If you need a healthy dose of perspective on March Madness, I suggest you come over to my house to watch the games.
I’m a Xavier University alum, and have been a season ticket holder for decades. But in the midst of their furious comeback on Friday, I had to turn the TV off. Because the parish priest came over to administer anointing of the sick to my mother-in-law, who is battling terminal cancer. She’s been in a hospital bed in our living room for the past month. Forget “March Madness” – this is March Sadness.
I grew up in Arkansas and love the Razorbacks. Yesterday they too rallied in their tourney game, and managed to knock off #1 seeded Kansas.
But there’s nothing quite like administering liquid morphine during a commercial break to give you a better understanding of what really matters. “Survive and advance…”
Nothing I’ve seen on the TV screen can match the courage, the bravery, the tenacity, the heart, the strength that I’ve seen from my mother-in-law. Her outcome is no longer in doubt, but she’s already won.
Sports may be life, but it’s not life and death. The pain of losing pales in comparison to the pain of loss.
The Alabama Crimson Tide is the #1 overall seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (I can’t call it March Madn3ss or I’d owe someone money.)
Alabama is led by their freshman phenom Brandon Miller. The same Brandon Miller who, on January 15th, delivered a gun to his then-teammate Darius Miles. Miles then gave the weapon to his friend Michael Lynn Davis, who then proceeded to get into a gun battle over a petty argument… and 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris, the mother of a 5-year-old son named Kaine, was shot and killed.
Actually Brandon Miller’s car was used to deliver the murder weapon. Allegedly, Brandon didn’t know the gun was in his car. Allegedly it was hidden in the back seat under some clothing. But his (now former) teammate texted him and said “I need my joint.” (For those who aren’t up to date on the latest slanguage, “joint” = “gun.”) And Brandon returned to where he had dropped off his teammate hours earlier.
Yes it’s completely possible that Brandon Miller didn’t know there was a gun in his vehicle — seems unlikely but sure let’s go with that– and yes it’s completely possible that Brandon Miller was already on his way to pick up his teammate when the text came through. That’s what his attorneys claim.
But the text said “I need my joint” not “Please swing by, I need the clothes that are in your back seat.” I’m no Perry Mason, but to me, the fact that Brandon’s teammate texted him that he needed his gun implies that Brandon knew the gun was in the vehicle.
Sidebar: where are we as a society today when young men who are going out for a night on the town:
actually own a gun and
decide that they need to bring it along when they’re going to a bar?
What we do know is that the University of Alabama administration knew of Brandon Miller’s involvement right from the get-go. It’s pretty hard to NOT know when Miller’s vehicle windshield had a couple bullet holes in it. Oh and there was another player from the team who was there as well… all this info didn’t come out until a February 21st hearing.
According to authorities, Brandon Miller is not a suspect… because if he didn’t know that he was supplying a gun … or even if he did know but he didn’t know that it would be used for something illegal (note: murder is illegal)… he’s off the hook.
Oh and by the way, did we mention that at Alabama’s next home game after Miller’s involvement was made public, one of his teammates gave him a mock “weapons pat down” during pregame introductions. Stay classy, ‘Bama!
Nate Oats is the Alabama head coach. His response has been tone deaf. At a press conference, he said Brandon was in the “wrong spot at the wrong time.” As many scribes have pointed out, actually, Jamea Harris was the one who was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Oats also claimed that he was unaware of the pregame pat-down ritual… and that coaches can’t keep track of their players 24/7. Technically true, but I guarantee you most coaches know if a player misses a single mandatory study hall, and that players have been suspended for such minor infractions.
The University of Alabama administration’s response has been deafening silence. Yes, they kicked Darius Miles off the team. But Brandon Miller hasn’t missed a single practice or a single game. After all, he’s the star player on the #1 team in America — the team favored to win the NCAA tournament. When “win at all costs” meets “players’ actions cost a young woman her life” the entire administration has cast their vote for the former.
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide… and the Crimson Tide has blood on their hands.
Note: I drafted this post yesterday (I have the legal pad scribbles to prove it), and today when I went looking for facts to include in it, I found a Will Leitch column on New York magazine’s Intelligencer site that sums up my feelings much more eloquently and intelligently. The full column is here, and some choice excerpts are below.
My friend and co-worker Brian has an interesting side hustle. He prowls the sidelines of NFL games as “Who Dey” – the mascot for the Cincinnati Bengals.
He’s been “dressing up as a fake tiger” (his words, not mine) for more than 20 years — he’s getting a bit long in the fang for the mascot game. This feat is quite impressive when you consider how much of a physical workout it is. (Brian said on warmer game days, he’ll sweat off 10 pounds or more.)
And it’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Bengals were… let me put this politely… not good for much of his tenure. It can’t be much fun trying to fire up a sparse crowd — many of whom were probably rooting for the opposing team — during a 2-14 season.
I’m glad the Tiger tables have turned. If things go the Bengals way this Sunday, Brian will be going to the Super Bowl for the 2nd year in a row. Not bad for a side hustle. Or should I say “fur” a side hustle?
Xavier University’s website has a great profile of Brian here.
While he was in college, he was leading a mascot double life, as the “Blue Blob” mascot at Xavier sporting events, as well as doing his Who Dey thing.
And because Brian’s a natural ham, I cast him in a bunch of fun videos that I’ve scripted for our company over the years. One of my favorites was a buddy cop spoof — Brian and I were “Ham” and “Cheese” respectively, for obvious reasons.
In that video, we poked fun at some of the more arcane rules in the employee handbook, like “no t-shirts with inappropriate slogans” for our in-house fitness center. Here’s a quick clip from that:
I’m glad Brian’s still having fun hamming it up as Who Dey. Here’s hoping we see him at Super Bowl LVII in a few weeks!
The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday night. The winning touchdown was an amazing (and amazingly rare) play: a 98-yard fumble recovery by a defensive lineman. Local boy Sam Hubbard made the heads-up score:
Look at Sam when he starts his rumble: he’s got three teammates nearby, with two opponents trailing them.
The teammates just run alongside Sam Hubbard. As if they think the Bengals will get bonus points if four guys reach the end zone. (Spoiler: they won’t.) This happens all the time on turnovers… teammates run alongside the dude with the ball.
Instead of forming a convoy, they should turn around and block one of the pursuing opponents:
At midfield, one teammate is even clapping – I think he wants Sam to lateral the ball to him… Save your clapping, pal, and put your pads on a Raven.
Ravens tight end Mark Andrews busted his butt trying to catch up to Hubbard. Sam’s teammates finally try to block him, but they’re lucky they didn’t get called for a block in the back – which would’ve negated the score.
I see this all the time in games. And a lot of times, an opponent actually catches up to, and tackles, the runner, while the runner’s teammates do nothing to impede the tackler’s progress.
Running alongside the guy with the ball does no good…. you can celebrate with your teammate all you want AFTER you block the only guys with a chance of tackling him.
Thus sayeth Grandpa, the team player. Now get off my lawn!
Roger Angell, longtime writer and truly the poet laureate of baseball, passed away last Friday at the age of 101.
Writing with a fan’s passion and Shakespearean splendor, he achieved literary prominence in the 1970s, when Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine clubs and the intensifying of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry helped elevate the game’s overall quality. Angell’s long-form pieces captured fans who appreciated deftly crafted, cliché-free perspectives of the game.
The piece referenced in the tweet above (and here) is about the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series in nearly a century. I read it last night and, true WordNerd that I am, was blown away by Angell’s command of the English language. “La Rochefoucauld” and “fritillary”? That’s a true All-Star. His style matched the beauty of the game, and his prose could be as majestic as any towering home run.
But he didn’t just cover baseball. A fixture — an icon, though that word is overused — at The New Yorker for three quarters of a century, he wrote Talk of the Town columns, humor essays and the annual holiday poem… and was a stellar editor as well.
Roger Angell cared about his craft, and he heartily endorsed the passion of true fans:
Roger Angell lived to be 101. We may not make it that far into the post-season, but we can certainly try.
“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
OK, I’d better pump the brakes on that superlative. In all honesty and modesty, Cary and I are the best. Oh sure, we were in the 3.0 bracket at the local pickleball tournament this weekend….and that’s the lowest possible level. But that makes us the best of the worst, right? Besides, we tried to get into the higher 3.5 bracket, but it was full. So we weren’t really sandbagging too much… more like sand-pouching.
We were rookies – it was our first tourney. But it’s kinda hard to call us “rookies” when we have a combined 132 years of living under our (Sansa)belts. We’re a mirror image team: I’m 57 and Cary’s 75.
There were 12 teams in our bracket, split into two six-team pools for round-robin play. The top two teams from each pool advanced to the “medal round.” Cary and I won our first five matches before losing to two young whippersnappers 15-9. But our record was good enough to get us to the next round, where we knocked off the #1 team from the other pool, then had a rematch against the whippersnappers… and WE won, 15-9!
I’m such an anti-competitive dude that my first thought was that the whippersnappers got screwed.. (Actually, that was my second thought – my first thought was “holy schnikes, I can’t believe we won!”) We both had the same record, and we split our head-to-head matches by identical scores. But we won when all money was on the line (the whopping $30 gift certificate!).
This isn’t really a pickleball story, though. Cary’s originally from Cadiz, Ohio, a coal-mining town in Eastern Ohio (near scenic Steubenville!). His dad worked for the coal company, and Cary’s first job was at the mines. But he was a pretty good baseball player. In high school, he played against future major league star Thurman Munson, future NFL receiver Danny Abramowicz, and longtime MLB coach Rich Donnelly. Cary got a baseball scholarship to Bowling Green State University, in western Ohio, and, in his own words, “it changed my life.”
Cary was able to escape the inexorable future of most of his classmates — a life of back-breaking, unforgiving labor in the coal mines — and get a college degree. He wound up working with “big data” and teaching statistics classes – 20 years at Bowling Green and 20 more at the University of Cincinnati. He met his wife in his first year of working for BGSU, when she was a student there and working as a waitress. They have a son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons who live in Indy. Cary volunteers at a local YMCA, teaching pickleball to beginners.
The Harvards and Stanfords get all the prestige of higher education. But let’s not discount the role of the “mid-major” state schools that offer scholarships and semi-affordable tuition to first-generation college students. They are changing life trajectories… and therefore changing the world.
I’ve learned quite a bit about Cary, and if it weren’t for pickleball, he’d be just another face in the crowd…. some random old dude. Yes, I’ve heard all the “pickleball is for old people” jokes. But the older folks I’ve met through the sport are great people, with interesting stories to tell. Maybe you should try pickleball. Or maybe you can just spend a bit more time with some seniors, and get to know their stories. You just might learn something.
Cary’s a good dude who also happens to be a pretty darn good pickleball player. If I’m lucky enough to reach the age of 75, I hope folks say the same thing about me.
You done said…