03/30/15 Lightning Strikes
This is exactly what the Lightning did not need.
For the second straight season, just as the Lightning is about to ride a wave of optimism into the postseason, a major injury threatens to put its Stanley Cup hopes in jeopardy.
A season ago, goalie Ben Bishop went down just before the playoffs, and the Lightning was promptly swept in the first round by the Canadiens. If backup goalie Anders Lindback hadn't resembled a piece of Swiss cheese in that series, the Lightning might have advanced to the second round....
03/29/15 TV and Radio
Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
This is a special time of year, when the Tampa Bay area is on full display for the rest of the country.
There's spring training, of course. The PGA Tour was here this month at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. The women's Final Four is coming this weekend to Amalie Arena. But nothing shows off how wonderful it is to live here more than the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg....
1. I don't want to hear about the NCAA's concerns about education for student-athletes when Wisconsin, Xavier and North Carolina had to go all the way to Los Angeles during the week to play in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Let me get this straight: the NFL makes $10 billion a year, but it can't afford to put cameras on the goal-lines and sidelines to make sure it gets the calls right?...
Know who we all should want to be when we grow up? Mo'ne Davis. She was the young woman who became a national sensation last summer pitching in the Little League World Series for a team from Philadelphia. She made the cover of Sports Illustrated and appeared on the Tonight Show. When word got out last week that her story would be the subject of an upcoming Disney film, a baseball player at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University called her a very unflattering sexist name on Twitter and was promptly dismissed from the team....
Remember the old ABC show Coach, starring Craig T. Nelson? It's making a return. NBC has ordered 13 episodes of the show that originally ran from 1989-97. Nelson will reprise his role as football coach Hayden Fox. In the updated version, Fox returns to coaching as an assistant under his son, who is head coach at an Ivy League school. Coach creator Barry Kemp will write, but no word yet on whether any of the other old cast members — Shelley Fabares, Jerry Van Dyke and Bill Fagerbakke — will return. Fagerbakke, who played dim-witted assistant Dauber, now has a bigger TV role: He's the voice of Patrick Star on SpongeBob SquarePants....
He has gone from thoughts of suicide to basketball legend, albeit in another part of the world.
Stephon Marbury spent 13 years in the NBA. He made two All-Star Games and even developed a shoe that was supposed to be affordable for all kids. But the company that made the shoe went out of business, his father died, and his return to his hometown became a nightmare when he was the face of a truly awful Knicks team in the mid 2000s. Marbury said later he had thoughts of killing himself....
03/28/15 Lightning Strikes
The crowd went nuts Thursday night when Sam Gagner scored in overtime to give the Coyotes a victory over the Sabres. What was unusual about that? The game was in Buffalo.
Sabres fans cheered the Sabres' loss, which meant Buffalo's odds of winning the draft lottery improved. The Sabres are last in the NHL, and Arizona's victory Thursday moved the next-to-last Coyotes six points ahead of Buffalo. Connor McDavid, a center for Erie of the junior Ontario league, is expected to be the top pick in June....
03/27/15 The Heater
New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred (below) visited the Rays last week and also turned up on WDAE-AM 620. While discussing the Rays' future in Tampa Bay, Manfred said the usual yada-yada about the team needing support from local government, corporate sponsors and the fans.
The area is 0-for-3. The city of St. Petersburg plods along, coming up with no solutions in dealing with the Rays' request to explore stadium locations in Tampa. The bay area seems to lack the number of rich corporate sponsors most baseball teams need to thrive. And, as far as the fans, let's face it, not enough people go to the games....
All the best stories have a villain. • Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. The Joker. • Same with sports. It's more fun — and, when you think about it, often more emotional — when you root against one team rather than root for another. • Everyone loves to root against somebody — the Yankees, the Cowboys, Notre Dame, whomever. • And that brings us to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which resumes tonight with 16 teams left playing for the title. • Normally there is no program more loathed, more despised, more hated than Duke — that goody-two shoes program run by the most loathed, despised and hated coach in the land in Mike Krzyzewski. And if these were normal circumstances, most college hoops fans would be pulling out their voodoo dolls and whipping up their whammy curses to make sure Coach K and Duke limped back to Tobacco Road well short of a national championship. • Not this year. This year is anything but normal. This year, fans have another target, another team and another coach to detest: • Kentucky and coach John Calipari....
03/22/15 Lightning Strikes
Last week the Panthers' Jaromir Jagr scored his 718th goal to move past Lightning founder Phil Esposito for fifth on the NHL's all-time list. It's too bad Esposito has fallen out of the top five, though the guess is Espo won't think it's that big of a deal. But it's moments like this when we have to remind ourselves just how much of a beast Esposito was as a player. In these parts, we think of Esposito starting the Lightning and now being a fun analyst on Lightning game broadcasts on the radio. We think of that big smile, his hilarious stories and the way he is so approachable....
03/21/15 Lightning Strikes
• For the first time, ESPN was the nation's most-watched cable network in prime time, averaging 2.3 million viewers for 2014. The USA network was the most watched for the previous nine years.
• Most nationally televised NHL playoff games this spring will air on NBC and the NBC Sports Network, but look for a few to end up on USA.
• Starting Monday, Highly Questionable, the show hosted by Dan Le Batard; his dad, Gonzalo, and Bomani Jones, shifts from ESPN2 to ESPN. It will air at 4:30 p.m....
It always seems ridiculous to suggest that a college team could beat a pro team in any sport. You could take the very worst team in any pro sport and have them go up against the best college team ever and the pro team, I always believed, would absolutely destroy the college team.
But last week, SMU coach Larry Brown not only suggested that this year's Kentucky basketball team could win a game against an NBA team, but win a lot of games against a lot of NBA teams....
03/21/15 The Heater
Former big-leaguer Orestes Destrade, now a Rays pre- and post-game analyst on Sun Sports, is known for holding a baseball while on camera. When he started doing this in 2012, I wrote an item in the Tampa Bay Times calling it "annoying'' and "distracting.''
Well, Destrade told me last week that he had no plans on making it his "thing'' but changed his mind when he saw the item in the Times. Then he decided to do it all the time....
Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim, whose program is in trouble with the NCAA for various violations, says he might stay on for another three seasons. What an awful idea. Boeheim built the Syracuse program. He is Syracuse basketball, and you can understand that he wants to go out under his own terms. But if he truly cares about the program, he needs to step down. Right now.
How in the world is he going to recruit when everyone knows there's a ticking clock on his career? Hanging on as a lame-duck coach can only send the program into a spiral....
It's very difficult to believe that the NFL is cool with FSU quarterback Jameis Winston not going to the draft next month. Reports are that Winston might stay at home in Alabama so he can celebrate likely being the No. 1 overall pick by the Bucs on April 30 with family and friends.
The NFL is now farming out the draft to various cities to drum up even more interest in it. This year's is in Chicago. So you have one of the league's marquee events in a new venue and the NFL doesn't mind that the featured star of opening night is not going to be on hand for the biggest moment?...