Tag Archives: Wake Forest

Hail to the King!

29 Mar

A Palmer Pilgrimage to Wake Forest last fall

I am celebrating The King from this month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational to next month’s Masters and beyond. Palmer, the global sports icon and my fellow Wake Forest Demon Deacon, passed away last fall at the age of 87. The new golf season reminds us that old traditions will be quite different this year without golf’s greatest ambassador.

  • “Can he play golf?”

The Wake Forest Athletics Director uttered this in 1947 when a Deacon recruit was encouraging him to offer another scholarship to a fresh-faced 18-year-old from Latrobe, Pa. That recruit would take Wake’s golf team and then a whole sport to a new level.

  • “This man was my favorite person. Not my favorite golfer, but my favorite person that I ever met.”

Country music singer and golfing enthusiast Vince Gill said this about the King. I don’t bite on too many marketing campaigns, but Mastercard aced it with #ArnieWould: Arnie would stop and sign every autograph, Arnie would found two hospitals for women and children, Arnie would become only the sixth athlete ever to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal…

  • “How he impacts other people is more important than any golf championship.”

A former patient at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies named her son Palmer after surviving a harrowing pregnancy thanks in large part to the Orlando hospital staff. The family was surprised, to say the least, when later little Palmer received a thankful letter from his legendary namesake. Arnie had the common touch, but was still bigger than life to many folks. More importantly, he believed in something bigger than self.

 

Source: Wake Forest magazine, NBC Sports

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

 

Happy Birthday, Tim!

25 Apr
TagTeam_95Deacs

Thanks to this Deacon duo, Duncan and Randolph Childress, my last two years at Wake were championship-quality.

Happy 40th Birthday to my favorite player and fellow alum, Tim Duncan!

I still remember Thanksgiving Weekend in 1993 when I ducked out of a family gathering in Florida to go check out a skinny, unsung Wake Forest freshman from the Virgin Islands in his college debut in Alaska (when he posted zero points but double-digit rebounds.)

I feel so blessed not only that Tim Duncan represented my alma mater, but also that he has entertained and inspired this fan for more than half of my life.

Ryan Nusbickel, my classmate cousin, author and former cartoonist in this blog space, hits the mark like a patented Timmy bank shot: “We’re at college fraternity parties. We’re watching Duncan. We’re partying, single 20-somethings. We’re watching Duncan. Getting married. Starting families. Watching Duncan. He’s always been there.”

Timmy D.’s basketball accomplishments are well known, including five NBA championships and almost too many player-of-the-year/MVP trophies to count. Did you know though that the “Big Fundamental” is the only player ever to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in every one of his first 13 seasons as a pro? Amazing.

Duncan somehow manages to build on even that Mt. Olympus of resumes. He does it with class and integrity. Timmy rises above so many things — hype, greed and all the other ubiquitous pulls from this culture of short-term self-gratification — but the effect isn’t to detract from his relatable-ness. The college player of the year once signed the bar tab of my other classmate cousin. Many years later, he took the time to call a friend and former suitemate’s wife to wish her a happy birthday when her husband was thousands of miles away serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Want a unique story? Read about Duncan’s swimming prowess as a youth and how his attention turned to basketball only after Hurricane Hugo destroyed the one Olympic-sized pool in his hometown of St. Croix.

Want loyalty? Duncan could’ve been the No. 1 draft pick after his sophomore season at Wake, but he stayed in college all four years. And all basketball fans know about his 19-year career in San Antonio

Want integrity? The classy, old soul, who could never be altered by our greedy, mass-marketed, look-at-me pop society, repeatedly took less money so that the Spurs could remain a competitive team. (Click here for a comparison of Kobe Bryant’s 2016 salary versus Timmy’s).

“Good, better, best: never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

Timmy, you’re better than the rest. THANK YOU and Happy Birthday!

duncan_031016

Mar 3, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) against the New Orleans Pelicans Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Bombing the Soul

28 Dec

light-at-the-end-of-a-tunnelEarlier this month, my sister texted her hairdresser to confirm the day’s appointment. In her darkest of nightmares, Allison never would’ve imagined that her in-house stylist and friend had been murdered 36 hours before.

Intensely and shockingly personal or merely the morbid curiosity of passers-by staring at a traffic accident, the response of human beings to tragedy is complicated, but there does seem to be some irresistible pull toward misfortune and calamity. Several days later my sister found herself combing through the disturbing Facebook page of her friend’s demented and perhaps even satanic killer.

In his book “Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away,” Wake Forest University Professor Eric Wilson explores the doom and gloom side of human nature. In a spin on the saying about the light at the end of the tunnel, do we need the darkness of that passageway to fully appreciate the light?

Last year at my old job, I eagerly asked the company IT director about his predecessor, who had been caught by the Feds in a child-sex sting. Somebody I didn’t know and would never meet attempted something horrific and I wanted to know more details. At about the same time, I felt the need to look through the Twitter feed of an Atlanta twenty-something charged with DUI and the death of a fellow motorist. There the young man was in his day-to-day, week-to-week posts talking about fun outings and trips, and then the online log abruptly stopped just hours before he stopped an innocent life.

Struggling to process and cope with the sudden loss of her friend, my sister was left to revisit a text conversation that was sickeningly one-sided at its end. There are obviously no easy answers in that type of very sad situation, but Professor Wilson argues that death and destruction can help us empathize with suffering and make us value life more. Studies like his can certainly help us in the psychological realm, but they fall short in soothing the soul.

In the holiday season with its many signs and symbols of hope and rejoicing, there can also be indelible reminders of heartbreak and tragedy. As my favorite reverend, Davis Chappell, preached, “The life of faith is a marathon. You have to learn to run with pain.”

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.