There Is No Asterisk For the Toronto Raptors Just Like There Isn’t One For the 2015 Warriors

Congratulations to the Toronto Raptors for winning the 2019 NBA Championship.  While I’m the first to admit that it would have been nice to see the Golden State Warriors at full strength, I certainly can’t belittle the Raptors for their accomplishment.  You play the team put on the floor, and you try to beat that team.  Period.

For those who are arguing that the Raptors have an asterisk by their name for this championship, I disagree.  After all, nobody says that the 2015 Warriors championship should have an asterisk, yet the Cavaliers suffered similar significant injuries to their roster leading up to and during those 2015 Finals.

If you recall, the 2014/2015 Cleveland Cavaliers were a newly reconfigured team with the return of LeBron James, the arrival of Kevin Love, and the late season additions of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov.  They joined superstar Kyrie Irving and made it to the NBA Finals under rookie coach, David Blatt.  (Keep in mind that Blatt was a rookie head coach in the NBA, but he had a very robust resume  from coaching internationally.)

Unfortunately, Kevin Love did not play at all in that series due to a shoulder injury, and Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap during that first game of the Finals.  This left LeBron James to pretty much try to do it all by himself, which, against that Warriors team, proved insurmountable.

Yet, no one seems to remember that two of the Cleveland’s three all-stars were out of commission for that championship series.  No one questioned whether it was a legitimate win or not for the 2015 Warriors.  I never heard anyone say they should have an asterisk next to their name.

The Warriors played the injured Cavaliers, took advantage of their depleted roster, and won a title.  The Raptors did the exact same thing.

This is the nature of sports.  Injuries, exhaustion, and bad luck always play a role.

I wish all of the injured players a speedy, complete recovery; I congratulate the Toronto Raptors on their first title; I also remind you that the healthy 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers beat the intact Golden State Warriors for their championship, which prompted the Warriors to acquire Kevin Durant.

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I Once Made An Amazing Basketball Play … That My Coach Hated

Though I now love basketball as an adult, I wasn’t into it at all as a child.  In fact, I didn’t really start playing basketball until I entered seventh grade.  I’m guessing a four inch growth spurt (also, my last growth spurt) prompted this interest in the sport.

I liked it a lot, more than football, but had some catching up to do with the guys who played in the youth programs.  Luckily, I was from a small town, so if you tried out for the team … you were pretty much on the team.

Seventh and eighth grade basketball treated me well.  I wasn’t anything better than average, but I learned a lot about the sport and, even more importantly, had a great time.

By ninth grade, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I still wasn’t anywhere close to being the star of the team, but I regularly did particularly well on the “B” team, so I thought I still had plenty of room to improve, and I believed that I would improve.

With my confidence soaring, I once made a play that I thought was inspired, efficient, and full of style.  My coach completely disagreed.  Thankfully, this all happened at practice.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I somehow gained possession of a loose ball while playing defense.  I remember I had to chase it down and bend over to retrieve it.  I knew members of my team were already fast breaking to our basket.  Sure, I could pick the ball up, turn, and then thrown it down court to them, but that would waste precious seconds, seconds that would allow the defense time to catch up.

In perhaps one of the most ingenious moments in basketball history, I figured out how to bypass those three wasteful moves into one economical motion that would surely result in two points.

I bent over to grab the ball with both hands.  I spread my legs nice and wide.  And then, with the efficiency of an NFL center and with my butt facing the basket in which we wanted to score, I launched the ball with both hands right between my legs to the lead fast breaker.

I’ll never know if my teammate scored because I stopped watching him when I heard my coach scream, “AXLE!”

A quick side note: My coach called me “Axle” after the character “Axle Foley” from Beverly Hills Cop.  Remember, this was all happening in the early ’90s.  I kind of liked the nickname.  “Axle” always sounded pretty cool.  Of course, looking back, I’m pretty sure half the time he wasn’t actually saying “Axle.”  Apparently, my unorthodox methods often befuddled him.

Coach had a brief chat with me about my pass.  He said something along the lines of, “I never … ever … want to see that again.  … Ever.”

I’ve watched a lot of professional basketball since that moment.  I’ve loved the NBA, and, more specifically, the NBA playoffs, since ninth grade.  In all the games I’ve watched during the last thirty years, I can attest that Coach was right.  I’ve never seen that pass executed by, well, anyone.

To this day, though, I maintain that it was a brilliant pass.  I hit my breaker right on the money.  Sure, it looked silly, but it was so efficient.

Man, I loved basketball.

Maybe I should have played past ninth grade.

Maybe one day I’ll tell you why I didn’t.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

 

The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Dan Le Batard, Alexa, and Me

Alexa and the Amazon Echo always kind of freaked me out.  Amazon is pretty direct in admitting that the Echo is always listening for “Alexa,” its activation phrase.  And then, about a year ago, stories started circulating that people could hear a faint laughter emitting from it.  This unsettled me to the point that it inspired a horror story.

However, some family members recently bought a few Echos for their house and, admittedly, they were super cool.  My kids loved asking Alexa questions and, personally, I found the option of just asking about the weather or any other kind of information without having to run to my phone or laptop pretty enticing.

Unfortunately, the idea of that thing always “listening” still gave me the creeps.

I bet you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Dan Le Batard.

If you’re not familiar with Dan Le Batard, he co-hosts a program called The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio.  I discovered these guys a few years ago and I listen to them almost religiously.  Dan is a former sports writer who ventured into TV and radio as he foresaw the decline of print.  I find Dan’s sense of humor clever, but he’s also very insightful and, in my opinion, often calls things correctly.  He recognizes the ridiculousness in sports and isn’t afraid to contradict popular talking points.  Half of the time, he doesn’t even talk sports even though it’s technically a “sports” show.

Stugotz is every boneheaded sports fan to have ever existed, and we love him for it.  He speaks in cliches, he wins arguments by making you prove him wrong, and if you haven’t done anything for him lately, then what have you really done for him?  Jon Weiner is playing a character with Stugotz, but mostly in the same way your teacher plays a character.  Stugotz is Jon Weiner, and Jon Weiner is Stugotz.  I imagine that Stugotz is just Weiner enhanced and unfiltered.  The guy is so popular, he has his own army.

I listen to these men virtually every night as I cook and wash dishes.  Their radio show ends around noon, but they strip the morning program down to it’s best moments with a podcast available on ESPN.com.  You can find their archives here: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/podcast/archive/_/id/9941853

So what does this have to do with Alexa and the Amazon Echo?

Often, when I’m doing dishes and enjoying the show, one of my children comes into the kitchen and asks me a question.  Because I listen to it loudly enough to overtake the sound of water, pots, and pans, I have to dry my hands, go to my phone, and then hit pause.  After I deal with whatever they need, I then push play again and go back to my dishes.  This typically happens a few times a night–night after night.

I got to thinking … wouldn’t it be nice if I could just say “pause” or “volume down” instead of going through that whole process?  There was just one problem.  I didn’t think ESPN entertainment would be available through Alexa. I kind of figured the whole Amazon and Disney competition would render that an impossibility.

However, I did a little research, and it seemed that because The Dan Le Batard Show With Studgotz is available through many podcasts outlets, it should be generally retrievable by Alexa via the internet.

There was only one way to know for sure.

The next time I was at my family’s house, I approached their Echo.  I said, “Alexa, play The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.”

A half second passed.

It felt like a century.

And then … I heard that wonderful music coupled with Papi’s introduction.

I ordered my Echo that night.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Best NFL Day Of the Year

If you love NFL football, it doesn’t get any better than today.  In fact, I think today will probably be better than Super Bowl Sunday.

If you don’t follow the NFL, a rare thing happened–the actual four best teams are left playing for their conference championships.  The winners of these two games will then go on to compete in the Super Bowl.  Even though I’m a die-hard Bears fan and would love it if they were still playing, I think it’s great that the four clubs with the best records and/or the best overall teams are playing today.  Yes, I know the Patriots didn’t have one of the best records, but they are the most successful franchise of this century–I think we all knew they’d make it this far despite their wins and losses.

So, even if you’re not a huge football fan, today will be well worth your while.  You will see some truly magnificent offense and defense on display.  You’ll see the incredible defense and creative offense of the LA Rams.  You’ll see the superhuman twenty-three-year-old Kansas City Chiefs quarterback named Patrick Mahomes.  And, of course, you’ll witness the masters of their craft–Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Let’s not forget that the Chiefs, Saints, and Patriots have some of the best coaches in the history of the game–respectively Andy Reid, Sean Payton, and Bill Belichick.  And the Rams coach?  His name is Sean McVay, he’s only thirty-two-years-old, and he’s considered an offensive genius.

Each of these teams are highly skilled and deserve to be playing for the Super Bowl.  There aren’t any silly Wild Card entries who made it in due to a weak division and freak occurrence.  Today will be about as good as it gets.

Oh, and, of course, I’m obligated to offer my picks for the day.  Though I love the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s coaching, I think the experience of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will prove too much for them.  Give Patrick Mahomes another year or two and he’ll know how to win these huge playoff games with Reid’s guidance.  Same goes for the Saints and the Rams.  I think all the battles Brees and Payton have fought together will ultimately win the day for them.  So, to be clear, I’m picking the Patriots and the Saints for the Super Bowl.

Just to be especially bold, I’ll go ahead and pick my Super Bowl winner, too.  I believe Brees and Brady will nullify each other, as will Belichick and Payton.  It’s going to come down to defense and special teams, and, in my opinion, the Saints are better at those two things.  So, I’m picking the Saints to win it all.

But I’m hoping it will be the Bears next season.

Enjoy the games!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Grin and Bear It

I had zero expectations for the Chicago Bears before the season started.  We have Green Bay and Minnesota in our division, after all, and those two teams are pretty good.  Then, right before the season started, we picked up Khalil Mack.  I honestly didn’t know who he was before we got him, but it sounded like he would be an impact player.  People suddenly began to whisper that, you know, maybe the Bears could do something.

I didn’t get my hopes up.

But then I watched that first game with Green Bay, and even though we lost, wow, I became a believer right then and there.  Between our intense defense, the refreshed offense, and Nagy’s general leadership, we seemed like a totally different team.  A confident team.  A capable team.  A championship team.

We had some silly losses along the way, but I truly believed we’d make it through a round or two in the playoffs.

Well, that didn’t happen.  I’m not getting into the double doink fiasco.  It still seems statistically impossible, but that’s football.  For better or for worse, football always finds a way to surprise you.

I have no idea if we’ll be as good next season.  It seems like we should be, but things can change quickly in the NFL.  Every team is just an injury away from having their hopes dashed.  Our powerhouse defense will certainly have to adjust now that Vic Fangio has left to coach Denver.

Whatever happens, I want to thank the Bears for giving me great happiness this season.  Their fire, competitiveness, and athleticism were a joy to behold.  Thank you for making NFL football fun again, Chicago!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

“Why We Won” – A Story About Football, Winning, and Brotherhood

Do you have football on the brain?  Do you enjoy short stories?  How do you feel about having your heartstrings pulled?  If you answered all of these questions in the affirmative, I hope you’ll check out my piece of flash fiction entitled “Why We Won.”  Just scroll down for links to Kindle and Nook and download for only ninety-nine cents!

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After five years of winning football state championships, a quarterback laces up for his last game. He and his team are brothers, and they know how much rides on each and every game. For them, winning is very much a matter of life or death.  (Family Saga/Sports)