Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Line of the Day

July 31, 2012 1 comment

Stonehenge jump

[Tom Jenkins for The Guardian]

Guardian columnist Marina Hyde had a hilarious piece yesterday from the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich. Mind you, I understood only about half of it, between obscure references best understood by residents of the UK and obscure references best understood by the horse set. At least I know that wellies are Wellingtons, the famed rubber boot of British country life, and that Hunter has made them for decades. That got me started in the passage below. You’ll find my chosen line of the day in the third paragraph, but it’s all well done. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford.)

To Greenwich Park, home of the prime meridian line, where it was officially Country O’Clock for the equestrianism on Monday. To give you a handle on the crowd, no one was wearing the wrong shoes. During Sunday’s rains at the Olympic Park, all manner of error-strewn urban footwear planning was on show, with punters slipping and slopping around in sandals and flip flops.

At Greenwich, despite the sunny skies, there were innumerable pairs of Hunter wellies, for the simple reason that you never know how it’s going to turn out. Empty seats scandal in the morning, shepherd’s warning.

Even more clearly in evidence were the hundreds wearing riding boots – a bit like those spectators who wear golf shoes to championships, giving them the air of people who imagine they might be called on to the greens at any time and asked to replace Tiger Woods if he goes to pieces.

Then again, Greenwich feels like a more-than-usually expert crowd. “Those surface changes made a big difference to the arena at the weekend,” one man was observing to his neighbour as they watched the cross country, which saw horses clearing jumps shaped like tractors, in a park from which you can see the City of London.

Where many 2012 venues give the impression of a mixed crowd of sport-watching novices, dedicated tourists, and diehard fans, much of Monday’s Greenwich bunch seemed like they knew each other instinctively – and possibly socially.

And speaking of the equestrian events, the hurdles for the jumping competition are a wonderful bit of whimsy. Be sure to see the Guardian’s slide show here.

[Andrew Boyers/Action Images]

Categories: Culture, Humor, Sports

Put Up or Shut Up

July 31, 2012 Leave a comment


It’s one of those rare moments in life when I can quit complaining and take control.

Every four years, with Summer Olympics coverage in the US focused on track and field, swimming, and gymastics, I bemoan the absence of rowing. You might not guess, with all the attention given to cycling on Ron’s View, but rowing was once my sport. Come the Olympics, I want to see the races, preferably live, at least the men’s and women’s eight finals. What one gets instead is the odd race broadcast at some obscure time, provided the US medals. Four years ago, with the US women’s eight taking gold, I never did figure out when a replay was shown.

This year, though, everything is available online as it happens. If I care so much, I can see all the rowing I want. And so, put up or shut up time arrives in six and a half hours. The men’s eight final will begin at 2:30 AM Seattle time.

How serious am I? I’ll let you know.

By the way, for some background, here’s an excerpt from Gary D’Amato’s article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The U.S. men’s eight, which had to qualify for the Olympic Games in a last-chance regatta, scored a minor upset by easily winning its heat Saturday and advancing directly to the rowing final.

Can the eight, a crew put together just a few months ago, pull off a much bigger surprise and win a medal on the 2,000-meter course at Eton Dorney on Wednesday?

“Absolutely,” said Chris Clark, who coached U.S. team members Grant and Ross James at the University of Wisconsin. “Whether or not they’ve got enough to win a gold medal, I don’t know.”

Germany, favored to win gold, won its heat with a time of 5 minutes 25.52 seconds, more than 5 seconds faster than the 5:30.72 posted by the U.S. boat.

The heat winners advanced to the final. Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia also advanced through the repechage.

Clark said the Americans’ best chance to medal would be to get off to a fast start.

“In the eight, it’s so much about confidence,” Clark said. “You have the advantage because you can see the boat behind you. If the slightest doubt creeps in, a (trailing) boat can fall apart.

Categories: Life, Sports

Island Cup

July 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In recent years, we have had the annual privilege and pleasure of heading to Nantucket for a few days. I’ve given up trying to make sense of why we so enjoy our time there. Or why, by going every year, we thereby postpone visiting they many other places on our wish list. I suppose it comes under the heading of doing one thing well rather than many poorly, though I wouldn’t say we do such a good job of visiting Nantucket. For one thing, we have only the narrowest of perspectives on real life there. We always make it a point, when we find ourselves chatting with year-round residents, to ask them about the winters, which we have yet to experience. We gather that essential activities are reading, knitting, and drinking.

Come Tuesday, a book will appear that promises to offer additional perspective, James Sullivan’s Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry. The blurb from the book’s website:

Before “Friday Night Lights” was a bestseller and a Hollywood franchise about high school football in Texas, author Buzz Bissinger had a different setting in mind: a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts. We may think of Nantucket as a resort destination for CEOs and senators, but it really belongs to a legendary coach named Vito Capizzo. After the tourists and jetsetters leave and the cold weather descends, for narly a half-century Capizzo and his Whalers have readied themselves for the main event: a spirited and unforgettable rivalry with the high school team from the neighboring island, Martha’s Vineyard.

For decades, these two teams have shaped their seasons around their fierce head-to-head matchups. They play for pride, a coveted trophy—the Island Cup—and quite often a shot at a state Super Bowl title. Despite their tiny year-round populations, both islands are perennially dangerous on the football field.

This far-reaching book tells the story not only of the unique Whaler-Vineyarder rivalry, but of two places without a country. Dotted with empty houses nine months of the year, Nantucket and the Vineyard have long, strange histories that include an attempt to secede from the United States, two traditionally diverse populations and lasting connections to the vanished whaling industry. Delving into the rich culture and sometimes hard realities of both places, Sullivan paints a picture of a bygone New England, a place that has never stopped fighting for its life—and the rights to the Island Cup.

Island Cup might have passed me by if not for Tony Horwitz’s Wall Street Journal review yesterday. I suspect the audience for it may be limited, but within that limited audience is us.

Horwitz, a distinguished writer, lives on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, fellow writer Geraldine Brooks, and their sons. Here’s the opening of his review:

On a raw day last November, I rode a packed ferry from Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket to see my son play in a high-school football game. The 1,500 passengers poured onto Nantucket’s cobbled streets like a marauding horde, waving purple banners and screaming from painted faces, “Harpoon the Whalers!” That night, we returned across the water to be greeted at the dock by fire-engine sirens and flashing lights as a raucous throng cheered its victorious warriors.

A newcomer to the Vineyard—to locals, a “wash-ashore”—I was stunned by this primal display from my normally taciturn neighbors. I knew my island took its sports seriously and disliked Nantucket. But I had no idea that football games between the two islands were blood feuds out of “Braveheart.”

The history of this New England rite is the subject of James Sullivan’s “Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry.” Turns out, the frenzy I witnessed in 2011 was tame compared with earlier years. Visiting players used to stay overnight with families on the host island—until 1966, when police had to break up a brawl involving two Vineyard linebackers and Nantucket locals well after the team’s 9 p.m. curfew. Hotels proved no better; home-team fans blew air horns all night to deprive the visitors of sleep. Nantucketers once left a broken pipe seeping water on the sideline so that during the game, the visiting players and coaches stood deep in mud. Vineyarders replied by burning a mock coffin and declaring that the Nantucket coach was inside.

Island inhospitality has extended to other teams, too, with rocks and eggs thrown at visitors’ buses. One coach from a mainland team told his players after games on Nantucket: “Maybe we lost, but we’re lucky—we get to get off this damn island.”

All this may surprise summer tourists, who associate Nantucket with the homes of whaling captains and with sunburned WASPs in salmon pants. The Vineyard is likewise known for its affluent ease, a retreat for the Clintons, Kennedys and Obamas. But as Mr. Sullivan observes, these crowded resorts have a very different character in fall and winter. They’re small communities, mostly middle- and working-class, with large immigrant populations, isolated by fog and water from what islanders call “America.”

Sunburned WASPs in salmon pants? Is Horwitz talking about the famous Nantucket reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop? I’m no WASP, that’s for sure, but I happily wear them. And I never thought they were salmon.

In any case, I’m eager to find out more about what goes on there when we’re not around.

Categories: Sports, Travel

Lofty Loyola Lacrosse

June 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Eric Lusby, in championship game against Maryland. He scored four goals, giving him an NCAA tournament-record of 17.

[Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / May 28, 2012]

Three weeks ago I gave my annual overview of the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament, providing my usual narrative about traditional lacrosse powers and schools on the rise. Alas, I missed the real story, Loyola. Despite being in the heart of lacrosse country, in Baltimore, it has generally been overshadowed by its next-door-neighbor, Johns Hopkins, and the local state university, Maryland. Perhaps no more.

I tried to give Loyola their due. I noted, for example, that they were one of the season’s surprises, and entered the tournament as the #1 seed, having lost only to Hopkins, in a game the NYT featured that morning with an article headlined, “A Lopsided Lacrosse Rivalry Receives a Jolt.” Historic power Hopkins entered the tournament with the #2 seed. No one would be surprised if they made the final. In contrast, seeding aside, Loyola would surely be a surprise if they made the final.

In my survey of traditional powers, I pointed out that until Duke’s win two years ago, the same seven schools — Syracuse, Cornell, Princeton, Hopkins, Maryland, Virginia, and UNC — dominated, winning all previous championships and frequently occupying the runner-up slot as well. I added that Duke has joined them in the past decade to form an elite eight, making seven semi-finals and three finals in the last eight years, with the one championship. (And they may well have been the best team in the country the year they didn’t make the semi-final, but their season was terminated prematurely.)

Knocking at the door behind Duke has been Notre Dame, losers to Duke in the championship game two years ago and routinely ranked highly. Yet another newcomer is Denver, with long-time Princeton coaching great Bill Tierney having resigned to move to Denver two years ago and bringing them to the semi-finals last year.

That was my rundown three weeks ago, the opening weekend of the tournament, during which the top five seeds — Loyola, Hopkins, Duke, Notre Dame, and Virginia — won home games to advance to the quarterfinals, joined by Denver (beating 8th seed UNC), Maryland (beating 7th seed Lehigh), and Colgate (beating 6th seed UMass).

Two weeks ago, form mostly held. In close games, Loyola beat Denver and Notre Dame beat Virginia to set up a semi-final meeting. In not-so-close games, Duke beat Colgate, but Maryland upset Hopkins to move into the other semi-final.

It is past time to point out that Loyola has its own distinguished lacrosse history. Though never having won a championship, it has had a pretty good run. Under coach Dave Cottle, it made the NCAA tournament every year from 1988 to 2001, losing to Syracuse in the 1990 final. (Syracuse would later be found to have violated eligibility rules and forced to vacate that title.) Cottle left Loyola for Maryland after the 2001 season, with Loyola then missing the tournament the next five years. But now they are back, under coach Charley Toomey, their goalie in that 1990 championship game.

Back and then some.

A week ago today, in a superb defensive battle, Loyola beat Notre Dame 7-5 to make the championship game, while Maryland stunned Duke 16-10. Two days later, in a defensive masterpiece, after falling behind 3-2 early in the second quarter, they didn’t allow Maryland to score for the final 40 minutes and 40 seconds, winning 9-3. Not only were they champions, but they left no doubt that they were the best team in the country.

It feels right, having them join the roster of lacrosse champions. One of these years, Notre Dame will be there. Maybe Denver. For now, order is maintained, the new champion being an old power from an old lacrosse center. It was fitting conclusion to as exciting a tournament as I can remember.

Categories: Sports

Paper Airplane Record

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The front page feature article in today’s Wall Street Journal raises a provocative question: should the world record in paper airplane flight distance be held by the individual who can design, build, and throw a paper airplane the farthest, or should designer-thrower duos be eligible as well? This is not an abstract question. At the end of February, designer John Collins teamed with former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob to build and sail a plane 226 feet and 10 inches, breaking the record of 207 feet, 4 inches set in 2003 by then-fifteen-year-old Stephen Krieger.

This would be a good time for me to note that I know Stephen. He is a recent graduate from the math department at the university. I never had him in a class, but a few summers ago he was one of the teaching assistant/counselors in the summer program I help run for talented high school students. At the opening orientation, as part of the counselor introductions, a surprising fact was revealed about each one. Stephen’s fact: he was the Guinness World Record holder for paper airplane flight.

Who knew there even was such a category? Though I suppose it’s natural enough. More to the point, given the hundreds of millions (billions?) of paper airplane throwers in the world, I couldn’t believe that the record holder was a colleague.

No more.

Stephen, ever the good sport, was on hand for the record-breaking throw. From the WSJ article:

Stephen Kreiger had lived through many attempts to overtake his world record for flight. But he watched with resignation in February as a challenger prepared to unseat him using an unorthodox strategy.

Mr. Kreiger had held since 2003 the Guinness World Record for throwing a paper airplane the farthest. He had won it at age 15, after a summer’s preparing by toning his throwing arm.

But here was 51-year-old John Collins at the end of the empty Air Force hangar in Sacramento, Calif., preparing for the flight of a newly folded plane he had designed, having not worked out at all.

And his plane was in the hands of a ringer: a large 27-year-old man with a buff arm.

The stand-in, Joe Ayoob, wound up and rifled the plane in a long, towering arch that came as little surprise: Mr. Ayoob, as a University of California-Berkeley quarterback, logged more than 1,700 passing yards in 2005.

“Competitive paper airplane flying had always been, in my mind, what can one person do with one piece of paper,” says Mr. Kreiger, a 23-year-old engineer. Using a ringer, he says, is problematic: “I don’t really think that’s the spirit of the competition.”

Guinness World Records NA Inc. thought otherwise. Mr. Ayoob’s throw, immortalized on YouTube, sailed 226 feet and 10 inches, breaking Mr. Kreiger’s record of 207 feet, 4 inches. Guinness in March named him and Mr. Collins the record holders.

A Guinness spokeswoman says there was no internal debate about giving Mr. Collins credit. But some paper-plane purists are still aflutter.

Paper-plane enthusiasts have traditionally seen theirs as an individual sport. The question now: Is Mr. Collins’s ringer a bad precedent, or has he ushered in a new era in which designers can focus on better paper folds instead of muscle tone?

It is serious business for paper-plane people, who compete with intensity in a discipline otherwise mostly seen as a hobby for kids or classroom slackers.

Categories: Sports

Lacrosse Weekend

May 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Loyola’s Eric Lusby scoring against Canisius

[Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun, May 12, 2012]

Every May, Ron’s View features an overview of the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship. It’s May. Hence, time for the overview.

Only by chance did I remember two days ago that this is opening weekend. I hadn’t yet read last weekend’s news on the tournament selections. Just like in basketball, the NCAA tournament features teams that automatically qualify by winning their league championship or tournament and additional at-large invitees. And just like in basketball, some of those automatic bids go to less-deserving teams, keeping a few top teams out of the tournament. This year, traditional lacrosse power Cornell, with a 9-4 record and regular season wins over Yale, Denver, and Syracuse (all tournament invitees) was left out. In contrast, Canisius, which also lost to Cornell, in a 19-4 rout, was invited as a conference champion, despite its 6-7 record.

But let’s back up. Here’s the deal. Sixteen teams are invited. Eight are seeded, 1 through 8. Each of the eight seeds hosts one of the unseeded teams in first round play, which we are in the middle of. Four games were played yesterday, four are being played today. If all goes to plan, the eight seeds win and regroup next weekend for the quarterfinals, with the traditional draw: 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, etc. Two games are at one site, two at another. Then, on Memorial Day weekend, the semi-finals and finals are played at some major football stadium, rotating in recent years among Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston (Foxborough).

As I explain each year, there is a small handful of traditional powers, which not only have reserved the role of champion to themselves but also expect to populate most of the runner-up and semi-final slots. Until recently, the elite consisted of Syracuse, Cornell, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In the past decade, Duke has firmly established itself as an eighth member of the elite. They were runners-up in 2005 and 2007, semi-finalists in 2008 and 2009, champions in 2010, and semi-finalists in 2011. (What happened in 2006? Well, you know. There was that rape accusation business and prosecutorial misconduct, with the Duke president shutting the team down mid-season.)

Lacrosse is growing quickly across the country. No longer an eastern seaboard sport, with hotbeds in upstate New York, Long Island, New Jersey, and Maryland, it is widely played in several western states, including here in greater Seattle. Not too many western universities field NCAA teams. But two teams in states not touching the Atlantic have begun to make waves. Notre Dame has had regular appearances in the tournament since 1990, and performed among the elite for a decade. In 2010, when Duke finally broke through with a championship, Notre Dame was its victim. The game was a classic, a defensive battle ending in regulation at 5-5. Overtime ended quickly, with Duke’s CJ Costabile winning the opening face-off, running straight down the middle of the field to Notre Dame’s goal, and scoring the winning shot in just five seconds. The other new power is the University of Denver, which stunned the lacrosse world by hiring Princeton coaching great Bill Tierney away from Princeton in 2010. A year later, Denver made it to the semis, losing to ultimate champion Virginia.

One can pretty much fill in most of the NCAA bracket each year before the season starts. Just write down the elite eight and the new two. Except that that automatic league bid business is getting in the way. This year’s victim was Cornell, thanks in part to the rise of fellow Ivy Yale, which beat Cornell in the league semi-finals and Princeton in the finals. The other nine made it safely in.

Two surprises this season were Loyola and UMass. Both are squarely in lacrosse country and both have had some success over the years. But this year was different. Loyola was undefeated and ranked number one when it hosted and lost to its neighbor down the street, Hopkins, a couple of weeks ago, its only loss of the season. (The NYT wrote a big preview article about this matchup of unlikely equals.) And UMass went undefeated, finishing the season ranked in the top two with Loyola, the order depending on which poll one used.

That’s the background. Here are the eight seeded teams, in order: Loyola, Hopkins, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, UMass, Lehigh, North Carolina. The eight unseeded teams, ordered according to which seeded team they drew for the first round, are: Canisius, Stony Brook, Syracuse, Yale, Princeton, Colgate, Maryland, and Denver.

Yesterday, I watched part or all of four first-round games. The day began with Duke winning convincingly over Syracuse, 12-9. Then UMass, bitter over its lowly 6 seeding after its undefeated season, took it out on Colgate for a while, building a 7-2 lead and holding on at the half 7-5. Two quick goals to open the second half made it 9-5, with victory in sight. But Colgate came back taking a 12-11 lead midway through the fourth period and winning 13-11. Was UMass over-rated after all? No matter. They’re gone.

On to Loyola-Canisius, #1 versus a team with a losing record. Not surprisingly, Loyola went ahead 4-0 in the first period, but Canisius was tough. They held Loyola scoreless in the second, closing to a 4-3 halftime deficit. I turned my attention away for a while, and next thing I knew, it was 14-3 Loyola! Final score: 17-5. And to think, Cornell didn’t even get into the tournament. What a pity.

The night game was UNC versus Denver. I have an attachment to some of the elite teams, for no good reason that I can think of. Hopkins. Syracuse. But UNC I haven’t cared about. Until this year, of course, what with Joel living there. And Denver is my brother’s alma mater. Who to root for? Well, I didn’t really care. Nor did I see much of the game. I checked in on it from time to time. Denver took a 6-2 lead early in the second quarter. UNC came back on an 8-2 run to take a halftime lead of 10-8, pushing that up to a 13-10 lead before Denver stormed back to take a 15-13 lead. With 48 seconds left, UNC narrowed the gap to 15-14. Denver won the face-off, but turned it over with 20 seconds left. UNC pulled its goalie and had some final chances, only to give up the ball, with Denver moving it upfield and getting an empty net goal to close the game at 16-14.

Meanwhile, Virginia is hosting Princeton as I write this, having taken a 5-2 lead at the half. It being Mother’s Day and all, not to mention the closing day of the Players Championship on the PGA tour, I won’t be watching as much lacrosse today as yesterday. Perhaps I’ll catch some of the last game, Lehigh-Maryland, Lehigh being another of this season’s surprises. More in a week or two.

Categories: Sports

Cambridge Hoops

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Jeremy Lin going up against Deron Williams yesterday

[Bill Kostroun/Associated Press]

That hotbed of college basketball, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is having quite a year, what with Harvard ranked #23 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, #26 in the AP poll, and likely to move up after a pair of league wins this weekend, while MIT is ranked #5 among Division III schools. Exciting times for Cantabrigians, as well as former Cantabs like me.

The best basketball player in Cambridge during my decade in residence (and my two subsequent years in Boston) didn’t play for Harvard or MIT. He starred at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, right next to Harvard: Patrick Ewing, locally famous long before he headed off to greater fame with Georgetown and the Knicks.

Second best? Maybe James Brown, a college classmate of mine who had been hotly recruited out of DC’s national basketball powerhouse, DeMatha. He passed up the big-time schools for Harvard, where he was all-Ivy in his three varsity years but couldn’t lead Harvard to a league title. He would go on to a different sort of fame, becoming the sports broadcaster and TV personality better known as JB.

And now Harvard has become the Ivy power JB couldn’t make them forty years ago. They tied Princeton for the league championship last year, narrowly losing a painful playoff game for the automatic NCAA tournament bid and being passed over for an at-large slot. This year, undefeated in league play and with an overall 20-2 record, Harvard has a good shot at an at-large bid if it fails to win the Ivy title.

Plus, recent Harvard alum Jeremy Lin may be at the start of a successful NBA career, in his second season, after last night’s breakout performance with the Knicks. Howard Beck explained in today’s NYT:

At some point in this frantic and peculiar season, a less likely, less expected story may arise from the chaos. But it will be difficult to beat a night when an undrafted prospect from Harvard took over Madison Square Garden, outshined three of the N.B.A.’s biggest stars and ignited an instant love affair with New York.

It happened Saturday night, although even the 17,763 in attendance might still doubt what they saw.

Jeremy Lin, whose unusual résumé is more well known than his game, emerged as the Knicks’ momentary savior, packing the box score with career highs and leading his team to a stress-relieving 99-92 victory over the Nets.

Lin scored 25 points, nearly doubling his previous career high, and finished with 7 assists and 5 rebounds, energizing a Knicks offense that desperately needed a boost. He outscored his celebrity teammates, Carmelo Anthony (11 points) and Amar’e Stoudemire (17 points), and outdueled Deron Williams (21 points), the Nets’ All-Star point guard.

Rapturous chants of “Je-re-my!” filled the arena. Every fourth-quarter basket was met with a booming, “Jeremy Linnnnn!” from the public-address announcer, Mike Walczewski. When the final buzzer sounded, Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” blasted from the arena sound system in tribute.

Don’t forget MIT. Alex Wolff wrote at SI Friday of their unlikely emergence as a D-III power.

Noel Hollingsworth, a 6-9 computer science and electrical engineering major, plays the role of immovable force. Recruited to Brown by First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson, Hollingsworth transferred to MIT after Robinson left for Oregon State. His presence ensures that teammates Mitchell Kates, Jamie Karraker and Billy Bender get good looks. “The defense has to make a choice,” says Karraker, who leads the nation with 4.5 three-pointers per game. “If they double down on Noel, one of our shooters will get open. If they faceguard the shooters, Noel or Will [Tashman, the other frontcourt starter] will get loose.”

MIT held off Springfield* yesterday, 69-67, for their 20th win against a single loss, marking their fourth consecutive season of 20 wins or more.

The Beanpot hockey tournament — the best of all Boston college sporting traditions — starts tomorrow. BU vs. Harvard in the opening game, BC vs. Northeastern immediately after. For a change, local basketball may be getting more attention.

*Need I point out that Springfield College is the site of basketball’s creation, the one-time home of James Naismith? There’s a reason the Basketball Hall of Fame is in Springfield. See here for some of the history.

Categories: Sports

Boston Patriots

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Fenway Park, set up for Boston Patriots football

[From the NYT, with credit to Boston Public Library, Sports Temples of Boston collection]

Bill Pennington had a great piece in yesterday’s NYT about the early vagabond years of the Patriots football team, when they were the Boston Patriots and moved from stadium to stadium. For the first decade, they were members of the American Football League. With the AFL-NFL merger, they joined the National Football League in 1970. A year later, they settled into their new stadium in Foxborough, in the remote (at least from my point of view, living in Cambridge then) southern suburbs, half the way to Providence, and re-branded themselves as the New England Patriots, after which things began to improve.

That first decade-plus was something special, as Pennington recalls. They bounced from BU’s athletic field, the one-time home of the Boston Braves baseball team, to Fenway Park to BC’s stadium to Harvard Stadium. Their one year in Harvard Stadium, that first year in the NFL, was my sophomore year. I could have taken a short walk from my room along the Charles to the Anderson Bridge, crossed over, and been at a game. I can’t believe I didn’t go. They won their home opener, against the Dolphins, and proceeded to lose all the remaining home games. OJ rushed for 123 yards when the Bills came; Johnny Unitas quarterbacked the Colts. Talk about missed opportunities!

Pennington tells one story from the 1970 season opener:

The former Notre Dame running back Bob Gladieux had been cut from the Patriots a few days earlier but decided to attend the season opener anyway with a friend.

Seated in the old concrete Harvard horseshoe before the start of the game, the two had already had a couple of beers when Gladieux’s friend agreed to get another round. Just after he left, the public address cackled: “Bob Gladieux, please report to the Patriots’ dressing room.”

Gladieux went downstairs and was told to suit up. Last-minute contract disputes had left the Patriots short. Gladieux, nicknamed Harpo for his flock of frizzy blond hair, hurriedly donned his pads and was soon running down the field on the opening kickoff against the Miami Dolphins.

Back in the stands, his friend wondered why he was alone. He looked up to see the Dolphins’ kick returner go down in the arms of No. 24 for the Patriots.

“Tackle by Bob Gladieux,” the public address announcer said.

Said St. Jean: “When we saw Harpo’s buddy later, he said: ‘I knew I was drinking, but not enough to be hearing things.’ ” The Patriots won the game, one of just two victories in another last-place season.

I was a Giants fan back then. (I could have seen them play at Harvard.) By 1975, I was a Patriots fan, and I suppose I still am. A little. Enough to know who I’ll be rooting for during next week’s Super Bowl. They’ve come a long way. Yet, some of the fun is gone.

Categories: Life, Sports

Go Kyrie! Go Cavs!

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Kyrie Irving with coach Byron Scott, December 11

[AP Photo, Carlos Osorio]

The Cavaliers (Cleveland’s NBA basketball team) opened their season tonight at home against Toronto. This means that Kyrie Irving, the first pick in last June’s NBA draft and my cousin (well, maybe not, but it’s fun to pretend), made his professional debut.

Three days after the draft, I wrote that “I’m not much for wearing official team clothing, but I see a Cleveland Cavalier jersey in my future.” If only I had remembered, as I surely would have if the NBA season weren’t delayed for two months, I would have put the jersey on my wish list for the holidays. But no matter, since the jersey wouldn’t have been available. According to the Cavalier online store, it still isn’t. I will be patient.

According to Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer,

The Kyrie Irving era got off to an inauspicious start Monday at The Q.
But to pin the Cavaliers’ 104-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors on a 19-year-old rookie point guard is roundly unfair, not to mention misleading. Especially on a night the club’s collective effort was bad enough to give it a running start on the No. 1 pick next season.

The Cavaliers defended poorly, shot worse and needed a strong effort from their second unit just to keep them in the game against one of the NBA’s bottom feeders.

Irving, the top selection in the June draft, managed just six points on 2-of-12 shooting and never found his rhythm before a sellout crowd of 20,562 fans. He spent a good portion of the second half on the bench as backup Ramon Sessions helped the Cavaliers stay close with a team-high 18 points and six assists.

“It’s disappointing,” said Irving, who played 26 minutes. “You want to play really well when the whole world is watching. It’s a learning process.”

The point is an unforgiving position for first-year players. Not only did Irving struggle at the offensive end, but he had difficulty keeping the Raptors’ Jose Calderon (15 points, 11 assists) in front of him.

How have other recent high-profile point guards fared in their NBA debuts?
According to Stats LLC, Washington’s John Wall had 14 points, Chicago’s Derrick Rose scored 11 points and New Orleans’ Chris Paul collected 13 points.

“He looked OK for what was like his fifth game in a year,” said coach Byron Scott, who named Irving his starter on Monday morning. “He had seven assists and one turnover. The only thing he didn’t do was shoot the ball well.”

I trust that by the time my jersey arrives, Kyrie will be playing better. We’ll put in a big order. I know Dad will enjoy his. (He doesn’t read Ron’s View, so don’t tell him. It will be a surprise.)

Categories: Clothing, Sports

Sports Geography

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

[Jason Lara, from his blog Tom Fulery]

The geographic illogic of US sports conferences is hardly news. As a recent example, three weeks ago we learned that Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros would leave the the National League’s Central Division for the American League West. A little crazy, but at least they would be united with a natural geographic rival already in the American League West, the Texas Rangers. And today brings genuinely crazy news, with the Big East conference announcing, in the wake of the departure of Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia to the Atlantic Coast Conference, that they would add Central Florida (sure), Houston and SMU (huh?), and, in football only, Boise State (!) and San Diego State (!!!).

I should point out that the addition of Boise State has been rumored for weeks. It’s not news. And after their snub on Sunday, left out of any of the five BCS bowls despite being one of the top five or six teams in the country, who can blame them for joining whatever BCS conference will take them? But still, the Big East with a team from Idaho? And a team whose home city sits on the Pacific Ocean? I suppose it could be worse — what if SDSU joined the ACC, joining the Pacific to the Atlantic? We wouldn’t need the Panama Canal anymore.

Which brings me to some good news: the announcement yesterday of plans for a realignment of the National Hockey League into four geographically-based conferences, approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors. The NHL Players Union still needs to weigh in, so this isn’t a done deal, but I’m guessing it will happen.

The plan has some features I’m not sold on, such as matching up teams within conferences in the first two rounds of the playoffs. More often than not, this is likely to lead to the elimination of at least one of the best teams before the playoff semifinals through no fault of its own. Nonetheless, I admire the league’s effort to introduce geographic sense. And how about the cool map, above, depicting the conference alignments? (Hat tip: Stu Hackel in Sports Illustrated, who linked to it.)

The lone oddity is the placement of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. But the underlying problem is that there are hockey teams in Florida to begin with. I think I have a solution: move them to Québec and Hamilton. That would make for a wonderfully compact conference, wouldn’t it? Perhaps I should write Commissioner Bettman with my proposal.

Categories: Geography, Sports