Tag Archives: Deacs

MARCH SADNESS: WF, WTF and the What-Ifs

23 Mar

Good Deacon hoops can sometimes feel like a vintage painting in a museum.

Put a ‘T’ between the W and F, it’s been said many a time during the current Wake Forest basketball depression. The saying is played, unlike the NCAA Tournament for the Deacs in seven of the past eight years.

Wake has posted only two winning seasons since 2010. In the two decades before that, the once-proud program of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul had only one losing season while eclipsing 20 wins 12 times.

Here in yet another missed March Madness, let us move past the WTFs, Deacon Nation… to the What-Ifs.

My top 10 (pre-depression):

10. What if referee Fred Hikel hadn’t ruled that Wake’s successful length-of-the-court inbound pass grazed the Greensboro Coliseum scoreboard with 33 seconds left in the 1975 ACC tourney game against North Carolina?

Just last month, long-time Greensboro New & Record sportswriter and columnist Ed Hardin said, “That pass from [Wake’s Jerry] Schellenberg never touched the scoreboard,” which showed a Deacon lead at the time. The “Scoreboard Call.” And one might wonder where the “Carolina Refs” legend came from. (Actually not here. Read on.)

9. What if the Deacs simply managed to get a shot up with 20 seconds left in a tied 1983 ACC Tournament first round game against N.C. State?

Instead a turnover led to a foul, which led to Wolfpack free throws and a 71-70 loss. That was how the Cardiac Pack started its unbelievable nine-game postseason run to a national title.

8. What if Rodney Rogers had stayed for his senior season, i.e., overlapped with the start of the Tim Duncan Era?

Wake still finished third in the conference the following season without the 1993 ACC Player of the Year.

7. What if instant replay was available for Tim Duncan’s senior year?

The January Maryland and February N.C. State buzzer beaters in Joel Coliseum wouldn’t have been beaters. Absent that really bad luck, the ’97 Deacs definitely finish the regular season better than 22-5, earning them a more advantageous postseason draw.

6. What if Wake hadn’t lost three star sophomores — Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu were all top 19 NBA draft picks — in 2009 and 2010?

Losing that type of talent will hurt any college basketball program, but Wake was especially in need of stability after unprecedented adversity in the years leading up to those departures.

5. What if Randolph Childress hadn’t been hit with the flu bug before the ’95 Sweet 16 matchup with Oklahoma State?

The ACC Champions’ Final Four hopes were fumbled away by our star guard on the last possession against the Cowboys.

4. What if referee Jim Mills calls a charge instead of a block in the 1957 ACC semifinal against undefeated UNC?

Wake was less than 50 seconds away from ending the historic season of its bitter rival, but instead the Heels’ Lennie Rosenbluth, who’d beat out somebody named Wilt Chamberlain for national player of the year, got the controversial blocking call, the basket and a free throw for a 61-59 win.

3. What if Chris Paul hadn’t left school after his sophomore year?

Instead of essentially no point guard the next year, the Deacs would’ve had the best PG in the nation to go with senior studs Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Trent Strickland, as well as impressive big men Kyle Visser and Chris Ellis.

2. What if Tony Rutland hadn’t wrecked his knee in the 1996 ACC Tournament Championship Game?

Some were comparing the sophomore guard to Ga. Tech’s Stephon Marbury on a team that, despite the injury, still managed to reach an NCAA regional final. Long-time Winston-Salem Journal beat reporter Dan Collins called it “one of the saddest coincidences ever in Wake Forest history,” the backcourt misfortune when the Deacs had the best big man in the land.

1. What if Skip Prosser hadn’t passed away?



Houston, We Have a Problem

28 Feb

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including sports disappointment for me recently. Consider the following heartbreak in Houston, where I lived as a kid:

  • College Cup: Following a scoreless draw with defending champ Stanford in the mid-December NCAA soccer title match, my Wake Forest Demon Deacons had a penalty kick opportunity to take home the trophy, but were denied on two straight attempts as the Cardinal, which did not score a goal during the entire Final Four weekend, successfully defended its crown.
  • Super Bowl: Less than two months later in NRG Stadium in Houston, my Atlanta Falcons somehow relinquished a 28-3 second half lead to the hated Patriots to also lose in overtime. The emotional and psychic wounds from this debacle will hurt for a long, long time. My therapist says I’m doing a lot better though: down to only three to five Big Game what-ifs per day now.
  • NCAA Baseball: As if to confirm the horrid luck in Houston, my baseball Deacs were swept by the University of Houston Cougars to open their season a couple weeks after the Super Bowl.

There is a bright side at least: I’ve gotten five Texas magazine freelance assignments in that stretch. All work and no play make Brian a full boy?

Once More With Feeling

21 Nov

“I was telling people that you were going to die, Willy.”

It wasn’t exactly your normal breakfast talk. A physician fraternity brother offered this up during a trip to the ol’ alma mater earlier this month. The hustle and bustle of the diner, omelettes and orange juice, and his four kids stuffed into a booth with four adults offered quite a contrast to the weighty message.

Willy, my “little brother” from our fraternity days two decades past, is two years removed from a brutal bout with something called necrotizing pancreatitis. “This is a disease where your pancreas ‘eats’ itself which, in turn, affects the kidney, liver and various digestive processes,” he wrote shortly after his release from the hospital in November 2014. “The [South Dakota] hospital decided to fly me to Asheville to be closer to my mom because they were not sure that I would live through the summer. I went through 13 surgeries, dialysis and had a bout of psychosis where I saw things. I am now a Type 1 diabetic, I can’t walk well, and I have five tubes coming out of my lung, abdomen, and stomach. However, I am dealing with it all.”

Dealing with it all, he wrote so simply. Willy’s gentle, understated tone ran through my head and ran up against the horrifying reality of a struggle most of us can’t even begin to imagine…

Struggle was nowhere near my thoughts the rest of that gorgeous fall Saturday as he and I strolled around the sun-splashed Wake Forest campus, stopping at the chapel, the bookstore and the statue of Arnold Palmer, our fellow Demon Deacon and global golfing legend who passed away just weeks before.

Later that afternoon, before the football game between two of Willy’s alma maters — he’d gotten a degree from visiting Virginia as well — we checked out Wake’s Sports Hall of Fame, got some greasy grub from a favorite college dive and soaked up the tailgating energy.

When I drew blood handling a beer with a faulty bottle opener, Willy was giving himself an insulin shot. When the football contest was too close for comfort, I was stressed. Willy was less.

There I was thinking in my routine, short-term way: successful work week, enjoyable weekend, good trip… good game.

And there was Willy: “Relearning what it means to have a life is such a blessing.”

No Sporting Chance

15 May

Braves_onfireIt is the spring of my sporting discontent. The Atlanta Hawks got swept in the postseason for the second year in a row by LeBron & Company, and my rebuilding Braves are buried in last place. In fact, as mid-May approached the baseball club had the seventh most wins… ON ITS HOME FIELD!

To top off the sporting depression, my favorite player and fellow alum, Tim Duncan, may have just played the last game of his stellar 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs…

You might say that I’m carrying a lot of emotional sports baggage:

  • My college football team hasn’t had a winning season since I became a father. (My oldest daughter turns 8 in the fall.)
  • The Diamond Deacs, my alma mater’s baseball team, haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2007 despite our coach – no lie – donating a kidney to one of his players. Come on, karma!
  • My basketball program, which produced the likes of Duncan and Chris Paul, has gone 75-115 (.395) since 2010 when it fired a coach with a .663 winning percentage.

Hmm, maybe this is the reason my wife let me get a kegerator?!?

I take solace in my daughters’ smiles, long walks (no, not on short piers!) and the occasional relaxed round of golf. And when things seem too bleak, I tell myself: At least I didn’t have a North Carolina Tar Heel April!

They got a name for the winners in the world

I want a name when I lose

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide

Call me Deacon Blues.

— Steely Dan


The Top 10 Football Games in History (Of Our Family)

30 Oct
A goalpost keepsake from a rare Wake win over the Tigers.

A goalpost keepsake from a rare Wake win over the Tigers.

10. Front-yard Football (1980 something): It was destined to be just another hot, sweaty but fun Waverly Hall neighborhood game in Roswell until I tried to tackle the hulking Jay Scoggins, his power and my momentum swinging me over the sideline into a waiting rock. Diagnosis: fractured leg.

9. Wake Forest vs. North Carolina (2006): Not only was it a clutch win over the Deacs’ archrival and critical to keeping our conference title and Orange Bowl hopes alive, but the victory was also sealed by a last second end zone interception by LB Jon Abbate, who had lost his younger brother in a tragic car accident earlier in the year.

8. Westminster vs. North Springs High School (1989): I got my first (and only) career interception. In perhaps another decade or so, embellishment will be called for, e.g., that the pick came during a critical varsity playoff run, not mop-up duty on the JV.

7. Falcons vs. Vikings (1999 NFC Title Game): We were flying back from Vegas, and the score updates from the cockpit were not so encouraging. Right after we, um, touched down in Atlanta, the Dirty Birds started getting some big breaks leading to Morten Andersen putting it through the uprights in OT and Super Bowl fever spreading instantly throughout the city.

6. Westminster vs. Dalton High School (1991): Our “small but slow” Wildcat team trekked up to North Georgia to face a Dalton powerhouse program that had amassed a 97-20-4 record in the prior decade. Sparked by the kickoff return TD of my first cousin Thomas (who, as you can see here, was accustomed to dramatic performances), we returned to Atlanta with a huge W.

5. “The Choke in Doak,” aka Florida vs. Florida State (1994): Seated in special, overflow-crowd end-zone bleachers, my family and I soaked up an amazing chapter in the best football rivalry of the ‘90s and witnessed an historic comeback by the hometown ‘Noles, which somehow forced a tie after trailing 31-3 in the 4th quarter. You know it’s quite another level of football intensity when the whole marching band enters the field chanting an obscenity toward the visitors.

4. Westminster vs. St. Pius (1988): My brother had his career rushing game (154 yards) during a torrential downpour in Atlanta. “I remember Dad and [Uncle] Bud walking out on the field to congratulate me [and] worrying about getting Bud dirty with a handshake,” Greg said. “I started fumbling around for a nonexistent dry spot on my uni, when suddenly I’m enveloped by a Bubby bear hug!”

3. Clemson vs. Wake Forest (1992): My Deacs beat Clemson on the gridiron about once every two blue moons, but this college freshman didn’t have to wait long for the special occasion. Finding ourselves with extra, unexpected motivation to celebrate on that Halloween, we stormed the field and later I got a piece of the goalpost as a memento (see photo).

2. Ga. Tech vs. Wake Forest (2006): The weather and the final score (9-6) were pretty ugly, but the result was so beautiful: my Deacons’ first conference title in 36 years! (Believe it or not, my wife got to slip on an Orange Bowl committee member’s blazer back at the post-game tailgate.)

1. Ga. Tech vs. UVa. (1990): Never has a family football clash held as much significance and offered so much drama — my brother’s #1 ranked Virginia Cavaliers hosting my father’s (and my childhood) team, Ga. Tech, which would finish that season #1. The Yellow Jackets prevailed in an epic, back-and-forth 41-38 game with a last minute Scott Sisson field goal.