Monday, May 20, 2019

Celebrare, Mario: A year to remember

My autographed copy of the 1969 program.

How well I remember the “Arrivederci, Mario!” Tour of 1994.

Everywhere Mario Andretti went that year, people showered him with accolades one last time. It didn’t matter whether he won on the track or not – at least, not to anyone except Mario himself. For everyone else, it was a matter of giving a good friend a deserved sendoff.

But somehow, I can’t think those 12 months could have compared to what should be tabbed the “Celebrare, Mario!” month the world’s most recognized race car driver is experiencing right now at the Indianapolis 500.

He is being blown away by it, and he doesn’t mind admitting it.


Twenty-five years after he stepped out of the cockpit as a full-time speed merchant, no one is saying “goodbye … see you later … bye-bye” to the Italian immigrant who has put Nazareth, PA, solidly on the map. People everywhere are opening their arms and embracing him, maybe like no other time in his life.

Some health issues will prevent me from attending the 103rd Indianapolis 500 next weekend to watch the final chapter of this special time for Andretti as he is hailed for not only his only Indy victory 50 years ago, but also as the principal ambassador of his life-long pursuit.

But I have to say it’s been enjoyable for me to step into that time capsule and take myself back to my early years in the newspaper business. To re-read old stories and stir up old memories. But most of all, to talk to Mario again about those days and maybe to learn some things I never knew or even thought about.

My story that appears in The Morning Call. But we talked about so much more, so I thought I’d share some of the conversation with you.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Can Leopards benefit from some Sooner advice?

I think I found the answer to Lafayette football’s offensive problems.

Or, I found AN answer worth trying. And, it comes via another collegiate head coach who has no offensive coordinator.

I have been saying Lafayette Coach John Garrett needs to hire an offensive coordinator and actually give him charge over the Leopards’ attack, which produced an average of just 13 points per game in 2018 and 12 ppg in 2017.  

Lafayette won three games in ’17 and scored a grand total of 31 points in the three games combined. The Leopards got a lot better in winning in 2018, scoring 81 points in their three wins. But they also had five games in which they scored six points or less.

The one statistic that stuck out above – or below – all others was that Lafayette scored only four touchdowns on pass plays in 2018. Eleven games, four passing TDs. Only one other team in all the FCS had fewer TD passes (Jacksonville with three), and that team threw just 63 passes all year. Lafayette threw 361. It was horrible.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Spring football '19: The rest of the story

It sounds a lot like a cliché, but it really isn’t.

“A day like today is tough because when the defense does well, it means the offense isn’t, and when the offense does well, the defense is not. Either way, somebody on Lafayette is going to win. That’s a positive.  How we play is most important.  One fumble, a couple of tipped passes on which defensive players did the things we’ve been stressing all spring, not a lot of penalties. Spring ball goes quickly, mainly because you’re having fun.”

That was Lafayette Coach John Garrett’s glass-half-full assessment of the final practice of spring football camp on Saturday. They called it the spring game, but it didn’t have much of a game look to it.

That’s understandable because, as I wrote in my story for The Morning Call, the number of players not taking part (20} was nearly as large as the number of available offensive players (23, including the kicker and five quarterbacks) and more than the number of healthy defensive players (18).

The list of “watchers” starts with running backs Selwyn Simpson, J.J. Younger and Mike Dunn … goes to o-linemen Jake Marotti, Casey McCollum, Austin Pyne and Taron Hampton … and tight ends Scott Zadok and Jake Taggart.

That said, I’m giving the running game pretty much of a pass. Devin On, a walk-on, gave a good effort running and receiving; tight end-turned RB Ryan Monteyne got what looked like a parting of the Red Sea late in the day and ripped off an uncontested 55-yard “touchdown” run.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Are you ready for some Lafayette football?

Spring football camp at Lafayette College begins on Tuesday. Coach John Garrett has not yet posted a preseason depth chart, but I can almost give him a pass this time because he has so many new coaches who haven’t had a chance to do any evaluations yet.

I can also say this. We can make some calculated guesses based on the starting lineups from the final game of the 2018 season against Lehigh. No one involved with the Leopards’ program wants to rehash that game, right? Neither do I.

But, for the record, Lafayette last-game starters who are back this year are: quarterback Sean O’Malley; wide receivers Julian Spigner and Nick Pearson; tight end Steve Stilianos; offensive linemen Jake Marotti, John Burk and Gavin Barclay; defensive linemen Malik Hamm, Harrison Greenhill and Demetrius Breedlove; linebacker Major Jordan and defensive backs Yasir Thomas and Eric Mitchell.

One other starter was wide receiver Tim Payne, but the freshman has decided he will leave Lafayette at the end of the current semester. The last sentence of his “goodbye note” on Twitter was a bit disconcerting to me. “My next goal is to find a school where I feel at home, comfortable, and will allow me to excel not only in track and football, but in life as well,” he wrote.

I thought that’s exactly what the Lafayette experience was supposed to be all about. In fact, I have always thought the Leopards were student-athletes, not athletic students. Have great Division I athletics exposure, but also work hard in the classroom and come away with a degree that will translate to success for a lifetime.

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.