Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A leader by example

Rod Brind'Amour announced his retirement from the NHL on Wednesday, ending a career that spanned a remarkable 21 NHL seasons.

The native of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada played his collegiate hockey in the CCHA, as a member of the Michigan State Spartans, for just 1 season, in 1988-89. At the end of that college season, Brind'Amour appeared in 5 playoff games for the St. Louis Blues.

He would spend 3 seasons in St. Louis, before moving to the Philadelphia Flyers, where his legacy would begin to grow. He would top 100 points in a season twice in his career, both with Philly, but became a Carolina Hurricane in the trade that sent Keith Primeau to the Flyers in 2000. Primeau was unhappy in Carolina, and according to Brind'Amour, Carolina wasn't exactly on his mind upon his arrival. Yet, as time wore on, and Brind'Amour became more entrenched in the community, and the organization, leaving to go elsewhere simply wasn't going to happen.

In the end, Brind'Amour will best be remembered as the guy that got to hoist the Stanley Cup first in 2006, a vision that every Hurricanes fans has burned into their memories. He will also be remembered as the Frank Selke Award winner in back-to-back seasons while wearing Hurricanes colors.

Most of all, Brind'Amour will (and should be) remembered for being the unquestioned leader of an organization that was looking to make its mark. All due respect to Ron Francis and his incredible career, Brind'Amour is the face that helped NHL hockey take a firm hold in the Carolinas. He never complained. He never battled management over contracts. He never showed up to camp out of shape.

He showed younger players the ropes. He set the standard for conditioning in the dressing room, basically being the benchmark for the rest of the team. He won face-offs. He played both ends of the ice.

Most of all, he recognized when his time was coming to an end. He graciously relinquished the captain's "C" to Eric Staal, accepting the alternate's "A" for his sweater, knowing that you can only outskate Father Time for so long. He leaves the game in better shape, having given 21 years of his life to it.

I was lucky enough to see Brind'Amour wear all 3 sweaters in his NHL career, and can honestly say, I didn't like him as a player when he played against my team. I loved and admired his ability and work ethic, however, every single time he hit the ice.

Congrats on a Hall of Fame career, Brindo. You'll be hearing from Toronto sooner than you think.

Mike Solarte


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

So....what did I miss?

Hey all! Back from a nice break in the action, spent time with family and friends, and now it's back to the grind. Big props to Tim Baier at Jason Brown for minding the blogger store in my absence.--stuff looks great guys!

So while I was away, John Isner played a tennis match that just ended, the USA soccer team won their group, but was knocked out by Ghana in the eliminations, and Carlos Zambrano went...well, Carlos Zambrano on his teammates.

Seems like all is normal.

Elsewhere, Yahoo sports has ranked the Carolina Panthers defensive line last in the NFL for the upcoming season. To paraphrase comedian Lewis Black, "are you kidding me?" OF COURSE they are ranked last in the NFL. The Panthers defensive front is very limited in the experience category, it's a wonder they were even ranked at all. Mind you, I'm not saying they stink. I'm saying nobody knows just how good they can or will be. The Panthers have gone young (and cheap) for the 2010 season, a sign, to me at least, that labor peace will be hard to come by after this non-salary cap season. The Panthers point of strength in the coming season is the offensive line, and running backs. 4/5ths of the O-line is back, and with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart returning, the real "Smash and Dash" has potential to be lethal again.

Oh, they get the "Smash and Dash" title because Lendale White is no longer wasting time in Tennessee. In fact, White is currently without a job, after Seattle cut him, not long after they got him in a trade.

Back to the Panthers, if they are competitive in 2010, ti will be a testament to Head Coach John Fox and his staff, for taking a large number of young, and inexperienced players beyond everyone's expectations. And then you can say goodbye to him, as he will likely end up as a Head Coach someplace else (which could come to pass if Carolina struggles this season, too).

Watching the World Cup, I am still annoyed by the vuvuzela (and who isn't?), but I marvel at the spirit and passion shown by all the fans of their respective nations. Tim Baier posted that You Tube video showing reaction to Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria, which was breath-taking (scroll down to check it out). In the end, American soccer came and went in a flash. This was supposed to be the most talented USA team in World Cup history. They were gifted, but they lacked something. They seemed to lack the same desire, and fire, as many of the teams that are considered underdogs. Don't kid yourself, USA soccer is an underdog in any tournament against other countries. They might not be so, if they played with a little fire in their belly. It comes down to heart and execution. Team USA's defense was lacking, as evidenced by the 2 goals scored by Ghana in the knockout round. There were other examples of that throughout the tournament, and that's simply something a team can not hide.

Why is USA soccer not as competitive on the global stage? A number of factors. More sports to choose from in the USA might just be the biggest factor. Some of the best soccer players in America go undiscovered, as they are playing something else. Soccer in North Carolina is a big deal, having lived in both Raleigh and Charlotte, I've seen it first hand. There is a breakdown in the system somewhere, and it's on USA Soccer to figure it out. Personally, I'd like to see the USA be a leader in everything. Watching that Donovan video sent chills down my spine, and if it didn't affect you, go see a doctor.

The Carlos Zambrano factor. What to do with the "Big Z." The answer? Nothing. Zambrano is a hot head, who is now on the restricted list. He has to undergo evaluation, and won't be available to the Chicago Cubs until after the All Star break. The Cubs should welcome him back, by making him a middle reliever. Their season is lost, and Zambrano won't make much of a difference as a starter. You want to punish him? Keep him on the roster, doing something he doesn't like. At season's end, you try to deal him. If not, you don't give him more money, you don't do anything to appease him. He's shown complete disrespect for your ballclub, and the players that are on it. I understand trying to fire up your team, but hurling expletives because you got touched up for a crooked number in the first inning against your cross-town rival. Zambrano is the modern day Ebbie Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh. Million dollar arem. Five cent head.

Mike Solarte

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Friday, June 25, 2010

For those wrapped up in the World Cup

In the midst of all this World Cup Soccer Fever, take time to acknowledge Greensboro's John Isner... and for that matter his first-round opponent Nicolas Mahut. They the co-authors of the longest tennis match in open era history.

Anyone who caught a glimpse of their 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 two-day marathon match won by Isner had to be taken with the physical and mental resolve of both players. They began the match on Wednesday and played for over 10 hours! The 5th set alone lasted over seven before the match was suspended due to darkness. As my wife said to me Wednesday night, "I would have quit by then."

What class by Wimbledon officials who presented Isner, Mahut and the chair umpire and line judges with gifts following Isner's win. After expending so much energy over two days, it's understandable Isner went out in straight sets Friday to Thiemo De Bakker. Hopefully they'll be even more memorable wins to come for Isner at the all England club. If not, at least he and Mahut have forever etched their names in the tennis history books.

Jason Brown

Thursday, June 24, 2010

USA gets ready for Ghana

The United States has always been mocked for the lack of enthusiasm toward the sport of soccer while the rest of the world flocked to stadiums to watch it be played. Well, this World Cup could change all that with the U.S. team advancing in such dramatic fashion. Couldn't help but post this video of all the reactions on YouTube. This doesn't look like a country apathetic toward the sport of futbol.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer school lets out; Moore confident

Charlotte – As they walked off the field for the last time this summer behind Bank of America Stadium, the Carolina Panthers felt assured their offense can compete with any team in the NFL. These players will next meet under the scorching sun of Spartanburg, SC for training camp.

Matt Moore stepped in as a leader during the four weeks of workouts, a position he earned starting the final five games of the 2010 season.

“You know the passing camp the first three days was big. I know everyone in the passing game, the receivers, the running backs, everybody loved it,” he said. “Everyone has been saying we're a young team, but we're going to try to use that to our advantage and these sessions here have really helped us progress quickly.”

Head Coach John Fox dismissed the effects of youth on this Panthers squad and the tenor of his practices.

“It hasn't been different, even with a veteran team they haven't played since last January,” he explained. “No question we're younger, but with that comes a lot of energy.”

Heading into his 10th season in the NFL Steve Smith seems content with the changes to the roster, knowing his role has evolved. With the retirement of Muhsin Muhammad, Smith has become the elder statesman.

“I'm just a high-paid entry level employee,” Smith cracked. “My role doesn't change, at the end of the day if you ain't making plays, your tenure in the league will be very short-lived.”

The Panthers have been billed as a run first, pass second offense, but ironically the players leaving OTAs (organized team activities) on Wednesday focused on putting the ball in the air.

“Everybody's working their tail off,” Smith said. “And I think without that happening we wouldn't have had such a good productive OTAs out of the passing game. It's been refreshing to come out here and run around. I enjoyed it.”

The Panthers will reconvene in Spartanburg, SC on July 28th at Wofford College for training camp. The teams first pre-season game will be August 12th at Baltimore.

In the meantime Smith says, “I'll go to Wimbledon, take my family to Italy and then sit on the beach for seven days in Barcelona. It's going to be tough, but I'll see what I can do.”

Stewart's quiet confidence

Who is Jonathan Stewart? It's a question media and fans in the Charlotte area have been asking for 2 years now. The stats speak for themselves, nearly 2000 yards rushing, 20 touchdowns and 33 games played.

Despite nagging injuries to his toe and Achilles' tendon, Stewart has played in every single regular season and playoff game in his two short years in the NFL, that speaks to his work ethic.

So his resume has been established. It's the off-the-field life and who the soft-spoken running back might be as a person that still remains open for debate. Shrek once quipped "Ogres are like onions." Now, I'm not saying Stewart is an onion or an ogre, but there are a number of layers to the athlete we see take the field every Sunday in the fall.

There's the Hip-Hop artist with a twist. Just last week he played at a piano recital at Jerrie's Christian Academy, not something you would expect from Kanye West, but with Stewart we have come to expect the unexpected.

"Being able to wind down at the end of the day, being able to take your brain to another level of relaxation by playing the piano," Stewart said. "It's just something great to have."

Stewart relishes his role in the two-back tandem self-titled Double Trouble. His partner in that duo, DeAngelo Williams, has become his best friend. A relationship that could have been built on competition for playing time and yards, has turned out to be the fuel of the Carolina Panthers offense. Williams, known for his outgoing personality, plays the yin to Stewart's yang. Every comedy duo needs a straight man and Stewart has the part down cold.

Let's be honest, the media can be quick to judge, and when a star player doesn't take to the spotlight, we start to ask questions. Stewart barely took part in workouts these past four weeks, but Panther fans don't worry -- he never has.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why salute the University of Texas?

Monday night, it was learned that the University of Texas would be staying in the Big 12 conference. This ended weeks of speculation, concern, and plain old nervousness for those connected with, what looked to be, a dying conference.

On Tuesday, headlines abound that Texas--and I'm paraphrasing here--"saved college football as we know it."


So if Texas had gone elsewhere, would the football have become round? Would the players revert to leather helmets, or perhaps none at all?

Oh, you mean the landscape of college football....NOW, I see what you mean.

Before I jump on board with that line of thinking, it should also be pointed out that Texas was in position to destroy that very landscape, and they would have done so in their own best interest.

Having spent a couple years in the Lone Star State, I saw, first hand, the power of Longhorn football. At the time, they weren't close to being what they are today, and that is a national title contender. Still, Longhorn fans, and boosters, are everywhere. Suffice to say, support for the program is quite healthy, in every corner of the state.

Texas held all the control in this recent game of conference musical chairs. They had their hand on the volume knob, and they were going to decide not just their fate, but the fate of other member institutions, which in turn, would have affected the conference. And by affect, I mean, it would have flat-lined if they left.

Don't think for a second, though, that they would have stayed had the money been higher elsewhere. They leveraged the future of one conference against the existence of another, and for its own benefit. There is a Longhorns TV network now? That network will pay the school $3-5 million per year? Oh, and now there is a new Big 12 TV package in the works, where the Longhorns will bring in $20-25 million per year. The same goes for Texas A&M and Oklahoma. The rest of the Big 12 schools will get less.

At the end of all this, it wasn't Texas' nobility that allowed the Big 12 to survive. It was the Big 12's fight for survival that kept the conference together (in spite of losing Nebraska and Colorado over the next 2 years).

Is there anything noble in Texas staying in the Big 12? No. Should they be applauded? No. Is the Big 12 thankful? Sure. Can Texas be trusted when this current TV deal expires? Probably not.

In this instance, as is the case more often than not in college athletics, the dollar spoke the loudest.

Mike Solarte

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup, NBA Finals, and a birthday....

The FIFA World Cup has been pretty good thus far. Team USA managed a 1-1 tie with England in their opener, but let's not kid ourselves, it was a gift. The English goalkeeper's mistake allowed the Americans to steal a point, England was the better team. Slovenia is up next for the US, that one comes on Friday.

Now, before I go on, I just want to add my name to the list of folks (it's the long list), that can not stand the noise-makers that dominate the in-game audio. The "vuvuzela" is the most annoying of all stadium sounds. Ever. A boat horn ,is more pleasing to the ear, than the droning buzz that thing makes. I won't go any further than that, as far better writers have already slammed the horn before me.

Don't look now, but the LA Lakers are facing an elimination game, thanks to the Boston Celtics game 5 win on Sunday. I will admit, I was wrong about Boston, as I thought the Orlando Magic would show them the door in the Eastern Finals. Now they have Kobe and company on the ropes, heading back to Los Angeles. Hats off to Doc Rivers, his staff, and a roster of players both young and old, that have refused to give up. Game 6 is Tuesday, and I will say this about the series. Boston does NOT want a game 7.


I remember reading quotes like this. "They'll be off the air in 6 months."

"There isn't enough news here to fill a 24 hour channel."

"Who needs weather every ten minutes?"

On this day, June 14, 2010, News 14 Carolina in Charlotte turns 8 years old. The lights are still on, the news keeps rolling, the weather keeps coming every 10 minutes. There are only a handful; of us left from the original launch team, the rest are folks that have joined the journey along the way. Every single person in our operation has a role to play, and they are among the best in the television business. I am honored to call them colleagues, and lucky to call them friends. Happy birthday, gang!

Now, who got my name in the grab bag?

Mike Solarte

Friday, June 11, 2010

Panthers, Blackhawks, and the World....

The Carolina Panthers are in a bit of a pickle, as Thomas Davis has a torn ACL in his right knee. No, this isn't a recording. He suffered the same injury last season, and was rehabbing back. I'm not looking to assess blame to anyone. The guy was doing everything asked of, and prescribed to him. It happens, and how the Panthers deal with this loss will say alot about what their overall plan of attack will be this season.

Jon Beason could slide into Davis' spot at the Will post, and Dan Connor could take Beason's spot at the Mike. Whatever the case, everyone on the defense will have to ramp things up even more. That means guys like James Anderson, Jamar Williams and others have to become better than they are right now.
Muhsin Muhammad retired from football on Thursday, after a more than solid 14 year career. In the Mount Rushmore of Panthers football, his is the final face. Sam Mills, Mike Minter, and team owner Jerry Richardson are the first 3 on the rock, and Moose belongs there with them. He played 11 years in a Panthers uniform, and it might have been more, had it not been for a $10 million dollar roster bonus he was due, but never got because Carolina released him. That led Moose to Chicago, but eventually, he would come home. Muhammad was a face of the Panthers, in both good times and in bad. He holds or shares many of Carolina's records as a receiver and starter, but to a media schlep like me, he was always a reliable guy to talk to after games, one that wouldn't dodge a question, and always greeted you with a smile. Richardson, Head Coach John Fox, and former Panther QB Steve Beuerlein talked about Moose at his retirement ceremony, all mentioning how professional Moose was as a player. Well, that included dealing with the media, and he was aces.

To Muhsin, and his family: thank you for all you have given to the NFL, and the Carolinas. Enjoy the next step in your lives, and glad you can retire the icebags.

The FIFA World Cup is finally underway. I say finally, because of the murderously long pre-game show. I know it was only 30 minutes, but is it necessary? The opening game is South Africa-Mexico. If Team USA is in the opener, it makes sense. Otherwise, give me the 5-7 minute game setup, and let's go. Yeah, I know, it's about selling commercial ad time, but I promise you, I won't be checking that pre-game out any more. From a TV perspective, they butchered it, which is sad. Think of the dollars that are committed to this event. Yikes.

Last, but not least, 49 years of suffering have come to an end for Chicago Blackhawks fans, as the Hawks won the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The 4-3 final in overtime giving Chicago its first Cup since 1961. I want to publicly acknowledge my counter-part, Jim Connors, for being such a good sport about it. Jim is a Philly native, and as Chicago is my team, the Flyers are his. Our "mayor's bet," for the Stanley Cup Finals was the loser of the series had to wear the winning team's jersey on air during Sports Night. Thankfully (or me anyway), Chicago won, and Jim had to find Blackhawks gear. He did, and looked great. I snapped a pic on my phone, and have it here for your viewing pleasure. Again, I am well aware this series could have gone either way, and as a Blackhawks fan for 36 of my 40 years, this was a tremendous moment in the history of my lifelong team. Have a great weekend and enjoy all the action, from the World Cup to the NBA Finals, which are all knotted at 2-2 after Boston won game 4 on Thursday night.
Mike Solarte

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jim Joyce screwed up. Deal with it.

Major League Baseball nearly had it's 3rd perfect game of the season on Wednesday night. Just typing that sentence makes me wonder what is happening in the bigs these days. A brilliant 88 pitch performance by Detroit's Armando Gallaraga won't be remembered for its mastery, but rather, a blown call on what would have been the final out.

Cleveland's Jason Donald's bouncer to the right side of the infield should have gone down as a 3-1 put-out. Instead, it will be remembered as an infield hit. Replays show Donald was out. Replays show that Gallaraga got to the bag to take the throw in plenty of time. Replays show his foot was on the bag, with the ball in his glove.

Joyce called him safe.

Gallaraga recorded the final out on the next batter, thus notching a one-hitter. The debate has raged all day. Baseball should step in and overturn the ruling. Gallaraga deserves the perfect game.

Stop the madness. The call on the field stands. Move on.

Human error has been a part of the game since its inception. Umpires don't always get it right. However, more often than not, the calls they make are correct. How many times have you watched a game, either at home on tv or in the stands, and disagreed with a ball or strike call? Same thing. Think of how many times in a game the pitcher comes off the mound to cover first. Think of how non-routine that play can be. The pitcher can miss the bag. The throw from the first baseman can be off the mark. The batter hustling up the line. There is a lot going on. The term "bang-bang play" applies here. The umpire doesn't have the benefit of multiple camera angle replays. He has to make that call at that moment. More often than not, that ump will get the call right.

Joyce is a 22-year veteran umpire. He has worked a pair of World Series, 11 League Championship Series, and was voted as the 2nd best umpire in all of baseball by the players in 2006. His resume is impressive to say the least.

Yet for all the accolades, and solid work he has put in, he got the one call wrong that cost a pitcher in his 3rd year as a starter, a perfect game. I feel worse for Joyce than I do for Gallaraga.

This event has forced Commissioner Bud Selig to re-evaluate the umpiring system, and to look further into the use of instant-replay. He has to say these things, due to the outcry over one blown call at the worst possible time. To me, it's an over-reaction. The game is fine. There is no need to re-evaluate the job the guys in the blue shirts do. They do their jobs very well.

Something to think about here. What if Donald had actually beaten the throw, but was called out? What would you be saying today about Jim Joyce? You would be calling him unethical, and biased. What you can call him today, after admitting his mistake, is a professional.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is it really June?

May was a blur. What happened? Let's take a quick look.

-The Charlotte Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in their history.
-Rory McIlroy won the Quail Hollow Championship, thanks to going -16 under par on the weekend, iced with a cool 62 on Sunday.
-The NASCAR Hall of Fame flung open its doors to the public, and its first five inductees.
-Kurt Busch pulled the Cup Series double at Charlotte Motor Speedway, winning the Sprint All Star Race, and the Coca Cola 600.
-Kyle Busch won the Truck series race at Charlotte, and managed to begin 2 different feuds with 2 different drivers. One of those drivers is a teammate.

June has begun, which means the school year is winding down, and summer is close at hand. A few thoughts on this overcast Tuesday.

The University of North Carolina baseball is in the NCAA Tournament. Normally, this is not news. This year it is, because the Tar Heels weren't invited to their own conference tournament. Now, for the record, Carolina finished their regular season quite well, but simply didn't win enough conference games to earn a spot in the tournament. Still, the NCAA saw fit to invite UNC to the Norman, OK region.

Personally, I'm not a fan of inviting a team that didn't earn a spot in its own conference tournament. I would say the same if it were Duke, Wake or NC State. The loser in all this is Boston College. They earned a berth in the ACC tourney, but were left out of the NCAA's in favor of UNC. UNC played a tougher schedule, held a high RPI ranking, did everything they had to do, except win enough games to make the ACC event. UNC went 36-20 on the season. By way of comparison, the Charlotte 49ers went 39-17, won the Atlantic-10 regular season title, but lost to St. Louis in the A-10 tournament final, and they are sitting at home. It's an inexact science to say the least, and there will always be a team or two that feel they got overlooked, while someone less deserving (in their eyes) got in.

The MJ v. Kobe debate was brought up again on local sports radio on Tuesday, with the question of "which one is better?"

I've said it before, and I will say it again. Michael Jordan was the best NBA player I have ever seen, and the best the game has ever seen. Kobe Bryant is a wonderful talent, and he is the best of his NBA era, but Jordan ruled his. Period.

Kobe has been aided by a nice supporting cast, something Jordan didn't have until the Chicago Bulls began winning titles. Jordan was flanked by the likes of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman (among others) when they were winning rings. He also had to carry the likes of Orlando Woolridge, Wes Matthews, Quintin Dailey, Granville Waiters, Earl Cureton, Sedale get the idea...before the run of six championships in eight years.

MJ elevated the play of his teammates--and many of them early on were guys that needed to elevate just to compete with him. Kobe has had nice complimentary players, and he has been a star, but in his prime, he would have been no match for Jordan in his. Case closed.

Finally, two games into the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks lead the Philadelphia Flyers 2-0 in their best of seven series. The Blackhawks winning game one 6-5, then game two, 2-1. What has been learned from the opening two games? Both teams can play wide open, or they can play a physical, grind it style of hockey. Both goaltenders have been tremendous (Michael Leighton for Philly, Antti Niemi for Chicago), and while Chicago holds a comfortable lead, game three will be the tell-tale game. If Chicago skates away from that one with a 3-0 series lead, Philly will be hard pressed to pull a rabbit out of the hat again. The Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Boston in these playoffs, but doing it against Chicago would be a much tougher feat. If it's 2-1 after game three, there will be lots of hockey left to play.

More on the Finals throughout the week, make it a good one.

Mike Solarte

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