Jack City

My name is Scott Miles. I'm a Cleveland native and a die-hard Cleveland sports fan. I am in my second year at Capital University where I write for the school paper, work in the Sports Information Department, and used to play baseball and golf. This blog focuses on Cleveland and Ohio State sports, along with Capital. Feel free to give me feedback!

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Legend of the Alaskan Assassin

In the summer of 1998, my friend Steve Valentino and I attended a basketball camp at Duke University. This was back in the "hey-day" of my athletic career, when I was bigger and stronger than most kids my age. I was 11 years old.

It was a phenomenal experience, and though some memories have grown hazy over the years, the week at Duke played a major impact in the course of my life.

I remember Steve's mom driving us down the day before camp started, because Steve's grandparents lived in North Carolina - we would just spend the night there to shorten the drive. We stopped and ate at a Ponderosa on the way down. Once in North Carolina, Steve's grandparents took us on a brief visit to the campus of Wake Forest University. That night, we had watched an NBA playoff game with Tim Duncan and the Spurs, (I can't recall if they were playing Phoenix or Utah), and slept in their living room.

The next day, we drove out to Durham. That's where the legend begins...


Steve and I had gone to plenty of basketball camps together in those days, through the Shooting Stars basketball program. Of course, those overnight, weekly camps were held at places like Oberlin College and Hiram College - not Duke University.

I had never had any particular feelings towards Duke's men's basketball team beforehand. Didn't like 'em, didn't dislike 'em. A lot of sports fans around the country dislike Duke because the basketball team is always, well, really good. Steve had always been a big fan - before our YMCA or travel games, he'd always be checking the score to their games. That's why we ventured out of Ohio's borders and went to the camp down there.

As soon as we walked onto campus, I became hooked. It felt like the biggest place in the world, much larger than Oberlin or Hiram, larger than the two together, it seemed to my young eyes. The buildings were beautiful, historic. The weather was perfect. I was in love - and we hadn't even seen the Holy Grail of our trip.


Duke Indoor Stadium opened in 1940. It cost roughly $400,000 to build and at the time was the second-largest gymnasium in the country, with 8,000 seats and standing room capability to hold 12,000 fans. In 1972, the building was renamed Cameron Indoor Stadium after legendary coach and athletic director Eddie Cameron. Throughout the years, the men's basketball program, Cameron Indoor Stadium and a rabid student fan base known as the "Cameron Crazies" have become synonymous with the name Duke University.

The building reminded me of a cathedral, an interesting comparison, I thought, for an 11-year old who had never really gone to church all that much. The exterior, comprised of beautiful stone, was stunning. Stepping inside, the halls contained memorabilia and memories from over 60 years of basketball tradition - you could feel the history and tradition wash over you. The gym itself was tiny compared to many of the new structures around the nation, but it felt like just the right size to me, being there and imagining playing a game on that court in front of thousands of fans.

If you couldn't tell the age of the building from looking at it from outside, or from the years of wear and tear at places on the inside, you could certainly tell from stepping into the men's bathrooms. They didn't have individual urinals, just a giant trough to relieve yourself. I haven't been back since, so I don't know what the current bathrooms look like, if they've changed. What I do know is that I'd never peed in a trough until then, and to my recollection have never peed in one since.


After we got ourselves checked in, registered, moved into our dorm room for the week and all that good stuff, Steve and I headed back to the gym. With all the campers sitting on the hallowed court, Mike Kryszewski ("Coach K") gave his opening speech. I don't remember what he said, but I remember feeling the goosebumps run through my body as I soaked in the atmosphere and thinking about how awesome it would be to receive instruction from the legendary coach. Alas, the only other time we saw Coach K that week was during the closing ceremonies of the camp, but that didn't really diminish much from the entire experience.

Like I said before, I can only recall a few specific memories from the rest of that week. Steve and I had messed around with the air conditioning in our room, and the room was frigid, colder than a January breeze off Lake Erie, the entire week. I was a pretty big kid back then, and was actually about as big as any of the kids in our age group, which surprised me. I also remember coming away from the camp not overly impressed with any of the other big guys, though some of the guards were pretty quick and could shoot.

(Of course, I ended up getting cut from the seventh and eighth grade school teams, stopped growing, and never really played competitive basketball after that point. I'm sure a lot of those kids at that camp had much more illustrious basketball careers than me, and some are likely still playing in college somewhere. I did end up second in scoring in our intramural basketball league senior year of high school, though, one of the finer achievements of my athletic career. For his part, Steve ran the point guard on the most successful boy's basketball teams in Solon High School history and now plays football at the University of Dayton.)

One memory, though, remains sharper than a steak knife in my mind, a memory that has helped define my life and who I am today. That, my friends, is the arrival of the Alaskan Assassin: Trajan Langdon.


A famous sports quote says that while amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. While some certainly can get by and achieve greatness purely through superior skill or athletic ability, the factor that sets most professional athletes from the rest of the pack is their willingness to spend extra hours in the gym, the weight room, the batting cages, honing their craft, improving their strength, milking everything they can from their bodies to become the best.

One night during our week at Duke, the daily session was running a little long, games were going late - pretty typical for a camp. My team - we were "Iowa", I don't know why, nor was I very happy about being on a Big 10 team that wasn't Ohio State - had already finished our games for the day, so I was just sitting around, watching some of the action on the court, and waiting for us to be dismissed for the evening.

As things were wrapping up, whispers began circulating throughout the assembled campers. "Trajan's here", "He's in the hallway", "They're kicking us out so he can play".

Trajan Langdon had arrived. Nicknamed the "Alaskan Assassin" because he went to high school in Anchorage and had a reputation as a deadly shooter, Trajan was one of the biggest names in college basketball at the time.

Streams of kids exited the court into the main lobby outside the gym. Never the quickest nor the slightest of foot, I was caught near the back of the crowd, but still managed to reach the hallway.

He was out there, all right, smiling and shaking hands. Some of the instructors tried to ebb the flow of kids swarming him, but he didn't mind. It was late at night, probably 10 or 10:30, and he had come to work out after we finished. At the time, I was shocked that someone would be so willing to sacrifice his time, to come to practice so late, and to be so generous as to spend some time with us - it amazed me. Never before in my life had I been so close to an athlete of his stature. Flush in my newfound Duke glory and desperate to meet my new hero, I struggled to make my way up to him.

But it was too late. Our instructors had essentially formed a wall around him, and he made his way into the gymnasium, likely one of his countless summer workouts, preparing for his senior season. Discouraged but not disappointed, I resolved to be the most faithful follower of Duke basketball and of the team's star player, Trajan Langdon.


The rest of camp passed rather uneventfully. As part of our package, we each received a Duke Basketball T-Shirt and a hardbound yearbook for the upcoming season, with Trajan gracing the cover. I hoped, prayed, he would make another appearance before the end of the week, but those hopes and prayers went unfulfilled.

I watched as many Duke games as I could that season (and have continued to do so now). Trajan ended the season as the team's second-leading scorer, and the Blue Devils advanced to the NCAA championship, losing 77-74 to the University of Connecticut. With just a few seconds left, Duke had to go the length of the court to attempt a shot to tie the game, and Trajan was called for traveling near halfcourt. My heart went out for him, and I felt like crying.

Now, here's the part of the story that would be remiss without me telling it. As I'm sure most of you know, I'm a diehard Cleveland sports fan. The mid-to-late 90's was an interesting period in Cleveland sporting history, just as I came into my own, if you will, as a person who lived and died with the successes and failures of his sports teams.

The Cleveland Indians, longtime doormats of Major League Baseball, had suddenly emerged as perennial contenders, playing in two World Series in three years (1995, 1997 - should have won it in 1997, but that's for another time). Art Modell ripped the heart out of the entire city, the entire Cleveland Browns fanbase, moving the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. And the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the tail-end of some great teams from the late 80's and early 90's, trying to regain that identity as the NBA struggled with labor issues and the re-retirement of Michael Jordan.

The 1999 NBA Draft approached, and the Cavs held two first-round selections, the number eight and number 11 picks. I didn't think there was anyway that the Cavs would take Trajan with one of those picks, because everyone was talking about his limitations on defense, and how his only offensive threat was the three-point shot (17.3 ppg, 44.1 percent three-point shooter as a senior). Everyone figured he'd get taken in the late first round, maybe second round.

With the first pick, the Chicago Bulls took Duke forward Elton Brand, who left school early as a sophomore. Before the Cavs' eighth pick, other notable players to go included Steve Francis (Maryland - Vancouver), Baron Davis (UCLA - Charlotte), Lamar Odom (Rhode Island - LA Clippers), Wally Szczerbiak (Miami, OH - Minnesota), Richard Hamilton (UConn - Washington).

With the eighth pick, the Cavs took Utah point guard Andre Miller. Watching the draft, I was happy because we really needed a point guard. But who would we take next?

Two more very good players, Shawn Marion (UNLV - Phoenix) and Jason Terry (Arizona - Atlanta) went ninth and tenth, respectively (Man, what a draft class!) This put the Cavs on the clock with the eleventh pick.

They took Trajan Langdon.

Now, there were plenty of good "Dukies" available in that draft - in fact, a total of four (Brand, Langdon, Corey Maggette, William Avery) would be selected in the first 14 picks. What were the odds, I mused then, that the Cavs would not only take a player from my favorite college basketball team, but my favorite player of all-time? It was a fairy-tale moment for an adolescent - the only bittersweet moment came when I realized that Derek Anderson, who played the same position as Trajan on the Cavs and was my favorite player on the team, would be traded. But I figured that Trajan would easily fill his shoes. I mean, it was a lock, right? Right?


In his rookie season, 1999-2000, Trajan played in 10 games off the bench, averaging 4.9 points per game in less than 15 minutes per ballgame and shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc. An injury ended his season, though, and the Cavs, coached by Randy Wittman and led by an out-of-shape Shawn Kemp, finished with an inglorious 32-50 record.

His second season, though, seemed poised for a breakout. Despite his continued limited minutes, Trajan played in 65 games, with five starts, and bumped his scoring average up to six points per game and shot 41.1 percent from three-point range. I clearly remember his best game of the season, a 31-point outburst against the Pistons, because I was sick that day. So sick, in fact, that I went to bed early and didn't watch any of the game. How did I remember the game, then? Well, I stayed home from school the next day so I could watch the replay of the game on Fox Sports that afternoon.

But the Cavs once again finished with a 30-52 record, and there were grumblings not only about the coaching staff, but also about the lack of production out of the organization's eleventh pick from the 1999 draft. How could that be, I wondered, that everyone complains about him when he doesn't even get a chance to play? How can you just carelessly discard a deadly outside shooter? Didn't they watch him at the All-Star game, playing in the "2-Ball" competition with Eva Nemcova of the WNBA's Cleveland Rockers, where they finished in second place?

During the course of the 2001-2002 season, it became evident that Trajan's days as a Cavalier were numbered. John Lucas took over the team, which managed to finish even worse than it had in the past few years, with a 29-53 mark. Trajan played in just 44 games, averaging fewer minutes than he did during his rookie and second-seasons, and his numbers dropped slightly. I remember Lucas being quoted in the Plain Dealer, saying that Trajan was the best "Monday-Wednesday-Friday" player on the team - NBA teams usually have those days off, meaning that Trajan excelled in practice but not in the game. But coach, you only played him 10 minutes a night, giving backcourt minutes to guys like Bryant Stith, Jeff Trepagnier, and the immortal Bimbo Coles? Was I the only one to see this, to realize this?

My friend Stu and his dad had season tickets, around halfcourt, maybe eight rows up on the same side as the team benches. Now, in those days of Cavs basketball, you had maybe 9,000 fans showing up to games. Maybe. You could hear the players and coaches talking, swearing at the refs, laughing...it was pretty cool, and back then at Gund Arena, they didn't overwhelm you with artificial sound and noise like they do now at "The Q".

Anyway, Stu and his dad took me to a game at the end of the season, when not only was the writing all over the wall for the end of Trajan's career in a Cavs uniform, you might as well have been staring at a graffiti-covered building in the Bronx. I decided to make a sign, the first sign I'd ever made for a sporting event, to bring to the game in homage of Trajan's career. My sister helped me with the lettering, which read "SAVE TRAJAN LANGDON", colored in the blue and orange that the Cavs wore on their jersey' at the time. In addition, I printed out some pictures I could find of Trajan from the internet and glued them on, and brought my Duke yearbook with me from camp, the one with Trajan on the cover, in hopes that he would sign it.

Fans at the game loved my sign. Rest assured, they'd never seen anything like it, nor will they likely ever see anything like it again. I waved my sign at every opportunity I could (during timeouts and such, so as not to disrupt anyone's view - I was very conscience of that) towards the Cavs bench, towards my hero. It went unnoticed, and as the game clock wound down into the fourth quarter, I doubted that anything would come of my efforts.

A timeout was called sometime in the fourth qaurter. The Cavs, who were probably getting killed at that point, huddled around Lucas as he went over some strategy that hadn't worked before nor would work again for the rest of his tenure as Cavs coach. I stood up, as always, and pointed my sign directly at the bench.

Cavs guard Wesley Person, paying no mind to Lucas' clipboard, was gazing into the audience and saw me. He smiled and laughed. He tapped Trajan, who was also somewhat outside the interior of the huddled players, on the shoulder and pointed directly at me.

I almost fainted.

I locked eyes with my hero. He smiled and laughed, too. Oh my God, I thought. He's looking right at me. Me!

The huddle broke up and the game resumed. I sat down, unsure of what to say or think. Stu and his dad were laughing, I think a bit shocked at what had just happened, drawing the attention of two NBA players into the stands, looking at us.

The huddle broke up and the game resumed. But I had stopped paying attention to the game and just focused on the end of the Cavs bench where Trajan sat. I caught him peeking at me and I waved. He peeked again, later, and I held up the Duke yearbook.

He laughed yet again. I felt like crying.

The game finally, mercifully, drew to a close, and I hustled to the Cavs bench, trying desperately to get Trajan to sign my yearbook. But I was too late - the players had already entered the locker room. I pleaded my case to a security guard who was standing nearby, and he just stared blankly right back at me. We waited around for a few minutes, hoping he would reappear, finally giving up and heading back home.

As expected, the Cavs did not re-sign Trajan after the season. The dream was over.


I don't know when exactly, but it was some time long after the season had ended and Trajan had left that my dad and I went to Champs Sports in Solon, the one by where Tops used to be, when it was having its big closing sale. They were basically giving stuff away, and the inside of the store was a mess. We were just looking around when my eyes caught a glimpse of a rack full of "21" Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys. It couldn't be, I thought. No way.

Yup. They were Trajan Langdon jerseys, dozens of them, on sale for like $5 or $10, I can't remember exactly how much. My dad asked me how many I wanted to buy, three or four. To this day, I'm not sure if he was joking or not. I bought one.

Around that time, I wrote to "Glad You Asked", a part of the Plain Dealer's sports section where fans would ask questions about old Cleveland teams, players, trivia, etc. In my Duke yearbook, I had noticed that Trajan was drafted by the San Diego Padres out of high school and played minor league baseball for a few seasons, and I wanted to know what his stats were.

The writer misinterpreted my request, thinking that I had said "minor league BASKET-ball", not "baseball". He printed it anyway, making a crack about me calling college basketball a minor league sport, and reproduced Trajan's collegiate stats.

A bit miffed, I wrote back, explaining the true intentions of my request. This, too, was also published, with a very brief retraction and Trajan's minor league baseball stats. I was a minor hero in the eyes of some of my family and friends for having my name in the Plain Dealer not just once, but twice.


It was at that point that I decided to write Trajan a fan letter. It had been many years since I'd sent one to an athlete (I think Grant Hill, in his Pistons days, was the last one I had sent prior to Trajan - as it would turn out, I wouldn't send out another until a few weeks back, to Browns receiver Joe Jurevicius). I explained how much I thought of him as a player, my near-encounter with him at Duke, and disclosed that I was the fan at the Cavs game with the sign and yearbook. I thanked him for his time in Cleveland and wished him the best of luck down the road. To top it off, I enclosed a picture that my sister took of me at home, posing with my yearbook and sign.

I sent it care of the Cleveland Cavaliers, not really sure how or if it would even get to him. A few months later, I received a letter back, addressed to me in a plain white envelope, with a return address from Alexandria, Virginia. Inside, there was no note, no letter, nothing - except for a handful of Trajan Langdon rookie cards.

In my sophomore year of high school, my friends and I started an intramural basketball team. There were only a few team names that we were allowed to choose from, and we ended up being the "Hawaii Rainbows" with green jerseys.

We decided to get our names and numbers put on the backs of our jerseys. One of our friend's mom did the lettering and it only cost a couple of bucks to get it done. I wanted number 17, my baseball number, and the name "Alaskan Assassin" above it on the back.

A few days later, my friend called me. I wasn't allowed to put "Assassin" on the back of the jersey. I think the school felt I was going to go around shooting up the hallways that week or something. I opted to put "AA" on the back instead. Parents watching our games must have thought I was a recovering alcoholic.


After leaving the Cavs, Trajan spent some time in Italy and Turkey, playing professional ball there. In 2003, the Clippers brought him in during the preseason, but he didn't make the final roster and went back overseas. As the Cavs roster continued to turn over more than an insomniac at night, and as fans cried over the lack of an outside shooting threat, I constantly wondered what if we still had the Alaskan Assassin in a Cavalier uniform. But with LeBron now in town, Trajan slowly slipped from the forefront of my mind.

Last fall, a lot of NBA teams played exhibition games overseas against top European clubs. Gazing through those pre-season boxscores and stories, I laughed when I saw the Clippers got smoked by some team called CSKA Moscow. Then I read the rest of the story to see this...

"Trajan Langdon scored a game-high 17 points..."

I showed that clip to everyone who would look. The list was limited to my dad and my friends Stu and Rosen. I didn't care. He was back. My hero was back.

Poking around today for some more information on him, I saw that he's twenty-fourth in the league in scoring (14.5 ppg), leading CSKA Moscow to a 12-1 record, first place in their group, and a spot in the Euroleague Final Four. Here's an interview with Trajan that I found: http://www.euroleague.net/news/fanmail/i/732/184/fan-mail-trajan-langdon-cska-moscow?smid=223

After reading that, I smiled and laughed a little, fondly thinking back to my exuberance with every shot he hit, cheering louder than a drunk fan in the Dawg Pound.


We all have our heroes, our role models, the people we look up to the most. Over the years, it's amazing how much grief I've gotten for the fact that Trajan Langdon is not only my favorite basketball player, but probably my favorite athlete of all-time. People also laugh when I suggest that Trajan could still compete in the NBA.

(For the record, Trajan was a career 39.6 percent three-point shooter. As of Jan. 26, Larry Hughes is shooting 40.6 percent from three point-range for the Cavs this season. Damon Jones, the player on the Cavs who most closely resembles Trajan's game in terms of strengths and weaknesses, is shooting 39.6 percent from beyond the arc and is in the middle of a $16.1 million contract. For his career, he's a 38.7 percent three-point shooter, not too mention the fact that his defense is shakier than a dog in a thunderstorm- not picking on Damon, but just proving a point because he is supposedly the team's sharpshooter.)

It's tough hearing your idol get ridiculed constantly, people telling you to get over him, telling you that he was never that good to begin with. That's fine - I've heard it all before and will likely hear it again. It bothers me a little but I'm used to it.

I think back to that quote, that amateurs practice until they get it right, while professionals practice until they can't get it wrong, and think back to Trajan on that summer night in Durham, working tirelessly on his jump shot and trying to improve his game.

That's the kind of player I look up to the most.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


"When you believe in things that you don't understand/Then you suffer/Superstition ain't the way..."
Stevie Wonder - "Superstitious"

While most college-aged students here in central Ohio spent their Saturday night carousing the town, I was lying in bed, surrounded by Kleenex, Halls cough drops, water bottles and Tylenol PM.

I watched the end of Ohio State's demolition of Iowa in men's basketball, then planned on catching some of the Cavs' West Coast road trip finale against Golden State. The game tipped off at 10:30 here in Ohio, and I figured the medication would set in soon enough, putting me in a blissful, LeBron-induced coma.

I had the TV on mute to avoid the ramblings of new Cavs TV announcer Fred McLeod, who's a bigger homer than Bart Simpson's dad, and was listening to music from my iPod speaker. The Warriors went on a 20-4 run right before halftime and led 62-44 going into the break. I considered turning the game off but decided to see if the Cavs could rally early in the second half, even though I was exhausted and my eyelids had grown heavier than Rosie O'Donnell and Oprah Winfrey combined.

(Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all night! Although I'm on the lookout for some crazed feminists and Book Club members wanting to throw their purses at me.)

Anyway, halftime finally ended just as "Still Fly" from the Big Tymers came on my iPod. I was lying on my bed with my right ankle crossed over my left, and both hands behind my head. My mouth was slightly open to help my breathe because my nose was so clogged.

The Cavs started the half on a big run, cutting the 18-point deficit to two. I hadn't moved an inch. Everytime "Still Fly" ended, I would use my remote to start it up again.

But the Warriors responded with a run of their own, pushing their lead back up to double digits. Desperate, I switched to the next song, "I Feel Free" by Cream, and kind of rolled over onto my right side, trying to reverse the momentum. The Warriors kept on scoring. I put "Still Fly" back on and held my breath.

Now, if you're any kind of sports fan or took part in competitive athletics before, you have some type of superstitions. That's just how it works. You always hear about athletes eating the same pregame meal and the different rituals that they have to prepare themselves for games. When I played baseball, I would always trim my nails on days I knew I would pitch. Don't ask me why because I don't know. I devoutly followed the old baseball principle to never step on the foul line running on and off the field. After my final warmup pitch before an inning, I would always crouch low in front of the mound while the catcher threw down to second, then circle the mound clockwise - always clockwise - while the infielders tossed the ball "around the horn."

A few years back, in 2001, the Indians played the Seattle Mariners on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Trailing by 12 runs - 12 runs! - the Tribe staged a remarkable rally, winning the ballgame. I watched that game in my bedroom at home, lying flat on my stomach with my legs in the air, leaning against my doorway. Then, too, I dared not move an inch, lest the comeback be halted. When Ohio State beat Michigan this year, I had worn my lucky Ohio State boxers and vowed not to wear them again until the title game. It wasn't until halftime against Florida that I realized I didn't have them on. Racing back to my dorm room, I put them on just as the second half kicked off, but it was too little, too late. Even now, I wonder what if...

Last night, the Cavs trailed by 12 - irony? coincidence? - entering the fourth quarter. I had switched positions once again, rolling over onto my back, but this time with my left ankle crossed over my right, and with just my left hand behind my head.

Firmly entrenched in my belief that my actions 3,000 miles away had everything to do with the Cavs' success or failures in California, I knew I had to stick with "Still Fly" on the iPod. I freaked out everytime I heard the opening chords of "I Feel Free" when I was just a second slow in hitting the repeat button. Near the start of the fourth, I felt my bladder expanding faster than Charles Barkley's waistline after he retired. But I was glued in my position. Schaaf Hall could have been burning down and all of the RA's in the world couldn't have dragged me out of my room.

The Cavs rallied again. My physical condition was deteriorating. I honestly feared wetting myself. My entire left arm was throbbing in pain. My bladder screamed bloody murder at me. My eyes were glazing over, my vision blurred, and I could feel that "sleep" stuff crusting up in the corners of my eyes. For some reason, I really craved buying some "Gator boots with a pimped out Gucci suit."

LeBron hit a three to give Cleveland its first lead of the second half with about four minutes left. I was praying vehemently against overtime. I was exhausted, and my chest was starting to hurt too. With the score tied with 27 seconds left and the Cavs holding the ball, I knew this was it. I had nothing left to give.

Sasha Pavlovic missed a wide-open jumper. David Wesley, who I think was in a suit and tie during pregame warmups, grabbed the offensive rebound. LeBron attempted a jumpshot as the clock expired.

He missed. I bolted out of bed and raced to the bathroom. I got back just as the overtime period started. I had butterflies in my stomach for the first time watching a Cavs game since the Pistons series last year. Diving onto my bed, I hopped under my blanket and simply watched. I had done my part to get the boys into overtime; this was their time to do the rest. But I did keep replaying "Still Fly" - I must have listened to it roughly 20 times.

My friends returned from their night out about midway through overtime. I stared blankly at them as they described their evening, then returned my focus to LeBron and the Big Tymers.

I won't rehash the extra period. You can read the official recap everywhere. But as the Warriors' Stephen Jackson's three-point attempt at the buzzer rimmed out, I simply threw my hands up in the air in triumph...then went to bed.

(JACK CITY READERS: Do you have any crazy superstitions, sports-related or not, that you follow? Post them as comments or e-mail!)

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Joe Jurevicius Blue Collar Award

Some may call me crazy for sending a professional athlete a $10 check in the mail.

You know what? I'm OK with that. Heck, I'm still chuckling over this, and this idea has been in my head for about six weeks now.

Joe Jurevicius is a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. He signed with the team last season, along with fellow northeast Ohioans LeCharles Bentley and Dave Zastudil, in an effort to revitalize the team by pumping in some local talent. All three were Browns fans growing up and expressed great desire in turning the franchise around.

(Intermission: Joe is from Mentor - blahhh, I know - and graduated from Lake Catholic High School, another personal blahhh for me. We always played summer baseball against Lake Catholic, and it was on their field, which is in Mentor, that I suffered my first serious injury. I was playing first base and made what was likely the only "Web Gem" in my less-than-illustrious baseball career, a diving stop to my right. I raced the runner to the bag and beat him, and we collided. A few pitches later, the umpire noticed blood running down my leg - I had ended up getting spiked pretty bad and needed stitches. The doctor was surprised it didn't cut into my bone. I was supposed to sit out two weeks but just said screw it and played two days later. But I still hate Lake Catholic for that scar in my leg. Anyway, back to the column.)

So as you all know, Bentley blows out his knee on the first freakin' day of practice ("The LeCharles Situation", as I called it back then). Zastudil did more than his fair share handling the punting duties, and was arguably the team's most consistent player - which shows the state of the team if one of our few bright spots is the punter.

Jurevicius got hurt in the first game of the season (go figure). The play was a pass to him, and he caught it and got hit. Of course, a Browns penalty negated the result of the play anyways, rendering it an utter waste. They thought he had some broken ribs, but didn't, and came back for the win over Oakland three weeks later. He ended up suffering a concussion in the home finale against Tampa Bay and missed the final game against Houston. For the season, Jurevicius hauled in 40 catches for 495 yards and three touchdowns.

This will all make sense in a minute, trust me. See, if you watched any Browns games this season, you could tell those who gave a damn from those who were just going through the motions, especially down the stretch. The second Steelers game in particular really riled me as a Browns fan, and the Tampa Bay game was the final straw.

I strongly felt that Jurevicius fell in the former category, of players who were giving it their all every week. My friend Tyler, a Florida native, loved watching Jurevicius play when he was a member of the Bucs. And my friend C.J., a fellow Browns fan, formulated the idea to send Jurevicius a bonus.

The letter that C.J. and I sent to Jurevicius has been reproduced below. Inside, we enclosed a $10 check and our congratulations for being the namesake and first honoree of the now annual "Joe Jurevicius Blue Collar Award." I haven't felt this strong of a connection to a local athlete since the Cavs dumped Trajan Langdon (which will be its own column, and probably soon, and you will understand why Trajan Langdon deserves to still be an NBA player.)

My roommate Dan asked me if I thought he would respond. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised either way. Obviously, it would be great if he did. And if not, that's OK too - the award and $10 prize will forever live on in his name.

"Dear Mr. Jurevicius,

My name is Scott Miles, and I am writing to you out of frustration for how this season has turned out. I, along with my dad and 60,000 other fans, spent a portion of Christmas Eve at the Stadium for the final home game. Needless to say, I don’t think too many people went home happy. We’re sick and tired of watching our team not only lose, but get embarrassed. Especially at home.

Several weeks back, some friends of mine and I went to a bar to watch the Thursday night debacle against Pittsburgh. During that game, my friend C.J. pointed out that you looked to be the only player on this team who passionately cares about its success. And you know what? He’s right. Over the last few weeks of the season, while it looked like most had already packed it in for the year, we saw you playing with a different type of fire than most of the others. The Tampa Bay game was the first game I’d been to in two years, and seeing things in person, along with hearing your post-game comments, only confirmed what we’ve known.

C.J., who plays football at Capital University in Columbus, had suggested during that Pittsburgh game that we send you some money as a bonus for your efforts. Enclosed in this letter you will find that bonus. Please accept it with the understanding that we’re just college students; if we could send you more, we would. We’ve also taken things a step further by starting an annual honor known as the “Joe Jurevicius Blue Collar Award” for the Browns player most exemplifying a commitment to winning. For that, we offer our congratulations, and our continued hope that you will continue to display the kind of passion and emotion that we saw from you this season, for the rest of your career.

Look, I’m a Cleveland native. Even though I’m only 19 years old, I know and understand the passion and tradition this franchise exudes. From the roots dating back to the AAFC, to Marion Motley, to Jim Brown, to Otto Graham, to Frank Ryan, to Gene Hickerson, to Paul Warfield, to Dick Ambrose, to Paul Brown and Blanton Collier and Sam Rutigliano…

We’ve all shared the pride in the past. Now is the time to give us something to be proud of in the future. Here’s to the rejuvenation of the Cleveland Browns franchise!

Scott Miles
C.J. Steele"

Friday, January 12, 2007

'Roid Rage Raises Head...Again

OK kids, finish this rhyme: "Cross your heart, hope to die, stick a needle in your..."

The answer, boys and girls, is "eye". But what would the answer be if we asked Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Shawne Merriman? Arm? Leg? @$$?

These three athletes have been in the "eye" of the hurricane, if you will, regarding their alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. According to an Associated Press report, Bonds failed a test for amphetamines (which are a type of stimulant) last year, and it was also reported that Bonds blamed teammate Mark Sweeney for providing him the drugs.

(Sweeney, by the way, hit .251 last year with five home runs. Not exactly stellar numbers. He might want to try taking something a bit stronger.)

Though Bonds later refuted the claim that he had received the drugs from Sweeney, he did not deny taking any amphetamines. As a result, the circumstantial evidence continues to pile up against the man pursuing one of sport's all-time greatest records. Day after day, Bonds loses credibility and faces a more-than-uphill battle in the American court of public opinion.

McGwire, for his part, made the headlines once again in the latest baseball Hall of Fame voting. As anticipated, he failed to gain the necessary number of votes to be elected. Heck, he wasn't even close - only 128 of 545 voters (23.5 percent) selected him on their ballots, well short of the required 75 percent for entry.

The former Oakland Athletic and St. Louis Cardinal slugger blasted 583 home runs in his career, which places him seventh in baseball history. In 1998, McGwire and Sammy Sosa made their memorable push to break Roger Maris's single-season home run record, with McGwire reaching the plateau first and seemingly setting an insurmountable mark with his 70th dinger (Bonds broke that record in less than five years). At the time, everyone lauded McGwire's efforts for helping to save the game of baseball, which was struggling to regain fans after the 1994 strike.

But McGwire's legacy has forever been tainted by the infamous bottle of Andro found in his locker, as people began to question his cartoonish physique. After he retired from baseball, McGwire quickly faded away from the spotlight, but his testimony in front of Congress might have permanently damned him. "I'm not here to talk about the past," he repeated, as if being quizzed about the Louisiana Purchase, not about steroid use in baseball clubhouses.

Football, America's new pastime, hasn't been spared the negative press. Better known as "Lights Out" for his punishment on opposing quarterbacks, Merriman, last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's steroids and related substances policy. Despite missing those four games, he piled up impressive statistics for the San Diego Chargers during this season, which warranted his name in the discussion to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The other top contenders for the award, Denver Broncos corner Champ Bailey and Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, who eventually won the award, vehemently opposed Merriman meriting postseason honors and recgonition. And who can blame them? While there is just rampant speculation about Bonds or McGwire, Merriman was found guilty as charged. And yet, Merriman was named to the AP's All-Pro Team and will head to the Pro Bowl after the season.

Why the double standards? Is it more acceptable for football players, who put their bodies through extreme punishment week in and week out, to take performance-enhancing drugs, as opposed to baseball players, who don't face the same type of rigorous punishment?

Though I highly suspect that McGwire took steroids or other illegal supplements, and the same for Bonds, nobody knows for sure except for them. For Merriman, it's open and shut: He cheated. Plain and simple. Gil Grissom of CSI would be so lucky to have a case like this. But while that may not play a part in Merriman's chances to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame down the road, provided he stays clean, we know for a fact that Merriman did something illegal.

I don't know if Bonds or McGwire did anything illegal, nor do I know that they are squeaky clean. And we may never know, unless they come out and admit to anything.

But what I do know is this: In America, we are presumed innocent until found guilty. So as much as I hate to think this, and as unpopular as this is across the country, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire shouldn't be punished until there's evidence, conclusive evidence, of wrongdoing.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


I'm just going to say this real quick, then it's done and over with, OK?

As I partially explained to my friend Sam, a non-Ohioan, during halftime of last night's game, life in Ohio sucks. Unemployment is off the charts. Our last governor seemed to have the mental capacity of a two-year old. People leave the state in droves to live elsewhere. The weather generally is awful, and people are excited that it's been 45 degrees and raining all winter. Our professional sports teams have, shall we say, a less than stellar record of success.

But you know what we do have? We have pride, and we have Ohio State. Those have been the two constants, through the Bob Tafts, the Jane Campbells, the Dennis Kuciniches, the Tom Noes, the Lake Effect Snow Storms.

So fine. Go ahead and say what you want about last night's game. I don't care. I had my closure somewhere between the third and fourth quarters (I really don't know when, it's all a blur). I took a shower, cleansed myself of all of that, changed out of my Ohio State gear, and popped Airplane! into my DVD player. End of story, end of night. I have no idea what the final score was, nor do I have any intention of ever seeking it out. I do know that 12-1, a Big 10 title and knocking off a pair of teams ranked number two makes for a helluva season, though.

Try to talk to me about the game, and it'll likely end up as the following exchange from Airplane!:

"What was it we had for dinner tonight?"
"Well, we had a choice of steak or fish."
"Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna."

Enjoy your steak and fish. I'm eating lasagna.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Super Scintillating Jack City BCS Preview

Shame on us, the media.

In case you missed it Saturday night, late in the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys-Seattle Seahawks NFC playoff game, the Cowboys had a chance to kick a short field goal with under two minutes left that likely would have won the game. Tony Romo, who had emerged from being the backup quarterback at the beginning of the year into earning a Pro Bowl selection as the starter, was the holder for the field goal. The snap came back, and as Romo went to place it, dropped the ball. He scrambled for the end zone but was tackled short, and Seattle killed the clock for a 21-20 victory.

Romo sat alone, dejected, head down, on the bench after the play. Even though I really don't like the Cowboys, I couldn't help but feel bad for him. ESPN televised the postgame press conference afterwards, and the reporters kept hammering Romo over and over again, asking him questions like, "Exactly what happened?" and "Was that the worst moment of your career?" Meanwhile, Romo was doing everything he could to keep from bursting out in tears.

Those reporters all saw the play. They know what happened and what the result was. They knew that he was killing himself for what happened. And still they kept hammering him.

I thought it was absolutely unnecessary and an embarrassing moment for all journalists. These are the same people who had built Romo up so much when he replaced Drew Bledsoe in the starting lineup earlier this season. And now, so eager to kick him when he was done...just pitiful.

I'll get off my pedestal now and get back to the other reason for this column, and what I know all of you have been dying to read since the announcement of the college football national championship game. That's right, it's the Super scintillating Jack City BCS Preview!

For those readers who may not be as familiar with the Jack City blog as others, let me explain: I do not have the resources that ESPN has. I do not have the resources that the Columbus Dispatch or Cleveland Plain Dealer have. I can't give you interviews with Troy Smith, Chris Leak or Antonio Pittman. I can't have former college coaches break down the individual matchups or talking about coaching strategy. Heck, I don't even have the financial capabilities to get within 2,000 miles of Glendale, Arizona, nor do I think the NCAA would award a press pass to the former sports editor of the Capital University Chimes.

But if you want all those flashy graphics and interviews and bold predictions and rehashing of the same material, fine. I've been consuming it too. But nowhere, and I guarantee nowhere, will you find a preview like mine. So kick back, take your shoes off, forget about the start of classes for a few moments, and enjoy. Oh yeah...


The January Jamboree

The season comes to a close,
Teams almost finished trading blows.
Just two remain standing,
College football's final fling.

Ohio State, coast-to-coast
At number one, that's no boast.
Florida lost early to Auburn,
Back then, had much to learn.

The NCAA's changed its bowl format,
And though it still stinks like a dead rat,
But can't complain about the title game -
Mostly because it doesn't have Notre Dame.

Yes, we all hate the BCS.
Almost ten years later, still a mess.
Here's a suggestion, please don't scoff -
Why don't we have a national playoff?

Pardon me for a moment,
But right there I needed to vent.
Now, back to the action at hand
With the two best teams in the land.

OSU has handled all foes,
12-0, as everyone knows.
Our last game sent chills down my spine.
How many ways can you say "forty-two to thirty-nine"?

Since I last wrote,
The nation has spoke.
With his arms and legs, boy can he run -
Troy Smith, winner of the last Heisman.

That offensive firepower makes the Army blush,
We can throw, we can catch, we can rush.
Ginn, Gonzalez, Pittman, Wells,
Don't often go through cold spells.

The defense has been scary good
There hasn't been any dead wood.
James Laurinitis plays like a beast
Plays like an Animal on his way to feast.

The Bucks are the favorites in Glendale
In Arizona, they never fail.
Miami, Kansas State, now come the Gators.
Winners of the SEC and fellow Michigan haters.

Urban fought hard and got them to two,
Lloyd Carr didn't make much ado.
So the Bucks play against the blue and orange match
Instead of a Maize and Blue rematch.

No more words to say,
Time for the teams to play.
So far this season, I've told no lies
Tonight's winner: The Ohio State University Buckeyes!