30 January 2012

The Big Mean Green

31 January, 2011 11.30 a.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

The innocuous look on the face of the young man did a noble job hiding his true emotions that crisp Friday evening. As he was pacing toward the entrance of a large cathedral of a building nestled amongst what appeared to be a distinguished college campus, no words were necessary to express what his face did not show. Oh, boy! he happily thought as the entrance drew closer and closer, my first Ivy League basketball game! Most students at Brown University would not have known it, but one of his many dreams was to attend an Ivy League men's basketball game. As he finally reached the entrance to the Paul Bailey Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center, he couldn't not crack a smile out of sheer delight. An Ivy League game
was due to commence in approximately 50 minutes, and he would be one of the handful of spectators. Once inside, after momentarily allowing himself to be enraptured by the presentation of the names along the 'wall of fame,' he noticed two lines of Brown cheerleaders, positioned as if people were to pass between them en route to the court. One offered the fellow something. Would I like a Brown basketball poster? Sure, I'll take one. Thank you. Soon, the small, intimate atmosphere, which would contain the ensuing and anticipated game, enveloped the excited young man, whose dream was slowly unfolding...

* * *

A time existed when a number of colleges could freely choose the Indians as the official school mascot without subsequent scrutiny from various national organizations. The 1942 N.C.A.A. national championship game
featured the Stanford Indians and the Dartmouth Indians. Two years later, the Indians of Hanover would face the Utes of the University of Utah. Although the boys of that prestigious, liberal arts college nestled in the rolling mountains of northwestern New Hampshire would not win either game, the nation acknowledged the athletic representatives of Dartmouth College for what they were, that is the big and mean Green, who ought not to be trifled with.

When the green machine sputtered during the late 1940s, Alvin 'Doggie' Julian, who had engineered that which culminated into the first official men's college basketball national champion in New England simply down the road
in Worcester, was hired to revive the floundering program. After a few seasons, he had done so. During the 1957-1958 season, Dartmouth would be ranked as highly as 18th by the A.P. On March 5th, 1958, the Big Green, who had already won the Ivy League that season, played a conference game at Brown. Captain Dave Carruthers would drive in for a lay-up with four seconds yet to be played to cap a 81-79 Dartmouth victory over Brown and its "powerful one-two punch in Joe Tubo and Allen Poulsen." 'Dartmouth Nips Brown,' read the headline of the accompanying New York Times article. Coach Julian would oversee a team which lost in a N.C.A.A. regional final to Temple, which finished third in the tournament. Although Dartmouth would not reach such wondrous heights again, the Big Mean Green teams of yore must still be beautiful memories in the few Dartmouth spectators that made the trip to Providence that evening and continue to hope for new, positive memories, too.

* * *

For the young man with the forest green tie and the black, v-neck sweater, it was to be an honor to see the Big Green face the hosting Bears in that cozy confinement of a gymnasium. Even the warm-up session before the game compelled him to let the adrenaline begin pumping inside his scrawny frame. The presence of the 'Top-40' musical 'hits' echoing throughout the gymnasium notwithstanding, the sight of the Dartmouth players goofing off with seemingly spontaneous dunks during the warm-up session was a nice way to pass the time before the match. The confidence of the Big Green oozed through their energetic pregame dance ritual, which he was hard pressed to locate amongst the Brown players.

Although Brown began the conference game with a tentative and quick 4-0 lead, the vaunted defense of Dartmouth unhesitatingly appeared. The defense forced a steal, which freshman forward Jvonte Brooks converted into a lay-in shot for two well-earned points. The Big Green had successfully taken the lead, which it would firmly clutch until a few minutes into the second half. The first half was an entertaining and riveting exhibition of the Dartmouth machine when it functions without hiccups. On defense, it was essentially unstoppable, forcing Brown to haplessly surrender the basketball on multiple occasions. On the other end of the floor, Dartmouth would patiently wear down the clock until the right gaps presented themselves for the most opportunistic shots. The offense wouldn't perfectly function, though.

The onset of the second half was somewhat unexpected. While the Big Green was still mean and swarming about the Brown offense like bees to honey, the Bears began daring the boys of Hanover. After a few minutes, and a 7-0 run from the hosting Bears, Brown had retaken the lead, probably triggering Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier to take a stroll down memory lane, to a situation which he had encountered before...

* * *

Coach Cormier was in his second year as the head coach of the men's basketball team of Dartmouth College the evening of Jan. 31, 1986. He was to take his team to play at Brown
, which would win the Ivy League that season. Despite his best efforts, the Bears would win that nail-biter of a basketball game, 76-74. Twenty-six years and eight jobs later, Mr. Cormier, who had come back to Dartmouth to rebuild a program which "vies for the Ivy championship on an annual basis," would find himself in the same place and in the same state of mind, as if he had never left Hanover....

* * *

Fortunately for Mr. Cormier, his boys would not fold. With their signature defense, with the way they had executed their game, they couldn't fold against their rival. Not only did his green-clad team retake the lead from Brown, but it executed a play which signified the tentative resuscitation. The Dartmouth defense again caused Brown to cough up the basketball, this time into the hands of Mr. Brooks. He sprinted to the opposite end of the court and tried to gently lay the ball into the hoop through the front iron. However, the athletic freshman barely missed the hoop. Fellow freshman John Golden, who was right behind his teammate, timely caught the basketball and energetically slammed it into the hoop for a electric dunk. 'Dartmouth 39, Brown 38,' read the scoreboard.

Just when the bystander had thought that Dartmouth would solidify its virtually assured victory in east Providence, another thought occurred to him. Now where is that Brown mascot, Bruno? he curiously wondered. He looked about the small gymnasium. After a few seconds, he honed into the other side of the gymnasium, near where he had entered the place. As if out of a horror film, he visually digested one of the most disturbing and frightening images he had seen in the 20 years of his existence. As if the anthropomorphic brown bear was merely a few feet in front of him, the mascot, with one paw, folded as a fist, horizontally colliding into its other, flattened paw, was slowly pacing from an open door and towards him. The enigmatic jaws and particularly those flaring red eyes told him one thing: I am the Intimidator here. The mascot dared the blameless spectator to imagine a scenario in which the Big Green team would not be sent back to whence it came without a loss.

Bruno, The Intimidator, would prove the bystander wrong.

Although Dartmouth, that Big Mean Green machine, was still efficient on defense, it noticeably began to sputter on the offensive end, which the Bears took advantage of. Brown took the lead for good in the waning few minutes of the grudge match, much to Coach Cormier's chagrin. It was as if the calendar which read 'March 1986' hadn't flipped over. His Big -- and supposedly Mean -- Green began to panic on both offense and defense as the reinvigorated Brown Bears weathered the flurry of Dartmouth fouls. Dartmouth sophomore guard Tyler Melville made a three-point shot out of desperation with under a minute remaining, but it would prove meaningless to the outcome. The Big Mean Green machine had been cooled just it had been one evening in late January of 1986.

Having lingered after the game, the young man had a chance encounter with Brown junior forward Andrew McCarthy. He awkwardly congratulated the victorious Bear on the win, which the Brown student warmly received with sincere thanks. Before leaving that gymnasium, the young fellow took a few seconds to glance at the lone three banners signifying viewers to the slim basketball history the men's basketball team owns. One commemorated the 1986 Ivy League champions -- the very same team which vanquished the Big Mean Green on the same court which he had spent the previous three hours observing. Although the young men that had played that enthralling game that evening are subject to a higher standard than the norm
, they are part of a rich, historic League, which boasts great rivalries. That anthropomorphic bear, which has witnessed the multiple versions of the Big Mean Green machine, could concur.

22 January 2012

'Fire of Fire'

22 January, 2011 11.30 p.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

Typically, I’d like to think that twenty and a trillion thoughts race through my mind on an arbitrarily-chosen day. That Saturday afternoon, which is now a mere memory in the back of my cranium, that number must have been doubled, if not tripled. Despite the activity within my mind that day, I felt frigid in more ways than the one which could be attributed to the several inches of snow which blanketed the Ocean State. I had much time to devote towards privately mulling over significant issues during the month which I had been generously, and thankfully, given for Christmas break from graduate school this past December. Yet, the sorry excuse of a metaphorical icicle sat quietly and thoughtfully in his seat, listening to Sufjan Stevens on his iPod, as the public bus rolled towards Smithfield, the home of Bryant University. “I want to be well,” screamed my headphones. Indeed, I’d like to think that state to be like that one which the fictional Ray Smith attained when he was atop the Desolation Peak at the end of Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel The Dharma Bums. For that caricature of Mr. Kerouac, that lookout point atop that Washington peak, where he could feel free and thank God for everyone and everything, was his 'Vesuvius,' his ‘fire of fire,’ which was his warming source of inspiration. I had thought that perhaps the Northeast Conference clash would distract me from my thoughts, if not provide some sort of comforting spark.

Honestly, I had little to satisfy my curiosity as the bus finally stopped in front of the Chace Athletic Center, where I was to watch the host Bryant University Bulldogs compete against the Quinnipiac University Bobcats. Given the grip of winter over the Bryant University campus, I decided to forgo perusing the campus in favor of watching the end of the women’s basketball game, which was a Quinnipiac rout. The men’s basketball match was to be another conference victory, or defeat, for each team, but one wouldn’t know it from the true attendance count. My generous estimate, which I mentally calculated after the first four minutes of game play, was at 150 attendees.

With all due respect to the boys from Smithfield and Camden, I have little to relay regarding their basketball game. Between the myriad of somewhat depressing thoughts racing throughout my head as the rebounds were collected and points were amassed and the subpar offensive showing, I was left vaguely unsettled in anticipated elation, as I had hoped the game would be a temporary escape from my chosen responsibilities resting on my desk merely nine miles due southeast. Near the end of the second half, my attitude had remained the same. My state was still as depressed as it had been when the songs from the ‘The Age of Adz’ album were blaring through my headphones. With just under six minutes remaining in regulation, Quinnipiac was winning by the tally of 61-56. Regarding the game, I had thought the Bobcats were definitely sealing a victory.

Then, a few minutes later, something happened.

Bryant freshman forward Ben Altit was fouled as he made a ‘runner’ shot in the lane, which subsequently led to his making a free-throw shot. Around the last-minute mark, Bryant capitalized on another opportunity to make free-throw shots. Suddenly, the score was 61-61, which meant that either team had a chance to leave that gymnasium with the conference victory. With about forty seconds remaining, and the score at 63-61 Quinnipiac, the teams were in a time-out. “DIG IN!” I could hear from the Quinnipiac huddle. The Bobcats heeded that call, particularly through the admirably tough play of freshman guard Evan Conti, which compelled me to think him a ‘fireball.’ Although Bryant would tie the tally with two free throws to make the score 63-63, the defense of Mr. Conti seemed to inspire the Bobcats to prevent Bryant from having an uncontested chance to win the game in regulation. The game ended with the 63-63 tie, which meant that at least one overtime session would be necessary to settle the match. Within the duration of a few minutes, the nature of the game went from frosty to toasty. A flame had been lit.

The only overtime session belonged to the boys from Camden. With about a minute left in that five-minute period, the teams were in another time-out session. With the Bobcats winning 74-71, one of the Bryant assistant coaches was livid, and explicitly made sure the Bulldogs knew so. “BE AGGRESSIVE!” he loudly pleaded to his players as head coach Tim O’Shea continued discussing hypothetical plays for his team. Although the cry from the assistant coach was heartfelt, the imperative would not help. The Bobcats would dominate the last minute, scoring four more points, to win the surprisingly close match, 78-71.

As I arose from my seat on one of the wooden bleachers, I was surprised to see Quinnipiac sophomore forward Ike Azotam climb up the wooden bleachers in front of me. Apparently, a spectator a few seats below me happened to know the Bobcat. They chatted for a minute or two. As I collected my belongings, I was tempted to simply ask him to encourage his fireball of a teammate, Mr. Conti. Yet, I uttered not a word. Instead, I took not a step. The ‘fire of fire’ that flared inside of me led me back into my own head, into the thoughts I tried not to contemplate while his team played against the defeated Bulldogs of Smithfield.

As I took a seat aboard the bus which waited outside the Athletic Center, my cranium resumed its torture of my momental sanity. Within a minute, the headphones went back into my ears and the depressing, but soothing, crooning of Sufjan Stevens once again overwhelmed my ear canals.

“I want to be well,” I sighed as the bus began its cautious trek southward to Providence. Although that Northeast Conference match, particularly embodied through the play of that Conti fellow, served as a temporary candle to warm the emotional turmoil of my soul on that grim afternoon, I unhesitatingly and sadly realized that not even the inspired play of that fireball could permanently heat the downtrodden state of the spirit within me. As the bus continued its scheduled drive towards my residence, I understood that something else is the source of that which could be my permanent Vesuvius, my unfailing ‘fire of fire,’ as Sufjan Stevens sang through my earphones. “I want so much to be at rest.” “I want to be well.” Where are you, Vesuvius? Oh, where are you, my ‘fire of fire?’ Perhaps someday, I shall know. For now, I must ‘get real’ and ‘get right with the Lord.’