Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Night of Channel Surfing Leads to Good College Basketball Game

Last night was what my son Danny describes as, “a big night for my dad.”

I cooked dinner after picking him up from school, started a fire in the fireplace in my office (the main reason I bought this house) and sat down in front of the TV.

On nights like this—which are too rare as far as I’m concerned—it doesn’t bother me that much if there isn’t anything to watch on TV. I basically gave up on watching network shows years ago: I will watch the occasional ‘Seinfeld,’ rerun although I’ve even become selective about that. Festivus for the rest of us I’ll watch every time and the one where Steinbrenner goes to George’s house to tell his parents that George is dead and Mr. Costanza’s response is, “what were you thinking trading Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps!” I’ll watch every time. Some of the later episodes not so much.

Anyway, the way it works, I’ll surf around. If the Islanders are playing—especially these days now that I have the hockey package again (hallelujah!)--I’ll probably watch them. Is there someone on Long Island who can tell me what is going on at The Nassau Coliseum that they are currently on a two week, seven game road trip? During baseball season I can usually find a baseball game to watch and now that college hoops is underway there is almost always a college game I’m interested in for one reason or another.

If all else fails, I press two buttons and go to my ‘West Wing,’ DVD. I’m watching season two again right now.

Last night was what most would consider a slim pickings night. But two things drew me in—one briefly, almost like gazing at the scene of a car accident—the other for almost the entire game.

The car accident was a football game between Central Michigan and Ball State. It wasn’t that matchup that caused me to pause on the game. At 1-9, Ball State is a shadow of the team it was the last two years with Nate Davis at quarterback. Central Michigan is the MAC’s best team at 8-2, including a win over Michigan State. The game figured to be—and was—a mismatch.

What caused me to pause was ESPN showing a couple of The Ball State seniors being greeted pre-game because it was, “senior night.” The play-by-play guy—they really DO sound all alike don’t they—was talking about Ball State only having 11 seniors and how that really boded well for next year and Trent Dilfer, who I guess was trying out as a color man, went on about the team’s potential for 2010 so much I was wondering if Ball State might be ranked in the top ten preseason.

What got me though was this: the rain was pouring down as the seniors and their families walked onto the field. The far side of the stadium was just about empty—I mean EMPTY—because who is coming out on a miserable Wednesday night to see a bad team play football?

This was the memory those seniors and their families would take with them of their last home college football game. Look, it might have rained on Saturday—it’s November in Indiana. I lived there for a year, I get it. But a day game on a Saturday, you’re going to get a better crowd. Maybe the sun will come out for a while. There were no students in sight, they had better things to do no doubt on a school night with exams approaching. I just thought it was sad.

I know the genie is out of the bottle on these weeknight college football games but can’t there be SOME limits. Can’t the presidents intervene and say—no weeknight games after Halloween? The answer of course is no but I wish the president of Ball State would look at that tape and at least wonder if that was the way a bunch of kids who gave the school four—or five—years of hard work playing football wanted to go out. There’s nothing that can be done now about the 1-10 record. It would have been nice though if those seniors—who were a part of two bowl teams and a 10-0 start last year—could have gone out with a little more dignity than on a Wednesday night, in a pouring rain with literally almost no one but friends and family watching.

I watched one Central Michigan drive because their quarterback is supposed to be a pro prospect. Dilfer at one point said he was every bit as good a football player as Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy. I’m so glad no one on TV goes in for hyperbole.

Having heard enough of that I switched over to the Loyola-UMBC basketball game. As people know, this is one of my quirks—I love games like this. I know both coaches well—Randy Monroe at UMBC first gained national attention for throwing his team out of the locker room for a week, then built the team into an NCAA Tournament team a couple years ago. I wrote a column about him after the locker room incident and he said, “I know Knight has done it, I know Krzyzewski has done it. I figured they were pretty good role models.”

I’ve know Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos since he survived—the correct word to use—12 years as an assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland.

Patsos has worked tirelessly to get Loyola to the top of the MAAC since taking over a team that had been 1-27. He won 18 games two years ago but has never been able to get over the Siena-Niagara hump at the top of the league. Last year he got national attention for the wrong reasons—leaving his bench to sit in the stands during a game because he was upset with the officiating; holding Stephen Curry scoreless in a game by double or triple teaming him all night but losing the game by 30.

Is he nuts? He worked for Gary for 12 years, of course he’s nuts. He’s also a very good man who tries very hard to make playing college basketball more than just about basketball for his players. He makes them go to museums on the road. During one pre-game talk last year he quoted Harvey Milk, Shakespeare and Clarence Thomas (okay, no one is perfect).

He also has a pretty good team this year. He’s got a smart little point guard who can really pass and some experience up front, plus Shane Walker, a Maryland transfer who clearly has some potential. The game was back-and-forth the entire second half with both coaches screaming (and I do mean screaming) at their players on almost every possession. Loyola pulled it out late, running really good offense when it had to and getting the ball inside after settling for quick shots while blowing a 10 point lead.

My old pal Hoops Weiss (two mentions in a row for him this week) who knows every coach ever born frequently walks out after games saying, “I’m vurry, vurry (he’s from Philly) pleased for (fill-in-the-winning-coach’s-name) but vurry, vurry disappointed for (fill-in-the-losing coach’s-name. They’re both good friends of mine.”

I felt like Hoops last night. Vurry, vurry pleased for Jimmy, vurry, vurry disappointed for Randy. Once I finish the kids book I’m working on (it is set at Army-Navy and will be done by, I hope, Thanksgiving) I’ll get out and see their teams play in person.

I was going to write about Al McGuire this morning in response to a post yesterday after the Dick Vitale blog but he merits an entire blog—and more. Just too many Al stories to tell. He was a good friend—who wrote the introduction to ‘A Season on the Brink.’

I will leave you with one quick story because there really are a million. Al had instincts about people like no one I’ve ever met. During the year I was in Bloomington he came out to do a couple of games for NBC. Whenever he did, Knight would put together dinner the night before the game. On the night before the last game Al was working, he looked at Bob and I at one point and said, “this is kind of a sad night for me.”

Why, we asked.

“Because this is the last time I’m going to see the two of you together.”

Again we asked, why?

Al laughed. “Because once this book comes out, you’ll never speak to one another again.”

Like I said, he really knew people. More to come—a lot more—about Al on another day. Let me add one more thing: I really miss him.


Anonymous said...

I am a little too young (mid 30s) to know many great Al McGuire stories, but I know enough to realize his personality, and place, in college basketball. Can't wait to hear some of the zany stories about him.

Is there a good book on McGuire out there to educate me a bit?


Anonymous said...

Sports Illustrated on line,, has a vault feature with the entire archives of the magazine. There are several really good feature articles on McGuire, as well as the "game stories" from his final four appearances and his championship in 1977.

thedean said...

Heard you on Tony Kornheiser Show this morning and loved your line about the "Georgetown Cupcake" as a reference to their basketball schedule. Junior learned from daddy how to pad a schedule and they both learned from the master...JoPa. By the way, your relationship with Tony reminds me of one I have with a friend, when I do him a favor I tend to thank him for letting ME do it

Jim in the Cuse said...

Absolutely loved Al McGuire. It felt like he had such a hand in putting college basketball on the map in the 80s. My favorite memory of him (being a Syracuse OrangeMEN fan) was him dancing with the Orangemen team that went to the Final Four in 1996 to "The Cuse is in the house" song. SU had just beaten Kansas (in a little bit of foreshadowing of the 2003 National Championship Game) and Al was congratulating and interviewing Boeheim, and the team behind them started singing and dancing and Al jumped right in with a nice little move that can only be dubbed "The Maguire". It's on youtube if you're interested, and it's absolutely hysterical. Unless it's Vitale, you simply don't see that kind of impromptu fun in sports anymore. He's greatly missed.

charles pierce said...

If you're going to keep writing about Al, we're never going to argue about anything, dammit.
Abe Lemons' Al story: They all went to Amsterdam on a Medalist junket with Gene Bartow. They all go into a big store and it turns out to be a sex-toy emporium. Al finds a ray-gun tipped with a rotating, glowing device that one might expect to fiund in a sex-toy emporium. Ave's two aisles over, and the next thing he hears is the whirring of the ray-gun, and Bartow's voice: "Darn it, Al, get away from me!"
It sounded better in Abe's voice.

Ed Tracey said...

When someone passes away, there are "remembrances" about them, or you might relate "an anecdote" of them.

But when it's a real character, there are "stories" about them. And John, since you admitted there are "too many Al stories to tell" - then that defines Al as "a character" in my book.

Can't wait to hear your Al stories!