Mike Montgomery, Alllen Crabbe, Johnny Dawkins; Lou Spadia/Art Rosenbaum; Willie Brown/Ed Lee; Lon Simmons/Russ Hodges
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: To my pleasant surprise, the Cal Bears played their best game of the season Thursday night in upsetting the UCLA Bruins, then came from behind in the second half to beat USC on Sunday night to surge into the top echelon in the Pac-10. That surge has taken a backseat, though, to an incident in the second half.
Coach Mike Montgomery had shoved his moody star, Allen Crabbe, to get him mentally into the game. That worked because Crabbe suddenly became more aggressive and was the key to the Bears’ resurgence, but that also put the politically correct police into action. First, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour issued a public statement that having a coach put his hands on a player wasn’t permissible. Then, state senator Leland Yee, a Cal graduate, said Montgomery should be suspended for a game, and his puerile thoughts were echoed by the all-knowing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins, who is very knowledgeable about the NBA but probably hasn’t seen a college game in years, also moralized on the issue this morning.
BTW, Montgomery shoved Crabbe so hard that the player wasn’t moved back at all. Not exactly a brutal assault.
All the public anguish over this was made possible by ESPN which showed the episode over and over and over and over, making it into a much bigger story than it deserved. I’m not condoning coaches putting their hands on players, but this was a one-time thing for Montgomery, not a pattern. He was emotional and frustrated by Crabbe’s tendency to go off in some private world mentally instead of focusing on the game. When he’s into the game mentally, he’s a great player. When he isn’t, he’s a zombie. That would certainly frustrate me if I were coaching him.
In the aftermath, Montgomery apologized and said it would never happen again. Crabbe showed real maturity with a statement that said this was a matter between him and his coach (right on!) and that he was motivated by it and knew he had to do more to be a leader of the team.
There’s been no such drama at Stanford, where the Cardinal’s coach, Johnny Dawkins, hardly seems involved at all on game day. Because of the physical ability of the players, Stanford was predicted to finish fourth in the conference in a preseason media poll, but after losing to both of the Los Angeles schools last week, they’ve slipped to a tie for eighth in the Pac-12, which is not a powerhouse conference. Dawkins has had a pattern since he came to Stanford of shifting lineups and playing too many players. His players are seldom aggressive and Dawkins’ teams have constantly underachieved. Last year, they won the NIT tournament, which hasn’t been a meaningful tournament for a long time, but finished seventh in the Pac-12.
Dawkin’s job is probably safe for now because his contract was extended through the 2014-15 season a couple of years back by then atletic director Bob Bowlsby but if next year’s team doesn’t do better, it wouldn’t surprise me if Stanford (read, John Arrillaga) buys out Dawkins’ last year.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area is a basketball hotbed- for the women’s game. The Stanford women have long dominated the conference, with a mind-boggling 81 straight wins over conference opponents before the Cal women broke that streak this year. Now, the Cal women are matching Stanford stride for stride in the conference, a tribute to the coaching of Lindsay Gottlieb. (Ron Kroichick had a nice piece in The Chronicle on her last week.)
It’s gratifying to me because I’ve been an ardent supporter of women’s sports for 40 years, after getting a push from my wife, a high school basketball player in Tennessee years ago.
LOU SPADIA died last weekend, which was no surprise. His daughter had contacted me on Monday to alert me to the fact that he wasn’t going to last much longer.
A couple of years ago, Lou had asked me how to get in touch with someone from The Chronicle for information about his obit. I did that but the story in the paper on Monday had little of the information he had given them. It was probably compiled by a younger member of the staff who had no idea who Spadia was. (The Chronicle had a much more complete story yesterday by Tom Fitzgerald and former staffer Dwight Chapin). He wasn’t the only one. My wife heard a report of Spadia’s death on KCBS, and the reporter pronounced his name: “Spawdeea.”
I wrote a piece on Lou for Tuesday’s Examiner (the paper doesn’t publish on holidays), trying to paint a picture of him in 525 words. One thing I couldn’t get in was how strong-willed Lou was. Once he made up his mind, that was it.
For a time in the ‘90s, Lou, Art Rosenbaum and I had lunch several times at Moose’s, reminiscing about the good old days. As the youngest member of the party, I listened more than I talked. Lou paid for the lunches. Tony Morabito had allowed him to buy 10 per cent of the 49ers over a period of time and that 10 per cent became much more valuable when the De Bartolos bought the team for more than $20 million in 1976 and bought out Lou. So, he could afford to buy lunch for the table.
Whenever we ate together, I always ordered fish because I knew when the waiter came to the table, Lou would say, “Bring the young man a glass of chardonnay.” He never asked me and was amazed one time when I told him I actually preferred red wine. He never drank red wine because his immigrant parents had made their own when he was young and he hated both the taste and smell of it, and he never tried commercial red.
He also had very strong political views, on the far right of the spectrum. Rosenbaum and I were much more on the left side and when Lou would make one of his political declarations, Art would look at me. I think at first Art was afraid I’d argue the point but I knew there was no point. Nobody ever changed Lou Spadia’s mind, so we just found a way to change the subject.
He was intensely loyal, which is the reason the 49ers have remained in San Francisco this long. When the Niners were still at Kezar, he commissioned a study to see if the bench seats could be converted to chair seats. They could, but that would have reduced capacity to 37,000, so they had to move. Lou had a spot that he thought would have been perfect on the mid-peninsula, but he had promised the Morabito widows that he would keep the team in San Francisco. He did, barely, by moving the Niners to Candlestick.
Most important, Lou was really a good-hearted man. He had a passion for sports, developed when he played baseball at Mission High, and he felt strongly that youngsters should have the same opportunities he had. Schools no longer have the money to provide those opportunities so he founded the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, which has raised millions. That is his lasting legacy, for which he was elected to the Hall himself, a huge surprise, as diners chanted, ‘Lou, Lou, Lou.”
That banquet has been a great night out as people renew acquaintances and re-visit old memories. Nancy and I have been to all but one of these banquets, and I’ve also written the bios for an inductee in all but that one year.
WILLIE BROWN has made headlines lately by claiming he had a big part in making the Bay Bridge a reality. Willie doesn’t ever hesitate to blow his own horn but, as usual, he’s right – and there’s a story behind the story.
Brown got a lot done for the city during his time in office, using his powers in a way that his critics called dictatorial. In the case of the Bay Bridge, he was able to get around the protection the venerable Nimitz House had on Treasure Island, which is part of San Francisco, so the bridge could come through that area. He also spurred the development around the Ferry building, and that area is beautiful. He pushed to get the last remnant of the Embarcadero Freeway out, to further clean up the area. He also paved the way for the Giants new park at AT&T, and we probably don’t even want to know how he facilitated that.
All these were good for the city, but they rankled Supervisors because he bypassed them. So, they supervisors have put restrictions on mayors who have followed, first Gavin Newsom, now Ed Lee, and put more power in their own hands. All you have to do is look at their recent actions to decide whether that was wise.
That move is also relevant to the aim of Warriors owner Joe Lacob to build a huge arena/entertainment center structure on the waterfront. Mayor Lee supports the plan but he can’t do anything to facilitate it, and you can be sure there will be many in San Francisco who will oppose it. It is currently undergoing environmental review.
As I’ve said all along, I believe this is a huge mistake. We’ve seen how taking down the Embarcadero freeway has opened up the whole waterfront, which is now a beautiful area, whether you’re walking, bicycling, jogging or even riding by in a car. Chronicle architectural columnist John King has written that there are other sites in the city that would be better for this structure.
Sports teams can sometimes provide an economic boost to the area around. That has certainly been true for the Giants park; the area around it is booming, which it wasn’t at all before. Because the Sharks play in downtown San Jose, the restaurants around the arena thrive on game nights.
Neither of those factors would apply for Lacob’s dream facility. It would more likely cause a decline in the area around it, not an improvement, and restaurants wouldn’t benefit because the plan is to have restaurants within the building.
Knowing how difficult it has been to get sports facilities built in San Francisco – a possible arena, which would have been a big money-maker, was turned down in the mid-‘70s – I think this dream of Lacob’s will not come to fruition, at least on the waterfront. And, I strongly believe that failure will be a good thing.
GOODBYE, CANDLESTICK: I have a hard time understanding why fans get nostalgic about bad stadiums. I understand being nostalgic about the teams, about the players. But the stadiums. Doesn’t make sense.
The first time I was confronted by this phenomenon was Kezar. I sat in the stands at Kezar just one time, in 1960. I don’t remember who won the game or even who the 49ers’ opponent was. I just remember that everybody around me seemed drunk and that we were impossibly cramped. I vowed never to sit in the stands again, and I never did. After I came to The Chronicle, I covered several games there but, of course, I was in the press box. That was no bargain, either, with all the politicians and their wives who were there, but it was much better than sitting in the stands. And, I had a parking space close to the stadium, which ordinary fans didn’t. Speaking frankly, Kezar was a dump. I see no reason to be nostalgic about it.
There have been aspects of Candlestick I’ve enjoyed. At day games, I’d sit in the upper stands, just above the press box, where it was usually warm, and I’d talk to fans. But, for night games, I had to sit in a small press box which at the time I came to San Francisco was mostly occupied by older writers who were often smoking cigars Ugh.
No such problems for football because smoking has been banned in the press box, but access to the park is very difficult.
As for playing one more baseball game there, who would play in it? Every player I ever talked to, whether a Giants player or one from a visiting team, always had one wish for the ‘Stick: Blow the damn place up. I’m sure there will be many former players who will say a silent, “Thank you,” when it finally happens.
THE NOTION that fans have lost interest in the 49ers seems to stem from the San Francisco fans who have been complaining about the move to Santa Clara. They’re the ones who stayed behind, probably in the Richmond and Sunset districts, when the wealthier fans moved down the Peninsula. Unfortunately, the economics of football have passed them by. Whether a new stadium was built at Santa Clara or in the Candlestick Point area, there’s no way they could afford the tickets in a new stadium. Better to invest in a high definition TV and enjoy the games at home.
I credit the 49ers with moving with the times and finding a way to finance a new stadium. The alternative is what’s currently happening in Oakland. They don’t have the money to finance a new stadium, nor the know-how. Their latest move is to tarp over some seats to bring the seating down to the 54,000 level – what it was when Al Davis claimed he had to move to Los Angeles because he couldn’t stay competitive with that small a stadium. (As with other claims, Davis made, that was a phony; the Oakland Raiders were the fifth most profitable team at the time). The Raiders are also reducing ticket prices. The aim is to either sell out games or come up to the 85 per cent guide line the NFL now has, so all their home games can be on television.
I still think they’ll move to Santa Clara when that stadium opens next year – and the Raiders lease in Oakland is up. The Raiders don’t have to announce anything now because the 49ers are doing all the work, and the plan always has been to make it possible for dual occupancy.
JOHN SHEA’S excellent piece on Lon Simmons in the Chron quoted Simmons at length about his closeness to his former broadcasting partner, Russ Hodges. When I interviewed Lon for my 1997 history of the Giants, he told me many stories about Hodges. This was my favorite:
Hodges told Simmons when Lon joined the broadcasting team that they would drink after a Giants win or after a Giants loss. “The only time we won’t drink is if it’s a tie,” joked Hodges.
Then, they played a game in Philadelphia which, under the “Blue laws” of the day, was halted at midnight with the score tied.
“Tonight, we break a rule,” Hodges told Simmons.
FOR THOSE who did not see the mention of this on my website earlier this week, this column has been delayed because I was in a small media gathering with new Cal football coach Sonny Dykes. He doesn’t like vegetables on his pizza, so we have at least one thing in common. I’ll be writing more on this for my Friday Examiner column.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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