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Thinking out loud: Remembering other times when sports shut down

John Rooke
March 27, 2020 - 12:30 pm
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Thinking out loud…while wondering about the other great sports (and life) disruptions in my lifetime…

  • As we all continue to take the current pandemic day-to-day, it got me thinking about other moments where we’ve had to hit the sports world “pause” button, like we’re doing right now.

 

  • It will probably be a while before we’re sitting shoulder-to-shoulder again at a stadium or venue of our choice.  When (and perhaps in some cases, if) sports get moving again, they may do so without us watching them in person.

 

  • Yes, this has been a huge disruption in our lives.  I can only imagine what the World War II experience must have been like in the 1940’s, as a comparable experience when it comes to changing the way we think, act and feel. 

 

  • I’ll share, personally speaking, the Top 5 sports disruptions in my lifetime – with a tip o’ the cap to ex-St. John’s voice David Halberstam for assisting my dig into the memory bank. 

 

  • Starting with Number Five – and this does NOT lessen the impact of the event itself in any way, but in relation to us in New England – Hurricane Katrina in 2005 put New Orleans under water.  It cancelled NFL and NBA seasons, temporarily relocated N.O. teams, and in some ways – they’re still not completely recovered on the Bayou.

 

  • A significant moment in sports and in a lifetime where things simply stood still, even if for the briefest of moments. I’m sure it’s not so brief for those who were affected.

 

  • On a much brighter note, Ed Cooley was hired at Providence College to be the head basketball coach nine years ago this week.  So, how’s he doing?

 

  • Seem to recall a few fans (short for ‘fanatical’) wanted him gone when the Friars were 6-6 in December.  Strange, they’ve become silent (mostly) since that time.

 

  • But yes, there’s still work to do.  And games to win in March, too…whenever the powers-that-be decide they can play them.

 

  • Another transfer is in the fold with 6-8, 250-pound forward and offensive rebounding machine Ed Croswell from LaSalle selecting Friartown.  He says he’s sitting out next year – but if immediate eligibility is voted upon by the NCAA for transfers, how can that shot be passed up?

 

  • Very surprised to see Tyrese Martin leaving URI, the 10th player in the men’s basketball program to depart over the last two years.

 

  • Some guys get in and just don’t fit.  Happens all the time.  But 10 guys within two years?  That’s another issue entirely in play, something David Cox needs to get fixed.  Quickly.

 

  • If you were wondering, the possibility of an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes – who just had their seasons blown out, and winter athletes – who had their postseasons cancelled, will be voted upon next week (Monday) by the NCAA.

 

  • I’m sure administrators across the country will be waiting to hear how these new scholarship additions will be paid for?  Expect spring athletes to get the extra year.  Winter athletes? 

 

  • My guess is, it’ll be time to move on.

 

  • Tweet of the Week I, from @jensenoffcampus: “Note to the Ivy League – waive your rule on not granting an additional year for graduating seniors of spring sports. Don’t make them transfer. If you want to be Division I, take care of your athletes. They’ve earned it.”

 

  • Here’s more fallout from the current coronavirus pandemic you can expect – smaller schools will have athletic budgets strained further and cut back due to upcoming expected enrollment declines.

 

  • Case in point – Division II University of Bridgeport in Connecticut has announced laying off athletic staff in early April, with the hope of bringing everyone back, of course. 

 

  • And, the Sports Business Journal reports the NCAA’s annual revenue distribution to Division I schools will only be 37.5% of the originally budgeted amount for 2020, thanks primarily to the cancellation of March Madness.

 

  • That’s going to leave a red mark on a lot of line items within college athletic budgets across the country.

 

  • While colleges have shuttered spring sports, high schools in RI, CT and MA are still hoping to revive some of them, based on media reports over the past few days.

 

  • If you were given one more chance at a game or even a practice – wouldn’t you take that if you could get it, especially if you’re a senior?  Hoping these young New Englanders can have that chance.  Just sayin’.

 

  • Not a surprise but there were two consensus first team all-Americans from the Big East – Marquette’s Markus Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell.  File this under “knew it was coming.”

 

  • The last time the Big East placed two A-A’s together in the same year?  2009-10, when Villanova’s Scotty Reynolds and Syracuse’s Wes Johnson were both named first teamers.

 

  • Congrats to Rhody’s Fatts Russell, who was named to the NABC (Coaches) Division I District 4 1st team.  Looks like Fatts will be the (only?) “man” next year at URI.

 

  • Merrimack’s Joe Gallo was named as the NABC DI District Coach of the Year, with Creighton’s Greg McDermott and UVM’s John Becker also rewarded for outstanding seasons.

 

  • Speaking of Vermont – Bill Koch of the Projo reported this week two Rhode Islanders’ – Tomas Murphy (grad from Northeastern) and Justin Mazzulla (George Washington) – are transferring IN to play for Coach Becker.

 

  • Jim Christian is keeping his job as head basketball coach at Boston College.  For now.  Can’t imagine the leash is any longer than this same time, next year.

 

  • Sarah Behn is out as head women’s hoop coach at Brown.  The one-time Foxboro High School star and coach faced some controversy this past year over alleged abuse of her players, on the heels of a domestic assault charge filed against her a couple of years ago.

 

  • Haven’t had the chance to mention this yet – but Heather Marini is IN as QB coach at Brown, becoming the first female football position coach in the country.  Anywhere.  The Aussie natives’ persistence with head coach James Perry, plus her performance, paid off – big time.

 

  • While we’re on the subject of Brown football – did you see where Bears’ DL Michael Hoecht recently held his own ‘virtual’ pro day?  He posted a video of him running a 4.65 40-yard dash, since the current pandemic has shuttered pro days and workouts all over the country.

 

  • Yes, that’s fast.  Yes, he’s getting noticed.

 

  • Disruption Number Four for me has to be termed a cancellation, really.  In 1980, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter made the decision to withdraw the United States from the Summer Olympics in Moscow.  That move, of course, kept Friar legend Dave Gavitt from coaching the USA men’s basketball team.

 

  • We were without the Summer Games for a two-week stretch that year (there WAS baseball, however), but many NBC TV affiliates opted NOT to carry the limited programming that was made available. 

 

  • As someone who worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1984, this was impactful.  We were without the USSR in ’84.  Not that we really missed them, however.  Those Games were the most successful, financially speaking, ever.

 

  • Also going to put the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing in this spot with the ’80 Olympics – the race never finished, as we know, postponed to the next year. People were injured, lives were lost. Security changed getting into most venues as we now know them.  It stunned us, and angered us, sure.

 

  • But we pretty much kept rolling, didn’t we?  Boston strong.

 

  • Is anyone surprised the 2020 Olympics have officially been postponed?  What I want to know – will the Japanese, who SOLD many of the housing units that would have been home for the Olympic teams this summer, kick everyone out for next year?

 

  • Know what else was impactful?  TB12’s conference call this week after signing with the Bucs.  It was real, and it did seem like there was a relationship strain involved in the outcome.

 

  • Heard from two people who would know this week that TB12 hasn’t really been happy over the past couple of years.  Super G hasn’t been happy, either.  His contract was about self-pride and respect, and he didn’t get either.  Hence, the move.

 

  • You know, in life we don’t always get what we want.  Wait until he puts on the creamsicle-colored throwbacks this fall.  How the mighty will have fallen. 

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but in just the past week, the two longest-tenured Patriots left the building.  TB12 and Stephen Gostkowski.  Qualifies as a whoa moment for me, for sure.

 

  • How do you put Gostkowski’s Patriots’ career in perspective?  All-time leading scorer in team franchise history, during a remarkable 14-year, dynastic run.  Most accurate placekicker in history.  Good guy.  Easy to talk to.  Consummate pro.  One of the best, ever.

 

  • How’d I do?

 

  • Brian Hoyer’s return should be welcomed, not panned.  He will have a legit shot to win the starting job outright.  If he does, Jarrett Stidham is NOT the guy. Think about it that way.

 

  • 49 years ago this week, the Boston Patriots were renamed the “New England” Patriots.  Always thought the old tri-corner hat logo looked like a bad Batman replication.

 

  • Among the rumors of (subtle) uniform changes for next season…the only one I care about is seeing Pat Patriot and the red jerseys again.  You?

 

  • The Los Angeles Rams changed their logo and unveiled the new one this week.  Looks like a throwback tribute to the old USFL of the 1980’s.  Which lasted all of a year and a half.

 

  • Hey, marketing geniuses?  When it comes to new ideas in an effort to sell more stuff…in three words – don’t do it.  Less is more.  Old is beautiful.  New school sucks.  Throw-backs work. 

 

  • Old school sells.

 

  • Saw where the Patriots moved ticket invoices due for the season ticket holders to the end of June, not March, in order to ease concerns during this period of, well, uncertainty.  Providence athletics is also similarly adjusting for season tickets.  Gracious – and smaht – move.

 

  • Did you see where Bill Belichick was nominated for a TV Sports Emmy, for his analysis on NFL Network’s “NFL 100” show?  And he coaches, too.

 

  • Tweet of the Week II, from @footballfacts: “Tom Brady and Stephen Gostkowski alone responsible for 69% of ALL the points @Patriots scored from 2009-19. (3553/5147). Ripping off the band-aid. Count on 5-11/6-10 in 2020. @NFL #TB12.”

 

  • Tweet of the Week III, from @chatham58: “4 of the top 5 ‘offseason winners’ from ’19 via NFL’s own website – CLE, OAK, DET, PHL. If you’re still whining online about whether or not your team has done enuff in free agency, please use this time in home confinement to reflect on why you can’t seem to learn anything ever.”

 

  • Disruption Number Three – October 17, 1989.  I was Sports Director at WPRI-TV, watching the World Series (Oakland and San Francisco) like most everyone else…when just minutes before the first pitch a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay Area.

 

  • While destruction and death became the tragic story over the following 10 days before the series resumed, I was so impressed with the “sports guys” who turned into “news reporters” and covered the story and its aftermath.  ESPN’s Bob Ley among them.  Made me proud. 

 

  • Sports can be big news, too, as we’ve since discovered.

 

  • Disruption Number Two – I don’t believe I thought anything would ever top the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001.  Baseball was pushed back two weeks, and we had a November World Series.  Football postponed for one week, knocking the Super Bowl out of its’ usual perch.

 

  • I had just come home from an across-the-country trip with BC football (played at Stanford), less than 48 hours before the first tower fell.  First game back two weeks later was played at Navy. 

 

  • I have never witnessed, before or since, Patriotism at that level of emotion.  Very memorable.

 

  • The 2020 Newport Bermuda race has been cancelled, another sports victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This year’s edition was to have started June 19 with more than 200 entries.  Held every other year, the history of this event dates back to 1906.

 

  • The real, real shame in this coronavirus episode…has been that not everyone who needs testing can get it.  That includes PawSox and BC hoops broadcaster Josh Maurer, who apparently contracted the virus through his late-season hoop travels.  But he doesn’t know with 100% certainty.

 

  • I do know, as much as I love the city…I am 100% glad to be out of New York after the Big East Tournament shutdown two weeks ago.  Those who live there and going through what they’re going through…are in my thoughts every day.

 

  • It’s now the epicenter for the virus in this country, and the tangibly strange, eerie feeling that had cast a pall over Penn Station two weeks ago, as I ventured my way homeward in a state of both disappointment and confusion, has proven to be prophetic. 

 

  • Were the Bruins twitter-shamed into assisting game day employees, even though they can’t cash in until the NHL actually calls it quits?  Can we twitter-shame them again, after this week’s announced layoffs at TD Garden? 

 

  • It ain’t a good look, Broo-inz.  Especially with a billionaire (Jeremy Jacobs) running a multi-billion dollar bidness (Delaware North). 

 

  • Aramark is one of several national concessionaires donating to non-profits in their communities, trying to actually help people.  You know, customers and regular citizens.  What about you, Delaware North?

 

  • Hearing the AHL is going to mirror the NHL as far as starting up play again.  As in when, or if.

 

  • So saddened to learn about the passing of Fred “Curly” Neal, who died this week at 77.  Talk about clown princes – he and the late Meadowlark Lemon, while with the Harlem Globetrotters, had as much to do with basketball becoming ‘entertainment’ as any two humans on the planet.

 

  • Disruption Number One.  Will there ever be any doubt to this one?  Anything that can shut our world down, stop sports, business, travel and world commerce dead in its’ tracks for weeks, months…with no end in sight at the moment?

 

  • Are there others that come to mind?  Perhaps the 1972 Munich Olympic terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes?  The Games were suspended for two days.  There was a measles outbreak in 1989 that postponed some college basketball, too, and a few games were played with empty stands.

 

  • Pro football stood still for a couple of weeks (AFL cancelled; NFL didn’t televise) following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.  But don’t forget – in each instance, we always managed to bounce back. 

 

  • And we will again.  But the big question, is when?

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, whenever they play again) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

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