Keion Carpenter Gave Everything Until The End

Former Virginia Tech and NFL Defensive Back Keion Carpenter passed away on December 29, 2016 hours after slipping and hitting his head.  No, he wasn’t doing anything bad – he was simply playing with his son, Kyle.  The 39-year-old Carpenter fell into a coma before passing away 4 days after Christmas, leaving his wife and four children to pick up the pieces of a life taken way too soon.

As someone who followed Virginia Tech football, I remember Carpenter very well.  He was one of my favorite Hokies ever.  It saddens me to see him go because I am reminded of the things that I treasured him for – the interceptions and the tackles.  I think of his play on the field and the victories he was able to contribute to.

I’m also saddened because instead of my memories of VT football or the NFL, I should be thinking about the person.  The man who ran a non-profit organization, called the Carpenter House, to strengthen the lives of those that didn’t have the advantages that many others did. Carpenter wanted to give hope, he wanted to bring change and most importantly he wanted to do something to help a community that didn’t have a lot of people stepping up to assist it.

I’m upset because Carpenter was only 39 and should have been given more time to help the community of Baltimore he loved so much.  Even though he lived in Atlanta he was always spending time in the place where he grew up.  I can’t imagine how much more he could have given back if there were 20 more years of Keion Carpenter.  How many more children’s lives could he have touched?

Will everyone outside of his community remember him for being a football player?  Five years down the road will anyone outside of the community even remember the good work that he has done for the unfortunate?  It haunts me to think about the legacies of the people who do good.  Unfortunately we tend to remember the evil rather than the good. We remember the names of people like Hitler and Stalin but we don’t remember the names of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting – even though we should never ever forget their names.

As someone who went to Virginia Tech I can never forget the name of Seung-Hui Cho and the image of dual pistols pointed at the camera.  However, I also see the 32 Hokie stones in front of Burruss, something that I had to visit to truly pay my respect to those taken far too soon.  I’m not moved to a truly emotional level by a lot of things, but those 32 stones left me asking questions that I’ll never have answers for.

Those individuals that died that day I never knew but in a way I felt a kinship with them because I had experienced some things that they did.  I knew places that they went, I saw things that they did and I probably took the same classes they did.  Hell I ate and lived at the same places they did.  In a lot of ways it felt personal and the memorial hit home more than a news article or a web video.

Keion Carpenter’s death does the same thing.  A member of Hokie nation who tried to be a good human being – giving back to those who were less fortunate.  He wasn’t taken by a mass shooting, an out of control individual or a random act of violence.  He died from a “freak accident.”  Does that make it even tougher to take?  I don’t know.

I’ve heard that death is the one thing that is certain in life.  You live you die.  It’s the circle of life like in The Lion King.   It’s certainly not fair.  But fair is that place you go in the summer and ride the tilt-a-whirl or whatever it is called.  Nothing it seems is fair and Carpenter’s death seems to back that up.

If we, or I in particular, learn anything from Carpenter’s death it’s that we should never stop giving back.  Those people who have less than us aren’t always going to have a helping hand.  Who knows how many Keion Carpenters are out there because we don’t hear about the good people in the world unless they are in our communities.  Sadly, we need to change that.  We need to prop up the good people rather than praise the bad.  Help those that are unable to get out of a bad situation.  Everyone deserves a helping hand. If Keion Carpenter should be remembered for anything it’s not for football but for being a loving, caring human being that gave back to others and wanted to make a better world. Let’s make sure that we continue his dream and give everyone life while we can.

Clearing The Mechanism and Acting Like A Human

Working late while the Toronto Blue Jays play the Indians in the American League Championship Series all I can think about is staying up as a teen and listening to the World Series when the Blue Jays played the Atlanta Braves.

I can remember sitting up in the dark with my headphones on to hear third baseman (and Canadian hero) Ed Sprague drill a home run over the wall at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Damn it’s unreal to listen to baseball on the radio.  I listened to a lot of that series and I remember how exciting it was to hear the Jays when that one.

Interestingly enough, I was at Mountain Lake, Virginia (where much of Dirty Dancing was filmed) when the deciding game of the World Series was played – I had just attended a Virginia Tech football game.

The VT game that saw the #1 Miami Hurricanes come to Blacksburg led by Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta at QB and a wealth of offensive talent around him.

Little did I know there was a star on that Miami team by the name of Dwayne Johnson.

Queue the “Rock Eyebrow.”

That day the Hokies were dismantled by a team destined for a National Championship shot against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Led by Gene Stallings, the #2 Crimson Tide would take the ‘Canes apart 34-13 to complete a perfect 12-0 season and claim the title of NCAA champs.

However, on that October night in Virginia, I was the only Blue Jays fan in the small room where people had gathered to watch the game.

I was ushered off to my room before the Blue Jays could clinch the World Series for fear that I would take too much abuse.  As a young man I was very passionate about my sports.

I was ready to fight over who was the better team.  You and I both know the Jays were – that World Series trophy says it all.

Okay.

I wouldn’t have fought I wasn’t that kind of kid.

The following year I watched Joltin’ Joe Carter destroy a Mitch Williams pitch to give the Jays back-to-back championships.

I remember that World Series moment very well.

Former Jays’ announcer Tom Cheek, who died in 2005 of cancer, said “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Joe Carter never did hit a bigger home run in his life, the Jays are still waiting to clinch another World Series and Cheek passed away before being given the highest honor an announcer can receive – the Ford C. Frick Award.  Cheeck was named the receipent of the honor given annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for contributions to the game in 2013, eight years after he passed away from the cancer that would not leave his body.

Jays fans will never forget his voice not only for that famous call but for other calls throughout his 4,306 regular season broadcasts.

Maybe I’m old school but there’s something about the sound of listening to a baseball game in October.

When I was willing the Jays on to victory in Atlanta, I could sense the ebb and flow of the game but I bet it was nothing like what the players went through on those World Series nights.

I don’t remember much about what it was like to stand in the batters box although I can remember begging that no one hit a fly ball to centerfield when I was a kid. I wanted nothing to do with playing the outfield and I was fairly certain that the coach knew it.

I wonder when a Jays hitter steps up in the Rogers Centre and hears the roar of the crowd whether he must feel some sort of pressure – something I would call external pressure.  He, of course, must put pressure on himself to do well so he has the internal pressure to do well.  With those two coming together he has to find a way to deal with them.

If you have ever stepped foot on the Rogers Centre turf – or Astroturf – and stared up at the Dome and the hotel rooms that look down on the field you can feel tiny.  Everything around you looks immense.  The banners wave in the breeze, motors hum, and every so often there is a banging of something off in the distance.  All of this is just when there is no one in the stands other than the tour group.

I can’t imagine trying to clear out all the sounds of the crowd from behind the plate as a batter or anywhere else.  Standing in the box staring out at the pitcher throwing a 92+ mile per hour fastball trying to hit while thousands of fans scream must be a challenge.  However, you probably have to be in touch with all of your senses.  I imagine you block out something.

When I played in the one real hockey game, I can’t remember hearing anything.  If someone yelled I would have no idea.  I was so focused on trying not to fall or at least trying to get up.  I imagine as a player it has to be the same way – hyper-focused on the task at hand.

If you have ever watched For Love Of The Game, fictional Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) talks about “clearing the mechanism.”  He blocks out the crowd noise and turns pitching into a game of toss between himself and his catcher, Gus. Baseball becomes a simplistic ritual so that he can deal with the internal and external pressure.

As fans, we think because we pay our money we can yell and scream at the players.  In some respects that is true but there are lines which we cannot cross and we should not cross.  These players are still human and we need to treat them like humans.  Paying money to attend a game doesn’t change that.

Toronto unfortunately, has gotten a few black eyes for the fans that have sullied their name.  Paying for tickets and being a fan doesn’t mean that we can throw things at players or jump in the field with them.  We can’t forget that they must be treated with respect and just because they can “clear the mechanism” doesn’t change their humanity.  Certainly we wouldn’t want someone throwing things at us when we are playing sports.  Changing how we look at sports also means changing how we act at sports – it starts with acting like humans.

Finding Peace With Sports Fandom

While the Toronto Blue Jays sit on the brink of imminent internal implosion and the Virginia Tech Hokies have finished a trip to Syracuse where they found a way to show their true colors – I wonder about the nature of fandom.

For some, these two events would drive fans to question the managers, players or refs. Others may  wonder what could have happened at a different moment in the game had “this play” occured.

I’m sure that some die hard fans watched and screamed at their televisions and possibly even threw things whenever they got the chance.

Not me.

Not recently anyway – the last thing I threw was my hockey stick.  To be fair, it wasn’t my hockey stick’s fault but it took the brunt of my frustration.

It was either the stick or something else.

Looking back, I should have picked the “something else.”

I wonder about the children who sports market to.  The mascots dance and look for kids at games.  Teams use cutesy graphics and shirts to get kids to wear their logos.  Once they get kids in the games they are hooked.

Kids watch these games and become “fans” of these teams.  I recall crying over the University of Tennessee Volunteers losing to Alabama in football and think about what led me to become a UT football fan.

Was it the team?  I didn’t know anything about the coach.  I didn’t know the players.

Was it the history of the University?  Of course not.  I had no idea about anything to do with it.  I didn’t have any connections to anyone involved with the University.

Was it the mascot?  Smokey is a Bluetick Coonhound.  I grew up with cats, birds and a hermit crab that I killed when I forgot to water it.  I didn’t think about the fact he needed water so I left it for a couple of weeks and it curled up in its shell and died.  Oops.

But Smokey was real, there was a real coonhound on the sidelines.  It was Smokey VI when I was growing up.  There was a Smokey caricature that could be found in different places that attracted kids.

Was it the winning?  I’m not sure.  That team didn’t really win much as the crying under the desk attests to.

Maybe it was part tradition (the team running out through the giant T that the Pride of the Southland band formed at the start of the game), Smokey and some kind of need to be a part of something.  I needed to be a part of the Volunteer Army – I didn’t know anyone with a boat who could get me into the Volunteer Navy.

There was the tradition of Tennessee high school football that seemed to flow into it as well.  Andy Kelly played high school football for Rhea County High School and I can remember going to see him play on the other side of Chattanooga – which I’m pretty sure was at Red Bank High School.

The kid was an All American and went to Tennessee – and a friend of the family knew him. So maybe I did have a connection?  Maybe that was part of the lure?  I’m not sure.  I just remember taking what seemed like a long bus ride and being out in the cold Eastern Tennessee night air.

As I grew older and moved away, my loyalties shifted just a bit because of my closeness to Virginia Tech.  However, my Tennessee roots are always there and at times I wonder if they are still there.

(My Mississippi roots don’t seem to run very deep – sometimes I think that’s probably a good thing but every state seems to have its fair share of problems)

In fact, my college choices were VT and UT with an invitation from the Pride of the Southland band to try out.

I’ve never said anything about that invitation but that weighed heavy on me.  I went back and forth on that.  I thought a lot about how much that band means to the people of Tennessee and the University as one of the oldest marching bands in the country.  Both schools knew I was involved in color guard but UT cared enough to invite me to the Pride of the Southland band.

I know there were reasons that I took up VT as opposed to UT and I know football was one of the main reasons.  Looking back on it I can say that was probably one of the key factors.

In high school, VT football was everything for me.  I went to VT games in high school from home games to away games (East Carolina, N.C. State and two Gator Bowls – one with Peyton Manning as a UT freshman QB).

I don’t know if I went to VT because of the English department or because of the opportunities there.  I don’t know if I went there because Nikki Giovanni, ironically born in Knoxville, TN,  was there or that I would get the chance to show her my work.  Ultimately I would get to have Giovanni read my work as well as interview iconic VT football coach Frank Beam for a piece in the Collegiate Times.

These are two things that not may can say they were able to attain.  As for how I got the meeting with Giovanni – I am to this day still confused.  I don’t believe my work was that good but nevertheless I am thankful for her guidance.

Some say things happen for a reason.  Others say we make our own choices.  Whatever it is we all are at where we are at.  The past is the past.

I didn’t choose UT and the Pride of the Southland band but VT and the chance to watch VT football.

Sometimes I think about it when I hear Andy Kelly on the UT football broadcasts.  I saw you play your senior year when I was just a kid.

People can make decisions – whether they are for sporting reasons or personal reasons or whatever reasons and look back years later to wonder what could have changed.  To look back and wonder what could have changed brings back nothing but wasted time.

Time heals but time changes – it’s over and done.  We can subscribe to any personal philosophy when it comes to why we made a decision.

We have to accept that there are things we will never be able to do.  In many ways that acceptance is what frees us from the burden of realization of limitation.  Yes we are limited, all humans have limits, and we have to find our limits.  Once we can “see” our talents and how much we have to give – we know where we can use them.  The ability to use them plays a key role in our happiness – which is why we must start inside ourselves.

Everyone can begin by accepting that whatever decisions, whether 30+ years ago or 30 minutes ago are past.  We can start by accepting that whatever it is we like, whatever it is that we find as a key part of our lives, we must acknowledge that it is important to us and not let anyone take away those pieces of us.  If we can make peace with those pieces, we can become whole with ourself.

The Re-Evaluation Of A Sports Fan

Imagine being a sports fan all your life – knowing who is playing on Saturday and Sunday. Knowing who is in the playoffs and knowing the rosters of every team.
Being a Virginia Tech Hokies football fan I talked about interviewing the legendary Coach Frank Beamer. I sat behind the bench of a Tech game when they played Rutgers and I saw the players up close. I was there during Marcus Vick’s (yes, the brother of one Mike Vick) rookie year when he threw 2 interceptions and was benched for playing like crap. I remember seeing him and questioning how someone like that could be so highly rated over his brother. He sure didn’t look great that day.
Little did we know all the things that he would be known for – the stomp, running from the cops, the weed and the underage drinking with girls. It turned into one of the worst examples of Coach Beamer believing in a player in his tenure at Virginia Tech. I almost believe it soured him for the rest of his career from then on out. He certainly never appeared to be the same Coach after that.
Since Coach has retired and I’ve gotten older, I don’t follow Tech football or many other sports for that matter like I used to. I do try to play hockey and ref soccer but that’s about as deep as I get. Maybe it’s the philosopher in me or the psychologist that does too much questioning. I’ve ruined it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve even ruined playing these sports just by questioning.
Walking away from the games has made Saturday and Sunday different. I can remember fall Virginia days with the windows open, the leaves falling, watching football with a blanket on. It didn’t matter what games were being broadcast I was watching them. Now, you’ll be lucky to catch me watching football for an extended period of time. I don’t know the roster of Tech and all I know is that Coach Beamer shows up on the sidelines to talk to the players but not instruct them.
The opportunity came up to go to Syracuse to see the Hokies play a Saturday game – one that I always said I would take if I ever had the chance. I declined.
“It’s too much, I don’t know the players anymore and Beamer isn’t there.”
It’s just not the same for me. It’s a struggle and a painful one at that. Something that was the biggest part of my childhood is gone. Through the questioning of concussions, wondering about the mindset of athletes and the examination of profits in sports I’ve lost that love for the game. I do truly wonder if I think too much about things.
I find myself not enjoying skating or soccer as much anymore. I question my ability to skate. Why? Why should I? It feels like a cycle or a circle. Here I go again.
“I can only do so much,” I tell myself, “but I don’t do enough.”
My body gives out and I can’t push it like I used to. I know there are guys older than me playing but why not me? Am I just not built the right way? I question my genetic makeup.
“Maybe I wasn’t built for skating.”
I’m arguing with people when it comes to soccer – i’m too strict with the rules.
“Why,” I ask myself, “does it have to be this way?”
Should I really be forcing everything in soccer to be by the book? Do I have to look for all the details to be just right?
I know that I can’t step down from my position as a coach and ref. I can’t quit on the volunteer organization simply because I feel like I am not doing the job properly. Can I?
Ah self doubt you creep in again.
Self doubt my old friend.
Where would I be if I didn’t doubt myself?
Before I step on the field I’m confident but between the games I am ready to call it quits. I think back to each decision and each play wondering if I missed something. I know I had to have.
“No one is perfect,” I tell myself.
Did I call one game too leniant? Did I call one too strict? Why? Was I tired?
It breaks me to think about these things in between games. I want to hand in my whistle because I’m sure I’m letting someone down. I can’t be a good ref and doubt myself can I? Isn’t that the reason why I gave up on sports? Because I doubted the nature of it? I doubted everything about it. How pure it was supposed to be. Now I’m doubting how good a job I’m doing as a ref. How can I help a kid learn a game if I question what it is I’m seeing?
All these questions. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Aren’t I supposed to be good at this? For all the talk I’ve made out of knowing the game, I should boast about my ability. But that’s not me. I spend more time questioning my ability than praising it.

The same person who can build a wall can tear it down. I can just as easily call a good game as I can a terrible one. How do you keep the human element from creeping in when you are supposed to be a robot? An emotionless machine that calls fouls. That can be a challenge as I tend to my feelings on my sleeve. Sometimes I think that’s the best place for them. The more I think about it there’s not enough room there for all of them.

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 End of An Era

It’s taken some time for it to truly sink in, but less than twenty four hours later I’m still not sure how I feel about Coach Beamer deciding to hang up the whistle.  A part of me sees it as a time for the Hokies to move on and pursue a new route in recruiting and play calling. But the other part sees what he did for the University, the students and Blacksburg itself.

I looked down to check the time on my phone while I was refereeing my daughter’s soccer game and an ESPN alert said Coach Beamer is retiring.  In the midst of trying to watch the kids keep the ball in bounds and stay onside, I couldn’t exactly stop and think about Beamer.  But it slowly has crept into mind, “what is the University going to do?”  “What will Tech Football be without Beamer?”

I think about the time that a shy 18 year old kid found his way to the practice field of the 15th ranked Hokies, at the time, and watched his heroes with awe.  It’s a story I’ve recounted on this blog, but I’ve never told to many people.  It’s one of those moments where I got so close to the team but I’ve never been there again.  If I could do it again, I’d make even more out of it, and enjoy it even more.  For some reason, I thought at the time that I’d get even more chances to do it again.

“Yo kid,” I still remember the guy on crutches yelling at me.  “What are you doing here?”

It was a good question.  Somehow I floundered around enough to convince him that I belonged on the sidelines.  Seeing that I was maybe 150 pounds soaking wet and six feet tall if I stood on a rather large rock, he could tell I wasn’t there to join in on the practice.  I don’t remember what I told him but I will always remember Tee Butler.  I don’t know where he is now and I don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s one of the Hokies that made me feel comfortable enough to talk to the big man.

You know, the big man: Coach Beamer.

If you’ve ever been 18 years old, come from a small town and shy as hell; going up to someone with the prestige and championship pedigree of Coach Beamer is intimidating as hell.

When he ended practice, Tee said it was my turn and wished me luck. I think he even laughed as he hobbled away.

With whatever courage I could muster, I got up the nerve to go talk to Coach.  I didn’t know what to expect, well, let’s be honest, I did know what I was expecting.  I was expecting him to be like that guy in practice who yelled when you didn’t get the drill right.  The Coach who did not have time for me or who was going to give me an attitude because I was cutting into his time when he could be calling recruits.

What I got was down-home charm.  I got a Coach who was supportive and could tell that I was nervous and out of my depth.  I got a Coach who seemed to genuinely care.  I got a Coach who did not act like he was bigger than the University or the students.  It was truly impressive to me when I look back on it.  At the time I was just happy that I didn’t pee my pants.  Now that I think about it, he left me feeling like he truly cared about our meeting.  Whether he knows it or remembers it, I will always remember that day when I got to interview him.  Not that I was that great of a reporter because my questions were awful, but for someone who is a Hokie fan and can’t always cross paths with the Coach, it is one of those moments that I will always remember.

Some people treasure meeting athletes and meeting celebrities, but it’s funny, I was terrible at “my job” that day and he was as cool as a cucumber and tried to help me.  He didn’t rush me, and I stopped the questions because I ran out of them, otherwise I think he would have stood there with me all day in his straw hat.  It’s amazing, this is a guy that will someday end up in the College Football Hall of Fame.

It makes me torn when I watch the Hokies play sometimes on Saturdays.  I feel like he’s the nicest guy you could ever want to meet and truly cares about the players but maybe the game has passed him by a bit.  I hesitate to say that.  I truly do.  The man was an innovator on special teams and created “Beamer Ball.”

He always said he’d walk away when he said it would be beneficial for the program and maybe his feeling is right.  I’m not sure, maybe he’s not right.  How can I judge?  It’s his decision not mine.  I’ve been looking at it all year and saying he’s been the problem or the offense has been the problem, but how do I know?  I’m not there in the game.  I’m not there in practice.  I’m not there on the sidelines.  I’m not there with a headset.  I’m not there in the huddle.  How do I know?  Hell I couldn’t even get the courage up to really interview him.  What do I know?

Only Coach knows what is truly right for him.  From what I’ve seen only Coach knows what is truly right for the University and the players. They are his players because he treats them like they are part of his family, just like everyone he comes in contact with.  It will be odd not to see Coach walking that sideline next year and I still have yet to really digest it.  There are still those questions: Who could replace him?  How could you ever replace him?  Will it ever be the same?  Where will the program go from here?

I guess it will all work out somehow. I’m sure Coach will give it all he has for the rest of the year and no doubt the players will do all they can to send him out on a high note.  It will be interesting to see if recruits back out because Coach is leaving.  When I think of him, I think icon is probably a good way to describe him, but to me he’ll always be that Coach that gave me a moment that I’ll never forget and I thank him for that.  If I ever get the chance I would like to do it in person, but until then, thank you for everything Coach.

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!