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Kent State Elite Eight: A Reunion and Reflection

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Members of the Elite Eight Men's Basketball team returned to Kent State for its ten year reunion.

When I chose to attend Kent State University after I graduated high school in 2001, the deciding factor was its top notch journalism/mass communication department. At the time I had career aspirations of ultimately becoming a TV or radio broadcaster for a professional baseball team. Those thoughts are now pipe dreams as my career and education paths have taken a few different turns down a number of winding roads.

While academics and career goals were the main reason, as they should be for my college choice, I have no shame in admitting another big factor in my decision was the amazing basketball team. When I was looking at colleges my senior year of high school I not only investigated the campuses and academics, but also their athletic teams. Being a sports nut, if I was going to go to college, I wanted to at least enjoy going to sporting events during that time period. While Kent State has had a miserable football program for decades, every other sport seemed to excel. The men’s basketball team in particular. I followed the team the entire season, watching them win both the Mid-American Conference East division, conference tournament, and finally upset Indiana in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Cincinnati to end the season.

It was not an easy transition for me once the college school year began. I was overcome with homesickness like many freshmen are. Shyness and a fear of meeting new people on my own was also something I had difficulty overcoming. While struggling to adjust to college life I completely overlooked a better than usual Kent State football season in the fall of 2001. Though I did well in my classes, I still felt like something was missing in my life. That all changed once basketball season started.

From eighth grade through high school I put my love of math and sports to good extracurricular use as the basketball team’s statistician. As the Kent State basketball season drew near I felt that itch to get involved with the sport again. After watching the team’s first game from the stands at the MAC Center in awe, I sent an email to coach Stan Heath telling him what I did in high school and offering to do the same. Of course I didn’t realize that at the college level the school already has people within the athletic department to handle all of the team’s statistics. However, the team’s director of basketball operations (graduate assistant coach) did offer me a role as a volunteer student manager to help out with team drills during practices.

The day after I received the email I showed up at the MAC Center and nervously made my way to the basketball court with the other student managers to set up practice while the team warmed up. I followed along with whatever instructions I was given. Running clocks, filling water bottles (no, I did not consider myself a glorified water boy), and setting up other equipment while watching the team practice.

Throughout the entire three hours I kept a low profile and did not attempt to interact with any of the players. Partially because I was star struck that I was actually in the presence of such amazing college athletes. Also because I thought as a freshmen at the next level I was not worthy of their attention. To me, college players were at that same level of prominence as professionals. My thought process changed entirely after practice ended.

I was doing my job clearing the court of practice equipment. Again just trying to go about my business and keep a low profile. One of the players approached me.

“Who are you? Where’d you come from?” the player asked.

His tone, the look on his face, and demeanor completely caught me off guard. Being the humble and shy person I was at the time, I was instantly intimidated. I explained that Coach Heath brought me in as a student manager and that was my first day.

“Are you the squirrel master?” he asked.

Again, I was completely confused. I had no idea what he was asking and why. After I told him that he repeated his question. Luckily, one of the players stepped in and helped me figure everything out. That player was Kent State’s star guard Trevor Huffman. He explained the player who confronted me was Matt Jakeway, a player who transferred to Kent State that season and was sitting out due to NCAA rules. He was also the team’s jokester. Huffman told me not to worry about anything Jakeway said, just agree with him, know that he was playing around, and that they were happy to have me there.

The next time I made it to practice (I could not attend every day due to my class schedule) Matt Jakeway confronted me once more. He denied everything Trevor Huffman told me, but was cool about it. He then explained his question from the last practice.

“A squirrel is one of those things that come out of nowhere and you say ‘look, squirrel!’ That’s what you did. You just showed up out of nowhere. So now you’re the squirrel master.”

After that conversation Jakeway explained to the entire team the new nickname he had endeared to me. It stuck because for that entire season and a couple seasons beyond, I was known to the Kent State men’s basketball team as Squirrel. I did not mind it at all because it was not an insult. The guys treated me with respect, like a little brother. Also, with as many black squirrels running around Kent State’s campus as there were, something I had never seen before, it seemed to make sense.

I was offered an opportunity to travel with the team and sit on the bench during games. But I told the coaches I could contribute much better during games as a rowdy fan in the stands because I would not be able to contain my excitement and enthusiasm as I would have to do sitting on the bench. I also felt it was necessary to attend class every day as a freshman to get my education off on the right foot instead of missing many classes and possibly crucial exams due to team travel when I wasn’t even a player. Plus I hated the idea of wearing a shirt and tie for every game as I would be required to do. I was much more comfortable in my Kent State t-shirt and jeans.

So for the entire 2001-02 season I did exactly what I said I would do. I showed up to practice when I could and did what I could to help the team prepare. On game days and nights I was a loud, colorful, enthusiastic Kent State fan screaming to no end in the stands as the Golden Flashes racked up win after win on their home court. The players and coaches continued to embrace me as a part of their team. Talking with me more during practice about more than just basketball, making sure I was doing well in my classes, and being the big brothers I never had. While most college freshmen were going to fraternity parties, hanging out on campus, and trying to figure out how to smuggle beer into their dorm rooms, I was embracing the Kent State basketball team right back.

After seeing the Golden Flashes dominate the Mid-American conference (17-1, undefeated at home), it came as no shock to me when they steamrolled through the conference tournament and clinched a third NCAA tournament berth in four years. What did shock me was the subsequent events of March Madness.

I freely admit, until I began college my love of sports was mostly restricted to the professional ranks. I rarely watched any college sports, so I had no knowledge of the NCAA tournament or its “Cinderella stories.” I was fully prepared, despite the previous season’s first round upset over Indiana, for Kent State’s season to come to a quick ending.

I was in class during the first round victory over Oklahoma State. I caught the end of the game, happy they won one game, but remembered how the team was blown out in the second round the year before. So obviously I was surprised when the Flashes beat second-seeded Alabama (featuring former Cleveland Cavalier Mo Williams) again in decisive fashion.

After that win, I knew a little bit more about the upset factor in the NCAA tournament and knew better than to ever doubt the team that adopted me. Of course I was parked right in front of the television in my Wright Hall dorm room when the team took on third-seed Pittsburgh on primetime television in the “sweet sixteen” round. It was a tight fisted, back and forth battle all the way through. At the end of overtime the Flashes had pulled out another Cinderella upset, staging a rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers, who pulled off a major upset of their own over Duke earlier in the night. I can still remember the cheers all throughout campus and feel the shaking from the noise throughout Wright Hall from celebrating students that night.

Because the Flashes had beaten Indiana handily in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament and held their own quite well on this Elite Eight run, I was extremely optimistic of a trip to the Final Four. That would not be the case as the Hoosiers were lights out and Kent State was the exact opposite. When the game was over I sat in stunned devastation as the team I had given my heart to that season was defeated, ending an amazing season. As my dad said to me repeatedly that game while I had numerous spaz attacks over what I was witnessing, “you can’t beat a team that shoots 80 percent from three point range.”

I continued my volunteer work as a student manager for one more season until a greater commitment to my classes and a stronger focus on my dream of a broadcasting career took over. Even after leaving my post with the Kent State basketball team, the players and coaches who remained after the Elite Eight season still treated me like one of their own.

Over the years players from that team have returned to Kent State for visits and reunions. The stars from that team, Trevor Huffman, Andrew Mitchell, Demetric Shaw, and San Diego Chargers all-pro tight end Antonio Gates have all had their numbers retired by the school. I have had friends stare at me in shock when those players and others from the team acknowledged me during games they attended.

On this season’s Bracket Buster Saturday, Kent State celebrated a ten year reunion of the Elite Eight team. Many of the players could not return for the game because they continue to play basketball professionally. The ones who did signed autographs before the game and received a standing ovation at halftime after seeing a highlight video of their accomplishments from that season on the screen at the MAC Center.

Standing in line for the autograph table, I could only wonder if the players who made it back would remember me after so much time away. The smiles on the faces of Bryan Pellegrino, Anthony Wilkins, Brian Howard, Demetric Shaw, and Antonio Gates as I shook their hands spoke volumes. They have all moved on to bigger and better things. They had met thousands, or millions in Gates’ case, of fans. But they remembered the kid who appeared out of nowhere ten years ago as a freshman at practice one day. I pride myself on knowing Antonio Gates (@AntonioGates85) before he was famous.

The Kent State basketball program is a tradition that never graduates. Each season the team treads the same waters of excellence as the season before it. As great as they have all been, none have reached the same level of success and dominance as the one I latched onto my freshman year. Reliving the memories of that season, it meant so much more to me than just being a basketball fan. It was the reunion of a something that welcomed me to Kent State with open arms.

The basketball team gave me that something I felt was missing. It was a feeling that I truly belonged. Until that time there were only a few instances in my life when I had that feeling. The experience set in motion five (though I did feel some doubt during my sophomore year) terrific years I would not trade for anything. Now, as a graduate of the school, I am a Kent State Golden Flash for life.

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Kent State University: A Baseball Dynasty

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Yes friends, I have been away for quite a while. The reasons why aren’t important. So rather than bore you with mundane details, I’ll cut right to the song and dance as “Sports From the Korndog Stand” returns!

If I haven’t said so before, I’ll say this now. Baseball has been my favorite sport since childhood. I love everything about the game. As a child I aspired to one day be a professional baseball player, until I realized despite my vast knowledge of the game, I had no talent for playing it. This week a member of family did realize such a dream, which I will get into later on.

I carry my love of baseball wherever I go. So naturally when I began college at Kent State University, I just had to see a game from the college perspective. Once I took my seat for my first Golden Flashes ball game, I took one look at Gene Michael Field and was immediately hooked. Watching the game I knew it would be something I’d enjoy for the rest of my time at the school. Watching the games, chatting with the pitchers who were video taping them from the stands, and learning all about the history and mystique of “Spring Break Dennis” was an experience I knew I’d never forget.

The team was amazing. They produced winning records, division or conference championships, as well as NCAA tournament berths. Then after that, they produced something bigger: professional baseball players. Each year the Flashes had a few players picked during the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Because of this tradition, I rarely ever missed a game in that five year span.

After graduating I was not able to return to Kent and see the baseball team play as often as I wanted to. However, I did continue to follow its progress on the internet. The team’s success continued while I was away, during that time period, due to such success, head coach Rick Rembielak left the school to become the coach at Wake Forest. He was replaced by Kent State alumnus Scott Stricklin.

I finally set foot back on the hollowed grounds of Kent State’s campus in the spring of 2008 when my cousin, outfielder Ben Klafczynski, began playing for the team. The sight was different. The renovations of the field and the area surrounding it which began my senior year at the school were completed. Gene Michael Field became Olga Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium. The bleachers were moved back and a set of ground level seats were inserted behind the backstop. A brick building which housed restrooms, a concession stand, and a clubhouse was built as an attachment to the home dugout. What already was a beautiful sight to my eyes became immortal.

Over the next three years, again I hardly ever missed a game as I supported my family and got to know the new players in person all over again. The game had not changed one bit for me. This was the Kent State baseball I remembered seeing when I was a student. The players may have changed, but the winning continued. The championships continued. The draft picks continued. Tradition continued. And yes, “Spring Break Dennis” was still there.

For some reason I thought this past season would be different than the previous years, however. Coming off a second straight Mid-American Conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth, the Golden Flashes lost a number of key players to graduation as well as early departure for Major League Baseball. The returning pitchers were coming off good, but not great seasons. Half of the lineup was comprised
of young, inexperienced players with hardly any college experience. Though the team was in fact picked to win its division, I was somewhat skeptical. What a surprise I was in for.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to listen to many internet broadcasts of Kent State baseball games this season, let alone attend games at Schoonover Stadium. This fact hit harder to me than ever before due to it being my cousin’s senior season with the team. As the season embarked, I was shocked at what I was seeing. The lineup produced as I expected. The veterans were hitting as they should while the inexperienced ones struggled. But the pitching staff was incredible. Led by redshirt sophomore Andrew Chafin, who was returning from Tommy John surgery, the Flashes’ pitching kept them in games while Scott Stricklin toggled through different lineups to form a winning combination.

Once conference play began, the hitters found their strokes while the pitchers continued to dominate. By the time I finally got out to Schoonover Stadium for a game a few revelations dawned on me. For starters, the impressiveness of the pitching staff was not an out-of-nowhere surprise. Starters Kyle Hallock, David Starn, and Ryan Mace and key relievers Justin Gill and Kyle McMillen put up star performances in the previous season’s Mid-American Conference tournament. Given their play at that point this season, it appeared they never looked back either. Other younger pitchers on the roster stepped up their games as well.

Secondly, in the days leading up to my first game of the season I found an article highlighting the new composite bats college baseball was using this season. The new aluminum bats have less bounce effect off the barrel, slowing the speed of the baseball after contact, making it safer for the fielders. It also is keeping the baseball in the ballparks. So not only was pitching quality higher this season, but the change in bats also aided in defensive performance.

Finally, when I took my seat at Schoonover Stadium, I observed all of the banners that were now displayed across the outfield fence. Though I followed the team for the last ten years, I failed to realize it had won a division, conference, or tournament title, or a combination of the three each of those ten years. It was then that I came to realize for all of those years I was witnessing a dynasty.

As the 2011 season continued, so did the Flashes’ dominance. While the pitching staff posted one impressive performance after another, the lineup fed off them. As a result, Kent State won yet another Mid-American Conference title, posting a 45-17 record and a national ranking. The team posted an amazing 2.66 earned run average as well as a stellar .292 batting average. Scott Stricklin and Kyle Hallock were named coach and pitcher of the year respectively. Other players were named to the all-conference team.

After a spectacular regular season, it was no surprise when, despite losing one game, the Flashes went on to win their third consecutive conference tournament and earn a third consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Golden Flashes were named a number three seed for the first time in program history as one of the four teams in the Austin regional of the NCAA tournament’s opening round. The team was named by one preview as a “dark horse” to win, citing its incredible pitching staff as the X-factor.

The team performed as advertised. First by pulling off an extra-inning upset over the second-seeded Texas State Bobcats in a pitcher’s duel, then an even more astounding upset over the top-seeded host Texas Longhorns in a battle between Andrew Chafin and Taylor Jungmann, the teams’ aces respectively and all but guaranteed first round picks in this year’s draft. However, time eventually caught up to the Flashes as Texas survived three straight elimination games with its pitching depth to win the region after defeating the Flashes in two consecutive games to end Kent State’s season.

The remarkable 2011 Kent State season reached its pinnacle over the past few days when the Golden Flashes baseball team produced five more draft picks by Major League Baseball. As expected, Chafin was picked in the first supplemental round on the first night by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Fellow pitchers Kyle McMillen (Chicago White Sox) and Kyle Hallock (Houston Astros) were chosen in the fourth and 10th rounds
respectively. Junior third baseman Travis Shaw was selected by the Boston Red Sox, who initially drafted him out of high school, in the ninth round. Finally, my cousin, Ben Klafczynski, was picked by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round. He will join former Kent State teammates Chris Carpenter and Greg Rohan in the Cubs farm system.

As an interesting side note, my grandfather was once asked to try out for the Cubs in his youth but had to pass on such an opportunity due to family matters. Now many years later, in somewhat of a divine intervention, the son of his only son gets that opportunity with the same team.

Over the course of the last decade I have witnessed something special in the Kent State baseball program. Many teams have come and gone, but one thing has remained in tact: a winning tradition. As a proud alumnus of the school, I will continue to watch on as the team looks to build on an already strong dynasty.

Written by apokorny

June 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

He’s the Miz, and he’s awesome!

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WWE champion The Miz returned home to Cleveland with his title belt.

The title of this post is the paraphrased catchphrase of the reigning WWE champion. Fans of the Real World remember him as Mike Mizanin. Wrestling fans know him as the Miz. Recently, he became known as Cleveland’s champion.

I have never watched an episode of the Real World in my life. So when Mike Mizanin showed up on World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Tough Enough competition in 2004 I had no idea who he was. I do not remember much about the competition itself, which took place over two months of WWE programming. All I remember is what happened afterward.

Mike Mizanin did not win the competition. However, those in the WWE must have seen some potential in him, because he was signed to a contract anyway. In professional wrestling, many new wrestlers with very little experience are slowly eased into the business. Many times they play the roles of bodyguards or sidekicks to other wrestlers while they learn to wrestle off camera. Mizanin’s role was the “host of WWE Smackdown.”

Each week, Mizanin was shown somewhere among the audience. He would introduce matches in the most obnoxious manner, including verbally trashing the participants. He ended each of his segments with his catchphrase “Hoo-ra!” Suffice to say, I was not a fan. He annoyed me to no end, much like he did those who watched him on the Real World.

He eventually entered the ring to compete in matches, where he officially became The Miz. His role was the ultimate rookie bad guy. Not only did he continue to annoy fans with his loud, obnoxious personality, but he also cheated to win many of his matches. But like many wrestlers, the Miz was not a star right away. He had to work for his spot.

Over the next three years, the WWE moved the career of the Miz along slowly, giving him every opportunity to succeed. Though he was not the best in the ring, he had amazing charisma. Due to his history in television, the Miz could cut a promo. He was good at making the fans hate him. Because of this ability, the WWE rewarded him with multiple championships and high profile programs; first with a tag team partner and later as a solo competitor. He even garnered a few awards from pro wrestling magazine and internet writers.

This year Mike “The Miz” Mizanin hit his peak as a professional wrestler. He began the year as a mentor on a new concept WWE television show in which rookies were paired with pros in another competition series. The Miz was paired with a “rookie” Daniel Bryan (real name Bryan Danielson), who actually had over ten years of prior wrestling experience. This controversy was the centerpiece for the new program’s first season. To continue the story, the Miz was brought back for season two, paired with a rookie with no experience and a personality much like his mentor.

While serving as a pro for the competitions, the Miz continued to shine and rise up the ladder as a top heel in the WWE. Once again he found himself in storylines with the bigger names of the company, including a short program with the legendary Bret “Hitman” Hart.

This past July, the Miz won the WWE’s “Money in the Bank” briefcase. Rules stipulated that winners of the coveted briefcase were allowed to “cash in” a contract for a title match at any time. This storyline, which has taken place every year since 2005 has made for great entertainment. Due to the stipulation, fans are left wondering when the winners will cash in their contract. Most of the time, the contract was cashed in during the most opportune times, with the champion in a state of peril. As a result, a new champion was crowned each time. When the Miz won the briefcase, fans and wrestling critics alike saw him as someone who could actually be the first to fail in his attempt to cash in his title match. Like previous “Money in the Bank” briefcase winners, the Miz kept the fans on edge, even teasing the cash in a few times on national television.

The guaranteed title shot only increased the Miz’s display of arrogance. Not only was he involved with top WWE storylines, but he was also able to take part in “extracurricular” activities. This year, the WWE has acquired the services of mainstream celebrities to serve as “host” of Monday Night Raw. On September 13th, Cincinnati Bengals star Chad Ochocinco (formerly Johnson) hosted Raw. The Miz wasted no time getting in Ochocinco’s face and cutting a promo on him and the Bengals. One could even make the argument that the Miz foreshadowed the problems the Bengals have had this football season. On November 1st, Paul Reubens hosted Raw under his classic Pee-Wee Herman character. Again, the Miz made his way to the ring and ran down the popular children’s television star.

Then, after months of teasing, it happened. On the November 22nd episode of Monday Night Raw, the Miz, like many others before him, took advantage of an injured prey, cashed in the “Money in the Bank” contract, and won the WWE championship. Immediately, the media blitz began. His title win was covered by outlets such as ESPN, TMZ, and MTV. Recently he made an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

The day after he reached the pinnacle of his career, the Miz returned to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio for his yearly pre-Thanksgiving celebration, Miz-Fest. He made appearances at several bars from North Royalton to Parma to downtown Cleveland. This time, however, he had the WWE championship belt in tow. His first words to those at the Sip-N-Post in North Royalton were “Lebron couldn’t win us a title, but I did!”

Those who appeared at the Sip-N-Post for his autograph session cheered. He oozed the same cockiness that he made a career of. Only this time, the same fans he was able to make hate him for the last decade, smiled with admiration. Where Lebron James failed, the Miz succeeded.

Professional wrestling is generally not considered a sport. Many people consider it to be a joke. To be a wrestling fan is considered taboo. I am guilty of watching professional wrestling since I was eight years old. Since that time I’ve learned that, while wrestling is scripted, professional wrestlers have to have some talent in order to be a champion. Vince McMahon does not decide to give the title to just anybody. Over the last six years since he joined the company, the Miz showed the WWE brass that he has what it takes to be a World champion.

To a city that has not seen a championship since 1964, those who do not watch wrestling may consider making an exception. To this writer, after what has gone down with Lebron James, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin is Cleveland’s champion.

Written by apokorny

December 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Have the Browns Turned the Corner?

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The Browns shocked the NFL with a 34-14 crushing of the New England Patriots.

The Cleveland Browns have been competitive in each of their games all season long. In four of their first five games they had leads in the fourth quarter, only to watch the defense tire out, give up the leads, and see the offense make a poor effort to win the games.

Then suddenly, two weeks ago something changed. A week after suffering their only blowout loss of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns went down to New Orleans and destroyed Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints 30-17.

While this huge victory came as a shock to most, there was a part of me that was not surprised. The Browns beat the defending Super Bowl champions the previous two years, so to think they could not do it again was not in my mindset.

Another point from that amazing blowout was the Saints had suffered a similar defeat just two weeks earlier when they were blown out by the Arizona Cardinals. What makes it so similar is in that game, the Cardinals’ defense did all the work. Behind rookie quarterback Max Hall, the Arizona offense could only muster nine points off a very good Saints defense. The Browns’ offense did score the majority of points in their game, but the team’s defense was the difference maker.

Because the Browns offense has been far from great this season, I got the feeling that the only way the team would put up 30 points or more in another game this season was if the defense played like they did against the Saints, forcing opponents to make mistakes and converting them into touchdowns. Those thoughts all changed this past Sunday.

Like the previous two seasons, I figured the Browns were for having one great game against a great team, beating the Super Bowl champions and going on their way. Especially since their schedule did not get any easier. After the bye week, they were scheduled to play the 6-1 New England Patriots. Though they beat the Saints in remarkable fashion two weeks ago, nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in a hot climate to do it one more time against another elite quarterback in Tom Brady.

The critics turned out to be wrong again as the Browns scored ten points before Brady stepped onto the field and never let up, destroying the Patriots 34-14. Many Browns fans throughout northeast Ohio were left wondering over the last two games where the “real” Cleveland Browns are? The questions after the last two games are now “what changed for this team?” and “is this a fluke or have they turned the corner and become a good team?”

The answer to the first question may be the name Colt McCoy. Since he took over the quarterback position after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace suffered injuries, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He appears very poised in the pocket, makes good decisions, and his passes are very crisp and accurate. Even more impressive is his first three games were against Super Bowl contending teams.

Of course, McCoy has not done all this alone. He is protected by a very good offensive line, an excellent power running game, and a good defense.

While McCoy did look very good against the Pittsburgh “steel curtain” defense when throwing the ball, none of his cushions held steady for a full game. The week after there was some measure of improvement. As I mentioned, the Browns defense did most of the work against New Orleans. The turnovers it forced gave the Browns short fields to work with, but only converted into a touchdown once. McCoy, though he played well again, was held in check by another very good defense.

Two weeks later the proverbial stars aligned. It is no secret the New England Patriots do not have a good defense. They are near the bottom of the NFL in every major defensive category. They rely on their offense to win games. Given two weeks to prepare, Eric Mangini and company came up with the perfect game plan to shut down this potent offense. The Browns offense took advantage, relied heavily on their power running game, threw in a few trick plays, and gave Colt McCoy every reason to feel comfortable in leading them to another victory.

All throughout the last two games, Browns fans watched on as Colt McCoy looked every bit the player he was at the University of Texas. Even I said to the TV that he made me do a complete 180 on my opinion of him. Then I realized what defense he was playing against.

Next week’s game, however, will be a different story. The Browns play another of Eric Mangini’s old teams, the New York Jets. Now tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, the Jets are a team comparable to the Steelers, whom McCoy faced in his pro debut.

On paper the Jets have the edge, but I believe this is another winnable game for the Browns for a few reasons. First of all, the Browns defense controlled the Patriots, who have a better pass offense than the Jets. New York, like the Browns, relies on its running game to set up the pass. The Browns have shown throughout the season that they are very good at stopping the run. When under pressure to make plays, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will make mistakes. So long as the Browns defense controls the running game and avoid the big pass play that has killed them this season, I think they can keep the Jets off the scoreboard.

Second is the coaching game. Eric Mangini used to coach the Jets and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was on his staff. Rex Ryan, the Jets head coach, is the brother of Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The ties the Browns coaching staff have to the Jets will give them ample knowledge to prepare another successful game plan.

The final reason I think the Browns can win this game is the crowd factor. Two of the Browns’ three victories this season have been at home. Had the offense played earlier in the season like it did this past Sunday, the team would be undefeated at home right now. Browns fans are some of the most rabid fans in the NFL. No doubt they will be into the game this coming Sunday. While the other two factors are up in the air, this one is a no brainer.

The Cleveland Browns are playing very good football right now. That much is true. Whether it is for real remains to be seen. Why it is happening is also a wonder. Many fans and media alike believe the reason lies solely on Colt McCoy taking over at quarterback. Though I proclaimed this past Sunday that I have taken a complete 180 turn on McCoy, I now think better of my words. What I said was probably a rush of excitement seeing the Browns play better football than they had all of last season and the first six games of this one.

Remember fans, other Browns quarterbacks in the past have excited us after two or three games like McCoy has, then failed miserably when anointed the starting quarterback. Also remember Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, though injured, are still on this team and at least one will soon be healthy enough to play. Wallace has also shown flashes of good play, and perhaps more mobility than McCoy. So while McCoy has been very good so far, Mangini may decide to go back to Wallace if McCoy falters down the line.

As for me, right now I am going to sit back, watch the rest of the season, and enjoy the ride.

Credit for image: www.clevelandbrowns.com

Written by apokorny

November 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Browns Latest Quarterback Controversy

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After the injury to Seneca Wallace, the Browns are left with another quarterback controversy.

Hello readers, I’m back! I apologize for neglecting you the last few weeks. I have had a few developments in my life that have taken up a lot of my time. In addition, instead of writing about what everyone else in sports is writing about, I was waiting for that next big, controversial story. Now the time has finally arrived.

For the first five weeks of the NFL season I have refrained from talking about the Cleveland Browns because they are, as I mentioned, what everyone else is talking about. I can hold my tongue no longer as a controversial issue arose after yesterday’s game.

Yes, the Browns are now 1-4, but if you look really closely, the team is in fact improving. The Browns have held a lead in the first half every week, only for the opponents to catch on, make adjustments, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The only exception being last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, when the defense held strong to preserve the first win of the season.

The same held true for yesterday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Everything was going well for the Browns until the controversial issue showed its ugly face. Joe Thomas, who had the worst game of his career yesterday, gave up a sack to John Abraham just before halftime and quarterback Seneca Wallace was injured on the play. As a result, Jake Delhomme, who was already injured, was forced to enter the game.

One would think four weeks of sitting on the bench and limited practice reps would help Delhomme’s recovery. Wrong. At age 35, Delhomme’s resiliency is low. He noticeably limped through the second half and it was clear the injury was more on his mind than leading the Browns to victory. He repeatedly made bad decisions such as throwing into double coverage or taking a sack rather than throwing the ball away. The result was two interceptions, including one which was returned by the Falcons for the game sealing touchdown.

So now the controversial question: with two injured quarterbacks, what do the Browns do next? With two injured quarterbacks, signing an experienced veteran free agent seems like an obvious move. Those on the market include Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia, Jamarcus Russell, and J.P. Losman, just to name a few. Yes, that is definitely a weak market. Culpepper and Garcia, like Delhomme, are damaged goods, well past their prime. Russell and Losman, meanwhile, were never good to begin with. To be honest though, what other options do the Browns have?

Let us take a look at what the Browns have left. Rookie Colt McCoy has been holding a clipboard all season like it was promised by Mike Holmgren. When he was shown on the scoreboard during last week’s game against Cincinnati doing just that, I could not help but smile. Because that is what I feel he should be doing this season. Despite the injuries to the quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, I still feel he should be holding the clipboard this season. There are fans who think he knows the system now, but the fact of the matter is he’s still a greenhorn rookie who has not played against a first-string defense.

The Browns’ next game, as most who follow the NFL know, is against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. To send Colt McCoy, on one week’s notice, into that kind of atmosphere against the dreaded “steel curtain” defense would be lunacy. There are some who feel it would be a great test of his mental acumen.

While that may be true, I’m thinking in terms of his physical stature. Like Seneca Wallace, McCoy is barely six feet tall. To make matters worse, he is less mobile than Wallace and he would be facing a defense much better than that of the Atlanta Falcons. Despite having a better offensive line to protect him, if McCoy were to start, it could end up being a repeat of Tim Couch’s first few career games against Pittsburgh.

The next option the Browns have starting the healthier of their two injured quarterbacks. Since Wallace was just injured yesterday, he is still very tender, so he likely would not be ready by next Sunday. Delhomme, who did not expect to play yesterday, would have a week to prepare. While this does not sound very smart given what I just explained about the Steelers against immobile quarterbacks, there is another possibility.

At one point during the third quarter of yesterday’s game, Brian Daboll finally decided to shake up his offensive playbook. Josh Cribbs lined up several times at quarterback and was very successful doing so. Not only did he gain eleven yards on two carries, he also completed a ten yard pass. By now everyone is aware that Josh Cribbs was a quarterback in college at Kent State University. While he is not the most crisp passer, he is definitely capable of holding down the position for at least one game.

The final option, as I briefly covered earlier, is signing a veteran quarterback. If they chose to do so, I believe the best choice would be Jeff Garcia. Yes, the Browns have gone down that road once before with horrible results. Why would they want to do it again? Because this is a different story. A huge reason for Garcia’s problems in Cleveland the first time around was his issues with Butch Davis. The two butted heads repeatedly and the whole situation went up in flames.

This time Garcia would not have to worry about Davis, but he also has a history with one of the executives. Browns general manager Tom Heckert signed Jeff Garcia a few years ago in Philadelphia. After Donovan McNabb went down with one of his many injuries, Garcia stepped in and took the Eagles to the playoffs. I am not saying he would do that with the Browns. I am just saying he would not be a bad choice if Heckert were to call his number one more time.

Just when the Cleveland Browns appeared to have some stability at the quarterback position, the football gods intervened and proved everyone wrong once again. Now they once again have a controversy at the position. However, unlike the past, this one involves a rash of injuries. There are some interesting options, but which one will the Browns choose? I covered all of those which appear to be the most obvious or viable. If none of them work, maybe Vinny Testaverde is still sitting by his phone, waiting for a call.

Credit for image: signonsandiego.com

Tribe Social Forum Review

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The Cleveland Indians PR department outdid itself again with the Tribe Social Forum

It is no secret that the Cleveland Indians baseball team is not a good one this season. Its public relations team, however, has been excellent. 

Social media has taken the world by storm over the course of about the last six years. What started as a small network restricted to college students has developed into a worldwide phenomenon. Now professional sports are becoming involved in social media. From front office executives all the way down to players, sports organizations are becoming involved in an effort to better connect with their fans. Perhaps none more so than the Cleveland Indians.

Many members of the Indians organization have been heavily active on Twitter this season, providing their followers with vital information ranging from daily team news all the way down to in-game updates. Their biggest development, however, was Tribe Social Deck, which allowed fans involved in social media to view an Indians game from a new perspective.

Last night the organization took another step toward social media immortality with the Tribe Social Forum, held in the Champions Suite of Progressive Field. For only $50, fans were given the opportunity to observe and participate in a question and answer session with a four member panel, overseen by Indians PR representatives, including vice president Bob DiBiasio, who served as mediator.

Current Tribe general manager and soon to be President Mark Shapiro began the forum with a short statement about the organization’s social media efforts and took questions of all types from the audience. He proclaimed that the team will continue to develop its already strong social media presence, stating that it is important to connect with fans.

Say what you will about Mark Shapiro. After hearing what he had to say last night, I strongly feel he understands the importance of connecting with the fans. Since the audience was not handpicked by the hosts and panel members, anybody could have come in off the streets and blasted Shapiro for the state the franchise. This fact alone shows that the Indians are willing to take risks to become connected with its paying customers at a greater level.

After Shapiro’s session concluded, Bob DiBiasio presented the four person panel with a series of questions regarding social media, both on a professional and personal level. The general consensus was that different levels of discretion should be used by social media users, depending on the purpose. For instance, those who use social media to search for a job should refrain from using disparaging remarks toward companies. Above all else, the importance of two-way communication was heavily stressed throughout the forum.

Once the forum (and the late afternoon rainstorm) concluded, those who attended the forum were invited to stay and watch the Indians take on the Los Angeles Angels from the Champions Suite at the stadium. They were treated to an “all you can eat” buffet, as well as dessert from the Terrace Club. In addition, public relations representatives Curtis Danburg and Rob Campbell (@tribetalk on Twitter) stayed at the suite for the duration of the game to socialize with the attendees. Bob DiBiasio himself also returned to the suite late in the game.

The highlights of my experience were having the opportunity to ask Mark Shapiro the only question he fielded pertaining to roster matters, having casual baseball discussions with DiBiasio, Campbell, and Danburg at various points throughout the game, and finally, exchanging high-fives with all three men in celebration as the Indians won the game in walk-off fashion.

After attending the Tribe Social Forum, as well as watching a game from the Tribe Social Deck earlier this season, I can only wonder what other pro sports organizations go to such lengths to connect with their fans on a deeper level like the Indians. The Cleveland Indians may be a team in a state of disarray at the moment. But while front office members continue their work to turn the franchise around, the public relations team is revolutionizing the social media aspect of professional sports.

 Credit for image: mlb.com

Written by apokorny

September 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Tupa’s Son Inherits Brecksville Legacy

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Brecksville quarterback Tom Tupa, III looks to pick up where his dad left off.

The last time I set foot on the campus of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School for a regular season varsity football game was almost nine years ago. I joined several of my fellow classmates who graduated just four months earlier to watch the following Bees season’s homecoming game. I had not been to a game since.

This past weekend I was given a reason to finally return to watch my alma mater in action. His name was Tom Tupa, III. Does the name ring a bell? Avid football fans recognize the name and make the connection. Tupa, III is the son of former NFL quarterback-turned-Pro Bowl punter Tom Tupa, Jr. After research, I discovered the latter was in fact the junior of the two.

What fans outside of the town I spent most of my life in do  not know is the connection runs deeper. Tupa, Jr. is also a Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School alumnus. Twenty-seven years ago he led the Brecksville Bees to the division II state football championship.

Since that time, the school has had many excellent teams, winning a few championships in the now defunct Pioneer Conference. Players from my class rank either first or second on the school’s single season record list for rushing and passing yardage and receptions since 1993, all set our senior year. However, it has not come close to producing another state championship team.

Sophomore quarterbacks are not expected to carry their teams in their first years playing on the varsity team. While this is also true for Tupa, III, there are circumstances in place that suggest he is capable of the task. Not only does he have the family genes, but his father is also the Bees’ offensive coordinator.

The kid wasted no time in displaying his potential on opening night when he took Brecksville from a halftime deficit to a 21-17 comeback victory over rival North Royalton to claim possession of the golden boot the teams have fought over for decades.

After reading all the hype, I decided to return to Brecksville this past Friday night to witness firsthand exactly what Tupa, III can do. Another reason I decided to attend the game was because the defense Brecksville was facing in Medina was coached by my godfather. I was very interested in seeing what type of game plan my uncle came up with to combat the father-son Tupa combination.

The two Bees teams battled back and forth as the game was close at halftime. But then Medina made adjustments to both sides of its game. A strong rushing attack grounded the tempo of the game way down, allowing its defense to remain fresh and focus on Brecksville’s attempt at an air raid. The result was a 42-14 victory for Medina.

Tom Tupa, III performed as advertised. Rated the best drop-back quarterback in the country by two recruiting websites, Tupa looked extremely poised in the pocket and his passing was very crisp. Not only was he accurate, but he could throw the long ball as well, connecting on a 46-yard pass early in the game. What hurt him appeared to be his receivers. He suffered from dropped balls, tight Medina coverage, and an interception which was tipped by his own man. Yet, he still completed 15 of 24 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

One can only speculate on what the future holds for Tom Tupa, III. After a solid first two weeks on varsity, he appears to be picking up right where his dad left off 27 years earlier. For the next three years, all eyes in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school district will be on the youngster, hoping his career as the Bees’ quarterback will include a state championship as well.

Credit for image: www.cleveland.com