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