Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bits and Bytes: Of championship swag and rivalries gone by

Local sporting goods stores better carry Hofstra championship swag in March!

Since I am a loving husband, I agreed to go with my wife to a local sporting goods store (hey, if the chain wants me to mention its name, it’ll advertise with me!) Thursday night in search of some Yankees championship swag for her. This, even though I would have preferred the Yankees lose, since it’s fun to tweak the spoiled, entitled, quick-to-jump-off-the-bandwagon-at-the-first-sign-of-trouble brats that encompass most of their fan base (but which certainly does not include my loving wife nor Loyal Reader John, my college roommate, just want to make that abundantly clear) and even though showing up at a store to buy championship swag feels like such a clich├ęd act.

It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Milhouse go to a concert and a T-shirt vendor bellows something like “Show ‘em you were here by buying a T-shirt!” Just change it to “Show ‘em who you root for and remind everyone of your superiority by buying a T-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, coffee mug, pennant and car flag!” and you’d be all set.

And it feels like such a Pavlovian response to the cackling overlords of professional sports. I mean, Jorge Posada still hadn’t hugged anyone Wednesday night and weasels were out there giving the Yankees hats and T-shirts, hoping to pry open the wallets of millions of people.

Of course, it worked: We got there and the store was packed, all the good stuff was picked over and the line to the cash registers stretched dozens of people deep. Recession my ass.

Or maybe covering professional sports for so many years has turned me into a jaded bastard, because as the wife was browsing, I got to daydreaming about the concept of Flying Dutchmen championship swag being on sale at this particular store, and I got that goofy fuzzy feeling one gets when one imagines his team cutting down the nets in March.

And I realized that if—nay, when—the Dutchmen win the CAA title March 8, I’ll be disappointed if there aren’t championship shirts for sale at Richmond Coliseum the moment the court is stormed by the seven fans that made the drive from Hempstead. I’ll be the old guy!

Anyway, here are some other bits and bytes that probably aren’t related to championship swag.

—OK, here’s a connection to championship swag, albeit a flimsy one. The last time the Hofstra logo was emblazoned on a championship T-shirt was 2001, when the Flying Dutchmen, for the second straight season, beat Delaware in the America East title game.

At the time, there didn’t seem to be a better mid-major rivalry on the east coast than Hofstra-Delaware, largely because it was a heated one in multiple sports. And it seemed as if it would only get better in coming years with the two schools defecting together to the CAA and the Dutchmen finally about to join Delaware in the Atlantic 10 for football.

Alas, the reality turned out to be far different. When the Dutchmen visit Delaware Stadium today, it’ll be like an awkward reunion with the old high school buddy with whom you have nothing in common anymore.

As I wrote in February, the two schools are going in completely different directions with their hoops and football programs, rendering the games in those sports routine except for the most loyal and longtime of followers. In September, I identified Old Dominion as the Dutchmen’s biggest basketball rival, and the wife understandably scolded me for behaving like Hofstra and ignoring anything that happened before 2004.

But you know what? I hadn’t even thought of Delaware as a current hoops rival until she pointed it out. Terrible, I know, but it’s another reminder of how awkward and unmemorable things are now with our old friend Delaware, and how the distance has made melancholy our memories of those long-ago classic.

We want it to mean as much as it used to, but it’s just not there anymore. We’ve befriended Old Dominion, and we’ve got so much in common and have such a good time with the Monarchs that we just don’t have time to hang out and try to repair our relationship with the Blue Hens.

Maybe there’s a Facebook-like reunion with Delaware in our future, one in which the gap is mended and new memories can be created. But my guess is recalling the approaching 15th anniversary of the 41-41 tie with the Blue Hens will be a lot more fun than anything that occurs on the field today.

—Speaking of that tie—which, for the record, occurred Nov. 12, 1994—I’m still cooking up a feature on it as well as the 24-21 loss to Towson Oct. 27 and hope to have them up next week. Last week was a hectic one here and I just didn’t have a chance to do the legwork necessary.

—And speaking of those whose pasts are much better than their present: Our beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers—known worldwide as The Official NFL Team Of Defiantly Dutch—lose even when they don’t play. The Bucs were thankfully visiting Brigham Young Elementary last week, but they nonetheless cemented their status as the worst team in the league when the previously winless Rams and Titans both recorded victories.

The Bucs are now the only winless team in the league, a shockingly horrible distinction considering the Rams, Titans, Chiefs and Browns are all still members of the NFL. But it’s a “well-earned” one as the Bucs rank among the bottom five in both points scored and points allowed.

The Bucs probably won’t get in the win column this week, when rookie Josh Freeman—the Bucs’ third starting QB of the year—makes his first career start against the high-powered Packers, who are surely eager to erase the sting of last week’s loss to the Brett Favre-led Vikings. Egads. On the bright side, the Bucs will at least be dressed for the occasion: They’ll be wearing the awesome old Creamsicle uniforms and Bucco Bruce helmets, in which the franchise lost its first 26 games in 1976-77.

—More good news: If the Bucs finish the season winless, they’ll probably have company! The fledging UFL reportedly visited Hofstra Wednesday as New York lost to Las Vegas, 41-10, to fall to 0-4. I say reportedly because, well, can anyone really confirm this didn’t take place on an Xbox or something? The announced crowd was 4,392, which was probably a generous estimate given the UFL’s microscopic profile and the fact the game was played the same time the Yankees were beating the Phillies to win the World Series.

If you missed the game, don’t fret. There are some rumors the New York franchise—which is playing its home games at three different locales this year—may make Shuart Stadium its permanent home in 2010. Which means Hofstra students and the Long Island community alike can ignore two different football teams that play games at Hofstra, but I digress.

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