Sunday, January 24, 2010

Take Your Daughter to Sport Day

I am basking in the glow of a glorious sports weekend which involved a total of twenty minutes of the two divisional championship games in the NFL. It started Friday night with a virtuouso performance by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Phoenix (I had no idea that Rose could get that high and come down that strong), and continued on Saturday morning with the rare opportunity to see mighty Accrington on television for their fourth-round FA Cup match against Fulham at the Crown Ground. We're sponsoring a Stanley player's home and away shirt and, because the team changed its kit manufacturer mid-season, we had just received the player's shirt and a note of thanks in advance of the game. Stanley was fantastic, as were Accrington's supporters, and but for Kempson's silly first half-fouls (and, even then, nothing compared to what Jimmy Conrad did at the Home Depot Center several hours later), Fulham would have struggled to advance against a committed side.

We left in the second half to take our daughter to see the Hoyas play Rutger's Scarlet Knights and were treated to a near pitch-perfect performance from Georgetown. I really, really like this team and very much enjoy cheering for them, but, nevertheless, do not regret giving up our season tickets. Our daughter has enjoyed the two games she has been to this season, I think, principally because it has not been routine. And when she climbed up on her seat to jump up and down applauding Henry Sims' great two-handed slam, I became even more confident that she'll be up for more regular trips when she gets older.

We watched the U.S. lay an egg in Los Angeles against Honduras and spent more time watching another great performance by the Bulls in Houston, woke up Sunday morning to watch Palermo destroy Fiorentina, and, a few hours later, watched a tremendous Inter squad embarrass Milan (Julio Cesar's stuff of Ronaldinho injury-time penalty try is a must see).

But the highlight of the weekend was Sunday night's father-daughter game at Comcast featuring the women of Maryland and Duke. My daughter was tucked into bed after a great half hour of playing with a new train set, but there were plenty of other fathers who were able to take their girls to an unforgettable game. This Terps' team may not be anywhere near the quality of those of the recent past and has been blown out a few times this season (against Miss. St. and the Lady Wolfpack), but they are a team that should not be taken lightly. Although not an aesthetically pleasing game (Duke shot less than 33% from the floor), the Terps showed great resolve and back-to-back three pointers by Lori Bjork were almost enough to ignite what would have been a huge upset over the seventh ranked Blue Devils.

Games like the one played tonight in College Park have made me an unapologetic fan of women's sports. I do not believe that any person could have walked out of Comcast tonight without being thoroughly entertained and impressed by the level of competition on display. And if they could, well, like Dexter's voice in those dumb Dodge ads, I feel sorry for them.

I can no longer tolerate the biting, ignorant criticism of women's athletics that constitutes jovial banter amongst boys... if you can't give basketball (or soccer) a chance when women are playing it, you don't like the sport. Tyrus Thomas was already my favorite player on this unfortunate Bulls' squad, but the bit that Melissa Isaacson revealed in an article earlier this season about Ty's attendance of WNBA games put me firmly in his camp (and even more firmly in the anti-Del Negro camp). Isaacson quotes Thomas as follows:

"It just so happens that two of the girls I went to college with got drafted by the Sky the same year I came here," he said, "but I would've went anyway. I just like basketball. I'll go watch high school, middle school, little kids; I just like to watch basketball. Sometimes you can [get something out of it], actually. I always go to high school games to see if there's something you like or could use."


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Right Said Fred

This past week spelled disaster for my daughter's two favorite DC United players. Just as soon as we paid for our season tickets in full, Fred, United's first-round draft pick, and allocation money was shipped to Philly so that we could re-acquire Troy Perkins.

I have no problem with getting Perkins back, but I am saddened to see Josh Wicks lose his job and Fred forced to leave the DC area. This will be a very different United squad on the pitch, with Emilio gone, Cristian Gomez likely also elsewhere, and Onalfo at the helm.

But the team will also be quite different off the pitch. Reading internet chatter celebrating Fred's departure has pissed me off. Fred's one of the nicest people that will ever put a United shirt on. Despite a tough season because of personal tragedy last year, Fred never stopped trying to build the team. He became an integral part of the Brazilian community in the DC area (or so I am told by Brazilian friends) and he was fun to watch on the field. But, most importantly, for us, he always got a huge smile out of our daughter. She is about the same age as Fred's daughter. I cannot imagine enduring what he and Deborah have faced with their child. And, yet, he's always been at RFK with a smile on his face, a deeply-held faith in his heart, and a commitment to be the best soccer player he can be.

I am puzzled by the bad feelings Fred engendered with a down year. I chalk it up, mostly, to the mentality of Redskins' fans creeping into United's supporters. For whatever reason, screaming about results has come to overshadow the fact that soccer is an entertainment and a distraction which we share as a community. And, so, because a significant minority of my fellow supporters are idiots, the fact that Josh Wicks got sent off for stepping on Montero eclipses the fact that he busted his ass for the team and, in one of the coolest things we saw last year, accompanied Rodney Wallace and Marc Burch to the University of Maryland. Wicks stood out in front of the gate separating fans from the players' benches, greeted fans, chatted with kids, and signed autographs. My daughter stood back in awe while Josh patiently took time with other kids. And when she finally decided to walk up to him, her grin was almost as electric as Wicks' smile. But none of that matters to some, as we are all supposed to be only about results... winning a second-tier league and a meaningless title. Color me unimpressed. I'd rather watch entertaining football played by men who give a sh*t about the people who take the time to go and see them.

Good luck Fred, we'll miss you.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Bob LeGere has a great homage up to Lance Briggs up on the Daily Herald's web-site. It is a welcome piece, particularly viewed in light of the constant stream of negative stories about a historically disappointing Bears team.

Two weeks ago, I dug out our car from two feet of snow on Sunday morning just to make possible a trip to M & T Bank Stadium for our daughter's first Chicago Bears game. Four hours of solid work, our 19-month old donning her Devin Hester jersey, me in my Adrian Peterson (OAP) jersey, my wife in a granny Bears sweater that would make our respective families in the western suburbs proud, and we were off to Charm City. But despite our efforts and those of a few hundred other Bears fans also in Baltimore, the Bears largely stayed on the plane. A listless, apathetic squad got torn apart by a team that is a far better reflection of working-class culture than the descendants of the Monsters of the Midway.

I would have more complaints about going to the game except for two things. First, M & T Bank Stadium is the nicest away stadium that we've been do, both in terms of the set-up of the urban stadium and the atmosphere. Ravens' fans are fantastic. While there were, as everywhere, drunken morons in attendance, they were far outnumbered by a committed and passionate fanbase that witnesses the event with rapt attention. The difference between Ravens games at M & T and Redskins games at FedEx could not be more pronounced. I cannot imagine that any group of Ravens fans could get away with what happened at the last Redskins game we went to -- where a group of "fans" screamed for ten minutes that Jason Campbell should be pulled from the game (because he "suuuuuuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkssss") despite the fact that he had been injured at the very beginning of the game and had not played a down in the last two quarters -- not because there weren't inebriated fans, but because surrounding fans wouldn't have tolerated it. Although we were decked out in Bears gear, even before the game became a ridiculous blowout, the fans in our section were exceptionally friendly and accommodating. In fact, I fear that a few more seasons of Turner-neptitude and our daughter may grow up a Ravens fan.

But this possibility is countermanded by the other part of the experience we enjoyed: Lance Briggs is worth the price of admission alone. Whatever is going on with Lovie's ego and his inability to adjust or jettison failed strategies, Lance Briggs comes and plays every game as if his paycheck depends on it. Briggs recorded 13 tackles during the game -- all apparently solo -- his fourth game this season with double digit tackles. Briggs is a superstar. In seven seasons with the Bears he has done enough where he deserves to be part of the discussion as one of the best linebackers in the team's history. Certainly, in my lifetime, Briggs is the best outside linebacker that I have ever seen play for the team and I grew up with a near fanatical adulation of Wilber Marshall (although they are not really comparable; and I recognize that any discussion about the merits of football is immediately sobered by the thought of what the entertainment given by Wilber's play cost him). Outside of Scottie Pippen, I can't think of any other player from the teams I follow who has been as underrated despite constantly fully harnessing his immense talent. And this makes little sense, as Briggs is the consummate Bear; he works his tail-off, pays careful attention to the fundamentals of the game, hits like a Mack truck, and doesn't seek the limelight. At Baltimore, two Sundays ago, Lance Briggs showed the team's front office what pride in the shirt means. Although I doubt that it will make much of a difference to the people who matter, it made a huge difference to me.