Today is Thanksgiving 2020. I am going to resist the temptation to post about being thankful 2020 is almost over, though I do not begrudge anyone who feels that way. Undoubtedly, this year has been filled with challenges. The pandemic has changed the way we live. Everything from how we do our jobs to how we parent our kids to how we celebrating weddings, births, and holidays has been impacted. Though each family has faced its own unique set of challenges this year, it’s important to remember we are all in this together. This is my family’s story…Continue reading Thankful for Rosemary
The birth story of Benjamin Gregory Hubert began long before he joined this side of the world on November 13, 2015. It began with the longing for a child that God placed on our hearts, continued with reminders of God’s faithfulness to that desire, and concluded with an incredible consolation in the midst of labor.
I was so thankful for a healthy and relatively easy pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy was perhaps the healthiest and most vibrant I’ve ever felt in my body. I was so connected to and conscious about what I was eating, how active I was, and marveling in how amazing and capable my body is. (These were all useful experiences for a woman who has struggled with both body image and healthfulness her whole life.) I had the typical challenges with food aversions in the first trimester, sleep struggles in the second, and achiness in the third, but other than that, there were no physical barriers standing between me and a positive pregnancy. Prenatal yoga was an essential physical, mental and spiritual practice for me during this time. Tree poses with “one hand on your heart and the other on baby” made me feel rooted in what was familiar and strong enough to reach for what was to come. I marveled in how strong and flexible I was in my pregnant body, and I had fun playfully exploring poses that challenged me and celebrated this stage of my life. I also would meditate there on my mantra that I would carry with me into labor: “I trust the wisdom of my body.”
Pregnancy was a busy season, though, as I wrapped up my M.P.A. degree with multiple online classes through the summertime. Matt and I decided to go away for an overnight to reconnect with each other before my final research proposal and other class assignments ramped up to the end in August. We had a lovely time, and (consistent with my pregnancy), I felt able to be present to each moment and savor it with gratitude. As we sat at Perkins eating an indulgent brunch on the drive back into town, I felt suddenly overwhelmed with God’s presence and proclaimed to Matt, “I don’t know exactly what the next few months will hold, but I know they will be very hard. But I do know that I’m so glad to be in it with you, and I know that God will get us through any challenges that we may face. It won’t be easy, but we are going to be okay!” At the time, I had no idea the significance of that moment and what a gift it was to feel that truth.
One hour later, Matt and I gathered with my parents and sister for a family meeting, where I learned the shocking news that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember dashing across the room after listening to him explain some of the medical details, including the many unknowns at the time, and hugging him around his waist saying, “What do you need? Do you need me to be angry? Do you need me to do something? What do you need?” We cried together, and dad told me that he just needed my prayers. My mom added that what she needed was for me to take care of our baby—a task that might be harder to do in the midst of so many new stressors.
[I am glad to report now that my dad, who approved me sharing this story, is doing very well. He had an extensive surgery and grueling treatments out of state, but he is now home, has returned to work and is healing beautifully. His healing process has also been marked with many tangible reminders of God’s presence and faithfulness.]
It was incredibly challenging for me to work full-time, take graduate classes and travel the hard journey with my family while being pregnant. But, in some ways, my mom’s loving (but challenging!) request to put myself and the baby first was a gift to us. I put my focus on staying healthy, minimizing stress and resting as often as I could, even though these were hard daily choices to make, knowing that my mom and dad were out of state going through incredible trials. I wanted so much to distract myself from my life and instead immerse myself in solidarity with my dad’s struggle, but instead, I honored my mom’s request and cared first for myself and the baby. I was able to travel to Ohio a few times to be with my family, which was wonderful, and Matt and I used technology to stay as connected as possible to my parents. Continue reading Benjamin’s Birth Story
This year’s college football season got off to a bad start for me when Michigan lost its home opener to Utah. Of course, I had no idea back then that Utah would finish the season undefeated and Michigan would win just three games. Fortunately for me, there was a good ending to the season, in part thanks to Utah.
In Erie Times-News columnist Duane Rankin’s BCS challenge, I correctly predicted Utah would defeat Alabama. I also picked USC, Texas, Virginia Tech and Florida to give me a 5-0 mark and the win.
Rankin wrote a column about my “historic” undefeated run through the BCS, which ran today in the sports section of the Erie Times-News and on goerie.com.
Here’s some of what Rankin wrote:
Matt Hubert made history.
He’s the first to go 5-0 in my Bowl Championship Series bowl contest.
Considering he’s a Michigan fan, this was likely the best news he had all college football season, but you have to give the 24-year-old Erie resident credit.
Out of the 35 contest entrants, Hubert and Jeff Taylor, 49, of Millcreek Township, entered the BCS title game with 4-0 records.
Hubert picked Florida. Taylor went with Oklahoma.
Florida won 24-14.
Taylor figured Oklahoma was done when it failed to score twice from the goal line in the first half.
As for Hubert, Tim Tebow is why he picked the Gators.
Hubert should send Tebow a thank-you card. The Florida junior quarterback threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 109 yards.
So for making history, Hubert won a Michigan T-shirt, a calendar that plays the school’s fight song and a 2007 Michigan-Penn State game program from when the Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Thanks, Duane. Now I’m just hoping Michigan can get back to its winning ways in ’09 so my bowl-picking success isn’t the highlight of another college football season.
Fantasy football is a drug. It’s prescribed to enhance the football season experience. But like so many over-the-counter medication drugs these days, the side effects can often outweigh the benefits. In the case of fantasy football, side effects may include irritability, frustration, insomnia, excessive computer use, sudden fits of rage and hallucinations (all I need is for Jeff Reed to make 15 field goals Monday Night and I win!)
Yes, fantasy football is a drug, and I’m addicted. Honestly, I tried it once when I was young because I was curious and it looked like fun. The next thing I knew, I was hooked.
Now, more than 15 years sense my first fantasy football experience, I’m still doing it. And it’s worse than ever. My tolerance is up. One league isn’t enough any more. And playing for bragging rights doesn’t cut it like it used to. Now, I want a prize at the end of the season.
The Raiders’ woes of the past several years have only made things worse. With Oakland always out of playoff contention by November, I just spend more and more time focusing on my fantasy team. Each week, it consumes me. On a regular week, I spend Tuesday through Saturday logging onto the site multiple times a day to go over my roster and wade through the pool of free agents to see if I can upgrade my roster. Then, Sunday comes and I have last-minute debates with myself about who should make the starting lineup. Finally, I spend all afternoon using StatTracker to follow the real time results as heart rises and falls with each 10-yard point gain.
I know I’m not alone in this habit. I realize that millions of people partake in fantasy football each year. But is it really worth it? We spend hours drafting a team and hours more shuffling our lineups and adding/dropping players from our rosters. And for what? In an average league of 10 players, you have a 10 percent chance of winning the championship.
Would anyone put this much time, effort and energy into anything else for 1 in 10 odds?
Factor in all of the things we have no control over—injuries, schedule, coaches who decide to give goal line carries to the unknown fullback or call the tackle eligible pass—and fantasy football can becoming frustrating fast.
This season, I’m in two leagues. In one league, my first three picks were Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo and Darren McFadden. All three have been sidelined for multiple games by injuries. In the other league, I’ve scored more points than every team in the league. Yet I have a losing record, and need a win plus help just to make the playoffs. With the league’s best team. I just can’t buy a break.
Of course, I’ll do it all over again next year. And, if and when the breaks finally do break in my favor, I’ll probably do my best to construe the evidence in a way that suggests my fantasy genius. But that’s all part of the addiction.
I know that luck has as much, if not more, to do with fantasy football success than skill. My rational side knows that. But addiction doesn’t operate on rational terms.
That’s why I’ll be spending the next few days debating my lineup options for Week 13. After all, my underachieving 4-8 squad has the chance to play the role of spoiler and keep my brother’s 6-6 team out of the playoffs. Pennington or Cassel? Fargas or McFadden? Should I play my Eagles (Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson) while their quarterback situation is in flux? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
This is fantasy football. My addiction.
Unpredictability, the most beautiful thing about sports, reared its ugly head Thursday night.
At its best (think: USA Hockey, 1980), unpredictability is what helps sports enrich people’s lives. On the other hand, The Lakers coughing up a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against their legendary rivals, is the sort of unpredictability that can temporarily paralyze the psyche of a sports fan. Call it a devastation game.
As it’s happening, the magnitude is lost on you. In the moments after the game ends, the shock of what happened lingers and you stare dumbfounded, waiting for a logical explanation. There is none. The devastation game has no rationale. That’s what drives you crazy as a fan. Nothing you did caused it. Nothing you can do can change it. Nothing anyone says can make sense of it.
All you can think is, ‘What happened?’ and deep down in your devastated heart, eventually, you realize that question is never going to be answered. Your investment has left you numb.
If you’re a diehard fan, you’ve experienced this, too. If not, understand that iehard sports fans are a unique breed: passionate, loyal and devoted. But most of all they’re invested, invested in their team.
It’s an investment of money, for sure. Each year, fans justify paying for marked-up items because it features his favorite team’s logo and colors.
It’s also an investment of time. And not just in terms of games watched. Think of the hours spent watching SportsCenter, surfing the Internet to read about the team and, of course, the time spent explaining to friends why this year is our year.
But most of all, it’s an investment of emotion. And that’s where the devastation game hits the hardest. There is no measuring stick of emotion invested in a season, but suffice it to say if you reach a devastation game, it was too much. Of course, with the onset of each new season, diehard fans again pledge their allegiance to their teams with the dream that said team will bring them joy in the form of a season full of victories and, ultimately, a championship.
And they do this knowing full well the odds are against them. It’s an incredibly unequal partnership. The fan invests money, time and emotion in exchange for what? For the hope that exists in the dawning of a new season, the intangible hope that they can overcome the odds to finish the season basking in the ecstasy that only a championship season can provide.
Ironically, the unpredictability that leads to the devastation game is the same thing that makes the investment worth it in the first place. Fans know going in, they aren’t investing in a championship. They’re investing in a journey. Ideally that journey will culminate in a championship. The fact that it so rarely happens that way makes the experience that much more memorable when it happens. The rare air at the top of the mountain is what every fan desires to breathe.
That’s why every year, before the season starts, fans talk themselves into this year and this team. They want to be on board for the championship journey from the get-go. When that train gets derailed, the true fans separate themselves from the frontrunners. The true fan hangs on for the bumpy ride knowing that a bounce back the next year will be relished having suffered through a tough ride the season before. It’s all about unpredictability.
No one foresaw the Lakers making a run at the 2008 NBA Finals when this season began. Kobe Bryant wanted out. The surrounding cast was young and untested in the playoffs.
Then the young players, most notably Andrew Bynum, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar overachieved during the season. They acquired Pau Gasol in a trade. They whizzed through three rounds of the playoffs with only three losses and suddenly, unpredictably, the Lakers were Finals favorites against a Celtics team that had the best record in the league all season.
The ride that Lakers fans had signed up for back in October was living up to their highest hopes and greatest dreams. When success comes by surprise like that, fans are floating on a dreamlike cloud of invincibility. You hear “team of destiny” floated around a lot during these types of runs. But nothing awakens fans faster and crushes their hearts more than when that dream dies at the doorstep, unexpectedly.
Case in point: the 2007-08 Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
This was the most devastating Lakers loss of my lifetime. Down two games to one, the Lakers had the perfect opportunity to even the series. They led by 21 after one, 18 at halftime and as much as 24 points during the game. Yet they lost. Celtics fans will remember one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
But I’m a Lakers fan so this was a colossal collapse, a bitter defeat. With MVP Kobe Bryant, the game’s best closer, on our side, there’s no excuse for allowing this game and that lead to slip away. It’s hard to believe it really happened that way.
What’s worse is that while this series, at 3-1 Celtics, is not technically over. The Lakers even play Game 5 at home. However, the deflated feeling lingering from that loss has Lakers fans mourning this season already and doubting that their team is feeling any differently. This was an all-time devastation game.
The 10 most devastating losses of my life as a sports fan
I’m happy to say my first sports memory was a positive one: the Lakers defeating the Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals. I was less than 4 years old then, but I swear I remember watching those Finals on my dad’s lap. Unfortunately, I’ve endured a lot of heartbreaking sports losses since. Whereas Bill Simmons has his levels of losing, I’ve been leveled by several demoralizing defeats in my young sports fan life. The worst 10 losses I’d rather not revisit are as follows:
10. Texas Longhorns 38, Michigan Wolverines 37
January 1, 2004
The Rose Bowl
What I remember: Vince Young was exasperating to root against. He was like a video game player that had a code for constant turbo. Michigan simply could not stop him as he ran for 192 yard and 4 touchdowns and threw for 180 yards and another score. When Michigan took a 37-35 lead with 3:04 left, I had a very bad feeling that too much time was left on the clock.
9. New York Yankees 1, Oakland Athletics 0
October 13, 2001
American League Divisional Series , Game 3
What I remember: The A’s had lost in five games to the Yankees the year before. In ’01, they took the first two games in New York and came home to finish the deal. Game 3 featured the now-historic Derek Jeter flip play. If only Jeremy Giambi knew how to slide. The A’s couldn’t manage a run in this game and went on to lose the next two, blowing the series 3-2.
8. San Antonio Spurs 96, Los Angeles Lakers 94
May 13, 2003
Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5
What I remember: Robert Horry missed the shot he always makes – a potential game-winning three-pointer rattled in and out– and the Lakers furious rally from 25 points down fell two points short. Had that shot gone down, the Lakers would’ve headed back to L.A. with a chance to clinch and possibly extend their bid at a fourth straight NBA title.
7. Detroit Pistons 88, Los Angeles Lakers 80
June 13, 2004
NBA Finals, Game 4
What I remember: An incredibly frustrating series was unofficially ended in Game 4 when the Lakers lost despite 36 points and 20 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe Bryant shot (and shot and shot) his way to a porous 8-25 night from the field. No one gave the Pistons a chance coming into this series, which made the Lakers’ offensive struggles (averaging just 81.8 points per game) all the more mind boggling for fans.
6. Lower Merion 48, Cathedral Prep 43
March 23, 1996
1996 PIAA AAAA Basketball State Championship
What I remember: My cousin, Keith Nies, was the senior starting point guard for Prep. The other team had some highly-touted senior named Kobe Bryant. Prep held Kobe in check most of the game and led for a good portion of the game, but foul trouble hurt them.
5. Boston Celtics 97, Los Angeles Lakers 91
June 12, 2008
NBA Finals, Game 4
What I remember: It’s the cause of this column. The series isn’t technically over yet, but it sure feels like it is.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels 77, Michigan Wolverines 71
April 5, 1993
NCAA Championship Game
What I remember: The Fab Five era came to a screeching halt as Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have. The Tar Heels used the ensuing technical free throws to ice the game. Webber would declare for the NBA, and Michigan basketball hasn’t been the same since.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes 42, Michigan Wolverines 39
November 18, 2006
Regular season finale for the Big Ten Championship
What I remember: Both teams entered this massively hyped game at 11-0, ranked #1 and #2 in the country. The winner would take the Big Ten Championship and earn a spot in the BCS title game. Michigan drove down the field and went up 7-0 on the first possession. And the Buckeyes just bombarded the Wolverines defense, scoring 21 straight points. They racked up more than 500 yards for the game and scored three touchdowns of 39 yards or more, effectively killing Michigan’s national championship run.
2. New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13
January 19, 2002
AFC Divisional Playoffs
What I remember: It was a fumble. I don’t care about the Tuck Rule. Anyone with eyes and a football sense – Tom Brady, Charles Woodson – knew it was a fumble. Surprisingly, this is the only game on this list where I feel my team was robbed and not simply beaten by the opposition. Years before Spygate, this is when I began hating the Patriots.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
January 26, 2003
Super Bowl XXXVII
What I remember: It was supposed to be a great day for me. One year after the Snow Job game, the Raiders were in the Super Bowl for the first time in my life. But on the way to the game, my car slid off the road into a snow bank. Things only got worse from there. The Raiders former coach Jon Gruden was patrolling the sidelines for Tampa Bay, and he seemed to know every play the Raiders fan. NFL MVP Rich Gannon threw five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, and Tampa Bay annihilated the Raiders in one of the most lopsided championship games I’ve ever seen.
Honorable mentions (in chronological order):
- 1990 AFC Championship, Oakland Raiders lose vs. Buffalo Bills
- 1994 PIAA Basketball State Championship, Cathedral Prep loses to Chester
- 1999 PIAA AAAA Football State Championship, Cathedral Prep loses to Central Bucks West, 14-13
- 2000 ALDS Game 5, Oakland Athletics lose vs. New York Yankees
- 2002 ALDS Game 5, Oakland Athletics lose vs. Minnesota Twins
- 2003 Rose Bowl Michigan Wolverines loses vs. USC Trojans
- 2003 ALDS Game 5, Oakland Athletics lose vs. Boston Red Sox
- 2003 Monday Night Football, Oakland Raiders lose vs. Green Bay Packers
- 2005 NCAA Championship Game, UCLA Bruins lose vs. Florida Gators
- 2006 NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
- 2006 NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7, Los Angeles Lakers lose vs. Phoenix Suns
- 2007 Regular season opener, Michigan Wolverines lose vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers
He was my favorite basketball player during the years when I was learning to play basketball. From the moment he first donned the maize and blue at Michigan in the early 90s through his first five years in the NBA playing for the Warriors and Bullets/Wizards, Chris Webber was the coolest player playing.
The shaved head and baggy shorts combined with the brashness to go behind the back and dunk on Barkley made Webber appealing to me as a kid and so did his vulnerability after committing a mental error on the big stage of the NCAA championship. I wrote about Webber’s influence on me briefly a couple weeks ago in my “15 Years After The Timeout” post. And fair or not, that single play is the most universally recognizable moment in Webber’s career.
A Rookie of the Year, five-time all-star and five-time all-NBA selection (one 1st team, three 2nd team, one 3rd team), Webber is a borderline Hall of Famer. But he never won, or even reached a championship during his NBA career. And in two NCAA championship games, his Wolverines fell short twice, including the heartbreaking loss to North Carolina in 1993. For critics, that’s enough to label Webber’s career a disappointment.
When Webber was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 1998, I was put in a bind. My favorite player was suddenly suiting up for a team in the same division as my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Webber’s arrival vastly improved the fortunes of a Kings franchise that had won exactly one playoff game since moving to Sacramento in 1985.
My allegiance was to the Lakers, and so it was a bittersweet feeling as Webber’s Kings proved to be a stepping stone on the way to three straight NBA championships. The Lakers’ third title team, in 2002, was pushed to seven games in the Western Conference Finals by Sacramento. If it weren’t for a clutch three-point shot by Robert Horry in Game 4 of that series, the Kings probably would have won it all that year, and Webber likely would have had a Finals MVP to vindicate his career.
I didn’t know back then that he would never be that close to the top again. The 2003 season ended in the second round, and Webber played just 23 games in the ’04 season. In 2005 he was traded to Philadelphia. His numbers and production dropped and despite featuring two former #1 overall draft picks in Webber and Allen Iverson, the Sixers couldn’t get out of the first round. The 2006 Sixers failed to even make the playoffs.
Then last year, when Webber was picked up mid-year by Detroit, his hometown team, he started 42 games. But he was not the same player he once was. The man who was once the lead dog of the Fab Five was the fifth wheel on this Pistons team that fell to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That brings us to the present. In a year when big names like O’Neal, Garnett, Kidd and Gasol switched teams, it’s no surprise that Webber’s return to Golden State this season went under the radar. However, his reconciliation with coach Don Nelson was big news. If not for the Warriors or C-Webb, the basketball player, then certainly for Webber as a man. But just nine games into his comeback, Webber’s knee got the best of him. First The Timeout, then Big Shot Bob and now the bum knee. Webber’s story is seemingly void of happy endings.
But that’s OK. If everyone had a fairytale ending, no one would enjoy fairytales. Webber’s more like a tragic hero. Incredibly gifted, yet significantly flawed. From the recruiting scandal at Michigan to his trade demands after one successful year in Golden State to his injury plagued final seasons, Webber’s legacy is as much about the lows as the highs, but it’s not limited to the lows.
The average fan doesn’t want to admit it, but there’s more Chris Webber in everyman than David Robinson or Tim Duncan. Most people don’t get to ride off into the sunset as a champion or stay at a peak level year after year. Webber didn’t get that chance, but don’t hate him because he wasn’t always great.
If Webber proved anything over his career it’s that everyone makes mistakes. Being a fan of Webber was no mistake for me.
Last September, as I stood in the student section of the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and cheered the Michigan Wolverines on to victory against Penn State, I wasn’t thinking about the reason I was among the 100,000+ fans supporting the maize and blue.
Why not? Well, because, technically, that reason doesn’t exist.
The reason I cheered Charles Woodson’s Heisman trophy and national championship season of ’97 is gone. When Braylon Edwards single-handedly helped Michigan storm back from a 17-point deficit to defeat Michigan State, the reason I was ecstatic is extinct. When Manningham un-undefeated Penn State, when the D-line crushed Brady Quinn, when Mike Hart showed heart and when Henne sent Carr out in style against the Gators, my original reason for my Wolverine fandom was only a figment of my imagination.
That reason is the Univerity of Michigan’s 1993 men’s basketball team. Perhaps you know their starting lineup better as “The Fab Five.” Five sophomores: Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. And almost always with Webber listed first.
While the official records have caused that team’s NCAA Tournament wins to be vacated and their runner-up banner to be removed, the memory of that team remains very real to me.
Fifteen years after The Timeout, it still hurts to watch replays of that game. Down by 2 points with 11 second to play, Webber signaled for a timeout that his team didn’t have resulting in two technical free throws for North Carolina that sealed the deal for the Tar Heels to win the ’93 national championship.
Webber turned pro after the season with Howard and Rose followed after their junior years. But the Fab Five legacy lives on.
Bald heads and baggy shorts, swagger and success. The Fab Five captivated a nation when they arrived on the scene as freshmen as the most highly touted recruiting class ever. They didn’t disappoint either. Despite their inexperience, they led the Wolverines to the national championship game in 1992, losing to defending champion Duke in the finals.
However, it was their return trip to the Final Four in ’93 as sophomores that got my attention. I was eight years old and it is the first NCAA Tournament that I can remember watching. Michigan was young, exciting and flashy—all appealing traits to an eight-year-old basketball fan looking to latch on.
Webber quickly became my favorite player—I bought and wore his jerseys (Golden State Warriors #4 and Washington Bullets #2) so often that a friend at the Y actually thought my last name was Webber—and the Wolverines became my favorite team. I fell in love with the maize and gold colors, the school and even adopted the football team as my own.
As it turns out, Michigan is a football-first school, the winningest program in the history of college football. Ironically, I became a fan because of their basketball team, which despite winning the national title in 1989 with Rumeal Robinson, Glen Rice, Loy Vaught and company, was never the top ticket in town.
And recently, watching Michigan basketball has been nothing short of sad. The fallout of the scandal involving Webber and a former booster was significant. They were banned from postseason participation 2003 and haven’t fully recovered since. In 2004, Michigan won the National Invitational Tournament. They had a losing season in 2005 and returned to the NIT again in 2006, losing to South Carolina in the championship. Last year the Wolverines were bounced in the second round of the NIT. And this season, under new head coach John Beilein, the Wolverines once again find themselves under .500 and out of the postseason.
A school that won a title in ’89 and made back-to-back title game appearances in the early 90s hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998. It’s almost as if the entire program stopped when Webber, who played for a team that doesn’t exist, called that timeout that didn’t exist.
I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait before Michigan is part of another tournament memory, but once it happens, I’m going to do whatever I can to pretend the past 15 years of lackluster Wolverine hoops didn’t exist either.
Brett Favre decided to hang up his #4 jersey today. A million things will be written and said about Favre’s historic, Hall of Fame career. Within hours of the news, it was dissected from every angle imaginable by the sportswriters of the world.
I guess I’m not technically a sportswriter, though I do write about sports. But what epitaph can I offer to honor Favre’s career that won’t be redundant?
Sure, I watched as Favre won three MVP trophies and a Super Bowl ring in the mid-90s. And I relished Favre’s ageless season last year when he led a resurgent Packers team to the brink of the Super Bowl. I even enjoyed his cameo in There’s Something About Marry. But my strongest memory of Brett Favre comes from one of his most heroic performances.
On Dec. 21, 2003, Brett Favre’s father passed away and a nation of sports fans mourned with him. The next day, Favre and the Packers were in the national spotlight playing on Monday Night Football and everyone was rooting for Favre and the Packers to succeed under such trying circumstances, everyone that is, except for fans of the Oakland Raiders, who were Favre’s opponents that night.
The Raiders entered the game 4-10 despite having played in Super Bowl XXXVII just ten months earlier. But as a diehard Raiders fan, I was still convinced that the silver and black could rise to the occasion for a Monday Night showdown.
I was a freshman in college at the time and my friends were home for Christmas break. With the Raiders on national TV, I decided to make an event of it and invited both my best friend and my girlfriend to watch the game at my house. My girlfriend didn’t have a problem with watching football, but I had yet to have any success transferring my Raiders fandom.
I was sure that watching the game with me would do the trick. I was positive that my passion for the team would be so infectious that she would convert to Raiders Nation on the spot and don a silver and black jersey by halftime. I was convinced that stuffing myself into a vintage youth Marcus Allen Raiders uniform—I wore this for Halloween when I was no older than 10—would be, if not a humorous stunt or turn-on, surely at least a lovable quirk. Needless to say, I was way off base on all accounts.
Favre torched the Raiders defense. He shredded the secondary for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 41-7 shellacking that made my fandom hurt. Adding insult to injury, my passion—mostly angry yelling in the first half and distraught pouting/complaints in the second half—was written off as poor sportsmanship. And my costume was received with a look that fell somewhere between shock and utter horror.
Before the game reached the fourth quarter, I was such a mess that my girlfriend refused to share a couch with me. By the time the game ended, it was up for debate, which was more pathetic: the Raiders team or my demeanor? The Raiders haven’t had a winning season since and the relationship didn’t last two months after that.
Of course I don’t blame Favre for either of those outcomes. It was the Raiders that made all the poor personnel decisions of the past few years and I was the one wearing the hot pants and mini-helmet that night. No, Favre has enough on his résumé without fan fabrication.
But perhaps the ultimate compliment I can give Favre is that in spite of leaving such a bad taste in my mouth by crushing my dreams of a great night with his performance in that game, I remained a Favre fan. If anything, I gained respect for his competitive fire and I rooted for him to win it all last year more than anyone else in the playoffs.
Favre has long been a media darling. He’ll be talked up by just about everyone in the aftermath of his retirement, and rightfully so. But when I think of Favre, I’ll always remember how one of his career-defining games coincided with one of the most embarrassing and humiliating moments of my life as a football fan. I’m just glad the photos of me watching the game aren’t as readily accessible as the highlights of Favre from that night.
Last Thursday, along with my brother Mike, my dad, my best friend Colvin and his dad, I traveled to Cleveland to watch the Lakers take on the Cavs. It was my first NBA game since 1998. That game was also Lakers-Cavs, though both teams bore little resemblance to their ’98 counterparts.
The only thing I remember about that ‘98 game is Mario Bennett, who scored a career high 21 points and pulled down double digit boards for the Lakers in an otherwise unremarkable 105-93 victory.
After looking at that old box score, it turns out Derek Anderson of the Cavs was actually the leading scorer in the game, not Bennett. And Shaq had 26 points to pace the Lakers, but he did so on 11-of-23 shooting.
Did you know three players from last week’s game also played in the ’98 contest? Derek Fisher, Zydrunas Ilgauskaus and some kid named Kobe Bryant.
As for the Cavs 94-90 win over the Lakers this time around, I have several observations:
- The loudest ovation of the first half, and arguably the entire game, was the introduction of the newest Iron Chef, Cleveland restaurant owner Michael Symon. No offense to the chef, but you would think the fans of the reigning Eastern Conference Champions would be a bit more excited, especially for LeBron vs. Kobe. Also, piping in chants of de-fense – not very impressive.
- There were at least two or three occasions when the Lakers used a halfhearted hug technique to foul LeBron on drives to the hoop, allowing him to get his shot up on the rim for the “and-1” opportunity. Part of that is LeBron’s strength, but you have to be able to commit a clean, hard foul in those circumstances to prevent the three-point play. You coach that in high school.
- Poor Larry Hughes. It’s not his fault the Cavs signed him to a ridiculous contract, but he looked overmatched by everyone in a purple uniform. My brother actually apologized to the Cavs fans sitting next to us that they had to have Hughes on their roster. I think he was only half joking.
- From the second quarter on, I kept saying, “It feels like we should be winning by a lot more than we are.” The Lakers enjoyed a double-digit lead for about 20 seconds late in the third quarter, but they had several key turnovers to stifle their own momentum throughout the game.
- If you ask me, the game was lost in the first two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter when Phil Jackson went with a lineup of Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum. The Cavs turned a 78-75 deficit into an 83-78 lead in less than three minutes before Jackson reinserted Bryant into the lineup. I actually like what each of those players brings to the Lakers team, but as a unit, they brought the offense to a screeching halt.
- After LeBron hit two free throws to put Cleveland up 92-90 with 1:44 to play, the Lakers had five chances to tie or take the lead, including two shots from Kobe. I’ll take those chances every game. This game, however, the shots simply didn’t fall.
- Early in the season, when Kobe trade rumors were swirling, I proposed a four-team mega deal that I e-mailed to Bill Simmons, who calls himself the Picasso of ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. At the time, you could make a case for all four teams, but I said the Cavs would be first to say no when it came to dealing LeBron. Fast forward to today, and the Heat and Knicks are dying for this sort of deal. But I think the Lakers are now as hesitant to deal Kobe as the Cavs would be to deal LeBron.