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 Like Hofstra, UConn played at endearingly outdated facilities.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.


The Icepick said...

I'm reconsidering our position on the Whalers on our list of things that Connecticut cursed us with - I suppose it was cool to have an NHL team in Hartford, even if they did play their games in a mall. I could do without the 'Brass Bonanza,' though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up on us being in the Charleston Classic. At least in Clemson we'll face a decent team to start the season.
Hofstra was supposed to be in the O'Reilly Auto Parts [do they own college hoops, or something] Puerto Rico Classic from Nov. 20-23, but backed out. Seton Hall opens with USC in that tournament and I suspect nobody from Hofstra wanted to be on the same island with Bobby Gonzalez for five days.
Can't say I blame them.

Anonymous said...

Does Lackmann still serve those rubbery yet addicting Mozzarella Sticks? I ate those for dinner 5 out of 7 nights for three semesters in a row in the Ratt. The other two nights it was dry yet floppy subs for breakfast at 3:00 in the afternoon at Dutch Treats. My arteries are clogged with Pennzoil, but it was worth it. This was back when smokes were $1.90 per pack at the HUB, so damn I feel old! Could be the Pennzoil though.