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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan, someone who's fond of using baseball analogies to explain the workings of his football team. So naturally, the prospect of playing UConn at Fenway Park in a few years is enticing for the third-year Irish coach.

But he's also wary of size of the field, especially in light of the attempt to play football at Wrigley Field a few years back.

"You know me, I love Fenway Park. I just don't know if it's big enough," Kelly said. "We don't want to get into that NorthwesternIllinois game where the end zone is not big enough. As long as they do the due diligence, and I know (Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick) is looking for great venues -- and I don't think they played a game there in a long time. If it's on the schedule, we're going to play it. Being a Boston guy, baseball has not been very good there, so maybe we'll bring some football."

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, though, indicated nothing regarding Notre Dame's future schedule is set as the football program works five ACC opponents into their slate.

"Media reports today that we will play UConn in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate," Swarbrick said in a statement.

That doesn't mean a contest absolutely will not be played there, but it's doused the flames for a bit -- at least until Notre Dame's ACC scheduling arrangement is figured out.

Fenway Park hasn't held a football game on its grounds since 1968, but the park did host a soccer match between Italian and English clubs AS Roma and Liverpool this summer. Generally, soccer pitches are about 110 meters long or 120 yards -- the exact length of an American football field.

While the pitch for AS Roma-Liverpool was shortened to about 107 yards, it was wider than what's required for American football. Still, the way Fenway's football field was tucked in back in the 1960's makes for a tight fit in two corners of the end zone. It's not like players will risk banging into a brick wall as they did at Wrigley Field.

However, at this point a Notre Dame game at Fenway appears to be a longshot. A neat idea, but a longshot.

Meanwhile, in South Florida...

While the viability of Fenway Park remains in question, the chances Notre Dame secures a tie-in with the Orange Bowl appear to be increasing. A report has the Orange Bowl closing in on a deal that would pit Notre Dame or a Big TenSEC team against the ACC champion beginning in 2014, when college football's playoff format begins.

College Football Talk's Ben Kercheval has the details, along with a good take on the agreement. He's exactly right -- with the way the college football landscape is shaping up after 2014, "either your team is part of the privileged group or it isn't." That group includes the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

During the conference realignment cycles of 2010 and 2011, when the prospect of four 16-team superconferences was floated as college football's endgame, there was some consternation over whether Notre Dame's steadfast independence could leave them on the outside looking in. Taking a step back, that never was going to be the case -- while plenty of national columnists and talking heads have been eager to say Notre Dame is losing its relevancy, that never was the case.

Notre Dame football still packed a tremendous punch in terms of ratings and ticket sales, even during its lean years. The agreement with the ACC and, more importantly, the apparently impending one with the Orange Bowl only goes to prove that.

'Superior' Shoelace offers another challenge for Notre Dame

Before Saturday's game, I hopped on WSCR-670 AM with Connor McKnight and Nick Shepkowski to look ahead to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State, and we kind of figured we'd learn a lot about where the Irish stood after their performance in East Lansing, especially with regard to Everett Golson and the secondary.

While Golson didn't have a great game statistically, he did enough (by not turning the ball over) to allow Notre Dame's defense to handle most of the heavy lifting in the team's 20-3 win. But the Irish secondary also showed up in a big way, helping limit Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell to 187 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage.

Denard Robinson and Maxwell are completely different, though, and the Michigan signal-caller's explosive playmaking ability on the ground and through the air present a massive challenge to a secondary that's still fairly inexperienced.

"If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before anybody else. We've got great alumni out there," Kelly joked Tuesday. "It's a difficult proposition, because you can't sell out on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you've got to keep him from making big plays.

"So there isn't an easy answer to that. He's a superior football player. He's not a great player, he's the best player on the field."

Making matters more difficult will be the absence of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury during the Michigan State game. There's a chance Slaughter could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, although Kelly didn't sound too confident that'd be the case.

"Doesn't appear so," Kelly said. "He did have another injury that caused him to miss some time. We are still kind of vetting through all that right now. The early indication is we couldn't tell you one way or the other. We'll do some more work before we are ready to publicly comment on it."

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

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Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

ST. LOUIS – Eddie Olczyk’s morning at Scottrade Center was full of hugs and handshakes, of questions and encouraging words, of smiles and even some tears.

It was a busy morning but a good one for Olczyk, who Wednesday night will do his first hockey broadcast since being diagnosed with colon cancer in August. For the first time in a while, Olczyk felt like himself.

“It feels normal. It feels comfortable,” said Olczyk, who will be alongside Doc Emrick when the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues. “I just feel invigorated. Seeing a lot of familiar faces, guys busting chops and a lot of well wishes.”

Olczyk went through his usual game-day routine, including quick chats with Blackhawks players following skate. On Wednesday those talks were that much more special, for both sides.

“Great to see him,” said Ryan Hartman. “When I first saw I was pretty excited to see him back. It’s definitely a presence you know when you’re watching games, that voice you heard growing up. He looks good, looks healthy. He’s in a battle but he looks really good.”

Olczyk will also be in the booth on Thursday night when the Blackhawks host the Edmonton Oilers. Past that, he’ll play it by ear. He’s talked to NBC and Blackhawks president John McDonough, who Olczyk said gave him an “open canvas” in terms of scheduling. If Olczyk feels good on Saturday and the Blackhawks play on Sunday, he’ll try to get back in the booth.

“We think about him every day and we’ve had the pleasure of having him come by a couple of times. Having him be here today for a road game is great to know,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But he has a tough battle ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to fight it. We support him every single day.”

Olczyk started chemotherapy treatments in September and he has his good and bad days. Those will continue for a while. So will his fight to completely beat this. But for at least the next two nights Olczyk gets to return to a normal routine, and that’s the perfect panacea for a trying time.

“I’m overwhelmed with everybody,” Olczyk said. “But this is the best medicine I’ve had in a long time.”

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

One of the fallouts from the fight between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic is that it unfortunately leaves a void at power forward for the Bulls.

Mirotic suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures, while Bobby Portis was suspended for eight games on Wednesday. Both players will be out until the calendar flips to November, opening up minutes at power forward.

In the short-term, at least, the starting role will be filled by Lauri Markkanen, Hoiberg said.

Markkanen will join a list of eight other Bulls who started in their NBA debuts. Before Markkanen takes the floor tomorrow in Toronto, here's a look at those other rookies fared.

1983: Ennis Whatley, PG

The first underclassman selected in the 1983 NBA Draft (13th overall), Whatley scored six point on 3 of 6 shooting and tallied eight assists and two steals in his debut. He committed four turnovers but it didn't hurt the Bulls in their 104-97 win over the New Jersey Nets. Whatley wound up setting the Bulls rookie record for assists in a year (662; 8.3 per game) but was traded after two seasons due to substance abuse.

1984: Michael Jordan, SG

The highly anticipated debut of the Bulls' future was inauspicious. Jordan scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, but he did stuff the box score: he added six rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks in a team-high 40 minutes. The Bulls, led by Orlando Woolridge and Quintin Dailey, cruised to a 109-93 win over the Bullets. Jordan bounced back nicely, though, averaging 28.2 points in the following 14 games. You know the rest.

1999: Elton Brand

Brand debuted against the Knicks on Opening Night, scoring 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting. He went 8-for-10 from the free throw line and added to his line with eight rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes. The Bulls, entering some of the uglier days in franchise history, lost to the Knicks, 84-74. Brand wound up splitting Rookie of the Year honors with Steve Francis, averaging a double-double (20.1 points, 10.0 rebounds) for the 17-65 Bulls. He was traded for high school star Tyson Chandler a year later.

2000: Khalid El-Amin

The only second-round pick on this list, El-Amin started at point guard against a Kings team that wound up winning 57 games. El-Amin held his own in the 100-81 loss, scoring 11 points and handing out three assists in 27 minutes. He shot 4-for-7 and connected on his only 3-point attempt. It was one of 14 games El-Amin started before being replaced by none other than Fred Hoiberg. It was El-Amin's only season in the NBA.

2002: Jay Williams

What could have been. The No, 2 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft shined in his NBA debut, going for 13 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 33 minutes. The Bulls topped the eventually playoff-bound Celtics, 99-96. Williams played 75 games as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists. A motorcycle accident that following offseason derailed his career far too soon.

2004: Andres Nocioni

Nocioni signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and the 25-year-old was ready to play out of the gates. His 17 points were the most of anyone's debut on this list, but he shot 5-for-19 and committed five turnovers in 42 minutes. It wasn't all bad, though, as he grabbed 14 rebounds and had two steals before fouling out in the final minute of double overtime against the Nets. The Bulls fell, 111-106. Nocioni struggled in his rookie season after that, finishing with averages of 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds.

2004: Ben Gordon

Not exactly the greatest debut for the 3rd pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Gordon missed all six of his shots from the field and made three free throws in 17 minutes. That was it outside of one turnover and one personal foul. And there's some irony in the fact that Gordon started this game; he only started two other games that rookie season, and was named the Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 15.1 points on 40.5 percent shooting from deep.

2008: Derrick Rose

It was a quiet debut for the eventual Rookie of the Year. Rose, the overall No. 1 pick that June, scored 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting and handed out nine assists in the Bulls' win over the Bucks. Rose went on to average 16.8 points and 6.3 assists in 37.0 minutes that season, and he'd be named an All-Star the following three seasons after that. Ah, the good ol' days.