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?

Boy I Love Losing Super bowls

Recently I saw an advertisement for ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Four Falls of Buffalo.”  30 for 30 films are the greatest sports documentaries I’ve ever seen.  They cover every sport, they draw you in and whether you think you care about the topic or not, you find yourself watching the whole thing. However, this one was about everything for me.  It was about a team that most outside of New York State could care less about (mostly the far Western side of the state) and a team that was labeled the “loveable losers” for the years they went to “back-to-back-to-back-to-back” Super Bowls.  I know Drake wrote “Back to Back” but let’s see him do “Back to Back to Back to Back!”

I’ve been a Bills fan for as long as I can remember.  Well, for as long as I’ve been a professional football fan.  Growing up in the South there was not a lot of love for the Atlanta Falcons at the time, they were horrible and my team was the University of Tennessee Volunteers.  The Big Orange.  Southeastern Tennessee was close to Knoxville and my neighbor was a huge Vol fan. For all I knew he probably was a booster but he bled Orange and decked me out in Orange and turned on the radio on Saturdays so I could hear all about the Volunteer Navy and Smokey.  Yes, I know the words to Rocky Top, I have been to Vols games and I’m not sure that color Orange is right for everyone.  But I digress.

I got into card collecting as I got older and we moved around the South.  I starting looking for baseball and basketball cards everywhere I could find them.  Gas stations used to carry them, grocery stores had them with the candy bars and I used to visit a sports card shop or two when I could.   My father, being a Hokie, wasn’t too thrilled about my Volunteer Orange hanging in the closet.  So when he had the chance he took me to Blacksburg and started introducing me to Virginia Tech football.

Picking through a box of cards I found a stack of football cards, which I had never been collecting before, but my dad had been.  I didn’t know any of the players but I stumbled upon some guy who was a rookie and when I flipped it over it said he was from Norfolk and he went to Virginia Tech. So I started asking my dad about him.  After that, I made my mind up that I was going to be a Bills fan.

I’ve been a Bills fan through the greatest team ever era; that included my heroes: Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Darryl Talley just to name a few. We navigating around Todd Collins long enough to realize that we miss Jim Kelly. Past the forgettable Rob Johnson vs. Doug Flutie debate that Wade Phillips had. Flutie clearly was the better starter from where I sat. Oh and here’s where it all starts to get murky. Are you ready? Alex Van Pelt, J.P. Losman, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, E.J. Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and finally current starter Tyrod Taylor.  The Tyrod Taylor that I was thrilled to find they signed, only because I was ready to give up after the signing of Rex Ryan.

Yes I said give up.

“But you can’t be a true fan,” some might say.

Or “give up just because of the coach?”

Buffalo could have signed anyone and truly, I mean ANYONE.  I don’t mean to scream, but maybe I do.   I saw how the Jets were under his leadership and I wasn’t impressed.  For a team that was supposed to have a great defensive mind, the Bills never seemed to have too much trouble getting past them last year.  I didn’t want him to come in and wreck what was a great Bills ‘D.’

But it’s been wrecked.  Jim Schwartz was let go from his defensive coordinator spot and Ryan has put himself in place as head of the defense. Thru 13 games this year the defensive stats aren’t pretty.  358.8 average ypg (20), 3,300 total yards given up (20), 253.8 passing ypg (22), 104.9 rushing ypg (14). Last year’s defense ranked 4th in total ypg, 3rd in total passing yards given up and 11th in rushing yards given up. 124 penalties were amassed over a full season, through 13 games there have been 109 this season. If I were a betting man I’d say that stat will go up, way up.

The defense that was lean and mean is now sloppy and punch drunk.  They are boisterous and complain about penalties, like Rex Ryan did after the Eagles game just recently when he followed the officials off the field running his mouth all the way.  He ran his mouth to the New York media week in and week out last year becoming one of the favorite mouthpieces to get a quote.  This year he’s wanted nothing more than provide quotes about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots wanting to give the newspapers enough words to fill half a page only to lose both games.  I can’t believe he hasn’t learned his lesson by now and I can’t believe Doug Whaley hasn’t reined him in by now.  It feels to me his hiring was for publicity to sell some tickets or to move some shirts.  I hope management is happy.  They went from a potential playoff team to a “not gonna make the playoffs” team.

Funny, I could stick by a team that busted its ass and tried it’s hardest to win a game with a coach that was clueless but at least he wasn’t out there blaming the refs every week and burying his head in the sand.  Chan Gailey wasn’t the best coach the Bills ever had but I would gladly have him back, at least he didn’t run his mouth about the Patriots before the Bills played them.  Even for all his faults Doug Marrone did a better job of giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Alright, no.  Let’s say he gave me a lukewarm feeling.  But damn, at least I didn’t feel like secretly he wanted to coach for Bill Belichick like Rex.  Anymore I think it’s Rex’s secret desire to coach for Belichick that’s why he talks about him so much.  As Drake says “Jealousy is just love and hate at the same time.”

I haven’t fully given up on the Bills.  I threatened to go out in the yard and burn everything Buffalo I owned.  I was mad and out of control.  I’ve come this far, I’ve gone through all those years with all those years of missed playoffs and terrible play.  I wasn’t expecting the team to compete for a Super Bowl.  I wasn’t expecting anything major.  Of course, outside of Buffalo no one really knows much about the team anyway.

 

The Re-ignition of Duke Hate

I was looking for something to watch while I was working out and I found an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “I Hate Christian Laettner.”  Funny, I thought that someone was flashing a giant neon sign, “Watch me!”  I had heard about the documentary in relation to Jalen Rose and I knew from watching the 30 for 30 about the “Fab Five” that Rose couldn’t stand him.  He had no problem expressing his hatred for Laettner, bravo to Rose!

The documentary takes a look at five of the MANY (as far as I’m concerned) reasons why someone could hate Laettner and those are: Privilege, White, Bully, Greatness and Looks.  It goes back and takes a look at some of the bigger moments in his college career and how much of a big “villain” as Bobby Hurley called him he could be.

We need someone to hate?  At least that is something that we are told.  The documentary also suggested we hated the caricature, the person we thought he was and not really who he is.

In many of the interviews the only people associated with Duke basketball that stand up for his many types of behavior are Brian Davis and occasionally in a very politically correct way Grant Hill.

He makes no excuses for who he is and says he only wants the respect and admiration of “my siblings, my parents, my coaches.”  Well bravo son because you get nothing else from me.

He embodies a program.  He does have to be one of the best college basketball players ever.

It’s amazing looking back on it now, I remember how much of a basketball fan that I was then.  The funny thing is though, no one will ever be like him.  No one who is ever good stays I school for four years now.

You can look at it from two different sides.  I’m big on trying to see two different sides of the story, and trust me I saw something way different after watching this than anything I ever saw before.  I never knew Laettner was such an ass to Bobby Hurley before.  Considering Hurley grew up in Jersey, I would have thought he would have given it back to Laettner, but he didn’t seem to.  Laettner seemed to think in his conversation all these years later that he was doing what was best for the team and that if he didn’t push Hurley they wouldn’t have gone far.  He wanted to win so he had to push his buttons.

We are shown that Laettner had his buttons pushed by his brother, who beat him around in sports and made him such a megalomaniac on the court.  Yes I know he was great but before he was great he was just another in a line of Duke players that people hated.  After the many instances on the court from stomping to elbow throwing to “look at me in front of the camera” Laettner made himself the target of whatever negative attention he could find.  That’s not to say all of it was good.  Fans aren’t always good about their hate.  However, what I can say is that Laettner may be the last true college basketball player who spends four years at a program and truly becomes a symbol of that program and is hated for it.  If nothing else Coach K and Laettner made each other, and that deserves nothing less than bitterness in its own way.

I certainly think he’s a good basketball player, in fact I think he was great basketball player I will certainly give you that.  I’m not sure how many hearts he broke with last minute shots and he wasn’t afraid to be a huge douche by talking smack on the court.  At a time when the Fab Five was taking heat for wearing baggy jerseys and shorts, no one was saying anything to him about how he played the game.  He still seems to have disrespect for Jalen Rose and the rest of the Fab Five which is great as far as I’m concerned.  You’ve gotten all the applause from me you’ll get.

It’s possible that the documentary stopped short of one big thing.  Had he been ejected for stomping on Aminu Timberlake ‘s chest in the 1992 NCAA Tournament game (I still remember that shot at the buzzer like it was yesterday), would Duke and Coach K go on to be who they are today?  If it wasn’t Rick Pitino on the other sideline would they have tossed Laettner (we all know the NCAA isn’t always kind to the trendsetters in basketball).  Jalen Rose said if it was one of the Fab Five who did the stepping they would still be on probation in 2015 and while maybe not this long I still think he has a point.  College basketball seemed to miss all of Laettner’s antics because he could hit shots, because of his supporting cast, because of his coach, because of his school and because of that perception of him.  That All-American, it must have been a mistake,  nope he won’t get tossed.

Sorry I know they tried to sell me on Duke hate but it turned into Duke Love.  No thanks, I’ll pass but Laettner surely won’t, more self promotion!