By: John Molori
August 23, 2005

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THIS WEEK:

- Big-time Bobby
- Say what?
- Ten to Watch

Carpenter blazed a trail for today's sports phenoms

Pittsburgh Penguins top draft pick Sidney Crosby has been labeled "the next Wayne Gretzky." In truth, he is not yet even the first Sidney Crosby. Gordon Edes has referred to Red Sox farmhand Craig Hansen as "the phenom." Hansen has been impressive in Maine, but so is a house with indoor plumbing.

Remember Ted Cox, the Red Sox rookie who hit safely in his first five Major League at bats in 1977? He would get just 184 more hits over a five-year career. Remember Sam Horn, another Boston baseball hopeful who was supposed to destroy Red Sox home run records? The only thing Horn is destroying is the English language on NESN.

The media all too often saddles many young athletes with premature praise. Just ask Peabody, MA native Bobby Carpenter. As a senior at St. John's Prep in Danvers, MA in 1981, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption "The Can't Miss Kid." Before he reached 20 years of age, C arpenter went from student to superstar, but he never saw it that way.

"I just loved to play," says the 41 year-old Carpenter, now an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils. "I never thought about the NHL until after I played well in the World Junior Championships in Germany my senior year."

Carpenter considered enrolling at Providence College. He may not have been thinking about the NHL, but the NHL was surely thinking about him. In 1981, he became the highest drafted American born player in history when the Washington Capitals selected him with the fifth pick. Two years later, he became the first American-born player to score 50 goals in a season, netting 53 for Washington.

Carpenter enjoyed an 18-year NHL career and has been a pro coach for the past six seasons, but it was his jump from pupil to pro that made him a true media sensation. "I've never considered myself a phenom and I was never nervous or felt pressure to succeed in the NHL," he states. "I did recognize that if I didn't score 30 goals right away, the media would call me a bum."

Before turning pro, Carpenter played in the competitive College League in Danvers with UNH star and current NESN analyst Andy Brickley, and in the rugged South Shore League with tough guy Chris Nilan of NESN's "Roughing It."

"Those experiences prepared me for pro hockey," he says. "At first in Washington, we had a great group of helpful veteran players and a super coach in Rick Green, but the bottom fell out. Rick was fired and Bryan Murray was hired as coach.

"All the vets were gone by Christmas and the new younger players tried to one-up each other. They and the media were like, "˜Who's this American kid think he is?' We won more games, but the team had a bad attitude."

Carpenter credits his father, Bob, Sr., for keeping his outlook right amidst all the media fanfare. "He was instrumental in keeping me on an even keel. He never mentioned the NHL even when it was going to become a reality. That was the most valuable part of my development. "I see kids today who play to the cameras and think they're awesome. I just wanted to play hockey. That's why I didn't get along with the media."

With multi-million dollar contracts, the Internet and a myriad of media outlets, Carpenter recognizes that youngsters like LeBron James and the aforementioned Crosby and Hansen live in a very different world. "Kids today want to be on TV," says the extremely low-key Carpenter. "I would not change anything about my past, but I wish I had a better rapport with the media."

Carpenter tallied 320 goals and 408 assists for the Capitals, Rangers, Kings, Bruins and Devils, but his lasting image is that legendary Sports Illustrated cover from February 23, 1981. He says, "I thought it was great, but also that it was time to move on from it. To this day, I've never even read that article from start to finish."

In 1999, The Boston Globe named Carpenter one of New England's Top 100 all-time athletes. While Carpenter eschews any talk of individual glory, he does recognize and cherish what hockey stardom has given him.

"The key is how you interact with your teammates," he says. "I couldn 't understand why the media made such a big deal about me going to the NHL, but as I got older, I realized how special it was to do something that no one else had ever done."

Say what?

Drew Bledsoe to ESPN.com's John Clayton: "I've had guys (Tom Brady and J.P. Losman) picked ahead of me. I don't think it's the right decision and I still don't." Where has Bledsoe been for three years, Buffalo or Bangladesh? The jury is still out on Losman, but after three Super Bowl wins, it's a given that making Tom Brady the Pats' permanent starter was the right call.

Steve Spurrier in the August 22 edition of Sports Illustrated: "Usually, the owner hires the G.M., and he and the coach work together on personnel. We didn't have a G.M. where I was (Washington). The owner was making those decisions." Who did Spurrier think he was working for, Dan Snyder or Mr. Rogers? Spurrier knew what he was getting into. He took Snyder's $25 million offer. He should take full blame.

Joe Theismann at a recent speaking engagement: "Randy Moss is simply a jerk. He doesn't go over the middle. He is not physical and he refuses to block.

Joe Gibbs told me it takes three things to be successful: character, intelligence and ability. Randy Moss only has the third." Theismann is right on the money. Moss may catch a few passes in Oakland, but the Raiders will continue to live in the past, i.e.- no championships since the Reagan administration.

Ten to Watch

With the NFL season upon us, here are Media Blitz's "Ten to Watch" national gridiron gabbers.

10. Rich Eisen: NFL Network host has a wry sense of humor, but his real strength is getting insightful input from a number of ex-player co-hosts.

9. Nick Bakay: His "Tale of the Tape" and football picks on ESPN strike a funny nerve with the frustrated small-time bettor. Wife Robin is terrific alongside her tortured husband.

8. Glenn Parker: The smartest analyst on NFL Network is fearless in his opinions and adept at dissecting the inner workings of the game.

7. Sal Paolantonio: Hard working ESPN reporter breaks stories and has developed a great on-air presence. Much better than the more ballyhooed Chris Mortensen.

6. Sean Salisbury: Ex-NFL QB makes the list by never shying away from controversy. His debates with fellow ESPN'er John Clayton are terrific.

5. Mark Schlereth: Another ex-NFL lineman who has found his niche on the small screen at ESPN. Just the right mix of grit and glibness.

4. Terry Bradshaw: Fox's "NFL Sunday" takes its laid back, easy-going cue from Bradshaw. He plays the clown for laughs, but has a pedigree (and four rings) to be totally respected.

3. Howie Long: Brads haw's Fox partner played the game in the trenches, but explains it like a college professor. With whom would you rather talk football over a couple of beers?

2. Andrea Kremer: ESPN reporter is the best NFL interviewer in the business. Kremer brings emotion, strength and style to all her stories.

1. Ron Jaworski: ESPN's "Jaws" explains the NFL, from the X's and O's to dealing with the media to the ups and downs of life in football, better than anyone in the business. It is shear joy to sit back, listen and learn.

John Molori's columns are published in The Providence Journal, The Boston Metro, Patriots Football Weekly, Boston Sports Review, New England Hockey Journal, New England Ringside Magazine, TheRemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonSportsMedia.com, ColdHardFootballFacts.com and MethuenOnline.com. Email John at JOMOL3@aol.com.


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