So this past Saturday night I was watching a show on a sports TV network – and the show was focused on “turkey” moments in recent sports history. You know, when athletes mess up, and do things that aren't so smart.
I mean, it was a hoot watching some of these mistakes. Like, for example, that pro football player running with the ball to the end zone, strutting and celebrating his impending touchdown, only to have a player on the other team tackle him before he made it to the goal line. Precious.
Also shown were football players who ran for what they were sure was a first down – and after being tackled, they jump up and point forward, so convinced they are that they have "moved the chains," only to find out they have come up short.
Then, also in the show, there was that basketball player shooting at his own hoop, repeatedly, and missing – and being bailed out by his teammate who grabbed the ball before it was put in the wrong basket.
As well, featured was the major league baseball player slamming a ball to the outfield for which he was sure was a home run – and he starts his dawdling home run trot – which would have been fine had the ball cleared the fence, But it hadn't cleared the fence, and it remained in play. And, this erstwhile home run hitter, got tagged out between second and third base.
Anyway, this show inspired me to reflect on my own mess ups in sports, of which there are many, and only a few of which I care to share here – and all of which, for the purposes of his column, are rooted in my time playing sports, and competing, for Easton public school teams.
Like when I was a student at Easton Junior High School (EJHS), and an ineffective point guard for the EJHS 7th grade boys' hoop team. I loved basketball, but I didn't grasp the flow of the game back then, and I didn't have a helpful perspective on movement on the court. I practiced hours upon hours, but it didn't result in me being a standout.
I did though enjoy hotdogging as a point guard – for it was entertainment.
My 7th grade hoops coach was Brad Morse.
“Mr. Morse” – as we called him – taught phys ed at EJHS, and also was an excellent basketball coach. He mentored us on the Oliver Ames High School offense and defense, and he also taught us sound fundamentals.
Mr. Morse gave me very, very short leash on my basketball theatrics – that would be, putting the ball between my legs, dribbling it behind my back, and executing wild spin dribbles.
Yet he did not impose a “zero tolerance” policy on my creative play. It was a simple calculus he imposed: you do something that works, then it is all right; if you do something that doesn't work, then you sit on the bench, and you best not do it again.
So it was in one game, and I dribbled the ball into the middle of the key – or the “paint” as it is called – and I did a spin dribble on my defender which freed me and allowed me a clear shot at the hoop, and I put the ball up for two points. Later on the sidelines, Mr. Morse gave me a figurative thumbs up, and said that was an example of being creative which resulted in two points for our team.
But of course the drama I sought to affect on the hardwood did not always meet with the approval of my coach. And Mr. Morse made sure that I knew when I had messed up.
There was that other time – again, playing at home for the EJHS 7th grade squad – and my teammate, who was under our hoop, inbounded the ball to me, and I casually – and I am sure that I thought, artfully – dribbled the ball behind my back, only to have a defender, who was prepared and I wasn't, steal the ball from me. Not sure if the player scored – but, then again, it didn't really matter. I have given up the “rock” in a place that was of key strategic advantage for our opponent.
After that screw up – and as I continue to relate so many years later – I knew I was heading back to the bench. And so I was. I heard the honk of the horn from the scorer's table signaling that the the EJHS team was sending in a player to replace one of its players – that would be me.
I trotted off the court, and Mr. Morse lightly read me the riot act. He told me that there was no need for that behind the back dribble – and it resulted in something not good for my team.
Mr. Morse was right, of course.
But I still say, I had one wicked behind-the-back dribble.
And when I was on my game, it was something to behold.