For whom the final buzzer sounds

Tonight’s the final home game for the Xavier University men’s basketball team.

I’ve had season tickets for years, and Senior Day is always bittersweet… and not just because it leaves me lacking good excuses for “Dad’s Night Out.”

Most Xavier players stick around for four years. That’s becoming a rarity for top programs, where one-and-done is standard operating procedure. Schools like Kentucky turn over nearly their entire roster every season, as half a dozen blue chippers get drafted by the NBA, and more blue chippers take their place. You can’t even tell the players with a program. (John Calipari, the UK coach, has made this his M.O. and recruiting pitch… and then every year whines about how young his team is. You can’t have it both ways, JC. This is the path you’ve chosen.)

Heck, Duke has a freshman who “reclassified” to start college a year earlier than his high school counterparts, mainly to speed up his journey to NBA riches.

I’m glad Xavier gets the “second tier” kids who don’t bolt. (A few have left early, and two of those are ones that are now on the list of players who might have taken money from agents before or during college… once a shortcutter, always a shortcutter, apparently.) Over the course of four seasons, you get to know the players better – you get to see them grow. You see hard work pay dividends. Sean O’Mara has gone from a benchwarmer, a lumbering ox, to a guy with strong (and smooth) post skills.

J.P. Macura is a classic pest, in the mold of a Danny Ainge, a Dennis Rodman, a Bobby Hurley (or pretty much any Duke player). If he’s on your team, you love him… if he’s on the other side, you absolutely despise him. It’s been fun to see him torture opponents for four seasons.

Trevon Bluiett will graduate as Xavier’s #2 all-time scorer.

He just passed David West, who was lightly recruited in high school… and kept working hard, eventually became college player of the year as a senior and has had a brilliant 15-year career in the NBA.

When it isn’t handed to you on a silver platter, when you haven’t had everyone telling you how great you are since 8th grade, it probably feels sweeter. This year’s seniors have led Xavier to their highest ranking ever (#3), and have a chance to finally wrest the Big East regular season title from Villanova (fingers crossed). They’ve also gotten to enjoy their early adulthood, instead of being yet another piece of meat on an NBA (or D-League) roster. I don’t know about you, but my college years were some of the most memorable and fun times in my life. You can’t put a price tag on that.

 

Second generation famous

I’m not a doctor, and I never even played one on TV. But at least some relatives of mine are getting their star turns.

My cousin Tom’s daughter Jamie just wrapped up her second season as a New England Patriots cheerleader.

(Pro tip for Jamie: stand next to Tom Brady on the sidelines and you’ll be on TV roughly 10,000 times during a game.)

My niece Julia just moved up the TV food chain from Myrtle Beach, SC (#101 in market size) to Greenville, SC (#38) where she is the weekend sports anchor for the NBC affiliate, WYFF.

Last but certainly not least, my cousin’s daughter Erika will be playing the role of Cady Heron in the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of the iconic movie Mean Girls. She’s getting all sorts of kudos for her performance (they had a short sneak preview/tune-up run in D.C., and Broadway previews begin March 12th). You can read more here. And here. And here. Or you can check out the article in the latest issue of Vogue, along with a photo by Annie Freakin’ Leibovitz! NBD.

HT to my sister Jeanne for letting me know about the Vogue article… she’s the fashionista in the family.

I remember going to visit my cousin and her family in Northern California back when Erika was about 6 years old, and she was already performing plays for her family, friends — and house guests like us –on their back patio. (So basically, “I knew her when…”)

One of the characters in Mean Girls is named Damian…

Here’s hoping Erika thinks of me, her old pal and early theater patron, whenever she hears that name.

“You know I couldn’t invite you. I had to pretend to be plastic.”

 

 

 

 

Bowlers are cool

My son Peter and daughter Leah are on the bowling teams for Walnut Hills High School. For several decades, it seemed like bowling was a relic from the Stone Age.

But now bowling appears to be catching on again. It has cachet.

The sport (or “activity” depending on where you stand on the “anything you can do while holding a drink is not a sport” spectrum) has been great for our kids.

The bowlers are a wonderful group of kids, and they definitely have a lot of fun together. I suppose it’s because you have a lot of time to chat with each other while you’re waiting for your next turn.

Here’s a video that recently appeared on Cincinnati.com, about a high schooler who bowled a perfect game (and then some). But don’t watch the interviewees, watch the bowler’s teammates in the background. They are blissfully unaware that the camera is rolling, and they’re just hanging out, goofing off and having fun.

Ultimately, that’s what matters more than your score… making friends, having fun, enjoying life, frame by frame.

 

 

The best decision on Super Bowl Sunday

Game over, Eagles win.

Our 18-year-old leaves his friend’s house to come home. Light snow had melted but then froze into a thin sheet of ice on the main road to our house. It caught folks off guard… and the salt truck drivers must’ve been watching the game instead of hitting the roads.

Our son sees cars slipping, sliding, spinning, careening, crashing into each other like a demolition derby.

At least six cars got dinged. He’s less than two blocks from our house, but it’s enough of a downhill slide to make continuing risky business, especially with a couple of crashed cars up ahead in his lane. He pulls over, hits the hazards and calls home.

“Patience is a virtue, Possess it if you can, Seldom found in woman, Never found in man.” 

When you’re 18, the waiting is the hardest part.

But it can also be the smartest part. Wait it out. Call for backup. This too shall pass.

Here’s to Gabriel, our Super Bowl MVP.

 

 

It’s Groundhog Day…

It’s Groundhog Day…

… so enjoy some ground hog…

… then get in your ground hog…

…and this weekend, root for the team with a grounded Hawg.

Eagles offensive lineman Jason Peters, a 14-year veteran who played tight end at the University of Arkansas, tore his ACL in October. 

 

 

Meet the new boss… same as the old boss

In the Antebellum South, in states such as Alabama, a white plantation owner a would make a fortune based on the back-breaking, involuntary labor of African American slaves, who got nothing.

In 2018, Nick Saban earned $11.13 million for leading the University of Alabama to the national championship in football. His players, the vast majority of whom are African American, did the back-breaking labor, risking injury on every snap, and got nothing.

Some will argue that the players are “paid” via their scholarships. But ‘Bama played 14 games (their opponent, Georgia, played 15) from September through January, and if you throw in off-season conditioning, Spring practice, summer two-a-days and fall practice, it’s virtually a year-round sport.

Under current NCAA rules, during a playing season and while school is in session, athletes are supposed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on required athletic activities… However, NCAA surveys of athletes have shown – and school and conference officials readily acknowledge – that athletes spend much more time than that on their sports. (Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2016/11/02/ncaa-rules-student-athletes-time-academics/93164832/)

So essentially college athletes are holding down a demanding full-time job while also constantly traveling, and they’re still expected to keep up with their classwork. Would you want to trade places with them? Did we mention you’ll get tackled by 320-pound linemen? Oh, and if your grades slip, your “guaranteed” four-year scholarship can be revoked.

Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (#13 on the roster) entered the game at halftime and rallied his team to victory.

 

No doubt the University of Alabama bookstore has been doing a brisk business in #13 jerseys this week.

Who gets that cash… and the cash from the billion dollar TV contracts and ticket sales? The NCAA, the schools, the coaches… everyone except the players. Read more here.

For 2011-12, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available. NCAA revenue was $871.6 million, most of which came from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS Sports. (source: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/finances/revenue

Back in 1982, legendary Marquette basketball coach and TV color commentator Al McGuire spoke at Xavier University. I remember him saying that college athletes should get some sort of stipend, a bit of cash so they could buy a slice of pizza when they were out with their friends. Here we are nearly 40 years later —  or 160 years later if you count from the plantation era— and nothing much has changed.

 

 

Still high on the Hogs

This is my favorite Sports Illustrated cover of all time:

Sure, it’s a fantastic photo, capturing Sidney Moncrief’s great elevation and determination, with a helpless Texas defender looking on. It’s fun to study the crowd too, and see the looks on people’s faces. This lady is my favorite:

She knows Sid’s about to throw it down…

But it’s also my favorite cover because in February of 1978, when this came out, I was a 13-year-old kid living in Arkansas, and I was definitely high on the Hogs. (HT to my Aunt Virginia for getting my brother and me an annual subscription to Sports Illustrated back then.) I loved those Eddie Sutton-coached teams, playing in Barnhill Arena. They had a very talented trio, nicknamed “The Triplets”: Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief. Steve Schall and Jimmy Counce rounded out the starting lineup. They made it all the way to the Final Four that year before losing to eventual champ Kentucky by six points in the semis. Back then, they still played a third-place game, and the Razorbacks beat Notre Dame 71-69 on a last-second turnaround jumper by Ron Brewer. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was nearly 40 years ago.

Arkansas begins conference play this afternoon, with a home game against #19 Tennessee. I’m a Xavier alum and season ticket holder so I’ll be at the Muskies game, but there will always be a special place in my heart for my Hogs too. Woo Pig Sooie!

 

 

 

Baller status

My oldest son wrapped up his football career this past weekend, on Senior Day at his high school.

He had never played organized football before his sophomore year. His school is small to begin with, and the number of players trying out for football keeps shrinking (the specter of CTE looms large, plus lacrosse and club soccer are gaining in popularity), so during his sophomore year they couldn’t field a JV team. That meant he spent his entire first season busting his butt in practice with zero chance of ever being on the field. In his junior year, he played for the JV squad. It would be easy to get discouraged when you’re older than most of your teammates, but he kept working. Off-season lifting. Two-a-days. Practice virtually the entire year… in addition to holding down two jobs this summer.

This past season, he started at right tackle for the varsity, played every offensive snap, and wound up making 2nd team all-conference. I’ve always been a bit anti-football as a parent… I DO worry about concussions and other injuries. But I have to admit that his football experience will serve him well in the game of life… you have to be patient, you have put in the hard work before you can reap the rewards, and there will be setbacks along the way… the ol’ “nothing good comes easy” adage. And I’m sure some of the friendships he formed on the gridiron will last a lifetime.

I’m super-duper proud of him (but not proud of the fact that I just used “super-duper” in a sentence). And I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the kid who was #76 in the program, but #1 in our hearts.

Win or go home… actually more like win AND go home

Sorry to have back to back blog posts about baseball (you’re getting very sleepy….), but the recent spate of manager firings seems preposterous.

Dusty Baker – you finished first in your division in both years as manager of the Washington Nationals.  Congratulations! Oh, and one other thing:

John Farrell – you made the playoffs 3 of the 5 years that you managed the Red Sox  – including this year (and one of the other years you were out with lymphoma) – and won a World Series. Great job. P.S.:

P.P.S. We’re replacing you with someone who has zero managerial experience. Here’s some salt for your wound.

Joe Girardi – your Yankees made the playoffs in 6 of your 10 years at the helm, you won a World Series, and you lost in 7 games to the AL champion Astros this year. Fantastic. Here’s a gift for you:

Seems like anything short of winning the World Series is grounds for dismissal these days. That’s absurd. You can do a masterful job managing 25 millionaires over a 162-game season, but if your team is edged out in a 5- or 7-game playoff series by another squad that’s slightly better, slightly luckier, slightly hotter or all of the above, you get the axe?

I hope the Yanks, Red Sox and Nats all stink next year… that would be karma.

 

Wake me when it’s over

“One of the craziest games you will ever see” said the TV announcer

“Wasn’t that the best game ever!?” said the Astros’ third baseman.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster” said the Dodgers’ manager.

“This is an instant classic and to be part of it is pretty special” said the Astros’ starting pitcher.

“The craziest game that I’ve ever played in” said the Astro who hit the game-winning two-run homer in the 11th inning.

8 home runs – a World Series record – including three by the Astros in extra innings, also a postseason record for any team. A game-tying home run on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the 9th against a closer who was previously untouchable.

And I didn’t see a lick of it.

My dad was a huge Dodgers fan, so I’m happy they’re in the World Series. I spent several summers in Houston and have relatives there – even went to one of my first MLB games at the Astrodome waaay back when – so I’m happy they’re in too. But the games start past 8 p.m. and typically go until midnight (or later when it’s extra innings). I know I won’t be able to see the ending, so why bother with the early innings? It’s like walking out on Star Wars before Luke flies toward the Death Star.

I know TV ratings (and revenue) rule the roost, but if MLB wants to capture the attention and hearts of the next generation of fans, they need to figure out a way to start the at least a couple of the World Series games earlier, or else it’s just the sound of one hand clapping.