Monday, March 18, 2013

Zoo Review

Here's a story from the distant past that seems appropriate to tell on this particular night.

When I was a freshman at Syracuse, I eagerly anticipated the start of basketball season. This was only partially because the football team was rather awful. The basketball team was coming off an NCAA tournament season, and had a great showman as the star in Dennis DuVal. The games were played at Manley Field House, remembered for its intimate surroundings and its dusty floor that made it difficult to breath - especially for those playing.

We sat in the student section, better known at the time as "The Manley Zoo." The students sat right behind one of the baskets, and had developed a reputation for rude and obnoxious behavior. These were the polite good old days, when it was considered improper to wave one's arms during opposing free throws. It was something of an issue at games in the early portion of the season.

On the night of January 23, 1974, Bucknell came to Syracuse for a game. In those pre-Big East days, Syracuse scheduled anyone that was willing to drive on an Interstate to get to a game and pick up a check. Army, Colgate and Holy Cross also were on the schedule that year.

Coach Roy Danforth finally got tired of the Zoo's act, so he took matters into his own hands. Well before the game, he walked over to the student section and asked them personally to tone it down a bit. Danforth was well received, and then as I recall, he started to walk away. Then he turned around and added a postscript. It went something like: "And if we score 100 points tonight, I'll come over and lead the cheers myself."

The Syracuse-Bucknell game went as could be predicted. It was well in hand by the second half, as DuVal had 18 field goals. As the Orangemen rolled up the points, most of Manley's fans were either relatively quiet or searching for their coats. The student section, however, was getting louder. They wanted 100 points, unbeknownst to the rest of the crowd.

Syracuse went past 100 with a few minutes to go, setting off an explosion of noise in the student section. It was followed by chants of "We want Roy!"

Would Roy fulfill his bargain? Indeed. He walked down the sideline past the opposing team, and yelled, "Come on, let's go Orange!!" Then he walked back to his team, while the students chanted "Roy's all right!"

Bucknell was led by a promising young coach by the name of Jim Valvano, who was stunned that an opposing coach would turn into a cheerleader. He later wrote about the experience in his autobiography: "Walks right by me, leads them in cheers, walks back. Is this a fun profession or what?"

Valvano had the last laugh. He didn't come to Syracuse a year later, his last at Buckell. From there it was on to Iona and North Carolina State, where he won the national championship in 1983 in one of the greatest upsets in the sport's history.

A documentary on Valvano aired on ESPN tonight. It will be re-run down the road. It's worth your time.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Another phone call

The Buffalo Bandits announced Thursday that they had acquired the rights to goalie Steve Dietrich for a sixth-round 2015 draft choice from the Toronto Rock. I wonder how that conversation went ...

"Terry Sanderson."

"Hi, Terry, it's Steve Dietrich with the Bandits. How are you doing today?"

"Kind of busy, Steve. It's almost the trading deadline, as you know, so the phone's ringing a lot here in Toronto. Did you guys ever finish that game with Colorado last week, ha, ha, ha?"

"Very funny. I've still got a few guys that won't be suspended from that one. Look, I want to make a trade. As you know, the roster freeze is coming up on Friday, and we have only two goaltenders on our roster. So if one of them gets hurt, we're really in trouble."

"I'm not real anxious to help you, Steve, We are trying to beat you guys out in the division, and we need our two goalies on the roster."

"I had something else in mind, Terry. What I want to do is make a trade with you to acquire myself."

"What's that? The cell phone went out for a second. You want to make a trade for Scott Self? Didn't you just trade him to Rochester?"

"No, not Scott Self, or even Brad Self. Myself. I want to get my playing rights."

"Well, that's unusual. You think you can help the Bandits? Aren't you 43 years old? Come to think of it, though, that's younger than Dallas Eliuk or Ross Cowie. Heck, it's younger than one of your players."

"Don't remind me, Terry, although sometimes I think John Tavares is ageless. Anyway, we need a third goalie in case of emergency."

"Hmmm. This is different. Let's see. You want to acquire a goalie who is a former Most Valuable Player of the league? A Hall of Famer? That's going to cost you. For starters, I'd want Dhane Smith, Shawn Williams, Billy Dee Smith, and a couple of first-round picks. Do you have any left before 2020, ha, ha, ha?

"You're hilarious, Terry. I was thinking of a couple of large coffees at Tim Hortons. It's 'Roll up the rim' time, you know. You could be a big winner in the contest."

"That's tempting, Steve. OK, you did help us win a title back in 2010, so I guess I owe you for that. So how about just a draft choice down the road?"

"Do I have to give one up? (Sigh) All right, would a sixth-round pick in three years work for you, Terry? That way I can leave the draft a little early and start the trip home that much sooner."

"You got a deal. Just remember, you can't be a general manager and player at the same time. You'll have to resign the GM job if you suit up. And I can't wait to hear about the contract negotiations if you do have to sign yourself."

"I know, I know. I'll fax in the paperwork to the league, Terry. And I'll see you in a couple of weeks in Toronto when we play each other."

"Hopefully, you'll be in uniform, ha, ha, ha."


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Three points

Think about a baseball game. Imagine that when two major-league teams moved into extra innings, the squads had to play eight players each. If teams didn't settle matters in 12 innings, a home-run hitting contest decided the game. And, a loss wasn't really a loss, but rather a partial win.

Welcome to the wacky world of the National Hockey League, which more or less does something like that.

Some years ago, it was determined that new fans to the NHL didn't like ties. They wanted to have an outcome to their games. Ties had been an acceptable results in non-playoff games for decades, but the NHL was all about growing the fanbase. Understood.

It still surprises me what was done. First, a five-minute overtime was adopted with each team short a man so it was four-on-four for skaters. That opened up the play quite a bit, as you could imagine. Then, if there was no winner after overtime, the teams took part in a shootout to determine a winner.

For all games, the team that scored in overtime or won the shootout earned two points. The team that lost in overtime or the shootout picked up one point. In other words, teams could play conservatively through the final minutes of regulation, make sure to get a point, and then play like heck in overtime in order to grab the extra point. It also makes the standings really ugly looking. Right now, an unlikely 10-5-6 record looks like a fine season when it really is the story of a sub-.500 team.

It's easy to sit back and say, does this make any sense?

It's particularly true right now because teams are only playing within their conference. If a team (let's use the Sabres as a really far-fetched example) is trying to gain ground in the standings, they have to watch other teams ahead of them play each other. Somebody is getting two points, and the loser is possibly getting one. That means the points keep accumulating throughout the league, making it more difficult to climb up the ladder. The Sabres not only have to win games, but they have to win them in 60 minutes to avoid giving points to their opponents.

I've got two options for the powers that be here. The easy one would be to call a win a win and a loss a loss. But it's not really fair to have a team make it to a shootout and not get some sort of reward.

Fine .Let's make every game worth three points. Win in regulation, and you get three points. Win in overtime or a shootout, you get two points. Lose in extra time, and you go home with one point. Lose in regulation, and you get no parting gifts.

I'm not completely sure what this would do to the flow of games, but it at least would make more sense than the current system.

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Family lore

It's the first of the month. That often makes think of an incident from my childhood. I don't think I can't verify it because of a lack of witnesses - the main one probably doesn't remember it fully - but I believe it to be true.

My sister had heard a silly little tale that when you woke up on the first day of the month, you had to say the words "rabbit, rabbit" aloud the first thing in the morning. It was supposed to bring you good luck. That meant first thing. If you stepped on the floor before saying the words, it was too late.

Naturally, it was easier in concept than execution. My sister and I would try to remember, but we'd always stagger out of bed, slap our heads (or the equivalent), and move on to the rest of an unlucky month.

One first of the month, though, I remember that I asked my sister if she had remembered this time around and she said yes.

Later that day, Jane felt a sharp pain in her side that wouldn't go away. That resulted in a trip to the hospital, which resulted in her appendix coming out. She later told me that, just to add to the hurt, she wasn't covered my health insurance at the time. So our parents had to pay for it, and then she paid them back ... at $10 a week. I think she's still sending checks to the estate.

You think I've said "rabbit, rabbit" on the first of the month since then? Not a chance. I prefer to keep my appendix right where it is, thank you. I never paid tribute to rabbits since that day.

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