Wednesday, December 19, 2018

On early signing day, a look back at the 2018 Leopards



These cannot be the happiest of times in Lafayette College’s Bourger Varsity Football House, despite the rose-colored-glasses approach head football coach John Garrett took in a recent letter sent to supporters of the football program.

Jack Bourger, one of the football program’s biggest boosters in many ways for a long time, told me he didn’t receive the letter.

What’s wrong with that picture? Plenty.

Offensive line coach Gordon Sammis, who would get my vote for Lafayette 2018 Coach of the Year for football for the job he has done with the big guys up front, has resigned and taken the same position on the staff at William and Mary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lafayette-Lehigh: How big was that first play?


Neither Lafayette nor Lehigh had any positive momentum going into Saturday’s football game in Fisher Stadium, so it makes sense to me that the team that could get an upper hand the quickest would have a distinct advantage.

But Leopards coach John Garrett didn’t agree with me at the postgame press conference when I brought up the first play from scrimmage, on which Lehigh’s defensive-line rush, Julian Lynn stripped the ball from Lafayette quarterback Sean O’Malley and Lehigh’s Davis Maxie caught it and ran for a 43-yard defensive touchdown. It put the visitors’ side in a frenzy.

I approached the play with the premise that you could have made a lot of money in Las Vegas if you placed a bet that a defensive end’s first-play touchdown would end up giving Lehigh more points than Lafayette would score all day.

The play was so bizarre to me that I stumbled around to find the best words to say to Garrett, who finally asked me, “What’s your question?”

Friday, November 16, 2018

2018 in review: not a lot of positive memories

J.J. Younger scored the season's first TD on a 95-yard kickoff return (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College).


Did you know that that seven of Lafayette’s 10 previous opponents this season – including all five non-league foes – have winning records going into games this weekend.

Coach John Garrett mentioned the difficult non-league schedule his team faced this year – Army is currently 8-3, Delaware and Monmouth 7-4 and Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut. I’m not going to get into a ton of research, but I don’t remember a year when the OOC opponents were this good as a group.

Here’s a brief game-by-game recap. Because after the second game, Coach Garrett told the media, “If both (Sean O’Malley and Cole Northrup) continue to play at the starter level, they’ll continue to get reps.” Alas, at a time when we thought they were going to share responsibilities  to take advantage of their differing talents,  the competition almost disappeared for the rest of the year.

O’Malley had one of his real disappointing games of the 2017 season against Lehigh. He was 6-for-18 for 43 yards. It was hard to watch. He didn’t play at a “starter level” that day, but there was no substitution. He has thrown for only three touchdowns this year while being intercepted 11 times. In two seasons, he has 15 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. Seven of those picks have been returned for touchdowns.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Lafayette-Army notebook: Leopards will honor players' favorite vets



Lafayette Coach John Garrett said Tuesday that some teams that face Army West Point like to pay tribute to the Cadets and their service to the country in various ways. With this game also being played so close to Veterans’ Day, Anthony Martin, the equipment director at Lafayette, suggested one that may be the best yet.

Each Leopard was asked to select a relative or friend who has or currently does serve in the military. Players came up with photos of the persons they chose, and special decals were made from the photos and will be placed over the “L” on the side of the helmets for this game. After the game, the decals will be taken from the helmets, placed on backing, framed and given to the players as a memory of the game and of the person they chose to honor.

For example, offensive lineman Gavin Barclay said his two grandfathers served in the Army and he chose his father’s dad, who served in Vietnam from 1964-66; linebacker Major Jordan selected his father, who was in the Navy from 1985-89; and defensive lineman Harrison Greenhill selected his high school defensive line coach, who, he said, became a mentor and father figure to him and who had been a lieutenant colonel in the Marines.

Way to go, Anthony. And, God Bless America!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Flashback: Lafayette-Army, 2016



Rachel Robertson, who followed the Lafayette football team for The Lafayette newspaper, accompanied me to the Leopards’ locker room after the team’s 62-7 blowout loss to Army West Point back in October of 2016.

She had no idea what she was walking into. Neither did I.

Coach Frank Tavani, who supposedly had time to cool off, came into the room and, when I said, “I don’t know where to start,” that was all he needed. He was hot, not cool.

“Where you start is, we stunk; we got an ass whooping out there like I’ve never been involved in and it looked like we didn’t want to play. It’s disgusting and embarrassing. You want me to say anything more than that? Next question.”  It almost seemed like a dare.

I used that quote high in my game story for The Morning Call. I figured that, coming on the heels of a two-game stretch in which his team gave up 1,053 yards rushing and 120 points, and with a losing streak going to six games, Tavani deserved to blow off the steam.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Dale's 1803 House adventure: the rest of the story




Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Dick Farmer (right) and me.



I was in Indianapolis when Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 in 1969.

I was in Bankstown, Australia, when Marty Nothstein raced to the men's sprint gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

The crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway went 


crazy when Andretti pulled into Victory Lane for his ceremonial sip of milk and that now famous kiss from car owner Andy Granatelli.

I listened as the chants of “U-S-A! … U-S-A! … U-S-A!” drowned out the “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oi, Oi, Oi” and Nothstein hoisted son Tyler in one arm and daughter Devin in the other at the Dunc Gray Velodrome after putting an exclamation point on his bicycle racing career.

The victories by Andretti and Nothstein rank among the top one-day events of my newspaper career. Emotional celebrations of local athletes at the peak.

But on July 27 of this year, I experienced a different type of emotional event involving a high-profile athlete. No howling crowds. No television cameras.

I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. walk through a house. And a graveyard. Only four other people were present. But, this was not their day. This day belonged to Dale Jr., and he immersed himself in it. It was terrific.

I couldn’t believe it when Dick Farmer, whom I first met when we played in the same senior tennis group, called to tell me Earnhardt Jr. had a direct connection to the 1803 House, a home that has been a labor of love for him for about 45 years. How could the family with such a rich Southern history have real ties with the Lehigh Valley?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Leopard-Bison pregame: 2 steps back


Was I a bit hasty in my decision to give the Lafayette Leopards a midterm grade based on the short half of an 11-game schedule?

It sure looks like it.

After they dazzled me with a 31-point performance in a victory over Central Connecticut State, I rushed to judgment and handed out an overall grade of C.

The grade caused one long-time follower of the program to message me: “You are a more generous grader than I am … no group is better than a C from me. A win against Georgetown gets the team to C+. A loss drops them to D.”