Rivalry Revelry

Ever since I covered my first college football game in the autumn of 1977 I’ve been in love with college football, but there’s a special place in my heart for territorial rivalries every fall. Good records or not, the traditional matchups are the soul of the game. 

I can’t explain why but college football rivalries have always been fascinating to me. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Apple Cup is king and it’s even bigger this year since there’s so much at stake on Nov. 25 at Husky Stadium.

My first Apple Cup was in 1981 when the prize for the winner was a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Jim Walden’s Cougars came into Husky Stadium tied with UCLA on top of the Pac-10, each with records of 5-1-1. The Huskies came into the game at 5-2 and needed a win over the Cougars plus some help from USC in their game against UCLA.

The Cougars hadn’t been to a bowl game in 51 years while the Huskies were trying to get to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row.

It turned out to be a great day for Husky fans. Washington beat WSU 23-10 and before the game was over fans listening to their radios in the stands found out that UCLA had missed a last-second field goal giving USC a 22-21 victory.

It all started in 1900 when the Huskies and Cougars played to a 5-5 tie. The game wasn’t called the Apple Cup until 1962, prior to that it was known as the Governor’s Trophy.

The Huskies lead the series with 71 victories to 32 for the Cougars and six ties.  Washington has won seven of the last eight meetings and 13 of the last 20.

Going into the 2017 version of the game the Cougars are 9-2 and ranked 12th in the nation. Washington is 8-2 while slipping to 18th in the country. The appeal of this great rivalry has always been special even in years when one or both had subpar records. 

In 2008, the Huskies stumbled into the Apple Cup with an 0-10 record while the Cougars were 1-10. In a back-and-forth battle the Cougars came out on top on a Nico Grasu field goal. 

Whether fighting for a Pac-12 title or looking for a single highlight in a dismal season, the Apple Cup is special and always will be.

As important as the Apple Cup is to us here in the state of Washington, football rivalries flourish in every corner of the nation.

During my four years in Indiana before moving to Washington the Indiana vs. Purdue game was the big one. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers play for the Old Oaken Bucket every season. Not necessarily in order of importance there’s Michigan vs. Ohio State,  Army vs. Navy, USC-UCLA, Florida vs. Florida State, The Civil War with Oregon vs. Oregon State, The Great Divide Trophy with Montana State vs. Montana, The Golden Boot pitting Arkansas vs. LSU, The Golden Egg with Mississippi playing Mississippi State, The Paul Bunyan with Michigan playing Michigan State, The Golden Hat with Texas playing Oklahoma and on and on it goes.

Locally the Pacific Lutheran vs. University of Puget Sound game is a big rivalry while back east where I’m from they still flock to the Yale vs. Harvard game every year.

College football rivalries keep the fans interest every fall regardless of how well their favorite team is doing. To me tradition is just as valuable as championships but I’ll admit when a team gets a chance to be part of both all in one game, that’s the best of all worlds.

So Much to Watch

Is it just me or are we becoming spoiled by the number of choices in front of us every day. I love getting the Sunday Seattle Times on my driveway every week. I read the first section first because I’ve always been taught to eat my vegetables before diving into the main course. Since I was a kid the main course for me has always been the sports section. I read that second, followed by Northwest news, arts and then business.

Just inside the front cover of the sports second is a listing of all the sports events on television that day and the next day.  The list takes up a half page on Sundays with all the NFL and NBA games and on Saturday the college games alone make up half the page. If one wanted to, he or she could sit down at 8 a.m. on a Saturday and not get up again until midnight, watching football the entire time.  Sunday is no different. You can start with the NFL at 10 a.m. and watch until after the Sunday Night Game around 8:30 in the evening.  Of course one doesn’t have to do any such thing with “On Demand” television. You can record whatever you want and watch it anytime but my point is that the volume of possibilities is staggering.

Just a few years ago there was a possibility that your favorite college team might not even have their game televised and way back in the dark ages when I was a kid we were lucky to have two college games on Saturday and one local NFL game Sunday to choose from and that was all.

I have a vivid memory of my Uncle Jim and Uncle Louie, avid New York Giants football fans living in Connecticut, climbing onto the roof of the house to change the direction of the antenna to bring in the Giants game on Sundays. In those days if an NFL was wasn’t sold out it would be blacked out on television for a 50 mile radius. They lived within 50 miles or NYC and couldn’t get the games on WCBS, the New York CBS affiliate but could bring them in on affiliate in New Haven, Conn. which was outside the blackout zone. In order to get the New Haven station, one of my uncles had to climb onto the roof and turn the antenna towards New Haven. After the game the other Uncle would go up and move the antenna back so they could watch regular programming on WCBS.   For those two Giants fans the effort was worth it.  That was before Monday night, Sunday Night or Thursday Night football. Sunday afternoon was all you had and you’re local team was all you could watch.

Sometimes I wonder if we were better off then.  All the choices we have today remind me of a buffet line in Las Vegas.  All that food, most of which you don’t need, but you eat it because it’s there.

For Seahawks fans disappointed by the loss last Sunday to the Redskins, having as Thursday night game is a good thing. It’ll give them a chance to erase the bad feeling of losing in just a just a few days. On the other hand if they lose in Arizona, fans will call it a lost week.

One thing I’ve learned from covering sports on television for 35 years and working with the Seahawks for 11 years is that your opponent most weeks may be just as good as you are.  There is parity in NFL by design and it shows itself almost every week. Just because the Redskins had numerous injuries on offense prior to Sunday’s game against Seattle, doesn’t mean the back-up players are chumps.  Everyone in the NFL is a good player which is what makes it interesting.  It also creates an emotional roller coaster for fans but to me that’s what makes being a sports fan worthwhile. If you knew your team was going to win every week it would get boring in a hurry.

Baseball Leads Again

Baseball Leads Again

Pardon the pun here but it seems to me that baseball has always been a little ahead of the curve when it comes to social reform.

During World War II baseball followed the lead of the rest of America, sending some of its biggest stars into the various armed services and in some cases into combat. The list is long and impressive. Ted Williams was a willing fighter pilot, Yogi Berra volunteered to be part of the invasion of Normandy, Hank Greenberg, Joe Dimaggio, Stan Musial and dozens of others volunteered to serve their country.

A few years later in the spring of 1947 baseball led the way for America when  Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the major leagues, thanks to a partnership with Brooklyn Dodger’s General Manager Branch Rickey. It took the country 17 more years to enact Civil Rights legislation under the Lyndon Johnson presidency.

Fast forward to 2017 and the World Baseball Championships. Big league players from every team in both leagues are playing for their home countries in this most patriotic tribute to what was once called, “The National Pastime.”  Baseball may not be first in the hearts of ‘Americans anymore with the growth of the National Football League but it still leads the way as far as social awareness is concerned.

While many in our country including our new president preach daily about “America First,” and spread the fears of globalization, baseball leads by example.  Players like Mariner pitcher Felix Hernandez who’ll pitch for Venezuela for the next two weeks and Seattle Mariner teammates Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Jean Segura who’ll play for the Dominican Republic can still love America while playing baseball for their countries of origin for two weeks.

Baseball is the best example of what mankind can be if you really think about it. In baseball once a man is on first base, a teammate may be asked by his coach to “sacrifice bunt,” allowing the runner to advance to second base.  Who can imagine giving up their own freedom or in this case “at bat” to allow a teammate to succeed?  That’s what you do in baseball.  If we did more of this in America we truly would be “great again.”

So while some in this country and many around the world are rejecting what is called globalization for what is called nationalism I’m suggesting that we embrace both. Why can’t one be proud of his own country while still respecting the rest of the world? That leads to peace, which I’m sure to many is a sign of weakness.

The alternative is to spread fear and hatred from our borders outward building walls real and imagined between us and the rest of the world. That leads to mistrust, ignorance, fear and a false sense of pride and all that leads to war. Do we really want more war? Have we not learned anything from history?

Time to look at baseball as the leader it is. Time to see it as a glowing example of what’s right in America. Any activity that calls for all participants to work for and with one another towards a common goal is an activity worth cheering for.

Baseball is ahead of the curve which seems rather poetic since one who can’t catch up to a curve will not succeed in baseball or in life.

NFL Combine 2017

Can you imagine what it’s like to be prodded, measured,  tested,  scrutinized and talked about for an entire week in Indianapolis, Indiana.  No I’m not talking about the 4H pig contest at the Indiana State Fair, I’m talking about the NFL Combine.

Since 1982 coaches, scouts, trainers, doctors, psychiatrists and the media have put the spotlight on college football players hoping for a shot in the National Football League. It’s like having your job interview times ten while also having everyone in the world see the results.

I can see it now. “Tony would make a really good salesperson for us but his 40 yard dash is a little slow, he hesitated when we asked him if he still reads comic books and frankly he wasn’t that impressive in the Wonderlic test.”

That by the way is formerly known as a cognitive ability test. It tests the aptitude of perspective employees.

This year 330 college players have been invited to the combine,  77 of them underclassmen.  A quick breakdown shows that 15 quarterbacks are at the combine and 58 wide receivers. Let’s face it a lot of teams are desperate for a quarterback. Just ask fans in San Francisco and Cleveland. The Seahawks don’t have that problem and won’t for at least a few years. They do have other problems or issues as we’ll call them here.

Needed in Seattle for the Seahawks to return to a Super Bowl are the following.  At least one and maybe multiple offensive lineman.  Easier said than done. There are not too many over the top offensive lineman in the draft this year and it’s been that way for a few years.

The Seahawk also need depth at cornerback. There was a time when Richard Sherman was the third string corner behind Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond. He’s been a star for years now but he needs back up help, especially with DeShawn Shead likely to miss all of training camp and part of the regular season. Back up help at safety would be helpful. Earl Thomas will be back and so will Kam Chancellor but they need back ups and they need them now.

It wouldn’t hurt for the Seahawks to draft a wide receiver. By the end of the season they were very thin  in that area due to key injuries.

So as fans we all have our wish list. Now it’s up to the coaches and scouts to comb the combine, see what they like and work their magic in the draft and free agent signings on the final night of the draft.

Working together in politics and life

Working Together

The U.S. House of Representatives goes on recess this week. I’m tempted to be a cynic and ask why they get a recess after less than a month at work but I won’t.  Regardless of what you may think of our elected officials, it’s a very tough job and one will never succeed in making everyone happy.  Our state is split into ten congressional districts, six are held by Democrats and Four by Republicans. Often in past years during the House recess, members would organize “town meetings” in their districts to allow citizens to ask questions and gather information on the goings on in Washington D.C.

It doesn’t take a student of government to observe that there is a huge divide between Democrats and Republicans in our state.   In certain congressional districts that gap between the parties is wider than ever putting the representative in that district in a very sticky position.

Two such districts are the 8th represented by Dave Reichert and the 2nd represented by Rick Larsen. A few months after Barack Obama was elected Larsen had a town hall meeting at the Aqua Sox ball park in Everett. Over three thousand people jammed the stadium and pepper Larsen with questions about Obamacare and other Democrat sponsored issues. It got a little tense at times.

Well folks, those were the good old days. It isn’t tense anymore, it’s down right mean. Somehow, some way we seem to have lost the ability and the desire to listen to each other. Our need to be right is blocking all sense of reason and now allowing us to agree on many important issues.

Democrats are demanding a town hall meeting with Dave Reichert who refuses to have one with a live audience. He will do a Facebook live town hall on Feb. 23rd. That’s not really facing the public but I’m not sure If I blame him.

Ideally a town hall offers people to ask a question and get an answer. All too often in my experience the questions are rude and personal and the answers are not nearly clear enough to satisfy the question.

In my view the only solution is a moderator who is neutral and in control of the audience but one who can also elicit a satisfactory answer out of the elected official. I am that person.

As a guy who loves just about everybody I meet, regardless of what they think of me, I’m the perfect choice to moderate a town hall session between angry voters and elected officials. I would explain to the audience before beginning that there are other people in the building who gave up their evening to learn more about what their government is doing for them and to hopefully learn more about what they can do for their local community.

We’re all in this together. Nothing will ever get done at any level if we don’t take the time to listen to each other before we jump in with our own opinion.

I firmly believe there is not a single problem locally or nationally that we cannot solve by listening to each other,  setting a goal and working together. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

Best Ever - Women's Sports, Huskies and the Pac-12 Tournament

Best Ever

I’ve been so fortunate during my 40 years in sports journalism.  I’ve met most of the all time greats including Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr,  Joe Montana, Steve Largent, George Foreman, all the current Seahawks players to mention a few.

No I’m not name dropping here, I’m just trying to give this column a little perspective. I’ve seen so many magnificent sports performances but none of them can beat what I saw on Saturday at the UW women’s basketball game against Utah.

Senior guard Kelsey Plum went into the game needing 54 points to become the all time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball. No one thought she would do it on Saturday. Most of us figured it would happen during the Pac-12 tournament at Key Arena the following week. We were wrong. She scored 57 points to lead her team to victory 84-77 and become the all time leader in points. All of this happened on Senior Day in front of 6,775 lucky and smart fans.

Kelsey woke up Saturday morning with a raspy voice and a bit of a cold. My gosh what would she have done if she was feeling great?  She scored ten points in the first quarter and had 22 by halftime and added 16 more third quarter. Then with eight minutes left in the game Chantel Osahor fouled out. The game was still close so Kelsey did what she always does, she took over scoring 19 points in the final period to lead her team to victory and break Jackie Stile’s all time record. Stiles was among the first to congratulate Plum via Twitter after the game. Plum now has 3,397 career points.

Watching the 5-8 Plum take over another game and make almost every shot imaginable now ranks as the most exciting moment of my sports career. Yes I said it. More exciting than the Seahawk’s Super Bowl win, more exciting than the Mariner’s run through the playoffs in 1995 and the Sonics near NBA title the following year.

Women’s sports get little or no credit on most days in the national and local media. Seattle has two radio stations doing sports 24/7 and they’ve managed to give Plum and her team only occasional mentions. Program directors of both stations have told me, “womens sports don’t move the needle.” In other words unless the talk is about Russell Wilson or the Mariners the radio stations don’t care. Well I do and I am grateful to have seen one of the best individual performances by an athlete at any level last Saturday.  We wish the Huskies all the best in the Pac-12 tournament and beyond.



Seahawks Future

Seahawks Future

As we gather with friends to watch Super Bowl XI we’ll be feeling a little twinge of sadness that our team isn’t there for the second year in a row. The Seahawks loss to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago ended the season for the players and the 12s leading to comments, rumors and speculation about the future. That same Atlanta team that could’ve scored more than 40 points against a once powerful defense, chose to take a knee with a few seconds left in the game preserving a 36-20 final score for the history books.

Coached by former Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, the Falcons finally got back to a Super Bowl after years of frustration. Their reward is a meeting with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the team that broke the Seahawks momentum with that sudden, heartbreaking finish to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.

Doesn’t it seem like that moment, or nightmare, whatever you want to call it,  signaled a sharp switch in momentum for the Seahawks. There’s a good reason, it did.

Consider all the changes to the team since that dark moment in the early evening of February 1, 2015. First and foremost Marshawn Lynch is gone. The heart and soul of the offense and in my opinion the heart and soul of the team has retired. Thomas Rawls is potentially the wonderful replacement but he still hasn’t had a long stretch of career with some kind of injury, something Lynch was able to in his time with the Seahawks.

The “legion of boom,” may still be a legion but without some of its boom. Right after helping the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII cornerback Brandon Browner signed a free agent deal with the Patriots and was a key reason for that game closing, gut wrenching Malcolm Butler interception that gave New England the title the following year in SB XLIX.

Browner was re-signed by Seattle the following year but then cut before the first game. The magic was gone from his few years alongside Richard Sherman in the Seahawks stingy defensive backfield.

In their quest to get one of the best tight ends in the business, the Seahawks traded one of the best centers to the Saints. Welcome Jimmy Graham and goodbye Max Unger, another clear sign that things would never be the same. The offensive center is the leader of the line, the guy who holds it all together. With Unger gone the Seahawks struggled to find the chemistry needed to protect their young, now highly paid quarterback Russell Wilson.

Without listing all the changes the Seahawks roster and coaching staff has undergone since the glory days of 2014, let me just conclude with this thought. The National Football League is designed to allow all of its franchises to get a shot at glory thus keeping the interest if fans all across the country and all across the world. The league would rather not have teams repeat as champions year after year. The New England Patriots are an exception to the rule.  A victory in Super Bowl in LI would be the 7th for the Patriots, and the fourth for quarterback Tom Brady. They are the exception to the rule. Sure there have been great Super Bowl runs in the past by the 49ers and Steelers and now the Patriots but those runs of success are rare and that’s the way the NFL likes it.

The Seahawks have their work cut out for them in 2017. There are more questions than answers now and only time will reveal the truth about the up- coming season. In the meantime 12s will always be hopeful, always be supportive and always be there, because that’s the nature of great fans. We don’t hang our heads, we hang our 12 banners on the front of the garage and expect to win every single Sunday.

Here’s Smilin' at you

Here’s Smilin' at you

In 1999 I wrote my first book, “Smile in the Mirror,” Let your light shine. It was a collection of stories about people in my life who taught me something valuable.  Now this may sound funny but everyone I meet teaches me something valuable, some without uttering a word.  “Let your light shine,” is a quote from the Bible that my mother shared with us every days of our young lives and every time we’d visit her after that. Thus the title of my first book and the two that followed that in 2003 and 2009. The premise was the same, the lessons and the people who taught them to me evolved with each new edition.

In my new book, “Here’s Smilin” at you,” I’ll re visit some of the original true life characters of the past while adding new and fresh information from people and places I’ve experienced since.

We’ll return to my home town of Wilton, Connecticut in the 1950s when trading baseball cards required as much skill as stock trading does today. We’ll play Wiffle Ball for 24 straight hours with seven of my friends who decided that would be a good way to raise money for underserved kids who deserved a chance to go to summer camp.  We’ll share the last Christmas morning with my sister Bunny who’s short and courageous life taught me lessons about love and caring for others that I still teach today. We’ll visit my Uncle Ralph who only had sight in one eye but shared a vision with me and all those he met that allowed him to see the beauty and potential in everyone.

Here’s Smilin” At You” will soon be available through this web site and other sources including my “live” presentations of “Tony Talks.”