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?

Refs, Complaining and What It’s All About

It’s a few days after the National Championship game of college basketball and the story of the contest was what was said afterward by the losing coach and possibly the missed calls by the refs.  Whatever happened from the time the ball was tipped off and the whistle was blown to start the game until the buzzer sounded to end the game seems to have been condensed into a post game press conference and some referee complaints.

Don’t get me wrong, and trust me, I’ve got some things to say here, but I always think there’s more to a game than one thing.  While I do believe that Kentucky did get screwed at times in their game against Wisconsin, they also did it to themselves and you have to battle back against adversity.  In the heat of the moment, you have to take a step back and push back the emotion and look at it from a different perspective.  The perspective is that there is always going to be adversity, whether you are battling the other team, battling yourself or seeming to battle the refs, there’s going to be a battle in every game.  The coach has to step up and take the players to the side during a timeout and say “Hey, we’ve got to keep our heads, play our game and trust in ourselves.  Keep it together.”  You can’t always play the “us against them” card, sometimes you have to realize you have to pick your guys up and hold the team together as a coach.  Looking at the Kentucky game, they couldn’t score baskets when they needed it, they got frustrated because of a call that was missed and the coach didn’t keep that youthful mentality in check.  These are things have to be looked at.

When it comes to the National Championship game, honestly, I can’t stand Duke, so yes I wanted Wisconsin to win.  Did I watch it?  No.  The reason I didn’t watch it is I had a feeling Duke would win.  Just a feeling.  It’s one of those things.  I know they play in the same league as Virginia Tech who I like and there are Hokie fans who are saying how great it is that an ACC team won the National Championship, but not me.  I can’t understand that.  As a Tech fan, if Tech doesn’t win, I don’t care if it’s an ACC team or an SEC team, I want my team to win.  Why should it be the ACC?  To show that it’s a good conference?  What is this nonsense about conference.  This crap started in college football too.  It’s getting really old.  I’ve had enough.

As a coach or a fan you have to accept that refs are going to miss a call or two.  In fact they are probably going to blow a call or two.  There’s this whole thing that can be played back in your head, if you take a certain point where you think about a call that “might” have been missed, what do you think would have happened?  Would it seriously have changed the outcome?  We will never know.  There’s a reason.  The reason is that things happen and the best teams can roll with the punches and accept whatever happens and make the outcome for themselves.  I’m not saying the best team always wins, just the team that’s better on that day in that game.  This is how sports works.  This is how it has always worked.  Everyone now is pushing for replays and challenges and “getting the call” right.  Unfortunately the more we throw all these things into sports the more we slow down the game and take away momentum and turn the games into boring replay fests.  Are we going to get to the point that we challenge every call?  Who determines what play is challenge-able?  When you think about it, weren’t you happy playing the game in your backyard with your friends?  Did you really have to argue about the calls?

You know, Bo Ryan complained about all the calls that Duke got and how that made all the difference for them.  I saw a stat somewhere that I haven’t verified which stated that Duke had more fouls called for them than Wisconsin in the second half.  Again as a coach you have to break yourself away from the emotion as tough as it is and learn from it, make the best of it and be the leader of your team.  To be completely fair, it’s easy to sit here and second guess but I haven’t been coaching my whole life.  I would think if you’ve been coaching your whole life you would understand you have to accept defeat not necessarily embrace it.

I don’t know, maybe it’s not as simple as these questions.  Maybe there’s more to it than that.  As fans we’re kind of spoiled because we’re not on the front lines and we’re not dealing with the press.  But sometimes I ask myself, “what if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?”

A Month and a Half of My Sports Year

I was sorta hopeful when the year began that college football would be the start of a great sports month. Alabama had a chance to lead the SEC’s flag through the first of what could be a potentially great college football playoff. No more would we be talking about the BCS and its questionable past championship games. To be honest, I’m not exactly an Alabama fan, Virginia Tech is my team however I am of the opinion that the SouthEastern Conference is the best in the country. I do have some history with the SEC, I spent some time in the South and attended some games so I know of what I’m talking about. However Alabama let me down and Oregon proved that they weren’t “Mighty” Ducks. So the only thing I could say about the college football season is at least VT beat LOLUVA, won their bowl game and gave the eventual national champion their only loss. It’s the moral victories I guess?

Then there’s the next best thing and I’d like to think the Seattle Seahawks with Kam Chancellor were going to run the table all the way to the end. I’m a huge fan of VT players in the pros, most notably Kam and Tyrod Taylor. I grew up a Buffalo Bills fan but over the years I’ve found myself rooting for Hokies in the pros because of the connection with college. Watching these guys win over the years has been great considering where the football program in the western part of Virginia has come from. But I know as you are reading this you are going to start thinking about the Super Bowl and that play. I know, i know, you are going to say, “why pass when you are on the 1 yard line when you have Marshawn Lynch ?” The thing is that the other guy made a great play, like he knew it was coming, almost like he jumped the route. Second, had the play worked no one would be talking about it. Will this be Pete Carroll’s legacy? Why? Because he got two Super Bowls and won one? Hmm. As a Bills fan I can tell you Marv Levy lost four Super Bowls in a row but he is in the Hall of fame. It had a damn good shot at scoring. The thing about Pete Carroll is he is positive and upbeat and after the play he moved on. It was over. He did a great interview with Matt Lauer the week after the Super Bowl and he said he only let himself think about the play once. I would recommend reading his book, Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion. You’ll understand how the Seahawks got where they are and how they’ll stay where they are as long as Coach Carroll is around. It’s very impressive and his words can be used in daily life. So you heard me say I was a Bills fan, well, Rex Ryan is my least favorite coach ever and with that being said, the Bills went and hired him. Then he went and said they were going to be “bullies” and sought out a known bully and signed him. It’s pretty much all I can take. I’ve stuck with Buffalo my whole life but I don’t know if I can do it. Losing with dignity is one thing but signing bullies and being bullies is not me. Good luck Buffalo. Call me when Rex is gone.

As for you Coach Carroll, I’d work for you any day, give me a call. I read your book and I read about your inspiration derived from the late Coach Walsh and it got me to pick up one of his books. I can see where you could be inspired and I am glad I picked it up. Thank you for showing me that football can be more than just the game even though I took sports psychology and I have seen that. I’m glad there’s a coach out there that has won by caring about his players, his staff and the entire organization. Yeah so you can sign a coach who is an ass and push people around, great but what does that say about your organization? It says more about you if you are willing to stick by your coach that cares about the team top to bottom that lost a Super Bowl that pundits called for his head and you didn’t budge. Bravo Paul Allen and Bravo 12s for sticking in there!