Monday, April 20, 2015

A Tribute.... Part 2

This is not the post that I had planned for today. I was actually researching the first round NHL Playoff series to enlighten you on the greatness that is the NHL Playoffs.

But then I saw the news and knew I had to write about it…again. Death. Last week was the anniversary of my father passing away and I was able to unleash those emotions on paper in this blog. Well, death doesn’t take any days off and it comes back to hit you when you least expect it – especially as you get older.

Doug Buffone, Chicago Bears legend, passed away today at his home. He was 70 years old. 



For those of you who know me really well, I am the definition of a diehard Bears fan. I literally used to have to skip dinner on Sunday nights because I was so wound up from the games that my stomach couldn’t handle eating. Yes, that is fanaticism. Luckily, I am past that stage of my life – if the Bears are going to make me mad then I will turn them off. But back then the Bears were everything. I realize that seems odd since my love is baseball. But baseball is 162 games and a long season. The NFL season is ONLY 16 games and every game is of absolute importance. This is the reason that the Bears get me more worked up more than any team I root for in this life.

My first memories of the Bears were in 1977. I was nine years old. The Bears hadn’t made the playoffs since they won the NFL Championship in 1963. It was Buffone’s 12th year as a Bear and he was still a starting outside linebacker. But my focus was on Walter Payton and the offense. He was running roughshod over the NFC and it was awesome. It was during this time that Walter became my sports hero; and the Bears became my team.

It was also a special time for me as a son. Sunday afternoons were the time my Dad and I had a special bond. My father loved Gale Sayers and the Bears and it didn’t take long for his youngest son to have a beloved RB and NFL team. My brother somehow became a Los Angeles Rams fan, so I got alone time with my Dad watching the Bears. It brings back great memories. I’ll never forget how difficult it was when Walter Payton passed away in 1999. It wasn’t so much that my childhood hero died, but that I was 31 years old and BOTH my childhood heroes had passed on. My Dad always pointed out the intricacies of Walter’s game – how he “never died easy” and wouldn’t go out of bounds, how he would just hand the ball to the referee after he scored a TD – my father made sure I watched and learned how he played the game. The passion I have for the Chicago Bears was planted back in those years and it continued to grow each year.

When I was 12 or 13 I received the best Christmas present ever. It was Richard Whittingham’s book on the history of the Chicago Bears. I had it read at least twice by New Year’s Eve. I learned about many fantastic Bears players that I had not been able to see play. One of those players was Doug Buffone. At the time, he was the record holder for the most games played in Bears history at 186 games (since surpassed by four other players including Payton). That was important to me. Being a budding stat-head I took note that he had played the most games in Bears history and understood this meant he was a great player for a long time.

Time went by and I watched the legacy of Bears linebackers continue to grow. Singletary, Wilson, Marshall, Urlacher, and Briggs – all fantastic linebackers in the great lineage of Chicago defensemen. Two of those players wore the same number as Buffone, #55. It didn’t really sink in, especially since it took the Bears organization 21 years to retire Hall of Famer Dick Butkus’ number 51. I imagine many of us Bears fans felt the same way about the number situation.

All of the aforementioned builds up to the main reason I am so heartbroken today. After Buffone retired he went into broadcasting (among other activities) and we were fortunate enough to be able to continue our love affair with this lifetime Bears great. If I was anywhere near a radio after a Bears game I needed to dial in 670 The Score to listen to Doug and O.B. (Ed O’Bradovich). For the first time in my life a media personality showed the emotion on the air that I felt in watching the game. The love of the Chicago Bears bonded us together and for Buffone to wear his emotions on his sleeves so naturally we fell in love with him even more. He was OUR voice, saying the things we didn't have the platform to say. He was one of us, yet he wasn’t. He had played the game, however he was still a fan, a diehard fan. At that endeared him to us all the more. 



I’m sure most of you can name a color commentator or analyst for your favorite team that used to play for said team. But they broke the mold when they made Doug Buffone. Listening to the stories this afternoon on The Score about the man he was, more so than the player he was, made me laugh, contemplate, reminisce and cry all at the same time. It’s times like these when I get to relive special moments in my life with my Dad. And I hope I’m creating those same memories for my sons.

Thank you Doug. Rest in peace 55.

Until next time,
Shawn

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Tribute to My Hero.

A popular saying in the American lexicon is “There are two things in life you can’t avoid: death and taxes”. April 15th is designated as Tax Day, the day in which your tax information from the previous year is due. April 16th, for most people, is a day of relief. However, for me and my family, April 16th is the day where death, and its effects, hit us right between the eyes. On April 16, 1996 our father/husband went to be with the Lord.

It is unfathomable to me that is has been NINETEEN years since my Dad passed away. There are days where it seems like it has been forever, and I need to look at pictures to refresh his face in my memories. And there are days where it feels like it was yesterday. I wish I could describe these emotions to you more simply, but I can’t. Unless you've been through the death of a parent (or child) the depth and breadth of emotions that are involved are difficult to express.



“But Shawn, this is a blog about sports.” Yes, it is. Sports are woven into the very fabric of who I am. My brother and I are the very definition of fanatics – just look at our wardrobes. But the love of sports had to start somewhere and the genesis of that love started with my Dad, so bear with me. 

My father was a very good athlete. During his high school career he ran hurdles for the track team. Funny sidebar – he wanted me to run hurdles in high school. He taught me great form; the only problem was that I was barely taller than the hurdles themselves. Needless to say that didn't work out very well for me. I digress. He loved baseball and I am so thankful for the day that he first signed me up to play youth baseball. At the same time, I consider myself lucky that my Dad was a Cubs fan. Both of these loves bit me hard and I took the bait hook, line and sinker. To this day I have a passion for baseball and the Cubs and I have my Dad to thank for both of those. 

One trait in particular that I loved about my father was that he knew my boundaries perfectly. This is why I loved having him as a coach on my baseball teams as a kid. He understood my personality and my “game” and pushed me when I needed to be pushed, coached me when I needed to be coached, and loved me when I needed to be picked up. He could differentiate between the roles of coach and father and played them to perfection. I guess that’s why I shed a tear every year on Opening Day. The emotions are split between loving the game of baseball and missing my father. 

One of the unforgettable moments of my life came on an April 16th, back in 2004. My brother and I descended upon Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs take on the Cincinnati Reds (ironic, huh?). We were sitting in a 500 section of Wrigley on the first base side of home plate. It was a strange game to say the least. It went back and forth all day and as we reached the bottom of the 8th, with the Cubs down three runs, my brother decided it was time to break out the rally caps. We persuaded nearly the entire section to produce rally caps and thought it was working as the Cubs plated two runs. But then the rally died and we went to the 9th with the Cubs down one run. As the bottom of the ninth began my brother pleaded the section to keep the rally caps going. He then turned to me, no lie, and claimed that Sosa and Alou would go back-to-back. I tend to be a bit of a pessimist myself, so I scoffed at him and hoped that they could scratch across two runs off of Reds closer Danny Graves and send us home happy. If you clicked on the link you already know what happened – Sosa lead off the inning with a shot to right-center field. We were going crazy. Wrigley was pandemonium. My brother and I were just going nuts, to put it plainly. Lost in all the hoopla was the home run by Sosa; it tied him with Ernie Banks on the all-time HR list with 512. As Alou stepped to the plate, my brother still believed. And sure as I’m sitting here, Alou sent one into the LF bleachers and Wrigley, along with us, came unglued. It was the coolest sports moment I had ever experienced, for lack of better terminology. Todd and I took a second after going wild and just looked at each other. We knew what the other one was thinking, “Dad was a part of this”. Not that he caused Sosa and Alou to homer. No, he was with us in spirit and cheering on beside us. It was a very special moment. We began to depart Wrigley and the place was buzzing. We made our way down the ramps from the upper deck and you would have thought the Cubs had just won the division from all the commotion. Fans were standing at the bottom of the ramps high-fiving anyone who walked by them. As soon as we departed the stadium our phones began to ring – it was our Mom. The moment was not lost on her either as she had watched the game from her home. We all knew that what we had just experienced was special. 

As an adult there are moments in your life where you gain a greater appreciation for the job your parents undertook while you were a child. Perspective can be a very humbling emotion, but at the same time it can allow gratefulness for the way you were raised. This was one of those times. To others, it may seem petty that a baseball game caused me to grasp my parents love for me on a larger scale, but does it even really matter how it happens as long as it happens? As a father myself now, I only get to tell my sons stories about their Grandpa Crull. I wish with all my heart that my Dad could have played with them and loved on them. It would have been awesome to watch him connect with them. I find myself reflecting on the things I say and do as a parent; and wondering if I am doing as good a job as I believed my Dad did with me. I do regret words and actions as a parent, I think we all do. Looking back from a son’s perspective, I can only recall one thing my Dad ever said or did that bothered me. Late in his life he told us that he wished he hadn't allowed us to focus so deeply on sports and that we would have been more “well-rounded”. Dad, I love the fact that I love sports. It reminds me of you. And that makes me happy. 

I hear many people say “if I can be half the person my Mom/Dad was I’ll be happy”. Did I say that in the years following his death? Absolutely. But as I thought about it more – that is the antithesis of the approach my Dad would have about it. First, he would tell me NOT to be like him. Why? Because he understood that it wasn't about him. He would tell me to model myself after Jesus Christ, because he was the ultimate example for us. My father had a desire to be like Christ and that should be my goal as well. Do I fall short? Every day. But the cross paid the price for me and His grace covers me. I am extremely thankful to have grown up in a Christian home. My Dad was the model of that for us as kids. But again, he is a man that would deflect the credit. I love the humble spirit my father had and I again hope I follow in his footsteps in that manner. But something else he taught me to love was music. In my times of despair and grief music speaks to me more often than does sports. I’m sure that makes him smile. One song that sticks out to me is Foo Fighters “My Hero”. It came out less than a year after Dad passed away and it immediately struck a chord with me, obviously. Dave Grohl wrote it about the ordinary people in life who are heroes to us all. My father was one of those people. He may have been ordinary to the rest of the world, but he was, is and will always by my hero.

I love you Dad.



Thursday, April 09, 2015

So I Went to Wrigley on Wednesday...


Was I apprehensive knowing the embarrassment that took place on Sunday night? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, but it’s a Cubs game and I was darn well going. In a last minute decision, I brought my youngest son based on his excellent schoolwork the previous nine weeks. The trip up from Indianapolis was fairly nondescript, which is less stressful with a youngster. Our parking place was a block from Wrigley so I hit the jackpot there, especially considering I only paid $3.75 for it.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Our parking spot was near the corner of Clark and Waveland, near the left field corner. As we reached the precipice of the stadium our first sight was that of security fences and large mechanical equipment. This was not my father’s Wrigley Field. The feeling I had was one I’d never been subjected to at Clark and Addison before - confusion. Yes, confusion. My mind took a few seconds to wrap itself around all that was taking place outside the stadium. I won’t say it looked like a “war zone” as Jason Hammel referred to it upon his first visit, but it was definitely unusual. We made our way up Clark to the corner at Addison to enter in the main entrance. We had to take a selfie with Ernie before we entered.



Our seats were located in Section 218, which is in the lower deck but in the upper sections under the overhang of the upper deck. My first thoughts were “well, if it rains we won’t get wet”. Little did I know that was the least of my weather problems on Wednesday. As I scanned the field I spotted the tarps over the bleachers in the outfield. They looked as nice as they did on television on Sunday night. I just don’t understand why they didn’t also cover the corner sections of the bleachers as well. The view of ongoing constructive work seemed tacky.

But then I gazed upon the monstrosity that was the new video board. At first, I took to it like you would a brand new television and thought it was cool. But as the game went on, it also became confusing. It just didn’t seem like Wrigley, if that makes sense. I thoroughly enjoyed finally getting a chance to see replays at the stadium. It enhanced the viewing experience, especially with two close plays at first during the game, one of which turned into a replay challenge. But at the same time, its newfangled-ness seemed like overkill. Over time, I’m sure all of the purists, like myself will accept the video board. Having a beam right in the middle of my view of the screen probably didn’t help either. A friend of mine was at the game as well, a Cardinals fan no less, and had this to say about the video board:


While I’m not surprised that a Cardinals fan didn’t like it, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him describe it as “perfection”. :)

During the game my son and I were taken aback by loud banging noised behind us. My first instinct was to let him know that it was someone banging on a drum to get the crowd going (the game was scoreless until the 7th). As time passed, we both realized it was the sound of construction going on outside the stadium. Once again, confusion – kind of the theme of the day.

Let’s take a break from stadium talk and discuss my current mancrush – Jorge Soler. My goodness, this young man is a beast. The first Cubs hit of the day was his triple, and as I tweeted afterwards, it was the hardest hit ball I’d ever heard. The ferocity of the ball hitting the back was a new sound to me. It happened again when he fouled a ball off in a later at bat and I concluded that this young man is special. I cannot wait to see what he is going to produce in a Cubs uniform. I ended up buying his shirsey while at the stadium.

The bathroom situation was interesting. Just past the entrance to our section was a row of portable toilets. They were directly outside the Men’s Bathrooms in that area. I assume this was a purposeful decision. The numerous times we trekked to the concourse there were never any long lines for the bathrooms or the portable toilets. The ONLY issue with them is that the Cubs roped off a “waiting area” of sorts for the portables and there was a lot of room between the toilets and the lines for them. These lines backed up into the concession stand lines and made for some tight squeezes if you were trying to get through one of those areas.

 


Something else I was extremely curious in checking out at the game was the timer or the countdown clock between innings and pitching changes. It was located at the bottom right corner of the main scoreboard in center field. The umpires did a fantastic job of keeping the game flowing and there were very few instances where the clock ran down to its final seconds. I truly believed it helped the pace of the game and the overall time in which the game took to play Granted, there were only two runs scored all game and only five hits, I believe. But I still sensed that the clock played an integral part in the flow of the game. Kudos to MLB for having the foresight to make this modification to the game.

And....the Cubs won!

 

Finally, I need to discuss my test for recognizing true Cubs fans. I discussed this with Evan Altman at our meet up for the Cubs opener at Scotty’s Brewhouse on the north side of Indianapolis. We were deliberating the changed to Wrigley Field and how some fans profess their love for the stadium. I get it. Wrigley is an unbelievable place to watch a game. However, my one question to any fan that claims to be a Cubs fan is this: Which would you rather have – a World Series championship or Wrigley Field being around forever? If anyone answers Wrigley than I know they’re a phony. They are more of a Wrigley fan than a Cubs fan. Again, don’t misunderstand me here – I love Wrigley Field. But what is the most important thing your team can do for you as a fan? Easy answer, win. I would push the button to blow Wrigley up if you could guarantee me a World Series title for the Cubs. The team is ALWAYS more important than the stadium. And that’s how I decide on true Cubs fans.

Until next time,
Shawn







Monday, April 06, 2015

Lo End Theories

With reverence to the fantastic record by "A Tribe Called Quest" I shall rename my columns of multiple thoughts the Lo End Theories (changed the spelling for copyright reasons). :)

Thoughts while waiting in line to pee at Wrigley Field:

  • The National Championship is being played as I type this but I want to talk about Saturday’s main event between undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin. I talked about it on Twitter that night and then Charles Barkley reiterated it on the postgame show – Calipari cost Kentucky the game. Now, don’t get me wrong – Wisconsin deserved to win. It’s not easy to capitalize on every mistake, especially against the best defensive team in the country who also happened to be undefeated at the time. Kudos to Wisky. But at one point late in the second half, UK had the ball, momentum and a four-point lead. It was then that Calipari made the crucial mistake. He decided to run the shot clock, in essence, take the air out of the ball. It’s something they haven’t done all year and it showed. On three consecutive possessions Kentucky had shot clock violations. Three chances to extend their lead and they couldn’t even hit the rim. That was the sequence that cost them in my opinion.
  • Shaka Smart accepted the head-coaching job at Texas this weekend. It’s a great job: great facilities, big conference money, and a fertile recruiting territory. It would make sense to leave a quality mid-major job for the big time of the University of Texas. Only this wasn’t the first time he was offered a job that rules a state like the Longhorns do in Texas. Three years ago Smart was tendered an offer to the head coaching position at the University of Illinois. I know – you’re thinking “sour grapes”. Sure, I was a little peeved he didn’t accept the position. But look at the U of I – it’s the only major sports program in the state (we don’t count Northwestern) and you’ve got an unbelievable area to recruit from in the greater Chicago area. So why didn’t he take it? The story we’ve been told is that he didn’t particularly care for the Athletic Director, Mike Thomas. So what can Illinois do to raise the level of their major athletic programs and keep kids in state to play at the school? Good question. We’ll see…
  • As I was preparing to go hang out with some new friends from Twitter and watch Opening Night (more on that in a minute) I got word of some MAJOR news in the bigs. AJ Preller was at it again for the San Diego Padres and traded for the best closer in all of baseball in Craig Kimbrel. What? They’ve already made a trade with the Braves that included Justin Upton earlier this winter. Preller has really been making waves, not only in the NL West, but also in all of baseball. And to make this trade on the eve of Opening Day, it was stunning. I immediately thought that this particular move put them clearly in the playoff hunt. Their starters are solid and the bats they got this winter (Kemp, Upton and Myers) were great, but you need the stopper in the bullpen. Once Preller made that move I changed my own pick and took San Diego over Miami for the second Wild Card pick. Of course, my picks don’t mean much but…
  • Speaking of Opening Night – as I mentioned earlier I got a chance to hang out with some new Twitter friends at Scotty’s Brewhouse and watch the Cubs take on the Cardinals in the very first game of the year on….ESPN2? The Women’s NCAA Final Four was on the main ESPN channel. Absolutely no problem with that at all. The women should get their due. So why would ESPN and MLB decide to put the very first game of the MLB season on their secondary channel? ESPN decides that splitting the audience from the women’s showcase event of the year, which is bad marketing. At the same time, MLB lessens its product by allowing ESPN to take a grand event like Opening Night and put it on their secondary channel. Bad marketing again. Sad.
  • Finally, Paul George returned to the Pacers on Easter Sunday. It was a fantastic return as he pulled a Willis Reed, knocking down his first shot and finished with 13 points. But as I’ve said all year – at what cost? The Pacers are fighting down the stretch for the final playoff spot and a chance to get sent home by the Atlanta Hawks. What has any of this accomplished? They’ll end up picking in the late teens in the draft and not getting the impact player they need. David West is old, Roy Hibbert isn’t good and Paul George was out almost all year. I realize that it’s not in Larry Bird’s DNA to “tank” and rebuild. However, that is the path this Pacers team needed to go down to rebound quickly and get back to the top of the Eastern Conference. He has hamstrung this team and organization and mired them in mediocrity. It will continue unless they get VERY lucky in the NBA Lottery. That doesn’t happen often. So what now for Indiana? Good question. I still believe they need to jettison West and Hibbert and try to build back their low post through free agency and a home run in the draft. Can Larry do it? I believe so.
Until next time,
Shawn

The Cardinals and Scottie Pippen

Since there is already trolling after ONE GAME, I felt the need to post this again. I'll be back later tonight with my weekend thoughts...

*******

I grew up in Central Illinois, just north of Peoria, in a little town called Chillicothe. It was a big baseball area and the fan lines were drawn between the Cubs and the Cardinals. It was almost as if the AL only existed to get beat in the All-Star Game and then play in the World Series. My family was a die-hard Cubs family. I liked to tell people, once I got to college and beyond, that where I grew up you rooted for the Cubs or the Cardinals and my Dad brought me up right. Yes, there as quite a bit of playful animosity between the two fan bases since they were rivals, but other than 1984 when the Cubs finally went to the playoffs after 39 years, the Cardinals ruled the rivalry. As I have grown older the “playful” part of the enmity has gone by the wayside. It’s nice to have a rival – I’m a huge Bears fan and we hate the Packers, but I respect loyal Packers fans – but there is an underlying issue that has been bothering me for a while…. and I think I might have stumbled across some reasons as to the purpose of this enmity.

Let me go back to my Little League days to help explain my theory. I LOVED Little League. After Valentine’s Day I would get the itch for practices and bug my Dad about signups. I lived for the summers when I could play all day and all weekend. My birthday was in the middle of August, which doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance, but my parents started me in school early. I was always the youngest person in my class. As the related to Little League, I hardly even played with my classmates. Most of my teams consisted of guys who were a year behind me in school. I also had an older brother, two years my senior, who played as well. I always watched and studied my classmates and my older brothers teams and noticed a few interesting tidbits.

I can’t explain it, but there was always one guy who was far and away the best player. Usually, this was the guy who matured the fastest and therefore could throw faster and hit it further than the rest of the team. Two names stand out for me, Bill Akright and Dana Bannister. Both were absolute flamethrowers who scared the bejesus out of any little kid, like me, who had to face them. Now, I’m not tooting my own horn, but I was a pretty good ball player. Never the first pick, but I considered myself a dirtbag who would do anything to win. Consequently, there were times where I got called up to the leagues above me to substitute for missing players. A very cool reward…unless I ended up having to face Akright or Bannister – then it was just making sure I didn’t piss down my leg as I walked to the plate.

A little about me: yes, I was a scrappy ballplayer, but once boys got to the age where physical things started to happen, I stalled. To say I was a late bloomer is a gross understatement. Let me put it plainly for you – the day I graduated high school I was 5’3” tall….and I had grown about 3 inches the last nine weeks of my senior year. Make sense now? I digress. When I played Little League these giants throwing BB's at what seemed like 100 mph scared me to death. I didn’t back down but I was never hugely successful when I got called up. I liked playing with my own age group. Again, there was always the easy first pick for any coach putting together any of my teams. After that though, it got interesting. After the mega-starts were a lot of really good ballplayers. At the time, I liked to fancy myself as one, but who knows how they looked at me. These guys were so close in talent that the position they chose could make all the difference in the world in getting noticed. My brother is a great example of this – he was a catcher (I was too, but also played the other positions up the middle of the field in 2B and CF) so he set himself apart. Was he the mega-star? No. But he was a really good player who played a vital position. One thing that always bit my brother and me in the rear in Little League was that we didn’t play the political game. We didn’t toot our own horns and neither did our Dad. Our play would tell the story. I understand that choice.

So how does this all this relate to Cubs and Cardinals fans? Let’s connect the dots. There were three major types of players in Little League – the mega-stars, the really good players who had to be political to get ahead, and the little scrappy guys (like me) who just wanted to play all day long but would never carry a team. I think we can correlate each of these players with a team in MLB today – the mega-star would be the Yankees. 27 World Championships is all we need to day about that classification. The really good player would be the Cardinals – 11 World Championships, great history, but will never reach the Yankees level. Finally, the little scrappy kid – that’s the Cubs – think Squints from the movie “The Sandlot” or Tanner from “Bad News Bears”. He needs a LOT of help from better players to help them win. In my opinion, Cardinals fans HATE being the really good player who never seemingly gets his due. They want to be the alpha dog who can preen and pose while everyone ooh’s and ah’s at their greatness. That’s not going to happen – ever.

We can classify this as the Scottie Pippen complex, if I may. He is one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. But he will never be Mike. When Michael went to play baseball and Scottie was left to be “the man”, what happened? Nothing. Once Scottie left Chicago did he ever win anything? Nope.

For me, the classic example was Wilber Marshall. LOVED this guy when he was with the Bears; he was my second favorite player after Walter. He was a beast. But when he became a FA he bolted to be the man in Washington and…he was never the same. Yes, he won a ring there but he was never the main cog of the defense.

This is the problem with Cardinals fans. They want the adulation for being a Jordan when they are a Pippen. Let me clarify – there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Pippen. But you can’t expect to be looked at as a Jordan when you aren’t Jordan. That’s the Yankees. So to make themselves feel better – they pick on the Penny Hardaway of the group, the Cubs. Yes, we’ve had a few great years but could never put it all together to win the title. The more Cardinals fans feel disrespected, the more Penny gets derided.

Yogi Berra had a famous line as he was talking to Bernie Williams during the 1999 ALCS. He said, “Relax. We've been playing these guys for 80 years. They're never gonna beat us." What a dig! There aren’t many things more derisive than indifference. The Yankees (until 2004) were indifferent towards the Red Sox because they knew they would always beat them. Why aren’t Cardinals fans like that towards Cubs fans? Can we help it that the media is fascinated with the “lovable loser” tag (I HATE that moniker)? That we have an historic ballpark with ambiance in a great neighborhood that sells out every game? It is not our fault, as Cubs fans, that the media has made the club and their fans darlings because of on the field failures; billy goats, called HR shots, Leon’s glove, Bartman….it’s all a fascinating story. But if I was a Cardinals fan (and I shudder at the thought) I would have indifference towards the Cubs until they actually won something.

Give it a try Cardinals fans, ignore us. Enjoy being Scottie Pippen. Maybe someday we will get a chance to be Luke Walton.







Thursday, April 02, 2015

MLB Predictions

I promise I will get back to actual writing soon. But for now I prefer the pretty pictures to make my MLB predictions for 2015. Enjoy!

PS - Many thanks to Chris Creamer for the logos!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Top 10 NBA Players of All Time

Every Thursday in my classes at my high school I present to them a Top 10 list. I LOVE lists. If there is a list show on TV, I'll watch it. So I thought it would be interesting to share some of them with you. And why not start with a controversial one, right? Enjoy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Greatest Comeback I Ever....Missed.

Last night we witnessed (well, not all of it) one of the best Elite 8 games ever played between #1 seed Kentucky and #3 seed Notre Dame. It was back and forth in the last few minutes that I was fortunate to see and in the end, Kentucky prevailed.

It reminded me of a game ten years ago that may go down as the best Elite 8 game of all-time, as well as the greatest comeback in NCAA Tournament history…. and I missed it all.

It was 2005 and my Fighting Illini was the #1 seed in the Midwest. They have easily dispatched of Farleigh Dickinson and Nevada in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and had beaten UW-Milwaukee and Satan in the Sweet 16 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. The victory setup a showdown with #3 seed Arizona, At stake – a trip to the Final Four in St. Louis. Illinois hadn’t been to the Final Four since a trip in 1989 to Seattle that saw them lose a heartbreaker to eventual National Champion Michigan.

For those of you that don’t know me very well, I get VERY involved in my teams games. So much so on occasions that I will have to turn it off because I get too worked up. It actually affects me physically in certain situations, depending on the level of the game. Since I had gotten married five years earlier I promised my wife that if the game was going to get me angry and worked up that I would turn it off. She had learned this first hand, along with her mother, in 2001. Illinois was playing, of all teams, Arizona for a chance to go to the Final Four. I couldn’t watch it in the room that they were in and once the game was over and my Fighting Illini lost, I needed to take a walk to cool off. Lesson learned.

Saturday, March 26, 2005 was a nice Saturday. Our oldest son was 17 months old at the time and Rebecca was pregnant with our second child. My wife took advantage of my nervous energy and asked me to help her clean the house. I obliged. I set the channel to CBS and turned off the television. I decided that I would turn on the TV and check the score every so often so that I knew where Illinois stood, but wouldn’t get crazy during the game, especially in front of my young son.

Something to remember – this particular Illinois team had grown into my favorite Illini team of all-time, surpassing the Flyin’ Illini of 1988-89. That team had expectations of going to the Final Four, and did, only to fall short. We knew the team in 2004-05 was going to be good; we just weren’t sure how good. We got our first idea when Illinois hosted Chris Paul and #1 ranked Wake Forest on December 1st. It was a blowout. Illinois won 91-73 and it wasn’t even that close. The Illini lead by 30 at certain points in the game and cruised to victory. I didn’t get a chance to watch that game because I was back in school to become a high school teacher. Being the superstitious guy that I was, I decided to play that card all year; and on March 26 it was no different.

As I had planned, I turned on the television at certain points in the game to check the score. At the half, Illinois led by two. I was satisfied with this as Arizona was 30-6 at that point and still a 3 seed. Illinois went undefeated in the regular season until the last game when they lost at Ohio State on a last second shot. I personally thought this was good for the Illini as they didn’t need the pressure of being undefeated going into the NCAA’s (like Kentucky this year). I got very jittery and was doing various things to once again fight against my nervous energy. Finally, I turned the TV on again to check the score and saw that my cherished Fighting Illini were down 14 points with just under four minutes to go.

It was a gut punch. It’s difficult to describe the feeling that I felt at that point. I can, without reservation, say that it was the lowest I had ever felt as a sports fan, and still is to this day. I slumped down in front of the couch and tried not to throw up. I looked at my wife and told her that I did NOT want to talk to anyone.

Something else about sports fans that’s interesting – the more passionate you are about a team, the more smack you’ll get from fans of other teams when they lose. When my new students each year find out I’m a Bears fan their initial reaction is “You know they lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl, right?” No, I didn’t realize that at all, thank you for informing me of this. Ugh. It’s so tired and old. If I had a nickel…

Anyway, I digress. As I was wallowing in my despair that night in 2005 the phone began to ring. I assumed they were coming out of the woodwork to either give me grief or console me. I still didn’t want to talk to anyone. My wife answered the phone and politely told my brother that I didn’t want to talk to anyone. He told her to tell me to turn the television on. Other friends called and each time my wife told them I didn’t want to talk and each time the friends implored her to have me turn the television on. Finally, my brother called again (another fanatic Illinois fan) and was very emphatic with my wife about telling me to turn the television on – I vaguely remember a possible cuss word but neither he nor her can confirm this fact.

Finally, I relented and turned the TV on and the first image I viewed was Roger Powell celebrating. Huh?!?! What happened? I was befuddled. In some weird alternate universe my Fighting Illini had comeback and won the game. My brain kind of froze. I didn’t know how to react. I kept watching the Illini celebrate. Luckily, we had gotten this newfangled contraption called a Digital Video Recorder or DVR. It was a TiVo and since the channel had never changed it had recorded the entire game. After finally realizing that Illinois truly had won the game, I rewound the DVR and watched the most epic comeback ever in the NCAA Tournament.

The conflicting emotions I felt that day were very interesting. Absolute overwhelming pride in my team that they had dug themselves out of the hole and won the game, but disgust in myself for not watching it live.

Every year during the NCAA Tournament I always browse to YouTube and watch ‘The Comeback’. It beings back mostly good memories, but I still have the deal with my wife. J