By Tyler Berry
Editor's Note: This piece also appears on Modern Nostalgia Productions' blog because, ya know, video games and stuff.
The Spike Lee Joint, “Livin Da Dream,” part of NBA 2K16’s MyCareer Mode, is simultaneously the most eye-roll inducing and the most interesting piece of a sports game that I’ve ever played. From moment one of the story involving your character, Frequency Vibrations, aka Freq, it’s clear that this is not your normal MyCareer Mode with a pointless story shoehorned in to make it feel “real.” Thought was actually put into this narrative and, while it’s cheesy and hackneyed at times, there is heart to Spike’s tale.
First of all, if you are a MyCareer player but have no interest in this story, don’t worry because all the cutscenes are skippable and it all takes place during your rookie season, where you only play eight NBA games anyway. As Freq, you progress initially through high school, pick your college and play for the National Championship, and experience the thrill of getting drafted, presumably to whatever team you pick as your favorite when you create your player. I picked the Pacers and was drafted by the Pacers with the 11th pick.
From there, you experience the highlights every real NBA rookie waits for: the first shoe deal, first press conference, first regular season game, etc. However, where the narrative gets real and Spike Lee-esque is the storyline between you and your best friend since childhood, Vic. Vic is a problem, both for your player’s image and your player’s bank account. He tries to steal your girl and causes so many problems that the team owner threatens to trade you if you don’t cut him loose.
When the final straw breaks and you cut Vic off, a dark exchange takes place between the two of you, where many subjects that you wouldn’t expect to hear about in a 2K experience are tackled. From AIDS to guns to thoughts of suicide, there’s a surprisingly real moment between your player and Vic. Sitting there watching this play out, I was shocked at not only the scene in front of me but also how much I was invested in it.
I won’t spoil the ending but, after your rookie season, where you oddly are a free agent and have to decide where to sign next, there is a truly Spike Lee moment involving Vic and a touching speech that actually made me feel like I was watching the final scene of a movie.
When that plays out, the credits roll. By credits, I mean the actors involved in the game scream at you about where they’re from and where they represent, and then the “Joint” is over. From there, you can continue on in your career as you would in the past 2K games. Just like that, it’s over and yet, I still can’t get the experience out of my head. I’m surprised to say that I really wouldn’t mind some DLC that expanded or continued the story.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me if Livin’ Da Dream was actually good, I would probably say no. It’s very predictable and a lot of the dialogue is horrendous, but it has some real heart. It kept my attention through every cutscene that was maybe two minutes too long and it really did touch me with the ending sequence. So was it good? No. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to actually make my player good because he is serious trash right now.
By Tyler Berry and Christian Schneider
What follows is a text-by-text rundown of the second half of the Michigan vs. Michigan St. football game from Saturday, October 17, 2015. Through the words of Christian Schneider and myself, Tyler Berry, you will get a true account of the major events of one of the most exciting college football games so far this year. No texts have been omitted and nothing has been censored.
DISCLAIMER: All of our opinions and thoughts are our own and in no way reflect The 51 Yard Line company (except that they do, because we own it).
CS (via FB message in The 51 Yard Line group chat): Please tell me someone else is watching the UM-MSU game and saw the little kid flip the ref off.
TB (via FB message): Yup! Was lucky enough to wake up from my nap right before it happened.
CS (text): This UM-MSU game is getting interesting
TB: 1st half defensive battle. Second half offensive battle
CS: Exactly. Couldn’t believe how easily Cook carved them up on the last drive. Let’s see if he does it again.
TB: Holding Mich to a field goal just now is huge
CS: Btw these are my two favorite college coaches by FAR in this game. Post game handshake is gonna be interesting no matter who wins
TB: Dantonio is a genius for sure. I just love how animated Harbaugh continues to be. Not changing his tune at all from his Stanford or Niner days
CS: Honestly, I almost expected him to be crazier. It’s his Alma mater
CS: Way more personal
TB: Wow what a boneheaded penalty
CS: That was AWFUL
TB: What the fuck was that? A superman dive into the pile? That’s so dumb
CS: Would be the dude who wears 69 lol
TB: Lol fuckin ridiculous
CS: Honestly laughing my ass off at what a fail that dude is
CS: Big fat fuck wearing 69 straight pile driving at the worst possible time
TB: I need someone to make a gif out of that so I can use it whenever someone makes a dumb statement
CS: This game is hilarious. That dude, the three reviewed td plays, little kid flipping the bird, Harbaugh spazzing
CS: Good appetizer for games tomorrow
TB: It’s definitely a rivalry game lol
CS: Oh! I forgot that joke of an ejection
CS: Were you up for that?
TB: Oh right!
TB: I watched the replay on ESPN
CS: Word. After he got tossed he ran around the side of the stadium hyping the crowd on his way to the tunnel
TB: Hahaha yeah they showed that online. It was great
TB: I hate the targeting penalty. I get it but I hate it
CS: Dantonio’s coaching like an asshole. Three failed 4th downs including a fake punt on their own 40
CS: Is Scobee their kicker or something?
TB: No but equally as unreliable
CS: HUGE throw
CS: Btw the due who got tossed is the one who drove the stake in the Msu field last year
TB: Ha. Awesome
TB: I forgot about that
TB: Didn’t know it was the same dude
CS: Holy crap Michigan is shooting themselves in the foot
TB: I think I could punt farther than that dunce
CS: They’re punting team as a whole is TURRIBLE
CS: Lol I just rewatched the vine of the kid flipping off the camera. He’s got a pats hat on
TB: That kid is a legend already
CS: He’s having himself a weekend
CS: Lot of pent up emotion perhaps?
CS: The dictionary definition of pear shaped
CS: This game has more reviews than Roger Ebert
TB: It’s getting ridiculous
TB: That’s the wrong call
CS: Well, whatever
TB: Lol yeah doesn’t matter
CS: Rudocks gotta earn his keep here
CS: Which is unlikely lol
TB: No doubt
TB: Ah Michigan keeps it
CS: What a couple of clutzes
CS: Here we go jake
CS: Ok. Conor cook time
TB: This is gonna be an insane 7 minutes
CS: That receiver shoulda had that one
CS: That burbridge Lewis matchup is epic
TB: Yeah it is
CS: Phew that cook pass would have been brilliant
CS: Don’t give him another chance or he’s gonna get em
TB: Lol freshman
TB: Tripping over his own feet
TB: Oh shit so close
CS: Would have been ball game
CS: Big flag there
TB: What the hell just happened
CS: Rudock caught his own pass???
TB: That was so weird
CS: Ok here we go
TB: 69 again lol
CS: Cheese eatin dunce
CS: And then he TOTALLY REDEEMS HIMSELF
TB: Burbridge holy shit!!
CS: He’s good at football
CS: Duuuude this game
TB: What a sack
TB: 69 Willie Henry doesn’t fail for once
CS: You know they’re going back to Burbridge
TB: He’s their man. They have to
CS: Yup but missed him
CS: Lewis got him
CS: That’s been the whole game. Back and forth
CS: Here’s the ballgame
TB: I don’t want this game to end. Ever.
TB: One timeout. That’s ballgame
TB: Cook almost got that pass complete too. Crazy
CS: That would have been nuts
TB: Harbaugh is just killin it right now. What an insane turnaround
CS: Just like with Stanford and the niners
CS: Desmond Howard lol
TB: Lol what a clown
CS: That osu game is gonna be NUTS
TB: 3 yards ends it right here
TB: Oh yeah I can’t wait for that to start
TB: Barring a miracle, game over
CS: Got the ball though
CS: I did my math wrong
CS: Thought they could knee it
TB: Nah only because mich st had that one timeout
TB: What the fuck
TB: What the fuck
TB: What the fuck did we just see
TB: My brain isn’t processing this
TB: Oh that long snapper is out of a job
TB: Or wait shit that wasn’t a horrible snap. The punter can’t catch
CS: Why didn’t he fall on it?
TB: I have no idea
CS: It went right to the guy
TB: I fucking love rivalry games dude
TB: Lol where’s that shitty kid? I bet his middle finger is permanently up his ass right now
CS: Tomorrow night can’t come fast enough
CS: For him I mean
TB: lol god what a game
CS: This was supposed to be the day I watched football without freaking out
TB: haha nope!
CS: I can’t BELIEVE that shit dude
TB: I think the football gods just blew their load for the weekend
TB: nothing can be more exciting than that
TB: I haven’t been that excited by a college game since that auburn missed fg TD return
CS: Yup. I need to find a way to recharge before champs tomorrow. Pretty much blew my load too
By Christian Schneider
Despite my status as an overzealous, raving sports fan, I have not been fortunate enough to attend many BIG games. In fact, I can count on five fingers the number of professional sports event that I have attended. Up until last Saturday, the biggest game I have ever seen in the flesh was Christmas Day 1999 in Madison Square Garden. Knicks vs. Pacers. Rematch of the ’99 Eastern Conference Finals. Reggie Miller against New York City. Good game, good rivalry, cool to hear 20,000 chanting “Reggie Sucks” all at once. But, let’s face it, that’s really not that big of a game.
That changed on Saturday. USA-Mexico at the Rose Bowl. 90,000 fans. Winner-take-all for the right to go to Russia in 2017 (wait, that’s a prize?) and play in the Confederations Cup against the world’s best teams (OK, that’s better). Biggest game the USA will play until World Cup qualifiers start in three years. Yeah, that’s a bigger game.
Soccer may be on the rise in the US following the men’s and women’s World Cups but let’s face it, the average American still doesn’t know jack about international soccer. So here are some quick bullet points about this game:
1) The USA and Mexico HATE each other. Yeah yeah, I know, you knew that already, at least abstractedly. But you gotta understand, they make the Yankees and Red Sox look like a Miss America pageant. Mexico hates America because, well, we invaded them, took half their country (the more lucrative part, I might add), became super rich and powerful while they descend into poverty and crime, and every few years try to build a wall to keep their refugees out of our country. Understandable. Mexico’s ONE Trump card (oh God did I really just use that word? Dammit Christian, that’s later in the piece) is that they have historically dominated us on the pitch. That is why the US hates Mexico. But in the last 20 years the US has caught up to them and is now the equal, may even the better of the El Tri. That really pisses Mexicans and has led to:
-In 1997, Ramon Ramirez stomped on Alexi Lalas’ nuts while he lay prostrate on the ground
-In 2004, the Mexican fans chanted “Osama, Osama” at one of the ‘friendly’ matches
-That same year Landon Donovan took a piss on the sideline at a game in Guadalajara
-In 2007, after a US goal, Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez tried to tackle Eddie Johnson as he ran to celebrate
-In 2009, after the US had defeated Mexico, Mexican assistant Paco Ramirez slapped Frankie Hedjuk in the face as the teams went back to the locker room
-Every time the US plays Mexico at Estadio Azteca, the massive stadium in Mexico City, the US fans are escorted into a fenced in section of the bleachers and guarded by riot police. Mexican fans often try to climb the fence to get at the Americans
So yeah, they don’t get along.
2) Donald Trump is a thing. Yep, you knew that too. For God sakes, is there anything that isn’t related to friggin’ Trump? But this game specifically has a special role for the Donald. For starters, Trump kind of fits the stereotype that Mexican fans have for Americans; a rich, white, arrogant, racist, loud-mouthed douche. And Trump DID just call Mexican illegals a bunch of “drug dealers and rapists.” Soooo…yeah.
In the buildup to the game Univision Deportes, the Spanish language sports channel, ran a series of ads for the game featuring a voiceover from one of Trump’s speeches saying the words “The American Dream is dead,” while showing images of the USA’s disastrous performances at the Gold Cup this summer. In response, Fox Sports ran ads that used Trump’s “Make America Great Again” speech as a voiceover set with highlights of the USA beating Mexico in previous games. Lest we forget, Fox Sports is still a Fox channel, which means they’re dumb as shit and do stupid things that make Americans look bad. The American Outlaws (the official fans of USA soccer) promptly denounced the ad because, you know, they have some decency.
3) Both teams are in a difficult position going into the game. As I mentioned, the US sucked this summer at the Gold Cup, the North American championships. We had won the tournament in 2013 and were favorites to win it again, but we went out and crapped the bed by losing to Jamaica (who are AWFUL) in the semis. We then lost to Panama (who are AWFUL) in the consolation game, while Mexico won in the Finals. The game Saturday actually wouldn’t have been played had we won the Gold Cup. The previous two winners of the Cup play a rubber match to determine who goes to CONCACAF and had we won, we’d have been in uncontested.
As a result of a crappy summer, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann is on the hot seat for the first time. Klinsmann’s a German soccer legend who won as a player and who, as a coach, helped rebuild the Germany side into GERMANY. Now in charge of the US, he’s been pretty successful so far, getting us out of the Group of Death in Brazil and going unbeaten in his first 6 games against Mexico. But the US is looking to make the leap and this summer was a step back. Landon Donovan (who, it should be said, HATES Klinsmann’s guts for cutting him in 2014) said that if the US loses this game Klinsmann should be fired. Most don’t expect that to happen, but there’ll be a lot of chatter if the US can’t get it done.
But that is NOTHING on Mexico’s coaching problems. Popular coach Miguel Herrera (you know, the fat guy from the World cup who had those awesome reactions?) has fired a few weeks ago for punching a reporter in the face. They now have an interim coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, filling in right before the biggest game Mexico will play between World Cups. Worst possible time to have this happen.
4) This game is in Pasadena, but it is a home game for Mexico. Southern California is a Mexican soccer bastion. There are a number of reasons for this. Primarily, it’s because Mexican American fans overwhelmingly support Mexico over the US and they are far more passionate soccer supporters. Even for second or third generation Mexican-Americans, supporting the USA is akin to betraying your roots. In addition, Southern California gringos, for the most part, are the worst sports fans ever, bunch of fair-weather bandwagoners who leave games early to beat the bad LA traffic. The USA fans who will be there aren’t that of course, but they aren’t enough to form a majority of the crowd. Rose Bowl games traditionally are about 90-10 Mexico supporters. The USA Soccer Federation reserved a bunch of tickets to try and even the odds, hopefully to just 60-40, but we’ll see how that plays out.
So that covers the background. Thanks to my buddy David (who scraped hard to get six tickets all together for our group) I am one of the lucky USA fans who gets to see this thing live. Armed with pen and paper, I descend into the madness of USA-Mexico, one simple gringo from the Maine coast, about to experienced the most heated rivalry in North America:
2:45- Our van arrives at the Rose Bowl and we immediately begin our search for a shady part of the parking lot to set up our tailgate. Our friend Valeria, who deserves another big shout-out for driving, settles us down under a tree that is literally the width of a yardstick, which is actually the shadiest spot in the entire lot. Gotta love SoCal. Our shade will come from putting our blanket right by the passenger side of the van. I feel like Lawrence crossing the Sun’s Anvil in Wadi Rum.
3:00- The drinks and snacks are unpacked and the pregaming/people watching begins. About 400 yards away is a massive contingent of Mexican fans near the public restrooms. They are heckling (pretty good-naturedly) all the American fans that go to use the facilities. Holy CRAP that is gonna be a pain later.
3:05- The most important part of the day: the opening of the Allagash Whites. Our faithful readers will remember that Allagash White is my version of being dipped into the River Styx. It’s brewed in my home state. It’s my favorite beer. I drank it throughout the Patriots Super Bowl run last year. I drank it for the USWNT’s run to a World Cup Championship. It’s Sampson leaving his hair uncut. We DON’T LOSE when I drink Allagash White. Mexico is never gonna know what hit them.
3:30- Beer Pong begins. We haven’t brought a table, so we place our cups on top of our cooler, which is totally sad, but who cares, pong is not about being aesthetically pleasing or even practical. Me and David ultimately lose to Valeria and her boyfriend Kyle. It should be noted that Valeria is a Mexico fan. I wonder if this is perhaps a sign of bad things to come. I quickly brush aside such a notion; there are only three things in the world that remain undefeated; 1) Father Time, 2) the 1972 Dolphins, and 3) Allagash White.
4:15- We get out a soccer ball and begin a juggling contest. Doesn’t go too well. Beer is not the best enhancer of football skills, no matter what Paul Gascoigne says (Yep, obscure Premier League reference, but it makes sense).
4:20- Nope. Sorry. Not that kind of pregame.
4:25- We lose control of the ball and it rolls over to a group of passing Mexican fans. A couple of them start to juggle it themselves before kicking it back to us. They are much better at it. They smile and wave insolently at us. Maybe they think this is a good omen for them. Do they not comprehend the power of Allagash White?
4:45- The power of Allagash White compels me to visit the facilities. Time to brave the long bathroom line, as well as the Mexican crowd, which has grown exponentially. Fortunately for me, they are no longer heckling people. They are however making a lot of noise and seem to be focused on something. I approach the crowd and…
OH. MY. GOD. They have a Donald Trump piñata. And they are beating the CRAP out of it. Gotta say, it’s a very good piñata too, has the hair and everything. I have never come so close to switching allegiance in my life. Can’t help myself, I’m laughing my ass off, as are most of the American fans nearby. There is also no line for the bathroom. This trip to the facilities is proving to be much more pleasant than expected.
5:30- Time to make the trek to the stadium. We fall in which a group of chanting American Outlaws, one of whom is dressed up like a Minuteman. He’s a better man than me, that’s for sure, it is still BOILING out here.
5:45- The crowd at the Rose Bowl gates is surprisingly calm and collected. Nobody talking smack or anything. Maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s fear of karma, but I anticipated it to be much more chippy. Line goes pretty fast.
6:00- We’re in. We’re right behind one of the goals, about halfway up the Rose Bowl bleachers. I see now how the ticket sellers set this up; the USA fans are clustered at one goal, the Mexicans at the other. Along the sidelines it is more mixed. It’s still early, but it seems like there are a lot more Mexican fans here. Maybe the USA fans care more about getting that last beer in?
6:10- Our bleacher neighbors arrive. Couple of guys from Oregon, and one who looks Hawaiian about 300 lbs. Think Manti Te’o gone to seed. He seems intent on leading the chants. “USA” and “Dos a Cero” seem to be his favorites. A Mexican couple takes seats directly below me. Crap. Gotta be on my best behavior.
6:20- Stadium is now completely full. I don’t care what the USA Soccer Federation was trying to do, there are WAY more Mexican fans here. I’d say about 70-30 at the very least. The Mexican fans have unveiled a huge flag at the other end of the pitch that reads “Pancho Villa’s Army.” Makes sense, Pancho Villa led raids into the southwestern US. Mexican fans totally have the edge in creativity.
6:25- Teams taking the field. Mexico will defend the goal in front of us for the first half. US starts Brad Guzan in goal over Tim Howard, the hero of the World Cup. Howard’s been out for almost a year on “hiatus,” aka “I’m 37 and need rest.” The chants are ringing out now.
6:30- HERE WE GO!
3’- First foul of the match is against Mexico. If there isn’t some kind of incident between these two I’m gonna be shocked.
4’- Chicharito, Public Enemy No. 1 for the US, is called offside. Some heckling from the USA crowd. Guzan takes the goal kick and the Mexican fans all scream “Puto” as he boots it. I’m kind of shocked; the Mexican version of ‘Puto’ loosely means pussy/faggot in English. Seems WAY out of bounds. I turn and ask why they hate Guzan so much, but one of the Oregon guys assures me that the Mexican fans do that to every opposing goalie. That’s a relief. I guess.
8’- Paul Aguilar tries to drop a cross in to Peralta, but it’s too high. Mexico are on the attack early but the US look to be defending well.
10’- GOAL MEXICO! Never mind. The hated Chicharito gets his first goal ever against the US right in front of us. Mexico had a brilliantly set up attack. One of the attackers faked a run at the center, then cut wide, while another backheeled it to him. Totally unchecked, he then set up an easy goal for Chicharito. Hard to be mad about it. It was a brilliant attack. And the US start behind again, just like the Gold Cup.
14’- US trying to press forward. Demarcus Beasley, the verteran defender wins a free kick. It’s got to be the captain Michael Bradley who takes it. By the way, the last time the US played Mexico in the Rose Bowl it was the 2011 Gold Cup. They lost and it cost their coach Bob Bradley, Michael’s dad, his job. It would be SO SWEET if his son took revenge tonight.
15’- GOOOOOOAL USA!!! Yep, it was Bradley. Dropped a perfect kick in to defender Geoff Cameron of all people, who headed it in. Pandemonium all around me. I’m high-fiving everything in sight. Manti-Te’o XL bumps me by accident and I fall forward into the Mexican couple in front of me. The guy is one his guard immediately. Clearly he’s seen fights at these games before. I diffuse the situation by scrambling back to my row and stammering “Sorry dude, my bad, uh, lo siento.” Thank God for AP Spanish amirite?
19’- Game has slowed a bit and the crowd is much more quiet. Almost like the opening goals winded everyone and 90,000 people are trying to catch their breath, just like the players. Soccer games are LONG.
21’- Aguilar fouls Jermaine Jones and gets a yellow. Looking a little sloppy out there.
23’- Mexico goes on the attack, but Guzan charges out to break it up with a slide tackle. Lot of contact there. Mexican crowd roars angrily.
26’- Bradley gets his pocket picked and Mexico go on the counter but Matt Besler bails us out with a great tackle.
29’- Very even game, just trading possession back and forth. Neither side finding a rhythm.
32’- GAH! Bradley had a great run and just barely missed wide of the post. That would’ve been huge.
34’- Oh boy here we go. Mexico gets it in front of the US goal. Guzan wraps it up but Peralta slides in and tangles with him. Guzan shoves him off and we’ve got a scrum right in front of us. Crowd is roaring. Finally the ref breaks it up. Jimenez gets a yellow, I assume for shoving someone. Nothing for Peralta? Ya can’t hit the goalie bro. You knew this was gonna happen. There’s sure to be more.
37’- Mexico has a great chance at a Peralta header but he misses it. Dang that would’ve been the ultimate “eff you” goal
38’- Something weird going on. There are green lights flashing on the US players jerseys. Apparently, Mexican fans are using F#$king LASER POINTERS to try and blind US players. According to Oregon bro they do this a lot. F#$k that with fries. I dunno how effective that actually is, but boy is that weak.
40’- CRAP! The rookie Gyasi Zardes sets up Jozy Altidore but Altidore barely misses it. Both teams have had some chances to go up and haven’t capitalized.
43’- Free kick to US. Bradley takes again. It’s on goal, but Munoz, the Mexican keeper grabs it.
45+1’- Halftime. Tied 1-1. Opening rush of goals from both sides followed by 30 pretty slow minutes. Neither side looked much better than the other, though I’d say Mexico possessed the ball a bit longer. That Bradley shot was the biggest missed chance of the night. May come back to haunt him.
I march off in search of a bathroom and find that my luck has run out. There is a MASSIVE line. Takes for-freaking-ever. Only at intermission at plays or halftime at sporting events do guys have to deal with these shenanigans. My sympathies, ladies. By the time I finally get done I have about two minutes to spare before 2nd half kicks off. Gotta find my guys.
Here’s the thing about the Rose Bowl; yeah it’s historic, yeah it’s a cool venue, yeah it’s seen some of the best games ever. But it also looks exactly the same all around the bowl, with no features you can use as landmarks and no signs numbering the sections. I mean, I know I’m sitting behind the US goal, but c’mon, so are about 10,000 people all wearing the SAME FREAKING COLORS. It is also badly lit, so I have to bend down on the ground to squint at the letters and numbers painted on the stairs. Finding my seat totally blows. I miss a few minutes of the second half. Whoever designed this place can eat a turd sandwich (turns out it was a dude named Myron Hunt. Myron, you are a word that rhymes with Hunt). OK, found my seat, time to calm down and watch an inevitably stressful 45 minutes of play.
48’- Mexico is possessing the ball well. US has had a couple of sloppy giveaways. Not good.
50’- Mexico corner. Super not good.
51’- Besler heads it out but it sets up another Mexico corner.
52’- POOPS! US clears the 2nd corner and goes on the counterattack, but Altidore is offsides.
53’- Kyle Beckerman, aka White Boy Dreadlocks, gets a yellow for a bad challenge on Peralta. Not looking good for US so far.
54’- The free kick off the yellow is caught by Guzan but the US promptly give the ball right back to Mexico
57’- Altidore wins a foul against Rafa Marquez. US craps the ball away immediately, Jimenez gets taken down the exact same way but the ref doesn’t call it. Lots of angry Mexican fans.
59’- WOW. Mexico should’ve had a goal there. Jimenez set up Chicharito in front of the US goal. He was completely open but couldn’t get his foot on it. US has its back against the wall here.
61’- Jones and Aguilar knock heads and Jones is down for a bit before getting back up. Seems to be OK.
64’- Hey we’ve got the ball! For a while actually, let’s try and do something with it- wait, nope Mexico has it again.
67’- USA has a corner. Chance to turn this thing around here. Bradley to take. Munoz punches it clear. Another missed opportunity.
68’- Mexico attack again, but Chicharito is whistled for a handball.
69’- Mexico is WAY too comfortable maintaining possession. All of us in the area around me are screaming to get up and pressure. They are just slowly moving it closer and closer to the goal. It’s only a matter of time before they find the back of the net at this rate.
70’- Mexico wins another corner but it’s cleared. They really should’ve scored by now
72’- AAAAH! What the heck? Dempsey gets taken down in the box and there’s no call. Maybe I’m biased, but I thought he got his legs taken out. Oregon Bro #2 says it was a clean tackle. Dammit, whose side are you on? Put your USA blinders on for goodness sake.
76’- Jimenez has a good look at the goal, but misses. Mexico is subbing out Marquez. First sub of the game. Wonder who Klinsmann is gonna go with? May have lasting repercussions for his job security…
77’- JEEZ! Total chaos in front of the Mexico goal. Bradley ultimately misses his chance. He’s been great all-around, but boy has he had some blown opportunities.
78’- Deandre Yedlin comes in for Gyasi Zardes. That’s a good sub in my opinion. Yedlin’s a good playmaker, someone who might get us going.
79’- Free kick to Mexico pretty close in. This is the loosen-the-tie period of the game. Kick is cleared without any threat.
83’- Teams trading possession back and forth. No one seems to want to make a risky try. The pressure of a game like this has to be crushing.
85’- AWFUL giveaway by Bradley. Chicharito starts a counterattack and Bradley nails him. Gets a yellow. Pretty sure he knew he would get one. Like taking an intentional foul in basketball. Free kick for Mexico close in AGAIN. I’m shaking. Just feels like we’ve been fortunate too many times.
86’- Kick cleared. US on the counter.
87’- JESUS CHRIST NOT AGAIN! US puts together a good attack, but Bradley misses a chip shot. Guy is gonna be having nightmares if we lose this thing.
90’- Mexico working it in closer and closer, keeping possession. C’mon D!!!
90’- 3 Minutes of stoppage time.
90+2’- Heart almost stops. Aguilar gets free in the box but misses wide. That would’ve been devastating.
END OF REGULATION- Wow. Extra time. We are SO lucky to get out of that half. Mexico was all over us. A few more missed chances by Bradley were all that we got. We’ve got to make some serious adjustments if we’re gonna get this done. Honestly, I just want to make it through the next 30 minutes and get to penalties. That’s a total lottery and I don’t feel good about where this game is going. Klinsmann’s got two subs left, they better be good ones.
In other news, I am developing an ulcer from the anxious gases that are revolving in my belly at the moment.
93’- HOLY CRAP. Chicharito drops a great ball in to Peralta, but Guzan makes an awesome save. Mexico picking up right where they left off. The USA crowd is trying to cheer some energy into the team.
96’- GOAL MEXICO! 2-1. Yep. There it is. You knew it was coming. Aguilar makes a great pass to Peralta, who blats it past Guzan. Mexican fans are going berserk. USA in stunned silence. Shades of the Belgium game at last year’s World Cup, where we get nailed right at the start of extra time.
98’- Bobby Wood, the hero of the Netherlands game this summer, comes in for Jozy Altidore. Can he pull of some more magic?
101’- Oh my God, HELL no. Chris Wondolowski is walking to the sideline to apparently sub in for Dempsey. Ya know, Chris Wondolowski who shanked the potential gamewinner against Belgium? He’s gonna save our ass? Jabba Manti Te’o is apoplectic.
103’- Wondo’s not going on, he’s heading back to the bench. Did Dempsey wave him off? That’s awesome. It would be EPIC if Dempsey tied it here.
104’- Dempsey or Wondo, doesn’t matter. Mexico has got us bottled up. We can’t get it over midfield, much less into the box. Still have time, but it’s looking real bad.
105’- End of the 1st Extra Time Period. Mexico got their goal. US has to figure something out here or Mexico’s going to Russia. I hate this part of sports. Where your team’s behind as the clock ticks down and you scream them on, helpless to do anything but make noise. We still have one last sub, it better be someone who can put the ball in the net.
107’- Mexico are the ones who attack first, looking for the knockout blow. Corona (yep that’s his name) barely misses. US defenders look gassed.
108’- GOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLL USA!!!!!! 2-2!!!! IT’S BOBBY WOOD!!! ALLAGASH WHITE STRIKES AGAIN!!! Unbelievable. The two subs, Yedlin and Wood, created something out of nothing. Yedlin made a great run and threaded a pass through the Mexican defense to Wood, who nutmegged Munoz to tie it up. BEDLAM. I’ve never hugged so many strangers in my life. In the melee, someone pokes me in the eye, like right on the eyeball. I have to take a moment to make sure it didn’t pop out. It hasn’t, though if it had I’m not entirely sure I would have minded.
Bobby F#@king Wood people. What a clutch player. Klinsmann’s subs have completely paid off. If we manage to get this game to penalties and win it’ll be an absolute theft. Mexico’s been better all night, but one incredible play saved our butts. Still plenty of time though.
111’- Brad Evans, a defender, comes on for Fabian Johnson. He’s a big penalty taker too. Klinsmann is trying to wall up and make it to the end.
113’- Wood almost scores again! Bradley almost drops a pass in to him in the box but they can’t connect. Too bad. Wood would have gotten the Presidential Medal of Freedom had he made it.
115’- Mexico attacks up the left, but Brad Evans forces a goal kick. Fresh legs doing their job on D.
117’- Oh man, we almost had it. We had free kick 20 yards out for Dempsey, but it hit the Mexican wall. Beasley got it, but was offside.
118’- GOAL MEXICO! 3-2. I want to die. Mexico had a weak pass go in to Peralta and Beasley gabled, trying to get the takeaway. He couldn’t get it and it popped up in the air to Aguilar who hit a brilliant volley. Nothing Guzan could do. Mexico’s won it now, surely. It’s bedlam all around me. Not just on the Mexican side but in the pockets of Mexican fans scattered around the American section as well. Mexican couple below me are going crazy. Of note, Aguilar had the weirdest goal celebration ever; he took off running and dove headfirst into the wall surrounding the pitch, which is pretty much what I want to do right now.
120’- Mexico burning time in the corner. Ref signals for one minute of stoppage time. In other words, we are screwed.
120+1’- GAME OVER. Mexico 3, USA 2.
Devastating. Absolutely devastating. If I had to compare it to one specific moment, it would have to be the Austin Rivers shot against UNC in 2012. I had the same reaction, cover my eyes in horror and just sit in silence. One shot, BAM, heartbreak. That was what that Aguilar goal was like. Only difference is that I’m there in the flesh and am surrounded by celebrating Mexican fans. Just brutal.
On a less emotional note, however, this game was a CLASSIC. The best ever between these two, it HAS to be. And the better team won. I could talk about Bradley’s missed chances, but that’s part of soccer, it happens in every game. Mexico dominated possession, created more and better chances, and they were the more deserving team. Doesn’t make it suck any less, but too often in soccer, justice isn’t done on the scoreboard. It was this time.
We leave the Rose Bowl in silence. Well, my group and the rest of the USA contingent do, the Mexicans are singing. My friend Jordan and I get separated from the rest of the pack and hit the bathrooms again before we head to the fan. In front of us in the line are two Mexican fans, about our age. They, like many of the Mexican fans around are chanting “Tres a Dos! Tres a Dos!” I guess we deserve that, what with all the obnoxious “Dos a Cero” chants we always hit them with.
Then a funny thing happens, one of the guys turns around and sees us. He reaches out his hand and says “Good game. Was a real good one.” We shake and say the same. I tell him it’s the best soccer game I’ve ever seen. He nods and says, in broken English, that he’s “Not going to live so long now.” I know how he feels. The Mexican fans around us are still chanting. He looks at them and shrugs at us apologetically. He says, “It’s just sports, you know? Don’t mean any harm.”
That exchange is will linger for a long time. In a vacuum, it was just good sportsmanship after a game. You’d expect it after a high school game between parents, or at a sports bar on NFL Sunday. It happens all the time. It’s simple, basic, to be expected. But this wasn’t any game. This was USA-Mexico. Players, fans, countries with so much history of hatred and resentment. There are fights all the time, on the field and off. There’s bad blood between our people, and there has been for a long time. But just for once everyone could sit down together and watch a classic game of soccer without any of the crap. I hope I get the chance to do it again and if we win, I’ll be sure to be gracious to the Mexican fans in line for the john.
They just better leave those goddamn laser pointers at home.
By Tyler Berry
College football fans are aware of what, of who left the game today. Those who aren’t necessarily college football fans may not fully understand the impact of the abrupt retirement of Steve Spurrier, or the Head Ball Coach, as he was often called.
It’s true. Steve Spurrier, of the University of Florida fame, the current head coach of South Carolina, announced his immediate retirement on Monday evening. It came as a surprise to most and it turned an already eventful Monday of sports into an even more important day.
Coach Spurrier was and will always be one of the most respected, well-liked head coaches in college sports. He is the South Carolina Gamecocks’ all-time winningest coach and was influential in putting that school’s football program on the map.
As one of the older head coaches of an NCAA FBS program, many younger enthusiasts never had the luxury of knowing and appreciating what the Head Ball Coach did for the game. Who was Steve Spurrier? Who is Steve Spurrier?
A resident of Florida born in 1945, it was only right that Spurrier played his college ball at the University of Florida. A two-time All-American quarterback, Spurrier was notorious for his late game comebacks and is often regarded as one of the most influential Florida Gators of all time. Because of his exciting comebacks along with his outstanding numbers, (37 touchdowns and almost 4500 yards over 3 seasons) Spurrier was the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner and SEC Player of the Year.
He never became the NFL starter that many thought he would be, but because of his sheer athleticism, had a solid career as the 49ers punter and backup quarterback. After nine years with the Niners, he spent his final season with the newly formed Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retired after a respectable 10-year career but his influence on the game of football was only beginning.
After a surprisingly short stint as quarterbacks’ coach at the University of Florida, he made a name for himself in the coaching world at Duke, where he was an assistant and offensive coordinator for three seasons. It was that successful stint that put him on the map and gave him his first head coaching shot for the Tampa Bay bandits of the USFL. At 37, Steve Spurrier became the youngest head coach in professional football history.
Well, we all know what happened to the USFL and, while it was an unfortunate situation for hundreds of individuals, it turned out to be an important event in Coach Spurrier’s career. In 1987, he took over the head coaching duties at Duke and led them to their first bowl game in 27 years, along with the school’s first ACC title in 25 years. He was eventually named the ACC Coach of the Year in both 1988 and 1989.
This impressive three-year job led him to the University of Florida, where he took over a team riddled with scandal and investigation. You see, Spurrier inherited a team that was led by Charley Pell, a head coach so corrupt, you wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been involved with the mob. Pell came under investigation in 1982 and ended up hurting the program so badly that they faded into mediocrity for many years. When all was said and done, Coach Pell was cited by the NCAA for 107 infractions including “paying for no-show jobs, scalping athletes’ tickets, spying on opposing teams, giving free gifts to players,” and so much more. When all was said and done, the Gators were put on probation and banned from bowl games for two years.
It was Spurrier’s leadership that picked up the program out of the gutter. In his first year as head coach, the Head Ball Coach led the Gators to what would have been the SEC title if they had been eligible to win it. And he kept winning. In 1991, he took the team to its first (officially recognized) SEC title and helped the program do the same four times over the next five years.
His first, and unfortunately only, National Championship would come in 1996, in a shootout against the Florida State Seminoles. It was a game that would further fuel the already burning flames of an in-state rivalry. Spurrier was officially a legend in Florida sports.
From there, he continued to lead to Gators to winning seasons in the years to follow. As the statistics show, he averaged more than ten wins in each of his 12 seasons at Florida. He won six SEC championships, was named SEC coach of the year five times, and coached Danny Weurffel, officially making him the first Heisman winner to coach a fellow Heisman winner. All this happened before 2002.
This brings us to what many consider the low point of his coaching career. After announcing his abrupt resignation, something that we can now consider a “trend,” Coach Spurrier left Florida and took his first and only NFL head coaching job with the Washington Redskins.
Ripe with potential, at least according to the media hype, Spurrier, along with eventual Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis, at his side, was supposed to lead the Redskins to a great season. Everything looked great through the preseason, but things did not go his way once September rolled around. His squad, led by three QBs, including his former Heisman winner Danny Weurffel and Shane Matthews, finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. It was considered his first failed season since his debut year as head coach of the Duke Blue Devils.
His second, and final, season in the NFL went even worse. The Skins finished 5-11 and Spurrier resigned at the end of the year. He did so voluntarily, leaving over $15 million on the table. Ever the classy individual, Spurrier apologized to the Redskins fans and organization, saying “I apologize to Redskins fans that we did not reach a level of success that we had all hoped... It's a long grind and I feel (that) after 20 years as a head coach there are other things I need to do. I simply believe this is the right time for me to move on because this team needs new leadership.” He has always been class incarnate.
With a disappointing NFL tenure behind him, Coach Spurrier replaced the brilliant Lou Holtz as head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Holtz retired after an unfortunate brawl between his side and Clemson, which led both teams to be banned from any bowl games for that year. Holtz went on to a fantastic broadcasting career for both CBS and ESPN, while also being cited as an integral factor in recruiting Spurrier to South Carolina.
In 2005, Spurrier coached his first Gamecock football game. Making many analysts look silly, Spurrier ended up leading South Carolina to a winning season and got an iconic win over the Florida Gators, whom the Gamecocks had not beaten since 1939. No surprise to anyone who knew Spurrier, he was named SEC Coach of the Year.
Fast forward to 2011-2013 and the Head Ball Coach was on a roll. Through these three years, he led the Gamecocks to 11-2 records in each season, giving the team Top 10 finishes in the AP poll for all three seasons.
The 2014 season and the first half of the 2015 season were not kind to Spurrier. He saw his team’s recruitment quality slip and, subsequently, his teams’ records slip. As of this writing, and his retirement, the Gamecocks have a 2-4 record. Many critics disrespectfully have cited his age as the reason for this recent decline in team quality. Uncharacteristically, albeit understandably, Spurrier has fired back at these critics, scolding them for putting him down even though he gave the Gamecocks eight straight years of success.
As the news of his retirement came abruptly Monday evening, it will probably take a little time before the nation knows the true reason behind it. However, based on this football enthusiast’s research, it would seem as though he felt he could no longer provide the coaching quality that his team deserved. Abrupt retirements and resignations are unfortunate, but probably don’t happen as often as they should. Many coaches overstay their welcome and force the hands of their athletic directors or general managers. Why deal with the embarrassment of being fired when you can go out on your own terms?
The Head Ball Coach, often mistakenly (even by me) referred to as the Old Ball Coach, has taken it upon himself to leave a situation that he did not feel he could fix. It takes a strong, experienced, dignified man to do so and more ball coaches should learn from him.
So, cheers, Coach Spurrier. Go enjoy your retirement. Go enjoy life on the beach. Go play golf, travel around, and spend time with your family. You went out on your own terms and will always be regarded as one of the most influential coaches in NCAA history. Thank you for all you’ve done for the game. Your legacy remains intact.
By Christian Schneider
"'He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales.'"
“And it’s bad, bad Larry Brown/Baddest man in the whole damn town”
In the long and wacky history of sports, there is no one quite like Larry Brown.
No player or coach has ever enjoyed the highs that he has while also experiencing the lows that he has. No one has such cause to be loved while also such cause to be hated. No one else can claim to be the ultimate underdog, while also the ultimate choker. He is a walking contradiction. He is one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball.
And he should never set foot on a basketball court again.
Earlier this week, the NCAA sanctioned the Southern Methodist University basketball program, banning them from the 2016 postseason, and suspending Coach Brown 9 games for his role in using academically ineligible Keith Frazier and failing to notify the NCAA of his player’s academic fraud. This is well-trod territory for both SMU and Brown. SMU football, of course, were the perpetrators of the Ponygate scandal, making payments to players out of a slush fund. For Brown, this marks his third infraction, following his previous sanctions at UCLA and Kansas.
This is another brick in the winding road of the most nomadic, enigmatic, and flat out bizarre career in the history of basketball. Other bricks include;
1) Jump-starting the greatest rivalry in college basketball history
2) Leading one of the most unlikely championship runs in college basketball history
3) Leading one of the most unlikely championship runs in NBA history
4) Shaming a nation with the most disappointing team in American sports history
Yep that’s one guy. I haven’t mentioned that he’s a New Yorker, who coached the Knicks’ greatest nemesis, and then coached the Knicks’ worst team ever. Or that he dropped the greatest press conference one-liner in basketball history. Or that he is the ONLY coach to win a championship in both the NBA and the NCAA. Yep, that’s him too.
Larry Brown’s journey started in the one and only place such a weird story can start: Brooklyn. Raised by his single mother, Brown was a high school star at Long Beach High and was recruited by legendary coach Frank McGuire to play at the University of North Carolina.
Believe it or not, there was a time when UNC subsisted almost exclusively off New York high school recruits, who were the cream of college basketball. Just three years earlier, the Tar Heels 1957 squad (whose starting five, by the way, were nicknamed “Four Catholics and a Jew,” gotta love the Jim Crow South) went 32-0 and defeated Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks to win the national championship. The foul-mouthed Irish Catholic McGuire built his teams around tough, no-nonsense New Yorkers that would sacrifice for the team. The 5’9” Brown was to be his new point guard.
Another player that was to be the future of the Tar Heels was the hulking Art Heyman, another New York star out of Oceanside. He was the top recruit in the country and actually signed his letter of intent the spring before his freshman year. What happened next is now legend on Tobacco Road.
Heyman’s step-father and Frank McGuire hated each other and, after a public spat, Heyman withdrew his commitment to UNC. Within days, he had been snapped up by Vic Bubas, the new head coach at Duke University. Bubas’ stated goal had been to steal the New York recruits out of McGuire’s pocket and Heyman was his first big score. For Larry Brown, it was personal: Heyman had been a high school rival and they had had physical altercations “both on the court and the playground.” Now Heyman had betrayed him and UNC. The fiery Brown wanted revenge.
In their matchup in 1961 in Cameron Indoor Stadium, things boiled over. Duke had the game won in the closing seconds, but as Brown drove into the lane, Heyman gave him a hard and unnecessary foul. They might as well have been on a Brooklyn playground. Without hesitating, Brown sucker punched him, triggering a brawl. When I say brawl, I mean flat out riot. Fans rushed the court, the police desperately tried to keep order, as chairs, bottles, and fists flew. Heyman was knocked to the ground and claims to this day that Frank McGuire kicked him repeatedly while he lay there, to which Heyman responded with a punch to the groin.
The strangest of concepts; hundreds of Southern Protestants beating the living snot out of each other over two Jewish kids from Long Island in 1961. Sports can be truly remarkable sometimes. And so the Duke-Carolina rivalry was born. Sure, they’d disliked each other before, but that fight made it THE rivalry. Bloody Montross, Bloody Hansbrough, the Rivers shot, none of it happens without Brown and Heyman.
Brown graduated in 1963 and, being too short to last in the NBA, played for several years in the ABA. He also spent three years on the bench under Dean Smith at UNC, watching Smith bring in Charlie Scott, the first African-American player in ACC History. From Smith and McGuire, Brown learned the emphasis on teamwork and cohesion, the “Carolina Way” that Chapel Hill takes such pride in. That “Way” became his way, in a coaching career that now has lasted over 40 years.
Brown led the Denver Nuggets in both in ABA and later in the NBA, to some success, losing in the 1976 Finals to Dr. J and the New York Nets. In 1979, Brown left to take over the job at UCLA, which was trying to recover the success from the John Wooden years. In his very first season, Brown led the Bruins to the NCAA championship game, before losing to Louisville. His team consisted of Kiki Vandeweghe and a bunch of freshman. They were overwhelming underdogs that overachieved, one of the themes of Brown’s career.
But they were also the beneficiaries of one Sam Gilbert, “Papa Sam” as he was known in Westwood. A notorious boosters who dealt players cars, tickets, and discounts, Gilbert was the go-to guy for players. One rumor said he even paid for an abortion for one of the player’s girlfriends. This was a decades-old occurrence that took hold with John Wooden, but it was Brown, unable in his first year to shut it down, who had to deal with the fallout, as two of his players turned out to be ineligible. The NCAA vacated the 1980 season and slapped UCLA with a two season playoff ban. Brown left UCLA for the NBA shortly thereafter.
A couple bad years with the New Jersey Nets later, Brown was back in the college sphere. This time, it was at Kansas. Much like UCLA before it, KU was trying to recover its past glory, having just suffered back to back losing seasons. Brown instilled the Carolina Way at Kansas and brought them to the Final Four in 1986, where they were dispatched by Johnny Dawkins and Duke, the first of Mike Krzyzewski’s Final Four teams.
Two years later, despite losing 11 games in the regular season, the Jayhawks were back. Led by Danny Manning, the Jayhawks upset Duke and then dispatched conference rival Oklahoma for the title. “Danny and the Miracles” remain the most beloved team in KU history.
That summer, the NCAA came knocking again. Illegal benefits made to recruiting target Vincent Askew resulted in another postseason ban. The Jayhawks remain the only team in NCAA history to be denied the chance to defend their title. Brown, one step ahead of the cops, departed for the San Antonio Spurs, leaving KU to Roy Williams, another Dean Smith disciple who, KU fans fervently hoped, could replicate Brown’s Carolina system with a team now forced to rebuild its prestige. Williams built KU back into a contender, reaching 4 Final Fours without any sanctions, but never won the big one, eventually departing for Chapel Hill. To this day, Brown remains a hero in Lawrence and Williams a traitor. College basketball at its finest. Just win baby.
In Brown’s first season in San Antonio, the Spurs went 21-61. The next year they went 56-26. Brown developed a reputation for being a fiery taskmaster who got results, building a top team around the mighty David Robinson. One of Robinson’s famous “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood Ads” features Brown berating him in practice, with the Admiral hilariously concluding “I don’t think we’re going to have Coach Brown back on the show, kids.” But the Way worked, primarily because Robinson was the kind of team-first star that Brown’s system required, like Manning had been at Kansas.
Back to back seasons of 56 and 55 wins had the Spurs on the doorstep of greatness. But a rough start to the 91-92 season sent Brown out of town in a bizarre situation where he was fired, rehired, then refired/voluntarily resigned/asked be fired in a span of about four hours. Brown’s legacy in San Antonio remains, in the persons of Greg Popovich and RC Buford, two of his assistants who now oversee the best franchise in basketball.
Brown’s now absurdly nomadic journey found its way to the Clippers, reuniting with Danny Manning. Somehow, Brown got the Clippers to the playoffs in back to back years, bowing out in winner-take-all Game 5s both times. Then he was off again, this time to Indiana.
This move was a novelty for Brown: a team that wasn’t awful when he arrived. The Pacers had Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and the Davis boys. They were a playoff team on the rise. For once, Brown was tasked with a polishing job, not a full-scale renovation. And they were perfect for Brown. Miller was a top player but he wasn’t a star, and certainly didn’t demand a system that was tailored to fit his needs. The Way was already in place, it just took Brown’s ability to get teams up for the big game for it to succeed.
The 1994 Pacers were among the greatest overachievers in basketball history. They upset the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks and marched into the Eastern Conference Finals to face the heavily-favored New York Knicks, Brown’s childhood team. This was the series that featured Miller’s legendary showdown with Spike Lee, the “Choke Game.” A bruising 7-game series came down to the last shot, a Reggie Miller airball, and the Pacers bowed out, one game short of the NBA Finals.
The next year brought Mark Jackson, who Brown had coached in LA. This time, the Pacers defeated the Knicks, thanks to Miller’s 8-Points-in-9-Seconds-Holy-Crap-Are-You-Kidding-Me game and Patrick Ewing’s Missed-A-Series-Ending-Finger-Roll-In-Game-7-Holy-Crap-I-Want-To-Die-Right-Now game. They were back in the Conference Finals, this time against the Shaq-Penny Orlando Magic. Another bruising 7-game series, another elimination game defeat for the Pacers.
1995 was the high-water mark for Larry Brown Pacers. The next few years saw them fall off and bring in players like Jalen Rose and Travis Best, who clashed with Brown frequently and viewed the Way they did apartheid; a white coach forcing black players into HIS system. Watch Jalen Rose’s Grantland podcast where he talks about Brown if you don’t believe me. The Pacers had the pieces but needed a new voice. Larry Brown was out and Larry Bird was in.
Brown’s old-school coaching style had begun to grate against the new generation of NBA players. The hip-hop, Fab Five, Express Yourself generation of basketball players chafed at a coach who demanded they check their egos and personalities and give up a part of their identity for the team. As fate would have it, Brown would now take the reins of a team that was led by the player who defined that generation more than any other. The team was the 76ers. The player was Allen Iverson.
Brown and Iverson were high drama, driven apart by their differences while fascinatingly similar at the same time. Both were raised by single mothers, both were at one point considered too small to play at the highest level, both were all heart and passion. But Iverson was the corn-rowed, me-first, high volume shooter and Brown wanted a player that bought into his system. Iverson knew his own talent and believed (with some justification) what was best for him was best for the team. Brown couldn’t fathom a team that was run by a player and not a coach. Brown would pull Iverson out of games if Iverson got deviated from the plan and Iverson would curse him on the bench. They missed the playoffs in 98 and in 99 and 2000 they were eliminated by Bird and the Pacers, losses that seemingly vindicated Indiana’s decision to replace Brown.
Then a funny thing happened in 2001. Brown and Iverson figured it out. Maybe it was a mutual disgust for their playoff failures, maybe it was the recognition that they would only get so many shots at a championship run, or maybe they just came to grudgingly respect each other. But in 2001, the Sixers won 56 games, Iverson won the MVP, and the Sixers beat Vince Carter and the Raptors and Ray Allen and the Bucks, both in 7 games, and Brown was finally in the Finals. Iverson cemented his legacy with his 48-points-stepped-over-Tyrann-Lue-because-he’s-Allen-F&*%ing-Iverson game and then the Lakers took them to the woodshed. LA’s talent was enough to overwhelm Iverson and the Misfits. The Sixers may have been able to reach the Finals, but they weren’t the team that Brown dreamed of. They hadn’t found the Way.
The next few years brought a return to form. The Sixers couldn’t replicate their success and Iverson’s one-man wrecking crew technique had peaked. His “Practice” rant joined Game 1 of the ‘01 Finals as the defining moment of his career. Brown, in classic deadpan, merely replied, “He said the word practice more times than he’s been to practice.” By the 2003-04 season, jittery-footed Larry was ready to bounce again. This time, it was Motown that beckoned.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons are, and should be, the blueprint for teamwork at the professional level. This was a team of veterans that were not stars but possessed high intelligence and high character. Brown had been handed the perfect toolbox; a sure-handed, low ego point guard in Chauncey Billups; a defensive juggernaut in Ben Wallace; a versatile shooter in Rip Hamilton; and lockdown wing defender in Tayshaun Prince; and a vocal, wily veteran in Rasheed Wallace. They weren’t stars, but were proud of their unit, nicknaming themselves “The Best Five Alive.” They were the best defense in the league by the time Brown was done with them. By the time they reached the playoffs, no one wanted to see them. They knocked off the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and suddenly Larry Brown was playing the Lakers in the championship again.
Like 2001, it was considered a mismatch. LA still had Shaq and Kobe and had added Karl Malone and Gary Payton. They were a superteam. They were already being lauded as the 2004 NBA champions. The Pistons, by contrast, were the 01 Sixers without AI. The series was expected to be a blowout.
It WAS a blowout. For the Pistons. If not for a clutch Kobe Bryant buzzer beater in Game 2 it would have been a sweep. The Pistons locked down the LA juggernaut to such a degree that by Game 4 the Lakers were screaming at each other in the halftime locker room. In Detroit they still call it “The Five Game Sweep.” Chauncey Billups was, until Andre Iguodala last year, the most pedestrian MVP in Finals history. Not because he wasn’t great, but because no one player deserved a special award for that accomplishment. It was a pure team. The Way had triumphed. Larry Brown was hailed around the league as the anti-Phil Jackson; the coach who could win without superstars.
For Larry Brown, the summer of 2004 must’ve been something like being given your first car that promptly gets rear-ended as you pull out of the driveway. For his NBA triumph, Brown was given the job of coaching the 2004 US Olympic team. It was a disaster from the start. Players like Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Stephon Marbury clashed with Brown, who publicly complained about the roster that he had been given. Rookies like Lebron and Wade had grown up in the Dream Team era and never considered the possibility of defeat. There was a dearth of leadership. Tim Duncan the elder statesman of the team, so used to his team-oriented San Antonio compatriots, was useless at rallying a locker room full of selfish All-Stars. The US was stunned by Puerto Rico in the group stage and were eliminated in the semi-final by Argentina. It is, and hopefully always will be, the most embarrassing team the USA has ever produced. It was also the antithesis of all that Larry Brown demanded; a team with talent, but without cohesion.
The next NBA season brought a return to form. The Pistons made it back to the NBA Finals, losing to the Spurs in another Game 7. The showdown between Brown and his protégée Popovich wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of matchups but it once again affirmed the Larry Brown philosophy. The title was fought for by two TEAMS, not confederations of talent. The Pistons and Spurs were to remain playoff mainstays, perennial contenders and, in the case of the Spurs, champions.
But Larry Brown would have no part in it. The open road called again, this time calling him home. The miserable New York Knicks, suffering from boneheaded ownership and a lack of talent, desperately flung a massive contract at Brown, hoping that his magic would save their floundering franchise. But Brown seemed to be out of magic beans. The Knicks, with Stephon Marbury, Chinese legend at the controls, remained a disaster. They went 23-59 and Brown left the NBA at the age of 66, presumably never to return to coaching.
But Larry Brown is an addict. His addiction is basketball. More specifically, his addiction is building a basketball team. He’s not an artist and he’s not a soldier, he’s a chemist. He wants to discover the perfect formula, the perfect equation. He’s looking for a recipe for a dish called the Way. And, like all great chemists or cooks, he starts from scratch.
In 2009, starting from scratch meant coaching the Charlotte Bobcats. By now, you probably can guess the plot; Brown gets them to the playoffs unexpectedly. But he is gone in late 2010, just 18 games into the season, as they start slow and Michael Jordan fires the coaching staff wholesale.
Here, I have to give a personal anecdote. Our regular readers will already know that I am a die hard North Carolina Tar Heel fan and that my fandom derives from my father. Larry Brown is a hero to him because he is the most successful Tar Heel to coach in the NBA. He is a coach who has won at every level and has done so while adhering to the old-school systematic method of basketball that Tar Heel nation considers its birthright. The Carolina Way is our pride and joy, not just because it is grounded in athletic and moral virtue (seriously, we Tar Heel fans think we’re God’s chosen people) but because it’s proven to lead to success. Michael Jordan is the Carolina’s greatest player. Larry Brown is it’s greatest coach.
Matt Doherty is it’s worst. Sorry, Tar Heel fans, I had to say his name and invoke the torture of his three years at the helm in Chapel Hill. The three years in hell. The 8-20 season. The NIT. The mutiny. The three years Matt Doherty spent as the head coach of the Heels nearly destroyed all that Carolina stood for. They lost. They lost to Duke and to everyone else. They didn’t bring in top talent. Their players left early or transferred. Doherty himself was fired because his remaining top players rebelled and said they’d leave as well if he wasn’t gone. The inmates ran the asylum. Matt was out and he’d never get a top job again.
The job he did get was as the head coach at Southern Methodist University. A school with no basketball tradition and no pressure to perform. And he still couldn’t make the grade. In 2012 he was fired with a cumulative record of 80-109, never even sniffing the NIT.
His replacement was Larry Brown.
You know the look a dog gives when you say a full sentence to them and they have absolutely no idea what it means? That cock-your-head-to-one-side-and-raise-an-ear look? That’s the look my dad gave when I told him Larry Brown was going to coach at SMU at the age of 72. And it fits. Because trying to understand the mind of Larry Brown is roughly equivalent to a dog trying to understand Shakespeare.
Larry Brown has something to prove. That’s as close to an explanation as I can possibly offer. He wants to do something extraordinary that he clearly hasn’t done yet. Why else take the SMU job? It’s a job that a disgraced Tar Heel exile took because LITERALLY NO ONE ELSE WOULD HIRE HIM. So how does a NBA/NCAA Champion, Hall of Famer, 72-year-old retiree say “Yeah, sounds like a blast!”? Because it’s hard. And because if he does it well, it’ll be extraordinary.
And for a while, it looked like he would actually pull it off. The SMU mustangs had a bad 2013, inevitably, but they went 27-10 the next year, swept the eventual champion UConn Huskies, and finished second in the NIT after being screwed out of the NCAA tourney but the selection committee. Brown secured a commitment from Emmanuel Mudiay, beating out Kansas and Kentucky, before Mudiay bailed and went to China to make money for his family before entering the NBA this year. SMU still made the tourney and went 27-7. Had Mudiay stayed, they’d have been a Final Four contender. Brown would have added another feather to his cap.
But the cops have finally caught him. A nine game ban. Ten lost scholarships. A knockout blow. The gambler has finally busted. That’s what Brown is, a man who has absolutely no idea when to pack up his chips and cash out. The house always wins. And the house has won this time. Larry’s not taking SMU to the Final Four. It’s just not gonna happen. Not enough time to recover from a setback like this.
Dick Vitale wrote in response to the sanctions that Larry Brown should never coach a college team again. Vitale is an apologist for coaches who have achieved success. You can see it when he protests a Coach K or Boeheim technical, or when he calls for Bobby Knight to get back the Indiana coaching job. Or when he stands up for Roy Williams in light of the recent UNC scandals. He likes winners and gives them leeway. And even he thinks Brown should be done. And for once in my life, I agree with Dickie V.
For all his values and all his successes, Larry Brown should never coach again. In the end he is Captain Ahab. And, roped to his obsession, his great white whale, he is now being dragged to the bottom. It is a fitting end. And an inevitable one.