Monthly Archives: January 2015

For heel lovers, Super Bowl is a dream matchup

Sunday’s Super Bowl offers tough choices for the average, American sports fan.

In one corner are the big, bad Seattle Seahawks. They’re brash, led by motormouth cornerback Richard Sherman – a rare athlete who talks the talk but follows up by walking the walk.

In last year’s NFC championship, Sherman offered this post-game gem, arguably the most polarizing moment in recent NFL history:

Love the look on Erin Andrews face there. It’s like she’s saying, “Don’t you realize I’m hot? I don’t know whether I’m offended by what you’re saying or that you’re not fawning over me.”

In addition to brash, the Seahawks are big and bad. They bludgeon opponents.

And they boast a crouch-grabbing, interview-hating, Skittles-eating force.

In the other corner are the New England Patriots.

They’re cerebral, always around late in the postseason. Oh, and they’ve been accused of cheating a time or two.

Take away the Deflategate and Spygate scandals, and NFL teams don’t get more boring than New England, even if the Patriots have a history of taking on at-risk players like LeGarrette Blount (anyone else believe Blount orchestrated his exit from the Steelers?), Aaron Hernandez, Randy Moss and that Molly-poppin’ Wes Welker.

Yep, for many, there’s not much to root for this Sunday – take up sides with a bandwagon fan base from the Northwest with a coach who derailed USC football or a cheating franchise with a decades worth of bad sound clips.

But …

For those of us who grew up cheering for the heel, who booed Tito Santana with every ounce of energy when his whack in-ring skills were on public display or proudly displayed the Four Horsemen sign as yinzers at the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown threw garbage, it’s a dream matchup.

In this corner, we have the Seattle Seahawks, the Arn Andersons of the NFL.

Arn Anderson was mean, nasty and did anything to win. HIs four fingers extended are like Lynch’s crouch grab.

In this corner, we have the New England Patriots, the Curt Hennigs of the NFL.

Like Hennig, the Patriots pride themselves on execution, perfection and technical ability. Hennig provided far better sound clips than Tom Brady or Belichick ever could, but there;s no denying the orchestration both display.

Really, it’s a dream matchup. Imagine Arn vs. Mr. Perfect in their primes. We’re talking 60-minute, falls count anywhere, tons of outside interference and a title change.

Speaking of title changes, the Patriots have too much to prove after Deflategate.

Patriots 37, Seahawks 19.

Road to recovery, 1/22/15

Blogger’s note: The following is the third installment of a new series on Kovak’s Corner, highlighting the trials and tribulations of overcoming middle age and injury en route to a return to top running form.

It’s Thursday, and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in a couple weeks. It made waking up and getting Anna to school a challenge today, and, even more challenging, was psyching myself for my weekly weightlifting session with Erin.

She only likes to lift once per week, so the focus is on upper body, particularly the triceps and back.

Lucky for me, once movement starts, things get a lot easier.

Unfortunately for me, I ate some serious ground beef Wednesday. Yesterday, after spin class, Erin and I tried eating lunch at Winghart’s, a burger/whiskey chain that moved into Greensburg about a year ago. The prices are a tad high, but the quality is solid. I went for a burger with gruyere cheese, bacon and mushrooms. It was excellent and, since I’m not a fan of leftover burgers, I ate the whole thing. For dinner, I ate the leftover half of Erin’s burger. It, too, was delicious.

About 25 minutes into Thursday’s lift, those burgers hit me.

Thankfully, I fought off the strong urge to skip cardio and got to the treadmill. Runs have continued to go well and speeds have steadily increased recently. But, given my tender stomach, today I opted for 20 minutes at 7.0 mph – my fastest pace post-injury. About 16 minutes in, I decided to run the final minute at a 4 percent incline. It increased to two minutes of incline, keeping the 7.0 mph pace.

In the locker room, I bumped into my friend Kevin, who teaches spin class among other things at LA Fitness Greensburg. I ran through my activity and he said, “You’re back.”

Think he might be right.

Ode to Hugh Green

The saying goes, “You never forget your first love.”

That means I’ll always remember a 6-foot-2, 225-pound black man from Natchez, Miss., with the perfect combination of speed, strength and athleticism.

His name is Hugh Green, but you can call him the greatest defensive player in the history of college football. Sorry Manti Te’o, Charles Woodson, Deion Sanders and Steve Emtman fans, those guys were nowhere near as devastating, game-altering and menacing as Green, an unheralded recruit as an undersized defensive end whom Pitt coach Jackie Sherill convinced to come to Oakland.

College defensive players rarely graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before Hugh Green did.

College defensive players rarely graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before Hugh Green did.

From 1977 to 1980, Green destroyed offensive lineman. The greatest player in Pitt history – with all apologies to Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald, Bill Fralic, Mike Ditka and Dan Marino – started immediately, and instantly made an impact. In his first game, which just happened to be against Notre Dame, Green finished with 11 tackles, two quarterback sacks and a blocked punt. Not bad for a freshman who Pitt noticed while recruiting running back Rooster Jones.

Green’s reign of defensive terror was only getting started with that Notre Dame game..

As a sophomore, he was a first-team All-American and made Pitt’s all-time team. And let’s not forget that, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pitt was what Miami (Fla.) would become in the late 80s and early 2000s – a football factory rife with future first-round picks and hall of famers.

His All-American ways continued in 1979 and 1980, and Pitt retired Green’s number during his last home game.


His final numbers are eye-popping and awe-inspiring – 460 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, 53 sacks, 24 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and 76 quarterback hurries. Green finished second in the 1980 Heisman balloting, losing the award to an inferior player in South Carolina running back George Rogers. He won the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award and the Lombardi Award and was named everybody’s player of the year. He’s made every all-time college football team worth mentioning.

Folks, let’s remember all these stats and awards were compiled despite coaches constantly game-planned against Green and stayed away from him as often as possible.

I’ll know I’ll never forget.

Some of my first memories – I was born in 1974 – are of Green playing for Pitt. At the time, I was a youthful sports sponge, soaking in all the college and pro football I possibly could. I loved Pitt football, and I loved Penn State football. The family loved the Nittany Lions, one reason being my dad’s cousin – Chuck Fusina – once finished second in the Heisman balloting as a PSU quarterback. And I liked watching Curt Warner run almost as much as watching Green wreak havoc.

Then, one day, my dad told me, “Son, you can’t like Pitt and Penn State. It’s just not natural.”

My response was quick. “Dad, Penn State doesn’t have Hugh Green.”

And a lifelong Pitt football fan was born.

I got to thinking about Green recently as talk of recruiting season and Signing Day increase in front of Feb. 4. Green wasn’t a heralded recruit, much like Panthers running back James Conner, but he quickly evolved into an all-time great.

And the current Pitt coaching staff is working hard on the recruiting trail, with a renewed focus in Florida. Finding players like Green, Conner and Antonio Bryant will be as vital to Pitt’s success as landing the next four-star recruit from a WPIAL high school or eastern Ohio powerhouse.

Pitt can only land so many elite prospects. Grabbing steals will determine this new staff’s success.

Tribute to TM

In the newspaper business, reporters form an unusual bond. We’re driven, perfectionists and, in most cases, weird and quirky. That bond is even stronger for those of us who make a living working at night in the hectic, deadline-driven world.

And when Tim Menees arrived at the Observer-Reporter as a night cops reporter a little more than a decade ago, I immediately knew he’d fit right in. He was quick with a smile, easy-going and we became immediate friends.

Tim, whose father Tim Menees was a well-known political cartoonist for decades at the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, cut his teeth in sports. Before the O-R, he worked for the Pirates, and he followed sports closely. At the time, I was a sports writer, but Tim and I shared more in common than a knowledge of Jason Kendall’s batting average or Jack Wilson’s range. We were the same age. We both lived in the South Hills, and neither of us turned down a good time.

It wasn’t long before TM, as we often called him at the O-R, and I worked Carson Street together or the bars along Route 19, whether it was in Washington County following a shift or some haunts in the South Hills. We even formed a bit of a routine. TM was the starter, the fearless guy capable of starting a conversation with anyone. I was the closer, the one who came in and added energy and humor to keep things moving. For a couple guys trying to make a living working nights and weekends at a newspaper, it was a pretty good tandem.

TM and I hit concerts together. He crashed on my couch multiple occasions. I placed bets for him. He helped me move from South Park to Bethel Park on a muggy, Western Pennsylvania summer day with no convincing needed. He came to house parties after I began co-habiting with Erin, who later became my wife. He was at my bachelor party and our wedding.

Most importantly, TM was a good friend, a person I could sit at my dining room table with until 3:30 a.m. talking about anything and everything. I’ve met precious few people in my 40 years I was as comfortable talking to as TM.

And after that wedding reception wound down, TM was right there at the hotel, hanging out and providing those of us there who knew him with another classic Menees story – a story I still share now that I’m back at the O-R.

Sadly, it was the next to last time I saw Tim, who, according to information on Facebook and provided by co-workers, was found dead Monday by his girlfriend. I got the news about an hour ago, right after I got back inside my house from walking the dog. Even if I hadn’t seen Tim in some time after job changes, moves and life created distance, it hit me like a sledgehammer.

TM had fallen and hit his head on ice. A supposed minor injury somehow turned fatal. It’s the first TM story I’ve heard that doesn’t put a smile on my face.

Doesn’t seem real.

Good guys, and believe me when I say he was the dictionary definition of good guy, aren’t supposed to leave us early.

Rest easy, TM.

Road to recovery, 1/14/15

Blogger’s note: The following is the second installment of a new series on Kovak’s Corner, highlighting the trials and tribulations of overcoming middle age and injury en route to a return to top running form.

Yoga class last Wednesday night at LA Fitness Greensburg was certainly interesting. For starters, it was me, one other dude and about 25 women.

Some of the movements, like one-legged squats with the other leg to the back was challenging. Sometimes, I had to regain balance. Other times, I had to stop and watch how the movement should be done because, let’s face it, I don’t speak yoga. There were times when the music, mood and movement all matched. It was exhilarating and, occasionally, sweat-inducing.

Yet, I could feel my core strengthened and my balance improving. Hopefully, continued classes will help with lower-body flexibility, which is the main reason for giving this long-used exercise form a try.

This week’s workouts went great. Monday was a chest and abs day. Tuesday was biceps, pull-ups, dips and a 40-minute run at 6.6 mph. Earlier today, I focused on triceps, legs and abs but started and ended my workout with 17 pull-ups followed by 20 dips. (FYI, this gets the blood pumping at the start of the workout and really gets the muscles singing after a 40-minute run to cap the festivities. And, BTW, don’t do chin-ups unless you’re really going big on biceps day. Pull-ups not only work the biceps, they work just about everything in your back and shoulders. They’re my favorite exercise, next to running.)

In a few hours, yoga sessions No. 2.

Thursday, more lifting and running.

Friday, spin class.

Saturday, more lifting and running.

Things are going well. Only occasional tightness in the left calf.

Happy fitness to all!

40 and loving 2-hour delays

Remember rolling over, tired and groggy, trying to wrap your head around another long, boring tedious day of junior high or high school only to find out there’s a 2-hour delay?

Life doesn’t get much better.

Sleep in. Take time getting ready. And still get credit for a full day in class.

Nope, can’t beat it.

That special feeling was lost on me until this year, when my daughter Anna enrolled in kindergarten. The 2-hour delays are back, and she’s had three of them since the middle of last week.

Trust me when I say 2-hour delays only get better with age.

Anna loves her sledding. Lucky for her, so does dad.

Anna loves her sledding. Lucky for her, so does dad.

There’s no pleading with Anna to get out of bed by 8:05 a.m. No rushing her through breakfast, getting her backpack ready, making sure she’s taken her vitamins, brushed her teeth and either has her lunch packed or made the decision to buy from the cafeteria all before rushing out the door by 8:50 in a mad-dash attempt to get her to school by 9.

Nope. During a 2-hour delay, the coffee tastes sweeter, the rush to eat breakfast is replaced by a calm, casual pace and there’s no pleading to stop telling dad stories to focus on getting dressed.

It permits time to take the dog for a walk, permitted the temperature isn’t hovering around zero. We can sled in our backyard, which serves as the neighborhood slope given the steepness of our hill (trust me, it makes mowing brutal),

Unlike many parents, I don’t work mornings. So, the 2-hour delay doesn’t inconvenience me or my employment.

In fact, when the weather’s nasty on my drive home from work at night, I’m rooting for a 2-hour delay.

Get it right baseball voters

If you’re a holier-than-thou baseball writer, this message is for you.

Craig Biggio is not a hall of famer. Never was. Never will be. And if you voted for him, you’re turning the National Baseball Hall of Fame into the Singles Hitters Hall of Fame.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are hall of famers. They were first-ballot players before steroids were known to infiltrate the game, and they were hall of famers after it was discovered many, many players used performance-enhancing drugs.

But, thanks to voters who’ve adopted themselves as the collective conscious of the sport, we’ll likely never see Barry Bonds – easily the best player of the past 30 years – enter the hall while he’s young enough to remember. Instead, we’re told Craig Biggio is one of the game’s all-time greats.

Total bullshit if you ask me.

First let’s examine Biggio’s numbers.

20 seasons. 3,060 hits. That’s a whopping average of 153 per season. (Wow!) Only four times did Biggio bat .300 or better, with the first of those seasons coming in 1994, right around the start of the steroid era. He hit 291 home runs (pretty good for a catcher/second baseman) but only topped 20 home runs once before the steroid era and seven times after.

What am I getting at?

Well, I’m saying we’ll never really know if players like Biggio used PEDs. Just because he didn’t turn into a hulking human like Bonds doesn’t mean he didn’t.

Jason Kendall hit 44 of his 75 career home runs from 1998-2001, right around the time he starting hanging out with Brian Giles in the Pirates locker room.

How about the year Jack Wilson “put on 10 pounds of muscle” during the offseason and it resulted in his best year – 201 hits (50 more than he had in any other season) in 2004.

See what I’m getting at?

Taking steroids does not guarantee the user will evolve into the Ultimate Warrior, but it seems like the only players being punished in hall of fame voting are the ones who did get big, like Bonds and Clemens, who both deserve to be enshrined.

And to that point, how do we know players from the 1970s and 1980s, all-time greats like Mike Schmidt or Eddie Murray, weren’t guilty of PED use. In Western Pennsylvania, we know steroid use in sports has been prevalent for decades. Many members of the Super Steelers used steroids. PEDs have been available since at least the 1940s.

For voters, the solution should be simple: either don’t vote any player in from the steroid era or vote all those deserving in. Stop acting like you’re holding yourself to some high standard of ethics. No one’s impressed.

Pitt’s inconsistency is part of the fun

Jamie Dixon guided Pitt basketball to the NCAA tournament in 10 of his first 11 seasons as a head coach. And the one year Pitt failed to qualify for the Big Dance, it won something called the CBI tournament.

Granted, the majority of Pitt’s appearances in the NCAA tournament ended early. There’s been one Elite 8 appearance, accompanied with a heartbreaking loss to Villanova. Take that run away, and it’s mostly losses to teams seeded lower than the Panthers, though it should be noted at least  six teams that knocked Pitt out advanced to the Final Four, including Florida last season.

What Pitt lacks in splashy tournament wins, it makes up for in consistency. Pitt’s string of tournament appearances puts it in elite company.

Maybe cranky Panthers fans will appreciate that consistency later this year, assuming Pitt fails to advance to the NCAA tournament.

At this point, two games into the ACC season, Pitt looks anything but a tournament team. At 11-4 overall and 1-1 in conference, Pitt’s best win probably came against Kansas State, which isn’t saying much. It’s next best win might be against Florida Gulf Coast. There was a bad loss to Hawaii, and blowout losses to Indiana, N.C. State and San Diego State. Against better competition, Pitt’s looked overmatched.

Heck, against Boston College Tuesday night, the Panthers looked like a bad basketball team. Yet, thanks to a three-minute flurry at the end of regulation and the play of Josh Newkirk in overtime, the Panthers escaped Chestnut Hill with a one-point victory.

That win triggers two thoughts: 1. Decent teams find ways to win when they play poorly, and, make no mistake, Pitt absolutely stunk for 37 minutes against Boston College; and, 2. Pitt could be in for a long season.

Leaning toward the latter of those two thoughts, but Pitt’s pulled surprises before.

Pitt could falter in conference play much like the Ashton Gibbs-led (and let’s not give Gibbs much credit for being a leader) squad in 2011-12 that won the CBI or continue to improve like the 2009-10 unit that lost in nonconference play to Texas and Indiana in addition to dropping four of five games during a brutal stretch of Big East play. That team ended up with a three seed in the NCAA tournament and ended its season with a tough loss to Xavier.

This Pitt team isn’t good enough to earn a three seed, but it could gradually improve, much like the 2009-10 team.

This Pitt team is undersized. Michael Young is playing out of position. So is Ryan Luther and Sheldon Jeter. The Panthers don’t own a true post presence. There’s no one inside to funnel the defense to when a player gets beaten off the dribble. Shot selection is poor, occasionally pathetic. Cameron Wright is far from last season’s form, the possible lingering effects of his foot injury. Newkirk occasionally plays out of control. Durand Johnson is suspended for the year. Derrick Randle has regressed, and the same could be said for James Robinson. Jamel Artis looks like Pitt’s second best player for a few games, then struggles to stay on the court in others.

It’s a wildly inconsistent group, but that is going to be part of the fun watching Pitt.

There’s nothing that can be taken for granted with these Panthers. For once, penciling them into the NCAA tournament isn’t a given, and this group is going to be challenged at every stop on the schedule. But, the guess here is Pitt, like most Dixon teams, will improve.

Will be be enough to get into the NCAA tournament during a season of transition? It’s going to take winning games like the next three at home and finding a way to beat a team or two it shouldn’t.

I wouldn’t bet against it, but it is tempting.

Road to recovery, 1/6/15

Blogger’s note: The following is the first installment of a new series on Kovak’s Corner, highlighting the trials and tribulations of overcoming middle age and injury en route to a return to top running form.

Monday (Jan. 5) went well. It needed to after obligations got in the way of missing the gym or any type of training Sunday. It’s rare to go a day without exercise, but the day off renewed focus for Monday’s session.

The day started with some heavy, isolated preacher curls on two separate stations. Followed up with front and back leg curls before heading back to biceps. After elevated curls and seated curls (all with heavy weight and four sets of 12 reps), it was time to return to leg work for kickbacks and leg presses. Given the extent of my left calf injury, leg work took an extended breather, but this marked a second “leg day.” Not going heavy yet, just getting the muscles used to the work. Stronger legs should help in the quest to make 2015 injury-free.

After biceps and legs, it was time for some ab work. Oblique twists and the seated-crunch machine before heading upstairs at LA Fitness Greensburg for a run. Since returning to running, I’ve gone for two outdoor runs and two treadmill jogs. This marked the third treadmill jog, and it went for 40 minutes at a moderate 6.5 mph. It only covered 4.35 miles, but my longest run in months was a significant personal achievement.  At my peak, I could run on a treadmill anywhere for 7.5 to 8.3 mph for an entire run (usually between 30 to 60 minutes) with a two-minute kick adding .5 mph to the speed.

But this is about baby steps on the journey back. Overdoing it could derail progress.

And there’s a voice inside telling me to go harder. The 40-minute jog felt great. My breathing was excellent, heart rate good. Basically, I felt great after my 2-minute cool down.

Today, Greensburg-Salem has a two-hour delay. So, the gym will have to wait until 11 a.m. And it’s going to be an abbreviated visit because a trip to the chiropractor is scheduled for 1 p.m. A quick chest and ab workout followed by a 30-minute run at 6.6 mph (one click faster on the treadmill but 10 fewer minutes than Monday).

On Wednesday, barring another delay or school cancellation, it’s morning spin class (my spin instructor has been instrumental in getting back on track) followed by evening yoga – my first yoga class.

Thursday will be a day off from cardio and a first visit to a massage therapist.

Have a great workout out there!