As I recline here on the couch typing on my laptop on Christmas Day wearing a brand new pair of thick, fluffy socks and flipping between the Denver vs. Kansas City game and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (my dad is watching too – there’s nothing like listening to a 75-year old belly laugh at the antics of Clark W. Griswold) it’s time again to muse and muster up some thoughts for the column that’s sweeping the nation, or at least past Pollasky Avenue – Random Thoughts from a Random Guy.
First of all, my prayer and hope is that everyone of you were able to spend time with loved ones, and remind each other just how special they are. I was reminded of such love and dedication as my wife and I put together a tetherball set for our 9-year old in our freezing cold garage at 1:18 a.m. last night with a set of instructions that resembled ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Nevertheless, a Christmas miracle occurred when that final bolt was locked and loaded and we attached that golden yellow and blue tetherball like crowning the last ornament on a tree – I think we heard a chorus of angels sing “Hallelujah.”
But I digress, and after surviving another episode of adventures-in-assembling, it was time to fully enjoy Christmas break – a time filled with making new memories and snacking on snacky food all the day long (you ever heard of butterscotch cornflake cookies? Yummers). And in the sports world we have a plethora, a virtual cornucopia of feats of athletic strength going on: meaningful NFL games, good NBA matchups and of course college bowl games.
Below are some thoughts on some sports topics that are on the tip of my proverbial tongue …
Central Valley’s heart sinks with Carr injury
That collective gasp you heard on Dec. 24 at 3:42 p.m. was when the Central Valley’s favorite son and Fresno State graduate Derek Carr went down in a heap of pain on the field after being sacked against the Indianapolis Colts with the game well in hand. We then watched in silence and with baited breath as we saw him mouth to his coach Jack Del Rio “I think it’s broken.”
This can’t be! Nooooooo, not now! Not when the Raiders are relevant and watchable again (especially for non-Raider Nation people). We love everything about Derek Carr, Oakland was about to go 12-3 on the season and a step closer to a not only a division title but a possible No. 2 seed in the playoffs. And sure enough, it was revealed fairly quickly after the game that Carr had broken his fibula and was out indefinitely. Ugh. Why, why, why? This is certainly not fair to Carr, what did he do to deserve this? In just his third season he was having an MVP-type year and had clearly helped change of culture of the Oakland Raiders, bringing a much-maligned franchise hope.
In spite of the despair that could have permeated the air – and surely there was reason to – Carr showed his true character and why he is such a beloved sports figure, and a better person. In the professional sports world, where selfishness ambition abounds, he took to social media soon after with a tone of thanksgiving rather than woe-is-me: “Thank you to everyone that has been praying for me! Things happen in life that we don’t always understand, BUT I do KNOW this. I serve a God that loves me and that is the ultimate healer! I am not worried one bit. I will bounce back and be on my feet within no time! Thank you for all the love that you Raider Nation showed me in the stadium today. I will be back. This is a team sport! So everything WE want is still out there for us! See y’all soon! God bless and Merry Christmas!”
Derek Carr proves once again that a man with a higher purpose can find solace in the face of adversity.
Cavs still got the Warriors number
A popular taunt on social media regarding the Golden State Warriors is simply writing “3-1”, referring to the epic collapse in the 2016 NBA Finals at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Who would have ever thunk they would have lost three in a row after a record-breaking 73-win season, especially Game 7 at home? And when the 2016-17 NBA schedule was released, all eyes were on the first game between the NBA’s two newest rivals – on Christmas Day no less.
And when the Warriors built up a tidy 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter, it seemed the tide had been turned by marching into Cleveland and showing LeBron and Co. that they were bigger and badder than ever, especially after adding scoring-machine Kevin Durant to the mix.
While Durant scored 36 points in the game, the Cavaliers chipped away, and chipped away some more, and ended when Kyrie Irving (who gave the Warriors fits in last year’s Finals) made an incredible driving, turnaround jumper with 3.4 seconds left for a 109-108 victory. In the meantime, overcoming that now mental hurdle will be the big question for the Warriors. They meet again in Oakland on Jan. 16 – how will they get over the hump?
Fresno State football demise and hopeful rise
The fall of Fresno State football was certainly difficult to watch this season – and fathom. How could a once proud program, the apple-of-the-Valley’s-eye digress so far down the football chasm that approx 10,000 fans show up for each of the final two games, a season ending gut punch that ended with home losses to Hawaii and San Jose State?
I mean, just four years ago the Bulldogs were 11-2 and won the Mountain West Championship. Granted we had Derek Carr and a multitude of skills position players, but the momentum should have and could have continued to build. Tim DeRuyter was given the keys to a Corvette and he turned the program into a Honda Accord. The three seasons after the 2013 season, the ‘Dogs went 6-8, 3-9 and 1-11. Even Common Core math says that’s a slippery, downward slope.
So what really happened? Let me count the ways: hold on a second – I don’t have that much space to write about the 723 reasons. But I will say this, hopefully simply enough: the Bulldogs lost their grinding, underdog mentality from the way they recruited players (stories of only watching YouTube videos as a major source of info are not exaggerated) to practice habits to the players not understanding exactly what it takes to truly embody a college student-athlete.
Let’s face it, Fresno State is a mid-level school who will always have to turn 3-star athletes into gold, dudes that play with a chip on their shoulders. We love teams with those types of players. Remember Isaiah Burse, Davante Adams, Robbie Rouse, Logan Mankins? Yeah, those guys. As is well documented, Bulldogs fans can be a fickle bunch; they need to fall in love with those types of players again.
This fall started and ended with DeRuyter, who was fired on Oct. 23 after a 20-38 loss at Utah State with the school still owing him 3.1 million dollars. He was a nice enough person, but lacked the ability to lead, a must in not only the coaching world but anyone in an upper- management position.
Under new hire Jeff Tedford, the 55-year old friend of the Central Valley, there is a renewed energy around the program. It’s going to be a process – the rebuild of programs usually has a three-year time frame. Like Bob Wiley from the movie “What about Bob?” says – it’s gonna take “baby steps” to get that Bulldog Spirit back pumping through the veins of Bulldog Nation once again.