I’m a Hockey Player or Why I Didn’t Watch The NCAA Tournament

All this talk of hockey, I didn’t even see the NCAA tournament.  I heard people at work talking about the last second shot that Villanova hit to win at the buzzer so I searched for it and I saw it.  People in my Twitter feed had posted it.  It was a pretty incredible shot.

The NCAA tournament used to be my life.  March was built around a bracket.  If I didn’t carry my bracket with me everywhere I went I was lost.  If I didn’t watch scores I felt out of touch.  If I didn’t stream video when I could I felt helpless.

I grew up with a father who loved the Boston Celtics and the great #33.  Insert Larry Bird into my life at a young age and suddenly I’m playing basketball from the start.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved college football.  It’s that Roll Tide-War Eagle thing that ESPN Films 30 for 30 did.  You know how you love a sport so much it becomes part of you.  Well growing up I’m bleeding orange and counting down the days to Saturday to see the Vols run out of the tunnel.  Incidentally if you ever get the chance and are a huge college football fan, before discounting the power of the SEC, attend an SEC game.  You might just get it.

But eastern Tennessee wasn’t the place for a kid into basketball.  Sure TBS played the occasional Celtics-Rockets game from the historic Boston Garden that I can remember watching with my father.  But my neighbors were outside beating on the door telling me I had to come outside and see the new Big Orange gear they bought.  Trust me they bled orange.

In Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell’s character “Ricky Bobby” says “when I wake up in the morning I piss excellence.”  These people pissed orange.  I’m pretty convinced that the sewage in eastern Tennessee was as bright orange as the groves down in Florida.   But no, the Florida orange is NOT the same color as Tennessee orange!  Please don’t ask that question!

It’s hard not to be roped into watching it when you have people like that in your life.  My dad tried to keep me from becoming a “traitor” – he’s a Virginia Tech grad – but he couldn’t stop the wave.  It was over before it began.  Family friends tried to get me to like the Big Blue of Michigan but Bo Schembechler seemed so distant and so far away.  Michigan?  Where the hell is Michigan?  I can find it on a map, but Knoxville, I know where that is!

So being the football loving father that he was, my dad drove us to Neyland Stadium to see Johnny Majors and Smokey run out through the famous T.  Bright day, a little overcast with 92,000+ of my closest friends to see the Vols play someone that I could have cared less about.  The Pride of the Southland Marching Band was killing Rocky Top and damn if that stadium wasn’t rocking.  Literally it was moving.  I don’t know if it still does it.  But the crowd could get the stadium to move.

They won for me that day.  Weeks later they would play Alabama and get slaughtered.  My spirit would be crushed.  I think it was the first moment that I realized sports could be cruel.  The first time I ever cried for my team.  As odd as it sounds, I ran away from the TV and cried because I thought my team was invincible.  Silly little me.  No team is invincible.  No matter how many times my mom tried to tell me, I couldn’t understand that every team was going to lose.

As I got older I realized I wouldn’t make a good football player.  Not because I didn’t have the will power or the smarts to figure it out but because I was skinny.  I ran all the time.  I was so into shooting basketball and never got into actually playing football.  As time passed I stopped started focusing on playing basketball because I felt like I could progress.

Sometimes I feel like maybe I should have tried football.  Maybe I could have run out of that T.  Or maybe I could have gone to Virginia Tech.  I may never know.  I followed one dream that led me to a meeting with one of the NCAA’s most charismatic basketball coaches in “Lefty” Driesell.  Lefty is known for coaching Maryland when Len Bias died but he also coached small Northwestern Virginia school, James Madison University.  Sometimes it’s enough to be in the presence of someone great.

Or it’s led me to win an award.  One of the few awards of my life.  That’s enough for me.  I guess if being focused on something leads you to experience things that are great then it was worth it.  But you’ll never know until you put the time in.

That’s where I am with hockey.  I’m super focused on hockey because I want to see where it takes me.  I want to see what I have inside me.  There’s gotta be something inside me.  Something that has always been there.  There’s a drive there.  I know there is.  It’s that same drive that was there when I played basketball.  It’s just a different sport.  I just have to somehow dig deep and find it.  It’s been buried for many years, so now I’m searching for it.  How the hell am I gonna find it?

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