My Sports Bucket List

I’ve been blessed to see some great sporting events in my life: two Final Fours; a handful of bowl games; and one of the most underrated college basketball rivalries, the Braggin’ Rights game between Illinois and Missouri.  I’ve watched the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs (although, sadly, before the greatest National Anthem singer of all time started performing).  And I was in the stands when Miami beat Florida State in the only overtime matchup of that storied rivalry.

I’ve never been to a Super Bowl, and wouldn’t want to if my Chicago Bears weren’t playing.  You couldn’t pay me to go to an NBA Final (unless maybe Kevin Garnett put on the T’wolves jersey again).  Baseball?  You call it the Great American Pastime, I call it the Great American Nap Time.  And if ANYONE suggests I attend a World Cup soccer game I will hunt them down and kill them.  This is a list of SPORTING events, not a list of reasons 3rd world people decide to riot.

So, with no further ado, here is my bucket list of the 10 sporting events I want to attend before I die.

10.  Louisville-Kentucky Basketball

Perhaps it’s because I grew up with the Illinois-Missouri Braggin’ Rights game, but I love non-conference rivalry games in college basketball.  Conference play is great, the rivalries are special, but there’s something about two teams located relatively close to each other but playing in different leagues, battling for regional pride.  When I lived in San Diego the best game of the year was between lowly San Diego State of the Mountain West and even lowlier University of San Diego of the WCC.  The cross-city matchup of Xavier-Cincinnati is another game that gets the respective fans’ blood boiling.

And Louisville-Kentucky might just be the best of these matchups.  Two historic programs (Kentucky has 14 Final Fours, Louisville has 8) in the same state, a coach (Rick Pitino) that has coached at both schools, what more could you ask for?  I don’t even have a rooting interest in this game (although I’ve never quite forgiven UK for stealing that Regional Final from the Illini in 1984), it’d just be a helluva game and event to witness.

9. Chicago Blackhawks-Detroit Red Wings hockey

Two Original Six franchises, winners of two of the last four Stanley Cups, and did I mention the greatest National Anthem singer of all time?  Even if you don’t like hockey this is a classic matchup, great teams with great fans.  Not to mention there’s always the chance you might get hit by an octopus.

I have to admit I would certainly have a rooting interest in this one.  While I’m not a Blackhawks fan per se, I’ve always hated the Red Wings.  I almost cried when the Hawks stupidly traded Chris Chelios to the Wings.  So if I ever get the chance I’ll be wearing my Chelios Blackhawks jersey, bangin’ on the glass and spewing hateful profanities at whatever commie Russian bastard is playing for the Wings that day.

8.  Monaco Grad Prix-

I don’t know anything about auto racing.  And I know even less about Formula-1 racing, which takes place almost exclusively overseas.  But I do know the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo is one of the wealthiest, snobbiest, most elitist events in the entire world.  And it brings girls like this to its week of festivities:

Oh, and the cars go really fast too.  ‘Nuff said!

7. Texas- Texas A&M football

Remember what I said about non-conference rivalries?  In state matchups?  Well, how about a bitter rivalry between teams that used to be in the same conference but now have gone through a nasty divorce and hate each other even more than ever?  If these teams ever start playing again (and it appears 2018 is the earliest possible) I would love to be there.  This was already an intense rivalry in the most football-mad state in the Union.  Now that they’ve parted ways it will be even nastier.

6. Kansas-Missouri basketball

A lot of rivalries like to call themselves the “Border War.”  In this case, it’s actually true.  Dating back to “Bleeding Kansas” and the atrocities committed by both Kansas free-staters and Missouri pro-slavers, these two states just have not seen eye to eye.  And like the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, these schools are going their separate ways now, meaning if they do meet again it will have to be a non-conference matchup.  Think there will be some added animosity?

5. Florida-Florida State football

For the record, I love everything about Florida State.  I love their racist mascot, Osceola:

I love their ridiculously hot student body:

And Charlie Ward is my favorite football player ever:

So is it any wonder that I’d love to see the ‘Noles play their biggest rival?  (Personally I hate the ‘Canes more than the Gators, but I’ve already been to one of those games.)  It’s true, I suffer from Seminole envy and wish I had gone to school there instead of that school in the Midwest that caved to political correctness and gave away their 80-plus year mascot tradition.

4. Buffalo Sabres-Ottawa Senators hockey

The Sabres and Senators have been each others nemesis ever since the lockout ended in 2005.  The Senators were one of the best teams in the NHL in ’06, but the Sabres crushed their Stanley Cup dreams with a 4-1 throttling in the Conference Semis.  The highlight of the series was this shorthanded series-clincher:

Alas, the next year the tables were turned, as the Sabres were the favorites and were unceremoniously knocked out of the Conference Finals by Ottawa.  Since then both teams have pretty much sucked, but the games have still been passionate affairs, complete with plenty of hard hits.

3. Georgia-Florida football

Besides being a classic SEC rivalry, this game is the quite possibly the greatest sporting event around.  Played in Jacksonville every year (roughly halfway between the two campuses), it’s known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”  It’s a tailgaters dream come true.  Throw in one of the best mascots in sports, Uga, and usually two top-ranked football powers and you’re looking at one of the coolest weekends anyone could ever ask for.

2. Ohio State-Michigan football

You had to know my Midwestern, Big 10 roots would show up eventually.  Buckeyes-Wolverines is the ultimate sporting event.  It doesn’t have the flash of some of the trendier programs.  It doesn’t have the hot girls of southern schools.  It doesn’t even have that big of a tailgate tradition surrounding it (it’s too damn cold!).

Nope, this is just a football game.  No other reason to be there except to watch two of the greatest traditional powers slug it out in an old-fashioned slugfest.  I might even consider giving up drinking for a weekend if I were fortunate enough to attend this one.  Maybe…

1. Army-Navy football

If Ohio State-Michigan is all about the football, Army-Navy is all about most everything but the football.

It’s about “Duty.  Honor.  Country.”

It’s about “Don’t Tread on Me.”

It’s about our nation’s best and brightest, the men that will someday defend our freedom, playing a game they love for no other reason than a passion for competition.  And that’s good enough for me.

I had to leave a lot of great games off the list.  I could probably list a hundred without breaking a sweat.  What games would you put atop your list?

 

It’s Tournament Time!

Every year when the NCAA announces its basketball tournament bracket, the first thought that goes through my head is: And these are the idiots you want determining a college football playoff???

I won’t go into too much analysis here (if you really want to know about college football, check out http://frankthetank.wordpress.com/; he is the absolute man when it comes to conference expansion/realignment and the BCS), but I will say this: Utah State University had an RPI of 16, was ranked 17th in the Pomeroy computer rankings and 21st in Sagarin, and they wound up with a 12 seed.  That means after reviewing all the objective data that said USU was roughly 20th in the nation, they ranked them about 48.  And you think that wouldn’t happen with a football playoff?  You think some top 4 or 8 team wouldn’t get screwed senseless by the braintrust in Indianapolis?  I’m not saying the BCS is perfect, but there’s no way you can argue it’s worse than a selection committee of empty suits from the NCAA.

But despite all that, NCAA Tournament time is one of my favorite times of the year.  Here’s a few other random thoughts on this year’s bracket:

  –I’ve already ranted about Utah State getting hosed, but how about Kansas State?  The Wildcats earned themselves a 5 seed, which means they’re supposed to get to face a 12 seed that isn’t very good.  Instead, they get a very pissed off Utah State team that is ranked higher than them in both the major computer ratings.  Congrats on a great season, K-State, your reward is a first round game in which you will most likely be an underdog.

  –Every time people talk about expanding the tournament someone always acts like more teams will cause less controversy over who got left out.  Well guess what?  We expanded from 65 to 68 teams this year and there’s more bitching about bubble teams getting shafted than ever!  Someday soon they will expand to 96 teams and I guarantee somebody will still be crying about getting left out.  If we’d only gotten that 22 seed we deserved we could have gone all the way to the Final Four!

  —I’m an Illinois alum, and though I no longer cheer for the mascot-less Illini (or the Fightin Block I’s, if you prefer) I have so many friends and family that are still loyal that I pay attention by default.  I’ve never been a fan of Coach Bruce Weber, but I actually feel pretty bad for him this year.  He could potentially face two of his predecessors in the opening weekend.  This is a total no-win for him.  He’s already on the hot seat, and a first round loss to Lon Kruger and the UNLV Rebels will not make his seat any less hot.  Illini fans will remember how much they liked Kruger and how good a coach he was (and how he didn’t whine like a little girl all the time).  If Weber manages to get past UNLV, he will most likely get trounced by the man he replaced, Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks.  Most Illini fans despise Self for leaving Illinois, and a humiliating loss to him will again make the calls for Weber’s head even louder.  I guess the silver lining is, if Illinois can somehow steal two wins and make the Sweet 16, Weber might just get a lifetime contract extension!

  –I’m tired of Gonzaga.  They had a great run from 1999 to 2001 (two Sweet 16s and an Elite 8).  But since then they’ve gone 8-9 in the tournament.  And yet people always talk like they’re right up there with the big boys.  You want a real mid-major that’s making waves today, not a decade ago?  Xavier.  The Musketeers are 10-6 since 2006, with two Elite 8’s and two more Sweet 16’s.  This isn’t their best team by any stretch, so I’m not predicting a Final Four or anything, but I honestly can’t remember when they’ve laid an egg in the tourney either.

  –Wisconsin should have been left out of the tournament.  I don’t care about “body of work,” I don’t care about their 23 wins.  They scored 33 fucking points in their last game!  I propose a new rule: if at any point in the season you fail to score 40 points, you are placed on probation until you score 100 points in a game.  Who’s with me?

  –Look for BYU to go out early.  Since losing Brandon Davies for banging his girlfriend, the Cougars are only 3-2, with two 18-point losses.  All world superstar Jimmer Fredette is the best player in America, but he did not sit for single minute in three games at the Mountain West tournament.  He’s shot over 50% just once in the past 13 games.  He’s running on fumes and the tank is going to go dry very soon.  They shouldn’t have much trouble with lowly Wofford, but picking them to go much further than that is risky.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts before this week is over, but right now my mind is still mush from my Vegas trip.

Devastating Losses, Part II- The Patriotic Edition

My buddy Gotham and I were debating my post on the most devastating losses of our lives, and we decided that since not everyone who reads this is a Fighting Illini fan (and count yourself lucky if you’re not!), we should try to come up with a list of excruciating losses that most any sports fan could relate to.  Maybe we’ll even make a series of posts, with guest entries from all my readers.  But for Part II, I’ll limit myself to the worst losses for Team USA in the Olympics.  If these don’t get your blood boiling then get the &%^$ out of my country!

So with a big assist from Gotham (who, BTW, hosts the definitive site for everything Illinois sports, www.illinoisloyalty.com) here’s a few of the worst days ever in the life of American sports fans.

#4- 1988 Olympics, USA basketball vs USSR.

I’m a child of the Cold War, so my hatred for the Soviets will never leave me.  In my book they’re even worse than the Nazis.  So when you combine my passion for sports with my pathological hatred for a country that murdered uncounted millions of people (40-60 million of their own people, God only knows how many hundreds of millions more worldwide), it’s no longer just a game.

1988 was supposed to be payback for the ’72 Olympics (more on that later).  After losing our first Olympic basketball game ever in 1972, and a US boycott in 1980 followed by a Soviet boycott in ’84, this would be the first chance at redemption.  Unfortunately, the US had the misfortune of having possibly the most overrated coach of all time, John Thompson.  Besides only putting one true shooter on the roster (Hersey Hawkins), Thompson’s ego also compelled him to constantly berate and belittle a young center you might have heard of, David Robinson.  When Hawkins went down with an injury early in the semifinal matchup with the Sovs, they were toast.  The commies packed in the paint, daring the US to shoot, while using 7’4″ monster Arvydas Sabonis to rough up the younger, slighter (and now short on confidence) Robinson.  The result was a demoralizing defeat to the Evil Empire.

In retrospect, there is small consolation in the fact that this was about the last thing the Soviets would ever win in anything, sports or geopolitics, and by the next Olympics most of the Soviet players the free world despised so much would be wearing the uniform of their newly freed republics and disavowing everything the Evil Empire stood for.

#3- 1988 Olympics, Roy Jones vs. Park Si-Hun

The most blatant case of bribery in Olympic history.  Jones outpunched Hun 86 to 32 in three rounds and dominated every second of the fight.  The referee admitted he was “dumbstruck” by the judges’ decision.  Legend has it Hun even apologized to Roy for his undeserved victory.  This fight led to massive reform in international boxing; reviews of how judges are selected, a new scoring system, and investigations into bribery of judges.

The silver lining to this travesty was it no doubt helped contribute to the fire in Jones’ belly that made him the most dominant fighter in the world for a good 14 years.  For my money he’s the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever, and watching him claim titles from middleweight all the way through heavyweight was a true joy.

#2- 2010 Olympics, USA Hockey vs. Canada

At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City nobody really thought the US had a chance.  But playing in their home country, they pulled together and made a great run to the gold medal game against the Birthplace of Hockey, Canada.  Unfortunately, the amazing run came to a screeching halt against one of the greatest teams ever assembled.  (Even non-hockey fans will recognize names like Lemieux, Yzerman, Brodeur, Iginla and Sakic.)

After Team Canada celebrated Olympic Gold on our home ice, 2010 loomed large as a chance for payback.  This time it would be on Canadian ice, and although Canada would again be the most talented team in the world (most people didn’t think the US even had a shot at a medal), GM Brian Burke assembled a group of gritty, gutsy youngsters that would capture the hearts of all American hockey fans.  When they beat Canada 5-3 in the preliminary round, you could just sense it was going to be a magical ride.

The Gold Medal game was a rematch with the Canadians, and it was everything it was hyped up to be and more.  USA goalie Ryan Miller stood on his head, making 36 saves and keeping it close until Zach Parise could tie it up with just 24 seconds remaining in regulation.  Parise’s goal, and Doc Emrick’s call, to me is still one of the greatest moments in sports history:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.  After the emotionally draining comeback, the US came out flat in overtime, and although Miller made several big saves, he couldn’t stop Sidney Crosby from putting the clincher in the back of the net.

A sad day to be sure, but I’m already counting down the days to 2014!

#1- 1972 Olympics, USA Basketball vs. USSR

Without a doubt the greatest travesty in the history of sports.  Kind of like the United Nations, the Olympics are rife with politics, and this game was a shining example of anti-American zealots banding together to steal our victory.

It would take pages and pages to adequately describe everything that happened in this game.  The short version is the Soviets, down 1 with three seconds left, were given three tries until they finally managed to score the winning basket.  The officials bent, broke and made up rules to hand the game to the commies.

Here’s a fairly good video of all the BS that transpired in order for the Soviets to steal our Gold:

But even that doesn’t do justice to the full extent of the conspiracy involved to steal our Gold.  In 1972, the US was undefeated all time in Olympic Basketball, 63-0 and 7-for-7 in Gold Medals.  The biased officiating, the corrupt scoretable crew, the 3-to-2 jury of appeals (three commies vs. two free-world), it was a perfect storm of corruption and indecency.

I don’t often have much nice to say about President Richard Nixon, but I’ll give him credit for his restraint on this one.  If I had been President there would have been a nuclear war that night.

*If you would like to make a contibution to future “devastating losses” posts, share your pain with the world, contact me and we’ll see what we can do to “put you on the therapy couch.”*