appears to be on the fast track.

If Delaware is going to win next Saturday, they are going to have to play their most complete game of the year.

A couple of other things we learned yesterday. If you are going to win games in the Northeast part of the country in November and December, you better be able to run the football. Just ask Massachusetts and New Hampshire, who had to play in hurricane conditions and lost to the two worst teams in the CAA, about that.

Finally we learned that good things come to those who wait. After 44 years, Navy beat Notre Dame. Congratulations to Navy coach Paul Johnson. I hope you like the weather in Nebraska.

Bill Komissaroff

ps- See the post below for the recap of the JMU Game.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Battle by the Bay

I wasn't there on November 10, 1979. I didn't get to see Delaware erase the 31-7 halftime deficit or hear the zealot on the P.A. system shout, "Let's hang the chicken," as Delaware shocked the hometown fans at Falcon Stadium coming from behind to beat Youngstown State 51-45 in the famed "Shootout" game.

It was still a bit before my time in September of 1985 when Delaware shut down the Naval Academy and their Heisman hopeful Napoleon McCallum with the one man wrecking crew Daryl Booker leading the way. The Delaware defender recorded a record twenty-three tackles as the Hens hung on for a 16-13 win over the Mids at Delaware Stadium.

Like many fans in the pre-Internet and pre-ESPN Everything days of 1993, I was fighting through the static on my AM radio to try and follow that unbelievable frozen Thanksgiving weekend opening round playoff game from Missoula, Montana when Delaware came back and edged the Grizzlies 49-48.

During my nine years in the booth, I have seen some great ones including the amazing regular season finale against Villanova in 2000 when Delaware climbed out of a twenty-five point hole en route to a 59-42 win. There was the Navy game in 2003 when Delaware trailed by fourteen before they could even muster a first down. The Hens would use a fake punt to turn the momentum in their favor eventually holding on for an incredible for 21-17 road win. And then a few weeks later, I witnessed the classic 51-45 triple overtime win over Massachusetts setting up the run all the way to the 2003 I-AA National Championship.

It may be too soon to properly judge where this past weekend's game at the Naval Academy falls in the storied history of the University of Delaware Football Program, but in the immediate aftermath, it sure feels like one of the greatest games ever.

The Hens became the sixth division I-AA team to defeat a I-A this year, and were clearly the better team on Saturday prevailing 59-52 in a back and forth game at Navy that sometimes felt more like ping-pong then football, and nobody on the field was better than UD quarterback Joe Flacco who played with the confidence of a guy who brought his own paddle.

Flacco has been outstanding both on and off the field since transferring to Delaware from Pitt, but against Navy's meager defense, he took his game to a whole other level completing thirty passes for 434-yards and four touchdowns. Whether the extra motivation came from wanting to stick it to his former coach Dave Wannstedt who refused to release him from his scholarship at Pitt and had embarrassingly lost to Navy a couple of weeks prior in double overtime because of a horrible coaching decision, or because he knew that Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weiss with all of his NFL connections would be studying the tape as his team prepared for its annual match-up with Navy the following week, or it was because Flacco knew how important a win over Navy would be in the eyes of the selection committee knowing that Delaware might have to rely on an at-large bid to make the post-season. Regardless of the reasons, Flacco was as dynamic as a QB could be, maybe even Tom Brady-like, especially on the final drive of the first half when he completed five in a row for a touchdown in under a minute.

Obviously, Flacco was not alone. His former Pitt teammate, tight end Robbie Agnone helped twist the Wannstedt knife a bit while having his best day ever grabbing a career high 7 balls and rumbling for 133-yards. Omar Cuff was, well, Omar Cuff. The Delaware senior running back padded his highlight reel with another 148-yards and four more touchdowns breaking the Delaware single season touchdown mark with his nation's best twenty-eight scores.

Also contributing was Josh Baker who had the most acrobatic play of the day as he fought for the ball in mid-air ripping it away from Navy defender Rashawn King.

As impressive as Flacco and the offense were, this game may have been won by Delaware's defense which probably sounds strange knowing that Navy scored 52 points and compiled over 500-yards. But the defense broke serve just enough by forcing two fumbles and getting one huge stop on fourth down to give Delaware the advantage in this back and forth match.

I might not have been at the "Shootout" game against Youngstown in 1979, but one man who was is Delaware Head Coach KC Keeler who was the starting middle linebacker for the Hens that day having to move over from his usual and more familiar outside spot. Earlier today, I asked Keeler about that game and how he felt afterwards. He said that the entire team was physically and emotionally exhausted, but they knew that they could not afford to enjoy the euphoria of the win because they had to go right back to work and get ready to hit the road again the following week and play a very tough Colgate team.

That is exactly the case for this year's team as they have to quickly forget about this great Navy win as the most challenging and most important part of their schedule lay ahead of them starting this week against James Madison following with Richmond and Villanova.

Keeler's 1979 team was able to put the Youngstown "Shootout" behind them and refocus themselves not only for the following week but for a playoff run all the way to the Division II National Championship. As a coach, his 2003 team was able to use their Navy and UMass wins as catapults for their championship run.

What is in store the rest of the way for this Delaware team, and how will history look back on this Navy win?

I don't know, but it is sure going to be fun to be there to find out.

Bill Komissaroff

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On The Clock

It's time.

Delaware Stadium is sick; Delaware Stadium is suffering; and Delaware Stadium isn't going to get any better.

My father always used to say that the length of a minute depends on what side of the bathroom door you were on. For people waiting in line to use the troughs at the venerable venue on South College Avenue, that minute must sometimes seem like an eternity.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Delaware Stadium was a crown jewel. A palatial pigskin palace envied by all from Amherst to Zable. That time, unfortunately, has passed.

The "time keeper" was the issue last Saturday as Delaware hosted Northeastern in front of a large homecoming crowd. It was not the first time that the scoreboard and game clock zonked out; just the latest. The result was that twenty thousand plus fans (and broadcasters) in attendance watched game without the luxury of knowing how much time was left which is just the type of vital information that UD fans have come to expect. I felt especially bad for that guy who tries to time his trip to the trough for just before the half.

This past weekend's Clockgate was just the latest in what is starting to become a long list of issues with the stadium, the facilities, and the field.

It just doesn't seem to make sense to start throwing money at one or two specific issues when the Titanic is sinking.

I would think that the luxury boxes and corporate sponsorships alone would pay for most of the cost, if not all of it and more, for a brand new Delaware Stadium built either on the exact same spot or right next door. And yes my motives here are completely selfish knowing that a new Delaware Stadium means a new press box, and not having to fight my way over, under, and through the throngs of my colleagues in the UD press corps jockeying just to try and get to the single stall in the press box and then hope that the line is not too long so I can get back to our spot at the other end before we have to go back on the air after halftime. Get stuck behind a scribe a bit too "liberal" with his Delaware Dogs during the first half and risk missing the third quarter kickoff.

I understand traditions, but older is not always better when it comes to stadiums. The night before the Delaware-New Hampshire game I went to Fenway Park with the crew to see the Red Sox in game two of the Division Series against the Angels. As cool as Fenway is, and I know I am committing sacrilege here, it is just not that much fun sitting in those tiny little seats for five hours angled the wrong way with no leg room jammed in like a herring next to some drunk Sox fan clapping for Manny while holding both of his plastic draft beer cups in his teeth.

Delaware Football has an incredible history steeped in tradition. A large part of the fabric of that tradition has been and always will be tied to Delaware Stadium; the two are almost synonymous. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end of Delaware Football. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Its time to put Delaware Stadium out of its misery.

Bill Komissaroff

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mistake Free Or Die

So much went wrong for the University of Delaware Blue Hen football team in their 35-30 loss at New Hampshire on Saturday that, at times, it was hard to imagine this was the same team that had cruised through its first five ballgames unscathed. There were just too many mental mistakes, missed assignments, and missed tackles. The team also had poor communication, poor protection, too many penalties, and one very costly turnover.

During warm-ups before the game, tight-end Robbie Agnone felt like something was off. He couldn't quite put his finger on it at the time, but, in retrospect, he felt like the team was over confident.

"There was a different attitude", Agnone said on Monday, "but I thought we could overcome it once the game started."

Unfortunately for Delaware by then it was too late.

Two consecutive plays late in the first half epitomize Delaware's problems on and off the field. Facing a fourth down and five at the fifty yard line, the Hens sent out their punt team. Head Coach KC Keeler had alerted his coaches that he might want to try a fake. The Delaware coaches up in the booth and on the sidelines, who were having problems with their headsets throughout the entire game, thought they heard Keeler call for a fake when in fact he had called just the opposite. While the Hens were confused and snapped it to the upback, New Hampshire's defense was not in the least bit confused or surprised as they tackled Fred Andrew behind the line of scrimmage for a five yard loss.

On the very next play UNH backup quarterback RJ Toman, playing for the injured Ricky Santos, brought his offense out to the line of scrimmage and as the Delaware coaches were screaming to remind their players about "sudden changes", Toman threw a lateral pass to Keith LeVan who then threw it forty-five yards downfield to Mike Boyle who was standing all alone for a touchdown. Just like they draw it up on the sandlot.

The fear for Delaware fans is not that the Hens lost, after all it was on the road against a tough conference opponent that had backed itself into a corner with two early conference losses. It was how they lost. They were unprepared to play and came out flat. Perhaps the team had become too enamored with itself and its 5-0 record, or perhaps they thought they could just to show up and win as they seemingly had in their first five games.

After the game, Coach Keeler told us on the radio that he thought New Hampshire had a "nice ball club, but they are not quite up to the level that we are."

The problem is that we are not exactly sure what that level is yet.

We know that Delaware is a good team. There is just too much talent for it not to be. But what we don't know yet is whether Delaware is a championship team.

Championship teams don't stall three first half drives because of procedure penalties. They don't let opposing quarterbacks scramble consistently for first downs and touchdowns. And they don't get stuffed on a must have fourth and one using a play that they practice so much the players must see it in their sleep.

On Monday Keeler told his team that they can't let New Hampshire beat them twice. He is right. Since championship teams rarely go undefeated, one thing they must always do is bounce back after a loss.

The Hens will have that opportunity this Saturday in front of a huge homecoming crowd at Delaware Stadium when they play a Northeastern team that gave James Madison fits and is apparently better then their 1-4 record.

If Delaware can rebound and take care of Northeastern this weekend, they would be 6-1 going into the bye week, and still be in a position to achieve everything they want and dream of this year. However they must play better. Because while championship teams can often survive the mishaps and mistakes of a game like Saturday's once.

They rarely do twice.

Bill Komissaroff

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another Tricky Day

"You've got the room with the fire escape; I've got the smoke detector" -The Knobs

It can be a liberating feeling when your baseball team is eliminated. I am just not sure that I could have handled the stress of another Mets post season especially with the memory still fresh from last year when Carlos Beltran's feet were in the box but the bat was on his shoulder as he watched the last pitch of game seven go by.

I didn't want to spend the next four weeks agonizing every night watching playoff games all pumped on caffeine to stay up past midnight and then all bleary eyed the next day while scouring every single word in every single newspaper, magazine, and website simultaneously while watching Peter Gammons on some continuous loop either real or more likely imagined in my head.

Instead I can do something fun. Like being the first one in my household to watch all ninety-seven hours of the Ken Burns World War II documentary!

Or I can brush up on my BNI Leadership Team Policy and Procedures Handbook! After all a good referral is a terrible thing to waste.

Now I'll be able to go up to New Hampshire for this weekend's Hens game against UNH with a clear head not having to worry about a Mets playoff game coinciding with Delaware's upcoming clash with Ricky Santos; or even worse having to find a bar in Durham the night before that is willing to switch the channel off the inevitable Bruins pre-season hockey game.

With all of this extra time I will be able to focus my attention on my calling-it-mediocre-would-be-generous fantasy football team, and give Kansas City back-up running back Michael Bennett the respect and attention he rightly deserves.

Okay, maybe not.

It is supposed to be different when you are forty-two, right?

Certainly I didn't feel as bad on Sunday when the Mets lost and the Phillies won ending the Mets season, as I did when the Jets lost the 1982 AFC Championship game to the Dolphins. I watched that game alone in my room at my parent's house in Green Acres because I was too nervous to watch the game with anyone else. I didn't come out of that room at all that night. I just sat there wondering what could have been had Jerome Barkum not dropped Richard Todd's pass in the endzone. I had to be prodded the next day by my mom just to go to school.

But at the same time, it probably would not have felt as good as it did in 1986 when Mookie's ball went through Buckner's legs and all of New York City erupted as we watched from an Italian restaurant on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan during Fall break from college; Billy Rustum finally picking his head up off the bar where it had been buried in his arms since the sixth inning because he just couldn't bear to watch.

We love sports as much for the lows as we do for the highs.

I understand the depths of the Phillies fan. I took a three year Mets sabbatical when I worked for the Phillies from 1992-94. I was in the visitor's radio booth in Toronto at Skydome producing the radio broadcast when Joe Carter took Mitch Williams deep in game six to abruptly end the 1993 World Series.

I don't hold any animosity towards the Phillies for overtaking the Mets this year. Let's face it: The Mets blew it. They completely imploded and the Phillies were there to pick up the mess. The Phillies, to their credit, put themselves into a position to take advantage of the collapse. But it was a collapse.

Good luck to the Phillies and all my Phillie fan friends. Enjoy the ride over the next three weeks and I hope they don't break your heart again.

I'll be sure to save the season premiere of Two and Half Men for you on my Tivo.

Bill Komissaroff

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Slogging Into The 21st Century

The Earth shifted this week on South College Avenue, and it now looks like there will be a football game between the University of Delaware and Delaware State University sometime before the Sun begins to die in the next five billion years. The shift was felt on Monday afternoon when Delaware head coach KC Keeler told me and others that he thought the game would happen "sooner rather than later," but more importantly that he was taking a more active role "philosophically" in Delaware's football schedule design.

When he was hired after the 2001 season, Keeler was told two things by his new employers: Don't try to change the helmets, and leave the scheduling to us. But after looking at his team's tentative schedule for the 2008 season and seeing games at Maryland, at Furman, at James Madison, at Hofstra, at Richmond, and knowing earlier this year Delaware had scheduled a series of three games starting in 2010 with South Dakota State including one on the road, Keeler felt like it was time to get more involved. On Monday Keeler said that he would like to continue to see Delaware play a Division II school every year. (If you listen closely you may be able to hear the sounds of champagne corks popping through out the borough of West Chester, Pennsylvania.)

Keeler also said that he would like to have a Division I-A game like Navy, Army, Maryland, or Temple on the schedule every other year, and for the rest of the non-conference games he would like to see them against other I-AA opponents who would be willing to play exclusively at Delaware Stadium without any reciprocation. He then said (prepare for shift) that if Delaware State falls into that last category than so be it, "it would be good for the state".

The long debated controversy over why Delaware and Delaware State have yet to meet in football bubbled up again this week for several reasons.

First, it is always a topic when Delaware plays a game against any non-conference opponent that isn't Delaware State. On Saturday Delaware hosts Monmouth a I-AA school that would probably be in Division II or III except for the fact that they want their basketball program to be able to compete in Division I.

Delaware Athletic Director Edgar Johnson has maintained over the years that Delaware was not opposed to playing Delaware State they could just never find room on the schedule for the game. Proponents of the game scoffed that if Delaware could find room for the likes of Monmouth this year, Holy Cross and Albany the last two years, West Chester every year, and South Dakota State starting in 2010 then why not Delaware State?

Earlier this week the debate reached the national stage when Jeff Pearlman, a former Sports Illustrated reporter and a University of Delaware alum, penned a piece for ESPN's website citing racism as the reason for Delaware avoiding the game.

This is not the first time that race has been mentioned in this context. While no proof exists to validate this view, the history of Delaware (the State and the University) shows a poor track record in the area. For example:
  • In 1861 despite rejecting an offer to join the Confederacy, Delaware remained a slave holding state.
  • In 1862 the Delaware legislature rejected an offer from President Lincoln to buy all of its slaves in order to set them free.
  • In 1865 the Delaware legislature voted against the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery.
  • In 1868 the Delaware legislature voted against the fourteenth amendment which guaranteed equal protection for all races.
  • In 1891 in response to the Morrill Act of 1890 which required that states either open their land-grant colleges to all races or create a separate land-grant specifically for blacks, the Delaware General Assembly rather than allow blacks to attend the University of Delaware chose the latter and as a result The State College for Colored Students was established eventually changing its name to Delaware State College in 1947 and then Delaware State University in 1993.
  • In 1950 the University of Delaware changes policy and admits its first African-American students.
  • In 1968 in the wake of riots in Wilmington the National Guard begins a ten month occupation of the State's largest city. The longest occupation in the country.
  • In 1990 after a series of racial incidents, the University must strengthen its policies regarding racial harassment.
Back in 1957, a full decade after Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies finally signed their first black ballplayer. They were the last National League team to so. Later in life Robinson recalled that he used to receive death threats wherever he played, but Philadelphia was the only place he was ever actually scared that something bad might happen. In fact after a game with the Phillies in 1947 in which the hate and venom that spewed from the Phillies dugout from their manager Ben Chapman and some of the players was so strong that Robinson actually considered quitting. "To hell with Mr. Rickey's noble experiment," Robinson wrote of the encounter in his autobiography in 1972.

At the time, the Phillies were owned by the late Bob Carpenter a member of the Board of Trustees and long time benefactor and supporter of the University of Delaware.

Do any of these things have anything to do with the reason why Delaware has refused to play Delaware State in football? I don't know. But I think that it provides a context as to why people might think that race is the underlying reason why the University has evaded the game for so long. The University has never publicly stated its reasons for not playing the game. When pressed for an answer over the years, Athletic Director Edgar Johnson has never expanded on his standard response of "it will happen".

I do not think that the University is racist today although I do think it can be stubborn and slow to react. It seems like the harder people have pushed for the game over the last ten years, the harder the University has resisted. I just don't think they like being told what to do. I also wonder if, in some strange way, by agreeing to play the game now it would look like an admission of guilt for not playing it sooner.

In the past I have never been a huge advocate of playing the game, but I think the time has come. The University needs to bite the bullet, take its lumps, and just schedule the game.

And if the earth can shift at the mere mention of being philosophically agreeable to it, imagine how much the earth will move when ball is actually kicked off for the first time.

Bill Komissaroff

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Few Good Hen

Larry David might describe this Delaware football team as being pretty good. Pretty, pretty good. I am not sure we know how good just yet, but I think we will have a better idea after Saturday's showdown with Towson and quarterback Sean Schaefer.

So far this season, Delaware has done everything and more asked of them including last weekend's 38-9 thumping of Rhode Island; but, let's face it, Delaware fans wouldn't be Delaware fans if they weren't, deep down in places you don't like to talk about at parties, still just a tad bit nervous.

After all it was just two years ago that Delaware was coming off a playoff appearance and had started out the season 3-0 with wins over Lehigh, West Chester, and Holy Cross before heading down to Towson and losing giving the Tigers their first ever conference win. A huge upset that might have saved Towson coach Gordy Combs his job. Delaware went on to finish 6-5 that year following that up with a 5-6 record in 2006, which also included a 49-35 loss to Towson at home.

Which brings us to 2007. Yes, the Hens are 3-0, but how good has the competition been so far? The jury is certainly still out on William and Mary even though they have won their last two since dropping the opener to the Hens albeit against suspect opposition in VMI and Liberty. West Chester is, of course, a Division II school, and as much as I like Rhode Island head coach Tim Stowers, if they truly want to compete in the CAA, Rhode Island should consider a complete overhaul including scrapping that ridiculous triple-option gimmick of an offense.

Since beating Delaware back in 2005, Towson's total record to date is 12-8 just missing the playoffs last year by blowing an eleven point fourth quarter lead at home to William and Mary late in the season. A third straight win this year over Delaware would certainly go a long way to helping secure Towson a spot among the upper echelon of the CAA, and I am sure it wouldn't hurt those other Towson and Delaware battles that occur not on the field but in the living rooms of high school juniors and seniors around the region.

If Delaware is going to stop this losing streak to Towson, they are going to have to figure out a way to rattle junior quarterback Sean Schaefer who has thrown for over 700 yards and six touchdowns in two games against Delaware. A task easier said than done. Schaefer comes from a lineage of fire fighters and wants to go into the family business after college. Last week against a very strong UMass defense, Schaefer took hit after hit never once even flinching. I guess if you are willing to walk into burning buildings for a living, it may take a little more than a blitzing college football defense to get you off of your game.

Ultimately, however, the UMass defense was too much for Schaefer who was sacked four times and intercepted three times as Towson's high-powered offense smoldered against UMass losing 36-13. Expect the Delaware coaches to spend a lot of time watching that tape.

Which brings us to Saturday. I think this year's 3-0 Delaware team is much better poised to tackle Towson than the 2005 3-0 Delaware team that went down there and lost. I also think that this year's Delaware defense is so much better that it will be difficult for Sean Schaefer to carve it apart as he did last year at Delaware Stadium.

Will it be enough to halt the two-game losing streak to Towson?

One thing is for sure if Delaware does win and improves to 4-0, we will know that they are better than just pretty, pretty good.

Bill Komissaroff

Monday, September 10, 2007

Say Uncle

The University of Delaware football team wanted to make sure that their helmets were the only thing that they had in common with Michigan in their home opener against the West Chester Rams on Saturday night. Before the game Head Coach KC Keeler refreshingly told his players that they were the better team and he expected them to act that way. Any thoughts that West Chester might have had of "App Stating" the Hens on Tubby's Tundra were quickly quashed.

On Delaware's second play from scrimmage quarterback Joe Flacco, who is as calm as an accountant the day after tax day, fired the ball down field and hit Mark Duncan for a thirty-seven yard gain setting up an early score en route to a 41-14 win over their Division II foes.

On the ensuing kickoff Brian Void set the tone for the rest of the night by pummelling West Chester returner D'Andre Webb. The pop instantly becoming a candidate for special teams hit of the year.

Keeler, when asked how you handle a lesser opponent, answered, "to not let them them breathe", and after Delaware's performance in the first half, West Chester was clearly gasping. The Hens dominated every facet of the game never letting what might have been the best West Chester team in years to come to Delaware Stadium think they had a chance.

Afterward West Chester head coach Bill Zwann summed it up, "I felt like were weren't in this one at all."

He was right.

By halftime Delaware led 34-0. Omar Cuff had close to 100 yards rushing and scored another four touchdowns. Joe Flacco was close to 300 yards passing. The defense was pitching a shut-out and had forced three turnovers. As for special teams Stuart Kenworthy's lone punt in the first half pinned the Rams on the two yard line and Jon Striefsky was a perfect two for two on field goal opportunities while consistently kicking off inside the five yard line.

In the second half the Hens were able to rest the starters while the coaches tested the back-ups. Passing with honors was true freshman running back Philip Thaxton who exploded through a hole on his first ever college football touch stopping 62 yards later in the end zone. Thaxton was electric. Later in the game he broke off another long run that would have been a touchdown had West Chester defender Mike Mignogno not made a terrific play on the ball forcing a fumble. Thaxton still finished with 177 yards rushing setting a Delaware debut record.

It should get tougher for the Hens next weekend as another group of Rams come to play in a CAA Conference game. Rhode Island is 0-2 so far this year, but according to their coach Tim Stowers they could easily be 2-0 if it weren't for all those pesky fumbles, interceptions, missed field goals, and other blown red zone opportunities. Rhode Island utilizes that "great equalizer" of an offense: the triple option. But since he has been at Delaware, Keeler has had success against triple option teams like Georgia Southern in 2002, Navy in 2003, and Rhode Island twice in 2003 and 2006.

Delaware is 2-0 so far this year, but if this team continues to play like they have in the first two games and Michigan continues to play like they have in their first two games, maybe by the end of the year people will think that Michigan is wearing Delaware's helmet instead of the other way around.

How cool would that be?

Bill Komissaroff

Friday, August 31, 2007

O What A Night

Early Friday Morning I was driving up the Eastern Shore of Virginia on my way home from Delaware's first football game of the year the previous night at William and Mary. I was thinking about the game and to paraphrase the late Jack Buck, I still didn't believe what I had just seen.

Delaware running back Omar Cuff rewrote the record books on Thursday Night when he rushed for 244 yards and scored 7 touchdowns. I wonder if he got a little tired of all of us asking him if his ankle was okay. If so, message received. Loud and clear. We get it.

In a funny anomaly Omar's profile on the ESPN site projects his stats for the entire 2007 season based on the first game. How is this for a line:

330 rushes for 2684 yards and 66 TDs plus 44 catches for 572 yards and 11 receiving TDs.
While those numbers may be a tad ambitious, if he stays healthy, Omar will likely have a huge year.

Not bad for a guy who was brought in to be a reserve defensive back never likely to play much, and was moved over to offense only out of necessity in 2004 when several other running backs went down with injuries. That year, after not playing at all in the first six games and only sparingly in the next two, Omar had his coming out party in Game 9 on the road against one of the toughest defenses in the country.

Like the character from the HBO show The Wire who has the same name and who announces his presence with a giant shotgun, Omar announced his presence that day to the record setting tune of 34 carries and 162 yards while paralyzing the James Madison defense as if they were looking down both barrels. In the remaining four games of the season (two of which were 1-AA playoff games), Omar had three 100 yard plus performances and scored a total of eight touchdowns.

The legend was born.

When Delaware Head Coach KC Keeler talks about Omar Cuff his eyes light up. After the 2005 season, the coach asked his already all-world running back to try and make himself a better receiver. The following off-season with the help of his mom (Can you say: Campbell's Soup commercial?), Omar went to work catching ball after ball after ball from his mom in the alley-way near his house. He caught balls until his hands hurt and more importantly until his hands improved.

He made himself into the complete package: A strong runner, a reliable receiver, and lock-down blocker which is imperative for any back in the Delaware spread offense, but unfortunately he did not get a much chance to show off his skills last year due to injury. Which made Thursday night even more compelling.

After stalling on their opening drive of the game against William and Mary, the Delaware offense would explode for seven consecutive touchdowns on their next seven possessions not counting a kneel down at the end of the first half. Seven touchdowns. All courtesy of Omar Cuff with a lot of help from what appears to be a very talented offensive line. It truly was an incredible performance.

The legend continues. Stay tuned...

Bill Komissaroff

Monday, August 13, 2007

High Hopes

This team is going to be better.

It was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me to be back in Delaware Stadium on Saturday for the scrimmage after being in Vietnam for about a month. From the streets and markets of Hanoi and Saigon and the beaches of Nha Trang and Hoi An back to the world of Rocket Screens, Belly Reads, and Cover 2s. I loved it!

I am not usually much a "practice" or "scrimmage" guy. I find that, more than any other sport, it is very difficult for me to evaluate what I see on a practice field or during a scrimmage and project what it might mean for a football team against real and live opponents.

That being said, the 2007 University of Delaware Football team will be better than last year's model. It has to be. Right?

This past Saturday's scrimmage was my first chance to see the team at all since the end of last season. (Unfortunately my schedule did not allow me to see any of the Spring practices or the Spring Game.)

It is still obviously very very early, but there seems to be a different aura surrounding the team now as opposed to this time last year. The first thing I noticed was that there were plenty of live bodies available to play on Saturday. That is certainly a good thing.

It is going to be fun to watch the relationships between Quarterback Joe Flacco and his various receivers develop. It looked to me that Wide Receiver Mark Mackey may have grown a few inches, and I have a feeling that Tight End Robbie Agnone will step up and fill the shoes of Ben Patrick without missing a beat.

On defense, I was disappointed that neither Defensive Ends Matt Marcorelle or Notre Dame transfer Ronald Talley participated, but was assured by Head Coach KC Keeler afterward that it was strictly precautionary and that both are fine.

I was told by a few who had been to previous practices that Talley looks like a real difference maker and combined with a healthy Marcorelle could make for an extremely deadly combination (for opposing QBs).

After the scrimmage I spoke to Safeties Charles Graves and Anthony Bratton both true sophomores who will be expected to take on much more responsibility this year after getting their feet wet last year. They both seem to understand the challenge ahead of them and more importantly seem to relish it.

Expectations are always high this time of year on South College Ave. After all this is Delaware Football. But coming off a losing season and combined 11-11 record with zero playoff games for the last two years, the hopes may even be a bit higher than usual .

Is that even possible?

Bill Komissaroff