Wednesday, April 29, 2009

O, My the Landscape has Changed in 100 Days

No, not that. I'm talking about the world of SPORTS.

The Eagle fans were reeling from another NFC Championship loss. Donovan McNabb lost a great shootout to Kurt Warner. And the Arizona Cardinals were headed for their first ever Super Bowl.

A-Rod, to our knowledge, was clean. And his skin likely didn't have an orange tint to it. But he had the same number of At Bats as he does now.

SEC Basketball Coaches Dennis Felton, Billy Gillispie, and Mark Gottfried all were employed.

TO was still a Cowboy. Charles Barkley was on sabbatical. John Madden was preparing to do his last game. Harry Kalas was alive.

I woke up in Lawrence, Kansas. And BACKTIME didn't exist.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yankees Need To Think Outside The (Batter's) Box

If Jose Molina can crack a smile out of the Majors' tightest manager, maybe he can fix the Yankees' pitching woes.

Read Backtime's post on Pinstripe Alley.

UPDATE Molina started behind the plate in Phil Hughes' 2009 debut. Hughes worked 6 scoreless IP and the team posted a combined 11-0 shutout. Molina contributed with the bat as well, launching the Bombers' first Grand Slam of the season.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jets fans are all Marks

Gang Green has caved in to public pressure once again. Ownership is now about pleasing the fan base and creating buzz. But not winning championships.

Nothing against Mark Sanchez here. He's a good player. The Jets fans wanted him and he wants the Jets, and he's saying all the right things. But the Jets fans also wanted Brett Favre last year.

This past season I did briefly have to institute a ban on Mark Sanchez talk on our college football broadcasts. First, Jack Arute reported on our Arkansas-Texas game, that Mark Sanchez had talked to Colt McCoy after the Trojans had been upset by Oregon State. Later that night Holly Rowe reported from the Alabama-Georgia game, that Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford had exchanged texts in the aftermath of USC's loss.

My perception: Mark Sanchez is a phone whore.

Oh he's out there. He'll be texting and blogging and twittering all over Gotham. Talk about a media darling. He could knock A-Rod off both the back page and Page Six.

Like I said, he's good. I'll be rooting for him. But is he worth 4 extrta guys? Including a 2nd Round pick, two defensive regulars and Brett Ratliff - potentially a legit NFL QB himself (stranger things have happened - I saw the kid kick some ass in an Emerald Bowl upset of Georgia Tech).

Of course not, he's a pipe dream. You've got Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and strong O-Line. Don't turn this over to a rookie. Then again, the last guy threw 22 picks, and he was no rookie. But he was in-demand by the desperate, delirious, dreaming Jet fans.

When the deal got done, don't you think Eric Mangini did a fist-pump or two at Browns HQ? He was the scapegoat for Favre and he passed on Sanchez. And he will use the picks and players to build a winner, not to make headlines.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cross-Checking: Backtime's Wednesday Stanley Cup Playoff Roundup

So I used the Yankees' off-night to bounce in and out of Stanley Cup Playoff games. And much like missing your favorite soap opera for several months, it wasn't hard to catch up.

Caps vs Rangers

I watched the Versus coverage and saw a total of 6 announcers - 3 game, 3 studio. I only was familiar with one: studio host Bill Patrick, and had only heard of one other: studio analyst Brian Engblom. The TV coverage included in-game player interviews. Pretty cool. Hockey has always been a media-friendly sport as far as access and this is a good example, as long as they speak English well.

Rangers Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was the hero, single-handedly stonewalling the Caps' attack that out-shot the Rangers 39-21. The great Madison Square Garden crowd chanted his name "Hen-rik" on several occasions. The surprising Blueshirts scored a 2-1 victory and are now one win from the East semis.

Washington's superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL regular season goal leader finally got his first goal of the playoffs. But it wasn't enough and too late. Is this Alex hockey's equivalent to another multi-million dollar Alex that the New York fans are so familiar with. Hmmm?

Bruins vs Canadiens

21,000+ in Montreal saw their disappointing Canadiens drop an 8th straight game as Boston crushed them in a 4-game sweep.

So what now? Does Habs GM/Head Coach Bob Gainey now fire himself?

It was the Bruins' first series win since 1999.

Blackhawks vs Flames

Best crowd of the night (and that's saying something). Calgary held serve at home, taking both games in the Saddledome to even the series. The red-clad crowd wouldn't let the Flames quit even after blowing a 4-1 lead. They finally put it away on Jarome Iginla's 2nd goal of the night, an empty netter with just 11 seconds left.

OK Backtime hockey fans, how did I do?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What's wrong with the Yankees? We should all have such problems

Time for The Pinstripes' 15-game checkup. Much has been made off those empty high-dollar seats that sap the energy from the TV coverage. Or maybe the alarming rate that baseballs are leaving the new house. Or the ugly, crooked scores of some of their losses: 10-5, 15-5, 10-2, 22-4.

The bottom line is that the Yankees are 9-6. They take the momentum of Melky Cabrera's 14th inning walk-off HR into a weekend series at Fenway which should be a great barometer.

Melky was my favorite up-and-coming Bomber when he took over in CF back in 2007. But last season he stopped hitting. This year he changed his number from #28 to the #53 vacated by Bobby Abreu's departure. The change of jersey didn't change his fortunes right away. Brett Gardner still beat him out in the spring.

Joe Girardi favored the speedier outfielder who can make more happen on the bases. I prefer the outfielder more likely to circle the bases. Melky has made most of his limited opportunities with a team-high 4 HR in just 23 At Bats.

My couch is over 800 miles from River Avenue & 161st Street, but here’s why I think the Yankees will finish well above the .600 mark they’ve posted thus far.

A-Rod's Return

Not only has his bat been missed, but think about just having his presence in the lineup with guys like Teixeira, Posada, Swisher, and a smokin’ Robinson Cano (10-game hit streak) around him.

The Rotation Will Straighten Out

Forget Chien-Ming Wang’s spiral into the pitching abyss, he was 54-20 in his career before this unspeakable stretch. You have to just hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with him and keep sending him out there.

CC Sabathia’s lackluster April (1-1, 4.81 ERA), is miles ahead of last season, when he started 3-8 for the Tribe. But from June 10 on, CC was 14-2 in 22 starts, with a 1.69 ERA in nearly 8 innings per start. He’s a horse and will be automatic in the summer months.

Joba Chamberlain is still a wild card. An awful lot of fanfare for a guy with 6 career wins. Would he be a better fit in the pen? I have wavered on this, but I’d have to ultimately say no. I saw him as the ace of Nebraska’s Big Red pitching staff, going 7+ innings almost all the time. If anything, his earlier days in the bullpen may have set him up not to be as durable a starter. But he will get stronger.

AJ Burnett (32) and Andy Pettitte (36) have been money. The other three starters are all under 30. There are no holes in the rotation, and A-Rod’s return will bring a deep lineup which leaves the biggest question mark…

Problems In The Pen

And even that is showing signs of turning around. They got 7 1/3 scoreless innings from the relief corps in the 14-inning win.

Rivera has been Rivera (7 scoreless IP, 4 saves). Brian Bruney has been Joba. He has 12 K in 8 innings, and allowed just 5 baserunners.

From the left side, it’s been a nightmare. Damaso Marte has been a disaster since they acquired him last year, and they don’t have a lefty they can count on for a single big out. The Yanks’ 3rd best reliever is a guy named Jonathan Albaladejo.

Fortunately, middle relief should be the easiest thing to pick up from elsewhere as the season wears on. And their presence should be diminished once their first-class group of starters hold up their end of the bargain.

Managing Things

I like Joe Girardi but he looks more tightly-wound in these April games than Joe Torre did in 12 seasons. Hopefully he'll be able to stop driving the Yanks like an NY cabbie and hit the cruise control soon enough.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flash Backtime: Skating For Ratings

A couple of Backtime followers pointed out that there were two hockey posts on this site in the past week, and neither was written by me. So I was asked to write something on hockey.

I'll take a rain check on that - let me watch at least one Stanley Cup Playoff game in its entirety before I give my perspective. But I had posted a hockey blog on another forum and I don't mind dusting it off 10 months later.

We'll Flash-Backtime to the end of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit had just defeated Pittsburgh in Game 6.

June 5, 2008

Well another hockey season is on ice. Did anyone notice? Lord Stanley's Cup went to the Detroit Red Wings in an action-packed, thrilling final series. But who watched?

I did. But I have to admit the first hockey I'd watched this season was after the calendar had already been turned to June. I'd missed an entire season and two months of playoffs.

But the play was so compelling. The passes were crisp, the hits were jolting, and the venues in Pittsburgh and Detroit were absolutely manic.

Which leads me to think that hockey is pretty good entertainment, even if most of the season lacks the stakes of a Stanley Cup. So why have dwindling TV ratings made this professional sport so marginal?

I don't know. But it is obviously time for a change in coverage. It is time to disregard the sentimentality of hockey "purists" and completely re-vamp the way the game is televised. You don't have HD or a wide-screen? Too bad.

The TV of the future is here and hockey should be the first sport to gamble and make a regular game into a visual event. Here's how:

Envision a horizontal line across the middle of your screen. Use the bottom half for traditional end-to-end TV coverage. Slice the top part into thirds, showing tight shots of the stars, ice-level action, benches, and crowd - And just keep cutting.

Some would argue that this would be sensory overload, but I don't think anyone would find it boring.

If hockey is going to make a comeback into the national consciousness, it probably doesn't need more scoring on the ice as much as higher scores in the Nielsen ratings.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You Know How I Know That You're Gay?

Because you would have just landed a Million Dollar payday.

Many wondered when the former Gator star, the 2-Time SEC Player of the Year would break through. Today was Brian Gay's day.

He's floated around the top of the leaderboard on many occasions, but mostly on Fridays and Saturdays. Twenty-six career Top 10s, but only one prior PGA victory - that was in Mexico, a minor event when the world's best are playing the WGC Matchplay event.

Gay had never been a closer, until today. He blew away a strong field in Hilton Head with a 64, setting tournament records for best overall score (-20) and margin of victory (10 strokes).

Now 37 years old, he has redefined his career. Start looking out for him at the Majors. He just got his first Masters invite - for 2010. Maybe one day he'll take home a green jacket to add to the champion's blazer from the Verizon Heritage.

Now that's Gay.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ice in their Veins

Our man Bubba was wandering the streets of Montreal, probably asking various bartenders how to say “Irish Car Bomb” in French. But he was thinking clearly enough to recognize where the locals’ priorities lie.

The Montreal Canadiens have a rich history with 24 Stanley Cups, though none since 1993. They are the #8 seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. The GM (Bob Gainey) recently fired the head coach (Guy Carbonneau) and installed himself, and both are franchise legends. They lost their last 4 regular season games. It’s a soap opera, but the fans are as hooked as ever.

By Robert Slawsby

It has been almost 23 years since I last visited "The great white north" aka Montreal, Canada. I am currently on assignment in Montreal for UFC 97. I totally forgot the frenzy this place gets into this time of year.

It was an amazing scene last night on St. Catherine's street as I walked down the sidewalk looking for a place to eat. I saw 30 people (men & women) standing in front of a TV store watching the Montreal vs Boston Stanley Cup Playoff game through the glass. It must have been 30 degrees but it didn't bother anyone as they just carved out spots like they were watching at a party. It reminded me of the old black and white footage I saw growing up of people in America watching the first Space launch.

We were about to enter a restaurant and I heard a thunderous roar echo down the Street... The Canadiens had just scored. It was amazing. Even more amazing is how young some of these fans are. If they could walk or talk they were fans. Not sports fans, hockey fans! Little kids must have it in their DNA since they already knew all the names of their beloved Habs (Les Habitants).

If you look at the picture you don't just see boys names you see the names of girls like Christina and Celina. It reaffirmed all the reasons I wanted to cover sports in the first place. It made me remember growing up in Boston. I was huddled under my blankets after my mother had made me go to bed, and I would listen to the Bruins/Canadiens games on the radio and I couldn't fall asleep until I knew who had won.

What happened to hockey in the US since I was a kid? One thing is for sure, just a few hundred miles north of us in Montreal, Quebec, the passion for hockey is as strong as ever and will likely never die.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Enjoy Your Heritage

Went to the 2nd Round of the PGA Heritage at Hilton Head. Picture perfect weather conditions. If you're a spectator on a day like this, golf is never a good walk spoiled.

No live blog today on the golf. First off, there's no cell phones, texting, twittering, picture-taking on the course (it's really not enforced). But it's still hard to type with a cold beverage in your hand.

Here's the backdrop for the famous finishing hole:

And here's how you can see it if you can't get a ticket:

Last year, I followed Stephen Ames around for 14 holes en route to a 64. One of the most impressive sports performances I ever witnessed in person. This year I didn't catch the perfect golf wave, but I can report on a couple of things.

>Todd Hamilton finishes with a birdie on 9, following up a strong Masters with a -8 thru 2 rounds, good for 2nd place heading to the weekend.

>1st Round leader Alex Cejka birdies the 15th, one of the few highlight on his day. He's now tied for 3rd behind Brian Gay and Hamilton.

>Got to watch some household names that didn't qualify for the 2009 Masters: Davis Love, Chris DiMarco, Steve Elkington.

The food selection is decent but limited. The drinks are everywhere. The cougars are out. The weather is perfect. Let's play eighteen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madden's Split Ends Well

For years, I've been telling anyone who would listen that Cris Collinsworth is football's best analyst on any level. This is a huge upgrade for the Peacock and for NFL fans around the globe.

Nothing against John Madden the broadcaster, he had a lot to do with the definition of the color analyst position. When he called the Super Bowl that involved Cris Collinsworth with the Cincinnati Bengals, Madden was the standard. But that was in 1982.

My professional opinion of Madden is skewed by a preseason game I worked with him in 1995. I saw a man treat a number of people on the crew (including myself) as sub-human. There are plenty of network production types who have greater horror stories than the stat guy (me) who got his first note dismissively swatted back at him.

As a viewer, in recent years, I can't recall anything memorable that Madden said. He became a caricature of himself, with the power of his name being far greater than any substantive points he made. His constant telestrations over moving video during the last Super Bowl made me cringe. He's 73. It was time.

Collinsworth combines everything you want in your analyst. He's got a feel for the big picture, and describes things simply, but will give you skinny on the Xs & Os when needed. He'll engage in pointed criticism, a place where a number of ex-players won't go. And he doesn't do it just for effect. He's funny. And he's worldly. He can give you 20 neat seconds on the US Open tennis final or the MLB postseason during an NFL game and you won't feel that he's all over the place.

As a radio host, a studio host, and a studio analyst, he knows the ins and outs of a broadcast infrastructure. When to punch points, when to follow up, and when to shut up.

Collinsworth jumped from the top show at FOX when NBC got back into the football business, even though Madden was in place. His patience and team play has paid off.

With apologies to my good friends Ed Cunningham, Andre Ware, and David Norrie, this guy is the best. Sunday Night Football will now, once again, bump HBO from my Sunday priority viewing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

God Loves A Terrier

In Christopher Guest's mesmerizing mockumentary Best In Show, terrier owners Gerry and Cookie Fleck sang the song "God Loves A Terrier" to their party guests before they headed off on the road to Philadelphia for the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show.

Our man, Tortuga, is a Terrier as well. Above and beyond his love for the Mets, Jets, and mob movies, he is a Boston University hockey nut. And for one glorious and improbable weekend run to cap off a heroic season, he echoed the Flecks' anthem.

By Anthony DeVita

As a Freshman at Boston University in 1999, I lived in Claflin Hall, a west campus dormitory that overlooked the football field. The catch was, we had no football team. Chancellor John Silber ordered the underachieving team disbanded during Homecoming weekend of the 1997 season. Luckily, the Terriers were known for their talent on the ice, not on the gridiron.

By 1997, the Terrier hockey team had 4 National Championships and countless Frozen Four appearances to its credit. Fresh off of a 1995 National Championship, led by future NHLers Chris Drury and Mike Grier, and another trip to the title game in '97, the Terriers were keeping the rest of the college hockey world back on their heels.

So there was no reason to assume when I arrived at BU that trips to the promised land wouldn't be a common occurrence over my four years on campus. My Freshman year, I attended my first game on January 9th. I had a standing room ticket for a matchup with BC (or Chestnut Hill Community College as we so affectionately refer to them) The game didn't disappoint: BU came out on top scoring twice in the final 10 minutes of regulation to win 2-1. And I was hooked.

That season, backstopped by Islanders #1 draft pick Rick DiPietro, BU took a 25-9-7 record into a regional final matchup with St. Lawrence, with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four. After 4 overtimes, DiPietro's 77 saves weren't enough. BU fell 3-2. Season over.

Fast-forward to the 2008-09 season. I'm 28-years old and have considerably less hair than I did back then. What I also didn't have, after being a season-ticket holder for 9 seasons, was a trip to the Frozen Four. The perennial powerhouse had been to the regional final 4 times in those 9 seasons...Record: 0-4.

BU shot out of the gate, seemingly determined to show the college hockey world they still mattered. BU defeated national powerhouses North Dakota, Michigan State and Michigan early in the season. The Terriers also picked up all the in-season hardware they could muster: The Ice Breaker, Denver Cup (knocking off Top-5 opponent Denver), the Beanpot (over 2nd ranked Northeastern) and the Hockey East Regular Season title. They followed that up with a Hockey East Postseason title and headed to the NCAA Tournament, perfect season in tact.

But this was the hill BU hadn't climbed since '97. The one to the Frozen Four, and tied 1-1 with rival New Hampshire in the Regional Final, I found myself thinking this is a movie I've seen before. But with 14 seconds left, senior Jason Lawrence flipped the script. The 2-1 win meant we'd be packing our bags for Washington D.C. and the Frozen Four.

In the Semis waited another familiar foe, the Vermont Catamounts, who had bested BU 4-3 on back-to-back nights earlier in the season. That night, Vermont scored at the 9:40 mark of the 3rd period to take the lead, by the familiar score of 4-3. Same old story. Same old Terriers.

History apparently means nothing to this team. BU scored to tie things up, followed by another just over a minute later, cleaning up the rebound in front. 5-4. Final. The cardiac kids strike again, and I can't take it. I completely missed Wilson's game-winner, the feeling of 9-years of nausea building had become too much. But, I survived, and would survive the weekend, just as long as they ran away with the Championship Game...

That didn't happen. In fact, the opposite happened. The perfect season seemed all but lost as Miami University scored with 4:08 left in the 3rd period to give the Redhawks a 3-1 lead. This certainly had to be it. The BU net stood vacated, the ultimate act of a desperate coach, with 3:32 left on the clock. The seconds, which always seem to tick faster when you're behind, melted off the clock.

All season long, players wore shirts under their uniforms that read "Burn the Boats." On the back, a picture of a pot of gold with the letters DC in the center. Hounded all year about the meaning of the phrase, players and coaches refused to divulge the information until the season was over.

In 1519, Hernan Cortez set sail to the Yucatan with 600 men, his sights set on Aztec riches. When his 11 boats landed on the shores, he ordered the very boats that had carried them there to be burned. It was a sign to his men that there would be no turning back and for them to be successful it would require 110% commitment and dedication. The only way they would be able to make it back home would be in the boats of their enemies.

The story must have worked...on Saturday night, BU took Miami's boat back to Boston. Two goals in the final minute. Game-winner 11:47 into OT.

College Hockey is a niche sport and always will be, but if this year's NCAA Hoops tourney had half the drama the hockey produced this year, they'd be talking about it for the next 100 years. Of the 15 games, 4 went to overtime and 5 had goal scored in the last 20 seconds of regulation to either tie or win the game (2 with less than a second remaining).

The Championship Game immediately shoots to the top of best sporting events I've ever attended (right alongside the Men's Wimbledon Final last year and in front of Robin Ventura's Grand-Slam single in the '99 Playoffs). Quite a list that's being compiled...Let's hope the 2010 Championship joins the list next season.

Monday, April 13, 2009

When They Were King's

Just watched HBO's documentary Thrilla In Manila - the story of the third, most epic of the Ali-Frazier battles. This is re-lived largely (and hypnotically) through the eyes of Joe Frazier, who still seethes about Ali. HBO does a great job tracking the rivalry through the years with Frazier, Butch Lewis, and Ferdie Pacheco.

It is reminiscent of, but not as comprehensive as the 1997 Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, which had enough footage to do 5 movies. This was Ali & Foreman's transcendent fight.

But there's another central figure in this history that isn't Frazier, Foreman, or Ali. And it's not Howard Cosell either.

Don King made it all happen. Call him what you will: caricature, buffoon, scoundrel, criminal. Boxing's history as we know it, is entirely because he created it. He can be all those things and still be a visionary and a genius.

Once King's corrupt puppeteering of the sport became compartmentalized, his diminished power became our diminished interest in boxing.

The late Jack Newfield, former writer for the New York Post wrote a book: The Life and Crimes of Don King. HBO later adapted it into a lesser-known made-for-TV film Don King: Only In America.

HBO went soft on the title, because they were still airing King-promoted fights. The film features Ving Rhames in I think the performance of his career. He plays the perfect hero/anti-hero. The film is the story of King's rise to power, interspersed with Rhames' dead-on monologues where he even calls HBO "a bunch of hypocrites." Classic.

King set up these fights by somehow negotiating with ego-maniacal dictators, getting big money from tyrants like Mobutu and Marcos. Then he had to get the fighters to play ball. He lured Ali with women, Foreman with wads of cash, and Frazier, because he knew he could.

In Jamaica, King entered the fight with the champion Joe Frazier. Then he left with George Foreman after he knocked out the champ in Round 2.

King created The Rumble In The Jungle and The Thrilla In Manila out of thin air. A numbers-runner (and some say murderer) from Cleveland was at one time the most powerful man in sports. Only in America.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backtime Sunday Masters LiveBlog: "Green Jacket" Edition

I know it's Easter Sunday and you're not supposed to put all your eggs in one basket, but I will assert that the Masters Champion will absolutely come from the final pairing. The Tiger/Phil show kicks off an hour ahead of the leaders at 1:35, and the opening act may well be more entertaining than the headliners. But if you think Woods or Mickelson can actually win, you'd better curb your enthusiasm.

Angel Cabrera has 17 wins worldwide. Kenny Perry has 13 wins on the PGA tour. Both know how to close. Cabrera may be a little hotter, coming off a 69 yesterday. But don't underestimate the southern crowd cheering on Western Kentucky's good ol' boy Kenny Perry.

Besides, the green jacket would fit a Hilltopper nicely. Pretty, pretty, pretty...good.

When TV coverage begins at 2 PM today, Tiger and Phil should be putting for eagle or birdie on the 2nd hole.

Check in later for frequent updates.

7:22 ET Final thoughts are sad ones. Hate to see someone lose a tournament rather than win it. But what a day of drama. Cabrera's par save on the first playoff hole was both lucky and incredible. At 48, this was Perry's best and possibly last shot at a Major.

7:10 ET
Oh my, Campbell's putter again. And after being all over the course, Perry and Cabrera survive with pars and head to 10.

6:50 ET
Playoff preview. Campbell hasn't made a putt in forever. It was Perry's tournament to lose, and he might have with that finish. Cabrera is the Major champion in the group and I think he has the edge.

6:46 ET
Holy cow. 3-Man Playoff. In 2005, Tiger finished bogey-bogey to let Chris DiMarco into the playoff, then Tiger birdied 18 for the win.

6:35 ET
Campbell missed his birdie putt. Perry drove it in the trap. Cabrera could conceivably win this outright with a birdie on the last.

6:31 ET
Kenny Perry picked a terrible time for his first bogey of the round. He heads to the 72nd hole, up just one on Campbell and Cabrera. Campbell has a chance to tie before KP tees off.

6:13 ET
Now THAT is the shot of the tournament. A tap-in, near hole-in-one on 16 will give KP a 2-shot lead on Campbell, whose putter deserted him on the same hole.

6:05 ET
Perry cleans up his birdie on 15. Campbell's great tee shot on 16 may make him a co-favorite right now. New round of fireworks coming home.

5:45 ET
Tiger and Phil thrilled us all, but ran out of gas with a pair of bogeys on 18. Neither player ever led or tied for the lead today. Perry failed to take advantage on 13 & 14, so Campbell has an opening.

5:29 ET
Looks to be a fairly pedestrian end to a surreal day for Tiger and Phil. Both hit terrible drives on 18. Campbell's back-to-back birds have him within one. Perry will likely make birdie on 13 though. Waiting for Tiger and Phil's warm embrace when they finish up.

5:18 ET
The fire was a good thing. Perry birdied 12 to go to -12. Campbell will have an eagle putt on 13 to tie him there. Phil and Tiger have put on one of the greatest spectacles of all-time, but are running out of holes.

5:08 ET
Tiger birdied 16 to get within one of Perry. He and Mickelson are now tied for 2nd place. Perry made his best putt of the day on 11, but just missed and threw his club. First sign of emotion/frustration/fire from KP. Good thing or bad thing for him?

4:55 ET
Fireworks indeed. Mickelson's got an eagle putt to tie for the lead on 15. Tiger has a less-favorable eagle putt to get within one. But at the beginning of the day, they needed both Perry & Cabrera to falter, and thus far only Cabrera has. The last group still have both par 5s left on the back. Still Perry's tournament to lose.

4:38 ET
Kenny Perry with a gutsy sand save & putt on 9 for a bogey-free (and birdie-free) front. He still leads by himself. Mickelson's got a chance at birdie on 14 to get back within one shot.

4:16 ET
Wow. Mickelson put it in the water on the famed 12th. Campbell birdied 8 to tie for the lead for the umteenth time this week. Perry is still spinning his wheels. Cabrera's wheels are coming off.

4:07 ET
Kenny Perry missed his best birdie opportunity. That makes 7 straight pars. Cabrera and Campbell haven't made any moves either. Mickelson has cooled off a little and it's still Perry's to lose.

3:55 ET
Kenny Perry's 6th straight par still has him leading by himself. At the start of the day, I would have said 18 pars from the lead group may have done it. No longer. Lefty still may give a couple back, but is likely to pick up more than he drops.

3:38 ET
A great scramble par by Lefty on 9, and he finishes the front side with a final round record-tying 30, just one shot back of the lead. Cabrera seems to be unraveling a bit on 5. Perry's still in very good position.

3:26 ET
Phil is going from uncanny to unprecedented. Until his drive on 9 anyway. Gonna have some tree trouble. Sixth birdie on 8. Tiger eagled it, but also drove the woods on his tee shot on 9. Cabrera found the beach on 4 and Perry plods along, likely looking at another par.

3:17 ET
First salvo from the lead group as Cabrera birdies 3rd to go to -12. He leads Perry by one, Campbell by two, and Lefty by three.

3:05 ET
Now this is just uncanny. Mickelson's 5th birdie on the front nine has him just 2 shots back. Our solid veteran co-leaders both failed to take advantage of the par-5.

2:55 ET
Mickelson is 4-under on the day thru 6. Can he keep it up? Golfers ahead of him haven't built any momentum yet. Both Perry and Cabrera hit poor drives on the par-5 2nd.

2:40 ET
Looks like the fireworks are on, long before the back nine. Lefty's got 3 birdies in the first 5 holes, a pair of shots ahead of Tiger.

2:28 ET
Steve Stricker, 4 shots back, just missed a gimme birdie putt on 1 - must be the dubious New York Stock Exchange logo on his shirt.

2:14 ET
Mickelson gets the first skin on Tiger with his second straight birdie on 3. Lefty's at -6, now 5 back of the leaders.

1:43 ET
If there's a 64 or 65 out there to be had, the early scores show no indication of that. There are 36 of the top players in the world out on the course, and the best score going is -2.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Backtime Saturday Masters LiveBlog: "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude" Edition

After the Friday Masters coverage concluded, I was one of 2,125 to see the Sand Gnats defeat the Augusta Green Jackets (nice name) for the second straight night. Good A-Ball action too. Gnats got out of a bases-loaded jam in the 8th and ended it on a 6-4-3 DP. Then fireworks.

But it was also Jimmy Buffett night. Temps were in the 60s and breezy, and people were bundled up with blankets and fleeces. I was in my aztec-print beach shirt (the one my wife hates). Changes in latitude, changes in attitude, indeed.

It's Moving Day at Augusta and the latitude lines on the leaderboard will be sure to shift dramatically. History tells us that Saturday at the Masters is a day to try and hold on, and Sunday is when things ease up and you see the fireworks. So for today, if Tiger and Phil shoot around 69 or 70 and go into Sunday around -5, they will be in position to pounce in the final round.

TV coverage begins today at 3:30. Check back for live updates.

7:10 ET Final Thoughts.

Saturday was about hanging on. Perry shot 70 and Cabrera shot 69. At -11, they lead Campbell by 2 and Furyk by 3.

What about Tiger and Phil both at -4, seven back? They will tee off together - how cool is that? - just over an hour ahead of the leaders. Should I reconsider those tombstones I handed out? No. They trail a pair of rock-solid seasoned winners by 7. The chance of both backsliding is extremely unlikely.

I would consider only 4 possible winners tomorrow, with co-leaders Perry and Cabrera as co-favorites.

6:47 ET Gutsy touch putt for Campbell. He's back to -10. With Cabrera's drive into the trees on 18, Campbell may wind up in the last group with Perry.

6:32 ET Chad Campbell hadn't made bogey, then made a doozy double on 16. Cabrera made birdie at 17 to tie Perry at -11. Furyk finished with a 68 for -8. So it will likely be Cabrera paired with Perry in the final group Sunday.

6:21 ET Check that leading score. After the co-leaders both settled for par on 15 and Campbell found some trouble on 16, the lead will likely be -11 or -12 after 54 holes.

6:08 ET Stricker finishes with a bogey-free 68. He's 4 back, but that lead will likely widen. Furyk just made his first bogey. I think the lead going into Sunday will be -13.

5:40 ET We have a Final Four. Three straight makes for Furyk on 13-14-15 gets him within 2 of the lead, very temporarily, as Perry has an eagle putt coming.

5:29 ET A couple of Amen Corner bogeys for Perry while Campbell made par. Campbell at -11 leads Perry and Cabrera by one. They all have a pair of par-5s left that everyone's been ringing up. Mickelson finishes with 71. At -4, RIP PHIL. But he and Tiger have the same score...could they be paired together tomorrow???

5:15 ET Tiger finishes with a 70 to close Saturday -4. That's one shot behind the number he needed to have a chance Sunday. Perry (-12) and Campbell (-11) haven't even made bogey today. RIP TIGER.

4:51 ET Tiger and Phil make birdies here and there, but haven't gotten serious streaks going. Cabrera just birdied 10 to get within one. CBS continues to follow Stricker, Furyk, and Clark, but this is looking like a 3-man race.

4:35 ET Tiger birdied both holes that he absolutely needed, now he needs 2 more from 16-18 to get to the house at -5. Any worse, and he's out.

4:29 ET OK, Campbell has tied Perry at -11. Cabrera is at -9. Tim Clark just made a great save to stay -7. I don't think anyone else is a threat beyond that...yet.

3:58 ET Sean O'Hair and Ian Poulter have joined Steve Flesch in the clubhouse with 68s. I'm going to let Tiger get through the par-5s on 13 & 15 before I put him in the ground. And Lefty just gave another one back.

3:36 ET CBS live coverage begins with Kenny Perry birdie putt on 4 to go to -11. Tiger 3 putts on 11 to drop to -1. He is now officially 10 shots back. Done? I'll let you know when it's time to call it. Mickelson just dropped a shot on 10 to fall seven back.

3:17 ET As expected, nobody has yet taken a serious run at the leaders (Campbell and Perry have each moved to -10). The best round going is Steve Flesch at 4-under, bringing his total to -3. Phil Mickelson has played it smart with birdies on both par-5s on the front, and even on the rest. He's at -5. Tiger is level for the day at the turn and still eight shots back. I am about an hour from dismissing his chances.

1:55 ET Tiger started his day with a "double" on 1, but has rebounded with a bird on 3. He's 8 shots back. Mickelson and Oglivy both birdied the par-5 2nd (which Paddy Harrington scored a "9" on earlier - he's done) to get to -4, five shots behind the leaders who don't tee off for about 50 minutes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Backtime Friday Masters LiveBlog: "Shrimp on the Barbie" Edition

One of the storylines heading into the 2009 Masters was would this be the year that the Australians finally break through? If Thursday is any indicator, the answer will again be: no.

Let's roll call the Aussies thru Round 1:

Oglivy, Geoff? -1

Scott, Adam? -1

Allenby? Appleby? +1, Even

54-year old Greg Norman out-did all those guys with a -2. And the best Aussie finish of the day belonged to this guy:

Aaron Baddeley, whose surname is also an adverb for the way he wears his hair (not that I'm one to talk), shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday.

If no Australians are in the Top 10 going into the weekend, I'm going to pour a Foster's over my wife's flower beds.

Check in this afternoon for live updates.

7:33 ET Final thoughts. Sergio just birdied 18 to go to -4. He looked strong coming in too.

For the record, Geoff Oglivy is the top Aussie at T-11. Guess the flowers will have to die a drunken death. A little surprised Jim Furyk didn't capitalize on his Day 1 performance. He shot 74 to fall 5 back at -4. Watch out for co-leader Kenny Perry, he knows how to close with 13 career PGA wins. ¡Hasta maƱana!

7:17 ET
Nice job by Phil Mickelson, giving everyone something to think about with the birdie putt on 18. He's -3 and in a tie for 10th. He has the champion look, but he trails a couple of strong players by 6 shots and another by 5. May be too far to climb for he or Tiger.

6:54 ET
Jim Nantz just made reference to the "luminaries" at -2: Tiger, Mickelson, Harrington. Garcia was there at the time, but just birdied the Par-3 16th to go to -3, joining household names Vijay Singh and Geoff Oglivy.

6:32 ET
The Left-hander just picked a spot. Birdie at 15 puts him at 2-under, tied with Tiger. Cabrera birdied thed 36th hole, so he's at -8 headed into Saturday.

6:15 ET
Some controversy here as a gust of wind blew Harrington's ball from its spot as he was about to hit it and he backed away. I don't know the rule exactly but Mother Nature may have just cost the 3-time Major winner a 1-stroke penalty.

5:48 ET I think you can go ahead and reserve a seat for Lefty this weekend. Followed up birdie on 12 with a tap-in eagle on 13. Now can he pick his spots the rest of the way, or will he get too aggressive and hit a house? Mickelson is -1.

5:35 ET
Now, besides Angel Cabrera at -8 (one back), the drama is about who will make the cut. The cutline is +1 now and looks like it's going to stay there. Mickelson is on the line at +1. Retief Goosen is +2. Ernie Els is +3. And Greg Norman needs a birdie to get to +1 after a rough "7" on one of the Par-5s.

5:11 ET
It's official. I am a jinx. In Stephen Ames' first appearance on TV, he lipped out a 3-foot birdie putt.

5:01 ET
Top of the hour. Perfect time for a TV reset with the full video recap of Tiger's day. Meanwhile, Stephen Ames is at -3 and cooking. Haven't seen him on the air yet.

4:47 ET
A little lull in the action. TV broadcast just kissed off Fuzzy Zoeller. Gary Player's swansong isn't too far away.

4:23 ET Anthony Kim just birdied 18 for a 65. His 11th birdie of the day, a Masters record. He is five behind the leaders and obviously has the game to make those strokes up. We have to get the former Sooner great a theme room at the Sooner Legends Inn. I'll call Val and try to make that happen.

4:15 ET
Morning play was slow enough for TV to catch Tiger's adventure on the 18th live - he bogeyed and now trails by seven going into the weekend. Tiger predictably said nothing quotable in his post-round interview with Tom Rinaldi. Veteran Major champs are making their moves. Angel Cabrera is -6. Vijay Singh is -4.

3:59 ET
TV coverage is moments away. Here are Backtime's top stories:

1. Kenny Perry is in the house, tied with Chad Campbell at -9, three clear of the field.
2. Tiger is -3, 6 back, -1 on the day. No significant move, but far from finished.
3. Young guns are blazing. Nick Watney (27) is -4. Anthony Kim (23) has the round of the day going at 6-under thru 16. Rory McIlroy (19) is at -2.
4. Phil Mickelson is still 10 back at +1.

2:33 ET
Chad Campbell avoided another dubious bogey-bogey finish with a birdie on 18. He is through 2 rounds at 9-under. He's got a champion's score, but does he have that look? He leads Kenny Perry by two, and Todd Hamilton (done) by three. Tiger is seven shots back, and Lefty is ten behind with almost all of his round left.

12:53 ET
Chad Campbell had gotten it to -11, with a 5-shot lead. He's come back to earth a little with Amen Corner bogeys on 11 & 12. Kenny Perry is on the course at -6, 3 shots back. Tiger is still at -2, even thru 7 holes today.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Backtime Thursday Masters LiveBlog: "Yes Masters" Edition

Ever since Jeannie popped out of the bottle, she was all about her master's wishes. She always dialed it up for the Majors (Major Nelson, Major Healy).

This morning I feel like the master of my domain, like I just found a genie in a bottle.

The taxes are done, I've run a couple of miles, and I just pulled a chorizo and egg stuffed pepper off the grill (is there any doubt now that my wife's out of town).

I checked in on Augusta, and if Stephen Ames wished for an eagle on his 2nd Hole, he got it and is off to a nice start. Check back mid-afternoon for real-time updates.

7:36 ET Final Thoughts: Campell's 65 was huge, but it isn't clear ofthe masses. Thirteen players are within 3 shots. And Padraig Harrington looms at -3 with Woods and Zach Johnson at -2. Coverage was geat. Light on interviews and flashbacks. Lots of action. See You Tomorrow!

7:21 ET Tiger Woods air-mailed the green on 18 to settle for bogey. After missing makeable birdie putts on 16 and 17, his -2 round could have been much better. He's T-20 and 5 shots back from 1st round leader Chad Campbell.

7:02 ET Again Tiger and Immelman fail to convert brilliant approaches on 17 & 18 respectively.

6:44 ET Tiger missed the putt, as did Trevor Immelman on 17 to stop his own string of 3 straight birdies.

6:34 ET Tiger's got 3 in a row. He's -3 and just stuck it on 16.

Here's a fun fact about Tiger: Barring a rain delay, you won't see a single shot of his live on TV tomorrow. Tiger tees off at 10:45 Friday and Augusta National is strict about the limits on the TV coverage. I'm sure you'll see the Tiger 2nd Round recaps frequently. To credit the CBS/ESPN coverage so far today, they haven't over-Tigered us at all. Let's see if he finishes strong today, 17 and 18 have been claiming victims.

6:05 ET Tiger Woods just made back-to-back birdies on 13 & 14. After Campbell finished bogey-bogey, and Hunter Mahan is making a total mess of 18, it's ON.

5:34 ET Nice to see Kenny Perry birdie at 13 to go to -4. In 2008, he didn't play the Masters (didn't qualify), US Open (didn't try to qualify), British Open (didn't choose to attend), then withdrew after first round of PGA. Even though he was a no-show in the Majors, he rocked the Minors, winning 3 times in '08 and he won in Scottsdale earlier this year.

5:03 ET A little bit about Chad Campbell who just went to -9. Earned a "battlefield promotion" after winning 3 times on the Nationwide Tour in 2001. Runner-up to Shaun Micheel in 2003 PGA before winning the Tour Championship later that season, his best year. Didn't qualify for last year's Masters, but was a captain's pick on the victorious 2008 Ryder Cup team, so somebody knows something.

4:49 ET Yankees 11, Orioles 2. First win of the season. AJ Burnett is 1-0. Nick Swisher had 5 RBI and Robinson Cano is rakin'. Just thought I'd throw that in.

4:37 ET Mike Tirico is actually interviewing Larry Mize, who had a first round 67. Other former champs: Mike Weir is in at -4 and Bernhard Langer at -2. Meanwhile, Chad Campbell just went to 8 under.

4:14 ET Obligatory first Augusta scenic montage with pink flowers and azaleas (are they the same thing? Beats me). Defending champ Trevor Immelman is +2. Robert Allenby just shouted "you bastard" at an insect on his tee shot at 12.

3:59 ET ESPN coverage begins in 1 minute. Here are Backtime's top stories:

1. Tiger struggling (+1 thru 7)
2. Mickelson struggling (+1, first round complete)
3. Surprising since the field is kicking it. Furyk is in at -6
4. Chad Campbell's 5 birdies in first 5 holes
5. Greg Norman with a 70 (-2) in his return to Augusta

3:06 ET Right now, 39 of 96 entrants are under par. So today the course can be had. Shingo Katayama is complete with -5. Chad Campbell is -5 at the turn. Tiger (even through 4) and Lefty (even thru 15) haven't yet taken advantage.

1:10 ET South African Tim Clark, listed (generously) at 5'7" is in the house with a 68 (-4). Clark won the Par 3 event on Wednesday, defeated Tiger in the matchplay event about a month ago, and was runner-up to Lefty at Augusta in 2006. So he's legit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Backtime Masters LiveBlog!

So Backtime got its credential request denied by Augusta National. At least precedents have been set. Richer people have had to sit on the Masters’ sidelines.

We won’t be inside the ropes, but at least we’ll be in Georgia.

Mrs. Backtime will be with the kids at Gulf Shores for the weekend, and that allows our editorial department to take on its most ambitious assignment yet. Hide the women and children! Backtime will watch every televised minute of the Masters and offer reports, observations, and unique perspective in (almost) real time.

It will be 4 days on a couch with a big screen, a computer, a cell phone, and perhaps a couple of Arrogant Bastards.

If you need to get caught up on the Masters, Backtime will be your source. Tiger better not win by 8. That would be super-boring. Amen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Making the Case for Sparty

In the epic film 300, the out-numbered and over-matched Spartan warriors overcame near-impossible odds just to reach the battle of Thermopylae and take on the mighty King Xerxes and his army of over 100,000 Persian soldiers. Is the story of the 2009 NCAA Tornament similar?

Well, these Spartans weren't the heaviest of underdogs but you could make a case that they were losing many of their battles before surviving. USC. Kansas. Louisville. Connecticut.

Now how can they defeat mighty North Carolina - the 2009 basketball equivalent to King Xerxes' army?

>These Spartans are not out-numbered. They played 11 players effectively in their Final Four upset of UConn and got 30 points and 14 rebounds from the bench. The Tar Heels are explosive, but not deep.

>Ty Lawson, meet Travis Walton. Lawson has had his way all tournament long, but he hasn't faced teams known for great defense in Gonzaga, Oklahoma, or Villanova. Walton is the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and he will make sure at the very least it isn't Lawson carrying UNC to a title, at least in this game.

>In North Carolina's win over Villanova, everyone focused on Villanova's dreadful night from 3-Point range. It overshadowed the Tar Heels' poor night at the foul line: 22-37, 59% - not a good sign in a close championship game. Does anyone remember Memphis?

>Tyler Hansbrough looks like Beeker from The Muppet Show. I searched for "Beeker" images online, and someone had already remarked of that resemblance.

It just illuminates that not all great ideas are original ones.

I looked up "spartan" in the dictionary:

noun - a person of great courage and self-discipline.
adjective - marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort.

Both fit Tom Izzo's blue-collar Spartan team...tonight in green.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hoping Spring Is Eternal

While I cover college football and college basketball with a lot of passion, it's still a job.

While I love the NFL and fantasy football, autumn Sundays are for the kids. It's weekday nights that are for my appointment viewing.

There is only one sport that I truly enjoy as a fan above all others and Opening Day is here.

It is my down season professionally and the DirecTV/MLB Extra Innings Package may be one of the greatest inventions of our lifetime. We can watch all the Yankee games (in HD no less), even if we live in Omaha, Kalamazoo, or Savannah. Stuck in the car? Every single MLB game is on XM Radio. Stuck in an office? Watch the games on

That's the difference between baseball and the other sports, it's meant to be followed day-in, day-out for six months. And MLB and their broadcast entities make it accessible for the die-hard fan.

One of the great thrills of my youth was when the morning paper came so I could read the boxscores, check out the standings, and see who's pitching tonight all on the same page. As a baseball romantic, it saddens me to see newspapers dying a slow death, but the information is still just a few keystrokes away.

You can still find out who's pitching. And it's giving me goosebumps.

1. CC Sabathia
2. AJ Burnett
3. Chien-Ming Wang
4. Andy Pettitte
5. Joba Chamberlain

Like I said, appointment viewing. I have the enthusiasm of a child, and I hope my children will share it with me. This is the year, again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Coming Soon to an NFL Stadium near you

One would have to think that Michael Vick will be playing pro football again this fall. America is built on second chances, and Vick is saying and doing the right things now to rejoin society and the workforce.

His work, of course, is a little more public than just about every other ex-con, and for that he will be under the microscope at all times.

Michael Vick won't be able to make the same missteps and errors in judgment.

There was the "Ron Mexico" alias, the name Vick gave while spreading genital herpes around the greater Atlanta area. There was the marijuana-in-a-fake-water-bottle incident at the airport. He gave the finger to his home crowd. And of course, the most heinous dog-fighting ring.

Vick is demonized for the behavior, but dogfights are clearly a sociological problem first. He grew up around it. His role models practiced it, his friends used him and his money to continue it. He was obviously all-too complicit in all of this, and he has paid the heaviest price.

He lost in the court of public opinion long before he lost his freedom. He's lost all his money, and as of now, still has lost the ability to make a living in his chosen profession. Basically, he's lost everything. And when he gets out of jail this summer, many will think of him as infamously as O.J. Simpson or Rae Carruth.

Since he is already at rock bottom, this is where redemption can begin. When he returns to society he will be 29 years old. He can use his notoriety to bring awareness to the sick circle that he was a part of, and spend his future time and money to be a productive member of the world. That is best achieved in sports' biggest spotlight.

I, personally, will be rooting for him. My opinion on this is somewhat shaded since I did a shoot with him when he was a young Virginia Tech Hokie in 1999 and I found him polite and unassuming, "Call me Mike." I don't know anyone in this business who met him and disliked him personally.

The second chance will likely be there for Mike. The third chance won't. That would be a waste of everybody's time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lights, Camera...Savannah

The clock has run out on money-making season. So I get home to find that the Walt Disney corporation was shooting a pilot for a crime-drama about a two-minute walk from my front door. They must have forgot to call.

So I went over there myself. I'll do production for food. What do you need, some re-writes? Maybe some timing? Starbucks run? Not likely. They had enough people on the clock waiting for the rain and clouds to break up.

ABC is shooting a pilot called "Solving Charlie" a few blocks from home base. Apparently it's a series in which a detective relies on his brilliant 11-year old brother to solve murders. But the crew of about 80 on site are a little short on details. It's either that it's some kind of big secret or what I suspected all along...most people on a production have no idea why they're there.

Or maybe there's some kind of superstitious deal with a pilot, where if you brag about it - it automatically takes a nosedive. Like talking about a no-hitter or mentioning a foul shooter's streak while he's on the line.

Anyway, it can only achieve greater success than the feature film that shot scenes in my building in NYC. A forgettable romantic comedy called Down To You with Freddy Prinze, Jr and Julia Stiles. Careers that haven't been heard from since. Maybe I'm the jinx.