Monday, January 28, 2013

January 19-26, 2013: What a Week!

By Spencer Pyke

The holidays and college bowl season often get credit for being the most wonderful time of the year, but what has transpired in the world of sports this past week is a close second, if not better.

A week ago Saturday, the National Hockey League dropped the puck on their lockout-shortened season with a slate of 13 games on day one. Since the first puck dropped, fans from all over have been treated to an improbable seven days of upsets, inspiration and some of the best entertainment one could ask for. Other sports have chipped in too. So let's take a look at what was an amazing week of sports. (Preface: If you want to hear about a fake girlfriend, a lying cyclist or a certain purple and yellow basketball team in turmoil, this content is not for you.)

Saturday, Jan. 19.

As the puck dropped in multiple games around North America, hockey fans were not quite ready to forgive the NHL, but since their respective teams were back on the ice, they could not complain. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions fell to the Chicago Blackhawks; the Pens and Flyers rivalry picked up right where it left off and the Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils kicked off their shortened campaign with a win over the Islanders.

For an unknown reason, I give hockey credit for being the catalyst to what has happened since last Saturday. The fans and the players were so eager to get back to business, that it had a seismic effect on the rest of the sporting world.

While the NHL season was getting just underway, college hoopsters #1 Louisville took the court against #6 Syracuse in a clash of Big East powerhouses. The first half was one of the most competitive twenty minutes of basketball I had seen up to that point. Cuse’s Brandon Triche was a perfect 7 - 7 from the field in the first stanza and that momentum carried over into the second half.  Triche finished with a game-high 23 points as Cuse remained unbeaten in Big East play. A steal by the Orange with second left led to a fast break dunk as time expired, and although the basket did not count, it was an emphatic slam to complete the upset. For a while, I thought that would be the best game of the day, but that did not last long.

Hours later, #13 Butler took the court against #8 Gonzaga, and if you are a fan of either of these programs, you probably needed a brown paper bag throughout the entire forty minutes of play. The two squads went back and forth down the stretch as neither team could pull away by more than a few points. After two free throws gave the Zags a one-point lead with just over three second left, Butler messed up the inbounds play and was called for a travel. With an ensuing inbounds play to go, and only three seconds on the clock, it was all but over for the Bulldogs. Then Roosevelt Jones re-introduced himself to the college basketball world. Jones stole the inbounds pass -- which was not a very good pass to say the least -- ran the floor, and drilled a floater over the Zags' seven-foot center to steal the victory, literally. It was one of the top plays I had seen all year in any level of basketball, but little did I know, Saturday was just the beginning of it all.

Sunday, Jan. 20.

Right back where they left off last season, the San Francisco 49ers made the crosscountry trip to Atlanta looking to punch their ticket to New Orleans. These two organizations, both trying to get over that NFC Championship game hump, were almost in the same position. How well they did in the regular season is irrelevant, it all meant nothing for these NFC powerhouses if they did not hoist the Lombardi Trophy at season's end. We all know how it ended up. Like many times before, the Falcons gave themselves a comfortable lead, before ultimately giving it away. The 49ers defense got away with a late holding/pass interference in the red zone, and just like that, one half of the Harbaugh Bowl was complete.

Just as Tony Gonzalez walked off the field for possibly the last time in his Hall of Fame career, up the coast, another future Hall of Famer was trying to delay that moment just two more weeks. With so much history between New England and Baltimore these past five years, it was only fitting that they met in the AFC Championship game. It was the matchup that most fans wanted to see -- sorry, Peyton -- and although it was not as down-to-the-wire as their first meeting this season, it was a hell of a game. In the end, we all know who was victorious, and just like that, the Harbaugh Bowl was complete. Two brothers that look very similar but act completely different will meet in the Super Bowl for the first time in history. Two brothers, one trophy.

Monday, Jan. 21.

While celebrating the life of one of the most inspiring men our nation, and the world, has ever known, Martin Luther King, Jr., we inaugurated President Barack Obama for his second term in office. I know Obama made the real history four years ago, but on this day, on this specific holiday, it is important to remember our nation’s past, while paving way for the future.  It is important to remember that at one time, the color of one’s skin may have hindered their opportunity to play sports, not only professionally, but locally as well.  Who knows how many stellar athletes there were that never received an equal opportunity. While looking ahead to our future is ok, it is important that we do not shut out our past, but reflect and learn from it.

Hours up the road from the inauguration, Syracuse and their perfect Big East record was back in action against upset-minded #21 Cincinnati.  Like most Big East games, this one was down to the wire. Down by seven with time winding down, the Orange continued to grind it out and tied the game on a trey ball from Michael Carter-Williams. With less than 20 seconds remaining, Cuse was able to convert a tip-in off a missed lay-up and escape with another nail biting victory as they claw their way back into position for a #1 ranking.

After watching President Obama be sworn in for his second term and his wife "sing" the National Anthem, Sean “Jay – Z” Carter watched his Brooklyn Nets take on their Big Apple rival, the New York Knicks. I know, this is just another regular season game, but the two organizations were meeting for the fourth and final time this season. The Knicks had taken two of the first three matches, so a win for Brooklyn would split the season series in their first year as city rivals. Joe Johnson finally earned one of his pay checks draining the game-winning jumper with 25 seconds to play to finish with a team-high 25 points.

Close or not, all four of the games played between these two franchises were beyond entertaining because of everything that is on the line. As Johnson put it best, "You've got two teams in New York. They want to be the top dogs. We want to be the top dogs. It's a battle. We split. We'll see what happens next." Yes Joe, we are all waiting.

Tuesday, Jan. 21.

Syracuse was not the only team trying to prove their legitimacy for a #1 ranking this past week, as the #3 Kansas Jayhawks took the floor Tuesday night looking for their 16th straight victory.  Across the floor looking to rain on their parade was instate and Big 12 rival, #11 Kansas State, who entered the night riding an eight-game win streak.  For the fourth night in a row, sports fans were treated to high-quality entertainment as the Jayhawks and Wildcats battled back and forth in front of a boisterous crowd. Ultimately, Kansas was able to close down the stretch and exit Manhattan with a four-point victory, setting up their case for a #1 ranking heading into February.

In attempt to prove he deserves an All-Star spot, from which he was eventually snubbed, sophomore sensation, Kyrie Irving, went “Uncle Drew” on the Boston Celtics, recording 40 points, five boards and two steals to lead the struggling Cavs over the struggling C’s. Irving’s video-game like night included 15 points in the fourth quarter while shooting 66% from the field for the game, yes; you read that right, 66% from the field for the game. Irving is without a doubt a superstar, and he will have a more than a handful off All-Star Games on his resume when all is said and done, but for now, we will just have to enjoy his artwork night to night with a subpar supporting cast. I bet he doesn’t blame LeBron for getting out of dodge.

Wednesday, Jan 22.

Days after breaking Gonzaga’s heart, Butler took the court trying to carry that momentum back into Atlantic 10 play.  This time out, there was thrilling late-game magic, but it was Butler feeling the heart ache as the buzzer sounded. With no timeouts and only three second left on the clock, LaSalle’s Ramon Galloway sprinted the length of the court and finished strong to catapult the Explorers past the Bulldogs in the conference standings. While this finish was exemplary, it was only the tip off the ice berg for Wednesday night’s insanity.

In a battle between two mediocre Colonial Athletic Association programs, the finish was anything but mediocre. With the score all knotted up at 52, Drexel’s Frantz Massenat converted this half court buzzer beater to lift his team to victory. Hofstra may have a case arguing that Massenat traveled in order to release the shot, but travel or not, he still had to make the shot, and make the shot he did. Two games, two buzzer beaters, and it is not even the beginning of this inspiring hump day evening.

In front of their first sellout crowd of the season, the #25 University of Miami Hurricanes, unbeaten in ACC play thus far, took the court against the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils. Although Miami had won their first four conference games, three of which were on the road, the Coaches finally voted Miami into the top 25. Honestly, the coaches voted the Hurricanes #25 hoping to send them right back out of the poll with a loss to powerhouse Duke. Unfortunately for Duke and the rest of the ACC, this team is legit. The Hurricanes routed the Blue Devils by 27 points handing them their worst loss since 1984 and earning their first win over a #1 ranked team ever.  Three games, three courts stormed, what could be better than that?

Actually, there is something better than that, and it did not take place on an NBA, NCAA or High School court. It happened in a middle school game in Van Hoosen, Mi. With time winding down in their season finale, Van Hoosen Junior High’s basketball coach called a timeout to make a substitution.

Enter Owen Groesser.

Groesser drained two three pointers to send the small crowd and teammates into frenzy. Why is a middle schooler knocking down trey balls important? Because Groesser has downs syndrome.  Perhaps the most inspiring story of 2013 took place just three weeks into the year. If you watch this video without goose bumps or tears in your eyes, you don’t have a pulse. What bothers me the most is our society is so fascinated with hearing about scandals and turmoil that often times, the most newsworthy content is drowned out by muck and filth.

Thursday, Jan. 24.

With #1 Duke falling, and #3 Syracuse and #4 Kansas lurking, #2 Michigan took the court Thursday evening with the opportunity of earning the #1 ranking in the next poll.  Thanks to one of the best back courts in the nation with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan pulled away from Big Ten rival Purdue making their case for the top spot. While this game was not down to the wire like the other NCAA contests discussed so far, it is great entertainment for sports fans. No, it is not Trey Burke’s passing ability or Michigan’s rowdy crowd. It is watching the spawn of two NBA greats play on the same team together. Alongside Hardaway, Jr. is Glenn Robinson III. Even though I was young, I can vividly remember both these players' fahters suiting up for the Miami Heat, and now I get to watch their sons do the same in college. If that is not awesome, I am not sure what is.

While staying on the family theme, Major League Baseball entered the news waves this week after the Atlanta Braves landed Justin Upton in a blockbuster deal. This trade comes weeks after Justin’s brother B.J. was signed out of free agency. Now two thirds of the Braves outfield is Upton’s, and not only is that terrifying for other National League teams, it gave way to one of the best meme’s I have ever seen.

Great meme or not, it is a fantastic story for baseball and the Upton family. I can’t think of anything better than a father watching his two son’s suit up for the same team, especially one as historic as the Braves and especially from a family in Virginia, where Braves Nation still is rampant despite the recent success of the Expos, I mean Nationals.

Not forgetting what kicked off this extraordinary week in sports, Thursday night also gave us a thrilling contest between the unbeaten Blackhawks and the Stars. This was by far the best NHL game I have watched all season, even though we are less than we week in. After falling behind by two goals, the Hawks tallied three unanswered goals, including Marian Hossa’s overtime rip to remain unbeaten on the season. Fast starts are vital to NHL teams with the shortened season, and the Blackhawks are doing just that.

Friday, Jan. 25

In the wee hours of the morning, Eastern Standard Time, Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer for the first time in a Grand Slam event at the Australian Open. After ending last season with a US Open title, Murray took that momentum into the Olympics where he won a gold medal. The momentum clearly did not stop there, as Murray knocked off Fed in a Grand Slam for the first time in three career chances. Djoker also was victorious in the semi’s, setting up an excellent final round match up in the tennis seasons first Grand Slam early Sunday morning.

Could this week have gotten any better? Oh yes, it can, and it did.

After finishing four under par, thanks to two bogeys down the stretch, in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods killed the game Friday afternoon knocking down six birdies and an eagle as he roared to the top of the leader board heading into the weekend.

Saturday, Jan. 26.

It’s had been seven days since the NHL began their season. In that time span, sports fans were treated to one of the most entertaining weeks in recent memory. Even more important, there were countless spectacular plays and finishes that I was unable to touch upon. Where am I getting with all of this? As an avid sports fan who watched all these astonishing sporting events take place this past week, I am tired of the media discussing negative stories day in and day out. Whether it’s the Te’o story, Lance’s inability to “cheatstrong” or the mellow drama that is the Los Angeles Lakers, the media tends to repeat the same filth day in and day out. Society often describes our athletes as role models, but fails to exemplify the greatest stories. Instead, we are given a 24/7 blend of controversy and scandals to improve ratings. Maybe I am wrong, maybe these controversies are what everyone else wants to hear and read about, but as for me, I’ll take Owen Groesser over Katie Couric or Oprah anyday.

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