Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taking Fan Heartbreak to a New Level

Just like that it was over. A postseason run that started out so promising with 10 straight wins, had suddenly been abruptly ended by the Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City Thunder. The deep, talented, and veteran Spurs after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, had been sent to four straight losses, and an earlier than expected postseason exit by the younger, more explosive, and more athletic new kids on the block. I felt pain and sadness Wednesday night, for my latest love affair, the San Antonio Spurs.

I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. My first sports fan memory is one of my Dad and I watching our beloved New York Yankees winning the World Series over the Atlanta Braves in 1996. Just like all great fans and die hards, I am very passionate about my teams and extremely loyal. When your team is playing well you are along for the ride with them on an emotional high, and when your team lets you down, you feel their pain, their sadness, and sometimes anger.  That first World Series I saw with my Dad was amazing, but it set me up for failure because more often than not your team is not going to be the last one standing.

I have experienced some great moments as a fan including seeing my Yankees win 5 World Series, seeing Ohio State win the National Championship in 2002, Donovan McNabb finally leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, the Jets upsetting the Patriots in the 2010-11 playoffs, and seeing the Robert Morris Basketball team make the NCAA tournament my freshman year. I've experienced my fair share of heartbreak too though, including the Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox, the Jets losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game (twice), and Robert Morris losing to LIU in the NEC Championship game (twice.) When it comes down to it, more often than not, your team is going to finish the season on a loss. But the pain and sadness I felt and experienced tonight, for my latest love interest, the San Antonio Spurs, ranks right near the top of my list for moments of heartbreak as a fan.

For die hard sports fans, the relationship with your team is a lot like a relationship that one would share with their spouse in a marriage.  Some are born into their fanhood, and similar to an old school marriage where the people directly involved didn't necessarily have a choice, you are stuck with each other. Others float around and get into the game a little bit later, making what they think is a better choice for themselves personally as their team, or in the case of marriage their spouse.  The only difference between a marriage and a sports team is your favorite team cares even less about your opinion than your wife does. But even though we know that, in both cases, we don't let it affect how much we love them right?

My marriage with the Spurs began when I chose to move to San Antonio for the summer for my internship as a New Business Consultant.  I had always liked the Spurs. I always thought they were a first class organization, had a great coach in Coach Pop who ran a tight ship, played great team ball, and won four championships. Plus they had Tim Duncan. A classic quiet guy who always let his play do the talking, my kind of player. But I would never say I was really a fan of them. My first memory of the Spurs was seeing them knock off my New York Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals. However once I got hired, I began to read about the Spurs daily, checking out the box score after every game, following every player transaction, and I knew the bio of every player on the roster.

Once I actually got down here to San Antonio my love for the Spurs was in full effect.  I was ready to chant "Go Spurs Go!" with the rest of San Antonio and I watched them close out the Utah Jazz in my first night on the town.  My orientation was that Monday and the staff and organization couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming. The organization is one of a kind in my opinion. I haven't worked for another professional sports team so I realize I am biased, but it is hard to imagine one that preaches and even more importantly upholds the values that they believe are vital to running a good business. They place a real emphasis on staff interaction, building a culture, and maintaining an identity of a family atmosphere.

We had to wait about a week before we knew who we were playing, and finally we found out the Los Angeles Clippers were coming to town. I'll admit the first game I was a bit star struck.  It was pretty crazy to see Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get off the team bus no more than 20 feet away from me, as we were eating our staff dinner. It was even more surreal when I walked by Kawhi Leonard in the tunnel and realized he might not be the biggest player on the floor but he is MUCH bigger than I am. The atmosphere in the arena was electric. I got chills during intros when they played Party Rock Anthem and Tim Duncan was introduced. It was my first NBA game in 10 years and it certainly didn't disappoint. The Spurs dominated from the start, and ran right through the bruised and battered Clippers winning that first game 108-92, and sweeping them 4-0 to secure our spot in the Western Conference Finals.

The atmosphere for the Western Conference Finals was even more amplified than it was against the Clippers. I had become a little less star struck but I still thought it was pretty cool to walk by Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins in the tunnel on my way to dinner in Game 1.  After being down for much of Game 1 the Spurs exploded for a 39 point 4th quarter, while my favorite player Stephen Jackson shut down Kevin Durant down the stretch to help ensure the victory.  Some people may think Stephen Jackson is an interesting choice for a favorite player since he is a bench player, and somebody who is a supposed thug, on a roster with three future Hall of Famers. But as Jonathan Abrams on Grantland pointed out, there is a lot more than what meets the eye when it comes to Captain Jack. The Spurs completed the comeback and came away with a thrilling Game 1 victory.

In Game 2 Tony Parker turned in a vintage Tony performance. He was efficient, exhilarating, and unstoppable. The Spurs never trailed and we were up 2-0 for the series. The team was looking great, our win streak was at 20 straight. We were playing good team defense, great team offense, knocking down big shots, and the young Thunder looked shell shocked. San Antonio was ready to celebrate.

Than we went on the road to Oklahoma City and the series turned. The home court advantage was undeniable, but we just looked bad. The Thunder did their best to turn it into a track meet and we couldn't keep up. The Thunder made quick work of us and sent it back to San Antonio tied 2-2.

I wanted to have confidence coming back home, but I was definitely worried.  The atmosphere was great again, and we even broke out white shirts for all the fans to make a white out. For the first 3 and 1/2 quarters of Game 5 the Thunder picked up right where they left off. But than suddenly down 13 with 5 minutes left in the 4th the Spurs sprang to life and began an improbable comeback. Tim Duncan led the Spurs to within 2 and they needed a defensive stop.  But the next time down the floor James Harden hit a cold blooded step back 3 that broke the hearts Spurs fans everywhere. It was undoubtedly the dagger and sent the fans to the exits.  The fans were worried and we were going back to Oklahoma City for Game 6. We just couldn't keep up with them.

The Spurs wouldn't go down without a fight though. Tony Parker came out of the gates hot and the Spurs built a lead as large as 18 points at one point in the first half, before heading into the break up 15.  However even that lead proved to be not enough to beat the Thunder. Kevin Durant took over in the second half, Tony Parker slowed down, and the Spurs just couldn't keep up.  Durant and the young Thunder were headed to their first NBA Finals.  It was a sad, sad night in San Antonio.  The office was very quiet on Thursday morning.

Despite the common perception that this team is too old, the window of opportunity for another championship hasn't closed.  As long as Coach Pop is running the show, R.C. Buford is making the calls, and Tim Duncan is in a Spurs uniform I think it would be wrong to not give them a chance. They will reload, get better and they will be back.  My internship is still moving along in full force. Still sales to make, and it's time to focus on Silver Stars. No time to dwell on the loss from a professional standpoint.  But for now from a fan's perspective this one hurts. The fans know how good this team was, and that an opportunity for a championship slipped away, and being a part of the Spurs family made it that much tougher.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Remembering Marco Giovengo

On Friday evening March 16th this world lost the best man I know. Marco Giovengo suffered a heart attack in his on campus apartment in Lexington. But that's enough about his death. I am writing this today so people will remember him for the way he lived, because that is what he would have wanted, and that is what he deserves.

My relationship with Marco began in our Sport Coaching class.  He had asked me to help him out on an assignment through a message on Facebook and after I had helped him he challenged me to a video game of NBA 2k11.  It was definitely a different experience for me at first.  I had never had a friend who was handicapped, growing up as an athlete I had very few friends who weren't athletes, and I had a very minimal understanding of the disease muscular dystrophy that he was suffering from.

The first time I met him it made me sad because I had trouble understanding everything he was saying. I felt bad asking him to repeat himself, but he understood that I was trying my best so he didn't mind too much.  But despite not being able to hear him very clearly that first time we hung out there were a few things that I learned about him right off the bat.

Marco is one of the passionate people you will ever meet, and that passion carries over to everything he does, especially the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He loved baseball more than anything. He told me about how his Pap would teach him about the game, how to hold a bat, how to break in a glove, how to throw a ball, and he loved all of it.  He played baseball at every chance he could, both when he was physically able to and even when he wasn't, and he could talk baseball with you all day.  His love of the Pirates also showed you his loyalty. The Pirates have been the worst damn team in baseball since he was 2 years old, but he never once thought about switching his allegiance.  He loved his "Bucco Brothers", as he so affectionately referred to them, for life. His favorite Pirate was local kid Neil Walker who he had built a very close relationship with. Marco had a 20 game season ticket package, and before each game he attended, he would text Neil to let him know he would be there, and Neil would make sure to come over and talk with him in the pre-game, and than give him the ball he had warmed up with.  I had the privilege of seeing this relationship first hand, as Marco insisted that I meet Neil, because as he put it "he wanted to be just like the two of us someday, and we both made his life a much better one."

He also loved and appreciated people way more than anybody I know.  After leaving his apartment one time after we had hung out, he texted me and said "hey man thanks for coming over, it means a lot to me. I love you bro." I wasn't sure what to think at first.  I mean how many guys tell their friends on a daily basis that they love them. The next time we hung out he said to me "I know you might think it's weird that I say I love you. But I really do man. You don't know how many people can't accept me for who I am. So the fact that you look right past all of this, and treat me the way you do, it really means the world to me." It just about broke my heart when he said that to me, and I told him I loved him every day after that.

Another thing is he would never be afraid to speak his mind.  That first time we hung out, he beat my butt in that game of NBA 2k11, and he was talking trash to me the whole time.  He had used the Orlando Magic and I used the New York Knicks.  His favorite player was J.J. Redick and he was yelling things like "J.J. Redick baby", after he hit shots with him, and "New York sucks" the entire game.  Another thing that stuck out to me, was that in the entire three hours I spent with him, he didn't say one negative thing.  He had this terrible disease, but he was not about to let it define him by any means.  He was a regular college student, pursuing his degree, talking about girls, and living on his own.

This past summer I lived on campus, interning with the Washington Wild Things and training for football, and Marco stayed on campus as well taking summer classes. When he found out I got the internship and I would be staying on campus he was overjoyed. Every morning after working out I would play a game of NBA2k with him or MLB the Show before I left for work.  Every night after I got back from working the game around 10:30, we would watch some random West Coast game on my account, or if we were lucky enough the Pirates would be on a West Coast trip.  One night specifically stands out to me where the Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in extra innings on a very questionable call. We had stayed up until 2:00 in the morning watching and it was the most angry I have ever seen him.  While we were watching the games we would have "bullpen sessions" as he liked to call them, where we would talk about our days, anything new that was going on, how we were going to make his senior year the best year yet, and just life in general. He referred to me as Manager DBon, and he was my young pitcher that I was trying to lead to the Cy Young award.

One afternoon when I had the day off my friend Heather came to visit me. The Pirates were playing at 4 that day so he came over to watch the game with me.  When he got there he saw Heather, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. That was the only time I've ever seen him be distracted from a Pirates game. I introduced him and the three of us talked for about an hour before Heather had to leave.  After she left he said to me "she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen." He told me that he wanted me to make sure that she was his Homecoming date for when he ran for King in the fall and I promised him I would do everything I could to make it happen.  I asked her if she would come over with me one day to his apartment, and although he was extremely nervous, being the courageous and polite guy he was, he said to her "Heather I'm running for Homecoming King, and it would be an honor, and a privilege, if you would be my date and escort." She happily agreed and Marco was so happy he could barely contain himself.

This year Marco has had some great memories, despite finishing as a runner-up for Homecoming King, he loved Homecoming weekend. I would be lying if I said he wasn't bitter about not winning, because he absolutely was. But he had a great time regardless.  I threw him a birthday party at my apartment and he said to me "Dan I got the invites for the guys, but out of us two you're the pimp so I want lots of ladies there." We had about 40 people crammed into my apartment for the party, and at least half of them were girls, and during the midst of it, he called me over and said to me "I love you Dan, this is the best night of my life."

Marco always loved the Pitt Panthers, but he really loved his Robert Morris Colonials and his university.  He said that this was his second home.  He was more involved than just about anybody on campus.  He was a member of the band, the Secretary of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, which he was Damn Proud of, as he liked to constantly say, and a Sport Management major who was ready to walk in May and graduate in August.  He was at every basketball game, and every football game, and he swore that we could beat anybody.

Marco is the most courageous person I have ever known, and I consider it a privilege and an honor to have known him so well, and to call him my friend.  Just think about all of the people you know, or maybe even you are guilty of it, who go through life just floating along, not working towards anything, wasting the gift, and the blessing they have been given.  Here was a kid who was dealt a bad card, but refused to let it hold him back.  Marco lived his life to the fullest until his last moments. I spent that afternoon watching March Madness with him. We were watching 15th seeded Norfolk State, upset 2nd seeded Missouri.  He was yelling about how embarrassing Missouri was, and that they sucked, mainly because he had picked Missouri to go to the Final Four in his bracket. But than he said to me "you know how I love underdogs, so I can't really be that mad." And I did know, he had said to me once, the reason he cheers for underdogs so much is because he is an underdog himself.

Marco always said to me and my teammates that we were an inspiration to him, but the truth is that he was an inspiration to us.  He has taught me so much, and he really has given me an entirely new outlook on life.  So although Marco is no longer physically with us, I hope that his passion, his courage, his love, and his unbreakable, and undeniable spirit, will live inside of all of us, and I can promise you that it will always live on inside of me.  Rest In Peace man. I love you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Robert Morris sets themselves up for an extended stay in NYC, with vengeance on the mind

For somebody on the outside looking in, one without much knowledge of the Northeast Conference, it may have seemed as if the Robert Morris Colonials and the Long Island University Blackbirds were on a collision course all season for a rematch in the Northeast Conference Championship game.  On Wednesday night in Brooklyn, we will be seeing the rematch of the overtime thriller that we witnessed a year ago. But there is always more to the story than what meets the eye, so first let us take a look at how our Colonials have reached this point.

Coming into the 2011-2012 season, expectations for the Colonials were high. The Colonials roster features talented guards in Velton Jones, Coron Williams, and Anthony Myers, swingman Russell Johnson, and forwards Lijah Thompson and Lawrence Bridges, add in a talented freshman class and mid-season addition Mike McFadden (after transferring from Iona, Mike finally became eligible in December), and a young rising Head Coach in Andy Toole and you knew this team had the chance to be special.  But just how special?

Robert Morris played well in their non-conference schedule going 9-4 with quality wins over Ohio, James Madison, Youngstown State, Duquesne, and La Salle, and tough losses against, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State, and Memphis.  But as we all know, if you're going to be successful in college basketball, you have to perform well in conference play, especially at the mid-major level, if you want to make your presence felt on the national stage.  In smaller conferences like the Northeast Conference, where it is a one bid league, you need to win your conference tournament to earn the automatic bid if you want to make the NCAA tournament, and you need to perform well in your conference schedule to set yourself up for the conference tournament.

Although many media outlets who have covered our Colonials throughout the season have pointed out that they have struggled with consistency at times in the season, I always believed that this team was going to be great.  This team didn't necessarily struggle with consistency, but rather they went through the growing pains, and maturation process that a team goes through as they build chemistry. The Colonials struggled with injuries at times as they missed Russell Johnson, and Lucky Jones an All NEC rookie performer, for extended periods of time, and they simply dealt with a much improved Northeast Conference.  At one point this season the Colonial Athletic Association, the Northeast Conference, and the Big 12 were the only conferences in the nation that boasted three teams with 20 wins or more.

After going 13-5 in conference play the Colonials found themselves in third place headed into the NEC tournament.  On Thursday March 1st the Colonials welcomed the sixth seeded Monmouth Hawks to the Sewall Center for the opening round.  Robert Morris put on one of the most impressive shooting performances we've seen from them in recent memory.  Coron Williams finished 8 for 11 from long distance and lead all scorers with 25 points.  That win set them up with the second seeded Wagner Seahawks on Sunday March 4th in Staten Island.

Despite finishing in second place, Wagner was the team that received the most press time of any Northeast Conference this season.  That is because they had the conference's most impressive non-conference win over Pittsburgh, and the most famous Head, and Assistant Coach in the conference in Danny and Bobby Hurley respectively.  In just their second season the Hurley's have changed the culture of Wagner Basketball, and this season they established a new school record with 25 victories.  But heading into a hostile environment at the Spiro Sports Center, where the betting line had them as seven point underdogs, and they had already suffered an ugly 80-69 loss earlier this season, the Colonials were anything but intimidated.  Robert Morris put together a brilliant team effort, led by an outstanding performance by Velton Jones, who showed why he earned first team All-NEC accolades this season, and pulled off the 71-64 upset victory.  Down at the half 31-29, the Colonials went on an 11-1 run to start the 2nd half and never let up.  Despite battling a tough Wagner defense, a late Wagner run, and the referees at times, Robert Morris advanced to their fourth straight NEC Championship Game.

After LIU made a late comeback to stave off Quinnipiac's upset bid, the stage was set for the conference title rematch.  In the regular season Robert Morris won the only matchup between the Colonials and Blackbirds by a margin of 75-66.  This time the stakes will be much higher with a conference title and the berth to the NCAA tournament on the line, and the Colonials will be ready to go, with vengeance on the mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How we can all learn a lesson from Jeremy Lin

Linsanity, Lincredible, Linvincible, Super Lintendo. The nicknames for the stunning breakout of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin are endless.  He has emerged from anonymity, and now finds himself in the center of the brightly shining spotlight of New York City, and Madison Square Garden.  How did this all happen? Where did he come from? And why has he been overlooked for so long?

Jeremy Lin has gone from the end of the Knicks bench, to the top story on ESPN, and is now the hottest story in sports.  For those of you who have been following this story, you probably know by now that Jeremy Lin has been overlooked at every level.  But despite being overlooked, and being told he wasn't good enough, he kept fighting. He had a dream, and he has worked relentlessly to make it into a reality. All he needed was for somebody to believe in him, and to give him an opportunity.  He is the epitome of an underdog, and from this underdog story I think there are two major lessons we can learn in perseverance, and in stereotyping.  

Jeremy Lin hails from Palo Alto, California.  In high school Lin was a phenomenal player. He received very little attention heading into his senior year from recruiters though.  Even Harvard, where he eventually found a home, came away unimpressed after their initial analysis.  However, after seeing him a second time Lin became the top player on Harvard's recruiting board.  In Lin's senior season he led Palo Alto High School to a 32-1 record and an upset over perennial powerhouse Mater Dei High School in the state championship game.  Lin would also go on to win Player of the Year honors in the state of California. However he was also the only California High School State Player of the Year to never be offered a Division I scholarship.  Stanford was located right across the street, but they never came through with an offer. Neither did Cal or UCLA who were at the top of his list. So he ended up at Harvard, a school who has produced more United States Presidents, than NBA Draft Picks.

At Harvard, Lin continued to perform.  He averaged, 17.8 points per game, and 16.4 points per game respectively in his junior, and senior seasons.  He also helped turn around what had been a horrid Harvard Basketball program. With the help of newly hired Head Coach Tommy Amaker, Lin led Harvard to a 21-8 record in his senior season. They narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, however they did receive a postseason bid to the CIT, which was an impressive accomplishment after struggling through an 8-22 season when he was a sophomore.  Lin also graduated with a degree in Economics.

However despite all the success he had at Harvard, the NBA didn't seem to really take notice.  He was projected to be drafted by many experts, but the draft came and went without Lin's name being called.  You think stereotypes don't exist? Let me tell you that even here in 2012 they are alive and well.  "How could an Asian kid from California, who played at Harvard possibly be good enough for the NBA?"  "He's smart, and he knows the game, has a decent shot, but he can't possibly be athletic enough." Those were the kinds of statements that NBA scouts, and front office brass made about Lin.  People didn't take into account that he has won at every level, that he has constantly been overlooked yet continued to perform, that he actually has good size for a point guard at 6'3" and 200 pounds, and that he has an explosive first step and ability to get to the rim.

But did that stop Lin? Absolutely not. He had a dream, and he was determined to make it come true.  He had been overlooked going into the college, this was just another hurdle on his way to achieving his dreams.  Lin was invited by the Dallas Mavericks to play in the NBA's Summer League. That is where Lin made his first impression on the NBA. He played very well against that year's number one overall pick John Wall out of Kentucky.  He posted solid numbers in the Summer League, and was signed by the Golden State Warriors.  Despite making the roster he was placed on the inactive list.  Despite making his NBA debut, and enjoying playing for his hometown team, Lin spent the season bouncing between the NBA and the D-League and was cut on December 9, 2011, the first day of training camp after the NBA lockout had ended.  He was claimed off of waivers by the Houston Rockets on December 12th.  However things didn't get any easier in Houston.  He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart, and was waived by them on Christmas Eve.

Than Lin finally caught a break, well sort of.  On Christmas Day, New York Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert suffered a knee injury, and the Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on December 27th.  Again Lin initially saw no playing time. In fact he was even assigned to the D-League again.  After posting a triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, the Knicks recalled him to the NBA team.

He still wasn't playing though. The Knicks were going with their completely ineffective combination of Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, and Toney Douglass at point guard, and along with it their previously high expectations were gone. The Knicks were ready for Baron Davis to come back and hopefully instill some stability to the point guard position. However after he suffered a setback in practice, and with the urging of Carmelo Anthony, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni decided to give him some minutes, and what Lin had been waiting for all along, an opportunity.  25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds later, and one Knicks victory later, Lin found himself with a starting assignment against the Utah Jazz.  And as they say, that's all she wrote.  Lin has led the Knicks to seven straight victories and counting now. Those victories include dramatic comebacks, a game winning 3 pointer at Toronto, and a dominating 38 point performance against the Lakers.  Despite, the public questioning of whether or not Carmelo will pose a problem once he returns, things are only going to get better.

How did he seemingly come out of nowhere? Well the thing is, he was always ready. He was just waiting for a chance.  This whole time he patiently waited, working his hardest, and most importantly staying confident and believing in himself.  It's easy to lose confidence in yourself when nobody else seems to have any in you. Sometimes the only thing that can hold you back is yourself, and when you don't believe in yourself that is what can happen. Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski once said "For the most part people do not attempt things because they fear the consequences. But the greatest consequence of all comes in not attempting to do the things that you believe you can. Having courage means boldly pursuing your dreams, no matter what the consequences may be." Jeremy Lin has the courage of a lion, and for those of you who think that he is just a flash in the pan, or a fluke, you don't know enough about him, and he's looking forward to proving you wrong just like he has everybody else on his way to the top.

Right now he's the toast of New York City. People can't get enough of him. His jersey is the best selling in the NBA since February 4th, and he is the headline on ESPN every day.  But the reason people love him so much isn't just because he is a great basketball player. Sure he is one, but there are plenty of those. The reason is because he inspires us, he gives us hope.  Every player on the bench working his hardest to get in, every employee who feels that they are under-appreciated and that they can do more, every person who believes all they need is a chance, look no further than Jeremy Lin, and keep believing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eli Manning Emerges from Peyton's Shadow, and Makes His Way Into the Spotlight

Eli, Peyton, and father Archie
You all know Peyton Manning. Engineering the Colts offense better than any offensive coordinator possibly could, putting up passing numbers that seemed only possible in video games, leading his team to the playoffs year after year, featured in countless advertising campaigns and promoting some of the most popular products in their respective industries.  After a spectacular college career at the University of Tennessee, in which he set the SEC record for passing yards and wins for a starting quarterback, he was taken with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and has taken the league by storm since than.  He has led the Colts to 12 playoff appearances, has earned 11 Pro Bowl appearances, has won three MVP awards, has already won one Super Bowl, and taken his team to another, and in the process has broken virtually every Colts franchise passing record.

Eli in the Cotton Bowl at Ole Miss
In the meantime, as his older and far more celebrated brother, made his way to top, little Eli was steadily putting together an impressive career for traditional SEC cellar dweller Ole Miss.  Despite the fact that Ole Miss was not an SEC powerhouse, Eli decided to follow in Daddy Archie's footsteps.  After finishing a senior season in which he led Ole Miss to a Cotton Bowl victory, won both the Maxwell, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, his stock steadily began to rise.

Just like Peyton he was selected first overall, albeit, amid some controversy.  People tend to forget that Eli was originally a San Diego Charger.  However with the support of Archie, who suffered through some miserable seasons, on some very bad teams, as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, it was rumored that Eli would refuse to play unless dealt to another team.  So on draft day the Chargers and Giants made a deal that would define both franchises for the years to come.  They swapped draft picks and when all was said and done the Chargers had Phillip Rivers out of N.C. State, and the Giants had their man in Eli Manning.  And we all know how that one is working out.

Things weren't easy for Eli though.  He had an immense amount of pressure placed on him already, coming from the most popular family of athletes in sports, and there was surely no way he could ever escape the shadow cast by his immensely successful brother Peyton. But the expectations were on him to not only produce, but to do it right away, and anything short of returning the New York Giants to glory would undoubtedly be considered a failure.

If you watched Eli Manning from the start, it was not a pretty sight.  He struggled early, and often. His numbers were mediocre at best, teammates questioned his ability to lead, and the media absolutely killed him for it.  And the fans were the worst of all. New York is a great place, it is my home, and I absolutely love it, but as great as the fans can be when things are going well, they can be downright awful when you are not.  New York City is a place where the common theme "is what have you done for me lately?"

Eli Manning escaped the Patriots grasp to deliver the
throw to David Tyree that would change history

But than in his fourth season Eli finally delivered what all those New Yorkers had been waiting for. He won that first ring. In dramatic fashion, he led a game winning drive, in which he completed one of the most phenomenal plays in Super Bowl history to David Tyree, and delivered again, hitting Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown.  He defeated Tom Brady and the almighty, seemingly unbeatable, New England Patriots.  The Giants made an improbable run, knocking off Buccaneers, Cowboys, and the Packers at Lambeau, on the way to achieving their Super Bowl victory. New York was in love with Eli Manning, and the New York Giants, for the time being at least...

The following season the Giants went on to win the NFC East and earned the number one seed in the NFC.  However they were defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles at home, and fans were angry as Eli under performed badly in the loss. Over the next two seasons things only got worse.  The Giants struggled mightily down the stretch and missed the playoffs in both years. Eli personally struggled as well. Despite throwing for over 4,000 yards in both seasons, he finished last season with an embarrassing 25 interceptions.  New York was again ready to throw him out of town.

Than in 2011 things changed.  In the preseason Eli was highly criticized for saying that he believed he "is an elite quarterback" and "in the class of Tom Brady."  Now athletes are criticized for things they say in the media all the time, and more often than not they are taken out of context.  But either way those words came out of his mouth, and he went out this season and proved that he in fact was elite.  He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, finishing with 4,933, and thew 29 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.  The Giants did have their struggles at times, losing four straight at one point this season, as well as an ugly loss to the Seahawks, and losses to the Redskins both times.  But Eli was rarely at fault.

This season was defined not only by his impressive numbers, but by his late season heroics in victories over the Cowboys twice, and the outspoken, but unimpressive New York Jets, that has set up the second improbable playoff run they are now on.  The Giants are healthy, confident, and look like they could take down anybody right now. They outright dominated the Falcons, at home, shut down the vaunted Packers offense at Lambeau, and won an intense battle with the 49ers at Candlestick.  Although his numbers were solid in that victory over the 49ers, the most impressive thing in that game to me was that he kept on fighting. He got beat up badly in that game. The 49ers sacked him 6 times, and knocked him down or hit him on seemingly every play, yet he just kept getting back up, and eventually found a way to help his team get the victory and back to the Super Bowl, earning a rematch Brady and the Patriots.

I admittedly have not always been the biggest Eli fan.  But he has earned my respect, and than some.  When it comes down to it, he might not be made for the spotlight, he's just a laid back southern kid out here doing what he loves. But he has no doubt put himself in the elite class of quarterbacks in the NFL.  If he can win on Sunday, and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots again, in Peyton's house, than he will have won his second ring, and that's one more than Peyton has for those of you counting at home. For the first time in his life, he will have one upped his big bro, and in the process he just may be emerging from that shadow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Anthony Myers making a name for himself

When you think of the Robert Morris Colonials team, you probably think of the players who garner the most attention, including undisputed leader and veteran guard Velton Jones, sharpshooting star in the making Coron Williams, and forward/center Lijah Thompson who is capable of throwing down some impressive dunks.  But it's time that people start paying attention to do everything guard, sophomore Anthony Myers.

Conference games on the road in college basketball are never easy. You have to factor in unfamiliarity with the environment the players are staying, hostility from opposing fans, and often times long hours of travel. It is no different for our very own Colonials who just finished up a road trip to New Jersey to take on Northeast Conference opponents Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson.  Never mind the fact that these two teams are bottom dwellers in the conference this season, the Colonials headed into Jersey banged up. Coron, despite showing great toughness and playing through the pain of a badly sprained ankle is still hurting, versatile swingman Russell Johnson is still out with a broken thumb, and Lijah is still recovering from the effects of his fractured foot.  They needed somebody to step up and fill that void.

After being down to FDU by as many as 6 on Thursday night, Lucky Jones, thrust into a starting role with the injury to Johnson, provided a spark and led the Colonials to a 12 point victory. However last night against the Monmouth Hawks, the Colonials were in an even bigger hole, finding themselves down 15 with 11:34 left in regulation. Enter Anthony Myers.  Myers came off the bench and knocked down back to back to back 3's.  He than drove the lane and made a layup to tie the game at 61.  The Colonials traded baskets with the Hawks and after a last second miss by the Hawks headed into overtime tied at 67. In overtime Myers was still feeling it as he scored 5 of the Colonials first 7 points and the team cruised to an 81-73 victory.  Ant finished the night a perfect with 16 points including, 5 for 5 from the field, 4 for 4 from 3 point range, 2 for 2 from the free throw line, and threw in 3 assists, 2 steals and a block for good measure.

This isn't the first time he's shined.  Earlier this season against Duquesne, Myers came off the bench for 10 points and 6 rebounds and helped lead a Colonials comeback victory over the rival Dukes. Just last week, after Velton had a couple of off nights in a row, Myers was inserted into the starting lineup and had 7 assists, helping the Colonials pick up a key victory over Sacred Heart to snap a 2 game skid.  If Robert Morris is going to contend for their 3rd conference title in 4 seasons they need to rely on Myers more down the stretch.

Competition makes everybody better.  Velton has returned to the form of the All-NEC guard he truly is during Ant's emergence. Velton deserves a lot of credit for last night's impressive comeback as well.  He delivered 35 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals.  In the process he also scored his 1,000th career point as a Colonial.  As one of Monmouth's announcers put it "tonight Velton was Superman."

Back to Ant though. This kid is humble, hardworking, energetic, and he is well liked by all of his teammates.  Last season Ant showed promise as a freshman. You could see his athleticism, his quickness, and his excellent court vision, but his shot wasn't where he would like it to be.  I saw his maturation as a shooter right before my eyes. It didn't happen overnight though. He consistently and intensely worked for it all off-season, and all summer long.  This season he has improved his field goal percentage from 34% to 44%, his 3 point percentage from 24% to 50% and his free throw percentage from 63% to 75%.  He is talented, a great team player, and versatile enough to fill any role.  But I know Ant well enough to say that he wants to let you know he's just getting started.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tim Tebow Rises to the Occasion

There comes a time in a man's life where he is faced with the opportunity he has always dreamed of.  This often comes after he has put in hours of work, paid his dues, waited for his time, and ultimately has done everything in his power to earn the opportunity he is now faced with.  How a man performs in the face of that opportunity will define him, in terms of his level of success, his character, and ultimately his legacy.  On Sunday in Denver, Tim Tebow undoubtedly made the most out of his opportunity, and earned one of the most thrilling upset victories in recent memory.

Despite his widespread popularity among fans, his number of detractors, doubters, and haters is just as large. Whether it be for his proud statement of faith, his enormous amount of hype which some believe is undeserved, the fact that some people just don't think he is a good quarterback, the fact that he's "too nice"
 or the fact that he simply "can't throw," people just don't like the guy.  I don't see what there is not to like about him. In a sport where you see players getting arrested for all types of scandals and criminals, Tebow has never had any of that associated with his name. He works extremely hard, is a captivating leader, inspires others both on and off the field, and when it comes down to it he simply wins games.  

Heading into Sunday's game there was a multitude of questions about Tebow and the Denver Broncos who as many pointed out, had collectively fallen apart down the stretch.  The team went 0-3 in their final three games and the Tebow led offense had stagnated, with Tebow himself turning the ball over seven times in that span. After winning seven of his first eight starts it seemed as though "Tebow Time" was up, and the magic had run out. The Broncos however managed to hold onto the AFC West, with an 8-8 record, and backed into the playoffs.  Rumors swirled around Denver all week with reports that Tebow was holding onto his starting job by a thread, and that the team was considering going with backup quarterback Brady Quinn if Tebow struggled in the early goings on Sunday.  This game would be Tebow's biggest test facing off against the reigning AFC Champions, a Pittsburgh Steelers team with a famed tradition of postseason success, that featured the NFL's #1 ranked pass defense, not to mention a sold out Denver crowd and a record breaking national television audience.  If Tebow failed here, this could be his last game as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

But the thing that people don't seem to understand about Tebow, is that this man has a will power, work ethic, passion, and competitive nature so strong, that he lives for these moments.  He is at his best when the pressure is on. Back him into a corner, and he will explode out of it.  Those characteristics were on full display on Sunday. Tebow completed 10 passes for 316 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns. He also chipped in 50 rushing yards on 10 carries.  Those who said he couldn't throw, and that he certainly couldn't throw deep, ate their words yesterday.  Consider this, Tebow completed five passes of 30 yards or more on Sunday, the Steelers had only given up seven passes of 30 yards or more all season! After Ben Roethlisberger led a spirited Steelers comeback tying the game at 23 and sending it into overtime, Tebow wasted little time leading his team to victory. On the first play from scrimmage with the defense biting up on a play-action fake he delivered a beautiful strike to Demaryius Thomas, who stiff armed Ike Taylor and outraced Taylor and Ryan Mundy, on his way to an 80 yard game-winning touchdown.  That play was the exclamation point on an outstanding performance from Tebow and his Denver teammates.

Now those who doubt Tebow will be quick to point out all of the injuries that the Steelers were dealing with, the fact that he only completed 10 out of 21 passes, and that this victory proves nothing long term.  What people fail to notice is that the Broncos were missing starting guard Chris Kuper, starting safety Brian Dawkins, running back Knowshon Moreno who has been out for weeks, and top receiver Eric Decker who was sidelined in the 1st quarter with a knee injury and didn't return.  But that is besides the point, Tebow can't control any of that, all he can control is his own performance, and he turned out a great one.

And so the Tebow Show goes on the road to Foxboro to take on the number one seeded New England Patriots and Tom Brady.  The Broncos might go out and get handled this weekend, but Tebow has already made his statement, and at this point are you really going to continue to doubt him? Either you love him or you hate him, and there is seemingly no in between.  But after Sunday's performance it looks like he is here to stay whether you like it or not.