Friday, January 18, 2013

Full Court Distress: A Running Diary of a Failure-Filled Thursday Night

Dan Barreiro asked his producer how much longer he had to hype the Minnesota-Michigan basketball game before it was scheduled to begin. Justin Gaard answered that he had about 14 minutes and change. At that moment, I pulled into the driveway of the house I share with Tony D and two other guys. One of those two is a tall blonde fellow named Tom. The following is a depressing and somewhat inaccurate narrative describing last night's major sporting events from Tom's and my perspective.

"Duuuuuuuuuude, are you ready for this game???" the excitable Thomas asked as I clomped down the stairs and into our downstairs bar and living room area that housed the big-screen that would provide us with the evening's entertainment. I was indeed ready. Dickie V was in the house for the ESPN feed of the Gophers-Wolverines match-up and the fantastic Kevin Harlan was over at the Target Center for the TNT broadcast of the less exciting contest between the badly slumping Timberwolves and scorching-hot L.A. Clippers.

I settled into the video rocker while Tom stretched his 6-foot-5 frame over our long green leather couch, and we watched the first half unfold with pants full of ants, rising and falling as Austin Hollins and Tim Hardaway, Jr. traded big buckets in the game's first minutes. Tubby went to his shift-change substitution style about seven minutes into the game. I lamented to Tom that the five guys on the floor had produced more turnovers than points since the start of the Big Ten season and readied him for the coming string of obscenities.

Once again, the second unit looked diseased on offense and a step slow on defense, and their time on the court produced such gems--as documented in the ESPN Play-by-Play of the game-- as "Maverick Ahanmisi turnover," "Maverick Ahanmisi turnover," "Oto Osenieks turnover," and "Foul on Oto Osenieks, Oto Osenieks turnover." Michigan pumped the lead to 10 as the starters re-emerged, at which point Tom and I both owed about five bucks apiece to the Blue Moon Swear Jar. Crisp, Clean, with Just a Hint of That Sour Orangey Watching-Minnesota-Sports Aftertaste: Blue Moon.

But then, a strange thing happened as Andre Hollins was forced to the bench with two fouls. Julian Welch started contributing. Welch, who had been struggling mightily to regain his2011-12 three-pointer form, scored eight of 10 Gophers points in one stretch and knocked down back-to-back threes. Elliot "Dork Nowitzki" Eliason even stuck a lay-up at one point. The Gophers trailed by two at the 4-minute TV timeout when Tom retreated upstairs to cut and prepare his frozen pizza. He re-emerged just as Austin Hollins was missing a 28-foot three-point attempt at the halftime buzzer. "Hey, check out the T'Wolves game, yeah?" Tom said through a mouth full of high-quality pepperoni product.

The first of our four 90-second breakaways to the Wolves game on the evening featured J.J. Barea hoisting a wild 30-foot three-pointer at the end of a shot clock and Greg Stiemsma discovering other ways to pick up new types of fouls by being called for the technical on a defensive three-seconds. "I think I would rather watch Gophers halftime stuff than this right now," Tom said. "Or whatever's on Oprah's network." We were still about an hour from the start of her interview with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Eventually, the second half of the Gophers game commenced, but not before we caught this blooper-reel item on our second pass-through of the Wolves game, courtesy of Minnesota's little brother, Ricky Rubio.

SIDE NOTE: There was an undercurrent of trepidation to Tom's and my viewing of the Gophers game, as we had tried the same thing five days prior during Minnesota's trip to Indiana. We gave up at halftime with the Gophers down 23, but then kept hearing that they were mounting a comeback. However, when we would cut back to the Gophers game, all we would see were Gophers turnovers followed by Cody Zeller drawing ticky-tack fouls on the other end. All told, our plus-minus during the Hoosiers game was a -28, while the Gophers were a +21 when we weren't watching.

Within eight minutes of the start of the second half, Michigan had pumped their lead against the Gophers up to 19; and Tom and I lost our tops after Glenn Robinson III's first dunk but just shared a dejected silence after his impressive 360-degree dunk that seemed to bury us for good. At the same time, I was trying to play a game of FIFA Soccer '13 on the Xbox, but a glitch had somehow caused the soccer ball for my match to never appear. All the players on the pitch were pantomiming kicks, and occasionally, a little ripple would appear in the back of my team's net, which I guess meant the other team scored. For a couple minutes, the Gophers looked like my players in the soccer game: not exactly sure where the ball was or what they were supposed to do, guessing at what they thought a correct play would be while the Wolverines/computer-controlled team acted with absolute certainty.

"It's happening again. We're losing because we're watching," Tom flatly stated. "It's happening again and I don't like it."

We turned to the Wolves game for a third time and were surprised to find the home team keeping the game tight, down four to a Clippers team missing superstar Chris Paul and noted Wolf Slayer Chauncey Billups. Then the Eastern European Ox, Mr. Pekovic, came up lame after being called for a foul on Blake Griffin. He nodded furiously at the bench as the announcers noted that he looked to be all right. Thirty seconds later, the Stiemer had replaced him on the court, and Nikola was being helped back to the locker room with what turned out to be a bruised right quad.

"Un-(bleep)ing-real," I muttered.

"Um, well, the Lance thing is starting now," Tom said. "That should be a real uplifting human experience!"

Why the hell not, I thought, and turned the channel. Oprah began with her line of yes-or-no questions regarding Lance's alleged use of several kinds of banned substances. Lance answered yes to each, finally admitting that he never won the Tour de France without the help of some illegal drugs or practices. The rest of the interview should have been largely immaterial to a couple of non-cycling enthusiasts like Tom and me, but we found ourselves mesmerized by the lines that Armstrong drew to parse the truths that his deflated current self were obviously trying to draw out from behind the decades-old walls of justification that his enormous ego had built and calcified.

We spent the next half-hour wondering how Lance would respond to this or that accusation from the past, as re-introduced by Ms. Winfrey, and guessing by how many points the Gophers would trail when we cut back to the Barn. Regardless of our guesses, Tom was somehow always usually within two points--usually because his guesses were more optimistic than mine. We weren't watching, so of course the Gophers would be clawing their way back into the game. But every time we'd turn back to the game, we would see, for instance, Austin Hollins make one of two free throws followed by Hardaway knocking down ANOTHER DAMN THREE-POINTER. In our frazzled state of mind, Lance became the least of three evils.

At one point, we turned to the Gophers game with the good guys down a dozen and about five minutes left. Trevor Mbakwe, a 67% free throw shooter, was about to go to the line for two. I turned to Tom and said, "What are the chances he makes both of these? When we need them really badly? Like eight percent?"

Tom flashed a Cheshire grin at me and said, "One hundred percent. I have faith, dude."


Mbakwe then hit the second, and we giggled like second-graders making up their first fart joke. One second later, Rodney Williams fouled some dumpy white guy on an inbounds pass, and we decided that we had reached our viewing limit on that contest. But before Tom retreated upstairs to throw on an old episode of The West Wing, we switched back to the Wolves game to see if we could salvage one out of two for the home squads on the evening.

The Timbas were down 10, the crowd deathly silent and sensing the impending fifth straight loss. Within 30 seconds, Alexey Shved was limping back toward our bench with a balky ankle. Shved was diagnosed with a sprained ankle and is expected to miss seven-to-ten days, becoming the 10th-ish Timberwolf to miss significant time with an injury before this season has even hit the halfway point.

Tom and I sat in silence for about a minute. "Well, that sucked," he finally said after a sigh. "I wonder what that crazy Rob Lowe is up to." He laughed to himself (I chuckled too) and bounded up the stairs into the rest of his Thursday night, and I sat in the basement just slowly shaking my head at another wasted night watching Minnesota sports.

One of the main catalysts that led to the creation of this website was four-hour stretches that contained the amount of malady of last night’s 6pm-10pm block. Thursday evening was a can of classic concentrated crap, thawed and poured into the same pitcher we’ve been using to drink this stuff for the past two decades. Our one promising team gets run out of the Barn in the venue’s biggest (officially recognized) home game in about 30 years, choosing the brightest stage on which to display all of their dumbest, most aggravating tendencies. Our previous most promising team has been so decimated and deflated by about half the WebMD dictionary of known human ailments that they might basically field the Sioux Falls Skyforce as the actual home team for most of February. A former paragon of sporting triumph and the picture of perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds finally shamed his formerly inimitable ego into confirming the illusion--and furthering the public’s disillusion--regarding his remarkable run of excellence. And our ability to collectively believe in the power of the human spirit and expand the boundaries of what is naturally possible for the species homo sapiens takes a Marquez-on-Pacquiao straight right to the face.

At one point, with each of these stories, all this potential for jubilation, all dissolving into (inevitable?) tragedy.

On top of all that, as I got up to leave the basement later in the evening, I stubbed three toes on our brick fireplace and let loose a scream of HOLY HELLFIRE HOT POKER STICK THROUGH A PANCREAS THAT HURT. It probably woke Tom up.

BONUS WILD SEASON PREVIEW: Professional hockey returns to the X tomorrow night as the Wild host host another hockey team in their much-delayed season opener. I've heard that we have some new players but also lost some guys from last year’s team. Hopes are high for this year’s squad, but those hopes should be dashed over the next 3-4 weeks.

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