Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Years' Eve....sports style

Well, the 2011 calendar is winding down, so here now, some New Year's Eve resolution suggestions for the sports teams and athletes around the state.

The Carolina Panthers should resolve to stay the course. The pieces are in place for this team to be a playoff contender for years to come. Starting next year.

The Charlotte Bobcats should resolve to find a way to get Cam Newton to every home game, and sit him with Michael Jordan. That way, when pictures of Newton and MJ hit the wire services, the name "Charlotte Bobcats," will continue to circulate. If anyone knows how to brand things, it's Jordan. Get on that.

The Charlotte Knights should resolve to get a shovel in the ground on their new Uptown ballpark. I know they have been resolved to this for years. I would then suggest that the shovel be presented to Jerry Reese when they are finished. Along with a season ticket. And a smile.

The Charlotte Checkers should resolve to doing all they can to further enhance their relationship with the Carolina Hurricanes. Problem with that is so many Checkers players are being recalled to the big club, it might be hard to recognize the Checkers before long. Such is the price of minor league sports. Still worth a trip to TWC Arena to see them, no matter who is in the lineup.

The North Carolina Tar Heels should resolve to stay healthy in hoops, and stay committed to the promises of making the football program something they can be proud of once again. The scandal has tarnished not just football, but the school to a certain extent. Gotta reclaim that image.

For Wake Forest, their resolution should be to keep Jim Grobe as their Head Football Coach (and I am not saying he is in danger of being let go, but could be courted again for another job).

For NC State, resolve to keep the momentum high from the Belk Bowl win, and push the program to new heights. Also, pack the RBC Center for the basketball team. They work hard. Represent.

For Duke, well, David Cutcliffe should resolve to continue making those bold pre-season prognostications. One day, maybe next year, he'll be right.

Finally, my own New Year's resolution, just for you. I resolve to do everything I can to keep this blog fresh, and give you a reason to check out Sports Night every night on News 14 Carolina. I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Happy New Year,

Mike Solarte

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another lead up in smoke for Panthers

The 4-9 Carolina Panthers continue to drop games, even after holding a lead through the first half, and sometimes behind. The latest example, coming Sunday against Atlanta. Carolina held a 23-7 lead at halftime, only to surrender 24 unanswered points in the final 30 minutes and lost 31-23.

All season long we've watched this team do so many good things through the course of a game, only to see the end result come up in defeat. There is a common thread in the losses, and that would be turnovers. In all 9 losses, Carolina has committed at least one turnover. In the 4 wins, the Panthers committed none.

The turnovers, in my opinion, were not the root cause of the loss to Atlanta, although they certainly didn't help. This loss comes down to coaching. Sure, the players play, but Carolina got worked in the coaching department, especially in the second half.

Head Coach Ron Rivera preaches that his team needs to 'find that killer instinct,' and 'find a way to put teams away in the second half.' Earlier this year, he recalled a story about former teammate Dan Hampton, who said once the Chicago Bears had a team in a hole, that it was "time to grab them by the collared shirt, and drag them through the gravel." Sunday was a PRIME opportunity to do that, and Carolina let the Falcons spread their wings, instead of clipping them.

Why do I say that? Well, it is simple. Carolina got the football back late in the first half, and when facing a 3rd down and 2 situation, Carolina chose to run a play that looked more like a first down call. The Panthers had a dynamic force in Cam Newton. This guy can gain two yards on his own in a variety of ways. Yet, the Panthers went conservative. The play call, a run off the left side of the line, went nowhere (in fact, it went backwards for a loss of one), and led to a punt.

That play may not have meant much in the big picture, statistically, but the fact the "go for the throat" Panthers decided it was best to hold the lead, rather than try to press the Falcons was a bad message to a young team trying to find its identity.

In the second half, the Panthers defense was worked over as Atlanta went no-huddle for most of the half. The Panthers could not get proper personnel groups on the field, and with that Falcons offense, they were going to have success. It fell on the shoulders of the offense to do their part to play keep-away from Atlanta's offense, and with three 3-and-outs, and two interceptions, it wasn't getting done. Certainly credit is due to Atlanta for making adjustments, but the Panthers seemed to make none.

Still, this is another lesson learned for all involved. Newton knows not to try and make ill-advised, left-handed, underhanded desperation tosses in the future. He will learn control of that howitzer attached to his shoulder (the 2nd pick was a sailed pass over a receivers head). The defense will learn learn better coverage schemes, and most of all, the coaches will learn that football is much like a chess match: you have to think 2-3 moves ahead. You have to be ready for whatever the opposition is going the throw at you, and be ready with a couple of counter-punches. It will come, but if blame is going to be assessed, this one falls on coaching. Yes, there were players at fault for missing a tackle, or blowing an assignment, but overall, this is a coaching loss.

Hats off to Steve Smith on his 6 catch, 125 yard effort in the. Smith became the 35th receiver in NFL history to reach the 10,000 yards mark in career receiving. He gave credit to the QB's that have thrown him passes in his career, as well as his receiving corps mentors. For a guy that has had his share of greatness on the field, and as he admitted, some bonehead issues off of it, he remains the same guy. There is something to be said for that.

Want to send a shout out to Connell Maynor and the Winston-Salem State Rams football team, that came up 7 points short of reaching a national title game in football. According to coach Maynor, his team was disrespected by many folks, and all they did was roll to a final 13-1 record. His team was good enough. His team played fast, and physical, and were entertaining to watch. Most of all, he got his kids to give max effort on every play. Sadly for the Rams, I am not sure how long they will have him there, as good coaches find their way through the ranks. I am not saying he is leaving right now, but I would recommend that Rams fans enjoy him while they have him.

Finally, congratulations to the Charlotte 49er men's soccer team for their wonderful run through the NCAA tournament. From what I saw of the match, which admittedly was the 2nd half, Charlotte dominated UNC. The Heels had, in my estimation, two legit scoring chances, and cashed in on one. They had a cross that was headed across the face of the net, and then the only goal of the game, a slick top-spin shot that was, in a word, perfect. The ball is stopped if it is kicked with less pace, and sails high if it carries too much pace.

Still, the 49ers came in unheralded, and most of all, unappreciated in the college soccer community. Head Coach Jeremy Gunn and his players did a terrific job of putting the program on the national map. Again, major hat-tip to them. It was a fun ride.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday nuggets...

Carolina Panthers looking ahead to their Sunday meeting with Atlanta, and they'll go in without DT's (yes, plural) Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. Both players suffering injuries in Tampa Bay, severe enough to end their seasons. Panthers signed Jason Shirley off the practice squad, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo to the roster, and former NC State DT Demario Pressley to the practice squad.

This is a serious blow to the Panthers defense. Even though Fua and McClain are rookies, they had played every game this season, and were really getting comfortable with the scheme, as well as NFL life. Perhaps this is a good thing, as the first year duo may have been running into the wall a little bit. The Panthers are thinking long term about goals, so in that vain, that's likely how they are looking at this.

Also, keep in mind, the Panthers only had McClain available in Tampa, and that was only for the first half. Yet the defense did a solid job against the run. They'll need more of that this Sunday with Michael Turner rolling into Bank of America Stadium.

UNC football appears to be on the brink of naming Larry Fedora as their next Head Coach. Other than his win over Houston, I know very little about him. I do know he's a native of College Station, TX, which incidentally is where Texas A&M is located. The Aggies apparently have some interest in him, and if Fedora chooses Chapel Hill over his hometown, that would say a lot about what UNC is offering.

It would also say a lot about the coach. Fedora (or whoever would take that job), will be walking into a situation that would be considered less than desirable. The school is going to face sanctions of some kind, whether its the one's they imposed on themselves, or something from the NCAA. Fedora, and other coaches know this. They know that there will potentially be some lean times. They know it will be a tough assignment to keep Carolina trending upward.

Listening to talk radio on Wednesday morning, I had to laugh hearing some of the e-mails read on air. One UNC fan wrote in saying he opposed the Fedora hiring because a coach with 4 years Head Coaching experience is "beneath" UNC. Did I miss a memo? When did UNC football win a basket of national title? Oh, that's right, never. UNC football was at its pinnacle (recently) with Mack Brown at the helm. His name was brought up during the radio conversation as well, with fans recalling his back-to-back 10-win seasons. A history lesson: Brown didn't leave UNC to take the job at Texas because UNC treated him poorly or he viewed the school as a "stepping stone" job. Brown left because after winning 20 games in 2 seasons, and not getting into a BCS game, he viewed UNC as a place that wouldn't garner national respect in football.

I don't dislike UNC at all, and I know people will perceive my thoughts as hateful. the facts are this: UNC CAN be a national power in football. Making that happen is the job of a Head Coach, his staff, and the right mix of players. UNC hasn't had that combination since Mack Brown, in 1996 and 1997. It will be up the next regime to try and lead them back there.

As for Everett Withers, I commend him on being the company guy. He did his very best, but only a national title would have helped him stay on as Head Coach. It's my opinion that anyone connected with the Butch Davis era will be gone by next season. That house cleaning simply can't be avoided.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hurricanes fire Maurice...and more

From a personal standpoint, I don't like the firing of Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice. There isn't a player in that dressnig room taht can look themselves in the mirror and say they have done all they could to help the team win.

From the professional side, this move just had to be made. The change at the top (Kirk Muller was hired later in the day on Monday to replace Maurice), might be what this team needs, and given the calendar, there is still plenty of time to turn things around.

Paul Maurice is a good hockey coach. He knows the game, and has a solid system. This Hurricanes team simply wasn't responding to the message any longer, and add in teh struggles of late, with the team losing 10 of their last 13, something had to give. If the coaching change doesn't wake this group up, expect even more changes down the road. Yes, I am talking about trades.

What do you know about Muller? Here's what I know. When Muller was a forward in the NHL, he was a guy I hated to see playing against my favorite team. He was tough, gritty, and talented around the net. He played with an edge, and I would suspect he will coach with one as well. No doubt, Muller was a guy I would love to see in my team's corbner, and I think Hurricanes fans will take a liking to him, once he gets acclimated.

Carolina Panthers picked up win number 3, a 27-19 decision over Indianapolis. It wasn't exactly easy, as the Colts were driving in the games dying minutes, but a timely interception by Sherrod Martin sealed the win. Not often to see the Panthers running Victory formation, but certainly a welcome sight. Test now is to maintain the good vibes against Tampa Bay this Sunday. Good thing for Carolina is that the Bucs defense ranks 31st in total defense, something the Panthers offense should be able to take advantage of.

Big weekend of hgih school football championship action coming up. The 4AA title game between Page (Greensboro) and Garner can be seen on news 14 Carolina with a 3pm kick from BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. ALL of the other state title games can be seen LIVE as well. Hope you can see the games, if you can't be there. Here is that schedule:

































Monday, November 21, 2011

The angry voice mail I got...

Came into work today, and found my voicemail light was glowing. The message was left by a viewer named Dave. Didn't catch his last name, but Dave was angry. Really angry. Sparing you the word-for-word message, Dave wants the media to call out the Panthers, and the coaching staff for the losses, specifically, the loss to Detroit.

One of his suggestions was for the media to simply "not talk," to the Panthers in the midst of the losing. As if the media not doing their jobs, would affect the team, and they would start winning.

Not an option.

Where was this anger last season, when they had an offense that couldn't get out of its own way? That was dead last in touchdowns, points scored, and other categories? THAT was the team to be angry at.

Look, I get it. I see Panthers fans every single day, and I understand the frustration. You want to see your team winning. So do I. Makes my job that much easier. A team that wins, is generally happy to answer questions from us, and be very easy to work with. When losses pile up, players don't look forward to media horde entering the room, microphones and notepads in hand. To this team's credit, they haven't dodged the questions (which have been repetitive). They understand the job.

Bottom line, this is a young team. Remember last season when only 2 players were on the roster over the age of 30? Much of that roster remains, and they are still young guys. Add into the mix the defense has been hammered by injuries. There are a lot of places excuses could be made, yet this bunch remains in games.

It isn't much help, Dave, I know. All I can offer in return is this: Troy Aikman went 1-15 as a rookie QB with Dallas in his first season. Dallas went on to big things after that. I'm not saying the Panthers will do likewise, but Cam Newton already has one more win in his rookie year than Aikman had.

Step away from the ledge. It could be worse. Like 2010 worse.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Panthers should be mad

I know I would be, if I were a player on that team.

I know that after being so close in so many games in the first half of the season, I would be mad at myself for not playing better against Tennessee last week, and absorbing the worst loss this team has endured this year.

I know that it would motivate me to try and get well against a Detroit team that is sitting at 6-3, but coming off of a brutal loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday. A loss that saw Chicago score a PAIR of touchdowns on defense )interceptions returned for scores), as well as a Devin Hester punt return for TD. The Hester thing has become all to common around the NFL, but 2 pick-sixes?

This Panthers team has talent, and they have heart. I would never question those attributes with this group of players. They work hard, and many guys are lean on experience. They are led by a first year Head Coach that has the chops for the job.

As someone that watches this team week in and week out, I want to see fire. I want to see guys reacting passionately when things go wrong. I want them to be mad when they get beat on a play, and then respond accordingly. Respond by buckling down, and playing harder. It's about determination. Will. Maybe guts, too.

This group, if they remain together, will accomplish great things in the future. There will be tweaks, and additions, but overall, there is enough talent in that room to be a playoff team in multiple years. They have to find the way there. The road to the top is never an easy one.

Consider these the bumps that it takes to get there.

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 14, 2011

NBA lockout heads to courtroom

The NBA season now teeters on the brink, after the NBPA rejected the league's latest proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement on Monday, and then filed a "disclaimer of interest," which essentially dissolves the players union.

What does it mean?

Hello, courtroom.

The players held a press conference on Monday afternoon announcing the move, and in that time, they said the negotiation process had completely broken down, and that this was their only move.

It is hard to not come off as taking a side when you write a blog on the subject, but I really don't think I'll have that problem. In not taking a side, I can easily assess blame to both sides. The players have given back (reportedly), on many key issues, mainly 7 full percentage points on that magical Basketball Related Income number (BRI for simplicity purposes). Each point represents a significant amount of money, and the players giving that back to the owners was a substantial release. The players wanted other concessions in order to soften the blow, and the owners were not willing to give in more.

In my humble opinion, the players have moved towards a resolution, but only so far. the owners have moved towards a solution, but again, only so far. Where they have failed to meet, is in the middle. Ultimately, this deal will get done with BOTH sides having to sign off on a deal that is not perfect for either. Thing is now, it's heading to court with anti-trust lawsuits and lawyers, and all the stuff that are sadly becoming more and more of a presence in the games we love.

Should the players accept less than 50 percent of the BRI? I say no. Should they have a bigger piece than 50 percent? I would say yes, but how much? Basketball games do not produce a tangible thing. A widget doesn't come from a game. A stereo, a tv, a car, none of those things. This is all about entertainment. The tangible result of a sporting event is the outcome of the game. A winner and a loser. That's it.

There is no game without players, and there is no league without owners. Certainly, the sides understand that. The GAME is the product. The game is what people shell out their hard-earned dollars to go see. So to me, the players could stand to get a piece of the pie SLIGHTLY larger than 50 percent.

But, with the understanding that players don't have a place to play without the owners, I see why ownership would say they deserve more, since they are taking the financial risk of ownership, which involves meeting payroll, marketing, paying support staff, and all that.

Why is this so contentious? Here's why. The players don't believe things are so bad the system needs to be blown up. The owners feel that the current business model means they would continue to lose money. It has been reported that NBA owners would loss LESS money if a season isn't played at all, so what incentive do they have to get a deal in place now? The answer is none. If it costs less to not play, why would they rush and take a deal they didn't like or want?

How quickly this gets resolved will depend on both sides realizing that they are going to have to choke down a deal that won't taste good to them. Owners and players alike. All the blustering and posturing is going to do is isolate the fans further and further away from the NBA. Unlike the NFL, people will find other things to watch, rather than feel like they are missing out on the NBA.

Me? I miss the NBA. I miss watching the games, and even shooting them from my seat on the floor. I will miss the games that aren't being played, and at some point, the fans will too. Until then, the general reaction from people about this work stoppage is that it's "millionaires arguing with billionaires," and there's no greater disconnect for people in this current economy than that.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State fires Paterno

I made a passing mention of the Penn State situation in the last post, and with the developments of Wednesday, here's a little more.

The Penn State Board of Trustees fired Head Coach Joe Paterno on Wednesday night. The Board making the move, along with removing President Graham Spanier in one swoop. To me, this is the first of many removals from within the football program.

The shake-up has fans of the team unhappy, saying Paterno had done what was required of him, in reporting what he was told to his superiors. That much is absolutely true. He reported it to those above him.

He wasn't fired for that. He was fired for not doing more.

I made the comparison on Twitter last night (, that Paterno ends up being the real-life equivalent of the two Marines in the film "A Few Good Men." I forget their rank in the movie, but Downey and Dawson (movie spoiler coming) end up being dishonorably discharged from the Marines for "conduct unbecoming of a United States Marine." In the confusion of the verdict, Dawson explains why they were kicked out. It was because, in his movie line, "we were supposed to fight for those who can't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie."

Paterno didn't fight for the children, alleged to have been sexually assaulted by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. That was Paterno's undoing in all this. Paterno wielded more power at Penn State than many would believe, and as a result, when he saw that things weren't being taken care of in the legal system, he should have stepped up the pressure. He should have taken a more active role in seeing that the law got involved.

Instead, he likely felt he had done enough, and carried on, and the school's decision was their decision. In the end, that was the wrong tack to take.

Paterno is not the victim here. Some would say that since he didn't do more, he could actually be viewed as complicit. I'm not sure about that, but I find it hard for folks to defend Paterno and say he shouldn't have been fired. Fact is, anyone at Penn State that had connections to Sandusky, or even had some whisper knowledge of the incidents should be gone as well.

This situation, however, is not about football players, or games, wins or losses, and final scores. This whole thing started when one adult allegedly preyed on young boys, and allegedly committed crimes that are simply unimaginable to me.

There are failures at many levels of this story. Paterno may not have committed the crimes, but he simply couldn't be allowed to stay on his capacity. As the Nittany Lions Head Coach, Paterno was nearly identical to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. When people think of Duke, they think Coach K. When people think of Penn State, they would think of Paterno.

Those days are officially over, as Penn State's image has taken a monumental hit. How the school recovers from this all is anybody's guess.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Panthers, NASCAR and Smokin' Joe

Tuesday Quick Hits:

- Carolina Panthers are back after their bye week, and they have 8 games left to make something of this season. No doubt, the 2-6 record marks it as a failure, but ask the fan base, ad they will tell you this is the best 2-6 they have ever watched. They have been in every game, leading many of them in the 4th quarter. It's also safe to say that they have also not gotten a key break, or even made a break for themselves in those 6 losses. That comes with experience and confidence, both of which are simmering. When those commodities hit a rolling boil, the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with. I don't anticipate that happening this year, but the foundation is nearly in place. There are deficiencies on this current roster, but they are fixable, if only in the long term sense. I predicted 6 wins for this team at the start of the season, and I am standing by that. They might surprise me, and win more.

- NASCAR punished Kyle Busch with a $50,000 fine, and probation through the end of the year on Monday. That coming after he was parked for the remainder of the racing weekend at Texas, for his intentional dumping of Ron Hornaday under caution during the Camping World Trucks Series race on Friday night. Parking Busch for the Cup race on Sunday officially eliminated him from title contention (he was 7th heading into the weekend, but now he is mathematically out of it). While many will clamor that more should be done to Busch, my take is they have done enough. This time. If Busch doesn't get the message from NASCAR that acts like these (and there have been others in recent memory to support his pattern of mindless behavior on the track) will not be tolerated, I don't know what will get through to him. Hornaday could have been seriously injured (or worse). The financial cost to Kevin Harvick Incorporated (the team Hornaday was driving for), as well as to his own truck series team for the damage is substantial. Bigger than all of that, however, is his reputation. Sure, many folks hate him, but sponsors love him when he is doing what he does best. Driving and winning. Kyle Busch is talented, in my opinion he is one of the top 5 drivers in the Cup series. When he acts like he did Friday, though, he is a major liability to not only himself, and his competitors, but his sponsors who attach their names, products, and ultimately dollars to him. Tough assignment for Joe Gibbs, because he has had Kyle's back in so many other instances. Standing by him through this one won't be pleasant. And it shouldn't be pleasant for Kyle either. It just shouldn't involve him losing his job.

- I am not about to whip out the broad brush on the Penn State situation as to who is responsible, at fault, etc. Bottom line in that case is this. Wrongs were committed, and proper authorities apparently were not involved. Someone is to blame, and it ultimately will cost Joe Paterno his lofty spot in the coaching world, along with his job. I have been of the opinion that Paterno should have left the game years ago, as he went through some lean times in Happy Valley. The game seemed to have passed him by. In this case, though, many will blame him for not being more diligent in informing those who could have affected the alleged situation(s), and perhaps prevented recurring instances. Sadly, those folks are correct.

- Finally, Joe Frazier passed away at the age of 67 years old. Many young sports fans may not know what Frazier meant to the global sporting landscape. In simplest terms he was the complimentary piece to perhaps the greatest rivalry in all of sports for all time. Before you call me crazy for saying Duke-UNC or Ohio State-Michigan deserve the marquee for best rivalry, consider this. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought three times, in bouts that are considered by many to be the top 3 fights in heavyweight boxing history. Mix in the polar opposite personalities between the combatants, and what you had was real life Balboa-Creed (for you "Rocky" buffs). There was skill, heart, desire, toughness, and that not-so-subtle dislike between the two, it was the stuff of legend. Frazier lost just 4 fights in the ring during his career, and as tough as he was, he was unable to outpunch liver cancer. No doubt though, he was swinging until the end. RIP, Champ.

Mike Solarte

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Thoughts

Some observations:

I like the Panthers chances against Minnesota this weekend. The Panthers are feeling a little bit of confidence, but they are also that the difference between success and failure is just a play here or there. This is a team that is doing exactly what Ron Rivera has been preaching all season: learning.

They learned how to deal with adversity against Washington and overcame the mistakes (of which there were enough that could have swung the game in the Redskins favor). They made the plays they needed to get the job done. That will go a long way in their development as the season continues.

Interesting to note, that there are many national football folks who believe the Panthers are not out of the playoff picture at this time. Yes, they are 2-5, but a win Sunday heading into their bye week could be huge. A team that has suffered through some tough losses to good teams could easily fold up their tents and call it quits, but this bunch continues to progress. I personally am not convinced the Panthers will make the playoffs, but a win Sunday would get them back in the mix, even if it is on the periphery of the discussion.

The World Series will see its first Game 7 since 2002 on Friday night. I am a lifelong baseball fan, and what I watched into the wee hours on Thursday was epic. Two teams throwing haymakers at one another from the 8th inning on. Big at-bat after big at-bat, both teams finding a way to score runs when the heat was at its height. Just beautiful to watch.

I am bothered, though, by the haters out there ripping Joe Buck for his home run call of Brian Freese in the 11th. His "we will see you tomorrow night," was word for word, the same as his father Jack Buck from 1991, when Kirby Puckett's extra-inning homer to win Game 6 over the Atlanta Braves, forcing a World Series Game 7. It was akin to Buck's call of Kirk Gibson's homer for the Dodgers to beat Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. It's the stuff that is built into the lore and magic of baseball's post-season.

People are unhappy that the call wasn't original. Really? I have a message to the haters: Get a Life. Seriously. What a great tribute to not only his father, but a legendary broadcaster. Had Joe borrowed something from Vin Scully or Jon Miller, or even the late Ernie Harwell, I would understand people being a little unhappy. Joe Buck kept it in the family, and as the situation was virtually identical (the game was played outdoors, rather than in a dome is about the only difference), it was fitting. Simple, direct, and dramatic.

Given all that Joe has been through healthwise, cut him a break. And then after you've done that, get out of your basement and see the world. Or just your little corner of it.

We'll see you tonight on Sports Night at 10.

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 24, 2011

The first step?

The Carolina Panthers have a record of 2-5, with win number two coming Sunday over Washington. Head Coach Ron Rivera has been preaching for weeks that when his team breaks through and finishes games, it's going to be special.

Without getting too far ahead of things, I would have to say he's right.

The Panthers overcame their worst enemy on Sunday, themselves, and handed the Redskins their worst loss of the season. The Panthers tried to boot his one away in the first half, by committing nine penalties, costing them 70 yards in field position. For the game, Carolina was flagged 13 times for 105 total yards, something that has to be addressed.

Other than that, it was all pretty good. The Panthers may have caught a break when RB Tim Hightower went down with a knee injury. He was on his way to a 100 yard effort on the ground, which is becoming a pattern for opposing running backs (creeping up on 100 yard games), but Carolina was able to weather their own mistakes and get a win.

Next up, Minnesota, a team that looked dead in the water until two weeks ago. They have become competitive in that short span, now that they have turned to rookie QB Christian Ponder. He hasn't cured all of their ills, but he took the Vikings to a six point loss to Green Bay on Sunday. Adrian Peterson ran wild on the Packers for 175 yards on 24 carries. Carolina's main focus on defense is limiting Peterson as best they can.

Yeah, I know. Cam Newton.

Folks, we are running out of adjectives to describe Newton. He played very well, once again, this time racking up a TD run, TD pass, and QB rating of over 127...his best so far. Biggest number found in his statline was "0." As in zero turnovers. A huge boost in helping a team avoid beating itself.

The one thing I truly admire about Newton isn't his running ability, or his arm, or even his poise. It's the FUN he is having between the lines. Even when the Panthers are trailing in a game, he's slinging it, he's running, and in all of it, he's smiling. Watch the way he runs out of the pre-game tunnel. Touchdown celebrations are generally a joyous moment, but with Newton, the eruption is so genuine, it's contagious. Even though the Panthers have just two wins, it is safe to say that Newton is the guy that will help in the team's resurgence over time.

In other sports news, the World Series is tied 2-2 after Texas evened things up with St. Louis on Sunday night. I had to go back to game two, however, for the post-game bashing Albert Pujols was taking for not coming up with a throw from right field in the 9th inning. Just to reset it, the Cards led 1-0 in the top of the 9th, Texas would get a runner on first (who then stole second), and then the next batter rips a single to right. A ball hit too sharply to score the runner from second, the throw into the infield got away from Pujols, allowing the batter to advance to second. A pair of sacrifice flies later, and teh Rangers had the lead, and then the game.

Maybe it was just me thinking this, but it seemed like a lot of folks couldn't wait to get into the batter's box to take their cuts at Pujols for not coming up with the throw in from right. Could he have made a better effort on it? Sure. There is also this. The pitcher could have made a better pitch, and the right fielder could have made a better throw in. The first baseman's job on a throw into home is to act as an aiming point for the outfielder, as well as the cut-off man. If the throw will be late, the catcher directs the cut-off man to intercept the trow and make a play to another base (if a play is there to be made). Pujols didn't come up with the throw, moving the eventual game winning run into scoring position.

Pujols was then unavailable for comment following that game, and got ripped for that, too. If I am Pujols, I am ready to see what teams out there would want my services. It's pretty clear that one of, if not the best players in the game over the past decade has run his course in one of America's best baseball cities. There is no appreciation left for him, even after he belted three (yes, three) homers in game 3 in Texas.

Where he ends up is anybody's guess, but given his on-field resume, and his charitable work off of it, Pujols would be a welcome addition in ANY major league town.

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Open Letter to the Panthers

Dear Panthers,

The time has come to turn the corner, guys. It really has.

Through five weeks, you have proven that you can hang with any team on your schedule, some tougher (Green Bay), than others (Jacksonville). There is no shame in the losses. Sure, losing sucks, but this is a far cry from the losses that piled up last year. A year ago, you guys looked great going into the national anthem. It was generally all downhill from there.

That's not what we see now. Now, we see a team that has been invigorated by a breath of fresh air. It no longer "is what it is," it is what promises to be. It's a fan base that holds their breath every time Cam Newton has the ball in his hands. Not because they worry he's going to throw it to the opposite jersey color, but because more often than not, he takes your breath away. The fans want that breath to cheer with.

Still, the reality is that the record is 1-4. In each of the losses, there has been one deficiency to point at as the culprit. One week it's no success in the red zone, another was the inability to stop the run. This week, it was coaching decisions (the timeout before the half, and the call to throw on 3rd and 2 in the 4th qtr, when a first down keeps the ball, and the clock moving). Yet throughout all of that, all four losses have come by a combined total of 22 points, or just over 6 points per game.

Last season, the offense couldn't get out of its own way. Now, the offense is searching for another field to conquer. The defense has been good at times, dreadful at others. This defense, though is missing 3 key players that were counted on at the start of the campaign, and have had other players miss a game here or there, due to injuries, namely concussions. There is blame to be had, and not one of the defenders would shy away from accepting his share. That is a quality group of high character guys.

There is plenty of character on offense as well, don't get me wrong. It's a good collection of young players that continue to grow week in and week out. The fact remains, that being close to wins only carries you so far. The late great "Bum" Phillips, former coach of the Houston Oilers once spoke at post-season rally for his team. A team that came up short of their Super Bowl destination. He summed up his teams' journey for the previous seasons by saying, "two years ago, we found the door, this year, we knocked on the door, and next year, we're gonna kick the son of a b$#^@ in!" This Panthers team is capable of kicking the door in.

Time to find your boots, gentlemen.

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 3, 2011

Frustration is good, if improvements follow

The Carolina Panthers dropped a 34-29 decision to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, sinking their record to 1-3, and leaving a stinging sense of frustration within the team.

To that, I say, good.

No, I am not happy the Panthers are frustrated, in fact I am glad that they are. It shows the guys in the room care about what is going on. It's a different sense of what was going on in that dressing room last year. Instead of frustration, it was more hopelessness. It was a feeling of, "we are trying, but we just don't have what it takes." This year's team clearly has what it takes, it just isn't executing when it matters most.

I am sure fans are getting tired of seeing this week in and week out. Making a lot of plays, just not making enough of them. Here's the rub: the players are tired of it, too.

I like the fact these guys aren't happy about losing. I like the fact that these guys are felling empty inside after dropping close game after close game. The true question is, will it motivate them, to a man, to step their game up a little bit more? Only the Green Bay Packers are making things look easy. Carolina is making giving games away look easy. And by giving games away, I mean, not finishing.

One quarter of the season is in he books. While it hasn't been nearly as ugly as last year (in fact, it's been rather enjoyable to watch), there are no pictures in the box score. What will it take to turn those losses into wins? It falls in this order: tighten up the defense, tighten up the special teams, and keep the offense doing what it's doing.

I'm not laying the blame at the feet of the defense, because they are doing all they can with what they have, and as we've known throughout the season, back into training camp, the defense is thin. that deep linebacking corps is being tested with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both on the shelf for the season. It's being tested with their rookie defensive tackles. It's being tested with a young secondary. The Panthers have horses on defense, but could use some thoroughbreds. They may have some in the making (thoroughbreds), but right now, they are not up to NFL standard. That will come with experience, but there is one unavoidable truth in all of this.

The Panthers should not be 1-3 at this point of the season. A case could be made for them being 4-0. They lose by 7 to both Arizona and Green Bay, outswim Jacksonville and then come up short against Chicago. The loss to the Bears stings a bit more, because Carolina dominated Chicago on both sides of the ball for about three quarters. The Bears rushing attack owned the fourth for the home team, ultimately leading to the win. Carolina's troubles in stopping the run when it mattered hurt them in the end, but there were missed opportunities once again. A blocked field goal, and missed field goal (came up short from 52 yards, but 6 feet further and it's on the board), and other chances to sustain drives (2-12 on 3rd down conversions), will do that to a team. It is frustrating.

For a fan base that watched their team sink to the bottom of the league over a two year stretch, the losses are better than the ones from last year, however, they won't continue to be so patient. Playing good, and contending for wins is one thing, but ultimately teams are judged by wins and losses. Four games in, the new look Panthers are a frustrated 1-3.

Pretty soon, the honeymoon with all the newness will fade, and the wins will be expected, and they should be.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Newton is Top Rookie

The first of what will likely be a truckload of honors for Cam Newton this season rolled in on Thursday, as he was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. Hands down, the top rookie in the league over the first 3 weeks of the season. This just in: Newton is good. At least as good as advertised, if not better. Congrats to him, and the rest of the offense for getting him some run.

Panthers facing Chicago in week 4, and this one promises to be a good one. If Carolina has done nothing else, they have shown that they will compete until the gun sounds at the end of the 4th quarter. They were finally rewarded with a win against Jacksonville, and Carolina hopes it can be cyclical.

Back to the previous blog post--I stand by my prediction, the Panthers could have blown the Jaguars up, had it not been for a monsoon. It was like the storm cloud floated to the stadium, saw the game, and decided it would be fun to watch. Jacksonville's lone touchdown came during the driving rain in the 2nd quarter. Give Blaine Gabbert credit for being able to make that throw in that soup. Head Coach Ron Rivera would later say his team needed to defend that kind of play better.

When it comes to Chicago, stopping Matt Forte will be key, and keeping Jay Cutler uncomfortable will also be paramount. Offensively, Carolina has to contend with Julius Peppers up front, which is an all day job. Look for the Panthers to allow Peppers to over-pursue, and try to hurt Chicago with dump-offs to running backs.

Carolina also has to pay particularly close attention in special teams with Devin Hester returning punts. Makes for a long afternoon if you have to punt to Hester all afternoon, but keep this in mind: the Panthers have proven they can move the football, and if they are able to do that, run the clock to their advantage, Carolina has as good a chance as any to win this one.

Having to make a prediction: Give me Carolina 20-17 over Chicago.

Quick NASCAR hit, can anyone stop Tony Stewart? He's won both races to start the Chase, has the points lead, after starting off tied for 9th with 2000 points (all Chase drivers started with 2000 points, with 3 points added per regular season win). Heading into Dover, Stewart leads by just 7 points, but with the new system, 7 is nice. Not comfortable, but nice. Dover will be a key race in the Chase, but the true wildcard in the playoffs will come in Talladega, the week after the series runs at Charlotte.

Race prediction: This is the week the #48 teams gets on track to make a run at title number 6. Give me Jimmie Johnson on the Monster Mile.

Mike Solarte

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spraying to all Fields

Been too long between posts (my bad). Thoughts on a variety of topics.

Look for the Carolina Panthers to get their first win of the season Sunday against Jacksonville. I have noticed this team turning a little edgy, and who could blame them. They deny it, because they know the reality is that they are winless, but they honestly feel they they should have the reverse record. Give Head Coach Ron Rivera a lot of credit. In a short amount of time, he has a team that still has plenty of players from last years disaster of a season believing they can compete with anyone. More than that, they are doing it. Jacksonville could get crushed on Sunday. Seriously.

Thoughts out to Panthers LB Thomas Davis, who is out for the season after suffering a third tear of the ACL in his right knee. The guy has so much heart and determination, it's a shame that he has been hit with this again. I'm not calling his career over. No way. The guy has too much desire and love of the game to write him off. When he does eventually retire, it will only be because he says its over. Until that time, he's an NFL player, just on IR.

On Saturday, I was railing on my twitter account (@MikeSolarte) about the Maryland Terrapin uniforms. I can't sugar coat it--those things are hideous. I lay the blame on Oregon (and Nike CEO Phil Knight). No school should have more uniform combinations, than offensive sets in their playbook. Oregon, your colors are green and gold. Maryland, you guys sport red, white and black. Stick to it. Duke, you aren't exempt either. Ditch the black based basketball uni's and stay with the blue. It looks better, and doesn't make people wonder who is on the floor.

Tough loss for UNC against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Heels fought back from a deficit, and tied the game at 28. Giovani Bernard is a pleasure to watch. Untimely mistakes, and Georgia Tech's ability to move the ball cost the Heels a win. Not the end of the world, as this team will learn from it all. Losing isn't fun, but the Heels played well enough to win. They just came up short. And stop with the "justice" thoughts about the 10-second run off at the end of the game. The NCAA changed the rule after last year's bowl game, and they got bitten by it. Saying it's justice is nothing more than being a hater. I'm not a UNC "fan," just a fan of good games. This was a good game. Leave it at that.

Lastly, I'm hoping Webb Simpson can put up a nice 65 on Sunday to give himself a chance to win the Fed Ex Cup at the Tour Championship. He's had a monster year, and it would be pretty cool to see a homegrown talent (Raleigh native, Wake Forest grad, and now Charlotte resident), claim the big prize at the end of a breakout year.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 12, 2011

Confused by Panthers Euphoria in Wake of Loss

Excuse me, but I don't understand the Panthers euphoria over Sunday's game.  Yes Cam Newton was spectacular (a rookie debut record 422 passing yards and 2 touchdowns; & rushed for 18 yards and a TD), but last I checked Carolina came up 7 points short and lost the 2011 season opener.  If I may borrow a line from former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game!"  And after a lackluster 2-14 season, winning should be all that matters to the Panthers and those that cheer for them.  There are no moral victories in the NFL.

Look, I get it, Panthers fans are enthralled with Newton and they have every right to feel that way.  This team didn't score 21 points in a single game until week 7 last year when they got their first win versus San Francisco 23-20.  But Carolina was up 21-14 in the 4th quarter and couldn't hold on.  Not only that, they lost to a team they beat last year without Cam Newton.  Yes, fans want to see improvement, but when you have a chance to win -- especially on the road in the NFL -- you need to take advantage of it.

That is why I was so surprised by the excitement of the fans and even the media that cover this team in the wake of Sunday's defeat.  I can guarantee you no one in the Panthers locker room is patting themselves on the back after the loss.  Not the coaches, not the players and especially not Cam Newton.  A die hard Panthers fan told me he hoped the Panthers could win 6 games this season.  Certainly and improvement from last year's 2-14 campaign.  Well guess what, Sunday was one of the winnable 6.

--Jason Brown

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Panthers fall to Cardinals

It will go into the record books as a 28-21 loss to Arizona, but the Carolina Panthers did more in their opening 60 minutes than they did throughout, arguably, all of 2010.
First the obvious. Cam Newton had a ridiculous NFL debut. 24 of 37, 422 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT, and a QB rating of 110.4. His counterpart, Kevin Kolb put up a big day of his own, 18 of 27, 309 yards, 2TD and a rating of 130. Statistically, Kolb won the matchup, but Newton is a rookie, and looked as comfortable as he could be, given the compressed training camp schedule. He was pretty darn good.
While many are touting Newton's start (and they should), more cause for concern is the Panthers rushing attack, which mustered just 74 yards on 27 attempts. Eight of those attempts belonged to Newton, so the running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) came home with this: 19 carries for 56 yards. The Double Trouble tandem never got on track for a number of reasons. First, the cards loaded up for the run, mainly because the Panthers had killed them with it in the past, and second, they appeared to be blitzing on two of every four dons. I'm just offering that up as a reason why the ground game struggled. End of the day, it has to improve.
Defensively, the front line bent, but didn't really break, as Cardinal runners totalled 100 yards on the day. Officially, they got credit for 99 yards, with Kolb coming in at -1. Still, the birds didn't gash Carolina as many had feared coming in. What they did, however, was take advantage of the Panthers willingness to bring pressure, as evidenced on the Early Doucet touchdown. Five wideouts, covered by 4 with safety Jordan Pugh playing centerfield. Pugh needed to be playing short center (you softball players know that position), and Doucet simply outran everyone to the paint.
The Doucet TD was the first big gaffe, the second was the punt return for touchdown from Patrick Peterson. It looked like 4 players had Peterson surrounded when he caught the kick, and he just ran away from everyone. Special teams needs to be just that-special. They weren't on that one play, and that was the difference in the game. Please don't flood me with "bad blitz pick ups," because I'm not buying it. Arizona brought heat the whole game, and Carolina did a good job to pick them up most of the time. To Newton's credit, he held the ball, rather than make an ill-advised throw and possibly a pick.
The loss stings, but after last season, this game provided more than a glimmer of hope. It was one of those huge spotlights that car dealers in Chicago would use when they wanted to attract attention to their lots for sales. It was a massive searchlight in the sky. After a 2-14 campaign last year, Panthers fans have reason to believe this team will be competitive. They may not win much, but they will come out and battle each week. They'll need that same mentality next week, when Green Bay rolls into Bank of America stadium.
My guess is, they will bring that with them.
Mike Solarte

Monday, August 29, 2011

After Cincinnati, before Pittsburgh

Quick musings between games, as the Panthers get back after it on Thursday night.

I don't want to rail too much on this team, considering the body of work to this point has been done with a lot of guys in starting roles that are basically the 2's on the two-deep. Jon Beason, Jeff Otah, Geoff Schwartz and others have yet to play a down in the preseason. Beason just had a procedure on his achilles in the hopes he can be ready for the season opener on September 11 at Arizona. No guarantees on that, however. Otah has been back on the field for three straight days, which is a good sign. Looks like he may have to play through some knee pain this season (unless it's subsiding to where he doesn't notice it at all).

Are there mistakes? Yes, but they can be fixed. Some of them might disappear by plugging in the normal starter at the position in question. However, this team is running out of time to find a rhythm, especially on offense.

The defensive side of the ball has been tough to watch, and while some of it can be attributed to missing personnel, a lot of it comes down to fundamental errors. Again, mistakes that are correctable, but still being made. From my seat, I would agree with many of my colleagues that the Panthers will be looking for some veteran help at both DT and CB once teams begin cutting players (rosters down to 75 by Tuesday night, 53 by Saturday night).

Rivera said Monday he has yet to determine how long the starters will play on Thursday against the Steelers. My guess is one quarter max, but given the need for some continuity, they might go longer. In any event, the Panthers still have a long way to go, but a short time to get there.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Panthers-Bengals thoughts

Days away from the Panthers-Bengals in week three of the preseason. Couple quick hits on that one.

CAM NEWTON should have a good night. Cincinnati is beginning to resemble what the Panthers looked like last year. That's not good. I would think the offense will enjoy a night of success, with Newton finding receivers down field, and the running game getting some good work done. IF this happens, Newton is the week 1 starter against the Arizona Cardinals. If not, then Ron Rivera has a decision to make with his quarterbacks.

Good to see Jeff Otah back on the field on Monday. Hard to look at him and say he isn't missed. Figures lie and liars figure, but hard to argue what Otah means to the running game. Two years ago, when healthy, the Panthers ran at will. Over 2300 yards on the ground. Last year, they were stuck in neutral, just over 1800 yards rushing. Otah didn't play a snap last season. The sooner he gets ready, and playing, the Panthers become a force in the ground game. Let's also not forget Geoff Schwartz is on the mend as well, and his absence has been noticeable this preseason.

Defensively, the Panthers have to do something to shore up the DT spot. Corvey Irvin, Sione Fua, and Terrell McClain work hard, but will that be enough? Tough spot for new Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott to be in, but then again, with young guys come the chance for a coach to make a huge impression. After watching what Miami did last week, the feeling they can improve is very real. What would also help is the return of Jon Beason, who continues to deal with an achilles issue.

Overall, this team has been without some pretty big names through the exhibitions. Luckily, they haven't lost key contributors in those games (although losing DT Ron Edwards in camp certainly hurt). Here's hoping they get through Cincinnati in good shape. Plenty of tough decisions remain for the coaches.

Mike Solarte

Monday, August 15, 2011

Panthers - Giants, a review

A quick hit before heading to bed.

The Panthers showed lots of promise in their preseason opener with New York on Saturday night, but there are still things to be worked through. First the positives.


For a unit that went in without guys like Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn, the defense did well, allowing just 3 points to the Giants offense. They were active, the secondary did a nice job in coverage, and didn't allow Eli Manning a lot of time to throw the ball where he wanted to. It is the preseason, so teams aren't going to show a lot of their playbook, but on the surface, this was a solid outing. There are still questions about the depth at defensive tackle and in the secondary (locking down the right mix of cover corners), but overall, this unit performed well.


Throw out the ugly pick-six thrown by Jimmy Clausen (a mistake he owned up to in post-game), and this group was good. Clausen bounced back leading Carolina to their first offensive preseason touchdown in 2 years, and the running game didn't get as much work as some would have hoped, but again, this is the preseason. Have no fear that DeAngelo WIlliams, Jonathan Stewart and comp;any will get plenty of touches once the regular season rolls around. This unit was also without some star power, as Steve Smith did not play, along with Geoff Schwartz on offensive line. This group can be good, and as Ryan Kalil told me after the game, there are a lot of pages in the playbook yet to go in.

Cam Newton is slowly winning me over. I'm not ready to anoint him as the next great QB in the league, but he is showing he is able to pick up a much different offense than what he was used to at Auburn. I would venture a guess that he will start against Miami on Friday night, and play most of the first half (if not all of it). Clausen should see plenty of time in the 2nd half. Derek Anderson doesn't need a ton of work, but if he gets in a good number of reps to stay sharp, he will be ready to go. Anderson, so far, has been a solid mentor to the young guys. Certainly better than I anticipated he would be, and being wrong never felt so good to me. How long this can last is a mystery, because he wants to play, but so far seems like a good match for this group.


Not much to say with this group. Jason Baker did his job well, Olindo Mare boomed kickoffs, and didn't miss a field goal or extra point attempt. J.J. Jansen was rock solid on his delivery of the ball to Baker in kicking situations too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Hat tip to Armanti Edwards. No doubt he was put in a tough spot last year, and he responded in the offseason with his work as a receiver and punt returner. He looks to be the guy in line for the PR detail, and he showed some flashes on Saturday. Of course, he's still a work in progress. Mike Goodson's kickoff return skills were on display as well, and he's a hard, downhill runner with the rock in that spot as well as his running back details. Spoke to him after the game, and he was a little don about committing a fumble, but he knows he can improve there. Not to worry.

We'll see if they can maintain this momentum against Miami, who knocked off Atlanta in their preseason opener. Thing is, though, their first team was getting thumped by Atlanta, and the 2nd and 3rd teamers won them the game. Speaking of Miami, don't be shocked if Matt Moore wins the starters job in Miami. He looked good against the Falcons, and if he gets reps with the first team, it will be hard for Tony Sporano (I am so tempted to write "Soprano" when typing his name), to keep Moore off the field.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

4 days in, some observations

The Panthers wrapped up their lone workout on Tuesday, and are now off for 24 hours. Some quick thoughts on Panthers training camp so far.

1- It's really tough to assess just how good this team is going to be, because there are 20-plus players that are unable to take part in practices due to the new CBA rules. Guys like Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Greg Olsen, Charles Johnson, etc., have yet to take part in system installs, and such because they either signed contract extensions, or were acquired in trade. Since they did that, they weren't allowed to begin workouts until August 4th. Davis tweeted out on Monday night "Having to sit back and watch everybody else practice is for the birds. We need to get this agreement done. So the rest of us can go to work." It's understandable why he's so antsy, considering he hasn't taken part in a meaningful workout with the team in nearly two years. Once the Panthers get their regulars back, things will begin to take better shape.

2-The QB battle hasn't been much of one so far. Cam Newton has looked better than Jimmy Clausen in the early going. That may change, but Newton is displaying a wide variety of tools in his toolbox. One of them, his ability to escape. On Monday night, our cameras saw him pick up the rush, find a seam, and explode through it. It's an intangible that Clausen simply doesn't have. Not criticizing Clausen on this, but there are noticeable differences between the two, which, in my eyes, puts Newton ahead of Clausen.

3-Derek Anderson signed with the team on Monday night, and won't be able to workout with them until Thursday. I wasn't fond of the signing, because I felt there were better "teaching QB's" out there. I wrote in this space that Jake Delhomme would be the perfect fit, but Anderson's experience with Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski makes him a more natural fit, as his prior knowledge of the coach, and what the coach wants, will help Clausen and Newton in this very shortened window of training camp. Thing that scared me off of Anderson initially was his post-game blowup following a loss to San Francisco last season. I do, however, understand that we all have moments we wish we could have back. I'm guessing this is one such time for him.

No real thoughts on the defense just yet, as Beason, Davis and James Anderson (among others), have yet to hit the field. We'll know more after Thursday, and fans in Charlotte can get their first look (if they haven't gone to Spartanburg), on Saturday for Fan Fest at 4pm. Admission is free at Bank of America Stadium.

See you there!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So, how was YOUR Wednesday?

The sports landscape has a way of ebbing and flowing. Generally, a steady stream of items come across the desk, things which are considered normal.

Normal is far from the reality in the Carolinas these days.

The Carolina Panthers are spending money like Daniel Snyder, and the North Carolina Tar Heels fired Head Coach Butch Davis on Wednesday. While one situation isn't exactly unusual, the other makes me scratch my head. Can you guess which one? Don't worry, here comes the explanation.

The Panthers are the ones that are acting semi-normally. That's right. An organization known for its loyalty to players, continued to show that again on Wednesday. They made good on their conversations (I hesitate to use promises in pro sports), with their own players heading into the off-season, and were able to get Charles Johnson (on Tuesday), DeAngelo Williams, James Anderson and Thomas Davis to agree to new, long-term deals. These were all players tabbed as "priorities," for Carolina, and they wasted no time in getting them done. The next priority will be Jon Beason, but that is down the road.

Now, the loyalty comment takes a bit of a turn here, as the Panthers are expected to release kicker John Kasay on Thursday. For some, that will mark a sad time in Panthers history. The last remaining original Panther, and the franchise's all time leading scorer being shown the door rather unceremoniously. Kasay's contributions to the organization reach far beyond his kicks on the field. He was a steadying force in the locker room, a player that many of his teammates could quickly come to for support and guidance.

For others, Kasay's departure means a fresh start, with no ties to the old regime. It also means the Panthers (with the signing of K Olindo Mare on Wednesday), will carry just one kicker with them into the season, with Jason Baker handling the punting detail. It will free up new Head Coach Ron Rivera to carry another position player into the season on the roster. For Rivera, there is no attachment to the past. When John Fox came in, Kasay was handling all the kicking duties. Towards the end, Rhys Lloyd handled kickoffs, Kasay field goals. The signing of Mare eliminates the need for the KO specialist (unfortunate for Lloyd, who never got a shot at the field goal duties in Carolina). In the end, this decision is about the business of the game.

Carolina hadn't done much of anything in free agency the past few years, and the reason for that was obvious then, and even more so now. The franchise was preparing for the lockout by eliminating big contracts, and stockpiling salary cap room in anticipation of a new collective bargaining agreement. The Panthers HAD spent money in the past, so the fact they are doing it now isn't such a shock.

As for the Tar Heels, this is the head scratcher. This past weekend, Butch Davis was in Pinehurst at the ACC Football Kickoff, and spoke in optimistic tones about the season ahead. He talked about how the program was moving forward from the nasty academic and benefits scandal that scarred the university last year. The fact that just two days after those interviews were given, Davis is now out of a job makes you wonder. Why the delay?

If Davis was on the outs, and the school knew that was coming, why wouldn't they have done it say, back in December after the bowl game? This firing does not change the fact that the NCAA investigation into the program, and the school, was and is an embarrassment to the alumni of the school. The firing also now throws the upcoming season into a tizzy, as the school has eight whole days to name a successor, and begin preparations for the schedule.

This is to say nothing of the upcoming meeting with the NCAA in October, a meeting that Davis was eagerly looking forward to (in his words at Pinehurst), where it was thought the school could move beyond what had happened. Davis' firing is poorly timed, and likely could have saved the school further embarrassment, and potentially harsher punishments from the NCAA. The penalties stand to be severe, regardless of who the next Head Coach is.

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 25, 2011

Post-lockout football

The day is coming (perhaps as early as Monday), and once it begins, what will the Carolina Panthers do?
Of course, everybody has an opinion, so here's mine.
Sign, and then spend.
Sounds reckless, but it's true. The Panthers need to bring back DE Charles Johnson, RB DeAngelo Williams and LB James Anderson first (which is what they will likely be allowed to do). After that, target big ticket free agents that still have value. That;'s the catch. Finding the guys that are actually worth the rate and risk. Carolina has taken a two-year sabbatical on free agency, only bringing in 3rd and maybe 4th level guys in the past couple years (no doubt, looking down the road and seeing the current situation ahead of them back then).
Carolina's 2-14 record from a season ago, was due in large part to unproven, young players taking their lumps. There is talent there, but in order for those young guys to improve quickly, they need veteran leadership. I understand the notion of letting the kids grown up on their own, but you run the risk of continued lopsided losing seasons while waiting for that to happen.
Veterans last year would have helped immensely. Jimmy Clausen had no real mentor, and that's not a slight on Matt Moore. Moore was the elder statesman last season, with all 8 of his career starts at QB. Vet QB's came in when the ship was sinking (Brian St. Pierre, Keith Null), and they did a nice job of bucketing out some of the water, but not enough to turn things around.
Who are the free agents Carolina should target? Pick a position, and find the best guy. Carolina needs help in virtually every area. If the Panthers re-sign their own (the aforementioned players), they could get some help in the secondary (with the expected departure of CB Richard Marshall). They could also use some defensive line support (a veteran guy to show the young DT's the ropes), and perhaps a wide receiver to assist Steve Smith, or take Smith's place should he get traded (also a possibility).
Then there is the QB position. Jimmy Clausen is the incumbent starter, based on his experience last year. Cam Newton is the guy for the future. Who is their tutor? Given what the Panthers are likely going to invest in Newton, he needs a mentor on the roster. To me, the answer is simple.
Jake Delhomme.
Delhomme likely will be released by Cleveland, as the Browns won't be paying him back-up money now that they have settled in on Colt McCoy. Delhomme's best days under center are likely behind him, but is there a better guy out there, that the Panthers could bring in and be the team guy? Billy Volek would come to Charlotte, but he would likely be competing for the starting gig. Delhomme would compete as well, but he would also know that he is the 3rd guy. He would know that his job is to "Krash Davis" himself within the QB's (think Kevin Costner's character in "Bull Durham"). Teach them how to read NFL defenses, how to prepare, how to do all the little things. It's not glamorous, but he gets to keep coming to practice and getting paid to do it.
It's a thought, and to me it makes the most sense out of all the craziness that football fans have had to endure during this labor struggle.
Mike Solarte

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Lockout continues

NFL Owners ratified their own agreement, and then were saying they were confused as to why the players didn't instantly ratify it themselves.


While frustrating to fans (and media that have covered lockout ball, rather than off-season moves and looking ahead to actual games), the players are WELL WITHIN THEIR RIGHTS to carefully review a document that will take, in my estimation, 1200 of the 1900 players in the league through to the end of their careers. That number could actually be higher than 1200, I'm just guessing.

Fans need to remember that this situation happened when the owners locked the players out. The players didn't walk out on their jobs. They were locked out from their jobs.

From the folks I have spoken to, it does not seem likely that this current deal will be ratified by players before the weekend is over (although in this very fluid situation, that could change quickly). Truth be told, very few people outside the talks really KNOW what is going on. The players are holding the CBA right now, looking for the best deal possible, and I do think they will go with it, with some minor changes, but nothing that is a potential deal breaker.

The owners move to place the pressure on the NFLPA was applauded by one guy, Chad Ochocinco, on his twitter account, saying it was "well played," but the truth is, the players are in no rush to return to work. They didn't have the deadline of opening camps on time, getting games played. They'll get to an agreement when they feel comfortable they are being treated fairly. The delay only makes the fans angrier, but it comes to this: would you, John Q. Public, just sign a contract with your company because THEY said it was a good deal, or would you look it over first?

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Countdown to Kickoff? Quick thoughts...

Could it be that the NFL season will, in fact, be saved at the 11th hour? NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash saying Wednesday night that the paperwork should be in order that both sides can begin voting on it.

Let me throw this caution out there: just because it can be voted on, doesn't mean it will be voted on favorably. Of course, I have no reason to think the sides won't agree and get things rolling, but a cold splash of reality never hurt anyone.

It will be interesting to see what the players gave up, and how much the owners gained in all this. Still, both sides stand to make large sums of money from the $9 billion dollar pie, so it will be hard to feel sorry for any of them. At the same time, though, I hope both sides realize that this 4 month run of labor strife has left a stain on the NFL shield, and BOTH sides will have to work on removing it.

People who count on the NFL for their livelihood have endured 4 months of terror. Organizations that base fundraising efforts on the NFL have as well. Will fans be turned off after all of this, or will they come back in the usual numbers?

We'll see just how bullet-proof the NFL really is.

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kicked in the gut

Mention the game of soccer to the average American, and the response is generally lukewarm. For the most part, the average Joe has limited interest in the game. Most of the time, their interest stems from the teams on the field, and with Team USA in the Women's World Cup final, interest was higher than usual.

The Americans held 1 goal leads, twice in the game, only to see Japan erase the margins both times, force penalty kicks, and ultimately claim the Cup. It was a stunning defeat for an American side that many felt should win the game, and the tournament. The Japanese side finding a way, winning their first World Cup title, and lifting a wounded nation that has gone through so much.

What I found most interesting, though, were the reactions on Twitter. Some called the loss a "choke job." Others were proud of the effort. I wonder if those fighting for gender equity in sports, were ok with the notion of fans labeling the loss a "choke." More than that, I wonder if the person that called it a "choke," also says they don't care about soccer, or women's soccer for that matter. You can't say you don't care in one breath, and then call it a "choke," in the next. If you didn't care in the first place, then you have no opinion on the outcome.

Basically, there are more closet soccer fans out there than want to admit it. And that is ok by me. Follow my twitter timeline (@MikeSolarte) and you'll see some of the conversations I have. I'm not diehard, but I appreciate the game that my father taught me as a youngster.

Darren Clarke wins the 140th British Open at Royal St. George's, and I ask, could there have been a better winner? OK, sure Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson might have been better for American golf, but there were maybe two better stories than Clarke. One would have been English amateur Tom Lewis winning it (he opened with a 65 to tie for the round 1 lead, b ut faded and finished as low amateur at +9), or Tom Watson taking another Claret Jug. In the end, Clarke takes the win, his first major title, and it took him 20 tries at the British alone.

Why is Clarke so likable? He is you. He is me. He is a guy that likes to smile, have a good time, have a pint of Guinness now and again. His life isn't immune from reality. Five years ago, losing his wife to breast cancer. I couldn't imagine losing my best friend at the age of 37. He battled through it, offered counsel to Phil Mickelson when his wife Amy was diagnosed. He has had his highs, and lows in the game. Highs and lows in life. Yet he ambles on, striking the ball in Sandwich with surgeon-like precision. He earned that walk up 18, grin on his face, and even had enough of a cushion to bogey his final two holes, the last one on the 72nd hole giving him a chance to make a remark at someone on the edge of the green.

Clarke's win leads us back to the harsh fact, that no American golfer has won a major in the last seven. In fact, it's Northern Ireland 3, USA 0 in that span, thanks to Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and now Clarke. A promising sign was Mickelson's performance. Traditionally, Mickelson struggles in the British, but his T-2 finish with Johnson gives the USA some hope. Last chance this year to grab a major comes at the PGA Championship in Atlanta. Surely, some good old American grit can win out in what could be steamy conditions in the A-T-L, right?

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Baseball at the Break

Baseball finds itself at the halfway mark, and the biggest story of the year has already taken place. Derek Jeter shot through the 3,000 hit mark with a 5-for-5 performance. Hit number 3,000 coming on a homer. Fitting, of course, considering Jeter is a player that is, in my opinion, universally loved. Well, except by Red Sox fans.

Jeter has been the epitome of a baseball professional. He's been a true Yankee, following in the line of Dimaggio, Mantle, Maris, and so on. Thing is, his displays as a player haven't been confined to his time in the majors.

Once upon a time, Jeter was assigned to the Columbus Clippers (then the International League affiliate of the Yankees), on a rehab stint. Jeter appeared in just one game for the Clippers, before pronouncing himself ready to return to the majors. He played against the Durham Bulls in Durham. That night, Jeter went 2-for3 with a pair of doubles and a sacrifice fly. Not bad, right? It went beyond the box score.

After the game, Jeter stood at the short fence next to the visitors dugout, and signed autographs for nearly 45 minutes. The game ended, he just walked up the steps, Sharpie in hand, and began to write his name on anything placed in front of him. He engaged the kids, the parents, anyone that approached him. He knew his appearance in Durham meant a lot to a lot of people. He knew it was his duty to give something to those that would likely not be able to see him again. And he did it all with a smile.

I'm not a Yankees fan, but I am a Jeter fan, which leads me to this next point: get off of him, or anyone else for skipping the All Star game.

The All Star game isn't what it used to be, and until MLB does away with inter-league play, it won't regain it's status as the Mid-Summer Classic. This once was the showcase game for the league. The best players from each league, dueling it out for nothing more than bragging rights (and a game check). It used to be considered and honor to be picked as an All Star, but now, in my opinion, it's looked at as a nuisance. I understand the players side, too. 162 games is a grind, and then to fly to the All Star game, and keep playing through a time when the rest of your teammates have their feet in the air, it could be a little tough mentally.

Obviously, players picked for the game, but sidelined by injuries shouldn't be getting any grief over missing the game. Jeter isn't playing, due to what is described as exhaustion. I'm willing to give him a pass on this one given his 3,000 chase, and that he has been nursing a nagging injury as well.

For the players that want the time off, they should have that option. Again, until inter-league play goes away, the All Star game will be nothing more than an exhibition that:
1) once ended in a tie.
2) tried to invent importance by granting home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All Star game, and
3) is played at too late of an hour for kids to be able to watch it, even though the game is played in the summer.

The NFL and NBA may be in lockout situations, but sadly, baseball has lost touch with the fans the most. As someone who grew up on the game, it's sad.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Good: Rory. The Bad: UNC football

Opposite ends of the spectrum in this blog post, let's start with the positive.

Rory McIlroy's eight shot win at the US Open last week was a thing of beauty. Any lingering effects from his Masters collapse in April were nowhere to be found. It was good for him, and for golf, that he had such a week.

I take issue with the fact that people chose to rip Congressional for being too easy. Where were these people when Tiger Woods crushed the US Open field by 15 at Pebble Beach? Give credit to McIlroy for being better than everybody else for the tournament. The course was soft, and there for the taking. For EVERY PLAYER. McIlroy did it better than anyone else, including Jason Day, whose -8 total would have won 26 of the previous 30 US Open's.

Now, before we anoint McIlroy as "the next one," let's keep some names in mind. Andy North, and Scott Simpson. Both winners of major championships, accomplished golfers, but far from what many would consider legendary. I'm not ripping them, just comparing. McIlroy owns one major. Will he win more? Probably, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The benchmark for this current generation of golfers is still one Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.

Turning to the bad, the North Carolina football program has 90 days to respond to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations it received on Tuesday. Amazing that Butch Davis seems to come from the documents unscathed. That just leads me to believe that he truly knew very little (if anything), based on what the NCAA and UNC investigations uncovered. Either that, or he has a great poker face. This still leads me to a difficult area.

How does the Head Coach of a football team not know what his players are up to? On this point, I am talking about the trips and benefits, not the academic issues. Those are separate. The Head Coach is the guy, ultimately, in charge. To Davis' credit, he accepts the blame, but how will he follow up on that? I'm not taking a shot at the school here, just pointing out that these allegations are serious business. This isn't something that will go away overnight. The University MUST be proactive, and openly proactive in how they show the NCAA, their students, and their fans how serious they are about keeping all programs clean and above board. I think they almost need to go out of their way to show folks they mean business.

UNC alums that I know (and some I work with), were very embarrassed by this scandal. Some have even called for Davis to be removed (which I don't think will happen). The guy who is under the most pressure in this is Director of Athletics Dick Baddour. It's on him to oversee what should be an in-depth look at how to get the schools athletic programs cleaned up. Mind you, it's not all of them, but still, the investigation needs to reach ALL student athletes. Again, this is serious. It needs to be addressed that way. I am confident it will be.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruins win the Cup

Windows were broken, cars overturned and burning in the streets, people were injured.

Police tried desperately to control the unruly crowds. Looters had their way taking what they wanted, while other random acts of violence and senselessness filled the air.

Sounds a lot like what happened after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

This was in Vancouver on Wednesday night, and the reason? Their hockey team lost the Stanley Cup.

In the early stages of the mayhem, I was still at my desk, watching the Cup get passed from one Boston Bruin to the next, and my twitter feed was erupting with news of spreading chaos in Vancouver. It was with stunned amazement, that I checked out Canadian TV websites to see and hear the coverage. Utter insanity.

One of my wonderful followers tweeted to me that the people in the midst of the destruction should "grow up." While true, he led into those two words with something far more profound. "In many countries, they riot about government or for democracy, in North America we riot over sports."

Sad, but true.

From my perspective, the worst part of this story is that the celebration of hockey is pushed to this point in the blog. What a wonderful game 7. Two teams pushing themselves to the limit. One team standing atop the mountain. Hats off to the Bruins for winning their first title since 1972, and to Tim Thomas for winning the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP. He's just the 2nd American born player to do so.

Mark Recchi took the opportunity to retire after 22 NHL seasons, and 3 Stanley Cups with 3 different teams. Young stars like Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin will have their names on the Cup for 67 years (the amount of time it takes to remove a ring from the trophy). So many positives for the Bruins, it will make it tough for somebody to take it away from them in the coming years.

Hopefully, the team that comes up short won't burn things in the streets afterwards.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NASCAR, Dallas wins, and more

Congrats to the newest members of NASCAR's Hall of Fame. Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Inman, Modifieds legend Richie Evans and Glen Wood. Five men whose contributions to NASCAR could not be overlooked any longer.

The star of the announcements, as you would expect, was Waltrip. He ran to the stage, planted a smooch on the cheek of NASCAR Chairman Brian France, and did a few fist-pumps on his way back to his seat. The selection meant the world to him, and now he will be enshrined alongside some of the biggest names that stock car racing has ever known.

Had the chance to toss some questions his way, and asked him what Dale Earnhardt would say to him, and DW's reply was simple, and with a smile. "I got in first, " said Waltrip imitating the late Earnhardt's likely reaction. Great to see that there is so much reverence for such an honor, one that he doesn't take lightly, and ultimately, could be very good for the Hall. There is no debating the Hall is not making the money it projected it would (and admittedly some of those projections were inflated based on the economy at the time the planning was going on), but a guy like Waltrip could be a Pied Piper of sorts, leading fans to NASCAR'S showpiece. Time will tell, but to have a guy nicknamed "Jaws" talking up the Hall will not be a bad thing.

The Dallas Mavericks are the NBA champs, for the first time in their history. While it is a great story,it was made sweeter to the entire LeBron James hating public. I took no personal satisfaction from LeBron's defeat, but more joy in the notion that a team is stronger than a collection of individuals, which is what, ultimately, the Heat were. A group of very talented players, tha simply didn't know how to finish when all the chips were in the middle. The Heat are already installed as the favorites to win it next year, which is not a shock at all. Something tells me they will figure things out in the off-season, and come into the playoffs next year ready to prove the doubters wrong. They had a great year, but the Mavericks simply wouldn't be denied.

What does this say, though, about the legacy left by the season? When James convinced Chris Bosh to go with him to Miami to join Dwyane Wade, signing for less money than they would have made by staying with their previous teams, it was applauded and booed in the same breath. I admit, I didn't like it, and knew the pressure would be on them all season long. For the most part, they responded, but when faced with a team that had the conviction to battle past the "star-factor," the Heat had no response.

It's a cautionary tale of how what looks good on paper may not be the best thing to achieve the ultimate goal: winning a championship. Miami will look different from roster spots 5 on back, as many players took the minimum to ride shotgun to the trio, hoping for a ring. Don't think big name soon-to-be free-agents didn't see how fans reacted to the noise created in South Beach, and the subsequent thud that took place on Sunday night.

Speaking of the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats have a new GM, Rich Cho. Cho was introduced Tuesday, and his hiring boots Rod Higgins up the ladder one notch to Director of Basketball Operations with the club. What does this mean? Well, it means a guy who was a small-market GM (in Portland), will now face similar challenges with small (but bigger) market Charlotte. Sounds like a lateral move, but in reality, it's a step up. Cho will be able to do the same things with the Bobcats as he did with the Blazers, but he's doing it with Michael Jordan overseeing things. All the feedback I heard on Cho on Tuesday was positive, and Bobcats fans are hoping he can help Charlotte take the step forward, and back into the playoffs.

Coming Thursday, my review of game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. No need to preview it. it's game 7. Let the chips fall where they may.

Mike Solarte

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Free for all

Emptying my brain of all things sports before heading to the weekend.

The Carolina Panthers wrapped up 2 weeks of player-organized workouts on Thursday, with more than 40 players on hand. Considering there were some players who did not take part in any or all of the workouts (for a variety of reasons), any number between 40-50 should be looked at as a good sign.

Impressive turnout, considering that the Panthers went 2-14 last season. The workouts were minimally about implementing schemes and systems, and more about team building. Last year, I didn't get the sense that the players in the room didn't like each other. I did sense that the losing was grating at the team. Can't blame them They worked very hard, and got very little in the way of results. Looking at between 40-50 guys showing up to get as jump on the time lost is a positive sign. Shows me these guys truly care about their work, and improving. Players of lesser character would have taken the chance to get away, and not bother. I like the commitment shown by these guys here.

Of course, there are some players that elected not to take part, and in a lot of cases, the reasons are justified. Guys coming off surgery, players who may or may not be back with the team next season. It makes sense. I am not calling anybody out on this,as I understand their reasons for not being there. The decision not to work out is not a reflection of their desire to get better or be with their teammates. I will say that there are guys that didn't participate that I would love to see back in Panthers colors next season.

On the NFL theme, the talks that have been taking place between players and owners are an encouraging sign. If they are talking, there is a chance a deal can be reached, ending the lockout, and getting football back on the field and out of the courts. I'm not ready much into any of the talks, other than to say, the more the talk, hope remains alive that a season will begin on time, with minimal damage done to the on-field product. Carolina has already missed one mini-camp, and OTA's would be underway right now. The coaching staff is behind the 8-ball in getting their systems in place, and the players are behind in getting acclimated to a new staff. Judge the Panthers fairly, if they get out of the gates slowly. This team simply won't have enough reps under their belts to be at full speed when they get going, even if the season begins on time. The same is true for every team with a new coaching staff this season.

The NBA Finals have gotten good, rally good if you are a fan of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs own a 3-2 lead heading back to Miami for game 6 on Sunday. Dallas finally got a big night from their bench in game 5, giving them the lift they needed. The Mavs have done a nice job of weathering the Heat, and their big three of LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. I can't say enough good things about the way Wade has played in this series, but to overlook what Dallas has done to this point would be unfair.

The critics are gunning for LeBron, and they are stockpiling ammunition. Sadly for James, he's handing them the bullets. LeBron has just 11 points in the five-4th quarters of this series. For the guy that has become the face of the NBA, and considered by many to be the best player in the league, he simply has to be better in crunch time. He hasn't been nearly as aggressive to the rim, which is a major strength of his game. He has settled far too often for jumpers. He has done a good job of trying to get others involved, but for Miami to have a chance at this title, LeBron has to be more selfish. He has to be the guy drawing the contact in the lane, taking it strong to the cup, and becoming the focus. Wade has been amazing, but LeBron has to be LeBron to give Miami a chance.

Flipside of things, the Stanley Cup Finals are tied heading into Friday night's game 5 in Vancouver. This series has seen everything. A Canucks player biting the finger of a Boston Bruin player (which went unpunished by the NHL in one of their worst disciplinary decisions ever), another Bruins player knocked out of the series due to a vicious head shot (which drew a 4-game suspension from the league in a competent decision by the NHL disciplinary folks), and Boston goaltender Tim Thomas get physical with Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (a clean play by the NHL rulebook, and drew no penalty). On my twitter account , I posted that, for the first time in my hockey-viewing life, the post-series handshakes may need to be policed by the officials. This is a nasty series, and now that it's down to a best of 3, I expect it to continue to be heated.

Quick shout out to Scott Harvey of Greensboro for winning the 47th North Carolina Open at The Club at Irish Creek this week. Harvey won by four shots, finishing -14 for the week, while Rick Lewallen was the low-professional for the event at -10. Harvey, as you likely have guessed, is an amateur, but more than that, he is the son of the first NC Open champ Billy Harvey, who also won the tournament as an amateur in 1965.

In the weeks ahead, we'll look at the Charlotte Bobcats and what they are looking at heading into the NBA Draft. However, the NBA is also dancing dangerously close to a lockout of their own, with their current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to run out on June 30th. Here we go again.

Mike Solarte