As sports fans, we are entertained by outstanding performances by teams and athletes. However, what truly captivate us are stories. With input from my ESPN Ithaca teammates, Jeremy Menard and Nick Karski, I have compiled a list of the the top five local sports stories we covered and had the privilege of telling in 2014.
5. The Cup Returns to Ithaca
Hundreds waited on a line that stretched outside Cass Park for the chance to see The Stanley Cup.
Yes, the sequel is never as good as the original. Except for "Mighty Ducks 2" - which happens to be a hockey movie. So I think that makes it okay to say that Dustin Brown's second trip to Ithaca with the Stanley Cup was better than the first. It rained so hard during his July 2012 public display of the Cup at Ithaca High School's Joe Moresco Stadium after winning his first championship with the Kings, that I held my oversized Walt Disney World souvenir umbrella over Dustin and my fellow reporters while interviewing him. Hundreds of fans waited on line in the downpour for the chance to get a glimpse of the Stanley Cup and meet their hometown hero. However, it did not rain at Cass Park when he brought the Cup to town for a second time this July, which made it even better. Plus, because it's the Cup. And it came to town because a kid from Ithaca captained an NHL team to winning the Stanley Cup. It does not matter how many Cups Dustin Brown wins. It will always be special every time he brings it back home.
4. Kevin Sutherland Shoots a 59
Photo Courtesy The PGA Tour.
The Dick's Sporting Goods Open is a lot of fun for folks who get the chance to take the short drive over to En-Joie Golf Course in Endicott and watch legends like Bernhard Langer and locals pros including Joey Sindelar compete. However, it's very rare for the senior Champions Tour to make the front page of ESPN.com. Well, it happened this August when Kevin Sutherland became the seventh golfer ever to shoot a 59 in a sanctioned PGA event and the first golfer ever to do it on the Champions Tour. It was a truly remarkable performance and while Sutherland didn't end up winning the tournament, he stole the show at the 2014 DSGO.
3. Local High School Football in Trouble
Newfield's resurrection was one of the 2014 high school football season's few highlights
There were some bright spots in local high school football this past season, including Newfield's return to the field after a two-year absence and Moravia's first postseason win in program history. Otherwise, it was a rough fall that included Trumansburg cancelling its season before it even began due to low numbers, Odessa-Montour folding halfway through the season for the same reason, Groton forfeiting a game due to a hazing scandal, and Ithaca going winless for the second straight season to add to its state-long 24 game losing streak. 2014 demonstrated that high school football around here is in trouble.
2. Wild Cortaca Finish
Cortaca's finish was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter. Photo Courtesy the Cortland Alumni Association.
I have been watching football my entire life and I have never seen a wackier finish than that of the 2014 Cortaca Jug Game. This is a game that took place a year after post-game rioting in Cortland damaged cars, businesses, and homes, resulting in the arrests of over 80 people and serious discussion of the rivalry's future. However, the Cortaca Commission decided with increasing police presence and awareness of the illegality of both public intoxication and underrage drinking, the annual game between SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College would continue in 2014. And what a game it was. Cortland, trailing 20-17, marched down the field to attempt a game-tying field goal attempt as time expired. However, the long-snapper's snap was a little low and holder Luke Hinton bobbled it. As the Bombers came charging at him, he picked up the ball and ran to his left before lobbing the ball to a wide-open Jon Mannix in the end zone with no time left on the clock. The touchdown gave the Red Dragons a 23-20 win and their fifth straight Cortaca victory. A botched game-tying field goal attempt turned into a game-winning touchdown pass. It was remarkable to watch, including for the thousands who watched it that night on SportsCenter.
1. Fatal Crash Distracts from NASCAR at The Glen
Finger Lakes native Regan Smith drove the #14 car in the Cheez-It 355, replacing Tony Stewart.
The biggest annual sporting event in the Finger Lakes is NASCAR at Watkins Glen International, drawing nearly 100,000 fans to the track. For one weekend a year, the national NASCAR spotlight is on the quaint village of Watkins Glen, which simply put, is pretty cool. I spent Saturday at The Glen covering the Nationwide Zippo 200, walking around the track and watching a few laps from each turn. The atmosphere was electric and jovial, customary for a well-run event of a fan-friendly sport. I drove home after the race and went to bed expecting to do it all again the next day, just with more fans in attendance and more excitement at WGI, for the top-billed Sprint Cup Cheez-It 355. When I woke up Sunday morning, I went on Twitter and read the story that broke overnight, that Tony Stewart, slated to drive in the Cheez-It 355, was involved in an accident on the track of Canandaigua Motorsports Park in which he hit an out-of-car driver and killed him. The intial report coming out of Stewart's camp was that he was still planning on racing at The Glen. Fortunately for everyone's sake, the folks at Stewart-Haas Racing announced later that morning that Stewart was bowing out of the race. It not only would have been inappropriate in the situation and insensitive to the victim and his family, but it also would have greatly distracted from the great race going on that day at The Glen. Even without Stewart racing, it still was a distraction. The fatal incident might have occurred over an hour away in a race and track that had zero NASCAR affiliation whatsoever, but it featured one of NASCAR's most popular drivers, and that casted a cloud over the Cheez-It 355. The media bombarded drivers with questions about Tony Stewart, there was additional security around the track, and a somber mood before the green flag. Once the race began, and routine set in, the festive move at the track was back, but still, something was different. In 2014, the Finger Lakes' biggest national showcase was overshadowed by a tragedy.
Cornell Hockey Head Coach Mike Schafer has no regrets about what he said in his post-game statement after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Quinnipiac, just how he said it. The Big Red bench boss's profanity-filled comments directed at Bobcats Head Coach Rand Pecknold led to the ECAC issuing him a one game suspension. Schafer’s ire was drawn after Quinnipiac forward Matthew Peca hit Cornell forward Cole Bardreau from behind during the second period. While officials penalized Peca with a game misconduct, Schafer said Pecknold was looking for an embellishing call on Bardreau. Tuesday, I spoke with Schafer and Bardreau about the situation.
Schafer on what he saw from Peca’s hit on Bardreau:
He got hit from behind and I saw him go into the boards. It happens in the course of the game of hockey and you just hold your breath when you see something like that happen especially with Cole [Bardreau] with over the course of time where he had broken his neck up at RPI a couple of years ago so you hold your breath when you see that type of hit.
Schafer on Pecknold accusing Bardreau of embellishing:
He was yelling and screaming about it. He was throwing his hands. I wouldn’t accuse him. I talked to him very politely after the game about it…I said I disagreed with him, and he disagreed with me, and that’s what kind of set me off after the game.
Schafer on his expletive-laden, post-game statement:
I just wish I didn’t use the vulgarity…I really believe in everything else I said. I think the action of begging for a call when a kid gets head-first into the boards, I just totally disagree… I just regret the vulgarity that I used, and I could have gotten my point off just as much without using vulgarity. I think that’s part of my strength as a coach and my weakness as a coach is my emotion, and that got the best and it was embarrassing to Cornell and my family, and that’s not how a coach or an individual who represents Cornell should behave themselves.
Bardreau on Schafer defending him:
I liked him sticking up for me…it means a lot that your coach has your back and he just obviously proved it that he has the best interest of us in the back of his mind so that was big for us, and like he said, I think he probably could have gone about it in another way, but it was still huge for everyone in the locker room to know that he has everyone’s best interests.
Schafer on worrying about his players just like he does his own kids:
All the kids, they are like your own kids…they’ve been entrusted in you by their parents. You do a lot of work with them and you’re with them a lot, and when you see them get hurt or something happens to them, I think that . People always wonder what sets me off as a coach, and it’s pretty evident it’s when one of your kids gets hurt or wronged in the course of a game.
Schafer on what he told his team after he learned he was suspended for Friday’s game against Clarkson:
I accept my consequences for my actions. I expected to be suspended afterwards. For me, my players are the most important thing to me…I just felt one of our players was being wronged. If I could do it all over again, I would, just without the vulgarity.
Schafer on Associate Head Coach Ben Syer and Assistant Coach Topher Scott, coaching without him against Clarkson:
They’re quality coaches and they’ll do a great job in my absence. All the coaching, as far as adjustments, takes place throughout the course of the week. There’s an old saying that once they haze the barn, you’ve done your job. And on Friday and Saturday you’re got them in the barn, they’ll be ready to play. Topher and Ben will do a tremendous job executing, as far as line matchups and who is on power play and penalty kill, they’ve been there before, they know what’s going on.
Cornell, minus head coach Mike Schafer, hosts Clarkson Friday night at Lynah Rink, before Schafer returns behind the bench from his one game suspension for Saturday’s home matchup with St. Lawrence.
In terms of game day atmospheres, this one was nothing special. It was not a Friday night extravaganza with two top teams playing in a boisterous packed house. Yes, these two towns love their football, but due to Newfield’s senior trip this weekend, its game at Groton was moved up to Thursday night. That’s a night that for most fans is reserved for helping their kids with their homework while getting ready for an early work and school day. So, to little surprise, a Thursday matchup featuring two 0-3 squads drew a relatively pedestrian crowd.
However, the folks who did show up Thursday night witnessed something special. Something that had not happened in nearly five years. A Newfield football win.
On October 4, 2009, Newfield defeated Spencer-Van Etten 12-6. The Trojans then lost their final three games of the season and went winless in 2010 and 2011 before the football program went on hiatus 2012 through 2013 due to a lack of enough players to field a team.
Head Coach Dan Donahue was instrumental in bringing the program back. He put together a rag-tag squad this season comprised of three seniors who were freshmen on the 2011 varsity team, and twenty newcomers including underclassmen called up from the modified program and eager students excited to join the team without having ever played a down of football in their lives.
Newfield entered its matchup against Groton carrying a 22 game losing streak, the longest in New York State. 48 minutes later, Trojans players were leaping into each other’s arms shouting “Not 23!” Led by dynamic quarterback Cole Banfield, Newfield topped Groton 22-16 for its first win in nearly five years. The junior captain motored for two touchdowns runs, zoomed back a kickoff return for a touchdown, and added an interception grab on defense to thwart Groton’s final drive of the game. Not bad for a kid who had never played quarterback before this season, but saw that the position was vacant and told Donahue that he would accept the challenge and put the team on his shoulders.
Newfield's Cole Banfield scores on a 2-point conversion following his third touchdown
The longest losing streak in New York State now belongs to South Glens Falls at 19 games. Ithaca is second with 18 straight losses. Like Donahue with Newfield, Little Red Head Coach Kelly Gordon is trying to revitalize a once mighty program that has fallen over the past few years. Trumansburg football, a squad that two years ago took in six Newfield players who wanted to play football but their school couldn’t field a team, felt the same fate this season. Three players shy of the state minimum, the Blue Raiders had to cancel their varsity season. When Trumansburg returns to the gridiron, which Athletic Director Jason Hodge hopes is next season; it also will have an uphill battle to prominence.
One win does not change the trying state of local high school football. But it’s a start.
“That’s the thing,” Donahue said after Thursday’s win. “This is a win and it’s a good win for the program and the community and the school but it’s one win and now we have to come back out and practice Monday and build for the next game…but this at least gives them a positive outlook going into practice on Monday.”
Newfield celebrates the program's first win since 2009
For Newfield, a win on a chilly Thursday night in front of a few dozen souls meant the world to a group of kids who took a chance by signing up for an upstart team that lacked experience and inherited the baggage of the state’s longest losing streak. The Trojans left that baggage on the field at Groton and brought the newfound experience of coming together as a team to win a football game, on the bus ride back to Newfield.
It might not boast the representation of college football powerhouses like the University of Southern California, Ohio State, and Alabama, but Cornell has quietly placed four of its alumni in the NFL entering this season. Offensive guard Kevin Boothe ’06, receiver/returner Bryan Walters ’10, center JC Tretter ’13, and quarterback Jeff Mathews ’14 make up the Big Red contingent in the NFL. The group may share an alma mater, but each player is in a very different situation.
Cornell Class of 2006
9th NFL Season
Kevin Boothe returns to the team that drafted him in the sixth round out of Cornell in 2006, the Oakland Raiders. Boothe has spent the bulk of his professional career with the New York Giants, where he won two Super Bowls in seven seasons. He signed with the Raiders this past offseason and will serve as a veteran backup. Boothe is listed on the Raiders depth chart as their backup center, however he could also see snaps as a guard.
The 31-year-old Boothe is part of a Raiders squad that with an average age of 27, is the oldest team in the league. Oakland Head Coach Dennis Allen told ESPN.com reporter Paul Gutierrez:
We brought these players in primarily because they’re good football players, but secondarily, they’ve been great leaders on the teams that they came from. We expect them to come in and provide that same type of leadership in our locker room. A lot of guys that we brought in do have that championship pedigree. They understand what it takes to win a championship. They understand what it takes to have success in this league. They’ll have a great influence not only the young players in the locker room, but some of the other players that have been here.
Cornell Class of 2010
5th NFL Season
After being part of the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII run, Bryan Walters was released on “Cut Down Day” August 30, when every team had to cut its roster down to 53 players. However, two days later, the receiver and return specialist was a Seahawk once again. Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times explains Walters’ anticipated role:
Walters was the backup to Earl Thomas as the punt returner and to Percy Harvin as the kickoff returner throughout preseason, returning four punts for 46 yards and nine kickoffs for 229. Thomas and Harvin remain atop the depth chart for those spots. But special-teams coach Brian Schneider said Monday that Walters will be right “back in the mix’’ in the rotation of returners. Seattle likely will use multiple returners at both spots.
Cornell Class of 2013
Green Bay Packers
2nd NFL Season
When JC Tretter was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Green Bay Packers, he was the highest draft Cornellian since Seth Payne was drafted in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1997. However, Tretter has yet to play a down of a regular season professional football game, and it will be a while before he gets to do so. Tretter broke his ankle as a rookie during 2013 Training Camp, and missed the entire season. He was set to begin the 2014 season as Green Bay’s starting center, but suffered a knee injury in the Packers 31-21 preseason victory over the Raiders August 21. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Tretter will be out at least eight weeks:
The Green Bay Packers finally admitted that the knee injury center JC Tretter suffered is worse than it was portrayed. On Wednesday, according to the NFL transaction wire, the Packers placed him on injured reserve/ designated to return list, which means he will miss a minimum of eight weeks while he recovers. To take Tretter's spot on the roster the Packers signed practice squad center Garth Gerhart to the 53-man roster. Under the designated to return rules, Tretter will be eligible to practice after six weeks and play after eight. The Packers would probably be looking to get him back for the Chicago game Nov. 9, which comes a week after their bye. In the meantime, rookie Corey Linsley will handle the position.
Cornell Class of 2014
Indianapolis Colts (Practice Squad)
1st NFL Season
Courtesy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jeff Mathews left Cornell with 47 different school records and 18 Ivy League records for passing and total offense. However, with the Ivy League’s football stigma and concerns about Mathews’ mobility, the Second Team All-American went undrafted. He was signed by the Atlanta Falcons, but was waived on August 24, after losing Matt Ryan’s backup spots to veterans Sean Renfree and T.J. Yates. ESPN Atlanta Falcons Reporter Vaughn McClure analyzes Mathews' release:
Again, there were no real surprises, but you thought maybe undrafted quarterback Jeff Mathews get a longer look in the final preseason game Thursday night. Instead, he was let go. The Falcons liked his size (6-foot-4) and his intelligence coming out of Cornell. Mathews seemed to be at least a top practice-squad candidate, but maybe not anymore.
After being let loose by the Falcons, Mathews worked out for the New England Patriots, and then was signed to the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. He replaces 2012 seventh round pick Chandler Harnish as the raw signalcaller on their scout team. Mathews has the opportunity to learn from Indianapolis starter Andrew Luck, one of the league’s rising studs, and backup Matt Hasselbeck, who has led a team to a Super Bowl. As an undrafted quarterback out of an Ivy League school, Mathews had a very slim shot at immediately making an NFL roster. A practice squad spot on a team in which he can be mentored by the likes of Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck is realistically the best case scenario for Mathews.
These are tough times for Buffalo Bills fans. Regardless of how much E.J. Manuel and Sammy Watkins impress at Summer Training Camp at St. John Fisher, the spotlight is on the team’s uncertain ownership situation. The Toronto Sun reports Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, investor Donald Trump, and rock star Jon Bon Jovi have all submitted ownership bids. Bon Jovi has quickly become the least popular choice among Bills fans due to concern he will move the team to Toronto.
It really isn’t fair to Upstate New Yorkers that your beloved Bills might leave the country and to make things worse, you have been constantly subjected to Bon Jovi puns in headlines documenting your greatest fears – that the Bills will “Runaway” to Toronto. So that you are not alone, I have Bon-Jovi’d some other NFL teams having controversial offseasons. Here are some teams that have Bon Jovi lyrics describing their situations:
We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not - "Livin' on a Prayer" (Slippery When Wet, 1986)
The Seahawks are hoping to return to The Super Bowl, but runningback Marshawn Lynch is more concerned with his contract. Lynch is suspicious the Seahawks are going to release him after this season, meaning he won’t receive the final $9 million of his four-year/$30 million deal. He is holding out to do whatever he can to keep his money.
It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive - "It's My Life" (Crush, 2000)
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel partied right up to Training Camp, spending 4th of July weekend in Las Vegas and Austin, Texas. The Browns are reportedly pretty concerned with his lifestyle.
St. Louis Rams
Shining like a diamond, rolling with the dice,
Standing on the ledge, I show the wind how to fly.
When the world gets in my face,
I say, Have A Nice Day. - "Have a Nice Day" (Have a Nice Day, 2005)
Michael Sam is a trailblazer, the first ever openly gay player to be selected in the NFL Draft. While some fans, players, and coaches have questioned if he is a good fit in the league, Sam has been nothing but a professional.
It's all the same, only the names will change - "Wanted Dead or Alive" (Slippery When Wet, 1986)
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is still adamant that he keep the team’s racist name, despite growing support for a change.
Shot through the heart
And you’re to blame
You give love a bad name- "You Give Love a Bad Name" (Slippery When Wet, 1986)
Ravens runningback Ray Rice broke the hearts of Baltimore fans and fellow alumni of Rutgers where he was regarded as a hero. He is now shamed as a man who committed an act of domestic violence again his girlfriend (now wife).
***Buffalo fans can sign the official petition to keep the Bills in Buffalo and away from Bon Jovi, by going to 12thManThunder.com .
Courtesy Getty Images
With Ithaca native Dustin Brown leading the Los Angeles Kings on a march to a possible second championship in three years, it is easy to overlook the Cornell alum on the opposing roster in the Stanley Cup Final. That’s because that Cornell alum is the backup goaltender to 2013 Vezina Winner Henrik Lundqvist. It is also because he was not on the New York Rangers’ roster ONE week ago.
It has been a long and strange journey for David LeNeveu. The Fernie, British Columbia native manned the net for the Big Red from 2001-2003, posting a 1.20 GAA and 94% save percentage during his sophomore campaign when CU advanced to The Frozen Four. A 2002 2nd Round Draft Pick of the Coyotes, LeNeveu joined the Phoenix organization after two years on East Hill, progressing to the parent club in 2005.
However, LeNeveu has never solidified himself as an NHL goalie. He has played in just 22 NHL games in 11 years of professional hockey. The rest of the 31-year-old’s career has been scattered across seven AHL teams, an ECHL team, and even two squads in Austria.
So how did it come to be that a career journeyman is suiting up for his third straight game in the NHL Stanley Cup Final? Patience and luck.
Veteran Martin Biron was supposed to be Lundqvist’s backup this season. However, after struggling early, Biron was waived and retired soon after. New York was forced to promote prospect Cam Talbot from its AHL affiliate in Hartford, resulting in a lack of a goaltending depth in the organization. The Blueshirts signed free agent LeNeveu, who started the year in the ECHL, to the Wolf Pack on January 14th. A week later, Lundqvist came down with the flu, and LeNeveu was recalled to New York. After backing up Talbot on the bench for one game, he returned to Hartford.
LeNeveu joined ESPN Ithaca’s “Between the Lines” as a guest, and made it clear that he was not at all fully satisfied with his cameo appearance.
“That was a culmination of a lot of things falling into place at the right time,” LeNeveu said. “It was a brief stint. It was a quick up and back, but my goal still is to stick there long term. It’s not that I achieved a goal. It’s part of the process. I was definitely happy and excited to be part of that. I’m just trying to work my way to get back up there again and to hopefully stick around for a while.”
He received another opportunity last week after it was announced Talbot is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. LeNeveu was added to the Rangers roster and has backed up Lundqvist from the bench for the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
When we chatted with LeNeveu on BTL, I asked him how he has stayed so resilient throughout his whirlwind professional career.
“If you let go of the dream, your dream is dead,” he said. “You have to keep believing in yourself. There’s many points in people’s career where everything seems so far away, and other times you think you’re so close. You’re never as good as you think you are, you are never as bad as you think you are. You have to keep on pushing on a daily and consistent basis to achieve your goals and you always have to have a set goal in mind with little incremental goals on the way through. Without a plan, it’s pretty hard to achieve your end goal in mind.”
The veteran netminder’s wisdom could be a welcome presence in the locker room tonight before Game 3 of the NHL Final, for a Rangers team that is two losses away from being eliminated but also four wins away from reaching its ultimate goal of hoisting The Stanley Cup.
There are no games scheduled for today.