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Tomorrow-

college football season begins for my beloved Utes. I’m excited.

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Is (college) football your thing? What teams do you follow?

This has been a (mostly) Wordless Wednesday post.

 

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Looking Around

This past weekend was brutal for the sports fan in me. With the exception of The University of Utah basketball team defeating a lower tier UC Riverside, every squad I root for, college or professional, lost. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last. Caring about sports teams is risky stuff. Your heart gets tied up in the players and the program. Every win is great and every loss is devastating. If you are lucky, teams you like win more than they lose, but during those down times, when a favorite team is losing more than they win, things feel heavy and every sporting event carries an extra bit of drama.

When my teams lose I tell myself the same thing, You hate (insert sport). You always hated (insert sport). Be smart and never watch (insert sport) again. Which is an outright lie. If I hated it, I wouldn’t watch or care. I care a bit too much. In the hours after my team loses, I am not the most fun to be around. I pout and mope about, pondering all the what ifs. If it is a particularly ugly loss, I might not be right for a day or two.

That is unacceptable.

This past Saturday, I attended a football game at the U along with my siblings and some good friends. The Utes are having a good season, beating teams that have often owned our program, and competing in the games we have lost. Sadly, this particular outing did not go well for the Crimson. Arizona handily defeated us. The game was essentially over two minutes into the 4th quarter. The weather was awful, cold, rainy, windy. Add to that a severe beat down, and many fans left very early. Maybe it was the fact my team was never really in the game, or maybe I’d had enough of the negative things I was experiencing in the stadium around me, but I no longer wanted to feel angry or depressed for hours and hours about sporting events. I didn’t want to go home and be no fun to be around, annoying my kids and spouse. I didn’t want the rest of my weekend ruined by one event. I chose then to not let the sting of the loss linger. It worked. I instantly felt less bothered (by the loss at least, the fans on the other hand…), less grumpy and actually had some fun with my friends and family.

Maybe it was a cosmic test, as once I decided this, team after team on my list of favorites went down in bitter defeats. It was still frustrating, still annoying and still painful, but at least for one weekend, I did not give in. I was angry for a moment, let myself be angry, then let it slip away.  You will have to ask my wife if I was any more fun to be around.

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Here is a photo from the Utah game. Most everyone had left by this point, but the faithful remained. I can’t get behind a great deal of the behavior I saw at the stadium. People were screaming at fans of the other team, screaming at the players, screaming at each other. It was everything that is ugly and awful about sports.  I was going to bring a friend of mine who doesn’t really like football, but does enjoy my company. I am grateful she was unable to attend as I would have been embarrassed by my fellow Utes.

These cruel and petty fans are of course the first ones out of the stadium when things don’t go their way. If nothing else, it confirmed what I already felt about most football fans. They need to grow up. Do better. I’m taking my own advice.

Favorites

I don’t have a favorite song, but I have a favorite band. I don’t have a favorite author, but I do have a favorite book. There are favorite teams in various sports, favorite cities, people, but not movies or words. There is even a favorite spelling of the word favorite. Yep, you guessed it…

What allows one thing to be preferred over another depends a great deal on my age. As a kid, I loved pepperoni pizza more than any other food. In my 40’s, pizza is way down the list, and pepperoni is not even in my top three types.  My favorite television show used to be Miami Vice (I was 14, forgive me), while now I prefer things a bit less…dated. My favorite drink used to be Coke while now I prefer good spring water or coffee.

Here are some things I used to like, still like and now like.

Music-My first favorite band was most likely the Beatles. At the age of 8, I fell in love with KISS (thanks to the Destroyer album purchased from the DI). When I was 13, I flirted with three different bands: The Police, U2 and Big Country. By the time I was 14, Big Country had won out. Maybe I liked the idea that they were a bit obscure to most people I knew. I know it was one of the first records I bought with my own money, which gave them some significance. They remain in my top five today. At the age of 17, thanks to a late afternoon listen to the B-side of a greatest hits collection, I was introduced to The Cure. My affection for them also continues, but they were supplanted in 1996 by TOOL, who made my (still) absolute favorite album of all time that same year. Frustrated by the lack of catalog, I found myself searching for other bands and in 2004 shifted part of my loyalty to ISIS (my favorite memory of ISIS is the lady in her 50’s reading my octopus t-shirt  as “ahh, I get it.  Is, is.”), and that loyalty was rewarded by three full albums, 5 live records and a split release with the Melvins, while in that same time period, TOOL has provided me one record.  Even after disbanding, ISIS continues to release live records, unreleased tracks and other material. I would have never listened to a band like ISIS when I was 17 or 26. They are not for everyone, but they are for me.

Books- The Call of the Wild topped my list when I was around 10. At 11 I read Watership down for the first time and was hooked. This book has impacted my reaction to every other book I have read. While certainly not the best written, or even the most poignant, something about the story spoke to me, making me want to read more books, more stories. I attribute my love of reading, and my eventual study of literature to this book. In my twenties, I fell in love with Vonnegut’s Cats Cradle and put it right next to Watership. Not until 2004, when I read Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, did I have a new favorite book. I think it is near perfect. You should certainly read it.

Sports- My first favorite baseball team was the St. Louis Cardinals. I played on a little league team for two years that shared the same name, so the allegiance seemed to make sense. Ozzie Smith was my favorite player. When I changed teams and played for the Cubs, they became my favorite and since as a young teen, I wanted to cheer for teams that struggled, I stuck with the Cubs until I was 21. A mission served in New England brought me a connection with the Red Sox,  one that continues to this day.

There have only ever been two NBA teams for me-The Boston Celtics (as they one of three teams always on TV and I hated the Lakers and Sixers) and the Utah Jazz. I had affection for the Bulls the year they beat the Lakers, but the Jazz, being local, have my complete loyalty.

I have loved so many NFL teams, starting with the Denver Broncos, then moving from year to year to the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys (hard to admit, but they were Super Bowl Champions), the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins (one season), back to the Dolphins, then back to the Broncos. After watching the Cardinals and Giants play to a 3-3 tie on Monday Night Football, I was attracted to the lovable losing (and drawing) ways of the Giants. Little did I know they would not be losers for long. Five Super Bowl appearances and 4 wins later, I still love The Giants. I have a connection with the Arizona Cardinals as I travel every year to watch them play, so they get to slide into my second favorite slot, but my heart  bleeds Giants blue.  That said, if any team were to move to Salt Lake, they would instantly become my favorite team. Because I have watched and loved so many teams, Football is my favorite sport. Unlike other major sports, I like a player or three on each team and can watch almost any team play and enjoy myself.

I have just started enjoying NHL hockey and MLS soccer, so the team lists are shorter. I am currently attracted to the Bruins and the Coyotes in the NHL and have a bursting loyalty for Real Salt Lake in the MLS. Friends keep wanting me to watch the English Premier League, and while I enjoy almost every match I catch, I really have no connection to any teams. It doesn’t help that I don’t like watching games on delay, and refuse to get up at 5 in the morning to watch matches live.

What a boring list! I almost want to delete this, but I did spend an hour thinking it through, reading and typing, remembering. The whole process is making me very hungry. I need a sandwich, or maybe some taquitos. I have some in the freezer. I think there might even be some ice cream in there as well.

And so you know, my favorite city is New York.

Something About the Sound

When I was a young boy, I loved  baseball. Anywhere, anytime, if there were six of us friends together, we could find a way to have a game. In the neighborhood, we played with old dented bats and tennis balls (so not to break a window or house) but if there were enough of us to make it worth while, we would wander to the field a the east end of the street and use the real thing.

I played little league from the time I was 7 until turning 12 and though I was never a great hitter, I loved everything about playing-The dirt in your shoes, on your face, in your mouth. The friendships, the feeling of stretching a single into a double, scoring a winning run, losing a close game, or making the catch that seals victory for your team. I even loved the cold weather games, when the rain or wind made things miserable. As soon as winter ended, when practice began, I looked forward to that first swing, when the pain would run from your fingers into your wrists. Ah, memories.

Somewhere along the way, time and my life took my passion for baseball. Soon, I lost track of favorite teams, players, everything. I would play softball with friends or co-workers and remember that I loved the game, but it was never enough to make me work to watch it or play it.

Today, my brother invited me to attend a day game for the local triple A club. I gladly agreed (suite tickets make that part easy) and as we settled in, I felt a rush of memory and affection for the game. I thought of these guys, playing a game they love for almost no money, and no real hope of making it big anytime soon. I watched them warm up, throwing the ball around the diamond and I envied them a bit. Following your passion is rarely an easy option for most of us and few are ever able to get paid for that passion.

pitcherWhen the first player made good contact with the ball, the sound of the impact struck deep in me. I LOVE the sound of the ball on a wooden bat. It is hard to describe the impact, but there is a deepness to the sound, a violence, a transfer of energy that resonates through the stadium.

Baseball is a game of sounds and smells for me. I vividly recall burying my face in a new glove, inhaling the oils and leather, chewing on a tie strap. The smell of the grass, the sound of chatter from teammates, the whooshing of the ball as it flies towards you after being hit. The impact in your glove.

The first time I sat near a bullpen, hearing the ball as it left the pitchers hand, rifling, curving, sliding towards the catcher at high speed, I remembered the fear I always experienced coming to bat. Standing in the box, waiting for the pitch, is one of the most nerve wracking things a human can experience. Even as a young boy, I would start to sweat, feeling my pulse quicken as the boy across from me threw a fastball towards the plate. I admire those who can stand in front of a ball coming at them in excess of 90 mph and not flinch, let alone see the ball, read the pitch, make solid contact.

I have that feeling in my blood again. Baseball is back for me, at least for now. And after all, now is all I really have anyway.

Without Illusion

I have said it before.

I used to love basketball more than almost anything.

When I was in my early 20’s, the University of Utah basketball team was just coming onto the national scene, mostly thanks to Coach Rick Majerus. He recruited the best talent the school ever had, coaching  with a passion and determination that demanded the best out of them, not only as players but as human beings.  His NCAA runs to the Elite 8 and the Championship game are some of my favorite sports memories.

Coach Majerus died last week after years of poor health, and while his passing was sad, it was not unexpected.

CMLast night at the basketball game, the University screened a video tribute to Coach. The also displayed career highlights during half time and during media time outs.

During one of these video presentations, a man waking down the isle towards his seat looked up at the screen and blurted out everyone’s favorite obscenity along with its accompanying hand gesture. My first reaction was shock. Not at the obscenity, but the audacity of his actions. My next thought-he is a disgruntled Boise State fan, pissy that his team is getting beat down, but that thought was proven false as he continually cheered for the Utes during the second half.

All I could figure, and I think this is very likely the case, is he disliked Majerus. Really, really disliked him.

And I can understand that. Coach was hardly a saint. Stories abound of players he verbally abused to the point of tears. Some left the team. He drove assistant coaches away, including Ute basketball royalty (Jeff Judkins).  Early in his Utah coaching career, Majerus brought in talented players in bunches but as his health deteriorated and his motivation to coach waned, so did his recruiting. When he left the University, most local kids were attending other Utah schools, rather than Utah. The program suffered (continues to suffer) from it.

Coach was the reason Utah basketball mattered in the 90’s and partially why it doesn’t matter now. This fan knew that and it bothered him (a guess I know, but a good one).

I question whether last night was the proper time or place to share such sentiment. In addition to the thousands of fans who came to pay tribute to Coach Majerus, there were children all around. There are times to let things go, let things slide. This was one of those times.

This boorish behavior is too commonplace at sporting events. I understand passion for a team and living and dying at every win and loss. I don’t understand meanness directed at college kids(or in this case, a deceased coach) by grown adults. My anger during a sporting event is a very controlled anger, a fake anger of sorts (not that it justifies any anger at something as trivial as a sporting event) and I have learned to vent my frustrations  in a way that allows me to still like myself afterward. I was embarrassed for this man, his seemingly useless anger and overblown reaction to something or someone he did not like.

If nothing else, it made me determined to be better. I guess that is something.

Sports and Sportish

I love the Olympics, both summer and winter. Something about so many interesting and amazing athletes gathering in one place, makes my heart glad. I enjoy every aspect of the games, from the opening ceremonies (even the eternal parade of athletes), each event (even the ones I don’t quite understand), to the final moments. When the winter games were in Salt Lake during 2002, I was unable to attend any events, but I did spend a great deal of time out and about town. The city was bustling with so many people, so many languages. A happy, energetic feeling permeated everything.  For two and a half weeks, my city was alive in a way it had never been before. What a sensational experience.

So many sports. It’s the drama of competition that gets me going. The battle for those top three spots is entrancing. Few things in sport are as compelling as a favorite finishing second, or an underdog coming from out of no where and claiming third. The contrast in reaction, the frustration of  a perceived failure for one and an unexpected victory for the other, the gambit of emotion, I always enjoy it.

Not to say I don’t get a comparable thrill from watching a top tier athlete performing at the highest level, rising above the field and winning an event. Watching Usain Bolt once again dominate the speed events was a marvelous thing to behold. Power-grace-determination.

Talking about the greatest competing at a high level, one commentator (during the women’s beach volleyball final) said, “The greatest play best under the bright lights.”

Perhaps, but not always.

I like this thought better-The bright lights bring out greatness. Sometimes in those we least expect. This is  the beauty of sport, of life.

Competition is not always the most important thing, however. My favorite moment of almost every Olympic games comes during the closing ceremony when the athletes enter, not by country but in one large mass. Sure, many still enter with friends or coaches, but the sight of every competitor walking in together, highlights what makes the Olympics great. Certainly they are about winning, about representing your country, but they are also about building human relationships, unity, mutual understanding. These thing transcend ridiculously arbitrary things like where we are from, what ideology we may believe.  The photo of Hope Solo, posing with members of the Japanese soccer team she had just helped to defeat, is my favorite image of these games. The respect, the admiration, it does not carry over into every sport, every event, but when it does, the world of sport and the world itself become better places.

 

 

 

 

At Mile 106

Extraneous information here-I thought about not blogging about the Cycle Salt Lake Century ride that I participated in on Saturday. I even discussed it with a friend. She said I should challenge myself. I agree with her,  and I will. Just not today. Today, I really want to write about the bike ride.

This century was full of surprises for me. First, I was very nervous in the morning. I was able to sleep the night before with relative ease, but I popped awake a full hour before I needed to get up. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t ready for this ride. I knew the course, having ridden it last year, but that almost made it worse. I envisioned myself wearing out somewhere on the causeway, the lake stench overpowering me, and having to wait for my riding mates to pick me up on the way back. I have had some knee discomfort on longer rides as of late, which only added to the fear I wasn’t physically ready for the distance I had to ride.

 

At the same time, I was excited to get out, get going, test myself again. I met up with my brother Dylan, our mutual friend Keith and two others who were to join us. The temperature was in the high 40’s when we started, just cold enough to require long sleeves, warm enough to ride in shorts. Once we hit the road I knew I was in for a good ride. I have a rule, if my legs don’t burn, pedal a bit faster. Three of us were riding at a pace of about 20 mph through Rose Park. The other two just a bit slower. I knew the course was flat, but it was more flat than I remembered. We didn’t hit our first hill for 7 miles, and that was just an overpass. Before I even had time to think if I was tired, we were at the first rest area.

We had all agreed to spend as little time as possible at the rest stops, as we felt that was part of the reason we felt so tired at the end of last years ride. Our bodies took the rest as a cue the riding was over. Very hard to get back on the bike when your legs begin to shut down. Keeping to our plan, we stopped long enough to use a restroom, grab a snack, fill up water bottles, then get going again.

Another error we made last year was eating lunch too early. This time, we reached the lunch station and once again stopped long enough to refuel, fill up and go. It was at this point, roughly 40 miles in, that I realized I had once again broken a spoke on my front wheel. This has become too common an occurrence, and I worry that my wheel might need to be replaced. Anyway, broken spoke and all, we started out across the causeway towards Antelope Island. If you have not experienced the lovely smell of the Great Salt Lake, you are lucky. This causeway is notoriously windy, long and tedious. The five of us formed a decent enough draft line, taking 1:30 second turns and keeping a pace of around 18 mph. The only real climbing on this ride is a short uphill on Antelope Island. I recalled this being a challenge and was preparing myself for a difficult climb. Wow, not really. We were up and over it with little effort and found ourselves with under 50 miles remaining, feeling great and ready for more. The lake was particularly foul on the way back. So much so that I actually gagged once or twice. Lucky enough there were very few bugs and the temperature was tolerable.

Back at the lunch station, we took an extended break, having a sandwich and I had my spoke repaired at the aid station. Unfortunately, a little over twenty miles later, I ran over some lovely thorns and had to stop and change the tube in my front tire. As I was getting ready to inflate the tube, I noticed that I had broken yet another spoke on that damn front wheel. Two on one ride, now that just isn’t right!

What surprised me the most was my fitness level as we came into the last rest area. I recall the year before, being totally spent, no energy, headache and muscle pain. This year, I rode on zero caffeine, though I did take ibuprofen, and zero energy supplements. I felt really good. I was tired, but more than ready to finish the ride very strong. The last 17 miles flew by and at just over 6 hours of actual ride time (seven total hours) we finished mile 106. Our average speed was 17.8 mph and I am more than thrilled with that pace.

I have been trying to think of how to compare riding a century to running. Having never finished more than a  5K, it is hard for me to make an accurate comparison. I am guessing it is much easier to ride 100 miles than to run 26.2. I am also guessing it is harder to ride 100 then run a 10K. Perhaps the equivalent is something near a half marathon,  though I think cycling is something that can be done at a much more leisurely pace than running. You can rest more, not pedal at all for stretches (though I do my best to make that as little as possible). Plus, the wear and tear on your body is not as extreme. I am not trying to diminish the accomplishment of riding 106 miles, rather I am trying to put it in some perspective.

I plan to ride the ULCER Century in early August, then if the Heber happens again, ride that. Next September, the goal is to ride the LOTAJA . For that ride, I would love to get a group of ten or so. It might make the winds and distance easier to manage.

If anyone wants to ride with us on these century rides, or just on a Saturday, you are always welcome. We are by no means hardcore riders, so don’t let that intimidate you. If you have a bike and want to ride, come along.