The year that wasn’t

by

By: Brian Laubscher
Sports Information Director

Recently, as I was watching Villanova’s men’s basketball team get pounded by Louisville and Pittsburgh and nearly lose to a Providence team that carried a 2-9 Big East record into the game, I began to think about just how miserable my sporting year has been.

I don’t typically root for the teams that you would consider perennial National Championship or World Championship contenders (aka, Duke, North Carolina, NY Yankees, New England Patriots, you get the picture), but my teams are usually fair to a little better than fair and I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing them participate in top bowl games, the NCAA Tournament, NFL playoffs and MLB playoffs.

The joy of seeing this shot send Villanova to the Final Four seems so far away

Luckily Villanova came back from 19 points down in the second half to win on a layup with 24 seconds left.  As my wife excitedly asked “aren’t you glad you watched?”, I grunted yes and my thoughts turned to “how could they be this awful”.  With eight players ranked in the Top 150 of their respective recruiting classes and three McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster, Villanova is among the worst, good basketball teams I have ever seen.  It just got me thinking about how miserable this year in sports has been.

Things seemed great when the Phillies jumped out to a sizeable lead in the NL East by the mid-summer classic and, when the NFL lockout ended, the Eagles were seemingly signing every big free agent on the market and were the summer pick for the Super Bowl – so much so that my wife bought a 6-month sleeper for our unborn child with the intention that it would fit about the time we watched the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

The Phils still looked like a near sure thing for their second World Series title in four seasons in early September, but once the NFL season began, it was apparent right from the start that things were horribly wrong with the Eagles’ “Dream Team”.  I contend it all started to go bad when they signed Vince Young and he proclaimed them as such.  Freakin’ idiot.  Let’s just not even go there.

Alas, I still held hope for the Birds after a mediocre 31-13 win over the St. Louis Rams (who finished 2-14) to start the season.  The next Sunday everything changed.  My son Parker was born, but it marked the beginning of the end for the Eagles and just about everything sports related for me.  Not only did W&L suffer its first football loss that weekend, but the Eagles dropped a 35-31 decision to Atlanta, a game that I watched despite bleary vision associated with 30+ hours of sleep deprivation while my wife labored.  That night was the first of four straight losses by the Eagles that left me so beleaguered that I refused to let my son wear his Eagles jersey that I had only dreamed of being able to buy him for so many years.  I believe it was a 24-23 loss to San Francisco after leading 23-3 in the second half that sealed the deal.  I refused to let him wear his DJax jersey again until a Christmas Eve win over the Cowboys.

Not only did the Phils lose to the Cards in the NLDS, but slugger Ryan Howard blew his achillies making the final out

In the same weekend when then Eagles were completing the four-game losing streak with a putrid 31-24 loss in Buffalo, the Phillies crumbled to the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the NLDS.  Though most experts thought the Phils were unbeatable with the bevvy of Hall of Fame-caliber arms, the Cards won a 1-0 pitching dual to advance to the NLCS en route to winning the World Series.  It was an epic blow to what appeared to be a great season.

As October drew to a close, the Eagles were still struggling at 3-4, but a dominating 34-7 win over the Cowboys left me hopeful for the future.  My beloved Penn State Nittany Lions defeated Illinois that same weekend to improve to 8-1 and give legendary Coach Joe Paterno his 409th career win as he passed Eddie Robinson for the most wins in Division I history.  Less than a week later, he would be fired amidst a scandal and PSU would limp home with a 1-3 record that included a humiliating 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.  As if this wasn’t enough, the very week that Paterno was fired, the Generals’ football team fell to Hampden-Sydney in the ODAC title game and the W&L volleyball team dropped a 5-set match to Randolph-Macon for the ODAC crown.  It marked my first fall at W&L without an ODAC title.

In December, the Eagles fell one game short of the playoffs after blowing five games where they led in the fourth quarter.  If only they had held on in one of those games, the Eagles and not the Super Bowl Champion Giants, would have been in the playoffs as NFC East Champions.

I stil can't believe he went so quickly

Just about the time it was looking like Villanova was going to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, Paterno succumbed to cancer a mere 74 days after being fired.  It was a sad day and I will admit shedding a tear or two upon learning of his death.  Just a tragic situation in a valley that was once known for happiness.

If not for the birth of my son, this may have been the year that killed me.  Fortunately, I’ve been less focused on my favorite teams and all the things that mean so much more to me now.  I still follow my teams, but fortunately I don’t live or die with the results as I once did.  There’s also good news to report.  On Sunday the W&L women’s swimming team claimed the Generals’ first conference title of the year and three sports are picked to win the ODAC crown this spring.  It’s time to put this year back on the calendar!

Footnote
(I despise the NBA and have no interest in the NHL so that is why pro basketball and hockey are omitted from this piece).

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