Friday, November 27, 2009

A Thanksgiving of Traditions – Swimming, the Lions and the New One, College Basketball

Everyone has Thanksgiving traditions. Even now, I try to sit down and watch the start of the football game from Detroit because I remember doing it as a kid. That’s been tough in recent years because the Lions have been so bad and, most of the time, the game has been out of hand by midway in the second quarter. At least yesterday it was competitive into the second half.

I know there has been talk about taking Thanksgiving away from the Lions. I think that would be a terrible decision. Yes, they’ve been lousy for a long time but at some point they will improve and there are some traditions you don’t mess with. They’ve played Thanksgiving football in Detroit since 1934. You don’t blow up a tradition like that so that a TV network can pick up a ratings point or two.

The game in Dallas is the one I don’t understand. I’m okay with the Cowboys hosting it but I wonder what the NFL is thinking sometimes when it chooses the opponent. It isn’t like with the Lions where they’re locked in. Did it come as a shock to the schedule-makers that the Raiders are bad again this year? If this is a year when the NFC East plays the AFC West why not send the Chargers in there on Thanksgiving Day? Or at least the Broncos.

Who would have thought that the highlight of Thanksgiving Day would be ESPN’s decision to create a bunch of college basketball tournaments? My goodness, do I owe the Bristol boys a thank-you note?

Actually my favorite Thanksgiving tradition the last dozen or so years has been getting up to go workout at the pool. Among the holidays, Thanksgiving is usually the best one for a workout because people aren’t feeling guilty yet about too much holiday eating and it isn’t New Years’—worst day of the year—when everyone has made their resolutions to lose weight.

This Thanksgiving workout had a little more meaning than some others. It was my first real attempt to swim since my heart surgery. I’ve been cleared to swim for a couple months but, to be honest, I was so far behind in my work that committing the time was really difficult. It was a lot easier to just walk for an hour than to get in the car, drive to the pool, workout and drive home. So, I made a deal with myself: as a soon as I finished the two books I was working on (one on the ’03 majors; the other the fifth book in the kids mystery series) I would make a serious effort to get back in swimming shape.

I finished the second book on Wednesday. Thursday morning I was in the pool. To say that I’m out of shape is like saying Dick Vitale talks a lot. Actually, my legs aren’t too bad because of the walking and the same is true of my wind. I was able to hold my turns for about as long as normal. The problem is my arms. They felt as if they had 50-pound weights on them. I did a set of 6x50 meters on 1:15 that would normally be an easy warm down set, one that if I was really in shape I’d swim butterfly. I was seriously hurting before I was finished. At the very end I tried to swim ONE length of butterfly. It felt like the end of a 200 fly.

So, I’ve got a long, long way to go. Still, it felt SO good to be back in. I made it through 1,300 meters—a nice warm-up for most of my friends—but was happy I did it. As soon as I finish writing this morning, I’m heading back to the pool. Maybe by spring I’ll be in some kind of shape.

Among all the holidays, Thanksgiving is probably the one I’ve had to work or travel on least often. It is only in recent years that a lot of college hoops has been played at Thanksgiving. I remember flying home on a red eye from the Maui Classic one year when Maryland played in it and getting home on Thanksgiving morning.

Probably my most memorable Thanksgiving trip was way back in 1984 when Maryland went to The Great Alaska Shootout. The games didn’t start until Friday—in those days no one played before Thanksgiving Day—but I flew on the same flight with Maryland on Tuesday since the flight went through Salt Lake City and Seattle before landing in Anchorage.

In Seattle, we were joined by the Kansas team, which had flown from Kansas City to Seattle. Larry Brown was on the flight with his wife. Lefty Driesell looked at Larry’s wife and said, “You decided to make this trip? No way could I get Joyce to come this far especially to go to Alaska.”

“She just can’t bear to be away from me for five days,” Brown said.

“Yeah, that’s my whole problem,” Lefty said. “The only one who can’t bear to be away from me for five days is Feinstein.”

He was probably right about that.

Anchorage was a little bit like a wild west town—lots of bars and guys who were miners or prospectors. Seriously. The sun came up at about 10:30. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning to go down and have breakfast so I could be back in my room at 8:30 to watch the kickoff of the Lions game. It was really eerie watching the game when the sun hadn’t come up yet.

A guy named Happy Fine was the Maryland beat reporter for The Washington Times back then and he insisted on making a “pilgrimage,” to the gym on the Air Force base where Patrick Ewing had made his college debut three years earlier. By 1984 the tournament had moved to a brand new 8,000 seat building. Loren Tate, the long-time Illinois broadcaster walked in the first day looked around and said, “it’s just another gym—except this one’s a long way from home.”

UAB ended up beating Kansas in the final after Kansas had come from way behind to beat Maryland in the first game. I still remember a young Kansas assistant named John Calipari who I had met the previous summer at the Five-Star camp grabbing my arm in the locker room and saying, “you aren’t going to believe how good Danny Manning is going to be.”

Manning was a Kansas freshman at the time. We flew home on a red eye on Sunday night. I remember buying an “Alaska,” coffee mug in the gift shop at the airport because I’d forgotten to buy any souvenirs. I still have the mug 25 years later.

A month later, Maryland played in The Rainbow Classic in Hawaii—in those days you could play in two exempt events in the same season—and I interviewed Lefty on Christmas morning sitting on a balcony overlooking the ocean.

“Faahnsteen,” he said. “Think about it. Because of me, you’ve gotten to see the world this year.”

I didn’t argue.


Anonymous said...

John -- maybe its too unknown to speculate and talk about, but I'd love your insight on the Eldrick 'situation'. The stories don't add up with logic, and seems as though they will have to spin the spin at some point. Do you have anything to say, or any insight, on this one?

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous above me... He legally changed his name to Tiger, quit calling him Eldrick.

And the story is sounds logical enough. Arguing with wife, she smacks him around a bit and he goes to leave. Going where? anywhere he won't be getting beat on.

She chases him out the house with a golf club. She hits the car with the club. He's distracted by this and runs into the hydrant.


Oh and John, I also love 'The West Wing' where Bartlet pardons the turkey... But my favorite scene is in the episode "in this white house' when Ainsley Hayes comes in and is offered a job by Leo McGary. So well written and so well acted, fantastic.

thedean said...

I've been divorced twice. They never go "smoothly"! But my name is not Tiger so no one cares! Thank God! He needs to do a mea culpa like he did when he stiffed Arnie when he was 21. Didn't it go something like this: "I should have shown up like I promised Arnie but I'm 21 years old and made a mistake if any reporter here did not make a mistake when they were 21 I'll take your question" You could have dropped a pin! This time it goes like this, "my wife and I had a disagreement over some gossip she got hold of if you never had a disagreement with a women, or in some cases a man, I'll take your questions". The silence should be deafing. We should all stay out of his personal business. Why do people think we have a "right" to all the "dirt"?

charles pierce said...

I am now a fan of the Old Spice tournament down in Orlando.

Laura's Husband said...

Keep swimmin' John...what better way to celebrate your comeback than doin the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim this year... entry lottery opens Dec. 7 and runs to the 22nd.