"A safe but sometimes chilly way of recalling the past is to force open a crammed drawer. If you are searching for anything in particular you don't find it, but something falls out at the back that is often more interesting."
- James Barrie
For some reason when I tell people that I'm a season-ticket holder at the Long Wharf Theatre here in New Haven, people seem surprised. I can still be a sports nut and maintain some semblance of culture, can't I? But the stereotype precedes me, I guess.
A few years ago, I went to see a small two-person play that opened with a man walking toward the door to pick up a woman for a blind date. The rest of the play is his imagination of what the rest of his life will be like with her, dating, marriage, good times, tragedies, and finally - old age. It was very well done, and drove home the point of little decisions making a big impact on the future.
Of course, we inherently know that, but we also know it's usualIy not worth examining because there's not much you can do about it in the present. If you're like me, it doesn't stop you wondering from time to time.
I arrived on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx for the first time in two decades Saturday afternoon. My recollection isn't the best, it seemed quite different, especially the athletic facilities, but that may or may not be the case. In my first visit, I was in the process of deciding where to attend college, always a harrowing decision for a 16- or 17-year old.
Unlike most of the athletes that we watch on a daily basis, there were no phone calls from coaches or recruiting letters. Well, there were generic ones, I guess. It was just me and my perceptions of the schools. In the end, I chose to go to Syracuse (cue the booos from the gallery) over Fordham. The sports were a small factor (at least in my memory), but maybe subconsciously was it something bigger.
From a pure basketball standpoint, it was a great choice. Fordham was transitioning from the MAAC to the Patriot League (after they decided to downsize their sports and limit scholarships), and by 1995-96 - my senior year - they had reversed course and joined the Atlantic-10 (where they stand now), going 4-23 under poor Nick Mararchuk, who was put in an impossible situation.
Syracuse went to the national final in 1996, losing to Rick Pitino and Kentucky. I got to go to Denver to watch them win the regional and then the Final Four, right down the street in New Jersey.
There really hasn't been much to write home about since for Fordham, a winning season both in conference and overall in 2006-07 under Derek Whittenburg, but that's about it, folks.
Still, even on a day where the Rams came in 2-7 in the Atlantic-10/14 and their opponent wasn't Xavier or Temple, I wondered if mid-major basketball was calling me all along.
ROSE HILL GYM - WHICH HAS BEEN REVAMPED SEVERAL TIMES, BUT OPENED FOR BUSINESS IN 1925 - HAD THAT "FEEL" TO IT PRIOR TO THE GAME WITH DAYTON. IF YOU'RE READING THIS, YOU KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. A BUZZ OVER THE PRE-GAME MUSIC AS THE PEOPLE WALK IN TO THE SMALL ARENA. THE STUDENT SECTION - FASHIONABLY LATE BUT THERE IN FORCE - STARTING ON THE PRE-GAME CHANTS.
THE GAME SOMETIMES STARTING SLOWLY, BUT THE ENERGY IN THE BUILDING PICKING UP AS THE HOME TEAM GRABS A LEAD. BUT THE VISITORS ANSWER AND IT GOES BACK-AND-FORTH, BOTH TEAMS HITTING SHOTS, BOTH TEAMS MAKING MISTAKES, THE CROWD'S SOUNDS ECHOING OFF THE RELATIVELY LOW ROOF AS THEIR TEAM MAKES A BIG PLAY AND FORCES THE VISITORS INTO A TIME OUT.
Rose Hill was rocking as the Rams held the lead for most of the second half over favored Dayton. Chris Gaston was unstoppable as Fordham finally looked to pick up a big win in conference that had eluded them (Fordham fans have high hopes for former Hofstra coach Tom Pecora, and the Rams beat Georgia Tech and Harvard in non-conference). But Kevin Dillard's runner tied the game at 63, and - as the crowd rose to what it hoped was a crescendo (and a coda) - Fordham's young team sputtered on offense and never got a good shot off.
The Rams have struggled shooting the ball (and therefore scoring) this season, but point guard Devon McMillan drained only his sixth 3-pointer of the season to open overtime. Alas, the visiting Flyers opened up a four-point lead with a minute to go, but Fordham got it down to two and got the ball back. Again, the Rams struggled to get a good shot, after Branden Frazier missed a tough one, Dayton's Chris Johnson flipped over a teammate to get the ball, but unfortunately was called for travelling when he landed on his back with the ball (fortunately, Johnson was OK afterward, it was scary).
It gave Fordham one more chance with 3.5 seconds left. Again, the fans (it was a sell-out of 3,200 on Alumni Day) rose as one, but again, the youthful Rams failed, this time to even get the ball in cleanly, and Dayton - who has been struggling mightily - stole a road win.
The buzz slowly left the ancient brick building, and as it did so did I, back onto the campus and to the train station headed for downtown.
There was one thing that bothered me (and it wasn't the fact that the girl that won the free throw contest was a former high school player of ours, leading my friend to say, "you must be a good coach," not having the heart to tell him that we cut her in her sophomore year), though, and it was that a lot of the crowd, almost half, were Dayton fans.
All credit to Dayton for travelling that well. I sat in a (I can't even say "the") Dayton section, right behind the parents of senior Luke Fabrizius, which led to a scenario that was simultaneously hilarious and sad in the first half. After Fabrizius picked up his second foul, a Dayton fan next to me screamed, "Just get off the court, Luke, you're terrible." Luke's mom calmly turned and said, "That's our son, you know," leading the fan to profusely apologize.
Luke had a tough day (he did have a couple of clutch free throws in overtime), and I didn't want to be "that guy," but his mom told me that (even though they're from Illinois) they try to make as many games as they can, especially because he's a senior. She also pointed out that with 14 teams in the A-10/14 that Dayton only comes to New York every other year, so it's definitely at the top of the list for road trips.
That, and Dayton has good fans, of course.
I guess if Pecora can finally turn the corner, the percentage of home to visiting fans will increase in Rose Hill, and you can see a scenario where - even in the relatively tough A-10/14 - Fordham might be able to make some noise.
If that happens, Rose Hill would likely become even more of a hated venue for visitors, and the place would rock on a nightly basis.
As the train left for Grand Central Station, I imagined what my life would have been like had I gone to Fordham. Would I have gotten a business degree instead? Would I be working in New York City, making ten times what I am now, living the good life? Would I have been one of the alumni sitting in the nice chairs near the court talking to Pecora before the game? Would I be happier or better off?
(I loved my time at Syracuse, by the way, and have friends and memories that will stay with me, forever, including that wonderful run in the spring of 1996.)
But soon the lights of Manhattan were in front of me, and the crammed drawer of the past slammed shut. If something fell out of the back, I either didn't notice or didn't want to.
DAYTON 72, at FORDHAM 70 02/11/2012
DAYTON 15-9 (5-5) -- C. Johnson 8-16 4-4 22; P. Williams 2-8 2-4 8; M. Kavanaugh 1-6 5-6 7; K. Dillard 3-9 2-4 9; J. Parker 3-7 6-6 14; R. Hill 2-4 0-0 5; L. Fabrizius 1-7 2-2 4; D. Oliver 1-2 1-1 3; A. Gavrilovic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-60 22-27 72. FORDHAM 9-14 (2-8) -- B. Frazier 1-6 1-2 3; C. Gaston 11-21 1-2 23; D. McMillan 5-18 5-8 16; B. Smith 4-12 2-2 14; K. Bristol 5-7 1-2 11; A. Estwick 1-3 0-0 3; M. Dominique 0-0 0-0 0; R. Canty 0-0 0-2 0; L. Samuell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-67 10-18 70.
Three-point goals: UD 8-31 (P. Williams 2-6; J. Parker 2-6; C. Johnson 2-9; L. Fabrizius 0-4; K. Dillard 1-4; D. Oliver 0-1; R. Hill 1-1), FORD 6-20 (A. Estwick 1-3; C. Gaston 0-1; B. Frazier 0-3; D. McMillan 1-3; B. Smith 4-10); Rebounds: UD 39 (C. Johnson 13), FORD 38 (K. Bristol 15); Assists: UD 12 (K. Dillard 5), FORD 15 (B. Frazier 7); Total Fouls -- UD 21, FORD 18; Fouled Out: UD-None; FORD-D. McMillan.