Tuesday, September 30, 2008
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Not good to be Al right now at Virginia

If given the chance, Paul Simon would probably change the lyrics:

If you'll be my bodyguard

I can be your long lost pal

I can call you Betty

And Betty when you call me

You can call me ... Urkel

Sure beats "Al." Nobody wants to be Al right now, particularly if your last name is Groh.

Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage might want to put out a plea to the ACC media: "Stop naming my guys conference coach of the year!"

The honor is poison. Two years ago, voters gave basketball coach Dave Leitao the nod. He followed that up with a disappointing 17-16 season that included 10 losses in 11 games during the schedule's peak.

But Leitao has nothing on Groh, the reigning ACC football coach of the year.

How bad have things gotten in Charlottesville? Last week, when I foolishly picked UVa to beat Duke in the Fearless Forecasters -- figuring, you know, that a team with 25 straight conference losses might need to show me it could actually win one before I'd pick it -- I got a dozen e-mails telling me how nuts I was.

And they were from UVa fans!

And they were right.

Struggles are one thing. Complete loss of hope is quite another. We saw the latter in Pete Gillen's final season as basketball coach at UVa, and we're seeing it again with Groh.

After Duke's 31-3 drilling of the Cavaliers on Saturday, it's hard to find any remaining victories on the UVa schedule. Perhaps East Carolina at home, which has nose-dived since starting with big wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia. But even that one looks iffy, considering the Cavs are dead last among Division I-A teams in scoring offense.

Cavaliers fans are teetering between anger and apathy -- and believe me, the second one is much worse for a coach who wants to keep his job. Particularly if that coach hired his son to be the offensive coordinator of a unit that, it bears repeating, ranks DEAD LAST in scoring offense.

The true measure of a fan-base's malaise reveals itself in the stands on game day. With Maryland coming in this weekend as a double-digit favorite, it will be interesting to see how many empty seats there are at Scott Stadium.

And don't be surprised if one of the coaches is wearing a disguise featuring jacked-up pants and Coke-bottle glasses. The bodyguard next to him? You can call her Betty.

And she's got an awfully tough job.

n n n

Somehow it seems fitting that the final sound at Shea Stadium was this one:

"BOOOOOOOOO!"

Ah, surliness. The official state noun of New York.

(Sorry, Rochester. I know I'm lumping in you up-state folks unfairly. You guys are cool, but there just aren't enough of you to counterbalance the city.)

Granted, Mets fans had every right to be angry after their team blew a shot at the playoffs for the second straight year. But I'm convinced there's a connection between gloominess in the stands and anxiety at the plate.

Virginia native David Wright admitted he was pressing as the Mets' lead slipped away. You have to wonder if the team would have been better off playing those final games on the road, where the only pressure would have been applied from within.

Instead, Mets fans got to watch their boys choke in person. And maybe that's for the best. Many New Yorkers seem to enjoy being angry.

They got their wish.

n n n

Nebraska is the opposite of the Big Apple. If you know of a more pleasant, friendly populace in the nation than those people, please let me know.

Me: "I'm terribly sorry. I seem to have accidentally elbowed you in the face as we passed on the street."

Typical Nebraska resident: "No problem! It actually felt good! Here, take this large sack of money as a token of my appreciation."

Seriously. Nebraska people: Major thumbs up to you.

Hmm ... Where's Al Groh from again?

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