Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In which I get a little worked up about tonight's game

Yeah that didn't work so well, Jim.

One pet peeve I developed during my halcyon days of employment was the expectation from fans that the players on their favorite team should be as passionate about rivalry games as the fans.

I mean, on one hand, I get it—it’s another part of being a fan: YOU are obsessed with your team beating its rival and you expect nothing less out of the players who wear your favorite laundry.

But on the other, let’s be realistic here. Why should the Red Sox hate the Yankees just because Red Sox fans have had their hearts broken by the Yankees too many times to count and because they find Yankees fans spoiled and insufferable? Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis weren’t even born yet when Bucky Dent homered into the Green Monster in 1978. Why should they shoulder the burden of Red Sox Nation?

And sure, it was funny watching Jason Varitek shove Alex Rodriguez to set off a bench-clearing brawl in 2004, but really, who counts that as proof the two teams hate each other? After all, nobody likes A-Rod.

(Exception: Youkilis should hate the Yankees, since the Yankees, and Joba Chamberlain, in particular, have a terrible habit of trying to kill him whenever he’s standing in the batter’s box)

Of course, it was an easy storyline and it made for big back pages and tantalizing teasers at 6 and 11, so we all had to grin and bear it as thousands of words were spilled and uttered about the bitter rivalry between the two teams. Historic and compelling? Most certainly. But not bitter.

Anyway, I bring this up because the Flying Dutchmen play George Mason tonight, and it takes all I have not to project my passion and contempt for Mason on to the players and coaches and expect them to win 182-7…and to understand why, if that were to happen, I’d probably be hacked that Tom Pecora called off the dogs and that the defense didn’t play a little better.

I don’t need to remind you of why I harbor such feelings and why I’ll probably be at some restaurant tonight (Thanks for adding ESPNU, Cablevision! I appreciate it! I’ve got hundreds of channels I couldn’t identify with a gun to my head but there’s no room for ESPNU!), watching the game with food, spittle and unsuitable-for-virgin-ears language flying out of the corners of my mouth. But, you know, my blood pressure needs the workout, so here you go.

Three years ago, Hofstra was left out of the NCAA Tournament while Mason went dancing even though the Dutchmen had a better RPI and beat the Patriots twice in a span of 11 days late in the season. The rationale by the idiot selection committee: Mason shared the regular season crown and beat Wichita State in a Bracket Buster. Oh. OK then.

I’m sure Mason’s placement in the tournament had nothing to do with its athletic director, Tom O’Connor, being on the selection committee. I’m sure he left the room whenever his team was being discussed and didn’t partake in any discussions about the Patriots or the Dutchmen. Yup.

Oh, and in the waning seconds of the second win—in the CAA semifinals—Mason star Tony Skinn got confused and thought he was at a carnival and that the privates of the Flying Dutchmen’s best player, Loren Stokes, were actually a game of Whack-A-Mole. That earned Skinn a one-game suspension and Stokes a day of pissing blood. You’d think the absence of a starter would have affected the Patriots’ NCAA chances, but no.

Then, of course, Mason won its first NCAA Tournament game without Skinn, and three more after that to become the first mid-major to reach the Final Four in 27 years. It was great for Litos, but to be honest with you, it pissed me off a little bit. It stunk that I couldn’t enjoy it, because anyone who pulls for a CAA team should have been bursting with conference—wait for it!—pride at Mason’s historic run.

Tom Pecora did a good job of turning the snub into a life lesson (and keeping the Dutchmen focused for a pretty exciting NIT run). And he’s right: Getting screwed out of an NCAA Tournament berth doesn’t even merit honorable mention on the giant list of things that suck in life.

But, you know, this is sports. We’re not supposed to be rational or logical about it. And I know sports doesn’t follow the transitive property, but I’m perfectly entitled to think it should and perfectly entitled to imagine the Dutchmen shocking four giants and making the Final Four. I’m perfectly entitled to imagining the possibility of a wardrobe consisting entirely of Final Four T-shirts and the likelihood of Adrian Uter signing an NFL free agent contract.

I also know tonight’s game will feature only seven players from the 2006 teams, only one of whom (Greg Johnson) played in either of that season’s Hofstra-Mason games. I can’t expect Johnson, Arminas Urbutis, Mike Davis-Saab and Zygis Sestakos—or any of the other nine Dutchmen who were in high school or at another college in 2006—to harbor a years-long grudge against the Patriots, nor authentically muster up any rancor towards Mason seniors Dre Smith, John Vaughan or Darryl Monroe.

I also know Mason has bloggers who probably help old ladies across the street, too, and I’m sure at least some of their fans were on board before the second weekend of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

But I can decide I don’t like Jim Larranaga because the punishment for Skinn’s assault did not fit the crime and because he’s striking me as the type of guy whose rapid rise to fame went entirely to his head. If it didn’t, he wouldn’t have hammed it up for the cameras prior to Mason’s NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame last year. I’m not sure who he thought would be inspired by something so hackneyed, but it sure wasn’t the Patriots. I like to think that if—nay, when—Pecora coaches the Dutchmen to the Final Four, he won’t later make a buffoon of himself trying to inspire Hofstra on another tournament run.

Larranaga could comfort, clothe and cuddle lepers with Tim Tebow and I’d still mutter about him under my breath. I’d be pretty happy if he ended up on some VH-1 show for has-beens: “I Was A Final Four Coach.”

I can just decide it’s all about the laundry, and I just want Pecora to go all Bill Belichick on Larranaga. And I can think the Dutchmen are going to win even though the third-place Patriots are 10-0 at home this season, licking their chops after dropping three of their last four and facing a Hofstra team that is 1-5 against the top four teams in the CAA. I can think that because I don’t have to be rational about this (so check out Litos for something approaching a reasoned preview).

So go Dutchmen. Make ‘em disappear.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!


Brann...it's good for you. said...

Wow. Who knew the bitterness was still so strong...

Hofstra has a good shot at winning tonight. We'll see what happens.


PS: I suffered through many, many pathetic Mason games in the 90s, so Jim Larranaga is my Jesus and always will be. But, you're entitled to your opinion...just like I'm entitled to mine.

Good luck to your Pride the rest of the season...after tonight, of course.

Mike said...

Big game for Hofstra considering the CAA doesn't have a clearly dominant team right now (Northeastern's really been getting lucky and their one conference loss was in Hofstra last month). The Pride have to contain Monroe tonight and keep him off-balance under the boards. That and some solid perimeter defense should keep the three-point shooters of GMU at bay and should net Hofstra a win.

We're looking for a Hofstra blogger at www.collegefanz.com, the largest college sports site on the net. I think your blog would get a good audience there, as our fanbase is rapidly increasing due to the upcoming NCAA tourney.

Our blogs are free and easy and offer a national platform for programs of all sizes and types. We've also got several college newspapers coming on board from CAA teams, so keep an eye out for that.

Take a look around the site and let me know if you'd be interested at mgleeson@collegefanz.com. Hope to hear from you soon.


savvygal said...

Jim Larranaga drinks your milkshake.

rjw said...

JB -- It's hard to say GMU didn't deserve to get into the tourney over Hofstra that year, since, well, GMU actually went to the Final Four! It's folly to suppose Hofstra would've done as well (and I would guess there is no way we would've -- GMU had better bigs).

GMU got in, and obviously desrved it. Hofstra also deserved to get in -- but at the expense of a team like Air Force, not GMU. There is no quota that only 2 CAA teams can get in -- that should be the source of your frustration. (But feel free to kick Tony Shinn in the nads next time you see him, anyway).