Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What Matters (Part 1)

I'm learning to turn a bit away from my professional sports affiliations as the Bears and Bulls sink even further into wasted seasons and the Addicks' have suffered two horrible losses to Sheffield and Burnley at the Valley. A trip to Wales has temporarily righted the ship, but my confidence is a bit shaken.

After watching (virtually) Charlton's collapse to Burnley, we headed out to check out Georgetown as JTIII's kids took on a surprisingly competitive Fairfield squad. I have absolutely no ties to Georgetown but I feel privileged to have the opportunity to watch the Hoyas take the court nevertheless. The team is incredibly charismatic and the energy they exude is infectious. Georgetown presents, for DC residents, the last meaningful sporting event that can be attended by those on strict budgets and watching a wide diversity of my neighbors -- most of whom, like me, have no formal connection to the University -- filter into the Verizon center with broad smiles on their faces is something I look forward to. The Hoyas are doing what they ought to do in these games against lesser opponents; namely, seeing what everyone in a Georgetown jersey not named Roy Hibbert can contribute before they head to Tennessee for their showdown with Derrick Rose and the Memphis Tigers on December 22nd. Patrick Ewing Jr. continues to be my favorite to watch as despite obvious offensive deficiencies, PE2 never eases up on defense and his contribution (I hope) will prove a difference as the Big East season runs its course. From what we've seen so far, I am also hopeful that Macklin and Rivers will continue to develop and that Wright and Freeman remain comfortable with taking on more and more responsibility. But regardless of what happens, I am certain to enjoy it.

Later on Saturday night, we headed over to Ludwig Field to watch Maryland's very good men's soccer team take on Bradley in the third round of the NCAA's tournament. We watched the first half from the touch line behind Bradley's goal and were treated to an impressive display from Maryland's squad:

Of particular note was the Terps' phenomenal freshmen midfielder Rodney Wallace, who punched in Maryland's first goal at the 17th minute. Unfortunately, Wallace was knocked out of the match with an injury a little over six minutes later. The rest of his team picked up the slack and Maryland took a two goal lead into half time on a header by Omar Gonzalez, photographed horribly here:

Maryland dominated for much of the game, but as we sat in the bleachers for the second half, a let down seemed inevitable. Fans around us began to talk about Maryland's next possible matchup against Ohio State or Santa Barbara. A little later they talked about what it would take to make the final four, and a little later after that there were those who were wondering if this wasn't 2005 all over again. I looked up at the scoreboard with three minutes left in the game, frozen (and therefore certain that the match was going to come down to penalty kicks), and marveling that Bradley had taken only six shots in the first 87 minutes of the contest. Maryland failed to clear the ball well and the team's defense relented and Bradley scored in the 89th minute. Bradley's fans cheered wildly and the Maryland folks on the other side of the pitch scoffed that Bradley was excited to lose by one. And then Bradley scored again. 42 seconds from time. And this time, the Bradley supporters were orgasmic. The cheers were visceral. The reaction of the squad on the field was of immense joy. And it was guaranteed that Maryland wasn't moving on. Bradley confirmed it with a minute fifteen left in the second overtime. And there it was again. Bradley's cadre of fans out of their minds. The joy, the thrill, evinced by the folks from Peoria was usefully contrasted by a sole drunken idiot Maryland student screaming "F*ck you" at what he believed to be the referee but was, in fact, a member of Bradley's coaching staff. (Otherwise, the Maryland fans were great... the impossibly-sustained "Knock, Knock, Who's There? Banana. Banana Who?" chant at Bradley's goalie is one of the most improbable things I've witnessed at a sporting event).

I know next to nothing about college soccer and I was left a bit startled by Bradley's reaction to the win. Of course, knocking off Indiana and Maryland in consecutive games is impressive, but perhaps didn't warrant that much of a response. And this is, of course, why we have the internet. To answer random questions that should not take up much of our time. So why did Bradley react that way? Really? Wow. Sports might mean something to me, but I hope that I never have it mean as much to me as soccer means to those kids right now. Regardless, I am certain that when Chris Cutshaw put the ball in the net to send it to overtime, the Braves' fans knew that it was going to happen. And when Cutshaw put the ball into the net the second time, each and every Brave fan in the grandstand thanked a power higher than themselves for having the opportunity to be there for it.

Go Bradley. All that stands between y'all and the championship is Ohio State and either UMass or UIC. We will be rooting for you throughout.

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