Game #90 of 353 25% complete
The star of this game was the George Mason band. I saw violins, a lighted drum set and a ton of instruments accompanied by singers belting out tunes. The band director was entertaining to watch directing the band with hilarious gyrations. This was the best band that I had ever seen at a college game. I even hung around at the end of the game to hear their final tunes. They had one kid stomping on the bleachers with both legs when the Rhode Island player was shooting a foul shot. Unique at first, annoying in the end!
I had a pre-game burger at Brion’s across the street from the Eagle Bank Arena. I sat near four guys at the bar who complained endlessly about their George Mason team. As a member of the UConn Boneyard message board, I realize that bitching about your team is a universal language that always occurs regardless how well your team is playing. I was tempted to interject with an introduction about my mission but they were very worked up so I left it alone. I was also not up to ribbing about the 2006 UConn heartbreaking loss to the Patriots who eventually went on to the Final Four.
The pennants in the arena brought back the bad taste in my mouth of UConn’s upset by George Mason in 2006. Some knowledgeable fans consider the 2006 UCONN team the most talented ever in Husky history.
At the end of the first half, a George Mason staff women came up to our section offering a free seat upgrade. I am thinking like what is the catch here. There was none so I moved down to four rows from the court behind the Rhode Island bench. Kudos to George Mason for offering this. More schools at the risk of pissing off the season tickets holders in the good seats should be doing this. That being said, the huge Eagle Bank Arena was very empty with certain sections covered up. It appears that the Patriots fans following has not kept up with the capacity of the arena.
I was very impressed with this Rhode Island team. At 15 wins and 5 losses, they are off to a fine season with a well-balanced team that can shoot the ball and play tough defense. The team also drew a large fan contingent on the road. They have not lost a beat since Dan Hurley left the club two years ago. George Mason had no chance in this game falling behind early and never catching up.
Two Rhode Island players caught my eye. There was Fatts Russell who at 5’10” 165 pounds belies his name but was too quick for the George Mason guards. There was Atwan Walker who name sounds like Antoine Walker the Kentucky collegian who had a successful career in the NBA. Was Antwan possibly the son of Antoine? Nope.
Next Game: Long Island at Merrimack 02/01/20
The trip from D.C. to Maryland Eastern Shore took almost 3 hours. MES is one of those outlier schools that makes it difficult to do a multiple game trip. I did pair MES with George Mason which was the best I could do. I did look into doing MES with one of the Virginia schools but the schedule was not promising.
I am very OCD when it comes to accomplishments on my journey. Back to the old days of Sport Passport, you were given virtual badges for completing all the schools in the state or a given league. I eagerly aim for my own badges now so my goal of completing Maryland will be reached next year. I plan to do Loyola MD and Navy this year. Next year, I will finish with Towson and Morgan State. Maryland will be complete satisfying my accomplishment ego. I say all this to justify my endless trip to the bowels of southern Maryland to see MES.
I usually rent a car with each trip preferring the flexibility and freedom vs. depending on UBER or mass transit. As a car owner who does not like cars, I tend to keep a car for a long time ’til it falls apart. So with each car rental, I come across a “new” car feature that provides some getting used to. The GMC Terrain had the following:
- The shifts were buttons on the dash.
- The high beams went on and off automatically. When they first went on, I frantically wondered what I did to turn them on and tried in vain to turn them off which they did on their own.
- A red light would buzz and flash from the top of the dashboard warning me of something. I believe that it has to do with a warning about a pedestrian crossing but it also occurred going under a light at an intersection. I thought the engine was going to blow when the red light first flashed on.
The game was back and forth till Morgan State pulled it out on the end. The run and gun offense from both sides made this an exciting game to watch with ESPN highlight dunks and blocks galore. Poor MES fell to 2-19 for the season.
Morgan State had the player’s names on the back of their uniform. This was a first for me to the point where I had always thought that the NCAA had banned names altogether. I am guessing coaches usually frown on this because they want a player to identify with a team not with himself.
The Hytche Athletic Center is one of those multi use facilities where the basketball court is plopped in the middle. The place was huge with racquetball courts on one side and a museum and a fan store on the other side. I was thinking what a tremendous waste of energy it must take to keep this place warm.
Next Game: Rhode Island at George Mason 01/28/2020
Game #88 out of 353 24% complete
My nephew Eric is enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s seminary. My wife and I combined a visit to him with a basketball game. After a one-hour ride from Dulles, we were given a tour by Eric of the impressive grounds. The seminary was originally constructed in 1808 and is home to the seminarians for housing and classrooms.
There is a very cool story about the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes which is tucked up on a hill behind the school. As you can see below, the statue of Mary makes an impressive sight. Many Catholics from around the world make the pilgrimage to the grotto. It is not uncommon to see visitors fill 5-gallon jugs from the spring water available to the public. For years, floodlights had lit the campanile (statue of Mary) until the Grotto staff decided to save some money by turning them off. Soon after, a government agent contacted Mt. St. Mary University requesting that the lights go back on. Pilots flying into nearby Camp David needed the illuminated campanile to guide them. I always thought Camp David was nearer D.C. but it is very close to the Emmitsburg, MD campus.
I saw this pennant in the arena. I do believe a disclaimer should be put on the banner stating that this is Division 2 basketball.
I have a pet peeve about scoreboards. I believe that they should always show the current point total of the players in the game. There was a Bryant player Juan Cardenas averaging 4 points a game who was lighting it up. He ended up with 20 points but I had no clue how well he was doing.
Kudos to the home crowd of the Mountaineers! They were loud and into the game the whole way. The game went down to the last minute with the Mountaineers pulling it out.
We had breakfast before heading out at Bollinger’s in nearby Thurmont, MD. I purposely go for these old family restaurants over the chain places. I had an excellent bacon & egg sandwich. My wife loved her eggs, bacon and home fries. Our friendly waitress made for an enjoyable experience . We sat near a fire which reflected out the window into the windshield of our car. I did a double take thinking our car was on fire.
I leave you with a beautiful sunrise from the Mount Saint Mary campus.
Next Game: Morgan State at Maryland Eastern Shore 01/27/2020
Game #87 of 353 24% complete
My snowy weekend in Buffalo comes to an end. On my off day yesterday between games, I was sequestered in the hotel due to a howling blizzard. I do try to schedule northern cities in November or March to avoid this kind of weather but I could not resist the pairing of Canisius and Niagara thereby completing the Buffalo area schools.
With this game, I have also completed seeing all the schools in the MAAC. When I was at the Canisius game, I went through the team banners on the wall checking off each one. It was also a first in that I saw the away team twice in consecutive games (Siena). I also heard the Canada anthem at a college basketball game for the first time.
If I am going by myself and the conditions warrant it, I send an introduction email to the athletic director of the school introducing myself and the mission weeks before the game. I never ask for any free stuff but just a heads up to any pre game event that I could attend. I love talking college basketball to passionate fans. The Niagara athletic director Simon Gray responded with an appreciative reply and asked me to text him when I got to the game. Much to my surprise, he did the following for me: 1) an official Niagara folder with pen and paper 2) a shout out from the public announcer to the crowd about my mission where I stood up and waved to the crowd and 3) an upgraded seat at the scorer’s table. Mr. Gray made me feel very welcome and has earned a lifelong affinity with Niagara from me. One of the fans came up to me at halftime and was asking questions about my journey.
This was an exciting game with Niagara pulling it out at the end. Despite the snowy weather and the kids not back from break, the crowd was surprising large and very loud. One of the walls was adorned with great Niagara players of the past. My eye caught the banner of Calvin Murphy. As a Connecticut native, Murphy from Norwalk CT was idolized in my youth for his shooting and play making. The fan at halftime told me that Murphy as a lark would out race a player down the court dribbling two balls to the player’s one ball.
The crowd was energized with a three piece rock band taking the place of the usual school pep band. These guys were good and had my fingers tapping during the breaks.
I stopped at the casino after the game. I threw a $20 bill into a penny slot machine and maxed out each bet. On the third attempt, I hit a bonus and left with a profit of $59.90. I got out of there quick before that money disappeared. Not a bad way to end the day!
Good bye Buffalo!
Next game : Bryant at Mt. St. Mary (MD) 01/25/2020
Game #86 of 353 24% complete
One of the dredges of this journey is dealing with winter weather in the northern states. I try to mitigate this risk by scheduling schools north of the Mason Dixon line in November or March but this not always possible especially where the cost of travel necessitates at least two schools scheduled back to back or the same day on the trip. It is today on my off day in Buffalo that a winter storm will last all day and sequester me to my hotel room. Fortunately, UCONN is on at noon but my plans for a trip to Niagara Falls followed by a Billy Joel tribute concert may be postponed. I will worry about food at some point.
A pre-game announcement was made that Canisius was one of 27 Jesuit schools in the country. An open prayer before the national anthem was done. The warm up shirts for the Canisius players had the words “St. Peter of Canisius Pray for Us” on the back. Other than the famous nun at the Loyola Chicago school, a religious tint to a basketball game was a first for me on my travels. On a parallel note, I have brought up the Lord’s name a few times while watching some recent UCONN games.
I thought it was strange that the home team was introduced but the Siena players were not. I am not sure if this was a snafu or something that always happens at a Canisisus home game.
I sat with a group of older gentlemen who were obviously regulars and were probably wondering who the hell I was. I am guessing that one of their buddies could not make the game and put the ticket up for sale on Ticketmaster. I always thought it would be fun one game to bring a notepad and pretend to take notes on the players masquerading as an advance scout of perhaps an NBA scout. So the gentlemen argued every call against their beloved Griffs and criticized certain Canisisus payers with comments like “Oh for God sakes do not let him shoot!”. It was very entertaining and perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy the small arenas just as much as the large venues.
I always look for the Connecticut boys when out on the road. Canisius player Jalanni White from New Haven played at Notre-Dame of West Haven. This junior has some serious hops putting down some alley oops and offensive rebounds. He is very athletic but needs work on his outside game. He did finish with 13 point drawing oohs and ahs from the fans.
On the same street of the arena was the home of the original Buffalo wings- the Anchor Bar. As a connoisseur of wings which I know is not good for my health, a stop was necessary. The place was packed with walls adorned with license plates and motorcycles. Were the wings good? Yes. Were the wings the best I ever had? No. Did I hear somebody say Sliders?
Next game: Siena at Niagara 01/19/2020
Game #85 out of 353 24% complete
My wife and I made the 2-hour track between Ft. Myers and Tampa. I am amazed at the amount of shopping malls, housing developments and country clubs along the way. The area along Route 40 was fully developed for miles and miles. Aware of the number of Connecticut folks moving to Florida, I can see how this commerce can be supported. All the highways are designed to handle the amount of traffic unlike the choke infested interstates of New England.
We had an off day between games so we took advantage of the sunshine and 80-degree weather. First was an early morning trip to Sanibel Island to enjoy the Gulfside City Park public beach. Arriving by 9:30AM, we beat the traffic and found a great parking spot. The beach was a welcome respite from the cold Connecticut weather we left a couple of days ago.
I recommend visiting the Edison and Ford Winter Estates if you are in the Ft. Myers area. This was our afternoon destination. The mansions were interesting to look at although small compared to the Newport mansions. I was truly amazed at the number of inventions that Edison had invented. He was considered almost a God in his times. Many of his original inventions are there with lots of reading material.
You may wonder at this point why isn’t he talking about the game. I have made it a habit to do a UCONN away game as part of Operation 351. It is cool sitting there in my blue UConn shirt with some others cheering on the Huskys while the home crowd stares us down with dagger eyes. The tables were turned this time as the home crowd relished the thorough beating given by South Florida to my boys. All you can do is sit there and take it. The fans especially loved giving it to coach Hurley as he earned a technical foul for complaining about the calls. As I say to my fellow UConn fans, better days are coming.
Once again, we were treated to palm trees as we entered the Yuengling Center. It may or not have been a coincidence but many UConn fans were hanging around the Yuengling Beer Center at half time trying to down their sorrows. It was long game to endure for a Husky fan but nevertheless at a minimum, it represented one more notch in Operation 351.
South Florida was trounced by SMU the last game and was looking to come out with a vengeance. UConn was trounced by Cincy last game and was looking to do the same. One team was successful. One team was not. Considering the fact that UConn was 3.5-point favorites and that the Bulls were missing the best player Alexis Yenta with a season ending injury, the loss was unexpected and disheartening. The Bulls guards Laquincy Rideau and David Collins were overpowering for our defense leading the way with 17 points and 15 points respectively.
I will be back in Florida next year somewhere for Operation 351. Beaches and sunshine are hard to resist.
Next Game: Siena at Canisius 01/17/2020
Game #84 of 353 23% complete
My wife accompanied me on this two game Florida run. Since she is not a fan of sports, I must include activities on this trip that are fun and non-sports related for her. This typically includes trips to TJMAXX, Marshalls and Home Goods. It is no problem for me since I get my steps in circling the store till she accomplishes her mission.
The trip to the arena started off badly with FGCU instituting a new clear bag policy which encompasses many regulations. One in particular limited the size of a women’s purse or hand bag or whatever it is called these days. The security guard had a wooden template of the allowable size which of course which was smaller than my wife’s bag. Mumbling that this game is not off to a good start, she walked the offending bag back to the car while I waited outside the entrance. You may assume that a true gentleman would have made the long walk for his wife but I will not be seen carrying a purse in public.
This was my second trip to Florida for Operation 351 visiting UCF last year. It is always a pleasant break from the Connecticut winter weather to be greeted by palm trees in front of a Florida arena. This was definitely an older crowd with many walkers and canes in sight. There were many times during the game where the announcer encouraged the fans to stand up and do a cheer but I am convinced that many did not bother because it was too much effort to stand. But as a 62-year-old seeing that great arena in the sky approaching closer and closer, I hope to someday adopt a D1 team like them and become a fixture at all the home games.
I try very hard to stay apolitical but it is worth mentioning that Liberty has drawn protests throughout the sports word for its association with its founder Jerry Falwell. I will only say this that I hope that the hard working kids I saw on the floor today for Liberty are insulated from the diversity and partisan politics (on both sides) spewing from social media. I did expect to see some protesters outside the arena but all was quiet.
FGCU earned the moniker “Dunk City” back in 2013 with an incredible run as the 15th seed in the 2013 tournament with upset wins over Georgetown and San Diego State. I saw only one dunk today by a FGCU player but the miracle lives on with the word “Dunk” displayed prominently in the arena.
Liberty came in with a 14-1 record and looked very strong throughout the game. I was very impressed with senior guard Caleb Homesly who scored 24 points from all over the floor. Liberty had four starters back from the team that beat Mississippi State as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament last year. They are currently No. 2 defensive team in the country (at 53.1 points allowed per game). Interesting to note that the start time was pushed back to 5PM for a nationally televised appearance on ESPNU. I have learned over the years to always double check the start times for last minute changes.
My wife is amused that I love catching thrown t-shirts from the cheerleaders. I have more t-shirts in the closet than I need but it is the thrill of the catch that makes it worthwhile. While I did snatch a FGCU t-shirt headed towards the women next to me (no shame at all), I was glad to see that she caught one the next time around.
Next game : UCONN at South Florida 01/04/2020