I woke this morning determined to write about the influence of John Keats’ sensual imagery on Alfred (Big Al) Tennyson, but who am I kidding? I mean, is anyone else as tired of Boston sports teams as I am? Everywhere you look there’s another blow-dried bunny in her Red Sox cap. Or a Patriots fan in a Junior Seau jersey strangling a cat. Yeah, so I’m a little jealous. Who wouldn’t be? Boston has the world champion Red Sox, and San Francisco has surly Barry Bonds denying he ever took water buffalo hormones, even though his head is the size of old growth redwood stump. In basketball, Boston has gone from the dirty dregs to the regal elite, after adding all-galaxy Kevin Garnett and all-world Ray Allen to a squad led by all-star Paul Pierce. Now the Celtics are one of the favorites to win it all. Finally, of course, there are the New England Patriots, whose uniforms look like a riff on the gaudy tinfoil wrapping of a Chunky candy bar. This season’s Patriots are one of the great teams in history. They have QB Tom Brady, WR Randy Moss playing better than anyone since Jerry Rice, a murderous defense, and an insane Darth Vader-like coach in Bill Belichik who probably couldn’t tell you who the president is, but can most definitely recite each of the hundreds of offensive plays the Indianapolis Colts have run in the last ten years. Pouring salt in the wound is the irksome fact that the Patriots are 12-0, and could be the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to go undefeated. Boston as a sports town is the new New York Yankees — too good, too pretty, too rich to deserve anything but the business end of a Zamboni. And in a world of too much mediocrity, the Boston success has rekindled by fire (even as the inept 49ers drop cargo loads of flame retardant on my flickering flame). I hope the Red Sox, the Celtics, and the Patriots implode on the precipice of greatness. I hope they come up an inch, a point, a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth short. I love to hate them. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but dynastic teams are good for sport. Their success gives us peons something to root passionately against. And so every morning when I wake up I burn wax effigies of Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett and Manny Ramirez on my trusty hibachi. Hey, it worked last year with Ohio State football…
This Saturday at the Oakland/McAfee Coliseum, Cardinal Newman plays San Ramon Valley for the Northern California 3A football championship. Why is this news? Because one of Cardinal Newman’s stars is Randy Wright, son of Rhonda (Tolman) and Lance Wright, grandson of Rodger and Kathy Tolman, and nephew of my old running mate Jerry Tolman. Randy is a 6’1”, 170 pound defensive back at the perennial gridiron powerhouse. Not surprisingly, given Randy’s genes, he’s also a standout basketball player. Randy’s dad Lance was himself a three-sport star at Piner High School, Rhonda, who for years was the fastest sprinter among both boys and girls in the Boonville schools, is easily among the top five female athletes ever to come out of Pantherland. Here’s hoping Cardinal Newman and Randy roll to glory.
Last season, Newman were NorCal champs, and went down to Los Angeles to play highly touted and heavily favored Oaks Christian for the state gold. Oaks Christian was led by blue chip quarterback Jimmy Clausen, now at Notre Dame, and featured several other big-time prospects. Surprising everybody but themselves, Newman took the game into overtime before losing a heartbreaker.
Randy’s older brother, Kyle, was a pretty good high school jock, too, having been the All-Empire Offensive MVP in football in 2004, and an All Redwood Empire hoopster as well. Kyle won a full ride to play QB at Texas El-Paso, where they take their football (and tacos) seriously.
Speaking of old Panther bloodlines, I met up with Nick (Pallazola) Carr and Jerry Tolman at Monday night’s Warriors game against the Orlando Magic. The Warriors lost in overtime, after scratching back from 14 points down. While Golden State is always entertaining, their style is oftentimes best described as world-class, half-ass. Too much one-on-one, bad passing, disjointed gym ball nonsense. Because the Warriors have spectacular talent, they often get away with sloppy teamwork. But unless it’s a fast break, they don’t have much rhythm. Moreover, when superstar Baron Davis fouled out, the Warriors came apart at the seams. It was tied with 14 seconds remaining and we had the ball at half-court. Coach Don Nelson called a time-out and set up a play… which resulted in Monta Ellis dribbling pointlessly near half-court with no one setting any screens, before Ellis fired up a ridiculous no-prayer 40-footer with time running out. That led to overtime — and the Magic hammering the final nail right between our eyes.
With Baron still in the game, there’s no doubt that the Warriors get a better shot (hmm, okay, maybe a little doubt…). But Don Nelson is a surefire Hall of Fame coach, so he must agonize over his team’s shortcomings more than the casual fan, but it’s the nature of the beast to want for more… and a little more structure would be nice.
For the past several seasons, the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns have been my favorite team to watch. They play amazingly frantic fast-break ball — but founded on a pass-first ethos that always has them looking for the open man. I’d much rather see a series of crisp, quick passes leading to a reasonably open shot rather than the clear-out and one-on-one tedium that too often masquerades as hoops in today’s NBA.
In all the recent Redwood Classic discussions of Panther legends of old, I neglected to mention the irreplaceable Bub Clow, a booster of Boonville sports par excellence. I cannot remember playing a basketball game either at home or away (when away could mean driving three-and-a-half hours to Covelo) where Bub wasn’t in the stands, running the clock, or helping keep stats. He had a gentleman’s demeanor, a kind word of encouragement to all, and a quiet grace to which the world would be wise to emulate. There is no Redwood Classic without Bub in the stands, and in the stands of my memory he’ll always be.
As for Panther cornerstones, no discussion is complete without mentioning the superstar work of Flick McDonald, the girls volleyball coach, mentor, and supreme leader. Year after year Coach McDonald wins championship after championship. Boonville doesn’t have any greater natural talent pool than Mendocino, Kelseyville or Branson, but Coach McDonald has developed a volleyball program that is state-of-the-art in its inclusion of anyone interested in playing and getting better, in growing as a team. Every season Coach McDonald’s teams go up against much bigger schools with awesome results as his girls are always tremendously skilled, disciplined and coached. Flick’s dedication, teaching and leadership over the years is a model for all schools. Boonville (and maybe even Philo and Navarro) are lucky to have him.