Friday, February 22, 2013

On the bandwagon: It's all about winning

       Other than family and friends, nothing is more important to me than my teams -- or the people I root for -- winning.
       When I told my wife that's what my lead to this piece was going to say, she corrected me. "There are days when winning is a lot more important to you than your family and friends," she said. But at least she was laughing.
       Being competitive is good ... but not good enough for me. Sorry if that's not sportsmanlike.
       Here's where I'm really lucky -- I have experienced my share of winners, and lots of other people's shares, too. When you're a Yankees-Cowboys-LSU fan, just for starters, you have been to the mountain top ... often.
        This is the "Legacy of Winning" blog I promised near the end of my Jan. 7 "Legacy of Losing" piece. So here comes some gloating/bragging. It will be fun to write and remember.
My idea of a great victory: The 2009 Yankees celebrate the
 World Series title. That's 27. ( 
       OK, quickly, a sample: 40 American League pennants, 27 World Series titles for the Yankees; five Super Bowl championships, eight NFC titles for the Cowboys; four state championships for Woodlawn High School; three national football titles for LSU and six national baseball titles; one national title for Louisiana Tech football, three for Lady Techsters basketball; one very satisfying NBA championship for the Dallas Mavericks; PGA championships for Hal Sutton and David Toms; some huge victories for the Dutch national soccer team, including a European championship.
        Then there's all the state championship teams I covered as a high school sports writer. That was part of the job, I suppose, but it was fun, too.
        One thing's for sure -- winning never happens that easily (ask Cubs, Rangers or Astros fans). The victories, the titles, are more glorious because you realize how difficult it is. It's hard work, even being a fan.
        My buddies always kid me that I'm a bandwagon fan -- I jump on with the winners. I've always denied that, saying that I stick with my teams through great days and bad ones.
        Thinking about this, I'm going to confess: It's (mostly) true. I have a nice seat on some  bandwagons. Keep reading, and I'll give you the details.
         I became an Ajax (Amsterdam) fan as soon as I figured out what sports (and winning) was about; Ajax was always Holland's most glamorous soccer team (31 league titles). Bandwagon.
        An exception -- when it comes to winning -- is the Dutch national team, my first love. For the first two decades of my life, Holland wasn't close to a soccer power; it was mostly mediocre. But when the guys in my age range began winning, and winning big, in the early 1970s, it created thrills that are unmatched on my personal list. Not the ultimate prize -- the World Cup championship -- but oh-so-close.
          Yes, unmatched. Bigger even than the Yankees.   
         The year (1956) I came to the United States, the Yankees won the World Series. Of course, they'd already won 16 World Series before that. Besides, they had the biggest star in the game that year, Mickey Mantle. Bandwagon.
           I can give you details on every Series-winning season (11) since I've been a fan; they're all special. My favorites? The 1961 Mantle-Maris home-run derby year;  the 1977 team that won the first title in 15 seasons; the 1978 comeback champs (14 1/2 games behind at one point, then won the AL East playoff game with the Red Sox); the 1996 team that ended the 17-year drought; the 1998 team that won 114 regular-season games and went 11-2 in the playoffs; and the 2009 team that ended another eight-year drought.
            And now it's been three seasons, and three playoff disappointments (at least losing to the Rangers made a lot of my friends happy).
           The year I became an NFL fan, 1958, was the year the Baltimore Colts -- Johnny U. and Raymond Berry -- won the championship in the first sudden-death overtime game ever. Bandwagon.
            I stayed a Colts' fan through 1965. The next year the Dallas Cowboys began winning big -- with their flashy offense, their flashy uniforms, their flashy coach (well, their brilliant coach). Bandwagon.
           No Cowboys victory ever will be better than Jan. 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium when the '71 Cowboys finally won the Super Bowl after all those close misses.
          The 1992 team, delivering the first title in 14 seasons, is a close second, with that rout of the Bills in Super Bowl 27. In the middle of that season, I told Pete Prisco -- our NFL writer at the Florida Times-Union and now the NFL guru with -- that I thought the Cowboys were coming on and could win it all.
          Any win over the Redskins or 49ers or Steelers in any year is good, though.
         Jumped on the LSU football bandwagon in 1958, and why not? Until the Tigers go undefeated again -- came close two seasons ago ... until the Alabama repeat game -- no season will match 1958. But the 2003 and 2007 national titles were sweet.
          Favorite victories? I can give you dozens. Any victory against Ole Miss, but especially 1958 and 1959 (Billy Cannon punt return on Halloween), and 1972 (set your clocks back one second). Cotton Bowl wins against Texas (1962 season) and defending national champion Arkansas (1965) and Texas A&M three seasons ago. The absolutely stunning comeback against Florida at Tiger Stadium in 2007; the best one I've seen in person. Any victory against Florida, Georgia or Tennessee (the best ones coming in the SEC Championship Games). Any victory against Alabama, but especially the showdown in Tuscaloosa (9-6 in overtime) two years ago -- no matter how boring many thought it was.
         And, switching schools, how about Louisiana Tech's victories against Alabama in 1997 and 1999, especially the latter against a team that would win the SEC championship. But no Tech victory, personally, will ever be better for me than the 1968 State Fair Game with Northwestern State ... (   
        Almost as sweet, though, were the two Tech basketball victories against USL in my sophomore year there, especially the one in Ruston before an overflow crowd at old Memorial Gym that basically decided the conference championship. And there was a Tech win in Shreveport against Centenary in my freshman year that fell in the "impossible" category -- six points behind with 21 seconds remaining -- and will be detailed in a future blog.
         In the NBA, 1958 was the year the St. Louis Hawks -- with Bob Pettit -- beat the
Boston Celtics in the Finals. Hawks' bandwagon.
          Then when the HawksI switched to the Lakers in the 1960s, mostly because I loved Jerry West. No titles, though, until 1972, but I was on the bandwagon ... until the 1980s when I jumped to the Celtics. I'd never rooted for them -- admired them, but didn't want them to win -- until they traded for Robert Parish. Bandwagon for his 13 years with Boston.
            After my NBA interest lapsed for more than a decade, my wife became a Dallas Mavericks' fan and so I became a partial bandwagon fan. Still there. The long-awaited NBA title two years ago was sweet, but -- honestly -- I couldn't watch. Too nervous. I still don't relish the NBA.
           Jumped on the LSU men's basketball bandwagon for Final Four rides three times, for the Pete Maravich experience, and some other terribly exciting seasons. Of course, LSU baseball has exceeded everything (except maybe football) and, if I was more of a college baseball fan, that would be great.
             Loved Arnie in his heyday and then Greg Norman through his decade of triumphs (and deflating losses). But I've stayed on the Hal Sutton golf bandwagon through all his pro  years; his score and David Toms' are the first I look for in any Champions Tour or PGA Tour event these days.
             Relished all their victories, but especially when Hal held off Jack Nicklaus in the 1983 PGA and then Tiger Woods in the 2000 Players Championship. And I've followed Toms whenever I can at Colonial Country Club -- just across the Trinity River from our apartments here in Fort Worth. When he won the tournament there two years ago, I was with him for three rounds (62-62-67, 19 under) and he was 4 over (74) on Saturday when I couldn't attend.  I thought I deserved a cut of the prize money.       
             It wasn't a "personal" victory because everyone in the U.S. loved it, but was there ever a greater moment in American sports than the ice hockey "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics? Everyone loved it, except maybe the Russians. 
         Those of us with Woodlawn ties had more memorable football victories in the 1960s than we can almost count. I'd say, though, that the state-championship victory in 1968, 25-14 against Sulphur, made the journey complete.
        Joe Ferguson and his teammates delivered the title that could have been ours, too, with a few more breaks or belief in '64, '65, '66 and even in 1970 with, in my opinion, the most talented team of the decade (although depth-depleted because of Southwood opening).
        Then, three months after the football title in the 1968-69 school year, to see the basketball team -- after some poor early seasons -- win the state championship was amazing. Three years later, the Robert Parish-led team won another title (a year after losing in the finals). And in 1980, again after a loss in the previous state-title game, the Knights won a third state basketball trophy with Melvin Russell, Woodlawn's first black athlete and a star of the 1969 team, also winning as the coach. 
        I could go on and on, but this is more than enough. I've backed a lot of winners.
        But it's never enough, is it? It never gets old, really.
        There's still one big one out there, though -- Holland winning the World Cup in soccer. That's the holy grail. Give me that one, and I'll retire as a fan.
        (Not really, but it sounds good. The bandwagon should keep on rolling.)           


  1. Sadly, I seem to be the exact opposite, having cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Blue Jays and Buffalo Bills during my entire sports-watching lifetime. A glutton for punishment, I suppose. Either that or I just love a perennial loser. Unfortunately, when it comes to my Leafs, I have become way too complacent with losing. That said, nobody cares about the winning teams that I DO cheer for...the Toronto Rock (National League Lacrosse) and the Toronto Argos (CFL).

    PS Go Holland!

  2. From Maxie Hays: Nico, I find myself on some of the same "bandwagons," especially when it comes to golf. I, too, looked for David Toms' and Hal Sutton's results after every round of golf they played. Hal was in high school at Northwood when I coached at Mansfield. My No. 1 man on our golf team always, without fail, told me not to make him play against Hal Sutton when we would go to Shreveport for a golf tournament. I didn't blame him. Loved watching Hal play in high school. I last saw Hal at Tommy Spinks' funeral a few years ago in Arlington. I support any golfer on the tour that is from Louisiana, especially from LSU. Loved this blog.

  3. From Harlan Alexander: OK ... throw out the Yanks, and Dallas after Tom Landry, and I'll spot you the Woodlawn stuff [he's from Fair Park] ... otherwise another fun trip back in sports.

  4. From Bud Dean: I've been a Cardinals fan all of my life, never a Yankees fan, but have to admit that they were dominant during our youth and continue to be among the elite teams. Loved going to KC in 1962 and '64 on the KCS and pulling for the A's to beat them, but to no avail. Went to my first LSU game in 1957 and saw Jim Taylor play, Cannon was a sophomore. Saw the '58 Ole Miss game, and several of their signature victories over the years, but am a Tech guy tried, true, and red/blue even though I never wore a blue uniform in my playing career there. Pro football was Packers until Terry went to Pittsburgh, but a Saints, even the Ain'ts fan before the wagon even had wheels.

  5. From Jimmy Russell: I enjoyed this as I do most of your blogs. You even brought Bud Dean out. I will never forget the White, Go Team and Chinese Bandits. I also saw the '58 game my sophomore year in high school. LSU had been more or less down until then. The big surprise as an indication of things to come was they went to Rice (Southwest Conference in those days), which was favored, for the opening game. Nobody was expecting a lot from LSU then. Paul Dietzel and the Chinese Bandits. Beat them 26-6 and the paper talked about LSU using three teams. It was onto the top with the three units becoming household words. Even today when the LSU defense comes off the field, the band plays the Chinese Bandits theme. I guarantee you if you asked current LSU students what that little song means, they could not tell you.