Midweek musings on the sports scene
Two gentlemen who were important to my career as a sports writer -- Bob Swan and Carl Cluff -- passed away in recent days.
Swan, 86, was deputy sports editor of The Oregonian in the early 1980s. He also worked with the Denver Post, United Press, the Milwaukie Review, the Portland Daily Journal of Commerce, the Roseville (Calif.) Press Tribune and the Hillsboro Argus during a lengthy newspaper/media career.
He was one of the best friends of my late father, John Eggers, so "Swanny" had known me since I was a swaddling baby in diapers. He could be crack-up funny, he always had an opinion, and he knew nearly every aspect of the journalistic business.
Swan helped me through one of the most difficult times in my career, after the staffs of The Oregon Journal and The Oregonian merged in 1982. Suddenly there were 30 sports writers competing for beats. I took a healthy step backward in mine. It was the only time I seriously considered leaving the Portland market for a job elsewhere. I stayed in no small part due to Swan, who encouraged me and convinced me to just work harder and things would work out. They did.
I loved Swan and am glad I was able to visit with him the day before he died. I'll miss him dearly.
Cluff, 91, was a sports writer with The Journal and Oregonian from 1956-89. His specialty was track and field, and he was his newspaper's go-to guy on the sport for many years. When I came aboard in 1975, Cluff couldn't have been more helpful or accommodating to a young writer, showing me the ropes as we worked several NCAA meets and Olympic trials together in Eugene.
Carl was a delightful guy who never took himself too seriously, but always took his craft seriously. We kept in touch through the years. I will miss him very much, too.
The Winterhawks' chances to repeat as Western Hockey League champion received a boost with the return from the Pittsburgh Penguins of defenseman Derek Pouliot.
Pouliot, who played in Portland's two losses at Kelowna last weekend, was the eighth pick by Pittsburgh in the 2012 NHL draft. General manager/coach Mike Johnston was hoping Pouliot would be returned to Portland following the exhibition season, especially since the Hawks lost defensemen Seth Jones, Tyler Wotherspoon and Troy Rutkowski from last year's team.
"We're fortunate Pittsburgh doesn't rush guys," Johnston says. "We really need Derek to bolster our back end. It would have been devastating if we'd have lost him."
Pouliot was one of five WHL defensemen taken among the first eight selections in the 2012 NHL draft, including Everett's Ryan Murray (No. 2, Columbus), Edmonton's Griffin Reinhart (No. 4, New York Islanders), Moose Jaw's Morgan Rielly (No. 5, Toronto) and Red Deer's Mathew Dumba (No. 7, Minnesota). "A truly unique situation," Johnston says.
Only Murray -- playing in the American Hockey League -- will for sure not play in the WHL this season. Reinhart has been returned to Edmonton. Rielly and Dumba are still with their NHL clubs but could return over the next couple of weeks.
Saturday's Washington-Oregon game at Husky Stadium presents an interesting dilemma for Josh Wilcox, the irrepressible talk-show host on KFXX (1080 AM) "The Fan." Wilcox, son of Oregon legend Dave Wilcox, grew up an Oregon fan and was a star tight end for the Ducks from 1994-96.
But Josh's brother, Justin, another former Oregon player, is in his second season as defensive coordinator for the Huskies.
So who does Josh root for?
"I don't even know if I've made my mind up, to be honest," he says. "I want my brother to do well with his defense. If Oregon wins 3-0, that would be kind of good. But I've always been an Oregon guy. I know all the Oregon coaches, so it's kind of a hard one.
"I grew up disliking the Huskies. I accept them more now than before. If Justin wins, it will help his stock. But whatever happens won't really affect my mood on Sunday morning."
Wilcox and partner Travis Demers will do their pregame tailgate show from the press box at Husky Stadium.
"I'll be wearing black," Wilcox muses, "just so I can be good on both schools."
Even before he watched them beat his Trail Blazers Monday night, Portland general manager Neil Olshey knew the Los Angeles Clippers would be on the short list of championship contenders this season in the Western Conference.
"They were a team that had championship aspirations last year, and deservedly so," says Olshey, who served a decade with the Clippers before coming to Portland in 2012, including two seasons as vice president/basketball operations. "They have them again this year. They're at a very high level right now. They made a coaching change (to Doc Rivers) -- we'll see what kind of an impact that has. Being around guys who were there, I know they are only after one thing -- a championship."
Olshey is also high on the chances of Houston after adding free agent Dwight Howard.
"He's the best center in the game," Olshey says. "You add the best player at any position in our league, you're going to have a chance to win at a high level. (The Rockets) did a phenomenal job in the offseason. They're a force to be reckoned with."
The Las Vegas book makers don't see Olshey's Portland team as a title threat this season. My old pal, Jimmy Shapiro, sends word that Bovada has the Blazers a 150-1 bet to win it all, ahead of only Milwaukee (250-1), Philadelphia, Phoenix and Sacramento (300-1) and Charlotte and Orlando (500-1). Miami (2-1) is the prohibitive favorite, followed by Chicago and Oklahoma City at 8-1 and the Clippers at 9-1.
The Clippers and OKC are 7-2 shots to win the West. Portland's odds are set at 66-1. Odds to win the Northwest Division: OKC 1-4, Denver 11-2, Minnesota 10-1 and Portland and Utah 18-1.
The Brian Grant Foundation received a first-place prize at the annual World Parkinson's Congress at Montreal last week for its video showing Brian and five others with Parkinson's disease climbing Mt. St. Helens in 2012. The video is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8BLTI4A4GM.