Pearl Of Wisdom

by Rich on February 19, 2018

It has been well documented, here and basically everywhere, that I’m not really a basketball fan. I’ve tried. Many times. But frankly, the game today bears little resemblance to the game I used to play. To be fair, I was in 3rd grade , so the mere fact that players can dribble between their legs and make lay-ups virtually ensures that what occurred all those many, many years ago in that small, smelly gym has nothing in common with modern basketball. Sure, I enjoy filling out a March Madness bracket like everyone else (for entertainment purposes only), but I have never really followed the game.

Until now.

Here’s the thing… my Alma Mater, Auburn University, has this really great coach, Bruce Pearl. And this one man has been able to do something that no man, woman or beast has been able to do for the entirety of my living years: make me care about basketball. Winning will do that. But it’s not just the winning.

Since his arrival on campus, Pearl has made every effort to bond with not just the players, students and faculty of Auburn, but with every sector of the greater community. Now, that’s not a first when it comes to college coaches. But what sets Pearl apart from many of his predecessors and contemporaries is that he is succeeding. Not just on the court, but in the community. Why? Because it’s coming from his heart.

It probably comes across as trite and naive to say something like that. “Our coach REALLY cares!” But I truly believes he does. I see it in the way he interacts with people and organizations away from campus. I see it in how his staff and support personnel respect him. I see it in how his players play for him. And more importantly, how they play for each other.

The basketball of my youth has been romanticized through time. But it’s because my experience with the game ended when my coaches were teaching me fundamentals. Not quite “Hoosiers”, but close. There were no egos in 3rd grade. The  team was all important. Winning the game as a unit was more important than individual play. And that’s what I see when I watch this team play. They are selfless. They are generous. And they are having fun. Sure, it’s always fun when you’re winning, but you can just tell by watching… this team enjoys the game and has a good time playing it.

And isn’t that what we, as fans, want to see? Why was Brett Favre so much fun to watch? Because he played the game like a kid in his back yard. Why was Chipper Jones so popular? Because of that boyish grin. In a time when so much seems wrong and crooked and sleazy, it’s easy to be cynical. But sometimes, a special coach, player or team comes along and reminds you of what you like about sports. I would watch a Bruce Pearl coached team compete in shuffleboard. Because he would always be teaching and because his players would be playing for each other and having fun.

The other day I walked into my living room, picked up the remote, and, with full knowledge and intent, turned on a college basketball game that did not involve Auburn. Bruce Pearl has done the impossible. He’s made me care about basketball.

Now if he could just explain what a foul is, I would be set. Because from what little I have seen, no one seems to know.

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All That Glitters Is Gold

by Rich on February 12, 2018

Gold, baby, GOLD! Sweet, American Olympic gold!

I don’t care that the winter Olympics are in PyeongChang, South Korea (“Come for the Bibimbap, stay for the curling!”), you can still smell the fragrant aroma from the games all across the globe. And do you know what that smell is? FREEDOM!

Just kidding. It’s the bibimbap. But still…

I love the Olympics, and out of all of them (last count: 2), the winter Olympics are far and away my favorite. Having lived my entire life in the Southeast of the good ol’ U. S. of A., I can do without the heat of the summer games. I fantasize about snow and parkas and rosy cheeks and ski lodges with cocktails and LL Bean furniture and there’s this gorgeous blond in a sweater, and she’s looking at me and… oh. Sorry. Wrong fantasy. You get my drift, though.

The winter Olympics are picturesque. There’s all that snow and ice and games and sports that I really don’t know a whole about, but I am instantly infatuated with. The bobsled, the luge, the skiing… it’s all so exotic! It just pulls me in! I mean, there’s a competition where people ski, sling a rifle off their backs, shoot a target, chop down a tree, build a cabin and fight a bear! Ok, that’s an exaggeration…but only a little. I’m sorry, water polo, but as interesting as you are, you just don’t come close to some dude going 100mph headfirst down a frozen drainage ditch on a lunch tray. That’s just insane!

To be fair, I like any form of competition where my country is represented against other countries. I like the shared experience of it all. The patriotism (I’m old fashioned enough to still think that’s a good thing. Apparently it upsets some people, or so I have been told). I feel the same way about the World Cup, certain golf tournaments, and BBQ competitions. I also like the fact that, for at least this short amount of time, most of the country, and the world, will be focused on something that doesn’t involve a natural disaster or a war zone (the athlete’s village notwithstanding). The Olympics just do this on a bigger scale and I think it’s amazing.

Don’t get me wrong… the Olympics bring with it its own set of controversies. Athletes competing under some made up flag because their country of origin is a known hotbed of state sponsored cheating (looking at you, Putin), countries that probably shouldn’t be allowed to compete at all because of their human rights records (N. Korea, China), and the constant battle against P.E.D.s all provide drama outside the competitive arena. But we’ve come to expect that. Embrace it, even. It’s like a world-wide “Bachelor” episode on skis!

I also like that for the next 2 weeks, I know without question there will be something on TV to watch. Sure, we have a gazillion channels and Netflix, but this is so compelling! Competition at it’s best! And while we could be all cynical about all that other stuff I was just talking about, I think the best thing to do is focus on all the great stories of underdogs and hard workers who have sacrificed for a sport they love, and are representing their country while they do it. That’s just some good stuff right there.

Plus, who doesn’t like seeing the U.S. stick it to some Euro-trash country that INVENTED THE VERY SPORT WE ARE DOMINATING THEM IN!? That’s the smell of Olympic gold. Sweet, American Olympic gold. The smell of freedom!

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The XFL Is Back, Baby!

February 5, 2018

The XFL is back and I couldn’t be happier! For those who don’t remember, the Original XFL (OXFL) had only one season, back in 2001. It was all hype and very little substance. All hat, no cattle, as my Uncle George would say. Conceived in the back corners of Vince McMahon’s steroid addled brain, this […]

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An Unwanted Story

January 29, 2018

This wasn’t the column I wanted to write today. I had a nice little list going of possible topics: college basketball, attending sporting events with your kids, what it’s like to see your son grow from little league soccer to an adult, the return of the XFL. All of those, and many more, were possibilities. […]

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Greene With Envy

January 22, 2018

I don’t usually get very specific about certain programs in this column, especially my Alma Mater, Auburn University. I am aware that there is a hefty percentage of my readers who could not care less about my Auburn Tigers. So generally, I steer clear and speak in generalities. But not today. Because this week, Auburn […]

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Same Time, Next Year

January 15, 2018

The college football season has come to and end. A moment of silence, please. Ok…, sorry. I know almost everyone has mentally shifted gears to other sports, but many of us are in a period of mourning. It won’t last long. NFL playoffs are going strong, The Big Game is right around the corner, college […]

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Game? What Game?

January 8, 2018

Due to deadlines and publishing requirements, one of the peculiarities of this column is that I must file it to the editor before any of the big sports stories for the weekend have actually occurred. That’s a little peek behind the curtain, perhaps, but maybe you have wondered why, in a Sunday column in the […]

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Smelly Shoes

January 1, 2018

It’s the end of the year, and time for a quick recap of some of the highlights of 2017! Nah… I’m just yanking your chain. I wouldn’t do that to you. Let’s face it… you’ll see eleventy billion “year in review” pieces all over the place during the next few days. And plenty of “How […]

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It’s A Long Story

December 22, 2017

(Author’s Note: There is some language following. I do not apologize for it.) It was almost 11:30 at night when the man overboard alarm sounded. I remember that because I was just signing off on the final fuel readings and waiting for Lessard to relieve me as Oil King of the Watch. The alarm was […]

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Is It (a) Cold In Here?

December 18, 2017

There is nothing in heaven or on Earth more pathetic than a man with a cold. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s darn near indisputable. The cold and flu season can just drop a guy in his tracks. Just ask any woman. I’m not really sure why this is. I mean, we’ll push […]

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