Saturday, August 30, 2008

We knew UConn way back when

So let’s say you’re talking to a Hofstra fan (it’s true, Loyal Non-Alumni Readers, there’s more than one) and you’re unsure of his (or her) authenticity. He/she might just be jumping on the bandwagon (you have to work with me here, assuming Hofstra has front-running fans) and you want to test his/her acumen.

Bring up the football team’s 2008 season opener against UConn. “Yup,” you say. “That’s the same school Hofstra beat 56-17 nine years ago.”

If the fan stares at you like you just said you had your wedding catered by Lackmann Food Services…he/she might be a front-runner. Or, more likely, a freshman who was nine years old in 1999.

It’s true: Hofstra went 2-2 against UConn from 1996-1999. And while I’d like to tell you UConn moved to I-A to avoid any more thrashings by the Flying Dutchmen, the truth is UConn was well into a decade-long plan to move to I-A by the time the series concluded.

UConn began making the transition in 2000 and has already won two bowl games and shared one Big East title. This isn’t the first time the Huskies have left their one-time peer in the dust: In the ‘70s, Hofstra and UConn were generally on the same level in hoops—Hofstra in the East Coast Conference, UConn in the Yankee Conference, where the Huskies’ rivals included future North Atlantic Conference/America East members such as Vermont and New Hampshire.

The paths of the Huskies and Flying Dutchmen intersected for the first—and so far only—time at the 1976 NCAA Tournament, where UConn edged Hofstra, 80-78, in overtime at the Providence Civic Center.

But UConn became a charter member of the Big East in 1979. The Huskies won the NIT in 1988, reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 1990 and finally won the whole damn thing in 1999. Hofstra, meanwhile, remained in the ECC even as long-time rivals defected and was the last one to shut out the lights in 1994. And some of us still get a charge out of an invite to the NIT.

The amazing thing is nobody ever watched UConn hoops and football and figured they were destined for bigger and better things, a la Marshall in football. Like Hofstra, UConn played at endearingly outdated facilities. Memorial Stadium looked like a glorified high school filed while the Field House was so rickety it made the PFC look like MSG.

And for most of the ‘80s, UConn was synonymous with the near-miss—or worse. I swear the Huskies had a chance to make the I-AA playoffs with a win in their final game of the season every year…and fell short every time. They shared the Yankee Conference title four times between 1982 and 1989 yet didn’t reach the tournament until they made their lone appearance in 1998.

In basketball, the Huskies disappointed the masses with three straight NIT bids from 1979-1981—I remember listening to the 1981 OT loss to Dayton with my dad—and had five straight losing seasons, the last of which occurred during Jim Calhoun’s first season.

This shouldn’t be construed as dissatisfaction with where Hofstra is and will almost surely remain. It’s impossible to expect Hofstra to occupy the same level as UConn. Hofstra competes for attention with nine professional sports teams and is forever trying to win over a transient and often apathetic student body. This makes it challenging—but ultimately more rewarding—to be a fan. You know you’re surrounded by people who have made the same investment as you.

Connecticut has no major professional sports team (thanks to this piece of garbage), so UConn’s on center stage year-round. And the front-runner I described in jest up above exists on every street corner in Connecticut. (Except this guy…he’s as hardcore a fan as there is)

Plus, it’s not easy to commute to Storrs, out in the middle of nowhere, and once you’re there, you may as well get wrapped up in the athletic program because there’s nothing else to do except drink beer and tip cows. (I can say that, because I’m from Connecticut. But if the Icepick tried it, there’d be hell to pay)

I occasionally wonder what might have been if Hofstra outlasted UConn in that 1976 and made the second round (which, back then, was the Sweet Sixteen). And what happens if the Flying Dutchmen win the next game—or, gulp, the one after that to advance to the Final Four? Would Hofstra have become a Big East power, too, in multiple sports?

Probably not. We’d get to say our alma mater made the Sweet Sixteen (or Elite Eight or Final Four) once. But nothing else would be different—as we learned Thursday night. And that’s fine by me.


Thanks to everyone who has stopped by during this first week of Defiantly Dutch. It’s still a work in progress here as I try to figure out this blogging thing, but I hope you’re having as much fun as I am thus far. Enjoy the Labor Day weekend and come by again starting Tuesday for more chattering about Hofstra sports and whatever else pops to my mind.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I'm going to select Donald Brown in my fantasy draft next week

UConn had its way and made Loyal Reader Jeff look prescient with a 35-3 win over a banged-up Hofstra Thursday night in East Hartford. Been a busy night so I'll blog more in the afternoon, but here are links to the game stories from Newsday and The Hartford Courant. And check out the Icepick cracking wise in the comments section from yesterday.

Also, your one and only chance to catch the Flying Dutchwomen volleyball team at the Physical Fitness Center before the leaves start falling is this weekend at the Asics tournament. The Dutchwomen are, of course, being displaced by the preparations for the presidential debate and will not play another true home match until October 17.

Check back later today for a more extensive blog.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In which I blog about tonight's game by riffing on "The Shot," which was not taken by but was tangentially related to Hofstra

Football season starts tonight, but men’s hoops was in the news Wednesday as Hofstra announced it would participate in the Charleston Classic Nov. 14-16. The Flying Dutchmen will open the eight-team tourney by facing Clemson. It’ll be the first time the Dutchmen face Clemson since they really WERE the Dutchmen back in the 1989-1990 season, when the Tigers cruised to a 91-58 win in South Carolina.

The teams continued going in opposite directions that winter: Hofstra finished 13-15 while Clemson made the Sweet 16, where its season ended in stunning fashion thanks to one of the all-time great buzzer-beaters by—wait for it!!!—UCONN’S Tate George. Oh sweet bountiful sporting gods, thank you for bestowing upon me this awesomely obscure link to tonight’s football game.

More on that in a bit, after I wax nostalgic about “The Shot.” I remember being about the only person in Connecticut NOT thrilled about it. I was already a loyal fan of North Carolina—and, since the Tar Heels were getting smoked at that moment by Arkansas, an unhappy one—and tired of how UConn’s magical season had unearthed hundreds of thousands of frontrunners who couldn’t have picked Chuck Aleksinas, the pride of Connecticut's northwest corner, out of a police lineup.

After George’s shot went thru the hoop, I bolted out of my chair, kicked or threw something and cursed a blue streak. Between the Huskies’ miracle win and UNC’s loss, those damn frontrunners would be all over me tomorrow. And if you ever loved sports as a kid, you know there was nothing worse than trudging through the doors the day after your favorite team lost a big game. All those laughing faces and pointing fingers, reveling in your heartache. Bastards. Of course, I’m also the guy who once made a videotape mocking a Duke fan after the Tar Heels beat those rat finks in a regular season game, so I guess I had it coming.

My dad yelled down the stairs. “JER DID YOU SEE THAT? HOW GREAT WAS THAT?” I yelled something about how it sucked. I think he at that point considered putting me up for adoption.

Eighteen years later, “The Shot” gives me goosebumps instead of a stomach ache. My contempt of UConn disappeared well before I became forever indebted to Jim Calhoun & Co. for knocking off the afore-mentioned rat finks in the 1999 title game.

And it’s a lot more fun watching it now than it was then. How can you ever get tired of watching a 1-in-100 shot happen? (Dear sweet bountiful sporting gods: Do not make me regret writing that sentence) The Huskies had to go 94 feet in one second. They needed the perfect throw (it helped having Scott Burrell, a former first-round MLB pick as a high school pitcher, heaving the ball) to set up the shot. The throw wasn’t quite perfect, but George leaped, caught the ball, landed, turned around and shot it, all before the buzzer sounded.

The coolest thing: CBS stayed with the post-game reaction shots for three minutes. Today, someone nails a buzzer-beater and 20 seconds later it’s thrown back to Greg Gumbel in the studio. We probably would have seen the picture-tells-a-thousand words of Elden Campbell’s face, frozen in equal parts horror and disbelief. But we would have missed a youthful-looking Jim Calhoun running around the floor, a la Jim Valvano, as if he couldn’t figure out who to hug first.

Alas, it merely took two days for UConn to fall victim to another seemingly once-in-a-generation shot when all-time bad guy Christian Laettner drained a buzzer beater to send Duke to the Final Four. That was the first of his two I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw shots to put Duke into the Final Four. There has never been a better college basketball game than this. And I still loathe Laettner so very much.

Hmm. That went longer than anticipated. If you’ve read this far, I thank you. (Girthy won’t be happy with this encyclopedic-like post, nor will the Connecticut-hating Icepick) So my theory on how the win over Clemson was symbolic of how the 1989-90 season helped UConn leave the Hofstras of the world in its dust will have to wait.

As for tonight’s game, I’d love to see Hofstra win, but the odds are against it. If the Dutchmen can't pull off a mini-Appalachian State, I hope they at least keep it competitive…or at least closer than the 45-17 thrashing that Loyal Reader Jeff, a fellow Nutmeg native whom I met 15 years ago today at some goofy orientation exercise at Hofstra USA, predicts. Of course, if Hofstra manages to win somehow, Jeff will dig out his old Midnight Madness T-shirt, wear it to work Friday and tell everyone how he’s always loved Hofstra. Those damn Connecticut front-runners!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Runnin', Shootin', Scorin'

I was thumbing through the new Hofstra football media guide the other night (Side note: Is there anything better than the smell of a new media guide? It’s the adult version of inhaling a freshly dittoed test). And my gaze, as it usually does when I’m reading Hofstra media guides, soon turned to the years I was there.

This just in: Hofstra scored a lot of points under Joe Gardi and the run-and-shoot offense. A lot. Five thousand, seven hundred and thirty-four points in 183 games, to be exact.

The funny thing is I don’t remember being all that amazed while we were watching it. Of course, being surprised by the pinball on the Hofstra Stadium scoreboard (old habit, it wasn’t re-named for President Shuart until 2002) would have been like going to a cookout and being shocked that people are eating hamburgers.

Nobody ever went to the concession stands when the Flying Dutchmen had the ball, because you were very likely going to miss a touchdown. Or two. Hofstra averaged more than 30 points a game in 11 of Gardi’s 16 seasons. The record book section of the media guide reads like a Who’s Who of the Gardi Era: Twelve of the 13 individual passing records and nine of the 10 individual receiving records were set by Gardi players.

Hofstra wasn’t alone in bringing Arena Football-sized scores to the traditional gridiron. The run-and-shoot made Terence Mathis, a non-descript receiver with the Jets, into an out-of-nowhere fantasy football stud in 1994 and made Herman Moore, for one year and by one catch, better than Jerry Rice.

Which begs the question: Whatever happened to the run-and-shoot? The elements remain (you’ll see four wide receivers on the field all day and night on Sundays) and the architects continue to find success as coordinators (Kevin Gilbride, offensive coordinator of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, was the coordinator for the high-octane Oilers of the early ‘90s), but the run-and-shoot itself is dismissed as a fad.

Why was it to football in the ‘90s what the Gin Blossoms or Hootie and the Blowfish were to the music of the decade: All the rage for a little while before the mainstream moved on to something else and relegated the run-and-shoot to the country fair circuit…or, in this case, the lower rungs of Division I and I-AA football.

This Football Outsiders article by noted football blogger Michael David Smith does a great job of explaining why the run-and-shoot remains a phenomenon equal parts cultish and nostalgic. The run-and-shoot didn’t have a Bill Walsh—the west coast offense guru who coached the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins—as its godfather. The three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Establishment made fun of it (Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan slugged Gilbride on the sidelines in 1993). And college quarterbacks who were schooled on the run-and-shoot generally failed to make a mark in the NFL—none more (or less) so than Hofstra’s own Giovanni Carmazzi, who never took an NFL snap but will forever be known as one of the guys taken before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft.

But who knows what happens if the Oilers—notorious for their annual playoff el foldos—make or win the Super Bowl at some point in the early ‘90s? Or if the Detroit Lions make or win the Super Bowl following the 1991 season? The NFL’s a league of imitation. One run-and-shoot titlist would have changed everything.

Alas, the run-and-shoot purists will have to be content with its success in the college game. Gardi’s last two teams averaged 36.5 and 30.7 points, respectively. June Jones turned Hawaii games into something worth watching at 3 am EST (and parlayed his success at a non-BCS school into a gig at SMU). And Mouse Davis, credited for inventing the run-and-shoot and bringing it to college football at Portland State in the 1970s, is back there now as the offensive coordinator.

And he’s saying awesome stuff like this that should make you—and me—pine for a return to the good ol’ days of minimal trips to the concession stands: “We probably still need some receivers. It’d be nice to get some flat-ass fliers.”


I was planning to blog tomorrow about Hofstra, UConn and the titanic battle between the east coast powers, but I could not wait another 24 hours to answer my so-called friend Icepick’s jabs at the Nutmeg State (well, OK, the Carl Pavano zinger was fine).

This is for you and Publisher Cat, ‘Pick. May it remain in your heads for days and days and days!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Defiantly Division I-AA, too

Random thought: Can you imagine the fun Joe Gardi would have had this week, preaching about how it’s time to run with the big dogs against UConn? It would have been timely, topical and, most of all, completely accurate!

Anyway, two days into Defiantly Dutch and two days before the Flying Dutchmen open the football season against the Huskies, it’s time to make a stand. I hereby declare that I’ll never, not even with the long arm of the NCAA tapping my shoulder, refer to Division I-A and Division I-AA by their “new” names.

I mean, seriously, of all the things the NCAA should be doing, sitting around and coming up with new, longer, more confusing names for Division I-A and Division I-AA should have been last on the list, well behind deciding which deli platter to order for lunch.

It was easy to distinguish between the two levels. Division I-AA’s champion is settled on the field, like the NCAA’s nine thousand other sports. Division I-A’s champion is settled by bowls, polls and a whole lotta B(C)S, because, you know, THAT’s less profitable and declarative than a four- or eight-team tournament.

And let’s face it: It’s not like a I-AA power could ever add to the “confusion” by beating a ranked I-A power. Right? Oh wait. It only took one year and one week under the New Name I Shall Never Mention Here for this to happen (the Appalachian State call, about halfway through, is one of the all-time great calls). Coincidence? I think not.

It’s Division I-A and I-AA. Period. My blog. My rules. Just don’t tell this guy, OK?


Thanks to everyone who wrote in yesterday with words of support. I’ve updated the links and stuff to include some blogs and websites where you can find the writings of various friends, classmates and former co-workers. Please give them a click when you get a chance. Special thanks to the Icepick, whose tips and encouragement helped prod me to start this blog.

Feel free to leave a comment here or by emailing me at See you tomorrow, when I think I'll wax poetic about the run-and-shoot.

Monday, August 25, 2008

If you want to blog with the big dogs, get off the porch

Fifteen years ago this coming Thursday, armed with a Brother word processor (on which I could type AND save my research papers…what will they think of next?), I cautiously stepped foot on to the Hofstra campus for the first time as a student, tentative and uncertain of what awaited yet wildly excited by the possibilities.

Two-thirds of those feelings returned six months ago this coming Thursday, when I rolled out of bed, went online on my laptop computer and got a termination notice from The Company I Shall Never Mention Here (Probably). Get fired from your recliner. What will corporate America think of next?

Those are the bookends to Defiantly Dutch. The Cliffs Notes version of what happened in the middle goes something like this: I became the sports editor of The Chronicle, where I met some of the best friends of my life, including my wonderful wife. I finally graduated, albeit after learning that astronomy is not my friend. Over the last 12 years, I’ve navigated the ever-choppy seas of sports journalism and been tossed from my little fishing boat more times than I care to count.

One of the first things I thought about doing when I got thrown overboard was starting this blog. And while I continue to hope my career doesn’t float out to sea, starting this blog now—as classes resume and the fall sports season starts—provides me the chance to stay sharp as I continue to search for another sports writing gig (email me at if you’re hiring!).

It also allows me to revisit my first passion. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up long before I ever heard of Hempstead, but covering sports at Hofstra provided a foundation on which I continue to rely. I had an insatiable appetite for information about Hofstra sports during my undergrad years. Somewhere in the basement of my parents’ house in Connecticut are boxes of media guides and Hofstra-themed roundups and stories from Newsday.

And I spent most of my waking hours thinking about story ideas—trying to come up with something that I thought was interesting and original, something that would be worth an investment of the reader’s time. I like to think I’ve carried that thirst and passion into the “real world,” that my time at Hofstra helped me distinguish myself working in markets defined by saturation coverage.

(Beginning to sound like a cover letter, sorry)

Hofstra also taught me that you never pass up an opportunity to cover a game, no matter how meaningless it might seem, because the beauty of sports is its unpredictability. I’m still kicking myself for not covering the Flying Dutchmen in the East Coast Conference basketball tournament in March 1994. Why would I fly to Buffalo for what was almost certainly going to be a one-and-done deal? We were 6-20. There was no postseason bid at stake. There was no way they’d win three games in three days to send Butch van Breda Kolff out a champion.

Doh. But hey, the Bryan Adams concert at Madison Square Garden the night Hofstra needed two overtimes to beat Northeastern Illinois (RIP, Golden Eagles athletic program) in the championship game was good. But the no-hitter I finally got to see last year—a game I didn’t decide to cover until the last minute—was even better.

So what will Defiantly Dutch be, exactly? It’ll reward the old-school fan, who understands the Pride is a great nickname for a booster club but that Flying Dutchmen was—pardon me, is—the perfect Hofstra nickname. There’s little acknowledgement, inside or outside the university, of the school’s athletic past. And while I understand Division III football and East Coast Conference basketball didn’t provide a lot to be nostalgic about, those of us who remember Joe Gardi’s annual mantras about running with the big dogs—words delivered in that hybrid New Jersey-Long Island accent—understand how difficult it was to get the rest of the country to take Hofstra seriously as a legitimate football school capable of churning out multiple NFL players.

And those of us who remember men’s basketball games in front of triple-digit crowds at the dusty Physical Fitness Center (which had to be the least imposing name for a Division I arena ever) appreciate just how long a path it was to becoming the poster boys for the ineptitude of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in 2006.

Plus, those games at the PFC and Hofstra Stadium were endearing, in their own weird way. Remember when Jay Wright said he wanted to turn the PFC into the rockingest house in the NAC? Good times. And what would a fall Friday be without two football tickets in your mailbox?

Yet we’re not all about the nostalgia here. This won’t be a straight news site: Covering pro sports has made me jaded and cynical while teaching me the meaning of Schadenfreude. And while I don’t regret my metamorphosis, I also don’t want to go too far behind the curtain and lose the pure rooting interest I get out of Hofstra sports.

So I’d love to chronicle (pun intended) and analyze Hofstra sports the way Michael Litos has chronicled and analyzed the CAA at his tremendous blog. I’d like to post an entry five days a week, subject of course to how successful I am in getting back on the boat.

I also look forward to re-introducing myself to the rest of the sports at Hofstra. October 15 (and Midnight Madness…or is it Midday Mania now?) and the start of men’s basketball practice is like New Years Day. But there are plenty of interesting stories to be told—old and new—amongst the 17 other teams, too…and not many places telling them.

And I might also tell you about my epic free t-shirt battles with Sully Ray, the ruthless competitor that he is.

I wasn’t excited six months ago Thursday, but I am today. See you tomorrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Coming August 25

Check back August 25 for the debut of Defiantly Dutch.

Old-school Hofstra pride. Fresh analysis.