By Bucky Gleason
One was a hockey player who was itching to play football for his father. The other was a football coach looking out for his son. This time, the football coach insisted his top quarterback stay home. But it also meant the father robbing his son's only chance to high school football.
Dennis Gilbert Sr. is the coach at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, but to say he's all football would insult him as a parent. Dennis Jr. accepted a hockey scholarship to Niagara, but to say he's only a hockey player would insult him as a quarterback. The result was a twisted tug-of-war between coach and player, father and son.
It made for a strange situation.
“There were a couple of conundrums we were dealing with,” Dennis Sr. said. “As a coach, I wanted him to play. Would we be better? Yes, because it enabled us to put other people in other positions and be more dynamic. Not playing was the right thing for him. As a dad, I knew what was right. As a coach, I was like, whatever.
“I thought about it all day. I talked to a couple guys who said, 'You're nuts. You know what you have to do.' That night, we sat out on the deck and I cut him.”
Yes, he cut his own son.
“I said, 'You can't do this,' ” Dennis Jr. said. “We talked for an hour until he convinced me that he was right and I was wrong – like normal. I wasn't going to play.”
If the wrestling match wasn't backward enough, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder added a wrench that eventually solved the problem. He encouraged the younger Gilbert to play football, against the wishes of his father. Dennis Jr. hung around the program while trying to convince Dennis Sr. to put him on the field.
“I wanted him to play football,” Burkholder said. “The best part of his game is that he's so cerebral. He sees things other players don't see, probably because he's a quarterback. I thought it was good for him.”
For five weeks, Dennis Sr. refused because he feared a serious injury would negate the hockey scholarship. Finally, seeing his son suffer through his one opportunity fading away, he caved. The younger Gilbert was inserted into the lineup and threw for three touchdowns in his first game. St. Joe's finished with an 8-3 record, and Dennis Jr. survived the season without a football injury.
“Yeah, he missed a football game because he hurt his back playing hockey,” Dennis Sr. said with a laugh. “It was the opposite of what we were concerned about.”
They can laugh now. Gilbert is leading the St. Joe's hockey team, the best in Western New York. He's one of the best high school juniors in the region and has found a place on the national radar. He was a very good defenseman while playing minor hockey for Amherst and turned himself into an elite one. Niagara was scouting the Regals when they discovered Gilbert, who was playing against them.
“I never considered myself a superstar,” he said. “I'm not going to lie. I played because I had fun playing and met some of my best friends doing it. I was considered a step under the elite group. I'm getting there now, and I like it.”
Gilbert is likely headed for the Buffalo Junior Sabres next season, where former Sabres' captain Michael Peca has done a great job behind the bench in his first season. Gilbert plans to graduate from St. Joe's, so he wasn't interested in leaving Western New York for the USHL or another junior league. He would join Niagara in 2014-15 at the earliest.
It's safe to say his football career is over. His father holds the hammer, the way fathers usually do. And he's still the coach.
Something in common
Rather than revisit Manti Te'o and Lance Armstrong in detail and contribute to their nauseating sagas, allow me to say this: Both are primary examples of what can happen when athletes are driven by ego, fortune and fame.
Te'o claimed to be the victim of a hoax, but he continued lying about a deceased girlfriend who didn't exist for days after he knew the truth. Why? Because the story worked for him (and the media) while fueling his publicity machine going into the Heisman Trophy race and the national championship game.
Armstrong lied but made millions of dollars from his seven Tour de France titles and subsequent endorsement contracts. His story worked for him, too, before it crumbled under investigations into blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs. He thought he was bigger than cycling.
Rather than compromise what they had, they compromised who they were.
Point blank advice
The Sabres don't need to win the Northeast Division to reach the playoffs, obviously, but it's imperative that they play well inside their division. One reason is that more points could be available in the other divisions, particularly the Atlantic.
The Atlantic appeared to be the most competitive going into the season with the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey expected to beat up one another. Their games are expected to be tight, increasing the possibility of more overtime games and the three points that come with them.
It worked to Florida's advantage last season. The Panthers won the division mainly because they kept games close. Washington had four more wins than Florida, but the Panthers picked up 18 points in overtime losses. Tampa Bay and Carolina should be better than last season.
The widest disparity looks like it's in the Northeast, where playoff-bound teams will be picking up ground against Montreal, Toronto and, perhaps, Ottawa. The Sabres need to grab every point they can, while they can, against division opponents. Ottawa took the final playoff spot last season with 92 points, or 54 points for a 48-game season.
The current points system is ridiculous, by the way. It would make more sense if teams earned two points for wins in regulation and overtime, one point for a shootout victory and zero for any loss. It would put more emphasis on winning the game during the course of play and less on the crapshoot known as the shootout.
The Los Angeles Lakers changed coaches. They blamed their terrible start on injuries to veterans Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Now, with a full lineup, nine losses in 11 games and growing discontent, they appear headed for big changes.
Kobe Bryant, never one to mince words, was more vocal than any time in recent memory on Monday after the Bulls handed the Lakers a 95-83 loss, their third straight defeat. Bryant was held to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting. He has made only 25 of 79 shots during the recent losing streak. Los Angeles started the month by losing six straight.
“Very, very tough, very, very frustrating, trying to keep my cool,” Bryant told reporters after the game in Chicago. “It's embarrassing.”
The Lakers could be suffering from residual effects after offering Phil Jackson the coaching job and hiring Mike D'Antoni before hearing back from Jackson. Clearly, they have little faith in their up-tempo offense. Gasol is miserable after getting benched for Earl Clark. D'Antoni might not survive the season.
“I remember being frustrated before,” Bryant said. “This is different because there are so many pieces, so many things going on.”
Stan still the Man
Stan Musial won seven batting titles and hit .310 or better for 16 straight seasons in his 22-year Hall of Fame career. Musial, who died last week at age 92, was a three-time MVP and finished second in the voting four times.
Albert Pujols would be the first to say Stan “The Man” was the best player ever to wear a Cardinals uniform. The two became good friends when Pujols was in St. Louis, and Pujols didn't forget him after he signed with Anaheim.
The Angels purchased billboards with pictures of Pujols and the words, “El Hombre,” Spanish for “The Man.” Pujols demanded that the advertising campaign be stopped because Musial was the only person who deserved to be called, “The Man.”
“I wish my kids had the opportunity to be around him, because that's how I want my kids to live their lives,” Pujols told USA Today Sports. “I want them to be like Stan Musial. Not the baseball player, the person.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh on the Super Bowl matchup against his brother, 49ers coach Jim: “I like reading a lot of history, but is it really going to be written about? It's not exactly like Churchill and Roosevelt or anything.”
1,480 – Victories for manager Earl Weaver, all with the Orioles, before he died last week at age 82.
1 – World Series won by Baltimore under Weaver, along with four American League pennants.
91 – Ejections from games for Weaver, an American League record.
• Syracuse moved to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 after knocking off top-ranked Louisville last weekend. Apparently, they haven't missed James Southerland, suspended amid an investigation into whether he had too much help from his tutor on a term paper, the way they did Fab Melo last season.
• The play was mostly lost in defeat, but Tom Brady should have been slapped with a personal foul and a fine for his high slide on safety Ed Reed. Reed has been punished numerous times for cleaner hits. “If you want to keep this going in the right direction,” safety Bernard Pollard said, “everyone should be penalized for their actions.”
• It was good to see Phil Mickelson came to his senses and apologize after whining about new tax laws. “My tax rate will be 62, 63 percent,” he said. Poor Phil made about $40 million in endorsements alone last season and another $4.2 million on tour. Hopefully, he can somehow support his family on $28 million.