It’s been a while since I was last here. Only been almost a year. There once was a time I posted all my observations on sports in this space. Things got in the way. Let’s just call them distractions. It happens. We all go through stuff. I have battled anxiety and depression for a decade. It hasn’t been easy. Then again, life isn’t. There are challenges. I’m being challenged. It’s time to step up.
I could talk about so much in my return. Villanova’s amazing national championship win beating North Carolina at the buzzer 31 years later after Rollie Massimino’s huge underdog Wildcats stunned John Thompson’s Hoyas of Georgetown and Patrick Ewing. I still remember that one well enough. I was a kid. But the final score read:
Villanova 66 Georgetown 64
This time, Jay Wright’s Wildcats prevailed 77-74 over Roy Williams’ talented Tar Heels from Tobacco Road. The proud city of Philadelphia celebrated a real champion. Not a made up one like the Rocky statue that’s still there for all to see. Villanova is a small catholic school that is still one of the originals that stuck around in the Big East. They got it done due to the leadership of pesky point guard Ryan Arcidiacono with the senior floor leader dribbling down and kicking for a wide open Kris Jenkins, who drained a 25-footer at the buzzer to win the championship. The second ever buzzer beater in the coolest tournament.
The first coming when Dereck Whittenburg’s prayer was answered by North Carolina State teammate Lorenzo Charles, who dunked the basketball stunning the Cougars of Houston featuring Phi Slama Jama star NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. That’s still the greatest ending to a miraculous run by emotional Wolf Pack coach Jimmy Valvano’s gritty NC State, who believed they could win. The 30-for-30 called Survive and Advance remains my favorite one on ESPN. Jimmy V has been gone a long time, succumbing to cancer. He fought a courageous battle with his message of, “Don’t Ever Give Up!” remaining a rallying cry against not only cancer but life!
Maybe that’s why every time that special documentary is on ESPN Classic, I stop and watch and never change the channel. I can’t. It really hits home. I’m an emotional sort who believes in such messages. I love great stories. Sports can be terrific theatre. March Madness always delivers. I remember watching Stephen Curry lead Davidson as a sophomore to the Elite Eight in 2009. I thought he would be real good at the next level. However, even I would admit I never believed he’d become the NBA’s best player, surpassing LeBron James. Steph is about to win his second straight league MVP and led the Golden State Warriors to a new record for wins with 73 in the regular season- breaking the Bulls’ record of 72 in 1996. However, their season is measured by championships. If they don’t repeat, it isn’t a success. The pressure is on. The Spurs and Thunder both could get in the way. The Clippers could too but they have never shown the heart needed to beat Golden State.
The NHL Playoffs are only five days in and there have been so many entertaining games. The series are so fascinating that you have to watch. Even if you’re not a hockey fan like Hard Hits co-host John “JPG” Giagnorio, tune in. The game that was played at Barclays Center with the Islanders prevailing over the Panthers 4-3 in sudden death on unlikely hero Thomas Hickey’s overtime winner is why we watch. For awesome comebacks and thrilling finishes. The first ever playoff game in Brooklyn by the train station on Atlantic Avenue was a rousing success. The Islanders won, overcoming 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to take a 2-1 series lead. Can they finally advance out of the first round for the first time since ’93? I didn’t even have a driver’s license back then. Led by John Tavares, the Isles know the time is now. Game 4 isn’t till Wednesday.
On the other side, the Rangers return to Manhattan with their first round rematch against the Penguins all even at one. They rebounded from a lackluster Game 1 performance where Sidney Crosby burned them for a goal and two helpers while Patric Hornqvist recorded his first career hat trick in the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist returned and was heroic making 29 saves after being a question mark due to a dangerous accidental stick from Marc Staal that caught his right eye, causing him to exit Game 1. His vision was good enough and he delivered in a Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Pens at Pittsburgh. He made some clutch stops including the save of the game when he stoned Bryan Rust on a breakaway with his team clinging to a 2-1 lead in the second period. Following it, Mats Zuccarello scored off a J.T. Miller set up for a two-goal lead. Then Chris Kreider scored 39 seconds into the third. It was enough for a two-goal victory that sends the series back to MSG tied 1-1. Game 3 isn’t till Tuesday. What will coach Alain Vigneault decide? Does he play rookie Dylan McIlrath again for injured warrior Dan Girardi? Or would he really consider inserting Raphael Diaz, who hasn’t played an NHL game all season?
Playoff hockey is all about story lines and there are plenty. Out West, upsets are developing. The Sharks took the first two games from blood rival Los Angeles. They’ve been here before. Do they finally have enough to beat the Kings? Meanwhile, heavy favorite Anaheim finds itself in a huge 2-0 hole after dropping a second consecutive home game to Nashville by an identical 3-2 margin. Are the Ducks about to go belly up in the first round or can they rise when the series resumes in Music City? Their best players better figure it out. Ditto for the Kings, who boast two favorites of mine in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Yeah. But how can I like them after their team burned mine in June 2014? I’m weird and unpredictable.
While the playoff hockey is intense, baseball is not even three weeks in and already you have Mets fans panicking over their team’s start. Matt Harvey is 0-3. What’s happened to Harvey Dent? He was perfect thru four at the Indians but fell apart in the next two innings to lose a third straight start. Is he the third best starter on the Mets? Noah Syndergaard remains the guy I believe is the ace who will challenge for the Cy Young. Jacob de Grom is still out with a sore lat and his newborn recovering from complications during birth. Hope everything goes well.
The Yankees got off to a nice start but then dropped four straight including two of three to their kryptonite, the Blue Jays. After dropping the first two against Robinson Cano and the Mariners, fans predictably booed a slumping Alex Rodriguez. He struck out three times in an 0-for-5 Saturday. This is what you get from so-called ‘fans’ who supported A-Rod when he was hitting 31 home runs at the age of 40 in a great return last year. So Alex hit his second dinger in a one-run win Sunday over Seattle. And I bet these same losers cheered. Hypocrites. This is sports today. Embarrassing. At least Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller combined to fan all six Mariners the final two innings to preserve the 4-3 win. Imagine if they had blown it. Hey. Same fan base that once booed Mariano Rivera for a couple of early blown saves and even jeered Derek Jeter once for a bad start. Nuts.
I am not a big believer in booing. I don’t boo my team. I might lay into players when I feel they should be faring better. However, I fully support them. I only cheer. I believe silence is better when your team underachieves. It’s not worth getting angry over. It’s sports. Not life. Try telling that to rival fans who have a few too many at games and get into it over whose team is better. Sports should be enjoyed by everyone. They are entertainment. Don’t forget it.