Kyle, I remember reading your "Lombardi" piece when you first posted it, but since you referenced it, I re-read it. What strikes me now, is what separates the game you talk about, compared to what's covered by the larger sports media. To them wins and losses adds to the entertainment. Basketball (like all sports) are entertaining, in part, because it's easy to tell who wins and who loses. It's not like real life, which is filled with shades of grey.
This is why people like Mr. Lombardi, continue to be venerated by big sports media--it fits the narrative. The way you look at the game is very different. Sure the outcomes still matter, but the game is filled with nuance. When you finally peel back the layers you see past the victory or the box score. The nuances remain and a game becomes truer, something more. You have changed the way I view basketball. Keep up the terrific work and fighting the good fight.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- On Friday night, for the first time in 730 games of doing this, I walked out of a college basketball arena before the final buzzer. It was an ugly guarantee game, played in a Big Ten arena in front of thousands of smug and silent fans. The home team scored the first 24 points of the game, and then it was 37-8. And then there was showboating and then taunting, and then it was 61-30, and then I put on my coat and walked out.
I spent half a tank of gas and two hours driving from Mid-Majority headquarters at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Airport down to Bloomington, then back again. I returned just after the game was completed. Once the car was safely parked and stowed away, I beelined to the Outer Marker Lounge, where I emptied a bottle and a half of the house Cabernet. All the while, I complained to the bartender about how much my job sucked. "All I do is drive, drive, drive," I whined. "Type, type, type. Then I drive some more."
She interrupted me. "Hold on a second. I love this." TNT was showing The Wizard Of Oz, and it was playing on one of the corner TVs. The bartender turned up the sound to drown out the boring Phoenix-Dallas NBA blowout on the main set over the bar. "That's okay," I said. "It's better than this horrible game."
It was the final scene in color, right before Dorothy tries to convince everybody that the Emerald City is real. "There's no place like home," Judy Garland repeated. "There's no place like home."
There was only one other Outer Marker patron that night: a thin, dark-skinned traveling electronics salesman from Atlanta who had unsuccessfully tried to draw me into a sportz conversation about the morality of Michael Vick. He was a Southern gentleman about the remote control. "I'm not watching this game either," he said politely. "We can have her turn it to something else."
"I don't care," I sloppily slurred. "And she's right. No place like home." I slammed my hand on the bar repeatedly, like a basketball player might do on his own arena's center-court logo while playing defense. "No motherfucking place like home. Best to stay in one place, where there's a comfy bed and a desk and coat hangers and lots of red wine."
I somehow made it back to 248 before passing out drunk, and for this part there is no documentation, but when I woke up my mood was just as dark. The morning brought a high-level consultation. "I need to stop doing this," I said. "I don't see what the point is anymore. It always ends in a loss, but there's so much losing in the middle, too. I'm so sick of all the losing. This has been the Perfect Season so far, so many people are saying so. So I'm going to shut the site down on January 1, on a high note. It's finally going to end in a win."
"I'm going to talk you out of this," came the reply. "You're just frustrated and tired from the hard schedule, and you're hung over. You just need a break."
I know that none of the principals really care, and few even know what I'm talking about, but I want to apologize to the SIU Edwardsville players, coaches, staff and media. They didn't have the choice or the opportunity to leave on Friday night. I also want to apologize to the Twitter followers, readers and supporters and Season 7 Members, all of whom I let down. What I did was wrong and stupid and disrespectful of the Cougars' efforts and Our Game itself, a failure of preached practice, and it went against everything I've talked about for years.
I have to apologize because of letters like the one above. That old Lombardi piece from Season 5 (which was also in Sports Bubble Blues) came up in the chat on Friday, and somehow again here in Jeremy's letter from Sunday. While none of this was intentional on anybody's part, these were two timely and cogent reminders of something a stronger me wrote once, in the parking lot of a Virginia truck stop, tired and angry and broken after a full month of setbacks, with my nose bleeding from a seizure that had temporarily made me see triple and in distorted colors. "I firmly believe that any man's most important fulfilled test," I wrote, "is that moment when he can stand erect on the field of battle, defeated by superior forces but an honorable survivor, thankful to God just for the opportunity to participate and compete."
The opportunity is everything. Everything. But we do, indeed, need a break from the road. There have been too many thousands of miles in too short a time, and we are weakened a little by each single one. The holidays always seem to come just in time.
Red Line Upsets
Saturday was full of reminders that this is indeed all worth it. There were no fewer than eight Red Line breaches, and some of them featured some all-too-usual suspects. Auburn, a/k/a RLU U, was undone by the mighty Blue Hose of Presbyterian 62-59 for the SEC Tigers' fifth Other 25 loss of the season. Oregon State was bombed 87-79 by George Washington, the proud old A-14 program that has disappeared completely. (President Obama was not in attendance.) South Florida, our favorite Big East team, also became a five-time RL-loser in a 66-61 drop against James Madison. And then there were the Butler Bulldogs, who destroyed Stanford 83-50 via Columbia Broadcasting with 1.26 points per possession and 31 percent field goal defense. Do you remember when Stanford was in the NCAA Tournament, like, every year? Yeah, we don't either. You might have received a different game that afternoon, like perhaps Illinois against UIC live from Chicago. Instead of being a television showcase for the Illini, it turned into the Robo Kreps show. As 13,117 looked on, the Flames held off IU 57-54 after leading nearly the entire game. (Sidenote: his real name is Robert. So if your name is Robert or Bob, you probably should switch to Robo right now).
Speaking of Chicago, folks nationwide are starting to take notice of Central Florida for reasons other than Marcus Jordan, who's related to someone. The best team in Conference USA is 10-0 after dumping Miami 84-78 at the Florida Panthers' hockey arena in Sunrise. The Golden Knights moved out in front for good at the eight-minute mark and successfully fouled out four Hurricanes. And Jordan had 23. Which is symbolic of something.
The second-best team in Conference USA (and we've seen Memphis) is UTEP, and the Miners are 8-2 after outshooting a so-so Texas Tech team out of the Big 12. Wooden watchlister Randy Culpepper, whom you might remember from turning in one of the few good performances in the first-round game against Butler last year, scored 28 in the 82-71 victory. And a Red Liner for the Valley! Congratulations to Wichita State, who stung LSU 70-69 in Bossier City for the Tigers' third RLU of the season. It was the best kind of RLU, with a thrilling Garrett Stutz game-winning shot with seven ticks left. Also, just a reminder that any comments about wins over the SEC not being upsets will get you blocked on Twitter. (By us, not by everybody.)
MMBOW #5: Andrew Nicholson, Saint Bonaventure
This wouldn't be a mid-major basketball site without mentioning the epic 112-107 four-overtime battle between Ohio and Saint Bonaventure on Saturday afternoon. It was the longest game in Bonnies history, it was tied 17 times, and one player not only played all of it, but scored five points in the final OT session to help ice the win. That's good enough for us. Andrew Nicholson is out fifth Mid-Majority Baller of the Week for Season 7.
It's a line that could only be possible with Robot technology. Nicholson scored 44 points, which is a season high for anybody, anywhere (D.J. Cooper of Ohio, by the way, is now second with 43 on 17-for-41(!) shooting). The 6-foot-9 junior shot 14-for-19, made 16 or 25 free throws, grabbed 12 rebounds and also found time to dish five assists. It's not often that we give out MMBOW honors for a single game, but let's be straight here. Saint Bonaventure and Ohio played a game and a half.
Nobody's expecting the Bonnies to break through and win the A-14 this year, but at 6-3, there is no denying the improvement in former Robert Morris bench boss Mark Schmidt's fourth season. For a program that was a national laughingstock a half-decade ago, and the dream of every basketball player with a welding certificate, the Olean Browns are on the way up. There's a lot of up to go, too. The last two seasons ended with 15 wins apiece, which was a vast improvement over five single-digit campaigns. Once conference season starts, we'll be able to see what this team is really made of, but for now, they've got an MMBOW-worthy ironman.
Game! Of! The! Night!
Vermont at Fairfield Arena at Harbor Yard - Bridgeport, CT 7:30 EST
Here's a holiday treat for you. Two teams that were picked to win their leagues, that are also performing exceptionally well in the early going. The Vermont Catamounts, defending champions of the America East and odds-on favorites to repeat, are 7-2 with an RPI of 40 and a top-100 schedule. Mike Lonergan's charges lost their two Red Line games (at UConn and the Jimmer Fredette Invitational in Glens Falls earlier this month), but they've taken care of business against other mids. Great shooting and interior defense, and 6-foot-8 Evan Fjeld (17.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg) has stepped in to pick up the statistical load abandoned by Marqus Blakely. But our favorite Cat is Joey Accaoui, the small senior who's taken on a serious sixth-man role this year. He's doubled his scoring output to 12.8 ppg and is shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. He's a full foot shorter than Fjeld.
The media seems to be catching Iona fever right now, but don't forget about the original projection for the 2011 MAAC title, the Stags of Fairfield. After nearly cracking the Siena dynasty in 2010, Ed Cooley's team has amassed a 7-3 record (including a 72-55 payback job on the Saints) and a six-game win streak. The question at the start was size, and 6-foot-11 junior Ryan Olander has answered it (8.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Two double-doubles this month, and the defense has been fantastic, allowing only .84 points per possession. The only knock against Fairfield has been the schedule, which is the nation's 339th strongest and includes three MEAC teams. So the team has all the confidence it needs, now here comes a real team to come along and test the Stags at Harbor Yard.