Thursday, October 31, 2013

Optimistic Orange Takes on Demon Deacons

By Andrew Pogar

After being shut out for the first time since 2007, Syracuse football head coach Scott Shafer says the SU Orange (3-4, 1-2) have turned the page after being dismantled 56-0 by Georgia Tech in Atlanta.   

It's been a roller-coaster first year for Head Coach Scott Shafer 
“We've gotten by that loss,” Shafer said on the ACC’s coaches’ teleconference Wednesday. . “We've had tunnel vision forward after that Sunday.”

The Orange is coming off its second bye week of the season. Shafer said the extra time has been advantageous for the team as is hosts Atlantic Division rival Wake Forest on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.

“We had a good bye week,” Shafer said. “We got to get the kids healthy and now we’re 100-percent focused on the next game against a well-coached Wake Forest team.”

Speaking of health, the Orange defense will receive a much-needed boost against the Demon Deacons as linebacker Dyshawn Davis is expected to return after suffering a high ankle sprain in the first half against North Carolina State back on October 12.

“He’s doing well,” Shafer said. “We’re ramping him up each day and looking forward to getting him out on the field.”

Shafer pointed out the importance of limiting mistakes particularly by the SU secondary against a Demon Deacons offense that throws for 230 passing yards a game.

He praised senior wideout Michael Campanaro, who ranks second in the ACC in receiving yards and needs just six receptions to move into second place on the ACC’s career list.

“He reminds me of (Wes) Welker,” Shafer said. “He accounts for 32 percent of their offense and 44 percent of their passes have been thrown at him.
Michael Campanaro (3) and Tanner Price (10) are quite the duo 
You really can’t keep him from catching a pass but you have to do a good job tackling when he does and change some things up and cause confusion.”

Syracuse fans may remember Wake's quarterback from a couple of years ago. Senior Tanner Price played at the Carrier Dome back in 2011 where he tossed for 289 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Price has been on a torrid stretch for the Demon Deacons. He has thrown eight touchdowns in the last three games.

The Demon Deacons, however, are coming off a devastating 24-21 loss to seventh-ranked Miami in the final minute in South Florida. Head Coach Jim Grobe, who is one win away from breaking the school record for wins, can relate to Shafer’s game plan mentality this week.

“We’re disappointed that we came out of Miami with a loss, but now we got to try to regroup a play a talented Syracuse team that’s very well-coached,” Grobe said. “We have a big job ahead of us.

Grobe said he’s been impressed with the air attack of the Orange, despite its ineffectiveness of late.  

“One of the keys to being a good football team is to be balanced,” Grobe said. “Syracuse does a nice job of that. I think they had 16 or 18 kids catch passes for them. They've got a very talented quarterback.”

The Orange need Terell Hunt to snap out of his funk
Shafer says he has no concern regarding quarterback Terrel Hunt, who will attempt to rebound from three straight performances in which he did not throw for a touchdown and recorded less than 75 yards passing each game.

“He’s a fighter…a hardworking kid,” he said. “He can brush it off and go to the next game. You prepare like a man for the next game and Terrel’s done a nice job of that.”

This game has major implications for bowl eligibility for both teams. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games which are against FSU, Duke, and Vanderbilt. Syracuse on the other hand, would need to win three of its last four against Maryland, FSU, Pitt, and BC.

Another story line coming into this contest deals with the Orange kicking game. Starting placekicker Ryan Norton was suspended last Friday for the team’s game this weekend. Norton was charged with resisting arrest and underage possession of alcohol. Norton had replaced Ross Krautman who is out for the season with an injury.

“Riley Dixon and Jonathan Fisher will split kicking duties versus Wake for suspended Ryan Norton,” said Shafer. “It will depend on the situation.”

The game will be televised regionally on MSG. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Orange Madness Showcases New Basketball Lineups

Story and Photos by Michael Silver

SYRACUSE, NY -- Orange basketball is back on campus to start the 2013-14 season. The men’s team begins exhibition play Friday, November 1st, at 7 p.m. versus Holy Family at the Carrier Dome. The women’s first home game tips off Thursday, November 14th, at 7 p.m. versus Dartmouth.

This past Friday found both basketball teams being introduced to fans and students alike at the Dome, taking part of Orange Madness. The festivities included performances by a juggling act, the SU cheerleaders and dance team, a scrimmage by each squad and highlighted by a dunk contest.

The student body was in full force, as Otto’s Army made its presence heard loudly with ESPNU airing the live event.

See the slideshow below from all the nights action.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Syracuse Basketball Media Day and Orange Madness

Story and Photos By Michael Silver

SYRACUSE, NY -- The 2013-14 Orange Men’s and Women’s basketball teams took part in media day on Friday at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

Men’s head coach Jim Boeheim addressed the media for 15 minutes and discussed his new roster; a balanced class that includes four seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and five freshmen.

Talk of the new ACC schedule was prevalent and Boeheim seemed well prepared.

“We’re going from a very tough conference to another very tough conference, so there’s no difference for us as far as league play is concerned” Boeheim said.

When asked about the departure of Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA and new starting point guard Tyler Ennis, the Orange head coach was confident with his young ball handler.

“Tyler is a very steady player, he knows what he is doing all the time.  He plays a lot like a veteran point guard, which is very impressive coming in as a freshman. He has an excellent skill set. He has the ability to be explosive and make plays, but he also can run the team efficiently and make good decisions in the half court.  I think he’s as well prepared as any freshman point guard we’ve had here.”

Once the presser concluded the team broke out for individual interviews and the official team photograph.

Earlier in the day, the Orange women’s basketball team held its media session. Head coach Quentin Hillsman spoke to reporters and touched on the new season and challenges that lie ahead in the ACC.

“One thing about our roster is that we are very deep," Hillsman said. "The last couple years, that has been out strong point, that we have been able to play nine, 10 players double figure minutes. This year, I think we'll need 11 or 12 to really step up and play big for us.”

Friday night found both basketball teams introduced to fans and students alike at the Carrier Dome, part of Orange Madness. The festivities included performances by a juggling act, the SU cheerleaders and dance team, a scrimmage by each squad and highlighted by a dunk contest.

The student body was in full force, as Otto’s Army made its presence heard loudly with ESPNU airing the event.

The men’s team begins exhibition play Friday, November 1st, at 7 PM versus Holy Family at the Carrier Dome. The women’s first home game tips off Thursday, November 14th, at 7 PM versus Dartmouth.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The NFL Experience

Story and Photos by Michael Silver

Let’s go Buffalo! This simple yet effective catch phrase roars through Ralph Wilson Stadium as 74,000 fans cheer for their hometown Bills. While the Giants and Jets fill up the back pages of sports sections, they technically play in New Jersey. Thus, I find myself in New York’s lone professional football Mecca and it felt like I landed on a different planet.

How did I get here to begin with? It started with a conversation among friends during Newhouse summer boot camp. We looked at the schedule and circled October 13th, 2013 versus the Cincinnati Bengals. A two-hour drive west on I-90 took us from Syracuse to Buffalo on Saturday night. Luckily, a fellow classmate lives here and was gracious enough to be our guide and host for the weekend.

What is the first thing you think of when hearing Buffalo? Wings naturally.

“You have to get authentic Buffalo wings as soon as we get there,” our friend proclaimed.

Everyone says to check out Duff’s, and by many accounts Anchor Bar is where Buffalo Wings were invented, but if you want an old school, country western vibe, locals say Sportsmen’s Tavern is the place to be. Located in Black Rock, this two-story pub and music venue is a staple of the community, where twenty-something-year-old hipsters and war veterans share bar stools and stories till 4 a.m.

I ordered a basket of ten spicy wings that were cooked to perfection, falling off the bone, and we drank Rusty Chain, an amber brewed by local favorites Flying Bison. The house band played Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, and Elvis Costello covers, with the addition of a great slide guitar player. Everyone welcomed us in like family. The bartender told me a story about rebuilding a 1967 Fastback Mustang Mach 1 over the summer, and a sauced up football fan chewed my ear off about this rookie quarterback starting the next day. Our group stayed up late playing pool and mingling with the locals, knowing we had a long day ahead of ourselves.  

Sunday is a day of rest, but also a time for great football. Waking up early and heading to the stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff sent chills down this sports junkie’s spine. This would be my first time seeing a live professional football game. Growing up in Southern California, the ‘hometown’ team is the San Diego Chargers. A modest 90-minute drive down the 5 South could take me there, but I'm not a Bolts fan and never made the trek.

The first thing you notice driving towards the stadium parking lot are nearby residents selling spaces on their driveways and front lawns for $10 to $20. An extra five dollars will get you a parking spot inside Tailgate USA, in Orchard Park, the Buffalo suburb where Ralph Wilson Stadium is located. The lot is a 360 degree concrete jungle surrounding the stadium, which has been home to the Bills and their fans since 1973.

Buffalo fans are notorious for their pre-game activities and our rowdy bunch was ready to join the party. Charcoal and propane grills lined the asphalt, with the smell of hot dogs, hamburgers and bratwursts sizzling behind every car, pickup truck and minivan. Coolers stocked with Bud Light, Coors Light and Natty Ice were popular choices along with camping chairs propped up by 9 a.m.  Families were playing backyard games such as corn hole and tossing around the pigskin. Tailgating is serious business around these parts.

Then you become aware of Zubas, everywhere. A fashion trend consisting of red, white, and blue oversized stripped pants, matching their team's colors. A craze started in the 1980’s that quickly escaped most of America, except here. Men, women, and children of all ages wear these obscenely bright pants with pride, along with throwback Jim Kelly jerseys and sing the team fight song.


As for the game itself, the rookie quarterback, Thad Lewis, started for the Bills and gave them a brief lead early on. Not long after, a couple thousand Bengals fans, in the right end zone were noticeably vocal. Wearing matching striped tiger prints, they took over as their team stormed back to what seemed like a comfortable lead. 

Suddenly some football magic happened. An offensive explosion broke out on this overcast afternoon. A deep pass with under a minute to play tied the game up and forced overtime to the delight of many. A few minutes later, however, the road team won on an anticlimactic field goal.

This was my first NFL experience and it took part in the least likely of places. Time slows down on Sunday afternoons, where friends and family come together and all that really matters is Bills football. Buffalo, New York, I salute you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hunt Needs to Bring Back Faith to Orange Nation

By Ethan Joyce

Coming into the season, Syracuse was expected to run the football and do it well. The Orange would ride its horses into the ACC to establish the program’s credibility.

The team struggled at first, breaking the 200-yard rushing mark only once (against Wagner) in its first four games. Other than that, the rushing attack seemed stunted.

Now, after two games against Clemson and N.C. State, we see the attack forming. In both instances, Syracuse took advantage of two average run defenses—N.C. State is ranked 52nd in the nation in run defense and Clemson is 64th.

This week’s opponent, Georgia Tech, serves as a very interesting one; one that is similar to Syracuse.

Both teams rely heavily on running attacks that rank in the top 25 of the nation (Georgia Tech is No. 6; Syracuse is No. 22), and both teams boast a rush defense that ranks in the top 30 (Syracuse is 22nd; Georgia Tech is 30th).

This game is likely to be run-heavy and something’s got to give.

Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley and Terrel Hunt rank fourth, 11th and 18th in the ACC in rushing yards and Smith leads the league with eight rushing touchdowns.

But for the run to remain effective, Hunt must step up his passing performance.

Look at a comparison between two quarterbacks in a two-game span:

                            Completion Percentage        Throwing Yards          TD’s            INT’s   

Player A                         54.6                                   468                        1                   4

Player B                         41.6                                   126                        0                   5

Player A is Drew Allen during the first two games of the season, against Penn. St. and Northwestern. Player B is Terrel Hunt in the last two games, against Clemson and N.C. State.

Though it’s a small sample size, Hunt played poorly in his last two starts and you could argue Allen’s first starts came against two tougher defenses.

Allen was easy to criticize, being the new guy who stole the starting spot. His reputation grew off speculation and talent. His downfalls were lack of mobility behind shaky pass protection and his own inexperience.

Hunt earned the right to start and in his first two games, looked like he might be the answer at quarterback. Wins are always encouraging, but against the likes of Wagner and Tulane, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Hunt is dealing with the same inexperience bug that Allen caught, but he has a longer leash to work with because head coach Scott Shafer took a chance, endorsing him with the quarterback change.

But that shouldn’t be taken for granted by Hunt or the fans.

This game is the game, and the rest of the schedule won’t be any easier: playing away against previously-ranked Maryland and No. 5 Florida State and at home against a Boston College team that led No. 3 Clemson last Saturday.

Playing well against a respectable Georgia Tech pass-defense unit (ranked sixth in the ACC) would be a great accomplishment for Hunt.

He doesn't need to throw five touchdowns. He doesn't need to pass for 400 yards.

All the team needs for him to do is play in the system. Throw for 150 to 200 yards. Toss a touchdown or two. Try not to throw an interception and don’t take unnecessary risks. Ride your horses to this victory and just help hold the reins.

Terrel Hunt is a sophomore. He doesn't need to be a star, much less a Heisman Trophy candidate. All he needs to do right now is show the capability to play effectively against better teams and grow in the system he plays in.

Coach Shafer had the faith to put the ball in his hands. Now, Hunt needs to transfer that faith to the fans. He must prove that giving him the starting position wasn’t a mistake. And all that starts with this week’s game.

A Rough Patch of Ice for Orange's Hockey Team

Story and Photos by Michael Silver

SYRACUSE, NY -- The Orange women's hockey team is heading to Providence, RI this weekend, looking to end a three game losing streak and get back to a winning formula in the College Hockey America (CHA) conference.

Last weekend Syracuse played a home-and-home series versus upstate New York rival Clarkson to begin conference play. On the road at Cheel Arena, the women's team were shut out 4-0. Being out shot 36 to 26, and gave up two back-breaking goals in the final period. The Golden Knights are now 5-0-0 and the Orange are 1-3-0.

One night earlier and 145 miles south on I-81, the teams faced off at Tennity Ice Pavilion for the Orange's home opener. Led by senior goaltender Kallie Billadeau, the women's squad played an inspiring, fast-paced game. The Golden Knights came in ranked as the No. 3 team in the country, and provided an overwhelming offensive attack from the opening face off.

A slap shot by Carly Mercer got Clarkson on the board early, with 1:40 remaining in the first period. Mercer would add another goal in the second period to give the Golden Knights a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to play.

The score remained the same until midway through the third period. Having a 5-on-3-man advantage, Nicole Renault, a sophomore from Plymouth, Mass., scored a wrist shot for the Orange and cut the deficit to one.

Penalty killing played a big part into the Orange defense, holding the opposition’s power play to 0-for-5, while going 1-for-5 themselves.
Billadeau, the Minnetonka, Minn. native did her best between the pipes, saving 39 shots for the Orange. It was not enough, however, as Clarkson would hold on to win 2-1.

Total shots taken was the real story, as the Golden Knights fired off 41 to the Orange’s 18.
Clarkson improved to 4-0-0, while Syracuse fell to 1-2-0 on the early season.

The Orange now travel to play Providence College for back-to-back games this weekend. Friday the puck drops at 7 PM and Saturday at 3 PM.

They return home and face Boston College and Union College, respectively, the following weekend of October 25th and 26th. Home games are free to the public.

Follow @NewhouseSports on Twitter and Like our Facebook page for updates on SU Athletics and alumni events. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

SU's Men's Lacrosse Craving a Championship This Year

Players and coach talk about how they're preparing to make it happen

By Alicia Nieves (SYRACUSE, NY) Only four weeks into practice, each player on the Syracuse University Men's Lacrosse team, has his mind fixated on winning the 2014 championship. 

 "We don't really care who's starting as long as we get that championship," Junior goalie, Dominic Lamolinara, said. That was the sentiment from most players and Coach Desko on Media Day. 

How is this year going to be different? 

" I think the glaring one [issue last year] was face-offs,"Desko said, echoing what most anyone who watched the team in the 2013 NCAA title match."I thought everything else went well, in all aspects of the game. I thought we were efficient. We came out on top are most of our [games]. We had ten one-goal games last year." 

Desko says the strategy this year is simple - work on face-offs.  "[We've] done more face-offs this year already, then we've probably did all of last year."  

Old players out/ new ones in
With players including Brian Megill, JoJo Marasco, and Luke Cometti gone, the team has big gaps to fill. Lamolinara said Megill was like another coach on the field, and with Megill gone he will have to step up, " and pick up the slack." 

Coach Desko said he is tackling the challenge of bring in a bunch of younger players. "Younger players don't know the system yet," he said and most of fall practice will be an opportunity for them to get familiar with it, possibly solidifying a spot for them in the spring.  

Watch more of the story here: 

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Different Collision: When Style Hurts Substance

League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis

A review by John Nicholson

The research is there, it seems. Due diligence was done. So why did I come away from watching Frontline’s “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” with the feeling that it is an exercise in gilding the lily? Two things struck me repeatedly: the melodramatic and ominous music and the “in a world…” narration by the estimable Will Lyman.  It was as if I was watching an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” with Robert Stack. If any broadcast organization could be expected to give the story to us straight it ought to be PBS. Instead the production undermined itself by hammering home its points with dramatic overkill.

The powerful story of former Steelers star Mike Webster at the beginning draws us in. The words and pictures , especially the clip of Webster trying and failing to answer a simple question and finally acknowledging that he just can’t focus, make the point about his condition and its connection to years of willful collisions in a collision sport. We’d have no trouble feeling for him and the other players used as examples if their stories were told without the added gimmicks. Have we sat down to watch a movie or a serious piece of journalism?

And since when do the journalists appear in their own investigative piece as sound bites? Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada are producers of the program. Did they interview themselves? Each other? Would it make more sense to have the narrator say what they say in their sound bites? I’m picturing them saying, “We don’t want too much narration but we don’t have sound from anybody else who was there or who says it well, so we’ll just say it ourselves as if in an interview.” Who does that?

This is not to discount the substance of the report which is that large numbers of football players have suffered terrible brain injuries over the years and that the National Football League has gone to some lengths to downplay and deny the truth of that. NFL execs and doctors don’t help their case by stonewalling or by eventually settling with the Players’ Association but not admitting liability. (For what it’s worth, that’s standard in many large legal settlements.)

While the effort to make the game safer now is ongoing, it seems an excellent bet that football players at every level continue to suffer brain injuries, hit-by-hit, game-by-game. Networks want to broadcast, owners want to own, coaches want to coach, players want to play and fans want the modern day gladiators to get after each other. We’re talking about massive amounts of money. I haven’t heard of a movement toward the National Two-hand Touch League where no blocking is allowed.     

A wise news director told me decades ago that when you do an investigative story you get the facts right and lay it out for the audience to see and decide what, if anything should be done about it. Often what gets done is little or nothing. Shock and sympathy don’t necessarily lead to outrage and action.

If you have an important story and you have it nailed down, tell it. If you have to add a musical score and a voice of doom narration and if you have to interview yourselves to make the story work maybe you don’t have enough confidence in the story itself. Fairly or not, it winds up coming across as style over substance.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Twenty Years in One Night

One Pirates' fan's journey from a life of losing to a playoff game in the Steel City


By Jordan Greer

"You probably don't even remember Sid Bream, do you?" 

"I was a one year old when that happened... but I remember it clearly."

This was part of a conversation I had with a worker at a middle of nowhere New York state gas station at about 1 AM on Oct. 7.  It seems like when I am wearing Pittsburgh Pirates gear the first thought that jumps to most peoples' minds is 1992.  Atlanta Braves.  Sid Bream.  Game winning run.  Last winning season. 

That is usually the point where I have to leave the situation so I don't throw up out of pure anger on the other person.  But why, this time, did I just smile and pay for my Twix bar?

I got on the road from Syracuse, New York at 9:30 AM on Oct. 6.  I knew I had a five hour drive ahead of me to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and another five hours back to Syracuse to be ready for class the next day.  But what's ten hours compared to a life of baseball disappointment? 

My brother had called me to say he had a ticket for the Pirates game, and it was mine if I could make it down.  It was his birthday.  I think he wasn't clear on the whole he gets the gifts idea.  The Pirates were in a Game 3 of the National League Division Series game in October at home.  The whole idea sounded weird to me, but I didn't hesitate.  "I'll be there."

The drive from Syracuse felt more like my drive from home.  PNC Park was hundreds of miles away, but it might as well have been a short cab ride.  I was pumped full of adrenaline, which wasn't terribly safe looking back.  I probably drove for much of the trip like Vin Diesel.
I pulled into the parking lot across from the Clark Building around 3:30 PM.  The building used to be a place where Clark candy bars were made when my dad worked there years ago.  The third floor of the building now houses the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where I had worked the past few summers.  I mostly did box scores for, among other things, the Pirates minor league affiliates.

I remember typing out Gerrit Cole's stats when he was coming up through the minors, hoping he didn't go the way of former first overall draft picks, like Bryan Bullington in 2002 and Kris Benson in 1996.  That's not even mentioning one of my personal favorites, John Van Benschoten.  He was drafted eighth overall in 2001 after he led the NCAA in home runs.  But the Pirates converted him to pitcher.  Stranger than fiction.

Things have changed.  Neil Walker drafted in 2004, Andrew McCutchen in 2005, Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and Cole in 2011.  All huge contributors on this year's playoff roster, with McCutchen possibly earning the National League MVP.  That would be the first Pirates MVP since some guy named Barry Bonds in 1992, the guy who couldn't throw out Sid Freaking Bream.  It all comes back to that.

I walked past the front entrance of PNC Park and went around the outside toward the Clemente Bridge to meet my brother.  I saw my cousin at Dominic's bar.  I saw an old friend on the street.  There was a sea of black shirts and more people walking around Federal Street off the Bridge than I have seen my entire life. 

It was October.  The Buccos were in a playoff game.  Did I mention that?  It was a sellout.  It was 80 degrees.  Cats and dogs were living together.  I couldn't stop thinking, "Is this really happening?"

The Buccos and the St. Louis Cardinals were all tied up one game apiece before this pivotal Game 3 in a best-of-five series.  Franciso Liriano, a legitimately good offseason pickup (which has been rare the past two decades), took the mound for the Pirates against Joe Kelly for the Cards.  "KEEEELLLLLYYYY" chants would rain down upon the pitcher throughout the game.

The energy in PNC Park was unbelievable.  The excitement was palpable.  You would have thought Liriano's first strike won the game.  How could this be the same place I had gone to so many times before?  Winning changes things a bit.

I would compare the crowd to someone who had been bullied.  You take your shots, the insults, the shame.  You lift weights and take boxing classes for 20 years waiting for your payback.  Then, you finally come out in full force and insanity.  Except now there are nearly 50-thousand people with you who had the same experience. 

The Pirates started it off with a bang.  McCutchen and Justin Morneau scored on a Marlon Byrd single in the bottom of the first.  They weren't just happy to be here.  They were "fighting to win a World Series" as McCutchen would say after the game.

St. Louis responded with two runs of their own in the fifth.  A sacrifice fly by Russell Martin gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 edge, until Carlos Beltran came up clutch with a 409 foot solo shot in the eighth inning.

This is where all the sub .500 seasons had trained fans to get ready for it to fall apart.  But the crowd was different.  This team was different.  This season was different.  It wasn't "oh, here we go again."  It was "alright, let's get another one."

In fact, they got two more.  Alvarez and Martin both came up with big singles to give the Pirates a 5-3 lead.  If PNC Park had a roof, it would have been blown off.  There had to be some sort of world record broken for high fives.  Pittsburgh Pirates Pandemonium. 

Here is what was going on after the Alvarez single (Yes, that's my high pitched yell.  Let's Go Bucs was said so many times I started to lose my voice)...

And here is the blurry reaction from my brother's phone to Martin's single...

Grilled Cheese Time.  Pittsburgh closer and Baldwinsville, New York native Jason Grilli ran on to the field with Pearl Jam blasting behind him.  He gave up a leadoff single but quickly got the ball back and went to work.  Lineout, flyout, groundout, game over. 

I had witnessed the Pittsburgh Pirates win a playoff game.  Raise the Jolly Roger.

There was a sense of pure joy, euphoria, even relief.  I honestly had thought many times that I would never see a winning baseball team in my life.  If nothing else, I can always say I was there. 

I'm attempting to go into a profession where you do your best to stay unbiased.  That's important, but I think it's unrealistic to completely drop being a fan.  I recognize I have invested a lot of time, money, energy and frustration into the Pirates, along with many others. 

The Steelers and Penguins have been through their ups and downs, but both teams have won championships and put together great seasons during my lifetime.  There was never a ton of risk involved in me, or anyone else, rooting for them. 

The Pirates were never close to that.  People hate the Steelers and Penguins.  They pity the Pirates.  I continued cheering for them through epic failures and "Operation Shutdown" and the recent collapses the previous two seasons.  How many losses and "rebuilding years" can a fanbase take?

I thought of this season as the blackjack hand where the Buccos faithful went all in and finally won.  The dealer busted this time.  As Mike McDermott said in Rounders, "You can't lose what you don't put in the middle... but you can't win much either."  This was the big payoff, the playoffs.

On the drive home, I stopped at that middle of nowhere New York state gas station.  I walked inside the store to grab a drink and some candy to keep me going late at night.  I went to pay.

The woman at the register was wearing a Braves hat.  On this night, in this random location, I ran into a Braves fan.  Again, it all comes back.  She saw me in my Pirates hat, and we started a conversation until we got to the question I mentioned. 

"You probably don't even remember Sid Bream, do you?"

"I was a one year old when that happened... but I remember it clearly."

She began laughing, which would normally have made me want to shove that Twix bar in my eye.  But I laughed with her.  It was alright.

The Pirates would lose Game 4 the next day and now face a win-or-go-home Game 5 tonight.  The Braves fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their series 3-1.  I guess we won't see that Bream replay seven thousand times. 

As I was heading back to my car, the cashier came outside to help another customer.  We made eye contact.  Right before I was about to shut the door, I heard her say, "Well, if we don't win it, I sure hope you guys do."

After all these years, all of the emotion, all of the losing, tonight's victory, I could only think of three words: "Yeah, me too."