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Ahead of the Point Spread: Rife With Opinions NFL Playoffs Edition

January 13, 2010 under NFL, Uncategorized

Gil Lock Returns For NFL Postseason

Back by popular demand, Gil Lock of Ryno Rife Sports Handicappers ventures out of his collegiate ryno rifecomfort zone to bring you his opinions on this weekend’s divisional round.  Those that followed Rife With Opinions during the college football season remember that Gil came under a bit of fire as he struggled for much of the campaign.  He finished with a strong bowl season, however, and is willing to share his thoughts on how this weekend’s NFL playoff games will unfold.  Here we go.

New Orleans Saints – Arizona Cardinals Under 57

(Saturday 4:30 EST-FOX) Classic contrarian pick here, with a little logic thrown in for good measure.  Drew Brees hasn’t played for real in almost a month.  He may take a quarter or so to get going while I don’t think the Cardinals will have as much success once New Orleans gets a look at the Green Bay game film.

Indianapolis Colts – 6 1/2 over Baltimore Ravens

(Saturday 8:00 EST-CBS) The Colts have put themselves squarely behind the eight ball by forfeiting their last two games.  If they don’t win it all, they’ll never hear the end of it. Baltimore’s secondary isn’t what it used to be, even at full strength, let alone with Ed Reed nursing a sore groin.  Peyton Manning should devour the Ravens’ blitzes while Joe Flacco struggles to keep up.

Dallas Cowboys + 2 1/2 over Minnesota Vikings

(Sunday 1:00 EST-FOX) This one will break the heart of my good friend F-r-a-n-k Tufano, but I don’t see the Vikings recovering from their stumbling finish.  Dallas may be the hottest team in football right now and absolutely has the better QB.  Look for a big day from Jason Witten.

New York Jets +7 1/2 over San Diego Chargers

(Sunday 4:30 EST-CBS) Now, before Fireman Ed offers to take me out to dinner, let me say that San Diego wins this one.  I just don’t think they have the firepower to run away and hide from the Jets’ defense.  The Chargers incredibly tall receivers will force the Jets into adjustments that should open up the running game for San Diego.

The View from the Cheap Seats

January 13, 2010 under Cheap Seats, College Basketball, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL

By Eddie Mayrose

New York Jets Both Lucky and Good

The Jets went into Cincinnati last Saturday having spent as much time defending their Wild Card position cheap_seats_3_owumas they had preparing for the game, itself.  Blasted for having punched their ticket through the generosity of the Bengals and Indianapolis Colts; two teams with nothing to play for that had virtually rolled over and played dead for Gang Green in the season’s final two games, the Jets took the field with a little something more at stake than just a playoff game.  They wanted to prove they belonged.

And prove it they did, behind Mark Sanchez’s best contest of the season.  They sent the Bengals home for the winter in a performance that, while not as dominating as the previous week’s, saw them control every facet of the game from start to finish.  Head Coach Rex Ryan had raised more than a few eyebrows with some of his pre game statements; like calling his Jets the Super Bowl favorites, but his charges made him look like a prophet, for the first round at least, and have some thinking that maybe Ryan is crazy like a fox.

While the Jets are still the longest of long shots, there is a budding sense among players and fans alike that something special could actually happen.  Cursed for most of their existence by some of the most excruciating losses and disappointments the NFL has seen, these Jets have actually had the breaks go their way over the last month.  Their late season matchups with Indy and Cincy could not have been better timed, the myriad of teams that needed to lose in order for the Jets to advance did just that, there could not have been a better first round matchup than the one they drew with the Bengals and, finally, Baltimore’s rout of New England brought a second round tilt with San Diego; a daunting foe, indeed, but a far more favorable opponent than Peyton Manning and the Colts.  Are these guys really the Jets?

The one thing Big Rexy and his boys need to guard against, however, is the idea that they’re now playing Jets Patriots Footballwith house money; as if last week’s win validated a successful season and whatever happens next doesn’t matter.  While each of those points is true, to a degree, the NFL offers a very small window for teams chasing a title.  No matter how young, no matter how talented, franchises can never be sure how many opportunities they’ll get for championship glory.  The Jets should know this better than any as their Super Bowl drought is longer than every team but the Detroit Lions and is marred by missed field goals, snapped Achilles tendons and muddy fields.  Ryan has given every indication that he’ll keep his foot on the gas pedal and his team’s confidence seems to be growing because of it.  Now, let’s see how much of the newfound good fortune they can transport to San Diego.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

In the aftermath of the Jets’ first round victory came the post game comments of SNY commentator Adam Schein and WFAN host Mike Francesa.  Schein, on the SNY post game show Saturday night, came BrownFrancesa02smtdown very hard on punter Steve Weatherford, who was held out of the game due to illness, according to the team.  Schein, who gives no impression of ever having worn a football helmet, questioned Weatherford’s character; stating that the illness had better be serious.  The Jets would later reveal that Weatherford had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, something he’ll need to have surgically corrected in the off season.

That revelation did nothing to dissuade Francesa, who went down the same path Sunday morning, only to be corrected by a colleague.  That he was unaware that the punter’s condition had been made public the night before is not surprising as his indifference is exceeded only by his arrogance.  Each of these gas bags missed what was obvious to most: that since Weatherford was, in fact, on the sideline and in uniform, his condition must have been very serious for the Jets to hold him out of the game.  But, hey, why let the facts get in the way of sounding like a big, tough ballplayer?

NCAA Basketball Shill Vitale Loses Credibility

After thirty years, it’s time for ESPN’s lead hypocrite, Dick Vitale, to pack up his self-proclaimed “one eyed ziggy” act and go away forever.  While it’s always been difficult to stomach the superfluous nonsense he spews during his network’s broadcasts, he now regularly ignores and, in fact, rewrites the history of the dick_vitale_1coaches and programs whose fannies he chooses to smooch.

During Tuesday’s matchup of Florida and Kentucky, Vitale went into a rant about Mark McGwire, repeating what he’d said that morning on “Mike and Mike”.  He used the term “cheater” numerous times, referring to how sick he was of the steroid mess in baseball and how he sought refuge by talking up the game between the Wildcats and Gators.  A game that, incidentally, featured one of the college game’s more infamous cheaters, John Calipari, who’d been identified as such just weeks before by Vitale’s ESPN colleague, Bob Knight.  Not surprisingly, Vitale chose to ignore the issue. Not only was much of the telecast filled with Vitale’s praise for Calipari’s coaching ability, a graphic soon popped up naming the Kentucky coach as Vitale’s selection as Coach of the Year through this point in the season.  Finally, he mentioned that Calipari is attempting to become only the second coach to take three teams to the Final Four.  A complete rewriting of the facts, actually, as both of Calipari’s previous trips to the Championship round with UMass and Memphis have been vacated due to NCAA infractions.  According to the NCAA’s own records, Calipari’s never been to a Final Four.  I guess Vitale didn’t get the news.  Regardless, until he’s told by ESPN to take his ball and go home; something that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be imminent, any game that he works will be an extremely difficult and annoying listen.

New Jersey Devils Star Toils in Virtual Anonymity

If Devils’ goalie  Martin Brodeur  had been as dominant over the course of his career in any other sport or for any other New York area team, there’d already be a statue of him standing in front of a stadium.

New York Knicks Haunted in Oklahoma

During their two day stay in Oklahoma City, New York Knicks forwards Eddy Curry and Jared Jefferies complained that they were unable to sleep due to the fact that their hotel, The Skirvin, is haunted by ghosts.   I’ll leave you to your own punchlines.

Mark McGwire’s Weak Apology Does Settle One Score

Why would we have expected anything different from Mark McGwire?  Why would we think that, unlike all of the other steroid cheats who have come forward, sort of, that he’d be the one to completely open up mark-mcgwire-congressabout his own use?  Sorry, wasn’t going to happen.  Despite the earnest attempts of MLB Network’s Bob Costas to guide him to the full disclosure necessary for forgiveness, McGwire resisted throughout.  As a result, he looked like someone who came forward only because it was a requirement for his employment with the St. Louis Cardinals.  However, despite the fact that we learned very little that we didn’t already suspect, McGwire inadvertently settled one major debate about himself.

Forget his ridiculous assertions that the steroids were low dosage, that they did nothing to improve his performance or that he always wanted to come forward about his use of PED’s. It’s all nonsense.  Focus, instead, on his admission that, due to his frustration with chronic injury, he decided against retirement and started using steroids in 1996 to help him overcome his physical woes and get back on the field. By that very statement, he is also confirming that in no way does he deserve to be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Prior to the ’96 season, McGwire had posted 220 HR and 657 RBI over his first ten seasons; a far cry from consideration for the Hall.  He had appeared in just 74 games over the previous two seasons, prompting his thoughts of retirement.  In 1996, however, McGwire embarked on a four year slugfest that saw him launch an inhuman 245 home runs. So, if we connect the dots, what McGwire actually told Costas was that, had it not been for steroids, he’d have retired with the 220 dingers that would have left him off of every voter’s ballot.

Baseball is a game in which cheating has long been revered.  Hitters cork their bats while teams grow the grass high to aid slow infielders and water down the dirt to foil basestealers.  The 1951 Giants won a pennant aided by an employee in the scoreboard stealing the other team’s signs, journeyman pitcher Mike Scott won a Cy Young by scuffing the ball and spitballer Gaylord Perry has a plaque in Cooperstown.  Oddly, fans and players alike look at these indiscretions with a kind of twisted admiration.  To that end, baseball got exactly what it asked for with these steroid cheats.  I just wish they’d have a little more respect for our intelligence when they come forward and not hand us the ridiculous crap that we saw from McGwire on Monday.

The View from the Cheap Seats

January 7, 2010 under Cheap Seats

By Eddie Mayrose

Jets Say Farewell To Giants Stadium Demons At Cincinnati’s Expense

It was right out of Meadowlands history.  The former defensive coordinator turned head coach cheap_seats_3_owumbrandishing a style of smash-mouth football behind a dominating offensive line and a punishing defense on a cold, windswept December evening.  A raucous crowd firing up the home team on its way to a playoff berth and a shot at the Super Bowl. Only, this time, it wasn’t Bill Parcells leading the Giants during their heyday.  Instead, the New York Jets; yes, those Jets, turned in the kind of dominating performance their fans hadn’t seen since Klecko and Mehl hung up their cleats all those years ago.  Behind first year Head Coach Rex Ryan, who, himself, had given them up for dead just two weeks earlier, Gang Green turned the final game at Giants Stadium into a coming-out party for what many hope to be a new era for the Jets.  That it took twenty five years to get here didn’t seem to bother any of the faithful Sunday night.

While many have pointed to the Jets’ good fortune in facing two teams, (Indianapolis and Cincinnati), with no motivation, Big Rexy’s boys will offer no apologies as participants in the Super Bowl tournament.  Even though it’s a long shot to think they would have beaten the Colts had Peyton Manning and Company turned in a full day’s work, the Bengals absolutely came to play last week until their spirit was broken by the suffocating Jets’ defense in the first quarter.  Carson Palmer was an abysmal 1 for 11 and the former Chad Johnson couldn’t catch a cold.  Instead, the Jets dominated every facet of the game behind the tried and true formula for playoff success: Rushing and Defense.  Piling up 257 yards on the ground while allowing just 61 bodes well for New York in this week’s rematch.  Cincinnati can take heart in that they’ll be welcoming back a number of starters but, unless their names are Unitas and Butkus, it may not be enough.

New York Giants Shame Their Own Tradition

At the beginning of the season, who’d have believed that the unyielding and overpowering shutout to tom osiclose Giants Stadium would be turned in by the Jets while the Meadowlands’ main tenants went meekly into the off-season?

The type of performance given by the Giants over the last two weeks is one that surfaces every year.  At the end of each season, we see teams quit on their teammates, coaches and fans; embarrassing themselves professionally in the process.  That, this time, it occurred with a team on the brink of the playoffs and just two years removed from a Super Bowl title is as amazing as it is sad.

Big Blue’s total lack of effort in being outscored 85-16 over its final two games is a sign that a huge overhaul is necessary.  The process started Monday with the firing of Defensive Coordinator, Bill Sheridan but should not include, for now, the Head Coach.  What Tom Coughlin needs to realize, however, is that, somewhere along the way, he’s picked up a number of whiners and weak links that need to be banished no matter what their previous record of success.  Blind loyalty for past achievements is a potent formula for getting yourself fired.  He can start with DE Osi Umenyiora, who got into it with Sheridan during training camp, went home for a nap and a ba-ba and was awful, thereafter. The Jints have enough talent to rebound in 2010.  However, with two playoff teams already in the division and Mike Shanahan arriving in Washington, they’d better be quick about it.

Magic Johnson Denied Courtside Seats By New York Knicks

The New York Daily News reported that NBA legend Magic Johnson had his request for complimentary tickets denied by Knicks’ brass; reportedly due to critical comments Johnson made about former Knicks’ boss, Isiah Thomas.  Based on that, I’m wondering how anyone gets in the building.

NBA Commish Must Ban Arenas For Life

Washington Wizards’ teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon are alleged to have drawn guns on each other in the Wizards’ locker room over a gambling debt; something Arenas has confirmed.  arenasApparently, it was Arenas’ idea of some sort of prank.  He’s been suspended indefinitely as D.C. police continue to investigate.

There is no gray area here for Commissioner David Stern as to his course of action.  This was no courtside melee that spilled into the stands and endangered ticket holders; something for which Ron Artest lost a season.  This was a real, live, life-or-death situation created by two idiots with no regard for the value of a dollar, let alone a life.  How would you like to be the clubhouse guy for Washington?  Young guy, going about your business and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a shootout.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Once you’ve actually become unbalanced enough to draw the weapon, how far, actually, is the next step to fire it?

The NBA averted the worst event in its history by an eyelash.  Should Arenas or Crittendon be allowed back, the league will be as culpable as the players when, not if, it happens again.  Sadly ironic that it happened with the Wizards, a team whose name was changed from the Bullets because its late owner, Abe Pollin, was concerned about the violent image the name projected among D.C. youth. 

NFL Playoff Predictions

Green Bay 31 Arizona 23: Bobby Carr, Joe Berg and Lynn Dickey rejoice.
Dallas 27 Philadelphia 13: Tell your father-in-law to kiss your arse, young Flanagan.
Patriots 26 Ravens 21:  Is there any way both teams can lose?  Won’t even watch this game.
Bengals 17 Jets 9: Condolences to Lou Ricciardi, Jack O’Sullivan and Mike Walsh.

The View from the Cheap Seats

December 20, 2009 under Cheap Seats


By Eddie Mayrose

New York Mets GM Omar Minaya Feeling The Heat
In the middle of a week that saw John Lackey sign with the Red Sox and Roy Halladay traded to cheap_seats_3_the Phillies, Omar Minaya has taken his share of pounding in the media for failing to do anything to improve the Metropolitan Baseball club.  Made me think I missed an announcement that had Major League Baseball awarding a championship in December without playing a regular season schedule.  Minaya offered little more than a request for patience; explaining that the Mets do have a plan and they’re content to let it run its course.

One thing in the GM’s favor is that three superstars; Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana will be returning to the roster.  The presence of Reyes and Beltran in the lineup should serve to boost David Wright’s stats back to their normal range.  While the Amazins’ desperately need starting pitching and failed to bring either Halladay or Lackey into the fold, Minaya does hve a little credit in the bank when it comes to preaching patience.  He outlasted all contenders in free agent negotiations with Beltran and Pedro Martinez and gave up next to nothing to acquire Santana after waiting out the Red Sox and Yankees.

Fans and media alike are calling for any kind of deal as if the Mets are obligated to provide some show of good faith.  They’ve already offered Jason Bay a four year deal but won’t go for five.  Good for them.  Putting fanatacism aside, does anyone really think Jason Bay will be worth $16 million in five years?  If Minaya can ship Luis Castillo out of CitiField for Orlando Hudson, sign Bay and bring in one or two mid level starters (Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherrer), he’ll be heading into 2010 with a very similar roster to the one that was picked by many to win the NL East in 2009.

Listen To Your Father, Kid. New York Jets December Preview
Have to admit I received the following preview of the Jets’ stretch run from Cheap Seater Keith Whelan with more than a little satisfaction.  My attempt to educate fans of Gang Green to the presence of outside forces dedicated to their demise has started to hit home.  Whelan, a long time season ticket holder, offered this opinion on how his favorite team would finish the season.

“It’s just too easy to expect the Jets to break our hearts again. We all know they will.   But, now, I’ve taken your advice to go beyond the pessimistic view and look for the twisted one that will not only hurt but pour salt in the wound.”  “The way I see it, we’ll easily beat Atlanta this week while Miami, Baltimore and Jacksonville lose.  That puts us a game up and in control of our own fate; a very bad sign.”  “We’ll head to Indy next week and shock everyone by knocking off the unbeaten Colts as they rest players.”  “Then, facing a ‘win and we’re in’ game at home, we’ll be crushed by Cincinnati.  They’ve hurt me too many times for me to see this thing turning out any other way.”

Nice job, Keith.  The only thing I might add is a few Patriots’ losses that will have that Cincinnati defeat cost them the division as well.  So, if you’re torn between holiday commitments and watching the Jets, it’s been our pleasure to free you up for some parties and shopping.

Russian Billionaire Takes Control of New Jersey Nets
Nets’ owner Bruce Ratner announced that an agreement has been reached with Mikhail Prokhorov regarding his stake in the Nets franchise and the proposed arena in Brooklyn. The final hurdle is approval by the remaining NBA owners who have already indicated they’d sign off on the deal.  No decision has been reached on Prokhorov’s request that the Nets be allowed to play with seven men on the court and shoot at a nine foot basket.

Hey, Giants Football Fans, Come In Off The Ledge
While Sunday night’s loss to Philadelphia probably cost Big Blue any chance of winning the NFC East, the Giants still find themselves in the driver’s seat for a Wild Card berth.  Yes, I know the defense was terrible; allowing back breaking plays at the end of the firat half and then, again, after the Jints had finally taken the lead.  Yet, regardless of how the D performed,  the Giants still win that game if not for the two TD returns allowed on a fumble recovery and a punt.  Hang tough, Giants’ fans.  A 9-7 record is easily attainable and more than likely secures the postseason for your football team.  Refresh my memory.  How’d the Giants do the last time they were a 9-7 Wild Card team?

Tiger Woods Named AP Athlete of the Decade
For the first time in three weeks, Tiger Woods got a little good news when he was named AP Athlete of the Decade.  Obvious jokes aside, Woods’ selection was as easy as you’ll see with an award so open to different interpretations.  Interesting to guess where Tiger would have finished had the vote been taken after Thanksgiving, though.   After all, Barry Bonds, four time MVP, batting champ and all time Home Run leader didn’t garner a single vote. Wonder why?

Dallas Cowboys Football Stadium Debuts 3D Screen
So I’m watching Chargers-Cowboys in Jerry Jones’ brand new palace last Sunday.  CBS fulfilled what seems like a contractual obligation by extolling the virtues of the new stadium ad nauseum.  There were views of the promenade, the enormous standing room area, six or seven thousand shots of Jones in his luxury box and, of course, many references to the enormous video screen that hangs over the field.  Now, I find that a video screen in a stadium is quite useful for replays; after all, it’s the one concession you make to television when you attend a game in person.  However, I’ve never seen the logic of broadcasting the game as it’s being played.  Why would anyone pay good money for a ticket to, essentially, enjoy less comfort for an activity that could have been enjoyed at home for free?

Be that as it may, the ‘Pokes went over the top with an “Emperor’s New Clothes” feature that really gave me a laugh.  At one point in the game, we were shown an image of a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader wearing a pair of 3D glasses.  Apparently, Jones and the Cowboys were quite impressed with themselves for showing a three dimensional view of the game on the giant screen.  Fans seemed very excited about it, too.  Wonder if any of them realized that, along with the fans assembled in every other NFL stadium, they were already enjoying a 3D version of the game by simply looking down at the field.  Somewhere, P.T. Barnum must have been smiling.

Mayrose Honored
Congratulations to Virginia Mayrose, Staten Island High School Volleyball Coach of the Year.  Recognized for leading St. Joseph Hill Academy to its first title since she founded the program, Mayrose completely revamped her team’s style of play; raising the competitive bar in her own league while bolstering the reputation of Staten Island volleyball among the more established schools in New York City.  She’s really cute, too.  Well done, Gin.

The View from the Cheap Seats

November 25, 2009 under Cheap Seats

New York Giants Owner Mara Upset About Travel

Came out this week that Giants’ owner John Mara is upset that his squad must make the two thousand mile cheap_seats_3_owumtrek to Denver for its Thanksgiving clash with the Broncos.  “I don’t mind playing on Thanksgiving,” Mara said. “My complaint is sending us all the way to Denver on a short week.”  In fact, he was so irked by the scheduling that he filed a complaint with the NFL; which made me wonder.  Is that complaint hotline for the exclusive use of petty, carpetbagging owners that were born on third and thought they hit a triple? Or can it be used by life long season ticket holders being screwed out of their seats by Mara’s Personal Seat Licensing extortion?  Sorry, Johnny, if you’re looking for sympathy, you came to the wrong place.

NFL Football Serves Its Biggest Turkeys On Thanksgiving

Football and Thanksgiving are synonymous in the minds of many sports fans.  Can’t see that continuing into the next generation with an annual NFL slate featuring terrible matchups.  This year, Bruce Goodell’s boys serve up two of their worst;  The Raiders and Lions. Thanks, guys. If you need me, I’ll be watching the Godfather marathon on AMC.

Nets Basketball Fans Don’t Grow In Brooklyn

So, now Nets’ owner Bruce Ratner wins his eminent domain battle to evict homeowners and build his Atlantic Yards empire in Brooklyn.  Got news for you, Brucie.  Brooklynites aren’t dummies and won’t soon be drawn to that mess you call a basketball team.  If you build it, they won’t come unless you can play.

New York Jets Get Defensive With QB Sanchez

If you’re scoring at home, now that Derek Anderson and JaMarcus Russell have been benched, Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez is, officially, the worst starter in the league.  And how does Gang Green plan to address this?  With Head Coach Rex Ryan, hired on the strength of his defensive expertise, taking a more active role in the rookie’s development.  Who knows, maybe Sanchez will be more receptive to a defensive guy seeing as how receptive defenders have been of his passes.  However it works out, it’s another example of the Jets not getting it right.  Last off season, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was a candidate for the head job that eventually went to Ryan.  Amazingly, they decided to retain Schottenheimer.   No team but the Jets would then force an offensive coordinator on a new coach; he’d hire his own guy.  That Sanchez has gotten worse as the season has progressed is an indictment of both the Jets and Schottenheimer but, at least, an indication that they got one right in not hiring him to lead the team.  Hey, when you’re a Jets fan, you have to take your victories where you can find them.

Notre Dame Football Coach On Way Out

After last week’s loss to Connecticut, it’s a foregone conclusion that Notre Dame will pull the plug on the Charlie Weis era.  As they start their search for a replacement, one criterion is more important than any other.  They must sign their first choice for the spot.  The Notre Dame job was once thought of as the greatest in sports.  So much so that Lou Holtz, who coached at a number of schools, always had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if the Irish came calling.  But, in recent years, that perception has been diminished; much to Notre Dame’s detriment.  Bob Davie got the job back in 1996 after Gary Barnett thumbed his nose and headed to Colorado.  Before Ty Willingham was brought in, George O’Leary was hired then dismissed due to inaccuracies on his resume.  Then, when Willingham flopped, Urban Meyer was thought to be on his way, only to take the job at Florida and leave Notre Dame with second prize once again.  Given the fact that Weis is due $18 million on his way out the door, I’m wondering if it isn’t a better idea to keep him on until that Dream Coach is available.  It’d certainly be a more productive solution than settling once again.

“Christopher is Well”

About nine years ago, I first met a young man named Chris; at the time, all of eleven years old.  He was a quiet, private kid and remains so to this day which is why I’m only using his first name.  His dad and I worked together on Wall Street and I convinced John to send Chris to the week-long basketball camp upstate where I was a coach.  Every day, during each meal and then again before lights out, I’d check on the kid to make sure things were going well.   Always got the same answer.  “Yeah, fine.”  Nothing more.   By the end of the week, one that saw him take home an All Star trophy, I told John that I wasn’t sure Chris had enjoyed the camp.  “Of course he did”, John said, “he’s just quiet.”

Chris went on to become a classmate of my son in high school.   They were very much alike in many ways and became friends and teammates.   They bonded while playing for a JV coach who worked them hard and challenged them every day and they both responded.   Each came out of his shell and emerged as a productive player; feeding off the confidence of their coach and their faith in all of their teammates.  It was one of those seasons where the record didn’t matter much as all of the young men improved as players and people.   They were each given a nickname as well, and one look at Christopher’s winter-white, freckled face instantly gave him away as the one they called, “Irish.”

About a year after Chris left high school as the captain of the varsity basketball team, we learned that doctors had found a mass in his chest.   Chris would undergo chemotherapy treatment with an uncertain prognosis.   His incredible physical condition, one that had actually masked some symptoms, would allow doctors to aggressively attack the tumor and they started almost immediately.   I remember being terrified for Chris, my friend John, their family and even of telling my own son what had happened.   I’ll always remember the night we went to visit.  Chris was wiped out from a treatment and was actually too weak to even speak.   When I entered the room shortly after my son, I was struck to see these two strong, young men, silently holding each other’s hand.  I won’t ever forget that image.

Six months later, Chris finished his last treatment and was told there were no longer any signs of the tumor.  He showed up at a basketball game at his old school and was mobbed by the many coaches and former classmates so happy that their good friend was doing better.  Given his quiet demeanor, it had to be one of the worst moments of his journey.   But he tolerated it very well.

It’s been a tough five years or so for a lot of us.  I’ve been struggling over the last few weeks to find the spirit of the season and avoid being dragged down emotionally by the difficult times in which I find myself while drawing very little consolation from the fact that I am but one of many going through the same thing.  Then I saw the envelope on the table.  It was big, like a wedding invitation and my first reaction was dread as an expensive gift is certainly not in the budget.   When I opened it, however, my heart was suddenly filled with the happiness of the holiday.  It was a  note from Chris and his family; updating his condition and thanking all for their support.  I had a hard time reading it, however, as my eyes instantly filled up after seeing the first three words:  “Christopher is well.”   Happy Thanksgiving.


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