Saturday, August 30, 2008

Panther Cuts are in.

Some shockers, some not so much. Here they are:
QB Brett Basanez
RB LaBrandon Toefield
RB DeCori Birmingham
FB Troy Fleming
WR Chris Hannon
WR William Buchanon
WR Travis Taylor
WR Samie Parker
TE Chad Upshaw
T Rueben Riley
G Evan Mathis
G Toniu Fonoti
G Milford Brown
T Geoff Schwartz

DE Stanley McClover
DT Nick Hayden
DT Stephen Williams
LB Tim Shaw
CB Ricardo Colclough
S Terrence Holt
S Joe Fields
CB Darren Toney

No surprise Colclough was cut, due to his earlier in the day arrest, but I was surprised that Terrence Holt was shipped out.

These were the guys I thought would be gone (from earlier in the week):
1-16-William Buchanon
2-19-Travis Taylor
3-26-Decori Birmingham
4-29-Quinton Teal
5-32 Troy Fleming
6-33-Labrandon Toefield
7-36-Darren Toney
8-38-Joe Fields
9-46-Shawn Smith
10-50-James Anderson
11-55-Donte Curry
12-62-Pat Ross
13-65-Mackenzy Bernadeau
14-66-Hilee Taylor
15-71-Evan Mathis
16-72-Reuben Riley
17-74-Geoff Schwartz
18-77-Toniu Fonoti
19-81-Dominique Thompson
20-85-Chad Upshaw
21-98-Stephen Williams

Turns out I removed 8 guys that made it, and kept 8 that were cut. I had Basanez and Colclough making it, but had cut Curry, Ross, Anderson, Teal, Smith, Hilee Taylor, Bernadeau and Thompson. Overall, I like the make-up of the roster, but realize the WR corps is thin for the first 2 weeks The team will take Muhsin Muhammad,. Dwayne Jarrett, D.J. Hackett and Dominique Thompson into weeks 1 & 2 while waiting for Steve Smith and Ryne Robinson to return.

More on the Panthers next week, as the regular season grind gets underway.

Mike Solarte

LIVE blog of UNC football game

It's a hot, overcast day in Chapel Hill today as Butch Davis gets ready to enter his second season as the UNC football coach. The stands seemed almost completely barren just a few minutes ago, but now that the national anthem has been performed, everyone is settling in.

Stay tuned as I blog from Chapel Hill in our game of the week.

Opening thoughts - Well in the initial 6 minutes of play, the only thing impressive about this Tar Heel team is special teams return man Brandon Tate. The offense failed to get much going on its first two possessions, the second of which ended with a Greg Little fumble. Little then exchanged some words with a McNeese State player and had to be held back by teammates. As for the defense, it has looked decent in bursts. The front four aren't getting as much pressure as you might expect but the secondary is playing pretty well. Trimane Goddard got his first pick of the year and sixth of his career. As I mentioned, the fans didn't show up until right before kickoff, but the place is packed now and the fans are really into it. The Turn it Blue campaign seems to have finally played off as the stands are almost completely Carolina blue.

Brandon Tate - Man alive, can this kid run. On his third great return of the day, Tate finally broke free. McNeese State punter Blake Bercegeay absolutely murdered the football, kicking it 55 yards, but that only gave Tate more room to run. He ran it back 82 yards, the ninth longest punt return in school history and Tate's personal best. It was his sixth TD return and third via a punt return. Later, in the second quarter, Tate broke free on a handoff and ran it 58 yards down to the 3-yard line. He is such a playmaker, UNC will have to continue to get him the ball anyway it can.

UNC kicking game - This appears to have worked itself out. So far, Casey Barth has handled the extra points while Wooten has kicked the ball off for the Tar Heels. It's my best guess that Wooten will kick really long field goals, but that's just a guess.

UNC defensive line - This unit, heralded as one of the best in the ACC, has not lived up to its billing so far. They are getting pushed around up front by a very big McNeese State O-line. The holes that the Cowboys are opening up are huge, and if their backs were as fast as other running backs UNC will see in the future, the Tar Heels would have paid the price much more than they have so far.

Rain in the forecast? The officials have been warned of bad weather in the area. I'll keep you updated.

Greg Little - The Tar Heel running back has not gotten much traction in the contest. He's had a couple of decent runs of 8 to 10 yards, but more times than not, he has been hit around the line of scrimmage, dropped for a short gain if that. It's not entirely his fault as the holes don't appear to be there, but this is not what North Carolina wanted to see after searching all last season for a running game.

Brooks Foster sighting - The Tar Heel senior was the recipient of a TJ Yates touchdown pass early in the second quarter. It was the fifth touchdown catch of Foster's career and his first since the 2007 opener when he had two touchdowns. UNC would love to get him more involved this year. His measurables are off the chart, and despite not starting at Carolina, he is already drawing the eye of NFL scouts.

UNC players of note - With the delay, let's take this time to note the Tar Heels who have played the best so far. That obviously includes Brandon Tate, who scored UNC's first touchdown on an 82-yard return and then set up the second Tar Heel score with a 54-yard gain. Despite six fewer carries, Tate has gained 32 more yards than starting running back Greg Little (22 yards on seven carries). On the defensive side of the ball, Quan Sturdivant has really stood out at weakside linebacker. He has been flying around all over the place, leads the team at the 12:03 mark with 5 tackles, all unassisted, and has been great in pursuit all game. It should also be noted that punter Terrence Brown has done a great job. The Tar Heels have probably punted more than they would have liked, but Brown has put both of his punts inside the 20 so far, getting enough hang time on them to let the Heels get down the field to defend the return.

DELAY - Lightning strike - 30-minute delay due to a lightning strike within 5 miles of the stadium. The delay started at 6:52 p.m. with 12:03 to go in the second quarter. Tar Heel Sports Network's Jones Angell said the earliest the game would start back is unofficially 8:30 p.m. The lightning and rain are both really bad at Kenan Stadium right now with each big bolt of lightning drawing yells from the crowd camped out on the concourse.

Maybe I should stay in the booth - I went down to field level for the rest of the second quarter and for the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. During that time, McNeese State scored 20 unanswered points. The first play I saw back up in the press box, North Carolina's Brandon Tate hauled in a 58-yard bomb, giving him 300 all-purpose yards with 4:30 left in the third quarter. The UNC single-game all-purpose yard record is 339 yards and was set in the 1980s. Score - UNC 21, McNeese State 20. The Cowboys missed extra point looms large at this point.

No more Little? - Running back Shawn Draughn started the Tar Heels next offensive series, gaining three yards on his first collegiate carry. Greg Little has been ineffective so far in the backfield. It will be curious to see whether Draughn was just giving him a breather or if Little has been replaced in the second half.

Tar Heels waking up - As the third quarter comes to a close, it's safe to say that the Tar Heels are finally waking up after a lull that saw them lose the lead 20-14 midway through the third quarter. And Brandon Tate's most recent punt return now has him within 17 all-purpose yards of the single game record at North Carolina. His current total of 322 is the fifth most in ACC history.

Tate closing in on ACC record - If you aren't able to watch the Carolina game, you are missing the Brandon Tate show. Tate just hauled in a jumping highlight reel catch for 23 yards. It's scary to think where the Heels might be without Tate in this one. He now has 365 all-purpose yards, sailing past the UNC record and closing in on the ACC record of 411 yards.

Draughn emerging at tailback - North Carolina tailback Shawn Draughn is picking up those hard yards that Little could not get and in this reporter's opinion could be the starter for the Tar Heels next week. He just scored an impressive touchdown to give UNC a 28-20 lead with 9 minutes to go in the game.

Wes Wilson

Football dominates Saturday

Friday got away from me, with Sports Night at 10,m and the Discount Tire Friday Night Final at 11, so I'm making it up to you with a Saturday entry. I can tell you are thrilled.

Carolina Panthers DB Ricardo Colclough was arrested early Saturday morning for driving while impaired. Not the smartest thing to do on the day that the team makes its final roster cuts. Colclough is thought to have won a job, but the Panther organization sorta frowns on guys breaking the law. They had enough of that in years past, and it kinda makes them unhappy when their players run afoul.

On Friday, the Panthers landed QB Josh McCown in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. McCown is a former starter, but became an afterthought once the fish acquired Chad Pennington in the Brett Favre domino tumble. The move means 2 things. 1-Matt Moore is the #3 QB (mainly because his pre-season was not so good, but he also hurt his leg on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. An injury that is a deep bruise, and nothing more according to the team). 2-Bret7t Basanez' time with the Panthers is over, unless they stick him on the practice squad. I like Basanez alot, as a QB and a person. He's a good young QB, with lots of talent. He just needs time in the league to learn and develop, but time isn't a luxury the Panthers staff and front office have. I hope Basanez ends up on the practice squad in Carolina as a worst case scenario. Best case, he goes to another team and lands on their roster.

College football may have gotten underway on Thursday, but it REALLY begins today. Call me a purist (read "old), but college games belong on Saturday. They just do. Afternoon kickoffs, night kickoffs, just not on Thursday, or Friday, or even Tuesday's which we'll see later in the season I am sure.

Appalachian State tees it up in Baton Rouge against L.S.U. (and if you check out Jeff Crum's blog, you would have known this since, I don't know, January...kidding Jeff). Kickoff moved up to help get the game in, and then get the fans out as Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on Louisiana. Not wishing bad things for Texas, but I hope that storm drifts that direction. As of this writing, it has New Orleans in the cross-hairs. I couldn't bare to watch that city get pummeled again. Pick-LSU wins, but the Mountaineers make it more than respectable.

Duke and North Carolina open their seasons tonight, and I would expect the Tar Heels to pick up a win over McNeese State, and Duke facing James Madison should mean a win for David Cutcliffe in his debut. I know nothing is a given when it comes to Duke football, but Cutcliffe has really brought an energy and a fire to that program. I would love to see his efforts (and the efforts of the players) rewarded. Picks-UNC & Duke

ECU and Virginia Tech kick it around at Bank of America Stadium at noon. Tough conditions to play that game. Sunny, hot, ugh. I see Tech picking up the win, as they have just a little more talent than the Pirates, but I don't expect a blow out. Fans in the stands should get their money's worth. Pick -VT

That's about all I have for now. Enjoy your holiday weekend--I plan on making a game effort at doing just that!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Thanks for checking us out as we watch the Panthers and Steelers. Posts will come every few minutes (or unless I have to edit some tape and walk away for a bit).

Feel free to drop a comment, and I'll share with the class!

Here we go!

7:08 - Tough decision for the coaches--who goes in order to keep Rhys Lloyd.

7:09 - Big Ben's center will get a talking to for that early snap. First look at Samie Parker as a punt returner. He's never done that before. And Matt Moore get's the start. Jake got a nice trip to Pittsburgh to dress in a uniform, and watch the game. I like it.

7:11 - Strange that the Panthers started their 2nd teamers, and virtually none of their starters. I see the point, though. Final exams for the guys trying to earn jobs.

7:14 - Credit Dwayne Jarrett for turning his situation around. In this pre-season, he has looked like a reliable receiver, unafraid to go across the middle, and has shown nice hands. Short drive results in 3 from John Kasay. 3-0 Panthers, 9:43 to play.

7:20 - Well, this game won't be worth watching if you want to see the 2008 Carolina Panthers. If you want to watch the back-ups, then this one is for you.

7:22 - Didn't like the pursuit on Parker on the big run. Landon Johnson needs to get to the edge a bit quicker, although Willie Parker isn't exactly "slow."

7:23 - Nice effort by Richard Marshall to try and disguise his pass interference, but holding the receivers wrist is still a no-no.

7:25 - Steelers benefit from the long P-I penalty, and finish the drive with the TD run from Davis. So, Carolina's 2nd team defense has a hard time with the Steelers 1st team offense. File that away in the "information that will be useless in about 48 hours." 7-3 Pitt.

7:32 - Matt Moore continues to look quite poised--as he did last season. Jarrett and Dante Rosario making 2 nice grabs on this drive.

7:33 - From the "things I just don't get" file...the long hair on football players. Not long like to the shoulder, like long like down their back. Oh, Moore just got intercepted. Ack. Bad throw by Moore.

7:38 - Byron Leftwich is the Steelers back-up QB. Mike Tomlin has to like that security blanket. If Ben goes down, he has a former starter to fall back on. Jeff Reed, a Charlottean, just made it 10-3 with :57 left in the 1st qtr. Good to see Reed as a solid contributor in the NFL. Nice young man.

7:42 - Nice bounce back throw from Moore to Jarrett. Way to shake off the bad toss on the pick. End of 1st qtr. Steelers up 10-3. Back after this....wait, I'm just blogging, not broadcasting.

7:47 - Uh oh...local appliance store offering the "money back on your 32-inch-or-bigger TV if the Panthers win the Super Bowl (although they say "big game" in the ad). I'm not ready to annoint the Panthers as champs just yet, but hey, you'd get a sweet size HD TV out of the deal.

7:50 - There is some sloppy tackling by the Panthers defense right now. Gotta get there, and gotta wrap up. Terrence Holt looked like a matador on Mewelde Moore. Not good.

7:53 - Leftwich has way too much time in the pocket, and the secondary is doing a poor job of tackling. Nate Salley missed that one.

7:58 - Steelers tack on 3 more, after the close call on the touchdown pass. Good replay look, and call by officials. 13-3 Pitt. Panther offense needs to find a way to score. They need it, not for the game outcome, but to show they deserve roster spots. As the saying goes, any 2nd team player is one play away from being the starter.

8:02 - By the way, a game that actually counts just started--NC State at South Carolina.

8:05 - Nice hospital pass from Moore to Travis Taylor. Taylor walked away from the wreckage.

8:08 - Gary Gibson causes the fumble by Rashard Mendenhall. Gibson has been pretty nice in camp, and Mendenhall continues to put the ball on the ground. Apparently, the Steelers are trying to get him out of that nasty habit, and have taken a page from the movie "The Program." If someone strips a ball from Mendenhall in practice, they get $100, and they get a $500 bonus if they bring that ball to the running backs meeting room that week. Wonder if the Panthers are allowed to collect. Offense is still stagnant with Moore at the helm. Brett Basanez might be drooling on the sidelines right now.

8:15 - If there is a positive, it is that the 2 minute warning hit at 8:15 p.m.

8:19 - An ugly first half for the Panther offense. If you had to evaluate Matt Moore tonight, it wouldn't be a high grade. He had some good throws, but overall, he's been lukewarm.

8:23 - Just as I start bad mouthing Moore, he leads a drive into the red zone. Another nice grab by Jarrett. Nice.

8:27 - No dice on the TD pass, as their was possession and control issues, plus the right foot being on the chalk. The Panthers get 3, and trail 13-6. Nice drive to end the half, but it might be time in the 3rd qtr. for Brett Basanez. Since we are evaluating quarterbacks, Steve Beuerlein gets an "F" for not knowing that Lester Ricard was released before the first round of cuts on Monday. Wow.

8:32 - Limas Sweed will be a free agent after Saturday.

8:34 - And we have reached halftime, Pittsburgh up 13-6. I'm going to step away from the blog for a bit to take care of some housekeeping issues, but I'll be back in the 3rd quarter. Fire your questions or comments my way, and we'll chat about it during the 2nd half.

9:06 - Still getting things done for the show....Russell Wilson, NC State QB, has just been carted off the field in South Carolina, after suffering an apparent neck injury. We'll have an update on him during Sports Night--the show is on at 11 tonight, as we bring you coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Be back shortly.

9:12 - Ugh, an ugly throw from Moore for another pick. He's having a rough night.

9:42 - Moore's rough night got a little better, considering he has a "lower left leg contusion," according to the team. He left late in the 3rd quarter, early 4th with an injury. The collective sigh coming from Pittsburgh was the Panther offensive staff.

9:58 - Tie game! Nice throw from Brett Basanez to Chris Hannon for a touchdown. Capped off a nice drive for the Panthers (7 plays, 67 yards in 2:28). 16-16 under 2 minutes to play. Why not go for the 2 pt. conversion and go home?

10:03 - Anything inside the 40 is within the range of Jeff Reed. Steelers may win this in regulation with a kick, but a game effort by the Panthers back-ups, they played the whole way, and managed a tie in the late stages of the ballgame.

10:04 - Ball on the Carolina 25. :04 remaining. Reed will try for the win.

10:06 - And that's that. Reed knocks it through from 43 yards, Steelers win 19-16. But not before a John Fox timeout to ice the kicker. I can see simulating a regular season game, but c'mon. End it, get on the plane, and get ready for San Diego on September 7th.

10:24 - Wrapping things up, this will be an interesting 48 hours for the Panthers, more specifically the staff. Evaluating this game tape may or may not be the easiest thing to do, but I'll go out on a limb, and pick off the 2 names that will be looking for a practice squad gig, or a new team to play for, come Sunday morning. My list (speculative of course), of the cuts coming on Saturday:
1-16-William Buchanon
2-19-Travis Taylor
3-26-Decori Birmingham
4-29-Quinton Teal
5-32 Troy Fleming
6-33-Labrandon Toefield
7-36-Darren Toney
8-38-Joe Fields
9-46-Shawn Smith
10-50-James Anderson
11-55-Donte Curry
12-62-Pat Ross
13-65-Mackenzy Bernadeau
14-66-Hilee Taylor
15-71-Evan Mathis
16-72-Reuben Riley
17-74-Geoff Schwartz
18-77-Toniu Fonoti
19-81-Dominique Thompson
20-85-Chad Upshaw
21-98-Stephen Williams

#12 Samie Parker & #15 Chris Hannon may have a job for a couple weeks while Steve Smith sits the first 2 games of the season on suspension, but that's my best guess at this hour. We'll know for sure on Saturday.

Chat again here on Friday!

Mike Solarte

Panthers-Steelers Live Blog

This is the place to be if you want to enjoy a live chat during the Panthers and Steelers game tonight. I'll be able to blog (as best I can) during the game, and will answer your questions, or comments during the broadcast. Sports Night will air tonight, but at 11pm, as we will carry Sen/ Barack Obama's nomination acceptance speech--politics over sports? Blasphemy!!! Ok, not so much, but we give way this election season.

Hope to see you later tonight!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Issues in the Sporting World

Apologies for being absent from the blog since last Friday, but there wasn't anything that really struck a nerve with me to bang out an opinion on. Wait a few days, and suddenly, there is plenty.

The Carolina Panthers face Pittsburgh on Thursday night to wrap up the pre-season. Thank goodness, the fake games are almost over. of course, the fake games are quite real for the guys trying to earn a roster spot. Plan on seeing a lot of Matt Moore and Brett Basanez against the Steelers, as Jake Delhomme and the rest of the starters will get a light night of action. The team will then trim the roster for 53 on Saturday, and then it's on to San Diego for the season opener.

As for the "bubble guys," this is their last chance to prove that any positive evaluations made by the coaching staff are legit, and enough to earn them a job. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--cutting the roster down has to be one of the toughest things for a coach to go through, as a person.

Tough break for Jason Carter, suffering a torn ACL against the Washington Redskins last Saturday. I love the way he plays, he's got great hands, quick feet, and a great attitude. I hope he recovers fully from this, and the Panthers give him another shot in 2009. To me, he was a lock to make the team, and even dress on gamedays, but now he is done for the season.

I am so excited about college football as well. NC State kicks off at South Carolina Thursday night, Appalachian State opens Saturday afternoon at LSU, ECU and Virginia Tech at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, and loads of other games of note. Just the fact that we are closer to those crisp fall afternoons, the sounds of full venues with screaming fans, loud marching bands, and the recital of school songs and cheers is enough to get my heart racing.

I like NC State's chances against South Carolina, although I don't think they are going to be able to win the game. Losing Jamelle Eugene is a blow, and Russell Wilson could very well be a deer in the national headlights. Have to wait and see, but I love the fact we'll actually be able to see something!

The LPGA handed down a new directive on Tuesday, saying all players that have been on tour for 2 years through 2009 must take, and pass, an English language evaluation. Failing the evaluation could lead to suspension from the tour.

Wait, did that just happen?

A sporting organization based in the land of the free, and home of the brave, is going to (for lack of a better word) discriminate against non-English speaking players?

This is a DUMB rule. Yes, I capitalized dumb.

The only thing this rule does is ensure that someone speaking English will meet the media after a tour win, or event. Is this really necessary? To me it isn't. Players that struggle with English could have a translator there with them for interviews and the like. If the player that wins can't speak English, oh well. She doesn't make the broadcast to talk about her round, and week. Insisting that all players be adequate to proficient in the English language shouldn't be a part of the job description of a professional golfer. Shouldn't be in the conversation.

Yes, the LPGA has the right to make its own rules, but this one is ridiculous. How much talking are the players doing while on the course? I've covered the Women's US Open at Pine Needles, the US Open at Pinehurst, the Wachovia Championship, and other golf tournaments in my career. The only time the players are heard talking is at the driving range, or on TV.

Funny thing about this, is that Se Ri Pak, a former major championship winner in her own right, publicly said she was ok with the LPGA rule, saying things like (paraphrasing here), that it's good for players to have some English knowledge. There are 45 players from South Korea on the LPGA roster and 121 international competitors from 26 countries. Personally, I don't get this whole deal. In the big sports landscape, the LPGA hardly registers. In their quest for relevance, this may not have been the best route--but then again, I just hacked out a couple paragraphs on it. Give me great players with great stories, and great shot making ability. Give me great rivalries on the LPGA tour. Don't give me gimmicks. The LPGA is better than that.

Major League Baseball will dive head first into the 1990's and institute replay for boundary calls, starting Thursday. For the purists who say replay will ruin the game, I say pipe down. The umpire is not being replaced, he is being given a tool to get the calls right. When it comes to baseball, I don't care about opinions, I care about the correct call. I will boo when I think an ump misses a ball or a strike call, or when they botch a close play at the plate or whatever. I accept the human element of baseball. Replay being used for boundary calls (fair or foul, home runs actually making it over the fence, etc.), is like a better drill bit for a construction worker. He still has to drill the holes, this just makes it easier to get the job done right. When you think about it, how many times, in any given game, will replay actually be used? My guess, not much at all. It will look like a waste of resources at first, but when the time comes, it will be good to see the calls being made correctly.

Tennis fans, if you are looking ahead to the Citadel Groups Championships at the Palisades in a few weeks, the field has grown (in a big way) to include Croatian Goran Ivanisevic. The former Wimbledon champ joins a field that includes Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Mark Philippoussis and Wayne Ferreira. The tournament runs September 24-28th at the Palisades Country Club. It;s always a fun time. Check it out if you get a chance.

I'll effort a live blog during the Panthers-Steelers game on Thursday night, and it may incorporate some of the NC State-South Carolina game as well. Check back around kickoff on Thursday (7pm)--I'll likely be here!

Mike Solarte

Friday, August 22, 2008

Panthers-Redskins Primer

It is Friday, and that means, it's time to take a look ahead to the Panthers third pre-season game. They face Washington Saturday night.

- Likely out - S Chris Harris, WR D.J. Hackett

- Could play - WR Muhsin Muhammad, TE Gary Barnidge, CB Ken Lucas

By the way, I am doing this before hearing the Panthers injury report, so don't take this as the divine word. This time.

OK, talk earlier in the week of Jonathan Stewart seeing some time with the first team offensive line means that you can bet he'll get some work there. I want to see how he performs with that group. He only got a handful of carries last week in Philly behind the 2nd teamers, and he struggled a bit. Also, keep in mind it was his first game action since November of last year. He was rusty, running behind the backups. My guess is, if his toe is getting closer to 100%, we could see some flashes. I expect DeAngelo Williams will continue to look good--he's had a great camp and a nice pre-season.

--The starters will play the entire first half, and into the 3rd quarter, although Head Coach John Fox told us this week, the third quarter action would depend on number of reps, game situation, time remaining. Smoke screen or not, expect the "ones" to stay in for at least a series in the third quarter. Next Thursday in Pittsburgh, the starters will likely warm up, play one series and then become spectators for the rest of the game.

--As for the backups, the Panthers are still mulling the roster cut. They will chop the roster to 75 early next week, and then go from 75 to 53 next Saturday, after the Steelers game. Guys are still battling for jobs, and the competition will likely get more heated next Thursday. The backups will see limited action this week, as the starters will get most of the work.

--As much fun as I had last Thursday keeping the live blog during the Panthers-Eagles tilt, I will be unable to do so Saturday night. I will be on the field with a camera on my shoulder, so if you see me, say hello!

Reminder, tonight begins the Discount Tire Friday Night Final, on News 14 Carolina. The action, from across the state, kicks off at 11pm. It's a high paced show, with tons of video, scores, and of course, the "14 to Watch." I would call it must-see TV, but some other network coined that phrase. Besides, if you miss it live at 11pm, you can see the encore presentation Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. Live or on tape, I hope you'll make time for it.

Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will Upshaw's passing lead to NFLPA change?

Gene Upshaw, head of the NFLPA, passed away at the age of 63, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Upshaw has been the man atop the NFLPA for more than 20 years, and I would venture a guess that the players that played in the league while he was the union boss would say he did a good job for them.

Upshaw, however, was not the favorite guy for those that played before his tenure. Joe DeLamielleure, an NFL Hall of Famer in his own right, has been one of the more outspoken former NFL greats calling Upshaw to task about the way the union looks after the players that helped build the NFL into what it is today. DeLamielleure's statements have led to various meetings, and press conferences calling for Upshaw's removal as NFLPA head, and for the financial assistance of players whose medical bills far outweigh their current income.

Back in April, placekicker Matt Stover sent out an e-mail to other player representatives in the NFL, outlining a plan for the removal of Upshaw, and having a new leader in place by 2009. That e-mail was dismissed by Upshaw, saying "Matt Stover has no clue. Whoever is pulling his chain is doing a disservice to the union. I could understand the idea that they need to get rid of me if I wasn't doing a good job but, shoot, the owners are mad because they think I've done too good of a job."

Somewhere in there is the truth. Upshaw is no longer a part of this equation. The former players are still in need of the financial means to stay well. The current players now search for a new leader that will help them towards their retirements from the game. To me, there has to be a means to be able to do both, and do it well.

The players of yesterday played, got hurt, kept themselves on the field in the best way they knew how, and are now paying the price for it. Their bodies ache, creak and crack--constant reminders of their sacrifice to the game. They did so in the age before multi-million dollar contracts, and 10 digit signing bonuses. They did it before there was an NFL television package that gave fans the option of watching every game on a weekend, if they chose to. They did it before there was a revenue stream comparable to the Mississippi River.

Today's players live in that world. Today's players, as long as they don't do anything stupid like get mixed up in illegal activities, should be able to survive, and survive quite well, on what they earn in football. The ones with the gigantic contracts will likely continue to give back in the community through their foundations, and other charitable work. On their own, they should be fine financially.

The next leader of the NFLPA should be a guy that can make both sides of the equation work. It was reported on that Upshaw was paid more than $6.6 million dollars for his union related activity from March 1, 2006 through February 28th, 2007. From the site: "The union's tax filing shows that Upshaw received a Gross Salary Disbursement of $4,264,577, which includes a bonus of $3,600,000. Upshaw also received a bonus of $2,400,000 from Players Inc, for a total of $6,664,577."

$6.6+ million? Therein lies the problem. Why is one person commanding that kind of loot as a union leader? If the new person cuts his/her salary down to a paltry $1 million a year, that's $5.6 million that can be infused to other areas of the NFLPA duties. Remember, I'm on the outside of all this, and I would bet there is much more to this job than just pointing the finger at the players of yesterday and saying, "Tough luck, pal. We don't have to help you, as our responsibility is to the players of today."

Upshaw did come out and say that the players of yesterday need the help, and took steps that, on the surface, made it look like he was concerned. The NFLPA in the post-Upshaw era needs to take those steps a little more seriously.

Remember, for every one star in the league like Terrell Owens, there are 20-25 players that won't see that kind of money, pay a far more exacting physical price, and not have the means to pay those medical bills once they leave the game.

While the NFLPA, and the NFL mourn the loss of Upshaw, both sides need to look to the future--and make it better for all parties, past and present.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Proof of my earlier argument

Remember the blog post I made when this little corner of the web was created? The one about sport v. competition? Well, the Summer Games in Beijing was kind enough to prove me right.

Gymnastics, while difficult to perform, is competition, not sport.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. This isn't about how great a tumbler your little Kaylee is. It's not about that at all.

The fact that the outcome of an event is based SOLELY on the opinion of judges reduces it to competition. You aren't alone. Figure skating is right there with you to keep you company.

I know what you're saying...what about boxing?

In boxing, there is always the knockout to remove all doubt.

The proof comes in Nastia Liukin not winning gold in the uneven bars. It came down to a tie breaker after her, and the 13 year old gymnast (He Kexin) had been given identical scores. I am simply not smart enough to decipher the code in this, but basically, Kexin had fewer deductions in her routine (again, based on the opinion of the judges) than Liukin.

Where's my Advil?

I won't get into the politics of a 13 year old competing in the Olympics, when by rule, she needs to be 16. It doesn't matter that China is the host, and the girl in question is, in fact, Chinese. Bela Karolyi said during a recent telecast that "age doping" has been going on for a long time, so there's no point in arguing about it.

So I won't. This isn't about my American blood boiling because one of the team gymnasts got the short end of the tie-breaker stick, either. Just simply saying thanks to the Summer games for showing that opinions shouldn't decide 1st or 2nd place in sports. In case of a tie (in the Olympics), reward 2 medals for the respective finish (which gymnastics used to do, but eliminated in Atlanta in 1996).

I guess there is no substitute for home court advantage, after all.

Mike Solarte

Monday, August 18, 2008

Greetings, Wilmington!

Hello friends (another Nantz-ian greeting). News 14 Carolina is happy to welcome Wilmington into our station footprint. If you are just checking out the blog for the first time, this is a place where some of the things I'll want to say on the air are found. OK, everything except the expletives. We hope you fine folks enjoy the sports content found on News 14 Carolina, with our nightly program Sports Night hitting your set at 10pm. The Discount Tire Friday Night Final kicks off this Friday night at 11pm, with high school football highlights from across the state. It's a cool show--check it out.

OK, the weekend in review.

--Suddenly Kyle Busch is beatable. Yes, he won in Watkins Glen, and he finished 2nd in Michigan, but he's not dominating the way he did earlier this season. Don't get me wrong, the kid is on fire, but the flame is a little lower. Probably doesn't make things easy at Joe Gibbs Racing that NASCAR found magnets when tearing down one of their Nationwide Series cars--the magnets preventing the engine from hitting full throttle. Sort of a dark cloud hanging over the whole outfit.

Makes you wonder, if they are scamming the Nationwide Series , trying to disguise their horsepower there, what are they doing in the Cup series? Hope nothing, because it would ruin what has been a tremendous year for Kyle.

Don't want to overlook Carl Edwards--he picked up his 5th win this season in the Cup series on Sunday, and if not for Kyle, he'd be the toast of the series. A nice run for him in Michigan, as well as David Ragan. Ragan is nipping at the 12th spot for the Chase. He's a good driver, and a nice young man. Wouldn't mind seeing him scrap his way into it.

--Panthers in game mode now, as they have the Washington Redskins coming to the big ATM on Morehead Street Saturday night. The starters should play into the 3rd quarter, if not all of it. It will be their best chance to play like they hope to in the regular season opener against San Diego. The offense will certainly hope for a better start than they had in Philadelphia last week Thursday (they weren't very good on their opening drives). Defensively, the Panthers gave up too much in the passing game (very soft coverage), but then again,k they were missing 3 starters in their secondary. Chris Gamble and Chris Harris are back practicing, and Ken Lucas got back on the field over the weekend. I would bet Harris and Gamble go Saturday night, Lucas, he may need some more time.

The Panthers will cut their roster to 75 players a week from Tuesday (8/26), and then the 53 man roster is finalized on Saturday, August 30th. Still plenty of decisions to be made, and Saturday night's game against the Skins may only help a small number of those.

--As a football fan, I am in love with the HBO series Hard Knocks. As a member of the media, I am blown away by the seemingly unlimited access the cameras have with the Cowboys. It is a really amazing piece of TV, that I would only recommend if it doesn't conflict with Sports Night. If it does, set your DVR's for Hard Knocks. We appreciate it.

--Michael Phelps pulled it off, the 8-for-8 Olympics. Makes you wonder if swimming will see a boost in popularity (read kids signing up for classes and such) as a result. Women's soccer gained momentum when Brandi Chastain won the Women's World Cup (didn't hurt that the games were played in the U.S. either) for Team U.S.A. Ice hockey got a boost from the 1980 Miracle On Ice team. David Marsh, from Swim MAC in Charlotte, will be a guest on Sports Night this week--it's a topic we'll cover.

To continue on the Phelps theme, though, let's put an end to this. Phelps the "Greatest Olympic Champion Ever." Please stop it. What he has done this year is amazing. 8 golds, 7 world records. Amazing. As a swimmer, yes, he is the best ever, just knocking Mark Spitz from that pedestal. Someone suggested Eric Heiden as a great champion. They would be correct. Heiden won 5 golds in the1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY. He set 4 Olympic records, and 1 world mark in his events. His distances: 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m, and 10,000m. I wouldn't classify Heiden as the Greatest Ever. I think it is important to salute both as great champs in the respective disciplines. They can (and should be) mentioned in the same sentence. Choosing one as better than the other is foolish.

--Team U.S.A. hoops ran Germany out of the gym on Monday morning, 106-57. Can we just give them the gold now? Yes, they play the always dangerous Australians next, and have yet to see Argentina. This "Redeem Team" is earning their wins--playing good defense, making shots, and so on. I give loads of credit to Mike Krzyzewski, the man in charge of this bunch. He's blended the personalities, made them believe in "team", and has them playing great. I also give credit to these millionaire athletes--they are playing for the name on the front, rather than the one on the back. Beating a country not names Angola by 51 in Olympic hoops is rough. It's up to Coach K, and the players to not let it go to their heads--I think they'll handle that nicely.

Mike Solarte

Friday, August 15, 2008

To the weekend

-Panthers had Friday off, but no word on Muhsin Muhammad from the team regarding his health. He took a big hit in the endzone in the first half, a helmet-to-helmet shot from Brian Dawkins. Should hear something from the team on him after Saturday's practice.

-Ryan Newman to Stewart-Haas in 2009. We saw this coming a while back, but it became official on Friday. No sponsor named yet, but according to Richard Childress Racing, it will NOT be Jack Daniels. They are staying at RCR for the foreseeable future (according to RCR). Brian Vickers on the pole for Sunday in Michigan, he was the only driver to break 188 mph in qualifying. That's fast no matter how you slice it.

-Carl Pettersson leads the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, a 61 on Friday has him 3 shots clear of 2nd place. Nice to see a former NC State golfer tearing it up. Great player, but an even better person. Gonna be tough to hold that lead, as the PGA Tour pros are eating it alive.

-I changed this post from Mailing it In" because you, the reader, deserve more. Things will get interesting over the next few weeks, with Panthers cuts, high school football cranking up, the drag strip, NASCAR in October. Getcha popcorn ready for all of it on News 14 Carolina!

See you fine folks on Monday!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Panthers-Eagles Game Blog

6:50-Hey gang. Mikey here. Feel free to drop in a comment on the game, or a question via the e-mail during the game between the Panthers and Eagles. I am in Charlotte, so I'll be watching the game on the tube with the rest of ya. You can e-mail me directly at I'll drop in thoughts during the game up until about 9:45, then I have to get on the desk for Sports Night. I'll be back after Sports Night for some final thoughts.

8:08 - Not a great opening drive. Didn't like the backside pursuit on the first down play. Williams needs to bounce that harder and get to the hole. Here comes the D.

8:15 - Would like to see Carolina get some pressure on McNabb. Bad sign for Eagles as Reggie Brown is going off hurt. Coverage too soft on 3rd down for the 2nd conversion this drive. Ugh.

8:19 - Panthers get a break on the illegal block call. Nicely set up screen by Philly there.

8:26 - Clunker drive there. likethe quick hit to King on 3rd down to give Baker some room, but so far, not so good on either side. Eagle offense carrying the play.

8:21 - Nice work by Panthers to keep Philly off the board, but they aren't getting any sufficient pressure on McNabb (at least not that series). Offense needs to put together one of those 10-12 play drives, and it starts on the ground. maybe we'll see some Jonathan Stewart (he reportedly warmed up pre-game, but I haven't seen him yet--and could have missed him in while tending to other duties).

8:31 - Lightning moving in...a weather delay in football. Back when they get going again, although the bolts are rather impressive. Wonder if Jeff Crum is watching in the weather office?

8:42 - If you are watching the game, then you just heard the delay will last at least 45 more minutes. That puts us around 9:30 for a restart. I'll hang out until 9:45, before heading to the set for the show.

9:09 - Quick. Someone tell a joke.

9:24 - No jokes, but thanks for the comment!!!! Spread the word about the blog to your friends!

9:26 - Sounds like Jake will be back in the game in spite of the conditions. Time will tell. Getcha popcorn ready!

9:31 - For my money, this game is worthless, considering the Panthers missing so many starters, the rain delay, etc. Just hope no one gets hurt. The pass coverage is going to be very soft because of the sloppy field. True it's sloppy for both teams, but hard to evaluate anything. Just get through it, and move on to the Redskins in a couple Saturdays.

9:35 - Way too soft in coverage. Coaches and players will have to adjust to conditions in the regular season. This is not a good sign tonight....but wait! Richard Marshal!!!! WOW! TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS! What a play!

9:37 - Marshall making the great read, scooting into the backfield...had the Eagles kicked it, it may have been blocked. One great play erased some issues on the Panther secondary. Again, it's wet, so you hope there isn't any lingering problems for the defense going into next week.

9:39 - Welcome to the pre-season, Mr. Beason. Nice penetration there. End 1st quarter. Offense gets a C grade for that quarter, defense gets a C, but give special teams an A-. Getting close to show time. Will resume blog after Sports Night! Thanks for hanging out here.

9:45 - Before I go, time of possession big in Philly's favor. Bad night for the offense, so far.

10:52 - Back in the saddle for abit. Nice to see Dante Wesley with the pick, and yes, DeAngelo Williams is all business. Can take more from their second quarter than the first--the first was ugly.

Jake - 9 of 14, 54 yds, 1 INT
DeAngelo - 8 carries, 32 yards. Temper that with 23 yards on one carry. Sluggish night there.

McNabb11 of 24, 98 yds. Biggest part of that--no points.

10:58 - In case you missed it, Michael Phelps got his 6th gold tonight, with another world record. Wow. Think he can play defensive tackle? Panther pass rush is looking ugly (and that's bad).

11:02 - Jerome McDougle with the 2nd teamers? Wow. he almost decapitated Moore on that sack. Jonathan Stewart sturggling tonight. His first game action since November. He needs some Rust-Eze (you parents should get that reference).

11:04 - By the way, the blue jerseys are my favorite of the 3 the Panthers wear. I just like the color (that is the hint for my wife to get me one for Christmas). Gonna go cut tape from the first half. Be back shortly.

11:47 - A little later than I wanted, but there was more housekeeping to do. Don't like Lebrandon Toefield putting the ball on the turf, especially with the Panthers holding a 6 point lead. Guys that have been around the block (like Toefield) should know better. Yes, it's wet. He's played in the rain before, I'm sure.

11:50 - Panther defensive reserves need to step up and preserve the 3 point lead. Sounds to me like Aikman and Buck want to get out of the booth and grab a cheesesteak. They might get their wish soon, if the defense plays soft like they did on first down. Ugh.

11:53 - So much for the Panther defense preserving this one for Carolina. Is it just me, or did the guys on the field just seem to give up on that play? Mercy. 17-13, and now Matt Moore has to try and lead a TD drive. And we stayed up late for this. LOL.

11:55 - The Panthers need to win this, or lose this quickly. I have an update to run at 12:25 a.m.

11:56 - Anybody else start yawning when that fan at the game was yawning going to commercial? I did.

12:02 - Nice work by Birmingham, but Aikman is right--get outta bounds. Moore looks good under pressure, nice poise.

12:03 - Ballgame. Bad break for Moore. Should have thrown that into the stands, but he's trying to make a play there. Understandable, and this is where to make the mistakes. in teh games that mean nothing.

12:30 - Put the update to bed, and now it's my turn (once I leave the office that is). disappointing way to end the game, and if I were a player on the bubble of making the roster, I would be concerned, espeecially if I were on the defensive side of the ball. They squandered a 13 point lead, and gave up 24 points in the 4th quarter. Sure the game means nothing in the big picture, but it means everything for guys trying to catch on with the club.

In any event, I'll look for Coach Fox's postgame comments and check back in sometime on Friday.

Thanks for the company last night and this morning!

Mike Solarte

Pre-season game #2

Before I begin, check out Tim Baier's initial post to the blog from the Wyndham Championship. Good stuff in it. Go ahead, I'll wait until you're done.

OK, thanks for scrolling back up.

It's hard to put a gauge on tonight's Panthers-Eagles game considering a couple things. Carolina will be without loads of starters (Steve Smith, Ken Lucas, Chris Gamble, Chris Harris just to name a few), so judging the first teams on offense and defense will be difficult. Special teams may be a little easier, but I won't go out on that limb. Basically, the Panthers are banged up in spots, so a short week to get ready for Philly wasn't a good thing.

The Panthers will, however, get a long look at receiver Jason Carter, a guy that caught my eye on day one of camp, and has been turning heads ever since. Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, D.J. Hackett, and Ryne Robinson won't play tonight. That leaves a lot of reps for guys like Carter, and Travis Taylor to make an impression. No, I'm not forgetting Muhsin Muhammad--he has a job.

We should see Jake Delhomme have a few more throws tonight than he had Saturday against Indianapolis. The starters will play into the 2nd quarter, according to Head Coach John Fox. How deep into that 2nd quarter remains to be seen. In the past, they have played the entire first half, so we'll see.

I'm going to attempt keeping a running game blog going up until about 9:45pm, and then jump back on after Sports Night, so if you feel like chatting at me during the game, come on by!

Elsewhere, the Wyndham Championship began in Greensboro this morning. I like the field there this year. Generally, there hasn't been a great contingent on hand for this PGA Tour stop, but the Fed Ex Cup points count the same at the Wyndham as they do everywhere else, so players needing some points are in the house--Vijay Singh, Zach Johnson, defending champ Brandt Snedeker, and Davis Love III, just to name a few. Should be a great tourney on the Donald Ross reclamation (Tim and architect Kris Spence showed us each hole--you can see them all at

Michael Phelps did not win gold on Wednesday--but he didn't race for gold either. That was about as exciting as the Olympics got for me, although watching men's water polo (the US lost to Serbia 4-2) was kinda fun. What a brutal game. Big guys, thrashing, grabbing, and basically trying to drown each other, while playing soccer with their hands. Gotta have some guts to play that one.

Hope to see you back later during the Panthers and Eagles!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kings unite...

Hey there everybody, this is Tim Baier making my inaugural post and I figured what better time to do it then live from the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. News 14 Carolina will be bringing you updates throughout the weekend from the tournament and beyond, keeping you up to date on all the good golf being played by the PGA Tour pros. If you've been watching us for the past couple weeks, then you probably have seen how the bad golf is played here at Sedgefield CC because I did plenty of it in my 18-hole-preview.

Anyway, thought I would share a memorable experience with you on this good ole' blog. The Wyndham pulled off a coup of sorts this afternoon getting two kings, Arnold Palmer and Richard Petty, together in the same room for the opening ceremony. I say room, even though it was supposed to be on the first tee... but mother nature intervened... and sent the press conference into the clubhouse. (you have to give the staff here at the Wyndham a thumbs up on pulling it all off flawlessly because they had about 30 minutes notice to make the change.)

Well back to the story at hand, I had an opportunity to interview both Arnold and Richard, I'm not pretending to be on the first name basis with these legends, but you all know them by their first names. Arnold was gracious and talked about the memories of playing here at Sedgefield CC and that he was happy to see the tournament moved back to its home. He remembered his best chance of capturing a championship here back in 1972 only to see it wash away on the par 3 16th hole. He also talked about the significance of both him and Richard Petty being here on this day. Richard grew up just south of here and rose to the top of his sport, while Arnold went to college at Wake Forest and we all know what he did for the game.

Richard took the time to remind everyone that he never really had time to take up the game of golf because he was too busy racing, so when Palmer gave him a commemorative putter he warned that Arnold might have to wear a racing helmet if they played together. The highlight of the press conference had to be when Petty gave Palmer one of his well known hats and in his jovial style Palmer put his finger over his mouth feigning a mustache. The King laughed, took off his sunglasses, and completed the outfit on Palmer. All in all it was a fun event and nice to see two icons of their respective sports together in one spot.

Back to the golf that tees off on Thursday, who do you pick to win. That's a tough call. Brandt Snedeker, the defending champ comes in here full of energy and confidence. He said today if he asked them to pick a new course for the tournament this would have been it, but he hasn't played that well since a good show at Augusta in the spring. Vijay Singh is probably the biggest name here, when I caught up with him after the pro-am he talked about the Donald Ross design course and how it has actually been changed so much that he doesn't know if it can still be called that. Many pros disagree. I better finish up to go get ready for SportsNight, but I say my pick is Bubba Watson... I can't really tell you how I came up with that, but let's mark it down and see if I have a future as a fortune teller.

Coming home

The Carolina Panthers broke camp Wednesday morning, heading back to Charlotte, but will only have time to drop their bags off at home, grab a shower and get something to eat, before heading north to Philadelphia for Thursday nights pre-season game.

Other than the ugly Steve Smith-Ken Lucas incident, this was a good camp for the Panthers. Better than last year, and not just because it was shorter. The practices that I saw were very crisp, very efficient, very productive. There are still decisions to be made regarding roster spots, and that's what the next 3 weeks are for--seeing the borderline guys in game situations. Game 2 Thursday, then next Saturday at home, followed by the pre-season finale on August 28th.

The Panthers will be shorthanded (in terms of their starters) as Smith, Lucas, and Chris Gamble are not expected to make the trip to Philly. Receiver Dwayne Jarrett (knee injury) likely won't go either. Expect to see lots of Muhsin Muhammad and Jason Carter on Thursday night, plus there is a chance rookie Jonathan Stewart will see some playing time against the Eagles.

Last year, the Panthers were thumped 27-10 by Philly in the pre-season. That loss meant the same as a pre-season win. Nothing, once the regular season starts.

Another late night of Olympic watching, but man, just how good is Michael Phelps? So good, that the unthinkable crossed my mind last night right after Sports Night. What if he isn't clean? I would think there would have been a positive test by now, so it's seems highly unlikely he's cheating. I'm just surprised that there hasn't been the snickers from the cynics out there. The non-believers were chirping about Dara Torres (the 42 year old mom, who is competing in these games for the US). It was a witch-hunt for Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and Roger Clemens, but Phelps doesn't raise the slightest thought.

Let me state, for the record, I am not rooting for a positive test. I WANT Phelps to be clean. I just think it's sad that this is where we are in the sports landscape. Great performances can't be great performances anymore. There has to be SOME reason for them, and the doubters will now, and always, point to performance enhancers. I don't want to become one of those people that feels every sporting moment must be chemically enhanced. It's hard to remain a fan of sport these days when so many athletes are using the chemical means, rather than the natural means.

Very glad for Charlottean Ricky Berens, and his first Olympic gold in the men's 4 x 200 relay. How sick is it that they were the first team to swim that race in under 7 minutes? Another world record performance (Phelps has his hands in 5 new world records in Beijing) for, without question, the top swimming outfit in the world.

I wonder if it's these new suits that are making these swimmers faster. Of course, the manufacturer will say that to sell more suits. There needs to be a study done on this, by an unbiased agency to see if these things actually work. I'd be interested to see the results, and if the IOC allows them in the future (if they actually do work).

More mindless musings for you on Thursday--maybe even a live blog during the Panthers game (with a break for Sports Night at 10 of course).

Check out Sports Night tonight--Levelle Moton from North Carolina Central, and David Noel (former Tar Heel, now NBA guard/forward) will be in studio, plus we'll take a look at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro--1st round action begins on Thursday!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I can no longer resist

I was going to see how far into the Olympics I could go without blogging about them. I am not anti-Olympics. I just can't stand the coverage restrictions that are implemented on news gathering organizations (what we can show, when we can show it, etc.). Can't stand that at all.

I love me some Olympics, though. Big time.

I'm getting this post up a little earlier than Monday's, but not by much. Hard to wake up early when you stay up watching boxing and softball until 2:30 a.m.

Monday's action was outstanding. US Swimmers stole the show early-Michael Phelps wins his 3rd gold, Aaron Piersol wins one (although it sounded like the announcers were dogging him about not having a "competitive" outward appearance), Natalie Coughlin wins one. Good stuff.

The US Gymnastics team took bronze in the team competition, which was pretty good, apparently, as I don't follow my men's gymnastics like I should. The only thing I would have changed was the smack-talk from the US after winning bronze. They were looking into the camera, and chirping "third place, baby!"

Hold on.

Look, I like the idea of a podium finish, getting the hardware, it's a great feat, considering this team was very inexperienced. Chirp when you win it all and no one expected it. The bronze medal high-fives amongst the teammates is cool, just don't scream it into the camera that 3rd place rocks. It really doesn't.

I congratulate them on earning a medal, considering nobody thought it possible. What hurts worse is that they actually led for the silver heading into the final rotation. The first 2 Americans on the pommel horse basically fell of the thing, giving them low scores. The final American was brilliant, and that performance salvaged the bronze. Had they won silver, behind the Chinese, I never would have written the above paragraphs.

The Games have provided plenty of great moments, and Phelps will try to deliver 5 more in the pool before it's all said and done. The US basketball team, now known as "The Redeem Team", flushed Angola 97-76 on Tuesday (sorry to spoil it if you were taping it for viewing later). They have the promise of bringing hoop gold back home. The US women's hoop team rolls along as well.

Better get the coffee ready for some more late night TV watching.

-Carolina Panthers with just 2 practices in Spartanburg remaining, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. The team will fly to Philadelphia on Wednesday for Thursday's pre-season game with the Eagles. Good to see some of the injured bodies back to practice (Jon Beason and Damione Lewis were back to work), and Ken Lucas is working out on the sidelines, just staying in shape. Wednesday promises to be a fun morning. A light workout, the last speech from Head Coach John Fox, and the annual rite of passage for the first year guys--the rookie hazing.

Normally that phrase gets people up in arms, because hazing, in the past, has consisted of a collection of things that just don't jive in the culture we live in today. Panther rookie hazing is quite harmless. The new guys are taped to a goalpost, and the veterans douse them with the ice-cold water buckets, Gatorade showers, or whatever. Someone cuts the rookies loose, they shower up, and all is well.

Sounds silly, but it's a wonderful team-building thing. The veterans see a rookie that is willing to take that abuse (albeit mild) from them, but they also see the laughs going along with it. Those vets then know that these kids are a part of their family, and they can be counted on when the chips are down.

I won't even tell you about how I was hazed on my college hockey team as a freshman.

You don't want to know.

Mike Solarte

Monday, August 11, 2008


I'm a little late in getting this post up today (but since I am doing this blog for fun, I guess there is no deadline). Notes from Saturday night.

-Nice work by the 1st team defense. 2 takeaways that led to points. While it's hard to get excited about the Indy offense minus Peyton Manning, it is nice to see a starting unit that was without Damione Lewis, Jon Beason, Chris Harris and Ken Lucas (did I miss anyone?) perform the way they did. Nice work by Adam Seward as well (who has earned the unofficial nickname "Shogun" by one of the beat writers, because of his long hair and beard).

-Nice work by the 1st team offense, but I temper that by saying they only had to gain 39 yards in their 2 series. Not their fault. Just saying wee didn't get to see much of them, save for Jake Delhomme knows which way to turn to hand the ball off. DeAngelo Williams and the offensive line were quite good. I temper that by reminding all the Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney did not play for Indy, still, that's a big chunk of the Indy starting defense. Reason to be excited there.

-Special teams are still a sore spot. Rhys Lloyd is making nit hard for the Panthers to think about cutting him. Got a text message during the game asking if it was legal for the kicker to boot the ball into (or even through) the end zone. It was sarcastic, of course, because the Panthers have lagged behind the NFL in the touchback category. Lloyd could change all that, but to keep 3 kickers, they have to be down a player at another spot. It's a tough numbers game, and if you recall my post last week, I had 55 players in mind--the roster size is 53. the Panther coverage units seemed to struggle when Indy actually COULD run back a kick. I'm gonna dive into those numbers a little later today.

-Over the weekend, nice to see Padraig Harrington raise the Wannamaker Trophy after winning his 2nd major of the season and 3rd in the last 6. Ben Curtis called Harrington "Tiger-like." In the last year and a half, maybe so, but let's slow things down right there. Tiger is Tiger. Jack Nicklaus was Jack Nicklaus. Arnie was Arnie. Paddy Harrington is a world class player, but let's not deify him, just yet. If he does this for 10 years, then we can do so. Tiger is just that good.

That being said, it makes you wonder if Tiger would have finished behind Harrington in this year's British and PGA. He was in the field at the British in 2007 when Harrington won the Claret Jug. A frothy pint of Guinness was hoisted in Ireland (and elsewhere) in his honor, no doubt, and deservedly so.

I also am starting to wonder if the "best player never to win a major" label is weighing Sergio Garcia down a bit. He says all the right things when he comes up short, but it might be because he's had enough practice saying them. I want to see a guy like Garcia claim a major, and the 2009 Masters might be his best chance, considering Tiger may not be 100% by the time Augusta rolls around. Then again, he might be, and this conversation is over.

-Kyle Busch wins again. Yippee. Starting to get boring, guys. The 18 is whipping everybody's rear wing out there. Maybe the other teams should try something different. Like get better. Otherwise, this could be the year the Busch claims his first championship. 2 things will likely happen after that. One, people won't care because they dislike Kyle. Two, anyone who does like Kyle won't care because he's been so dominant. A title would be expected. He has 9 wins this season, and the Chase hasn't begun. I have no idea what his lead would be under the old system (without a 10 race Chase), but the season would be over under that format. Now, the season will likely be done with 5 races left, rather than 10.

Mike Solarte

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's Friday

At the time I scribble this post, there's a little more than 24 hours left before the Panthers open the pre-season against the Indianapolis Colts. I'll be at the game, and looking for some specific things. Things like:

--Dwayne Jarrett. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidson didn't sound too high on Jarrett's progression so far in camp. Reading through the transcripts of his interview, it sounds to me that Davidson isn't a big fan of #80, and if he had the chance to cut him, he might. That's not a good sign for the Panthers 2nd round draft pick from last year. Especially when Jason Carter has been a vacuum in camp (as in sucking up everything in front of him). Jarrett should get plenty of action Saturday night. Let's not forget he caught a deep ball from David Carr in one of the exhibitions last season, which provided loads of hope, none of which materialized. For either player.

--The first team offensive line. Jonathan Stewart is a game time decision, meaning if he doesn't go (which I wouldn't expect him to this week), DeAngelo Williams will see a bulk of the 1st team carries in the game. So it will be up to the front 5 to make some space for Williams to sneak through. The O-line is bigger and heavier, but they seem to be more of a unit already, than last year's crew was at this time. If the front 5 can open a few holes, and also give Jake Delhomme some protection to complete 5-8 passes in his time on the field, they'll earn big marks in meetings on Monday. Keydrick Vincent has been working with the 1's at the RG spot all this week, after Toniu Fonoti had the spot in the first week of camp. We'll have to keep our eyes on that spot Saturday night.

--The defensive front for the Panthers won't have Peyton Manning to deal with, but they will face the Colts starting O-Line. That's the same O-Line that provides Manning with ample time to hit receivers downfield (when he needs it of course), and also clears the way for Joseph Addai to work his magic. A nice test out of the blocks for defense on Saturday.

I'll be watching for other items as well, and have a blog update on the game Sunday or Monday.

Elsewhere, in the midst of "As the Brett Turns," I saw something even MORE ridiculous on ESPN (or ESPN2, I forget). When is "The Ocho" gonna launch, anyway?

It was the Little League World Series, but not from Williamsport, PA. No, this game was in Waco, TX. This was the LLWS Regional Championship game (or something to that effect). A LLWS REGIONAL GAME?

For starters, let me say this--I have never been an adult fan of the LLWS being televised the way it is now, kinda like the College World Series. Double elimination, showing the brackets, keeping track of the pitchers the way they do. It's frightening.

As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was play in the LLWS. I loved baseball, we had good teams, and we even made it to the Illinois regional final, and got smoked by Libertyville. I swear their pitcher had his 3 kids at the game watching him play. Anyway, that was the dream as a kid.

Now, with TV coverage, the folks back home watching, people around the country (and world) taking in these games, I can't imagine what kind of pressure cooker it is for these kids to deal with.

When I made errors in tournament games, the only people that saw were the parents from both teams, the players and the umps. I can't imagine being the kid who makes the wild throw to first, and his error costs his team a shot at the title game against Taiwan (or whoever makes it there).

Sure, the kids have a blast, and they likely don't even notice the cameras are there. Sure, it's the LLWS, and just making it there is an accomplishment. I'm sure being on ESPN is kinda cool, too. When I was a kid, the lure and luster of playing in the LLWS was that only the championship game was televised. The American team usually got crushed by the foreign visitors, and eventually, there was a camera shot of a kid from the losing side in tears. We see that now, too.

But do we need to see it in the Regional game where the kids that lose out on the shot at a LLWS title are left behind? C'mon guys, we need to let kids be kids. We don't need a sideline reporter in Waco tell us how this 11 year old left-handed hitter enjoys geometry during the school year, because it helps him figure out the bat-angle when a pitcher throws him a curve ball. Or how a right-hander on the hill looks up to Carlos Zambrano because the Big Z has "attitude."

The games will go on, the tears will fall, and the game will still be the game. I say let the kids be kids as long as they can.

This just in, Brett Favre had breakfast this morning. No word on if he had a 2nd cup of coffee, but we're working to get that information.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Saga has ended...for now.

Somewhere, there are angels blaring trumpets over the football heavens, as the Brett Favre story has taken its newest direction, with Favre being dealt to the New York Jets. While this direction soothes the throbbing portions of my brain, it also tells me that another part of this story is just beginning.

It's the part where the great QB from small town Green Bay plays for the 2nd favorite team in Gotham, with all of the New York media watching, and subsequently waiting for the Great Brett to fail.

I have said it before, I am not a Favre-hater. I hate the story, and all the yo-yo "he said, he said" garbage we have seen since April--yes, it has lasted this long. Favre got his wish, to play football, but he didn't get what he wanted, and that seems to be to play within the NFC North (in Chicago or Minnesota). The Packers are getting a conditional draft pick, which could be as high as a number 1 pick, provided the Jets win the Super Bowl, according to ESPN.

Excuse me while I laugh hysterically.

OK, thanks. I'm done.

The Jets aren't winning the title, but they will be a team to deal with, more so now than they were just 24 hours ago. Favre is an upgrade over Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens, but he is not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Favre will come in to learn a new system, new terminology, new personnel, a new coach, a new city, new playbook, new everything.

The odds are long against Favre to succeed, but this is what he wanted--he wanted to play football. He got his wish. Now it's on him to make it work.

**The Panthers have just one practice on Thursday, and then will have one workout on Friday, at 10:45 in Spartanburg, before they face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night. We'll take a look at the Panthers gearing up for Saturday, plus have some thoughts from the players on Sports Night at 10.

**Speaking of the Panthers, had the chance to chat with my pal Darin Gantt from the Rock Hill Herald during Wednesday's practice. He and I seem to agree a bit on the 53 man roster the Panthers will take with them into the season opener in San Diego. Of course, it all depends on injury and the like over the next 4 weeks, but barring the season-ending type, here's what I have in mind for the Panthers 53 man roster:

QB-Delhomme, Moore, Basanez (3)
RB-D. Williams, Stewart, Goings, Hoover (1 more here-could be Birmingham or Toefield) (5)
WR-Smith, Muhammad, Hackett, Jarrett, Carter (5)
TE-King, Rosario (2)
OL-Gross, Vincent, Kalil, Wharton, Otah, Omiyale, Fonoti, Hangartner, Bridges, and 1 or 2 more--between Milford Brown, Charles Spencer, Evan Mathis and Mackenzie Bernadeau. (10 for now) --EDIT THE PANTHERS CUT SPENCER ON THURSDAY, WITH HEAD COACH FOX CALLING IT A "CONDITIONING ISSUE", AND NOT RELATED TO HIS KNEE.

DL-Peppers, Lewis, Kemoeatu, Brayton, Johnson, McClover, Gibson, Walker, Scott (Scott's knee could be a concern come cut-down. (9)
LB-Beason, Johnson, Davis, Diggs, Seward, Connor and 1 other (between Anderson, Curry and Shaw) (7)
DB-Lucas, Gamble, Marshall, Harris, Colclough, Wesley, Godfrey, Teal, Holt (although Salley, Wilson, and DeLoatch could have something to say in all that). (9)


Add all that up, and you have the best 55 players in camp (in my humble opinion). That means, the coaching staff has to cut 2 of these guys to get to the max roster of 53.

By no means do I think I am correct, I am simply forecasting what the roster will look like on opening day in San Diego. The coaches have the tougher job of making the roster for real.

Mike Solarte

Big UPS!!!!

Jason Spells

So this is the beginning of something I hope will be a regular here on the News 14 Carolina Sports Blog, the BIG UPS column. We get hundreds of emails here in the Sports Department with some incredible stories from all across North Carolina. Sadly to say only a fraction we're actually able to cover. Well here’s my shout out to people doing big things in North Carolina Sports.

Raleigh Ravenscroft senior Ryan Kelly, the 6-10 power forward played on USA Men's Basketball U-18 team. The team earned the sliver medal at the FIBA Americas Championship in Formosa, Argentina. Right now he’s looking at Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame, UNC, Wake and Vandy for college ball.

Next up, the West Raleigh's 10 and under All-Star baseball team. Last week the team clinched a berth in the 10-U Cal Ripken World Series. These kids haven’t lost a game since June. That’s seven tournaments.29-games all with the W.

Alexander Givens and Alexander Long both from Raleigh. These two were invited to travel to England for Chelsea Football Club’s inaugural youth cup. Anytime Americans can take our soccer to England and play, that’s definitely doing big things.

And finally, NC Power Hockey, I’ve been emailing Jonathan Greeson for a few months now. And story behind these guys is just incredible. Please check it out…

There we go, keep the stories coming. BIG Ups to these guys!!!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A quick hit from Spartanburg

Mike Solarte

News and notes from Wednesday's morning practice:

** WR's D.J. Hackett and Steve Smith were injured during the practice session. Hackett with a toe, and Smith with an ankle. Head Coach John Fox says both injuries are considered minor, so don't look for them to miss too much time, with a 6pm workout scheduled for tonight. Considering both are veteran players, it wouldn't be a stretch to see them get 1, maybe 2 series of work during the preseason opener on Saturday against Indianapolis.

**Brett Basanez told me after practice he is anxious to play Saturday night, because "Matt's been in my spot too long." Seems Bas is fired up about trying to earn the backup QB role, but he is sit4ting #3 on the depth chart now, simply because Matt Moore was on the field at the end of the season, and played well. Basanez is a good guy, and a fiery competitor. We'll see how it translates in game situation.

**The D-line was getting a nice bit of work from Sal Sunseri during group drills. At one point, Sunseri asked if a certain player "had been drinking already," because he went to the wrong gap in a walk-thru drill. Suffice to say, the conversation got a little louder as Sal was "coaching him up," as they say. Sunseri was later overheard, um, loudly correcting Charles Johnson and others when they missed gaps, or jumped offsides during 7-on-7 drills. Seems the D-line is under a microscope this year, with the departure of Kris Jenkins and the retirement of Mike Rucker.

**Had the chance to speak with K Rhys Lloyd today, as well. A nice fella, who knows that he is fighting for the 53rd spot on this roster, given that Carolina does not traditionally carry 3 kickers. P Jason Baker and PK John Kasay are locks to make this squad, but Lloyd consistently bombs kicks into the end zone, an area that Carolina was horrible in last season. Lloyd has fit in nicely with this team, in terms of his personality. He's very social with his teammates, going so far as to earn the teams #2 ranking in the World Table Tennis Rankings--ok, the Panthers Table Tennis Rankings, sitting behind QB Matt Moore. The 2 engaged in a spirited battle after the morning workout, with Moore taking the victory. On a side note--Moore, originally didn't want to play Lloyd today, because he did not have his own paddle to play with. That's right, Moore brought his own ping pong paddle to camp. Hardcore stuff, baby.

**We'll have a look at camp on Sports Night, as the Panthers gear up for the Colts at Bank of America Stadium this Saturday night.

2008 ACC football predictions

Wes Wilson

Football season is almost here... so to break up the monotony that is Brett Favre news, I have decided to post my predictions for the upcoming 2008 ACC football season. It should prove to be a very interesting season. There are still a lot of big-time position battles going on at campuses across ACC country.

After dismissing starting running back Brandon Ore from the team, Virginia Tech has yet to decide on a starter. Juniors Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman could split carries before one separates himself from the pack. VT's first big test will come Sept. 20 at upstart North Carolina, so look for one back to get the bulk of the carries in that game.

A number of teams also have ongoing battles for the starting quarterback position with the season's first game less than a month away. Miami has put together two talented recruiting classes under Randy Shannon, but it's tough to do consistently well with a young signal caller, and redshirt freshman Robert Marve will likely get the nod over true freshman Jacory Harris for the Canes' first game. They will only go as far as their young QBs take them.

Tommy Bowden will officially unseat his dad this year as the Bowden most likely to win a national championship. Clemson is loaded across the board. I expect Cullen Harper to win the ACC Player of the Year this season as he leads the Tigers to the school's first ACC Championship since 1991. I expect to see Clemson slip up late in the year at least once -- like all Tommy Bowden teams do -- but that should not keep them out of the ACC Championship game, and I think they will end Virginia Tech's own national championship hopes.

In Florida State, is Drew Weatherford really the quarterback they are going to win with? They will have to find out soon because suspensions dating back to last year's academic scandal could kill this team early on. I expect Florida State to be up and down all season long, but they could set the tone for their season on Sept. 20 when Wake Forest comes to town. And I can't believe I would ever be saying this, but the Florida State players are calling out the Demon Deacons saying they're the team they want to beat. My how ACC football has changed.

As for North Carolina, this team won't surprise many local fans. In a depleted Coastal division, most are picking the Tar Heels to finish second, and four brave--or crazy if you ask Butch Davis--sports reporters picked North Carolina to actually dethrone Virginia Tech and win the Coastal division outright. I have tempered those expectations a little bit. The Tar Heels are indeed talented, but I think they are maybe a year away from seriously competing for an ACC Championship. By all indications, quarterback TJ Yates is back from shoulder surgery and throwing the ball remarkably well, and the Tar Heel offense is starting to come together. This team's speed has increased exponentially under Butch Davis, and as this team plays faster and faster, it should lead to more of those big plays Tar Heel fans fell in love with last season. Also, look for the defensive line, weighted by sophomore stud Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas to be particularly strong.

As for the Demon Deacons, I don't know how they do it, but I expect Wake Forest to have another great year with so many starters coming back. Riley Skinner and Josh Adams will lead the Wake Forest passing and rushing attack, one that has rolled over even the best ACC defenses the past two years.

Sorry Pack fans, but I think it will be a tough year in Raleigh. Like Miami, NC State has yet to name a starting quarterback. Running back will be a big positive though as Jamelle Eugene should run downhill behind the Tom O'Brien-coached offensive line. I expect the line to take big steps in Year 2 under O'Brien. Look for the Wolfpack to come up with a big upset or two this year but ultimately bide time until O'Brien can get more of his own guys in place.



1. Clemson (7-1)
2. Florida State (6-2)
3. Wake Forest (6-2)
4. Maryland (3-5)
5. NC State (3-5)
6. Boston College (2-6)


1. Virginia Tech (8-0)
2. Miami (5-3)
3. North Carolina (5-3)
4. Virginia (2-6)
5. Georgia Tech (1-7)
6. Duke (0-8)

Clemson beats Virginia Tech in ACC Championship

Notable ACC games:

Sept. 20 - Florida State beats Wake Forest
Sept. 27 - Miami beats North Carolina
Oct. 16 - NC State beats Florida State
Nov. 8 - Florida State beats Clemson
Dec. 6 - Clemson beats Virginia Tech in ACC Championship, ends VT's national title hopes

ACC teams in bowls:

Clemson (12-1 overall) - Orange Bowl
Virginia Tech (12-1 overall) - Peach Bowl
Wake Forest (10-2 overall) - Gator Bowl
North Carolina (9-3 overall) - Meineke Car Care Bowl
Miami (7-5 overall) - Champs Sports Bowl

ACC Player of the Year: Clemson QB Cullen Harper
ACC Coach of the Year: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday Thoughts

Mike Solarte

I am glad to hear the Panthers have let Steve Smith apologize, and accepted it. It is a story that could hang over this team all season long, especially if they start 0-2, but for now, it looks like they will try to stick to their words from Monday, and get on with the business of being a Super Bowl contender.

No doubt, this incident has the potential to be divisive, but the leadership in the Panthers dressing room leads me to believe that it won't be. Guys like Delhomme, safety Chris Harris, LB Jon Beason, and WR Mushin Muhammad are strong character guys that can act as the glue to keep the room in one piece.

Something I found particularly funny on Monday night, was a blog post off of, which claimed there were rumblings in the NFC East that the Panthers might be looking to trade Smith, perhaps to the Dallas Cowboys. Now, please notice, I typed NFC East, not South. What rumblings are coming from the East that would like Smith being dealt? Rumblings of a writer trying to stir the pot. The Panthers won't be moving Smith anytime soon, and if they did, they would have to get a legit star in return, because that is what Smith is. He is probably the most exciting receiver in the league, and that kind of player sells tickets. It doesn't make up for the events of Friday. I am talking about the football side of things. Trading Smith is likely the last thing the Panthers are thinking about, especially 4 weeks away from opening the season.

There is no doubt in my mind this team is focused squarely on Saturday night when they play Indianapolis. It will be the first chance these guys get to blast someone they don't practice against everyday. Should be fun.

Incidentally, NFL Network was in camp on Monday, and Pat Kirwan says the Panthers are a playoff team RIGHT NOW, as long as Jake Delhomme stays healthy. Given the fact that last season, Delhomme was off to a great start (8 TD's, 1 INT) before his injury, that could be an understatement.

- The Brett Favre saga continues. This story is hanging around like a broke cousin. It just won't go away. Somebody needs to end this thing (and we could get some kind of resolution today--not likely though), and end it quickly. What has all this gained for anyone? That answer is nothing.

Favre is trying to look like the good guy in all this, but it's really not working. He said he retired, and now he says retiring was a mistake. He just wants to play. OK. I get that. Everyone screws up.

The Packers got word of Favre retiring before the draft, drafted (with Favre out of the picture), and now their plans for the future should just be put on hold, so number 4 can come back? No one player is bigger than the team or franchise.

The Packers either need to deal him or release him. Releasing him is a gamble, no question, because Favre could end up on a team within the Packers division. My question is this. So what?

Favre is not the same QB that has the ability to sling it around the yard, avoid tacklers, and all those things he could do just 5 years ago. Any team that gets Favre is getting the "downside" Favre. They are getting a guy who hasn't missed a start in his career (incredible), but has little tread left on his tires. I agree, he had a monster season in 2007. Can he be COUNTED ON for a similar year in 2008, going to ANY team other than Green Bay? Again, the answer is no.

I am no Favre-hater. I respect the years he has given to the NFL. I am a Favre-story hater. This thing needs to be put to sleep. The first full weekend of exhibition games is upon us, yet the only thing anyone is talking about is Favre. Roger Goodell likely isn't happy, because his league has lost its spotlight to one player. A play that hasn't practiced with anyone as of 10:30 this morning.

- Sprint Cup series heads back to a road course this weekend, running at Watkins Glen. Oh, the thrill of it. The debate goes on about road courses vs. oval racing. I'm an oval racing guy. I like the fact that it's all about going as fast as you can, with no surprises. Yes, road course racing is far more tactical, and requires the cars actually turn RIGHT on occasion, but simply put-NASCAR racing is oval racing. Period. I think a majority of fans prefer oval racing to road courses--the word "finesse" isn't colliding in the same sentence as "NASCAR" very often.

- Bobcats big man Emeka Okafor will be a guest on Sports Night on Wednesday night. Make sure you make time and check it out!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Monday morning

Hey gang, sorry for the absence of posts over the weekend. I did attend Fan Fest on Saturday, but frankly, the heat wore me out (and kept me away from my computer).

The ravings begin now:

-I am not going to hop up on a soapbox and say that Steve Smith should be thrown off the Panthers, or send him to anger management, or anything like that. Smith made a huge mistake, and now he will be forced to miss 2 weeks of action and forfeit 2 game checks (big ones, too).

Those are minor issues to him. I promise you.

The word "family" is a big one in the Smith way of life. He LOVES his family (wife and children), so deeply, there isn't anything he wouldn't do for them. The pictures of his children in his locker stall are many, and are quite adorable as well. He loves his wife and kids more than life itself.

He loves football, too. He loves his teammates. His teammates are his family. He has broken their trust in him.

That hurts worse than losing the money and playing time.

I say this because I have spoken to Smitty away from the field. I have seen him with his family, away from game day. I can just see it in his eyes, when he speaks of his kids, and his wife. Speak to him about football, and his passion is virtually the same. He is in a bad place right now, because half of his family may not believe in him any more. Not the family at his residence, the one at work.

From where I sit, what Smith did was deplorable, and inexcusable. I don't make apologies for him on this. If he were attacked, then self-defense I can live with. By all accounts, he was the attacker. I can't defend that. His 2 game suspension should be considered a gift. It is half of the allowable time a team can suspend a player for "conduct detrimental to the team." The Panthers were within their right to make it the full 4 game suspension.

Smith will miss games against San Diego and Chicago, once the season begins. Between now and then, he'll have to try and make the other players in the locker room believe in him again. QB Jake Delhomme says the team will welcome him back. LB Jon Beason says it's up to the individual.

The Panthers must find a way to forgive, but not forget. Their season hangs in the balance.

-Mike Solarte