Saturday, January 28, 2012

Top 5 Storm the Court Games

I'm still emotionally high from last night's Paul VI buzzer beater over Dematha, which probably biases this top five list.   Really, any come-from-behind win, or clutch strike out, or improbable goal is exhilarating.  All coaches have huge lists of when they have been part of such games and all athletes have those moments too.  The kid next door can tell a story about a whiffle ball game at the beach.  The guy at work rants about their softball beer league when somebody made a great play that lead to high-fiving and jubilation.

But to be in the top five,  history and cultural context shape the moment into the extraordinary and make the moment supernatural.  Here is my top five:

5.  The New England Patriots Tuck Rule Game

As Sean Rollins writes here, "That game was seen as just any other on January 19, 2002, but ten years later, it’s seen as a game that sparked a dynasty."  Of course.

But for me, this marks a monumental swing in football allegiance--the kind of which Bill Simmons would gladly exclude me from his fan base for committing such a crime.

This marks the moment I divorced the Jets for this young, much more sexy enigma.  I was on dorm duty back at St. Andrew's (RI).  The snow storm was burying us and St. Andrew's had already won a basketball game that day, but I couldn't go out and celebrate with the coaching staff because of dorm duty.  I couldn't do the New England snow party routine because of dorm duty.  I was stuck with ten or so kids who were playing Play Station and had no interest in the game and I couldn't invite anybody over because of dorm duty.

I was alone.  I was looking for something to believe in.  I was vulnerable.  Tom Brady took advantage of me and now the Patriots are my team and that game is in my top five.

4.  Game 5 of the 2001 World Series 
The attack on the World Trade Center changed everything.

But on a superficial level, this was the first season I watched Yankees games without any of my long-time Yankees friends. I was fresh out of college and living in the dorms at St. Andrew's and hadn't really had time to make any sense of this new place and this phase of life.

My dorm apartment was a kitchenette with a knocked out wall to bring in an old dorm room to act as my bedroom.  I was in the bottom corner of the dorm at the furthest corner of campus.  I had my college futon against one wall and the TV against the other.  The kitchenette was to my right and the door to the dorm was on my left.  I was surrounded by responsibility and cut off from the irresponsibility of sports bars, bar flies, and college. 


I jumped from my couch and screamed so loud, so long, that I found something dark in that scream.  Ethereal.  It released the feelings of loneliness, of uncertainty, and fear.  It ushered in excitement and a sense of triumph.   Through Scott Brosius and the Yankees, I was connected to family, friends, and the world.

It validated my memories and made me proud to be me.

3.  Vassar College Men's Basketball over NYU 1999

To this day, this season is the best in Vassar Men's basketball history.  Two other teams came close to breaking our single season wins mark, but our 18-9 record still stands.

We struggled through two seasons of mediocrity in 97-98 and 98-99.  Some dead weight graduated and some new freshmen changed this team.  We caught lightning in a bottle.  For the other two guys in my recruiting class, this was our peak.  I ended up joining the swim team our senior year and the other two guys  suffered through a brutal 8-17 2000-2001 inaugural season in the Liberty League.

In both our freshman and sophomore years, NYU abused us.  Flat out.  We weren't even a little brother to them.  They were a bully and we were the poor wimpy kid they tormented.  We hated this team and this game on the schedule because they demoralized us every year.  The three of us all had great high school success and never experienced losing the way we did in our first two years at Vassar.  Schools like NYU, Wesleyan, and Williams toyed with us.  Those 30+ point loses, especially at home, were impossible to endure.  They made basketball miserable.

But in that 99-00 year, we put it together.  We climbed the regional NY/Metro DIII rankings and were just outside the D3 top 25 that year.  NYU came to our gym and we stunned them.  That pig pile underneath our home basket, in front of our fans, with each other...

We knew what it was like to lose.  We knew what it was like to suffer.  This was the antithesis of the previous two years.  We were validated.  Our efforts meant something.  We proved to ourselves we were as good as we believed.


2.  UConn over Clemson 1990

What else could a 12-year old Connecticut kid want?  I had a blue and white UConn ball I held every game.  I cried because I thought it was over.  I cried when Tate George knocked it down. My mom went upstairs in disgust (funny-even to this day she gets so disgusted with UConn, but gets even more excited than I do over games like this...I think she would leave my dad for Kemba if she had the chance).  Me, my 10 year old brother, and my father stood, arms around each other, and prayed in front of the TV.  One of my favorite memories all time.  Basketball, family, and life intersected.

1.  Paul VI over DeMatha, January 27th 2012

One year ago...courtesy of

We were up 17 in this 2011 game and Mikael Hopkins had a tip-in with 3 seconds left to give them their first lead of the game. 

Triumph.  courtesy of

Last night after draining a go-ahead 3 with .2 seconds left.

This is why teachers teach and coaches coach.  I cried last night seeing Patrick Holloway so happy.  That moment for me was more about seeing a young man experience a moment that validates what he believes in than the actual winning of the game.  Over the last two years, he wore me out both physically and emotionally.  We all rebounded for him.  We all let him in the gym early.  We all stayed late.  And, we coached him through times when he didn't necessarily believe in himself.  This is why we do what we do and it comes and goes as fast as .2 seconds. 

But this moment runs even deeper for me and is the cathartic release of 10 years of history and an 0-7 record against DeMatha that spans stints at St. Andrew's (RI) and Paul VI.  Each one of those games has memories clinging to it--I think that is true for all coaches,  right?  The game marks chapters of our lives, not just stats and numbers on a page.

DeMatha  beat us with ease during the 2009-2010 quarterfinal WCAC game.  That night, Paul VI was the last team they played in their old, historic gym before they moved to their new epicenter.

That was also the night my Uncle Stan had his funeral and I decided to stay for the game rather than go home to family.  I felt, and still feel, Uncle Stan would have actually been disappointed if I skipped the game.  A unique experience of coaching in a Catholic league is the pregame prayer and on that night,  that moment brought me to tears with memories of Uncle Stan.  It didn't matter we lost that night.  It mattered that the game was played and coaches coached.  A piece of my Uncle lived that night while I was on the sidelines.  Really, that was his funeral and he and I intersected one last time.   Don't get me wrong.  I don't need a DeMatha game to remember my Uncle, but the context behind last night's moment makes this supernatural.

He was the one who taught me to play.  He was the one that made me tough.  He was the one that showed me what I can learn about myself and about life by doing defensive slides with two bricks in my hands on an outdoor court in August. 

Last night, I could not stop myself from running onto the court and diving into the pile.

He, life, and all things between are the reasons why this is my number one storm the court game.

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