It’s difficult – make that almost impossible – for a sportswriter not to become cynical when he sees people act one way in public then do a 180 in private. Being two-faced is nothing new, yet can prove so disappointing that someone appears to be such a good guy for his fans but can be such a jerk out of their sight.
So, when John Madden died recently, we wondered out loud: Was he really a nice person? Was he everything he seemed to be?
This is Volume 78 in the memory man’s look back, sideways and occasionally straight ahead at sports – hopefully – with a different perspective. Call it: He WAS the Real Deal.
The man had talked to Madden on the telephone – conference calls with other reporters mostly – after the former Oakland Raiders coach began an iconic television career. He was upbeat, friendly, and never – as far as we can remember – met a question he didn’t like. Or even if he did, he didn’t let on.
(Believe it or not, NBC once answered a call to interview Madden for our weekly radio/TV column by providing his home phone number. Those days of more than 40 years ago quickly vanished as the network talking heads became major personalities whose opinions suddenly mattered … and the networks were overwhelmed by requests, all but ending one-on-one interviews for anyone but the really big hitters from the big-city dailies.)
Naturally, you haven’t heard – or read – a discouraging word about Madden. Two of our favorite quotes: From NBC’s Chris Simms … “He was the Michael Jordan of NFL announcing.” And, from source unknown … “Above anything else, he made football fun.”
Melissa Starke, University of Virginia alumnus, recalled a conversation with Madden prior to their first appearance together (with Al Michaels) on “Monday Night Football” in 2003. She was apprehensive, Starke said, but Madden immediately put her at ease, saying, “I never liked the sideline [reporter] position … until I met you.”
OK, to answer the burning question – Was Madden the same off camera as on? – we asked Bobby Ross, who coached the San Diego Chargers including a Super Bowl. “He did a few of our games. We talked, not a lot. I never really got to know him … but, I never heard anyone say he wasn’t one of the good guys,” the native Richmonder said.
In other words, Madden was the real deal. What you see is what you get – and all the other appropriate cliches. There is some hope, after all.
Paul Maguire? Surely you remember the former punter and linebacker at The Citadel. He worked as football analyst for NBC and ESPN and was compared – at least once, as far as we know for sure – to Madden.
Of course, that could have been a kiss of death for Maguire except he was eight years into his network career when Madden … reluctantly, so the story goes … made his debut in 1979. Come to think of it, no one called Madden the next P. Maguire even though he was likewise loose, witty, off-the-wall, etc., as well as being able to communicate in a folksy, every-man style.
While Madden worked for NBC, Fox and CBS by choice, following the money, Maguire was fired by NBC’s then-sports boss Don Ohlmeyer, “who thought he was expendable,” said a network spokesman who clearly didn’t agree. “[Maguire] added to the overall coverage here. He didn’t disappoint a soul here.” Well, other than the only one who counted, that is.
Maguire joined ESPN where he and Paul Zimmerman, on loan from Sports Illustrated, made watching the network’s early coverage of the NFL draft worthwhile. They would tell us if a player was a greyhound or just a plain old dog. It was refreshing then and certainly would be even more so now when a mild, borderline innocent putdown is called offensive and creates a windstorm of protest – and thus avoided to the point of analytic blandness.
Five years into his employment by the 24-hour all-sports network, Maguire was courted by NBC – believe it or not – to replace Pete Axthelm (fired) on the network’s NFL pregame show in 1986. There was some question about his contract, that ESPN had the right to match anything Peacock U., offered. So we called Maguire at his home in Buffalo, N.Y., and got a recording: “This message is brought to you by the Bank of New York which holds the mortgage on our home.”
In the end, ESPN chose not to match NBC, and Maguire joined “NFL, ‘86.” Two years – and many quips later – Maguire became analyst on the network’s No. 2 NFL broadcast team with Marv Albert, moving to No. 1 in 1995 – joining Dick Enberg and Phil Simms. Maguire, 83, retired from broadcasting in 2010, a year after Madden called his last game (also for NBC).
One of the last things a radio listener wants to hear from a play by play announcer is: “Did you see that?” See what, you dummy?
Unfortunately, it happens. Your favorite homer gets caught up in the moment, screams the magic words, then – even worse – continues on and forgets to explain what the bleep prompted him to momentarily cause his lapse in sportscasting 101.
Of course, there can be a reason – if not an excuse – if the call is heard on TV as well as radio, which has become more prevalent especially when a game is streamed live. Which brings us to YouTube’s presentation New Year’s Eve of the FPHL – sorry, Federal Prospects Hockey League – matchup between the Columbus (Ga.) River Dragons and Port Huron (Mich.) Prowlers.
It was a chippy, cheap-shots-galore (but few called) game. During one multi-player skirmish, referee Steve Clark grabbed Cade Lambdin, all 5-6, 154 pounds of him, then pushed the Prowlers’ forward away. Lambdin lost his balance and tumbled to the ice.
It was unusual, to say the least, but Zak Debeaussaert got caught up in the moment, forgot he was radio voice of the River Dragons, and hollered: “Ohhhhh … what the!! … I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that … “ Like what?
Well, he did recover enough to say an official was involved … but never actually described what really happened. To be sure, it isn’t often you will see a referee break up a fight. They’re too busy taking names and numbers and letting linesmen do the dirty work, which is the way it’s supposed to be. And it wasn’t like the ref, in this case, actually manhandled the poor Prowler, who should have been embarrassed by the whole thing.
“I think it shocked everybody,” said R-Dragons’ owner Jeff Croop, who has called Richmond home since coming here as UHL Riverdogs’ general manager in 2004. “I’m 100% sure it was unintentional. The kid’s [Lambdin’s] eyes got as big as saucers. It happened so quick, and so unexpectedly ...”
How did Lambdin take it? For sure he’ll get some ribbing. Depending on his teammates’ sense of humor, it could/should last a while. Sorry, despite the FPHL being more close knit than most pro leagues, Croop didn’t know. In fact, after the game, he said, “Honest to God, no one talked about it. It was like it didn’t happen.”
We met Debeaussaert when the River Dragons stopped for a practice here during a trip to Watertown, N.Y., earlier in the season. Not that far removed from being a student at Grand Valley State, the native of Michigan proved as enthusiastic talking to a stranger off the ice as he is on the air.
For the most part, the descriptions for his radio audience match up well with what his limited televison viewership sees – especially goals … and fights. Unlike so many old-time hockey announcers, whose work is all over YouTube, Debeaussaert calls it like he sees it and doesn’t make it sound like a Columbus player always lands the most blows.
A memory just as well forgotten was on display Dec. 30 in Biloxi, Miss., where the River Dragons met the Prowlers … renamed the Mississippi Sea Wolves for one night only.
There, on the giant scoreboard screen, was a pregame video highlights package of Game 7 for the ECHL championship in 1999. That was the best of seven series won by the Sea Wolves after the Richmond Renegades held a 3-1 game advantage.
The FPHL hopes to put a team in Biloxi next season. This was the third time the River Dragons, who won 2-1, had been featured in a game there and, judging from the announced attendance – a league-record 8,646 – the Sea Wolves will return officially in 2022-23.
With Richmond likely to have pro hockey as soon as the new Henrico-based arena is built, Croop thinks the sprawling FPHL makes the most sense. His reasoning begins with a low-budget, rent-driven operation and includes the physicality of “old-time hockey.”
On New Year’s night, in the third game between the teams in 72 hours, Columbus and Port Huron had a fight-filled affair that could have been Renegades-vs-Hampton Road Admirals of the 90’s all over again. There were fisticuffs at the opening faceoff between the same two players who did likewise at the outset two nights earlier.
There was a 15-minute delay in the second period while game officials tried to sort out a brawl that included the respective goaltenders squaring off against each other. In the end, five players (three from Columbus) got game misconducts among 83 penalty minutes (46 by the R-Dragons). The most notable bout featured a couple of Jack McIlhargey fight-a-likes, standing directly in front of each other and raining right and lefts with little defense or concern for getting hurt.
(For those of you not old enough … McIlhargey was a defenseman (with the AHL Richmond Robins who could throw ‘em with the best of them. He later played in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks.)
The homestanding River Dragons led 4-0 after one period and 9-0 after two. By then 115 penalty minutes had been handed out – en route to 144 in all as Columbus won 10-0. In other words, it was the kind of game that always left Richmond fans, who still remember Dave Schultz, McIlhargey, Brian Goudie and Trevor Senn et al with some affection for willingness to drop their gloves, wanting more.
Of course that was then, when Schultz was an original member of the AHL Richmond Robins, the city’s first pro hockey team (1971-76) … and Goudie coached the last team (Reneges II) here 13 years ago. The game certainly has changed in the NHL – for better or worse? The choice is yours.
“Richmond’s a different market now,” Croop said. “It’s not as ‘deep South’ as it used to be. There are more people that don’t like the shenanigans that do. You have to walk that fine line between pleasing the old-school fan and bringing in the new-school fan.”
Come on, Jeff, you – of all people – want us to believe people new to the sport would rather see the players keep their gloves on? “They’re soft,” he said.
There was nothing soft about the Prowlers, who acted very unlike many road teams that refuse to engage and save the rough stuff to show off for their home audiences. “Port Huron was great. They entertained our fans. They were awesome,” Croop said. “I put two cases of beer on their bus after the game.”
Zac Jones (Volume 57: “He Came Along at the Right Time) was back in the NHL last week after 22 games with AHL Hartford where he was, by all accounts, the Wolf Pack’s best defenseman. The 21 year old Richmonder had 17 points (13 assists) but his recall by the parent New York Rangers was prompted by the league’s decision to add a six-man taxi squad in the face of COVID-19 depleting rosters and leading to an inordinate number of postponements.
Jones made his 2021-22 NHL debut Jan. 2 against defending champion Tampa Bay, replacing veteran Patrik Nemeth who was sidelined for “personal reasons,” the team said. The Rangers won 4-0 behind goaltender Igor Shesterkin and three goals by Mika Zibanejad. Jones was paired with another rookie, Nils Lundkvist, and played 13:32 (approximately 14 shifts).
Coach Gerard Gallant apparently liked what he saw because, prior to the next night’s 4-1 victory over Edmonton, the Rangers kept Jones and returned another young defenseman, Matthew Robertson, to Hartford. Lundqvist was a healthy scratch. Jones was paired with seldom-used Libor Hajek and played approximately 15 minutes.
“He played well ... steady ... didn’t make any mistakes,” said father Rob Jones, former Renegades’ trainer/equipment manager.
For years the NCAA has been a four-letter word to its multitude of detractors, mostly from within its membership although seldom for the record. That is about to change – the for the record part anyway.
Given the organization has given away any chance of running a clean ship, now that athletes can go from school to school at whim and be paid at the same time, hard feelings that have existed for a long time are surfacing – and it will only get worse.
Last week, literally hours before kickoff at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, North Carolina State was informed UCLA had decided not to appear because of COVID-19 issues. If that wasn’t enough, the NCAA decided to call it no-contest instead of awarding the Wolfpack a forfeit victory.
Well, State coach Dave Doeren – understandably – went off. “This is the ‘No Clue At All’ organization.” he began. Doeren also said they had been “lied to by UCLA” and coach Chip Kelly of Oregon and NFL Eagles fame.
A win (by any means) would have enabled the Wolfpack to finish the season 10-3. Doeren’s contract reportedly calls for a $150,000 bonus for double-digit wins. His assistants also would share a $400,000 windfall. Get it?
There’s more. Fresh in Doeren’s mind was a recent decision by the NCAA, saying that should any team in the championship playoffs be unable to participate – regardless of reason – the game would be forfeited. The “No Clue At All” being inconsistent? Say it isn’t so.
From out of the past came the dulcet tones of Jack Corrigan, calling long distance from Denver -- sounding upbeat and happy as ever.
Yes, THAT J. Corrigan, former sports director at WTVR-6 back in the day when local channels took sports seriously and – believe it or not – really competed for stories. He also did a bunch of freelance stuff, like the ACC’s syndicated football and basketball TV packages, with such notables as Brad Nessler, Sean McDonough, Billy Packer and Dan Bonner.
Corrigan, who played football at Cornell (wide receiver, 1970-73), has been radio voice of the National League’s Colorado Rockies since 2003. Before that, he did Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) TV for 18 years as well as the NBA’s Cavaliers and indoor soccer’s Force.
No relation to the late Gene Corrigan, former commissioner of the ACC and athletic director at Notre Dame and UVA, Jack C has written three fiction novels, suffered a couple of mini-strokes in 2006 and is a cancer survivor (prostate, 2016). He said the best piece of professional advice he got was from the late, great Ernie Harwell: “Every once in a while, it’s OK to shut up.”
Finally, a few thoughts while thinking … NFL on Fox analyst Mark Schlereth never heard of Harwell 101 – or flunked the course. The former all-pro lineman opens his mouth at kickoff and never closes it until game’s end. See last week’s WFT/Eagles matchup. Occasionally, he must say something worthwhile but, by then, you’ve been numbed by all of his babbling and probably missed it … Wouldn’t it be nice if Bill Roth returns as voice of VaTech football and basketball? (“From the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air.”) … And speaking of Virginia Sports Hall of Famers … sportswriter Jerry Ratcliffe and sportscaster Bob Black are long overdue for induction.
Until next time ...