2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • The pain of fandom

    Wed, November 28, 2007 by David Ramsey with 1 comment

    Writing about sports has, for the most part, drained the fan right out of me. Sports writers strive to be objective, to tell the truth, to see the game as it really is. True sports fans see their teams through the eyes of devotion. They moan about injustice. They don’t worry about telling the truth. They see the game as they want it to be, not as it really is.

    I’ve been there. I’ve been a fan, but my profession has transformed me.

    But not completely. A few small pockets of true fandom remain in my soul.

    I remain a fan of Abilene Christian University football. It’s my alma mater and the alma mater of my wife, father, mother, brother and sister. It’s the alma mater of my uncles, aunts and cousins. My father-in-law served as a professor there, and my mother-in-law lives a long football throw from campus. My daughter is a junior there, and my oldest son will enroll in the fall.

    On Saturday, ACU traveled to Chadron State, located in northwest Nebraska, for the second round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs. Chadron is the tournament’s No. 1 seed, and had allowed 78 points all season.

    My brother, who played football for ACU, drove to the game from his home in Denver. I was in Chicago for the Bears and Broncos. He called with updates and for a long time the news was good.

    ACU led 49-20 at the end of the third quarter, and it seemed a good time to celebrate our impending victory with a big dinner. The destination was Italian Village, a 1927 landmark restaurant in downtown Chicago. If you’re ever in Chicago and want an unpretentious, solid meal, the Village is a great spot. I had been waiting eight years to return to the Village. It’s one of my favorite restaurants.

    I was walking to my table with the maitre’d when my brother called with an update.

    “They tied us at 56 and it’s going to overtime,” he said.

    Chadron had scored 36 points in the fourth quarter. Unbelievable.

    I turned and hurried for the exit.

    “Sir, what is wrong?” asked the polite, calm maitre’d.

    “I’m not hungry anymore,” I said.

    I was a fan again, riding the waves of joy and agony.

    ACU lost in triple overtime.

    And I still haven’t recovered.

  • A genuine champ

    Sun, November 25, 2007 by David Ramsey with no comments

    A champion should be crowned on the field. A champion should not be crowned by a computer or by politically motivated voters.

    The Bowl Championship Series – the BCS – is a blight on sports. The champions of college basketball, college hockey, college baseball and, come to think of it, college everything are determined by toutnaments. There’s no question at the end of the season. The team that wins the tournament reigns as champ. It’s the right way of doing things. With a tournament, the season ends with a satisfying, genuine title game. With the BCS, the season ends with arguments and what ifs.

    College football needs – no, make that requires – a similar tournament. I’d suggest taking the top 16 teams, maybe even the top eight teams, and allowing them to battle for the title. The bowls could then choose from the teams that didn’t make the tournament.

    With a tournament, football justice would prevail. Kansas, with one loss, is completely out of the race for the national title game while Missouri, also with one loss, is fully alive. That makes no sense.

  • Giving thanks

    Tue, November 20, 2007 by David Ramsey with no comments

    For Denver Broncos fans, it’s time to give thanks. Sure, the Broncos have stumbled at times this season and, yes, they were unspeakably awful against the Chargers and Lions.

    But it could be worse.

    You could be a 49ers fan.

    Here’s a letter from the San Francisco Chronicle:

    “Editor:

    I turn 77 a week from today and am now being exposed to elder abuse. It’s called watching 49ers football.

    Ronald Armstrong.”

  • Barry’s day in court

    Fri, November 16, 2007 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Barry Bonds will soon be blessed – or cursed – with his day in court. The Home Run King can explain how his feet suddenly grew from a size 10 1/2 to a size 13, how his uniform size stretched from size 42 to size 52, how his doubles turned into home runs.

    I hear all the time from Barry believers. They have no questions about his miraculous transformation. How can he possibly be guilty, one man asked me this summer, if he’s still allowed to play the game?

    That’s a good question.

    Why did the federal government wait until Bonds smashed Hank Aaron’s record – the most sacred mark in sports – before this indictment? Why was Bonds allowed to keep playing – and polluting – the game?

    Here’s the sad thing. Regardless of what happens, many Bonds believers will keep right on believing. Sports remains, in the knowing words of San Francisco columnist Gwen Knapp, the ultimate “faith-based reality.” Barry believers will always moan that he’s a victim, that he’s being picked on, that this is all unfair.

    Bond does not stand alone in his shame. He stands alongside Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco and Sammy Sosa and, I suspect, dozens of others. But this crowd, no matter how large, does nothing to excuse him. He cheated his way to the top. He violated the game. He’s charged with lying to a federal grand jury.

    And he’s in big, big trouble. Even the Barry believers will have to admit that.

  • Running up the score

    Thu, November 15, 2007 by David Ramsey with no comments

    It’s eternally controversial. When coaches decline to show mercy, anger starts to swell.

    It can get ugly. Wyoming’s Joe Glenn offered a middle-finger salute to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham after the Utes attempted an onside kick with a 43-0 lead. Bill Belichick earned the wrath of much of the football nation when he declined to stop piling points on the Washington Redskins.

    I don’t admire the practice. The object is to win, not to humiliate, but the issue is complicated.

    The late Dennis Bruns was a Christian gentleman, a dedicated high school teacher who spoke in a soft voice. But when he stepped in front of a basketball bench to coach his Evangelical Christian Academy team, he could be alarmingly aggressive. In the 2004 season, he pushed his team to 85- and 89-point victories, and he never apologized.

    His philosophy was simple. He owed nothing to his opponent. It was their job to stop him. It was his job to attack them. He wanted to win a state title every season, and he didn’t much care if he flattened a few opponents on his way to the crown. So his team pressed and ran until the final buzzer. Helpless opponents were mowed down without mercy.

    But here’s where the issue grows murky. It’s hard to tell when an opponent is vanquished.

    I covered Syracuse University basketball for more than a decade and remember a game between SU and Louisiana Tech at the Carrier Dome in the late 1980s. The Orangemen, jammed with future NBA talent, rolled to a 20-plus lead in the second half, and coach Jim Boeheim emptied his bench. There were about a dozen minutes left in the game.

    It was over, right?

    Wrong. Randy White, later an NBA lottery pick, played power forward for Tech. He awoke against the Syracuse bench and revived his teammates. Tech roared back and tied the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Boeheim – on that night a man of mercy – barely escaped with an overtime win. He had done the right thing, and he nearly paid for his grace with a defeat.

    Another story:

    I recently attended the Pikes Peak Christian-Parker Lutheran football game as a fan. Two days before the game, two Lutheran students suffered horrendous hand injuries in a tug-of-war accident. (Both are reported to be recovering.) The scene at Parker’s field was a strange combination of hope and despair. Students jammed the sidelines, and many wore T-shirts that read, “Their hands are in His hands.”

    Pikes Peak scored the first two times it touched the ball and rolled to a 38-12 halftime lead, which only added to the gloom of the afternoon. A rout seemed inevitable, and a rout was the last thing Parker needed. My wife wondered if there was any way Pikes Peak could turn down the throttle and offer mercy to Parker.

    But wait …

    The Parker quarterback shredded the Pikes Peak defense in the second half and for a few minutes it looked as if Parker would come all the way back and grab a victory. Pikes Peak ended up barely winning, 52-46.

    Turns out, Parker didn’t require mercy, which can be an expensive gesture.

  • Poor Kobe

    Sat, November 3, 2007 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Kobe Bryant wants to leave Los Angeles. The endless sun and a $22 million per year contract aren’t enough. He believes it’s his right to play for a title contender.

    Here’s the delicious part of the scenario. He appears stuck with the Los Angeles Lakers, who seem unable to find another team that wants to try to satisfy Bryant’s endless demands.

    Kobe wants to keep the no-trade clause in his contract when he arrives with a new team. He wants, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Sam Smith, a $27-million per year extension to his contract. He wants his mountain of money and he wants to win another NBA title.

    That’s what you call an impossible dream.

    Tim Duncan just signed a deal with the San Antonion that fell millions short of a maximum contract. He signed a two-year extension for $40 million, $11 million short of the max. In other words, Duncan walked away from all the money he could have earned because he wants to keep winning NBA titles.

    You could argue he’s foolish.

    Or you could argue that he cares – really cares – about winning.

    Kobe cares about Kobe. He ranks as the game’s ultimate talent, but he’s so self-obsessed, so madly in love with his skills, that he often drains a team instead of lifting it. He couldn’t get along with Shaquille O’Neal, one of the greatest big men in NBA history, and managed to help push Shaq off to Miami.

    O’Neal won another NBA title, his fourth, after moving east. Kobe and the Lakers have struggled since Shaq’s departure.

    The Kobe soap opera is never boring. He whines. He threatens. He commands.

    It’s always a solo show.

    Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Duncan keeps serving his teammates, keeps playing with quiet grace.

    And keeps winning titles.