Pat Tilllman, straight up.
A Very Good Sports Night
Not long before I went to bed Tuesday night, still buzzing from one of the most electric sports nights in memory, I tweeted the following:
In Game 7, the Sharks pulled off the most improbable comeback I’ve ever seen, blew it minutes later, and then won in overtime. Meanwhile, in Portland, the Thunder pulled away from the Blazers in the 4th, leading by as many as 14, blew it, and then Dame Lillard made the most incredible series winning shot, perhaps of all-time. I watched it all live, picture-in-picture, howling every few minutes at the crazy swings. Days later, I still can’t believe it happened, all in the span of approximately 30 minutes.
What follows is a timeline of one incredible night.
8:20pm: First, you must know this about me: I was a hockey fan as a kid, sorta. I watched the Skills Competition every year, I watched the playoffs, especially if a game went into overtime. I played an entire 82-game season of NHL 95 on my Sega Genesis. I even played in a roller hockey league in high school. But as I grew older and my free-time diminished, it was the first sport I cut. I’m not a Sharks fan, by any fair reading of the word “fan”. However, I absolutely want to be a fair-weather Sharks fan, so I always root for them to win so I can finally tune in. Over the previous week and a half or so, I’d rolled my eyes every time I saw the ticker showing the Sharks had lost again, on the way to a 3-1 deficit in their first round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought. But then, they won – twice, setting up a Game 7. I might actually tune in for that.
So as I emerged from putting my kids to bed just after 8:00pm, I fixed myself a quick bite to eat and turned on the TV to check the Sharks score. Literally two seconds after I turned my TV to the game, the Knights scored to put themselves up 2-0. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought.
So I flipped the TV to the Blazers/Thunder, Game 5. The Blazers were looking to close out the series, sending Russ and Paul George to another first round loss.
8:34pm: Dame Lillard is going crazy, but the Blazers still trail late in the first half, 52-47. Lillard hits a 3 and I text my brother, a Portland resident, telling him Lillard has 32 points with two minutes left in the first half.
8:34pm: I text my brother again, as Lillard scores again. 34 points in the first half. The Blazers take the lead.
8:37pm: Paul George hits a stepback 3 to tie the game at 60 at the half. I flip back to hockey, which is at intermission. Hockey intermissions always seem endlessly long to me, so I go to the kitchen to clean up.
9:03pm: I get back in front of the TV just a minute or two before the Knights make it 3-0. Same ol’ Sharks. I flip back to the Blazers/Thunder, writing off the Sharks for good.
9:16pm: I see the following tweet:
I knew it was about the Sharks, and check the score on my phone. 3-2. Uhhhhhh what? I flip back to the game, at the spot where I left off. I fast forward and at around 9:13pm, the Knights were called for a 5-minute major penalty. If you don’t follow hockey, most penalties are two minutes, and the power play ends if the team on the advantage scores a goal. But a major is 5 minutes, and the power play does not end even if a goal is scored.
The penalty itself is somewhat controversial. Here’s the play:
The Knights’ Eakin cross checks Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski seems to slip, falls into another Knights player, who seems to shove him to the ground, where he slams his head on the ice, and then bleeds from his skull. It’s ugly, but the Knights argued after the game that the refs did not initially call any penalty, and then called a major because of the result, not because of the act itself, which is improper. In fact, the referee crew will not officiate the next round of the playoffs, and the Knights say that the NHL admitted the refs made a mistake.
But! Pavelski’s gruesome injury aside, the call did allow for the excitement that was about to ensue: Just six seconds into the power play, the Sharks’ Logan Couture scores the team’s first goal of the game. “That’s one!” he says to his celebrating teammates.
9:23pm: Just 49 game-seconds later, Tomas Hertl tacks on another for the Sharks. I’m about 5-minutes behind live, and I have no idea what’s about to happen. In the meantime, the Blazers stretched the lead to 9 late in the third, but the Thunder go on a 15-6 run, and the quarter ends with the Thunder leading 90-88.
9:24pm: Phil texts me: “Dude the sharks just scored 4 power play goals on one 5 minute power play.” He has unintentionally spoiled the next three minutes for me, but I do not mind. I tell him I’m five minutes behind because I turned the game off when they went down 3-0, and I’m at 3-2.
9:25pm: I text Phil, “Wow.” The Sharks have tied the game 3-3 on a goal by Logan Couture.
9:28pm: I text Phil, “Holy shit.” The Sharks’ LaBanc scores, and the Sharks take the lead, 4-3. The arena is rocking. Here are all four goals.
It’s incredible and it’s hard to put into words just how improbable it was. 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in Game 7? The Sharks’ season was over, and suddenly they are looking to hold on. As play resumes with 49 seconds remaining on the advantage, the announcer screams, “And they’re STILL on the power play. I have never seen anything like this in my life!” I try to explain it to my wife and mom. I can’t tell if they care, but I think my wife does say, “Wow.”
I asked Phil and then tweeted the following:
I immediately regret tempting the Sports Gods. Phil did not respond.
9:31pm: I am finally live, just in time to see the Sharks get called for a penalty.
9:36pm: The Sharks successfully kill the power play, and they have to hold on for just one minute and forty-seven seconds. Spoiler: They do not.
9:37pm: The Knights go empty net for the man-advantage and it pays off: They tie it up with just 47 seconds left. I text Phil, simply, “Fuck.”
9:40pm: Regulation ends, tied up at 4. I find ot my brother in law, a big Sharks fan, is at the game. I am jealous. With another long intermission in store, I check in on Blazers/Thunder. OKC goes on a 12-0 run to stretch the lead to 15 with 7:45 to go. After his hot first half, Lillard has shot just 2-for-10 in the second half to this point, and this game seems over.
9:55pm: The Blazers have made a little run, trailing by just 8 with 3:28 to go. Meanwhile, hockey’s intermission is over, meaning that game could end at any moment. Which means: PICTURE IN PICTURE TIME. I begin with the Sharks on the big picture and keep my eye on the Blazers in the corner.
9:58pm – 10: 00pm: The Sharks’ goalie is making me queasy, and the early minutes of overtime feel like a Vegas victory, so I swap the PIP as the Blazers continue to cut the lead. It’s 6 points with 3:07 to go. Then 4 points with 1:39 to go. McCollum hits a three to tie it with 57 seconds to go! Paul George retakes the lead with 39.4 to go. Lillard hits a tough layup to tie it again. 32.8 seconds left. I am shouting to no one in particular every possession at this point. My mom, in town for the evening, goes to bed and asks me not to yell as she opens the door to the kids’ room – a sensible request.
10:01pm: Westbrook tries a wild drive and it rolls off the rim with 17 seconds left. Westbrook had a tough 4th – shooting just 2 for 7, including 1 for 3 with two turnovers as the Blazers made their comeback.
10:01pm: The Blazers have a timeout, but elect not to use it. It’s Dame Time, and so Oakland’s own Dame Lillard does this:
I think I actually fell off the couch. I make my wife watch the replay. She seems slightly impressed. I’ve never seen anything like it. An almost 40-foot rainbow buzzer beater, and not a half court prayer heaved out of necessity, but an intentional jump shot.
I love how Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder, who had talked a lot of crap to him during the series.
I love the way he calmly mugged the camera as he was mobbed by teammates.
I love that Lillard laughed at Paul George on Twitter after George said after the game that Dame took a bad shot.
That shot gave Lillard FIFTY points on the night. A series-winning, damn near half court jumper, for half a hundo, to send home a newly-minted rival? Hell yeah.
10:02pm: I text my brother, “DAME TIME.” Unsure if he’s watching, I find the video on twitter and send it to him a few minutes later. I text Phil, too. He does not respond. But there’s no time to linger on the aftermath – it’s time to do that hockey.
10:03pm: The Sharks’ Joe Thornton looks like he’s skating in sand. I text Phil that he skates like he’s 50. He does not respond.
10:05pm: Things still feel like they will end poorly for the Sharks. Their goalie seems to lack urgency as shots are fired at him, and it seems inevitable one will slip through. I text Phil. He does not respond.
10:06pm-10:22pm: Things turn for the Sharks. Suddenly, they are flying around the ice, getting chances and controlling the puck. I grow optimistic, but it’s hockey and it’s sudden death, so anything can happen.
10:23pm: YESSSSSSSS! The Sharks score. The Sharks win. The improbable comeback that almost wasn’t was. And the winning goal was no fluke.
I immediately feel relieved that while my earlier tweet was punished by the Sports Gods, the Sports Gods are merciful and merely reminded me of their powers without truly bringing their full wrath upon me. I text Phil, “Woo.” He does not respond. Just kidding. This time, he did, saying that he’s on the Sharks bandwagon. I am an honest man and reply that I am a fair-weather Sharks fan, and in fact I tweet the following:
I start to marvel about what I saw over the previous hour and seven minutes, from the time I was alerted to the fact the Sharks had cut their deficit to one goal, until the moment the game winner hit the back of the net. I spend the next hour digesting it all – looking at clips on twitter, watching the analysis of the basketball game on TNT, and the hockey game on ESPN.
I am not shocked but very impressed to hear that there had never been a four goal power play in NHL playoff history, and only two previous instances in the regular season. Thing about that: there have been over 50,000 regular season and over 4,200 playoff games played in 102 NHL seasons, and this happened just twice. And while I suppose it’s conceivable the Sharks could have scored just one (or zero or two) goals in that power play and still tied the game later, it seems extremely unlikely.
I am shocked at the fact that Lillard’s shot is just the fifth series-winning buzzer beater in NBA history. And this is Dame’s second, as he also had one back in 2014. I would have guessed there had been 25, but no – just 5. The others were Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. Jordan’s shot over Ehlo, by the way, was the only one that was do-or-die: if he missed it, the Bulls season was over. But he made it, and the Cavs season was over instead.
Nights like this are why sports are so great, hence my tweet that opened this story. The next morning I read Ray Ratto’s take on Deadspin, and his thoughts were similar (his headline? “Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”). I especially liked this passage:
And we would have suggested the same of Lillard except that what he did and the way he did it was in its way every bit as stupefying as what the Sharks did. Lillard’s reaction to his deed was as cold-bloodedly silencing as the Sharks’ was uncontrollably hysterical, but the truth is Lillard ended a series with the same level of amazing performance that the Sharks did.
In other words, while these two events would create the usual internet don’t-cross-the-streams pissing contest about which sport’s postseason is better and on and on, they actually combined to remind everyone that this is the thing we’re all in this for—the ridiculously amazing. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of it? You just got handed two of the best games in modern postseason history, one in each of two seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, at roughly the same time, and to obstinately denigrate one because you’re pot-committed to the other sport is the reason Vladimir Putin first got the idea to fix our elections.
Source: “Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”, Ray Ratto, Deadspin (04/24/2019)
PAL: TOB is the fastest texter of all time, and he texts in waves. How the hell am I supposed to watch this historic Sharks comeback when my phone is buzzing every second? It’s a mandatory silence the phone situation. Live in the moment.
To think I flipped on the Sharks-Knights game as the puck dropped on face-off to start the 5-minute major. My initial thought, OK, I’ll watch the power play to see if they can put one maybe two in the net. It was HUGE for them to score six seconds into a 5 minute major. At that moment, the pressure shifted to the Knights.
It’s also insane that zero of the four goals were flukey. Hertl’s tip on the second was especially saucy. Oh, to be at venue when something like that happens in a Game 7. You could feel the arena shaking through the TV. In those moments, players look like kids again – the joy highlights all the youthful features and mannerisms that remain. Watch for the celebrations, especially on the bench. Watch it again:
The urgency of a game 7 hockey game is a hell of a thing to watch.
TOB: One last thing I wanted to shoehorn in about Lillard. The day after the game, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports published an article on Lillard and his beef with Westbrook (and Paul George and Dennis Schroeder) during the series. Here’s the opening paragraph:
PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard invited a few people to his home for dinner on Monday night to watch Game 4 of the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.
For several minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers’ star guard sat quietly on his sofa, chowing down on fried catfish, red beans and rice, and broccoli. And then suddenly, he spoke: “I’m getting rid of these mother——- tomorrow.”
Amazing. And one more tidbit, a little later:
Lillard showed a social-media clip of him telling Westbrook, “Stop running from this ass whoopin’,” as Lillard grew weary of Westbrook switching off him, while Lillard continued to be Westbrook’s primary defender.
And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.
“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me.
“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”
The Story Behind That Photo of Pat Tillman, On a Light Tower Above Sun Devil Stadium
Pat Tillman has to be one of the most interesting people of my lifetime. His story has been told many times over. But one story seldom told is the story behind that photograph of him on a light tower, 200-feet above Sun Devil Stadium, when he was a senior at ASU. The photo appeared in a feature on Tillman that ran in Sports Illustrated that season. Tillman received a call from the photographer, Paul Gero.
Gero was excited; shooting for Sports Illustrated long had been a dream and this was his first assignment for the magazine. He told Tillman he had ideas that he hoped would reflect both the academic and athletic sides of him. After hearing them, Tillman wasn’t enthused.
“Uh, that doesn’t really sound like me,” he said.
Gero asked the linebacker if he had ideas.
“Well,” Tillman said, “sometimes I climb up the light towers and I just sit up there and think.”
Gero jumped on it. But when the issue ran, Tillman’s coach, Bruce Snyder, was less than pleased:
Three weeks before the 1997 Sun Bowl, Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder rushed into the sixth-floor office of defensive coordinator Phil Snow and threw a magazine on his desk.
It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, dated Dec. 8. The magazine cover — which showed four short-haired basketball players — asked: “What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?” But that didn’t concern Snyder. It was the double-truck photo of the ASU football player on pages 86 and 87.
“Snow, what the hell is this?” Snyder asked.
Snow looked at the photo. He recognized Pat Tillman, recently honored as the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year and as an Academic All-American. The senior linebacker was casually dressed in jeans, a beige buttondown and flip flops. His feet rested on a rusted railing as he looked west, the football field far below him in the background.
“Well, Coach, it’s Pat sitting,” Snow said. “What’s he sitting on?”
Snyder walked to the window. From here, he could see all of Sun Devil Stadium. The green grass. The gray bleachers. In his sixth season in Tempe, Snyder pointed to a light tower above the stadium press box, 200 feet from the ground.
“Pat’s sitting on that light standard,” Snyder said.
Tillman started climbing the tower early in his time at ASU, and eventually invited teammates, like Frank Ugenti, who was from San Jose, just like Tillman.
The first time Ugenti reached the top of the light tower he didn’t say much because he didn’t want to ruin the moment. The view was incredible. From 200 feet, sitting on an 8-by-15-foot metal platform, Tillman and his friends could see the entire ASU campus and all of metro Phoenix lit up in the desert night. The airplanes, about to land at nearby Sky Harbor Airport, flew by with such force the light tower seemed to shake.
Tillman never really shared what he liked about the light tower, at least not to Ugenti, but sitting up there, high above the football field, it became obvious. We are out of society. We are out of community. We’re above the noise. Above the distractions. No hierarchy. Everyone’s equal. A group of guys from the same hometown. Just hanging out. Just living life. True friendship.
Source: “Above the Noise: The Story of Pat Tillman’s Light-Tower Climbing at Arizona State”, Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/25/2019)
PAL: I’ll only add this. A reminder:
Good, Great, Grand, Wonderful!
Here’s a fun story about the losers. That’s right; the world has an unending supply of stories about those who triumph, persevere, reach the mountain top, break through, get the monkey off their back, and so on and so forth. BORING. This one’s about the unprepared, the injured, the foolish, the delusional, and all of the above. This is a story about the shag bus.
While in some running races participants can theoretically stay on the course as long as it takes to complete (Boston Marathon), there are certain running races that take place in locations where road closures cannot go on all day and there isn’t a safe sidewalk alternative once cars are allowed back in the course. The Big Sur Marathon takes place on the Pacific Coast Highway. While quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I’ve run that highway and even with minimal traffic it can put the fear of god in you. So Big Sur’s got a shag bus. Another race with a shag bus, the race featured in Sarah Lyall’s NY Times piece, is The Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon Florida. It should be obvious why a run that takes place on a seven mile bridge would need a shag bus.
From bus driver to the sheriff that steps off the creeping bus with a nice little joke about how we never would’ve made it this far and – really, it’s time to get your dragging ass on the bus, everyone plays a role. The role of the racers dressed in all shades of moisture wicking humiliation on the bus is oftentimes excuse-makers:
- “I went on a cruise, and then I got sick, and then I pulled a groin muscle.”
- “I’m more of a golfer, although I’ve been trying to run about five miles once a week, roughly.”
- “I never made it more that five miles.”
Just a point of clarification: the race is called The SEVEN Mile Bridge Run.
But no doubt the best part of this story comes near the end, as the bus nears the end of the race as well.
The bus stopped for the last few unfortunates, and Westerband (the Sheriff) cajoled them through the door, even as they tried to remonstrate with him. The end was so close, within reach.
Taking advantage of the distraction, a runner who had been quietly sulking at the front of the bus suddenly got up and sprinted for the door, slipping past Westerband. He proceeded to jog unimpeded all the way to the finish line, where he was greeted with applause from runners who had managed to complete the course without riding the bus.
There was a moment of stunned silence on the shag bus, as the passengers contemplated the unethical nature of the man’s action and wondered why they had not thought of it first.
I finished reading this story, and I had an epiphany: these shag bus riders are the very people who stand still on a moving walkway at the airport. SMH. – PAL
Source: “A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus”, Sarah Lyall, The New York Times (04/23/19)
TOB: I get that this is a short run, and I get why they need to do this. But what I don’t get is why they start the shag bus just forty minutes after a 90-minute race begins. Seems early!
Ollie From Last Chance U Gets Another
If you watched the first season of Netflix’s Last Chance U, you remember Ollie. A big guy with a warm smile and a loud laugh.
He came from an extremely poor small town in Mississippi, and he had a terrible childhood – his father killed his mother, and Ollie discovered her body. Ollie’s dad later killed himself. He later bounced around with relatives. He found solace in football, but he never applied himself. At Eastern Mississippi Community College, Ollie found some purpose, and on Last Chance U, he found a modicum of stardom and a scholarship to FCS Nicholls State. But Ollie didn’t apply himself at Nicholls, either, and soon found that he had squandered that last chance.
Except that he got another last chance. In fact, he gave himself that second last chance. If you’re interested in reading about Ollie – where he’s at now and how he got there, check this story out. -TOB
Source: “Ronald Ollie’s Last Chance”, Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated (04/25/2019)
Video of the Week
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PAL Song of the Week: Lillard earned this – Dame D.O.L.L.A: ‘Bill Walton’
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