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Lamm's List of Lists

Feb 23, 2015 -- 10:33am
While I’m off enjoying the good life, I offer you one of my favorite lists.
 
First, my favorite sports venues:
Wrigley Field, Chicago – My love of baseball is epitomized by the Cubs’ beautiful park. The fact the surrounding Wrigleyville community is loaded with great bars is a bonus.
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta – Every hole is a postcard. The entire course and clubhouse is a gorgeous trip back to a simpler time.
Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C. – The football played here hasn’t been very good over the years, but the tall Carolina pines looking down on the sunken stadium screams college football at its finest.
Fenway Park, Boston – If Wrigley Field had never been built, this would be baseball’s Camelot.
Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C. – They continue to build basketball arenas bigger and bigger but none is finer than Duke’s home.
 
Next, my favorite sports days of the year.
Masters Sunday – The back nine of Augusta National is great because a Masters golfer can shoot 30 or 40.  The margin of error is so incredibly small and the drama so intense.
Florida-Georgia football game – Regardless of what label you put on the game, it involves two outstanding programs with large and passionate fan bases who treat this game for what it is, something special.
Game 7 of the World Series – I love the entire Series, but when it comes down to a Game 7 every pitch becomes a thrill for me.
Final Four semi-finals – I put “Semi-finals Saturday” ahead of the college basketball championship game because . . . well, I get two games instead of one.
Sunday at The Players – My love of golf is showing. The Players has the best three finishing holes in all of golf and they usually deliver.
 
Next, my must-see athletes:
Tiger Woods, golfer – Even now when he can’t break par I still can’t stop watching him. Does he still have greatness in him? Will he chunk his next chip?
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers pitcher – He’s the best pitcher of this century and he’s fun to watch. His delivery makes it seem he has twice as many joints as the rest of us.
LeBron James, Cavaliers – He’s bigger than Michael Jordan. He’s quicker and faster than Wilt. He may be the greatest basketball player ever. And he hustles.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB – The NFL star is the most creative quarterback in football. And he may be the best, too.
Mike Trout, Angels outfielder – He’s baseball’s best all-around player who’s fun to watch batting, running the bases and playing the outfield. 
 
Next, my favorite active coaches/managers:
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina football – His was simply the first name that popped into my head so I’m listing him No. 1.  No big-time coach is more unpredictable than the ol’ ball coach.
Tom Coughlin, NY Giants – I don’t know if a coach could be more different than Spurrier, but TC is a guy I admire on the field and respect off the field.
Joe Madden, Cubs manager – I’ve never believed MLB managers have much of an impact on the game, but Madden is the exception. What he did in Tampa Bay was incredible. Can he work a miracle in Chicago?
Billy Donovan, UF basketball – If I was starting a program today, Donovan would be my pick as coach.
Matthew Driscoll, UNF basketball – He can coach and promote. A rare combo.
 
 Finally, my most overrated people in sports:
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner – The NFL is so popular it can’t be screwed up, but Goodell keeps stubbing his toe. And he’ paid $35-40 million a year!
Derek Jeter, Yankee shortstop – The new season hasn’t started yet so I’m including Jeter. He was a very, very god player who was considered great because he played for the Yankees. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If he’d played for San Diego, he might eventually get in.
Dwight Howard, Houston center – He’s got talent, but wherever he plays he’s inconsistent, moody, lazy and a locker room virus.
Eli Manning, NY Giants QB – Like Jeter, he benefits from playing in New York. He’d have been run out of most cities after throwing a bunch of interceptions.
NFL running backs – NFL games are won by passing the ball and stopping the pass, not by running. 

Where Would I Draft Jameis Winston?

Feb 19, 2015 -- 12:49pm
Spinning around the radio dial . . .
 
I’d take Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick. 
I’d take him with the No. 2 pick.
And if I had the No. 3 pick, like the Jaguars, I still take the FSU quarterback.
Oh, I hear Jaguars fans screaming I’ve lost my mind.
Let me point out a few things.
First, really, what NFL team ever has too many “good” quarterbacks? And, yes, I think Winston is going to be outstanding.
Second, I think it’s dangerous for Jaguars fans to assume Blake Bortles is a franchise QB. Maybe he is, but he has a ways to go to prove it.
Third, if both QBs are that good, that’s great trade leverage for acquiring several highly-rated players.
Sure, it would be a strange move, but wouldn’t the Jaguars feel dumb if Winston becomes an All-Pro and Bortles becomes just another solid QB?  
 
The NFL Scouting Combine was started more than 30 years ago for convenience and to save money. Why have GMs, coaches and scouts travel all around the country looking at players when you could bring all of the players to one location?
But since that first Combine in Tampa in 1982, the NFL has changed. Now money isn’t an issue and the GMs, coaches and scouts are going to personally visit most players anyway. So why still have the Combine, which is under way in Indianapolis, its home since ’87?
Today’s Combine is more of a convention for team execs, coaches, team doctors and NFL media. And, of course, there’s the TV angle. Isn’t it amazing how many people like to watch these young men run and jump in their underwear?
The No. 1 reason the Combine still exists is because it allows teams to give so many of the players physical and mental exams in one location. Sure, occasionally a player significantly raises or lowers his stock, but not that often.
Mostly, the Combine is about swapping war stories over cocktails.
 
Here’s hoping we’ve heard the last of the Chicago Little League story.
Threats of filing a lawsuit based on racial discrimination should be insulting to everyone. We’ve had more than our share of real racial discrimination in this country, but this story – taking the title away from the all-black Chicago team -- isn’t one of them.
Certainly I feel badly for the youngsters who won the Little League World Series on the field, but they’ll always have their memories. This story is about adults who knowingly broke the rules, falsifying records of where some of the players lived. No one denies breaking the rules.
Sure, it was a wonderful story that the Chicago team was the first all-black team to win the title. It was a shot in the arm to Major League Baseball, which is seeking ways to get American black kids interested in baseball.
But the adults cheated. They lied. The color of the players’ skin had nothing to do with it.

Jaguars Blessed with Good Ownership

Feb 17, 2015 -- 3:33pm

The Jaguars have had more misses than hits in their NFL franchise history except when it comes to ownership. They couldn’t have had two better owners than Wayne Weaver and Shan Khan.

There would be no Jaguars without Weaver. He not only was the deep-pocketed guy needed to put Jacksonville’s bid for a franchise over the top in ‘93, he was the right fit with the other team owners. He was immediately accepted into the group and had clout from day one. Weaver the man, in fact, was chosen by the owners more than the city.

He also knew when it was time to turn the team over to someone else and he knew who that man was. In Khan, Weaver found the man who had the money, the vision and the get-up-and-go to assure that the franchise would remain in Jacksonville.

It was clear to everyone, including Weaver, that it was time for Weaver to step aside after 17 years. The league finances had gotten out of control to Weaver’s way of thinking. His family wasn’t interested in keeping the franchise. His last great act as Jaguars owner was to find someone who was dedicated to keeping the franchise in Jacksonville, not simply the highest bidder.

The tall Southern conservative couldn’t have found anyone more different from himself than Khan, a small, self-made billionaire from Pakistan with the flair of a showman.

Khan looked at Jacksonville and saw the great potential for growth, not one of the smallest markets in the NFL. In just three years he has made a big impact on Jacksonville and . . . well, we haven’t seen anything yet. Everyone needs to check out his vision for the vacated shipyards that he unveiled Tuesday.

Weaver and Khan have little in common other than being the perfect owners for an NFL franchise in Jacksonville.

Gordon Deserves Fond Daytona Farewell

Feb 16, 2015 -- 12:13pm

As Jeff Gordon prepares for this week’s Daytona 500 in his final year as a fulltime driver on the NASCAR circuit I hope he gets the kind reception on his farewell tour that he deserves.

Although the fans have been nicer to him in recent years, Gordon has been viewed as a villain much of his career. He entered NASCAR seen by many as a wimpy little Yankee boy with the high-pitched voice who had the audacity to not only challenge Dale Earnhardt but beat him on a regular basic.

While he didn’t look and sound like the typical stock car racer, on the track he has been every bit the bulldog Earnhardt was; just as cunning as Tony Stewart; and about as skilled behind the wheel as anyone who ever crawled in a race car.

Where he ranks with his 92 victories and four championships is subjective, but wherever you rank him it has to be very close to the top.

How fitting would it be for Gordon to win what may be his final Daytona 500? It would put him in even more rarified air to win his fourth Daytona 500. Only Richard Petty (7) and Cale Yarbrough (4) have won NASCAR’s signature race more often.

Gordon’s farewell tour already has gotten off to a good start with him winning the pole for Sunday’s race. It sure is amazing how often things work out so well for NASCAR, isn’t it?

Based on NASCAR’s track record – you know, Petty winning his 200th race on July the 4th in front of President Reagan, Dale Junior winning the first race at Daytona after his dad’s death, etc. -- I’m picking Gordon to win this year’s race. 

Golf, NASCAR and College Football

Feb 12, 2015 -- 11:46am

Spinning around the dial . . .

  • Finally, living in the shadow of Tiger Woods is a good thing for Phil Mickelson.

As the sports world debates and dissects what’s wrong with Tiger’s game, it has all but ignored the woes of Mickelson, who hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open is more likely to shoot 76 than 66 these days.

Clearly the second best golfer in the world for the last 20 years, Mickelson has won 42 PGA Tour tournaments, including five majors, and hundreds of millions of dollars. Incredibly, he’s never been ranked No. 1 in the world, however. As successful and popular as he’s been, Mickelson has always Robin to Tiger’s Batman.

While Tiger gets more attention, it’s a better bet that if one of them is done as a superstar it is Mickelson. At 44, Lefty’s five years older and his health problem, arthritis, can be managed but not cured.

His main problem is a simple one: the putter, a club that has ended the careers of many great players. The more Mickelson tinkers with changes, the worse it’s getting.

  • I grew up in North Carolina loving me some stock car racing. My sports world then was Major League Baseball, ACC basketball and racing. In my eyes Richard Petty stood on the same pedestal as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline and whoever played basketball for the Tar Heels.

I bring this up now because the 2015 NASCAR season is about to begin, as always, with Speed Week in Daytona Beach. There was a time for me when the Daytona 500 ranked right alongside the World Series and the ACC basketball tournament as can’t-miss events.

Somewhere along the way I fell out of love with racing. I’m really not sure why, but I think stock car racing grew too fast for me. I loved it when it was the sport of the South. I loved it when drivers, not engineers, determined who won and lost. I’ve always dislike the multi-car team concept.

I’ll watch this year’s Daytona 500 but . . . well, actually I won’t watch it. I’ll be on a Caribbean cruise.

  • You’ve probably never heard of Vernon Adams. That likely will change next season when he’s Oregon’s quarterback and helps the Ducks remain one of college football top programs.

His name didn’t appear on any of the lists of this year’s top recruits because he’ll be a 5th-year senior and already has a trophy case full of college awards. Adams has been quarterbacking Eastern Washington, a division two program, the last three years.

Several years ago the NCAA decided to allow players who graduate but still have a year of eligibility remaining to transfer without having to sit out a season. The most famous of this group is a guy named Russell Wilson, who went from N.C. State to Wisconsin and . . . well, you know the rest of that story.

I’m undecided how I feel about this rule. I just know something about it bothers me. I’m probably being a bit naïve but it seems to me it closes the gap between professional sports and big-time college sports even more. 

Remembering Dean Smith and Billy Casper

Feb 10, 2015 -- 10:02am

I’m feeling sad and old today. Two of the people in sports I most admire passed away last weekend.

The world is a better place because of Dean Smith and Billy Casper.

Smith, who spent his entire head coaching career at North Carolina, is the greatest basketball coach of all-time. Casper is the most underrated great player in golf history.

As great as Smith and Casper were in their professions, they were better men. They epitomized integrity and class. It was my good fortune to know both men both on and off the fields of play.

Smith made education, graduation and character top priorities before anyone talked about those things in college sports. He didn’t just create the “Carolina Way”, he lived it. He cared as much about the 12th man on the bench as he did his superstars such as Michael Jordan. And he never stopped caring, staying involved with his former players regardless of where life led them.

He was never afraid to take a stand for what he believed in. He was outspoken in support of civil rights and was part of several peaceful protests. He made Charlie Scott the school’s first black scholarship athlete, ignoring an effort by some alumni and boosters to have him fired.

He took over a program hampered by NCAA probation and quickly turned it back into a national power. When he retired in 1997 after 36 seasons he owned an NCAA record 876 victories, two national titles and an Olympic gold medal. He coached his team to 11 Final Fours. He was the model of consistency, his only losing season being his first.

All the while he graduated his players, turning out doctors, lawyers and teachers as well as NBA stars. He left a coaching tree still going strong today.

I realize many will scream at me calling Smith the greatest basketball coach of all-time. I realize John Wooden is most often called that and Coach K, Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp and others deserve consideration for such a distinction. And, yes, I’m no doubt bias having attended UNC.

But when you put the entire package together -- record, innovator, mentor, leader, citizen – no one stands taller in college basketball history; maybe in sports history.

Getting back to Casper, he had the misfortune to play in the same era as Arnie, Jack and Gary, The Big Three. They dominated the headlines but Casper was every bit their equal. For the record, he had 51 victories, including three majors, and still had time to help rear 11 children.

Two great men who were also stars in the sports world are gone. In departing they took a big piece of me with them.

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