Friday, January 21, 2011

The Buzz

I have written before about the emotions sports can invoke within a person. It is addictive like drugs. Like a ‘runners high’ but instead; a ‘sports high’. I love the sensation as it sneaks up on you and suddenly pounces like something out of a National Geographic special. The way it can physically feel as it pulses through your blood stream. It is like a deadly virus, living, but the kind you want to catch. The impact of a great sport moment imprints a unique signature in each of us, but when discussed over a burger and suds, it identifies and comes across as the exact same, indescribable moment. I love it. When reflected upon, the moment becomes communicative, delineate even, which is nuts because you are talking about something that in ways, cannot be articulated. Sports moments can be enjoyed at anytime and at any place. More often than not, a favorite sports moments typically is centered upon an improbable comeback or win. I have witnessed several in person.

Story #1
One of them involves University of Washington scoring sensation, Isaiah Thomas. He played ball at the same high school I attended before he transferred to South Kent School, a private basketball school, in Connecticut. The two seasons before he made the transfer, my dad and I made it point to go and see as many games he played in as we could. Just one of those players who you know is going to excel at the next level.

In one specific game, a play-in game to determine seeding for state playoffs, we were down by 6 with less than minute. I do not remember the team we were playing against, but they had the ball and drained the clock down to 25 seconds before an Isaiah steal. Thomas tried to get an open look for a three, but instead drove to basket and was fouled; count the bucket. Thomas converts the three-point play; opposing team calls timeout, we’re now down by 3 with 10 seconds left in the game. During the time out I remember the buzz. The feeling I said pounces on you; well it was waiting in the darkness under the bleachers, and everybody sensed it. People were standing and talking to those around them about what just happened, what needed to now happen, and how who was going to make what needed to happen, happen. There were a lot of happening going on, OK. Keep up.

Also during the time out, I remember watching one of the assistant coaches go over to the end of our bench and point to one of the kids—cannot remember his name for the life of me—who played “swing”. If you played swing in high school it meant that you were good enough to start for junior varsity, and were just barely good enough to ride the pine for varsity in case someone got hurt. Nobody got hurt on the last play so what the hell was this guy thinking? At this point I think there are only five people in the building who know this JV kid just checked in to the game: me, the assistant coach, the kid himself, and maybe his mom and dad. That’s it. He tears off his warm-ups and on the inbound; Isaiah again steals the ball but is tangled up by two of the opposing teams’ players. They end up on the ground. Fans are going ballistic; hollering and screaming like caged animals because of the craziness of the moment. Somehow, from his back no less, Thomas hurls the ball from almost half court, to the corner, right next to our bench now minus one JV kid—to the very kid whose butt normally filled the bench’s absence. The clock is clicking down like the graphic from 24 right before a commercial break and this kid has the presence of mind to not only take a step back, so he can get behind the three point line to potentially tie the game, but also has the ice in his veins to throw a monster pump fake on the person charging towards him to block the shot. JV takes one dribble so he can side-step the player who was flying by, and poses with his hand raised, wrist bent, as he flicks the ball at the top of his release.

(Quick story break: Have you ever noticed during last second shots, before the actual shot itself, it is so noisy you can barely process you thoughts, but as soon as the person is in the motion of going up for their shot, the room falls deathly silent. Everybody takes one collective breath and it feels like the janitor flicked a switch to turn the building in to a pair of noise canceling headphones. It is one of the main addictive ingredients in the sports high. Back to the game.)

As you guessed, like something out of movie, the three-pointer doesn’t even touch the rim. Perfect swish. Everybody is hopping up and down like a 4-year old girl who just got a pink Barbie Hot Wheels for Christmas. We’re going to over time baby! But wait… there is still time on the clock. Oh no, everybody is out of their positions! Get back! Get back! The opposing team is in the process of in-bounding the ball to throw up there own prayer! This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening. Call timeout!

Too late.

Ball is in-bounded. We counted our eggs before they were in our basket. Everything becomes blurry. The kid receiving the pass is about to turn around chuck the ball the full length of the court for game changing three of his own—when—mother freakin’ Isaiah Thomas—who I had forgotten even existed!—steals in the inbound pass and kisses the ball off the glass and in to the basket for the game winning steal, and lay-up. My mind explodes.

Thomas went on to become the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year for Washington and was last year’s Pac-10 Tournament MVP, helping the Huskies reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. He is now in his junior season averaging 17 points, 6 assist, 4 rebounds and 1 steal a game for the 20th ranked purple and gold.

Story #2
I had never been to an NFL game before, so in 2004 when my beloved Dallas Cowboys came to Seattle for a Monday Night game I found myself scratching three things off of my sports bucket list: going to an NFL game, going to a Monday Night Football game, and seeing the Dallas Cowboys play. A trifecta.

By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Cowboys were leading the Seahawks 29-17 and I was feeling good about rockin’ my old school Deon Sanders jersey in a sea full of cranky Hawks fans. By the two-minute warning in the 4th quarter, I was whistling a different tune. Dallas was now down by 10. With 1:45 showing on the clock Keyshawn Johnson hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde in the back of the end zone. Luckily for Jerry Jones and myself, the NFL was two years out from implementing coach’s challenges, because on the replay Keyshawn only had one foot in bounds and the 12th man let the officiating crew know about it. Didn’t matter because the touchdown was signaled good. Dallas now down 39-36.

I took the moment to shout, “We’re coming back!” before the eventual onside kick. Immediately after I piped up, your quintessential Seahawks-lifer behind me, with the Seahawks jacket, haircut, and prescription eyewear from 1986 screams, “SIT THE ---- DOWN!”

That is when I felt it. The moment was building. You start to look at things in a new perspective. It’s like the energy heightens all of your senses so you can appreciate the moment even more. When I looked down on to the field you could see the Cowboys’ onside unit with a confidence and swagger you did not find in the hands team of the Seahawks. Seeing the ball end up in the arms of Jason Witten after the onside attempt confirmed my awareness that the moment had definitely arrived. Three plays later Julius Jones bust one for 17-yards up the middle for the game-winning touchdown. Fourteen points, in under two minutes for an un-probable win during my first ever NFL/MNF/Cowboys game.

Both of those stories were sealed in to my mind and built upon a moment I did not expect to be part of. It is important to remember that every great sports moment, does not have to be a come-from-behind story—or even a win for that matter. When undefeated Wake Forrest came to Provo for basketball in 2008, ranked as the #6 team in the country, the Cougars were a one loss team (and that one loss was because of a bull excrement PAC-10 officiating call against #17 Arizona State where they waved off Charles Abouo’s game-winning tip and BYU lost 76-75… I’m totally over as you can tell). BYU had the current NCAA home winning streak of 53 games too. Greatest game I have ever been to. The entire game had that electric tangible feel. From tip off, to the buzzer sounding at the end of the 2nd half. Not any single moment, but the entire game. My favorite game. And it turned out to be a BYU loss.

When your team plays another team, and that team has three of their starting five—Al-Farouq Aminu, Jeff Teague, and James Johnson—eventually all going in the first round of the NBA draft (Aminu 8th overall in 2010, Johnson and Teague going 16th and 19th in 2009) it is really tough to win. BYU out rebounded, had more assist, and the same amount of turnovers, but it was not enough to push them over the top. At one point we were even up by 8. So what happened?

Jeff Teague happened, and Aminu and Johnson had some HUGE blocks (what are the odds of those three guys making plays during a big game…) but I think the biggest game changer for Wake Forrest was from someone who did not even play for them, but rather their opponent. BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari. Homeboy took thirteen three-point attempts and only made four. Just four! That means you miss three, to make one. One thing that always bugged me about JT was his need to draw attention to himself in really big games by shooting a bunch. Wake Forrest was a perfect example. More than fifty percent of the three point attempts he jacked up in the game were forced. But still, even with the loss, it was the best game ever and it was because of the energy. Like medically pure cocaine.

Anytime I hear somebody say that the Marriot Center’s seating capacity (23,700) is too big, all I have to do is think about the Wake Forrest game and say to myself ‘no it isn’t.” I saw what the Marriot Center was capable of, and if you were there and saw it too, then you’d never do anything to alter it. Except maybe paint the seats white. Just saying. There has never been anything like that game…

… until now.

This coming Wednesday, BYU will again host a 6th ranked, undefeated team in the San Diego State Aztecs at home in the Marriott Center. Although BYU my not be carrying a 53-game home winning streak this time around, they are however ranked 9th in the country and have the nation’s leading scorer, an All-American point guard and front-runner for Player of the Year in Jimmer Fredette. Throw in Jackson Emery and you have the best backcourt in the NCAA. Did I mention Jonathan Tavernari graduated?

When Wake Forrest came to town it was big because they were a ranked ACC team, we were not but wanted to prove we could play with the big boys and it would have thrust our team in to the Top 15 for sure. Plus we had our home win streak to protect. This time round, it is a big game because San Diego plays in the same conference as us and whoever wins this game probably wins the conference title. Even more important is if we beat them and win out—maybe even lose to them at their house—BYU could, with a little bit of luck, be looking at a possible one-seed come March or at least a solid two-seed. Two. Seed. Uncharted territory. There is so much to take in. Let’s do a quick breakdown.

PROS

- BYU’s loss to UCLA reeeeaaaaalllly helped them. It relaxed them. If BYU had won that game, there would be a stress or attitude of “We cannot lose a game. If we do then our whole season is ruined.” Being undefeated is almost like serum that gives you immense strength but will slowly poison you to death. BYU got their loss out of the way and bounced back; SDSU is on the serum.
- Jimmer Fredette plays for BYU and not SDSU.
- Jackson Emery is playing at a really high level, but Jimmer shadows it, but it plays in to Jackson’s silent ninja-assassin playing style. They allow one another to achieve greatness.
- We’re at home and our home court holds 23,700 vicious fans. I expect 25,000 on hand. You really think the Duke’s Cameron Crazies 1,000 seat student section is just holding 1,000 and that is it? More like 1,600. Our 8,000 strong student section can swallow you alive.
- My fanship confidence is at an all-time high

CONS

- San Diego is ranked #6 for a reason.
- Kawhi Leonard plays for SDSU and not BYU.
- As a team, they do not turn over the ball very much. Currently they are 13th in country for fewest per game.
- The have good road wins against Gonzaga and New Mexico.
- Last time a 6th ranked, undefeated opponent played us at home we lost.

Anything can happen. Every time I think something is going to turn out in a certain way, it turns out surprising me. I’m ready to feel it.


This weekend's NFL Playoff Picks:
HOME team in CAPS
Last week: 3-1

STEELERS over Jets
Packers over BEARS

1 comment:

  1. best. column. ever.

    I had chills reading the first story.

    ReplyDelete