olie the goalie

In hockey by b murf / May 9, 2008 / No Comments

Today is a sad and rainy day in town, which is fitting because a staple of sports in the District is saying good bye. Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig has let it be known that he will enter free agency and will not return to play for the only team he has ever known in his NHL career.

Since he was drafted with the 19th pick in the 1989 NHL draft, Kolzig has been the face of the franchise. He earned a steady roster spot backing up a one-hit wonder named Jim Carey in net in the mid-90’s, and has been a mainstay ever since. While league rules prevent goalies from wearing the captain’s “C” on their sweater, there was never any doubt who was the vocal leader of the Caps. If the team needed a kick in the pants to get them going, Kolzig had no problem breaking a stick over the net or having a word with a sluggish teammate.

He was in the crease for the good times, like the 97-98′ Stanley Cup Finals run and in 2000, when he earned the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. He’s also been around for the not-so-glorious years, even after veteran names like Bondra, Konowalchuk, Nylander, Witt and Jagr were shown the door so management could blow up the roster and start from scratch. While he might have been teamed with minor-league caliber comrades on the ice, Kolzig was still nothing but class off of it.

After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Kolzig wanted to do his part to help the families of the victims.

“I’m a big guy who plays with a lot of emotion. I wanted the mask to show that. I sent three to the artist, and we came up with the concept together. After 9/11, I had him put the Pentagon on the left side to pay tribute to those people. Once the season is over, I’m going to auction off the mask and donate all the money to victims of 9/11,” Kolzig said in an ESPN the Magazine article from January 2002.

If my memory serves me correctly, that goalie mask, which Kolzig autographed, raised more than $30,000. Just another day at the office, for a guy who is also involved in programs such as Athletes Against Autism, Olie’s All Stars and the Carson Kolzig Foundation.

In January 2007, I was fortunately enough to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Kolzig, who might very well be the most down to Earth athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. One of the questions I asked him that day was, “
How important is it for you to play your entire career here in Washington?”

“There have been some question marks about that these last couple years because of the rebuilding that’s going on here,” Kolzig told me. “But I committed myself last year and was really optimistic about where this organization is going and the kind of players we have here. I thought that getting traded might give me a better shot to win the Stanley Cup in the short term, but at the same time you lose that stature that you’ve established with one team.

“You go to a new team and even though you’re a veteran you have to get to know all new guys and you’re lower on the totem pole,” he said. “With my comfort level here I didn’t really want to go through that. I thought there wouldn’t be a better story than starting and finishing my career with one team and winning the Stanley Cup. So I’m trying to give myself an opportunity here with my team the next three or four years to win the Cup. Ultimately that would be the best scenario.”

Echoing the same sentiment in an interview with the Washington Post, Kolzig said this week that his only regret was never winning the Stanley Cup with the Caps.

“It’s unfortunate, because they have a good team here now. It’s a fantastic team, fantastic group of guys. Not to be a part of that is going to be tough, especially after 17 years and three years of what we went through post-lockout,” Kolzig told the Washington Post.

It was tough for diehard fans to see Peter Bondra in a Ottawa Senators jersey, and it’ll be equally as tough to see Kolzig wearing anything other than the red, white and blue of our nation’s Capitals. But he’s earned the right to end his prolific career any way he sees fit, even if that means closing it out in Vencouver, Ottawa or elsewhere. And if the right offer doesn’t come along, then Kolzig admits he has no problem moving on to the next chapter of his life.

“I’ll just sit by the pool with a six-pack,” he said.

So the next time you crack open a cold one, think of the man they call Godzilla. After nearly 20 years of giving his heart and soul to the town, he deserves the proper send off.

(Random fact: While with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, Kolzig scored a goal on November 29, 1989.)


hail to the chief

In football by b murf / May 8, 2008 / 1 Comment
(photo by Brian Murphy)

I know this is going to come as a shocker, but rookie head coach Jim Zorn is not Joe Gibbs. None of this is groundbreaking, but to recap – he doesn’t have the Hall of Fame credentials, his friends call him “Z-Man,” and he looks like he’d be more comfortable in shorts with a surfboard, rather than running an NFL franchise. I’d go as far as to say that if Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t considered a Pro Bowl quarterback, then Zorn would simply be known as the inappropriate coach who brought a Slip n’ Slide to practice.

Redskins fans almost universally agreed Zorn was a solid choice as the young and upcoming offensive coordinator when he was brought on board in February, but weren’t nearly as convinced two weeks later when he won the Redskins reality show and earned the chance to run the biggest team in town. When he began talking about opening the offense up and rumblings of five-receiver sets started making the rounds, more than one skeptical ‘Skins fan invoked the name of the ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier.

While it’s still really early in the game, I’m here to tell you that things might not be as gloomy as the pessimists portray. During minicamp, I was interested to see what changes would be implemented by the new regime. Little things like names on the backs of jerseys to help the rookie coach didn’t bother me. Neither did the lack of NFL referees on site, although they’ve been a staple of Gibbs’ camps for years. And yes, while Zorn still looks as though he could easily spend an afternoon jamming to Bob Marley with proverbial pothead Ricky Williams, he just might make it as one of the 32 NFL head coaches.

Very early on, those of us on the sidelines couldn’t help but notice the confidence and authoritative tone with which Zorn speaks during practice. He’s not a disciplinarian in the mold of a Marty Schottenheimer (he’s much more likely to have players use video games than the Oklahoma Drill), but he’s very much in command of the situation, in the way a veteran quarterback commands a huddle. When rookie wide out Devin Thomas cut one way and Sam Hollenbach’s pass went another, Zorn met Thomas en route back to the huddle.

“That was a good throw right there, but you were still in college,” the Z-Man said.

No wasted words. No sugar coating. At that moment, only one of the guys in the conversation seemed to be a rookie.

Later in practice, veteran cornerback Shawn Springs picked off an errant pass and pitched it back to fellow cornerback Fred Smoot, who juggled the ball for a few steps before tackle Jon Jansen sent him flying. Immediately, Zorn came flying in and ripped into both defensive players, essentially saying, “Cut the crap. We don’t do that here.” More than any other minicamp moment, this is what I’ll remember. As one veteran writer put it, “I guess the inmates won’t be running the asylum around here anymore.”

The purpose of this entry is not to suggest that Jim Zorn is going to be better than Joe Gibbs, with his three Super Bowl rings. It’s simply to point out the stark contrast between the two individuals and to suggest that maybe, just maybe, taking a chance on this promising young first-time coach could end up working out for a Redskins franchise in search of stability, over the long run.


let’s go racin’ boys

In nascar by b murf / May 7, 2008 / No Comments

Here is the final batch of my photos taken of the Dan Lowry 400 NASCAR race from this past weekend. After these, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve done a few laps on the Richmond International Raceway, but I’m fairly certain that all the cars are supposed to face the same direction. Maybe someone should give Juan Pablo Montoya a head’s up.

Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne battle for position on the track, and the love of fans off of it. Oddly, my friend Kurt Krol owns this shirt. None of us have the heart to take it away from him.

Red Bull car driver A.J Allmeninger shoots fire at his pit crew, in hopes of teaching them to work faster during pitstops.

NAPA Toyota driver Michael Wiltrip and Kellogg’s driver Casey Mears can be apart no longer.

Army driver Mark Martin pulls into the pits one final time during the Dan Lowry 400. Martin finished the race in third place.

(photos by Brian Murphy)


rubbin’ is racing

In nascar by b murf / May 7, 2008 / No Comments

Here is a small sample of some of my photos taken from this past weekend’s Dan Lowry 400 NASCAR race.

Denny Hamlin, of Joe Gibbs Racing, started in first place and led for nearly the entire Dan Lowry 400. Unfortunately, he ran into some tire trouble with less than 20 laps to go and had to settle for a 24th place finish.

Fellow Joe Gibbs driver Tony Stewart fared a little better than Hamlin, starting in 15th place and earning a fourth-place finish.

Two of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, fight for positioning during the race. Earnhardt Jr. came within for laps of winning the Dan Lowry 400 and breaking his 72-race winless streak.

I don’t know a ton about NASCAR, but I’m fairly sure sparks are a bad thing. That would probably explain why Johnny Sauter is pulling the Haas Automation Chevrolet in for an unscheduled pitstop.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a diehard Redskins fan, and for that, we love him. Plus, he’s driving the Army National Guard car, so he’s patriotic and a ‘Skins fan. Seriously, how could anyone root against this guy?

(photos by Brian Murphy)


our nation’s capitals

While we weren’t given a ton of notice to prepare for the special occasion, D.C. sports fans had to be pleased to hear that today was declared Washington Capitals Day by the D.C. city council. With Alex Ovechkin and friends at the world championships, Shaone Morrisonn attended the ceremony with owner Ted Leonsis.

And while this has almost nothing to do with anything, I’m excited to report that I’ve somehow convinced my wife to let me purchase a two-foot-tall replica of the Stanley Cup. I can think of nothing in the world I need in my life more than a replica of the Holy Grail, and thankful she’s given up fighting me on this. Now let’s see how long I last until I’m renting it out for local baptisms and bar mitzvahs.

One final note, apparently John Pappas of Skinscast is upset that I called him a twit for his take on Redskins rookie tight end Fred Davis oversleeping and missing the final day of minicamp. In the interest of fairness, here’s a link to his rebuttal. My problem isn’t with Pappas, personally, but rather the fact that the media didn’t mention the phrase “character issue” until AFTER Davis missed practice. The only thing we heard the day after the Redskins drafted him was that Davis was the Mackey Award winner, for the nation’s best tight end and that the ‘Skins thought he was too good to pass up. No one mentioned “character issues” until they saw fit to pile on a kid who made a mistake. If I’m going to be the bad guy for calling a spade a spade, then so be it.


pillow talk

While I was down in Richmond sneaking my way onto the racetrack, it looks like one of the Redskins newest additions was making headlines of his own.

Fred Davis, the rookie tight end out of USC, has caused an uproar after missing Sunday’s practice because he overslept, which has prompted some folks to jump on the ridiculous “he had character issues in college” bandwagon.

Before I get into it, let me John Clayton explain exactly what happened.
According to Clayton:Then there was second-round pick Fred Davis. He couldn’t sleep Saturday night because his roommate wouldn’t shut up. So he went to the desk of the hotel and asked for a different room. He slept until 11 a.m., and the team couldn’t find him because he wasn’t in the right room.”

When asked for comment after the final practice of minicamp (and before he knew all the details), rookie head coach Jim Zorn was refreshingly candid and honest about the situation.

“If it is [oversleeping], he’s got to be mortified,” Zorn said. “But that’s a young guy, let’s set the alarm. You can call for a wake-up call, whatever. And some of these guys are young enough, I’m serious, to not even understand that. He thought maybe somebody else was going to wake him up, I don’t know. But he’ll learn, he’ll learn real quick.”

Here’s the thing about this — this is a non-story. Anyone saying otherwise is a twit. Even coming from an established program like USC, this entire NFL experience is still a culture shock for a 22-year-old kid. I equate it to when I first joined the Army and suddenly found myself in Panama and way out of my comfort zone. Being fairly responsible, I had never had issues with forgetting my wallet or oversleeping during my youth, but almost immediately after I arrived in country I started screwing up left and right. Making a mandatory formation was no longer routine and more than one my sergeant had to put a foot in my ass to guide me in the right direction.

As best as I can tell, this has more to do with Davis ending up with loquacious roommate than him being a knucklehead. Let’s all take a deep breath and chalk it up to a little bad luck for this young man. I guarantee, with his professional career at stake, he’ll be too scared to have anything like this happen again.

And just to drive home the fact that I think that Davis is a good kid, I want to share my interview with him from Friday’s practice. Out of all the interviews I did at Redskins Park that day, he was the most enjoyable person to talk to. The biggest gripe I have with him is he grew up idolizing Michael Irvin, but as you can hear in the audio, I took care of that real quick.


all you can eat

We officially live in a “no fun” world — where every kid in the league gets a trophy regardless of whether their team wins a game or not and character-building games like dodgeball are almost universally banned. So it should come as no surprise that moments after Papa John’s put together some timely t-shirts with LeBron James’ number and the name “crybaby,” they issued an apology for offending people.

Papa John’s will sell Cleveland residents a large, one-topping pizza for 23 cents this week, and will also donate $10,000 to the Cavaliers Youth Fund. I realize this is a no-brainer for them because they get a ton of free publicity, but this is not cool. Either have the stones to call someone out or don’t. This is no better than playing both sides of the feud — sticking whichever side is winning.

Sports are all about trash talking, and it should be a good thing if D.C. establishments want to get in the game and support the local franchises. But don’t wuss out and bail the second you get a phonecall complaining (even if it’s from the commissioner David Stern). You had the grapefruits to think up the t-shirts and to have them made. Stand by your decision and tell Cleveland to, once again, quit crying.

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