After the tragedy and shocking events of Friday, it was hard to think of sports this weekend. But we did, anyway. This will be my last column for the year…and the last one I will write as a 50-something. On Sunday, I turn 60 and I am not looking forward to it, but, to quote my late father, Robert, “It’s better than the alternative.” He was right.
Friday’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School was as bad as it gets. When and more importantly, how, will we stop this from happening again. Watching the President last night, I think he’s had enough. I don’t know that gun control is the answer. Maybe we need to have those TSA-type scanners at every public gathering place – schools, malls, movies, houses of worship. I will leave that question to those much smarter than myself. And if you don’t think things will change, I believe you are wrong.
To know that those twenty innocent kindergartners in Connecticut will not experience life is tragic. As it is for those teachers and the brave principal. While the adults lived a longer life, they too were taken way too early. For those beautiful children, however, this is what they will not experience: No graduations. No proms. No college acceptance (or rejection) letters. No lost (and found) loves. No weddings. No children of their own. Need I go on?
I absolutely cannot fathom how their parents, siblings, relatives and friends can find anything to be happy about during this most festive of seasons. You know there were presents bought…trees put up…stocking hung…I cannot imagine coming home and seeing those reminders. My heart breaks for those people…but I feel absolutely nothing for the shooter. I just think the media needs to STOP showing these murderers’ pictures and telling us their names. Who cares? We should be showing those little children and telling their names.
Turning 60 means I have seen a lot of good and bad events in my lifetime. I distinctly remember watching the Cuban Missile Crisis playing out; the day President Kennedy was shot; the day MLK was shot; the morning Robert Kennedy was shot; Vietnam; the Challenger explosion; John Lennon; 9/11, and the Virginia Tech massacre…do I need to go on? But, unfortunately, that’s part of growing old…you tend to remember where you were when you heard the news.
And more recently, I have begun going to more funerals than I wish. I lost my mother, Edith, 15 years ago, at a young age. Just last February, I lost my father…who I know lost a lot of his lust for life when my mother was taken from him so tragically. And this fall, my best friend and his wife each lost their mothers…within two weeks of each other. It ain’t fun growing old, my friends.
In my 60 years, I have always had a strong connection with sports. From the professional level down to the youth level, sports has played a big part of my life. I reveled in championships won by teams I played for and coached…knowing they really meant nothing in the big picture. Other than saying for one season, things came together and we got a few breaks and ended up winning it all. I had the good fortune to coach my son, Matt, in baseball for many years. Our team won a championship game the way most in youth baseball are won…someone else made a mistake. A routine (yet longish) fly ball to the opposite field became a grand slam instead of the third out. Moving Matt from catcher to center field (a position he had never played before) in the last inning of that game was either a stroke of genius or pure luck. He ended up making the play of the game, throwing out the tying run on the best throw of his life. Am I saying he won the game for us…no…he put our team in a position to win. And, in sports, and business too, that’s what you want. To be in a position to win.
When I was an associate publisher of a national trade newspaper, my goal was to beat the competition. While we hardly ever went into a presentation together, but I would ready myself for the pitch as if they would be there. I usually made the sale, because I was prepared. I was in a position to win…I knew the questions they would ask me before they knew them. Sports prepared me for the business world.
Last season, I watched, along with millions, as UNC Asheville’s basketball team scared the daylights out of the number one seed in the East, Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. In the final two minutes of the game, Asheville lead. The Bulldogs put themselves in a position to become the first 16-seed to beat a 1-seed. However, a missed call by the officials gave Syracuse the ball, changed the momentum and denied Asheville the opportunity to possibly win the game. They were in the position to win, though.
Turning 60 means I have seen EVERY Super Bowl played. EVERY ONE. Even in those dark years living in Baltimore when the city didn’t have an NFL team (and yes, I actually saw the Mayflower moving vans drive by my neighborhood on that early March morning when the Colts were hijacked to Indianapolis). The Super Bowl was the ONLY NFL game I watched those years. I found things to do on Sunday’s other than watch the league. And, you can check it out, television ratings during the regular season in Baltimore plunged…because we didn’t have a team. No wonder no one in Los Angeles is concerned about not having a team…there is a lot more to do out there than in Baltimore…yet the league seems bound and determined to make that happen soon (2014?).
Herm Edwards said so eloquently, “You play to win the game.” Turning 60 means I understand that. But sometimes, you need to suffer losses to really revel in the wins.
I have spent this weekend with one of UNC Asheville’s basketball players. He was not able to join his team for their 8-day road trip to Ohio State, Northeastern and St. John’s. We spent yesterday in the hospital, where he was having surgery performed on his ankle…for the second time this year. He absolutely hates not being there for his teammates…his brothers…because he could certainly help this young Bulldogs team a lot. You can see it in his face…he’s hurting a lot more from this than from the pain of the surgery. He will appreciate not only the wins next season, but the losses as well. He will prepare for harder for next season because he cannot play this year.
And that’s what I love about sports. The fact that you go into games and practices together…you win or lose together. And you stay friends with a lot of your teammates forever.
Sports has a way of healing. The baseball games played after the 9/11 attacks were meaningful in a lot more ways than just a game in the standings. In New York, especially, it brought back a sense of normality. Playing this weekend, we saw the Patriots and Giants wearing tributes to the Connecticut tragedy. Tonight, the Jets will do the same.
So, after a little rambling, here’s what I really remember about my 60 years of being involved with sports: everything. I remember so many of the baseball games I attended…seeing some of the greatest players in history – in person…I remember seeing the Immaculate Reception on a small black-and-white television in my cousin’s apartment…I remember the first Super Bowl (not called that, by the way)…I remember the great Bird-Magic match-ups…I remember the Miracle on Ice…so many events that I won’t bore you. But when magazines or television programs talk about the “best ever” or “greatest game ever”, you can be assured I probably saw them (or it).
I also remember knowing all the statistics for every player on my favorite teams when I was young. My father told me he used to know them when he was young, but had little use for them now. I didn’t quite believe him…but I certainly do now. I do not memorize stats anymore because, well, I have little use for them now. I also remember he was not much of a sports fan, but he did take me to games…something those 20 innocent, beautiful children will never get a chance to do.