The Sports Exchange - weekdays from 4-5pm
It is a rough time of year, It's cold out there is still snow in the forecast and there is still plenty of winter left. The "holiday season" is in the rearview mirror and after Saturday night the football season for all practical purposes is as well. Overall it was an excellent season I have a lot of memories from this season, I remember the beginning of the season feeling like the Vikings didn't have a chance because I didn't feel like they improved much. I was wrong, way wrong. I even got to go to a couple games this season and watch them play in person. I think deep down I really thought this was the year for the Bears, I don't know why I have been on the Jay Cutler bandwagon but just because he isn't flashy and happy enough for everyone in my eyes does not make him a bad guy or a bad quarterback. I thought with their additions they would be the team winning the division this season, turns out they didn't even make the playoffs. The packers were the "sexy" pick this season coming off the 15-1 season a year ago and not making any major changes other than using an entire draft to bring in defensive players a lot of the experts had the packers picked to go to the super bowl this season. While they fell short of the super bowl that doesn't mean they had a bad season.
Looking ahead already to next season, seeing that this season isn't even completely over yet it is hard to tell. It is the depressing time of the season because all you hear about and all you know is about the players that are probably leaving. It looks like Greg Jennings will be gone for sure, Donald Driver has probably played his last game as a packer, and Jermichael Finley seems to have finally worn out his welcome in Green Bay. The part we don't know about though is the additions to the team, and for the most part we won't know what they do for months yet, so we are stuck with the loss to the 49ERS and losing these key players. The only positive about this time of year is that there is 2 weeks of football left before it leaves us for the spring and summer.
Not all is lost though, the bucks are playing good basketball, they are currently the 8th seed with the NBA season just short of being half over. They have very little wiggle room but they do have a 4 game lead on the next team that could knock them out of that seed. The badger basketball team certainly is not as good this season as they have been in the past and with the big ten being possibly the best conference in college basketball that is not a good combo for bucky fans. They did have a huge game on Saturday afternoon when they drilled a ranked Illinois team, and I am guessing tournament time they will get in the big dance, that is what it's all about. And finally the NHL is coming back this weekend, not sure what kind of following the NHL has around here, but I know that as much as I want to ignore it and am angry about the lockout this weekend there is going to be as much hockey on my TV as I can find. And if winter sports aren't your thing, pitchers and catchers report in 27 days. The seasons are changing.
It's the mecca, titletown, the holy grail, it's the beginning of the NFL. Living in Wisconsin it is a place that you have to visit at least once even if you aren't a die hard packer fan that walks around shirtless in January.
In 1996 I was a senior in high school. At Westby we had some great teachers and it wasn't just about teaching us about what you can learn in a book. The man that ran the computer lab Robert Kerska every year took students to Lambeau Field to take in a packer game, he had 4 seats he usually took another teacher and 2 students along.
I remember him asking me questions about Lambeau Field weeks in advance, I had seen the pictures of my other classmates there watching Barry Sanders and taking on teams like the bears. I never thought much of it, not even in the back of my head did I ever have even a thought that I would maybe be selected to go to that packer viking game. It was usually a reward for the students that were hard workers and got good grades the good kids that were the leaders of the class. I didn't remember him taking any jokester class clowns along before. The week before the game he gave me an envelope and I felt like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story when he got his orphan annie decoder ring. I didn't think it was possible, but I had the envelope, so it had to be.
I remember it like it was yesterday, some things you just don't ever forget. Robert Kerska being a die hard packer fan took along fellow teacher Dennis Smalley, he is a die hard viking fan, he also took Mike Brudos (some of you may remember him from his basketball career at Viterbo) who was a die hard packer fan, and of course me. About a half an hour from the stadium I decided to put on my viking horns in the car, I realized REAL fast that there was not a ton of viking fans that were driving along side of us. We got to Lambeau Field it was the middle of December and for some reason it was cold but warm (not shirtless warm though.....THAT is crazy) the vikings got out to an early lead with a deep pass to Cris Carter for a touchdown, after that the packers scored early and often hammering the vikings 38-10. After the game the whole crowd still stood there after the players had already shook hands, and I was thinking my gosh enough already you drilled us lets go home. Couldn't leave until Reggie was done with the post-game prayer though, heck even wearing my viking horns that day I could respect that.
17 years down the road and it is time to make the trip again, this time will be different I will be on a bus this time, and we will be tailgating before the game. I can barely remember what the stadium looked like either inside or out, but I do remember the laughs and good times. I think maybe like the game itself, going to the game isn't so much the actual game, but those who are with you when you are at the game. I am sure this time will not be like that last, but isn't making new memories what life is all about anyways?
I have hated throwing around the word "hero" when talking about an athlete for a long time now. To me the term hero should be saved for those that truly are heroes, like those that put themselves in danger so others don't have to. Athletes are for the most part just big kids in my eyes, they get to play a kids game and make an obscene amount of money doing it. I have no problem with what they make doing what they do and I have a lot of respect for the talent they have and the discipline and hard work they do to keep themselves in playing shape and form, but to me that does not make them heroes at all.
What happened last Friday has changed my perspective on a lot of things, I have always pulled for players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Terrell Owens, and others with questionable character purely because of their athletic ability and the success that they have on the field. Last Friday changed that. After what happened last Friday there has been a player for the New York Giants that has kind of been singled out, because he was the "hero" of one of the kids that lost their lives in the school shooting.
Victor Cruz is a modern day Rudy Ruetteger. I will never forget the first game I watched him play, it was a preseason football game, he was wearing the number 3 because the Giants didn't have any other receiver numbers available. He went to high school in New Jersey, and played college football at UMASS, hardly a football powerhouse. He was undrafted but the Giants gave him a shot, and in that first preseason game he looked like the best player on the field, and I don't just mean against the 2nd string. They ended up giving him a roster spot in 2 years, he has made the pro bowl and has a super bowl ring. He has done more in 2 years than a lot of players do in their whole career.
After the school shooting the friends and family of one of the kids took to twitter to try to get a hold of Victor Cruz and let him know that he was the hero of one of the kids that died, the family was even going to bury their son in a Cruz jersey. I can't imagine the thoughts that had to be going through Cruz's mind, a guy that 2 years ago was a player that shouldn't have even made an NFL roster to now being the hero of a little boy who was killed. Victor Cruz did the right thing, he got in contact with the family and he went and mourned the loss of their child with them, I am sure that it didn't make them hurt any less but the point was that he did whatever he could. It was a situation that was thrown in his face, he wasn't looking for free publicity or to be the "hero", it just turned out that at the end of the day, he was the hero.
Sometimes things happen in life that put sports into perspective. The school shooting this past Friday was one of those things. When the president addressed the country last Friday he was speaking as a fellow parent. Being a parent myself I can't imagine sitting there hoping my kids are alright, and knowing that even if they are alright they will never truly be alright after watching their friends being murdered right in front of their eyes. I could not imagine being a parent and having to bury my child, or just as bad to have to explain to my child how and why this happened.
The last time something like this happened was 9/11, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was coaching high school football in Ohio, one of the players came in and told me about what was happening and to turn on the news. I remember the feeling at the school, and the conversations going on and what the kids were saying to each other, and what they were asking us. I remember that day football practice was canceled and they wanted everyone to go home and be with their families. On 9/11 football and sports in general seemed completely irrelevant, and maybe they were.
Friday afternoon was very hard turning on the mic and trying to pretend for an hour that all that mattered was the sports that were going on this weekend. It didn't really matter what format of station you work at sometimes the stories are so good or bad that it is news either way. This was a horrible story no matter how you look at it, as someone who used to work at a school, as a former student, and as a parent I feel lots of things. The 3 biggest things though are anger, confused, and most of all sad. I don't know what is going to be done about this, I don't know what "rules" are going to be made that will "fix" this, quite frankly I don't know if there even is a way to fix what happened and could happen any day.
What happened this weekend was horrible, as I watched sports all weekend long there was one tribute after another for Friday's victims, there was a story of Victor Cruz being one of the victims heroes, and that he would maybe even be buried in his jersey. Sometimes we put athletes up on pedestals and treat them like they are not human, watching the tributes and seeing the tears dropping from athlete's eyes, it proved that they are human like we are. Even though they can dunk a basketball, or throw a football better than I could ever dream of doing, we also have a common ground as a father that can't imagine what the victims father's are feeling.
Keeping sports in perspective over all of this is kind of hard. To me talking sports with you every afternoon, I for the most part can put all of my problems behind me, I can argue with you like something so insignificant and petty is the biggest issue in the world. Heck, come to think of it maybe sports are pretty important afterall.
Yesterday during the Sports Exchange I got a phone call from a man that I have talked to off the air several times. He called me years ago when I started to do the show by myself, he was giving me words of encouragement and telling me that he listens all the time and that he will for sure keep on listening. I thanked him told him I appreciated him and his support for the show, I asked him what his name was and he wouldn't tell me, he just said to call him "the anonymous caller", so that is what I have been calling him ever since.
Over the last few years he has been calling me off and on. About 2 years ago he called me and he sounded really rough, he was telling me that he was going through some big health problems and that the doctors can't do a lot more for him. He said that he is going to keep listening to the show and that it helps him get through his day looking forward to it. I asked him again, if I could have his name or if he would tell me who he was, again he didn't tell me and he said that he just wanted to be known as the anonymous caller. So I respected his wishes and didn't push it anymore.
About a month ago I had the honor of talking to Jason Church, he is a former UW-L fullback and an army ranger that lost his legs fighting for our freedom. After that interview (which I will be re-airing sometime during the holiday season) I got another call from the anonymous caller, and he told me a little more about his life, he had told me that he too was a veteran and that he is very proud of his service and he thanked me for supporting the military, and I thanked him for his service and what he had done. I kept hoping to get more information about him and find out more about his life, and why he insists on just calling me off the air and never calls me to join the discussion that he talks about enjoying so much, still nothing.
So that brings us to yesterday, yesterday I got another call from the anonymous caller, only this time it wasn't before or after the show, it was on the air, and while he sounded ill before. Yesterday was different, his call had a lot of the same things in it that he has told me off the air, he mentioned callers by name saying how much he appreciated the dialogue that goes on and their opinions on sports. I can honestly say that I have never talked about sports to this caller one time, it is always about life and, frankly, stuff that is much more important than sports in my mind. I still don't know who he is, I don't know that I will ever know who he is, I am not even sure that it matters if I ever know who he is. To me he is more than "just a caller", he is a symbol and an example of how we should treat each other. It was very appropriate that he called and was on the air for the first time during this time of year, a time where we are supposed to be putting others first and where giving is more important than receiving . All he wanted to do was GIVE words of encouragement and thanks, and he wanted nothing in return, not even to be known. I don't know his health condition, but it didn't sound good. I am hoping 5 years from now I am still getting random calls from "the anonymous caller".