Sunday, March 31, 2013


In one part of the Madness of March I relay a conversation I had with a fellow I call Wally.  Winthrop, a school that had done well in the first round of the 2007 tournament, does not do well in the second and Wally has lost a bet.  Wally complains to someone within hearing distance, me.

"...Winthrop. Did they lay an egg or what. They play great against Notre Dame, raise up my hopes and then they lay an egg. You know what it shows don't you?."

"What does it show?" I asked him.

"You just don't know."

"You just don't know?"

"It just goes to show" Wally said and took a very deep breath, "You just don't know."

Very astute observation by Wally.  Yesterday I went 1-1, winning the Syracuse prediction and losing when the Wichita State shockers, shocked Ohio State and nearly everyone else.  This brings my sweet sixteen predictions to 4-6 going into the last two games of the weekend.  I predict I win both today, because that would bring my forecasts to 50 percent, precisely the figure you would likely get if you projected heads or tales on a series of  coin flips.

So, with confidence, take Louisville today and give up the points.  Do the same with Florida over Michigan.  Both Louisville and Florida will cover.  But you know, you just don't know.

On a completely unrelated topic, today is the anniversary of President Johnson stunning the world by announcing that he would not seek nor accept the Democratic nomination in 1968.  Nobody predicted that.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

You Can't Win

I write in the Madness of March that those few who travel to Las Vegas to make money betting on sporting events, are deluding themselves.  The majority of those people with whom I interacted when I was in Las Vegas for March Madness, were not there primarily to make money. It was a vacation like going to Disney World to them.  If you were to travel to earn money, you might as well go get a barrel to wear around your waist, because you eventually will go broke. You cannot consistently make money betting on sports.  If you could, there would be no Las Vegas.

This weekend I made selections in the eight games that made up the sweet sixteen round.  I went 3 and 5.  Only one of the wins was based on my knowledge of the game.  I could not see how Indiana could penetrate Syracuse's zone so I went with Syracuse on the money line and I was right. Because of what would have been a money line bet, despite the 3-5 record, I probably would have come out in the black.  But for the others, no intelligence affected the wins and losses. I pick Louisville giving up 10, and they win by 8, having really turned off the burners at the very end when they were up by more than ten.  So I would have lost that one.  I pick Florida Gulf Coast taking the 13 points and they lose by 12, making me a winner.  No wisdom accounts for this; they easily could have lost by 14.  Michigan is down by 5 with 20 plus seconds left, and miraculously tie, throwing the acumen that fueled that bet off.

Against the spread you cannot win on a consistent basis any more than you could win on a consistent basis guessing heads and tales with a coin flip. 

Today and tomorrow, we are down to the elite 8. Today, I like Ohio State to cover and Syracuse to beat Marquette regardless of the spread. 

Don't bet on it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Buckeyes who Bet

Alright, so you are an Ohio State fan. Bleed scarlet and gray.  You watch all the games, and have followed the Buckeyes all season.  And you made a wager last night that they would cover the 3 1/2 point spread in the game against Arizona.

How you feeling today?  Are you unequivocally happy?

Last night with the seconds running out Ohio State had the ball. The game was tied.  With two seconds remaining a player for Ohio State took a three point jump shot.

You bleed Scarlet and Gray.  Do you hope he makes the shot?   If the Buckeye makes the shot, Ohio State advances to the Elite 8 and will have to win only two more games to play for the championship on April 8th.  If he misses the shot the game goes into overtime and the Buckeyes might win or might lose.  Do you hope he makes the shot?

The uninitiated thinks this is a simple question.  You'd rather win than take a chance at an overtime game when you might lose.

Not so simple.  If you bet a wad on Ohio State, you will have mixed emotions when the winning shot is taken.  If the ball goes in, Ohio State wins, but you lose your money, since you have given up 3 1/2 and the final score will be Ohio State 73, Arizona 70 plus 3 1/2.  Probably could major in Ceramics and not Math and know you lose by half a point.

I would have loved to have been in Las Vegas last night staring at  a table of OSU bettors all dressed up in Scarlet and Gray when that final shot was taken.  I would have loved to see their kissers when the ball went in.  If you bet enough, I'll bet you were disappointed.   You would have hoped for a miss, the game to go into overtime, and a win by at least 4 in the overtime period.

I did okay on the predictions front last night.  I suggested Syracuse on the money line and the Cuse would have paid off nicely as they did what I thought they would.  Also, LaSalle turned into a pumpkin and lost to Wichita State as I predicted.  I thought Miami would win so I would have lost there, and had Ohio State but thought they'd cover.  So, given the money line on Syracuse, it would have been something of a success in terms of nickels and dimes.

For tonight, if you are in Nevada, are foolish enough to bet any substantive sum, and even more foolish to follow the advice from someone who does not wager much and is often incorrect, I offer this limited wisdom. I like Louisville to cover the 10 against Oregon, Kansas to easily cover the two against Michigan, and Michigan State to win on the money line against Duke.  I also think the Florida Gulf Coast bubble will burst.  However I do think they will get within the thirteen point spread.

So, I'd go with Florida Gulf Coast plus 13, Kansas and Louisville to cover, and Michigan to win outright.

standard shift

In 1979, on my thirtieth birthday, I bought a standard shift Honda Civic.  Did not know how to drive it.  I had to go out with a friend who knew how to, to test drive the car.  It was at a time when Civics were difficult to get. So we test drove a sample, put in an order for my car and waited for a call when my car came in.

Got the call a few weeks later, drove out to the dealership, and I sputtered and drove in jerky movements the 20 miles to my home.  My friend still laughs about the drive when we talk about it. After a while I got the hang of driving and I have been buying standard shifts ever since. Just bought a new Fit and that brings to eight the number of standards I've either bought or co-owned since that first 1979 purchase.

Today I was driving to work, shifted during some stop and go traffic, and wondered for the first time if it was time to stop shifting and go automatic.  There's a metaphor there of course.  Is there a time when we decide to stop directing the motor and let the motor go on by itself.    There is an ease in the automatic transmissions, you don't have to make as many decisions, your left foot can just hang out.  Being on automatic can seem like the way to go after thirty plus years of shifting to address this situation or that.

Every once in a while my folks would ask me why I drove a shift. My standard answer was because I had a cousin who was rich.  The cousin, actually my father's first cousin, owned a garage that did nothing other than fix automatic transmissions.  He came from poverty, real poverty, but he became loaded fixing automatic transmissions.

It makes sense.  A machine is a machine.  It tries to make the call about when to shift without factoring in what an intelligent human can.  Only once, once, in 30 plus years have I ever had to replace the clutch on my standards.  And with one exception, I have driven the cars well over 80,000 miles. The time I had to replace the clutch was after a year when I lived on a beach and the salt had gotten to the bottom of the car.

But today I said to myself, "maybe I should get an automatic, stop shifting."

 I think it is a bad sign that this thought came into my head.  Must be tired.  When we stop shifting, metaphorically, stop making decisions on our own, and just live on automatic, I think we run the risk of deteriorating like the vehicles that made my cousin rich.  We give up. Things are as they are. We say "it is what it is" and stop shifting to maximize the potential quality of the ride.  Yes, it is easier in the short run to drive an automatic, but your engine can insidiously disintegrate sooner.

I'll try to push the thoughts of proceeding on automatic out of my consciousness.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Predictions and Beer

Not only did I not give Florida Gulf Coast a chance against Georgetown, I also gave them no chance against San Diego State in their second game.  With that indication of my wisdom as warning, here are my picks for tonight's (Thursday's) sweet sixteen games.

Take Syracuse on the money line. Syracuse's zone, when on, is impenetrable.  I don't think Syracuse will come out flat tonight.  Indiana lost against Butler this year and also Wisconsin.  The Hoosiers are losers tonight.

I think Miami wins by at least 5 over Marquette.  Problem is that the spread is 5 1/2.  I still say go with Miami.  The Miami coach is really special.

Ohio State will beat Arizona by 5.  Give up the points and take the Buckeyes.

Wichita State will beat LaSalle. Cinderella's coach (as in vehicle)  turns into a pumpkin for LaSalle.

Now, if you are wise, take just the opposite of my selections if you are wagering on tonight's games.

I found it odd and against the capitalistic nature of almost every endeavor in this country, that the taps were dry in the Wells Fargo Center last weekend.  We asked for a couple thinking we would need to meet with a banker to pay for them, when the attendant said no beer in the entire stadium by mandate of the NCAA.  The vendors could not have been happy. Neither could the Budweiser brood.  The arena bar area was jammed before the games with people watching the previous ones.  Folks, however, were drinking lemonade and licking ice cream cones instead of knocking them back..

Curious to me.  Usually pecuniary interests trump ethical ones and, if necessary, employ some transparent rationalization to allow the entrepreneurs to be successful.  Lots of dough left on the table at the Wells Fargo Center last weekend.  It was nice in a way not to have to worry about some slobbering nitwit interfering with your pleasure, but I think that these games were attended by few who go to games as an excuse to imbibe.  (And to be sure, the kid who was screaming, absolutely screaming, in my ear during the first half of the San Diego State was worse than any drunk I have ever encountered at an arena).

Sans beer, I suggest you take Syracuse, Miami, the Buckeyes, and Wichita State.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Here, There, or Anywhere

Why are we here?   Or there? Or not here?

Among the many highlights of the trip to Philadelphia to mix with sport fans was Saturday afternoon's rendezvous with my nephew.  He lives in a neighboring New Jersey suburb and met his dad and me in what is called Old City.

Matthew has been, since he was old enough to be anything other than a tot, a mature, responsible, and delightful individual.  If you can be mature at 3, he was mature. And a joy.  Still is thirty plus years later.  And he now has a delightful 3 year old of  his own.

So, we met him for lunch and basketball watching in Philadelphia.   And as I looked over the restaurant table and saw this smiling intelligent young man's face,  I thought about how we got to this place, and how remarkably coincidental it was--and then by extension how coincidences--absolute serendipity-- explain why we are here, there, or anywhere.

Matt was sitting at this table in 2013 in Philadelphia as my nephew, because I went to summer school in Albany in 1970 and took a course called African American literature. If in 1967 I had not dropped American History in my freshmen year and therefore had to take an additional course in a summer, Matthew is not sitting across from me. 

During the first class in African American Literature in Albany's 1970 summer school, we were told that we had an assignment to read a play for the second class, the next day. I got on a long line to buy the play "Dutchman" at the bookstore, and happened to be wearing a peculiar hat with a feather that I'd found at a sidewalk sale.   The person who was directly in front of me on the bookstore line was a young woman, a stranger.  She turned around and commented on my hat.  We talked while waiting for the books on the long line. After our purchases we agreed to meet the following day after our classes. We did. We started dating and continued throughout the summer. She had a younger sister. I a younger brother. We introduced them and double dated. We broke up. They got married and had Matthew.  Matthew grew up.

Matthew is sitting in front of me in Philadelphia in 2013 discussing how Albany could have beaten Duke because I wore a peculiar hat in 1970 and coincidentally got on the line at about the same time as did his aunt.   If I waited thirty minutes to get on that line in 1970, Matthew is not across the table from me in 2013.

If you think about why you are where you are this moment, it is probably because of somethings very similar. That is why we are here, there, or anywhere.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Florida Gulf Coast

We spent much of Saturday in Philadelphia contemplating how to, and whether to, secure tickets to the final doubleheader of the weekend. Florida Gulf Coast against San Diego State, and Duke vs. Creighton.

We had befriended two Creighton alums in our hotel lobby--neither of whom wore anything other than Creighton Blue all weekend--and they were urging us to attend the game against Duke.  One even went to the hotel clerk  asking if she had any tickets for us.  There were two sets available, but they were in nosebleed country and asking for 200 for the set.

Scalping is, essentially, legal nowadays.  Used to be that you could not resell tickets for more than they were worth.  Scalpers would buy tickets legally, and then for popular games, go out on the street and illegally sell them for whatever they could get.  Fenway Park was notorious for years, for this practice.  I can picture the guy who used to make his living buying a gazillion tickets and then selling them on the street before game time.

Very lucrative business. So, what happened was that it became a very legitimate lucrative business for those in suits.  You now can go on websites like Stub Hub and buy tickets the same way you could from Sammy the Scalper.  All legal.

So on Saturday we went on Stub Hub and other similar sites, looking for deals.  Before the game times were announced--the games were moved to late games from afternoon contests--and a weather report predicted snow on Sunday night/Monday--it was difficult to find anything remotely reasonable. Some fellow in the Philadelphia suburbs offered us a couple that were reasonable, but we had to drive out to the suburbs to get them.  I wondered if Tony Soprano might be joining him and we declined.  My nephew and a buddy of his joined us and we mused as we watched basketball games at sports viewing establishments about whether to spend the dough for some tickets.

Sunday morning came and we had resigned ourselves to doing Philadelphia sight seeing and heading back to watch Florida Gulf Coast on the tube.  We went to the Liberty Bell (truly inspirational), Independence Hall, assorted other historic sights, and then decided to move on.

We had camp friends whose son/nephew was getting married in Philadelphia and we went to the hotel where her family was staying.  This also, coincidentally, happened to be the hotel where the Creighton Blue Jays were staying.  It was a sea of turquoise in the hotel.  We, almost literally, bumped into the aunt of the bride and her husband--also a camp friend.  When they left to get dressed for the wedding, we went to the lobby restaurant and watched Ohio State edge Iowa State to the oohs and ahs from Creighton fans cheering for the neighboring Iowa team.

Something about sitting in a sports bar and seeing a sea of blue fans itching for  a game that wont be played for six or seven hours. When the coach of Creighton and his entourage left the hotel for the arena still a full six hours before game time, the loiterers in the lobby, literally, stood up and applauded them.

We spotted our hotel buddies at the team hotel. They wanted to be among their cronies and they again urged us to come and root for Creighton. "We need you." they said.  Not sure Creighton needed us, but we did want to see Florida Gulf Coast play in the early game, a team that had dazzled on Friday and were stealing the heart of the nation. A bunch of dunkers and drivers who nobody ever heard of putting a whupping on Georgetown.

I decided to take a shot and ask at the check-in desk if someone had given up any tickets.  "Check with the bell hop" she said.  So, I did, and there I hit paydirt.  The bellhop, Willie (I've changed his name) reached into his pocket and yanked out a bunch of tickets.  He offered them at a reasonable rate and I hesitated only because I was surprised.  Immediately, he came down twenty bucks.  He showed us where the seats were and they were practically on the court.  We gobbled the tickets.

We saw Florida Gulf Coast jump, jam, and slam as close as you can get to the court unless you are a cheerleader.  Amazing vantage point. Thank you Willie. Florida Gulf Coast beat San Diego State by 10.

We then, alas, watched the Duke Creighton game.  We found our hotel friends and one gave us a "Go Jays" sign for us to wave.  It did no good.  Duke beat Creighton to advance to the Sweet Sixteen with Florida Gulf Coast.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

march madness in philadelphia

March Madness in Philadelphia is different than in Las Vegas, but there are still scenes to see.  Our games were on Friday and will be today, so Saturday would not be in the arena, but in the various taverns in Old City where we will be watching the games.

A crew cheering for Michigan State sit near us at a place called Buffalo Bills. There are some very big fellows in this group.  A glance at their table explains how they retain their girth.  Chicken wings, potato skins, huge portions of tacos with lots of goo.  This fare was ordered up by the American Cardiologists Association.

We move to a place called Nick's for the second game and have the famous Philadelphia sandwiches and a beer called Yuengling that I have only seen in these parts.  In the back of Nick's there is a crew of sports fans doing a fantasy draft for the major league baseball season.  At the end of the selections the crowd applauds the success of the draft.

The people from Creighton in our hotel tell us on Saturday morning that our games for Sunday are at 710 and 940.  That means our games will not be done until midnight when we will have to begin driving back to New Jersey. We may take a pass on the games because of this time change, something that is having an effect on the scalper market for the tickets.  Yesterday when we were considering strategies for obtaining tickets we noticed that the price of the ducats kept coming down, as more and more people, we surmise, are figuring that the second game might START passed their bed time.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Scenes from the continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn.

It is the morning after the Friday during which 16 of the 32 games were played in the first round of the NCAA tournament.  One of these games pitted the number 2 seeded, Georgetown--the number 8 team in the country--against Florida Gulf Coast, a 15 seed. The blurb in USA today forecasting the game read," ...the Hoyas' stifling defense should make short work of a tournament first timer."

The Hoyas lost by ten.  Did not stifle much. 

At the continental breakfast I sit at a table against the window of the hotel dining area. I am facing the elevator door.  The door opens. A father and son stumble out as if they are being pushed by a foul wind or a prison guard.  They are wearing Georgetown Hoya garb. Very glum.  They park their duffel bags at a table and get some coffee and muffins.  It does not appear as if they have uttered a sound.  The dad goes up to get some coffee.  I go up to him.  "Tough loss" I say.  He turns his head to the side and what comes out of his mouth is some sort of wheeze that sounds like a snore.  He can't talk. I watch the father and son table for a stretch and there are no sounds from the tandem.  Eventually, they silently get up, return their room keys, and exit.

A woman dressed in Creighton turquoise gets off the elevator.  She sees my sweatshirt and comments that Albany played a good game yesterday.  I thank her as if I actually played.  She is there with her husband and a friend.  I mention something about the game and find out that she is very knowledgeable about basketball.  Creighton is in Omaha.  Lots of people from Omaha in Philadelphia to see their team.

A guy by himself is sitting at an adjacent table.  He tells us that he is a San Diego State alum and travelled last night by train from NY to see the final game of the day, his school against Oklahoma.  His team prevailed so he is looking for another ticket for Sunday's game against Florida Gulf Coast.  He figures he will have to pay 400 dollars a ticket.

I stop by the Creighton table before I leave and I am fascinated by what she knows about the team.  This woman could coach.

I am pulling for Creighton against Duke tomorrow. They were lucky against us.  Florida Gulf Coast's bubble will burst against San Diego State.

Fans in Philly

Creighton beat Cincinnati in the second game of the Albany-Duke doubleheader.  Many of the Albany faithful had left and we were able to move to a closer section of the stadium.  The vantage point from there was special, both on and off the court.  A number of Albany players, after showering and packing their uniforms for the last time, were sitting here and there. In our row, just a few seats to our right was the high scorer in the Duke game for the Danes.  He led the team not only in scoring, but in rebounding.  When he stood up, so did I. The fellow is no bigger than I am.  Behind us was his back-up a player who did not play much in the game. He, too, was no bigger than I am. We had arrived early enough to see the warmups for the game.  Duke looked like the varsity warming up, Albany the Freshmen team.  Still got within 12.

After Creighton prevailed in the exciting second game, the security folks had to empty the building because an hour later Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast would begin the second double header of the day. We had been in the arena at this point for six and a half hours.  As we exited we heard several fans in blue saying "I need two" or just holding up two fingers. Creighton's faithful knew that now that they had won, they would be playing again on Sunday and, not being sufficiently optimistic initially, now needed tickets for the next round.  We must have heard  and seen five such persons.

Outside of the arena it was an interesting fan scene.  Thirteen thousand people leaving at the same time as the first of thirteen thousand fans were arriving for the second doubleheader.  The Wells Fargo Stadium where the games are played this weekend, is located next to both the Philadelphia Phillies baseball stadium, and the Philadelphia Eagles football stadium. One huge sports area--three testaments to the power and allure of sports in our society.  Near to each is a sports bar which many of those leaving, and those coming were visiting.  The bar itself was packed and you literally could not get in. There were assorted guards prohibiting entry. However, this did not stop the entrepreneurs.  It was freezing yesterday in Philadelphia, winter cold--Buffalo cold.  Nevertheless several outdoor locations were set up serving ice cold beer in the ice cold.  There was one, double the Cheers size rectangular bar, and two places where a person was, as fast as he could, keeping up with the demand for ice cold beer in the ice cold.

We took the subway back and took a break before readying ourselves for the eight night games that rounded out the thirty two games played on Thursday and Friday of March Madness.

Of the various fan scenes of the first part of the day that I am not likely to forget, one took place on the subway ride to the Albany game.  It was early, around 1045 for the 1215 Albany Duke tip off.  On the subway platform waiting for the train, were about two dozen fans clad in the purple and gold of Albany.  Instant camaraderie with strangers.  I start talking with one fellow who graduated 20 years after I did.  His wife is there as are his two children, neither more than ten years old. The younger of the two sits down and begins to regale us with his knowledge of Albany basketball trivia. He tells us that Duke will have to watch out, today.  The kid is so cute. Then his sister comes along and she has an Albany Great Dane tattoo painted on her cheek.  She too tells us about an infamous Albany Connecticut game which was played, no doubt, before this child had started kindergarten.

Friday, March 22, 2013


The Great Danes lost to Duke today, but it was, except for the scoreboard, a win for Albany. We, a 15 seed, went toe to toe against a team that had some serious studs.  Nobody on Albany's team could sit on the bench for Duke, but we went right at them and had it down to 8 with four minutes left. Very exciting.

There was a whole section filled with Albany fans.  We saw the former coach and it was fun to talk with him for a spell.  The only problem was that the two people I recognized in the stands from my era looked like Methuselah.  Which is what they may have been thinking when they saw me.

Almost did not get here.  Got to the airport last night in plenty of time.  I made sure I had my glasses  because without them I could not see the players. Made sure I had my boarding pass, though in 2013 you really don't even need that as you can print it out at the airport. Brought my ipad, and cell phone. I was all set when I got to the airport even though I had driven there during rush hour.

I get out of the car and go to place the parking ticket into my wallet. There is no wallet on my person. I scramble in the car to see if maybe the wallet is on the floor. It is not there. I call the office and discover that the wallet with my id without which one cannot fly two feet is sitting on my desk.

All I need to do when I hear this news, is drive back to the office during rush hour. Grab my wallet. Drive back to the airport during rush hour. And go through security in 60 minutes in time to make my flight. And, oh yes, I also had to be sure not to get a ticket on the frenzied drive to the office since I am not carrying my driver's license.

Somehow, using the GPS system in my head which is aware of various back ways to get to the airport, I manage to arrive in time to sit on the runway for 40 minutes waiting for my body to stop throbbing.

It was worth the stress to see my alma mater play tough against one of the best teams in the country. The Albany coach quipped after the game that our best player next year will be working for the stock exchange, their best player --and several of their players will be playing in the NBA.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pain in the Neck

The more times I go around the track, the more much of what is real seems to be a metaphor.

Late Friday night just before I went to bed I felt a pain in my neck.  Woke up on Saturday and have the kind of neck pain that makes it difficult to turn my head.  (Had it not been for the essential tasks I had yesterday morning of having breakfast with my good friend Ken, and the need to watch every second of the Albany game standing up, I might have gone to the chiropractor).  Today, I wake up and again cannot turn my head from one side to another.

So, as is typically the case as the rings on the tree have increased, I begin to see this as a metaphor.  I can't lose sight of what is real because if I want to go pick up the pen that is on the desk to my right I have to do it in comical slow motion, so it is not only a metaphor, but it is a metaphor.

I can identify some work and personal issues that are providing a pain in my neck, yet work and personal stresses come with the territory of inhaling and exhaling, and I'd prefer to keep that process ongoing.  I don't always feel a pain in my neck. So, where is the metaphor.

When I go to the chiropractor tomorrow, he will give me a quick crack and in what often seems like a miracle, the pain will be gone. 

I think whatever creates our neck pain can be addressed.  You can go to your chiropractor have her or him snap your neck back into shape and it will counter whatever created the pain in the first place.  The rub is that the source of the pain may be more organic.

I am not a big fan of the use of the word organic.  There is a store around here that brags that all their produce is organic and their boxed stuff is organic and even their american cheese is organic. And for this swell feature you can deposit your arm and leg at the cash register.  Thus far in life I have done just fine with non organic american cheese, tangerines, and cold cereal. Dandruff is organic. Not sure that makes it especially attractive.

This short rant aside, I believe that pains in the neck, can have as their sources something organic. And a chiropractor might take away the pain but it is going to come back.  Whatever has accrued, will begin to accrue again.   

So, when is a pain in the neck more than a pain in the neck? When the source is something that cannot be overrided by a visit to the chiropractor.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The Albany State Great Danes played a thrilling game this morning/afternoon to earn the right to go to the annual NCAA dance. Tomorrow night college basketball fans, especially those with an allegiance to a particular team, will wait to hear who will play whom, where, starting this week. An hour long television program is devoted to revealing the dancing partners and the location of the games. Those who follow Albany will be tickled when they hear who we'll play even if the opponent is the number one team in the nation and the Danes have to travel to Bulgaria to play.

Today's game began ominously as Vermont took a 10-0 lead, but then the main stud for Albany hit a clutch jump shot and we (note the pronoun) responded by taking the lead.  The first half ended with an eight point lead for my alma mater. The second half saw a Vermont comeback, but two three point shots from an Albany player who had not attempted a single shot prior to the end of the game, secured the win for Albany.

Soon we will find out to whom we will succumb in the tournament, as the chances of being victorious beyond today are negligible.  Still, it will be thrilling to be able to dance in this dizzying and exciting tournament.

A story told by the announcers during the game will stay with me for a while and is revealing not only in terms of what makes sport, enjoyable, but also because of choices we make and why we make them.

The coach for Vermont is in his second year with the team. In his first year he took Vermont to the dance and, as I have explained, came within a few minutes of doing so again this season.  Before coming to Vermont the coach had been a well paid, as in 90 K a year, IT employee.  He saw an ad for a 10K job in Vermont to be the director of basketball operations. That is an 80 K cut for those slow with an abacus.  He talked it over with his wife and she said, that if you don't take this chance, you may regret it the rest of your life. He and his wife moved to Vermont.

The hope was that he would be able to move up to be an assistant coach. After one year, he did not move up and remained as an extremely low paying member of the basketball staff. But then a job opened and he was an assistant. And then, almost miraculously, the head coach at Vermont took another job, and the man who had sacrificed 80 K a year to follow his heart, became the head coach at a division I school. And all he did his first year was take his team dancing.

He lost today, but his story is that miracles happen, if you allow yourself to dream and pursue your dreams.  He could be a high paid, secure, IT person somewhere, which for some might be a dream job. But for him, he wanted something else.  He followed his heart, which may be hurting today, but has been nourished and, regardless of today's outcome, allows for him to enjoy this dance, this life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Great Danes

Tomorrow morning, Saturday, I am meeting my buddy Ken for breakfast.  We have these periodic breakfasts to solve the problems of the world.  An hour and a half later, the world is as filled with problems as it had been previously. Nevertheless we typically feel better after our eggs and toast.

We exchanged e-mails today, Friday, to determine our meeting time.  He suggested 930.  I wrote back that that was a fine time, because I wanted to be back by 1130 to root for my alma mater who will be playing Vermont tomorrow on ESPN2 for the AmericaEast championship, the tickets to the big NCAA dance, and the right to be slaughtered by a team whose bench players were recruited harder than the main stud for Albany.

Why must I be back at 1130?  Why do I care about the fortunes of Albany State?  I graduated from Albany before Nixon got caught.  The Beatles had not yet broken up.  Nobody had a  computer, or a cell phone, or an ipad, or an e-mail address.

Why do I care if Albany wins tomorrow and goes to the big NCAA dance?  When my fraternity cronies got together this year to watch a game, the bunch of us discussed the team and kept using the pronoun "we'" to refer to the team's performance. "We stunk up the court the last time we played Vermont."  "If we can't beat Binghamton we should hang them up."

What is with the "we?"  I do not know a soul on the Albany team.  I do know some people in the stands who have season tickets, but not one player.

Nevertheless, I will not be alone among the alums of UAlbany tomorrow at 1130 who will wear some sort of purple and gold attire as we sit in our living rooms, drink coffee, and shout for our team to prevail.

Before the Georgetown-Syracuse game tonight I heard a broadcaster comment that the scalpers were getting over 500 dollars for a seat to the semi-final game.  Why would anyone pay that amount to watch a ball game?

The answer to why I care about Albany and why people paid 500 bucks a ticket to see Syracuse beat Georgetown in overtime may be a mystery, but explains why March is madness.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's coming

It's a Wednesday and there are twenty two basketball games that will be or have been broadcast in these parts today.

If you don't like college basketball and you live with someone who does and have a relatively small place--it will be a difficult few weeks if you can't control the remote.

This weekend the big conferences and some small fries (notably the America East) will be determining their champions.  Today is a light day compared to the chaos that will be tomorrow with the Big East, ACC, Atlantic 10, SEC, Pac 12, Conference USA, and Big Ten all playing semi final or quarter final games.

Stations that are relatively minor are carrying these games. ESPNU, CBSSN, NBCSN, MyTV--all less than big names are players.  ESPN and ESPN2 will of course have balls bouncing from 7-11 tonight.  If you are on the east coast and are truly a junkie there is a game that will not end until 2 in the morning tonight. If you want to sprinkle in some pro games with the college tilts, TNT is broadcasting from San Antonio and Portland from 8 until 1 a.m. Eastern time.

I am reminded of an incident that I relayed in the book.  It was the end of March Madness weekend in Las Vegas and I was, on Sunday evening, in a hot tub with tourists from Australia.  These guys were wild. They were talking about how they intended to stay up all night, drink til they were barely vertical, find hookers, and engage in various forms of debauchery.  While I am not unfamiliar with people talking about excess, I found it almost uncomfortable to hear these wild plans--as if I should somehow attempt to discourage them from what would eventually, no doubt, at least give them a headache if not some figurative ones.

After they calmed down a bit, they asked me soberly what I was doing in Las Vegas. When I told them that I had just sat through 48 basketball games in four days they looked at me incredulously.  "Why would anyone want to do that?" they asked without intonation.

Here were men who had just talked wildly about uncomfortably crazy behavior, and yet what they found incredible was that anyone would watch 48 games in four days let alone thousands of us.

Well, thousands, have watched parts of the 22 games today, more tomorrow, as many on Saturday.  Hundreds of thousands will watch the NCAA selection show on Sunday night.  And then from Tuesday on, look out.  March madness will take over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

deja vu

I follow two college basketball teams with something akin to fanaticism.  The first I blogged about yesterday--the Northeastern Huskies. My university's basketball team showed something special yesterday afternoon when it fell behind by 24 points in the first half and then came back to win what was a remarkable game against George Mason University.

 I've watched the center for the Huskies hit clutch foul shot after clutch foul shot all year.  In the first half--in an illustration of what the entire team demonstrated--the center went to the foul line and threw up two bricks--the second of which deserves to be in a training film somewhere in the "How not to shoot" section.

But both the center and the rest of the team purged the apparent apprehension and played a second half that resulted in an exhilarating victory.  At the very end a player for Northeastern drove the right side of the lane and made a shot with 3 seconds left.  For those inclined to watch, the championship game is on NBCSN on Monday the 11th, tonight, at 7 pm eastern.

The other team I follow is my alma mater--UAlbany. Those who read the Madness of March may remember the references to Albany's first and second NCAA appearance. The first, a very exciting game against perennial power UConn.

Last night Albany was playing Stony Brook in the semi finals of the America East. Albany was and is a four seed. Stony Brook the one seed.  Albany led by 10 points for a portion of the second half, but that lead slowly dwindled so that the game was tied with less than 35 seconds to play.

In exactly the same way as Northeastern had a few hours earlier, Albany waited until the last ten seconds, spread the court and allowed the main stud to drive the lane. He, like a Northeastern counterpart earlier in the day, drove the right side of the lane and hit a layup with 2.5 seconds to go.

As regular season champions of the AmericaEast conference, Stony Brook will get to play in the NIT tournament.  But my alma mater, will play on Saturday morning the 16th at 1130 for the right to go to the big dance. For those fans of the Great Danes, the game will be on ESPN 2.

Two games ending the exact same way, both going the way of this fan.  If you want to understand the nature of sports in the world, interview the people who love George Mason University and Stony Brook today. Then interview followers of Northeastern and the University at Albany.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why March is madness

I've just watched a game that defies belief.  And it, this game, is why March is madness and why people love sports.

My university, Northeastern, is the number one seed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament being played this week in Richmond, Virginia.  The Colonial is one of those leagues that, typically--and this year will be typical--gets only one invitation to the big dance, the NCAA tournament.  Today, Northeastern, played George Mason University in the semi finals. The victor today would play in the finals tomorrow night.  The victor on Monday, gets to go to the tournament. The loser goes home.

Throughout this season, Northeastern has won games in remarkable last second fashion.  I attended the first game in November when we (note the pronoun) beat Boston University on a last second shot.  In February--and this is just an example not an aberration--we beat James Madison University by hitting a jump shot at the buzzer.

In the first half against George Mason this afternoon, to say we were cold is to be kind and inaccurate.  Beyond cold. We did not score a point (not one) until over nine minutes had expired. At one juncture with just a few minutes left in the first half we were losing by a football score, 31-7.  Thirty one to seven?  A moment earlier the announcer quipped that we were on pace to score ten points in the game.

Northeastern scored the last twelve points in the first half to go into the locker room 31-19.  A twelve point deficit is not impossible to overcome, but would be daunting unless you were down by three touchdowns and a field goal just moments before.

In the second half we started hitting three point shots and on a number of occasions tied the game and even went up by one a few times. But George Mason kept keeping up and with about two minutes to play led 67-61.

What happened next is storybook.  Northeastern scored the last eight points including a driving layup with three seconds remaining in the game.  Certain to be losers in the first half, the victors celebrated at the end as if it had won the entire March Madness tournament.

This was a game which makes people love March. George Mason may not be feeling similarly right now, but college basketball aficionados know why this makes March mad.  Nobody outside of Nevada won a dime on this game.  The joy was because Northeastern came back from a first half in which they were down by 24 points and could not throw a bar of soap into a bathtub.

During the season I witnessed so many last second comebacks that I wondered if in the tournament we would have to succumb to the law of averages. Not yet.

Truly thrilling.

We need another word for foolish

I read in yesterday's Boston Globe a short article about a new law signed into effect by the governor of South Dakota.   I wonder if today when you visit Mount Rushmore the four presidents will seem to have their eyes closed and to be shaking their heads from side to side.

Perhaps we need another word for foolish.  Or that Sholom Aleichem used Chelm instead of Sioux Falls to protect the few wise people in this Red State when writing his stories about a place where all the fools were brought by the stork.

The great state of South Dakota it was reported yesterday passed a law that will allow teachers to be armed in their schools to avoid another Newtown.

I come from a line of teachers. My dad was a teacher, then a principal.  My brother was a teacher until he recently retired.  I taught English for one year in a high school and for the last 30 plus have been on the faculty at a university.

However, you don't have to be a teacher or someone with a brain to think this law is foolish. 

Nobody, of course, can ever remember a teacher who was a little off balance. All teachers and principals are beyond reproach. No teachers have emotional problems and behave in ways that make one wonder about whether they should have been assigned to work with kids. No molesters in the classroom, no teachers who have subsequently been incarcerated for crimes. None of that.  Why when you get together for high school reunions you never wonder how Mr. Jones ever got a job.

Nobody, of course, can ever remember a high school student who was beyond off center. Someone a little light on the IQ side, or gifted with brains but emotionally bereft such that they might ever figure out a way to find a hidden stash of guns in school and, at least, threaten to use it on their classmates. Nobody like that.

Nobody of course can doubt that every one of their former school teachers would know how to handle a gun if they were in a position to use them.  I can remember several of my teachers in high school who would not have been able to lift a gun to their eyes without it exploding against the blackboard. But of course I must have lived in a strange town.

Why not, South Dakotans, arm all students as well. Give each tyke a machine gun and instead of teaching how to think (something apparently not in the curriculum in Vermillion) teach them how to shoot. That way, Benny will not kill Charlene, because Benny will know that Charlene can shoot and Benny will be discouraged.  Yes, that is the ticket.

And make sure the janitors have guns, and those in the cafeteria. The school bus drivers in Chamberlain should have a gun, and the kid who runs the Student Book store and sells calculators.  The gym teacher of course, and every person who attends the women's soccer games.

We need another word for foolish.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In the Garden of Beasts--Book Review

Erik Larson's book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin has been on the NY Times best-seller list for 42 weeks.  William Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago is asked by President Roosevelt in mid 1933 to serve as ambassador to Germany some six months after Hitler took over.  The book is, by subtitle at least, about Dodd and his family who all went to Berlin during this time. In actuality the book is only about Dodd and his daughter Martha.  While Dodd's wife Mattie and son Bill are also in Berlin there is barely a mention of their activities.

Dodd had spent time in Germany years before, but what he witnesses beginning in 1933, as we know now, was an unfolding horror show as Hitler begins to show the world what a madman he was.  And as the infection takes hold, much of Germany's population becomes diseased.

In hindsight it is difficult to understand how the United States could have been so willing to tolerate Hitler's behavior.  The treatment of Jews, let alone the shocking anti-semitic government endorsed rhetoric, was clearly horrible even in the very early years.   Dodd was concerned early on.  His warnings could have been louder, but he offered them to those at the state department, yet neither he nor his warnings were respected.

The book is as much about Dodd's daughter as it is about Dodd.  Martha is not portrayed sympathetically even if it was the author's intent to do so.   I, personally, have no problem with what would certainly in 1933 be referred to as promiscuity. I do have a problem with her myopia and caprice.  When she is in love with a Nazi, the new Germany under the Nazis is not so bad according to her. She falls for a Communist and then Communism has its virtues.  How you could have lived in Germany in 1933 and witnessed the incomprehensible ways Jews were treated, and still thought the Nazis had brought something positive to Germany is difficult for me to digest regardless of how alluring your lovers might have been.

Some things are puzzling about the book.  The detail regarding Dodd's comings and goings and, certainly Martha's, is extensive.  How come there is next to nothing about Mattie, Dodd's wife until the very end when they are back in the United States.  According to the narrative, Martha had a different lover nearly every fortnight, yet there is no discussion at all about how Dodd reacted to his daughter's engagements.  As I have written before here and in other blogs, I have no issue with sexual activity between consenting adults, but this was 1933 and Dodd and his wife are likely to have felt differently.  Yet next to nothing about this. The butler comments, but not Dodd or Mattie. And you'd think from the story that Bill Jr. was not even living in Berlin at the time.

I liked this book, but not as much as apparently many others who have kept it on the best seller list for such a long time.  The author writes well and makes non fiction seem like a story, a credit to his ability to relay the narrative.  Also, the detail in some areas is just something to marvel at.  Hitler's shallowness comes out clearly as does the political infighting among the Nazis.

A park near where Dodd was staying was called, when translated, The Garden of the Beasts. The double meaning is obvious.  Beasts were in control of Germany and there among them was an American family whose patriarch at least was witness to the evolution of how the beasts gained traction.


The walls to my office at work are transparent. No metaphor here. They truly are transparent.  Nearly all the offices and conference rooms have glass walls.

When I work at my computer my back is to the glass walls, lending one of my colleagues to opine that if anyone wanted to take a shot at me, I would be a sitting duck.

On Friday I was working at my computer when, at one point, I turned around and saw four of my colleagues looking into the office and staring at something on the other side of my desk outside of my range of vision.  They were looking into the office like people do at museums when they peer through the glass walls of an exhibit. Their faces reflected admiration and joy.

This was a new look for me. I've seen people glance into my office for the past two years but never that way.  All I could see from my vantage point was the chair positioned on the other side of my desk and the bare walls beyond it.  Again, I looked at my colleagues and saw, again, them staring delightfully and to some extent in awe of whatever it was that held their attention.

Then suddenly I saw this infant emerge from the other side of my desk and crawl toward the door.  I sort of leaped up from my chair, and the others laughed.  Oscar, the soon to be one year old son of one of my colleagues was crawling away towards his mother on the other side of the glass.

I knew Oscar before he was Oscar as he grew in his mom's belly.  I'd heard about Oscar once he was born from either my colleague or her husband, and was tickled to hear stories about his progress.  But I'd not seen him.

A handsome kid, Oscar.  And he was more fun by a factor of 12 watching him crawl around the office than anything else I had planned for the day.  The five of us stood in the hallway and watched him crawl this way and that,  run to his mother, smile, frown, and were even rapt when the kid drooled.  What a joy to behold.

Of course, easy for me, after a spell he started getting tired and perhaps a crying episode would have ensued.  And at one point there was a suggestion that he might need a changing.  But, still, watching Oscar crawl was as fine, if not better, than any exhibit one might witness through a glass wall in a display of art.

Duke is back?

A headline in the New York Times sports page today reads, "A Star Returns as Duke Shows It's Back."

Yesterday, in a very good basketball contest, Duke, playing at home, beat Miami 79-76.  A player, Ryan Kelly, who had not played in several weeks because of an injury, had a terrific shooting game scoring 36 points.  As a result of the game, pundits are lauding Kelly and claiming that "Duke is back."

Well, I can't agree.  Miami demolished Duke when they played in Florida (albeit without Kelly).  In the game yesterday played in front of deliriously screaming Duke fans, Miami had two opportunities in the closing seconds to tie the game. Despite the remarkable performance by Kelly, and the home court advantage, Duke only won by three points.  Take away Kelly's stunning shooting, and Miami wins this game easily.

I don't think Duke is back, and watch out for Miami in the approaching March Madness tournament.  If Kelly could play like this every game he would be starting for the Knickerbockers now, not the Blue Devils.  He was hot, and Miami did not think he would be so sharp after sitting out so many games.  Oscar Robertson could not shoot like Kelly shot on a regular basis, so Kelly--who averaged 14 points a game before the injury is not going to score like that again.  Miami neutralized the two other stars from Duke, Curry and Plumlee, and really outplayed Duke most of the game.

It's risky to go into the waters I'm about to wade into, but would all the hoopla be made about Kelly if he was black? I don't think so. A player for Miami, Shane Larkin, scored 25 points last night and was as valuable to Miami as Kelly was to Duke. True, Duke won.  Still I think the hosannahs for Kelly are a little beyond what they should be.  He was hot. Shooters get hot, AND shooters get unhot. He is a valuable player and playing as he did yesterday after not playing in weeks is special.  But let's not make his hall of fame bust in Springfield yet.

 It will be interesting to see how Duke does in the tournament.  I think Miami is as well coached and came within two missed three pointers from taking a game into overtime played in front of wild fans in North Carolina.


"Children play in the park. They don't know."

Few of my vintage are unfamiliar with the band Chicago and their song, "Make Me Smile."

What makes us smile.  Work?  Sometimes.  Food? Sometimes. Sex? Often.  Good weather?

What makes us smile?

"I'm alone in the dark, even though"

If you stopped and thought about the times you genuinely smiled, you might recall some singular events like going to your first ball game with your parents or hearing your child innocently say some deliciously goofy thing.

"Time and time again, I see your face smiling inside"

I can recall hanging out with some buddies in the dormitories in Albany.  And I can remember laughing uncontrollably (with no inebriant fueling the laughter).  There was one fellow in particular who would crack me up.  I'd visit his suite-which included a number of other wisecrackers-- sometimes only because I knew if I went there I would wind up holding my sides.  And then I'd have this grin on my face for a while.

"I'm so happy that you love me. Life is lovely when you're near me."

When I played tennis competitively on a team, one of the best parts of the night was hanging out with the team afterwards knocking a beer or two back.  These moments were more delightful when I'd been victorious in my matches, and there was a stretch before I got old in a hurry, when I and our team won on a regular basis, so these post game soirees brought out easy smiles.

There are many family moments as well that I can recall vividly as smiling ones.  Usually just hanging out as  a quartet watching television. We smiled watching Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith Show, and laughing with comedians doing their three minute bits on Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights.

But when I think about joy I often think about Chicago and their song--and those moments when my heart was filled up.  As much as I enjoy sport, the fun of sport pales in comparison. It's those moments which you can retrieve from the youtube archives in your head that it would be a shame to forget. We all smile, I believe, when we summon up those moments and croon.

"Tell me you will stay, Make me Smile."

It's romantic and filial love that makes us smile.  There's this old Shelly Berman routine in which he reenacts a phone conversation he had when he was a young man with his father.  Berman is in Chicago and calls his father at the Chicago deli his father owns to ask for money to go to acting school in New York.  The conversation is, to my sense of humor, very funny,  but it is the end that I recall most vividly.  Berman's father tells his young son, that when he goes to New York to remember that "in Chicago, there is somebody. You know what I'm talking? Yeah. you know what I'm talking."

Knowing that there is somebody makes us smile.