When I started this blog last August—ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, it was a week in which a Hofstra team traveled to Connecticut to face UConn—I didn’t expect to face the internal conflict I was presented with Tuesday night.
As I debuted here, I was content to wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days of Hofstra athletics as well as provide some admittedly biased analysis of an athletic program that is too often overlooked by the local press. But it didn’t take me long to realize I wanted to do more with the blog, and would like to augment my recliner rantings with the types of interviews and feature stories I used to do way back when I drew regular checks for writing (ahh, now THOSE were the good ol’ days).
Yet as tricky as it can be to straddle the line between having an oft-stated rooting interest in a school and trying to cover it in an occasionally straight-forward fashion, I’ve found that the even more delicate balance is the one between writing as a fan and trying to convey the thoughts of the players and coaches, because there is almost always some sort of disconnect between the two sides. It’s not a negative one by any stretch, but the players and coaches understandably live much more in the moment than we do.
Which brings me to Tuesday night. When I arrived at Hofstra 16 years ago, the thought of the Flying Dutchmen competing against a nationally renowned opponent was inconceivable. The 1993-94 Dutchmen lost to St. John’s by 28 and to Maryland by 26…and to Old Dominion by 26 and to Maine by 35. The year before, when the Dutchmen played an independent schedule and spent most of the season on the road, a two-point loss to St. John’s was overshadowed by lopsided defeats at UNLV (38 points), Villanova (38 points) and Richmond (31 points).
For those of us who experienced one or both of those seasons, the concept of watching the Dutchmen play at Kansas last Friday and at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday—and knowing there was more to their presence than an overmatched foe collecting a paycheck—was pretty awesome. And to be in the stands at Gampel as the Dutchmen scared the hell out of the Huskies, led by nine with less than 10 minutes to play and had the ball down one with a minute to go? Seriously awesome, as I will further detail shortly.
Perhaps, sometime in the summer, Tom Pecora smiles as he thinks about how far the program has come since he arrived on campus with Jay Wright. But he wasn’t thinking Tuesday of how the Dutchmen lost to Drexel by 33 in the NAC Tournament in 1995. Nor does Charles Jenkins, who was five when the Dutchmen won the final East Coast Conference tournament, marvel at what playing at Kansas and UConn means in the context of the history of the program.
The present is much more vital and important to the Dutchmen than the past, so nobody on the bus back to Hempstead was sitting there marveling at almost beating the Huskies. And on my own drive home, I got to thinking that the Dutchmen’s story—of a team and a program that expects excellence and expects to compete at a national level, even as the playing field is tilted more and more in favor of the haves every season—was more interesting than mine.
So I wrote about that, and what I perceived as the condescension ESPN displayed in airing Monmouth-Saint Peter’s at 6 am Tuesday and how it all tied into the major/mid-major chasm, and thought I did an OK job.
A few hours later, I was a bit concerned when I woke up to a text from Loyal Reader Matt, a dear friend for nearly 25 years who is more supportive about my writing than anyone outside my family yet who was writing to express disappointment with the tone and subject of the column.
“Instead of focusing on how well HU played & what a good game it was, it came across as whiny. ‘Oh the poor widdle mid-major has it so tough.’ Not that your points aren’t valid, it’s just that it should be a topic for a different day.”
I re-read the entry a couple times and could see where Matt was coming from. Was I a little bit overdramatic? For the first time ever, probably. I wasn’t intending to complain about the unfair uphill climb of mid-majors at the expense of recapping a memorable game and an unforgettable night for Hofstra fans.
But I can understand how it came across as such and apologize to anyone else who was disappointed. I wish I could have also explained the sights and sounds and emotions of a Hofstra fan watching the game, but it was already 8 or 9 am when I finished and I was already at 1,300 words, and even I have my limits.
That said…it’s a different day, so let’s revisit a topic that should have been handled Wednesday and allow me to explain how Tuesday allowed me to get in touch with my inner private school girl.
You know the type: Glorified in B comedies (and, perhaps, some, ahem, straight-to-cable movies you might find on channels that cannot be viewed by children under 18) since the dawn of time, the preppie whose wild streak is unveiled once she sheds her uniform.
(Boy, if the juxtaposition of paunchy ol’ me and a teenaged girl hasn’t horrified you, you’ve got an iron stomach)
I wore to the game Tuesday my 2000 NCAA Tournament T-shirt, which is basically the good luck shirt that can be worn without me worrying it’ll disintegrate as I’m wearing it. But even though one of this blog’s slogans is “Blissfully Biased” and even though I took the game in from Section 11 way high up in Gampel and not press row, I still for reasons nobody around me can understand want to return to a world in which wearing a team T-shirt to a game would be career suicide. (Of course, I never wore a team T-shirt inside a press box and my career is still in dire straits, but I digress)
So I wore a fleece over the T-shirt. But at the final media timeout, with the no cheering rule already broken in half at some point during the Dutchmen’s spate of 3-pointers, I said the hell with it (or something to that effect) and ditched the fleece. It was a moment straight out of a cheesy ‘80s flick, even if it didn’t result in the desired Hollywood ending.
I also should have written about how instant technology allows sports to remain a communal experience even when we’re separated by hundreds of miles. “OMG” the wife wrote in a text message at 8:35.
“Too nervous to text,” Matt wrote at 8:48. He should have tried Tweeting with fumbling fingers, like I did.
And it was cool to see Matt write that he “…would have been thrilled” if Hofstra won because of what it would have meant to the HU grads he knows, and to realize he, too, gets what Litos wrote yesterday about how these games are so very meaningful to the mid-majors.
After the game, I was talking to my wife, who wasn’t very responsive. I finally asked what was wrong, figuring I’d forgotten to take the clothes out of the washing machine or hadn’t fed the cats or had left the shower running when I left Monday.
“Just a little let down right now,” she said.
Then, a couple minutes later: “Man, I am so worn out right now.”
Upon getting back to my Dad’s, it was fun to read the Facebook status updates of Hofstra fans as they began to believe the Dutchmen could win…as well as the status updates of UConn fans who went from smugly certain of victory to making-a-deal-with-the-devil desperate to avoid a loss to a school that might not even play Division I.
For the fan who remembers the days of Hofstra basketball irrelevance, Tuesday was an incredible night, one in which inhibitions and caution and layers of clothing were discarded in favor of investing fully in the possibility of a long-shot victory . It didn’t turn out to be THE GREATEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN to a Connecticut native and Hofstra grad, but it was an evening with many more positives than negatives…no matter how I originally portrayed it.