Sports used to be so much more important in my life than today. We emulated our sports heroes because they were bigger than life. We would be at the ball field in summer hitting balls like Yaz, and in the winter, we would be on frozen ponds stickhandling like Bobby.
Under the streetlights, we would be stealing the ball like Hondo or sinking three-pointers like Larry. When not in school, we were the sports heroes of our youth. Either sport changed, or we did, but sports has taken a backseat to more pressing things in life.
I had many memorable events with my Dad that involved sports, but two stand out. I was in the seventh grade in 1967 when I got called to the principal’s office. Unnerved, though I knew I had done nothing wrong, I made my way to Mr. Webb’s office. He told me my Dad was picking me up but offered no explanation.
Until I got into the car, I had no idea Dad and I were going to Fenway Park for the opening day of what was to be The Impossible Dream season for our Boston Red Sox. Being in Fenway Park has always been magical. But I can never go there without thinking about Dad while looking down at the box seats on the first base side and thinking about that special afternoon over 50 years ago.
The second day involved Fenway also, but it was a fall afternoon in 1965. Dad and I were in the grandstands as the Boston Patriots took on the San Diego Chargers. The game ended in a 13-13 tie, but what happened after the game made the impact last a lifetime. Dad led me down to the field, and we walked towards the Green Monster.
Dad stopped, and we looked towards home plate. Dad proceeded to tell me that this is where Ted Williams played and mastered left field for the Red Sox for so many years. Ted was a hero to my Dad, and this was his way of having us pay tribute to Number 9. Dad wasn’t one to shed a tear, but I do whenever I think of that moment.
I have few men or women left in sports that impacted me the way Ted did my Dad, but one of the last will end their career this month. Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, will coach his final game when Duke wins or is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
He has served as the head coach at Duke University since 1980, where he has led the Blue Devils to five national titles, 12 Final Fours, 15 ACC tournament championships, and 13 ACC regular-season titles. Only UCLA’s John Wooden has won more NCAA championships among men’s college basketball coaches, with ten. Krzyzewski is widely regarded as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.
I have no tie to The Coach or Duke other than recognizing that this program was different early on. There was an air of confidence and excellence every time Duke took to the court. No matter who the opponent was, there was an expectation of a win for the Blue Devils.
These were college kids playing a game, but they seemed to take on the serious and professional approach of their Coach. Basketball was more than a game for Krzyzewski and his players usually delivered. For the last forty years, there have been many successful coaches and programs, but only one was successful for forty years, making Coach K a notch above the rest.
With Coach K retiring after four decades, college ball becomes just a game of one-year athletes using college to bridge their careers from high school to the pros. There are no more teams, just schools where the stars of tomorrow make a quick stop.
And there are no more Coaches like Mike Krzyzewski to take a bunch of boys playing ball to men who are ready for life.
Thank you, Coach K.
You are a fitting person to close the book on sport as I knew and enjoyed it.