WUOMFM

sports

Desmond Howard strikes the Heisman pose after he returned a punt for a touchdown against Ohio State in 1991.
Brian Masck / desmondhoward.com

Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said.  When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy.

In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place.  Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise.  Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.”  When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.

User: dmealiffe / flickr.com

Canada might be the only nation on earth that invented its favorite sport, has no other sport that’s even half as popular, and remains arguably the best in the world at playing it. How big is hockey in Canada?  They put the sport on their five-dollar bill.  It has a drawing of kids playing a pick-up game outside, and a quote from a beloved children’s story, “The Hockey Sweater.”  It goes like this:  

user Urban Adventures / Flickr

Inside today’s New York Times, you’ll find my story on Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander.

I was on hand Tuesday night when Verlander nearly pitched the third no-hitter of his career.

He wound up with a two-hit game against the Cleveland Indians, in a performance that baseball scribes say was one of the best of the year.

And we discovered, there is an economic impact for Detroit every time he walks on the mound.

Call it the Verlander Effect.

Verlander attracted 28,128 fans to Tuesday night’s game — the latest proof that attendance when Verlander pitches goes up by more than 5,000 (5,137 to be precise). The fan count at a Verlander appearance averages 26,981; the Tigers are averaging 21,844 on nights when he doesn’t.

That extra 5,137 people adds up to a lot of revenue for the Tigers and by extension, the businesses around Comerica Park and in Detroit.

Zach Chrisholm / Flickr

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by all objective sources to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too.  But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less.  That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burn-outs got the park permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, with names like the Junior Junkies, the Extra Burly Studs, and – yes – the ‘Nads.  If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio Staff

The University of Michigan is elevating the men’s and women’s lacrosse clubs to varsity status. Dave Brandon is the Athletic Director at U of M. He says the announcement Wednesday is “the worst kept secret in America.”

Brandon says lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the nation. Michigan high school programs have grown from 50 to 180 in the past ten years.

(MSU Dept. of Kinesiology)

A new Michigan State University study finds ‘virtual’ athletic training partners might be more effective than trying to work out alone.   Researchers found a virtual training partner, someone appearing on a video monitor,  actually provides greater motivation for people to exercise longer , harder and more frequently. 

wingsofjustice.com

Robert "Tractor" Traylor died of apparent massive heart attack in Puerto Rico.

From ESPN:

Police in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said in a statement he was found dead Wednesday on the bedroom floor of his oceanfront apartment. Police and Traylor's team, the Vaqueros de Bayamon, said he had been missing for a few days and apparently died from a heart attack.

The Vaqueros said Traylor was rehabbing a heel injury and had not been playing. They suspended their game Wednesday night because of his death.

Traylor played for the University of Michigan from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that he played for Murray-Wright High School in Detroit.

He was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to play for seven years in the NBA for 4 teams (Milwaukee, Cleveland, Charlotte, and New Orleans). After his NBA career, Traylor played for teams in Turkey and Italy before playing in Puerto Rico.

Michael Zanussi / Flickr

Sometimes the real world is so overwhelming it sneaks into sports.  One of those times occurred after 9/11, when the crowd at Yankee Stadium sang “God Bless America.”

I’m not very religious, but it sounded right to me. 

It seemed appropriate that that signature moment, when we needed to be together, occurred in our country’s most hallowed arena, the nation’s front porch.

We are probably the most sports-soaked culture in the world. We’re the ones who pay for the Olympics, after all – and I believe our code of conduct when we’re competing often represents our values at their best. 

People like to say sports teaches us how to be aggressive.

But you can learn that through alley fighting.  Any jerk with no regard for others can be aggressive.  Prisons are filled with them.  9/11 was conceived by them.  

So I disagree.

University of Michigan

A key part of the offense for the University of Michigan men's basketball team will leave the team for the NBA draft.

The school reports that Darius Morris has decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility.

From the Associated Press:

The sophomore point guard had declared for the draft but could have returned to the Wolverines if he'd withdrawn by May 8. Instead, he'll forgo his remaining eligibility, meaning Michigan will have to replace one of its most important players as it tries to build on last season's impressive finish.

"There have been long discussions with my family, friends and my Michigan coaches," Morris said. "In the end I decided to go with my heart. Playing professional basketball has always been a dream for me. I feel this is the right time for me to pursue that goal. It will be hard to leave the University of Michigan. However, I truly believe the basketball program is moving in a very positive direction."

University of Michigan

On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.

Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.   

I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral. 

As he told Angelique Chengalis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You've lived a damned good life. You've got lot to be thankful for.’”

user WDPGShare / Flickr

The NCAA sent Ohio State University's president a letter citing the "notice of allegations" against the school's football program.

In the letter to Ohio State, NCAA officials say, "Your institution should understand that all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary."

Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Christina Shockley will be running in the the 2011 Boston Marathon today!

Her start time is 10:20 a.m. where she'll run with the "second wave."

You can track her progress online.

We're all cheering her on - Go Christina!

MGoBlue.com

Most sports fans love a Cinderella story.

I've found an athlete who played the role twice.

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its

record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born.

They were picked to finish first in the league, but they finished a disastrous seventh. 

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six straight playoff games to get an automatic bid.

If you’re not a Michigan football fan, you probably haven’t heard of Vada Murray, but you might have seen his picture.

It’s one of the iconic images of Michigan football, along with Tom Harmon standing in his mud-soaked, torn-apart jersey, Ol’ 98, and Desmond Howard diving to catch a touchdown against Notre Dame -- two Heisman Trophy winners, winning big games.

But the photo I’m talking about depicts Vada Murray and Tripp Welborne soaring skyward to block a field goal.

They were a kicker’s nightmare, but even when they got a hand on the ball, it simply denied their opponent three points -- not the kind of thing that wins you a Heisman Trophy or an NFL contract.

They don’t even keep records of blocked kicks.

But, over two decades later, something about that photo still resonates, perhaps because it captures their effort, their intensity, their passion – all of it spent just to give their teammates a slightly better chance for success.

user skoch 3 / wikimedia commons

A lot of this story, you already know:

Five super-talented freshmen come to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines become the first team in NCAA history to start all five freshmen. They get to the final game of March Madness before losing to defending national champion Duke. The next year, they make it to the finals again, but lose to North Carolina when their best player, Chris Webber, calls a time-out they don’t have. 

Along the way they make baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and import rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playground to the mainstream of college basketball.

It’s been that way ever since.

Cseeman / Flickr

It’s time for March Madness, which means the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament begins this week.

Seven Big Ten teams made the cut.

No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday.

Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

user johntex / wikimedia commons

It looks like Jim Tressel has gotten himself into a bit of hot water.

That’s why his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, flew back to make sure everyone said they were “taking responsibility” – a phrase which changed some time in the last decade, and now means the exact opposite.

It was fine theater.  

Steve Johnson / Flickr

The Fennville boys basketball team suffered an unbelievable tragedy last week when their star player, Wes Leonard, died from a heart attack minutes after hitting a game winning shot in overtime.

It was later found that the sixteen year old had an enlarged heart.

Now, the Fennville Blackhawks (20-0) have decided to play on despite their immense sadness.

From ESPN.com:

The Fennville team will play Monday night against Lawrence High in the Class C district playoffs. The game has been moved to Hope College in Holland.

The Sporting News says the game was moved from Lawrence High School to Hope College to accommodate an expected large crowd and large media presence.

The Lawrence High School coach spoke with ESPN about how he expects the Fennville boys team to play. From the Sporting News:

Lawrence coach Curt Meat told ESPN of Monday’s game, “Either they’re going to come out and break down and be terrible, and I’d hate to see that … or they’re going to come out and they’re going to have angels on their shoulders and really light it up.”

Drew Sharp has an opinion piece in today's Detroit Free Press. He quoted a statement from Fennville superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer talking about Lawrence High School decision to change the venue:

"They have been more than gracious and accommodating in making this decision. By doing so, they are relinquishing home-court advantage. We also recognize that Lawrence has been cast in an unenviable position and must feel as if the world will be rooting against them. Rather than focusing on the outcome of Monday's game, our joint goal is to make it a fitting tribute to the memory of Wes Leonard."

Wes Leonard’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday morning at Holland's Christ Memorial Church.

Visitation is today from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Fennville United Methodist Church.

Here's a video from WMMT TV in Grand Rapids:

Jeramey Jannene / Flickr

Eastern Michigan University had a very strong basketball team in 1996.

The Eagles were so good they stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 75-60.

They had nation’s second-leading scorer - and their program listed his height at 5-foot-8 inches.

This, I had to see. 

I watched Earl Boykins and his teammates torch Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ball State.

Derek Hatfield / Flickr

Bob Probert was known as an "enforcer" in the game of hockey. The guy who had your back.

If an opposing player started something, Probert was there to exact a penalty on the other player with his fists.

He played in the NHL for sixteen seasons, including a long stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

Probert died last year at the age of 45 after suffering chest pains.

The New York Times published a piece this morning on the discovery that Probert suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - a brain trauma disease that has also been found in many former NFL players.

After learning about CTE, Probert told his wife he wanted his brain donated to researchers.

Probert's widow, Dani Probert, is quoted in the Times article:

"I remember joking with him, ‘Wouldn’t your brain make a nice specimen?’ ” she said. “He started questioning whether he would have it himself. He told me that he wanted to donate his brain to the research when he died. Who would have thought that six months later it would be happening?"

His brain was donated after his death last year.

Researchers at Boston University said they found evidence of CTE in Probert's brain.

One of the researcher's noted they couldn't isolate where Probert's exposure to head trauma came from:

“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantuco-director of the Boston University center and a prominent neurosurgeon in the area of head trauma in sports. “We haven’t definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing C.T.E. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they’re still relatively young.”

Probert's wife believes it came from all the checking and hits in the game itself. She did note that in his last years, Probert did show signs of "behavior uncharacteristic to him, especially memory loss and a tendency to lose his temper while driving."

Wherever the brain trauma came from, the NHL will likely take a closer look at protecting its players, the same way the NFL has been creating new rules to cut down on head trauma in its sport.

If they're successful in better protecting their players, the sports have reporters from the New York Times to thank.

Times reporters, like Alan Schwartz, have been exposing the effects of head trauma in sports for the last several years.

Hockey net.
Dean Michaud / Flickr

Whenever I talk to a high school coach who quit, they always say the kids were great, but the parents drove them crazy.

It doesn’t matter what sport.  

But when I coached the Ann Arbor Huron High School hockey team, I was lucky.

Yes, getting to know the players was the best part, and now, seven years after I stepped down, I’m going to their weddings.

What I didn’t expect, though, was becoming lifelong friends with their parents, too.  

user greenkozi / Flickr

Last week my beloved television went POOF! It was seven years old, or 14 in sports writer years.  

So, what great sports events did I miss?

Well, I can’t be sure, of course, but I’m willing to bet… not much.

Sports writers complain about the dog-days of summer, when all we have to write about is tennis and Tiger and the Tigers – and, that’s about it. But there’s a lesser-known slow season for sports scribes, and it's called February.

Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

The crowd at a fundraising dinner for the Michigan Political Leadership program was maybe hoping Governor Rick Snyder would drop some clues on what’s going to be in his budget proposal next week.

The governor revealed almost nothing about his spending plan. But he did make a bold sports prediction. Governor Snyder said:

"Before I finish office, the Lions will be in the Super Bowl – how’s that?"

The governor did not say if that would be in the next four years – or if a championship season for the Lions would require a second term. The Lions record last season was six victories to 10 losses, following a winless season in 2009.

Super Bowl Hoopla

Feb 11, 2011
user daveynin / Flickr

Forty five years ago, the Super Bowl wasn’t even the Super Bowl.

They called it the NFL-AFL Championship game, until one of the founders renamed it after watching his grandson play with a “High Bouncing Ball” – a super ball.

Tickets were only fifteen bucks for that first game, and they barely sold half of those, leaving some 40,000 empty seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum.   

A 30-second ad cost only $42,000, and they weren’t any different than the ads they showed the previous weekend.

The half-time show featured three college marching bands, including one you might have seen from the University of Michigan.

Over the next couple decades, of course, the event became a veritable national holiday.  Tickets now sell for thousands of dollars, and ads for millions.  The game attracts more than 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan's athletic department held a press conference to introduce the program's new head football coach, Brady Hoke.

David Brandon says he spent a lot of time in the past few days crisscrossing the country interviewing coaches. He said he spent hours interviewing coaches saying despite what is often reported in the press, "all that glitters is not gold."

Brandon introduced Hoke saying he's "a player's coach" and said he's someone who knows Ann Arbor and someone who loves the University of Michigan.

sdsu.edu

Update: 5:00 p.m.:

The University of Michigan's athletic department announced today that San Diego State University’s Brady Hoke will lead the Wolverine football program.

Brady Hoke is no stranger to Ann Arbor. He worked as an assistant coach for the Wolverines for 8 seasons including on 1997’s national championship squad.

Hoke’s 28 year career includes stops at Grand Valley State, Western Michigan, and Toledo. 

For the past three years I’ve had unfettered access to the Michigan football program, from the film room to the locker room, to write a book about what I’ve seen.

Before I walked into that first staff meeting, I thought I knew Michigan football as well as anyone.  But after three years of seeing everything up close, I can tell you this unequivocally: I had no idea.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Now that University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez has been fired, David Brandon says he'll work fast to find a replacement.

Brandon was hired one year ago as the University of Michigan's Athletic Director. During the past twelve months the U of M football program has been his primary concern.   

The football team has struggled on the field and violated NCAA rules off the field.  

Now, the once premier football program faces years on probation and an uphill climb to become truly competitive. 

Brandon says whoever he hires as head coach needs to be more than an average football coach:

 “This individual has to be able to compete at the highest level.  The expectations here are extraordinarily high.  The passion for this football program is unbelievable.  If you don’t believe me, you should see the email traffic. There are people out there who care.  And it’s beyond just sport for them.  It’s part of their life.  That’s put a coach in a position where they have to have the ability.  To stand up to that pressure and perform against it.

Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UPDATE 1:00 p.m.:

The press conference has concluded. Brandon entertained a lot of questions about potential replacements for Rich Rodriguez, but said he has yet to talk with potential candidates and plans to do so soon.

It appears Brandon plans to increase the amount of pay the next head football coach at the University of Michigan will receive. Rich Rodriguez had a six-year $15 million contract. Brandon feels Michigan has been in the "middle of the pack" in terms of coaching pay for top tier college football programs.

Rich Rodriguez coaches UM football team
user NHN_2009 / creative commons

UPDATE: 7:30 p.m.:

The University of Michigan is calling the reports that head football coach Rich Rodriguez has been fired "speculation." TheWolverine.com reports that the University released this statement:

"Everything that is being reported is media speculation at this point," Dave Ablauf, U-M associate athletic director said in a statement. "The definitive voice on this matter is Dave Brandon and he has not and will not speak publicly until a final decision has been made. I will let you know when Dave is prepared to comment."

The website reports that the players meeting that had been scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight was moved to 4 p.m. tomorrow.

UPDATE: 4:24 p.m.: ESPN analysts talk about the Rich Rodriguez firing. Say it was a "marriage [that] never started out on the right foot." Analyst Craig James says Rodriguez told him that people were not on the same page when he came to Ann Arbor.

2:41 p.m.:

Fox News in Detroit and the Detroit Free Press are reporting that the University of Michigan's head football coach, Rich Rodriguez, has been fired.

According to the Fox report:

Sources tell Fox 2 that Rich Rodriguez was fired as head coach of the University of Michigan football team Tuesday.

The University of Michigan might have to pay Rodriguez $2.5 million to buy out the final three years of his contract.

Pages