Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pop Champagne

"To be the man, you gotta (WHOOO) beat the man" - Ric Flair

1993, Junior year, Cardinal Newman High, all the guys were corny but the girls were mad fly LOL. Sorry I'm having a flashback moment ya'll mixed in with one of my all favorite Tribe tracks. I'm a semi-big soccer fan. Semi in the sense that I cannot stand watching MLS. Probably because I've watched the international leagues so much over the years, the comparison is MUCH different. Kinda like playing NCAA Football in Freshman mode vs Heisman mode. And like the Heisman mode, the Euroleague is much superior.

Anyway, I was watching the Confederation Cup last month and the US' shocking run to the title game. Before the tourney started, looking at the US' bracket, it looked like US would finish no better than 3rd. Then when play started, they were shook Mobb Deep style, and was left for dead. But something crazy happened. They rallied to advance out of their bracket, upset the heavily favored Spain, and took Brazil to the brink in the title game. That run took me back to my '92-'93 year in soccer. Our regular season was very similar to the Confederation Cup.

Backstory on me and soccer. My pops started me in soccer when I was 6. Broke my leg when I was 7. "Retired" for 5 years until I got to junior high. Came out of retirement to wreck shop on the JV squad. Handled business during tryouts my sophomore year, earned a spot on varsity. Was basically the 20th man on a 21 team that season. Pre-junior year, coach tells me I got a shot at starting. Tries me out during a few scrimmages. Sucked major ass. Really major ass. Basically became the 14 or 15th man on a 21 man team early in the season.

Backstory on the 92-93 Cardinal Newman Cardinals. Picked to finish next to last in our conference. Had 6 seniors, 4 that started, the rest a lot of underclassmen. 92 squad was superior in talent but struggled to keep up expectations, very mediocre season. 3 of the seniors basically let us know we not going out like that this year. Coach was a redneck, chewed tobacco, but was a fair man.

What does this all mean? Be patient tric, you have to appreciate the full story the Honest Man is telling you here. We stormed out of the gate shocking folks, taking names, crushing hoes all over. I mean after 10 games we had maybe 2 losses tops. That was shocking because we are smashing folks that are supposedly better than us. During the initial quick start, I'm barely playing, talking like 20-25 useless minutes. But I was inspired by our team's start. So inspired, I started to pick up my play in practice. I mean I was the Lone Negro out there making plays. My coach starts to notice and is like I'm about to put the Honest Man on. My moment comes against the top team in our conference. Coach tells me I'm starting before the game. He also tells me he wants me to mirror the opposing's team right striker. People kept saying how fast this cat was and that I would never catch up. I'm not one to play the race card but the striker was white. I'm black. You do the math. In my mind, he's not outrunning me pimp. And in reality, that's what happened :-). He tried to do the okey doke by pulling my jersey when a ball was sent his direction. But like I said he ain't faster than me. I recovered, sped up the field, caught him just as he was getting ready to make his cross pass and blocked that shit out of bounds. The Legend of the Art of Paper is born. I would start the remainder of the year.

Back to the team, we keep handling business. We just straight fucking up the league. Opposing teams, hell even our own school, were not believing the hype. People said we were lucky. Shit we were good, get your mind right. Our confidence just got stronger as the season went on. We finished second and had everyone thinking we were gonna fade in the playoffs. The first couple of rounds, people took their best shots, one team even had us go into a shootout but we kept winning. We advanced to the Finals against the same top ranked team, with literally no one giving us a shot.

The opposing team was like Brazil. A lot of talent. Some you just knew they were going to play D1 soccer when they graduated. And like Brazil didn't think much of the US, they didn't much of us. And that mentality initially bit them in the ass. First half, we just straight blindsided them. We were on the attack, forcing them on defense, and it led to a 2-0 lead at halftime. This is where the problems started. Our coach and some of the cats on the team starting feeling themselves at halftime. They talking about buying kegs after the game and getting wasted. Keep in mind we had 45 more minutes to go. But they were already talking popping champagne....

The 2nd half is a blur, only because the opposing team got on its' shit. I always say Talent overcomes Heart and that's what exactly happened. I mean before I could say "Damn", these fools had rung up 5 goals on us in like 20 minutes. Not kidding. Bing. 2-1. Bing 2-2. Bing 2-3. Bing. 2-4. Bing. 2-5. It was the most deflated I would ever feel as a player in any sport I played in. So close yet so far.

Crazy as it sounds what I remember most post game is my mom taking me to Burger King afterwards. That's big because we were struggling at the time so going out to eat was not the norm. I wanted to cry so bad because I was angry for how we went out but that Whopper kinda eased the pain. Ok eased it a lot. A month later, I was voted by teammates as Most Improved. Still didn't make things better. Winners win, Losers lose, and on that day, we lost.

Today's Lesson

We would never recapture that magic. Senior season was like sophomore season. New coach, new leadership, bad chemistry. I never achieved the same level of individual and team success in one season. I did win Best Defensive player but that don't mean shit if we don't win the ultimate goal. But I'll always have the magical junior year run.

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