The Sports Exchange - weekdays from 4-5pm
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".
On Saturday night my feeling on Bret Bielema was that he was pretty much Jermichael Finley as a coach, he was a lot of talk and no results. As he was boasting about his chance to go to the Rose Bowl again as a team with 5 losses it rubbed me the wrong way, yes he led the team to another Rose Bowl, but with 5 losses is pretty pathetic. I was laughing and pretty much playing it off when a caller called the Sports Exchange and said that Bret Bielema was as good as if not an even better coach than Barry Alveraz. Then all of the sudden yesterday afternoon we got the breaking news that Bret had left Wisconsin to take the head coach job at Arkansas.
When you know that a coaches era is over the first thing I always do is look back at his career as a whole. I do still give Barry Alveraz a lot of credit for where this badger football team is and why they are so successful. Before Barry Alveraz was a coach at Wisconsin they had 2 coaches in the mid 80's until 1990 (Jim Hillis and Don Morton) they had a combined record of 9-36. I don't think I have to tell you what Barry Alveraz did completely turning this program around. Barry Alveraz finished with a record of 118-73-4 which means he won around 60 percent of his games, and that includes the first few years when he took over a bad team. Bret Bielema was hand picked by Alveraz to be his predecessor, he took over a program that was in very good shape. His record with 1 game to go is 68-24 which means he has won about 73 percent of his games. Bielema will finish with a better win percentage than Barry Alveraz and I am guessing 10-20 years down the road people are going to appreciate him and what he did at Wisconsin more than they do right now.
I think the question that most people are asking is why he would leave Wisconsin to go to an Arkansas team that finished with a conference record of 2-6 and near the bottom of the conference. I am sure we will never get a real answer from him on why he chose to leave, we can only speculate. Maybe he is tired of hearing how much better the SEC is than the Big Ten in football, maybe it is because he has done all that he can possibly do at Wisconsin, maybe it is because he knows when Ohio State isn't suspended anymore they will not have a legit chance a the Big Ten title, heck maybe it is just because he likes warm weather. We will never know, all we can do is guess, either way I don't think anyone looks at a move from Wisconsin to Arkansas as a step up.
So the question is, what is next for Wisconsin? The majority of people I have talked to want the badgers to try to get Paul Chryst back from Pittsburgh, or they are wanting another ex-assistant coach to take over. I think now is a perfect time to switch things up, Wisconsin will ALWAYS be a running team, I don't think they should abandon the run and be an offense that focuses mostly on the pass, but I do think that they could bring in a coach that does favor the pass to the run. Maybe he can recruit better at the skill positions and the badgers could either run or pass, I think they are a long way from being Oregon and I don't think they need to be Oregon but if you think about where Barry Alveraz took this program until now the talent they are able to recruit is much better than the talent Alveraz was able to get when he took this program over years ago. Of course there is always the thought process that if it isn't broke don't fix it as well, and 3 consecutive Rose Bowl appearances would mean to me things aren't broken.
Either way it should be a pretty exciting time for Wisconsin football either way if it is out with the old and in with the new, or out with the old and in with the "different" old, either way things should be interesting for this football team.
This weekend a horrible tragedy happened when a Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. For some reason the media won't use the term "murder" in describing what he did to this woman. I read the stories and heard what people were saying about it and how people felt bad about it, I saw the RIP #59 signs and the makeshift memorials for Jovan Belcher and I saw his teammates, coaches, and fans crying for him.
First of all I will say that I have zero sympathy for Jovan Belcher, I think he is a coward and there are no words to describe what he did. I do however, have a lot of sympathy to his coach and GM who he talked to right before he killed himself. I also have sympathy for his teammates who are left to try to second guess themselves and think they could have or should have done more even though it was not their fault. Most of all though I feel bad for Kasandra Perkins and her family, while there were headlines about Jovan Belcher and memorials set up for him and the "tragedy" that happened and everyone looking for reasons or excuses why he killed himself nobody was talking about her and why she had to die because of this monster.
Because we watched Jovan Belcher play we felt some sort of bond with him, and we wanted it to be something to do with a concussion or that something had to be wrong with him because of something to do with football. Everyone wants to put 2 and 2 together and come up with the answers of why or how that could happen. The sad truth is that this stuff happens all of the time and it has nothing to do with football or how he was raised or who picked on him as a kid. They will keep on looking and hoping that it had something to do with a concussion because people don't want to accept that he was just a bad person, I don't know why it is so hard for people to accept the truth.
I am not telling you how you should feel or who or what you should mourn, but the next time I mourn for a murderer will be the first time, and to me that is all Jovan Belcher is he is a coward and a murderer. RIP Kasandra Perkins.