You’re going to have to indulge me on this one. I have no one to yell at and no incredible statement to make about a current sporting event.
Instead, if this column was called “Your Saturday Reality Check”, I would have gotten this perfectly to the date.
Ten years ago-Sunday, March 24, 2002-the University of Maryland met the University of Connecticut in the East Region Final (or the Elite 8 if you well) of the NCAA Tournament. The game was at the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University.
For full disclosure, I wasn’t there. It was my freshman year at the University of Maryland, but I didn’t make the trip. I didn’t make the trip to the Georgia Dome for the Final Four either, which is one of the greatest regrets of my still very young life. I actually think our own Luke Jones was at the game, but I’m just rambling now.
You certainly remember the shots that defined the game. The Terrapins trailed the Huskies 77-74 with just under four minutes to play as Caron Butler simply wouldn’t let UConn go away quietly. Juan Dixon calmly sank a three pointer from near the top of the key to even the game back up. Then in the final minute, a previously scoreless Steve Blake altered a play call in the huddle and used a ball fake to create an open three for himself to put the Terps up 86-80, effectively the final nail in the coffin of a 90-82 victory.
What I remember was how the game felt like the most intense college basketball game I had ever witnessed. While Gary Williams likely ruined an expensive suit due to sweat that afternoon, Glenn Clark also ruined a number of t-shirts and a pair of pajama pants. This was a game where neither team ever appeared to have the upper hand. Lonny Baxter was absolutely dominant in the paint against future NBA standout Emeka Okafor, but Butler’s 32 points kept the Huskies at Maryland’s heels all afternoon.
We’re planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the University of Maryland’s only basketball championship throughout the week on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net. I’ve admitted regularly that I openly wept at Cole Field House that early April night (the anniversary of the championship is this Sunday for those scoring at home) in College Park. I had two goals for my life from about the time I was eight years old. One was to become a professional broadcaster, the other was to attend the University of Maryland.
Being a “Terp” was in my blood. My grandmother (a journalism teacher in Baltimore County and later professor at Morgan State University) is a University of Maryland alum. While I was too young for the Bob Wade era of Maryland basketball to mean much to me, the early years of the Gary Williams era (which were not always pretty) shaped who I wanted to be when I stepped on a basketball court at Chapel Hill Elementary School or Perry Hall Middle School. I pretended to be Evers Burns. I pretended to be Kevin McLinton. I ABSOLUTELY pretended to be Walt “The Wizard” Williams, Joe Smith, Keith Booth and Sarunas Jasikevicius.
I really had no idea I’d ever witness my heroes playing in a Final Four or for a national championship. I had felt the 1999 team (lead by Steve Francis) had a legitimate chance, but Erick Barkley and St. John’s extinguished those hopes in the Sweet 16. Just weeks before Maryland’s initial Final Four run in 2001 there were calls for the head of Gary Williams after an embarrassing streak of five losses in six games (including a “rock bottom” defeat at the hands of Florida State on Valentine’s Day).
But there was something about the 2001-2002 Terps that made you believe the entire time that team was capable of finally breaking through. The heartbreak of blowing a big loss to Duke in the Final Four the year earlier seemed to fuel them to an ACC regular season championship and back to that afternoon at the Carrier Dome. The confidence of an incredible group of upperclassmen was never lacking at any point during the season.
Maryland’s run to the National Championship was unprecedented. After an opening round win over Siena, the Terps faced a modern day “Murderer’s Row” of basketball programs as they ran through Wisconsin, Kentucky, UConn and then Kansas and Indiana. Maryland faced the highest seed they could possibly face in every round as a 1 seed (16, 8, 4, 2, 1, 1) as well. Yet somehow they never really seemed to be in danger of losing.
In the Final Four a huge second half lead was cut into by the Jayhawks, but it never appeared particularly nerve-racking. The Hoosiers briefly held a second half lead in the National Championship game, but a quick baseline jumper from Dixon turned the game back toward the favor of Maryland.
The only game that involved great drama was the UConn game. It was the type of drama that sees eight ties and seven lead changes in the final 13 minutes. It was the type of drama that almost could never be fairly described in words. (ESPN’s Dick Vitale described it as a “Maalox Masher” immediately after the game. He’s certainly a wordsmith if nothing else.)
It was the type of drama that made you think “whoever wins this game is winning a national championship” in the second half. At least it made me feel that way…and I was right.
To this day, this is still my absolute favorite game I’ve ever watched. More so than the Tennessee Titans/Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional Playoff in 2001, more so than the Mike Mussina/Randy Johnson showdown at Camden Yards in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS, even more so than the Andre Agassi/James Blake thriller at the 2005 U.S. Open. If your heart can take it, it’s worth reliving below.
I’m not sure mine can, but I’m still grateful for these memories some ten years later.
Young phenom Rory McIlroy has earned his slot as the current number one ranked golfer in the world according to the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy has staked his claim in golf history by being only the second youngest player to be labeled the best golfer on the planet at the age of 22. Of course, Tiger Woods still remains the youngest player to reach number one at 21.
Although Tiger Woods is considered by many the most dominate golfer to ever swing a club, Tiger has not been the same player since his sex scandal in 2009. However, he has been seemingly been regaining his legendary form of late with two top three finishes in the past month after months of struggling.
The intrigue of Rory’s development and the apparent revival of Tiger’s career could spark a golden age for golf. Not since the days of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson have golf titans routinely squared off for major championships. Rory McIlroy’s astronomical development as a maturing golfer could pull the best out of Tiger at least for a few more years.
It does not take a golf expert to realize that Woods is descending from his dominate prime years, but it is estimated that a four or five year window is still open for Woods to be a force to reckoned with on the pro tour. Golf historians in 20 or 30 years may look on the next five years as a golden age of the sport, comparable to Nicklaus and Palmer in the 1970’s.
If Rory McIlroy is going to the next behemoth in the sport of golf, people need to know who he is. So, who is Rory McIlroy? Where did he come from?
Rory was born in Northern Ireland in 1989. The prodigy had been introduced to golf at the early age of 18 months-old by his father, Gerry. Rory blossomed into a fine golfer quickly, when he was merely two years old he was driving balls 40 yards and over. McIlroy love for the sport was evidenced to his family when he was a young boy as he received a golf club as a present, shown the proper grip, and took the club to bed that night with the proper grip.
Rory’s parents noticed his exceptional development so they picked up extra jobs to support Rory’s passion which ultimately culminated in his first significant victory at the World Championships in the 9-10 bracket in Miami, Florida.
By age 15, McIlroy was fully fledged in his amateur gold career. He was a member of the victorious 2004 Junior Ryder Cup European team. After record breaking tournament victories in his Irish homeland, Rory won the 2006 European Amateur tournament in Milan, Italy. By the time he was 17, he had already attained the top spot on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Rory McIlroy became a professional golfer in 2007 at age 17 as he took part on the European Tour. After a successful string of tournament performances in Europe that year, the Irishman entered the top 200 of the Official World Golf Rankings in the 2008 season. He continually progressed in 2009 starting at a world ranking of 50 to finish the season ranked ninth in the world.
Upon joining the American PGA Tour in 2010, McIlroy became the first player since Tiger Woods to win a Tour event before he was legal to drink alcohol with his victory in the Quail Hollow Championship. Rory decided to create more history later that year as he established the lowest-ever first round score (63) at the legendary Old Course at St. Andrew’s during the Open Championship, formerly British Open. McIlroy could not hold onto the lead in that tournament and the perception that he was too immature to finish big tournaments sprouted.
McIlroy broke out with his first of presumptively many major wins with his 2011 U.S. Open victory. He dominated competition by winning the tournament by eight shots by scoring -16 under par. Rory’s 268 aggregate score through 72 holes set an all-time US Open record.
McIlroy’s fine play continued into 2012 which culminated with his victory at the Honda Classic on March 4 that crowned him number one in the world rankings. Tiger surged in the final round, produced the single best performance in his illustrious career with a score of 62 get within a shot of Rory’s lead.
All this momentum is driving to the biggest major tournament of the year on April 5-8, the Masters. With Rory at the top of his game and Tiger playing some of the best golf he has in years, this year’s Masters Tournament could be one of the all-time great displays of golf drama.
The name Dick Dale might not mean a lot to you, but if you listen to “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net (and why wouldn’t you?), you’d be familiar with the theme to “Totally Tubular.” (Someone will yell at me for not also noting that Dick Dale is one of the greatest surf guitarists of all time. I’ve handled that now.)…
Another radio station is hooking up with the Ravens to put on the Thursday night show at PPL. I’m not going to give them free promotion, but the station name rhymes with “Finety Feight Frock.” I’m cised. LOVE Chevelle…
WNST intern Ryan Morrison hooked me up with an advance copy of Tha Carter IV…I hope I’m not getting him in legal hot water by mentioning that. There was a humorous moment during Hurricane Irene where everyone in my house was singing along to this song. Don’t play it if you’re at work. Unless you work at The Gold Club. If you do, could you bring a Chap’s sandwich by the station Monday?
I’m not sure which yet, but either Friday night or Monday early afternoon I’ll be at the fair. I have two goals. ONE-watching something get born in the Birthing Center and squirm like hell. TWO-Re-enact this picture…
Glorious. Re-enacting THIS picture would also be an option…
There’s a good chance I win the Breeders Cup at some point in the future.
Oh-I’m playing for a kickball title Thursday night in Aberdeen before the Ravens game. The hell with the Ravens game, no one that matters is playing. I’m playing for a kickball title. I’d love to have you guys come support us. You really owe me at least that much considering all I’ve done for you.
I finally saw “Bridesmaids” over 4th of July weekend. How can Kristen Wiig not be funny at all on Saturday Night Live but then be genuinely funny in a really funny movie? Weird.
Critics are telling us Horrible Bosses is really funny, so I imagine I’ll see it. I am struggling with one of the plotlines being Charlie Day having problems with being sexually harassed by Jennifer Aniston however…
Nope. Not buying it.
And as far as BMW Season 6 goes, I remember the ridiculous range of emotions I experienced while watching the episode “Resurrection.” Tough to do this to a 13 year old kid, ABC.