Monday, September 28, 2009

Weddings, Swimming and the Redskins

My friend Jeff Roddin got married to Julie Oplinger yesterday in a lovely ceremony at The Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. Anyone who has ever called my cell phone knows who Jeff is because it is his voice on the tape saying, "Anyone who knows John knows he's no rocket scientist, but fortunately he knows me so he got me to put this message on his phone."

Jeff, as it happens IS a rocket scientist. He is also one hell of a swimmer which is how we met and got to be friends. All six guys in Jeff's wedding party yesterday were swimmers and I was, by far, the least accomplished. Clay Britt, the best man, was a three time NCAA champion at Texas and Wally Dicks, one of the groomsmen, was the oldest man in history to qualify for the Olympic Trials (he was 38) in 2000. Lucky for me I get to swim on relays with those guys and will again if I can ever get myself back in shape.

The wedding was in the afternoon so there were a number of people--including the best man--sneaking peaks at blackberries to track the progress of the Lions-Redskins game. As it happens, Jeff grew up in Michigan so I wasn't the only one in the room pulling for the Lions to end their losing streak although, needless to say, there was a fair bit of Redskins sentiment. What was interesting though was the even the most rabid Redskins fans admitted their disgust with Dan Snyder--not just for consistently putting together mediocre teams but for his demeanor and for the way he treats people. I felt the warmth of their dislike of Snyder bathing me as we stood in the sun while Jeff and Julie spoke their vows.

Once we sat down, I kept bugging Clay to check the score on his blackberry. (I am needless to say a non-blackberry person. It is amazing I can get my cell phone to work). Finally, it was time for him to give the best man's toast. "It's 19-14, Redskins are on the Lions 36 with eight seconds left," he said, standing up.

"WAIT!" I screamed. "Don't start until it's over!"

Everyone was waiting for him to start speaking. He got up and announced the score and said it looked like the Redskins were going to lose. I was convinced he had jinxed the outcome. Of course he didn't but if he had I would have never let him live it down. My only regret is that I couldn't be home at that moment to hear the absolute panic breaking loose once the game was over. Of course poor Jim Zorn will take the fall even though Snyder is the one--along with his henchman Vinny Cerrato--who put this team together and, for that matter, hired Zorn.

Back to more pleasant topics. I would like to make this point about swimming: although most people care about it only when it involves Michael Phelps, it is a very nice world to be small part of--and I do mean a SMALL part of--for me. If Ed Brennan, my high school coach, hadn't convinced me to give up my dream to play point guard for the Knicks because he saw some potential in me, I probably never would have gotten into college. Swimming was what drove me to get my grades up because I knew it would give me a shot to get into some places. It's not a coincidence that Ed and I--even though we fought like cats on occasion--remain close friends to this day.

I've written before that when the doctors told me I had seven blockages in my heart in June I asked them how that could possible when I had no symptoms and they said it was because I swam. "Your heart's strong," the doctor said. "Your arteries are a mess."

So, the case can easily be made that I'm alive today because of swimming. What's more, since I became a Masters swimmer 14 years ago, I've made great friends including Jeff and Wally and Clay and Jason Crist and Peter Ward and Doug Chestnut and Paul Doremus and Penny Bates and Mary Dowling and Mike Fell--among others. All except Mike were at the wedding yesterday.

That's why you will never hear me make fun of people who are totally into a sport that is not part of our popular culture--although if all those bikers would ride on the side of the road, especially on Sunday mornings when I'm on my way to the pool--I'd be grateful. It was an absolute riot yesterday just before we walked down the aisle to hear Clay and Wally talking about a set of 200s that Wally had done on Saturday. That's what swimmers do, the way runners talk about how far they ran or bikers talk about how far the biked--and no doubt how many cars they blocked on the road.

In fact, it was such a swim-oriented wedding that my fiancée Chris Bauch kept having people say to her, "So what stroke do you swim?"

But I think I can say I kept the day in perspective. Late in the afternoon I walked over to Jeff's dad, Hugh, who not only was a star swimmer at Maryland but has a pool names after him in Michigan--The Hugh J. Roddin Natatorium--and said, "Well Hugh, I know what a big day this is in your life...The Lions won a game."

He, of course, agreed completely.


A few notes from the past few days: I was convinced based on their un-convincing wins over lousy competition that Penn State was vastly overrated--said so on the radio so I'm not making it up now--and for once I was proven right on Saturday. Here's a question: is anyone in The Big Ten any good?...Of course the ACC had another awful day, rescued only slightly by North Carolina State's win over Pittsburgh. Florida State goes down to South Florida? With a freshman quarterback? At home? Maryland takes a dive against Rutgers? Miami, which was supposed to be back apparently isn't so back....

One of the regular posters was apparently upset because I kept bringing up Tiger Woods' presence on the sidelines last Monday night three days prior to The Tour Championship. I only brought it up because I was so sick and tired of The Tour's hyping the playoffs and the Tour Championship to death. Yes, it was raining in Atlanta, but if the tournament REALLY meant something, he'd have been there resting and waiting for the first chance to get on the golf course. I wasn't putting Tiger down in this case, just the tour's endless hype.

Quick exchange on Wednesday between Commissioner Tim Finchem (who I like a lot) and yours truly:

“Tim, how's it going."

"Great. Really excited about this week."

"Me too. Lot of big college football games coming up."

"You've written too many books on Navy."

"Good point."

Like I said, I like the guy.

Today is Yom Kippur. It is time for me to atone for my sins. I will now call my sister.


Anonymous said...

Fall weddings seem to always revolve around football. I haven't done any Sunday weddings, but I can't remember a football season wedding not revolving around a schedule....either the date has to be 'approved', tv's set up in back rooms, blackberries hidden and checked during services, everyone asking 'the score'. The south probably has the craziest of this, but weddings all over the country play with this dynamic. Its amazing, and somewhat cool.

Jim said...

Back to your comment on book topics - is there anything swimming you can do? I don't think Phelps warrants a book yet, but maybe there is another angle and story.....

Anonymous said...

John: I definitely have some swimming angles you can look at. I work at Auburn University - currently the best swimming program in the nation. There are two book angles you could look at. The first is why so many top-level swimmers come here - would be a great 'season inside' book. The other has to do with our former coach, David Marsh, who now runs the USA Swimming Center of Excellence at the Mecklenburg (NC) Aquatic Club. I was David's SID for three years (and in turn the Auburn swimming SID) and it is a program you would be blown away by. Feel free to contact me at for more info if you are at all interested.

Dan Froehlich
Associate Director of Media Relations
Auburn University

Anonymous said...


The book ought to be about the suits that changed swimming forever, temporarily---the controversy that ensued---and the return of normalcy, albeit somewhat delayed, as the new rules go into effect. The impact on the elite swimmer, the age group swimmer and the summer league swimmer. The behind the scenes corporate wrangling/haranguing of FINA last summer, etc. Call it "technology vs technique"----"seamline vs streamline"----or something like that.


We used to chat while we swam laps at Regency.

Neely and Bob Oplinger said...

John, Great article. Neely and I enjoyed meeting you at the wedding. Just as a note, there were some pretty good girl swimmers in the wedding party as well. Mollie Grover swam at Penn State and still does very well in masters swimming. Jill Roddin Roethke swam at Lehigh University. Katie Davison is a champion triathlete. Julie Oplinger Roddin is a national champion in masters swimming in addition to being an ironman and triathlete. From the proud parents of Julie Oplinger Roddin.

Ralph Barrett said...

John: I am married to one of Julie's cousins, and also had the pleasure of attending the wedding. Although it was not brought up in all of the swimmer conversation, the Oplinger family has a number of standout athletes in fields of endevor other than aquatics. Julie's dad, Bob Oplinger, was a stand-out offensive lineman for Wake Forest, and played professionally for the Baltimore Colts. His brother, my father in law, was an outstanding college football and baseball player, and was drafted by the pros in both sports. He played AAA baseball for a number of years, and was a successful high school baseball and football coach and athletic director in Pennsylvania for many years. And their other brother, also present at the wedding, was an outstanding collegiate and professional baseball player. All three, in fact, were honored in various high school, college, and professional athletic halls of fame. In addition, the husband of my sister in law pitched for a number of seasons with the Dodgers. And in the youngest generation, our daughter played collegiate tennis, was a three-time MVP, and college outstanding scholar-athlete in her senior year. Just thought it bore mentioning.

I have always enjoyed your writing, and your appearances on NPR. If I knew you were, I would have spoken!