Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 15th

Ola Laken Popola is the kind of guy that’s almost impossible not to laugh with. An old teammate at Ursinus (class of ’05), Lekan has a magnetic personality and a thick English accent that often aided his intended attempts at humor and many times unintentionally turned the ordinary into hilarious. The “Pope” was always the ladies’ man too – and it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a guy who spent lots of time in the gym doing curls and a guy with a thick English accent was held in high regard by the opposite sex on a college campus. Lekan, undoubtedly, used that English accent and a sense of humor to his advantage when courting any one of his many different girlfriends…and, in fact, it’s that same combination of accent and humor that turned a very ordinary reaction to one of those many relationships into a very funny and unforgettable line. It’s a quick little story…we were in the locker-room before a practice over winter break. Most of the team was already there preparing for a pre-practice film session when Lekan walked in looking a little down. “Hey Lekan, you all good man?” Someone asked…(picture a 6’0 guy wearing 2XL sweatshirt, hood on, shaking his head, looking at the ground and answering): “I never knew I loved her until I lost her…”…It was easy to tell he was still nursing the fresh wounds of a break-up…whether you knew he had a girlfriend or not (which many of us had a hard time keeping track of)… also easy to tell his reaction to the question was genuine and sincere – the guy really was heartbroken…annnnnd you had to appreciate his honesty in one the most testosterone laden environments possible…all this was fairly obvious but we just couldn’t help ourselves. After a quick pause, we each arrived at the same insensitive conclusion – maybe it was the accent…maybe it was that most of us didn’t know he had a girlfriend…whatever it was… at that moment, we thought it was the funniest thing the Pope had ever said …we broke out in laughter while a confused Ola could only smile and laugh with us…Nothing like talking it out with your boys to get over a breakup.

The Pope and his unforgettable line were top of mind this week. Anyone who’s either played or coached at any level of college hoops knows that October 15th is an important date. For the past 8 years, it’s been a day that’s brought with it some mixed emotions for me: The dawn of a new season accompanied by all the promise and excitement that comes with it counterbalanced with the 6 week wait for uniforms and the pain of conditioning week…as a player, we dreaded the timed mile, stair workouts, and never ending sprints…as assistant coaches, we knew it meant a week as glorified trainers and 5 months of scarce free-time. As players, though understanding how critical the entire preseason was, we couldn’t wait to get to the games. Couldn’t wait to compete. Couldn’t wait for the home rivalry games. It was a dangerous mindset to let sink in and as coaches (who were first players), we knew it and always worked hard to guard against it. The focus was day to day improvement. Preseason was tough; it was hard; and rarely was it ever much fun…..BUT, everyone knew it had to be that way and we all went through it together… as a team…recognizing that hard work bred stronger character. It’s the month and a half where every team begins to form a personality and where authentic leadership starts to take shape. A time for walk-ons to earn a spot; a time for upperclassmen to cement a role; and a time for coaches to ensure focus through any means appropriate (A la: “GET THE ___ OUT OF MY GYM!!!”). In the player’s mind, it’s a necessary evil. In the coach’s mind, it’s the difference between missing the playoffs and winning the conference (Coach is always right on that one, btw). If done right, it’s the kind of thing you can be proud of in hindsight but have a hard time enjoying in the moment. Freshmen are totally lost and close to useless (except for laundry). Upperclassmen think October can’t turn to December fast enough and the end of February might seem like years away. Coach worries about getting everyone in shape and having enough time to put in the playbook. Roughly speaking, same routine every year…

I can still remember listening as a junior to Colin Burkhart (’03) come back in his second year as an alum to shoot the shit with us players before practice. Here was a guy who played an integral role in an undefeated championship season…he saw buzzer beaters, improbable comebacks and great parties…What was it that he most missed? …Practice… Practice? (‘We talkin’ bout practice?’)…yea, right…it was hard to believe. I mean…it was hard to believe at the time.

October 15th, 2010 was a pretty damn good day…I am studying for an MBA at Notre Dame and my family was in town for the weekend’s home game. The campus was abuzz as we wandered around on a beautiful afternoon… and… good a day that it was, for the first time in 9 years the words of the Pope never rang truer. December will come soon enough and February will be here before you know it. If you’re a player reading and have practice tomorrow, know how lucky you are and do all us has-beens a favor – leave it all out there for every second of the home rivalry game but don’t wish away the hardest minute of the hardest practice of what may seem like a long season…you might not realize it now, but some day you too will be hearing Lekan as you think longingly about that timed mile: “I never knew I loved her until I lost her…”.

Go Bears.

Fondest Oct 15th memory: (Now Associate Head Coach) Mike McGarvey’s reaction to learning he just ran a 6:01 mile on the outdoor track in 2002…the best part - he didn’t realize it was even close!!!

(What’s yours?)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

UC Far From The Sea

“Bri, I just want to tell you that I’m having a really great time”…during a 48 hr period from about 9am Friday morning until about 9am Sunday morning, these were the words of a very appreciative Papa Glowacki uttered about every 20 minutes…

What has since become known as, “Ursinus Fantasy Camp 2010, South Bend”, began right on schedule – 10:05 pm, Thursday October 7th at the South Bend International Airport. As I hear the calls of “Tuuuuuuna” coming from over my left shoulder while waiting underneath the “Arrivals” sign (it was clear their excitement was hardly tempered by a 5hr trip), I immediately pop up, spin with football in hand and roll out to my left eyeing a streaking Bret Jenkins who has just dropped his luggage to run a skinny post…it doesn’t matter that the ball was badly underthrown and barely catchable – he adjusts like a pro and hauls it in…it was the best way I could think to welcome in the boys from Philly…

After some more fly patterns and plenty of hootin n’ hollerin, we hug it out brohskie style – Dstant, Nutass, Jenk, Miggity, Vinny G….Great to see you guys…wait a second, no Vince - where’s Vince?!...“Yea, he got left behind in Cleveland during the connection. Overbooked. We tried but no luck. You know the kid can’t handle three nights anyway, he’ll be fine”…yea, you’re right – good move Vince ($450 the richer for an extra night’s restful sleep), we’ll see ya tomorrow…Fantasy Camp rolls on…

First Stop – the best spot in all of South Bend. If we’re going to get this in and do it right (after sunset), it’s gotta be right away. We pull into campus, through the gate, and drive around the 9 hole Burke Golf Course on the west side of campus… the lakes on our left; dorms and volleyball courts on our right… after reaching a clearing between the two lakes – “Fellas, you don’t have to be a religious guy to appreciate this – on your right is the Grotto…” We park, get out, and a whisper falls over the group of 5 very excited and primed mid-twenty-somethings (you’re welcome Den)…we walk up, say a prayer, and stand back for a moment to take in the beauty of the scene…naively not recognizing it at the time, this proved to be the lone moment of peace to be had for the next 72 hrs… After not long, we head back to the car. McGarv, turns to me and quietly says, “What a great way to get things started. This is a pretty special place, huh?” You know it dude, glad you guys figured out how to pull it off…

Thursday night was a great time. Got home, dropped the bags off, and then watched in disbelief as Dennis walks out of the bathroom wearing a baby blue t-shirt that’s about 3 sizes too small…when asked if he was serious, he says (incredulously), “What? It’s an XL…got it at H&M; yea, doing a lot of shopping there these days”…hey man, whatever you’re comfortable with (eyes rolling)…we walk down the street to Corby’s, the grad school corner bar. With most MBA’s finishing up finals that afternoon, there’s a pretty good crowd for a Thursday night…A guy like Steve Mignona (see picture) can stand by the bar for only so long while there’s a beat playing. Five minutes later, he’s showing up all the locals and doing the Cupid Shuffle like only Miggity can do. After a round of beers and a welcome shot, we take the party into town to Club Fever. Good time at Feve (as the undergrads call it) despite the embarrassment of having Baby Blue in the crew. Jenk – MVP. McGarv – close second (for bravely following Migs on stage). We grab a cab to the diner and we’re in bed by 4:30…long day; it had only just begun…

Friday morning, 8:30am. There’s a knock at the door. Who the hell… GLOWACKI!!! (goofy brohskie-hugs all around) Come on in brotha and make yourself at home…shortly after his arrival, I take the boys over campus to see the field. At 10am every Friday, the gates open for all the pilgrims to walk the tunnel and pay homage while kneeling at the altar of Touchdown Jesus – the home team endzone. Good spot; Couple of pictures. I’m tempted to say, “we’ll be back soon” but I hold back and keep the secret under wraps...we go pick up Vince at the airport around noon. We meet Tuz back at the place around 1. Seven now on the ground and in South Bend…still missing just one… A couple of competitive pickup games later (at the Roc) and the boys are ready for a shower. We head home to clean up, then back over to campus for a lackluster pep rally before going out to the Oyster Bar for a round of Chicken Cordon Blue’s and ‘mini-bombs’…best sandwich in South Bend...the bill comes and somebody suggests credit card roulette (the game of many winners and just 1 BIG loser) – Thanks Den, really appreciate you picking up the tab. I get the boys home, we tap the keg and get started on the Frat-House Party…Grrrrrrrreat party…lots of highlights: the Ursinus vs. ND flip cup game on the back deck (chants of Flip-Flip-Flip-adelphia by the ever-gracious Ursinus team); a dance party in the living room with a spinning beer bottle; keg stands, funnels and backup kegs in the shower – it was a full blown college party all the way….buuuuuut, the highlight of the night had to be the arrival of a man who needed no introduction. In he comes…blackberry buckled to the belt, dress shirt tucked into jeans, boat shoes protecting his feet. My dad would look cooler showing up to a college party. The guy is dressed for a dinner party that he’ll be hosting 15 years from now; hardly a Fratboy party at Fantasy Camp in South Bend…Teddy P!!!! Yeaaaa!!!!! To his credit, he enters ready to go – rather, ready to keep it going (airport bar on the layover)…About an hour after he arrives, the legend of TP starts to take root: He comes to me with a huge gaping hole down the inside of his left leg and says, “Dude, I think I need to borrow a pair of jeans…” I have no idea how you did that, but sure no problem…,”Yea, it’s weird…this is the second time the same thing has happened to me in the last month”… About an hour later, now extra confident with a fresh pair of jeans on, he decides it’s time to address the party…he climbs on top of the stool, someone cuts the music and he starts, “well, it’s not every day you’ve got 200 people looking at you…” (40 people tops in the whole house; another 20-30 out back…close to 200)… ”…and, well, we just wanted to thank Tuna for such a great weekend. We love the guy and it was really nice of him to throw this party….annnnnd…uhhhh….RUUUUUUDDDDDYYYYYYY!!!!” He gives a parting fist pump to the ceiling as the music is turned back on and a couple of the Philly boys pull the guy down from the stool….what a speech. The party ends after keg #2 is kicked and we head back to Corby’s for the balance of the evening…another late one that landed us in bed no earlier than 3:30.

8:15 AM comes quickly on Saturday. Up and at ‘em right away...quick round of showers, we pick up the extra tickets and parking pass (nice work Ted), and we’re sitting in fold-out chairs next to the stadium by 9:30, basking in the sunshine on a gorgeous October day in South Bend – on its way up to 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Awesome tailgate scene – bloddy mary’s, baggo, washers, plenty of beer, and a sandwich platter…couldn’t have planned it any better. We’re having a great time, when, at 1:35pm the call comes in – it’s Jimmy Z, “Hey Brian, looks like we’re a go…take your boys in through Gate A look right and find me wearing a big white t-shirt. Be there by 2:15 and I’ll take care of the rest”…awesome, these guys are going to love it. At 1:45pm, I make the announcement that this tailgate is over and we’ll be walking into the stadium by 2pm…just trust me…2:05 – we’re walking into the stadium…Gate A, where is it…Oh, crap! We have student tickets that have to enter through Gate D – the opposite end of the stadium!!! We get everybody into the stadium through Gate D by about 2:15 and start our run over to Gate A…it’s a long run…up the ramp, over two gates, back down the ramp…by the time we finally get to Gate A, you can probably guess by now that there’s no big guy wearing a white t-shirt named Jimmy Z looking for us…it’s 2:25 and it appears we’ve just missed a “golden” opportunity …I go up to a shorter lady wearing a yellow jacket (clearly part of the stadium crew), “excuse me, but do you know anyone by the name of Jimmy Z?”…she looks skeptical, “I do…”…”Well, my name is Brian and I was supposed to meet him here 10 minutes ago. I know we are late but I was wondering if he’s still around…”…”Hold on, let me go and check”….she disappears into a back tunnel and comes out 2 minutes later, “Sorry, he’s not back there. You must have missed him….” OK, thanks anyway…Now dejected, I let the guys in on the plan – we were supposed to meet Jimmy Z (who, btw, is a friend of a friend of friend that I’ve never met who paints the lines on the field) at Gate A at 2:15 and he was going to get us on the field for warmups…OHHHH MANNNN, That would have been Awesome!!!...now, they’re disappointed too…some of them go back to the lady in the yellow to ask where Jimmy Z is…I try him one more time on his cell phone…all of a sudden, I notice a pretty huge man wearing a big white t-shirt giving me the stink-eye from over by the lady in the yellow…that’s gotta be Jimmy Z...he looks pissed but at least I owe him an apology... I head over and he meets me halfway, “Jimmy Z, I’m Brian and we’re so sorry that we missed you earlier. You see, we came in through Gate D and-” (I’m cut-off) Steam now coming out his ears, Jimmy Z launches into a tongue lashing, “Were you harassing that lady over there? Tossing around my name? I’ve been here 22 years and in 5 minutes you’re going to ruin my reputation? I coulda had you guys on the field with Joe Montana…with Mike Golic…with all the celebrities!! If I tell someone I’m going to be here at 2:15, I damn well make sure that I’m here by 2:10…”…He’s pissed and there’s no calming him down. He’s already talked over every attempt of mine to explain and apologize. Finally, I realize he’s too upset for an explanation, “Jimmy Z, look, we’re really sorry that we missed the time but we brought this for you and want to make sure you have it anyway…” I pull out the Helferich Hooligans T-Shirt (the Ursinus 6th man shirt), hold it up, and hand it over: “Thanks anyway. We really appreciate it and are very sorry for any trouble”…Jimmy Z’s expression completely changes. He takes the t-shirt and says, “Hang on a second, let me see what I can do…” And with that, he’s into the mystery tunnel…comes back 1 minute later, “Alright Brian, get your boys together…has anyone been drinking?”…Noooooo Sir…we all immediately look at the speechwriter of the group …”Alright then, these two guys will take care of you…”

Chip and Pac take us back through the tunnel…we stop for pictures with the Pitt cheerleaders…high fives to the Pitt Panther…then we come out to our landing spot for the next 20 minutes: hanging over to the wall that overlooks the ramp from TD Jesus to the field…somebody pinch me…McNutass loves his iPhone and got some great video of hanging out with the band, watching the Pitt team come off the field and then, the cooooolest part, high fives for the Irish as they run off the field to the echoes of the fight song played by our new band friends…we were all on top of the world. Jimmy Z - what a guy!! Wouldn’t have happened without that Helferich Hooligans T-shirt (Thx Smalley)…The game is a little anticlimactic after all of the tunnel excitement. The Irish manage to pull out a win. Our visitors enjoyed the student section while the MVP napped through the second half. The unusually warm October day allows for a post-post game tailgate that continues long after dark and includes lots of UC nostalgia as we talk about the Glory Days before heading off to the Linebacker Inn to cap off the weekend. A typical sweat-fest of loud music, tall beers, and uninhibited dancing…an appropriate ending to Fantasy Camp 2010, South Bend.

It was at some point amidst the confusion of the Backer on Saturday night that Glowacki turned to me and delivered the now well-rehearsed and expected line – “Bri, I just want you to know, I’m having a really great time”…smiles ear to ear on both of us, ”So am I, Chris…so am I”.

Fantasy Camp 2011 – Destination unknown…anybody planning on an MBA? How about an SEC school...I recommend the two-year option.