Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carolinas Mount Rushmore: Charlotte

Third of a series.

ESPN is naming its "Mount Rushmore" for sports in each of the 50 states. We liked the idea, so we're taking a smaller slice.
Today, the Mount Rushmore of Charlotte athletics.

Cedric Maxwell, basketball: Maxwell (above) is perhaps the most famous face of Charlotte 49ers athletics. He was a star forward for the 49ers on their 1977 team which reached the NCAA Final Four. Maxwell ranks sixth all-time in points scored and has had his jersey retired after his storied career with Charlotte. He was the 12th overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics, where he played for eight of his 11 NBA seasons.

Jeff Mullins, basketball: Mullins (above) , a native of Lexington, Ky., is a former basketball star at Duke and with the NBA's Golden State Warriors who was hired as the school's men's basketball program in 1985. He is credited with resurrecting the program, earning an NCAA berth in 1988 - the first since the school had been in the Final Four. His actions helped shape the development of the program as it moved to from the Sun Belt Conference to the Metro Conference and eventually Conference USA.

Chris Haney, baseball: Haney (right) was an All-Sun Belt selection in both 1989 and 1990 as a pitcher for the 49ers and remains the program's leader with 20 complete games. In 1990, he was chosen 40th overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Montreal Expos and reached the majors the next year at age 22. He pitched for six teams during an 11-year MLB career.

Judy Rose, administration: Rose (above) has been part of the Charlotte 49ers athletic programs since 1975 when she was hired as women's basketball coach and tennis coach. In 1990, Rose was promoted to AD. She was the first woman on NCAA Men's Basketball Committee. She is leading a fundraising drive to start a football program.

-- Jim Utter

Disagree? Think we left someone out? Tell us in the comments below who you'd add, and which of our picks yours should replace.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Carolinas Mount Rushmore: Clemson

Second of a series.

ESPN is naming its "Mount Rushmore" for sports in each of the 50 states. We liked the idea, so we're taking a smaller slice.
Today, the Mount Rushmore of Clemson athletics.

Banks McFadden, football, basketball, track: He's generally considered the greatest athlete in school history and for good reason. He was a three-time letterman in three sports -- football, basketball and track. McFadden (above) was a two-time All-American in basketball, leading the Tigers to their only postseason tournament championship (the Southern Conference tournament in 1939). He was also a triple-threat in football, running, passing and kicking his way into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Howard, football: There's a reason the Tigers play their football games on Frank Howard Field. He spent almost 65 years at Clemson, 30 of them as the head football coach, cultivating a program that has defined the school's athletic success. Howard (above) was a great character, known for telling colorful stories in his own unique style. As head coach, Howard posted a 165-118-12 record and players still rub 'Howard's Rock' before kickoff at Clemson.

Barbara Kennedy, basketball: She is the most accomplished women's athlete in Clemson history, nearly three decades after playing her last basketball game. In the early 1980s, Kennedy (left) was the face of women's basketball in the ACC, helping to elevate the sport in the public consciousness. All these years later, Kennedy remains the ACC's all-time leading scorer and rebounder after a career in which was a three-time first-team All-ACC player and two-time All-American.

Danny Ford, football: During the decade of the '80s, Ford (above) oversaw the Clemson football program and led it to unprecedented -- and unmatched -- heights. He made his head coaching debut as a 30-year old in the Gator Bowl against legendary Woody Hayes, leading the Tigers to a 17-15 victory in 1978. In 1981, Ford led the Tigers to a 12-0 record and the national championship, part a three-year run in which the Tigers posted a 30-2-2 record. Ford, still a hugely popular figure today, left Clemson with a 96-29-4 career record.

-- Ron Green Jr.


Disagree? Think we left someone out? Tell us in the comments below who you'd add, and which of our picks yours should replace.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carolinas Mount Rushmore: Wake Forest

First of a series.

ESPN is naming its "Mount Rushmore" for sports in each of the 50 states. We liked the idea, so we're taking a smaller slice, using it for some of our area schools and giving you the four faces our beat writers believe should be honored from each institution.
Today, the Mount Rushmore of Wake Forest athletics.

Arnold Palmer, golf: Two-time NCAA champ and ACC’s first golf champion, Palmer (above) went on to become one of his sport’s icons.

Dickie Hemric, basketball: Deacons’ star of mid-1950s remains ACC’s career rebounding leader. Hemric (above) was second on league’s scoring list until being passed by North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough this season.

Tim Duncan, basketball: Recruiting find from Virgin Islands blossomed into best shot blocker in ACC history. Duncan (above) led Wake Forest to two straight league titles.

Jim Grobe, football: Is presiding over the golden age of Deacons football. Under Grobe (above), Wake Forest has have played in three consecutive bowl games and won the ACC championship in 2006, playing in the BCS’s Orange Bowl that season.

– David Scott


Disagree? Think we left someone out? Tell us in the comments below who you'd add, and which of our picks yours should replace.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top 5 all-time CIAA basketball players

The CIAA tournament is coming to town again and there’s plenty of talent coming. Let’s look at the best ever CIAA players:

5. Earl Lloyd, West Virginia State: Lloyd (above) led his college to CIAA titles in 1948 and ’49 and was a three-time all-conference pick. In 1950, he became the first black player to play in an NBA game, playing for the Washington Capitols, who drafted him in the ninth round. He scored 731 points in the 1954-55 season helping the Syracuse Nationals win the Eastern Division title. In 1968, he became the first black assistant in the league, working with Detroit. He’s in the Virginia hall of fame and Feb. 9, 2001 was named Earl Lloyd Day by Virginia’s governor.

4. Cleo Hill, Winston-Salem State: Averaged 25.4 points during four-year career and 26.7 during senior season, when he led the Rams to the CIAA title. Has 2,488 career points and is in the CIAA Hall of Fame.

3. Charles Oakley, Virginia Union: In 1985, Sports Illustrated called Division II Union the best team in Virginia and called the 6-9 Oakley (above) “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as far as Division II basketball goes.” In the CIAA Tournament that year, Oakley averaged 27 points and 18.3 rebounds, about his season average. Cleveland selected him ninth in the 1985 NBA draft but traded him to Chicago.

2. Sam Jones, N.C. Central: College career at then N.C. College was interrupted because he had two years of military service. Jones (left) was a three-time all-conference pick who averaged 18.6 points and 10.7 rebounds his senior year. He’s an NAIA and Naismith Hall Of Famer. Later, Jones was a pretty good player for the Boston Celtics. Maybe you remember him.

1. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Winston-Salem State: In 1967, Monroe (above) played for coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines and helped his team win the Division-II national title. He averaged 41.5 points that season. Monroe went onto a long NBA career and was later voted one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996.

-- Langston Wertz Jr.

CIAA women’s starting five

The CIAA’s women’s basketball history isn’t as rich as the men’s, but here are five players who made their marks:

-- LaKisha Phifer, Saint Paul’s (1996-99): The greatest shot blocker in women’s college basketball history, Phifer’s averages of 7.0 (career) and 8.8 (season) are the best ever in the NCAA’s record book. The 6-foot-1 Phifer, who is from Charlotte and played at Independence High, once blocked 20 shots against Virginia Union, still an NCAA record. She also had 25 rebounds in a CIAA tournament game.

-- Kim Brewington, Johnson C. Smith (1988-91): Scored 64 points against Livingstone in 1990, second highest scoring game in Division II history. She also had 50 that same season against Livingstone. Her 32.4 point average in 1990 is third highest in Division II history.

-- Jackie Dolberry, Hampton (1986-89): At 6-1, she could play every position on the floor. The state of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer, Dolberry scored 52 points once against N.C. Central and had 2,645 in her career.

-- Norma Knight, Norfolk State (1982-83): She played just two seasons for the Spartans, but remains NCAA Division II’s all-time rebounding leader with an 18.4 average.

-- Celeste Trahan, Elizabeth City State (2005-08): The only player in Division II history to score at least 2,000 points and grab 1,500 rebounds in a career. Was the nation’s leading rebounder (15.9) and No. 2 scorer (23.7) in 2008.

– David Scott

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Top 5 all-time athletes from Mecklenburg County

The O List gets a heaping helping of hometown flavor, with the best five athletes to come out of Mecklenburg County — ever. Should Stephen Curry be on this list? Hey, give him some time. Feel free to throw in your choices in the comments section below. These are my five:

5. JIM BEATTY, Charlotte Central High: The first man to run a sub-4 minute mile indoors, clicking off a 3:58.9 effort in 1962, covered live on “Wide World of Sports. That year he broke 11 American and three world distance running records. Beatty (above, in USA sweats) was a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team and an all-American at North Carolina.

4. FLOYD “CHUNK” SIMMONS, Charlotte Central High: A sports everyman who won bronze medals in the decathlon in both the 1948 and ’52 Olympics. Simmons (above) also played tailback for North Carolina and even had an acting career, including a part in the 1958 musical “South Pacific.” Simmons was still competing in Masters field events into his 80s.

3. RAY DURHAM, Harding High: A remarkable second baseman who has spent 14 seasons in the major leagues. Durham (above), also a prep football star, was quick and fast and had surprising pop for a 5-foot-8 player. Normally a leadoff hitter in his prime, he hit as many as 26 home runs in a season and stole at least 20 bases for eight straight years. Not a great fielder, but good at getting on base. He’s a two-time all-star with a .277 lifetime batting average.

2. BOBBY JONES, South Meck High: Ironically, No.2 on our list played on the same Sabres’ team as No.1, and won a state title. Jones (above), who was 6-9 but mobile and quick, went on to star at North Carolina and then become a professional defensive whiz, a selfless passer and the NBA’s best sixth man for many years. In a 12-year pro career, Jones was an eight-time all-defensive team pick and a four-time all-star.

1. WALTER DAVIS, South Meck High: The purest baseline jumper you will ever see. Davis (above), a 6-6 swing man, followed Jones to North Carolina after playing for two prep state champions, then almost helped the Tar Heels to the 1977 national crown. He was the 1978 NBA Rookie of the Year with Phoenix, and went on to make six all-star teams and to average more than 20 points in six different seasons. Over a 15-year career, he averaged 18.9 points, 3.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds.

— Stan Olson

Monday, February 23, 2009

Top 5 reasons to check out the CIAA tournament

Are you ready for the CIAA Tournament? The “C-I” is in town Feb. 24-28. Many think it’s the best sporting/entertainment in town all year. Still not convinced? Here are five reasons you should get tickets now.

Johnson C. Smith’s offense: The Bulls, located right here in Charlotte, lead the league in scoring, averaging 77.1 points per game. The Bulls make nearly 50 percent of their shots as a team and really run up and down the floor, playing ball the way Roy Williams would like.

Cheerleaders: These aren’t what you’ll find in the ACC or SEC. CIAA cheerleaders do battle with each other all game, much like the pep bands do. It’s high-level choreography as well suited to basketball as a Janet Jackson video.

Anthony Hilliard: Elizabeth City’s star player is the league's top scorer at 23.2 points per game and its leading rebounder (11.1). He’s clearly the league’s best player this year and the 6-4 senior from Fayetteville is the second player in school history to get 1,000 career rebounds. Oscar Smith was the first -- way back in 1961.

Mr CIAA: There’s this guy who wears these sharp, bright colored suits and strolls down the aisles with a matching cane, changing several times a game. He gets some of the biggest cheers of the week and is one of my all-time favorites.

The Parties: The basketball, on the men’s and women’s side, is great, but there’s no social event like the CIAA. Alumni from these 10 NCAA Division II historically black colleges annually get together and catch up in one big family reunion. And they invite everyone to come join them, too.

-- Langston Wertz Jr.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Top 5 irritating trends in sports

Five irritating trends in sports that need to change quickly, before I throw the remote control through the wall:

1. Basketball timeouts. Does each team get about 12 or so? Each half? Must every final minute be possession, time out, free throw, time out, time out? It kills crescendo.

2. Halftime interviews in college football. Wake me when a coach leaving the field doesn't utter about nine cliches strung together.

3. Football pregame crowd. Do networks really need five guys "analyzing"? One good one would suffice.

4. High-fiving after a missed free throw. Hey, I'm all for encouragement, but slap the guy's hand when he MAKES one. It's cheapening the dap.

5. Fans complaining about TV times. Starts too late. Ends in the wee hours. They cut it short because of rain. Stop whining, the networks pay big money and have control. Admit it, if it's a sport you love, you'll watch it whenever.

-- Cliff Mehrtens


What things about sports irritate you? Post your thoughts in the comments section below. Don't irritate us by saying the O List. We know who you are ...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Five most disliked Charlotte sports figures

The Hornets' Derrick Coleman (above) leads off the list of Charlotte's most disliked sports figures. (Jeff Siner, file photo)

We’re always writing about the best this, the most popular that. So we’re changing it up a bit, particularly in light of all those fans who now feel betrayed by the Carolina Panthers’ Julius Peppers. Who have been the most disliked, despised, yes, even hated sports figures in Charlotte history? We ran it by the sports staff, but I’m sure we’re forgetting someone, so feel free to chime in with individuals or lists of your own. And Julius doesn’t even make the Top 5.

5. Jerry Reese: I'm sorry, but when one man messes with the will of the people by filing frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit, he's got to make this list. If not for Reese, Charlotte would be well on its way to having an uptown minor league baseball stadium, the Knights suddenly within easy reach of the entire city. We might even be seeing baseball here this summer. Not with the hardheaded Reese being a human roadblock, though.

4. Derrick Coleman: He’s long gone now, but his picture is next to fat, slow and lazy in most Charlotte dictionaries. Coleman’s days as a power forward (the emphasis is not on power here) with the basketball Charlotte Hornets were mostly known for stays on the disabled list and the fact that the team’s record was much better when he didn’t play than when he did.

3. Bruton Smith: He has done lots of good things through the years, but the bottom line is that he held the town of Concord hostage when he threatened to move his speedway somewhere else. Concord, a struggling town desperate to hold on to speedway-generated revenue and jobs, folded and made huge monetary concessions to a billionaire. Smith punished the little people because he could, and many have not forgiven him.

2. Bob Johnson: I’m sorry Bob, when you own a basketball team, occasionally act like you care about the people who come to watch them. Johnson rolled into town, raised ticket prices his first year even though the team was still playing in the old coliseum, and put the Bobcats on a TV station that he hoped would create revenue for, uh, Bob Johnson. Problem was, no one could watch it and no loyalty to the new guys was built as a result. Johnson wants first and foremost to make money on this team. Sorry Bob, it’s the NBA.

1. George Shinn: The man who brought major league sports to Charlotte with the Hornets owned this city to start with, and there was talk of him running for governor. Then he began to slowly chip away at all that good will. Eventually, after a huge number of wrong turns against public opinion, he took our first big league team to New Orleans. By then, most Charlotteans were simply happy to be rid of him.

—Stan Olson

Top 5 all-time Charlotte television sportscasters

Our list of the top television sportscasters in Charlotte history:

5. Mike Solarte, News 14: The best thing going right now. Solarte does a 30-minute sports show almost daily -- and effectively -- like an N.C. “SportsCenter.”

4. Chuck Howard, WCNC: Came in from Buffalo and was a local whiz kid. He was polished and knowledgeable and broke a lot of news. He was major network good.

3. Jim Thacker, WBTV: I remember him as much for calling ACC basketball with Billy Packer as I do the local sports, but he was awful good at both.

2. Paul Cameron, WBTV: Fair and balanced, Cameron came across like your favorite uncle. His “Football Friday Night” high school show is one of the best local TV creations of all time.

1. Harold Johnson, WSOC: He was once as a big a celebrity locally as many of the people he interviewed. His “Big Guy” persona was ESPN before there was ESPN.

-- Langston Wertz Jr.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Top 5 ACC football matchups for 2009

The Nov. 28 rematch of N.C. State's 41-10 thrashing of North Carolina is one to watch for 2009.

Basketball season isn't even over yet, and spring practice is still a month away, but the ACC schedule came out last week, which means it isn't too early to start talking about football.

Despite the overflow of games against Division I-AA -- sorry, FCS -- opponents (Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State will play two each, Wake Forest one) there are still plenty of intriguing games on next season's schedule -- the top five:

5. BOSTON COLLEGE AT NOTRE DAME, OCT. 24: The Eagles had an offseason of unexpected coaching turmoil, while the Irish expected coaching turmoil but had none. This battle of Catholic football powers always means something.

4. CLEMSON AT GEORGIA TECH, SEPT. 10: Two questions will be answered, in part, this one: Can Clemson bounce back from a miserable season? And: Will Georgia Tech's option offense work a second time through the ACC?

3. MIAMI AT FLORIDA STATE, SEPT. 7: For the third time in four years, Florida State and Miami will open the season against each other on Labor Day. Both programs may be a shadow of their former selves, but they will both be undefeated for this one.

2. NORTH CAROLINA AT N.C. STATE, NOV. 28: Two programs on the upswing close out the season against each other after last fall's Wolfpack win in Chapel Hill. If both teams are improved, there could be a lot on the line.

1. VIRGINIA TECH VS. ALABAMA IN ATLANTA, SEPT. 5: Division favorite Clemson was exposed by the Crimson Tide to open last season, and the ACC spent the rest of the year repairing its reputation. The Hokies have a chance to salvage some ACC pride.

Is there another game on the schedule that catches your eye? Add your choices below.
-- Luke DeCock

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A-Rod's top 5 excuses for steroid use

With apologies to David Letterman, the O-List looks at Alex Rodriguez’s top five excuses for using steroids:

5. Trainer told him they were Flintstones Chewable Vitamins.

4. Watched “Pumping Iron” and wanted to inflate his “skinny little arms.”

3. Barry said, “You’ll never catch me, wimp.”

2. Couldn’t resist the chance for a trip to Washington on the taxpayer’s dime.

1. Looking around for a healthier snack than Georgia peanut butter.

—Stan Olson

Monday, February 16, 2009

Top 5 Charlotte sports radio personalities

Charlotte’s best sports radio personalities ever:

5. Matt Pinto:
I don’t think we ever had a sports talker as knowledgeable as Pinto, who was also the radio voice of the Charlotte Hornets in the '90s. He was smart on so many topics, and his presentation was much different than what we hear today, when so many guys sound alike - and rant alike.

4. Gerry Vaillancourt:
He was on WFNZ and later on WBT radio, whose 50,000 watt signal reached up and down the East Coast. A former coach, he really knew basketball and could talk it about as well as anyone in the country. He had a tendency to go overboard, but we enjoyed his passion. He teamed with Pinto and with Michelle Tafoya (Mickey Conley), and that was sports-radio magic.

3. Mark Packer (left): He’s created a brand at WFNZ right now around his afternoon show and his “Southern Fried Football” packages. Packer’s rolodex is amazing and the guests he gets make his show.

2. Gary Williams:
Since he left for a satellite radio gig, there’s been a big hole in Charlotte’s current sports talk universe. Williams was knowledgeable and down to earth. He did great research and more than many sports talk guys, he almost always had a few facts to back up his opinions.

1. John Kilgo:
The guy has incredible local history and has seen so much. He also has an opinion and a strong one at that. Kilgo makes you take sides, but he always makes you listen. He’s one of the best things, still, on local radio, doing guest spots on Packer’s show.
- Langston Wertz Jr.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ranking the pro sports all-star games

For too many years and with too little reason, All-Star games have been a part of the professional sports landscape. They really don't mean anything, though baseball has now attached home-field advantage in the World Series to the outcome of its summer showcase. Otherwise, All-Star games tend to meaningless exercises in selling commercial time on television.

With the NBA's All-Star weekend approaching, here's one view of how the extravaganzas rank with the caveat that almost every sport would be better off without one.

5. The NFL Pro Bowl. It's almost as bad as the uniforms the players are forced to wear. It comes after the season has ended, managing to further dilute a meaningless game. The best that can be said for it is that it's been played in Hawaii so the players get that treat. Now, even that's about to change.

4. The NHL All-Star Game. I've heard there's such a thing but have found no evidence it exists.

3. The NBA All-Star Game. It was a sweet moment when Magic Johnson came back and played after his AIDS admission years ago. Otherwise, it's less filling than cotton candy. And the dunk contest, please….

2. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Maybe baseball just lends itself better to an All-Star game, even if Bud Selig calls them a draw when it gets late. It's worth watching, at least the early innings when the starters are playing. And if they want to give the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series, well, at least they're playing for something.

1. The Nextel All-Star Race. It's the best race on the circuit, even if it doesn't count in the points race. Something unusual always seems to happen and, except for the pre-race introductions, it doesn’t take all night to complete. It's relatively short, to the point and usually fun. Even when Mark Martin wins.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top 5 dunkers of all time

This weekend is the 25th anniversary of the NBA Dunk Contest, which happens tonight during All-Star Saturday. The idea was hatched by Charlotte resident Carl Scheer, who as general manager of the ABA Denver Nuggets, teamed with ABA marketing director Jim Bukata to unveil the contest at the 1976 ABA All-Star Game. Scheer, a consultant for the Charlotte Checkers, has been in sports management and seen dunkers for nearly 40 years. The Observer's Cliff Mehrtens asked for Scheer’s top five all-time dunkers, and his comments:

1. Julius Erving: “He was the grandfather of all dunkers. He was fluid, he was long and he made you gasp. He played in the 1970’s and 80s, and was an innovator for playing above the rim.”

2. David Thompson: “He had a 44-inch vertical leap. He was as creative dunking as Julius was majestic. Incredible talent.”

3. Michael Jordan: “He took the contest to another level after Irving and Thompson. He was so confident and had such control of his body. He could plan a dunk, change his mind three times as he was beginning, and then do something spectacular.”

4. Dwight Howard: “His size and strength make him a candidate for the hall of fame of dunkers. Not as fluid as the guys ahead of him on the list, but certainly a top 5.”

5. Jason Richardson: “Explosive, and very creative for a guy his size (6-foot-6). He’s won the NBA contest twice.”

Disagree with Scheer's list? Post your substitutes, or your comments, or your very own list, in the comments section below.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Top 5 drivers in Daytona 500 history

As the NASCAR season get set for its official kickoff with Sunday's Daytona 500, it's a good time to consider who may be the best drivers to ever compete in the Daytona 500. Do you base it on wins? On how many events the drivers competed in? Best overall finish? There are many factors to consider. Here is our top five drivers to compete in the Daytona 500 and how we came to our judgment. Feel free to offer your own.

5. Dale Earnhardt

Earnhardt only won one Daytona 500 but his career-long effort to win NASCAR's biggest race make up some of the best storylines associated with the race. For nearly his entire career, the 500 trophy was the only thing missing from his extensive NASCAR resume, which includes a record-tying seven Cup series championships. The 2001 Daytona 500, ironically, was also where his career ended, as he was killed in a last-lap crash while a car he owned, driven by Michael Waltrip, won the race.

4. Dale Jarrett
Jarrett won the 1993 Daytona 500 over Earnhardt - often referred to as "The Dale and Dale Show" - in a race called in the broadcast TV booth by his father and former NASCAR champion, Ned Jarrett. Dale Jarrett also won the 500 in 1996 and 2000. His 1996 victory also came with Earnhardt as runner-up but it wasn't easy as Jarrett held off Earnhardt's advances over the final 24 laps.

3. Bobby Allison
Allison was no stranger to success at Daytona and managed three 500 victories, including his final career Cup series win in the 1988 season. That race also featured the first one-two father/son finish, with his son Davey Allison coming in second. Bobby Allison was also the oldest driver (50 years gold) to ever win 500. Bobby also was involved in the notorious infield fight in the 1979 500 involving himself, his brother, Donnie, and Cale Yarborough.

2. Cale Yarborough
Yarborough won the Daytona 500 four times - his first win coming in 1968 for the Wood Brothers, the second in 1977 for Junior Johnson, and back-to-back wins in 1983 and 1984. His 1984 victory came on the heels of an impressive qualifying effort as Yarborough became the first driver to qualify for the 500 with a speed of more than 200 mph.

1. Richard Petty

Petty holds so many NASCAR records it shouldn't be a surprise he also has the most 500 victories (seven). His most memorable 500 may be one he lost. In the 1976 race, he and David Pearson wrecked just yards from the finish line. Pearson was able to restart his engine, drove through the infield grass around Petty's wrecked car, and was declared the winner.

--- Jim Utter

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top 5 SI swimsuit covers

It’s that time of the year again — the often-imitated, never-duplicated Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has arrived in mailboxes across the country this week, brightening dreary February days. It will produce indignant letters to the editor (“Girls in tiny bathing suits! Cancel my subscription!”) from people who somehow missed the last 45 years of swimsuits. Please, cancel their subscriptions. And renew mine.

The Top Five SI swimsuit covers of all time. You can certainly disagree with one or two or all five, so post your picks in the comment section. For research purposes only, find all the previous swimsuit covers here. It’s actually pretty tough to make a poor choice with this group:

5. 2009: Is it inevitable that the most recent (i.e. freshest) makes the list? I like to think it’s more of a credit to 23-year-old first time cover girl Bar Refaeli, who will now be known for more than just being Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend. SI sorted through 90,000 photos to pick the cover winner…and got it right.

4. 1994: The Dream Team, and three’s company, alright. Where else can you find Elle Macpherson, Kathy Ireland and Rachel Hunter together, and all of them smiling at you?

3. 1984. The issue’s title was “Here Comes The Sun,” with Paulina Porizkova kneeling on some exotic beach at sunrise. Here comes the sun, indeed.

2. 1987: When it comes to Elle Macpherson, take your pick — the 6-foot-tall Girl Next Door from the Land Down Under was on the cover a record five times. My favorite though, was ‘87’s offering. No way she could look any sweeter—or hotter.

1. 2006: The “Beach Party” cover featured eight pretty young things, and in this situation, eight is always better than one. Beautiful smiles, and the fact that they all forgot the upper portions of their suits has nothing to do with it.

— Stan Olson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top 5 North Carolina wins over Duke

With North Carolina and Duke set to renew their rivalry tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium, here’s how staff writer Ron Green Jr. ranks the five biggest Tar Heel victories in the long series (following Tuesday's list of the biggest Duke victories):

5. North Carolina 75, Duke 73, Feb. 5, 1992, Smith Center

Top-ranked Duke, the defending national champions, brought a 23-game winning streak into the showdown with North Carolina in a thunderously loud arena. It is most memorable for the image of North Carolina center Eric Montross, who had an open gash on his head and another beneath his left eye from the physical game. The Tar Heels held Christian Laettner to 12 points and when it was over, Montross said of Duke, “I was tired of them.”

4. North Carolina 75, Duke 73, March 6, 2005, Smith Center

On Senior Day, the second-ranked Tar Heels trailed No. 6 Duke by nine points with three minutes remaining before storming back to beat the Blue Devils in Roy Williams’ second season as head coach. Marvin Williams’ three-point play with 17 seconds remaining made the difference as the Tar Heels beat Duke for only the third time in 18 games. Afterward, Roy Williams let his players cut down the nets inside the Smith Center.

3. North Carolina 96, Duke 92 (OT), March 2, 1974, Carmichael Auditorium

Eight points, 17 seconds. It was one of the most famous comebacks in sports history when the fourth-ranked Tar Heels rallied from eight down with 17 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime when Walter Davis banked in a 35-foot shot at the buzzer. Duke’s Pete Kramer missed a free throw with four seconds remaining and Duke leading by two, setting in motion the famous shot by Davis. “Some of us believe we can always come back,” North Carolina coach Dean Smith said afterward.

2. North Carolina 77, Duke 74, March 12, 1989, Atlanta

It was a basketball game – the ACC tournament final – but it looked and felt like an alley fight. “Nasty,” is how Duke’s Quin Snyder would describe it. It was a game full of elbows and fouls, its emotional and physical intensity surpassing its artistry. At one point, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Dean Smith got into a shouting match with each other. After four players fouled out and five others finished with four fouls, North Carolina prevailed – but only when Danny Ferry’s three-quarter court shot bounced off the rim.

1. North Carolina 65, Duke 62, Jan. 9, 1965, Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Three nights earlier, North Carolina’s team bus had arrived back in Chapel Hill after a 107-85 loss to Wake Forest to find fourth-year coach Dean Smith being burned in effigy. Going to face the eighth-ranked Blue Devils, Smith had lost all seven meetings with Duke and coach Vic Bubas but it all changed on Jan. 9. With Billy Cunningham (who had pulled down the burning effigy) scoring 22 points and Bob Lewis adding 21, the Tar Heels ended Duke’s 28-game ACC winning streak while holding the Blue Devils 35 points below their average. The Tar Heels closed the season by winning nine of their last 11 games to tie for second in the ACC regular-season race and Dean Smith’s career had taken off.

Think another game belongs on the list, or want to offer a Top 5 of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top 5 college basketball rivalries

Baseball has Yankees-Red Sox. The NFL has Cowboys-Redskins. The NHL has Colorado-Detroit and Toronto-Montreal. The NBA once had Lakers-Celtics, and now has it again. College football has a trophy up for grabs almost every Saturday, from the Apple Cup to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

And college basketball has North Carolina and Duke. Of course, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils aren’t alone as they face off for the 226th time Wednesday, but they most certainly top the list of college basketball’s best rivalries, Tuesday’s Top Five:

5. Indiana-Purdue — This may have lost a little bit of its luster with Indiana rebuilding this season, but the Hoosiers have won six of the past seven. To get a sense of the heat this game can provoke, consider this: When Bobby Knight threw a chair onto the court 24 years ago, it was during a game against Purdue. And when Indiana won the national title in 1987, one of the Hoosiers’ four losses was to Purdue. They play only once this season, Feb. 21 at Purdue.

4. Connecticut-Tennessee women — After 22 meetings — six of those in the Final Four — the two schools stopped playing during the regular season two years ago after a disagreement between the two legendary coaches, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma. But this was — and would still be — the biggest game on the women’s schedule annually. UConn leads the series 13-9, but Tennessee has won the past three meetings and has the edge in NCAA titles, 8-5.

3. Kentucky-Louisville — Only Rick Pitino could be so slick as to leave Kentucky for the NBA, then return to college coaching with Louisville. His successor at UK, Tubby Smith, suffered upset losses to Louisville in his first two seasons with the Wildcats. These two teams hated each other so badly, an NCAA Tournament meeting in 1983 was their first matchup in 24 years. Since then, Kentucky leads the series 17-11. Pitino went 6-2 against Louisville at Kentucky and is 4-4 against Kentucky at Louisville.

2. Philadelphia Big 5 — This round-robin series between La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova features the kind of local enmity ACC fans can appreciate. For years, all Big 5 games were played as doubleheaders at the Palestra, one of college basketball’s great arenas, but the move to home sites and Villanova’s entry into the Big East put an end to round-robin play in 1991. But the round-robin is back now, and lately, Drexel’s rise as a solid mid-major program has brought the Dragons inclusion in an informal “City 6.”

1. North Carolina-Duke — What really needs to be said? It’s the seventh time this decade both teams are ranked in the top 10. And Wednesday’s game isn’t even the biggest between the two this season. Imagine what it’s going to be like with Duke at the Smith Center for Tyler Hansbrough’s last home game in March?

- Luke DeCock

Top 5 Duke wins over North Carolina

Since their first meeting on Jan. 24, 1920, Duke and North Carolina have played 225 basketball games against each other, with the Tar Heels holding a 128-97 advantage. With meeting No. 226 set for Wednesday night, Observer staff writer Ron Green Jr. ranks the five biggest Duke wins in the contentious series:

5. Duke 66, North Carolina 65 (OT), Feb. 28, 1981, Cameron Indoor Stadium

Gene Banks always had a flair for the dramatic and his Cameron finale was no exception. Before the game, Banks tossed roses to the crowd upon being introduced then delivered a 25-point performance that took down No. 11 North Carolina. Banks hit an 18-foot with one second remaining to force overtime then won the game with an offensive rebound with 16 seconds remaining.

4. Duke 47, North Carolina 40, Feb. 24, 1979, Cameron Indoor Stadium

It is best remembered as the game when fourth-ranked North Carolina went scoreless in the first half, trailing sixth-ranked Duke 7-0 at the break after electing to not to force the action against the Blue Devils’ zone defense. The Tar Heels’ first-half offense consisted of two air balls. In his final home game, Duke’s Jim Spanarkel went out with 17 points.

3. Duke 95, North Carolina 81, March 4, 2001, Smith Center

Only days after losing center Carlos Boozer to a broken bone in his foot, the second-ranked Blue Devils weren’t expected to be able to handle the fourth-ranked Tar Heels. Instead, Jason Williams scored 33 points and Shane Battier had 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals as the Blue Devils turned in a season-altering performance. It began a 10-game winning streak that culminated with the national championship.

2. Duke 77, North Carolina 75, March 10, 1984, ACC Tournament

One year earlier, Duke had lost to Virginia by 43 points in the ACC and Mike Krzyzewski’s future was in doubt. After two regular-season losses to the Tar Heels, including a double-overtime loss in Chapel Hill one week earlier, the Blue Devils beat No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals, just the Tar Heels’ second loss. As much as any game, it announced the arrival of Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils on the national scene.

1. Duke 77, North Carolina 75, Feb. 28, 1998, Cameron Indoor Stadium

The Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 and the Tar Heels No. 3 when they met for the 200th time. North Carolina had won nine of the previous 10 meetings, including a 24-point win earlier in the season at Chapel Hill and it seemed like more of the same when the Tar Heels led 64-47 with 11:39 remaining. With point guard Steve Wojciechowski setting the tone, Duke stormed from behind. When Roshown McLeod hit a short jumper with one minute remaining, Duke took its first and only lead of the game and held on to win. It was coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 500th coaching victory. “Pretty good,” Krzyzewski said afterward.

Coming Wednesday: Ron Green Jr. ranks his top five North Carolina wins over Duke.


Have another Duke victory over North Carolina you think belongs on the list, or even your own top five? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Worst athletes in the movies?

Not to be outdone by last week's list of the five best fictional athletes in the movies, Observer copy desk supervisor Tom Parks offers a list of the five worst athletes in the movies, fictional or not. Hey, Tom, is this because you relate better to these guys?

5. Ogilvie. "Bad News Bears." Brainy kid better suited to helping the team as an assistant coach than on the field.

4. Henry Steele. "One on One." Robby Benson plays a college basketball player in over his head. He is convincing.

3. Ollie. "Hoosiers." You may never be in a sports movie, but at least you shoot free throws overhand.

2. Rudy. "Rudy." Inspirational, yes. Persistent, yes. A hero, yes. But not a natural talent by any means.

1. Nuke LaLoosh. "Bull Durham." OK, here's a natural talent. But give me an eight-ball and I'll nail Kevin Costner right between the eyes from 10 paces.

Did Tom miss a bad athlete in the movies, or do you just disagree with his list? (The O List editor doesn't think Nuke was that bad.) Put your thoughts in the comments below.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Five NASCAR movies they should make

A movie about Tim Richmond (above) would be AOK with Observer NASCAR writer David Poole. And not just because he wrote the book.

Tom Cruise was interviewed Friday's edition of "NASCAR Now" on ESPN2. Cruise, of course, starred as Cole Trickle in the 1990 movie "Days of Thunder," which unlike a lot of people in racing Observer NASCAR reporter David Poole didn't hate. But there are a bunch of true-life racing stories he would love to see made into movies. Here are five David thinks would make good ones, with his comments on each:

1. "Never Lose a Party" -- A biopic on Tim Richmond. And not because (well, not at least totally) I wrote a book that would serve as a fine basis for the screenplay. There are many elements of the story about how Richmond lived and how he died that would have resonance 20 years after his passing.

2. "Brasington's Folly" -- The story behind how Harold Brasington, defying all convention and logic, build Darlington Speedway and got it open 60 seasons ago.

3. "Awesome" -- The 1985 season through the eyes of Bill Elliott and his brothers, who turned NASCAR on its ear and won the first $1 million bonus ever paid to a NASCAR race winner.

4. "Race with Destiny" -- A look at the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motors Speedway, which with no disrespect to the 1979 Daytona 500 or any other race I consider to be the most dramatic and historically significant race in NASCAR history. Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison battle for the title in Richard Petty's last Cup race and Jeff Gordon's first. Yeah, I wrote a book about that one, too.

5. "Full Throttle" -- A movie based on a book I didn't write. Robert Edelstein wrote this biography of one of the most interesting men in NASCAR history, the great Curtis Turner.

What other real-life stories, NASCAR or otherwise, do you think would make good sports movies? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

'Friday Night Lights': Best TV series about sports

One reason 'Friday Night Lights' is great? The cast is pretty.

Ron Green Jr. offers five reasons "'Friday Night Lights,: on WCNC-TV Channel 36 tonight at 9, is the best television series ever about sports:

5. To be fair, it doesn't have a lot of competition. There was 'Sports Night' a few years back, a pseudo-ESPN kind of thing, but it disappeared quicker than a Charlotte snowfall. And calling 'Cheers' a sports show because Sam 'Mayday' Malone was a former pitcher doesn’t count.

4. Buddy Garrity. He's the overbearing booster, who spends way too much time watching football practice when he should be selling cars. He's perfectly irritating and like a lot of people who latch on to teams, you wish he'd go away but know he won't.

3. They're pretty. Not just the women, who are beautiful, but the guys, too. (Here's a photo gallery from You know you're onto something when one of the women on the show, Minka Kelly, is dating Derek Jeter.

2. The coach and his wife. Eric Taylor, played perfectly by Kyle Chandler, is the coach. Tami, his wife played by Connie Britton, is the school principal. You wish they were your real-life friends.

1. It's not just about football. That's the best part. It's about life, not just high school life, in a small town. It uses football but it's more about the people. It reminds you of how good television can be.
Disagree about "Friday Night Lights," or want to offer another contender? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Top 5 disgraced athletes

Former Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth makes this list. He was convicted and sentenced in connection with the 1999 killing of Cherica Adams in Charlotte.

Michael Phelps admitted to a bong hit. Roger Clemens has been accused of fueling his hall of fame baseball career with steroids. But they can't make this list. Our top 5 most disgraced athletes (or former athletes) of all-time, determined by a distinguished (if unathletic) panel:

1. O.J. Simpson: The poster boy.

2. Pete Rose: Agreed to lifetime ban from baseball in 1989, and has done a remarkable job of keeping the story in the news ever since.

3. Mike Tyson: Rape conviction, ear biting …pick your disgrace.

4. Michael Vick: The details revealed from his dog-fighting days might keep him out of the NFL for life.

5. Rae Carruth: A horrible story right here in Charlotte.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Best fictional athletes in the movies?

Sylvester Stallone made Rocky (right) a household name -- and a popular statue. He gave rope-a-dope a whole new meaning.

Bill Simmons has his Teen Wolf hang up, but which full-time humans were the best athletes the movies have ever seen? Observer designer Eric Edwards offers his list.

1. Rocky Balboa, multiple "Rocky" movies - He still has more statues in Philly than Donovon McNabb.

2. Roy Hobbs, "The Natural" - Imagine if he'd had access to steroids.

3. Jimmy Chitwood, "Hoosiers" - He'd still probably come off the bench in Chapel Hill.

4. Bobby Boucher, "The Waterboy" - Defense delivers championships, and high quality H2O.

5. Happy Gilmore, "Happy Gilmore" - "The Price is wrong..."

Disagree, or have a list of your own? Post your thoughts in the comments section!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Best high school athletes you've seen?

Chris Leak was an amazing high school quarterback at Independence High before he became a national champion at Florida.

Observer prep reporter Cliff Mehrtens lists the six best high school athletes he's seen in person -- and before they became famous. But even Cliff admits he can't be everywhere.

Cliff's list:

6. Allison Feaster, Chester (S.C.) – Best girls’ basketball player in state history. Just about the smartest, too. As an interview, she was insightful, funny and honest. And she was 16. Used words – correctly – that would send me scurrying for definitions. Bypassed college basketball powers to go to Harvard. Brains, beauty and a jumper.

5. Nick Maddox, Kannapolis Brown – Running back with amazing speed, cutting ability and drive. Intense, but didn’t show up his less-talented teammates. Best story I heard was he came back to the huddle one time, and told his blockers to take care of nine (defenders) and he’d handle the other two.

4. Will Clark – When I was in college in New Orleans, we went to a Jesuit High game to see this sophomore getting a lot of press. He was skinny, we thought, until he hit a pitch about 425 feet that caromed off a light tower about 40 feet up. In right-centerfield. He remained brash, became a millionaire the day he signed with the Giants, then hit a home run in his first big-league at-bat. Against Nolan Ryan.

3. Jason Parker, West Charlotte – He’d peel off the basketball warm-up suit, and you’d think “which skinny opponent is going to handle this 6-foot-8, 260-pound force?” Hardly any ever did. Twice he was the N.C. player of the year…Never had gaudy statistics because when the Lions got up by 30 or so, he was rested. A dancer’s footwork wrapped around a defensive end’s build.

2. Peyton Manning, Newman – I worked for the New Orleans newspaper, and back then he was known as “Archie’s kid” and “Cooper’s little brother.”… He was the biggest kid on a 2A team, and made defenses look silly. Newman would spread 4-5 receivers, and Manning would often have 300 yards before halftime.

1. Chris Leak, Independence High quarterback – Threw passes that some college quarterbacks didn’t even attempt. The best was watching opposing players sneak peeks at him during warm-ups, usually a mundane part of the game. Incredible arm, vision and poise. The top three passing seasons in N.C. history – Leak (5,193 yards), Leak (4,529) and Leak (4,521).

Did you see a great athlete before they became a household name? Let us know about it in the comments section below.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Carolinas' best pure shooters, college version

Where does Davidson's Stephen Curry rank on our list of college basketball in the Carolinas' best pure shooters ever? Hint: It's not first.

Welcome to the O List, a blog of lists from The Observer -- and, we hope, readers -- of just about anything to do with sports in the Carolinas.

Disagree with us? That's part of the point, because the lists are subjective. Have a suggestion for a list? Post it in the comments.

We'll start with our list of the best pure shooters I've ever seen play basketball in the Carolinas. We're limiting this first O-List to colleges and to our area. Remember, this isn't about who is the best athlete; we'll save Michael Jordan and David Thompson for that list. And we're limiting this one to the last 40 years or so because well, I didn't see many guys before that.

-- Stan Olson

5. Charlie Scott, North Carolina, 1966-70: Scott was streaky and had the added pressure of doing his bit to break the ACC's color barrier in a meaningful way. But when he was hot, he could carry a team. Check out the 1969 ACC Tournament championship game, when he rallied the Tar Heels past Duke by making 12 of his 13 second half shots. He scored 28 points in the period, 40 for the game. Of those 13 shots, one was a layup. The others were from behind a three-point line that didn't exist at the time. Eleven of them swished. The other went in and out. If you saw that game, you still remember.

4. Rodney Monroe, N.C. State, 1988-91: He could score on the drive and off the dribble, but his jump shot was a thing of beauty, pure as the driven snow. And it's that smooth and fluid jumper from the perimeter that I remember him for. He is still the leading three-point shooter (.439 percentage) in ACC history. Monroe and Chris Corchiani made up arguably the best backcourt the league ever had (hey, another list).

3. J.J. Redick, Duke, 2003-06: Maybe you hated -- well, intensely disliked -- this guy, and a lot of folks did. But even they admitted that J.J. could flat fill it up. And he always seemed to start filling when the Blue Devils needed him most. Sure, his teammates set a zillion screens for him, but he still had to make all those shots. And you want pure? Redick is the ACC's all-time leader in free throw percentage at .912. Twice, in 2005 and '06, he was the league's Player of the Year.

2. Stephen Curry, Davidson, 2006-present: Do yourself a favor and go see Curry play before he's finished at Davidson. There are subtleties in his game that don't translate as well on TV as they do when you're in the arena. Watching him shoot is a treat in itself; the operation appears effortless. If ever they decide to remake "The Natural" as a basketball movie, Curry is the logical star. Consider that he has won the Southern Conference Player of the Week award six times this season, and 14 in his career. They should put his name on it and retire it. He leads the nation in scoring at 29.5, but I believe he could average 40 if he wanted to; he's also in the top ten nationally in assists.

1. John Gerdy, Davidson, 1975-79: You had to see him to believe him, and not that many people did. Gerdy was pretty much the only weapon on several of the Wildcats' poorer teams, but wound up the leading scorer in school history against defenses geared to stop him. That was without a three-point line, and long-range jumpers were his specialty.

After a sensational performance against South Carolina, Gamecocks coach Frank McGuire said simply that Gerdy was the best shooter he had ever seen. Gerdy almost personally upset then No.4-ranked Wake Forest by himself. The Deacons won on a last second shot, 70-68. Gerdy had 40 of those 68, on 18-of-24 shooting. Deacons coach Carl Tacy said, "We played a box-and-one on Gerdy. We should have played the box on Gerdy and the one on the rest of those guys."

As far as I'm concerned, he was the best there ever was.

Think someone else belongs on the list, or that we've got guys out of order? State your case in the comments section.