The Sports Edge (30)
Maine is a small state. For most of us, most of the time, that’s a good thing. We’ve chosen to live a bit off the beaten path because we prefer the somewhat slower pace, the open spaces and (bath salts addicts notwithstanding) the fact that things are relatively safe around here. Small is good when it means few traffic jams, a lack of smog, and the front page of the paper is devoted to hermits and not serial killers. One downside is the occasional lack of perspective and the need to have a taste of the big time life, which leads me to the subject of University of Maine hockey.
For anyone who has been a Boston baseball since before the days of “Red Sox Nation,” there are a couple of basic requirements tied to the calendar. One is to anticipate the September swoon and the disappointment that follows (except for those glorious ’04 and ’07 seasons); the other is to greet each new campaign with optimism and unrealistic expectations. Since we’re less than two weeks from Opening Day, it seems like as good a time as any to engage in some wishful thinking and envision a scenario where the Red Sox rise from worst to first.
Sports fans have always been among the best at building up memories at the expense of the present. Perhaps because most of us became fans at a young age, we look back with an affection that can sometimes blind us to the good that exists in the here and now.
The most recent epidemic of backwards-gazing has come with the arrival of the final high school basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium. Seemingly every human being within a hundred miles of Buck Street has been asked about their favorite memory of the place, and the tributes to a facility that was outdated by the Carter administration are pouring in from all quarters. Unfortunately, there are also those who romanticize the past so much they can’t see the present or future with any clarity. Like so many others, I recall many great times spent at the Auditorium, but personally, I can’t wait to see the wrecking ball turn that mid-20th century paradise into a 21st-century parking lot. The new Cross Insurance Center is shaping up to be the kind of facility that this area has needed for decades and will signify a glorious new day for any fan with a sense of civic pride that outweighs their misty, watercolor memories.
It’s the week before Christmas and writers everywhere are busily putting together the most hackneyed of columns. You know it, right? The one where they list what their favorite teams, players and coaches might want for Christmas? Not that I’m above clichéd writing, but I thought I would at least attempt to go a different route.
Instead, I’d like to celebrate the gifts we Maine sports fans have already been given. We’re pretty lucky to live in an area that has a passion for sports, both local and regional, and our interest has been rewarded with an abundance of great teams, memorable players and talented coaches. This week we say thanks for just a few:
I’ve always been a fan of Thanksgiving, perhaps even secretly thinking of it as my favorite, though putting it ahead of Christmas might be considered blasphemous in a country where stores put wreaths up in late September. Part of my love of the day has always been the relatively low-stress nature of this particular celebration. No lists of presents to buy, no wrapping, no crowded stores - and best of all, no Thanksgiving music.
It’s 11 years ago. A young Tom Brady is in his first few games leading the New England Patriots as their starting quarterback. The games are constantly close, the offense is just good enough to get by, but the defense is the real strength of the team. They lead the squad all the way through to a victory over the St. Louis “Best Show on Turf” Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
For the next few years this would be a continuing trend. The offense slowly got better and the defense slightly regressed, but still good enough to win games. To win BIG games. Two more Super Bowls. Then something happened. When the going got tough, the Pats got going … back to the team bus, because they just lost a close game. Acting like 12-year-olds watching “The Exorcist” for the first time and needing a change of shorts when it was all said and done.
A few weeks ago, the great Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe posited that his city, one of the last holdouts, was now officially a football town. For 140 years, the “Hub of the Universe” had reserved the deepest of its sports love for the game of baseball, from the National League’s powerhouse Braves of the late 1800s through the Americans and Pilgrims, the forerunners of the Red Sox. Generations of fans who followed the likes of Ruth and Speaker, Williams and Pesky, Yaz and Tony C., Fisk and Lynn and even Manny and Pedro had held a stranglehold on the market that even three Patriots Super Bowl wins couldn’t wrest away. Then came September of 2011, followed by what we may someday refer to as “the Valentine year.” And just like that, the Sox (and baseball in general) were relegated to second fiddle status.
Historically, the beginning of October marks the start of great things to come. Think about it: Columbus Day weekend (a day off with zero responsibilities!), leaves starting to turn, Halloween, Thanksgiving – fun things on the horizon.
In sports it’s a time where you are overwhelmed with options. NFL and NCAA football go full tilt, the MLB regular season comes to an end and playoffs begin - but this year, for me the options are limited, and there is no one to blame but the Boston Red Sox. Playoffs? Not this year - not by a long shot.
Let me start by telling you that I am completely biased regarding my subject this week. This is a column about University of Maine football, and I am the play-by-play broadcaster for that team and have been for over 15 years. During that run of over 175 games, I’ve seen some of the greatest moments in team history. As a matter of fact, among the recently-compiled list of “Top Ten Maine Football Moments,” I’ve been behind the microphone for seven of them. I’ve also witnessed some colossal low points, from heartbreaking losses to jaw-dropping blunders. The point is, I’ve got a dog in this fight, but I also feel eminently qualified to talk about Maine football, being one of an incredibly small group of people (me, color analyst Bob Lucy, equipment manager Steve Jones and Coach Jack Cosgrove) to have seen every game since 1997.
It’s probably the best day of the year. Better than Christmas, New Year’s Eve and even your birthday. It’s the live and in-person fantasy football draft. This year we expand from 10 players to 12. The stakes are a little higher, but that’s how we like it! Here’s how it all went down…
The draft was set to start at 10 a.m. Sunday morning; a little early for my taste, but what can you do … I’m not the commissioner. We picked the draft order out of a hat, and I had the fifth overall selection in a snaking draft. Number one overall selection: Ray Rice. With number five I was at a loss as to what to do. I went Megatron: Calvin Johnson - can’t go wrong, right? If you don’t get Rice, Arian Foster or LeSean McCoy then it’s kind of up in the air.
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